Michael VIII (Michael Palaeologus), c.1225–1282, Byzantine emperor (1261–82), first of the Palaeologus dynasty. Following the murder of the regent for Emperor John IV of Nicaea, he was appointed (1258) regent and, soon afterward (1259), coemperor. He successfully defended (1259) Nicaea against the coalition of the despotat of Epirus, Sicily, and Achaea. Michael then led his army against the crumbling Latin Empire of Constantinople and recovered (1261) its capital from Emperor Baldwin II. With the Byzantine Empire thus restored, Michael was crowned by the patriarch. He later had John IV blinded and imprisoned. The remainder of Michael's reign was taken up by his fight against Charles I of Naples and Sicily, and against the despotat of Epirus. He concluded peace with the Tatars and Mamluks in 1272. For support against Charles he vacillated between Venice and Genoa as allies. He negotiated with Pope Gregory X for a union of the Eastern and Western Churches, and in 1274 his emissaries at the Second Council of Lyons (see Lyons, Second Council of) agreed to recognize the spiritual supremacy of the pope. However, in 1281 Pope Martin IV, a supporter of Charles, broke the union by excommunicating Michael, while Charles's troops with those of Venice invaded Epirus. Michael saved his throne by financing a rebellion in Sicily, which broke Charles's power in the Sicilian Vespers. Michael was distinguished for his learning and left an autobiography. His son Andronicus II succeeded him.
See study by D. Geanakoplos (1959).
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