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History of the Byzantine empire
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The revolution of 1081 elevated to the throne Alexius Comnenus, whose uncle Isaac had been emperor for a short time at the end of the sixth decade of the eleventh century (1057‑59). The Greek name of the Comneni, mentioned in the sources for the first time under Basil II, came originally from a village not far from Hadrianople. Later the family became large landowners in Asia Minor. Both Isaac and his nephew Alexius distinguished themselves by their military talents. Under Alexius the military party and provincial large landowners triumphed over the bureaucrats and civil regime of the capital, and at the same time the epoch of troubles came to its end. The first three Comneni succeeded in keeping the throne for a century and transferring it from father to son.
Owing to his energetic and skillful rule, Alexius I (1081‑1118) secured the Empire from serious external dangers which sometimes threatened the very existence of the state. But the succession of the throne created difficulties. Long before his death, Alexius had nominated his son, John, heir to the imperial dignity and thereby greatly irritated his elder daughter, Anna, the famous authoress of the historical work, Alexiad. She devised a complicated plot in order to remove John and force the recognition as heir to the throne of her husband, Nicephorus Bryennius, who was also an historian. The aged Alexius remained, however, firm in his decision, and after his death John was proclaimed Emperor.
Upon ascending the throne, John II (7118‑1143) had at once to undergo a painful experience. A plot against him was discovered, in which his sister Anna took the leading part; his mother was also entangled. The conspiracy failed, but John treated the conspirators very leniently, only punishing the majority by depriving them of their property. Because of his lofty moral qualities, John deserved general respect; he was called Calojohn (Caloyan), that is to say, John the Good (or the Handsome). Both Greek and Latin writers are unanimous in their high appreciation of John’s character. Nicetas Choniates said, “he was the best type (κορωνις) of all the Emperors, from the family of the Comneni, who had ever sat upon the Roman throne.” Gibbon, who was always severe in his judgment of Byzantine rulers, wrote of this “best and greatest of the Comnenian princes,” that even “the philosophic Marcus (Aurelius) would not have disdained the artless virtues of his successor, derived from his heart, and not borrowed from the schools.”
Opposed to needless luxury and wasteful prodigality, John stamped his mark upon the court, which, under his rule, lived a strict and economical life; there were no more entertainments, no festivities, no enormous expenses. On the other hand, the reign of this merciful, calm, and most moral Emperor was little but a continuous military campaign.
His son and successor, Manuel I (1143‑1180) formed a complete contrast to John. A convinced admirer of the West who had chosen as his ideal the western knight, the new Emperor changed at once the austere court setting of his late father. Cheerful entertainments, love, receptions, sumptuous festivities, hunting parties after the western pattern, tournaments‑all these spread widely over Constantinople. The visits to the capital of foreign sovereigns such as the kings of Germany and France, the sultan of Iconium, and several Latin princes from the East, with the king of Jerusalem, Amaury I, at their head, required enormous amounts of money.
A very great number of western Europeans appeared at the Byzantine court, and the most lucrative and responsible offices of the Empire began to pass into their hands. Manuel was married twice, each time to a western princess. His first wife, Bertha of Sulzbach, whose name was changed in Byzantium to Irene, was a sister‑in‑law of the king of Germany, Conrad III; his second wife, Mary (Maria), was a French lady of rare beauty, a daughter of a prince of Antioch. The whole reign of Manuel was regulated by his western ideals, as well as by his illusive dream of restoring the unity of the former Roman Empire; for that purpose he hoped, with the aid of the pope, to deprive the king of Germany of his imperial crown, and he was even ready to effect a union with the western Catholic church. Latin oppression and neglect of indigenous interests, however, evoked general discontent among the population; and a vigorous desire to change the system arose. But Manuel died before he saw the collapse of his policy.
Alexius II (1180‑1183), son and successor of Manuel, was twelve years old at his father’s death. His mother, Mary of Antioch, was proclaimed regent. But practically all power passed into the hands of the regent’s favorite, Alexius Comnenus, Manuel’s nephew. The new government relied upon the support of the hated Latin element. Popular exasperation, therefore, kept increasing. Empress Mary, formerly so popular, was now considered as a “foreigner.” The French historian Diehl compared the condition of Mary to that of Marie Antoinette, who in the time of the French revolution was similarly called by the populace “the Austrian.”
A strong party formed against the all‑powerful favorite Alexius Comnenus; at the head of that party stood Andronicus Comnenus, one of the most singular figures in the annals of Byzantine history, and an interesting type for both historian and novelist. Andronicus, a nephew of John II and cousin of Manuel I, belonged to the younger line of the Comneni, which had been removed from the throne and had distinguished itself by extraordinary energy, sometimes wrongly directed. Later, in the third generation, this line provided the sovereigns of the Empire of Trebizond who are known in history as the dynasty of the Grand Comneni. “Prince‑exile” of the twelfth century, “the future Richard III of Byzantine history,” in whose soul there was “something similar to that of Caesar Borgia,” “Alcibiades of the Middle‑Byzantine Empire,” Andronicus represented “a perfect type of a Byzantian of the twelfth century with all his virtues and vices.” Handsome, elegant, and witty, an athlete and a warrior, well educated and charming, especially to the women who adored him, frivolous and passionate, skeptic and, in case of need, hypocrite and perjurer, ambitious conspirator and intriguer, terrible in his later days for his ferocity, Andronicus, as Diehl said, being a genius by nature, might have become the savior and regenerator of the exhausted Byzantine Empire; but for that purpose he lacked “perhaps, a little moral sense.”
An historian contemporary with Andronicus, Nicetas Choniates, wrote about him: “Who has been born of such strong rock or with a heart forged on such an anvil as not to be softened by the streams of Andronicus’ tears nor to be charmed by the wiliness of his words which he poured out as from a dark spring.” The same historian compared Andronicus to the “multiform Proteus.”
In spite of a semblance of friendship with Manuel, Andronicus was suspected by the latter and found no opportunities of presenting himself in his true light in Byzantium. He spent most of Manuel’s reign in wandering over the different countries of Europe and Asia. Having been sent by the Emperor first to Cilicia and then to the borders of Hungary, Andronicus was accused of political treason and plotting against Manuel’s life; he was confined in a Constantinopolitan prison, where he spent several years; after many extraordinary adventures, he succeeded in escaping from his confinement through a neglected drain pipe; then he was caught again and imprisoned for several years more. But he escaped again to the north and took refuge in southwest Russia with the Prince of Galich, Yaroslav. Under the year 1165 a Russian chronicler said: “The Emperor’s cousin Kyr (Sir) Andronicus took refuge from Tsargrad with Yaroslav of Galich; and Yaroslav received him with great love and gave him several cities in consolation.” As Byzantine sources report, Andronicus was kindly received by Yaroslav, had his residence in Yaroslav’s house, ate and hunted with him, and even took part in his councils with the boyars (Russian nobility). But the stay of Andronicus at the court of the Prince of Galich seemed dangerous to Manuel, whose restless relative was already entering into negotiations with Hungary, with which Byzantium had begun a war. Manuel accordingly determined to pardon Andronicus, who was dismissed by Yaroslav from Galich to Constantinople, “with great honor,” as a Russian chronicler says.
Appointed Duke of Cilicia, in Asia Minor, he did not stay there for long. He arrived in Palestine via Antioch; there he fell in love with Theodora, the Emperor’s relative and widow of the King of Jerusalem, who yielded to his solicitations. The infuriated Emperor commanded Andronicus to be blinded, but warned in time of his danger, he fled abroad with Theodora and led a wandering life for several years in Syria, Mesopotamia, and Armenia, spending some time even in far‑off Iberia (Georgia or Gruzia, in the Caucasus).
At last, Manuel’s envoys succeeded in seizing the passionately beloved Theodora and the children she had borne to Andronicus; incapable of enduring that loss, he resolved to make his submission to Manuel. Pardon was granted, and Andronicus apparently repented the follies of his stormy life. His appointment as governor of Pontus, in Asia Minor on the shores of the Black Sea, was a sort of honorable exile of a dangerous relative. At that time, 1180, Manuel died, and his son, Alexius II, a child of twelve, became Emperor. Andronicus was then sixty years old.
Such was the biography of the man in whom the population of the capital, exasperated by the latinophile policy of the Empress‑regent, Mary of Antioch, and her favorite, Alexius Comnenus, reposed all their trust. Very skillfully pretending to protect the violated rights of the minor Alexius II, who was in the power of the wicked rulers, and to be “a friend of the Romans” (φιλορωμαιος), Andronicus succeeded in winning the hearts of the exhausted population, who deified him. A contemporary, Eustathius of Thessalonica, said Andronicus “to the majority of people, was dearer than God himself,” or, at least, “immediately followed him.”
After having created the proper feeling in the capital, Andronicus set out for Constantinople. At the news of his march, the populace of the capital gave vent to their hatred for the Latins. A raging mob attacked the Latin quarter and began to massacre the Latins, without distinction of sex or age; the infuriated populace plundered not only private houses, but also Latin churches and charitable institutions; in a hospital the patients lying in bed were murdered; the papal legate was insulted and beheaded; many Latins were sold into slavery in the Turkish markets. By that massacre of the Latins in 1182, as Th. Uspensky said, “the seed of the fanatic enmity between West and East, if not planted, was watered.” The all‑powerful ruler, Alexius Comnenus, was imprisoned and blinded. Then Andronicus entered the capital in triumph. In order to give stability to his position, he began gradually to destroy Manuel’s relatives and commanded the Empress‑mother, Mary of Antioch, to be strangled. Then Andronicus became joint emperor with Alexius II. Several days later, in spite of his solemn promise to protect Alexius’ life, he commanded him also to be strangled in secret. Thereupon, in 1183, Andronicus, at sixty‑three years of age, became the sole all‑powerful emperor.
Ascending the throne with designs which became evident later, Andronicus could maintain his power only by a system of terrorism and unspeakable cruelty. In external affairs, he showed neither energy nor initiative. The mood of the populace turned against him. In 1185 a revolution broke out which elevated to the throne Isaac Angelus. Andronicus’ attempt to escape met with failure. Dethroned, he was exposed to hideous tortures and insults, which he bore with superhuman courage. In his atrocious sufferings he many times repeated: “Lord, have mercy upon me! Why do you break a bruised reed?” The new emperor did not even allow the lacerated remains of Andronicus to be buried; and with this tragedy the last brilliant Byzantine dynasty came to its end.
Anna Comnena, the educated and gifted daughter of the new Emperor, Alexius, said that her father, at the beginning of his reign, viewed the Turkish danger from the east and the Norman from the west, and “saw that his Empire was in fatal agony.” The external situation of the Empire was very serious and gradually became still more troublesome and complicated.
The Norman War. — The Duke of Apulia, Robert Guiscard, after conquering the Byzantine possessions in southern Italy, formed much wider plans. Ambitious to deal a blow at the very heart of Byzantium, he transferred hostilities to the Adriatic coast of the Balkan peninsula. He left the government of Apulia to his younger son Roger and, with his elder brother Bohemond, well‑known as a participator in the First Crusade, sailed against Alexius, with a considerable fleet. His chief immediate aim was to seize the maritime city of Dyrrachium (formerly Epidamnus; Slavonic Drach [Drač] now Durazzo) in Illyria. Dyrrachium, the chief city of the theme of Dyrrachium, which had been organized under Basil II Bulgaroctonus, was very well fortified and justly considered the key to the Empire in the west. The famous military road of Egnatius (via Egnatia), constructed as far back as Roman times, led from Dyrrachium to Thessalonica and then farther to the east toward Constantinople. Therefore it was perfectly natural that Robert’s chief attention should be directed upon Dyrrachium. This expedition was “the prelude of the Crusades and preparation (Vorbereitung) for the Frankish dominion in Greece,” “the pre‑crusade of Robert Guiscard, his great war against Alexius Comnenus.”
Realizing that with his own forces he was incapable of overcoming the Norman danger, Alexius Comnenus called on the West for aid, and among other rulers he appealed to Henry IV of Germany. Henry at that time had some difficulties within his own empire and had not yet settled his struggle with Pope Gregory VII so that he was able to afford no aid to the Byzantine Emperor. But Venice, with a view to her own interests, replied favorably to the appeal of Alexius. In return for the help of her fleet, the Emperor promised the Republic of St. Mark enormous trade privileges. It suited the interests of Venice to support the eastern Emperor in his war against the Normans because in case of military success the Normans could immediately seize the trade routes to Byzantium and the East, in other words, could obtain possession of what the Venetians themselves hoped in the course of time to control. Besides, a real and immediate danger pressed upon Venice: Norman possession of the Ionian Islands, especially Corfu and Cephalonia, and the west coast of the Balkan peninsula, would have barred the Adriatic to the Venetian vessels plying in the Mediterranean.
After the capture of the island of Corfu, the Normans besieged Dyrrachium by land and sea. Although the Venetian vessels had relieved the besieged city on the seaward side, the land army under Alexius, composed of Macedonian Slavs, Turks, the imperial Varangian‑English bodyguard, and some other nationalities, was heavily defeated. At the beginning of 1082, Dyrrachium opened its gates to Robert. But a revolt which had broken out in south Italy called Robert away. Bohemond, to whom the command of the expeditionary corps had been delegated by his brother, was finally vanquished. A new expedition undertaken by Robert against Byzantium was successful, but an epidemic broke out among his troops and Robert himself fell a victim to the disease. He died in 1085 in the north of the island of Cephalonia. Even today a small bay and village in the island, Fiscardo (Guiscardo, Portus Wiscardi, in the Middle Ages, from the name of Robert Guiscard), recalls the name of the powerful Duke of Apulia. With Robert’s death the Norman invasion of Byzantine territory ceased, and Dyrrachium passed again to the Greeks.
It has been shown that the aggressive policy of Robert Guiscard in the Balkan peninsula failed. But under him the question of the south Italian possessions of Byzantium was definitely decided. Robert had founded the Italian state of the Normans, because he was the first to succeed in unifying the various countries founded by his compatriots and in forming the Duchy of Apulia, which under him lived through a period of brilliance. A certain decline of the Duchy which came on after Robert’s death, lasted for about fifty years, at the end of which the foundation of the Sicilian Kingdom opened a new era in the history of the Italian Normans. Robert Guiscard, the French historian Chalandon declared, “opened a new way to the ambition of his descendants: after him the Italian Normans were to direct their gaze toward the east; in the east and at the expense of the Greek Empire, twelve years later, Bohemond was to create a princedom for himself.”
Venice, in return for the aid given by her fleet, received from the Emperor enormous trade privileges which established for the Republic of St. Mark quite an exceptional position in the Empire. Besides magnificent presents to the Venetian churches and honorable titles with a fixed salary to the doge and Venetian patriarch and their successors, the imperial charter of Alexius (or chrysobull, i.e. the charter confirmed with a gold imperial seal) of May 1082 granted the Venetian merchants the right of buying and selling all over the Empire and made them free of custom, port, and other dues connected with trade; the Byzantine customs officers had no right of inspecting their merchandise. In the capital itself the Venetians received a large quarter with many shops and stores as well as three landing places, which were called in the East scales (maritimas tres scalas), where the Venetian vessels could be freely loaded and unloaded. The charter of Alexius gives an interesting list of the places of the Empire which were commercially most important, on the seashore and in the interior, which were open to Venice in Asia Minor, the Balkan peninsula and Greece, and in the islands of the Aegean, ending with Constantinople, which is called in this document Megalopolis, i.e. Great City. In their turn, the Venetians promised to be the faithful subjects of the Empire. By the privileges accorded to the Venetian merchants in the charter they were treated much more favorably than the Byzantine merchants themselves. By the charter of Alexius Comnenus a solid foundation was laid for the colonial power of Venice in the East; the conditions established to create her economic preponderance in Byzantium were such as would seem likely to make competition impossible for a long time. But the same exceptional economic privileges granted Venice served in the course of time, under changed circumstances, as one of the causes of the political conflicts between the Eastern Empire and the Republic of St. Mark.
Struggle of the Empire against the Turks and Patzinaks. — The Turkish danger from the east and north, from the Seljuqs and Patzinaks, which had already been very threatening under the predecessors of Alexius Comnenus, increased in intensity under that monarch. The victory over the Normans and Guiscard’s death had permitted Alexius to restore the Byzantine territory in the west as far as the Adriatic coast, but on the other borders, the attacks of the Turks and Patzinaks were so successful that the Empire was considerably reduced in territory. Anna Comnena rhetorically declared that at that time “the neighboring Bosphorus was the frontier of the Roman Empire in the east, and Hadrianople in the west.”
