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12th-century manuscript of Alexiad in Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence
Alexis I Comnenus and Hugues the Great...
... and the Crusaders Council.

The Alexiad (Greek: Ἀλεξιάς, romanizedAlexias) is a medieval historical and biographical text written around the year 1148, by the Byzantine historian and princess Anna Komnene, daughter of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos.

In the Alexiad, Anna describes the political and military history of the Byzantine Empire during the reign of her father, the Byzantine emperor, which makes it a reference on the Byzantium of the High Middle Ages. The Alexiad documents the Byzantine Empire's interaction with the Crusades and 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.


The Alexiad is divided into 15 books and a prologue; its scope is limited to the duration of Alexios' reign, which it is thus able to depict in full detail.[1] , especially regarding 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,[2] as well as documenting first-hand the decline of Byzantine cultural influence in both eastern and western Europe.[3]

According to Peter Frankopan, the content of the Alexiad falls into five main categories:

1. Attacks against the Byzantine empire by the Normans, under their leader Robert Guiscard (Books 1–6):

Book 1 addresses Alexios' becoming general and Domestikos ton Scholon. It also discusses the Normans' preparation for their invasion. Book 2 addresses the Komnenian revolt. Book 3 addresses Alexios as Emperor (1081), the internal problems with Doukas family, and the Normans' crossing the Adriatic Sea. Book 4 addresses war against the Normans (1081–1082). Book 5 also addresses war against the Normans (1082–1083), and their first clash with the "heretics". Book 6 addresses the end of war against the Normans (1085) and the death of Robert Guiscard.

2. Byzantine relations with the Turks (Books 6–7, 9–10, and 14–15):

Book 7 addresses war against the Scythians (1087–1090). Book 9 addresses operations against Tzachas and the Dalmatians (1092–1094), and the conspiracy of Nicephorus Diogenes (1094). Book 10 addresses war against the Cumans and the beginning of the First Crusade (1094–1097). Book 14 addresses Turks, Franks, Cumans, and Manicheans (1108–1115). Book 15 addresses the last expeditions — The Bogomils — Death of Alexios (1116–1118).

3. Pecheneg incursions on the northern Byzantine frontier (Books 7–8):

Book 8 addresses the end of the Scythian war (1091) and plots against the Emperor.

4. The First Crusade and Byzantine reactions to it (Books 10–11):

Book 11 also addresses the First Crusade (1097–1104).

5. Attacks on Byzantine frontiers by Robert Guiscard's son, Bohemond I of Antioch (Books 11–13)[2]

Book 12 addresses domestic conflicts and the Norman preparation for their second invasion (1105–1107). Book 13 addresses Aaron's conspiracy and the second Norman invasion (1107–1108).

Although Anna Komnene explicitly states her intention to record true events, important issues of bias do exist. Throughout the Alexiad, emphasis on Alexios as a "specifically Christian emperor," morally, as well as politically laudable, is pervasive. Frankopan frequently compares Alexios' 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.[4] Anna discusses the Latins, (Normans and "Franks"), considering them barbarians. This distaste extends to the Turks and Armenians. The Alexiad also criticizes John II Komnenos for his accession to the throne (in place of Anna herself) following Alexios' death. 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 importance of the Alexiad as a primary document.[5]

General themes[edit]

The main theme of the Alexiad is the First Crusade, and religious conflict.[6] Anna Komnene chronicles the different groups of people involved in the crusades, and refers to them as "Celts", "Latins", and "Normans".[6] She also talks about her father, Alexios Komnenos in great detail, and his conquests throughout his rule from 1081–1118.[7] She does this by presenting a "Byzantine view" of the Crusades.[7] Some historians have noticed the influence of Greek mythology 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." [7]

Writing style[edit]

The Alexiad was originally written in Greek in around 1148, and first edited by Possinus in 1651.[8]

