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The Alexiad: Book V

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War with the Normans (1082-83) (i-vii) : Alexius' First Battle with Heretics - John Italus (viii-ix)


I And meanwhile Robert, entirely freed from anxiety, collected all the booty and the Imperial tent, and, with these trophies and with much exultation, settled down again in the plain which he had occupied before when besieging Dyrrachium. After a short rest he began to consider whether he ought to make another attempt on that city's walls, or postpone the siege to the following spring and for the present invest Glabinitza and Joanina, and winter there, while lodging all his troops in the sequestered vales that lie above the plain of Dyrrachium. But the inhabitants of Dyrrachium (the majority of whom were colonists from Amalfi and Venice, as already stated), on hearing of the Emperor's misfortune, and the terrible carnage, and the death of so many valiant men and the departure of the fleet and Robert's intention of renewing the siege in the coming spring-on hearing all this they began individually to deliberate what action they had better take to ensure their safety and not incur such risks again. Consequently they called an assembly where they openly stated their private opinions and after discussing the vital points they thought they had found the only path, as it were, out of a pathless wood, which was to decide to listen to Robert and surrender the city to him.

One of the colonists from Amalfi still further incited them to this course, so they allowed themselves to be persuaded by his arguments, and threw open the gates and gave Robert entrance. After taking possession, he sent for the troops and dividing them according to race, enquired of each soldier individually whether he had been seriously wounded or had perhaps received a slight scratch from a sword; at the same time he found out how many and what class of men had fallen in the preceding battles. And, during the winter which was then close at hand, he intended to collect a second army of mercenaries and recruit foreign troops, and at the coming of spring to march against the Emperor with his [116] whole army. However, Robert was not alone in formulating such plans, although he congratulated himself on being the victor and winning the trophies, for the Emperor, worsted and badly wounded, was scared, so to say, and much depressed by this intolerable defeat and the loss of so many brave soldiers-but in spite of this as he never underestimated his own powers and had not slackened in his reasoning, his whole mind was intent on the problem of retrieving this defeat in the following spring. Both these men were clever at foreseeing everything, and in grasping the essentials' and there was no strategic trick unknown to them; they were conversant with every kind of siege, ambuscade and regular battles in the open field, swift and brave in actual fighting, and of all the leaders in the world they were the adversaries most alike in intellect and courage. The Emperor Alexius had, however, a slight advantage over Robert in that while younger he was no whit inferior to the other who was already in his prime, and used to boast that he could almost make the earth quake and throw a whole army into a panic by one single shout!

But these details can be left for a different kind of writing, and are sure to be mentioned by encomiasts. The Emperor Alexius allowed himself a short rest in Achrida, and after regaining his physical strength, went to Diabolis. Here he sought as far as possible to reinvigorate the survivors from their sufferings in the battle, and he sent for his remaining followers from all parts and told them to assemble at Thessalonica.

Now that he had made experience of Robert and the boldness of his large army, he condemned his own leaders for great negligence and cowardice (I will not add the soldiers for the majority of those who had been in the battle had had neither training nor military experience), and therefore he needed allies. But how was he to get them without money? For there was none in the Imperial Treasury which had been depleted so thoroughly and for no useful purpose by his predecessor, Nicephorus Botaniates, that the gates of the treasure-house were not even locked now, but carelessly left open for anyone who liked to walk through them; for all its contents had been squandered. Hence the present embarrassment of the Roman state, which was oppressed simultaneously by weakness and poverty.

At such a moment then what was the young ruler to do who had only lately put his hand to the helm? He must either [117] in sheer desperation throw everything overboard and resign his command, so that, being blameless, he might not be blamed for being an inexperienced and unskilful general, or else in this extremity he must gain as many allies as possible and collect from some quarter or other sufficient money to pay them; he must also recall the scattered remnants of his army by offering bribes which would raise their hopes and cause those who were with him to stand firmly by him, and those away to become more eager to return, and then they would be able to put up a braver resistance to the Frankish hordes. As he did not wish to do anything unworthy of, or inconsistent with, his own military knowledge and bravery, he focussed his attention on these two points - the first was to collect allies from all sides, who would easily be allured by the promise of heavy largess, and the second, to request his mother and brother to procure money somehow from somewhere, and send it to him.

