Manuel I Komnenos ( 28 November 1118 – 24 September 1180) was a Byzantine Emperor of the 12th century who reigned over a crucial turning point in the history of Byzantium and the Mediterranean.
Eager to restore his empire to its past glories as the superpower of the Mediterranean world, Manuel pursued an energetic and ambitious foreign policy.
In the process he made alliances with the Pope and the resurgent West. He invaded the Norman Kingdom of Sicily, although unsuccessfully.
The passage of the potentially dangerous Second Crusade was adroitly managed through his empire. Manuel established a Byzantine protectorate over the Crusader states of Outremer.
Facing Muslim advances in the Holy Land, he made common cause with the Kingdom of Jerusalem and participated in a combined invasion of Fatimid Egypt.
Manuel reshaped the political maps of the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean, placing the kingdoms of Hungary and Outremer under Byzantine hegemony and campaigning aggressively against his neighbours both in the west and in the east.
However, towards the end of his reign Manuel’s achievements in the east were compromised by a serious defeat at Myriokephalon, which in large part resulted from his arrogance in attacking a well-defended Seljuk position.
Although the Byzantines recovered and Manuel concluded an advantageous peace with Sultan Kilij Arslan II, Myriokephalon proved to be the final, unsuccessful effort by the empire to recover the interior of Anatolia from the Turks.
Called ho Megas (ὁ Μέγας, translated as “the Great”) by the Greeks, Manuel is known to have inspired intense loyalty in those who served him. He also appears as the hero of a history written by his secretary, John Kinnamos, in which every virtue is attributed to him.
Manuel, who was influenced by his contact with western Crusaders, enjoyed the reputation of “the most blessed emperor of Constantinople” in parts of the Latin world as well.
Modern historians, however, have been less enthusiastic about him. Some of them assert that the great power he wielded was not his own personal achievement, but that of the dynasty he represented; they also argue that, since Byzantine imperial power declined catastrophically after Manuel’s death, it is only natural to look for the causes of this decline in his reign.
Manuel had two wives. His first marriage, in 1146, was to Bertha of Sulzbach, a sister-in-law of Conrad III of Germany. She died in 1159. Children:
Maria Komnene (1152–1182), wife of Renier of Montferrat.
Anna Komnene (1154–1158).
Manuel’s second marriage was to Maria of Antioch (nicknamed Xene), a daughter of Raymond and Constance of Antioch, in 1161. By this marriage, Manuel had one son:
Alexios II Komnenos, who succeeded as emperor in 1180.
Manuel had several illegitimate children:
By Theodora Vatatzina:
Alexios Komnenos (born in the early 1160s), who was recognised as the emperor’s son, and indeed received a title (sebastokrator). He was briefly married to Eirene Komnene, illegitimate daughter of Andronikos I Komnenos, in 1183–1184, and was then blinded by his father-in-law. He lived until at least 1191 and was known personally to Choniates.
By Maria Taronitissa, the wife of protovestiarios John Komnenos, whose legitimate children included Maria Komnene, Queen consort of Jerusalem:
Alexios Komnenos, a pinkernes (“cupbearer”), who fled Constantinople in 1184 and was a figurehead of the Norman invasion and the siege of Thessalonica in 1185.
By other lovers:
A daughter whose name is unknown. She was born around 1150 and married Theodore Maurozomes before 1170. Her son was Manuel Maurozomes, and some of her descendants ruled the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm.
A daughter whose name is unknown, born around 1155. She was the maternal grandmother of the author Demetrios Tornikes.