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7-08-2015, 23:59

Byzantium and the west

The empire’s involvement with the west derived partly from its historic interest in the Italian peninsula (see above, chs. 3, 11, 15), and partly from the consequences of its attempt to use western military power to restore its position in Asia Minor. The relationship set up by the First Crusade persisted and intensified throughout the twelfth century, tying the empire’s eastern interests to its western relations, and making the viability of its traditional role in the Christian orient dependent upon its standing among the powers of the Latin west. The Second Crusade confirmed what John II had belatedly begun to realise in the 1130s: that to succeed, and even to survive, Byzantium needed to keep one move ahead of the crusading movement in preserving the Latin settlements in Syria; it needed to participate as an inside player in the power politics of western Christendom. In the thirty years following the crusade,Manuel had done all in his power to make the involvement inextricable and irreversible. The proliferation of ties with the Latin world which he cultivated so assiduously at all levels was a natural response to the growing volume of western business and religious interests in the eastern Mediterranean. These would have affected Byzantium regardless of imperial policy. Yet the period followingManuel’s death and the overthrowof the regency government of Alexios II saw reversion to something like the isolationism of John II’s early years. Under Andronikos I Komnenos, Isaac II Angelos and Alexios III Angelos, Byzantium opted out of the crusading movement at a time when crusading activity was intensifying, and abandoned the search for a high-level European entente with one or more of the major western powers. To some extent this was the result of a backlash against Manuel’s expensive Latinophilia, which was carried to even greater excess by the regency government of Maria of Antioch; it proceeded inexorably from the massacre of the Latins in Constantinople, mostly Pisans and Genoese, which accompanied the seizure of effective power by Andronikos Komnenos in 1182, as well as from his liquidation of the key members of Manuel’s family through whom dynastic links to the west had been forged: Manuel’s widow Maria of Antioch, Manuel’s daughter Maria and her husband Renier of Montferrat, and the young Alexios II himself. That Andronikos, who was probably older thanManuel, did not murder Alexios’ child fianc´ee, Agnes of France, but forced her to marry him, can hardly have made her family warm to him. In the circumstances, it is not surprising that when he was threatened with invasion by the king of Sicily, the only western power prepared to ally with him was Venice, whose citizens had been unaffected by the massacre of 1182 and were only too glad to take advantage of the removal of the Pisans and Genoese. Nor is it surprising that Andronikos considered that imperial interests in the east were better served by alliance with the growing power of Saladin rather than with the beleaguered Latin princes of Outremer, who no doubt remembered Andronikos’ scandalous sexual adventures in Antioch and Jerusalem in 1166–7.22 It is perhaps more remarkable that no realignment was attempted after 1185 by Isaac II Angelos, who otherwise had every reason to reject his predecessor’s reign as a tyrannical deviation from the normal course of imperial policy. Isaac was not anti-western. Soon after his accession he took as his second wife Margaret, a daughter of B´ela III of Hungary, and he invited Conrad ofMontferrat, brother of the murdered Renier, to Constantinople, where he played a large part in defeating a major revolt in 1187. Yet despite receiving the title of caesar, which Renier had held, and the hand of the emperor’s sister in marriage, Conrad became dissatisfied and moved on to Syria, where he joined in the defence of Tyre against Saladin and became a candidate for the throne of Jerusalem. Isaac’s renewal of Andronikos’ alliance with Saladin may have been a factor in Conrad’s disenchantment; what is certain is that Saladin’s conquest of theHoly Land and the mobilisation of the Third Crusade in response in 1188–9 only confirmed Isaac in the alliance, from which he hoped to gain some sort of Byzantine dominion in Palestine, including the occupation of all the episcopal sees and the Holy Places, in return for obstructing the crusaders’ advance. The rapprochement with Saladin should also be seen in the context of Isaac’s treaties with Venice, which also took no part in the Third Crusade and stood to gain at the expense of