The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Empire of Trebizond

The Empire of Trebizond was a successor state of the Byzantine Empire founded in 1204 after the Fourth Crusade. One of the main founders of this state was Queen of Georgia Tamar. This state was founded under the protectorate of the United Georgian Kingdom.

When Constantinople fell to European armies in 1204, three smaller Greek "empires" emerged from the wreckage: the Empire of Nicaea, the Despotate of Epirus, and the Empire of Trebizond. Alexius I , a grandson of Byzantine emperor Andronicus I Comnenus and Georgian King David the Builder, made Trebizond the seat of an empire, and because of this connection the polity was sometimes referred to as the Comnenan Empire. Before 1204 Alexius and his brother David lived in Georgia. This line of Trapezuntine Comneni added the title Megas ("Grand") to their name and ruled the empire until its end, in 1461. Trebizond controlled a contiguous area across the southern Black Sea coast, and, briefly in the thirteenth century, even parts of the Crimean peninsula and Kerch on the Black Sea's northern shore.

While the Despotate of Epirus came to an end some sixty years after its birth, and the Nicaean Empire managed to retake Constantinople and extinguish the feeble Latin Empire, only to be conquered in 1453, Trebizond managed to outlive either of these competing polities—despite the fact, as noticed by a 15th century visitor, Pero Tafur, that Trebizond had less than 4000 inhabitants. It was an empire more in title than in action, surviving by playing its rivals against each other, and offering daughters of its rulers for marriage with generous dowries. For example, Manuel III, who succeeded his father Alexius III as emperor in 1390, had allied himself with Timur Lenk, and benefited from Timur's defeat of the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Ankara in 1402. His son Alexius IV married two of his daughters to Jihan Shah , khan of the Black Sheep Turkmen, and to Ali Beg , khan of the White Sheep Turkmen; while his eldest daughter Maria became the third wife of the Byzantine Emperor John VIII Palaeologus.

John IV could not help but see his Empire would soon share the same fate as Constantinople. Ottoman Sultan Murad II first attempted to take the capital by sea in 1442, but high surf made the landings difficult and the attempt was repulsed. While Mehmed II was away laying siege to Belgrade in 1456, the Ottoman governor of Amaseia attacked Trebizond, and while he was defeated, he took many prisoners and extracted a heavy tribute.

John IV prepared for the eventual assault by forging alliances. He gave his daughter to the son of his brother-in-law, Uzun Hasan, khan of the White Sheep Turkmen, in return for his promise to defend Trebizond. He also secured promises of help from the Turkish emirs of Sinope and Karamania, and from the king and princes of Georgia. Unfortunately after John's death in 1458, his brother David came to power and misused these alliances. David intrigued with various European powers for help against the Ottomans, speaking of wild schemes that included the conquest of Jerusalem. Mehmed eventually heard of these intrigues, and was further proked to action by David's demand that Murad remit the tribute imposed on his brother. Mehmed's response came in the summer of 1461: he led a sizeable army from Brusa, first to Sinope whose emir quickly surrendered, then south across Armenia and neutralizing Uzun Hasan. Having isolated Trebizond, Mehmed quickly swept down upon it before the inhabitants knew he was coming, and placed it under siege. The city held out for a month before the emperor David finalized his surrender on August 15, 1461.

List of Emperors of Trebizond


  • F.I. Uspenski, From the history of the Empire of Trabizond (Ocherki iz istorii Trapezuntskoy Imperii), Leningrad, 1929, 160 pp. (A monograph, in Russian)
  • Levan Urushadze, The Comnenus's of Trabizond and the Bagrationi dynasty of Georgia.- J. "Tsiskari", Tbilisi, No 4, 1991, pp. 144-148 (In Georgian)

Last updated: 10-11-2005 20:29:25
Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46