Annals of Trebizond, Part II

The Annals of Trebizond, Part II

Thomas Fleming

The history of Trebizond is compounded in equal parts of Byzantine exotic history, American soap opera, and the political morality of the English television show, House of Cards.  (Parenthetically, I had a conversation with a TV-watcher so dumb he actually preferred the Kevin Bacon series to Sir Ian Richardson!) Much of the charm of Trapezuntine history lies precisely in how much, comparing great things with small, our own institutionalized culture of pettiness and betrayal.

When “Emperor” Alexios I died at the age of 40, the throne passed not to his son but to his son-in-law Andronikos, who proved to be an able warrior as well as an inveterate deceiver.  When the Seljuk Turks broke their treaty by seizing his ships and murdering the crews, Andronikos went on the attack.  Muslims have never thought it a fair contest, if Christians defended themselves from Islamic aggression.  Outraged by Christian resistance, the Sultan Melik besieged Trebizond and, finding his aims frustrated, vowed to burn the church of Saint Eugenios, one of the city’s patrons.  As the siege wore on, the Trapezuntines were being starved.  At this point the emperor decided upon a classic ruse. He invited Melik to enter for a parley and gave his guest a show of wealth and resources that undermined his confidence.  Saint Eugenios himself, not a little nettled at the Muslim’s plans for his church, appeared to Melik in the guise of a local official and offered to betray the city.  Suspecting a trick, Melik consulted his heathen astrologers who assured him of victory if he tried to take the city by storm.  In the event, it was the Sultan who was captured and had to endure the Emperor’s sermon on what happens to people who burn churches and break vows.  It should also be noted that in Trebizond, even the saints are tricksters!

As I have already hinted, Trebizond was a bit of a dream-world in which imperial Roman and Byzantine traditions lived on, and, after Mehmet II’s conquest of Constantinople, the weight of the great tradition was sustained on the weak shoulders of tiny Trebizond.  Small wonder if some Trapezuntines developed a Napoleonic complex.  Greco-Roman civilization had been extinguished everywhere else in the world, leaving only Trebizond to carry on.

Every society has its delusions.  In late 20th century America there were liberals who called themselves conservatives, and they cobbled together Rube Goldberg ideologies, backed improbably dishonest candidates, and formed organizations that claimed to be defending Christian civilization, when most of their leaders and intellectuals could not even write standard English.  So it would be up to mighty Trebizond to save the Greco-Roman-Christian world from devastation.

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

3 Responses

  1. T. Chan says:

    Dr. Fleming, was there a part one? Also, do you have a recommendation for a good general history (not necessarily meant for a popular audience) of the Byzantine Empire.

    Regarding House of Cards, you are referring to the American version with Kevin Spacey; I couldn’t really get past the first episode as Spacey’s character is supposed to be from the South. I am sure Dr. Wilson would have something to say about that.

  2. Avatar photo tjfleming says:

    Yes, there is a part I but I cannot seem to get it off the website. We are in the midst of switching over to the new site in the next few days, and there will be far fewer glitches.

    Yes, of course, Kevin Spacey. I, too, could only watch a bit of it. Ian Richardson was one of the finest actors of the British stage and television, and for anyone who appreciates the dark comedy of politics, the British series is wonderful.

    On Byzantine history, Treadgold’s book is good. For a good read, there is always Gibbon in the edition with Bury’s notes. It is a masterpiece of our literature. On Trebizond itself–and I am certainly no scholar in these matters–there is the old book by William Miller, which I am mercilessly ripping off. I should say that, while I have so far stuck pretty much to historical fact, I am setting the stage for a bit of satire.

  3. T. Chan says:

    Thank you for the recommendations, Dr. Fleming!