Posts Tagged ‘Andronicus I’

Losing Face

Posted in General on August 12th, 2011 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

A friend sent me an article on the incidence of abrupt mortality among royalty.  According to a professor at Cambridge (the real one, not Harvard), between A.D. 600 and 1800 approximately one in four European monarchs were killed by someone other than their doctors.  So the professor’s list would count the decapitated Charles I;  however, Charles II was treated for a minor stroke with frequent bleedings, induced vomitings and repeated purgatives.  Which of the two had the more violent death?  But, as always, I digress.  (You wouldn’t want me as a lifeguard in your stream-of-consciousness.)

Selecting as its most gruesome retirement, the article cited:

Andronikos I Komnenos – a 12th-century Byzantine emperor, whose death was spread over three days and included having his teeth and eyes gouged out, being suspended by his feet and gradually being hacked to bits

Since I am widely acknowledged as our foremost Byzantine raconteur, my friend wrote, “Now, my question for you is what the hell did Andronikos I Komnenos do to deserve what he got?”

He was such a disappointment.  Andronikos Komnenos (or Andronicus Comnenus to his Episcopalian friends) should have been the Emperor from Central Casting.  He (1118-1185–explicitly)  was handsome, charming and an excellent soldier.  Charisma is a Greek word.  And whatever the Greek equivalent of Kosher, Andronicus was.  By contrast, his cousin the Emperor Alexius was half-French; to the Byzantines, that was half-barbarian.  Worse, since Alexius was a child,  his mere was the regent.  The Greeks didn’t have to be suspicious of her; she really was pro-Western.  Thanks to her trade concessions, the Venetians and Genoese were taking over the wharves and markets of Constantinople.

Outraged and dispossessed, the Byzantines looked to that magnificent Andronicus to rescue the throne from all these foreigners.  The old charmer could boast of many seductions, but this probably was his easiest.  The Empire was begging for him.  Announcing his intention to be the Regent, in 1182 he marched on Constantinople.  The Imperial navy and army offered homage rather than resistance.  He entered the capital acclaimed.  The supporters of the Regent, including the Italian traders, were somewhat preoccupied being massacred.  Did Andronicus say he would be the new Regent?  He meant co-emperor.  Hagia Sophia was available for a coronation; it also could oblige for funerals.  The Dowager Empress and members of the Imperial family were suddenly dead.  No one asked any questions.  Indeed, the public was grateful.  Andronicus had impeccable taste in murder.  The following year, the Emperor Alexius was dead, too.  That was a little more awkward; Alexius was all of thirteen.  But it was reassuring to see how efficient Andronicus could be.  Unimpeded and undisputed in his rule, who knows what the Emperor would accomplish.

It turned out to be just more murders.  To remedy genuine economic and social problems in the Empire, Andronicus believed in the salubrious effects of executing aristocrats.  Kill enough of them and you certainly end Feudalism.  Of course, the aristocrats preferred to stay alive and so they would plot against the Emperor.  Such selfish disloyalty offended Andronicus and you can imagine his response.  All this blue bloodshed initially might have pleased the public, and the serfs certainly should been grateful; but it was not the winning charm that people had expected of Andronicus.  Besides, the serfs weren’t in charge of the regiments.

In 1185, one treacherous but trivial aristocrat named Isaac Angelos finally made it to be the top of the condemned list.  Evading arrest, Isaac fled to the sanctuary of Hagia Sofia and urged the public to revolt.  The aristocrats didn’t need any encouragement, and the masses just liked the idea of rioting.  Andronicus attempted to flee the city with his wife and his mistress (apparently he still had some charm left), but he was captured.  Isaac,now the new emperor, turned his ousted cousin over to the mercies of the public.  People seemed to take particular delight in maiming the handsome face of Andronicus.

You know the coroner’s report, but what is history’s verdict of Andronicus I.  He obviously was a mad emperor; unfortunately–unbelievably–he still was a better ruler than Isaac, Isaac’s brother or son.

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