Alexios I Komnenos

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Emperor Alexios I Komnenos
Image:Alexius I Comnenus.jpg
Emperor Alexios I Komnenos depicted in a mosaic in the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople

Alexios I Komnenos or Alexius I Comnenus (Greek: Αλέξιος Α' Κομνηνός, Alexios I Komnēnos; 1048–August 15, 1118), Byzantine emperor (1081–1118), was the nephew of Isaac I Komnenos (emperor 1057–1059), being the third son of that emperor's brother John Komnenos. The military, financial and territorial recovery of the Byzantine Empire known as Komnenian restoration began in his reign.

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[edit] Life

His father declined the throne on the abdication of Isaac, who was accordingly succeeded by four emperors of other families between 1059 and 1081. Under one of these emperors, Romanos IV Diogenes (1067–1071), he served with distinction against the Seljuk Turks. Under Michael VII Doukas Parapinakes (1071–1078) and Nikephoros III Botaneiates (1078–1081) he was also employed, along with his elder brother Isaac, against rebels in Asia Minor, Thrace and in Epirus.

In 1074 Alexios successfully subdued the rebel mercenaries in Asia Minor, and in 1078 he was appointed commander of the field army in the West by Nikephoros III. In this capacity Alexios defeated the rebellions of two successive governors of Dyrrhachium, Nikephoros Bryennios (whose son or grandson later married Alexios' daughter Anna), and Nikephoros Basilakes. Alexios was ordered to march against his brother-in-law Nikephoros Melissenos in Asia Minor, but refused to fight his kinsman. This did not, however, lead to a demotion, as Alexios was needed to counter the expected Norman invasion led by Robert Guiscard near Dyrrhachium.

While the Byzantine troops were assembling for the expedition, Alexios was approached by the Doukas faction at court, who convinced him to join a conspiracy against Nikephoros III. Alexios was duly proclaimed emperor by his troops and marched on Constantinople. Bribing the western mercenaries guarding the city, the rebels entered Constantinople in triumph, meeting little resistance on April 1, 1081. Nikephoros III was forced to abdicate and retire to a monastery, and Patriarch Kosmas I crowned Alexios I emperor on April 4.

By that time Alexios was the lover of the Empress Maria of Alania, the daughter of King Bagrat IV of Georgia who had been successively married to Michael VII Doukas and his successor Nikephoros III Botaneiates, and was renowned for her beauty. Alexios and Maria lived almost openly together at the Palace of Mangana. However, Alexios did not marry the empress. His mother Anna Dalassena consolidated the Doukas family connection by arranging the Emperor's marriage to Irene Doukaina, granddaughter of the Caesar John Doukas, the uncle of Michael VII. As a measure intended to keep the support of the Doukai, Alexios restored Constantine Doukas, the young son of Michael VII and Maria, as co-emperor and a little later betrothed him to his own first-born daughter Anna, who moved into the Mangana Palace with her husband and his mother.

However, this situation changed drastically when Alexios' first son John II Komnenos was born in 1087: Anna's engagement to Constantine was dissolved and she was moved to the main Palace to live with her mother and grandmother. Alexios became estranged from Maria, who was stripped of her imperial title and retired to a monastery, and Constantine Doukas was deprived of his status as co-emperor. Nevertheless he remained in good relations with the imperial family and succumbed to his weak constitution soon afterwards.

Image:Histamenon nomisma-Alexius I-sb1776.jpg
This coin was struck by Alexios during his war against Robert Guiscard.

Alexios' long reign of nearly 37 years was full of struggle. At the very outset he had to meet the formidable attack of the Normans (led by Robert Guiscard and his son Bohemund), who took Dyrrhachium and Corfu, and laid siege to Larissa in Thessaly (see Battle of Dyrrhachium). Alexios suffered several defeats before being able to strike back with success. He enhanced this by bribing the German king Henry IV to attack the Normans in Italy, which forced the Normans to concentrate on their defenses at home in 1083–1084. The Norman danger ended for the time being with Robert Guiscard's death in 1085, and the Byzantines recovered most of their losses.

Alexios had next to deal with disturbances in Thrace, where the heretical sects of the Bogomils and the Paulicians revolted and made common cause with the Pechenegs from beyond the Danube. Paulician soldiers in imperial service likewise deserted during Alexios' battles with the Normans. As soon as the Norman threat had passed, Alexios set out to punish the rebels and deserters, confiscating their lands. This led to a further revolt near Philippopolis (Plovdiv), and the commander of the field army in the west, Gregory Pakourianos, was defeated and killed in the ensuing battle. In 1087 the Pechenegs raided into Thrace and Alexios crossed into Moesia to retaliate but failed to take Dorostolon (Silistra). During his retreat, the emperor was surrounded and worn down by the Pechenegs, who forced him to sign a truce and pay protection money. In 1090 the Pechenegs invaded Thrace again, while the brother-in-law of the Sultan of Rum launched a fleet and attempted to arrange a joing siege of Constantinople with the Pechenegs. Alexios overcame this crisis by entering into an alliance with a horde of 40,000 Cumans, with whose help he crushed the Pechenegs at Levounion in Thrace on April 29, 1091.

This put an end to the Pecheneg threat, but in 1094 the Cumans began to raid the imperial territories in the Balkans. Led by a pretender claiming to be Constantine Diogenes, a long-dead son of the Emperor Romanos IV, the Cumans crossed the mountains and raided into eastern Thrace until their leader was eliminated at Adrianople. With the Balkans more or less pacified, Alexios could now turn his attention to Asia Minor, which had been almost completely overrun by the Seljuk Turks.

