Michael VIII

Michael VIII

surnamed PALAEOLOGUS (ό Παλαιολόγος), emperor of Nicaea, and afterwards of Constantinople, from A.D. 1260 to 1282, the restorer of the Greek empire, and the laborer for the "unity of the Church," was born of noble parentage in 1234. At an early age he rose to eminence, which he owed more to his uncommon talents than to his illustrious birth. He was in great favor with the emperor Theodore (II) Lascaris. This sovereign died in August 1259, leaving a son, John III, who was only nine years old, and over whom he had placed the patriarch Arsenius, and the magnus domesticus Muzalon, as guardians. Michael, the friend of the soldiers, was determined to secure for himself the place of Muzalon, who was despatched by the imperial guard, and Michael Palaeologus, whom Theodore shortly before his decease had appointed magnus dux, was chosen as guardian instead, and soon afterwards received or gave himself the title and power of despot. Next he made himself master of the imperial treasury, bribed or gained the Varangian guard and the clergy, and secured his proclamation as emperor at Magnesia. Michael and the boy John were crowned together at Nicaea, on the 1st of January, 1260. While the event was hailed with satisfaction at home, it failed to secure friends abroad. The Latins, especially, were dissatisfied; assumed a haughty tone towards Michael, and demanded the cession of those parts of Thrace and Macedonia which belonged to Nicaea, as a condition of acknowledging him as emperor. But Michael treated the Latin ambassadors with ridicule, and, in answer, took prompt measures for driving the Latins out of Constantinople; and, before the end of the year 1260, Baldwin II was shut up within his capital. Michael, however, was not strong enough to reduce the city, and was obliged to convert the siege into a blockade; until one day, one Curtrizacus, the commander of a body of volunteer auxiliaries, was informed of the existence of a subterranean passage leading from a place outside the walls into the cellar of a house within them, and which seemed not to be generally known. Upon the strength of this information, a plan was formed for the surprise of the garrison by means of the passage, and, after concerting measures with the commander-in-chief, he ventured with fifty men through the passage into the city. His plan succeeded completely. No sooner was he within than he took possession of the nearest gate, disarmed the post, opened it, and the main body of the Greeks rushed in. The stratagem was executed in the dead of night. The inhabitants, roused from their slumber, soon learned the cause of the noise, and kept quiet within their houses, or joined their daring countrymen. The Latins, dispersed in various quarters, were seized with a panic, and fled in all directions, while the emperor Baldwin had scarcely time to leave his palace and escape on board of a Venetian galley, which carried him immediately to Italy. On the morning of the 25th of July, 1261, Constantinople was in the undisputed possession of the Greeks, after it had borne the yoke of the Latins during fifty-seven years, three months, and thirteen days.

Michael, informed of the success of his arms, lost no time in repairing to Constantinople; and on the 14th of August held his triumphal entrance, saluted by the people with demonstrations of the sincerest joy. Constantinople, however, was no more what it had been. During the reign of the Latins plunder, rapine, and devastation had spoiled it of its former splendor; trade had deserted its harbor, and thousands of opulent families had abandoned the palaces or mansions of their forefathers in order to avoid contact with the hated foreigners. To restore, repeople. and readorn Constantinople was now Michael's principal task; and, in order to accomplish his purpose the better, he confirmed the extensive privileges which the Venetian, the Genoese, and the Pisan merchants had received from the Latin emperors. Although the Nicaean emperors considered themselves the legitimate successors of Constantine the Great, the possession of Constantinople was an event of such magnitude as to suggest to Michael the idea of a new coronation, which was accordingly solemnized in the cathedral of St. Sophia. But Michael was crowned alone, without John — an evil omen for the friends of the young emperor, whose fears were but too soon realized, for on Christmas-day of the same year, 1261, John was deprived of sight and sent into exile to a distant fortress. This hateful crime caused a general indignation among the people, and might have proved the ruin of Michael had he been a man of a less energetic turn of mind. The patriarch Arsenius, coguardian to John, was irreconcilable; he fearlessly pronounced excommunication upon the imiperial criminal, and years of trouble and commotion elapsed before Michael was readmitted into the communion of the faithful by the second successor of Arsenius, the patriarch Joseph.

