Friday, October 06, 2006

Manuel II Palaiologus: Lived 1350- 1425: Byzantine Emperor 1391-1425.
Manuel Palaiologus was the next to last Byzantine Emperor. As such he has had a deservedly obscure place in history, an obscurity only recently disturbed by the ill fated quotation of this Emperor by Pope Benedict XVI, a quotation that has sparked a lot of anger amongst Muslims.
Perhaps it would be good to examine the actual record of Manuel to see exactly how much his actions lived up to his professions against "spreading faith by the sword". What follows here is the actual history of this emperor. Parental guidance is advised as facts tend to disturb the "version of reality" transmitted by good catholics to their children. The following will contain scenes of treachery, double dealing, hypocrisy and "holy falsehood". The reason why "byzantine" has become an adjective in the English language will become apparent. Given Benedict's use of this author perhaps "Benedictine" should become an adjective that refers to something other than chant or liquor.
The house of Palaiologus had been founded by Emperor Michael VIII who, in 1261, had driven the Crusaders from Constantinople which they had conquered during the Fourth crusade in 1204. Speaking of "spreading the faith by the sword" !. Manuel's father, John V(reign 1341-1391), had been a particularly ineffective Emperor. during his watch the Turks had crossed the Hellespont and conquered Thrace, Macedonia and finally Serbia at the battle of Kossovo (1389).
John V was continually casting about for allies to "spread or at least defend his own faith by the sword". In 1365/66 he journeyed to Hungary to seek support. Manuel accompanied him on this trip. In 1369 he travelled to other countries of Europe on a similar mission, but being as he was rather lax in paying his debts he was thrown into debtors' prison in Venice. Manuel paid his debts and ransomed him in 1371. John V was twice deposed, once by his son Andronicus IV and once by his grandson John VII. The Byzantine Empire consumed itself in civil war during this period. John Cantacuzenus was crowned as John VI in 1346 but had to abdicate in 1354. He spent the last 30 years of his life as a monk doing all sorts of holy contemplation and never realizing that the slaughter that brought him temporily to power wasn't the sort of "rational persuasion" that Benedict XVI supposedly advocates.
All well, all was forgiven more or less. The daughter of John VI became the wife of John V and mother of Manuel II. Are you confused yet ? Remember the word "byzantine". Manuel's older brother first rebelled against his father in 1373 and again, with the support of the Turkish Sultan Murad I (1362-1389) in 1376. Manuel and his father were imprisoned in the same tower where they had sent their son/brother to after the first rebellion. In 1379 the pair escaped and fled to the court of the Sultan. They managed to bribe him by the offer of higher tribute than Andronicus was paying, and they were restored to power by this "rational argument". The result of this deal was that Manuel found himself compelled-rationally of course- to confiscate half the property of the monasteries to pay the bills for his soldiers that were allied with the Turks for awhile. Spreading their faith, of course.
The Empire continued to disintegrate. The only success that John V achieved was to recover the Despotate of Morea in the Peloponnesus from the Cantacuzeni family in 1382. this was given to a third son, Theodore, to rule and pillage. From 1382 to 1387 Manuel was co-emperor in Thessalonika. Manuel gave many inspiring speeches about resistance but promptly fled shortly before the city fell in April 1387. The population of the city had no such privilege.
Sultan Bayazid I (1389-1402) skillfully played the "rational defenders" of the faith off against each other and installed John VII (son of Andronicus IV) on the Byzantine throne in April 1390. Manuel "rationally" fought his way into the city and expelled John VII on September 17th, 1390. He re-established his father as Emperor.
The "rational" wheeling and dealing around this event,however, was that Manuel was required to reside at the Sultan's court as a hostage. At that court he met his nephew John VII who was also a "guest" of the Sultan. From this time until February 1391 both pretenders to the imperial purple supported "rationally of course" the military campaigns of the Sultan. It was during this time that the supposed dialogues that Benedict quoted were supposed to have happened. The only proof of their reality is the word of Manuel.
On the death of John V both Manuel and John VII zipped out of the Sultan's care. Manuel won the race, and his solidified his position by marrying (Feb 10th, 1392) Helena Dragash, the daughter of the Serbian Prince Constantine of Serres. Manuel promptly began to "rationally" push his tiny weight around. He convinced the Metropolitan of Russia Cyprian that in the liturgy the Emperor should be named first. This incurred the wrath of Grand Prince Vasili I of Muscovy who said, "Church we have one, but emperor we have none".
The Sultan was, to say the least, not pleased with Manuel's pretensions. He exacted various concessions from Manuel and in 1394 began a siege of Constantinople that lasted until 1402. Before this he had summoned Manuel, John VII and the other brother Theodore as well as Prince Stephan Lazarevic of Serbia to his court. They were all eventually released, and only bother Theodore "rationally" took part in the Sultan's campaigns in Europe. He later escaped and "rationally" rejoined the Byzantine side.
Manuel realized that his little Empire was doomed without Western aid and thus he attempted to "not spread religion by the sword" by appealing for the swords of Pope Boniface IX and King Sigismund of Hungary. The Hungarian King launched a crusade ,"to rationally spread the faith without swords" in 1396. This ended with the defeat of the Hungarians at the battle of Nicopolis on Sept 25th, 1396. Manuel then attempted to sell Byzantium to Venice, but the most serene republic had other plans. Manuel appealed, "rationally" of course, to the Pope, The Doge of Venice, the Kings of France, England and Aragon and the Grand prince of Muscovy. he tried again to sell Byzantium, this time to the French King. he got no takers for this fool's bargain.
