For me the most interesting thing about Anna Comena's biography of her father is how much hard work it was to be a Byzantine Emperor.There seem to be constant hordes of enemies, external and internal (whack a mole rebellions), while every soldier to fight in their support needs to scrapped from the bottom of the barrel.Her narrative is indispensable for those interested in the 1st crusade and is ironically, considering her lack of love for the westerners, the most widely available primary source Comena does have the irritating habit of referring to western Europeans as Kelts (and her description of them is strongly reminiscent of earlier Roman and Greek descriptions of the celts), Egyptians as Babylonians and Hagarines for Muslims it was good style apparently to be as archaic, if not as obscure as possible in your nomenclature for the educated writer At that same time this implies that nothing has ever changed the Roman Empire still does battle with the Celts and the Babylonians just as it did a thousand years (and !) earlier Everything is eternal and unchanging the narrative implies, thus gracefully covering over the fact that the Commene family had only recently seized the Imperial throne through marriage and their right to rule was not universally taken seriously (hence the rebellions).There are some insights and stories like the one of her mother in labour that presumably a man of the household would not have access to, but because of the focus on her father and on him as a successful and able politician there is not as much about the role of the women in the political life of the Empire or about the decision making process that one might have liked from such a well placed witness And that is the great disappointment of her book, here for the only time we get the voice and opinion of a woman of the Imperial household, only she is not very interested in talking about being a woman in the Imperial household, her father unlike her younger brother who got to be the next Emperor is presented as an exemplary figure so she also keeps us at arms length from the doubts and political infighting behind the decision making.Still there is nothing else quite like it. 'The shining light of the world, the great Alexius'Anna Comnenawrote The Alexiad as an account of the reign of her father, the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I It is also an important source of information on the Byzantine war with the Normans, and the First Crusade, in which Alexius participated While the Byzantines were allied to the Crusaders, they were none the less critical of their behaviour and Anna's book offers a startlingly different perspective from that of Western historians Her character sketches are shrewd and forthrightfrom the Norman invader Robert Guiscard 'nourished by mainfold Evil' and his son Bohemond 'like a streaking thunderbolt' to Pope Gregory VII 'unworthy of a high priest' The Alexiad is a vivid and dramatic narrative, which reveals as much about the character of its intelligent and dynamic author as it does about the fascinating period through which she livedERA Sewter's translation captures all the strength and immediacy of the original and is complemented by an introduction that examines Anna's life and times This edition also includes maps, appendices, genealogical tables, a bibliography and indexes of events and names Edward Gibbons of 'The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'fame, has left a long lasting slander upon the Eastern Roman,or Byzantine, Empire So long lasting was it that it permeated the writings of other historians,popular fiction writers, even a couple of Italian 'blood sandal movies of the early sixties Gibbons, I believe, suffered from an elitism that all good things came from the pagan Romans That Eastern religion was a part of their downfall Charles Martel's victory over a Moslem invasion force at Tours, in the Eighth Century saved Western Europe Cough! A little town called Constantinople broke two massive invasions that most definitely would have changed history, and not to the liking of Gibbons, or Hansen, for that matter The men and women who both fought for,and,many a time,each other for the throne of this 'ghost of Rome' were some fascinating folk Alexius I Comnenus is a perfect example His daughter Anna wrote his biography It is a tale of an reeling empire One beset by aggressive Seljuk Turks who defeated a former emperor in 1076 at Manzikert in what is now Armenia,in the east, and some western adventurer knights, led by the Normans, descendants of the Vikings, who had swept up Sicily,parts of southern Italy, and looked on the remnants Of the Empire like raw meat to a wolf Okay got that out Alexius, to the surprise of many, would hold the Empire together Though unable to drive the Turks completely away from its former territory, it would be nearly four hundred years before Byzantium died He would see off the Normans And the barbarian horseman of the steppes raiding south across the Danube Anna loved and admired her father, though she wished he had chosen her and her husband as successors, instead of her brother who she tried to usurp Family affairs, the Empire is full of such stories Alexius also steered the First Crusade through his realm Anna gives