Authors born between 800 and 1100 CE
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History and the Stream of Time
The Rise of the Norman Raiders
The Excuse to Assault Byzantium
The Pope's Quarrel Helps Robert Guiscard
Robert Promises Aid for the Pope
Robert Ignores the Pope’s Request for Help
The Start of the First Crusade
The Massacre at Nicaea
King of Kings Cast Up by the Waves
The Naval Battle with Count of Prebentza
The Fighting Priest
The Oath to Protect the Emperor's Territory
Bohemund Takes the Oath
The Siege of Antioch
Alexius Diverted from Antioch
Bohemond Claims Antioch for Himself
Odiferous Bohemond Resurrected in Italy
Alexius Counters Bohemond's Slanders
Bohemond Returns to Byzantium
Alexius Plots with Forged Non-Letters
A Treaty with Bohemond
Anna Comnena (1083-1155?) was the daughter of Alexius I Comnenus, Emperor of Byzantium, and Irene Ducas, daughter of Maria of Bulgaria. Born in the "purple room" of the palace in Constantinople, she was acclaimed successor to the throne of the Emperor. But her brother John born in 1087 deprived Anna of her right of succession. Anna married Cesar Nicephoros Byrennios and is known to have had two sons and two daughters. Her husband died in 1138 at the age of 57. He, like many other Byzantines, was well educated and had started writing a history of the era of Alexius. However, he only got as far as the Emperor Nicephorous III Botentiates. Anna Comnena therefore undertook to write a history of Alexius herself.
Anna Comnena is the first woman historian whose writings have survived. And while she is concerned to provide an account of her father’s accomplishments in warfare, she in fact continues the humanistic tradition of providing a record by which succeeding generations may come to know the intrigues of politicians and generals, to recognize the dominant role in history of greed, deception, and violence, and to comprehend the failure of governments to protect the governed. Her Alexiad is an ambitious work, exceeding the History of Thucydides in length. It portrays many appalling battles, and much murder and sudden death. It is also in the tradition of Thucydides, rather than in that of the medieval chronicles of the West. Anna was 65. when she wrote her Alexiad.
Alexios Comnenus (1056-1118) seized the Byzantine throne at Constantinople in 1081 at the end of a period of civil war. The incompetence and venality of his predecessors had all but destroyed an empire that had reached its zenith under Basil II in 1025. Most of Anatolia (modern Turkey), Armenia, and Georgia had been lost mainly to Seljuk Turks. Lombardy, the southern half of Italy, had been lost to the Normans (Vikings who had seized territory in northern France), and there were revolts in Macedonia and the Balkans. Alexius initiated a brilliant recovery from this situation, bringing disaffected nobles back to his side, building churches, instituting monetary reform, negotiating various successful treaties, and carrying out many battles on land and sea. For the most part, Anna Comnena describes the battles and negotiations, although she does show Alexius refuting heresies and reviving an institution for aid of orphans, widows, and wounded soldiers. She emphasizes qualities that she thinks characterize Alexius: a persuasive tongue, use of devious stratagems, readiness to befriend any who will serve his aims, even an enemy, and clemency for enemies.
Most of what we know about Anna comes from her Alexiad. Anna’s education was in the hands of her mother and father. She shows a familiarity with Homer and the Athenian tragedians and with theological matters. She has an ability to describe military subjects in some detail. And she clearly is able to draw on a rich variety of sources available to her in the court at Constantinople. When we read of Alexius refuting the doctrines of the philosopher John Italus and the heretic Nilus, we recognize that Anna has a good grasp of such doctrines as hypostasis and henosis.
Constantinople was the religious capital of the Byzantium. It also had a strong administrative and cultural tradition, extending from its founding as the eastern capital of the Roman Empire. Macedonian and Commnenium emperors encouraged arts and letters. To the Byzantines we owe the preservation of classical texts and the continued development of art, which together provided the basis for the Italian Renaissance. As Anna observed, Western Europeans at the time were largely illiterate. Most of the leaders of the Crusades could not write their names.
Anna provides us with an account of the flood of people of the First Crusade from the point of view of the Byzantine population as they pass through on their way to Jerusalem. With the arrival of this large population outside of Constantinople, Alexius takes pains to persuade them to cross the Bosphorus as quickly as possible and camp on the Asiatic side of the straights, to reduce the threat to the city. Among the arriving warriors is Bohemond, the son of the Norman Robert Guiscard, who after his father’s death establishes himself, in Anna’s view, as the cleverest, greediest, and most unscrupulous of the invading Franks.
As Alexius finally successfully pulls his empire together, he signs with the Sultan of the Seljuk Turks a treaty setting the boundaries between Turks and Greeks as they were at the height of the Byzantine empire. Back in the capital, suffering from gout, he restores an institute for orphans, disabled men and infirm women. Anna’s history ends with the death of Alexius and an account of her own misfortunes, finishing with the words "But now my history must be concluded, for if I were to describe sad events any longer, I might become bitter."
Some extracts from the Alexiad that portray the arrival of the crusaders and the struggle between Alexius and Bohemond follow. These also throw further light on Anna Comnena.
1 Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things, and drowns them in the depths of obscurity, no matter it they be quite unworthy of mention, or most noteworthy and important, and thus, as the tragedian says, "he brings from the darkness all things to the birth, and all things born envelops in the night."
But the tale of history forms a very strong bulwark against the stream of time, and to some extent checks its irresistible flow, and, of all things done in it, as many as history has taken over, it secures and binds together, and does not allow them to slip away into the abyss of oblivion.
Now, I recognized this fact. I, Anna, the daughter of two royal personages, Alexius and Irene, born and bred in the purple. I was not ignorant of letters, for I carried my study of Greek to the highest pitch, and was also not unpracticed in rhetoric; I perused the works of Aristotle and the dialogues of Plato carefully, and enriched my mind by the "quaternion" [four parts] of learning.
2 However, to resume—I intend in this writing of mine to recount the deeds done by my father, for they should certainly not be lost in silence, or swept away, as it were, on the current of time into the sea of forgetfulness. And I shall count not only his achievements as Emperor, but also the services he rendered to various Emperors before he himself received the scepter.
