Friday, September 29, 2006

Poor Manuel II Paleologos - he just wanted to defend his empire.

Our latest pope, Benedictus XVI, has recently stumbled (and fell) on the teachings of one of the latest Byzantine emperors, Manuel II Paleologos. To the horror and fury of a very touchy Muslim clergy, he cited the late emperor’s thoughts regarding the Muslim and Turkish expansion in his time. Manuel II had reason for his negative attitude towards the Turks, who spread their faith and ambitions with the sword. Read about this remarkable man who tried to save his shrinking empire, which later was devoured by the Turks 28 years after his death, by the fall of Constantinople 1453.

In a lecture delivered the 12th of September 2006 in Regensburg, Germany, the pope Benedictus XVI quoted from a dialogue between Manuel II and a Persian scholar (Dialogue 7 of Twenty-six Dialogues with a Persian). Manuel wrote:
” Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as command to spread by the sword the faith he preached…”. Manuel goes on very logically:
”…God is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats…To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death…”

Muslim fanatics all over the world cried foul and some Christian churches were even attacked and burnt. Why the pope choose to cite Manuel II regarding this very sensitive matter is for me a mystery. Yes, - in a sense, some Muslin fanatics are trying to spread the faith of Muhammad by the sword in the form of commercial jetliners and suicide bombers, but not in the sense Manuel II had in mind. The pope did the classical mistake of taking historical facts out of its own context and presenting them as actual facts..

In fact, Manuel knew very well what he was talking about. He had first hand knowledge of the Turkish imperialism and Muslim missionaries with sword in hand. In those times it was the order of the day. Either it was the Koran in your hand or your own head at your feet.

Manuel was sent to the west by his father John V, already when he was a young man of 15 years. The aim was to seek support for the Byzantine Empire against the Turks. When he was 20 he was named governor for the little enclave of Thessaloniki, one of the few bits left of the empire, another part was the European hinterland of Constantinople, Trachea.
The complicated political intrigues and infighting of the Byzantine Empire dealt severe blows to Manuel. Among other things, he had to go to war against his own nephew John VII in 1390 and defeated him with the help of the Republic of Venice. But when his father was overthrown by another son, Manuel was sent as a hostage to the Ottoman court of the sultan Bayezed I. There he was humiliated and forced to participate in war against the Byzantine Empire, where the town of Philadelfeia of Anatolia was lost. That was the last Byzantine enclave in Minor Asia. The Turkish dragnet was becoming tighter.

By the news of his fathers death 1391, Manuel managed to escape from the Ottoman court and took over the reins of the Byzantine Empire, but had to endure a six year long siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402 by his old enemy Bayezed I. In the fifth year of the siege, he had to embark on a long journey to England, France, the Holy Roman Empire and Aragon to seek assistance against the Muslim Turks. Imagine the courage of Manuel to leave his beloved city of Constantinople in the middle of a siege of the Grand Turk and let his nephew and old rival John VI act as an interim emperor while he was gone, probably several years.

The only his long journey and begging tour accomplished was some help in form of a crusade by the Hungarian king Sigismund of Luxemburg, which failed when he was defeated in Nicopolis 1396 on his way to Constantinople.

Manuel had more enemies to think about. The feared Mongol and Muslim conqueror Timur Lenk had earlier swept from the steppes of Asia, conquering the entire Central Asia, all the way to Moscow, India, Persia, the countries of the Black Sea and the Middle East, where he conquered, Bagdad, Damascus and Aleppo in 1401.
He was a very destructive warrior who burnt, looted and sacked the cities he conquered. Big flowering cities like New Dehli, Isfahan, Bagdad and Damascus were completely destroyed. Only in Bagdad his troops beheaded practically all the male population of 20 000 and sent women and children into slavery.
In 1402 he invaded Anatolia and defeated sultan Bayezid outside Ankara. The sultan was taken prisoner and subsequently died in prison. Timur Lenk was a terrible threat to the Byzantine Empire, but Manuel was saved by the fact that the Mongol wanted to crush China and turned his armies eastward.

Manuel’s worst enemy the sultan Bayezed now was defeated and gone and the siege of Constantinople was lifted when he returned after his long voyage 1403. A time of prosperity and consolidation began. The Turks were involved in a succession war between them and the Byzantine Empire could even expand a little and take back some countries around the Black Sea and in Greece. Defences were improved, walls built and the walls of Constantinople were beefed up.
Manuel had friendly relations with the first winner of the Turkish war of succession, Mehmed I (probably an acquaintance from his days as a hostage), but in his attempts to meddle in the next contested succession backfired and he got a new siege of Constantinople on his neck in 1422 by the next sultan, Murad II.
72 years old and very tired, Manuel relinquished all his power to his son John VIII. But the peace did not last long. Under severe pressure from the Grand Turk, the Byzantine empire was forced to sign a humiliating peace treaty 1424 and had to pay a heavy tribute every year. The year after Manuel II Paleologos died in peace.

Seen in the retro perspective Manuel had every reason to fear the Muslims, personalized by the Turks and the hordes of Timur Lenk.. He had been in war with them several times, besieged twice and imprisoned as a hostage at the Ottoman court. He was a philosopher and esteemed writer with a profound knowledge of the Muslim world and religion.

The Byzantine Empire lasted only 28 years after his death. – The 29th of May 1453 Constantinople fell to the Turks and their sultan Mehmet II. No western nation bothered to help them. The son of Manuel II, Constantine Peleologos, fell when the Turks finally stormed into the city, cut by two powerful strokes of a sabre. The body was later found, his head cut off and put under the belly of the equestrian statue of Justinian.
Constantine XI fell 1125 years after his ancestor Constantine the Great founded the antique Byzantium.
The ancient city that had the withstood 28 sieges from different enemies was completely destroyed and looted. Nothing sacred was left; churches and palaces were razed to the ground. Nearly all the population in this big city were put in chains (apart from the thousands that were executed) and sold at the slave markets. Only artisans and tradesmen who were essential for the continuation of affairs were spared.
The body of Manuel II was dug up, mutilated and the grave was destroyed. - All his fears had become true…
Written by Erik Edelstam

Sources: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and Histoire de l’Empire Ottoman by Ritter von Hammer¨-Pugstall