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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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It has been shown that the aggressive policy of Robert Guiscard in the Balkan peninsula failed. But under him the question of the south Italian possessions of Byzantium was definitely decided. Robert had founded the Italian state of the Normans, because he was the first to succeed in unifying the various countries founded by his compatriots and in forming the Duchy of Apulia, which under him lived through a period of brilliance. A certain decline of the Duchy which came on after Robert's death, lasted for about fifty years, at the end of which the foundation of the Sicilian Kingdom opened a new era in the history of the Italian Normans. Robert Guiscard, the French historian Chalandon declared, opened a new way to the ambition of his descendants: after him the Italian Normans were to direct their gaze toward the east; in the east and at the expense of the Greek Empire, twelve years later, Bohemond was to create a princedom for himself.

Venice, in return for the aid given by her fleet, received from the Emperor enormous trade privileges which established for the Republic of St. Mark quite an exceptional position in the Empire. Besides magnificent presents to the Venetian churches and honorable titles with a fixed salary to the doge and Venetian patriarch and their successors, the imperial charter of Alexius (or chrysobull, i.e. the charter confirmed with a gold imperial seal) of May 1082 granted the Venetian merchants the right of buying and selling all over the Empire and made them free of custom, port, and other dues connected with trade; the Byzantine customs officers had no right of inspecting their merchandise. In the capital itself the Venetians received a large quarter with many shops and stores as well as three landing places, which were called in the East scales (maritimas tres scalas), where the Venetian vessels could be freely loaded and unloaded. The charter of Alexius gives an interesting list of the places of the Empire which were commercially most important, on the seashore and in the interior, which were open to Venice in Asia Minor, the Balkan peninsula and Greece, and in the islands of the Aegean, ending with Constantinople, which is called in this document Megalopolis, i.e. Great City. In their turn, the Venetians promised to be the faithful subjects of the Empire. By the privileges accorded to the Venetian merchants in the charter they were treated much more favorably than the Byzantine merchants themselves. By the charter of Alexius Comnenus a solid foundation was laid for the colonial power of Venice in the East; the conditions established to create her economic preponderance in Byzantium were such as would seem likely to make competition impossible for a long time. But the same exceptional economic privileges granted Venice served in the course of time, under changed circumstances, as one of the causes of the political conflicts between the Eastern Empire and the Republic of St. Mark.

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