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The Alexiad: Book IV

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War with the Normans (1081-2)


I THUS the Continent was now occupied by Robert, who pitched his camp in it on June 17th of the fourth Indiction with an exceedingly great number of horse- and foot-soldiers who formed a terrifying sight as well because of their equipment as from their strategic arrangement; for by this time the whole army had reassembled from all sides. And at sea rode his fleet composed of every kind of vessel with a different set of soldiers, highly experienced in naval warfare. The inhabitants of Dyrrachium were hemmed in on either side, that is by sea and by land, and as they could see Robert's innumerable troops, which exceeded all their expectations, they were overcome with fear. However, George Palaeologus, a brave man and expert in every sort of strategy, who had fought thousands of battles in the East and come out victor, was undismayed, and began fortifying the city. He built bulwarks according to the Emperor's suggestions, placed a number of stone-throwing engines on the walls, put fresh heart into the discouraged soldiers, set watchmen all along the wall, made the circuit of them himself every day and night, and exhorted the guard to keep unceasing watch. At the same time he sent the news by letter to the Emperor of Robert's incursion and his intention of besieging Dyrrachium. When the inhabitants of Dyrrachium saw the siege-engines outside and the enormous tower that had been constructed, overtopping even the walls of Dyrrachium-and encased in bides with catapults standing on the top of it-when they saw the whole circumference of the walls girt round by the army, and the allies flocking in from all directions to Robert, and the neighbouring towns being raided, and the tents increasing in number daily, then indeed dread fear fell upon them. For now they recognized Duke Robert's aim, and saw that he had occupied the plain of Illyria, not for the purpose of [99] pillaging towns and country, collecting a large store of booty, and then returning to Apulia, as rumour had reported, but that he was really striving for the mastership of the Roman Empire, and was anxious to take Dyrrachium by storm, to start with, so to say. So Palaeologus ordered the question to be asked from the walls: 'For what purpose had Robert entered their country?' He replied, "In order to restore Michael, my kinsman, who was expelled from the Empire, to his former high position, to wipe out the insults heaped upon him, and generally to avenge him." To this the besieged replied: "If when we see Michael we recognize him, we will immediately do obeisance to him and hand over the city." On hearing this Robert forthwith commanded Michael to be clad in magnificent robes and exhibited to the inhabitants of the city. So with a magnificent procession as escort and to the music of a band and cymbals he was shown to the townsfolk. But directly they saw him, they poured down a stream of insults upon him from the walls and swore that they certainly did not recognize him. Robert paid no heed, however, and went on with the work he had in hand. Whilst the men inside and outside the walls were thus bandying words with each other, a few made a sudden sortie from the city, engaged the Latins in combat, and after inflicting a slight loss upon them, reentered Dyrrachium.

There was a great diversity of opinion about the monk who was accompanying Robert. Some declared he was the cup-bearer of the Emperor Michael Ducas, others asseverated that he was indeed the Emperor Michael himself, the barbarian's kinsman by marriage for whose sake alone he had undertaken this great war; and yet another party contended that they knew positively that the whole thing was a fiction invented by Robert; nor, said they, had the monk come to him of his own accord. But Robert raised himself from extreme poverty and complete obscurity by physical energy and mental predominance and carved himself a kingdom by conquering all the towns and districts of Lombardy, and even of Apulia, as has been told in this history. Very soon he coveted more, as is generally the rule with men of insatiable ambition, and decided he ought to make an attempt upon the cities scattered throughout Illyria, and then, if that venture was successful, to proceed still further. For covetousness, whenever it grasps at Empire. does not differ at all from gangrene, which can never be arrested [100] once it has attacked a body, until it has passed right through and vitiated it entirely.

