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Northern and Western Europe: the British Isles; Denmark, Sweden, Norway; France; Spain; the Byzantine Empire. page 4

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In the Byzantine Empire, we left Alexius Comnenus on his accession to the throne in 1081. He found himself confronted in the-East by the Seljuk Turks, and in the West by the Normans. They had already deprived the Eastern, Empire of Calabria and Apulia in Italy, and were now, under the famous Robert Guiscard, about to assail the possessions east of the Adriatic. In June, 1081, Guiscard and his men laid siege to Durazzo, the fortress guarding the coast of Epirus. Alexius hurried to its relief with an army comprising the imperial guard of Varangians, the Russian, English, and Danish mercenaries who had well served previous emperors. The rest were auxiliaries of Servian and other races, and regular troops from Thrace, Macedonia, and Thessaly, the sole remnant of the once extensive Greek Empire. Guiscard and his Normans inflicted a severe defeat on their enemy, annihilating the Varangians, routing all the rest, and nearly capturing Alexius himself. Other defeats followed, but one victory for the emperor, and the death of Guiscard in 1085, put an end to the Norman trouble. Next came the Crusaders on their way to Palestine, and, as we have seen, their efforts made the Seljuks harmless for a century to come. At this time Constantinople began to decline as a place of trade, when the Venetians and the Genoese occupied the seaports of Syria, and conducted their business at Tyre or Acre rather than on the Bosphorus, and this change swept away much of the imperial revenue. John II. (1118-1143), son of Alexius, was a prudent and economical ruler, and a good commander in war, and he won back much of the coast of Asia Minor from the Turks. Manuel, his son and successor (1143-1180), was a great and successful fighter, adored by his troops for his fierce courage and untiring energy as a cavalry-officer. Servia was overrun; the king of Hungary was forced to submit, and the Normans of Sicily were repulsed when they invaded Greece. The powerful Venice was defeated at sea, but her privateers almost ruined the remaining commerce of Constantinople, and the fearful cost of the constant warfare made the decay of the empire still more rapid. All was neglected except the army. The civil service was disordered; roads and bridges, docks and harbours, were left untended; and on the death of Manuel the house of Comnenus practically came to an end as rulers.

Under Isaac and Alexius Angelus (1185-1204), both incapable of stemming the tide, complete military and financial border appeared. The mercenaries were in a chrome state of mutiny but the sea-wall was stormed by the Venetians from their galleys, urged on by their blind Doge, Henry Dandolo, and the city suffered much from fire kindled by the Crusaders who had thus turned aside from the professed object of their expedition. The conquerors then wrung a heavy subsidy out of the emperor, who melted down the golden lamps and silver candelabra of the church of St. Sophia, and removed the jewelled images and reliquaries of every church in the city. In January, 1204, this sacrilege caused a revolt of the citizens and troops. The Crusaders within the walls were slain or driven out, and an officer named Alexius Ducas became ruler of an empire without a serviceable army, destitute of a fleet, and devoid of a coin in the treasury. He was a man of energy and resource, and raised some money by confiscating the property of leading citizens. The nobles and people were forced to man the walls, and the payment of some arrears to the troops enabled him to take the field with a body of cavalry. The sea-wall was strengthened, and provided with military engines, the rude artillery of the age, and then the Crusaders, in April, 1204, made their second assault on the imperial city. The attack on the sea-wall was defeated with loss, but Dandolo and the Venetians, a few days later, effected a lodgment at one point. Much of the emperor's army, then dispersed, and the mutiny of the Varangians rendered him helpless. The Crusaders were thus in possession of the place without more fighting, and, with the slaughter of some thousands of unarmed citizens, Constantinople was deliberately pillaged. All outrages due to lust and avarice were perpetrated, and the soldiers of the Cross behaved like mere fiends, defiling the sanctuaries, while the clergy who accompanied the army devoted themselves to seizing all the holy bones and relics_ in the church-treasuries. This atrocious villainy caused the destruction of many works of ancient literature, and of enormous numbers of the monuments of ancient Greek art in the palaces and squares. These priceless; works in bronze and brass were melted down to make coins, and the whole horrible scene of Vandalism amply justified the assertion of a Greek writer and eye-witness that "the Franks (French) behaved far worse than Saracens." Such was the inglorious inauguration of the "Latin Empire" at Constantinople, by which Count Baldwin of Flanders became Eastern emperor, with a capital half-destroyed by conflagration, and all of it clean-swept from cellar to attic by pillage. The new ruler received Thrace, and some provinces in Asia which were still in Turkish possession. The Venetians had Crete, the Ionian Islands, the ports on the west coast of Greece, most of the AEgean Islands, and the land about the entrance of the Dardanelles, Thus was gratified their commercial ambition, in the holding of the good harbours and the strong posts on the seaboard. Boniface, marquis of Montferrat, held, on feudal tenure under Baldwin; Macedonia Thessaly, and the inland parts of Epirus. A Venetian prelate became "Patriarch" of Constantinople, and the union of the Eastern and Western Churches was thus, for a time, effected.

