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John VI Kantakouzenos

John VI Kantakouzenos
John VI presiding over a synod
Emperor of the Byzantine Empire
Reign 31 March 1347 – 10 December 1354
Predecessor John V Palaiologos (alone)
Successor John V Palaiologos
(alongside Matthew Kantakouzenos)
Co-monarch John V Palaiologos
Emperor of the Byzantine Empire
Reign 15 April 1353 – 10 December 1354
Predecessor Himself
(alongside John V Palaiologos)
Successor Matthew Kantakouzenos
(alongside John V Palaiologos)
Co-monarch Matthew Kantakouzenos
Born 1292
Constantinople, modern Istanbul, Turkey
Died 15 June 1383 (aged 90 or 91)
Peloponnese, Despotate of Morea
Burial Mistra, Peloponnese, Greece
Spouse Irene Asanina
Issue Matthew Kantakouzenos
Manuel Kantakouzenos
Andronikos Kantakouzenos
Maria Kantakouzene
Theodora Kantakouzene
Helena Kantakouzene
Full name
John VI Kantakouzenos
Ἰωάννης ΣΤʹ Καντακουζηνός
House Kantakouzenos
Father Michael Kantakouzenos
Mother Theodora Palaiologina Angelina

John VI Kantakouzenos or Cantacuzenus (Greek: Ἰωάννης ΣΤʹ Καντακουζηνός, Iōannēs ST′ Kantakouzēnos; c. 1292 – 15 June 1383) was the Byzantine emperor from 1347 to 1354.


  • Early life 1
  • Reign 2
  • Retirement as a monk 3
  • Writings 4
  • Family 5
  • Notes 6
  • Sources 7

Early life

Born in Constantinople, John Kantakouzenos was the son of Michael Kantakouzenos, governor of the Morea; Donald Nicol speculates that he may have been born after his father's death and raised as an only child.[1] Through his mother Theodora Palaiologina Angelina, he was a descendant of the reigning house of Palaiologos.[2] He was also related to the imperial dynasty through his wife Eirene Asanina, a second cousin of Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos.[3] Kantakouzenos became a close friend to Andronikos III and was one of his principal supporters in Andronikos' struggle against his grandfather, Andronikos II Palaiologos. On the accession of Andronikos III in 1328, he was entrusted with the supreme administration of affairs. On the death of the emperor in 1341, John Kantakouzenos was left as the designated regent, and guardian of John's son John V Palaiologos, who was nine years old.

John had no imperial ambitions of his own and refused to be crowned co-emperor, despite being offered the opportunity by Andronikos III Palaiologos several times. After the death of the emperor, John again refused to take the throne and insisted that the rightful heir was John V, and that he would assume administrative control of the Empire until he was of age. Despite his stalwart devotion to the young emperor and his mother, the empress Anna of Savoy, his friendship with the late emperor had aroused both the jealousy of the Patriarch of Constantinople and his former protégé Alexios Apokaukos, and the paranoia of the empress who suspected him to be a usurper. When John Kantakouzenos left Constantinople for the Morea, his enemies seized the opportunity to declare John V emperor and order the disbandment of Kantakouzenos's army. When news reached the army at Didymoteichon in Thrace, they declared Kantakouzenos emperor, marking the start of the civil war between Kantakouzenos and the regency in Constantinople.

The ensuing civil war lasted six years, during which the rival parties called in the aid of the Serbians, Bulgarians, and the Ottoman Turks, and engaged mercenaries of every description. It was only by the aid of the Ottoman Turks, with whom he made a bargain, that Kantakouzenos brought the war to a favorable end. He received sanctuary and was allied with Serbian Stefan Dušan.[4]


In 1347, Kantakouzenos entered Constantinople in triumph with an army of 1,000 men and forced his opponents into an arrangement by which he became joint emperor with John V Palaiologos and sole administrator during the minority of his colleague. His triumph in the six-year civil war is the subject of the poem "John Kantakouzenos Triumphs" by the modern Greek poet Constantine Cavafy. He made his own son Matthew Kantakouzenos a co-emperor in 1353.