II The Emperor was kept informed of all these events by the letters of Palaeologus - namely, that Robert crossed the sea in June (as already told); that, in spite of being caught in a terrible storm and shipwrecked and subjected to God's wrath, he was nothing daunted, but took Valona at first assault with the forces he had brought with him; further, that innumerable troops from all quarters were rallying to his standard, as many as the flakes of a snowstorm in number; and that the lighter-headed were joining Robert because they believed that the impostor Michael was really the Emperor. Consequently Alexius was afraid and considering the magnitude of the task before him and realizing that the forces at his command were only equal to a small fraction of Robert's, he deemed it necessary to call upon the Turks in the East for help, and signified his desire to the Sultan. By promises and bribes he also solicited the aid of the Venetians (from them, it is said, the Romans had previously introduced the name "Venetian colour " in their horse races). Some things he promised, and others he offered to give at once, provided that they would equip their whole navy and with all speed sail to Dyrrachium with the object firstly, of protecting the city and secondly, of engaging in battle with Robert's fleet. And if they carried out his request, and by God's help gained the victory or (as may always happen) they were defeated, even then they should receive all he had promised, just the same as if they had conquered. And all their desires, provided only they were not injurious to the Roman Empire, should be fulfilled and confirmed by Golden Bulls. On hearing this the Venetians signified their desires through their ambassadors and received definite promises. Thereupon they got their navy ready with every kind of ship and started for Dyrrachium in good order. They passed safely over the high seas and reached the chapel built long ago to the Immaculate Virgin at a spot called Pallia, about eighteen stades distant from Robert's camp outside Dyrrachium. But when from the region of Dyrrachium they had viewed Robert's fleet fitted out with every species of military instruments they lost heart for the war. As soon as Robert knew of their arrival he sent his son Bohemund to them with the fleet to bid them 'hurrah' for the Emperor Michael and for Robert. However, they put off their hurrahing to the morrow. When night fell, as they were not able to approach [101] the shore, and there was a calm, they tied the larger vessels together with ropes and constructed a so-called "sea-harbour," and built wooden towers at their mastheads and hauled up on to them by ropes the small boats which were usually towed together at their stems. In these they placed armed men and cut up heavy beams into pieces about a foot-and-a-half long and studded them with sharp iron nails and then awaited the approach of the Frankish fleet. At daybreak Bohemund came demanding their acclamations. But when the Venetians laughed at his beard, he could not stand their ridicule, and himself led the attack against the largest of their ships and soon the rest of the fleet joined in. A fierce battle commenced and as Bohemund was fighting very savagely against them, they threw down one of the bludgeons mentioned above, and knocked a hole into the ship on which Bohemund was. As the water was sucking down the vessel and they were in danger of sinking, some of the men actually jumped out into the water and were drowned whilst the rest still continued fighting with the Venetians, and were killed. And Bohemund being in imminent danger leapt on to one of his own boats and was saved. Then the Venetians took fresh courage and carried on the battle with greater energy until at last they routed the enemy and pursued them to Robert's camp. Directly they touched the land they jumped on to it and started another battle with Robert. When Palaeologus saw them he too rushed out from the citadel of Dyrrachium and fought on the side of the Venetians. After a fierce battle which surged right up to Robert's encampment, a large number of men were driven out from this and many too fell a prey to the sword. Afterwards the Venetians carried off much spoil, and returned to their ships and Palaeologus re-entered the citadel. And after taking a few days' rest the Venetians sent ambassadors to the Emperor to recount these happenings. He received them with great honour, as was natural, bestowed many benefactions upon them, and then dismissed them with a large gift of money for the Doge of Venice and his subordinate magistrates.

III But Robert being of a most warlike disposition, decided not to discontinue the war, but to fight on bravely. As it was winter he was unable to launch his ships, and moreover, the Roman and Venetian fleets kept a strict guard over the straits and prevented his reinforcements and commissariat from Lombardy reaching him. Now when spring had [102] set in and the storms at sea had ceased, the Venetians were the first to slip their cables and take the water against Robert, and behind them sailed Maurix with the Roman fleet. A bitter combat ensued hereupon and Robert's men fled, which led to Robert's deciding to haul up his whole fleet. Then the islanders and the towns along the coast and whoever else had been paying tribute to Robert, took heart because of his misadventures, and after they heard of his defeat at sea did not readily pay the taxes he had imposed. So he resolved to carry on the war with greater diligence and fight again both on land and sea. But as he could not proceed to put his plans into action, for strong winds were blowing at the time and he feared shipwreck, he waited patiently for two months near the harbour of Hiericho and got ready everything that he needed for fighting again on land and sea. The Roman and Venetian fleets guarded the straits as far as possible and whenever the sea lent itself even slightly to the idea of sailing, they intercepted the ships which were trying to cross from Italy to Robert. Since it was not easily possible to collect the necessary provisions, not even from the mainland, for Robert's army which was encamped along the river Glycis, as the men from Dyrrachium caught those who came out from Robert's trenches for foraging or anything else, his men began to suffer from hunger, and besides this the inclement climate of the district did them great harm. So that in the course of three months a total of ten thousand men are said to have perished. The same disease also attacked Robert's cavalry-forces and destroyed many. In the cavalry nearly five hundred of the Counts and the most valiant picked men were carried off by illness and famine, whilst in the lower ranks countless horsemen perished. Now Robert's ships, as we have said, had been hauled up into the river Glycis, this was almost dried up by the drought, as a very hot summer had set in after the winter and the spring, and it had scarcely as much as water running down its bed as usual, and therefore he hardly knew how to drag them down to the sea again. But being of an inventive mind and a deep thinker, he had posts fixed along either side of the river, and connected with closely woven wattle-work, then behind these he had large trees cut down at the root, laid flat and sand strewn over them, so that the water was collected and flowed all together into one spot, that is the channel formed by the posts. Gradually the water formed pools and then filled the whole bed of the river and reached a fair depth, [103] until finally it raised the ships which had hitherto been embedded in the soil so that they floated on the top. Then after this all was fair sailing and the ships were drawn down to the sea without any difficulty.

