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Αυτοκρατορία της Τραπεζούντας
Empire of Trebizond


Dynastic flag of the Trebizond Komnenos family.

Empire of Trebizond (brown) and surrounding states in 1300.
Capital Trebizond
Language(s) Pontic Greek (de facto)
Religion Eastern Orthodoxy
Government Autocracy
 - 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, founded in April 1204, was one of three Byzantine successor states of the Byzantine Empire. However, the creation of the Empire of Trebizond was not directly related to the capture of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade, rather it had broken away from the Byzantine Empire a few weeks prior to that event.[1] Geographically, the Empire of Trebizond never consisted of much more than the southern coast of the Black Sea.



Silver asper of Manuel I Komnenos.

The Empire of Trebizond was founded in early April 1204, when Alexios Komnenos, taking advantage of the preoccupation of the central Byzantine government with the encampment of the soldiers of the Fourth Crusade outside their walls (June 1203 - mid-April 1204), seized the city of Trebizond and the surrounding province of Chaldia with troops provided by his relative, Tamar of Georgia. Henceforth, the links between Trebizond and Georgia remained close, but their nature and extent have been disputed.[2]

Alexios Komnenos was a grandson of the last Komnenian Byzantine emperor, Andronikos I Komnenos, through that man's son Manuel Komnenos, who, in turn, had married Rusudan, daughter of George III of Georgia. In 1185, Andronikos I had been deposed and killed and his son, Manuel had been blinded and died not long after. Alexius and his brother, David, were only saved through the actions of their mother, Rusudan, who fled Constantinople with her children to escape persecution by Isaac II Angelos, Andronikos' successor. It is unclear whether Rusudan fled to Georgia or to the southern coast of the Black Sea where the Komnenos family had its origins.

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

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 the traditional Byzantine title of "Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans." However, after reaching an agreement with the restored Byzantine Empire in 1282, the official title of the ruler of Trebizond was changed to "Emperor and Autocrat of the entire East, of the Iberians and the Perateia" and remained such until the Empire's end in 1461. The state is sometimes called the Comnenian empire from its ruling dynasty.

Trebizond initially controlled a contiguous area on the southern Black Sea coast between Soterioupolis and Sinope, comprising the modern Turkish provinces of Sinop, Ordu, Giresun, Trabzon, Bayburt, Gümüşhane, Rize and Artvin. In the thirteenth century, the empire controlled Perateia, which included Cherson and Kerch on the Crimean peninsula. David Komnenos, the younger brother of Alexios, expanded rapidly to the west, occupying first Sinope, then Paphlagonia and Heraclea Pontica (modern Samsun province and the coastal regions of Kastamonu, Bartın and Zonguldak) until his territory bordered the Empire of Nicaea founded by Theodore I Laskaris. The expansion was short-lived however: the territories west of Sinope were lost to the Empire of Nicaea by 1206, and Sinope itself fell to the Seljuks in 1214.


Alexios III and his wife Theodora, from the chrysobull he granted to the Dionysiou monastery on Mount Athos.

The Empire of Trebizond was the longest surviving of the Byzantine successor states. The Empire of Nicaea had, in 1261, succeeded in retaking Constantinople, extinguishing the feeble Latin Empire. The Despotate of Epirus slowly disintegrated through the 13th and 14th centuries coming under the control of the restored (Nicaean-derived) Byzantine Empire c. 1340.

The restored Byzantine Empire was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1453 while the Empire of Trebizond managed to survive until 1461, when it too was conquered by Ottoman Empire.

Trebizond was in continual conflict with the Sultanate of Iconium 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 destruction of Baghdad by Hulagu Khan in 1258 made Trebizond the western terminus of the Silk Road, and under the protection of the Mongols the city grew to tremendous wealth on the Silk Road trade. Among others, Marco Polo returned to Europe by way of Trebizond in 1295. Under the rule of Alexios III (1349–1390) the city was one of the world's leading trade centres and was renowned for its great wealth and artistic accomplishment.

Climax and civil war

The Sumela Monastery, founded in the year 386, reached prominence during the reign of Alexios III of Trebizond and his son Manuel III.

The small Empire of Trebizond had been most successful in asserting itself at its very start, under the leadership of Alexios I (1204–1222) and especially his younger brother David, who died in battle in 1214. Alexios' second son Manuel I (1238–1263) had preserved internal security and acquired the reputation of a great commander, but the Empire was already losing outlying provinces to the Turkmen, and found itself forced to pay tribute to the Seljuks of Rum and then to the Mongols of Persia, a sign of things to come. The troubled reign of John II (1280–1297) included a reconciliation with the Byzantine Empire and the end of Trapezuntine claims to Constantinople. Trebizond reached its greatest wealth and influence during the long reign of Alexios II (1297–1330). Trebizond suffered a period of repeated imperial depositions and assassinations from the end of Alexios' reign until the first years of Alexios III, ending in 1355. The empire never fully recovered its internal cohesion, commercial supremacy or territory.

