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3) The Letter of Manuel Komnenos to Henry II Plantagenet.35


The battle of Myriokephalon produced a great number of epistolary reports. Choniates mentions two different types; first Manuel (and his secretaries) sent texts in which the battle was depicted as a disaster, while later the emperor sent letters in which it was considered a victory.36 Messages of the latter type were sent to imperial provinces and foreign lands.37

One such letter seems to have survived in the work of the English chronicler Roger of Howeden . He inserted in his narrative a text which he states is a letter of the Emperor of Constantinople concerning the battle of Myriokephalon. All the scholars who have worked with this document automatically considered it to be the actual Letter of Manuel, but I think that it is not meaningless to ask a very simple question: Is the text of Roger of Howeden really the Letter of Manuel and, if so, to what extent was the original imperial letter been re-worked by the chronicler?

As far as the format is concerned, this letter is a typical Auslandbriefe. The standard of such texts remained mostly the same for a very long time; they began with the full title of the Byzantine emperor and the title of the receiver (Anrede), continued with the essence of the letter (Narratio) and finished with the purpose of the letter (Dispositio).38 In the end there was often a date, which could be formulated in various chronological systems. The letter itself, as one can easily guess, did not come straight from the pen of the emperor himself, but was probably composed by his scribes and translators, who had special offices in the court.39 The first language of such a letter was always Greek and a “vernacular” variant accompanied it – that is probably Roger of Hoveden’s source.40 The letter itself was written on papyrus with golden/silver/purple inks and authenticated by a seal, which could be also made of different materials.41Unfortunately, Roger of Hoveden does not provide information about the material or the seal on the Letter of Manuel, but all the other elements are present; the datum points to November 1176. The content of the text preserved in the book of Roger points to the events at Myriokephalon; thus, on the basis of the form and content, I believe that one can accept the Letter of Manuel as preserved in the Chronica as, quite likely, the letter of the emperor in Constantinople, or, more precisely, its Latin version.

According to Vasilyev, the Greek original reached England in 1177 carried by English knights who had participated in the battle on the side of Manuel. The letter itself survived in full in the chronicle of Roger of Hoveden. The language is a mediocre medieval Latin, with relatively short and clear sentences. The text is rather free of allusions and topoi; The pace of the narrative is relatively uniform: the action develops steadily and consciously, step by step, with equal pauses. The threats to main hero are real and dangerous, the description of the surrounding is vivid and fascinates the reader. Against this background Manuel is depicted here as an ideal European knight.

The letter from the emperor to the English king is the letter of a participant in the event. The fact that Manuel participated in Myriokephalon is supported by all the sources; the fact that he was the sender of the letter is not disputed by anyone. Thus, the letter of Manuel Komnenos to Henry Plantagenet can be considered a source suitable for both the main questions of this thesis.

4) The only source of the “other side”.The Chronicle of Michael the Great

The main problem of the Seljuk historiography of twelfth century Anatolia is simply an absence of such historiography. There were some Seljuk writers in the Near East, but none of them dedicate a word to the Seljuks of Rum.42 As Carolle Hildebrand pointed out they were interested primarily in Crusades, and even the battle of Manzikert was considered by one of them as the beginning of djihad of his own days.43 The first official chronicler of the Seljukides of Rum, Ibn-Bibi wrote his work nearly a century after the battle of Myriokephalon.44 The epos of the Anatolian Turcomans, Danishmend-name was at once considered a reliable source for the twelfth –century, but nowadays is highly debated.45

The picture seems to be cheerless. But it is not so. There are some sources which, despite their ambiguity, could preserve some bits and pieces of Seljuk information. The leading one is the chronicle of Michael the Syrian, who was one of the important persons in the whole Anatolia at the time of Myriokephalon.

Michael the Syrian (or Michael the Great) was born in 1126 in the city of Melitene.46 According to the tradition of the Kindazi [Qindasi] family, to which he belonged, he became a priest, and later a monk, in the monastery of Bar Sauma, which was situated near his native city. His rise to power was fast; in 1166 Michel was elected patriarch of the whole Syrian Orthodox Church in eastern Asia Minor, a territory was contested by Crusaders, Byzantines, and local Seljuk dynasties. He communicated, in person or by letters, with all the prominent rulers of the time. At the beginning of the 1170s he exchanged several messages with Manuel I Komnenos; Kilic Arslan exempted all his churches from taxes and visited him personally in Melitene in 1177. Michael the Syrian ruled his flock for another three years, and died peacefully in 1196 in his beloved monastery of Bar-Sauma, where he was buried.

His main work, the Chronicle, was written during the time of his patriarchate.47 It tells the reader about the events from the creation of the world to the year of the death of the author (1196).48 Later, Michael’s brother added a small piece of information, thus prolonging the time interval encompassed up to 1199. The work is divided into 21 books and is completed by 6 appendices. The books, in their turn, are divided into chapters, each of which has three parts, each corresponding with the columns of the source manuscript: the first is dedicated to church history, the second to secular history, and in the third the author describes notable and strange events which happened in the time described.49

The question of Michael the Syrian’s sources is at least partly solved by the author himself. In the preface he gives a long list of the works which he used for his Chronicle, and moreover he even indicates the quotations from the other works in the text itself.50 The narrative describes primarily the history of Asia Minor and the neighboring Near East.51 When it reaches the eleventh century, the area described becomes narrower; a great deal of information is clearly centered on the city of Melitene and its surroundings as well as the city of Antioch. The main object of description are the people in power in the region: the Danishmend and Iconian rulers, the heads of the Crusader States and, later, their opponents–Nur-ad-Din Shirkuch and Salah-ed-Din. The most interesting and important parts for the Byzantinist are probably the careful description of the internal situation in the Seljuk states of Asia Minor, which can provide a good background for the study of the Byzantino-Seljuk relations of the twelfth century.

His evidence about Myriokephalon is valuable. During the composition the author certainly used information from an eyewitness who took part in the events connected with the battle on the Seljuk side. By comparing of the text of Michael with the description of Nicetas Choniates one can even speculate at which exact position in the defile Michael the Syrian’s informer stood. The battle itself is described in very exact details, so the account is invaluable for the reconstruction of the event itself. Using it as a source for reconstructing a certain “representation” is, however, problematic. Can one count Michael the Syrian as a representative of the Seljuk viewpoint?

Not really. The author himself was a patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church, an educated clergyman who, as far as we know was not a Seljuk by birth. Thus, from one point of view, the representation of the enemy he constructs is not identical, perhaps not even representative to the one that the Seljuks might have had at the time. Nevertheless, the dislike this author felt towards Orthodox Byzantium and his sympathy towards the Seljuks of Ikonion and personally towards Kilic Arslan II can be inferred from the evidence contained in the latter part of the Chronicle. In addition to this, the description of the “Seljuk observer” which is clearly present in the text introduces a chance of finding in it something Seljuk–if, indeed, very little. I think that the above-mentioned situation of silent multitude allows us to use later Seljuk epos and literature, which can provide material for useful comparisons. Thus, the message of Michael the Syrian can be considered as a source for the given topic with the provision that one should distinguish between the personal viewpoint of Syrian patriarch and some elements of the representation of Seljuks in it-- if there are any.



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