Manuel Comnenus — The Later Years


The People of Antioch were by no means pleased by the arrival of the Emperor. But when they saw that it was not in their power to prevent him they came before him like slaves, having adorned the streets with carpets and covered the pavements with flowers .. . The Syrians who are gluttons, the Isaurians who are thieves, the Cilicians who are pirates, all were there with the rest. Even the Italian knights, who are so proud, put away their pride in order to be present, on foot, at the triumph.

Nicetas Choniates, 'Manuel Comnenus', III, iii

At the time of the signing of the Sicilian peace treaty, Manuel Comnenus had occupied the throne of Byzantium for fifteen years. No one could have accused him of inactivity. Quite apart from his remarkably successful handling of all the problems - military, diplomatic and administrative - presented by the Second Crusade, he had personally waged war against the Seljuks and the Danishmends in Anatolia, the Cumans in Thrace, the Sicilians at Corfu and the Serbs and Hungarians in the Danubian provinces; and had he not been fully occupied with these last, he would certainly have also been present during the recent campaign in South Italy. The one region to which he had been able to pay relatively little attention was that in which he had begun his reign - Cilicia, and the Crusader states of Outremer; and in the autumn of 115 8 he set out from Constantinople at the head of a great army to make good the omission.

He was furious, and with good reason. The first object of his wrath was Thoros, the eldest surviving son of Leo the Rubenid. Thoros had escaped from prison in Constantinople in 1143 and had sought refuge with his cousin, Joscelin II of Edessa, while he collected his three younger brothers and a group of like-minded compatriots; with their help he had soon recaptured his family's castle of Vahka, high in the Taurus mountains. From there, in 1151, he had swept down on to the Cilician plain, defeating a small Byzantine force and killing the imperial governor at Mamistra. Manuel had immediately sent his cousin Androni-cus with an army against him, but Thoros had taken Andronicus by surprise and put his army to flight. After seven years, this upstart prince was still unpunished.

Far more serious, however, than any number of Armenian adventurers was Reynald of Chatillon, Prince of Antioch. The younger son of a minor French nobleman, Reynald had joined the Second Crusade and then decided to stay on in the East. There he might have lived out his life in well-deserved obscurity but for the death of Raymond of Poitiers, who on 28 June 1149 had allowed himself and his army to be surrounded by the forces of the Emir Nur ed-Din. The consequence was a massacre, after which Raymond's skull, set in a silver case, was sent by Nur ed-Din as a present to the Caliph in Baghdad - there, presumably, to join that of his predecessor Bohemund. Fortunately, the Emir did not follow up his victory with a march on Antioch; it was nevertheless generally agreed that Raymond's widow, the Princess Constance, must find herself another husband as soon as possible. Constance - despite her four children she was still only twenty-one - asked nothing better; but she was difficult to please. She turned down three candidates proposed by her cousin King Baldwin III of Jerusalem - to say nothing of one who had been suggested (at her request) by Manuel Comnenus as her overlord1 - and it was not until 115 3 that her eye fell on Reynald, whom she married as soon as Baldwin, only too glad to give up his responsibility for Antioch, had given his permission.

She could hardly have made a more disastrous choice. Not only was the new Prince generally considered a parvenu adventurer; from the beginning he proved faithless and utterly irresponsible. Having promised Manuel, in return for his recognition as Prince, to attack Thoros and his brothers, after a single brief battle he allied himself with them; and while they moved, with his full connivance, against the few remaining Byzantine strongholds in Cilicia, he himself prepared an expedition against another, more important imperial possession, the peaceful and prosperous

1 Manuel's choice had been the Caesar John Roger, the widower of his sister Maria. He had presumably thought that the Caesar's Norman blood would recommend him to the Latins of Antioch. Perhaps it did; but Constance refused to consider a man well over twice her age and soon sent him packing.

island of Cyprus. Such an enterprise, however, needed finance; and Reynald now demanded the necessary funds from Aimery, Patriarch of Antioch, who was known to be rich and against whom he bore a grudge for having opposed his marriage. The Patriarch refused; whereupon he was seized, imprisoned and beaten about the head. His wounds were then smeared with honey and he was taken up on to the roof of the citadel, where he was made to spend a whole day in the grilling heat of an Antiochene summer, defenceless against the myriads of ravening insects that descended upon him. That evening, understandably, he paid up; and a few days later, in company with two envoys sent by a furious King Baldwin to demand his immediate release, left for Jerusalem.

In the spring of 115 6 Reynald and his ally Thoros had launched their attack on Cyprus. The garrison - under John Comnenus, the Emperor's nephew, and a distinguished general named Michael Branas - fought bravely, but were hopelessly outnumbered. Both were imprisoned, while the Franks and Armenians together abandoned themselves to an orgy of devastation and desecration, of murder, rape and pillage such as the island had never before known. Only after three weeks did Reynald give the order to embark; and all the plunder for which there was no room on the ships was sold back to those from whom it had been stolen. The prisoners too were obliged to ransom themselves; and since by this time there was not sufficient money left on the island, most of the leading citizens and their families - including Comnenus and Branas - were carried off to Antioch and kept incarcerated there until their ransoms could be raised, while several captured Greek priests had their noses cut off and were sent mockingly to Constantinople. The island, we are told, never recovered.

