Biography of Emperador de Bizancio Alejo I Comneno (ca. 1057-1118)

Byzantine Emperor between 1081 and 1118, born possibly in 1057 and died August 15, 1118 in Byzantium. Founder of the dynasty of the Komnenos, who would rule Byzantium during more than one century, Alejo I managed to restore part of the old Byzantine splendor at the time when the empire seemed doomed to disappear.

He belonged to a family of landowners in the region of Adrianople which had agreed to the ruling class during the reign of Basil II (960-1025) through marriage links with the main families of the aristocracy. The own Alejo was the result of one of these marriages, formed by Juan Comneno and Ana Dalasena. During the reign of Miguel VII (1071-1078), he/she married Irene Ducas, belonging to the lineage of the emperor. Alejo began his career as a general under the reign of Miguel VII and, subsequently, served under Nikephoros III Botaneiates (1078-1081). During the reign of the last highlighted by his performance in the Suppression of rebellions of Nicaea and Dirraquio.Su military prestige, its close ties with the leading aristocratic families and the weakness of Nikephoros III became him the main pretender to the throne. From 1080, Alejo expressed his intention to take imperial title. It already then showed his great political skill, to prevent access to the throne through violence. In an interview held in Zurulon, got, with the support of the DOUKAS, the other aspirants to the throne to abandon his purpose. February 14, 1081 rebelled against Nikephoros III, together with his brother, Isaac Comneno. With the help of German mercenaries, the Comnenus entered Constantinople on 1 April of that year, which allowed his troops to plunder the city for three days. On 4 April, the Patriarch Cosme Hierolimites crowned Emperor to Alexios, when Nikephoros III was sent to a convent.

The Empire was by then in a catastrophic situation. Continuous coups of the previous period and the uninterrupted foreign attacks on Byzantine borders did shake its foundations. The serious situation of internal control and the recovery of the old military potential of the Empire would, without a doubt, the great achievements of the reign from Alejo. However, at the time of his enthronement, the Byzantine territorial domain was severely diminished by the advance of the seljuq Turks, which controlled the greater part of Asia minor. In the danubianas provinces, the Pechenegs were continuous raids on the borders of the Empire. However, the main threat were the Normans of Robert Guiscard, who, after expelling the Greeks of southern Italy, were preparing a major offensive against Constantinople.

To ensure its location on the eastern flank, Alejo delivered to the seljuq territories they had conquered, to be legitimately established in them. With this, the Emperor retained at least nominal sovereignty over the former Constantinople Anatolian territories and said the military cooperation of the Turks against the impending Norman attack. In may 1081, Roberto Guiscardo occupied Corfu and, shortly thereafter, his troops laid siege to Dyrrhachium (today Durrës, Albania). The difficult financial situation of the Empire prevented Alejo to send a fleet to the Adriatic to deal with the Normans. To cover the war, the Emperor resorted to the confiscation of the property of the Church and ordered to melt the gold and silver that adorned the icons. This led to a serious religious crisis, to Archbishop León of Calcedonia oppose the measures dictated by the emperor. However, it managed to impose its criteria to the Orthodox Synod with the retrieved money, financed a ground offensive and tried to engage the Alliance of some Western powers, as the Emperor of Germany, Henry IV. However, it would eventually his alliance with Venice (who did not wish that the Normans controlled the Adriatic) the real key of his triumph over Guiscardo. A Venetian fleet inflicted a severe defeat on the Norman army and succeeded in setting up the maritime siege to Dyrrhachium. Even so, October 1081 the Byzantine army was defeated by the Normans, who managed to enter the city at the beginning of the following year. Starting from there already nothing prevented its penetration into Byzantine territory. In the following months, the Normans flooded Epirus, Macedonia, and Castoria and laid siege to Larissa (Thessaly).

Alejo put back into play his diplomatic expertise. By important subsidies, got Enrique IV of Germany to attack Rome, at the time, prompting a rebellion in the South of Italy against Norman rule. Guiscard had to return to Italy, leaving his son Bohemond, who defeated the Byzantines in Ioannina in May of 1082 in Thessaly. Alejo then entered into negotiation with the nobles who Norman fittings of the Danube and got that part of them were put at your service. In this way, the Byzantine defence was recovering ground and when Guiscard returned to the offensive in 1085, the Byzantines were in a position of clear superiority. In July, the Norman army was decimated by an epidemic that the own Guiscardo was a victim. It was the disappearance of the Norman danger receding Bohemond in the Balkans to deal with civil strife that erupted in his Kingdom.

Almost immediately, Alexios had to confront the threat posed by the incursions of the Pechenegs. In the spring of 1087, they entered Byzantine territory with the support of the heretics bogomilism of Thrace, forcing the emperor to sign a settlement agreement. But, soon after, Zachas, emir of Smyrna seljuq, allied with the Pechenegs to attack Constantinople by land and sea. To cope with this new offensive, Alejo resorted to an Alliance military with the comans, nomadic people of the Southern Russian steppes. April 29, 1091, a joint army, Byzantine and cumano defeated outright the Pechenegs near the Levunion mountains. To break the maritime siege Zachas had imposed to Constantinople, Alexios paid the Turkish Emir of Nicaea, whose troops attacked Smyrna, forcing Zachas to retire. Shortly thereafter, the Emperor managed to quell a rebellion of the comans in support of the pretender to the Byzantine throne Constantino Diogenes.

