John III Ducas Vatatzes

born с 1193
died Nov. 3, 1254, Nymphaion

Emperor of Nicaea (1222–54).

He succeeded Theodore I Lascaris and defeated rivals for the imperial throne in 1223. Two years later he triumphed over Latin forces loyal to his rivals and gained control of Asia Minor. He allied with Ivan Asen II against Epirus (1230) and besieged Constantinople (1235), prompting Asen to go to war with him (1235–37). He acquired territory in Bulgaria (1241) and Epirus (1242) and supported a cultural revival from his capital at Nicaea, paving the way for the eventual reestablishment of the Byzantine Empire. Venerated by his people, he was canonized in the Eastern church.

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▪ emperor of Nicaea
born c. 1193, Byzantine Empire
died November 3, 1254, Nymphaion [modern Kemalpaşa, Turkey]

      emperor of Nicaea (1222–54) who, by acquiring territory, encouraging economic growth, and supporting a cultural revival from his capital at Nicaea (modern İznik, Turkey), paved the way for the recovery of Constantinople from the Latin emperors and the reestablishment of the Byzantine Empire.

      Born to an aristocratic Byzantine family, he married Irene, daughter of Theodore I Lascaris, emperor of Nicaea, becoming emperor on Theodore's death. Civil war broke out when Theodore's brothers, Alexius and Isaac, protested the succession, but John defeated them in battle and imprisoned and blinded them (1223). Two years later he also defeated the Latin forces supporting his rivals and made himself master of Asia Minor. He later clashed with Theodore Ducas, despot of Epirus, after the latter took Thessalonica (modern Thessaloníki, Greece) and proclaimed himself Byzantine emperor (1225). John's forces were routed by Theodore when they attempted to take Adrianople later that year. Allied with the Bulgarian tsar John Asen II (Ivan Asen II), John III defeated Theodore in battle (1230) and besieged Constantinople in 1235. Realizing the potential threat from Nicaea, however, Asen declared war on his ally. A peace was arranged in 1237, and, when Asen died in 1241, John III annexed territory in Bulgaria and attacked the despotate of Epirus. By 1242 he had reduced Epirus's territory and forced it to recognize Nicaean suzerainty.

      John III also promoted the isolation of Latin Constantinople by making pacts with Western leaders. About 1250 he promised to become the vassal of Frederick II, Holy Roman emperor, in return for aid in reconquering Constantinople. Though the pact was sealed by John's marriage to the emperor's daughter, Constance, little came of their agreement. He also negotiated unsuccessfully with the papacy, promising to end the schism between the Eastern and Western churches if the Latins returned Constantinople.

      In domestic policy John III made the Nicaean empire economically self-supporting, improved agriculture and stockbreeding, built hospitals and poorhouses, and encouraged the development of Nicaea's cultural life. His popularity among his subjects and his reputation for goodness caused him to be canonized a saint of the Eastern church a half century after his death.

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Universalium. 2010.

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