Is your surname Komnenos?

Research the Komnenos family

Anna Dalassena's Geni Profile

Records for Anna Komnenos

102 Records

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!

Share

Anna Komnenos (Dalassena)

Birthdate:
Birthplace: Constantinople, Turkey
Death: Died in Constantinople,Constantinople,Byzantium,
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Alexios Charon Dalassenos and Adriana Dalassene
Wife of Ioannis Komnenos
Mother of Alexios I, Byzantine Emperor; Theodora Komnene; Adrianos Komnenos; Alexius I Komenos; Manuel Komnenos and 4 others

Occupation: Emperatriz (regente) de Bizancio 1048-1057, As her mother's family was more illustrious then her father's, Anna retained her mother's family name throughout her life, even after she had married.
Managed by: Flemming Allan Funch
Last Updated:

About Anna Komnenos (Dalassena)

An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Rulers DIR Atlas

Anna Dalassena, Mother of Alexius I Comnenus (1081-1118) Lynda Garland University of New England, Australia

Anna Dalassena (Anna Dalassene), 'Mother of the Comneni', was to play an important role in orchestrating the rise to power of her family in the second half of the eleventh century. Indeed, as regent, she openly administered the empire in the early years of her son Alexius I's reign. She had been born c. 1025-1030, daughter of Alexius Charon and a Dalassena (the daughter of Adrian Dalassenus). Her father had gained his name of 'Charon' because of the efficiency with which he killed every enemy he encountered, and the fact that he adopted this new surname implies that he had not been a member of a prominent family.1 The more aristocratic Dalassenus family on Anna's mother's side originally came from Dalasa-Tarash on the river Euphrates, though Adontz speculated that the family may have had Armenian origins. Dalasseni served as governors of Antioch in the late tenth and eleventh centuries, and were prominent in the military in the Balkans in the 1060s and 1070s, being stationed as commanders at Thessalonica, Serres and Skopje. Such was the family's standing that Constantine Dalassenus (governor of Antioch in 1025) on two separate occasions in 1028 and in 1041 nearly acquired the throne after twice being short-listed as a candidate for marrying the much-married empress Zoe.2

Anna Dalassena, who throughout her life retained the surname of her mother's family as more illustrious than that of her father (or indeed that of her husband),3 was married to John Comnenus, brother of the future emperor Isaac I Comnenus, probably in 1044: their eldest child Manuel was born in 1045.4 Anna was to become an exemplum of the new powerful matriarch, like her predecessor the empress Eudocia Macrembolitissa, who ruled as regent for her son Michael VII Ducas (1071-1078), long after he was of age. Not content with family concerns, including the bearing some eight children -- Manuel, Maria, Isaac, Eudocia, Theodora, Alexius, Adrian and Nicephorus -- Anna was to dominate her family after the death of her husband in 1067 and actively encouraged and indeed organised her sons' revolt against Nicephorus III Botaniates in 1081. From 1067 she was to cast a long shadow over Byzantine politics until her retirement and death on 1 November 1100 or 1102.5

Anna and her family prior to 1067

In 1057 Anna's brother-in-law Isaac was chosen by a faction of rebel generals to succeed the elderly and inept Michael VI Stratioticus. As a result her husband came to political prominence, being granted by his brother, now Isaac I Comnenus, the titles curopalates and domestic of the Scholae, or commander of the western armies.6 Anna's equivalent of these titles appears on seals describing her as curopalatissa and domesticissa and she would have been one of the most high-ranking imperial women, with important roles to play in the ceremonies of the empress' court, second only to the empress Aikaterina and her daughter Maria; the curopalatissa even ranked above the zoste patricia (a position created by the emperor Theophilus for the empress' mother).7 Unfortunately for Anna, after spirited opposition by the patriarchs Michael I Cerularius and Constantine III Lichudes, and in the face of ill health, Isaac allowed himself in late 1059 to be persuaded by Psellus, the historian and one of Isaac's closest advisers, to abdicate. Isaac's wife and his daughter (his only surviving child) became nuns. To make matters worse from Anna's point of view, Isaac wanted to pass the throne to his brother but John would not accept it, and it eventually went to Constantine X Ducas (1059-1067). Anna tried hard to persuade her husband to become emperor, and, according to Bryennius the family historian, she did everything she could, even to 'tears and groans' to make John change his mind. He was unconvinced by the advantages which would accrue to their children and by her fears for the family's future, and Anna was forced unwillingly to give way.8 Interestingly her granddaughter Anna Comnena was to have a similar lack of success in persuading her husband, this same historian Nicephorus Bryennius, to make an attempt on the throne at the accession of her brother John II in 1118.9

Anna's intrigues under the Ducas regime

Following this failure to achieve imperial power, Anna Dalassena maintained constant hostility to the Ducas family,10 and 'lived for intrigue until she had succeeded in placing her son on the throne.'11 For the fourteen years after her husband's death on 12 July 1067,12 she protected the family fortunes as uncontested matriarch and manoeuvred her sons into a position from which they might seize power, until Alexius' successful coup d'état in 1081 when only in his mid-twenties. After seeing Constantine X Ducas on the throne between 1059 and 1067 in place of the husband she would have loved to see there, as part of her master plan she then supported Constantine's widow, Eudocia Macrembolitissa, and Eudocia's second husband Romanus IV Diogenes (1068-1071) against the rest of the Ducas family who disapproved of this marriage. Anna Dalassena was to be one of Romanus' strongest supporters and saw her sons serving in his campaigns. Anna's eldest son Manuel, despite his youth, was soon appointed curopalates and strategos autocrator (commander-in-chief) in the East, and, though captured by the Turks, successfully managed to convince the Turkish sultan's rival, Chrysokoulos, to ally himself with the Byzantines against his old master. However, Manuel died there following an ear infection in the spring of 1071. Anna rushed from the capital to Bithynia to her son's death-bed in a monastery, and performed his funeral rites; she then sent Alexius her third son (who was only fourteen years of age) to Romanus to serve in Manuel's stead, but because Anna's second son Isaac was already with the army, Romanus decided not to send Alexius on campaign out of consideration for his mother.13

The Ducas family returned to power after Romanus IV's defeat by the Seljuk Turks at the battle of Mantzikert in 1071. Anna, however, retained her loyalties to Romanus IV Diogenes and was targeted by the new government (essentially now under the management of her old enemy the Caesar John Ducas, uncle of Michael VII) for her loyalties to the overthrown regime. She was put on trial, after letters which she had sent to Romanus were intercepted. The Comneni maintained that the correspondence had been forged to incriminate her. Bryennius relates that, during her trial at the palace on charges of treason, she produced an icon of Christ from under her robe, proclaiming her innocence and that Christ, 'the Supreme Judge who knows the secrets of the heart', was the judge between them and herself.14 Her judges were overawed by her dignity and severity, but were forced to convict her as a rebel, and she was banished to a monastery on the island of Principo, a favourite retreat for exiled imperial women, along with her sons, at the beginning of 1072. Whatever her protestations of innocence, if we bear in mind that she had recently married her daughter Theodora to Romanus IV's son Constantine, it is highly likely that she was in fact still intriguing to restore Romanus to the throne, and her exile might not have been undeserved. Some of her seals prior to 1081 bear the titles monache (nun) as well as curopalatissa, so Anna either took the veil on the death of her husband or during this period of exile in her Principo monastery.15 She was however shortly afterwards recalled to the capital when the Caesar John Ducas lost his influence over the new and indecisive emperor Michael VII. 16

