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7-08-2015, 23:58

Manuel i komnenos (1143–1180)

For most of his reign, John had managed to prevent his own children from being divided by the sibling rivalries which had bedevilled his own succession. Yet in the months before his death, his arrangements were thrown into confusion when Alexios, his eldest son and co-emperor of long standing, fell ill and died, followed shortly by the next son, Andronikos. This left John, on his deathbed, with a highly invidious choice between his older surviving son, Isaac, who was in Constantinople, and the youngest, Manuel, who was with him in Cilicia. John no doubt voiced many of the arguments for Manuel’s superiority which the Byzantine sources put into his mouth, but it is hard to fault the explanation of William of Tyre that Manuel was chosen in order to ensure the army’s safe return.10 Prompt action forestalled any attempt by Isaac to take advantage of his presence in the capital.Manuel was thus able to enter Constantinople and have himself crowned without opposition. As the winner, he was able to command or commission the propaganda which represented his election as providential and inevitable. Yet Isaac nursed a legitimate grievance, and his sympathisers included his father’s right-hand man, John Axouch. Isaac was not the only one who coveted his brother’s throne: their brother-in-law, the caesar John Roger, attempted a coup, backed by a faction of Norman exiles, and their uncle Isaac was believed to be still awaiting his opportunity. Even apparently innocuous female relatives, Manuel’s aged aunt Anna and his widowed sister-in-law Irene, were treated as political suspects. The new emperor was unmarried and therefore without immediate prospect of legitimate issue. All in all, the circumstances of his accession put him under intense pressure to prove himself by emulating his father’s achievements without putting his inheritance at risk. The immediate priority was to bring the unfinished foreign business of John II’s last years to an honourable conclusion. There could be no question of the emperor leading another grand expedition to Syria, so Manuel contented himself with sending an army and a fleet to ravage the territory of Antioch. This and the fall of Edessa to Zengi in 1144 obliged Raymond of Antioch to come to Constantinople and swear obedience, while Manuel promised to come to the prince’s aid. There was also the matter of the German alliance. Manuel’s marriage to Bertha of Sulzbach had been negotiated and she had come to Constantinople, before he had any prospect of becoming emperor. It was probably to extract more favourable terms from Conrad III that Manuel put off the marriage and exchanged embassies with Roger II of Sicily, against whom the alliance with Conrad had been directed. When he finally married Bertha, who adopted theGreek name Irene, in 1146 he had evidently won some sort of unwritten promise from Conrad, possibly to guarantee Manuel a free hand in the east, but more likely to give him a share of the conquests from his planned invasion of southern Italy. These treaties opened up commitments and prospects which Manuel did not immediately pursue. Instead, he used the security they gave him to revert to the limited-objective campaigning against the Turks which had characterised his father’s reign, with even more emphasis on military victory for its own sake. The expedition which he led as far as Ikonion in 1146 was ostensibly in retaliation for the capture of a border fortress in Cilicia. In effect, however, it was a display of the emperor’s prowess in leading his army up to the walls of the sultan’s capital and then fighting courageous rearguard actions in the retreat. This gratuitous bravery was intended to vindicate Manuel’s youthful heroism in the eyes of his critics. It may also have been meant to impress the Latins with the emperor’s zeal for holy war. But it did nothing to help the crusader states, and that help now came in a form which exposed Manuel’s lack of a strategy for dealing with the fall of Edessa and the repercussions this was bound to have in the wider world of Latin Christendom. The fact that the Byzantine sources fail to mention the event which provoked the Second Crusade suggests that they seriously underestimated its importance. The SecondCrusade would have been a major military and political crisis even if it had been confined to the expedition of Louis VII of France (1137– 80), asManuel was originally led to expect. The size of Louis’ army, his royal status, which precluded any oath of vassalage to the emperor, and the ties which bound him and his entourage to the nobility of the Latin east were sufficient to thwart any effective concordance betweenByzantine claims and crusader objectives. The problem was more than doubled by the unexpected participation of Conrad III with an equally huge army and an even touchier sense of sovereign dignity. His arrival in the east strained their alliance almost to breaking point, since it brought theGerman emperor-elect where Manuel least wanted him from where he needed him most, namely as a threat to Roger II of Sicily. Roger now exploited the situation to seize the island of Corfu and launch raids on the Greek mainland, whose garrisons had been redeployed to shadow the crusading armies. It was alarmingly reminiscent of earlier Norman invasions of Epiros, andManuel responded by calling on Venetian naval help, in return for which he