Post-classical history


The Collapse of Asia Minor

APART FROM NICAEA itself where Abu’l-Kasim still held power, Byzantium retained control of many prime parts of the eastern provinces in the late 1080s, above all the crucial coastal regions, the fertile river valleys and the islands of the Aegean – that is to say the strategically sensitive locations that were critical for the empire’s trade and communication networks. Evidence that many of these areas were thriving under Byzantine control can be found in the intense lobbying of the emperor’s mother by monks on islands such as Leros and Patmos in 1088 and 1089. The monks were planning a considerable building programme and were hoping to secure valuable tax exemptions.1

The situation soon changed drastically. As we have seen, the threat posed by Pecheneg raids on the western provinces escalated alarmingly in 1090, with the random attacks of previous years replaced by the migration of the entire tribe deep into Thrace. The resulting pressure provided the perfect opportunity for Turkish warlords in the east to move against Byzantium. Abu’l-Kasim was one who did just that. Around the middle of 1090, he began preparations to attack Nikomedia, an important town north of Nicaea that lay barely fifty miles from Constantinople.2

Alexios reacted immediately to try to hold on to the town. Five hundred Flemish knights, sent by Robert, Count of Flanders, who had met Alexios on his way home from pilgrimage to Jerusalem at the end of 1089, were supposed to have been deployed against the Pechenegs.3 When they arrived in Byzantium in the middle of the following year, they were instead immediately transferred across the Bosphorus to help reinforce Nikomedia. Their presence proved vital in the short term, but when the Flemish knights were recalled to face the Pechenegs at Lebounion in the spring of 1091,4 one of the oldest and most famous towns of Asia Minor, which had briefly served as the eastern capital of the Roman empire in the third century, fell to Abu’l-Kasim.5 The loss of Nikomedia was a major setback for Byzantium and raised serious questions about the empire’s long-term ability to hold on to its eastern provinces as a whole.

Fears about Byzantine prospects in Asia Minor were raised further by the fact that others were also poised to exploit the problems facing the empire. Danishmend, a charismatic Turkish warlord, launched daring raids from eastern Asia Minor deep into Cappadocia and on major towns such as Sebasteia and Kaisereia.6 Then there was Çaka, an ambitious Turk who established himself in Smyrna on the western coast of Asia Minor and paid local shipbuilders to construct a fleet to attack a range of targets close to his new base, including islands in the Aegean.7 If anything, this was as serious as the loss of Nikomedia, for Çaka’s fleet gave him the power to strike further afield. It also allowed him to disrupt shipments from towns and islands along the coast, which were destined for Constantinople. At a time when the provisioning of the capital was already under pressure because of the Pecheneg threat, this brought with it the prospect of shortages, inflation and social unrest. Matters were made worse by a particularly severe winter in 1090–1, the harshest in living memory, when so much snow fell that many were trapped in their houses.8

A poem from around this period described how a woman from one of the provinces in Asia Minor endured such deprivation that she was forced to eat snake meat: ‘Did you eat snakes whole or only in parts? Did you cut off the tails and heads of creatures or did you eat all their parts? How could you devour poisonous flesh full of poison and not die at once?’ Such were the consequences of a terrible winter, severe famine, and the barbarian scourge.9

Efforts to deal with Çaka went spectacularly wrong. One local governor fled without putting up any resistance at all, while a hastily assembled force sent by the emperor to secure the western coast of Asia Minor was a fiasco. Not only was the Byzantine fleet routed, but Çaka managed to capture several imperial vessels in the process. This only served to accelerate gains he made elsewhere.10

The building up of Çaka’s fleet was a worrying development for another reason. Constantinople was protected by formidable land walls, ditches and heavily armed towers, but the Byzantines had a particular anxiety about the prospect of attack on the capital by sea. A giant sea chain laid across the entrance to the Golden Horn gave some reassurance, though in practice this often did not prove effective. Seaborne assaults on the city, even by small numbers of raiders, triggered hysteria amongst the inhabitants, as had happened in the ninth and tenth centuries, when Viking and Russian raiders made surprise strikes on the suburbs, causing widespread panic. In Çaka’s case, the fear was that the Turk might come to an accommodation with the Pechenegs and launch a joint assault on the city. In the spring of 1091, rumours began circulating that there had been exchanges between the nomads and Çaka, with the latter offering his support against Byzantium.11

