Isaac Comnenus, Emperor of Cyprus

Hans A. Pohlsander

SUNY Albany

Isaac Comnenus was born ca. 1155; he was the grandnephew of the emperor Manuel I Comnenus (1143-1180). While still a very young man he was sent by his granduncle to Cilicia so that he might guard the empire's eastern frontier against the Armenians. At some time after he had taken up his post the Armenians captured him; eventually they turned him over to the Latins, more specifically to the Templars. He was ransomed by the emperor Andronicus Comnenus (1183-1185) at the behest of Theodora, the emperor's mistress and Isaac's aunt.

Thus having gained his freedom, Isaac appeared, in 1183 or 1184, in Cyprus, producing forged imperial letters and claiming to have been appointed the lawful governor of the island. But soon (1184) he revealed his true intent and proclaimed himself , i. e. emperor. He ruled the island in the manner of a tyrant and committed many acts of murder, rape, and plunder, alienating all classes of the population. The emperor Isaac II Angelus (1185-1195) finally sent a fleet against him in an attempt to restore imperial government, but to no avail. The tyrant defeated the emperor's fleet with the help of a Sicilian pirate named Megareites or Margarito. Only the arrival of Richard the Lionheart in 1191 put an end to Isaac's rule (but not to the sufferings of the Cypriots). Having been unable to prevent the English king from landing his forces, Isaac surrendered to him. Richard confined him in the castle of Markab on the Syrian coast.

After some three years Isaac once more gained his freedom and was welcomed at Iconium by the sultan Kay-Khusraw I. At Iconium he died ca. 1195, still plotting and scheming and mourned by no one.


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Choniates, Niketas. History or Annals, The Reign of Andronikos Komnenos and The Reign of Isaakios Angelos. Ed. Jan-Louis van Dieten (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae, Berlin and New York, 1975) 290-92, 340, 369-70, and 418. English Harry J. Magoulias, O City of Byzantium: Annals of Niketas Choniates (Detroit, 1984) 161-62, 187, 204-205, and 229-30.

Hill, George. A History of Cyprus (Cambridge, 1940) I 312-21.

Rudt de Collenberg, W. H. "L'empereur Isaac de Chypre et sa fille (1155-1207)." Byzantion 38 (1968): 123-79.

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Runciman, Steven, in David Hunt, ed., Footprints in Cyprus, rev. ed. (London, 1990), 171-74.