Michael IX Palaiologos was the eldest son of emperor Andronikos II and the Hungarian princess Anna. He was born on Easter Sunday, 1277 (March 28) or 1278 (April 18).1George Pachymeres writes that the first-born son was a great consolation to the emperor Andronikos II, saddened over the premature death of his wife, Anna.2 The same author claims that while his grandfather, Michael VIII, was still alive, possibly in 1281, Michael IX was acclaimed basileus (“king”) and second co-emperor, while his father, Andronikos II, was first co-emperor.3 Despite his acclamation, Michael was not crowned until years later, on May 21, 1295, in Hagia Sophia and on the feast day of Saint Constantine, according to custom.4 His coronation is a turning point in the history of joint kingship in Byzantium, since it was then that Andronikos II’s eldest son also received the right to the title of emperor, thus becoming basileus autokrator (king-emperor) and approaching the first emperor in regard to power of authority.
During his long reign as co-emperor (which lasted for more than 25 years), Michael IX issued a significant number of documents, which also testify to his extensive powers, unknown to Byzantine co-emperors of older times. A characteristic example is the to the monastery of Iviron (August 1310),5 as well as the to the monastery of Chilandar dating from March 1305 (or 1320).6 This prostagma is the first document of its kind issued by a co-emperor and signed with a , a statement of month and , as was the custom with the first emperor.
2. The young emperor’s marriage
Andronikos II wished to secure for his son and heir a bride from an illustrious house, simultaneously gaining political and diplomatic advantages. For this reason plans began very early to be drawn in Constantinople for the marriage of young Michael IX and negotiations commenced in 1288, when he was barely 11 years old. His bride-to-be was Catherine de Courtenay, empress of the Latin Empire of Constantinople, so that a personal union between the two dynasties might be achieved and the constant threat of attack from the West in order to reconstitute the Latin Empire warded off.7 Negotiations dragged on for many years and finally came to grief, a fact that forced Andronikos II to look for alternatives. One of these was Yolanda, sister of Frederick, king of Sicily.
The emperor, however, was not looking for a bride for his son exclusively in the West. In 1294 he sent an embassy to the court of the king of Cyprus and later on to the court of the king of Armenia Minor as well. This plan was originally frustrated due to an attack by pirates, but Andronikos II did not give up and very soon he dispatched new emissaries, John Glykys and Theodore Metochites, who returned to Constantinople with Rita, sister of Hetoum II, the king of Lesser Armenia. The wedding of Rita, who received the name of Maria in Byzantium, and Michael IX took place with pomp and circumstance on January 16, 1295. From this marriage were born two sons, Andronikos III and Manuel, and two daughters, Anna and Theodora.
3. The wars of Michael IX
The young emperor’s first duties were of a military nature and led him to the most critical front of Asia Minor, where he had to face the Ottomans and preserve any Byzantine territories he could. In April 1302 Michael IX, for whom Pachymeres says that up to that time he had seen no action and was anxious for a chance to distinguish himself on the field of battle, was seen off from Constantinople with great hopes.8 With mercenaries and native Byzantine troops he marched towards the river Hermos and the fortress of Magnesia. However, the troops under the young emperor’s command could not come to grips with the enemy on open ground, since the Ottomans fought mainly with ambushes and only rarely would they initiate skirmishes. Nevertheless, when news arrived of the Ottomans preparing a massive assault against Byzantine troops, Michael IX abruptly withdrew to Magnesia and thus the long-anticipated confrontation with the Ottomans ended without result. After that, the young emperor fled to Pergamon and, as winter approached, the terrified population retreated along with the imperial forces.
Michael IX did not return to the capital in the winter of 1302/1303, but remained in Asia Minor. However, the Byzantines continued to meet with little success on the eastern at the beginning of the following campaigning season. After his stay at Pergamon, the young emperor went for a period of time to Adramyttion. In the summer of 1303 he first went to Kyzikos and then to the fortress of Pegai, where he fell ill. The emperor’s wife Maria was quick to arrive at Pegai and, after he recovered, Michael returned with her to Constantinople in January 1304.9 There is no doubt that this failure of Michael IX in the first expedition entrusted to him hurt his prestige, but even later he failed to produce any significant military successes.
