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Manuel and the Genoese: A Reappraisal of Byzantine Commercial Policy in the Late Twelfth Century

  • Gerald W. Day (a1)


The study attempts to rehabilitate the reputation of the Byzantine emperor, Manuel I Comnenus, by considering often overlooked evidence of the Genoese experience in Constantinople during his reign. Manuel's alleged ill-treatment of Italian merchants is seen to have resulted not from greed but from his concern with maintaining peace in Constantinople. The Genoese, who remained peaceful and loyal to their agreements with Manuel, prospered under his goodwill in spite of Genoa's refusal to commit itself to a Byzantine offensive alliance. It is concluded that Manuel's commercial policy was equitable to the Italians and beneficial to his empire's economic health.



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1 “Hoc siquidem anno dominus Emanuel dive memoriae Constantinopolitanus beatissimus imperator, sicut divine placuit maiestati… obiit, mense septembris, festo beate Tecle virginis martyris, secundum quod retulit Willielmus Arnaldus, nobilis Ianue civis, qui venit de Peyra cum navi honerata frumento; unde Christianitas universa ruinam maximam et detrimentum incurrit.” Belgrano, L. T. and Angelo, Cesare Imperiale di Santʼ, eds., Annali genovesi di Caffaro e deʼ suoi continuatori dal MXCIX al MCCXCIU, 2 vols. (Rome, 18901901), II, 1415. The translation is my own.

2 Much of the calumny against Manuel began with the version of his expulsion of the Venetians in 1171 that appears in Monumenta Germaniae historica, scriptores, vol. 14, Historia ducum Veneticorum, H. Simonsfeld, ed., p. 78. Contrary information relative to the Venetian expulsion was given by Cinnamus, John, Epitome rerum ab Ioanne et Alexio Comnenis gestarum, Meineke, August, ed. (Bonn, 1836), pp. 281–82; by Choniates, Nicetas, Historia, Bekker, Immanuel, ed. (Bonn, 1835), pp. 222–24; and by the Genoese instructions to the city's ambassador to Constantinople in 1174, printed in Sanguineti, Angelo and Bertolotto, Gerolamo, eds., “Nuova serie di document! sulle relazioni di Genova coll' Impero bizantino,” AM della Società ligure di storia patria, 28, pt. 2 (1898), 368405. Concerning Manuel's greed, see especially Chalandon, Ferdinand, Les Comnène, 2 vols. (Paris, 19001912), II, 586–87; Vasiliev, A. A., History of the Byzantine Empire, 324–1453 (Madison, Wis., 1952), p. 475; Danstrup, John, “Manuel's Coup Against Genoa and Venice in the Light of Byzantine Commercial Policy,” Classica et Medievalia, 10 (1949), 207. Danstrup, relying too much upon the mistakes of Heyd, Wilhelm in Histoire du commerce du Levant au moyen âge, Reynaud, Furcy, trans., 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1936), I, 216, and too little upon later scholarship, produced an interpretation of Byzantine commercial policy under Manuel that saw the emperor as a fomenter of hostility among the Italians to keep them docile (“Manuel's Coup,” pp. 205 and 213). Half a century earlier a similar conclusion had been reached by Camillo Manfroni, “Le relazioni fra Genova, l'Impero bizantino, e i Turchi,” AM della Societa ligure, 28, pt. 3 (1902), 623. Charles Brand betrays his reliance on Danstrup's interpretation, although he acknowledges Danstrup's mistake in following Heyd, in Byzantium Confronts the West (Cambridge, Mass., 1968), p. 220. Most recently the traditional attitude toward Manuel has shown up in an article by Lopez, Robert, “Foreigners in Byzantium,” Bulletin de l'Institut historique beige de Rome, fasc. 44 (1974), 351.

3 Tafel, G. L. and Thomas, G. M., eds., Urkunden zur älteren Handels-und Staatsgeschichte der Republik Venedig, 3 vols. (Vienna, 18561857), I, 4354.

4 Müller, Giuseppe, ed., Documenti sulle relazioni delle citte Toscane coll' Oriente cristiano e coi Turchi (Florence, 1879), pp. 5254.

5 In 1142 a Genoese delegation met the emperor John on progress in the principality of Antioch, but the death of the emperor the next year terminated whatever negotiations were underway. See, Annali genovesi, I, 31; Raggio, G. B. F., ed., Statuta consulatus lanuensis, in Historiae patriae monumenta, vol. 2, Leges municipiales (Turin, 1838); p. 252.

6 For Manuel's campaign in southern Italy, see Chalandon, Les Comnène, II, 353–81.

7 Historia, pp. 259–64.

8 Butler, W. F., The Lombard Communes (1969 rpt; London, 1906), p. 127.

9 “Documenti,” pp. 343–45. Caffaro testifies to the customs reduction made at this time, although it is not specifically mentioned in the agreement. Annali genovesi, I, 42.

10 Ibid., p. 60; Manfroni, “Relazioni,” p. 604; Bratianu, G. I., Recherches sur la commerce génois dans la Met Noire au XIIIe siècle (Paris, 1927), p. 62.

