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Anna KomneneThe Life and Work of a Medieval Historian$

Leonora Neville

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780190498177

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190498177.001.0001

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Ambition and Brotherly Love

Ambition and Brotherly Love

(p.141) 9 Ambition and Brotherly Love
Anna Komnene

Leonora Neville

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter argues that there is little substantive evidence to think that Anna Komnene hated her brother John II Komnenos. It discusses passages in the Alexiad used to argue for animosity and the relationship of political ideas in the Alexiad to the politics of the mid-twelfth century when Anna was writing. It demonstrates that two poems of advice ostensibly from Alexios to John, the Alexian Komnenian Muses, concur with the Alexiad in politics, morality, and the characterization of Alexios Komnenos, and thus do not provide evidence of conflict between John and Anna. It explores Anna’s refutation in the Alexiad of the case Anna’s husband, Nikephoros Bryennios, made in his history, the Material for History, that his own family was worthy of imperial rule.

Keywords:   Anna Komnene, John II Komnenos, Manuel Komnenos, Alexian Komnenian Muses, “Material for History”, Yle Historias

Another thing that most people who know anything about Anna Komnene have been told is that she really hated her brother and wanted to rule the empire. So far we have not seen evidence for either that hatred or ambition. The seeds of both ideas come from thinking that Anna spearheaded an attempt to overthrow her brother. Intense hatred of John and desire for power are provided as the motivations that would make Anna try to murder John. Then, when the Alexiad is read with the assumption of those feelings, Anna’s emotionalism in the text is interpreted as reflecting real anger and frustration. No one believes that she was that upset about the deaths of her parents and husband after all those years, and so her sadness is interpreted as being really about her political losses and isolation. When she laments the troubles and turmoil in her life, she is taken as alluding to political disappointments. But the key point of the first five chapters is that Anna performed misery and anguish in her book in a plea to make her writing more acceptable. We have no way of knowing whether she was actually upset about anything. When the Alexiad is read without the assumption that Anna hated her brother, it suddenly does not seem to support that supposition particularly well. Similarly, as we shall see, other texts that are said to reflect the grand conflict between the two siblings do not, in themselves, call for that interpretation.

Anna rarely mentions John in the Alexiad. His absence from the history has been interpreted as indicating that Anna disliked him and wanted to erase his memory.1 John does not appear often in the history, but neither do other people that Anna clearly cared about. If familial affection were the main criteria for inclusion, we would know much more about her children, sisters, and her other brothers. There are plenty of other people whom one might expect to see in the Alexiad, who are similarly absent. The subject of the Alexiad is Alexios. Robert Guiscard and Bohemond of Taranto are described in detail, (p.142) not because Anna likes them, but because they provide a worthy foil for Alexios.2 In combating and defeating such larger-than-life heroes, Alexios is exalted, even when he is losing. Basil, condemned as a Bogomil heretic, plays a striking role in Anna’s history. Again this is not due to affection that Anna had for him. His presence allows her to highlight Alexios’s care for orthodoxy and proper cultivation of religious propriety within his empire. Attention to a character within Anna’s history does not correlate with her affection for that person. John does appear in the Alexiad in the places where his presence is needed. To take his absence as an indication of Anna’s personal animosity toward him is to bring a set of false expectations to the text.

Ambition and Brotherly Love

Figure 9.1 Mosaic of John II and Eirene bringing offerings to the Mother of God in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul.

Credit Line © HIP/Art Resource, NY.

Anna does give a brief one-line mention of the birth of John’s twin children near Thessaloniki in 1106.3 The mention of the twins comes shortly after the description of how Anna and her mother traveled with Alexios and the army. Apparently John and his wife, Eirene, were also traveling with Alexios at the time. The birth is an anomalous detail in a history that normally does not discuss domestic matters. If Anna had been traveling with the emperor at the time, and Tornikes was truthful about Anna being the family doctor, she may have served as Eirene’s midwife. Anna may have thought the births were worthy of mention because John’s son offered further stability to the dynasty Alexios had founded. It is also possible that she thought her sister-in-law’s accomplishment in giving birth to twins was sufficiently great to get a line recording it for posterity. Regardless of whether this was a compliment to her sister-in-law, it is difficult to see it as reflecting animosity toward John.