He had,however, better success with his bargaining with the Mongol Tamerlane, though Tamerlane hardly needed the alliance with Byzantium in his plans for the conquest of the Sultanate. Sultan Bayazit was defeated the Turks at the Battle of Ankara in 1402. At this time Manuel was touring western European courts in hope of gaining allies for a new crusade to -I suppose- "rationally argue against the Turks without spreading the faith by the sword". The Emperor partly bought his political support by promises and occasional delivery of "sacred relics" from Byzantium. This isn't as irrational as it seems. The "little finger of Saint X" was, at that time a real economic asset. Think early tourist industry.
Manuel responded to the lifting of the siege of Constantinople due to the victory of Tamerlane by composing an imaginative and spiteful drama detailing the plight of the captured Sultan with about as much imaginary dialogue as he put into his supposed dispute when he was the guest of the Sultan. News of this propaganda piece and various presents were sent to Tamerlane. He responded with the laconic demand that the previous tribute paid to the Sultan should now be paid to him.
Meanwhile the God fearing princes of western Europe had persuaded Manuel to make peace with his nephew John VII. This was a stroke of luck as John VII was able to negotiate some very advantageous treaties with the feuding sons of Bayazit who fought over the remains of the Turkish Sultanate. One of them, Suleiman, became a vassal of the Emperor. Manuel responded by agreeing to the treaty arranged by his nephew but insisting that John VII transfer to Thessalonika where he was isolated from the centre of power. Very "rational". Manuel skillfully played one Turkish pretender against the other, and the eventual winner was Mehmet I (1413-1421). This catspaw remained at peace with Byzantium even after the collapse of Timurlane's empire. Manuel later replaced his nephew as Despot of Thessalonika with his son Andronicus in 1408. He also installed his son Theodore II as Despot of Morea and, in1421, crowned his other son John as "Autokrator" ie co-Emperor.
Manuel's negotiations with the West, without which his tiny Empire couldn't exist continued. These were disturbed by the "Conciliar" movement afoot in the West which hoped to limit the pontiff's power and subordinate it to councils of the Church. Manuel supported the Papal party insofar as he was able and also tried to approach the Holy Roman Emperor with a proposal for "union" of the empires. This became a matter of serious "byzantine" intrigue as the Holy Roman Emperor, Sigismund of Luxembourg, was involved with a war against Venice which he expected Byzantium to give support to. It never happened.
By this time the 'Great Schism' was in full bloom within Catholicism. The Council of Constance was supposed to end the antagonism between the three different Popes of the time. It dropped the "Greek question" from its agenda in favour of more pressing matters. The imperial party was deeply disappointed as a strong "regal Papacy" was always much more to the advantage of Byzantium than a democratic council.
Manuel actually did one honourable deed in his double dealing life. In 1421 the Turks were at war with the Hungarians and Sultan Mehmet I requested permission to travel from Asia to Europe via Byzantium. Manuel rejected the plans of his advisers to murder the Sultan during transit. This was opposed by the war party within the byzantine court, led by Manuel's son John VIII. This son later bet on the wrong pretender to the Sultanate, Mustafa as opposed to Murat, now Murat II. Manuel's son John VIII married Sophia of Montferrat and this, along with the betrothal of the other son Theodore II to Cleopa Malatesta (aside to my anarchist comrades-I shit you not) held out the hope of Italian aid to Constantinople.
The latest Turkish siege of Constantinople failed. Manuel suffered a stroke on October 1st, 1422 and handed over the reigns of government to John VIII. Manuel's youngest son Andronicus went to Genoese controlled Pera and from there to to the Turkish court as pretender to the throne. In 1423 he sold Thessalonika to the Venetians who, in turn, lost it to the Turks in 1430. . In 1424 Sultan Murat imposed a treaty that once more required Byzantium to pay tribute. A trip by Manuel's son John to western Europe in 1423 had failed to gain the support of the Holy Roam Emperor who was engaged with the Bohemian Hussites at the time.
Manuel's instructions to his son were indeed truly byzantine. They essentially consisted of advocating delaying tactics vis-a-vis the West so that it might be conned into support without the promise of Church union. This was considerably more "rational" than the present pontiff's quotation of the emperor in support of the Church that Manuel always opposed. Manuel finally died on July 21, 1425. Throughout his reign Manuel exhibited great literary and political talent. his fanciful "Twenty-Six Dialogues with a Persian" are what Pope Benedict quoted. The actual real career of Manuel is, of course, in direct contradiction to his supposed ethics of not spreading the faith by the sword.
The word "byzantine" has to make its final appearance here. The attitude of the present Pontiff is a classic example of the attitude of the man that he quotes. He hopes to expand the range and power of his Church. Because the end justifies the means he will do anything in in pursuit of this goal. In his quotation he got caught with his pants down. He came close to expressing the truth. Since then he has retreated to the usual politics of the Catholic Church, with less credibility than before.
The embarrassment of the papacy gives me great pleasure. I only wish that some advocates of the politics that I espouse-anarchism- who continually disgrace the name by their antics could be caught in their "byzantine" theology as well.
Molly-shortly before vacation.

2 comments:

Graham said...

Interesting post. I have always found it rather tedious to hear proponents of different religions accusing each other of warlike tactics. Most are able to justify violent means if the perpetuation of their version of the truth is in danger. Forcibly spreading their peaceful religions is of course another common tactic.
By the way, if you are interested in Byzantine history and its interplay with Islam a good read is Constantinople: The Last Great Siege, by Roger Crowley.

mollymew said...

Sounds like a good title to me. I'm presidently visiting in Venezia. Interesting to actually see some of the loot that the Crusaders took from Constantinople. Lots of "relics of the true cross" are held in the Treasury of the Basilica of St. Marks. One wag once mentioned that if you were to gather all these fragments from across Europe and put them together you'd have enough wood to build a small village, or at least a good size house.