THE EARLIER COMNENI. ISAAC I (1057-4059). ALEXIUS I (1081-1118)



AMONG the great families of the aristocracy whose names recur on every page of Byzantine history in the eleventh century, that of the Comneni was destined to be the most illustrious. In all probability we should reject the comparatively recent hypothesis connecting the family with an ancient Roman house which had followed Constantine to Byzantium, and abide by the testimony of the Byzantine chroniclers who represent the Comneni as coming originally from the little village of Comne, in the valley of the Tunja, close to Hadrianople. At a later time large possessions acquired in Asia Minor in the Castamon district secured to the Comneni an important place among the nobility of Asia Minor.

The name Comnenus makes its first appearance in the writings of the Byzantine historians during the reign of Basil II (976-1025). Two personages bearing the name are mentioned by the chroniclers, Nicephorus, governor of Vaspurakan (i.e. district of Van), and Manuel. The latter, the servant and friend of Basil II, is often spoken of under the name of Eroticus. He left two sons, Isaac and John, the former of whom was to lay the foundations of the future greatness of his house.

In order to understand the causes of the military revolution which in 1057 raised Isaac Comnenus to the Byzantine throne, it is necessary to go back to the events which followed the death of Basil II. His successor Constantine VIII (1025-1028) dismissed the greater number of the imperial officials, and put the administration in the hands of a new set of functionaries, chosen from among the companions of his debauches, freedmen, eunuchs, and foreigners. Thenceforward the whole business of governing was in the hands of the palace officials, who retained a position of preponderating importance up to the end of the eleventh century. Two classes were equally hateful to the new staff of administrators, the heads of the aristocratic families and the military leaders, whose ambition they feared, and both found themselves entirely excluded from the government. The ministers were enabled the more easily to carry out this definitely anti-militarist policy, as for a considerable time the Empire had had no attacks to fear from its neighbor’s. Besides, when the latter grew too presumptuous, the central authority always preferred to buy a peace rather than encounter the risks of a war which might enable some military leader to increase his prestige and popularity.

The generals, drawn for the most part from the nobility of Asia Minor, whose power had been markedly increased by the war with the Muslims, endured for many years the ill-will show them by the imperial court. The reason for their patience may be found in the fact that legitimist ideas were rapidly making way in the public mind. The people of Constantinople were deeply attached to the Macedonian family; because she was the legitimate heiress the Empress Zoe was suffered to place the supreme power in the hands of her three husbands successively—Romanus Argyrus (1028-1034), Michael IV the Paphlagonian (1034-1041), Constantine IX Monomachus (1042-1054)—and in those of her adopted son Michael V Calaphates (1041-1042). When the last attempted a sudden overthrow of the aged Empress by force, and sent her into exile in one of the Princes Islands, after having caused her to take the veil, rebellion thundered through the streets of the capital, nor were the people pacified until the legitimate heiress was recalled. The state of feeling which this reveals made it particularly difficult for the military chiefs to attempt a revolt.

During the brief reign of Zoe's sister, Theodora (1054-1056), the influence of the palace functionaries grew even greater, and with it their fear that the army would become too powerful. While engaged on an expedition, Isaac Comnenus received letters from the Court ordering him to halt and recommending him to be on his guard against the arrogance of a victorious army. The future Emperor, then Domestic of the Scholae of the East (i.e. Commander-in-Chief of the troops in Asia), found himself deprived of this post by the suspicious advisers of the Empress.

The Macedonian dynasty came to an end with Theodora. Michael Stratioticus, her successor, was appointed heir by the Empress on her death-bed. Before being chosen, he was obliged to bind himself by a solemn oath to do nothing against the will and counsel of the ministers and other advisers of the Empress.

The new Emperor, who was much advanced in years, was not long in making himself unpopular by the unfortunate measures which he adopted, and also in raising up powerful enemies for himself, chief among whom must be placed the Patriarch, Michael Cerularius. The Patriarch, whose prestige had been enormously increased by the events of 1054, had only sought in the breach with Rome the means of rendering the Church independent. He now dreamed of placing the State under the yoke of the Church. Around him, drawn together by common interests and forming a powerful party, stood the clergy and the monks. Theodora had already had reason to dread the secret influence of Cerularius. She had not dared to attack him openly, but had attempted to destroy his popularity by throwing suspicion upon his orthodoxy, and by having some of his most notorious partisans proceeded against for heresy. Michael VI and his counselors continued to exclude him from the business of the state. The Patriarch did not forgive the Emperor for adopting this attitude, and on a favorable opportunity shortly afterwards presenting itself, he determined to make his power felt.

Revolt of Isaac Comnenus

The number of the discontented was increased by the fact that men of senatorial rank found themselves excluded from the greater and more lucrative financial posts, which were thenceforward reserved for profes­sional officials. But it was the openly anti-militarist position taken up by the Emperor and his advisers which brought about the catastrophe in which his power finally disappeared. Angry at having had no part in the shower of favors which had followed the accession of the new sovereign and sore at seeing the palace officials preferred to them in the distribution of high commands, the leaders of the army, during the Easter festival of 1057, tried the effect of making united representations to the Emperor. Chief among them were Catacalon Cecaumenus, the Duke of Antioch, Isaac Comnenus, Constantine and John Ducas, and Michael Burtzes. Admitted by the Emperor to an audience, the generals made their wishes known. The Emperor refused all their requests and violently denounced Catacalon Cecaumenus. The latter's comrades having attempted to raise their voices in his defence, the Emperor silenced them with an intemperance of language in which he spared nobody.

The chief officers of the Byzantine army went out from the interview with bitterly wounded feelings. Nevertheless, before proceeding to an open breach, they tried the effect of an application to the Patriarch's vicar, Leo Paraspondylus, the chief counselor of Michael VI. This step had no better success than the former. On this fresh failure the generals decided upon enforcing their demands by violence and overthrowing the Emperor. Supported in secret by Michael Cerularius, who thought the opportunity favorable for attempting to carry out his ambitious projects, the military leaders met in the church of St Sophia, and, after the crown had been offered in vain to Catacalon, the choice of the assembly fell upon Isaac Comnenus. As soon as the final arrangements had been made, the conspirators left Constantinople and crossed over into Asia Minor. The arrest and execution of one of their number, Nicephorus Bryennius, after he had been suddenly deprived of his command in Cappadocia, accelerated the course of events. Hastily, and in fear lest their conspiracy had been discovered, the plotters gathered their contingents together and joined Isaac Comnenus, who had fled for refuge to his estates in Paphlagonia. On 8 June 1057 on the plain of Gunaria Isaac Comnenus was proclaimed Emperor, and soon after, the rebel forces having been increased by the arrival of Catacalon and his troops, the usurper set out on his march towards the Bosphorus. He captured Nicaea without much difficulty, and his authority was promptly recognized throughout the eastern part of the Empire. The pretender made steady progress, the discipline and order which he always maintained among his troops winning him many supporters. The soldiers, though in revolt, never behaved like revolutionaries, and, as it has been said with perfect justice, the proclamation of the new Emperor was generally regarded not as a usurpation but as the setting up of a genuine imperial government basing itself upon the support of the army in contra­distinction to the civil elements of the capital.

Fall of Michael VI 

To make head against the rebels, Michael VI hastily collected all the troops at his disposal in the European provinces of the Empire, and dispatched them to Asia Minor under the command of the eunuch Theodore and Aaron the Bulgarian. On 20 August 1057 at Hades, not far from Nicaea, the imperial troops were defeated by those of Isaac Comnenus. The news of the disaster soon reached the Sacred Palace, where it spread terror. Michael VI, panic-stricken, exacted from the Senators a written promise never to recognize Isaac Comnenus as Emperor. At the same time he himself opened negotiations with him.

The history of the negotiations is chiefly known to us through the deliberately obscure account left by one of the ambassadors, Michael Psellus. One thing alone seems certain, that from the very beginning of the transaction Michael VI was betrayed. The imperial ambassadors, who reached Nicomedia, where Isaac Comnenus then was, on 24 August, were charged to offer him the title of Caesar with the promise of succeeding to the throne. The better to hoodwink his opponent and give time for his own partisans to take action in Constantinople, Isaac spun out the negotiations tediously, and then pretended to accept the proposals of Michael VI, to whom the ambassadors returned to give an account of their mission. During their stay at Constantinople they came to an understanding with the partisans of the pretender, among the most important of whom were the Patriarch and a certain number of great personages. When Psellus and his colleagues again set out bearing fresh proposals from their master, the conspiracy had been fully organized. On 30 August an outbreak took place at Constantinople. The ringleaders complained of the conduct of Michael VI who, after having forced them to take the oath not to acknowledge Isaac Comnenus, had turned them into perjurers by his own offer in the negotiations. They seized the Patriarch, who in reality was in sympathy with the leaders of the movement, and demanded that he should reclaim the written oaths which the Emperor had exacted from the Senators. Then soon after, by the advice of Cerularius, the rioters burst out in acclamation of Isaac Comnenus. In a few hours they were masters of the capital. The Patriarch sent orders to the Emperor to cut off his hair and put on the monastic habit. Michael VI made no resistance, and thus, thanks to the intervention of Cerularius, who had undertaken the direction of the movement, the capital acknowledged Isaac Comnenus.