The Emperor marched his army overland to Cilicia with vengeance in his heart. Then, leaving the main force to follow the narrow, rocky road along the coast, he hurried on ahead with five hundred cavalry. His aim was to take the Armenians by surprise, and he succeeded. Two weeks later all the Cilician cities as far as Anazarbus were back in Byzantine hands. There was only one disappointment: Thoros himself, alerted in Tarsus by a passing pilgrim, had managed to gather his family together just in time and to escape to a ruined castle high in the mountains. For weeks the army searched for him, but in vain. Manuel's temper had therefore not greatly improved by the time he drew up his army outside the walls of Mopsuestia.

But if Manuel was angry, Reynald was panic-stricken. It was plain from the reports he had received that the imperial army was far too strong to be resisted; his only hope lay in abject submission. He sent messengers to Manuel with an offer to surrender the citadel to an imperial garrison, and when this was rejected presented himself in sackcloth outside the Emperor's camp. Manuel was in no hurry to receive him. High-ranking envoys were by now arriving from the local potentates and even from the Caliph himself; the Prince of Antioch could wait his turn. When the summons came at last, Reynald and his suite were obliged to walk, barefoot and bareheaded, all through Mopsuestia and out to the camp beyond; they were then led, between ranks formed by the crack regiments of the imperial army, to a great tent in which they found the basileus enthroned, surrounded by his court and the foreign envoys. Reynald prostrated himself in the dust at his feet, his followers raising their hands in supplication. For some considerable time Manuel took no notice, unconcernedly continuing his conversation with those around him; when he finally deigned to hear the Prince's submission he made three conditions. The citadel of Antioch must be surrendered to an imperial garrison immediately on demand; the city must provide a contingent for his army; and a Greek Patriarch was to be installed in place of the Latin. Only when Reynald took his oath on all three was he pardoned and dismissed.

A few days later King Baldwin arrived from Jerusalem. Though he and Manuel had never met, there was a strong family connection since he had recently married the Emperor's niece Theodora, daughter of his elder brother Isaac. The bride, though still only thirteen, was plainly nubile and extremely beautiful, and Baldwin was delighted with her. He had not, however, attempted to conceal his dissatisfaction at the news of Reynald's pardon; and the Emperor, wrongly suspecting that he wanted Antioch for himself, had at first been reluctant to receive him. But he soon relented and the two took to each other the moment they met. Baldwin was now thirty, intelligent and cultivated and possessed of more than a little of Manuel's famous charm. He remained ten days in the camp, during which time he secured a pardon for Thoros, who was subjected to the same treatment as Reynald but was allowed to keep his possessions in the mountains. It was probably due to his intervention, also, that the change of Patriarch was indefinitely postponed. Aimery was restored to his patriarchal throne and was formally reconciled with Reynald - though it is unlikely, after what had happened, that the two ever became close friends.

On Easter Sunday, 12 April 1159, Manuel Comnenus made his ceremonial entry over the fortified bridge into Antioch. Twenty-one years before, he had accompanied his father in a similar procession; the present occasion was still more impressive. The local authorities had done their best to prevent it: there was, they claimed, a conspiracy to assassinate him and they could not guarantee his safety. Manuel demanded a number of hostages, and insisted that all the Franks taking part in the ceremony - including even the King of Jerusalem himself -should be unarmed; but he refused to cancel the procession. In the forefront marched the blond giants of the Varangian Guard, each with his battle-axe carried on a massive shoulder. Then came the Emperor himself, his imperial purple mantle all but concealing his coat of mail, the pearl-hung diadem on his head. At his side, 'busying himself, writes Cinnamus, 'with the stirrup-leather of the imperial saddle', walked the Prince of Antioch, the other Frankish vassals following; then Baldwin of Jerusalem, bare-headed; and finally the members of the imperial court. Just inside the gates Aimery stood waiting in his patriarchal robes, his clergy behind him; and it was he who led the procession through flower-strewn streets, first to Mass in St Peter's Cathedral and then on to the palace.

The celebrations continued for eight days. Apart from endless church services, there were banquets, receptions, investitures and parades of every kind. As a gesture to the Franks, Manuel even organized a knightly tournament — something unknown in the East - during which he himself, to the horror of most of his older subjects, took part in the jousting. Majestic where majesty was required, smiling and friendly on less formal occasions, he endeared himself to the Antiochenes, nobles and citizens alike. Meanwhile he and the King of Jerusalem took an ever greater liking to each other, and when Baldwin broke his arm in a hunting accident Manuel insisted on treating it himself, just as he had treated King Conrad a dozen years before.

By the time the Emperor left Antioch, relations between Byzantium and Outremer were better than they had ever been; and they might well have so continued had he now moved against Aleppo, as the Franks expected. As soon as he reached the frontier, however, he was met by Nur ed-Din's ambassadors with proposals for a truce. The Emir's offer was generous indeed: not only would he release all his six thousand Christian prisoners, he would also send a military expedition against the Seljuk Turks. Manuel - possibly with some relief - agreed to call off his campaign and immediately started back to Constantinople, his army behind him.

The reaction of the Franks can well be imagined. Why had the Emperor bothered to march all the way across Asia Minor with his huge army, only to march all the way back again without once engaging the Saracen enemy? For the six thousand returned prisoners they cared little. True, these included one or two distinguished Frenchmen like Bertrand of Blancfort, Grand Master of the Temple; but the vast majority were Germans captured during the Second Crusade, many of whom were by now broken in health and would constitute only an additional burden on the depleted treasury. Nothing could alter the fact that Manuel had been received with all the honour due to him, in the belief that he would rid the Crusader states of an enemy who threatened their very existence. Instead, he had made a shameful agreement with that enemy and was now leaving them to their fate. No wonder they felt betrayed.

