1. Historical Framework
In the 14th century the eminent aristocratic families of the Pontos constituted the nucleus of rebellious movements, which, due to the differences they had, quite often took the form of civil wars and divided deeply the Empire of Trebizond, until the reign of Alexios III Grand Komnenos. In that period the important families of Trebizond (Doranitai, Kabasitai, Meizomatai, Κamachenoi, Τzanichites, the Amytzantarios family, Samsons) were very powerful thanks to the development of their estates and the opportunity they had to control both the inland commercial routes and the routes connecting Georgia with turcoman territories. Therefore, the aristocratic families played a crucial role in the political scene of the empire. Particularly determinative, as far as the political proceedings of state interest could be concerned, was the role of the Scholarios family, who belonged to the court nobility and represented the favouring towards Constantinople side, thus aiming at a close cooperation with the Byzantine Empire. The contrarieties among the great landowners of the hinterland and the aristocracy of the court became particularly felt in the 14th century, often leading to conflicts. Almost all the families of the Pontos took part in those events, joining on occasion either the one or the other side.
The balance established in the interior of the empire by Alexios II Grand Komnenos was disturbed by the policy followed by his successor, Andronikos III Grand Komnenos. His brother, Basil Grand Komnenos, helped by the Scholarios family and Constantinople, overthrew his nephew and legal heir to the throne, Manuel II Grand Komnenos, in 1332 and tried to restore the internal balance in the state of Trebizond by introducing strict measures against the members of the local aristocracy, who were responsible for the agitation.
The dispute and the rivalry within the aristocracy after the murder of Manuel II Grand Komnenos and the ascension of Basil Grand Komnenos to the throne, were expressed a few years later, during the reign of the first wife of Basil, Eirene Palaiologina. Two groups were dominating at the time the Trebizond aristocracy, the Scholarios and the Amytzantarios family. The Constantinopolitan perception of power, adopted by the Scholarios amily, contrasted the political views and beliefs of the Amytzantarios1 and caused several clashes between the two parts. On the occasion of the vacant governance created after the death of Basil Grand Komnenos and the inability of the empress to assert her authority, the two sides were led to a head-on collision, as each of them wanted to impose its own socio-political balance.2 The ensuing conflict involved a number of eminent aristocratic families, such as the Doranitai, the Kabasitai, the Meizomatai and the Κamachenoi.
2. The Revolt
On April 6, 1340, after the death of Basil Grand Komnenos,3 the governance of the empire was assumed by Eirene Palaiologina, the illegitimate daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos (1328-1341).4 After her ascension to the throne of Trebizond, Eirene attempted to consolidate her power with the help of the Amytzantarios and other notable aristocrats. However, the controversy between the Scholarios family and the Amytzantarios, who at the time formed the two major parties of the local aristocracy, had become very complicated due to personal disputes. As a result, the Scholarios family reacted immediately and revolted against the empress. They soon were joined by other eminent aristocratic families, such as the Meizomatai, the Doranitai, the Kabasitai and the Κamachenoi. The names of Leo Kabasites, the John Kabasites and Constantine Doranites are reported by the sources. Nevertheless, the exact role of those people in the events as well as their fate after their defeat by the imperial forces is not known.
The Scholarios family and other noble families of Trebizond, under the and Τzanichites, were entrenched themselves behind the walls of the monastery of St. Eugenios, which became their operational centre against Palaiologina. On the other hand, the empress managed to maintain control over the harbour and the castle, helped by the Amytzantarios family.5 The revolt ended on July 2, 1340, when the megas doux, the eunuch John, arrived at Trebizond from Constantinople to assist the empress. John’s forces joined the imperial troops and they jointly attacked the monastery of St. Eugenios, which was set to fire. The Scholarios family was defeated and their leaders were initially arrested and taken to the fortress of Limnia, while in the following year (July 1341) some of them were executed.
The predominance of Eirene Palaiologina and the Amytzantarios did not signal the end of civil conflicts within the empire. The contrarieties between the major landowners and the nobility of the court continued to provoke bloody conflicts between the two sides until the early years of the rule of Alexios III Grand Komnenos. During those tumultuous civil conflicts several families suffered heavy casualties, which affected directly their presence in the political scene of the empire. In 1352 quite a few members of the Doranitai were executed, while the massacre of the Amytzantarios in 1342 also signalled the victory of the pro-Constantinople side of Trebizond over any anti-Constantinople policy.6
During the subsequent civil conflicts the families joined either the one or the other side, either opposing or supporting the emperors, depending on their interest. Thus, in 1351 the Doranitai and the Scholarios family, which in 1340 had jointly participated in the revolt against Empress Eirene Palaiologina, appear to be rivals. On the other hand, during the civil conflicts the emperors that successively ascended the throne were unable to deal with the internal disorder effectively. However, the aristocratic families of Trebizond never became powerful enough to eventually prevail. Indeed, during the reign of powerful rulers the families were unable to promote their interest. As a result, the defeat of the Scholarios family in 1356 and the Kabasitai in 1363 by Alexios III signalled the end of those riots, which had afflicted and deeply divided the state of the Grand Komnenoi.
The rebellious movements of the aristocratic families had also a direct impact on the foreign affairs of the state. The revolt of the Scholarios family against Empress Eirene Palaiologina gave the opportunity to the Turkmen of Amida7 to turn against the Pontos and to cause terrible disasters. The city of Trebizond was besieged and set to fire, while the citizens were massively massacred. Similar consequences also caused civil conflicts that broke out in the empire in the following years (the Turkmen captured Hagios Andreas and Oinaion in 1346 and the Genoese captured Cerasous in 1348).
1. See Λυμπερόπουλος, B., O Bυζαντινός Πόντος. H αυτοκρατορία της Tραπεζούντας (Αθήνα 1999), p. 138.
2. See Λυμπερόπουλος, B., O Bυζαντινός Πόντος. H αυτοκρατορία της Tραπεζούντας (Αθήνα 1999), p. 150.
3. It is assumed that the death of Basil Grand Komnenos was caused by Eirene Palaiologina. See Miller, W., Trebizond. The Last Greek Empire (London 1926), p. 46.
4. The empress had been sent away by her husband so that he could marry Eirene of Trebizond, a local aristocrat, with whom he had an unlawful affair.
5. Λυμπερόπουλος, B., O Bυζαντινός Πόντος. H αυτοκρατορία της Tραπεζούντας (Αθήνα 1999), p. 174, argues that the empress was arrested by the Amytzantarios family and was detained in the fortress against her will.
6. See Ahrweiler, Ε., “Η αυτοκρατορία της Τραπεζούντας”, in Iστορία του Eλληνικού Έθνους, vol. 9 (Αθήνα 1980), p. 328.
7. On the Turks of Amida and their name, see Zachariadou, E.A., “Trebizond and the Turks (1352-1402)”, Αρχείον Πόντου 35 (1979), pp. 340-341.