David of Trebizond

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David Megas Komnenos
Emperor and Autocrat of all the East and Perateia
Emperor of Trebizond
Reign1459 – 15 August 1461
PredecessorJohn IV
SuccessorNone, Fall of Trebizond
Bornc. 1408
Died1 November 1463(1463-11-01) (aged 54–55)
SpouseMaria of Gothia
Helena Kantakouzene
IssueBasil Megas Komnenos
Manuel Megas Komnenos
Anna Megale Komnene
George Megas Komnenos
1 other daughter
FatherAlexios IV Megas Komnenos
MotherTheodora Kantakouzene

David Megas Komnenos (Greek: Δαυίδ Μέγας Κομνηνός, romanizedDavid Megas Komnēnos; c. 1408 – 1 November 1463) was the last Emperor of Trebizond from 1459 to 1461. He was the third son of Emperor Alexios IV of Trebizond and Theodora Kantakouzene. Following the fall of Trebizond to the Ottoman Empire, he was taken captive with his family to the Ottoman capital, Constantinople, where he and his sons and nephew were executed in 1463.

In July 2013, David and his sons and nephew were canonized by the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Their feast day was determined as 1 November, the anniversary of their deaths.[1]

Ruler of the Trebizond Empire[edit]

David had played an important role throughout the reign of his older brother and predecessor John IV. He had been given the courtly title of despotes, which in Trebizond designated the heir to the throne. David had participated in his brother's expeditions against the Genoese, and also fulfilled various diplomatic tasks. In 1458 he ratified his brother's treaty with the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II in Adrianople, and later the same year he conveyed his niece Theodora to her husband, Uzun Hassan of the Ak Koyunlu.

David ascended the throne on his brother's death, sometime before 22 April 1459. Although John IV had made his nephew Alexios his heir,[2] Alexios was a boy only four years old; according to Laonikos Chalkokondyles David, with the support of the Kabasitanoi archontes, pushed the boy aside and took the throne for himself.[3]

With the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the threat Mehmet II posed to the pocket empire had increased. David's brother John had spent the following years up to his death building alliances to protect the empire, with the Georgian princes to the east and with Uzun Hassan of the Ak Koyunlu, and David seems to have counted on their support. The Muslim rulers of Sinope and Karaman appear to have been enlisted as allies by John or Uzun Hassan.[4]

About this time, October 1460, one Ludovico da Bologna appeared at the court of Emperor Frederick III with two men who were ostensibly the ambassadors of Persia and Georgia; more specifically, the Persian ambassador—Nicholas of Tblisi—was the representative of George VIII of Georgia, and the Georgian ambassador—recorded as "Custopa", "Custoda", "Chastodina" and other variations—represented Qvarqvare II, prince of Samtskhe.[5] They carried letters signed not only by those Eastern rulers, but four more, as well as three Caucasian tribes all eager to take part in an alliance against the Ottomans. Ludovico's entourage proceeded to Venice, and either there or at their next stop, Florence, a new ambassador joined his following: Michael Alighieri, who said he was the envoy of Emperor David.

In Florence, a city that was eager to build up a network of bases in the Levant, Alighieri negotiated a treaty between Florence and David of Trebizond granting to the city a consulate (fondaco) and trading terms that included a 2% levy on exports, as were enjoyed by the Genoese and Venetians in Trebizond. Like his ancestor, Dante Alighieri, Michael Alighieri was a Florentine, but had been trading on his own account in the Black Sea. Bryer mentions a document dated 28 April 1470, wherein the protectors of the Bank of St. George at Caffa gave Michael Alighieri safe conduct which covered his children and subordinates.[6] Bryer treats Ludovico da Bologna's claims with a degree of mistrust and suspicion, noting Ludovico "seems to have been too glib and later obsessed with something of the attitude of a Baron Corvo towards the Church, which failed to take his personal ambitions seriously."[7] On the other hand, Bryer assumes Michael Alighieri was a legitimate representative of Emperor David, although the letter he bore from David to Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy "was written, if not in Italy, from an Italian point of view, and by someone who knew Trebizond well and had recently seen David Komnenos as the new Emperor."[8] William Miller, in his account of the Empire of Trebizond, likewise assumes Michael Alighieri was the legitimate representative, while ignoring the existence of the sketchy Ludovico da Bologna, who had been the primary advocate for a Christian league.[9]

With Western support against the Ottomans still unsolidified, David prematurely asked the Sultan for a remission of the tribute paid by his predecessor. Even worse, he made these demands through the envoys of Uzun Hassan, who made even more arrogant demands on behalf of their master. Sultan Mehmed dismissed them, telling they would know his answer later. That answer came the summer of the next year: a fleet under his admiral Kasim Pasha sailed along the Black Sea coast of Anatolia towards Trebizond while he led an army from Bursa eastward towards the city.[10]