After these victories, Alexios tried to re-establish Byzantine dominance over Asia minor, taking advantage of the weakening of the seljuq Sultanate. However, this project was truncated by the emergence in their borders of the Crusaders from the West. In November 1095, Pope Urban II enacted the first crusade (see the Crusades), partly in response to requests for assistance from Alejo I against the seljuq. In 1096 he/she reached Constantinople "crusade" of the poor, led by Pedro the hermit. Before this unprecedented invasion, the Emperor tried to stop the looting and ordered his army to it escoltara the crowd of pilgrims, who warned of the danger posed by plunging into Turkish territory. Indeed, most of the pilgrims died in Asia minor, but those who survived were able to return to Europe thanks to the protection of the Emperor, which allowed them to cross the Bosphorus without difficulties.

At the end of 1096 became Constantinople the true cross army, among whose leaders emphasized, to the surprise of the Emperor, the Norman Bohemond. Byzantine there were several skirmishes between the Crusaders and defense troops, but the political skill of Alejo I prevented the passage of Western pilgrims for their lands became a real war. Alejo feted the leaders with gifts and promises of military assistance, booting them an oath of fidelity and commitment to give the cities that get regain and that had once belonged to the Empire. The Emperor declared, also plans to be at the forefront of the crusade as soon the political circumstances permitted is (which was not to the liking of cross nobles). Part of the Byzantine army accompanied the pilgrims on their way by Anatolia, recover Nicaea and other places, while Alejo began an offensive in the Aegean which allowed him to take Smyrna, Ephesus and Sardis. However, when, in June of 1098, the Crusaders in front of Bohemond conquered Antioch, the ancient Byzantine metropolis of Syria, the city was not restored to the Greek domain, but it became the center of a new latino-normando Principality. This led to the breakdown of commitments between the Empire and the Crusaders, who succeeded in taking Jerusalem in 1099 without Byzantine aid.

Since then, Alejo continually harassed the Crusaders from Antioch, with the support of the seljuq. To deal with the Greek offensive, Bohemond returned to Italy in 1107 and launched a new crusade, this time directed against Constantinople. In October of that year, Bohemond again attacked Dyrrhachium. The Byzantine army managed to defeat the Crusaders in September 1108 and the own Bohemond was taken prisoner. The Norman had to oath of allegiance to the Emperor and to acknowledge Byzantine sovereignty over Antioch. However, this Treaty was not recognized by Tancredo, successor of Bohemond in Syria, and the city continued under Latin rule.

But the Crusaders already not posed a danger to the Empire and, since then, Alexios was able to deliver to the recovery of Anatolia. The Byzantine military advance was slow and difficult, largely due to the fact that most of the Greek population had left Anatolia after the Turkish conquest. However, Emperor got an important victory which allowed open a military corridor between Sangarius and Dorylaeum in 1116. Although Byzantium would never recover the total domination of Anatolia, many of the old territories of the eastern half of the Empire returned to its sovereignty and would remain there during the two following centuries.

Alejo I internal politics was marked by efforts to ensure the continuity of their dynasty against the courtly conspiracies. Women played an essential role in his reign: first, his mother, Ana Dalasena, who shared power in the early years; later, his wife, Irene, who was accompanied in the military campaigns, not so much for the pleasure of your company, but because the Empress, supported by the powerful clan of the DOUKAS, could promote plots to dethrone her husband; and, later, her daughter, Ana Comneno, which for a long time was considered to be his successor and who would accede to the throne even against the will of his father.

Alexios attempted to secure the position of the Comnenus through marriage links with large aristocratic lineages (DOUKAS, Paleologos, Angels, etc.). It is supported in these families to maintain its strong position, while those aristocrats who do not join the clientele of the Komnenos lost its influence in the Court. Strengthened the monopoly of the aristocracy on the State through a reform of the nobility titles, at the time that reduced the power of the Senate and the eunuchs on the policy.

One of the main facets of his Government was religious. His ecclesiastical policy was extremely hard on it comes to the maintenance of orthodoxy. In 1082 the philosopher Juan Ítalo forced to renege on their neo-Platonic beliefs. Also he/she condemned the doctrines of Eustrato of Nicaea, and tried unsuccessfully to convert to bogomilism, whose leader, Basilio, sent to the stake. On the other hand, was willing to negotiate the reunification of Catholic churches and Orthodox churches proposed by the papacy in 1112, and even favoured the Foundation of Catholic monasteries in its territory, and did record the name of the Pope in religious diptychs. Alejo, who also wrote some theological texts, was an enthusiastic supporter of the monastic movement. He/She gave major donations to the monastery of Patmos theologian and the Clinton (Macedonia) and, together with the Empress Irene, founded two monasteries in Constantinople, of which that of Christ philanthropist would be his tomb.

Its economic policy gave the Byzantine Treasury of some stability, despite the fact that, during the first years of his reign, subjected to continuous devaluation currency. The massive use of mercenaries in the army and the payment of subsidies to achieve external alliances cost him huge sums, but the Emperor tried to rationalize the hacendístico system of the Empire through a timid reform of taxes and from 1092, through a series of monetary measures that managed to stabilize the currency.

With his death approaching, the plots there to her around. The Empress Irene and her daughter, Ana Comneno, wanted to the her husband, Nicéforo Brienios, happen to Alejo. But this was opposed and appointed as successor his son Juan. Alejo died 15 August 1118, probably of a heart attack, while his son Lossing of the Palace with his acquiescence, to prevent the triumph of supporters of his sister. The history of his reign would be subsequently narrated by Ana Comneno in the Alexiad, which, despite their apologetic character, is the main literary source for the study of this period.


MAIER, F.G. Byzantium (Madrid, 1987, 9th ed.).

OSTROGORSKY, history of the Byzantine State (Madrid, 1983).

SEWTER, R.A. (ed.), The Alexiad of Anna Komnene (London, 1979).