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¬nally forced to abdicate.
The manner of Andronikos III™s accession to the throne was therefore far
from auspicious, and the process of civil war had introduced unfortunate
precedents. This was especially so in the increasing involvement of foreign
powers in domestic squabbles: in the ¬nal stage of the con¬‚ict from ±·“
, Andronikos II had been backed by the Serbs and his grandson by the
Bulgarians. However, the young emperor proved to be a vigorous and
effective ruler. With the aid of his able friend John Kantakouzenos, he
wrested back control of Epiros and forged working relationships with his
powerful northern neighbours in the Balkans as well as with the Ottoman
and Aydin Turks in Anatolia, who proved useful allies in his successful
expansionary campaigns in western Greece. Nevertheless, predatory raiding
remained a signi¬cant problem, and the threat from the Ottomans only
grew “ they took Nikaia in ±± and made it their capital. Andronikos iii
died in ±± while still in his forties, and the state was swiftly plunged into
chaos once more. He had “ probably “ appointed his great friend John
Kantakouzenos as guardian and regent for his nine-year-old son John V
Palaiologos (Kantakouzenos, Histories iii.±, ±), but his widow the Anne
of Savoy preferred Patriarch John Kalekas for the role. The fates of John
IV Laskaris in the ±µ°s and Alexios II Komnenos in the ±±°s, both
juvenile imperial heirs and both slain by usurpers, stood as a warning
against such regencies; John V was, however, at least going to survive the
experience.
When Kantakouzenos left Constantinople to campaign against the Serbs
in the autumn of ±±, Anne, Kalekas and Alexios Apokaukos took over
the regency, deposing Kantakouzenos. Civil war broke out with Kantak-
ouzenos determined to protect his position, and it continued for six years,
with Serbs, Bulgarians and Turks again drawn into the ¬ght and able to
take advantage of the turmoil in the Byzantine state to seize considerable

 Laiou ±·: , “; Nicol ±: ±·“; Nicol ±·a: ±µ“·±.
 Andronikos III is unfairly overshadowed by Kantakouzenos in the historical record; there are reason-
ably full accounts in Nicol ±·a: ±·“° and ±: “.
 Inalc±k ±·: µ“·; also Fine ±: ±“, µ; Nicol ±·a: ±µ°“.
±° Being Byzantine: Greek identity before the Ottomans
amounts of territory. Stefan Duˇan of Serbia declared for Kantakouzenos,
s
and by ±µ he had managed, as a result, to acquire vast swathes of Macedo-
nia and Albania, from Kavalla on the Aegean over to the Adriatic coast. Kan-
takouzenos also concluded an alliance, bound by marriage, with Orchan
of the Ottomans.
Kantakouzenos proclaimed himself emperor John VI Kantakouzenos at
Adrianople in ±, and took Constantinople in the following year. He then
ruled in a coalition with the young John V Palaiologos, though very much
as senior emperor, for some seven years; his reign was marked by con¬‚icts
with Genoa and continued Turkish raiding and also saw the onslaught
of the Black Death. In ±µ, in a fresh outbreak of civil war that saw the
Ottoman allies of Kantakouzenos occupy their ¬rst foothold in Europe on
the Gallipoli peninsula, John VI Kantakouzenos was forced into abdication.
John V Palaiologos then became sole ruler; however, Kantakouzenos as the
honoured ˜emperor and monk™ remained an in¬‚uential ¬gure in the state
until his death in ±.µ
The second half of the fourteenth century was increasingly dominated
by the Turkish threat. In ±± at the start of the reign of John V Palaiologos,
the Ottomans were comparative newcomers in Europe. As early as the
±°s they had been raiding Thrace from north-western Anatolia, but
they did not settle in the region until the ±µ°s, when they were given
their opening by the turmoil of the Byzantine civil wars. Despite any
number of formal alliances with the Byzantine Romans, they continued
their raiding and settlement to the extent that by the death of John V
Palaiologos in ±± every ruler in the Balkans, including the emperor of the
Romans, was a vassal of the Ottomans. The Romans did succeed in making
territorial gains in the Balkans during John™s lengthy reign, thanks to the
political and social instability in the region arising from the pressure of the
Ottomans™ advance. Also on the positive side, the despotate of Mistra in
the Peloponnese had continued to prosper at the expense of the Latins and
enjoyed a fruitful relationship with Nerio Acciajuoli, the new Florentine
ruler of Athens from ±; Florentine Athens and Byzantine Roman Mistra
cooperated against the Navarrese rulers of the principality of Achaia and also
against Venetian interests in the Peloponnese. However, Ottoman raids
were a continual problem and Despot Theodore Palaiologos of Mistra had
probably acknowledged Ottoman suzerainty by ±·, when the Ottomans
helped him to put down a revolt. He was joined as an Ottoman vassal


