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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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After the death of Theodore Lascaris, who ruled from 1204 to 1222, there reigned his son-in-law, his daughter Irene's husband, John III Ducas Vatatzes (1222-1254), the most talented and energetic emperor of Nicaea. After his death the throne was in the power, first of his own son Theodore II (1254-1258), and then of his grandson John IV (1258-1261), who was a minor during his reign. The latter was dethroned by Michael Palaeologus, the restorer of the Byzantine Empire.

The situation of the new state in Bithynia was extremely dangerous: from the east it was threatened by the powerful sultan of Iconium, who occupied the whole interior of Asia Minor and was also master of a part of the Mediterranean shore in the south and of a part of the Black Sea coast in the north; from the west the state of Nicaea was pushed back by the Latin Empire, which set as one of its chief goals the destruction of the new state of Nicaea. A complicated and difficult task devolved upon Theodore Lascaris, who ruled for about the first four years with the title not of emperor, but of despot. Within the country anarchy prevailed; in several parts of the state there arose independent rulers; the city of Nicaea shut its gates to Theodore.

Meanwhile, the Latin knights who had established themselves at Constantinople determined, in the same year, 1204, to conquer Asia Minor. Their military operations there were very successful. It seemed to the Greeks of Asia Minor that all was lost. Villehardouin said, the people of the country took the part of the Franks and began to pay them tributes. At this critical moment for the new state came the sudden news that the Latin emperor, Baldwin, had been captured by the Bulgars.

Since 1196 there had sat upon the Bulgarian throne Kalojan (John, Johannitsa), who, during the time of the Angeli, had been a terrible enemy of Byzantium. The Latin state established in the Balkan peninsula complicated the situation exceedingly. It was absolutely clear that the crusaders and Bulgars would have to raise the question of dominion in the Balkan peninsula. The relations between them became at once very strained, for the crusaders had reacted insultingly to Kalojan's friendly propositions, giving him to understand that he could not regard the Latin emperor as his equal, but must look up to him as a serf looks up to his master; and the Latins warned Kalojan that if he failed in respect, the crusaders would conquer Bulgaria by force of arms and reduce him to his former servile state.

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