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Empire of Trebizond

Empire of Trebizond
Successor of the Byzantine Empire

Empire of Trebizond (violet) and surrounding states in 1300
Capital Trebizond
Languages Pontic Greek (de facto)
Religion Eastern Orthodoxy
Government Absolute monarchy
 •  1204–1222 Alexios I
 •  1459–1461 David
Historical era Late Medieval
 •  Established 1204
 •  Disestablished August 15, 1461
1 the full title of the Trapezuntine emperors after 1261 was "the faithful Basileus and Autokrator of All the East, the Iberians and Perateia"

The Empire of Trebizond was a monarchy that flourished during the 13th through 15th centuries, comprising the far northeastern corner of Anatolia and the southern Crimea. Originally formed during a revolt against the usurpation of the imperial throne by the grandsons of Emperor Andronikos I Komnenos, Trebizond became a Byzantine Greek successor state established after the fall of the Byzantine Empire in the Fourth Crusade, along with the Empire of Nicaea and the Despotate of Epirus.[1] The Emperors of Trebizond pressed their claim on the Imperial throne for decades after the Nicaean reconquest of Constantinople in 1261.

The Trapezuntine monarchy survived the longest of the Byzantine successor states. The Despotate of Epirus slowly disintegrated through the 13th and 14th centuries, coming under the control of the restored Byzantine Empire c. 1340 and although it was soon reinstated, it was mostly ruled by foreigners until the last Italian Despot was ousted by the Ottomans in 1479. While the Empire of Nicaea had become the resurrected Byzantine Empire, it came to an end in 1453 with the Fall of Constantinople and of the Despotate of the Morea to the Ottoman Empire. The Empire of Trebizond continued until 1461 when the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II conquered it after a month-long siege and took its ruler and his family into captivity.[2] According to tradition, the Trebizondian garrison on Giresun Island fought off the Turks for another 7 years before finally surrendering in 1468. The Empire's Crimean offshoot, the Principality of Theodoro, lasted another 14 years, falling to the Ottomans in 1475.


  • Overview 1
  • Origins 2
  • The Empire up to the civil wars 3
  • From the civil wars to the end of the 14th century 4
  • Trebizond in the 15th century 5
  • Megas Komnenos dynasty 6
  • List of Trapezuntine people 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Sources and research 10
    • Primary sources 10.1
    • Secondary sources 10.2


Geographically, the Empire of Trebizond consisted of the narrow strip along the southern coast of the Caucasus Greeks, and the Crimean branch, resettled by Catherine the Great on the north shores of the Sea of Azov, are referred to as Mariupolitan Greeks.

The Pontic Greeks remained along the eastern Black Sea coast and its hinterland in the Pontic Alps, as well as in northeastern

