John VI Kantakouzenos

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John VI Kantakouzenos or Cantacuzenus (Greek: Ἰωάννης ΣΤʹ Καντακουζηνός, Iōannēs VI Kantakouzēnos) (c. 1292 – 15 June 1383) was the Byzantine emperor from 1347 to 1354. His triumph in a six-year civil war is the subject of the poem "John Kantakuzinos Triumphs" by the modern Greek poet Constantine Cavafy.


Early life

Born at Constantinople, John Kantakouzenos was the son of a Michael Kantakouzenos, governor of the Morea. By his mother Theodora Palaiologina Angelina, he was also a descendant of the reigning house of the Palaiologos. He was also related to the imperial dynasty through his wife Eirene Asanina, a second cousin of Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos. Kantakouzenos became a close friend to Andronikos III and was one of his principal supporters in Andronikos' struggle against his grandfather, Andronikos II Palaiologos. On the accession of Andronikos III in 1328, he was entrusted with the supreme administration of affairs. On the death of the emperor in 1341, John Kantakouzenos was left as the designated regent, and guardian of his son John V Palaiologos, who was nine years old.

John had no imperial ambitions of his own, and refused to be crowned co-emperor despite being offered the opportunity by Andronikos III Palaiologos several times during the reign of latter. After the death of the emperor, John again refused to take the throne, and insisted that the rightful heir was John V, and that he would assume administrative control of the Empire until he was of age. Despite his stalwart devotion to the young emperor and his mother the empress Anna of Savoy, his friendship with the late emperor had aroused both the jealousy of the Patriarch of Constantinople and his former protege Alexios Apokaukos, and the paranoia of the empress who suspected him to be an usurper. When John Kantakouzenos left Constantinople for Morea, his enemies seized the opportunity to declare John V emperor and order the disbandment of Kantakouzenos's army. When news reached the army at Didymoteichon in Thrace, they declared Kantakouzenos emperor, and this marked the start of the civil war between John Kantakouzenos and the regency in Constantinople headed by Anna of Savoy, Apokaukos and the Patriarch.

The civil war which ensued lasted six years, during which the rival parties called in the aid of the Serbians, Bulgarians, and the Ottoman Turks, and engaged mercenaries of every description. It was only by the aid of the Ottoman Turks, with whom he made a bargain, that John VI Kantakouzenos brought the war to an end favourable to himself.

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