(p.143) Much has been made of Anna’s “unflattering” description of John’s physical appearance as a man of dark complexion:

The little boy was of swarthy complexion, with the broad forehead, rather thin cheeks, a nose that was neither flat nor aquiline, but something in between the two, and darkish eyes which, as far as one can divine the appearance of a newborn baby, gave evidence of a lively spirit.4

This portrait has been repeatedly taken as unflattering on the presumption that Anna hated her brother. It is not the most idealized description in the Alexiad, but neither is there anything particularly insulting about it.5 Her statement that his nose was “neither flat nor aquiline” is used as evidence of dislike, although in both Byzantine culture and Aristotelian philosophy describing something as the mean between two extremes is a way of saying the thing is perfect. Anna describes her mother’s face as neither round, nor long, but slightly oval.6 If her description of John’s nose were in another context, scholars would say that this nose was “just right.”

The description of John as dark-skinned was taken by early twentieth-century historians as evidence of Anna’s hatred, on the unstated assumption that readers of the twelfth century shared their own dislike of dark skin tones.7 Somewhat circularly, because Anna is thought to have hated her brother, her description of John as dark has been interpreted as evidence that dark skin was considered unattractive in the twelfth century.8 John was also described as having a dark complexion by the twelfth-century Latin historian William of Tyre: “John was a man of medium height, with black hair and swarthy skin, and for this reason is still called the Moor.”9 Choniates also describes John’s son Manuel as dark in complexion.10 Apparently Anna did not invent the detail of John’s dark skin in order to denigrate her brother.

Throughout her history, Anna took pains to be impartial, including unflattering details as a means of substantiating that she was a trustworthy historian. In her portrait of her father, she included the detail that he was short, even though her other descriptions she consistently holds to the idea that a noble man ought to be tall.11 Anna insists that, although lacking in stature, Alexios looked imposing when seated on his throne.12 In saying that Alexios looked impressive when seated, Anna again was trying to be both a loyal daughter and an honest historian. Alexios’s height was a good point on which she could substantiate her impartiality, because, since everyone would have known he was short, she would not have been able to get away with fibbing—far better to get the credit for her willingness to point out his flaw. Similarly, John’s skin tone would not have been a closely guarded family secret. If John’s skin was considered unattractive by his contemporaries, it would have been more flattering for Anna to omit a description of it. Yet had she neglected to point out such a notable aspect of his physical appearance, her history would have been more easily discounted as a work of flattery. Anna was more (p.144) flattering in other descriptions in her book, and could have done more to make her brother look good. Yet there is nothing objectionable in her description of her brother, and there is considerable space between extreme flattery and eternal hatred.

Anna did not choose to whitewash John’s least appealing hour, when he left his dying father to take control of the Great Palace. In the midst of her detailed description of Alexios’s slow death, Anna mentions briefly that John had already left the emperor’s bedside and that he went quickly to the Great Palace.13 She then describes her mother as decrying interest in world power and beginning to wail in lamentation. Anna does not blame John for leaving, but her mother’s cry to disregard all thought of temporal power calls out John’s interest in taking control as inappropriate. It would have been far more flattering to John to omit the detail that he had left his father’s side. Anna’s choice to mention John’s departure can reasonably be taken as showing a lack of affection. Anna of course had the excuse of needing to present the unvarnished truth in her history, but she did not let John’s actions be forgotten.

Other readings used to suggest Anna’s hatred for her brother are highly tendentious. Anna lists three causes of Alexios’s gout: a riding accident during a polo match that injured his knee, the incessant demands of the Westerners who kept him working at all hours, and, perhaps, an unnamed man who remained with Alexios “like the most pernicious humors in the veins.”14 The character of this unnamed man was such that “he was not only a cause of the disease, but he was himself a malady and its most troublesome symptom.”15 Anna demurs from presenting this story in full, saying that she will only sketch it without details. She ends this discussion by saying, “I must bite my tongue and say no more. However eager I may be to jump on these scoundrels, I must not stray off my path. I will reserve what I have to say about him to the appropriate time.”16 She does not return to this topic in any recognizable way. Who was this man whose presence wore down Alexios? Anna’s text does not provide enough information to even venture a guess. Yet it has been asserted confidently, and without discussion, that she attributed her father’s illness, not to physical injuries, or long-winded Westerners, but to “the ingratitude of her brother John.”17 Anna gives no hints by which we could identify this troublesome man and nothing in this text suggests in any way that it was her brother. The presumed hatred of John is used as a heuristic tool to resolve the mystery in a way that reinforces the postulated hatred.

