Thomas Palaiologos
"Emperor of Constantinople"
Thomas Palaiologos2.jpg
Thomas, detail from the Pintoricchio fresco of Pius II's arrival at Ancona, in the Siena Cathedral
Despot of the Morea
1460–1465 (titular)
PredecessorTheodore II Palaiologos (alone)
SuccessorAndreas Palaiologos (titular)
Co-regentTheodore II Palaiologos (1428–1443)
Constantine Palaiologos (1428–1449)
Demetrios Palaiologos (1449–1460)
Died12 May 1465(1465-05-12) (aged 55)
SpouseCatherine Zaccaria
FatherManuel II Palaiologos
MotherHelena Dragaš
ReligionGreek Orthodox (1409–after 1460)
Roman Catholicism (after 1460–1465)
SignatureThomas Palaiologos's signature

Thomas Palaiologos or Palaeologus (Greek: Θωμᾶς Παλαιολόγος, romanizedThomas Palaiologos; 1409 – 12 May 1465) was Despot in Morea from 1428 until the Ottoman conquest in 1460, though he continued to claim the title until his death in 1465. Thomas was the younger brother of the final Byzantine emperors John VIII and Constantine XI and also laid claim to the position of emperor following the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, during which Constantine died.

From 1453 to 1460, Thomas warred against his brother Demetrios over control of the Morea and over who was the rightful holder of the imperial title. This dispute came to an end when the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II, who had conquered Constantinople seven years prior, invaded the Morea. Thomas fled with his family to Italy and lived in exile in Rome from 1461. In Rome, Pope Pius II recognised him as the rightful "Emperor of Constantinople".

Thomas died in 1465 and despite his attempts and hopes, he had failed to garner enough support to kick-start a crusade that could have helped him claim Constantinople and restore the Byzantine Empire. His claims to the position of emperor and Despot of the Morea were maintained after his death by his oldest son Andreas.

Early life and rule as Despot of the Morea

Thomas Palaiologos was the youngest surviving son of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos[1] and his wife Helena Dragaš. His maternal grandfather was Serbian magnate Constantine Dragaš. His brothers included the Byzantine emperors John VIII Palaiologos[2] and Constantine XI Palaiologos, as well as Theodore II Palaiologos and Demetrios Palaiologos, Despots of the Morea, and Andronikos Palaiologos, Despot of Thessalonica. As youngest son, he was never expected to reign, but his children became the only surviving heirs of the defunct Palaiologan dynasty.

Like other imperial sons, Palaiologos was made a Despot (despotēs), and from 1428 joined his brothers Theodore and Constantine in the Morea. After the retirement of Theodore during 1443, he governed together with Constantine, until the latter became emperor (as Constantine XI) during 1448. Palaiologos remained Despot of the Morea, but was forced to share the rule with his older brother Demetrios beginning 1449. The Byzantine possessions in Morea had expanded considerably at the expense of the Latin Principality of Achaea. After the last war during 1430 virtually the entire peninsula was ruled by the Byzantines, and Thomas married Catherine Zaccaria, the daughter of the last Prince of Achaea Centurione II Zaccaria, succeeding to his father-in-law's possessions during 1432.

The division of the Despotate of the Morea between Thomas and Demetrios during 1450.

After this period of success, the fortunes of Byzantine Morea decreased, as the collegiate government by several brothers caused increasing confusion. This became especially serious after the arrival of Demetrios, who had a pro-Ottoman policy as opposed to his pro-western orientation. From 1447 the Despots had become vassals of the Ottoman Sultan. At the beginning of the siege of Constantinople by Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire, an Ottoman army was sent with orders to raid in the Morea, preventing help from being sent to Constantinople. After the conquest of Constantinople by Mehmed II on 29 May 1453, to maintain the status quo, the Sultan ordered the two brothers to continue as joint rulers of Morea.

This order had been accepted for the first two years because of the Kantakouzenos family's revolt which started during the siege of Constantinople (1453) by Demetrios I Kantakouzenos' grandchild Manuel. Only during the next year did the forces of the Palaiologos brothers destroy the rebel forces.

In these circumstances, and without Constantine XI to maintain peace in the family, Palaiologos sought western aid against both the Ottomans and his pro-Ottoman brother Demetrios. He allied with Republic of Genoa and the Pope and defeated Demetrios, who fled seeking help from the Ottomans during 1460. The Ottoman army duly attacked Morea and quickly breached the Hexamilion wall across the Isthmus of Corinth, which was too long to be effectively manned and defended by Thomas' forces.

Thomas escaped with his family to Italy. He took with him most of the possession of his daughter, Helena Palaiologina, Despotess of Serbia (the widow of Lazar Branković), including the relic of the True Cross enshrined in a new staurotheke which bore the inscription of the Serbian Patriarchate of Peć. In the last and tumultuous period of Serbia's independence, this relic came into the possession of the ruling Branković house, in whose realm the Patriarchate of Peć was situated. Facing an Ottoman threat, the widow of Lazar Branković entrusted the staurotheke to her father Palaiologos, Despot of Morea. Palaiologos would in later years consign it, with other relics, to the Pope. Eventually, the staurotheke eventually ended up in Pienza.[3]

The commanders of the garrisons of the fortified cities in Morea, deserted by their rulers, chose individually whether to fight or surrender, depending on their own will and circumstances. During the next year Graitzas received an offer to become general of the Republic of Venice, which he accepted, thus leaving Salmenikos to the Ottomans.

