Byzantium, Volume 3: The Decline and Fall by John Julius Norwich

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By John Julius Norwich

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His beard was thick and full. Even his daughter Anna admits that when standing he did not strike people as particularly impressive; once seated on the throne, however, it was a different matter: 'he reminded one of a fiery whirlwind . . 3 Particularly when she writes of her father, Anna's testimony must obviously be treated with caution; at the same time there can have been little doubt among those with whom Alexius came in contact that he would prove the ablest ruler since Basil II and that, for the first time in over half a century, the Empire was again in strong and capable hands.

As for Helena, she was as safe with him as she would have been with her own father. Moreover, continued Radulf, he had with his own eyes seen the ex-Emperor Michael in his monastery; there could consequently be no doubt that the pretender whom Robert kept at his side and by whose claims he set so much store was an arrant impostor. He should be sent packing at once, and an embassy dispatched to Alexius with offers of peace and friendship. Then Helena might still marry Constantine, or return to the bosom of her family; much bloodshed might be averted; and the army and navy could disperse to their homes.

Meanwhile the Emperor had sent an embassy to Henry IV, pointing out the dangers of allowing the Duke of Apulia to continue unchecked; subsequent exchanges had ended in an agreement by which, in return for an oath of alliance, Alexius sent Henry no less than 360,000 gold pieces, the salaries of twenty high court offices, a gold pectoral cross set with pearls, a crystal goblet, a sardonyx cup, and 'a reliquary inlaid with gold containing fragments of various saints, identified in each case by a small label'.

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