The fall of Trebizond[edit]

After pretending to be ready to negotiate with some of his neighbors, Mehmed II besieged Sinope and obtained its surrender. The Sultan sent his fleet on to Trebizond, while he led the land army against Uzun Hassan. After Mehmed took the frontier fortress of Koylu Hisar by storm, and Uzun Hassan's allies the Karamanians failed to come to his aid, Uzun Hassan sent his mother, Sara Khatun, with expensive gifts to the Sultan's camp to sue for peace. While she managed to negotiate a peace treaty between Mehmed and the Aq Qoyunlu, she could do nothing for her daughter-in-law's homeland, Trebizond. Steven Runciman repeated the exchange between Sara and Mehmed: "Why tire yourself, my son, for nothing better than Trebizond?" she asked him. He replied that the Sword of Islam was in his hand, and he would be ashamed not to tire himself for his faith.[11]

With David's most effective ally neutralized, Mehmed II marched to Trebizond. His fleet had landed there in early July, defeated David's army, and plundered the suburbs, besieging the city for more than a month. The Ottoman commander Mahmud Pasha Angelovic had opened negotiations with David even before his master's arrival, and David's protovestiarios, George Amiroutzes, advised the emperor to surrender on terms. When Mehmed II arrived in August, he was displeased with the negotiations, but allowed them to proceed. David was now persuaded to surrender, keeping his family, household, and wealth, and was promised a profitable retirement in Thrace.[12]

David's surrender about 15 August 1461 marks the end of the Empire of Trebizond and of the Byzantine imperial tradition.[12] The deposed emperor, his family, and courtiers were shipped off to Constantinople. The population was divided into three groups, some being allocated to the service of the Sultan and his officers, others added to the population of Constantinople, and the remainder were allowed to inhabit the outskirts of Trebizond itself. Some local youths were duly conscripted into the Janissaries, while the Ottoman admiral was left to garrison the city.[13]

After the Fall[edit]

David was settled in Adrianople together with his family, and received the profits of estates in the Struma River valley, comprising an annual income of some 300,000 pieces of silver.[14] However, David Megas Komnenos, descendant on the male side of Byzantine Emperors, was too prominent a symbol of the fallen regime and too inviting of a potential rallying-point for any potential Greek resistance; Mehmet waited for an opportunity to rid himself of this inconvenient man.

An excuse presented itself less than two years later. According to an interpolator in the History of Chalkokondyles, referred to here as Pseudo-Chalkokondyles,[15] David's niece, Theodora (also known as Despina Khatun), had written letters to him asking that he send one of his sons or his nephew Alexios, the son of his older brother Alexander, to live with her. Pseudo-Chalkokondyles states that George Amiroutzes found these letters, and in fear for his safety gave them to Sultan Mehmet.[16] Theodore Spandounes claims that the letters were forged on orders of the Sultan, but the result was the same, regardless of the authenticity of the evidence: after some consideration, Mehmet ordered David, his three sons Basil, Manuel and Georgios, and his nephew Alexios imprisoned.[17]

Marginalia in a manuscript of the gospels belonging to the commercial school at Chalke provide us the date of the imprisonment of the five men: Saturday, 26 March 1463.[18] This date is verified by another manuscript containing the Histories of Thucydides belonging to the London Medical Society, which also adds that David's sons had converted to Islam under the influence of members of the Kabasitanoi who had done so out of hunger.[19] They were taken to Constantinople and imprisoned in the Beyoğlu jail, where with five others the last of the Komnenoi were executed with the sword on 1 November 1463 at the fourth hour of the night. Their execution is confirmed by a letter written by the Patriarch Sophronios I, who wrote that David "with his three sons" was killed "a few days" after his arrival at Constantinople.[18]

Other members of the family fared little better. His daughter Anna, whom he had offered in marriage to Mehmed, was taken to the Imperial harem, later she was married to Zaganos Pasha[20] but not long afterwards they divorced and she was handed to a son of Elvan Bey.[21] Maria Gattilusio, the widow of David's older brother Alexander, joined the harem.[22]

Spandounes, writing much later than these sources or Pseudo-Chalkokondyles but drawing on family traditions, reports a different fate for some of these people. He states that Maria's son Alexios had been spared; according to tradition he was given lands just outside the city walls of Galata, where he was known locally as "the Son of the Bey" and after whom the district of Beyoğlu was named. Spandounes also writes that the widowed Empress Helena Kantakouzene was heavily fined by the Sultan for burying her husband and her sons and spent the rest of her life in poverty. Her youngest son, George, was raised as a Moslem, but when he was later allowed to visit Uzun Hassan. George fled his court to his sister in Georgia, where he reverted to Christianity and married a Georgian princess.[23]


One of David's daughters survived him as the wife of a Gurieli ruler from the Dadiani family. The later-day Gurieli thus claimed descent from David and from dozens of emperors who were his ancestors.

