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1261 Recapture of Constantinople ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Outcome: The Byzantines recaptured Constantinople after 57 years of Latin occupation 25 July 1261
War  &  Enemy: Enemy:
Nicaean-Latin Wars
Battle Type:
City Capture
The Battlefield Constantinople Location:
Modern Country:
  The Byzantines(emperor:  Michael VIII Palaiologos) The Enemies
Commander: General Alexius Strategopoulos Emperor Baldwin II of Constantinople
Forces: 800 Unknown
Background story: After the Fall of Constantinople to the Latins of the 4th Crusade in 1204, a first attempt was made by the Byzantines of Nicaea to recapture the capital in 1235 during the reign of John III Doukas Vatatzes.That attempt failed but under Vatatzes, the Nicaeans seized most of Thrace and Macedonia from Epirus and Bulgaria, becoming the strongest state of the region.
Reduced to Constantinople and the territory immediately surrounding it, surrounded on east and west by Nicaea and without sufficient funds to attract any armed support, the Latin Empire seemed ripe for the taking by the time of Vatatzes' death. The Latin Empire gained a short reprieve with Vatatzes' death, as his son and successor Theodore II Laskaris (r. 1254–1258) was forced to confront numerous attacks on his territories in the Balkans.
Soon after Theodore II's death, the ambitious Michael VIII Palaiologos ascended the throne, at first ostensibly as guardian of the infant John IV Laskaris (r. 1259–1261). At this juncture, a coalition of Nicaea's enemies was formed, comprising Epirus, the Principality of Achaea, and the Kingdom of Sicily. The alliance however was dealt a crushing blow at the Battle of Pelagonia in summer 1259. With his chief enemies either dead, in captivity or temporary exile after Pelagonia, Palaiologos was free to turn his sight towards Constantinople.
Michael VII besieged Constantinople in 1260 but he did not have sufficient recourses and he failed to take the city. Nevertheless he started to prepare for a new assault next year.
The Battle:
Michael VIII Palaiologos
Preparing his final attack against Constantinople, Emperor Michael VIII concluded an alliance with Genoa, and in July 1261, sent his general Alexios Strategopoulos with a small advance force of 800 soldiers, most of them Cumans, to keep a watch on the Bulgarians and scout the defending positions of the Latins in the surroundings of the capital.
When this Byzantine force reached the village of Selymbria (60 km from the capital), Strategopoulos was informed from local farmers (thelematarioi) that the entire Latin garrison, and the Venetian fleet, were absent conducting a raid against the Nicaean island of Daphnousia. Although initially hesitant, due to both the small size of his force, which might be destroyed if the Latin army returned, and because he would exceed his orders, Alexios eventually decided not to lose such a golden opportunity to retake the city.
On the night of July 25, 1261, Alexios and his men approached the city walls and hid at a monastery near the Pegae Gate. Alexios sent a detachment of his men, who, led by some of the thelematarioi, made their way to the city through a secret passage. They attacked the walls from the inside, surprised the guards and opened the gate, allowing the Byzantine force entry into the city.
The Latins were taken completely by surprise, and after some fighting, the Byzantine force gained control of the land walls. Fearing the revenge the Byzantines would exact upon them, all the Latin inhabitants including Emperor Baldwin II, rushed to the harbor, trying to escape by ship. Thanks to the timely arrival of the returning Venetian fleet, they were evacuated, but the city was already lost for the Latins.
Aftermath: The recapture of Constantinople meant the restoration of the Byzantine Empire by the Nicaeans, and on August 15, the day of the Dormition of the Theotokos, Emperor Michael entered the city in triumph and was crowned at the Hagia Sophia.