26 June 2013

Demetrios fled to Galata

Constantinople and Galata, 15th C Florentine chest. MMA.

Sphrantzes writes:
In the summer of the same year (1423), the αὐθεντόπουλος Demetrios, accompanied by Ilario Doria and his son-in-law, George Izaoul, fled (ἔφυγεν) to Galata with the intention of going over to the Turks; if they did not get to them, to Hungary instead.

Syropoulos writes:
Matters were in a critical situation because of the war, and the despot Demetrius was forced, at the beginning of the second year of hostilities, to flee (ἀπέδρᾳ) to Galata with Doria, γαμβρός of the Emperor. His father and mother urged him to return, but he was unwilling. His intent was to go to the emperor of the Germans. They unwillingly allowed this and arranged his voyage in company with Matthaios Asan, Doria, and several other archons.

I have written on Demetrios before.  Nearly everything I wrote was wrong, and this is a reconsideration.

In 1423 Demetrios was sixteen and at loose ends.  His father had offered him Lemnos the previous year but he refused to go. Then his father had a devastating stroke, which made his brother John sole emperor. His older brothers Theodoros and Andronikos were despots (although Andronikos would give up Thessalonike in September).  Constantine had recently come of age and, although we know nothing about him until he became regent for John in November, he was undoubtedly demonstrating a sense of responsibility. 

Demetrios went across the Golden Horn to Galata.  Galata was a self-governing commune under the rule of Genoa, and so going to Galata meant Demetrios had left the Eastern Empire.  Other discontent young men went with him -- George Izaoul had been turfed out of Ioannina which replaced him with Carlo Tocco, and Demetrios Kantakuzenos of Trebizond who was in Constantinople because of family problems there.  Matthaios Asan went: he remained a close friend for the rest of their lives, later governing Corinth, then arranging a face-saving surrender to Mehmed.  Demetrios married Asan's sister. Izaoul's father-in-law, Ilario Doria, is more difficult to explain: he had married Manuel's half-sister, and perhaps he, too, felt he had been passed over once too often.

The two different accounts reflect, to a great extent, the prejudices of their writers.  Sphrantzes, writing fifty years after the event, showed consistent disapproval of Demetrios whenever he came into the narrative.  Syropoulos, writing an account of the Council of Union, was anxious to portray Demetrios in as good a light as possible because he had been a supporter of the anti-unionists during the miseries of Ferrara and Florence.

Ganchou (below) adds an important element to the story in printing a letter from Francesco Filelfo  to Cardinal Piccolomini.  Filelfo not only substantiates the Sphrantzes account, but says that John had sent him to Hungary to  tell Emperor Sigismund that Demetrios might be planning to go over to the Turks, and to ask his help in heading it off.  But Filelfo also says that there was trouble between the brothers. This is important to remember, even if we don't know what it was.

John was nearly double Demetrios' age, and his teenage years had been burdened with training for being emperor.  At present he was burdened with a dying father and his differences with his father, and overwhelmed with the threats to the City, the Morea, and Thessaloniki from the Turks.  

There is no information about Demetrios for 13 years.  He took up the rule of Lemnos in 1425 (once he was of age -- he had rejected the position earlier, when he would have had to have a regent), and later  married (probably) the sister of Kantakouzenos Stravoummetes, a governor of Lamia. She died.  He married Zoe Paraspondylos in the spring of 1436. Then in November 1437 he was required to accompany John to the Council of Union at Ferrara.  Syropoulos quotes John as saying, "Everyone knows why he has to come with us."  Disloyalty is assumed, but there is no evidence.

What we know about Demetrios at the Council depends for the most part on Syropoulos, and recall that Syropoulos appreciates Demetrios' position (although Demetrios had been extremely rude to Syropoulos in Ferrara), while trying to show John at a disadvantage.  John was very much at a disadvantage: quite apart from the humiliation of having to attend the council at all, if he had a chance of aid for Constantinople, he was was in severe pain from gout, bedridden much of the time he was there, and surrounded by several hundred orgulous Greeks.

