Isaac's Empire

My first proper timeline... in a scenario where the Komnenid dyanasty takes and holds the throne of the Roman Empire 24 years before OTL, so butterflying away Manzikert, the Crusades and many, many others. Please don't be too harsh... I am a Byzantine enthusiast not expert! But help and advise would be appreciated!
Anyway, part I, the reign of Basileus Isaakios I, 1057-1075.

Isaac I Komnenos was crowned Emperor of the Romans on September 1, 1057. He inherited a system that was close to total collapse. The empire was at its greatest territorial extent since the rise of Islam, sprawling from Italy to the Caucasus, but inside the all real authority had collapsed, and corruption had flourished for over thirty years. Gradually, the armed forces, descendants of the legions of old, had fallen into disrepair, starved of funds by an ever growing court bureaucracy that feared a military revolt that would place a competent Emperor on the throne of Constantine and Justinian. However, despite all of this bureaucracy’s attempts, a military adventurer by the name of Isaac had now seized the throne. The Empire would never be the same again.

Isaac’s first act as Emperor was to pay off his fellow generals and send them away from Constantinople, he had no wish to himself be overthrown. He did not instantly start slicing down at the bureaucrats either, to do so would have been political suicide. Instead, he turned his attention to the imperial coffers, which now lay nearly empty. Immediately, he began a program of confiscating territories given as bribes by his incompetent predecessors on the throne.

However, when he turned his attention to Church possessions, he faced much more opposition. In 1058 he entered into a major dispute with Patriarch Michael Keroularios, which ended in the Emperor deposing his Patriarch and the Patriarch dying in exile. Isaac’s popularity plummeted.
On the other hand, he still held the support of the army, which any strong Emperor understood to be key, and was able to lead them to a stunning victory against the Pecheneg barbarians in 1059, returning to Constantinople in triumph. In just two years, he had reversed the Empire’s downward spiral, and begun the second stage of the spectacular Roman renaissance that dominated the middle Ages.

1060 was a quiet year for the Emperor, who kept his head down and worked quietly to keep everything running properly in the state. He began the trimming of the bureaucracy, including dismissing the chronicler Michael Psellus. Because of this, our information for Isaac’s activities for the next couple of years is very poor. We know that in 1062, his brother John was dispatched to southern Italy, where he had some success in expelling the Normans from the peninsula. However, Isaac had concentrated the larger part of the still recovering imperial army in the Caucasus and Syria because of a much larger threat, so the Normans were still able to retain part of the “boot” of Italy and use this as a launch pad to conquer Sicily. A map of the area can be seen at the bottom. Purple shows areas returned by John Komnenos to full imperial control, red is under Norman rule, and red and grey stripes are undergoing Norman conquests.

The reason that Isaac was so unwilling to send troops to what he considered an unimportant side-theatre was the rise of the Seljuk Sultanate to the east. Ever since their emergence from the steppes in 1037, the Seljuks had slowly been taking control in Baghdad, until by 1064 their empire was the largest state the Islamic World had seen since the early 9th century. And like all young empires, the Seljuks were bent on outward expansion. For the first few years of Isaac’s reign, the Seljuk threat had been limited, because of a civil war in their empire, but in 1064, young Alp Arslan had emerged triumphant, and taken the title of Sultan. He now ruled over a state that stretched from the Tigris to the Oxus, and he had his eyes of the riches of the Roman Empire.

