Anna Komnene was a Byzantine Princess. (talk about born lucky, especially taking into account what the rest of the world was like.) She was born in the “Purple Chamber” in the royal palace, and that meant she was big medicine. It was Uber bragging rights, more so than any PHD or academy award.
So, what made her so cool? Besides being the richest, most connected bachelorette in the world? She was a historian and that fact alone makes her pretty dang awesome in my book. Not only was she a historian, but she was the only princess to ever write a history about her father. She was an eye witness to the Crusades and lived her life like a BAWS. She wrote a book called “The Alexiad” a book that you can buy and read today. (Penguin Classics, BTW) When you think of a history book written almost a thousand years ago, you probably imagine it super stuffy, boring and hard to read. I actually found it really interesting. The history she discusses all revolves around her father whom she idealizes. It tells a lot of cool stories of battles as her father, Alexios, struggles to bring the Empire back from the brink of destruction. There’s a cool part where her father is fighting Normans invading Greece and he is surrounded and struck several times by the Normans’ spears, but his thick armor protected him. (She says that his horse “bolted” and ran away. I think she is a bit of a daddy’s girl.)
But, what makes her book interesting, is her strong personality that comes through in each page. It’s practically dripping with her character. She…well, to put it politely, very proud of who she is. She knows shes a rich spoiled princess and she friggin’ loves it. A truly historically important part of her book is her witnessing the First Crusade. In Alexios’ struggle to make the Eastern Roman Empire the super power it once was, he called on Western Europe to send a few knights over to help him fight the Turks and Arabs. They were a bit surprised when a whole horde of peasants show up pillaging their villages and asking for food. When Emperor Alexios said “who the freak are you hobos?” They responded, “We’re your backup!” That was followed by a rather long and very awkward pause. “Oh…great…just what I needed.”
This was the Peasant’s Crusade and Anna wasn’t impressed. She called Peter the Hermit, the crusade leader, “Peter the Cuckoo.”
The Byzantines quickly ferry them across the Bosporus to the Turkish side where they ravage a few Christian towns and then get slaughtered.
Then the real Crusade shows up, their reception was little better. The Byzantines viewed them as stinking, brutish barbarians and quickly hurried them over to Turkey to get rid of them. Anna was again, unimpressed by these Crusaders.
Her hubby was on the road to becoming the next Emperor but Anna wanted to hurry the process up a bit. She helped plan a coup but her husband chickened out at the last moment and everyone got arrested. She had one last chance to tell him that she was more of a man than him before she was packed off to a convent, the preferred place to send troublesome nobility. That was where she wrote her history about her father. All throughout her writing she references other histories and Greek classics such as the Aeneid. She loves to quote Homer. Its a way for her to show how educated she is. She’s extremely proud of her education and she feels that its what puts her above the rabble, even more so than her birth. That’s another reason she’s so cool. There aren’t many eye witness accounts of history, but Anna is one of the few. That by itself is a feat, but the fact that she was a spoiled princess makes it even more remarkable. She was an intelligent, strong woman that knew what she wanted and went after it.