Maria of Antioch

Miniature of Maria of Antioch, Vatican Library (12th century). Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Gabby Storey

Maria of Antioch was born to Raymond of Poitiers and Constance de Hauteville, princess of Antioch, in 1145. When she was 15, Maria’s stepfather Raynald of Châtillon was taken prisoner by Maj al-Dīn, leading to Constance claiming the rulership of Antioch for herself.

Constance was opposed and her son Bohemund III was elevated as prince by Baldwin III of Jerusalem. During this time, negotiations for the marriage of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel took place, with Manuel selecting Maria as his bride.

Maria left Antioch for Constantinople in September 1161 and was married to Manuel at the Hagia Sophia in December. This marriage strengthened Constance’s position and she was able to claim the regency of Antioch with Manuel’s support.

The marital alliance strengthened relations between Antioch and Byzantium, however the lack of heir produced by Maria was a concern amongst contemporaries. She is known to have had at least one miscarriage in 1166.

Maria gave birth to the future Alexios II in 1169. She played an active role in court life, acting as a diplomat and intercessor. After Manuel’s death in 1180, Maria became a nun but continued to be politically active, acting as regent for Alexios II.

Her rule was considered incompetent and unpopular, particularly due to the choice of Alexios Komnenos as adviser and lover. Maria was opposed by her stepdaughter Maria Komnene, and conflict followed.

Manuel’s cousin Andronikos Komnenos was invited to Constantinople by Maria Komnene, provoking a massacre in the city. Andronikos had Maria Komnene and her husband poisoned, and then imprisoned Maria of Antioch. She was later executed on Alexios II’s orders under Andronikos’ influence.

The details of her death are widely speculated, and her burial site is unknown. Andronikos had himself crowned as co-emperor, but murdered Alexios II shortly after and seized control of the empire.  

Recommended Reading

Andrew Buck, The Principality of Antioch and its Frontiers in the Twelfth Century (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2017)

Andrew Buck, “Women in the Principality of Antioch: Power, Status, and Social Agency,” Haskins Society Journal 31 (2020): 95–132

Lynda Garland, Byzantine Empresses: Woman and Power in Byzantium, AD 527-1204 (Abingdon: Routledge, 1999).

%d bloggers like this: