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Komnenian dynasty
CountryByzantine Empire
Empire of Trebizond
Founded10th century
1057 (as imperial family)
FounderManuel Erotikos Komnenos
(first known; possibly founder)
Isaac I Komnenos
(first emperor)
Final rulerAndronikos I Komnenos
(Byzantine Empire)
David Megas Komnenos
(Empire of Trebizond)
Final headJohn Komnenos Molyvdos
* by marriage
Dissolution1719[citation needed]
Deposition1185 (Byzantine Empire)
1461 (Empire of Trebizond)

The House of Komnenos (pl. Komnenoi; Greek: Κομνηνός, pl. Κομνηνοί, [komniˈni]), Latinized as Comnenus (pl. Comneni), was a Byzantine Greek noble family who ruled the Byzantine Empire in the 11th and 12th centuries. The first reigning member, Isaac I Komnenos, ruled from 1057 to 1059. The family returned to power under Alexios I Komnenos in 1081 who established their rule for the following 104 years until it ended with Andronikos I Komnenos in 1185. In the 13th century, they founded and ruled the Empire of Trebizond, a Byzantine rump state from 1204 to 1461.[1] At that time, they were commonly referred to as Grand Komnenoi (Μεγαλοκομνηνοί, Megalokomnenoi), a style that was officially adopted and used by George Komnenos and his successors. Through intermarriages with other noble families, notably the Doukas, Angelos, and Palaiologos, the Komnenos name appears among most of the major noble houses of the late Byzantine world.


The 11th-century Byzantine historian Michael Psellos reported that the Komnenos family originated from the village of Komne in Thrace—usually identified with the "Fields of Komnene" (Κομνηνῆς λειμῶνας) mentioned in the 14th century by John Kantakouzenos—a view commonly accepted by modern scholarship.[2][3] The first known member of the family, Manuel Erotikos Komnenos, acquired extensive estates at Kastamon in Paphlagonia, which became the stronghold of the family in the 11th century.[2][4] The family thereby quickly became associated with the powerful and prestigious military aristocracy (dynatoi) of Asia Minor, so that despite coming from Thrace it came to be considered "eastern".[5] Aside from deriving legitimacy as rulers from familial links to the prominent Doukai (emperors Constantine X and Michael VII in particular), they also had a tradition linking them to Claudius Gothicus, the supposed grandfather of Constantine the Great. Many classical monuments dedicated to Claudius stood in the vicinity of Kastra Komnenon, which according to historian Maximilian C. G. Lau may have increased his appeal in the eyes of the Komnenoi.[6][7]

The 17th-century French scholar du Cange suggested that the family descended from a Roman noble family that followed Constantine the Great to Constantinople, from whose cousin but although such mythical genealogies were common—and are attested for the closely related Doukas clan as well—the complete absence of any such assertion in the Byzantine sources argues against Du Cange's view.[8] The Romanian historian George Murnu suggested in 1924 that the Komnenoi were of Aromanian descent, but this view too is now rejected.[8] Modern scholars consider the family to have been entirely of Greek origin.[8][9]

Manuel Erotikos Komnenos was the father of Isaac I Komnenos (r. 1057–1059),[10] and grandfather, through Isaac's younger brother John Komnenos, of Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081–1118).[11]

Founding the dynasty[edit]

Isaac I Komnenos, a stratopedarch of the East under Michael VI, founded the Komnenos dynasty of Byzantine emperors. In 1057 Isaac led a coup against Michael and was proclaimed emperor. Although his reign lasted only until 1059, when his courtiers pressured him to abdicate and become a monk, Isaac initiated many useful reforms. The dynasty returned to the throne with the accession of Alexios I Komnenos, Isaac I's nephew, in 1081. By this time, descendants of all the previous dynasties of Byzantium seem to have disappeared from the realm, such as the important Scleros and Argyros families. Descendants of those emperors lived abroad, having married into the royal families of Georgia, Russia, France, Persia, Italy, Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia; this made it easier for the Komnenos family to ascend to the throne.

Upon their rise to the throne, the Komnenoi became intermarried with the previous Doukas dynasty: Alexios I married Irene Doukaina, the grandniece of Constantine X Doukas, who had succeeded Isaac I in 1059. Thereafter the combined clan was often referred to as Komnenodoukai (Κομνηνοδούκαι) and several individuals used both surnames together.[12] Several families descended from this wider clan, such as Palaiologos, Angelos, Vatatzes and Laskaris. Alexios and Irene's youngest daughter Theodora ensured the future success of the Angelos family by marrying into it: Theodora's grandsons became the emperors Isaac II Angelos (reigned 1185–1195 and 1203–1204) and Alexios III Angelos (reigned 1195-1203).

