Michael VIII Palaeologus, Byzantine Emperor
MICHAEL VIII PALAEOLOGUS, BYZANTINE EMPEROR
Reigned 1259 to Dec. 11, 1282; b. 1224 or 1225. Michael not only restored Greek rule in Constantinople after the period of Latin domination (1204–61), but thwarted the attempted invasion of Byzantium by the able and ambitious Charles of Anjou, king of Sicily.
With the establishment of the latin empire of constantinople after the Fourth crusade, several Byzantine states appeared, of which the most important was the Empire of Nicaea in Asia Minor. Michael, a leading nobleman at the Nicene court, usurped the throne in 1259 from the boy Lascarid emperor, thus establishing the Palaeologan dynasty that ruled Byzantium until its fall to the Turks in 1453.
With Nicaea as a base, Michael ultimately recaptured Constantinople (1261), the result of either a surprise entrance of his troops into the city, or of carefully laid plans, or both. At the Greek reconquest, the expelled Latins, especially the Latin Emperor Baldwin and the Venetians, launched a diplomatic campaign to recover the city. Their plans ultimately centered around Charles of Anjou, the ambitious brother of King Louis IX of France, who had inherited the old Norman designs against Byzantium. As a result Michael had to devote almost all of his energies to checkmating the intricate web of alliances woven against Byzantium by Charles.
With great diplomatic finesse, Michael offered to Pope gregory x, Charles's suzerain for Sicily, union of the Greek and Latin Churches in exchange for papal restraint of Charles's plans against Constantinople. After long negotiations Michael sent envoys to the famous second Council of Lyons (1274), and a union of the two Churches was declared there. The Greeks, however, looked upon this union—at which the Eastern patriarchs were not represented—as a fraud, and Michael faced opposition to the union from most of his subjects. Negotiations to implement the union continued until Charles finally succeeded in securing the election of his own papal candidate, martin iv, who almost immediately excommunicated Michael and declared a crusade against the "schismatic" Greeks under the leadership of Charles of Anjou.
In 1281 the situation seemed desperate for Michael, because Charles had created a tremendous anti-Byzantine coalition that ultimately included the papacy and Venice. However, on March 30, 1282, the Sicilian Vespers, a revolt against Angevin rule, suddenly broke out in Palermo, Sicily, forcing Charles to suspend his plans against Byzantium and occupying his attention until the end of his reign. Scholarship has recently shown that this revolt (which had some nationalistic overtones) was in part engineered not only by the Hohenstaufen party in Sicily, but also by Michael, who supplied the rebels with money and entered into an alliance against Charles with King peter of aragon, son-in-law of Manfred, the last Hohenstaufen ruler of Sicily. Thus Michael, by a series of brilliant diplomatic maneuvers, was able successfully to maintain the empire against one of the ablest foes Byzantium had ever faced. In view of the overwhelming threat from the West, however, Michael could devote little attention to the East, and the ottoman Turks were able to overrun almost all of Asia Minor.
Bibliography: c. chapman, Michel Paléologue: Restaurateur de l'empire byzantin (Paris 1926). d. j. geanakoplos, Emperor Michael Palaeologus and the West, 1258–1282: A Study in Byzantine-Latin Relations (Cambridge, Mass. 1959), with detailed bibliog.
[d. j. geanakoplos]