The news of the success of the rising was brought by messengers to the camp of the rebels. Isaac Comnenus, who had reached Chrysopolis, made his solemn entry into Constantinople and at St Sophia received the imperial crown from the hands of the Patriarch (1 September 1057).

Born early in the eleventh century (c. 1005), the new Emperor was about fifty years old when he mounted the throne. By his marriage with Catherine, daughter of the Bulgarian prince, John Vladislav, he had had two children who died before him.

There is little to be said as to the foreign policy of Isaac Comnenus; an attack by the Turks upon Melitene and Sebastea, uninterrupted progress made by the Normans in Italy, an attack by the Hungarians, a Patzinak invasion which required the Emperor’s presence on the Danubian frontier (1059), such are the principal external events of the reign, the chief interest of which centers in home policy.

The reign of Isaac Comnenus, raised to the throne as he was by the army, was a period of reaction against the reigns that had gone before it. From his first reception of the great officials the Emperor treated them with marked coldness, and instead of making them the usual speech conveyed his orders to them by his secretaries. The army was handsomely rewarded for the help it had afforded the Emperor, who, however, was careful to avoid committing affairs of state to his soldiers, and hastened to send them back to their garrisons. To show plainly the character which he intended to impress on his government, the Emperor caused himself to be represented on the gold coinage holding in his hand not the labarum (the imperial standard) but a drawn sword. Isaac Comnenus was not wanting in the qualities which go to make a ruler. “He was prudent in conception” says an anonymous chronicler, “but more prompt in action; he was devoid of credulity and desired to judge of men rather by experience than by their flatteries”. Psellus writes of him: “Like a lofty and unshakeable column he, in a fashion hitherto unknown, bore on his shoulders the burden of power committed to him”.

Isaac brought to the business of State administration the military methods to which he was accustomed. The situation of the Empire, the treasury being exhausted by the preceding reigns, necessitated financial measures of such a character that universal clamor quickly arose against the new sovereign. The payment of taxes was exacted with merciless rigor. The allowances attached to official posts were cut off, the donations bestowed by the last Emperors were re-examined, and many confiscations decreed. Finally, the convents were deprived of a large part of their property. All these measures gave offence to so many different interests that they made the new Emperor thoroughly unpopular and created a large body of disaffected subjects. These soon found a leader in the Patriarch.

Michael Cerularius 

Michael Cerularius had taken a decisive part in the revolution which raised Isaac Comnenus to the throne. The latter showed himself grateful, and made an important concession to the Patriarch, giving up to him the nomination of all the officials of St Sophia, which up to this time the Emperors had kept in their own hands. By so doing the Emperor, as Michael of Attalia expresses it, “renounced all rights over the ecclesiastical affairs which up to then had come within the imperial province. From thenceforth the Palace was completely excluded from ecclesiastical administration. Neither the post of treasurer, nor the care and expenditure of the Church’s landed property, came for the future within the jurisdiction of the imperial agents; they depended on the will of the Patriarch, who now obtained the right both of the nomination of persons and of the administration of affairs”. It would be impossible to lay too much stress on the importance of these measures, for it was by means of them that the Patriarch, “already the Emperor’s superior from the spiritual point of view, attained to temporal independence”.

These advantages did not satisfy the Patriarch, who dreamed of uniting the spiritual and temporal power in his own hands, of being at once Patriarch and Emperor. The more Cerularius saw his position grow in importance, the more he sought to interfere in the business of the State, and the less he concealed his pretensions. Before long he openly proclaimed them by adopting the purple buskins which at Constantinople formed a part of the imperial costume.

Isaac Comnenus was not a man to allow his rights to be encroached upon and he pushed matters to the point of an open struggle with the Patriarch. The relations between them soon became so strained that the Emperor saw that he would risk his crown if he did not reduce Cerularius to impotence. He therefore decided on the arrest of the Patriarch—a measure not easy to carry out, for Michael had the support of a strong party and was besides very popular. The Emperor was taxed with ingratitude in thus persecuting the man to whom he owed his crown. It was to be feared that the Patriarch’s arrest would be the signal for a riot.

Isaac Comnenus accordingly waited until Cerularius had gone into retreat in November 1058 at the convent of the Nine Orders, situated outside the capital close to the gate of the Holy Angels, and then caused him to be arrested by the Varangians of his body-guard. Michael was at once imprisoned at Proconnesus in the Propontis and thence was transferred to the island of Imbros. Despite his captivity he was still the rightful Patriarch. A rising of the people of Constantinople in his favor was always to be dreaded. Comnenus therefore endeavored to induce his adversary to abdicate. He failed, and Michael remained unshakable. Isaac then determined to procure his deposition. Psellus was charged with drawing up his indictment, which was to be read at a synod convoked to meet at a town in Thrace. The Patriarch was accused of the heresies of Hellenism and Chaldaism, of tyranny, sacrilege, and finally of unworthiness for his office. Michael never appeared before his judges, for he died on the way at Madytus. The Emperor thus found himself delivered from the most formidable of his adversaries. Yet in spite of all, the popularity of Cerularius still remained so great that Comnenus, fearing an outbreak at Constantinople, expressed the profoundest veneration for the dead man, going to weep before his tomb and to implore his pardon for the rigorous measures which had been taken against him. The successor of Cerularius was a creature of Isaac, Constantine Lichudes (February 1059).

The victory of Isaac Comnenus over Cerularius led to no results, and a few months after his adversary’s death the Emperor was to lay down his power under circumstances which have always remained full of mystery.

Constantine Ducas

In the early months of 1059 Isaac had set out on a march to drive back the Hungarians who had invaded the imperial territory. Having reached Sardica, he found their ambassadors there and peace was arranged. In the course of the summer he marched to the Danube to fight against the Patzinaks who had crossed the river. The expedition was not a fortunate one, and Isaac was obliged to return precipitately to Constantinople on a false alarm that the Turks had made an attack in Asia Minor. During November he fell ill after a hunting-party, and, in spite of the Empress, resolved to abdicate in order to take the monastic habit and retire to the convent of Studion. After having vainly offered the crown to his brother John Comnenus, he named as his successor one of his brother-officers, Constantine Ducas, President of the Senate.

Whatever were the reasons for this decision, we are absolutely ignorant of them. Psellus, who had a considerable share in these occurrences, has thought fit not to leave us too precise information. There is some reason to think that the opposition which Isaac Comnenus encountered did not come to an end on the disappearance of Cerularius, and that the Emperor must have found himself unable to cope successfully with the obstacles raised up against him. As has been very truly said, “the situation was such that the different parties, applying pressure in different directions, paralyzed one another and stopped the wheels of the chariot of state”. Seeing no way out of the difficulties with which he was struggling, Comnenus preferred placing the imperial power in other hands and succumbed to the opposition of the bureaucracy.

On the accession of Constantine Ducas (1059-1067) the civil element regained all its old influence. The enterprise of Isaac Comnenus had laid the army more than ever open to suspicion. Thus it became the policy of the government systematically to diminish the military forces of the Empire. The “army estimates” were considerably reduced, the number of effective troops was cut down, and it was soon known that a military career no longer offered a man any chance of attaining to the higher administrative posts. Under this regime the military system broke down, and the army was soon thoroughly disorganized. The result of this egregious experiment in statesmanship was quickly apparent, and under Constantine Ducas and his successors, Romanus Diogenes (1067-1071), Michael VII (1071-1078), and Nicephorus Botaniates (1078-1081), the Empire, attacked all along its frontiers, was everywhere obliged to fall back before its enemies.

In Italy, the Normans put a complete end to Byzantine influence. With the fall of Bari in 1071 the Empire was to lose its last foothold there, and before long Guiscard was to be powerful enough to meditate the subjugation of Constantinople. On the other side of the Adriatic, Croatia succeeded in gaining her independence, which was formally consecrated on the day when the legates of Gregory VII set the crown upon the head of Svinimir. Dalmatia, too, profited by the course of events to secure practical independence, while soon afterwards the town of Ragusa was to ally itself with Robert Guiscard.

Serbia was endeavoring to shake off Byzantine suzerainty, and the great rising of 1071 reduced Greek authority there to a very precarious position. In Bulgaria, which was only half subdued, the Greeks and the natives were violently at enmity. Here again the Normans were to find support in their attempt to conquer the Empire.

On the Northern frontier, the Hungarians took advantage of the difficulties with which the Emperors had to struggle, to begin those profitable incursions into Greek territory whence they used to return loaded with spoil. The wandering tribes along the Danube also went back to their old custom of making expeditions across the river, and their undisciplined bands even advanced as far as the suburbs of the capital. The Uzes and the Patzinaks took their share of the spoils of the Empire, which, in order to purchase peace, was forced to pay them a tribute.

