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The Alexiad: Book VIII

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War with the Scyths (1091) : Victory at Levunium (29 April 1091) : Plots against the Emperor


I THE Emperor was now informed that the Scythians had detached a division and sent it against Choerobacchi, and that their approach was imminent. As he was a man swift to act and ever proved himself ready in sudden crises-in spite of not having had a week's rest yet in his palace nor even taken a bath, nor shaken off the dust of battle - he at once assembled the troops appointed as garrison of the city and all the recruits there were, about 500 in number, and after seeing to their equipment all through the night, he marched out at dawn. On this occasion he made his expedition against the Scythians known, and to all his connections by blood or marriage and to the men of superior fortune who had enrolled themselves in the army (it was then Friday in Septuagesima week) he sent the following orders by his messengers: " I for my part am leaving because I have heard of the Scythians' rapid movement on Choerobacchi; you others, however, must march and join us during Quinquagesima week. As I do not wish to appear severe and inconsiderate, I grant you the days from this Septuagesima Friday to the Monday in Quinquagesima week as a short breathing-space." Thereupon the Emperor marched straight to Choerobacchi, and on entrance closed the gates, and took charge of the keys himself. Then he stationed all those of his servants who were loyal on the battlements of the wall with strict injunctions not to lie down, but to keep a tireless watch all round the walls to prevent anybody's coming up there, stooping down and leaning over to communicate with the Scythians. At sunrise the Scythians, as expected, occupied and took up their stand on the ridge adjacent to the wall of Choerobacchi. About six thousand of them were afterwards set apart and dispersed for foraging and went as far as Decatum itself which is only some ten stades distant from the Queen of Cities ; it is from this fact, I imagine, that it got its name. The [195] rest of the Scythians had remained where they were. The Emperor mounted by the wall to the parapets and carefully inspected the plains and hills to see whether perchance a second force was coming to join the Scythians, or whether they were meditating the planting of ambuscades to impede anyone who might possibly have the intention of attacking them. However, he noticed nothing of the kind but saw at the second hour of the day that they were not prepared for battle but had turned their attention to food and rest. He did not dare to engage them in a pitched battle, considering the large number they were, but was indignant at the thought that they might ravage the whole district and actually approach the very walls of the Queen of Cities, and that too when he had quitted the city for the purpose of driving them out of the county. Consequently he assembled the soldiers and wishing to test their feelings, said, "We must not let our courage flag by contemplating the number of Scythians, but put our trust in God and go to battle with them, and if only we are all of one mind, I am convinced we shall beat them utterly." But they all refused absolutely and dissented from his proposal. Then he aroused greater fear in them and awoke them to a sense of danger by saying: " If the foraging party returns and rejoins those who are here, our peril is clear and manifest. For they will either rush this fort and we shall be massacred, or maybe they will hold us of no account and march up to the walls of the capital and prevent us from re-entering the Queen-City by bivouacking before its gates. Consequently it behoves us to take the risk and not die like cowards. So I shall go out at once and whoever likes can follow me for I will lead the way and dash into the midst of the Scythians. As for you who cannot, or will not, do this, do not venture even outside the gates." With these words he immediately put on his armour and sallied out by the gate opposite the marsh. After skirting the walls and turning aside a little, he mounted the ridge from the back. For he had realized that his men would not follow him into a regular engagement with the Scythians. He was the first to seize a spear and push his way into the middle of the Scythians, and then he struck down the first man he encountered. And the soldiers, too, who were with him shewed themselves no less keen fighters, and the result was that the greater number of Scythians were killed and the rest taken prisoners. Then with his usual cunning he clothed his soldiers in the Scythians' garments and bade them [196] mount the Scythian horses, whilst he entrusted their own horses and standards, and the heads of the Scythians that had been cut off to a few of the most reliable men and ordered them to get back inside the fort and await him. When he had completed these arrangements he marched down with the Scythian standards and his soldiers clad in the Scythians' dress to the river flowing past Choerobacchi, where he judged that the Scythians would pass on their return from foraging. And the foragers seeing the men standing there, and thinking they too were Scythians, lighted upon them unguardedly and were cut to pieces or taken prisoners.

