Civil War

[1341-7]

There is nothing more conducive to the destruction of a nation, whether it be republic or monarchy, than the lack of men of wisdom or intellect. When a republic has many citizens, or a monarchy many ministers, of high quality it quickly recovers from those losses that are brought about by misfortune. When such men are lacking, it falls into the very depths of disgrace. That is why I deplore the present state of the Empire which, having produced so many excellent men in the past, has now been reduced to such a level of sterility that today's governors possess nothing to elevate them above those whom they govern.

John Cantacuzenus, to ambassadors from the Empress Anne

Even before the body of Andronicus III Palaeologus had been laid in its grave, it was plain that he had made one disastrous mistake: he had given no clear instructions regarding his successor. There could be no doubt that John, the elder of his two sons, who had celebrated his ninth birthday three days after his father's death, was the heir-presumptive; but the Byzantine monarchy was not in theory hereditary — even though it usually proved to be so in practice - and his father had, surprisingly enough, taken no steps to proclaim or crown him co-Emperor. The Grand Domestic John Cantacuzenus cherished no imperial ambitions; he had been invited more than once by Andronicus to share the throne, but had always refused. His loyalty to the little prince and to his mother, the Empress Anne of Savoy, was unquestioned. On the other hand he had effectively directed the affairs of the Empire for thirteen years, and in the circumstances it never struck him that he would not continue to do so. Almost without thinking he moved into the imperial palace, devoting his energies to the maintenance of law and order and the ensuring of a smooth transfer of power.

The task, however, proved harder than he had expected. His closeness

to the late Emperor had aroused bitter jealousies. During Andronicus's life these had remained largely hidden; now they emerged for the world to see. Perhaps the most resentful of all was the Empress Anne herself, conscious as she was that her husband had always preferred the company of his Grand Domestic to her own. Then there was the Patriarch, John Calecas. Having begun his career most unpromisingly as a married priest,1 he owed his promotion entirely to Cantacuzenus who, having first arranged his pro forma election as Metropolitan of Thessalonica, had then prepared his way to the Patriarchal throne. But in John Calecas ambition outweighed gratitude. Had not Andronicus, he demanded, twice already appointed him Regent, before leaving Constantinople on campaign? And did not this clearly indicate that he should be Regent on this occasion also?

The Grand Domestic could easily have pointed out that since he had himself always accompanied the Emperor on his campaigns he would not in the past have been eligible for the regency, and that the present situation was thus in no sense a parallel; he was far more concerned, however, by the behaviour of another of his former proteges, Alexius Apocaucus. An upstart adventurer of obscure origin, making no pretence to noble birth or gentle breeding, Apocaucus had been - with Cantacuzenus himself, Theodore Synadenus and Syrgiannes Palaeologus - one of the leading supporters of Andronicus III in his struggle with his grandfather. Since then he had attached himself to the Grand Domestic, who had helped and befriended him and thanks to whom he had acquired considerable power and immense wealth. Indeed it was Cantacuzenus who, only a short while before, had obtained for him his present position - the equivalent to High Admiral — which carried with it the command of a newly-built fleet guarding the Hellespont against Turkish marauders. On the death of Andronicus his first thought had been to profit by this association, and he had persistently urged his patron to accept the crown - which, as he rightly pointed out, was his for the asking. He, Apocaucus, might then have enjoyed the same position in relation to the new Emperor as the latter had to the old.

John Cantacuzenus, however, was adamant. His duty was to the reigning house of Palaeologus which, after eighty years and three Emperors - four if the unfortunate Michael IX is included - he believed to have established its legitimacy. In his eyes, to accept the throne would

1 In the Orthodox Church married priests are normally ineligible for promotion, candidates for bishoprics and all other high offices being chosen from among celibate monks.

be nothing less than an act of usurpation, and he refused to consider it. And so Apocaucus turned against his old friend and began working for his downfall, while Empress, Patriarch and Grand Domestic together evolved a somewhat uneasy modus vivendi for the conduct of state affairs.