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.[9] She differed widely from Greek prose historians, and because of this the book was initially well received, but was subjected to criticism later on.[10] The Alexiad interests many historians because of the fact that Anna wrote it in a different format to the norm of the time.[9] 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.[9] Despite including herself in the historiography and the other qualities that make her style vastly different from the typical historiography of the era, Anna Komnene's Alexiad has been seen as a "straightforward" history.[9]


Anna Komnene's writings are a major source of information on her father, Alexios I of the Byzantine Empire.[11] She was around the age of 55 when she began work on the Alexiad.[11] While she was alive, she held the crusaders that came to her father's aid in contempt for their actions against the Empire after they looted various reconquests and failed to return to the Basileus' demesne many of the lands they promised to return to him. She regarded the crusaders, whom she refers to as Celts, Latins and Normans, as uneducated barbarians.[6][11] Despite this, Anna claims that she portrayed them in a neutral light. Some historians believe her work to be biased because of her feelings towards the Crusaders, and how highly she regarded her father.[6]

Gender and authorship[edit]

Questions of authorship[edit]

There has been much debate as to whether the Alexiad was in fact written by Anna Komnene herself, with one scholar saying that 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.[12] This has led some scholars to argue that the Alexiad was not written by a woman at all, but by some other male author.[13][14] 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 husband's field notes, thus Howard-Johnston renames it "Nicephoros's Alexiad."[15]

However, it is largely agreed that Anna Komnene was the author. Explicit mentions in the text of her engagement, her role as a wife, and the commentary on her female modesty that influences her writing make Anna's authorship of the Alexiad "unmistakable", according to some.[16] She certainly could have written about military affairs, since she was able to accompany her father, the emperor, on military campaigns.[17] Many scholars believe that the great detail about 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[edit]

In the Alexiad, Anna Komnene 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".[18] Yet, despite this, women in the Alexiad never cry, with the exception of Alexios' funeral, during which grief is the appropriate cultural response.[19] Likewise, none of the female characters act in a cowardly way.[20] 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.[21] By so doing, she shows a desire to control aspects that are, for her culture, feminine.[22] 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.[23] Her personal attitudes, along with the lack of comparable sources from female authors in that era, make the Alexiad considered by some a poor source to use when gauging how average women in Byzantium felt about the First Crusade.[12]

Gender and style[edit]

Anna Komnene's somewhat unusual style of writing history has been attributed to her gender. Her style is noteworthy in that it included both a history of her father's actions during the First Crusade, and her reactions to some of these events. Her opinions and commentary on particular events in an otherwise historical text have been assigned to her gender both positively and negatively.[13] This interpretation of her histories is known as a "gendered history",[24] meaning it is both the history of Alexos and of Anna 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",[25] with some scholars agreeing with him,[26][27] other scholars claim that this style might be indicative of Anna's mentor, Michael Psellos.[28] 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.[29]

Anna Komnene is considered unique for her time in the intensity by which she integrates her own narrative and emotion,[30] and yet she does not mention all personal details, such as the fact that she had four children.[31] For some, this unusual combination of style and lack of personal, gendered information is reconciled by her lack of modern 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.[32] 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.[23]

Complete manuscripts and summaries[edit]

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[edit]

