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Manuel I Komnenos
Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans
Manuel I Comnenus.jpg
Manuscript miniature of Manuel I (part of double portrait with Maria of Antioch, Vatican Library, Rome)
Emperor of the Byzantine Empire
Reign 8 April 1143 – 24 September 1180
Predecessor John II Komnenos
Successor Alexios II Komnenos
Born 28 November 1118
Died 24 September 1180(1180-09-24) (aged 61)
Spouse Bertha of Sulzbach
Maria of Antioch
Issue Maria Komnene
Alexios II Komnenos
House Komnenoi
Father John II Komnenos
Mother Irene of Hungary
Religion Eastern Orthodox

Manuel I Comnenus (November 28, 1118September 24, 1180), called Megas ("the Great"), was the last of the truly 'great' Byzantine Emperors. The fourth son of John II Comnenus and Piroska, daughter of King Ladislaus I of Hungary, Manuel presided over a crucial turning point in the history of Byzantium and the Medieval world. This was the age of the Crusades, witnessing the rise of the west, the arrival of the Turks in the east, and the dawn of the Islamic Jihad in the Holy Land.

Manuel was a famously accomplished diplomat and statesman, skillfully handling the passage of the dangerous Second Crusade through his empire. Famous for his charisma and his love of the West, he became a personal friend of the Western Emperor Conrad III, and even treated his injuries personally after the failure of the Second Crusade. Endowed with a fine physique and great personal courage, during his long reign (1143-1180) Manuel devoted himself whole-heartedly to a military career. Indoctrinated with the idea of a universal Empire, and with a passion for theological debate, he was also perhaps the only chivalrous Emperor-Knight of Byzantium. He is a representative of a new kind of Byzantine ruler who was influenced by the contact with the western crusaders. The customs kept in his court were not inspired by the traditional Byzantine opulence. He loved western customs and arranged jousting matches, even participating in them, an unusual and discomforting sight for the Byzantines.

Less intensely pious than his father, John II Comnenus, Manuel was an energetic and bright Emperor who saw possibilities everywhere, and whose optimistic outlook shaped his approach to foreign policy. Retrospectively, some commentators have criticized some of his aims as unrealistic, in particular citing the expeditions he sent to Egypt as proof of dreams of grandeur on an unattainable scale. However, to Manuel, such initiatives were merely ambitious attempts to take advantage of the circumstances that presented themselves to him.

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