Alexios III of Trebizond


Alexios III of Trebizond

Alexios III Megas Komnenos or Alexius III (Greek: Αλέξιος Γ΄ Μέγας Κομνηνός, "Alexios III Megas Komnēnos"), (October 5, 1338 – March 20, 1390), Emperor of Trebizond from December 1349 until his death. He was the son of Emperor Basil of Trebizond and his second (and bigamous) wife, Irene of Trebizond. Alexios III was originally named John (Ιωάννης, "Iōannēs"), and took the name Alexios either in memory of his older brother who had died prematurely or of his paternal grandfather, Emperor Alexios II of Trebizond.

Early life and reign

When Basil died on April 6, 1340 and his first wife Irene Palaiologina succeeded him, she sent all the children of her dead husband to Constantinople together with their mother. Alexios was raised at the Byzantine court. When he was eleven years old, he was sent to Trebizond by Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos to replace his deposed great-uncle Michael, who had been an instrument of the regency Kantakouzenos had displaced. Alexios arrived in Trebizond on December 22, 1349 and was accepted as emperor by the nobility headed by Grand Duke Niketas without opposition. It was at this point that he adopted the name Alexios, and he was crowned on January 21, 1350 in the company of his mother Irene and of John Lazaropoulos, who later became Metropolitan of Trebizond. Alexios' position was safeguarded by the consignment of the deposed Emperor Michael to a monastery.

In 1351 the connection to John VI Kantakouzenos was strengthened by further diplomatic initiatives. The deposed Emperor Michael was exiled to Constantinople, and on September 20, 1351, Alexios III married Theodora Kantakouzene, a relative of the Byzantine Emperor, in the newly rebuilt Church of St. Eugenios. For the time being, Alexios was accepted as emperor because of his youth, which proved acceptable to the nobles of the realm who sought to use the young ruler's minority for their own purposes. While the aristocrats squabbled with each other, Alexios despaired of security in his capital and retired to the coastal castle of Tripolis.

The young emperor was supported by his mother and some loyal generals and courtiers, including Michael Panaretos, whose laconic chronicle is the principal source on the political history of the Empire of Trebizond. Insubordinate nobles had to be overwhelmed one by one by the emperor's forces. Alexios and his court strengthened their position by fostering peaceful relations with the Turkmen, cemented by marriage alliances such as that between the emperor's sister Maria and Fahreddin Kutlubeg of Aq Qoyunlu.

As Alexios' position improved, it became less necessary to rely on the kingmaker Niketas. The Grand Duke was forced to flee to Kerasous in June 1354 and attempted an attack on Trebizond in March 1355. The rebels realized that they would be unable to win and abandoned their expedition. Alexios sailed to Kerasous with a small fleet in the company of his mother and the metropolitan, and conquered the town in the absence of Niketas. The emperor's cavalry besieged the last fortress loyal to the Grand Duke, Kenchrina, and obtained its surrender. Niketas and his aristocratic supporters were taken captive and brought to Trebizond, where he died in 1360. The fall of Kenchrina in 1355 marked the end of the fifteen years of civil unrest.

External affairs

Alexios III now turned his attention to strengthening the frontier against the Turkmen. In this he was less successful, and suffered a major defeat in battle in 1355. Alexios and Panaretos were barely able to escape with their lives. An invasion by Hajji 'Umar, the emir of Chalybia, was neutralized by diplomacy, and he was married to Alexios' sister Theodora in 1358. This policy of seeking diplomatic alliances with the neighboring Muslim princes was continued later in Alexios' reign, in the marriages of four of the emperor's daughters.

A new attempt by the nobility on Alexios III failed in 1363. The Metropolitan Niphon was deposed for his complicity in the plot and replaced with the emperor's supporter John Lazaropoulos (under the monastic name Joseph). In spite of his victories over the nobles, Alexios showed restraint and willingness to compromise by granting charters to noble families confirming them in possession of their lands. Alexios was also unable to displace the Genoese and Venetians from their dominant position in Trebizond's commerce. The position of Venice had declined from the concession of Leontokastron to the Genoese in 1349, and in 1360 Alexios attempted to restore commercial relations with Venice to offset the power of the Genoese. In 1364 he confirmed to the Venetians their old privileges and assigned them a depot. But the Venetians were not content with their gains and jealously quarreled with the Genoese. Another concession to Venice followed in 1367, and gradually lowered some of the dues levied on Venetian commerce.

Nevertheless, Alexios' attempt to exploit the commerce of the Italian republics resulted in considerable resentment. In 1376–1377 the Venetians conspired with the Bulgarian despotes Dobrotitsa of Dobruja (an enemy of the Genoese) to impose his son-in-law Michael Palaiologos, a son of Emperor John V Palaiologos on the throne of Trebizond. The expedition failed, as Michael was murdered by his Bulgarian brother-in-law. Relations with Venice were patched up, but although Alexios further reduced the dues he collected from the Venetians in 1381, its volume continued to decline.

During his long reign, Alexios III had repaired the physical damage to the capital, gave rich endowments to several monasteries, especially Soumela Monastery, and founded the Dionysiou monastery at Mount Athos. The typikon of the Dionysiou is an object of artistic merit and beauty. When Alexios III died on March 20 1390, he was succeeded by his son Manuel III.

Issue

By his wife Theodora Kantakouzene, Alexios III had six children:
* Basil (1358–1377)
* Manuel III (1364–1417), Emperor 1390–1416
* Eudokia, who married first Tajeddin, Emir of Limnia and then the Serbian prince Constantine Dragaš
* Maria, who married Suleyman Beg, Emir of Chalybia,
* Unnamed daughter, who married Mutahharten, Emir of Erzincan
* Anna, who married King Bagrat V of Georgia

By an unnamed mistress, Alexios also had at least two illegitimate sons:
* Andronikos (1355–1376), who married Gulkhan-Eudokia, daughter of King David IX of Georgia, but was murdered shortly after and Eudokia married his brother, Manuel III
* John

References

*"The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium", Oxford University Press, 1991.
*W. Miller, "Trebizond: The Last Greek Empire of the Byzantine Era", Chicago, 1926.


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