John III Doukas Vatatzes (1221–1254)
John Doukas, often called Vatatzes, was the son–in–law of Theodore I Laskaris. He had to fend off Theodore’s brothers, who believed that they had the better claim for the throne. John’s reign saw the Empire of Nicaea rise to become the most powerful of the Byzantine successor states and the frontrunner in the race to recover Constantinople from the Latin Empire. John first forced the Latins out of Asia Minor, then, following the death of Ivan II Asen of Bulgaria, swept into the Balkans, recovering much of Thrace and Macedonia, including the great city of Thessaloniki, by 1246. John also forced the submission of the other Byzantine successor state in Epiros, persuading them to renounce the title of emperor, and accept the rank of despotes instead. Although Epiros remained as a semi-independent state, its rulers recognised that John was the only legitimate Byzantine Emperor. Although Constantinople was isolated by John’s conquests, he was unable to capture the city itself.
Vatatzes cultivated a close relationship with the German emperor, Frederick II, and negotiated with the papacy about the possibility of reuniting the Church. John was an able administrator and fiscal manager. He encouraged his realm to be self-sufficient, discouraging or banning Western imports, and encouraged his subjects to carefully manage their lands and farms. He led by example, demonstrating his success by buying his wife a jeweled crown from the proceeds of selling eggs. John died in 1254 and was remembered fondly by his people; the inhabitants of Asia Minor revered him as a saint soon after his death.
John III used a standing figure of Christ on the obverse of his seals. This figure is identified by an inscription as Christ Chalkites, the Christ whose icon appeared over the main gate of the Great Palace in Constantinople. This depiction of Christ is also interesting as he is standing. This is the first time that Christ had been shown standing since the reign of Romanos IV (1068–1071), and would be imitated by all of the remaining emperors. John himself is shown standing on the obverse. John has the title despotes and is identified by the name of Doukas. Although John III's father was a Vatatzes, he chose the name Doukas on his seals. This would associate John with the imperial dynasty of the eleventh century as well as with the Komnenos clan.
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