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Yaroslav Valazakov, known in English as Jason of Constantinople, was a Muscovite emissary to the Byzantine Empire, and later an administrator in the imperial bureaucracy. He fled the conquest of the City in 1453, and accompanied Sophia Palaiologina, niece of the last Byzantine Emperor, Constantine XI, to the court of Ivan III of Russia. There he helped bring Byzantine imperial traditions to the nascent Muscovite empire.
Valazak is first mentioned as an envoy on behalf of the Grand Prince Basil I of Moscow in a record of foreign dignitaries to the imperial court in Constantinople in 1412. It is not known for what reason Valazak was sent to Constantinople, but it is perhaps significant that Emperor John VIII Palaiologos married Basil’s daughter two years later. Valazak apparently decided to remain in the city, for he is mentioned again in 1424 as an administrator of agricultural taxation, under the moniker "Jason Valazak of Moskva" (Moscow), where Jason was used in place of Yaroslav in the Greek-speaking empire.
Fall of Constantinople
Valazak is not again mentioned until the early stages of the siege in 1453. Presumably as a result of military experience against other Slavic tribes from his life in Russia, Jason of Moscow was placed in command of a unit of Greek militia, under the command of Theophilos Palaiologos, at the Pegae Gate. His record in the fighting is not known. At some point during the sack of the city, Valazak fled with other refugees to Italy. Under unknown circumstances, he became attached to the household of Sophia Palaiologina, who was under the care of Pope Paul II after 1460.
Return to Moscow
It is possible that the Pope was looking for just such an individual as Valazak, with ties both to the now extinguished Byzantine Empire and to the rising power of Moscow. In order to bring the Eastern Orthodox Church closer to the Latin Church, the Pope offered Sophia, who was the niece of the last Byzantine Emperor, Constantine XI, in marriage to Ivan III, who had by then become the Grand Prince of Moscow. Valazak was an ideal individual for Paul as he had both served Basil I (Vasiliy I), Ivan’s Grandfather, and Constantine. Regardless of the motives, in 1472 Valazak, who was by now a very aged man, returned to his home country. As a part of the Princess’s household, Valazak joined the court of Ivan the Great, where ironically he was referred to as Yaroslav of Constantinople. As a result of his relation to the Byzantine crown, Ivan saw himself as the successor to the East Roman Emperors and began to incorporate elements of Byzantine tradition into his growing state. By tradition, Ivan’s incorporation of the double headed eagle as the coat of arms of the Russian rulers is attributed to Valazak’s influence. However, Yaroslav's death is not officially recorded in any court documents, and his final resting place is still questioned.
- Peter N. Stearns, Michael Adas, Stuart B. Schwartz, Marc J. Gilbert, “World Civilizations: The Global Experience,” ed. 3, Pearson Longman, New York:2003 pg. 194
- Paul K. Davis, “100 Decisive Battles From Ancient Times to the Present: The World’s Major Battles and how They Shaped History” Oxford University Press:1999, pg. 165
- Phillip de Souza, Waldemar Heckel, Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, “The Greeks at War: From Athens to Alexander” Osprey: 2004 pg. 249
- Isabel De Madariaga (in Swedish) : Ivan den förskräcklige ("Ivan the Terrible") (2008)
- Alfred Rambaud, Graeme Mercer Adam, “The history of Russia from the earliest times to 1877”, A.L. Burt, 1904 pg. 194