11 Annali genovesi, I, 67.

12 Brand, Byzantium, p. 207: “But in 1162, because of a Germano-Genoese alliance, Manuel permitted the Venetians, Pisans and native populace to sack the quarter.”

13 Lopez, Roberto, Storia delle colonie genovesi (Bologna, 1938), p. 126.

14 Angelo, Cesare Imperiale di Sant', ed., Codice diplomatico della repubblica di Genova, 3 vols. (Rome, 19361942), I, 395404, doc. 308.

15 June 19 is the date given by Lopez, Colonie genovesi, p. 126. Camillo Manfroni, working from the fact that two naval encounters between Genoa and Pisa had taken place by July 8, figures the ultimatum must have been sent in the middle of June or a little later. Storia della marina italiana, 3 vols. (Livorno, 18971902), I, 231, n. 1.

16 Heyd, Histoire du commerce, I, 213–14.

17 Annali genovesi, I, 167–68.

18 A clause pulling Genoa into an offensive alliance appears in a version of the unratified agreement of 1169. The final agreement was made in the summer of 1170. “Documenti,” p. 353; pp. 364–67.

19 Brand assigns the event to early 1171 (Byzantium, p. 207). See also, Historia ducum Veneticorum, p. 78. The instructions to the Genoese ambassador in 1174, three years after the event, are only marginally concerned with Genoese property in Constantinople, and what little mention is made of an establishment speaks of enlarging an existing compound, not of obtaining one (“Documenti,” p. 369).

20 Historia, pp. 222–24.

21 Epitome, pp. 280–82.

22 My italics. “Since they are not culpable and are chargeable for the same crime.” Histoire du commerce, I, 216. The document Heyd used was printed by Sauli, Ludovico, Della colonia di Genovesi in Galata, 2 vols. (Turin, 1831), II, 185.

23 My italics. “Since they are culpable thereof and are chargeable for the same crime.” “Documenti,” p. 371. I have not seen the manuscript but Manfroni, who did, attests to the correctness of “inde.” “Relazioni,” pp. 618–19.

24 See above, n. 2.

25 Cinnamus, Epitome, p. 282.

26 Historia ducum Veneticorum, pp. 78–80; Cinnamus, Epitome, pp. 282–83.

27 “Documenti,” p. 345.

28 Ibid., p. 351.

29 Ibid., p. 367.

30 Ibid., pp. 388–89.

31 Ibid., pp. 387–88.

32 Ibid. p. 400.

33 Ibid. p. 402.

34 Ibid. p. 401.

38 Ibid. p. 351.

37 Ibid. p. 368–405.

38 Ibid. p. 422–23.

39 Ibid., pp. 414–15.

40 Ibid., pp. 469–75.

41 For a brief summary of Guercio's career in Byzantine service, culminating in Manuel's grant of a pronoia to him, see Ibid., p. 471. (For Byzantinists interested in the relationship between pronoiai and fiefs, it is perhaps noteworthy that the Latin Genoese document describes Guercio's grant as “possessiones in feudi beneficium.”) Guercio's role in Byzantino-Genoese relations can be found in Ibid., pp. 406–08, 447, and 461.

42 Annali genovesi, II, 13–14.

43 As reported by Heyd, Histoire du commerce, I, 221.

44 “Documenti,” p. 425. On the destruction of the quarter, see Heyd, Histoire du commerce, I, 222–23.

45 In 1174 the Genoese claimed that 5,674 hyperpers had been lost in the violence. “Documenti,” p. 385.

46 The Genoese claimed 29,443 hyperpers lost in 1162. Ibid., p. 397. The annalist rounds off the sum to 30,000 hyperpers. Annali genovesi, I, 68.

47 For an interpretation that differs radically from the accepted one about Byzantine economic history in that it considers the twelfth century as the apogee of the Byzantine economy, see M. F. Hendy, “Byzantium, 1081–1204: An Economic Reappraisal,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th ser., 20 (1970), 31–52. On the impact of the Italians on Byzantium, see especially pp. 39–41 and 51.

48 Ibid., p. 40.

49 Steven Runciman is under the misapprehension that the Genoese were able to break into the Black Sea trade before Manuel's death. “Byzantine Trade and Industry,” The Cambridge Economic History of Europe (Cambridge, 1952), II, pp. 99 and 101. He must be relying upon a brief set of instructions sent to the Genoese ambassador in Constantinople in 1171 upon the Venetian expulsion when Genoa attempted to obtain Venice s favored position in the empire. “Documenti,” pp. 347–48. It was not a formal treaty, and there is no evidence that the items mentioned in it were ever implemented.

50 A Sicilo-Genoese trade agreement was signed in 1156. Annali genovesi, I, 46; Historiae patriae monumenta, vol. 7, Liber iurium reipublicae Genuensis, Ercole Ricotti, ed., pp. 190–91.

51 Urkunden, II, 202–05.

52 Robert S. Lopez, “Medieval Trade: The South,” Cambridge Economic History, II, p. 342.

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