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Most Effective Palaeologan Emperor

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Poll Question: Who was the most effective Palaeologan emperor during the last years?
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  Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: Most Effective Palaeologan Emperor
    Posted: 06-Sep-2005 at 02:22
By the time of the civil wars of the middle 14th century, it seems the most evident that the Empire would not be around much longer as a political entity.  Massive territory loss, religious discord, and military impotence had dealt the Empire its mortal wounds.  Despite the impending fall of Byzantium, there were some emperors of the Palaeologan dynasty who tried to make the best of the resources they had.  Some were men of great ability and intellect, which we can see by their writings and their performance in battle.  Others squandered what little time and wealth the Empire had left and made poor choices on both military and diplomatic levels.  Which ones do you think are commendable for the what they did, despite the awful circumstances?  Which ones did poorly, in your estimation?
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  Quote Belisarius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06-Sep-2005 at 21:13
To be honest, I was having a hard time picking anybody. Effectiveness is measured in success, and each one of these emperors, except Michael, failed in whatever they attempted to do. Michael VIII had a goal to retake Constantinople and he did, regardless of his other failures.


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  Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06-Sep-2005 at 21:33

Originally posted by Belisarius

Effectiveness is measured in success, and each one of these emperors, except Michael, failed in whatever they attempted to do.

I tried to make it clear in the first post that yes, the Palaeologan emperors did not slow down the destruction of the Empire that much.  However, I would not go as far as to say that all of them utterly failed in what they tried to do.  Michael VIII failed on a religious and political level, as you may well know, but he was a wiley Byzantine in terms of diplomacy and he was a good general on the battlefield from some of the accounts that we have.  I can also say that Manuel II, John VIII, and even Constantine XI might have bought the Empire some more time with their decisions and talent.  Emperors like the Andronici and John V, on the other hand, made some very poor decisions and could be considered total failures.

I am actually torn between Michael VIII, John VI, and Manuel II.  I want to do some more reading before I decide who I will vote for.

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  Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06-Sep-2005 at 21:54

It is so hard to choose as I regard most of them as either failures or partially mitigated failures. Tempted though I am to vote my namesake, his reign was too short for us to really know. He only shines out because he exhibited exemplary and exceptional conduct over a short and very desperate period of time.

I am tempted to vote Michael VIII because he handled the West so well and incorporated so much land back into Byzantium, but he so terribly neglected Asia for his Western aims that the Empire was once again shrinking when he died, and this time had the walls of Constantinople to provide their rulers a degree of insular comfort.

Honestly it would be a contest between John VI and Manuel II, probably with Manuel II winning because John carries a degree of blame for bringing the Turks into Europe and putting Byzantium through a civil war.

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  Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06-Sep-2005 at 22:34

Originally posted by Constantine XI

Tempted though I am to vote my namesake, his reign was too short for us to really know. He only shines out because he exhibited exemplary and exceptional conduct over a short and very desperate period of time.

Yes, Constantine XI accomplished much in his short reign.  Even before he became emperor he worked indefatigably to build up Mistra and the Morea as despot.  He was a patron of the arts, as can be seen in his support for Gemistos Plethon.  When his brother John VIII traveled to Italy to attend the Council of Florence, Constantine guarded the city and ruled in his stead.  And of course, as emperor he organized the final defense of the city, however small it was, and encouraged both Greeks and Italians in their fight against the Ottomans.  If somone of his stature had ascended the throne , say, after Michael VIII, he might have been able to make a difference.

I am tempted to vote Michael VIII because he handled the West so well and incorporated so much land back into Byzantium, but he so terribly neglected Asia for his Western aims that the Empire was once again shrinking when he died, and this time had the walls of Constantinople to provide their rulers a degree of insular comfort.

I wonder if Michael's infatuation with the West and its Catholicism was what makes him deserving of the title "mitigated failure"?  Granted his skilfull diplomacy foiled the Sicilian Vespers situation with Charles of Anjou, but his acceptance of the Catholic faith enraged the Byzantine clergy and people.  In effect, he traded a victory for a loss.  I wonder why did not concentrate on using diplomacy in the west, and employing the Byzantine army in the East against the Turks?  Michael's army was probably the largest and best trained of any of the Palaeologan emperors; I think he could have made some headway in Anatolia if he had tried.  Instead he ignored the East like you pointed out.

Honestly it would be a contest between John VI and Manuel II, probably with Manuel II winning because John carries a degree of blame for bringing the Turks into Europe and putting Byzantium through a civil war.

John Cantacuzenus had great potential as emperor.  He successfully dealt with the Zealot revolts in Thessaloniki and demonstrated some military talent as well.  The civil war with John V was disastrous for the Empire at the moment when time was crucial - do you think that his abdication was a good move, considering the war would have continued and caused even more damage?  I wonder what a combination of Michael VIII dealing with the Turks in Anatolia and John Cantacuzenus gaining the upper hand in the civil war and deposing John would have done for the Empire?