renewed Venice’s trade privileges and extended the Venetian quarter in Constantinople.11 In these circumstances, it is understandable that Manuel moved the crusading armies as quickly as possible across the Bosporus into AsiaMinor, where the treaty of peace that he had signed with the sultan of Rum may well have contributed to the appalling casualties they suffered at the hands of the Turks. These casualties, which rendered the armies largely ineffective by the time they reached Syria and Palestine, earned Manuel a lasting reputation as the saboteur of the Second Crusade. However, they did lead eventually to a renewal of the alliance with Conrad III, who, when he fell ill at Ephesos in December 1147, acceptedManuel’s invitation to come and recuperate in Constantinople. Manuel then provided ships and money for Conrad to continue to Palestine and recruit a new army. On his return to Europe late in 1148, the two monarchs met at Thessaloniki to agree on a joint invasion and partition of southern Italy and Sicily. The Byzantine share was to count as the dowry owing to Manuel from his marriage to Bertha-Irene. The alliance was sealed by the marriage of Manuel’s niece Theodora to Conrad’s cousin Henry of Babenberg. The renewal of theGerman alliance determined the principal orientation ofManuel’s foreign policy for the rest of his reign. For the next twelve years he remained committed to a partnership with the Hohenstaufen which he hoped would bring substantial territorial gains in Italy.Manuel pursued this goal despite setbacks and distractions, and despite the gradual divergence of interests between the two empires after Conrad III died and was succeeded by Frederick I Barbarossa (1152–90). As soon asManuel had recovered Corfu from its Sicilian garrison in 1149, he planned to carry the war into Italy. The invasion plan was frustrated, first by bad weather, and then by wars in the Balkans stirred up by the disruptive diplomacy of Roger II. Thus the campaigns which Manuel led from 1150 to 1155 against the Serbian ˇzupans of Raˇska and King G´eza II of Hungary were essentially diversions, for all the energy he put into them and the considerable publicity they generated. However, the war at sea continued and upon the death of Roger II in 1154 Manuel moved to take advantage of the insecurity and unpopularity of the youngWilliam I of Sicily (1154–66), reviving the invasion plan of 1149. Lacking German participation, the campaign eventually came to grief at Brindisi in 1156, and Frederick disowned it as aGreek initiative which interfered with his own programme of Roman imperial renewal. Yet for a time, the Byzantine agents had enjoyed great success, receiving the cooperation of disaffectedNorman lords and the submission of many towns throughout Apulia.Manuel did not act as if either the German alliance or the prospect of a Byzantine revival in Italy had been destroyed by the defeat. His agents returned to sow disaffection againstWilliam I in 1157, and he continued to seek collaboration with Frederick Barbarossa even after he had concluded a peace treaty with William in 1158. In 1160, they were still exchanging embassies to discuss joint action against Sicily, and a Byzantine request for a share of imperial dominion in the Italian peninsula. Manuel’s basic and consistent objective was the acquisition of the coastal towns of Apulia; they hadGreek populations, had belonged to the theme of Langobardia before 1071, and control of them would prevent the recurrence of invasions like those of Robert Guiscard, Bohemond and Roger II.12 Beyond that, Byzantine territorial aims in Italy were flexible, and by 1160 it seems that Manuel had traded his empire’s historic claims to Calabria and the Naples area in return for the recognition of a right to the Pentapolis, the area comprising the city of Ancona and its hinterland. Ancona was the Byzantine base of operations in 1155–6, and it had been chosen for this purpose in 1149. It may well, therefore, have been designated in the treaty of 1148 between Conrad and Manuel as belonging to the Byzantine sphere of influence. Justification for the Byzantine claim could have been found in the fact that the Pentapolis had been part of the old exarchate of Ravenna (see above, pp. 449–53). While the coastal towns of Apulia were ruled by the king of Sicily, Ancona was the only alternative to Venice as a gateway for Byzantine agents, envoys, troops and subsidies to reach the empire’s Italian and German allies – and Venice was basically opposed to any Byzantine revival in Italy.Once the coastal towns of Apulia also reverted to Byzantine rule, possession of the Pentapolis would have given Manuel control of almost the entire east coast of Italy. The failure of his negotiations with Frederick Barbarossa in 1160 caused Manuel to try an alternative to the German alliance, which was coming under strain for other reasons. Frederick’s increasingly strident imperialism made him less receptive to the idea of sharing sovereignty in Italy with the Greek empire. Indeed, his programme of reclaiming imperial rights, which he had stated at the diet of Roncaglia in 1158 and showed every sign of enforcing, threatened to change the balance of power in Italy and make the Hohenstaufen empire the main danger to Byzantium’s western flank. At the same time, his quarrel with Pope Hadrian IV (1154–59), and his refusal to recognise the canonical election of Hadrian’s successor, Alexander III (1159–81), made him an embarrassment