3 These deeds I am going to relate, not in order to show off my proficiency in letters, but that matters of such importance should not be left unattested for future generations. For even the greatest of deeds, if not haply preserved in written words and handed down to remembrance, become extinguished in the obscurity of silence.
Now, my father, as the actual facts prove, knew both how to command and how to obey the rulers within reasonable limits. And though I have chosen to narrate his doings, yet I fear that the tongues of suspicion and detraction will whisper that writing my father's history is only self-laudation, and that the historical facts, and any praise I bestow on them, are mere falsehoods and empty panegyric.
4 But he who undertakes the role of an historian must sink his personal likes and dislikes, and often award the highest praise to his enemies when their actions demand it, and often, too, blame his nearest relations if their errors require it. He must never shirk either blaming his friends or praising his enemies. I should counsel both parties, those attacked by us and our partisans alike, to take comfort from the fact that I have sought the evidence of the actual deeds themselves, and the testimony of those who have seen the actions, and the men and their actions—the fathers of some of the men now living, and the grandfathers of others were actual eye-witnesses.
5 It seems to me that if a body is sickly, the sickliness is often aggravated by external causes, but that occasionally, too, the causes of our illnesses spring up of themselves, although we are apt to blame the inequalities of the climate, indiscretion in diet, or perhaps, too, the humors of our animal juices, as the cause of our fevers. Similarly, like these physical ailments, I fancy the weakness of the Romans at that time was partly the cause of deadly plagues: I mean the various men before mentioned, the Ursels, the Basilacii, and all the crowd of pretenders, but partly, too, it was Fate that introduced other aspirants to the throne from abroad, and foisted them on the Empire like an irremediable sore and incurable disease. To this latter class belonged that braggart Robert [Robert Guiscard], so famed for his tyrannical disposition. Normandy indeed begot him, but he was nursed and reared by consummate wickedness.
6 This Robert was Norman by descent, of insignificant origin, in temper tyrannical, in mind most cunning, brave in action, very clever in attacking the wealth and substance of magnates, most obstinate in achievement, for he did not allow any obstacle to prevent his executing his desire. His stature was so lofty that he surpassed even the tallest, his complexion was ruddy, his hair flaxen, his shoulders were broad, his eyes all but emitted sparks of fire, and in frame he was well-built where nature required breadth, and was neatly and gracefully formed where less width was necessary. So from tip to toe this man was well-proportioned, as I have repeatedly heard many say. Now, Homer says of Achilles that when he shouted, his voice gave his hearers the impression of a multitude in an uproar, but this man's cry is said to have put thousands to flight. Thus equipped by fortune, physique and character, he was naturally indomitable, and subordinate to nobody in the world. Powerful natures are ever like this, people say, even though they be of somewhat obscure descent.
7 In a short time he had risen to ducal eminence, and was nominated Duke of all Lombardy, and from that moment everybody's envy was excited against him. But Robert, being a man with his wits very much about him, now used flattery against his adversaries and now gifts, and so quelled uprisings among the populace, and by his ingenuity repressed the envy of the nobility against him, and thus, by these means, and by occasional recourse to arms, he annexed the whole realm of Lombardy, and the neighboring country. But this Robert was for ever aspiring at further increase of power, and because he had visions of the Roman Empire, he alleged as pretext his connection with the Emperor Michael, as I have said, and fanned up the war against the Romans. For we have already stated that the Emperor Michael for some inexplicable reason had betrothed this despot's daughter (Helen by name) to his son, Constantine.
8 That man Robert, who from a most inconspicuous beginning had grown most conspicuous, and amassed great power, now desired eagerly to become Roman Emperor, and with this object, sought plausible pretexts for ill-will and war against the Romans. And there are two different tales about this. One story which is bruited about, and reached our ears too, is that a certain monk, named Raictor, impersonated the Emperor Michael, and had gone over to Robert, and poured out his tale of woe to him. . . Helen, Robert's beautiful daughter, and his own daughter-in-law, had been left destitute, he said, and openly bereft of her betrothed, as his son Constantine, and his wife, the Princess Mary, although very unwillingly, had been compelled by force to join Botaniates' party.
But on other authority a far more plausible story re-echoes in my mind, and this story avers that no monk impersonated Michael, and that no such event stirred Robert to war against the Romans, but that the versatile barbarian himself easily invented the whole thing.
9 The story runs thus, the arch-villain Robert, who was hatching war against the Romans, and had been making his preparations for some time, was kept in check by the nobles of highest rank in his suite, and also by his own wife, Gaita, on the ground that the war would be unjust and waged against Christians; indeed he was prevented several times when he was anxious to start. But he was determined to procure a specious pretext for war, and therefore sent some men to Cotrone and entrusted them with the secret of his plot, and gave them the following directions. If they could find any monk willing to cross from there to Italy to worship at the shrine of the chief apostles, the patron saints of Rome, and if he did not betray his low origin too openly in his appearance, they were to welcome him and make a friend of him, and bring him back with them. When they discovered the aforementioned Raictor, a versatile fellow without his equal for knavery, they signified the fact to Robert who was waiting at Salernum, by a letter to this effect: "Your kinsman Michael, who has been expelled from his kingdom has arrived here to solicit your assistance." For Robert had ordered them to write the letter to him in those words. Directly he received the letter, he read it privately to his wife, and then in an assembly of all the Counts he showed it to them too, and swore they could no longer keep him back, as he had now got hold of a really just excuse for war.
10 Meanwhile, an event occurred which is worth relating, as it, too, contributed to this man's reputation and good fortune. For I hold that the fact that all the rulers of the West were prevented from attacking him, contributed very materially to the barbarian's successful progress. Fate worked for him on all sides, raised him to kingly power, and accomplished everything helpful to him. Now it happened that Pope Gregory VII of Rome had a difference with Henry IV, King of Germany, and, therefore, wished to draw Robert into an alliance, as the latter had already become very notable and attained to great dominion. (The Pope is a very high dignitary, and is protected by troops of various nationalities.) The dispute between the King and the Pope was this: the latter accused Henry of not bestowing livings as free gifts, but selling them for money, and occasionally entrusting archbishoprics to unworthy recipients, and he also brought further charges of a similar nature against him. The King of Germany on his side indicted the Pope of usurpation, as he had seized the apostolic chair without his consent. Moreover, he had the effrontery to utter reckless threats against the Pope, saying that if he did not resign his self-elected office, he should be expelled from it with contumely.
