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A generation gap or political enmity?: Emperor Manuel Komnenos, Byzantine intellectuals and the struggle for domination in twelfth century Byzantium

A generation gap or political enmity?: Emperor Manuel Komnenos, Byzantine intellectuals and the struggle for domination in twelfth century Byzantium

By Vlada Stanković

Zbornik radova Vizantoloskog instituta, Issue 44 (2007)

Abstract: The paper analyses the political tendencies of the first half of the long reign of Emperor Manuel Komnenos, and his relationship with the members of the educated elite. It is argued that Manuel Komnenos made a conscious effort to free himself from the influence of the prominent intellectuals with whom he could not establish satisfying cooperation or from whom he was unable to command sufficient political obedience, since there was a significant generational difference between them, which also led to a political differentiation between the men of the old regime, and Manuel, and his surroundings.

Introduction: More than decade and a half into the reign of Manuel Komnenos a mysterious conspiracy came to light, master-minded by a person from the emperor’s closest circle and one of the Empire’s most senior bureaucrats, Theodore Styppeiotes, who had been awarded the prestigious function of “bearer of the imperial ink-case”, and had married into the ruling Comnenian family.

Neither Styppeiotes’ biography, which is almost unknown apart from that single famous episode, nor his personal closeness with Emperor Manuel Komnenos offer a reasonable explanation of his motives or explain the background and the causes of the alleged rebellion against the ruler by whom he had been generously rewarded. Not much in general can be deduced from the brief mention of this palace coup d’etat by the Byzantine historians. What is, however, sufficiently clear from the reports by both John Kinnamos and Niketas Choniates is that Styppeiotes’ fall should be placed within the broader social milieu of mid-twelfth century Byzantium.

In other words, the destiny of Theodore Styppeiotes was intertwined with the fate of many educated men of his time, testifying primarily to the conscious, if not planned measures of Emperor Manuel Komnenos to ‘cleanse’ his surroundings of the personalities he suspected, for whatever reason, or in whose loyalty he had reason to doubt.

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