Alexios I Komnenos
1081 - 1091
The Empire's situation in 1081 did not look good. The Empire had been humilinatingly reduced to it's smallest territorial extent in its history. It was surrounded on all sides by enemies: Normans to the West; Seljuk Turks to the East and Hungarians to the North. The Imperial Treasury had all but been emptied during the civil war after the disaster at Manzikert. To add further problems, the Pechenegs to the North had been raiding had been raiding Imperial lands, particuarly around Nikopolis and Constantia. The Duchies of Duklja and Rashka are also eager to expand at the Empire's expense, whilst being supported by the Normans in Southern Italy. The Megas Domestikos, Isaakios Komnenos, the Emperors brother estimated that the Imperial Military numbered around 35,000 to 40,000 men. Many of these soldiers were poorly trained levies and militia, the Battle of Manzikert had destroyed the professional core of the Imperial Army, the tagmata.
The Imperial Army in 1081
The Imperial Navy did not fare much better than the Army. The former fleets of the Empire had disappeared during the reign of Constantine IX (1042–1055). By the last quarter of the 11th century, the Imperial Navy was a shadow of its former self, having declined through neglect, the incompetence of its officers, and lack of funds. The Normans in Southern Italy and were casting their eyes to the Adriatic coasts. Seljukid Fleets and pirates appeared in the Aegean Sea, strangling trade and commerce which had made Constantinople the wealthiest city in the world. By 1081, the Imperial Navy was in such a state of disrepair and neglect, it was unable to respond to these developments. On paper, the strength of the Navy was robust: 434 ships could be deployed. However, the reality was that many of these ships were old and in a state of disrepair. 30 years of neglect had taken their toll and many were not seaworthy. However, the Empire did possess one weapon. "Roman Fire" or more popuarly known as "Greek Fire". Mounted on the great Dromon warships that made the Imperial Navy a force to be reckoned with. Scant few of these vessels were in the posession of the Empire as of 1081.
The Imperial Navy in 1081
In order to recitify the appalling state of Imperial finances. Alexios I ordered that church artifacts and lands be sold in order to pay for expansion of the Army. Needless to say, the Eccumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Eustratios I was not pleased. However, it paid off. By 1083, many new "Kastrons" had been established/or were being established and funds were allocated to the Imperial Navy to hunt down pirates that plagued trade in the Aegean. By the beginning of 1084, Imperial finances were beginning to balance out and Alexios, with counsel from his brother the Megas Domestikos, Isaakios Komnenos, turned their attention north, to the Pechenegs. Both Alexios and Isaakios favoured a quick strike against the Pechenegs. Hoping to quickly annex their lands the use the loot gained to finance further expansion of the Army and the Empire
The Royal Marriage of Theodora Komnenos and Stjepan Trpmirovic
More good news arrived in March 1084. King Dimitar I of Croatia proposed a marriage between between Emperor's sister, Theodora Komnenos and the heir to the Kingdom of Croatia Stjepan Trpmirovic. The Emperor accepted and breathed a sigh of relief. Knowing that the Empire had at least one less enemy. Preperations were continuting for the invasion of the Pechenegs. Troops have begun arriving in Thema Paristrion. The plan was for two armies, one led by the Emperor striking straight for the capital of the Pechenegs, Belgorod. Another army led by Megas Domestikos Isaakios Komnenos would occupy Wallachia. The Imperial Navy would maintain a blockade but didn't expect any naval opposition.
The Invasion of the Pechenegs
The invasion was launched in July, with Emperor Alexios I declaring a holy war to bring the lands of the Pechenegs back under the control of the Orthodox Church. the Pechenegs were clearly caught off guard and reeled from the attack, mustering a paltry amount of troops to defend Belgorod agains the Army of Basileus Alexios I. The Battle of Belgorod took place on 14 August 1084. 3000 Pechenegs stood between Alexios and victory. By all accounts, the Pechenegs appear to have been caught by surprise. At any rate, the battle that took place on the next morning at Obluctia was practically a massacre. The Pechenegs had brought their women and children with them, and they were totally unprepared for the ferocity of the attack that was unleashed upon them. The Imperial Army fell upon the enemy camp, slaughtering all in their path. The Pechenegs quickly collapsed, and the victors butchered them so savagely that they were almost wiped out. The survivors were captured by the Byzantines and taken into Imperial service
The destruction of the Percheneg army allowed Alexios to besiege Belgorod and Isaakios cut a bloody swathe through Wallachia. Settlement after settlement fell to the Imperial Army. By 1086, High Chief Kabuksin I of the Perchenegs surrendered. All Percheneg territory was annexed into the Empire and three new Themes were established to oversee administration of the newly conquered lands. When news reached Constantinople that the Perchenegs had capitulated. The capital exploded into celebration. Basileus Alexios I was hailed as a hero, the man who had restored Imperial prestige after the disaster at Manzikert 15 years ago. For once, the citizens of the Empire were optimistic. Perhaps the Empire could regain her old glory. Basileus Alexios entered Constantinople to great fanfare in October of 1086. A great restoration project was announced. Constantinople would reclaim her glory, no longer would the greatest city in the world be allowed the crumble. Expansion of the Hagia Sophia, Hippodrome and Great Palace began immediatley. The newly conquered lands provided a greet boon for the previously flagging economy. In addition the Empire aquired Fertile costal regions on the Black Sea. Funds were poured into the construction of military facilites across the Empire to recover the professionalism the Imperial Army lost at Manzikert. Also, 10,000 captured Perchenegs were forced into service in the Imperial Army, once more giving the Empire a potent cavalry force.
The Empire in 1091
Thus, the Empire in 1091 was different from the one that Basileus Alexios I ascended to 10 years ago. While the Empire had secured it's European posessions and could now look to recovering the Empire's former territories in Anatolia, the Empire was still a far cry away from it's golden age and it remained vulnerable to the Seljuk Turks who stood upon Constantinople's doorstep.