Isaac II Angelos

Byzantine emperor from 1185 to 1195 and 1203 to 1204

.mw-parser-output .infobox-subbox{padding:0;border:none;margin:-3px;width:auto;min-width:100%;font-size:100%;clear:none;float:none;background-color:transparent}.mw-parser-output .infobox-3cols-child{margin:auto}.mw-parser-output .infobox .navbar{font-size:100%} .mw-parser-output .infobox-header, .mw-parser-output .infobox-subheader, .mw-parser-output .infobox-above, .mw-parser-output .infobox-title, .mw-parser-output .infobox-image, .mw-parser-output .infobox-full-data, .mw-parser-output .infobox-below{text-align:center} .mw-parser-output .infobox-full-data div{background:#1f1f23!important;color:#f8f9fa}@media(prefers-color-scheme:dark){ .mw-parser-output .infobox-full-data div{background:#1f1f23!important;color:#f8f9fa}}

Isaac II Angelos
Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans

Portrait of Isaac II (from a 15th-century codex containing a copy of the Extracts of History by Joannes Zonaras)
Byzantine emperor
Reign 12 September 1185 –
8 April 1195
Predecessor Andronikos I Komnenos
Successor Alexios III Angelos
Reign 19 July 1203 –
27 January 1204
Coronation 1 August 1203[1]
Successor Alexios V Doukas
Co-Emperor Alexios IV Angelos
Born September 1156
Died January 1204 (aged 47)
(now Istanbul, Turkey)
Spouse Eirene Komnena or Palaiologina
(ended 1185)
.mw-parser-output .marriage-line-margin2px{line-height:0;margin-bottom:-2px}.mw-parser-output .marriage-line-margin3px{line-height:0;margin-bottom:-3px}.mw-parser-output .marriage-display-ws{display:inline;white-space:nowrap}

(m. 1185⁠–⁠1204)​

Issue .mw-parser-output .plainlist ol,.mw-parser-output .plainlist ul{line-height:inherit;list-style:none;margin:0;padding:0}.mw-parser-output .plainlist ol li,.mw-parser-output .plainlist ul li{margin-bottom:0}

Isaac Angelos
Ισαάκιος Άγγελος
Dynasty Angelos
Father Andronikos Doukas Angelos
Mother Euphrosyne Kastamonitissa
Religion Greek Orthodox

Isaac II Angelos or Angelus (Greek: Ἰσαάκιος Κομνηνός Ἄγγελος, translit. Isaákios Komnēnós Ángelos; September 1156 – January 1204) was Byzantine Emperor from 1185 to 1195, and co-Emperor with his son Alexios IV Angelos from 1203 to 1204. In a 1185 revolt against the Emperor Andronikos Komnenos, Isaac seized power and rose to the Byzantine throne, establishing the Angelos family as the new imperial dynasty.

His father Andronikos Doukas Angelos was a military leader in Asia Minor (c. 1122 – aft. 1185) who married Euphrosyne Kastamonitissa (c. 1125 – aft. 1195). Andronikos Doukas Angelos was the son of Constantine Angelos and Theodora Komnene (b. 15 January 1096/1097), the youngest daughter of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos and Irene Doukaina. Thus Isaac was a member of the extended imperial clan of the Komnenoi.

Rising by revolt[edit]

Niketas Choniates described Isaac’s physical appearance: “He had a ruddy complexion and red hair, was of average height and robust in body”.[2]

Killing of Stephen Hagiochristophorites, c. 1473, miniature by Jean Colombe in Les Passages d’outremer, BNF.

During the brief reign of Andronikos I Komnenos, Isaac was involved (alongside his father and brothers) in the revolt of Nicaea and Prousa. Atypically, the Emperor did not punish him for this disloyalty, and Isaac remained at Constantinople.

