Posts tagged ‘Palaiologos’

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?


Arms of Greece

National emblem of Greece

The image above is the current national emblem of the Republic of Greece designed by Kostas Grammatopoulos (Κώστας Γραμματόπουλος) and adopted on June 7, 1975 by Law 48 (ΦΕΚ Α’ 108/7.6.1975).

However, this isn’t the first emblem or arms of the landmass that today is Greece. In today’s post, we’ll try to go through the history of these symbols.


Let’s start with the earliest imperial emblem that can be considered as arms of the Byzantine Empire (though heraldry as we know it wouldn’t appear for a few more centuries), that of Michael I Rangabe/Rhangabe (Μιχαήλ Α΄ Ραγγαβέ). Michael reigned over the empire from 811 to 813. I would blazon these as Azure a cross fleury between the letters Ε, Ν, Τ, Ν Argent.


These arms are those of Emperor Romanus III Argyrus (Ρωμανός Γ΄ Αργυρός). Romanus III reigned from 1028 through 1034. The Arms of the Argyrus family is blazoned Or a cross between four stars Azure.


The next one we’ll examine are those of the Emperor Isaac I Comnenus (or Comneno) (Ισαάκιος Α΄ Κομνηνός). Isaac I was the first reigning member of the Comnenian dynasty and was emperor from 1057 through 1059. These arms are blazoned Or a double headed eagle displayed Sable. The Comnenian dynasty ruled from 1057-1059 and then again from 1081-1185.


These arms are extremely similar to the modern arms and are simply blazoned Azure a cross Argent. These belong to the Doukas/Ducas (Δούκας) family who produced a number of Byzantine emperors, the first of which was Constantine X Doukas (Κωνσταντίνος Ι’ Δούκας) reigning from 1059 through 1067. This dynasty ruled the empire from 1059-1081.

COA Angelos

We are now moving to the Angelid dynasty whose first reigning emperor was Isaac II Angelos (Ισαάκιος Β’ Άγγελος) who reigned from 1185-1195. These arms are blazoned Gules four lozenges Or with an angel on each. The dynasty ruled from 1185-1204.


The next dynasty was the Laskarid and the first reigning emperor of the family was Constantine Laskaris (Κωνσταντίνος Λάσκαρης). Constantine was emperor from 1204-1205. The blazon of the arms of this family is Or a double headed eagle displayed Sable beaked Gules beneath an eastern crown Or. The family reigned from 1204-1261.


The final Imperial Byzantine dynasty was that of the Palaiologos/Paleologus (Παλαιολόγος). The first of the family to reign was Michael VII Palaiologos from 1259-1282. The arms of the dynasty were Gules a cross between four letters B Or. The letters B stand for Βασιλεύς Βασιλέων Βασιλέυων Βασιλευόντων (King of Kings Ruler of Rulers). This dynasty ends with the tragic demise of the emperor Constantine XI, last emperor of the Byzantine Empire on May 29, 1453. After his death, the lands of the empire went to the new Ottoman Empire.

COA Ottoman Empire

Though the Ottoman Empire did not officially have a coat of arms, it did utilize those displayed above.  The Ottomans ruled over the territories from the fall of Constantinople to Mehmed II Fath El-Istanbul in 1453 through 1923.


However in 1821, the Greeks declared their independence and started their successful revolution which culminated in the formal independence and recognition of the new state of Greece in 1832. The image above is that of the most popular banner used during the revolution and is linked to the Kolokotronis family whose most prominent member, Theodore, was a hero of the revolution.


The arms of the provisional government of Greece is displayed above and were in use from 1822-1828 and was adopted by the first Constitution of Epidaurus in 1822. It displays the goddess Athena and her owl.


In 1828, a new Republic of Greece is declared whose first governor was Ioannis Antonios Kapodistrias (Ιωάννης Αντώνιος Καποδίστριας). This new government adopted the emblem displayed above. The emblem has a phoenix rising from its ashes (a traditional theme in Greek mythology) above which is the cross (for the Christian faith of the state) and below the year 1821 (that of the declaration of independence of Greece) using Greek letters.


Also in 1828, the flag above was adopted as the national flag of the independent Greece. This flag was in use until 1978 until it changed to that used today.

COA Otto of Greece

In 1832, the new Greek state was internationally recognized and the Kingdom of Greece introduced. The very first King of Greece was Otto, second son of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, of the house of Wittelsbach. This king was chosen by the Great Powers (United Kingdom, France and the Russian Empire). The royal arms of King Otto of Greece are displayed above and are blazoned Azure a cross Argent with an inescutcheon of Bavaria.

COA of Glücksburg

Otto was deposed in 1862 and a new royal house was brought to Greece in 1863, that of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg (usually known with the shorter Glücksburg). The first to reign from this family was George I, King of the Hellenes. Note the difference in the title, this king was not “of Greece” but of  “the Greeks”. The royal arms displayed above were used by this dynasty that reigned over Greece, with a couple of interruptions, until the plebiscite of December 13, 1974. The blazon of the arms is Azure a cross couped Argent an inescutcheon of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg. Beneath the arms is the Order of the Redeemer. The motto says “My strength is the love of the people”.

COA of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg

Above is the shield of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg that appears on the inescutcheon of the Royal Arms of the last Royal Family of Greece. The blazon is:

Quarterly per a cross patee Argent fimbriated Gules, first quarter Or, three lions passant in pale Azure crowned and armed Or langued Gules, nine hearts Gules (for Denmark); second quarter Or, two lions passant in pale Azure armed Or langued Gules (for Schleswig); third quarter Azure, party per fess, in base per pale in chief three crowns Or (for the Kalmar Union), in dexter base a ram passant Argent armed and unguled Or (for the Faroe Islands), in sinister base a polar bear rampant Argent (for Greenland); fourth quarter per fess Or and Gules in chief a lion passant Azure armed Gules above nine hearts in fess 5 and 4 Gules (for the Goths), in base a dragon Or (for the Vandals). Overall an inescutcheon quarterly in the first quarter Argent a bordure indented Gules (for Holstein); second quarter Gules a swan Argent beaked, membered and gorged with a coronet Or (for Storman); third quarter Gules a mounted knight Argent (for Ditmarsie); fourth quarter Gules a horse’s head erased Or (for Lauenburg). Overall an inescutcheon parted per pale in dexter barry of 5 Or and Gules (for Oldenburg) and in sinister Azure a cross patee and fichee in base (for Delmenhorst).

State Arms of the Kingdom of Greece

However, the state arms of the Kingdom of Greece (show above) were much simpler. Azure a cross couped Argent.


During the military dictatorship of 1967-1974, better known as the Junta of the Colonels, a new national emblem was used. This reused the familiar phoenix rising from its ashes but had in the foreground the shadow of a Greek soldier. The date below, April 21, 1967, is the date of the military coup that overthrew Constantine II, King of the Hellenes and declared the dictatorship.

National emblem of Greece

In 1974 the Junta was overthrown and after the plebiscite where the people of Greece decided to cease to be a monarchy, the 3rd Hellenic Republic was declared.