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Megas doux

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The megas doux Alexios Apokaukos in the garb of his office

The megas doux (Greek: μέγας δούξ, pronounced [ˈmeɣaz ˈðuks], "grand duke") was one of the highest positions in the hierarchy of the later Byzantine Empire, denoting the commander-in-chief of the Byzantine navy. It is sometimes also given in English by the half-Latinizations megaduke or megadux.[1] The Greek word δούξ is the Hellenized form of the Latin term dux, meaning leader or commander.

History and functions


The office was initially created by Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081–1118), who reformed the derelict Byzantine navy and amalgamated the remnants of its various provincial squadrons into a unified force under the megas doux.[1] The Emperor's brother-in-law John Doukas is usually considered to have been the first to hold the title, being raised to it in 1092, when he was tasked with suppressing the Turkish emir Tzachas. There is however a document dated to December 1085, where a monk Niketas signs as supervisor of the estates of an unnamed megas doux.[2][3] The office of "doux [commander] of the fleet" (δούξ τοῦ στόλου, doux tou stolou), with similar responsibilities and hence perhaps a precursor of the office of megas doux, is also mentioned at the time, being given c. 1086 to Manuel Boutoumites and in 1090 to Constantine Dalassenos.[1][4]

Seal of the sebastos, rhaiktor and megas doux Alexios Katakourianos, "born of the Komnenoi". He is known only from this seal.

Initially, the office may have designated ad hoc commanders-in-chief placed in charge of combined naval and land expeditions, before coming to denote the head of the imperial fleet.[5] John Doukas, the first known megas doux, led campaigns on both land and sea and was responsible for the re-establishment of firm Byzantine control over the Aegean and the islands of Crete and Cyprus in the years 1092–93 and over western Anatolia in 1097.[6][7][8] From this time the megas doux was also given overall control of the provinces of Hellas, the Peloponnese and Crete, which chiefly provided the manpower and resources for the fleet.[9][10] However, since the megas doux was one of the Empire's senior officials, and mostly involved with the central government and various military campaigns, de factο governance of these provinces rested with the provinces' praitor or katepano, and various local leaders.[11] During the 12th century, the post of megas doux was dominated by the Kontostephanos family;[1] one of its members, Andronikos Kontostephanos, was one of the most important officers of Emperor Manuel I Komnenos (r. 1143–1180), assisting him in achieving many land and naval victories.

With the virtual disappearance of the Byzantine fleet after the Fourth Crusade, the title was retained as an honorific in the Empire of Nicaea. Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1259–1282) assumed the title when he became regent for John IV Laskaris (r. 1258–1261), before being raised to senior co-emperor.[12] It was also used by the Latin Empire, where, in c. 1207, the Latin emperor awarded the island of Lemnos and the hereditary title of megadux to the Venetian (or possibly of mixed Greek and Venetian descent) Filocalo Navigajoso ("imperiali privilegio Imperii Megaducha est effectus").[1][13] His descendants inherited the title and the rule of Lemnos until evicted by the Byzantines in 1278.

After the Byzantine recovery of Constantinople in 1261, the title reverted to its old function as commander-in-chief of the navy, and remained a high rank for the remainder of the empire, its holder ranking sixth after the emperor, between the protovestiarios and the protostrator.[1][14] As such, it was also sometimes conferred upon foreigners in imperial service, the most notable among these being the Italian Licario, who recovered many Aegean islands for Emperor Michael VIII,[15] and Roger de Flor, head of the Catalan Company.[1] The mid-14th century Book of Offices of Pseudo-Kodinos lists the insignia of the megas doux as a golden-red skiadion hat decorated with embroideries in the klapoton style, without veil. Alternatively, a domed skaranikon hat could be worn, again in red and gold and decorated with golden wire, with a portrait of the emperor standing in front, and another of him enthroned in the rear. The megas doux also wore a rich silk tunic, the kabbadion, and could choose the fabric himself "from those that are in use". His staff of office (dikanikion) featured carved knots and knobs in gold, bordered with silver braid.[16] Pseudo-Kodinos also records that, while the other warships flew "the usual imperial flag" of the cross and the firesteels, the flagship of the megas doux flew an image of the emperor on horseback.[17] His subordinate officials were the megas droungarios tou stolou, the ameralios, the protokomes, a number of junior droungarioi, and of junior kometes.[17]

