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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

Byzantium and the Crusades

Alexius I and external relations before the First Crusade 


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Realizing that with his own forces he was incapable of overcoming the Norman danger, Alexius Comnenus called on the West for aid, and among other rulers he appealed to Henry IV of Germany. Henry at that time had some difficulties within his own empire and had not yet settled his struggle with Pope Gregory VII so that he was able to afford no aid to the Byzantine Emperor. But Venice, with a view to her own interests, replied favorably to the appeal of Alexius. In return for the help of her fleet, the Emperor promised the Republic of St. Mark enormous trade privileges. It suited the interests of Venice to support the eastern Emperor in his war against the Normans because in case of military success the Normans could immediately seize the trade routes to Byzantium and the East, in other words, could obtain possession of what the Venetians themselves hoped in the course of time to control. Besides, a real and immediate danger pressed upon Venice: Norman possession of the Ionian Islands, especially Corfu and Cephalonia, and the west coast of the Balkan peninsula, would have barred the Adriatic to the Venetian vessels plying in the Mediterranean.

After the capture of the island of Corfu, the Normans besieged Dyrrachium by land and sea. Although the Venetian vessels had relieved the besieged city on the seaward side, the land army under Alexius, composed of Macedonian Slavs, Turks, the imperial Varangian-English bodyguard, and some other nationalities, was heavily defeated. At the beginning of 1082, Dyrrachium opened its gates to Robert. But a revolt which had broken out in south Italy called Robert away. Bohemond, to whom the command of the expeditionary corps had been delegated by his brother, was finally vanquished. A new expedition undertaken by Robert against Byzantium was successful, but an epidemic broke out among his troops and Robert himself fell a victim to the disease. He died in 1085 in the north of the island of Cephalonia. Even today a small bay and village in the island, Fiscardo (Guiscardo, Portus Wiscardi, in the Middle Ages, from the name of Robert Guiscard), recalls the name of the powerful Duke of Apulia. With Robert's death the Norman invasion of Byzantine territory ceased, and Dyrrachium passed again to the Greeks.

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