II When evening had fallen (it was a Saturday) he returned with his captives (to Choerobacchi) and spent the next day quietly there. At daybreak on Monday he left the fort and divided his men into two parties, in front he placed the men carrying the standards of the Scythians, and behind them the Scythian captives each led by a countryman; the heads which had been cut off he had stuck on spears and carried aloft by yet other countrymen, and in this order he bade them journey. At a moderate distance behind these he followed with his soldiers and the usual Roman standards. Now Palaeologus, who was ardent in military enterprises, had started from Byzantium at dawn on Sexagesima Sunday before the others. As he was aware of the Scythians' rapidity in movement, he was not free from anxiety on his journey, so picked out a few of his accompanying retainers and ordered them to run some distance ahead and inspect the plains, valley and roads, all round, and in case any Scythians were to be seen, to return quickly and report to him. In this order then they travelled; when the scouts saw in the plain called Dimylia the men dressed in Scythian clothing, and the Scythian standards, they ran back and reported that the Scythians were close at hand. Whereupon he immediately stood to arms. On the heels of the first messenger came a second who affirmed that, at a good distance behind those who looked like Scythians, the Roman standards and soldiers advancing at a double could be seen. These newsbringers guessed a part of the truth indeed, but were also partly wrong. For the army marching in the rear was certainly Roman both in appearance and in reality and the Emperor was in command of it ; but the one in front equipped in Scythian fashion were all members of the Roman army, but dressed in Scythian garments. In the first place, the men dressed up in the way they were by the Emperor's command, [197] managed as apparent Scythians utterly to deceive the real Scythians, as I have already described ; and in the second place, the Emperor made use of this Scythian get-up to cheat and trick our own men, in order that whoever met these our own soldiers first should be horror-struck, and think they had fallen into the hands of Scythians. This would be a soldier's joke quite free from danger, yet with a spice of fear in it; for before they were seriously alarmed, they would be reassured by seeing the Emperor behind. In this way the Emperor harmlessly scared those they met. All the men with Palaeologus were overcome with fear at what they saw, but he himself of fax greater experience than they all, and knowing too how fertile in devices Alexius was, immediately understood that this was such a device, and therefore regained confidence himself, and urged the others to do so.

By this time, the whole crowd of his kinsmen and connections was rushing out from the capital, for they were hurrying, as they thought, to overtake the Emperor according to their agreement with him. For, as mentioned above, they agreed to meet him after Sexagesima Sunday in Quinquagesima week. However they did not succeed in leaving the city before the Emperor re-entered it in triumph. When they met him on arrival they would not have believed that the Emperor alone had gained trophies and achieved a victory so quickly, had they not seen the heads of the Scythians fixed on the spear-heads and many others, who had escaped the sword, with their hands bound behind their backs, being dragged and pushed along, one after the other, as prisoners. People were amazed at the swiftness of the campaign; but I heard a little tale about George Palaeologus (told me by some who were present), which was, that he complained bitterly and blamed himself for having been too late for the battle and not having been with the Emperor who had reaped so much glory by his unexpected victory over the barbarians. For he would have dearly liked to have had a share in that meed of fame. But with regard to the Emperor one could say that the words of the song in Deuteronomy were then visibly accomplished, namely, 'How should one chase a thousand and two put ten thousand to flight?' For at that juncture the Emperor faced the overwhelming mass of barbarians practically single-handed, and carried through that whole weighty war successfully right up to victory. And were one to enquire 'Who or what were his companions?' and then compare the Emperor's stratagems and his [198] versatility, combined with his valour and daring with the barbarians' numbers and strength, he would only discover that the Emperor had achieved the victory alone.

III In such manner did God on that occasion grant the ruler an astounding victory. When the Byzantines saw him enter the city, they shouted with joy for they were astonished at the swiftness, the boldness and the cleverness of the undertaking and the immediate victory, they sang paeans, they leapt, and praised God for having given them such a saviour and benefactor. But Melissenus Nicephorus was annoyed at this and took it ill-such is human nature-and said, " This victory is a fruitless joy to us and a harmless grief to them." And indeed the Scythians, who were innumerable and dispersed all over the West, continued to ravage all the provinces and none of the disasters that had befallen them checked their unbridled audacity in the slightest. Now and again they would even seize small towns in the West, nor did they spare the villages in the neighbourhood of the Queen of Cities, for they even advanced to the one called Bathys Rhyax where stands the sanctuary sacred to the memory of Theodore, greatest of all martyrs. Every day a good many people used to go there to make intercession to the saint, and on Sundays the pious journeyed to the shrine in crowds and spent all day and night there lodging round it, or in the porch, or in the back chamber of the church. But the onward rush of the Scythians prevailed to such an extent that the people who wanted to go to the martyr's church did not even dare to open the gates of Byzantium because of the Scythians' frequent incursions. These indeed were the troubles which beset the Emperor on land in the West, and even at sea matters were far from calm for him, but on the contrary very disturbed as Tzachas had acquired another fleet and was sacking the coast towns. For these reasons, the Emperor was harassed and distressed, for he was beset by troubles on every side. And then news was brought to him that Tzachas had now collected a larger fleet from the maritime districts, and devastated the islands he had previously captured, and that he had further begun to consider an attack on the western provinces, and was sending envoys to the Scythians advising them to seize the Chersonese. The mercenary troops which had come to the Emperor's aid from the East, I mean the Turks, not even these did Tzachas allow to keep their treaty with the Emperor unbroken, but coaxed them with specious promises to desert the Emperor, and come over to him, as [199] soon as he had seized the barley-crop. The Emperor heard this and felt that his affairs on land and sea were in a very parlous condition. And an exceptionally severe winter was blocking up all the roads to such a degree that even the doors of houses could not be opened, because of the weight of snow lying against them (it happened that there had been a very heavy fall, heavier than anyone had ever seen before). Under these circumstances the Emperor did what he could by letters to collect a mercenary army from all sides. But when the sun had reached the spring solstice and the threatening war from the clouds had ceased, and the wrath of the sea was abated, he decided, as his enemies were pressing him hard on either side, that the best course would be to go down to the coast; there he could easily resist his seafaring enemies, and at the same time conveniently fight against those who approached over land.

