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Journal of Medieval History 28 (2002) 23–41

The chrysobull of Alexius I Comnenus to the

Venetians: the date and the debate
Thomas F. Madden
Department of History, Saint Louis University, 3800 Lindell Boulevard, PO Box 56907, St Louis,
MO 63156 0907, USA


Emperor Alexius I Comnenus granted to the Republic of Venice a generous chrysobull of

privileges and property in return for the latter’s support in Byzantium’s war with the Normans.
Despite more than a century of criticism, scholarly consensus continues to favour May 1082
as the probable date for this important chrysobull. Various attempts by scholars to offer alter-
nate dates have not met with success or acceptance. The evidence for the date of the imperial
charter can be divided into three categories: near-contemporary chronicles, contemporary
archival documents, and textual/paleographic evidence. An examination of the evidence con-
sidered in its totality appears to confirm the traditional date of May 1082.  2002 Elsevier
Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Venice; Byzantium; Alexius I Comnenus; Robert Guiscard; Chrysobull

Scholars have long laboured over the vexing problem of dating the chrysobull of
Alexius I Comnenus (1081–1118) to the Venetians — and with good reason.1 In
this important document the Byzantine emperor granted commercial privileges so
generous and comprehensive that they would form the foundation of Veneto-Byzan-

* Fax: +1-314-977-1603.
E-mail address: (T.F. Madden).
The document itself does not survive. The most recent editions, based on copies in later chrysobulls,
can be found in I trattati con Bisanzio, 992–1198, ed. Marco Pozza and Giorgio Ravegnani (Venice,
1993); Silvano Borsari, ‘Il crisobullo di Alessio I per Venezia,’ Annali dell’Istituto Italiano per gli studi
storici, 2 (1970), 124–31. The older edition, about which more below, is contained in Urkunden zur
älteren Handels- und Staatsgeschichte der Republik Venedig, ed. G. L. Fr. Tafel and G. M. Thomas, 3
vols. (Vienna, 1856–57, repr., Amsterdam, 1967), vol. 1, 51–54. Henceforth referred to as TTh.

0304-4181/02/$ - see front matter  2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
PII: S 0 3 0 4 - 4 1 8 1 ( 0 1 ) 0 0 0 2 0 - 3
24 T.F. Madden / Journal of Medieval History 28 (2002) 23–41

tine relations for nearly a century. His gifts included the imperial title of protoseb-
astos for the doge of Venice and his successors, the creation of a Venetian quarter
in Constantinople, and, most importantly, the exemption of Venetian merchants from
taxation on goods traded in the empire’s ports.2 As a result of the last privilege,
Venetian merchants could undercut their Italian and even Byzantine competitors,
thus commanding an important share of Byzantium’s commercial economy. Later
imperial chrysobulls used Alexius’s privileges as their starting point. Alexius’s suc-
cessors also extended commercial privileges to Venice’s rivals, Genoa and Pisa. The
new wealth of these foreigners was one of the principal dynamics behind the growing
hatred that Byzantines aimed at Latin residents in Constantinople. The mass arrest
of Venetian citizens in 1171 and the anti-Latin pogrom of 1182 are two results.
Fierce anti-Latin sentiments would also play an important role in the tragedy of the
Fourth Crusade.
To begin we must review the circumstances that led to Alexius I’s generous chry-
sobull. In the spring of 1081 Robert Guiscard was preparing to lead his Norman
troops across the Adriatic into Byzantine territory. Guiscard’s son, Bohemond, had
already led an advance force capturing Valona and Corfu. In May 1081 Guiscard
himself sailed from Apulia to Durazzo with a very large warfleet. Durazzo was the
gatekeeper of the via Egnatia, the ancient road that shot through the heart of the
empire to Constantinople itself. The new emperor, Alexius I Comnenus, quickly
dispatched envoys to Venice, promising rich rewards in return for military aid.3 Doge
Domenico Silvio (1070–1085) needed little convincing. Personally and politically,
he was closely tied to Byzantium. His wife, Theodora, was the daughter of Emperor
Constantine X Doukas (1059–67) and sister of Michael VII Doukas (1071–78).4 The
ejection of the doge’s in-laws in 1078 does not appear to have overly soured his
relationship with Constantinople. Silvio had already agreed to an earlier request from
Nicephorus III Botanieates (1078–81) to send a fleet against the Normans.5 Alexius
Comnenus’s recent coup did nothing to change the doge’s position. The Republic
of St Mark had its own reasons for opposing Robert Guiscard. Normans were wild
and warlike — in other words, bad for business. They had already disrupted the
peace of the Adriatic with pirate raids on Venetian shipping and ports. The doge

Although the charter states that Venetian merchants are to trade tax-free in all ports in the empire,
it then goes on to list port names. This has caused a debate. Some scholars point out that Black Sea ports
as well as those on Cyprus and Crete were not included in the list, and were therefore excluded. Borsari,
‘Il crisobullo di Alessio I per Venezia’, 118; Ralph-Johannes Lilie, Handel und Politik zwischen dem
byzantinischen Reich und den italienischen Kommunen Venedig, Pisa und Genua in der Epoche der
Komnenen und der Angeloi (1081–1204) (Amsterdam, 1984), 50–61. Others disagree. E.g. David Jacoby,
‘Italian privileges and trade in Byzantium before the Fourth Crusade’, Anuario de estudios medievales,
24 (1994), 351–57.
Anna Comnena, Alexiade, 2 vols, ed. Bernard Leib (Paris, 1967), vol. 1, 146, (IV, 2); William of
Apulia, La Geste de Robert Guiscard, ed. Marguerite Mathieu (Palermo, 1961), 214–20.
Andrea Dandolo, Chronica per extensum descripta, ed. Ester Pastorello, Rerum Italicarum Scriptores,
vol. 12, part 1 (Bologna, 1938), 215.
Dandolo, Chronica per extensum descripta, 216.
T.F. Madden / Journal of Medieval History 28 (2002) 23–41 25

himself had led a fleet to suppress these incursions.6 If Robert Guiscard and his men
were successful at Durazzo the Normans would hold strongpoints on both sides of
the mouth of the Adriatic, giving them the means to strangle Venetian overseas trade.
Venice quickly assembled an impressive warfleet, and Doge Silvio took com-
mand.7 In the late summer or autumn of 1081 the fleet reached Durazzo, but the
Norman troops had arrived first and already disembarked.8 The siege of Durazzo
had begun.9 Silvio ordered his countrymen to attack the Norman fleet, which outnum-
bered the Venetians by a considerable margin. Nevertheless, the Venetians destroyed
the Norman navy in short order.10 Once in control of the port, the Venetians supplied
Durazzo and assisted with its defence.11 On October 15, Alexius I arrived with his
largely mercenary army, but his attempt to break the Norman siege was a complete
failure. Guiscard’s men scattered the Byzantine forces and Alexius himself was
wounded in the melee.12 The emperor returned home leaving the defense of Durazzo
to the Venetians.13
The siege continued through the winter of 1081/1082. In February 1082 the city’s
Venetian defenders were betrayed by one of their own: a renegade who was enticed
into opening a city gate by Norman promises.14 The Normans stormed the city,
killing or capturing many Venetians.15 After securing Durazzo, Robert Guiscard’s
men began their march into the empire. Yet events in Rome intervened. The German

