Ma'nuel I. or Manuel Comne'nus>
（Μανουὴλ ὁ Κομνηνός
), emperor of Constantinople A. D. 1143-1181, the fourth child and son of the emperor Calo-Joannes (Joannes II.), was born about A. D. 1120, and succeeded his father in 1143. Of his three elder brothers, Alexis and Andronicus had both died before their father; but the third, Isaac Sebastocrator, was still alive, and would have had better claims to the crown than Manuel, but for a special declaration of the late emperor, who preferred the younger to the elder on account of his martial qualities. Manuel was with his father when the latter lost his life through an accident in Cilicia; and fears were entertained that Isaac, who was then in Constantinople, would seize the supreme power.
But no sooner had John expired than the faithful minister, Axuch, hastened to the capital, seized Isaac, confined him in a prison, and succeeded in causing Manuel to be recognized in Constantinople, where he met with a brilliant reception, on his arrival from Cilicia, a short time afterwards. Manuel was scarcely seated on his throne, when he was involved in an uninterrupted series of wars with the nations of the East as well as the West, in which, though not always successful, he distinguished himself so much by his undaunted courage and heroic deeds as to deserve the name of the greatest hero of a time when there was no lack of extraordinary achievements in the field.
The discovery that his brother Isaac seemed not to entertain ambitious designs, and the re-establishment of a good understanding between the two brothers, allowed Manuel to devote himself entirely to the conduct of his wars and to those endless intrigues and negotiations in which he found himself involved.
As early as 1144 his general, Demetrius Branas, forced Raymond, the Latin prince of Antioch, who had shaken off his allegiance towards the emperor, to submit to Greek valour, and to renew, in Constantinople, the bonds of his vassalship.
In the following year Manuel set out against the Turks, who had invaded Isauria, defeated them in several pitched battles, and cast such a terror among the Turkish soldiers, that they would no longer keep the field; whereupon peace was concluded to the advantage of the victor. About this time Manuel found reason to distrust his brother Isaac, who was deprived of his title of Sebastocrator; but as there was no direct evidence of treason against him, he was allowed to live on condition of retiring into a convent, where he spent the rest of his life.
In the same year, 1147, Manuel received information from king Louis VII. of France, that the Western princes, headed by the king and the emperor Conrad III. of Germany, had resolved upon a new crusade, and desired his alliance. Manuel promised it, but gave secret information of the approaching storm to the Turks. Nevertheless he allowed Conrad to pass through his dominions with a vast army, and subsequently the French king also.
While the Crusaders were fighting with the Turks, Manuel was involved in a war with Roger, the Norman king of Sicily, who possessed likewise a large portion of Southern Italy, and who, thinking that the new crusade would prevent the Greek emperor from maintaining great forces in Europe, prepared for an invasion of Greece.
This war, which broke out in 1148, is by far the most remarkable in the history of Manuel, who, however, did not engage in it alone, but found an ally in the republic of Venice. Marching at the head of his veterans towards Macedonia, he was informed, while at Philippopolis, that the Patzenegnes had crossed the Danube, probably excited by king Roger. Without hesitating a moment, Manuel wheeled to the right, fell upon the barbarians, drove them back into the Dacian wildernesses; and after receiving hostages for their future good behaviour, returned with rapid marches towards Macedonia. embarked at Thessalonica, and landed his host in Corfu before the end of the year.
There he was joined by a Venetian army.
The fortress of Corfu yielded to him after an obstinate and protracted siege, signalised by the death of his brotherin-law, Stephanus Contostephanus, Magnus Dux, who was succeeded in the command by the faithful Axuch.
The surrender of that important fortress was delayed by a bloody quarrel which broke out between the Greeks and the Venetians.
In this siege Manuel was foremost among those who stormed the town; and his fleet having one day made several fruitless attempts to drive the Sicilians from some outworks near the sea, he put himself on the poop of a galley, and cheered his men on while showers of arrows and other missiles came down upon the spot where he stood. His boldness excited the admiration of the Sicilians, who ceased for a moment to make him the aim of their weapons. They would, however, soon have despatched him but for the voice of their commander, who cried out that it would be dishonourable to kill an hero like Manuel.
The emperor intended to attack Roger within his own dominions, but the crafty Norman enticed the Servians and Hungarians to make a diversion on the Danube.
The former were vanquished in two campaigns, when they begged for peace; and the Hungarian war lasted till 1152, when their king, Geisa, after having been beaten in many pitched battles, promised to desist from molesting the empire.
The peace, however, was of short duration.
In the same year, 1152, Manuel experienced a repulse in a war with the Turks in Cilicia; but in Italy his armies met with glorious success. The Greeks having landed in Italy, took Brundusium, Bari, and other places of importance; the fleet of the Sicilians was defeated in several decisive engagements; and it seemed that John Ducas, the gallant commander-in-chief of the Greeks, would find no more obstacles in re-uniting Southern Italy with the Byzantine empire.
The sanguine hopes of Manuel were blighted by William, the successor of king Roger, who fell upon Alexis Comnenus, the successor of John Ducas; and after a severe struggle, routed the Greeks.