for Manuel’s relations with other parts of Latin Christendom, particularly the crusader states. Above all, the bond of kinship between the two emperors was severed when Manuel’s German wife Bertha-Irene died in 1159. From 1161,Manuel aligned himself with Pope Alexander III and all who took his side against Frederick and the antipope elected by Frederick’s council of Pavia in 1160. Thus relations between Byzantium and Alexander’s main European supporter, Louis VII of France, began to improve for the first time since the Second Crusade. Manuel’s main diplomatic priority, however, was to cultivate close relations with all those in the Italian peninsula who, like Alexander, felt threatened by Frederick’s expansionism. Chief among them was the king of Sicily, and Manuel twice entered into negotiations with a view to marrying his daughter to William I’s s William II (1166–89). But Manuel also poured money into creating an extensive web of potential supporters among the towns and the aristocracy throughout Italy. Byzantine money helped to rebuild the walls of Milan, razed at Frederick’s orders in 1162. To the pope himself, Manuel not only gave material support but offered the prospect of reuniting the Greek and Roman churches, and several discussions were held. In return, the pope gaveManuel to understand that he would consider recognising him as sole Roman emperor.13 This ambition seems like a vastly unrealistic escalation of Manuel’s previous aims, but it is unlikely to have involved any major political changes, other than excluding Frederick Barbarossa from Italy and giving Manuel the senior place among the rulers of Christendom. For the pope to entertain the notion, it must have been predicated on a guarantee to maintain the status quo in Italy: the continued existence of the communes in the north, the papal lordship in the centre and the kingdom of Sicily in the south. It is far from certain that the arrangement would have involved any territorial concessions such as Manuel had sought from the Hohenstaufen. The ulterior aim of Manuel’s diplomacy after 1160 may have been to pressurise Frederick Barbarossa into renewing the alliance. The prospect of renewing it in 1170–2 was certainly enough to make Manuel pull out of a marriage treaty withWilliam II of Sicily for what he thought was a better offer from Frederick. The offer did not materialise, and the ‘cold war’ resumed, but the episode demonstrated that whatManuel sought above all was a partnership with the sovereign powers of the Christian west that would guarantee security for his empire within negotiated territorial limits. In the papal alliance as in the Hohenstaufen alliance, Italy was the focus for negotiation, and Ancona remained the Byzantine gateway to Italy. The peace ofVenice in 1177, in which FrederickBarbarossa and Alexander III settled their differences and Italian affairs without reference toManuel, put an end to the latter’s hopes of either territorial gains in Italy or a western imperial crown.However, it was neither the end of his diplomacy nor of his deeper ambition to align his dynastic programme of imperial restoration with the power structure of Latin Christendom from which his empire had been perilously excluded at the time of the Second Crusade. That ambition was as close to being realised at his death in 1180 as it would ever be. He had failed to secure a working relationship with Frederick Barbarossa, but he remained on good terms with Alexander III, his daughter had married Renier of Montferrat, from the major magnate family of north-western Italy, and his son was betrothed to the king of France’s daughter. On other fronts, while Manuel did not neglect the security and the extension of the empire’s borders, his initiatives were ultimately shaped by the aim of being taken into partnership by the great powers of the west. The crusader states provided an ideal opportunity for him to enhance his credentials in western eyes. The disaster of the Second Crusade had left them increasingly vulnerable to Zengi’s successor, Nur al-Din (1146–74), who had taken over Damascus following the failed crusader offensive, and had made the kings of the west wary of getting involved in a major new expedition to the Holy Land. Although they were responsive to the plight of the Latin settlers, their own domestic problems and mutual rivalries kept them in Europe, while the armed pilgrimages undertaken by some of their vassals did not properly compensate for the lack of a general crusade. In the circumstances, the princes of Outremer turned increasingly to Byzantium for military and financial aid and the Byzantine emperor was only too pleased to avoid the recurrence of a general crusade.14 Soon after the Second Crusade, the northern principalities suffered a crisis: Raymond of Edessa was killed in battle in 1149 and Joscelin II of Edessa was captured a year later.Manuel bought the remaining castles of the county of Edessa from Joscelin’s wife and attempted to persuade Raymond’s widow Constance to marry his recently widowed brother-in-law, the half- Norman caesar John Roger. However, the castles soon fell to the Muslims, and Constance rejected John Roger in favour of Reynald de Chˆatillon, a recent arrival from France. Neither these failures nor Reynald’s subsequent raid on Byzantine Cyprus in conjunction with Thoros II (1148–68), the Armenian prince of Cilicia, drew an immediate response from Manuel, who was occupied with the war with Sicily.Only when