On 11 September 1185, while Andronikos was absent from the capital, his lieutenant Stephen Hagiochristophorites moved to arrest Isaac. Isaac killed Hagiochristophorites and took refuge in the church of Hagia Sophia.[3] Andronikos was a capable ruler in some ways but was hated for his cruelty and his efforts to keep the aristocracy obedient. Isaac appealed to the populace, and a tumult arose that spread rapidly over the whole city. When Andronikos returned he found that he had lost popular support, and that Isaac had been proclaimed emperor. Andronikos attempted to flee by boat but was apprehended. Isaac handed him over to the people of the city, and he was killed on 12 September 1185.[4]

First reign[edit]

Isaac II Angelos strengthened his position as emperor with dynastic marriages in 1185 and 1186. His niece Eudokia Angelina was married to Stefan, son of Stefan Nemanja of Serbia. Isaac’s sister Theodora was married to the Italian marquis Conrad of Montferrat. In January 1186, Isaac himself married Margaret of Hungary (renamed Maria), daughter of King Béla III.[5] Hungary was one of the Empire’s largest and most powerful neighbours, and Margaret also had the benefit of high aristocratic descent, being related to the royal families of Kyiv, the Holy Roman Empire, Italy, Provence, and earlier Byzantine dynasties.

Isaac inaugurated his reign with a decisive victory over the Norman[6] King of Sicily, William II, at the Battle of Demetritzes on 7 November 1185. William had invaded the Balkans with 80,000 men and 200 ships towards the end of Andronikos I’s reign. Elsewhere Isaac’s policy was less successful. In late 1185, he sent a fleet of 80 galleys to liberate his brother Alexius III from Acre, but the fleet was destroyed by the Normans of Sicily. He then sent a fleet of 70 ships, but it failed to recover Cyprus from the rebellious noble Isaac Komnenos, thanks to Norman interference. This fleet was misinterpreted by many in the Holy Land as naval support for the Muslim offensive in accordance with Isaac’s alliance with Saladin.[7][8] However the theory of a supposed alliance between Isaac and Saladin against the Third Crusade has been discredited by modern research.[8][9]

Isaac’s administration was dominated by two figures: his maternal uncle Theodore Kastamonites, who became virtually a co-emperor and handled all civil government until his death in 1193; and his replacement, Constantine Mesopotamites, who acquired even more influence over the emperor.

The oppressiveness of his taxes, increased to pay his armies and finance his marriage, resulted in a Vlach-Bulgarian uprising[6] late in 1185. The rebellion led to the establishment of the Vlach-Bulgarian Empire under the Asen dynasty. In 1187 Alexios Branas, the victor over the Normans, was sent against the Bulgarians but turned his arms against his master and attempted to seize Constantinople, only to be defeated and slain[6] by Isaac’s brother-in-law Conrad of Montferrat. Also in 1187 an agreement was made with Venice, in which the Venetian Republic would provide between 40 and 100 galleys at six months’ notice in exchange for favorable trading concessions. Because each Venetian galley was manned by 140 oarsmen, there were about 18,000 Venetians still in the Empire even after Manuel I‘s arrests.[10]

The Emperor’s attention was next demanded in the east, where several claimants to the throne successively rose and fell. In 1189 the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa sought and obtained permission to lead his troops on the Third Crusade through the Byzantine Empire.[6] But Isaac was suspicious that Barbarossa wished to conquer Byzantium: the reasons for this suspicious attitude were the diplomatic contact of Frederick with the Bulgarians and the Serbians, foes of the Byzantine Empire during this period, also Barbarossa’s previous feud with Manuel. The rumors of 1160s about a German invasion in the Byzantine Empire were still remembered in the Byzantine court during Isaac’s reign.[11] In retaliation Barbarossa’s army occupied the city of Philippopolis and defeated a Byzantine army of 3,000 men that attempted to recapture the city.[12] The Byzantine troops managed to constantly and successfully harass the Crusaders but a group of Armenians revealed to the Germans the strategic plan of the Byzantines. The Crusaders, who outnumbered the Byzantines, caught them unprepared and defeated them.[13] Thus compelled by force of arms, Isaac II was forced to fulfill his engagements[6] in 1190, when he released imprisoned German emissaries who were held in Constantinople, and exchanged hostages with Barbarossa, as a guarantee that the crusaders would not sack local settlements until they departed the Byzantine territory. In March 1190, Barbarossa left Adrianople to Gallipoli at the Hellespont to embark to Asia Minor.[14]

