Anna Komnene and her Sources for Military Affairs in the Alexiad
By Kyle Sinclair
Estudios bizantinos, Vol.2 (2014)
Abstract: With the intensive focus on military affairs in the Alexiad provoking contentious theories and much debate, this article investigates more closely the sources of information available to Anna Komnene for her coverage of war during the reign of Alexios Komnenos. Though Anna discloses more about her sources than most Byzantine historians, it is argued that some of these claims, particularly those regarding her own capacity to witness events and converse with veteran participants, are somewhat disingenuous, intended to illustrate her adherence to traditional modes of inquiry and thus gain credence for her history. Without discounting the contribution of oral traditions of storytelling to the Alexiad, the study favours the growing consensus that Anna was more reliant on written material, especially campaign dispatches and military memoirs.
Introduction: Few contributors to Byzantine studies have proved quite as provocative as James Howard-Johnston’s article questioning Anna Komnene’s authorship of the Alexiad, essentially reducing her task to editing and refining a collection of notes and drafts compiled by her husband, Nikephoros Bryennios. In Howard-Johnston’s view, the detailed and conversant campaign narratives of the Alexiad can only have been constructed by a ‘latter day Procopius’ or retired soldier, rather than a Constantinople-bound princess. Ruth Macrides, one of the many scholars to take issue with this argument, makes the point that Anna’s focus on military affairs merely placed her in the established tradition of classicizing historians, a number of whom had no real experience of war and yet populated their works with little else.
Others have challenged Howard-Johnston’s hypothesis by drawing attention to stylistic and programmatic differences between Anna’s history and that of her husband, attributing any similarities to an inevitable familiarity with Bryennious’ Hyle Historias. Despite Howard-Johnston’s best efforts therefore, it would appear that very few subscribe to the notion that the Alexiad is anything other than the work of Anna Komnene.