  • Anthony Bryer & David Winfield, The Byzantine Monuments and Topography of the Pontos (DOS. XX), vol. 1–2, Washington, 1985.
  • Anthony Bryer, Peoples and Settlement in Anatolia and the Caucasus, 800–1900, Variorum collected studies series, London, 1988.
  • Bryer, Anthony (1980). The Empire of Trebizond and the Pontos. London: Variorum Reprints.  
  • Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer, Geschichte des Kaiserthums Trapezunt (Munich, 1827–1848)
  • George Finlay The History of Greece, From Its Conquest by the Crusaders to Its Conquest by the Turks, and of the Empire of Trebizond: 1204-1461. Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1851.
  • Émile Janssens. Trébizonde en Colchide. Bruxelles: Presses universitaires de Bruxelles, 1969,
  • Sergei Karpov. L' impero di Trebisonda, Venezia, Genova e Roma, 1204–1461. Rapporti politici, diplomatici e commerciali. Roma, 1986, 321 P.
  • Sergei Karpov. Трапезундская империя и западноевропейские государства, 1204-1461. ("The Empire of Trebizond and the nations of Western Europe, 1204–1461.") Moscow, 1981, 231 pp.
  • Sergei Karpov. История Трапезундской империи ("A history of the empire of Trebizond"). Saint Petersburg, 2007, 656 pp.
  • William Miller, Trebizond: The Last Greek Empire, (1926; repr. Chicago: Argonaut Publishers, 1968)
  • Donald Queller, Thomas Madden, The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2nd ed., 1997. ISBN 0-8122-3387-5
  • Savvides, Alexios G. K. (2009). Ιστορία της Αυτοκρατορίας των Μεγάλων Κομνηνών της Τραπεζούντας (1204-1461). 2η Έκδοση με προσθήκες [History of the Empire of the Grand Komnenoi of Trebizond (1204-1461). 2nd Edition with additions] (in Greek). Thessaloniki: Kyriakidis Brothers S.A.  
  • Rustam Shukurov. Великие Комнины и Восток (1204—1461) ("The Megas Komnenos and the Orient (1204–1461)"). Saint Petersburg, 2001, 446 pp (in Russian), ISBN 5-89329-337-1
  • Levan Urushadze, The Comnenus of Trabizond and the Bagrationi dynasty of Georgia. — J. "Tsiskari", Tbilisi, No 4, 1991, pp. 144–148: in Georgian.
  • Fyodor Uspensky, From the history of the Empire of Trabizond (Ocherki iz istorii Trapezuntskoy Imperii), Leningrad, 1929, 160 pp: a monograph in Russian.

