Thomas Palaeologus

Thomas Palaeologus or Thomas Palaiologos (1409-1465) was Despot of Morea from 1449 until Ottoman conquest in 1460.

He was the youngest surviving son of Eastern Roman Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus and his wife Helena Dragas. His brothers included Byzantine emperors John VIII Palaeologus and Constantine XI , as well as Theodore and Demetrius Despots of Morea, and Andronicus, despot of Thessalonica. As a younger son, Thomas was never expected that to reign. Likewise, his children became the only surviving heirs of the defunct Palaeologus dynasty.

After his brother Constantine XI became emperor, Thomas received the position of Despot of Morea in 1449. Although Thomas was governor in Morea from 1428. Two years later his brother Demetrius was sent to live in Morea by Constantine, and share power with Thomas.

Previously in 1430, he defeated the Latin Principality of Achaea with the help of his brother Constantine XI(who was Despot of Morea at that time). As part of the settlement, Thomas married Prince Centurione II's daughter Catherine Zachariaina. Achaea was absorbed into the Despotate after Centurione's death in 1432. With Catherine he had four children; Helena, Zoe/Sophia, Andreas and Manuel.

At the onset of the siege of Constantinople by Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire, one Turkish army was sent with orders to blockade Morea. After the conquest of Constantinople by Mehmed II on May 29, 1453, maintaining the status quo, the Sultan ordered the two brothers to continue as joint rulers in Morea.

In this situation, Thomas decided to ally himself with the west and he married a woman from a low-level Genoese family. During his rule he held good relations with the Pope and the Republic of Genoa.

Constantine XI died defending Constantinople against Mehmed II, and thus no longer controlled his brothers. A civil war erupted then between Thomas and Demetrius for total control of Morea. Thomas defeated Demetrius, who in turn escaped to Turkish territory, asking Mehmed II to restore him to power in Morea. That demand however started the Turkish conquest of Morea.

The only place for an army to enter Morea was the isthmus of Corinth. It was here that late Byzantine emperors had spent significant funds building a defensive wall. However, due the ravages of civil war, Thomas did not have enough soldiers to man the wall. After hearing about the invasion, Thomas fled Morea, and escaped with his family to the Italian peninsula in 1460.

In Rome, Thomas had already been recognized as the Byzantine Emperor. The commanders of the garrisons of all the city fortresses in Morea, left alone without rulers, chose individually whether to fight or surrender, depending on their own will. In the final battle of the Roman Empire in its Byzantine incarnation, Graitzas Palaeologus, the military commander of the city of Salmenikos defeated Mehmed II, who after a month of siege returned home without conquering that "unimportant city". In the following year Graitzas received an offer to become general of the Republic of Venice, which he accepted, thus leaving Salmenikos to Mehmed.

After the fall of Morea, Thomas lived in Rome, recognized throughout Christian Europe as the rightful Emperor. On Thomas' death that position fell to his son Andreas Palaeologos, born in Mistra around 1455. The Pope gave a little financial help to Andreas, and when Andreas died in 1503 no further claim in Western Europe was made to the position of Byzantine emperor. Andreas had sold his rights to the Byzantine imperial crown to Charles VIII of France in 1494. Charles predeceased him in 1498. In his last will and testament the designanted heirs of Andreas were Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile.

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

Playing a great political game, Pope Paul II arranged in 1472 a marriage between the Catholic daughter of Thomas, Zoe Palaiologina, and Grand Duke Ivan III of Russia, with the hope of making Russia a Catholic country. This attempt to unite churches failed. Nonetheless, because of this marriage, Moscow began in the following century its imperial policy of "third Rome". Moreover, Thomas' great-grandson was Ivan IV of Russia, the first Tsar of Russia. The last known descendants of Sophia's (Zoe's catholic name) died in Russia around 1600, in the Time of Troubles.


Byzantine Emperor with Demetrius Palaeologus

Preceded by: Constantine XI Palaeologus

Succeeded by: In exile:Andreas Palaeologus, de facto: Mehmed II


  • Joseph von Hammer, Geschichte des Osmanischen Reiches
  • Edward Gibbon, The History of Decline and Fall of Roman Empire
  • George Sphrantzes, The Fall of Byzantine empire

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