Genoa and Pisa from either a Byzantine or a Muslim occupation of the coast of Palestine. In both alliances, one may detect the influence of Isaac’s spiritual mentor,Dositheos, a Venetian-born monk who had predicted Isaac’s rise to power and was duly rewarded, being appointed patriarch, first of Jerusalem, and then of Constantinople.23 This disengagement from the Latin west – which was not total, since it gave the Venetians an even more privileged position in Byzantine society than they had enjoyed before 1171 – may have seemed more true to the ‘national’ interest, which was increasingly being seen in terms of Greek as well as orthodox identity, thanManuel’s costly commitments to allies with no love for the empire. Indeed, the process of dissolution had been started by one of those allies, Manuel’s brother-in-law Bohemond III, who put aside his Komnenian wife well before Andronikos’ usurpation. However, the empire paid dearly for its withdrawal. The pirates who terrorised the shipping and the coastal settlements of the Aegean world in the 1180s and 1190s came mainly from Pisa and Genoa, the cities which had suffered most from the massacre of 1182. The Sicilian invasion of 1185, which took Dyrrachium and went on to sack Thessaloniki, could have been prevented if Andronikos had had firm alliances, or at least a proactive diplomacy, in the west. By failing to anticipate the Third Crusade, and by allying with Saladin instead of supporting the crusaders, Isaac II weakened his moral claim for the restitution of the island of Cyprus when Richard I of England (1189–99) conquered it from its self-proclaimed emperor, Isaac Komnenos, in 1191: Cyprus was too important a source of supplies for the crusaders to entrust it to an unfriendly power. Isaac II also entered into a damaging confrontation with Frederick Barbarossa when the latter came through Byzantine territory on the overland route to Palestine in 1189–90. The damage was not so much in the humiliating defeats inflicted by the German army, or in its systematic plundering of much of Macedonia and Thrace from its base at Philippopolis, as in the manifest contrast between Isaac’s inability to obstruct a crusade which he wrongly assumed to be directed against Constantinople and Frederick’s ability to threaten Constantinople if Isaac persisted in obstructing him. The contrast was painfully apparent to Niketas Choniates, who was assigned to Philippopolis at the time, and it was much appreciated by the Serbs and Vlachs, then in revolt against Byzantine authority, who offered to join forces with the Germans (see below, p. 688). Nor was the significance of the episode lost on Frederick’s son Henry VI Hohenstaufen (1190–7), whom Frederick had charged with collecting money and ships from Italy in preparation for an assault on Constantinople. When Henry succeeded as emperor after Frederick’s tragic death by drowning in Cilicia, he inherited Frederick’s unfulfilled crusading ambitions and placed them high on his agenda, along with his claim to the throne of Sicily which he derived from his marriage to Constance, the aunt of William II of Sicily; William had died childless in 1189. The danger from Henry VI spurred Isaac II into diplomatic action. In 1192, he negotiated the renewal of the empire’s commercial treaties with Pisa and Genoa, the two cities which Henry relied on to provide him with ships for his conquest of Sicily. Isaac also married his daughter Irene to Roger of Apulia, the son of Tancred of Lecce, who had occupied the Sicilian throne in defiance of Henry’s claim. But Irene was widowed a year later, and in 1194 she was among the spoils which fell to Henry VI in his violent occupation of the Sicilian kingdom. He married her to his brother Philip of Swabia, thus making her an instrument in his policy of aggression against Byzantium. It is uncertain whetherHenry VI ofHohenstaufen really intended to take over the Byzantine empire by force, but he threatened to do so, and he used the threat, first against Isaac II, and then against Alexios III, to try and extort money and ships for his forthcoming crusade. Alexios accordingly levied an extraordinary tax, the alamanikon, to pay the tribute.24 He was saved by Henry’s sudden death in 1197. Yet the episode showed that however much Byzantium wanted to opt out of the crusading movement, the crusading movement would not leave it alone. It had relinquished the initiative, but was still expected to pay the bill. On this point, the western empire and the papacy, although in all other respects implacable enemies, were in agreement. Pope Innocent III (1198–1216) insisted on it in his letters to Alexios III: Alexios