Theodora Kantakouzene Megale Komnene (died 12 November 1426) was the Empress consort of Alexios IV of Trebizond. Said to be very beautiful, according to the chronicle of Laonikos Chalkokondyles, she was accused by her son, John Megas Komnenos, of having an affair with the protovestiarios of the court of Trebizond; however, other accounts describe her as a faithful and loving wife, who kept the peace between Alexios and his sons. In either case, during her lifetime their son John fled to Georgia and did not return until after Theodora's death.
|Empress consort of Trebizond|
|Tenure||5 March 1417 – 12 November 1426|
(modern-day İstanbul, Turkey)
|Died||12 November 1426(aged 43–44)|
|Spouse||Alexios IV of Trebizond|
|Issue||John IV of Trebizond|
Maria of Trebizond
Alexander of Trebizond
David of Trebizond
|Father||Theodore Palaiologos Kantakouzenos (possibly)|
|Mother||Helena Ouresina Doukina (possibly)|
Theodora's parentage is described by the Byzantinist Donald Nicol as "obscure". The Ecthesis Chronica implies she was the daughter of a holder of the military rank of protostrator, and Nicol notes there are chronological grounds against identifying her father with one Manuel Kantakouzenos who was sent on a diplomatic mission to Sultan Mehmet I in the winter of 1420–1421.
However, Thierry Ganchou has provided evidence that indicates Theodora was the oldest daughter of Theodore Palaiologos Kantakouzenos, uncle of emperor Manuel II Palaiologos, and Euphrosyne Palaiologina, and names her brothers in order of birth as Demetrios, protostrator Manuel, George, megas domestikos Andronikos, and Thomas. He argues that this evidence was ignored due to undue reliance on the writings of Theodore Spandounes, who wrote long after more reliable contemporary sources.
Born in Constantinople around 1382, Theodora was only thirteen when she became in 1395, the consort of the co-emperor Alexios IV of Trebizond, who was approximately the same age. She became ruling empress when her husband became sole emperor in Trebizond at the death of her father-in-law the emperor Manuel III, in 1417.
A passage in the History of Chalkokondyles states that Theodora became the mistress of the protovestiarios of the court of Trebizond, an act of adultery which provoked her son, John IV, to murder the official then imprison his parents in the palace. His parents were rescued by the archons of the city who sent John into exile in Georgia. However this passage is considered to be one of several interpolations into Chalkokondyles' History; a scribe in one line of the text's transmission notes the difference in style, adding a note at the beginning of the passage that "this seems to have been written by someone other than Laonikos", and at the end of the passage ends another note reading "from here on it is Laonikos". Further, the story is contradicted by the chronology and other sources. It may be the writer of this story has confused with an earlier affair between a member of the imperial dynasty of Trebizond and a protovestiarios, namely Manuel III, the father-in-law of Theodora. This scandal is reported by the Spanish traveller Ruy Gonzáles de Clavijo, who visited Trebizond in 1404 not long after the event. He adds that this scandalous relationship induced the young Alexios IV, Theodora's husband, to rebel against his father Manuel.
Manuel III died on 5 March 1417. Alexios IV succeeded him with Theodora as his Empress consort. She remained Empress for nearly a decade to her own death at the third hour of the night. Theodora was buried in the Church of Theotokos Chrysokephalos in the cemetery of Gidon with the other Emperors of Trebizond.
It appears that it was only after the death of Theodora (1426) that John IV rebelled against his father, because his late mother could no longer mediate the increasing rivalry between father and son. On the contrary, the virtue, the piety, and the fidelity of Theodora are celebrated by her compatriot, the scholar Basilios Bessarion, in the three monodies he dedicated to his benefactress, and in a special discourse of consolation addressed to Alexios IV, devastated by the death of his beloved empress. Last but not least, John IV himself, after his accession to the throne in 1429, paid homage to the virtues of his deceased mother in a chrysobull benefiting the convent she founded.
Theodora married Emperor Alexios IV with whom she had five known children:
- John IV of Trebizond (c. 1403–1460).
- Maria of Trebizond (c. 1404–1439); married John VIII Palaiologos.
- Alexander of Trebizond, co-emperor with his father; married Maria Gattilusio, a daughter of Dorino of Lesbos.
- David of Trebizond (c. 1408–1463).
- A daughter, who married Jahan Shah of the Kara Koyunlu
- Donald M. Nicol, The Byzantine family of Kantakouzenos (Cantacuzenus) ca. 1100-1460: a genealogical and prosopographical study (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 1968), p. 168
- Ganchou Thierry, "Une Kantakouzènè, impératrice de Trébizonde: Théodôra ou Héléna?", Revue des études byzantines, 58 (2000), pp. 215-229 doi:10.3406/rebyz.2000.1993
- William Miller, Trebizond: The last Greek Empire of the Byzantine Era: 1204-1461, 1926 (Chicago: Argonaut, 1969), p. 81
- Anthony Kaldellis, "The Interpolations in the Histories of Laonikos Chalkokondyles", Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies, 52 (2012), p. 260
- Nicol, Byzantine Family, p. 170 n. 22
- Clavijo, Narrative of the Embassy of Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo..., translated by Clements R. Markham (London: Hakluyt Society, 1859), p. 62
- Nicol, Byzantine Family, p. 169
- Th. Ganchou, "Théodôra Kantakouzènè Komnènè de Trébizonde (°~ 1382/†1426) ou la vertu calomniée", Geschehenes und Getriebenes: Studien zu Ehren von G. S. Einrich und K.-P. Matschke (Leipzig, 2005), pp. 337-350
- Michel Kuršanskis, "La descendance d'Alexis IV, empereur de Trébizonde. Contribution à la prosopographie des Grands Comnènes", Revue des études byzantines, 37 (1979), p. 247