It seemed that in Asia Minor, which had been almost wholly conquered by the Seljuqs, circumstances were shaping themselves favorably for the Empire, because among the Turkish rulers (emirs) a struggle for power was weakening the Turkish strength and bringing the country into a state of anarchy. But Alexius was unable to take full advantage of the distractions of the Turks because of the attacks of the Patzinaks from the north.
In their conflict with Byzantium the Patzinaks found allies within the Empire in the Paulicians who dwelt in the Balkan peninsula. The Paulicians represented an Eastern dualistic religious sect, one of the chief branches of Manichaeism, which had been founded in the third century A.D. by Paul of Samosata and reformed in the seventh century. Living in Asia Minor, on the eastern border of the Empire, and firmly adhering to their doctrine, they sometimes caused grave trouble to the Byzantine government by their warlike energy. One of the familiar methods of Byzantine internal policy was to transport various nationalities from one place to another; for example, the Slavs were moved to Asia Minor and Armenians to the Balkan peninsula. The Paulicians also had been transported in great numbers from the eastern border to Thrace in the eighth century by Constantine V Copronymus, as well as in the tenth century by John Tzimisces. The city of Philippopolis in the Balkan peninsula became the center of the Paulicians. Tzimisces, by settling the eastern colony in the vicinity of that city, succeeded first in removing the stubborn sectarians from their strongholds and castles on the eastern border, where it was very difficult to manage them, and also he hoped that in their new settlement the Paulicians would serve as a strong bulwark against the frequent invasions of the northern “Scythian” barbarians. In the tenth century the Paulician doctrine had been carried into Bulgaria by the reformer of that doctrine, Pope Bogomile, after whom the Byzantine writers named his followers Bogomiles. From Bulgaria the Bogomile doctrine later passed into Serbia and Bosnia, and then into western Europe, where the followers of the eastern dualistic doctrine bore different names: Patarins in Italy, Cathari in Germany and Italy, Poblicans (i.e. Paulicians) and Albigensians in France.
The Byzantine government was disappointed in its expectations from eastern sectarians settled in the Balkan peninsula. First of all, the unexpected spreading of the heresy was speedy and wide. Secondly, the followers of the Bogomile doctrine became the spokesmen for the national Slavonic political opposition against the severe Byzantine administration in both ecclesiastical and secular matters, especially within Bulgaria, which had been conquered by Basil II. Therefore, instead of defending the Byzantine territory from the northern barbarians, the Bogomiles called on the Patzinaks to fight against Byzantium. The Cumans (Polovtzi) joined the Patzinaks.
The struggle with the Patzinaks, in spite of some temporary successes, taxed all the strength of Byzantium. At the end of the ninth decade Alexius Comnenus suffered a terrific defeat at Dristra (Durostolus, Silistria), on the lower Danube, and was nearly captured himself. Only the quarrel resulting from the division of the spoil, which had broken out between the Patzinaks and Cumans, prevented the former from taking full advantage of their victory.
After a short relief obtained from the Patzinaks by payment, Byzantium had to live through the terrible time of 1090‑1091. The Patzinaks came, after a stubborn struggle, up to Constantinople itself. Anna Comnena related that, on the day of the commemoration of the martyr Theodore Tyron, the inhabitants of the capital, who usually went to visit in great numbers the church of the martyr in a suburb beyond the city wall, could not do so; it was impossible to open the city gates, because the Patzinaks were standing under the walls.
The situation of the Empire became still more critical when a Turkish pirate, Tzachas, began to menace the capital from the south. He had spent his youth in Constantinople at the court of Nicephorus Botaniates, had received a high Byzantine title, and on the accession of Alexius Comnenus, had fled to Asia Minor. Having taken possession by means of his fleet of Smyrna and some other cities of the western coast of Asia Minor and some islands of the Aegean, Tzachas boldly set himself the goal of dealing a blow to Constantinople from the sea and thereby cutting off all means of supply from the capital. To assure the effectiveness of his plan, he entered into negotiations with the Patzinaks in the north and the Seljuqs of Asia Minor in the east. Secure of success, Tzachas already called himself emperor (basileus), put on the insignia of imperial rank, and dreamt of making Constantinople the center of his state. Both the Patzinaks and Seljuqs were Turks who, thanks to their military and political relations, came to realize their ethnographic kinship. The Russian scholar V. Vasilievsky declared “in the person of Tzachas there appeared a foe of Byzantium who combined with the enterprising boldness of a barbarian the refinement of a Byzantine education and an excellent knowledge of all the political relations of eastern Europe of that time; he planned to become the soul of the general Turkish movement and would and could give a reasonable and definite goal and general plan to the senseless wanderings and robberies of the Patzinaks.” It seemed that on the ruins of the Eastern Empire a new Turkish state of the Seljuqs and Patzinaks would now be founded. “The Byzantine Empire,” as Vasilievsky continued, “was drowning in the Turkish invasion.” Another Russian historian, Th. Uspensky, wrote: “In the winter of 1090‑91 the condition of Alexius Comnenus can be compared only with that of the last years of the Empire, when the Ottoman Turks surrounded Constantinople on all sides and cut it off from outward relations.”
Realizing the whole horror of the condition of the Empire, Alexius followed the usual Byzantine diplomatic tactics of rousing one barbarian against the others: he appealed to the Khans (princes) of the Cumans (Polovtzi), those “allies in despair,” asking them to help him against the Patzinaks. The savage and ferocious Cuman Khans, Tugorkhan and Boniak, very well known in the Russian chronicles, were invited to Constantinople, where they were received in the most flattering way and sumptuously entertained. The Byzantine Emperor humbly solicited the aid of the barbarians, who were very proud to be on an equal footing with the Emperor. The Cuman Khans gave Alexius their word and kept it. On the twenty‑ninth of April, 1091, a bloody battle took place; in all probability, the Russians as well as the Cumans took part in it. The Patzinaks were crushed and mercilessly annihilated. Anna Comnena noted: “One could see an extraordinary spectacle: the whole people, reckoning not in ten thousands but surpassing any number, entirely perished on that day with wives and children.” This battle left its trace in a contemporary Byzantine song, “The Scythians” (so Anna Comnena calls the Patzinaks), “because of one day did not see May.” By their interference in favor of Byzantium the Cumans did an enormous service to the Christian world. “Their chiefs, Boniak and Tugorkhan, must be justly reckoned among the saviors of the Byzantine Empire.”
Alexius returned to the capital in triumph. Only a small part of the captured Patzinaks were left alive. This remnant of the terrific horde settled in the Balkan peninsula, east of the Vardar river, and later on entered the Byzantine army, in which they formed a special contingent. The Patzinaks who had succeeded in escaping beyond the Balkans were so weakened that for thirty years they could undertake nothing against Byzantium.
Tzachas, who had terrified Byzantium but had not succeeded in supporting the Patzinaks with his fleet, lost a part of his conquests in the conflict with the Greek maritime forces. Then the Emperor stirred up against him the sultan of Nicaea, who invited Tzachas to a festival and killed him with his own hand. Thereupon the sultan came to a peaceful agreement with Alexius. Thus the critical situation of 1091 was successfully settled for the Empire, and the following year, 1092, proceeded under quite different conditions.
In the desperate days of 1091 Alexius had sought allies not only among the Cuman barbarians, but, apparently, also among the western Latins. Anna Comnena wrote that Alexius “was anxious to dispatch messages calling on mercenaries from all sides.” That such messages were dispatched also to the West is shown from another passage of the same authoress who stated that, soon afterwards, Alexius “was expecting the mercenaries from Rome.”
In connection with these events, historians usually discuss the problem of a message of Alexius Comnenus to his old friend, Count Robert of Flanders, who some years before had passed through Constantinople on his way back from the Holy Land. In his letter the Emperor depicted the desperate situation “of the most Holy Empire of the Greek Christians which is oppressed by the Patzinaks and Turks,” told of the insulting and murdering of the Christians, children, youths, women, and girls, as well as of the almost complete occupation of the Empire’s territory by enemies; “there is left almost nothing but Constantinople, which our enemies threaten to take away from us in the very near future, unless speedy help from God and from the faithful Latin Christians reach us;” the Emperor “is running before the Turks and Patzinaks” from one city to another and prefers to deliver Constantinople into the hands of the Latins rather than those of the pagans. In order to stimulate the ardor of the Latins, the message gives a long list of relics of the capital and reminds the Count of the uncounted wealth and treasure accumulated there. “Therefore, hasten with all your people; strain all your forces, lest such treasures fall into the hands of the Turks and Patzinaks … Endeavor, so long as you have time, that the Christian Empire and, which is still more important, the Holy Sepulcre be not lost to you and that you may have in heaven no doom, but reward. Amen!”
V. Vasilievsky, who referred this message to the year 1091, wrote: “In 1091, from the shores of the Bosphorus, there broke upon western Europe a real wail of despair, a real cry of a drowning man who already was uncertain whether a friendly or unfriendly hand would be lent for his salvation. The Byzantine Emperor did not hesitate now to reveal before the eyes of the foreigners the whole depth of shame, dishonor, and humiliation, into which the Empire of the Greek Christians had been precipitated.
This document, depicting in such vivid colors the critical situation of Byzantium about 1091, has been the cause of many discussions among scholars. It survives only in a Latin version. Opinions are divided: some, for example the Russian scholars V. Vasilievsky and Th. Uspensky, considered the letter authentic; others, for example the French scholar Riant, regarded it as spurious. The more recent historians who have been interested in this problem incline to recognize, with some limitations, the authenticity of the message, i.e. they acknowledge the existence of an original text, which has not been preserved of the message which was addressed by Alexius Comnenus to Robert of Flanders. The French historian Chalandon admitted that the middle part of the message was composed on the basis of the original letter; but the Latin message was drawn up by somebody in the West to stimulate the crusaders a short time before the First Crusade (in the form of an excitatorium). The more recent publisher of the letter and investigator of it, the German scholar, Hagenmeyer, agreed in substance, but with some restrictions, with the opinion of Vasilievsky concerning the authenticity of Alexius’ message. In 1924 B. Leib wrote that this letter was but an amplification made shortly after the Council of Clermont and was doubtless inspired by the authentic message that the Emperor had sent Robert to remind him of the promised reinforcements. Finally, in 1928, Bréhier wrote: “It is possible, following Chalandon’s hypothesis, that Robert, after his return to Flanders, forgot his promise; then Alexius sent him an embassy and letter, but, of course, entirely different from the text which has come down to us. As far as this apocryphal document is concerned, it might have been composed, perhaps with the aid of the authentic letter, at the moment of the siege of Antioch, in 1098, to demand reinforcements in the West. Alexius’ letter, then, has nothing to do with the origins of the crusade.” In his history of the First Crusade, H. Sybel considered the letter of Alexius to Robert of Flanders an official documentary source with reference to the crusade.
Some time is devoted to the question of the message of Alexius Comnenus to Robert of Flanders, because with it is partly connected the important problem whether the Emperor called upon the aid of the West or not. The statement of the contemporary Anna Comnena that Alexius was sending messages to the West, supports the fact that he must have sent a message to Robert of Flanders, and the probability that this message is the basis of the embellished Latin text which exists today. It is very probable that the original message was sent by Alexius in the critical year 1091. It is also very probable that in 1188‑89 an imperial message was sent to the Croatian King Zvonimir to urge him to take part in the struggle of Alexius Comnenus “against the Pagans and Infidels.”
The success of Alexius with external enemies was followed by similar success with internal enemies. Conspirators and pretenders, who wished to profit by the difficult situation of the Byzantine Empire, were discovered and punished.
Besides the peoples mentioned, the Serbs and Magyars (Hungarians) had begun to assume importance under Alexius Comnenus before the First Crusade. In the second half of the eleventh century Serbia became independent, and her independence was sealed by the adoption by the Serbian prince of the title of king (kral). His was the first kingdom of Serbia with the capital at Scodra (Skadar, Scutari). The Serbs had taken part in the army of Alexius during his war with the Normans and abandoned the Emperor at the critical moment. But after Dyrrachium had been reconquered by Byzantium from the Normans, hostilities between Alexius and Serbia began, and under the difficult circumstances of the Empire, their issue could not be very fortunate for the Emperor. Shortly before the crusade, however, a peace was made between the Serbs and the Empire.
Relations with Hungary (Ugria), which had previously taken an active part in the Bulgaro‑Byzantine war of the tenth century under Simeon, became strained in the reign of Alexius Comnenus. At the end of the eleventh century continental Hungary, under the kings of the dynasty of Arpad, began to expand south toward the sea, toward the coast of Dalmatia. This was the cause of dissatisfaction both to Venice and to Byzantium. Thus the international policy of the Empire toward the time of the First Crusade had grown considerably more extended and complicated, and raised new problems.
But almost at the end of the eleventh century Alexius Comnenus, who had overcome the numerous dangers which threatened him and seemed to have created peaceful conditions for the Empire, could gradually prepare for the struggle with the eastern Seljuqs. With that struggle in view, the Emperor undertook a number of offensive measures. Then he heard of the approach of the first crusading troops to the borders of his empire. The First Crusade had begun; it changed Alexius’ plans and led him and the Empire into new ways which were later to prove fatal to Byzantium.
The epoch of the crusades is one of the most important in the history of the world, especially from the point of view of economic history and general culture. For a long time the religious problem pushed into the background the other sides of this complicated and manifold movement. The first country to realize the full importance of the crusades was France, where in 1806 the French Academy and then the National Institute offered a prize for the best work which had for its purpose: “To examine the influence of the Crusades upon the civil liberty of the peoples of Europe, their civilization, and the progress of knowledge, commerce, and industry.” Of course, at the beginning of the nineteenth century it was premature to discuss thoroughly such a problem; it has not even yet been solved. But it is worth pointing out that the epoch of the crusades ceased to be discussed exclusively from the narrower standpoint of the religious movements of the Middle Ages. Two volumes were crowned in 1808 by the French Academy: one book by a German, A. Heeren, which was published at the same time in German and French under the title An Essay on the Influence of the Crusades Upon Europe; the other book, the work of the Frenchman M. Choiseul Daillecourt, Upon the Influence of the Crusades on the State of the European Peoples. Though both these studies are now out of date, they do not lack interest, especially the first.
Of course, the crusades are the most important epoch in the history of the struggle of the two world religions, Christianity and Islam — the struggle which has been carried on from the seventh century. But in this process not only religious idealistic motives were involved. Even in the First Crusade, which reflected most plainly the ideals of the crusade movement to deliver the Holy Land from the hands of the infidel, secular objects and earthly interests were already evident. “There were two parties among the crusaders, that of the religious‑minded, and that of the politicians.” Citing these words of the German scholar Kugler, the French historian, Chalandon, added: “This statement of Kugler’s is absolutely true.” But the more closely scholars examine internal conditions of the life of western Europe in the eleventh century, especially the economic development of the Italian cities at that time, the more they are convinced that economic phenomena also played a very significant part in the preparation and carrying out of the First Crusade. With every new crusade the secular side was felt more and more strongly; finally, during the Fourth Crusade, this secular standpoint gained a definite victory over the primitive idea of the movement, as the taking of Constantinople and the foundation of the Latin Empire by the crusaders in 1204 demonstrated.
Byzantium played such an important role in that epoch that the study of the Eastern Empire is necessary to a full and complete understanding of the origin and development of the crusades. Moreover, the majority of those who have studied the crusades have treated the problem from a too “occidental” point of view, with the tendency to make of the Greek Empire “the scapegoat charged with all the faults of the crusaders.”
Since their first appearance in the stage of world history in the fourth decade of the seventh century, the Arabs, with extraordinary rapidity, had conquered on the territory of the Eastern Empire, Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia, the eastern regions of Asia Minor, Egypt, the northern seashore of Africa, and then Spain, the major part of which had belonged to the Visigoths. In the second half of the seventh and at the beginning of the eighth century, the Arabs had twice besieged Constantinople, which had been rescued, not without difficulty, by the energy and talent of the Emperors Constantine IV and Leo III Isaurian. In 732 the Arabs who had invaded Gaul from beyond the Pyrenees were stopped by Charles Martel near Poitiers. In the ninth century they conquered Crete, and toward the beginning of the tenth century Sicily and the major part of the southern Italian possessions of the Eastern Empire passed over into their hands.
These Arabian conquests were of the greatest importance for the political and economic situation of Europe. The astounding offensive of the Arabs, as H. Pirenne said, “changed the face of the world. Its sudden thrust had destroyed ancient Europe. It had put an end to the Mediterranean commonwealth in which it had gathered its strength … The Mediterranean had been a Roman lake; now it became, for the most part, a Moslem lake.” This statement of the Belgian historian must be accepted with some reservations. Commercial relations between western Europe and the eastern countries were restricted by the Muslims but were not suspended. Merchants and pilgrims continued to travel back and forth, and exotic oriental products were available in Europe, for example, in Gaul.
