The Family Strategy for Purple – Comparing the Methods of Andronikos I and Alexios I Komnenos of Constructing Imperial Power

Author ORCID Identifier

https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2536-5220 Lachowicz Paweł


In this paper I would like to concentrate on strategies and methods that were guiding Alexios I and Andronikos I of the Komnenos dynasty during the process of gaining and consolidating their power in the Byzantine Empire. Between these two emperors, who belonged to the same family, there exist many analogies in the way of carrying out a coup and constructing the authority based on a group of faithful aristocrats. It is crucial to highlight the active family politics which characterized both the emperors, as it was the main strategy aimed at ensuring the durability of the freshly acquired power. Between Andronikos’ and his grandfather’s coups passed almost exactly one hundred years. The completely different social and political situation of the Byzantine Empire in the late 12th century forced Andronikos to take a different approach. The most striking change was in the way of eliminating potential threats from the circles of Constantinopolitan aristocracy, especially when it comes to his relatives. Such a comparative analysis leads to some important observations concerning the social changes in the late 11th and 12th centuries, as well as mechanisms of seniority and precedence of power in the Komnenos family.


Andronikos I Komnenos, Alexios I Komnenos, Byzantine aristocracy, imperial authority, twelfth century


Annae Comnenae Alexias, vol. I, rec. D.R. Reinsch, A. Kambylis, Berlin 2001 [= Corpus fontium historiae byzantinae. Series Berolinensis, 40].

Eustathios of Thessaloniki, The Capture of Thessaloniki. A Translation with Introduction and Commentary, ed. et trans. J.R. Melville Jones, Canberra 1988 [= Byzantina Australiensia, 8].

Eustazio di Tessalonica, La espugnazione di Tessalonica, ed. S. Kyriakidis, B. Lavagnini, trans. V. Rotolo, Palermo 1961.

Ioannis Cinnami Epitome rerum ab Ioanne et Alexio Comnenis gestarum, rec. A. Meineke, Bonnae 1836 [= Corpus scriptorum historiae byzantinae, 23.1].

Nicéphore Bryennios, Histoire, rec. P. Gautier, Bruxelles 1975 [= Corpus fontium historiae byzantinae, 9].

Nicetae Choniatae Historia, vol. I, rec. I.A. van Dieten, Berolini 1975 [= Corpus fontium historiae byzantinae, 11].

Theodoros Prodromos, Historische Gedichte, rec. W. Hörandner, Wien 1974 [= Wiener byzantinistische Studien, 11].

Angold M., Belle epoque or crisis? (1025–1118), [in:] The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire, ed. J. Shepard, Cambridge 2008, p. 583–626.

Angold M., Church and Society in Byzantium under the Comneni, 1081–1261, Cambridge 1995.

Angold M., Introduction, [in:] The Byzantine Aristocracy IX to XIII Centuries, ed. M. Angold, Oxford 1984, p. 1–9.

Brand C.M., Byzantium Confronts the West 1180–1204, Cambridge Mass. 1968.

Buckley P., The Alexiad of Anna Komnene. Artistic Strategy in the Making of a Myth, Cambridge 2014.

Cameron A., The Byzantines, Oxford 2006.

Chalandon F., Essai sur le règne d’Alexis Ier Comnène (1081–1118), Paris 1900.

Cheynet J.-C., Pouvoir et contestations a Byzance (963–1210), Paris 1990.

Eastmond A., An Intentional Error? Imperial Art and “Mis”-Interpretation under Andronikos I Komnenos, “The Art Bulletin: a quarterly published by the College Art Association of America” 76, 3, 1994, p. 502–510.

Frankopan P., The Fall of Nicaea and the Towns of Western Asia Minor to the Turks in the later 11th Century: the Curious Case of Nikephoros Melissenos, “Byzantion. Revue internationale des études byzantines” 76, 2006, p. 153–184.

Frankopan P., Kinship and the Distribution of Power in Komnenian Byzantium, “English Historical Review” 122, 2007, p. 1–34.

