John Komnenos Vatatzes

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John Komnenos Vatatzes
Bornunknown, probably c. 1132
Died16 May 1182
Allegiance Byzantine Empire
Rank megas domestikos
Commands heldCommander in Chief of the Byzantine army, Governor ( Doux ) of Thrace, General commanding a number of field armies
Battles/wars Battle of Hyelion and Leimocheir, Battle of Philadelphia (1182)

John Komnenos Vatatzes, (Greek : Ἱωάννης Κομνηνός Βατάτζης, Iōannēs Komnēnos Vatatzēs), or simply John Komnenos or John Vatatzes (the transliteration 'Batatzes' is also employed) in the sources, was a major military and political figure in the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire during the reigns of Manuel I Komnenos and Alexios II Komnenos. He was born c. 1132, and died of natural causes during a rebellion he raised against Andronikos I Komnenos in 1182.

Greek language language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

Byzantine Empire Roman Empire during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages

The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, when its capital city was Constantinople. It survived the fragmentation and fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD and continued to exist for an additional thousand years until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. During most of its existence, the empire was the most powerful economic, cultural, and military force in Europe. Both the terms "Byzantine Empire" and "Eastern Roman Empire" are historiographical terms created after the end of the realm; its citizens continued to refer to their empire simply as the Roman Empire, or Romania (Ῥωμανία), and to themselves as "Romans".

Manuel I Komnenos Byzantine Emperor

Manuel I Komnenos was a Byzantine Emperor of the 12th century who reigned over a crucial turning point in the history of Byzantium and the Mediterranean. His reign saw the last flowering of the Komnenian restoration, during which the Byzantine Empire had seen a resurgence of its military and economic power, and had enjoyed a cultural revival.


Background and family

Emperor John II Komnenos and his wife Eirene, grandparents of John Komnenos Vatatzes, flanking the Virgin and Child Istanbul 2009 Comnenus Mosaics.JPG
Emperor John II Komnenos and his wife Eirene, grandparents of John Komnenos Vatatzes, flanking the Virgin and Child

John Komnenos Vatatzes was the son of the sebastohypertatos Theodore Vatatzes, and the porphyrogenita princess Eudokia Komnene, daughter of the emperor John II Komnenos and his empress Eirene of Hungary. [1] [2] Theodore Vatatzes was one of the 'new men' raised to prominence by John II; the Vatatzes family were not previously counted amongst the highest levels of the Byzantine aristocracy, though they had long been prominent in the region around the city of Adrianople in Thrace. [3] John's parents married in 1131, and he was born soon thereafter, probably ca. 1132. [1] John had a brother, Andronikos, who was also a prominent general – he led an army against the city of Amaseia in 1176 and was killed by the Seljuq Turks; they displayed his severed head during the Battle of Myriokephalon shortly afterwards. He had another brother, named Alexios. [4] John's wife was named Maria Doukaina and they had two sons, Alexios and Manuel. [5] The latter was named for John's uncle, the Emperor Manuel, to whom John was very devoted—to the extent of tolerating a love affair between the emperor and his own sister Theodora. [6]


Sebastohypertatos was a Byzantine honorific title. The title formed the basis for a further compound title, protosebastohypertatos.

Theodore Vatatzes or Batatzes was an aristocrat and military commander in the Byzantine Empire during the reigns of John II Komnenos and Manuel I Komnenos.

John II Komnenos Byzantine Emperor from 1118 to 1143

John II Komnenos or Comnenus was Byzantine emperor from 1118 to 1143. Also known as "John the Beautiful" or "John the Good" (Kaloïōannēs), he was the eldest son of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos and Irene Doukaina and the second emperor to rule during the Komnenian restoration of the Byzantine Empire. John was a pious and dedicated monarch who was determined to undo the damage his empire had suffered following the battle of Manzikert, half a century earlier.

Military career in the reign of Manuel I

John Komnenos Vatatzes enters contemporary sources as a senior general in the 1170s; it is certain that he served in lesser military capacities before being appointed to high command, but no record of his activities has survived. He undoubtedly had a military apprenticeship under his father Theodore, also a prominent general, who undertook the siege of Zemun on the Hungarian frontier in 1151, and captured the city of Tarsus in Cilicia in 1158. [7]

Zemun Municipality in Belgrade, Serbia

Zemun is a municipality of the city of Belgrade. Zemun was a separate town that was absorbed into Belgrade in 1934. The development of New Belgrade in the late 20th century affected the expansion of the continuous urban area of Belgrade.

