Michael VIII Palaiologos

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The Byzantine Empire in 1265 (William R. Shepherd, Historical Atlas, 1911)

Michael VIII Palaiologos or Palaeologus (Greek: Μιχαήλ Η΄ Παλαιολόγος, Mikhaēl VIII Palaiologos) (1224/1225December 11, 1282) reigned as Byzantine emperor 12591282. Michael VIII was the founder of the Palaeologan dynasty that would rule the Byzantine Empire until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. He recovered Constantinople from the Latin Empire in 1261 and transformed the Empire of Nicaea into a restored Byzantine Empire.


[edit] Road to the throne

Michael VIII Palaiologos was the son of the megas domestikos Andronikos Doukas Komnenos Palaiologos by Theodora Angelina Palaiologina, the granddaughter of Emperor Alexios III Angelos and Euphrosyne Doukaina Kamaterina. Even with our imperfect knowledge of Byzantine genealogy, no less than eleven emperors may be traced among his ancestors. He was one of the noblest men among the Byzantine aristocracy, and may have succeeded to the throne in regular fashion if the Fourth Crusade had not been diverted to Constantinople in 1203.

At an early age he rose to distinction, and ultimately became commander of the Latin mercenaries in the employment of the emperors of Nicaea. A few days after the death of Emperor Theodore II Doukas Laskaris in 1259, Michael Palaiologos replaced the influential bureaucrat George Mouzalon (when the latter was murdered), becoming joint guardian for the eight-year old Emperor John IV Doukas Laskaris together with the patriarch Arsenios. Michael was invested with the titles of megas doux and, in November 1258, of despotēs. On January 1, 1259 Michael VIII Palaiologos was proclaimed co-emperor at Nymphaion with the help of the Republic of Genoa.

[edit] Reign

On July 25, 1261, Michael VIII's general Alexios Strategopoulos captured Constantinople from its last Latin Emperor, Baldwin II. Michael VIII entered the city on August 15 and had himself crowned together with his infant son Andronikos II Palaiologos.

In December John IV, who had been left behind at Nicaea, was blinded and relegated to a monastery. Patriarch Arsenios excommunicated Michael VIII, and the ban was not removed until six years later (1268) on the appointment of new patriarch Joseph I. After rendering John IV ineligible for the throne, Michael VIII quickly married off John's sisters to foreigners, so their descendants could not threaten his own children's claim to the imperial succession.

On his entrance in Constantinople, Michael VIII Palaiologos abolished all Latin customs and reinstated most Byzantine ceremonies and institutions as they had existed before the Fourth Crusade, repopulating the capital and restoring damaged churches, monasteries, and public buildings. He was acutely aware of the danger posed by the possibility that the Latin West, particularly his neighbors in Italy (Charles I of Sicily, Pope Martin IV, and the Venetians) would unite against him and attempt the restoration of Latin rule in Constantinople.

Image:Hyperpyron-Michael VIII Paleologus-sb2241.jpg
Michael kneeling in front of Christ, in this coin issued to celebrate the liberation of the capital of the Empire from the Crusaders.

In 1259 Michael VIII had defeated the alliance of William II Villehardouin, Prince of Achaea, and Michael II of Epirus at the Battle of Pelagonia. With the help of Pope Urban IV Michael VIII concluded peace with his former enemies in 1263 and 1264, respectively. By the terms of the treaties, William II was obliged to cede Mystras, Monemvasia and Maina in the Morea to the Byzantines. Michael VIII relied on an alliance with Genoa against Venice and the Latin states of the Aegean Sea, but in the end made treaties with both Genoa and Venice, seeking to maintain a balance of power advantageous to the Empire.

To drive a wedge between the pope and supporters of the Latin Empire, Michael VIII decided to unify the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. A tenuous union between the Greek and Latin church was signed at the Second Council of Lyons in 1274. Michael VIII's concession was met with determined opposition at home, and prisons filled with many opponents to the union.

At the same time the unionist controversy helped drive Byzantium's Orthodox neighbors Serbia and Bulgaria into the camp of Michael VIII's opponents. This threat did not materialize in a significant way during Michael VIII's reign, and the emperor took advantage of a civil war in Bulgaria to conquer the Bulgarian portion of Thrace in the late 1270s and to temporarily impose his son-in-law Ivan Asen III on the Bulgarian throne. For a while the diplomatic intent of the union worked out in the West, but in the end Pope Martin IV, an ally of Charles of Anjou, excommunicated Michael VIII.

As a rare manifestation of truly "Byzantine" diplomacy, Michael VIII secretly incited the Sicilian Vespers, a rebellion against Charles of Anjou in Palermo, and the invasion of Sicily by the Catalans of King Peter III of Aragon. This halved the kingdom of Charles of Anjou, who was forced to spend the remainder of his life unsuccessfully trying to reassert his control over Sicily.

In reconstituting the Byzantine Empire Michael VIII restored the old administration without endeavouring to correct its failures, and by debasing the coinage he hastened the decay of Byzantine commerce. In recovering Constantinople and investing in the defense of his European provinces, Michael VIII began to denude the Anatolian frontier of its troops and was forced to lower their pay or cancel their tax exemptions. This policy led to the gradual collapse of the frontier, which was infiltrated by Turkish bands even before the death of Michael VIII in Thrace in December 1282. The Palaiologan dynasty he established ruled the Byzantine Empire for almost two centuries, longer than any other in Roman history.

[edit] Family

In 1253, Michael VIII Palaiologos married Theodora Doukaina Vatatzina, a grandniece of John III Doukas Vatatzes, Emperor of Nicaea. Orphaned in childhood, she was raised by her great-uncle John III, who was said to have "loved her like a daughter", and who arranged for her marriage to Michael. Their children were:

By a mistress, a Diplovatatzina, Michael VIII also had two illegitimate daughters:

[edit] References

  • Nicol, Donald. The Last Centuries of Byzantium, 1261-1453, 1993
  • Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Oxford University Press, 1991
  • Vannier, J-F. Les premiers Paléologues (Etudes prosopographiques), 1989
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

[edit] External links

Preceded by:
John IV
Byzantine Emperor
with John IV in 1259–1261
Succeeded by:
Andronikos II
de:Michael VIII.

el:Μιχαήλ Η' es:Miguel VIII Paleólogo fr:Michel VIII Paléologue gl:Miguel VIII Paleólogo ko:미카엘 8세 팔라이오로구스 it:Michele VIII di Bisanzio hu:VIII. Mihály bizánci császár nl:Michaël VIII van Byzantium ja:ミカエル8世パレオロゴス pl:Michał VIII Paleolog pt:Miguel VIII Paleólogo ru:Михаил VIII Палеолог fi:Mikael VIII Palaiologos sv:Mikael VIII Palaiologos

Michael VIII Palaiologos

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