Syropoulos shows us John's public humilations of Demetrios, and Demetrios flailing to assert himself.  Demetrios was 30 years old by the time of the council, married, a despot.  At least twice, Syropoulos tells of John asking Demetrios for his opinion in doctrinal discussions, calling him ἀδελφούτζικε.   John took Demetrios with him and the patriarch to confer with the pope, then ostentatiously left him to wait in a courtyard for three hours. Demetrios left Ferrara and went  to Venice.  

When the council was forced to move to Florence in early 1439 because of plague, John asked Demetrios to join him. It took the patriarch -- Joseph II -- to persuade him to come, but John waited in Florence for three weeks for Demetrios to arrive.  There was another episode of ἀδελφούτζικε.  Demetrios asked the patriarch to help him get permission from John to return to Venice.  The patriarch did, but then a delegation of cardinals came to see John and he complained about Demetrios.  The cardinals asked him to stay until the end.  The patriarch -- very ill at this point -- conveyed the information to Demetrios who responded, "I will stay but not because of the cardinals: I stay because of the imperial command. Personally I have no information or experience with matters of dogma. I know nothing about the subject."

Then the patriarch died on 10 June.  He was buried in the Domenican church of S. Maria Novella where many of the Greek delegation had been staying. Demetrios participated in the funeral service, then four days later left for Venice with Gemistos and Scholarios who could not bear to be present for the signing of the Act of Union. On the way back to Venice, a group of Latins tried to attack an elderly bishop in their group.  Demetrios protected him.  Syropoulos gives other incidents where Demetrios stood up for anti-unionists.  It was with this trip to the West that Demetrios built up his great store of credit with the anti-unionists, and why he had so much support in his later attempts to gain the throne.

This is enough for now.  Demetrios  is regarded as the black sheep of the Palaiologos family.  Sphrantzes is taken as the last word. Barker calls him "reckless and selfish," and "worthless": that seems to be the preferred view which disregards his apparently competent rule on Lemnos and at Mistra, his recorded acts of kindness, and his friendship with Gemistos. 

History prefers the sacrificial lamb to the black sheep.

T. Ganchou, "Giourgès Izoul de Ioannina, fils du despote Esau Buondelmonti, ou les tribulations balkaniques d’un prince d’Épire d’possédé," Medioevo Greco 8 (2008) 159-199. If you need a copy of this article, I will be glad to send it.  

See also, Ganchou, IlarioDoria, le gambros Génois de Manuel II Palaiologos: beau-frère ougendre?" Revue des Études Byzantines 66 (2008) 71-94.


  1. The use of the diminutive αδελφούτζικε ("little brother") is not necessarily insulting. Compare for example with υιούτζικε ("little son"), used my Olympias for Alexander in at least two versions of Historia Alexandri Magni.

  2. "Not necessarily" does not speck to the specific context. In the contexts in which it is related, Demetrios was clearly insulted (he simply left Ferrara for Venice for several weeks), and Syropoulos took it as insulting. It is certainly an inappropriate way to address a despot in a formal meeting.

  3. An "inappropriate way to address a despot in a formal meeting"? Not necessarily by the standards of that era, me thinks. And it does not follow from the text itself that Syropoulos found αδελφούτζικε to be insulting to Demetrios -- who might had left for Venice for a variety of reasons. (The three-hour wait certainly provides a better argument in favor of insulting behavior.)

  4. Standards of that era? I would find it very useful if you could give me other forms of address for a despot-brother from the late Palaiologan period for comparison?

  5. I cannot -- all I meant is that what sounds insulting in our era may not have sounded insulting back then. [This is why I provided the example of υιούτζικε, which of course is far from conclusive, not the least because it comes from a work of fiction -- still, it is likely to be contemporary, and the author did not find it insulting to Alexander. (Yes I did a TLG search for "ούτζικ", and these are the only relevant examples I located -- mother to son and older brother to younger brother.)]


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