Komnenós or Comnenus (Greek Κομνηνός, plural Κομνηνοί, pronounced /komniní/) was the name of a ruling family of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire), who halted the political decline of the Empire from c.1081 to c.1185.
The Komnenoi, or Comnenians, originated in the village of Komne, near Philippopolis, Thrace (now Plovdiv, in Bulgaria), but by the mid-11th century, the family and its estates were concentrated in Paphlagonia, around Kastamon (near the Black Sea coast of modern Turkey).
Founding the dynasty
The Komnenos dynasty of Byzantine emperors was founded by Isaac I Komnenos, a Stratopedarch of the East under Michael VI. In 1057 Isaac led a coup against Michael and was proclaimed emperor. However, the dynasty did not come to full power until the accession of Alexios I Komnenos, Isaac I's nephew, in 1081. By this time, descendants of all the previous dynasties of Byzantium seem to have disappeared from the realm, such as the important Scleros and Argyros families. Descendants of those emperors lived abroad, having married into the royal families of Georgia, Russia, France, Italy, Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia; thus it was easier for the Komnenos family to ascend to the throne.
The Komnenoi were related to the Doukas family, whereby the clan often was referred as "Komnenodoukai" (or "Comnenoducae") and both surnames were used together by several individuals. Alexios I married Irene Doukaina, the grandniece of Constantine X Doukas, a general who had succeeded Isaac I in 1059. Several families descended from the Komnenodoukai, such as Palaiologos, Angelos, Vatatzes and Laskaris. Alexios and Irene's youngest daughter Theodora ensured the future success of the Angelos family by marrying into it: Theodora's grandsons were the emperors Isaac II Angelos and Alexios III Angelos.
The Comneni as Emperors
Under Alexios I and his successors the Empire was fairly prosperous and stable. Alexios moved the imperial palace to the Blachernae section of Constantinople. Much of Anatolia was recovered from the Seljuk Turks, who had captured it just prior to Alexios' reign. Alexios also saw the First Crusade pass through Byzantine territory, leading to the establishment of the Crusader states in the east. The Komnenos dynasty was very much involved in crusader affairs, and also intermarried with the reigning families of the Principality of Antioch and the Kingdom of Jerusalem - Theodora Komnene, niece of Manuel I Komnenos, married Baldwin III of Jerusalem, and Maria, grandniece of Manuel, married Amalric I of Jerusalem.
Remarkably, Alexios ruled for 37 years, and his son John II ruled for 25, after uncovering a conspiracy against him by his sister, the chronicler Anna Komnene, and her husband Nikephoros Bryennios. John's son Manuel ruled for another 37 years.
The Komnenos dynasty produced a number of branches. As imperial succession was not in a determined order but rather depended on personal power and the wishes of one's predecessor, within a few generations several relatives were able to present themselves as claimants. After Manuel I's reign the Komnenos dynasty fell into conspiracies and plots like many of their ancestors (and the various contenders within the family sought power and often succeeded in overthrowing the preceding kinsman); Alexios II, the first Komnenos to ascend as a minor, ruled for three years and his conqueror and successor Andronikos I ruled for two, overthrown by the Angelos family under Isaac II who was dethroned and blinded by his own brother Alexios III. The Angeloi were overthrown during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, by Alexios Doukas, a relative from the Doukas family.
The later family
Several weeks before the occupation of Constantinople by crusaders in 1204, one branch of the Komnenoi fled back to their homelands in Paphlagonia, on the Black Sea, and set up an Empire of Trebizond. Their first 'emperor', named Alexios I, was the grandson of Emperor Andronikos I. These emperors - the "Grand Komnenoi" (Megaloi Komnenoi or Megalokomnenoi) as they were known - ruled in Trebizond for over 250 years, until 1461, when David Komnenos was defeated and executed by the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II. A princess of the Trebizond branch married an Ottoman Sultan and was the mother of prince Jahja (born 1585), who reportedly became a Christian yet spent much of his life attempting to gain the Ottoman throne.
One renegade member of the family, also named Isaac, established a separate "empire" on Cyprus in 1184, which lasted until 1191, when the island was taken from him by Richard I of England during the Third Crusade.
When the eastern Empire was restored in 1261 at Constantinople, it was a family closely related to the Comneni, the Palaiologos family, who were the imperial house. The Paleologi ruled until the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
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