In Asia, the situation was far more seriously compromised by the conquests of the Turks. From 1062 onwards, the Mussulmans made steady progress. The Byzantine Empire lost Armenia and the Eastern provinces, while Syria was threatened. The Turks, already masters of Ani, Melitene, and Sebastea, ravaged the region about Antioch. To attempt to check their advance, Eudocia Macrembolitissa, widow of Constantine Ducas, sent against them her co-regent Romanus Diogenes, whom she had just married. Despite the low level to which the Byzantine army had sunk, the Emperor at first succeeded in driving back the enemy, but the Turks retaliated, and in the disastrous battle of Manzikert (1071) his forces were destroyed. Thereupon, from all quarters arose pretenders to the imperial purple. Eudocia, who had shared her office with her son Michael VII, looked on helplessly at the ruin of the Empire. The forward movement of the Muslims became irresistible, and soon the conquerors reached the western shores of Asia Minor.

Nor was the situation within the Empire any more hopeful. The army, neglected by the government, was discontented ; the aristocracy bore with impatience its exclusion from power. Thence arose a whole series of outbreaks. Never, perhaps, were attempts at a pronunciamento more numerous, but the nobility of Europe and that of Asia Minor, between whom was a deadly hatred, so neutralized each other as to hinder the majority of these attempts from coming to any result.

Anna Dalassena

It was at this moment, when the whole structure of the State seemed to be cracking in every direction and on the point of falling in ruins, that Alexius, nephew of Isaac Comnenus, acquired supreme power.

After the abdication of his brother, John Comnenus had retired into obscurity. By his prudent conduct he was able to avoid the perils which in Constantinople usually threatened the members of a family which had occupied the throne. He died about 1067, leaving five sons and three daughters by his marriage with Anna Dalassena. This lady had seen with regret her husband's refusal of the crown, and when the responsibility for the family interests fell upon her she used every effort to obtain a repetition of the lost opportunity. In her eyes the Ducas family, who had profited by the retirement of Isaac Comnenus, were the enemies of her house; her hatred of them dictated her political attitude. A friend and relation of the Empress Eudocia Macrembolitissa, Anna Dalassena attached herself to the fortunes of Romanus Diogenes, whose son Constantine married her daughter Theodora. Manuel, the eldest of the children of John Comnenus, received a command in the army. On the fall of Romanus Anna's position was shaken, and she was for a short time exiled; but she regained favor under Michael VII, who perhaps stood in dread of the support which the Comneni, with their large estates in Asia Minor, might furnish to the Turks. Her son Isaac, now become the eldest by the death of his brother Manuel, married an Alan princess, a cousin of the Empress Maria, wife of Michael VII. The Comneni then found themselves supported in their position by the eunuch Nicephoritza, who relied upon their help to destroy the influence of the Caesar John Ducas, uncle of Michael VII. Isaac was employed in the war against the Turks and in suppressing the insurrection raised by the Norman leader, Roussel de Bailleul. His brother Alexius made his first essay in war under his command, winning great distinction. Being charged a little later with the task of resisting Roussel, Alexius succeeded in making him prisoner. The fortunes of the Comneni rose steadily; honors and dignities fell to their share. The Caesar John Ducas, by this time fallen into disgrace and become a monk, realizing the advantages which an alliance with this powerful family would procure for his house, arranged a marriage between his grand-daughter Irene and Alexius Comnenus. The court opposed the match, which by uniting two of the most powerful families of the aristocracy would make their interests thenceforth identical. The marriage nevertheless took place about the end of 1077 or the beginning of 1078.

On the abdication of Michael VII, Alexius Comnenus, being charged with the defence of the capital, made his submission to the new Emperor, Nicephorus Botaniates, who rewarded him by appointing him Domestic of the Scholae and by entrusting him with the suppression of the revolts of Bryennius and Basilaces.

The methods of government employed by the two ministers, Borilus and Germanus, to whom Nicephorus handed over the exercise of power, aroused general discontent. The treasury was empty; the Varangian guard, being unpaid, mutinied; the army was dissatisfied and protested against having the eunuchs of the palace set over it. Among the people the Emperor was unpopular, for he had come into collision with the generally accepted ideas of legitimism by not associating with himself in his office Constantine, the son of Michael VII. Besides this he caused great scandal by contracting a third marriage with Maria, wife of Michael VII who was still alive.

Accession of Alexius Comnenus

Alexius Comnenus, who had become popular on account of his successes, was exposed to the dislike and distrust of the party in power. On the other hand, besides his own family connections, he had the support of the Ducas family, which brought with it that of the clergy. He himself had contrived to gain the favor of the Empress, who was perhaps in love with him. In her eyes he appeared as the champion of Michael VII’s son Constantine, and he succeeded in persuading her to adopt him. Thenceforward his rights and Constantine’s were merged.

It was not without disquiet that the Court watched the progress made by the Comnenian party. The situation became more and more strained, and soon it was apparent to everyone that the breaking-point must before long be reached. Alexius determined to be first in the field, and under the pretext of repelling the Turks, who were occupying Cyzicus, he assembled troops at Chorlu (Tzurulum) on the road to Hadrianople. Divining the intentions of the Comneni, the ministers of Botaniates resolved on their arrest. Alexius, informed of their design through the Empress, hastily fled from the capital (14 February 1081). At Chorlu he was joined by his partisans, chief among them the Caesar John Ducas, who had quitted his monastery. Once assembled, the rebels seem to have been doubtful as to what their course should be. It is almost certain that rivalries arose, and that a party among them wished to proclaim, not Alexius but his brother Isaac. If, finally, Alexius carried the day, he owed it to the intervention of the Ducas family in his favor.

Alexius, having been proclaimed by the army, marched upon Constantinople, the gates of which were opened to him by treachery. The victorious army pillaged the capital, while Nicephorus Botaniates, not seeking to prolong a useless struggle, divested himself of the imperial robes and put on the monastic habit. Soon after, an agreement made between the new Emperor and Nicephorus Melissenus, who had been proclaimed by the troops in Asia Minor, left Alexius sole occupant of the throne.

The early days of the new reign were taken up with intrigues which are only imperfectly known to us. The Ducas family, to whom Alexius largely owed his success, were fearful for a moment that the Emperor would repudiate his wife. And indeed it appears that for a short time he entertained this project, and had decided to marry the Empress Maria. The firmness of Cosmas, the Patriarch, prevented the Emperor from carrying out his purpose. In her hostility to the house of Ducas, Anna Dalassena urged his resignation, in order that Eustratius Garidas might be chosen in his place. Cosmas refused to retire until he had crowned Irene. It was found impossible to overcome his resistance, and Irene was crowned seven days later than her husband. There is no doubt that Alexius’ inclinations were all in favor of Maria, but from the point of view of policy it would have been ill-judged to alienate a faction so powerful as that of the Ducas. Cosmas prevented Alexius from committing this blunder. The Empress Maria was obliged to leave the palace. She took care first to have her son Constantine appointed joint Emperor. The young prince, who was betrothed later on to Anna Comnena, daughter of Alexius, remained heir presumptive until in 1088 the birth of the Emperor's son John enabled Alexius to set him aside.

At the time of his accession Alexius was about thirty-three years old. In person he was short and rather stout, deep-chested and broad-shouldered. Of cultivated mind and supple intellect, he had been very thoroughly educated. Passionately fond of philosophy and theology, he enjoyed taking part in the discussions on these subjects which were so frequent during his reign. Accustomed to court life from his youth, he was well acquainted with men and knew how to make use of them. Very steady in pursuing his ends, he gave all possible care to elaborating his plans and made a point of never leaving anything to chance. Of a mild disposition, his reign was not stained by cruelties. With regard to religion, the Emperor looked upon himself as entrusted with the duty of safeguarding the orthodox faith handed down to him, which he felt bound to hand on intact to his successors, and more than once he personally took a share in the conversion of heretics. Comnenus was perfectly aware of the general decadence of the Empire. He exerted himself to remedy it by reforming the clergy, secular and regular, by founding and encouraging schools, and by reorganizing the army and the fleet. In addition to this, it must be said that Alexius was a diplomatist of the first order. Thoroughly conversant with the political state of the surrounding countries, he knew how to profit by their divisions, and had a peculiar gift for inducing the enemies of his enemies to enter into alliance with him.

War with the Normans of Italy

Immediately upon his accession Alexius had to meet a formidable danger, even more pressing than the Turkish peril. The Normans of Italy were preparing to invade the imperial territory, and the Duke of Apulia, Robert Guiscard, meditated no less an enterprise than an advance upon Constantinople itself. As early as the capture of Bari, which marked the definitive expulsion of the Byzantines from Italy, Guiscard had conceived the idea of assuming the imperial crown. Amid the dangers that threatened the Empire, Michael VII had thought of a Norman alliance, and a daughter of Guiscard had been sent to Constantinople to marry Constantine, the heir to the throne. When Botaniates became Emperor, Guiscard took up the role of champion of the deposed ruler, and in order to win the goodwill of the Greek populations he spread abroad the rumor that Michael had come to seek help of him. A Greek named Rector posed as the dethroned Emperor. At the same time the Duke of Apulia was seeking to win over supporters, even in Constantinople. The invaders were already at work when Alexius ascended the throne, and Bohemond, Guiscard's son, had occupied Avlona, Canina, and Hiericho.

In May 1081 the bulk of the Norman army crossed the Adriatic and concentrated at Avlona. Guiscard began by reducing Corfu, and thence proceeded to the siege of Durazzo.