The loss of Constantinople pope Urban IV regarded as robbing him of the hope of effecting a union between the Latin and the Greek churches, and he therefore urged the European princes to undertake a crusade against the Greek schismatics; but Michael avoided the danger by promising the pope to do his utmost in order to effect himself a mediation between the belligerents, and, as both the parties were tired of bloodshed, peace was soon restored (1263). In 1265 Arsenius was deposed, because he would not revoke the excommunication he had pronounced against the emperor; whereupon the prelate's adherents, the Arsenites, caused a schism which lasted till 1312. SEE ARSENIUS. In this skilful manner he also avoided troubles which threatened him in 1269, when Charles, king of Sicily, took up arms on pretence of restoring the fugitive Baldwin to the throne, and forthwith marching upon Constantinople, placed the capital in jeopardy. Michael, afraid that these hostilities were only the forerunners of a general crusade of all the Latin princes against him, made prompt proposals for a union of the Greek Church with that of Rome. The learned Veccus, accompanied by several of the most distinguished among the Greek clergy, were sent to the council which was called to assemble at Lyons in 1274; and there the union was effected by the Greeks giving way in the much disputed doctrine of the procession of the Holy Ghost, and submitting to the supremacy of the pope. SEE LYONS, II. The union, however, was desired only by a minority of the Greeks, and the orthodox majority accordingly did their utmost to prevent the measure from being carried out. Michael, in his turn, supported his policy with force. The patriarch Joseph was deposed, and Veccus appointed ill his stead; cruel punishment was inflicted upon all those who opposed the union; and Greece was shaken by a religious commotion which forms a remarkable event in the ecclesiastical history of the East. As space forbids us to dwell here longer upon these important transactions, we can only remark that the union was never effectually carried out, and was entirely abandoned upon the death 6f Michael. SEE FILIOQUE; SEE GREEK CHURCH.

The manifest duplicity and the cruelty with which the emperor behaved finally made him odious to his own subjects and contemptible to his Latin friends, and the latter part of his reign was an uninterrupted series of domestic troubles and foreign wars. His dearly-bought friendship with the Latin, and especially the Italian powers, was brought to a very speedy end. Upon the decease of the ex-emperor Baldwin, his son Philip assumed the imperial title, and formed an alliance between pope Martin IV, Charles of Anjou, king of Sicily, and the Venetians, with a view of reconquering Constantinople and dividing the Greek empire. But the invaders failed, and Michael, not satisfied with the glory of his arms and the material benefit he derived from his victory, resolved to take terrible revenge: he paid twenty thousand ounces of gold towards equipping a Catalan fleet, with which king Peter of Aragon was to attack Sicily; and the "Sicilian Vespers," in which eight thousand Frenchmen were massacred, and in consequence of which Sicily was wrested from Charles of Anjou and united with Aragon, were in some degree the work of Michael's fury. In the autumn of 1282 he fell ill, and died December 11, 1282, leaving the renown of a successful but treacherous tyrant. See Niceph. Gregor. lib. 4-5; Acropol. c. 76, etc.; Phranz. lib. 1; Pachymeres, Histaria Rerum a Michaele Palkeologa gestarum (1666); Neale, Hist, of the East. Ch. 2:311 sq.; Hase, Ch. Hist. pages 269, 354 sq.; Schrockh, Kirchengeschichte, 28:315 sq.; Gieseler, Eccles. Hist. 3:232, 413; Ffoulkes, Divisions in Christendom, volume 1; Neander, Ch. Hist. 8:264; Hardwick, Ch. Hist. of the Middle Ages, pages 279-282; Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, volume 4; Smith, Dict. of Greek and Roman Biogr. s.v.

Topical Outlines Nave's Bible Topics International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Online King James Bible King James Dictionary

Verse reference tagging and popups powered by VerseClick™.