Elsewhere the meaning of the Alexiad is clarified in translation by assuming that obscure sentences somehow refer to John. At the very end of the Alexiad, where our text is fragmentary and Anna is engaging in full-on classical lamentation, she says,

It would have been better for me, it seems, to have been changed into a soulless stone streaming rivers of tears. But still I remain, not insensate (p.145) to misfortunes. I must endure so many horrors and now men may stir up yet other unbearable things which are more unfortunate than even the ills of Niobe.18

The standard English version uses “people in the palace” to translate “men.”19 This gives a specific political context to Anna’s vague expressions of unspecified ills. We are lucky to have such a good English translation of the Alexiad, and it is an excellent guide to Anna’s text. But in this case the attempt at clarification introduces politics into a passage where they are absent.

Because of the hatred Anna is presumed to have had for her brother, scholars have taken Anna’s criticism of John’s policies in the Alexiad as motivated by personal animosity. Yet her policy disagreements with her brother and nephew need not be connected in any way to an argument in favor of her own rule. Anna’s description of the First Crusade responded directly to the politics of the mid-twelfth century, and her nephew Manuel’s (1143–1180) handling of the Second Crusade.20 She made a political argument against her brother and nephew’s policies through her assessment of the empire’s natural allies and enemies. Anna approved of Alexios’s relatively accommodationist policy toward the Turks in Anatolia and with what she presents as his aggressive stance toward Normans and Crusaders. She supports treaties with Turks and fighting with Westerners. While both John and Manuel occasionally took a more bellicose stance toward the Turks in Anatolia than had Alexios, Manuel was willing to work far more closely with Westerners and eventually led the empire to a set of alliances with the Crusader states that were underpinned by notions of a common Christian cause.21 Anna’s evaluation of Alexios’s reign makes clear that she did not approve of these policies. By presenting Alexios as manipulating the Crusaders and fighting the Normans, Anna argues for a staunch anti-Western policy.22

Anna’s most direct and biting criticism of pro-Western policies comes after she describes how, following the death of Bohemond, Tancred failed to return Antioch to Alexios. She describes in detail the treacherousness and avariciousness of the counts of the Crusader states, with whom Alexios’s payments and negotiations had come to naught.23 In contrast to the fruitless diplomatic efforts to reach an accord with the counts, Anna tells a simple story of Alexios receiving envoys from Persia (from the Seljuk Sultan of Baghdad) and persuading them to come round to his point of view. The next day they signed a favorable treaty with the empire.24 The stark contrast makes it clear that Anna believed the Turks to be far more reasonable diplomatic partners than the counts of the Crusader states. She describes the Turks’ agreement to this treaty as a significant victory for Alexios, one that brought peace and harmony to the empire for the remainder of his reign. Anna describes Alexios’s concerns regarding this treaty as entirely those of “Roman sovereignty,” perhaps, by omission, indicating that he did not consider co-religion as a factor that ought (p.146) to play a significant role in politics. She explains that once Alexios died, however, this treaty was abandoned and all his efforts came to nothing through the “stupidity of his successors.”25 This is a strong statement of disagreement with the policies of John and Manuel, but it is part of a political argument, not a random insult indicative of personal dislike. While the criticism for allowing treaties with the Seljuks to lapse falls on John, the implicit criticism for trying to make useful agreements with Westerners falls on Manuel. Anna follows this bald criticism of Manuel’s policies with further descriptions of how dealing with the constant threats of the “Kelts,” and the need to listen to their endless requests, helped bring on Alexios’s gout.26 Here, and elsewhere, Anna builds a consistent case against trusting Westerners and against cooperation with the Crusader states. In this, her politics clearly contrast with that of her nephew Manuel. Later in her text, Anna reveals that Alexios’s treaty with the Seljuks in fact was broken the following year, contradicting her statement here that it was John’s stupidity that caused it to lapse.27 By blaming Alexios’s successors so robustly for the dissolution of the treaty, she distracts her audience from the fact that it failed on Alexios’s watch. Rhetorically she is crafting a story in which cross-confessional allies are a viable alternative to allying with Crusaders, but she cannot quite get messy early twelfth-century politics to fit, and she does not take the step of completely omitting information that weakens her case.

In maintaining that a good emperor would ignore religious differences among the empire’s enemies, Anna was taking a stand in what was probably one of the central ideological debates of her era. Anna may have been arguing for political viewpoint that was more common in the beginning of the twelfth-century than at the time she wrote. As the Romans became more aware of the theological arguments being put forth in favor of crusading, some were certainly persuaded that the empire had a moral obligation to support their co-religionists. Anna did not agree, but her position in this complex theological and political debate was certainly based on more than a simple dislike for her brother. Hers was by no means an irrational, or even unusual, reading of contemporary politics. As such, it makes little sense to reduce her position to personal animosity.

