Extraordinary Women of the Medieval and Renaissance World: A Biographical Dictionary

By Carole Levin; Debra Barrett-Graves et al. | Go to book overview

ANNA KOMNENA
(1083-1153/1155)

Western Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey)
Scholar and Historian

The Byzantine princess Anna Komnena has been acclaimed as the medieval Greek world's most educated woman. Anna also deserves recognition for her encouragement of a group of scholars dedicated to the study of Aristotle's works. The greatest achievement of this brilliant daughter of Alexius I Komnenus (ruled 1081-1118) and Irene Ducas (d. 1133) is the history that she wrote about her father and his reign known as The Alexiad.

Toward the middle of the eleventh century, the Komneni, a military family of great power and wealth, assumed a leading role in the Byzantine world. Ruling as its emperor until his abdication, Isaac Komnenus (ruled 1057-1059) increased the Komneni's influential status. When Isaac's brother John refused the throne after Isaac's abdication, the Ducas family succeeded to power; however, the Komneni would soon regain control over the Byzantine Empire. With the persistent urging of his mother, Anna Dalassene (the wife of Isaac's brother John), Alexius seized the throne for the Komneni in a coup d'état ( 1081), approximately two years before Anna was born. Under the competent rule of Alexius I, the Komneni dynasty held its borders against a series of invaders, including the Normans and the Turks.

Anna's personal and family pride is legendary. Her birth in the purple chamber of Constantinople's imperial palace on 1 December 1083 earned for her the title Porphyrogenete, which means to have been "born in the purple." The eldest of seven children--Maria, John II Porphyrogenitous, Andronicus, Isaac, Eudocia, and Theodora-- Anna had been led to believe that one day she, too, would reign over the magnificent Byzantine Empire. Alexius had even placed a crown upon Anna's head while she was still an infant. He had also betrothed her to the Empress Maria of Alania's son, Constantine Ducas, the rightful heir to the throne. Upon the birth of her brother John (ca. 1087), Anna's hopes of ruling an empire came to an abrupt end. Her

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