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Byzantine in The Alexiad of Anna Comnena Essay

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Updated: Sep 5th, 2020


The “Alexiad” primary source is the biography of Anna Comnena’s late father, Emperor Alexius Comnenus. She documents the events following the arrival of the first crusaders. Despite based on the records following Emperor Alexius actions during his reign, this historical source openly displays Anna’s Byzantine perspective in writing. Anna portrays historical accuracy in her unbiased account of the father, and her information about her background contributes to the accounts of the Byzantium events, highlighting to the readers the Byzantine way of life. Anna took pride in her nobility as the Byzantine princess brought up and educated historically as an emperor’s daughter, as displayed in her family involvement’s accounts in the Alexius. Additionally, the account of events surrounding Anna’s childhood and family portray the picture of the people’s livelihood and Byzantium as a whole. This paper aims to analyze the primary source “The Alexiad” and give detailed reports on what unfolded prior to and after the arrival of the first crusaders.


This source gives highlights the Silence convergence and articulation through Anna’s devotion to the history of Byzantine. Anna describes John Italos as a failure in learning and knowledge acquisition, while Michael PSellos stood out with his prowess in Chaldean learning and knowledge acquisition. We realize then that Italos’ students frequented the palace often where he and the wife converged to read and analyze the Holy Scriptures. However, Anna’s mother never took an interest in the scriptures, evident when she seeks the truth of wisdom in Maximos and the philosophers Holy Father’s shady pronouncements. The Alexiad brings out religion in the culture of the Byzantine people that met split attention and interest, including the emperors’ wife.

On the contrary, Anna’s interest revolves around the nature and the mechanism of the universe as she decides to stay quiet and show her loyalty to her family by agreeing with their divided interest and views on the philosophical issues in Byzantine. Basing on the historical findings of the Middle Ages intellectuals, Anna emerged among the few educated women and an influential figure, steering a lot of changes and views on the intellectual field in her times. For example, findings evidently show Anna’s contribution towards the Aristotelian scholarship revival, where she independently devoted her efforts in ensuring that her people acquired the best chance for education. Further analysis of the Alexiad shows the remarkable lecture by Michael and the funeral oration of George Tornikes in the picture of the 11th and 12th-century intellectual life; that displayed the differential patterns of the tapestry that dominated in the Byzantium Empire.

In the second report of Anna’s perspective of Byzantium, we realize that her eventful account hits directly on the state, especially the Constantinople. Her Byzantine point of view does bring out the events that led to the arrival of the first crusader as she shares her father’s fears. The Emperor felt unsure of the influence of the crusaders ascertaining that they possessed an erratic character totally unknown to the Byzantium people. He feared that they would rub their greed on the people of Byzantine, not to mention the evidence of broken agreements that justified their actions in the past. (p. 308). In Anna’s view of the crusader’s character, she portrays them as a hard bunch to rule over and sets the contrast on how the people (westerners) would otherwise view the crusaders, as opposed to the way the easterners perceived them, as well. Hence, the value of Anna’s history increased directly relating to the perspective she had on her own home, Byzantium.

Therefore, this source, “Alexiad” benefits from the richness of Byzantines history in link to the coming of the crusaders and Anna’s background events. Additionally, the royal family members played a part in defining how people viewed the crusaders in Byzantine through their undivided interests and opinions about their character. For example, in the Alexiad the emperor clearly displayed his fear and anxiety of the crusaders arrival through forcing them to take the oath; that Godfrey had taken as he separately shared with them his expectation of how they should behave while in Byzantine. However, this aspect of his family faced a lot of criticism especially after Alexius I’s death when his only son, John portrayed greediness by rushing to take over the Great palace mimicking the crusaders characters and erratic behavior1. On a different account, John’s supporters reported John’s plight when he saw his father on his deathbed and broke down in tears. However, this did not deter his greedy intentions of stealing the signet ring from his dying father’s finger; just to secure his position as the heir and future Emperor of Byzantine.

According to Anna’s documentation of the same events during her father death, she also noticed the brokenness in her brother although throughout their lives as siblings she always resented John. She went further and acknowledged that John did not play any significant role in her burial arrangements and through her account of the fateful day events; we observe that she aims to distance John form the rest of the family completely. She stipulated how John failed her father even at his death by stealing the signet ring and openly displayed her bitter emotions towards her brother; highlighting the prevailing dispute atmosphere that engulfed the royal family of Byzantine.

The Book forms the third subject of the last report highlighting Anna’s character and pride through her account of her royal status and nobility in the Byzantium community. She carries on the pride and essence westernization through asserting that she was the first royal princess of Byzantine born of a noble heritage; and had underwent the best upbringing and education compared to the other kids her age. Reading further the Alexiad, the accounts of Anna’s life in Byzantine, report the relationship between Anna and her father through the endless praises that she showered on him. In depth, study of the source portrays the loyalty of the people towards Anna’s father based on his wisdom and courage in ruling.

Anna’s capacity to hide her feelings rated poorly as she openly discusses the events of her family and her feelings towards her brother in her writing diverging from the historical objectivity of the source “Alexiad.” However through pouring out her feelings in writing Anna opens the avenue for the reader to relate to the events that happened in Byzantine that mimics any normal community in the present world; family, community and conflict intertwined. Anna’s announces her presence throughout the book as she colors the narrative with her judgments, views and personal feelings towards other members of her family and the Byzantine community as a whole. She represented women who are brave, strong opinionated and intelligent in the society by pointing out Maria of Alania’s efforts to fight for her own safety and the right of her son by retaining her position in the palace until when Alexios established those privileges openly to the people.

She highlights the role of a woman in the society through documenting how her mother tirelessly cared for her sick father by his bedside until he died. Additionally we realize the contributions of other women to the history of Byzantine like Maria who pushed Georges support to fight for the privileges and protection of the unheard members of Byzantium. Anna reported passionately on the contribution of the barbarian women who sacrificed and dressed themselves with armour to head to battle on behalf of Byzantine. Further, in the text Anna builds the perspective that the readers should have on women relating their undying devotion to their communities and family like portrayed in Byzantine. Lastly, apart from condemning her brother’s actions, she supports the legal rights of the people as chrysobulls pointed out; she condemned the divided property inheritance by the male members of the community by insisting that the female child also needs her share to survive.


In conclusion, these reports argue out the historical significance that Anna’s background played in building the reader’s view of Byzantine, Anna’s undeterred devotion and silence to support her father’s rule and her emotional side as a woman. She does not rule out her belief that women can have a place in power but fights for their equality and respect in the society; through condemning her brother’s actions that disgraced her late father’s legacy. Through her display of the events that took place during the arrival of the crusaders until the death of her father; she proceeds to mould the Byzantines picture in the mind of Alexiad readers that prejudice and conflict also existed in Byzantine. Therefore in all essence without Anna or the Emperor, Alexis I, this source would be rendered invaluable in the Roman history.


Comnena, Anna. The Alexiad of Anna Comnena. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1969.


  1. Anna, Comnena. The Alexiad of Anna Comnena (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1969), 512.
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