In fact, Manuel had had little choice. However vital Syria might be to the Crusaders of Outremer, to him it was only one — and by no means the most important - of the many outlying provinces of his Empire. His throne was relatively secure, but not to the point where he could afford to spend many months several hundred miles from his capital, at the end of impossibly long lines of communication and supply which could be broken from one moment to the next by Arab or Turkish raiders. Already there were reports of conspiracy in Constantinople and trouble on the European frontier. It was time to return. Besides, was Nur ed-Din doing him any real harm? On the contrary, he was frightening the Franks, and Manuel was well aware that the Franks remained loyal to him only when they were afraid. The Seljuks of Anatolia were in any case an infinitely greater danger than the Atabeg of Aleppo, whose offer of what would effectively be an alliance against them was not one that he could afford to refuse.

Subsequent events proved him right. In the autumn of 1159, after only some three months in Constantinople, he was back again in Anatolia fighting the Seljuk Sultan, Kilij Arslan II. It was a four-pronged attack: the Emperor himself, with the main body of his army further strengthened by a detachment of troops sent by the Prince of Serbia, swept up the Meander valley; his general John Contostephanus, with levies provided according to their respective treaties by Reynald and Thoros and a contingent of Pechenegs, drove north-westwards through the Taurus passes; Nur ed-Din advanced from the middle Euphrates; and the Danishmends invaded from the north-east. Against such an onslaught the Sultan quickly gave up the struggle; by the terms of a treaty signed early in 1162 he returned all the Greek cities occupied

by his subjects within recent years, promised to respect the frontiers, forbade all further raiding, and agreed to provide a regiment whenever called upon to do so, to fight alongside the imperial army. Finally, in the spring of that same year, he paid a state visit to Constantinople.

From the moment of Kilij Arslan's first arrival, the Emperor was determined to dazzle him. He first received his guest seated on a throne raised on a high dais, covered in slabs of gold and set with carbuncles and sapphires surrounded with pearls. He himself wore on his head the imperial diadem, around his shoulders a great cloak of purple encrusted with still more pearls, together with huge cabochon jewels. From his neck, on a golden chain, hung a ruby the size of an apple. Invited to sit by his side, Cinnamus tells us that the Sultan at first hardly dared to obey. And this was only the beginning. Twice each day during his twelve-week stay in the capital, the Sultan's food and drink were brought to him in vessels of gold and silver, all of which immediately became his property; none were ever returned to the palace. After one banquet Manuel presented him with the entire table service. Meanwhile hardly a day passed without some new and ever more brilliant entertainment. There were banquets, tournaments, circuses, games in the Hippodrome — even a water pageant, at which the wonders of Greek fire were displayed to remarkable effect. Throughout the festivities, however, the Emperor made clear by a thousand little signs, negligible by themselves but unmistakable when taken together, that his honoured guest was not a foreign monarch but a vassal prince.

The only attempt from the Sultan's side to match these manifestations was unfortunately less successful, when a member of his suite announced that he would give a demonstration of flying. Swathed in a coat which appeared to consist entirely of immense and cavernous pockets, he explained that the air trapped in these pockets would support him as he flew. He then climbed up to a platform high above the Hippodrome, whence he launched himself into space. When the body was carried from the arena a moment later the assembled populace, we are told, could not contain its laughter; and for the remainder of their stay in the city the surviving members of the Sultan's suite had to endure constant taunts and catcalls as they walked through the streets.

John II had left the Byzantine position in Asia Minor stronger than it had been at any time since Manzikert; his son had now made it stronger still. The Seljuk Sultan had been brought low, the Atabeg of Mosul had been badly frightened. Manuel was now on the friendliest possible terms with both of them; but they had learned their lesson. The land route to the Holy Land was once again open to pilgrims from the West. Among Christians, only the Franks of Outremer continued to grumble. They were to have even greater reason for dissatisfaction before long.

At the end of 1159, while her husband was campaigning in Anatolia, the Empress Irene, nee Bertha of Sulzbach, had died in Constantinople, leaving only two daughters. Manuel gave her a splendid funeral, and buried her in his father's monastery of the Pantocrator; but he still desperately needed a son. Accordingly, after a decent interval of mourning had elapsed, he sent an embassy to Jerusalem under his general John Contostephanus to ask King Baldwin to nominate as his second bride one of the princesses of Outremer.

There were two obvious candidates, both Baldwin's cousins and both, we are told, of exceptional beauty. Melisende, and Mary, respectively the daughters of the late Count Raymond II of Tripoli and of Constance of Antioch by her first husband, Raymond of Poitiers. To Baldwin, the House of Antioch gave nothing but trouble; it was therefore not surprising that his choice should have fallen on Melisende. Excitement spread quickly through the Crusader East. Count Raymond III spent a fortune on his sister's trousseau and preparations for the wedding, meanwhile making ready a fleet of no fewer than twelve galleys to escort her in suitable state to her new home. Only gradually was it realized that there had been no word from Constantinople. What had happened? Was there to be no marriage after all? Had the Byzantine ambassadors been so indelicate as to mention those persistent rumours of her illegitimacy, which were founded on nothing more than the strained relations known to have existed between her parents?

