The Komnenoi also made a significant contribution to the history of Asia Minor. By reconquering much of the region, the Komnenoi set back the advance of the Turks in Anatolia by more than two centuries. In the process, they planted the foundations of the Byzantine successor states of Nicaea , Epirus and Trebizond. Meanwhile, their extensive programme of fortifications has left an enduring mark upon the Anatolian landscape, which can still be appreciated today.
The Komnenian era was born out of a period of great difficulty and strife for the Byzantine Empire. Following a period of relative success and expansion under the Macedonian dynasty c.
The problems the empire faced were partially caused by the growing influence and power of the aristocracy, which weakened the empire's military structure by undermining the theme system that trained and administered its armies. Beginning with the death of the successful soldier-emperor Basil II in , a long series of weak rulers had disbanded the large armies which had been defending the eastern provinces from attack; instead, gold was stockpiled in Constantinople, ostensibly in order to hire mercenaries should troubles arise. Meanwhile, the remnants of the once-formidable armed forces were allowed to decay, to the point where they were no longer capable of functioning as an army.
Elderly men with ill-maintained equipment mixed with new recruits who had never participated in a training exercise. In , the Normans , originally landless mercenaries from northern parts of Europe in search of plunder , began attacking Byzantine strongholds in southern Italy. In order to deal with them, a mixed force of mercenaries and conscripts under the formidable George Maniakes was sent to Italy in Angered by a series of outrages against his wife and property by one of his rivals, he was proclaimed emperor by his troops, and led them across the Adriatic to victory against a loyalist army.
However, a mortal wound led to his death shortly afterwards. With opposition thus absent in the Balkans , the Normans were able to complete the expulsion of the Byzantines from Italy by Despite the seriousness of this loss, it was in Asia Minor that the empire's greatest disaster would take place. With imperial armies weakened by years of insufficient funding and civil warfare, Emperor Romanos Diogenes realised that a time of re-structuring and re-equipment was necessary.
Consequently, he attempted to lead a defensive campaign in the east until his forces had recovered enough to defeat the Seljuks. Romanos was captured, and although the Sultan's peace terms were fairly lenient, the battle in the long term resulted in the total loss of Byzantine Anatolia. On his release, Romanos found that his enemies had conspired against him to place their own candidate on the throne in his absence. After two defeats in battle against the rebels, Romanos surrendered and suffered a horrific death by torture.
The new ruler, Michael Doukas , refused to honour the treaty that had been signed by Romanos. In response, the Turks began to move into Anatolia in ; the collapse of the old defensive system meant that they met no opposition.
A Terror In Byzantium
To make matters worse, chaos reigned as the empire's remaining resources were squandered in a series of disastrous civil wars. Thousands of Turkoman tribesmen crossed the unguarded frontier and moved into Anatolia. After Manzikert, a partial recovery was made possible due to the efforts of the Komnenian dynasty.
This is sometimes referred to as the Komnenian restoration. Alexios's long reign of nearly 37 years was full of struggle. At his accession in , the Byzantine Empire was in chaos after a prolonged period of civil war resulting from the defeat at Manzikert. At the very outset of his reign, Alexios had to meet the formidable threat of the Normans under Robert Guiscard and his son Bohemond of Taranto , who took Dyrrhachium and Corfu , and laid siege to Larissa in Thessaly see Battle of Dyrrhachium.
Alexios led his forces in person against the Normans, yet despite his best efforts his army was destroyed in the field. Alexios himself was wounded, but the death of Robert Guiscard in led to the Norman danger receding for a time. However, Alexios's problems were only just beginning. At a time when the Emperor urgently needed to raise as much revenue as possible from his shattered empire, taxation and the economy were in complete disarray. Inflation was spiralling out of control, the coinage was heavily debased, the fiscal system was confused there were six different nomismata in circulation , and the imperial treasury was empty.
In desperation, Alexios had been forced to finance his campaign against the Normans by using the wealth of the Eastern Orthodox Church , which had been put at his disposal by the Patriarch of Constantinople. In , Alexios faced a new invasion.
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This time the invaders consisted of a horde of 80, Pechenegs from north of the Danube , and they were heading for Constantinople. Without enough troops to repel this new threat, Alexios used diplomacy to achieve a victory against the odds.
Byzantium (AH - Imperium Byzantium) Map by Empire-of-the-East on DeviantArt
Having bribed the Cumans , another barbarian tribe, to come to his aid, he advanced against the Pechenegs, who were caught by surprise and annihilated at the Battle of Levounion on 28 April With stability at last achieved in the west, Alexios now had a chance to begin solving his severe economic difficulties and the disintegration of the empire's traditional defences. Despite his improvements, Alexios did not have enough manpower to recover the lost territories in Asia Minor.
Having been impressed by the abilities of the Norman cavalry at Dyrrhachium, he sent ambassadors west to ask for reinforcements from Europe. Pope Urban was concerned with increasing restlessness of the martial nobility in Western Europe, who, currently deprived of major enemies, were causing chaos throughout the countryside. Alexios's appeal offered a means not only to redirect the energy of the knights to benefit the Church, but also to consolidate the authority of the Pope over all Christendom and to gain the east for the See of Rome.
