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The forgotten Comneni

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Heraclius View Drop Down
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  Quote Heraclius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: The forgotten Comneni
    Posted: 23-Aug-2005 at 22:18

 The title is perhaps misleading, but "the overlooked Comneni" didnt have the same ring to it.

 Isaac I Comnenus was Byzantine Emperor from 1057 to 1059, during his brief reign he showed talent that if fate had allowed it, could have changed the entire course of Byzantine history.

 In 1057 many of the great military leaders of Byzantium gathered together to discuss a successor to the current Emperor Michael VI, having had enough of one ineffectual useless Emperor after another the leaders chose a man they both respected and trusted. Isaac Comnenus, after initially refusing, Isaac finally accepted and swiftly moved to secure his position.

 With civil war now inevitable, Isaac marched against Michael's European army with his own army from Asia Minor. It should be noted that even here before Manzikert there was already a significant reliance on foreign mercenaries, many of which were part of the opposing armies.

  Isaac defeated the army of the current Emperor Michael VI near Nicomedia in 1057, a battle by some accounts Isaac himself barely survived.

 Having been under the protection of the great Basil II since childhood Isaac was well educated and as he spent time with the army gained their respect and loyalty, something few Emperors could boast.

  With Isaac now the undisputed Emperor of Byzantium he immediately went to work to repair the damage caused since the death of Basil II in 1025, and with the same kind of devotion Basil had shown towards the empire, he went a long way to bringing the empire back to the greatness it has witnessed barely 30 years earlier. His solitary aim was to secure the empire and make it strong again.

 The treasury which was filled when Basil II had died had been squandered by one Emperor after another, given away to favourites at the Imperial court and spent on lavish luxery for themselves. Isaac seized the estates of these favourites and then proceeded to target the immense wealth of the monestaries. Much of which went to the army.

 However this led to a dispute with the popular Patriarch of Constantinople who due to his subsequent exile by Isaac, destroyed the Emperors popularity with the people who loved the Patriarch.

 Even though Isaac had lost the love of the people, the army stood firm with him and with that loyalty Isaac was able to defeat invasions from the east and repel invasions from the Petchenegs and repeated attacks from the Magyars. He had brought discipline, loyalty and reward back to an army that had been so long neglected, by his reforms, his respect from the army and his fearlessness in battle he had won their love.

 However his reign was brought to an end when having contracted a fever he abdicated to his chosen successor Constantine Ducas. Isaac died either in 1059 or in a monestary 2 years later after a unexpected recovery.

 Isaac's reign may look unremarkable, but the man himself was remarkable, with the boundless energy of the young Justinian and a devotion to the empire similar to that of Basil II's he had the talent to bring back the glory days.

 However like Julian the Apostate 7 centuries earlier this immense talent was never fully realised to the empires great loss, a mere 15 years after the death of Julian the greatest disaster Rome had ever seen took place at Adrianople.

 For Isaac like Julian, this time only 12 years after the abdication the greatest disaster the empire had faced to date took place at Manzikert. Neither of these catastrophes could seem possible had both these men not died so prematurely.

 Had Isaac lived just a little longer, the army may well have been restored to the greatness it witnessed under Basil II and Manzikert would not of happened, Anatolia not lost and the empire never needing to rely on mercenaries again.

 Isaac is often overlooked perhaps because of his short reign or the subsequent success and longevity of the later Comneni Alexius, John and Manuel. However imagine Alexius being crowned Emperor at the death of Isaac with an empire not on the brink of collapse but on the brink of another golden age. This would of been very very possible, had Isaac not be taken so prematurely.

 Few Emperors ever showed as much promise and ability as Isaac I Comnenus.

 



Edited by Heraclius
A tomb now suffices him for whom the world was not enough.
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  Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23-Aug-2005 at 22:51

I read something about Isaac I Comnenus and his dedication for reforming the Byzantine army.  It was in John Haldon's survey of the Byzantine army.  In summary, he maintains that Isaac left a thoroughly trained and manned army for his successors.  He himself did not quite have the chance to take this reformed force on campaign.  Romanus IV received the reward of Isaac's work and flubbed in his chance in the military spotlight at Manzikert.