Garland L., Political Power and the Populace in Byzantium Prior to the Fourth Crusade, “Byzantinoslavica. Revue internationale des études byzantines” 53, 1992, p. 17–52.

Gaul N., Andronikos Komnenos, Prinz Belthandros und der Zyklop, “Byzantinische Zeitschrift” 96, 2003, p. 623–660.

Haldon J.F., Social Elites, Wealth, and Power, [in:] The Social History of Byzantium, ed. J.F. Haldon, Chichester 2009, p. 168–211.

Harvey A., Economic Expansion in the Byzantine Empire 900–1200, Cambridge 1989.

Jurewicz O., Andronik I Komnenos, Wrocław 1962.

Kaegi W., The Controversy About Bureaucratic and Military Factions, “Byzantinische Forschungen. Internationale Zeitschrift für Byzantinistik” 19, 1993, p. 25–33.

Každan А.P., Social’nyj sostav gospodstvujuščego klassa Vizantii XI–XII vv., Мoskva 1974.

Laiou A., Family Structure and the Transmission of Property, [in:] The Social History of Byzantium, ed. J.F. Haldon, Chichester 2009, p. 51–75.

Magdalino P., The Empire of Manuel I Komnenos, 1143–1180, Cambridge 1993.

Magdalino P., Innovations in Government, [in:] Alexios I Komnenos. Papers of the Second Belfast Byzantine International Colloquium 14–16 April 1989, ed. M. Mullett, D. Smythe, Belfast 1996 [= Belfast Byzantine Texts and Translations, 4.1], p. 146–166.

Magoulias H., Andronikos I Komnenos: a Greek Tragedy, “Βυζαντινά Σύμμεικτα” 21, 2011, p. 101–136.

Nesbitt J., Some Observations About the Roger Family, “Nea Rhōmē” 1, 2004, p. 209–217.

Neville L.A., Heroes and Romans in Twelfth-Century Byzantium. The Material for History of Nikephoros Bryennios, Cambridge 2012.

Ostrogorsky G., Geschichte des byzantinischen Staates, München 1963.

Ostrogorsky G., Observations on the Aristocracy in Byzantium, “Dumbarton Oaks Papers” 25, 1971, p. 1–32.

Papagianni E., Andronic Ier Comnene et Jean VI Cantacuzene. Deux exemples d’usurpation de pouvoir ou deux aspects de resistance, [in:] Antichità e rivoluzioni da Roma a Costantinopoli a Mosca. Rendiconti del XIII Seminario. Campidoglio, 21 aprile 1993, Roma 1998, p. 225–235.

Polemis D., The Doukai. A Contribution to Byzantine Prosopography, London 1968.

Reading Eustathios of Thessalonike, ed. F. Pontani, V. Katsaros, V. Sarris, Berlin 2017.

Savvas N., Andronikos I Komnenos: Tyrant of Twelfth-century Europe, “The Medieval History Journal” 22, 1, 2019, p. 1–39.

Savvas N., «Tyrannus Grecorum». The Image and Legend of Andronikos I Komnenos in Latin Historiography, “Medioevo Greco” 12, 2012, p. 195–284.

Shukurov R., AIMA: the Blood of the Grand Komnenoi, “Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies” 19, 1995, p. 161–181.

Simpson A., Niketas Choniates. A Historical Study, Oxford 2013.

Skoulatos B., Les personnages byzantins de l’Alexiade. Analyse prosopographique et synthese, Louvain 1980.

Stichel R., Ein byzantinischer Kaiser als Sensenmann?, “Byzantinische Zeitschrift” 93, 2000, p. 586–608.

Stiernon L., Notes de titulature et de prosopographie byzantines: Sebaste et Gambros, “Revue des études byzantines” 23, 1965, p. 222–243.

Treadgold W., A History of the Byzantine State and Society, Stanford 1997.

Urbainczyk T., Writing About Byzantium. The History of Niketas Choniates, London 2018 [= Birmingham Byzantine and Ottoman Studies].

Varzos K., Ī genealogia tōn Komnīnōn, vol. I–II, Thessalonikī 1984.

First Page


Last Page