Another text that has been interpreted in light of the presumed competition between Anna and John is a set of poems entitled the Alexian Komnenian Muses, in which Alexios gives advice on ruling to his son. The first poem contains advice about how a ruler should behave, drawing lessons from Alexios’s own experiences. The second (incomplete) poem dwells on John’s prowess and how he fulfills his father’s dreams for his son.28 In the opening of the first poem, the author explains that he was presenting the advice that the dying Alexios had given to his son, indicating that the advice reached its current form after Alexios’s death.29 It is possible that the author cast into verse ideas and sentiments that Alexios was remembered as having articulated.30 Since (p.147) John was the emperor when the text was composed, and the author would want another commission, the content of the poems was designed to be pleasing to John. The poems might reflect Alexios’s thought, but they equally might reflect what John wished his father had said, or wanted his courtiers to believe his father had said.

For some scholars the poems stand as proof that Alexios always supported John rather than Anna.31 For others the Muses represent John’s wishful thinking and his efforts to present himself as having enjoyed his father’s support: the poems become John’s revisionist ploy for greater legitimization.32 Yet nothing within the poems alludes to any such contest between John and Anna, nor is such an event required to interpret them. On the contrary, similarities in the characterization of Alexios between the Muses and the Alexiad indicate a common understanding of Alexios on the part of both authors, as well as common cultural values. The Alexiad and the Muses are not opposed to each other, and do not counter each other, except in a simple sense that the Alexiad emphasizes Anna’s love for her father and the Muses express John’s love for his father (or his father’s love for him). Read without the presumption of political discord, these texts support visions of familial solidarity as much as familial rivalry.

The image of Alexios constantly fighting to defend the Roman empire against foreign enemies attacking from all directions is a recurring theme in both the Muses and the Alexiad.33 Both texts portray the emperor as a solitary figure who is forced to work continually to combat the perpetual circle of encroaching enemies. The first poem describes Alexios as fighting his encircling enemies in manifold, wily ways, using the epithet of Odysseus, polytropos.34 Odyssean imagery of the clever helmsman using whatever tricks were needed to get out of one tight jam after another form a recurring part of Anna’s characterization of Alexios.35 The Alexios of the Alexiad largely made up his own mind even as a green young man. The Alexios of the Muses preaches respect for old men, but treasures the advice coming from a young man with an old mind.36 The Alexios of the Alexiad does not spend a lot of time in Constantinople listening to rhetoricians. The Alexios of the Muses would have his son provide a forum for clever men, but honor deeds more than words.37 The Alexios of the Alexiad undertakes heartfelt penance for the destruction his revolt caused the city, diligently studies scripture, exercises clemency, and cares for his people with great piety.38 The Alexios of the Muses warns his son that he will be judged as he judges, tells him to learn from Paul, and exhorts him to act always with virtue.39 Both texts are emphatic that Alexios was a resoundingly successful general who taught his enemies to fear the Romans.40 The two texts create a common portrait of Alexios as a pious, practical, moral man of action who devoted himself to the vigorous defense of an empire continuously beset by enemies on all sides.

(p.148) The texts are also similar in what they portray as the major challenges and policies of Alexios’s reign. The Alexios of the Muses remembers the crusade as a great trial of his reign, as does the Alexiad.41 Alexios’s advice in the Muses to keep the imperial treasury full, so as to be ready for another onslaught of foreign enemies, accords with Anna’s descriptions of Alexios using money to hire mercenaries and pay off enemies.42 The Alexios of the Muses warns his son to be ready to combat a long list of enemies, nearly all of whom Alexios fought in the Alexiad.43 Both texts say that internal revolts presented Alexios with serious challenges, with the Muses mentioning revolts on Crete and Cyprus.44 The Alexios of the Muses says that he will not mention “the men from within rising up in arms” who were always trying to topple the emperor, despite his authority “given from on high.”45 The Alexiad gives far more detail on the various conspiracies Alexios faces, but concurs with the opinion of the Muses that they are “always” taking place.

