Michael I Komnenos Doukas
Michael I Komnenos Doukas, Latinized as Comnenus Ducas (Greek: Μιχαήλ Κομνηνός Δούκας, Mikhaēl Komnēnos Doukas), and often erroneously in modern sources recorded as Michael I Angelos, a name he never used, was the founder and first ruler of the Despotate of Epirus from ca. 1205 until his assassination in ca. 1215.
Michael was the illegitimate son of the sebastokrator John Doukas. His paternal grandparents were Constantine Angelos and Theodora, a daughter of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos (reigned 1081–1118). Michael's uncle, Andronikos, was the father of the future emperors Isaac II Angelos (r. 1185–95 and 1203–04) and Alexios III Angelos (r. 1195–1203), who were thus Michael's first cousins. Despite this kinship, he never used the surname "Angelos", which was given to him by later hostile pro-Palaiologos historians and has been used in modern scholarship as well. The few documents surviving from his own hand and a couple of lead seals show that the name "Michael Doukas" or "Michael Komnenos Doukas".
It is unknown when he was born; the only relevant information is the statement of Niketas Choniates that he was a "young man" in 1201. The Greek scholar Konstantinos Varzos places his birth approximately in 1170. He is first mentioned on 14 February 1190, when he, along with other imperial relatives, served as a hostage to Frederick I Barbarossa (r. 1152–90) during the passage of the Third Crusade through Byzantine territory. He then went on to serve as governor (doux and anagrapheus) of the theme of Mylasa and Melanoudion in Asia Minor during the last years of Isaac II's first reign, with the rank of pansebastos sebastos. Alexios III re-appointed him to the same province, probably in 1200. Demetrios Polemis, in his study on the Doukas family, reports that he was reappointed to the post by Alexios IV (r. 1203–04), but this is evidently an error. Shortly after, in early 1201, for unknown reasons, Michael rose in revolt against the emperor. Alexios III campaigned in person against him in the summer 1201 and defeated him, forcing Michael to seek refuge at the court of the Seljuk Turk Sultan of Rûm, Süleymanshah II (r. 1196–1204). In his service, over the next years he led Turkish raids into Byzantine territory around the Maeander River valley.
According to Geoffrey of Villehardouin, a participant in the Fourth Crusade and author of De la Conquête de Constantinople, at the time of the fall of Constantinople to the forces of the Fourth Crusade, Michael was present in the city, having possibly returned from exile in the period after the deposition of Alexios III and the restoration of Isaac II and his son Alexios IV in 1203–04. He then entered into the service of Boniface of Montferrat, who received the Kingdom of Thessalonica and overlordship over Greece in the division of the spoils among the Crusaders. He followed Boniface west as he went to take up his kingdom in September 1204. Although Boniface, according to Villehardouin, trusted Michael, soon he abandoned him and went to Epirus, where he installed himself as the leader of the local Greeks against the Latin Crusaders.
The process of Michael's establishment in Epirus is obscure. The hagiography of St. Theodora of Arta, written in the late 13th century, maintains that Alexios III had appointed Michael as governor in the Peloponnese and a certain Senachereim, who was Michael's relative by marriage (they both had married first cousins from the Melissenos family), as governor of the Theme of Nicopolis in Epirus. Ehen the local inhabitants rose in revolt against him, Senachereim called upon Michael for aid. Michael rushed to Nicopolis, but not before the locals had killed Senachereim. After that, Michael, himself widowed, took Senachereim's widow as his wife and succeeded him as governor. Although generally regarded as inaccurate due to the many errors it contains, this part of the hagiography is partially corroborated by Villehardouin's account that he married the daughter of a local magnate. It is certain that Michael was never appointed governor of the Peloponnese, but the hagiography's reference to the peninsula has led to suggestions by modern scholars that he is to be identified with the Michael who led the Peloponnesian Greeks in the Battle of the Olive Grove of Kountouras against the Crusaders. This commonly held identification has been questioned by more recent research by Raymond-Joseph Loenertz, who suggests that Michael leaving Epirus, which still was not securely under his control, to go on campaign in the Peloponnese would have been extremely unlikely as it would leave Epirus open to attack by Boniface. Loenertz does however consider that Michael may indeed have led a failed expedition into the Peloponnese a few years later, in 1207–09 (see below).
