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Annabel Stobie
Medieval Worlds: A Journey through the Middle Ages
October 24, 2016
Through a Daughters Eyes: A Source Analysis of Anna Komnenes Alexiad
The excerpts from Anna Komnenes Alexiad are a clear first hand account of Byzantine
life, and a biography of the author's father Emperor Alexios. While the information in Anna
Komnenes Alexiad is valuable, we must acknowledge that its written from the perspective of a
daughter about her father, with her intention for the work to flatter her deceased father
(Stephenson, 2003). Taking into account this bias, we can tell that the likely audience for the
Alexiad was Emperor Manuels panegyrists as well as intellectuals contemporary to Anna
Komnene (Neville, 2013) (Stephenson, 2003). Viewed collectively then, Anna Komnenes
identity as Emperor Alexios daughter, a Byzantine Princess -and as an intellectual- reveals more
about her work than any other factor.
One specific issue that historians have to take into account is Anna Komnenes insertion
of her own grief into the narrative. As Neville put it,
The focus of pity becomes Anna in her grief rather than her dead kinsmen.
Annas establishment of herself as the key object of pity aligns her work with elements of
the lamentation tradition that stand outside Menanders advice for prose composition.
Menander was training men to compose speeches that would be appropriate for delivery
at a funeral. Anna clearly drew on his advice, but also centralized her own emotional state
in a way that conforms to traditions of female lamentation (Neville, 2013)

Neville focuses on Anna Komnenes grief as a tool to draw the readers attention towards
her. Personal grief is generally unknown among Greek histories, so Anna Komnenes
highlighting of her own grief as a rhetorical tool leads to the concept that her entire work is about
drawing attention to herself. While it could be that Anna Komnenes grief is unintentional and
purely emotional, the fact that it draws attention to her as a individual and is strongest at inapt
points disagrees with this idea. Her use of grief as a self-promotion is strongest when discussing
the natural passing of both of her parents in their old age. While this is a sad occurrence, it
doesn't deserve the rhetorical outpouring that Anna Komnene lavishes on the subject (Neville,
Compounding the idea of the Alexiad as self-promotion is Anna Komnenes reasoning
behind her work. Her subject choice of the Alexiad, her father, the past emperor, rather than the
current emperor, clashes with what her contemporaries were publishing at the time (Stephenson,
2003). This inconsistency, along with Anna Komnenes patronage of multiple intellectuals,
indicates that her work would have been noticed and likely discussed among the Byzantine elite
(Neville, 2013). Seeing that Anna Komnenes work was intended at least in some ways as a form
of self-promotion, we need to take into account her methods of injecting herself into her work
and how her writing draws attention to her personally as well as her legacy.
It is clear from Anna Komnenes intention behind the Alexiad of self-promotion and her
audience of upper class Byzantine aristocracy and intellectuals, that her goal for the Alexiad was
the creation of a personal legacy and greater influence in the Byzantine imperial court. Her
preface reflects this desire,
I, Anna, the daughter of two royal personages, Alexius and Irene, born and bred
in the purple. I was not ignorant of letters, for I carried my study of Greek to the highest

pitch, and was also not unpractised in rhetoric I intend in this writing of mine to
recount the deeds done by my father for they should certainly not be lost in silence, or
swept away, as it were, on the current of time into the sea of forgetfulness, and I shall
recount not only his achievements as Emperor, but also the services he rendered to
various Emperors before he himself received the sceptre. These deeds I am going to
relate, not in order to show off my proficiency in letters, but that matters of such
importance should not be left unattested for future generations. For even the greatest of
deeds, if not haply preserved in written words and handed down to remembrance, become
extinguished in the obscurity of silence. Now, my father, as the actual facts prove, knew
both how to command and how to obey the rulers within reasonable limits (Dawes,
Anna Komnene, through the genuine guise of immortalizing her father, also attempts the
same for herself. Her introduction of her fathers biography also functions as an intense personal
introduction of her to readers at court, and among the Byzantine upper class. This insertion of her
own life into her work is reinforced by her intentional slight towards the sitting emperor, Now,
my father, as the actual facts prove, knew both how to command and how to obey the rulers
within reasonable limits (Dawes, 2009). This barb indicates that Anna Komnenes audience was
the literate courtiers of the Emperor and, given the wording of this sentence, her critique may
have also been directed towards the sitting Emperor's panegyrists. She likely read their accounts
of the current Emperor by his panegyrists, and her emphasis on the truthfulness of her seems to
be a slight. In the context of this literary climate of fawning over the reigning emperor, the
phrasing is a blatant insult (Dawes, 2009). The insults she directs towards both the sitting
Emperor as well as his panegyrists would have caused all the more stir in the social circles her

