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The Alexiad (original Greek title: Ἀλεξιάς) is a medieval historical and biographical text written around the year 1148 by the Byzantine historian and princess Anna Komnene, daughter of Emperor Alexius I.
In the Alexiad, she describes the political and military history of the Byzantine Empire during the reign of her father (1081-1118), making it a source of information on the Byzantium of the High Middle Ages. The Alexiad documents the Byzantine Empire's interaction with the First Crusade (despite being written nearly fifty years after the crusade), and the text 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 is one of only a few examples of a woman writing about the political and military history of her own country during the Middle Ages, and shows the Byzantine perception of the Crusades.
The Alexiad is a historical account of the reign of Alexius I Comnenus, written by his daughter, Anna Comnena, and divided into fifteen books. The work's scope is limited to the duration of Alexius' reign, which it is thus able to depict in full detail. Anna documents one of the most dramatic periods in the High Middle Ages, especially in regards to political relations between the Byzantine Empire and western European powers. The Alexiad remains one of the few primary sources recording Byzantine reactions to both the Great Schism of 1054 and the First Crusade, as well as documenting first-hand the decline of Byzantine cultural influence in both eastern and western Europe.
According to Peter Frankopan, the content of the Alexiad falls into five main categories:
- Attacks against the Byzantine empire by the Normans under their leader Robert Guiscard (Books 1–6),
- Byzantine relations with the Turks (Books 6–7, 9–10, and 14–15),
- Pecheneg incursions on the northern Byzantine frontier (Books 7–8),
- the First Crusade, and Byzantine reactions to it (Books 10–11), and finally
- attacks on Byzantine frontiers by Guiscard's son, Bohemond I of Antioch (Books 11–13).
Although Anna explicitly states her intention to record true events, important issues of bias do exist. Throughout the Alexiad, emphasis on Alexius as a "specifically Christian emperor," morally as well as politically laudable, is pervasive. Frankopan frequently compares Alexius' treatment in the text to the techniques of the hagiographical tradition, while contrasting it with the generally negative portrait or outright absence of his successors John II and Manuel I. She cannot hide her aversion to the Latins (Normans and "Franks"), whom she considers barbarians. This distaste extends to the Turks as well as the Armenians. The Alexiad also criticizes John II Komnenos for his successful accession to the throne (in place of Anna herself) following Alexius' death, although this reading has been challenged as historically misogynistic. However, Anna's intellectual and literary background must be taken into account: as the recipient of semi-humanistic elite education, Anna makes frequent use of literary allusions and rhetorical figures to present her work in a way accessible and relatable to her intellectual audience. From a modern reader's point of view, the inconsistencies in the descriptions of military events and the Empire's misfortunes – partially due to these literary and especially Homeric influences – may seem exaggerated and stereotypical. Despite these issues, George Ostrogorsky nevertheless emphasizes the Alexiad's importance as a primary document.
Structure of the work 
The work is divided into the prologue and 15 books.
- The difficulties of writing history — Reasons to write this work — Mourning for her husband
- Book 1: Alexius becomes general and Domestikos ton Scholon
- The youth of Alexius — Urselius' revolt — The revolt of Nicephorus Bryennios — The Normans prepare their invasion
- Book 2: The Komnenian revolt
- Envy against the family — The causes of their uprising — The escape — Rebels proclaim Alexius as emperor — The revolts of Melissenos — The Komnenians seize Constantinople — 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 — His mother Anna Dalassena is given imperial authority — About Anna Dalassena — Alexius' military preparations and alliances — The Turks spread in Asia Minor — The Normans cross the Adriatic Sea
- Book 4: War against the Normans (1081–1082)
- Robert Guiscard besieges Dyrrhachium — Venetian allies defeat the Normans — Alexius arrives with his army — The Normans win the Battle of Dyrrhachium, Alexius barely escapes
- Book 5: War against the Normans continued (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 the Normans (1085) — Death of Robert Guiscard — The Turks
- Alexius recaptures Kastoria — Persecution of Manicheans (Paulicians) — Alexius in front of the Church Court — Conspiracy and revolt — The alliance with Venice — Death of Guiscard — Persecution of wizards and astrologers — Births of porphyrogenitoi — Alexius against the Turks — The Scythian threat (Pechenegs)
- Book 7: War against the Scythians (1087–1090)
- Beginning of hostilities — Crushing defeat of the imperial army — The Cumans defeat the Scythians, achieve a truce — The Scythians violate the truce — Activity of the Turkish pirate Tzachas in western Anatolia — Expedition against the Scythians
- Book 8: End of Scythian war (1091) — Plots against the Emperor
- Hostilities continuing — Crushing of the Scythians at the Levunium — Final success — Conspiracies and revolts
- Book 9: Operations against Tzachas and the Dalmatians (1092–1094) — Conspiracy of Nicephorus Diogenes (1094)
- Operations against Tzachas — Operations in Crete and Cyprus — Elimination of Tzachas — Conspiracy of Nicephorus Diogenes — Capitulation of the Dalmatians — Complementary to Diogenes
- Book 10: One more heresy — War against the Cumans — Beginning of the First Crusade (1094–1097)
- Neilos and Vlachernites — War against the Cumans — Operations against the Turks — Arrival of the first Crusaders — Crushing of Crusaders under Koukoupetros — Hugh of France — Sea surveillance by the Romans — Godfrey of Bouillon — Count Raul — Crusade leaders make homage to the Emperor — Bohemund