Secondary sources

  • Johannes Bessarion: The praise of Trebizond
  • Michael Panaretos: Chronicle

Primary sources

Sources and research

  1. ^ Alexander A. Vasiliev, History of the Byzantine Empire, Vol 2. 324 - 1453, second edition (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1958), p. 506: "... on the territory of the disintegrated eastern empire, three independent Greek centers were formed; The empire of Nicaea and the empire of Trebizond in Asia Minor and the Despotat of Epirus in Northern Greece."
  2. ^ William Miller, Trebizond: The last Greek Empire of the Byzantine Era: 1204-1461, 1926 (Chicago: Argonaut, 1969), pp. 100-106
  3. ^ "Greeks of the Steppe". The Washington Post. 10 November 2012. Retrieved 25 October 2014. 
  4. ^ S. P. Karpov, "New Documents on the Relations between the Latins and the Local Populations in the Black Sea Area (1392-1462)", Dumbarton Oaks Papers: Symposium on Byzantium and the Italians, 13th-15th centuries, 49 (1995), p. 39
  5. ^ Bryer, "Greeks and Türkmens: The Pontic Exception", Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 29 (1975), pp. 117ff
  6. ^ As documented by Michel Kurskanskis, "L'empire de Trébizonde et les Turcs au 13e siècle", Revue des études byzantines, 46 (1988). pp. 109-124.
  7. ^ Nicol, Last Centuries, p. 74
  8. ^ See the discussion in N. Oikonomides, "The Chancery of the Grand Komnenoi: Imperial Tradition and Political Reality", Archeion Pontou 35 (1979), pp. 299-332
  9. ^ Runciman, A History of the Crusades - the Kingdom of Arce and the Later Crusades (Cambridge: University Press, 1975), p. 126
  10. ^ Nicol, The Last Centuries of Byzantium, 1261-1453, second edition (Cambridge: University Press, 1993), pp. 402f
  11. ^ Miller, Trebizond, pp. 117ff
  12. ^ Miller, Trebizond, p. 12
  13. ^ Some authorities identify Taronites with the known son of Theodore Gabras, Gregory Gabras. See Anthony Bryer, "A Byzantine Family: The Gabrades, c. 979 – c. 1653", University of Birmingham Historical Journal, 12 (1970), p. 176
  14. ^ Miller, Trebizond, p. 13
  15. ^ Hewsen, Robert H. (2009). "Armenians on the Black Sea: The Province of Trebizond". In Richard G. Hovannisian. Armenian Pontus: The Trebizond-Black Sea Communities. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, Inc. pp. 47, 37–66.  
  16. ^ Eastmond, Antony. "Narratives of the Fall: Structure and Meaning in the Genesis Frieze at Hagia Sophia, Trebizond". Dumbarton Oaks Papers 53 (1999), 219–36.
  17. ^ A. A. Vasiliev, "The Foundation of the Empire of Trebizond (1204-1222)", Speculum, 11 (1936), pp. 18f
  18. ^ Michel Kuršanskis, "L'Empire de Trébizonde et la Géorgie", Revue des études byzantines, 35 (1977). pp. 243-247
  19. ^ Michael Panaretos, Chronicle, ch. 1. Greek text in Original-Fragmente, Chroniken, Inschiften und anderes Materiale zur Geschichte des Kaiserthums Trapezunt, part 2; in Abhandlungen der historischen Classe der königlich bayerischen Akademie 4 (1844), abth. 1, pp. 11; German translation, p. 41
  20. ^ Karpov, "New Archival Discoveries of Documents concerning the Empire of Trebizond", Gamer, 1 (2012), pp. 75f
  21. ^ Vasiliev, "Foundation", p. 19
  22. ^ Kuršanskis, "Trébizonde et la Géorgie", pp. 243-245
  23. ^ Hewsen, "Armenians on the Black Sea", p. 48
  24. ^ Maria Nystazooulou, "La dernière reconquête de Sinope par les Grecs de Trébizonde (1254-1265)", Revue des études byzantines, 22 (1964), pp. 241-9
  25. ^ E.S. Georganteli, "Trapezuntine Money in the Balkans, Anatolia and the Black Sea, 13th-15th centuries", in T. Kyriakides (ed.), Trebizond and the Black Sea (Thessaloniki, 2010), p. 94
  26. ^ Bryer, "The Estates of the Empire of Trebizond. Evidence for their Resources, Products, Agriculture, Ownership and Location", Archeion Pontou 35 (1979), p. 371. He also includes revenue from such typical medieval sources as "the profits of justice, imperial trade and mining, confiscations and even piracy."
  27. ^ Miller, Trebizond, p. 85
  28. ^ Miller, Trebizond, pp. 87f
  29. ^ a b Nicol, Last Centuries, p. 407
  30. ^ Nicol, Last Centuries, p. 408
  31. ^ Miller, "The Chronology of Trebizond", The English Historical Review, 38 (1923), pp. 408f; Laurent "L'Assassinat d'Alexis IV, empereur de Trebizonde", Archeion Pontou, 20 (1955), pp. 131-143.
  32. ^ Bryer, "'The faithless Kabazitai and Scholarioi'", in Maistor: Classical, Byzantine and Renaissance Studies for Robert Browning, ed. Ann Moffatt (Canberra, 1984), pp. 309-327
  33. ^ Ganchou, Thierre (2000), "La Date de la Mort du Basileus Jean IV Komnenos de Trebizonde", Byzantische Zeitschrift 93: 113–124 – via  


See also

List of Trapezuntine people

Name Portrait Started reign Ended reign Notes
Alexios I Megas Komnenos 1204 1 February 1222
Andronikos I Gidos 1 February 1222 1235
Ioannes I Axouchos 1235 1238
Manuel I Megas Komnenos,

"The Great Captain",
"The Most Fortunate"

