The Dalassenoi were a family of the military aristocracy, emerging at the end of the 10th century. Its members occupied a prominent place in the byzantine military hierarchy. The second generation of the Dalassenoi was also given the chance to occupy the throne. The Dalassenoi became related to the Doukes and the Komnenoi. Information regarding the Dalassenoi family is available up until the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th century. After 1204, the family prestige is waning.
2. Descent of the Dalassenoi
According to Michael Psellos, the aristocratic family of the Dalassenoi came from Dalassa,1 identified with Talas monastery, east of Melitene.2 Their family name derives from that place name. Their ethnic origin is not clear. It is possible that they were a family of armenian descent, occupying byzantine offices.3 Their names, however, were not armenian.4 During the 11th century, the Dalassenoi were associated with the theme of Armeniakon, where family members occupied lands. Members of the Dalassenoi family were also associated with the region of Antioch, serving in high military and administrative offices for many generations.
3. The emergence of the Dalassenoi (2nd half of the 10th – first decades of the 11th century)
The earliest evidence about the Dalassenoi dates back to the time of Basil II (976-1025), when certain family members were in imperial service. Damianos, the patriarch of the Dalassenoi, is first mentioned in 995, when he was appointed dux of Antioch. He held the office until 998, when he was killed in the battle of Apameia in Syria. It is known that Damianos had at least three sons: Constantine, Theophylaktos and Romanos. More valid evidence about his sons can be found during the last years of Basil II. It is believed, however, that they started their careers earlier, because they were among the combatants in the battle of Apameia.5 Constantine Dalassenos, like his father before him, was the dux of Antioch in 1024-1025, whereas Theophylaktos was appointed strategos of the theme of Anatolikon, the most important byzantine theme. The offices of the first Dalassenoi, mentioned at the time of Basil II and Constantine VIII (1025-1028), were of military or administrative nature and were associated with the eastern part of the empire, the region of the themes of Antioch, Anatolikon, Iberia and Vaspurakan.
The favor of the last male members of the macedonian dynasty towards the Dalassenoi manifested itself in 1028, when Constantine VIII decided on his deathbed to designate patrikios Constantine Dalassenos as his successor to the throne. Although that decision was later changed in favor of Romanos III Argyros (1028-1034), the fact that already the second generation of the Dalassenoi was given the chance to ascend the throne attest to the rapidity of their ascent.
4. The conflict of the Dalassenoi with members of the Paphlagonian dynasty
The prominence and the prestige of the Dalassenoi were confirmed at the time of Michael IV and Michael V, when the family assumed the role of the main opponent of the new authority. It can be inferred that the central problem of the authority of Michael IV and John Orphanotrophos, the emperor’s brother, was the attempt to neutralize the political opposition. Its leader was Constantine Dalassenos, supported by his large family and others. Among his supporters were the future emperor Constantine Doukas, married to the daughter of Constantine Dalassenos at the time,6 and wealthy citizens of Asia Minor: Baianos, Goudeles and Probatas. Michael Psellos mentions the favor of the populace of Constantinople towards Dalassenos.7 It is also known that he was supported by the most prominent citizens of Antioch, as a consequence of the prolonged presence of the Dalassenoi family in high-ranking offices at the region. Michael IV himself, being of humble descent from Paphlagonia, had realized the social prestige and the political power of the Dalassenoi and had been forced to confront Constantine Dalassenos, first by attempting to convince him to stay loyal through negotiations and the granting of dignities, then by taking measures against him, such as prosecution and incarceration of Constantine, and finally (1038-1039) by prosecuting his brothers and other relatives. Those preemptive measures of Michael IV were reinforced by his successor Michael V: as soon as he assumed power (December 1041), he forced Constantine Dalassenos to become a monk.8