How long this would have lasted is open to question; after only a month, however, the third member of the triumvirate was called once again to the defence of the Empire. The death of a basileus was nearly always seen by neighbouring states as an invitation to make trouble, while an interregnum was more promising still; and before long Byzantium's three main enemies were all back on the offensive - the Serbs advancing on Thessalonica, the Bulgars massing on the northern frontier and the Turks plundering the coast of Thrace. To meet this triple threat John Cantacuzenus was obliged to recruit troops at his own expense, and in mid-July he left Constantinople. He met with quite astonishing success: by the time he returned to the capital in September, order had been restored and treaties signed with Stephen Dushan, John Alexander and the Emir Orhan. As bonus, a delegation had arrived from the Morea offering the surrender to the Empire of the Principality of Achaia, where the local barons had been deeply incensed by the decision of Catharine of Valois to turn over the government to the Florentine banking house of Acciajuoli.

To John Cantacuzenus, this last development was the most welcome of all. With Achaia back in imperial hands, the Catalans in southern Greece would almost certainly be obliged to come to terms and the Empire's position in the Balkan peninsula would be immeasurably strengthened. And yet, as things turned out, it would have been better for him had the offer never been made; for the ensuing negotiations obliged him on 23 September to return with his army to Thrace, and during this second enforced absence from the capital his enemies struck. Led by Alexius Apocaucus, a group of the highest personages in the Empire - they included the Empress Anne (who had by now been persuaded that John had been plotting against her and her son), the Patriarch, and even Cantacuzenus's own father-in-law, the Bulgar Andronicus Asen - declared the Grand Domestic to be a public enemy. A mob was quickly collected - never a serious difficulty in Constantinople - which marched on his palace, pillaged it and burnt it to the ground. His country estates were destroyed or confiscated. The Patriarch was at last able to proclaim himself Regent, while Apocaucus, promoted to the rank of megas dux, was appointed Prefect of the City. Meanwhile John's mother and other members of his family were placed under house arrest; all those of his known associates who had not already escaped were hunted down; and an order, signed personally by the Empress, was sent to him at his camp at Didymotichum, some twenty-five miles to the south of Adrianople, relieving him of his command and disbanding the army.

But the conspirators had gone too far. What they had perpetrated was an outrage - and a cowardly one at that, taking advantage as they had of their victim's absence on the Empire's behalf, for what were quite obviously their own selfish ends; and when the imperial messengers reached Didymotichum the army supported John Cantacuzenus to a man. Then and there, on 26 October 1341, they proclaimed him basileus. He himself maintained his old reluctance, insisting that the young John V - though still uncrowned - remained the rightful Emperor; and there is no reason to to doubt his sincerity. After all, had he had any desire for the throne, he could easily have assumed it on the death of Andronicus; and among the several pages of his chronicle intended - needlessly - to justify his acceptance of it there is a curious and disarming passage in which, describing the ceremony of his investiture (when he ordered the names of the Empress Anne and John V to be proclaimed before those of himself and his wife Irene) he tells of how the hastily-prepared ceremonial robes failed to fit him, the inner one being impossibly tight, the outer several sizes too big.

But whatever his feelings in the matter, John Cantacuzenus was now Emperor, acclaimed in the traditional manner - though for the first time in centuries — by the army; and since there could clearly be no question of his recognition by the present regime in Constantinople, that could mean one thing only: the resumption of civil war. Within days of his investiture came news of his excommunication by the Patriarch; and on 19 November, John V was duly crowned in St Sophia. The lines of battle were drawn.

Not, however, in favour of John Cantacuzenus. For years, both in Constantinople and in the provinces, the rift had been widening between proletariat and aristocracy. As the enemies of Byzantium had continued their remorseless advance and increasing numbers of refugees from the conquered lands had come flooding into the capital, so the condition of the poor had become more and more desperate; the rich landowners on the other hand, who seldom paid their taxes and were in a position to take full advantage of the corruption which - at least till very recently - had been endemic, had remained relatively untouched.

