Alexios Apokaukos

Alexios Apokaukos

Alexios Apokaukos ( _el. polytonic|Ἀλέξιος Ἀπόκαυκος, pronounced "Apokafkos", died 1345) was a leading Byzantine statesman and high-ranking military officer ("megas doux") during the reigns of emperors Andronikos III Palaiologos and John V Palaiologos. Together with Patriarch John XIV Kalekas, he was one of the leaders of the faction supporting Emperor John V in the Civil War of 1341–1347 against his one-time benefactor John VI Kantakouzenos.

Early life

Alexios was of humble origin, and was initially employed as a mere scribe in the service of the "domestikos" of the themes. He rose in the bureaucratic hierarchy until, in 1321, he was appointed the imperial "parakoimōmenos" (chamberlain). [Cavallo (1997), p. 202] His position made him useful to John Kantakouzenos, who included him in a conspiracy, together with Syrgiannes Palaiologos and the "prōtostratōr" Theodore Synadenos, which aimed to depose the aging Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos in favour of his grandson Andronikos III. [Nicol (1996), p. 20] [Bartusis (1997), p. 87] Under the threat of war, the Emperor surrendered Thrace and some districts in Macedonia to the rule of his grandson. When Andronikos III became sole emperor in 1328, Alexios was awarded with the positions that Kantakouzenos himself had formerly held: head of the imperial secretariat ("mesazōn") and finance minister, [Nicol (1993), p. 168] positions that allowed him to amass a considerable personal fortune. [Nicol (1996), pp. 47–48] This fortune enabled him to construct a personal refuge, a fortified tower-house at the site of Epibatai near Selymbria, at the coast of the Sea of Marmara.Nicol (1993), p. 187]

Until the sudden death of Andronikos III in June 1341, Alexios remained ostensibly loyal to his patron Kantakouzenos. He was rewarded, shortly before Andronikos' death, with the high office of "megas doux", giving him the high command over the Byzantine navy. [Nicol (1996), p. 48]

The Civil War

Upon Andronikos' death, two factions emerged at court: the supporters of Kantakouzenos, chiefly provincial magnates from Macedonia and Thrace, and those who rallied around Andronikos' widow, Anna of Savoy, who was the regent for the infant John V. Kantakouzenos could easily have claimed the throne for himself based on his close association with the deceased emperor, but Kantakouzenos preferred to uphold the rights of John V. This refusal emboldened his opponents, and Apokaukos, who had urged Kantakouzenos to seize the throne in hopes of his own advancement,Nicol (1993), p. 187] switched definitively over to the regency's side.Bartusis (1997), p. 94] [Nicol (1993), p. 188] As soon as Kantakouzenos left Constantinople in July 1341 to campaign against the Empire's enemies who, emboldened by Andronikos' death, had begun assaulting it, Apokaukos made his first moves. Although as commander of the fleet it was his duty to guard the Dardanelles against any attempt by Turks to cross into Europe, he deliberately allowed this to happen in order to cause disruption in Thrace. Apokaukos also tried to kidnap the young John V, but failed and was forced to flee to his house at Epibatai.Nicol (1993), p. 189] However, when Kantakouzenos returned victorious to the capital, instead of depriving him of his offices, and against the counsel of his friends, he pardoned his protégé.Nicol (1993), p. 189] Apokaukos put on an exaggerated display of deference to Kantakouzenos, who allowed him to resume his offices and return to Constantinople, while Kantakouzenos left on yet another campaign. [Nicol (1996), p. 52]

It was mistake that would cost him and the Empire bitterly. Once back in the city, Apokaukos began to form a conspiracy against Kantakouzenos. He approached the Patriarch John Kalekas and warned him that Kantakouzenos intended to replace him, while at the same time convinced the Empress Anna that Kantakouzenos was plotting against her and her son. [Nicol (1996), p. 53] Soon, the clique that had formed around Apokaukos seized power. Kantakouzenos' family (including his mother Theodora, who would die in prison from the privations suffered), and friends were imprisoned, the Patriarch was declared regent, while Anna named Apokaukos as urban prefect ("eparchos") of Constantinople.

