The Melissenos family is one of the oldest; people with this last name make their appearance in the late 8th century. It is possible that this family, originating from Asia Minor, was especially associated with the area of Phrygia. In the 9th and 10th century, Melissenoi were given important military and political positions, with responsibilities over the themes of Anatolikon , Koloneia and Antioch. In the 10th century, representatives of the family participated in the rebellion of Bardas Fokas and other dynatoi of Asia Minor against Basil II (976-1025), while in the following century they became related to the Komnenos family.
In the late 11th century, Nikephoros Melissenos himself appeared as a usurper. He had made an agreement with Alexios Komnenos, in accordance to which, as soon as the later came to the throne and became Alexios I (1081-1118), Nikephoros Melissenos was awarded the rank of and was given land in the area of Thessanloniki. During the reign of Komnenos family (1081-1195) the members of the Melissenos family held important state positions; by the second half of the 12th century, though, the importance of their house had begun decreasing. In the late Byzantine times, their last name, which survived even after the family had ceased to exist, could be found in various areas of the empire. In most cases, though, the descendants of the Byzantine house of Melissenoi lost their social importance, while the ones of the same name in the Post-byzantine times were unimportant.
2. Origins of the family
The aristocratic Melissenos family was one of the oldest in the empire. It seems that their name derives from the name of a place that has not been located and to which the family was closely related, in some way, in its recent history.1 As far as we know, the family is of Greek origin and its roots should be sought in Asia Minor, an area with Which Melissenoi were associated for centuries. However, even though the members of the family appear in the sources since the 8th century, more precise information on the area where their lands were can only be traced in records dated in the late 11th century.
John Kinnamos informs us that Ceasar Nikephoros Melissenos had many beautiful houses and constructed in Dorylaeum (mod. Şarhüyük) and the surrounding area.2 Even though according to Kinnamos’ claims one may assume that the above mentioned buildings were only a part of caesar Nikephoros’ activity, it is more likely that he inherited them from his ancestors.3 This would indicate that the family’s roots and its first estates can be sought in the area of Phrygia. The fact that the second most known representative of the family, patriarch of Constantinople Theodotos (Kassitiras) (815-821), also originated from the Phrygian town Nakolia (mod. Seyitgazi),also supports this hypothesis.4
The various bonds between Melissenoi and the eastern areas, primarily those of Asia Minor, are researchable since around the late 8th century to the late 11th century. According to records of that period, members of the Melissenos family held important military and political positions on the eastern part of the empire (on the themes of Anatolikon, Antioch, Mesopotamia5). Besides, it is known that they were closely related to other Byzantine families of Dynatoi of the East, either by family bonds or by political interests.6 Ever since the late 11th century, personalities bearing the last name Melissenos also appear in other areas of the Byzantine empire, in the area of Smyrna and on the European side, in Macedonia (in the city of Thessaloniki and its surrounding area), in Peloponnese, Ipiros and Crete.7
3. The oldest representatives of the family (late 8th and first half of 9th c.)
The earlier mentions of Melissenoi are dating back to the late 8th century, during the times of Constantine V (741-775). The first known scion of the family, Michael Melissinos, was a of the theme of Anatolikon during the period 767-771 and had the title of . His high position is evidence that the Melissinos family was on the top of Byzantine aristocracy from the beginning. According to the chronicles of Makarios Melissenos, metropolitan of Monemvasia in the 16th century, this first known Melissinos was a relative of emperor Michael I Ragave (811-813).8
Some of the most distinguished Melissenoi appear in the first half of the 9th century. Of them, three personalities stand out. The first is Theodotos Melissenos, also known as Kassitiras, son of Michael Melissenos. Thanks to the influence of the iconoclast emperor Leo V Armenios (813-820), Theodotos became patriarch of Constantinople (815-821).9 As a supporter of the iconoclastic policy, he presided over the iconoclastic council that was held in 815 at Constantinople.
Another Theodotos Melissenos is also mentioned in the sources, a patrician and general of the theme of Anatolikon during the period 843-852. Another distinguished personality is Kallistos Melissenos, and subsequently of Kolonia, whose activity is evident during the first half of the 9th century.
Even though the personalities mentioned above were undoubtedly members of the same family, it is not possible to ascertain in what way they were related. This same problem also applies to the personalities with the last name Melissenos in the subsequent period.
4. Melissenoi of the second half of the 10th century
At the times of Basil II (976-1025) evidence appears in the sources about the activity of two brothers, Leo and Theognostos Melissenos, members of the military aristocracy of the province. And while there is no particular information on Theognostos’ military career, certain parts of his brother Leo’s career are known with details. At first, he held high military ranks at the eastern part of the empire (he was a general on the theme of Anatolikon and duke of Antioch after that), and later at the Balkan fronts. Obviously Basil II believed in Leo’s military skills, as he appointed him of the West and awarded him the title of .