Such wealth as existed in the impoverished Empire had thus become concentrated in the hands of the aristocratic few, while the majority of the population could feel only indignation and resentment. In most Western societies, the cities and towns had gradually produced a flourishing bourgeoisie of merchants and craftsmen, who provided a useful cushion between the wealthy and the proletariat; in the Byzantine Empire this had never occurred, and there was nothing to prevent the economic polarization which now became evident in all its ugliness. Alexius Apocaucus, in directing the mob against the property of the Grand Domestic, had unleashed dangerous forces indeed. The sack of John's palace had doubtless revealed riches such as the poor had never seen; his mother's, and those of his fellow-noblemen which had received similar treatment, had disgorged - by his own admission - prodigious quantities of food of all kinds, to say nothing of gold, silver and jewels. All this Apocaucus - who must for the first time have been grateful for his own humble origins - was able to turn to his own good use, setting himself up as the champion of the down-trodden and dispossessed against the forces of wealth and privilege personified by John Cantacuzenus.

The contagion spread with alarming rapidity. When, on the day following John's investiture, the news was announced in Adrianople, it provided a spark sufficient to ignite a revolt similar to that which had occurred in the capital. The local aristocracy, as might have been expected, sided with Cantacuzenus; but the populace immediately rose up against them, surging through the streets in an orgy of pillage and destruction. Those nobles who were not immediately seized fled for their lives; meanwhile a people's commune took over the city in the name of the regency and was duly recognized by Apocaucus, who sent his own son Manuel to Adrianople as his official representative. Within a few weeks all Thrace was up in arms, the landowning classes either hiding or in headlong flight. Events in Thessalonica were still more dramatic. The Governor, John's old friend Theodore Synadenus, at one moment secretly offered to open the gates; but he was driven out before he could do so. A political party known as the Zealots seized control in his place, setting up their own government and instituting a reign of terror against all who opposed them. Once again Apocaucus tried to impose his authority, sending his other son John as titular Governor; but the Zealots largely ignored him, and for the next seven years ran Thessalonica as a virtually independent republic.

By now John Cantacuzenus must have been close to despair. Little more than a month before, he had still enjoyed a unique position in Constantinople, where he had exercised almost limitless power and was - a few political enemies apart - universally respected. He had a series of remarkable military and diplomatic victories behind him and was looking forward to the early surrender of the Morea - a development that might have brought Greece back into the Imperial fold and have proved a turning-point in the fortunes of Byzantium. Now he was outlawed, excommunicated and condemned as a public enemy of the Empire, to the service of which he had devoted his life. His house had been destroyed, his property looted, his estates confiscated. His mother had been driven from her home, dispossessed, and so ill-treated that she was to die a few weeks later. His closest friends had deserted him -including, as he now heard, Theodore Synadenus himself - aware that all those suspected of association with him risked the confiscation of their property and, very probably, imprisonment and death. His very name was being used as a symbol of the exploitation of the poor by the rich - an abuse against which he had struggled throughout his adult life. True, he was now an Emperor, by investiture if not by formal coronation; but he had never sought the imperial throne, and his enforced acceptance of it had served only to blacken him still further in the eyes of the legitimate Emperor, to whom his loyalty had even then never wavered.

More than anything, he needed allies. He sent an urgent message to his old friend Umur, Emir of Aydin; but Umur was far away, and for John Cantacuzenus time was now running dangerously short. And so he turned, after long hesitation, to Stephen Dushan. Knowing that Stephen had always been an enemy of the Empire and that such a step might consequently prove unpopular, before leaving for Serbia John gave his men the option of following him or not; he was not altogether surprised when only about two thousand agreed to do so. In his present position, on the other hand, he could not afford to be particular; he remembered also that, when he had briefly met the Serbian King on the frontier eight years before, the two had got on together remarkably well. On their second meeting in July 1342, at Prishtina near Skoplje, they fared even better. Stephen was only too ready to take advantage of the Empire's troubles. Had John Cantacuzenus been prepared to grant his request for the greater part of Byzantine Macedonia, he might have been yet more forthcoming; but he willingly agreed to give his new friend his protection and support, and as an earnest of his good intentions provided him with a detachment of mercenaries to assist him on his way back to Didymo-tichum. It was as well that he did: for John Cantacuzenus had advanced no further than Serres when he found the road blocked against him. He was obliged to lay siege to the city itself, and while he was doing so his army fell victim to a hideous epidemic. Some fifteen hundred of his best men perished in a matter of weeks, and only with the greatest difficulty did he succeed in fighting his way back to the Serbian frontier. Now, in addition to his other anxieties, he found himself cut off from Didymot-ichum, his wife and his family.

