John II Komnenos (1118–1143)

John II Komnenos (1118–1143)

Despite opposition from his mother and sister in favor of his brother-in-law Nikephoros Bryennios, John succeeded his father in 1118. Those and other challenges during the first years of his reign (all from within the family) testify to the strength of Alexios’s court, in which relationship to the Komnenoi was paramount. John’s reign was essentially one that continued his father’s policies, especially in terms of military activity, although there is the sense that his untimely death cut short many of his plans. John campaigned successfully in the Balkans against the Patzinaks in 1122 and against the Hungarians in 1128. He started a needless war with Venice by refusing to renew the privileges that Alexios had granted to the city. By 1126 when John relented and renewed the treaty, he had realized that there was little hope of winning the war, and that his preoccupation with Venice was preventing him from campaigning in Anatolia. John set about trying to recover the eastern provinces lost after 1071 by attacking the Seljuk and Danishmendid Turks in Anatolia, and by besieging the crusader city of Antioch in Syria. Although John left these eastern powers with a new respect for Byzantium (he was never defeated on the field), he failed to recover any useful territory or restore the empire's eastern borders.

The most noteworthy non-military policy of John’s reign, at least as is clear from the scarce narrative sources for the period, was taken by his megas logariastes John of Poutze: the centralization of naval finances by having the taxes of maritime provinces paid directly to the fisc, rather than going to maintain the provincial fleet. John of Poutze’s control over finances, and his reputed miserliness, would provoke sharp censure from the historian Niketas Choniates. John set off for Antioch in 1142, and after an unsuccessful demonstration against the city retired to Cilicia for the winter before finally besieging the city in 1143. However, John was injured while hunting at his winter camp and died, having never attempted the siege.

The seals of John largely maintain the same design as his father: Christ enthroned on the obverse with a standing portrait of the emperor on the reverse, with the exception of the addition of porphyrogennetos, “born in the purple,” to the reverse inscription. This title, used from as early as the sixth century to refer specifically to the children born to a reigning emperor, furthered the concept of hereditary rule that acquired full articulation under the Komnenoi.

 

 
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