The mood in the capital became dark and poisonous. In the presence of the emperor and his retinue in the spring of 1091, the patriarch of Antioch, John the Oxite, delivered a damning assessment of the empire’s predicament. The contrast to the upbeat view provided by Theophylact barely three years earlier could not have been sharper. Khios had been lost, said the patriarch, as had Mitylene. All the islands in the Aegean had fallen, while Asia Minor was in complete turmoil; not a single fragment of the east remained.12The Pechenegs, meanwhile, had reached the walls of Constantinople, and Alexios’ efforts to deal with them had proved singularly ineffective.13 Reflecting on why the threats had become acute, John reached a stark conclusion: God had stopped protecting Byzantium. The lack of military success and the terrible hardships being endured were the fault of the emperor, declared the patriarch. Alexios had been an outstanding general before he became emperor but since then he had brought one defeat after another. By seizing the throne in 1081 he had angered God, who was now using pagans to punish Byzantium. Repentance was urgently required if things were to change.14 This apocalyptic verdict is a stark indication of the scale of the problems affecting Byzantium at the start of the 1090s.

The rapid downturn in Asia Minor was viewed with horror by westerners living in Byzantium. ‘The Turks allied themselves with many nations and invaded the rightful possessions of the empire of Constantinople’, wrote one eyewitness from central France. ‘Far and wide they ravaged cities and castles together with their settlements; churches were razed down to the ground. Of the clergymen and monks whom they captured, some were slaughtered while others were with unspeakable wickedness given up, priests and all, to their dire dominion and nuns – alas for the sorrow of it! – were subjected to their lusts. Like ravening wolves, they preyed pitilessly on the Christian people whom God’s just judgement had handed over to them as they pleased.’15

News of the devastating collapse in Asia Minor spread quickly all over Europe. Stories of plunder and arson, kidnap and sexual violence were reported across France, for example, with gory accounts of brutality, disembowelling and decapitation recorded by monks in their chronicles.16Information of this kind was passed on by westerners who were living in or visiting Constantinople in the early 1090s, such as a monk from Canterbury, who had made a home for himself in the capital, or an awestruck traveller who described the sights of Constantinople and recounted the conversations he had with its inhabitants.17

Alexios himself was the source of some of the reports describing the horrors endured by Byzantines at the hands of the Turks. A letter sent by the emperor to Robert, Count of Flanders, gives a devastating picture of the situation in Asia Minor in 1090–1.18 This correspondence has traditionally been viewed as a forgery, its contents discounted by generations of scholars on the grounds that Byzantium’s eastern provinces had been lost by 1081 and that there was therefore no major change in conditions in the years immediately before the First Crusade. Thus the claims about the shocking reversals against the Turks have been regarded as wild, implausible, and with only a slender basis in fact. Scholars have forcefully argued that the letter is a fabrication to rally support against Byzantium at the start of the twelfth century after relations between Alexios and some of the senior figures who took part in the Crusade irretrievably collapsed.19

It is widely recognised, conversely, that a letter probably was sent by Alexios to the Count of Flanders in the early 1090s, given the relations between the two men. As such, it has been suggested that there was an original document sent from Constantinople that provided the base of the letter that survives – albeit translated, elaborated on and added to.20 Certainly, the prose and language of the letter are unmistakably Latin, while the diplomatic and political thought are clearly western, rather than Byzantine in style.

However, this does not mean that the text is a falsification. As we have seen, there were many westerners living in Constantinople in the late eleventh century, including a number who were close to the emperor. As such, both the tone and ideas expressed in the letter could just as easily represent the hand of a foreigner writing in the imperial capital, as that of an author writing after the First Crusade. And in this respect, what is perhaps most striking about the letter is that almost everything it says tallies with the new picture of Asia Minor that can be established from other contemporary sources. The letter to Robert of Flanders also reports desecration of churches in the early 1090s that we know about from elsewhere: ‘The holy places are desecrated and destroyed in countless ways and the threat of worse looms over them. Who cannot lament over these things? Who has no compassion when they hear of it? Who cannot be horrified? And who cannot turn to prayer?’21 The letter contains accounts of the ferocity of the Turkish attacks which likewise find parallels with other sources from this period, albeit in more detail: ‘Noble matrons and their daughters, robbed of everything, are violated, one after another, like animals. Some [of their attackers] shamelessly place virgins in front of their own mothers and force them to sing wicked and obscene songs until they have finished having their way with them … men of every age and description, boys, youths, old men, nobles, peasants and what is worse still and yet more distressing, clerics and monks and woe of unprecedented woes, even bishops are defiled with the sin of sodomy and it is now trumpeted abroad that one bishop has succumbed to this abominable sin.’22