Perhaps they had; but the Emperor had other reasons to delay his decision. In November 1160 Reynald of Antioch had been captured by Nur ed-Din. His wife Constance had immediately assumed power; but she had never been popular, and a strong body of opinion had preferred the claims of her fifteen-year-old son Bohemund, known as the Stammerer. In theory, the question should have been referred to the Byzantine Emperor, as suzerain of Antioch, for a decision; in fact, however, the Antiochenes tended to look towards Jerusalem on such occasions, and it was to King Baldwin, rather than to Manuel, that they had turned. The King had declared for young Bohemund, with Patriarch Aimery acting as Regent until he came of age. Furious and humiliated, Constance had promptly appealed to the imperial court.

Manuel too was angered at Baldwin's presumption; and it was this incident, rather than any doubts about the paternity of Melisende, that decided him. But he volunteered no statement. Only when, in the summer of 1161, the impatient Raymond sent an embassy to ask his intentions did he finally confirm that the marriage would not after all take place. In Tripoli there was consternation. Poor Melisende went into a decline from which she never recovered;1 her brother converted his twelve galleys into men-of-war and led them off to harass the coastal towns of Cyprus. King Baldwin, deeply concerned, rode up to Antioch, where to his astonishment he found another high-powered delegation from Constantinople, headed by Anna Comnena's son Alexius Bryennius, which had re-established Constance on the throne and was already in the process of drawing up a marriage contract between the Emperor and the ravishing young Princess Mary. In September 1161 she set sail from St Symeon and at Christmas, in the presence of the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria, she was married to Manuel in St Sophia.

Baldwin could only accept the inevitable. He gave his young cousin his blessing and then started back, via Tripoli, to Jerusalem; but he never reached it. In Tripoli he fell gravely ill. After Christmas, still not recovered, he struggled on to Beirut but could go no further. He died there on 10 February 1162, aged just thirty-two.

Manuel Comnenus wept when he heard the news. Baldwin had been a good King; with his energy, his intelligence and his natural political flair he might even have proved a great one. Although the two had inevitably had their differences, on a personal level they had been firm friends who had genuinely enjoyed each other's company - no small consideration where ruling monarchs are concerned.

But the Emperor's thoughts were no longer in the East; it was the consequences of another royal death, occurring on 31 May 1161, which now preoccupied him - that of King Geza II of Hungary. The Hungarians had always been troublesome neighbours, sandwiched as they were between the two great Empires and with interests in Croatia and Dalmatia which could not but conflict with those of Byzantium. Geza had particularly mistrusted the alliance between Conrad and Manuel. In the early years he had not dared to take much serious action, but after Conrad's death he had grown bolder, and had waged intermittent

1 She was the origin of the Princesse Lointaine, made famous by the twelfth-century troubadour poet Jaufre Rudel and, more recently, by Edmond Rostand's play of that name. See also Petrarch's Trionfo d'amort, Swinburne's Triumph of Time and Browning's Rude/ and the Lady of Tripoli.

warfare against Byzantium for the next four years until Manuel, anxious to free his hands for South Italy, negotiated a treaty of peace in 115 6. Neither party, however, had any delusions about its duration: Geza was determined to build up a strong and independent nation, while Manuel's heart was set on nothing less than the elimination of Hungary as a separate state and its incorporation into his Empire.

Geza's death led to a disputed succession, in which Manuel did not hesitate to intervene. His own candidate was Geza's brother Stephen, to whom he sent money and weapons on a considerable scale; but Stephen was ultimately unsuccessful and the throne passed to his nephew and Geza's son, Stephen III. To him, in 1163, Manuel sent his ambassador George Palaeologus with an offer: if Stephen would recognize his younger brother Bela as heir to Croatia and Dalmatia, the Emperor would not only give Bela the hand of his daughter Maria but would make him heir to his own imperial throne. Stephen accepted, and Palaeologus escorted the young Prince back to Constantinople, where he was baptized into the Orthodox Church with the Byzantine name of Alexius and granted the title of Despot - one previously used only by the Emperor himself, and henceforth ranking immediately below him, taking precedence over the titles of both sebastocrator and Caesar.

All this, one might think, should have marked the end of the Hungarian hostilities; it did nothing of the sort. Already in 1164 Manuel and Bela crossed the Danube, on the dubious grounds that Stephen had not kept to his agreement of the previous year. Further campaigns followed — campaigns notable for the outstanding courage shown by the regiment of Seljuks provided by the Sultan under the terms of his treaty - and the fighting continued until 1167, when a major victory by the Byzantine army under Manuel's nephew Andronicus Contostephanus1 left the Emperor in possession of Dalmatia, Bosnia, Sirmium2 and the greater part of Croatia.

Bela and his betrothed played a major part in the ensuing celebrations. It was noted however that after four years their marriage seemed no nearer; and in 1169 the reason for the delay became clear when the Empress Mary bore her husband a son. Now it was Manuel's turn to go back on his undertakings. Breaking off Bela's engagement to his daughter, he married him instead to his wife's half-sister, Princess Anne of

1He was the son of the Emperor's sister Anna, who had married Stephen Contostephanus.

2The region of what is now northern Croatia and north-western Serbia, south of the Drava and Danube rivers.

Chatillon, simultaneously demoting him to the rank of Caesar. Three years later, he made his son - also named Alexius - co-Emperor. Such displeasure as Bela may have felt was quickly dissipated: the spring of that same year of 1172 saw the death of his brother Stephen and - with more than a little help from Manuel - his own accession to the Hungarian throne. Before leaving Constantinople he swore fealty to the basileus, promising that he would always pay due regard to the best interests of the Empire. He was to prove as good as his word.

