Isaac I Komnenos

Isaac I Komnenos

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Isaac I Komnenos (c. 1007 – 1061) was Byzantine Emperor from 1057 to 1059, and the first reigning member of the Komnenos
Komnenós or Comnenus was the name of a ruling family of the Eastern Roman Empire , who halted the political decline of the Empire from c.1081 to c.1185.-Origins:...

 dynasty. His brief reign saw an attempt to restore the Byzantine Empire’s military capability and reputation.


He was the son of Manuel Erotikos Komnenos, the strategos autokrator of the East under Emperor Basil II who in 978 defended Nicaea against Bardas Skleros
Bardas Skleros
Bardas Skleros or Sclerus was a Byzantine general who led a wide-scale Asian rebellion against Emperor Basil II in 976–979.-Background:...

, and one of his two wives, whose names are unknown, and who on his deathbed in 1020 commended his two surviving sons Isaakios and Ioannes to the emperor's care. Basil had them carefully educated at the monastery
Monastery denotes the building, or complex of buildings, that houses a room reserved for prayer as well as the domestic quarters and workplace of monastics, whether monks or nuns, and whether living in community or alone .Monasteries may vary greatly in size – a small dwelling accommodating only...

 of Stoudion, and afterwards advanced them to high official positions. He also had an older son, Nikephoros, who died in 1026, and a daughter, born in 1012 and married around 1031 to Michael Dokeianos, Catepan
The katepánō was a senior Byzantine military rank and office. The word was Latinized as capetanus/catepan, and its meaning seems to have merged with that of the Italian "capitaneus"...

 of Italy, deceased in 1050. It is said that their name was derived from the city of Komne, near Philippopolis
The term Philippopolis , which translates as "Philip's Town," may refer to the following cities:*Plovdiv, Bulgaria *Shahba, Syria...

, where they were landowners, and that they were of Armenian ancestry from Paphlagonia, which is supported by the use of the name Manuel instead of Emmanouel.

During the disturbed reigns of Basil's seven immediate successors, Isaac by his prudent conduct won the confidence of the army. From 1042 to 1057, he served as commander of the field army in Anatolia
Anatolia is a geographic and historical term denoting the westernmost protrusion of Asia, comprising the majority of the Republic of Turkey...

. In 1057, after being humiliated by the Emperor Michael VI, he rebelled in Paphlagonia
Paphlagonia was an ancient area on the Black Sea coast of north central Anatolia, situated between Bithynia to the west and Pontus to the east, and separated from Phrygia by a prolongation to the east of the Bithynian Olympus...

, and joined with the nobles of the capital in a conspiracy against Michael VI. Proclaimed emperor by the army on June 8, 1057, he defeated an imperial army at the Battle of Petroe. A panicked Michael VI attempted to negotiate with the rebels through the famous courtier Michael Psellos, offering to adopt Isaac as his son and to grant him the title of kaisar (Caesar
Caesar (title)
Caesar is a title of imperial character. It derives from the cognomen of Julius Caesar, the Roman dictator...

), but his proposals were publicly rejected. Privately Isaac showed himself more open to negotiation, and he was promised the status of co-emperor. However, during the course of these secret negotiations, a riot in favor of Isaac broke out in Constantinople. With Michael VI’s deposition, Patriarch
Patriarch of Constantinople
The Ecumenical Patriarch is the Archbishop of Constantinople – New Rome – ranking as primus inter pares in the Eastern Orthodox communion, which is seen by followers as the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church....

 Michael Keroularios crowned Isaac I emperor on September 1, 1057, taking much of the credit for Isaac's acceptance as monarch. His coronation marks the founding of the new dynasty of the Komnenoi.

The first care of the new emperor was to reward his noble partisans with appointments that removed them from Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

, and his next was to repair the depleted finances of the empire. He revoked numerous pensions and grants conferred by his predecessors upon idle courtiers, and, meeting the reproach of sacrilege by Michael Keroularios with a decree of exile in 1058, he appropriated a proportion of the revenues of the wealthy monasteries. Isaac's only military expedition was against King Andrew I of Hungary and the Pechenegs, who began to ravage the northern frontiers in 1059. Shortly after this successful campaign, he concluded peace with the Kingdom of Hungary
Kingdom of Hungary
The Kingdom of Hungary comprised present-day Hungary, Slovakia and Croatia , Transylvania , Carpatho Ruthenia , Vojvodina , Burgenland , and other smaller territories surrounding present-day Hungary's borders...

 and returned to Constantinople. Here he became very ill, and believed he was dying. He was already deeply shaken after narrowly avoiding being struck by lightning while leaning against a tree on campaign against the Pechenegs, and saw his illness as a sign of God's displeasure. This situation was exploited by the courtiers, led by Michael Psellos, who influenced Isaac to appoint as his successor Constantine Doukas
Constantine X
Constantine X Doukas was emperor of the Byzantine Empire from 1059 to 1067.-Reign:Constantine Doukas was the son of Andronikos Doukas, a Paphlagonian nobleman who may have served as governor of the theme of Moesia...

, to the exclusion of his own brother John Komnenos. Isaac abdicated on November 22, 1059, against the wishes of his brother and of his empress Catherine of Bulgaria
Catherine of Bulgaria
Catherine of Bulgaria was a daughter of Ivan Vladislav of Bulgaria and his wife Maria.- Family :She was a sister of Presian II of Bulgaria and Alusian of Bulgaria. She was also a paternal aunt of Maria of Bulgaria.She married Isaac I Komnenos...

. Like Isaac, his wife and daughter entered a monastery.

Although he recovered, Isaac Komnenos did not resume the throne, but retired to the monastery of Stoudion and spent the remaining two years of his life as a monk
A monk is a person who practices religious asceticism, living either alone or with any number of monks, while always maintaining some degree of physical separation from those not sharing the same purpose...

, alternating menial offices with literary studies. His Scholia to the Iliad
The Iliad is an epic poem in dactylic hexameters, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles...

 and other works on the Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

ic poems are still extant. He died late in 1060 or early in 1061. Isaac's great aim was to restore the former strict organization of the government, and his reforms, though unpopular with the aristocracy and the clergy, and not understood by the people, certainly contributed to the continued survival of the Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...



He married Catherine
Catherine of Bulgaria
Catherine of Bulgaria was a daughter of Ivan Vladislav of Bulgaria and his wife Maria.- Family :She was a sister of Presian II of Bulgaria and Alusian of Bulgaria. She was also a paternal aunt of Maria of Bulgaria.She married Isaac I Komnenos...

 (as nun, Xene) of Bulgaria, a daughter of Ivan Vladislav of Bulgaria
Ivan Vladislav of Bulgaria
Ivan Vladislav ruled as emperor of Bulgaria from August or September 1015 to February 1018. The year of his birth is unknown, but he was born at least a decade before 987, but probably not much earlier than that....

. They had at least two children:
  • Manuel Komnenos, who died before 1059.
  • Maria Komnene, a nun.

Primary Sources

  • Michael Psellus, Chronographia.
  • Michael Attaleiates, History

Secondary Sources

  • George Finlay, History of the Byzantine and Greek Empires from 1057–1453, Volume 2, William Blackwood & Sons, 1854