II These two could not discover any other means of procuring money, so to begin with they collected whatever silver and gold articles they possessed and sent them to the imperial mint ; but first of all the Empress, my mother, deposited the sum that remained to her of her parents' patrimony, hoping thereby to instigate others to do the same ; for she was extremely anxious for the Emperor, seeing the straits into which his affairs had fallen. Secondly, they took from the persons who were well-affected towards the imperial family, and had voluntarily offered to advance money, as much gold and silver as each was ready to give, and sent it to be used partly for allies and partly for the Emperor himself. But these monies were far from sufficient even for the immediate need (for some of the soldiers asked for rewards on the plea that they had fought on the Emperor's side, and others who were mercenaries kept clamouring for higher pay); the Emperor urgently pressed for more, and thought that the goodwill of the Romans had vanished. His relatives were quite at a loss, and after discussing many schemes in public and in private, when they heard that Robert was again preparing for war, they turned in their despair to an examination of the ancient laws and canons dealing with the sale of Church property. And amongst them they found that it was lawful to sell the sacred properties of the churches for the ransoming of prisoners of war (for it was well known that the Christians who remained under the domination of the barbarians in Asia, and had [118] escaped massacre, became defiled by their intercourse with the infidels). Therefore to furnish pay for the allies and the soldiers, they considered turning into coin a few church properties which served no purpose and were amongst those which had long been lying idle and neglected, and only afforded the populace an excuse for sacrilege and impiety. When they had come to this conclusion, the Sebastocrator Isaac went up to the great House of God where he had convoked an assembly of all the clergy. The members of the Holy Synod who were f ellow-councillors with the Patriarch were astounded at seeing him and asked him what brought him there. He replied, " I have come to speak to you of a matter which will be of service in this terrible crisis, and will be the means of maintaining the army." Thereupon he began reciting the Canons about " superfluous Church vessels " and after saying a good deal about them, he concluded with the words, " I am compelled to compel those whom I do not wish to compel." And by putting forward various bold arguments he seemed likely to win over the majority. But Metaxas opposed him, advanced some very specious counter-arguments and even jeered at Isaac himself. But in spite of him, Isaac's proposal was carried. This decision became the subject of a very grave scandal to the Emperors (for I do not hesitate to call Isaac " emperor " even though he did not wear the purple), which lasted not only for the moment but for a considerable time. The head of the church of Chalcedon at this time was a certain Leo, not one of the especially wise or intellectual, but of very virtuous life, though his manners were rough and disagreeable. This man tore off the silver and gold ornaments on the doors of the church in Chalcoprateia, and rushed into the assembly and spoke his mind freely without so much as a reference to the financial condition or the extant laws regarding Church property. Moreover he behaved very insolently, and in a most disorderly manner, to the Regent, and each time he visited the capital he abused the latter's forbearance and kindness. And indeed when Alexius left the city the first time to march against Robert, and the Sebastocrator Isaac, his own true brother, was collecting money from every possible source, but always with the consent of the people and in accordance with the laws and justice, Leo aroused Isaac's wrath by his shameless behaviour. At last after many defeats and then after countless successful encounters with the Franks, the Emperor, by the sanction of Heaven, returned a crowned victor, and then he learnt that a fresh swarm of [119] enemies, I mean the Scythians, were ready to descend upon him. Consequently the raising of funds was hurried on for similar reasons as before, even while the Emperor was residing in the capital, and at that time Bishop Leo attacked the Emperor most impudently. About this time a great controversy arose about the holy images, and Leo laid down the principle that we should adore the sacred images, and not only give them relative honour. On some points he argued reasonably and in a manner befitting his station, but on others he laid down the law wrongly, whether this was to be attributed to the heat of contest and his hatred of the Emperor, or to ignorance, I cannot say. He was incapable of making a precise statement with conviction as he was absolutely untrained in the science of reasoning. By the advice of malicious persons of whom there were a number in the Government then, he grew still bolder towards the Emperors and egged on by his friends he even resorted to insults and untimely blasphemies. The Emperor besought him to change his opinion about the images and also to desist from the enmity towards him, he also promised to restore even finer vessels to the churches and to do all that was necessary to repair the loss. The Emperor himself was already acquitted of blame by the more liberal-minded of the senate whom the partisans of the Chalcedonian called "flatterers." As a result of this behaviour, Leo was condemned to deposition from office.

As he did not knuckle under and did not keep quiet at all, but again disturbed the Church meeting, coming with a considerable crowd of followers, for he was absolutely irreconcilable and incorrigible, he was condemned by a unanimous vote after the lapse of some years and a sentenced exile was pronounced against him. The city of Sozopolis on the Black Sea received him and treated him with much care and consideration by order of the Emperor, none of which he accepted because of his grudge against the latter, I suppose.

This account of him must suffice.

III When it became known that the Emperor had escaped from the battle, recruits in large numbers flocked to him, and these he had carefully trained to ride very securely, to shoot very accurately, to fight in full armour and to lay ambuscades cleverly. He had also sent ambassadors again to the King of Alamania, of these Methymnes was the leader, and in his letter he urged him not to delay any longer, but to take the troops he had at hand, and occupy Lombardy with all haste, according to his promise. In this way Robert [120] would be fully occupied and he himself would gain a respite during which he could reassemble his army and collect foreign troops and by their help drive Robert out of Illyria. He assured the King of Alamania that he would be deeply indebted to him if he would do this, and promised him that he would fulfil the marriage-contract which he had proposed through his ambassadors.

