Journal Article

Kinship and the Distribution of Power in Komnenian Byzantium

Peter Frankopan

in The English Historical Review

Volume CXXII, issue 495, pages 1-34
Published in print February 2007 | ISSN: 0013-8266
Published online February 2007 | e-ISSN: 1477-4534 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ehr/cel378
Kinship and the Distribution of Power in Komnenian Byzantium

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The usurpation of the throne of Constantinople in 1081 by Alexios Komnenos has long been seen as a defining moment in the history of the Byzantine Empire. Above all, Alexios' reign, and those of his son and grand-son, have been seen as been notable for if not characterised by the concentration of power in the hands of the imperial retinue, and above all of the imperial family. There is much to recommend this view, forcefully and uniformly articulated by modern scholars no less than by the primary sources. However, the blanket acceptance of kinship as the exclusive route to power and of the proximity by blood or marriage to the Emperor as a pre-requisite for authority and status in contemporary Byzantium needs to be qualified if not corrected. Indeed, the solidity of the family as a stable base on which Alexios I Komnenos sought to re-build his Empire is seriously undermined by a new interpretation of the sources which shows that those closest to the Emperor proved to be the least reliable. As this paper argues, the concept of family power is one which only emerged after the reign of Alexios I Komnenos – which in turn prompts the question about the extent to which consideration of a specifically ‘Komnenian’ Byzantium is useful.

Journal Article.  16442 words. 

Subjects: British History ; World History ; European History ; International History

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