Today In ...

Quite a few of your have emailed or left comments saying that you liked the 'today in ...' feature - primarily about battles.
I will be starting it up again very soon, when we have a day on which more interesting things happened in ancient history.

I tried to do it for today, but the best I could come up with is the death in 1254 of a very obscure Nicaean emperor, John III Doukas Vatatzes.

The Empire of Nicaea is a little more interesting, and is where the Byzantines moved to re-group when the Franks took Constantinople during the 1204 crusade. The Empire itself barely outlasted John III's death; this is because it expanded to re-create the old Byzantine Empire rather than because it died out.
Michael VIII Palaeologus, founder of the Palaeologan Dynasty (which ruled until the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans), seized the throne of Nicaea from John III's grand-son in 1259. In 1261 his army re-took Constantinople and restored the Byzantine Empire.

Michael's family and women are known. His wife, Theodora Doukaina Vatatzina , was the daughter of John III's brother, but raised by the older emperor, who also arranged their marriage. Michael was briefly exiled from 1256 to 1258, for conspiring with the Seljuks of Rûm.

Michael married his two daughters by a mistress to the Ilkhanid ruler Abaqa Khan and to Nogai Khan of the Golden Horde - both great-grandsons of Genghis Khan.

The one who married the Ilkhanid is Maria Despina Palaiologina , and her mosaic portrait from the Chora church in Constantinople illustrates this post (not my photograph). On the death of Abaqa she returned to her father, and took charge of a nunnery. The nunnery is now known as Church of St. Mary of the Mongols, and is apparently the only Byzantine church that remained in continuous use in Istanbul and was never turned into a mosque. She also seems to have been quite feisty - she so annoyed the eponymous Ottoman ruler Osman I that ... he stormed Nicaea.

Nicaea is modern Iznik. I posted a few photos of the Byzantine church of Hagia Sophia here.

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