this was over did the emperor intervene personally with a showof force.Moreover, his expedition to Cilicia and Syria in 1158–9 was not, despite superficial resemblances, a repeat of those conducted by his father. It followed the conclusion of a marriage alliance with Baldwin III, king of Jerusalem (1143–63), who in 1157 broke with crusader precedent and sought a bride from the Byzantine imperial family. Thus the reassertion of imperial supremacy in Cilicia and Antioch, and the humiliation of Reynald and Thoros, were performed with the full cooperation of the senior potentate in Outremer, who accepted them as the ritual price the Latin settlers had to pay for Byzantine material aid, and as the necessary prelude to joint military action againstNur al-Din by all the local Christian powers. Although this action was cut short when Manuel was recalled to Constantinople by news of a conspiracy, he continued to work closely with the crusader states. It was to Tripoli, and then to Antioch, that he looked for a new bride after Bertha-Irene’s death in 1159. He married Maria of Antioch, daughter of Raymond and Constance, in 1161, and some fifteen years later strengthened his connection with her brother, Prince Bohemond III (1163–1201), by providing the latter with a Komnenian bride. The connection with Jerusalem was briefly interrupted at Baldwin III’s death in 1163 but resumed when the king’s brother and successor, Amalric I (1163–74), decided he could not do without Byzantine aid and negotiated a marriage to another imperial relative in 1167. Following a treaty in 1168, a Byzantine naval force joined Amalric in an invasion of Egypt in 1169, and the king came to Constantinople to negotiate a fresh agreement in 1171. The resulting plans for further joint operations against Egypt were halted upon Amalric’s death in 1174, but were back on the agenda in 1176–7, when a Byzantine fleet was despatched to Palestine. These ventures came to nothing militarily, but they proved that the empire would deploy impressive resources in offensive as well as defensive support of its Latin allies, and thus undoubtedly helped to impede the counter-crusade ofNur al-Din and Saladin. Manuel further bolstered the Latin settlements both by providing their princes with generous subsidies, and by ransoming their knights who were captured in battle. In return, the emperor asked only for due recognition of his overlordship, and for fulfilment of the long-standing treaty agreement to appoint a Greek patriarch in Antioch. Despite his considerable investment in Latin Syria, Manuel did not revisit the area after 1159. On the other hand, he returned more than once to the Danube frontier after King G´eza II of Hungary died in 1161, leaving a disputed succession. The position of Hungary between the German and Byzantine empires, and adjacent to the empire’s Serbian vassals, gave it a strategic importance inManuel’s growing conflict of interest with Frederick Barbarossa, which increased his concern to ensure that it was in friendly hands.His kinship with theHungarian royal dynasty via his mother, and the empire’s historic claim to certain frontier areas of the kingdom, also incited his intervention in Hungarian affairs (see below, pp. 684–5). Although Manuel initially failed to install his first candidate, Stephen IV, repeated campaigning from 1162 to 1167 ensured the future succession of his next prot´eg´e, B´ela III, and the cession to the empire of B´ela’s patrimony, consisting of the central Dalmatian coast and an area south of the middle Danube known as Frangochorion, which included the old Roman frontier capital of Sirmium. B´ela III lived in Constantinople from 1164, where he was betrothed to Manuel’s daughter Maria and regarded as heir apparent to the throne until the birth of the emperor’s son Alexios in 1169. He took power inHungary at the death of his brother Stephen III in 1172 and served the empire loyally while Manuel was alive. On the empire’s other land frontier, in Asia Minor, Manuel’s preferred policy was similarly one of trying to maintain and improve the status quo by drawing the main regional power, the sultanate of Rum, into the imperial orbit. After some fighting in 1159–60, Manuel welcomed the sultan, Kilij Arslan II (1156–92), to Constantinople in 1161. The two rulers concluded a treaty whereby the emperor ritually adopted the sultan as his son and undertook to subsidise his wars against his Turkish rivals; in return, any important cities recovered from the latter were to be surrendered to the emperor, and the sultan promised to prevent raids on the empire’s territories. Kilij Arslan did not keep his side of the treaty, which effectively allowed him to unify Turkish Asia Minor under his rule. But it brought peace to western Anatolia for fourteen years, and it set up an effective Islamic rival to the rising power of atabey Nur al-Din of Damascus, which helped the crusader states. Only when the death of Nur al-Din in 1174 changed the configuration of power in the Islamic world did Manuel adopt a policy of confrontation with Kilij Arslan, building fortresses on the Anatolian plateau to control the routes to the east in 1175, and then mounting a major expedition to conquer the sultan’s capital of Ikonion in the following year. It is clear from the publicity surrounding Manuel’s offensive in Asia Minor that it was not only a belated move from appeasement to reprisal, but also a holy war intended to restore AsiaMinor to imperial rule and