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Medieval Academy of America

The Empire of Manuel I Komnenos, 1143-1180. by Paul Magdalino


Review by: Alexander Kazhdan
Speculum, Vol. 69, No. 4 (Oct., 1994), pp. 1216-1218
Published by: Medieval Academy of America
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them were
willing
to
perpetrate
considerable violence in order to achieve their own ends
and
that,
as a
consequence,
the
countryside
was a
disorderly place
in which to live. In
the
process
of
pursuing
their selfish
interests,
the
gentry bypassed
the usual channels of
justice.
The
book, therefore,
is less a
study
of crime and violence than it is a contribution
to the
ongoing
debate over "bastard feudalism."
The
problem
of
sources,
of
course,
will
always
be a
major
one in
any study
of violence.
The fifteenth
century provides
considerable frustrations to the researcher since the
major
criminal records
(jail delivery
rolls)
represent only
a
portion
of the cases and other
records do not survive. Pleas in the
King's
Bench courts that
appear
to contain violence-
trespasses
with the
descriptive phrase
vi et armis-were
probably simply employing
a
legal
formulation rather than
depicting
actual use of force. Maddern has
wisely
chosen to
present
a statistical
analysis
rather than
impressionistic gleanings
from the sources. These
data,
even
though incomplete, help
to assess the
types
of cases that were
coming
into
the court and the actions of the
juries
and
justices
in
dealing
with them. The
activity
in
the courts indicates that the
gentry
were
avidly using
the courts for their cases and were
serving
as members of the
juries
and on
panels
of
justice.
The exercise of
justice
was an
assertion of local
power.
Numbers
alone, however,
do not tell a
complete
tale of a
society's
concern about
violence and
neither,
Maddern
argues,
do the
parliamentary complaints
about it. She
uses two devices to form a new assessment. In one
chapter
she looks at chivalric and
religious
attitudes toward violence. This
approach
is
promising
and deserves more at-
tention. The second valuable
analytical
tool is five case studies that examine the
genesis
and outcome of violence.
Unfortunately,
one is drawn from a notable Bedfordshire
case,
thereby raising
doubts about the boundaries of East
Anglia.
The
approach
does
permit
her to
question community
tolerance for various sorts of social disorder.
Maddern's revisionist
view,
that the
period
was not as violent as
previous
historians
have
thought,
has some flaws.
Assessing
the
majority
of
rapes
as more consensual than
violent is
suspect.
She
argues
that the
gentry
did not kill each other and
explains away
their violence
against
inferiors as
part
of
prevailing
feudal values. Did the Norwich and
Bedford
townsmen,
the
subject
of two case
studies,
share these feudal values? To what
extent had the
gentry
imbibed these values? Whether or not the social inferiors were
violent toward each other does not
appear
in the account.
Working
from a modern
definition of riot as social unrest of
disgruntled
minorities,
she concludes that riots did
not occur. But
fifteenth-century contemporaries
described the violence as
riot,
and
they
meant
something
different
by
the term. Was it a violent
century?
Maddern concludes
that violence and law were
closely
related in the
fifteenth-century
context and both could
contribute to
maintaining
the social order. Without the
comparative analysis
from studies
of fourteenth- and
sixteenth-century
violence and
law, however,
Maddern cannot
provide
a
plausible
assessment of the
impact
of
fifteenth-century
disorder.
BARBARA A.
HANAWALT,
University
of Minnesota
PAUL
MAGDALINO,
The
Empire of
Manuel I
Komnenos,
1143-1180.
Cambridge, Eng.:
Cam-
bridge University
Press,
1993.
Pp.
xxvi, 557;
3
maps,
4
genealogical
tables.
$89.95.
This is one of the most
important
recent
publications
in the field of
Byzantine history.
The twelfth
century
was for the
Empire
of
Constantinople
a critical
period:
still a
powerful
state under the rule of
Manuel,
a
quarter century
after his death it was crushed
by
the
armies of the Fourth Crusade and broken to
pieces.
