Theodore I Lascaris
Theodore Laskaris was born of a noble but not particularly renowned Byzantine Greek family of Constantinople. He was the son of Manuel Laskaris and Joanna Karatzaina. The name Laskaris derives from Persian lashkar "army", as do English lascar "sailor" and Arabic al-askari "soldier; military" (which is the origin of modern Greek askeri (ασκέρι) "non-tactical troops").
Theodore later distinguished himself during the sieges of Constantinople by the Latins of the Fourth Crusade (1203–1204). He remained in Constantinople until the Latins actually penetrated into the city, at which point he fled across Bosphorus together with his wife. At about the same time his brother Constantine Laskaris was unsuccessfully proclaimed emperor by some of the defenders of Constantinople. In Bithynia Theodore established himself in Nicaea, which became the chief rallying-point for his countrymen.
At first Theodore I Laskaris did not claim the imperial title, perhaps because his father-in-law and his brother were both still living, perhaps because of the imminent Latin invasion, or perhaps because there was no Patriarch of Constantinople to crown him emperor. He was proclaimed emperor in 1205 and invited Patriarch John Kamateros to Nicaea. But John died in 1206 before crowning Theodore. Theodore appointed Michael IV as the new Patriarch and was crowned by him in March 1208.
In the meantime Theodore I had been defeated by the Latins at Adramyttion (modern Edremit), but soon afterwards the Latins were themselves defeated by Kaloyan of Bulgaria at the Battle of Adrianople. This temporarily stalled the Latin advance, but it was renewed by Emperor Henry of Flanders in 1206. Theodore I entered into an alliance with Kaloyan and took the offensive in 1209. The situation was complicated by the invasion of Sultan Kay Khusrau I of Rum at the instigation of the deposed Alexios III in 1211, but the Nicaeans defeated and killed the invader in the valley of the Maeander River near Pisidian Antioch. Although the danger from Rüm and Alexios III was thus neutralized, Emperor Henry defeated Theodore I in the same year, and established its control over the southern shores of the Sea of Marmara. In spite of this defeat, Theodore I was able to take advantage of the death of David Megaskomnenos, the brother of Emperor Alexios I of Trebizond in 1212 and to extend his own control over Paphlagonia.
In 1214 Theodore I concluded a peace treaty with the Latin Empire at Nymphaion, and in 1219 he married a niece of Emperor Henry. In spite of predominantly peaceful relations, Theodore attacked the Latin Empire again in 1220, but peace was restored. Theodore I died in November 1221 and was succeeded by his son-in-law John III Doukas Vatatzes.
At the end of his reign he ruled over a territory roughly coterminous with the old Roman provinces of Asia and Bithynia. Though there is no proof of higher qualities of statesmanship in him, by his courage and military skill he enabled the Byzantine nation not merely to survive, but ultimately to beat back the Latin invasion.
By his first wife, Anna Angelina, daughter of the Emperor Alexios III Angelos and Euphrosyne Doukaina Kamaterina, Theodore I Laskaris had three daughters and two sons who died young:
- Eirene Laskarina, who married first the general Andronikos Palaiologos and then John III Doukas Vatatzes
- Maria Laskarina, who married King Béla IV of Hungary
- Eudokia Laskarina
- Nicholas (Nikolaos) Laskaris
- John (Iōannēs) Laskaris
After Anna Angelina died in 1212, Theodore I Laskaris married secondly Philippa, a daughter of King Ruben III of Armenia. This marriage was annulled a year later for religious reasons, and the son born to them, Constantine, was disinherited.
Theodore I Laskaris married thirdly in 1219 Marie de Courtenay, a daughter of Emperor Peter of Courtenay and Empress Yolanda of Flanders, but they had no children, and Marie died later the same year.
- The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Oxford University Press, 1991.
- A Dictionary of First Names, Oxford University Press
- Dictionary of American Family Names, Oxford University Press