For anyone who has been to Trebizond on the Black Sea and visited the countryside, one of the must-stop's is the Monastery of Soumela located roughly thirty miles from the city of Trebizond. Perched high up on a mountain, the land about the monastery is ideal and intriguing which is why we have translated below the chrysobull of the emperor Alexios III the Grand Komnenos (1349-1390) for the monastery, a work of interest not only for the monastery, but also the empire of Trebizond itself in an admittedly dark age for which our only light on the history of the empire is documents such as these and the chronicle of Michael Panaretos, an official of Alexios III, who preserves for us the following information that helps to explain why and how Alexios III realized the monastery needed this chrysobull:
56. In that same month and year (1357) on Monday the thirteenth, Chatzymyris [haçi emir], Baryam's son entered into Matzouka with a great army due to our neglect in guarding it and seized both livestock and property from Palaiomatzkouka until Dikaisimon.
62. On Wednesday May 5, indiction 14, 6869 (1361), at five there was a solar eclipse in which the stars in the sky appeared, something that had not happened in our generation. It lasted an hour and a half. The emperor lord Alexios, his mother the lady Irene, and some of the archontes, I was among them, at that time were at the Soumela monastery in Matzouka making many supplications and prayers.
The monastery was in the late 1350's and early 1360's threatened by the inroads of the Turkomans as we have seen, but also internally as we shall see:
Translated from Muller. Acta et Diplomata graeca medii aevi V pgs. 276-280.
-|- In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Amen.
-|-Alexios in Christ our God faithful emperor and imperator of All the East, Iberians, and Perateia, the Grand Komnenos
-|-For all is set here our pious seal.
-|-What it would be if those defending themselves against the assaults of their enemies could an unassailable wall, if they could dig a trench to repel their opponents from there, if some could clad themselves with weapons of war for their protection, if they could assault suffering with all-curing medicines, and if someone could gain the aid of earthly spirits, but it is not so with our Imperial Majesty. It has none of this. Rather it reckons all of this a waste of time as they are only perishable and temporal and instead of a mighty defense, weapons of war, medicines, and all other mortal aid calls upon the much lauded Mother of God who bore the Word unspeakably beyond words, elevated our earthly flesh, and made God a placable judge for us as she acts as a impregnable fortress, a unbesiegable trench and city, a weapon to strike the enemy, a cure for illnesses, and deliverance from all kinds of sufferings, calamities, perils, and hard times. The most wonderful thing of all is that in the mortal life she offers resurrection, aid, the succession of the pious to the more lasting and to come, and intercession, whose gifts and ample rewards my Imperial Majesty has been enriched by not ceasing to praise and thank her glory and delivering name. Were we to try to give in equal measure what she has measured out to us in campaign by land and sea, good turns, critical moments, and other changes in fate since we sailed from the Queen of Cities and received this imperial office of our father before us, what could one say, what could one give in return, and try to write in history to contain of this that has been unfolded to us. Therefore, my Imperial Majesty unable to see beyond the unrepresentable sea of her miracles or to such a heavenly, field in the stars, has decided to honor with silence rather than enumerate her great powers. Yet it desires to give a little something back for all that she has given to us and enriched us with, knowing that it is not by the value of what is give that God esteems it but by the disposition and desires of the person giving it. Such is my Imperial Majesty’s heart felt desire for the much-lauded Mother of God, revered in both this world and world beyond, exalted especially on Mount Mela, where having climbed it fervently many times to pay homage to and kiss her soul-saving icon and walked about the monastery’s grounds desiring ardently for that place to be conducive for the spirit and worthy of sight, it decided to a small, fitting gift in return on its own free will affirming what had already been donated to it and in addition driving off and repulsing those coming and abusing the paroikoi (1) in its possession concerning which its most honored abbot there vested with authority today, the hieromonk kyr Galakton, along with the hieromonks and monks with him has many times made the request. Hence, because of its high, imperial status with the Virgin, as well as the persistent askance of such religious and pious men, my Imperial Majesty presents this present chrysobull to it like a stout fortification and a unassailable wall by whose strength and enaction this monastery shall stay free and remain unenslaved, its own master not subordinated to any imperial service or be anyone’s slave, but shall be protected and provided for by my Imperial Majesty in all of its design for continuity; furthermore, so that its authority and holdings should be free from obstruction and transfer for all of the ancestral property donated to it and paroikoi by those illustrious and blessed emperors, the parents and ancestors of my Imperial Majesty, the Grand Komnenoi, in the bandon of Gemora and in the staseis of Kosmas of Alexantoi and elsewhere as well as the ancestral property bought and given to it for pious reason by my illustrious father, kyr Basil the Grand Komnenos. In the stasis of Mochantloi, there is Tzachianesia, Pitzelesia, and Kondesia as well as that in Pyrgothesia in Diokaine, Aletzesia and Bouexikesia both bestowed by my father the emperor. Further, there is the stasis of Mochlatoi the ancestral land of Sokanos along with that of his nephew the priest George, which my Imperial Majesty has dedicated to it as a gift. In the chorion of Chara there is the ancestral property which the monastery possessed before and held by imperial decrees of my illustrious great-grandfather the emperor kyr John the Grand Komnenos and of my illustrious great-grandmother the empress kyria Eudokia Palaiologina the porphyrogennete, as well as the imperial customs there. In the chorion of Kintzikera, there is the bought ancestral property of the grand dux John the eunuch, which my Imperial Majesty conferred on the monastery for the sake of its spiritual salvation. In