Mouzalon Family

1. Emergence of the Family

The Mouzalon family emerged in the history of the Byzantine Empire during the 11th century. From this era, there remains a seal of the first known member of the family, Theodora Mouzalon, possibly the wife of the commander of the Byzantine base of Russia, in Crimea. In the 12th century, a member of the family, Nikolaos IV Mouzalon (1147-1151), becomes Patriarch of Constantinople, while another member of the family, Constantine, is mentioned as an important ecclesiastical official.

Nevertheless, the Mouzalon family achieves its greatest power and importance in the 13th century, in the years of the Empire of Nicaea. The most prominent members of the family during this period were the brothers George, Andronikos and Theodore.

2. George, Andronikos and Theodore Mouzalon

The brothers George, Andronikos and Theodore Mouzalon were born in Adramyttion of Asia Minor during the first quarter of the 13th century. It is estimated that George was born circa 1220 and was the same age as Theodore II Laskaris, the later emperor of Nicaea, while Theodore was the eldest of the brothers.1 Following an initiative of Emperor Theodore II, George Mouzalon married Theodora Kantakouzene or Raoulaina, niece of the later Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos, after 1254, while Andronikos married the daughter of Alexios Raoul.2 Apart from the three brothers, there were at least two sisters in the family, as the sources mention two brothers-in-law of the Mouzalon brothers, Agiotheodoritis and one whose name is not known, but was murdered with them.

There is little information regarding the education and training of Theodore Mouzalon, but George and Andronikos were accepted at a young age (possibly during the 1230s) in the palace as ‘paidopoula’, that is, as companions of the young successor Theodore Laskaris. Their training must have included the usual courses of formal training of the time. It is assumed that besides childhood companions, they must have also been classmates of Theodore Laskaris and must have attended university classes of the scholar Nikephoros Blemmydes, a tutor of the future emperor.

3. Life of the Mouzalon Brothers

3.1. First Phase. Ascent to Hierarchy

The Mouzalon brothers’ appearance in the public life is immediately connected with the rise of Theodore II Laskaris to power in November 1254. Immediately after his rise to the throne of Nicaea, Theodore II appointed his childhood friend George Mouzalon as megas domestikos, while his brother Andronikos was appointed protovestiarios and Theodore protokynegos.3 As part of the emperor’s close circle, the Mouzalon brothers took part in the council held to discuss the crisis that burst out after the death of Emperor John III Vatatzes and the Bulgarian invasion in the imperial territory of Macedonia. George Mouzalon supported the opinion of the majority that the emperor should immediately launch a campaign against the invaders. Theodore II approved this suggestion. During the emperor’s campaign in Macedonia in 1255, the imperial Asia Minor territories were left under the supervision of George Mouzalon.

In the autumn of 1255, upon the return of the emperor and the gathering of the army in Lampsakos, George Mouzalon was honoured with the title of protosebastos and was appointed protovestiarios and megas stratopedarches (an office that had just been created), while his brother Andronikos replaced him in his position as megas domestikos. In the spring of 1256, the Mouzalon brothers followed Emperor Theodoros II in his campaign against the Bulgarians in Thrace. There, they bore witness to an incident between the emperor and the megas logothetes George Akropolites. Although it appears that George Mouzalon intervened to settle the conflict, Akropolites was not prevented from making heavy accusations against the Mouzalon brothers in his historical work.

3.2. Second Phase. The Reaction against the Mouzalon Family

Akropolites's hostile attitude against the Mouzalon brothers was not an isolated incident. It seems that the rapid rise of the brothers in the superior offices caused the discontent of the traditional aristocratic lineages in Nicaea, as they watched members of a family with lesser tradition being promoted at their expense, in the framework of the anti-aristocratic policy implemented by Theodore II Laskaris. The situation became even worse by the marriage of George and Andronikos Mouzalon with members of the old aristocracy, while Alexios Raoul, father-in-law of Andronikos, was furious against them, as he had lost his office as protovestiarios to George Mouzalon. In general, the traditional aristocracy of the Empire of Nicaea accepted a severe blow with the rise of Theodore II Laskaris to the throne and many of its members were accused of conspiring against him, leading some to seek temporary refuge to the Seljuks (Michael Palaiologos) and others to lose their offices, get imprisoned or lose their sight. George Mouzalon was a possible associate of the emperor in these persecutions against members of the old aristocracy.4 Moreover, it is possible that George Mouzalon, as megas stratopedarches and responsible for the administration and the finances of the army, took part in the attempt of the emperor to reform the army and reduce the role of the Latin mercenaries, thus inciting the hatred of the latter.

