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Literature / The Alexiad

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The Alexiad is a historical document recording Alexios I Komnenos, the Byzantine Emperor who ruled during the time of First Crusade, written by his daughter Princess Anna Komnene. Modeled after classical epics like The Odyssey and combined with historical events, the text is split into 15 books detailing his rise from power, his military campaign against the neighboring nations, his call for assistance against the Turks that results in the Crusader campaigns and his eventual death after triumphing against his enemies.


It's one of the most well-known primary sources of the Eastern Roman Empire and provides their perspective on the Crusades, more specifically, the writer's own personal commentary in the events and her own father. The book was written decades after Alexios' death when Anna was exiled by her brother.

The Alexiad contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Girl: The Lombard princess Sikelgaita is said to have personally lead her own troops during the Battle of Dyrrhachium. Anna goes as far as comparing her to Pallas Athena.
  • Artistic License – History: The enemies that Anna refers to as Scythians were actually a loose collection of tribes that also included Bulgars. The Scythian peoples as we know were extinct for ages.
  • Author Appeal: Anna makes frequent references to Greek mythology like comparing Sikelgata to Pallas Athena or her own ultimate fate to tragic tale of Theban queen Niobe, who turned into stone after her family's murder. She was highly influenced by her people's ancient tales considering the naming convention of her book, which was highly looked down during that time period because of its paganistic roots and Greece already being Orthodox Christian.
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  • Amusing Injuries: During one of his wars with the Scythian incursions in the north, Alexios was stabbed by one of them in the ass. With a scythe.
  • Athens and Sparta: The Eastern Roman Empire is presented by the narrative as the Athens due to being a bastion of Christendom and safeguarding civilization from barbarism in all of its forms with everything else like the Franks and the Turks being the Sparta.
  • Back from the Brink: The Byzantines were caught up in severe civil strife and surrounded by the Turks in the East, the Scythians in the North and the Normans in the West, until the Komnene restoration started by Alexios would reunify make the Empire strong again (or at least slow its decline).
  • Barbarian Tribe: The Scythians are an nomadic group that made incursions into the northern domains of the Byzantine Empire.
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  • Bittersweet Ending: The chronicle ends with Alexios succumbing to an illness after stabillizing the Empire through his great efforts, but Anna concludes the tale in a very somber and depressing note as she grieves for his death while living in a convent.
  • Burn the Witch!: Alexios orders the Bogomilian leader Basil to be burned on a pyre for heresy.
  • Cain and Abel: Whenever the subject of her brother John comes up, Anna can barely disguise her contempt for him due to John inheriting the throne and exiling her to a monastery after she tried to usurp him.
  • Daddy's Girl: Though she is occasionally critical of him, it's clear that Anna completely adores her father Alexios and is aware that her account will be biased.
  • Dangerous Deserter: The Seljuk warlord Tzachas was once a Byzantine vassal that was granted his own island to govern until he decided to rebel and become a pirate king that sacked several coastal cities. He even went as far as challenge Alexios for the Byzantine throne.
  • Decadent Court: Byzantine politics really show why the term is synonymous with this trope. Alexios is able to secure his position as emperor via court intrigue and has to tangle with several usurpers from within his court trying to take the throne.
  • Enemy Mine: Alexios' call for aid against the Turks leads to him siding include his previous hated enemies, the Franks.
  • The Empire: The Byzantine Empire is a natural given, but from the Byzantines' perspective its the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum that is creeping into their territory in Anatolia. Of all Alexios' enemies, they end up being the climatic foe that he faces at the end (if you don't count the Bogomilians).
  • Guile Hero: Alexios, both as Grand Domestic and as Emperor, uses his wits frequently to outmaneuver his enemies.
  • Great Big Book of Everything: The Alexiad itself served this purpose for the Alexios' period.
  • The Heretic: At several points during his life, Alexios tries to put down cults regarded as heretical such as the Paulicians and Bogomilians with the obligatory death by fire. Anna wishes she could devote some time explaining what Bogomilism entails to the readers, but decides not to because she doesn't want to "defile her tongue". She at least devotes some words debunking Palicianism in her text - that is how much she hates Bogomilism.
  • Hordes from the East: The Byzantine Empire is surrounded by all sorts of enemies like these such as the Seljuk Turks, including the West (the Franks) and the North (the Scythians).
  • Memetic Mutation: In-Universe; Anna notes that one of Bohemond's boasts, "I have thrown Alexios to the wolf's mouth," is a subject of much repetition and parody in her time.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: The Franks in general. While Anna regards them as savages, she cannot but help admire their bravery like as Sikelgata's charge and the Crusaders attacking the Saracens shouting "God with us".
  • Puppet King: Robert Guiscard props up some monk as the exiled emperor Michael VII Doucas in order to overthrow Alexios and place him in power under the excuse of restoring him to the throne.
  • Self-Deprecation: In the book's introduction, the narrator is aware that because she is Alexios' daughter, her account of his life will be accused by others of only praising him and as such tries to be impartial as much as she can.
  • The Starscream: Alexios is a rare heroic-ish example. As Domestic of the Schools, he is technically second to the emperor in the army, and Alexios uses this position to become emperor himself.
  • Vestigial Empire: The Byzantines have entered an state of decline by the start of Alexios' career and are threatened to be carved up by enemies everywhere - from all sides and within.
  • Warrior Prince: Alexios was already a kickass military commander before his coronation and managed to singlehandedly keep the empire from collapsing.