TRAPEZUNTINE BYZANTINES
(1204-1461 AD)
(DBA IV/34)

By Andy Hooper

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Gamers and Historians both tend to dismiss the Byzantine Empire of Trebizond as a Ruritanian adventure with relatively little political or military impact, and to assume that the nation was composed of refugees who huddled together waiting for the inevitable tide of Turkish expansion to consume them. In reality, the empire was seized by a pair of adventurous descendents of the great Komnenan dynasty of Byzantium, and waged an unending economic, political and military war against other interests along the Black Sea coastline, from 1204 until they were finally annexed by the Ottomans in 1461.

When the Frankish Crusade seized Constantinople in 1204 AD, three successor states were formed from the former territories of the Byzantine Empire. The Empire of Nicaea was formed from western and southern Anatolia and southern Greece, the Despotate of Epirus from Northern Greece and Thrace, and the Empire of Trebizond held all but the very westernmost portion of the temperate Black Sea coast. Even after the Nicaeans were able to retake Constantinople, with the help of the Genoese and the Golden Horde, the Trapezuntines jealously retained their independence, and used the assistance of other powerful interests in the region to prevent their reincorporation by force.

One significant reason that western historians have given Trapezuntine Byzantium little scrutiny is that the nationís rulers were very willing to reach an accommodation with Islamic dynasties and states in order to preserve that independence. Trebizond and Sinope were the two major port cities on the southern coast of the Black Sea, and critical to the prosperity of the entire region; several Sultans found it far more useful to make an arrangement with Trebizondís "Emperor" than to besiege, reduce and then rebuild his (or her, as the Trapezuntines had several Empresses in their history) cities.

Trebizond therefore survived several invasions that were catastrophic to other states in the region, including the Mongol Conquest in the 13th Century, and the campaigns of Tamerlane at the opening of the 15th. The Mongols were particular patrons of Trebizond, as they chose to pass all the trade coming West along the silk road through the ports and towns of northern Anatolia. Trebizond was therefore an immensely wealthy state at times, and used their economic strength to hire professional soldiers from all around the region.

Coupled with their willingness to employ piracy, raiding and bribery to preserve their interests, these attributes make the Trapezuntines seem less admirable to Western observers than other peoples who doggedly resisted Islamic expansion. Another view might laud the Trapezuntines for preserving elements of the Greek cultural tradition without pursuing the adversarial relationship with Islam that proved so devastating to other Christian states of the eastern Mediterranean.

Most chroniclers mention how small Trebizondís standing army was.  Presumably this refers to the forces attached to the city itself, and these would have been supplemented by mercenaries, allies and levies before any kind of offensive operations were contemplated.

The region was traditionally famous for the quality and skill of archers who trained there, so the two bow elements in the list should be composed of native archers with composite bows in the early years of the Empire, and Italian or Dalmatian crossbowmen in its latter days. Alans, Kipchaks and Turks made up their light horse squadrons, while Georgian and Armenian adventurers put some spine into their cavalry formations.

The Emperors of Trebizond

Alexius I Komnenos, 1204-1222
(grandson of Andronicus I Komnenos of Byzantium)
Andronicus I Gido 1222-1235
John I Komnenos 1235-1238
Manuel I Komnenos, 1238-1263
Andronicus II Komnenos 1263-1266
George Komnenos 1266-1280
John II Komnenos 1280-1284
Theodora Komnenos 1284-1287
Alexius II Komnenos 1287-1330
Andronicus III Komnenos 1330-1332
Manuel II Komnenos, 1332-1333
Basilieos Megas Komnenos 1332-1340
Irene Paleologos 1340-1341
Anna Anachoutlou 1341
Michael Komnenos 1341-1342 (first rule)
John III Komnenos 1342-1344
Michael Komnenos 1344 ñ 1349 (restoration)
Alexius III Komnenos 1349-1390
Manuel III Komnenos 1390-1416
Alexius IV Komnenos 1416-1429
John IV Komnenos 1429-1459
David Komnenos 1459-1461

Trapezuntine coin portraying
Alexius I Komnenos of Trebizond

Enemies

The most important and enduring enemy of Byzantine Trebizond was the Italian city-state of Genoa, which pursued commercial and military interests in the Black Sea from the early 13th Century. The most important setting for this long war was the Black Sea itself, as Genoese and Trapezuntine ships attacked, sacked and sank one another in order to control trade on its waters. DBA does not include the Genoese on the Trapezuntineís enemy list, presumably because there were almost no field battles between the two; even so, it would be interesting to devise a "marine" variant list of the Italian Condotta (IV/61), with more blades, bows and auxilia to replace their usual 6 stands of knights.

Other enemies of the Trapezuntines include the persistant Alans (II/58), the Georgians (III/70c) and the Seljuk Turks (III/73), who would surely have overwhelmed Trebizond if not for the intervention of the Mongol conquest. The successor Sultanates that struggled for control of Anatolia thereafter, including Karaman, Hamad and Dulgaldir, are gathered under the title Anatolian Turkoman, and list IV/49. Most of them had armed conflict with the Trapezuntines at one time or another, which naturally lead to the Ottoman Empireís (IV/55) enduring design for the conquest of Trebizond. With the recession of the Timurids in the middle 15th Century, that design was finally realized, although Constantinople itself fell once again before Trebizond did. Even then, the last Trapezuntine Emperor, David Komnenos tried to organize the non-Islamic states of the region to resist the Ottoman expansion. Sultan Muhammad II captured the Emperor and his city in 1461, and after the discreet passage of a few years, had him and all but one of the males in his family executed.


Andy Hooper's Archers of Trebizond

Army Composition

1x 3Cv/Gen General with Trapezuntine stratiotai lancers
1x 3Cv Trapezuntine stratiotai lancers
2x 2Lh Laz/Tzan horse archers, and/or Turkish or Alan mercenaries
1x 4Sp Trapezuntine or mercenary spearmen
3x 2Ps Trapezuntine and/or Laz/Tzan archers.
2x 3Ax Laz/Tzan foot
2x 3Bw Laz/Tzan archers.

Notes:  Composition is based on DBM army list. The DBM list provides for up to 16 elements of regular Trapezuntine archers, i.e., RegBw(O), which should be depicted in DBA as 4Bw, but which for some reason are omitted from the DBA list. Working within the DBA list, you may opt to depict your 3Bw as Trapezuntine regulars (or just substitute 4Bw). The Lazoi and Tzanoi were ethnic Georgian tribes settled in the region controlled by Trebizond. Trapezuntine stratiotai swapped their lances for horsebows after 1360 AD.

Tactics

Chris Brantley:  A low-aggression, littoral army with a strong navy that was regularly engaged in defending its Black Sea trade against the Genoese. The littoral classification seems at odds with their traditional in-land foes -- the Turkomen, Alans and Georgians, but provides a tactical advantage that the Trapezuntines need in order to match up against these more mobile opponents. Effective use of terrain is also critical, with nearly half of the Trapezuntine list well suited to fighting in bad going that can frustrate more mobile foes.

Other Resources

Andy Hooper's Trapezuntine Byzantines gallery.


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can be sent to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.

Last Updated: 14 Feb. 2005