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Isaac I Komnenos
Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans
INC-3060-r Номисма тетартерон. Исаак I Комнин. Ок. 1057—1059 гг. (реверс).png
Gold tetarteron of Isaac I Komnenos
Emperor of the Byzantine Empire
Reign 5 June 1057 – 22 November 1059
Coronation 1 September 1057
Predecessor Michael VI Bringas
Successor Constantine X Doukas
Born c. 1007
Died 1060/61
(aged 53)
Monastery of Stoudios, Constantinople
Spouse Catherine of Bulgaria
Issue Manuel Komnenos
Maria Komnene
Dynasty Komnenoi
Father Manuel Erotikos Komnenos

Isaac I Komnenos (or Comnenus) (Greek: Ισαάκιος A' Κομνηνός, Isaakios I Komnēnos; c. 1007 – 1060/61) was Byzantine Emperor from 1057 to 1059, the first reigning member of the Komnenos dynasty. He made his name as a successful military commander and gained the backing of the army.

In 1057 he led a conspiracy against the newly crowned Michael VI and defeated the imperial army at the Battle of Petroe. His brief reign was troubled and he gained the enmity of the Church and much of the populace by deposing the patriarch. He attempted to restore the finances of the empire and to rebuild the strength of the army. After an illness he abdicated in 1059, retiring to a monastery where he died a year later.



Early careerEdit

The Byzantine Empire at the time of Isaac Komnenos

Isaac was the son of Manuel Erotikos Komnenos, who reportedly served as strategos autokrator of the East under Emperor Basil II and defended Nicaea against the rebel Bardas Skleros in 978.[1][2] Manuel's native language was Greek and according to Steven Runciman he was either Greek or a Hellenized Vlach.[3] It is said that the family name was derived from the city of Komne, near Philippopolis in Thrace.[4] Manuel came to the notice of Basil II because of his defence of Nicaea in 978, against the rebel Bardas Skleros. In recognition of Manuel's loyalty, Basil gave him lands near Kastamuni in Paphlagonia.[5] On his deathbed in 1020, Manuel commended his two surviving sons Isaac and John to the emperor's care.[6] Basil had them carefully educated at the monastery of Stoudion and afterwards advanced them to high official positions. Manuel also had a daughter, born in 1012 and married around 1031 to Michael Dokeianos, Catepan of Italy, who died in 1050.[7]

During the disturbed reigns of Basil's seven successors, Isaac, by his prudence, won the confidence of the army. From 1042 to 1057, he served as commander of the field army in Anatolia. In 1057, after being humiliated by the Emperor, Michael VI, he joined with the nobles of the capital in a conspiracy against the Emperor.[8][9] Fearing that their plot was about to be discovered, Isaac Komnenos was taken, apparently most unwillingly, by Romanos Skleros, Michael Bourtzes, Nikephoros Botaneiates and the sons of Romanos III Argyros to Gounaria.[10] There he was proclaimed emperor, raised up on his shield by his generals in the old imperial tradition on 8 June 1057.[11][12] He marched on the capital, Constantinople, captured Nicaea and was then halted by the imperial army at Nicomedia. After five weeks the imperial army advanced and attacked but was defeated by Isaac at the Battle of Petroe, who then advanced to Nicomedia.[13][14]

Michael VI attempted to negotiate with the rebels through the famous courtier Michael Psellos, offering to adopt Isaac as his son and to grant him the title of Caesar but his proposals were publicly rejected.[15] Privately Isaac showed himself more open to negotiation and he was promised the status of co-emperor. During the secret negotiations a riot in favour of Isaac broke out in Constantinople and the Patriarch Michael Keroularios convinced Michael VI to abdicate in Isaac's favour on 31 August 1057.[16] Komnenos entered Constantinople on 1 September and was crowned emperor the same day.[17]


Gold nomisma struck by Isaac. His martial posture, bearing a naked sword, is unique among Byzantine imperial coinage.

