John Doukas Kamateros

For several contemporaries with the same name, see John Kamateros.

John Doukas Kamateros (Greek: Ἰωάννης Δούκας Καματηρός), in contemporary sources usually simply John Doukas,[1] was a Byzantine aristocrat active in the second half of the 12th century and one of the most distinguished officials and military leaders of his time.


John was the son of Gregory Kamateros, a man of humble origin but well educated, who held several senior government posts under emperors Alexios I Komnenos and John II Komnenos and advanced to the high rank of sebastos, and of Irene Doukaina, probably a daughter of the protostrator Michael Doukas, whose sister Irene was wed to Alexios I.[2] The union led to the emergence of the Doukas-Kamateros bureaucratic dynasty,[3] which would reach the peak of its fortunes with John and his brother, Andronikos Doukas Kamateros, who occupied the highest offices in the state for much of the 12th century.[4][5] It is possible that John is the unnamed logothetes whose daughter was the wife of Alexios Kontostephanos.[6]


John's career spanned almost the entire second half of the century, and led him to occupy, according to the historian Demetrios Polemis, "perhaps the most outstanding place among officials of his time".[7] A cousin of Emperor Manuel I Komnenos (r. 1143–80), John is referred to with the titles of sebastos and protosebastos, as well as the designation oikeios, member of the imperial household.[7] John also enjoyed imperial favour as Manuel's drinking companion;[8] according to the near contemporary historian Niketas Choniates, John drank wine by the barrel and was able to outdrink any foreign envoy or ruler, while he was a famous glutton as well, eating as if he was starving and able to eradicate entire fields of green peas by himself.[9] He eventually held the positions of megas hetaireiarches, Eparch of Constantinople, and finally logothetes tou dromou; some modern scholars have attributed him the posts of epi ton deeseon and the judicial post of krites tou velou, but both are unlikely.[7]

Choniates gives an account of John's rivalry with the epi tou kanikleiou (keeper of the imperial inkstand), Theodore Styppeiotes, who was deposed and blinded at Manuel's orders in 1158/9. According to Choniates, John resented the fact that, although formally less powerful than John, who was logothetes tou dromou, Styppeiotes' office allowed him immediate access to and therefore influence on the emperor. Consequently, Styppeiotes managed to have his own ideas promoted, while John "saw his demands dispersed in the air like dreams". Frustrated, John forged a correspondence between Styppeiotes and the Norman king of Sicily, William II (r. 1166–89), which he hid so that it could be discovered easily. Styppeiotes was then charged with treason, lost his offices, was blinded and his tongue was severed. Other authors give different reasons for Styppeiotes' downfall, and the details of Choniates' version have been proven to be inaccurate, at least in their chronology, by the historian Otto Kresten.[10][11] Nevertheless, as Choniates was a member of the Constantinopolitan bureaucracy and well-informed about its recent history, it is very likely that his information that John succeeded Styppeiotes as mesazon (chief minister), before being replaced as both logothetes tou dromou and mesazon by Michael Hagiotheodorites, is correct.[12]

John was also active as a military commander and diplomatic envoy. In ca. 1150 he led a campaign against Serbia along with John Kantakouzenos, and in 1155/6 Manuel Komnenos sent him to Ancona in Italy, along with Michael Palaiologos, to persuade German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa to join in a common front against the Normans of southern Italy. The mission failed, but he then led an army, along with Alexios Komnenos Bryennios, that overran much of southern Italy before suffering a decisive defeat at Brindisi on 28 May 1156, where John himself became a Norman prisoner of war.[13] His exploits in this campaign were later rendered into the French epic poem La Chanson de Jean de Lancon.[14] He was freed from his Italian captivity in early 1158 as part of a treaty that he, while in captivity, helped negotiate between Byzantium and the Normans.

Following his release he returned to Constantinople. In 1164, he commanded another invasion of Serbia, and two years later led an invasion of Hungary, leaving a monumental cross with an inscription celebrating his campaign deep inside Hungary.[15] In 1177, John was sent to the Kingdom of Jerusalem to renew the Byzantine alliance against Egypt with King Baldwin IV.[15] Following Manuel's death and during the regency of Empress Maria of Antioch over her infant son Alexios II Komnenos (r. 1180–82), John was a member of the opposition to the powerful protosebastos Alexios Komnenos, who de facto ruled the Empire. During the rebellion of the Caesarissa Maria Komnene however he used his influence to calm matters.[15] Sometime after he was appointed governor at Nicaea, and was at this post during the rule of Andronikos I Komnenos (r. 1182–85). Andronikos tried to win his support, but John remained hostile to the usurper.[15] After Andronikos' overthrow, John was received with favour by Isaac II Angelos (r. 1185–95, 1203–04), and in 1188/9 he served twice as ambassador to Frederich Barbarossa to ensure the peaceful passage of the Third Crusade, headed by the German ruler, through Byzantine territory. He may also have been responsivle for editing Alexios I Komnenos' 1082 chrysobull to the Venetians.[15]

As a prominent member of the court, John was also active in the intellectual circles of the time, apparently having himself composed at least two poems in political verse, and corresponding with scholars like Michael Glykas and George Tornikes.[16] John was not a very religious man, and was interested in astrology, the subject of one of his poems.[17] Archbishop Eustathius of Thessalonica wrote a commentary on Dionysios Periegetes for him, as well as a speech in his honour when John visited Thessalonica sometime in 1168/75,[18] as did a philosopher called Constantine of Nicaea.[19]


  1. Polemis 1968, p. 127.
  2. Polemis 1968, pp. 78–79, 127.
  3. Polemis 1968, pp. 78–79.
  4. ODB, "Kamateros" (A. Kazhdan), p. 1198.
  5. Magdalino 1993, pp. 255, 259.
  6. Magdalino 1993, p. 210.
  7. 1 2 3 Polemis 1968, p. 128.
  8. Magdalino 1993, p. 259.
  9. Kazhdan & Epstein 1985, p. 82.
  10. Kazhdan & Epstein 1985, p. 66.
  11. Magdalino 1993, pp. 198–199, 255.
  12. Magdalino 1993, p. 256.
  13. Polemis 1968, pp. 128–129.
  14. Polemis 1968, p. 129 (note 1).
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 Polemis 1968, p. 129.
  16. Polemis 1968, pp. 129–130.
  17. Magdalino 1993, p. 379.
  18. Polemis 1968, pp. 128 (note 6), 129.
  19. Polemis 1968, p. 130.


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