Trebizond, empire of

1204-1461. When the army of the Fourth Crusade overthrew (1204)
the Byzantine Empire and established the Latin Empire of
Constantinople, several Greek successor states sprang up. These
were the empire of Nicaea, the despotate of Epirus, and the empire of
Trebizond. The last of these was founded by two members of the
former imperial Comnenus family, David and his brother Alexius I
(reigned 1204-22) of Trebizond, who took the titles of Grand
Comnenus and emperor, which were assumed by all his successors.
The empire comprised the entire southern coastal region of the Black
Sea except its westernmost section, which belonged to Nicaea.
Trebizond, the capital, and Sinope were the chief cities. The western
part of the empire was the conquest of David Comnenus, who soon
lost his dominions to Nicaea. The empire of Trebizond was further
diminished when Sinope fell (1214) to the Seljuk Turks, and the
emperor became a vassal of the sultan of Iconium; for the remainder of
its existence Trebizond was restricted to the SE Black Sea coastal
region. When the Byzantine Empire was restored (1261) under
Nicaean leadership, Trebizond remained separate and independent,
although it was often forced to pay tribute to the succeeding dominant
powers of Asia Minor. After the Mongol invasion the empire
experienced tremendous economic prosperity. It became the
commercial route through Asia Minor, leading into the great trade
route to East Asia that the Mongols had opened, and its position on
the trade routes from Russia and from the Middle East to Europe
furthered its importance. Its commercial life was controlled by the
Genoese and the Venetians, and the empire profited much from the
added opportunity to export the produce of its own rich hinterland. The
empire reached its greatest prosperity under Alexius II (1297-1330),
but with the decline of Mongol power after 1320, Trebizond suffered
increasingly from Turkish attacks, civil wars, and domestic intrigues. In
this period the emperors attempted to gain strength by marrying the
princesses of the Comnenus dynasty to Turkish princes. Relations
between Trebizond and the Muslims were generally friendly, but after
the Turkish conquest of Constantinople (1453), David Comnenus, the
last emperor of Trebizond, promoted an alliance of the non-Ottoman
Asian states against Sultan Muhammad II. In 1461, Muhammad forced
David to surrender, and a few years later the sultan had him put to
death together with all the Comnenus males but one. Trebizond was
annexed to the Ottoman Empire. At the height of its wealth and power
the court of the Grand Comneni was a great artistic and cultural center
and made Trebizond the last refuge of Hellenistic civilization.