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The Portrayal of Duke Robert Guiscard of Apulia and Calabria in Anna Comnena’s Alexiad

The Portrayal of Duke Robert Guiscard of Apulia and Calabria in Anna Comnena’s Alexiad

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Hanna Persson. Originally submitted for Empire and the Papacy at Trinity College, Dublin, with lecturer Ian Robinson in the category of Historical Studies
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Hanna Persson. Originally submitted for Empire and the Papacy at Trinity College, Dublin, with lecturer Ian Robinson in the category of Historical Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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05/13/2014

 
 1
The Portrayal of Duke Robert Guiscard of Apulia and Calabria
in Anna Comnena’s Alexiad
 
The way Anna Comnena assess
es Duke Robert Guiscard‟s carrier 
in the
 Alexiad 
differssignificantly from other contemporary narrative accounts. Authors such as Amatus of Montecassino, William of Apulia and Geoffrey of Malaterra were all writing in order tolegitimatize the Norman conquest of southern Italy and offer a sympathetic account of RobertGuiscard.
1
Anna Comnena on the other hand is writing from a different perspective whereRobert Guiscard is described as the enemy who is threatening the Byzantine Empire. The
 Alexiad 
 
is the biography of Anna‟s father Alexius I Comnenus, wh
o is portrayed as an
emperor constantly facing threats from various enemies and naturally most of Anna‟s account
of Robert Guiscard is focused around his campaign against Byzantium in 1081 to 1085.However, Anna needed to portray Robert Guiscard in a way
 justifying her father‟s defeat;
hence her account offers a more nuanced picture than of pure hostility. This essay will assessthe carrier of Robert Guiscard as it is described in the
 Alexiad 
. Initially one will consider
Anna Comnena‟s reliability as an hi
storian by looking at her personal biography andauthorship. As an imperial princess,
Anna‟s perception of the world differed from that of 
Latin writers. She believed the Byzantine Empire to be the center of the world and the heart of civilization. Furthermore, as a member of the imperial royal family her writing came to reflectupon some of the superstitions and attitudes current at the court in the mid-twelfth century.
2
 
By taking Anna‟s personal context and aim of writing in to consideration
, one will then assessher account of Robert Guiscard in order to try to capture her general attitudes towards him.
1
Kenneth Baxter Woolf,
Making History 
– 
The Normans and their Historians in Eleventh Century Italy 
 (Philadelphia, 1995), pp. 1-6 and 174-175
2
Rae Dalven,
 Anna Comnena
(New York, 1972), p. 78
 
 2
First, by looking at her key description of him as a person and secondly by assessing the wayshe describes the main events in which he figures.The
 Alexiad 
is an unique source since it is one of few medieval narrative written by a womanand the only one written by a daughter in the memory of her father.
3
Most of what is knownabout Anna Comnena derives from her presentation of herself in the
 Alexiad 
. She was theoldest child of Emperor Alexius I Comnenus and his wife Irene Ducas, born 1 December1083.
4
Still a child, Anna became betrothed to Constantine Ducas, son to the former emperorMichael VII Ducas and designated successor to the Byzantine throne. However, to herdisappointment these arrangements never came about as her brother John was born a fewyears later. It has been suggested that she wrote the
 Alexiad 
out of bitterness to stress herspecial relationship with their father.
5
After the death of Alexius in 1118 Anna, together withher mother Irene, conspired against her brother John II Comnenus (1118-1043), but as thecoup attempt failed she instead ended up exiled from court in the monastery of Kecharitomene.
6
In the
Preface
to the
 Alexiad 
Anna
states that the task of writing her father‟s
biography originally was given to her beloved husband, Nicephorus Byrennius, a historianand statesman who Anna had married in 1097 at the age of fourteen and together with hadfour children.
7
However, as her husband died around 1138 Anna felt obliged to conclude hisunfinished work and she kept writing until her unrecorded death in the mid 1150s.
8
 
3
Elisabeth van Houts,
The Normans in Europe
(Manchester, 2000), p. 250
4
Anna Comnena,
The Alexiad 
VI.8, trans. E.R.A Sewter (London, 2003), p. 196
 
5
Comnena,
The Alexiad 
I.12, p. 58Marcelle Thiébaux,
The Writing of Medieval Women
– 
An Anthology 
(London, 1994), pp. 226-227
6
Thiébaux,
The Writing of Medieval Women
, pp. 225-227
7
Comnena,
The Alexiad 
Preface, pp. 18-20
E.R.A Sewter ”Introduction”
in Anna Comnena,
The Alexiad 
(London, 2003), pp. 11-14
8
Comnena,
The Alexiad 
XIV.7, p. 460Elisabeth van Houts,
The Normans in Europe
(Manchester, 2000), p. 250
 
 3
In the
Preface
Anna also states her aim of writing is to remember the deeds of her father sothat they will not bec
ome consumed by time and maybe as an indirect critic of her brother‟s
reign she portray Alexius as the ultimate example of a just and good ruler.
9
Even by lessbiased contemporaries Alexius I was considered to be the man who restored the ByzantineEmpire, after its constant decline in power followed the death of Emperor Basil II in 1025.
10
 The
 Alexiad 
was written as an epic of prose where the world centered on Byzantium isdescribed as a cosmic struggle for domination, inspired by the classical battle of Troy whereAlexius himself is portrayed primary as a military strategist and monarch.
11
In his article onAnna Comnena, James Howard-Johnston found it surprising that a woman with no experienceof warfare would
devote such a substantial amount of her father‟s
biography to militaryhistory. He suggests that Anna originally did not write the
 Alexiad 
but instead just came to
revise and edit her husband‟s work.
12
However, it is very hard to draw conclusions about
Anna‟s knowledge in military affairs since
she is the only female Byzantine writer at thatperiod.
13
It is also possible that Anna dedicated such an extensive part of her work to warfare
 because she considered it the truest ethos for her father‟s reign.
14
A theory especially
 plausible considering to the extent Anna‟s narrative was influenced by classical writers, such
9
Comnena,
The Alexiad 
Preface, pp.17-18
10
 
Michael Angold, ’Belle Époque or Crisis’ in ed.
Jonathan Shepard
The Cambridge History of the ByzantiumEmpire c. 500-1492
(Cambridge, 2008), pp. 583-587
J. Chrysostomides, ‘A Byzantium Historian: Anna Comnena’ in ed. D.O Morgan,
Medeival Historical Writing inthe Christian and Islamic World 
(London, 1982), pp. 30-32
11
Dalven,
 Anna Comnena,
p. 152
Angeliki Laiou ’Introduction: Why Anna Komnene’ in ed. Thalia Gouma
-Peterson
 Anna Komnene and Her Times
 (New York, 2000), pp. 5-7
Ruth Macrides ’The Pen and the Sword: Who Wrote the Alexiad?’ in
ed. Thalia Gouma-Peterson
 Anna Komneneand Her Times
(New York, 2000), pp. 66-71
12
James Howard-
Johnson, ‘Anna Komnene and the Alexiad’ in eds. Margaret Mullet and Dion Smythe
 Alexius IKomnenos
(Belfast, 1996), pp. 269-288
13
 
Ruth Macrides ’The Pen and the Sword: Who Wrot
e the Alexiad?
’ in
ed. Thalia Gouma-Peterson
 AnnaKomnene and Her Times
(New York, 2000), p. 72
14
M
acrides ’The Pen and the Sword’
, pp. 66-71

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