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Anna Comnena, the Alexiad and the First Crusade

Anna Comnena, the Alexiad and the First Crusade

By John France

Reading Medieval Studies, Vol. 10 (1984)

Introduction: By her own account Anna Comnena began to write the Alexiad shortly after the death of her husband, Nicephorus Bryennios, in 1137. He had begun a life of Alexius, known to us at the Hyle, but it had taken it no further than the end of the reign of Nicephorus Botaniates in March 1081. This inspired Anna to continue the unfinished life of her father. Some 30 years after the death of Alexius, she tells us that she was still preparing the work. Those parts of Book X and XI which deal with the First Crusade were therefore written at least 40 years after the events they describe. We know that Anna was born on 1 December 1083 so she was only thirteen when the crusade came to Constantinople in 1096-97. In view of these facts it is difficult to regard her as an eye-witness even for those events which took place in and around Constantinople during the First Crusade. Anna is at pains to stress her involvement in public affairs even at a very tender age, but it seems likely that her childhood recollections add no more than a certain vividness to accounts which, essentially, she derived from other sources. Her poor dating is also probably evidence of her distance from events. Anna makes a point of emphasising the limitations of her sources. On the death of her father she had intrigued unsuccessfully to place her husband, Nicephorus Bryennios, on the throne in place of her brother John: this is why John II Comnenus (1118-1143) imprisoned Anna in the Theotokos Kecharitomenae in western Asia Minor. Because of this she declares: For thirty years now…’I have not seen, I have not spoken to a friend of my father’, and goes on tell us that she obtained information only from humble men, veterans who had entered the monastic life.

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