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The Alexiad (Penguin Classics) Paperback – September 29, 2009

3.9 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

E. R. A. Sewter was a well-known Byzantine scholar and the editor of Greece and Rome. His translation of The Alexiad of Anna Komnene is still published in Penguin Classics. He died in 1976.
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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Revised ed. edition (September 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140455272
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140455274
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #78,378 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Bryan Miller on March 17, 2006
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback
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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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.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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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