Soon after his accession, Arslan led his armies across the River Euphrates, into the Theme of Kappadokia. Isaac, at Iconium at the time, immediately headed eastward to confront the Sultan, and the two armies met at Manzikert, one of the furthest Eastern outposts of the Empire. The battle was indecisive, and by the sixth day of skirmishing, the Sultan offered the Emperor peace in exchange for money with which to conquer the Levant and Egypt, under the control of the Seljuks’ only rival for power in the Islamic world, the Fatimid Caliphate. After some haggling, Isaac agreed, and the Turk turned southwards. Basing his forces at Byzantine Antioch, he quickly captured Damascus which became his regional centre of power. In 1066, he marched on Jerusalem, and also captured the city, but disaster struck. Marching into the city, he was assaulted by a Shiite fanatic who drew his dagger and rushed upon the sultan. Alp Arslan, who took great pride in his reputation as the foremost archer of his time, motioned to his guards not to interfere and drew his bow, but his foot slipped, the arrow glanced aside and he received the assassin's dagger in his breast. Alp Arslan died as a man who could have changed the face of the world forever, but ended up as a footnote on the relentless march of history.
Back in the empire meanwhile, Isaac was about to embark on a second major assault on the Orthodox Church. The Patriarch by this time was John VIII, a much more sensible and retiring figure than Michael Keroularios, who understood fully the consequences of defying the Emperor. Therefore it was agreed in early 1067 that almost two thirds of the land owned by monasteries would be donated to “the poor”—in this case the peasant small holders who formed the backbone of the Imperial armies. Although many monks protested against this, they were generally simply ignored by the Imperial authorities. The people in this case supported the Emperor; the arrogance of the monks was becoming hard for them to bear, and none of them could refuse the land that he had so generously donated them.
Isaac Komnenos had now ruled as Emperor of the Romans for a decade, and in that time he had been able to totally reverse the downward spiral that his Empire had entered into. Ten years of his own hard work had restored the armies to the greatest military force in the Christian world, one that had held the Seljuk menace at bay. The Emperor thus saw no reason to ever leave Constantinople again, and he didn’t. In 1071 he raised his twenty three year old nephew Alexius to the position of co-Emperor, and in 1075 he passed away at the age of seventy, his empire intact, his church united, and his army stronger than at any time in the past fifty years. The future for the Empire looked bright, and indeed it was.

Imperial Italy 1062.jpg
Nice TL but in OTL Patriarch Keroularios tried to usurp the Crown from the Emperor for himself... he would have succeded that hadnt he died suddenly... (not without suspicions of foul play though)


So do I, so no crusades. The turks turn on the levant instead of Anatolia due to stronger byzantine resistance. Were the Turks that flexible about their goals?
So do I, so no crusades. The turks turn on the levant instead of Anatolia due to stronger byzantine resistance. Were the Turks that flexible about their goals?​

I would of thought so, they were only interested in expansion at the beginning, I can imagine them advancing the Romans at a later date though.
Wait for Part 2.
Alp Arslan is dead though, and the Holy Lands are taking a lot of pacifying, so that the Seljuks do not pose a serious threat to Isaac after the Battle of Manzikert (a poorly known and rather insignificant skirmish) in 1064.
I would of thought so, they were only interested in expansion at the beginning, I can imagine them advancing the Romans at a later date though.

I think the Seljuk’s were actually more interested in fighting the Fatimid Caliphate, a heretical state to them, than the empire and it was only the weakness of the empire that led to the bulk of them heading north into Anatolia. They still ended up fighting the Fatimid’s as well and one reason the 1st crusade succeeded against Jerusalem was because the Fatimid’s had only just taken it back from the Turks and both powers had been weakened by the combat.

If there was no Turkish breakthrough into Anatolia, either through a stronger imperial army or some other factor, then there would probably be heavier combat between the two Muslim states. In TTL it depends on how the Seljuk’s react to the death of Alp Arslan. A prolonged succession crisis might seriously restrict their power. Also I think that OTL there was a continued flow of Turkish settlers into Anatolia for a century or more after 1071. In TTL the question is whether this will occur and if so where will they end up.

Sooner or later the empire will probably also try and flex its muscles. The question will be in which direction. South to the holy land and rich territories there. East into the heartland of the Caliphate. North into the Balkans. Or west into Italy, which would mean clashes with the Normans and also almost certainly the Papacy. You could see a crusade called in TTL by the Pope to fight against the Greek heretics who threaten the eternal city [and of course his power].



Win at Manzikert?

Just one question:

How did Isaac win at Manzikert?

Also, if the Romans try to expand, they will only weaken their Empire. I would try to avoid expansion if it's at all possible to do so. Right now the Romans are in good defensive positions
Isaac didn't win at Manzikert, the battle was a stalemate. Isaac's armies had seven years to recover from lack of funds, while Romanus Diogenes' had just two. In addition to this, Isaac was a rather more competent commander than Diogenes.
Anyway, part 2, the reign of Emperor Alexius I!