- Book 11: The First Crusade continued (1097–1104)
- The Crusaders besiege Nicaea — Liberation of Nicaea — The Crusaders' successful operations — Siege of Antioch — Successful Roman operations in Asia Minor — Capture of Antioch and Jerusalem — Operations in Asia — Massacre of Norman Crusaders (Lombards) 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 — The Normans prepare for their second invasion (1105–1107)
- Bohemond prepares landing on the Illyrian coast — Operations of Tancred in Cilicia against the Empire — Queen Irene — Alexius organizes the defence in the west — Conspiracy of Anemades — Georgios Taronites revolts in Trapezous — Isaac Kontostephanos fails to guard the coast against Norman fleet — Beginning of Norman invasion
- Book 13: Aaron's conspiracy — The 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 — The Sultan is murdered by his brother — Alexius builds the Orphanage — Suppression of the Bogomils, burning of their leader Basil — Last illness and death of Alexius
General Themes 
The main theme of the Alexiad is the First Crusade and religious conflict. Anna chronicles the different groups of people involved in the crusades, and refers to them as "Celts", "Latins", and "Normans". Anna also talks about her father, Alexios Komnenos in great detail, and his conquests throughout his rule from 1081-1118. She does this by presenting a "Byzantine view" of the Crusades. Some historians have noticed some of the Greek mythology influences in her work. As stated by Lenora Neville, "the characterization of Alexios as wily sea captain steering the empire through constant storms with guile and courage strongly recalls Odysseus." 
Writing Style 
The Alexiad was originally written in Greek in around 1148. It was first edited by Possinus in 1651. In 1928 the text was translated to English in what is regarded as the closest version to the original text.
Anna Komnene explicitly describes herself in the text and openly acknowledges her feelings and opinions for some events, which goes against the typical formatting of historiography. She differed widely from Greek prose historians, and because of this the book was initially well received, but was subjected to criticism later on. The Alexiad interests many historians because of the fact that she was written in such a different format. Anna Komnene is the only female Greek historiographer of her era, and historians are keen to believe that her style of writing owes much to her being a woman. Despite of the inclusion of herself in the historiography and of the other qualities that make her style vastly different from the typical historiography of the era, Anna Komnene's Alexiad has been approached as a “straightforward” history.
Anna Komnene’s writings are a major source for information on her father, Alexius I, of the Byzantine Empire. She was around the age of 55 when she began work on the Alexiad. While she was alive, she held the crusaders that came to her fathers aid in contempt for their actions against Byzantine after they looted the city. She regarded the crusaders, who she refferres to as Celts, Latins and Normans, to be barbarian and uneducated. Despite this, Anna claims that she portrayed them in a neutral light. Some historians believe her work to be bias because of her feelings towards the Crusaders, and how highly she regards her father.
Gender and Authorship 
Questions of Authorship 
There has been much debate as to whether the Alexiad was in fact written by Anna Komnene herself. For one scholar, the text gives very few comments that would suggest the author's gender or any other aspect of their background aside from a few explicit mentions. This has led some scholars to argue that the Alexiad was not written by a woman at all, but by some other male author. This belief, put forward by Howard-Johnston, focuses mainly on the military sections of the Alexiad, and suggests that Anna was merely working from her husbands field notes, thus Howard-Johnston renames it "Nicephoros's Alexiad."
Largely, however, is agreed that Anna Komnene was the author. Explicit mentions in the text of her engagement, her role as a wife, and the rolling commentary on her female modesty that influences her writing make Anna's authorship of the Alexiad "unmistakable." She certainly could have written about military affairs, since she was able to accompany her father, the king, on military campaign. Many scholars see the great detail of her father's home life and military style, combined with her own personal experiences and mentions of femininity, providing a strong case for her authorship of the Alexiad.
Representations of Gender 
In her Alexiad, Anna portrays gender and gender stereotypes in a unique way. Like her male counterparts, she characterizes women along the typical stereotypes, such as being "liable to tears and as cowardly in the face of danger." Yet, despite this, women in the Alexiad never cry, with the exception of Alexios' funeral, during which grief is the appropriate cultural response. Likewise, none of the female characters act in a cowardly way. She points to her own gender in a similar way when mentioning her own tears while writing certain events. Immediately, however, she informs the reader that she will stop crying in order to properly return to her duty of history, an episode which she repeats twice in the narrative. By so doing, she shows a desire to control aspects that are, for her culture, feminine. Overall, however, Anna concerns herself primarily with intellect, which she attributes to both men and women, and allows for women to actively break out of societal gender roles in the Alexiad. Her personal attitudes, along with the lack of comparable sources from female authors in that era, make the Alexiad a poor source to use when gauging how average women in Byzantium felt about the First Crusade.
