Michael Viii. or Michael Palaeo'logus
（Μιχαὴλ ὁ Παλαιολόγος
), emperor of Nicaea, and afterwards of Constantinople, from A. D. 1260 to 1282, the restorer of the Greek empire, was the son of Andronicus Palaeologus and Irene Angela, the granddaughter of the emperor Alexis Angelus.
He was born in 1234.
At an early age he rose to eminence, which he owed to his uncommon talents as much as to his illustrious birth, and to the same causes he was indebted for many a dangerous persecution. Without dwelling upon his earlier life, we need only mention that he was once obliged to take refuge at the court of the sultan of Iconium, and having subsequently been appointed governor of the distant town of Durazzo, the slander of his secret enemy followed him thither, and he was carried in chains to Nicaea.
He justified himself, however, and the emperor Theodore II. Lascaris held him in higher esteem than he had ever done before.
This emperor died in August 1259, leaving a son, John III., who was only nine years old, and over whom he had placed the patriarch Arsenius and the magnus domesticus Muzalon, as guardians. Neither of them enjoyed popularity, being both known for their friendship for the Latins. Nine days after the death of Theodore, while his obsequies were solemnizing in the cathedral of Magnesia, the imperial guard suddenly broke into the church, and Muzalon, his brothers, and many of his principal adherents fell victims to the military wrath. Michael Palaeologus, whom Theodore had lately appointed magnus dux, was chosen as guardian instead of Muzalon, and soon afterwards he received or gave himself the title and power of despot. Thence there was only a step to the throne, which Michael also took.
He made himself master of the imperial treasury, bribed or gained the Varangian guard and the clergy, and was proclaimed emperor at Magnesia. Michael and the boy John were crowned together at Nicaea, on the 1st of January, 1260. His succession filled the Nicaean empire with joy and satisfaction.
It was not so in Constantinople. Although Baldwin II. enjoyed little more than the name of an emperor and the shadow of an empire, the substance whereof was in the hands of the princes of Nicaea, Epeirus, and Achaia, he assumed a haughty tone towards Michael, and demanded the cession of those parts of Thrace and Macedonia which belonged to Nicaea, as a condition of acknowledging him as emperor.
At first Michael treated the Latin ambassadors with ridicule, till they declared they would be satisfied with Thessalonica or even Seres. "Not a village !" replied Michael sternly, dismissing them with contempt; and he was right in doing so, for he had already taken proper measures for driving the Latins out of Constantinople.
The ambition of Michael, the despot of Epeirus, checked him for a while in his lofty career. Seeing a child on the throne of Nicaea, and a lofty but forsaken foreigner, destitute of power, on that of Constantinople, Michael of Epeirus conceived the same plan as Michael Palaeologus, and the success of the latter at first did not at all discourage him. Things growing serious, the new emperor of Nicaea made him honourable offers in order to maintain peace between them.
But the despot of Epeirus reckoned upon his alliance with Manfred, the Norman king of Sicily, and William de Villehardouin, the French prince of Achaia and the Morea, and rushed boldly into the field. At Achrida he suffered a severe defeat ; Villehardouin was taken prisoner and brought to Constantinople. The Greeks in their turn were totally beaten at Tricorypha. Little moved by the disadvantageous turn of his affairs in the West, Michael Palaeologus hastened his expedition against Constantinople, and before the end of the year 1260 Baldwin II. was shut up within his capital. Michael, however, was not strong enough to reduce the city, and returned to Nicaea. Upon this he made an alliance with the Genoese, and in 1261 sent a new army beyond the Bosporus, the progress of which he watched from his favourite residence of Nymphaeum near Smyrna. Strategopulus Caesar commanded the Greek army round Constantinople, the natural strength of which offered again such obstacles to the besiegers, that the Caesar converted the siege into a blockade, informing the emperor of the bad chances he had of speedy success. While matters stood thus, one Cutrizacus, the commander of a body of voluntary auxiliaries, was informed of the existence of a subterranean passage leading from a place outside the walls into the cellar of a house within them, and which seemed to be known only to the owner of the house. Cutrizacus immediately formed a plan for surprising the garrison by means of the passage, and after concerting measures with the commander-in-chief, ventured with 50 men through the passage into the city. His plan succeeded completely. No sooner was he within than he took possession of the nearest gate, disarmed the post, opened it, and the main body of the Greeks rushed in.
The stratagem was executed in the dead of night.
The inhabitants, roused from their slumber, soon learned the cause of the noise, and kept quiet within their houses, or joined their daring countrymen. The Latins dispersed in various quarters were seized with a panic, and fled in all directions, while the emperor Baldwin had scarcely time to leave his palace and escape on board of a Venetian galley, which carried him immediately to Italy. On the morning of the 25th of July, 1261, Constantinople was in the undisputed possession of the Greeks, after it had borne the yoke of the Latins during 57 years 3 months and 13 days.
A private messenger brought the news of this strange revolution to Nymphaeum, and Michael at first refused to believe it till the arrival of some officers of the Caesar dispersed all doubt: as a further token of the veracity of their account, they produced the sword, the sceptre, the red bonnet, and other articles belonging to Baldwin, who had not found time to carry them with him. Michael lost no time in repairing to Constantinople, and on the 14th of August held his triumphal entrance, saluted by the people with demonstrations of the sincerest joy. Constantinople, however, was no more what it had been. During the reign of the Latins plunder, rapine, and devastation had spoiled it of its former splendour; trade had deserted its harbour; and thousands of opulent families had abandoned the palaces or mansions of their forefathers, in order to avoid contact with the hated foreigners. To restore. re-people, and re-adorn Constantinople was now the principal task of Michael ; and, in order to accomplish his purpose the better, he confirmed the extensive privileges which the Venetian, the Genoese, and the Pisan merchants had received from the Latin emperor. Although the Nicaean emperors considered themselves the legitimate successors of Constantine the Great, the possession of Constantinople was an event of such magnitude as to suggest to Michael the idea of a new coronation, which was accordingly solemnized in the cathedral of St. Soplia. But Michael was crowned alone, without John, an evil omen for the friends of the young emperor, whose fears were but too soon realised, for on Christmas day of the same year 1261, Michael ordered his colleague to be blinded, whereupon he was sent into exile to a distant fortress.