Primitive Islam had distinguished itself by tolerance. Some separate cases of assaults on the churches and Christians occurred in the tenth century, but they had no religious motive so that such unfortunate incidents were only sporadic. In the conquered regions the Arabs had, for the most part, preserved churches and Christian service. They had not prohibited the practice of Christian charity. In the epoch of Charlemagne, at the beginning of the ninth century, there were inns and hospitals in Palestine for the pilgrims; new churches and monasteries were being restored and built and for that purpose Charlemagne sent copious “alms” to Palestine. Libraries were being organized in the monasteries. Pilgrims visited the Holy Land unmolested. These relations between the Frankish empire of Charlemagne and Palestine, in connection with the exchange of some embassies between the western monarch and the caliph Harun ar‑Rashid, led to the conclusion supported by some scholars that a kind of Frankish protectorate had been established in Palestine under Charlemagne as far as the Christian interests in the Holy Land were concerned, the political power of the caliph in that country remaining untouched. On the other hand, another group of historians, denying the importance of those relations, say that the “protectorate” was never established and that “it is a myth quite analogous to the legend of Charlemagne’s crusade to the Holy Land.” The title of one of the recent articles on this subject is “The Legend of Charlemagne’s Protectorate in the Holy Land.” The term “Frankish protectorate,” like many other terms, is conventional and rather vague; but a discussion of it is important in order to show that already at the opening of the ninth century the Frankish Empire had very important interests in Palestine, a fact which is of considerable significance for the further development of the international relations preceding the crusades.
In the second half of the tenth century the brilliant victories of the Byzantine troops under Nicephorus Phocas and John Tzimisces over the eastern Arabs made Aleppo and Antioch in Syria vassal states of the Empire, and after that the Byzantine army probably entered Palestine. These military successes of Byzantium had a repercussion in Jerusalem, so that the French historian Bréhier judged it possible to speak of the Byzantine protectorate over the Holy Land which put an end to the Frankish protectorate there.
When, in the second half of the tenth century (in 969), Palestine had passed over to the Egyptian dynasty of the Fatimids, the new position of the country seems not to have brought about, at least at the beginning, any substantial change in the life of the eastern Christians, and pilgrims continued to come to Palestine in safety. But in the eleventh century circumstances changed. The insane Fatimid caliph Hakim, the “Egyptian Nero,” began a violent persecution of Christians and Jews all over his possessions. In 1009 he caused the Temple of the Resurrection and Golgotha in Jerusalem to be destroyed. In his rage for destroying churches he stopped only because he was afraid that a similar fate would befall mosques in Christian regions.
When L. Bréhier wrote of the Byzantine protectorate over the Holy Land, he had in view a statement of an Arabian historian of the eleventh century, Yahya of Antioch. The latter says that in 1012 a Bedouin chief who had revolted against the caliph Hakim took possession of Syria, forced the Christians to restore the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem, and made a bishop the patriarch of Jerusalem; then the Bedouin “helped him to build up the Church of the Resurrection and restore many places in it as much as he could.” Interpreting this text the Russian scholar V. Rosen remarked that the Bedouin acted “probably in order to win the good will of the Greek Emperor.” Bréhier ascribed Rosen’s hypothesis to Yahya’s text. Since this important statement of the Bedouin’s motive does not belong to Yahya, one may not affirm Bréhier’s theory of the Byzantine protectorate over Palestine as positively as he does in his book.
But in any event, that was only the beginning of the restoration of the Holy Land. After Hakim’s death in 1021, a time of tolerance for the Christians ensued. A peace was made between Byzantium and the Fatimids, and the Byzantine emperors were able to take up the real restoration of the Temple of the Resurrection. The restoration of the Temple was completed in the middle of the eleventh century under Emperor Constantine Monomachus. The Christian quarter was surrounded by a strong wall. Pilgrims again could go to the Holy Land, and among the other pilgrims mentioned in the sources is a most celebrated man, Robert the Devil, Duke of Normandy, who died at Nicaea in 1035, on his way back from Jerusalem. Perhaps at the same time, in the fourth decade of the eleventh century, the famous Varangian of that epoch, Harald Haardraade, supported by a body of Scandinavians who arrived with him from the north, came to Jerusalem and fought against the Muslims in Syria and Asia Minor. Vexations against the Christians soon recommenced. In 1056 the Holy Sepulchre was closed, and more than three hundred Christians were exiled from Jerusalem.
The destroyed Temple of the Resurrection was evidently restored with magnificence. A Russian pilgrim, the abbot (igumen) Daniel, who visited Palestine in the first years of the twelfth century, soon after the foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1099, enumerated the columns of the Temple, described its marble decorated floor and the six doors, and gave interesting information on the mosaics. He also described many churches, relics, and places of Palestine mentioned in the New Testament. Daniel and an Anglo-Saxon pilgrim, Saewulf, his contemporary, told how “the pagan Saracens” (i.e. Arabs), hiding themselves in the mountains and caves, sometimes attacked the traveling pilgrims and robbed them. “The Saracens, always laying snares for the Christians, lie hidden in the hollow places of the mountains and the caves of the rocks, watching day and night, and always on the lookout for those whom they can attack.”
The Arabs’ tolerance toward the Christians also manifested itself in the West. When, for instance, at the end of the eleventh century the Spaniards conquered the city of Toledo from the Arabs, they were surprised to find Christian churches in the city untouched and to learn that services had continued there undisturbed. Similarly, when at the end of the eleventh century the Normans took possession of Sicily, they found there, in spite of more than two hundred years of Arabian rule in the island, a very large number of Christians who were freely professing their faith. Thus the first incident of the eleventh century which struck the Christian west painfully was the destruction of the Temple of the Resurrection and Golgotha in 1009. Another event connected with the Holy Land took place in the second half of the eleventh century.
The Seljuq Turks, after they had crushed the Byzantine troops at Manzikert, in 1071, founded the Sultanate of Rum or Iconium in Asia Minor and proceeded to advance successfully in all directions. Their military successes had repercussion at Jerusalem: in 1070, a Turkish general, Atzig, marched upon Palestine and captured Jerusalem. Shortly after the city revolted, so that Atzig had to lay siege to it again. Jerusalem was retaken and terribly sacked. Then the Turks conquered Antioch in Syria, established themselves at Nicaea, Cyzicus, and Smyrna in Asia Minor, and occupied the islands Chios, Lesbos, Samos, and Rhodes. The condition of European pilgrims in Jerusalem and other places grew worse. Even if the persecution and insults of the Christians that many scholars ascribe to the Turks are exaggerated, it is very difficult to agree with the judgment of W. Ramsay on the mildness of the Turks toward the Christians: “The Seljuk sultans governed their Christian subjects in a most lenient and tolerant fashion, and even the prejudiced Byzantine historians drop a few hints at the Christians in many cases preferring the rule of the sultans to that of the emperors … Christians under the Seljuk rule were happier than the heart of the Byzantine Empire, and most miserable of all were the Byzantine frontier lands exposed to continual raids. As to religious persecution there is not a trace of it in the Seljuk period.”
The destruction of the Temple of the Resurrection in 1009 and the conquest of Jerusalem by the Turks in the eighth decade of the eleventh century were facts that profoundly affected the religious‑minded masses of western Europe and evoked a powerful emotion of religious enthusiasm. Moreover, many Europeans realized that if Byzantium fell under the pressure of the Turks the whole of the Christian West would be exposed to terrible danger. “After so many centuries of terror and devastations,” said a French historian, “will the Mediterranean world succumb again to the assault of the barbarians? Such is the anguished question that is raised toward 1075. Western Europe, slowly reconstructed in the course of the eleventh century, will take charge of replying to it: to the mass attacks of the Turks it prepares to reply by a crusade.”
But the most threatening danger from the ever‑growing power of the Turks was felt by the Byzantine emperors, who, after the defeat of Manzikert, seemed to be unable to resist the Turks successfully with their own forces. Their eyes were turned to the West, mainly to the Pope, who as the spiritual head of the western European world could, through his influence, induce the western European peoples to furnish Byzantium with adequate assistance. Sometimes, as the message of Alexius Comnenus to Robert of Flanders shows, the emperors also appealed to individual rulers of the West. But Alexius had in mind merely some auxiliary troops, not powerful and well‑organized armies.
The popes replied very favorably to the appeals of the eastern emperors. Besides the purely idealistic side of the question — aid for Byzantium and thereby for all the Christian world, as well as the liberation of the Holy Land — the popes had also in view, of course, the interests of the Catholic church; in case of the success of the enterprise the popes could hope to increase their influence still more and restore the eastern church to the bosom of the Catholic church. They could not forget the rupture of 1054. The original idea of the Byzantine Emperor to get some mercenary auxiliaries from the West gradually developed, especially under the influence of papal appeals, into the idea of a crusade, that is to say, into the idea of a mass movement of the western European peoples, sometimes under the direction of their sovereigns and the most eminent military leaders.
As late as the second half of the nineteenth century scholars believed that the first idea of the crusades and the first call was expressed at the close of the tenth century by the famous Gerbert, later Pope Sylvester II. Among his letters is one “From the ruined Church of Jerusalem to the Church Universal;” in this letter the Church of Jerusalem appealed to the Church Universal, asking the latter to come to her aid. Today the best authorities on Gerbert’s problem consider this letter an authentic work of Gerbert written before he became pope; but they see in it no project of a crusade, merely an ordinary message to the faithful asking them to send charity to support Christian institutions at Jerusalem.” At the close of the tenth century the position of the Christians in Palestine was not yet such as to call for any crusading movement.
Yet before the Comneni, under the pressure of the Seljuq and Patzinak danger, the Emperor Michael VII Ducas had sent a message to Pope Gregory VII begging him for help and promising the reunion of the churches. Also the pope had written many letters, in which he exhorted his correspondents to support the perishing Empire. In his letter to the Duke of Burgundy he wrote: “We hope … that, after the conquest of the Normans, we shall cross over to Constantinople to help the Christians, who, deeply depressed by frequent attacks of the Saracens, anxiously beg that we lend them a helping hand.” In another letter Gregory VII spoke “of the pitiful destiny of the great Empire.” In a letter to the German king, Henry IV, the pope wrote that “most of transmarine Christianity is being destroyed by the pagans in crushing defeat and, like cattle, they are every day being murdered, and the Christian race is being exterminated;” they humbly beseech help in order “that the Christian religion may not entirely perish in our day, which Heaven forbid;” following the papal exhortations the Italians and the other Europeans (ultramontani) are equipping an army, of more than 50,000, and planning, if possible, to establish the pope at the head of the expedition; they are willing to rise against the enemies of God and to reach the Holy Sepulchre. “I am induced to do so,” the pope continued, “because the Constantinopolitan Church, which disagrees with us concerning the Holy Ghost, desires to come to an agreement with the Apostolic throne.”
In these letters the question was not only of a crusade for the liberation of the Holy Land. Gregory VII was planning an expedition to Constantinople in order to save Byzantium, the chief defender of Christianity in the East. The aid procured by the pope was to be followed by the reunion of the churches and by the return of the “schismatic” eastern church to the bosom of the “true” Catholic church. One is given the impression that in these letters it is a question rather of the protection of Constantinople than of the conquest of the Holy Land. Moreover, all these letters were written before the eighth decade of the eleventh century, when Jerusalem passed into the hands of the Turks and when the position of the Palestinian Christians grew worse. Thus, in Gregory’s plans the Holy War against Islam seems to have taken second place; it seems that, in arming the western Christians for the struggle with the Muslim east, the pope had in view the “schismatic” east. The latter seemed to Gregory more horrid than Islam. In one of his briefs concerning the regions occupied by the Spanish Moors, the pope openly declared that he would prefer to leave these regions in the hands of the infidel, that is to say, of the Muhammedans, rather than see them fall into the hands of the disobedient sons of the church. If the messages of Gregory VII embody the first plan of the crusades, they show the connection between this plan and the separation of the churches in 1054.
Like Michael VII, Alexius Comnenus, especially under the pressure of the horrors of 1091, made appeals to the West, asking that mercenary auxiliaries be sent. But the interference of the Cumans and the violent death of the Turkish pirate Tzachas ended the danger, so that from the point of view of Alexius, western auxiliaries seemed useless to the Empire in the following year, 1092. Meanwhile, the movement, created by Gregory VII in the West, spread widely, thanks especially to the confident and active Pope Urban II. The modest auxiliaries asked for by Alexius Comnenus were forgotten. Now it was a question of a mass movement.
The first critical investigation of a German historian, H. Sybel, published for the first time in 1841, advanced these principal causes for the crusades, from the western point of view: (1) The first is the general religious spirit of the Middle Ages which increased in the eleventh century owing to the Cluniac movement. In a society depressed by the consciousness of its sins there is a tendency to asceticism, to seclusion, to spiritual deeds, and to pilgrimage; the theology and philosophy of the time were also deeply affected by the same influence. This spirit was the first general cause which roused the masses of the population to the deed of freeing the Holy Sepulchre. (2) The second is the growth of the papacy in the eleventh century, especially under Gregory VII. Crusades seemed very desirable to the popes, because they opened wide horizons for the further development of the papal power and authority; if the popes succeeded in the enterprise whose initiators and spiritual guides they were to become, they would spread their authority over many new countries and restore “schismatic” Byzantium to the bosom of the Catholic church. Thus, their idealistic desire to aid the eastern Christians and to deliver the Holy Land intermingled with their wish to increase their power and authority. (3) Worldly and secular motives also played a considerable part with the different social classes. Sharing in the general religious emotion, the feudal nobility, barons, and knights, were filled with the spirit of adventure and with the love of war. An expedition against the East was an unequaled opportunity to satisfy their ambition and bellicosity, and to increase their means. As far as the lower classes were concerned, the peasants, ground down by the burden of feudal despotism and swept away by rudimentary religious feeling, saw in the crusade at least a temporary relief from feudal oppression, a postponement of payment of their debts, a certain security for their families and their modest chattels, and release from sins. Later, other phenomena were emphasized by scholars in connection with the origin of the First Crusade.
In the eleventh century western pilgrimages to the Holy Land were particularly numerous. Sometimes pilgrimages were made by very large groups; along with the individual pilgrimages there were real expeditions to the Holy Land. In 1026‑27 seven hundred pilgrims, at whose head was a French abbot and among whom were many Norman knights, visited Palestine. In the same year William, count of Angoulême, followed by several abbots of the west of France and by a great number of nobles, made a voyage to Jerusalem. In 1033 there was such a congestion of pilgrims at the Holy Sepulchre as had never been seen before. But the most famous pilgrimage took place in 1064‑65, when more than seven thousand persons (usually said to be more than twelve thousand) under the leadership of Günther, the bishop of Bamberg, in Germany, undertook a pilgrimage. They passed through Constantinople and Asia Minor, and, after many adventures and losses, reached Jerusalem. The sources on this great pilgrimage state that “out of seven thousand, not two thousand returned,” and these came back “measurably attenuated in material resources.” Günther himself, the leader of the pilgrimage, died prematurely, “one of the many lives lost in this adventure.”
In connection with these precrusading peaceful pilgrimages the question has been raised whether the eleventh century might be regarded, as it has rather often been, as a period of transition from peaceful pilgrimages to the military expeditions of the crusading epoch. Many scholars have tried to prove that, because of new conditions established in Palestine after the Turkish conquest, troops of pilgrims began to travel armed to be able to defend themselves against possible attacks. Now, owing to E. Joranson, the fact has been established that the greatest pilgrimage of the eleventh century was made up exclusively of unarmed men; and in this connection inevitably rises the question “whether any pilgrimage in the pre‑crusading period really was an expedition under arms.” Of course, some of the pilgriming knights were armed, but “though some of them wore coats of mail they were still peaceful pilgrims,” and they were not crusaders. They played a considerable part in the history of the origin of the crusades, however, by informing western Europeans of the situation in the Holy Land and awakening and maintaining interest in it. All these pilgrimaging expeditions took place before the Turks conquered Palestine. One of the results of the more recent investigation of the pilgrimages of the eleventh century before the Turkish conquest is the discovery that pilgrims in Palestine were sometimes maltreated by the Arabs many years before the Seljuq occupation of that land, so that the statement that “as long as the Arabs held Jerusalem, the Christian pilgrims from Europe could pass unmolested must now be considered too positive.