After arranging these matters he left Pacurianus, the Great Domestic in those parts, and himself returned to the capital, for the purpose of collecting foreign troops from all sides, and to arrange other matters connected with the times and the actual circumstances. Now the Manichaeans, Xantas and Culeon, with the men under them who totalled about two thousand five hundred, went off home unceremoniously, and when invited several times by the Emperor to return, they did indeed promise to come, but kept postponing their coming. But he persisted and made them written promises of gifts and honours, but even so they did not return. Whilst the Emperor was engaged in these preparations for an advance against Robert, a messenger came to tell Robert that the King of Alamania had all but arrived in Lombardy. Then Robert was in a dilemma and deliberated what would be the best thing to do. After much reflection, as he had left Roger to be ruler over his Kingdom when he crossed to Illyria, but had not yet assigned any territory to his younger son, Bohemund, he assembled all the Counts and picked men among the soldiers, and summoning also his son, Bohemund, nicknamed Saniscus, he made a public harangue and said, " You know, Counts, that when I settled to cross to Illyria I appointed my beloved first-begotten son Roger, ruler of my country. For I could not have started from there and undertaken a task of great magnitude if I had left my own country without a leader, a ready prize at the mercy of the first comer. But now that the King of Alamania has entered it with hostile intent, it is my duty to defend it as far as in me lies. For certainly the man who attacks the possessions of others, must not in any way be careless of his own. Consequently it is necessary for me to leave you, in order to look after my own country, and engage in battle with the King of Alamania. Therefore to Uds, my younger son, I hand over Dyrrachium, Valona and all the remaining towns and islands which I have won by my sword since my arrival. And I commend him to you and ask you to regard him as my substitute and to fight for him with all your heart and mind." [121] Then addressing himself to Bohemund, he said, " And you, my very dear son, I enjoin you to treat the Counts with all honour and ask their advice on all occasions and not to 'play the master' by yourself, but to communicate everything to them. Above all, take care not to neglect the continuance of the war against the Roman Emperor, but see that you do not relax at all now that he has suffered a severe defeat and all but fallen a victim to the sword, and the greater part of I-Lis army has been wiped out in the battle. (And truth to tell,"he continued, "he came near being captured alive and only escaped from our hands after being terribly wounded). Therefore take care lest by gaining a respite he should recover and resist you more bravely than before. For he is not one of the common herd, but has been nurtured from childhood on wars and battles, he has travelled over the whole of the East and the West, and how many rebels he hunted down and brought back captive to the preceding emperors, you can learn yourself from many informants. Therefore if you lose heart at all and do not march against him with firm resolve you will lose all that I personally have won by great effort, and you yourself will undoubtedly reap the fruits of your own laziness. And now I am leaving immediately to drive the King of Alamania out of our country and thus firmly establish my son Roger in the dominion I gave him." After thus bidding his son farewell, Robert embarked on board a monoreme and reached the opposite coast of Lombardy, and from there hurried on to Salernum, which had formerly been appointed the residence for those who attained ducal rank. He stayed there until he had collected a large force and as many mercenary troops from surrounding countries as possible. Meanwhile the King of Alamania in accordance with his promise to the Emperor, was already hastening to take possession of Lombardy. Robert on hearing this news hurried to Rome to join his army with the Pope's and to deter the King of Alamania from carrying out his intention. As the Pope was not at all unwilling, they both set out against the King. He for his part was on his way to invest Lombardy when he heard the whole story about the Emperor-namely, that he had suffered a heavy defeat, that part of his army had been butchered and the rest scattered abroad, that the Emperor himself after surviving many dangers had been seriously wounded in several parts of his body whilst fighting magnificently, but had made a marvellous escape owing to his boldness and [122]courage. On receipt of these tidings the King turned his horse and rode back to his native land, considering this a victory in that he had not exposed himself to danger uselessly. So this man took the homeward road; and Robert, when he had reached the King's encampment, did not trouble to pursue him himself but separated a large detachment from his troops and sent it in pursuit of the King of Alamania. He himself gathered up all the booty and made his way to Rome with the Pope. After establishing the latter firmly on his throne and in return being nominated King by him, he returned to Salernum there to repose himself from the many fatigues of war.

IV Shortly afterwards Bohemund came to him, bearing witness on his face of the defeat he bad sustained. We will now relate how f ate had dealt him this blow. The young man, mindful of his father's counsels and being moreover naturally fond of war and of confronting dangers, steadily pursued the war with the Emperor. Taking his own soldiers with him and accompanied by all the picked men of the Romans and by the chiefs of the districts and towns which had been subdued by Robert (for these threw themselves heart and soul into Bohemund's cause once they had given up the Emperor's case as hopeless), he marched through Bagenetia to Joanina. Here he first drew trenches in the vineyards outside the town and disposed all his troops in convenient positions, and then set up his own tent inside the town. He made a survey of the walls and recognising that the citadel was in a dangerous condition, he not only hastened to restore it as far as was possible, but he even built a second very strong one in another part of the walls where he thought it would be of more use; he also sent out raiding parties to plunder the surrounding country and towns. Thereupon the Emperor without the slightest delay, collected all his troops, and hurriedly left Constantinople in the month of May. When he arrived at Joanina, it was the right season for fighting. As he recognized that his own armies were but a fraction of Bohemund's forces and knew besides from his previous battles with Robert that the first onset of the Frankish cavalry upon their opponents was quite irresistible, he judged it would be best to have an attack by missiles made first upon the enemy by a small picked body of peltasts. By this means he would gain some idea of how much military experience Bohemund possessed, and by several partial attacks he would be able to form some opinion of the general [123] state of affairs, and then, with the knowledge he had gained, engage in battle against the Franks with greater confidence. The two armies were burning with impatience to attack each other. But the Emperor dreading the irresistible first shock of the Latin cavalry hit upon a new device. He had wagons built, smaller and lighter than the ordinary ones, and four poles fixed to each, in these he placed heavy infantry so that when the Latins came dashing down at full gallop upon the Roman phalanx, the heavy-armed infantry should push the wagons forward and thus break the Latins' line.