The success of Manuel's Hungarian policy had another happy result for him: it deprived the constantly rebellious Serbs of their most valuable ally. The imperial army had always managed to quell their repeated insurrections, but had never succeeded in stopping them altogether. In 1167 the Grand Zhupan Stephen Nemanja won a notable victory, and for a time it looked as though Manuel had met his match; but the death of Stephen of Hungary and a major campaign in the summer of 1172 led by the Emperor himself put an end to all Nemanja's hopes. Like Reynald of Chatillon, he was obliged to humble himself before his conqueror, and later to take part in Manuel's triumphal entry into Constantinople as a defeated rebel.

Among the nations of the West, the principal sufferer from these developments was Venice. She too had claims over Dalmatia, where in the past she had been only too pleased to make common cause with the Byzantines against Hungarian rapaciousness; and the reaction on the Rialto to the Emperor's cool annexation of the entire coast can well be imagined. Not that the Venetians expected any better from him: for some time now they had been watching with increasing concern while he allowed Genoa, Pisa and Amalfi steadily to consolidate their positions in Constantinople - formerly, so far as foreign merchants were concerned, the exclusive preserve of the Most Serene Republic. Nearer to home, he was treating the city of Ancona - which still maintained a substantial Greek-speaking population - as if it were a Byzantine colony; there were even rumours that he might be planning to claim it for his Empire, with the obvious long-term objective of reviving the old Exarchate.

But Manuel also had a case. The number of Latins permanently resident in Constantinople at this time was probably not less than eighty thousand, all enjoying the special privileges that he and his predecessors, in moments of economic or political weakness, had been forced to grant. Of these, the Venetians were the most numerous, the most favoured and the most objectionable. Nicetas Choniates, chief of the palace secretariat, goes so far as to complain that their colony had become 'so insolent in its wealth and prosperity as to hold the imperial power in scorn'. It was therefore hardly surprising that the Emperor should wish to teach them a lesson; and before long he was given the perfect opportunity to do so. Some time early in 1171, the new Genoese settlement at Galata — the district of Constantinople on the further side of the Golden Horn - was attacked and largely destroyed. Those responsible for the devastation were never identified; for Manuel, however, here was just the opportunity that he had been looking for. Casting the blame squarely on the Venetians, on 12 March he decreed that all citizens of the Serenissima anywhere on Byzantine soil should be placed under immediate arrest, their ships and property confiscated. A few managed to escape in a Byzantine warship, put at their disposal by a Venetian-born captain in the imperial service; but the majority were less lucky. In the capital alone, ten thousand were seized; and when all the prisons had been filled to bursting, monasteries and convents were requisitioned to accommodate the overspill.

The reaction in Venice when the news reached the Rialto was first incredulity, then fury. The universal belief that the attack on the Genoese had been a pretext deliberately fabricated by the Byzantines was strengthened when the Genoese themselves declared that the Venetians had had nothing to do with it moreover the smoothness and efficiency with which the arrests had been carried out - on the same day throughout the Empire - showed that they must have been carefully planned weeks in advance. It was remembered also that only two years before, to stamp out rumours that he was contemplating an action of this kind, the Emperor had given Venetian ambassadors specific guarantees for the security of their countrymen - guarantees which had actually attracted further Venetian capital to the East and had thus further increased the spoils that he was now enjoying.

The last of the old ties that had bound Venice to Byzantium were forgotten. The Republic was bent on war. A forced loan was ordered, for which every citizen would be liable according to his means;1 Venetians living abroad - such of them, at least, as were not languishing in Manuel's prisons - were recalled home and pressed into service; and in little over three months Doge Vitale Michiel had succeeded in raising a

1 It was to facilitate the collection of this loan that the city was divided into six districts, or sestitri, which still today form the basis of its postal system.

fleet of more than 120 sail which, the following September, he led out of the lagoon against the Empire of the East. Stopping at various points in Istria and Dalmatia to pick up such Venetian subjects as he might find, he continued round the Peloponnese as far as Euboea, where imperial ambassadors were awaiting him. They brought conciliatory messages from their master who, they emphasized, had no wish for war. The Doge had only to send a peace mission to Constantinople; he would then find that all differences could be resolved, on terms that he would not consider unfavourable.

Vitale Michiel accepted. It was the worst mistake of his life. While his emissaries continued their journey to the Bosphorus, he took his fleet on to Chios to await developments. It was there that disaster struck. Plague broke out in the overcrowded ships and spread with terrible speed. By early spring thousands were dead, the survivors so weakened and demoralized as to be unfit for war or anything else. At this point the ambassadors arrived from Constantinople. They had been abominably treated, and their mission had proved a total failure. The Emperor clearly had not the faintest intention of changing his attitude; his only purpose in inviting them had been to gain time while he improved his own defences. Shattered and humiliated, Michiel returned to face a general assembly of his subjects. He would have been better advised to remain in the East. In their eyes he had shown criminal gullibility in falling so completely into a typically Byzantine trap; and now, it appeared, he had brought the plague back to Venice. This last incompetence could not be forgiven. The whole assembly rose against him, while a mob gathered outside calling for his blood. Slipping out of a side door of the palace, the luckless Doge fled to seek asylum in the convent of S. Zaccaria. He never reached it. Before he had gone more than a few hundred yards he was set upon and stabbed to death.

It was to be fourteen years before diplomatic relations were restored between Byzantium and Venice, and thirty-two before the Venetians took their revenge; but only five years after the return of Vitale Michiel and his plague-stricken fleet to the lagoon, the Republic became the centre of attention of all Christendom. On 24 July 1177 Michiel's successor, Sebastiano Ziani, played host to the most important political ceremony of the twelfth century: the formal reconciliation of Pope Alexander III and the Western Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa.

