, Alexios I Komnenos

boy silhouette
Alexios I Komnenos
b: 1056
d: 15 AUG 1118
Alexios I Komnenos, Latinized as Alexius I Comnenus (Greek: ??????? ?''??µ?????; 1056 – 15 August 1118, though some sources list his date ofbirth as 1048),[3] was Byzantine emperor from 1081 to 1118. Although hewas not the founder of the Komnenian dynasty, it was during his reignthat the Komnenos family came to full power. Inheriting a collapsingempire and faced with constant warfare during his reign against both theSeljuq 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 thecatalyst that likely contributed to the convoking of the Crusades.

Alexios was the son of the Domestic of the Schools John Komnenos and AnnaDalassena,[4] and the nephew of Isaac I Komnenos (emperor 1057–1059).Alexios'' father declined the throne on the abdication of Isaac, who wasthus succeeded by four emperors of other families between 1059 and 1081.Under one of these emperors, Romanos IV Diogenes (1067–1071), Alexiosserved with distinction against the Seljuq Turks.[3] Under Michael VIIDoukas 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, western mercenaries led by Roussel de Bailleul rebelled in AsiaMinor,[5] but Alexios successfully subdued them by 1076.[6] In 1078, hewas appointed commander of the field army in the West by NikephorosIII.[7] In this capacity, Alexios defeated the rebellions of NikephorosBryennios the Elder (whose son or grandson later married Alexios''daughter Anna) and Nikephoros Basilakes, the first at the Battle ofKalavrye and the latter in a surprise night attack on his camp.[8]Alexios was ordered to march against his brother-in-law NikephorosMelissenos in Asia Minor but refused to fight his kinsman. This did not,however, lead to a demotion, as Alexios was needed to counter theexpected invasion of the Normans of Southern Italy, led by RobertGuiscard.

While Byzantine troops were assembling for the expedition, the Doukasfaction at court approached Alexios and convinced him to join aconspiracy against Nikephoros III. The mother of Alexios, Anna Dalassena,was to play a prominent role in this coup d''état of 1081, along with thecurrent empress, Maria of Alania.[9] First married to Michael VII Doukasand secondly to Nikephoros III Botaneiates, she was preoccupied with thefuture of her son by Michael VII, Constantine Doukas. Nikephoros IIIintended to leave the throne to one of his close relatives,[10] and thisresulted in Maria''s ambivalence and alliance with the Komnenoi, thoughthe real driving force behind this political alliance was AnnaDalassene.[11]

The empress was already closely connected to the Komnenoi through Maria''scousin Irene to Isaac Komnenos,[10] so the Komnenoi brothers were able tosee her under the pretense of a friendly family visit. Furthermore, toaid the conspiracy Maria had adopted Alexios as her son, though she wasonly five years older than he.[12] Maria was persuaded to do so on theadvice of her own "Alans" and her eunuchs, who had been instigated byIsaac Komnenos. Given Anna''s tight hold on her family, Alexios must havebeen adopted with her implicit approval.[9] As a result, Alexios andConstantine, Maria''s son, were now adoptive brothers, and both Isaac andAlexios took an oath that they would safeguard his rights as emperor.[13]By secretly giving inside information to the Komnenoi, Maria was aninvaluable ally.[14]

As stated in the Alexiad, Isaac and Alexios left Constantinople inmid-February 1081 to raise an army against Botaneiates.[15] However, whenthe time came, Anna quickly and surreptitiously mobilized the remainderof the family and took refuge in the Hagia Sophia. From there shenegotiated with the emperor for the safety of family members left in thecapital, while protesting her sons'' innocence of hostile actions. Underthe falsehood of making a vesperal visit to worship at the church, shedeliberately excluded the grandson of Botaneiates and his loyal tutor,met with Alexios and Isaac, and fled for the forum of Constantine.[9] Thetutor discovered they were missing and eventually found them on thepalace grounds, but Anna was able to convince him that they would returnto the palace shortly. Then to gain entrance to both the outer and innersanctuary of the church, the women pretended to the gatekeepers that theywere pilgrims from Cappadocia who had spent all their funds and wanted toworship before starting their return trip. However, before they were togain entry into the sanctuary, Straboromanos and royal guards caught upwith them to summon them back to the palace.[9] Anna then protested thatthe family was in fear for their lives, her sons were loyal subjects(Alexios and Isaac were discovered absent without leave), and had learnedof a plot by enemies of the Komnenoi to have them both blinded and had,therefore, fled the capital so they may continue to be of loyal serviceto the emperor.[16] She refused to go with them and demanded that theyallow her to pray to the Mother of God for protection. This request wasgranted and Anna then manifested her true theatrical and manipulativecapabilities:

