Episode 244 – Not Completely Unreasonable

A really helpful map from https://imperiobizantino.wordpress.com Excellent work showing the disputed areas between the Christian and Muslim powers of Anatolia, Outremer and the Caucuses.

Manuel deals with the aftermath of the Battle of Myriokephalon. He is left out of an Italian peace conference and must negotiate a peace of his own in Anatolia. He continues his efforts to position Byzantium as a friend of the Latins. And we look at his church and financial policies.

Period: 1176-80

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6 thoughts on “Episode 244 – Not Completely Unreasonable

  1. Brent

    Like you I am conflicted on Manuel’s reign. I think his continued interest in Italy was the only really unsound policy of his reign. Byzantine dominance of the Balkans and, to a lesser extent Hungary, was crucial for security; as was making Byzantium a respectable naval power again. Unifying the crowns of Budapest and Constantinople was a daring move…but doomed to failure due to religious differences.

    We have to remember the mindset of the times as well. It was inconceivable for the Byzantine Emperor to not try to exercise his role of Autocrator over Outremer, even though it seems crazy to us how much effort Maneul and John spent trying to bring rather distant realms to heel. Making Byzantium a sea power again would have certainly gone a ways to enforcing this though.

  2. David Thompson

    I have read quite often how it was a mistake for the Byzantines to not focus on Anatolia, but listening to the previous episode, it seems there was a lack of defensible terrain and forts on the plateau. It would also seem that if the Turks were dislodged from the area, there would just be more coming in from Persia as some warlord wanted independence or glory. I assume that the Cuman mercenaries mentioned were used to counter the Turkish horse archers, but other than that, would the Byzantines be able to counter the steppe fighters with their own troops? I remember during the days of Justinian that there seemed to be some attempt to copy the Huns, was there a similar attempt during Manuel’s time?
    Am I over emphasizing the role of cavalry by the Turks?

    On a somewhat unrelated note, I am surprised that even though Manuel seemed to have a lack of success militarily, he was able to keep financially solvent (complaints of high taxes in the episode hinting at why). Do we have any idea of the kind of financial and manpower resources available? One thing I have been curious about is Constantinople’s financial position. I remember reading about how Rome was a vast sink for money and population, eating up both, but Constantinople seems to not have the free grain dole or the scale of public works or games that Rome did during the empire. I think Rome was also tax exempt until Diocletian. I assume that during this time the same was not true in Constantinople though.

    • Great questions. I’ll talk about the Turks in the episode. As for Constantinople – definitely not tax exempt. And grain remained subsidised but not free. The presence of more and more Italian merchants was bringing lots of coins into the capital itself. But in general the Empire remained wealthy just because its tax system kept functioning. After Alexios reformed the coinage and the tax rates cash started to be readily available again. Hence Manuel’s ability to raise a fleet and a large army within 2 years. But the Myriokephalon army was said to be 20-40,000 strong and seems to have cost all Manuel could spare to raise. The suggestion being that an army of that size couldn’t be raised every year. Whereas pre-Manzikert that size of army was raised regularly as well as a standing fleet. So there has been a decline but not a dramatic one in terms of finances since 1070.

  3. Russ Rutherford

    Another great run of episodes for another fascinating reign. I’ve been enjoying and drinking in the Roman success, as the bolder is going to start rolling again soon. Oh, well. What is a history fan to do? I have several questions about Manuel’s reign and a few for the time period in general.

    1. First off, during the 2nd Crusade, is it just me or did Manuel not organize supply as well as Alexios did for the First Crusade? I noticed that there were markets available to Conrad and Louis’ armies, but was Manuel not using the army’s supply system as Alexios did? I ask because I don’t remember hearing of complaints about the prices locals were charging in the Balkans during the 1st Crusade. I also remember that Alexios had provided coins for the soldiers to buy in markets exclusively set up for them. I just wonder if Manuel was organizing supply in a different way, because it seemed that what he was doing didn’t function as well and if it didn’t, I wonder why he didn’t use his grandfather’s playbook.

    Also, it seems that no such markets were established in Anatolia when Louis’ army passed through. Manuel seemed to be providing supplies at the major stopping points such as Nicea, Ephesus, and Atalya, but outside that they only seemed able to buy what locals would lower down from the walls. Do I understand this situation correctly? Could Manuel have possibly got on better with the crusaders if his approach had been more like Alexios’?

    2. Also, you mentioned that the military commander at Laodicia was supposed to assist the crusaders, but he was not there. Do we know where he went or why since he was expecting important guests?

    3. Regarding Manuel’s interventions in Italy against the Normans, even though it was expensive and did not achieve the goals Manuel had for it, could it be said that it was successful in keeping the Normans on their side of the Adriatic? I notice that we did not hear of follow up attacks after the raid when the Romans were besieging Corfu, could Manuel’s Italian policy be responsible for the change, or do you think it was something else I am not aware of?

    4. When you talked about Manuel’s interest in astrology/ the zodiac you mentioned that it seemed to be important to the Komnenians. Is there any evidence that John or Alexios were involved in that or was it something in Manuel’s generation? I don’t imagine either of the older emperors going in for that but I wondered when you said that there were zodiac decorations in the Pantocrator complex if that meant that John was involved or if that was something that was added later by Manuel.

