Doukas familly

1. General

The Doukai first appear in the written sources around the middle of the ninth century. They hailed from the region of Paphlagonia and were one of the most illustrious Byzantine aristocratic families of Asia Minor. Since determining the historical continuity of this family from the ninth century to 1204 is problematic, researchers usually distinguish three separate groups bearing this particular family name.1 The name of the Doukai was glorified by the first group of family members, active in the ninth and first decades of the tenth centuries. However, of far greater renown were two members of the third group, Constantine X and Michael VII (1071-1078), who created the Doukid dynasty in the eleventh century. The marriage alliances they had formed to the Komnenian dynasty gave the Doukai high status and a place among the first families in the empire. Their family name’s prestige and glory survived the extinction of the Doukas family, the continuation of which can be traced in the sources almost until the middle of the twelfth century.

2. Appearance and origin of the Doukas family

Traditions regarding the family’s descent linked the Doukai to Constantine the Great. According to eleventh-century historian Nikephoros Bryennios, who quotes the tradition, the first Doukas was a relative and close associate of Constantine the Great; he moved from Rome to newly-founded Constantinople and was appointed the city’s doux. The aforementioned official, whose name is not reported, was considered the founder of the Doukas family.2

This legend, of course, has nothing to do with reality, since the first written references to members of the Doukas family date from the middle of the ninth century. It is thought that their family name originated from the title of duke borne by the family’s primogenitor, who at the time commanded one of the empire’s border regions.3 It is almost certain that the Doukai were of Byzantine descent (native-born Greek-speakers).4 According to all indications, they hailed from the theme of Paphlagonia, where their family estates were located.5

3. The first members of the family in the ninth and early tenth centuries

The first reported member of the Doukas family (whose given name we do not know) was an official of the empress Theodora, who was sent against the Paulicians of Asia Minor in ca. 843-844. The most important members of this so-called “first group” of the Doukai were Andronikos Doukas and his son Constantine, who belonged to the upper echelons of military hierarchy. Their careers coincided with the reign of Leo VI (886-912) and, as with many other representatives of Byzantine aristocratic families, so the Doukai had the opportunity to distinguish themselves in the struggle against the Arabs and rise socially. Indeed, at the beginning of the tenth century they came into conflict with imperial authority, mainly because of the parakoimomenos Samonas, Leo’s adviser, and for a time they fled to the court of the Arab caliph.

After the death of Leo VI (912), his brother Alexander (912-913) came to power; before dying (June 913), the latter appointed as regent and the minor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus’ guardian Nicholas Mystikos, patriarch of Constantinople and friend of the Doukas family. Prior to receiving news that he had been appointed as head of the regency council Nicholas Mystikos had incited Constantine Doukas, who was domestikos ton Scholon, to rebellion in order to take the throne. When he was informed of Alexander’s death, Constantine Doukas hastened with his followers to Constantinople. The rebellion of the Doukai was suppressed by the imperial guard, while the pretender Constantine Doukas, his son Gregory and nephew Michael lost their lives in the street fights that followed. Stephen, Constantine’s younger son, was castrated and sent along with his mother to the Doukas’ family estates in the theme of Paphlagonia.

The death of most male members of the Doukai excluded the possibility of continuing the family name. If we consider the fact that Nicholas, the last known Doukas of the first group – whose relation to the aforementioned Doukai cannot be accurately confirmed –, was killed in battle against the Bulgarians at Katasyrtai (917), it is clear why there is a problem in following this family’s continuity.

4. The Doukai at the end of the tenth and the beginning of the eleventh centuries: Andronikos Lydos and his sons

In the last quarter of the tenth century we come across reports of certain personalities that some researchers classify as belonging to the Doukas family, specifically to the so called “second group”,6 namely Andronikos Lydos and his sons, Christophoros and Bardas. Their potential relation to the ninth- and early tenth-century Doukai cannot be ascertained, not even approximately. Furthermore, the sources lack any information based on which we could claim with a greater degree of certainty that the aforementioned belonged to the Doukas family.7 The activities of Andronikos Lydos and his sons are set within the framework of the reign of Basil II (976-1025), when they are mentioned as followers of Bardas Skleros during the revolt of 976-979.

