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Thomas Palaeologus

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Thomas Palaeologus

Thomas Palaiologos
Despot of the Morea
Thomas, detail from the Pintoriccio fresco of Pius II at Ancona
Reign 1423–1460
Born 1409
Died 12 May 1465(1465-05-12) (aged 55)
Predecessor Constantine Palaiologos
Consort Catherine Zaccaria
Dynasty Palaiologos
Father Manuel II Palaiologos
Mother Irene Gattilusio

Thomas Palaiologos or Palaeologus (Greek: Θωμάς Παλαιολόγος, Thōmas Palaiologos; 1409 – 12 May 1465) was Despot in Morea from 1428 until the Ottoman conquest during 1460. After the desertion of his older brother to the Turks in 1460, Thomas Palaiologos became the legitimate claimant to the Byzantine throne, a claim he maintained during his exile in Italy.


Thomas Palaiologos was the youngest surviving son of the Byzantine Emperor[1][2][3] Manuel II Palaiologos [4] and his wife Helena Dragaš. His maternal grandfather was Constantine Dragaš. His brothers included the Byzantine emperors John VIII Palaiologos[5] and Constantine XI Palaiologos, as well as Theodore II Palaiologos and Demetrios Palaiologos, Despots of the Morea, and Andronikos Palaiologos, Despot of Thessalonica. As youngest son, Thomas was never expected to reign, but his children became the only surviving heirs of the defunct Palaiologan dynasty.

Like other imperial sons, Thomas Palaiologos was made a Despot (despotēs), and from 1428 joined his brothers Theodore and Constantine in the Morea. After the retirement of Theodore during 1443, he governed together with Constantine, until the latter became emperor (as Constantine XI) during 1448. Thomas remained Despot of the Morea, but was forced to share the rule with his older brother Demetrios beginning 1449. The Byzantine possessions in Morea had expanded considerably at the expense of the Latin Principality of Achaea. After the last war during 1430 virtually the entire peninsula was ruled by the Byzantines, and Thomas married Catherine Zaccaria, the daughter of the last Prince of Achaea Centurione II Zaccaria, succeeding to his father-in-law's possessions during 1432.

After this period of success, the fortunes of Byzantine Morea decreased, as the collegiate government by several brothers caused increasing confusion. This became especially serious after the arrival of Demetrios, who had a pro-Ottoman policy as opposed to Thomas' pro-western orientation. From 1447 the Despots had become vassals of the Ottoman Sultan. At the beginning of the siege of Constantinople by Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire, an Ottoman army was sent with orders to raid in the Morea, preventing help from being sent to The City. After the conquest of Constantinople by Mehmed II on 29 May 1453, to maintain the status quo, the Sultan ordered the two brothers to continue as joint rulers of Morea.

This order had been accepted for the first two years because of the Kantakouzenos family's revolt which started during the siege of Constantinople (1453) by Demetrius I Kantakouzenos' grandchild Manuel. Only during the next year did the forces of the Palaiologos brothers destroy the rebel forces.

In these circumstances, and without Constantine XI to maintain peace in the family, Thomas sought western aid against both the Ottomans and his pro-Ottoman brother Demetrios. He allied with Republic of Genoa and the Pope, and defeated Demetrios, who fled seeking help from the Ottomans during 1460. The Ottoman army duly attacked Morea and quickly breached the Hexamilion wall across the Isthmus of Corinth, which was too long to be effectively manned and defended by Thomas' forces. Thomas escaped with his family to Italy, where he had already been recognized as the legitimate heir to the Byzantine Empire by the Pope.

The commanders of the garrisons of the fortified cities in Morea, deserted by their rulers, chose individually whether to fight or surrender, depending on their own will and circumstances. During 1460 in the final battle of the Roman Empire in its Byzantine incarnation, Graitzas Palaiologos, the military commander of the city of Salmenikos, defeated Mehmed II, who after a month of siege returned home without conquering that "unimportant city". During the next year Graitzas received an offer to become general of the Republic of Venice, which he accepted, thus leaving Salmenikos to the Ottomans.

Imperial heirs

After the conquest of Morea, Thomas lived in Rome, recognized throughout Christian Europe as the rightful Emperor of the East. To create greater support for his situation Thomas changed his religion to Roman Catholicism during his last years of life. After his death in 1465, the position of rightful Byzantine emperor was inherited by his older son Andreas Palaiologos, born in Mistra around 1453.

Mehmed II conquered the Empire of Trebizond, de facto the last free territory of the ancient Roman state, during the year 1461. Nevertheless, Mehmed had already proclaimed himself "Roman Emperor" upon capturing Constantinople (1453).

In an effort to reunite the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, Pope Paul II arranged during 1472 a marriage between the Catholic daughter of Thomas, Zoe Palaiologina (renamed Sophia), and Grand Prince Ivan III of Russia, with the hope of making Russia a Roman Catholic country. This attempt to unite churches failed. Nonetheless, because of this marriage, Moscow began in the next century its imperial policy of "third Rome". Moreover, Thomas' great-grandson was Ivan IV of Russia, the first emperor (tsar) of Russia to be crowned as such (the imperial title had already come into use by Ivan III and his son Vasili III of Russia). The last known descendant of Zoe/Sophia was Maria of Staritsa, wife of Livonia's king Magnus. She died in 1610.


By his marriage with Catherine (Caterina) Zaccaria of Achaea, Thomas Palaiologos had at least four children:

  1. Helena Palaiologina, who married Despot Lazar II of Serbia.
  2. Andrew (Andreas) Palaiologos, who succeeded as claimant to the Byzantine throne.
  3. Manuel Palaiologos.
  4. Zoe Palaiologina (renamed Sophia), who married Grand Prince Ivan III of Russia.




Thomas Palaiologos
Palaiologos dynasty
Born: 1409 Died: 12 May 1465
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Constantine Palaiologos
Despot of the Morea
with Demetrios Palaiologos
Office abolished
Claimants in exile
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
Constantine XI Palaiologos
Byzantine Emperor
(formally "Emperor of Constantinople")

with Demetrios Palaiologos
Reason for succession failure:
The Fall of Constantinople led to
the Ottoman conquest of the Byzantine Empire
Succeeded by
Andreas Palaiologos
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