The two brothers participated in Bardas Phoka’s rebellion (987-989), with other representatives of influential families from the eastern part of the empire, like the Phokas family, the Maleinos family and others. After the death of the usurper Bardas Phokas, in 989, the rebels were arrested and leaded to the procession of triumph. But, according to John Scylitzes, Leo Melissenos was exempted from the procession by the emperor, as he admitted Basil II and Constantine VIII’s (1025-1028) authority from thereafter. 10
5. The peak of Melissenos family’s prestige (late 11th and early 12th century)
The most known representative of the Melissenos family was Nikephoros, an usurper since 1080-1081. As it has already been mentioned, he possessed land in Dorylaeum and its surrounding area.11 According to a subsequent source, he was son of Leosthenes, a magistros and “general of all Asia”.12 Nikephoros Vryennios’ mention, though, appears to be more accurate; according to him, Nikephoros Melissenos’ father came from the Vourtzis family.13 At the times of Constantine X Doukas (1059-1067), Nikephoros Melissenos got married with Eudokia Komnene, sister of the subsequently emperor Alexios I (1081-1118). This relation with the Komnenos family gave Melissenoi the opportunity to rise to the highest positions of authority in the late 11th century.
In the restless last years of the 11th century, while the empire suffered from the rebelions of noted Byzantine generals and representatives of eminent aristocratic families, Nikephoros Melissenos, general of Anatolikon, did not remain inactive. In 1077-1078, during the rebelion of Nikephoros Botaneiates, subsequently Nikephoros III Botaneiates (1078-1081), he sided with the threatened emperor Michael VII Doukas (1071-1078), who appointed him of the themes of Asia Minor. Melissenos was punished for his devotion to the Doukid dynasty by being exiled in Kos, where he was obliged to go immediately after Nikephoros VII’s enthronement. The animosity between the emperor and Melissenos was perpetuated, as two years later, in the autumn of 1080, Nikephoros Melisseons rebelled. It is important to mention that his aspirations for the throne were supported, among others, by the troops that were stationed on the western part of Asia Minor, a fact that indirectly indicates the area upon which the usurper’s family had influence.
In the April of 1081, Nikephoros Melissenos abandoned his imperial aspirations and agreed to support Alexios Komnenos, who rebelled in the European part of the empire. According to the agreement between them, after Alexios would come to the throne, Melissenos would be awarded the second highest rank of the empire –the title of caesar– and would be given land in the area of Thessaloniki.
Alexios I Komnenos kept his word. As soon as he came to the throne, Nikephoros Melissenos was appointed a caesar, this title was not, however, immediate second to the emperor’s any longer, because of a reform Alexios made, creating the new title of as superior to that of the caesar. In the same time, Melissenos resumed the theme of Thessaloniki and was given land in the city and its surrounding areas as a compensation for the loss of his land in Asia Minor, which was threatened by the Seljuqs’ conquests. He allotted part of this land to his relatives, the Vourtzis family.
6. Melissenos family in the 12th century
Given that the Melissenoi were related with representatives of the Komnenos dynasty, members of their house achieved to maintain their place in the eminent circles of Byzantine society during the 12th century. However, we must point out that the number of representatives of the family that appear during this period is relatively small. Therefore, in the beginning of John II Komnenos’ (1118-1143) reign, no member of the Melissenos family was appointed to a high position.14 Only Nikephoros Melissenos’ and Eudokia Komnene’s only son, John, has possibly been a high official during that period, but soon resigned, and as he does not appear in the sources thereafter, it is assumed that he retired in his land in Thessaloniki.15 The available information about his descendants, who also appear in the 12th century, indicate that the Melissenos family had meanwhile lost its importance and its representatives no longer held important state positions.16
7. Melissenos family in late Byzantium
Many personalities with the last name Melissenos are mentioned in late Byzantium, but it is not possible to ascertain whether they were related to the family from Phrygia which’s line can be traced since the late 8th century. An example of this is the case of the Melissenoi who were land owners from the area of Smyrna and they are mentioned in the 13th century.17 But most of the Melissenoi that appear since the 13th century did not, usually, belong in the eminent social classes of Byzantium.
The last name Melissenos survived after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. An eminent post-Byzantine Melissenos was Makarios, metropolitan of of Monemvasia, who we have mentioned before, and who lived in the 16th century. Makarios revised Sphrantzes’ Chronicle, adding a chapter dedicated to the history of the Melissenos family.18
1. Каждан А.П., Социальный состав господствующего класса Византии XI-XII вв. (Москва 1974), p. 187, n. 175. The writer mentions that the name Mellisenos may derive from the name of a profession, but does not believe that this is probable.
