Children of the Fatherland: The Komnenos Restoration

Arkadios had begun his long career with intrigue and murder to place his eldest son Zenobios on the throne of Georgia – and the poisoned fruit of his labours had disappeared into the all-conquering maw of the Muscovite Czar. Perhaps he was chastened by the experience, or perhaps he merely grew more subtle as he aged; for in spite of his reputation, no whisper of scandal surrounded the accession of his youngest son Thomas to the Purple. Leo Dukas, last of that family, had no male heir of his body, but the union of Arkadios and Leo’s daughter Pulcheria produced a son, uniting the two dynasties.

The failing Dukas dynasty had not seen an Emperor take the Purple peacefully since Constantine in 1059, and many both within and without the Empire expected yet another exhausting round of civil wars, with competing claimants striving for the throne. That this did not happen may be attributed to the policies of Arkadios. First, in insisting upon the principle of legitimacy – even to the point of supporting Leo against his own courtiers, rather than taking the throne himself, when his army was actually inside the walls of Constantinople – Arkadios had gained the moral high ground, with respect to the Purple if nothing else; and secondly, the same episode had demonstrated that the Theme of Antioch was capable of marching across Anatolia and brushing aside all opposition. Had Thomas inherited while his elder brother Zenobios ruled Antioch, things might have gone differently; but although Arkadios neared sixty, he remained healthy, and men remembered his swift marches and overwhelming descents. No protests were raised when the Senate acclaimed Thomas as the heir of Leo in 1134, nor upon his accession three years later.

The new Emperor – or rather, Arkadios, acting as regent in all but name – immediately took steps to restore the Empire to strength. Leo had at least managed to put down overt rebellion; but in his declining years he had been forced to acknowledge the upstart King of Gothia as Emperor of Rome (a symbolic loss only, but an important symbol) and, still more immediately painful, to admit a German garrison to Constantinople. About these griefs there was nothing immediate that could be done; but many internal matters could be attended to, and the contrast between the strong hand of a Komnenos and the weak grip of the last Dukas was painful to see. Bandits – most calling themselves ‘rebels’, and at least in name claiming the Purple for themselves – were cleared from the Greek countryside; a renewed trade partly compensated the loss of Constantinople’s revenue. The theme of Samos was reduced to obedience; Epirus was reminded of its tax obligations; the Archbishop of Croatia recognised the supremacy of the Patriarch. Even Crete was recovered, the confusion of the Syrian war hindering the Caliphate in protecting its vassal.

The Empire was still weakened, and surrounded by powerful foes. But a new day had dawned; a powerful new dynasty had taken the Purple, and had swept out the old and tired habit of defeat. Alongside the Eagle, the Two Lions emblem of Antioch now roared defiance at the world; and if that lion was wounded, it was also young and strong.

A wounded lion is the most dangerous foe of all, with but one exception: The ruthless mind of a Komnenos.


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