It certainly made sense for Alexios to appeal to Flanders, having already received military support in the form of 500 knights shortly beforehand. Alexios hoped to attract further assistance from Count Robert, a man of similar character to himself – ascetic, pious and pragmatic. And while the desperate descriptions of the situation in the east have been dismissed by many as implausible, there is much to suggest that the letter genuinely reflects Byzantium’s dire position. Even the downbeat statement that ‘although I am emperor, I can find no remedy or suitable counsel, but am always fleeing in the face of the Pechenegs and the Turks’, is not out of place at a time when one of the highest clerics in the empire could state publicly that God had abandoned Alexios.23 The siege mentality that had begun to emerge in Constantinople strikes a closer chord with the letter than often presumed.

The recall of the Flemish garrison from Nikomedia may not have been solely responsible for the loss of the town to the Turks, but it certainly did not help. Soon after the defeat of the Pechenegs in 1091 a major effort was made to recover the town and to drive the Turks back from the areas closest to the capital. Assembling a substantial force, Alexios sent in an army which recovered territory as far as the Arm of St George, that is to say up to the Gulf of Nikomedia. Eventually the town itself was recaptured, with its conquerors immediately setting about restoring its defences to prevent it falling so easily in the future. A fortress was constructed opposite Nikomedia, designed in the first instance to provide additional protection for the town, but also built to act as a base from which to attack if it did fall to the Turks once again. In addition, grandiose work began on the creation of a giant ditch to act as a further barrier to defend Nikomedia. It was a sign of desperation and an indication of the limitations of Byzantine ambitions in Asia Minor in the early 1070s: rather than reconquest, attention was focused on retaining the few possessions still in imperial hands.24

A full six months were spent reinforcing the town. In the meantime, attempts were made to persuade its inhabitants to leave the ‘caves and hollows of the earth’ which they had escaped to during Abu’l-Kasim’s attack and return to Nikomedia. Their reluctance to return would suggest that many thought that the Byzantine recovery may not be permanent.25

While Nikomedia had been recovered, the situation worsened on the western coast and the islands in the Aegean. Once again, the chronology provided by the Alexiad is untrustworthy. A corpus of documents relating to a monk named St Christodoulos reveals the true escalation of the threat posed by the Turks. Christodoulos was a magnetic character with friends in high places. Alexios’ mother, Anna Dalassene, helped the monk secure land grants and tax exemptions for properties on the Aegean islands of Kos, Leros and Lipsos where Christodoulos had ambitious plans to build a series of monasteries. Anna’s support was instrumental in convincing the emperor to give his personal approval for the establishment of the monastery of St John on the island of Patmos in 1088.26

At the start of the 1090s, however, physical survival – rather than grants or tax exemptions – had become the main concern for Christodoulos and the monks on these islands. Attacks by Turkish pirates and raiders forced them to take urgent steps to reinforce their settlements. On Patmos, Leros and Lipsos, small castles were built in an attempt to protect the communities, but it soon became clear that Christodoulos was fighting an uphill battle.27 The monks fled, in fear of being captured by the Turks, and in the spring of 1092 Christodoulos himself gave up, escaping to Euboea where he died a year later. As a codicil to his will reveals, written shortly before his death, he was the last to leave Patmos; relentless attacks by ‘Agarenes, pirates and Turks’ had made life impossible.28

There was little improvement in the situation in the Aegean or the western coast of Asia Minor in the years that followed. Although Anna Komnene belittled Çaka, mocking him as a poseur who strutted about Smyrna wearing sandals styled on those of the emperor, and implying that he was easily and quickly dealt with, the truth was very different.29 In 1094, Theodore Kastrisios, who had been appointed caretaker of the monastery of St John on Patmos following the death of Christodoulos, felt he had no option but to resign his position. He did so, he said, because he was unable to fulfil any of his duties: constant Turkish raids in the eastern Aegean meant that he could not even reach the island, let alone look after the monastery.30

The near total collapse of Asia Minor was rapid and devastating. While the Pecheneg threat had played an important role in creating opportunities for individual Turkish leaders, such as Abu’l-Kasim and Çaka, it was the failure of Alexios’ previous policy of forging local alliances that lay at the heart of the problems now facing Byzantium. In the past, Alexios had been able to win over Turkish warlords and had backed this up with an effective agreement with the sultan of Baghdad, who had his own interests in maintaining control over emirs on the periphery of the Seljuk world.

