Manuel I Komnenos (1143–1180)

Manuel I Komnenos (1143–1180)

As with the accession of his father, Manuel’s was contested. He was the youngest son of John II, and was with his father when he died in Cilicia in 1143. Even though his older brother Isaakios was still alive, and in the capital, Manuel's supporters gained control of the palace and he was able to enter Constantinople and be crowned emperor. His foreign policy was the most wide-ranging of the Komnenoi. In the Balkans he fought wars against the Serbs and Hungarians early in his reign, but, following his alliance with Bela III of Hungary, Manuel became overlord of Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia, while gaining considerable influence in Hungary itself.

In the East Manuel extended Byzantium's boundaries by annexing much of Cilicia, buying the County of Edessa, and forcing the submission of Antioch. He was also involved in ambitious plans to conquer Egypt. The new heights to which Manuel carried Byzantine prestige amongst the crusader states can be seen in the ceremony of his triumphal entry into Antioch in 1159. Manuel made a ceremonial entry into the city on horseback while the Prince of Antioch and King of Jerusalem walked behind him on foot.

In the West Manuel had to deal with the Second Crusade and the newly united Norman kingdom of Sicily. The Second Crusade reached Byzantium in 1147 with contingents led by the German Emperor and the King of France. Although Manuel provided ships to transport the crusaders to the Holy Land, and he became friends with the German Emperor, he was largely blamed in the West for the failure of the crusade as a whole, particularly by Odo of Deuil, a chronicler in the party of Louis VII of France who proved to be an incompetent crusader and needed someone to blame. Taking advantage of Manuel's preoccupation with the crusade, Roger of Sicily sacked a number of important towns in Greece. Manuel responded by invading Italy and for a while held part of the mainland as a protectorate.

Not all of Manuel's actions were successful: in 1171 Manuel poisoned Byzantine relations with Venice by arresting and expelling her citizens from the empire and confiscating their property. Furthermore, after decades of largely ignoring Anatolia, during which time the Sultans of Iconion united most of the Turks of the region into a unified polity, he suffered a major defeat at their hands at Myriokephalon in 1176, which threatened to unravel much of his life's work.

From a social perspective, Manuel’s reign witnessed growth of Western influence at the Byzantine court and in life in general. Manuel's second wife was a princess of Antioch, and the emperor himself took part in jousting contests organised in the hippodrome in Constantinople. Notable during his reign is the expansion of the pronoia system, which assigned to individuals, originally members of the Komnenian family but increasingly common soldiers, specific tax revenues, diverted from the fisc, instead of direct payment from the imperial coffers.

On the obverse of his seals and coins Manuel employed Christ Emmanuel: he is depicted as unbearded and fleshier than the portraits that prevailed after the introduction of Christ by Justinian II. The imperial portrait on the seals is of the same type as those of Alexios I and John II, but he holds in his left hand an anexikakia rather than a globus cruciger. The two had distinct symbolic meanings—the former, according to Hendy, “a representation of the life-giving law,” and the latter a symbol of ecumenical rule—but their employment on seals and coins seems to have had little significance beyond their basic identity as imperial insignia. Finally, Manuel retains the epithet porphyrogennetos, first introduced on seals by his father.

 
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