an excellent description of their leaders, in particular, the mighty Norman, Bohemund I can picture the young Anna looking from the women's nook at the mailed badass from the semi civilized West and going Damn! He's Fine! Excuse me Harold Lamb in his history of the First Crusade Iron Men and Saints gives a vivid description of the Basileus Alexius and his encounter with the descendants of the Franks, Goths,Burgundians, Danes, and Lombards The Alexiad, the writing of Ammianus Marcellinus, and Tacitus will give you three different views of the Roman Empire at three different stages in its life. Anyone wishing to havethan an introductory knowledge of either the Crusades or Byzantium ought to read Anna Comnena's account known as the Alexiad of the reign her father from 1081 to 1118 AD on the Eastern Roman Empire It is in effect the foundation document upon which all subsequent historians have relied for either the First Crusade or for the history of Byzantium One ought to read The Alexiad on the heels of a work such as Julius Norwich's Byzantium: The Decline and Fall or Christopher Tyerman's God's War: A New History of the Crusades It must be understood that history for the premodern era is essentially literary criticism The historian of the modern era bases his or her account on archival sources The historian of antiquity or the middle ages a consults a handful of contemporary chronicles and then presents his or her interpretation Thus after reading the work of a modern historian on the era, the logical thing to do is to go to the horse's mouth and read Comnena's Alexiad She is certainly as intelligent as any modern historian Moreover, in the E.R.A Sewter translation of Penguin, she also writes as well According to Wikipedia, Comnena wrote in a highly artificial Attic Greek of the fifth century B.C which is quite ghastly, but Sewter's text is clear and cogent.Possibly due to her unnatural language or the fact that Comnena was a woman, many modern historians have sneered at her All have, however, accepted her thesis that the Comnenian Dynasty of Byzantium (a.k.a Istanbul, a.k.a Constantinople) was the best hope for a Christian regime that might have survived in the region past the end of the middle ages The Crusaders who came with the nominal purpose of supporting Christianity in the Holy Lands were in the view of Comnena simply a group of adventurers who were violent, erratic and irresponsible Worse they were treacherous Alexius I very clearly understood that if the Crusaders who arrived in his country were unable to establish a kingdom by taking territory from the Muslim Arabs in the Holy Land they were prepared to seize his kingdom as a consolation prize The fact that in the Fourth Crusade (1202 to 1204), the Crusaders did in fact depose the successor of Alexius and establish a Latin Kingdom in Byzantiumthan vindicates Alexius I for distrusting the Crusaders that he met in his life time.The Alexiad is a true treasure trove It offers an excellent portrait of Comnenian dynasty and the politics of the region The military campaigns are described with admirable detail There are also interesting comments on the Bogomil heresy and the ethnic composition of the region.The Alexiad is not however for someone unfamiliar with the era In fact for the contemporary reader it is often confusing Comnena refers to Byzantine Greeks as Romans while the Crusaders predominantly from France and England are called alternatively Franks, Latins and Barbarians Nonetheless, for the reader with the appropriate background, this is a richly rewarding work. What would Byzantine history be like if it was written by a sour and snippily selfconscious Victorian governess? Thanks to Anna Comnena, we don't have to wonder Full review now available on Vintage Novels I enjoyed the undercurrent of gleeful malice and all of the lurid eyegouging, but I didn't understand why everyone seemed to have the same name, why they had all married each other's cousins, and why they all wanted to kill each other The footnotes assumed I'd need help figuring out who the Gorgon was, and other references to Greek mythology, but provided no assistance with any of the Byzantine names, titles, dates, or battles Not even a time line I suppose that if I had known anything whatsoever about Byzantine history, I may have enjoyed the bookAs it was, all I learned was that they were really, really into gouging out eyes. Always feels a bit strange writing a review for something written almost a thousand years ago I can't imagine Anna Comnena herself would be very amused by the idea of any old pleb on social media being able to pass comment upon her history It goes without saying that the Alexiad has tremendous value as a piece of source material but I guess the whole point of reviews on Goodreads is to comment on the book's entertainment value for the general reader rather than its usefulness for the historian So here goes The nice thing about the Alexiad is that the personality of its writer comes through and we get a real impression of the Byzantine princess who wrote this account of her father's reign Her pride and admiration for her father's achievements are palpable and despite her endless protestations that she writes nothing but the unvarnished truth, she