    5. Since Manuel did not attack to subdue the Armenians as aggressively as John had done when Manuel was retaking Cilicia, did he wind up controlling less territory in the region than his father did? I was also wondering, When Andronikos was made governor of Cilicia and then fled, did that cause any territorial changes when he left? Were the Romans able to continue to hold Cilicia after Andronikos left?

    6. After Manuel’s extremely successful campaign against the Turks in 1160, I, like you, also felt Manuel missed an opportunity to make more progress in Anatolia. If he had continued to campaign against the Turks of Iconium more consistently do you think he could have strengthened his vassalage of the Armenians and the Crusader states and not only gained ground in Anatolia but been able to exert better control over Antioch and Cilicia and maybe even helped the Outremer states more? It just seems to me that Manuel always wanted to dominate his neighbors and use them against his enemies and I can’t help but wonder if he couldn’t have better fulfilled the old family project better and controlled his allies more by keeping up the pressure. Or if he wanted to make peace initially, I don’t see why he couldn’t have continued once the Turks reneged on returning former Roman cities like their treaty stipulated. What do you think?

    7. Two quick questions about Manuel’s army, When you said that Manuel replaced Conrad’s men’s weapons and armor with Byzantine weapons, do we know if those would have been different from their old gear? Do we know how Komnenian armies were kitted out? Also, from the description of the battle the Romans had against the Hungarians in 1167, would it be safe to assume that native heavy cavalry had made something of a comeback by Manuel’s day? Descriptions of heavily armored riders creating havok with their maces gave me Nicephorus flashbacks. Also, had the Romans began to train native horse archers again like in Justinian’s day or was it all foreigner mercenaries or guys on pronoia plots?

    8. Manuel’s great arrest of Venetians in response to several threats, various bouts of street violence, and being ignored by their ally when requesting assistance and other forms of hostility, do you think Manuel could have found a better solution to Venetian excesses? I know that it was a harsh response and it infuriated an important ally, but I feel Venice’s behavior has been alarming for some time now, in spite of all the benefits of the relationship for both sides. I agree that Manuel has had several follies and some big mistakes but I find myself being a little more forgiving for this one, under the circumstances, but it is a tough call. What do you think? What do you think he should have done instead?

    9. Finally, do you think it would be fair to say that Manuel was good at maintaining what his father and grandfather had built, but not as good at improving the empire’s position on the world stage? He definitely met every challenge and seems to have run the empire fairly well in a complicated time, but like you, I think he could have made some better long term solutions, particularly in the East.

    Hey, thanks again Robin for making a great podcast. It remains my favorite way to learn medieval history and it is a whole lot of fun.

    • Thanks so much for the kind words and the excellent questions. I may respond to some here if I can’t fit them into the episode.

      • Hey,
        1) I don’t think I have a huge amount to add than was in the podcast. Manuel was not consulted about the Crusade the way Alexios was. He was also surprised to hear that the Germans were coming. Initially he thought it was just the French who were coming. So the whole operation made him anxious and his major concern was to get the Latins across the sea as quickly as possible. He didn’t have the specific goals that Alexios had when the 1st Crusade passed through.
        We will talk a bit about Western Anatolia in the podcast that’s coming soon. But I think its fair to say that the provinces here were less secure and less rich than those the Crusaders had passed through in the Balkans. Manuel therefore had less control over the behaviour of individual commanders and cities. Those cities were used to being harassed by the Turks and so they responded to the Latins in a similar manner.
        2) We have no further information about this. Again out here on the border of the plateau Manuel had much less control over events. The commander may not have had direct orders to stay where he was. He may have just been told to aid the Latins as best he could. He may then have fled believing that the Latins would attack his position. Or believing they would take all his food and so he retreated to somewhere safer to wait for them to pass. Just speculation though…
        3) The Normans only attacked Byzantium when it was distracted by some other problem. With Manuel vigilant throughout his reign (post 2nd Crusade) they didn’t have a good opportunity. Once he’s gone they will be back.
        4) Yes I think it was a Komnenian interest and not restricted to Manuel. The church was built during John’s reign so the decoration may have been approved by him. Astrology was popular throughout the Empire’s history. The church was never able to stamp it out.
        5) Yes the Romans kept losing and regaining control of the cities of Cilicia during Manuel’s reign. I stopped covering it because it was essentially meaningless. The Romans maintained fortresses in the mountains of Isauria which meant they could always return to the region safely. If they’d wanted to retake the cities they could have but Manuel was busy elsewhere. It’s probably safe to assume that the cities of Cilicia did not send money to the treasury. It would all be spent locally. So the Armenians taking control of the cities for a few years was not the end of the world.
        6) I agree.
        7) I imagine they gave them generic Byzantine armour. Ask me again in 1204 if you want me to go into detail. The heavy cavalry were definitely still around. They just weren’t built into the centre of the army the way Nicephorus Phokas did. They were very expensive to maintain and so only the richest aristocrats tended to fight in true heavy armour where they and their horse would be virtually impossible to kill with arrows. Small detachments would have been kept since Phokas’ day. But they were only really useful against an enemy who stood still and allowed you time to charge.
        8) This one I answered on the last pod.
        9) Yes I think that’s a fair summary. But he had a more complicated situation to deal with than John did.

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