The Alexiad is a history of the ruler of Byzantine Emperor, Alexios I Comnena, who presided over what is often referred to as the Comnenian Restoration in the late 11th and early 12th centuries. The Byzantine Empire, the descendant of the Eastern Roman Empire, was ruled by the Emperor from Constantinople. The Alexiad is written by the daughter of Alexios, Anna Comnena who writes a history of her father’s deeds, stridently and frequently maintaining that she can give an impartial record despite the fact that her father is the main character.
It is through Anna’s text in The Alexiad, that the writer considers Alexios is a model of finest and talented leader by virtue of his expertise in war and leadership.
First and foremost, Alexios knew how to command and obey, and Anna assures the reader that she will not distort her account in her father’s favor. Anna’s father, Alexios, was a service to the Roman Empire before he was emperor, particularly in his war against Ursel, a Frank by birth, who had become a tyrant and began to war against the Empire’s eastern provinces.
During this encounter, he later had the help of some Turkish allies. Alexios shows his diplomatic skills by offering help for both parties, the Sultan and the Emperor to plan an attack on Ursel. Then, Emperor Michael made Alexios commander to fight against him, and eventually Alexios captured him. At this point, Alexios’s appointment to be a commander shows level of trust Alexios has gained from the Emperor.
It implies that Alexios not only obey and do as what he is commanded to do, but he also trustworthy and prevail with limited resources.
Along with Anna’s description about what kind of man is capable to be a ruler, later she added that a ruler, like her father, must be wise and clever in preparing a strategy to attack or defense. For instance, when Nicephorus Bryennius had proclaimed himself Emperor of Rome. Emperor Michael sent Alexios, in which he realized that he is an inexperienced fighter who is about to go into battle against skillful warrior with many men behind him. Alexios is willing to win the battle, and so he did win by not confronting Bryennius directly, but by a stealthy attack. He fought valiantly and won. Moreover, it seems that Alexios learned from his former Emperor to have better defense system. Anna recorded that when the Turks start to attack Bithynia and plundered the countryside. Alexios hatched a plot against the Turkish incursions. It involved digging a canal, which turn out to be successful in blocking the incursions.
What Alexios did here is that he set a precedent to always learned from the past, could be from a person or an experience, for the betterment of our self or a nation. Importantly, Alexios’s bravery, courage, and intelligence have favored him a benefit to be the next successor of the emperor over Isaac, Alexios’s older brother and an ally in the revolt that brought Alexios to power. Alexios gained a devoted and loyal man because he is generous and willing to give his time for people around him. His courage to remain calm during heated situation is one of the traits that every leader should have. For example, during one of the battles against the Scythian army, the Emperor hear that the Scythians are plotting against him again and a deserter named Neantzes was conspiring to kill him. Alexios goes out to meet the Scythians and Neantzes comes under suspicion. In page 133, Anna illustrated that this man, Neantzes, drew his sword and cut off a man’s head when his plot is about to be discovered.
For the Emperor himself, he did not intend to punish the deserter, instead he restrained himself. Anna says, “as not to scare away his prey in advance and spread panic among his men”. Although he has all the chances and rights to sentence the deserter, he chose to be lenient with the situation, and waited for the right time to detain the deserter, which is a trait of merciful leader. His intelligence is proved when Alexios suggested George Palaeologus during battle against Robert Guiscard, the Norman, to build bulwarks, place stone-throwing engines on the walls, and encouraging his fellow soldiers to fight bravely. It shows that although The Emperor is not there, in Dyrrachium, he knows what to expect from Robert’s attack as well as devising a counter-attack and defense strategy. In addition to Anna’s account on Alexios’s intellect, as most of the books talk about her beloved father, in book VII, she mentioned her late husband as one of great leaders for he was excellent in military service and took education and literature earnestly, which implies that a good ruler should also learn from their history because there are lots of recorded history and text there, it could be a wise military tactic, a strategic location, a hideout place, or family history.
Furthermore, Alexios is a man with high nobility and great leadership. His leadership is well recorded by her daughter, showing that Alexios is a merciful person, as well as a leader. He showed his mercy when he won the battle against Bryennius, but he did not do as what most leaders would do, that is to kill their capture. Anna stated that “for it was not the nature of Alexios to proceed to extremities against his opponents after their capture as he considered that being captured was in itself sufficient punishment”. On page 71 chapter II, interestingly, Alexios seems to acknowledge his weaknesses as he believed he was afraid of the outcome of the battle between him and Robert Guiscard. The Emperor has only a few men in his possession, while Robert has a large army. Considering this option, the Emperor knows, he already lost in numbers. Therefore, he did what he could do, he asked for help, as it is noted that “he deemed it necessary to call upon the Turks in the East for help”.
During one of the battles against the Scythians, where Anna said that “… and then, such slaughter of men was seen as nobody had ever witnessed before. For the Scythians were being terribly massacred as if abandoned by the Divine Power”. At this particular time, Alexios’s leadership was brought to a test, when his oration to encourage a few numbers of men against a mass of Scythians was refused absolutely. But he did not give up yet, instead he “aroused greater fear” that provoke them to go into the battle. Brilliantly, they pretend as the Scythians army by appearing with their garments, with this Alexios’s genius plan, they wiped out the entire nation. Consequently, Anna stated that “the Byzantines made a little burlesque song, Just by one day the Scythians missed seeing the month of May”.
Finally, by reading and judging Anna’s biographical text, one can deduct an important message about the Byzantine Empire, life at that particular time, or how war, social, and church interconnected to each other. Specifically, this paper maintains that The Alexiad is illustrating a sort of perfect figure, a God-send man to lead the Byzantine Empire, namely Alexios I Comnena. Although it is quite clear that she is strongly biased in his favor. She describes his political enemies as barbarians, records his ‘brilliant’ strategies, holds him to be a pious man despite his slaughter of thousands, praises his destruction of heretics who merely preached a different doctrine and played up his public penance as genuine. After all, Alexios is worthy to be called a great, in fact, he is greater than that. The word magnificent is sufficient to describe his ability in commanding an army, that lead him to become an Emperor that eventually set the path for the First Crusade.