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3) The case of Michael the Syrian

The theology of history of Choniates connects him with the fourth source for the “image of the enemy”--the work of Michael the Syrian. But if Nicetas was a subject of Manuel Komnenos, the Syrian patriarch was a subject and probably even a friend of the enemy of the latter – Kilic Arslan II. As Choniates he was a contemporary of the battle at Myriokephalon and inserted a lengthy account of it in his chronicle.224

This account, framed by two additional chapters (one following and the preceding it) form a clear block in the larger narrative of the Chronicle. They present a small story which explains how Melitene happened to fall into the hands of Kilic Arslan II. This story is characterized by particular attention to events which occurred far from the main centers of the narrative--in the monastery of Bar Sauma and in northern Palestine. Moreover, it consists of some very strange information which suggests that one of the sources for the whole piece may have been a participant in the events on the Seljuk side. The pages of the Syrian patriarch, thus, can contain an echo of the voice of the Seljuk “silent multitude.”

My task here is to catch this echo – if there is any. To do this one must first limit the area of the search and cut off the elements which are clearly not Seljuk. The most apparent is the theological statement at the end of the account: “Et qui ne confesserait, que rien n’arrive sur la terre sans le consentement d’en haute, selon des ses seins impénétrables.”225 This statement is clearly neutral: nothing can happen without the will of God. The battle is perceived as a strange event which can be explained by the wish of the Supreme Being. At this point, as one can clearly see, Nicetas Choniates and Michael the Syrian are in total agreement. But this is the only common point, later Choniates develops his argument and clearly takes sides in the conflict, while Michael the Syrian gives a shorter description and does not openly take sides. Maybe it would be more correct to say that he in fact takes sides–with himself.

If in the story of Choniates one can still find good heroes, in the story of Michael the Syrian it is the other way round. For him everybody is bad. Turcomans are bad because they offend the sultan and do not obey his orders. They are numerous and dangerous like locusts.226 Byzantines are slightly better. Manuel Komnenos is an impetuous avenger, who, blinded by personal tragedy, is leading his army with all its baggage into dangerous places.227 The warriors of the empire are for Michael a Grey Mass – all that is known about them is that when they realized that their food and water was cut off, they panicked.228 The Seljuks are probably the best of all. Kilic Arslan II is a coward, but nevertheless is able to plan the campaign and achieve victory over a dangerous enemy. Another compliment to the Seljuk leader lies in a hidden hint to his Christian origins. When the Turcomans offend him, according to Chabot, they call him “traitre,” “betrayer.” The situation, however, is much more interesting: Raif Guseynov stated that the exact translation could be “infidel.”229 This may be a way of pointing out the origins of Kildj Arslan II – as I argued in chapter 2, his mother was probably a Christian.

Are there here any components of “Seljuk representation”? . I’m not sure .Nevertheless in the story of Michel the Syrian there are two points which can be connected with the later Seljuk “representations of the enemy” In epos and historiography. The main problem is that they could equally be simply the parts of the image or even topoi of Michael himself. Nevertheless, in the following part I will try to build up a hypothesis that they are not. The first of them is the motif of food and eating – as was said above, the Byzantine army panicked when the soldiers realized that their food was lost.

This motif can also be found in the work of the first chronographer of the Seljuks of Asia Minor, Ibn-Bibi, who incorporated a story about a visit of the future sultan Kay-Khusraw to Constantinople into his narrative. The actual event happened some ten years after Myriokephalon. Ibn Bibi was writing in the second half of the thirteenth century and probably dealt with oral tradition. The story itself is simple: a young prince, Kay-Khusraw, comes to Constantinople, is received well by the emperor, but later has a problem with a Frankish mercenary, whom he finally meets in a melee fight and wins.230 The important thing here is that Constantinople is depicted as a city of eating: this was the main occupation of the Seljuk prince and emperor there. They ate every day before the conflict with the Frank and even after; the victory of Kay-Khusraw is just a pretext for another feast.

The special attention of Byzantines to the food is also described in one of the earliest work of Seljuk poetry – the Danishmend-name. This is a Moslem epic of Anatolia which tells the life story of a Seljuk ghazi, whose historical prototype was probably Emir Danishmend – founder of the dynasty of Danishmendides -- which held several territories in northern Anatolia until their fall, which was described in the preface to chapter 2. The whole “canon” of the oral story was formed in thirteenth century and written down in the fifteenth. The value of it as a historical source is much debated, but I think it still possible to use it for comparing general concepts of the Other The description of the reception of the main antagonist, Nestor, goes as follows:


On dressa sur les tables des viandes des porc.

Oignions, ail, fromages, caviar,

Poireaux prépares avec toutes sortes d’herbes, insectes a carapaces, rôtis de rats

Et ce vin rouge du pays des francs231


The object of judgment here is not just the love for food, but the exaggeration of it. In the story of Michael the Syrian the loss of reserve rations turned the Byzantine army into chaos, while in the Danishmend-name the reception is a feast for the stomach for the “Mecreyants.” It seems to me that these two opinions are the two sides of one coin. The phrase about food in the Chronicle of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch may be connected with the “Seljuq side.”

Another phrase with such connections is that about the wealth of the imperial army, which carried in its baggage: “L’or, les eglises, les croix et les objets de tout nature.”232 The gold is mentioned a second time at the very end of the story – and is again clearly associated with the Byzantines. Similar things are present in the narrative of Ibn-Bibi. After the victory of a future sultan, the emperor presented him with robes, horses, wallets full of golden coins, slaves, silver, and golden goblets.233 The same motif of Byzantine wealth is present later; after a long series of feasts the emperor ordered his servants to carry all the golden and silver vessels to the house of the sultan.234 The Byzantines in this story are weak, but rich; the same is true for similar images found in Danishmend-name, where the Seljuks always capture great quantities of booty. For example, after the capture of Derbendpes Melik Ghazi Danishmend sent the caliph of Baghdad “dix ballots de tresors.”235 As in the previous cases, all have a common point – the underlining of the large quantity of gold in the hands of the enemy.

This is, to reiterate again, just a hypothesis. The elements of the representation of the enemy in the story of Michael the Syrian may be just markers of facts. As I argued in chapter 2 the Byzantine army probably had problems with reserves of food before the battle. Nevertheless, the comparison between the chapter about the battle at Myriokephalon in the work of Michael the Syrian from one side and the Danishmend-name and work of Ibn-Bibi from the other, allows me to say that the possibility of connecting the images of the Byzantines in all three pieces can not be totally accepted.

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