During this period, the empire, already broken up and reduced to narrow limits, was assailed on every side. There was an unsuccessful war with the Genoese, and in particular their colony at Galata, across the Golden Horn from Constantinople. His later involvement in the Venetian–Genoese War of 1350–1355 also brought no concrete results, and was terminated by a treaty with Genoa in May 1352. War also erupted against the Serbians, who were at that time establishing an extensive empire on the north-western frontiers. A hazardous alliance was formed with the Ottoman Turks, who made their first permanent settlement in Europe, at Gallipoli in Thrace, towards the end of his reign. In 1349, he sent a newly built fleet of nine fair-sized ships and about 100 smaller ones against the Genoese, but it was captured in its entirety. Then in 1351, he sent twelve ships to help Venice against Genoa, but the fleet was defeated.

Kantakouzenos was far too ready to invoke the aid of foreigners in his European quarrels. Since he had no money to pay them, this gave them a ready pretext for seizing upon a European town. The financial burdens imposed by him had long been displeasing to his subjects, and a strong party had always favoured John V Palaiologos. Hence, when the latter entered Constantinople at the end of 1354, his success was easy.

Retirement as a monk

John VI Kantakouzenos as emperor (left) and monk (right)

Kantakouzenos retired to a monastery, where he assumed the name of Joasaph Christodoulos and occupied himself with literary labors.

In 1367 Joasaph was appointed the representative of the Eastern Orthodox Church to negotiate with the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople Paul to attempt a reconciliation of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. They agreed to call a grand ecumenical council to be attended by the Pope and all the Patriarchs and bishops and archbishops of both the eastern and western churches.[5] This plan was subsequently refused by Pope Urban V and so nothing came of it.

Kantakouzenos died in the Peloponnese and was buried by his sons at Mistra in Laconia.


His History in four books deals with the years 1320–1356. An apologia for his own actions, it needs to be read with caution; fortunately it can be supplemented and corrected by the work of a contemporary, Nikephoros Gregoras. It possesses the merit of being well arranged and homogeneous, the incidents being grouped around the chief actor in the person of the author, but the information is defective on matters with which he is not directly concerned. Kantakouzenos also wrote a defense of Hesychasm, a Greek mystical doctrine.


By his wife Irene Asanina, a daughter of Andronikos Asan (son of Ivan Asen III of Bulgaria by Irene Palaiologina, Empress of Bulgaria, herself daughter of Michael VIII Palaiologos), John VI Kantakouzenos had several children, including:[6]

  1. Matthew Kantakouzenos, co-emperor 1353–1357, later Despot of the Morea
  2. Manuel Kantakouzenos, Despot of the Morea
  3. Andronikos Kantakouzenos (died 1347)
  4. Maria Kantakouzene, who married Nikephoros II Orsini of Epirus
  5. Theodora Kantakouzene, who married Sultan Orhan of the Ottoman Empire[7]
  6. Helena Kantakouzene, who married John V Palaiologos


  1. ^ Donald M. Nicol, The Byzantine family of Kantakouzenos (Cantacuzenus) ca. 1100-1460: a genealogical and prosopographical study (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 1968),pp. 35f
  2. ^ Nicol, Byzantine family, pp. 30f
  3. ^ Nicol, Byzantine family, p. 104
  4. ^ A History of the Balkan Peoples by René Ristelhueber, pag. 35
  5. ^ Norwich, John Julius. Byzantium: The Decline and Fall (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996) p. 332
  6. ^ Nicol, Byzantine family, p. 108
  7. ^ Peter F. Sugar, Southeastern Europe Under Ottoman Rule, 1354-1804, (University of Washington Press, 1996), 15-16.


John VI Kantakouzenos
Kantakouzenos dynasty
Born: Unknown 1292 Died: 15 June 1383
Regnal titles
Preceded by
John V Palaiologos
Byzantine Emperor
with John V Palaiologos (1341–1376)
Matthew Kantakouzenos (1353–1357)
Succeeded by
John V Palaiologos
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