The Emperor Alexius I was twenty eight years old at the time of his accession. He had inherited from his uncle an empire that was rich and stable in its Asian heartlands at least. To the west the situation was very different. Ever since the death of his father John in 1072, the situation in Italy had gradually become worse. The competent Norman leader Robert Guiscard had completed the subjugation of Sicily three years before, and had begun to construct a fleet to menace Imperial possessions in Italy and the western Balkans. No sooner had Alexius been crowned Emperor than word reached him from the west; the Normans had sacked Corfu, an important Imperial garrison. Initially, Alexius remained in Constantinople, waiting to see if the situation would sort itself out, but in 1077, the Normans captured Salerno and Capreno, effectively encircling the imperial lands in Italy. Now seriously alarmed, Alexius recalled the Imperial army from a minor peacekeeping expedition in Armenia and prepared to send the full force of his troops against the Normans. In 1078, the great force set out, with Alexius at its head, leading some 50,000 troops.

Unsurprisingly, the Normans collapsed before the Emperor’s onslaught. By the end of the year, they had been forced out of Apulia and Calabria, and in 1079, Alexius invaded Sicily proper. Messina fell that same year, but the resistance from the Norman garrison at Palermo was stubborn, and Alexius settled down to prepare for a winter siege.

However, the Emperor’s dreams of a quick victory in Sicily were not to be. In November, the governor of Dyracchium, Nicephorus Bryennius, declared himself Emperor, and began marching on Constantinople. Nicephorus Botaneiates, a general loyal to Alexius was able to hold the usurper at Thessalonica, but Bryennius was far from beaten. Reluctantly, the Emperor left Sicily, where the Normans immediately overcame the small garrisons he had left at Messina.

Despite this, Alexius knew that the revolt was a much more pressing concern than the Normans; Bryennius was a competent and popular general who stood a real chance of taking and holding the throne.
Alexius met Bryennius in battle at Adrianople sometime in spring 1080. The battle was an Imperial victory, but hardly a decisive one. The two armies were evenly matched, with around 30,000 soldiers each, testament to the scale and popularity of Bryennius’ revolt. Had the general not been killed accidentally, the future history of the Roman Empire could have been very different, as it was; Alexius Komnenos’ position was secured.
Meanwhile, everything the Emperor had achieved in Italy was rapidly falling apart. The Normans had captured Reggio at around the same time as the defeat of Byrennius, and had begun inching their way back into imperial lands, devastating the crops that were growing. By the end of the year, the Byzantine situation was bad. The towns were starving, and, to make matters worse, the Normans had not retreated to Sicily for the winter, but remained to devastate the countryside. On Christmas Day 1080, Taranto fell, and Bari was besieged. Alexius was desperate to return to Sicily, but was paralyzed in Constantinople by the intrigues of the aristocracy, who snarled and snapped at the Emperor. Then, in February, an offer of help arrived from a most unexpected source; the Papacy.

The Pope at the time was Gregory VII, an intelligent and strong willed man who was determined to assert himself as leader of Christendom. Already he had emerged triumphant over the Western Emperor Henry IV, but now, when he looked south he saw the Mezzogiorno in ruins after nearly a decade of swinging back and forth between Norman and imperial armies. As he was keen to restore control over Constantinople, Gregory sent ambassadors east to Alexius. While these did not lead to a full scale reunion of the churches, they did lead to a major thawing in East-West relations, and represent the first steps on the path of the reunion of the church. More importantly for Alexius though, was the physical side of the bargain, which would amount to direct Papal support for his campaigns.
Guiscard had already antagonized the Papacy with his annexation of Salerno, technically a Papal vassal. Now, Gregory seized the chance for revenge. He sent some 10,000 Italian soldiers to reinforce the Byzantines, who were led by Alexius’ loyal general Nicephorus Botaneiates. These reinforcements, coupled with the fact that Botaneiates brought Greek grain for the starving Italian locals ensured a quick victory. By midsummer the Normans had been forced from the mainland for good, Guiscard was killed while defending Reggio. After this, Sicily, which was largely Orthodox anyway, put up no resistance, by October, Nicephorus Botaneiates was in control of Palermo. The surviving Normans, around 5000 of them, were rounded up and arranged into a military unit to be deployed in Syria. The great Norman adventure in southern Italy was at an end.

