Introduction: Alexius I or more commonly Alexius Comnenos was a Byzantine Emperor. He belonged to the Comnenos dynasty of Byzantine rulers. Alexius’ reign lasted from late 11th century to early 12th century. He is best known for turning a declining Byzantine Empire into a strong seat of power and successfully defending it against Norman invasions in Balkans and Seljuk Turk threat in Asia Minor.
While he was not the first Comnenian ruler, he is by far the most prominent one. His territorial, military and economic restoration of Byzantine Empire is known as the ‘Komnenian Restoration’.
Early Life: Alexius was born in an aristocrat family in 1056. His father, John Comnenos was the brother of Byzantine Emperor Issac I. Alexius had four brothers and three sisters. His mother, Dalassene also belonged to a powerful clan and after his father’s death played an important role in Alexius’ accession.
After the abdication of Issac I, Johna Comnenos refused to ascend to the throne. As a result, four emperors from other families ruled till accession of Alexius in 1081. Between 1068 and 1081, Alexius and his brother Issac served in the military campaigns in Thrace, Asia Minor and Epirus.
Alexius Assumes the Mantle: With the help of his mother, his wife’s powerful family, his brother Issac and the Empress Maria, Alexius staged a coup against Emperor Nikephoros III. Empress Maria wanted her son from a previous marriage, Constantine to become the next emperor. Alexius and his mother Anna saw an opportunity to wrest throne from Nikephoros III and joined hands with Maria. They assured her that they would support Constantine’s accession. After the coup, Alexius and Constantine assumed mantle as co-rulers for sometime before Alexius deposed Constantine and sent Maria to a monastery.
During Alexius’ thirty seven years rule, there was severe struggle to survive against repeated invasions by Normans and Turks. The first challenge he faced was from Norman military adventurer Robert Guiscard. Alexius was able to eventually defeat him after suffering several defeats himself. He subsequently turned towards Thrace, where revolt by Paulician and Pecheneg clans was hurting his cause. Here again, Alexius was able to quell the revolt.
He earned a decisive victory against Pechenegs at Battle of Levounion in 1091. After pacifying Balkans, Alexius focused his attention on Asia Minor, where Seljuk Turks had invaded vast tracts of land. He sought help from Pope Urban II, who obliged him by preaching the First Crusade. After some early setbacks, The First Crusade was successful in recovering various cities from Turks. As a result, Byzantine forces retook much of western Asia Minor.
Personal Life: Alexius is credited by historians for saving Byzantine Empire from an existential threat at the time of his accession. He ably commanded his forces to fend off serious threats from Turks and Normans. His superior political ability enabled him to forge alliances at critical times which served him well. His rule however; grew unpopular as the time went by. The main reason was his religious persecution of Paulician and Bogomil sects. He was nevertheless credited for bringing much needed monetary reforms.
He introduced ‘Hyperpyron’, the new coinage which stabilized the financial situation of his empire. He was always under the influence of her mother Anna. Such was her clout that upon Alexius’ accession to the throne, she assumed the title of ‘Augusta’ which actually belonged to Alexius’ wife Irene Doukaina. After a protracted illness, Alexius died on August 16, 1118. He was succeeded by his son John II Comnenus. John II was groomed well for the role and proved to be an able and admirable ruler.