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The Alexiad

3.92  ·  Rating Details  ·  548 Ratings  ·  31 Reviews
This is one of the fundamental sources of information on chivalry as well as many other interesting subjects. Princess Anna was the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I, and a highly educated and cultured woman. This is the first and only full translation of this remarkable work, although it has been much quoted in various scholarly works. Sir Walter Scott relied he ...more
Paperback, 560 pages
Published December 20th 1979 by Penguin Classics (first published 1148)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,789)
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I've been thinking a lot about reviewing lately.

For a time I considered stopping entirely. It sometimes gets very stressful to read a book while searching for quotes to use and things to mention, not being able to actually enjoy the book because too much time and focus goes towards planning the eventual review.

Which is bloody ridiculous.

It's sad to say this, but I've been putting too much energy into reviewing. It should only be done for fun, and that's what I'm going to do from now on.

Which is
Curt Lorde
Mar 06, 2014 Curt Lorde rated it it was amazing
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 Mosle ...more
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, 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 irr
else fine
Sep 03, 2007 else fine rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: eye gouging fans
Shelves: history
I enjoyed the undercurrent of gleeful malice and all of the lurid eye-gouging, 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 whats ...more
Sep 20, 2010 Ned rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: filmwriters
Recommended to Ned by: Edward Gibbon
Shelves: favorites

this gets 4 stars for the edition, not the text which is fine.
I had the luxury of reading this in tandem with a number of other less contemporary takes of the Crusades, like Edward Gibbon and Steven Runciman's First Crusade and still more recent things. So I was able to construct a timeline and make sense on my own of the various names and families and places and loyalties and why and what for. I don't know of a current resource for this sort of thing, I used Ostrogorsky.
Anna Komnena is an inco
Aug 08, 2015 Myles rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Myles by: Isaac Asimov
An intimdating read. I'd given up on this several times before now and this time I only got over a major hump by it being the only book on hand when I had to spend a night waiting in the emergency room. The book can often become less a narrative and more a numbing parade of seiges and names. I find it difficult to imagine why anyone would want to become emperor at all, you would never have a moment's peace. Dry or not this is still an immensely valuable source of information on the First Crusade ...more
Aaron Giddings
Great History, Tough Read

I picked up this book after reading the Minimum Wage Historian's write-up of Anna Komnene in Fearless: Powerful Women of History.

I'm really not sure what I was expecting. If you're a scholar or hugely interested in Byzantine history around the 11th century, then this is a good choice, full of battle facts and city locations. Otherwise, it's pretty slow reading. There are some bits that are interesting insights into the character and views of the author herself (which is
Apr 30, 2008 Keith rated it really liked it
First hand account of the Crusades from the perspective of Byzantium and the East. Not too hard to get through as far as Medieval non-fiction goes!
Ethan Ashley
Oct 05, 2015 Ethan Ashley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
Alexius determining whether to war with The Cumans:

"On two tablets Alexius wrote the question, 'Should I go out to attack the Cumans?'; on one 'Yes' was added, on the other 'No'. They were signed and the patriarch [Nicolas] was commanded to place them on The Holy Table. After hymns had been sun all through the nigh, Nicolas went to the altar, picked up one of the papers and brought it out. In the presence of the whole company he broke the seal and read aloud what was written there. The emperor a
Bryn Hammond
Aug 06, 2015 Bryn Hammond rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: medieval-islam
I fell in love with Turks here, and possibly with history. I came to this young, a lucky chance.
James Violand
Mar 21, 2015 James Violand rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs
Shelves: own
Comnena paints an excruciatingly favorable portrait of her father, the Emperor Alexis of Byzantium. This is a history from 1083 to 1108 and includes a rare insight into the First Crusade. The wildly inept bureaucracy and military leaders is laughable, and the author excuses each debacle as though somehow baffling. She recites an incident where a notorious traitor has finally been seized and imprisoned in an unguarded tower only to escape by climbing out a window! Who would have thought that poss ...more
Simon Jones
Sep 02, 2015 Simon Jones rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Nov 27, 2011 Filip rated it liked it
As 12-century Byzantine histories go, this is a heavy read with its repetitions and religious invocations. And yet it's also fascinating because this history written by Byzantine princess Anna Comnena (born in the purple, as she won't let you forget) provides a unique insight in the history of Byzantium seen from within. They felt they were the Roman Empire, and looked down on Western Europeans ('Franks') for their greed, duplicity and aggression, at best with 'noble savage' clichés that Europea ...more
Tatum Rosell
If everyone still looked at outside culture through the eyes of Disney and was conservative enough to wage wars based on religion, then perhaps they would be able to relate to Anna Komnene's depiction of her father's "magnificent" rule of the Byzantine Empire. There are hundreds of name drops that are irrelevant in today’s understanding of politics and social status. However, Book XI shows interesting details that are historically significant, as is the text itself when discussing the crusades. ...more
Nicholas Whyte
Aug 06, 2011 Nicholas Whyte rated it liked it

it is a history of the reign of the Byzantine emperor Alexius I by his daughter Anna. Gibbon is (as so often) unfairly scathing about this book, saying that "an elaborate affectation of rhetoric and science betrays on every page the vanity of a female author". It's not that bad, but it's not that great either; if you're not especially interested in the events of the late eleventh century and early twelfth century at that end of the Mediterranean, you can s
Arthur Kyriazis
May 23, 2016 Arthur Kyriazis rated it it was amazing
quite simply, the most fundamental primary source on the Eastern Roman Empire ever committed to paper.

And, the finest scholarly, political, historical and diplomatic work ever committed to print by a woman in history.