He immediately sent off the Caesar Melissenus Nicephorus with orders to occupy Enus with all possible despatch. He had previously signified to him by letters to enlist as many soldiers as possible, but not from the veterans (for those had already been distributed throughout the towns in the West to act as garrisons in the more important strongholds). He was partly to levy recruits from the Bulgarians and from the nomadic tribes (called Vlachs in popular parlance) and for the rest whatever horse- or foot-soldiers offered themselves from any country. He himself summoned from Nicomedia the five hundred Franks whom the Count of Flanders had sent, and leaving Byzantium with his kinsmen quickly reached Aenus. There he entered into a coracle, and was rowed past the town whilst he investigated the general lie of the river and its bed on either side and, when he had decided where it would be best to encamp his army, he returned. During the night he assembled the officers and explained to them the nature of the river and of the land on either side and said, " It would be well for you to cross to-morrow and carefully inspect the whole plain. Andperhaps you will think the place which I will point out to you not unsuitable for pitching our camp." As they all agreed to this he was the first to cross the river at dawn, and then the whole army followed him. Then he inspected the banks of the river again with the officers, and also the surrounding plain, and shewed them the spot which pleased him. It was quite close to a small town, locally called Choereni, whose one side was flanked by the river, and the other by a swamp. [200] Since the unanimous verdict of the soldiers was that this place was sufficiently protected, a trench was quickly dug and the whole army installed there. The Emperor returned to Aenus with a goodly body of light-armed troops, in order to repel the attacks of the Scythians who were advancing from that quarter.

IV When the troops entrenched at Choereni learnt of the advances of incredibly large Scythian armies, they sent word of this to the Emperor who was still at Aenus. He at once embarked in a coracle and sailing along the coast, entered the river at its mouth and effected a junction with his entire army, As he saw that his own forces were infinitely smaller than the Scythians he fell into great perplexity and fear, for as far as man could see, he had no one to help him. Yet he did not give way or shew weakness but was lost in a welter of reflections. Four days later he saw far off in quite a different direction an army of the Comans approaching, about forty thousand strong. Accordingly he reflected that if these made common cause with the Scythians, they would begin a terrible war against him (from which no other result could be expected than utter destruction), so he judged it wise to conciliate them; for it was he himself who had previously sent for them. Amongst a crowd of other captains in the Coman army, Togortac, Maniac and a few very valiant men stood out preeminent. The Emperor was afraid when he saw the multitude of approaching Comans, for knowing of old their easily-led nature, he feared that his one-time allies might become his foes and enemies, and inflict grievous harm on him. He thought it would be safer to take away the whole army and recross the river, but before doing so he determined to invite the chiefs of the Comans to a conference. They straightway came to him, Maniac himself too, though later than the others as at first he demurred. So Alexius ordered the cooks to spread a gorgeous banquet for them. When they had dined well he received them very graciously and presented them with various gifts, and then, as he was suspicious of their treacherous character, he asked them to give him an oath and hostages. They fulfilled his demands readily, and requested to be allowed to fight with the Patzinaks for three days; and if God should give them the victory they promised to divide all the booty that accrued to them into two parts and assign one half to the Emperor. He granted them permission to-pursue the Scythians, not only for three days, but for ten whole days in whatever way [201] they liked, and gave them permission to keep the whole of the booty they took from them, if within that time God granted them the victory. However the Scythians and the Coman armies remained where they were for some time, while the Com ans harassed the Scythian army by skirmishing. Before the expiration of three days Alexius summoned Antiochus (he was one of the nobles who surpassed most in energy), and ordered him to build a bridge. The bridge was quickly constructed by binding boats together with very long planks, then he called for the Protostrator Michael Ducas, his brother-in-law, and the Great Domestic Adrian, his brother, and commanded them to stand at the river's edge, and not allow the infantry and cavalry to cross all together in a confused mass, but first to separate the infantry from the cavalry, and also the baggage waggon and the sumpter mules. When the infantry had crossed, through fear of the Scythian and Coman troops and their sly attacks, he had trenches drawn with all speed and lodged all the infantry within them; afterwards he ordered the horsemen to cross too, and he stood on the river's brink and watched them cross. Meanwhile Melissenus, acting on the written instructions he had previously received from the Emperor, collected forces from all sides; he had also requisitioned foot-soldiers from the neighbourhood and when these had loaded their own baggage and the necessary commisariat on ox-drawn wagons, he sent them off with all speed to the Emperor. When they had come within range of the human eye, the majority of those who saw them thought they were a detachment of Scythians advancing against the Emperor. One man even had the audacity to point them out with his finger to the Emperor, and insisted that they were Scythians. The latter believed what he said was true and was greatly dismayed as he could not prevail against so many. So in this difficulty he sent for Rodomerus (he was a noble of Bulgarian descent and related to the Empress, our mother, on his mother's side), and bade him go and spy out these newcomers. He quickly accomplished the Emperor's bidding, and returning told him they were men sent by Melissenus. Hereat the Emperor was overjoyed, and when they arrived shortly afterwards, he crossed the river with them, had the newly made camp slightly enlarged and then united these men to the rest of the army. The Comans at once took possession of the camp from which the Emperor had moved to cross the river with his whole army, and took up their position near there. On [202] the following day the Emperor moved again intending to seize the ford lower down the river locally called Philocalus; but as he met a large body of Scythians he promptly attacked them, and a vigorous engagement ensued. Many were killed on either side during the fight, yet the Emperor gained the victory, and thoroughly worsted the Scythians. After the battle was concluded in this way, and the armies had retired to their respective encampments, the Roman army remained near the spot for the whole of the night. At sunrise on the morrow they moved on and occupied a place called Lebunium, which is a hill dominating a plain; up this hill the Emperor marched. But as there was not sufficient room on the hill itself for the whole of the army, he had a trench made at its foot and a camp, capable of containing the entire army, and lodged them there. At this moment the deserter Neantzes with a few Scythians approached the Emperor again; when the Emperor saw him he reproached him with his former ingratitude and several other misdeeds, and had him and his companions arrested and cast into irons.