µ 
Nicol ±. Runciman ±°: µ“±.
±±
The nightmare of the fourteenth century
by the emperor™s other sons, Manuel Palaiologos, who had held lands in
Thrace, and John Palaiologos, who held an appanage on the Black Sea
coast. The emperor John V Palaiologos had himself become an Ottoman
vassal as early as ±·.·
nikephoros gregoras and john kantakouzenos
The early and middle years of the fourteenth century were chronicled by
two very different historians: Nikephoros Gregoras and the emperor John
VI Kantakouzenos. Exact contemporaries and for many years close friends,
they moved in the same exalted circles of the Byzantine Roman elite, and
their accounts of the chaotic fourteenth century can thus be set directly
alongside each other for contrast and comparison. They also come out of
exactly the same cultural stable as Choniates, Akropolites and Pachymeres
before them.
Nikephoros Gregoras was born in Herakleia Pontika in Paphlagonia on
the Black Sea coast in around ±µ. Much of the early biographical detail
of his life is found in his Life of John of Herakleia; this John was the arch-
bishop of Herakleia and Nikephoros™ uncle, and he took over his nephew™s
education after the death of Nikephoros™ parents when he was still a young
boy. His uncle took him through an advanced education, and Nikephoros
did not come to the capital until the end of his teens when, with the
bene¬t of a recommendation from the archbishop, he was swiftly able to
obtain the distinguished patronage of both John Glykys, patriarch of Con-
stantinople (±±µ“±) and Theodore Metochites, the emperor Andronikos
II™s chief minister (Roman History vii.·±). Through the ±°s, Gregoras ran
his own private school and was tutor to two of Metochites™ own children;
Gregoras says Metochites treated him as if he were his own son (Roman
History viii.°). He was soon introduced to the emperor (Roman History
viii.·) and gained recognition as a scholar. He also established himself
as a statesman, undertaking several diplomatic missions including, in ±,
an embassy to the Serbian ruler Stefan Uroˇ III Deˇanski (Roman History
s c

viii.·µ“).
In contrast, John Kantakouzenos came from a far more distinguished
family background and was always closer to the seat of power. He too was
born around ±µ, possibly in Mistra in the Peloponnese where his father