She was allowed to enter. As if she were weighed down with old age andworn out by grief, she walked slowly and when she approached the actualentrance to the sanctuary made two genuflections; on the third she sankto the floor and taking firm hold of the sacred doors, cried in a loudvoice: "Unless my hands are cuff off, I will not leave this holy placeexcept on one condition: that I receive the emperor''s cross as guaranteeof safety".[17]

Nikephoros III Botaneiates was forced into a public vow that he wouldgrant protection to the family.[9] Straboromanos tried to give Anna hiscross, but for her it was not sufficiently large enough for allbystanders to witness the oath. She also demanded that the cross bepersonally sent by Botaneiates as a vow of his good faith. He obliged,sending a complete assurance for the family with his own cross. At theemperor''s further insistence, and for their own protection, they tookrefuge at the convent of Petrion, where they were eventually joined byMaria of Bulgaria, mother of Irene Doukaina.[9] Botaneiates allowed themto be treated as refugees rather than as guests. They were allowed tohave family members bring in their own food and were on good terms withthe guards from whom they learned the latest news.[18] Anna was highlysuccessful in three important aspects of the revolt: she bought time forher sons to steal imperial horses from the stables and escape the city;she distracted the emperor, giving her sons time to gather and arm theirtroops; and she gave a false sense of security to Botaneiates that therewas no real treasonous coup against him.[9] After bribing the Westerntroops guarding the city, Isaac and Alexios Komnenos entered the capitalvictoriously on April 1, 1081.[19]

During this time, Alexios was rumored to be the lover of Empress Maria ofAlania, the daughter of King Bagrat IV of Georgia, who had beensuccessively married to Michael VII Doukas and his successor NikephorosIII Botaneiates, and who was renowned for her beauty.[20] Alexiosarranged for Maria to stay on the palace grounds, and it was thought thathe was considering marrying her. However, his mother consolidated theDoukas family connection by arranging the Emperor''s marriage to IreneDoukaina, granddaughter of the Caesar John Doukas, the uncle of MichaelVII, who would not have supported Alexios otherwise. As a measureintended to keep the support of the Doukai, Alexios restored ConstantineDoukas, the young son of Michael VII and Maria, as co-emperor[21] and alittle later betrothed him to his own first-born daughter Anna, who movedinto the Mangana Palace with her fiancé and his mother.

This situation changed drastically, however, when Alexios'' first son JohnII Komnenos was born in 1087:[22] Anna''s engagement to Constantine wasdissolved, and she was moved to the main Palace to live with her motherand grandmother. Alexios became estranged from Maria, who was stripped ofher imperial title and retired to a monastery, and Constantine Doukas wasdeprived of his status as co-emperor.[22] Nevertheless, he remained ingood relations with the imperial family and succumbed to his weakconstitution soon afterwards.