the bandon of Gemora, there is Chaldogeorgios Binges, Basil Karouches, his brother, and his cousin who were bestowed [by my Imperial Majesty] and from the kapalion (2) of Doubera two hundred aspers as well as another three hundred aspers from the same kapalion for the garrisoning of the walls. My Imperial Majesty also commands by way of its present chrysobull that the ancestral property that came to the monastery as well as water-driven mills, immovable places, abodes, houses, and other such establishments by other imperial chrysobulls and decrees, along with the gifts of Christ-loving men, what is willed to it, and what its has bought and acquired, and indeed what are recorded in its records as are in the banda, choria, and staseis that even though they were not explicitly stated in my Imperial Majesty’s present chrysobull should still be in the monastery’s holding as its own ancestral property completely unhindered and unimpeded upon according to the contents of the papers, diplomas, and sealed documents in its possession. In addition, the chorion of Doubera along with the paroikoi and ancestral land holders here as well as those found in the chorion of Kouspidion as were placed in the paroikia and holding of the monastery of Sumela by the ever-to-be-remembered emperor, my grandfather kyr Alexios the Grand Komnenos, were to be not open to requisitions and free by the homage chrysobull of his Majesty. From then until now as time has passed, those charged with the collection of taxes for the land of the Matzoukans and other public requisitions have set no store in the contents of the chrysobull and come as though wild beasts some ruining them and abusing them with judging, untimely angaria (3), and arbitrary disputations, while others divided them from their paroikia giving them to officials, powerful men, and other such men, something my Imperial Majesty does not believe good or praiseworthy. On this account wanting to restore those who were seized to it again and additionally give it deliverance and freedom from the constant abuse and disturbances, which they were exhausted with before and restore those seized, those previously dedicated, and those indeed whom my Imperial Majesty bestowed, its Serene Majesty now orders and commands explicitly that the chorion of Doubera, Kouspidionm Korous, and Saint Constantine along with the paroikoi about to be recorded, both of allelengyon and rights of pronoia, were previously in the holding, authority, and lordship of the monastery of Soumela are to free from extortion and disturbance so that the seized shall return to it without needing to be reclaimed and so that nor shall anyone venture again to seize anyone on any pretext whatsoever and nor will the agents, dux’s, primmiceri, and remaining tax gatherers and katepans of my lands in future times performing its policies dare impede upon its rights or on the paroikoi of the monastery by means of judging, demand, action, or disputation, but they must be judged, demanded, removed on the part of the monastery by the law of my Imperial Majesty. These are the paroikoi:
- John Tzouses
- the Zeulantai
- the priest Paul
- the priest Mapas
- Theodorinos Chazoures
- Constantine Chazoures
- John Maistor
- the priest Auphouxenes Zeulinas
- George Chalamanos
- the priest Constantine Kondos
- Domnos along with Symenos
- Sabbas Makros
- John Psomas
- Constantine Maskouthes
- Constantine Theopemptos from Koutala
- likewise in Kommera of the house in Koutalon of the priest Chatzes, Chrysanthos
These men shall be exempt from all forcoming imperial levies there and demands now and to be enacted later whether big or small as well as from the decisions of the dux’s and agents including from the abuses and monetary demands of its tax gatherers and katepans and all such extortion in accordance with the statute on exemptions except that they are to pay to the vestiary of my Imperial Majesty two times a year installments for as much as would be taken in payment by its officials and overseers and no more. Should some of the said paroikoi living at a distance come unbeknownst to the imperial register and settle on the site of the monastery, they will be exempted in the same manner are to be recorded within the designated kapalion. Furthermore, my Imperial Majesty that should any of the enumerated paroikoi of the monastery recorded in imperial records or any living upon their own ancestral property die without descendants, in this case their ancestral property shall revert to the monastery without any excuses whatsoever. As the walls of holy mountain and Mela Cave need a considerable garrisoning due to the hostility of the Hagarenes for us, my Imperial Majesty orders that the abbot at the time and his practicing monks shall select from the said serfs those whom they have who are stronger and experienced as to make for the best and most cautious garrisoning and protection of the walls. Such are my Imperial Majesty’s orders which are to be kept soundly and untouched by its children, descendants, and successors and by its officials, governors, and agents as well. Whosoever wills interfere so much as an inch or set aside a part or whole of what is herein recorded, whosoever he may be, shall have the Mother of God against him on Judgment Day and shall receive the curse and indignation of the Holy Fathers, illustrious emperors as well as being reckoned unfaithful to my Imperial Majesty and shall take heed to the enaction of my Imperial Majesty’s chrysobull, to which its pious and God-appointed Majesty has appended our signature below as is customarily usual in December of the 3rd indiction in the year 6973 (1364) -|-.
-|- Alexios in Christ our God faithful emperor and imperator of All the East, Iberians, and Perateia, the Grand Komnenos -|-.
- The status of paroikoi in Trebizond are a bit of a mystery. Paroikoi were tenant farmers on imperial land whose revenue from the time of Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118) were increasingly given to the monasteries to sustain them. Some have likened them to serfs, but that is still open to debate. In one publication, paroikoi are explained as, "Those from divers places who are affixed by the emperors to the monastery."
- A kapalion as we shall see later on in the chrysobull is a tax district or zone in which people were registered derived from the word kapelos which means a peddler, or a person who goes door to door.
- The word angaria according to the Etymologicum magnum published by T. Gainford in 1848 on Oxford University Press is of Persian origin meaning to provide something of use to the emperor.