Anna Comnena, the Alexiad and the First Crusade

Anna ComnenaAnna Comnena, the Alexiad and the First Crusade

John France

 Reading Medieval Studies: v.10 (1984)


By her own account Anna Comnena began to write the Alexiad shortly after the death of her husband, Nicephoros Bryennios, in 1137. He had begun a life of Alexius, known to us as Hyle, but had also taken it no further than the end of the reign of Nicephoros Botaniates in March 1081. This inspired Anna to continue the unfinished life of her father. Some 30 years after the death of Alexius, she tells us that she was still preparing the work. Those parts of Book X and XI which deal with the First Crusade were therefore written at least 40 years after the events they describe.  We know that Anna was born on 1 December 1083 so she was only thirteen when the crusade came to Constantinople. in 1096-1097.


In view of these facts it is difficult to regard her as an eye-witness even for those events which took place in and around Constantinople during the First Crusade.  Anna is at pains to stress her involvement in public affairs even at a very tender age, 6 but it seems likely that her childhood recollections add no more than a certain vividness to accounts of events which, essentially, she derived from other sources.  Her poor dating is also probably evidence of her distance from events. Anna makes a point of emphasising the limitations of her sources.

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