11 When these words reached the Pope's ears, he vented his rage upon Henry's ambassadors; first he tortured them inhumanly, then clipped their hair with scissors, and sheared their beards with a razor, and finally committed a most indecent outrage upon them, which transcended even the insolence of barbarians, and so sent them away. My womanly and princely dignity forbids my naming the outrage inflicted on them, for it was not only unworthy a high priest, but of anyone who bears the name of a Christian. I abhor this barbarian's idea, and more still the deed, and I should have defiled both my pen and my paper, had I described it explicitly.
12 And this was the work of a high priest. Oh, justice! The deed of the supreme high priest! No, of one who claimed to be the president of the whole world, as indeed the Latins assert and believe, but this, too, is a bit of their boasting. For when the imperial seat was transferred from Rome to our native Queen of Cities, together with the senate and the whole administration, there was also transferred the arch-hieratical primacy. And the Emperors from the very beginning have given the supreme right to the episcopacy of Constantinople, and the Council of Chalcedon emphatically raised the Bishop of Constantinople to the highest position, and placed all the dioceses of the inhabited world under his jurisdiction.
13 To prevent the King's becoming too insupportable by an alliance with Robert, he [the Pope] anticipated him in sending offers of peace to Robert, though before this he had not been friendly towards him. . . . The two then met, gave and took pledges and oaths, and then returned. The oaths were that the Pope would invest Robert with the dignity of king, and give him help against the Romans if the need should arise, whilst the Duke swore a counter-oath to assist the Pope whenever the latter called upon him. But truly these oaths taken by both of them were worthless. For the Pope was furiously incensed against the King, and in a hurry to begin war against him, whereas Duke Robert had his eyes fixed on the Roman Empire, and was gnashing his teeth, and whetting his anger like a wild boar. So these oaths amounted to no more than words. And the pledges these barbarians gave to each other one day, they violated the next.
14 After the meeting, Robert turned his bridle and hurried to Salemm. And that Pope (whom I can only call "abominable" when I recall his inhuman outrages on the ambassadors), that Pope, clad in spiritual grace and evangelic peace, started out for civil war with all his energy and might; yes, he, the man of peace, and the disciple of the Man of Peace! For he immediately summoned the Saxons and their Counts Lantulphus and Velcus, and besides other enticements held out to them, he promised to make them kings of all the West, and thus won them over to his side. You see how ever-ready a hand the Pope had for laying hands on the heads of kings, unheeding St. Paul's advice "Lay hands hastily on no man," for he bound the kingly ribbon on the Duke of Lombardy's head, and crowned these two Saxons.
15 When each side (namely, Henry, King of Germany, and the Pope) had brought up their armies and set them in battle array, directly the horn had sounded the attack, the lines dashed together, and there was fanned up by either side a great and long-continued battle. So many deeds of valor were done by both parties, and such was the endurance shown by men already wounded by spear and arrow, that in a short time the whole plain was submerged in a sea of blood that flowed from the dying, and the survivors fought on, as if sailing on the abundant gore. In some places the soldiers got entangled by the dead bodies, and fell over, and were drowned in the river of blood. For if, as it is said, more than 30,000 men fell in that battle, what a stream of blood was poured forth, and how large a portion of the earth was defiled with gore! Both sides were, if I may so put it, of equal stature in the battle as long as Lantulphus directed the combat. But when he received a mortal wound, and straightway gave up the ghost, the Pope's lines gave way, and turned their backs to the enemy, and in their flight many were killed or wounded.
16 Thereupon, the Pope recalled the agreement and pledges Robert had given him, and sent an embassy to ask his help. At the same time, Henry, too, when he was starting on his march against the ancient city of Rome sent to ask his alliance. But Robert thought both of them silly for making such a request, and sent a verbal answer of some kind to the King, but to the Pope he composed a letter. His letter ran as follows: "Duke Robert to the great High-priest and his Overlord in God. I heard a talk of the attack made upon you by your enemies, but did not attach much real importance to the rumor as I knew that no one would dare to raise his hand against you. For what man in his senses would assail so great a father? As for me, I would have you know that I am arming myself for a most serious war against a most formidable nation. For my campaign is against the Romans, who have filled every land and sea with their trophies. But to you I acknowledge fidelity from the depths of my soul, and when need arises, I will prove it." And thus he dismissed the ambassadors of both those who had sought his help, the one with this letter, and the other with plausible excuses.
17 Bohemond, his younger son, he sent ahead with a powerful army to our territory to leap upon the country round Valona (or Aulon). Now, Bohemond took after his father in all things—in audacity, bodily strength, bravery, and untamable temper—for he was of exactly the same stamp as his father and a living model of the latter's character. Immediately on arrival, he fell like a thunderbolt, with threats and irresistible dash upon Canina, Hiericho, and Valona, and seized them, and as he fought his way on, he would ever devastate and set fire to the surrounding districts. He was, in very truth, like the pungent smoke which precedes a fire, and a prelude of attack before the actual attack. These two, father and son, might rightly be termed "the caterpillar and the locust "; for whatever escaped Robert, that his son Bohemond grabbed and destroyed.
18 [Alexius] heard a report of the approach of innumerable Frankish armies. Now he dreaded their arrival for he knew their irresistible manner of attack, their unstable and mobile character and all the peculiar natural and concomitant characteristics that the Frank retains throughout; and he also knew that they were always agape for money, and seemed to disregard their truces readily for any reason that cropped up. For he had always heard this reported of them, and found it very true. However, he did not lose heart, but prepared himself in every way so that, when the occasion called, he would be ready for battle. And indeed the actual facts were far greater and more terrible than rumor made them. For the whole of the West and all the barbarian tribes which dwell between the further side of the Adriatic and the pillars of Hercules had all migrated in a body and were marching into Asia through the intervening Europe, and were making the journey with all their household.