Thanks to Stephen Dushan, Cantacuzenus was able to survive through the remainder of 1342. Then, shortly before Christmas, there came the news for which he had been hoping. Umur was on his way. The moment the Emir had received John's appeal he had begun to prepare his fleet. As soon as it was ready, he sailed northward up the Aegean to the mouth of the Maritsa river; thence he led his men to Didymotichum - which, despite its position, had remained loyal to Cantacuzenus — reinforced its defences and left a garrison. Owing to the appalling winter weather he was obliged to give up his plans to march across Thrace to join his old friend; but the help that he had afforded was invaluable, while the generosity, willingness and speed of his response gave John all the moral encouragement of which he was in such desperate need.

The tide was beginning to turn. In that same winter of 1342-3 the province of Thessaly declared in John's favour, and the coming of spring saw a similar voluntary submission on the part of several important towns of Macedonia. Apocaucus, seriously alarmed, arrived in Thessalonica with a naval squadron, but left quickly enough a week or two later when Umur's flagship appeared on the horizon, followed by a fleet of some two hundred ships. This time the two friends were able to make contact, and together they laid siege to Thessalonica. The city proved too strong for them, but with the help of the Emir's six thousand men Cantacuzenus was able to break through to Didymotichum, there to embrace his wife again after almost a year's separation.

In Constantinople - where food was now shorter than ever - morale was sinking fast. John Cantacuzenus's recent successes were bad enough; almost more terrible, however, to the Empress Anne and her entourage was the thought that the Turks were now on the loose in her European provinces. Umur's troops had wrought havoc wherever they had passed; the luckless populations of Thrace and Macedonia had had all too much experience of invading armies in the past, but even they had seldom suffered such brutality as this. It was by no means the first time that Turkish soldiers had been brought to these regions: the Catalans had introduced them thirty-five years before, as had Anne's own husband Andronicus during his long struggle with his grandfather. More recently still, the Empress herself had been in contact with the Emir Orhan, who had rejected her approaches only because he expected better things from her rival. Nevertheless she was terrified by the idea of these pagan barbarians, no longer confined to Asia but now, it seemed, at the very gates of the capital; and in the summer of 1343 she sent one of her Savoyard knights to Avignon with a despairing appeal to Pope Clement VI, announcing not only her own submission — she had after all been brought up in the Latin faith — but that of her son John, of Alexius Apocaucus and, most surprising by far, of the Patriarch of Constantinople, John Calecas himself.

At least where the last two were concerned, Anne was certainly lying; and fearing perhaps that the Pope would suspect as much, she shortly afterwards dispatched two more appeals, to Venice and Genoa respectively. She was well aware, however, that neither of these republics would ever give anything for nothing; and she knew also that her imperial treasury, drained by two civil wars in swift succession, had no funds to pay the subsidies that they would unquestionably demand. And so she took the dreadful step for which she is remembered more than for anything else: in August 1343, for the sum of 30,000 Venetian ducats, she pawned the Byzantine crown jewels to the Most Serene Republic. They were never to be redeemed; and the Empress's action somehow symbolizes, more dramatically than any other could possibly have done, the depths to which the once-great Empire of the Romans had sunk.

