Anna Komnena

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Anna Komnene (Latinized Anna Comnena , Middle Greek Ἄννα Κομνηνή Anna Komniní , * December 2, 1083 in Constantinople ; † approx. 1154) was a Byzantine historian . As the eldest of seven children of the Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos and his wife Irene Dukaina , daughter of Caesar Andronikos, she claimed the imperial throne for her husband. On her mother's side she was a descendant of the last Tsars of the First Bulgarian Empire from the House of Komitopuli .


Anna was born in the Porphyra of the imperial palace and was therefore nicknamed Porphyrogenneta - Purple Born . As a child she was betrothed to the then nine-year-old co-emperor and heir to the throne Konstantin Dukas Porphyrogennetos , the son of Michael VII (1071-1078), who was described by Anna as a very beautiful child. He had previously been engaged to Helena, the daughter of Robert Guiskard of Sicily. Anna then lived with her future mother-in-law, the Empress Maria of Alania , who is attributed by some historians to an affair with Alexios I. In 1092, however, Alexios appointed his own son, Anna's brother Kaloioannes (the "beautiful John"), as heir to the throne, against whom she subsequently felt a lively aversion. Constantine retired to his estate near Serres , where he died in 1097. As a result of the conspiracy of Nikephorus Diogenes (1094), in which Maria was probably also initiated, Constantine had lost every chance of the throne, although according to rumors he himself had informed the emperor of his plans to assassinate him.

After his death, Anna married Caesar Nikephoros Bryennios , son or grandson of the pretender of the same name , in 1097, according to her parents' wishes . She herself would have preferred to remain single.

Anna was very interested in the natural sciences and, in addition to the quadrivium (geometry, arithmetic, astronomy and music), had also studied medicine. She also wrote a treatise on gout and ran a hospital in Constantinople. Anna also studied philosophy and was a supporter of Christian Aristotelianism , which had Neoplatonic features. For example, "a remarkable flowering of Aristotelianism came from a philosophical circle maintained by the emperor's daughter Anna Komnene, who was excluded from political life".

In 1118 Anna tried together with her mother to persuade the emperor on his deathbed to disinherit his son Kaloioannes (1118–1143) and instead to transfer the succession to Anna's husband. But Alexios, determined to make Johannes his successor, secretly sent his signet ring to the son. According to other sources, John and his brother Isaac secretly entered the Mangana Palace and stole the ring. After the death of Alexios, perhaps as a result of pneumonia, Johannes secured the palace for himself, had himself proclaimed emperor by the army and senate and confirmed by the patriarch of Constantinople .

Anna and her mother Irene conspired in the same year with the aim of bringing Anna's husband Nikephorus to the throne. However, the conspiracy was exposed, possibly even by Nikephorus himself, who did not feel like becoming emperor. Those involved got away with light penalties. Their possessions were confiscated, Irene and Anna banished to the monastery, where Irene died in 1123. The monastery could have been the convent of Théotokos Kéchairôtoménè, which Irene herself had founded. Like her husband, Anna now devoted herself to writing history . She appears to have been under surveillance on her brother's orders and appears to have been bitter at the failure of her political ambitions.

Nikephorus died in Constantinople in 1137 of a wound that he sustained on a campaign to Syria and Cilicia without finishing the history he had begun on the way. It is not known exactly when Anna died. Usually 1153 or 1154 are mentioned.



In her historical work, the Alexiade (or Alexias ), written after 1137 and up to at least 1148, the highly educated Anna described the career of her father Alexios in 15 books, more precisely the years from 1069 to 1118. It also supplements her husband's work Nikephoros dar ( Hyle Historias ), who had described the time from Romanus IV. Diogenes to Nikephoros Botaniates , but could not finish his work because of his wounding and death. Anna drew portraits of the most important participants in the First Crusade , such as Bohemond I of Taranto and Count Raymond IV of Toulouse.


Anna herself claims to have witnessed a number of events and to have relied on the representations of soldiers who had accompanied the emperor on his campaigns. She had access to archives and numerous eyewitnesses, such as General Tatikios , her uncle Georgios Palaiologos, her cousin Johannes Komnenos , the governor of Dyrrhachion and the uncle Johannes Dukas. Even Konstantin Euphorbenos Katakalon , Marianus Maurokatalon , Manuel Botumides and Konstantin Opos may have contributed reports. For the early parts of her work, she was also able to draw on other historical works.


From the perspective of the Byzantines, the work represents one of the most important sources of the Crusades for the study of history. This makes its presentation an important corrective to the Latin sources. However, it is not always objective towards the participants in the crusade. The portrayal of her father is partially positively exaggerated, the Franks (this is how the crusaders were often called) are consistently regarded as insidious and treacherous. It seldom gives direct dates, sometimes the chronology is blatantly erroneous, and the geographical information is vague. Edward Gibbon still considered her work to be utterly worthless, the "admiring and prejudiced account of a loving daughter," in which "every page betrays the vanity of the female author," panegyric and full of affected erudition. It was accused of gaps in the presentation, such as the arrival of the Crusaders in Byzantium and the siege of Antioch . Other authors, on the other hand, claimed that such a representation could not possibly have come from a woman and wanted to assign the entire work to Nikephorus. Fr Frankopan commented that it was less the Alexiad than the comments on the text that were biased and prejudiced.

In modern research, the source value of the work, which is also literarily sophisticated, is estimated to be very high. It represents the most extensive and, overall, the most reliable source for Byzantine history at the turn of the 11th to the 12th century.


Anna Komnena's historical work , fully committed to her education, is strongly based on ancient models, above all Thucydides and Polybios . In her work there are also quotations from Homer , Herodotus , Sophocles , Plato , Aristotle , Johannes von Epiphaneia and others. v. a. Her style, with numerous direct evaluative comments, is similar to that of Michael Psellos , but influences of late antique historians can also be identified. In the descriptions of unsuccessful treatment of her father by his doctors medically savvy Anna shows humoral knowledge of Galen .


Anna and Nikephoros had four children:

  • Alexios Bryennios Komnenos
  • Johannes Dukas
  • Irene Dukaina
  • another daughter



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