19 The reason of this upheaval was more or less the following. A certain Frank, Peter by name, nicknamed Cucupeter [Peter of the Cowl] had gone to worship at the Holy Sepulcher and after suffering many things at the hands of the Turks and Saracens who were ravaging Asia, he got back to his own country with difficulty. But he was angry at having failed in his object, and wanted to undertake the same journey again. However, he saw that he ought not to make the journey to the Holy Sepulcher alone again, lest worse things befall him, so he worked out a cunning plan. This was to preach in all the Latin countries that "the voice of God bids me announce to all the Counts of the Franks that they should all leave their homes and set out to worship at the Holy Sepulcher, and to endeavor wholeheartedly with hand and mind to deliver Jerusalem from the hand of the Hagarenes."
And he really succeeded. For after inspiring the souls of all with this quasi-divine command he contrived to assemble the Franks from all sides, one after the other, with arms, horses and all the other paraphernalia of war. And they were all so zealous and eager that every highroad was full of them. And those Frankish soldiers were accompanied by an unarmed host more numerous than the sand or the stars, carrying palms and crosses on their shoulders. Women and children, too, came away from their countries. And the sight of them was like many rivers streaming from all sides, and they were advancing towards us through Dacia generally with all their hosts.
20 The Emperor, knowing what Peter had suffered before from the Turks, advised him to wait for the arrival of the other Counts, but Peter would not listen for he trusted to the multitude of his followers, so crossed and pitched his camp near a small town called Helenopolis. After him followed the Normans numbering ten thousand, who separated themselves from the rest of the army and devastated the country round Nicaea, and behaved most cruelly to all. For they dismembered some of the children and fixed others on wooden spits and roasted them at the fire, and on persons advanced in age they inflicted every kind of torture. But when the inhabitants of Nicaea became aware of these doings, they threw open their gates and marched out upon them, and after a violent conflict had taken place they had to dash back inside their citadel as the Normans fought so bravely. And thus the latter recovered all the booty and returned to Helenopolis.
21 When the Sultan heard what had happened, he dispatched Elchanes against them with a substantial force. He came, and recaptured Xerigordus and sacrificed some of the Normans to the sword, and took others captive, at the same time laid plans to catch those who had remained behind with Cucupeter [Peter]. He placed ambushes in suitable spots so that any coming from the camp in the direction of Nicaea would fall into them unexpectedly and be killed. Besides this, as he knew the Franks' love of money, he sent for two active-minded men and ordered them to go to Cucupeter's camp and proclaim there that the Normans had gained possession of Nicaea, and were now dividing everything in it. When this report was circulated among Peter's followers, it upset them terribly. Directly they heard the words 'dividing', and 'money' they started in a disorderly crowd along the road to Nicaea, all but unmindful of their military experience and the discipline which is essential for those starting out to battle. For, as I remarked above, the Latin race is always very fond of money, but more especially when it is bent on raiding a country; it then loses its reason and gets beyond control. As they journeyed neither in ranks nor in squadrons, they fell foul of the Turkish ambuscades near the river Dracon and perished miserably.
22 But when the Emperor received reliable information of all this, and the terrible massacre, he was very worried lest Peter should have been captured. He therefore summoned Constantine Catacalon Euphorbenus (who has already been mentioned many times in this history), and gave him a large force which was embarked on ships of war and sent him across the straits to Peter's succor. Directly the Turks saw him land they fled. Constantine, without the slightest delay, picked up Peter and his followers, who were but few, and brought them safe and sound to the Emperor. On the Emperor's reminding him of his original thoughtlessness and saying that it was due to his not having obeyed his, the Emperor's, advice that he had incurred such disasters, Peter, being a haughty Latin, would not admit that he himself was the cause of the trouble, but said it was the others who did not listen to him, but followed their own wills, and he denounced them as robbers and plunderers who, for that reason, were not allowed by the Saviour to worship at His Holy Sepulcher.
23 One Ubus, brother of the King of France, and as proud as Novatus of his nobility, riches and power, when on the point of leaving his native land, ostensibly to go to the Holy Sepulcher, sent a ridiculous message to the Emperor, with a view to arranging beforehand that he should have a magnificent reception. "Know, O Emperor," he wrote, "that I am the king of kings and the greatest of those under heaven; and it is necessary for you to meet and treat me on arrival with all pomp and in a manner worthy of my nobility." At the time that this message arrived, John, the son of the Sebastocrator Isaac (of whom mention has been made above) happened to be Duke of Dyrrachium. Moreover, Nicolas Mavrocatacalon, a Duke of the Fleet, had anchored the ships at intervals round the harbor of Dyrrachium, and made frequent excursions from there and scoured the seas so that no pirate ships might sail past without his noticing them. On receipt of this message the Emperor at once sent letters to these two, commanding the Duke of Dyrrachium to keep watch over land and sea for the Franks' coming, and to signify the Emperor of his arrival at once by a swift messenger, bidding him also receive Ubus with all ceremony, and exhort the Duke of the Fleet in no way to relax his vigilance or be negligent, but to be on the look-out all the time.
24 Ubus, who, as has been said, traveled through Rome to Lombardy, and was crossing from Bari to Illyria, was caught in a very severe storm and lost the greater number of his vessels, crews, soldiers and all, and only the one skiff on which he was spat out, so to say, by the waves on to the coast between Dyrrachium and a place called Palus, and he on it half-broken. . . Thus the Duke met him after his deliverance, and welcomed him and asked him about his journey and his country . . . The Emperor received him with all honor and showed him much friendliness, and by also giving him a large sum of money he persuaded him to become his 'man' at once and to swear to this by the customary oath of the Latins [described below].
25 Bohemund (who has often been mentioned in this history already) crossed scarcely fifteen days later to the coast of Cabalion with various Counts and an army that was beyond all numbering. This Cabalion is a place near Bousa; these are the names of places in those parts. . .
Close on his heels the Count of Prebentza came down to the shores of the straits of Lombardy, since he also wished to cross. He hired a three-masted pirate vessel capable of carrying 10,000 measures, for six thousand gold 'staters'. There were two hundred rowers to it, and three tenders accompanied it. He however did not sail in the direction of Valona, as the other Latin armies did, but fearing the Roman fleet, he loosed his cables, tacked a little and meeting a favoring breeze, sailed straight to Chimara.