When the hour of battle approached and the sun had already risen in its brilliance above the horizon, the Emperor drew up his regiments in order of battle and himself took the command of the centre. As soon as the engagement began, Bohemund shewed that he was not unprepared for the Emperor's scheme, but, as if he had foreknowledge of it, he adapted himself to this happening, for he divided his own troops into two divisions, avoided the waggons and attacked the Roman ranks on either flank. Then lines were confounded with lines and men fought men, face to face. After many had fallen on either side in the fierce fight, Bohemund certainly carried off the victory. The Emperor for his part stood like an unshaken tower with darts thrown at him from before and behind, for at one minute he would ride against the advancing Franks, engage in close fights with a few, giving and receiving blows and killing, and at another minute he would be shouting to, and rallying, the fugitives. Finally, however, when he saw his ranks split up into numerous portions, he deemed it wise to seek safety for himself too, not, as some might say, to save himself, nor was he shaken by cowardice, but in order that he might make a second, braver resistance to the valiant Franks, if only he could escape the immediate danger and rally his powers. As he was fleeing from the enemy with a few companions, he f ell in with some Franks and again shewed himself the imperturbable general. For after exhorting his companions, he rode down upon the enemy impetuously as if determined either to die that day, or carry off the victory by force; with his own hand he struck and killed one of the Franks, and the followers of Ares with him wounded many and routed the rest. In this way he escaped from immeasurably great dangers, and once again reached safety by passing through the Swamps to Achrida. There he stayed and after recalling a fair number of the fugitives to his standard, he left them all in those parts with the Great Domestic and [124] himself went to the Bardares. But not for the sake of rest, for unlike other royalties he did not allow himself imperial ease and repose. There he assembled his regiments and mercenaries again and started on his march against Bohemund, with a new device in his head for overcoming the Franks. For he prepared iron caltrops, and on the eve of the day on which he expected a battle, he had them spread over the intermediate part of the plain, where he guessed the Frankish cavalry would make their fiercest onslaught, thus aiming to break the first irresistible attack of the Latins by piercing the feet of their horses. And he ordered the Roman spearsmen who held the front line, to ride forward at a measured pace in order not to be lamed by the caltrops, and to part to either side and then turn ; the light-armed troops were to send a heavy shower of darts on the Franks from a distance, and the left and right wings were to fall upon them in a vehement charge. These indeed were my father's plans but they did not escape Bohemund. For this is what happened: whatever plans my father made against him in the evening, the Frank knew by the morning. So he skilfully modified his plans in accordance with what he had been told, and engaged in battle but did not, as was his custom, begin with a frontal attack, but forestalling the Emperor's intention, he raised the din of battle on either flank, bidding the front ranks keep still for a time. Then the battle became a hand-to-hand fight, the soldiers of the Roman army turned their backs to the Latins and had not even the courage to look them in the face again, as they had been thoroughly frightened beforehand by their previous defeat. Thus the Roman lines were thrown into utter confusion, even though the Emperor remained undaunted in hand and heart and offered brave resistance, wounding many and sometimes too being wounded himself. But when he saw that his whole army had disappeared and he was left with just a few, he decided not to incur danger by carrying on a hopeless fight. For when anyone after heavy travail has no longer the strength to make a stand against his enemies, he would be a fool if he thrust himself into certain danger. Now after the left and right wings of the Roman phalanx had turned to flight, the Emperor was still maintaining the combat against Bohemund's army, bearing the whole brunt of the battle himself. But on comprehending his unquestionable danger, he deemed it his duty to save himself, so as to be able to fight once again against his conqueror, and prove himself [125] a very formidable opponent who would not allow Bohemund to reap a complete victory. For such was his character, whether conquered or conquering, fleeing or pursuing, he never was cowed, nor caught in the snares of despair. Moreover, he had very great faith in God and ever had His name on his lips, though always refraining from oaths. Now being tired out as just said, he too turned his back and was pursued by Bohemund and a few Counts. In so doing he asked Goules (he was my father's servant) and the others with him, "How far shall we flee? " With these words he turned his horse, drew his sword and hit the foremost of his pursuers in the face. When the Franks saw this and recognized that he was quite reckless of his own safety, and as they knew from experience that men reduced to such a state of mind are invincible, they were stricken with fear and ceased their pursuit. And so freed from his pursuers he escaped danger. Even in flight he did not entirely lose heart but managed to reassemble some of the fugitives and others he jeered at, though the majority naturally affected not to notice it. Having in this wise escaped from peril he re-entered the capital for the purpose of mustering new armies and again taking the field against Bohemund.

