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Grand domestic

The title of Grand domestic (Greek: μέγας δομέστικος, romanizedmégas doméstikos) was given in the 11th–15th centuries to the commander-in-chief of the Byzantine army, directly below the Byzantine Emperor. It evolved from the earlier office of the domestic of the Schools, and came to rank as one of the senior dignities in the Byzantine state during the last centuries of its existence. From Byzantium, it was also adopted by the breakaway Empire of Trebizond, as well as by the 14th-century Serbian Empire.

History and evolution

The title of the grand domestic is first mentioned in the 9th century, and most likely derives from the older office of domestikos tōn scholōn ("Domestic of the Schools"), with the epithet megas added to connote the supreme authority of its holder, following contemporary practice evident in other offices as well.[1] Both titles appear to have co-existed for a time, with the grand domestic being a more exalted variant of the plain titles of the domestics of the East and of the West, until the late 11th century, when it became a distinct office and replaced the ordinary domestics as commander-in-chief. Nevertheless, the office was still sometimes referred to in the sources as the "Grand Domestic of the Schools" or "of the army", creating some confusion as to which of the two posts is meant.[2][3][4] For most of its existence, the office of Grand Domestic was by its nature confined to a single holder. However, the presence of "Grand Domestics of the East/West" in the late 12th century may indicate the resumption of the well-established practice of dividing supreme field command, as with the Domesticate of the Schools, between east (Asia Minor) and west (Balkans), while in the late 14th century several people appear to hold the office at the same time, perhaps in a collegial manner.[2][3]

Following the Fourth Crusade, it appears that in the Latin Empire and the other Latin states formed on Byzantine soil, the title of megas domestikos was used as the Greek equivalent of the Western title of [grand] seneschal (Latin: [magnus] senescallus).[5] In the Palaiologan period (1261–1453), the grand domestic was the unchallenged commander-in-chief of the army, except in the case of the emperor campaigning in person, when he functioned as a kind of chief of staff.[6] Despite its purely military nature, the office was also bestowed in the way of an honorific dignity to generals and high-ranking courtiers alike, e.g. to George Mouzalon, or to the Prince of Achaea William II of Villehardouin.[7]

Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos held the office of Grand Domestic during the reign of his close friend, Andronikos III Palaiologos

The office varied in importance in the court hierarchy. Under the Komnenian emperors, it came immediately after the "imperial" titles of Caesar, sebastokratōr and despotēs. In the 13th century, it rose and fell according to the emperors' desire to honour its holder, but was usually at seventh place, below the prōtovestiarios and the megas stratopedarchēs. It was not until the award of the title to John Kantakouzenos in the 1320s that the office firmly established itself once again as the highest non-imperial title, at the fourth place of the palace hierarchy.[7] At all times, however, it was regarded as one of the most important and prestigious positions, and was held either by members of the reigning dynasty or by close relatives from the small circle of families connected to the imperial clan. Like all Byzantine offices, it was neither hereditary nor transferable, and its bestowal was the province of the reigning emperor.[8] The office also included various ceremonial functions, as detailed in the mid-14th century account of offices of pseudo-Kodinos.[2][9]

The grand domestic's distinctive insignia are given by pseudo-Kodinos as follows:[10][11]

  • A skiadion hat in red and gold, decorated with embroideries in the klapoton style, with a veil and pendants in the same style. Alternatively, a domed skaranikon hat could be worn, again in red and gold, with a portrait of the emperor, standing crowned and flanked by angels, within a circle of pearls, in front. The skaranikon itself was also bordered with pearls.
  • A rich silk tunic, the kabbadion, of two colours, decorated with stripes of gold braid.
  • A staff of office (dikanikion) with carved knobs, with the first of plain gold, the second of gold bordered with silver braid, the third like the first, the fourth like the second, etc.