At the same time the Greek fleet was defeated off Negropont; and Maius, the Sicilian admiral, sailed without loss of time for Constantinople, where he landed a considerable force.
The inhabitants were thrown into the utmost consternation; but their fears soon ceased, since Maius was not strong enough to attempt any thing of importance, and consequently sailed home, satisfied with some booty and captives.
These checks produced a great effect upon the mind of Manuel, who, having received a very noble letter from king William, with offers of an honourable peace, accepted the proposition, and thus this memorable war terminated in 1155.
The conquests on both sides were given back, as well as all the captives, except those Greeks taken by the Sicilians who were silk-weavers, and who were to remain in Italy, where they laid the foundation of the flourishing state of Italian silk manufactures.
The following years were signalised by hostilities with Raymond, prince of Antioch, who was soon brought to obedience; and Az-ed-din, the Turkish Sultan, who met with no better success, and went to Constantinople to sue for peace.
The tranquillity of Asia was no sooner settled, than a new and terrible war broke out in the north. King Geisa of Hungary fancied that the forces of the empire were exhausted by protracted warfare, and accordingly crossed the Danube. Manuel intended to lead his armies in person, but he yielded to the entreaties of his subjects and his ministers, who wanted a firm head in the capital during the approaching storm; and the command of the army was consequently entrusted to Andronicus Contostephanus. Under Andronicus were Andronicus Lampados, Andronicus Comnenus, and Demetrius and Georgius Branas.
The armies met not far from Zeugminum, the present Semlin; and after one of the most bloody and obstinate contests recorded in history, in which Demetrius Branas was slain, and the left wing of the Greeks completely routed, Andronicus Contostephanus at last carried the day. So terrible was the loss of the Hungarians, that king Geisa sued for immediate peace, which was granted to him; and during a considerable period the Byzantine influence was so great in Hungary as to cause to its inhabitants great uneasiness for their further independence.
A few years afterwards Manuel set out for Asia, and in an interview with king Amalric, who had just come to the throne, and intended to persuade Manuel to send him some auxiliaries for an expedition into Egypt, Manuel accepted the proposition with joy; but instead of a subordinate force, he equipped a fleet of 220 large ships, with a sufficient army on board, under the command of Andronicus Contostephanus (1169). When this powerful armament appeared off Ascalon it excited the jealousy of Amalric, who was justly afraid that his share in the projected conquests would not answer his expectation; and this jealousy gradually instilling itself into the minds of all the party, became the cause of the final failure of the whole undertaking.
The combined Latin and Greek forces marched by land upon Damietta, where the fleet appeared soon afterwards.
The siege was long; but the town was at last reduced to such extremity, that everybody expected its hourly surrender, when the treachery of either Amalric himself or one of his generals obliged the assailants to raise the siege and retreat into Palestine.
In order to clear himself from any blame, Amalric went to Constantinople, where he met with a splendid reception from Manuel, who was ready to join him in a second expedition, when he was unexpectedly involved in two wars, with the Venetians and the Turks. In 1176 Manuel suffered a dreadful defeat near Myriocephalus from Sultan Az-ed-din, in spite of his almost incredible personal valour, and completely surrounded by superior forces, was comnpelled to make a dishonourable peace, promising, among other conditions, to raze the fortresses of Sableium and Dorylaeum (1176). 1
Anxious to revenge himself for such unexpected disgrace, Manuel broke the peace, and the war was renewed this time with better success for the Greeks, who routed Az-ed-din in Lydia, and finally obtained an honourable peace (1177). Manuel now proposed to the emperor Frederic an alliance against king Henry of Sicily, whom he intended to deprive of all his dominions; but the negotiations to that effect were carried on slowly; and it seemed that Manuel had lost his former energy.
In fact, the defeat at Myriocephalus preyed upon his mind; his strength was undermined by a slow fever; and in the spring of 1180 he was compelled to keep to his bed, from which he never rose again.
After a painful and long illness, he died on the 24th of September following, at the age of sixty.
The reign of Manuel was glorious, yet presents nothing but an uninterrupted series of bloodshed and devastation. Manuel was perhaps the greatest warrior of his time, but he was far from being a great general. When young he was virtuous, but after he had ascended the throne he plunged into all those vices by which the Greeks, and especially the Comnenian family, disgraced themselves.
He oppressed his subjects by heavy war-taxes, yet he did not pay his troops, though he gave large pensions to ministers or other men of influence at foreign courts, where he was constantly intriguing.
He is said to have been deeply versed in theology, but was certainly rather a great talker than a great thinker on religion. His first wife was Bertha (Irene), niece of Conrad III., emperor of Germany; and his second Maria (Xene), daughter of Raymend, prince of Antioch. His concubinage with his niece, Theodora Comnena, was a great disgrace to him.
He was succeeded by his only son, Alexis II. (Cinnam. lib. i. iv.; Nicet. lib. ii. iii.; Guill. Tyrensis, lib. xvi. We have more Latin or Western than Byzantine sources on the history of the time.)