Zbornik radova Vizantoloskog instituta 2007 Issue 44, Pages: 381-409
doi:10.2298/ZRVI0744381P
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Entering of Stefan Dušan into the Empire

Pirivatrić Srđan

At the moment when, in October 1341, a new Civil War broke out in the Byzantium after the death of Andronicus III, the traditional views of the imperial power and the Empire underwent considerable changes. The powers of the co-rulers had been on the rise since 1272, and during the Civil War of 1321-1328 the Byzantine Empire was in effect divided, that is, two Basileis were ruling 'imperially' (autokratorikōs) over their respective territories within the formally unified Empire, under the scope of relations of Superior basileus - co-basileus. Therefore, the Empire (autokratoria, imperium) could multiply in the sense of rulers’ authorities, and be divided in the sense of territoriality. The imperial power and the Empire became subject to family relations and family law. In view of the family connections between the Byzantine Emperors (basileis autokratores) and the monarchs of the neighboring countries and nations, the right to succession was being used as an argument in some disputes between the rulers. The Byzantine law, that is the Byzantine political views, allowed for the possibility of the so-called 'joint rule' (e oikeia arch) by a Byzantine basileus autokrator and some other, foreign member of the dynasty ruling over certain region of the Byzantine Empire - a foreign ruler would be allowed to rule on condition that the Byzantine basileus be recognized as the supreme master. This scenario is known from one recorded dispute between the Byzantine basileus Andronicus III and the Bulgarian tsar Michael Assen III dating from 1328, when the Bulgarian Emperor did not accept the Byzantine rule, however. All these circumstances are of special importance since they directly precede the King Stefan Dušan’s involvement in the Civil War, that is, his later entering into the Empire. The first phase of Dušan’s involvement in the Civil War is typically conquering and opportunistic in nature, with the aim of immediate territorial enlargement. The second phase was initiated with the agreement he signed with Kantakouzenos in August 1342, the details of which are now not clear, but it is to be supposed that the agreement envisaged the division of power in the Byzantine regions that Du{an would conquer for Kantakouzenos, that is Dusan’s participation in power in some form of the atypical co-ruling, that is, some form of the 'joint rule'. In August 1343, after previously having parted ways with Kantakouzenos, Du{an accepted the offer by the regents from Constantinople to form an alliance with the legitimate dynasty of Palaiologoi. The agreement included the engagement of Dušan’s son Uroš to the sister of the Byzantine Emperor John V, and also probably a kind of the 'Charter of Rule' over the lands west from the gorges near Christopolis, that is, over the areas that Dušan had already conquered in part as Kantakouzenos’ ally. The important issue for the forming of the alliance with the regents was, on one hand, the position of Kantakouzenos as the rebel against the imperial power and his previous excommunication from the Church, and, on the other, the legitimacy of the Palaiologoi dynasty and the fact that the regents ruled over Constantinople. It is possible that this agreement was also signed with the idea of some sort of 'joint rule'. However, there is no information to confirm that Du{an considered the Palaeologus his master. After having signed the agreement, which meant the legitimization of his rule over one part of the Romaian Empire by the legitimate and ruling dynasty Dušan changed his views of the statehood. That is evident from the change of his royal title, used after August 1343, when signing decrees and other documents, which, besides the traditional 'Serbian and maritime lands' included in different forms 'the Greek lands', that is, 'the Greeks', and sometimes even 'the Bulgarian lands', that is, 'the Bulgarians'. It is interesting to note his title autokratōr Rōmaiōn (inscription on the Church near Pološko), that is, imperator Romaiorum (inscription on one kind of currency). This title shows that Du{an considered himself the ruler of Rhomaioi; however, he soon gave it up and started using the term Romania, for which he could have hoped to be more ideologically acceptable on the conquered territories as well as to his allies in Constantinople. King Du{an used different titles to refer to his rule over the Greek lands and the Greeks - gospodin (master), čestnik (participant), samodržac (=autokrator) autokrator, imperator, dominus - all of which, nonetheless, meant one and the same essential thing. Morphologically speaking, the term čestnik (participant, lat. particeps) invoked the idea of co-ruling over the part of Empire. In the Mount Athos Charter from November 1345, King Du{an accepted that during the church liturgies in the Mount Athos region and the neighborhood the name of the Basileus of Rhomaioi to be mentioned before his own. This document shows that King Dušan accepted the hierarchical supremacy of the Emperor from Constantinople, but based on the principle primus inter pares. Little is known about the details of the alliance between Du{an and the regents in the period from August 1343 through the victory of Kantakouzenos in February 1347. The contemporary Byzantine historiography offers in certain way one-sided views of the events. Gregoras and Kantakouzenos were partial neither to the regents nor to Du{an but to Kantakouzenos himself; besides, there was no historiographer partial to the regents at all, and subsequently, Dušan’s portrayal in