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The Fourth Crusade >> Conflict Reigns
The Comnenus family was ruling Byzantium in 1095, when the First
Crusade began, and they were still ruling ninety years later. The last of the
Comneni was Andronicus Comnenus, a man with a extraordinary history long before
he ever ascended the throne, in 1182. He ruled with a heavy hand, was widely
hated, and when the provinces rebelled, the people of Constantinople rioted and
killed Andronicus in 1185. He was succeeded by Isaac II Angelus.
Isaac had his hands full also. Bulgaria rebelled successfully, as did Serbia. A
few years later, Frederick Hohenstaufen marched through his lands with a vast
army; Isaac was unable to prevent the Emperor from capturing both Adrianople and
Philippopolis. In the end, Frederick continued on, but only after Isaac
virtually granted him everything he wanted. He managed to regain some lost
ground in the years that followed, but lost control within the palace itself. In
April of 1195, his brother Alexius III usurped the throne and had Isaac blinded.
Alexius III Angelus was even less successful than Isaac and was exceptionally
corrupt. When Emperor Henry VI pressured him, he levied a special tax upon the
citizenry to bribe him. When the Bulgarians rebelled again, Alexius was unable
to control them. When Serbia granted its allegiance to Hungary, Alexius was
powerless to do anything except to continue to drain the treasury.
As the Fourth Crusade became imminent, Alexius put on a show of
resistance, while seizing all the money in the treasury and fleeing.