26 Duke Nicolas at once had the sails of some of the ships spread for sailing, the others, like polypods, he worked with oars and sailed towards the Count who was crossing. And he caught him before he had sailed more than three stades from the mainland and was hurrying towards the opposite coast of Epidamnus, and he had on board one thousand five hundred soldiers besides the eighty horses of the nobles. When the helmsman of the ship saw him he said to the Count of Prebentza, "The Syrian fleet is bearing down upon us, and we risk falling victims to the knife and sword." So the Count at once ordered all to put on their armor and fight valiantly.
27 Having reached this point in my history, I should like to descant on the exploits of Marianus. He at once asked his father, the Duke of the fleet, for the lighter vessels, and then steered for the Count's ship, and dashing into its prow, attacked it.
The warriors at once flocked to that spot, as they saw he was strongly armed for battle. But Marianus, speaking in their language, advised the Latins to have no fear, and not to fight against fellow-Christians. But one of the Latins hit his helmet with his cross-bow. This cross-bow is a bow of the barbarians quite unknown to the Greeks; and it is not stretched by the right hand pulling the string whilst the left pulls the bow in a contrary direction, but he who stretches this warlike and very far-shooting weapon must lie, one might say, almost on his back and apply both feet strongly against the semicircle of the bow and with his two hands pull the string with all his might in the contrary direction. In the middle of the string is a socket, a cylindrical kind of cup fitted to the string itself, and about as long as an arrow of considerable size which reaches from the string to the very middle of the bow; and through this arrows of many sorts are shot out. [A more detailed account then follows.]
28 To resume, the arrow from the cross-bow struck the top of Marianus' helmet and pierced it in its flight without touching a hair of his head, for Providence warded it off. Then the man speedily discharged another arrow at the Count, and hit him in the arm; the arrow bored through the shield, passed through his cuirass of scale-armour, and touched his side. A certain Latin priest who happened to be standing in the stern with twelve other fighting men, saw this, and let fly several arrows against Marianus. Not even then did Marianus surrender, but fought fiercely himself and encouraged his men to do the same, so that three times over the men with the priest had to be replaced, as they were wounded and sore-pressed. The priest himself, however, although he had received many blows, and was streaming with his own blood, remained quite fearless. For the rules concerning priests are not the same among the Latins as they are with us; For we are given the command by the canonical laws and the teaching of the Gospel, "Touch not, taste not, handle not! For thou art consecrated." Whereas the Latin barbarian will simultaneously handle divine things, and wear his shield on his left arm, and hold his spear in his right hand, and at one and the same time he communicates the body and blood of God, and looks murderously and becomes 'a man of blood', as it says in the psalm of David.
29 The Count of Prebentza, after surrendering himself and his ship and his soldiers to Marianus, immediately followed him. And when they had reached land and were disembarking, that same priest often and repeatedly asked for Marianus and, because he did not know his name, he called him by the color of his clothes. When he found him, he threw his arms round him and embraced him, whilst saying boastfully, "If you had met me on dry land, many of you would have been killed by my hands." Then he pulled out and gave him a large silver cup worth one hundred and thirty staters. And with these words and this gift he breathed his last.
30 Now Count Godfrey crossed about this time, too, with more Counts, and an army of ten thousand horsemen and seventy thousand foot, and on reaching the capital he quartered his army near the Propontis, and it reached from the bridge nearest to the monastery of Cosmidium right up to the church of St. Phocas. But when the Emperor urged him to cross the straits of the Propontis, he let one day pass after another and postponed doing so on one pretext after another. The truth was that he was awaiting the arrival of Bohemund and the rest of the Counts. For although Peter for his part undertook this great journey originally only to worship at the Holy Sepulcher, yet the rest of the Counts, and especially Bohemund, who cherished an old grudge against the Emperor, were seeking an opportunity of taking their vengeance on him for that brilliant victory he had gained over Bohemund when he engaged in battle with him at Larissa. The other Counts agreed to Bohemund's plan, and in their dreams of capturing the capital had come to the same decision (which I have often mentioned already) that while in appearance making the journey to Jerusalem, in reality their object was to dethrone the Emperor and to capture the capital.
31 The Emperor invited some of the Counts with Godfrey in order to advise them to suggest to Godfrey to take the oath ; and as time was wasted owing to the longwinded talkativeness of the Latins, a false rumor reached the others that the Counts had been thrown into prison by the Emperor. Immediately numerous regiments moved on Byzantium, and to begin with they demolished the palace near the so-called Silver Lake. They also made an attack on the walls of Byzantium, not with siege-engines indeed, as they had none, but trusting to their numbers they actually had the impudence to try to set fire to the gate below the palace which is close to the chapel built long ago by one of the Emperors to the memory of Nicolas, the greatest saint in the hierarchy.
32 As our cavalry was fighting bravely outside, and our men on the walls equally so, a serious and severe battle was kindled between the two armies. Finally the, Emperor threw in his own troops and drove the Latins into headlong flight.
On the following day Ubus went and advised Godfrey to yield to the Emperor's wish. . . But since Godfrey sent Ubus away without his having effected anything and the Emperor received news that the Counts coming after were already near, he sent a selected few of the generals with their troops, and enjoined them again to advise, nay even to compel, Godfrey to cross the straits. Directly the Latins caught sight of them, without waiting even a minute or asking what they wanted, they betook themselves to battle and fighting. A severe battle arose between them in which many fell on either side. . . As the imperial troops fought very bravely, the Latins turned their backs. In consequence Godfrey shortly afterwards yielded to the Emperor's wish. He went to the Emperor and swore the oath which was required of him, namely, that whatever towns, countries or forts he managed to take that had formerly belonged to the Roman Empire, he would deliver up to the Governor expressly sent by the Emperor for this purpose.
