The Byzantine Empire: Historical Overview


In the 11th century A.D., Constantinople was the seat of an empire that covered much of Europe and Asia Minor and became the battleground of rival factions who were working to gain control of an ancient, world-conquering power.


Alexios I Komnenos, emperor of Constantinople, had more enemies than he knew how to deal with. His empire was threatened by barbarians on the northern frontier, Serbs to the north west, Norman aggression from Italy, restive subjects in Bulgaria, and Seldjuk Turks to the south and east. He had already survived more attempted palace coups than any other Byzantine emperor in history, and his position was tenuous.

So it was that in 1095 he made perhaps the worst decision in history, and appealed to the Pope in Rome for aid to break the power of the Seldjuk empire. A handful of knights should do the trick, he thought. The west eagerly took up the call, but were slow to mobilise. But throughout 1096, a constant stream of disorganised and leaderless pilgrims from throughout Europe began to flow east.

In the summer of 1096, Alexios had decisively defeated a Cuman invasion of the Balkans and was enjoying a rare period of peace, when word reached him that an army of western crusaders was bearing down on his city. Far more men than he had wanted, or could possibly deal with.

Against this backdrop, our story starts.

The Story

In a city surrounded by Frankish crusaders, with an Emperor distracted by the logistics of dealing with them, various factions within the palace were hatching their own plans. When a scholar within the imperial palace unearthed a clue to the location of a holy relic, each faction knew that possession of it would given them the power and influence they were looking for. But it would be necessary to get to the relic before the tide of crusaders swept over it. And where could they find a group of men and foolhardy enough to attempt that?