An analysis of the strategy and tactics of Alexios I Komnenos
By Jason Todd Price
Master’s Thesis, Texas Tech University, 2005
Abstract: This thesis is an attempt to analyze the strategy and tactics used in the most pivotal battles and wars waged by Alexios I Komnenos, Byzantine Emperor from 1081-1118. Alexios I is generally credited with inciting the Crusades due to his appeal to Pope Urban for assistance against the Muslims. While considering the style and effectiveness of warfare used by Alexios, I examined numerous military treatises, spanning over two thousand years. These included both Byzantine sources, especially Maurice, and non-Byzantine sources, most notably Sun-Tzu and Clausewitz, to gather a comprehensive collection of ideals of warfare. These texts formed the basis with which to judge the quality of generalship. I then compared the strategies and tactics used by Alexios I to those espoused by these authors in their respective military manuals. There were many universal concepts that were consistent in all sources used. After careful consideration of the sources and ideals of warfare presented within the research material, I have determined that Alexios I Komnenos should be considered the penultimate Byzantine general.
Introduction: The strategic and tactical military abilities of Alexios I Komnenos, ruler of the Byzantine Empire (1081-1118), have been much discussed among Byzantinists. Historians have varying opinions regarding his military prowess. His daughter, Anna Komnena, praised her father as not only an effective emperor but also a military genius. In the Alexiad, she described Alexios as ìanother Aemilius, the famous Roman, or a Scipio, or a second Carthaginian Hannibal. Some modern historians agree with the popular historian John Julius Norwichís description of Alexios: “He had always been, first and foremost, a soldier. On the other hand, current historiography suggests that Alexios was, at best, a mediocre general.” The most recent work on the subject, The Development of the Komnenian Army by John Birkenmeier, depicts Alexios as a poor commander initially who luckily managed to survive long enough to evolve into an average military generalóone who was perceptive enough to adjust his tactics to fit his numerous enemies. Certainly, part of that statement appears true, but larger questions loom.