Some Byzantine misconceptions

The reason for this article is to address some of the gross inaccuracies I’ve seen online, not the least of which are the dozens of claimants to the Byzantine throne that are running around parading the Palaiologos name.

Let’s get it clear: there are no proven, documented male line descendants of of the Palaiologos House alive today. Therefore, anybody claiming to be that is at best a fantasist and at worst a fraud. If one has the documentation, it would be a boon to historians and genealogists worldwide to examine it. Heck, they would probably become very wealthy by publishing a book (with documentation) on their family history from the Fall to the present.

As it is well known, the last Emperor of the Roman Empire of the East, better known as the Byzantine Empire, was Constantine XI Dragases (Κωνσταντίνος ΙΑ’ Δραγάσης) of the Imperial House of the Palaiologos (Παλαιολόγος). Emperor Constantine died valiantly with his troops defending his capital from the hordes of the Turk that were headed by Mehmet II. After the conquest of of Constantinople, Mehmet II was known as “The Conqueror”.

The fateful day that seat of Christianity in East found itself enslaved by the Muslim Turk was May 29, 1453 and the day the Emperor died.

After his death, the only Palaiologos left were:

  • His younger brother Demetrius, Despot of Morea, who died a monk in Constantinople
    • Demetrius had a single child, a daughter, named Helena who was taken along with her mother into the Sultan’s harem
  • His other younger brother Thomas who was the last ruler of Morea and as the last remaining male Palaiologos, the claimant to the Imperial throne. It is Thomas’ line that is of interest to us.

After Mehmet conquered the Despotate of Morea, Thomas fled to Rome for safety along with his children in 1461. Along with him, he brought the head of St. Andrew, the First Called, as a gift to the Bishop of Rome, Pope Pius II. However, he died in 1465 and his children (2 boys and a girl) were brought up by Cardinal Bessarion (a Greek Orthodox bishop who was a unionist and was made a Cardinal by the Pope after being persecuted by the anti-union forces of the Eastern Church).

The eldest of them was Andrew and was the legitimate heir to the Christian throne of the East. He styled himself in the European Courts as “Imperator Constantinopolitanus” and squandered both his inherited treasures as well as the salary he was paid by the Pope. He went so far as to sell his claims to the Byzantine throne to Their Most Catholic Majesties King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain! There are rumors that he sold the claims several times over, including to King Charles VIII of France. He did not have any children from his wife and died penniless in 1502.

The younger son, Manuel, who became the titular Emperor on the death of his older brother (and if we discount the sale of the titles), moved to Constantinople and sold his own claims to the throne to the same person who caused the destruction of his Imperial House, Sultan Mehmed II! In return, Manuel received a comfortable pension and a life of luxury. While in the City, he married and had two children: John and Andrew of whom no offspring are found in the historical record. It is also said that Manuel and his children converted to Islam, even serving in the Sultan’s navy. A slap in the face to the legacy of their Imperial House!

Thomas’ youngest child was a girl named Zoe. She married the Grand Prince Ivan III of Muscovy (Moscow) in 1472 and brought as part of her dowry the double-headed eagle. This is the basis for the claim of Moscow to be the “Third Rome”. As a side note, Zoe was the grandmother of Ivan the Terrible.

This is the end of the Imperial House of the Palaiologos. However, there is a cadet branch of the Palaiologos House created by Theodore, the first Marquess of Montferrrat. Theodore was born Theodore Komnenos Doukas Angelos Palaiologos in 1270, a son of Emperor Andronikos II. The last of this line was John George and died in 1533.

There were other Palaiologos, younger children from prior generations that presumably survived the conquest but, after a while, the record goes silent and many of the “bin Palaiologos” that can be found in the various Ottoman tax records are not necessarily related to the dynasty.

Another of the major inaccuracies I’ve seen online and also swept under the rug in Greece is related to the religious dogma of the late Emperor. Growing up in Greece, Emperor Constantine is hailed as the consummate Greek hero (and that part is 100% true) and also the “Defender of the Orthodox Faith” (this part is 100% untrue).

What apparently nobody wants to have known is that the Emperor died in communion with the Pope, as did his Patriarch, since they both had accepted the Councils of Ferrara and Florence. If it had not been for the Turkish conquest, the Eastern Orthodox Church would be in communion with the West today.

According to the historical record and what the noted Byzantine scholar John Julius Norwich, after the death of the Emperor, the Sultan wanted to control the Christians of his new empire by selecting a Patriarch that would not cause problems for him. Naturally, he would not choose someone who supported the union with the West and therefore selected the fiercely anti-unionist Gennadius.

Over the centuries, the almost apocryphal story of  the anti-unionists of the Eastern Empire being so anti-Papal that they supported the Turks. This is patently false!

The most “popular” quote is the one attributed to the Grand Duke Lucas Notaras (Λουκάς Νοταράς), a famous anti-unionist, where he allegedly said

κρειττότερον έστιν ειδέναι εν μέσῃ τη Πόλει φακιόλιον βασιλεύον Τούρκων ή καλύπτραν Λατινικήν

or, in English

better to see in the midst of the City the Turkish turban to reign than the Latin mitre

The Grand Duke remained true to his beliefs in that the Eastern Church could not re-unite with the West as per the two Councils but, he was 100% loyal to his Emperor and a hero to his Empire. He tried to protect the Empire to the utmost of his abilities and was an ardent supporter of the Emperor to solicit help from the Western Powers. He took on the defense of the City and, though the Turk was victorious, his organizational skills and rallying of the troops was exemplary.

Let’s not forget that it was the Grand Duke, his son and his son-in-law that were the three first “neo-martyrs” or martyrs under the Ottoman yoke. The were all beheaded for confronting the Sultan.

Not exactly the actions of a turcophile, is it?

 

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