There is no information on pilgrimages from Byzantium to the Holy Land in the eleventh century. A Byzantine monk, Epiphane, the author of the first Greek itinerary to the Holy Land, described Palestine in the precrusading period, but the period of his life cannot be fixed definitely, and scholars variously place it between the end of the eighth century and the eleventh.
Before the First Crusade Europe had actually experienced three veritable crusades: the wars in Spain against the Moors, the Norman conquest of Apulia and Sicily, and the Norman conquest of England in 1066. Moreover, a political and economic movement occurred in Italy in the eleventh century, centered in Venice. The pacification of the Adriatic coast laid a solid foundation for the maritime power of Venice, and the famous charter of 1082 granted to Venice by Alexius Comnenus opened to the Republic of St. Mark the Byzantine markets. “On that day began the world commerce of Venice.” At that time Venice, like some other south Italian cities which still remained under the power of Byzantium, did not hesitate to traffic with Muhammedan ports. At the same time Genoa and Pisa, which in the tenth century and at the beginning of the eleventh had been raided several times by the African Muhammedan pirates, undertook in 1015‑16 an expedition against Sardinia, which belonged to the Muhammedans. They succeeded in conquering Sardinia and Corsica. The ships of these two cities thronged the ports of the opposite African coast, and in 1087, encouraged by the pope, they successfully attacked Mehdia on the north African coast. All these expeditions against the infidels were due not only to religious enthusiasm or to the spirit of adventure, but also to economic reasons.
Another factor in the history of western Europe which is associated with the origin of the crusades is the increase in population in some countries, which began at about 1100. It is definitely known that the population increased in Flanders and France. One aspect of the mass movement at the end of the eleventh century was the medieval colonial expansion from some western European countries, especially France. The eleventh century in France was a time of frequent famines and drought and of violent epidemics and severe winters. These hard conditions of living made the population think of far distant lands full of abundance and prosperity. Taking all these factors into consideration one may conclude that, towards the end of the eleventh century, Europe was mentally and economically ready for a crusading enterprise on a large scale.
The general situation before the First Crusade was entirely different from the situation before the Second. These fifty‑one years, 1096‑1147, were one of the most important epochs in history. In the course of these years the economic, religious, and whole cultural aspect of Europe changed radically; a new world was opened to western Europe. The subsequent crusades did not add very much to the achievements of this period; they only continued the processes developed in these fifty‑one years. And it is strange to recall that an Italian historian names the first crusades “sterile insanities” (sterili insanie).
The First Crusade presents the first organized offensive of the Christian world against the infidels, and this offensive was not limited to central Europe, Italy, and Byzantium. It began in the southwestern corner of Europe, in Spain, and ended in the boundless steppes of Russia.
As to Spain, Pope Urban II, in his letter of 1089 to the Spanish counts, bishops, vice comites and other nobles and powerful men, authorized them to stay in their own land instead of going to Jerusalem and to tax their energy for the restoration of Christian churches destroyed by the Moors.” This was the right flank of the crusading movement against the infidels.
In the northeast, Russia desperately defended itself against the barbarian hordes of the Polovtzi (Cumans), who appeared in the southern steppes about the middle of the eleventh century, laid waste the country, and destroyed trade by occupying all the routes leading east and south from Russia. The Russian historian, Kluchevsky, wrote: “This struggle between the Russians and Polovtzi — a struggle lasting for well‑nigh two centuries — was not without its place in European history at large; for while the West was engaged in crusades against the forces of Asia and the Orient, and a similar movement was in progress in the Iberian peninsula against the Moors, Rus [Russia] was holding the left flank of Europe. Yet this historical service cost her dear, since not only did it dislodge her from her old settlements on the Dnieper, but it caused the whole trend of her life to become altered.” In this way Russia participated in the general western European crusading movement; defending herself, she at the same time defended Europe against the barbarous infidels. “Had the Russians thought of taking the cross,” said Leib, “they should have been told that their first duty was to serve Christianity by defending their own land, as the Popes wrote to the Spaniards.”
The Scandinavian kingdoms also participated in the First Crusade, but they joined the main army in smaller bands. In 1097 a Danish noble, Svein, led a band of crusaders to Palestine. In the north nothing was heard of any great religious enthusiasm, and, as far as is known, most of the Scandinavian crusaders were actuated less by Christian zeal than by love of war and adventure, and the prospect of gain and renown.”
There were two Christian countries in the Caucasus, Armenia and Georgia; but after the defeat of the Byzantine army at Manzikert in 1071 Armenia had come under the power of the Turks, so that there could be no question of the participation of the Caucasian Armenians in the First Crusade. As to Georgia, the Seljuqs had taken possession of that land in the eleventh century, and only after the taking of Jerusalem by the crusaders in 1099 did the king of Georgia, David the Restorer, drive out the Turks. This occurred in about 1100, or, as a Georgian chronicle asserted, when “a Frankish army had set forth on a march and, with divine assistance, taken Jerusalem and Antioch, Georgia restored itself, and David became powerful.”
When in 1095, in connection with west European complications and projected reforms, the victorious Pope Urban II summoned a council to meet at Piacenza, an embassy from Alexius Comnenus was present to make an appeal for aid. This fact has been denied by some scholars; but the more recent investigators of this problem have come to the conclusion that an appeal for aid was really made by Alexius at Piacenza. Of course, this was not “the final impulse,” which caused the First Crusade, as Sybel asserted. As before, if Alexius appealed for aid at Piacenza, he did not dream of crusading armies; he wanted no crusade, but mercenaries against the Turks, who during the last three years had become a great menace in their successful advance in Asia Minor. About the year 1095, Qilij Arslan had been elected sultan in Nicaea. “He sent for the wives and children of the men then staying in Nicaea, and bade them live there, and made this city the dwelling‑place, as one might say, of the Sultans.” In other words Qilij Arslan made Nicaea his capital. In connection with those Turkish successes Alexius might have appealed for aid at Piacenza; but his intention was not a crusade to the Holy Land, but assistance against the Turks. His request was favorably received at Piacenza. But unfortunately there is little information about this episode. A recent historian remarked, “From the council of Piacenza to the arrival of the crusaders in the Byzantine empire, the relations between the East and the West are veiled in tantalizing obscurity.”
In November 1095, at Clermont (in Auvergne, middle France) the famous council was held. At this meeting so many people had assembled that not enough room was found in town for the visitors, and the multitude was quartered in the open air. After the close of the council, at which some most important current matters, strictly ecclesiastical, were discussed, Urban II delivered a very effective oration, the original text of which has been lost. Some witnesses of the council who wrote down the oration later from memory, give texts which differ very much from one another. Fervently relating the persecutions of the Christians in the Holy Land, the pope urged the multitude to take arms for the liberation of the Holy Sepulchre and of the eastern Christians. With cries of “Deus lo volt” (“God wills it” or “It is the will of God”) the throngs rushed to the pope. At his proposal, a red cross worn on the right shoulder was adopted as the emblem of the future crusaders (hence the name “crusaders”). They were promised remission of sins, relief from debts, and protection for their property during their absence. There was no compulsion; but there must be no turning back, and the renegade was to be excommunicated and regarded as an outlaw. From France enthusiasm spread all over Italy, Germany, and England. A vast movement to the east was forming, and the real scale and importance of it could not be anticipated or realized at the Council of Clermont.
Therefore, the movement aroused at the Council of Clermont, which in the ensuing year shaped itself into the form of a crusade, was the personal work of Urban II; and for carrying this enterprise into effect he found favorable conditions in the life of the second half of the eleventh century, not only from a religious, but also from a political and economic point of view.
While the danger that loomed in Asia Minor became steadily more imminent, the First Crusade had practically been decided upon at Clermont. The news of this decision came to Alexius as a sudden and disconcerting surprise; disconcerting because he neither expected nor desired assistance in the form of a crusade. When Alexius called mercenaries from the west, he called them for the protection of Constantinople, that is to say, his own state; and the idea of the liberation of the Holy Land, which had not belonged to the Empire for more than four centuries, had for him a secondary significance.
For Byzantium, the problem of a crusade did not exist in the eleventh century. Neither on the part of the masses nor of the Emperor himself did there exist religious enthusiasm, nor were there any preachers of a crusade. For Byzantium the political problem of saving the Empire from its eastern and northern enemies had nothing to do with the far‑off expedition to the Holy Land. The Eastern Empire had witnessed “crusades” of her own. There had been the brilliant and victorious expeditions of Heraclius against Persia in the seventh century, when the Holy Land and the Holy Cross were restored to the Empire. Then there had been the victorious campaigns under Nicephorus Phocas, John Tzimisces, and Basil II against the Arabs in Syria when the Emperors definitely planned to regain possession of Jerusalem. This plan had not been realized, and Byzantium, under the menacing pressure of the overwhelming Turkish successes in Asia Minor in the eleventh century, had given up all hope of recovering the Holy Land. For Byzantium the Palestine problem at that time was too abstract; it was not connected with the vital interests of the Empire. In 1090‑91 the Empire was on the verge of ruin, and when Alexius asked for western auxiliary troops, and was, answered by the coming of crusaders, his motive was to save the Empire. In Alexius’ Muses, written in iambic meter and supposed to be a sort of political will to his son and heir, John, there are these interesting lines about the First Crusade:
Do you not remember what has happened to me? Do you fail to think of and take into account the movement of the West to this country, the result of which is to be that all‑powerful time will disgrace and dishonor the high sublimity of New Rome, and the dignity of the throne! Therefore, my son, it is necessary to take thought for accumulating enough to fill the open mouths of the barbarians, who breathe out hatred upon us, in case there rises up the force of a numerous army hurling lightnings angrily against us, at the same time many of our enemies encircling our city rebell.
With this fragment from Alexius’ Muses one may compare the following passage from Anna Comnena’s Alexiad, also on the First Crusade:
And such an upheaval of both men and women took place then as had never occurred within human memory; the simpler‑minded were urged on by the real desire of worshipping at our Lord’s Sepulchre, and visiting the sacred places, but the more astute, especially men like Bohemond and those of like mind, had another secret reason, namely, the hope that while on their travels they might by some means be able to seize the capital itself, finding a pretext for this.
These two statements on the part of the Emperor himself and his learned daughter give an excellent picture of the real attitude of Byzantium towards the crusaders and the crusade itself. In Alexius’ mind, the crusaders were on an equal footing with the barbarians menacing the Empire, the Turks and Patzinaks. Anna Comnena made only a passing mention of the “simpler-minded” among the crusaders who really desired to visit the Holy Land. The idea of a crusade was absolutely alien to the spirit of Byzantium at the end of the eleventh century. Only one desire was overwhelmingly prevalent in the leading Byzantine circles — to gain relief from the pressing Turkish danger from the east and north. Therefore the First Crusade was an exclusively occidental enterprise, politically slightly connected with Byzantium. True, the Eastern Empire gave the crusaders some troops, but these Byzantine troops did not go beyond Asia Minor. In the conquest of Syria and Palestine Byzantium took no part.
In the spring of 1096, owing to the preaching of Peter of Amiens, who is often called Peter the Hermit and to whom a historical legend, now rejected, ascribed the arousing of the crusading movement, there gathered in France a multitude mostly of poor people, small knights, and homeless vagrants, almost without arms, who went through Germany, Hungary, and Bulgaria towards Constantinople. These undisciplined bands under Peter of Amiens and another preacher, Walter the Penniless, hardly realized through what countries they were passing, and unaccustomed to obedience and order, went on their way pillaging and destroying the country. Alexius Comnenus learned with dissatisfaction of the approach of the crusaders, and this dissatisfaction became alarm when he was informed of the pillage and destruction effected by the crusaders on their march. Nearing Constantinople the crusaders, as usual, indulged in pillaging in the neighborhood of the capital. Alexius Comnenus hastened to transport them across the Bosphorus into Asia Minor, where, near Nicaea, they were almost all easily killed by the Turks. Peter the Hermit had returned to Constantinople before the catastrophe.
The episode of Peter the Hermit and his bands was a sort of introduction to the First Crusade. The unfavorable impression left by these bands in Byzantium reacted against the later crusaders. As for the Turks, having so easily done away with Peter’s bands, they were sure they would be victorious also over other crusading troops.
In the summer of 1096 in western Europe, began the crusading movement of counts, dukes, and princes; in other words, a real army assembled. No one of the west European sovereigns took part in the Crusade. Henry IV of Germany was entirely occupied by his struggle with the popes for investiture. Philip I of France was under excommunication for his divorce from his legitimate wife and for his marriage with another woman. The English king, William II Rufus, was engaged in a continuous struggle with his vassals, the church, and the people, and held his power insecurely.
Among the leaders of the crusading army the following should be mentioned. The first is Godfrey of Bouillon, the duke of Lower Lorraine, to whom a later legend imparted such a pious character that it is difficult to discern his real features; in reality, he was a brave and capable soldier and a religious-minded man, who wished in this expedition to repair losses sustained in his European possessions. His two brothers took part in the expedition, and one of them, Baldwin, was to become later the king of Jerusalem. Under Godfrey the Army of Lorraine set forth on the march. Robert, the duke of Normandy, son of William the Conqueror and brother of the king of England, William Rufus, took part in the crusade, but not for religious motives or chivalrous inducements; he was discontented with his small power in his duchy, which, just before his starting, he had pledged to his brother for a certain sum of money. Hugh, count of Vermandois, brother of the king of France, full of ambition, aspired to glory and new possessions and was greatly esteemed by the crusaders. The rude and irascible Robert II, count of Flanders, son of Robert of Flanders, also took part in the expedition and for his crusading exploits was called the Jerusalemite. At the head of the three armies stood the following men: Hugh of Vermandois, at the head of the middle French army; Robert of Normandy and Robert of Flanders, at the head of the two north French armies. At the head of the south French army stood Raymond, count of Toulouse, a very well‑known fighter against the Arabs in Spain, a talented leader and a deeply religious man. Finally, Bohemond of Tarentum, son of Robert Guiscard, and his nephew Tancred, who commanded the southern Italian Norman army, had no interest in religion; not improbably they hoped at the first opportunity to even their accounts with Byzantium, whose stubborn enemies they were, and apparently Bohemond had already fixed his ambitions upon the possession of Antioch. Thus, the Normans carried into the crusade a purely worldly and political element which was in contradiction with the original idea of the crusading movement. Bohemond’s army was perhaps the best prepared of all the crusading bands for such an expedition, “for there were many men in it who had come into contact both with the Saracens in Sicily and the Greeks in southern Italy.” All the crusading armies pursued their own aims; there was neither general plan nor commander in chief. The chief role in the First Crusade, then, belonged to the French.
One part of the crusading armies went to Constantinople by land, another part by sea. Like Peter the Hermit’s bands, the crusaders ravaged the places they traversed and performed all kinds of violence. A witness of this passage of the crusaders, Theophylact, the archbishop of Bulgaria, explained in one of his letters the cause of his long silence and thereby accuses the crusaders; he wrote: “My lips are compressed; first of all, the passage of the Franks, or their invasion, or I do not know how one may call it, has so affected and seized all of us, that we do not even feel ourselves. We have drunk enough the bitter cup of invasion … As we have been accustomed to Frankish insults, we bear misfortunes more easily than before, because time is a good teacher of all.”
It is obvious that Alexius Comnenus had good reason to distrust such defenders of the crusading idea. The Emperor waited with irritation and alarm for the crusading armies which were approaching his capital on all sides and which in their number were quite unlike the modest bodies of auxiliaries for which he had appealed to the West. Some historians have accused Alexius and the Greeks of perfidy and disloyalty to the crusaders. Such charges must be rejected, particularly after attention is turned to the pillaging, plundering, and incendiarism of the crusaders on their march. Also one must now reject the severe and antihistoric characterization of Gibbon, who wrote: “In a style less grave than that of history I should compare the Emperor Alexius to the jackal, who is said to follow the steps, and to devour the leavings, of the lion.” Of course, Alexius was not a man humbly to pick up what the crusaders left to him. Alexius Comnenus showed himself a statesman, who understood what a threat to the existence of his Empire the crusaders presented; therefore, his first idea was, as soon as possible, to transport the restless and dangerous comers to Asia Minor, where they were to carry on the task for which they had come to the East, that is to say, fighting the infidels. An atmosphere of rnutual distrust and malevolence was created between the Latins and the Greeks; in their persons stood face to face not only schismatics, but also political antagonists, who later on were to settle their controversy by the power of the sword. An educated Greek patriot and learned literary man of the nineteenth century (Bikélas) wrote:
To the Western eye the Crusades present themselves in all the noble proportions of a great movement based upon motives purely religious, when Europe … appears the self‑sacrificing champion of Christianity and of civilization, in the vigour of her strong youth and the glory of her intellectual morning. It is natural that a certain honourable pride should still inspire any family of the Latin aristocracy which can trace its pedigree to those who fought under the banner of the Cross. But when the Easterners beheld swarms of illiterate barbarians looting and plundering the provinces of the Christian and Roman Empire, and the very men who called themselves the champions of the Faith murdering the Priests of Christ on the ground that they were schismatics, it was equally natural that they should forget that such a movement had originally been inspired by a religious aim and possessed a distinctively Christian character … The appearance (of the crusaders) upon the stage of history is the first act in the final tragedy of the Empire.