1238 March 1263
Andronikos II Komnenos March 1263 1266
Georgios Komnenos 1266 1280 Deposed
Ioannes II Megas Komnenos 1280 1284 First reign
Theodora Megala Komnena 1284 1285
Ioannes II Megas Komnenos 1285 16 August 1297 Second reign
Alexios II Megas Komnenos 16 August 1297 1330
Andronikos III Megas Komnenos 1330 8 January 1332
Manuel II Megas Komnenos 8 January 1332 September 1332 Emperor for 8 months.
Basileios Megas Komnenos September 1332 6 April 1340
Irene Palaiologina 6 April 1340 17 July 1341 Widow of Basileios.
Anna Anachoutlou 17 July 1341 4 September 1342 Daughter of Alexios II.
Ioannes III Megas Komnenos 4 September 1342 3 May 1344
Michael Megas Komnenos 3 May 1344 13 December 1349 Father of Ioannes III.
Alexios III Megas Komnenos 13 December 1349 20 March 1390
Manuel III Megas Komnenos 20 March 1390 5 March 1417
Alexios IV Megas Komnenos 5 March 1417 1429 William Miller and V. Laurent have argued that Alexios was murdered in October of 1429.[31] More recently, Anthony Bryer has argued on new evidence that Alexios was murdered 26 April of that year.[32]
Ioannes IV Megas Komnenos 1429 1460 Authorities offer a date for John's death from 1458 to 1460. The date offered here is taken from the latest publication on this issue.[33]
David Megas Komnenos 1460 1461

The Komnenos dynasty ruled the main Byzantine Empire from Constantinople until 1185. The table below shows the members of the family that were rulers of the Trebizond Empire from 1204 to 1461.

Megas Komnenos dynasty

Mehmed's response came in the summer of 1461. He collected a sizable army at Bursa, and in a surprise move marched on Sinope, whose emir quickly surrendered. Then the Sultan moved south across eastern Anatolia to neutralize Uzun Hasan. Having isolated Trebizond, Mehmed quickly swept down upon it before the inhabitants knew he was coming, and placed it under siege. The city held out for a month before David surrendered on August 15, 1461. With the fall of Trebizond, the last independent remnant of the Byzantine Empire, as well as the Roman Empire from which the Byzantine Empire sprang, was extinguished.[30]

After John's death in 1459, his brother David came to power. David intrigued with various European powers for help against the Ottomans, speaking of wild schemes that included the conquest of Jerusalem. Mehmed II eventually heard of these intrigues and was further provoked to action by David's demand that Mehmed remit the tribute imposed on his brother.[29]

[29] John IV prepared for the eventual assault by forging alliances. He sent an envoy to the

A 14th-century miniature Greek manuscript depicting Byzantine Greek soldiers from the Empire of Trebizond.

Alexios IV's eldest son, John IV (1429–1459), could not help but see that his Empire would soon share the same fate as Constantinople. The Ottoman Sultan Murad II first attempted to take the capital by sea in 1442, but high surf made the landings difficult and the attempt was repulsed.[27] While Murad's son and successor, Mehmed II, was away laying siege to Belgrade in 1456, the Ottoman governor of Amasya attacked Trebizond, and although defeated, he took many prisoners and extracted a heavy tribute.[28]

The last years of the fourteenth century were characterized by the increasing Turkish threat. This threat was not from the small Turkmen emirs that bordered the Empire, but from the dynasty of the Osmanli, a new Turkish power emerging from western Anatolia that would soon be known as the Ottoman Empire. Although this new opponent, after defeating the Greeks of Constantinople and the Christian powers of the Balkans, had suffered a disaster at the Battle of Ankara in 1402 by Tamerlane, the Ottomans recovered with amazing speed, eventually conquering Thessalonika in 1430 and, above all, Constantinople on 29 May 1453. Manuel III (1390–1417), the second son and successor of Alexios III, had allied himself with Tamerlane, but the mighty conqueror soon left Anatolia, and the empire he had built crumbled with his death. His son Alexios IV (1417–1429) continued the tradition of political marriages by marrying two of his daughters to rulers of two neighboring Muslim empires: Jihan Shah, khan of the Kara Koyunlu, and Ali Beg, khan of the Ak Koyunlu. His eldest daughter Maria became the third wife of the Byzantine Emperor John VIII Palaiologos.