V After Robert's departure for Lombardy Bohemund, obedient to his father's behests, carried on the war against the Emperor, and continually rekindled battles and engagements. Further, he sent Peter, the son of Aliphas, with the Count of Pontoise to besiege various towns, with the result that Peter at once took the two Polobi, and the aforementioned Count of Pontoise took Scopia, and on being invited by the Achridians, he quickly reached Achrida. But after staying there some time and accomplishing nothing, for Ariebes was guarding the citadel, he went away to Ostrobus ; from that town too he was sent away empty-handed so passed through Soscus and Serbia and came to Beroea. And after attacking several places repeatedly without success, he reached Moglena via Bodina and there rebuilt a small fort which had long lain in ruins. There he left a Count, nicknamed " the Saracen," with an ample garrison and betook himself to a spot on the river Bardares called the Asprae Ecclesiae. And whilst he was spending three months there, three of the foremost Counts, namely the Count of Pontoise, Reboldus and a certain Gulielmus were detected in a plot for deserting to the Emperor. The Count of Pontoise indeed, became aware of this and escaped [126] and reached the Emperor, but the other two were captured and by the Frankish law condemned to ordeal by battle. Gulielmus was defeated and unhorsed and Bohemund imprisoned and blinded him; the other, Reboldus, he sent to Lombardy to his father, Robert, by whom he too was deprived of his sight. Then Bohemund left Asprae Ecclesiae for Castoria. The Great Domestic on hearing this, occupied Moglena, seized and immediately put to death the' Saracen' and reduced the fort to complete ruin. Bohemund, meanwhile, left Castoria and came to Larissa where he hoped to winter. When the Emperor reached the capital, as already mentioned, he at once set to work-being, as he was, a strenuous worker and never allotting himself any rest-and asked the sultan for troops as well as for some generals with long experience. The latter consequently sent him 7,000 men with highly experienced leaders, among whom was Camyres who surpassed all in long experience. While the Emperor was arranging and preparing these matters, Bohemund selected a certain portion of his own army, all Franks in full armour, sent them out and they took Pelagonia, Tricala and Castoria off-hand. Then Bohemund himself with his whole army entered Tricala and dispatching a detachment of brave men took Tzibiscus at first assault. After this he approached Larissa on the festival of St. George the Martyr with all his troops, encircled the walls and proceeded to besiege it. Now the defender of this city was the son of the Emperor's hereditary servant, Leo Cephalas, and he put up a stout resistance to Bohemund's engines for six whole months. He at once informed the Emperor by letter of the barbarian's attack. But the Emperor did not immediately start on his march against Bohemund, though burning with impatience, but had to postpone his departure because he was recruiting mercenaries from all quarters. At length after equipping them all fully, he set out from Constantinople. When he was close to the territories of Larissa and had passed over the hill of the Cells, he left the public highroad and the hill, Cissabus, so-called locally, on the right and marched down to Ezeba ; this is a Vlach village situated close to Androneia. From this he marched on to a large village, generally called Plabitza, situated somewhere near a river called ... here he pitched his camp, entrenching it just sufficiently. Then on again through the gardens of Delphinas, and beyond them to Tricala. And here a messenger bearing a letter from Leo Cephalas (of whom I [127] have already spoken), found him. He wrote very freely as follows: "Know, O Emperor, that up to the present by evincing extreme zeal I have kept this fortress from being taken. Now we are deprived of all foods allowed to Christians and have begun those which are not fitted for us, but even those are now giving out. Therefore please make haste if you wish to help us and if you could possibly drive away our assailants, then thanks be to God. But, if not, I, at least, have done my duty; and shortly (for how is it possible to struggle against nature and its imperious demands?) we must bow our heads to necessity and we intend to surrender the fort to the enemy who are pressing us hard and literally throttling us. But if this calamity should eventually come to pass, then may I be accursed! But I now take the liberty of speaking openly to your Majesty. If you do not hasten with all speed to extricate us from this danger, as we are unable to support the overwhelming burden of warfare, as well as famine, any longer; if you, our Sovereign, do not hasten to bring help when you have the power to do so, then, I say, you will certainly not escape the imputation of betrayal." From this the Emperor realized that in one way or another he must overcome the foe; and he was oppressed by anxieties and speculations. And for a whole day during which he invoked the aid of God, he worked hard at the problem of how best to set ambuscades. He also sent for an old man, a native of Larissa, and sought information from him about the lie of the land. With intent eyes and pointing with his finger too, he questioned him carefully about the places where ravines broke through the plain, and whether any thick coppices grew beside them. He asked these questions of the Larissaean because he wished to lay an ambush and defeat the Latins by craft ; for he shirked an open battle in the field as in several engagements he had been worsted and had gained experience of the Frankish method of attack. At sunset, the Emperor, who had toiled all day long, betook himself to sleep and a vision appeared to him. He seemed to be standing in the church of the Protomartyr Demetrius and heard a voice say " Do not grieve nor groan, tomorrow you shall conquer." He thought the voice fell upon his ears from an icon suspended in the temple on which the martyr Demetrius was painted. He awoke full of joy because of the voice of his vision, made his prayers to the martyr and promised besides that, if victory should be granted him, he would travel to Thessalonica and at several stades' distance [128] from the town he would dismount and proceed on foot at a smart pace and do obeisance to him in his church. Then he summoned the generals, captains and his relatives and commenced the discussion by asking their individual opinion, and next explained the plan he had formed. And this was to entrust all the divisions to his relatives; as chief commanders he appointed Melissenus Nicephorus and Curticius Basileios, also called 'Little John'; this man was an outstanding figure renowned for his bravery and military skill, a native of Adrianople. But not only the divisions did he entrust to them but also all the royal standards. Moreover he enjoined them to draw up the army on the same plan as he had drawn it up in the foregoing battles, and advised them first to try the vanguard of the Latin army by a skirmishing attack, then to raise their battle-cry and make a general attack. But directly the troops were fully engaged they were to turn their backs to the Latins and flee precipitately as if making for Lycostomium. Whilst the Emperor was giving these orders, suddenly all the horses in the army were heard to neigh. Astonishment seized them all; however, the Emperor and the more intelligent of his audience at once interpreted it as a good omen.

After he had given them these injunctions he left them to the right of Larissa, and after waiting for the sunset, he ordered some picked men to follow him, and went through the narrow pass of Libotanium, skirted Rebenicus and through the so-called "Allage " he reached the left side of Larissa; there he explored the nature of the ground and finding a slight depression, he crouched down with his companions. At the same time when the Emperor, as just related, was on the point of entering the defiles of Libotanium in his haste to place an ambush, the leaders of the Roman divisions selected and sent forward a detachment of the Roman troops against the Franks to draw the latter's attention to themselves and not allow them leisure to spy out whither the Emperor was going. So the Romans descended to the plain, attacked the Franks, and after a short battle, stopped, as night completely prevented further fighting. On reaching the desired spot the Emperor bade all dismount and kneel down and hold their reins in their hands; and he himself accidentally alighted on a bed of germander and bending down likewise lay the rest of the night on his face.

