Empresses of Late Byzantium

Foreign Brides, Mediators and Pious Women

by Petra Melichar (Author)
©2019 Monographs 498 Pages


With the exception of the wife of Andronikos III Palaiologos, Anna of Savoy, who acted as regent of Byzantium from 1341 to 1347, the lives of the late Byzantine empresses have so far received little scholarly attention. This study presents the biographies of all fifteen empresses of the Palaiologan dynasty and, based on their experiences, follows the development of the role and position of an empress in the last centuries of the empire. The final analysis considers the selection process for imperial brides and the rituals accompanying their arrival in Constantinople. The author also inquires into their role in public, ritual, and ecclesiastical life and their most important social roles at various stages of life.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Dedication Page
  • Foreword
  • Acknowledgments
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Maps
  • Introduction
  • Part 1: The Lives
  • I Theodora Doukaina Palaiologina: Mother of the Palaiologan Dynasty
  • Introduction
  • ‘A man of secret designs’
  • ‘The most pious empress’
  • Empress of Byzantium
  • The Arsenite controversy
  • Theodora and her daughters’ weddings
  • Theodora’s charity to monastic houses in Asia Minor
  • Theodora in imperial images
  • The controversy surrounding the Union of Lyons (1274)
  • The imperial widow and her Confession of Faith
  • The widowed mother
  • The patroness
  • Collector of sacred relics
  • Founder of monasteries
  • A mausoleum for the Palaiologan family
  • The nun Eugenia
  • Death
  • II Anna of Hungary: The Beloved Augusta
  • Historical background
  • Anna’s early years
  • Anna in Byzantium
  • The co-empress
  • The miracle of St. Euphrosyne the Younger
  • Anna and the Prodromos Monastery on Mount Menoikeion
  • In Asia Minor
  • Death concealed
  • III Eirene-Yolanda of Montferrat: Mère Politicienne
  • Introduction
  • The young empress
  • Saint Euphrosyne, a child, and the coronation
  • Asia Minor
  • Strife and coronations
  • Eirene and the Arsenites
  • The wedding of Simonis
  • Eirene and the marriage of her son John
  • Thessalonike: independent court or honorable exile?
  • The vacated throne of Montferrat
  • The patriarchal initiative
  • Demetrios, Theodore, and the affair of the Serbian throne
  • Protectress of Thessalonike or dangerous traitor?
  • The failed return to Constantinople
  • Supporter of monasteries
  • Death at Drama
  • IV Maria-Rita of Armenia: An Empress Surrounded by Death
  • Introduction
  • The family and childhood of the Armenian princess
  • An emergency conversion and marriage
  • Between Byzantium and Lesser Armenia
  • The empress and the brigand
  • Maria and the Orthodox Church
  • Loss and the taking of the veil
  • Maria and the First Civil War
  • Maria’s support of Andronikos III in the final phase of the war
  • The chancery of Empress Maria
  • Ambassador for peace
  • Uncertain times: Andronikos’s illness and the adoption of Syrgiannes
  • Death
  • V The Lonely Empress: Eirene-Adelheid (of Braunschweig-Grubenhagen)
  • Introduction
  • Consort of the heir to the throne
  • Eirene and the First Civil War
  • Eirene’s final years
  • Illness and death
  • VI Anna of Savoy: Nemesis or Savior?
  • Introduction
  • Illness
  • Jealousy, mistrust or gratefulness? The empress and the Kantakouzenos family
  • Caught between the pope and the emperor
  • Portent of death
  • Anna’s family
  • The Hodegon drama
  • Advisors or supervisors? (1341–1344)
  • The changing tide (1344–1346)
  • Anna and the Palamite struggle
  • Reconciliation with Kantakouzenos
  • Embassy to the Serbs
  • Mission accomplished
  • The lady of Thessalonike
  • Anna’s demise
  • VII Eirene Asenina Kantakouzene: An Empress ‘of Great Sense and Understanding’
  • Introduction
  • Eirene’s first mission
  • Ascension to power
  • The Second Civil War (1341–1347)
  • Governor of Didymoteichon
  • Coronation in Adrianople
  • The wedding of Eirene’s daughter Theodora
  • Coronation in Constantinople
  • Eirene’s negotiations with her son Matthew
