By Galo Garcés Ávalos
Serbian Byzantine Society (2012)
Introduction: “In October of the same year , Lady Helene, Lord Thomas’ daughter, departed from Glarentza to travel to Serbia in order to marry Lazar, the son of despot Lord George. The marriage was celebrated.”~ George Sphrantzes, Chronicle
This was not the first time a Byzantine married a Serbian. On February 7, 1392, the young lady Jelena Dragaš arrived in Constantinople, the bride-to-be of Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos (1391-1425). A grand-niece of the great Serbian Emperor Stefan Dušan, and daughter of one of the last great lords of the remnants of the Serbian Empire in Central Greece, she would be the last empress-mother of Byzantium, and the mother of the last Palaeologi. Her granddaughter, following her example, would become the last Despoina of Serbia.
Helena’s father, Thomas, was the youngest son of Manuel II Palaiologos and the last Byzantine Despot to rule over the Morea, as well as a fierce advocate of the Union between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, which he considered was the path for the ultimate salvation of Byzantium. Her mother, Aikaterine Asanina-Zaccaria, was the daughter of the last ruler of Latin Achaea, Centurione Zaccaria, vassal of Ladislas d’Anjou-Durazzo, King of Naples and lord of what remained of Frankish Morea.
Serbo-Byzantine marriages had occurred many times in the past years, when the Empire was still vast and powerful. Eudokia, daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Alexios III Angelos (1195-1203), had married Stefan II Nemanja, “The First Crowned” King of Serbia, and divorced him after a shameful event that took place in June 1198. Two Kings of Serbia married daughters of the Komneno-Doukai princes of Epiros and Thessaly. Perhaps the most famous Byzantine Queen of Serbia was Simonis Palaiologina, daughter of Andronikos II Palaiologos (1282-1328) and wife of the famous King Milutin (1282-1321) at the age of 8-years-old. Finally, Maria Palaiologina, daughter of the rebellious Panhypersebastos John Palaiologos, grandson of Michael VIII, first Palaeologi emperor, become the stepmother of Stefan Dušan due to her marriage with Stefan III Dečanski (1322-1331), when she was merely 10-years-old.