work was aimed towards, and with this infamy would have come the sense of legacy and
political relevance that she strove to achieve.
The Byzantine Empire during this period was a totalitarian state (Angold, 1997). While
totalitarian, the emperors during this period displayed a certain leniency towards their own
family members, likely a result of their dependence on close family and retainers in managing
the empire (Angold, 1997).
In those two plots Anna played the role of the chief conspiratress and symbol of
the anti-Ioannes group. In the first plot her mother Eirene was a supporter of her. In the
second plot it was her husband Nikephoros and his supporters that Anna conspired with.
As I stated before, Anna recognized that her brother was the legitimate successor to the
throne. So, by taking advantage of her husbands status and her origin, that is, she was
the firstborn child in the purple chamber, she attempted to plot against her brother.
What I want to claim here is these two plots should be regarded as the princesss attempt
to appear on the political stage on the basis of her own origin. Although Anna could not
attain her purpose, instead she could complete her work, where she successfully
emphasized that she was the first-child of the emperor born in the purple chamber
(Katakura, 2008).
In this passage we see both the society that Anna Komnene belonged to, and that her
work, the Alexiad, was directed towards courtly politics and her own legacy. This espionage was
not limited to the senate and populace but, as Katakura points out, extended to the nuclear family
of the reigning emperor (Angold, 1997). In this light, Anna Komnenes emphasis of her status of
being born in the purple, her self-promotion in her work as the loyal daughter to a heroic

emperor, and her critiques of the then current regime, all of this collectively indicates the fluid
and subterfuge driven nature of imperial and aristocratic society during that period.
Anna Komnenes personal actions and literary work, when considered together, reveals a
changing Byzantine society that increasingly was dominated by the aristocracy and members of
the imperial family (Angold, 1997). Her emphasis of her status as a privileged princess, born in
the purple and her use of her personal grief, specifically at the deaths of her noted parents, as a
group these factors draw attention to herself and indicates the methods that she believed then
contemporary Byzantine society would best remember and respect her. Drawing from Anna
Komnenes choice of tools, we see a society that valued distinctive imperial breeding, familial
loyalty, and specifically her status as a possible empress. Byzantine society, both through the lens
of Anna Komnenes Alexiad and the other sources, was characterized as having valued the
imperial bloodline, the merit of being born in the purple, literary achievement and prowess, and
-as Anna Komnenes leads us to believe- audacious subterfuge. Anna Komnenes rhetorical tools
and her literary subject choice reflects this society and its values, as well as her intentions for the
Alexiad beyond its purely literary and historical merits.

1) Angold, Michael. The Byzantine Empire, 1025-1204: a political history. 1997. Longman, 2016,
pp. 136-70. University of Edinburgh. Accessed 20 Oct. 2016.
2) Ayana, Katakura "Challenge to the Throne: The Byzantine Princess Anna Komnene and
Conspiracies." Comparative Studies on Urban Cultures (2008).

1) Dawes, Elizabeth A. The Alexiad of Princess Anna Comnena. New York, Routledge, 2009.
University of Edinburgh. Accessed 23 Oct. 2016.
3) Neville, Leonora. "Lamentation, History, and Female Authorship in Anna Komnenes Alexiad."
Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 53.1 (2013): 192-218.
4) Stephenson, P. " Anna Comnenas Alexiad as a source for the Second Crusade?." Learn,

University of Edinburgh. Accessed 20 Oct. 2016.