open up the land route for pilgrims to Palestine. The grand expedition of 1176 was thus, above all, the culmination ofManuel’s long attempt to redeem the failure of the SecondCrusade, which had come to grief in the borderlands of AsiaMinor. It was meant to finish, under imperial leadership, the business that had got out of imperial control in the First Crusade. The resounding defeat which the expedition suffered atMyriokephalon was correspondingly devastating for Manuel’s attempt to take over the crusading movement and to reverse a century of Turkish occupation in Asia Minor (see below, pp. 716–17). Yet the empire’s army, finances and borders were intact; its power in the Balkans and its influence in eastern Europe had never stood higher. Louis VII of France gave a big vote of confidence by sending his daughter Agnes as a future bride for the young Alexios II Komnenos (1180– 3). There is no knowing how things would have developed if Manuel had not died only four years after the battle. Manuel conducted his warfare and his diplomacy with lavish ceremony and rhetorical publicity which explicitly recalled Constantine and Justinian. This and the autocratic style which he adopted in his legislation and regulation of church doctrine led Niketas Choniates to assert, and modern scholars to accept, thatManuel dreamed the impossible dream of restoring the Roman empire in all its ancient glory. Careful attention to the reality behind the rhetorical and ceremonial image reveals that Manuel’s Roman imperialism was more concerned with security than expansion.15 It is true that at different times he sought the elimination of the two main neighbouring states, the Norman kingdom of Sicily and the Seljuq sultanate of Rum, which had recently been founded at the empire’s expense. However, he did not do so consistently and he acted only within the framework of an alliance.Manuel’s imperialism only began to depart from tradition after 1160, when he was obliged to seek an alternative to the German alliance. The main departure (though even this had precedents) was that instead of following the time-honoured practice of weakening the empire’s neighbours by setting them against each other or destabilising their regimes, Manuel sought to establish a ring of reliable satellite kingdoms which he strengthened against their enemies in return for their support. The kingdom of Jerusalem, Hungary, the sultanate and the kingdom of Sicily were all tried in this role to a greater or lesser extent. In general, it seems clear thatManuel sought allies and clients more than he sought territories. As we have seen, he hoped that the German alliance would give him control over the Adriatic coast of Italy, while fromHungary he gained Frangochorion and the Dalmatian coast. Otherwise, apart from his rather belated crusade of reconquest in AsiaMinor, his main identifiable objective was the coastal area of Egypt, which was to be the Byzantine share in the partition of the country agreed between Manuel and Amalric in 1168 and, presumably, in later renewals of their treaty. This was hardly a programme to restore the empire of Justinian. At the same time, it was more than random opportunism. The Egyptian coast, including the ports of Alexandria and Damietta, was the most sought-after trading destination in the Mediterranean. Possession of the east coast of Italy together with possession of the Dalmatian coast would have given the empire control of the Adriatic and thus of the access to eastern markets from Venice, the main trading city in the Mediterranean. Realisation of all these territorial goals would have allowed the empire to dominate the commerce of the easternMediterranean and thus to renegotiate its treaties with the Italian maritime republics. That this was indeed Manuel’s aim is suggested, first, by his considerable investment in theByzantine navy, and, secondly, by the evolution of his policy towards Venice, an evolution which parallels his adoption of a less indulgent line in dealing with the Byzantine church, the other main beneficiary of economic privilege. In 1148, during the crisis of the Second Crusade, he had extended the already exceptional privileges enjoyed by Venetian merchants throughout the empire, but in 1171 he ordered their arrest and the confiscation of their goods. The Pisans and Genoese to some extent took their place, but not with the same exemption from the 10 per cent sales tax. Pisa was unable to negotiate an improvement to the terms of its original treaty with Alexios I (see above, p. 625), which had allowed a total exemption only on bullion exports, and a 6 per cent reduction on imports of other goods. TheGenoese were originally admitted on the same basis in 1155, but had to accept further restrictions on the 6 per cent concession in 1169.16 In the light of recent work on Byzantium in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, it is clear thatManuel’s power was more impressive and his ambitions more moderate than previously thought. However, his achievements still fell short of his ambitions, and his military failures against Sicily and the Turks were spectacular, perhaps more so than his successes againstHungary. The empire declined so rapidly after his death that historians from Niketas Choniates onwards have sought, and continue to seek, the seeds of its decline in his reign and in his policies.Modern commentators have also looked for structural weaknesses in the imperial regime of the Komnenian dynasty.