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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

Byzantium and the Crusades

Foreign affairs under the last Comneni, Alexius II and Andronicus I 


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Andronicus set strenuously to work at reforms. The salary of many officials was raised in order to make them less bribable; honest and incorruptible men were appointed judges; tax burdens were considerably lightened, and severe punishments were inflicted upon the tax collectors who were furthering their own interests. Strong measures were taken against large landowners, and many members of the Byzantine aristocracy were put to death. Michael Acominatus wrote: Long ago we have been convinced that you are mild to the poor, terrific to the covetous, that you are the protector of the weak and the enemy of the violators, that you incline the balance of Themis neither to the right nor to the left, and that you have hands pure from bribes.

The struggle of Andronicus with the Byzantine aristocracy, both of birth and of wealth, reminded the Italian historian, Cognasso, of the struggle of the tsar of Russia, John (Ivan) the Terrible, in the sixteenth century, with the Russian nobility. He wrote:

As Andronicus had intended to destroy the preponderance of Byzantine aristocracy, so John, the power of boyars (Russian nobility), and both of them, but the Russian Tzar to a greater extent, were forced to resort to coercive measures. But it was unfortunate that by weakening aristocracy they both weakened the state; John IV found himself as helpless before the Poles of Stephen Batory as Andronicus before the Normans of William II. John, sovereign of a young and strong people, succeeded by rapid measures in saving Russia; Andronicus had fallen before the Empire was reformed and strengthened. The old organism could no longer be supported, and a new organic body, of which Andronicus was dreaming, was too soon entrusted to inexperienced hands.

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