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Country Byzantine Empire
Titles Byzantine Emperor, Emperor of Trebizond
Founder Manuel Erotikos Komnenos
Final ruler Andronikos I Komnenos (Byzantine Empire)
David Komnenos (Empire of Trebizond)

Comninus or Komnenos (Greek: Κομνηνός), plural Komnenoi or Comneni (Κομνηνοί, pronounced /komniní/), was the name of a ruling family of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire, who ruled the Byzantine state from 1081 to 1185, and later, as the Grand Komnenoi (Μεγαλοκομνηνοί, Megalokomnenoi) founded and ruled the Empire of Trebizond (1204–1461).


Manuel Erotikos Komnenos (955/960-1020), the first member of the family to achieve public prominence, served as the strategos autokrator of the East under Emperor Basil II (reigned 960-1025).[1]

Manuel's native language was Greek; according to Steven Runciman, he was either Greek or a Hellenized Vlach.[2] Manuel was a member of the Erotikos family, although his branch of the family appears to have changed their habitual surname to Komnenos. Other branches retained the name Erotikos into the 12th century.[3] The family name derives from the city of Komne, near Philippopolis in Thrace,[1] where they owned land. They were therefore likely to have been of Hellenized Vlach and Greek Macedonian origin, but may even have been of part Armenian ancestry, which could account for the use of the name Manuel instead of Emmanouel.[citation needed] Manuel came to the notice of Basil II because of his defence, in 978, of Nicaea against the rebel Bardas Skleros. In recognition of Manuel's loyalty Basil gave him lands near Kastamone in Paphlagonia.[4] Manuel was the father of Isaac I Komnenos (reigned 1057-1059) and grandfather, through Isaac's younger brother John Komnenos, of Alexios I Komnenos (reigned 1081-1118).

Founding the dynasty[edit]

Isaac I Komnenos, a Stratopedarch of the East under Michael VI, founded the Komnenos dynasty of Byzantine emperors. In 1057 Isaac led a coup against Michael and was proclaimed emperor. Although his reign lasted only till 1059, when his courtiers pressured him to abdicate and become a monk, Isaac initiated many useful reforms. The dynasty returned to the throne with the accession of Alexios I Komnenos, Isaac I's nephew, in 1081. By this time, descendants of all the previous dynasties of Byzantium seem to have disappeared from the realm, such as the important Scleros and Argyros families. Descendants of those emperors lived abroad, having married into the royal families of Georgia, Russia, France, Persia, Italy, Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia; this made it easier for the Komnenos family to ascend to the throne.

The Komnenoi were related to the Doukas family, whereby the clan often was referred as "Komnenodoukai" (or "Comnenoducae") and several individuals used both surnames together. Alexios I married Irene Doukaina, the grandniece of Constantine X Doukas, a general who had succeeded Isaac I in 1059. Several families descended from the Komnenodoukai, such as Palaiologos, Angelos, Vatatzes and Laskaris. Alexios and Irene's youngest daughter Theodora ensured the future success of the Angelos family by marrying into it: Theodora's grandsons became the emperors Isaac II Angelos (reigned 1185–1195and 1203–1204) and Alexios III Angelos (reigned 1195-1203).

The Komnenoi as Emperors[edit]

Alexios I Komnenos.

Under Alexios I and his successors the Empire was fairly prosperous and stable. Alexios moved the imperial palace to the Blachernae section of Constantinople. Much of Anatolia was recovered from the Seljuk Turks, who had captured it just prior to Alexios' reign. Alexios also saw the First Crusade pass through Byzantine territory, leading to the establishment of the Crusader states in the east. The Komnenos dynasty was very much involved in crusader affairs, and also intermarried with the reigning families of the Principality of Antioch and the Kingdom of Jerusalem - Theodora Komnene, niece of Manuel I Komnenos, married Baldwin III of Jerusalem, and Maria, grandniece of Manuel, married Amalric I of Jerusalem.

Remarkably, Alexios ruled for 37 years, and his son John II ruled for 25, after uncovering a conspiracy against him by his sister, the chronicler Anna Komnene, and her husband Nikephoros Bryennios. John's son Manuel ruled for another 37 years.

The Komnenos dynasty produced a number of branches. As imperial succession was not in a determined order but rather depended on personal power and the wishes of one's predecessor, within a few generations several relatives were able to present themselves as claimants. After Manuel I's reign the Komnenos dynasty fell into conspiracies and plots like many of their ancestors (and the various contenders within the family sought power and often succeeded in overthrowing the preceding kinsman); Alexios II, the first Komnenos to ascend as a minor, ruled for three years and his conqueror and successor Andronikos I ruled for two, overthrown by the Angelos family under Isaac II who was dethroned and blinded by his own brother Alexios III. The Angeloi were overthrown during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, by Alexios Doukas, a relative from the Doukas family.

The later family[edit]

Several weeks before the occupation of Constantinople by crusaders in 1204, one branch of the Komnenoi fled back to their homelands in Paphlagonia, along the eastern Black Sea and its hinterland in the Pontic Alps, where they established the Empire of Trebizond. Their first 'emperor', named Alexios I, was the grandson of Emperor Andronikos I.[5] These emperors – the "Grand Komnenoi" (Megaloi Komnenoi or Megalokomnenoi) as they were known – ruled in Trebizond for over 250 years, until 1461, when David Komnenos was defeated and executed by the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II.[6] Mehmed himself claimed descent from the Komnenos family via John Tzelepes Komnenos. The Trapezutine branch of the Komnenos dynasty also held the name of Axouchos as descendants of John Axouch, a Byzantine nobleman and minister to the Byzantine Komnenian Dynasty. A princess of the Trebizond branch is said to have been the mother of prince Yahya (born 1585), who reportedly became a Christian yet spent much of his life attempting to gain the Ottoman throne.[citation needed]

Another branch of the family founded the Despotate of Epirus in 1204, under Michael I Komnenos Doukas, great-grandson of Emperor Alexios I. Helena Doukaina Komnene, a child of that branch of the family, married Guy I de la Roche thereby uniting the Komnenos and the De La Roche houses, with Komnenos family members eventually becoming Dukes of Athens.

One renegade member of the family, also named Isaac, established a separate "empire" on Cyprus in 1184, which lasted until 1191, when the island was taken from him by Richard I of England during the Third Crusade.

When the eastern Empire was restored in 1261 at Constantinople, it was ruled by a family closely related to the Komnenoi, the Palaiologos family. The Palaiologoi ruled until the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.


  1. ^ a b Kazhdan, pg. 1143
  2. ^ Runciman, p. 54
  3. ^ Cameron, p. 48
  4. ^ Runciman, pp. 54-55
  5. ^ A. A. Vasiliev, "The Foundation of the Empire of Trebizond (1204-1222)", Speculum, 11 (1936), pp. 3-37
  6. ^ Discussed by Ruth Macrides, "What's in the name 'Megas Komnenos'?" Archeion Pontou, 35 (1979), pp. 236-245


  • Cameron, Averil (Ed.) (2003) Fifty Years of Prosopography: The Later Roman Empire, Byzantium and Beyond, Oxford University Press.
  • Kazhdan, Alexander, ed. (1991), Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-504652-6 
  • Runciman, Steven (1951) A History of the Crusades, Vol. I: The First Crusade, Cambridge University Press.
  • Varzos, Konstantinos (1984). Η Γενεαλογία των Κομνηνών [The Genealogy of the Komnenoi] (in Greek). Thessaloniki: Centre for Byzantine Studies, University of Thessaloniki. , Vols. A1, A2 & B