Roberto Cessi, Venezia ducale, 2 vols. (Venice, 1963–65), vol. 2, pt. 1, 79–85; Donald M. Nicol,
Byzantium and Venice. A study in diplomatic and cultural relations (Cambridge, 1988), 55–56.
Annales venetici breves, in: Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores, vol. 14, 70.
The timing of the Venetian assault has been variously argued, putting it anywhere between late July
and mid-October. Cf. Ferdinand Chalandon, Essai sur le règne d’Alexis Ier Comnène (Paris, 1900), 74;
Cessi, Venezia ducale, p. 94, n. 6; O. Tůma, ‘The dating of Alexius’s chrysobull to the Venetians: 1082,
1084, or 1092?’, Byzantinoslavica, 42 (1981), 179–80.
According to Anna Comnena, the siege began on June 17, 1081. Alexiade, vol. 1, 143, (IV, 1). This
is in agreement with the Anonymous of Bari, Ignoti civis Barensis, sive Lupi Protospatae chronica ab
anonymo auctore Barensi, ed. Lodovico Antonio Muratori, Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, vol. 5 (Milan,
1724), 153, and Orderic Vitalis, Historiae Ecclesiasticae, in: Migne, Patrologia Latina, vol. 188, 520.
Lupus Protospatharius, Annales, in: Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores, vol. 5, 60–61; and
Romuald of Salerno, Chronicon, ed. C. A. Garufi, in: Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, vol. 7, part 1 (Città
di Castello, 1914), 192 place it in July. Chalandon, Essai sur le règne d’Alexis I Comnène, 74, no. 1
argues convincingly for June.
Anna Comnena, Alexiade, vol. 1, 146–48, (IV, 2); William of Apulia, La Geste de Robert Guiscard,
p. 220.
Venetiarum historia vulgo Petro Iustiniano Iustiniani filio adiudicata, ed. Roberto Cessi and Fanny
Bennato (Venice, 1964), 79.
For the exact date, see Anna Comnena, Alexiade, vol. 1, 154, (IV, 5); Anonymous of Bari, Chronica,
154. See also William of Apulia, La Geste de Robert Guiscard, 224–28; Orderic Vitalis, Historia, 520–
21; Lupus Protosphatharius, Annales, 61.
Anna Comnena, Alexiade, vol. 1, 166–68, (IV, 8).
William of Apulia, La Geste de Robert Guiscard, p. 230; Geoffrey of Malaterra, De rebus gestis
Rogerii Calabriae et Sicilae Comitis et Roberti Guiscardi Ducis Fratris eius, ed. E. Pontieri, Rerum
Italicarum Scriptores, vol. 1 (Bologna, 1927), 74; Lupus Protospatharius, Annales, 61; Anonymous of
Bari, Chronica, 154. According to Anna Comnena, it was the Amalfitians that were responsible for the
fall of the city. Alexiade, vol. 2, 7–8, (V, 1).
Dandolo, Chronica per extensum descripta, 216; Venetiarum historia, 79.
26 T.F. Madden / Journal of Medieval History 28 (2002) 23–41

emperor Henry IV was moving south through Italy, bent on capturing his enemy,
Pope Gregory VII. At the pope’s summons, Guiscard returned to defend the Church,
leaving his son Bohemond to prosecute the war in the Balkans. Venetian and Byzan-
tine forces rallied and in fierce battles erased most of the Norman victories.16 In the
fall of 1083 a Venetian fleet attacked Durazzo and recaptured the city, although the
citadel, manned by a few Normans, tenaciously held out. After wintering there, the
Venetians set sail in spring 1084 for Corfu, which they also soon captured.17
But the Norman threat had not yet passed. After settling matters in Italy, Robert
Guiscard assembled another large fleet.18 Bad weather delayed his departure, so it
was not until November 1084 that Guiscard led the Norman vessels east toward
Corfu.19 Well informed of the danger, Alexius again summoned Venice to muster
an armada in defence of the empire. Domenico Silvio complied, sending a fleet
south where it joined with Alexius’s own makeshift navy. Learning of the defenders’
movements, Guiscard changed course, heading instead to Cassiopi.20 There one of
the largest naval engagements of the middle ages took place. According to Anna
Comnena the allied fleet twice defeated the Normans, who took heavy casualties.21
It seemed to everyone, Guiscard included, that the Norman offensive was over. The
Venetians returned to Corfu and dispatched messengers back home to herald their
great victory. Hearing of the jubilant celebrations among his enemies, Robert Guis-
card lost all energy and sank into deep despair.22 Weeks passed before the Norman
leader finally shook off his depression and took up plans for a bold counter-offensive.
In January 1085 the Norman fleet appeared unexpectedly off Corfu.23 The Venetian
and Byzantine commanders, amazed at Guiscard’s courage and audacity, scrambled
to their vessels. But this time the Norman leader had caught the Venetians by sur-
prise. After long and bloody fighting, the Normans defeated the allied fleet. Accord-
ing to Anna Comnena, 13,000 Venetians were killed in the battle and many others
taken prisoner.24 Captured Venetians were cruelly mutilated then ransomed to their
relatives. Guiscard hoped to use these prisoners as spokesmen for peace with Venice,

William of Apulia, La Geste de Robert Guiscard, 236–40.
Ibid., 240–42.
Anna Comnena, Alexiade, vol. 2, 50–51, (VI, 5). According to William of Apulia, the fleet consisted
of 150 vessels. La Geste de Robert Guiscard, 244.
Ibid.; Romuald of Salerno, Chronicon, p. 196.
Anna Comnena, Alexiade, vol. 2, 52, (VI, 5); William of Apulia, La Geste de Robert Guiscard, 244;
Lupus Protospatharius, Annales, 61.
Anna Comnena, Alexiade, vol. 2, 52, (VI, 5).
Ibid., vol. 2, 53, (VI, 5).
Ibid.; Anonymous of Bari, Chronica, 154. The three engagements between the Normans and the
allies are usually lumped into the space of a few days. A careful reading of the sources, however, makes
it clear that a fair amount of time passed between the second and third battle. See Cessi, Venezia ducale,
vol. 2, pt. 1, 113.
Anna Comnena, Alexiade, vol. 2, 53, (VI, 5); William of Apulia, La Geste de Robert Guiscard, 244–
46; Lupus Protospatharius, Annales, 61.
T.F. Madden / Journal of Medieval History 28 (2002) 23–41 27

but they openly defied him, swearing loyalty to Alexius Comnenus.25 The naval
defeat was Venice’s worst. Back home the people exploded in outrage when news
of glorious victory was followed by tales of stunning defeat. Blaming their doge,
they overthrew Domenico Silvio and replaced him with Vitale Falier (1085–1096).26
More amazing news was still to come. Wintering by the river Glykys, the victorious
Norman forces were decimated by plague.27 In July 1085 Robert Guiscard himself
was struck by the disease and died. His war against Byzantium dissolved.28
At what point in these events did Alexius I issue the promised chrysobull of
privileges to the Venetians? The problem is perplexing because the sources are con-
tradictory, late, or both. The original chrysobull does not survive, only Latin trans-
lations folded into the later chrysobulls of Manuel I in 1147 and Isaac II in 1187.
The earlier copy bears the date May 6200 (AD 692), which is clearly too early; the
later copy is dated May 6600 (AD 1092), which is generally thought to be too late.29
When G.L.F. Tafel and G.M. Thomas published these chrysobulls in 1856 the editors
argued that both dates were faulty and chose instead May 6590 (AD 1082). The
preamble (prooimion) of the document mentions the valiant aid that Venice rendered
at Durazzo against the Normans, so it was not unreasonable to assume that it was
issued after the fall of the city. Tafel and Thomas also noted that both copies were
dated in the fifth Roman indiction. May 692 was in that indiction, but May 1092
fell in the fifteenth indiction. Tafel and Thomas, therefore, accepted the indiction
but neither of the dates. May 1082, which they settled on, was in the fifth indiction.30
In their editions of the chrysobulls of Manuel I and Isaac II, Tafel and Thomas
noted in their footnotes that they considered the dates of Alexius’s chrysobull to be
defective.31 However, under the rubric of May 1082 they published the copy of the
chrysobull of Alexius I found in the chrysobull of Manuel I and without comment
changed the date in the text of the document itself.32 Thus Tafel and Thomas posited
a new chrysobull with a date that they believed reflected the original. This was not
an attempt to mislead, but rather meant as a convenience for scholars. Nevertheless,