This alliance with Malik-Shah was still active in the spring of 1091, when Alexios complained that reinforcements sent to him by the sultan were being diverted and recruited by Çaka.31 Malik-Shah was also perturbed by the dramatic shift in power, and in the summer of 1092, sent a major expedition under the command of one his most loyal officers, Buzan, deep into Asia Minor to teach Abu’l-Kasim a lesson. Although Buzan advanced decisively on Nicaea, he was unable to make an impression on the town’s formidable defences and eventually withdrew.32 Nevertheless, diplomatic exchanges between Constantinople and Baghdad were still ongoing in the autumn of that year, continuing to explore how the two rulers could best co-operate against Abu’l-Kasim and other renegades in the region.33

The death of Malik-Shah in November 1092 therefore served as a body blow for Alexios’ policy in the east. In the months before he died, the sultan found his grip on power weakening as rivals in Baghdad jockeyed for position. In an attempt to consolidate his authority, Malik-Shah demoted many of his leading officers, which only stoked dissent further.34 Antagonism focused on the sultan’s vizier, the polymath Nizam al-Mulk, a powerful figure who had played a fundamental role in shaping the Seljuk world in the later eleventh century. Towards the end of 1092 he was disposed of, murdered by a secretive sect of fanatics known as the Assassins, if not on the direct instructions of the sultan, then at least with his knowledge, according to one well-informed source.35 The death of Malik-Shah just a few weeks later – after eating contaminated meat – threw the Turkish world into turmoil, as uncertainty raged as to who amongst the sultan’s immediate and extended family would succeed to the throne. The result was two years of almost constant civil war.36

Many scholars have argued that this upheaval within the Turkish Empire presented Alexios with the ideal opportunity to strengthen Byzantium’s position in Asia Minor. In fact, the opposite was the case. Malik-Shah’s death robbed the emperor of an invaluable ally at the worst possible moment. What is more, the problems over the succession meant there was a power vacuum in Anatolia which was quickly exploited by local Turkish warlords. This made things much more difficult for Alexios, who struggled to make an impression on the succession of Turkish leaders who were making the most of both their new-found freedom and the weakness of the Byzantine response.

By 1094, the situation was critical. At a church synod in Constantinople, attended by bishops from all over the empire, discussion turned to those with pastoral responsibilities in the east. Many were present in the capital not by choice but because they could not get back to their respective sees because of the Turks. Acknowledging the problems they faced, the emperor tartly noted that bishops from western regions had no such excuse, and ordered them to leave Constantinople and return to their duties.37 Bishops from Anatolia, it was acknowledged, could not be expected to do the same, and furthermore needed financial support while they remained in the capital, cut off from their sees. A resolution was duly passed to this effect.38

The failure of Byzantine Asia Minor was universal: the collapse of the interior, together with the loss of the seaboard, meant that it was not possible to reach important locations such as Antioch either by land or by sea; John the Oxite, the patriarch of Antioch, was unable to travel to his see for several years.39 Town after town fell into Turkish hands in the early 1090s. According to Michael the Syrian, whose twelfth-century chronicle is one of the few sources to focus on this period, Tarsos, Mopsuetia, Anazarbos and all the other towns of Cilicia were taken around 1094/5.40 This corresponds with what the western knights found as they crossed Asia Minor not long afterwards. When they reached Plastencia, ‘a town of great splendour and wealth’, they found it besieged by the Turks, its inhabitants still holding out;41 a nearby town, Coxon, was also still in Christian hands.42

The loss of the western coast of Asia Minor and of the rich river valleys of its hinterland was a body blow for Byzantium. Something had to be done urgently to reverse the series of setbacks and to lay a platform on which to build a later recovery; if not, it was likely that the eastern provinces would be lost forever. Attention turned to Nicaea, superbly fortified and controlling access to the interior as well as the land routes to the coast. Taking the city would be the key to any wider restoration of imperial control in the east; its retrieval now became the principal thrust of the emperor’s strategy.