David apparently had no children by his first wife Maria of Gothia. By his second wife Helena Kantakouzene, he had:

  • Basil, beheaded 1463
  • Manuel, beheaded 1463
  • Anna (1447–after 1463), who married Zagan Pasha and then Sinan
  • George, (1460–after 1463)[18]
  • Unnamed daughter, who probably married Mamia Gurieli


16. Basil of Trebizond
8. Alexios III of Trebizond
17. Irene of Trebizond
4. Manuel III of Trebizond
18. Sebastokrator Nikephoros Kantakouzenos
9. Theodora Kantakouzene
2. Alexios IV of Trebizond
20. George V of Georgia
10. David IX of Georgia
5. Gulkhan-Eudokia of Georgia
22. Q’varq’vare II Jaq’eli, Prince of Samtskhe-Saatabago
11. Sindukhtar of Samtskhe-Saatabago
1. David of Trebizond
6. Theodoros Palaiologos Kantakouzenos
3. Theodora Kantakouzene

In popular culture[edit]

David and the fall of Trebizond are portrayed in Dorothy Dunnett's novel The Spring of the Ram, second book in her House of Niccolo series.

David appears as a minor character in Lawrence Schoonover's novel The Burnished Blade, where he is portrayed as an adventurous but diplomatically astute young man.[24]

See also[edit]

  • Demetrio Stefanopoli, whose family claimed descent from David, and who obtained a diploma from Louis XVI recognizing his claim


  1. ^ "Canonization of New Saints by the Ecumenical Patriarchate". Ecumenical Patriarchate - Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and South East Asia. 2 August 2013. Retrieved 1 December 2013.
  2. ^ William Miller (Trebizond: The last Greek Empire of the Byzantine Era: 1204-1461, 1926 (Chicago: Argonaut, 1969), p. 97) errs in stating Alexios was John's son. As Michel Kuršanskis ("La descendance d'Alexis IV, empereur de Trébizonde. Contribution à la prosopographie des Grands Comnènes", Revue des études byzantines, 37 (1979), pp. 239–247) shows, Alexios was the son of Alexander.
  3. ^ Chalkokondyles 9.74; translated by Anthony Kaldellis, The Histories (Cambridge: Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, 2014), vol. 2 p. 359.
  4. ^ Steven Runciman, The Fall of Constantinople (London: Cambridge, 1969), p. 173
  5. ^ The known facts of the career of Ludovico da Bologna are discussed in Anthony Bryer, "Ludovico da Bologna and the Georgian and Anatolian Embassy of 1460-1461", Beli Kartlisa, 19–20 (1965), pp. 178–198
  6. ^ Bryer, "Ludovico da Bologna", pp. 185f
  7. ^ Bryer, "Ludovico da Bologna", p. 179
  8. ^ Bryer, "Ludovico da Bologna", p. 197
  9. ^ Miller, Trebizond, pp. 98f
  10. ^ Runciman, Fall, pp. 173f
  11. ^ Runciman, Fall, p. 174
  12. ^ a b Donald M. Nicol, The Last Centuries of Byzantium: 1261-1453, 2nd edition (Cambridge: University Press, 1993), p. 408
  13. ^ Runciman, Fall, p. 176
  14. ^ Miller, Trebizond, p. 108
  15. ^ On the possible identity of this person, see Anthony Kaldellis, "The Interpolations in the Histories of Laonikos Chalkokondyles", Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies, 52 (2012), pp. 259–283
  16. ^ Chalkokondyles 9.80; translated by Kaldellis, The Histories, vol. 2 p. 365
  17. ^ Miller, Trebizond, p. 109
  18. ^ a b c William Miller, "The Chronology of Trebizond", The English Historical Review, 38 (1923), p. 410
  19. ^ Powell, J. Enoch (1937). "Die letzen Tage der Grosskomnen". Byzantinische Zeitschrift. 37: 359–360 – via De Gruyter.
  20. ^ "Filiam Trapezunti regis Annam.... connube junxit Zagano" Laonicus Chalcocondylus, De Rebus Turcis p.519
  21. ^ Franz Babinger, Mehmed the Conqueror and His Time, edited by William C. Hickman and translated by Ralph Manheim (Princeton: University Press, 1978), p. 230
  22. ^ Chalkokondyles 10.13; translated by Kaldellis, The Histories, vol. 2 p. 415
  23. ^ Runciman, Fall, pp. 185f
  24. ^ Schoonover, Lawrence (1948). The Burnished Blade. Macmillan. Retrieved 2014-01-31. David.

External links[edit]

David of Trebizond
Komnenian dynasty
Born: c. 1408 Died: 1 November 1463
Regnal titles
Preceded by
John IV
Emperor of Trebizond
Ottoman conquest