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8-08-2015, 00:06

After manuel: serb secession, vlach and bulgarian uprisings

As soon as news of Manuel’s death reached Serbia, Stefan Nemanja (c. 1165/8–96) declared independence. In the following years he annexed Duklja and the southern Adriatic littoral, where there were many Latin bishoprics. This placed ‘medieval Serbia on the crossroads of Byzantium and the west’, but even as Stefan turned away from Constantinople his faith was increasingly orthodox.105 He founded four monasteries, the last being Studenica, built after 1183, which became a model for later richly endowed royal foundations. Stefan’s youngest son, Rastko, drew Nemanjid patronage to Mount Athos, where he fled c. 1191 and took the monastic name Sava. As a monk at the Vatopedi monastery he was visited by his dying father who brought lavish gifts including horses, mules, and buckets of gold and silver.106 B´ela III, Manuel I’s prot´eg´e who had been king of Hungary since 1172, also reacted to Manuel’s death with a land-grab, annexing Dalmatia and Sirmium. Furthermore, when Andronikos I (1183–85) usurped the imperial throne, B´ela established unopposed his control across the whole of the Niˇs–Braniˇcevo region, from Belgrade as far as Sofia.107 That territory, but not Sirmium and Dalmatia, was returned in 1185, when B´ela reached an agreement with the new emperor, Isaac II Angelos (1185–95); Isaac agreed to marry B´ela’s daughter Margaret, who took the name Maria, and to receive as her dowry the region of Niˇs–Braniˇcevo.108 Before this, Andronikos had also to face an invasion by the Normans of Sicily, who brought a character claiming to be the deposed Alexios II (1180–3). This ploy, echoing Guiscard’s use in 1081 of the pseudo-Michael Doukas, persuaded the h¯egemones of Dyrrachium to capitulate before the mountain passes could be blocked or a naval force mustered.Norman forces were able to advance by land and sea, and converged upon Thessaloniki, where a brief but bloody struggle ensued. The city’s archbishop, Eustathios, composed an account which devotes long passages to the deaths of citizens, some by the sword, others trampled underfoot in vain attempts to seek the security of the citadel or churches. The Normans’ threat to march on Constantinople precipitated the murder of Andronikos I and accession of Isaac Angelos, whose spirited counter-offensive drove the Sicilians from both Thessaloniki and, later, Dyrrachium. Less successful was Isaac II’s handling of the Vlachs and Bulgarians settled in and near the Haemus. To pay for the festivities associated with his wedding toMargaret-Maria, Isaac II Angelos determined to raise money from imperial estates.109 However, demands were also made on those settled near estates in the region of Anchialos, provoking complaints brought to the emperor by the brothers Peter and Asen, who requested that Isaac grant them an imperial estate in the vicinity of the Haemus ‘which would provide them with a little revenue’. Their request was denied, and consequently ‘they spat out heated words, hinting at rebellion and the destruction they would wreak on their way home’.110 Inspired by the sack of Thessaloniki, the brothers announced that St Demetrios had abandoned the Byzantines and claimed him as their own. Support for their rebellion cohered around St Demetrios, and Vlachs and Bulgarians launched assaults on Byzantine settlements, seizing captives and cattle in abundance. Isaac launched a counter-offensive, and recovered much ground. However, thereafter he entrusted the struggle to a series of disloyal generals, each of whom launched a bid for the throne rather than prosecuting the war. The Vlachs and Bulgarians were able to forge an alliance with the Cumans and consolidated their control of all the lands between the Haemus and lower Danube.111 In 1189 the situation deteriorated still further for Isaac II when Frederick Barbarossa determined to lead the German contingent in the Third Crusade across the Balkans. The passage was long and arduous, exacerbated by mutual suspicion and violence. The Germans believed Isaac had struck a deal with their enemy and target, Saladin. En route Barbarossa was approached by the Serbian veliki ˇzupan, Stefan Nemanja, and his brothers, who offered to support Frederick’s march and provide aid against the Byzantines, and in return sought Frederick’s promise to act as guarantor of recent Serbian conquests.112 Similarly, Peter and Asen sent envoys to the Germans, and when Barbarossa had arrived at Adrianople, they offered 40,000 Vlach and Cuman archers for an assault on Constantinople.113 Barbarossa’s ongoing negotiations with the Balkan peoples provoked Isaac’s unease. The German emperor was regarded as an authority who might lend legitimacy to the regimes of autonomous rulers who had until recently owed loyalty to the Byzantine emperor, effectively recognising their permanent detachment from the eastern empire. The Germans did not sack Constantinople, and Barbarossa died before reaching the Holy Land. In the aftermath of the crusade, in autumn 1190, Isaac II returned to the Haemus, whence the Vlachs with their Cuman allies launched unremitting