VI At sunrise Bohemund saw the Roman troops drawn up in array, and the royal standards and the silver-studded [129] spears and the horses with their royal red saddle-cloths, drew up his own army against them as well as he could, dividing his forces into two, and leading one half himself and over the other he put Bryennius [=Count of Brienne, Constable of Apulia] as commander, who was one of the most illustrious Latins and called 'Constable' by them. After thus disposing his own forces, he again followed his usual mode of procedure and thinking the Emperor was where he saw the imperial ensigns in the middle of the line, he dashed down upon this deception like a whirlwind. After a short resistance his opponents turned their backs and he rushed after them in mad pursuit as in our previous descriptions. Meanwhile the Emperor saw his own troops fleeing far, and Bohemund in mad pursuit of them, and when he judged that Bohemund was at a safe distance from the Roman camp, he jumped on his horse, bade his followers do the same, and fell upon Bohemund's encampment. Once inside it he slew a number of the Latins he found there and carried off all the booty; then he took another glance at the pursuers and pursued. And observing that his own men were really pretending flight and Bohemund chasing after them and behind him Bryennius, he called George Pyrrhus, a famous archer, and having detached other brave men, and a goodly number of peltasts he ordered them to ride quickly after Bryennius, and when they overtook him, not to start a close fight, but rather aim at the horses from a little distance and direct showers of arrows upon them. They did thus overtake the Franks and showered arrows upon the horses so that the horsemen were reduced to great difficulties. For every Frank is invincible both in attack and appearance when he is on horseback, but when he comes off his horse, partly due to the size of his shield, and partly to the long curved peaks of his shoes and a consequent difficulty in walking, then he becomes very easy to deal with and a different man altogether, for all his mental energy evaporates, as it were. This, I fancy, the Emperor knew, and therefore ordered them not to trouble about the riders, but to disable the horses. As the Franks' horses fell, the men with Bryennius were thrown into frightful confusion, and from this large whirling mass a tall, thick cloud of dust rose almost to the sky, so that its density could almost be likened to the darkness 'that could be felt ' which befell Egypt long ago. For their eyes were blinded by the thick dust which also prevented their seeing whence and by whom the arrows were shot. So [130] sent three Latins to report the matter to Bohemund. These found him standing on a little island in the river called Salabrias, eating grapes and also making a boastful pun which is still popularly quoted. For he kept repeating with his barbaric pronunciation of "Lycostomium " that they had driven Alexius "into the wolf's mouth." Thus does arrogance mislead many even with regard to things directly before their eyes, and before their feet. But when he heard the news sent by Bryennius and realized the craftiness and the victory won by guile he was naturally, indeed, furious with the Emperor, but in no wise cast down, so brave was he. A few selected Franks in full armour who were with him, then mounted a small hill opposite Larissa. Directly our heavy troops caught sight of them they demanded very eagerly to be allowed to attack them, but Alexius restrained them from this enterprise. Nevertheless quite a number from the different divisions and of various types did join together and mounted the hill and attacked the Franks, who immediately rushed at them and killed about five hundred. Then the Emperor guessing at the spot where Bohemund was likely to pass, dispatched brave soldiers with the Turks and Migidenus as chief commander, but as they drew near, Bohemund set upon them and beat them and pursued them to the river.

VII As dawn broke on the following day Bohemund crossed the river we have mentioned with his attendant Counts, Bryennius himself among them, and when he found a swampy place in the neighbourhood of Larissa and a tree-covered plain between two hills which ran out into a very narrow pass (this is called a "cleisura "), the plain was named "the palace of Domenicus," he entered by the pass and fixed his palisades there. The next day at dawn the leader of the phalanx, Michael Ducas, my maternal uncle, caught him there with all the army. This man was celebrated for his prudence, and in beauty and stature surpassed not only all his contemporaries, but all who have ever been born! (for all who saw him were amazed); he was, too, very quick and almost unrivalled in his conjectures of the future, his investigations of the actual and in taking action accordingly. The Emperor gave strict injunctions to this man not to let all the troops enter the mouth of the "cleisura"; but to leave the mass of them outside in squadrons, and to pick out a few of the Turks and Sauromatians who were skilled archers and allow these to enter, and to command them to use no weapon but their arrows. These entered and made cavalry attacks on the [131] Latins, and the men outside, burning for a fight, vied with each other as to who should enter the mouth. Bollemund, who was an expert in strategic science, commanded his men to form in close order and to stand quietly and protect themselves with their shields. When the Protostrator saw the men under him gradually melting away and entering the mouth of the pass he went in himself. And Bohemund seeing them come rejoiced as 'a lion who has met with mighty prey,' to use a Homeric expression, even so he, when he saw the men and the Protostrator Michael with his own eyes, dashed at them with all his forces in an irresistible rush, whereupon they immediately turned and fled. Uzas (who was thus named after his race), a man famous for his bravery and skilled, as Homer says, 'in wielding, now right now left, the tough bull's hide that formed his target,' bent to the right as he was coming out of the entrance and, turning sharply, hit the Latin following him, who straightway f ell headlong to the ground. But Bohemund pursued the fugitives as far as the river Salabrias. During the flight this same Uzas pierced Bohemund's standard-bearer with his spear and plucking the standard from his hands waved it aloft a minute, and then lowered it to the ground. When the Latins saw their standard lowered, they were confounded and fled along another path by which they reached Tricala which had already been seized by some of Bohemund's men who were fleeing to Lycostomium. And there they entered the town and stayed awhile and afterwards seized Castoria. But the Emperor soon left Larissa and entered Thessalonica and with his usual sagacity very soon began sending offers of rich rewards to the Counts in Bohemund's train on condition that they would ask Bohemund for the pay he had promised them, and that if he could not pay them, they should persuade him to journey down to the sea and ask his father Robert for it, or better still, cross the sea himself to fetch it. If they accomplished this, they should all enjoy his respect and numberless benefits. And if any of them were willing to serve under him as mercenaries, he would enrol them in his army and give them the pay they required, and to those who preferred to return to their own homes, he would give a safe passage through Hungary. In response to the Emperor's suggestion, the Counts unfeelingly demanded their pay for the last four years, but as Bohemund had not got it, he temporized awhile. However on their insisting in their reasonable demands, he did not know what to do, so appointed Bryennius Governor of [132] Castoria, as well as Peter, son of Aliphas, who was guarding Polobi; and himself journeyed down to Valona. On receipt of this news, the Emperor packed up and entered the Queen of Cities in triumph.