But the Byzantine renaissance in Italy was just beginning. While Nicephorus Botaneiates was conquering the Normans, the Western Emperor Henry, tired of the humiliations dealt to him by the Pope, had swept down into Italy. For three years, the two bided their time, until, in 1084, the Emperor occupied Rome itself.Gregory thereupon retired into the exile of Sant' Angelo, refusing to meet Henry’s demands to crown him Emperor of the West. Meanwhile, Gregory sent desperate emissaries to Constantinople, promising Alexius the throne of the west if he could save the Pope.

For Alexius, bored of spending the past four years in the capital, this was a golden opportunity. Once again, he gathered a large army, and set off for Italy. Henry, seeing a determined and powerful opponent, and one that had far more claim to the title Roman Emperor than he did, promptly turned tail and fled. Gregory was liberated, and Alexius I became the first Roman Emperor to set foot in Rome since the eighth century.

Although he ordered his soldiers to treat the ancient monuments with respect, there was little to attract Alexius to Rome. It was by Byzantine standards, a rather small, shabby little town, another Adrianople or Caesarea, certainly nothing to compare with the true seat of the Roman Empire, Constantinople. Alexius must also have noticed the barely disguised hostility his troops received from the Roman people, for them he was not the successor of Augustus and Constantine but rather a schismatic Greek whose forebears had abandoned the eternal city in 751. Therefore he informed the Pope that he had no interest in the crown of the Western Emperor, but that perhaps some territorial concessions would be enough reward for his services. Gregory, who was by now sliding into a deep mental illness, was happy to oblige, granting Alexius control over Sardinia, Corsica, Venice and all Italy south of the Papal States. Venice was already an Imperial vassal, but Corsica, Sardinia and southern Italy were successfully integrated into the empire, so that by the time of Alexius’ death they were thriving themes.

Alexius spent the next two years in Italy, sorting out various affairs. The area was divided into six themes, these being Apulia, Calabria, Campania, Basilicata, Sicily and Sardinia.Until 1091 Corsica was part of the theme of Sardinia but was ceded to Alexius’ ally, the Republic of Genoa in return for a forty year naval alliance between Genoa and the Empire.

The Emperor returned to Constantinople in triumph in summer 1087, with yet more good news, his wife Irene gave birth to a healthy son named John, whom Alexius immediately crowned co-emperor. The Komnenid dynasty was now finally secure in power, there would not been another serious revolt in the Roman Empire for over a century.

The next three years Alexius spent at his capital, watching his son grow up. This peaceful existence came to a rude end however, in spring 1091, when a vast horde of Pecheneg barbarians broke past the Danube frontier, and began to lay waste to Thrace. Once more Alexius returned to battle. With some 10,000 Italian veterans, plus native Thracians and soldiers from Asia Minor he was able to crush the Pechenegs at Levounion. So total was Alexius’ victory that the Pechenegs are never again mentioned by any source as a menace to society, and no tribe dared invade the Balkans again until years after Alexius’ death. Their shattered remnants were sent away in disgrace to Sicily to act as military police against the remaining Norman and Saracen rebels on the island. On all fronts Alexius appeared triumphant. He celebrated his forty-fifth birthday in style in the capital with a triumphal parade featuring Normans, Pechenegs and Sicilian Saracens, among others.
The next few years would be better still. Seljuk control of the Levant had always been shaky, but between 1090 and 1095 it collapsed altogether, and the Empire became steadily more and more Mesopotamian focused, the result of a series of warring and incompetent Sultans. To the south meanwhile, the Egyptian Fatimids had stagnated since their defeat at the hands of Alp Arslan nearly thirty years previously and proved unable to recover any of their former territories. Thus three new states emerged, each squabbling for scarce resources; the Sultanate of Damascus which controlled everything from Homs in the north to Jerusalem in the south, a re-emergence of the traditional Imperial puppet of the Emirate of Aleppo, and further north-east, the Atabeg of Mosul. These three young nations were in a state of near constant warfare, aided by constant flows of money from Constantinople, Baghdad and Cairo. It was in the interests of neither Emperor, Sultan, nor Caliph for one small Islamic state to become more powerful than any of the others.

In the West though, the situation was slowly declining again. The Western Emperor Henry IV was slowly building up his strength for an assault on Genoa, the most important Byzantine ally in the Western Mediterranean. Alexius had helped Genoa rise to power at the expense of Pisa and Venice, now she was one of the greatest cities of Italy, larger and richer than Rome herself. For a while he was distracted by a civil war within his realm, but in 1098, he launched a vast army against the Genoese. The defenders were able to repel the Emperor for a while, bringing in supplies from their colony at Corsica, but if they were to hold out for any length of time, they would need a protector who was the equal of Henry himself. In Christendom that could only mean one man; Emperor Alexius Komnenos.

