Theodora Kantakouzene (wife of Orhan)

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Theodora Kantakouzene
Bornc. 1330
Byzantine Empire
Diedc. 1396 (aged 65-66)
Constantinople, Byzantine Empire
(present day Istanbul, Turkey)
SpouseOrhan Gazi
IssueŞehzade Halil
Theodora Kantakouzene
Greek: Θεοδώρα Καντακουζηνή
HouseKantakouzenos (by birth)
Ottoman (by marriage)
FatherJohn VI Kantakouzenos
MotherIrene Asanina
ReligionGreek Orthodox Christian

Theodora Kantakouzene (Greek: Θεοδώρα Καντακουζηνή; died after 1381) was a Byzantine princess, the daughter of Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos and the fifth wife of the Ottoman Sultan Orhan Gazi.[1]


Theodora was one of the three daughters of Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos by his wife Irene Asanina. The historian Nikephoros Gregoras erroneously calls her "Maria" in one passage.[1] In January 1346, to cement her father's alliance with the rising Ottoman emirate and to prevent the Ottomans from giving their aid to the Empress-regent Anna of Savoy during the ongoing civil war, she was betrothed to the Ottoman ruler, Orhan Gazi.[2]

The marriage took place in the summer of the same year. Her parents and sisters escorted her to Selymbria, where Orhan's representatives, including grandees of his court and a cavalry regiment, arrived on a fleet of 30 ships. A ceremony was held at Selymbria, where Orhan's envoys received her and escorted her to the Ottoman lands in Bithynia, across the Marmara Sea, where the actual wedding took place.[3]

Theodora remained a Christian after her marriage, and was active in supporting the Christians living under Ottoman rule.[1][4] In 1347 she gave birth to her only son, Şehzade Halil, who was captured by Genoese pirates for ransom while still only a child. The Byzantine emperor John V Palaiologos was instrumental in his eventual release. Later, Halil married Irene, a daughter of John V Palaiologos and Theodora's sister, Helena Kantakouzene.

Except for a three-day sojourn in Constantinople in February 1347, in the aftermath of her father's victory in the civil war,[5] Theodora remained at the Ottoman court until Orhan's death in 1362. After that, she apparently returned to Constantinople, where she lived with her sister, the Empress Helena, in the palace.[1][6] She is last known to have been held imprisoned at Galata during the brief reign of Andronikos IV Palaiologos there in 1379–81.[1]

Depictions in fiction[edit]

A fictionalised form of her character is the subject of Bertrice Small's novel Adora, published in 1980.


  1. ^ a b c d e PLP, 10940. <Καντακουζηνὴ> Θεοδώρα.
  2. ^ Nicol 1996, pp. 76–77.
  3. ^ Nicol 1996, pp. 77–78.
  4. ^ Nicol 1996, p. 78.
  5. ^ Nicol 1996, p. 89.
  6. ^ Nicol 1996, pp. 146, 179.


  • Nicol, Donald MacGillivray (1996). The Reluctant Emperor: A Biography of John Cantacuzene, Byzantine Emperor and Monk, c. 1295–1383. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-52201-4.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Trapp, Erich; Walther, Rainer; Beyer, Hans-Veit; Sturm-Schnabl, Katja (1981). Prosopographisches Lexikon der Palaiologenzeit (in German). 5. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. ISBN 3-7001-3003-1.