The Byzantine Perspective of the First Crusade: A Reexamination of Alleged Treachery and Betrayal
By Laura M. Nelson,
Master’s Thesis, West Virginia University (2007)
Abstract: Scholars have generally ignored the Crusades from the Byzantine perspective with the majority of scholarship focusing on the Western, and more recently, Arabic viewpoints. Western sources from the period such as the of Chartres typically portray Alexius I, the Byzantine emperor during the First Crusade, as anti-Western. It is this study’s position that Alexius’s actions derived from a need to protect his people and empire rather than a desire to see the crusaders’ mission fail. By studying the Byzantine perspective, we gain a fuller understanding of the First Crusade and the Crusades as a whole begin to become more comprehensible.
Excerpt: In order to better understand the Byzantine perspective of the First Crusade, it is necessary to recognize the events preceding it and how they shaped Byzantine views of their Muslim neighbors and their Western coreligionists. In examining the years leading up to the First Crusade and the events therein, it becomes clear that Alexius I, the Byzantine Emperor during the First Crusade, was not exceptionally anti-Western, as he is generally portrayed by Fulcher of Chartres and the anonymous Gesta Francorum, but had concerns for his empire and people that affected his treatment of and attitude toward the Western crusaders. Due to the crusaders’ own conduct and events prior to the Crusades, Alexius had no other option but to take action against them. The measures taken must be examined in light of Alexius’s perceptions of the Western armies.
Islam had been a growing threat to all of medieval Christendom since its inception in the early seventh century. It had spread across North Africa and across the Straits of Gibraltar into Western Europe; Muslim armies had also conquered much of Asia Minor and the Levant. The Frankish duke Charles Martel (d. 741) successfully led an army against the Muslims in a decisive battle at Poitiers in 732, after which the Muslim advance in to Europe was halted. It was not until over four centuries later that a similar decisive battle was fought in the East, but with opposite results. 101 In August 1071, the Byzantine Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes (r. 1068-1071) faced a formidable Seljuk army under Alp Arslan (d. 1072) near Manzikert in Turkey and was routed.