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The Palaeologus (Greek: Παλαιολόγος, pl. Παλαιολόγοι) family was the last dynasty ruling the Byzantine Empire. After the Fourth Crusade members of the family escaped to Nicaea and eventually gained control of the empire-in-exile there. Michael VIII Palaeologus became emperor in 1259 and recaptured Constantinople in 1261. Michael's descendents ruled until the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the longest-lived dynasty in Byzantine history.

The family motto was Basileus Basileon, Basileuon Basileuonton ("King of Kings, Ruling Over Those Who Rule"). Because of their intermarriage with Western families, the Palaeologans were the first Imperial family to have crests and coats-of-arms in the Western sense: they used either the Imperial double-eagle sable on a field or; or a field gules, a cross with four outward-facing 'B's or in the quarters.

The Palaeologan dynasty

The Palaeologans were originally petty rulers from Macedonia. The family was an old one (George Palaeologus was a friend of Alexius I Comnenus), but its earliest generations are unknown. The first to marry into an imperial family was one Alexius Palaeologus, whose wife was a granddaughter of Zoe Dukaina, youngest daughter of Constantine X, and her husband Adrianus Comnenus, younger brother of Emperor Alexius I. Another Alexius Palaeologus married Irene Angelina, eldest daughter of Alexius III and Euphrosyne Camatera. The latter couple's daughter Theodora Palaeologina married her cousin Andronicus Palaeologus, who descended from Zoe. The couple were the progenitors of the Imperial dynasty. Theis son was emperor Michael VIII.

Michael VIII's son Andronicus II married firstly Anna of Hungary and fathered Michael Palaeologus, sometimes numbered the ninth. His son, the grandson of Andronicus II, was Andronicus III Palaeologus.

John V was the father, with Helena, a daughter of John VI Cantacuzenus, of Andronicus IV Palaeologus and Manuel II Palaeologus.

Manuel II was the father of John VIII Palaeologus and Constantine XI, the last Byzantine emperor (Constantine XI Palaeologus), as well as the despots of Morea Thomas and Demetrius Palaeologus.

Demetrius, after giving the Ottomans a pretext to invade Morea, was kept from his throne and remained in captivity. His daughter Helen was a member of the sultan's harem for a time. Thomas, in exile in Venice, sold the Imperial title to the King of France, who however never used it for formal purposes. Thomas' daughter Zoe married Ivan III of Russia and, on rejoining the Orthodox faith, returned to her earlier name Sophia. Her influence on the court curtailed the power of the boyars and eventually led to the proclamation of the lord of Muscovy as the Tsar of all the Russias. Thomas's male-line descendants soon went extinct, and his descent lives on through a daughter and the family of Castriota Dukes of san Pietro di Galatina in south-Italian aristocracy. One such female descendant, Princess d'Arenberg, married at the beginning of the 19th century a Pfalzgraf of Zweibrucken, whereby e.g. the Dukes of Bavaria descend from Byzantine Emperors. Also Queen Anne, consort of former king Michael of Romania descends from these Arenbergs, thus being descendant of Byzantine Emperors of Constantinople.

A cadet branch

A younger son of Andronicus II became lord of Montferrat as heir of his mother. His feudal dynasty lived in north Italy, longer than the imperial branch in Constantinople. This inheritance was eventually incorporated by marriage to the Gonzaga family, rulers of the Duchy of Mantua, who descend from the Palaeologans of Montferrat. Later, that succession passed to the Dukes of Lorraine, whose later head became the progenitor of the Habsburg-Lorraine emperors of Austria.

Palaeologan emperors

  1. Michael VIII Palaeologus
  2. Andronicus II Palaeologus, son of Michael VIII
  3. Michael IX Palaeologus, co-emperor, son of Andronicus II
  4. Andronicus III Palaeologus, son of Michael IX
  5. John V Palaeologus, son of Andronicus III (disputed by John VI Cantacuzenus, a maternal relative of the Palaeologans)
  6. Andronicus IV Palaeologus, eldest son of John V
  7. John VII Palaeologus, son of Andronicus IV
  8. Andronicus V Palaeologus, co-emperor, son of John VII
  9. Manuel II Palaeologus, younger son of John V
  10. John VIII Palaeologus, eldest son of Manuel II
  11. Constantine XI Palaeologus, a younger son of Manuel II

Dynastic relations

The reconstituted realm was very weak compared with the pre-1204 Empire. The Palaeologan emperors cannot have afforded the earlier luxury of isolation. Imperial marriages and princesses became like traded goods. The future Michael VIII married a Dukas Batatzes, a kinswoman of the Batatzes Lascaris family, in order to solidify his position in the Nicean Empire.