The nearly thirty-seven year reign of Alexios was full of struggle. Atthe outset he faced the formidable attack of the Normans, led by RobertGuiscard and his son Bohemund, who took Dyrrhachium and Corfu and laidsiege to Larissa in Thessaly (see Battle of Dyrrhachium).[8] Alexiossuffered several defeats before he was able to strike back with success.He enhanced his resistance by bribing the German king Henry IV with360,000 gold pieces to attack the Normans in Italy,[23] which forced theNormans to concentrate on their defenses at home in 1083–84. He alsosecured the alliance of Henry, Count of Monte Sant''Angelo, who controlledthe Gargano Peninsula and dated his charters by Alexios'' reign. Henry''sallegiance would be the last example of Byzantine political control onpeninsular Italy. The Norman danger subsided with the death of Guiscardin 1085, and the Byzantines recovered most of their losses.[24]

Alexios next had to deal with disturbances in Thrace, where the hereticalsects of the Bogomils and the Paulicians revolted and made common causewith the Pechenegs from beyond the Danube.[25] Paulician soldiers inimperial service likewise deserted during Alexios'' battles with theNormans.[26] As soon as the Norman threat had passed, Alexios set out topunish the rebels and deserters, confiscating their lands. This led to afurther revolt near Philippopolis, and the commander of the field army inthe west, Gregory Pakourianos, was defeated and killed in the ensuingbattle. In 1087 the Pechenegs raided into Thrace, and Alexios crossedinto Moesia to retaliate but failed to take Dorostolon (Silistra).[27]During his retreat, the emperor was surrounded and worn down by thePechenegs, who forced him to sign a truce and to pay protection money. In1090 the Pechenegs invaded Thrace again,[28] while Tzachas, thebrother-in-law of the Sultan of Rum, launched a fleet and attempted toarrange a joint siege of Constantinople with the Pechenegs.[29] Alexiosovercame this crisis by entering into an alliance with a horde of 40,000Cumans, with whose help he crushed the Pechenegs at Levounion in Thraceon 29 April 1091.[30]

This put an end to the Pecheneg threat, but in 1094 the Cumans began toraid the imperial territories in the Balkans. Led by a pretender claimingto be Constantine Diogenes, a long-dead son of the Emperor RomanosIV,[31] the Cumans crossed the mountains and raided into eastern Thraceuntil their leader was eliminated at Adrianople. With the Balkans more orless pacified, Alexios could now turn his attention to Asia Minor, whichhad been almost completely overrun by the Seljuq Turks.[32]

By the time Alexios ascended the throne, the Seljuqs had taken most ofAsia Minor. Alexios was able to secure much of the coastal regions bysending peasant soldiers to raid the Seljuq camps, but these victorieswere unable to stop the Turks altogether.[33] As early as 1090, Alexioshad taken reconciliatory measures towards the Papacy,[34] with theintention of seeking western support against the Seljuqs. In 1095 hisambassadors appeared before Pope Urban II at the Council of Piacenza.[35]The help he sought from the West was simply some mercenary forces, notthe immense hosts that arrived, to his consternation and embarrassment,after the pope preached the First Crusade at the Council of Clermontlater that same year.[36] Not quite ready to supply this number of peopleas they traversed his territories, the emperor saw his Balkan possessionssubjected to further pillage at the hands of his own allies.[37] Alexiosdealt with the first disorganized group of Crusaders, led by the preacherPeter the Hermit, by sending them on to Asia Minor, where they weremassacred by the Turks in 1096.[38]

The second and much more formidable host of crusaders gradually made itsway to Constantinople, led in sections by Godfrey of Bouillon, Bohemondof Taranto, Raymond IV of Toulouse, and other important members of thewestern nobility.[39] Alexios used the opportunity to meet the crusaderleaders separately as they arrived, extracting from them oaths of homageand the promise to turn over conquered lands to the Byzantine Empire.[40]Transferring each contingent into Asia, Alexios promised to supply themwith provisions in return for their oaths of homage. The crusade was anotable success for Byzantium, as Alexios recovered a number of importantcities and islands. The siege of Nicaea by the crusaders forced the cityto surrender to the emperor in 1097, and the subsequent crusader victoryat Dorylaion allowed the Byzantine forces to recover much of western AsiaMinor.[41] John Doukas re-established Byzantine rule in Chios, Rhodes,Smyrna, Ephesus, Sardis, and Philadelphia in 1097–1099. This success isascribed by Alexios'' daughter Anna to his policy and diplomacy, but bythe Latin historians of the crusade to his treachery and deception. In1099, a Byzantine fleet of ten ships was sent to assist the crusaders incapturing Laodicea and other coastal towns as far as Tripoli. Thecrusaders believed their oaths were made invalid when the Byzantinecontingent under Tatikios failed to help them during the siege ofAntioch;[35] Bohemund, who had set himself up as Prince of Antioch,[41]briefly went to war with Alexios in the Balkans, but he was blockaded bythe Byzantine forces and agreed to become a vassal of Alexios by theTreaty of Devol in 1108.[42]