Was the
capture
of
Constantinople
by
the crusaders in 1204 an accidental
event,
or was it
prepared by
the
hundred-year-
them were
willing
to
perpetrate
considerable violence in order to achieve their own ends
and
that,
as a
consequence,
the
countryside
was a
disorderly place
in which to live. In
the
process
of
pursuing
their selfish
interests,
the
gentry bypassed
the usual channels of
justice.
The
book, therefore,
is less a
study
of crime and violence than it is a contribution
to the
ongoing
debate over "bastard feudalism."
The
problem
of
sources,
of
course,
will
always
be a
major
one in
any study
of violence.
The fifteenth
century provides
considerable frustrations to the researcher since the
major
criminal records
(jail delivery
rolls)
represent only
a
portion
of the cases and other
records do not survive. Pleas in the
King's
Bench courts that
appear
to contain violence-
trespasses
with the
descriptive phrase
vi et armis-were
probably simply employing
a
legal
formulation rather than
depicting
actual use of force. Maddern has
wisely
chosen to
present
a statistical
analysis
rather than
impressionistic gleanings
from the sources. These
data,
even
though incomplete, help
to assess the
types
of cases that were
coming
into
the court and the actions of the
juries
and
justices
in
dealing
with them. The
activity
in
the courts indicates that the
gentry
were
avidly using
the courts for their cases and were
serving
as members of the
juries
and on
panels
of
justice.
The exercise of
justice
was an
assertion of local
power.
Numbers
alone, however,
do not tell a
complete
tale of a
society's
concern about
violence and
neither,
Maddern
argues,
do the
parliamentary complaints
about it. She
uses two devices to form a new assessment. In one
chapter
she looks at chivalric and
religious
attitudes toward violence. This
approach
is
promising
and deserves more at-
tention. The second valuable
analytical
tool is five case studies that examine the
genesis
and outcome of violence.
Unfortunately,
one is drawn from a notable Bedfordshire
case,
thereby raising
doubts about the boundaries of East
Anglia.
The
approach
does
permit
her to
question community
tolerance for various sorts of social disorder.
Maddern's revisionist
view,
that the
period
was not as violent as
previous
historians
have
thought,
has some flaws.
Assessing
the
majority
of
rapes
as more consensual than
violent is
suspect.
She
argues
that the
gentry
did not kill each other and
explains away
their violence
against
inferiors as
part
of
prevailing
feudal values. Did the Norwich and
Bedford
townsmen,
the
subject
of two case
studies,
share these feudal values? To what
extent had the
gentry
imbibed these values? Whether or not the social inferiors were
violent toward each other does not
appear
in the account.
Working
from a modern
definition of riot as social unrest of
disgruntled
minorities,
she concludes that riots did
not occur. But
fifteenth-century contemporaries
described the violence as
riot,
and
they
meant
something
different
by
the term. Was it a violent
century?
Maddern concludes
that violence and law were
closely
related in the
fifteenth-century
context and both could
contribute to
maintaining
the social order. Without the
comparative analysis
from studies
of fourteenth- and
sixteenth-century
violence and
law, however,
Maddern cannot
provide
a
plausible
assessment of the
impact
of
fifteenth-century
disorder.
BARBARA A.
HANAWALT,
University
of Minnesota
PAUL
MAGDALINO,
The
Empire of
Manuel I
Komnenos,
1143-1180.
Cambridge, Eng.:
Cam-
bridge University
Press,
1993.
Pp.
xxvi, 557;
3
maps,
4
genealogical
tables.
$89.95.
This is one of the most
important
recent
publications
in the field of
Byzantine history.
The twelfth
century
was for the
Empire
of
Constantinople
a critical
period:
still a
powerful
state under the rule of
Manuel,
a
quarter century
after his death it was crushed
by
the
armies of the Fourth Crusade and broken to
pieces.
Was the
capture
of
Constantinople
by
the crusaders in 1204 an accidental
event,
or was it
prepared by
the
hundred-year-
Reviews Reviews 1216 1216
long
rule of the Komnenian
dynasty?
The
study
of the
reign
of Manuel I
may give
us
the answer to that
signal question.