The special historian of Alexius Comnenus, Chalandon, was inclined to apply, at least in part, to all the crusaders the characteristics attributed by Gibbon to the followers of Peter the Hermit: “The robbers, who followed Peter the Hermit, were wild beasts, without reason and humanity.”
Thus in 1096 began the epoch of the Crusades, so abounding and rich in its various consequences, and of such great importance both for Byzantium And the East and for western Europe.
The first account of the impression made on the peoples in the East by the beginning of the crusading movement came from an Arabian historian of the twelfth century, Ibn al‑Qalanisi: “In this year (A.H. 490 = 19 December 1096 to 8 December 1097) there began to arrive a succession of reports that the armies of the Franks had appeared from the direction of the sea of Constantinople with forces not to be reckoned for multitude. As these reports followed one upon the other, and spread from mouth to mouth far and wide, the people grew anxious and disturbed in mind.”
After the crusaders had gradually assembled at Constantinople, Alexius Comnenus, considering their troops as mercenary auxiliaries, expressed a wish to be acknowledged the head of the expedition and insisted that an oath of vassalage be sworn to him by the crusaders. A formal treaty was concluded between Alexius and the crusading chiefs, who promised to restore to Alexius, as their suzerain, any towns they should take which had formerly made part of the Byzantine Empire. Unfortunately the terms of the oath of vassalage which the crusading leaders took have not been preserved in their original form. In all likelihood, Alexius’ demands varied concerning different regions. He sought for direct acquisitions in the regions of Asia Minor, which, shortly before, had been lost by the Empire after the defeat of Manzikert (1070, and which were the necessary conditions of the power and secure existence of the Byzantine Empire and Greek nationality. To Syria and Palestine, which had been lost by Byzantium long ago, the Emperor did not lay claim, but confined himself to claiming to be their suzerain.
After crossing to Asia Minor, the crusaders opened hostilities. After a siege, in June 1097, Nicaea surrendered to them, and by virtue of the treaty made with Alexius was delivered to him. The next victory of the crusaders at Dorylaeum (Eski‑Shehr), forced the Turks to evacuate the western part of Asia Minor and to draw back into the interior of the country; after that Byzantium had an excellent opportunity to restore its power on the coast of Asia Minor. Despite natural difficulties, climatic conditions, and the resistance of the Muslims, the crusaders advanced far to the east and southeast. In upper Mesopotamia, Baldwin took the city of Edessa and he soon established there his princedom which became the first Latin dominion in the East and a bulwark of the Christians against the Turkish attacks from Asia. But the example of Baldwin had its dangerous reverse side: the other barons might follow his example and found princedoms of their own, which, of course, would inflict great harm on the very aim of the crusade. Later on, this danger was fulfilled.
After a long and exhausting siege, the chief city of Syria, Antioch, a very strong fortress, surrendered to the crusaders; the way to Jerusalem was open. But because of Antioch a violent strife had broken out between the chiefs ending when Bohemond of Tarentum, following Baldwin’s example, became the ruling prince of Antioch. Neither at Edessa nor at Antioch did the crusaders take the vassal oath to Alexius Comnenus. As the greater part of the troops remained with the chiefs who had founded their princedoms, only a very few, 20,000 to 25,000 in number, reached Jerusalem, and they arrived exhausted and thoroughly weakened.
At that time, Jerusalem had passed from the Seljuqs into the hands of a powerful caliph of Egypt, of the Fatimid dynasty. After a violent siege, on the 15th of July 1099, the crusaders took the Holy City by storm and effected therein terrible slaughter. They thoroughly pillaged it, and carried away many treasures. The famous Mosque of Omar was robbed. The conquered country, occupying a narrow seashore strip in the region of Syria and Palestine, received the name of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Godfrey of Bouillon, who consented to accept the title of the “Defender of the Holy Sepulchre,” was elected king of Jerusalem. The new state was organized on the western feudal pattern.
The First Crusade, which had ended in the formation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and of several independent Latin possessions in the east, created a complicated political situation. Byzantium, satisfied with the weakening of the Turks in Asia Minor and with the restoring of a considerable part of that country to the power of the Empire, was alarmed, however, by the appearance of the crusading princedoms at Antioch, Edessa, and Tripoli, which became new political foes of Byzantium. The Empire’s distrust gradually increased to such an extent that, in the twelfth century, Byzantium, opening hostilities against its former allies, the crusaders, did not hesitate to make alliance with its former enemies, the Turks. In their turn, the crusaders settled in their new dominions and fearing the strengthening of the Empire in Asia Minor, also concluded alliances with the Turks against Byzantium. Here, in the twelfth century, it was already obvious that the very idea of crusading enterprise had completely degenerated.
One cannot speak of a complete rupture between Alexius Comnenus and the crusaders. Of course, the Emperor was deeply discontented with the formation of the Latin possessions in the East, which had taken no vassal oath to him; nevertheless he did not refuse adequate help to the crusaders, for example, in transporting them from the east to the west, on their way home. A rupture took place between the Emperor and Bohemond of Tarentum, who, from the point of view of Byzantine interests, had become excessively powerful at Antioch, at the expense of his neighbors, the weak Turkish emirs, and of Byzantine territory. Therefore Antioch became the chief center of Alexius’ aims. Raymond of Toulouse, the head of the Proveçal troops, dissatisfied with his position in the East and also regarding Bohemond as his chief rival, drew closer to Alexius. At that time, for Alexius the fate of Jerusalem had secondary interest.
A struggle between the Emperor and Bohemond was unavoidable. An opportunity apparently presented itself to Alexius when Bohemond was suddenly captured by the Turks, that is by the Emir Malik Ghazi of the Danishmand dynasty, who at the very end of the eleventh century had conquered Cappadocia and established there an independent possession, which, however, was to be destroyed by the Seljuqs in the second half of the twelfth century. Alexius negotiated with the emir for the delivery of Bohemond in return for a certain amount of money, but the negotiations came to nothing. Bohemond was redeemed by others and returned to Antioch. On the basis of the treaty made with the crusaders, Alexius demanded that Bohemond deliver Antioch to him; but Bohemond decisively refused to do so.
At that time, in 1104, the Muslims won a great victory over Bohemond and the other Latin princes at Harran, south of Edessa. This defeat of the crusaders nearly destroyed the Christian dominions in Syria and reinvigorated the hopes both of Alexius and of the Muslims; both gladly anticipated Bohemond’s unavoidable weakening. The battle of Harran destroyed his plans to establish in the East a powerful Norman state; he realized that he did not have strength enough to go to war again against the Muslims and the Emperor, his sworn enemy. His further stay in the East seemed to him aimless. Bohemond therefore determined to strike a blow to the Empire in Constantinople itself, with new troops collected in Europe. Having entrusted his nephew Tancred with the regency of Antioch, he embarked and sailed to Apulia. Anna Comnena gave an interesting though fictitious account, written not without humor, of how, in order to be safer from the Greek ships, Bohemond simulated death, was put into a coffin, and thus accomplished his crossing to Italy.
Bohemond’s return to Italy was greeted with the greatest enthusiasm. People flocked to gaze at him, said a medieval author, “as if they were going to see Christ himself.” Having gathered troops, Bohemond opened hostilities against Byzantium. The pope favored Bohemond’s plans. His expedition against Alexius, explained an American scholar, “ceased to be a mere political movement; it had now received the approval of the Church and assumed the dignity of a Crusade.”
Bohemond’s troops were probably drawn, for the most part, from France and Italy, but there were also, in all likelihood, English, Germans, and Spaniards in his army. His plan was to carry out his father Robert Guiscard’s campaign of 1081, to take possession of Dyrrachium (Durazzo) and then through Thessalonica to march upon Constantinople. But the campaign turned out to be unsuccessful for Bohemond. He suffered defeat at Dyrrachium and was forced to make peace with Alexius on humiliating terms. The chief terms of the agreement between Bohemond and Alexius Comnenus were: Bohemond promised to consider himself the vassal of Alexius and his son, John; to take up arms against the Emperor’s enemies; and to hand over to Alexius all conquered lands formerly belonging to the Empire. Those lands which had never been a part of the Empire and which Bohemond gained in any manner, were to be held by him as if they had been granted to him by the Emperor. He promised to make war on his nephew Tancred if Tancred did not consent to submit to the Emperor. The patriarch of Antioch was to be appointed by the Emperor from persons belonging to the Greek Eastern church, so that there would be no Latin patriarch of Antioch. The cities and districts granted to Bohemond are enumerated in the agreement. The document closes with Bohemond’s solemn oath on the cross, the crown of thorns, the nails, and the lance of Christ, that he will fulfill the provisions of the agreement.
With the collapse of Bohemond’s vast and aggressive plans, his stormy career perhaps fatal to the crusading movement, came to its end. For the three last years of his life he was of no particular importance. He died in Apulia in 1111.
Bohemond’s death made Alexius’ position more difficult, because Tancred of Antioch refused to carry into effect his uncle’s agreement, and would not hand Antioch over to the Emperor. Alexius had to begin all over again. The plan of an expedition against Antioch was discussed but was never brought into effect. It was evident that at that time the Empire was unable to undertake the difficult project. Tancred’s death, which occurred soon after Bohemond’s death, made the plan of marching on Antioch no easier. The last years of Alexius’ reign were particularly occupied by nearly annual wars with the Turks in Asia Minor, which often were successful for the Empire.
In the external life of the Empire, Alexius succeeded in a very hard task. Very often Alexius’ activity has been considered and estimated from the point of view of his relations to the crusaders, but not from the point of view of the total of his external policy. Such a point of view is undoubtedly wrong.
In one of his letters, Alexius’ contemporary, the archbishop of Bulgaria, Theophylact, using the words of a Psalm (79:13) compares the Bulgarian province with a grape‑vine, whose fruit “is plucked by all who pass by.” This comparison, as says the French historian Chalandon, may be applied to the Eastern Empire of the time of Alexius. All his neighbors tried to take advantage of the weakness of the Empire and to seize some of its regions. The Normans, Patzinaks, Seljuqs, and the crusaders threatened Byzantium. Alexius, who had received the Empire in a state of weakness, succeeded in making adequate resistance to them all and thereby delayed for a considerable time the process of the dissolution of Byzantium. Under Alexius, the frontiers of the state, both in Europe and in Asia, were extended. The Empire’s enemies were forced to recede everywhere, so that, on the territorial side, his rule signifies an incontestable progress. The charges particularly often brought against Alexius concerning his relations to the crusaders must be given up, if we consider Alexius as a sovereign defending the interests of his state, to which the westerners, full of desire to pillage and spoil, were a serious danger. Thus, in his external policy Alexius successfully overcame all difficulties, improved the international position of the Empire, extended its limits, and for a time stopped the progress of the numerous enemies who on all sides pressed against the Empire.
Increasing contacts with the western states. — The son and successor of Alexius, John II, was of the emperor‑soldier type and spent the major part of his reign among the troops in military enterprises. His external policy chiefly continued that of his father, who had already pointed out all the important problems, European as well as Asiatic, in which the Empire of that time was particularly interested. John set as his goal progress along the political paths entered upon by his father. The father had hindered his enemies from invading Byzantium; the son determined “to take away from his neighbors the lost Greek provinces and dreamt of restoring the Byzantine Empire to its former brilliancy.”
Though he clearly understood the European situation, John was little interested in European affairs. He had from time to time to wage war in Europe, but there his wars were of a strictly defensive character. Only towards the end of his reign, owing to the threatening rise of the Normans, which expressed itself in the union of south Italy with Sicily and the formation of the Kingdom of Sicily, did European affairs become very important to Byzantium. John’s main interest in his external policy was concentrated in Asia Minor. With regard to John’s relations to the West, there were a steadily increasing number of western European states with which Byzantium had to come into contact.
The Norman danger had caused Alexius to draw closer to Venice, who had pledged herself to support Byzantium with her fleet; thereupon Alexius had granted the Republic of St. Mark quite exceptional trade privileges. The Venetians, who had gone in throngs to the Empire, especially to Constantinople, grew rich and soon formed in the capital a Venetian colony so numerous and wealthy that it began to be of predominant importance. Gradually, forgetting that they were neither in their native country nor in a conquered land, the Venetians began to behave so arrogantly and impertinently towards not only the lower classes of the Byzantine population, but also the high officials and nobility, that they aroused strong discontent in the Empire. The small commercial privileges granted Pisa by Alexius were not important enough to alarm Venice.
In Alexius’ lifetime, relations between the Byzantines and Venetians were not yet particularly strained. But with his death, circumstances changed. Learning that Norman Apulia was having internal troubles and therefore considering the Norman danger to Byzantium already over, John decided to abrogate the commercial treaty that his father had made with Venice. At once, the irritated Venetians sent their fleet to raid the Byzantine islands of the Adriatic and Aegean. Judging an adequate resistance to the Venetian vessels impossible, John was forced, still in the first years of his reign, to enter into negotiations with Venice which led to the complete restoration of the commercial treaty of 1082. Under John, the other Italian maritime cities, like Pisa and Genoa, also enjoyed certain commercial privileges but these, of course, could not be compared with those of Venice.
In these same first years of John’s reign, the Patzinak problem was definitely solved. The Patzinaks, who had been crushed under Alexius Comnenus by the Cumans (Polovtzi), thereafter did not harass the Empire for thirty years. But at the beginning of the reign of John, the Patzinaks, who had somewhat recovered from their defeat, crossed the Danube and invaded the Byzantine territory. The imperial troops inflicted a heavy and decisive defeat upon them. In memory of this victory, John even instituted a special “Patzinak festivity,” which, as the Byzantine historian Nicetas Choniates said, “was still celebrated at the end of the twelfth century.” After this defeat the Patzinaks had no importance at all in the external history of Byzantium. However, Patzinaks who were captured and who settled within the Empire constituted a separate group in the Byzantine troops and afterwards fought on the side of Byzantium.
The tendency of Hungary (Ugria) to extend its possessions towards the Adriatic coast had already rendered Alexius Comnenus discontented and strained his relations with the Hungarians. It seemed that the marriage of John to a Hungarian princess should improve relations. “But that intercourse,” said the Russian historian C. Grot, “could not destroy the feeling of mutual distrust and rivalry that, in the course of time, formed in both neighbor states.” Besides the establishment of the Hungarians (Magyars) on the Dalmatian coast, which was dangerous to Byzantium, the increasing rapprochement between Hungary and Serbia was a source of dissatisfaction to the Empire. The Serbs who, along with the Bulgars, had been forced to come to Byzantium at the beginning of the eleventh century under Basil II Bulgaroctonus, had already begun by the middle of this century to revolt. The end of the eleventh century and the beginning of the twelfth was the time of the first liberation of Serbia from Byzantine power. Under John may be noticed a particular rapprochement between Serbia and Hungary, which was ready to help Serbia in obtaining its independence. A Serbian princess was given in marriage to a Hungarian prince. Thus, towards the end of the reign of John, in the northwest a new cause for alarm to Byzantium was created in the close connection of Hungary and Serbia.
John’s military operations against them were fairly successful but had no definite result. An anonymous panegyrist of John, however, praised his military activities in the Balkan peninsula in these bombastic words: “How glorious are your campaigns against the European peoples! He [John] defeated the Dalmatians, terrified the Scythians and Nomads, the whole people living in wagons and unorganized; he coloured the waters of the Danube with much gore and many strong‑flowing rivers of blood.”
In the last ten years of the reign of John, the relations to southern Italy completely changed. There a period of troubles was followed by a new epoch of power and glory. Roger II united in his hands Sicily and southern Italy, and on Christmas Day, 1130, he was solemnly crowned in Palermo with the royal crown. Owing to the union of these two territories, Roger II became at once one of the most powerful sovereigns of Europe. It was a tremendous blow to Byzantium. The Emperor, theoretically still claiming some rights to the south Italian lands, considered the occupation of them by the Normans but temporary. The restoration of Italy was a favorite dream of the emperors of the twelfth century. The assumption of the royal title by Roger seemed an offense to the imperial dignity; to recognize this title would have been to give up all rights to the Italian provinces.