The Serbian Empire, established in 1346 by Tsar Stefan Dushan, adopted various Byzantine titles, among them that of megas doux, which became the "grand voivode" (veliki vojvoda), albeit without any naval connotations. Holders of the office included senior noblemen such as Jovan Uglješa[18] and Jovan Oliver.[19]

List of known holders


Byzantine Empire

Name Tenure Appointed by Notes Refs
John Doukas 1092 – unknown Alexios I Komnenos Brother-in-law of Alexios I, previously governor of Dyrrhachium. [1]
Landulf 1099–1105 Alexios I Komnenos Admiral of Western origin. [20][21]
Isaac Kontostephanos 1105–1108 Alexios I Komnenos Dismissed for his incompetence in the wars against Bohemond. [20][22]
Marianos Maurokatakalon 1108 – unknown Alexios I Komnenos Successor of Isaac Konstostephanos. [20][23]
Eumathios Philokales after 1112 – after 1118 Alexios I Komnenos Previously judicial official in Greece and long-time governor of Cyprus. [24][25]
Constantine Opos Unknown Alexios I Komnenos Distinguished general in the campaigns against the Turks. [26]
Leo Nikerites Unknown Alexios I Komnenos Eunuch, previously governor in Bulgaria and the Peloponnese. [26]
Nikephoros Vatatzes Unknown Alexios I Komnenos (?) Known only through a seal, possibly dating to the reign of Alexios I. [26]
Stephen Kontostephanos ca. 1145 (?) – 1149 Manuel I Komnenos Brother-in-law of Manuel I, was killed while in office in 1149. [27]
Alexios Komnenos ca. 1155 – after 1161 Manuel I Komnenos Son of Anna Komnene and Nikephoros Bryennios the Younger. [26]
Andronikos Kontostephanos after 1161 – 1182 Manuel I Komnenos Manuel's nephew, he was the emperor's most trusted and distinguished general. Blinded by the usurper Andronikos I Komnenos in 1182. [28]
John Komnenos Unknown Manuel I Komnenos First cousin of Manuel I, son of the sebastokrator Andronikos Komnenos. He fell at Myriokephalon in 1176. [27]
Constantine Angelos Doukas Unknown Isaac II Angelos doux tou stolou and afterwards governor of Philippopolis, he led an unsuccessful usurpation attempt. [29]
Michael Stryphnos ca. 1195 – after 1201/1202 Alexios III Angelos A favourite of Alexios III. He reportedly sold off the fleet's equipment to enrich himself. [30]
Theodotos Phokas ca. 1210 Theodore I Laskaris Uncle of Theodore I, emperor of Nicaea, known only from a monastic property deed dating to between 1206 and 1212. [31]
John Gabalas ca. 1240 John III Vatatzes A letter by King Henry I of Cyprus to the anonymous "great ruler of the God-guarded island of Rhodes and the Cyclades", identified by Spyridon Lambros with John, refers to him as pansebastos sebastos, megas doux, and gambros of the emperor. [32]
Michael Palaiologos 1258 John IV Laskaris The future Michael VIII, he assumed the office after the murder of George Mouzalon in September 1258, when he was named regent for the young John IV. He was soon after raised to despotes and eventually to emperor. [31][33]
Michael Tzamantouros Laskaris 1259 – ca. 1269/72 Michael VIII Palaiologos Brother of Theodore I Laskaris, due to his advanced age he never held actual command of the fleet. He held the office until his death. [34][35]
