Post-classical history

Anna Komnene (1083-1153/1154)

The eldest child of the Byzantine emperor Alexios I Kom- nenos and Irene Doukaina, Anna Komnene wrote the Alex- iad, an epic history in Greek of her father’s life and times, probably after the year 1138.

The Alexiad, an important source for the First Crusade (1096-1099), was composed with a large degree of hindsight; Anna was concerned to preserve her father’s reputation by praising his cautious treatment of the Franks at a time when her nephew, Emperor Manuel Komnenos, was following a much more pro-Western policy. Anna’s work contains vivid pen-portraits of crusading leaders, particularly Bohemund I of Antioch, but she reveals little information about the preaching of the crusade, even though Alex- ios’s appeals to the West for military help against the Turks were known in her day. She concluded that the crusaders’ real aim was not to liberate the Holy Sepulchre, but to conquer Byzantium.

Anna played an important part in the “family politics” of the Komnenian era. As a baby, she had been betrothed to a maternal relative, Constantine Doukas, but after his premature death, she was married around 1097 to Nikephoros Bryennios (d. 1136/1137), a military man who also wrote history. After her father’s death and with her mother’s support, Anna attempted to gain the throne for her husband, but she was thwarted by her brother John and subsequently forced to live in seclusion in the convent of the Theotokos Kecharitomene in Constantinople (mod. Istanbul, Turkey). She was extremely well-read and was the patroness of a circle of scholars that particularly concerned itself with the works of Aristotle.

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