Life in exile

After the conquest of Morea, Thomas had first fled to Corfu[4] but later moved to Rome where he made a ceremonial entrance as "Emperor of Constantinople" on March 7th, 1461. He was recognized as the rightful holder of that title by Pope Pius II and throughout Christian Europe. After the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 and during the increasing Ottoman expansion in the years that followed, many refugees fled from the Balkans to Western Europe. Among them, Thomas was by far the highest-profile ruler in exile.[5] To create greater support for his situation Thomas changed his religion to Roman Catholicism from Greek Orthodoxy during his last years of life.

Although most refugees from the East were content with living out their lives, provided for by those Western Europeans whose sympathy they had managed to acquire, Thomas hoped to reclaim not only the Morea but also Constantinople itself from the Ottomans. When preparations were being made for a new crusade to retake the ancient city in the 1460s, Thomas travelled around Italy to raise support, carrying with him papal letters of indulgence to encourage nobles to join the crusade. Despite Thomas's hopes and the preparations, no crusade would set out to take Constantinople.[5] Thomas died on 12 May 1465 and was buried in the St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.[6]

Family and imperial heirs

After Thomas's death, the position of rightful emperor and despot was claimed by his oldest son, Andreas Palaiologos, who had been born just a few months before Constantinople fell in 1453.

By his marriage with Catherine (Caterina) Zaccaria of Achaea, Palaiologos had at least four children:

  1. Helena Palaiologina, who married Despot Lazar II of Serbia.[7]
  2. Andrew (Andreas) Palaiologos, who succeeded as claimant to the titles of "Emperor of Constantinople" and "Despot of the Morea".
  3. Manuel Palaiologos.
  4. Zoe Palaiologina (renamed Sophia), who married Grand Prince Ivan III of Russia.

Mehmed II conquered the Empire of Trebizond, de facto the last free territory of the ancient Roman state, during the year 1461. Nevertheless, Mehmed had already proclaimed himself "Roman Emperor" upon capturing Constantinople (1453).

In an effort to reunite the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, Pope Paul II arranged during 1472 a marriage between the Catholic daughter of Palaiologos, Zoe Palaiologina (renamed Sophia), and Grand Prince Ivan III of Russia, with the hope of making Russia a Roman Catholic country. This attempt to unite churches failed. Nonetheless, because of this marriage, Moscow began in the next century its imperial policy of "third Rome". Moreover, Thomas' great-grandson was Ivan IV of Russia, the first emperor (tsar) of Russia to be crowned as such (the imperial title had already come into use by Ivan III and his son Vasili III of Russia). The last known descendant of Zoe/Sophia was Maria of Staritsa, wife of Livonia's king Magnus. She died in 1610.

In the late 16th century, a family of Palaiologoi lived in Pesaro in Italy and claimed descent from Thomas through another son, identified as "John". This family, containing nobles such as a Theodore Palaiologos who worked as a soldier and hired assassin, and Ferdinand Palaiologos, who retired in Barbados, later mainly lived in Cornwall in England in the 17th century.[8] Though the existence of a son called "John" to Thomas can't be proven with any certainty, leading some historians to treat the claims of these Palaiologoi as unlikely, it is possible that John was an illegitimate son of Thomas, or perhaps the son of either of his known sons, Andreas or Manuel.[9][10]


See also


  • George Sphrantzes, The Fall of the Byzantine Empire, trans. Marios Philippides, Amherst MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1980. ISBN 0-87023-290-8
  • Fine, Jr., John V.A. (1994). The Late Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Late Twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest. The University of Michigan Press.
  • Jonathan Harris, Greek Émigrés in the West, 1400–1520, Camberley: Porphyrogenitus, 1995. ISBN 1-871328-11-X
  • Jonathan Harris 'A worthless prince? Andreas Palaeologus in Rome, 1465–1502', Orientalia Christiana Periodica 61 (1995), 537–54
  • Donald M. Nicol, The Immortal Emperor, Cambridge University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-521-41456-3.
  • Nicol, Donald M. (1993) [1972]. The Last Centuries of Byzantium, 1261–1453. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521439916.
  • Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Oxford University Press, 1991.
  • Steven Runciman, The Fall of Constantinople 1453, Cambridge University Press, 1965. ISBN 0-521-09573-5


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ [2]
  3. ^
  4. ^ Runciman, Steven, 1903-2000. (1965). The fall of Constantinople, 1453. Cambridge: University Press. p. 171. ISBN 9781107604698. OCLC 220712.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. ^ a b Harris, Jonathan (2013). "Despots, Emperors, and Balkan Identity in Exile". The Sixteenth Century Journal. 44 (3): 643–661. ISSN 0361-0160. JSTOR 24244808.
  6. ^ Harris, Jonathan. "A worthless prince? Andreas Palaeologus in Rome, 1465-1502". Orientalia Christiana Periodica 61 (1995), 537-54.
  7. ^ Fine, Jr. 1994, p. 555.
  8. ^ Nicol, D. M. (1974-01-01). "Byzantium and England". Balkan Studies. 15 (2): 179–203. ISSN 2241-1674.
  9. ^ Norwich, John Julius, Byzantium - The Decline and Fall, p.446
  10. ^ Hall, John (2015). An Elizabethan Assassin: Theodore Paleologus: Seducer, Spy and Killer. The History Press. p. 229. ISBN 978-0750962612.

Thomas Palaiologos
Palaiologos dynasty
Born: 1409 Died: 12 May 1465
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Constantine Palaiologos
Despot of the Morea
with Demetrios Palaiologos
Ottoman conquest of the Morea
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
Constantine XI Palaiologos
Byzantine Emperor
(formally "Emperor of Constantinople")

with Demetrios Palaiologos
Reason for succession failure:
Ottoman conquest of Constantinople ends the Byzantine Empire
Succeeded by
Andreas Palaiologos