Manuel I Comnenus (1143-1180)


Manuel, the fourth and youngest son of John II Komnenos and his Hungarian wife Piroska-Irene, was born 28 November 1118. He succeeded to the throne aged 25, in 1143, despite having one surviving elder brother, Isaak. He was brave and great soldier. They said that he was so huge that no one could handle his shield and his spear.

His marriage in January 1146 to Bertha of Sulzbach, the sister-in-law of the German emperor Conrad III, sealed a Byzantine alliance with the Germans which lasted until 1156. The professed common ambition of both imperial powers was to eliminate the Norman presence in southern Italy.

The second crusade took place in 1147, while Manuel was laying siege to Ikonion, which was under turkish occupation. German Conrad III and french Ludobic VII were the leaders. They also pillaged cities through their passage in the Byzantine State, and the Greeks did not help them at all during their campaign. This resulted in the total destruction of western army in 1149.

In 1161, Manuel got married for second time, with Maria, a princess from Antiochea. At that time the Eastern Empire was flourishing. All the external enemies were neutralized. Hungarians had civil wars, Antiochea was again tributary to the empire, Toros the king of Armenia was hiding in the mountains of Cilikia, and sultan of Ikonion, Kilts Arslan, had promised eternal peace and friendship with the greek emperor.

Turks again started to pillage cities and Manuel marched to Ikonion in 1176. He had underestimated Kilts Arslan and he ignored the advices of his generals. The greek army entered in a gorge in Myriokephalon, September 17th, and was surrounded by enemy forces. The army was totally defeated, the attempt to drive back turkish invaders out of Mikra Asia failed. Turks strengthened their presence in central Minor Asia. Great generals Andronikos Vatatzes and Ioannes Katakouzenus were killed. This was another great desaster for medieval Hellenism, after the battle of Mazikert 1071, because the best part of the Greek Empire, Mikra Asia, was lost.

Manuel had tried again without success to take away Venetian trading privileges, but they made alliance with Normans and pillaged again aegean islands. So in 1179, Manuel permitted to Venetians to keep their bases in Constantinople.

Shortly before his death Manuel took the monastic name Matthew. He never recovered the defeat at Myriokephalon. He died September 24, 1180. He was buried in his father's foundation, the Pantokrator Monastery in Constantinople. Cyril Mango has identified the lid of his sarcophagus, carved in the shape of a church with seven domes, in a drawing of 1750. A poetic epitaph for the emperor has been preserved in the Geography of Meletios of Ioannina (d. 1714), who records the features of the Pantokrator.