List of known holders

Byzantine Empire

  Persons who most likely bore in reality only the title of Domestic of the Schools and were termed grand domestics only as a honorific, are marked with light grey
Name Tenure Appointed by Notes Refs
Galenos 9th century Unknown Known only through his seal, which mentions his titles as "imperial primikērios, prōtovestiarios and megas domestikos" [12]
John Komnenos 1057–1059 Isaac I Komnenos Younger brother of Isaac I, he was raised to kouropalatēs and "Grand Domestic" by his brother. The usage of "Grand Domestic" is apparently an anachronistic usage by later sources, and his real title was probably Domestic of Schools of the West. However, a seal of a "John, nōbelissimos, prōtovestiarios and Grand Domestic of the Schools of the East" might be attributable to him. [13][14]
Andronikos Doukas c. 1072 Michael VII Doukas Son of the Caesar John Doukas and cousin of Michael VII, he was appointed Domestic of the Schools ("Grand Domestic" in a document of 1073) to confront the attempt by Romanos IV Diogenes to reclaim his throne. [15][16]
Alexios Komnenos 1078–1081 Nikephoros III Botaneiates Nephew of Isaac I, he was appointed to the Domesticate of the West to combat the revolts of Nikephoros Bryennios and Nikephoros Basilakes. In 1081, he deposed Nikephoros III and became emperor, ruling until his death in 1118. [17][16]
Gregory Pakourianos 1081–1086 Alexios I Komnenos Was named "Grand Domestic of the West" after Alexios Komnenos ascended the throne, and was killed in battle in 1086. R. Guilland qualifies him as the first person to be officially named "Grand Domestic" as a distinct title. [18][16]
Adrianos Komnenos 1086 – after 1095 Alexios I Komnenos A younger brother of Alexios I, he succeeded Pakourianos as "Grand Domestic of the West" in 1086. [18]
John Axouch 1118–1050/1 John II Komnenos A Turk taken captive as a boy in the Siege of Nicaea and given as a childhood companion to John II. A loyal friend and a capable soldier and administrator, he became Grand Domestic on John II's accession and held the post into the reign of Manuel I Komnenos, until his death. [19]
John Komnenos Vatatzes 1177/80 – 1183 Manuel I Komnenos A nephew of Manuel I, he served against the Seljuk Turks and under Alexios II Komnenos was governor of the Thracesian Theme. He tried to oppose the accession of Andronikos I Komnenos to the throne, and rebelled against him, but fell ill and died. [20]
Basil Vatatzes c. 1189 – 1193 Isaac II Angelos Married to a niece of Isaac II, he served as Domestic of the East and later as "Grand" Domestic of the West. According to R. Guilland, he was probably not a Grand Domestic in the strict sense of the title. [20]
Alexios Gidos c. 1185 – 1194 Isaac II Angelos He served as "Grand" Domestic of the East and later as Domestic of the West alongside Basil Vatatzes. The ambiguity about his title and whether he was a true "Grand Domestic" is the same as with Vatatzes. [21]
Andronikos Palaiologos by 1228 – 1248/52 Theodore I Laskaris or
John III Doukas Vatatzes
He was named Grand Domestic of the Empire of Nicaea either by Theodore I or by his successor, John III. Replaced as actual commander-in-chief, but not as Grand Domestic, by Theodore Philes, he served as governor of Thessalonica from its conquest in 1246 until his death sometime between 1248 and 1252. He was the father of the emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos. [22][23]
Nikephoros Tarchaneiotes by 1252 – 1254 John III Doukas Vatatzes Son-in-law of Andronikos Palaiologos, at the death of the latter he was epi tes trapezes and was soon promoted to Grand Domestic to succeed him. He died in 1254. [22][24]
George Mouzalon 1254–1256 Theodore II Laskaris Theodore II's closest friend and protégé, he was named Grand Domestic in 1254. However, it was the emperor himself who led the army on campaign, Mouzalon remaining behind as regent. He was further promoted to protosebastos, protovestiarios and megas stratopedarches in 1256. [25][26]
Andronikos Mouzalon 1256–1258 Theodore II Laskaris Brother of George Mouzalon, he succeeded him when he was promoted further up the hierarchy in 1256. He was killed along with his other brothers in the nobles coup in 1258, after the death of Theodore II. [27][28]
John Palaiologos 1258–1259 John IV Laskaris (nominal) Brother of Michael VIII, he was raised to the Grand Domesticate when the latter became regent of the under-age John IV Laskaris, but was rapidly promoted further to sebastokrator and later Despot. He continued to be active as a general almost to the end of his life, and scored several victories for his brother. [27][29][30]