Anna Comnena, Alexiade, vol. 2, 53–54, (VI, 5). According to Anna, the Venetians replied: ‘Duke
Robert, you can be sure of this: even if we saw our own wives and children having their throats slit, we
would not denounce our treaty with the Emperor Alexius. What is more, we will certainly not cease to
help him and fight bravely on his behalf.’ The Alexiad of Anna Comnena, E. R. A. Sewter, trans. (London
et al, 1969), 190.
Dandolo, Chronica per exstensum descripta, 217.
William of Apulia, La Geste de Robert Guiscard, 246–48.
Ibid., p. 254; Anna Comnena, Alexiade, vol. 2, 55–56, (VI, 6); Lupus Protospatharius, Annales, 61;
Anonymous of Bari, Chronica, 154; Romuald of Salerno, Chronicon, 196.
I trattati con Bisanzio, 44–45; Borsari, ‘Il crisobullo di Alessio I per Venezia,’ 128, 131; TTh. vol.
1, 122, no. 51; vol. 1, 186, no. 70.
TTh. vol. 1, 122, n. 1. Tafel and Thomas also had textual arguments for their date, but these later
proved to be erroneous. TTh. vol. 1, 49–51; André Tuilier, ‘La date exacte du chrysobulle d’Alexis 1er
Comnène en faveur des Vénitiens et son contexte historique,’ Rivista di studi bizantini e neoellenici, n.s.
4 (1967), 29–31; Tůma, ‘The dating of Alexius’s chrysobull,’ 183–84.
TTh. vol. 1, 122, no. 1; ibid., vol. 1, 186, no. 2.
TTh., vol. 1, 54, no. 23.
28 T.F. Madden / Journal of Medieval History 28 (2002) 23–41

it has misled.33 Because of the widespread use of Tafel and Thomas’s collection,
1082 quickly became the accepted date for the document.34 In 1925 Franz Dölger
enshrined the date in his Regesten der Kaiserkunden des oströmischen Reiches.35
Despite numerous criticisms, it remains the standard date today.36
In 1967 André Tuilier challenged Tafel and Thomas’s date, arguing that Alexius
issued the chrysobull a decade later in 1092. Tuilier pointed out that a scribal error
could explain the insertion of the year 6200 (AD 692) rather than 6600 (AD 1092)
in the copy of the chrysobull found in Manuel I’s document of 1147. Tuilier also
noted that the Venetian chronicler and doge, Andrea Dandolo, recorded that one of
the privileges mentioned in the chrysobull, the granting of the title of protosebastos
to the doge, was bestowed by chrysobull on Vitale Falier, whose reign, according
to Dandolo, did not begin until 1084.37 Tuilier’s date informed his image of Venice
in the war. If the chrysobull followed the siege of Durazzo by a decade, then it could
hardly have been payment for Venice’s defence of that city. Instead, Venetians allied
with Byzantines because they shared their interests, not merely for the promise of
far-reaching privileges. After the war ended, Tuilier argued, Venetians received
vaunted titles for their doge and occasional gifts of goodwill and friendship. Not
until 1092, though, would these gifts be brought together with commercial con-
cessions and formally issued in the chrysobull.38
Certain pieces of evidence are not easily digested by Tuilier’s theory. In private
documents made in Venice in May and June 1083, Doge Domenico Silvio was
referred to as ‘imperial protosebastos,’ a title bestowed on the doge in Alexius I’s
chrysobull.39 This clearly suggests that the chrysobull was issued in 1082 as Tafel

E.g. Chalandon, Essai sur le règne d’Alexis Ier Comnène, 82, n. 3, who believed that Tafel and
Thomas were referring to a third recension bearing the date May 1082.
E.g. Ibid., 82; Heinrich Kretschmayr, Geschichte von Venedig, 3 vols. (Gotha, 1905), vol. 1, 163;
Horatio F. Brown, ‘The Venetians and the Venetian Quarter in Constantinople to the close of the twelfth
century’, Journal of Hellenic Studies, 40 (1920), 70; W. Heyd, Histoire du commerce du Levant au
moyen-âge 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1885–86), vol. 1, 118. One year after the publication of Tafel and Thomas’s
collection, another scholar, Zachariae von Lingenthal, criticised Tafel and Thomas’ reasoning, arguing
that the date of Isaac II’s chrysobull was superior, and therefore placing the original document in May
1092. Jus graeco-romanum, 8 vols. (Leipzig, 1857), vol. 3, 438, 522. This argument was little noticed
at the time.
Franz Dölger, Regesten der Kaiserkunden des oströmischen Reiches, 3 vols. (Berlin, 1924–32), vol.
2, no. 1081.
E.g. A.A. Vasiliev, History of the Byzantine Empire, 2 vols. (Madison, 1964), vol. 2, 382; George
Ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine state, Joan Hussey, trans. (New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1969),
359; Frederic C. Lane, Venice. A maritime republic (Baltimore, 1973), 29; Louise Buenger Robbert,
‘Venice and the Crusades’, in: A history of the crusades, ed. Kenneth M. Setton, vol. 5 (Madison, 1985),
384; Robert Browning, The Byzantine Empire, rev. ed. (Washington, DC, 1992), 158; Nicol, Byzantium
and Venice, 58–59.
Tuilier, ‘La date exacte du chrysobulle’, 29–33. Falier’s reign began in January or February 1085.
Although Dandolo records that Falier’s reign began in 1084, scholars, particularly those concerned with
precise dating, should remember that the Venetian calendar began on 1 March.
Ibid., 27–38.
Famiglia Zusto, ed. Luigi Lanfranchi (Fonti per la storia di Venezia, Sez. IV — Archivi privati,
Venice, 1955), 6, 9, nos. 1, 2.
T.F. Madden / Journal of Medieval History 28 (2002) 23–41 29

and Thomas argued. Tuilier posited that Silvio came by the title not through imperial
chrysobull, but rather by imperial favour in 1081 or 1082. The bestowal of the title
appears in the chrysobull, Tuilier hypothesised, only because in 1092 a new doge,
who had not previously received the designation, had come to the throne.40 Yet in
1092 Vitale Falier had been doge for some seven or eight years and, as surviving
ducal acts clearly show, had been using the protosebastos title all along.41 Another
inconvenience for Tuilier’s thesis is a document of July 1090 in which Doge Vitale
Falier donated to the monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore properties in Constantino-
ple that appear in the chrysobull of Alexius. In the donation charter Falier explicitly
states that the properties are those ‘which we received from Emperor Alexius…’42
How could the doge give away property in 1090 that he did not receive until 1092?
Tuilier contends that an earlier document, perhaps a chrysobull of 1084 mentioned
by Andrea Dandolo, gave over these properties in Constantinople. Their donation,
then, was simply confirmed in the chrysobull of 1092.43 This, however, has the effect
of making the date of the chrysobull almost unimportant. If all or most of the privi-
leges and properties were granted before the chrysobull, does it really matter when
it was issued?
Tuilier accepted that Venetians were willing to ally with Byzantium with little
thought of immediate reward save the common good of both states. E. Francès had
a very different view of Venice that shaped his dating of the chrysobull in an article
published in 1968. For Francès, Venice was a community of predatory capitalists
seeking to make a profit from Byzantium’s misfortunes. According to Anna Com-
nena, Venice was not the first power that Alexius consulted when preparing for the
Norman invasion. The reason, Francès argues, was that the emperor knew the doge
would impose extortionist terms for his aid. Although a Norman capture of Durazzo
would gravely injure Venice, the doge was willing to feign apathy in order to drive
up the price for Venetian intervention. Economic conditions in the wake of the Turk-
ish advance had also undercut the market for Byzantium’s aristocratic landowners,
who now urged the emperor to give Venetian merchants incentives to do more busi-
ness in Byzantine ports. Francès contends that Alexius was finally forced by strategic
and economic considerations to agree to Venice’s terms.44 Once the price was fixed,
the Venetian warfleet sailed for Durazzo, defeated the Norman navy, and entered
the city’s harbour. Having led the fleet to Durazzo, Francès contends, Doge Silvio
at once demanded his chrysobull. But Alexius was on the march to Durazzo and

