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July 21, 2016

Saint Manuel II Palaiologos, Emperor of the Romans (+ 1425)

Saint Manuel II Palaiologos (Feast Day - July 21)

Manuel Palaiologos, the third to last Roman Emperor, was born on 27 June 1350, and was the second son of Emperor John V Palaiologos and his wife Helena Kantakouzene. His maternal grandparents were Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos (1347–1354) and Irene Asanina.

Granted the title of despotēs by his father, the future Manuel II traveled west to seek support for the Roman Empire in 1365 and in 1370, serving as governor in Thessalonica from 1369. The failed attempt at usurpation by his older brother Andronikos IV Palaiologos in 1373 led to Manuel's being proclaimed heir and co-emperor of his father. In 1376–1379 and again in 1390 they were supplanted by Andronikos IV and then his son John VII, but Manuel personally defeated his nephew with help from the Republic of Venice in 1390. Although John V had been restored, Manuel was forced to go as an honorary hostage to the court of the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid I at Prousa (Bursa). During his stay, Manuel was forced to participate in the Ottoman campaign that reduced Philadelphia, the last Roman enclave in Anatolia.

Hearing of his father's death in February 1391, Manuel II Palaiologos fled the Ottoman court and secured the capital against any potential claim by his nephew John VII. Although relations with John VII improved, Sultan Bayezid I besieged Constantinople from 1394 to 1402. After some five years of siege, Manuel II entrusted the city to his nephew and embarked (along with a suite of 40 people) on a long trip abroad to seek assistance against the Ottoman Empire from the courts of western Europe, including those of Henry IV of England (making him the only Roman emperor ever to visit England – he was welcomed from December 1400 to January 1401 at Eltham Palace, and a joust took place in his honor), Charles VI of France, Sigismund the Holy Roman Emperor, Queen Margaret I of Denmark and King Martin of Aragon. In 1399, the French King Charles VI sent Marshal Jean Le Maingre with six ships carrying 1,200 men from Aigues-Mortes to Constantinople; later 300 men under Seigneur Jean de Chateaumorand remained to defend the city against Bayezid.

Meanwhile, an anti-Ottoman crusade led by the Hungarian King Sigismund of Luxemburg failed at the Battle of Nicopolis on 25 September 1396, but the Ottomans were themselves crushingly defeated by Timur at the Battle of Ankara in 1402. Manuel II had sent 10 ships to help in the Crusade of Nicopolis. As the sons of Bayezid I struggled with each other over the succession in the Ottoman Interregnum, John VII was able to secure the return of the European coast of the Sea of Marmara and of Thessalonica to the Byzantine Empire. When Manuel II returned home in 1403, his nephew duly surrendered control of Constantinople and received as a reward the governorship of newly recovered Thessalonica. Manuel also regained from the Ottomans Nesebar (1403–1453), Varna (1403–1415), and the Marmara coast from Scutari to Nicomedia between 1403–1421.

Manuel II Palaiologos used this period of respite to bolster the defenses of the Despotate of Morea, where the Roman Empire was actually expanding at the expense of the remnants of the Latin Empire. Here Manuel supervised the building of the Hexamilion (six-mile wall) across the Isthmus of Corinth, intended to defend the Peloponnese from the Ottomans.

Manuel II stood on friendly terms with the victor in the Ottoman civil war, Mehmed I (1402–1421), but his attempts to meddle in the next contested succession led to a new assault on Constantinople by Murad II (1421–1451) in 1422. During the last years of his life, Manuel II relinquished most official duties to his son and heir John VIII Palaiologos, and went back to Europe searching for assistance against the Ottomans, this time to the King Sigismund of Hungary, staying for two months in his court of Buda. Sigismund (after suffering a defeat against the Turks in the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396) never rejected the possibility of fighting against the Ottoman Empire. However, with the Hussite wars in Bohemia, it was impossible to count on the Czech or German armies, and the Hungarian ones were needed to protect the Kingdom and control the religious conflicts. Unhappily Manuel returned home with empty hands from the Hungarian Kingdom, and in 1424 he and his son were forced to sign an unfavorable peace treaty with the Ottoman Turks, whereby the Roman Empire had to pay tribute to the sultan.

