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Old June 10th, 2014, 03:30 PM   #1

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Andronikos I Komnenos


In nearly every list of the bad emperors of Byzantium, Andronikos I takes his place alongside Phokas, Justinian II, Constantine V, and Michael III. Most of these emperors have had their reputations rehabilitated or at least seriously questioned, and today at least it seems that Constantine V and Michael III are pretty much out of hot water. Andronikos, however, lives more in the realm of medieval history than ancient history, ie: we have more attestations to his reign than to someone like Phokas, who is known almost entirely through Herakleian propaganda. Jonathan Harris (based on Lilie's work?) has suggested that his policies were reactionary; he was determined not to be quite as friendly has Manuel was to the Latins and to help Byzantium regain its reputation. However, the result was violence. If we believe Choniates, dozens of named elites were executed, and some hundreds of common people in Constantinople were consumed in the violence he unleashed.

What was Andronikos trying to accomplish? Why did he use the methods he did? We have the names of many of those who were executed thanks to Choniates: has anyone done a prosopographical study to see if he was eliminating factions that sought to dethrone him or just anyone who irritated him? Do we have any historical materials that have anything good to say about Andronikos?
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Old June 11th, 2014, 04:37 AM   #2

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Originally Posted by Kirialax View Post
In nearly every list of the bad emperors of Byzantium, Andronikos I takes his place alongside Phokas, Justinian II, Constantine V, and Michael III. Most of these emperors have had their reputations rehabilitated or at least seriously questioned, and today at least it seems that Constantine V and Michael III are pretty much out of hot water. Andronikos, however, lives more in the realm of medieval history than ancient history, ie: we have more attestations to his reign than to someone like Phokas, who is known almost entirely through Herakleian propaganda. Jonathan Harris (based on Lilie's work?) has suggested that his policies were reactionary; he was determined not to be quite as friendly has Manuel was to the Latins and to help Byzantium regain its reputation. However, the result was violence. If we believe Choniates, dozens of named elites were executed, and some hundreds of common people in Constantinople were consumed in the violence he unleashed.

What was Andronikos trying to accomplish? Why did he use the methods he did? We have the names of many of those who were executed thanks to Choniates: has anyone done a prosopographical study to see if he was eliminating factions that sought to dethrone him or just anyone who irritated him? Do we have any historical materials that have anything good to say about Andronikos?
Hello Kirialax, good post as always.

I had always held a good impression of Constantine V? I thought he was one of the more successful Emperors - for example, he defeated the Bulgars and seemed to be doing pretty well at holding the Empire together. Perhaps he has received some criticism for being an Iconoclast, but that had never affected the way I see him.

As for Andronikos, I have found him one of the more interesting Emperors. As I understand it, his early reforms were actually a very good thing for the Empire. He stopped the sale of government offices and clamped down on corruption, which evidently must have been tolerated to some extent under his extravagant predecessor Manuel I Komnenos. From what I've read, Andronikos' early focus on removing corruption produced big improvements in the government of the state.

But unfortunately before these reforms could bring full advantage to the Empire, he began to massacre the nobility. It seems as though he was determined to eliminate them entirely, perhaps out of jealousy and resentment at his earlier life. Sadly though, it appears that these measures fatally weakened the Byzantine Empire of the time, because his military record was not a success. Since the nobility had become central to raising armies, it was not a wise move to purge them in the manner that Andronikos did. The result was defeat at the hands of the Normans and the loss of Thessaloniki.

What was Andronikos trying to achieve? It is difficult to be certain. Evidently he had the potential to be a good Emperor, reforming the government to make it more efficient and less corrupt. But at the same time, he seems to have been unhinged by violence. Perhaps he may have been suffering some form of insanity.

Even his reaction to the Norman attack seems to have been full of contradictions. One day he would order strong measures and prepare, and then next he would sit idly and leave matter unattended while the enemy advanced.

Perhaps if he had taken the throne earlier, he might have done better. But we will never know for sure. Andronikos was never going to be successful once he unleashed a massacre against his own nobility. In the end he did terrible damage to the Empire and left it at the mercy of its foreign enemies. Sadly for Byzantium, no competent leader would come after him to save the ancient capital from its terrible fate.
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Old June 11th, 2014, 07:17 PM   #3
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Andronikos I is a polarizing figure today just as he was in the late 12th century, having come to the (justified) rescue of the young Alexios II from the clutches of the corrupt regency of Maria Xene he unleashed the chain of events that led to fall of the City in 1204. While the Empire certainly had difficult relations with the Venetians in 1182, the massacre of the Latins entailed a level of internal violence not seen in the Empire in quite some time. Byzantine relations with the west would never recover, and this had horrific consequences for medieval roman civilization as a whole.

Andronikos was militarily incompetent, brutalized the nobility (including the "service" nobility who served the Army as officers) and was inconsistent in the reforms he did attempt at.