Family networking

An important part of Anna's strategy had been the forming of an intricate network of marriage connections with a number of prominent families, which was to facilitate her family's rise to power.17 Of her two eldest girls, Maria, at the time of her father's death in 1067, was already married to Michael Taronites, and Eudocia to Nicephorus Melissenus, both members of prominent military families. Anna's eldest son Manuel and her youngest daughter Theodora formed alliances with the Diogenes family: Anna herself organised the marriage of Theodora to Romanus IV's son Constantine after her husband's death, clearly to consolidate her support of Romanus' regime, but this marriage was not to be successful despite Anna Comnena's portrayal of Theodora's grief after his death.18

Following Anna Dalassena's banishment and return to court under Michael VII Ducas, she continued to pursue her strategy of ambitious matchmaking. By no stretch of the imagination could Michael have been called an efficient ruler (his mother had kept him out of power for several years, though he was legally of age), and there might well have been an expectation that his regime would not be long lasting. Anna's first move, however, was an alliance with the emperor's own family. Michael seems to have been anxious to keep her 'on side' and allowed her eldest surviving son Isaac to marry the Georgian princess Irene, the cousin of his own wife Maria of Alania.19 The first of their children, John, was born in late 1073.

It is possible that this cousin Irene was the 'Alan princess', a hostage at court who had been mistress of Zoe'sthird husband Constantine IX Monomachus.20 In this case she would have been in Constantinople since c. 1054. However, Isaac Comnenus' wife was still producing children in 1096 and it is therefore unlikely that she had been Constantine's mistress more than 40 years earlier. It would also seem unlikely that Anna Dalassena would have sanctioned her son's marriage to an ex-imperial mistress, though in the interest of the family she might have been prepared to overlook an earlier palace liaison.

This was a shrewd move: an alliance with Michael himself might not have been worth more than prestige, but marriage to the empress's cousin was to be a catalyst for revolution. Though the marriage did not extend Comnenian connections among Byzantine aristocratic families, it was Maria of Alania in 1081 who was to play a critical part in ousting her second husband, Nicephorus III Botaniates, from power and ensuring the accession of the Comneni. Anna even at this point may well have been aware of the potential influence of the empress consort -- especially this particular empress -- at times of transition. It is difficult to assess how closely Anna and Maria might have known each other at this point, but Maria had been empress since 1071 and Anna had been an emperor's sister-in-law and presumably retained her high rank at court as curopalatissa, one of the highest female dignitaries in the empress' court.21 Her status there and association with the empress in the 'court of the women' must have given Anna a close knowledge of the character and priorities of Maria of Alania.22

Anna had also to make arrangements for an alliance for her second surviving son. Alexius had been briefly married or engaged to an Argyropoulaena (the Argyri were a very wealthy military family and Romanus III Argyrus had been Zoe's first husband).23 Following the girl's death, the Caesar John Ducas (uncle of Michael VII), in the September of 1077, persuaded Anna to allow Alexius to marry his granddaughter Irene Ducaena, one of the three daughters of his son Andronicus, who had led the retreat at Mantzikert which caused Romanus IV's defeat and downfall. The marriage probably took place early in the next year when Irene was twelve; Alexius had been born c. 1056/1057, for he was fourteen at the time of Romanus IV's expedition against the Turks in 1070.24 Anna Dalassena's hostility towards the Ducas family was still implacable: according to Anna Comnena, 'the family Ducas had long recognised the undisguised hatred the Mother of the Comneni bore them. They lived in constant dread and suspicion of her as I have repeatedly heard them tell.'25 However, they were arguably of greater prominence than the Comneni at this point, and Irene was the ruling emperor's cousin once removed: the alliance was an expedient one and was to be followed by even closer links. In 1081 or shortly afterwards, Anna Dalassena's son Adrian married Zoe, daughter of Eudocia Macrembolitissa and Constantine X Ducas, thus uniting the families of two great marriage-brokers even more closely.26 The date of Eudocia's death is not known, but she seems not to have been alive at this point as her son Nicephorus Diogenes is said to have arranged the match: his brother Constantius Ducas had wanted in 1077 to see his sister Zoe married to Alexius, but Irene Ducaena was the preferred candidate.27 Instead Zoe was initially betrothed to Nicephorus Synadenus, who was perhaps the Synadenus who was Botaniates' heir-elect,28 and then married to Adrian, Alexius' younger brother.

These links with Michael VII Ducas and his family were no bar to Anna's ambition and intrigue against them. An initial Comnenian coup was forestalled by that of Botaniates in 1078, who was then to proceed to marry his predecessor's ex-wife, Maria of Alania. Alexius had certainly attempted to persuade Constantius Ducas, Eudocia's son and Michael VII's brother who had already been crowned co-emperor with Michael, to take the throne,29 and this step must have represented Anna's views too and presumably Eudocia's. Had this been successful she would have reaped great rewards from her networking with the Ducas family. Nevertheless, withBotaniatesin power, Anna immediately took steps to form an alliance with the new regime, betrothing her granddaughter Anna, the only daughter of Manuel, her eldest son (now deceased), to Botaniates'grandson, though Anna Comnena implies he was not Botaniates' heir-apparent.30 As was normal in Byzantine aristocratic family, this boy was brought up with his fiancée under the care of Anna Dalassena, just as Anna Comnena was to be brought up by her fiancé's mother, Maria of Alania.31Anna Comnena gives a lovely vignette of the foiling of the young boy and his tutor, who were asleep in the family house in an apartment separated by double doors, when the rest of the family escaped without their noticing: the house gates were closed by Isaac and Alexius and the Comnenian womenfolk fled to St Sophia for protection at the onset of the coup.32

The revolt of the Comneni

In their rebellion in 1081 the Comneni were to be greatly aided by the current empress, Maria of Alania. The wife of both Michael VII Ducas and then of Nicephorus III Botaniates, Maria's interests centred on the future of her son by Michael Ducas, the purple-born Constantine. Nicephorus' decision, to leave the throne not to this boy but to one of his own relatives, resulted in Maria's throwing in her lot with the Comneni and betraying her husband. The moving force behind this unofficial alliance appears to have been Anna Dalassena, who encouraged her sons to liaise with Maria and who saw the potential value of having the empress as an ally and an inside informant about intrigues at court.33Mariawas already closely linked with the Comneni through her cousin Irene's marriage to Isaac Comnenus, and this relationship allowed the two young men to visit the empress privately, on Anna Dalassena's suggestion. To facilitate this conspiracy and allow the Comneni unrestricted access to her quarters, Maria had even adopted Alexius as her son, though he was not so much younger than herself (she was born c. 1052 and thus was only some five years his senior) so he could visit her frequently and in private.34Maria was supposedly persuaded to the adoption by officials of the women's quarters, presumably her own 'Alans' and her eunuch officials, who had been instigated to this by Isaac Comnenus. Obviously Anna Dalassena was consulted on this move and was probably the plan's originator: Alexius already had a mother -- it would only have been courteous to inform her that she was getting a colleague (and one much younger and more beautiful): after all two mothers might be considered by some to be one too many.35 Knowing Anna Dalassena's tight hold over her family, it must have been with her agreement that she now shared Alexius with another mother figure. As a result of this adoption, Alexius and Maria's son Constantine were now adoptive brothers, and Isaac and Alexius took an oath that they would preserve Constantine's rights as emperor.36 By passing on inside information to the brothers, Maria was an invaluable ally in the plot against her second husband.37 We do not know what direct contact there was between Maria and Anna, but the latter was clearly the mastermind of the conspiracy.