VIII When he arrived he found the church in a very perturbed condition, and did not even have a short period of relaxation. But as he was a true apostle of the church, and now found it vexed by the teachings of Italus, although he was anxious to march against Bryennius (the Frank who had taken Castoria, as we have said) yet even under these circumstances he did not neglect his faith. For at this time the doctrines of Italus had obtained a great vogue and were upsetting the church. Now this Italus (for it is necessary to give his history from the beginning) was a native of Italy and had spent a considerable time in Sicily; this is an island situated near Italy. For the Sicilians had rebelled against the Roman rule and were preparing for war against them and invited the Italians to join them; amongst those w1lo came was the father of Italus who brought his son with him, although he was not of military age, and the boy accompanied and tripped along with him and received a military education, as is the custom of the Italians. That is how Italus spent the early years of his life, and that was the first foundation of his education. When the famous George Maniaces during the reign of Monomachus mastered and subdued Sicily, the father of Italus with his child only escaped with difficulty and betook themselves in their flight to Lombardy which was still under the Romans. From there (I do not know how) this Italus came to Constantinople, which was not ill supplied with teachers of every subject and of the art of language. For from the time of Basil Porphyrogenitus down to the Emperor Monomachus, the study of letters, although neglected by the many, had nevertheless not entirely died out; it blazed up again and revived and was seriously pursued by the lovers of letters in the reign of the Emperor Alexius. Before that time men for the most part lived luxuriously and amused themselves, and due to their effeminacy they busied themselves with quail-hunting and other more disgraceful pastimes, and treated letters, and in fact any training in arts, as a secondary consideration. Therefore when Italus found the majority of this character he consorted with the scholars, gloomy men of uncouth habits (for such were to be found in the capital even then) and after he had gained an education in letters from them he later associated with the renowned [133] Michael Psellus. This man had not studied very much under learned professors, but through his natural cleverness and quick intelligence and further by the help of God (which he had obtained by his mother's ardent supplications, for she often spent whole nights in the church of God weeping and making invocations to the holy picture of the Virgin on her son's behalf) he had reached the summit of all knowledge, was thoroughly acquainted with Greek and Chaldoean literature and grew famous in those days for his wisdom. Italus, then, became this man's disciple, but he was never able to plumb the depths of philosophy for he was of such a boorish and barbarous disposition that he could not endure teachers even when learning from them. He was full of daring and barbarous rebelliousness and even before learning a thing, imagined he surpassed everybody else and from the very start he entered the lists against Psellus himself. Being well versed in dialectics he caused daily commotions in public meeting places by stringing together sophistical quibbles, putting forward something of the kind and then maintaining an argument to match it. The reigning Emperor, Michael Ducas, and his brothers, made a friend of him; they certainly placed him after Psellus in their estimation, yet they were fond of him, and used him in literary contests; for the Ducases, the Emperor's brothers, and even the Emperor Michael himself, were very literary. Italus would always cast heated, furious glances at Psellus when the latter, like an eagle, soared above his quibbles.

What happened next? The war of the Latins and Italians with the Romans broke out, and the occupation of Lombardy, nay even of the whole of Italy, was under consideration. The Emperor of that time sent Italus to Epidamnus on the supposition that he was his friend and an honest man, and understood Italian affairs. Then to cut my story short, he was detected in treachery to us and an official was sent to expel him, and Italus getting wind of this, escaped to Rome. Later, as was his nature, he repented and sent imploring letters to the Emperor who ordered him back to Constantinople and gave him as dwelling-place the monastery called Pege, and the church of the Forty Saints. Later when Psellus left Byzantium after taking the tonsure, Italus became the foremost teacher of all philosophy and was styled the highest, 'Hypatus,' of philosophers and he gave lectures explaining the books of Aristotle and Plato. He was generally supposed to be very learned. and he undoubtedly was far cleverer than [134] all others in expounding that most wonderful philosophic system, the Peripatetic, and especially the dialectics of it. But for other branches of literature he had not a very good head, for he stumbled over grammar and had never tasted the nectar of rhetoric. Consequently his language was not adaptable nor at all polished. For the same reason, too, his character was austere and entirely unadorned with grace. His studies too had contracted his brows and he literally exhaled harshness. His writings were crammed full of dialectic exordiums and his language in disputations redounded with 'attempted proofs,' more so in his discourses than in his written works. He was so strong in his arguments and so difficult to beat that his opponent would automatically be reduced to silence and to despair. For he would dig a pit either, side of his question and hurl his interlocutor into a well of difficulties. Such skill the man had in dialectics, and by a rapid succession of questions he would overwhelm his opponents by confusing and daunting their minds. And it was impossible for anyone, who had once argued with him, to free himself from these labyrinths. In other ways he was most unrefined, and subject to violent temper; and this fierce temper annulled and obliterated the credit he gained from his learning. For in arguments this man used fists as well as words and he did not allow his interlocutor simply to lose himself in embarrassment nor was he satisfied with sewing up his opponent's mouth and condemning him to silence, but forthwith his hand flew out to tear his beard and hair, and insult quickly followed insult, in fact the man could not be restrained in the use of his hands and tongue. The only unphilosophic trait he had was that after the blow his anger left him, tears and evident remorse followed. If it would interest anyone to know his appearance, his head was large, his brow very prominent, his face open, his nostrils wide and of free exhalation, his beard rounded, his chest broad and his limbs well-knit together, in stature shorter than the very tall. His pronunciation was such as you would expect of a Latin who had come to our country as a young man and learnt Greek thoroughly but was not quite clear in his articulation, for he mutilated his syllables here and there. This want of clearness in his utterance and his dropping the last letters did not escape even ordinary people and made rhetoricians call him 'rustic' in his speech. As a result, although his writings were crammed with dialectical commonplaces, drawn from all sources, they were decidedly not free [135] from faults of composition and solecisms scattered broadcast.