5. The Doukai in the eleventh century

5.1. Doukai as Emperors

The most numerous and better known group of Doukai consists of two brothers, the emperor Constantine X Doukas and the caesar John Doukas, as well as their direct descendants, who appear constantly in the sources after the middle of the eleventh century.8 However, the relationship of the members of the third group of Doukai to the Doukai of the ninth and tenth centuries cannot be verified. The twelfth-century Byzantine historian John Zonaras openly questioned the existence of a direct affinity between the aforementioned two brothers and the Doukai of old, mentioning that in actual fact Constantine X and caesar John Doukas descended through the female line of the family.9

The rise of the final group of Doukai begins at the time of the great revolt of 1057. Constantine Doukas, who held the title of vestarches, and his brother John ranked among the most illustrious members of the Byzantine military aristocracy (Botaneiates, Argyroi, Bourtzes, Bryennioi, etc.) who supported the imperial aspirations of Isaac Komnenos. According to contemporary sources, Constantine Doukas was one of the most generous financial backers of the rebellion, a fact testifying to his family’s great wealth.10

Isaakios I Komnenos’ two-year reign led to the rise of all those who had contributed to his taking power, including the Doukas family. That the Doukai made the most of the opportunity presented to them is confirmed by the fact that, when in 1059 Isaakios I abdicated because of illness, he chose as his successor Constantine Doukas, who had already been honored with the title of proedros.

The reign of Constantine X led the Doukai to first place among the aristocratic families of the Byzantine Empire. The numerous relatives of the emperor and John Doukas occupied prominent places in the state apparatus and intermarried with other Byzantine aristocratic families. The dissemination of the Doukas family name to other upper-class families may also be observed at this time. Even though the Doukas dynasty came to an end in 1078, with the overthrow of Michael VII Doukas, son of Constantine X, the Doukai, thanks to their family ties to the Komnenoi, retained the most distinguished and exalted positions in the empire.

5.2. Intermarriage with other families

The Doukai had been related to many illustrious families of Byzantium, and often an underlying factor of these relations was a unity of political interests. In 1034 Constantine Doukas married the daughter of Constantine Dalassenos and supported the aspirations of his father-in-law. As a punishment for this, emperor Michael IV the Paphlagonian sent him into exile. Later, after the death of his first wife, Constantine Doukas married Eudokia Makrembolitissa. During the revolt of 1057, the family ties between the Makrembolitai and the Doukai contributed to the rebels receiving support from Michael Keroularios, patriarch of Constantinople and uncle of Eudokia Makrembolitissa.

The Doukas clan was strengthened after Constantine X ascended the throne, when it was to the interest of many families to be related to the imperial dynasty. Thus, in the second half of the eleventh century the Doukai concluded marriage alliances with the Komnenoi, Palaiologoi, and Pegonitai. Of utmost importance to the Doukai were their family connections to the Komnenoi, given that these connections helped them strengthen and maintain their positions during the reign of the Komnenian dynasty.

5.3. Antagonism between the Doukai and the Komnenoi

Isaakios I Komnenos’ abdication in favor of Constantine Doukas and not some other member of his own family caused friction between the Doukai and Komnenoi, for some of the latter could not come to terms with losing power. The political activities of Anna Dalassene, wife of John Komnenos (Isaakios I’s brother) and mother of future emperor Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118), must be placed within this framework.11 Anna Dalassene remained an opponent of the Doukai to the end of her life and she repeatedly showed this enmity, the roots of which go back to the events of 1059. During the period 1068-1071, when the position of the Doukas dynasty had been shaken because of the rise of Romanos IV Diogenes to the throne,12 Anna Dalassene had sided with the new emperor, to whom she remained loyal even after his overthrow by the Doukai in 1071, the result being that for some time she was banished along with her sons. She also showed enmity towards the Doukai when the caesar John Doukas proposed a marriage between his granddaughter Eirene13 and Alexios Komnenos. This marriage was finally concluded against the will of Anna Dalassene, who never came to terms with it: in 1081, after Alexios Komnenos ascended the throne, his mother attempted to dissolve the marriage. This attempt was unsuccessful, as Alexios I was quick to realize the consequences of this act on the political interests of the Komnenos family.

