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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

Byzantium and the Crusades

Henry VI and his eastern plans 


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At this critical moment the pope took the side of Byzantium. He understood very well that, if the dream of the Hohenstaufens of a universal monarchy, including Byzantium, should be realized, the papacy would be doomed to permanent impotence. Therefore the pope exerted himself to the utmost to restrain Henry from his offensive plans against the Eastern Empire; the schismatic belief of the Byzantine Emperor seems not to have alarmed the successor of St. Peter. Perhaps for the first time in history, as Norden suggested, the Greek problem almost entirely lost for the papacy its religious character and presented itself as exclusively political. What would a spiritual victory signify for the curia if it were to be bought at the price of the political liquidation of the Papacy! To the papacy it seemed a secondary question whether Byzantium, as a buffer state against western imperialism, would be a Catholic or schismatic state, whether a legitimate Greek emperor or a usurper would sit on the Byzantine throne; to the papacy of the end of the twelfth century the principal thing was that the Byzantine state should preserve its independence intact.

Meanwhile Henry sent a threatening message to Alexius III, similar to that which had been sent before to Isaac. Alexius could buy peace only by paying to Henry an enormous amount of money; for that purpose Alexius introduced in the whole state a special tax, which was called Alamanian (ἀλαμανικόν) and took off precious ornaments from the imperial tombs. Only by such humiliation did he succeed in buying peace from his terrible adversary. At the end of the summer of 1197 Henry arrived at Messina in order to attend personally the setting out of the crusade. An enormous fleet had been assembled, which had perhaps as its aim not the Holy Land, but Constantinople. But just at that moment the young and vigorous Henry fell ill with fever and died in the autumn of the same year, 1197. With Henry's death his ambitious plans broke down; for the second time within a brief period the East escaped the Hohenstaufens. Byzantium met the news of Henry's death and the release from the Alamanian tax with great joy. The pope also breathed a sigh of relief.

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