Andronikos Kontostephanos

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Andronikos Kontostephanos
Born c. 1128
Died c. 1182
Allegiance Byzantine Empire
Rank megas doux
Commands held Commander in Chief of the Byzantine navy, General commanding a number of field armies
Battles/wars Siege of Corfu, Battle of Sirmium, Siege of Damietta, Battle of Myriokephalon
Awards Court title not extant.

Andronikos Kontostephanos, Latinized Andronicus Contostephanus (Greek: Ἀνδρόνικος Κοντοστέφανος) was a major figure in the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire during the reign of Manuel I Komnenos; he was a general, admiral, politician and a leading aristocrat. He was born after 1125, when his parents married, and died after 1182, when he is last mentioned in the sources.

Background and family[edit]

Emperor Manuel I Komnenos, uncle of Andronikos Kontostephanos

Andronikos Kontostephanos was the youngest son of Stephanos Kontostephanos,[1] who held the title panhypersebastos and the rank of megas doux, and the porphyrogenita princess Anna Komnene, daughter of the emperor John II Komnenos and his empress Eirene of Hungary, and thus the nephew of emperor Manuel I Komnenos.[2] Andronikos had two brothers, John, also a prominent military commander, and Alexios, and a sister, Eirene. The Kontostephanoi were an old Byzantine family and were at the heart of Byzantine politics and power through their intermarrying with the imperial house of the Komnenoi for generations.[3] Andronikos himself is believed to have married a member of the Doukas family, another clan with imperial connections. He had four sons.

Military career[edit]

Andronikos was the leading Byzantine military figure during the reign of his uncle the emperor Manuel I Komnenos. Like his father he was appointed to the office of megas doux (grand duke), the commander-in-chief of the Byzantine navy and governor of the provinces of Hellas, the Peloponnese and Crete.[4] However, his greatest success was as a general rather than as an admiral. At some point, Andronikos was also appointed commander of the Varangian Guard.[5]

The earliest mention of Andronikos in high command was in 1144-5 when he was given a command, jointly with his brother John and a general named Prosuch, of a force sent to defend Cilicia from the depredations of Raymond of Antioch.[6] As his parents married in 1125 he must have been under twenty years old at the time.

Andronikos’ father was killed at the siege of Corfu in 1149, when he commanded the Byzantine forces attempting to expel the Normans of the Kingdom of Sicily. Andronikos too was present at the siege and assumed his father's command, but failed to defeat the Normans.[7]

The Hungarians had defeated the Byzantines on the Danube frontier in 1165, and the following year Byzantine armies ravaged eastern Hungary in retaliation. In 1167 Manuel collected a very large army with the intention of ending the Hungarian threat to the empire’s Balkan possessions. Bad health prevented Manuel from taking to the field in person,[8] and he entrusted his army to the command of Andronikos. The Byzantine army met the Hungarians in a pitched battle on the 8th of July near the fortified city of Zemun. Andronikos’ skillful dispositions and the discipline of his troops gave the Byzantines a decisive victory at the Battle of Sirmium.[9] The Hungarians sued for peace on Byzantine terms and recognised the empire’s control over the region around Sirmium, plus all of Bosnia, Dalmatia and the area south of the Krka River.[10] Following the victory Manuel celebrated a triumphal entry into Constantinople with Andronikos Kontostephanos riding by his side.[11]

Upper register: Manuel and the envoys of Amalric, an embassy which resulted in the despatch of the Byzantine force under Kontostephanos to invade Egypt. Lower register: arrival of the crusaders in Egypt (William of Tyre's Historia).