assaults on imperial lands. Isaac was unable to engage them in pitched battle, and as he withdrew led his army into an ambush in a narrow defile, where many of his troops were crushed by rocks thrown down upon them. The emperor barely escaped and rumours of his death circulated widely as the Vlachs and Bulgarians made unprecedented advances.114 Whereas previously their assaults had been concentrated on villages and fields, now they advanced against ‘lofty-towered cities. They sacked Anchialos, took Varna by force, and advanced on . . . Sofia, where they razed the greater part of the city.’115 In the following year the Byzantines recouped some territory, notably Varna and Anchialos. Isaac himself led a campaign against the Vlachs and Cumans from Philippopolis, and from there continued on to confront StefanNemanja. After an indecisive battle, Isaac concluded a peace treaty with the veliki ˇzupan, allowing him to keep much land that he had captured. A contemporary reference to this can be found in an oration of George Tornikios, alluding to a marriage between Eudocia, Isaac’s niece, and Stefan, the eldest son of Stefan Nemanja.116 Then, late in 1192, a dispute broke out between Peter and Asen. The former had chosen to reside in Preslav, the imperial capital of his chosen namesake, Tsar Peter of Bulgaria, while Asen was based in T’rnovo.117 It is likely that Isaac had persuaded Peter to enter into an arrangement, facilitating an imperial campaign against Asen in spring 1193. The emperor did not take the field himself, but preferred to remain in Constantinople where ‘he delighted in ribaldries and lewd songs and consorted with laughter-stirring dwarves’.118 The campaigns against Asen were entrusted to the emperor’s young cousin, Constantine Angelos who, like so many before, sought to seize the throne.119 He failed, was blinded, and the Vlacho-Bulgarians set out with their Cuman allies against Philippopolis, Sofia, and even Adrianople, laying waste the lands en route. Once again the Byzantines had lost the initiative because of the independent ambitions of a general. The imperial campaign of 1194 was equally unsuccessful, and Isaac raised conscript and mercenary forces for a grand campaign to crush the Vlacho-Bulgarians in 1195. However, before this could happen Isaac was blinded and replaced by his brother Alexios III Angelos (1195–1203). The period 1190–95 was one of lost or scorned opportunities for the Byzantines. Isaac II Angelos seems to have acted rationally in the aftermath of the Third Crusade, accepting that the empire had, for a time at least, to abandon claims to lands beyond the Velika Morava. His alliance with B´ela III, and consequent negotiations with Stefan Nemanja, allowed Isaac to concentrate his limited resources on combatting the Vlachs and Bulgarians. In 1193, by winning over Peter, Isaac isolated Asen and weakened considerably his ability to launch raids south of the mountains. However, Isaac’s commanders scorned the initiative, placing personal ambition above the good of the empire.More threatening still was the fact that, after Isaac’s death, the nature of Vlacho-Bulgarian raids changed. Whereas before 1195 they were content to plunder lands south of the Haemus and around the Black Sea ports, which remained in Byzantine hands, from 1196 the Vlacho- Bulgarians began to contemplate permanent possession of both kastra and cities. Moreover, for the first time the new rulers began to strike their own coins. These so-called ‘Bulgarian imitative’ coins have been found in considerable numbers north of the Haemus in hoards buried between 1195 and 1204.120 After 1196 Byzantine forces were no longer willing to march through the Haemus passes. The empire’s frontiers now ran roughly across the Haemus as far as the river Vardar, or in places the Strymon, and the Velika Morava, which together marked the effective western limit of Byzantine authority. And beyond that limit, in Serbia and Bulgaria, the emperor was regarded increasingly with contempt. This is nowhere better illustrated than in the case of Eudocia. By 1198 Eudocia’s father, Alexios, was emperor and her husband Stefan had replaced his father as veliki ˇzupan. Yet so far had Serbian sentiment shifted that Stefan ‘stripped [his wife of] her woman’s robe, leaving her only with her undergarment, which was cut around so that it barely covered her private parts, and dismissed her thus to go forth as if she were a harlot’.121 With her, Stefan rejected Byzantine suzerainty. The Byzantine emperor was held in similar disdain north of the Haemus, where Kalojan, who succeeded his brothers Peter and Asen in 1197, sought recognition for his realm from Rome. In a series of letters exchanged with Pope Innocent III (1198–1216) from 1197 to 1204, Kalojan was willing to accept the title ‘king (rex) of the Bulgarians and Vlachs’ and an archbishop’s pallium for his chief cleric, Basil of T’rnovo. Thus he rejected an approach from Constantinople offering both imperial and patriarchal titles, having determined that it was better to be a king by papal authority than an emperor by Byzantine (see below, pp. 782–3).

 

 

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