The truly shocking thing is that Byzantium at Manuel's death in 1180 was richer and more powerful than it had been at any moment since Basil II's reign, though much blame must be given to Manuel for totally failing to properly plan the succession and regency of his son, just as much blame must be given to the truly disastrous reign of terror that his cousin unleashed.
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Old June 11th, 2014, 08:30 PM   #4

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though much blame must be given to Manuel for totally failing to properly plan the succession and regency of his son, just as much blame must be given to the truly disastrous reign of terror that his cousin unleashed.
How successfully can a regent in the middle ages plan the succession of an infant after their death?
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Old June 11th, 2014, 08:49 PM   #5
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How successfully can a regent in the middle ages plan the succession of an infant after their death?

That a very good point


I have just always been suprised that Manuel did not leave his son's regime in the hands of Renier of Montferat, Andronikos Kontostephanos, or the Megas Domestikos John Vatatzes...
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Old June 14th, 2014, 04:52 PM   #6
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I have positively no answer to your question.
However, I must add that if Andronikos had anything going for him, it was the fact that he was Andronikos. Jose Cuervo and Roger de Flor have pretty much nothing on him in terms of biographies...
I quite like him, in fact, despite his homicidal tendencies...

Also (this should probably be a different post but whatever): how do I change my username? It was originally intended to be Alexios Komnenos, and it appears I've mistyped. Bloody keyboards and my bloody fat fingers...

Last edited by Alexis Komnenos; June 14th, 2014 at 04:56 PM.
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Old June 15th, 2014, 04:05 PM   #7

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Originally Posted by SassanidSaxon View Post
Andronikos I is a polarizing figure today just as he was in the late 12th century, having come to the (justified) rescue of the young Alexios II from the clutches of the corrupt regency of Maria Xene he unleashed the chain of events that led to fall of the City in 1204. While the Empire certainly had difficult relations with the Venetians in 1182, the massacre of the Latins entailed a level of internal violence not seen in the Empire in quite some time. Byzantine relations with the west would never recover, and this had horrific consequences for medieval roman civilization as a whole.

Andronikos was militarily incompetent, brutalized the nobility (including the "service" nobility who served the Army as officers) and was inconsistent in the reforms he did attempt at.

The truly shocking thing is that Byzantium at Manuel's death in 1180 was richer and more powerful than it had been at any moment since Basil II's reign, though much blame must be given to Manuel for totally failing to properly plan the succession and regency of his son, just as much blame must be given to the truly disastrous reign of terror that his cousin unleashed.
Reactionary is a good description. By then the central authority of Constantinople was weakened by Frankish feudalism and many Greeks hated the imposition of an "inferior" form of government. Not only was he anti-aristocratic, Andronikos was anti-Western and killed thousands of Italian and Western European merchants.
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Old June 16th, 2014, 07:35 AM   #8

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Hello Kirialax, good post as always.

I had always held a good impression of Constantine V? I thought he was one of the more successful Emperors - for example, he defeated the Bulgars and seemed to be doing pretty well at holding the Empire together. Perhaps he has received some criticism for being an Iconoclast, but that had never affected the way I see him.
Thanks for the excellent response, RoyalHill. The creation of this topic was merely a public way to get your input on this issue. As for Constantine V, you're right that modern opinion of him has softened greatly. He was generally considered a good military leader and an ambitious builder (by 8th c. standards). Unfortunately, I can't comment more on contemporary scholarship since a great deal of 8th c. political stuff is all in German, which I can only read with great suffering. In Byzantium, however, he's the arch-tyrant - I keep finding references to him in minor, later works (often hagiographical) that have nothing to do with iconoclasm or the period. He seems to be the template of the "bad ruler" that one invokes to juxtapose a different ruler.
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Old June 16th, 2014, 08:56 AM   #9
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As for Constantine V, you're right that modern opinion of him has softened greatly. He was generally considered a good military leader and an ambitious builder (by 8th c. standards)
.............................
. In Byzantium, however, he's the arch-tyrant - I keep finding references to him in minor, later works (often hagiographical) that have nothing to do with iconoclasm or the period. He seems to be the template of the "bad ruler" that one invokes to juxtapose a different ruler.
.................
I suppose you mean as later hagiogrphical works The Anonymous Encomium of Saint Theodosia

Constantine V

Click the image to open in full size.

[ame=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constantine_V]Constantine V - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia[/ame]
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Old June 16th, 2014, 09:04 AM   #10

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I suppose you mean as later hagiogrphical works The Anonymous Encomium of Saint Theodosia

Constantine V



Constantine V - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
No, I've never actually read that one. I was thinking of little incidental references, such as those in the Patria, the Life of Patriarch Ignatios, and the Life of St. Symeon the New Theologian.
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