The prestige of the Dalassenoi, however, at the time of the Paphlagonian dynasty led Constantine Dalassenos to challenge the imperial throne for a second time in 1042. Following the dethronement of Michael V (April 1042), the power was assumed by Zoe and her sister Theodora. It quickly became obvious that the Empire needed an emperor and Zoe had to decide which nobleman to choose as her third consecutive husband. Constantine Dalassenos was called to the palace and presented to Zoe. During their conversation, it seemed to Zoe that he was a man of austere principles, so she chose Constantine IX Monomachos (1042-1055) instead.9
5. The Dalassenoi during the 2nd half of the 11th century
During the 2nd half of the 11th century, the Dalassenoi family enjoyed great prestige. The example of Anna Dalassene, the mother of emperor Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118) and the most notable female member of the family, is the most characteristic. Her father was Alexios Charon, whereas her mother descended from Theophylaktos and Hadrian Dalassenos, brother and nephew of Constantine Dalassenos respectively. Anna kept her mother’s family name, because it was more noted and prestigious. Thanks to her marriage to John Komnenos, brother of Isaac I Komnenos, the Dalassenoi became relatives to the Komnenoi.10 During the 2nd half of the 11th century, an alliance of aristocratic families will be created around those two families. Anna Dalassene was the main contributor to the creation of that alliance.11
One is able to follow the family tree of the Dalassenoi with no gaps until the time of Damianos, his sons and his descendants until the mid-11th century. From the next period, many people bearing the same family name have been attested, mainly through seals, but their relationship to the family is hard to be accurately defined. The titles and the offices of the Dalassenoi during the 2nd half of the 11th and the 12th century show that the family maintained its place in the hierarchy among the byzantine aristocratic families, and that its members held military offices in most cases. Certain evidence also shows that after the mid-11th century members of the Dalassenoi family held offices in the European part of the Empire, such as Theodore Dalassenos, proedros and dux of Thessaloniki and Serres in 1062-1063,12 or Damianos Dalassenos, doux of Skopje in 1073.
6. The Dalassenoi during the Komnenoi dynasty
At the time of Alexios I, many members of the Dalassenoi family were active, the most prominent being Constantine Dalassenos,13 a relative of the Emperor and one of the most competent officials of the period. In “Αlexias”, by Anna Komnene, his name is mentioned along with the office of thalassokratoras.14 That member of the Dalassenoi family distinguished himself during the battles against emir Tzacha at the end of the 11th century.
At the time of Alexios I, Constantine Dalassenos-Doukas was also active, and he is known through sigillographic evidence. His mother descended from the Dalassenoi and his father from the Doukes, evidence that the Dalassenoi and the Doukes renewed their family ties during the 2nd half of the 11th century.
At the beginning of the 12th century, the Dalassenoi also renewed their family ties with the Komnenoi. John Rogeros or John Dalassenos,15 whose mother descended from the Dalassenoi, was married to Maria, firstborn daughter of emperor John II Komnenos. John Dalassenos was appointed caesar ca. 1138.16 When Manuel I Komnenos assumed power (1143), caesar John organized a conspiracy against the emperor. Following its suppression, he was not severely punished, just temporarily removed from the capital.
7. The waning of the prestige of the Dalassenoi family in the 13th century
The Dalassenoi were considered a prominent family until the end of the 12th century. Their prestige, however, started waning at the beginning of the 13th century. Following the fall of Constantinople during Crusade IV, the Dalassenoi finally lose their prestige as an aristocratic family.17
1. Renauld, E. (ed.), Michel Psellos, Chronographie ou histoire d’un siecle de Byzance (976-1077) 1 (Paris 1926), pp. 122.12.1-123.12.26; 2 (Paris 1928) 141.6.16-20.
2. Suggested by Adontz, N., “Notes Armeno-byzantines”, Byzantion 10 (1935), pp. 180-184. See also Hild, F. – Restle, M., Kappadokien (Kappadokia, Charsianon, Sebasteia und Lykandos (TIB 2, Vienna 1981), p. 197, and Cheynet, J.-C., Etudes prosopographiques (Paris 1986), p. 75.