But yes, there were several Comneni who tend to be forgotten or overshadowed by the awful circumstances that the Empire faced during their reigns.  I tend to think that even Alexius I Comnenus is forgotten in all the coverage of the First Crusade; it is the Western crusader leaders who receive all the publicity.  Anna Comnena's complimentary and lauding Alexiad does not even ameliorate her father's historiographical predicament. 

In my opinion, Alexius I showed resourcefulness and cunning when he dealt with the Crusader mob that appeared before the walls of Theodosius in the late 11th century.  He masterfully dealt with the arrogant personalities that led the First Crusade and wisely played them off of each other for the good of the Empire.  His requirement that Hugh of Vermandois, Godfrey of Bouillon, and Bohemond take oaths of loyalty to him is an example of this.  Alexius dodged potential trouble for the Byzantines at home when he gave the rapacious Crusaders supplies and advice, but ferried them over the Bosphorus without complaint to face the bellicose Seljuks when they refused to heed his warnings.

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  Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23-Aug-2005 at 22:51

He seemed to mirror Basil II in another respect: he allowed his Empire to be inherited by someone who was not appropriate to govern it.

He was one of the better Emperors recorded in Psellus' Chronographia. If only Psellus had not had a hand in helping him choose a successor. How excusable Isaac's poor choice was, perhaps his judgement was clouded by illness and depression, is open to question. But while he did rule he was otherwise very capable and made the other "Chronographia" Emperors looks very mediocre by comparison.

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  Quote Belisarius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23-Aug-2005 at 23:28
You seem to be more interested in the Comneni than your own namesake, Heraclius. 

An extended life for Isaac could indeed have revived the Byzantine golden age and ensured their strength for decades more. There would have been no Manzikert and no subsequent fragmentation that would leave the Byzantines too weak to resist the Latins in 1204. Manuel might have even been able to campaign in the Levant or southern Italy. Shame it was not so.
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  Quote Heraclius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24-Aug-2005 at 11:54

 Belisarius.

  I suppose it does seem that way  I rate Heraclius as one of the best Emperors, but not wanting to seem too biased in his favour by making posts on him I try to cover a wide range of Byzantine history, if i remember right I actually wanted a different username but Belisarius was already taken

 It is a shame Isaac didnt live longer, sometimes he's allowed to fall into the group of useless Emperors that followed Basil II you often hear something like;

"After Basil there was a string of poor Emperors and then Alexius came"

 Isaac seems to have fallen into that catagory, probably because his reign was so short and is often overlooked.

 Isaac reminds me of many Emperors, especially from the 3rd century, strong military soldier Emperors, who arrived exactly when the empire needed them. It is impossible to imagine something like Manzikert taking place when the empire was controlled by a man like Isaac.

 Byzantine Emperor.

 I agree that Alexius is largely lost among all the events of the 1st crusade, remembered more as a character of the 1st crusade than in his own right and rarely painted as a good character.

 Ive come across lately alot of stuff blaming Alexius for alot of Byzantiums later problems, basically saying he doesnt deserve anywhere near as much praise as he gets. Im sure the man wasnt perfect and he made mistakes everynow and then, but ive seen nothing that makes me think he doesnt deserve the praise he gets.

 Constantine.

 That is an unfortunate similarity to Basil, to be followed by a poor Emperor who allowed his work to become undone, I think thats also a large contributary reason to why Isaac is not recognised as a good Emperor very often, because even though his reforms were good and sound ones they were largely overshadowed by the total mess that was Manzikert barely over a decade later.

A tomb now suffices him for whom the world was not enough.
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  Quote Emperor John VI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15-Mar-2006 at 08:40

It's a shame that Isaac should give up the throne to Constantine Ducas instead of his own brother John, who refused it.  I can only feel sorry for John's wife, the formidable Anna Dalassena, for being passed over in such a fashion. 

If Isaac hadn't given up his throne and lived a little longer, or if John had been his successor, Manizikert may never have happened and Byzantium may have had a longer life.  No one can say for sure, but for all those that love the Empire, it is a beautiful 'what if'.



Edited by Emperor John VI
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