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Alexios I Komnenos
Ἀλέξιος Α' Κομνηνός
Emperor of the Byzantine Empire
Painting of Emperor Alexios I, from a Greek manuscript in the Vatican library
Byzantine Emperor
Reign 4 April 1081 – 15 August 1118
Coronation 4 April 1081
Predecessor Nikephoros III Botaneiates
Successor John II Komnenos
Spouse  ? Argyre
Irene Doukaina
Issue
Anna Komnene
Maria Komnene
John II Komnenos
Andronikos Komnenos
Eudokia Komnene
Theodora Komnene
Isaac Komnenos
Manuel Komnenos
Zoe Komnene
Dynasty Komnenoi
Father John Komnenos
Mother Anna Dalassena
Born 1048/1056
Died 15 August 1118
(aged 62-70)

Alexios I Komnenos, Latinized as Alexius I Comnenus (Greek: Ἀλέξιος Α' Κομνηνός, 1056 – 15 August 1118), was Byzantine emperor from 1081 to 1118, and the founder of the Komnenian dynasty. Inheriting a collapsing empire and faced with constant warfare during his reign against both the Seljuk Turks in Asia Minor and the Normans in the western Balkans, Alexios was able to halt the Byzantine decline and begin the military, financial, and territorial recovery known as the "Komnenian restoration". His appeals to Western Europe for help against the Turks were also the catalyst that triggered the Crusades.

Contents

Life

Alexios was the son of Ioannis Komnenos and Anna Dalassena, and the nephew of Isaac I Komnenos (emperor 1057–1059). Alexios' 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 Nicephoros III Botaneiates (1078–1081), he was also employed, along with his elder brother Isaac, against rebels in Asia Minor, Thrace, and in Epirus.

Alexios' mother wielded great influence during his reign, and he is described by his daughter, the historian Anna Komnene, as running next to the imperial chariot that she drove. In 1074, the rebel mercenaries in Asia Minor were successfully subdued, 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 invasion of the Norman of Southern Italy, led by Robert Guiscard

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, without meeting any resistance, on 1 April 1081. Nikephoros III was forced to abdicate and retire to a monastery, and Patriarch Cosmas I crowned Alexios I emperor on April 4.

During this time, Alexios was rumored to be the lover of 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 arranged for Maria to stay on the palace grounds, and it was thought that Alexios was considering marrying the erstwhile empress. However, his mother 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, who would not have supported Alexios otherwise. 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 fiancé 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.

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Byzantine-Norman Wars

This coin was struck by Alexios during his war against Robert Guiscard. To help pay for his campaigns, Alexios debased the currency during the first decade of his rule. In 1092 however he reformed the coinage, and restored the gold currency in the form of the hyperpyron.

Alexios' long reign of nearly thirty-seven 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 with 360,000 gold pieces to attack the Normans in Italy, which forced the Normans to concentrate on their defenses at home in 1083–1084. He also secured the alliance of Henry, Count of Monte Sant'Angelo, who controlled the Gargano Peninsula and dated his charters by Alexios' reign. Henry's allegiance was to be the last example of Byzantine political control on peninsular Italy. The Norman danger ended for the time being with Robert Guiscard's death in 1085, and the Byzantines recovered most of their losses.

Next, Alexios had 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, 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 Tzachas, the brother-in-law of the Sultan of Rum, launched a fleet and attempted to arrange a joint 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 29 April 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.

Byzantine-Seljuk Wars

The Byzantine Empire at the accession of Alexios I Komnenos, c. 1081

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 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, Sardis, and Philadelphia 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. In 1099, a Byzantine fleet of 10 ships were sent to assist the Crusaders in capturing Laodicea and other coastal towns as far as Tripoli. 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.

Personal life

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 at 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 Dalassena, 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 Alexios' 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.