Though without money or troops, Alexius contrived to meet the danger. He came to an understanding with certain Norman lords, who had been driven from Italy by Guiscard and had taken refuge at Constantinople, and sent them to Italy to rekindle the spirit of revolt among the vassals of the Duke of Apulia. At the same time Alexius tried, but in vain, to treat with Gregory VII, and entered into negotiations with Henry IV of Germany. To the latter he promised enormous subsidies if he would make a descent upon Apulia and attack Guiscard. The support of the Venetian fleet was secured by a commercial treaty, opening a long series of Greek ports to the merchants of the republic. Finally, a treaty of peace was concluded with Suleiman, who in the name of the Seljuq Sultan, Malik Shah, was leading the Mussulman troops to the conquest of Asia Minor, and had obtained possession of Nicaea. This allowed the Emperor to devote his whole attention to the war with the Normans.

The campaign began with a victory won by the Venetian fleet over the Normans at Cape Palli, but the Greek army under the Emperor's command was beaten before Durazzo (Oct. 1081), and Guiscard shortly afterwards became master of the whole of Illyria, for Durazzo fell into his hands. Recalled to Italy in the spring of 1082 by a revolt among his vassals, engineered by the agents of Alexius, Guiscard handed over the command of the expeditionary force to his son Bohemond, who occupied Castoria, besieged Joannina, and defeated Alexius. Ochrida, Scopia (Skoplje), Veria, Servia, Vodená, Moglena, and Trikala thus fell into the hands of the Normans, who pushed on into Thessaly as far as Larissa.

Reduced to the necessity of confiscating Church treasure in order to raise money, Alexius with indefatigable patience got together a new army, and while his allies the Venetians were retaking Durazzo, he succeeded in driving the enemy from Thessaly, and recaptured Castoria (October or November 1083). Negotiations with Bohemond, begun through the mediation of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Euthymius, led to no result.

The year 1084 brought a fresh endeavor on the part of the Duke of Apulia, who, having restored order in his own dominions, renewed operations against Constantinople. He completely defeated the Venetian fleet of Corfu, and in the beginning of 1085 dispatched his son Robert to take Cephalonia. He himself was about to take the field, when he was suddenly overtaken by death. The disturbances which consequently broke out in Italy for a time diverted the Norman danger from the Byzantine frontier.

The Patzinaks and Cumans

Hardly was the Empire freed from the presence of the Normans, when a new peril arose in the neighbourhood of the Danube. The military contingents supplied by the Manichaean colony of Philippopolis having proved treacherous during the campaign against Guiscard, Alexius had attempted to punish the offenders. A mutiny had broken out, the leader of which, Traulus, appealed for help to the Patzinak tribes. Though at first repulsed (1086), the Patzinaks returned to the charge the following year. Again defeated, they were pursued by the Greek army, which, however, they put to rout near Dristra (Silistria). It was only by a war which broke out between the Cumans and the Patzinaks that the latter were prevented from profiting by their victory to invade the imperial territory. And, in fact, the struggle was merely postponed. During the years 1088-1090 the Patzinaks settled down on Greek territory and occupied the country between the Danube and the Balkans. Thence they spread into the region around Philippopolis and Hadrianople. It took Alexius several years before he could set on foot an army capable, with any chance of success, of undertaking the struggle with the barbarous tribes which threatened Constantinople. Finally, in the spring of 1091, the Emperor, having called in the help of the Cumans, inflicted a severe defeat upon the Patzinaks by the river Leburnium, which for a time freed the Empire from barbarian incursions (29 April 1091).

However, Alexius had not done with the nomad tribes living to the north of the Danube, and in 1094-1095 he was obliged to repel an attack by his late allies the Cumans, who under the command of a self-styled son of Romanus Diogenes named Leo, had advanced as far as Hadrianople. Leo was taken prisoner and blinded.

A little before the time of the Cuman invasion, Alexius had succeeded in asserting his authority over the Serbs. Theoretically these were vassals of the Empire, to which they were obliged to furnish certain military contingents. At the time of Guiscard's expedition, the Serbian prince, Constantine Bodin, had deserted Alexius, and had drawn off with his troops just as battle was joined. Since that date he had made use of the difficulties with which the Emperor had to struggle to extend his borders and make himself independent. His example had been followed by Bolkan, the Zupan of Rascia. In 1091 and 1094 Alexius was obliged to interfere in Serbia, but the mountainous character of the country made military operations difficult, and the Emperor, having taken hostages, contented himself with a submission which was rather apparent than real.

The Empire and the Turks in Asia Minor 

In Europe Alexius had successfully beaten off the attacks of the enemies of the Empire. In Asia Minor the state of things was also improved, although the last remnants of the Byzantine possessions in the Antioch province had fallen into the hands of Malik Shah. The death of Suleiman (1085) left Asia Minor divided between a number of emirs, whose rivalries made them likely to play into the Emperor's hands. Suleiman’s dominions had been partitioned between Abul-Qasim, Emir of Nicaea, Tzachas, Emir of Smyrna, formerly a favorite of Nicephorus Botaniates, and Pulchas, Emir of Cappadocia. Alexius tried to profit by the internal dissensions of the Mohammedan rulers to reopen the struggle in Asia, and to protect the last remaining possessions of the Empire. He built the fortress of Civitot on the gulf of Nicomedia, placing in it as garrison a body of soldiers of English origin. At some unspecified period Nicomedia again fell into the power of the Greeks.

The relations between Constantinople and the Turkish emirs are very confusing. It appears that a common fear of Tzachas, Emir of Smyrna, drew together Alexius and Abul-Qasim. As to Tzachas, who had succeeded in creating a fleet, he dreamt of no less an enterprise than the conquest of Constantinople, and with this end in view had allied himself with the Patzinaks. The battle on the Leburnium destroyed his hopes, and he was himself defeated by Constantine Dalassenus, an officer of Alexius. When Malik Shah sent his captain, Wuhan, to reduce the emirs of Asia Minor to obedience, this general began negotiations with Alexius. The Emperor, while continuing the discussions till they were interrupted by the death of Malik Shah, remained constant to his alliance with Abul-Qasim. When the latter had been defeated and slain by Buzhan, Alexius allied himself with his successor, Qilij Arslan, son of Suleiman, and together they fought against Tzachas. The Emperor profited by the general scramble which took place among all the vassals of Sulaiman to attempt the recapture of Apollonia and Cyzicus, which the Greek general Opus succeeded in taking. At this time, with the exception of the coast towns, Alexius possessed nothing in Asia Minor besides the region lying between the Sangarius, the Black Sea, the Bosphorus, and the Propontis. Towards the south a natural frontier was supplied by Lake Sophon and by a wide fortified fosse which supplied Nicomedia with water from the lake.

While he was still fighting with the Turks, Alexius was called on to suppress a dangerous insurrection. Fiscal burdens had led to simultaneous revolts in Cyprus and in Crete, and two chiefs, Chalices and Rapsomates, declared their independence. Order was restored by the Grand Drungarius Ducas, and Alexius formed in Cyprus a base of operations for the Greek fleets. The Stratopedarch Eumathius Philocales was entrusted with the carrying-out of the Emperor’s plans.

For the first eighteen years of his reign, Alexius had been obliged to maintain incessant warfare, and during the same period the situation in the interior had also presented great difficulties.

Alexius, being held responsible for the complications bequeathed him by his predecessors, was for a time extremely unpopular. A large section of the clergy, in spite of the penance afterwards imposed on him, had never forgiven him the pillage of the churches which had followed the capture of the metropolis at the time of the fall of Botaniates. While the Norman war was in progress, Anna Dalassena, who acted as regent during the absence of Alexius with the army, had, in order to replenish the imperial treasury, confiscated the wealth of the churches. This measure caused universal discontent, which was utilized by the enemies of the dynasty for their own purposes. In order to pacify public opinion, Alexius was obliged to pledge himself to make reparation, and assured to the churches a certain sum of money, to be a yearly charge upon the revenue. In 1086, at the time of the struggle with the Patzinaks, Alexius attempted to have recourse to a similar measure to relieve the pressure on the imperial exchequer. But a considerable body of the clergy, strong in the support of public opinion, with Leo the Metropolitan of Chalcedon at their head, prevented the Emperor from carrying out his project. Alexius never forgave the leader of the resistance, and soon afterwards contrived to have him deposed. However, the affair did not end there, and in 1089, at a time when the exterior enemies of the Empire were becoming bolder than ever, the Emperor was obliged in some sort to make the amend honorable for the way in which he had dealt with Church property. He promulgated a Novel forbidding his successors to dip their hands into the Church treasuries. It is probable that the Emperor's action was dictated not only by genuine scruples but also by the necessity of satisfying public opinion, which looked upon the Byzantine defeats as a chastisement from Heaven for the sacrilegious acts which had been committed.

