Cantacuzene, or Cantacuzenus, the name of a distinguished Greek family that came into prominence in the thirteenth century, and still has representatives in Central Europe.
1. John V. was prime minister to the Byzantine Emperor Andronicus III., and regent during the minority of his son, John Palaeologus (1341). The intrigues of the empress-mother, Anne, compelled him to usurp the purple, and a civil war ensued, which resulted in his joint occupation of the throne with his ward (1347). Dissensions broke out again, and in 1355 he retired to a monastery, where, under the name of Joasaphus Christodulus, he composed his famous History of the Byzantine Empire from 1320 to 1355. The date of his death is unknown, but he is said to have lived over a century.
2. Matthew, son of the foregoing, born about 1325, asserted his title after his father's retirement, but was defeated by John, made prisoner, and forced to enter a cloister.
3. Serban, on the strength of his supposed descent from John V., claimed the imperial crown, but was imprisoned in 1672. Released by the Turks, to whom he feigned submission, he became Waiwode of Wallachia in 1678. He conspired with Leopold of Austria and the Czar to shake off the Mussulman yoke, but just as he was about to take up arms he died (1685), poisoned, it is said, by his nephew Constantine Brancovan.
4. Demetrius, Waiwode of Moldavia, was driven out by his subjects in 1679, owing to his tyranny. He was subsequently restored, but was finally deposed by Ibrahim Pasha in 1685.
5. Constantine Brancovan Bessaraba, became Waiwode of Wallachia in 1688. As a vassal of the Porte he was compelled to give the Turks his nominal support in their struggle with Austria, but secretly he assisted the Emperor Leopold, who made him a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, a title still preserved in the family. In 1699 the peace of Carlowitz, followed by the death of Leopold (1705), deprived him of any hope of relief from Turkish bondage by the help of Austria, and he therefore turned to Peter the Great of Russia. His designs were known at Constantinople, and Demetrius Cantimir of Moldavia was employed to effect his ruin, but the latter also conspired with Russia, and was denounced by his rival. In 1711 a Russian army was sent to invade Wallachia, being assured of Constantine's help, but the Grand Vizier was first in the field, got possession of the supplies destined for the Muscovite troops, and forced them into a treaty which made Wallachia and Moldavia absolutely dependent on the Porte. Constantine, in spite of his detected treachery, was allowed to remain in power until 1714, when he was carried to Constantinople, cruelly tortured, and executed with his four sons. His grandson was spared, from whom the Brancovans of to-day trace their descent.
6. Stephen III., cousin and successor of the foregoing, was used by Turks for two years as nominal ruler of Wallachia after the extinction of the Brancovans. In 1716, however, he was deposed and put to death, and with him ended the Cantacuzene dynasty in the Principalities.