The reaction of the aristocrats against the Mouzalon brothers reached to a peak after the illness and death of Theodore II in late August 1258. By the Emperor's will, George Mouzalon was appointed regent and guardian of Theodore's II underage son, John IV Laskaris, thus essentially bcoming the viceroy of the state of Nicaea. This move enraged some nobles, who believed that they, and not people of lower descent, should be responsible for the fate of the empire. The aristocracy organised the conspiracy that would lead to the murder of the Mouzalon brothers.

3.3. Death

Shortly before his death, Emperor Theodore II demanded that all the nobles present swear that they would support George Mouzalon as viceroy. Immediately after the emperor’s death, and aware of the negative climate towards him, George Mouzalon convened a meeting of state officials and offered to resign. However, the nobles, who had rallied around Michael Palaiologos, renewed their faith vows to Mouzalon and John IV. This was meant to mislead the Mouzalon brothers, as Palaiologos intended to seize the throne by taking advantage of the Latin mercenaries (whom he commanded) and of the feelings of the aristocracy against the Mouzalon brothers.

On August 25, 1258, the Mouzalon brothers, along with the state officials and members of the aristocratic families, went to the monastery of Sosandra, near Magnesia, where there would be a memorial service for the dead emperor.5 During the ceremony, Latin mercenaries and other soldiers gathered around Magnesia started causing riots. The Mouzalon brothers tried to leave the monastery, but the nobles that were present (including Michael Palaiologos) convinced them that they were not in danger. Nevertheless, a few minutes later the mutineers entered the monastery and murdered the three brothers and their brother-in-law.6 Following an intervention of Patriarch Arsenios, Michael Palaiologos undertook the duties of viceroy.7

4. Evaluation and Judgments

The judgments of the sources regarding the Mouzalon brothers vary. The most intense critique can be found in the work of George Akropolites, who, although an overall objective historian, seems to get carried away by his own personal hate and the fact that he supported the later Emperor Michael Palaiologos.8 A much better image of the Mouzalon brothers is given in the historical work of Theodore Skoutariotes who, although active during the reign of Michael VIII Palaiologos, maintained a positive view for the era of Theodore II, in whose circle he belonged. Athough he generally copied Akropolites, he made sure to erase all the negative judgments on the Mouzalon brothers and he is the only one of those describing their assassination that believes they were late in their reaction not because of lack of will but because they were deceived by the attending nobles.9 The later historian George Pachymeres condemns the conspiracy of Michael Palaiologos and accuses the nobles of Nicaea of breaking their oath. Nikephoros Gregoras, another later historian, similarly avoids making negative comments about the Mouzalon brothers.10

Although some historians agree with Akropolites, most recent scholars consider the part played by the brothers in the political life of Nicaea to be important and they avoid any negative judgments.11

5. Other Family Members

In the following years of the empire, Theodore Mouzalon (+1294), a scholar and probably the son of George and Theodora Kantakouzene, can be found in high ranks.12 Among his surviving works there is an essay on the Patriarch John XI Bekkos; it is a work against the teachings of Nikephoros Blemmydes regarding the procession of the Holy Spirit; there are also some letters of his preserved. Later in the same century, we encounter Stephen Mouzalon, droungarios tou ploimou, while in the 14th century the aristocrat John Mouzalon is mentioned. The last mention occurs in the 15th century, with the 'philosopher physician' (iatrophilosophos) Demetrios Mouzalon.

1. The fact that Theodore was the oldest one is clearly mentioned by the historian George Akropolites [Ακροπολίτης, Γ., Χρονική Συγγραφή, in Heisenberg, A. (ed.), Georgii Acropolitae opera 1 (Leipzig 1978), 155, 16-19], who lived in that period and knew personally the Mouzalon brothers. The subsequent Γεώργιος Παχυμέρης (George Pachymeres) [Παχυμέρης, Γ., Συγγραφικαί Ιστορίαι, Failler, A. (edit.), Georges Pachymères, Relations historiques (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae 14, Paris 1984), 41, 9-13] gives the impression that George Mouzalon was the elder brother, although this may be due to the fact that the latter was closer to Theodore II Laskaris and held more important positions. Geanakoplos, D., Emperor Michael Palaeologus and the West (Cambridge, Mass. 1959), p. 34, believes that George was the eldest of all three brothers. When Gardner, A., The Lascarids of Nicaea. The Story of an Empire in Exile (London 1912), p. 201, interpretes the letters of Theodore II Laskaris to George Mouzalon, where the latter is called ‘son’, he believes that Mouzalon and the emperor were not of the same age.

2. Polemis, D., The Doukai. A Contribution to Byzantine Prosopography (London 1968), p. 148, reports that George and Theodora had a son, who is identified with the subsequent official and scholar Theodore Mouzalon. After the Mouzalon brothers were murdered, Theodora Kantakouzene married John Raoul, while the widow of Andronikos Mouzalon married Andronikos Palaiologos, cousin of Michael VIII.

