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Anna Comnena

Anna Comnena (December 1 1083 - 1153) was a daughter of the Byzantine emperor Alexius I Comnenus, and is the first female historian.

She was her father's favourite and was carefully trained in the study of poetry, science and Greek philosophy. But, though learned and studious, she was intriguing and ambitious, and ready to go to any lengths to gratify her longing for power. Having married an accomplished young nobleman, Nicephorus Bryennius, she united with her mother, Irene, in a vain attempt to prevail upon Alexius I during his last illness to disinherit his son John and give the crown to Anna's husband. Still undeterred, she entered into a conspiracy in 1118 to depose her brother John after his accession; and when her husband refused to join in the enterprise, she exclaimed that "nature had mistaken their sexes, for he ought to have been the woman."

The plot being discovered, Anna forfeited her property and fortune, though, by the clemency of her brother, she escaped with her life. Shortly afterwards, she was dispatched to a convent and employed her leisure in writing the Alexiad--a history in Greek of her father's life and reign (1081-1118), supplementing the historical work of her husband. It is rather a family panegyric than a scientific history, in which the author's affection and vanity stand out. Trifling acts of Alexius are described at length in exaggerated terms, while little notice is taken of important constitutional matters. A determined opponent of the Latin church and an enthusiastic admirer of the Byzantine Empire, Anna Comnena regards the Crusades as a danger both political and religious. Her models are Thucydides, Polybius and Xenophon, and her style exhibits the striving after Atticism characteristic of the period, with the result that the language is highly artificial. Her chronology especially is defective.

A fictional account of Anna Comnena's life is given in the 1999 novel Anna of Byzantium by Tracy Barrett .


This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopędia Britannica.

Last updated: 12-15-2004 11:29:22