Theodora Kantakouzene (wife of Alexios IV of Trebizond)

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Theodora Kantakouzene Megale Komnene (died 12 November 1426) was the Empress consort of Alexios IV of Trebizond. Said to be very beautiful, according to the chronicle of Laonikos Chalkokondyles she was accused by her son, John Megas Komnenos, of having an affair with the protovestiarios of the court of Trebizond; however, other accounts describe her as a faithful and loving wife, who kept the peace between Alexios and his sons. In either case, during her lifetime their son John fled to Georgia and did not return until after Theodora's death.


Theodora's parentage is described by the Byzantinist Donald Nicol as "obscure". The Ecthesis Chronica implies she was the daughter of a holder of the military rank of protostrator, and Nicol notes there are chronological grounds against identifying her father with one Manuel Kantakouzenos who was sent on a diplomatic mission to Sultan Mehmet I in the winter of 1420-1421.[1]


Born in Constantinople around 1382, Theodora was only thirteen when she became in 1395, the consort of the co-emperor Alexios IV of Trebizond, who was approximately the same age. She became ruling empress when her husband became sole emperor in Trebizond at the death of her father-in-law the emperor Manuel III, in 1417.[1]

A passage in the chronicle of Chalkokondyles states that Theodora became the mistress of the protovestiarios of the court of Trebizond, an act of adultery which provoked her son, John IV, to murder the gentleman, after which he imprisoned his parents in the palace. His parents were rescued by the archons of the city who sent John into exile in Georgia.[2]

However this story appears only in a passage considered to be one of several interpolations into Chalkokondyles' Chronicle; a scribe in one line of the text's transmission notes the difference in style, adding a note at the beginning of the passage that "this seems to have been written by someone other than Laonikos", and at the end of the passage ends another note reading “from here on it is Laonikos”.[3] Further, the story is contradicted by the chronology and other sources. It may be the writer of this story has confused with an earlier affair between a member of the imperial dynasty of Trebizond and a protovestiarios, namely Manuel III, the father-in-law of Theodora.[4] This event is reported by the Spanish traveller Ruy Gonzáles de Clavijo, who visited Trebizond in 1404 not long after the event. He adds that this scandalous relationship induced the young Alexios IV, Theodora's husband, to rebel against his father Manuel.[5]

Manuel III died on 5 March 1417. Alexios IV succeeded him with Theodora as his Empress consort. She remained Empress for nearly a decade to her own death at the third hour of the night. Theodora was buried in the Church of Theotokos Chrysokephalos in the cemetery of Gidon with the other Emperors of Trebizond.[6]

It appears that it was only after the death of Theodora (1426) that John IV rebelled against his father, because his late mother could no longer mediate the increasing rivalry between father and son. On the contrary, the virtue, the piety, and the fidelity of Theodora are celebrated by her compatriot, the scholar Basilios Bessarion, in the three monodies he dedicated to his benefactress, and in a special discourse of consolation addressed to Alexios IV, devastated by the death of his beloved empress. Last but not least, John IV himself, after his accession to the throne in 1429, paid homage to the virtues of his deceased mother in a chrysobull benefiting the convent she founded.[7]


Theodora married Emperor Alexios IV with whom she had six known children:[8]


  1. ^ a b Donald M. Nicol, The Byzantine family of Kantakouzenos (Cantacuzenus) ca. 1100-1460: a genealogical and prosopographical study (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 1968), p. 168
  2. ^ William Miller, Trebizond: The last Greek Empire of the Byzantine Era: 1204-1461, 1926 (Chicago: Argonaut, 1969), p. 81
  3. ^ Anthony Kaldellis, "The Interprestations in the Histories of Laonikos Chalkokondyles", Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies, 52 (2012), p. 260
  4. ^ Nicol, Byzantine Family, p. 170 n. 22
  5. ^ Clavijo, Narrative of the Embassy of Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo..., translated by Clements R. Markham (London: Hakluyt Society, 1859), p. 62
  6. ^ Nicol, Byzantine Family, p. 169
  7. ^ Th. Ganchou, "Théodôra Kantakouzènè Komnènè de Trébizonde (°~ 1382/†1426) ou la vertu calomniée", Geschehenes und Getriebenes: Studien zu Ehren von G. S. Einrich und K.-P. Matschke (Leipzig, 2005), pp. 337-350
  8. ^ George Finlay, The History of Greece and the Empire of Trebizond, (1204-1461) (Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1851), p. 438
Royal titles
Preceded by
Anna Philanthropene
Empress consort of Trebizond
with Maria Gattilusio (?–1426)
Succeeded by