John IV of Trebizond
|John IV Megas Komnenos|
|Successor||David Megas Komnenos|
|Issue||Alexios, Theodora, Eudokia|
|Father||Alexios IV of Trebizond|
John IV Megas Komnenos (Greek: Ιωάννης Δ΄ Μέγας Κομνηνός, Iōannēs IV Megas Komnēnos), (c. 1403 – 1459) was Emperor of Trebizond from 1429 to 1459. He was a son of Emperor Alexios IV of Trebizond and Theodora Kantakouzene.
John had been designated despotes by his father as early as 1417, but did not see eye-to-eye with his parents. In 1426 he murdered the Royal Treasurer for allegedly having an affair with his mother, and then proceeded to attack his parents. His attempt on them was overcome by the palace staff, and John fled to Georgia.
In Georgia John married Bagrationi, a daughter of King Alexander I but could not obtain sufficient support to establish himself in Trebizond. A Genoese document dated November 8, 1427 orders the consul at Caffa in the Crimea to keep on good terms with the Emperor of Trebizond for news of John arriving at Caffa had reached Genoa. Here he managed to charter a large galley and its crew, which he brought to Trebizond in 1429. Although his father Alexios IV marched out against him, John managed to win the support of some of the nobility, who allowed John's agents to murder his father while he was sleeping in his tent. John was recognized as emperor in Trebizond some time before October 28, 1429, the date of the first document that mentions him on the throne.
John IV began his reign by punishing the physical murderers of his father, then burying his father in state in the Metropolitan church. His reign was dominated by ongoing attempts to defend Trebizond from its Turkmen neighbors and the increasingly aggressive Ottoman Empire to the west. The first challenge was posed by the ruler of Ardabil, Shaykh Junayd, who marched upon Trebziond. John assembled his land and naval forces, then assisted by his Pansebastos salied forth to meet the Shaikh. The two armies met at Kapanion. John had planned to attack Junayd from both land and sea; however, a strong wind prevented the sailors from landing and the Sheikh's men successfully counteracted, killing the Pansebastos and scattering the army. John escaped by means of his fleet, and made it back to Trebizond. Shaykh Junayd soon arrived before the walls of Trebizond, but after three days he found the walls impregnable and marched his army south to ravage the district of Mesochaldion.
In 1442 the Ottoman Sultan Murad II sent out a fleet to plunder the shores and to attempt to capture the city. This expedition did not seriously effect Trebizond itself, but attacked Trebizond's dependencies in the Crimea and was partly destroyed by a storm on its return journey. The Ottomans did not make another attack on the Empire of Trebizond until the reign of the next Sultan, Mehmed II.
In February 1451 the Byzantine diplomat George Sphrantzes arrived in Trebizond to arrange a marriage alliance between Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos and a princess from either John IV's family or that of the kings of Georgia. This incident is notable in Sphrantzes's Chronicle for the color it paints of the emperor, since Sphrantzes arrived in Trebizond having not heard yet of the death of the Ottoman sultan Murad II, which John gleefully related. He told Sphrantzes how great it was that now his empire could last longer and be blessed because of the youth of Mehmed II. Sphrantzes, however, was taken aback and explained to him that Mehmed's youth and seeming friendship to the new emperor Constantine XI were only ploys, and that under John's brother-in-law John VIII the empire had been deeply in debt, but now his new emperor was trying to change that. The incident as described should well have served to John IV the new peril which had come forth. In 1453, after the Fall of Constantinople to Mehmed II, Trebizond and the Morea were left as the last remnants of the Byzantine imperial tradition. Mehmed II immediately summoned John to pay tribute in Constantinople and imposed heavy tolls on Trapezuntine and Venetian shipping through the straits. John apparently failed to cooperate, and in 1456 the Sultan dispatched his governor of Amasya to attack Trebizond by both land and sea.
The fall of his capital seeming imminent, John at long last made his submission and agreed to pay an annual tribute of 2,000 gold pieces. He sent his brother David to ratify the treaty before Mehmed II himself, which he did in 1458, but the tribute was raised to 3,000 gold pieces. Aware of the Ottoman advance against the remaining Byzantine possessions in Greece, John attempted to bolster his position by resorting to marital alliances with neighboring princes. So he married off one of his daughters to Uzun Hasan of the Ak Koyunlu, and another daughter (or perhaps sister) to the Italian lord of Syros, Niccolò Crispo.
In the increasingly desperate situation of Trebizond, John IV came to favor the idea of obtaining Western support by effecting a union with the Roman Catholic Church. As early as 1434 he responded to the letters of Pope Eugenius IV (in marked contrast to earlier emperors of Trebizond, who had ignored papal missives). In the late 1430s the Metropolitan of Trebizond joined the Byzantine clergy at the Council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence.
However, these approaches to the Papacy were not marked by harmonious relations with the most important Western power concerned with Trebizond, the Republic of Genoa. Although John owed his throne to a Genoese crew, he repeatedly failed to reimburse the Genoese for debts owed to them in 1431, and in 1441 refused to provide reparations for having ordered the seizure and pillage of a Genoese ship in 1435. Further diplomatic initiatives by Genoa failed in 1443, and in 1447 the Genoese of Caffa advanced on Trebizond with their fleet, threatening to set up an embargo. The disputes were never fully settled and seriously injured commerce in the Black Sea.
John's hostile attitude towards Genoa was explained by one contemporary, the Spanish traveller Pero Tafur, as a fear of a potential Byzantine-Genoese alliance that could place his brother Alexander on the throne of Trebizond. Alexander had fled Trebizond for the Byzantine court in 1429 and had eventually married Maria Gattilusio, the daughter of the Genoese lord of Lesbos. The apprehensiveness towards Genoa was contrasted by friendlier relations with Venice, although the Venetians never recovered their former influence in the Black Sea.
John died some time before April 22, 1459, when his brother David is first attested as emperor of Trebizond.
Marriage and children
John IV was married twice, first to an unnamed daughter of King Alexander I of Georgia, then before 1438 he had married an unnamed daughter of Dawlat Berdi. His children include a son and at least one, or possibly two daughters:
- Alexios (1455–1463), beheaded at Constantinople
- Theodora Megale Komnene, better known by her Mongol appellation "Despina Hatun", who married Uzun Hasan of Ak Koyunlu
- Eudokia (Valenza), who married Niccolò Crispo, lord of Syros; but she may have been a sister of John IV.
- William Miller, Trebizond: The last Greek Empire of the Byzantine Era: 1204-1461, 1926 (Chicago: Argonaut, 1969), p. 81
- Miller, Trebizond, pp. 81f
- Miller, Trebizond, p. 83
- Miller, Trebizond, pp. 83f
- Miller, Trebizond, p. 85
- Sphranzes, ch. 30. translated in Marios Philippides, The Fall of the Byzantine Empire: A Chronicle by George Sphrantzes, 1401-1477 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 1980), pp. 58ff
- Miller, Trebizond, pp. 85-87
- Miller, Trebizond, p. 87
- Miller, Trebizond, pp. 89-91
- Miller, Trebizond, pp. 91ff
- Miller, Trebizond, pp. 83f
- Cyril Toumanoff, "The Fifteenth-century Bagratids and the Institution of Collegial Sovereignty in Georgia", Traditio, 7 (1949-1951), pp. 182ff
- The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Oxford University Press, 1991.
John IV of Trebizond
Komnenid dynastyBorn: c. 1403 Died: 1459
|Emperor of Trebizond