A reduced Trebizond with surrounding states in 1400

Trebizond in the 15th century

Under the rule of Alexios III, Trebizond was considered an important trade center and was renowned for its great wealth and artistic accomplishment. It was at this point that their famous diplomatic strategy of marrying the princesses of the Grand Komnenos to neighboring Turkish dynasts began. However, Anthony Bryers has argued against thinking this empire was a wealthy polity, stating that while the income from taxes levied on this trade was "by Byzantine standards" substantial, as much as three quarters of the income of the Emperor came from land "either directly from the imperial estates or indirectly from taxes and tithes from other lands."[26]

Following the death of Alexios II, Trebizond suffered a period of repeated imperial depositions and assassinations, despite a short period of stability under his youngest son Basil (1332-1340). Two groups struggled for ascendency: the Scholaroi, who have been identified as being pro-Byzantine, and the Amytzantarantes, who were identified as representing the interests of the native archontes. The years 1347-1348 marked the apex of this lawless period. The Turks took advantage of the weakness of the empire, conquering Oinaion and besieging Trebizond, while the Genoese seized Kerasus. In addition, the Black Death spread from Caffa to ravage Trebizond and other Pontic cities. Bending under the weight of the disasters that accumulated on his states, Emperor Michael abdicated in 1349 in favor of his nephew, Alexios III, who gradually brought the partisans of both factions under control.

From the civil wars to the end of the 14th century

The destruction of Baghdad by Hulagu Khan in 1258 diverted the western terminus of the Silk Road north to the Black Sea, and due to its link with their local capital at Tabriz, Trebizond accumulated tremendous wealth under the suzerainty of the Mongols.[25] Western travelers used Trebziond as their starting point for journeys into Asia; these travelers included Marco Polo, who returned to Europe in 1295 by way of Trebizond. The troubled reign of Manuel's youngest son John II (1280–1297) included a reconciliation with the restored Byzantine Empire and the end of Trapezuntine claims to Constantinople. Trebizond enjoyed a period of wealth and influence during the long reign of John's eldest son Alexios II (1297–1330).

The second son of Alexios I, Manuel I (1238–1263), preserved internal security and acquired the reputation of a great commander. His accomplishments included capturing Sinope in 1254.[24] He was the first ruler to issue silver coins, which were known as aspers.

For most of the 13th century Trebizond was in continual conflict with the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm and later with the Ottoman Turks, as well as Constantinople, the Italian republics, and especially the Republic of Genoa. It was an empire more in title than in fact, surviving by playing its rivals against each other, and offering the daughters of its rulers, who were famed for their beauty, for marriage with generous dowries, especially with the Turkish rulers of inland Anatolia. The common view is that the Empire of Trebizond relied heavily upon wealth gained from its trade with Genoese and Venetian merchants to secure for itself the resources necessary to maintain independence.[23]

Vasiliev points out that the brothers occupied Trebizond too early to have done so in response to the Crusaders capturing Constantinople; Alexios and David began their march on Trebizond before news of the Seljuk Turks.[21] Kuršanskis, while agreeing with Vasiliev that Tamar was motivated by revenge for Alexios Angelos's insult, proposed a more obvious motivation for the brother's return to Byzantine territory: they had decided to raise the banner of revolt, depose Alexios Angelos, and return the imperial throne to the Komnenos dynasty. However, not long after they had gained control of Trebizond and the neighboring territories, news of the Latin conquest of Constantinople reached them, and the brothers entered the competition for recovery of the imperial city against Theodore I Laskaris in western Anatolia (ruler of the "Empire of Nicaea") and Michael Komnenos Doukas in mainland Greece (ruler of the "Despotate of Epirus").[22]

The date Alexios entered Trebizond may be narrowed down even further. [20]

Alexios III, from the chrysobull he granted to the Dionysiou monastery on Mount Athos.

