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The Byzantine civil war of 1373–1379 was a military conflict fought in the Byzantine Empire between Byzantine Emperor John V Palaiologos and his son, Andronikos IV Palaiologos. It began when Andronikos sought to overthrow his father in 1373. Although he failed, with Genoese aid, Andronikos was eventually able to overthrow and imprison John V in 1376. In 1379 however, John V escaped, and with Ottoman help, regained his throne. The civil war further weakened the declining Empire, which had already suffered several devastating civil wars earlier in the century. The major beneficiary of the war were the Ottomans, whose vassals the Byzantines had effectively become.



Emperor John V Palaiologos, from a 15th-century manuscript.

When John V assumed sole rule of the Empire in 1354, he pursued a clearly pro-Western foreign policy. He gave Lesbos and his sister's hand in marriage to a Genoese, Pontic Heraclea, Byzantium's last Anatolian port, was sold to the Venetians,[1] and he himself converted to Roman Catholicism, an action that alienated him from his subjects and gained little in return.[2] By the 1360s, the Byzantine Empire was a shadow of its former self. Its last domains in Thrace were being overrun by the Ottomans, who in 1365 captured Adrianople (modern Edirne). Seeking aid from the West, in 1369 John V visited Pope Urban V that summer, and following that he sailed to Venice, where he negotiated a treaty in which the Venetians would cancel the emperor's debt in return for the island of Tenedos. On leaving Byzantine soil he left his two sons, Andronikos IV and Manuel, to manage Constantinople and Thessalonica respectively.[3] Andronikos IV, the elder son and co-emperor, however refused to hand over Tenedos to the Venetians as agreed, and the Emperor was detained by the Venetians for two years until Manuel intervened on his behalf.[4]

First conflict – Failed revolt of Andronikos IV, 1373

Andronikos IV resented his father's acceptance of tributary and vassal status to the Ottoman Empire in 1373, and in the same year, he joined Savci Bey, a son of the Ottoman Sultan Murad I, in an open rebellion against their fathers.[5] Both revolts were suppressed, although Byzantine military weakness meant that this was largely carried out by Turkish troops.[4] Murad blinded Savci and demanded that John V in turn blind both Andronikos and the latter's son, John. John V did so only partially, leaving Andronikos IV with one eye and his son only partially blinded, but he did imprison Andronikos.[2] The younger John greatly resented his grandfather's action and would rebel against him in 1390, reigning for five months.[6] In the aftermath of Andronikos' failure, Manuel was raised to co-emperor and heir to John V as Manuel II.

Second conflict – Andronikos' usurpation, 1376–1379

Shortly after Andronikos was imprisoned, John V sold Tenedos to the Venetians on similar terms to previous failed agreement. The Genoese however did not take kindly to the island being in the hands of the Venetians, with whom they were embroiled in a war. Thus, in 1376, the Genoese, based in their colony in Galata, helped free Andronikos and procure Ottoman troops for him.[4] Andronikos assumed control of Constantinople and imprisoned the Emperor John V and his younger brother Manuel. In return for their help, Andronikos IV now gave Tenedos to the Genoese and Gallipoli to the Ottomans.[4]

These acts in turn embroiled him, shortly after his accession, in a war with Venice.[4] Together with his son, John VII, who was crowned as co-emperor in 1376, there were now no less than four emperors in Byzantium, all of them more or less pawns in the policies of the Ottomans and the Italian city-states.[2] Andronikos IV ruled until 1379, when John V and Manuel II escaped and fled to the court of Murad I.[2] After apparently agreeing to cede the virtually independent Byzantine exclave of Philadelphia to the Ottomans, John V was reestablished on the throne with the help of Venetian ships and the Ottoman army.[7]


After John V entered the capital, Constantinople, Andronikos IV fled to Genoese Galata and stayed there two years. However he held hostage for a time his mother, Helena Kantakouzene, and her father, the former emperor John VI Kantakouzenos. However in 1381 a treaty was signed in which allowed him to return. Later on the Venetians and Genoese ended their war and agreed to depopulate Tenedos and raze its fortifications, hence transforming it to a neutral territory.[7] This conflict further weakened the Byzantine Empire, which was surrounded by the massive and ever-expanding Ottoman Empire.

See also


  1. ^ Treadgold (1997), p. 788
  2. ^ a b c d Browning (1992), p. 242
  3. ^ Treadgold (1997), p. 779
  4. ^ a b c d e Treadgold (1997), p. 780
  5. ^ Haldon (2003), p. 22
  6. ^ Treadgold (1997), p. 782
  7. ^ a b Treadgold (1997), p. 781


  • Treadgold, Warren (1997), A History of the Byzantine State and Society, Stanford University Press, ISBN 0804726302  
  • Browning, Robert (1992), The Byzantine Empire, The Catholic University of America Press, ISBN 0813207541  
  • Haldon, John (2003), Byzantium at War, Routledge, ISBN 0415968615  


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