The last
monograph
on Manuel formed the second volume of a book
by
the French
Byzantinist
Ferdinand
Chalandon,
Les Comnene
(Paris, 1912);
a
comparison
of the content
of the two
monographs
shows how far
Byzantine
studies have
progressed
in the last
eighty
years.
Chalandon's book is first and foremost the
history
of wars and
diplomacy
with a
chapter
dedicated to the
intrigues
of the court and a
concluding chapter
on administrative
and ecclesiastical affairs.
Magdalino
has
expanded
the theme far
beyond military
and
diplomatic
events,
to which
only
the first
chapter
is
devoted;
after that he characterizes
economic and administrative
organization (chaps.
2-4),
intellectual culture
(chap.
5),
and
state
propaganda (chap.
6).
Magdalino's
achievement consists not
only
in
embarking
into new
territories,
primarily
the
economic, social,
and intellectual
spheres
of human
life,
but in
reconsidering
the
whole of the
Byzantine
twelfth
century.
To understand the
significance
of
"Magdalino's
revolution" we need now at least a brief
historiographical
excursus: Two
contemporary
historians described the
reign
of Manuel
I,
John
Kinnamos,
the
emperor's secretary
and
faithful
panegyrist;
and Niketas Choniates who
conjured up
a
complex image
in which
positive
and
negative
features are balanced. Modern
scholarship
has not followed Kin-
namos: even
Louis-Philippe
de
Segur
(Histoire
du
Bas-Empire,
vol. 3
[Paris, 1826]),
who
praised
the first two
Komnenoi,
Alexios I and
John
II,
called Manuel "an evil ruler"
(p.
400).
Russian scholars of the late nineteenth
century suggested
an elaborate notion of
the "bad" twelfth
century:
whereas the
emperors
of the Macedonian
dynasty
in the tenth
century
cared about the
peasantry
and
army,
their successors
(especially
the
Komnenoi)
yielded
to western
(alias feudal)
influences and undermined the sound
pillars
of the
Orthodox
monarchy.
That idea
prevails
in modern
scholarship, including
the
popular
textbook
by Georgij Ostrogorskij.
Even Paul
Lemerle,
who
courageously
rehabilitated
the eleventh
century, stops
at the eve of the Komnenian
epoch: according
to
Lemerle,
Alexios I introduced "une societe
bloquee";
he denies
Byzantine
feudalism but thinks
that the Komnenoi
rejected
the
"bourgeoisie d'argent
et d'affaires" and
by
so
doing
deviated from the
policy
of the eleventh
century (Cinq
etudes sur le XIe siecle
byzantin
[Paris, 1977],
pp.
309-12).
Despite
the
authority
of those
great
names,
some
attempts
to reevaluate the economic
situation and
political strength
of
Byzantium
under the Komnenoi have been made in
the last
decades,
especially by
Michael
Hendy, Ralph-Johannes
Lilie,
and Alan
Harvey.
Magdalino,
however,
has not
only
summarized the observations of his
predecessors,
has
not
only
shed fresh
light
on various
particular problems
of Komnenian
history,
but has
created a holistic
picture
of the
reign
of Manuel I and of the entire Komnenian
period
from the new
viewpoint.
Unlike
Lemerle,
Magdalino
states that the twelfth
century
"was on the whole a
good
period
for
agriculture, industry
and
trade,"
especially
in the
European provinces
of the
empire (p.
140).
He
diligently
studies two
major
elements that formed the backbone of
the Komnenian
regime,
the
provincial
town and the
large
estate,
and comes to a
very
important
conclusion,
that "the main structures of
Byzantine
feudalism remained .. .
extraordinarily
centralized"
(p.
170
f).
That
observation,
by
the
way,
leads
Magdalino
to
question
the traditional view that
great
landlords contributed to the fall of the
empire
in 1204. One
point
in this connection needs further
analysis-the
economic role of
Constantinople:
did the
capital preserve
in the twelfth
century
the economic
prepon-
derance so
typical
of the
previous period,
or was
Constantinople pushed
to the back-
ground by
such centers as
Thessaloniki, Thebes,
and Corinth?