Tuilier, ‘La date exacte du chrysobulle,’ 33–34.
See for example SS. Trinità e S. Michele arcangelo di Brondolo, ed. Bianca Lanfranchi Strina, 3
vols. (Fonti per la storia di Veneza, Sez. II — Archivi ecclesiastici, Diocesi Clodiense, Venice, 1981–),
vol. 2, 84, no. 32, (September 1087); SS. Secondo ed Erasmo, ed. Eva Malipiero Ucropina (Fonti per la
storia di Veneza, Sez. II — Archivi ecclesiastici, Diocesi Castellana, Venice, 1958), 6, no. 1 (September
1089); S. Giorgio Maggiore, ed. Luigi Lanfranchi, 3 vols. (Fonti per la storia di Veneza, Sez. II —
Archivi ecclesiastici, Diocesi Castellana, Venice, 1960–68), vol. 2, 169, no. 69 (July 1090).
‘nos de imperatore Alexio invenimus…’ S. Giorgio Maggiore, 169, no. 69.
Tuilier, ‘La date exacte du chrysobulle’, 37–38.
E. Francès, ‘Alexis Comnène et les privilèges octroyés à Venise’, Byzantinoslavica 29 (1968), 19–
20, 23.
30 T.F. Madden / Journal of Medieval History 28 (2002) 23–41

either unwilling or unable to comply. Thus, on 15 October 1081, the Venetians stood
idly by while the Normans defeated Alexius and his army. Wounded and angry, the
emperor would no longer listen to Venetian threats and demands for their reward.
Finally, in February 1082, the disgusted Venetians opened the gates of Durazzo to
the Normans and returned home.45 Venice took no part in the war against the Norm-
ans between 1082 and 1084. Only when Robert Guiscard prepared to resume his
attacks on the empire was Alexius forced to turn again to Venice and submit to her
demands. The Republic’s warfleet sailed south and engaged the Normans. After the
Venetian victory the emperor issued the chrysobull in late 1084.46
Unlike Tuilier, Francès sees the chrysobull and the war inextricably linked. By
placing the treaty in 1084, instead of 1082, Francès is essentially in agreement with
Anna Comnena, who has the chrysobull issued after the war, not during it.47 Yet
most of Francès’s reconstruction of events is based on little more than imagination
and a strong animus against Venice. A central prop of his argument is the withdrawal
of Venice from the war after 1082. Yet there is no source for this. On the contrary,
William of Apulia, one of the best sources for the Norman side, states that the
Venetians remained very active in the war, capturing Durazzo in 1083 and sailing
for Corfu in spring 1084.48 There is also no evidence that Byzantine aristocrats were
clamouring for more business in the empire’s ports or that they urged the emperor
to bestow privileges on Venetian merchants to obtain it.49
In 1970 Silvano Borsari published a new critical edition of the chrysobull.50 In his
commentary, Borsari found the arguments of both Tuilier and Francès unconvincing,
arguing instead that historians should adhere to Tafel and Thomas’s date of 1082.
Borsari pointed out the importance of the two private documents made in May and
June 1083, in which Doge Domenico Silvio is referred to as ‘imperial protosebastos,’
as well as the ducal donation in July 1090 of properties in Constantinople that were
granted in the chrysobull. Although Tuilier considered these documents, he explained
them as precursors to a chrysobull that would confirm them. Francès was apparently
unaware of them. Borsari rejected Tuilier’s explanation, stating that in the chrysobull
Alexius appears to grant new privileges and properties rather than confirm old ones.
Since the doge clearly possessed the granted properties in Constantinople in 1090,
Borsari reasoned, the chrysobull could not have been issued in 1092. Since Domenico
Silvio clearly possessed the imperial title in 1083, the chrysobull could not have
been issued in 1084. Tafel and Thomas, Borsari concluded, must therefore have been
correct. The chrysobull was issued in May 1082.51
Ignoring Borsari, M.E. Martin responded to Francès’s thesis in an article on the

Ibid., 21.
Ibid., 22.
Anna Comnena, Alexiade, vol. 2, 54–55, (VI, 5).
William of Apulia, La Geste de Robert Guiscard, 240–42.
See the very cogent arguments against Francès’s economic assumptions by Lilie, Handel und Politik,
Borsari, ‘Il crisobullo di Alessio I per Venezia’, 111–31.
Ibid., 113–15.
T.F. Madden / Journal of Medieval History 28 (2002) 23–41 31

Venetian Quarter in Constantinople published in 1978. Martin accepted Francès’s

date of 1084, but little else. Venice, Martin pointed out, remained engaged in the
war with the Normans until the very end. Venetians failed to assist Alexius I in his
battle against the Norman army because the Venetians were sailors, not soldiers.
Durazzo was not betrayed by the Venetians as a group, but rather by one ambitious
renegade. Throughout his discussion Martin shatters Francès’s unfounded assertions
with the evidence of contemporary sources. Yet once Francès’s thesis lay in ruins,
Martin proceeds to build a new one, with equally slight support. Martin contends
that the Venetians ousted Domenico Silvio in 1084 because the Byzantine-friendly
doge kept Venice in a costly war that showed no signs of ending. The new doge,
Vitale Falier, had a mandate to get Venice out of that war. He sent envoys to Con-
stantinople to inform Alexius of the situation. The emperor responded by issuing the
chrysobull, which convinced the Venetians to remain his allies. Only after the chryso-
bull arrived in the lagoon did the Venetian fleet prepare to engage Guiscard’s
great navy.52
Martin takes Francès’s date and tries to save it from Francès’s arguments. By
inserting the chrysobull between the overthrow of the doge in 1084 and the naval
engagement of 1085 Martin discounts Anna Comnena’s chronology in favour of
Andrea Dandolo’s.53 Disastrously, Martin bases part of his argument on the assertion
that Domenico Silvio never used the protosebastos title: something clearly disproved
by the private documents cited by Tuilier and Borsari.54 Despite an impressive com-
mand of the evidence of chroniclers, Martin appears to have been unaware of recent
scholarship on the chrysobull, with the exception of Francès’s study. Martin’s view
of the political environment in Venice in the years 1082–1084 is more plausible than
Francès’s, but equally unsupported by the evidence.
The quarrel over the dating of the chrysobull is driven by a desire to understand
Venetian and Byzantine actions within a larger political, diplomatic, and strategic
framework. For Anitra R. Gadolin, who published a short study on the subject in
1980, the entire argument is irrelevant.55 In her view Alexius I had only economic
reasons for granting the chrysobull. In the wake of Manzikert, the Byzantine econ-
omy was faltering. Merchants avoided Byzantine ports. Following Francès, Gadolin
believes that the chrysobull of Alexius was simply a free trade agreement designed
to bring Venetian commerce back into the empire. Only when ‘the Venetians abused
the confidence placed in them’ (presumably by taking advantage of the privileges)
did the chrysobull become so injurious to Byzantium.56 Gadolin reassures her reader,
however, that Venice is rewarded in the end. When Venice’s trade withered after
the discovery of the passage around the Cape of Good Hope the Senate refused to

