1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Michael (emperors)

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22043371911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 18 — Michael (emperors)

MICHAEL, the name of nine East-Roman emperors.

Michael I. Rhangabes (d. 845), an obscure nobleman who had married Procopia, the daughter of Nicephorus I., and been made master of the palace. He was made emperor in a revolution against his brother-in-law, Stauracius (811).

Elected as the tool of the bigoted orthodox party in the Church, Michael diligently persecuted the iconoclasts on the northern and eastern frontiers of the empire, but meanwhile allowed the Bulgarians to ravage a great part of Macedonia and Thrace; having at last taken the field in the spring of 813, he was defeated near Bersinikia, and Leo the Armenian was saluted emperor in his stead in the following summer. Michael was relegated as a monk to the island of Prote, where he lived unmolested till his death in 845.

Michael II., called Psellus, “the stammerer,” emperor 820–829, was a native of Amorium in Phrygia, who began life as a private soldier, but rose by his talents to the rank of general. He had favoured the enthronement of his old companion in arms Leo the Armenian (813), but, detected in a conspiracy against that emperor, had been sentenced to death in December 820; his partisans, however, succeeded in assassinating Leo and called Michael from the prison to the throne. The principal features of his reign were a struggle against his brother general, Thomas, who aimed at the throne (822–824); the conquest of Crete by the Saracens in 823; and the beginning of their attacks upon Sicily (827). In spite of his iconoclastic sympathies, he endeavoured to conciliate the image-worshippers, but incurred the wrath of the monks by entering into a second marriage with Euphrosyne, daughter of Constantine VI., who had previously taken the veil.

Michael III. (839–867), “the drunkard,” was grandson of Michael II., and succeeded his father Theophilus when three years old (842). During his minority the empire was governed by his mother Theodora, who in spite of several defeats inflicted upon her generals maintained the frontiers against the Saracens of Bagdad and Crete. The regent displayed her religious zeal by restoring image-worship (842) and persecuting the Paulician heretics, but she entirely neglected the education of her son. As a result Michael grew up a debauchee, and fell under the sway of his uncle Bardas, who induced him to banish Theodora to a convent and practically assumed the chief control (857). Bardas justified this usurpation by introducing various internal reforms; in the wars of the period Michael himself took a more active part. During a conflict with the Saracens of the Euphrates (856–63), the emperor sustained a personal defeat (860), which was retrieved by a great victory on the part of his uncle Petronas in Asia Minor. In 861 Michael and Bardas invaded Bulgaria and secured the conversion of the king to Christianity. On sea the empire suffered under the ravages of the Cretan corsairs; and in 865 the first pillaging expedition of the Russians endangered the Bosporus. In 867 Michael was assassinated by Basil the Macedonian, a former groom, who had overthrown the influence of Bardas and in 866 been associated in the Empire.

Michael IV. (d. 1041), “the Paphlagonian,” owed his elevation to Zoe, daughter of Constantine VIII., who was the wife of Romanus III., but becoming enamoured of Michael, her chamberlain, poisoned her husband and married her attendant (1034). Michael, however, being of a weak character and subject to epileptic fits, left the government in the hands of his brother, John the Eunuch, who had been first minister of Constantine and Romanus. John's reforms of the army and financial system revived for a while the strength of the Empire, which held its own successfully against its foreign enemies. On the eastern frontier the important post of Edessa was relieved after a prolonged siege. The western Saracens were almost driven out of Sicily by George Maniakes (1038–40); but an expedition against the Italian Normans suffered several defeats, and after the recall of Maniakes most of the Sicilian conquests were lost (1041). In the north the Serbs achieved a successful revolt (1040), but a dangerous rising by the Bulgarians and Slavs which threatened the cities of Thrace and Macedonia was repressed by a triumphant campaign which the decrepit emperor undertook in person shortly before his death (1041).

Michael V. Calaphrates, or “the caulker,” nephew and successor of the preceding, surnamed after the early occupation of his father. He owed his elevation (Dec. 1041) to his uncle John, whom along with Zoe he almost immediately banished; this led to a popular tumult in consequence of which he was dethroned after a brief reign of four months, and relegated to a monastery. His unpopularity seems largely due to his attempts at administrative reform, which were strongly resented by the dominant classes.

