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Alexius I Komnenos

Alexius I Komnenos reigned as the Byzantine emperor from 1081 until AD 1118, which is where he is recorded on the Bible Timeline Chart with World History. Throughout his reign, the former general and scion of a powerful Byzantine family had to contend with the formidable Seljuk Empire during the First Crusade. He had to be content with a greatly reduced empire when the European noblemen refused to return the former Byzantine cities that they had captured from the Seljuks. Alexius, however, brought a sense of stability to his domain during his 37-year reign.

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Early Life and Military Career

Alexius I Komnenos was the son of the powerful Domestic of the Schools, John Komnenos, by his wife, Anna Dalassena. He was born around 1048 or 1058. He descended from an influential Byzantine family. His uncle Isaac I Komnenos served as an emperor from 1057 to 1059. A mention of Alexius I Komnenos is incomplete without the mention of his brilliant daughter, the biographer and physician Anna Komnene. She chronicled much of her father’s life and the challenges he faced in her book ‘The Alexiad.’ According to his daughter, Alexius started his service for the Byzantine Empire at a very young age during the reign of Emperor Romanos Diogenes and Emperor Michael Doukas.

Alexius proved himself as a promising warrior at the age of fourteen when he accompanied Romanos Diogenes to the war against the Persians. However, he was sent home after the death of his older brother. Alexius was promoted as a young lieutenant during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Michael Doukas. He promptly defeated the Norman rebel leader Roussell de Bailleul in 1078. He was appointed as a military commander under Nikephoros III Botaneiates when he defeated the rebels Nikephoros Bryennios the Elder and Nikephoros Basilakes.

alexios_i_komnenos
“Portrait of the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos”

Rebellion Against Nikephoros III Botaneiates and Accession as Byzantine Emperor

Emperor Nikephoros III Botaneiates was hard-pressed on all sides during the last year of his reign. The Byzantine Empire had lost territories in Southern Italy to the land-hungry Normans, and a great part of the eastern side of Anatolia was now under Seljuk rule through its vassal, the Sultan of Rum. A rebellion was also brewing in his own palace after he made the mistake of removing the previous emperor’s son, Constantine Doukas, in line for succession as emperor and broke off his engagement to Robert Guiscard’s daughter. Maria of Alania, Constantine’s mother, was angered by the emperor’s deposition of her son. She started a plot to depose her husband with the help of the powerful Doukas family and Alexius’ mother Anna Dalassena.

The plot was successful, and Nikephoros was forced to abdicate in 1081 in favor of Alexius I Komnenos who kept his promise of keeping Maria of Alania’s son Constantine as his co-emperor. Maria of Alania planned to marry Alexius to keep her place as Byzantine empress, but this was intercepted by Alexius’ mother Anna Dalassena who had arranged the emperor’s marriage to Irene Doukaina (from the Doukas family). The young Constantine remained as Alexius’ co-emperor despite his marriage to another woman. He compensated by arranging the prince’s engagement to his own daughter, Anna Komnena. In 1087, however, Alexius’s son, John II Komnenos was born, and to Maria’s dismay, the emperor was forced to break off the engagement of his daughter to Constantine. Maria of Alania retired to a monastery soon after this, and the sickly Constantine died in 1095 which cleared the way for John II Komnenos’ succession.

The First Crusade

Alexius overcame the Norman, Pecheneg, and Tzacha threats to his empire during the early years of his reign. However, the greatest threat to the Byzantine territories were the formidable Seljuk Turks. The Seljuks had conquered most of Western Asia in the mid-eleventh century. Alexius knew that it would be impossible to stop them unless he sought the help of a powerful ally. He first requested the help of Pope Urban II by offering to unite the Greek and Latin churches. The negotiations failed when the pope insisted on the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church.

When Alexius felt that the Seljuk threat had completely overwhelmed the Byzantines, he requested once again for Pope Urban to send some troops to reinforce his own. Alexius’ letter reached Urban when he was on tour in France. The pope agreed to help, but added a religious undertone to the emperor’s simple request for reinforcements in his sermon in the French city of Clermont. The result was not what Alexius had envisioned after hundreds of leaderless troops poured into Byzantine territory in the Balkans. The emperor was forced to send these dangerous men into the Asian side to prevent them from camping too near the city of Constantinople. Upon reaching the Asian side, the Byzantine’s supposed allies promptly attacked a city held by the Sultan of Rum. These men were then killed by Seljuk troops. Alexius had to order his own troops to rescue some of the misguided soldiers.

Alexius breathed a sigh of relief when more disciplined troops under European noblemen arrived in 1096. Before the official start of the Crusade, the Emperor compelled them to swear an oath that they would return any city they conquered to the Byzantines. Several of the European noblemen who joined the Crusade never took it seriously as they were also hungry for land and wealth. Despite the challenges the Crusaders faced, the First Crusade was a success. Jerusalem was back in Christian hands by AD 1099. The European noblemen, however, occupied the territories they conquered as their own. Many were never returned to Byzantine hands (much to Alexius’ dismay). He scored a major victory against the Seljuks in 1116 and 1117 but died in 1118 after a long illness.

References:
Picture By Alexios1komnenos.jpg: Unknownderivative work: Constantine Alexios1komnenos.jpg, Public Domain, Link
Anna Comnena (Komnene). The Alexiad. Edited and translated by Elizabeth A. Dawes. London: Routledge, Kegan, Paul, 1928.
Kazhdan, A. P., Alice-Mary Maffry Talbot, Anthony Cutler, Timothy E. Gregory, and Nancy Patterson Sフ憩vcフ憩nko, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Shepard, Jonathan, ed. The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire C. 500-1492. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Treadgold, Warren. A History of the Byzantine State and Society. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1997. Print.
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