Alexios Strategopoulos 1259 Michael VIII Palaiologos An old general, he was disgraced after a defeat in 1255 and punished by the emperor. He became a partisan of Michael Palaiologos, who named him Grand Domestic shortly before he was crowned emperor in 1259. For his successes against the Despotate of Epirus, he was named Caesar shortly after. His career was chequered by failures and periods of imprisonment, but on 25 July 1261 he led the recapture of Constantinople from the Latin Empire and the restoration of the Byzantine Empire under the Palaiologoi. [31][32][33]
Alexios Philes 1259–1263/4 Michael VIII Palaiologos Philes had married a niece of Michael VIII. He was sent in the Peloponnese but was defeated and captured by the Principality of Achaea, dying in captivity. [34][35]
William II of Villehardouin 1262 Michael VIII Palaiologos William was the Prince of Achaea in the Peloponnese, and had been taken captive in the 1259 Battle of Pelagonia. In 1262, he was released after he handed over some fortresses to the Empire, and received the title (possibly honorific) of Grand Domestic. Upon his return to the Peloponnese, however, he repudiated his oath and war began with Byzantium. [34][36]
Michael Tarchaneiotes 1272–1284 Michael VIII Palaiologos A son of Michael VIII's eldest sister, Martha-Maria. He campaigned against the Turks in Asia Minor in 1278, and scored a major victory against the Angevins at the Siege of Berat in 1281. He was killed at the siege of Demetrias in 1284. [34][37][38]
Theodore Komnenos Angelos c. 1286 Andronikos II Palaiologos A gambros (related by marriage to the imperial family) of Andronikos II, he is mentioned in a document of the Theotokos of the Lembos monastery in 1286. [39][40]
Syrgiannes before 1290 Andronikos II Palaiologos A Cuman, he had entered Byzantine service under John III Vatatzes and had become baptized, marrying a niece of Michael VIII. He was the father of Syrgiannes Palaiologos. [39]
John Angelos Sennachereim c. 1296 Andronikos II Palaiologos Mentioned in the context of preparations for repelling a Venetian attack in July 1296. [39][41]
Alexios Raoul unknown – 1303 Andronikos II Palaiologos Active as a fleet commander against Demetrias in 1284, he rose to Grand Domestic by 1303, when he was sent to negotiate with the mutinous Alan mercenaries, but was killed by them. [39][42]
John Kantakouzenos c. 1325 – 1341/47 Andronikos III Palaiologos The closest friend and collaborator of Andronikos III, he was probably raised to the position during the civil war against Andronikos II. To show his special favour to his friend, Andronikos III raised the Grand Domestic to an even higher position among the court dignities, immediately after the Caesar. Kantakouzenos remained Grand Domestic until 1341, when he was proclaimed Emperor, although technically he held the post until he was crowned in 1347, following his victory in the civil war against the regents of the under-age John V Palaiologos. [39][43][44]
Stephen Chreles 1341–1342 John VI Kantakouzenos A Serbian magnate and military leader, he entertained close relations with Byzantium and supported John Kantakouzenos in the first years of the civil war, receiving the titles of Grand Domestic and later Caesar. [45][46]
Tarchaneiotes unknown – 1354 or 1355 John VI Kantakouzenos Otherwise unknown, he was murdered on 2 November 1355 (or 1354) n Constantinople. [47]
Alexios Metochites c. 1355–1369 John VI Kantakouzenos and
John V Palaiologos
He was probably the son of the megas logothetes Theodore Metochites. He is mentioned as Grand Domestic in 1356 and again in the 1360s, seemingly holding the title along several other people during this period, which has led to suggestions that his office was honorary, like William of Villehardouin's, or that the division between Domestics of the East and the West was revived for a time. [48][49]
Alexios Atouemes c. 1357 John V Palaiologos An uncle of the Emperor, he is attested as a witness in the renewal of the peace treaty with Venice. [45][50]
Demetrios Palaiologos c. 1357–1375 John V Palaiologos A relative of the Emperor John V, his exact position within the Palaiologos family is uncertain. He is attested as a witness in the renewal of the peace treaty with Venice, and continues to be attested as a Grand Domestic in acts as late as 1375. [51][52]
Andronikos Palaiologos Kantakouzenos c. 1437–1453 John VIII Palaiologos
Constantine XI Palaiologos
First mentioned on being sent on a diplomatic mission to Serbia in 1437, Andronikos Palaiologos Kantakouzenos was the brother of the Despotess of Serbia, Irene Kantakouzene, and held the post until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. He survived the sack of the city, but was executed by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II a few days later along with Loukas Notaras and other notables. [6][53][54]