In the twelfth
century
the
ruling
class of the
empire
was
being
restructured. For
many
decades
Byzantinists accepted
Charles Le Beau's disdain for the Komnenian reform of
Reviews 1217
titulature,
which he labeled "child's
play"
(Histoire
du
Bas-Empire,
17
[Paris, 1775],
p.
473).
Magdalino,
however,
following
Armin
Hohlweg,
describes the new
hierarchy,
based
on
kinship
and
affinity
with the
ruling dynasty,
as a serious measure toward
political
stabilization;
my
calculations-on a
very
limited statistical basis-have led me to the con-
clusion that in the
days
of Manuel ca. 90
percent
of
high military positions
were in the
hands of the Komnenians and their relatives and that eunuchs and
foreigners,
charac-
teristic of the
eleventh-century
elite,
constituted an
insignificant
number
among Byzantine
generals.
The
chapter
on the intellectual life of the
empire
is
very provocative.
The
tendency
has been to
depict Byzantine
intellectuals as
groveling
before the
potentates,
as
lacking
creativity
and enslaved
by
classical and biblical traditions.
Magdalino
breaks with that
view and
presents
the intellectual life of the Komnenian
epoch
as a
struggle
of ideas and
ideals,
a
pre-Renaissance (p.
393),
and a
period
of cultural
change.
This cultural
change,
I would like to
add,
is
completely congruous
with the
(slow)
economic
upsurge
of which
Magdalino speaks
in
chapter
2.
Summing up
the distinction between his view and that of
Lemerle,
Magdalino
asserts
that "the
empire
of Manuel Komnenos was a
synthesis
between the civil
society
which
had flourished in the eleventh
century
and the aristocratic militarism which was needed
to
keep
the
empire
intact"
(p.
490).
Accordingly
he
rejects
the traditional
perception
of
Manuel's international
policy
as a chain of failures. Manuel's
policy
"was as
complex
and
as
changeable
as the international situation to which he reacted"
(p.
104).
And he con-
tinues: "Manuel's ecumenism worked on a
deeper
level than he
may
have realized"
(p.
106).
To
perceive
this ecumenism in its broader framework one
should,
probably,
take
into consideration that Manuel tried to find
understanding
also with the eastern
neighbors
of the
empire:
Charles
Brand,
in a recent article
(Dumbarton
Oaks
Papers
43
[1989],
1-
25),
has demonstrated the
important
role
played by
the Turkish element in
Byzantium
at that time.
Magdalino begins
his book
by saying
that the twelfth
century
was the
age
of
Henry
Plantagenet
and Frederick Barbarossa
(p.
1).
They
were the last universalist monarchs
of medieval
Europe,
and their end marks the end of universalist
"empires"
and the
beginning
of national states. Manuel Komnenos is their
companion
not
only
because of
the similar brilliance of his character but
primarily
because he was the last
Byzantine
universalist basileus. If his death
opened
a
period
of crisis that was consummated in the
catastrophe
of
1204,
the cause was neither his
personal shortcomings,
nor the
perversity
of the Greek
nation,
nor the wretchedness of Orthodox
Christianity-by
the
beginning
of the thirteenth
century
medieval
universalism,
both in the West and in the
East,
was
incongruous
with the new economic and social conditions. The
post-Manuel
fate of
Byzantium
was
part
and
parcel
of a
general European development. Magdalino's
book
allows us to see
Byzantium
within the framework of a
European
context-not as "an
Orthodox monster."
ALEXANDER
KAZHDAN,
Dumbarton Oaks
PAUL
MAGDALINO, ed.,
The
Perception of
the Past in
Twelfth-Century Europe.
London and
Rio
Grande,
Ohio: Hambledon
Press,
1992.
Pp.
xvi,
240.
$55.
The
essays gathered together
here under the rubric The
Perception of
the Past
grew
out
of a conference held at St. Andrews in
September
1989. Like
many
such
ventures,
it has
the
strengths
and weaknesses of its
origins.
Its
strength
comes from the
organizers'
desire
to be as
comprehensive
as
possible
in
surveying
the whole of
Europe
in terms of their
announced
agenda.