Ever since his ill-fated coronation in the summer of 115 5, Frederick's relations with the Papacy had grown worse and worse. From the outset he had been determined to assert his authority over North Italy; but the vast majority of the cities and towns of Lombardy were just as firmly resolved to break the old feudal fetters in favour of republican self-government, and Pope Adrian supported them. In August 1159, representatives of Milan, Crema, Brescia and Piacenza had met the Pope at Anagni and, in the presence of envoys from King William of Sicily, had sworn the initial pact that was to become the nucleus of the great Lombard League. The towns promised that they would have no dealings with the common enemy without papal consent, while the Pope undertook to excommunicate the Emperor after the usual period of forty days.

But he never did so. While still at Anagni he was stricken by a sudden angina, and on 1 September he died. His death gave Frederick Barbarossa an opportunity to sow yet more dissension. Recognizing that the next Pope, if freely elected, would continue along the lines set by his predecessor, he deliberately engineered a schism within the papal Curia. Thus it was that, just as Cardinal Roland of Siena - who, as Adrian's chancellor, had been the principal architect of his foreign policy - was being enthroned in St Peter's as Pope Alexander III, his colleague Cardinal Octavian of S. Cecilia suddenly seized the papal mantle and put it on himself. Alexander's supporters snatched it back; but Octavian had taken the precaution of bringing another, into which he somehow managed to struggle - getting it on back to front in the process. He then made a dash for the throne, sat on it, and proclaimed himself Pope Victor IV. It was hardly an edifying performance; but it worked. Frederick's ambassadors in Rome immediately recognized Victor as the rightful Pontiff. Virtually all the rest of Western Europe soon gave its allegiance to Alexander, but the damage was done and the chaotic Italian political scene was further bedevilled, for the next eighteen years, by a disputed papacy. Meanwhile Frederick - who had been finally excommunicated by Alexander in March 1160 - continued to do him all the harm he could, even going so far as to arrange for the 'election' - by two tame schismatic cardinals - of another anti-Pope when Victor died four years later.

To Manuel Comnenus, the quarrel between Barbarossa and the Pope seemed a perfect opportunity to re-establish the supremacy of Byzantium throughout Christendom. Since his rival was clearly unwilling to fulfil the Western Emperor's traditional role as protector, he would assume it himself; this new rapprochement might even achieve the reunion of the Eastern and Western Churches, in schism now for well over a century. When therefore two high-ranking papal legates arrived in Constantinople early in 1160, to request the Emperor's support for Alexander against the anti-Pope Victor, he received them warmly; and for the next five years he seems to have maintained secret negotiations with the Pope and the King of France - Louis having to some extent conquered his instinctive mistrust of Byzantium - in the hopes of forming a general alliance of the princes of Europe and the cities and towns of Italy which would eliminate Frederick once and for all.

But the results of these negotiations proved disappointing; and in 1166 Manuel decided to take the bull by the horns and to put to Pope Alexander a firm proposition. He would make a series of important concessions on theological and liturgical matters with the object of ending the schism, and would provide subsidies on a scale which would enable the Pope to buy not only Rome but the whole of Italy if he wanted to; in return, Alexander would award him the imperial crown, thus restoring the old unity of the Empire. The offer was well-timed: the Pope's principal champion, William of Sicily, had died on 7 May and his son and namesake was still a minor. Alexander would have to look elsewhere for support, and Constantinople was the obvious place. Soon afterwards two more cardinals were on their way to the Bosphorus to find out exactly what the Emperor had in mind.

It was, however, no use: the Churches were by now too far apart for any agreement to be possible. We know nothing of the discussions. John Cinnamus tells us that the Pope's first condidon was that Manuel should remove his residence to Rome; if so, he must certainly have refused - such a suggestion could not be seriously contemplated. The cardinals returned, with the outstanding problems no nearer solution than before. A year or so later Manuel tried again, but with no greater success. What he had underestimated was the depth of his own unpopularity in the West where, particularly since the Second Crusade, he was generally believed to harbour sinister designs on Syria and the Holy Land, including the elimination of the Frankish princes and the reintro-duction of the Eastern rite. He also failed to understand that in the eyes of Alexander he was demanding far too much for himself. The Pope's need for support in no way lessened his claim to supremacy: whether there were two Empires or one, the Vicar of Christ on Earth would always come first.

The first five years of the 1170s saw Manuel Comnenus at the pinnacle of his career. In the East, he had imposed his suzerainty over the Crusader states of Outremer, consolidated it with a dynastic marriage and brought the Seljuk Sultan to heel. In the West, he had seen his friend - some would have said his creature - Bela III become King of Hungary and had made huge territorial gains at Hungarian expense; he had humbled the Serbian Grand Zhupan, Stephen Nemanja; and he had broken the power of Venice within his Empire, to his own enormous profit. His only major failure had been his attempt to reconquer South Italy; with that single exception, he could hardly have played his hand better.

But the East and the West were well over a thousand miles apart; Manuel could not be everywhere at once, and after his treaty with Kilij Arslan he had turned his back on Asia Minor for more than a decade. During that time the Seljuk Sultan had not been idle. True, he had avoided any hostile act against the Empire. Gradually, however, he had managed to eliminate one after the other of his principal Muslim rivals until only Nur ed-Din himself was left; and in 1173 word reached Constantinople that the Sultan was intriguing with the Atabeg of Mosul and the two were on the point of forming a military alliance. (Did the Emperor but know it, Kilij Arslan was also in touch with Frederick Barbarossa.) Manuel crossed at once into Asia and at Philadelphia - the modern Ala§ehir — confronted the Sultan, who blandly explained that Nur ed-Din had not forgiven him his Christian alliance and that he had had no choice but to respect his wishes. Byzantium, he assured Manuel, had nothing to fear; meanwhile he was only too happy to renew the earlier treaties.

