In external activity, Theodore undertook two hard Bulgarian campaigns. On the news of Vatatzes death the Bulgarian tsar, Michael Asen, seized the opportunity to recover the provinces lost under Vatatzes, and it was feared that all the latter's European conquests might again become Bulgarian. In spite of many difficulties and the cowardice and treachery of his generals, however, the two Bulgarian campaigns ended successfully for Theodore, and, through the mediation of the Russian prince Rostislav, Michael Asen's father-in-law, a treaty was made. Bulgarians and Greeks received their former frontiers, and one Bulgarian fortress was even ceded to Theodore.
Theodore's relations to the Despot of Epirus in connection with the proposed marriage between the despot's son and Theodore's daughter, resulted in Theodore's receiving the important seaport Dyrrachium (Durazzo), on the Adriatic, and the fortress Serbia (Servia), near the confines of Epirus and Bulgaria. Dyrrachium was the western outpost of the Nicene Empire, and necessarily a thorn in the side of the despots of Epirus.
In Asia Minor, the Seljuq Turks were seriously menaced by the Mongols, who succeeded in making the sultan their tributary. The situation was delicate and complicated, because Theodore had, though undecidedly, supported the sultan in his struggle against the Mongols, and the sultan, having the heart of a shy deer, took refuge as a fugitive with Theodore. But a military conflict between Nicaea and the Mongols was avoided, and a Mongol embassy was sent to Theodore. The reception which took place, probably at Magnesia, was exceptionally brilliant and imposing; Theodore's chief idea was to impress the Tartars, of whom he was afraid. The Emperor received the ambassadors, seated on a lofty throne, sword in hand. Byzantine historians gave a detailed account of the reception.
A recent historian remarked that Theodore was, in a word, a mass of nerves, an interesting case for a modern mental specialist, and his brief reign of less than four years did not enable him to make a great mark upon the history of his time. Finally, it has been said lately that in Theodore was particularly felt what may be called enlightened absolutism. Of course, Theodore's reign was too short for definite judgment to be passed on its significance. But in the history of Nicaea his name will always be honorably remembered for his continuance of his father's successful external policy and for his own breadth of learning.
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