Episode 245 – Means and Ends

I answer listener questions about Manuel’s reign.

Period: 1143-80

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Categories: Podcast | 12 Comments

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12 thoughts on “Episode 245 – Means and Ends

  1. Brent

    Another great episode Robin! A lot of things to digest.

    I never thought of envisioning Byzantium as essentially a city-state, although it seems obvious once you mentioned it. 🙂 It makes me wonder if this was not a weakness in the end. When The Roman Empire split up in the mid 3rd century under Gallienus each portion was able to defend itself effectively. Military power was decentralized to a degree. In Byzantium, without the Theme System, the lack of a strong central power controlling Constantinople made the rest of the Empire extremely vulnerable.

    Also; much of Byzantine history focuses on the Turks since we know what is to come. But what made this possible was the emergence of major powers in the West; Byzantium’s rulers were simply unable to martial the resources to fight on 2 fronts against Peer level adversaries. Manuel might have seen this, hence his heavy focus on diplomatic efforts. Gold spent keeping the peace, in one way or another, versus paying for war has always been a feature of Byzantium.

    I would argue that the Turks only became the main threat to Byzantium in the late 13th century, 100 years after Manuel’s death. No scenario exists where I can see them taking Constantinople by siege under the Kommenoi.

    Your thoughts?

    • No definitely the Turks were not a threat to Byzantium at this stage. They had no navy. If 1204 hadn’t happened it’s possible the Turks would never have reached Constantinople.

      One of the big problems of city-state era Constantinople (650-1050) is that the Emperors didn’t want to leave armies on the frontiers. It was too dangerous since those Generals could march to the Bosphorus in a couple of weeks. In the old larger Empire it was easier to have Praesental armies (in the Emperor’s presence) and still have enough men to have frontier forces as well.

  2. Peter

    Great episode as usual. Have you come across any information about the place of eunuchs in the
    In the Imperial administration during the Comnenian period, and after? It seems as if they disappeared from the scene in this period.

    Thank you.

    • Yeah the fact that the Komnenoi used so many family members in senior court positions meant that eunuchs lost the prominent positions they’d once had. They were still around though. We hear of several serving Andronikos when he becomes Emperor.

  3. Russ Rutherford

    As usual, I am greatly enjoying your analysis of Manuel’s reign. I have been looking forward to the Komnenians for quite some time and this has been great. Looking forward to the breakdown of the Anatolian situation and in that vein I had a couple of questions.

    I was very surprised to learn that the Roman Clergy had at some point begun to require Muslims to renounce Allah as part of the conversion ceremony to Christianity. Especially since, as I understand it, that is the Arabic word for “God” and that Arabic speaking Christians and Jews used that word both before and after the advent of Islam. I vaguely remember from one of the previous end of the century tours, that the clergy were instructed not to make this requirement for Muslims more in line with the rules Manuel forced through at the end of his reign. Do we know when or why this formula changed?

    On a related note, Do we have any idea how many Turks were living in Roman territory as Roman citizens, by Manuel’s day? Apart from Taktikios and John Auxouch (originally prisoners), I remember that Alexios encouraged several local commanders/ troops to convert and join the Empire ( when fighting Abul Qasim, or after taking Nicea) and I also remember on one campaign (maybe John Doukas?) where some Turkish populations willingly stayed in Roman territory when it changed hands and agreed to cause no trouble, and I think the odd Turkish noblemen has joined the Empire as well. Do we hear of any Turks settled permanently on pronoia grants or anything similar? It seems like an effort has been made to recruit in Turkish territory and since Alexios and John both expanded in Anatolia and since the Romans are not usually picky about new recruits I wondered if we know how much this changed the demography of the Empire.

    Generally speaking, do we know how Turks were received into Roman society? Were they always required to convert to Christianity, or did the authorities take a more lenient stance? Do any sources comment on their presence or show any particular attitude toward them or their ability to integrate into Roman society?

    As for life in Roman Anatolian territory in this period, how had that been going? I know that there has been raiding, war and also several periods of truce. How has life in retaken Roman territory been over the past century? Have demographics, the economy, or local defense changed much? Constantinople’s wars with the Turks seem to be more centralized than in previous eras, and you spoke of Manuel’s fortifications around Pergamum, but do we get insights into border warfare or other contacts with the nomads or how common or damaging raids have been?

    Finally, are there any plans to discuss how life has changed in the Balkans during the Komnenian period? I am curious about population, demography, or how the Romans and their post Basil II subjects are getting along in this period? I know it’s all going to come crashing down soon, But, I would like to take one last admiring look at the Empire before everything gets re ordered again.

    Anyway, I leave it all in your very capable hands and know that I am enjoying your work, even when, sniff,sniff, disaster is on the horizon. But on a positive note, the Romans bounce back again and there is plenty of fascinating stuff to learn. Thanks again, Robin.

