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8-08-2015, 00:05

Normans, hungarians, serbs and germans: manuel komnenos’ balancing act

In the early years of his reign Manuel I Komnenos (1143–80) remained committed to his father’s policies in the east. The crusader principalities, particularly Antioch, were priorities, and he was prepared to tolerate both increased Hungarian influence in Sirmium and the Venetian domination of Dalmatia. However,Manuel’s attention was drawn increasingly towards the west, not least when Conrad III led the forces of the Second Crusade through Byzantine lands against his wishes. While the Germans were marching across Bulgaria and Thrace, a Norman fleet seized the island of Corfu and captured Thebes and Corinth. It sailed back to Sicily with great plunder and many captives, retaining control of Corfu, whence attacks on the lands south of Dyrrachium might easily be launched. Manuel turned to the Venetians for naval assistance, and in October 1147 renewed their trading privileges. The Venetians were themselves troubled by the Norman occupation of Corfu. In 1149, while preparing a retaliatory assault on Norman positions in southern Italy, Manuel learned of an uprising by the Serbs of Raˇska. He marched north, swiftly recovering the fortress of Ras, where around fifty metres of the western ramparts of the city were destroyed in the assault and later rebuilt.89 The decisive blow was struck with the storming of the fortress of Galiˇc. Manuel took many captives, but failed to capture the elusive veliki ˇzupan Uroˇs II. The court panegyrist Theodore Prodromos provides a contemporary account of the campaigns of 1149, when the supreme ruler of the barbarous Serbs, the archiserbozoupanos, this mountainreared swine, thrice a slave since birth, driven by senseless audacity, rose against us and our lord, having Hungarian forces for allies and thus misled by the Sicilian Dragon [Roger II of Sicily], and he was persuaded by his [Roger’s] gifts to enter into treaties to distract the emperor from attacking him.90 Evidently the Normans were responsible for inciting the Serbian uprising, and for the deterioration in Byzantino-Hungarian relations. If the Serbs were seduced by gifts, the Hungarians saw in an alliance with the Normans the opportunity to consolidate their interests in Dalmatia. The Normans were the only naval power capable of challenging Venetian domination of the Adriatic. Ominously, the emperor was unable to ensure stability in the region by the distribution of largesse and titles, or through his proxies. Manuel was drawn into more frequent shows of strength in the Balkans. Manuel I’s biographer, John Kinnamos, provides a detailed account of the campaigns of the following year, 1150, which culminated in the battle of Tara. The historian describes a hard-fought battle, the climax of which was Manuel’s victorious duel with the commander of the Hungarian attachment, Bakchinus (Bagin). In defeat the Serbian veliki ˇzupan swore to remain loyal to the emperor, breaking off his alliance with the Hungarians andNormans.However, the emperor determined to punish theHungarians and set off for the Danube before he had ‘even wiped the dust of the battlefield from his face and was still covered in warm sweat’.91 Thus he was able to devastate the lands between the Sava and Danube rivers and seize tens of thousands of captives before a treaty was agreed.Details of these campaigns are provided by the sycophantic panegyrist Manganeios Prodromos, who delivered at least three orations to praise the emperor as a ‘brilliant triple victor’. ‘What yearly cycle’, he asked, ‘ever saw so great a miracle, a terrible bloodless victory, a capturing of prisoners, herds of goats and cattle, many thousands of mares, innumerable flocks of the fattest sheep?’92 King G´eza II of Hungary (1141–62) came to blows and agreements with Manuel on three more occasions, in 1151, 1153 and 1154.On the first two occasions he was acting as an ally of the Normans, and the third was inspired by secret negotiations with Manuel’s cousin, the pretender Andronikos Komnenos. The instability was indicative of the new balance of power that had emerged in the north-western Balkans. Both Hungarians and Normans offered alternative sources of patronage for the Serbs andDalmatians, even before Venetian interests were considered. This seemed of secondary importance while Byzantium was allied withGermany, for the two imperial powers imagined they might control their neighbours. However, relations with Germany began to worsen, and Manuel felt obliged to strengthen the Byzantine presence in the north-western Balkans. He renovated key fortresses on his border with Hungary, at Belgrade and Braniˇcevo, where larger garrisons were installed.93 Within the frontier, he staged a trial to arbitrate a dispute between the Serbian veliki ˇzupan Uroˇs II and his brother Desa; the latter had ousted the former in the turmoil of autumn 1153. Manuel’s judgement in favour of Uroˇs was carefully orchestrated, ‘a statement about the nature of imperial sovereignty, calculated to impress the German, French and Turkish emissaries who happened to be present’.94 Moreover, it mirrored a similar judgement reached by the new German emperor Frederick I Barbarossa (1152–90) in 1152, arbitrating between two claimants to the throne of Denmark.Manuel, thereafter, was swift to press his claims as suzerain of Serbia.More ambitiously, he also sought to extend his influence beyond the Danube, into Hungary. Kinnamos states explicitly that ‘Manuel wished to establish control