When he heard the news of the siege of Genoa, Alexius was instantly ready for action. His Empire faced no major challenge in any other theatre, so he felt comfortable about drawing a vast force; some 70,000 soldiers, out of Asia Minor for what would be his third Italian expedition. To this he added some 40,000 Greeks and Bulgarians, and, an exotic touch, bullied 5000 Arab horsemen from the Zirid Emir at Tunis. The great force arrived at Genoa just before Christmas 1099.

And not a moment to soon. Genoa had now been besieged for nearly a year and a half, and morale was beginning to run out. The arrival of the Emperor rallied the population so much that no sooner had the Byzantines set foot in the city than they were being showered with petals by the grateful Genoese. On January 12th 1100, they met with the Western Imperial forces at Savona, to the west of Genoa. The Battle of Savona ended in a complete Byzantine victory. The Western army, comprised mostly of German nobles and Italian peasants, was swept away by the disciplined Byzantine army, and by sunset, Henry himself had surrendered. Meeting with Alexius, he agreed to formally renounce any claim on the title “Roman Emperor” and promise never again to invade Genoa or any of the Byzantine territories in Italy. Then he was allowed to depart in peace.

Why was Alexius so generous? Perhaps he had learned the lessons of Justinian- that a war for Italy would be a costly, violent process and give an area that was far more of a hindrance than a help to the Empire. Or maybe he was reluctant to become dragged any further into the complicated tangle of Western European politics; after all, the whole reason the Roman Empire’s attention had turned eastward in the first place was because this area was so much more important than the squabbling, semi-barbarian kingdoms of the west. For the Genoese, the Battle of Savona marked the effective end of their independence. As a “guarantee of future liberty” Alexius placed a Byzantine garrison of some 5,000 men in Genoa, to hold the city and Corsica, and ensure that it would be a faithful Byzantine puppet. For the Genoese, far worse fates could certainly have befallen them, now they could make undreamed of riches as citizens of the Eastern Roman Empire. And one day, a Genoan would raise himself up the greasy pole of Byzantine civilization to seize the ultimate prize; the imperial crown.

Alexius returned in triumph to Constantinople in the spring of 1102, taking time on his way home to meet with the Pope, and visit Sicily, where the Orthodox citizens flocked to see their Emperor at Palermo. Upon his return to the capital, Alexius settled down, never to leave on campaign again. Instead, he largely dedicated his time to the education of his young son John.

The Empire remained at peace for the rest of Alexius’ reign, Byzantium’s flanks protected by the smaller Christian and Muslim kingdoms and Emirates. To the north the Georgians held off the raiders from the steppes, while in the south the four post-Seljuk emirates continued to squabble and prevent a real threat emerging to trouble the Empire. In the west meanwhile Henry VI had passed away in 1105, and his son Henry V was too busy warring against German princes and then the Poles to pay too much attention to Italy. In 1110, following a dispute with the Pope he considered marching into Italy, but was dissuaded by a Byzantine-Papal-Genoese alliance. Alexius finally passed away in 1118, his empire at peace, and feared on all fronts.




Isaac didn't win at Manzikert, the battle was a stalemate. Isaac's armies had seven years to recover from lack of funds, while Romanus Diogenes' had just two. In addition to this, Isaac was a rather more competent commander than Diogenes.

In that way, Isaac probably won a strategic victory over Alp. Thanks for the explanation.
Right i need ideas for the events of the reign of Emperor John I... I already have Manuel roughly planned out, but I don't know a lot about John, only that he was a wise and merciful leader and a gifted general. In a situation with a powerful Byzantium could he be another "scholar Emperor" like Constantine VII? I'm going to assume he dies in 1143 as in OTL, and gives the throne to Manuel... but ideas would be appreciated!
Thanks for your comments!
With the Byzantine position in the West largely secure, John's attention would turn to the East. There might be a form of the Crusades, as Alexius would ask for some mercenaries from the West to bolster his forces in the Levant.
Considering there has been a few "warrior emperors" already i can imagine him as being a scholar emperor myself.
Alexius’ son John, had inherited all of his father’s best traits in full, an agile mind, military genius, and superb skills of diplomacy. John had also inherited from his parents a strong sense of the spiritual, but whereas Alexius was quite happy to burn heretics at the stake, John was an altogether more peaceful character. Indeed, of all the medieval Roman Emperors, John is considered to by far the most merciful, gentle and generally Christian, reflected by the name for which he is still known to this day, “John the Beautiful”.