M.E. Martin, ‘The chrysobull of Alexius I Comnenus to the Venetians and the early Venetian Quarter
in Constantinople,’ Byzantinoslavica, 39 (1978), 19–21.
Ibid., 22.
Ibid., 21, no. 13.
Anitra R. Gadolin, ‘Alexis I Comnenus and the Venetian trade privileges. A new interpretation’,
Byzantion, 50 (1980), 439–46.
Ibid., 444.
32 T.F. Madden / Journal of Medieval History 28 (2002) 23–41

lower tariffs and duties to draw business back into the lagoon. Gadolin hypothesises
that ‘deep down’ the senators feared ‘divine retribution’ for their treatment of Byzan-
tium. ‘Blood carries memory,’ Gadolin waxes, and ‘the mills of God ground slow-
To say that Gadolin’s arguments are overly simplistic is to be charitable. By
removing from consideration all political, strategic, diplomatic, and cultural factors,
Gadolin has enveloped the chrysobull in a vacuum so complete that it is almost
unrecognizable. At the centre of her thesis is a sharp down-turn in Byzantine trade —
so sharp in fact that the emperor was willing to give away a large source of tax
revenue and place his own merchants at a disadvantage vis-à-vis their Venetian com-
petitors in order to reverse it. Gadolin’s evidence for this economic trend is all sec-
ondary, and none of it argues for anything but a shifting of trade to the East.58
Asserting that the chrysobull is nothing but a free trade agreement forces Gadolin
to ignore all but a few lines of the document. Why does the preamble state that the
privileges are in gratitude for Venetian service in the war against the Normans? Why
does Alexius dispense so many other privileges in the chrysobull that have little or
nothing to do with trade? Gadolin so thoroughly removes the chrysobull from the
context of the war with the Normans that their timing becomes a mere coincidence.
Medieval sources like Anna Comnena, Andrea Dandolo, and the text of the chrysob-
ull itself disappear in the economic-shaded glasses of Gadolin’s analysis.
One year after Gadolin’s article, O. Tůma published a very well-researched study
on the problem of the chrysobull’s date. In a patient and methodical fashion Tůma
considered the testimony of all Greek, Venetian, and southern Italian sources for the
war between Byzantium and the Normans. Tůma believes that there are two events
that delimit the date of the chrysobull: the accession of Doge Vitale Falier, which
he places in summer 1084, and the second campaign of Robert Guiscard that began
in November 1084.59 Despite the breadth of his research, Tůma relies primarily on
two sources: Andrea Dandolo, who implies that the chrysobull was received shortly
after the accession of Falier, and Anna Comnena, who links the privileges with the
Venetian fleet’s engagement with the Normans. Tůma’s analysis leads him to agree
with Martin in almost every respect. Domenico Silvio, he argues, was overthrown
because of the toll of the long war. Fearing that the Venetians and their new doge
would abandon the alliance, Alexius I issued the chrysobull as the price for their
continued support.60 Like Martin, Tůma was unaware of the Venetian archival docu-
ments from 1083 that refer to Silvio with the chrysobull-granted title of protoseb-
astos.61 The failure to consider this crucial evidence severely cripples these analyses
and theories.

Ibid., 445–46.
Rather than examine primary evidence for her economic assertions, Gadolin is content to rely on
the general observations of Archibald Lewis in his Naval power and trade in the Mediterranean, A.D.
500 to 1100 (Princeton, 1951). Gadolin, ‘Alexis I Comnenus’, 442–44.
O. Tůma, ‘The dating of Alexius’s chrysobull,’ 183.
Ibid., 181–83.
Tůma knew of Borsari’s article, but it was unavailable to him. Ibid., 172, no. 3.
T.F. Madden / Journal of Medieval History 28 (2002) 23–41 33

Despite a vibrant scholarly debate, May 1082, which Tafel and Thomas embedded
in the document over a century earlier, remained the standard date for the chrysobull.
Borsari’s emphasis on archival materials proving that Doge Silvio was titled protose-
bastos in 1083 seemed to be the final word. In 1988 Borsari added yet another
argument to bolster the traditional date. He pointed out that while Andrea Dandolo
had placed a chrysobull in the reign of Vitale Falier in his Chronica per extensum
descripta, he put it in the reign of Doge Silvio in his earlier and shorter draft, called
the Chronica brevis. Borsari hypothesised that Dandolo was right the first time and
that his later attempt to reconcile treaties and histories led him into error. At the very
least, Borsari noted, we must accept that Dandolo’s testimony is not unambiguous.62
In the most recent edition of the chrysobull, Marco Pozza and Giorgio Ravegnani
largely avoid the tangled question, noting that the traditional date supported by Bor-
sari is now commonly accepted.63 Has the question, then, finally been settled? Ulti-
mately, the burden of proof must be on those who propose a date that appears in
neither of the document copies nor in any other contemporary testimony. In the
absence of compelling evidence an appeal to authority is insufficient justification for
rewriting a primary source. What evidence we do have can be divided into three
categories: near-contemporary histories, contemporary archival materials, and
textual/paleographic evidence. Scholars who have wrestled with this question have
tended to emphasise one or two of these categories, while neglecting the others. A
fresh examination of the evidence, considered in its totality, may bring us closer to
a more satisfactory answer.
As we have seen, there are only two medieval authors that appear to record the
chrysobull of Alexius in their histories: Anna Comnena and Andrea Dandolo. Both
are writing well after the events, and neither gives an exact date for the document.
Although Anna Comnena provides a detailed description of the contents of the chry-
sobull, she records only that it was given to the Venetians after the war with the Nor-
The testimony of Andrea Dandolo is much more difficult to unravel, and has led
to a fair amount of confusion among historians. There are, as Borsari noted in 1988,
two versions: one in the Chronica brevis and the other in the Chronica per extensum
descripta.65 In the Chronica brevis, Dandolo records a chrysobull bestowing the title
protosebastos on the doge during Domenico Silvio’s reign.66 In his later expanded
history, the Chronica per extensum descripta, Dandolo records a chrysobull in the
reign of Doge Vitale Falier, who took the throne in early 1085.67 Borsari favours
the Chronica brevis, but the context of Dandolo’s statement about the chrysobull in
that first-draft work does not inspire much confidence. Dandolo records only five

Silvano Borsari, Venezia e Bisanzio nel XII secolo: I rapporti economici (Venice, 1988), 136–38.
I trattati con Bisanzio, 36.
Anna Comnena, Alexiade, vol. 2, 54–55, (VI, 5).
Borsari, Venezia e Bisanzio, 136–38.
Dandolo, Chronica brevis, ed. Ester Pastorello, Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, vol. 12, part 1 (Bologna,
1938), 363.
Dandolo, Chronica per extensum descripta, 217.
34 T.F. Madden / Journal of Medieval History 28 (2002) 23–41

