Who was Emperor Manuel II Paleologos, the man whose quotation sparked so much rage all over the Muslim world? Blogger Vicki of the site Not Ready for My Burqua has done some research. With her kind permission, we reprint extensive excerpts from her post on the subject.
Manuel II Paleologos was born in 1350 to the Emperor John V (reigned 1341—1391), a weak ruler who was overthrown twice, once by his son Andronicus IV, and later by his grandson, John VII. At the time of the 1373 coup by Andronicus, John appointed Manuel co—emperor. In 1376, Andronicus imprisoned John and Manuel, but they were able to escape and seek protection from the Ottoman Sultan Murad I, who, ironically, had backed Andronicus in his coup. John and Manuel promised Murad a heftier tribute than Andronicus was willing to pay, and were able to regain their throne. (Source)
In 1390, John was again overthrown by Andronicus and his son, John VII. Manuel was sent as a hostage to the court of the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid I. He was forced to fight with the Turks against the Byzantine city of Philadelphia. (Source: Wikipedia) During this period, John V was restored to his throne for the last time, but Manuel remained in humiliating submission to the Sultan. When John tried to rebuild the fortified walls of Constantinople, Bayezid threatened to gouge out Manuel's eyes. The refortification project came to an end. (Baum) It was at this time that Manuel participated in the conversations which he published in 1399 as the Twenty—six dialogues with a Persian.
After his father's death in 1391, Manuel was installed as Emperor, in vassallage to the Sultan. Manuel tried to enlist help from the West to throw off the Ottoman overlord, enraging the Sultan, who laid siege to Constantinople from 1394 to 1402. On a diplomatic mission to Serres in 1394, Manuel, his nephew John VII, Theodore of Morea, and Prince Stefan Lazervic of Serbia were ambushed by Bayezid, who wanted to kill them all. They were forced to watch as several Byzantine army officers were blinded. "The events in Serres confirmed Manuel's opinion that the Turks were not amenable to any kind of reasoning." (Baum)
Manuel spent the rest of his life trying to rouse the West to help him defend Constantinople against the Turks, but with no success. In 1424, he and his son, John VIII Paleologous, were forced to sign a peace treaty and pay tribute to the Ottoman Empire. He died in 1425, and was buried in the monastic Church of the Pantokrator. His grave was later destroyed by the Turks.
So what are some of the lessons that Manuel might be able to teach us? Here are a few:
- Unity is essential against an enemy. If the Paleologoi hadn't been so busy overthrowing each other, they wouldn't have had to seek allies among the Ottomans, and may have been able to put up more of a defense against their common enemy.
- Appeasement doesn't work. As Andronicus and his son learned, there is always someone willing to pay a higher tribute, at which point your value drops to zero. As Winston Churchill was to say many years later, "Appeasement is like feeding a crocodile, hoping that he will eat you last."
- The West must be willing to fight. Manuel spent the last 20 years of his life trying to win help from his European neighbors against the onslaught of the Ottoman Empire. While Europe celebrated the prosperity and artistic expression of the Renaissance, Constantinople was besieged and humiliated, and ultimately sacked. Although the West won a temporary respite, the Ottomans didn't leave them alone. They continued to attack and conquer Christian Europe until they were turned back from the gates of Vienna in 1683.
So, will we learn from this tragic emperor or will we continue to pretend that Western Civilization is the real enemy and that we have more to fear from Pope Benedict XVI than from the Islamic radicals who threaten to kill him?