As early as 1090, Alexios had taken reconciliatory measures towards the Papacy, with the intention of seeking western support against the Seljuks. In 1095 his ambassadors appeared before Pope Urban II at the Council of Piacenza. The help which he wanted from the West was simply mercenary forces and not the immense hosts which arrived, to his consternation and embarrassment, after the pope preached the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont later that same year. Not quite ready to supply this number of people as they traversed his territories, the emperor saw his Balkan possessions subjected to further pillage at the hands of his own allies. Alexios dealt with the first disorganized group of crusaders, led by the preacher Peter the Hermit, by sending them on to Asia Minor, where they were massacred by the Turks in 1096.

The second and much more formidable host of crusaders gradually made its way to Constantinople, led in sections by Godfrey of Bouillon, Bohemund of Taranto, Raymond IV of Toulouse and other important members of the western nobility. Alexios used the opportunity of meeting the crusader leaders separately as they arrived and extracting from them oaths of homage and the promise to turn over conquered lands to the Byzantine Empire. Transferring each contingent into Asia, Alexios promised to supply them with provisions in return for their oaths of homage. The crusade was a notable success for Byzantium, as Alexios now recovered for the Byzantine Empire a number of important cities and islands. The crusader siege of Nicaea forced the city to surrender to the emperor in 1097, and the subsequent crusader victory at Dorylaion allowed the Byzantine forces to recover much of western Asia Minor. Here Byzantine rule was reestablished in Chios, Rhodes, Smyrna, Ephesus, Philadelphia, and Sardis in 1097–1099. This success is ascribed by his daughter Anna to his policy and diplomacy, but by the Latin historians of the crusade to his treachery and falseness. The crusaders believed their oaths were made invalid when the Byzantine contingent under Tatikios failed to help them during the siege of Antioch; Bohemund, who had set himself up as Prince of Antioch, briefly went to war with Alexios in the Balkans, but was blockaded by the Byzantine forces and agreed to become Alexios' vassal by the Treaty of Devol in 1108.

During the last twenty years of his life Alexios lost much of his popularity. The years were marked by persecution of the followers of the Paulician and Bogomil heresies—one of his last acts was to publicly burn on the stake Basil, a Bogomil leader, with whom he had engaged in a theological dispute. In spite of the success of the crusade, Alexios also had to repel numerous attempts on his territory by the Seljuks in 1110–1117.

Alexios was for many years under the strong influence of an eminence grise, his mother Anna Dalassene, a wise and immensely able politician whom, in a uniquely irregular fashion, he had crowned as Augusta instead of the rightful claimant to the title, his wife Irene Doukaina. Dalassena was the effective administrator of the Empire during Alexius' long absences in military campaigns: she was constantly at odds with her daughter-in-law and had assumed total responsibility for the upbringing and education of her granddaughter Anna Komnene.

Alexios' last years were also troubles by anxieties over the succession. Although he had crowned his son John II Komnenos co-emperor at the age of 5 in 1092, John's mother Irene Doukaina wished to alter the succession in favor of her daughter Anna and Anna's husband, Nikephoros Bryennios. Bryennios had been made kaisar (Caesar) and received the newly-created title of panhypersebastos ("honored above all"), and remained loyal to both Alexios and John. Nevertheless, the intrigues of Irene and Anna disturbed even Alexios' dying hours.

Alexios I had stablized the Byzantine Empire and overcome a dangerous crisis, inaugurating a century of imperial prosperity and success. He had also profoundly altered the nature of the Byzantine government. By seeking close alliances with powerful noble families, Alexios put an end to the tradition of imperial exclusivity and coopted most of the nobility into his extended family and, through it, his government. This measure, which was intended to diminish opposition, was paralleled by the introduction of new courtly dignities, like that of panhypersebastos given to Nikephoros Bryennios, or that of sebastokratōr given to the emperor's brother Isaac Komnenos. Although this policy met with initial success, it gradually undermined the relative effectiveness of imperial bureacracy by placing family connections over merit. Alexios' policy of integration of the nobility bore the fruit of continuity: every Byzantine emperor who reigned after Alexios I Komnenos was related to him by either descent or marriage.

[edit] Family

By his marriage with Irene Doukaina, Alexios I had the following children:

  • Anna Komnene, who married the Caesar Nikephoros Bryennios.
  • Maria Komnene, who married (1) Gregory Gabras and (2) Nikephoros Euphorbenos Katakalon.
  • John II Komnenos, who succeeded as emperor.
  • Andronikos Komnenos, sebastokratōr.
  • Isaac Komnenos, sebastokratōr.
  • Eudokia Komnene, who married Michael Iasites.
  • Theodora Komnene, who married (1) Constantine Kourtikes and (2) Constantine Angelos. By him she was the grandmother of Emperors Isaac II Angelos and Alexios III Angelos.
  • Manuel Komnenos.
  • Zoe Komnene.

[edit] External links

[edit] References

Preceded by:
Nikephoros III
Byzantine Emperor
1081–1118
Succeeded by:
John II
de:Alexios I. (Byzanz)

el:Αλέξιος Α' Κομνηνός es:Alejo I Comneno fr:Alexis Ier Comnène gl:Aleixo I Comneno it:Alessio I di Bisanzio he:אלכסיוס הראשון hu:I. Alexiosz nl:Alexius I van Byzantium ja:アレクシオス1世コムネノス pl:Aleksy I Komnen (cesarz bizantyjski) pt:Aleixo I Comneno ru:Алексей I Комнин sr:Алексије I Комнин fi:Aleksios I Komnenos sv:Alexios I Komnenos zh:阿历克塞一世

Alexios I Komnenos

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