Ruler of Epirus
From his base at Arta, Michael proceeded to expand his control over most of the region of Epirus and modern Albania, quickly establishing an independent domain encompassing the lands between Dyrrhachium in the north and Naupactus in the south, bordering the Latin Kingdom of Thessalonica in the east, the possessions of the Republic of Venice to the west, and the Bulgarians and Serbs to the north. The state Michael established is commonly known in historiography as the Despotate of Epirus, and it was long thought that Michael was the first Epirote ruler to claim the title of despotes, it being surmised that he was granted the title by the deposed emperor Alexios III after his ransoming (see below). Neither Michael nor his half-brother and successor, Theodore Komnenos Doukas, however, bore the title, and it was not until the 1230s that Michael II Komnenos Doukas received the title, becoming the first ruler of Epirus to be titled a despotes, while the designation of the Epirote state as a "despotate" first appears in Western sources in the 14th century.
Rapprochement with the Latin powers
Along with the other major Greek successor state, the Empire of Nicaea in western Asia Minor, Epirus became the major Greek centre resisting Latin rule. Michael's major preoccupation therefore was the threat posed by the Latin Crusader states and the Republic of Venice. In the treaty of partition of the Byzantine Empire among the Crusaders, Epirus had been allotted to Venice, but although it had occupied Dyrrhachium in 1205 and the island of Corfu in 1207, the maritime-minded Republic had shown little interest in the rest of the Epirote mainland. To insure himself against a Latin attack, Michael began negotiations with Pope Innocent III, hinting at a possible union of the Orthodox Church of his domains with the Roman Catholic Church. The relationship was not untroubled–in a letter of 17 August 1209, the Pope asked of "Michael Komnenos of Romania" that, if he were truly the Pope's servant, as he claimed in his letters, he should allow the Latin Archbishop of Dyrrhachium access to the estates owned by his see in his domains—but it did serve for the moment to earn Michael the Pope's goodwill and precious time. According to Loenertz, it also appears that at some point Michael had paid homage to the Kingdom of Thessalonica as its vassal.
Nevertheless, according to a series of letters of Innocent III dated to autumn 1210, Michael engaged in combat with the Prince of Achaea Geoffrey I of Villehardouin (r. 1209–1229) and his barons, without giving any details. Modern researchers have linked this reference either with his supposed leadership in the battle of Kountouras, or, more plausibly, with an abortive campaign in the Peloponnese sometime in 1207–09 in order to aid the beleaguered ruler of Argos and Corinth, Leo Sgouros, who was being besieged by the Crusaders in his citadel on the Acrocorinth. Traditionally several scholars, such as Karl Hopf and Antoine Bon, have furthermore identified a certain Theodore, who appears as "lord of Argos" and Sgouros' successor in leading the resistance against the Crusaders, with Michael's half-brother Theodore Komnenos Doukas. As Loenertz points out, however, there is no evidence for such an assumption, while it is well established that Theodore Komnenos Doukas was in the service of the Nicaean emperor, Theodore I Laskaris (r. 1205–1222), at the time.
In summer 1209, after the Latin Emperor Henry of Flanders (r. 1205–16) quelled the revolt of the Lombard barons of Thessalonica and brought the Kingdom of Thessalonica under his effective control, Michael sent envoys to propose an alliance. Henry distrusted Michael's sincerity, but sent an embassy to Michael with his terms, which amounted to Michael declaring himself a vassal of the Latin Empire. Michael was able to sidestep an outright declaration of submission by offering the hand of his eldest daughter to the Emperor's brother, Eustace, and offering a third of his lands as her dowry. Henry accepted, and the peace agreement was sealed with the marriage of Eustace and Michael's daughter. Finally, in early 1210, Michael's envoys, the Bishop of Tzernikon Theodore and Symeon Kounales, met with the Venetian duke of Dyrrhachium Marino Vallaresso and negotiated a treaty, confirmed by oath on 20 June. Thereby Michael accepted to become a vassal of Venice, holding his lands in fief from Venice as confirmed in a charter issued by the Doge Pietro Ziani (r. 1205–29). Michael in turn granted extensive trading privileges and tax exemptions, just as they had enjoyed under the chrysobulls of Emperor Manuel I Komnenos (r. 1143–80), promised to expedite the grain exports to Venice, and to assist in any shipwreck of a Venetian vessel. In addition, as a sign of his vassalage he would pay to the Venetian duke of Dyrrhachium an annual tribute of 42 litrai of gold hyperpyra in two instalments, and send annually a rich brocade for the altar of St. Mark's Basilica and one for the Doge.