The first act of the new emperor was to reward his noble partisans with appointments that removed them from Constantinople; his next was to repair the finances of the empire.[18][19] He revoked numerous pensions conferred by his predecessors upon idle courtiers and large estates which had been granted to them were confiscated. He appropriated a proportion of the revenues of the wealthy monasteries. Patriarch Michael was furious; he believed that he was largely responsible for Isaac becoming sole ruler and expected him to be accommodating. Michael accused Isaac of sacrilege and threatened to depose him. Isaac responded by having the Patriarch kidnapped and exiled. During his trial the ageing Patriarch died, reportedly of rage.[20] Isaac's only military expedition was against King Andrew I of Hungary and the Pechenegs, who began to ravage the northern frontiers in 1059.[21] Shortly after this campaign he concluded peace with the Kingdom of Hungary and returned to Constantinople.[22]

Here he became very ill, and believed he was dying. He was already deeply shaken after narrowly avoiding being struck by lightning while leaning against a tree during the campaign against the Pechenegs and he saw his illness as a sign of God's displeasure.[23] This situation was exploited by the courtiers, led by Psellos, who influenced Isaac to appoint as his successor Constantine Doukas, to the exclusion of his brother John Komnenos.[20][24] Isaac abdicated on 22 November 1059, against the wishes of his brother and of his empress Catherine of Bulgaria.[25] Although he recovered, Isaac Komnenos did not resume the throne but retired to the monastery of Stoudion and spent the remaining year of his life as a monk,[23] alternating menial offices with literary studies. His scholia to the Iliad and other works on the Homeric poems are still extant. He died late in 1060 or early in 1061. Isaac's great aim was to restore the former strict organisation of the government and to rebuild the strength of the army.[26]


Isaac married Catherine, a daughter of Ivan Vladislav, the last Tsar of the first Bulgarian Empire.[20] Isaac raised her to the position of Augusta.[27] Following her husband's abdication, she appears to have co-reigned for a while with Constantine X, but eventually she too retired to the Myrelaion monastery under the monastic name of Xene.[28]

The couple had at least two children:[7]

  • Manuel Komnenos (c. 1030 – c. 1042–57), probably the "son of Komnenos" recorded as having been engaged to the daughter of the protospatharios Helios. He died sometime between 1042 and 1057.[29]
  • Maria Komnene (born c. 1034), her beauty is remarked upon by Psellos but she remained unmarried and retired with her mother to the Myrelaion.[30]


  1. ^ ODB, "Komnenos" (A. Kazhdan), pp. 1143–1144.
  2. ^ Varzos 1984, pp. 38–39.
  3. ^ Runciman, p. 54
  4. ^ Kazhdan, pg. 1143
  5. ^ Runciman, pp. 5455
  6. ^ Finlay, pg. 10
  7. ^ a b Varzos 1984, p. 47.
  8. ^ Norwich, pg. 328
  9. ^ Canduci, pg. 270
  10. ^ Skylitzes 489.71–78
  11. ^ Attaleiates: History 54.13–17
  12. ^ Norwich 1991, p. 329.
  13. ^ Attaleiates: History 55.7–56.1
  14. ^ Skylitzes 496.71–72
  15. ^ Norwich, pg. 332
  16. ^ Finlay, pg. 537
  17. ^ Norwich 1991, p. 332.
  18. ^ Norwich, pg. 333
  19. ^ Finlay, pg. 11
  20. ^ a b c ODB, "Isaac I Komnenos" (C. M. Brand, A. Cutler), pp. 1011–1012.
  21. ^ Norwich, pg. 335
  22. ^ Finlay, pg. 14
  23. ^ a b Canduci, pg. 271
  24. ^ Norwich, pg. 336
  25. ^ Finlay, pg. 15
  26. ^ Norwich, pp. 333, 336
  27. ^ Varzos 1984, p. 44.
  28. ^ Varzos 1984, pp. 46–47.
  29. ^ Varzos 1984, p. 58.
  30. ^ Varzos 1984, pp. 58–59.


See alsoEdit

Isaac I Komnenos
Born: c. 1007 Died: 1060 or 1061
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Michael VI
Byzantine Emperor
5 June 1057– 22 November 1059
Succeeded by
Constantine X