Its weakness derives from the
predictable
fact that the research and
titulature,
which he labeled "child's
play"
(Histoire
du
Bas-Empire,
17
[Paris, 1775],
p.
473).
Magdalino,
however,
following
Armin
Hohlweg,
describes the new
hierarchy,
based
on
kinship
and
affinity
with the
ruling dynasty,
as a serious measure toward
political
stabilization;
my
calculations-on a
very
limited statistical basis-have led me to the con-
clusion that in the
days
of Manuel ca. 90
percent
of
high military positions
were in the
hands of the Komnenians and their relatives and that eunuchs and
foreigners,
charac-
teristic of the
eleventh-century
elite,
constituted an
insignificant
number
among Byzantine
generals.
The
chapter
on the intellectual life of the
empire
is
very provocative.
The
tendency
has been to
depict Byzantine
intellectuals as
groveling
before the
potentates,
as
lacking
creativity
and enslaved
by
classical and biblical traditions.
Magdalino
breaks with that
view and
presents
the intellectual life of the Komnenian
epoch
as a
struggle
of ideas and
ideals,
a
pre-Renaissance (p.
393),
and a
period
of cultural
change.
This cultural
change,
I would like to
add,
is
completely congruous
with the
(slow)
economic
upsurge
of which
Magdalino speaks
in
chapter
2.
Summing up
the distinction between his view and that of
Lemerle,
Magdalino
asserts
that "the
empire
of Manuel Komnenos was a
synthesis
between the civil
society
which
had flourished in the eleventh
century
and the aristocratic militarism which was needed
to
keep
the
empire
intact"
(p.
490).
Accordingly
he
rejects
the traditional
perception
of
Manuel's international
policy
as a chain of failures. Manuel's
policy
"was as
complex
and
as
changeable
as the international situation to which he reacted"
(p.
104).
And he con-
tinues: "Manuel's ecumenism worked on a
deeper
level than he
may
have realized"
(p.
106).
To
perceive
this ecumenism in its broader framework one
should,
probably,
take
into consideration that Manuel tried to find
understanding
also with the eastern
neighbors
of the
empire:
Charles
Brand,
in a recent article
(Dumbarton
Oaks
Papers
43
[1989],
1-
25),
has demonstrated the
important
role
played by
the Turkish element in
Byzantium
at that time.
Magdalino begins
his book
by saying
that the twelfth
century
was the
age
of
Henry
Plantagenet
and Frederick Barbarossa
(p.
1).
They
were the last universalist monarchs
of medieval
Europe,
and their end marks the end of universalist
"empires"
and the
beginning
of national states. Manuel Komnenos is their
companion
not
only
because of
the similar brilliance of his character but
primarily
because he was the last
Byzantine
universalist basileus. If his death
opened
a
period
of crisis that was consummated in the
catastrophe
of
1204,
the cause was neither his
personal shortcomings,
nor the
perversity
of the Greek
nation,
nor the wretchedness of Orthodox
Christianity-by
the
beginning
of the thirteenth
century
medieval
universalism,
both in the West and in the
East,
was
incongruous
with the new economic and social conditions. The
post-Manuel
fate of
Byzantium
was
part
and
parcel
of a
general European development. Magdalino's
book
allows us to see
Byzantium
within the framework of a
European
context-not as "an
Orthodox monster."
ALEXANDER
KAZHDAN,
Dumbarton Oaks
PAUL
MAGDALINO, ed.,
The
Perception of
the Past in
Twelfth-Century Europe.
London and
Rio
Grande,
Ohio: Hambledon
Press,
1992.
Pp.
xvi,
240.
$55.
The
essays gathered together
here under the rubric The
Perception of
the Past
grew
out
of a conference held at St. Andrews in
September
1989. Like
many
such
ventures,
it has
the
strengths
and weaknesses of its
origins.
Its
strength
comes from the
organizers'
desire
to be as
comprehensive
as
possible
in
surveying
the whole of
Europe
in terms of their
announced
agenda.
Its weakness derives from the
predictable
fact that the research and
1218 1218 Reviews Reviews