  • Comnena, Anna (1928). Alexiad. Medieval Sourcebook. Translated by Elizabeth S. Dawes. Fordham University.
  • Comnène, Anna (1937). Alexiade. Tome I : Livres I-IV. Collection Byzantine (in French). Translated by Bernard Leib. Les Belles Lettres. ISBN 9782251322018.
  • Comnène, Anna (1943). Alexiade. Tome II : Livres V-X. Collection Byzantine (in French). Translated by Bernard Leib. Les Belles Lettres. ISBN 9782251322025.
  • Comnène, Anna (1946). Alexiade. Tome III : Livres XI-XV. Index. Collection Byzantine (in French). Translated by Bernard Leib. Les Belles Lettres. ISBN 9782251322193.
  • Comnena, Anna (1969). The Alexiad. Translated by E.R.A Sewter. Penguin Classics. ISBN 9780140442151.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Frankopan 2009, p. ix.
  2. ^ a b Frankopan 2009, p. x–xi.
  3. ^ Frankopan 2009, p. xv.
  4. ^ Frankopan 2009, p. xxi–xxii.
  5. ^ Ostrogorsky 1969, p. 351.
  6. ^ a b c d Brians 1998.
  7. ^ a b c Neville 2013, p. 192.
  8. ^ Halsall 2001.
  9. ^ a b c d Neville 2013, p. 194.
  10. ^ Neville 2013, p. 193.
  11. ^ a b c Reese.
  12. ^ a b Frankopan 2002, p. 68.
  13. ^ a b Frankopan 2002, p. 69.
  14. ^ For examples, see Howard-Johnston 1996, p. 260–302
  15. ^ Howard-Johnston 1996, p. 289, 302.
  16. ^ Reinsch 2000, p. 96.
  17. ^ Reinsch 2000, p. 98.
  18. ^ Hill 1996, p. 45.
  19. ^ Hill 1996, p. 45-6.
  20. ^ Hill 1996, p. 46.
  21. ^ Komnene Alexiad 4.8.1 and Prol. 4.2.
  22. ^ Neville 2013, p. 213.
  23. ^ a b Connor 2004, p. 257.
  24. ^ Gouma-Peterson 1996, p. 32.
  25. ^ Gibbon 1994, book 3, p. 69.
  26. ^ Brown 1984, p. 90.
  27. ^ Shlosser 1990, p. 397-8.
  28. ^ Connor 2004, p. 253.
  29. ^ Frankopan 2002, p. 69–70.
  30. ^ Reinsch 2000, p. 95.
  31. ^ Reinsch 2000, p. 97.
  32. ^ Hill 1996, p. 51.


  • Brians, Paul (18 December 1998), "Anna Comnena: The Alexiad", Washington State University, archived from the original on 2 April 2013, retrieved 22 April 2013
  • Brown, R. Allen (1984), The Normans, London: St. Martins, ISBN 0312577761.
  • Connor, Carolyn L. (2004), Women of Byzantium, New Haven: Yale University Press, ISBN 0300186460.
  • Frankopan, Peter (2009), "Introduction", Alexiad, translated by E. R. A. Sewter (Rev. ed.), London: Penguin, ISBN 0140455272.
  • Frankopan, Peter (2002), "Perception and Projections of Prejudice: Anna Comnena, the Alexiad and the First Crusade", in Susan B. Edgington; Sarah Lambert (eds.), Gendering the Crusades, New York: Columbia University Press, ISBN 0231125992.
  • Gibbon, Edward (1994), The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, London.
  • Gouma-Peterson, Thalia (1996), "Engendered Category or Recognizable Life: Anna Komnene and Her Alexiad", Byzantinische Forschungen, 23: 25–34.
  • Halsall, Paul (February 2001), "Bibliography, Anna Comnena: The Alexiad", Medieval Sourcebook, Fordham University.
  • Hill, Barbara (1996), "A Vindication of the Rights of Women to Power by Anna Komnene", Byzantinische Forschungen, 23.
  • Howard-Johnston, J. (1996), "Anna Komnene and the Alexiad", Alexios I Komnenos, Papers of the Second Belfast Byzantine International Colloquium, 14–16 April 1989, Belfast, ISBN 0853895813.
  • Neville, Leonora (2013), "Lamentation, History, and Female Authorship in Anna Komnene's Alexiad", Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies, 53: 192–218.
  • Ostrogorsky, George (1969), History of the Byzantine State (Rev. ed.), New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, ISBN 0813511984.
  • Reese, Lyn, "Anna Comnena", Women in World History Curriculum.
  • Reinsch, Diether R. (2000), "Women's Literature in Byzantium? – The Case of Anna Komnene", in Thalia Gouma-Peterson (ed.), Anna Komnene and Her Times, translated by Thomas Dunlap, New York: Garland, ISBN 0815338511.
  • Shlosser, Fransziska E. (1990), "Byzantine Studies and the History of the Crusades: The Alexiad of Anna Comnena as Source for the Crusades", Byzantinische Forschungen, 15: 397–406.