Michael VIII Palaeologus - Encyclopedia

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MICHAEL VIII. PALAEOLOGUS (1234-1282) was the son of Andronicus Palaeologus Comnenus and Irene Angela, the granddaughter of Alexius Angelus, emperor of Constantinople. At an early age he rose to distinction, and ultimately became commander of the French mercenaries in the employment of the emperors of Nicaea. A few days after the death of Theodore Lascaris II. in 1259, Michael, by the assassination of Muzalon (which he is believed but not proved to have encouraged) became joint guardian with the patriarch Arsenius of the young emperor, John Lascaris, then a lad of eight years. Afterwards invested with the title of "despot," he was finally proclaimed joint-emperor and crowned alone at Nicaea on the 1st of January 1260. In July 1261 Michael, who had attacked Constantinople with the help of the Genoese, conquered the town through his general Strategopoulos. He thereupon had John Lascaris blinded and banished. For this last act he was excommunicated by Arsenius, and the ban was not removed until six years afterwards (1268) on the accession of a new patriarch. In 1263 and 1264 respectively, Michael, with the help of Urban IV., concluded peace with Villehardouin, prince of Achaia, and Michael, despot of Epirus, who had previously been incited by the pope to attack him, but had been decisively beaten at Pelagonia in Thessaly (1259); Villehardouin was obliged to cede Mistra, Monemvasia and Maina in the Morea. Subsequently Michael was involved in wars with the Genoese and Venetians, whose influence in Constantinople he sought to diminish by maintaining the balance of strength between them. In 1269 Charles of Sicily, aided by John of Thessaly, made war with the alleged purpose of restoring Baldwin to the throne of Constantinople, and pressed Michael so hard that he consented to send deputies to the council of Lyons (1274) and there accept the papal supremacy. The union thus brought about between the two Churches was, however, extremely distasteful to the Greeks, and the persecution of his "schismatic" subjects to which the emperor was compelled to resort weakened his power so much that Martin IV. was tempted to enter into alliance with Charles of Anjou and the Venetians for the purpose of reconquering Constantinople. The invasion, however, failed, and Michael so far had his revenge in the "Sicilian Vespers," which he helped to bring about. He died in Thrace in December 1282. In reconstituting the Byzantine Empire Michael restored the old administration without endeavouring to correct its abuses. By debasing the coinage he hastened the decay of Byzantine commerce.

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