Tarsus, Mersin Place in Mersin, Turkey

Tarsus is a historic city in south-central Turkey, 20 km inland from the Mediterranean. It is part of the Adana-Mersin metropolitan area, the fourth-largest metropolitan area in Turkey with a population of 3 million people. Tarsus forms an administrative district in the eastern part of the Mersin Province and lies in the core of Çukurova region.

Cilicia ancient region of Anatolia

In antiquity, Cilicia was the south coastal region of Asia Minor and existed as a political entity from Hittite times into the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia during the late Byzantine Empire. Extending inland from the southeastern coast of modern Turkey, Cilicia is due north and northeast of the island of Cyprus and corresponds to the modern region of Çukurova in Turkey.

In 1176 Emperor Manuel Komnenos attempted to destroy the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm, but was defeated at Myriokephalon. Following a truce which allowed the Byzantine army to retreat from Turkish territory, Manuel failed to implement all the conditions, particularly the destruction of border fortresses, demanded by the Seljuq sultan Kilij Arslan II as a prerequisite for a cessation of hostilities. [8] [9] The fortress of Soublaion was razed, but the more important fortification of Dorylaion was not. The sultan reacted by dispatching a substantial Seljuq cavalry army, numbering about 24,000 men, to ravage Byzantine territory in the Meander Valley in western Anatolia. John Komnenos Vatatzes was entrusted with command of a Byzantine army and set out from Constantinople with instructions to intercept the Seljuq raiders. Vatatzes was given Constantine Doukas and Michael Aspietes as lieutenants, and was able to reinforce his army through local recruitment as it moved through Byzantine territory. [10] [11] [12]

Kilij Arslan II Sultan of Rum

Kilij Arslan II or ʿIzz ad-Dīn Qilij Arslān bin Masʿūd was a Seljuk Sultan of Rûm from 1156 until his death in 1192.

Büyük Menderes River river in Turkey

The Büyük Menderes River, is a river in southwestern Turkey. It rises in west central Turkey near Dinar before flowing west through the Büyük Menderes graben until reaching the Aegean Sea in the proximity of the ancient Ionian city Miletus. The word "meander" is used to describe a winding pattern, after the river.

Anatolia Asian part of Turkey

Anatolia, also known as Asia Minor, Asian Turkey, the Anatolian peninsula or the Anatolian plateau, is the westernmost protrusion of Asia, which makes up the majority of modern-day Turkey. The region is bounded by the Black Sea to the north, the Mediterranean Sea to the south, the Armenian Highlands to the east and the Aegean Sea to the west. The Sea of Marmara forms a connection between the Black and Aegean seas through the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits and separates Anatolia from Thrace on the European mainland.

Vatatzes intercepted the Seljuq army as it was returning to Turkish territory loaded with plunder from sacked Byzantine cities. He deployed his army to create a classic ambush, which was sprung when the Turks were in the process of crossing the Meander River, near the settlements of Hyelion and Leimocheir. The Seljuq army was almost helpless to defend itself and was destroyed; the Byzantine historian Niketas Choniates stated that only a few out of many thousands escaped. The Seljuq commander, who held the title 'Atabeg', was killed as he attempted to fight his way out of the trap. [13] [14] The battle was a significant victory for the Byzantines and it underlined how limited the immediate effects of the Byzantine defeat at Myriokephalon were on the empire's hold over its Anatolian possessions. The Byzantine victory was followed up by punitive expeditions against the Turcoman nomads settled around the upper Meander Valley. [15]

The Battle of Hyelion and Leimocheir saw the almost complete destruction by the Byzantines of a large Seljuq Turk army. The Seljuq army had been raiding Byzantine territory in the Maeander Valley in Anatolia, and had sacked a number of cities. The Byzantine force ambushed the Turks at a river crossing.

Niketas Choniates Greek historian

Niketas or Nicetas Choniates, whose actual surname was Akominatos (Ἀκομινάτος), was a Greek Byzantine government official and historian – like his brother Michael Akominatos, whom he accompanied to Constantinople from their birthplace Chonae. Nicetas wrote a history of the Eastern Roman Empire from 1118 to 1207.

Atabeg, Atabek, or Atabey is a hereditary title of nobility of a Turkic origin, indicating a governor of a nation or province who was subordinate to a monarch and charged with raising the crown prince. The first instance of the title's use was with early Seljuk Turks who bestowed it on the Persian vizier Nizam al-Mulk It was later used in the Kingdom of Georgia, first within the Armeno-Georgian family of Mkhargrdzeli as a military title and then within the house of Jaqeli as princes of Samtskhe.

