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The Alexiad (original Greek title: Ἀλεξιάς) is a medieval biographical text written around the year 1148 by the Byzantine historian Anna Comnena, daughter of Emperor Alexius I.

Within the Alexiad, she describes the political and military history of the Byzantine Empire during the reign of her father (1081-1118), making it one of the most important sources of information on the Byzantium of the High Middle Ages. As well as this, within the Alexiad, the First Crusade's interaction with the Byzantine Empire is documented (despite being written nearly fifty years after the crusade), which highlights the conflicting perceptions of the East and West in the early 12th century.

The text was written in a form of artificial Attic Greek, and it is one of only a few examples of a woman writing about the political and military history of her own country, and it is also a valuable source as to ascertain the Byzantine perception of the Crusaders. She has sometimes been considered the first major female historian.

Content

Due to the relationship between Anna and Alexius Ι, strong biasing problems exist, despite Anna's frequent attempts to convince for her objectiveness. Nevertheless, she manages to leave disguised traces of criticism of her father's faults whom she so deeply admires. She cannot hide her aversion for the Latins (Normans and "Franks") whom she considers barbarians, the "barbarians" in general and the Armenians. She also fails to hide the deep hatred against her brother John II Komnenos. However, all this does not prevent her from expressing admiration for the virtues, abilities or even charm of several enemies of the Empire (including lethal ones like Robert Guiscard and his son Bohemund). From a modern reader's point of view, the description of military events and the Empire's misfortunes may seem exaggerated and stereotypic (partially due to Homeric influences). There are also many confusions of names and ranks of foreigners (particularly of Seljuk Turks) and a few geographical and dating errors.

The elaborate, if archaic, language she used and the impressive abundance of references to Homer's Iliad (in addition to those to Sophocles, Euripides and Demosthenes) clearly show the high level of classical education of the author. In spite of this, the work does contain vivid fast-pacing narration and digressions are relatively limited in length. Her use of military terms and the astonishing number of details in the description of the turbulent reign of Alexius suggests that, despite Anna's interment in a monastery, she had access to official archives and maybe interviewed eye-witnesses. They also suggest a very broad education. Her interest in military tactics and positive sciences and the level of self-confidence in her writing abilities are amazing for a woman of that period (or even later). Successful character profiling is another positive side of her work as well as the sense of originality emanating from the dramatic lamentations about her ill fate.

