Nicaean Empire

Nicaean Empire


state in northwest Asia Minor that arose in 1204 after the capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders and the transfer to Nicaea of the Byzantine capital and the residence of the patriarch of Constantinople. The first ruler of the Nicaean Empire was Theodore Lascaris. The empire’s boundaries were established in the course of wars with the Seljuk Turks (who were defeated on the Meander near Antioch early in 1211), with the Latin Empire (defeated by the Nicaeans on the Rhyndakos River on Oct. 15, 1211), and with the Trebizond Empire. In 1214, by the Treaty of Nymphaion, the Nicaean empire’s borders with the Latin Empire were fixed, and Heraclea and Amastris were annexed.

The empire’s cities—Nicaea, Nymphaion, Smyrna, Ephesus, and Brusa—developed rapidly, and the agrarian economy became market-oriented. The extensive imperial domains were sometimes managed in an entrepreneurial spirit, and the empire exported grain to Genoa and traded with the Sultanate of Konya and Rus’. A free peasantry, obliged to perform military service, inhabited the mountainous frontier regions. Nevertheless, feudal property relations became more firmly established: the feudal lords enjoyed juridical and administrative prerogatives on their lands and attempted to bind to the soil the paroikos (feudally dependent peasants).

The Nicaean Empire proved to be the most viable of the Greek succession states that arose on Byzantine territory. John III Ducas Vatatzes drove the Latins out of Asia Minor; under the treaty of 1225, they retained only Bithynia with the city of Nicomedia. He captured the islands of Lesbos, Chios, and Rhodes and marched into Thrace. In alliance with the Bulgarian tsar Ivan Asen II, John III attempted in 1235 and 1236 to capture Constantinople, still held by the Latins. In 1246, having captured much of Thrace and Macedonia, John III entered Thessalonica without resistance.

Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus routed the forces of an anti-Nicaean coalition at Pelagonia in 1259; the coalition included Epirus, the Kingdom of Sicily, the Principality of Achaea, and the Kingdom of Serbia. In March 1261 the Nicaean Empire concluded the Treaty of Nymphaion with Genoa, granting Genoese merchants commercial privileges in return for military aid against the Venetians and the Latin Empire. On July 25, 1261, Michael VIII’s commander, Alexius Stratigopulos, occupied Constantinople with almost no resistance, Michael VIII transferred his capital to Constantinople, the Byzantine Empire was restored, and the Nicaean Empire ceased to exist.


Istoriia Vizantii, vol. 3. Moscow, 1967. Chapters 3–4.
Gardner, A. The Lascarids of Nicaea. London, 1912.