Monday, May 18, 2015

Emperor Manuel's Military Policy

Featuring an excerpt from A History of Greece from the Roman Conquest to the Present Time by George Finlay published in 1877.

Previously in Roger Ravages the Byzantine Empire. And now George Finlay

Time: 1146
Place: Constantinople

The city of Constantinople during this time.
Public domain image from Wikipedia.
In other districts, where the divisions were exposed to be called into action, or were more directly under central inspection, the effective force was kept up at its full complement, but the people were compelled to submit to every kind of extortion and tyranny. The tendency of absolute power being always to weaken the power of the law, and to increase the authority of the executive agents of the sovereign, soon manifested its effects in the rapid progress of administrative corruption. The Byzantine garrisons in a few years became prototypes of the shopkeeping janizaries of the Ottoman empire, and bore no resemblance to the feudal militia of Western Europe, which Manuel had proposed as the model of his reform. This change produced a rapid decline in the military strength of the Byzantine army and accelerated the fall of the empire.

For a considerable period the Byzantine emperors had been gradually increasing the proportion of foreign mercenaries in their service; this practice Manuel carried further than any of his predecessors. Besides the usual Varangian, Italian, and German guards, we find large corps of Patzinaks, Franks, and Turks enrolled in his armies, and officers of these nations occupying situations of the highest rank. A change had taken place in the military tactics, caused by the heavy armor and powerful horses which the crusaders brought into the field, and by the greater personal strength and skill in warlike exercises of the Western troops, who had no occupation from infancy but gymnastic exercises and athletic amusements. The nobility of the feudal nations expended more money on arms and armor than on other luxuries; and this becoming the general fashion, the Western troops were much better armed than the Byzantine soldiers. War became the profession of the higher ranks, and the expense of military undertakings was greatly increased by the military classes being completely separated from the rest of society. The warlike disposition of Manuel led him to favor the military nobles of the West who took service at his court; while his confidence in his own power, and in the political superiority of his empire, deluded him with the hope of being able to quell the turbulence of the Franks, and set bounds to the ambition and power of the popes.

The wars of Manuel were sometimes forced on him by foreign powers, and sometimes commenced for temporary objects; but he appears never to have formed any fixed idea of the permanent policy which ought to have determined the constant employment of all the military resources at his command, for the purpose of advancing the interest of his empire and giving security to his subjects. His military exploits may be considered under three heads: His wars with the Franks, whether in Asia or Europe; his wars with the Hungarians and Servians; and his wars with the Turks.

His first operations were against the principality of Antioch. The death of John II caused the dispersion of the fine army he had assembled for the conquest of Syria; but Manuel sent a portion of that army, and a strong fleet, to attack the principality. One of the generals of the land forces was Prosuch, a Turkish officer in high favor with his father. Raymond of Antioch was no longer the idle gambler he had shown himself in the camp of the emperor John; but though he was now distinguished by his courage and skill in arms, he was completely defeated, and the imperial army carried its ravages up to the very walls of Antioch, while the fleet laid waste the coast. Though the Byzantine troops retired, the losses of the campaign convinced Raymond that it would be impossible to defend Antioch should Manuel take the field in person. He therefore hastened to Constantinople, as a suppliant, to sue for peace; but Manuel, before admitting him to an audience, required that he should repair to the tomb of the emperor John and ask pardon for having violated his former promises. When the Hercules of the Franks, as Raymond was called, had submitted to this humiliation, he was admitted to the imperial presence, swore fealty to the Byzantine empire as Prince of Antioch, and became the vassal of the emperor Manuel. The conquest of Edessa by the Mahometans, which took place in the month of December, 1144, rendered the defence of Antioch by the Latins a doubtful enterprise, unless they could secure the assistance of the Greeks.

Manuel involved himself in a war with Roger, King of Sicily, which perhaps he might have avoided by more prudent conduct. An envoy he had sent to the Sicilian court concluded a treaty, which Manuel thought fit to disavow with unsuitable violence. This gave the Sicilian King a pretext for commencing war, but the real cause of hostilities must be sought in the ambition of Roger and the hostile feelings of Manuel. Roger was one of the wealthiest princes of his time; he had united under his sceptre both Sicily and all the Norman possessions in Southern Italy; his ambition was equal to his wealth and power, and he aspired at eclipsing the glory of Robert Guiscard and Bohemund by some permanent conquests in the Byzantine empire. On the other hand, the renown of Roger excited the envy of Manuel, who, proud of his army and confident of his own valor and military skill, hoped to reconquer Sicily. His passion made him forget that he was surrounded by numerous enemies, who would combine to prevent his employing all his forces against one adversary. Manuel consequently acted imprudently in revealing his hostile intentions; while Roger could direct all his forces against one point, and avail himself of Manuel's embarrassments. He commenced hostilities by inflicting a blow on the wealth and prosperity of Greece, from which it never recovered.

At the commencement of the Second Crusade, when the attention of Manuel was anxiously directed to the movements of Louis VII of France, and Conrad, Emperor of Germany, Roger, who had collected a powerful fleet at Brindisi, for the purpose either of attacking the Byzantine empire or transporting the crusaders to Palestine, availed himself of an insurrection in Corfu to conclude a convention with the inhabitants, who admitted a garrison of one thousand Norman troops into their citadel. The Corfutes complained with great reason of the intolerable weight of taxation to which they were subjected; of the utter neglect of their interests by the central government, which consumed their wealth, and of the great abuses which prevailed in the administration of justice; but the remedy they adopted, by placing themselves under the rule of foreign masters, was not likely to alleviate these evils.

Continued on Wednesday, May 20th.

More information here.

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