Melissinos – a family with a long history

(also: Melissenus)


One of  the most ancient and noble Greco-Roman Houses of The Eastern Roman Empire, related to many Eastern Roman and Western-European royal and aristocratic Houses.


Imperial connections


Michael Melissinos

The powerful patrician Michael Melissinos -Strategos of the Anatolikon Theme and relative of Emperor Constantine V (741–775), was the first recorded member of the noble Melissinos House. Michael married a sister of Eudokia, Constantine V‘s wife,  They had a son Theodore Kassiteras Melissenos, who became Patriarch of Constantinople, from 815 to 821.


Historical sources, in the 9th century mention another Michael Melissinos, relative of emperor Michael I Rangabe (811–813). The emperor was a Melissinos, on his mother’s side.

Michael I Rangabe – Melissinos, Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire
Michael I Rangabe – Melissinos, Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire

Emperor Michael I Rangabe – Melissinos

Michael I was Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, from 811 to 813 and was the son of Lord and Great Admiral, Theofylaktos Rangabe and Lady Maria Melissine (Melissinos).


A scion of the Melissinos family, the Duke of Cologne in Cappadocia, Callistus Melissinus, in the 9th century, led Eastern Roman troops against al-Mutasim, the 37th and last caliph of the Abbasid Caliphate. However, after a betrayal by his Paulician soldiers, he was arrested by the Arabs and executed, along with forty other Eastern Roman nobles, captured in the Sack of Amorium,  in 842. The Orthodox Church made them all saints, because they fought and died for their faith. His memory is celebrated on March 6, every year.

Money & Power

From the 9th through the 11th Century, members of the Melissinos family were mainly lords of various territories, throughout the empire, as well as generals and warlords.


Emperor for a year

In the 11th Century, the patrician, Nikephoros Melissinos entered Constantinople, with his army and crowned himself emperor. After a year though of tensions and hard negotiations, he settled for the title of caesar, lots of hard cash, in gold coins and huge swathes of land and gave the imperial crown to his brother in law, Alexios I Comnenus. Alexios enjoyed more the imperial pomp and circumstance than the practical and more down to earth, Melissinos.


The Cretan branch

Patrician Andreas Melissinos and eleven other Eastern Roman noblemen settled down on Crete to protect it, against foreign invaders, as well as to maintain peace and order, on the island. Andreas Melissinos thus became the founder of the Cretan branch of the family.


More power & Money

From the 11th through the 13th C. members of the family were important landowners and administrators.


Escape from Crete

In 1669, subsequent to a number of unsuccessful uprisings against the occupying ottoman forces, some members of the Cretan branch left Crete for other safer places in Greece. The Poet Sandal Maker of Athens comes from this sub-branch.

Recapture of Constantinople

On July 25th, 1261, the young commander-in-chief of the Eastern Roman Army, Alexios Melissinos-Komnenos-Stratigopoulos (born 1230), son of  patrician Theodosios Melissinos and Maria Comnena-Palaiologina, recaptured Constantinople and drove away the Latin occupying forces. He subsequently handed the throne over to Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos.


The Duchy of Athens

In the 15th C. (1404-1435) Maria Melissene (Melissinos), daughter of sebastocrator Leon Melissinos and widow of Florentine duke Antonio I Acciaiuoli becomes the duchess of Athens, She rules from the Acropolis of Athens, the site of (believe it or not) her ducal palace!


Melissinoi on the Patriarchal Throne of Constantinople


Theodotos I Kassiteras-Melissinos 

Theodotus ascended the Patriarchal Throne of Constantinople in 815, with the support of Emperor Leo V the Armenian, who wanted to revive iconoclasm.

Theodotus convened a Synod, which annulled the decisions of the Seventh Ecumenical Synod in favor of the iconophiles and began a lighter form of iconoclasm.

Gregorios Melissinos-Stratigopoulos

Gregory, the so-called Mammis or Mammas, from the Cretan branch of the noble house of Melissinos, became patriarch of Constantinople in 1443, but in 1450 due to pressure from those who opposed the unification of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches , he abdicated the Patriarchal Throne. In August 1451 he took refuge in Rome, where he died in 1459. The Catholic Church honored him as a saint and miracle worker.


Rebellion against the Ottomans

In 1572, Makarios Melissinos, archbishop of Epidaurus leads a rebellion against the Ottoman rulers of Greece.


The Russian Connection

Three prominent Members of The Melissinos House in Russia:

Pyotr Melissino

Pyotr Melissino (Пётр Иванович Мелиссино, 1726 – 1797) Russian, of Greek descent, general, of the Artillery of the Russian Empire, and the first one to occupy this high military post, in the Russian Army.