At about the same time, Michael's rule received a boost in legitimacy through his ransoming of the deposed emperor Alexios III. After his deposition by the Crusaders in July 1203, Alexios with his wife Euphrosyne Doukaina Kamatera had been roaming Greece seeking protection. His alliance with Leo Sgouros failed due to the latter's hasty retreat before the advance of Boniface of Montferrat, which left Alexios stranded in Thessaly. Captured by Boniface, Alexios was initially held in comfortable captivity, but at some point he fell foul of Boniface; sources differ on whether he tried to flee to Michael's domains and was captured by Boniface's knights or whether Boniface simply distrusted him as a potential rival focal point for the loyalties of the Greek population. He was then imprisoned, either in Thessalonica or, according to other sources, in Montferrat. Learning of their fate, Michael offered to ransom the former imperial couple and secured their release, welcoming them at Salagora, the port of Arta, where they arrived by ship. Michael treated the couple with every courtesy, but Alexios did not remain long in Arta. The deposed emperor was eager to regain his throne by taking over the Empire of Nicaea with the aid of the Seljuk Sultan Kaykhusraw I. Leaving his wife behind, and accompanied by Michael's half-brother Constantine Komnenos Doukas, Alexios took sail for Asia Minor. His attempt ended in complete failure in the Battle of Antioch on the Maeander in 1211, where Theodore I Laskaris killed Kaykhusraw and took Alexios prisoner. The hagiography of St. Theodora of Arta claims that on his departure, Alexios granted Michael and his descendants hereditary possession of his domain, while the 14th-century Aragonese version of the Chronicle of the Morea claims that Alexios left Michael as his lieutenant in the west. From these references some modern scholars erroneously inferred that Michael received the title of despotes from Alexios. Lucien Stiernon, followed by Varzos, places the ransoming of Alexios in 1206/7, but Loenertz places it in 1210, following Michael's rapprochement with the Latins, when the interests of the Latin Empire in weakening the growing power of Nicaea coincided with Michael's intention to ransom Alexios.
Expansion and death
Michael seized the opportunity of Henry's focus on his planned campaign against Nicaea to attack Thessalonica. At the head of Latin mercenaries, he captured the constable of the Kingdom of Thessalonica and baron of Domokos, the Lombard Amé Buffa, and a hundred of his companions. He is alleged to have been excessively cruel to his prisoners, killing or whipping many of them, while Buffa, his confessor, and three other nobles were crucified. Michael's army proceeded to capture several fortresses and killing the Latin garrisons, including priests. Enraged, Henry sped to Thessalonica's aid, covering the distance from Constantinople in only twelve days. Michael in the meantime had allied himself with the Bulgarian ruler Strez, but they were defeated by Henry. It is possible that during this campaign, Henry was assisted by his vassals from Achaea, thereby explaining the reference in the Pope's correspondence of Achaean barons fighting against Michael, rather than an Epirote expedition into the Peloponnese. The Latin Emperor wrested lands from both allies, but was forced to cut short his campaign and return to Constantinople, which was being threatened by the Bulgarian emperor Boril. Henry left Thessalonica in the charge of his brother Eustace and of Count Berthold of Katzenelnbogen, who then defeated another invasion by Strez, supported with troops from his brother Boril. Disquieted by the Bulgarian attacks on Thessalonica, Michael switched sides and joined the Latins in defeating the Bulgarians at Pelagonia.