For the moment, danger had been averted; but on 15 May 1174 the mighty Atabeg of Mosul died in his turn, leaving the Danishmends -whom he had long protected and championed - defenceless against Seljuk strength. Kilij Arslan unhesitatingly annexed their territories, and two refugee Danishmend princes appealed to Constantinople. The next two years were taken up with diplomatic negotiations - the Sultan prevaricating and procrastinating, always reiterating his desire for peace and still more treaties - and minor skirmishes, during which Manuel worked hard to strengthen his frontier fortresses; then, in the summer of 1176, the Emperor marched on Iconium, travelling through Laodicea (near the modern Denizli) and the valley of the upper Meander until he reached the mountainous region near the Seljuk frontier. Here he was met by envoys from the Sultan, with a final offer of peace on generous terms. Most of his senior officers favoured its acceptance, pointing out the hazards of a long journey with heavy equipment — for they had brought their siege engines with them - through the mountains in which the Seljuks occupied all the strategic high places. Unfortunately the army also contained a number of young noblemen eager for their first experience of battle. They pressed hard for a continuation of the campaign, and the Emperor foolishly heeded them.

Just beyond the ruined fortress of Myriocephalum, Manuel's route led through the long pass of Tzybritze, so narrow that when they entered it on 17 September the imperial troops and their baggage were strung out over a distance of some ten miles. Until that moment the Turks had restricted their activities to minor harassment by small bands of irregulars; now they struck, sweeping down on the army from the mountains to each side and deliberately concentrating their fire on the beasts of burden, whose dead bodies quickly rendered the road impassable. Baldwin of Antioch, brother of the Emperor's new wife, charged with his cavalry regiment up the hill and into the thick of the enemy; he and all his men were killed. Had Manuel shown something of the same spirit, the day might have been saved; but at this of all moments his courage deserted him. In a hasty council of war he horrified his senior officers by suddenly announcing his intention of taking flight. The commanding general Andronicus Contostephanus made a strong protest, his words being echoed by a common soldier who, having overheard the discussion, bitterly reproached the Emperor for wishing to abandon an army whose loss was due entirely to his own imprudence. Manuel reluctantly agreed to remain; but his reputation was badly injured and was never fully to recover.

As dawn broke the Seljuks resumed the attack, and for some time it looked as though a general massacre was inevitable. Then there was a sudden lull; and a Turkish emissary arrived at the imperial camp, leading a finely caparisoned horse which, he said, was a present from his master. The Sultan, he reported, had no desire for further bloodshed; if the Emperor would agree to destroy the fortifications of Dorylaeum and Sublaeum - two fortresses which he had strengthened only a year or two before - he for his part would be happy to conclude a treaty of peace. Hardly able to believe his good fortune, Manuel accepted; and the two armies withdrew.1

Nicetas Choniates tells us that on the homeward journey the Emperor

1 Michael the Syrian suggests that the Sultan also insisted on the payment of a considerable sum of money - something a good deal easier to believe than Manuel's own testimony, in a letter written to Henry II of England, to the effect that Kilij Arslan also offered to return his Christian captives and to assist the Empire against all its enemies (Roger of Hoveden, Annals, AD 1176).

had wished to follow an alternative route, but that his guides insisted on taking him back past the scene of the battle so that he could see for himself the full extent of the slaughter. It was a painful journey, with the remnants of the army still under intermittent attack from armed bands of Seljuk Turks who, cheated of what they considered their legitimate spoils by the unexpected peace, had quite simply refused to recognize it. When at last he reached Sublaeum, Manuel ordered the razing of the fortifications as he had promised. A few days later at Philadelphia he sent messengers to the capital with a full report of the disaster, comparing it to that of Manzikert - except, he pointed out, that he himself had not been captured like his predecessor Romanus, and that Kilij Arslan had agreed to make peace.

The question remains: why had the Sultan done so? He had been given a matchless opportunity to destroy the effective military power of the Byzantine Empire; why had he not taken it? We shall never know. Perhaps he was unaware of the extent of his victory. He himself had probably sustained quite heavy losses, and may have been less certain than Manuel of the battle's final outcome. Perhaps, too, he felt that he might well be in need of the Empire's diplomatic - and even military -support in the future. In any case, the dismantling of the two fortresses, enabling as it would his subjects to spread themselves without let or hindrance through the Sangarius and Meander valleys, would in itself be no small reward; nor could it be doubted that Myriocephalum had destroyed Manuel's hopes of reimposing his rule across Asia Minor. He was to make one or two more defensive and retaliatory sorties on a small scale; but never again would he lead a major campaign in the East. In future, it would be all that his shattered army could do to man the frontier.

This is not to say that there was no more serious fighting. It soon became plain that once back in Constantinople the Emperor, despite his solemn undertaking, had no intention of touching the fortifications of Dorylaeum, and in 1177 or thereabouts - the chronology is not entirely clear - the furious Kilij Arslan led his army deep into imperial territory and ravaged the whole Meander valley, sacking Tralles and Pisidian Antioch. But this operation, and others that were to follow, was in the nature of a raid rather than a permanent invasion and made no ultimate difference to the map of Anatolia.