Alexios Doukas Philanthropenos ca. 1272/73 – ca. 1274/75 Michael VIII Palaiologos Previously protostrator and de facto commander of the fleet since ca. 1263. Held the office of megas doux until his death. [36][37]
Licario ca. 1275/77 – unknown Michael VIII Palaiologos Italian renegade who entered Byzantine service, he conquered Negroponte and many of the Aegean islands. [38][39]
John de lo Cavo after 1278 Michael VIII Palaiologos Genoese privateer who entered Byzantine service, lord of Anafi and Rhodes. [40][41]
Roger de Flor 1303–1304 Andronikos II Palaiologos Leader of the mercenary Catalan Company. He resigned his post in late 1304 favour of his lieutenant, Berenguer d'Entença, and was murdered a few months later. [38][42]
Berenguer d'Entença 1304–1305 Andronikos II Palaiologos Roger de Flor's lieutenant and successor as leader of the mercenary Catalan Company. He resigned his office after disagreeing with the emperor [43][44][45]
Fernand Ximenes de Arenos 1307/1308 – unknown Andronikos II Palaiologos One of the leaders of the Catalan Company, he was named megas doux defected to the Byzantines [46][47][48]
Syrgiannes Palaiologos 1321–1322 or 1328/29 Andronikos II Palaiologos One of the main partisans of the young Andronikos III Palaiologos in the Byzantine civil war of 1321–1328, he defected to the aged Andronikos II, who rewarded him with the office of megas doux. After plotting against him as well, he was imprisoned. [46][49][50]
Isaac Palaiologos Asanes unknown – 1341 Andronikos III Palaiologos Promoted to panhypersebastos, and replaced in office by Alexios Apokaukos. [46][51]
Alexios Apokaukos 1341–1345 Andronikos III Palaiologos
John V Palaiologos
A former partisan and protégé of John Kantakouzenos, Apokaukos was instrumental in the outbreak of the Byzantine civil war of 1341–1347, and until his murder in 1345 led the anti-Kantakouzenist regency for John V [46][52]
Asomatianos Tzamplakon 1348–1349 John VI Kantakouzenos Head of the fleet during the Byzantine–Genoese war of 1348–1349. He died some time before 1356 [46][53][54]
[Paul?] Mamonas after 1393/94 – before 1416/17 Manuel II Palaiologos The Mamonas family were hereditary rulers of Monemvasia. [Paul] Mamonas ruled the city between 1384 and 1416/17 [55][56]
Manuel unknown – 1410 Manuel II Palaiologos Mentioned only in an anonymous chronicle as dying of an epidemic in 1409/10 [55][57]
[Manuel?] Phrangopoulos ca. 1429 Theodore II Palaiologos Promoted from prōtostratōr to megas doux of the Despotate of the Morea in 1429. Manuel Phrangopoulos was a senior official of the Despotate already since the 1390s. [58]
Paraspondelos ca. 1436 John VIII Palaiologos Known only as the father-in-law of Demetrios Palaiologos. [55][59]
Loukas Notaras after 1441 – 1453 John VIII Palaiologos
Constantine XI Palaiologos
A wealthy merchant and landowner with estates in Italy, Notaras served as ship captain in 1441, and then under both John VIII and Constantine XI as chief minister (mesazōn). He was executed by the Ottomans after the Fall of Constantinople [55][60]

