Alexios I of Trebizond
Found in: History of Turkey
Alexios I Megas Komnenos or Alexius I Comnenus was Emperor of Trebizond from ruled 1204to 1222. He was the eldest son of Manuel Komnenos and of Rusudan, daughter of George III of Georgia. He was thus a grandson of the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos I. Andronikos was dethroned and killed in 1185. Manuel was blinded at the same time and may well have died; at any rate he disappears from the historical record. He left two children, the Caesars Alexios and David. Their mother Rusudan fled either to Georgia or to the southern coast of the Black Sea.
Formation of the Empire
The month before Constantinople fell in 1204, Alexios occupied Trebizond with the aid of a Georgian contingent provided by his aunt, Queen Tamar of Georgia.
The new ruler was only twenty-two years old.Michael Panaretos, History p. 266 Lambros. The Komnenos family was popular on the Black Sea coast, from which it had come originally, and where it had left roots. In 1182 his grandfather Andronikos had a stronghold at Oinaion between Trebizond and Sinope. Those three places all declared for Alexios, and while he remained cautiously in the neighbourhood of Trebizond, his brother David, aided by the Georgians and local mercenaries, made himself master of Pontus and Paphlagonia, including Kastamonou, said to be the ancestral castle of the Komnenoi. David conquered as far west as Herakleia Pontike well on the way to Constantinople.
Alexios took the title of Emperor of the Romans and may have also taken the title Grand Komnenos (Megas Komnenos), but this appellation does not appear until the Annales of George Acropolites. The new title and the Trapezuntine dynasty would last 257 years the longest, as Bessarion wrote, in Byzantine history. From Herakleia the new state extended east to Trebizond itself and then to Soterioupolis on the Georgian frontier. Alexios made parts of the Crimea tributary to Trebizond. Cherson, Kerch and their hinterlands were governed as an overseas province called Perateia ('beyond the sea'). The loss of Sinope to the Seljuk Turks of Rum in 1214 isolated Trebizond from direct contact with (and further territorial encroachment by) the Empire of Nicaea. Trapezuntine foreign policy now focused on relations with Georgia, the Sultanate of Iconium, the Italian maritime cities (especially the Genoese, and the small emirates of Erzerum and Erzincan.
The Komnenoi faced dangers. Besides the Empire of Nicaea established by Theodore I Laskaris, Amisous, under the rule of Sabbas Asidenos, formed an enclave in their territory and interrupted access to the Black Sea. Mad Theodore Mangaphas held Philadelphia. Manuel Maurozomes made himself secure on the Maeander by giving his daughter in marriage to Kaykhusraw I, the Seljuk Sultan of Iconium who was lord of the greater part of Asia Minor. The distant Armenian kingdom in Cilicia and the Armenian colony in the Troad were not threats. Alexios was allied to Georgia. The treaty by which the Latin conquerors of Constantinople had partitioned the empire assigned much of the new Trapezuntine state - Paphlagonia, Oinaion, Amisous, and Sinope to the Latin Emperor.
Seljuk and Nicaean Wars
Theodore I Laskaris soon swept away Mad Theodore and Sabbas, while the Latins, after an attempt to conquer some of their allotted territory, found themselves occupied in Europe with the Bulgarians. With the Latins went the Armenians of the Troad. Only Laskaris, who had himself crowned Emperor in 1208, and the Seljuks remained to menace the new empire.
Kay Khusrau I, the new Sultan of Iconium, besieged Trebizond in 1205 or 1206. David provoked Laskaris by sending his young general Synadenos to occupy Nicomedia, claimed by the Niceaean Empire. Synadenos was no match for the abler Laskaris, who led his troops through a difficult pass, setting an example to his soldiers by wielding an axe against the trees that obstructed his path of victory. Synadenos was taken prisoner. David was forced to recognise Herakleia as the westward limit of the Trapezuntine Empire, and Laskaris threatened to make him recede still further eastward. David, hard pressed by his Nicaean adversary, invoked the aid of the Latins; Laskaris occupied the frontier district of Plousias, famous for its archers and its warlike spirit, and would have taken Herakleia also, had not the Latins under Thierri de Loos again seized Nicomedia.
But the Latins soon retired, to face another Bulgarian invasion of Thrace, rewarded by David for their temporary aid by shiploads of corn and hams. David asked the Latin Emperor of Constantinople to include him as his subject in his treaties and correspondence with Laskaris, and to treat his land as Latin territory. David preferred a nominal Latin suzerainty to annexation by the Nicaean emperor. Having thus secured his position, he crossed the Sangarios with a body of about 300 Frankish auxiliaries, ravaged the villages subject to Laskaris, and took hostages from Plousias. David withdrew, but the Franks, incautiously advancing into the hilly country, were suddenly surprised by Andronikos Gidos, a general of Laskaris, in the Rough Passes of Nicomedia, and scarcely a man of them was left to tell the tale.
Territory and economy
In 1214 the new Seljuk Sultan, Kay Ka'us I captured Sinope, killed David, and compelled Alexios to render tribute and military service. The loss of Sinope pushed the western frontier of Trebizond, which had been at Herakleia a few years earlier, and then at Cape Kerembi, back to the Iris and Thermodon Rivers and only 250 kilometres (155 miles) from the capital. The empire ran east 170 kilometres to the Georgian frontier at Soteroupolis.
The capital was considered impregnable, for art had supplemented nature in its defence. It possessed a mild climate, a fruitful soil in which the olive and the vine flourished, an excellent supply of water, and abundant wood. John Eugenikos in his later panegyric, called it 'the apple of the eye of all Asia', and it was believed by its inhabitants to enjoy the special protection of Saint Eugenios of Trebizond.
Family and succession
Alexios married Theodora Axuchina, a Trapezuntine noblewoman. He had two sons, the future John I and Manuel I, and Komnene, a daughter who married Andronikos I.
Alexios died at forty on 1 February 1222 after a reign of eighteen years. His eldest son John was passed over in favour of his son-in-law, Andronikos I.
The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Oxford University Press, 1991.
C. Toumanoff, "On the relationship between the founder of the Empire of Trebizond and the Georgian Queen Thamar" in Speculum vol. 15 (1940) pp. 299-312.
W. Miller, Trebizond: The Last Greek Empire of the Byzantine Era, Chicago 1926.