Customer Reviews: The Alexiad (Penguin Classics)
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on March 17, 2006
An excellent translation of Comnena's work, remains true to the original Greek while providing good equivalents for the more difficult idiomatic expressions. Also includes a couple of very helpful maps and appendices. A wonderful read for anyone interested in Byzantine history.
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on December 5, 2011
As usual, I am not reviewing Anna Komnene as an historian. I am reviewing this particular edition of her work.

This is a relatively recent edition of the 'Alexiad'. While the core of E.R.A. Sewter's 1969 translation remains in place, many changes have been made and they are all good. The first, and most visually obvious, is the jacket. The 2003 edition of the Alexiad featured a figure in mosaic, which the book identified as Alexios Komnenos, as depicted in a 12th c. mosaic in the Hagia Sophia. This isn't entirely wrong, in that the mosaic is of Alexios Komnenos, it's just the wrong one. The figure depicted was Alexios, son of John II Komnenos and heir-apparent until his early death. His mosaic is attached but is rotated 90 degrees from the famous mosaic panel of his parents, making the mis-identification understandable for a badly-informed tourist guide, but not a serious publication. Thankfully, Penguin has fixed this issue and replaced the cover image with a high-quality picture (the coin it is a picture of is about the size of a thumbnail) of one of Alexios I Komnenos' hyperpyra (meaning: fire-refined) coins. The new editor, Oxford's Peter Frankopan has also adopted a more regular transliteration style based upon that used in the The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (3-Volume Set), in place of Sewter's original Latin-based transliteration style. These changes extend into the text as well, which generally seems to be mostly unchanged, although Frankopan's updates allow for more precision. Titles and important Greek terms are left transliterated.

The book's appendices are also much overhauled. Rather than work too hard, the original 'Alexiad' borrowed a few appendices from Sewter's earlier translation of Michael Psellos' Fourteen Byzantine Rulers: The Chronographia of Michael Psellus (Penguin Classics). The essays on Greek fire and the Byzantine navy are gone, which is fine because they both include much old scholarship. Instead, a table of relevant Byzantine rulers, popes, and patriarchs is included, as well as stemmata of the Doukas and Komnenos families. The real valuable addition lies in Frankopan's excellent notes. For a Penguin Classic this is exceptional, as they are usually rather bare when it comes to notes. While Frankopan's explanatory notes hardly make this a serious commentary, they are useful for understanding Anna's classical references and the context when she fails to explain herself or is being deliberately manipulative. A glossary is also provided. Such an addition is absolutely essential, as many titles are now just transliterated in the text itself. While the entries are brief, they are sufficient. Frankopan also includes a bibliographic essay at the start of the text which provides a useful summary of the most recent and important scholarship.

This new edition of the 'Alexiad' includes some very useful support materials. It is one of the finest Penguin Classics in print, and easily replaces Sewter's original version.
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on January 30, 2006
In this history the Emperor Alexius comes across as a sort of medievil Lee Iacoca or Carlos Gohsn, who through very delicate wheeling and dealing manages to bring back a floundering empire from the brink. Since Anna was the emperor's daughter, we could expect a hagliography from her, but that would discredit her intensely perceptive analysis of the political situation as well as her own personal experiences with many of the major players or others who knew them. It would also ignore the fact that this book is in many ways a treatise by Anna on what it means to be a good ruler, as exemplified through the person of Alexius.

Excellent book for history buffs and people looking for examples of great leadership.
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VINE VOICEon August 28, 2012
Anna Comnena, the eldest daughter to the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus, in her later years, wrote this biography of her father. She was continuing an effort started by her deceased husband Nicephorus Bryennius who was a general in the imperial army (among other things). Emperor Alexius was an extraordinary emperor. He ruled during a turbulent time where every neighbor wanted to conquer them. The condition of the empire had been severely weakened for many years and the frequent internal conflicts continued to leave the empire vulnerable. Anna succeeds in her goal of showing what an impressive leader her father was. She relates the continuous warfare and intrigues that Alexius had to endure. A lesser man would certainly have become overwhelmed, but Alexius was able to weather the storm and hold the empire together. What I found truly remarkable is that Alexius seemed to lose more battles than he won, but he was still able to win each war.

But Anna is a biased source. Her scorn of the enemies of Byzantium should be considered. Here are a couple examples of her selective testimony. The introduction of Robert Guiscard and Pope Gregory VII is a little too concise and filled with much prejudice. The story that she gives of Robert Guiscard's rise to power may or may not be true, but she certainly left out the more important acts of Robert. She also neglects to mention that Robert Guiscard had driven Byzantium out of Italy only 7 years earlier. This is what lead to Emperor Michael VII Ducas suing for peace with Robert with the marriage proposal. Late in the book, she professes the greatness of her mother Irene, saying that Alexius never let her leave his side. While she tells the tenderness in which Irene treats him, Anna fails to mention that Irene had been conspiring to have Anna's husband replace Anna's brother John as heir. This desire Anna shared and did not want to write about after the failed assassination attempt on John and later confinement by him.