By 1196, Isaac II had allowed the once powerful Byzantine navy to decline to only 30 galleys.[full citation needed]

The next five years were disturbed by continued warfare with Bulgaria, against which Isaac led several expeditions in person.[6] In spite of their promising start these ventures had little effect, and on one occasion in 1190 Isaac barely escaped with his life. The Byzantines suffered yet another major defeat in the Battle of Arcadiopolis in 1194. Isaac organized yet another offensive against Bulgaria in 1195 in cooperation with the Kingdom of Hungary, but Alexios Angelos, the Emperor’s older brother, taking advantage of Isaac’s absence from camp on a hunting expedition, proclaimed himself emperor and was readily recognised by the soldiers as Emperor Alexios III on 8 (or 9) April.[15][16] Alexios then canceled the expedition and ordered Isaac to be blinded and imprisoned in Constantinople.[6]

Second reign[edit]

In 1203, after eight years of captivity, Isaac II was raised from the dungeon to the throne once more[6] after the arrival of the Fourth Crusade and the flight of Alexios III from the capital. Both his mind and body had been enfeebled by his blindness and confinement,[6] and his son Alexios IV Angelos was associated on the throne as the effective monarch.

Heavily beholden to the crusaders, Alexios IV was unable to meet his obligations and his vacillation caused him to lose the support of both his crusader allies and his subjects. At the end of January 1204 the influential court official Alexios Doukas Mourtzouphlos took advantage of riots in the capital to imprison Alexios IV and seize the throne as Alexios V. At this point Isaac II died, allegedly of shock, while Alexios IV was strangled.


Several pretenders rose up and attempted to wrest the throne from Isaac during his reign. These included:

  • Alexios Branas
  • Theodore Mangaphas
  • Pseudo-Alexios II
  • Basil Chotzas – initiated a rebellion at Tarsia, near Nicomedia. Initially he had some success, but before long he was seized, blinded, and cast into prison.[17]
  • Isaac Comnenus (nephew of Andronicus I Comnenus) – escaped from prison and fled to Hagia Sophia, where he proceeded to incite a mob. Eventually captured, he was suspended in the air and tortured in order to obtain the names of his accomplices. His internal organs suffered severe damage and he died the next day.[18]
  • Constantine Tatikios – secretly established a group of 500 individuals who hid in Constantinople. Though they managed to escape detection for some considerable time, he was informed against, captured, and blinded.[18]

Historical reputation[edit]

Isaac has the reputation as one of the most unsuccessful rulers to occupy the Byzantine throne.[6] Surrounded by a crowd of slaves, mistresses, and flatterers, he permitted his empire to be administered by unworthy favourites, while he squandered the money wrung from his provinces on costly buildings and expensive gifts to the churches of his metropolis.[6] In 1185, the Empire lost Lefkada, Kefallonia, and Zakynthos to the Normans. In the same year the Vlach – Bulgarian Empire was restored after the rebellion of the brothers Asen and Peter, thus losing Moesia and parts of Thrace and Macedonia. After that Cilicia was retaken by the Armenians, and Cyprus wrested from the empire by the Franks.


