Michael VIII Palaiologos

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Michael VIII Palaiologos or Palaeologus (Greek: Μιχαήλ Η΄ Παλαιολόγος, Mikhaēl VIII Palaiologos) (1223 – 11 December 1282) reigned as Byzantine emperor 1259–1282. Michael VIII was the founder of the Palaiologan dynasty that would rule the Byzantine Empire until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. He recovered Constantinople from the Latin Empire in 1261 and transformed the Empire of Nicaea into a restored Byzantine Empire. However, Turk Beyliks began scattering Byzantine territory in 1260 and the Beylik of Menteşe was founded in Caria region.


Road to the throne

Michael VIII Palaiologos was the son of the megas domestikos Andronikos Doukas Komnenos Palaiologos by Theodora Angelina Palaiologina, the granddaughter of Emperor Alexios III Angelos and Euphrosyne Doukaina Kamaterina. Even with our imperfect knowledge of Byzantine genealogy, no less than eleven emperors may be traced among his ancestors. He was one of the noblest men among the Byzantine aristocracy, and might have succeeded to the throne in regular fashion if the Fourth Crusade had not been diverted to Constantinople in 1203. At an early age he rose to distinction, and ultimately became commander of the Latin mercenaries in the employment of the emperors of Nicaea. A few days after the death of Emperor Theodore II Doukas Laskaris in 1258, Michael Palaiologos instigated a coup against the influential bureaucrat George Mouzalon, becoming joint guardian for the eight-year old Emperor John IV Doukas Laskaris together with the patriarch Arsenios. Michael was invested with the titles of megas doux and, in November 1258, of despotēs. On 1 January 1259 Michael VIII Palaiologos was proclaimed co-emperor at Nymphaion with the help of the Republic of Genoa.


On 25 July 1261, Michael VIII's general Alexios Strategopoulos captured Constantinople from its last Latin Emperor, Baldwin II. Michael VIII entered the city on 15 August and had himself crowned together with his infant son Andronikos II Palaiologos. When Michael VIII entered the city, its population was 35,000 people, but he succeeded in increasing it to 70,000 people by the end of his reign. In December John IV, who had been left behind at Nicaea, was blinded and relegated to a monastery. Patriarch Arsenios excommunicated Michael VIII, and the ban was not removed until six years later (1268) on the appointment of new patriarch Joseph I. After rendering John IV ineligible for the throne, Michael VIII quickly married off John's sisters to foreigners, so their descendants could not threaten his own children's claim to the imperial succession. On his entrance in Constantinople, Michael VIII Palaiologos abolished all Latin customs and reinstated most Byzantine ceremonies and institutions as they had existed before the Fourth Crusade, repopulating the capital and restoring damaged churches, monasteries, and public buildings. He was acutely aware of the danger posed by the possibility that the Latin West, particularly his neighbors in Italy (Charles I of Sicily, Pope Martin IV, and the Venetians) would unite against him and attempt the restoration of Latin rule in Constantinople.

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