Maria of Trebizond

Maria Megale Komnene (Greek: Μαρία Μεγάλη Κομνηνή; died 17 December 1439), known as Maria of Trebizond (Greek: Μαρία της Τραπεζούντας), was a Byzantine Empress consort by marriage to the Byzantine emperor John VIII Palaiologos (r. 1425–1448).[1] She was the last empress consort of the Byzantine Empire.

Maria of Trebizond
Maria, depicted in the fresco Saint George and the Princess by Pisanello
Byzantine Empress
TenureSeptember 1427 – 17 December 1439
Died17 December 1439
FatherAlexios IV of Trebizond
MotherTheodora Kantakouzene
Palaiologan dynasty
Michael VIII 12591282
with Andronikos II as co-emperor, 12611282
Andronikos II 12821328
with Michael IX (12941320) and Andronikos III (13211328) as co-emperors
Andronikos III 13281341
John V 13411391
with John VI Kantakouzenos (13471354), Matthew Kantakouzenos (13421357) and Manuel II (13731391) as co-emperors
Usurpation of Andronikos IV 13761379
Usurpation of John VII 1390
Manuel II 13911425
with Andronikos V (14031407) and John VIII (ca. 14161425) as co-emperors
John VIII 14251448
Constantine XI 14481453
Preceded by
Laskarids of Nicaea
Followed by
Ottoman conquest

She was one of three daughters of Alexios IV of Trebizond and Theodora Kantakouzene.


In September, 1427, Maria married John VIII Palaiologos in Constantinople, having arrived by ship from Trebizond on the last day of August; the connection had been negotiated through ambassadors sent from Constantinople the previous year. George Sphrantzes describes her as Maria Komnene, daughter of Alexios the Emperor of Trebizond, and places the ceremony in year 6936 of the Byzantine calendar, thus establishing the date.[2] The Ecthesis Chronica calls her Maria Katakouzene (Katakouzene was a variant of Kantakouzene) and extols her exceptional beauty which caused John VIII to love her dearly.[3] The wedding by the Patriarch Joseph was recorded in the history of Doukas, who simply calls her Maria, daughter of Alexios Komnenos, Emperor of Trebizond.[4]

Bertrandon de la Brocquière, who saw her in Constantinople in 1432, likewise praised her beauty, stating, "I should not have had a fault to find with her had she not been painted, and assuredly she had not any need of it."[5]

The Spanish traveller Pero Tafur met Maria November 1437 when he visited Constantinople, and gives us a glimpse into her daily life. During his stay at Constantinople, Tafur found she often went hunting in the adjacent countryside, either alone or with the Emperor.[6] He adds that he met her elder brother, Alexander, in that city, where he lived "in exile with his sister, the Empress, and they say that his relations with her are dishonest."[7] When Pero Tafur returned to Constantinople a few months later, he asked to be shown the Hagia Sophia, his hosts included not only the Despot Constantine, but Maria and her brother Alexander, all of whom had wanted to hear Mass there.[8]

Maria's marriage with John lasted twelve years but resulted in no children. Sphrantzes records the date of her death, while John was away in Italy at the Council of Florence;[9] Steven Runciman attributed her death to bubonic plague.[10] She was buried in the church of the Pantokrator monastery in Constantinople. John Eugenikos, brother of Mark Eugenikos of Ephesus, composed a lament for her death.[3]

After Maria's death John never remarried and died childless on 31 October 1448. He was succeeded by his younger brother Constantine XI, who became the last Emperor. Constantine was a widower when he ascended to the throne and never married again,[11] leaving Maria the last Empress.

Primary sources


  1. William Miller is error saying she "married the Byzantine Emperor John VI., just as her aunt Eudokia had married his grandfather John V": John VI Kantakouzenos was co-emperor with John V. This mistake is easily explained by the loss of two characters, either by Miller's pen or the typesetter's fingers. Trebizond: The last Greek Empire of the Byzantine Era: 1204-1461, 1926 (Chicago: Argonaut Books, 1969), p. 80
  2. Chronicle 14:3-4; translated by Marios Philippides, The Fall of the Byzantine Empire: A Chronicle by George Sphrantzes, 1401-1477 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 1980), p. 30
  3. Donald M. Nicol, The Byzantine family of Kantakouzenos (Cantacuzenus) ca. 1100-1460: a genealogical and prosopographical study (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies, 1969), p. 171 and note
  4. Doukas, 20.7; translated by Harry J. Marguoulias, Decline and Fall of Byzantium to the Ottoman Turks (Detroit: Wayne State University, 1975), p. 114
  5. de la Brocquière, Early Travels in Palestine; cited in William Miller, Trebizond: The last Greek Empire of the Byzantine Era: 1204-1461, 1926 (Chicago: Argonaut, 1969), pp. 80f
  6. A. Vasiliev, "Pero Tafur, a Spanish Traveler of the XVth Century and His Visit to Constantinople, Trebizond, and Italy", Byzantion 7 (1932), p. 95
  7. Vasiliev, "Pero Tafur", p. 98
  8. Vasiliev, "Pero Tafur", p. 103
  9. Chronicle, 24.3; translated by Philippides, The Fall, p. 52
  10. Runciman, The Fall of Constantinople, 1453 (Cambridge: University Press, 1965), p. 21
  11. Runciman, Fall of Constantinople, p. 521
  • Cawley, Charles, Her listing, along with her husband, ., Medieval Lands database, Foundation for Medieval Genealogy
  • Portrait by Pisanello thought possibly a portrait of Maria.

Maria of Trebizond
Born: ? Died: 1439
Royal titles
Preceded by
Sophia of Montferrat
Byzantine Empress consort
Fall of Constantinople
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