ROMANUS IV, DIOGENES
On 21st May 1067, Constantine X died. On his death-bed he made the Empress Eudocia swear never to re-marry. The Empress herself was perfectly ready to remarry if she could be absolved from her oath. Unfortunately, the Patriarch was John Xiphilinus, one of Constantine’s closest friends. She suggested that she was considering marriage to the Patriarch’s brother; Xiphilinus believed her, and persuaded the Senators to give their consent. Only then did she announce that she would marry, not the Patriarch’s brother, but a member of the military aristocracy, named Romanus Diogenes. On 1st January 1068 Romanus was crowned Emperor.
Romanus was an able administrator and a brave soldier who fully recognised the gravity of the Seljuk menace. Both 1068 and 1069 he expeditions to the East, where he appreciably strengthened the Byzantine position.
In the second week of March 1071 he led a new expedition, crossing the Bosphorus and heading eastward to Erzurum, where he split his army into two. The greater part he dispatched under the command of his general Joseph Tarchaniotes to Khelat, a few miles from the northern shore of Lake Van, while he himself, together with his other principal commander, Nicephorus Bryennius, set off for the little fortress-town of Manzikert, which gave in without a struggle. Tarchaniotes was less fortunate. We do not know precisely what happened. Either he was beaten in battle or his troops deserted him. Either way, by the time the Emperor finally met the Seljuks he had less than half his army with him. After much harassment by the Turks, a delegation arrived offering a truce, which was declined.
Oddly enough, the battle of Manzikert was until its very final stages hardly a battle at all. Romanus had formed up his army in one long line several ranks deep, with the cavalry on the flanks. He himself took the centre, with Bryennius on the left and, on the right, a Cappadocian general named Alyattes. Behind was a substantial rearguard composed of the 'levies of the nobility' under the command, somewhat surprisingly, of Andronicus Ducas, a nephew of the late Emperor. Throughout the afternoon the imperial army advanced across the steppe, but the Seljuks withdrew in a wide crescent, leaving the initiative to their mounted archers who galloped up and down on the Byzantine flanks, showering them with arrows; hut for the increasingly frustrated Emperor in the centre there remained, where the enemy should have been, an empty void. On and on he rode, always hoping that he could somehow force his antagonists to turn and fight; then, suddenly, he realised that the sun was fast declining and that he had left his camp virtually undefended. He gave the signal for turning back and wheeled his horse.
This was the moment for which Alp Arslan had been waiting. From the hills above he had watched Romanus's every move; now he gave the order for the attack. The Byzantine line broke in confusion; some of the mercenary units, thinking the Emperor had been killed, took to their heels. Meanwhile the Seljuks cut across immediately behind the broken line, separating it from the rearguard. At this point that rearguard should have moved forward, squeezing the enemy between it and the forward line and preventing its escape. Instead, Ducas deliberately spread the word among his troops that the Emperor was defeated and the battle lost. He and they thereupon fled from the field and, as the panic spread, more and more contingents followed them. Only those on the left wing, seeing the Emperor in difficulties, rode to his rescue; but the Seljuks bore down upon them swiftly from the rear and they too had to flee. Meanwhile Romanus stood his ground, calling in vain on his troops to rally But the chaos and confusion were too great.
Left alone Romanus refused to flee. Only when his horse was killed under him and a wound in his hand made it no longer possible for him to hold his sword did he allow himself to be taken prisoner. His captors gave him no special treatment All night he lay among the wounded and dying. Only the following morning, dressed as a common soldier, and in chains, was he brought before the Sultan. At first Alp Arslan refused to believe that the exhausted captive who was flung at his feet was indeed the Emperor of the Romans; only when he had been formally identified by former Turkish envoys and by a prisoner did the Sultan rise from his throne and, ordering Romanus to kiss the ground before him, plant his foot on his victim's neck. He then helped Romanus to his feet and assured him that he would be treated with all due respect. For the next week the remained the Sultan's guest, eating at his table. The Sultan demanded no extensive territories; all he asked was the surrender of Manzikert, Antioch, Edessa and Hieropolis, together with one of the Emperor's daughters as a bride for one of his own sons and a mere million gold pieces. Romanus was then allowed to return to Constantinople.
After such as a disaster, plans were soon afoot to replace Romanus. But who was to take his place? Some called for Eudocia; others favoured Michael, her son by Constantine X; yet others saw in Constantine's brother, the Caesar John Ducas, the best hope for the Empire. In the event, it was Michael who was proclaimed Emperor, while Eudocia was arrested and exiled. Michael VII Ducas was crowned with ceremony by the Patriarch in St Sophia. Romanus tried to raise an army to march on Constantinople, but Caesar John defeated him and Romanus surrendered to Andronicus Ducas. He had his eyes gouged out and was taken by mule 500 miles to Proti, where he had built a monastery. There he died in the summer of 1072.