Michael VIII's sister, Andronicus and Theodora's daughter Irene Palaeologina, was the mother of Maria Cantacuzenus, who married Constantine Tikh and Ivailo of Bulgaria in turn.

Michael VIII was the father of Constantine, who in turn fathered John, who became the father-in-law of Stefan Decansky of Serbia.

Michael's daughter Irene married Ivan Asen III of Bulgaria and another daughter, Eudocia, married John II Comnenus of Trebizond, and another daughter, Theodora, David VI of Georgia.

Andronicus II married firstly Anna of Hungary and fathered Michael Palaeologus, who predeceased his father but was a co-regent, as such sometimes numbered the ninth. This Michael married a princess of Cilician Armenia.

His son, the grandson of Andronicus II, was Andronicus III Palaeologus. Michael's daughter Thedora married Theodore Svetoslav and Michael Shishman, rulers of Bulgaria, in turn. A daughter Anna married firstly the despot of Epirus and then the Orsini count of Zante, becoming ancestress of Orsini of Zante, later Tocco of Zante and Leucadia.

By his second wife, Yolanda of Montferrat, Andronicus II had Simonis, later the wife of Stefan Milutin of Serbia. His son, Theodoros, became lord of Montferrat as heir of his mother. Theodoros' inheritance was eventually incorporated by marriage to the Gonzaga family, rulers of the Duchy of Mantua.

Andronicus III married firstly a princess of Brunswick, who died without surviving issue, and secondly Anne of Savoy who was descended from Baldwin I of Constantinople. They were parents of John V Palaeologus. John V was compelled to marry Helena, a daughter of John VI Cantacuzenus.

In order to obtain support to remove John VI, John V gave his sister Mary to Lord Gateliusaios, who received the Duchy of Lesbos. The founded the noble family who continued into Italian Genovese aristocracy, being ancestors of the princes of Monaco.

Andronicus IV married Mary of Bulgaria.

Manuel II married a daughter of a regional lord of the dissolved Serbian realm.

Demetrius of Morea's daughter Helen was a member of the sultan's harem for a time.

Thomas' daughter Zoe married Ivan III of Russia.

In 1446, Sofia's elder sister Helen was married to Lazar Brankovic, a Serbian prince. Their descendants continued for some time in the Balkans. Thomas's male-line descendants soon went extinct.

Political history

Under the rule of the Palaeologoi, the fragmented empire still claimed descent from the Roman Empire, but began to focus more on the empire's Greek character, as it no longer ruled an ethnically diverse state. The word "Hellene" began to be used again to describe themselves, after having been a synonym for "pagan" for many centuries. The dynasty was a patron of literature and the arts; among others, George Gemistos Plethon came to prominence. The hesychasm controversy also took place during the rule of the Palaeologan dynasty.

At the later days of their empire the Peloponnese was the largest and wealthiest part of the empire, and was ruled as a Despotate by members of the Palaeologus family, often two or three younger brothers simultaneously. Although they often squabbled amongst themselves they were usually fiercely loyal to the emperor in Constantinople (though sometimes they sought to supplant the emperor and rise to the throne), while their land was surrounded by hostile Venetians and Turks. The capital of the despotate was Mystras, a large fortress built by the Palaeologoi near Sparta.

The Palaeologoi frequently attempted to reunite the Eastern Orthodox Church with the Roman Catholic Church, hoping this would lead the west to give them aid against the Turks. Every attempt at reunification was strongly opposed by the general population.

The family had connections throughout Europe. They married into the Bulgarian and Serbian royal families, as well as the noble families of Trebizond, Epirus, Genoa, Montferrat and Muscovy.

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