1. The Kabasitai family in the 13th century
The aristocratic house of the Kabasitai, descending from the region of Mesochaldia, emerges in 1204, the time of the establishment of the Empire of Trebizond. The Kabasitai family is one of the native families of Pontos1 which helped the Grand Komnenoi in their attempt to consolidate their power by providing them with material and personal support. There is no evidence about the members of the family during that period.
2. The Kabasitai in the 14th and 15th century
2.1. Pinnacle of the house
The Kabasitai family reached its pinnacle in the 14th century as one of the wealthiest landowning families. Its members owned estates in Mesochaldia,2 the region they descended from, and climbed the ladder of hierarchy in the imperial court holding offices such as , and . During that same period, prominent members of the family were involved in politics, while other members of the Kabasitai family sponsored churches and monasteries.
Following the fall of Trebizond to the Ottomans in 1461, the Kabasitai family, along with members of the imperial family and other members of the aristocracy, were initially transported to Constantinople by an ottoman ship and finally to a region near Serres, where the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II (1444-1481) granted them land. The name of the family remained alive in the memories of the people of Pontos for many years after the establishment of the ottoman rule.3
2.2. Political activity
The role that the members of the house of the Kabasitai played in politics was important, since they actively took part in the civil disputes of the 1340’s. The aristocratic families of that period were the core of rebellions which often transformed to civil wars due to the differences between the families. The Kabasitai family played an active role in those civil conflicts and joined forces with other aristocratic families of Trebizond, such as the Scholarios, the Doranitai, the Kamachenos and the Tzanichitai families, in order to acquire greater political power and to promote their sociopolitical interests.
2.3. Contribution to the defense of the empire
The Kabasitai, although they often turned against the imperial power, were among the basic defenders of the empire against its Turkmen neighbors and other external enemies. The doux of Chaldia John Kabasites comprises the most characteristic example. In August 1355, he liberated the region of Cheriana from the Turkmen.4 Another John Kabasites, a grand doux and a former grand logariastes, was killed, along with Michael Tzanichites, in a naval battle against the Genoese outside Kaffa at the time of Michael Grand Komnenos (1341, 1344-1349).
3. Civil wars – dynastic disputes. The role of the Kabasitai
3.1. At the time of Eirene Palaiologina
The political activity of the Kabasitai family reached its pinnacle during the civil disputes which took place in the Empire of Trebizond at the time of Eirene Palaiologina (1340-1341) and lasted until the first years of the reign of Alexios III Komnenos (1349-1390). The aristocracy of Trebizond, divided between two groups, the Scholarios family from Constantinople and the native Amytzantarios family, tried to take advantage of the power vacuum following the death of Basil Grand Komnenos (1332-1340). His legitimate wife Eirene Palaiologina was not able to rule and her marriage to the emperor had not produced an heir.5 The Kabasitai family stood along the Scholarios family and joined forces with them in many occasions. In 1340, the Kabasitai family, along with the Doranites, the Meizomatai and the Kamachenos families, supported the Scholarios family in their struggle against Eirene Palaiologina and fortified themselves in the monastery of St. Eugenios, which constituted the centre of operations. The sources mention the name of Leo Kabasites and the grand doux John Kabasites. However, their role in the events and their later fate is not known.6
3.2. At the time of Michael
No possible involvement of the Kabasitai family in the attempts of the aristocrats to overthrow Anna Anachoutlou (1341-1342) is clearly mentioned, although they are later mentioned as supporters of her adversary, Michael Grand Komnenos. Following the failure of the uprising in the monastery of St. Eugenios, the name of the family appears once again in the political foreground of the empire at the time of Michael Grand Komnenos (1344-1349). It seems that they had turned against his predecessor, John III Grand Komnenos (1342-1344). When Michael ascended to the throne, he honored the Kabasitai family, along with other members of the aristocracy, with high offices in order to thank them for their support in his attempt to return from his exile in Constantinople and become the emperor in Trebizond. Thus, Leo Kabasites assumed the office of , while grand doux John Kabasites also assumed the office of grand logariastes. In November 1345, however, Leo Kabasites was arrested, along with other members of the aristocracy, such as Niketas Scholares, because the emperor suspected that they organized new conspiracies against him.
3.3. At the time of Alexios III
At the time of Alexios III Grand Komnenos (1349-1390), the Kabasitai family continued to play a protagonist role in the politics of the empire. In January 1341, Alexios faced a new conspiracy organized by protovestiarios Leo Kabasites. The emperor ordered the arrest of Kabasites and appointed the , Theodore Doranites (Pileles), in his place. Another characteristic example of the tension between Alexios III Grand Komnenos and the Kabasitai family is the attempt to assassinate the emperor on October 27th, 13637 in Katabatos, on the bank of the St. Gregory river, organized by the Kabasitai8 and George Scholares. The Kabasitai were arrested, Scholarios fled to Amisos and metropolitan Nefon of Trebizond was put under custody in Soumela monastery as an accomplice to the conspiracy.