Michael VI., “the warlike,” was already an old man when chosen by the empress Theodora as her successor shortly before her death in 1056. He was unable to check the disaffection of the feudal aristocracy, who combined with an officer named Isaac Comnenus to depose him. After a successful battle in Phrygia, the rebels had no difficulty in dethroning Michael (1057), who spent the rest of his life in a monastery.

Michael VII. Ducas, or Parapinaces, was the eldest son of Constantine X. Ducas. After a joint reign with his brothers, Andronicus I. and Constantine XI. (1067–1071), he was made sole emperor through his uncle John Ducas. The feebleness of Michael, whose chief interest lay in trifling academic pursuits, and the avarice of his ministers, was disastrous to the empire. As the result of anarchy in the army, the Byzantines lost their last possessions in Italy (1071), and were forced to cede a large strip of Asia Minor which they were unable to defend against the Seljuk Turks (1074). These misfortunes, which were but partially retrieved by the suppression of a Bulgarian revolt (1073), caused widespread dissatisfaction. In 1078 two generals, Nicephorus Bryennius and Nicephorus Botaniates, simultaneously revolted. Michael resigned the throne with hardly a struggle and retired into a monastery. His nickname Parapinaces (“starver”) was due to his causing the price of wheat to rise.

Michael VIII. Palaeologus (1234–1282) was the son of Andronicus Palaeologus Comnenus and Irene Angela, the granddaughter of Alexius Angelus, emperor of Constantinople. At an early age he rose to distinction, and ultimately became commander of the French mercenaries in the employment of the emperors of Nicaea. A few days after the death of Theodore Lascaris II. in 1259, Michael, by the assassination of Muzalon (which he is believed but not proved to have encouraged) became joint guardian with the patriarch Arsenius of the young emperor, John Lascaris, then a lad of eight years. Afterwards invested with the title of “despot,” he was finally proclaimed joint-emperor and crowned alone at Nicaea on the 1st of January 1260. In July 1261 Michael, who had attacked Constantinople with the help of the Genoese, conquered the town through his general Strategopoulos. He thereupon had John Lascaris blinded and banished. For this last act he was excommunicated by Arsenius, and the ban was not removed until six years afterwards (1268) on the accession of a new patriarch. In 1263 and 1264 respectively, Michael, with the help of Urban IV., concluded peace with Villehardouin, prince of Achaia, and Michael, despot of Epirus, who had previously been incited by the pope to attack him, but had been decisively beaten at Pelagonia in Thessaly (1259); Villehardouin was obliged to cede Mistra, Monemvasia and Maina in the Morea. Subsequently Michael was involved in wars with the Genoese and Venetians, whose influence in Constantinople he sought to diminish by maintaining the balance of strength between them. In 1269 Charles of Sicily, aided by John of Thessaly, made war with the alleged purpose of restoring Baldwin to the throne of Constantinople, and pressed Michael so hard that he consented to send deputies to the council of Lyons (1274) and there accept the papal supremacy. The union thus brought about between the two Churches was, however, extremely distasteful to the Greeks, and the persecution of his “schismatic” subjects to which the emperor was compelled to resort weakened his power so much that Martin IV. was tempted to enter into alliance with Charles of Anjou and the Venetians for the purpose of reconquering Constantinople. The invasion, however, failed, and Michael so far had his revenge in the “Sicilian Vespers,” which he helped to bring about. He died in Thrace in December 1282. In reconstituting the Byzantine Empire Michael restored the old administration without endeavouring to correct its abuses. By debasing the coinage he hastened the decay of Byzantine commerce.

Michael IX. Palaeologus, was the son of Andronicus II. and was associated with him on the throne from 1295, but predeceased him (1320). He took the field against the Turks (1301, 1310) and against the Grand Catalan Company (1305), but was repeatedly defeated.

See Gibbon’s Decline and Fall (ed. Bury. 1896); G. Finlay, Hist. of Greece (ed. 1877); G. Schlumberger, l’Epopée byzantine (1896); J. Bury, in Eng. Hist. Rev. (1889); Meliarakes, Ὶστορια τοῦ βασιλείου τῆς Νικαίας καί τοῦ δεσποτάτου τῆς Ἠπείρον, pp. 539-627 (Athens, 1898).