Anna Comnena was a Greek princess and scholar who wrote the ‘Alexiad’, an account of her father’s—Emperor Alexios I Komnenos of Byzantium—life and reign. She is considered the world’s first female historian and her work is a valuable source of information about the early Crusaders as she described in detail the daily life at court, her family life, and the political and military history of the Byzantine Empire. She was the eldest of her parents’ children and received a loving though disciplined upbringing. Being a Byzantine royal woman she received a good education and was tutored in literature, philosophy, medicine, astronomy and history among other subjects. A very intelligent and ambitious woman, she managed a large hospital and orphanage that her father had built for her to administer. She also taught medicine at the hospital and was well-known for her medical knowledge; in fact she even treated her own father during his final illness though she was unable to save his life. Initially she harbored the ambition of succeeding the throne after the death of her father, but was not supported in this endeavor by her husband. Thus she retired from court life and entered a monastery where she dedicated her time to studying philosophy and history.
- She was born on 1 December 1083 as the eldest daughter of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos of Byzantium and Irene Doukaina. Her father was a Byzantine emperor who ruled from 1081 to 1118 while her mother was the daughter of Andronikos Doukas and Maria of Bulgaria.She had several younger siblings, namely: Maria, John II, Andronikos, Isaac, Eudokia, and Theodora.Royal women during her time often received good education and she was no exception. Her parents arranged for her to receive lessons in varied subjects like astronomy, medicine, mathematics, history, and literature. She was particularly skilled at studying medicine.As an infant she was betrothed to Constantine Doukas, the son of Emperor Michael VII and Maria of Alania, as per the customs of that era. During her early childhood she was raised by her future mother-in-law. Constantine, however, died before the wedding could take place.Later Years
- She grew up to be a well-educated, intelligent and ambitious woman. She had a deep interest in philosophy and loved to read the works of ancient poets.Sensing her intellectual capabilities her father built a large hospital and orphanage and placed her in charge of the establishment. The hospital was a very big one, equipped with beds and facilities for 10, 000 patients and orphans.She had studied medicine and was known to be a good physician, considered to be an expert in treating gout. She also taught medicine at various hospitals.From a young age she had harbored the dream of ascending the throne as her father’s successor after his death. Being the eldest daughter, she believed it to be her right to be chosen as her father’s heir.However her brother John II Komnenos (born in 1087) was proclaimed the heir to the throne in 1092. This infuriated Anna as she believed her right had been snatched away.Her mother Irene always favored Anna over her brother and wanted Anna to ascend the throne. She tried her best to persuade the Emperor Alexios to designate Anna’s husband, Nikephoros Bryennios, as the future emperor. But her father always preferred John.Alexios fell ill with rheumatism around 1112 and could no longer govern the empire. Thus he turned over the civil government to his wife, Irene, who in turn designated the administration to Nikephoros Bryennios.Anna, with her medical expertise helped the physicians in attending to her ill father. Emperor Alexios died after some years in 1118 and John became the emperor.After John ascended the throne Anna and her mother conspired to depose him. But her husband was not in favor of this and refused to participate in the conspiracy.Anna and her husband had to retire from the court once this conspiracy was discovered. Her husband died in 1137 and Anna, along with her mother, retired to a monastery which her mother had founded.It was in the monastery that she dedicated her time to studying philosophy and history, and began writing the ‘Alexiad’. In this work she wrote about the political relations and wars between Alexios I and the West, vividly describing weaponry, tactics, and battles.Major Works
- She is best known for writing the ‘Alexiad’, in which she details the history of the Byzantine Empire under the reign of her father. The text, which is divided into fifteen books and a prologue, is composed in a literary style fashioned after Thucydides, Polybius, and Xenophon.Personal Life & Legacy
- She had been betrothed to Constantine Doukas, the son of Emperor Michael VII and Maria of Alania, in infancy. But her fiancé died before the marriage could take place.She married an accomplished nobleman, Caesar Nikephoros Bryennios the Younger, in 1097. Her husband was also a statesman and historian. This marriage lasted for 40 years and produced four children: Alexios Komnenos, John Doukas, Irene Doukaina, and Maria Bryennaina Komnene.She died in 1153, at the age of 70, in the Monastery of Kecharitomene.
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