Sometime between 1210 and 1214, according to the Chronicle of Galaxeidi, Michael came into conflict with the Latin Lord of Salona, Thomas I d'Autremencourt. When d'Autremencourt seized a few islands in the Corinthian Gulf off Galaxeidi, the inhabitants of the latter called upon Michael for aid, and in the ensuing battle, Thomas was killed and Salona (modern Amfissa) was occupied. Epirote rule there proved short-lived, however, as d'Autremencourt's son Thomas II soon recovered his father's lordship. In 1212, his troops invaded Thessaly in force, overrunning the resistance of the local Lombard nobles. The Epirotes took Larissa, where they deposed the Latin Archbishop and restored the local see to an Orthodox metropolitan, Velestino, the fief of Berthold of Katzenelnbogen, and reached the shores of the Pagasetic Gulf at Demetrias. The newly gained Thessalian territories were entrusted to Michael's son-in-law Constantine Maliasenos as a hereditary appanage.
Soon after, probably in 1213, he took Dyrrhachium from Venice, followed in 1214 by Corfu. Very little is known about the details of these successes, as the generally hostile stance of the pro-Nicaean Byzantine historians towards Michael means that his achievements were often ignored. According to local Corfiot tradition, the castle of Angelokastro was built by Michael. Michael continued to push northward into Albania and Macedonia, taking Kruja and ending the independence of the principality of Arbanon and its ruler, Dimitri Progoni, but his attempt to seize Zeta was stopped by the Serbs at Skadar. Michael himself did not long outlive these successes: in late 1214 or in 1215, he was murdered in his sleep at Velegrada by a servant called Rhomaios. As his only surviving son was illegitimate and underage, Michael was succeeded by his half-brother Theodore. Indeed, according to the hagiography of St. Theodora of Arta, Theodore sent the young Michael II and his mother to exile in the Peloponnese for the duration of his reign. It was not until Thedore's defeat and capture at the Battle of Klokotnitsa in 1230 that would allow the exiled Michael II to recover his father;s domain.
Michael laid the foundations of the Epirote state, and initiated a dynasty, the Komnenoi–Doukai, who would rule over Epirus until 1318, when the Italian Orsini family took over. Members of the family also ruled over Thessaly, and for a while claimed the imperial title as rulers of Thessalonica from 1224 until its capture by the Nicaeans in 1246. It appears that during his lifetime, Michael was a popular ruler with his subjects; the contemporary metropolitan bishop of Naupactus, John Apokaukos, lauded Michael as a "new Noah", at whose side the refugees of the Latin cataclysm found refuge. Apokaukos also praises him for his refoundation and refortification of the city of Ioannina, which henceforth chose the Archangel Michael as its patron saint.
The exact identity of Michael's wife or wives is unknown. According to the hagiography of St. Theodora of Arta, he married twice. His first wife was a lady of the aristocratic Melissenos family, who died at an unknown time. Her first cousin, likewise a Melissenos, married the governor of Nicopolis, Senachereim (see above). After his murder by the locals, Michael avenged him, took his place and married his widow. Despite the unreliability of the hagiography, its account is partially confirmed by Villehardouin's reference to the daughter of an Epirote magnate. Furthermore, as Michael's second wife was a first cousin of his first, their marriage was uncanonical in the eyes of the Church and of hostile historians; it is therefore likely that the "concubine" referenced by the latter as the mother of Michael II Komnenos Doukas was in reality Michael's second wife.
Michael had five children, three by his (first) wife and two by his second wife or concubine:
- An unnamed daughter, who in 1209 married Eustace, brother of the Latin Emperor Henry of Flanders.
- Theodora Komnene Doukaina, only mentioned briefly by Demetrios Chomatianos in 1216.
- Constantine Komnenos Doukas, mentioned only in the Latin text of the 1210 treaty with Venice, where he is designated as his father's successor. He must have died young before Michael's own death.
- Maria Komnene Doukaina, who married Constantine Maliasenos.
- Michael II Komnenos Doukas, an illegitimate son who succeeded as ruler of Epirus in 1230 until his death ca. 1268. He is the first Epirote ruler to have borne the title of despotes.
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|New title||Ruler of Epirus
1205 – ca. 1215