IV When the Emperor heard what Robert had done, he wrote immediately to Pacurianus telling him of Robert's irresistible assault on, and capture of, Valona, and of his total disregard of the ills which had befallen him on land and sea, and even of that defeat which he had suffered at the first setoff. He therefore commanded Pacurianus not to delay but collect his forces more quickly and come and join him. That then was his message to Pacurianus. He himself at once set out from Constantinople in the month of August in the fourth Indiction, leaving Isaac in the capital to carry on the civil administration. If he heard any seditious talk among their enemies, as would be likely, Isaac was to scatter them,also to guard the palace and the city and try to dissipate the women's grief. As far as his mother was concerned, she did not require any consoling, I fancy, for she was very strong-minded, besides being so clever in business.

Pacurianus, after reading the letter, appointed Nicholas Branas, a brave man with great military experience, as his lieutenant-general. He himself with his whole army and with the flower of the nobility of the Orestias, started quickly and hurried to join the Emperor. Immediately the latter arrived, he arranged the whole army in order of battle, apappointed the bravest men leaders of the battalions, and told them to continue the journey in that same order whereever the nature of the ground permitted, so that by understanding the whole arrangement and each man knowing his exact place, they would not become confused in the heat of battle and would not easily or accidentally shift their place. Constantine Opus led the Guards, Antiochus the Macedonians, Alexander Cabasilas the Thessalians, and Taticius, at that time 'Primicerius,' [=Chief of the household] the Turks of Achrida. He was extremely brave, and absolutely fearless in battle, although he was not descended from free-born stock; for his father, who was a Saracen, fell into the hands of John Comnenus, my paternal grandfather, on a foraging expedition. The leaders of the Manichaeans, who totalled two thousand eight hundred, were Xantas and Culeon, also of the same heresy. All these were very warlike and ever ready to spill their enemies' blood when opportunity offered, they were moreover audacious and [104] insolent. Of the household troops (generally called "Vestiaritae ") and the Frankish regiments Panoucomites and Constantine Hubertopoulos, so called after his origin, were in command. Then after arranging his troops in this manner, he set out with all his forces against Robert. On his way he met a man coming from Dyrrachiurn and obtained from him a clearer account of the events there and learnt that Robert had moved up all the engines necessary for a siege and drawn them close up to the walls. George Palaeologus had led a counterattack by day and night, and then in despair had flung open the gates and commenced a fierce battle with the enemy. He had been severely wounded in various parts of the body, and most seriously by an arrow which had pierced his head near the temple. As he struggled in vain to pull it out he sent for an expert who cut off the end, I mean the tail end which is usually furnished with feathers, and the rest of it he left sticking in the wound. Then with his head bound up as well as possible under the circumstances, he rushed back into the midst of the foe, and continued fighting without flinching until the evening. When the Emperor heard this, he realized that Palaeologus was in need of immediate relief, and therefore marched on at greater speed. On reaching Thessalonica the news about Robert was fully confirmed in detail by several. He was told that Robert, ever alert, had not only set apart extra brave soldiers, but had also collected a heap of material from the plain of Dyrrachium and then pitched his camp within a dart's throw from the walls, while he had also disposed others of his troops all around on the mountains and valleys and slopes. At the same time many also spoke to him of Palaeologus' untiring industry. For Palaeologus had now planned to set fire to Robert's huge wooden tower, and had collected naphtha and pitch and faggots of dry wood and catapults on the walls, and was awaiting the enemy's attack. As he expected Robert the next day, he placed the wooden tower (which he had had made inside the town) in the direct route of the mighty one which would come from the outside; then the whole night through he made tests with the beam which was hung at the top of his tower and intended to be pushed against the door of the huge tower which would be brought up; for he wanted to see if it moved very easily and would really fall directly against the door and prevent this being readily opened. When he was satisfied that the beam moved easily and would accomplish its purpose, he confidently awaited the attack. On the [105] following day Robert commanded all to take arms, and about five hundred foot and horse soldiers to place themselves in the tower, and when this had been pushed up to the walls, they at once tried to throw open the door at the top which they intended to use as a draw-bridge for crossing into the citadel. Then Palaeologus from the inside drove forward the enormous beam with the help of the large body of brave men and the machines he had got ready, and thus rendered Robert's tower useless, for the beam effectually prevented the door being opened. Next the Franks who were standing on the top of the tower were subjected to a continuous volley of darts which they could ill bear and therefore hid themselves. Hereupon he ordered the tower to be fired, and almost before he had spoken it went up in flames. The men on the top threw themselves down and those below opened the door at the foot and fled. When Palaeologus saw them fleeing he made a sortie through the postern gate with a troop of brave soldiers in full armour and of others who carried axes with which to cut down the tower. And herein too he was successful, for he burnt the upper part of it and the lower was entirely destroyed by a few blows of a stonecutter's tool.