In 1116, though already terminally ill, Alexios conducted a series ofdefensive operations in Bythinia and Mysia to defend his Anatolianterritories against the inroads of Malik Shah the Seljuq Sultan ofIconium. In 1117 he moved onto the offensive and pushed his army deepinto the Turkish-dominated Anatolian Plateau, where he defeated theSeljuq sultan at the Battle of Philomelion.[43]

During the last twenty years of his life Alexios lost much of hispopularity.[44] The years were marked by persecution of the followers ofthe Paulician and Bogomil heresies[45]—one of his last acts was topublicly burn at the stake Basil, a Bogomil leader, with whom he hadengaged in a theological dispute.[38] In spite of the success of thecrusade, Alexios also had to repel numerous attempts on his territory bythe Seljuqs in 1110–1117.[46]

Alexios was for many years under the strong influence of an eminencegrise, his mother Anna Dalassene, a wise and immensely able politicianwhom, in a uniquely irregular fashion, he had crowned as Augusta insteadof the rightful claimant to the title, his wife Irene Doukaina.[47]Dalassena was the effective administrator of the Empire during Alexios''long absences in military campaigns: she was constantly at odds with herdaughter-in-law and had assumed total responsibility for the upbringingand education of her granddaughter Anna Komnene.

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 offive in 1092, John''s mother Irene Doukaina wished to alter the successionin favor of her daughter Anna and Anna''s husband, Nikephoros Bryenniosthe Younger.[48] Bryennios had been made kaisar (Caesar) and received thenewly created title of panhypersebastos ("honoured above all"), andremained loyal to both Alexios and John. Nevertheless, the intrigues ofIrene and Anna disturbed even Alexios'' dying hours.[35]

Apart from all of his external enemies, a host of rebels also sought tooverthrow Alexios from the imperial throne, thereby posing another majorthreat to his reign.[38] Due to the troubled times the empire wasenduring, he had by far the greatest number of rebellions against him ofall the Byzantine emperors.[49] These included:

Pre First Crusade
Raictor, a Byzantine monk who claimed to be the emperor Michael VII. Hepresented himself to Robert Guiscard who used him as a pretext to launchhis invasion of the Byzantine Empire.[49]
A conspiracy in 1084 involving several senators and officers of the army.This was uncovered before too many followers were enlisted. In order toconceal the importance of the conspiracy, Alexios merely banished thewealthiest plotters and confiscated their estates.[49]
Tzachas, a Seljuq Turkic emir who assumed the title of emperor in1092.[50]
Constantine Humbertopoulos, who had assisted Alexios in gaining thethrone in 1081 conspired against him in 1091 with an Armenian calledAriebes.[50]
John Komnenos, Alexios’ nephew, governor of Dyrrachium, accused of aconspiracy by Theophylact of Bulgaria.[50]
Theodore Gabras, the quasi-independent governor of Trebizond and his sonGregory.[50]
Michael Taronites, the brother-in-law of Alexios.[50]
Nikephoros Diogenes, the son of emperor Romanos IV.[50]
Pseudo-Diogenes, an impostor who assumed the identity of another ofRomanos’ sons, Leo Diogenes.[51]
Karykes, the leader of a revolt in Crete.[50]
Rhapsomates, who tried to create an independent kingdom in Cyprus.[50]

