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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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Of course, Andronicus was incapable of carrying out a radical reform of a social system which had resulted from a long historical process. Representatives of the persecuted landowning aristocracy were only waiting for the first opportunity to get rid of their hated ruler and replace him by a person who would keep up the social policy of the first three Comneni. Suspecting everywhere treason and plots, Andronicus adopted a system of terrorism which, without any distinction, crushed guilty and guiltless, and not only among the higher classes; an atmosphere of irritation and hatred for the Emperor gradually grew among the population. The people who had recently received their darling with frantic acclamations, deserted him as a man who had not kept his promises, and they were already looking for a new claimant to the throne. Nicetas Choniates gave a striking picture of the changeable mood of the Constantinopolitan populace of that time: In any other city the populace is thoughtless and very unyielding in its tumultuous motion; but the mob of Constantinople is particularly tumultuous, violent, and walking in crooked ways, because it is composed of different peoples. Indifference towards the emperors is an evil innate in them; him whom they raise today legally as their master, they disparage next year as a criminal.

The complicated and threatening internal situation became still more aggravated by the failure of the external policy. Andronicus came to the conclusion that the political isolation of the Empire was impracticable from the point of view of its essential and vital interests; in order to save the situation he must resume relations with the western powers that he so ostentatiously abhorred.

And in truth the attitude of the West towards Byzantium was exceedingly menacing. After Manuel's death there were two enemies of Byzantium in western Europe: Germany, and the Kingdom of Sicily. The alliance of the two empires which for a time, during the reign of Manuel, had been the basis of the western European policy, came to an end; at the same time the aid rendered by Byzantium to the Lombard communes in their struggle against Frederick Barbarossa made that enemy of the Eastern Empire gradually inclined to draw closer and closer to the Kingdom of Sicily.

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