V. And now, the informant continued, Robert was busily building a second mighty wooden tower, just the same as the other, and was getting ready battering-machines to use against Dyrrachium; from all this the Emperor recognized that the besieged in Dyrrachium were in need of speedy help, so set his troops in order and took the road to the town. When he arrived there and had settled his troops in an entrenched camp near the river Charzanes, he at once sent messengers to ask Robert for what purpose he was there, and what his object was. Then he moved on to the Chapel dedicated to the memory of Nicholas, greatest of all Bishops, four miles distant from Dyrrachium, and reviewed the nature of the land in order to pick out beforehand the most suitable spot for drawing up his phalanxes for battle. And that day was the fifteenth of October. There was a neck of land running out from Dalmatia to the sea and terminating in a promontory which was almost a peninsular, and on this stood the chapel I have mentioned. The side of this neck which looked towards Dyrrachium sloped very gradually down to the plain and had the sea on its left, and on its right a steep, overhanging mountain. To this spot he brought his whole army, and after having fixed his palisades, sent for George [106] Palaeologus. However he had had long experience of such tricks and as he deemed it inexpedient he refused to come out and explained this to the Emperor. But on the Emperor's again summoning him more urgently, he replied, "I think it would be fatal for me to leave the city while it is being besieged, and I shall not come out unless I actually see the ring from Your Majesty's finger." The ring was sent and upon seeing it Palaeologus joined the Emperor with ships of war. Then the Emperor asked him all about Robert and after Palaeologus had given him a clear account, he asked whether it would be well for him to venture on a battle with Robert; but Palaeologus disagreed with this proposal. And others too who had gained military experience by long service opposed it strongly. They counselled endurance and embarrassing Robert by skirmishes and not allowing any of his men to come out from their quarters to forage; they suggested he should send orders to Bodinus and the Dalmatians and the other chiefs of the adjacent provinces to do the same, and assured him that in this way Robert could easily be, worsted. But the majority of the younger officers preferred a battle, and most vehement among them were Constantine Porphyrogenitus, Nicephorus Synadenus, Nabites, leader of the Varangians, and even the two sons of the late Emperor Romanus Diogenes, Leo and Nicephorus. At this moment the envoys sent to Robert returned and brought the latter's verbal message to the Emperor which ran, "It was certainly not against Your Majesty that I took the field, but simply in order to avenge the injustice done to my kinsman by marriage. But if you desire peace With me, I too shall gladly welcome it, though only on condition that you are ready to fulfil the conditions signified to you by my ambassadors." However his requests were absolutely impossible and injurious, moreover, to the Roman Empire, although he promised that if the Emperor granted him his requests, he would consider that he held Lombardy too from his hand, and that he would give military assistance, whenever required. But his real plan was clear from the fact that he made requests as if he himself desired peace, but by making impossible ones and not obtaining them he would have recourse to arms, and thus attribute the blame for the war to the Roman Emperor. Then after ineffectually making impossible demands, Robert convoked all the Counts and addressed them in these words, "You all know the injustice done to my kinsman by marriage by the Emperor Nicephorus Botaniates, and the [107] dishonour put upon my daughter Helen by her being expelled from the Empire with him. As we could not put up with such things we marched out against Botaniates' country to avenge these wrongs. He however has been moved from the throne, and we now have to do with a young Emperor, who is a brave soldier and gifted with strategic knowledge far beyond his years, and with such a man we cannot go to war lightly. Now wherever there is division of command, confusion results from the diversity of opinions. Hence it is necessary that all the rest of us should obey one single commander who must consult us all and not act on his own judgment heedlessly and casually; the rest of us should openly express our views, but at the same time be ready to follow the advice of the elected commander. And here am I, one of you all, ready to obey whomsoever ye agree to elect." All approved of this proposition and declared that Robert had spoken wen, and then unanimously awarded him the first place. But he simulated indifference and for some time refused the honour, whereupon they insisted all the more. And finally he yielded, as if overcome by their persuasions, though in reality he had been aching for this all the time; but by piling one argument upon another and skilfully weaving a tissue of excuses, he made it appear to those who did not penetrate his intention, that he had been exalted against his will to the position which really he had coveted. Then he said to them " Listen to me, Counts and all the rest of you. We have left our own countries and are here in a foreign land, and we shall shortly have to fight against an Emperor who is very brave; although he has only recently assumed the reins of government, yet under the previous Emperors he came out conqueror in many wars and brought back to them the fiercest rebels as captives of his spear, therefore we must enter upon this war with our whole heart and soul. And if God should allot us the victory, we shall no longer be in need of money. Consequently we ought to set fire to all our baggage and equipment, scuttle our ships, and then enter into battle with him, as if we had been born in this place and intended to die here." To this all assented.