events in Silvio’s reign in the Chronica brevis: his accession to the throne in 1068,
his initiation of construction on the new church of San Marco, his reception of the
chrysobull for aid to Byzantium, his death in office in 1082, and his burial at San
Marco.68 Four of these five statements are demonstrably incorrect. Silvio took the
throne in 1071, lost it by popular revolt, lived until at least 1086, and, as a deposed
doge, was not buried at San Marco.69 San Marco was also not begun by Silvio, but
by his predecessor, Domenico Contarini.70 Given this poor track record, it is hard
to have much confidence in Dandolo’s fifth statement concerning the chrysobull. We
must remember that the Chronica brevis was only a rough draft, an outline to be
used in the production of Dandolo’s complete history. It was not meant to supersede
the Chronica per extensum descripta, but the other way around.
Scholars like Francès, Martin, and Tùma, who place the chrysobull in 1084, rely
heavily on the testimony of Andrea Dandolo in the Chronica per extensum descripta.
Here the doge/historian records early in his narration of Vitale Falier’s reign the
dispatch of envoys to Constantinople and their subsequent return to Venice bearing
an imperial chrysobull.71 Francès, Martin, and Tůma point out that although Dandolo
does not describe the chrysobull in detail, he does state that it gave the title protoseb-
astos to all subsequent doges, thus identifying it as Alexius I’s chrysobull of privi-
leges for Venice. When Dandolo wrote the Chronica per extensum descripta he was
the doge of Venice, with access to state records that have since perished. His state-
ment concerning the chrysobull, therefore, cannot be dismissed as simply ill-infor-
med error. Yet we must also not see more in the passage than is present or intended.
A careful reading suggests that Dandolo, in fact, is not referring to the chrysobull
of privileges at all. Instead, he states plainly that Doge Falier, ‘sent Andrea Michiel,
Domenico Dandolo, and Giacomo Orio as legates to Constantinople to obtain juris-
diction over Dalmatia and Croatia’.72 As justification for the request, the
historian/doge then expounds at some length on the history of Croatian jurisdiction.
He continues, ‘These legates, having been quickly seen by Alexius, obtained a chry-
sobull for Dalmatia, Croatia, and the office of protosebastos; and after they returned
the doge added to his title: atque Chroacie et imperialis prothoseuastos.’73 Scholars
who use this passage to date Alexius’s chrysobull of privileges point out that Vene-
tian doges had already added jurisdiction over Dalmatia to their title almost a century
before this embassy, and did not add Croatia until well after 1084. Dandolo, they

Dandolo, Chronica brevis, 363.
Dandolo dropped the reference to the burial in Chronica per extensum descripta, 217. According to
Venetiarum historia, 80 (written ca. 1350) the location of Silvio’s tomb was unknown. Later chronicles
placed it in San Marco, see Marino Sanudo, Le vite dei dogi in Rerum Italicarum Scriptores vol. 22, part
4 (Città di Castello, 1900), 155, no. 8.
Otto Demus, The church of San Marco in Venice (Washington, DC, 1960), 12.
Dandolo, Chronica per extensum descripta, 217.
‘…Andream Michielem, Dominicum Dandulo et Iacobum Aurio legatos Constantinopolim missit, ut
iurisdiciones Dalmacie et Choracie…optineret…’ Ibid.
‘Euntes autem legati, ab Alexio alacriter vissi, crusobolium Dalmacie et Chroacie et sedis prothoseu-
astos optinuerunt, quibus postea reversis, dux suo adidit titulo: atque Chroacie et imperialis prothoseuas-
tos.’ Ibid.
T.F. Madden / Journal of Medieval History 28 (2002) 23–41 35

contend, must therefore be in error on titled jurisdictions but correct concerning the
title of protosebastos.74 This interpretation corrupts the meaning of the passage. Fal-
ier did not send his envoys to Constantinople to acquire the protosebastos title, nor
to obtain any other of the promised rewards in the chrysobull of privileges. Instead,
Dandolo clearly states that the ambassadors were to persuade the emperor to give
the doge titled jurisdiction over Dalmatia and Croatia — something not mentioned
anywhere in the chrysobull of Alexius I. Andrea Dandolo was well aware that doges
had assumed the title ‘doge of Venice and Dalmatia’ before this embassy. He accu-
rately records the fact in his history not too many pages earlier,75 and he does not
include a reference to Dalmatia in the new addition to the doge’s title (‘atque
Chroacie et imperialis prothoseuastos’).76
How, then, does the protosebastos title fit in? It does not — at least not in the
way many historians have assumed. Dandolo states that the emperor issued a chryso-
bull giving the doge ‘Dalmatia, Croatia, and the office of protosebastos.’ This is
simply a statement of all the titles, both old and new, that the doge has received
from Byzantium. The imperial title was in use since at least 1083 and the Dalmatian
title for almost a century. It is only the title to Croatia that was new. Finally, Dandolo
provides the formula for the new ducal title, stating that it ended ‘atque Chroacie
et imperialis prothoseuastos’. This does not mean, as it is often assumed, that Dan-
dolo is asserting that the protosebastos title is newly added. Rather, it simply came
last in the titular formula. What was before ‘doge of Venice and Dalmatia and
imperial protosebastos’, became ‘doge of Venice and Dalmatia and also Croatia and
imperial protosebastos’. How else to say it? If Dandolo had recorded only that ‘atque
Chroacie’ was added (‘adidit’) that would denote the title ‘doge of Venice and Dal-
matia and imperial protosebastos and also Croatia’, — not only inaccurate but non-
sense. In short, Andrea Dandolo’s much-cited passage is concerned with acquiring
jurisdiction over Croatia, not the title of protosebastos or the chrysobull of Venetian
privileges in Byzantium. The word protosebastos appears only for clarity, yet it has
been grasped by scholars who discount and discard the remainder of Dandolo’s leng-
thy and detailed passage.
A problem remains. According to Dandolo, Falier and subsequent doges added to
their title ‘atque Chroacie et imperialis prothoseuastos’ shortly after the embassy
returned, apparently in 1084 or 1085. Yet in official documents made in September
1087, August 1088, September 1089, and July 1090 Falier was referred to as ‘doge
of Venice and Dalmatia and imperial protosebastos,’ or, in the shorter form, simply
‘doge and imperial protosebastos’.77 In October 1094 Falier issued a privilege in

E.g. Francès, ‘Alexis Comnène et les privilèges,’ 22; Martin, ‘The chrysobull of Alexius I,’ 20–21;
Tůma, ‘The dating of the Alexius’s chrysobull,’ 181.
Dandolo, Chronica per extensum descripta, 199.
Ibid., 217.
September 1087: (‘Venetie et Dalmatie duce et imperiale protosevastos’), SS. Trinità e S. Michele
arcangelo di Brondolo, vol. 2, 84, no. 32; August 1088: (‘ducis et imperialis protonsevasto’), F. Corner,
Ecclesiae Venetae antiquis monumentis nunc etiam primum editis illustratae ac in decades distributae,
13 vols. (Venice, 1749), vol. 3, 155; September 1089: (‘dux et imperialis protosevasto’), SS. Secondo ed
36 T.F. Madden / Journal of Medieval History 28 (2002) 23–41

which he was titled, ‘doge of Venice, Dalmatia, and Croatia and imperial protosebas-
tos’. Unfortunately, this document exists only in a copy of the twelfth century, so
there is a slight possibility that the title has been altered.78 No other later document
bearing Falier’s name survives. His successor, Vitale Michiel, took the throne in
1096 and used the four-part title in the earliest surviving document bearing his name,
dated May 1097.79 The weight of evidence, therefore, suggests that Falier probably
adopted the new title in the last years of his reign. Thus, the embassy to Constantino-
ple that Dandolo describes must have taken place after July 1090 and probably before
October 1094 or, at the latest, 1096. Why did Dandolo record it early in his narration
of Falier’s reign? Since the passage includes the name of the doge, the three ambassa-
dors, the request, and detailed arguments supporting the request, it may be that Dan-
dolo was relying on Falier’s instructions to his envoys, which have since perished.
Such instructions did not customarily bear a date.80
The testimonies of Anna Comnena and Andrea Dandolo, therefore, have limited
value for establishing the date of Alexius I’s chrysobull. Anna Comnena records
only that it was issued after the war with the Normans, while Andrea Dandolo, we
must conclude, does not mention it at all. We can then turn to the second category
of evidence: archival documents. As we have seen, modern scholarly opinion has
strongly endorsed Borsari’s confirmation of the traditional date, May 1082, largely
because of his use of contemporary documentary evidence. It is undeniable that Doge
Domenico Silvio had adopted the protosebastos title by 1083. Since the title was
granted in the chrysobull, Borsari argued, the charter must have been issued in May
1082, just as Tafel and Thomas long ago concluded.
It is certainly true that Silvio’s use of the imperial title in 1083 is consistent with
a 1082 date for the chrysobull, yet it by no means proves it. It was hardly unusual
for emperors to hand out imperial titles without issuing comprehensive chrysobulls.
Silvio himself had previously borne the title protoproedros, although no surviving
chrysobull records it.81 Silvio’s predecessors had also received Byzantine titles of
one sort or another during their reigns.82 Could the protosebastos title have been
similarly conferred? According to Anna Comnena, in 1081 Alexius I convinced the
Venetians to fight at Durazzo by promising some things and granting others right