Empire of Trebizond

Name Tenure Appointed by Notes Refs
Lekes Tzatzintzaios unknown–1332 Executed by Basil Megas Komnenos on his arrival to Trebizond. [61]
John 1332–1344 Basil Megas Komnenos
Irene Palaiologina
Eunuch and one of the leading participants in the Trapezuntine Civil War on the side of Empress Irene Palaiologina. [61]
Niketas Scholarios 1344–1345
John III Megas Komnenos
Michael Megas Komnenos
Alexios III Megas Komnenos
One of the leading participants in the Trapezuntine Civil War, as a partisan of John III Megas Komnenos. Imprisoned by Michael Megas Komnenos in 1345, he was reinstated by Michael in 1349 and remained in office under Alexios III, probably until his death in 1361. [62]
John Kabazites after 1344 – 1349 Michael Megas Komnenos One of the leading participants in the Trapezuntine Civil War against Empress Irene Palaiologina. Killed fighting against the Genoese at Kaffa. [63]
Scholaris ca. 1395 Otherwise unknown/unidentified. [64]

Cultural references


In the 1490 Valencian epic romance Tirant lo Blanc, the valiant knight Tirant the White from Brittany travels to Constantinople and becomes a Byzantine megadux. This story has no basis in actual history, though it may reflect the above-mentioned cases of the office being conferred upon foreigners.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h ODB, "Megas doux" (A. Kazhdan), p. 1330.
  2. ^ Polemis 1968, p. 67.
  3. ^ Skoulatos 1980, p. 147.
  4. ^ Skoulatos 1980, pp. 61, 181.
  5. ^ Oikonomidis 1980, p. 312.
  6. ^ Polemis 1968, pp. 66–69.
  7. ^ Skoulatos 1980, pp. 145–149.
  8. ^ Angold 1997, p. 150.
  9. ^ Angold 1997, p. 151.
  10. ^ Oikonomidis 1980, pp. 312–313.
  11. ^ Magdalino 2002, p. 234.
  12. ^ Bartusis 1997, p. 274.
  13. ^ Van Tricht 2011, pp. 112, 130, 144.
  14. ^ Bartusis 1997, p. 381.
  15. ^ Bartusis 1997, p. 60.
  16. ^ Verpeaux 1966, pp. 153–154.
  17. ^ a b Verpeaux 1966, p. 167.
  18. ^ PLP, 21150. Οὔγκλεσις Ἰωάννης.
  19. ^ PLP, 14888. Λίβερος Ἰωάννης.
  20. ^ a b c Guilland 1967, p. 543.
  21. ^ Skoulatos 1980, pp. 169–171.
  22. ^ Skoulatos 1980, pp. 130–132.
  23. ^ Skoulatos 1980, pp. 186–187.
  24. ^ Guilland 1967, pp. 543–544.
  25. ^ Skoulatos 1980, pp. 79–82.
  26. ^ a b c d Guilland 1967, p. 544.
  27. ^ a b Guilland 1967, p. 545.
  28. ^ Guilland 1967, pp. 545–546.
  29. ^ Guilland 1967, p. 546.
  30. ^ Guilland 1967, pp. 546–547.
  31. ^ a b Guilland 1967, p. 547.
  32. ^ Savvides 1990, p. 186.
  33. ^ PLP, 21528. Παλαιολόγος, Μιχαὴλ VIII. ∆ούκας Ἂγγελος Κομνηνός.
  34. ^ Guilland 1967, p. 548.
  35. ^ PLP, 14554. Λάσκαρις, Μιχαὴλ Τζαμάντουρος.
  36. ^ Guilland 1967, pp. 548–549.
  37. ^ PLP, 29751. Φιλανθρωπηνός, Ἀλέξιος Δούκας.
  38. ^ a b Guilland 1967, p. 549.
  39. ^ PLP, 8154. Ἰκάριος.
  40. ^ Geanakoplos 1959, p. 211.
  41. ^ Nicol 1988, p. 202.
  42. ^ PLP, 24386. Ῥοντζέριος.
  43. ^ Guilland 1967, pp. 549–550.
  44. ^ Nicol 1993, p. 131.
  45. ^ PLP, 27580. Τέντζα Μπυριγέριος.
  46. ^ a b c d e Guilland 1967, p. 550.
  47. ^ Nicol 1993, pp. 133–134.
  48. ^ PLP, 27944. Τζιμῆς Φαρέντα.
  49. ^ Nicol 1993, pp. 157–158.
  50. ^ PLP, 27167. Συργιάννης Παλαιολόγος Φιλανθρωπηνὸς Κομνηνός.
  51. ^ PLP, 1494. Ἀσάνης, Ἰσαάκιος Παλαιολόγος.
  52. ^ Nicol 1993, pp. 187–201.
  53. ^ Nicol 1993, p. 223.
  54. ^ PLP, 27753. Τζαμπλάκων Ἀσωματιανός.
  55. ^ a b c d Guilland 1967, p. 551.
  56. ^ PLP, 16580. Μαμωνᾶς Παῦλος (?).
  57. ^ PLP, 16711. Μανουήλ.
  58. ^ PLP, 30139. Φραγκόπουλος <Μανουήλ>.
  59. ^ PLP, 21905. Παρασπόνδυλος.
  60. ^ PLP, 20730. Nοταρᾶς Λουκᾶς.
  61. ^ a b PLP, 8597. Ἰωάννης.
  62. ^ PLP, 27305. Σχολάριος Νικήτας.
  63. ^ PLP, 10010. Καβαζίτης Ἰωάννης.
  64. ^ PLP, 27308. Σχολάρις.


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