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Alexius I Comnenus

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Alexius I (1048-1118), Byzantine emperor (1081-1118), was the third son of John Comnenus, nephew of Isaac I Comnenus (emperor 1057-1059).

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, Romanus IV Diogenes (1067-1071), he served with distinction against the Seljuk Turks. Under Michael VII Parapinaces (1071-1078) and Nicephorus III Botaniates (1078-1081) he was also employed, along with his elder brother Isaac, against rebels in Asia Minor, Thrace and in Epirus (1071).

The success of the Comneni roused the jealousy of Botaniates and his ministers, and the Comneni were almost compelled to take up arms in self- defence. Botaniates was forced to abdicate and retire to a monastery, and Isaac declined the crown in favour of his younger brother Alexius, who then became emperor in the 33rd year of his age.

His long reign of nearly 37 years was full of struggle. At the very outset he had to meet the formidable attack of the Normans (Robert Guiscard and his son Bohemund), who took Dyrrhachium and Corfu, and laid siege to Larissa in Thessaly. The Norman danger ended for the time with Robert Guiscard's death (1085) and the conquests were recovered.

He had next to repel the invasions of Patzinaks (Petchenegs) and Kumans in Thrace, with whom the Manichaean sects of the Paulicians[?] and Bogomils made common cause; and thirdly, he had to cope with the fast-growing power of the Seljuk Turks in Asia Minor.

Above all he had to meet the difficulties caused by the arrival of the warriors of the First Crusade, which had been in a great degree initiated owing to the representations of his own ambassadors, though the help which he wanted from the West was simply mercenary forces and not the immense hosts which arrived to his consternation and embarrassment. The first part, under Peter the Hermit, he got rid of by sending them on to Asia Minor, where they were massacred by the Turks (1096). The second and much more serious host of warriors, led by Godfrey of Bouillon, he conducted also into Asia, promising to supply them with provisions in return for an oath of homage, and by their victories recovered for the Empire a number of important cities and islands -- Nicaea, Chios, Rhodes, Smyrna, Ephesus, Philadelphia, Sardis, and in fact most of Asia Minor (1097-1099). This is ascribed as a credit to his policy and diplomacy by his daughter, by the Latin historians of the crusade to his treachery and falseness.

During the last twenty years of his life he lost much of his popularity. They were marked by persecution of the followers of the Paulician and Bogomil heresies (one of his last acts was to burn Basilius, a Bogomil leader, with whom he had engaged in a theological controversy), by renewed struggles with the Turks (1110-1117), by anxieties as to the succession, which his wife Irene wished to alter in favour of her daughter Anna's husband, Nicephorus Bryennius for whose benefit the special title panhypersebastos ("honored above all") was created. This intrigue disturbed even his dying hours.

He deserves the credit of having raised the Empire from a condition of anarchy and decay at a time when it was threatened on all sides by new dangers. No emperor devoted himself more laboriously or with a greater sense of duty to the task of ruling.

Preceded by:
Nicephorus III
Byzantine emperors Followed by:
John II


Initial text from 1911 encyclopedia -- Please update as needed



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