Alexios II and rebellion

When Vatatzes is again mentioned in the sources, in 1182, he is holding very high office: he was both megas domestikos , the commander in chief of the Byzantine army, and governor of the important Theme (province) of Thrace. [16] [17] The city of Adrianople was both the seat of the government of Thrace and the centre of the landholdings of the Vatatzes family, and John is recorded as building and endowing fine almshouses and hospitals there. [18]

Theme (Byzantine district) Byzantine district

The themes or themata were the main military/administrative divisions of the middle Byzantine Empire. They were established in the mid-7th century in the aftermath of the Slavic invasion of the Balkans and Muslim conquests of parts of Byzantine territory, and replaced the earlier provincial system established by Diocletian and Constantine the Great. In their origin, the first themes were created from the areas of encampment of the field armies of the East Roman army, and their names corresponded to the military units that had existed in those areas. The theme system reached its apogee in the 9th and 10th centuries, as older themes were split up and the conquest of territory resulted in the creation of new ones. The original theme system underwent significant changes in the 11th and 12th centuries, but the term remained in use as a provincial and financial circumscription until the very end of the Empire.

Following the death of Emperor Manuel I in 1180 the succession fell to his son Alexios II Komnenos. As Alexios was a child, power devolved on his mother, the empress Maria of Antioch. Her rule proved unpopular, especially with the aristocracy who resented her Latin (Western) origins. When Manuel's cousin Andronikos Komnenos (Andronikos I) made a bid for power in early 1182 he wrote to John Vatatzes in an attempt to suborn him. Vatatzes recognised Andronikos as a potential tyrant and wrote back in insulting terms. [16] Vatazes' cousin Andronikos Kontostephanos the commander of the navy, however, was deceived and played a key role in allowing Andronikos' forces to enter Constantinople. Once in power, Andronikos Komnenos proved that he had indeed a tyrannical nature and a vehement desire to break the power and influence of the Byzantine aristocratic families.

At the time, Vatatzes is recorded as residing near Philadelphia in western Anatolia; presumably he had been dismissed from his offices. As a member of the imperial family and a respected and successful general he had no difficulties in raising a substantial army when he openly rebelled against the new regime. Vatatzes upbraided Andronikos as a "demonic adversary" who was "intent on exterminating the imperial family." The second accusation, at least, was an accurate assessment. [19] [20]

Andronikos I sent the general Andronikos Lampardas (or Lapardas) against Vatatzes with a large force. Vatatzes, who had become seriously ill, met Lampardas' army near Philadelphia. He first instructed his sons Manuel and Alexios in how to array the army, then had himself carried to a hill where he could observe the battle from a litter. Vatatzes' forces were victorious and Lampardas' broken troops were pursued for some distance. However, a few days later, on 16 May 1182, Vatatzes died. Without his leadership the rebellion quickly broke apart, and Vatatzes' sons fled to the protection of the Seljuq sultan. When attempting to get to Sicily by sea they were wrecked on the coast of Crete and taken prisoner. They were then blinded on the orders of Andronikos I. Andronikos considered the death of Vatatzes as divine providence, and it emboldened him to declare himself co-emperor alongside Alexios. [21]


John Komnenos Vatatzes is one of the few figures whose character is described with unalloyed admiration in the works of the Byzantine historian Niketas Choniates. [22]


  1. 1 2 Varzos, p. 382
  2. Magdalino, p. 207
  3. Magdalino, p. 208
  4. Choniates, pp. 440–441.
  5. Varzos, pp. 382–383
  6. Varzos, p. 383
  7. John Kinnamos, pp. 91 and 138
  8. Magdalino, p. 99
  9. Choniates, p. 108
  10. Choniates, pp. 108–109
  11. Birkenmeier, p. 196
  12. Varzos, pp. 383–384
  13. Choniates, p. 110
  14. Varzos, p. 384
  15. Angold, p. 193
  16. 1 2 Choniates, p. 138
  17. The previously separate Themes of Macedonia and Thrace were usually governed together in this period, with Adrianople (Theme of Macedonia) being the administrative centre.
  18. Magdalino, p. 153
  19. Choniates, p. 146
  20. Angold, p. 267
  21. Choniates, pp. 146–147
  22. Magdalino, p. 13.

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