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Empire of Trebizond (1204–1461)

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The Trebizond empire is a medieval Byzantine-Orthodox state, formed in 1204 on the Anatolian coast of the Black Sea as a result of the collapse of the Byzantine Empire.


After the death of the Byzantine emperor Andronik I and his sons (1185), the supporters of the overthrown house succeeded in saving two minor sons of the prince of Manuel, Alexei and David. They were brought up first in Constantinople, hiding from vindictive Angels, and in 1203, during the war with the Latins, fled to Trapezund, where their family lands were located and later to the Kingdom of Georgia where their aunt reigned.

Being in a quarrel with Alexei III, the tsarina gave her nephews the means to acquire an independent possession in the territory of the empire. At the head of the Georgian troops, Alex and David moved from Georgia to Pontus. Alexei was proclaimed by his soldiers as the “Emperor of the Romans” and on April 23, 1204, he entered Trebizond, which became the capital of the new kingdom, and on April 25 his coronation took place. The Nicene Emperor Theodore I Laskaris, did not allow the Komnenos to extend their power to Byzantine Asia Minor.

The population felt sympathy for the Komnenos. They mastered the entire Black Sea coast, from Heracleia to the Caucasus.

The kingdom that they founded restored state order over a considerable territory in Asia Minor, but led to the fragmentation of Byzantine forces in Asia. Following the fall of Constantinople in 1204, rivalry between the Great Komnenos and the founder of the Nicene Kingdom, Theodore Laskaris, was opened. In 1205, David was preparing to take possession of Nicomedia, cleared by the Franks; But Laskaris concluded an alliance with the Ikonian Seljuks against the Komnenos. Alexei was defeated by the Turks under the walls of the besieged Samsun, and on the river Sangaria David was defeated by Laskaris. To defend Heraclea, David became a vassal of the Latin emperor Heinrich I.

This union damaged the Great Komnenos in the eyes of the Byzantine population, who hated the Franks, and the Frank auxiliary army was destroyed by Nicomedia by the commander of Lascaris. David was besieged in Heraclea, and only the attack of Henry I on Nicaeus temporarily saved them.


In 1212 Laskaris took David from all the western regions and forced him to settle for the city of Sinop. Even more dangerous were the Seljuks, who also sought to establish themselves on the Black Sea. In 1214 they took the city by cunning: having discovered that Alexey is resting in his surroundings, they captured him. After this, in the sight of the besieged, the torture of the ruler began, which began to entreat his subjects to surrender. The Trabzon Empire recognized itself as a vassal of the Koni Sultanate.

Alexei I, who took the title of “Great Komnenos ” was an able ruler. After his death, a struggle broke out between the Scholarians and Mesochalds, the court aristocracy who came to Trebizond with the Komnenians, and local tycoons. The son-in-law and successor Andronicus I Guide bravely defended himself from the Seljuks.

Near this time Asia Minor began to be threatened by the new terrible enemy the Mongols; the common danger forced former rivals to unite, and the Trebizond Empire under Manuel I closely adjoined the Conian sultanate. The Mongols invaded Iconium, reached Angora in 1244 and forced the Seljuks to buy their safety with money. The heavy blow that struck the Turkish state proved useful to the small Byzantine kingdom, which was constantly threatened by the Seljuks.. Manuel Komnenos became a tribute to the Mongols.

The next in line was John II Komnenos, who was married to the daughter of the Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus, he resigned his title of “Emperor of the Romans” in 1282. Since then, the King of Trebizond has the title of “Emperor of the East, Iberia and Perathia.

Despite internal strife, John successfully reflected the Turkmen horde of Kara-Koyunlu. While Alexei II had to defend with the weapon in his hands the dignity of his power against the Genoese, who wanted to host Trebizond as arbitrarily as on the Bosporus. After his death (1340) there was trouble.

The state was ruled by his uncle Vasily I, and then by his widow Irina, the illegitimate daughter of the Byzantine king. Part of the aristocracy rose up against the ruler; street murders, fires and destruction began. The royal throne became a plaything in the hands of the parties, which then erected, then overthrew the sovereigns at their discretion. After the short-term reign of Michael, the younger brother of Alexei II, a part of the nobility, drawn to Byzantium, put on the throne the 20-year-old son of Mikhail.

This king managed to cope with the leaders of the aristocracy and the willful scholaria, but he was drawn into a fight with the Genoese. In 1349, the Scholarii revolution broke out, supported by the Byzantine government, and the 12-year-old illegitimate son of Basil, Alexei III (1350-1390), was placed on the throne of the deposed Mikhail. Upon reaching maturity, it proved to be a satisfactory ruler, but was compelled to wage a grueling battle with the Genoese and Turkmens. To break the monopoly of the Genoese, he concluded a trade agreement with Venice in 1367.

The city was decorated with its temples and monasteries. His talented son Manuel III inherited a flourishing state, which, after the collapse of the Seljuk state, enjoyed complete independence. With the invasion of Tamerlane, the Trebizond Empire once again became a tributary of the Mongols. After the death of Timur, the dependence on the Mongols ceased.

In the fifteenth century, the Komnenos dynasty completely degenerated. The yard becomes a hotbed of terrible crimes, unnatural vices and complete moral savagery. However, the Trebizond Empire became a tributary of the Ottoman Turks. After the fall of Constantinople, it lasted only 8 years.

After the death of John, his brother David, having eliminated the legitimate heir, seized power, but by his cowardly and treacherous policies finally ruined the empire. His union with the Turkmens was unsuccessful, since the Khan, at the first approach of the Ottoman Turks to Erzerum, concluded peace with Mohammed II. The Sultan blocked Trebizond from the sea and land, and David surrendered in 1461. Soon the Turks began to suspect him of secret relations with his niece, the wife of the khan. David refused to accept Islam and was strangled with his 7 sons and nephew in 1470. 


The Trebizond Empire was divided into three parts, Trapezund, Matsuka and Gimora, which in fact produced the Byzantine system of femmes. In these coastal regions, the system of land distribution by the emperor was generally similar to the West Byzantine one. At the head of these administrative units stood dukes, who had military and civil power. They were representatives of authoritative noble families of these regions. Monasteries and churches also owned relatively large quantities of land and the peasants who lived on it were actually enslaved. However, at the same time, a large number of personally free small peasant holdings were preserved in hard-to-reach mountain valleys, which was very unusual for the thirteenth century.

In addition to Asia Minor, the empire’s authority recognized the only possession of Byzantium on the Black Sea – Fehm Kherson. This was due to the fact that Nicaea and Epirus did not have access to the Black Sea, and Trebizond managed to keep in touch with the overseas colonies of Byzantium and was their heir. The Crimean colonies paid tribute, and the archon was subject to the emperor himself. Permanent colonial relations were established between the colonies and the metropolis.


Skazkin SD History of Byzantium


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