It did her no good. No help came - from Avignon, Genoa or Venice. Now too, as her enemy steadily consolidated his position, several of her most trusted adherents began to desert her. In 1344 John Vatatzes, one of the leading generals in Thrace, went over to Cantacuzenus; so, a month or two afterwards, did the Governor of Adrianople, Alexius's son Manuel Apocaucus, while Adrianople itself surrendered early the following year. As for Alexius himself, his own behaviour gave proof of his growing desperation. He never left his house without a numerous bodyguard; and he kept a ship, fully manned and provisioned, in the Golden Horn in case he needed to make a quick escape. All those Byzantines of whose loyalties he cherished the slightest suspicion - and they included virtually all the rich — were arrested. Part of the Great Palace of Constantine - long abandoned and in ruins - was converted into a prison in order to accommodate them.

It was here that Apocaucus met his death. On 11 June 1345, during one of his regular tours of inspection of the building work, a number of prisoners taking their exercise in the main courtyard suddenly noticed that, wishing apparently to have a short private conversation with one of his aides, he had separated a little from his bodyguard. Immediately they saw their opportunity. A small group of them - including, we are told, his own nephew - fell upon him. At first their only weapons were stones; then they found a heavy wooden club; finally they seized an axe from one of the workmen and struck off their victim's head, which they proudly exhibited, impaled on a spike, above the prison walls. Meanwhile the bodyguard, seeing what had happened, panicked and fled. The prisoners who had done the deed remained in the building, which they knew they could stoutly defend against any punitive expedition; but they did not actually expect anything of the kind. Had they not after all performed a public service, in ridding the Empire of a universally hated tyrant? Were they not likelier to be acclaimed as saviours, loaded with congratulations and rewards?

The course of action favoured by the Empress when she heard the news fell somewhere between the two. Her instructions to the panbypersebastos Isaac Asen were to order all the prisoners to return to their homes, with a guarantee that no measures would then be taken against them. Unfortunately, however, Asen - crushed, as John Cantacuzenus charitably explains, by the weight of his workload - failed to carry out the order; and the next morning a former member of Apocaucus's staff persuaded a party of sailors to avenge their master's death. The sailors were armed; the prisoners were not. Though some - including the murderers themselves - managed to take refuge in the neighbouring church of the Nea and subsequently escaped, about two hundred were massacred, many of them on the church's very threshold.

The death of Alexius Apocaucus was, for all his faults, a serious blow to the regency; but it was by no means the end. For John Cantacuzenus there was still plenty of work to be done before he could enter Constantinople in triumph. Besides, he had a new problem on his hands: Stephen Dushan had turned against him. Determined to conquer all Macedonia, the Serbian ruler was even now laying siege to Serres; John was thus being forced to fight two enemies on two fronts simultaneously. There had also been a major disappointment at Thessalonica where the titular Governor John Apocaucus, determined to assert his authority, had had the leader of the Zealots murdered, taken control of the government and, on hearing of his father's death, had publicly announced his support for Cantacuzenus, to whom he had offered to surrender the city. Unfortunately his enemies had moved too fast: long before John or his son Manuel - who was commanding in Berrhoea (now Verria) - could reach the city, Apocaucus and a hundred or more of his followers had been seized. One after another they were thrown from the walls of the citadel and hacked to pieces by the mob below, who then went rampaging through the streets, beating to death every noble they could find. Soon the Zealots were as firmly in control of Thessalonica as ever they had been.

Once again, John was in desperate need of an ally. Stephen Dushan had betrayed him; the Emir Umur, whose loyalty remained unshaken, had suffered a serious disaster in 1344 when the Pope's long-delayed League had finally sailed against him, captured his harbour at Smyrna and destroyed his fleet. Somehow, the following year, he had managed a brief campaign in Thrace on behalf of his old friend; but his support could no longer be what it had been in the past. His neighbour the Emir of Saruchan, now settled in Lydia, was admittedly well-disposed; he had provided troops before and would probably do so again. But John Cantacuzenus, if he were to fight his way back to the capital, needed help on a larger scale than this; and in the first weeks of 1345 he made contact with Orhan himself.

