1083 AD – 1153 AD
Byzantine Princess, Anarchist, First Female Historianby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Every age has its historians. Few, however, have been female. Anna Comnena is commonly regarded as the world’s first female historian. She was an Imperial Byzantine Princess and the daughter of Emperor Alexius Comnenus I and Empress Irene Ducaena. Born in Constantinople on December 1st in 1083 AD, Anna was a favorite of her father. As a child, Anna expected to inherit the throne and was even given a crown. All her hopes were dashed when her brother, John Comnenus, was born. Still, she received an excellent education and was well learned in almost every area.
In 1097, Anna married Nicephorus Bryennius, a historian. Later, during her father’s last illness in 1118, Anna and Empress Irene pleaded with her father to restore the throne to Anna. They failed; following the emperor’s death they conspired against her brother, the new emperor. Failing again, they escaped with their lives by the mercy of John and entered separate convents. Once in the convent, Anna spent her time writing the Alexiad, a fifteen volume history of her family and the rule of her father.
Although the Alexiad suffers from excessive glorification of her father and his family, it remains one of the most important historical sources about this time period. Anna’s familiarity with court procedures and life lend accuracy to these volumes. A strong contempt for the crusaders from the West shows in Anna’s work. These people appeared as ignorant barbarians to Anna, lacking the manners and education of the wealthy Byzantines. After Anna’s death, Byzantine was looted by the Crusaders and many of its arts and treasures were destroyed. The Alexiad, written in Greek, contains high praise for the accomplishments of women in the day, including her influential grandmother, Anna Dalassena.
Anna Comnena rose above the stereotypes of her time and became a distinguished woman in an era when women were required to cover their faces with veils and were not allowed to appear in public processions. Women of this time were supposed to attend only to family matters, and education was not considered a high priority for women. Anna dashed these stereotypes and secured for herself a place in history as an educated woman, and historian.
Sources:Women in World History Curriculum <http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/heroine5.html> copyright 1996-2003
Microsoft Encarta <http://www.distinguishedwomen.com/biographies/comnena.html> copyright 1995 Microsoft Corporation
LoveToKnow Corp. <http://www.1911ency.org/A/AN/ANNA_COMNENA.htm> Copyright 2002
Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, <http://www.encyclopedia.com/html/A/AnnaC1omn.asp> Copyright 2002