In 1421 Manuel withdrew on account of the plague into the Monastery of Peribleptos as a monk, where he was tonsured with the name Matthew. In Constantinople there was now generational conflict. Manuel wanted to maintain the peace; but his son John bet on the war party, supported Mustafa, and lost. "Do what you please. For I, my son, am old and close to death. The empire, however, and all that pertains to it, have I relinquished to you," Sphrantzes reports Manuel as saying. Chalkokondyles mentions the conflict, as John tossed his father's warning to the winds. Manuel thus handed the government over to his son John VIII. On October 1, 1422, Manuel II suffered a stroke that resulted in paralysis. The old emperor admonished his son not to give up any fundamental Roman positions in negotiating union with the papacy. He dissuaded him from stirring the western powers up for a new crusade, as this would lead to a new confrontation with the Turks. When Pope Martin V sent the Franciscan Antonio di Masa to Constantinople, the emperor was already seriously ill and his son busy with defensive measures. The patriarch answered the pope's questions and articulated the old Roman concepts and reservations vis a vis the papacy. The emperor informed the pope in November 1422 that the council absolutely had to take place in Constantinople. The important matter was speedy help against the Turks; then one could worry about union. On his deathbed Manuel recommended to his son that he should on the one hand keep the Latins hoping for the prospect of union, so as to obtain military help, but that he should at the same time demand a council, so as to drag things out and not to run the risk of a church union without popular support. It was clear to him that two quite different church systems stood facing each other. Only in the west was there a lively debate between conciliarism and the pope's primacy; for the orthodox church this was a closed question. Likewise the historian George Sphrantzes emphasizes this skepticism on the part of the emperor, who was concerned only with a purely political solution to the conflict and wanted to set aside pope and council. The aged emperor was worried about his son's ambition, and warned him against irritating the sultan. According to Sphrantzes, one day when John left his father's bedside with a grim expression, he is supposed to have said that in another age his son would perhaps have been a great ruler. But now that the empire needed a good administrator in view of the external situation, John would possibly deliver the fatal blow to the empire. Sultan Murat feared nothing so much as the Roman dalliance with the Latins about Church union, in which he saw the prerequisite for western military aid to Byzantium. On July 21, 1425, the old emperor Manuel died in Constantinople, after dictating his will to Sphrantzes. He was buried in the monastic Church of the Pantokrator. Bessarion of Trebizond, later to be famous, pronounced the eulogy. Manuel's grave was later destroyed by the Turks, just like all the other graves of the house of the Palaiologoi.


Even as emperor Manuel remained a man of letters. Sometimes he complained that his political obligations kept him from developing his artistic and intellectual inclinations. After the death of his brother Theodore I of Mistras in 1407, the emperor composed a funeral oration on him, which was directed to the humanist Manuel Chrysoloras. The Paris manuscript Cod. Gr.3041 was in Manuel's possession and contains corrections in his own hand to his tractate on education, as well as a large number of letters. The first part of the manuscript consists of a corpus of sixty-three letters, among them twenty to his teacher Demetrius Kydones, eight to Demetrius Chrysoloras and five to his brother, Manuel Chrysoloras, who came to Florence in 1396 in order to teach Greek there and in 1415 represented the Byzantine Empire at the council of Konstanz and made particularly significant contributions to the early humanistic efforts in Italy. Chrysoloras, acting in 1408 on Manuel's behalf, presented to the Monastery of St. Denis a manuscript with works attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite, containing pictures of Manuel and his family, as well as of Chrysoloras (Musée du Louvre, Ivoires A53, fol. 1.) One letter is addressed to the Italian humanist Guarino. Further the manuscript contains a series of tractates, such as a discourse on a tapestry in the Louvre, which he had been able to study when he visited Paris, a psalm on the death of Bayazit, a tractate on marriage, and a discourse on the siege of Thessaloniki.