3. The armenian origin of the Dalassenoi family is supported by Adontz, N., “Notes Armeno-byzantines”, Byzantion 10 (1935), and Charanis, P., The Armenians in the Byzantine Empire (Lisbon 1963), pp. 45-46. Kazhdan, A., Armjane v sostave gospodstvujuscego klassa vizantijskoj imperii XI-XII vv. (Yerevan 1975), pp. 93-93, presents that theory with reservation.
4. See Cheynet, J.-C., Etudes prosopographiques (Paris 1986), pp. 75-76.
5. According to the christian Arab Yahya al-Antaki, the two sons of doux Damianos were captured during the battle of Apameia, taken to Cairo and released in 1008, after 10 years. See also Canard, M., “Les sources arabes de l’histoire byzantine aux confines des Xe et XIe siecles”, Revue des Etudes Byzantines 19 (1961), pp. 299-300.
6. The daughter of Constantine Dalassenos, whose name remains unknown, was the first wife of the future emperor Constantine I Doukas (1059-1067). She died without an heir. See Polemis, D., The Doukai. A Contribution to Byzantine Prosopography (University of London Historical Studies 22, London 1968), p. 34.
7. Renauld, E. (ed.), Michel Psellos, Chronographie ou histoire d’un siecle de Byzance (976-1077) 1 (Paris 1926), pp. 122-123.
8. Michael Psellos mentions the incarceration of Constantine Dalassenos to a monastery. See Renauld, E. (ed.), Michel Psellos, Chronographie ou histoire d’un siecle de Byzance (976-1077) 1 (Paris 1926), p. 123. On the other hand, Michael Attaliates mentions that Michael V Kalaphates released Dalassenos as soon as he assumed power: Bekker, I. (ed.), Michaelis Attaliotae Historia (Bonn 1853), p. 11.15-18.
9. Renauld, E. (ed.), Michel Psellos, Chronographie ou histoire d’un siecle de Byzance (976-1077) 1 (Paris 1926), p. 123. In contrast to Psellos, according to whom Zoe had to choose among three candidates (Constantine Dalassenos, Constantine Artoklines or Constantine Monomachos), John Skylitzes, the main source on Constantine Dalassenos, does not even mention him among the candidates for marrying Zoe in 1042, see Thurn, I. (ed.), Ioannis Scylitzae Synopsis Historiarum (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae 5, Berlin – New York 1973), pp. 422-423.
10. Βαρζός, Κ., Η γενεαλογία των Κομνηνών 1 (Thessaloniki 1984), p. 51, believes that the wedding took place in 1044.
11. Anna Dalassene managed to relate her family to the most prominent byzantine families of the 11th century: the Doukes, the Melissenoi, the Taronites, etc.
12. Theodore is mentioned in 1067 bearing the title of protonovelissimos, which is confusing, because the title of novelissimos up until the time of Alexios I was granted to members of the imperial family or high officials. See Cheynet, J.-C., Etudes prosopographiques (Paris 1986), p. 91.
13. According to Anna Comnena, Constantine Dalassenos was a relative of Alexios I from his mother; see Reinsch, D.R. – Kambylis , A. (ed.), Annae Comnenae Alexias (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae 40, Berlin – New York 2001), pp. 223.92-95.
14. Reinsch, D.R. – Kambylis , A. (ed.), Annae Comnenae Alexias (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae 40, Berlin – New York 2001), pp. 261.1-2; 264.4-5.
15. Stiernon, L., “Notes de titulature et de prosopographie byzantines: a propos de trois membres de la famille Rogerios (XIIe siecle)”, Revue des Etudes Byzantines 22 (1964), pp. 185-187. See also Cheynet, J.-C., Etudes prosopographiques (Paris 1986), pp. 112-113.
16. John Rogeros or John Dalassenos was appointed kaisaras following the death of Nikephoros Bryennios (ca. 1138). See Cheynet, J.-C., Etudes prosopographiques (Paris 1986), p. 112 and note 129.
17. Prosopographisches Lexikon der Palaiologenzeit 3 (Vienna 1978), nr. 5035-5036.