Annals of Trebizond, Part II
The Annals of Trebizond, Part II
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.