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Eirene Palaiologina

Author(s) : Radic Radivoj (3/13/2002)
Translation : Velentzas Georgios

For citation: Radic Radivoj, "Eirene Palaiologina",
Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World, Asia Minor
URL: <http://www.ehw.gr/l.aspx?id=7883>

Ειρήνη Παλαιολογίνα (2/6/2006 v.1) Eirene Palaiologina (2/15/2006 v.1) 

1. Biography

Eirene Palaiologina was born before 1220. She was the daughter of the megas domestikos Andronikos Palaiologos and Theodora, and the elder sister of Emperor Michael VIII. Circa 1240, she married the pinkernes John Kantakouzenos Komnenos Angelus and bore four daughters: Theodora, Maria, Anna and Eugenia.1 Her husband died as monk Ioannikios before 1257, and after she was widowed, Eirene became a nun in 1261 or shortly earlier, under the name Eulogia.2 Later on, she actively participated in the conflict between the supporters and the opponents of the Union of the Churches until she died, in 1284.

2. Sources

The Byzantine sources report Eirene twice. In the work of George Pachymeres, there is a stirring and tender story about the way the elder sister Eirene used to lull her brother Michael with a song, praising him as the future emperor who would enter Constantinople through the Golden Gate.3 In general, Pachymeres reports that both sisters of Michael, Martha and Eirene (Eulogia), and particularly Eirene, took care of their young brother.

Eirene is also reported in sources by George Akropolites, on the occasion of the tumultuous events of the summer of 1261, when the forces of Nicaea, under the command of strategos Alexios Strategopoulos, recaptured Constantinople from the Latins. According to Akropolites, Emperor Michael VIII, in Meteorion at the time, was unaware of the events. Suddenly, during the night, there was a rumour that Constantinople was free. The news was announced by a young man, who was at the service of Eirene: while he was on his way from Bithynia, he learnt all about the recapture of Constantinople. Eirene did not hesitate to inform her brother. She found him sleeping and was wondering how to act, fearing that he might be upset if she suddenly announced the news. Thus, she touched him and told him: ‘my king, you have finally captured Constantinople’, adding ‘raise, my king, because Jesus has offered you Constantinople’.4

3. Political Attitude

Eirene fostered her own political ambitions and had some influence on her younger brother. It is well known that it was people of her environment that urged Emperor Michael VIII to secure the rights of his son, Andronikos II, at the expense of young John IV Laskaris' rights over the throne. Thus, the fortuneless boy, son of Emperor Theodore II Laskaris, was later blinded. Eulogia's role in the conviction of the competent strategos Ioannes Makrenos, who was blinded by order of the emperor, is also known

When the Bulgarian tsar Constantine Tih (1257‑1277) lost his wife, he was married to the daughter of Eulogia, Maria. The wedding must have taken place in the late 1268 or the early 1269.5 The fact that the Bulgarian tsar became her son-in-law, offered Eulogia the opportunity and the power to achieve some of her ambitions in the following years.

4. Against the Union of the Churches

The mutual affection between Michael VIII and his elder sister suffered because of a crucial matter: the Union of the Churches. In 1273, Eulogia was directly opposed to the union her brother advocated. What is more, she became one of the reference points for those against the union. Due to this attitude, she spent some time in exile: her brother exiled her at the stronghold of St. Gregory, in the bay of Nicomedia.6 The conflict between the two reached to the point of Eulogia forbiding the emperor’s widow, Theodora, to pray for Michael VIII when the latter died.

Eirene did not hesitate to turn her daughter Maria, the tsarina of Bulgaria, against her uncle. An interstate conflict was then provoked: Michael VIII did not cede to the Bulgarians the cities he had promised them, Anchialos and Mesembria and, as a result, Maria incited her husband against Byzantium. Moreover, Maria and Eulogia sent, possibly in 1276, a certain Joseph Katharos to Jerusalem, to Patriarch Gregory,7 so that the latter would persuade the Egyptian sultan Rukn al‑Din Baybars I to attack the Byzantine emperor, with the help of the Bulgarians. The Egyptian ruler rejected the proposal because he considered the unfamiliar Bulgarians an unreliable ally. The Bulgarians could not rely on the patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch either, since these two were living in Constantinople and were under the protection of the emperor.

When Michael VIII died (1282), the Byzantine ecclesiastical policy changed. His son and successor, Andronikos II, adopted a radically different view on the issue of the Union of the Churches. Among the counsellors of the new emperor was his aunt Eulogia, who continued to influence him until she died.

1. Nicol, D.M, The Byzantine Family of Kantakouzenos (Cantacuzenus) ca. 1100-1460. A Genealogical and Prosopographical Study (Washington 1968), ? 18, pp. 25-26, reports that there was probably yet another daughter whose name we ignore. However, the Prosopographisches Lexikon der Palaiologenzeit IX (Wien 1989), see entry ‘Παλαιολογίνα Ειρήνη Κομνηνή’ no. 21360, p. 67, mentions only four daughters.

2. A. Failler, (ed.) Georges Pachymérès relations historiques I (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae 14, Paris 1984), pp. 179-181.

3. A. Failler (ed.), Georges Pachymérès relations historiques I (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae 14, Paris 1984), pp. 179-181.

4. A. Heisenberg (ed.), Georgii Acropolitae Opera 1 (Leipzig 1978), p. 184.

5. A. Failler, ‘Chronologie et composition dans l’Histoire de Georges Pachymérès’, Revue des études byzantines 39 (1981), pp. 207-211.

6. Prosopographisches Lexikon der Palaiologenzeit IX (Wien 1989), see entry ‘Παλαιολογίνα Ειρήνη Κομνηνή’ no. 21360, p. 67.

7. A. Failler, ‘Chronologie et composition dans l’Histoire de Georges Pachymérès’, Revue des études byzantines 39 (1981), pp. 235-236.


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