3. Μηλιαράκης, Α. (Miliarakis), Ιστορία του βασιλείου της Νικαίας και του δεσποτάτου της Ηπείρου (1204-1261) (Athens 1898), pp. 445-446, believes that Theodore Mouzalon was proclaimed ‘protokynegos’ (or ‘prothierakarios‘) when his two brothers became protovestiarios and megas domestikos respectively, which he wrongly dated to 1256.

4. Μηλιαράκης, Α. (Miliarakis), Ιστορία του βασιλείου της Νικαίας και του δεσποτάτου της Ηπείρου (1204-1261) (Athens 1898), pp. 479-480, and Angold, M., A Byzantine Government in Exile. Government and Society Under the Lascarids of Nicaea (1204-1261) (Oxford 1975), p. 169, believe that possibly it was George Mouzalon who, during a trial in front of the emperor, was opposed to the attempt of Nikephoros Blemmydes to win a lenient punishment for the defendant, who had already been found guilty of high treason. Miliarakis attributes the persecutions of Theodore II against members of aristocratic families of the empire to calumnies of the Mouzalon family.

5. Gardner, A., The Lascarids of Nicaea. The Story of an Empire in Exile (London 1912), p. 234, and Μηλιαράκης, Α., Ιστορία του βασιλείου της Νικαίας και του δεσποτάτου της Ηπείρου (1204-1261) (Athens 1898), p. 498, Geanakoplos, D., Emperor Michael Palaeologus and the West (Cambridge, Mass. 1959), p. 39, and Angold, M., A Byzantine Government in Exile. Government and Society Under the Lascarids of Nicaea (1204-1261) (Oxford 1975), date the murder of the Mouzalon brothers in early September. The date depends on whether the memorial service was held three days after the death of Theodore II, according to contemporary Akropolites and Skoutariotes, or nine days later, according to subsequent Pachymeres and Gregoras.

6. Kazhdan, Α., The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium 2 (New York - Oxford 1991), pp. 1420-1421, see entry ‘Mouzalon’, supports that Theodore Mouzalon survived and later activated as an officer of Michael VIII and Andronikos II Palaiologos. However, this version might not be true.

7. Θεόδωρος Σκουταριώτης (Skoutariotes), Σύνοψις Χρονική, in Σάθας, Κ. (edit.), Μεσαιωνική Βιβλιοθήκη 7 (Athens-Venice-Paris 1894), 539, 5-10, accuses Karyanites of instigating the conspiracy against the Mouzalon family and murdering them.  Karyanites was a man of humble origins, who belonged to the circle of Theodore II and, after the death of the Mouzalon brothers, was imprisoned by Michael Palaiologos. Geanakoplos, D., Emperor Michael Palaeologus and the West (Cambridge, Mass. 1959), pp. 37-38, 45, 276, says that the above information is part of the propaganda of Michael Palaiologos, whom he considers responsible for the conspiracy and the murder. His conclusions are based on the fact that the murderer of George Mouzalon was the Latin mercenary Charles, who remained unpunished and in 1267 was reported as a confidant of Michael Palaiologos.

8. Ακροπολίτης, Γ. (Akropolites), Χρονική Συγγραφή, in Heisenberg, A. (edit.), Georgii Acropolitae opera 1 (Leipzig 1978), 124, 4-12: ‘Κακείσε τους αυτού οφφικίοις τετιμήκει και αξιώμασι και τον μεν Μουζάλωνα Γεώργιον τον υπέρ πάντας άλλους τούτω φιλούμενον, όντα μέγαν δομέστικον, πρωτοσεβαστόν τε και πρωτοβεστιάριον και μέγαν στρατοπεδάρχην τετίμηκε, τον δε αυτού αδελφόν Ανδρόνικον, πρωτοβεστιαρίτην όντα, μέγαν δομέστικον κατωνόμασε, τον δε Άγγελον Ιωάννην, μέγαν πριμμικήριον τελούντα, τετίμηκε πρωτοστράτορα, ανδράρια μηδενός ή τριών οβολών άξια, παιδιαίς ανατεθραμμένα και κυμβάλων μέλεσί τε και άσμασι [...]’. As above, 130, 29-131, 1: ‘Τω μεγάλω δε δομεστίκω αυτού τω Μουζάλωνι Ανδρονίκω καταβαλείν με του ίππου προσέταξε και ος εβούλετο μεν, ουκ ηδύνατο δε· λεπτόν γαρ είχε και αδρανές το σωμάτιον’.