Decline and fall

Manuel III (1390–1417), who succeeded his father Alexios III as emperor, allied himself with Timur, and benefited from Timur's defeat of the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Ankara in 1402. His son Alexios IV (1417–1429) married two of his daughters to Jihan Shah, khan of the Kara Koyunlu, and to Ali Beg, khan of the Ak Koyunlu; while his eldest daughter Maria became the third wife of the Byzantine Emperor John VIII Palaiologos. Pero Tafur, who visited the city in 1437, reported that Trebizond had fewer than 4,000 troops.

A reduced Trebizond with surrounding states in 1400.

John IV (1429–1459) could not help but see his Empire would soon share the same fate as Constantinople had suffered in 1453. 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. While Mehmed II was away laying siege to Belgrade in 1456, the Ottoman governor of Amasya attacked Trebizond, and although defeated, took many prisoners and extracted a heavy tribute.

John IV prepared for the eventual assault by forging alliances. He gave his daughter to the son of his brother-in-law, Uzun Hasan, khan of the Ak Koyunlu, in return for his promise to defend Trebizond. He also secured promises of help from the Turkish emirs of Sinope and Karamania, and from the king and princes of Georgia.

After John's death in 1459, his brother David came to power and misused these alliances. 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.

Mehmed's response came in the summer of 1461. He led a sizeable army from Bursa, first to Sinope, whose emir quickly surrendered, then south across Armenia 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 the emperor David surrendered on August 15, 1461. With the fall of Trebizond, the last remnant of the Eastern Roman Empire was extinguished.

Megalokomnenoi dynasty

Name From To
Alexios I Megas Komnenos 1204 1222
Andronikos I Gidos 1222 1235
Ioannis I Megas Komnenos 1235 1238
Manuel I Megas Komnenos 1238 1263
Andronikos II Megas Komnenos 1263 1266
Georgios Megas Komnenos 1266 1280
Ioannis II Megas Komnenos 1280 1284
Theodora Megale Komnene 1284 1285
Ioannis II Megas Komnenos* 1285 1297
Alexios II Megas Komnenos 1297 1330
Andronikos III Megas Komnenos 1330 1332
Manuel II Megas Komnenos 1332 1332
Basilios Megas Komnenos 1332 1340
Irene Palaiologina 1340 1341
Anna Megale Komnene 1341 1342
Ioannis III Megas Komnenos 1342 1344
Michael Megas Komnenos 1344 1349
Alexios III Megas Komnenos 1349 1390
Manuel III Megas Komnenos 1390 1416
Alexios IV Megas Komnenos 1416 1429
Ioannis IV Megas Komnenos 1429 1459
David Megas Komnenos 1459 1461

List of Trapezuntine people

See also


  1. ^ Mango, C. (ed.) The Oxford History of Byzantium (2002), p. 250
  2. ^ Eastmond, Antony. "Narratives of the Fall: Structure and Meaning in the Genesis Frieze at Hagia Sophia, Trebizond". Dumbarton Oaks Papers 53 (1999), 219-36.

Sources and research

  • Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer, Geschichte des Kaiserthums Trapezunt (Munich, 1827–1848)
  • Michael Panaretos: Chronicle
  • Johannes Bessarion: The praise of Trebizond
  • Miller, W., Trebizond: The Last Greek Empire, (1926; repr. Chicago: Argonaut Publishers, 1968)
  • Fyodor Uspensky, From the history of the Empire of Trabizond (Ocherki iz istorii Trapezuntskoy Imperii), Leningrad, 1929, 160 pp: a monograph in Russian.
  • Levan Urushadze, The Comnenus of Trabizond and the Bagrationi dynasty of Georgia. — J. "Tsiskari", Tbilisi, No 4, 1991, pp. 144–148: in Georgian.
  • Sergei Karpov. L' impero di Trebisonda, Venezia, Genova e Roma, 1204-1461. Rapporti politici, diplomatici e commerciali. Roma, 1986, 321 P.
  • Sergei Karpov. The Empire of Trebizond and the nations of Western Europe, 1204-1461. Moscow, 1981, 231 pp (in Russian).
  • Sergei Karpov. A history of the empire of Trebizond. Saint Petersburg, 2007, 656 pp (in Russian).
  • Rustam Shukurov. The Megas Komnenos and the Orient (1204-1461). Saint Petersburg, 2001, 446 pp (in Russian).
  • Bryer, Anthony (1980). The Empire of Trebizond and the Pontos. London: Variorum Reprints. ISBN 9780860780625. 
  • 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.
  • George Ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State, Rutgers University Press. New Jersey, 1969
  • Donald Queller, Thomas Madden, The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople, University of Pennsyklvania Press, Philadelphia, 2nd ed., 1997. ISBN 0812233875

External links



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