The Alexiad is also frequently confusing as Anna's lack of knowledge causes her to misrepresent information, incorrectly identify people, and leave out relevant information. Reading the Alexiad without knowledge of the period is not recommended. Fortunately, this book comes with good footnotes which help the reader by pointing out where Anna is wrong and filling in the gaps in her story. I have increased my rating one star because of his efforts. And despite her failing, the Alexiad does provide a historical record from the Byzantine side and present the story of an incredible versatile emperor.

If you are interested in the time period in which Anna writes, I recommend Byzantium: The Decline and Fall by John Julius Norwich or A History of the Crusades Vol. I: The First Crusade and the Foundations of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Volume 1) and A History of the Crusades: Volume II The Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Frankish East, 1100-1187 by Stephen Runciman and First Crusade by Thomas Asbridge for coverage of the Crusades.
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on June 12, 2014
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 rare and interesting, considering when she wrote her history) but unfortunately, most of the book is a very dry recitation of facts.
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on May 21, 2016
The Alexiad is the Iliad of Byzantium. It reads like a novel, but is a history by Anna Komene the daughter of Emperor Alexius I of Constantinople (the famous emperor during The First Crusade). It contains everything from Byzantine social life to religious practices, warfare tactics, and every political intrigue and subtle nuance of living in Queen of Cities. Scholars question accounts like Komene due to their bias, but I argue all history is biased. If you read The Hundred Year's War from a Brit St. Joan of Arc is a witch, if you read it from the French historians she was a saint or at the very least a paragon of chivalry and nationalism. The Alexiad contains details about how Byzantines in upper eschelons lived, and it does contain all graphic details, "removal of eyes as punishment" and more. I highly recommend this historia, because it is not only readable and wittingly entertaining, but informative. While some may say modern scholarship is better, can you really disregard accounts and details from people who lived in time period and among the events modern scholars speculate about? You be the judge.
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on March 7, 2012
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 Europeans themselves have since been using for other groups. There are always wars going on, be it with the Turks, the Normans encroaching from Southern Italy or even the Crusaders. From this history, it transpires that many crusaders were just keen to conquer any territory, Byzantine or Saracene.
I came away from this book with a deeper understanding of the various nuances of the word 'Byzantine': religiosity bordering on fanaticism, cruel palace intrigues (I lost count keeping track of how many people got their eyes gouged out when they fell out of favour) and shrewd double-timing diplomacy in a turbulent world.
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on September 30, 2015
This book is not for everyone. It is a history of a Byzantine emperor written by his daughter, Anna Commena, over a 1000 years ago originally in Greek and translated into English. Given its heritage, it takes a bit of determination to read. It is, however, an fascinating insight into the politics, infighting, wars, and life of Emperor Alexius 1st's Court roughly around the time of the first Crusade. The political interplay between the Byzantines and the western Crusading armies during their passage through Byzantium may be especially interesting for some readers. I was struck with the near constant warfare during Emperior's reign needed to maintain the Empire's territory.
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on February 3, 2013
Without situating this documentation in its historical as well as its human context it will not be taken seriously. But its flaws are understandable, given its reference, a daughter compiling the military and political history of her father's reign as Byzantine emperor during a sensitive moment in Roman and Christian history. Important to have as much background as possible in order to appreciate the work accomplished here by a woman who claims a proper education as an historian, yet is really dependent on a variety of sources which do not necessarily coincide. The editor has done an excellent job in revising the text and modernizing the wording.
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on November 10, 2011
Great book written originally in Ancient Greek by Princess Anna Comnene.
Anna Comnene gives an account of the reign of her father, Alexios I, whom she compares with the great Illyrian Emperor, Constantine the Great. The Roman Empire (which is nowadays considered as the Byzantine Empire) is being attacked on the west, in Illyricon (Illyria) by the Normans (a third of the book), and on the east by the Turks. Anna gives us insights on the political mind of her father. Alexios is trying to solve his problems through diplomacy rather than war. But he uses all his cards, diplomatic alliances with the Germans and Italians, and Turks, and open war if necessary. It is clear that Anna writes from a Christian point of view showing great respect for her father as emperor and mother as queen, and her Grandma has a special place in her heart as well. Her portrayal of different historical characters is very interesting. It's as if she is building a monument or a statue with words right in front of our eyes. Some descriptions of the battles are so vivid, that you can describe this writing as cinematic. Her love of literature is marvellous and contagious. Overall a great read. The reason why we love royals is because deep down we want to be them. I would recommend this book to my best friends and to everybody.
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