The Alexiad and the Muses share a common ideology regarding the roles of religion in politics. Both prize piety and consider military success as dependent upon having the support of God.46 At the same time, the Muses and the Alexiad do not portray the empire as naturally driven to ally with Christian nations against infidel nations. In the Muses, the empire’s enemies are not sorted into Christian and non-Christian groups, nor are the non-Christians described as somehow worse than the Christians. The enemies are distinguished by their military characteristics, and the Christian Westerners were particularly fearsome.47 The emperor of the Muses needs to gain support from on high because he stands alone against the world; the religious affiliations of his enemies are not mentioned. In the Alexiad, Alexios is concerned to fight heresy within his empire, but his wars are not driven by desires to fight infidels.48 He rather deals with foreign enemies as their challenges arise, and some of his greatest challenges came from fellow Christians. In both texts, deep Christian piety is compatible with a politics that is not swayed by confessional considerations. Twelfth-century Western arguments calling all the Christian princes to fight together against all the infidels would have been extremely foreign to viewpoint of the Alexiad and the Muses.

Both texts share a common sense of morality. The virtue of loving one’s parents that Anna strongly articulated in the Alexiad is also clear in the Muses. The subtitle to the first poem calls Alexios “mother-lover” and John “father-lover,” just as Anna proclaimed herself to be “both mother-lover and father-lover” and Anna Dalassene to be a “child-loving mother.”49 Clearly, intergenerational affection was a prized norm. The Muses maintain that virtue is a greater glory than the pearls on the imperial crown, mirroring Anna’s depiction of her parents’ stern morality.50 The advice to distribute gifts readily and gently fits with Anna’s descriptions of Alexios’s generosity.51 Other aspects of the advice in the Muses were less specific to Alexios, but such (p.149) “timeless” ideas were repeated because they were thought to hold true, and they were certainly in keeping with the moral tone of the Alexiad. Concern with matters such as just administration, picking wise councilors, and ultimate judgment of a ruler’s actions do not differ from the ethical thought in the Alexiad.

In terms of memories of Alexios’s character, ideas about politics, and moral outlook, Anna and the author of the Muses have a great deal in common. One could even think they were siblings. Of course one could presume that every time Anna claimed to love her father, she really meant that she loved him more than John. One could also presume that John wanted his courtiers to say that Alexios loved him because, in reality, Alexios had disliked and distrusted him. In this way it is possible to understand the Alexiad and the Muses as representing a refined fight between two siblings over who was the better child. But such a reading is entirely unnecessary, and nothing in the Muses hints that this is what was going on. More simply, these texts reflect the common values, current at court, that Anna and John learned from their parents, and common impressions they gained from observing their father struggle against foreign enemies. If the Muses reflect John’s own views, they and the Alexiad seem to testify to the ability of Alexios and Eirene to raise children who shared their sense of morality and values. If John and Anna are presumed to have been enemies, these poems provide no basis to understand what they were fighting about. On the contrary, they demonstrate an absence of disagreement between Anna and John on issues of morality, political ideology, and their father’s character.

Anna’s supposed coup attempt is normally seen as the product of her own ambition rather than a reasoned political choice. Especially in light of the political consonance between the Alexiad and the Muses, it is difficult to think what policy would be different, or what party would benefit, if Nikephoros ruled instead of John. Scholars have not been able to establish a compelling political rationale that would have underpinned any efforts to alter the succession away from John. It has been supposed that support for Nikephoros was support for the great aristocratic houses of the eleventh-century, such as the Doukas family, against the Komnenos family.52 Anna can reasonably be seen as having an affiliation with her mother’s Doukas family.53 But there is no reason to think that Anna would represent that family more than her brother John.54 Also the role of aristocratic lineages in politics of the early twelfth-century now seems to have been overblown.55 The strongly pro-Alexios politics of the Alexiad complicates alignment of Anna with any kind of anti-Komnenian party.

There is one surviving medieval text that can be read as making a strong case that Nikephoros Bryennios would have been a great emperor. This text is the history Nikephoros wrote. Yet the case he made for the superiority of his own line was systematically refuted by Anna in the Alexiad. When Anna’s (p.150) history is compared to her husband’s, it makes even less sense to see her ambition as the driving force behind an attempted coup.

Nikephoros Bryennios’s history is the work of a man who, I think, would have very much liked to be emperor.56 Had his grandfather defeated and blinded Alexios, rather than the other way around, he probably would have been emperor. His history tells the story of the fight between his grandfather, Nikephoros Bryennios the Elder, and Alexios in a way that gets the audience to root strongly for his grandfather. Nikephoros presents Alexios as duplicitous, brash, ruthless, and immature. These characteristics are set in contradistinction, on every point, to the courageous, disciplined, honest, and mature men whom Nikephoros portrays as struggling heroically to fight the good fight even as they lose to the treacherous tactics of the Turks and Alexios. Alexios is the winner of Nikephoros’s history, but not the hero.