33 Now when Bohemund reached Apros with the other Counts, he reflected that he was not sprung from the nobility, nor was he bringing a large force owing to his poverty, but he was anxious to win the Emperor's goodwill and at the same time conceal his own designs against him, so leaving the other Counts behind he rode ahead with only ten Franks and hastened to reach the capital. As the Emperor knew his machinations and had been long aware of his treacherous and scheming nature, he desired to talk with him before the other Counts arrived, and to hear what he had to say, and to persuade him to cross into Asia before the others in order that he might not join those who were on the point of arriving, and corrupt their minds also. So when Bohemund entered, he smiled at him cheerfully and asked him about his journey and where he had left the Counts. All these things Bohemund explained clearly as he thought best, and then the Emperor joked and reminded him of his former daring deeds at Dyrrachium and his former enmity. To this the other replied, " Though I was certainly your adversary and enemy at that time, yet now I come of my own free will as a friend of your Majesty." The Emperor talked of many things with him, and lightly sounded his feelings, and as he perceived that he would agree to take the oath of fidelity, he dismissed him saying, " You must be tired from your journey and must go and rest now; tomorrow we can talk of whatever we like."
34 But the Emperor, who understood his melancholy and ill-natured disposition, did his best cleverly to remove anything that would assist him in his secret plans. Therefore when Bohemund demanded the office of Great Domestic of the East, he did not gain his request, for he was trying to "out-Cretan a Cretan". For the Emperor feared that if he gained power he would make the other Counts his captives and bring them round afterwards to doing whatever he wished. Further, he did not want Bohemund to have the slightest suspicion that he was already detected, so he flattered him with fair hopes by saying, " The time for that has not come yet; but by your energy and reputation and above all by your fidelity it will come before long." After this conversation and after bestowing gifts and honors of many kinds on them, the next day he took his seat on the imperial throne and summoned Bohemund and all the Counts. To them he discoursed of the things likely to befall them on their journey, and gave them useful advice; he also instructed them in the Turks' usual methods of warfare, and suggested the manner in which they should dispose the army and arrange their ranks, and advised them not to go far in pursuit of the Turks when they fled.
35 The Latins in company with the Roman army reached Antioch by the so-called Oxys Dromos and paid no attention to the country on either side but drew their lines close to the walls, deposited their baggage and proceeded to besiege this city during three revolutions of the moon. The Turks, alarmed at the straits that had overtaken them, sent word to the Sultan of Chorosan begging him to send sufficient troops to their assistance, in order to succor the Antiochians themselves, and also to drive off the Latins who were besieging them from outside.
36 When Curpagan [the general sent by the Sultan] arrived with his countless thousands for the succor of the city of Antioch and found it already taken, he planted his palisades, made a trench, deposited the baggage in it and decided to blockade the city. But before he could start on this work, the Franks rushed out and attacked him. A fierce battle then took place between them in which the Turks gained the victory. Now the Latins were shut up in the city and were hard pressed on both sides: on the one by the garrison of the Cula [citadel]—for the barbarians were still in possession of this—and on the other by the Turks encamped outside.
That artful man Bohemund who hoped to win the sovereignty of Antioch for himself once again spoke to the Counts, pretending to give them advice, saying, "We ought not all to fight simultaneously both against the enemy outside and the one inside, but rather split up into two portions in proportion to the number of the enemy fighting us on one side or the other, and then carry on the war in that way. And if you all approve, let my duty be to fight with the defenders of the Acropolis [citadel]; and your business will be to fight vigorously against the foes outside." They all assented to Bohemund's suggestion. He at once set to work to cut off the Acropolis from the rest of Antioch by building a transverse wall opposite, which would be a very strong defense in case of a long war. And then he constituted himself the watchful guardian of this wall fighting very bravely on every possible occasion with the garrison within.
37 That is how matters stood at Antioch up till then. But the Emperor, who was very anxious to go to the assistance of the Franks, was in spite of his longing deterred from so doing by the state of devastation and utter ruination of the maritime towns and districts. For Tzachas [Emir of Smyrna] held Smyrna as if it were his own, and a man called Tangripermes held the town of Ephesus situated on the coast in which a church was built long ago to the apostle and theologian John. Similarly other satraps held other towns, treating the Christian inhabitants as slaves and spreading desolation around. Moreover, they held Chios, Rhodes and some other islands as well, and built pirate vessels in them. Consequently he deemed it wiser first to attend to maritime matters and Tzachas, and to leave strong garrisons on the mainland and a large enough fleet to restrain the Turks' sallies and repel them, and then afterwards with the rest of the army take the road to Antioch and fight with the barbarians on his way to the best of his ability.
38 And then a report was spread abroad everywhere that an incredible host of barbarians was on its way to overtake him. (For the Sultan of Chorosan, hearing of the Emperor's departure to go to the assistance of the Franks, had collected innumerable men from Chorosan and the further provinces, equipped them all thoroughly and putting them under the command of his own son, Ishmael by name, had sent them forth with instructions to overtake the Emperor quickly before he reached Antioch.) And thus the Emperor's expedition, which he undertook for the sake of the Franks, and with the desire of wiping out the Turks who were fighting furiously with them, and above all their leader Curpagan—this expedition was stopped both by the report which the Franks had brought and by the news of Ishmael's advance against him. For he calculated what would probably happen in the future, namely, that it was an impossibility to save a city which had only just been taken by the Franks and while still in a state of disorder was immediately besieged from outside by the Hagarenes; . . .For these reasons, as his forces were insufficient against such numbers, and he could not change the Franks' decision, nor by better advice convert them to their advantage, he considered he had better not proceed any further, lest by hastening to the assistance of Antioch he might cause the destruction of Constantinople.
39 Next he detached a part of the army, broke it up further into several sections and dispatched them against the Hagarenes, with orders that, if they met any Turks making advance movements, they were to engage them and fight fiercely, and thus retard their attack on the Emperor. He himself, with the whole crowd of barbarian prisoners and of the Christians who had joined him, returned to the capital. When the arch-satrap Ishmael heard of the Emperor's actions, namely, that he had left Constantinople and effected great slaughter, laid many small towns he passed through in ruins, collected a large quantity of spoil and captives, and was now returning to the capital and had left him nothing to do, Ishmael was at a loss for he despaired of capturing his prey.
40 Soon the Emperor learnt of the seizure of Laodicea by Tancred [Bohemond’s nephew], and therefore sent a letter to Bohemund which ran as follows: "You know the oaths and promises which not only you but all the Counts took to the Roman Empire. Now you were the first to break them, by retaining possession of Antioch, and then taking more fortresses and even Laodicea itself. Therefore withdraw from Antioch and all the other cities and do what is just and right, and do not provoke more wars and troubles for yourself."
