or JOANNES II. COMNE'NUS (Καλο-Ιωάννης ὁ Κομνηνός
), one of the greatest and best emperors of the East, the eldest son and successor of Alexis I. Comnenus, was born in 1088. His real name was Joannes. His diminutive stature, tawny complexion, and ugly features, distinguished him, not to his advantage, from among the other princes of the handsome Comnenian race; and it would seem that his name Calo-Joannes, or John the Handsome, was a nickname, were we not justified in believing that that name was given him for the beauty of his mind. His virtues were acknowledged by his father, who, when urged on his death-bed to leave the empire to Bryennius, his excellent son-in-law, resisted the persuasion of his wife and his daughter Anna, and appointed Calo-Joannes his successor.
The new emperor ascended the throne on the 15th of August, 1118.
It is related under ANNA COMNENA and NICEPHORUS BRYENNIUS, that their conspiracy to depose Calo-Joannes and to make Bryennius emperor, proved abortive, and that the property of both was confiscated.
The emperor was especially protected by his younger brother, Isaac Sebastocrator, and by his minister, Axuch, a Turk who had been made prisoner during the reign of Alexis I., and who, joining great talents and knowledge with honesty and affable manners, advanced from one eminent post to another, till he became magnus domesticus, or prime minister, an office which he held during the whole reign of Calo-Joannes.
The conspiracy of Anna and Bryennius was the only event that troubled the reign of Calo-Joannes, who won the hearts of his subjects to such a degree, that he ventured to abolish the punishment of death, and deserved to be called the Byzantine Marcus Aurelius. His relations with his brother Isaac were a model of brotherly affection, and though their friendship was on one occasion disturbed by the slander of some courtiers, it was but for a short time.
The reign of Calo-Joannes is a series of wars, and each war was a triumph for the Greek arms.
But while Nicetas and Cinnamus, the chief sources, dwell with prolixity on the description of so many glorious deeds, they have neglected to give us a satisfactory exposition of the emperor's administration, and their chronology is very confused.
This circumstance has probably induced Gibbon to relate the reign of Calo-Joannes without any chronology except the dates of his accession and his death. Le Beau, in his Histoire du Bas Empire
(vol. 19.1. 86), gives a careful chronology which he has established by comparing the Latin historians, especially Guilielmus Tyrensis and Otho Frisingensis; and Du Cange (Familiae Byzantinae,
pp. 178, 179) gives an account of the different statements respecting the year in which Calo-Joannes died. We follow Le Beau and Du Cange.
The wars of Calo-Joannes with the different princes of the Turks lasted during his whole reign with scarcely any interruption.
In the first campaign, in 1119, he took Laodiceia, and spared the lives of the garrison, and in 1120 he took Sozopolis.
An invasion of the Petchenegues or Patzinacitae, who had crossed the Danube, called him to Thrace, and in 1122 he obtained a complete victory over them in Macedonia, giving the example at once of a general and a soldier.
This war was finished to the advantage of the Greeks : the Petchenegues returned into their Scythian steppes, and great numbers of them who had been made prisoners received lands from the emperor in the very districts which their brethren had laid waste. In 1123 he took the field against the revolted Servians, who were supported by Stephen II., king of Hungary, who took Belgrade and Branizova.
But in the following year, 1124, Calo-Joannes advanced with a strong army, took Francochorium near Sirmium, conquered the country between the Save and the Danube, and forced the king to desist from farther attempts on the Greek empire.
According to the Greek historians, the advantages of this war were rather on the side of king Stephen; while, strange enough, the Hungarian annalists attribute both victories and advantages to the Greeks. Thence Calo-Joannes turned once more against the Turks of Iconium, and took Castamonia and Gangra, which his garrisons were, however, obliged to surrender to the Turks a short time afterwards.
The emperor was more fortunate, in 1131, against the Armenians of Cilicia, or Armenia Minor, under their prince Livo or Leo, who was vanquished in several engagements; and in 1137, all his dominions were annexed to the Greek empire, and received the name of the fourth Armenia.
This conquest brought him in contact with Raymond, prince of Antioch, who, according to the treaties made between Alexis I. and prince Boemond I. of Antioch, was obliged to recognize the Greek emperor as his liege lord, but refused doing so, till Calo-Joannes compelled him, partly by negotiations, partly by threats.
The emperor entered Antioch in 1138, and prince Raymond and the count of Edessa held the bridles of his horse, as a token of their vassalship. During his stay in that town, the emperor was exposed to great danger by a sudden uproar of the people, who fancied that the town was about to be given over to the Greeks.
The emperor saved himself by a sudden flight, and was going to storm Antioch, when prince Raymond came to his camp, made an apology for the reckless conduct of his subjects, and soothed the emperor's anger by a new protestation of his faith. Calo-Joannes and Raymond now joined their troops, and made a successful campaign against the Turks-Atabeks in Syria, whose emir Emad-ed-dín had conquered Haleb. Calo-Joannes returned to Constantinople in 1141, defeating on his march the sultan of Iconium, from whom he took the fortified islands in the lake near Iconium, and exterminated the pirates and robbers who had infested the coasts from Cilicia to Lydia. Encouraged by so many victories, and supported by eminent generals and well-disciplined troops, who were in every respect equal to those of the Latin princes of the East, Calo-Joannes conceived the plan of conquering the Latin kingdoms and principalities of Jerusalem, Antioch, &c., and of driving out the Atabecks from Syria, all of which were provinces that had once belonged to the Eastern empire. In 1142 he set out for Cilicia at the head of a strong army, pretending that he was going to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
In the spring of 1143, he was at Anazarba. While hunting one day in the forests on the banks of the Pyramus, he attacked a wild boar : he succeeded in piercing the beast with his spear, but in the struggle his quiver was upset, and he received a slight wound in his hand from one of the arrows.
The weapon was poisoned, and as the emperor would not allow his hand to be amputated, he died from the effects of the wound, on the 8th of April, 1143. His successor was his fourth son, Manuel, whom the emperor appointed in preference to his third son, Isaac; his eldest sons, Alexis and Andronicus, had both died a short time before their father.
The wife of Calo-Joannes was Irene the daughter of Wladislaw I. the Saint, king of Hungary, the sister of king Caloman, and the aunt of king Stephen I., with whom Calo-Joannes made war : he married her before 1105, and she died in 1124. (Nicetas, Joannes Comnenus;