So once again, this betrothal of her granddaughter to one of Nicephorus III Botaniates' closest relatives had not stopped Anna intriguing against the new regime in the interests of her family. When her sons Isaac and Alexiusleft Constantinople on 14 February 1081 to form an army to take the field against Nicephorus III, Anna mobilised the rest of her family and took refuge in St Sophia, from there negotiating with the emperor for the safety of family members in Constantinople, as well as protesting her sons' allegiance to Nicephorus III and (disingenuously) their innocence of treachery against the regime.

Gathering the whole household on the pretence of making an evening visit for the purposes of worship at the city's churches, but deliberately avoiding the inclusion of Nicephorus III's grandson and his tutor, the women's horses were appropriately prepared with their saddle-cloths, while Isaac and Alexius locked the house gates and ceremoniously handed Anna, as head of the household, the keys. Even before the first cockcrow the women of the family -- mother, sisters, wives and children -- proceeded on foot to the Forum of Constantine. From here the men departed on the first stage of their rebellion, and the women hurried to St Sophia. When the boy's tutor missed them and arrived in search of them, Anna pretended that the visit to the churches was to be followed by one to the palace and deceived him into preceding them to announce their imminent arrival.

To gain entry from the verger at the sanctuary of Bishop Nicholas near the Great Church, the women pretended to be visitors from Asia Minor who had spent all their money and wanted to worship before beginning their return journey. When Nicephorus III sent his eunuch Straboromanus and other envoys to summon them to the palace, Anna protested that her sons were entirely loyal to his regime and had fled to escape a plot forged by jealous enemies who wanted them blinded.38 She refused to go with the envoys, first angrily demanding that they allow her to enter St Sophia to pray to the Theotokos (the Mother of God). When this request was granted her histrionic abilities came into full play:

She was allowed to enter [St Sophia]. As if she were weighed down with old age and worn out by grief, she walked slowly (in reality she was pretending to be weary) and when she approached the actual entrance to the sanctuary made two genuflections; on the third she sank to the floor and taking firm hold of the sacred doors, cried in a loud voice: 'Unless my hands are cut off, I will not leave this holy place, except on one condition: that I receive the emperor's cross as guarantee of safety.39

She thus forced Nicephorus III Botaniates into a public statement that he would protect the family. His envoys tried to accede to her request. However, in her view, the cross handed her by her emperor's messenger Straboromanus was not sufficiently visible: it had to be a cross of reasonable size so that all bystanders could witness the oath. Also the cross had to be sent by the emperor personally as a clear guarantee of his good faith. Nicephorus III obliged, sending her not only the cross but a complete reassurance of her continued safety. The women - Anna and her daughters and daughters-in-law including Irene of Georgia (Isaac's wife and Maria of Alania's cousin) who had joined them in St Sophia -- then for their own protection left for the convent of Petrion at the emperor's orders, where they were followed at the emperor's command by Irene Ducaena's mother, Maria of Bulgaria. They were refugees rather than prisoners: 'their cellars, granaries and all their store-houses were to be kept free of all interference' (which shows the importance of their economic contribution to the household) and they were allowed to have their own food brought in. They were also clearly on good terms with the guards whom Maria of Bulgaria bribed with the best of their food in exchange for news of current events.40 Anna Dalassena had thus distracted the emperor and given her sons time to arm themselves, acquire horses from the imperial stables, and escape, while also lulling Botaniates into a false sense of security on the grounds that there was no real threat against him.

Ultimate success

On her sons' victorious entry into the city on 1 April 1081, Anna may have tried again to prevent the hated Ducas family from sharing the imperial honours: she had never liked the marriage of Alexius to Irene Ducaena,41 and the situation was now worse in that the teenage Irene would be Augusta. After all, which of the two brothers -- Isaac or Alexius -- was to take the throne had not been not a settled affair until the intervention of the Caesar John Ducas in favour of Alexius during the course of the revolt, and the realisation that Alexius' troops were closer at hand than Isaac's.42There had been two rival factions in favour of Isaac and Alexius respectively, and, though Anna Comnena makes Alexius' accession seem a fait accompli, he was some six years the junior. This may not have been what Anna Dalassena had planned; she may have expected Isaac and his Georgian wife to take the throne, and Alexius' accession would have made her more anxious than ever to dissolve her son's connection with the Ducas family. There was certainly suspicion at the time that Alexius was planning to divorce Irene and marry Maria of Alania, thus making her empress for the third time. Undoubtedly this plan would have been masterminded by Anna. After all Maria's son by Michael VII Ducas was born in the purple, a 'porphyrogenitus', and already crowned emperor, and Maria would hardly have supported Alexius had she anticipated that her son would be demoted: she doubtless had been assured that the two adoptive 'brothers' would rule together. The fact that Alexius moved into the palace with Maria and his blood relatives, and was crowned alone on 4 April, while the fourteen-year old Irene remained for several days with her own family, and was not crowned till a week later, was highly suspicious. Indeed it is possible that Anna Dalassena, whose relationship with Maria must have been close for nearly a decade, had all along planned the rejection of Irene in the contingency that it was her son Alexius who would rise to the purple. After all they were 'both' his mothers and united by this bond of adoption -- why should not Maria and Anna share the throne as Alexius' mothers and wife? Maria, already an empress-mother twice over through her own son Constantine and her adopted son Alexius, was far more regal and experienced than the little Irene, who as yet had no children (their eldest child, Anna Comnena, was not to be born until December 1083), and who, to make things worse, was a Ducaena.

In her disingenuous account of this episode, Anna Comnena states that the Comneni refused to drive Mary from the palace, because of the many kindnesses they had received from her as empress and because of their close relationship, while Maria herself was reluctant to leave because of her lonely position: 'she was in a foreign country, without relatives, without friends, with nobody whatever of her own folk.'43 That there is a cover-up here is obvious.

It is true that Maria's marriage to Alexius would have been canonically illegal because his brother Isaac was married to her cousin.44 In addition, her first two husbands, Michael VII Ducas and Nicephorus III Botaniates, were still alive. But rules were made to be broken - the practice of 'economy '('economia') by the Byzantine church saw to that.45 In the end, however, Irene's rights were vehemently supported by her grandfather the Caesar John Ducas, her brother-in-law George Palaeologus (the admiral in charge of the fleet), and the Patriarch Cosmas. George Palaeologus was particularly under the influence of his mother-in-law, Irene's mother Maria of Bulgaria, who had insisted on his joining the Comnenian rebellion,46 and under such circumstances he would certainly have supported his sister-in-law. In the end, therefore, a compromise was reached. The Comneni wanted to appoint a new patriarch, the monk and eunuch Eustratius Garidas, who was a personal friend and protégé of Anna Dalassena's and who had supposedly already prophesied Alexius' rise to the throne to the 'Mother of the Comneni':47 the implication is that, as a long-term supporter of and propagandist for the family, he was more pliable than Cosmas and more in tune with their plans for the church and establishment. Cosmas, however, refused to resign the patriarchate unless he personally crowned Irene. This was reported to 'the empress', Anna Dalassena, by her sons and the decision was finally made. So Irene was crowned seven days after Alexius, and any deal which Anna or Alexius may have done with Maria of Alania was aborted; Cosmas resigned and was replaced with Eustratius, Anna Dalassena's nominee. At least she had gained the patriarch of her choice to offset the rank of her hated daughter-in-law.48