2. Meineke, A. (ed.), Ioannis Cinnami historiarum libri septem (Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae 26, Bonnae 1836), pp. 294-295. Cf. Cheynet, J.C., Pouvoir et contestations à Byzance 963-1210 (Paris 1990), p. 217, n. 69. Βλυσίδου, Β. et al., Η Μικρά Ασία των Θεμάτων (ΙΒΕ/ΕΙΕ, Ερευνητική Βιβλιοθήκη 1, Αθήνα 1998), p. 188, n. 226.
3. Considering the rebellions that shattered the empire in the late 11th century, it is more possible that the buildings mentioned by John Kinnamos were not a work of Nikephoros Melissenos but of his ancestors. See Cheynet, J.C., Pouvoir et contestations à Byzance 963-1210 (Paris 1990), p. 217, n. 69.
4. For the place-names Dorylaeum and Nakoleia, see Belke, K. – Mersich, N., TIB 7: Phrygien und Pisidien (Tabula Imperii Byzantini 7, Wien 1990), pp. 238-242, 344-346.
5. Based on a stamp, it is known that a Theognostos Melissenos was katepano of Mesopotamia in the mid-11th century. See Theodoridis, D., “Theognostos Melissenos, katepan von Mesopotamia”, Byzantinische Zeitschrift 78 (1985), pp. 361-364.
6. Cheynet, J.C., Pouvoir et contestations à Byzance 963-1210 (Paris 1990), p. 217.
7. Cheynet, J.C., Pouvoir et contestations à Byzance 963-1210 (Paris 1990), pp. 240, 243-244; Kazhdan, A., The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium II (Oxford 1991), s.v. “Melissenos” (A. Kazhdan), p. 1334-1335.
8. Grecu V. (ed. and trans.), Georgios Sphrantzes, Memorii 1401-1477. In anexâ Pseudo-Phrantzes: Macarie Melissenos Cronica, 1258-1481 (Scriptores Byzantini V, Bucharest 1966), p. 270.
9. Grumel, V., “Addition à l’ article Chronologie des patriarches iconoclastes du XIe siècle”, Échos d'Orient 34 (1935), p. 506.
10. According to Scylitzes, in an occasion when Theognostos Melissenos was swearing and insulting the emperors Basil II and Constantine VIII, Leo Melissenos at first tried to calm down his brother, begging him not to insult his own masters in such an obscene manner. When Theognostos did not comply with him, he beat him. Then Basil II supposedly said: “See, the cross and the shovel are made of the same wood.” See Ioannes Scylitzes, Synoposis historiarum, Thurn, J. (ed.) (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae V, Berlin – New York 1973), p. 338.
11. Meineke, A. (ed.), Ioannis Cinnami historiarum libri septem (Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae 26, Bonnae 1836), p. 294-295.
12. For magistros Leosthenes see the dissertation «Γεωργίου του Σχολαρίου εις το αγλαότιμον γένος των Μελισσηνών δι’εντάλματος του κραταιοτάτου βασιλέως Ιωάννου του Παλαιολόγου, εκλογή εκ διαφόρων ιστοριών» in Λάμπρος Σπ., «Θεωνάς, Άγνωστος χρονογράφος της αυτοκρατορίας της Τραπεζούντος», Νέος Ελληνομνήμων 1, iss. 2 (1904), pp. 191-202, esp. 191.
13. Gautier, P. (ed.), Nicéphore Bryennios, Histoire (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae 9, Bruxelles 1975), pp. 85, 239. As the Melissenos family was more prominent than the Vourtzis family, Nikephoros kept his mother’s last name.
14. Van Dieten, J.A. (ed.), Nicetae Choniatae Historia (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae 11, Berlin – New York 1975), p. 9.
15. See Βάρζος, Κ., Η γενεαλογία των Κομνηνών 1 (Βυζαντινά Κείμενα και Μελέται 20, Θεσσαλονίκη 1984), p. 174-176.
16. See details in Βάρζος, Κ., Η γενεαλογία των Κομνηνών 1 (Βυζαντινά Κείμενα και Μελέται 20, Θεσσαλονίκη 1984), p. 304-308.
17. Ahrweiler, H., “L’ histoire et la géographie de la région de Smyrne entre les deux occupations turques (1081-1317), particulièrement au XIIIe siècle”, Travaux et Mémoires 1 (1965), p. 1-204, esp. 172.
18. Grecu V. (ed.and ro.trans.), Georgios Sphrantzes, Memorii 1401-1477. In anexâ Pseudo-Phrantzes: Macarie Melissenos Cronica, 1258-1481 (Scriptores Byzantini V, Bucharest 1966), p. 270.