John V Palaeologus (1341 - 1391)

John V Palaeologus (1332-1391), Byzantine emperor (1341-1376, 1379-1391), the son of Andronicus III Palaeologus and Anna of Savoy. He succeeded to the throne at age nine, and was crowned co-emperor with John Cantacuzenus, chief minister under Andronicus. After a civil war (1341-1347), the empire was controlled by John VI Cantacuzenus as coemperor from 1347 to 1354. In 1354 John, who had married Helen, daughter of Cantacuzenus, regained the throne. During his reign Ottoman hordes invaded the European lands of the Greek empire. They had already conquered most of the asiatic lands with the exception of the cities Philadelphea and Trapezous of Euxenus Pontus who still resisted the barbarian invaders.

Ioannes tried to come in agreement with Serbs to face the danger. He dispatched Patriarch Kallistos I to Serres to meet Dusan's widow, but the Patriarch's sudden death put an end to the negotiations. Nor did the efforts to come to an agreement with the Italian maritime republics prove any more successful. The only success John V was able to achieve at this time, following his contacts with Pope Urban V (1362-70), was the setting in motion of a crusade, to be led by the King of Cyprus, Peter I. However, the crusade that began in 1365 and that was to have been directed against the Turks, was finally turned against Egypt, thus frustrating the expectations of John V.

After the failure of his first diplomatic moves, John V resolved to go to Hungary himself to ask for help. For the first time in the history of the Empire, an Emperor of Byzantium travelled abroad not as a general but as a supplicant, so desperate was the situation of the state. John V arrived at Buda in the spring of 1366, but talks with the king of Hungary, Ludwig, reached an impasse when it came to the issue of union, which the latter set as a condition for any action against the Turks. John V left Buda, having accomplished virtually nothing. On his way back to Constantinople, however, he was forced to stop at Vidin, because the Bulgars did not allow him to pass through their territory. From this difficult situation, the Emperor was extricated by his cousin, count Amadeus VI of Savoy. The so-called "Green Count" arrived at the Straits of Marmara in July 1366, wrested Kallipolis from the Turks and then turned against Bulgaria and forced the Bulgars to set free John V and to recognise Byzantine sovereignty over Sozopolis, Mesembria and Anchialos.

In early 1367, John V returned to Constantinople. Shortly afterwards, Amadeo VI arrived there as well, in order to continue his military operations against the Turks. However, being low on funds and men, he was forced to return to his country in the summer of 1367, after having urged John V to turn to the Pope for help, in return for promoting negotiation for union. Ioannes V was an incompetent and weakhearted ruler. He didn't organize the Greek army but he constantly was seeking Western aid. Pope cynically demanded to be recognized as the head of the Orthodox Church of Constantinople in order to organize a crusade against the musulmans. John professed on 18 October 1369 the Roman Catholic faith at Rome. The successor of the Macedonian and Comnenos dynasty, kneeled and kissed three times the feet of the pope. The emperor of the Greatest empire of the Middle Ages begged for help. Even worst the same year, he was detained as a debtor when he visited Venice. The successor of Basil II, who had more wealth than all the other European states together, had not enough money to return to his country. With the help of his son Manuel, John V returned to Constantinople in October 1371, once again empty-handed. Despite of John's profession and betrayal of his Orthodox faith the pope never sent military aid to his fellow christians to help them save their country, their churches and their homes.

The Serbian state, after Stefan Dusan's death in December 1355, had fallen apart and no longer constituted a menace for Byzantium. The Turks, however, were becoming increasingly dangerous, making continuous incursions into Thrace, pillaging, burning and destroying all before them. In 1354 after an earthquake had devasted Kallipolis (Gallipoli) of Ellispontos, Suleiman, son of the sultan Orhan, conquered the city, enslaved the population and colonized her with muslim populations. In 1360 Ottomans conquered Didymoteichon, in 1362 they took Adrianople and in 1363 they occupied Philippoupolis. In 1365, Sultan Murad I made the historic Greek city of Adrianople his capital and established more Turks in the region, driving out the local population, who were forcibly transported to Asia Minor.

The Serbian ruler of the region of Serres, John Ugljesa joined forces with his brother, King Vukasin and together they confronted the Turkish army at Cernomen, on the river Ebros (Maritsa), 35 kilometres west of Adrianople, where they were defeated on 26 September 1371. The two heroic brothers were killed. The route to Macedonia was now open to the asian invaders. Serbs, Bulgars and Greeks were forced to recognise the Turkish suzerainty, pay tribute and offer military service to the Sultan. The Turks put into practice the paidomazoma (forced recruitment of young christians). The young boys were trasformed to fanatic jenissaries who acted without mercy to the enemies of the sultan. Also a new tax was imposed. The Haratsi (head tax), which all the christians were forced to pay every year, if they wanted to keep their head on their shoulders.

After he was deposed and imprisoned (1376) by his son, Andronicus IV, sultan Murad helped John regain the throne (1379). The Turks gradually completed their conquest of the Balkans. In 1383 they conquered Serres, which had passed into Byzantine hands after the death of Ugljesa, then Sofia in 1385, Naissus in 1386 and finally, after a long siege, they became masters of Thessalonike in 1387. (The capital of Macedonia remained slave to the Turks for almost 500 years. She was liberated by Eleftherios Venizelos, on 26 October 1912, the name day of her saint protector, Aghios Demetrios). In 1388, Murad I, having repressed a Bulgarian rebellion and having forced the Bulgars into submission, turned against the Serbs who had scored a few victories under the leadership of their heroic king Lazar. In 1389 the two armies met at Kosovo. During the battle, Murad I was killed, but his son and successor, Bayezid, assumed the leadership of the Turks and routed the Serbs. Their ruler, Lazar, as well as a large number of soldiers and civilians, were slaughtered on the order of Bayezid, who thus avenged his father's death. The defeat of the Serbs at Kosovo in 1389 was an event of utmost importance to the future of the Slavic states as well as to the entire Balkan peninsula, which would thenceforth be either under the domination of the Turks. Turks who had come from Mongolia in 11th century, now occupied most part of the Greek empire (with the exception of Constantinople, Trapezous of Pontus, Philadelphia of Minor Asia, Sylimvria, Peloponnese (Morea) and some Aegean islands), Bulgaria and Serbia.

In 1390 the Greek Emperor ordered to build at Constantinople Golden Gate new strengthenings, having used on them a marble of the decayed churches of city. Upon termination of works Beyazid I, threatening to murder his son Manuel who was kept as a hostage, demanded them to raze. John V destroyed the works. After a while, on February 16 February 1391, he died and was succeeded by his son Manuel II. The territorial dismemberment of the state was accompanied by internal disintegration. The centre of Byzantium, Constantinople, had been cut off from the scattered remnants of the state, which it could no longer keep under its control. This breakdown, which was aggravated by the domestic conflicts, was to continue until the final fall of the Empire.

Encyclopaedia Britannica
Donald Nicol - The last centuries of Byzantium
Foundation of Hellenic World