Trebizond: the Last Byzantine Empire

When the rapacious warriors of the Fourth Crusade seized Constantinople at the beginning of the thirteenth century, two Byzantine princes set up an empire-in-exile stretching from Georgia along the Black Sea coast. This new empire outlived the parent city. Until 1461, writes Anthony Bryer, it remained an unconquered outpost of Greek-Christian civilization.

Trebizond is a name to be recited among the legendary names of history—Aspramont or Montalban, Damasco or Marocco. It is the realm whose imperial sceptre Don Quixote, “transported with these agreeable Delusions, already grasp’d in the Imagination.” One still approaches its history from the point of view of the rare Western travellers who have troubled to visit it: the Argonauts and Xenophon, Marco Polo and Rose Macaulay. Robert Curzon saw Trebizond through a hole in the green silk eiderdown that he was obliged to wear against the cold.

Jason encountered the Amazons there, and Xenophon the sea. Then it was inhabited by the monstrous Mossynoici, who traded in enormously fat boys, fed on boiled chestnuts and tastefully tattooed for market with floral designs. The alcoholic honey of Trebizond, made by bees who have drunk from the pontic azalea, still has the same devastating effect upon the visitor as it had upon the Ten Thousand.

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