Before the empire had time to recover from the abortive war against the Ottomans, war broke out with the Bulgarians. In the first months of 1304 the new tsar of Bulgaria, Theodore Svetoslav (1300-1321), captured a number of Byzantine forts on the mountain slopes of Haimos. In the summer of the same year a new attack by the Bulgarian tsar followed, to which this time the Eltimir also took part. Meanwhile, an attempt by Byzantine diplomacy to destabilize this Bulgarian alliance also failed. Then Andronikos II decided to send Michael IX on campaign against the Bulgarians, and along with him―perhaps because he did not particularly trust him―the general Michael Glabas, who, however, although highly experienced, was suffering from a serious illness.
In order to equip newly-recruited troops, Michael IX offered personal belongings of gold and silver and minted coins for the army that numbered a few thousand men. In August 1304 he set off for Bulgarian territory. In this was the Bulgarians proved a dangerous enemy, but Michael IX scored a few successes. Initially he recaptured some areas and thus, having driven a wedge between the tsar Theodore Svetoslav and the despot Eltimir, he managed to recapture some more cities. In Byzantium a special emphasis was placed upon these successes: the patriarch Athanasius I praised Michael IX’s successes against the Bulgarians, while the anonymous author of a panegyric extolled with great enthusiasm the emperor’s successful action in the wars against the neighboring South Slavs.10
4. European sojourn
After the relatively successful operations against the Bulgarians, which partially restored his military prestige, Michael IX settled for a long period of time in the Empire’s European parts, where he died (in 1320). Evidence in diplomatic sources reveals the fact that Michael IX was essentially in command of the regions of Thrace and Macedonia, with his seat of power first at Adrianople and later at Thessaloniki.
New difficulties for Byzantium and the young emperor were caused by the who had come to reinforce, for a fee, the Byzantine army fighting the Ottomans on the Asia Minor front. The Catalans, having managed to fulfill their duties only partially, went on to attack Byzantine possessions and subjects in Europe. Michael tried to face the Catalan threat and finally plotted the assassination of their leader, Roger de Flor, hoping to discourage and rout them. Indeed, in the spring of 1305 Roger de Flor visited Michael IX at Adrianople and was assassinated in the young emperor’s palace, but the plan backfired. The Catalan chronicler Ramon Muntaner, who witnessed these events, says of Michael IX that he was “a wonderful knight lacking in nothing except honesty”.11 In the battle of Apros in Thrace, late in the spring of 1305, the young emperor’s numerous and well- armed but heterogeneous army suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the vengeful Catalans. It appears that at the onset of battle the Alans abandoned the Byzantines, causing confusion. Perceiving that his army’s ranks were breaking, Michael IX attempted, by risking his own life, to raise the morale of his discouraged soldiers, but he failed to alter the outcome of the battle.
The Byzantine army’s weakness manifested itself once more during the period 1311-1313, when the Ottomans plundered Thrace. In combat against the general Halil, Michael IX’s army, composed mainly of farmers, suffered a serious defeat in 1311. Indeed, the emperor’s tent with all its treasures fell into the hands of the Ottomans, while Halil placed the imperial crown on his head and mocked Michael IX. Fear of the Ottomans kept the Byzantines pent up in their cities for almost two years, while it seems that Andronikos II and Michael IX now faced the Ottoman threat with a certain degree of fatalism.12
Precious little information on the emperor Michael IX Palaiologos’ later career exists in oral sources. It is known that in 1319 he and his wife Maria went to Thessaloniki. Nikephoros Gregoras emphasizes the fact that, when Michael IX was about to depart, someone predicted that he would soon die there, but the emperor disregarded the prediction.13 The sources do not supply significant information on his activities in the Empire’s second city of importance, but it is known he completely renovated the church of Saint Demetrius, the city’s patron saint.14 Already sick and heartbroken over his family’s tragedies, because within a short amount of time he had lost two of his four children (his son, the despot Manuel, and his daughter Anna), he died on October 12, 1320.