the Byzantine historiography was one-sided, and for the most part negative. Concerning the relations between Du{an and the regents, the period of greatest importance is from the death of the most important regents’ ally, Apokaukos, in June 1345 through the victory of Kantakouzenos in February 1347, which remains almost entirely unknown. After having conquered Serres in September 1345, Dušan’s army was camped in the vicinity of Thessaloniki. In February 1346 he requested a fleet from Venice so he could conquer Constantinople, and in the first half of the year 1346 he managed to conquer Berroia. Du{an proclaimed himself a basileus and autokrator of Serbia and Romania (by many contemporaries the act was understood as a proclamation for a Byzantine Emperor in the first instance) at the end of 1345 or beginning of 1346, and he was crowned by the previously ordained Serbian patriarch, and until then archbishop, Joanikije, and the Bulgarian patriarch Simeon. The engagement between Dušan’s son and John’s sister did not result in marriage, for the reasons we can only speculate on. It was probably broken off before April 1346, because in Du{an’s Charter for Zografou of that date, while referring to the Emperor John Palaiologos there was no mention of the appropriate terms reflecting the actual kinship, if there had been any. Likewise, the lack of the term 'dearest' next to the title and name of the Emperor of Rhomaioi, in comparison to the way the name of the Emperor of Bulgarians was mentioned suggests that the relations between Du{an and Constantinople were not that close in the time of his coronation. It remains unknown what the views of the regency and the Patriarchy of Constantinople were towards Dušan’s proclaiming himself an Emperor and the creation of the Patriarchy, as well as the coronation. The Patriarchy of Constantinople reacted only a few years later but not before mid 1351 and not later of the autumn of 1352, when the Patriarch Kallistos excommunicated Du{an and the Serbian Church. On the other hand, the first Kantakouzenos’ coronation, in Adrianople in May 1346, could be considered a reaction to Dušan’s coronation. However, at the time of the issuance of the Code, in 1349, Du{an emphasized that he also had the blessing of 'the Greek throne' for his coronation. It is most probable that the reference in the said document meant the Archbishop of Ohrid, in a rather unusual way, and not the Patriarch of Constantinople. Supposition based on the common views on the Byzantine politics, from which it could be deduced that it would be impossible for the official Constantinople to make a deal with Du{an over the imperial title, is of little value in the time of the Civil War, where there were a lot of precedents, as we are well aware of. For completeness sake, it should be noted that even before and at the time of deposition and excommunication of the then Patriarch John, one of the regents (deposed in February 1347), there had been accusations about his 'illegal actions against the Empire and the Church.' In the context of the Civil War between the regents and Kantakouzenos, these generally mentioned accusations could also refer to his relations with Du{an, as the major foreign ally of the regents. Since his imperial coronation, Du{an signed his prostagmata with menologema, which had been the exclusive right of the Emperor of Rhomaioi and the crowned co-ruler, the junior basileus autokrator. This could be interpreted as the sign of Du- {an’s highest pretentions - namely, gaining the throne of the Emperor of Rhomaioi, but it could also be interpreted as the expression of his specific position of the co-Emperor (Emperor of Romania) that is some kind of the co-ruler with the Emperor from Constantinople (Emperor of Rhomaioi). It remains unclear whether the usage of the menologema was a willful act, and thus usurpation of power, or if there had been some kind of an agreement over this with the regents. On his way to the Empire, Du{an had probably been inspired by the Bulgarian example of the co-existence of yet another Empire besides the Byzantium. However, the change of the title of the Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander at that time, that is, the appearance of 'the Greek' component in it, taken together with Dušan’s title and what is known about the character of his Empire, seems to indicate that the both monarchs actually ruled over the empires that were the combination of co-existing and co-ruling models, that is, that the both of them were local and 'Byzantine' emperors at the same time. At the time of Dušan’s coronation, there had been a dominant opinion about the spiritual and political kinship of the rulers, that is, about the family of emperors. In that, ideal sense, Du{an and Ivan Alexander were brothers of Andronicus III that is, of Anna Palaiologos, and uncles to John Palaiologos. The actual kinship, when there had been such, was cited besides the ideal one, with the appropriate terms of family relations. Dušan’s entering into the Empire begun in the legitimate spirit, through the agreement with the Palaiologos dynasty. Later steps - proclaiming himself a basileus, creation of the Patriarchy and the actual coronation - were disputed, if not earlier, then most certainly after Kantakouzenos came to power. The genealogical tree from the fresco in the Monastery church near Matejich, created after 1347, although illegible in the most part, shows certain disputable components - it shows the kinship with the Emperor Isaac Comnenos, and through it the right of the Nemanjić dynasty to the Byzantine Imperial Crown to precede the right of the Palaiologos and Kantakouzenos families.

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