The "Latin Empire" had a miserable and ignominious existence of nearly 60 years. It was like a sickly child, doomed to, death from innate feebleness, and its lease of life depended from the first upon the unrivalled strength of the fortifications of the capital. In the hands of the French conquerors, Constantinople could not be assailed with effect on the land side, and the Venetian fleet was its defence by sea. The new ruler quickly found that he could not possess himself of his nominal territory outside the city. The Bulgarian hordes, in. overwhelming numbers, defeated his troops near Adrianople, and Baldwin's capture was followed by his execution in 1205, after one year of imperial office. His brother Henry, who succeeded, was always on his defence to the north and south, and on his death in 1216 the empire practically consisted of a narro\y strip of territory on the north of the Propontis (Sea of Marmara), stretching from Gallipoli to Constantinople. Boniface of Montferrat, in 1207, lost his life in battle with the Bulgarians, and a few years later the whole of that territory came into the hands of a Greek despot of Epirus. Other little Latin states had been founded by Crusaders in different parts of Greece, and we find a "Duke of Athens" ruling Attica and Bceotia. In Asia Minor the people would have nothing to do with French rulers or the priests of the Western Church, and a brave Greek officer, Theodore Lascaris, set up a state of his Own as "emperor" at Nicsea, in Bithynia, and valiantly defeated the Seljuk Turks coming down from the central plateau, slaying their Sultan with his own hand in single combat. Another Greek state in Epirus was a rival to that of Nicaea, and it soon became clear that the Latin Empire would be the victim of one or the other. John III., of Nioea, son-in-law and successor to the brave Lascaris, was a good soldier, and an able, energetic; and economical ruler. In 1230 he drove the French out of southern Thrace, and five years later Constantinople was only saved by the arrival of a Venetian fleet. The western Greek state of Thessalonica Was annexed in 1245, but a few years later, in the time of a minor, an able general, Michael Paleologus, seized the throne, and soon had to meet a host of foes. The usurper, in 1260. won a great battle against the united forces of the French and Epirots, and then he turned against Constantinople, whose ruler, another Baldwin, was in the last stage of financial distress. In the absence of the Venetian fleet, the city was taken by surprise, and the miserable farce of the "Latin Empire" came to an end.

The renewed Greek or Byzantine Empire, under Michael Paleologus, at first included a portion of Asia Minor in the west and south. Northern Thrace and Macedonia were held by the Bulgarians; Epirus was independent; Greece, except a part of Peloponnesus, was gone, and the AEgean Islands, as we have seen, belonged to Venice. The chance of restoration to the olden power had departed for ever. Society was decayed; fiscal and administrative efficiency was hopeless, from the lack of suitable instruments. The loss of trade at Constantinople placed the empire, from lack of means, beyond recovery. The merchants of the West had been taught by the Crusades to go for their goods straight to the places of production in Syria and Egypt, instead of seeking them in the storehouses of Constantinople, and the Latin conquest of the city had completed the commercial change by introducing the Venetians. The Italian republics were all arrayed, as rivals in commerce, against the Byzantine Empire, and there was no naval force to cope with theirs. The new emperor reigned for 21 years (1261-1282) without being able in any way to strengthen his position, ever at war with Venice or Genoa, and irritating each in turn, as temporary allies, by his treacherous conduct. The Turks in Asia Minor made some conquests, and the imperial dominion there became almost a nullity.

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Pictures for Northern and Western Europe: the British Isles; Denmark, Sweden, Norway; France; Spain; the Byzantine Empire. page 4

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