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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

Byzantium and the Crusades

The Comneni emperors and their foreign policy 


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A very great number of western Europeans appeared at the Byzantine court, and the most lucrative and responsible offices of the Empire began to pass into their hands. Manuel was married twice, each time to a western princess. His first wife, Bertha of Sulzbach, whose name was changed in Byzantium to Irene, was a sister-in-law of the king of Germany, Conrad III; his second wife, Mary (Maria), was a French lady of rare beauty, a daughter of a prince of Antioch. The whole reign of Manuel was regulated by his western ideals, as well as by his illusive dream of restoring the unity of the former Roman Empire; for that purpose he hoped, with the aid of the pope, to deprive the king of Germany of his imperial crown, and he was even ready to effect a union with the western Catholic church. Latin oppression and neglect of indigenous interests, however, evoked general discontent among the population; and a vigorous desire to change the system arose. But Manuel died before he saw the collapse of his policy.

Alexius II (1180-1183), son and successor of Manuel, was twelve years old at his fathers death. His mother, Mary of Antioch, was proclaimed regent. But practically all power passed into the hands of the regent's favorite, Alexius Comnenus, Manuel's nephew. The new government relied upon the support of the hated Latin element. Popular exasperation, therefore, kept increasing. Empress Mary, formerly so popular, was now considered as a foreigner. The French historian Diehl compared the condition of Mary to that of Marie Antoinette, who in the time of the French revolution was similarly called by the populace the Austrian.

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