Making an impression on the city was not easy: a masterpiece of defensive fortification, it was all but impregnable. As one Latin chronicler observed: ‘Nicaea has a very favourable site. It lies in the plain, yet is not far from the mountains, by which it is surrounded on almost every side … Next to the city, and extending to the west, is a very wide lake of great length … this is the best defence the city could have. A moat surrounds the walls on the other sides, and this is always full to overflowing by the influx of springs and streams.’43

Alexios knew that there was little prospect of taking the town by force.44 Apart from anything else, the Byzantine military was already overstretched. As John the Oxite had noted, a decade of near constant campaigning against the Normans and the Pechenegs had worn out the imperial forces and inflicted many casualties.45 In addition, the situation was still tense to the north of Constantinople. There was danger of an imminent attack on imperial territory from the Danube region by Cuman steppe nomads, while incursions by the Serbs across the north-western frontier were becoming increasingly troublesome.46

Raising a force sufficiently large to move on Nicaea was one problem. Another was trying to make an impression on its defences. Byzantine siege warfare lagged a long way behind the west, where techniques had developed rapidly during the eleventh century. And then there was the question of who should take charge of operations against the city. Given the failure of Alexios’ policy in Asia Minor and the pressure on the empire as a whole, there was a real risk that a general in command of substantial resources might see an opportunity to try to take the throne for himself.

It was to Tatikios, his childhood friend, that Alexios turned, confident of his loyalty. In the middle of 1094, Tatikios arrived at Nicaea, supplied with instructions to engage any defender who dared make a sortie. He soon charged a group of 200 men who had come out to disperse the imperial force. This was the extent of his achievement, however: a morale boost, but of little tangible value. He achieved nothing more before withdrawing to Constantinople in haste after learning that a major Turkish expedition was closing in on Nicaea.47 This had been sent by Barkyaruq, one of the sons of Malik-Shah, who had finally triumphed over his rivals in Baghdad having the hutba declared to proclaim him as ruler in February 1094.48

Barkyaruq’s intervention was deeply disturbing for Alexios as it became clear that its aim was not just to stamp the new sultan’s authority on emirs in Asia Minor, but to take possession of Nicaea. The emperor was not alone in his concern at the advance of the force under Bursuk, a particularly bloodthirsty commander: ‘the inhabitants of [Nicaea], and indeed Abu’l-Kasim himself saw that their condition was really desperate – it was impossible to hold out against Bursuk any more’. They took a bold decision; according to the Alexiad, ‘they got a message through to the emperor asking for help, saying that it was better to be called his slaves than to surrender to Bursuk. Without delay, the best available troops were sent [by the emperor] to their aid, with standards and silver-studded sceptres.’49

There was cool logic behind Alexios’ decision to help the governor of Nicaea, even though he had been the cause of problems for Byzantium over many years: ‘He calculated that providing help would bring about the ruin of Abu’l-Kasim’, reported Anna Komnene. ‘For when two enemies of the Roman Empire were fighting one another, it would pay him to support the weaker – not in order to make him more powerful, but to repel the one while taking the town from the other, a town that was not at the moment under Roman jurisdiction but would be incorporated in the Roman sphere by this means.’50 Although Bursuk withdrew, frustrated by Nicaea’s defences, the respite was brief: reports were soon received in the city that another massive expedition ‘from the deep interior of the Turkish Empire’ was on its way.51 Abu’l-Kasim realised that it was only a matter of time before he was forced into submission; he was ready to listen to the emperor’s proposals about the handover of Nicaea.

Constantinople regularly received diplomatic missions and high-ranking visitors from foreign shores. In the tenth century, a text known as The Book of Ceremonies had been compiled providing instructions how these were to be dealt with, with the relative importance of the country in question underpinning the lavishness of the reception.52 The aim was to show the splendours of the capital and to underline the empire’s cultural, political and spiritual superiority. Alexios now used this tried and tested technique with Abu’l-Kasim. When the Turk was invited to Constantinople later in 1094, the emperor laid on a specially tailored schedule designed to impress the emir and show him the benefits of co-operating with the empire.

Alexios personally oversaw the programme of events. He made sure Abu’l-Kasim was shown the main sites in the capital, singling out highly symbolic monuments such as the statues set up in honour of Roman emperors in celebration of great military victories. The Turk was taken horse racing and shown first-hand the prowess of Byzantium’s finest charioteers, designed to make an impact on a man whose people’s use of the horse was critical to their military success. He went hunting with the emperor and was taken to that most Roman of institutions, the baths. In short, Abu’l-Kasim was being lavishly entertained and assiduously courted.53

Alexios wanted a concrete agreement about Nicaea and the approach he took was one often used to deal with difficult neighbours: the award of a title and a fat stipend. The aim was to make the enemy recognise, even if only implicitly, the overlordship of the emperor – while buying him off at the same time. Before he returned to Nicaea, therefore, ‘Alexios presented the Turk with more gifts, honoured him with the title of sebastos, confirmed their agreement in greater detail and sent him with every sign of courtesy back over the sea.’54 The title sebastos was one of the very highest in the empire, which was normally only awarded to members of the ruling family and their closest intimates. Its bestowal on Abu’l-Kasim reveals that Alexios hoped to gain substantially as a result of the agreement reached in the capital. If the emperor’s gamble was successful, it would restore the pivotal location in western Asia Minor to imperial hands, opening up the possibility of a wider recovery of this region. If unsuccessful, Alexios risked serious damage to his reputation for pinning his hopes on a man who had been a thorn in the empire’s side for many years.