41 Now Bohemund after reading the Emperor's letter could not reply by a falsehood, as he usually did, for the facts openly declared the truth, so outwardly he assented to it, but put the blame for all the wrong he had done upon the Emperor and wrote to him thus, "It is not I, but you, who are the cause of all this. For you promised you would follow us with a large army, but you never thought of making good your promise by deeds. When we reached Antioch we fought for three months under great difficulty both against the enemy and against famine, which was more severe than had ever been experienced before, with the result that most of us ate of the very foods which are forbidden by law. We endured for a long time and while  we were in this danger even Taticius, your Majesty's most loyal servant, whom you had appointed to help us, went away and left us to our danger. Yet we captured Antioch unexpectedly and utterly routed the troops which had come from Chorosan to succor Antioch. In what way would it be just for us to deprive ourselves willingly of what we gained by our own sweat and toil? " When the envoys returned from him the Emperor recognized from the reading of his letter that he was still the same Bohemund and in no wise changed for the better, and therefore decided that he must protect the boundaries of the Roman Empire, and as far as possible, check his impetuous advance.
42 Bohemund was now getting alarmed by the Emperor's threats and had no means of protecting himself (for he had neither an army on land nor a fleet at sea; and danger menaced him from both sides), so he devised a plan which was exceedingly sordid, and yet exceedingly ingenious. First of all he left the town of Antioch to his nephew Tancred, the son of Marceses, and had a report spread about himself, which said that Bohemund had died, and while still alive he arranged that the world should think of him as dead. And the report spread more quickly than a bird can fly and proclaimed that Bohemund was a corpse! And when he found that the report had taken good hold, a wooden coffin was soon prepared and a bireme, in which the coffin was placed, and also he, the living corpse, sailed away from Sudei, which is the harbour of Antioch, to Rome.
43 Thus Bohemund was carried across the sea as a corpse, for to all appearance he was a corpse to judge by the coffin and the demeanour of his companions (for wherever they stopped the barbarians plucked out their hair and mourned him ostentatiously), and inside he was lying stretched out dead for the time being, but for the rest inhaling and exhaling air through unseen holes. This took place at the sea-ports; but when the boat was out at sea, they gave him food and attention; and then afterwards the same lamentations and trickeries were repeated. And to make the corpse appear stale and odoriferous, they strangled or killed a cock and placed it with the corpse. And when a cock has been dead for four or five days its smell is most disagreeable for those who have a sense of smell. And this smell seemed to those who are deceived by outward appearance to be that of Bohemund's body; and that villain Bohemund enjoyed this fictitious evil all the more; I for myself am astonished that he being alive could bear such a siege of his nostrils, and be carried about with a dead body.
44 During the time that countless hosts of Franks crossed from the West into Asia and were proving a scourge to Antioch, Tyre and all the surrounding towns and countries, the Babylonian [The Sultan of Cairo] had managed to capture three hundred Counts and was keeping them bound in prison where their treatment was as cruel as it used to be in olden times. When the Emperor heard the details of their capture and the consequent sufferings that had befallen them, he was cut to the heart and occupied himself entirely with their deliverance. Accordingly he sent for Nicetas Panucomites and dispatched him to the Babylonian with money and also handed him a letter in which he begged for those captive Counts and promised the Sultan many benefits if he would release them from their chains. After seeing Panucomites and hearing from him the message sent by the Emperor, the Babylonian read the letter and immediately freed the captives from their bonds and had them brought out of prison. However he did not grant them absolute liberty but handed them over to Panucomites to conduct to the Emperor and this without accepting even a farthing of the money that had been sent.
45 In pity for their sufferings the Emperor shed a bitter tear and at once showed them much kindness, giving them money, providing clothes of all sorts, conducting them to the baths and endeavoring in every way to help them recover from their ill-treatment. The Counts were delighted at the kind way they were treated by the Emperor, they his former foes and opponents, who had broken their promises and oaths to him, and they appreciated his forbearance towards them.
. . . But when Bohemund reached Lombardy and was busy gathering together larger armies than his former ones, and was going round to all the towns and villages decrying the Emperor and loudly proclaiming him a pagan who was assisting the pagans with all his might—the Emperor on hearing this gave the aforementioned Counts lavish presents and sent them off home. He did this, firstly because they themselves had already begun to wish to return home, and secondly, in order that they might refute the tales which Bohemund had been publishing about him.
46 Now, as we have said, the tyrant Bohemund crossed with an enormous fleet from the other side into our country and then poured his whole Frankish army over our plains. From there he marched on Epidamnus in battle order thinking he might perhaps be able to take it without a blow; but, if not, he would capture the city by means of siege-engines and stone-throwing machines. This at least was his intention. He bivouacked opposite the gate that opens to the East on which there stands an equestrian statue in bronze, and after reconnoitering he began the siege. For the whole of that winter he made plans and examined every corner to see at which point Dyrrachium could be taken. But when spring began to smile, since he had made his troops cross once for all, he set fire to his ships of burden, his cavalry-transports and, as I might say, his military ships. This was partly a strategic movement to prevent his soldiers from looking towards the sea, partly too it was due to the compulsion of the Roman fleet; and then he gave his whole attention to the siege.
47 To begin with he surrounded the city completely with his barbarian army and indulged in skirmishing. (In reply to this the archers of the Roman army shot at them, sometimes from the towers of Dyrrachium and sometimes from a distance.) He would also send out divisions of the Frankish army who would engage us in battle or be engaged by us. He took Petroula and the fort called Mylus, which lies on the other side of the river Diabolis, and other such towns in the neighborhood of Dyrrachium he received as his portion by the law of war. These things he did by military force; but at the same time he was constructing machines of war, building movable sheds (or 'tortoises') with towers and battering rams, and other sheds—to protect the diggers and the sappers, he worked all the winter and summer, and by his threats and deeds terrified the men who were already terrified.
But even so he could not shake the Roman power in the slightest. And the question of commissariat was becoming very difficult for him. For all the food-stuffs he had originally brought in as plunder from the country round Dyrrachium had been used up already, and the sources from which he had hoped to get further supplies were blocked by the Roman soldiery who occupied the valleys and passes and even the sea-board itself. Consequently a severe famine overtook them, consuming both horses and men alike, as the horses had no fodder and the men no food. In addition to this the barbarian army was seized with a disorder of the stomach, apparently due to some unsuitable cereal, that is millet; but in reality the wrath of God swooped down upon this innumerable and irresistible army and caused continuous deaths.
