The last rulers of the Empire of Nicaea were the son and grandson of John Vatatzes, Theodore II Lascaris (1254-1258) and John IV Lascaris (1258-1261). Theodore, thirty-three years old, seated, according to custom, on a shield, was proclaimed emperor with the consent of the troops and nobility.
In spite of his weak health, Theodore, before ascending the throne, had devoted all his time to studies and literature. His enlightened father had done his best, and Theodore's education had been carefully supervised by the best scholars of the epoch, with Nicephorus Blemmydes and George Acropolita at their head.
On his accession to the throne, Theodore II, like his father, displayed the energetic political activity which made him sometimes forget his studies, even his favorite philosophy. Realizing the importance of external political relations, he turned his chief attention to the forming of a powerful army. Theodore wrote: I have one truth, one goal, one desire to gather together the flock of God and protect it from hostile wolves. Believing that the Greeks had to rely on their own strength and not on foreign alliances or on foreign mercenaries, Theodore, perhaps, was almost the only Byzantine Emperor who paid attention to the hellenization of the army, contrary to the established custom of making use of the mercenary troops of foreign peoples.
In 1258, the young Emperor breathed his last in the prime of life (36 years old), having before death exchanged his imperial robes for those of a monk. He left to his successor the vast conquests of John Vatatzes intact. This active and philosophically educated Emperor lived and worked in the belief that history would pass judgment upon him. In one of his letters he said: The judgment of history will be passed by the generations to come. The special historian of the time of Theodore II, not without some exaggeration, wrote: Theodore died very young; otherwise Hellenism might have hoped for better days under the wise rule of the Emperor who had exerted all his energy in order to found the Greek Empire upon a solid and steady basis. But this ambition of Theodore remained a theory. In reality the mercenary troops representing different nationalities took an important part in the life of the Empire of Nicaea in general, and during Theodore's reign in particular.
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