of Hungary because it lay in the midst of the western realms’.95 In fact he wished to secure the loyalty of the Hungarian king and thereby retain a pliant buffer kingdom between his empire and Germany. This is the context for the Hungarian succession disputes of the early 1160s, where both emperors supported rival candidates, exploiting factionalism within the kingdom.96 Barbarossa and his clients supported Stephen III, while Manuel favoured Stephen IV, and later Stephen III’s younger brother B´ela; B´ela was brought to Constantinople in 1163, betrothed to Manuel’s own daughterMaria, and given the name Alexios (see above, p. 642). Before the death of his father,G´eza II,B´ela-Alexios had been promised a large appanage at the frontier between Hungary and the empire, and it was ostensibly in defence of his rights that Manuel invaded and occupied Sirmium and Frangochorion in spring 1164.97 It is not clear that these were in fact the lands B´ela-Alexios had been promised, but they were certainly the lands on which Manuel had set his sights. So much is demonstrated by the reaction in 1165 to an attempt by Stephen III to recover the territory, when the emperor despatched letters and envoys to numerous powers requesting their support for his attack on Stephen III. The Venetians were willing allies, and committed 100 ships for an attack on Hungarian positions in Dalmatia which was launched inMay 1165. By the timeManuel arrived on the Danube the whole of central Dalmatia was in Byzantine hands, and the Venetians had recovered Zara. John Kinnamos states that: Already [the Byzantine general] John Doukas had subdued Dalmatia and turned it over to Nikephoros Chalouphes, as he had been directed by the emperor, who had previously sent him there to conquer it by force of arms or negotiation. The reason for this was that the Hungarians had designated it in a treaty as B´ela’s patrimony. . . . At that time Trogir and ˇSibenik came over to the Byzantines, as well as Split . . . and whatever cities are located in Dalmatia which total fifty-seven.98 Manuel took personal responsibility for the recovery of Sirmium, and having obliged Stephen III of Hungary to sign an unfavourable treaty, left generals in the region who showed ‘the most earnest concern for the fortifications of Belgrade, built walls around Niˇs, and brought Braniˇcevo under settlement’.99 Traces of their efforts to strengthen the established fortifications have been uncovered in excavations.100 In 1166 theHungarians launched retaliatory campaigns in both Sirmium and Dalmatia, the latter led by the ban Ampud, the former under the count Denis and thirty-seven disgruntled generals which ended with the plains ‘almost covered in the carcasses of barbarians’. Five generals were captured, along with 800 men and 2,000 breastplates of the fallen: ‘the war on the Hungarians concluded there’.101 Ampud’s attack on Split also failed, but he managed to capture the Byzantine governor, Nikephoros Chalouphes. Extant charters issued in the name of the Hungarian king suggest that Ampud recovered Biograd and possibly ˇSibenik. However, this was ephemeral. Following the defeat of Denis’ army, Manuel enjoyed control of Dalmatia south of ˇSibenik. As allies who had provided invaluable assistance to John Doukas in 1166, the Venetians maintained control of the lands north of Zara. The recovery of Dalmatia was considered an essential stepping-stone to extending Byzantine influence in northern Italy, which, like Hungary, was an arena for competition with theGerman emperor. Immediately before his appointment to commandDalmatia,Nikephoros Chalouphes had travelled to Venice to secure the assistance of the doge in the 1165 campaigns, and had also persuaded ‘Cremona and Padua and many other outstanding cities in Liguria to join with the emperor’.102 The doux ofDalmatia was charged with certain responsibilities in northern Italy, just as, after 1071, the Byzantine governor in Dyrrachium was charged with oversight of affairs in southern Italy. Thus, Chalouphes’ replacement, Constantine Doukas, was often to be found there distributing money to potential allies, and even commanded a Byzantine garrison during the German siege of Ancona.103 The empire’s Balkan lands, therefore, drew increased attention as a consequence of anxieties about German imperial ambitions.Manuel advanced the empire’s frontiers across the Danube and into Dalmatia, and made inroads into Italy and Hungary through strategic use of force and aggressive diplomacy. Expansionary policies were pursued to prevent the loss of suzerainty over peripheral potentates in the face of interference from the west, and to confront the perceived enemy on safer, more distant ground. Manuel exploited the resources of his rich empire, with an economy expanding throughout his reign, to distribute cash and prestige goods within and beyond his borders, and to bind disparate potentates and peoples to him. Moreover, he quashed rebellions effectively and efficiently, for example bringing the Serbs to heel on numerous occasions. In many ways his policies resembled those of Basil II, although Manuel was remembered for his generosity as much as for his martial capabilities. His legacy also resembled that of Basil, for Manuel’s successors lacked his reputation, meticulously constructed through decades, and were unable to impose their authority in the periphery or extend their influence beyond.104 Indeed, it can be argued that Manuel’s expansionary policies were, like Basil’s, unsustainable and precipitated the crises that the empire faced after his death.