Empress and uncontested matriarch

He loved her exceedingly and depended on her for advice (such was his affection for her). His right hand he devoted to her service; his ears listened for her bidding. In all things he was entirely subservient, in fact, to her wishes. I can sum up the whole situation thus: he was in theory the emperor, but she had real power.49

So Anna Comnena describes the relationship between her father and grandmother during the early years of his reign. True that Anna was writing more than forty years after her grandmother's death,50 and admits that she only knew her grandmother for a short time, as Dalassena died while her granddaughter was in her late teens.51 And after all Anna Comnena spent much of her youth being brought up by Maria of Alania.52 But she insists that all she says is the truth -- indeed, Dalassena is also praised by the family historian Bryennius, Anna Comnena's husband. No doubt there had been tension in the imperial family as a result of Anna Dalassena's maternal influence over Alexius, for her position markedly overshadowed that of Alexius' consort Irene, to whom her daughter was also devoted, and who, with Alexius, is the subject of the Alexiad's panegyric. Yet Bryennius himself had been commissioned to write up the deeds of Alexius by Irene Ducaena,53 and must have considered his eulogistic treatment of Dalassena appropriate for his patron and audience, though Irene died in 1123, before the work was finished.

There was nothing unmanly or inappropriate in Byzantium about revering your mother. Bryennius says that Alexius was, 'if any man was', a war-lover and a mother-lover.54 The two are seen as complementary, which tells us a great deal about Anna Dalassena. Both Alexius and his elder brother Isaac are depicted as relying totally on their mother's judgement. Indeed at the conclusion of their coup, in their victorious march into the capital on 1 April 1081, they stopped at the square of the martyr George Sykeotes to wonder whether they should first go to pay their respects to 'their mothers' (presumably not only Anna Dalassena but Maria of Alania as well) 'according to custom', before proceeding to secure the palace - Caesar John Ducas represented this as unnecessary dawdling under the circumstances and made them postpone the family reunion until later.55 From his very first day as emperor Alexius relied on his mother's advice and he shared all his plans with her, while she was kept minutely informed of anything of importance.56 When Isaac's son John was cleared c. 1094 at Philippopolis of charges of plotting against the emperor, Alexius' first reaction was to instruct Isaac to return to Constantinople and tell their mother.57

Anna's influence on her children commenced from their earliest infancy. Alexius, who was ten years at his father's death (Isaac was some six years older), 'had enjoyed a good education from his earliest years and, obedient to the precepts of his mother, had the fear of the Lord deeply implanted in his soul'.58John Comnenus' role as father had doubtless been more in the example he set in warfare, though he hardly had the chance to be prominent during the Ducas regime. Standard education at the time included training in philosophy, grammar and rhetoric, the Bible, and classical literature, while noble boys were also expected to take part in physical exercise, such as ball games, hunting, and archery to develop military skills. Anna's five sons were expected to have military careers: the eldest, Manuel, served in the army during his father's lifetime and was successful enough to be appointed protostrator by Romanus IV. He was commander of all the Eastern troops when he died in 1071 at the age of twenty-six. Isaac was already in the military at the point and served as the domestic of the East, where, like Manuel, he was captured by the Turks, and ransomed c. 1073. He was then sent c. 1074 to Antioch as governor where he remained until 1078. The same was the case for the younger sons. At Manuel's death, Alexius was 14 years of age and was sent to take his brother's place in the armed forces, but this was blocked by Romanus IV out of consideration for his mother - implying that the age itself was not a problem.59

The youngest boys, Adrian and Nicephorus had also received appropriate training to become, under Alexius, Grand Domestic and Commander of the fleet respectively.60 Their upbringing was entirely due to their mother: from the time of her husband's death, Anna Dalassena made sure these two youngest sons had 'tutors instructed to give them well-rounded instruction'.61 The children's other skills were not neglected: as emperor Alexius enjoyed hunting and polo, and frequently played chess with his relatives after his afternoon siesta.62

Anna's main influence on her sons, however, as depicted by her granddaughter, was in the area of piety and religious conformity. To please his mother 'whom he so dearly loved' and by whose 'admonitions he directed his conduct', Alexius when on campaign always had a monk in his tent till he married. These monks were considered important enough for Anna Comnena, Bryennius and Kataspekenos, author of the life of St Cyril the Phileote, to record the separate names of several of these monks - a certain 'Little John', Symeon, and Ignatius.63 Not only did these act as his spiritual advisors, there was no possibility for him to get into mischief when away from his mother's eye; after all, if Byzantine armies were anything like those of the crusaders, prostitutes were a regular part of the baggage-train.

Anna portrays her father after the conquest of Constantinople by his troops as filled with terror of the wrath of God. He consulted his mother seriously on how to relieve his conscience for the pillaging of the capital and its churches and took her advice to lay the case before senior churchmen: on the instruction of the patriarch Cosmas and other church leaders, the imperial family took to fasting and sleeping on the floor with stone pillows, while Alexius in addition wore sackcloth for forty days and nights.64 During his reign he also engaged seriously in matters of theology: in his investigation of the Bogomils, Anna portrays him as having studied the Holy Writings more than anyone else in order to sharpen his tongue for combating heretics,65 an interest no doubt inspired by his mother's preoccupations.

'Mother of the emperor'

Anna's position as mother of the emperor was now assured, and the term appears on her seals of this period as an official title. One common type of seal reads: 'Lord, protect Anna Dalassena, nun, mother of the emperor,' and it depicts the Transfiguration of Christ and the 'dormitio' (Assumption) of the Theotokos. 66Alexius gave Anna a place in the court hierarchy and awarded her the title despoina (empress or mistress), though she was not crowned: perhaps it was not considered appropriate that the title Augusta be given to someone already wearing the monastic habit, as she did even on the day of her son's coronation.67 But, more importantly, it was Anna who wielded political power. In the early years of Alexius' reign, especially in the years 1081-1095, when he and the other adult males of the family were frequently on campaign against Normans, Pechenegs and Seljuk Turks, she acted as regent and was given a wide sphere of authority, with almost total control over the entire civil government. Comnena speaks of Alexius in this period as doing nothing without Anna Dalassena's advice; taking her as his confidante and co-partner in government; involving her increasingly in state affairs; and declaring openly that without her intellect and judgement the empire would not survive.68

While Anna herself is shown as desiring the monastic life instead of this political prominence, her 'quite exceptional' love for her son is said to have overridden her own desires and she was persuaded to govern with him. Indeed she at times 'alone drove the chariot of power - and without accident or error'.69 Her 'fine intellect' and 'really first-class aptitude for government' had no doubt been honed as the matriarch and controller of a huge propertied household and extensive family network and were fully recognised by her son. This is born out by Anna Comnena's frequent term for her grandmother as the 'Mother of the Comneni' -- her political role springs naturally from her maternal function.70

Alexius' reliance on Anna culminated in the chrysobull of August 1081, in which she was nominated as regent following Robert Guiscard's invasion of Epirus, and in which he declared her decisions to be above all present and future criticism -- they were to stand whether justified or unjustified, as were the actions of her ministers and officials. She was to be responsible to no one.

