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4) Enemies at Myriokephalon: Representations and images

All Byzantine depicitons of the enemy analyzed so far have a common basis, the traditional conception of an “impious, nomadic-barbarian Other“236. Nevertheless they are very different: if in case of John Kinnamos and Nicetas Choniates one can surely speak about representations, the depiction of the Seljuks in Epistola is much more direct and can be hardly called as such This is defined by the very aim of each piece.
Kinnamos wrote a panegyric history. For him the most important feature of the Seljuks was that they were barbarians -- a natural object for the deeds of the emperor. The author of the Epistola was much more interested in the very message than in the elaborated details. He draws rather an image that n a conscious representation. The case of Choniates is completely opposite. In his description of the battle prominent bureaucrat created the most complex representation building a whole network of elaborate comparisons and metaphors. He made the Seljuks no more and no less than a weapon of the Lord which was used to crush the emperor.

The same idea is present in the narrative of Michael the Syrian. Nevertheless, the difference between him and Choniates is huge; Nicetas takes sides, while Michel does not. For him, all the participants are bad; he only seems to make an exception for the Seljuks (not the Turcomans!) who were slightly better than the rest. Seljuk evidence is present in the text, and it seems to me that some traces of the Seljuk representation of the Byzantines can also be found there. A comparison with later sources allows selection of two components of such representation – one of the “Greeks as food-lovers” and another one of “rich Byzantines.”; In the same time one can not except the possibility that both point can be just the elements of the image or topoi introduced not by the Seljuks but by the Micheal the Syrian himself.


This study of the factual side of the battle at Myriokephalon has allowed me to reveal several major points. The first is that the battle was partly accidental; I think that in 1175 Manuel Komnenos wanted to reach an agreement with Kilic Arslan II about his army crossing through the land of the latter, but did not succeed. The important thing is that in the beginning the campaign was not directed towards Ikonion, but later on, because of the chain of events described in the beginning of the chapter 2, the Byzantine emperor started a war against the Seljuk sultan, whose state had swallowed the remnants of the lands of Danishmendids. I think that this war did not aim at destroying the sultanate or conquering the Anatolian Plateau. Manuel was probably interested in seriously weakening Kilic Arslan II and in returning the land of the Danishmendids to its former owners – but no more than that. His real aim lay in the lands of Palestine, where he was going to help the Crusader States in their fight against Saladin. The Seljuks were just an obstacle on the road which had to be overcome or circumvented.

The second point is that the Byzantine emperor did his best to avoid this obstacle. On the day before the battle he probably not only remembered the situation of 1147, when his army was attacked on the eastern end of the same defile, but especially ordered the experienced units of his army to occupy a hill there. Somehow the Byzantine commanders did not know about the Seljuks who occupied the heights of Myriokephalon. Perhaps the Turcomans killed everybody leaving the Byzantine camp, thus cutting off the possibility of any reconnaissance.

The third point is that I find no reason to state that the emperor behaved like a coward. The only basis for this accusation is three episodes in the Historia of Nicetas Choniates, which should be considered as an element of Kaisekritik, in other words, fictional episodes which were used by the Byzantine writer to create an ideological construction in his literary work.

The fourth point is that during the night after the battle at Myriokephalon, Kilic Arslan II may have been afraid for his life in the same way that Manuel Komnenos was. His army, a considerable part of which consisted of “invited” Seljuks from Eastern lands, was occupied primarily with robbing the bodies of the fallen, while his gulyam guards probably had serious losses and were few in number. The situation was even worse because of a sandstorm, which caused panic in both formations. Thus, Kilic Arslan II had no less of a basis for an immediate peace agreement than Manuel himself.

The fifth point is that one can speak about two rounds of negotiations between Kilic Arslan II and Manuel Komnenos. One took place in the night from the 17th to the 18th of September and did not yield any result, while the second began on the day of the 18th of September, when both sides realized the situation. The peace agreement, the conditions of which are well-known, was followed by an exchange of gifts which, I think, marked a change in the symbolic relationship between Manuel and the sultan of Ikonion. Before this treaty they had considered themselves as father and son, while the character of the presents here suggests an equality, which was noted in one of the later sources.

The sixth (and final) point is that the destruction of Soublaion and the saving of Dorylaion can be explained by the Turcoman attacks on the retreating Byzantine column after the battle. Michael the Syrian clearly states that Manuel was offended by this aggression, which occurred only a short time after the peace agreement, and, taking this as a violation of the treaty, he decided to violate it himself. Nevertheless, later both sides came to an agreement, which was signified by the return of Manuel’s treasures for ransom.

These are the moments which I think were the most important in the first part of the work. The second part allowed me to find out a number of additional things. The first is that the Byzantine system of description of the enemy was based on the traditional genesis of the cultures of Christendom and Classical antiquity. The complexity and depth of this synthesis depended greatly on the character of the work, its audience, and the person of the writer. John Kinnamos wrote a glorifying history of John and Manuel Komnenos; for him Seljuks were just part of the panegyric construction. The situation with the letter of Manuel Komnenos was, however, different; here the task of the author was rather to pass information than to provoke symbolic associations and one should speak rather about the image of the enemy than about its representation. The situation changes in the narrative of Nicetas Choniates, who gives a good example of the complex multilayered representation of the enemy. Being the lengthiest among the Byzantine sources it is at the same time the most complex. The problem here is that the battle of Myriokephalon occupies a considerable place in the whole structure of Nicetas’ work. It was an arena for Kaiserkirtik and a place of apocalypse at the same time. Seljuks were the barbarians. At the same time they were the hand of the God, by which the Almighty punished his chosen people – the Byzantines.

A similar point is also present in the work of the Michael the Syrian. His depiction of the enemy is not that of a Seljuk; he combines negative relations towards all the participants of the battle – Byzantines, Turcomans, Seljuks -- with a slightly more positive approach towards the latter. At the same time, two points of his narrative may have some connection with the Seljuq representations of Byzantines. The first is the relation of the Byzantines to food and the second is their wealth. The main problem here is that both may be simply topoi, or an elements of the image so here the result is still on the border of a hypothesis. Thus one can say that the Seljuk image of the enemy is almost imperceptibly presented in the story of Michael the Syrian – if it is presented at all.

These are the main results of this study. I believe that the two research questions that I posed in the beginning – the one about the battle and the one about the construction of the enemy in the sources of both sides -- answered. I also think that each of them is a path to wider horizons of study.

The reconstruction of the battle at Myriokephalon can lead to a wider discussion about the Byzantino-Seljuk conflict of the twelfth century in general or form the basis for a smaller work dedicated to the influence of military theory on the actual stratagems of the Byzantine and Seljuk armies. A special study can be and should be dedicated to all the sources about the battle and the interconnections among them. At the same time, the chapter on the images and representations of the enemy can generate further studies on the image of the Seljuks in the Byzantine historiography of the twelfth century. It could also become the starting point for a comparison of the system of images and representations of the Other, in Michael the Syrian and the systems of images and representations of his Byzantine contemporaries.

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