Isaac II’s first wife’s name, Herina (i.e., Irene), is found on the necrology of Speyer Cathedral, where their daughter Irene is interred.[19] The first wife of Isaac II is usually considered to be a Byzantine noblewoman of unknown name. In an Italian edition of the chronicle of Nicetas Choniates “Greatness and catastrophe of Byzantium” can be found an interesting note to the XIV Book. The names of Isaac II’s first wife and eldest daughter, unknown from Byzantine sources, are found in an obituary in the Cathedral of Speyer, the pantheon of German kings. Here, the wife of Philip of Swabia is said to be the daughter of Isaac and Irene (there is reference to the following article: R. Hiestand, Die erste Ehe Isaaks II. Angelos und seine Kinder, in Jahrbuch der Osterreichischen Byzantinisk, XLVII 1997 pp. 199–208). This Irene could be identified with the daughter of George Paleologus Ducas Comnenus and wife Aspae, Bagratiid Princess of Ossetia; the son of this one, Andronicus Paleologus Comnenoducas is known as gambrox (γαμβρός) of Isaac II. Isaac’s wife was possibly daughter of Andronikos I Komnenos, Byzantine Emperor (died 1185). A potential foreign origin is also given to her due to having the same name as her daughter, contrary to long-standing Greek custom. Their third child was born in 1182 or 1183 and she was dead or divorced by 1185, when Isaac remarried. Their children were:

By his second wife, Margaret of Hungary (who took the baptismal name “Maria”), Isaac II had two sons:

  • Manuel Angelos (b. after 1195 – d. 1212), he was evidently the elder son, being contemplated in 1205 to ascend the Byzantine throne[20]
  • John Angelos (b. ca. 1193 – d. 1259). He migrated to Hungary and ruled over Syrmia and Bacs (1227–42) as a vassal of king Béla IV of Hungary.

See also[edit]

.mw-parser-output .portalbox{padding:0;margin:0.5em 0;display:table;box-sizing:border-box;max-width:175px;list-style:none}.mw-parser-output .portalborder{border:solid #aaa 1px;padding:0.1em;background:#f9f9f9}.mw-parser-output .portalbox-entry{display:table-row;font-size:85%;line-height:110%;height:1.9em;font-style:italic;font-weight:bold}.mw-parser-output .portalbox-image{display:table-cell;padding:0.2em;vertical-align:middle;text-align:center}.mw-parser-output .portalbox-link{display:table-cell;padding:0.2em 0.2em 0.2em 0.3em;vertical-align:middle}@media(min-width:720px){.mw-parser-output .portalleft{clear:left;float:left;margin:0.5em 1em 0.5em 0}.mw-parser-output .portalright{clear:right;float:right;margin:0.5em 0 0.5em 1em}} .mw-parser-output .portalbox{background:transparent}@media(prefers-color-scheme:dark){ .mw-parser-output .pane{background:transparent}}


.mw-parser-output .reflist{font-size:90%;margin-bottom:0.5em;list-style-type:decimal}.mw-parser-output .reflist .references{font-size:100%;margin-bottom:0;list-style-type:inherit}.mw-parser-output .reflist-columns-2{column-width:30em}.mw-parser-output .reflist-columns-3{column-width:25em}.mw-parser-output .reflist-columns{margin-top:0.3em}.mw-parser-output .reflist-columns ol{margin-top:0}.mw-parser-output .reflist-columns li{page-break-inside:avoid;break-inside:avoid-column}.mw-parser-output .reflist-upper-alpha{list-style-type:upper-alpha}.mw-parser-output .reflist-upper-roman{list-style-type:upper-roman}.mw-parser-output .reflist-lower-alpha{list-style-type:lower-alpha}.mw-parser-output .reflist-lower-greek{list-style-type:lower-greek}.mw-parser-output .reflist-lower-roman{list-style-type:lower-roman}