This famous official document, which Anna Comnena purports to quote verbatim (omitting only the scribe's professional embellishments), begins with the remarkable words:

"When danger is foreseen or some other dreadful occurrence is expected, there is no safeguard stronger than a mother who is understanding and loves her son, for, if she gives counsel, her advice will be reliable; if she offers prayers, they will confer strength and certain protection. Such at any rate has been the experience of myself, your emperor, in the case of my own revered mother, who has taught and guided and sustained me throughout, from my earliest years. She had a place in aristocratic society, but her first concern was for her son and his faith in her was preserved intact. It was well known that one soul animated us, physically separated though we were, and by the grace of Christ that happy state has persisted to this day. Never were those cold words, 'mine' and 'yours', uttered between us, and, what was even more important, the prayers she poured out during all that time reached the ears of the Lord and have raised me now to the imperial throne."71

This sentiment, publicly stating Alexius' faith in his mother and their mutual respect and devotion, was beautifully reworked by the Alexandrian poet Constantine Cavafy in 1927, in his poem Anna Dalassene, in which the last line of the poem directly incorporates Anna Comnena's own phraseology:

In the golden bull that Alexius Comnenus issued Especially to honour his mother, The very sagacious Anna Dalassene -- Who was renowned in both her deeds and habits of life -- There are many words of praise. Here, of them all, I present just one phrase, One that is beautiful and sublime: 'That, between us, those cold words "mine" and "yours" were never spoken.'72

Alexius' appointment of this 'impregnable bulwark for good government', his 'revered mother, of all women most honoured', as controller of the entire administration, explicitly gives her supreme administrative power in the emperor's absence. She is praised in this public document for her vast experience of secular affairs (despite the low value she personally set on them), as a result of which any decree of hers in writing, whether referred to her by the logothete or his subordinate officers or any other administrator concerned with the remission of public debts, is to have permanent validity. Any decision or order, written or unwritten, which bears her seal is to be ratified -- and here Alexius specifically describes her official seal with its depiction of the Transfiguration and the Assumption. She is to have full power over promotions, successions to the tribunals and fiscs (i.e., the hierarchy of judges and finance officials), and over the granting of honours, offices and donations of immoveable property. She is also to have unquestioned control over matters such as increases of salary, additional gifts, reductions of tax, economies and diminution of payments. All economic affairs, great and small, are in her domain. 'In brief,' the chrysobull continues, 'Nothing shall be reckoned invalid which she commands either in writing or by word of mouth, for her words and her decisions shall be reckoned as my own and none of them shall be annulled. In years to come they shall have the force of law permanently'. In other words, she and all her officials are free of the threat of any future investigation or examination, whether their actions appear reasonable or ridiculous: her decisions are to be unquestioned. Anna Comnena in summing up this decree comments that Alexius yielded his mother precedence in everything, 'relinquishing the reins of government, as it were, and running alongside as she drove the imperial chariot.'73

Of course, this picture has to be modified. In her son's absence on his first Norman campaign, Dalassena is here given an effective carte blanche, especially in questions of financial and judicial matters. She is not given total control over the entire administration, and indeed we know that in late 1081 Isaac was left in Constantinople to keep order and subvert enemy propaganda. His role was also to guard the palace and city, and 'at the same time to comfort the women [who were] inclined to be tearful. As far as his mother was concerned, help was, I suppose, uncalled for -- she was herself a tower of strength and in any case a highly skilled administrator', comments her granddaughter.74

Dalassena is shown here as free of all normal feminine weakness, but still, as far as military affairs are concerned, it is her son Isaac who is delegated to organise the defence of the city. But what is important in the chrysobull is the detail in which her priorities and abilities are characterised and seen as having an important bearing on government. The emphasis on her vast experience of secular matters highlights the experiences of the propertied Byzantine materfamilias, who is, almost by definition, fully equipped to deal with the financial problems of the empire, a similar institution, just on a larger scale.75 Her piety is also seen as having a direct relevance to good government. Significantly, her administration was individual enough to be disliked and criticised. The historian and lawyer Zonaras highlights her unpopularity, depicting her as hated and despotic, and this was doubtless the general reaction to her role of balancing the budget and managing the treasury in order to finance Alexius' campaigns. Zonaras states that she was blamed for the financial demands on the empire,76 but she was not alone in having to make savings: Alexius himself had to cut salaries and confiscate property. Early in his reign Alexius had to debase the coinage: this took place in the first decade of his reign before his monetary reform of 1092, and the main facilitator of this debasement would have been Anna Dalassena.77

Certainly the empire at Alexius' accession was facing a desperate economic crisis. Under pressure of the campaign against the Normans in the winter of 1081/1082, Anna Dalassena and Isaac were forced to appropriate church possessions to finance the war. Comnena tells us that the treasury had been totally emptied by Nicephorus III Botaniates: it was so bare that there was no point in locking the doors. After mobilising all possible assets from within the family (Irene Ducaena was an especially enthusiastic contributor), Anna Dalassena and Isaac were able to send some funds to the emperor to purchase the assistance of mercenaries, but this was still insufficient. After lengthy public and private discussions, they examined the 'ancient laws and canons on the alienation of sacred objects', discovering that it was permissible to use sacred objects for the ransoming of prisoners-of-war. With a little ingenuity this could be interpreted to include any Christians who were living in Asia under Turkish rule, who by definition needed to be liberated. And so, to pay the army and mercenaries, Anna Dalassena and Isaac decided to liquidate sacred objects which were 'idle and [had been] set aside as serving no purpose'. It was Isaac, however, who convened and spoke at the synod in St Sophia to present their case. Despite certain very vocal opposition, their proposal was accepted, but Anna Comnena admits that there was considerable long-term resentment over this radical decision and that the emperor had later to promise reparation.78

While Alexius may also have initially created the position of logothete ton sekreton as an official to assist his mother, as a 'technical coordinator of services', not as a supervisor of her decisions,79 and it appears that Anna shared regency powers with Isaac and that her power was limited to financial and legal matters, this hardly diminishes the uniqueness of her position, and indeed demonstrates an unequivocal confidence in her skills in stabilising the economy.

Anna's political skills

Anna Dalassena was remarkable for her eloquence, diligence and political nous. Comnena tells us that as a speaker she was quick-witted, lucid and effective: 'truly a most persuasive orator; she was neither garrulous and one who lengthily protracted her speeches, nor did the inspiration of her discourse quickly desert her.'80 Diligent too, by the morning's second cock-crow,81 with her secretary Genesius, she would be applying herself to state business and deciding matters such as the election of magistrates and replies to petitioners.82Alexius himself is said to have admitted that 'she had attained perfection in all things, and far surpassed everyone living at the time in prudence and political wisdom.'83

Anna was certainly possessed of remarkable administrative skills, gained through her experience as head of a large propertied family. Anna Comnena praises her grandmother for her 'intellect' even as quite a young woman,84 and records that:

My grandmother had an exceptional grasp of public affairs, with a genius for _ organisation and government; she was capable, in fact, of managing not only the Roman Empire, but every other empire under the sun as well. She had vast experience and a wide understanding of the motives, ultimate consequences, _interrelations good and bad of various courses of action, _penetrating quickly to the right solution, adroitly and quickly carrying it out… I must add this: not only was she a very great credit to her own sex, but to men as well [my italics]; indeed she contributed to the glory of the whole human race.85

According to Comnena, the emperor in his early years did his mother's bidding like a slave: she was legislator, co-ordinator and governor.86 We might assume an element of uncritical adulation here, though Anna totally denies that she is writing a panegyric.87 But, Theophylact, later archbishop of Ochrid, in an oration delivered perhaps early in 1088, which primarily dwells on Alexius' military exploits, devotes some time to a eulogy of Anna Dalassena, and her reorganisation of the morals and good order of the palace. He describes Anna with Alexius as the 'two great suns in the firmament of empire', confirming Anna Comnena's account of the way in which her father wanted it to be seen that he shared the government with his mother as a single entity. Indeed, just as in the 1081 chrysobull, Theophylact praises the prayers and tears with which Anna Dalassena had ensured Alexius' victories.88 The oration is also evidence for the fact that, even in the late 1080s, the empress Irene was totally eclipsed in the palace by the public eminence of her mother-in-law, despite the fact that she had already born three children, including a son, John, who was just a baby.