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  Quote Heraclius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07-Sep-2005 at 07:47

 It is difficult to choose, but I always had a soft-spot for Manuel II, he seemed to give some hope that the empire might not yet be doomed, had the west been more willing or able to offer more assistance then its possible especially around the time of Ankara in 1402 that the Turks may have been pushed back and the Byzantium given some breathing space.

 He genuinely tried his best to preserve what little was left of his empire and give it a future, the fact he failed had almost nothing to do with him, even the best of all the past Emperors would of struggled to preserve a bankrupt state with practically no effective army with enemies everywhere.

 There is however always Constantine XI who is impossible to ignore, his reign was lamentably short and his death both tragic and befitting the last of the Emperors.

 Still I have to go on who I think realistically was the best Emperor and not through sentiment. So I say Manuel II.

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  Quote Ahmed The Fighter Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07-Sep-2005 at 15:49

 I checked for an achievments to this dynasty I findout the retook of constantinpole under  Michael VIII this the first achievments.

The second was more significant in my opinion is the bravest last stand by Constantine XI.

"May the eyes of cowards never sleep"
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  Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07-Sep-2005 at 17:29

I will admit I am a bit severe as a judge on John VI. The alterative to him trying to legitimately assist John V (pet hate) in running the Empire was simply to depose him and that would stain John VI in the same way as Michael VIII. So it was a case of damned if he does, damned if he doesn't. I just ca't help thinking he should have solidified his position and removed some political rivals before making the grab for power. In this whole affair the person who disgusts me most is John's mother Anne of Savoy. Pawnig the crown jewels, listening to divisive courtiers, backing a war against John VI who was only trying to help the Empire; she just drags the Empire down with her idiocy.

I honestly think Michael VIII made worthy symbolic accomplishments, btu at the end of the day he undermined some of the Empire's fundamental strengths by neglecting Asia. This was where the strength came from and the Nicaean Empire had proven itself to be virile, perhaps because its rulers knew they had no Constantinople to hide behind if they lost.

Constantine XI proved himself to be an exemplary leader of men, though I question how much of this was a result of the challenging roles he was often forced to accept. But then again, when we compare his conduct to his brothers Demetrius and Theodore it proves that he went far beyond what the circumstances forced him to and that his qualities were something for which he deserves full credit. Imagine him succeeding Michael VIII instead of the rather hopeless Andronicus II.

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  Quote Heraclius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07-Sep-2005 at 18:32

 Ive always wanted to know what became of the imperial crown jewels, I know they were pawned to the Venetians, but what later became of them?

 I'd be interested if they are still in existance to see what they looked like in things other than on mosaics etc. The fact I have been unable to find much of any reference to them after they were pawned, leads me to think they no longer exist, if anybody knows about them then i'd like to know.

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  Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07-Sep-2005 at 23:54
Not sure, though perhaps Donald Nicol's book on the last two centuries on Byzantium would shed some light. Lacking the materials just right now I have no way of checking, though I know a deal was made for Venice to receive Tenedos and the Byzantines would have their jewels back as part of the package. If they did get them back you can be sure they shortly after ended up selling it to keep their bankrupt state afloat.
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  Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10-Sep-2005 at 00:40
Originally posted by Constantine XI

I honestly think Michael VIII made worthy symbolic accomplishments, btu at the end of the day he undermined some of the Empire's fundamental strengths by neglecting Asia. This was where the strength came from and the Nicaean Empire had proven itself to be virile, perhaps because its rulers knew they had no Constantinople to hide behind if they lost.

It still baffles me why Michael VIII neglected Asia Minor.  He demonstrated himself to be a good general (he actually won some battles, which was a rarity in late Byzantium ), and he had at least some resources that he could donate to a campaign in the East - like I mentioned above, the Byzantine army was arguably at its best for the late period during his reign.  After diffusing the Sicilian Vespers problem with shrewd diplomacy and not having to commit militarily to it, it seems that he had the time and means to at least defend the rim of territory that he held in Anatolia, if not launch a campaign against the Seljuks.

Originally posted by Constantine XI

Constantine XI proved himself to be an exemplary leader of men, though I question how much of this was a result of the challenging roles he was often forced to accept. But then again, when we compare his conduct to his brothers Demetrius and Theodore it proves that he went far beyond what the circumstances forced him to and that his qualities were something for which he deserves full credit. Imagine him succeeding Michael VIII instead of the rather hopeless Andronicus II.

Good point!  That's what I was thinking - all the able emperors after Michael VIII of the Palaeologan period came in too late in the game when there was a severe lack of resources.  I think the Andronici were largely responsible for this mismanagement.



