Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Johannes Cantacuzenus

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CANTACUZENUS, Johannes, emperor of the East, celebrated as a statesman, general, and historian, was born at Constantinople, of an ancient and opulent family, and under the reign of the elder Andronicus held the high office of Great Domestic. In the disputes that ensued between that emperor and his grandson, Cantacuzenus espoused the cause of the latter; and when Andronicus II., on the abdication of his grandfather, ascended the throne (1328) he was entrusted with the supreme administration of affairs, in which capacity he displayed considerable vigour and ability. On the death of the emperor in 1341, Cantacuzenus was left regent, and guardian of his son John Palæologus, who was but nine years of age. Whether he would have continued faithful to his trust is uncertain; but being suspected by the empress, and the object of the hostility of a powerful party at court, he rebelled, and got himself crowned emperor in one of the provincial towns, while his opponents, with the young emperor John, maintained themselves at Constantinople. The civil war which ensued lasted six years; and as the rival parties were obliged to call in the aid of the Servians and Turks, and to engage mercenaries of every description, the empire was reduced to a state of incredible confusion, and nearly ruined. At the outset Cantacuzenus was so hard pressed that he was obliged to flee into Servia. An alliance with Servia enabled him to make head against his enemies for some time; but his inconstant allies soon left him to join the other side, or to pursue their own private ends. It was with the help of the Turks that he brought the war to a termination. He formed an alliance with Orchan, the Ottoman Sultan of Broussa, on the disgraceful conditions of sending his daughter to the harem of the Turk, and of allowing his army to make slaves of the Greek subjects. In 1346 he entered Constantinople in triumph, and forced his opponents to an arrangement by which he became joint emperor with John Palæologus, retaining the administrative power in his own hands during the minority of his colleague. It is impossible to give a connected view of the government of Cantacuzenus. The empire, already broken up into disconnected fragments, and reduced to the narrowest limits, was assailed on every side by open enemies or treacherous friends. There were wars with the Genoese, who had a colony at Galata and had money transactions with the court, and with the Servians, who were at that time establishing an extensive empire on the north-western frontiers, carried on in every case without energy and without happy result; and there was a hazardous alliance with the Turks, who made their first permanent settlement in Europe, at Callipolis, in Thrace, towards the end of the reign of Cantacuzenus (1354). It would be wrong to blame him, however, for introducing those enemies of Christendom into Europe, as they had been in the habit of interposing in the unhappy struggles of the Greek empire. No individual energy could have saved a moribund state from destruction at the hands of its more vigorous neighbours. Yet Cantacuzenus was far too ready to employ them in his European quarrels; and as he had not money to pay them, this gave them a ready pretext for seizing upon a European town. The financial burdens imposed by Cantacuzenus had long been displeasing to his subjects, and there had always been a strong faction in favour of John Palæologus. Hence, when the latter entered Constantinople in the end of 1354, his success was easy. Cantacuzenus retired to a monastery, where he occupied himself in literary labours. He wrote a history of his own life and times, which has been incorporated in the series of Byzantine historians. Cantacuzenus was not without ability, and had some literary merit and even eloquence, but with a considerable share of the Byzantine vices,—timidity, duplicity, and falsity.