V So much then for the Emperor's doings. The Scythians, on their side, kept still in their position on the banks of the stream called 'Mavropotamos' and made secret overtures to the Comans, inviting their alliance; they likewise did not cease sending envoys to the Emperor to treat about peace. The latter had a fair idea of their double-dealings so gave them appropriate answers, as he wished to keep them in suspense until the arrival of the mercenary army which he expected from Rome. And as the Comans only received dubious promises from the Patzinaks, they did not at all go over to them, but sent the following communication to the Emperor in the evening: "For how long are we to postpone the battle? know therefore that we shall not wait any longer, but at sunrise we shall eat the flesh either of wolf or of lamb." On hearing this the Emperor realized the keen spirit of the Comans, and was no longer for delaying the fight. He felt that the next day would be the solemn crisis of the war, and therefore promised the Comans to do battle with the Scythians on the morrow, and then he straightway summoned the generals and ' pentecontarchs ' and other officers and bade them proclaim throughout the whole camp that the battle was reserved for the morrow. But in spite of all these preparations, he still dreaded the countless hosts of Patzinaks and Comans, fearing the two armies might coalesce.

Whilst the Emperor was busy with these reflections, [203] a band of hardy and war-loving mountaineers, numbering about 5,000 in all, deserted to the Emperor and offered him their services. Since the moment of battle could now no longer be postponed, the Emperor invoked the aid of God. At sunset he led the intercessory prayers for help to God, and conducted a brilliant torch-light procession, and sang appropriate hymns. Nor did he allow the army to sleep in peace, for he suggested to the more intelligent individuals that they should follow his example whereas he imposed it as an order upon the more clownish. And thus at that hour you could have seen the sun setting on the horizon, but the whole sky lit up, not as it were with the light of one sun, but as if ever so many more heavenly bodies were contributing their light. For one and all fixed lighted lamps or wax candles, whichever they had, to the tips of their spears. And verily the cries which were sent up by this army must have reached the orb of heaven, I think, or to speak quite truly, they were carried to the ears of our Lord God Himself. From this circumstance, I fancy, one can deduce the Emperor's piety seeing that he thought it wrong to attack an enemy without asking God's help. For he did not place his confidence in men or horses, or military engines, but entrusted all to the Divine decision. These intercessions were continued till midnight; after which he allowed himself a little bodily rest and then leapt up from sleep. The light-troops he armed more strongly than usual, and some of them he supplied with cuirasses and helmets of silken material of an iron-colour, as he had not a sufficient supply of iron for all. At the first smile of dawn he same out of the gully in heavy armour, and bade them sound the attack. And beneath the hill called Lebunium (this place is . . . ) he split up the army and drew up the infantry in troops. The Emperor himself stood in the fore-front breathing fierce wrath, whilst the right and left wings were commanded by George Palaeologus and Constantine Dalassenus respectively. On the extreme right of the Comans stood Monastras with his men under arms. For directly they saw the Emperor drawing up his lines they too armed themselves and arranged their line of battle in their own fashion; to the left of them stood Uzas, and looking towards the west was Hubertopulos with the Franks. When the Emperor had thus fortified the army, so to speak, with the heavy-armed troops and encircled it with squadrons of horse, he ordered the trumpets to sound the attack again. The Romans in their dread of the countless [204] Scythians and their horrible covered wagons which they used as walls, sent up one cry for mercy to the Lord of All and then, letting their steeds go, dashed at full speed into battle with the Scythians, the Emperor galloping in front of them all. The Roman line was crescent-shaped and at the same instant as if at a signal the whole army of the Comans rushed forward too, so a distinguished chieftain of the Scythians, foreseeing the issue of events, secured his safety in advance, and taking a few men with him went over to the Comans as they spoke the same language. For although these too were fighting fiercely against the Scythians, yet he felt more confidence in them than in the Romans, and approached them in the hope that they would act as mediators for him with the Emperor. The Emperor noticed his secession and grew alarmed lest more should go over and persuade the Comans to make common cause with