Disaster struck as soon as Abu’l-Kasim returned to Nicaea. The emir’s discussions with the emperor did not meet with enthusiasm from other leading figures in the town. When reports started to circulate that Bursuk was again approaching with an even larger force, the governor of Nicaea was rounded on by a group of 200 leading Turks, keen to make a favourable impression on the new sultan. Seizing Abu’l-Kasim, they placed a noose made of bowstring around his neck and strangled him.55

The murder was a major blow to the emperor. Alexios reacted immediately, making contact with Abu’l-Kasim’s brother, Buldagi, who had taken control of the city, and made him a direct offer. This time, there was no visit to Constantinople, no trips to the races, no awarding of titles, but the heart of the offer was the same. The emperor therefore made his proposal short and bold: he offered to buy Nicaea.56

Once more, however, things went against Alexios. With the Turks in Nicaea now in disarray, a new figure arrived on the scene. Kilidj Arslan made straight for the city after being released from prison in Baghdad in late 1094 or early 1095. As soon as he reached Nicaea, the Turks ‘ran riot with joy’, and handed control of the town over to him. This was not entirely surprising: he was, after all, the son of the late Sulayman.57 His return to the family power base seems to have been engineered by the new regime of Barkyaruq, which clearly set great faith in him; and in the summer of 1097 he would command the massive army assembled to confront the Crusaders as they crossed Asia Minor.58 His appointment to govern Nicaea on Barkyaruq’s behalf was a shrewd choice, but it scuppered the emperor’s chances of retaking this vital city and therefore stemming the collapse of the eastern provinces.

Byzantium’s hold over its eastern provinces was slipping away fast. Those who reached Asia Minor in 1097 could not believe their eyes or hide the horror at what they saw when they got to Nikomedia: ‘Oh, how many severed heads and bones of the dead lying on the plains did we then find beyond Nicomedia near that sea! In the preceding year, the Turks destroyed those who were ignorant of and new to the use of the arrow. Moved to compassion by this, we shed many tears there.’59 A sign of how bad conditions were and how limited Byzantine ambitions had become, the road beyond Nikomedia was all but impassable by this time: 3,000 men with axes and swords had to be sent ahead to clear the way and to hack open a route to Nicaea.60

The lack of progress over Nicaea was mirrored by the string of setbacks on the coast, where Çaka continued to wreak havoc. Although Anna Komnene’s account has persuaded most historians that the threat posed by the Turk had been contained in 1092, in fact the opposite was the case.61 In the mid-1090s, exasperated by the ineffective and incompetent efforts to deal with Çaka, Alexios recalled his brother-in-law, John Doukas, from Dyrrakhion where he had been successfully shoring up the frontier against the Serbs for more than a decade. The earliest he could have been sent against Çaka was 1094.62 This corresponds closely with observations from elsewhere that constant Turkish attacks in this region at that time made even basic travel impossible.63

A full report of the major expedition sent to oust Çaka and reconquer the coast is provided in the Alexiad, though this is dispersed across several books, giving the impression of multiple campaigns and sustained success.64 In reality, there was one concerted effort to deal with Çaka which was spearheaded by John Doukas, who led Byzantine land forces, and another close relative of the emperor, Constantine Dalassenos, who took charge of the fleet. Operations began in the summer of 1097.

The aim of the expedition was clear. It was essential to secure the coast and to restore imperial authority to this region. The orders given to Doukas were uncompromising: he was to take back the islands that had fallen one after another to the Turks and to recover the towns and fortifications which had been lost. As we shall see, the primary target was Smyrna and its troublesome ruler Çaka.65 In obvious contradiction to Anna Komnene’s account, Çaka was still a major force in 1097. And as one Latin source therefore noted correctly, the entire maritime region of Asia Minor was under Turkish control when the Crusaders arrived there a few years later.66 Nicaea remained elusive; and efforts against the coastal region had come to nothing. The situation facing Byzantium in the mid-1090s was not so much desperate as catastrophic.

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