1. John Cantacuzenos reports that Michael died at the age of 43 (“τρίτον πρὸς τεσσαράκοντα χρόνων ἄγων τῆς ἡλικίας”, see Ioannis Cantacuzeni eximperatoris historiarum I-IV, ed. L. Schopeni (Bonnae 1828), p. 14), and the date of Michael’s death, October 12, 1320, is known. Despite this, researchers do not agree on Michael IX’s date of birth: A. Papadopulos, Versuch einer Genealogie der Palaiologen 1259-1453 (München 1938, repr. Amsterdam 1962), p. 36, Β. Ferjančić, “Mihailo IX Paleolog (1277-1320)”, Zbornik Filozofskog fakulteta u Beogradu XII-1 (1974), p. 334, as well as The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, II (New York - Oxford 1991), p. 1367 (A.-M. Talbot - A. Cutler) concur in favor of 1277, while the Prosopographisches Lexikon der Palaiologenzeit IX (Wien 1989), nr. 21529, p. 106, proposed April 17, 1278.
2. Georges Pachymérès relations historiques, III, ed. A. Failler (Paris 1999), p. 99.
3. Georges Pachymérès relations historiques, III, ed. A. Failler (Paris 1999), p. 99. Cf. L. Raybaud, Le Government et l’administration central de l’empire byzantin sous les premiers Paléologues (1258-1354) (Paris 1968), p. 55.
4. Georges Pachymérès relations historiques, III, ed. A. Failler (Paris 1999), pp. 219-221.
5. Actes de Iviron, III: De 1204 à 1328, eds. J. Lefort et al. (Paris 1994) nr. 72, pp. 180-187.
6. Actes de Chilandar, I: Des origines à 1319, eds. M. Živojinović, V. Kravari, Ch. Giros (Paris 1998), nr. 23, pp. 187-189.
7. Bratianu, G. I. “Notes sur le projet de mariage entre l’empereur Michel IX Paléologue et Catherine de Courtenay (1288-1295)”, Revue historique du Sud-Est européen 1 (1924), pp. 59-62.
8. On the dating of these events, see Failler, Α., “Chronologie et composition dans l’Histoire de Georges Pachymérès (livres VII-XIII)”, Revue des études byzantines 48 (1990), pp. 44-53.
9. Georges Pachymérès relations historiques IV, ed. A. Failler (Paris 1999), pp. 427-429, 445.
10. The Correspondence of Athanasius I Patriarch of Constantinople, ed. A.-M. Talbot (Washington 1975), nr. 13, pp. 30-32. Cf. Lamma, Ρ., “Un discorso inedito per l’incoronacione di Michele IX Paleologo”, Aevum 29 (1955), pp. 55-56, and Božilov, I. - Gjuzelev, V., Istorija na srednovekovna Balgarija VII-XIV vek (Sofija 1999), p. 547.
11. Ramon Muntaner, Crònica VI, ed. E. Bagué (Barcelona 1952) (= Collecció Popular Barcino 19, 145), p. 28, nr. 203.
12. Nicephori Gregorae Byzantina Historia I, ed. Ι. Bekker-L. Schopen (Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae, Bonnae 1829), pp. 258, 262-263: Andronikos II and Michael IX “knew that the wrath of God had fallen upon them, but they could not find its cause”.
13. Nicephori Gregorae Byzantina Historia I, ed. Ι. Bekker-L. Schopen (Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae, Bonnae 1829), pp. 278-279.
14. Λάσκαρις, Μ. Θ. , «Μιχαήλ Θ’ ο Παλαιολόγος εν επιγραφή του Αγίου Δημητρίου Θεσσαλονίκης», Αρχαιολογική Εφημερίς (1953-1954), pp. 4-10.