Alexios Strategopoulos

1. Biography

Alexios Komnenos Strategopoulos1 was born toward the end of the 12th or at the beginning of the 13th century. His place of birth is unknown. Of his family status, it is only known that he was of aristocratic descent, married and father of a son, Constantine, who was blinded by Emperor Theodore II Laskaris in 1255.2 He died between 1271 and 1275, possible in Constantinople.

2. Career

2.1. Strategopoulos’ activity under the Laskarids

The name Alexios Strategopoulos first appears in the sources in 1252-1253, when he participated in the war of the then Emperor of Nicaea, John III Vatatzes, against the despot of Epiros Michael II Doukas (1231-1267). Strategopoulos was commander of a part of the army with orders to plunder the area around the lake of Ostrobou that belonged to the Despotate of Epiros.

After John III’s death (1254), Alexios was stationed in Serres, in the service of the new emperor, Theodore II. In 1255, together with the pinkernes Constantine Tornikes, he marched against Tzepaina in Rhodope. But this poorly planned campaign was unsuccessful, thus causing the rage of the Emperor. This failure probably was the reason why Strategopoulos fell out of favour; an additional reason must have been his friendly relationship with the future emperor Michael Palaiologos, who was suspected of conspiring against Theodore II. Alexios’ son Constantine was accused of treason and was blinded by the emperor, while Alexios himself was imprisoned in 1258. At the time, Theodore II was extremely distrustful toward the aristocracy, whom he blamed his occasional failures upon. While the exact time of Strategopoulos’ imprisonment remains uncertain, he was probably freed after Theodore II’s death (16 August 1258); only a few days later he took part in the revolt of the aristocracy and the army against the Mouzalon brothers, regents of the underage John IV Laskaris.

2.2. Strategopoulos’ activity under Michael VIII Palaiologos

Due to his friendship with Michael Palaiologos, Alexios Strategopoulos was one of his firmest supporters for the position of regent and later co-emperor of the young John IV. In late 1258 he accompanied John Palaiologos, sebastokrator and Michael’s brother, in his campaign against Michael II Doukas of Epiros. During that campaign Alexios was promoted to the office of megas domestikos. In the battle of Pelagonia (July 1259), which was decisive for the outcome of that war, Alexios captured the reinforcements sent to the despot of Epiros by Manfred of Sicily. Together with John Raoul, the megas domestikos pursued Michael II, who had fled to Arta. They besieged Ioannina and, leaving part of their army behind to continue the siege, they advanced against Arta, which fell without resistance. They set free the captives held there by Michael II, the historian George Akropolites among them.3 For his contribution to this success, Alexios Strategopoulos received the title of caesar.

In 1260 Strategopoulos once again found himself fighting against Epiros. Nikephoros, the son of Michael II Doukas, had fled to Manfred in order to seek help after the battle of Pelagonia. He returned with a unit of Italian soldiers, and attacked Alexios and his forces in the mountainous area of Trikorfon, near Naupaktos. The Byzantine army was defeated and Strategopoulos himself was captured. He was freed shortly afterwards, after a treaty had been signed between the two parties, and returned to Asia Minor at the beginning of 1261 at the latest.

In spring of the same year, Strategopoulos returned to mainland Greece, by order of Michael VIII Palaiologos. He was in charge of 800 Byzantine and Cuman soldiers,4 when he marched in Thrace, mainly to guard the borders with Bulgaria but also to inspect Constantinople, which at the time was under Latin rule. Constantinople had been left almost unguarded, since the largest part of its guard, together with the Venetian fleet, was besieging a fortress in the islet of Dafnousia in the Black Sea; the Latin emperor Baldwin II had remained in the city with very few forces. Upon learning the situation,5 Strategopoulos directed his army toward Constantinople. On the night of 24th to the 25th of July, Strategopoulos crossed the gate of Selybria (Pege) and, took over Constantinople by surprise, thus ending the Latin rule imposed upon the city since 1204. On August 15, Michael VIII Palaiologos triumphantly entered Constantinople and was crowned emperor for a second time. He allowed Alexios Strategopoulos to conduct a triumph amidst the city and ordered his name to be commemorated in churches for a year.

In 1262 Strategopoulos led a new expedition against the despot of Epiros. However, he once again proved unable to prevail over Michael II; he was caught unaware and captured for a second time. He was sent as a hostage to Manfred of Sicily and was only freed in 1265, when the king of Sicily managed to exchange him with his sister Anna (Constance von Hohenstaufen), widow of John III Vatatzes, who had been held in Asia Minor.

Alexios Strategopoulos is last mentioned in a document in December 1270, with which he issues a donation to the monastery of Theotokos Makrinitissa.

1. See Zacos, G. - Veglery A., Byzantine Lead Seals I (Basel 1972), no. 2756: «Σφραγὶς κυροῦσα τὰς γραφὰς ᾿Αλεξίου Στρατηγοπούλου καὶ Κομνηνῶν ἐκ γένους».

2. The family relation between Alexios and the sebastos John Strategopoulos, megas logothetes in Nicaea in 1216, is not known.

3. At the same time John Palaiologos, along with John Doukas, invaded Thessaly. See Nicol, D.M., The Despotate of Epiros (Oxford 1957), p. 186.

4. Bartusis M.C., The Late Byzantine Army. Arms and Society 1204-1453 (Philadelphia 1992), p. 27.

5. Alexios Strategopoulos heard of the absence of the largest part of the army from the thelematarioi, farmers cultivating the lands outside Constantinople. See Νicol, D.M., The Last Centuries of Byzantium (London 1972), p. 35.