VI Such, you see, were Robert's plans and intentions. The Emperor's on the other hand were different, more subtle and more clever. Both the leaders, however, kept their troops in camp whilst meditating upon their strategy and tactics so that they might use their powers scientifically. And ile Emperor was planning a sudden night-attack from [108] both sides upon Robert's entrenchments. He commanded the whole native army to march by way of the salt-pits and attack from the rear, and he did not object to their undertaking this longer march as it would add to the unexpectedness of their attack. He himself intended to attack Robert from the front directly he ascertained that his other troops had arrived. Robert, however, left his tents standing empty, and crossing the bridge by night (on October 18th of the fifth Indiction) took possession with his whole army of the chapel built long ago to the Martyr Theodore. And there throughout the night they sought to propitiate the Deity, and also partook of the Immaculate Sacred Mysteries. In the morning he drew up his troops in order of battle and stationed himself in the centre of the line; the wing near the sea he entrusted to Amicetas (one of the illustrious Counts, brave in thought and deed), and the other to his son Bohemund, nicknamed Saniscus. When the Emperor learnt of this, as he was clever in hitting upon the best expedient in a serious crisis, he re-adapted his plans in accordance with these happenings, and drew up his lines on the slopes by the sea. After dividing his forces, he did not interfere with the barbarians who were starting to make their attack upon Robert's camp, but detained those of them who carried double-edged axes on their shoulders, and ordered them to discard their horses and with their leader, Nabites, to march in rows at a short distance in f ront of the regular army; this tribe all carried shields. The rest of the army he divided into phalanxes and himself took the centre of the line, on his right and left he placed respectively the Caesar Nicephorus Melissenus and Pacurianus, called the " Great Domestic." The space between himself and the barbarians who were walking he filled with a fairly large number of soldiers skilled in archery whom he planned to send on ahead against Robert, and so he told Nabites that when these archers wanted to ride out suddenly against the Franks and retreat again, he must immediately give them passage by withdrawing his men to either side, and then afterwards close up again and march on in close order. Having re-arranged the whole army in this manner, he himself started along the seacoast in order to attack the Frankish army from the front. The barbarians appointed for the rear attack, after passing through the salt-pits, made an assault upon the Frankish camp in conjunction with the garrison of Dyrrachium, who by the Emperor's command had opened their gates. As the two leaders were marching against each [109] other, Robert ordered groups of cavalry to harass the Roman troops and thus perhaps draw away some of them. But even in this detail the Emperor did not fail, for he kept on sending large numbers of light-armed troops to oppose them. Then after a little preliminary skirmishing on either side, as Robert was leisurely following his men, and the distance between the armies was by now fairly short, some infantry and cavalry belonging to Amicetas' phalanx dashed out and attacked the extremities of Nabites' line. These however, resisted the attack very stoutly, so the others turned their backs (since they were not all picked men), threw themselves into the sea, and up to their necks in water, made their way to the Roman and Venetian ships and begged them for protection, which they did not receive. And now, as rumour relates, directly Gaïta, Robert's wife (who was riding at his side and was a second Pallas, if not an Athene) saw these soldiers running away, she looked after them fiercely and in a very powerful voice called out to them in her own language an equivalent to Homer's words, " How far will ye flee ? Stand, and quit you like men! " And when she saw they continued to run, she grasped a long spear and at full gallop rushed after the fugitives; and on seeing this they recovered themselves and returned to the fight. Meanwhile the axe-bearing barbarians and their leader Nabites had in their ignorance and in their ardour of battle advanced too quickly and were now a long way from the Roman lines, burning to engage battle with the equally brave Franks, for of a truth these barbarians are no less mad in battle than the Franks, and not a bit inferior to them. But they were already tired out and breathless, Robert noticed, and naturally so he thought, considering their rapid advance, their distance from their own lines and the weight of their weapons, and he ordered some of the foot to make a sudden attack on them. The barbarians having been previously wearied out, proved themselves inferior to the Franks, and thus the whole corps fell; a few escaped and took refuge in the chapel of Michael, the 'Captain of the Host,' as many as could crowded into the chapel itself, and the rest climbed on to the roof, being likely in this way, they imagined, to ensure their safety. But the Latins started a fire and burnt them down, chapel and all. Meanwhile the rest of the Roman army fought on bravely. But Robert like a winged horseman, dashed with his forces against the Roman phalanx, drove it back and split it up into several fragments. Consequently some of his opponents [110] fell fighting in this battle, and others ensured their own safety by flight. But the Emperor Alexius stood fast like an impregnable tower, although he had lost many of his comrades, men pre-eminent for their birth or military skill. For instance, Constantius fell there, the son of the ex-Emperor, Constantine Ducas, not born while his father was still a private man, but born and reared in the purple and deemed worthy formerly by his father of the royal fillet. There fell too Nicephorus by name, but nicknamed Synadenus, a brave and very handsome man who strove to surpass all in fighting on that day. With him the aforementioned Constantius had often spoken about marrying his sister. Nay, Nicephorus the father of Palaeologus, and other well-known men fell too, and Zacharias received a blow in the chest which cost him his life. Aspietes and many other picked men also perished. The battle did not come to an end because the Emperor still maintained his resistance, therefore three of the Latins, one of whom was Amicetas already mentioned, the second Peter, son of Aliphas, as he himself asserted, and a third, not a whit inferior to these two, took long spears in their hands and at full gallop dashed at the Emperor. Amicetas missed the Emperor because his horse swerved a little; the second man's spear the Emperor thrust aside with his sword and then bracing his arm, struck him on the collarbone and severed his arm from his body. Then the third aimed straight at his face, but Alexius being of firm and steadfast mind was not wholly dismayed, but with his quick wit grasped in the flash of an instant the thing to do, and when he saw the blow coming, threw himself backwards on to his horse's tail. Thus the point of the spear only grazed the skin of his face a little and then, hitting against the rim of the helmet, tore the strap under the chin which held it on and knocked it to the ground. After this the Frank rode past the man he thought he had hurled from his horse, but the latter quickly pulled himself up again in his saddle and sat there calmly without having lost a single weapon. And he still clutched his naked sword in his right hand, his face was stained with his own blood, his head was bare, and his ruddy, gleaming hair was streaming over his eyes and worrying him, for his horse in its fright spurned the reins and by its jumping about tossed his curls in disorder over his face; however, he pulled himself together as much as possible and carried on his resistance to his foes. Soon however he saw the Turks fleeing and Bodinus, too, retreating without having fought [111] at all. This ally had donned armour and arranged his army in battle-order and hovered about throughout the day as if to succour the Emperor, if need be, according to their mutual agreement; but evidently he was watching, purposing to help in the attack on the Franks if he saw victory incline to the Emperor; or, in the contrary case, to keep quite still and then beat a retreat. This being his intent, as events proved, directly he perceived that the Franks had gained a complete victory, he rode off home without having struck a single blow. The Emperor, seeing this and not finding any one to help him, turned his back upon the foe and fled. Thus did the Latins beat the Roman army.