Gender and Style 
Anna Komnene's somewhat unique historical style has been attributed to her gender. Her style is noteworthy in that it includes both a history of her father's actions during the First Crusade, but also narrative reactions to some of these events. Her opinions and commentary on particular events in an otherwise historical text has been assigned to her gender both positively and negatively. This interpretation of her histories is known as a "gendered history," meaning it is both the history of Alexos and of Anna Komnene herself through her particular style, which is not seen in male authors. While the Roman historian Edward Gibbon saw this "gendered" narrative to betray "in every page the vanity of a female author," and others agreed with him, other scholars claim that this style might be indicative of Anna's mentor Michael Psellos. Some take this even further to suggest that Anna used Psellos' Chronographia as a model for her personal narration in her history and took his style even further, suggesting it was not her gender but her influences that led to her writing style.
Anna is unique for her time in the intensity by which she integrates her own narrative and emotion. Yet in the entire narrative she does not give one mention of her physical beauty or the fact that she had four children. For some, this odd combination of style and lack of personal, gendered information is reconciled by her lack of 21st century feminist ideals, without which she was not interested in questioning her societal place in her own narrative, even though her depictions of women do not fit in with male authors of the time. Instead, her style can be understood from her belief system that intelligence and nobility cancel out gender in terms of importance, and so Anna does not view her history as overstepping any necessary gender roles.
Complete manuscripts and summaries 
Below is the list of manuscripts containing some or all of the Alexiad.
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 
- Penguin Classics paperback ISBN 0-14-044958-2
- Collection Budé (1937–45, 1967): Anne Comnene, Alexiade (Règne de l'Empereur Alexis I Comnène)
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- Peter Frankopan, Introduction to the Alexiad, Trans. E. R. A. Sewter. Rev. ed. (London: Penguin Books, 2009), ix.
- Frankopan, Introduction to the Alexiad, x-xi.
- Frankopan, Introduction to the Alexiad, xv.
- Frankopan, Introduction to the Alexiad, xxi-xxii.
- Susan C. Jaratt, and Ellen Quandahl, ""To Recall Him ... Will be a Subject of Lamentation": Anna Comnena as Rhetorical Historiographer."," Rhetorica, Summer 2008, no. 26 (3): 305-310.
- Jaratt et al., 318-329.
- George Ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State, Rev. ed. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1969), 351.
- Brians, Paul. "Anna Comnena: The Alexiad".
- Neville, Leonora. "Lamentation, History, and Female Authorship in Anna Komnene's Alexiad, 192.".
- Neville, 192.
- Halsall, Paul. "Medieval Sourcebook: Anna Comnena: The Alexiad".
- Neville, 194.
- Neville, 193.
- Barrett, Tracy. "Anna Comnena".
- Brian, Paul. "Anna Comnena: The Alexiad".
- Peter Frankopan, "Perception and Projections of Prejudice: Anna Comnena, the Alexiad and the First Crusade," in Gendering the Crusades, ed. Susan B. Edgington and Sarah Lambert (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), 68.
- Frankopan, 69. For examples, see Howard-Johnston, 'Anna Komnene', 260-302.
- J. Howard-Johnston, "Anna Komnene and the Alexiad," in Alexios I Komnenos. Papers of the Second Belfast Byzantine International Colloquium, 14–16 April 1989 (Belfast, 1996), 289, 302.
- Diether R. Reinsch, "Women's Literature in Byzantium? – The Case of Anna Komnene," trans. Thomas Dunlap in Anna Komnene and Her Times, ed. Thalia Gouma-Peterson (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 2000), 96.
- Reinsch, 98.
- Barbara Hill, "A Vindication of the Rights of Women to Power by Anna Komnene," in Band 23 of Byzantinische Forschungen (Amsterdam: Verlag Adolf M. Hakkert, 1996), 45.
- Hill, 45-6.
- Hill, 46.
- Komnene Alexiad 4.8.1 and Prol. 4.2.
- Leonora Neville, "Lamentation, History, and Female Authorship in Anna Komnene's Alexiad," Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 53 (2013): 213.
- Carolyn L. Connor, Women of Byzantium, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 257.
- Frankopan, 68.
- Frankopan, 69.
- Gouma-Peterson, 32.
- Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (London, 1776-88, repr. 3 vols, London, 1994), 3: 69.
- R. Brown, The Normans, (London, 1984), 90 ; Shlosser, The Alexiad of Anna Comnena, 397-8.
- Connor, 253.
- Frankopan, 69-70.
- Reinsch, 95.
- Rinsch, 97.
- Hill, 51.
- Connor, 257.