Persons with their own interests to serve attempted to profit by the unpopularity of Alexius to overthrow him, and the Emperor had a whole series of plots to circumvent. Among the conspirators we find generals like the Armenian Ariebes and the Norman leader Humbertopulus (c. 1090), besides members of the imperial family such as the Emperor's nephew John Comnenus, son of the Sebastocrator Isaac and governor of Durazzo, who engaged in an intrigue with the Serbs (c. 1092). But soon a much more serious conspiracy came to light. Alexius, after the birth of his son in 1088, had gradually deprived the young Constantine Ducas of his prerogatives, and had finally forbidden him to wear the purple buskins which were an essential part of the imperial costume. For some time Alexius remained sole Emperor, and it was only in 1092, after his victories over the Patzinaks, that he felt strong enough to associate his son John with him in the imperial dignity, and to have him recognized as heir to the throne. These measures greatly irritated the Ducas family and their supporters. The discontented drew together round the Empress Maria, mother of Constantine, and a plot was formed with the object of assassinating the Emperor. The conspirators occupied the highest posts about the Court. Their leaders were Nicephorus, a son of the Emperor Romanus Diogenes, Catacalon Cecaumenus, and Michael Taronites, brother-in-law of Alexius. The Emperor escaped on several occasions when attempts were made upon his life, and in February 1094, during his expedition against the Serbs, he decided to have Nicephorus Diogenes, Catacalon, and Taronites arrested at his camp at Seres. As to the other culprits, he chose to ignore them, whether because he was unwilling to compromise the Empress Maria, or because they were too highly placed for him to touch them without endangering himself.

The First Crusade

It was just when the victories won by Alexius over domestic as well as foreign enemies seemed to promise a breathing-space to the Empire, that the First Crusade came to plunge it into fresh uncertainties, by the complete change which it brought about in the position of the states of the East.

For long years historians have indulged in cheap denunciations of the ingratitude and perfidy of Alexius Comnenus, who, after having (particularly by a letter addressed to Robert, Count of Flanders) solicited help from the Western nations against the Turks, ceased not, throughout the Crusade, to throw all kinds of obstacles in their way, so that his false and treacherous conduct was the cause of all the evils which fell upon the first crusaders. A closer examination of the sources allows us, partially at least, to acquit the Emperor of the charges brought against him, and to assert that Urban II in preaching the Crusade by no means did so in response to a desire expressed by Alexius Comnenus. The Pope's action, in fact, had not been suggested to him by anyone, and had been inspired solely by a wish to secure the safety of Christianity in the East.

It is no doubt true that during the early part of his reign Alexius had sought for allies in the West. At the time of the Norman invasion he had entered into diplomatic relations with Gregory VII; later, in 1089, in connection with the measures taken against the Latin inhabitants of Constantinople, Pope Urban II had had some correspondence with the Emperor. The relations between Rome and Constantinople had been becoming less strained, as is proved by the “Discourse upon the Errors of the Latins” by Theophylact, Archbishop of Bulgaria, which was composed about this time. Embassies had been exchanged, the reunion of the Churches had been discussed, the Pope had relieved the Emperor from the sentence of excommunication, so that in 1090 or 1091, during the struggle with the Patzinaks, Alexius begged Urban II to help him to raise mercenaries in Italy. About the same time he addressed a similar request to Robert, Count of Flanders, praying him to dispatch to Constantinople the corps of cavalry which Robert had promised to send him when, on his way back from the Holy Land in 1087, he had had a meeting with Alexius at Eski-Sagra. It was in these requests that the legend originated according to which the Crusade was preached in response to the demands for help made to the Western princes by Alexius Comnenus. The letter supposed to have been addressed with this object to the Count of Flanders is admittedly to a great extent apocryphal. It was very possibly composed with the help of the letter written by Alexius to Robert about 1089, at a time when no Crusade was in contemplation. The legend circulated rapidly. The fact is that when the Western peoples came to know the difficulties of every kind which the crusaders had had to overcome, when they saw how few returned of those who had gone forth in such numbers, when they learned how large a proportion had left their bones strewn along the road to Palestine, they refused to believe that incapacity and rivalry on the part of the leaders and total lack of generalship had been the cause of all the evils encountered by the army, and preferred to cast the whole responsibility on the head of the Greek Emperor. The relations between the Latins and the Greeks, having been on the whole unfriendly, contributed to the growth of a tradition damaging to the Emperor. This notion of Byzantine perfidy fitted in quite easily with all that was known of what had passed between the Emperor and the Westerns, and of the support lent him by the Pope and the Count of Flanders in previous years. From thence to the idea of ingratitude there was but a step, and it was soon taken.

From the very beginning violent disputes took place between the Latins and the Greeks, and it may fairly be said that neither side was blameless. The undisciplined masses of crusaders, above all those who accompanied Peter the Hermit, behaved on their journey through the imperial territory like mere brigands, plundering, burning, and sacking wherever they went. Thus the Greeks looked upon them much as they did upon the Patzinaks or the Cumans who, a few years before, had devastated the European provinces. The object of the expedition and its character as a religious undertaking were completely overlooked by the Byzantines, who only saw its political side. To them it seemed an attempt at conquest much like that of Guiscard. The crusaders themselves went out of their way to justify this estimate. “There were two parties among the crusaders, that of the religiously-minded, and that of the politicians”. This statement of Kugler’s is absolutely true. There is no denying that religious feeling played a large part in the First Crusade, but it was to be found chiefly among the rank and file, among humbler knights, among the less important leaders. If the principal barons were concerned for the interests of religion at the outset, such feelings had disappeared as soon as the various bands of crusaders were united. Then Bohemond as well as Baldwin, the Count of Toulouse and Godfrey of Bouillon alike, forgot the religious side of their enterprise to dwell solely on their private interests. One idea alone remained in their minds, that of carving out principalities for themselves. One need only recall Baldwin’s settlement at Edessa and Tancred’s at Tarsus, the rivalries of Bohemond and Raymond of Toulouse at Antioch, and finally Godfrey's refusal to continue the march upon Jerusalem, “conduct very little deserving of the laurels that have been wreathed for him”.

Face to face with the powerful forces which from every side streamed in upon the territories of the Empire, Alexius found the part he had to play all the more difficult, inasmuch as at that moment the Greek troops were dispersed along the frontiers and could not be recalled without danger. Constantinople was absolutely ungarrisoned. Moreover, the whole Byzantine army would have been quite unable to make head against the innumerable multitude of crusaders. Thus incapable of repelling the Latins by force, Alexius sought to turn them to account as mercenaries for the recovery of the Asiatic provinces which the Empire had lost. He made no difference between the Latin princes and those barons who had come on various occasions to serve with their troops in his army. It was natural that this should be his opinion of them, when he found Bohemond, one of the chief leaders of the Crusade, asking for the office of Grand Domestic of the Scholae.

Alexius shared with his subjects the belief that anything might be obtained of the Latins by plying them with money, their obedience being merely a matter of barter and sale. He had greatly at heart the recovery of the former provinces of the Empire in Asia, and the restoration of Byzantine authority as far as Antioch. Chance had supplied him with an army the like of which the Empire had never seen; the only question was, by what means he could attach it to his service. To induce the Latins to acknowledge him as their lord, and to make use of them as mercenaries, such was the Emperor's plan. In order to bind the Latins more closely to him, the Emperor adopted their customs and caused them to take the oath of fealty to him. It is fair to state, besides, that Alexius believed that by the considerable sums which he disbursed for the crusaders he had acquired certain rights over them, and the behavior of the leaders encouraged him in this belief. The haughtiest of the chiefs gave an eager welcome to Byzantine gold, which soon overcame their early reluctance to comply with the Emperor’s wishes. Their submission was rendered the easier by the conviction which very soon took possession of them, that their undertaking could not possibly succeed unless by the help of the Emperor.

The first crusaders at Constantinople

In order to carry out his designs, Alexius employed all his skill as a politician; to attain his ends he took advantage of all the faults and weaknesses of the Latins; and to bring them over to his views he spared neither money nor promises. But once the treaty was concluded, by which he promised his support and a supply of provisions, on condition that the leaders of the Crusade did homage and swore fealty to him and engaged to restore to the Empire any towns which had formerly belonged to it, Alexius observed his engagements. The Latins made it a special reproach against him that he did not follow up the Crusade with an army as he had pledged himself to do. This complaint is not justified; Alexius did march upon Antioch, and if he stopped short it was because he had been dissuaded from continuing his advance by those crusaders who, thinking all lost at the time of the attack on the town by the Turks, had shamefully taken to flight and informed the Emperor that the Christian army had been wiped out. On looking into the question more closely, we find that all the difficulties arose from Bohemond’s refusal to restore Antioch to the Emperor as he had promised. Bohemond was the only crusader with whom Alexius broke off friendly relations; we can see that he remained on the best of terms with others of the leaders, notably with Raymond of Toulouse. But the purely political dispute which Alexius carried on with the Prince of Antioch resulted in the Emperor appearing to Western eyes as the enemy of the crusaders in general, for it was thus that Bohemond, on his visit to France in 1106, represented him to the knights who thronged to take service under him. By making out the Greek Emperor to be the enemy of all Latins, instead of what he really was, his own private enemy, Bohemond, more than anyone else, helped to create a tradition adverse to Alexius.

