Cantacuzenus, John

, emp.eror of Constantinople, and a celebrated Byzantine historian, was born at Constantinople about the year 1295, of a very ancient and noble family; his father being governor of Peloponnesus, and his mother a near relation of the emperor’s. He was bred to letters and to arms, and afterwards to the highest offices of statej in which he acquitted himself in such a manner as to gain the favour of both court and city. He was made prelect of the bedchamber to the emperor Andronicus the elder, but lost his favour about 1320, by addicting himself too much to the interest of his grandson Andronicus. In 1328, when the grandson seized the empire, he loaded Cantacuzenus with wealth and honours; made him generalissimo of his forces; did nothing without consulting him; and fain would have joined him with himself in the government, which Cantacuzenus refused. In 1341 Andronicus died, and left to Cantacuzenus the care of the empire, till his son John Paleologus, who was then but nine years of age, should be fit to take it upon himself: which trust he discharged very diligently and faithfully. But the empress dowager, the patriarch of Constantinople, and some of the nobles, soon growing jealous and envious of Cantacuzenus, formed a party against him, and declared him a traitor: upon which a great portion of the nobility and army besought him to take the empire upon himself, and accordingly he was crowned at Hadrianopolis in May 1342. A civil war raged for five years, and Cantacuzenus was conqueror, who, however, came to the | following terms of peace with John Paleologus; viz. that himself should be crowned, and that John should he a partner uith him in the empire, though not upon an equal footing, till he should arrive at years sufficient. He gave him also his daughter Helen, to whom he had formerly been engaged, for a wife; and the nuptials were celebrated in May 1347. But suspicions and enmities soon arising between the new emperors, the war broke out again, and lasted till John took Constantinople in 1355. A few days after that city was taken, Cantacuzenus, unwilling to continue a civil war any longer, abdicated his share of the empire, and retired to a monastery, where he took the habit of a monk, with the new name of Joasaphus, and spent the remainder of his life in study and writing. His wife retired also at the same time to a nunnery, where she changed her own name Irene for the new one of Eugenia.

How long he lived in this retirement, and when he died, is not very certain; but it is agreed by all, that he lived a very long time in it, and it is supposed by some, that he did not die till 1411, when he was 100 years of age, or upwards. Others, with considerable probability, place his death on Nov. 20, 1411. In this place, however, he wrote a history of his own times, in four books, or rather of the times in which he was engaged in worldly affairs; since the period it includes is only from 1320 to 1355. He was a very proper person to relate the transactions within this period, because he was not only an eye-witness of what was done, but himself the orderer and doer of a great part: upon which account Vossius has not scrupled to prefer him to all the Byzantine historians. A Latin translation of this history, from the Greek manuscript in the duke of Bavaria’s library, was published by Pontanus at Ingolstadt in 1603; and afterwards at Paris, 1645, a splendid edition in three volumes folio of the Greek from the ms. of M. Scguier, chancellor of France, with Pontanus’s Latin version, and the notes of him and Gretscr.

Besides this history, he wrote also some theological works, particularly an apology for the Christian religion against that of Mahomet, in four books: this he did at the request of a monk and friend of his, who had been solicited by a mussulman of Persia to desert Christianity, and embrace Muimmetanism. In this he does not content himself with replying to the particular objection of the musulman to Christianity, but writes a general defence of it | against the Koran. He calls himself Christodulus as a writer. This apology was printed in Greek and Latin at Basil, 1543, by Bibliander and Gualtharus, from Greek Mss. Gibbon, in his “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” says, that the name and situation of the emperor John Cantacuzenus might inspire the most lively curiosity. His memorials of forty years extend from the revolt of the younger Andronicus to his own abdication of the empire and it is observed, that, like Moses and Cresar, he was the principal actor in the scenes which he describes. But in this eloquent work, “we should vainly seek the sincerity of an hero or a penitent. Retired in a cloister from the vices and passions of the world, he presents not a confession, but an apology, of the life of an ambitious statesman. Instead of unfolding the true counsels and characters of men, he displays the smooth and specious surface of events, highly varnished with his -own praises and those of his friends. Their motives are always pure their ends always legitimate they conspire and rebel without any views of interest and the violence which they inflict or suffer is celebrated as the spontaneous effect of reason and virtue.1


Univ. History.—Moreri in art. John.—Vossius de Hist. Græc.—Cave vol. II. —Saxii Onomast.