Anna was still governing for her son during his absence on campaign in 1095: it was she who gave the order to Cyminianus, the droungarius of the fleet, to arrest and blind the rebel pretending to be Leo (or Constantine) Diogenes, Romanus IV's son, and bring him back to Constantinople.89 And if we need external evidence of the way her political importance was perceived outside of Constantinople, Pope Victor II (1055-1057) had earlier addressed her in a letter as his 'dear daughter', prayed for her and her family, and reminded her to remember Rome as her 'first mother'.90 Moreover, Guibert of Nogent, one of the more obsessively anti-Byzantine historians of the First Crusade, whose account, written c. 1108, draws both on oral and written sources such as the Gesta Francorum, gives us the intriguing detail that 'the emperor's mother' was a sorceress (or fortune-teller) who foretold that Constantinople would be attacked and taken by one of the Frankish leaders (Guibert suggests that this leader was most probably meant to be Bohemond). This particular reference to Anna Dalassena surely stems from an eye-witness entertained at the Byzantine court during the time of her pre-eminence or shortly afterwards, and shows that she was considered important enough to become part of the anti-Byzantine oral tradition.91

The Pious Empress

Apart from the assets she controlled as the head of a large wealthy and propertied household, Alexius ensured that his mother had financial resources appropriate to her rank and status. She was given the sekreton or 'income' of the Myrelaion monastery in the capital, the financial prerogatives of which she kept for herself, in the same way as Maria Sclerena, mistress of Constantine IX, had benefited from the sekreton of St George at Mangana. Appropriately, the Myrelaion monastery, now the Bodrum Camii in Constantinople, had housed the wife and daughter of Isaac I Comnenus after his abdication, and several members of the imperial family had been buried there. Anna Dalassena was especially noted for her gifts and generosity to monastic institutions, and her most noted foundation was the church and monastery of the Saviour Pantepoptes ('Who sees all') in Constantinople, where she retired, and was presumably buried. Although it was a male establishment Anna had had private apartments built there for herself especially for her retirement. In June 1087 she approved a document (pittakion) concerning the property assigned to this foundation.92 The Pantepoptes monastery is generally identified with Istanbul's Eski Imaret Camii which has a beautiful site overlooking the Golden Horn.93 Her patronage of other institutions generally took the form of government grants of land and exemptions from tax; there are documents making grants to the monks of the monastery of Docheianou on Mount Athos,94 and exemptions from taxes to St Christodoulos' monastery on Patmos; a copy of this pittakion for Christodoulos of Patmos survives, dated to May 1088, and was recorded by a certain Michael Machetarios.95

Anna Dalassena is described by her granddaughter as having been a most formidable lady: 'her outward serenity, true reflection of character, was respected by angels but terrorised even the demons, and pleasure-loving fools, victims of their own passions, found a single glance from her more than they could bear… She knew exactly how to temper reserve and dignity.'96 She advised her son on matters of conscience as well as politics, for it was she whom he went to for advice on how to handle the guilt he felt for the looting and crimes committed during his take-over of the city.97 And Anna practised what she preached: her piety was a matter of public knowledge, and even referred to in Alexius' chrysobull of 1081 -- her prayers, her faith, her disdain for matters of this world. Furthermore, she completely restructured the whole ethos of the palace and the timetable of its daily routine. In moves reminiscent of an earlier empress, Pulcheria, sister and regent of Theodosius II, the whole imperial palace now developed a monastic ethos: love intrigues (like those in the time of Zoe and Constantine IX Monomachus) were banned, and there were set times for hymns, regular hours for breakfast, and a special period for duties such as choosing magistrates.98

Anna Comnena makes much of her grandmother's charitable donations, and especially her hospitality to monks and clerics. Monks could always be found at her dinner-table and she honoured monks and priests above all other persons, ensuring that revered holy men were part of the Comnenian network and integral to their power-base.99 In the later eleventh century saints and holy men had an unparalleled role in the formation of political policy and were important propagandists for the current regime. Significantly, Anna Dalassena's 'clients' within the church included Eustratius Garidas (who was to become patriarch at her insistence and who had 'prophesied' Alexius' rise to the throne), St Christodoulos of Patmos, and St. Cyril Phileotes. John the Oxite, a monk before he became patriarch of Antioch c. 1089-1100, also wrote a short eulogy of her.100

Cyril, in particular, was Anna Dalassena's spiritual father, and the life of this saint records that, early in the reign of Michael VII, he like Eustratius Garidas had foretold Alexius' accession. On this occasion he was on a visit to Constantinople to a noble Comnenian lady 'who was not yet empress' and who was noted for her love of monks; we must naturally assume that this was Anna Dalassena. Cyril, who originated at Philea north of the capital, was noted for his rigorous asceticism and the breadth of his travels, frequently journeying to Constantinople and going as far as Chonae and Rome. During his visit, he provided Anna at her request with spiritual advice suited to her abilities, citing a series of short quotations from the church fathers (such as Basil of Caesarea, John Climacus and the desert father Barsanuphius), and advised her of the necessity of frankness to one's spiritual advisor. She gave him rich gifts, which he distributed to the poor.101 This was not the end of their association and Cyril was also visited for advice by a number of notables during Alexius' reign, including Alexius' general Eumathius Philocales and Irene Ducaena's brother and brother-in-law, Michael the protostrator and George Palaeologus.102Alexius, Irene and all their family also came to consult the saint in a lengthy visit in or after 1091, and treated him with great reverence.103 Under Alexius I Cyril's monastery at Philea and its possessions were confirmed as free from all treasury obligations and Cyril was to die at a ripe old age in 1110.

As well as monks and priests, penniless relatives and strangers found a welcome in Anna Dalassena's house, and in her personal devotions she wore herself out with continual prayers and vigils, spending a large part of the night in chanting hymns.104 Her regular place of worship was the church of St Thecla, which had been founded by her brother-in-law Isaac I Comnenus (an interesting choice considering her attitude at his abdication).105 There was no escaping the unmistakable fact of her monastic commitment: even on the day of Alexius' coronation, Anna appeared in her black monastic habit with no imperial insignia.106 However much she actually enjoyed running the empire, it was publicly made clear that her real wish was to spend her remaining years in contemplation and prayer, and it was only her love for her son and his need for her assistance in ruling the empire that dissuaded her from retiring from the world after his accession.107 In other words, however good she was at organising the empire's economy, it was appropriate that she should not appear to want to overshadow her son, the emperor. After all, it was only at his insistence that she was giving him a helping hand.

