John II Comnenus

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John II Comnenus (September 13, 1087April 8, 1143) was Byzantine emperor from 1118 to 1143. Also known as Kaloioannes (John the Beautiful), he was the eldest son of the emperor Alexius and Irene Ducaena.


He succeeded his father in 1118. Nicetas Choniates alone tells of the actions by which John II secured his own succession. Alexius I had favoured John to succeed him over his wife Irene's favourite, Nicephorus Bryennius, who was married to their daughter Anna. Alexius resorted to dissimulation in order to avert Irene's criticism of his choice and her demands that Nicephorus should succeed. As Alexius lay on his deathbed in the monastery of the Mangana (15 August 1118), John, consorting with relatives whom he could trust, among whom was his brother, the sebastokrator Isaac, stole into the monastery and removed the imperial signet ring from his dying father. Then, taking up arms, he rode to the Great Palace, gathering the support of the citizenry who acclaimed him emperor. Irene was taken by surprise and was unable either to persuade her son to desist, or to induce Nicephorus to act against him. Although the palace guard at first refused to admit John without proof of his father's wishes, the mob surrounding the new emperor simply forced entry. Alexius died the following night. John refused to join the funeral procession, in spite of his mother's urging, because his hold on power was so tenuous. However, in the space of a few days, his position was secure.


On account of his mild and just reign he has been called the Byzantine Marcus Aurelius. By the personal purity and piety of his character he effected a notable improvement in the manners of his age, and he devoted his reign to restoring the Byzantine Empire to its former extents, before the disaster at Manzikert in 1071. His various successes against the invading Petchenegs, Serbians and Seljuk Turks, whose progress in Asia Minor he reverted, along with his attempts to establish Byzantine suzerainty over the Crusader States in Antioch and Edessa, did much to restore the reputation of his empire, even if the Comnenian dynasty in hindsight gave Byzantium, torn apart by corruption and invasions, but a brief respite against disintegration. His only serious—but very telling—setbacks were against the Venetians, upon whose naval strength the empire was dependent after the breakdown of the Byzantine fleet in the 11th century. An effort to reduce their extensive privileges within the empire ended with a humiliating return to status quo, many Byzantine ports being plundered in the process.

John the Beautiful

John was known as Kaloiannis, 'John the Beautiful'. William of Tyre says that he was short and unusually ugly, with eyes, hair and complexion so dark he was known as 'the Moor'. The description Kaloiannis referred not to his body but to his soul. Both his parents had been unusually pious and John surpassed them. Members of his court were expected to restrict their conversation to serious subjects only. The food served at the emperor's table was very frugal and John lectured courtiers who lived in excessive luxury. Despite his austerity, John was loved. His principles were sincerely held and his integrity great. He never condemned anyone to death or mutilation. Charity was dispensed lavishly.

John married Piroska of Hungary, daughter of King Ladislaus I of Hungary. Their two eldest sons predeceased him, and he passed over the third son, Isaakios, in favor of the youngest, Manuel, who had shown great promise.


It was on Mount Taurus in Cilicia, on April 8, 1143 that John was accidentally infected by a poisoned arrow (though there are those that theorize that this was no accident), and when it was apparent that he was going to die, the emperor chose his youngest son Manuel to be his successor over the other remaining son Isaac, citing two main reasons, namely Isaac's irascibility and the courage that Manuel had shown at Neocaesareia.


John married Piroska in 1104; the marriage was intended as compensation for the loss of some territories to King Coloman of Hungary. She played little part in government, devoting herself to piety and their large brood of children. Piroska died on August 13, 1134 and was later venerated as Saint Eirene. John and Piroska had eight children:

  1. Alexius Comnenus, co-emperor, died 1142
  2. Maria Comnena, twin to Alexius, married Ioannes Dalassenos Rogerios
  3. Andronikos Comnenus (died 1142)
  4. Isaakios Comnenus (died 1154)
  5. Manuel I Comnenus (died 1180)
  6. Anna Comnena, married Stephanos Kontostephanos
  7. Theodora Comnena, married Manuel Anemas
  8. Eudokia Comnena, married Theodoros Vatazes

See also

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