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Alexius I of Trebizond

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Alexius I of Trebizond

Alexios I Megas Komnenos
Reign 1204-1222
Born c.1182
Died 1 February 1222
Heir-Apparent John I of Trebizond
Successor Andronikos I
Consort Theodora Axuchina
Father Manuel Komnenos (born 1145)
Mother Rusudan

Alexios I Megas Komnenos or Alexius I Megas Comnenus (Greek: Αλέξιος Α΄ Μέγας Κομνηνός, Alexios I Megas Komnēnos; c. 1182 – February 1, 1222) was Emperor of Trebizond from 1204 to 1222. He was the eldest son of Manuel Komnenos and of Rusudan, daughter of George III of Georgia. He was thus a grandson of the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos I. Andronikos was dethroned and killed in 1185. Manuel was blinded at the same time and may well have died; at any rate he disappears from the historical record. He left two children, the Caesars Alexios and David. Their mother Rusudan fled either to her native Georgia or to the southern coast of the Black Sea.

Formation of the Empire

Between the death of his father and 1204, when Alexios and his brother David were at the court of the Georgian king, and when the Fourth Crusade conquered Constantinople, Alexios' life is a blank. The Byzantinist Alexander Vasiliev discusses some of the speculation about those lost years, dismissing all of them. Beyond the fact that, according to Michael Panaretos, Queen Tamar of Georgia was his paternal aunt, and likely helped him and his brother to escape the murderous intents of Isaac II Angelos and provided them sanctuary at the Georgian court, where presumably they were raised and educated.[1]

The Komnenos family was popular on the Black Sea coast, from which it had come originally and had long ties to the region. In 1182 his grandfather Andronikos had a stronghold at Oinaion between Trebizond and Sinope.[2] According to the chronology provided by Vasiliev, Alexios and David seized Trebizond in April, just before the Crusaders took the city for the second time on 13 April 1204, in response to the overthrow of Alexios III Angelos and the restoration of his blind brother Isaac II.[3] Oinaion, Trebizond, and Sinope all declared for Alexios. While Alexios was cautious and remained in the neighbourhood of Trebizond, his brother David, aided by the Georgians and local mercenaries, made himself master of Pontus and Paphlagonia, including Kastamone, said to be the ancestral castle of the Komnenoi.[4]

Alexios took the title of Emperor of the Romans and may have also taken the title Grand Komnenos (Megas Komnenos), but this appellation does not appear until the Annals of George Acropolites later in the century.[5] To paraphrase William Miller's observation, the new title and the Trapezuntine dynasty would last 257 years — the longest, as Bessarion wrote, in Byzantine history.[6] From Heraclea the new state extended east to Trebizond itself and then to Soterioupolis on the Georgian frontier. Alexios made parts of the Crimea a tributary to Trebizond. Cherson, Kerch and their hinterlands were governed as an overseas province called Perateia ('beyond the sea').[7]

The Komnenoi faced dangers from several directions. The treaty by which the Latin conquerors of Constantinople had partitioned the empire assigned much of the new Trapezuntine state - Paphlagonia, Oinaion, Amisous, and Sinope - to the Latin Emperor, but they were never able to assert their claim. Among the Greek successors to the Byzantine imperial heritage, besides the Empire of Nicaea established by Theodore I Laskaris in northwestern Asia Minor, Theodore Mangaphas held Philadelphia, and Manuel Maurozomes made himself secure on the Maeander valley by giving his daughter in marriage to Kaykhusraw I, the Seljuk Sultan of Iconium who was lord of the greater part of Asia Minor. The distant Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia and the Armenian colony in the Troad were not threats. Alexios was allied to Georgia.[8]

Seljuk and Nicaean wars

Theodore I Laskaris soon swept away Theodore Mangaphas, while the Latins, after an attempt to conquer territory in Anatolia, found themselves preoccupied in Europe dealing with the Bulgarians. With the Latins went the Armenians of the Troad. Only Theodore Laskaris, who had himself crowned Emperor in 1208, and the Seljuks remained as adversaries to the Trapezuntine empire.

Kaykhusraw I, the new Sultan of Iconium, besieged Trebizond in 1205 or 1206. David provoked Theodore Laskaris by sending his young general Synadenos to occupy Nicomedia, claimed by the Nicaean Empire. Synadenos was no match for the abler Emperor of Nicaea, who led his troops through a difficult pass. Synadenos was taken prisoner, and David was forced to recognise Herakleia as the westward limit of his empire, and Theodore Laskaris threatened to force this frontier eastward even further. David, hard pressed by his Nicaean adversary, invoked the aid of the Latins; Theodore Laskaris occupied the frontier district of Plousias, famous for its archers and its warlike spirit, and would have taken Herakleia also, had not the Latins under Thierri de Loos again seized Nicomedia.[9]

But the Latins soon retired to face another Bulgarian invasion of Thrace, rewarded by David for their temporary aid with shiploads of corn and hams. David asked the Latin Emperor of Constantinople to include him as his subject in his treaties and correspondence with Theodore Laskaris; David preferred a nominal Latin suzerainty to annexation by the Nicaean emperor. Having thus secured his position, he crossed the Sangarios with about 300 Frankish auxiliaries, ravaged the villages subject to Theodore Laskaris, and took hostages from Plousias. David withdrew, but the Franks, incautiously advancing into the hilly country, were surprised by Andronikos Gidos, one of Theodore Laskaris' Nicaean generals, in the rough passes of Nicomedia, and nearly the entire army was wiped out.[10]

Territory and economy

In 1214 the new Seljuk Sultan, Kaykaus I, captured Sinope, killed David, and compelled Alexios to render tribute and military service. The loss of Sinope pushed the western frontier of Trebizond, which had been at Herakleia a few years earlier, and then at Cape Kerembi, back to the Iris and Thermodon Rivers until it was only 250 kilometres (160 mi) from the capital. This loss isolated Trebizond from direct contact with the Empire of Nicaea and the other Greek lands.[7] The empire ran east 170 kilometres to the Georgian frontier at Soteroupolis.

Trapezuntine foreign policy now focused on relations with Georgia, the Sultanate of Iconium, the Italian maritime cities (especially the Genoese), and the small emirates of Erzerum and Erzincan.

The capital was considered impregnable, for art had supplemented nature in its defense. It possessed a mild climate, a fruitful soil in which the olive and the vine flourished, an excellent supply of water, and abundant wood. John Eugenikos in his later panegyric, called it 'the apple of the eye of all Asia', and it was believed by its inhabitants to enjoy the special protection of Saint Eugenios of Trebizond.[11]

Family and succession

Alexios married Theodora Axuchina, a Trapezuntine noblewoman. He had two sons, the future John I and Manuel I, and Komnene, a daughter who married Andronikos I.

Alexios died at forty on 1 February 1222 after a reign of eighteen years. His eldest son John was passed over in favour of his son-in-law, Andronikos I.




  • The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Oxford University Press, 1991.
  • C. Toumanoff, "On the relationship between the founder of the Empire of Trebizond and the Georgian Queen Thamar" in Speculum vol. 15 (1940) pp. 299–312.
  • W. Miller, Trebizond: The Last Greek Empire of the Byzantine Era, Chicago 1926.
Alexios I of Trebizond
Komnenid dynasty
Born: c. 1182 Died: 1 February 1222
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Emperor of Trebizond
Succeeded by
Andronikos I

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