Nikephoros’s case that his grandfather was more worthy to rule than Alexios certainly may have provided fuel for rumors that Nikephoros had wanted to succeed Alexios. At the same time his history explains the good working relationship Nikephoros and John seem to have enjoyed. Despite the criticism of Alexios, Nikephoros’s history makes a case for Komnenian dynastic legitimacy and argues that aristocratic civil war was one of the causes of imperial decline in the eleventh century.57 His history is both a vindication of his grandfather’s (and presumably his own) supreme qualifications for rule, and an apology for supporting the dynastic rights of the Komnenos family. Nikephoros’s valorization of honorable defeat created a stable, meritorious role for himself as a man of great honor who served the legitimate victor. At the time he was writing at least, Nikephoros seems to have been fully reconciled to his role as John’s helper.

Anna’s insistence on her father’s greatness as a ruler undercuts the implicit claim of her husband’s history that the empire would have been better off with a Bryennios on the throne. In that Anna presents her father as a morally upstanding and valorous, as well as a great emperor, her history fundamentally disagrees with the politics of her husband’s. Anna systematically counters her husband’s negative portrait of Alexios. Nikephoros presents Alexios as winning undeserved victories by trickery rather than direct confrontation. Anna accepts this fundamental presentation, but she strives to invert the moral valuation of trickery. Anna agrees that her father preferred to win by guile, but she upholds that propensity for trickery as virtuous behavior that could lead to bloodless victories.58 In this and other ways she refutes her husband’s case that Nikephoros Bryennios the Elder would have made a better emperor than Alexios. There is no rationale by which the Alexiad can be seen as supporting Nikephoros’s political ambitions.

Choniates’s history, which portrays Anna as disputing her father’s succession, and Nikephoros upholding it, inverts the political meanings at the heart of the histories Anna and Nikephoros wrote. This discrepancy was not a (p.151) problem for Choniates because he was not interested in discussing real politics in his section on Alexios’s death. He was telling a bad story of family discord at the foundation of the Komnenos dynasty. Such a story did not bother to make sense of the political stances taken in Anna and Nikephoros’s histories. Considering the politics of their histories gives us yet more reason to doubt that Choniates’s story reflected the reality of Nikephoros and Anna’s lives.

Anna’s expressions of mourning and misery in the Alexiad have been taken as her way of venting her fury with her brother and frustration at her loss of power. The new interpretations of her writing offered in the first half of this book effectively remove the Alexiad as evidence for Anna’s anger and ambition. When her expressions of misery are given other explanations, there is suddenly less compulsion to see Anna’s life as dominated by hatred and desire for rule. She may well have disliked her brother, but there is not much of any reason to think so. She may have liked the thought of being empress (who wouldn’t?), but she must have gotten over it because in her history she argued against all the reasons her husband had given for thinking he would have been a better emperor. The reevaluation of Anna’s authorial strategies significantly readjusts how prominently we should see any political tension in Anna’s life.

As for what really happened in 1118, you are now a qualified expert, able to make your own best guess based on the available evidence. What ought to have been a smooth succession certainly seems to have sparked a lot of talk. If Nikephoros and Anna indeed helped Alexios and Eirene with their duties for some period of time, some people at court may have wanted Nikephoros to continue on as emperor. John may have acted to secure his authority before his father died. Yet whatever happened does not seem to have had any lasting impact on John’s reign, or Anna and Nikephoros’s lives. (p.152)


(1.) The case may have been made first by Ferdinand Chalandon, Les Comnène : études sur l'empire byzantin au XIe et au XIIe siècles vol. 2 Jean II Comnène, 1118–1143, et Manuel I Comnène, 1143–1180. (Paris: A. Picard et fils, 1912), 4. Robert Browning, “An Unpublished Funeral Oration on Anna Comnena,” Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society 8 (1962): 1–12, repr. in Aristotle Transformed: The Ancient Commentators and Their Influence, ed. Richard Sorabji (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), 398. International Encyclopaedia for the Middle Ages-Online. A Supplement to LexMA-Online. s.v. “Anna Komnene, historian, 1083 – 1153/4,” by Alexios Savvides, Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2011, in Brepolis Medieval Encyclopaedias, http://www.brepolis.net.

(2.) The rhetorical purposes of Anna’s portrait of Bohemond are brilliantly elucidated in Penelope Buckley, The Alexiad of Anna Komnene: Artistic Strategy in the Making of a Myth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 195–244.

(3.) Alexiad, 12.4.4.

(4.) Alexiad, 6.8.5. Translation by E. R. A. Sewter and Peter Frankopan, The Alexiad, rev. ed. (London: Penguin Classics, 2004), 169.