48 When spring set in the Empress returned from Thessalonica to the capital and the Emperor continued his onward journey and by way of Pelagonia he reached Diabolis which lies at the foot of those impracticable passes of which we have spoken before. As he had thought out a new plan of campaign against the barbarians, he judged it absolutely necessary to avoid a general battle. For the same reason he did not wish for any close fighting but left the impassable valleys and roads which had no outlet as border-land between the two armies, and then posted all the most loyal officers along the hill-tops with sufficient forces and thus initiated his new plan of campaign, which was that neither his men should be able to reach Bohemund easily nor letters pass or messages be conveyed from Bohemund's camp to our men, for these are generally the means by which conciliation is effected. For the Stagirite [ Aristotle] says that many friendships are dissolved through neglecting friendly greetings. He knew Bohemund to be a man of consummate guile and energy and, although he was quite willing to accept open battle with him, as I have said, yet he never ceased working against him by every other possible means and device. . . .
49 At the same time he summoned Roger (a noble Frank) and Peter Aliphas, a man renowned in war who kept his loyalty to the Emperor unbroken throughout. In council with them he sought a plan by which he could so dispose matters with regard to Bohemund as utterly to rout him, and he also asked them who were Bohemund's most loyal followers and most in sympathy with him. When they had told him, he said he must by some means or other win these men over. " And if this is done then with their help discord can be introduced and that will split up the body of the Frankish army." This plan he communicated to the men just mentioned, and begged each of the three to lend him one of their trusted servants who knew how to hold his tongue ; and they willingly agreed to give him their best servants. When the men came, he invented the following scheme. He composed letters which were apparently his answers to some of Bohemund's most intimate friends and were conceived on the assumption that the others had already written to him, wooing his friendship and revealing the tyrant's secret intentions. So he sent them these letters in which he pretended to offer them most grateful thanks and to be ready to accept their kind feelings toward him. . . . On their heels he sent one of his most trusty servants to follow the messengers without being seen and told him that when he saw they were close to the camp he was to slip past and outrun them and find Bohemund. To him he was to pretend that he was a deserter and had come over to him because he hated being with the Emperor, and while professing friendship and a certain goodwill to the tyrant, he was to accuse those men openly to whom the letters were addressed. . . .
50 So Bohemund sent and detained those letter-carriers and after opening the letters turned quite faint and nearly fell, for he believed they were true. Then he arranged that those men should be closely guarded and he himself remained in his tent, without coming forth for six days, debating with himself what he ought to do. He revolved many plans in his head; ought he to call for the generals and openly tell his brother Guido the suggestion made against him? and ought they to be brought to him after examination or without examination? and-another question--whom was he to appoint constables in their place ? For he reflected that, if these men who were pre-eminent for valor, were removed, his cause would suffer great injury, so he settled the matter in the only permissible way (and I fancy he suspected the hidden meaning of the letters), for he met them cheerfully and with full confidence allowed them to retain their positions.
51 And now Bohemund was sorely pressed both by land and sea. (For the Emperor sat like a spectator watching the events in the Illyrian plain, yet with his whole heart and soul he stood by the side of his soldiers and shared an their exertions and labours—or even underwent more, one might say. He spurred on the chiefs he had posted at the heads of the passes to fresh combats and battles, and suggested to them the manner in which they should attack the Franks. And Marianus was watching the pathways of the straits between Lombardy and Illyria, and entirely prevented men crossing from Italy to Illyria, for he did not allow a three-masted boat or a large merchant-vessel or even a light two-oared pirate-boat to cross to Bohemund.) Now that the provisions which used to be brought by sea failed Bohemund and he was hard pressed on land, for he saw the war was being waged with great skill (for whenever any soldiers left the palisades to forage or fetch in other things or drive out the horses to water the Romans at once attacked them and killed the majority, so that his army was gradually wasting away), he sent envoys to Alexius, Duke of Dyrrachium, and began to treat for peace. Moreover one of Bohemund's high-bred Counts, Gelielmus Clareles, observing that the Frankish army was perishing from starvation and disease (for a terrible disease had swooped down upon it from above) consulted his own safety and deserted to the Emperor with fifty horse.
52 The Emperor welcomed such a guest, enquired about Bohemund's affairs and on being assured that famine was breaking up the army and that the Franks' position was really desperate, he conferred the rank of Nobilissimus on him on the spot and repaid him with many gifts and attentions. He next heard by letter from Alexius that Bohemund had sent an embassy to sue for peace. As he was aware that the men about his person were always plotting some evil against him and reflected how frequently they had rebelled, and that he was really more exposed to foes at home than to enemies abroad, he decided to leave off fighting against both parties with both hands.
53 So he remained where he was, resisting both parties, and bade the Duke of Dyrrachium by letter answer Bohemund as follows. "You know very well how often I have been deceived when trusting to your oaths and promises. And did not the divine law of the gospel command Christians to forgive each other all offences, I should not have opened my ears to your proposals yet it is better to be deceived than to offend God and to transgress divine laws. For this reason only I do not reject your request. If you yourself too really desire peace and detest the foolish and impracticable task you have undertaken and no longer wish to find pleasure in shedding the blood of Christians, not for the sake of your own country or on behalf of Christians, but simply and solely for your own gratification, then, as the distance between us is but short, come here yourself with as many soldiers as you please. And whether our respective wishes coincide, as the result of an agreement, or whether they do not, in either case, as I have said, you shall return to your own camp unharmed."
Alexiad by Anna Comnena, translated by Elizabeth A. Dawes. Routledge, Kegan, Paul, London 1928. Reissued by Barnes & Noble, New York, 1967.
The text is available online at Fordham University.
Anna Comnena, A Study, by Georgina Buckler. Oxford University Press, Humphrey Milford, London, 1929.
Anna Comnena, by Rae Dalven. Twayne Publishers, Inc., New York, 1972.
Introduction and selection of extracts Copyright © Rex Pay 2005