What, ultimately, did Manuel Comnenus achieve in the East? Where the Saracens were concerned, absolutely nothing - owing to a single cardinal mistake. Trusting too much to the peace treaty signed with Kilij Arslan in 1162, he had left him for the next eleven years to his own devices. Thisdetente - assisted by the immense amount of gold and silver given to the Sultan during his twelve weeks in Constantinople - had allowed him to eliminate his Muslim rivals and establish himself as the only important force to be reckoned with in Eastern Anatolia. Thus Manuel, through a combination of wild generosity and a curious lack of political foresight, had succeeded only in replacing a number of small and mutually hostile rulers with a single determined one - by whom he was finally defeated.

In the spring of 1178 Philip, Count of Flanders, passed through Constantinople on his way back from the Holy Land. The Emperor received him with his usual generous hospitality, presented to him his little son Alexius and suggested that on his return to France the Count might like to sound out King Louis on the possibility of a marriage between the young Prince and one of the King's daughters. Philip agreed, and in due course Louis consented in his turn. So it came about that at Easter 1179 the Princess Agnes of France - Louis's daughter by his third wife Alix of Champagne - set out for Constantinople and a new life in the East; and on Sunday, 2 March 1180, in the Triclinium of the Great Palace, the Patriarch Theodosius celebrated her marriage to Alexius and laid the imperial diadem on her head. She was nine years old, her husband ten.

It was Manuel's last diplomatic success. Within a matter of weeks he fell seriously ill. Weakening both in mind and body - he had never been the same after Myriocephalum - he now gave himself up more and more to the attentions of his court astrologers, who comforted him by prophesying that he would live another fourteen years, during which time he would lead his armies to victory after victory. Such was his trust in them that until his very last days he refused to make any arrangements for the regency during Alexius's minority. Meanwhile the astrologers, in an attempt to divert attention from the inaccuracy of their previous predictions, spoke darkly of coming earthquakes and other natural cataclysms; and the Emperor, panic-stricken, ordered the excavation of deep subterranean shelters and even the demolition of certain parts of the palace.

The earthquakes failed to occur; but by mid-September Manuel could no longer doubt the approach of death. He spoke tearfully of his son, and of the difficulties that he would have to face on his succession; but he was no longer capable of planning any effective dispensations. At last he bowed to the entreaties of the Patriarch and made a formal renunciation of the astrologers and his belief in them; then he sighed deeply, took his pulse and asked for an ordinary monk's habit. His imperial insignia were removed, he struggled as best he could into the rough homespun, and shortly afterwards, on 24 September, aged about sixty, he died. He was buried in the church of the Pantocrator, near the entrance. Many years before, he had carried on his own shoulders from the Boucoleon port to the Great Palace the heavy stone, recently brought from Ephesus, on which Christ's body was said to have been laid after its deposition from the cross. This stone was now placed upon his tomb.

It is impossible not to feel sorry for Manuel. Of the five Comnenus Emperors, he was the most brilliant, the most imaginative; and these very qualities were perhaps his undoing. His father and grandfather had worked slowly and patiently to minimize the damage done by Manzikert, proceeding cautiously and step by step. Manuel's quicksilver mind saw possibilities everywhere; and once seen they were immediately pursued. Had he concentrated, as he should have done, on the situation in the East and the threat posed by Kilij Arslan, he might have re-established Byzantine power throughout Anatolia. But he remained fascinated by the West, and allowed his attention to be taken up in turn by Italy and Hungary, Serbia and Venice, the Western Emperor and the Pope. He gained many victories, military and diplomatic, but he consolidated none of them; by the time he died, nearly all his achievements had proved temporary and he left the Empire in a worse state than he found it.

And poorer too. Manuel's diplomacy was based, even more than that of most of his fellow-princes, on subsidies, sweeteners and bribes. He was extravagant in his own tastes and insanely generous not only to his friends but to virtually everyone with whom he came in contact. Finally, the scale and frequency of his campaigns drained his Empire dry, both of money and of men. He had continued his father's policy of settling war prisoners in various regions and making them liable for military service, thereby reviving the old system of smallholder-soldiers on which the Empire had relied in former centuries; but such measures remained quite inadequate to meet his demands. As a result he was obliged to hire ever-increasing numbers of mercenaries, who lived off the local populations - taking, as Nicetas Choniates tells us, 'not only their money but even the very shirts off their backs'.

All this is more than enough to account for Manuel's unpopularity in the provinces of the Empire; but even in Constantinople he seems to have had few real friends. The trouble here was, once again, the attraction that he always felt for Western Europe: its art, its customs, its institutions. His subjects were disgusted by the way Western visitors always received a warmer welcome than those from the East, and in particular by his preference for Western architects whenever there was a new house or palace to be built. They were shocked by the informality of his manners - by the light-hearted way, for example, in which he would enter a Western-style tournament (surely bad enough in itself) and compete on equal terms with Frankish knights. Finally, they resented the constant implication that they were old-fashioned, sticking to outdated concepts and outmoded traditions. They were glad to see him go.

Fortunately for him, he went just in time, leaving his successors to reap the wild wind. He also missed the Third Crusade, the spectre of which - for he had known that it must come - had haunted him through the last years of his life. For that, admittedly, he cannot be blamed; but of the other misfortunes that were to descend upon Byzantium, many -perhaps most - were of his making. He left behind him a heavy heritage: one that would have defeated better men by far than those who were, alas, to succeed him.

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