Empire of Trebizond

Name Tenure Appointed by Notes Refs
Tzampas unknown – 1332 unknown Nothing is known of him except that he was executed in September 1332 by Basil of Trebizond along with his father, the megas doux Lekes Tzatzintzaios. [55]
Leo Kabazites 1344 – January 1351 Michael of Trebizond Protovestiarios and Grand Domestic of the Empire of Trebizond. Imprisoned after a failed rebellion against the emperor Alexios III. [56]
Gregory Meitzomates 1345–1355 Michael of Trebizond [57]

Serbian Empire

Name Tenure Appointed by Notes Refs
Jovan Oliver before 1349 Stefan Dušan A powerful Serbian magnate, he held a series of Byzantine-derived titles at the court of Stefan Dušan's Serbian Empire, eventually rising to the rank of despot. [58]
Alexios Doukas Raoul c. 1355–1366 Stefan Dušan
Stefan Uroš V
A local magnate from Zichnai, he was Grand Domestic of the Serbian Empire. [59]


  1. ^ Haldon 1999, p. 119.
  2. ^ a b c ODB, "Megas domestikos" (A. Kazhdan), pp. 1329–1330.
  3. ^ a b Guilland 1967a, pp. 414–415.
  4. ^ Guilland 1967b, pp. 454–455.
  5. ^ Van Tricht 2011, p. 180.
  6. ^ a b Guilland 1967a, p. 414.
  7. ^ a b Guilland 1967a, p. 416.
  8. ^ Guilland 1967a, pp. 416–417.
  9. ^ Bartusis 1997, p. 282.
  10. ^ Guilland 1967a, p. 415.
  11. ^ Verpeaux 1966, pp. 151–152.
  12. ^ Guilland 1967a, p. 405.
  13. ^ Guilland 1967a, pp. 405–406.
  14. ^ Guilland 1967b, p. 453.
  15. ^ Guilland 1967a, pp. 406–407.
  16. ^ a b c Guilland 1967b, p. 454.
  17. ^ Guilland 1967a, pp. 406.
  18. ^ a b Guilland 1967a, p. 407.
  19. ^ Guilland 1967a, pp. 407–408.
  20. ^ a b Guilland 1967a, p. 408.
  21. ^ Guilland 1967a, pp. 408–409.
  22. ^ a b Guilland 1967a, p. 409.
  23. ^ Macrides 2007, pp. 243–244 (note 6).
  24. ^ Macrides 2007, pp. 200, 243–244 (note 6).
  25. ^ Guilland 1967a, pp. 409–410.
  26. ^ Macrides 2007, pp. 294–295 (note 9), 297–298.
  27. ^ a b Guilland 1967a, p. 410.
  28. ^ Macrides 2007, pp. 297–298.
  29. ^ Macrides 2007, pp. 347, 350 (note 10).
  30. ^ PLP, 21487. Παλαιολόγος, Ἰωάννης Κομνηνὸς ∆ούκας Ἄγγελος.
  31. ^ Guilland 1967a, pp. 410–411.
  32. ^ Macrides 2007, pp. 347, 366.
  33. ^ PLP, 26894. Στρατηγόπουλος, Ἀλέξιος Κομνηνός.
  34. ^ a b c Guilland 1967a, p. 411.
  35. ^ PLP, 29809. Φιλῆς Ἀλέξιος.
  36. ^ Nicol 1993, p. 47.
  37. ^ Nicol 1993, pp. 65–66, 86.
  38. ^ PLP, 27505. Ταρχανειώτης, Μιχαήλ Παλαιολόγος.
  39. ^ a b c d e Guilland 1967a, p. 412.
  40. ^ PLP, 196. Ἄγγελος, Θεόδωρος Κομνηνός; 12102. Κομνηνός, Θεόδωρος Ἄγγελος.
  41. ^ PLP, 25150. Σεναχηρείμ, Ὶωάννης Ἄγγελος.
  42. ^ PLP, 24109. Ῥαοὺλ Ἀλέξιος.
  43. ^ Nicol 1993, pp. 158, 168ff..
  44. ^ PLP, 10973. Καντακουζηνός, Ἰωάννης VI. Ἄγγελος Κομνηνὸς Παλαιολόγος.
  45. ^ a b Guilland 1967a, p. 413.
  46. ^ PLP, 30989. Χρέλης Στέφανος.
  47. ^ PLP, 27468. Ταρχανειώτης.
  48. ^ Guilland 1967a, pp. 412–413.
  49. ^ PLP, 17977. Μετοχίτης, Ἀλέξιος Λάσκαρις Παλαιολόγος (?).
  50. ^ PLP, 1640. Ἀτουέμης Ἀλέξιος.
  51. ^ Guilland 1967a, pp. 413–414.
  52. ^ PLP, 21455. Παλαιολόγος ∆ημήτριος.
  53. ^ Nicol 1993, pp. 371, 390.
  54. ^ PLP, 10957. Καντακουζηνός, Ἀνδρόνικος Παλαιολόγος.
  55. ^ PLP, 27738. Τζάμπας; 27815. Τζατζιντζαῖος Λέκης.
  56. ^ PLP, 10011. Καβαζίτης Λέων.
  57. ^ PLP, 17618. Μειζομάτης Γρηγόριος.
  58. ^ PLP, 14888. Λίβερος Ἰωάννης.
  59. ^ PLP, 24111. Ῥαοὺλ, Ἀλέξιος Δούκας.


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Grand domestic
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