The sudden rise of Roger was undesirable not only to Byzantium, but also to the German sovereign, who had important interests in Italy. In view of the common danger, John II formed an entente, first with Lothar of Germany and after the latter’s death, with Conrad III Hohenstaufen; somewhat later this developed into a real alliance between the two Empires. The main object of this entente and later alliance was to destroy the Norman power in Italy. This alliance became very important under John’s successor, Manuel. If John failed to strike a blow at the power of Roger, he succeeded, at least, in preventing him from invading Byzantium. The subsequent wars of Roger with Manuel showed clearly that such a plan of invasion had hovered before his eyes. The most important parts of John’s external policy in the West, then, were his attitude regarding the formation of the Sicilian kingdom and the creation of the alliance of the two Empires.
Relations of John to the East. — In Asia Minor, John carried on almost yearly and usually successful expeditions, so that in the fourth decade of the twelfth century he succeeded in restoring to the Empire the territories which had been lost long ago. Thereupon, thinking that the Turkish power had been greatly broken down, John believed that without affecting state interests he would be able to interrupt hostilities against the Turks and undertake a new and more distant campaign to the southeast against Armenian Cilicia and the crusading princedom of Antioch.
Armenian Cilicia or Armenia Minor had been established at the end of the eleventh century by the refugees from Armenia proper, in the north, who had fled from their country before the advancing Turks. Among other noble Armenian families, a family named Rupen (Ruben) began to play an important part in the government of the new country. Armenia Minor, which had extended its territory at the expense of Byzantium, came into close relations with the Latin princes in the east, showing thereby its hostile attitude toward the Empire. Then John Comnenus set forth on his march; he planned to punish Armenia Minor, which was in a state of revolt, and at the same time to settle the case of the princedom of Antioch, which in the time of the First Crusade had taken no oaths to the Emperor and later on had refused to submit to John in spite of the treaty concluded between Alexius Comnenus and Bohemond.
John’s expedition was exceedingly successful. Cilicia was conquered, and the Prince of Armenia, with his sons, was sent to Constantinople. The Byzantine territory, enlarged by the annexation of Armenia Minor, reached the borders of the princedom of Antioch. In his struggle with the latter, John also obtained definite success. Besieged, Antioch was forced to ask him for peace, which John granted on the condition that the Prince of Antioch should acknowledge the suzerainty of the Empire. The Prince consented to take the oath of fealty to the Emperor and, as a sign of his submission, to raise the imperial standard over the citadel of Antioch. A year later, on his return to Antioch, the Emperor, as suzerain, made a solemn entry into the city surrounded by his sons, courtiers, officials, and soldiers. The triumphal procession moved through the decorated streets of the city. By the Emperor’s side, as if he were his armiger, rode the Prince of Antioch. At the city gates, the Emperor was welcomed by the patriarch with his clergy; then, through an enormous multitude of people singing hymns and psalms, to the sound of music, John went first to the cathedral and thence to the palace.
John’s panegyrist said: “[Antioch] receives thee as lover of Christ, as athlete of the Lord, as zealous fighter against the barbarians, as carrying the sword of Elijah; it wipes off thy sweat and softly embraces thee. The whole numerous population of the city poured out; every age and both sexes formed brilliant procession and accorded a great triumph … Shout was mixed and many‑tongued, here Italian, there Assyrian … Here commanders, there officers, and amidst them thou shonest as a brightest star!”
The Emperor’s plans went farther. According to the sources, he dreamt of re‑establishing the Byzantine power in the Euphrates valley and seems to have intended to interfere in the affairs of the kingdom of Jerusalem; it may be that, in John’s mind, the project of such an interference was based upon the possibility that the king of Jerusalem might recognize the imperial suzerainty as the Prince of Antioch had done. Of those projects, the panegyrist said: “Be of good cheer, o men who love Christ and those who are pilgrims and strangers [on the earth] because of Christ” (cf. Hebr. 11:13); “do not fear any more murderous hands; the Emperor who loves Christ has put them in chains and broken to pieces the unjust sword. Thou hast cleared for them the way to the earthly and visible Jerusalem and hast opened to thyself another more divine and broad way, — that to the heavenly and holy Jerusalem.”
Nevertheless, those plans failed. In 1143, on a march against the Turks, during a hunting party in the mountains of Cilicia, John accidentally wounded his arm with a poisoned arrow and died, far from the capital. On his deathbed, he named his younger son Manuel as his successor. The whole time of his reign John devoted to the wars against the Empire’s enemies. He handed over to his heir a state even stronger and more vast than that which he had received from his energetic and talented father. John’s panegyrist, considering him superior to Alexander of Macedon and Hannibal, exclaimed, “Strong was the Celtic oak, and thou hast pulled out its roots; high was the Cilician cedar, and thou, before us, hast lifted it and dashed it down!”
Policies of Manuel I and the Second Crusade.
Relations with the Turks. — If John, in his external policy, had turned his chief attention to the East, his successor Manuel, particularly because of the Norman relations and his personal sympathies with the West, was involved chiefly in western policy, which had sad consequences to the Empire. The Seljuq danger, which met no adequate resistance, became again very threatening on the eastern border.
The Byzantine border territory of Asia Minor was almost continuously exposed to the ruinous incursions of the Muslims who were exterminating or expelling the Christian population. Manuel had to secure order and safety in the border regions, and for that purpose he erected and restored a number of fortified places intended to check the invaders, mainly in those places where the enemy carried on most of their invasions.
It cannot be said, however, that Manuel’s hostilities against the Turks were successful. In the first years of his reign he made an alliance with the Muhamrnedan emirs of Cappadocia, the above‑mentioned Danishmandites, and began a war against his enemy of Asia Minor, the sultan of Iconium or Rum. The imperial troops successfully reached the chief city of the sultanate, Iconium (Konia); but, probably because they were aware that the sultan had received some reinforcements, they only pillaged the city suburbs and then withdrew; on their way back they met with a severe defeat from the Seljuqs, which barely escaped ending in a real catastrophe to the retreating troops. But the news of the crusade, which was threatening both to the Emperor and sultan, compelled both adversaries to seek peace, and a peace was concluded.
Alliance of the two empires. — In the first years of the reign of Manuel his western policy, like that of his predecessor, was regulated by the idea of the alliance with Germany which had been achieved under the pressure of the common danger from the growing power of the Italian Normans. The negotiations with Conrad III of Germany interrupted by the death of John were renewed. The question of the marriage of Manuel to the sister‑in‑law of Conrad, Bertha of Sulzbach, which had been proposed under John, was also renewed. In his letter to Manuel, Conrad wrote that this marriage should be
a pledge “of a permanent alliance of constant friendship,” that the German sovereign promised to be “a friend of the Emperor’s friends and an enemy of his enemies,” as well as, in case of danger to the Empire, to come to its aid not only with some auxiliary troops, but, if necessary, in person with all forces of the German state. Manuel’s marriage to Bertha, who received in Byzantium the name of Irene, set a seal upon the alliance of the two empires. This alliance gave Manuel the hope of getting rid of the danger which threatened his state from Roger II. Of course, while Roger faced two such adversaries as the Byzantine and German sovereigns, he did not venture to begin war with Byzantium with his former hopes for success.
But an unexpected event suddenly destroyed Manuel’s dreams and political speculations. The Second Crusade entirely changed the situation, at least for a time; it deprived Byzantium of German support and exposed the Empire to twofold danger from the crusaders and from the Normans.
The Second Crusade. — After the First Crusade the Christian rulers in the east, that is to say, the Byzantine Emperor and the Latin rulers of Antioch, Edessa, and Tripoli, as well as the king of Jerusalem, instead of endeavoring to crush with united forces the strength of the Muslims, were occupied with their internal dissensions and looked with distrust on the political strengthening of their neighbors. Particularly disastrous to the general welfare were the hostile relations of Byzantium to Antioch and Edessa. These conditions enabled the Muslims, who had been weakened and driven back by the forces of the First Crusade, to recover themselves and again threaten from Mesopotamia the Christian possessions.
In 1144 Zangi, one of the Muhammedan rulers or Atabegs of Mosul, as the Seljuq governors who had become independent, were called, suddenly seized Edessa. An anonymous Syriac chronicle recently translated into French affords a detailed account of the siege and capture of Edessa by Zangi. The latter, as the chronicler said, “left Edessa four days after the capture of the city … The inhabitants of Edessa went to redeem their captives, and the city was repopulated. The governor Zain‑ed‑Din, who was a good‑natured man, treated them very well.” But after Zangi’s death in 1146 the former count of Edessa, Joscelin, retook the city. Zangi’s son Nur‑ad‑Din easily took possession of it, and then the Christians were massacred, the women and children were sold into slavery, and the city was almost entirely destroyed. It was a heavy blow to the Christian cause in the east, because the county of Edessa, because of its geographical position, was a buffer state of the crusaders which had to receive the first attacks of Muslim assaults. Neither Jerusalem nor Antioch nor Tripoli could help the prince of Edessa. Meanwhile, after the fall of Edessa, the Latin possessions, Antioch in particular, began to be seriously threatened.
The fall of Edessa produced a deep impression upon the west and evoked renewed interest in the cause of the Holy Land. But the pope of that time, Eugenius III, could not initiate or promote a new crusading enterprise, because the democratic movement which had broken out in the fifth decade at Rome and in which the famous Arnold of Brescia had taken part rendered the pope’s position in the “eternal City” unstable, and even forced him to leave Rome for a time. The king of France, Louis VII, seems to have been the real initiator of the crusade, and its preacher who carried the idea into effect was the monk Bernard of Clairvaux, who by his fiery appeals first won over ]France. Then he passed to Germany and persuaded Conrad III to take the cross and inspired the Germans to take part in the expedition.
But the western peoples, who had learned caution through the bitter experience of the First Crusade and had been greatly disappointed in its results, did not manifest their former enthusiasm, and at the meeting of Vezelay, in Burgundy, the French feudaries were against the crusade. Not without difficulty Bernard won them over by his passionate and persuasive eloquence. In Bernard’s conception the original plan of Louis VII widened. Owing to Bernard, simultaneously with the crusade to the East there were organized two other expeditions: the first against the Muslims who at that time were in possession of Lisbon in the Pyrenean peninsula, the other against the pagan Slavs in the north, on the Elbe (Laba) river.
Historians strongly disapprove of Bernard’s idea of adding Germany to the crusade. The German scholar Kugler, who was especially interested in the Second Crusade, considered it as “a most unhappy idea;” the Russian scholar Th. Uspensky called it “a fatal step and great error of St. Bernard” and attributed the sad results of the crusade to the participation of the Germans. In truth, the antagonism between the French and Germans during the crusade was one of its peculiar traits and of course could not contribute to its success.
The news of the crusade alarmed Manuel, who saw in it a danger to his state and to his influence with the Latin princes of the east, particularly at Antioch, which with support from the west could ignore the Byzantine Emperor. Also the participation of Germany in the crusade deprived Byzantium of the guarantee upon which the alliance of the two empires was based. If the king of Germany left his country for the East for long, he could not take care of the western interests of the Byzantine Empire, which was therefore open to the ambitious plans of Roger. Knowing how dangerous to the capital the first crusaders had been, Manuel commanded its walls and towers to be restored, having evidently no confidence in the ties of friendship and relationship which bound Conrad to him.
According to V. Vasilievsky, “undoubtedly Manuel hoped to stand at the head of the whole Christian army against the common enemies of Christianity.” Besides the fact that Byzantium was very greatly interested in the future destinies of Islam in the East, Manuel, in the epoch of the Second Crusade, had also some special reasons for such a hope: at that time the Christian world had but one emperor, namely Manuel, because Conrad III Hohenstaufen had not been crowned by the pope in Rome and therefore did not bear the title of emperor.
In 1147 the leaders of the crusade decided to go to Constantinople by land, the way by which the first crusaders had already gone. First Conrad set out via Hungary; a month later Louis went the same way. The march of the crusaders towards Constantinople was followed by the same violence and pillaging as in the First Crusade.
When the German troops had pitched their camp under the walls of the capital, Manuel exerted himself to the utmost to transport them to Asia before the arrival of the French army; finally, after some altercations with his relative and ally Conrad, he succeeded. In Asia Minor the Germans began at once to suffer from the want of food, and then they were assaulted by the Turks and destroyed; only a pitiful remnant of the German army returned to Nicaea. Some historians ascribe the failure of the German expedition to the intrigues of Manuel, alleging that he made an agreement with the Muslims, stirring them up to attack the crusaders. Some historians, for example Sybel and following him Th. Uspensky, even spoke of the conclusion of an alliance between Manuel and the Seljuqs. But the more recent scholars are inclined to believe that such charges against Manuel have no serious grounds and that he should not be considered responsible for the failure of the Germans.
The French who had approached the capital soon after the passage of the Germans to Asia Minor alarmed Manuel still more. Manuel was particularly dubious about Louis with whom, shortly before the crusade, Roger had opened negotiations inducing him to go to the East through his Italian possessions; in Louis, Manuel suspected he saw a secret ally of Roger, or “the unofficial ally of Sicily,” and the Emperor’s conjectures had serious grounds.
Knowing that at that time Manuel was entirely absorbed by the crusade and his relations to the crusaders, Roger abandoned the general interests of Christianity and following only his own political aims suddenly seized the island of Corfu and devastated some other Byzantine islands. Then the Normans landed in Greece and captured Thebes and Corinth, which were at that time famous for their silk factories and silk stuffs. Not satisfied with seizing a large quantity of precious silk stuffs “the Normans, among numerous other captives, carried into Sicily the most skilful silk weavers, both men and women.” It is not true, however, as is sometimes stated in historical works, that these weavers who were transported to Palermo were the creators of the silk production and silk industry in Sicily; in reality the production of silk and the development of the silkworm had been known there before. But the arrival of the captured Greek women gave a new impetus to the industry. Athens also was not spared by the Normans.
When the news of the successful invasion of the Normans into Greece reached the French, who were standing under the walls of Constantinople, the latter, already irritated by the rumors of an agreement between Manuel and the Turks, became agitated. Some of Louis’ chiefs suggested to him that he seize Constantinople. In the face of this danger the Emperor turned his mind to transporting the French also into Asia Minor. A rumor circulated that the Germans were meeting with success in Asia Minor, and Louis consented to cross over the Bosphorus and even took the oath to Manuel. Only when Louis made his appearance in Asia Minor did he learn the truth about the disaster of the German army. The sovereigns met and marched on together. The Franco‑German troops are known to have suffered a complete failure at Damascus. The disappointed Conrad left Palestine on a Greek vessel and sailed for Thessalonica, where Manuel, who was preparing to open hostilities against the Normans, had his residence at the time. Manuel and Conrad met there, examined the general situation, and concluded a definite alliance against Roger. Thereafter Conrad returned to Germany.
Meanwhile the crusade accomplished nothing. Louis, who remained in the East, realizing the complete impossibility of doing anything with his own resources, returned some months later to France via southern Italy where he met with Roger.
Thus the Second Crusade, which had started so brilliantly, ended in the most miserable way. The Muslims in the East were not weakened; on the contrary, they gained in courage and began even to hope to destroy the Christian possessions in the East. Besides that, the strife between the French and German troops as well as between the Palestinian and European Christians did not add to the prestige of the crusaders. Manuel himself was glad to see the crusade finished, because now, strengthened by the conclusion of a formal alliance with Germany, he was free to proceed in his western policy against Roger. Nevertheless it would be unjust to charge the whole failure of the crusade upon the Emperor; the failure of the enterprise must be rather attributed to the lack of organization and general discipline among the crusaders. Also by his attack upon the islands of the Adriatic and Greece, Roger had fatally affected the project of the crusade. Generally speaking, the religious basis of the crusading enterprises was receding and the worldly political motives showed themselves henceforth more and more clearly.
External policy of Manuel after the Second Crusade. — During the crusade Manuel had already taken serious measures for the war against Roger, upon whom he wished to take vengeance for the treacherous incursion upon the islands of the Adriatic and Greece and for his continued occupation of Corfu. Venice, which, as before, watched the growing power of the Normans with some apprehension, willingly consented to support the Byzantine enterprise with her fleet and received for that aid new commercial privileges in the Empire; besides the quarters and landing places (scalas) in Constantinople which had been allotted to the Venetians by the former trade treaties, some new places and one more landing place (scala) were assigned to them. While those negotiations were going on, the Emperor was energetically preparing for the war against “the western dragon,” “a new Amalek,” “the dragon of the island (i.e. Sicily) who was about to eject the flame of his anger higher than the craters of Etna,” as the contemporary sources characterized Roger. Manuel’s plans were not confined to driving the enemy out of Byzantine territory; the Emperor hoped later on to transfer hostilities into Italy and to attempt to restore the former Byzantine power there.
