By Adam William Hellebuyck
B.A. Thesis, University of Michigan, 2006
Introduction: The study of Byzantine diplomacy often focuses upon the empire at the height of its power and influence, when emperors and their extensive bureaucracies could use their vast resources to neutralize any opponents. Even after the sack of Constantinople and the empire’s reconstitution in 1261, such Byzantine emperors as Michael VIII Palaiologos used the state’s legacy and resources to their advantage in diplomatic negotiations. However, the later period of Byzantine diplomacy and foreign policy, especially under the final emperor, Constantine XI Palaiologos, has received less attention. In fact, each of the major works detailing Constantine’s life places very little emphasis upon his diplomatic activities.
Instead, scholarship of Byzantium’s final years portrays the emperor and his advisors as merely victims of the events surrounding Constantinople’s fall. Therefore, this thesis will show how Constantine XI and his court created foreign policy toward other powers, particularly the Ottoman Empire, the Papacy, and the Venetian Republic, centering on the imperial administration’s use of personal diplomacy. When the emperor and his councilors had access to the expertise of foreigners, they were able to create cohesive, effective policies toward other states. However, when the Greeks did not have access to foreign elites who could both advise the court and intercede on their behalf within their respective states, Byzantine foreign policy faltered.