Retirement and death

It is quite remarkable that Anna Dalassena wielded such influence over her son for so many years. Although he needed a reliable regent, and had essentially owed the throne to his mother and her intrigues (not to mention her prayers),108 for her to have remained powerful for some fifteen or more years after his accession, until he was nearly forty years of age, almost defies belief. But, with middle age, the time had come for him to rule his own empire. In the 1090s Alexius was able to spend more time in the capital and perhaps became tired of his mother's hold on the administration, however efficient this had proved to be. This is suggested by Zonaras, who shows Anna as having remained in power for so long that Alexius became frustrated by the fact that he was emperor in name alone.109 As a result Anna, who realised his dissatisfaction with the situation, decided to go before she was pushed, and so retired as a nun to the apartments attached to her monastic foundation of the Saviour Pantepoptes. The germs of Alexius' unhappiness may even be seen as early as 1089 in the document for the monastery of Docheiariou, in which Alexius appears to disapprove of her generosity to the institution.110

We are unsure both about the year of Anna's retirement, and that of her death. Anna Comnena is remarkably silent about her grandmother's disappearance from the palace and it has been suggested that this silence is due to the fact that her grandmother was involved in something questionable111 -- perhaps a heretical sect, such as that of the Bogomils. The Armenian source Matthew of Edessa records under the year 1089 that a Latin monk (accompanied by a dog to whom he offered his prayers) corrupted large numbers, including the emperor's mother, but this dating cannot be correct: we know that she was still wielding power in 1095, even if she retired shortly afterwards.112 The crusade tradition, recorded by Guibert de Nogent, that Anna Dalassena was a 'sorceress', implies that she may still have been in the palace when the leaders of the First Crusade passed through the city in late 1096 and early 1097, perhaps retiring not long after their departure.113 Whatever the date of and reason for her retirement, Zonaras records that she resided 'imperially and with honour' at her institution for several years, dying in 'extreme old age' just over a year before her son Isaac, who passed away between 1102 and 1104. The date of her death was 1 November (she is commemorated on this date in the typikon of the Theotokos Kecharitomene monastery, founded by Irene Ducaena) at some date between 1100 and 1102. Ironically her death took place on the day (wrongly) forecast by an Athenian astrologer for the death of Alexius himself: at least the prophecy was correct in so far as a great ruler did pass away on that day.114

Anna's retirement has also to be seen in the context of the burgeoning Comnenian dynasty. The males of the family had been spending considerable time on campaign up to the early and mid 1090s, while the younger women of the imperial family were heavily preoccupied with pregnancy and child-bearing: Anna Dalassena herself had had eight children; Irene Ducaena was to have nine; Irene of Georgia eight; Piroshka-Irene, wife of John II Comnenus, another eight -- the palace during these decades was filled with mothers and young children.115

Irene Ducaena's nine children were born over little less than fifteen years: Anna (1083),116 Maria (1085),117John II (1087),118 Eudocia (1089 or 1094),119Andronicus (1091),120 Isaac (1093),121 Theodora (1096),122 Michael (1097),123 and Zoe (1098): both Michael and Zoe sadly seem to have died shortly after birth.124 Not surprisingly, bearing in mind the troubles of pregnancy and early childhood, Anna Dalassena was in charge until at least the mid-1090s. But with the end of childbearing and the adolescence of their older children the younger female members of the imperial family were at liberty to turn their attention to other matters. Irene of Georgia's last child was born in 1096, and Irene's Ducaena's in 1098. From 1105, when her youngest surviving child was nine, the 'young' empress-consort regularly accompanied her husband Alexius on campaign.125 With their increasing family, too, particularly the birth of Alexius' first son and heir John in 1187, Irene's influence over Alexius must have been growing, though the Anemas conspiracy of 1102 is the first time we hear of her having a direct influence on political events.126

Under the Comneni, not only did imperial women retain their role as legitimators of new rulers and dynasties by marriage and adoption, but they founded monastic institutions, patronised churchmen and theologians, and took part in politics more actively than ever before: pre-eminent in such roles were Anna Dalassena and Maria of Alania, both of whom, incidentally, were nuns.127

There is no inherent paradox in an autocrat appearing in the guise of a little old lady in a black dress.128 Queen Victoria (Empress of India) and Maria Theresa (Empress of the Holy Roman Empire) -- who both remained in permanent mourning for their husbands -- are evidence enough of the truth of this observation. It could even be argued that, as with Anna Dalassena, the overt piety and conservativism of these two matriarchs contributed in great measure to the absolute power they wielded, and fuelled the stability and popularity of their dynasties. Furthermore their perceptions of their own importance within their families and households constructed the way they were to view their empires. Over both they insisted on total control and possessed absolute attention to detail whether in microcosm or macrocosm.129 Anna Dalassena was made in the same mould. She was not born to a throne, but had no doubts that one should belong to her family by right. Having acquired one, after more than a decade of political intrigue, it was clear to both herself and her family that the more tricky details of government were best left in her hands. Perhaps it is this -- the awe and veneration in which she was publicly held by her adult sons -- rather than just her political and administrative skills, that makes her unique among Byzantine empresses.

-------------------- Anna Dalassena From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Anna Dalassena (1025-1102) was an important Byzantine noblewoman who rose to the position of an Empress-Mother during the reign of her son Alexios I Komnenos. Anna was the daughter of Alexius Charon, the Imperial lieutenant in Italy, and the daughter of Adrian Dalassenus. As her mother's family was more illustrious then her father's, Anna retained her mother's family name throughout her life, even after she had married. Anna married Johannes Komnenos, whose brother Isaac became Emperor in 1057. Her younger son Alexios I Komnenos rose to the throne after vicissitudes of politics. Alexius was for many years under the strong influence of her éminence grise. She is described as a wise and immensely able politician and acted as regent during the absences of her son. After acceeding to the throne, Alexios crowned his mother Empress Augusta, an honour commonl given to the Emperor's wife, Irene Doukaina in this case. Anna was the effective administrator of the Empire during the long absences of Alexios in war campaigns: she was constantly at odds with her daughter-in-law Irene and had assumed total responsibility for the upbringing and education of her granddaughter Anna Komnene.

External Links

Anna Dalassena biography by Lynda Garland Anna Dalassena Poem by Constantine P. Cavafy

Anna Dalassena, Mother of Alexius I Comnenus (1081-1118)

Lynda Garland University of New England, Australia


Anna Dalassena (Anna Dalassene), 'Mother of the Comneni', was to play an important role in orchestrating the rise to power of her family in the second half of the eleventh century. Indeed, as regent, she openly administered the empire in the early years of her son Alexius I's reign. She had been born c. 1025-1030, daughter of Alexius Charon and a Dalassena (the daughter of Adrian Dalassenus). Her father had gained his name of 'Charon' because of the efficiency with which he killed every enemy he encountered, and the fact that he adopted this new surname implies that he had not been a member of a prominent family.1 The more aristocratic Dalassenus family on Anna's mother's side originally came from Dalasa-Tarash on the river Euphrates, though Adontz speculated that the family may have had Armenian origins. Dalasseni served as governors of Antioch in the late tenth and eleventh centuries, and were prominent in the military in the Balkans in the 1060s and 1070s, being stationed as commanders at Thessalonica, Serres and Skopje. Such was the family's standing that Constantine Dalassenus (governor of Antioch in 1025) on two separate occasions in 1028 and in 1041 nearly acquired the throne after twice being short-listed as a candidate for marrying the much-married empress Zoe.2