5.4. The Doukai – Komnenoi political alliance

There is no doubt that the marriage between Eirene Doukaina and Alexios Komnenos, which took place in 1077, was beneficial to both families. This is also confirmed by the testimony of Anna Komnene, daughter of Alexios I. from evidence contained in the Alexiad it becomes clear that the driving force behind the revolt of 1081 were the Doukai, led by the caesar John, as well as George Palaiologos, who had married Anna, sister of Eirene Doukaina. It is also known that the Doukai and their allies backed the revolt financially, which helped recruit an army, without which the successful outcome of the enterprise would have been impossible. It was the marriage to Eirene that gave Alexios Komnenos precedence over his elder brother Isaakios. Thanks to the influence of the Doukai, the army proclaimed Alexios as heir to the throne. Furthermore, Kosmas, the patriarch of Constantinople, also a follower of the Doukai, influenced emperor Nikephoros III Botaneiates to abdicate in order to avoid causing a civil war.

When Alexios I Komnenos came to power, the representatives of the Doukai requested an official recognition and affirmation of their rights to the throne. The Doukai, therefore, had not given up the claim on authority and were attempting to protect their dynastic rights in two ways. The first was through the son of the deposed Michael VII, Konstantios Doukas, to whom Alexios I awarded by chrysobull the rank of caesar. The second way was through Eirene, the new emperor’s wife. The Komnenoi attempted to circumvent the rights of the Doukai, as it appears from the fact that Eirene was crowned augusta seven days after the coronation of Alexios I and then only after the insistence of the Doukai and their followers.14

6. Diffusion of the Doukas name

Given the fact that Constantine X’s male line of descendants did not survive beyond 1100 and those of the caesar John Doukas beyond the middle of the twelfth century,15 a distinction must be made between the actual members of the Doukas family and those who bore the Doukas family name. The rise of the Doukas dynasty to power and, later, their connection to the Komnenoi added prestige to their family name. Thus, some of the grandchildren of Eirene Doukaina and Alexios I took the surname Doukas.

Since the twelfth century, the custom of using two or more surnames became widespread in Byzantium. From that time onwards, one observes the phenomenon of members of illustrious and less-than-illustrious families usurping the Doukas family name, the result in most cases being an inability to establish some relation to the actual Doukai descended from Constantine X and the caesar John. Certain individuals who came from other families and were, at best, distantly related to the Doukai through matrilineal descent adopted the Doukas family name in order to advertise their prestige. The glamour of the name contributed, even after the family’s extinction, to the surname Doukas being preserved in various parts of the empire, such as Epirus, where the Angelos-Doukas family preserved that glorious name until the fourteenth century.

1. The three groups of Doukai were distinguished by Polemis, D.I., The Doukai: A Contribution to Byzantine Prosopography (University of London Historical Studies 22, London 1968), pp. 1-3, 6.

2. See Νικηφόρος Βρυέννιος, Ύλη Ιστορίας, Gautier, P. (ed.), Nicéphore Bryennios, Histoire (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae 9, Bruxelles 1975), pp. 67,12-69,4. Cf. Polemis, D.I., The Doukai: A Contribution to Byzantine Prosopography (University of London Historical Studies 22, London 1968), p. 3.

3. Polemis, D.I., The Doukai: A Contribution to Byzantine Prosopography (University of London Historical Studies 22, London 1968), p. 4.

4. A number of researchers supported the possibility of an Armenian descent of the Doukas family, but such a hypothesis is not founded on the sources. See Polemis, D.I., The Doukai: A Contribution to Byzantine Prosopography (University of London Historical Studies 22, London 1968), pp. 3-6.