He was temporarily diverted from his enterprise when his preparations were almost complete by the Cumans (Polovtzi), who crossed the Danube and invaded the Byzantine territory; but he succeeded in rapidly routing them. Then supported by the Venetian vessels, Manuel took possession of Corfu.
Roger realized what danger might threaten him from the alliance of Byzantium with Germany, who had promised to send the Emperor a land army, and Venice, who had already sent her vessels. Roger resorted to skillful diplomatic maneuvers in order to create all possible difficulties for Byzantium. Owing to the Sicilian fleet and intrigues, the Duke Welf, an old enemy of the Hohenstaufens, rose against Conrad in Germany, who was therefore prevented from marching into Italy to support Manuel; then the Serbs supported by the Hungarians (Ugrians) also opened hostilities against Manuel, whose attention was thereby diverted towards the north. Finally, Louis VII, afflicted by the failure of the crusade and irritated at the Greeks, came, on his return journey from the East, to a friendly understanding with Roger and was preparing a new crusade which threatened Byzantium with unavoidable danger. The abbot Suger, who had governed France during Louis’ absence, was the initiator of a new crusading enterprise, and the famous Bernard of Clairvaux was even ready himself to stand at the head of the army. A French abbot wrote to the Sicilian King: “Our hearts, the hearts of almost all our Frenchmen are burning with devotion and love for peace with you; we are induced to feel thus by the base, unheard of and mean treachery of the Greeks and their detestable king (regis) to our pilgrims .... Rise to help the people of God … take vengeance for such affronts.” Roger also was strengthening his relations with the pope. In general the West regarded with disfavor the alliance between the “orthodox” sovereign of Germany and the “schismatic” Emperor of Byzantium. It was thought in Italy that Conrad had already become affected with Greek disobedience, and the Papal curia was therefore making attempts to restore him to the path of truth and obedient service to the Catholic church. Pope Eugenius III, the abbot Suger, and Bernard of Clairvaux were working to destroy the alliance between the two empires. Thus, in the middle of the twelfth century, V. Vasilievsky explained, “there was on the point of coming into existence a strong coalition against Manuel and Byzantium at the head of which stood King Roger, to which Hungary and Serbia already belonged, which France as well as the Pope was about to join, and to which it was endeavored to draw Germany and her king. If the coalition had been realized, the year 1204 would have seen Constantinople already threatened.”
Nevertheless, the danger to the Empire proved not to be great. The plan of the king of France was not carried into effect partly because the French chivalry responded to the idea coldly and partly because Suger died shortly after. Conrad remained loyal to the alliance with the Eastern Empire.
But at the very time when Manuel might have expected a particular advantage from his alliance with Germany, Conrad III died (1152). His death, which had occurred just when the Italian campaign had been decided upon, evoked in Germany rumors that the king had been poisoned by his court physicians. They had come to Germany from Italy, from the famous medical school of Salerno, which was at that time in the power of Roger. Conrad’s successor Frederick I Barbarossa ascended the throne believing in unlimited imperial power granted him by God; he would not admit that his power in Italy should be divided with the eastern Emperor. In a treaty with the pope concluded shortly after Frederick’s accession to the throne the king of Germany, calling Manuel rex, not imperator, as Conrad had addressed him, pledged himself to expel the eastern Emperor from Italy. But, shortly after, for some unexplained reasons, Frederick changed his plans and seems to have intended to return to the idea of the Byzantine alliance.
In 1154 the terrible foe of Byzantium, Roger II, died. The new Sicilian king, William I, set as his goal the destruction of the alliance of the two empires and of the alliance between Byzantium and Venice. The Republic of St. Mark, aware of Manuel’s plans for establishing himself in Italy, could not approve of them; it would have been just as bad for Venice as if the Normans had established themselves on the opposite coast of the Adriatic, for in either case both coasts would have belonged to one power, which would have barred to the Venetian vessels the free use of the Adriatic and Mediterranean. Accordingly Venice broke off her alliance with Byzantium and having obtained important trade privileges in the kingdom of Sicily, made an alliance with William I.
After the Byzantine arms had had some success in southern Italy, i.e. after Bari and some other cities had been captured, William inflicted a severe defeat on Manuel’s troops at Brindisi in 1156, which at once nullified all the results of the Byzantine expedition. In the same year the capital of Apulia, Bari, was by order of William razed. A contemporary wrote: “The powerful capital of Apulia, famous for its glory, strong in its wealth, proud of the noble and aristocratic origin of its citizens, an object of general admiration for the beauty of its buildings, lies now as a pile of stones.”
The unsuccessful campaign of Manuel in Italy clearly showed Frederick Barbarossa that the Byzantine Emperor had in view the conquest of that country. Therefore he definitely broke with the Byzantine alliance. An historian contemporary with Frederick, Otto of Freising, wrote: “Although [Frederick] hated William, he did not, however, wish that the strangers might take away the territory of his Empire, which had been unjustly seized by the violent tyranny of Roger.” Any hope for a reconciliation with Barbarossa disappeared, and therewith disappeared all Manuel’s hopes for the restoration of Italy. In 1158 a peace was made between Manuel and William of Sicily. This peace, the exact conditions of which are not known, meant the abandonment by Byzantium of her long cherished and brilliant plans as well as “the rupture of the friendship and alliance between the two Empires which had existed under Lothar of Saxony and John Comnenus and later had been strengthened by the personal relations between Conrad and Manuel.” The Byzantine troops never saw Italy again.
Under the new conditions the aims of the Byzantine policy changed. Now it had to oppose the tendency of the Hohenstaufens to annex Italy, which Frederick Barbarossa believed must acknowledge his power. Byzantine diplomats began to work actively in a new direction. Manuel, wishing to destroy the relations between Frederick and the pope, sought the support of the papal curia in his coming struggle with Frederick and seduced the pope by hints of a possible union between the eastern and western churches. By evoking a conflict between the pope and the king of Germany, Manuel hoped “to restore the Eastern Empire in the whole fulness of its rights and put an end to the anomaly which existed in the shape of the Western Empire.” Yet those negotiations failed, because the popes were not at all willing to fall into a state of dependence from one emperor to the other; on the contrary, the popes of the twelfth century, imbued with theocratic ideals, wished themselves to reach superiority over the Byzantine Emperor.
When the war between Frederick Barbarossa and the north Italian cities started, Manuel actively supported the latter with money subsidies. The walls of Milan, demolished by Frederick, were restored by the aid of the Byzantine Emperor. The battle of Legnano, on May 29, 1176, which ended in Frederick’s complete defeat in northern Italy and resulted in the triumph of the north Italian communes and their supporter, the papacy, seemed rather to improve Manuel’s position in Italy. His relations were also particularly favorable in regard to Genoa, Pisa, and Venice; under the pressure of German danger the latter passed over again to Byzantium. But Manuel, willing, perhaps because of his lack of means, to profit by the enormous wealth of the Venetian merchants on the territory of his Empire, suddenly ordered all the Venetians of Byzantium to be arrested and their property confiscated. Venice, naturally incensed, sent a fleet against Byzantium which, owing to an epidemic, was forced to return without great success. In all probability, friendly relations between Byzantium and Venice were not restored in Manuel’s lifetime.
Wishing to reply to the Byzantine policy in Italy in a similar way, Frederick Barbarossa entered into negotiations with the most dangerous foe of Byzantium in the East, the sultan of Iconium, Qilij Arslan, and tried to induce the latter to invade the Greek Empire, hoping that the difficulties in Asia Minor would divert Manuel from European affairs.
Meanwhile the situation in Asia Minor was growing threatening. In Cilicia, which had been conquered by John Comnenus, a revolt broke out under the leadership of Thoros. Two of Manuel’s armies sent against Thoros failed. The situation became more alarming when Thoros made an alliance with his former enemy the prince of Antioch, Reginald of Chatillon, and together they marched against the Greeks. At the same time Reginald made a successful naval attack on Cyprus. Manuel came to Cilicia in person. His arrival was so sudden that Thoros barely escaped capture and fled. In 1158, Manuel became again the master of Cilicia. Thoros submitted himself to the Emperor and was pardoned by him. Now it was the turn of Antioch.
Reginald of Chatillon, realizing that he would be unable to resist the Byzantine forces, decided to sue for Manuel’s pardon. The Emperor was at Mopsuestia (Mamistra of the crusaders), in Cilicia; Reginald “appeared there as a suppliant before the Great Comnenus.” A most humiliating scene took place: barefooted, he prostrated himself before the Emperor, presenting to him the hilt of his sword and submitting himself to his mercy. “At the same time,” as William of Tyre said, “he cried for mercy, and he cried so long that everyone had nausea of it and that many French have disdained and blamed him for that.” Ambassadors from most of the Oriental peoples, including the far distant Abasgians (Abkhaz) and Iberians, were present at that spectacle and were profoundly impressed. “This scene has rendered the Latins despicable in the whole of Asia.” Reginald acknowledged himself the vassal of the Empire, so that later 1178‑1179) a certain Robert was sent to the court of Henry II, king of England, as ambassador on behalf of the two countries, Byzantium and Antioch. The king of Jerusalem, Baldwin III, arrived personally in Mopsuestia where, in Manuel’s camp, he was courteously received by the Emperor. But Baldwin was forced to enter into a treaty with him and pledged himself to furnish troops to the Emperor. Eustathius of Thessalonica in his oration to Manuel mentioned the king, who “ran to us from Jerusalem astounded by the fame and the deeds of the Emperor and recognizing from afar his sublimity.”
Then in April 1159, Manuel made his solemn entry into Antioch. Escorted by Reginald of Chatillon and the other Latin princes on foot and unarmed, and followed by the king of Jerusalem on horseback but also unarmed, the Emperor passed through streets decorated with carpets, hangings, and flowers, to the sound of trumpets and drums and to the singing of hymns, and was brought to the cathedral by the patriarch of Antioch in his pontifical robes. For eight days the imperial banners flew from the city walls.
The submission of Reginald of Chatillon and the entry of Manuel into Antioch in 1159 mark the triumph of the Byzantine policy towards the Latins. It was the result of more than sixty years of efforts and struggle. Despite many difficulties and wars, the Byzantine Emperor “never lost sight of the problem of Antioch — the problem raised during the First Crusade and since never solved.”
In the church of the Nativity, at Bethlehem, an inscription dated by the year 1169 has been preserved which stated “the present work was completed by the painter and mosaist Ephraim in the reign of the Emperor Manuel Porphyrogenitus Comnenus and in the days of the Great King of Jerusalem Amaury, and of the most holy Bishop of the holy Bethlehem Raoul in the year 6677, indiction 2” (= 1169). The name of Manuel put together with that of Amaury may indicate that a sort of suzerainty of the Greek emperor was established over the king of Jerusalem.
As to the relations of Manuel with the Muhammedan princes, he and Qilij Arslan had had for some years a friendly connection, and in 1161‑62 the Sultan had even come to Constantinople where a solemn reception had been accorded to him by the Emperor. This reception is thoroughly described in Greek and Oriental sources. The Sultan spent eighty days in Constantinople. All the wealth and treasures of the capital were ostentatiously shown to the famous guest. Dazzled by the brilliancy of the palace reception, Qilij Arslan did not even dare to sit down by the side of the Emperor. Tournaments, races, and even a naval festival with a demonstration of the famous “Greek fire” were given in honor of the sultan. Twice a day, food was brought to him in gold and silver vessels, and the latter were not taken back, but left at the disposal of the guest. One day, when the Emperor and sultan had dinner together, all vessels and decorations were offered to Qilij Arslan as a gift.
In 1171 the king of Jerusalem, Amaury I, arrived in Constantinople and was magnificently received by Manuel. William of Tyre gave a detailed account of this visit. It was the climax of the international glory and overwhelming power of Manuel in the Near East.
But the political results of the visit of Qilij Arslan to the capital were not very important; a sort of friendly treaty was made, but it was of short duration. Some years later the sultan announced to his friends and officials that the greater damage he did to the Empire, the more precious presents he got from the Emperor.
In such circumstances, the peace on the eastern border could not last long. On the strength of some local causes as well as perhaps because of the instigation of Frederick, hostilities broke out. Manuel himself rode at the head of his troops. The aim of the campaign was the capture of the capital of the sultanate, Iconium (Konia). In 1176 the Byzantine troops became entangled in the mountainous gorge of Phrygia, where the stronghold of Myriocephalon was situated not far from the border. There the Turks suddenly assaulted them on several sides and, on September 17th, 1176, inflicted upon them a complete defeat. The Emperor barely saved his life and escaped capture. The Byzantine historian, Nicetas Choniates, wrote: “The spectacle was really worthy of tears, or, it is better to say, the disaster was so great that it could not be sufficiently bemourned: pits were filled to the top with corpses; in ravines there were heaps of slain; in bushes, mountains of dead … No one passed by without tears or moan; but all sobbed and called their lost friends and relatives by their names.”
A contemporary historian who spent some time in Constantinople in 1179, depicts Manuel’s mood after the defeat at Myriocephalon as follows:
From that day the emperor is said to have borne, ever deeply impressed upon his heart, the memory of that fatal disaster. Never thereafter did he exhibit the gaiety of spirit which had been so characteristic of him or show himself joyful before his people, no matter how much they entreated him. Never, as long as he lived, did he enjoy the good health which before that time he had possessed in so remarkable a degree. In short, the ever‑present memory of that defeat so oppressed him that never again did he enjoy peace of mind or his usual tranquillity of spirit.
In a long letter to his western friend, King Henry II Plantagenet, of England, Manuel announced his recent disaster and evidently tried to soften it a little. A detailed narration of the battle was given by the Emperor in that letter; among other things, he gave interesting information concerning the participation in the battle of Englishmen who after 1066 served the Byzantine emperors, especially in the imperial guard.
In spite of the crushing defeat at Myriocephalon, an anonymous panegyrist of Manuel turned the Emperor’s very flight before the Turks into one of his brilliant deeds when he said: “After a clash with a mass of attacking Ismaelitians [i.e. Turks] he [Manuel] rushed into flight alone without fearing so many swords, arrows, and spears.” A nephew of Manuel adorned his new house with paintings, and among other pictures, “he ordered the deeds of the Sultan (of Iconium) to be painted, thus illustrating upon the walls of his house that which would have been more proper to keep in darkness.” In all likelihood, this unusual picture represented the fateful battle of Myriocephalon.
But for reasons still unknown, Qilij Arslan used his victory with moderation and opened negotiations with the Emperor which led to the conclusion of a tolerable peace. Some Byzantine fortifications in Asia Minor were destroyed.
The battle of Manzikert in 1071 had already been a deathblow to Byzantine domination in Asia Minor. But the contemporaries had not understood this, and still hoped to recover, and get rid of the Seljuq danger. The two first crusades had not decreased that danger. The battle of Myriocephalon in 1176 definitely destroyed Byzantium’s last hope of expelling the Turks from Asia Minor. After that the Empire could not possibly carry on any efficient offensive policy in the East. She could barely protect the eastern border and repulse the Seljuq hordes which were continually penetrating into her territory. “The battle of Myriocephalon,” declared Kugler, “decided forever the destiny of the whole East.”
Soon after this defeat, Manuel also sent a letter to Frederick Barbarossa in which he portrayed the Seljuq sultan’s position as weak; but Frederick had already been informed of the truth — Manuel’s crushing defeat. In replying to Manuel, Frederick announced that the German emperors, who had received their power from the glorious Roman emperors, had to rule not only the Roman Empire but also “the Greek Kingdom” (ut non solum Romanum imperium nostro disponatur moderamine, verum etiam regnum grecie ad nutum nostrum regi et sub nostro gubernari debeat imperio); therefore he bade Manuel recognize the authority of the western emperor and yield to the authority of the pope, and ended with the statement that in the future he would regulate his conduct by that of Manuel, who in vain was sowing troubles among the vassals of the western empire. It was thus the belief of the authoritative Hohenstaufen that the Byzantine emperor should submit to him in his position as western emperor. The idea of a single empire did not cease to exist in the twelfth century; at first Manuel remembered it, and later when circumstances became unfavorable to Byzantium, Frederick began to dream of the single empire.