the Scythians, and to turn their horses as well as their feelings against the Roman army. Consequently, as he was quick in perceiving what was expedient at a critical moment, he ordered the royal standard-bearer to carry the standard and post himself close to the Coman camp. By this time the Scythian array had been completely broken, and the two armies met in hand to hand fight, and then such slaughter of men was seen as nobody had ever witnessed before. For the Scythians were being terribly massacred as if abandoned by the Divine Power, and their opponents who cut them down grew weary of the incessant, heavy mowing with their swords, and were growing faint and relaxing the pursuit. Then the Emperor rode right in among the foe, and confounded all the ranks striking down those who stood in his way, and even overaweing those further off by his shouting. When he saw that the sun was casting its rays vertically as it was about noon, he provided for his troops as follows. He sent for some men, and dispatched them to tell the countrymen to fill their waterskins with water, lade them on their own mules and drive them along to him. When neighbours and friends saw the countrymen doing this they, too, without receiving orders, did the same, and one with a pitcher, another with a skin, and another with whatever vessel he could lay hands on, brought water to refresh the soldiers who were delivering them from the dread hand of the Scythians; and the soldiers after drinking a little water resumed the battle. That day a new spectacle was seen, for a whole nation, not of ten thousand men only, but surpassing all number together with their wives and children was [205] completely wiped out. It was the third day of the week, the twenty-ninth of April; hence the Byzantines made a little burlesque song, " just by one day the Scythians missed seeing the month of May." By the time that the sun was creeping to the West, and practically all the Scythians had fallen to the sword, and I repeat the children and the women too, and many also had been taken alive, the Emperor bade them sound the recall, and returned to his camp.

These doings might well seem a miracle, especially to a mind that reflected bow not so long ago the men who left Byzantium to fight the Scythians brought ropes and straps with which to bind the captive Scythians they meant to lead home, and then the tables were turned and they themselves became the prisoners and captives of the Scythians -this took place when we fought the Scythians near Dristra; on that occasion God broke the insolent spirit of the Romans. But later on, at the time I am now relating, when He saw them full of fear and devoid of all saving hope, as not being strong enough to prevail against such multitudes, He unexpectedly granted them victory, so that they bound and slew and captured the Scythians, and not only this (for such things often happen even in minor battles) but in one single day they wiped off the face of the earth a whole nation of myriads of men.

VI After the Coman and Roman troops had returned to their respective quarters, and in the early evening the Emperor was thinking of supper, the man called Synesius came in very angry and said to the Emperor : " What is this nonsense ? and what is this new arrangement ? Each soldier has thirty or more Scythian prisoners. The Comans in their masses axe quite close to us. Now if our soldiers fall asleep as most certainly they should do, dog-tired as they are, and the Scytbians set each other free, take their daggers and kill them, what then? So give orders for most of them to be put to death at once!" But the Emperor gave him a severe look and replied, "Even though Scythians, yet they are men; and even though our foes, yet worthy of pity. And I really do not know what you are thinking about to talk such nonsense."On the other's insisting he dismissed him angrily. Then he had a proclamation made to the army that all arms should be taken from the Scythians and deposited in one place, and that the soldiers should carefully guard their prisoners. After issuing these orders, he spent the rest of the night free from anxiety. But during the middle watch of [206] the night, either by Divine guidance, or for some other unknown reason, certain it is that as if by one accord the soldiers killed nearly all of them. When the Emperor was told this in the early morning he at once suspected Synesius, and therefore had him called directly. After blaming him severely, he threatened him saying, " This is your work." In spite of the other's protestations that he knew nothing about it, he ordered him to be arrested and kept in chains, saying, " Thus you will learn what an evil mere chains are, and not to make decisions of this kind against men again." Perhaps he would have had him scourged too, had not the highest noblemen, the relations and connections of the Emperor, united in appealing to him on behalf of Synesius.