John was able to gain this name perhaps in part because of the state of his empire. Byzantium in the 1120’s was indisputably the greatest power of the world outside China. Not even mighty Islam had a power that could compare to John’s Roman Empire.

Only once in his life did John march to war. In 1126, he admitted a blind member of the Hungarian Royal Family to stay in Constantinople. Unfortunately, the Hungarians feared John aimed to annex their kingdom, after all, his wife Irene was daughter of King Ladislaus I, giving John at least a shaky claim on the throne of Hungary. King Stephen II also feared that this was his last chance to stop the Empire before it became simply too strong. Therefore in he invaded in 1128. Initially, the Hungarians met with success, breaching the Danube frontier and capturing several important towns including Singidunum (Belgrade), Serdica (Sofia) and Phillipopollis (Plodiv). Unfortunately for Stephen, John had not intention of letting the Hungarian get any further, for to the south, the southern Balkans were experiencing a boom unseen since before the Great Plagues of the 6th century. The Hungarians, together with a group of rebellious Serbs, were surrounded and crushed at the fortress of Haram in 1130, after nearly two years of solid campaigning. John demanded little from Stephen; certainly he had no intention of annexing Hungary. He was content with a few border fortresses and a guarantee of peace, with the humiliated King was all too happy to grant.

John then returned to Constantinople. One cannot help but wonder if his courtiers were entirely delighted at the return of their Emperor, he was, after all an extraordinary pious man, even by Byzantine standards. His unfortunate courtiers were expected to restrict their conversation to serious subjects only. The food served at the emperor's table was very frugal and those who lived lives of luxury were subject to regular lectures from the Emperor, who considered their way of life to be immoral, and against the teachings of Christ.

Nevertheless, amongst the general populace, John Komnenos was loved in a way that neither Isaac nor Alexius, great men though they had been, were. He frequently visited and spoke with the poor, dispensing charity lavishly. Between 1132 and 1134 he embarked upon a tour of Asia Minor, leaving government in the hands of his twenty year old son, Isaac. In Asia, he was able to witness the growing population boom, to be seen most spectacularly in Antioch, capital of Syria, and boasting a population of around 250,000, higher than at any time in the city’s long history. John remained in Antioch over the winter of 1133/4, and developed a deep affection for the place. In 1134, he returned to Constantinople, via Thessalonica, the Empire’s second city, which was booming just as much as Antioch, with a roughly similar population. He eventually returned to Constantinople in the autumn, which dwarfed either of them, or any other Christian city for that matter. Modern historians estimate twelfth century Constantinople’s population at anywhere between six hundred thousand and a million souls… essentially as large as a city without modern agriculture could get.

John Komnenos, in contrast to his father, lived a slow, relaxed life. In Italy, the Western Emperors Henry V and Lothair III were too busy with events in Germany to bother the Empire, and its loyal protectorates, Venice and Genoa, were both happy to profit from their privileged relationship with the Empire. The Papacy remained peaceful and stable, supported by Imperial armies in the south. The Popes Callixtus II and Honorius II both were well aware that any anti-Byzantine move on their part would not be to their best interests, and so largely gave up on persecuting the Patriarchs of Constantinople for their heretical ways.

Only in 1130 was there a minor incident in Italy. After the death of Honorius II, two rival Popes emerged, Anacletus II and Innocent II. Anacletus, a member of a powerful Roman family was the first to call for Alexius Komnenos, Isaac’s eldest son, and Catapan of Italy, for aid. Alexius, at Palermo immediately recognized Anacletus as Pope, but Innocent would not be put off. Excommunicated by Anacletus, he sailed north, hoping to gain an alliance with the Western Emperor. For Alexius, such a state of affairs could not be allowed to come about, Italy was finally beginning to recover from the long wars by the two Empires. And so, when Innocent disembarked at Genoa, he was quietly taken aside and executed. The head of the anti-Pope was sent back to Rome, and a potentially major diplomatic incident was avoided.

