Byzantine Emperor (1224 – 1282)
Michael Palaiologos (or Palaeologus) was the founder of the Palaiologos dynasty that ruled the Byzantine Empire for almost 200 years, longer than any other dynasty in the Empire’s existence. It was the last dynasty that ruled the Byzantine Empire. As Emperor, Michael reclaimed Constantinople and restored the Byzantine Empire after 57 years of Latin rule.
A few years before Michael ascended to throne, Emperor John Ducas Vatatzes had already set the ground for the reclaiming of Constantinople. Michael’s first and most difficult task as Emperor was to reclaim the lost lands of the Byzantine Empire that had fallen under the rule of a powerful anti-Byzantine alliance. Thus, in 1259, the army of Nicaea, led by Michael’s brother John Palaiologos, defeated the opposing alliance in Pelagonia, establishing its rule there.
Michael allied with Genoa to provide him with military support against Venice, which exerted the most powerful influence over Constantinople. In exchange, Genoa was granted with exemption from taxation as well as permission to build its own ports in the Byzantine Empire’s lands.
In 1261, Michael’s army defeated the Latins, reclaiming Constantinople and establishing the Palaeologian dynasty. From that point onward, Michael’s goal became to rebuild and fortify Constantinople. He rebuilt churches and monasteries, reconstructed the city’s walls and attempted to increase the city’s population. Under his diplomacy, the Byzantine Empire added a part of Morea to its lands, Mystras, which would later become the Empire’s most prestigious spiritual center, as well as most of the island of the Aegean Sea.
After the reclaiming of Constantinople, the Empire’s greatest threat came from the West. Charles of Anjou had began creating an Empire that intended to assimilate the Balkan lands of the Byzantine Empire, with the help of the Pope, the former Latin Emperor, Serbia and Bulgaria. Michael allied with Hungary, Egypt, Mongolia and Peter III of Aragon to stop the opposing empire’s procession to Eastern Europe. He spent vast amounts of money to start a rebellion in Sicily and ordered Peter III of Aragon to attack it. His operations ended successfully and Charles of Anjou’s Empire dissolved.
Throughout his emperorship, Michael fended off numerous enemies from the Byzantine Empire, both from shore and sea. A skilled diplomat, he would frequently resolve in signing peace treaties with neighbouring nations to alleviate tensions instead of going to war against them. He came into conflict with the Church when he attempted to unify the two Churches and was received negatively by his followers. Although history has shown that Michael was not as popular or likable as other Byzantine Emperors like Heraclius or John Vatatzes, he has been hailed as the New Constantine by some contemporary historians.
- “Michael VIII Palaeologus”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1946. Print.
- Michael VIII Palaiologos (1261 – 1282). Dumbarton Oaks. Doaks.org. Web.
- Μιχαήλ Η Παλαιολόγος. Εγκυκλοπαίδεια Μείζονος Ελληνισμού. Constantinople.ehw.gr. Web.