In 1177, the Congress of Venice, which was attended by Frederick, the pope, and the representatives of the victorious Italian communes, confirmed the independence of the latter and reconciled the German sovereign to the pope. In other words, the treaty of Venice put an end to the hostility which had existed between Germany, the Lombard communities, and the papal curia, which Manuel had utilized for his diplomatic combinations. “The Congress of Venice was a blow to the Byzantine Empire, equivalent to the defeat inflicted on it by the Sultan of Iconium at Myriocephalon,” said Th. Uspensky. “Having reconciled the elements in the West which were hostile to Byzantium, the Congress was a prognostic of the coalition which was to conquer Constantinople in 1204 and form the Latin states in the East.”
The Congress of 1177 had exceptional significance for Venice, where assembled a brilliant European society headed by the western emperor and the pope. Over ten thousand foreigners came to Venice, and all admired the beauty, wealth, and power of that city. A contemporary historian, addressing the Venetian people, wrote: “Oh, how happy you are because such a peace could be made in your country. It will be a permanent glory to your name.”
A short time before his death, Manuel succeeded in obtaining his last diplomatic success, namely, marriage of his son and heir Alexius to an eight‑year‑old daughter of the king of France, Louis VII. The little princess Agnes received in Byzantium the name of Anne. Owing to this marriage, the somewhat strained relations which had been established between Byzantium and France after the Second Crusade seem to have improved. Eustathius of Thessalonica wrote a eulogistic oration on the occasion of the arrival at Megalopolis, i.e. Constantinople, of the imperial bride from France.
Moreover, after the famous letter sent by Manuel to the king of England, Henry II, after the disaster of Myriocephalon, the relations between those two sovereigns became very friendly, and in the last years of Manuel’s reign there is some evidence that the Byzantine envoys appeared at Westminster, and an Englishman, Geoffrey de Haie (Galfridus de Haia) was entrusted by Henry II with the entertainment of the Greek ambassadors; the same Geoffrey de Haie was sent in return to Constantinople. Henry II, evidently well informed on Manuel’s favorite sports of which hunting was not the least, even sent him a pack of hunting dogs on a vessel sailing from Bremen.
To sum up, Manuel’s policy differed very much from the cautious and thoughtful policy of his grandfather and father. Absorbed by his delusive dream of restoring the unity of the Empire as heir to Augustus, Constantine, and Justinian, and strongly inclined to western tastes, customs and manners, he exerted himself to the utmost in the struggle with Italy and Hungary as well as in his relations with the Western Empire, France, Venice, and other Italian communes. Leaving the East without adequate attention, he failed to prevent the further growth of the sultanate of Iconium and finally witnessed the collapse of all the hopes of the Empire in Asia Minor after the disaster of Myriocephalon.
The preference given by Manuel to the West, which was uncongenial to Byzantium and whose culture at that time was not equal to Byzantine culture, also brought about consequences disastrous to the Empire. By receiving foreigners with open arms and granting them the most responsible and lucrative places, he roused so strong a dissatisfaction among his subjects that bloody conflicts might be expected on the first occasion.
The special historian of Manuel’s epoch estimated his policy in these comments: “Manuel chanced to die rather too soon to see the sad consequences of his policy; they had been already perceived by the perspicacious minds of some of his contemporaries. It was hard to receive the heritage of the Emperor, and no one among his successors was to be able to restore the position of the Empire. In ensuing years the decline of the Empire was to go on rapidly: it is just to say that it began with the reign of Manuel.”
It might be more correct to say that the decline of the Empire had begun much earlier, in the epoch of the Macedonian dynasty, after the death of Basil II Bulgaroctonus in 1025. The first two Comneni, Alexius and John, succeeded in retarding the progress of the decline, but they failed to stop it. The erroneous policy of Manuel led the Empire again into the path of decline and this time into definite decadence. Hertzberg commented: “with Manuel, the ancient brilliance and ancient greatness of Byzantium sank into the grave forever.” This opinion of the historian of the nineteenth century agrees with the words of a well‑known writer of the end of the twelfth century, contemporary with the Comneni and Angeli, Eustathius of Thessalonica: “According to divine purpose, with the death of the Emperor Manuel Comnenus there has perished all that still remained intact from the Romans, and darkness has enveloped all our country as if it were under an eclipse of the sun.”
Such a colorful figure as that of Manuel Comnenus could not fail to leave a deep impress far beyond the confines of the Byzantine Empire. His name and his exploits, the latter mostly legendary, were well known in the Russian heroic epics and in Russian songs, as well as in the Russian annals. Manuel sent to the princess of Polotzk, Euphrosinia, an icon of the Mother of God, of Ephesus. It should not be forgotten that the famous legendary letter of Prester John was addressed to Manuel.
Foreign affairs under the last Comneni, Alexius II and Andronicus I.
“The five‑year period comprising the reign of the two last Comneni, Alexius and Andronicus,” wrote the Russian historian, Th. Uspensky, “is interesting particularly as a period of reaction and state reforms which had an entirely rational basis and were evoked by the well realized defects of the former system of administration.” After Manuel’s death his twelve‑year old son, Alexius II (1180‑83), ascended the throne, and his mother Mary (Maria) of Antioch was proclaimed regent; her favorite Alexius Comnenus, Manuel’s nephew, however, had the direction of all state affairs. The violent struggle of the court parties as well as the continuing Latin preponderance led to the summoning of the famous Andronicus into the capital. He had already for a long time been filled with ambitious plans of seizing the imperial throne; and he snatched at the opportunity to appear as a defender of the weak Emperor Alexius II, surrounded by wicked advisers, as well as a protector of Greek national interests. A short time before he entered the capital, the massacre of the Latins had taken place. Venetian sources pass over the massacre of 1182. Nevertheless the Venetian merchants no doubt also suffered considerably.
In the same year, 1182, Andronicus entered Constantinople and, in spite of his solemn promise, began to aim openly at sole dominion. By his order, the powerful Alexius Comnenus was arrested and blinded; then the Regent Mary of Antioch and, shortly after, the unfortunate Emperor Alexius II were strangled. In 1183, Andronicus, then sixty‑three years old, became all‑powerful sovereign of the Empire. In order to make his position more solid, he married the widow of Alexius II, Agnes (Anne) of France, who, at the death of her fourteen‑year‑old husband, was not quite twelve years of age.
The enthusiasm with which the populace received Andronicus is explained by their expectations from the new Emperor. The two chief problems of the internal life of the Empire confronted Andronicus: first, to establish a national government and deliver Byzantium from the Latin preponderance; second, to weaken the office‑holding aristocracy and large landowning aristocracy, because the preponderance of large landowners was bringing about the ruin and destruction of the agricultural class of peasants. Such a program, however hard its execution might be, met great sympathy among the mass of the population.
The archbishop of Athens, Michael Acominatus (Choniates), one of the most precious sources for the internal situation of the Empire in the twelfth century, wrote in eulogistic terms: “And first of all I shall remember how, at the troublesome and painful time, the Roman Empire appealed to its former darling, the great Andronicus, to overthrow the oppressive Latin tyranny which, like a weed, had grafted itself on the young offshoot of the kingdom. And he brought with him no huge body of foot and horse, but armed only with justice marched lightly to the loving city … The first thing he gave the capital in return for its pure love was deliverance from the tyrannous Latin insolence and the clearing of the Empire from barbarian admixture.”
“With Andronicus, a new party came to power.” “This last representative of the dynasty of the Comneni,” said Th. Uspensky, “was or at least seemed to be a popular king, a king of peasants. People sang songs about him and composed poetical tales, the traces of which have been preserved in the annals and marginal notes of the unpublished manuscripts of the History of Nicetas Choniates.” Among other things, Nicetas wrote that Andronicus commanded his statue to be erected near the northern gate of the Church of the Forty Martyrs, and the Emperor was represented there not arrayed in the imperial robes, not wearing golden ornaments as sovereign, but as a worker, oppressed with labor, in a very modest dress, holding a scythe.
Andronicus set strenuously to work at reforms. The salary of many officials was raised in order to make them less bribable; honest and incorruptible men were appointed judges; tax burdens were considerably lightened, and severe punishments were inflicted upon the tax collectors who were furthering their own interests. Strong measures were taken against large landowners, and many members of the Byzantine aristocracy were put to death. Michael Acominatus wrote: “Long ago we have been convinced that you are mild to the poor, terrific to the covetous, that you are the protector of the weak and the enemy of the violators, that you incline the balance of Themis neither to the right nor to the left, and that you have hands pure from bribes.”
The struggle of Andronicus with the Byzantine aristocracy, both of birth and of wealth, reminded the Italian historian, Cognasso, of the struggle of the tsar of Russia, John (Ivan) the Terrible, in the sixteenth century, with the Russian nobility. He wrote:
As Andronicus had intended to destroy the preponderance of Byzantine aristocracy, so John, the power of boyars [Russian nobility], and both of them, but the Russian Tzar to a greater extent, were forced to resort to coercive measures. But it was unfortunate that by weakening aristocracy they both weakened the state; John IV found himself as helpless before the Poles of Stephen Batory as Andronicus before the Normans of William II. John, sovereign of a young and strong people, succeeded by rapid measures in saving Russia; Andronicus had fallen before the Empire was reformed and strengthened. The old organism could no longer be supported, and a new organic body, of which Andronicus was dreaming, was too soon entrusted to inexperienced hands.
Of course, Andronicus was incapable of carrying out a radical reform of a social system which had resulted from a long historical process. Representatives of the persecuted landowning aristocracy were only waiting for the first opportunity to get rid of their hated ruler and replace him by a person who would keep up the social policy of the first three Comneni. Suspecting everywhere treason and plots, Andronicus adopted a system of terrorism which, without any distinction, crushed guilty and guiltless, and not only among the higher classes; an atmosphere of irritation and hatred for the Emperor gradually grew among the population. The people who had recently received their darling with frantic acclamations, deserted him as a man who had not kept his promises, and they were already looking for a new claimant to the throne. Nicetas Choniates gave a striking picture of the changeable mood of the Constantinopolitan populace of that time: “In any other city the populace is thoughtless and very unyielding in its tumultuous motion; but the mob of Constantinople is particularly tumultuous, violent, and ‘walking in crooked ways,’ because it is composed of different peoples … Indifference towards the emperors is an evil innate in them; him whom they raise today legally as their master, they disparage next year as a criminal.”
The complicated and threatening internal situation became still more aggravated by the failure of the external policy. Andronicus came to the conclusion that the political isolation of the Empire was impracticable from the point of view of its essential and vital interests; in order to save the situation he must resume relations with the western powers that he so ostentatiously abhorred.
And in truth the attitude of the West towards Byzantium was exceedingly menacing. After Manuel’s death there were two enemies of Byzantium in western Europe: Germany, and the Kingdom of Sicily. The alliance of the two empires which for a time, during the reign of Manuel, had been. the basis of the western European policy, came to an end; at the same time the aid rendered by Byzantium to the Lombard communes in their struggle against Frederick Barbarossa made that enemy of the Eastern Empire gradually inclined to draw closer and closer to the Kingdom of Sicily.
Then the Latins who had escaped the massacre organized in 1182 in Constantinople returned to the West to their own countries; relating the horrors of their experiences, they urged revenge for the insults and damages inflicted upon them. The Italian trade republics, which had suffered great financial losses, were particularly irritated. The members of some noble Byzantine families persecuted by Andronicus also fled to Italy, and there they tried to induce the Italian governments to open hostilities against Byzantium.
Meanwhile, the western danger to the Eastern Empire was growing more and more threatening. Frederick Barbarossa married his son and heir, Henry, to the heiress of the Kingdom of Sicily, Constance; the betrothal had been announced in Germany in 1184, a year before Andronicus’ death. It was a very important event, because after Frederick’s death his successor could annex Naples and Sicily to the possessions of the king of Germany. From two separate enemies there would be created against Byzantium one single terrible enemy whose political interests could not be reconciled with those of the Eastern Empire. It is even very probable that this matrimonial alliance with the Norman royal house was made to establish a point of departure in the Sicilian kingdom for the plans of the western emperor against Byzantium, in order to conquer more easily, with the help of the Normans, “the Kingdom” of the Greeks. At least, a western medieval historian remarked: “The Emperor hostile to the Kingdom of the Greeks [regno Gre-corum infestus] endeavors to unite the daughter of Roger with his son.”
The king of Sicily, William II, a contemporary of Andronicus, taking advantage of the internal troubles in Byzantium, organized a great expedition against the latter, the purpose of which was certainly not only the desire of taking revenge for the massacre of 1182 or of supporting a possible claimant to the Byzantine throne, but also an intention to take possession of the Byzantine throne for himself. Andronicus decided to enter into negotiations both with the West and with the East.
He made a treaty with Venice before the beginning of 1185. In coming to terms with the Republic of St. Mark “in order to support the Empire” (pro firmatione Imperii) Andronicus is said to have released the Venetians still imprisoned in Constantinople after the massacre of 1182 and to have promised compensation for loss, in annual payments. He actually began to discharge these obligations, and the first installment was paid in 1185. He also attempted to draw closer to the pope of Rome, from whom he evidently hoped to get support, by pledging himself to grant some privileges to the Catholic church. By the end of 1182 Pope Lucius III had sent a legate to Constantinople. Furthermore, a western chronicle affords very interesting evidence that in 1185 Andronicus, against the will of the patriarch, constructed a church in Constantinople upon which he bestowed an ample revenue, where the Latin Catholic priests officiated according to their rite; “up to this day that church is called the Latin church.”
Finally, a short time before he died, Andronicus made a formal alliance with the sultan of Egypt, Saladin. As a western chronicler reported, “urged by grief and distress (Andronicus) has recourse to the advice and succor of Saladin.” The conditions of that alliance sealed by oath run as follows: if Saladin succeeded, with the advice and aid of the Emperor, in occupying Jerusalem, Saladin himself should keep any other country they might take for himself, Jerusalem and the whole sea coast, except Ascalon, becoming free; but he should hold this territory under the suzerainty of Andronicus; the Emperor should take possession of all the conquered territories of the sultan of Iconium as far as Antioch and Armenia Minor, if the new allies were able to annex them. But “prevented by death, Andronicus could not carry that plan into effect.” Thus according to that treaty Andronicus was ready to cede Palestine to Saladin on condition that the latter should recognize the suzerainty of the Empire. But neither the treaty with Venice, nor the overtures to the pope, nor the alliance with the famous Saladin could save the situation or preserve the power in the hands of Andronicus.
In the eastern portion of the Mediterranean the governor of the island of Cyprus, Isaac Comnenus, seceded from the Empire and proclaimed the independence of the island under his rule. Having no good fleet, Andronicus failed to put down the revolt. Cyprus was lost. The loss of Cyprus was a very severe blow to the Empire, for Byzantium had had there an important strategic and commercial point which had brought large revenues to the treasury, especially because of the trade with the Latin states in the East.
But the chief and decisive blow was struck from the West, when the well-organized expedition of William II of Sicily sailed against the Empire. As usual, hostilities opened at Durazzo which at once passed into the hands of the Normans; then they followed the military Egnatian road (via Egnatia) and marched towards Thessalonica. The powerful Norman fleet also arrived there. In this war Venice seems to have been strictly neutral.
The well-known ten days’ siege of Thessalonica by land and sea began. A narrative of this siege, rather rhetorical but nevertheless valuable, was written by an eyewitness, the archbishop of Thessalonica, Eustathius. In August, 1185, Thessalonica, which ranked next to Constantinople, was captured by the Normans, who affected there an appalling destruction and massacre, the revenge of the Latins for the massacre of 1182. Said a Byzantine historian of that time, Nicetas Choniates: “Thus, between us and them [the Latins] a bottomless gulf of enmity has established itself; we cannot unite our souls and we entirely disagree with each other, although we keep up our external relations and often live in the same house.” After some days of pillage and murder the Norman troops advanced farther to the east, towards Constantinople.
When the news of the capture of Thessalonica and of the approach of the Norman troops to the capital had reached Constantinople, the population of the city broke out in revolt, accusing Andronicus of making no preparations for resisting the enemy. With unexpected rapidity Isaac Angelus was proclaimed emperor. Andronicus was dethroned and died after atrocious tortures. With the revolution of 1185 the epoch of the Byzantine Comneni ended.
The short reign of Andronicus I, who on his accession to the throne had set himself the goal of protecting the agricultural class, or peasants, against the arbitrary domination of the large landowners, and of freeing the state from the foreign Latin preponderance, differs strikingly in character from the rule of all other Comneni. For this reason alone the reign of Andronicus deserves intense and strictly scientific investigation. In some respects, particularly in the sphere of social problems and interests, the time of Andronicus, which has not yet been satisfactorily elucidated, presents a fascinating field for further researches.