Erasmo, 6, no. 1; July 1090: (‘Venetiae et Dalmatiae dux et imperialis protonsevastos’), S. Giorgio
Maggiore, 169, no. 69.
Venetiarum historia, 82; Vittorio Lazzarini, ‘I titoli dei dogi di Venezia’, Nuovo archivio veneto n.s.
5 (1903), 286.
‘duci Venetiae atque Dalmatiae siue Chroaciae et imperiali prothoseuastori’ Ibid., 287.
See Doge Enrico Dandolo’s detailed negotiating instructions for his envoys to the Byzantine emperor
in 1197. Gli atti originali della cancelleria veneziana, ed. Marco Pozza, 2 vols. (Venice, 1994–96), vol.
1, 117–18, no. 32; Kretschmayr, Geschichte von Venedig, vol. 1, 473. The Venetiarum historia, 80 does
provide a date for the embassy: 1084. Yet the Venetiarum historia has no other source for the embassy
except Andrea Dandolo. The author is simply providing a date based on the location of the embassy in
Dandolo’s narrative.
Dandolo, Chronica per extensum descripta, 215; Venetiarum historia, 78; Lazzarini, ‘I titoli dei
dogi’, 282–83.
Lazzarini, ‘I titoli de dogi’, 281–82.
T.F. Madden / Journal of Medieval History 28 (2002) 23–41 37

away.83 Anna also states that after the Venetians defeated the Norman fleet at Dur-
azzo in 1082 the emperor gave the doge countless good things and plenty of money.84
At either of these instances Alexius could have bestowed the title of protosebastos
on the doge. Although Anna does not say what gifts Alexius gave on these two
occasions, he would surely favour those that cost little but assured loyalty — like
a relatively meaningless, yet highly vaunted imperial title.85 Although, for reasons
stated above, we cannot rely too heavily on Andrea Dandolo’s testimony in the
Chronica brevis, he does state that during Silvio’s reign, ‘the dignity of protosebastos
was conferred by chrysobull’.86 Both chroniclers’ testimonies are therefore consistent
with a conferral of the title, but not the chrysobull of privileges, in 1082. Domenico
Silvio was a man to be moved by such puffery. He counted himself a member of
the Byzantine aristocracy by virtue of his marriage to Princess Theodora. He had
lost his protoproedros title after the deposition of his in-laws, so he was probably
eager to replace it.87
The other contemporary document that has been used to date the chrysobull is
the ducal donation of properties in Constantinople to the monastery of S. Giorgio
Maggiore. In this charter, dated July 1090, the doge makes plain that he is giving
over properties that he received from Alexius I. The same properties appear in the
chrysobull of privileges. Since land and buildings are significantly more tangible
than imperial titles, this suggests that Alexius’s chrysobull was issued before July
1090. That is the conclusion of Borsari and all subsequent historians who have looked
at the question. Yet there remains a problem. In the document, Doge Falier states
that the donated properties are ‘those which we received from Emperor Alexius
through charters of chrysobull and praktikon’.88 A praktikon was a document drawn
up by a Byzantine official that described the precise boundaries of a property along
with its households, taxes, and exemptions, if any.89 Given the imprecise wording
of the ducal donation, it is possible that the doge was referring to one chrysobull
charter and multiple praktika corresponding to the various properties. In that case,
the single chrysobull would be the charter of Alexius I. Such a reading would be
consistent with Tafel and Thomas’s early date for the chrysobull. Yet it is also poss-
ible that the doge was referring to multiple charters of chrysobull and multiple prak-
tika. If so, then at least some of the properties that appear in the chrysobull of Alexius
I would have been conferred by earlier chrysobulls in a piecemeal fashion over time.

Anna Comnena, Alexiade, vol. 1, 146, (IV, 2).
Ibid., vol. 1, 148, (IV, 2).
The title was a recent invention of Alexius I.L. Bréhier, Les institutions de l’empire byzantin (Paris,
1949), 138–40; Nicol, Byzantium and Venice, 60, no. 2.
Dandolo, Chronica brevis, 363. This is the passage that Borsari believes refers to Alexius I’s chrysob-
ull of privileges. Yet that is not what it says.
There are no documents in which Silvio refers to himself as protoproedros after September 1079.
Lazzarini, ‘I titoli dei dogi’, 283.
‘quas nos de imperatore Alexio invenimus per grossovoli et pratico cartulas…’ S. Giorgio Maggiore,
169, no. 69. Note that the doge uses the word ‘cartulas’, denoting multiple documents, some with the
imperial gold seal and others without.
Mark C. Bartusis, s.v. ‘Praktikon’ in: The Oxford dictionary of Byzantium (Oxford, 1991).
38 T.F. Madden / Journal of Medieval History 28 (2002) 23–41

In that case, the surviving single chrysobull would be merely a summary of previous
donations, as Tuilier argued, and could therefore have been issued much later. Such
a reading of the ducal donation would be consistent with the date on the document
in the chrysobull of Isaac II. Which reading is correct? It is impossible to say with
certainty. What we can say, however, is that the donation of 1090 no more proves
that the chrysobull of Alexius I was issued before 1090 than it proves that it was
issued after. Taken with other evidence it could reasonably be read to support the
date proposed by Tafel and Thomas, or the date appearing in the document itself,
or, for that matter, any date. The testimony of the 1090 document is thoroughly
The final set of evidence is textual and paleographic. It is clear from the outset
that both copies of the chrysobull have an erroneous date. May 6200 (AD 692),
which appears in the copy of 1147, is obviously too early. May 6600 (AD 1092),
which appears in the copy of 1187, is within the right time frame, yet the date falls
in the fifteenth indiction, rather than the fifth as the copy states. Because of the
dissimilar wording of the two copies, it is also clear that both are derived from
independent translations of the original Greek chrysobull. The two copies, folded
into copies of later chrysobulls, are preserved in two Venetian registers of documents.
The copy of 1147 was probably made in the late twelfth century while the copy of
1187 dates to the thirteenth century.90 In both cases, the Venetian scribe copied a
Latin translation of the chrysobull made in the imperial chancery in Constantinople.
Therefore, in the case of the chrysobull of 1147, the imperial chancery drafted the
original, which included a copy of the chrysobull of 1126, which in turn included
a copy of the chrysobull of Alexius I. Then a translation of the whole document
was made and sent to Venice where it was later transcribed. In other words, what
we have with the copy of 1147 is a copy of a translation of a copy twice removed.
For the copy of 1187 the Venetian transcription is even further removed from the
original chrysobull of Alexius I. Obviously, the opportunities for scribal mistakes
are numerous.
The most plausible source for a transcription error would be in the Venetian chan-
cery. Since Byzantine scribes would naturally be familiar with Byzantine years, it
follows that they were much less likely to make errors when transcribing them.
Venetians, on the other hand, were unaccustomed to this dating.91 The first copy is
contained in a confirmation of Venetian privileges issued by Manuel I Comnenus in
October 1147.92 The document begins with the words of the emperor and then pro-
ceeds to quote the previous confirmation of privileges issued by John II Comnenus
in August 1126 (which does not survive). In its turn the chrysobull of John II gives
the text of the original chrysobull of Alexius I. The Venetian copyist saw the year
6200 for the date of Alexius’s grant. Ravegnani and Pozza are almost certainly cor-
rect that the original translation used Roman numerals that were then spelled out in