(6.) Alexiad, 3.3.3.

(7.) Charles Diehl, Byzantine Empresses (New York: Knopf, 1963), 185; Georgina Buckler, Anna Comnena, a Study (London: Oxford University Press, 1929), 249.

(8.) Myrto Hatzaki, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” in A Companion to Byzantium, ed. Liz James (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 97.

(9.) William of Tyre, A History of Deeds Done beyond the Sea, vol. 2, trans. Emily Atwater Babcock and August C. Krey (New York: Columbia University Press, 1943), 129.

(10.) Choniates, 51.

(12.) Alexiad, 3.3.2, 9.9.2.

(13.) Alexiad, 15.11.17.

(14.) Alexiad, 14.4.9.

(15.) Alexiad, 14.4.9. Translation by Sewter and Frankopan, The Alexiad, 413.

(16.) Alexiad, 14.4.9. Translation by Sewter and Frankopan, The Alexiad, 413.

(17.) Michael Angold, “Alexios I Komnenos: An Afterword,” in Alexios I Komnenos, edited by Dion Smythe and Margaret Mullett, Belfast Byzantine Texts and Translations 4.1 (Belfast: Belfast Byzantine Enterprizes, 1996), 406.

(18.) Alexiad, 15.11.23.

(19.) “In truth, it would have been better to have been transformed into some unfeeling rock … with shedding of tears … I remained … being so insensitive to disaster…. To endure such suffering and to be treated in an abominable way by people in the palace is more wretched than the troubles of Niobe.” Sewter and Frankopan, The Alexiad, 472. cf. Alexiad, 15.11.23.

(20.) Paul Stephenson, “Anna Comnena’s Alexiad as a Source for the Second Crusade?,” Journal of Medieval History 29, no. 1 (2003): 41–54; Paul Magdalino, “The Pen of the Aunt: Echoes of the Mid-Twelfth Century in the Alexiad,” in Anna Komnene and Her Times, ed. Thalia Gouma-Peterson (New York: Garland, 2000), 15–44; R. D. Thomas, “Anna Comnena’s Account of the First Crusade: History and Politics in the Reigns of the Emperors Alexius I and Manuel I Comnenus,” Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 15 (1991): 269–312; John France, “Anna Comnena, the Alexiad and the First Crusade,” Reading Medieval Studies 10 (1984): 20–38.

(21.) Paul Magdalino, “The Empire of the Komnenoi (1118–1204),” in The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire c.500–1492 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 629–46; Paul Magdalino, The Empire of Manuel I Komnenos, 1143–1180 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 27–108; Ralph-Johannes Lilie, Byzantium and the Crusader States, 1096–1204 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 96–141.

(22.) It is possible that her story did not reflect her father’s actual choices all that well. Peter Frankopan, The First Crusade: The Call from the East (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012); Jonathan Shepard, “Cross-Purposes: Alexius Comnenus and the First Crusade,” in The First Crusade: Origins and Impact, ed. Jonathan Phillips (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997), 107–29; Jonathan Shepard, “‘Father’ or ‘Scorpion’? Style and Substance in Alexios’s Diplomacy,” in Alexios I Komnenos, ed. Margaret Mullett and Dion Smythe Belfast Byzantine Texts and Translations 4.1 (Belfast: Belfast Byzantine Enterprises, 1996), 68–132; Jonathan Shepard, “When Greek Meets Greek: Alexius Comnenus and Bohemond in 1097–98,” Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 12 (1988): 185–277.

(23.) Alexiad, 14.2–14.3.

(24.) Alexiad, 14.3.8.

(25.) Alexiad, 14.3.9.

(26.) Alexiad, 14.4.

(27.) Alexiad, 15.6.3–5; Ioannis Stouraitis, “Conceptions of War and Peace in Anna Comnena’s Alexiad,” in Byzantine War Ideology between Roman Imperial Concept and Christian Religion: Akten des Internationalen Symposiums (Vienna, 19–21 Mai 2011), ed. Johannes Koder and Ioannis Stouraitis (Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2012), 69–80.

(28.) P. Maas, “Die Musen des Kaisers Alexios I,” Byzantinische Zeitschrift 22 (1913): 343–69.

(29.) Diether Roderich Reinsch, “Abweichungen vom traditionellen byzantinischen Kaiserbild im 11. und 12. Jahrhundert,” in L’éducation au gouvernement et à la vie: la tradition des “règles de vie” de l’antiquité au moyen âge, ed. Paolo Odorico (Paris: École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Centre d’études byzantines, néo-helléniques et sud-est européennes, 2009), 124; Marc Lauxtermann, “His, and Not His: The Poems of the Late Gregory the Monk,” in The Author in Middle Byzantine Literature: Modes, Functions, and Identities, ed. Aglae Pizzone (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2014), 81.

