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Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

Byzantium and the Crusades

Alexius I and external relations before the First Crusade 

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Anna Comnena, the educated and gifted daughter of the new Emperor, Alexius, said that her father, at the beginning of his reign, viewed the Turkish danger from the east and the Norman from the west, and saw that his Empire was in fatal agony. The external situation of the Empire was very serious and gradually became still more troublesome and complicated.

 

The Norman War. The Duke of Apulia, Robert Guiscard, after conquering the Byzantine possessions in southern Italy, formed much wider plans. Ambitious to deal a blow at the very heart of Byzantium, he transferred hostilities to the Adriatic coast of the Balkan peninsula. He left the government of Apulia to his younger son Roger and, with his elder brother Bohemond, well-known as a participator in the First Crusade, sailed against Alexius, with a considerable fleet. His chief immediate aim was to seize the maritime city of Dyrrachium (formerly Epidamnus; Slavonic Drach (Drac) now Durazzo) in Illyria. Dyrrachium, the chief city of the theme of Dyrrachium, which had been organized under Basil II Bulgaroctonus, was very well fortified and justly considered the key to the Empire in the west. The famous military road of Egnatius (via Egnatia), constructed as far back as Roman times, led from Dyrrachium to Thessalonica and then farther to the east toward Constantinople. Therefore it was perfectly natural that Robert's chief attention should be directed upon Dyrrachium. This expedition was the prelude of the Crusades and preparation (Vorbereitung) for the Frankish dominion in Greece, the pre-crusade of Robert Guiscard, his great war against Alexius Comnenus.

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