Isaac II Angelos

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Isaac II Angelos
Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans
Isaac II. Mutinensis gr. 122 f. 293v.jpg
Portrait of Isaac II (from a 15th-century codex containing a copy of the Extracts of History by Joannes Zonaras)
Emperor of the Byzantine Empire
Reign12 September 1185 – 8 April 1195
Predecessor Andronikos I Komnenos
Successor Alexios III Angelos
Reign1 August 1203 – 25 January 1204
PredecessorAlexios III Angelos
Successor Alexios V Doukas
Co-Emperor Alexios IV Angelos
BornSeptember 1156
Died25 January 1204 (aged 47)
SpouseEirene Komnena, dau. of Andronikos I Komnenos
(ended 1185)
m. 11851204)
Issue1st marriage:
2nd marriage:
Dynasty Angelos
Father Andronikos Doukas Angelos
Mother Euphrosyne Kastamonitissa
Religion Eastern Orthodox

Isaac II Angelos (Greek : Ἰσαάκιος Β’ Ἄγγελος, Isaakios II Angelos; September 1156 – January 1204) was Byzantine Emperor from 1185 to 1195, and again from 1203 to 1204.


His father Andronikos Doukas Angelos was a military leader in Asia Minor (c. 1122 – aft. 1185) who married Euphrosyne Kastamonitissa (c. 1125 – aft. 1195). Andronikos Doukas Angelos was the son of Constantine Angelos and Theodora Komnene (b. 15 January 1096/1097), the youngest daughter of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos and Irene Doukaina. Thus Isaac was a member of the extended imperial clan of the Komnenoi.

Rising by revolt

Niketas Choniates described Isaac's physical appearance: "He had a ruddy complexion and red hair, was of average height and robust in body". [1]

Killing of Stephen Hagiochristophorites, c. 1473, miniature by Jean Colombe in Les Passages d'outremer [fr], BNF. Francais 5594, fol. 193v haut, Mort d'Etienne Hagiochristophorites.jpeg
Killing of Stephen Hagiochristophorites, c. 1473, miniature by Jean Colombe in Les Passages d'outremer  [ fr ], BNF.

During the brief reign of Andronikos I Komnenos, Isaac was involved (alongside his father and brothers) in the revolt of Nicaea and Prousa. Atypically, the Emperor did not punish him for this disloyalty, and Isaac remained at Constantinople.

On 11 September 1185, while Andronikos was absent from the capital, his lieutenant Stephen Hagiochristophorites moved to arrest Isaac. Isaac killed Hagiochristophorites and took refuge in the church of Hagia Sophia. [2] Andronikos was a capable ruler in some ways but was hated for his cruelty and his efforts to keep the aristocracy obedient. Isaac appealed to the populace, and a tumult arose that spread rapidly over the whole city. When Andronikos returned he found that he had lost popular support, and that Isaac had been proclaimed emperor. Andronikos attempted to flee by boat but was apprehended. Isaac handed him over to the people of the city, and he was killed on 12 September 1185.

First reign

Isaac II Angelos strengthened his position as emperor with dynastic marriages in 1185 and 1186. His niece Eudokia Angelina was married to Stefan, son of Stefan Nemanja of Serbia. Isaac's sister Theodora was married to the Italian marquis Conrad of Montferrat. In January 1186 Isaac himself married Margaret of Hungary (renamed Maria), daughter of King Béla III. [3] Hungary was one of the Empire's largest and most powerful neighbours, and Margaret also had the benefit of high aristocratic descent, being related to the royal families of Kiev, the Holy Roman Empire, Italy, Provence, and earlier Byzantine dynasties.