Back in Constantinople, far away from these disputes, John devoted his time to every Byzantine’s favourite hobby, theological dispute. Taking as his role model the famous scholar Emperor Constantine VII, John and his beloved sister Anna* began to churn out vast numbers of books. Their “Alexiad” about the lives of their father and great uncle Isaac was widely praised throughout the empire, becoming essential reading for most of the upper classes. At the same time, they wrote many other fascinating pieces, most of which, have fortunately survived to the present. John’s “On the Conquest of Bulgaria” sheds a vital light on the campaigns of Emperor Basil II in the early eleventh century, which are otherwise relatively unknown. In 1139, brother and sister began work on a complete “user’s guide” to the Roman Empire, intended for John’s son and heir apparent, Alexius. In some ways it is near identical to a similar piece by Constantine VII, but contains new advice, as the empire’s situation had changed greatly in the two centuries since Constantine’s day. There is advice on how to deal with the Papacy (in the end, the Patriarch of Rome has few friends, and any Emperor of the Romans should endeavour to keep it this way), and the Islamic sultanates along the Empire’s southern frontier (the lands of the Infidels must not be allowed to unite. Pay them rich tributes to keep them fighting each other; it will always be cheaper in the end).

In 1142, John received a message from his son Isaac, governor of Antioch, inviting the Emperor to spend the winter in the East. John, who had always been in love with the city, hastened to join Isaac. En route however, tragedy struck. In Palermo, John’s eldest son Alexius had fallen in and died. The Emperor was deeply unhappy, but not inconsolable, he was sure that Alexius had been a Christian, and now sat with the Lord in Heaven. In Antioch, he had two more sons waiting, Isaac, and the youngest of the Emperor’s eight children; Manuel.

Emperor John II spent his last Christmas in Antioch with his sons. In the spring, he and Manuel returned to Constantinople. En route, they stopped in the theme of Cilicia to go hunting, where tragedy struck. While in the wilds of Cicilia, the Emperor was accidentally infected by a poison arrow. The poison set in, and shortly afterwards he died. John's final action as emperor was to choose his youngest son Manuel Komnenos to be his successor.

Why exactly he chose Manuel to be his heir is unknown. Manuel was certainly a brave warrior, and possessed a quick, easy intelligence, but other than that there was nothing much to set him apart from his other brothers, he was younger than any of them. Nevertheless, it was Manuel Komnenos who was quickest to return to Constantinople, and it was Manuel Komnenos who, in August 1143, was crowned Emperor of the Romans.

*Anna never gained Imperial ambitions of her own in this TL because the Byrennius family was discredited by their revolt against the Komneni in 1078, and she therefore never married the ambitious Nicephorus.


Byzantium 1143.png
Why exactly he chose Manuel to be his heir is unknown. Manuel was certainly a brave warrior, and possessed a quick, easy intelligence, but other than that there was nothing much to set him apart from his other brothers, he was younger than any of them. Nevertheless, it was Manuel Komnenos who was quickest to return to Constantinople, and it was Manuel Komnenos who, in August 1143, was crowned Emperor of the Romans.

John II selected Manuel as his heir because he was too superstituous... There was a prophecy circulating by that time known as the "AIMA" prophecy... (AIMA means blood in greek) this prophecy was connected with the Comneni Emperors so the initials of the Emperors must match the letters from AIMA... A=Alexius I, I=Ioannes II, M=Manuel I, A=Alexius II...
According to legend failure to match the heirs with the letters could lead to the collapse of the dynasty... Ironically this happened with Andronicus I Comnenus... who if i am not mistaken had selected an heir with a different initial letter...
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John II selected Manuel as his heir because he was too superstituous... There was a prophecy circulating by that time known as the "AIMA" prophecy... (AIMA means blood in greek) this prophecy was connected with the Comneni Emperors so the initials of the Emperors must match the letters from AIMA... A=Alexius I, I=Ioannes II, M=Manuel I, A=Alexius II...
According to legend failure to match the heirs with the letters could lead to the collapse of the dynasty... Ironically this happened with Andronicus I Comnenus... who if i am not mistaken had selected a heir with a different initial letter...

Ah ok. I did read about this when I was researching Part 3, but thought that the myth only came along later. Thanks!
What did you think?