Most of the Comans were afraid that the Emperor was meditating some dreadful stroke against them by night, because they had taken all the booty, so they went away by night, taking the road leading to the Danube. To escape from the stench of the corpses, the Emperor marched away from his camp at daybreak, and reached another called 'Kala Dendra' about eighteen stades distant from Chcereni. On the march thither Melissenus met him. He had been unable to come in time for the battle, as he had been busy preparing that crowd of recruits to send to the Emperor. They naturally embraced and congratulated each other, and for the rest of the journey spoke about the events connected with the defeat of the Scythians. On arrival at Kala Dendra, the Emperor heard of the Comans' flight: thereupon he had all the goods which he had assigned to them according to their agreement loaded on mules, and sent them off after them, bidding the drivers make all speed to overtake them even beyond the Danube, if they could, and hand over to them what he sent. For throughout his lif e he considered it a sin not only to tell a falsehood, but even to appear to have done so, and he frequently would discourse at length to all about falseness. This is sufficient about the fugitives; as for all the other Comans who followed him, he saw to it that they feasted royally for the rest of the day. He judged it wiser not to give these soldiers the reward due to them on that day, but to let them first sleep off the effects of the wine they had drunk, so that when they had regained their clarity of mind, they would appreciate the gift. On the following day he assembled them all and gave them not only as much as he had promised beforehand, but a great deal more. Now when he wanted to dismiss them to [207] their homes he reflected that they might wander about and turn to plundering on their way and inflict no little harm on the country-towns along the road, so he took hostages from them. They in their turn requested him to give them safe conduct, so he gave them Joannaces (a man of exceptional bravery and prudence) and entrusted him with the care and safe conveyance of the Comans as far as the Zygum.

Thus the Emperor's affairs prospered, thanks entirely to Divine providence. After he had fully settled everything he return ed to Byzantium as a ' conquering hero ' in the course of the month of May.

I must now conclude my narrative of the Scythian wars although I have only related a few incidents out of a great number, and have only touched the Adriatic sea with the tip of my finger. But as for the Emperor's brilliant victories, the various defeats he inflicted on his enemies, his individual acts of bravery, the intervening events, and how he adapted himself to all circumstances, and by divers expedients resolved the difficulties that befell him-to relate all this explicitly not even a second Demosthenes would have had the power, nor the whole band of orators, nor even the whole Academy if it combined with the Stoa to celebrate the exploits of Alexius as a subject of prime importance.

VII Only a few days had elapsed since the Emperor's return to the palace when Ariebes the Armenian and the Frank Hubertopoulos (two noblemen and devotees of Mars) were detected in a plot against the Emperor, in which they had involved a fair number of others. Witnesses came forward and the truth was openly stated. When the conspirators stood condemned, they were punished by confiscation of their property and banishment, as the Emperor remitted the penalty of death, which was prescribed by law.

The Emperor now heard a rumour of an invasion by the Comans, and learnt from another quarter that Bodinus and his Dalmatians had broken the truce and were contemplating an incursion into our territory; he was divided in mind as to which adversary he should turn his attention first. He decided to proceed against the Dalmatians first, and to anticipate them in occupying, and, as far as practicable, in protecting the valleys lying between their confines and our own. Accordingly he convoked his council and imparted his ideas to them, and as they all approved he left the capital for the purpose of taking charge of affairs in the West. He soon reached Philippopolis where letters were handed to him from the [208] archbishop of Bulgaria, who wrote about the Duke of Dyrrachium, John, the Sebastocrator's son, as he felt convinced the latter was hatching rebellion. For a whole day and night the Emperor was sunk in despondency, at one minute wanting to adjourn the investigation of the matter because of John's father, at another fearing lest report spoke true and that, as John was still a stripling, and at an age when he knew impulses are uncontrolled, he might start a rebellion and become the source of intolerable grief both to his father and uncle. Finally, he concluded that he must in some way contrive to frustrate his design. For he was exceedingly attached to the young man. He accordingly summoned the man who was then Aeteriarch [*=(or "Heteriarch" = the captain of the foreign guild) Argyrus Caratzas, who, though a Scythian, combined great prudence with a love of virtue and truth, and handed him two letters. The one addressed to John was conceived in the following terms: "Our Majesty being informed of the descent of the barbarians against us through the mountain passes, has travelled hither from the city of Constantine to secure the frontiers of the Roman Empire. Hence we naturally desire your presence that we may give you instructions with regard to the realm over which you rule. (I am also somewhat suspicious of Bolcanus, for he may be hatching some treacherous scheme against us.) Further, we wish you to give us a report on the state of Dalmatia and also to certify whether Bolcanus has observed the terms of the truce (for most unsatisfactory rumours about him are brought to us daily). We shall be better able to resist his machinations after we have received reliable information from you; then we intend to send you to Illyria after giving you the necessary directions in order that by attacking the enemy on both sides we may, with God's help, gain the victory." This was the tenor of his letter to John. The other addressed to the leading men in Dyrrachium, ran as follows : " As we were informed that Bolcanus was once again meditating treachery against us, we have issued from Byzantium partly to ensure the safety of the valleys, which lie in the debatable land between our country and the Dalmatians, and partly too to sift this matter of Bolcanus and the Dalmatians to the bottom. For this purpose we deemed it wise to summon hither your Duke, Our Majesty's dearly beloved nephew, and in his place we send the man who will hand you this letter, and whom we have created Duke. Therefore do ye receive him and yield him[209] obedience in whatsoever he may command." When he handed these letter to Caratzas he enjoined him to deliver the one to John first. Then if John willingly obeyed the orders in it, be should send him forth in peace, and undertake the government of the district himself until such time as John returned. But if John proved recalcitrant or refused to obey, he was to assemble the leading men of Dyrrachium and read them the second letter with the object of gaining their help in arresting John.