There, amid a crowd of thousands who had come to hear his words, he urged all present to take up arms under the banner of the Cross and launch a holy war to recover Jerusalem and the east from the 'infidel' Muslims. Indulgences were to be granted to all those who took part in the great enterprise. Many promised to carry out the Pope's command, and word of the Crusade soon spread across western Europe.
Alexios had anticipated help in the form of mercenary forces from the West, and was totally unprepared for the immense and undisciplined hosts which soon arrived, to his consternation and embarrassment. The first group, under Peter the Hermit , he sent to Asia Minor, ordering them to stay close to the coast and await reinforcements.
However, the unruly crusaders refused to listen and began looting and pillaging the local Christian inhabitants. As they marched on Nicaea in , they were caught by the Turks and massacred almost to the man. The second, "official" host of knights, led by Godfrey of Bouillon , Alexios also sent into Asia, promising to supply them with provisions in return for an oath of loyalty. They were accompanied by the Byzantine general Tatikios. By their victories, Alexios was able to recover for the Byzantine Empire a number of important cities and islands: Nicaea, Chios , Rhodes , Smyrna , Ephesus , Philadelphia , Sardis , and in fact much of western Asia Minor — This is ascribed by his daughter Anna to his policy and diplomacy, but good relations were not to last.
The crusaders believed their oaths were made invalid when Alexios did not help them during the siege of Antioch he had in fact set out on the road to Antioch , but had been persuaded to turn back by Stephen of Blois , who assured him that all was lost and that the expedition had already failed. Bohemund, who had set himself up as Prince of Antioch, briefly went to war with Alexios, but agreed to become Alexios's vassal under the Treaty of Devol in Despite his many successes, during the last twenty years of his life Alexios lost much of his popularity. This was largely due to the harsh measures he was forced to take in order to save the embattled empire.
Conscription was introduced, causing resentment among the peasantry, despite the pressing need for new recruits to the imperial army. In order to restore the imperial treasury, Alexios took measures to tax the aristocracy heavily; he also cancelled many of the exemptions from taxation that the church had previously enjoyed. In order to ensure that all taxes were paid in full, and to halt the cycle of debasement and inflation, he completely reformed the coinage , issuing a new gold hyperpyron highly refined coin for the purpose.
By , he had managed to restore order by working out a proper rate of exchange for the whole coinage. His new hyperpyron would be the standard Byzantine coin for the next two hundred years. The final years of Alexios's reign were marked by persecution of the followers of the Paulician and Bogomil heresies—one of his last acts was to burn at the stake the Bogomil leader, Basil the Physician , with whom he had engaged in a theological controversy; by renewed struggles with the Turks — ; and by anxieties as to the succession, which his wife Irene wished to alter in favour of her daughter Anna's husband Nikephorus Bryennios , for whose benefit the special title panhypersebastos "honored above all" was created.
This intrigue disturbed even his dying hours. Nevertheless, despite the unpopularity of some of his measures, Alexios's efforts had been vital to the survival of the empire. Financially and militarily bankrupt, and facing wave after wave of foreign invasion, the empire he inherited had been on the point of collapse. His long struggle to protect and restore the strength of the empire had been exhausting, but Alexios's successors inherited a viable state with both the internal stability and the military and financial resources, to expand in the future.
Alexios's son John II Komnenos succeeded him in , and was to rule until On account of his mild and just reign, he has been called the Byzantine Marcus Aurelius. John was unusual for his lack of cruelty—despite his long reign, he never had anyone killed or blinded. He was loved by his subjects, who gave him the name 'John the Good'.
He was also an energetic campaigner, spending much of his life in army camps and personally supervising sieges.
Byzantine Empire under the Komnenos dynasty
During John's reign, Byzantium faced many difficulties: enemies confronted the empire on all sides. An invasion of nomadic horsemen from the north threatened Byzantine control in the Balkans, and the Turks were harassing Byzantine territory in Asia Minor.
However, John soon proved himself just as determined and energetic as his predecessor. At the Battle of Beroia , John personally led the imperial armies against the Pecheneg invaders. With the aid of the emperor's elite troops, the Varangian Guard , the tribal horsemen were decisively crushed. Brenk traces the transformation of the l Learn More. Was this the prelude to the apocalypse? Prophecies foresaw a future Hunnic onslaught, via ISBN: Published by : Routledge Series: Publications of the Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies The subject of the emperor in the Byzantine world may seem likely to be a well-studied topic but there is no book devoted to the emperor in general covering the span of the Byzantine empire.
Of course there are studies on individual emperors, dyna ISBN: Published by : Oxbow Books This volume brings together historians and archaeologists working on diverse aspects of Asia Minor in the long sixth century. They discuss topics as varied as rural prosperity, urbanism in cities large and small, frontier management, and the imper Beginning with the crisis of the third century, he covers the rise of Christianity, the key Church Councils, the fall of the West to the A sailor on Christmas leave visits his boozing, one-legged father and dreamer mother in s Brooklyn.
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