VII Robert took the Church of St. Nicolas where the Imperial tent and all the equipment of the Roman army were; and sent off all the strongest men he had to pursue the Emperor, whilst he stayed where he was, picturing to himself the capture of the Emperor-for such ideas inflamed his overweening pride. And the soldiers pursued the Emperor very smartly to a place called by the natives Kake Pleura, its situation is this - a river, named Charzanes, flows below and over one side impends a tall cliff. Between these the pursuers overtook him; some of them thrust him with their spears on the left side (they were nine altogether) and thus made him lean to the right. And he certainly would have fallen had he not managed to fix the sword, which he carried in his right hand, in the ground and support himself upon it. Moreover the rowel of the spur on his left foot caught in the edge of his saddle-cloth, (often called 'Hypostroma') and made it more difficult for the rider to move; with his left hand too he grasped the horse's mane and thus held on. And he was succoured by Divine interposition, which unexpectedly brought him aid from his enemies themselves. For Providence produced some more Franks on the right side who also raised their spears at him, and thus by thrusting the tips of their spears against his right side, they lifted the soldier and set him upright in their midst. And a strange sight it was to behold. For those on the left strove to overthrow him whilst those on the right fixed their spears against his right side as if opposing the others, and by spears set against spears, they kept the Emperor upright. When he had settled himself more firmly in the saddle and held his horse and also the saddle-cloth tightly between his thighs, the horse gave a signal proof of its mettle. (Alexius had once received this horse and a purple saddle-cloth as a gift from [112] Bryennius, after he had taken him captive in battle at the time when Nicephorus Botaniates was still Emperor.) This horse, besides being very fiery and supple in the legs, was also remarkably strong and warlike, and now to put it briefly, inspired by Divine Providence, he suddenly leapt through the air and stood on the top of the cliff, springing up lightly like a bird, or, as the myth would say, with the wings of Pegasus.

