03 July 2013

O Palaiologos

  Παλαιολόγος + ··
Partial signature of John VIII Palaiologos, 1439

In mid-June I had a letter from Daniel Moss, a London dealer in historical letters and manuscripts, asking for my help in confirming this partial signature of John Palaiologos. I say "partial" because the full signature is below:

 This is from the Laurentian copy of the Act of Union.   Παλαιολόγος with the cross and two dots comes in the second line.  
+ Ἰωάννης ἐν Χριστῷ τῷ θεῷ πιστὸς βασιλεὺς καὶ αὐτωκράτωρ ῥωμαίων 
ὁ Παλαιολόγος+··
+ John Palaiologos, faithful ruler in Christ our God, emperor of the Romans +·· 

Here in the Venetian copy held in the Vatican, the signature line is broken in the middle of auto - krator.

I sent Moss the signature pictures I had, reading references, and a link to my blog on the Florence signing. We discussed the signature a little more, and the conversation seemed to have come to a natural end. Then four days later I received an e-mail from him in which he asked me if I would like to have it. Two weeks after Daniel Moss had first written me, I was holding John's signature in my hands.   

It is a large signature, 9 cm long, written with a quill pen. The ink is still red, red edging toward brown, but very red where it collected in the loops and down-strokes. 

At the bottom left of the paper is part of a watermark, an eagle with sun? a sphere on a rod?

At some point, the paper with the signature (16.8cm x 7.7cm) was glued at six places to a slightly larger, darker, stiffer paper.  Someone made a note on it that says:  The signature of the emperor Palaiologos to the Condordat / between Eugenius IV & the Emperor, made St. Maria / Novella in Florence 1439. In the Laurentian Library.

The signing was not done at S. Maria Novella: that is the Dominican convent where most of the Greek delegation was staying. Fra Angelico was working there at the time, and his assistant was the young Benozzo Gozzoli who later painted the Greeks into his frescos for the Medici chapel.  

The Act of Union should have been signed on July 2, but an error was found in the text and the whole thing -- in Latin and Greek -- had to be recopied, the Latin text on the left side, the Greek on the right.  The Greeks signed in the early afternoon of 5 July, a Sunday.  They signed at the Palazzo Peruzzi where John was staying, a palazzo where the Florentine government put important visitors, on the main route from the piazza to S. Croce, and quite a long way from the rest of the Greeks.  They signed in order of precedence, witnessed by three Latin bishops.  Then John sent the document with ten clerics and four court officials over to Pope Eugenius.  John said that Bessarion would make a speech when they got there.  Bessarion did, a long one, and after the speech everyone went into another room where the Pope signed Eugenius catholice ecclesie episcopus ita diffiniens subscripsi, followed by the Latins in order of precedence.  The next day, Monday July 6, was the formal day of Union.  A high mass was said at the Duomo.  Somehow, arrangements could not quite be worked out for an Orthodox liturgy. 

Later in the month, four or five more official copies were signed -- this was at the Pope's request.  John said, "Why five?  Two are enough -- we take one and you take the other" -- and then still more copies, with varying numbers of signatures, depending on who showed up, or who had left town. The cost of the gold for the Emperor's seals would have made seals for twenty-nine of them, looking at the footnote in Gill: seals for four, looking at the footnote in Syropoulos.

* * * * * *

On the back of the paper for my signature is written, very small (2.8 cm):  .

* * * * * *

Thank you, Daniel Moss

Thanks to Walter Andrews for his help.


  1. A beautiful job, as usual, Diana: thanks!

  2. The emperor signed in a VERY shaking hand, almost trembling. Was he ill or infirm?

    Mimis Amimitos

  3. Yes, he was, and the answer to my question is in your old post (2009), which I read afterwards. Sorry.

    Mimis Amimitos

  4. John had gout & there is evidence of it in two of the portraits from Italy. He was ill much of the time he was in Italy, & never really well between then and his death in 1448. He must have been in excruciating pain for these signatures. There are indications that gout ran in the Palaiologos family and was not just a matter of diet. His uncle, Theodoros I of Mistra, was ill for several years and lost the use of his limbs completely.

  5. Absolutely amazing to see these signatures of Johns. You have written about such interesting details too. You are a fabulous writer on the Palaiologos. Could we see similar fabulous articles from you on more intimate details of the Brankovic Dynasty, who were also blood relations of the Palaiologos. I cant wait for more articles from you. Like the one above, they are extremely interesting. Thank you. I am a great fan of your articles.

  6. You are very kind. I know nothing about the Brankovic dynasty, and nothing about the languages I would need to know. At this point I feel as if I am related to the Palaiologos family, and I find myself worrying about them with some frequency.

  7. The Palaiologos dynasty are blood descendants the of the Serbian Brankovic dynasty and the Nemanjic dynasty. John Palaiologos is a descendant of these dynasties. So little is known about these dynasties, yet they were at every interesting point of history and their bloodline runs through all the European bloodlines. They owned the building of Jesus Last Supper and King David's grave. They had many important religious relics. They were involved in the Crusades, Knights Templars, including many royal orders and societies. They even knew Leonardo da Vinci. If someone dug into their history, they would find a lot of secrets. Maybe someone like you, with a genuine interest in byzantine history. Also, I love your feelings for the Palaiologos. I too am starting to feel as though I know them!


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