· Barker J. W. ±: “µ; Fine ±: , ·.
 The Life is found in Codex Par. Gr. °° r“±·r; the details are given in Guilland ±, which also
gives the fullest biographical account. See also Fryde °°°: µ·“·; ODB ii: ·µ“. Roman History:
Schopen ±“°, ±µµ. References to the Roman History are given here by book number of the
original, followed by page number of the Schopen edition.
± Being Byzantine: Greek identity before the Ottomans
was governor and, through his mother Theodora, he was connnected to
the imperial families of the Palaiologoi and the Angeloi. His father died
before or very soon after his birth, so John was brought up by his mother
in Constantinople. Here he moved in the highest circles of the court of
Andronikos II Palaiologos and became an intimate of the emperor™s grand-
son, the future Andronikos III Palaiologos, who was in fact his cousin.
He was a leading supporter of Andronikos III in the civil wars of the
±°s, and was rewarded with the position of Grand Domestic, or mili-
tary commander-in-chief, for some ¬fteen years from ±µ. At the same
time, although Gregoras™ career had prospered under Andronikos II, the
fall of the elder emperor in ± proved no obstacle either, since he and
Kantakouzenos had become close friends.
Now clearly Andronikos III™s right-hand man and generally accepted
as the power behind the throne, Kantakouzenos™ greatest triumphs came
in his successful campaigns against Epiros in ±°“±, which brought the
westernmost provinces of the pre-±° empire once again under Constanti-
nopolitan rule after nearly ±° years (Kantakouzenos, Histories i.µ°“±·).
He is also remembered as a friend of the Turkish Emir Umur of Aydin; he
seems to have been the negotiator in a new and successful treaty concluded
with Aydin in ± (Histories i.“µ), and Umur was to prove a loyal
friend. Meanwhile, Gregoras forged a career as a leading teacher, intellec-
tual and writer in the capital. As the prot´g´ and eventual literary executor
ee
of Theodore Metochites, he had gained unrivalled access to the great library
created by Metochites at the Monastery of the Chora, and his interests were
exceptionally wide covering mathematics and astronomy as well as history,
philosophy and theology±° . As an indication of his expertise, in ± he
presented the emperor with a proposal to correct the Julian calendar which
almost exactly foreshadowed the Gregorian reforms implemented in the
west from the seventeenth century. Andronikos II accepted the proposal
but decided against implementation of the reform, citing the conservatism
of the church (Roman History viii.·).
When Kantakouzenos became emperor in ±·, Gregoras could reason-
ably have expected to continue to thrive. Indeed, in ±µ° Kantakouzenos
offered him the position of patriarch of Constantinople, which would
have represented the zenith of any career in the church (Roman History
xviii.·°“±). However, Gregoras refused the appointment, as he and Kan-
takouzenos had by this stage come to disagree profoundly on the validity of

 The details of Kantakouzenos™ family and early life are given in Nicol ±: ±·, n. ±.
±° Fryde °°°: µ“.
±
The nightmare of the fourteenth century
hesychasm, the controversial method for the religious life that asserted the
possibility of accessing divine grace through meditative prayer.±± Contro-
versy over the legitimacy of hesychasm had divided Orthodox churchmen
throughout the ±°s, and Kantakouzenos had come to be identi¬ed with
the pro-hesychast position of the Athonite monk Gregory Palamas, while
Gregoras was a leading anti-hesychast. Upholding this position with fanat-
ical courage despite the enshrining of hesychasm as orthodox doctrine,
Gregoras was forced to retire from public life. His very survival was due
only to the emperor™s continuing affection, and Gregoras™ vigorous defence
of his religious beliefs must bear witness to the centrality of the Orthodox
religion in his outlook and mentality. He was imprisoned from ±µ± to ±µ
(Roman History xxv.“±°) and remained in disgrace, and widely hated, on
his release. He died around ±°.±
In his lifetime, Gregoras was rightly respected as an erudite polymath and
often called upon as an of¬cial rhetorician, even though he is remembered
today mostly for his Roman History. Gregoras has been characterised as
learned but not particularly original, and this is exempli¬ed in his historical
writing.± The Roman History covers the period from the Fourth Crusade
to ±µ and, for the ¬rst century or so of this period, Gregoras clearly
consulted the earlier works of Akropolites and Pachymeres (Roman History
i.±“±). His account becomes richer and far more detailed for the years
following ±±µ and his own arrival in Constantinople, and his account of
the ±°s is particularly thorough.
The bulk of the Roman History was composed towards the end of Gre-
goras™ life. At the earliest, he began writing before ±· (Roman History
i.±), and Books i to xi “ covering the years up to the reign of Andronikos
III “ were clearly completed by ±±. Books xii to xvii (which take the
story to ±µ°) were certainly written before his imprisonment in ±µ±. In his
account of the years from around ±µ°, that is from the middle of his Book
xviii, Gregoras departs from any objective historical account and turns to
religious polemic in an attempt to justify and explain his stance against the
pro-hesychasm of Kantakouzenos: Books xviii to xxix were actually writ-
ten while imprisoned and in disgrace, and xxx to xxxvii after his release.±
Writing of this nature, composed in the last years of Gregoras™ life and very
close to the events described, comprises over half of the whole work of

