How important was the Anatolian heartland to the long-term survival of the Byzantine

Nov 2014
410
ph
#1
I know that Manuel was criticized for not trying to recover it until 1176, but John also did not see the importance of taking back the Anatolian interior and devoted his efforts to taking the coastal areas after he succeeded Alexius. Also the Byzantine Empire still stayed very wealthy during the Comnenian era even without controlling the interior of Anatolia.
 
Jan 2016
1,137
Victoria, Canada
#3
The Anatolian interior wasn't excessively important economically, but it was very important strategically. If the old Taurus border could be restored the Byzantines would have a very solid base to expand outwards from, whereas the komnenian border was quite vulnerable in times of crisis, despite fortification efforts. Had Anatolia been secured, I could easily see the Byzantine empire lasting for an indefinite amount of time fully intact. The rebellion culture so ingrained in the empire, which ultimately brought it to ruin, was only ever viable because of the natural fortifications provided by the Taurus range.

John's decision to focus on coastal areas was an understandable one, the coastal regions being much easier to conquer and more profitable than the somewhat barren tactical nightmare that is the Anatolian plateau, but ultimately the extra effort would have been worth it in my opinion. The ancient stability restored by the securing of the old borders might have also had the bonus effect of calming and centralizing komnenian society. With luck the pseudo-noble dominated administration could be reformed back into a proper civilian bureaucracy, and the stronger regional identities that were developing quelled.
 

Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,619
#4
Other than the obvious strategic implications of much more secure borders it is an interesting question. I've seen claims that the best Byzantine soldiers were from the interior and going by statements of generals thru history that might be true as shepherds, hard men, etc are usually seen as most adaptable to military life.

There were some good mines and important trade routes that were in the interior as well so it wasn't all poor areas though compared to the tax revenues of the more densely population coasts it might have seemed poor. The interior had areas capable of supporting agriculture but had endured decades of raids and much of the population had left or retreated to small forts so a reconquest would have also required major transfer of population to ensure Byzantine hold on the areas reconquered and really I don't think Byzantine state had the power to do that after Manzikert not due to the battle but other political and social changes in the Empire primarily the dissolution of the themes as military forces and increased reliance on mercenaries and private retinues.
 
Oct 2016
692
On a magic carpet
#5
The Anatolian heartland was everything. It's no accident that the empire of Nicaea was so successful. It's the perfect location for a powerful state to rise. Those Anatolian territories of the Byzantines were key at any period in history from 650 to 1338.

The failure of the Byzantine Empire really centres on the failure to retake central Anatolia. The key period was 1071 to 1185. The Komnenos emperors are thus the central figures in that failure.

Alexios deserves much of the blame. His early defeats against the Normans destroyed the Byzantine professional army. This meant crucial years were wasted and byzantine weakness triggered a Pecheneg invasion. It was not until 1097 that Alexios even moved against Nicaea. That's 26 years after Manzikert, allowing the Turks time to become entrenched in Anatolia.

He committed many other failures too. He withdrew garrisons from Anatolia which still existed at the start of his reign, only to waste them in defeats against the Normans. He retreated and evacuated the civilians of central Anatolia, leaving the land empty to Turkish settlement. He allowed the Turks to establish a capital at Konya, despite it being taken by crusaders. If he had instead occupied and held it the Seljuks of Rum could not have existed.

John also deserves blame. He wasted years and resources on futile campaigns in Syria whole carrying out token campaigns in Anatolia with a fraction of his full army which achieved negligible gain. And there was no real effort to hold the gains, e.g. Gangra was garisoned with 2000 men and soon lost again. Pathetic when you consider he sent over 30,000 men to Syria in campaigns that did not benefit the empire whatsoever.

Manuel was also a failure. Vast expense and many years wasted on futile and poorly planned campaigns in Italy and Egypt which were mere delusions of grandeur at a time when there were Turks at Dorylaion. Instead, he should have focused on central Anatolia. Poorly executed and misguided diplomacy alienated many friends while allowing the Seljuks to build up their territory and strength. And when he did finally attack belatedly in 1176 the result was a complete failure arising out of basic errors in tactics ie not scouting the route.

All in all a very poor record, despite the Komnenoi (undeserved?) good reputation.
 

Maki

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,099
Republika Srpska
#6
The Anatolian interior wasn't excessively important economically, but it was very important strategically. If the old Taurus border could be restored the Byzantines would have a very solid base to expand outwards from, whereas the komnenian border was quite vulnerable in times of crisis, despite fortification efforts. Had Anatolia been secured, I could easily see the Byzantine empire lasting for an indefinite amount of time fully intact. The rebellion culture so ingrained in the empire, which ultimately brought it to ruin, was only ever viable because of the natural fortifications provided by the Taurus range.
I think that Anatolia was also important in providing a source of manpower for the Empire. The Empire under the Komnenoi had a large population, but it also controlled most of the Balkans, and as events showed, the Balkan Slavs weren't terribly loyal to the Byzantines. Komnenoi also controlled the more densely populated Anatolian coasts, but I do wonder how much the loss of Anatolian heartland impacted imperial manpower. Also, the loss of Anatolia had another effect: it placed imperial enemies relatively close to Constantinople.