Although from the political and religious point of view John deplored the Turks as much as did the rest of his countrymen, on the personal level he had always got on with them remarkably well. We have it on his own authority that he had studied Turkish; and the results, however halting, would certainly have given them pleasure - particularly as few noble Greeks of the period would have condescended even to try. With Orhan he quickly established a friendship as close as that he had enjoyed with Umur — even closer perhaps, since the Emir soon fell besottedly in love with Theodora, the second of John's three daughters. All three, Enver records, were lovely as houris; while Gregoras claims that in return for Theodora's hand Orhan promised to serve her father faithfully as a vassal, with his entire army. He and Theodora were married in 1346 at Selymbria. The bride was permitted to keep her Christian faith, and was later to work indefatigably on behalf of the Christian residents, both free and enslaved, of her husband's emirate.

But that same year was marked by other, more sinister, developments. On Easter Sunday, in the Cathedral of Skoplje, Stephen Dushan was crowned by the Serbian Archbishop - whom he had recently raised to the rank of Patriarch - with the title of Emperor of the Serbs and Greeks. He could hardly have made his ambitions clearer; and it was almost certainly as a deliberate response to this act of bravado that, at Adrianople only five weeks later on 21 May, the Feast of SS. Constantine and Helena, John had imperial crowns — hastily manufactured by a local goldsmith - laid on his own head and that of his wife by the Patriarch Lazarus of Jerusalem. His investiture and proclamation of five years before were now confirmed. He refused, however, all suggestions that his eldest son Matthew should be crowned co-Emperor; that position was reserved for John Palaeologus, now fourteen years old and still, so far as he was concerned, the senior legitimate monarch.

Just two days before Cantacuzenus's coronation, on 19 May, a tragedy had occurred in Constantinople: part of the east end of St Sophia, having stood for a little over eight hundred years, had suddenly collapsed into a pile of rubble. To the Byzantines, superstitious as always, it was the most dreadful of omens; God Himself was now forsaking them. The popularity of the Patriarch - which had never been high - sank lower than ever, and by the end of the year it would have been hard to find anybody in Constantinople, the Empress alone excepted, who was not praying for the return of John Cantacuzenus.

At last John was ready, and his accomplices within the city had their plans prepared. The date chosen for his arrival was 1 February 1347; even now, however, the operation almost ended in failure. For his march on the capital - he was coming from Selymbria with a thousand picked men — he had deliberately selected a devious and obscure route in order not to attract attention; the journey consequently took longer than he had expected, with the result that he eventually arrived outside the walls twenty-four hours later than had been arranged. In his History, he himself confesses to appalling anxiety that his friends might not be there; by a singular stroke of luck, however, they too had been prevented from reaching the gate on the previous evening and had consequently suffered a similar delay. And so it was that, late at night on 2 February, the Emperor John Cantacuzenus slipped through a narrow gap in the bricked-up Golden Gate and entered Constantinople for the first time in five and a half years, his thousand men behind him.

Early the following morning he drew up his troops before the Palace of Blachernae and, with the courtesy that he had never failed to show her, requested an audience with the Empress. The request was refused.

Anne of Savoy knew that she was beaten and had hastily done all she could to ingratiate herself with her conqueror; on the previous day she had even succeeded, with the help of a synod of bishops, in deposing the Patriarch. But five years of daily brainwashing by Apocaucus had convinced her that Cantacuzenus was determined to kill her and her four children, and she obstinately refused to allow him admission to the palace. Only after certain of his followers, many of whom had suffered imprisonment and torture under the regency, finally lost patience and laid storm to the building did the guard - who, whatever fate might befall their Empress, had no wish to share it - dare to disobey her orders and open the gates.

Five days later, on 8 February, agreement was reached between the parties. For the next ten years the two Emperors would reign jointly, with John Cantacuzenus occupying the senior position. After that time they would enjoy equal status. All political prisoners were to be released. There were to be no reprisals on either side, and the possessions of each were to be as they had been before the civil war. The whole compact, in short, was eminently reasonable - so reasonable that one wonders why it could not have been agreed half a dozen years before.