IX This man then was the acknowledged master of all philosophy and the youth flocked to him. (For he expounded to them the doctrines of Plato and Proclus, and of the two philosophers, Porphyry and Iamblichus, but especially the rules of Aristotle; and he gave instruction in the system to those who wished, as affording a serviceable tool and it was on this that he rather prided himself and to this he devoted his attention.) Yet he was unequal to exerting a very good influence on his pupils as his violent temper and his general instability of character stood in the way. And look, I pray, at his pupils-there were Solomon John, and an Iasitas and Serblias and others devoted to learning maybe; most of them I saw myself later, as they often came to the palace. They knew no literary subject accurately, but would pose as dialecticians, making ungainly movements and mad contortions of their limbs, they understood nothing sound but put forth ideas, even those about metempsychosis, in a shadowy way and other similar equally monstrous notions. Is there any learned man who on visiting the court has not seen that holy couple, utterly absorbed in their study of the interpretation of the Divine writings both at day- and nighttime? I mean my royal parents. And here I will tell a little tale, for the laws of oratory allow that. I remember the Empress, my mother, when breakfast was already on the table, carrying a book in her hands and poring over the writings of the didactic Fathers, especially those of the philosopher and martyr Maximus. For she was not so much interested in the physical disputations as in those about the dogmas, because she wished to gain true wisdom. And I was often seized with wonder at her and one day in my wonder I said to her, " How can you spontaneously rise to such sublime heights? for I tremble and dare not listen to such things even with the tips of my ears? For the purely abstract and intellectual character of the man makes one's head swim, as the saying goes."She smiled and said " I know that kind of quite laudable dread; and I myself do not touch these books without a tremor and yet I cannot tear myself away from them. But you wait a little and after you have dipped into other books, you will taste the sweetness of these." The remembrance of these words pricks my heart and I have plunged into an ocean, so to speak, of other tales. But the rules of history forbid them, therefore let us run back to the [136] tale of Italus - when he was at the height of his popularity with the students, some of whom I have named, he treated them all with contempt and turned many of the feebler-minded to rebellion and made not a few of his own pupils tyrants. And I could mention several of them, had not time obliterated their names from my memory. All this took place before my father was elevated to the throne. On his accession he found all education here in a very poor way and the regular study of letters apparently banished afar, he lost no time in raking the ashes together to see whether some live sparks might perchance be bidden under them. Those who were inclined to learning (and they were but few and had not passed beyond the vestibule of Aristotelian philosophy) he did not cease from encouraging but bade them prefer the study of the sacred writings to Greek literature. He found Italus throwing everything into confusion and leading many astray, so he deputed the Sebastocrator Isaac to examine him, as he was very literary and accustomed to undertaking important duties. When Isaac found that Italus was as report said, he openly censured him in a public meeting and then passed him on to the ecclesiastical tribunal by order of the Emperor, his brother. But Italus was unable to hide his own ignorance, and there he vomited forth doctrines quite foreign to the church's, and in the midst of the ecclesiastical dignitaries he did not cease from acting like a buffoon, and doing other things of a boorish and uncultured nature; the president of the church then was Eustratius Garidas who condemned him to detention within the precincts of the great church in the hopes of bringing him to a better state of mind. But, report says that Garidas would more quickly have shared the other's evil doctrines than brought him back to the right path, and Italus won him over entirely to his side. What was the consequence? The whole population of Constantinople surged into the church, shouting for Italus. Probably he would have been thrown down from the top into the middle of the church, had he not escaped to the roof of the sacred edifice and hidden himself in some hole he found. But as the wrong doctrines he had promulgated were much discussed by some of the courtiers, and not a few nobles had been corrupted by those pernicious dogmas, the Emperor's soul was vexed; and the heretical doctrines taught by Italus were summarized in eleven chapters and dispatched to the Emperor. Then the Emperor made Italus recite these chapters from the pulpit in the great church with his head [137] uncovered, and pronounce a curse upon them, while all the congregation listened and repeated the curse. When this had been done, Italus still remained uncontrollable, and again taught these same doctrines to many quite openly, and on being reprimanded by the Emperor, he turned away abruptly and rudely, then he himself was excommunicated. Later on, when he professed penitence, his sentence of excommunication was lightened somewhat. And although his doctrines are still recited and cursed, his name is only mentioned indirectly, as it were, and secretly, and the anathema pronounced on him by the church is not pronounced in a voice audible to the congregation. For in his later years he changed his opinions and repented of the error into which he had been led. Furthermore, he denied a belief in metempsychosis and retracted his insulting words about the holy icons of the saints; he also remodelled his teaching about " ideas " so as to make it conform to orthodoxy, and it was quite evident that he condemned himself for having formerly strayed from the straight path.

Complete Text | Introduction | Book 1 | Book 2 | Book 3 | Book 4 | Book 5 | Book 6 |
Book 7  | Book 8 | Book 9 | Book 10 | Book 11 | Book 12 | Book 13 | Book 14 | Book 15


Anna Comnena (Komnene). The Alexiad. Edited and translated by Elizabeth A. Dawes. London: Routledge, Kegan, Paul, 1928.

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