The first of the crusaders to reach Greek territory were the companions of Peter the Hermit. Having quitted Cologne in the latter half of April 1096, these undisciplined bands gained the Greek frontier towards the end of June. At Nis a collision took place with the Byzantine troops dispatched to keep down the excesses of the crusaders, who, having acquired a taste for plunder by the sack of Semlin, were ravaging in all directions. In excuse for the Latins it must be said that pillage was almost forced upon them. For as a matter of fact no measures had been taken for the victualling of this multitude, and they were obliged to live upon the districts through which their march lay. After the encounter at Nis, Peter the Hermit entered into communications with the envoys of Alexius, and the crusaders resumed their march upon Constantinople, where they arrived by 1 August 1096. Peter the Hermit had an interview with the Emperor, who recommended him to wait outside Constantinople for the other crusaders and caused money and provisions to be distributed to the Latins. But at the sight of the pillage in which the crusaders indulged in the neighbourhood of the capital, Alexius changed his mind and determined to transport them across the Bosphorus. The passage began on 5 August. Instead of remaining at Civitot to await the arrival of the bulk of the crusading army, Peter the Hermit’s bands penetrated into the interior of the country and began ravaging. When they had pillaged all around them, they were obliged to extend the scope of their operations and advanced as far as Nicaea. They there came into collision with the Turks who, after defeating them at Xerigordon, on the banks of the Dracon, pursued them to Civitot itself. Here the Hermit's companions met with a fearful disaster; the greater number of them perished, and few indeed recrossed the Bosphorus in the ships sent by the Emperor to bring them help. The wretched remains of these first bands awaited the arrival of the rest of the crusaders at Constantinople, which had been fixed upon as the point of concentration by the Pope’s legate, Ademar of Puy.

Hugh of Vermandois. Godfrey of Bouillon 

With regard to the Crusade under the leadership of the barons, Alexius took steps to secure some measure of order. He sent officers to meet each band, with promises of supplies during its march through the European provinces, and at the same time he posted troops so as to form as it were a channel to drain off the crusading torrent upon Constantinople. Thus the pilgrims, it was hoped, would be prevented from straying from the route marked out for them, and so from pillaging. Between these Greek troops and the Latins fighting several times occurred, and in spite of the precautions taken the districts traversed suffered severely.

Hugh, Count of Vermandois, brother of Philip I, King of France, was the first of the leaders to reach Constantinople. Having come through Italy, he landed at Durazzo, after losing the greater part of his vessels. He was received with the more honor because the sorry plight in which he arrived made him less of a danger. Alexius, notwithstanding, detained him for some time as a hostage.

At the end of 1096 Godfrey of Bouillon arrived at Constantinople with a numerous following. We have no precise information as to his journey through the European provinces of the Empire, for the narrative of Albert of Aix, our only authority, is on many points of a biased and legendary nature. Alexius opened communications with Godfrey through the mediation of the Count of Vermandois. From the very first, however, relations were unsatisfactory. The Emperor, whose great fear was lest the crusaders should concentrate outside his capital, did his utmost to persuade them to cross the Bosphorus. Godfrey, on the other hand, was at first quite determined to wait at Constantinople for Bohemond, who was on his way from Italy. He remained encamped in front of the capital up to the beginning of April 1097. To overcome the resistance of the Duke of Lorraine to his will, Alexius several times tried to cut off the food-supply which he furnished to the crusaders. But nothing had any effect until the Emperor succeeded in inducing Godfrey of Bouillon to take the oath of fealty.

Sometime after the departure of Godfrey’s troops, Bohemond, son of Guiscard, reached Constantinople. Since the death of his father, Bohemond had found Italy too restricted a field for his ambition. He enthusiastically welcomed the idea of the Crusade, and set out with the plan of creating a principality for himself in the East, but at first he designed to do this with the help of the Greeks. Bohemond’s army landed at Avlona, and on its way to Constantinople was guilty of a certain amount of violence which was avenged by the Greek troops. On arriving at Rusa, Bohemond, leaving his nephew Tancred in command, went forward alone to Alexius. He took the oath of fealty, was loaded with presents, and asked to be appointed Grand Domestic for the East. When Raymond of Saint-Gilles, Count of Toulouse, arrived at Constantinople by way of Dalmatia and Serbia and refused to take the oath of fealty, Bohemond acted the part of mediator. Raymond persisted in his refusal, and would only consent to swear not to undertake anything against the life or honor of the Emperor. Alexius, much irritated, bestowed few presents on him. With the other leaders Alexius experienced no kind of difficulty ; Tancred alone crossed into Asia unfettered by any oath.

A formal treaty was concluded between the Emperor and the crusading chiefs. Alexius pledged himself to take the Cross and place himself at the head of the crusaders, to protect the pilgrims during their journey through his dominions, and to furnish a body of troops to the expedition. The crusaders in return promised to restore to Alexius any towns they should take which had formerly made part of the Greek Empire. This treaty was concluded in May 1097 through the mediation of Bohemond, who had for this purpose remained behind while the bulk of the crusading army, as early as the month of April, had set out to besiege Nicaea.

On the surrender of Nicaea, the crusaders faithfully carried out the treaty and left the town to the Emperor. Alexius then had a fresh interview at Pelecanum with the leaders, who, Tancred excepted, renewed their oaths. The expedition then resumed its march towards Jerusalem, accompanied by a corps of Greek troops under the command of Taticius. Once Iconium was reached, the greater part of the army pressed on towards Antioch by way of Caesarea and Mar‘ash (Germanicea), while Tancred and Baldwin reached Cilicia, where they disputed for the possession of Tarsus, which they ought to have handed over in due course to the Emperor.

As far as Antioch the Greek troops had remained in company with the Latins. It was during the siege of that town, begun at the end of October 1097, that the rupture between them took place. This was due to the machinations of Bohemond, who, displeased at having failed to obtain the help of Alexius in carrying out his projects, did not scruple in order to get possession of Antioch to intrigue with Taticius, whom he per­suaded to withdraw. Once the Greek contingent was gone, Alexius was accused of having failed to keep his engagements, and on the fall of Antioch the town was handed over to Bohemond, to the great displeasure of the Count of Toulouse, who had been ambitious of securing it for himself.

Siege of Antioch 

While these events were taking place, Alexius was preparing to march to the help of the crusaders. A preliminary expedition, commanded on land by John Ducas and on sea by Caspax, was winning back for the Empire Smyrna, Ephesus, and the whole territory belonging to the ancient Thracesian theme. Alexius himself was setting out for Antioch at the head of considerable forces. He had reached Philomelium when he was joined by a certain number of crusaders, among whom were men of importance, such as William of Grantmesnil and Stephen of Blois. These leaders, on the occasion of the Emir Karbuqa’s attack upon Antioch, had judged it prudent to take to flight. The picture which they drew for Alexius of the state of the crusading army was no doubt made more gloomy to provide some reasonable excuse which their conduct needed. They convinced the Emperor of the uselessness of the succor which he was bringing to the besieged, and Alexius ordered a retreat to Constantinople.

The fugitives' forebodings were not realized, and the Emir Karbuqa was defeated by the crusaders. Alexius received the news in a letter from the leaders brought to him by Hugh of Vermandois. The message must have caused the Emperor keen annoyance, for, from the moment that he learned that the town had been handed over to Bohemond, he cannot have been under much illusion as to the manner in which the crusaders would fulfill their promises. Alexius immediately made advances to the Caliph of Egypt, and tried also to arrange an understanding with Raymond, Count of Toulouse, who had been openly at feud with Bohemond since the failure of his designs upon Antioch. Apparently the alliance between Alexius and the Count of Toulouse was brought about during the autumn of 1098. It first came to light when in November of the same year Raymond demanded of the council of the crusaders that Antioch should be handed over to the Emperor. The proposal was rejected. At the beginning of 1099 the Count of Toulouse transferred to the Greeks the towns of Laodicea, Maraclea, and Bulunyas (Balanea) on the Syrian coast which had been occupied by his troops.

In the early months of 1099 Alexius replied to the message which the Count of Vermandois had brought him, by a letter which reached the council of the crusaders about Easter (10 April). The Emperor announced that he would arrive by St John's Day (24 June) and that he was ready to keep his engagements provided that Antioch was surrendered to him. In spite of the Count of Toulouse, the crusaders, who had just wasted six months in barren discussions, refused to wait for the Greek army, and resumed their march upon Jerusalem without concerning themselves about Alexius. The rupture was thus definite and complete. It is noteworthy that the Emperor held Bohemond alone responsible for this breach of plighted faith. The latter, moreover, as early as the summer of 1099, was to begin hostilities against the Greeks by attacking Laodicea. He was assisted by a Pisan fleet, on its way to the Holy Land under the command of Daimbert, Archbishop of Pisa. During the voyage the Pisans attacked and pillaged several islands, dependencies of the Greek Empire. The Byzantine fleet pursued them in vain. However, they were repulsed from Cyprus, where they had attempted to land by force in spite of its duke, Eumathius Philocales. One of the commanders of the Greek fleet, Eustathius, then occupied the Isaurian towns of Gorigos and Seleucia, and perhaps also Tarsus, Adana, and Mamistra.

