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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The Empire of Nicaea (1204-1261)

Beginnings of the Empire of Nicaea and the Lascarids 


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In the Empire of Nicaea the idea of Greek national unification and reconstruction of the Byzantine state was formed and strengthened, and it was from this empire that Michael Palaeologus came, the leader who in 1261 took possession of Constantinople and restored, though to much less than its former extent, the Byzantine Empire. For a time it might have been thought that the task of the restoration of the Greek empire would be reserved for another Greek center, the Despotat of Epirus; but for many reasons the despots of Epirus were forced to yield to the increasing importance of Nicaea and to give up the leading role in the Christian East. The third Greek center, the Empire of Trebizond, lay too far away to be able to play the leading part in the process of the unification of the Greeks; therefore the history of Trebizond has its own special interest, political as well as cultural and economic, and deserves a particular investigation of its own.

The founder of the Empire of Nicaea, an Empire in exile, was Theodore Lascaris, a man about thirty years old, related to the house of the Angeli through his wife Anna, daughter of the former Emperor Alexius III, and to the house of the Comneni through Alexius III. The origin of the Lascarids and the name of Theodore's native city are not known. Under Alexius III he held military command and fought energetically against the crusaders. In all likelihood he had been regarded as a possible emperor of Byzantium by the Constantinopolitan clergy after the flight of Alexius Ducas Murzuphlus (Mourtzouphlos) and up to the very moment of the taking of the capital by the crusaders; but at that time he fled to Asia Minor. There also sought shelter from the invasion of the crusaders numerous representatives of the Byzantine civil and military nobility, some prominent members of the church, and some other fugitives who did not wish to be under the yoke of the foreign power. The last Greek patriarch of Constantinople, John Camaterus, however, left the capital for Bulgaria and refused to come to Nicaea on Theodore's invitation. The metropolitan of Athens, Michael Acominatus, who had withdrawn into exile before the invading Latins, wrote a letter in which he recommended to the favorable attention of Theodore Lascaris a certain Euboean. He wrote that the latter had gone secretly to Nicaea, preferring the life of an exile at the palace of a Greek (Romaic) state to a stay in his native country oppressed by the foreigners; in the same letter Michael emphasized the fact that, if the Euboean found shelter at Nicaea, it would greatly impress the whole population of Greece who would regard Theodore as a single universal liberator, that is to say, a liberator of the whole of Romania.

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