He was born in Cephalonia in 1726 and was the son of a Greek doctor, from the branch of the Melissinos of  House of Venice, who later on settled in Russia, in the time of Peter the Great and  ended up  as Vice President of the Health Care of the Russian Empire.

Πιοτρ Μελίσσινος, Έλληνας στρατηγός του πυροβολικού της Ρωσικής Αυτοκρατορίας.
Piotr Melissinos, Russian,  of Greek descent, general of the artillery of the Russian Empire.

In 1740, Piotr Melissino entered the St. Petersburg Military Academy and pursued a military career.

He was awarded the Medal of the Order of  St. George and the medal  of the Order of St. Anna and was the most famous gunner of his time.

In 1782, he became a general and a year later, director of the Military Engineering and Artillery Academy. He also served as a senior official of the Military Administrative Council of the State and in 1789 he received the medal of St. Alexander Nevsky.

During the reign of Emperor Paul I, he became Inspector General of Artillery and Knight of the Order of St. Andrew.

A few days before his death, Catherine II awarded him the Order of Saint Vladimir that came with the rights of hereditary nobility . He passed away in December 1797.

His son was Alexis Melissinos, 1759-1813, Russian soldier during the Napoleonic Wars, Lieutenant General of the Cavalry.

Aleksey Melissino

Aleksey Melissino, was a Russian nobleman and lieutenant general of the Imperial Army. His father was Pyotr Melissino, the first-ever general of the Russian Artillery.

Αλεξέι Μελισσίνο, Ρώσος ευγενής και υποστράτηγος του Ρωσικού Αυτοκρατορικού Στρατού.
Aleksey Melissino, Russian nobleman and lieutenant general of the Russian Imperial Army.

He came from the Constantinopolitan branch of the Melissinos Family and those members that first settled in Crete, from where, they later moved to Cephalonia, then to Venice and finally to Russia, such as Alexei’s grandfather, who left for Moscow, in the 18th century.

During his life he took part in many battles. He stood out for his intelligence and enormous courage and was honored with the Order of St. George and the Order of St. Anna. Later he was awarded a golden sword with diamonds and the inscription: “For Valor”.

In the last battle of his military career, the battle of Dresden, Melissinos led daringly a body of hussars, against a French Guards infantry, but received three bullets and died gloriously. His widow, Roxanne Mikhailovna, nee Princess Cantacuzino-Kantakouzenos. who tried to find his remains, in vain, erected a monument to Aleksey Melissino.





Ιβάν Μελισσινός Επιφανής αξιωματούχος της Ρωσικής Αυτοκρατορίας
Ivan Melissinos Prominent official of the Russian Empire

Ivan Ivanovich Melissino

Ivan Ivanovich Melissino received military training and graduated in 1717.

He entered the imperial public administration with the rank of lieutenant.

In 1757, he was appointed Director of the University of Moscow. As director, he reformed and improved the educational program and initiated the supervision of home schooling and the certification of foreign teachers. He also started the regular meetings of various literary societies at the university.

In 1766, Ivan Ivanovich launched a reform to secularize the Church in southern Russia in order to distribute the revenues of the monasteries to the needy secular clergy, but was fired, in 1768, due to pressures from the church hierarchy and was appointed director of the Moscow Orphanage.

In 1771, he returned to Moscow University as a curator, where he founded a boarding school and a number of literary and cultural societies.

He became a member of the Russian Academy in 1783.

Ivan Ivanovich died on March 23, 1795.


Domenico Theotokopoulos –Melissinos

According to sources, and data from his native Crete, Dominikos Theotokopoulos, also known as El Greco, was a descendant of the Constantinopolitan branch of the noble Melissinos House.

Some attribute the fact that he knew his way around the intricate European aristocratic circles and his acceptance by top officials and noblemen in Western Europe – not as a struggling artist but as a man of high birth- to his patrician background.

His family left the embattled Constantinople -which was facing an imminent Ottoman invasion- and found refuge in Fodele – part of the fiefdom of their Melissinos relatives, on the island of Crete.

At the place where they settled, there is still the famous church of  “Theotokos” ( “Mary the God-bearer”), rebuilt by patrician Michael Melissinos and his wife Irene, in 1323.

They say that his family -members of the Melissinos branch of Constantinople- assumed their Cretan surname, Theotokis -and later on, Theotokopoulos (son of Theotokis)- because they lived next to the aforementioned church of  “Theotokos”.

It is believed that his father -Georgios Theotokopoulos, a wealthy merchant, who also held the post of tax collector- had moved, with his family to Heraklion, before  the birth of Domenikos, in 1451.