After marching from Georgia, and with the help of their paternal aunt Queen Tamar, Alexios and David occupied Trebizond in April 1204.[19] That same month Alexios was proclaimed emperor at the age of 22, an act considered by later writers as the moment the Empire of Trebizond was founded.

The Empire up to the civil wars

[18] Both men were the grandsons of the last

[16] The empire traces its foundation to April 1204, when

[14] in 1139 to lead an expedition against him. Although that effort came to nothing, this was the last rebel governor known to recorded history prior to the events of 1204.John II Komnenos, whom Niketas describes as ruling Trebizond as a tyrant, and whose actions led Emperor Constantine Gabras Another successor to Theodore was [13] also rebelled with the aid of the Sultan of Cappadocia, but he was defeated and imprisoned, only to be made governor once more.Gregory Taronites One of his successors, [12] The city of

Fortification plan of Trebizond


The Empire of Trebizond acquired a reputation in Western Europe for being "enriched by the trade from Persia and the East that passed through its capital," according to Steven Runciman, "and by the silver-mines in the hills behind, and famed for the beauty of its princesses."[9] Donald Nicol echoes Runciman's observations: "Most of the emperors were blessed with a progeny of marriageable daughters, and the beauty of the ladies of Trebizond was as legendary as the wealth of their dowries."[10] Its wealth and exotic location endowed a lingering fame on the polity. Cervantes described the eponymous hero of his Don Quixote as "imagining himself for the valour of his arm already crowned at least Emperor of Trebizond." Rabelais had his character Picrochole, the ruler of Piedmont, declare: "I want also to be Emperor of Trebizond." Other allusions and works set in Trebizond continue into the 20th century.[11]

The rulers of Trebizond called themselves Megas Komnenos ("Great Comnenus") and – like their counterparts in the other two Byzantine successor states, the Empire of Nicaea and the Despotate of Epirus – initially claimed supremacy as "Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans." However, after Michael VIII Palaiologos of Nicaea recaptured Constantinople in 1261, the Komnenian use of the style "Emperor" became a sore point. In 1282, John II Komnenos stripped off his imperial regalia before the walls of Constantinople before entering to marry Michael's daughter and accept his legal title of despot.[7] However, his successors used a version of his title, "Emperor and Autocrat of the entire East, of the Iberians and the Perateia" until the Empire's end in 1461.[8]

The core of the empire was the southern Black Sea coast from the mouth of the Yeşilırmak River, a region known to the Trapezuntines as Limnia, possibly as far east as Batumi; a Genoese document records the seizure of one of their ships at that port in 1437 by a military Galley at the orders of Emperor John IV.[4] Anthony Bryer has argued that six of the seven banda of the Byzantine theme of Chaldia were maintained in working order by the rulers of Trebizond until the end of the empire, helped by geography. Geography also defined the southern border of this state: the Pontic Alps served as a barrier first to Seljuk Turks and later to Turkoman marauders, whose predations were reduced to a volume that the emperors could cope with.[5] This territory corresponds to an area comprising all or parts of the modern Turkish provinces of Sinop, Samsun, Ordu, Giresun, Trabzon, Bayburt, Gümüşhane, Rize, and Artvin. In the 13th century, some experts believe the empire controlled Perateia, which included Cherson and Kerch on the Crimean peninsula. David Komnenos, the younger brother of the first Emperor, expanded rapidly to the west, occupying first Sinope, then coastal parts of Paphlagonia (the modern-day coastal regions of Kastamonu, Bartın, and Zonguldak) and Heraclea Pontica (the modern-day Karadeniz Ereğli), until his territory bordered the Empire of Nicaea. The expansion was, however, short-lived: the territories west of Sinope were lost to Theodore I Laskaris by 1214, and Sinope itself fell to the Seljuks that same year, although the emperors of Trebizond continued to fight for its control over the rest of the 13th century.[6]

Successor states of the Byzantine Empire after the 4th Crusade: The Empire of Trebizond, Empire of Nicaea and Despotate of Epirus.


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