Isaac inaugurated his reign with a decisive victory over the Norman [4] King of Sicily, William II, at the Battle of Demetritzes on 7 November 1185. William had invaded the Balkans with 80,000 men and 200 ships towards the end of Andronikos I's reign. Elsewhere Isaac's policy was less successful. In late 1185, he sent a fleet of 80 galleys to liberate his brother Alexius III from Acre, but the fleet was destroyed by the Normans of Sicily. He then sent a fleet of 70 ships, but it failed to recover Cyprus from the rebellious noble Isaac Komnenos, thanks to Norman interference. This fleet was misinterpreted by many in the Holy Land as naval support for the Muslim offensive in accordance with Isaac's alliance with Saladin. [5] However the theory of a supposed alliance between Isaac and Saladin against the Third Crusade has been debunked by the historian Jonathan Harris. [6]

Isaac's administration was dominated by two figures: his maternal uncle Theodore Kastamonites, who became virtually a co-emperor and handled all civil government until his death in 1193; and his replacement, Constantine Mesopotamites, who acquired even more influence over the emperor.

The oppressiveness of his taxes, increased to pay his armies and finance his marriage, resulted in a Vlach-Bulgarian uprising [4] late in 1185. The rebellion led to the establishment of the Vlach-Bulgarian Empire under the Asen dynasty. In 1187 Alexios Branas, the victor over the Normans, was sent against the Bulgarians but turned his arms against his master and attempted to seize Constantinople, only to be defeated and slain [4] by Isaac's brother-in-law Conrad of Montferrat. Also in 1187 an agreement was made with Venice, in which the Venetian Republic would provide between 40 and 100 galleys at six months' notice in exchange for favorable trading concessions. Because each Venetian galley was manned by 140 oarsmen, there were about 18,000 Venetians still in the Empire even after Manuel I's arrests. [7]

The Emperor's attention was next demanded in the east, where several claimants to the throne successively rose and fell. In 1189 the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa sought and obtained permission to lead his troops on the Third Crusade through the Byzantine Empire. [4] But Isaac was suspicious that Barbarossa wished to conquer Byzantium: the reasons for this suspicious attitude were the diplomatic contact of Frederick with the Bulgarians and the Serbians, foes of the Byzantine Empire during this period, also Barbarossas previous feud with Manuel. The rumors of 1160s about a German invasion in the Byzantine Empire were still remembered in the Byzantine court during Isaacs reign. [8] In retaliation Barbarossa's army occupied the city of Philippopolis and defeated a Byzantine army of 3,000 men that attempted to recapture the city. [9] The Byzantine troops managed to constantly and successfully harass the Crusaders but a group of Armenians revealed to the Germans the strategic plan of the Byzantines, the Crusaders who owned superior numbers caught them unprepared. [10] Thus compelled by force of arms, Isaac II was forced to fulfill his engagements [4] in 1190. By 1196 Isaac II had allowed the once powerful Byzantine navy to decline to only 30 galleys.

The next five years were disturbed by continued warfare with Bulgaria, against which Isaac led several expeditions in person. [4] In spite of their promising start these ventures had little effect, and on one occasion in 1190 Isaac barely escaped with his life. The Byzantines suffered yet another major defeat in the battle of Arcadiopolis in 1194. Isaac organized yet another offensive against Bulgaria in 1195 in cooperation with the Kingdom of Hungary, but Alexios Angelos, the Emperor's older brother, taking advantage of Isaac's absence from camp on a hunting expedition, proclaimed himself emperor and was readily recognised by the soldiers as Emperor [4] Alexios III. Alexios then canceled the expedition. Isaac was blinded and imprisoned in Constantinople. [4]

Second reign

After eight years of captivity, Isaac II was raised from the dungeon to the throne once more [4] after the arrival of the Fourth Crusade and the flight of Alexios III from the capital. Both his mind and body had been enfeebled by confinement, [4] and his son Alexios IV Angelos was associated on the throne as the effective monarch.

Heavily beholden to the crusaders, Alexios IV was unable to meet his obligations and his vacillation caused him to lose the support of both his crusader allies and his subjects. At the end of January 1204 the influential court official Alexios Doukas Mourtzouphlos took advantage of riots in the capital to imprison Alexios IV and seize the throne as Emperor Alexios V. At this point Isaac II died, allegedly of shock, while Alexios IV was strangled on 8 February.