Seven "Orationes ethico-politicae," addressed to John VIII, belong to the category of "Mirrors for Princes," (i.e., a sort of instruction book for medieval crown princes). In a separate work, the so-called Praecepta educationis regiae, the author employs all the old worn cliches and commonplaces. Even Isocrates is cited, a rare event in Eastern Roman literature. Compared with earlier "Mirrors for Princes" the heavy use of theological pronouncements is striking. In total contrast to his own practical action, the emperor stresses the fact that one should not oppose oneself to the Church's teachings. He likewise emphasizes that even a ruler owes obedience to the Church. God accepts gifts through the hands of the poor. Manuel stresses free will and treats the ancestral sin and grace through baptism. Men are slaves to sin. Manuel advises his son frequently to examine his conscience. Man's goal lies in the hereafter. To the four cardinal virtues he adds love (agape) and moderation (metriotes) and encourages ascetic temperance. In the relation of State and Church he emphasizes the Church's eternity, and warns against any confrontation with it. He compares life to a sea voyage. As lawgiver and judge the emperor should emulate the Judge of All, who should be for the emperor model, guideline, and law. Just as in the sixty-eight preserved letters between 1383 and 1417 few specific, day-to-day news items are to be found, so also in his theoretical writings the emperor distances himself from every-day reality. These "Mirrors for Princes" are preserved in Vienna manuscript phil. gr. 89, from the estate of Cardinal Bessarion of Trebizond, which also contains a selection of other writings by the emperor. The emperor's writings permit an excellent glimpse into the mental world of the later Palaiologan period in the last decades before the conquest of the empire by the Turks.

Emperor Manuel II and Islam

Manuel's writings have been preserved for posterity in spite of the conquest and destruction of Constantinople. Of particular interest is his attitude toward Islam. After his enthronement in March 1391 Manuel II still had to perform military service for the sultan in Asia Minor from June 1391 to January 1392 as a vassal of the Turks. As part of it he not only had (in late 1390) to support the sultan against various Turkish emirates, but as an especial humiliation he had to aid his mortal enemy with the conquest of Philadelphia, the last Roman hold-out in Asia Minor, but now in May 1391 he was summoned again to Anatolia and took part in a campaign on the Black Sea coast until Mid-January 1392. The emperor, who on the coins still bore the title King and Autokrator, was as a vassal of course subject to the sultan's orders on campaign -- the sultan who amused himself at banquets, while the emperor discussed Islam with the Kadi. From October to December of 1391 the emperor enjoyed the hospitality of the Muderris (=Kadi) at Ankara. A Muslim born to Christian parents acted as interpreter between the emperor and the Kadi. The result of these conversations was the "Twenty-six Dialogues with a Persian," dedicated to his brother Theodore I. By 1399 the work had received its final editing. Presumably the emperor took notes at the time of the conversations. Apart from the emperor's writings there is no independent proof that the conversations ever took place. They must represent a mixture of fact and fiction. At the end the Kadi declared himself ready to come to Constantinople and continue the conversation with Manuel. With this work, which must have been composed between the end of the campaign and the break with Bayazit (1392-94), Manuel made an important contribution to the knowledge of Islam on the part of the Christians.

The emperor relied for his sources on the "Apology of Christianity against Islam" by his maternal grandfather, John VI Cantacuzenus. That in turn rested on the "Confutatio Alchorani" by the Dominican friar Ricoldo of Montecroce (died 1320), which Demetrius Kydones had translated into Greek. Grandfather and grandson thus remained entirely within the framework of traditional Roman anti-Islamic polemics. It is noteworthy that the emperor does not use the concept of Sarakenoi (Saracens), customary in Roman terminology.

In a lecture delivered on 12 September 2006, Pope Benedict XVI quoted from the "Twenty-six Dialogues with a Persian" (Dialogue 7), in which the Emperor Manuel II stated: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." Many Muslims were offended by this denigration of Muhammad, and many protested against it. For others it may simply have been false indignation or the assumption of offence by non-Muslims. In his book, Manuel II then continues, claiming that, "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...."

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It should be noted that although his name is missing from the Synaxarion of the Church, a Service was composed in his honor with two Canons by an anonymous author and published by Lambros in the "Νέο Ελληνομνήμονα" (1917).