Structure of the work

The work is divided into the prologue and 15 books (book summaries below are, of course, modern interpretations).
  • Prologue The difficulties of writing history, reasons to write this work, mourning for her husband
  • Book 1 : Alexius becomes general and Domestikos ton Scholon (Alexius youth — Urselius' revolt - Nicephorus Bryennios revolt — Normans prepare invasion)
  • Book 2 : The Komnenian revolt (Envy against the family — Causes of uprising — The escape — Rebels proclaim Alexius as emperor - Melissenos revolts — Komnenians seize Constantinoplemarker - Emperor Nikephoros III Votaneiates abdicates)
  • Book 3 : Alexius as Emperor (1081) and the internal problems with Doukas family (Maria of Alania and her son Constantine - Dismissal of her rumoured relationship with Alexius — About Alexius and his wife Irene - Alexius invents new ranks — Alexius publicly regrets for his soldiers crimes - Anna Dalassena (Alexius mother) is given imperial authority — About Anna Dalassena — Alexius' military preparations and alliances — Turks spread in Asia Minormarker - Normans cross Adriatic Seamarker).
  • Book 4 : War against Normans (1081-1082) (Robert Guiscard besieges Dyrrhachiummarker - Venetian allies defeat Normans — Alexius arrives with his army — Normans win the Battle of Dyrrhachiummarker, Alexius hardly escapes)
  • Book 5 : War against Normans (1082-1083) and first clash with the heretics (Financial collapse — Seizure of church property — Bohemund against Alexius — Alexius finally wins with a strategem — Prosecution of John Italus)
  • Book 6 : End of war against Normans (1085), death of Robert Guiscard, the Turks (Alexius recaptures Kastoriamarker - Persecution of Manicheans (Paulicians)- Alexius in front of the Church Court — Conspiracy and revolt — The alliance with Venicemarker - Death of Guiscard — Persecution of wizards and astrologers — Births of porphyrogenitoi - Alexius against the Turks - The Scythian threat (Pechenegs))
  • Book 7 : War against Scythians (1087-1090) (Beginning of hostilities - Crushing defeat of the imperial army - Cumans defeat Scythians, truce - Scythians violate truce - Activity of Turkish pirate Tzachas in western Anatolia - Expedition against Scythians)
  • Book 8 : End of Scythian war (1091), plots against the Emperor (Hostilities continuing - Crushing of Scythians at Levunium - Final success — Conspiracies and revolts)
  • Book 9 : Operations against Tzachas and Dalmatians (1092-1094), conspiracy of Nicephorus Diogenes (1094) (Operations against Tzachas — Operation in Crete and Cyprus — Elimination of Tzachas — Conspiracy of Nicephorus Diogenes — Capitulation of Dalmatians — Complementary to Diogenes)
  • Book 10 : One more heresy, war against Cumans, Beginning of 1st Crusade (1094-1097) (Neilos and Vlahernites — War against Cumans - Operations against Turks - Arrival of the first Crusaders - Crushing of Crusaders under Koukoupetros (Peter the Hermit) - Hugh of France - Sea surveillance by the Romans - Godfrey of Bouillon - Count Raul - Crusade leaders make homage to the Emperor - Bohemund)
  • Book 11 : 1st Crusade (1097-1104) (Crusaders besiege Nicaeamarker - Liberation of Nicaea - Crusaders' successful operations - siege of Antioch - Successful Roman operations in Asia Minor - Capture of Antioch and Jerusalemmarker - Operations in Asia - Massacre of Normans (Lombards) Crusaders by the Turks - Bohemund refuses to return Antioch to the Empire - Operations in Cilicia - Pisan fleet invades islands - Naval war with Genoans -Operations against Bohemund - Bohemund pretends to be dead)
  • Book 12 : Domestic conflicts, Norman preparations for the 2nd invasion (1105-1107) (Bohemond prepares landing to Illyrian coast - Operations of Tancred in Cilicia against the Empire - Queen Irene - Alexius organizes defense in the west - Conspiracy of Anemades — Georgios Taronites revolts in Trapezous — Isaacius Kontostefanos fails to guard the coast against Norman fleet — Beginning of Norman invasion)
  • Book 13 : Aaron's conspiracy, second Norman invasion (1107-1108) (Aaron's conspiracy — Siege of Dyrrhachium — Alexius tricks — Operations in mainland — Naval operations - Bohemund asks for peace — Peace negotiations - Bohemund's profile - Negotiations between Alexius and Bohemund - The Treaty of Devol)
  • Book 14 : Turks, Franks, Cumans and Manicheans (1108-1115) (Roman successes against the Turks - Problems with the Franks - Naval and land operations - Emperor's health problems - Operations against the Turks - Anna speaks for her methods in writing history - Prevention of a Cuman raid - Alexius fights manichaeism by persuasion or persecution)
  • Book 15 : Last expeditions, the Bogomils, death of Alexius (1116-1118) (War against the Turks and the new battle tactics - Victorious battle - Peace with the Turks - Sultan is murdered by his brother - Alexius builds the Orphanage - Suppression of Bogomils, burning of their leader Basil - last Illness and death of Alexius)


Complete manuscripts and summaries

Codex Coislinianus 311, in Fonds Coislin (Paris)

Codex Florentinus 70,2

Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1438

Codex Barberinianus 235 & 236

Codex Ottobonianus Graecus 131 & 137

Codex Apographum Gronovii

Codex Vaticanus Graecus 981 (prologue and summary)

Codex Monacensis Graecus 355 (prologue and summary)

Codex Parisinus Graecus 400 (prologue and summary)

Published editions



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