ought to model himself on Manuel, whose devotion to the cause of the Holy Land and the unity of the church had been exemplary.25 Isolationism still might have worked, and the Byzantine empire might just have been allowed to find a niche as a neutral regional power, if the Fourth Crusade, preached in 1198, had gone according to its original plan of sailing directly against Egypt. The crusade seems to have been intended to bypass Byzantium completely, and the conquest of Egypt would not only have liberated theHoly Land, but made the crusader settlements materially self-sufficient. But the leadership failed to communicate its strategic vision to the majority of crusaders. The army which assembled in Venice was well below the numbers which the Venetians had estimated in building and equipping the fleet. A detour via Byzantium thus seemed an irresistible option, indeed, the only option for keeping the crusade on course, when a pretender to the imperial throne conveniently turned up with a promise of rich rewards if the crusaders restored him to what he plausibly claimed was his rightful inheritance. The pretender was Alexios, son of the deposed Isaac II Angelos, who had escaped from custody in Constantinople and gone to join his sister Irene and her second husband, Philip of Swabia; the promise, no doubt formulated on Philip’s advice and calculated partly on the basis of the demands made by Henry VI, was to place the empire under the obedience of the Roman church, to pay 200,000 silver marks and supply provisions for every man in the army, to send 10,000 men with the expedition to Egypt and to maintain 500 knights for the defence of Outremer for the duration of his lifetime. As Isaac II later remarked, ‘this is a big commitment, and I do not know how it can be kept’,26 especially since Byzantium was to get no share in the conquest of Egypt. Whether or not the crusade leaders knew that the offer was too good to be true, the diversion to Constantinople attracted them for other reasons. It appealed to Boniface of Montferrat, who saw a chance to claim the Byzantine inheritance of which his brothers Renier and Conrad had been cheated. It appealed to Enrico Dandolo, the doge of Venice, which stood not only to recover the costs of the fleet, but also to improve its trading position in Constantinople through the restoration of Isaac II, a much better friend than Alexios III Angelos, who had tended to favourGenoa and Pisa despite his confirmation of Venetian privileges in 1198. It could be made to appeal to the crusaders from northern France by reminding them of the generosity with which Manuel I Komnenos had treated their forebears. The diversion of the Fourth Crusade was thus a reversion to a prevailing tendency. Now, however, Byzantium had to promise much more than it could expect in return, and Byzantium’s weakness could not really help the crusading movement. The problem for both the Byzantines and the crusaders was that the latter came to Constantinople in 1203 at the invitation not of a reigning emperor, but of a rival claimant for power, and that resources were dwindling rapidly. In 1197, Alexios III had only just managed to raise the money to buy off Henry VI. By 1203 Alexios IV had a much smaller resource base from which to make good his promises: Alexios III had emptied the treasury on fleeing from Constantinople, and he and his supporters in the provinces naturally denied the government in Constantinople the provincial revenues which they controlled. Alexios IV made himself unpopular in Constantinople by his demands for money, by resorting to the requisitioning of church valuables and by consorting with the crusaders; he then alienated the crusaders by failing to keep up his payments. His overthrow and murder in a palace coup by Alexios Doukas Mourtzouphlos relieved them of the embarrassment of making war on their own prot´eg´e and gave their renewed attack on Constantinople the status of a holy war against a traitor and regicide. Alexios V Doukas put up a competent defence, but it could not prevent the Venetians from using their ships to storm the low sea walls on the Golden Horn; and when the crusaders entered the City the defence collapsed. The crusaders were thus able to gorge themselves on the riches of Constantinople, set up a Latin regime and divide up the empire on paper. However, making the division a reality proved much harder, and in the end they held on to only a fraction of the twelfth-century empire (see below, pp. 759, 763–5). The Fourth Crusade never reached Egypt, and the Latin empire of Constantinople operated at a loss.

 

 

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