chapter  12
11 Pages

Maria of Antioch (1161-82/3)

The wives of John II and Manuel I Komnenos were not great political manipulators in the same way as the empresses of Alexios 1. Piriska or Piroshka, at least, the Hungarian-born wife of John II, was overshadowed in her early married life by her redoubtable mother-in-law whose name Irene she also adopted, and her foreign birth meant that when she came to the fore she had no power group to support her in any attempts to interfere in political matters, even had she wished to do SO.l In fact, she seems to have blamelessly devoted herself to her large family of eight children and pious works after her marriage in 1104, and was venerated as a saint after her death; she died, probably on 13 August 1134, under the monastic name Xene, like Anna Dalassene. 2 There is no reason to believe that John and Irene were not well suited; John paid tribute to her assistance in his typikon for the monastery of the Pantokrator which they jointly founded, to which was attached a hospital, though she died shortly after it was begun, and his grief at her death is mentioned in a poem of Kallikles. 3 The fact that court poets stress her descent shows that her subjects were conscious of her origins4 - she was after all only the second foreign-born empress for several centuries. Her portrait in the sourh gallery of St Sophia (Plate 25) parallels that of Zoe and Constantine IX Monomachos and shows her with luxuriant auburn hair; it is a lasting tribute to her attractions and to the imperial dignity vested in the empress consort. 5 Choniates's history, though beginning with the death of Alexios I, does not mention Piriska or her marriage to John II, which shows that she made little impact on contemporary politics.