Bryennius used to call this horse Sgouritzes.[*=a dark bay] Some of the barbarians' spears were hurled into the empty air as it were, and fell from their hands while others remained sticking in parts of the Emperor's clothes and, borne aloft, followed the horse. Alexius at once cut off the clinging spears. Not even now, when in such dire peril, was he disturbed in soul or confused in his calculations, but swiftly saw his best course and unexpectedly freed himself. The Franks on their side stood gaping, awestruck at what they had seen, and certainly it might well cause consternation; but when they saw Alexius riding off down another road, they recommenced their pursuit. After showing his pursuers his back for some considerable time, he turned upon them and encountering one of them, ran his spear through his chest, and the man fell backwards to the ground. Then the Emperor turned his horse again and held on his former way. And so he met a number of the Franks who before had been chasing the Roman troops. When they saw him in the distance, they formed in close order and halted, partly to wind their horses, but also because they were anxious to take him alive and carry him off as booty to Robert. But when he saw that besides the men pursuing him there were now others in front as well, he had well-nigh despaired of safety; nevertheless he collected himself and noticing a man amongst the foe whom from his stature and gleaming weapons he judged to be Robert, he set his horse straight at him; and the other aimed his spear at him. So both joined combat, and launched themselves the one against the other in the intervening space. The Emperor first directing his hand aright, struck at his opponent with his spear, which passed right through his breast, and out at the back. Straightway the barbarian fell to the ground and gave up the ghost on the spot, for the wound was mortal. And next the Emperor dashed right through the middle of the company and rode away, for by slaying that one barbarian he had gained safety for himself. As soon as the Franks saw their hero wounded and hurled to the ground, they crowded round the fallen and busied [113] themselves about him. And when those who had been pursuing the Emperor saw them, they, too, dismounted, and on recognizing the dead man, began beating their breasts and wailing. However, the man was not Robert, but one of the nobles, second only in rank to Robert. While they were thus occupied, the Emperor continued his flight.

