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Joannes Iii. Vatatzes

Ἰωάννης Βατάτζης), also called JOANNES DUCAS VATATZES, because he was descended in the female line from the great family of the Ducas, emperor of Nicaea (A. D. 1222-1255), was one of the most remarkable among the successors of Constantine. He first distinguished himself in the defence of Constantinople against the Latins in 1204, and after its loss fled with Theodore Lascaris to Nicaea. Next to this distinguished prince, Vatatzes was the most active and successful in preventing the whole of the Greek empire from becoming a prey to the Latins, and he was likewise one of those who supported Theodore Lascaris after he had assumed the imperial title, and taken up his residence at Nicaea. In reward for his eminent services in the field as well as in the council, Theodore gave him the hand of his daughter Irene, and appointed him his future successor, because, having no children, he thought Vatatzes more fit and worthy for the crown than either of his four brothers, Alexis, John, Manuel, and Michael. Vatatzes thus succeeded Theodore Lascaris on the imperial throne of Nicaea in 1222. In the same year Theodore Angelus, despot or prince of Epeirus and Aetolia, made himself master of Thessalonica and of nearly the whole of Macedonia, assumed the title of emperor, and was crowned by the bishop of Achrida.

Four emperors now reigned over the remnants of the Eastern empire, Andronicus I. Gidon in Trebizond, Theodore Angelus in Epeirus and Macedonia, Robert of Courtenay in Constantinople, and John Vatatzes in Nicaea; and it is curious that the imperial crown devolved upon three of them in the same year, 1222, while the fourth, Robert of Courtenay, took actual possession of his dominions only in the previous year, 1221. Of these, the emperor in Nicaea was the greatest.

No sooner had Vatatzes ascended the throne than Manuel and Michael Lascaris abandoned him, went to Constantinople, and persuaded Robert to declare war against Vatatzes. Its issue was unfavourable to the Latins. In a pitched battle at Poemanene or Poemanium, in 1224, the Latin troops were completely defeated; and such was the hatred of the Greeks against the foreign intruders, that they neither gave nor accepted quarter : the two Lascaris were taken prisoners, and payed their treason with the loss of their eyes. In consequence of this victory, the greater part of the Latin possessions in Asia fell into the hands of the Greeks. On the sea the Latins were successful; they blockaded the Greek fleet in the port of Lampsacus, and Vatatzes preferred burning his own ships to having them burnt by his enemy. However, Vatatzes had little to lose on the sea, and the Latin emperor was finally compelled to sue for peace, and to leave the greater part of his Asiatic possessions in the hands of Vatatzes. The peace was of short duration. The old John of Brienne, who after the death of Robert, in 1228, exchanged his nominal kingdom of Jerusalem for the real though tottering throne of Constantinople, attacked Vatatzes in 1233, in Asia, but was routed in Bithynia, and hastened back to Thrace. Supported by the fleets of the Venetians, he could, however, renew his inroads whenever he saw a favourable opportunity. Accordingly, Vatatzes conceived the plan of making himself master of the sea, and had he succeeded, the national Greek empire would have been soon restored to its limits of 1204. Samos, Lesbos, Chios, Cos, Rhodes, and many other islands, were conquered by the Greeks, but the main force of the Venetians was in Candia; and though Vatatzes conquered the greater part of that island, his progress was checked by the Venetian governor Marino Sanuti, the historian, who at last forced the Greeks to sail back to Asia. Baffled on the sea, Vatatzes renewed his continental plans, and concluded, in 1234, an alliance with Asan, king of Bulgaria. Their united forces besieged Constantinople in 1235, by land and sea, but the superiority of the Latin mariners over the Greek led to a total defeat of the Greek fleet, and twenty-four Greek gallies fell into the hands of the victors, and were paraded in triumph in the port of Constantinople. Listening to the persuasions of Messire Anseau de Cahieu, who acted as regent in the absence of the emperor Baldwin II., Asan showed symptoms of defection, and forsook his ally in 1237, when they were just besieging Constantinople a second time. By land, however, Vatatzes was more successful, and conquered the rest of the Latin possessions in Asia. The assistance which Baldwin II. obtained in Europe is mentioned in the life of that emperor; but the formidable knights of France and Italy tried in vain to obtain a firm footing in Asia, and Baldwin was reduced to such weakness, that he was unable to prevent Vatatzes from sailing over to Macedonia, and compelling the self-styled emperor, John Comnenus of Epeirus, Aetolia, and Macedonia, to cede him Macedonia, to renounce the imperial title, and to be satisfied with that of despot of Epeirus (1242). In 1243 Vatatzes concluded an alliance with Gaiyáth-ed-dín, the Turkish sultan of Iconium, in order to resist the approaching Mongols; and having thus secured his eastern frontiers, he renewed his attacks upon the Latins in Constantinople. His fame was then so great, that the Roman emperor, Frederic II., one of his greatest admirers, gave him his natural daughter Anne in marriage, in 1244, the first wife of Vatatzes having died in 1240. Never despairing of putting an end to the Latin domination in the East, but obliged to give up the plan of effecting it with the Bulgarian king, Vatatzes undertook to subdue the Bulgarian nation, and to force those warlike barbarians to serve under his banners against the intruders at Constantinople. In 1246 he had already conquered the southwestern portion of Bulgaria, and given its government, together with that of Thessalonica (Macedonia) to his Magnus Domesticus Andronicus Palaeologus, when his progress was checked by a combined attack of the Latins and Michael Comnenus, despot of Epeirus. The issue of a protracted war was favourable to Vatatzes, who took several of the towns of the Latins in Thrace, and made peace with Michael in 1253. The following years were peaceful, and Vatatzes employed his leisure in promoting the happiness of his subjects. He patronised arts and sciences, constructed new roads, distributed the taxes equally, and made himself beloved by every body through his kindness and justice. Michael of Epeirus having threatened a new war, Vatatzes set out against him, but was taken ill in Macedonia, returned to Asia, and died, after long sufferings, at Nymphaeum, on the 30th of October, 1255, at the age of sixty or sixty-two. Vatatzes is justly called one of the greatest emperors of the East; and the merit of having put an end to the Latin empire belongs as much to him as to Michael Palaeologus, who carried out,in 1261, the plan which had been conceived and successfully begun by Vatatzes. The successor of Vatatzes was Theodore Lascaris II. (The sources referred to in BALDUINUS II., among which Acropolita is the principal.)


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