  • Eirene and the Palamite controversy
  • Maria Light Mass
  • Governor of Constantinople
  • Mission to her son-in-law
  • The downfall of the Kantakouzenos dynasty
  • The Zeianos plot
  • The journey to the Peloponnese
  • Death
  • VIII Helene Palaiologina: Caught Between Fate and Family
  • Early years
  • Marrying the enemy
  • Marriage, vying for the throne, and the Serbian proposal
  • From Constantinople to Didymoteichon, Tenedos, and Thessalonike – and back again
  • Helene and the Palamite Controversy
  • Securing John’s freedom
  • Negotiations with Rome and John V’s conversion
  • The learned empress-patroness
  • Empress-mother or empress-philosopher?
  • The curse of the Palaiologans
  • Hypomone
  • IX Eirene Palaiologina: The Captive Empress
  • Introduction
  • Wedding in Thessalonike
  • Marriage and civil war
  • Ascent to the throne
  • No new dynasty for Byzantium
  • Death concealed
  • X Maria of Bulgaria: The Itinerant Empress
  • Introduction
  • The child bride
  • Blinding of husband and son
  • From the Ottoman court to the throne in Constantinople
  • Besieged in Galata and widowed in Selymbria
  • Two more journeys
  • Empress of Constantinople
  • XI Helene Dragaš: Mother of the Last Byzantine Emperors
  • Introduction
  • The Serbian bride
  • Imperial wedding and coronation
  • Mother of a large family
  • Death of her father and mother-in-law
  • The long wait in the Peloponnese
  • Final years of marriage
  • The dowager empress
  • Helene in the memory of her subjects
  • Whose seal and charity?
  • XII Eirene Gattilusio: The Widowed Empress
  • Introduction
  • ‘Eugenia’ or ‘Eirene’?
  • Marriage to John VII
  • Empress of Constantinople
  • Transience: Lemnos, Lesbos, and Thessalonike
  • The veil
  • XIII Anna of Moscow: The Child Empress
  • The princess from the far northeast
  • The brief Bosphorus years
  • XIV Sophia of Montferrat: The Ill-Favored Empress
  • Introduction
  • The uncomely bride
  • The unloved wife
  • XV Maria Komnene Kantakouzene Palaiologina: The Last Crowned Empress of Byzantium
  • Introduction
  • The last empress of Byzantium
  • Outside the palace
  • The message of the comet
  • The nun Makaria?
  • Part 2: Roles and Rituals
  • XVI The Transformation: Becoming an Empress in Late Byzantium
  • Personal merit versus advantage to the empire
  • Negotiations
  • Welcoming the bride
  • Proclamation
  • Change of confession
  • Change of name
  • Wedding the emperor (-to-be)
  • Coronation
  • XVII Courts and Rituals
  • Introduction
  • Symbols of feminine power: jewels and clothing
  • Titles and names
  • The ceremonial role of the late Byzantine empresses: potpourri
  • The four courts of the despoina
  • Several courts, one empire
  • XVIII Power and Public Life
  • Introduction
  • No great female autocrats for late Byzantium
  • Empresses and direct rule
  • Wise adviser, watchful eye, helping hand, and loyal mouthpiece
  • Administrators
  • XIX Piety and Orthodoxy
  • Introduction
  • The Synodikon of Orthodoxy: the measuring rod of piety
  • Impoverished or indifferent? Late Byzantine empresses and their foundations
  • Empress-nuns in late Byzantium
  • Empresses and the Orthodox Church
  • XX Seasons of Life
  • Hidden in the haze: childhood and youth
  • Imperial marriage: cage or bridge to power?
  • Mothers of daughters and mothers of sons
  • Retreating into the shadows: widowhood and death
  • Death
  • Epilogue
  • Glossary
  • List of Illustrations
  • Bibliography
  • General Index


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (July)
Palaiologan era Imperial women Rituals Integration Biographies Social roles
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 498 pp., 19 fig. col., 5 tables b/w.

Biographical notes

Petra Melichar (Author)

Petra Melichar earned her PhD from Katholieke Universiteit in Leuven in 2012. At present, she is a fellow of the Slavonic Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague and editor-in-chief of the journal Byzantinoslavica (since 2015). Her recent work centers on elite women in the Palaiologan period (1261 – 1453).


Title: Empresses of Late Byzantium
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500 pages