3.4. At the time of Alexios IV and John IV
In the 15th century, at the time of Alexios IV Grand Komnenos (1417-1429), the houses of Kabasitai and Scholarios were responsible for the assassination of the emperor himself. When his son John, the later John IV Grand Komnenos (1429-1460), attempted to ascend to the throne for the second time by organizing a campaign against his father in order to overthrow him, the Kabasitai and the Scholarios families stood along him for reasons unknown. John IV had planned to arrest the emperor. The , however, broke his orders and assassinated Alexios IV in Achanti, near Trebizond, where Alexios IV prepared to face the military forces of his son. John, following his coronation as emperor, punished in an exemplary manner the people responsible for the assassination of his father. It is not known which members of the Kabasitai family took part in the attack against Alexios IV or how they were punished.
3.5. At the time of David
Following the death of emperor John IV in 1458, the Kabasitai family supported the new emperor David Grand Komnenos (1460-1461) in his attempt to ascend to the throne and during his reign. David successfully argued against the four-year-old legitimate heir to the throne Alexios V (1458),9 a nephew of the deceased John from his brother Alexander Grand Komnenos (Skantarios), and managed to gain the support of the Kabasitai and assume power. The good relations between emperor David and the Kabasitai family continued until the fall of the empire to the Ottomans in 1461.
1. The Grand Komnenoi established their rule in Pontos gaining the support of the Tzanichitai, the Kabasitai and the Kamachenos family. See Χρύσανθος, μητροπολίτης Τραπεζούντος, “Η Εκκλησία Τραπεζούντος”, Αρχείον Πόντου 4-5 (1933), pp. 56, 234, and Janssens, E., Trebizonde en Colchide (Brussels 1969), p. 67.
2. Leo Kabasites must have owned lands in “Μεσοχάλδιο”, that is in Mesochaldia, and commanded many fortresses along with the fortress of Doryle, defending the region from the Tsepnedes. See Γεωργιάδης, Θ. (ed.), Εγκυκλοπαίδεια του Ποντιακού Ελληνισμού. Ο Πόντος. Ιστορία, Λαογραφία και Πολιτισμός 1 (Thessaloniki 1991), p. 171.
3. On the fate of the family following the fall of Trebizond see Beldiceanu, N., “Les Qavazid? Kabazites à la lumiere d’un Registre Ottoman de Trebizond”, in Studia Turcologica Memoriae Alexii Bombaci dedicata (Naples 1982), pp. 41-54.
4. In the following November he took part in the emperor’s campaign in the same region and got arrested. He lost the office of doux of Chaldia when attacked by the Turkmen emir hoca Latif in April 1360. See Λυμπερόπουλος. Β., Ο Βυζαντινός Πόντος. Η αυτοκρατορία τηε Τραπεζούντας (Athens 1999), p. 163.
5. See Λυμπερόπουλος. Β., Ο Βυζαντινός Πόντος. Η αυτοκρατορία της Τραπεζούντας (Athens 1999), p. 138.
6. Following their defeat from the imperial armies, they were presumably arrested and led to the fortress of Limnia, along with the other rebels. Their fortress, the monastery of St. Eugenios, was set on fire. The rebellion ended when grand doux John arrived at Trebizond from Constantinople in order to reinforce the emperor. See Bredenkamp, F., “The Doranites family of the 14th century Byzantine Empire of Trebizond” Βυζαντιακά 19 (1999), pp. 239-265, ibid p. 245.
7. A. Bryer dates the assassination attempt of the emperor on October 26th, 1363; see Bryer, A. – Winfield, D., The Byzantine Monuments and Topography of the Pontos I (Dumbarton Oaks Studies 20, Washington D.C. 1985), p. 327.
8. The authors of Prosopographisches Lexikon der Palaiologenzeit mention Leo Kabasites as a participant in the assassination attempt of emperor Alexios III Grand Komnenos. See Trapp. E. – Beyer, H. – Leontiades, I. (eds), Prosopographisches Lexikon der Palaiologenzeit 5 (Vienna 1981), s.v. “Καβαζίτης Λέων”, p. 2, nr. 10011.
9. Emperor John IV appointed Alexios V, the son of his brother Alexander Komnenos, his successor to the throne just before he died. See Βαρζός, Κ., “Η μοίρα των τελευταίων Μεγάλων Κομνηνών της Τραπεζούντας”, Βυζαντινά 12 (1983), pp. 269-289, ibid p. 271, footnote 19.