Succession

Alexios' last years were also troubled by anxieties over the succession. Although he had crowned his son John II Komnenos co-emperor at the age of five 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 ("honoured above all"), and remained loyal to both Alexios and John. Nevertheless, the intrigues of Irene and Anna disturbed even Alexios' dying hours.

Pretenders and rebels

Apart from all of his external enemies, a host of rebels also sought to overthrow Alexios from the imperial throne, thereby posing another major threat to his reign. Due to the troubled times the empire was enduring, he had by far the greatest number of rebellions against him of all the Byzantine emperors. These included:

Pre First Crusade

  • Raictor, a Byzantine monk who claimed to be the emperor Michael VII. He presented himself to Robert Guiscard who used him as a pretext to launch his invasion of the Byzantine Empire.
  • A conspiracy in 1084 involving several senators and officers of the army. This was uncovered before too many followers were enlisted. In order to conceal the importance of the conspiracy, Alexios merely banished the wealthiest plotters and confiscated their estates.
  • Tzachas, a Seljuk Turkish emir who assumed the title of emperor in 1092.
  • Constantine Humbertopoulos, who had assisted Alexios in gaining the throne in 1081 conspired against him in 1091 with an Armenian called Ariebes.
  • John Komnenos, Alexios’ nephew, governor of Dyrrachium.
  • Theodore Gabras, the quasi-independent governor of Trebizond and his son Gregory.
  • Michael Taronites, the brother-in-law of Alexios.
  • Nikephoros Diogenes, the son of emperor Romanos IV
  • Pseudo-Constantine Diogenes, an impostor who assumed the identity of another of Romanos’ sons, Constantine Diogenes
  • Karykas, the leader of a revolt in Crete
  • Rapsomates, who tied to create an independent kingdom in Cyprus

Post First Crusade

  • Salomon, a senator of great wealth who in 1106 engaged in a plot with four brothers of the Anemas family.
  • Gregory Tironites, another governor of Trebizond
  • The illegitimate descendant of a Bulgarian prince named Aron formed a plot in 1107 to murder Alexios as he was encamped near Thessalonica. Unfortunately, the presence of the empress Irene and her attendants made the execution of the plot difficult. In an attempt to have her return to Constantinople, the conspirators produced pamphlets that mocked and slandered the empress, and left them in her tent. A search for the author of the publications uncovered the whole plot, yet Aron was only banished due to his connection of the royal line of Bulgaria, whose blood also flowed in the veins of the empress Irene.

Legacy

Alexios I had stabilized the Byzantine Empire and overcame 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 sebastokrator given to the emperor's brother Isaac Komnenos. Although this policy met with initial success, it gradually undermined the relative effectiveness of imperial bureaucracy 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.

Family

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

  1. Anna Komnene, who married the Caesar Nikephoros Bryennios.
  2. Maria Komnene, who married (1) Gregory Gabras and (2) Nikephoros Euphorbenos Katakalon.
  3. John II Komnenos, who succeeded as emperor.
  4. Andronikos Komnenos, sebastokratōr.
  5. Isaac Komnenos, sebastokratōr.
  6. Eudokia Komnene, who married Michael Iasites.
  7. 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.
  8. Manuel Komnenos
  9. Zoe Komnene.

References

External links

Alexios I Komnenos
Comnenus dynasty
Born: 1048 Died: 15 August 1118
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Nicephorus III
Byzantine Emperor
1081–1118
Succeeded by
John II Comnenus

Simple English

File:Alexius
Emperor Alexios I Komnenos

[[File:|thumb|The Byzantine Empire when Alexios became emperor]]

Alexios I Komnenos or Alexius I Comnenus (Αλέξιος Α' Κομνηνός, Alexios I Komnēnos; ALEXIVS I COMNENVS; 1048August 15, 1118), Byzantine emperor (1081–1118), was the son of John Komnenos and Anna Dalassena. He was the nephew of Isaac I Komnenos (emperor 1057–1059). The military, financial and territorial recovery of the Byzantine Empire known as Komnenian restoration began in his time.


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