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  Quote Heraclius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10-Sep-2005 at 14:49

 I find it confusing why Michael VIII neglected Asia Minor, the fact he did neglect it forces me to lean towards the argument that suggests the retaking of Constantinople caused more harm than good.

 The Nicaean empire was wealthy, strong and stable after 1261 and the retaking of Constantinople everything just seemed to fall to pieces, the focus was taken away from the vastly more important territories in Asia Minor and with there loss any hope of breathing new life into the empire was lost with, the Balkans was a lost cause anyway. Especially with the rise of the Bulgars and Serbs, whom Byzantium just couldnt hold back any longer.

 Had they simply focused on Asia Minor they could have taken better advantage of the Turks continuing divisions and infighting and not merely been an observer. There's no reason why Byzantium or rather Nicaea could not have carved out an even greater empire in Asia Minor and set the foundations for a later possible revival of the Byzantine empire.

 The empire was not just Constantinople, as hard as it may have been I think they'd of been better abandoning the great city rather than obsessing over it and thought more about their survival.

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  Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11-Sep-2005 at 00:11

Originally posted by Heraclius

The empire was not just Constantinople, as hard as it may have been I think they'd of been better abandoning the great city rather than obsessing over it and thought more about their survival.

Good point.  It seems that Constantinople was so important and was so attached to the imperial Byzantine psyche that a Byzantine empire without the Great City would be considered illegitimate and not Roman.  It is yet another example of Byzantine stubborness.  It was an instance (among many) where they refused to face reality and where their progress was impeded as a result.

This raises an interesting question about Michael VIII and the Nicaean Empire.  Maybe the Nicaean Byzantines felt that among the several Byzantine successor states, they were the most legitimate during the Latin occupation of Constantinople.  They had the patriarch of the Byzantine church for a while, much of the aristocracy had fled to there, and it had arguably the best army out of all the splinter states.  Michael might have believed that once the moment was right to take the city, he had to do it in order to legitimize the restoration of the Empire over the claims of the other states.

Still, I wonder why it was so difficult to hold both the capital and the former Nicaean territory.  It almost seems like the Byzantines just abandoned the Nicaean lands once they had retaken the capital.  It just doesn't make sense!  

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  Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11-Sep-2005 at 04:40
I have a theory regarding that last paragraph. It is not 100% plausible, but it appeals to my instinct of how human nature works.

When the Emperors were based at Nicaea (or more often Nymphaion), they were thrust right into the action. No secluded palaces within the luxurous Queen of Cities, no more amusing themselves with symptuous luxuries and ignoring the gathering threat. The Emperors were faced with the day to day grind of their provincial cities, with the economic realities of Byzantium's real populace as well as their military realities. They adjusted themselves accordingly. Economic administration of that fragment of the Empire saw its lands and people thrive, their military received careful attention and proved itself capable of dealing with threats and expaning the Empire once more.

But then Constantinople is retaken. Once again away from the realities of the places which the Empire depended on, the Emperors were insulated against the realities of provincial life and could procrastinate and become indolent in the grandeur and amusements of their city. Behind the impregnable position of Constantinople's walls and the insularity which it induced, the Emperors were simply not compelled as strongly to adopt the proactive attitude which they needed to when in Nicaea. Constantinople was an entirely different world compared to the rest of Byzantium, and indeed any place in the medieval world.

In Nicaea the Emperors saw the peasant's lot, were in close proximity to learn of the situation regarding the encroaching Turks. In Constantinople they were in an entirely different world which simply put up a smoke screen to provincial matters which truly was what needed the Emperor's undivided attention. Rip criticism through this theory if you want, but my understanding of human nature compels me to find this credible.
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  Quote Belisarius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11-Sep-2005 at 09:52
This is true. Jules Norwich shares the same theory. The situation at Nicea made the Nicean emperors not only more Spartan, but it allowed them the luxury for being placed close to the action. However, Nicea too was known for its great walls, hence why Lascaris chose it in the first place.

Had the emperors captured Constantinople but kept Nicea as the capital, it would have been entirely likely that more of Asia Minor would have become Byzantine. This is, of course, assuming that the Nicean emperors are capable enough to take on the Mongols, even in their waning era. Having such a proximity would make the emperors simply 'care more'. In Heraclius' day Constantinople was still the most important city, but it was just another city. Hercalius would not have been opposed to moving the capital to Carthage, or Antioch in his beloved Syria. However, in the late era, Constantinople had become such a symbol for the spirit of the empire that it had to become the capital once taken.