Alexius and the crusaders of 1101

After the fall of Jerusalem, the rapprochement between Alexius and Raymond grew still more pronounced. The Count of Toulouse, who, since the army left Antioch, had been the real leader of the Crusade, not only failed to obtain the crown as he had hoped, but was also refused Ascalon by Godfrey of Bouillon. No other means remained to him of forming a principality for himself in the East than to ask help of Alexius. And this course he took, making a journey to Constantinople during the summer of 1100. He there learned that Godfrey of Bouillon had died (18 July 1100) and that Bohemond, who had been made prisoner by the Danishmandite Emir Malik Ghäzi, was temporarily replaced at Antioch by his nephew Tancred.

Alexius was unable to turn these incidents to account, for he was detained at Constantinople by the coming of fresh bodies of crusaders. At the news that Jerusalem had been taken, the impulse which was carrying the West towards the East had become stronger than ever, and during the winter of 1100-1101 the Lombard crusade, its numbers presently swelled by the followers of Stephen of Blois, exposed the Greeks to the same dangers that had resulted from the first expeditions. With regard to these new crusaders, Alexius took up the same attitude as he had towards the bands under Godfrey of Bouillon. He exacted the oath of fealty from the leaders, and in exchange he furnished them with provisions. The same untoward incidents occurred between the Greeks and the crusaders, the same acts of violence were committed as in 1096. The Emperor would have preferred that this expedition should take the same road as the first. The crusaders refused, and marched towards the dominions of the Great Seljuq, wishing, they said, to liberate Bohemond. They were shattered on the way between Amasia and Sebastea. Their defeat was not due to the treachery of the Count of Toulouse who had taken the command, nor, as some have claimed, to Alexius. The real cause of their ill-success must be sought for elsewhere. The arrival of these fresh bands of crusaders brought about that union among the Turks which up to then had proved impossible of attainment. The Mussulmans understood that, if they suffered these reinforcements to reach Syria, their own power there would be at an end. The united forces of Malik Ghäzi, Qilij Arslan, and the Emir of Aleppo, Ridwan, cut the crusaders to pieces. The survivors of the expedition reached Constantinople with difficulty in 1101. The failure of this expedition caused Alexius to be gravely suspected in the West, although he was not responsible, since the leaders had refused to follow out his plans. In 1102, at the Council of Benevento, very unfavorable reports were for the first time circulated with regard to him.

The expedition of William, Count of Nevers, who was on the best of terms with Alexius while he was passing through Constantinople, proved no more fortunate. The Latins, attacked by Qilij Arslan and Malik Ghazi, met with a crushing defeat at Heraclea. A similar fate awaited William IX of Aquitaine and Welf, Duke of Bavaria, who were defeated by Qilij Arslan and Qaraja, the Emir of Harran, as they were endeavoring to reach Cilicia.

In 1102 Constantinople saw the arrival of a new expedition, that of the Scandinavians under Eric the Good, and in the same year Alexius dispatched the remains of the Lombard contingent to the port of Antioch (Saint-Simeon), with Raymond of Toulouse at their head.

At this time there was perfect harmony between the Count of Toulouse and the Emperor, and it was with the help of the Duke of Cyprus that Raymond (as soon as he had been set free by Tancred, who on his landing kept him for some time a prisoner) undertook the siege of Tripolis.

About the same time Bohemond returned from his captivity. Being again called upon by Alexius to fulfill the treaties which had been concluded, he declined. Alexius then decided upon an open struggle. He sent to Cilicia Monastras and Butumites who occupied Marash, but next year this place was taken from the Greeks by Joscelin, Count of Edessa. The disaster which the crusaders met with at Harran (1104) gave the Greeks an opportunity of occupying Tarsus, Adana, and Mamistra. Bohemond, busy with the struggle against the Turks, was unable to hinder the advance of the Byzantines. The commanders of Alexius’ fleet, Cantacuzene and Landolf, in a short time took Laodicea and the places along the coast as far as Tripolis.

Closely hemmed in between the Turks and the Greeks, Bohemond saw that he could not escape from the double pressure. To defend Antioch against the Turks, he would need to be free from molestation by the Greeks; while to crush Alexius he would need to strike, not in the East, but at Constantinople itself. The Prince of Antioch therefore decided on a journey to Europe to ask for help and to organise an expedition against the Byzantine Empire. In January 1105 he landed in Apulia, and soon after, accompanied by a papal legate, he passed through Italy and France preaching a crusade against Alexius, whom he painted in the darkest colors.

Bohemond’s expedition against the Byzantine Empire

The Emperor attempted to prove to the Latins by his actions that Bohemond's representations were unworthy of credence. He wrote to the Republics of Pisa, Genoa, and Venice to put them on their guard against the son of Robert Guiscard. At the same time he was negotiating with the Caliph of Egypt for the ransom of the Latin captives.

During the two years spent by Bohemond in preparing for his expedition (1105-7), Alexius, while organizing the defence of his domin­ions, did not lose sight of affairs in Asia. Thus, Raymond of Toulouse having died in February 1105, the Emperor made great efforts to win over to his side William-Jordan, Count of Cerdagne, who was disputing the succession with Raymond's illegitimate son, Bertrand. In another quarter Comnenus gained an important advantage, getting into his power Gregory Taronites, Duke of Trebizond, who had broken out into revolt, and was now made prisoner just as he was turning for help to Malik Ghazi.

At about the same time Alexius discovered that a vast plot was brewing at Constantinople, to take advantage of the difficulties created for him by Bohemond and to depose him. At the head of the conspirators were the brothers Anemas, of Turkish origin, and also the representatives of a large number of noble families, Castamunites, Curticius, Basilacius, Sclerus, and Xerus, who was then Prefect of Constantinople, as well as Solomon, one of the leaders in the Senate. All the culprits were arrested and condemned to be blinded, but were pardoned at the intercession of the Empress.

In the autumn of 1107 Bohemond’s preparations were complete, and on 9 October the disembarkation of his army, which was 34,000 strong, began at Avlona. The plan of campaign adopted was that of Guiscard, but on this occasion the fate of the expedition was to be very different.

When the enemy appeared, Alexius was ready. Having learned experience by the earlier warfare, he had determined not to fight a battle. He contented himself with enclosing the Norman army in a ring of steel, while at the same time the Byzantine fleet prevented their obtaining supplies by sea. Bohemond succeeded in holding out up to the spring of 1108, but by that time the sufferings of his army were so severe that, after having vainly attempted at Hiericho and at Canina to break through the circle which confined him, he was forced to admit himself worsted. Divisions were also rife in his ranks, for Alexius had arranged that certain compromising letters should fall into the hands of the Prince of Antioch which might be understood as replies addressed by Alexius to overtures from the principal Norman commanders. Thenceforward Bohemond was suspicious of everyone. At the interview which he had with Alexius at Deabolis he was forced to accept very hard terms. In the first place, the compact of 1097 was annulled, and Bohemond, recognizing himself the liegeman of Alexius and his son, bound himself not to take arms against them, to serve them personally or by deputy against all their enemies, to undertake nothing against the imperial dominions, and to retain for himself only certain districts enumerated below. He promised to restore to the Empire all such of his conquests as had formerly belonged to it, not to make any treaty engagements detrimental to the Emperor or the Empire, to send back any subjects of Alexius who should desire to enter his service, and to cause any barbarians whom he should subdue to take the oath of allegiance to the Emperor and his son. All conquests which he might make from the Turks or Armenians, though not formerly belonging to the Empire, should be held by him in fief from the Emperor. All his vassals were to take the oaths to Alexius, and, in case of treason on his part, should have the right, after forty days, of going over to the Emperor. The Patriarch of Antioch was to be of the Greek Church, and to be chosen by the Emperor from among the clergy of St Sophia. Alexius, on his part, made over to Bohemond Antioch, Suetius, Cauca, Lulum, Teluseh, Marash, Baghras, and Balitza, a part of the Amanus mountains, and the valley of the Orontes. On the other hand, the following were restored to the Empire: the theme of Podandus, Tarsus, Adana, Mamistra, Anazarbus, Laodicea, Gabala, Bulunyas, Maraclea, and Tortosa. The Emperor also promised to Bohemond two hundred talents in michaelites, and granted him a certain number of towns in the interior of Syria and in the neighbourhood of Edessa. Finally, Bohemond obtained the right of naming his heir.

As soon as the treaty had been signed the Emperor loaded Bohemond with gifts and named him Sebastos, but the Prince of Antioch was crushed by the failure of his hopes. He left abruptly for Italy, where he died not long after (1111?).

The treaty which ended the Norman war was a substantial victory for the Emperor. The principality of Antioch was no longer a danger to the Empire, for the passes of the Amanus and Cilicia were now in the hands of the Greeks, who also commanded the sea-ports. Thus, for the future, assistance from Europe could only reach Antioch by permission of the Greeks. The treaty, however, was only of value in so far as its provisions were duly carried out; and when, upon the death of Bohemond, Alexius called upon Tancred to observe the convention made with his uncle, the Prince of Antioch refused. The Emperor either would not or could not embark upon a war with Tancred; he confined himself to attempting to win over the Latin princes of Syria to support his cause. Butumites, dispatched with large supplies of money, negotiated fruitlessly with Bertrand, Count of Tripolis, and later with his son Pons. Nor was he more successful with King Baldwin. But, in spite of everything, the treaty of 1108 remained of essential importance, for it was the standard by which the relations of Antioch and Constantinople were regulated, and it was to securing its observance that all the efforts of Alexius, his son, and his grandson, were directed.

