Empire of Trebizond

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The Empire of Trebizond was a Pontic Greek successor state of the Byzantine Empire founded in 1204 as a result of the destruction of Constantinople from the Komnenos duplicity with the European Crusaders.


When Constantinople fell in the Fourth Crusade in 1204 to the Western European and Venetian Crusaders, the Empire of Trebizond was one of the three smaller Greek states that emerged from the wreckage, along with the Empire of Nicaea and the Despotate of Epirus. Alexios, a grandson of Byzantine emperor Andronikos I Komnenos and a descendant of King David the Builder of Georgia through his mother, made Trebizond his capital and asserted a claim to be the legitimate successor of the Byzantine Empire.

The Byzantine Emperor Andronikos I had been deposed and killed in 1185. His son Manuel was blinded and may have died of his injuries. The sources agree that Rusudan, the wife of Manuel and the mother of Alexios and David, 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. There is some evidence that the Comnenian heirs had set up a semi-independent state centred on Trebizond before 1204.

The rulers of Trebizond called themselves Grand Komnenos (Megas Komnenos) and at first claimed the traditional Byzantine title of "Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans." After reaching an agreement with the 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 Transmarine Provinces" and remained such until the empire's end in 1461. The state is sometimes called the Komnenian empire because the ruling dynasty descended from Alexios I Komnenos.

Trebizond initially controlled a contiguous area on the southern Black Sea coast between Soterioupolis and Sinope. In the thirteenth century, the empire controlled Perateia which included Cherson and Kerch on the Crimean peninsula. David Komnenos expanded rapidly to the west, occupying first Sinope, then Paphlagonia and Heraclea Pontica until his territory bordered the Empire of Nicaea founded by Theodore I Laskaris. The territories west of Sinope were lost to the Empire of Nicaea by 1206. Sinope itself fell to the Seljuks in 1214.


While Epirus effectively disintegrated in the 14th century, and the Nicaean Empire succeeded in retaking Constantinople and extinguishing the feeble Latin Empire, only to be conquered in 1453 by the Ottoman Empire, Trebizond managed to outlive its competitors in Epirus and Nicaea.

Trebizond was in continual conflict with the Sultanate of Iconium and later with the Ottoman Turks, as well as Byzantium, the Italian republics, and especially the Genoese. 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 for marriage with generous dowries, especially with the Turkmen rulers of interior Anatolia.

The destruction of Baghdad by Hulagu Khan in 1258 made Trebizond the western terminus of the Silk Road. The city grew to tremendous wealth on the Silk Road trade under the protection of the Mongols. 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 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 Komnenos, 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 Saljuks 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 less than 4,000 troops.

John IV (1429–1459) could not help but see his Empire would soon share the same fate as Constantinople. 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 Brusa, 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 territory of the Roman Empire was extinguished. Mehmed's conquest was the only time the city has changed hands in the past two millennia, which is possibly a unique record of political continuity.

List of Trapezuntine emperors

List of Trapezuntine people


  • 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.

See also

External links

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