Anna Comnena

The Crusaders, to Anna, were nothing more than unrefined barbarians. They didn’t listen to advice, they looted and pillaged.

Anna Comnena was a Byzantine princess, born in 1083. She was well-educated (studying philosophy, science, math, mythology, musics, the Classics) and expected to succeed her father as empress; however, her younger brother’s birth in 1088 prevented that from happening.

Several times, she and her husband (who also had a claim) tried to convince her father to appoint Anna his heir. In 1118, Anna attempted to put her husband on the throne with support from her mother, the Empress Irene. She possibly engaged in a coup or assassination attempt against her brother. The coup failed and she had to leave the court; after her husband’s death, she joined a monastery.

However, the situation might not be so clean cut. One source says:

She had time to write, because after her father’s death, she appears to have been involved in some kind of a plot against her brother John, the new emperor. The difficulty for historians is that the chief source of the story of the plot is a chronicler, Ioannes Zonaras, who wrote in the 1170s in the service of John’s son; later writers simply repeated Zonaras’ story. Whatever the reason, Anna was at some point sent off by her brother John to live with her mother at a monastery that her mother had founded. John died in 1143, to be succeeded by his son Manuel; Anna remained at her convent. Her history of her father’s reign seems to have been completed in 1148, but since the end of the manuscript is mutilated, it is hard to be sure.

In 1138, she began working on a history of her family, a work that would stretch to 15 volumes. Anna wrote about her impressions of the Western European crusades. Her father, Alexis, had asked Urban II for help with the invading Turks; the First Crusade was launched in 1096.

She also wrote some poetry, though little is extant.

She is usually considered the first female historian. Her work was written in Greek, rather than scholarly Latin. Her work remains the primary source, in both senses of the word, of this place and time.

This post originally appeared in slightly modified form on Mirous Worlds.

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Natasha

History. Hindi cinema. Hugging cats.

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