    • More good questions.
      1) You’d have to remind me what I said before about the treatment of Muslims in the past. Obviously dealing with settled populations on the Eastern border in the 9-10th centuries was very different to what we’re talking about here. During the Phokas-Basil II era the Romans had to welcome non-Chalcedonian Christians and some Muslims into the Eastern provinces just to populate those areas. So it would have been counter productive to go around trying to convert people. In Manuel’s day the clergy were dealing with Byzantine or Turkish people crossing into Byzantium to settle permanently. So they were concerned to make sure they were ‘real’ Christians and would fit in.
      2) We’ll talk about this on the podcast but I have no data to give even vague estimates. Certainly some Turkic troops were taken in but not in such large numbers that we know of a permanent settlement in the Balkans just for them.
      3) We’ll talk about this on the podcast. But in both Byzantium and the Seljuk realm you needed to be a Christian/Muslim in order to hold office and command troops. Aside from a few specialised positions.
      4) On the podcast.
      5) Ask me again in 1204.
      Thanks so much,

      • Russ Rutherford

        Hello again, Robin. I wanted to thank you for your excellent answers to my questions both in the podcast and here. It is great having access to someone who has studied the Romans in such detail and can provide good analysis and answer the many questions I have when learning about history. Also, congratulations on your exciting news. Speaking from personal experience fatherhood is the greatest thing in the world. Drink it in and enjoy it.

        It took me a while to find it in the old end of the century episodes to specify what I meant before about what seems to be a change in the Orthodox clergy’s response to whether converts from Islam should deny Allah as part of conversion but I did run it down. I was referring to something you said in episode 84 The Leftovers. Toward the end of the episode when you were discussing how the Romans and the Arabs understanding of each other had improved/evolved. I believe you said that converts were not to be asked to deny the god of the Muslims because they seemed to believe both faiths shared the same God. I think the stuff I said about the Arabic word “Allah” predating Islam and continuing to be used by Arabs of other faiths (like Christians and Jews) I got from somewhere else. So I am still wondering if there is any information out there that gives any insight to why Manuel had to fight with his clergy about this issue when in the 8th century Orthodox clergy were apparently not demanding “the god of the Muslims” be renounced. I wonder, could it have something to do with the Turks themselves and the Romans’ interactions with them as opposed to the Arabs or if the language tradition for words for God are somehow different among Turks as opposed to the Arabs? I really don’t know and whether you are able to find out or not, know that I appreciate all the answers you are able to give and the wonderful detail you are able to provide to the casual student of Roman history and how well you bring the story of the Romans to life. It really is great work.

        On an unrelated note, are there any plans for anything like your “House of War” episodes in other eras? I think one in the 10th century or in the Komnenian era would be really cool, or maybe something embedded in a crusade. I thought that series was brilliant and particularly helped back in the 8th century to help visualize border war when the sources were a little too brief for campaigns.

        Anyway, keep up the good work, and if you are looking for other Byzantine names to avoid, I was just thinking the other day that we just haven’t heard the name “Nicephorus” anywhere near enough.

      • Hey, I imagine the difference with conversion was to do with the physical location of the two sides. So in the 10th century the type of Muslim converts would have all been in the East – where the Byzantine clergy were also having to deal with Monophysites and Armenians. So I suspect the atmosphere was much more permissive. In Manuel’s day the converts were in Anatolia – many of them the children of an Orthodox parent. The clergy in Western Anatolia would have been quite unused to compromising and may have felt they needed to hold a firm line with half Turkish people and force them to abandon all their old habits.
        On the ‘House of War’ – did you know there are 4 more of these episodes available on Patreon? I am open to doing more semi-fictional episodes but I generally follow the sources. Several people suggested I do one about Romans living in Turkish controlled Anatolia but we just don’t have enough information about their lives to work with.
        Best wishes,

  4. Noam

    “Men would not travel to the Holy Land, if they were going to return destitute”

    That’s an interesting statement but is somewhat disproved by the fact that many crusaders did return destitute. Crusading was an astonishingly expensive activity and it is very difficult to see how it could have been done for financial reasons, despite what some older and outdated historians suggest.

    • I’m talking here about the ongoing traffic back and forth to Outremer. But many people who joined the first crusade were hoping to get rich. Though we know many came home poor that doesn’t change the perception that riches were on offer

      • Noam

        “many people who joined the first crusade were hoping to get rich”
        I’m happy to be corrected but I don’t think that’s the case. Or at least I’m not aware of any strong primary evidence to support that claim. The vast majority of crusaders went at immense financial cost to themselves. We know from charters and wills that they always planned to return (which the vast majority did). We also know from these charters that the first thing on their minds was the promised penitential reward not the wealth they might get. There are a few crusade leaders who’ve been caricatured as purely materialistic, like Bohemond of Taranto and Baldwin, but the reality was probably more complicated.

  5. I think we’re talking at cross purposes at this point. I covered the motives of crusaders in great detail on the podcast. But the behaviour of the combatants during the various sieges points to the importance of money.
    My point in this episode was simply that the ongoing interest in Outremer had to pay for itself or else it would have failed to attract the interest of powers like the Venetians who it depended on for assistance. I’m not suggesting individuals would not have wanted to go on a pilgrimage as I made clear on the podcast multiple times.

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