This hateful crime caused a general indignation among the people, and might have proved the ruin of Michael had he been a man of a less energetic turn of mind.
The patriarch Arsenius, co-guardian to John, was irreconcileable ; he fearlessly pronounced excommunication upon the imperial criminal; and years of trouble and commotion elapsed before Michael was re-admitted into the communion of the faithful, by the second successor of Arsenius, the patriarch Joseph.
But to return to the war with the despot of Epeirus.
A short time after the conquest of Constantinople the despot Michael defeated Strategopulus, and made him a prisoner. The Greeks had scarcely rallied, when a new enemy rose against them.
This was Villehardouin, who had been released from his captivity on condition of ceding some of his territories, and of remaining quiet for the future.
But the loss of Constantinople was such a blight to the hopes of pope Urban IV. of effecting a complete union between the Latin and the Greek churches, that he urged the European princes to undertake a crusade against the Greek schismatics, and commanded Villehardouin to commence hostilities forthwith, relieving him from the oath he had sworn, to keep peace with Michael. Villellardouin was successful by sea and land, but Michael avoided further danger by promising the pope to do his utmost in order to effect the intended union. Urban was now the first to offer himself as mediator between the belligerents, and as both the parties were tired of bloodshed, peace was soon restored (1263).
In the following year the war between the emperor and Michael of Epeirus was likewise brought to an end by an honourable peace, and shortly afterwards the despot died. To Nicephorus, the eldest of his legitimate sons, who had just married Eulogia, the sister of the emperor, he left Epeirus; but the better and larger half of his kingdom, viz. Thessaly, became the share of his favourite natural son John, a warlike man, who was well fit to defend his inheritance. In 1265 Arsenius was deposed because he would not revoke the excommunication of the emperor: his adherents, the Arsenites, caused a schism which lasted till 1312. [ARSENIUS.]
In 1269 Michael was involved in a dangerous war with Charles, king of Sicily, who took up arms on pretence of restoring the fugitive Baldwin to the throne, and who was joined by John of Thessaly, the above-mentioned son of the despot Michael of Epeirus.
The despot John, the emperor's brother, took the field against his namesake, but, owing to circumstances which it was not in his power to remove, that gallant commander of the Greeks suffered a terrible defeat (1271 ), and the prince of Thessaly, forthwith marching upon Constantinople, placed the capital in jeopardt.
But the loss of Negropont and the destruction of his fleet by the Greeks compelled him to fill back. Justly afraid that the hostilities of the king of Sicily and the despot of Thessaly were only the forerunners of a general crusade of all the Latin princes against him, Michael tried to avoid the storm by at last making earnest proposals towards effecting the union of the Greek church with that of Rome. To that effect the learned Veccus, accompanied by several of the most distinguished among the Greek clergy, was sent to the council assembled at Lyon in 1274, and there the union was effected by the Greeks giving way in the much-disputed doctrine of the procession of the Holy Ghost, and submitting to the supremacy of the pope.
The union, however, was desired only by a minority of the Greeks, and the orthodox majority accordingly did their utmost to prevent the measure from being carried out. Michael in his turn supported his policy with force.
The patriarch Joseph was deposed, and Veccus appointed in his stead; cruel punishment was inflicted upon all those who opposed the union; and Greece was shaken by a religious commotion which forms a remarkable event in the ecclesiastical history of the East.
As space forbids us to dwell longer upon these important transactions, we can only remark that the union was never effectually carried out, and fell entirely to the ground upon the death of Michael.
The manifest duplicity and the cruelty with which the emperor behaved in this affair made him odious to his own subjects and contemptible to his new Latin friends, and the latter part of his reign was an uninterrupted series of domestic troubles and foreign wars. His dearly-bought friendship with the Latin, and especially the Italian powers, was brought to a very speedy end.
The emperor Baldwin having died, his son Philip assumed the imperial title, and succeeded in forming an alliance between pope Martin IV., Charles of Anjou, king of Sicily, and the Venetians, with a view of reconquering Constantinople and dividing the Greek empire. Soliman Rossi, a French knight, commanded the allied forces, and, invading the empire from the north, met at Belgrade the Greek forces commanded by the magnus domesticus Tarcaniotes.
A pitched battle ensued, in which the invaders were totally routed: the magnus domesticus made a triumphant entry into Constantinople, and all danger of a second invasion was removed. Not satisfied with the glory of his arms and the material benefit he derived from his victory, Michael resolved to take terrible revenge: he paid 20,000 ounces of gold towards equipping a Catalan fleet with which king Peter of Arragon was to attack Sicily, and the " Sicilian Vespers," in which 8,000 Frenchmen were massacred, and in consequence of which Sicily was wrested from Charles of Anjou and united with Arragon, were in some degree the work of Michael's fury.
In the autumn of the same year (1282) Michael marched against John, the unruly prince of Thessaly, but, before any thing serious had been done, he fell ill, and died on the 11th of December, 1282, at the age of 58, leaving the renown of a successful but treacherous tyrant. His son Andronicus II. succeeded him. (Pachymer. lib. i.--vi.; Niceph. Gregor. lib. iv.--v.; Acropol.100.76, &c.; Phranz. lib. i.)