In 1169, Andronikos was appointed commander of a fleet of 230 ships carrying a Byzantine army to invade Egypt in alliance with the forces of Amalric, King of Jerusalem, in what was to be the last of a series of Crusader invasions of Egypt.[12] The combined armies laid siege to Damietta in the Nile delta.[13] The Byzantines prosecuted the siege with vigour, but as they were about to assault the city Amalric undermined them by arranging a negotiated surrender of Damietta. Andronikos, disgusted with Amalric’s double-dealing and with his soldiers in state of starvation, evacuated Egypt. He returned with part of his army by land through the crusader states of Palestine and Syria. Half of the Byzantine fleet was lost in a series of storms on its return journey.[14]

Renewed friction between Venice and the Byzantines resulted in Manuel imprisoning all 20,000 Venetians in the empire and confiscating all of their property (1171). The Republic of Venice retaliated by sending a fleet of 120 ships to capture and occupy Chios. Andronikos commanded a fleet of 150 ships dispatched to drive off the Venetians, a task he accomplished.[15]

Manuel attacked the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm in 1176, with the intention of taking its capital, Konya, and destroying Turkish power in Anatolia. The Seljuk sultan Kilij Arslan II ambushed Manuel’s impressively large army as it moved through the pass of Tivritze in mountainous border region between the two states. In the ensuing Battle of Myriokephalon parts of the Byzantine force were very badly mauled; however, Andronikos Kontostephanos managed to get his division, bringing up the rear, through the pass with few casualties. He is credited with having persuaded his uncle the emperor, whose confidence had been severely shaken, to remain with his troops following the defeat. Through his influence with the emperor he was instrumental in facilitating the peaceful withdrawal of the Byzantine forces.[16]

The following year (1177), Andronikos led a fleet of 150 ships in another attempt to conquer Egypt, but he returned home after landing at Acre. He was dissuaded from continuing with the expedition by the refusal of Count Philip of Flanders, and many important nobles of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, to actively co-operate with the Byzantine force.[17]

Political intrigues and an unfortunate fate[edit]

Following the death of Manuel in 1180 the succession fell to his son Alexios II Komnenos. As Alexios was a child, power devolved on his mother, the empress Maria of Antioch. Her rule proved very unpopular, especially with the aristocracy who resented her Latin (Western) origins. When Manuel’s cousin Andronikos Komnenos made a bid for power in 1182 the Grand Duke Andronikos Kontostephanos, together with the general Andronikos Angelos, played a key role in allowing his forces to enter Constantinople. However, once in power, Andronikos Komnenos proved that he had a tyrannical nature and had a vehement desire to break the power and influence of the Byzantine aristocratic families. Kontostephanos and Angelos reacted by plotting to overthrow Andronikos. The plot was discovered and Andronikos Kontostephanos was captured, whilst Angelos escaped. The Grand Duke Andronikos and his four sons were punished with blinding.[18]


Due to his exploits, Andronikos is one of the few figures given heroic status in the works of the Byzantine historian Niketas Choniates.[19]


  1. ^ John Kinnamos, 217.9; 97.18.
  2. ^ John Kinnamos, 270.4.
  3. ^ Angold, pp. 211-212.
  4. ^ Angold, p. 128-129
  5. ^ John Kinnamos, 97.19.
  6. ^ Choniates, p. 31.
  7. ^ John Kinnamos, 96.22-98.4; Angold, p. 170. The command of the Byzantine forces in Corfu was eventually taken over by the megas domestikos John Axuch who starved the Norman garrison into evacuating the island.
  8. ^ A horse had fallen on him when he was playing polo - Kinnamos, p. 198 (folios 263-264).
  9. ^ John Kinnamos, 270-274; Angold, pp. 177-211.
  10. ^ Treadgold, p. 646.
  11. ^ Finlay, p.179.
  12. ^ Phillips, p. 158.
  13. ^ John Kinnamos, 279.6.
  14. ^ Harris, p. 109.
  15. ^ Heath, p. 4.
  16. ^ Choniates, pp. 105-106; Angold, pp. 192-193; Finlay, pp. 192-195.
  17. ^ Harris p. 109
  18. ^ Angold, p. 267; Finlay p. 209.
  19. ^ Magdalino, p. 13.