John Eunuch

1. General information

John the eunuch was a dignitary of Trebizond who lived during the first half of the 14th century. There is no evidence in the sources regarding his descent, but apparently he did not belong to any notable aristocratic family. It is more likely that he rose thanks to his competence. He bore the high ranking title of megas doukas which meant that he was commander of the naval forces of Trebizond.1 He lived in Limnia, a town on the coast of the Black Sea, which was a naval base. It is certain that John the eunuch played an important role in the internal affairs of the Empire of Trebizond during the mid-14th century.

2. Career

The megas doukas John is first mentioned in connection to the events which followed the change on the throne of Trebizond when, after the brief reigns of Andronikos III Grand Komnenos (1332-1332) and Manuel II Grand Komnenos (January-September 1332), Basil Grand Komnenos (1332-1340) rose to the throne. The new emperor had Byzantine support and the support of some pro-Byzantine dignitaries. The measures he took shortly after his ascend against the local aristocracy of non Greek descent2 are characteristic, while shortly afterwards Basil married Eirene Palaiologina, the illegitimate daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos. According to information by Michael Panaretos, on February 21st, 1333 the megas doukas John participated in the events during which the recently deposed emperor Manuel II Grand Komnenos was murdered. This proves the eunuch John’s own pro-Byzantine sentiment, a hypothesis further confirmed by latter events.

2.1. Participation in the civil war

A few years later the eunuch John was involved in the civil war of the Empire of Trebizond, supporting Eirene Palaiologina. Eirene, the wife of Basil Grand Komnenos, ascended to the throne after Basil’s sudden death on 6 April 1340. The fact that she was not the legitimate successor to the throne of Trebizond (as she did not belong to the house of the Grand Komnenoi) on the one hand, and her strong ties with Byzantium from where she sought assistance on the other hand led some of the local aristocracy to turn against her. In the conflicts which followed, the megas doukas John sided with Eirene, thus expressing his pro-Byzantine attitude once again.

According to the sources, on July the 2nd 1340 John arrived to Trebizond from the fortress of Limnia with a substantial army.3
In the battle which followed the monastery of St. Eugenios was set afire and all its surrounding buildings were destroyed by the fire. The eunuch John arrested certain notable representatives of the opposing party; among them was the noble Tzanihites, who was taken to Limnia and was later executed there.

3. Death

The eunuch John was murdered in March of 1344, under uncertain circumstances. It is however reasonable to suppose that it was a political act by his opponents, as the megas doukas was responsible for the detention at Limnia of Michael Grand Komnenos, who was crowned emperor after John’s death.

4. Donor and founder of monasteries

The eunuch John had a reputation of a great donor and founder of monasteries. He founded the monasteries of Theoskepastos and of the Faros. He supported the latter financially through numerous donations. He also accorded donations to the Soumela monastery.

1. Ιστορία του Ελληνικού έθνους, τομ. Θ’ (Αθήνα 1980), p. 330 (E. Ahweiler – Glykatzi)

2. Karpov, S.P., «Trapezund i Konstantinopol v XIV veke», Vizantijskij vremennik 36 (1974), p. 86.

3. Uspenskij, F.I., Očerki iz istrorii Trapazuntskoj imperii (Leningrad 1929), pp. 102-103.