Several pretenders rose up and attempted to wrest the throne from Isaac during his reign. These included:

Historical reputation

Isaac has the reputation as one of the most unsuccessful rulers to occupy the Byzantine throne. [4] Surrounded by a crowd of slaves, mistresses, and flatterers, he permitted his empire to be administered by unworthy favourites, while he squandered the money wrung from his provinces on costly buildings and expensive gifts to the churches of his metropolis. [4] In 1185, the Empire lost Lefkada, Kefallonia, and Zakynthos to the Normans. In the same year the Vlach - Bulgarian Empire was restored after the rebellion of the brothers Asen and Peter, thus losing Moesia and parts of Thrace and Macedonia. After that Cilicia was retaken by the Armenians, and Cyprus wrested from the empire by the Franks.


Isaac II's first wife's name, Herina (i.e., Irene), is found on the necrology of Speyer Cathedral, where their daughter Irene is interred. [12] [13] Isaac's wife was probably the daughter of Andronikos I Komnenos, Byzantine Emperor (died 1185). A possible foreign origin is also given to her due to having the same name as her daughter. Their third child was born in 1182 or 1183 and she was dead or divorced by 1185, when Isaac remarried. Their children were:

By his second wife, Margaret of Hungary (who took the baptismal name "Maria"), Isaac II had two sons:

See also

Related Research Articles

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Anna Komnene Angelina or Comnena Angelina was an Empress of Nicaea. She was the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Alexios III Angelos and of Euphrosyne Doukaina Kamatera.

Manuel Kamytzes Komnenos Doukas Angelos was a Byzantine general who was active in the late 12th century, and led an unsuccessful rebellion in 1201–02.

Stephen Hagiochristophorites Byzantine official

Stephen Hagiochristophorites was the most powerful member of the court of Byzantine emperor Andronikos I Komnenos, and was killed by Isaac II Angelos, who the next day deposed and replaced Andronikos, while trying to arrest him.

John Doukas, Latinized as Ducas, was the eldest son of Constantine Angelos by Theodora Komnene, the seventh child of the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos and Irene Doukaina, from whose family name John Doukas took his own. He served as a military commander under Manuel I Komnenos and Isaac II Angelos. Isaac II, who was Doukas's nephew, raised him to the high rank of sebastokrator. Despite his advanced age, he continued to be an active general in the 1180s and 1190s, and until shortly before his death aspired to the imperial throne. He was the progenitor of the Komnenos Doukas line, which founded the Despotate of Epirus after the Fourth Crusade.

Pseudo-Alexios II was the most famous among several pretenders to the throne of the Byzantine Empire who appeared in the early reign of Isaac II Angelos. He claimed to be the Emperor Alexios II Komnenos, who had been murdered in 1183.

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John Kantakouzenos was a military commander and an early member of the Kantakouzenos family. The contemporary historian Niketas Choniates describes him as a brave, audacious and experienced soldier but frequently led astray by his foolhardiness and presumption.

Andronikos Doukas Angelos was a Byzantine aristocrat related to the ruling Komnenos dynasty. During the reign of his cousin, Manuel I Komnenos, he served without success as a military commander against the Seljuk Turks, and as envoy to the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Following Manuel's death, in 1182 he was sent to stop the rebellion of Andronikos I Komnenos, but was defeated and eventually defected to him. Shortly after, he led a failed conspiracy of leading aristocrats against Andronikos I. When it was discovered, Andronikos and his sons fled the Empire, ending up in Acre, where he died. He was the father of emperors Isaac II Angelos and Alexios III Angelos.

Constantine Mesopotamites was a senior Byzantine official, and de facto chief minister under the emperors Isaac II Angelos and Alexios III Angelos from 1193 until his fall in summer 1197. He was also archbishop of Thessalonica from c. 1197 until c. 1227, but was in exile between 1204 and 1224, when the city was occupied by Latin Crusaders. Restored to his see, he refused to crown Theodore Komnenos Doukas as emperor, and departed his see again in self-exile. He was also a colleague and correspondent of the historian Niketas Choniates, and may have commissioned some of the latter's works.

