He earned for himself such distinction as a soldier that in 1222 he was chosen to succeed his father-in-law Theodore I Lascaris.
He reorganized the remnant of the Byzantine Empire, and by his administrative skill made it the strongest and richest principality in the Levant. Having secured his eastern frontier by an agreement with the Seljuk Turks, he set himself to recover the European possessions of his predecessors. While his fleet harassed the Latins in the Aegean Sea and extended his realm to Rhodes, his army, reinforced by Frankish mercenaries, defeated the Latin emperor's forces in the open field.
Though unsuccessful in a siege of Constantinople, which he undertook in concert with the Bulgarians (1235), he obtained supremacy over the despotates of Thessalonica and Epirus. The ultimate recovery of Constantinople by the Byzantine emperors is chiefly due to his exertions.
The legate Pelagius, however, claimed the command; and insisting on the advance from Damietta[?], in spite of the warnings of King John, he refused to accept the favourable terms of the sultan, as the king advised, until it was too late.
John was now a septuagenarian "king in exile," but he was still vigorous enough to revenge himself on Frederick, by commanding the papal troops which attacked southern Italy during the emperor's absence on the sixth crusade (1228-1229).
In 1229 John, now eighty years of age, was invited by the barons of the Latin empire of Constantinople to become emperor, on condition that Baldwin of Courtenay should marry his second daughter and succeed him.
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