Pozza and Ravegnani, I trattati con Bisanzio, 60, 84.
My thanks to David Jacoby for pointing this out to me.
TTh., vol 1, 113–24, no. 51. Only Tafel and Thomas give the full text of the confirmation chrysobull.
T.F. Madden / Journal of Medieval History 28 (2002) 23–41 39

the Venetian register.93 After the six thousand notation, then, the Venetian copyist
saw ‘CC.’ Earlier in the same document, the scribe gave the date for John II’s con-
firmation of Venetian privileges as August 6234 (AD 726), which is clearly mistaken.
The undisputed date for that document is August 6634 (AD 1126).94 In this case,
the scribe erred by seeing ‘CC’ when, in fact, the document read ‘DC.’ He, therefore,
had demonstrable trouble differentiating ‘CC’ from ‘DC’ in the original document.95
The second copy, issued in February 1187 and copied in Venice in the late twelfth
century, begins with the words of Isaac II Angelus confirming the Venetian privileges
granted by his predecessors.96 It then gives the text of Manuel I’s confirmation dis-
cussed above. As in the original, this document quotes the confirmation of John II
and the original chrysobull of Alexius I. In this case, however, the Venetian scribe
saw in the confirmation of John II the date August 6604 (AD 1096), when it should
have read 6634 (AD 1126).97 Clearly, the copyist dropped a portion of the date,
either ‘XXX’ or ‘trigesimi’, which is not, however, related to the current question.
What is important is that, unlike the earlier Venetian scribe, this one correctly read
‘DC’ in the original date. When he transcribed the date for Alexius I’s chrysobull,
he saw the year 6600 (AD 1092), thus seeing ‘DC,’ where the earlier scribe has
misread ‘CC’.
What date, then, was on the original translations? Obviously, the Roman numeral
portion looked very similar to ‘CC’ and ‘DC’. That portion of the oft-proposed date
of 1084 would be expressed as ‘DXCII’ (AD 6592), which is plainly out of bounds.
‘DXCII’ does not at all resemble ‘CC’ or ‘DC’.
If we consider, then, the two remaining possible dates (1082 and 1092), which
errors seem most plausible? If the chrysobull of Alexius I was dated 6600 (AD
1092), then the earlier Venetian scribe mistook the ‘DC’ in the Roman numeral
portion of the date for ‘CC’. We know that he was prone to this error because he
also made it in his transcription of the date of the chrysobull of John II. The later
copyist, who recorded the chrysobull of Isaac II, would therefore have correctly read
the date of Alexius’s chrysobull, just as he correctly saw the ‘DC’ in the chrysobull
of John II. In other words, if the date of Alexius’s chrysobull was 1092, the error
in transcribing the year is explained very simply by one scribe’s demonstrated
inability to differentiate ‘DC’ from ‘CC’ in this particular document. The discordant
note in this elegant solution, however, is the fact that both Venetian scribes put the
chrysobull of Alexius in the fifteenth indiction, while May 1092 fell in the fifth
indiction. It is difficult to believe that both scribes, working with different manu-
scripts, would make an identical error like this, particularly when it came to a dating
convention used in Venice. Indeed, although errors in the Byzantine years are com-
mon for both scribes in these documents, their indiction years are always correct.
If, on the other hand, the chrysobull bore the date 1082, a reasonably elegant

I Trattati con Bisanzio, p. 36.
TTh., I: 123.
This may have been caused by the Byzantine scribe separating the ‘D’ into its two component parts.
TTh., I: 179–89, no. 70. Only Tafel and Thomas give the full text of the confirmation chrysobull.
I Trattati con Bisanzio, pp. 55–56.
40 T.F. Madden / Journal of Medieval History 28 (2002) 23–41

solution is still possible. The Roman numeral portion of 6590 would be ‘DXC’. If
the intermediate ‘X’ was compressed, or the curve of the ‘D’ and ‘C’ embedded in
its sides as a matter of course in the imperial chancery, then it could easily have
been missed by the Venetian scribes.98 In that case, the same dynamics referred to
above would apply. The twelfth-century scribe would have read ‘DC’ as ‘CC’ and
the thirteenth-century scribe would have seen ‘DC.’ Both, of course, missed the ‘X’.
Their transcription of the indiction year would, therefore, be correct. This explanation
seems to be the most plausible, since it requires only two small and consistent errors
in the transcription of the unfamiliar Byzantine years. It also accounts for the fact
that Venetian scribes were consistently correct when copying indiction years.
Let us now bring together these three sets of evidence. Our only chronicler source,
Anna Comnena, puts the fulfilment of Alexius’s promises to the Venetians after the
war with the Normans. The archival evidence from Venice is ambiguous; consistent
with almost any date for the document. Finally, the textual evidence suggests strongly
that May 1082 is, in fact, the correct date. Since it is difficult to see a textual argu-
ment for placing the chrysobull in 1084 or 1092, the only date consistent with all
three sets of evidence is May 1082. Tafel and Thomas, it appears, were right after all.
It is one thing, of course, to issue a chrysobull and quite another to make good
on it. As the ducal donation of July 1090 implies, Venice’s newly granted privileges
had to wait until after the war with the Normans was concluded for fulfilment. Anna
Comnena implies this when she records that her father promised some things to the
Venetians and granted others immediately. The chrysobull and the privileges it con-
tains should not be confused. The former was a promise, the latter the actual reward.
Most of Venice’s reward probably did come after the war ended in 1085, as Anna
attests. Yet the chrysobull itself was almost certainly granted in May 1082. It would,
in any case, have been useless for the Venetians to demand payment immediately
after the siege of Durazzo. If the Byzantine Empire lost the war then so too would
it lose most or all of the ports in which Venetians looked forward to duty-free trading.
A victorious Robert Guiscard, for his part, would not look kindly on Venetian mer-
chants doing business in Norman-controlled Greek ports. Yet, in the end, it was not
merely generous privileges that stirred Venetian souls. Men do not suffer torture and
mutilation, as did the Venetian captives at Corfu, for reduced taxation. They do not
defy their torturers with proclamations of loyalty to their allies for plots of choice
real estate in faraway cities. Instead, they do these things for love and honour, attri-
butes that historians too often deny that Venetians possessed in any quantity.99 Ven-
ice had remained loyal to Constantinople for centuries. There is no reason to believe
that she failed to do so in the long war with the Normans.

First suggested by Pozza and Ravegnani, I trattati con Bisanzio, 36.
See Donald E. Queller, review of Donald M. Nicol, Byzantium and Venice, in Speculum, 66 (1991),
T.F. Madden / Journal of Medieval History 28 (2002) 23–41 41


I am indebted to David Jacoby of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who read an

earlier draft of this study and made many useful comments and corrections. Although
we may not agree on every point, I have profited greatly from his insights. Responsi-
bility for any remaining errors is mine alone.
Thomas F. Madden is the author of A concise history of the crusades (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield,
1999); co-author of The Fourth Crusade. The Conquest of Constantinople, second ed. (Philadelphia: University
of Pennsylvania Press, 1997); and co-editor of Medieval and Renaissance Venice (Urbana: University of Illinois
Press, 1999); as well as numerous other studies on Venetian, Byzantine and crusade history.