Theodore Kastamonites was a Byzantine aristocrat and the all-powerful chief minister for most of the first reign of his nephew, Emperor Isaac II Angelos.

Constantine Komnenos Angelos was a Byzantine aristocrat and military commander, and the older brother of the emperors Isaac II Angelos and Alexios III Angelos. He was blinded by the usurper Andronikos I Komnenos, and raised to sebastokrator by his brother Isaac upon the latter's accession to the throne in 1185.

Euphrosyne Kastamonitissa was a Byzantine noble woman of the Kastamonites family, a wife of Andronikos Doukas Angelos and mother of the two future Byzantine emperors from the Angelos family: Isaac II Angelos and Alexios III Angelos.


  1. Choniates, Nicetas (1984). O city of Byzantium : annals of Niketas Choniatēs. Translated by Magoulias, Harry J. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. p. 248. ISBN   0814317642. OCLC   10605650.
  2. Harris 2007, p. 71.
  3. Burkhardt 2016, p. 50.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Isaac II. (Angelus)"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 14 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 858.
  5. Brand, Charles M. (1962). "The Byzantines and Saladin, 1185-1192: Opponents of the Third Crusade". Speculum. 37 (2): 167–181. doi:10.2307/2849946. JSTOR   2849946.
  6. Harris, Jonathan (2014). Byzantium and the Crusades (Second ed.). London: Bloomsbury. pp. 140–141. ISBN   9781780937366. OCLC   891400633.
  7. J. Norwich, A History of Venice, 121
  8. Harris, Jonathan (2014). Byzantium and the Crusades (Second ed.). London: Bloomsbury. p. 142. ISBN   9781780937366. OCLC   891400633.
  9. W. Treadgold, A History of the Byzantine State and Society, 658
  10. Choniates, Nicetas (1984). O city of Byzantium : annals of Niketas Choniatēs . Translated by Magoulias, Harry J. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. p.  224. ISBN   0814317642. OCLC   10605650.
  11. 1 2 3 Harry J. Magoulias, 'O city of Byzantium: annals of Niketas Choniatēs', Wayne State University Press, 1984, pg 233
  12. Klaniczay, Gabor. Holy Rulers and Blessed Princesses: Dynastic Cults in Medieval Central Europe. Translated by Eva Palmai. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2002, pp. 99-100.
  13. The first wife of Isaac II is usually considered to be a Byzantine noblewoman of unknown name. In an Italian edition of the chronicle of Nicetas Choniates "Greatness and catastrophe of Byzantium" can be found an interesting note to the XIV Book. The names of Isaac II's first wife and eldest daughter, unknown from Byzantine sources, are found in an obituary in the Cathedral of Speyer, the pantheon of German kings. Here, the wife of Philip of Swabia is said to be the daughter of Isaac and Irene (there is reference to the following article: R. Hiestand, Die erste Ehe Isaaks II. Angelos und seine Kinder, in Jahrbuch der Osterreichischen Byzantinisk, XLVII 1997 pp. 199–208). This Irene could be identified with the daughter of George Paleologus Ducas Comnenus; the son of this one, Andronicus Paleologus Comnenoducas is known as gambrox (gamma alpha mu beta rho o x) of Isaac II.
  14. Rodd, Rennell. The Princes of Achaia and the Chronicles of Morea: A Study of Greece in the Middle Ages. 1.


Isaac II Angelos
Angelid dynasty
Born: September 1156 Died: January 1204
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Andronikos I Komnenos
Byzantine Emperor
Succeeded by
Alexios III Angelos
Preceded by
Alexios III Angelos
Byzantine Emperor
with Alexios IV Angelos (1203–1204)
Succeeded by
Alexios V Doukas