(32.) Magdalino, “The Pen of the Aunt,” 18; Margaret Mullett, “Alexios I Komnenos and Imperial Renewal,” in New Constantines: The Rhythm of Imperial Renewal in Byzantium, 4th–13th Centuries, ed. Paul Magdalino (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1994), 265–66; Margaret Mullett, “Whose Muses?: Two Advice Poems Attributed to Alexios I Komnenos,” in La face cachée de la littérature byzantine: le texte en tant que message immédiat, ed. Paolo Odorico (Paris: Centre d’études byzantines, néo-helléniques et sud-est européennes, École des hautes études en sciences sociales, 2012), 208–9.

(33.) Alexiad, 6.3.3, 12.5.3, 14.7.2; Maas, “Die Musen,” 351–58, lines 106, 120, 131, 167, 283, 325, 339. The similarity is noted by Shepard, “ ‘Father’ or ‘Scorpion’? Style and Substance in Alexios’s Diplomacy,” 70.

(34.) Maas, “Die Musen,” 352, line 122.

(35.) Buckley, The Alexiad of Anna Komnene, 143, 186; Ruth Macrides, “The Pen and the Sword: Who Wrote the Alexiad?,” in Anna Komnene and Her Times, ed. Thalia Gouma-Peterson (New York: Garland, 2000), 68–69.

(36.) Maas, “Die Musen,” 351, lines 72–86.

(37.) Ibid. 351, lines 90–94.

(38.) Alexiad, 3.5, 5.9.3, 12.7.4, 15.7; Buckley, The Alexiad of Anna Komnene, 123, 245–77.

(39.) Maas, “Die Musen,” 351–52, lines 105–15, 355, lines 238–44, 356, line 154.

(40.) Ibid. 352, lines 117–24.

(41.) Ibid. 328–33.

(42.) Maas, “Die Musen,” 357, lines 322–27; Alexiad 1.2.2, 3.10.4.

(43.) Maas, “Die Musen,” 356, lines 255–81.

(44.) Maas, “Die Musen,” 357, lines 294–95. For example: Alexiad 9.2.

(45.) Maas, “Die Musen,” 357, lines 294–98.

(46.) Maas, “Die Musen,” 362, lines 71–72. For example: Alexiad 8.5.3.

(47.) Maas, “Die Musen,” 352, lines 118–20, 356, lines 255–92; 361, lines 52–53.

(48.) Alexiad, 14.8, 15.8–10. For other interpretations of the roles of Alexios’s heretic persecution in the Alexiad, see Buckley, The Alexiad of Anna Komnene, 270–77; Dion (p.214) Smythe, “Alexios I and the Heretics: The Account of Anna Komnene’s Alexiad,” in Alexios I Komnenos, ed. Dion Smythe and Margaret Mullett (Belfast: Belfast Byzantine Enterprises, 1996), 232–59.

(49.) Maas, “Die Musen,” 349; Alexiad 3.6.4, 6.8.2.

(50.) Maas, “Die Musen,” 352–53, lines 140–64.

(51.) Maas, “Die Musen,” 358, lines 340–45; Alexiad, 2.4.8, 10.11.5.

(53.) Anna was called Anna Doukaina in a poem written to her by Prodromos. Her son John used the Doukas name rather than either Bryennios or Komnenos. Wolfram Hörandner, Theodoros Prodromos. Historische Gedichte, Wiener Byzantinistische Studien 11 (Vienna: Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1974), 377–81, text number 38. Matoula Kouroupou and Jean-François Vannier, “Commémoraisons des Comnènes dans le typikon liturgique du monastère du Christ Philanthrope (ms. Panaghia Kamariotissa 29),” Revue des études byzantines 63, no. 1 (2005): 59–60.

(54.) Jean-Claude Cheynet, Pouvoir et contestations à Byzance (963–1210) (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 1990), 414, note 4.

(55.) Peter Frankopan, “Kinship and the Distribution of Power in Komnenian Byzantium,” English Historical Review 122 (2007): 1–34.

(56.) Leonora Neville, Heroes and Romans in Twelfth-Century Byzantium: The “Material for History” of Nikephoros Bryennios (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 173–93.

(57.) Ibid. 63–69, 75–79.

(58.) Ibid. 182–93.