There was only one exception to the general amnesty. The ex-Patriarch John Calecas, the senior Emperor's bitterest surviving enemy, who had excommunicated him in 1341, continued to reject all his attempts at reconciliation. It was not only that he had been Regent for John Palaeologus, and thus titular head of the defeated regime; his pride had been further wounded by his deposition on the eve of John Cantacuzenus's return. This was, however, no fault of the latter; nor had the reasons for it been entirely, or perhaps even primarily, political. Rather were they the direct result of the Patriarch's continued opposition to the monk Gregory Palamas, and the disputed doctrine of hesychasm.

For, despite the council in St Sophia, the argument still raged. Almost as soon as Barlaam had disappeared from the scene in 1341, a new figure had entered the lists: the monk Gregory Acindynus, who was deeply versed in Western scholasticism and now replaced the discredited Calabrian as the chief scourge of the hesychasts. So eloquent was he, and so persuasive, that within two months of the first council in 1341 it had been found necessary to hold a second — again presided over by John Cantacuzenus — which had reached the same conclusion as its predecessor, vindicating Palamas for the second time while Acindynus was condemned once more. This second council had however been held in August, at precisely the time when the Patriarch was intriguing for the regency; and he had firmly refused to uphold the findings of a council chaired by his arch-rival. Instead he had made common cause with Acindynus and others, and had had little difficulty in bringing the Empress herself over to his side.

From this moment onwards, the twists and turns of the hesychast controversy provide a typically Byzantine counterpoint to those of the civil war. Because John Cantacuzenus favours the hesychasts, John Calecas opposes them; because Gregory Palamas supports Cantacuzenus as Regent, Gregory Acindynus champions the Patriarch. While the regency in Constantinople is still relatively secure, the hesychasts are under constant attack; in 1343 Palamas is arrested and imprisoned, in 1344 he is excommunicated. Then, when the victory of Cantacuzenus begins to seem imminent, the religious pendulum also swings: Palamas is released, the Patriarch becomes a liability and is deposed. Such an analysis is inevitably over-simplified: Nicephorus Gregoras for example, though politically a Cantacuzenist, was violently - even fanatically -opposed to hesychasm, and there were doubtless many pro-hesychasts among those whose political loyalties rested exclusively with the Palaeologi. Yet the general lines of the dispute remain clear enough, providing the perfect illustration of the manner in which, in Byzantine history, political and religious issues never run parallel but are always inextricably entangled.

It was of course this very tendency that had enabled the Patriarch to manipulate the hesychast issue for his own political ends. With his own downfall and the arrival of John Cantacuzenus, however, he could do so no longer, and so the end of his story can be quickly told. A synod, at which Cantacuzenus and the Empress jointly presided towards the end of February - and which Calecas predictably refused to attend - confirmed his deposition in absentia and upheld the orthodoxy of Gregory Palamas. As for Acindynus, he was obliged to flee from Constantinople and died shortly afterwards in exile. The new Patriarch Isidore Boucharis, who had himself been a hesychast monk, appointed his old friend Palamas Archbishop of Thessalonica (though the city was still in the hands of the Zealots), formally lifted the sentence of excommunication on John Cantacuzenus and finally - on 21 May 1347, precisely a year after his first coronation at Adrianople — officiated at his second coronation in the church of the Virgin at Blachernae. A week later the Princess Helena, the youngest of John's beautiful daughters, was married in the same church to his co-Emperor, the fifteen-year-old John V.1

Coronations and marriages should be joyful occasions; about these two ceremonies, however, there was more than a touch of sadness. By tradition they should have been held at St Sophia; but, after its collapse in the previous year, the Great Church was no longer usable. They should also have made use of the Byzantine crown jewels; but these, thanks to the Dowager Empress, were now in pawn. Those present noted to their sorrow that the replacements were made of glass, while at the banquets that followed the wine was served in pewter vessels and the food from plates of cheap earthenware. All the gold and silver that had so dazzled the eyes of visitors in former times was gone - sold to finance a civil war that need never have occurred.

1 There has in the past been some confusion over the numeration, but it is nowadays customary to describe John Palaeologus and John Cantacuzenus as John V and VI respectively. While John VI remained the senior Emperor, he always insisted that John V, as a Palaeologus, should take precedence over him.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!