Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 24, 2012

Manuel I Komnenos

September 24, 1180: Manuel I Komnenos dies. He was the fourth son of John II Komnenos and Piroska of Hungary. As such, Manuel was very unlikely to succeed to the throne of the Byzantine Empire. He had distinguished himself in battle against the Seljuk Turks and when his father died in April 1143, John named Manuel as his successor over his older surviving brother, Isaac. However, since John died far from home in Cilicia, Manuel needed to hasten back to Constantinople to ensure his father’s deathbed wishes would be carried out. Before he could leave Cilicia, he had to have his father’s funeral and also organize the building of a monastery on the spot where John II had died, as was the custom of the time.

While attending to these issues, Manuel sent the megas domestikos (the name for the commander-in-chief of the Byzantine land army) John Axouch ahead to the capital. There, Manuel’s greatest potential rival to the throne, Isaac, was arrested. Isaac was living in the Great Palace and had access to all the imperial treasure and regalia. Axouch arrived in Constantinople even before the news of Emperor John’s death and was able to secure the loyalty of the city. When Manuel finally arrived in August 1143, he was crowned the new Patriarch, Michael Kourkouas. Now secure as emperor, he ordered his brother released.

The empire established by Constantine eight centuries earlier was much changed by the time Manuel came to power. The empire had expanded taking in much of the Mediterranean basin. With the rise of Islam and spread of their empire, the Byzantine empire shrank. For years, Byzantium was mostly contained by Asia Minor and the Balkans. By the end of the first millennium, it was in rapid decline. Manuel inherited an even smaller empire after recent losses to the Normans and the Seljuk Turks. An even newer assault was in the Levant where new Crusader states had recently taken hold.

The Second Crusade gave the emperor several issues to deal with. The Catholic crusaders arrived to gain control of the Holy Lands and the Muslim jihadists did not wish to relinquish control. Much of the conflict impinged on Byzantium. Manuel was also beset by Roger II of Sicily in the late 1140s and early 1150s. Pressures of war were great enough that even a Papal-Byzantine alliance was created but the schism of eons past could not be healed. During the entirety of Manuel’s reign, there were wars or threats of wars. When he died on this day, he was the last of the Komnenian restoration emperors. Without him, the empires slipped into total decline.

I would prefer to be a citizen of an independent country rather than Emperor of an enslaved one. – Bao Dai

It becomes an emperor to die standing. – Titus Flavius Vespasian

No one would have doubted his ability to reign had he never been emperor. – Tacitus

The fact that I was a girl never damaged my ambitions to be a pope or an emperor. – Willa Cather

Also on this day:

Powerful Serve; Best Backhand – In 1938, John Donald Budge became the first tennis player to win the Grand Slam of tennis.
Majestic 12 – In 1947, Harry S Truman did not form a secret society.
Devil’s Tower – In 1906, this landmark was declared a National Monument.

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