  1. ^ Geoffrey of Villehardouin, De la Conquête de Constantinople s.48
  2. ^ Choniates 1984, p. 248.
  3. ^ Harris 2007, p. 71.
  4. ^ Choniates 1984, pp. 188–189.
  5. ^ Burkhardt 2016, p. 50.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k .mw-parser-output cite.citation{font-style:inherit;word-wrap:break-word}.mw-parser-output .citation q{quotes:”””””””‘””‘”}.mw-parser-output .citation:target{background-color:rgba(0,127,255,0.133)}.mw-parser-output a{background:url(“//”)right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .id-lock-free a{background-size:contain}.mw-parser-output a,.mw-parser-output a{background:url(“//”)right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .id-lock-limited a,body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .id-lock-registration a{background-size:contain}.mw-parser-output a{background:url(“//”)right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .id-lock-subscription a{background-size:contain}.mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background:url(“//”)right 0.1em center/12px no-repeat}body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background-size:contain}.mw-parser-output .cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:none;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;color:#d33}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{color:#d33}.mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{display:none;color:#2C882D;margin-left:0.3em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right{padding-right:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .citation .mw-selflink{font-weight:inherit} .mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{color:#18911F} .mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error, .mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{color:#f8a397}@media(prefers-color-scheme:dark){ .mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error, .mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{color:#f8a397} .mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{color:#18911F}}Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). “Isaac II. (Angelus)” . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 14 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 858.
  7. ^ Brand, Charles M. (1962). “The Byzantines and Saladin, 1185–1192: Opponents of the Third Crusade”. Speculum. 37 (2): 167–181. doi:10.2307/2849946. JSTOR 2849946. S2CID 162541416.
  8. ^ a b Neocleous, Savvas (2010). “The Byzantines and Saladin: Opponents of the Third Crusade?”. Crusades. 9 (1): 87–106. doi:10.1080/28327861.2010.12220246. ISSN 1476-5276.
  9. ^ Harris, Jonathan (2014). Byzantium and the Crusades (2nd ed.). London: Bloomsbury. pp. 140–141. ISBN 978-1780937366. OCLC 891400633.
  10. ^ J. Norwich, A History of Venice, 121
  11. ^ Harris, Jonathan (2014). Byzantium and the Crusades (2nd ed.). London: Bloomsbury. p. 142. ISBN 978-1780937366. OCLC 891400633.
  12. ^ W. Treadgold, A History of the Byzantine State and Society, 658
  13. ^ Choniates 1984, p. 224.
  14. ^ Freed 2016, pp. 494–504.
  15. ^ Schreiner, Peter (1977). Die byzantinischen Kleinchroniken 2. Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae XII(2). pp. 181–182.
  16. ^ Choniates 1984, pp. 299–314. Alexios III ruled “8 years, 3 months and 10 days”; Alexios IV (alongside Isaac II) “6 months and 8 days” and Alexios V “2 months and 16 days”. Regnal dates for these emperors are calculated reckoning from the fall of Constantinople on 12 April 1204.
  17. ^ Choniates 1984, p. 233.
  18. ^ a b Choniates 1984, p. 314.
  19. ^ Klaniczay, Gabor. Holy Rulers and Blessed Princesses: Dynastic Cults in Medieval Central Europe. Translated by Eva Palmai. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2002, pp. 99–100.
  20. ^ Rodd, Rennell (1907). The Princes of Achaia and the Chronicles of Morea: A Study of Greece in the Middle Ages. Vol. 1.


.mw-parser-output .refbegin{font-size:90%;margin-bottom:0.5em}.mw-parser-output .refbegin-hanging-indents>ul{margin-left:0}.mw-parser-output .refbegin-hanging-indents>ul>li{margin-left:0;padding-left:3.2em;text-indent:-3.2em}.mw-parser-output .refbegin-hanging-indents ul,.mw-parser-output .refbegin-hanging-indents ul li{list-style:none}@media(max-width:720px){.mw-parser-output .refbegin-hanging-indents>ul>li{padding-left:1.6em;text-indent:-1.6em}}.mw-parser-output .refbegin-columns{margin-top:0.3em}.mw-parser-output .refbegin-columns ul{margin-top:0}.mw-parser-output .refbegin-columns li{page-break-inside:avoid;break-inside:avoid-column}

External links[edit]

Isaac II Angelos

Born: September 1156 Died: January 1204

Regnal titles
Preceded by

Byzantine emperor
Succeeded by

Preceded by

Alexios III Angelos
Byzantine emperor
with Alexios IV Angelos (1203–1204)
Succeeded by


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *