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Michael Palaiologos
Michael VIII Palaiologos or Palaeologus (Greek: Μιχαήλ Η΄ Παλαιολόγος, Mikhaēl VIII Palaiologos) (1223 – December 11, 1282) reigned as Byzantine emperor 1259–1282. Michael VIII was the founder of the Palaeologan dynasty that would rule the Byzantine Empire until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. He recovered Constantinoplemarker from the Latin Empire in 1261 and transformed the Empire of Nicaea into a restored Byzantine Empire. However, Turk Beyliks began scattering Byzantine territory in 1260 and the Beylik of Menteşe was founded in Caria region.

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 might have succeeded to the throne in regular fashion if the Fourth Crusade had not been diverted to Constantinoplemarker 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 1258, Michael Palaiologos instigated a coup against the influential bureaucrat George Mouzalon, 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.


On July 25, 1261, Michael VIII's general Alexios Strategopoulos captured Constantinoplemarker 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. When Michael VIII entered the city, its population was people, but he succeeded in increasing it to people by the end of his reign. In December John IV, who had been left behind at Nicaea, was blinded and relegated to a monastery. In 1263, the emperor sent men (which included Seljuk mercenaries) to conquer Achaiamarker, then a mixed imperial and Genoese fleet of 48 ships was defeated by a smaller Venetian force at the Battle of Spetsaimarker. 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 Italymarker (Charles I of Sicily, Pope Martin IV, and the Venetiansmarker) would unite against him and attempt the restoration of Latin rule in Constantinople.

In 1259 Michael VIII had defeated the alliance of William II Villehardouin, Prince of Achaea, and Michael II Komnenos Doukas of Epirus at the Battle of Pelagonia. After a severe naval defeat, Michael VIII dismissed the 60 Genoese galleys that he had hired earlier. 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 Mystrasmarker, Monemvasiamarker 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 Seamarker, but in the end made treaties with both Genoa and Venice, seeking to maintain a balance of power advantageous to the Empire. He also signed a treaty in 1263 with the Egyptian Mamlukmarker sultan Baibars, and the Mongol Khan of Kipchak.Cambridge Illustrated History of the Middle Ages: 1250-1520, p. 304

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 Bulgariamarker and Serbiamarker 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 tried to take advantage of a civil war in Bulgaria in the late 1270s but the Byzantine armies suffered several major defeats at the hands of the peasant Emperor Ivaylo. He managed to temporarily impose his son-in-law Ivan Asen III on the Bulgarian throne but after the Byzantine defeat at Devinamarker he had to flee. However, later Michael VIII managed to conquer the Bulgarian portion of Thrace while the internal situation of the Bulgarian Empire remained instable. 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. In 1275, Michael VIII sent a fleet of 73 ships to harass the Latin states in Greece.

As a rare manifestation of truly "Byzantine" diplomacy, Michael VIII secretly incited the Sicilian Vespers, a rebellion against Charles of Anjou in Palermomarker, and the invasion of the Sicily by the Catalansmarker of King Peter III of Aragon. Michael VIII was forced to drain the treasury to pay the enormous bribe of gold coins to King Peter III. 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. In recovering Constantinople and investing in the defense of his European provinces, Michael VIII began to denude the Anatolianmarker 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 Pachomios village, Thrace in December 1282. The Palaiologan dynasty he established ruled the Byzantine Empire for almost two centuries, longer than any other in Roman history. Also, during his reign there was a temporary naval revival in which the Byzantine navy consisted of 80 ships.

Relations with the Mongols

In 1265 the Bulgarian Emperor Constantine Tikh allied with the Mongols and they invaded Thrace, a province of the empire. Michael barely escaped without fighting the Mongols. He signed a treaty that year with the Mongol Khan Berke of the Kipchak (the Golden Horde), and according to Salikh Zakirov (Also J.Bor, R.Khara-Davan), Michael continued to pay tributes to the Horde of Mongols after the treaty of 1265. Michael also married two of his own daughters (conceived through a mistress, a Diplovatatzina) to Mongol kings: Euphrosyne Palaiologina, who married Nogai Khan of the Golden Horde, and Maria Palaiologina, who married Abaqa Khan of Ilkhanid Persiamarker. In 1282, Nogai Khan provided Michael VIII with Mongols whom he sent against Thessaly. Michael's alliance with the Mongols would also benefit his son Andronicus II; in 1305 Ilkhan Oljeitu promised Andronicus II men, and in 1308 dispatched men to recover many Byzantine towns in Bithynia from Ottomans.

Treatment of Jews and other minorities

The Fourth Crusade had degraded the position of the Jews of the Byzantine Empire. Theodore Doukas, who crowned himself emperor of Epiros after he conquered Thessalonikimarker, was known for his persecution of the Jews beginning in 1229, a year before the end of his reign. Theodore's persecutions were most notable in their expropriations of Jewish property, but tended to avoid persecution for its own sake.

John Vatatzes, the emperor of Nicea, commenced legal persecution of the Jews in 1253. Unlike Theodore, Vatatzes ordered that the Jews within the Empire of Nicea be converted to Christianity, though he did not order the expropriation of Jewish property. Although these measures began only a year before Vatatzes’ death, they seemed to have set a precedent of persecution which his son, Theodore II Lascaris, followed.

It was in this environment of persecution that the Palaiologi rose to the imperial throne. Michael VIII Palaiologos largely ended persecution of the Jews. Bowman writes the following:

Michael VIII summoned the Jewish leaders in his realm and invited them to support him as emperor. Thus Michael’s first act toward the Jews […] was the revocation of John Vatatzes’s order of forced baptism. At the same time, however, he made it clear to the Jews that he expected them to show their appreciation for his assistance.

Michael’s unorthodox ascent to the throne earned him many enemies. Additionally, he oversaw an empire which was strongly dependent on foreign powers, and had an immense need for gold to fund its great military expenses. It is not surprising, therefore, that he turned to the Jews and other minorities (most notably the Armenians) as a source of support in an embattled state of affairs, and when the ethnic majority and the mainstream elite had grown unfriendly toward him.


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:



  • Bowman, Steven. The Jews of Byzantium 1204-1453 (University of Alabama Press, 1985).
  • Charanis, Peter. “The Jews in the Byzantine Empire under the First Palaeologi.” Speculum, 22(1947): 75-77.
  • Geanakoplos, Deno J., Emperor Michael Palaeologus and the West (Harvard University Press, 1959)
  • Heath, Ian, Byzantine Armies, AD 1118-1461 (Osprey Publishing, 1995). ISBN: 1 85532 347 8
  • Nicol, Donald. The Last Centuries of Byzantium, 1261-1453 (Cambridge University Press, 1993). ISBN: 0521 43991 4
  • Harris, Jonathan, Byzantium and the Crusades (Hambledon and London, 2003). ISBN: 1 85285 298 4
  • Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Oxford University Press, 1991
  • Vannier, J-F. Les premiers Paléologues (Etudes prosopographiques), 1989


  1. J. Harris, Byzantium and The Crusades, 180
  2. Салих Закиров - Дипломатические отношения Золотой орды с Египтом, год 1966
  3. "The sustained attacks by the Sultan Baibars (…) rallied the Occidentals to this alliance [with the Mongols], to which the Mongols also convinced the Byzantines to adhere", Jean Richard, “Histoire des Croisades”, p. 453
  4. Runciman, History of the Crusades, p.320
  5. I. Heath, Byzantine Armies: AD 1118-1461, 24
  6. I. Heath, Byzantine Armies: AD 1118-1461, 24-33
  7. Charnis, p. 75
  8. Bowman, p. 14
  9. Bowman, p. 18
  10. Bowman, p. 19

External links

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