The woman of the Eastern Roman Empire were the best educated, the best looking, the most intelligent, the most pious, and none were there rivals on this earth.

What one might give for an hour on the Bosporus with Anna Comneni, daughter of the Emperor of the Romans.
Douglas Berry
Jan 15, 2016 Douglas Berry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Written in the 12th century by the daughter of Emperor Alexios I, this is an amazing look at the history and attitudes of the Roman Empire of the time. Anna Komnene was a remarkable woman and her history is a must read for anyone interested in the era.

This is not a polished history as we are used to reading today. Anna is quite partisan, and writing mostly from memory about even that were decades in the past. But still engrossing and fun. Keep two bookmarks handy; as the extensive end notes in e
Aug 29, 2014 Beth rated it really liked it
For a primary source from 1148 this is immensely readable. Sometimes it bogs down in names and dates, but its point of view is very interesting and the author's voice is clear and clever. I especially enjoyed some of the little asides.
Sep 07, 2015 Josiah added it
This is a great account of Byzantine court life in the eleventh century, the personal character of Alexios Komnenos, and the events of the First Crusade. Anna Komnena has a very smooth style of writing which is similar to that of Plutarch. Similarly to Plutarch she enjoys moralizing and assigning motives, often to people with whom she clearly has no desire to empathize. Luckily she makes it clear when she's motivated primarily by contempt, which is the norm when she's discussing a non-Greek, if ...more
Apr 11, 2012 Dimitri rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most Byzantine history is written by monks in a pompous and boring style. Anna Komnene's book is refreshingly vivid, adventurous, and sufficiently subjective. Although Anna writes this book in praise of her father's (the emperor Alexios Komnenos) accomplishments, she is very aware of her duty as a historian. Although there are a few escapades of raw adoration, for the most part the account is fair often exposing some of Alexio's shortcomings such as duplicity in international affairs. Although i ...more
byzantium, byz-la-ema-owned
Mark Blackham
Feb 24, 2012 Mark Blackham rated it it was ok
This book was written early in the twelfth century by Anna Comnena (Komnene), who was the daughter of Emperor Alexius (Alexios) of the Byzantine Empire. As would be expected, much of her story is biased in favor of her father. She draws together historical accounts from sources of the time but seems terribly confused about the sequence of events. Nonetheless, it is a priceless work and presents an intriguing view into Byzantine life and thought, chock full of useful historical tidbits.
Timothy Boyd
Feb 13, 2016 Timothy Boyd rated it it was ok
Not a good history book for me. The rambling first person account was hard to follow and I really didn't feel like I learned anything new by reading it. Not recommended unless you need to study a first hand account of this time
D.J. Butler
Apr 08, 2012 D.J. Butler rated it it was amazing
Fascinating life of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius by his daughter Anna. The Byzantine Greeks get short shrift in western histories, and reading this is a step in the direction of rectifying my own personal cultural deficit. If you can get past sometimes-stiff translationese, and Anna's own long-winded narrative style, you get to lurid and bloody facts, in war, politics and religion alike. Very entertaining, on top of everything else.
Aug 19, 2016 John rated it it was ok
Hagiography. If you want power you need to be permanently fighting wars; helps to have a splendid mum who can stay at home and do all the boring administrative work. Needless to say, anyone with any connection to our hero Alexius is completely magnificent, whereas those others … well, I'm afraid they're just completely beyond the pale. [Human nature: isn't it wonderful!?]
Brandin Stoy
Jan 14, 2016 Brandin Stoy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very engaging narrative of the life of the Byzantine emperor Alexios I Kommenos. Despite protestations to the contrary by Anna, the work is not free from the biases of the author, however, this does not lessen the value of the work.
Ellis L.
Feb 14, 2012 Ellis L. rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This is our one great source on the life of Emperor Alexius I and one of our important source for the First Crusade. I have on occasion made it part of the required reading for my Crusades course, so I've read it multiple times.
Jul 14, 2015 Suzannah rated it really liked it
What would Byzantine history be like if it was written by a sour and snippily self-conscious Victorian governess? Thanks to Anna Comnena, we don't have to wonder. Full review to come.
Aug 26, 2011 Shane rated it really liked it
Surprisingly modern and enjoyable to read.
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The Byzantine historian Anna Komnene, Latinized as Comnena (December 1, 1083 – 1153) was the eldest child of the Emperor Alexios I Komnenos and Irene Doukaina, and is considered the first female historian. From earliest childhood Anna was in daily contact with the leading figures of the Empire. Through her social position and own interest, she obtained an education in literature and philosophy giv ...more
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“The stream of Time, irresistible, ever moving, carries off and bears away all things that come to birth and plunges them into utter darkness, both deeds of no account and deeds which are mighty and worthy of commemoration; as the playwright [Sophocles] says, it 'brings to light that which was unseen and shrouds from us that which was manifest.' Nevertheless, the science of History is a great bulwark against this stream of Time; in a way it checks this irresistible flood, it holds in a tight grasp whatever it can seize floating on the surface and will not allow it to slip away into the depths of Oblivion.

...I, having realized the effects wrought by Time, desire now by means of my writings to give an account of my father's deeds, which do not deserve to be consigned to Forgetfulness nor to be swept away on the flood of Time into an ocean of Non-Remembrance; I wish to recall everything....”
“It is extraordinary that nobody nowadays under the stress of great troubles is turned into stone or a bird or a tree or some inanimate object; they used to undergo such metamorphoses in ancient times (or so they say), though whether that is myth or a true story I know not. Maybe it would be better to change one's nature into something that lacks all feeling, rather than be so sensitive to evil. Had that been possible, these calamities would in all probability have turned me to stone.” 5 likes
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