Anna Notaras

Last Byzantine Emperor’s mistress (? – 1507)

1453 marked the year the Byzantine Empire reached its end after 1100 years of existence. Constantine Palaiologos, the last Byzantine Empire fell heroically in battle in an effort to defend the last remaining piece of Hellenism, Constantinople. Hundreds of Greek scholars fled to Western Europe where they started disseminating the Greek letters. Among them was a woman named Anna Notaras.

Anna Notaras was the daughter of Loukas Notaras, the Grand Duke of the Byzantine Empire and the lover of Constantine XI Palaiologos, the last Byzantine Emperor. A few days before the Fall of Constantinople, Anna, with the help and encouragement of Constantine gathered as many books as she deemed were the most valuable, among them also being Homer, put them in a small ship and fled alone to Venice, after biding her loved one her last farewell. In Venice, she remained alone with her books until she met Basileios Bessarion, who was cardinal at the time and took her in his custody. She was the only surviving member of the family; her father and brothers had all been beheaded by the Sultan while Constantine had sacrificed himself during the Fall.

Anna Notaras became the protector of the refugees; she founded a foundation for Greek refugees and with all the remaining money she had, she bought off as many imprisoned Greeks and scholars from the Turks as possible. Moreover, she founded the Center for Hellenic Studies and Greek Civilization, which would eventually become the Greek community of Venice. The following years coincided with the invention of the printing machines by Gutenberg. Anna gathered all of the valuable books she had managed to save and founded a printing office together with Nicolaos Blastos and Zachary Kallergis. Together they published the Etymologicum Magnum in 1499, the first “Greek child” as they called it. Their printing office published many works of the Ancient and contemporary Greek philosophers and became equivalent in value to that of Aldus Manutius.

The printing office was closed in 1501 and Anna died in 1509 in Venice. Her two trusted companions inherited her fortune while the Western world inherited all the knowledge Anna had managed to take with her on that small ship during that fatal day. It was this knowledge that was later disseminated throughout all of Europe that led to the rebirth of the Western Civilization and humanity’s salvation from the clutches of religious fanaticism. She was buried in the church of St. George in Venice, built entirely by the funds of the Greeks of the diaspora in her memory since it was one of her unaccomplished goals. Next to the gate there is a beautiful picture of Christ Pantocrator that Anna salvaged from Constantinople. She remained in history by many names. For some, she was the Emperor’s fiancé while for others she was the Great Duchess of the once powerful Byzantine Empire.

Bibliography

  1. Brousalis, Karolos. Άννα Παλαιολογίνα Νοταρά: Η αρραβωνιαστικιά του αυτοκράτορα. Historyreport.gr. July 25, 2016. web.
  2. Tziropoulou – Eustathiou, Anna. The Destruction of the Greek Libraries. Georgiades: Athens, 2014. Print.
Anna Notaras

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