VIII Directly the Sebastocrator who was in Constanti nople got ear of this, he started off in great haste and reached Philippopolis in two days and nights. The Emperor was asleep so he crept noiselessly into the imperial tent and signifying with his hand to the attendants to keep quiet, he lay down on the second bed in his brother's tent, and fell asleep himself. When the Emperor woke up and quite unexpectedly beheld his brother, he kept quiet for some time and bade the persons present do the same. When in his turn the Sebasto crator awoke and saw his brother, the Emperor, awake, and the latter saw him, they arose and embraced each other. Afterwards the Emperor began to enquire what had brought him and why in the world he had come. To this the other replied, "For your sake," and the Emperor retorted, "You have tired yourself in vain by journeying such a distance so quickly."To this the Sebastocrator did not reply at the time, for he was lost in conjectures about the news which would be brought him by the messenger he had sent on ahead to Dyrrachium. For the instant the rumours about his son had come to his ears, he scribbled two words to him, and ordered him to resort to the Emperor with all speed. He told him too that he himself was leaving Byzantium and hurrying to Philippopolis for the express purpose of confuting the statements made to the Emperor about him by putting before his brother, the Emperor, all likely considerations ; and concluded by saying he would await his arrival there. The Sebastocrator took leave of the Emperor and went to the tent assigned to him. And almost immediately the letter-carrier he had sent to John came running in saying he had returned and John was on the way. By this news the Sebastocrator was relieved of his suspicions and regained his former confidence, but was filled with anger against the persons who had been the first to denounce his son. Thus disturbed in mind he went to the Emperor and the latter looked at him and at once guessed the reason of his disturbance, yet asked him [210] how he felt. And his brother answered, "Badly, and that because of you." For he had not learnt entirely to control his anger when it howled around his heart, and was easily upset sometimes by a mere word. And he added a further remark saying, "I am not so much incensed against your Majesty as against this man " (pointing to Adrian) "who spreads calumnies." To these words that gentle, sweet-tempered Emperor made no answer at all, for he knew how to assuage his brother's boiling rage.

So they both sat down together with the Cxsar Melissenus Nicephorus and a few more of their relations and talked privately to one another concerning the rumours current about John. But when the Sebastocrator observed that Melissenus and his own brother Adrian were indirectly calumniating his son, he was unable to restrain his wrath which was bubbling up again, and darting a fierce look at Adrian he threatened to pull off his beard and to teach him not to try to rob the Emperor of his relations by openly telling lies about them.

Upon this John arrived and was immediately conducted into the imperial tent and heard all the accusations made against him. However, he was not exactly subjected to a cross-examination, but the defendant stood at liberty while the Emperor said to him, " Out of consideration for your father who is also my brother, I cannot bear even to hear mentioned the accusations levelled against you. So go and be free from care as you were before." All this was said inside the imperial tent, with no stranger present, only a few relations. Thus the whole affair which had either been falsely reported or perhaps really planned was hushed up. The Emperor then summoned his own brother, I mean the Sebastocrator Isaac, and his son John, and after a long conversation with them, concluded by saying to the Sebastocrator, "You go back in peace to the capital to give our mother all the news. As for him," he said, pointing to John, "I am sending him back again to Dyrrachium, as you see, to give his careful attention to the administration of his province." In this manner they parted, and the next day the one took the road to Byzantium and the other was sent to Dyrrachium.