Komnenoi as emperors[edit]

Alexios I Komnenos.

Under Alexios I and his successors the Empire was fairly prosperous and stable. Alexios moved the imperial palace to the Blachernae section of Constantinople. Much of Anatolia was recovered from the Seljuk Turks, who had captured it just prior to Alexios' reign. Alexios also saw the First Crusade pass through Byzantine territory, leading to the establishment of the Crusader states in the east. The Komnenos dynasty was very much involved in crusader affairs, and also intermarried with the reigning families of the Principality of Antioch and the Kingdom of Jerusalem - Theodora Komnene, niece of Manuel I Komnenos, married Baldwin III of Jerusalem, and Maria, grandniece of Manuel, married Amalric I of Jerusalem.

Remarkably, Alexios ruled for 37 years, and his son John II ruled for 25, after uncovering a conspiracy against him by his sister, the chronicler Anna Komnene. John's son Manuel ruled for another 37 years.

The Komnenos dynasty produced a number of branches. As imperial succession was not in a determined order but rather depended on personal power and the wishes of one's predecessor, within a few generations several relatives were able to present themselves as claimants. After Manuel I's reign the Komnenos dynasty fell into conspiracies and plots like many of its predecessors (and the various contenders within the family sought power and often succeeded in overthrowing the preceding kinsman); Alexios II, the first Komnenos to ascend as a minor, ruled for three years and his conqueror and successor Andronikos I ruled for two, overthrown by the Angelos family under Isaac II who was dethroned and blinded by his own brother Alexios III. The Angeloi were overthrown during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, by Alexios V Doukas, a relative from the Doukas family.

Later family[edit]

Several weeks before the occupation of Constantinople by crusaders in 1204, one branch of the Komnenoi fled back to their homelands in Paphlagonia, along the eastern Black Sea and its hinterland in the Pontic Alps, where they established the Empire of Trebizond. Their first 'emperor', named Alexios I, was the grandson of Emperor Andronikos I.[13] These emperors – the Grand Komnenoi (Megaloi Komnenoi or Megalokomnenoi in Greek) as they were known – ruled in Trebizond for over 250 years, until 1461, when David Komnenos was defeated and executed by the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II.[14] Mehmed himself claimed descent from the Komnenos family via John Tzelepes Komnenos. The Trapezutine branch of the Komnenos dynasty also held the name of Axouchos as descendants of John Axouch, a Byzantine nobleman and minister to the Byzantine Komnenian Dynasty. A princess of the Trebizond branch is said to have been the mother of prince Yahya (born 1585),[citation needed] who reportedly became a Christian yet spent much of his life attempting to gain the Ottoman throne.

Another branch of the family, descendants of Constantine Angelos, founded the Despotate of Epirus in 1204, under Michael I Komnenos Doukas, great-grandson of Emperor Alexios I. This branch adopted the surnames Komnenos Doukas and are known as such in modern scholarship. Helena Doukaina Komnene, a child of that branch of the family, married Guy I de la Roche thereby uniting the Komnenos and the de la Roche houses, with Komnenos family members eventually becoming Dukes of Athens.

One renegade member of the family, also named Isaac Komnenos, established a separate "empire" on Cyprus in 1184, which lasted until 1191, when the island was taken from him by Richard I of England during the Third Crusade. His daughter, called the Damsel of Cyprus, married Thierry of Flanders during the Fourth Crusade and tried to claim the island.

When the Byzantine Empire was restored in 1261 at Constantinople, it was ruled by a family closely related to the Komnenoi, the Palaiologoi. The Palaiologoi ruled until the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

The last descendant of the dynasty is often considered to have been John Komnenos Molyvdos,[15] a distinguished Ottoman Greek scholar and physician, who became metropolitan bishop of Side and Dristra, and died in 1719.

