Annals of Trebizond III

The fortunate reign of Andronikos I was followed by succession problems that would become more serious in later days, but the long reign of Manuel I was prosperous, as Trebizond became a key player in Black Sea shipping.  His brother George, who succeeded him, fell victim to the plotting of foolish nobles who did not appear to appreciate what a dangerous world they lived in.  His younger also brother faced civil war.  During this period, the Byzantine Empire was restored by the Palaiologos clan, who would have had little regard for potential rivals in Trebizond.  Family quarrels and noble conspiracies were to plagued Trebizond until its fall.

Added to the domestic strife were pressures from several directions, including the nearby kingdom of Georgia, savage tribes of Turkomen, and ruthlessly Genoese merchants who, while losing influence in Constantinople, attempted to monopolize Trapezuntine commerce.  They claimed exemption from taxes and tolls, and when they carried out their threat to leave, if any attempt was made to collect what they owed, the Emperor Alexios III sent in the troops, the Genoese responded by burning down several suburbs, though in the process they lost the cargoes of a dozen of their ships.  This was only the beginning of trouble.  In the course of a heated chess match, a Genoese—Megollo Lercari—was slapped by a Byzantine courtier.  Failing to get satisfaction from the Emperor, Lercari returned, ravaged the coast, cutting off noses and ears of the Greeks and preserved them in salt so he could sent them to the Emperor.  At the end of the conflict, the Lercari clan were ensconced as a major power in Trebizond.

Venice, the great rival of Genoa, was not slow in establishing her merchants in the Black Sea.  In a way, it was a good sign of the Empire’s prosperity that the two pirate-states of Italy were willing to fight over influence in Trebizond.  Even the papacy was aware of her existence:  Pope John XXII even asked Manuel II to restore his people to unity with the Church.

With the death of Alexios II, the little Empire fell deeper and deeper into civil strife that paralyzed it at the very time it needed to struggle against the Turkish advance.  The Byzantines naturally took an interest in the outcome, and were active in backing a pro-Byzantine party.  Thus distracted, the city was attacked and burned by Turkoman tribes in 1341, but this only led to a new round of insurrection and civil strife.  Little Trebizond was a Christendom in miniature in the 14th century.  Her people were so busy killing each other, they had too little energy left to resist the Muslims.  In fact, from the accession of Manuel II in 1332 to the death of Michael in 1349 Trebizond was ruled by 8 emperors.

Nonetheless, it is in the next 100 years that Trebizond's history--and its legends (some of them fabricated by malevolent foreigners)--become most interesting.

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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. Dot Delano says:

    I spent a fair amount of time posting a comment on Trebizond and was rejected again. I didn’t have a problem with the blog Legoland. I’m not writing long essays. Is there a limit of commentaries to 1 or 2 sentences. Is there a time limit to compose a comment.

  2. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    You obviously got through this time. I still don’t know where the problem lies.

  3. Dot Delano says:

    Dr. Fleming,

    I wrote a comment again in response to the Annals of Trebizond and it didn’t take. The response begins with a reference to one of the short stories written by Anton Chekov. The response focuses on what I think is indifference then and now.