5. Polemis, D.I., The Doukai: A Contribution to Byzantine Prosopography (University of London Historical Studies 22, London 1968), p. 8 and n. 2.

6. Polemis, D.I., The Doukai: A Contribution to Byzantine Prosopography (University of London Historical Studies 22, London 1968), pp. 8, 26, 27 includes these persons in the Doukas family with reservations. Cheynet, J.-C., Pouvoir et contestations à Byzance 963-1210 (Paris 1990), pp. 172, 216 and n. 63 accepts the possibility that Andronikos Lydos and his sons belonged to a branch of the Doukai hailing from the region of the Thrakesioi or the Opsikion theme.

7. Krsmanović, B., Uspon vojnog plemstva u Vizantiji 11. veka (Beograd 2001), p. 163 and n. 62, based on the narrative of Ιωάννης Σκυλίτζης, Σύνοψις Ιστοριών, Thurn, I. (ed.), Ioannis Scylitzae Synopsis Historiarum (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae 5, Berlin - New York 1973), pp. 319, 328, 354, where Andronikos Lydos is referred to as patrikios and doux, while the family name Doukas is not given to Andronikos’ sons, advances the possibility that the so-called “second group” did not belong to the Doukas family.

8. It is considered a possibility that the two brothers were sons of a certain Andronikos Doukas, known from a seal in which he is mentioned as protospatharios and strategos of Great Preslav. See Polemis, D.I., The Doukai: A Contribution to Byzantine Prosopography (University of London Historical Studies 22, London 1968), p. 28 and Cheynet, J.-C, Pouvoir et contestations à Byzance 963-1210 (Paris 1990), pp. 193, 217.

9. Ιωάννης Ζωναράς, Επιτομή Ιστοριών, Bütner-Wobst, T. (ed.), Ioannis Zonarae Epitomae Historiarum 3 (Bonn 1897), 675, 18-676, 8.

10. Συνεχιστής Ιωάννου Σκυλίτζη, Χρονογραφία, Τσολάκης, Ε. (ed.), Η Συνέχεια της Χρονογραφίας του Ιωάννου Σκυλίτζη (Ioannes Scylitzes Continuatus) (Ίδρυμα Μελετών Χερσονήσου του Αίμου 105, Thessaloniki 1968), p. 108, 20-23.

11. According to Νικηφόρος Βρυέννιος, Ύλη Ιστορίας, Gautier, P. (ed.), Nicéphore Bryennios, Histoire (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae 9, Bruxelles 1975), pp. 81-83, Anna Dalassene openly opposed the decision of Isaakios I Komnenos that he was to be succeeded by Constantine X Doukas. Isaakios’ decision was unusual, because the man most suited to be his heir and create a Komnenian dynasty was his brother John (Anna Dalassene’s husband), father of five sons, three of which–Manuel, Isaakios, and Alexios– had been born before 1059, see Βαρζός, Κ., Η γενεαλογία των Κομνηνών 1 (Thessaloniki 1984), pp. 61, 67, 87.

12. The marriage of Eudokia Makrembolitissa to the general Romanos Diogenes caused the opposition of the Doukai, because it threatened the family’s interests, since this marriage could threaten the rights of Michael Doukas to the throne.

13. Eirene Doukaina was the daughter of Andronikos Doukas, elder son of John Doukas, and Maria of Bulgaria. See Polemis, D.I., The Doukai: A Contribution to Byzantine Prosopography (University of London Historical Studies 22, London 1968), pp. 70-74.

14. The Doukai feared that Alexios intended to marry Maria of Alania, former wife of Michael VII Doukas and Nikephoros III Botaneiates. Cf. Άννα Κομνηνή, Αλεξιάς, Reinsch, D.R. - Kambylis, A. (eds.), Annae Comnenae Alexias (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae 40, Berlin - New York 2001), pp. 89-90, 92-93.

15. See Polemis, D.I., The Doukai: A Contribution to Byzantine Prosopography (University of London Historical Studies 22, London 1968), p. 11.