IX Up to this time the imperial throne was by no means safe. When Theodore Gabras was living in Constantinople, the Emperor who had remarked his violent and energetic nature, wished to remove him from the city and therefore [211] appointed him Duke of Trapezus,[*=Trebizond]. a town he had some time ago recaptured from the Turks. This man had come originally from Chaldaea and the upper parts, and gained glory as a soldier, for he surpassed others in wisdom and courage, and had practically never failed in any work he took in hand, but invariably got the better of his enemies; and finally after he had captured Trapezus and allotted it to himself, as if it were his special portion, he was irresistible. This man's son, Gregory, the Sebastocrator, Isaac Comnenus, affianced to one of his daughters, but as both the children were under marriageable age, matters only proceeded as far as a betrothal. After handing over his son Gregory to the Sebastocrator on condition that, when the children reached the legal age, the marriage should be celebrated, Gabras took leave of the Emperor and returned to his own country. Shortly afterwards his wife paid the debt we all must pay, and he took to himself a second wife, a highborn woman of the Alani. Now it happened that the Sebastocrator's wife and the wife Gabras married, were the daughters of two sisters; when this became known, the betrothal of the two children was broken off as their marriage was forbidden both by the civil and the ecclesiastical laws. The Emperor, however, who knew the kind of soldier Gabras was, and the amount of disturbance he would be capable of creating, did not wish Gabras' son Gregory to return to his father when the betrothal was broken off, but desired to retain him in the capital for two reasons. The one was to hold him as a sort of hostage, and the second was to win Gabras' affection; with the idea that if the latter had been meditating any evil deed, he would now abstain. He intended to marry Gregory to one of my sisters ; and for this reason kept postponing the boy's departure. But Gabras came up to the capital again, and as he had no inkling of the Emperor's intentions, he was planning to take his son back with him secretly. In the meantime he kept silent about his plans, although the Emperor did hint at and indirectly signify to him what he had in mind. But Gabras perhaps did not understand or owing to the late rupture of the other engagement he did not care ; however it was, he asked the Emperor that his son should be allowed to return with him, and this demand the Emperor refused. Then Gabras pretended to be quite willing to let him stay and to leave all plans for the boy to the Emperor. After he had bidden the Emperor farewell, and was on the point of departure [212] from Byzantium, he was hospitably entertained by the Sebastocrator close to the chapel built to the memory of the great martyr Phocas, in the very pretty suburb situated on the Propontis - this was because of their close connexion through marriage and their resultant intimacy. After a very lavish banquet there, the Sebastocrator returned to Byzantium and Gabras begged to be allowed to keep his son with him for the next day at least, and to this the other assented willingly. But when the next day came, and Gabras (whom I have mentioned so often) ought to have separated from his son, he asked the tutors to accompany him as far as Sosthenium, where he intended to pitch his camp. They agreed and went on with him; but when the time came for moving on from there he again asked the tutors the same thing, whether his son could not accompany him as far as Pharus; but they refused. Then he pleaded a father's affection, and his long absence, and by a string of similar pleas, he overcame their resolutions, and they let themselves be over-persuaded and accompanied him. When he reached Pharus, he revealed his hidden intention, for he seized the boy, embarked him on a merchant-vessel and entrusted himself and his son to the waves of the Euxine. On receipt of this news the Emperor sent off swift ships after him with all possible expedition, and commanded the captains to hand Gabras the letters he gave them for him and to bring back the boy without loss of time with his father's consent, or if he refused, to inform him that the Emperor would thenceforth count him as an enemy. They departed and overtook Gabras beyond the town of Aeginus, near a town locally called Carambis. They handed him the Emperor's letter in which the Emperor stated that he hoped to marry the boy to one of my sisters, and after a long talk with him, they persuaded him to send his son back. On his return the Emperor only ratified the marriage-contract by the usual legal formalities and gave him into the charge of one of the Empress' attendants, the eunuch Michael, and as the lad lived in the palace he bestowed a great deal of care on him, tried to amend his manners and had him thoroughly trained in all military exercises. But like most young men, he did not relish having to obey, and was vexed at not being treated, as he thought, with sufficient respect. In addition to this he disliked his tutor and began to consider how he could escape to his own father, when he ought rather to have been grateful for all the attention bestowed on him. He did not stop at merely [213] meditating flight, but tried to put it into execution. Consequently he revealed his secret to a few; these were George, the son of Decanus, Eustathius Camytzes and the cupbearer Michael, generally called 'Pincema' by the imperial household. These were all warriors and among the Emperor's close intimates, one of them, Michael, went to the Emperor and acquainted him with the whole matter; but the latter could not believe it and refused to listen.

When (Gregory) Gabras began to insist and wanted to hurry on his flight, those loyal to the Emperor said "Unless you will guarantee your plot to us by an oath, we will not accompany you." As he assented to this, they showed him where the sacred " nail " was kept with which the lawless soldiers pierced my Saviour's side, and advised him to steal it and bring it out so that he could swear by Him who was pierced by it. Gabras listened to this advice, entered (the church) and secretly abstracted the sacred nail. Then one of the men who had already notified the Emperor of the conspiracy, came running in and said, "Look, here is Gabras, and the sacred nail is in his bosom." Thereupon Gabras was immediately brought in at the Emperor's bidding, and the nail was taken out of his bosom. On being questioned he admitted everything without hesitation, also revealed the names of his fellow-conspirators and the whole scheme. The Emperor found him guilty and sent him to the Duke of Philippopolis, George Mesopotamites, to keep him prisoner in the citadel. George, the son of Decanus, he dispatched with letters to Leo Nicerita who was at that time Duke of the districts round the Danube, ostensibly to help him in guarding the district, but really for Nicerita to keep him prisoner there. As for Eustathius, son of Camytzes, and the rest, he banished and imprisoned them.

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.

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

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