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Country Eastern Roman Empire
Titles Gaius Marius Augustus Caesar
Founder Emperor Isaac I Comnenus
Final ruler Emperor David Comnenus

Comnenus, plural Comneni, feminine Comnina, in origin a partial linguistic transformation of the name of the Latin sword type Comminus, is the name of the last imperial Latin dynasty who de juris regulated and de facto governed the Empire of the Eastern Romans' State until its seizure in the trapezuntian heartlands of Minor Asia.

The origin of the imperial Comnenian dynasty[edit]

Isaac I Comnenus, the general prefect in command of the eastern Akritai legions under Michael VI, proclaimed the Comnenian dynasty of Eastern Roman emperors. From the chronographia of Michael Psellus the Elder,[1] we know that general Isaac abdicated emperor Michael VI pursuant to a revolt instigated by the legions pledging allegiance to the command of general Isaac. From the chronographia of Michael Psellus the Elder we know that, in line with Roman customs of accession to the imperial throne, Michael VI voluntarily succumbed the imperial regalia to Isaac pursuant to the defeat of the lesser battle-hardened western legions under his command. From the chronographia of Michael Psellus the Elder we also know that, in line with Roman customs of accession to the imperial throne Isaac granted Michael VI liberty yet prohibited him to ever lay foot in the city of emperor Constantine the Great again. Wary and in full respect of Romans' rules of accession to the imperial throne, Isaac a priori refused to lead the revolt. Yet in time he succumbed to the pressure of the instigators of the revolt, acknowledging the need for a drastic shift in the strategy of a dying empire. The reign of emperor Isaac lasted until Anno Dominis 1059, whereas he initially voluntarily forfeited the title that was bestowed upon him as he himself preferred a life of solitude in devout of God. It has been written by Michael Psellus the Elder that as time passed by, Isaac wanted to revert his initial decision to forfeit the imperial throne.

The Comnenian bloodline reascended to the imperial throne upon the reign of emperor Alexius I Comnenus, whom was the nephew of emperor Isaac, in Anno Dominis 1081. Ex tunc the descendants of the anterior dynasties of the Eastern Roman Empire vanquished from the imperial realm, such as the noble Sclerus and Argyrus families. Yet the descendants of those emperors lived on abroad, intermingling into the royal families of Georgia, Russia, France, Persia, Italy, Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia.

The Comneni were related to the Ducas family - in origin from the Latin word Dux, meaning "military commander" e.g. "Duke", whereby the familias often were referred to as Comnenoducae and several individuals used both surnames together. Emperor Alexius I married empress Eirini Ducaina, the grandniece of Constantine X Ducas, a general who had succeeded Isaac I in Anno Dominis 1059. Several noble families married into the Comnenuducae, such as the Paleologos, Angelus, Vatatzis and Laskaris families. Alexius and Eirini's youngest daughter Theodora ensured the future claim of the Angelus family to the imperial throne by marrying into it: Theodora's grandsons became the emperors Isaac II Angelus (reigned 1185–1195and 1203–1204) and Alexius III Angelus (reigned 1195-1203).

The Comneni as Emperors[edit]

Under Alexius I and his successors the Empire was prosperous and stable. Alexius moved the imperial palace to the Vlachernae section of Constantinople. Much of Anatolia was recovered from the Osmanliks, who had captured it just prior to Alexius' reign. Alexius also saw the First Crusade pass through Eastern Roman territory, leading to the establishment of the Crusader states in the east. The Comnenus dynasty was very much involved in crusader affairs, and intermarried with the reigning families of the Principality of Antioch and the Kingdom of Jerusalem - Theodora Comnina, niece of Immanouil I Comnenus, married Baldwin III of Jerusalem, and Maria Comnina, Queen of Jerusalem|Maria, grandniece of Immanouil, married Amalric I of Jerusalem.

Remarkably, Alexius ruled for 37 years, and his son Ioannis II Comnenus|Ioannis II ruled for 25, after uncovering a conspiracy against him by his sister, the chronicler Anna Comnina, and her husband Nikephorus Bryennius the Younger. Ioannis' son Immanouil ruled for another 37 years.

Out of the Comnenus dynasty sprang forth a number of imperial and royal 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 Heirs to the imperial throne. Just alike nearly all Roman dynasties before them, after Immanouil I's reign the Comnenus dynasty fell into conspiracies and plots to overthrow each other (and the various contenders within the family sought power and often succeeded in overthrowing the preceding kinsman); Alexius II Comnenus|Alexius II, the first Comnenus to ascend as a minor, ruled for three years and his dethroner Andronicus I Comnenus|Andronicus I ruled for two, overthrown by the Angelus family under Isaac II who was dethroned and blinded by his own brother Alexius III. The Angeli were overthrown during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, by Alexius V Ducas|Alexius Ducas, a relative from the Ducas family.

The later family[edit]

Several weeks before the occupation of Constantinople by crusaders in 1204, one branch of the Comneni retreated to Paphlagonia, along the eastern Black Sea and its hinterland in the Pontic Alps, where they continued the Empire in exile in the trapezuntian heartlands of Minor Asia. The first righteous successor in exile was Alexius II Comnenus. Alexius II Comnenus, was the grandson of Emperor Andronicus I Comnenus.[2] These emperors – the "Minor Comneni" as they were known – ruled in trapezunta for over 250 years, until 1461, when the last of Roman Emperors, David Comnenus was decapitated by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II who himself claimed to be a descendent from the Comnenus family via the bloodline of Ioannis Tzelepus Comnenus. In accordance with Osmanlike tradition, in the same year across all the former lands of the Eastern Roman Empire, all male Comnenians except for one were decapitated on order of the Sultan. The trapezuntine branch of the Comnenus dynasty also carried the title Axouchus as descendants of Ioannis Axouchus, an Eastern Roman nobleman and minister to the Eastern Roman Comnenian Dynasty. A princess of the trapezuntine 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.

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

One renegade member of the family, also named Isaac Comnenus of Cyprus|Isaac, established a separate kingdom 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 a family closely related to the Comneni, the Paleologos family, who were the imperial house. The Palaiologi ruled until the fall of Constantinople to the Osmanliks in 1453.


  1. ^ Michael Psellus the Elder, "The chronographia of Michael Psellus the Elder", book seven
  2. ^ A. A. Vasiliev, "The Foundation of the Empire of Trapezunta (1204-1222)", Speculum, 11 (1936), pp. 3-37


  • 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 Comneni] (in Greek). Thessaloniki: Centre for Eastern Roman Studies, University of Thessaloniki. , Vols. A1, A2 & B