±± Meyendorff ±µ, ±·, ±·µ and ±; also Runciman ±: ±“µ; for Gregoras, Guilland ±:
“°.
± Guilland ±: µ“µ. ± Fryde °°°: µ·; Guilland ±: µ·.
± Guilland ±: “; Ostrogorsky ±: “·; Nicol ±: , ±±±, n. ±.
± Being Byzantine: Greek identity before the Ottomans
thirty-seven books, and this part of the Roman History is not considered in
this study, beyond the latter half of Book xviii, which covers the transition
from a historically focused narrative to religious exposition.
Leaving the latter half of the work on one side, then, in his historical
writing Gregoras is less analytical than Pachymeres, and his treatment
of identity appears altogether less subtle and considered than that of his
immediate predecessor. He offers little in the way of explanation for the
decline in Byzantine Roman affairs, of which decline he was nevertheless
very much aware; in the details he provides of administration, of taxation,
of corruption, he adds considerably to our understanding of that decline.
He did not approve of Andronikos III, and his account of the younger
emperor is a useful corrective to Kantakouzenos™ positive portrayal of
his friend and patron. Indeed, for his treatment of the middle years of
the fourteenth century, Gregoras™ account may as a whole be set directly
against the autobiographical narrative of John Kantakouzenos.±µ
Kantakouzenos™ Histories probably postdate Gregoras™ Roman History by
a few years. Having fought his way to the throne, Kantakouzenos reigned
for some seven years but, as time went on, his ambitious son Matthew came
to resent the fact that the throne would go to the younger emperor John V
Palaiologos; at the same time, as John V grew up, he was keen to take up
his imperial inheritance. Kantakouzenos™ reign ended as it had begun in
civil war before he retired in favour of John V in ±µ to become a monk.±
Though of¬cially retired, he still played an intermittently active part in
government: thus, he worked to ease relations between John V and his
own son Matthew Kantakouzenos and between John V and his rebellious
son Andronikos IV. He led debates with western churchmen in ±· and
was often addressed by foreign statesmen eager to enlist his support and
in¬‚uence. At some point he retired from Constantinople to Mistra in the
Peloponnese, where his sons Manuel and Matthew were based, and he died
there in June ±.±· It was at Mistra that Kantakouzenos wrote his Histories,
along with various theological writings, during his long retirement as a
monk. His theological work largely focused on the defence of hesychasm,
championing the Palamite position against its many detractors, but it is his
Histories, probably composed in the decade before ±, that remain best
known.±


±µ Guilland ±: “µ·. ± Nicol ±: ±±µ“.
±· Nicol ±; for a summary, ODB, ii: ±°µ°“±.
± Fryde °°°: ; Nicol ±: ±°°; Historiarum libri: Schopen and Niebuhr ±“. References
to the Histories are given here by book number of the original, followed by page number of the
Schopen and Niebuhr edition.
±µ
The nightmare of the fourteenth century
Kantakouzenos™ Histories cover the period from ±° to ±µ and are
divided into four books. Book i focuses on the ¬rst civil war of Kantak-
ouzenos™ lifetime, that between Andronikos II Palaiologos and his grandson
Andronikos iii. Book ii covers the reign of Andronikos III, while Book iii
deals with the civil war which brought Kantakouzenos himself to the throne
in ±·, and Book iv covers his own reign and abdication.
Kantakouzenos™ opening claim to write objectively (Histories i.±°) is a
conscious nod towards the style of his ancient model Thucydides.± How-
ever, his historical account is closer in approach to Akropolites than to
Choniates, Pachymeres or Gregoras in that it is, in some sense at least, an
attempt at the vindication of an emperor. Choniates and the others had in
contrast used their history-writing as a forum for franker criticism of impe-
rial policy and character than was generally possible. An autobiographical
account of this length was something of an innovation, but in some ways
was a continuation of a trend in historical writing. While not autobiogra-
phies, the historical accounts of both Akropolites and Choniates contain a
considerable amount of personal detail; likewise, Gregoras™ account can be
highly personal. With the exception of Pachymeres, we can see here a trend
in historical writing towards the more personal and autobiographical; this
development was part of a wider cultural shift, which can trace its origins

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