VIII And truly when writing this, partly from the nature of history and partly because of the extravagance of the events, I forgot that it was my father's deeds that I was describing. In my desire to make my history free from suspicion, I often treat my father's doings in a cursory way, neither amplifying them nor investing them with sentiment. Would that I had been free and released from this love of my father, in order that I might have, as it were, laid hold upon the rich material and shown the licence of my tongue, how much at home it is in noble deeds. But now my zeal is hampered by my natural love, for I should not like to afford the public a suspicion that in my eagerness to speak about my relations I am serving them with fairy tales! Indeed very often I recall my father's successes, but I could have wept my life away in tears when recording and describing the many ills that befell him, and it is not without private lamentation and plaint that I quit the subject. But no elegant rhetoric must mar this part of my history, and therefore I pass lightly over my father's misadventures, as if I were an insensible piece of adamant or stone. I ought really to have used them as a form of oath, as the young man does in the Odyssey (for I am not inferior to him who says "No, by Zeus, Agelaus, and by my father's sufferings ") and then I should both really be, and be called, a lover of my father. However, let my father's woes be a subject of marvel and lamentation to me alone, and let us proceed with our history.

Afterwards the Franks hurried back to Robert. When he saw them coming empty-handed and heard all that had befallen them, he blamed them all severely, and picked out one of them and threatened to scourge him, and cursed him for a coward and a fool at war. He asked why he had not also jumped up to the rock with his horse and either knocked down and killed the Emperor, or else caught him and brought him back alive, until the soldier thought the worst was in store for him. For that was Robert - on the one hand very courageous and adventurous, and on the other, full of bitterness ; wrath ever sat in his nostrils, and his heart was overflowing with anger and fury, and towards his enemies he always felt [114] that he must either ran his foe through with his spear, or he exclaimed that he must get rid of himself in defiance of the thread of destiny, as they say. However, the soldier at whom Robert was hurling abuse, very clearly described the steepness and inaccessibility of the rock, and told him what a sheer ascent the rock made, and that the cliff was so steep and dangerous that no foot- or horse-man could possibly climb it without Divine intervention, let alone one engaged in battle and fighting, for even apart from fighting, it was impossible for anyone to attempt the ascent." If, "he continued, " you disbelieve me, go and try yourself, or send the most daring of your horsemen, and he will soon see the impossibility. But if anybody does really manage to climb that rock, be it with or without wings, then I am willing to submit to any terrible punishment and to be condemned for cowardice." Speaking like this amidst awe and astonishment, the barbarian appeased Robert's fury, made him forget his anger and moved him instead to wonder.

And the Emperor rode along the windings of the surrounding mountains and the almost impassable tracks, and after two days and nights made his way out of them and reached Achrida. On this journey be crossed the river Charzanes and rested a little in the secluded valley called Babagora, and his spirit was not broken by his defeat nor by the other accidents of the battle nor would he give way to the pain of the wound in his forehead ; and though inwardly he was consumed with sorrow for those who had fallen in the battle, especially for the, heroes who had fought so bravely, yet, above all, his mind was wholly occupied with the thought of Dyrrachium. For he reflected with pain that this town was left without a governor, as Palaeologus had been unable to re-enter it after the battle was lost. So he secured the safety of the inhabitants as far as possible by entrusting the custody of the Acropolis to the chiefs of the Venetian colonists there, and the care of the rest of the city to Comiscortes of Albanian origin to whom he transmitted orders by letter.

Complete Text | Introduction | Book 1 | Book 2 | Book 3 | Book 4 | Book 5 | Book 6 |
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Anna Comnena (Komnene). The Alexiad. Edited and translated by Elizabeth A. Dawes. London: Routledge, Kegan, Paul, 1928.

Inquiries into the copyright on this text indicate that US copyright was not renewed, nor was any claim filed under the GATT. Barnes and Noble published the text in the US in 1967 with no claim of copyright, and thus under the laws at the time as a public domain work. Correspondence with Routledge (on file) indicated that they had no records whatsoever about the book, including the date of its first sale in the US (putting one copy on sale would constitute "publication" under GATT).


This etext slightly alters the organization and much of the typography of the printed edition.

Page numbers of the printed edition are indicated in the texts by numbers in brackets, e.g. [57].

Some short notes are placed in the text in brackets [*like this].

Longer notes are marked in the text with two asterisks **, and placed at the end of each chapter

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Paul Halsall, February 2001
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