Monday, September 18, 2006

Manuel II Paleologus

This account of Manuel II was post on the Byzans-l listserv by John Melville Johns from the De Imperatoribus Romanis web site.

Manuel's writings have been preserved for posterity in spite of the conquest and destruction of Constantinople. Of particular interest is his attitude toward Islam. After his enthronement in March 1391 Manuel II still had to perform military service for the sultan in Asia Minor from June 1391 to January 1392 as a vassal of the Turks. As part of it he not only had had (in late 1390) to support the sultan against various Turkish emirates, but as an especial humiliation he had to aid his mortal enemy with the conquest of Philadelphia, the last Byzantine hold-out in Asia Minor, but now in May 1391 he was summoned again to Anatolia and took part in a campaign on the Black Sea coast until Mid-January1392. The emperor, who on the coins still bore the title King and Autokrator, was as a vassal of course subject to the sultan's orders on campaign -- the sultan who amused himself at banquets, while the emperor discussed Islam with the Kadi. From October to December of 1391 the emperor enjoyed the hospitality of the Muderris (=Kadi) at Ankara. A Muslim born to Christian parents acted as interpreter between the emperor and the Kadi. The result of these conversations was the "Twenty-six Dialogues with a Persian," dedicated to his brother Theodore I. By 1399 the work had received its final editing. Presumably the emperor took notes at the time of the conversations. Apart from the emperor's writings there is no independent proof that the conversations ever took place. They must represent a mixture of fact and fiction. At the end the Kadi declared himelf ready to come to Constantinople and continue the conversation with Manuel.

With this work, which must have been composed between the end of the campaign and the break with Bayazit (1392-94), Manuel made an important contribution to the knowledge of Islam on the part of the Christians.

The emperor relied for his sources on the Apology of Christianity against Islam by his maternal grandfather, John VI Cantacuzenus. That in turn rested on the "Confutatio Alchorani" by the Dominican friar Ricoldo of Montecroce (died 1320), which Demetrius Kydones had translated into Greek. Grandfather and grandson thus remained entirely within the framework of traditional Byzantine anti-Islamic polemics. It is noteworthy that the emperor does not use the concept of Sarakenoi (Saracens), customary in Byzantine terminology.

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