Recapture of Constantinople in 1261

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Recapture of Constantinople
Part of: Byzantine-Frankish Wars
Map of the city of Constantinople
Map of the city of Constantinople
date July 25, 1261
location Constantinople
exit Conquest of the city in a coup by the Nicäer
consequences End of the Latin Empire , restoration of the Byzantine Empire
Parties to the conflict

Palaiologos-Dynasty.svg Empire of Nikaia
(Byzantine Empire in Exile)

Blason Empire Latin de Constantinople.svg Latin Empire Republic of Venice
Flag of Most Serene Republic of Venice.svg


Alexios Strategopulos

Emperor Baldwin II ,
Podestà Marco Gradenigo

Troop strength
(800 riders and infantry)
very low
(city guards)

almost no


The Byzantine reconquest of Constantinople took place on July 25, 1261 . In contrast to the conquests in 1204 (by the Crusaders) and 1453 (by the Ottomans) , the city was conquered in a coup , that is, there was no siege .


After Constantinople was conquered and sacked by the Crusaders and Venetians during the Fourth Crusade in 1204 , the Latin Empire , a Catholic state built up as a fiefdom , was subsequently established. At the same time, several Byzantine successor states emerged, the most powerful of them being the Nikaia Empire , which was ruled by the Laskarid dynasty. While the Latin Empire became increasingly incapable of action due to military defeats, internal power struggles, mismanagement, resistance on the part of the Greek Orthodox majority as well as a lack of support from Venice and other Western European states and was soon limited to the area around the capital, the Nikaia Empire expanded through victories against the Seljuks , Latins and the other Byzantine states swiftly. In 1235, Nicean and Bulgarian troops besieged Constantinople together , but were unable to conquer the city.

In 1259, Michael VIII. Palaiologos took over the reign of the minor John IV Laskaris in Nicene exile . Like his predecessors, his main goal was to recapture the Byzantine capital. In September of the same year Nicean troops defeated Achaia , Epirus and Sicily in the Battle of Pelagonia ; Nikaia thus became undisputedly the strongest power in the region.

Although there was an armistice between Nicaia and the Latin Empire at the time , Michael VIII agreed with the Genoese , the arch-rivals of the Venetians, a joint attack on Constantinople. The Genoese should support the attack with their fleet, in return they would receive the trade privileges of the Venetians.

Alexios Strategopulos in Thrace

In the summer of 1261, Emperor Michael sent General Alexios Melissenos Strategopulos, who had been appointed Caesar , to Thrace to monitor the borders with Bulgaria and Epirus there; Furthermore, Alexios Strategopulos should check the strength of the defenses of Constantinople and cause unrest in the area around the city. General Alexios' army consisted of only about 800 Bithynian horsemen and some infantry (according to other sources they were Cuman mercenaries ) , since no major battles were expected .

In the Thracian settlement of Selymbria near Constantinople, Alexios learned from the local, independent farmers ( thelematarioi ) that the majority of the Latin army and the Venetian fleet were under the command of the recently arrived Venetian Podestàs Marco Gradenigo , the administrator of the local Venetian colony was to attack the city of Daphnusia 1,000 stadia away , a Nicaean base on an island between Thrace and Bithynia, through which the entry from the Black Sea into the Bosphorus could be controlled. Alexios Strategopulos decided, since he also learned of a secret door in the fortification wall of Constantinople, to take the chance without consulting his emperor and to take the almost undefended city by surprise with his few soldiers.

Conquest of Constantinople

On the evening of July 24th, Alexios led his troops under cover of darkness to the outer wall of Constantinople. During the night a few of his soldiers climbed the wall through the secret door, killed the guards, some of whom were sleeping, and threw them off the parapet. Then they secretly opened the Golden Gate , then the other city gates. At dawn on July 25th the army streamed into the city, where Alexios immediately set fire to the Venetian quarter.

The Latin Emperor Baldwin II slept in the Blachernenpalast at this time . When he heard of the attack, he did not organize any resistance, but immediately fled. He left his imperial insignia, including the emperor's sword and scepter, behind, walked to the small Bukoleon port and fled into exile with a Venetian merchant ship to Evia (Negroponte) .

When the town's French and Italian citizens noticed the attack, it quickly became clear that it was too late to resist. Panic broke out and the Catholic population fled their burning neighborhood to the port. At this point the Venetian fleet returned from Daphnusia with the Latin army. The troops on board saw the panicked crowds at the port, thought the city was lost, so they took in a few more refugees and then sailed to Venice. The backward Frankish population sought refuge in the monasteries or tried to hide. The expected massacre, as revenge for 1204, did not materialize, however. Apart from the burning down of the Venetian quarter, there were no riots against the Franconian population. When the Latins realized this - there were about a thousand in the city in total - they gathered up their possessions and set sail for Evia in newly arrived Venetian ships. However, since there was not enough food on board, many of them died of starvation on the way.

Entry of the emperor

Michael VIII Palaiologos was two hundred miles away in the Meteorion of Asia Minor when his sister Eulogia conveyed the surprising message of victory to him. At first he doubted the news; it was only when Baldwin's imperial regalia was presented to him that he was certain. On August 15, 1261 Michael entered the regained capital with a solemn ceremony. The procession, which one deliberately had kept simple and at the head of a supposedly from the Apostle Luke painted Hodegetria - icon was born, entered the city through the Golden Gate and then walked up to the Hagia Sophia , where in addition to a thanksgiving service, a second coronation Michaels took place . However, this time Patriarch Arsenios Autoreianos crowned Michael VIII and his wife Theodora together with their young son Andronikos ; John IV Laskaris , for whom Michael had once taken over the reign, was left behind in Nicaea , where Michael blinded him shortly afterwards and thus ended the Laskarid dynasty .


Important Byzantine sources are Georgios Akropolites and Georgios Pachymeres .

Web links

  • Helge Buttkereit: When the Byzantine Empire revived. (Flash / WMP / OGG / MP3 / Text) Michael VIII Palaiologos recaptured Constantinople 750 years ago. In: Deutschlandfunk . July 25, 2011, accessed on July 25, 2011 (radio report on the 750th anniversary of the conquest).