Post First Crusade
Salomon, a senator of great wealth who in 1106 engaged in a plot withfour brothers of the Anemas family.[52]
Gregory Taronites, another governor of Trebizond.[52]
The illegitimate descendant of a Bulgarian prince named Aron formed aplot in 1107 to murder Alexios as he was encamped near Thessalonica. Thepresence of the empress Irene and her attendants, however, made theexecution of the plot difficult. In an attempt to have her return toConstantinople, the conspirators produced pamphlets that mocked andslandered the empress, and left them in her tent. A search for the authorof the publications uncovered the whole plot, yet Aron was only banisheddue to his connection of the royal line of Bulgaria, whose blood alsoflowed in the veins of the empress Irene.[53]

Alexios I had overcome a dangerous crisis and stabilized the ByzantineEmpire, inaugurating a century of imperial prosperity and success.[48] Hehad also profoundly altered the nature of the Byzantine government.[54]By seeking close alliances with powerful noble families, Alexios put anend to the tradition of imperial exclusivity and coopted most of thenobility into his extended family and, through it, his government. Thosewho did not become part of this extended family were deprived of powerand prestige.[38] This measure, which was intended to diminishopposition, was paralleled by the introduction of new courtly dignities,like that of panhypersebastos given to Nikephoros Bryennios, or that ofsebastokrator given to the emperor''s brother Isaac Komnenos.[54] Althoughthis policy met with initial success, it gradually undermined therelative effectiveness of imperial bureaucracy by placing familyconnections over merit. Alexios'' policy of integration of the nobilitybore the fruit of continuity: every Byzantine emperor who reigned afterAlexios I Komnenos was related to him by either descent or marriage.

By his marriage with Irene Doukaina, Alexios I had the followingchildren:
Anna Komnene, who married the Caesar Nikephoros Bryennios the Younger.
Maria Komnene, who married (1) Gregory Gabras and (2) NikephorosKatakalon.
John II Komnenos, who succeeded as emperor.
Andronikos Komnenos, sebastokrator. Died in battle 1117 (Battle ofPhilomelion).
Isaac Komnenos, sebastokrator.
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 IIAngelos and Alexios III Angelos.
Manuel Komnenos
Zoe Komnene.
  • 1056 - Birth -
  • 15 AUG 1118 - Death -
  • 1 APR 1081 - Reign - Emperor ; The Byzantine Empire
  • 5 APR 1081 - Crowned -
John Komnenos
1015 - 12 JUL 1067
Alexios I Komnenos
1056 - 15 AUG 1118
Anna Dalassene
1025 - 1102
Family Group Sheet - Child
PARENT (M) John Komnenos
Death12 JUL 1067
Marriageto Anna Dalassene
FatherManuel Erotikos Komnenos
PARENT (F) Anna Dalassene
Marriageto John Komnenos
FatherAlexios Charon
MotherAdriana Dalassene
FTheodora Komnene
Marriageto Constantine Diogenes
MAlexios I Komnenos
Death15 AUG 1118
Marriageto Irene Doukaina
Family Group Sheet - Spouse
PARENT (M) Alexios I Komnenos
Death15 AUG 1118
Marriageto Irene Doukaina
FatherJohn Komnenos
MotherAnna Dalassene
PARENT (F) Irene Doukaina
Marriageto Alexios I Komnenos
FatherAndronikos Doukas
MotherMaria of Bulgaria
MJohn II Komnenos
Marriageto Piroska of Hungary
FTheodora Komnene Angelina
Marriageto Constantine Angelos
Descendancy Chart
Alexios I Komnenos b: 1056 d: 15 AUG 1118
Piroska of Hungary b: ABT 1080 d: 13 AUG 1134
Edward III b: 13 NOV 1312 d: 21 JUN 1377
Edward II b: 25 APR 1284 d: 21 SEP 1327
10 Edward III b: 13 NOV 1312 d: 21 JUN 1377
Alexios III Angelos b: ABT 1153 d: 1211
Edward II b: 25 APR 1284 d: 21 SEP 1327