The last years of Alexius were to be occupied with fresh struggles against the Turks. The latter had for some years ceased to invade Greek territory, for nearly all the emirs were engaged in the struggle which took place between the two sons of Malik Shah, Barkiyaruq and Muhammad. Upon the victory of Muhammad, the country gradually settled down, and when one of the sons of Qilij Arslan, Malik Shah, had obtained possession of Iconium, war again began between the Turks and the Greeks.

Alexius and the Turks

About 1109 Alexius ordered Eumathius Philocales, who was appointed Governor of Attalia, to relieve Adramyttium and to drive out the Turkish tribes from the neighbourhood. The governor attacked the Mussulmans settled in the region of Lampe, and immediately Hasan, Emir of Cappadocia, set out to ravage the Greek territories. Philadelphia, Smyrna, Nymphaeum, Chliara, and Pergamus were threatened, and once again the fruitful valleys along the coast of Rim were traversed by the swift Mussulman squadrons dealing terror and destruction as they went. Though repulsed, they soon returned. After 1112 their incursions become continual. In that year Alexius awaited them at Adramyttium, Constantine Gabras at Philadelphia, and Monastras at Pergamus and Chliara, the Turks being defeated by Gabras. In 1113 Nicaea was besieged, and Prusa, Apollonia, and Lopadium taken from the Greeks; the Emir Manalugh ravaged Parium and Abydos, and the Greek troops with difficulty drove back the enemy.

Next year, 1114, an invasion by the Cumans summoned Alexius to the northern frontier. From Philippopolis, where he spent his leisure time in discussions with the Manichaeans who were numerous in that district, he kept watch upon the enemy and succeeded in driving them back, but of the circumstances of his victory little is known.

Returning to Constantinople, Alexius again prepared to do battle with the Mussulmans, whose bands continued to harass the Greek frontiers. Alexius gathered a considerable force, and decided on undertaking police operations on a large scale and on driving off the Turkish tribes as far as Iconium. Having repulsed the enemy, the Emperor pushed on to Philomelium and Amorium. During his retreat the Sultan of Iconium attacked the Greeks, but he was beaten and obliged to make peace. According to Anna Comnena, he conceded the old frontier-line of the Empire as it had been in the time of Romanus Diogenes. This is highly doubtful, and it does not appear that the Greek possessions (with the exception of Trebizond and that part of the Armeniac theme which bordered upon the Black Sea) included anything except the country lying west of a line drawn along Smyrna, Gangra, Ancyra, Amorium, and Philomelium. To this must be added the coast towns as far as the borders of the principality of Antioch. The chief result of this expedition of the Emperor was the liberation of a throng of captives, whom he brought back to Greek territory.

The Mussulman war did not monopolize the attention of Alexius during the last years of his life, for we find him attempting to play a part in the affairs of Italy. From this arose the treaty with Pisa in 1111, by which Alexius agreed no longer to interpose obstacles to the crusades set on foot by the Pisans, and to present rich gifts every year to the Archbishop and cathedral of Pisa. The Emperor also made important commercial concessions to the Pisans, to whom were allotted a wharf and a residential quarter at Constantinople.

Alexius and the Papacy

It is very probable that this agreement with Pisa was part of a project formed by Alexius to secure for Constantinople a preponderating influence in Italian affairs. The death of Roger Borsa, Duke of Apulia, left the Pope without a protector, just as he had embarked on a more violent contest than ever with the Emperor Henry V. It will be remembered that Paschal II, taken prisoner by the Emperor, conceded to him the right of investiture, but repudiated his concession as early as March 1112, acknowledging his weakness. In January 1112 Alexius wrote to Gerard, Abbot of Monte Cassino, expressing his regret at the Pope's captivity, and at the same time he entered into communication with the Romans, whom he congratulated on their resistance to the Emperor. He informed them that if they were still in the same mind as had been reported to him, he would accept the imperial crown for himself or his son. In reply to this message, the Romans in May 1112 dispatched a numerous embassy to the Emperor in order to arrange an agreement with him. Alexius had to promise to come to Rome in the course of the summer, but he fell ill and was unable to fulfill his engagement. It is evident that Paschal II only continued these negotiations in the hope of bringing about the reunion of the Churches and the ending of the schism. With regard to this, a letter written to Alexius by the Pope towards the end of the year is of the greatest importance. The Pope thanks Heaven which has inspired Alexius with the idea of this much-desired union, but he does not conceal the difficulties which the scheme will have to encounter; the Emperor, however, has the easier task, for he is in a position to command both clergy and laity. The Pope recognizes with pleasure the good faith of Alexius and of his envoy, Basil Mesimerius, but from the outset he makes a point of stating that there is but one means of reconciling all differences, and that is for the Patriarch of Constantinople to acknowledge the primacy of the see of Rome, and for the metropolitan sees and provinces which had formerly been subject to the Papacy to return to their obedience and place themselves at its disposal.

In conclusion, the Pope proposes the assembling of a Council, and makes no allusion whatever to the projects of the Emperor regarding the imperial crown. It is plain that in his mind these projects are dependent upon the recognition by the Church of Constantinople of the primacy of Rome. We know nothing of the further progress of these negotiations, which may, in all probability, be connected with the journey of the Archbishop of Milan, Peter Chrysolanus, to Constantinople in 1113. During his visit he had a discussion with Eustratius, Bishop of Nicaea, on the subject of the errors of the Greek Church. This attempt by Alexius to restore the unity of the Empire, although we know so little of it, is none the less curious. We shall find his idea taken up later by his grandson Manuel.

Intrigues of Anna Comnena

The last days of Alexius were saddened by quarrels and divisions in his family. The Emperor at one time had reason to fear that his life­work would be destroyed by his nearest relatives. In the early part of his reign Alexius had been under the influence of his mother Anna Dalassena, but by degrees she had rendered herself unendurable to her son, and perceiving this had not waited to be driven from court, but had retired of her own accord to the monastery of Pantepoptes, where she died (c. 1105 ?). Her daughter-in-law Irene succeeded to her influence. She had borne the Emperor seven children—four daughters, Anna, Maria, Eudocia, and Theodora, and three sons, John, Andronicus, and Isaac. The eldest of these children, Anna, a highly cultivated woman, mistress of all the learning to be acquired in her day, to whom we owe the Alexiad, having been for a moment heiress to the throne at the time of her betrothal to the son of Michael VII, was inconsolable for the frustration of her hopes by the birth of her brother John. Being very ambitious, she succeeded, with the help of her mother and her brother Andronicus, in forming a considerable party for herself at court, and strong in its support she endeavored to prepare the way for the succession to the throne of her husband, the Caesar Nicephorus Bryennius, as soon as her father’s death should take place. John, whose rights were thus directly threatened, made every effort to gain over the people and the Senate. For several years an underground struggle went on between the two parties. The Empress, whose influence over Alexius had grown to such a height that she accompanied him even on his campaigns, worked unceasingly to bring him to share her ill-opinion of her son John, whom she represented as hopelessly dissolute. Alexius, however, held out against the insinuations of his wife, though, by constantly postponing his decision, he led her to hope that it might prove to be in accordance with her views.

In the beginning of 1118 the Emperor fell seriously ill, and the intriguing around him redoubled. In spite of all her efforts Irene could not prevail upon her husband to sacrifice the son's rights to the daughter’s. The Emperor’s dream had always been to found a dynasty, and he could not but see that his work would be ephemeral, and that his house would not long retain power, if he himself set the example of undermining the right of succession. His sickness increasing, Alexius was carried to the palace of Mangana. Feeling himself near his end, he summoned his son, and giving him his ring charged him to have himself proclaimed Emperor. John, in obedience to his father’s orders, hastily had himself crowned in St Sophia. Then, surrounded by his partisans, he occupied the Sacred Palace, the thick walls of which would enable him to defy the outbreak which his adversaries were likely to stir up. When the Empress and her daughter learned what had happened, they gave way to an explosion of wild rage. Irene renewed her efforts to wring from the dying Emperor the recognition of Bryennius. She hoped that the news of John's action would induce his father to disinherit him. But, far from showing anger, Alexius, on hearing of his son’s success, lifted his hands to Heaven as though to give thanks to God. On this Irene, perceiving that she had been duped, overwhelmed her husband with reproaches. “All your life”, she said, “you have done nothing but deceive and use words to conceal your thoughts, and you have remained the same even on your death-bed”. Alexius expired during the night of 15-46 August 1118; his body, abandoned by all, was hastily buried without the usual ceremonies at the monastery of Christos Philanthropos.

Up to his last moments Comnenus had fought to defend the rights of his son. Thanks to the resistance which he maintained to the will of his wife and daughter, he succeeded in securing those rights, and all their web of intrigue fell to pieces when confronted with the accomplished fact.




JOHN (1118-1143). MANUEL (1143-1180). ALEXIUS II (1180-1183).

ANDRONICUS (1183-1185)