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7-08-2015, 23:56

Alexios i komnenos’ achievements and failure

Alexios’ appeal toUrban II was brilliantly conceived, but Byzantium gained very little from the crusade. In its wake Byzantine forces recovered the rich coastlands of western Anatolia, which they might reasonably have expected to achieve anyway. The shadow of 1204 looms over Alexios’ achievements and calls in question the success of his restoration of the Byzantine empire. His reputation has also suffered among modern historians because of the Alexiad, his daughter Anna Komnena’s history of his reign. It is judged to lack objectivity, being too obviously an exercise in filial piety and too much of an idealisation. It is all these things, but it also provides a consummate portrait of an age, which, when allowance is made for bias, carries conviction. 34 Anna Komnena’s assessment of her father’s greatness is borne out by his administrative and fiscal reforms and his church settlement, about which she has relatively little to say. These aspects of her father’s reign have to be pieced together from the documentary sources. They provide the best evidence for Alexios’ achievement in restoring the empire. Anna Komnena breathes not a word about her father’s appeal to Pope Urban II which triggered the crusade. This may have been because she did not knowabout it or because she did not connect her father’s appeal with the crusade, but more probably, she was trying to protect her father’s reputation. By the time she was writing – some thirty years after her father’s death – it was apparent that the crusade was the cutting edge of western expansion. It was Alexios’ task to come to terms with western encroachment, which had begun to make itself felt from the middle of the eleventh century and which took various forms. Least harmful appeared to be the commercial activities of Venetian and other Italian merchants. They offered a solution to Byzantium’s need for naval assistance, and early in his reign Alexios engaged the services of the Venetian fleet. In 1082 he granted the Venetians special privileges in Constantinople and exemption from the payment of customs duties throughout the empire.35 It appeared a very good bargain. In 1111 Alexios entered into a similar arrangement with the Pisans, reducing their customs duty to 4 per cent. He was angling for their support in his plans – which never came to anything – to bring the crusader states under Byzantine control. Alexios was using the Italians much as the emperors of the tenth century had used the Rus: to strengthen the empire’s naval and commercial resources. The appeal toUrban II was intended to complement this by harnessing the military potential of the Franks. Alexios could not have imagined that it would trigger off a crusade, nor that this would cease to be a cooperative venture and be turned against Byzantium. Within Byzantium the crusade not only hardened attitudes towards the west, it also created tensions. Opinion polarised between those who favoured continuing cooperation with the west and those who rejected this approach, preferring to fall back on ‘splendid isolation’. This put added pressure on the fault-lines that existed within the Komnenian settlement: between the emperor and church; between autocracy and aristocracy; between the Komnenian ascendancy and the excluded; between the capital and the provinces. Alexios hoped that an understanding with the west would provide Byzantium with the additional resources needed to restore its position as a world power. He could not have foreseen how it would undermine Byzantium from within. This was the true nature of Alexios’ failure. It was counterbalanced by his success in restoring the integrity of the imperial office and the soundness of imperial administration. For more than half a century after his death Byzantium remained a great power.