is unable to resist the urge to praise him to the heavens As such as a biography it has its limitations due to her extreme bias Her bitterness at her own fate; confined to a nunnery at her brother's hands is also conveyed in spades Anna delights in highflown language and tries to fit in a Homeric phrase as often as possible Clearly she loved her classics and spenttime reading those than the bible, since amusingly, whenever she quotes the scriptures, she inevitably gets it wrong!The chapters covering the early part of Alexius' reign would clearly have been based on accounts set down before Anna was born and during her childhood and these are in places confused to the point that they are almost impossible to follow, particularly her accounts of military campaigns As it goes on however into the remit of her own experience, it gets better and the famous accounts of the First Crusaders and the wars against the wily Normans are very readable and entertaining.All in all its a worthwhile read whether you're a Byzantium or crusading fan and across the centuries you can feel that you've got to know the slightly batty, dramatic, nostalgic and fiercely loyal to her father's memory; Anna Comnena. So the Alexiad Ridiculously popular, for both its author and its subject.Anna komnene is the first woman historian on record, and ambitious women in history have always made their eras so muchinteresting (imagine China without empress Wu or the Delhi sultanate without Razia Sultana) She doesn’t shy away from very frequent boasting either and is extremely proud of having “perfected her study of Greek to the highest pitch” (sic) Also a trained physician, Anna was NOT happy about her brother inheriting the throne from her father (Alexios Komnenos, the subject of this work), and planned a coup against him Said coup failed, and Anna was consequently imprisoned for life In her exile, she decided to write the Alexiad, because ain’t no way Anna Komnene was going to die unknown to history.The Alexiad is interesting for sure This is to say nothing of its extreme historical importance as a primary source for much of the most important events of an era that practically defined the rest of the Middle Ages in Eastern Europe and west Asia It purports to be a history, but it actually is not (and if Anna was honest about this, and didn’t behave like a Goebbels level propagandist, I might have given her apositive review) What it is, is a mix of history and epic in the Greek tradition There’s definitely a pretty strong throwback to homer going on.The subject of the book is Alexios Komnenos An absolutely awe inspiring figure, beset on all sides but unstoppable, Komnenos was a force of nature After the battle of Manzikert in 1071, the Byzantine empire had been decisively defeated by the Turks, and had lost practically all of Asia to them Alexios was a young general shortly afterwards, and after repeatedly proving himself on the battlefield in the many revolts and incursions after this era, he took the throne in a coup himself Subsequently, the man beat back the Scythians in the north, the cumans, Robert gusicard and the normans in the west, and the Turks in the east, all while also fighting off internal rebellions The Komnenian restoration which continued for two generations after him is among the most interesting phases of Byzantine history and Christianity’s last stand in the east.Anna gives us vivid deets about how her dad’s reign went down, and frequently very colourful descriptions She’s also a great source for the crusades and other important historical events of the era.Now that I have sufficiently praised both Anna and her dad, it’s time for the criticisms And there are a few.Firstly, this bish needs to stop lying stat On multiple occasions, she talks about how she is “neutral” in her history and won’t let her love of her dad affect her neutrality And then she proceeds to write about how he was the greatest man who ever lived, the very sun shone out his asshole, how he could do no wrong and how the same actions were clever and noble when done by him, and cunning and evil when done by someone else Now she is largely reliable in how events unfolded, but they are heavily tinged by her extremely visible bias The Muslims suck, the franks suck, the latins suck, greeks4eva praise jayzusSecond, and I guess this is ageneric criticism of her era, it sucks when I have to read 15 sentences to get information that should ideally be contained in one Bad writing.Third, ffs how much can she repeat herself We get it, Ms “Alexius, my father” You don’t have to keep reminding us Her narrative also rambles like mad It’s like she took an insane amount of E and then grabbed the pen.So in conclusion, I dunno man, depending on my mood, I could give this anything from 1 to 5 stars. It’s always fun to read history written by a historical figure, so to speak, and this overview of the life of the Emperor Aleixus, who did a pretty good job of rebuilding the shattered prestige of the Eastern Roman Empire, by his daughter Anna, was…reasonably engaging? Somewhat interesting? It was sort of vaguely for a project I’m working on, otherwise I’m not sure I’d have bothered. I fell in love with Turks here, and possibly with history I came to this young, a lucky chance.