9. Σκουταριώτης, Θ., Σύνοψις Χρονική, στο Σάθας, Κ. (επιμ.), Μεσαιωνική Βιβλιοθήκη 7 (Αθήνα – Βενετία – Παρίσι 1894), 536, 13 - 537, 20: «Γνους ουν ο πρωτοβεστιάριος την έφοδον του λαού, ώρμησε του ναού εξιέναι (ένδον γαρ ην της θείας μυσταγωγίας τελουμένης επακροώμενος), αλλά τινες των της βουλής εκείνης συμπαρόντες αυτώ, δείσαντες μη εξιών και εποχηθείς εντρέψη και προς εαυτόν εφελκύσηται τον λαόν, καντεύθεν και αυτοί φωραθείεν, προς ορκωμοσίας ετέρας εχώρουν· ήδη γαρ του βασιλέως προς εσχάτας αναπνοάς όντος, της αυτού διαθήκης εις επήκοον πάντων αναγνωσθείσης, ομνύουσιν άπαντες φυλάξαι τα διατεταγμένα απαραποίητα, είτα και μετά το αποβιώναι ομνύουσιν επί τοις αυτοίς· τρίτον ουν όρκοις και συνθήκαις εμπεδωθέντες πείθουσι τον πρωτοβεστιάριον ένδον ίστασθαι του ναού συνάμα τω αδελφώ Ανδρονίκω, τω μεγάλω δομεστίκω, και τω πρώτω αυτών αδελφώ, τω πρωτοκυνηγώ». Πρβλ. Παχυμέρης, Γ., Συγγραφικαί Ιστορίαι, στο Failler, A. (επιμ.), Georges Pachymères, Relations historiques 1 (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae 14, Paris 1984), 83, 15-85, 8: «Ως γουν οι μεν συνάμα καί τισι των εν τέλει, της υμνωδίας τελουμένης, εντός ειστήκεισαν του ναού, οι δε συνέθεον πανδημεί, θορυβούντες παρά το σύνηθες, και ήδη τοις εντός εμφανείς ήσαν ευθύ της μονής ιόντες, τινές των εκτός όντων υπηρετών, τον εκείνων υποτοπάσαντες θόρυβον, μη τι που και των απειρημένων δράσαιεν, σχεδόν αυτόνομοι όντες, άμα δε και τον νεωτερισμόν υποπτεύοντες, δηλούσι συν ωχρώ τω προσώπω τοις ένδον. Οι δε σπουδή τοις κυρίοις το δηλωθέν απαγγέλλουσι και ως επιζυγώσαι τας της μονής πύλας τοις ερχομένοις συμφέρει, μάλα θερμώς εισηγούνται. Οι δ’ ημέλουν ακούοντες –μηδέ γαρ έχειν συμβαλείν οπόθεν επί σφετέρω κακώ ίοιεν οι συνθέοντες –, έρχεσθαι δε κακείνους εις τας κοινάς εκείνας τελετάς υπελάμβανον. Ως δε και αύθις εξελθόντες εκείνοι πλησιασάντων και μάλλον το θορυβώδες και άτακτον υπενόουν, έτι μάλλον κατωρρώδουν και μετά σπουδής εισήγγελλον τα γιγνόμενα, και επ’ εκείνοις άλλοι ταχυδρομούντες, και αύθις άλλοι· ουδέ γαρ ην όστις τότε βλέπων μη επί κακώ μεγίστω την εκείνων άφιξιν υπενόει. Όθεν και πολλοί μεν, περί εαυτοίς δεδιότες εκ των ου καλών εκείνων υποψιών, άλλος αλλαχού κατεδύοντο· οις δ’ έμελε των Μουζαλώνων πλέον των άλλων, προσιόντες και αύθις ατάκτω ήθει προσώπου, την εισβολήν των ανδρών υπεμίμνησκον· και εφεκτέον το τάχος έλεγον προκαταλαβούσι την εκείνων ορμήν διά της των πυλών επιθέσεως, μήπως και φθάσωσιν εισελθόντες· μηδέ γαρ επί καλώ τινι τον τοσούτον θόρυβον είναι, αλλ’ εις τι λήξειν κακόν. Οι δε των φόβους λεγόντων ουκ ήσαν όλως· ήγε γαρ, οίμαι, τούτους το μόρσιμον, και το λεγόμενον αληθές, ως αφαιρείται τας φρένας ον απολέσαι μέλλει το θείον».

10. It should be noted that Pachymeres was personally related to the facts, since one of his relatives was the secretary of George Mouzalon and was killed by the revolters, who took him for a member of the Mouzalon family.

11. Unlike most modern scholars, Μηλιαράκης, Α. (ed.), Ιστορία του βασιλείου της Νικαίας και του δεσποτάτου της Ηπείρου (1204-1261) (Athens 1898), pp. 479-480, 486, accuses the Mouzalon family of being ignoble flatteners and defamers, while he considers prejudiced the judgement of Pachymeres that Theodore II chose the state officials according to merit and not according to their origin.

12. See Polemis, D., The Doukai. A Contribution to Byzantine Prosopography (London 1968), p. 148.