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Wolff, R. L.; Hazard, H. W. (ed.) / Volume II: The later Crusades, 1189-1311

IV: Byzantium and the Crusades, 1081-1204,   pp. [unnumbered]-151 PDF (14.1 MB)

Page 124

of the great military families. The period of transition was characterized
by a bitter struggle between the civil and military parties. The accession
of Alexius Comnenus in 1081 marked the end of a half century which had seen
a swift succession of inefficient or ill-fated rulers. He, his son, and his
grandson among them ruled for almost a hundred years. But even their statesmanship
could only check the ring of hostile powers, and at home they often had to
accept, and use, precisely those elements which some of their greatest predecessors
had been most anxious to curb. Indeed, from the end of the eleventh century
and throughout its precarious existence in the later Middle Ages, the two
decisive factors which molded the history of the empire were the predominance
of the military aristocracy, to which the Comneni belonged, and the steady
growth of feudal and separatist elements. The inevitable corollary was the
impossibility of restoring the systems of government and defense, which had
been the twin pillars of the middle Byzantine Empire. Effective central administration
and the farmersoldier as the mainstay of the armed forces virtually vanished
with the death in 1025 of the greatest Macedonian emperor, Basil II. After
the follies of the civil party, it was left to rulers drawn from a wealthy
landed family to use what resources were available, and it was only by reason
of Comnenian statesmanship that the empire, during most of the twelfth century
at any rate, was able to hold its own among the rising Slav and Latin powers
and to check the various Moslem potentates. 
 The way in which the young but astute Alexius Comnenus came to the throne
in 1081 has already been traced.1 With the help of his own native wits and
the support of his family, including his 
1912), and idem, "Un imperatore bizantino della decadenza: Isacco II
Angelo," in Bessarione' XIX (1915), 29-60; W. Ohnsorge, "Em Beitrag
zur Geschichte Manuels I. von Byzanz," Brackmann Festschrift (1931).
 On social, intellectual, and ecclesiastical life see: C. Diehi, La Societe'
byzantine d l'époque des Comnenes (Paris, 1919); 5. M. Hussey, Church
and Learning in the Byzantine Empire 867-1185 (Oxford, 1937); L. Oeconomos,
La Vie religieuse dans l'empirc byzantin au temps des Comnenes et des Anges
(Paris, 1918); P. E. Stephanou, Jean Italos, philosophe et humaniste (Rome,
1949); D. Obolensky, The Bogomils (Cambridge, 1948); and P. Joannou, Christliche
Metaphysik, I (Ettal, 1956). 
 On the administrative and economic side, fresh ground has been broken by
the brilliant work of G. Ostrogorsky, Pour laféodalite byzantine (Brussels,
1954), and Quelques problemes d'histoire de la paysannerie byzantine (Brussels,
1956). See also P. Charanis, "The Monastic Properties and the State
in the Byzantine Empire," Dumbarton Oaks Papers, IV (1948), 51-118,
and E. Stein," Untersuchungen zur spatbyzantinischen Verfassungs- und
Wirtschaftsgeschichte" in Mitteilungen zur osmanischen Geschichte, II(1923-1925),
1-62. An indispensable study for diplomatic relations, particularly during
the years 1143-1185, is P. Lamma, Comneni e Staufer: ricerche sui rapporti
fra Bisanzio e l'occidente nel secolo XII (Studi storici, fasc. 14-18 and
22-25, 2 vols., Rome, 1955-1957). 
 1 See volume I of this work, chapter VI. 

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