Manuel I Comnenus
The long reign of Manuel Comnenus saw the last blossoming of Byzantine Civilization before the catastrophe of 1204.
The new emperor was strongly influenced by Western culture, and this was reflected in the Byzantine court of the day which exhibited many Latin traits such as jousting tournaments. The advent of the Second Crusade, however, was a matter of grave concern to the emperor, for some of the Western princes were just as interested in the capture of Constantinople as they were in attacking the Infidel. But the crusade was an abysmal failure, though it diverted Manuel’s attention sufficiently to allow the Norman Roger II to attack Byzantine Greece and plunder the important cities of Corinth and Thebes.
In 1155 the Byzantines launched an ambitious offensive in Italy, where the Empire’s influence had not been felt for almost a century, and at first the project was attended with no small success. However, this advance infringed on the interests of so many other powers that a counter-attack was swiftly launched and the Byzantines were driven from the peninsula. Manuel had greater success in the East where the Armenian Prince Thoros was overthrown and the Latin Crusader States of Antioch and Jerusalem recognized the sovereignty of the Byzantine emperor. Equal good fortune attended Manuel’s interventions in Hungarian and Serbian affairs, but this brought about a conflict between the Empire and her old ally, Venice.
The emperor’s greatest enemy in the latter part of his reign was the powerful German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, and it was he who was indirectly responsible for the calamity which overcame Manuel in 1176. Encouraged by offers of support from the German emperor the sultan of Iconium broke his treaty with the Byzantines, and when Manuel advanced against him the Turks were completely victorious in the famous battle of Myriocephalon. Manuel retired to his capital a broken man, and following his death only four years later it rapidly became apparent how much damage to the State had been done by the late emperor’s over-ambitious policies.