Kantakouzenos responded by having himself declared emperor at Didymoteicho in October 1341, followed by the coronation of John V in November. [Nicol (1996), p. 60] The split was final. The resulting civil war would embroil the Byzantine Empire and all of its neighbours until 1347, when it would end with Kantakouzenos' victory. In its course, it would devastate the remaining imperial possessions, and create a deep rift between the aristocracy and the propertied classes (generally supportive of Kantakouzenos) and the lower, primarily urban, classes, who supported the regency. [Bartusis (1997), p. 95] This turned a dynastic dispute into a real civil war with social overtones.Nicol (1993), p. 193] The excessive wealth and perceived indifference of Kantakouzenos and the aristocracy towards the common people became a standard fixture of Apokaukos' propaganda. [Nicol (1996), p. 59]

Already days after Kantakouzenos' coronation, the inhabitants of Adrianople rebelled against the aristocracy, and declared themselves for the regency, with Apokaukos sending his son Manuel to become the city's governor.Nicol (1993), p. 193] In a similar development in 1342, Thessalonica, the Empire's second largest city, was seized by a group known as the "Zealots". Their anti-aristocratic beliefs made them enemies of "Kantakouzenism", and ensured the support of the regency. Apokaukos himself arrived with a fleet of 70 ships to their aid, and appointed his son John as the city's nominal governor.Nicol (1993), p. 195]

In the first years of the war, the tide was thus in favour of the regency. In the summer of 1342, Kantakouzenos was forced to flee to the court of Stefan Dušan of Serbia. [Nicol (1993), p. 196] However, from 1343 onwards, with the aid of his friend, the Emir Umur of Aydin, Kantakouzenos began to reverse the situation [Nicol (1993), p. 200] With the initial support of Stefan Dušan, Kantakouzenos regained much of Macedonia, and despite his failure to take Thessalonica, his Turkish allies enabled him to return to his old stronghold of Didymoteicho in Thrace. [Nicol (1996), p. 68] Gradually, Apokaukos' supporters abandoned him, including even his son Manuel, who abandoned his post at Adrianople and went over to the Kantakouzenos camp.Nicol (1993), p. 201] In early 1345, Apokaukos and Kalekas rejected offers of reconciliation conveyed by two Franciscan monks. [Nicol (1996), pp. 71–72]

Trying to cling to power, Apokaukos began a series of proscriptions in the capital, and even ordered a new prison constructed. On 11 June 1345, Apokaukos decided to inspect the new prison, curiously without being escorted by his bodyguard. The prisoners immediately rose up and lynched him, and his head was severed and stuck on a pole.Nicol (1993), p. 201] The prisoners believed that, getting rid of the hated Apokaukos, they would be rewarded. However Empress Anne, shocked and dismayed at the loss of her principal minister, allowed Apokaukos' supporters, who were joined by the "Gasmouloi", the fleet's marines, to avenge their leader's death, and all 200 prisoners were massacred by them. [Bartusis (1997), p. 96] Nicol (1993), p. 201] His death, removing one of its protagonists and main instigator, marked the beginning of the end of the civil war. [Nicol (1996), p. 74]


Alexios Apokaukos had two brothers, John and Nikephoros, who are mentioned by John Kantakouzenos' chronicle in a passage dated to 1362, although nothing else is known of them. [Kantakouzenos, "History", III.4.50] Alexios himself married twice. His first wife was the daughter of a minor noble with the title of "disypatos", and the second, whom he married sometime around 1341, the cousin of the "megas stratopedarchēs" (quartermaster general) Georgios Khoumnos. [Kantakouzenos, "History", II.3.19] His first marriage produced three and his second two children:
* John Apokaukos, nominal governor of Thessalonica, he was murdered there in July 1345, after his father's death [Kantakouzenos, "History", II.3.93]
* Manuel Apokaukos, governor of Adrianople in 1342, defected to Kantakouzenos in 1344
* unnamed daughter, who married first the "prōtostratōr" Andronikos Palaiologos. [Nicephorus Gregoras, "Byzantine History", XIV.6] After he drowned in 1344, she re-married the "sebastokratōr" John Asan. [Nicephorus Gregoras, "Byzantine History", XVI.1]
* unnamed daughter, married (in 1341) the son of Patriarch John Kalekas. [Kantakouzenos, "History", II.3.17]
* unnamed daughter, married (in 1341) the son of one of Empress Anna's Latin maids. [Kantakouzenos, "History", II.3.19]



* cite book | title = The Late Byzantine Army: Arms and Society 1204–1453 | first = Mark C. | last = Bartusis | publisher = University of Pennsylvania Press | year = 1997 | isbn = 0812216202
* cite book | title = The Byzantines | first = Guglielmo | last = Cavallo | publisher = University of Chicago Press | year = 1997 | isbn = 978-0226097923

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