In 1782, the Corsican Greek notable Demetrio Stefanopoli obtained letters patent from Louis XVI of France recognizing him as the descendant and heir of the Emperors of Trebizond.[16]

Komnenian ancestry in Western Europe[edit]

Irene Angelina, daughter of Isaac II Angelos and thus a descendant of Alexios I Komnenos, married Philip of Swabia (1177–1208), the King of Germany. From this union many of the royal and aristocratic families of Western Europe can trace a line of descent.[17]

Family tree of the House of Komnenos[edit]

Constantine X Doukas
Byzantine emperor (1059–1067)
Sofia Doukaina
Manuel Erotikos Komnenos
Isaac I
Byzantine emperor (1057–1059)
Catherine of Bulgaria
domestikos ton scholon
Anna Dalassene Charontos
Michael Taronites
Isaac protoproedros
domestikos ton scholon of the East
∞ Irene of Alania
Nikephoros Melissenos
Constantine Diogenes
Alexios I
Byzantine emperor
Irene Doukaina
Adrianos protosebastos
domestikos ton scholon of the West
∞ Zoe Doukaina
(daughter of Constantine X Doukas)
Nikephoros sebastos
droungarios of the fleet
doux of Dyrrhachium
∞ Maria Doukaina
(daughter of Michael)
Anna Komnene
Nikephoros Bryennios Younger
general, historian
Nikephoros Katakalon
John II
Byzantine emperor
Irene of Hungary
∞ 2.Constantine Angelos
∞ Constantine Iasites
∞ 1.Dobrodeia of Kiev
2.Kata of Georgia
John Rogerios Dalassenos
Stephen Kontostephanos
megas doux (admiral)
∞ 1.Theodora
2.Irene Diplosynadene
Manuel Anemas
Theodore Vatatzes
Manuel I
Byzantine emperor
∞ 1.Bertha of Sulzbach
2.Maria of Antioch
John Tzelepes
∞ 1.(daughter of Leo I, Prince of Armenia)
2.(daughter of Mesud I sultan of Iconium)
Andronikos I
Byzantine emperor
∞ 2.Agnes
(daughter of Louis VII of France)

Alexios Axouch
sebastos, protostrator,
doux of Cilicia
∞ 1.John Dasiotes
2.John Kantakouzenos
dukas of Cyprus
∞ Maria Taronitissa
Henry II, Duke of Austria
∞ 2.John Gabras
∞ Maria Doukaina
(1) Irene
∞ Doukas Kamateros
(1) Maria
Stephen IV of Hungary
(2) Theodora
Baldwin III of Jerusalem
(2) Eudokia
William VIII of Montpellier
(1) Maria
Renier of Montferrat
(2) Alexios II Komnenos
Byzantine emperor
Agnes of France
(1) Manuel
Rusudan of Georgia
(1) John
(illeg.) Alexios
John Komnenos Axouch Fat
∞ 1.Amalric of Jerusalem
2.Balian of Ibelin
Bohemond III of Antioch
Isaac Komnenos Kamateros
usurper ruler of Cyprus
Maria of Montpellier
∞ 3.Peter II of Aragon
Alexios I
emperor of Trebizond
(Empire of Trebizond)
∞ (?)Theodora Axouchina
ruler of Herakleia & Paphlagonia

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Comnenus" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 6 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 793.
  2. ^ a b ODB, "Komnenos" (A. Kazhdan), pp. 1143–1144.
  3. ^ Varzos 1984a, p. 25.
  4. ^ Varzos 1984a, pp. 25–26.
  5. ^ Varzos 1984a, p. 26 (note 8).
  6. ^ Magdalino, Paul; Macrides, Ruth (2022). "Theodore Prodromos, Carmina historica, I". In James, Liz; Nicholson, Oliver; Scott, Roger (eds.). After the Text: Byzantine Enquiries in Honour of Margaret Mullett. London: Routledge. pp. 32–38.
  7. ^ Lau, Maximilian C. G. (2023). Emperor John II Komnenos: Rebuilding New Rome 1118-1143. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 65–66.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  8. ^ a b c Varzos 1984a, p. 26.
  9. ^ Koytcheva 2007, p. 115–122.
  10. ^ Varzos 1984a, pp. 39, 41.
  11. ^ Varzos 1984a, pp. 39, 49, 52.
  12. ^ Varzos 1984a, p. 27.
  13. ^ A. A. Vasiliev, "The Foundation of the Empire of Trebizond (1204-1222)", Speculum, 11 (1936), pp. 3-37
  14. ^ Discussed by Ruth Macrides, "What's in the name 'Megas Komnenos'?" Archeion Pontou, 35 (1979), pp. 236-245
  15. ^ Varzos 1984a, p. 32.
  16. ^ Rousseau, Hervé (1966). "La duchesse d'Abrantès, Napoléon et les Comnène". Revue des Deux Mondes: 44–52. JSTOR 44592112.
  17. ^ Bruno W. Häuptli (2007). "IRENE (Angelou) von Byzanz". In Bautz, Traugott (ed.). Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German). Vol. 28. Nordhausen: Bautz. cols. 858–862. ISBN 978-3-88309-413-7.