I think that the unification of the successor states, not necesarily by conquest, would have ensured a longer and more productive life for the empire. While Nicea had military might, it was increasingly impoverished. While Trebizond had great wealth, its army was in the hundreds. Add the extra muscle of Epiros and you now have a real Byzantium that could have reconquered Basil's empire.
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  Quote Heraclius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11-Sep-2005 at 12:10

 I think your theory is sound Constantine, the old Roman empire was similar. When the empire was divided capitals were placed in hotspots and places where the Emperor could react to situations, Trier and Antioch for example.

 This proved far more effective than being closed away in Rome or Ravenna surrounded by luxery and favourites and becoming more and more detached from the realities of the empire.

 The Romans realised the city of Rome was poorly placed to react to the situation the empire was currently in, Rome was always going to be the symbolic capital, but it could not remain the effective capital of the empire.

 I can fully understand why the Byzantines couldnt imagine an empire without their beloved capital, but the empire couldnt afford to have Emperors seduced by the lavish luxery of the court it needed Emperors who were rough and tough who had experienced the hardships of provincial life and were in touch with the people. Not some secluded hedonist who gave away his authority to favourites and the like, because he was to busy and happy with the excitement of courtlife.

 The empire lost that hardened edge it had gained from the trauma it had suffered after the breaking up of the empire, constantly having to fight off invaders from west and east and always seemingly on the edge of destruction gave the empire some heart and unity again.

 An empire without Constantinople is almost impossible to imagine, perhaps in the end it was worth the cost to go down with their capital, its certainly secured Byzantiums popular immortality with 1453. And was a fitting and worthy end IMO. A total contrast to the shambolic dishonourable and pathetic demise of the western empire.

 Realistically though as hard as it would have been, the people should have realised the empire had changed before and it must do so again, I can see had things been differently a strong unified greek empire in Asia Minor, roughly comprising of modern Turkey with or without Constantinople the city could never be allowed to revert to the effective capital again and rather the symbolic one like Rome had to be.



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  Quote Herschel Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01-Nov-2005 at 12:38
I voted for Manuel II, because of all the Roman emporers over its *almost* 2,000 year history, no other man cared so much for his people and his country. He was a brilliant diplomat who prolonged the life of Byzantium peacefully. Also, he had a genuine love for art and literature.

I can't believe anyone voted for Michael. He was effective with the government of Nicaea, but he completely undermined the defences of Anatolia and ensured the death of an empire that, under any other ruler, could have rebounded. I suppose it's already been discussed, though.
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  Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Nov-2005 at 00:45

Originally posted by Herschel

I voted for Manuel II, because of all the Roman emporers over its *almost* 2,000 year history, no other man cared so much for his people and his country. He was a brilliant diplomat who prolonged the life of Byzantium peacefully. Also, he had a genuine love for art and literature.

I can't believe anyone voted for Michael. He was effective with the government of Nicaea, but he completely undermined the defences of Anatolia and ensured the death of an empire that, under any other ruler, could have rebounded. I suppose it's already been discussed, though.

Good choice.  I haven't actually voted in my own poll yet!  I am still torn between Michael VIII, Manuel II, and possibly John VIII.  I am still doing some research and study of these emperors before I cast my vote.

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  Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Nov-2005 at 21:51
I personally don't think all that much of John VII, he was an alright Emperor but not a very good one. He really made a mess when he bungled the affair over that Ottoman prince and handing him over to the Sultan. Had he been born in better times he would have done a very capable job though. As the situation was at the time almost any minor wrong move would be disastrous.
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  Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Nov-2005 at 22:26

Originally posted by Constantine XI

I personally don't think all that much of John VII, he was an alright Emperor but not a very good one. He really made a mess when he bungled the affair over that Ottoman prince and handing him over to the Sultan. Had he been born in better times he would have done a very capable job though. As the situation was at the time almost any minor wrong move would be disastrous.

Didn't the debacle with the prince happen during Constantine XI's reign?  Shortly before the siege of Constantinople in 1453, Mehmet was having some trouble with rebellious Beys in the provinces.  Constantine misjudged the severity of the situation and demanded from Mehmet the payments for the upkeep of the captive Prince Orhan.  This enraged Mehmet and the Sultan immediately made preparations to build the infamous "Throat-Cutter" fortification on the Bosphorus, complete with cannon on its ramparts. (this is in Runciman, The Fall of Constantinople 1453, pp. 64-65)

I think John VIII is commendable because he and the aged patriarch made the journey to Italy to attend the council of Ferrara-Florence in a futile attempt to obtain military aid from the unsymapthetic West.  Instead of sitting in the City and squandering precious time, (like the previous Andronici emperors had done), he used what bargaining power he had left to help the Empire.  Runciman mentions that he commissioned work to be done on the crumbling Theodosian walls.  I don't think any of the other Palaeologi, besides maybe Manuel II and definitely Constantine XI, had the sense to reinforce the old walls.

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