Anna Dalassena, who throughout her life retained the surname of her mother's family as more illustrious than that of her father (or indeed that of her husband),3 was married to John Comnenus, brother of the future emperor Isaac I Comnenus, probably in 1044: their eldest child Manuel was born in 1045.4 Anna was to become an exemplum of the new powerful matriarch, like her predecessor the empress Eudocia Macrembolitissa, who ruled as regent for her son Michael VII Ducas (1071-1078), long after he was of age. Not content with family concerns, including the bearing some eight children -- Manuel, Maria, Isaac, Eudocia, Theodora, Alexius, Adrian and Nicephorus -- Anna was to dominate her family after the death of her husband in 1067 and actively encouraged and indeed organised her sons' revolt against Nicephorus III Botaniates in 1081. From 1067 she was to cast a long shadow over Byzantine politics until her retirement and death on 1 November 1100 or 1102.5

Anna and her family prior to 1067

In 1057 Anna's brother-in-law Isaac was chosen by a faction of rebel generals to succeed the elderly and inept Michael VI Stratioticus. As a result her husband came to political prominence, being granted by his brother, now Isaac I Comnenus, the titles curopalates and domestic of the Scholae, or commander of the western armies.6 Anna's equivalent of these titles appears on seals describing her as curopalatissa and domesticissa and she would have been one of the most high-ranking imperial women, with important roles to play in the ceremonies of the empress' court, second only to the empress Aikaterina and her daughter Maria; the curopalatissa even ranked above the zoste patricia (a position created by the emperor Theophilus for the empress' mother).7 Unfortunately for Anna, after spirited opposition by the patriarchs Michael I Cerularius and Constantine III Lichudes, and in the face of ill health, Isaac allowed himself in late 1059 to be persuaded by Psellus, the historian and one of Isaac's closest advisers, to abdicate. Isaac's wife and his daughter (his only surviving child) became nuns. To make matters worse from Anna's point of view, Isaac wanted to pass the throne to his brother but John would not accept it, and it eventually went to Constantine X Ducas (1059-1067). Anna tried hard to persuade her husband to become emperor, and, according to Bryennius the family historian, she did everything she could, even to 'tears and groans' to make John change his mind. He was unconvinced by the advantages which would accrue to their children and by her fears for the family's future, and Anna was forced unwillingly to give way.8 Interestingly her granddaughter Anna Comnena was to have a similar lack of success in persuading her husband, this same historian Nicephorus Bryennius, to make an attempt on the throne at the accession of her brother John II in 1118.9

Anna's intrigues under the Ducas regime

Following this failure to achieve imperial power, Anna Dalassena maintained constant hostility to the Ducas family,10 and 'lived for intrigue until she had succeeded in placing her son on the throne.'11 For the fourteen years after her husband's death on 12 July 1067,12 she protected the family fortunes as uncontested matriarch and manoeuvred her sons into a position from which they might seize power, until Alexius' successful coup d'état in 1081 when only in his mid-twenties. After seeing Constantine X Ducas on the throne between 1059 and 1067 in place of the husband she would have loved to see there, as part of her master plan she then supported Constantine's widow, Eudocia Macrembolitissa, and Eudocia's second husband Romanus IV Diogenes (1068-1071) against the rest of the Ducas family who disapproved of this marriage. Anna Dalassena was to be one of Romanus' strongest supporters and saw her sons serving in his campaigns. Anna's eldest son Manuel, despite his youth, was soon appointed curopalates and strategos autocrator (commander-in-chief) in the East, and, though captured by the Turks, successfully managed to convince the Turkish sultan's rival, Chrysokoulos, to ally himself with the Byzantines against his old master. However, Manuel died there following an ear infection in the spring of 1071. Anna rushed from the capital to Bithynia to her son's death-bed in a monastery, and performed his funeral rites; she then sent Alexius her third son (who was only fourteen years of age) to Romanus to serve in Manuel's stead, but because Anna's second son Isaac was already with the army, Romanus decided not to send Alexius on campaign out of consideration for his mother.13

The Ducas family returned to power after Romanus IV's defeat by the Seljuk Turks at the battle of Mantzikert in 1071. Anna, however, retained her loyalties to Romanus IV Diogenes and was targeted by the new government (essentially now under the management of her old enemy the Caesar John Ducas, uncle of Michael VII) for her loyalties to the overthrown regime. She was put on trial, after letters which she had sent to Romanus were intercepted. The Comneni maintained that the correspondence had been forged to incriminate her. Bryennius relates that, during her trial at the palace on charges of treason, she produced an icon of Christ from under her robe, proclaiming her innocence and that Christ, 'the Supreme Judge who knows the secrets of the heart', was the judge between them and herself.14 Her judges were overawed by her dignity and severity, but were forced to convict her as a rebel, and she was banished to a monastery on the island of Principo, a favourite retreat for exiled imperial women, along with her sons, at the beginning of 1072. Whatever her protestations of innocence, if we bear in mind that she had recently married her daughter Theodora to Romanus IV's son Constantine, it is highly likely that she was in fact still intriguing to restore Romanus to the throne, and her exile might not have been undeserved. Some of her seals prior to 1081 bear the titles monache (nun) as well as curopalatissa, so Anna either took the veil on the death of her husband or during this period of exile in her Principo monastery.15 She was however shortly afterwards recalled to the capital when the Caesar John Ducas lost his influence over the new and indecisive emperor Michael VII. 16

Family networking

An important part of Anna's strategy had been the forming of an intricate network of marriage connections with a number of prominent families, which was to facilitate her family's rise to power.17 Of her two eldest girls, Maria, at the time of her father's death in 1067, was already married to Michael Taronites, and Eudocia to Nicephorus Melissenus, both members of prominent military families. Anna's eldest son Manuel and her youngest daughter Theodora formed alliances with the Diogenes family: Anna herself organised the marriage of Theodora to Romanus IV's son Constantine after her husband's death, clearly to consolidate her support of Romanus' regime, but this marriage was not to be successful despite Anna Comnena's portrayal of Theodora's grief after his death.18

Following Anna Dalassena's banishment and return to court under Michael VII Ducas, she continued to pursue her strategy of ambitious matchmaking. By no stretch of the imagination could Michael have been called an efficient ruler (his mother had kept him out of power for several years, though he was legally of age), and there might well have been an expectation that his regime would not be long lasting. Anna's first move, however, was an alliance with the emperor's own family. Michael seems to have been anxious to keep her 'on side' and allowed her eldest surviving son Isaac to marry the Georgian princess Irene, the cousin of his own wife Maria of Alania.19 The first of their children, John, was born in late 1073.

It is possible that this cousin Irene was the 'Alan princess', a hostage at court who had been mistress of Zoe'sthird husband Constantine IX Monomachus.20 In this case she would have been in Constantinople since c. 1054. However, Isaac Comnenus' wife was still producing children in 1096 and it is therefore unlikely that she had been Constantine's mistress more than 40 years earlier. It would also seem unlikely that Anna Dalassena would have sanctioned her son's marriage to an ex-imperial mistress, though in the interest of the family she might have been prepared to overlook an earlier palace liaison.

This was a shrewd move: an alliance with Michael himself might not have been worth more than prestige, but marriage to the empress's cousin was to be a catalyst for revolution. Though the marriage did not extend Comnenian connections among Byzantine aristocratic families, it was Maria of Alania in 1081 who was to play a critical part in ousting her second husband, Nicephorus III Botaniates, from power and ensuring the accession of the Comneni. Anna even at this point may well have been aware of the potential influence of the empress consort -- especially this particular empress -- at times of transition. It is difficult to assess how closely Anna and Maria might have known each other at this point, but Maria had been empress since 1071 and Anna had been an emperor's sister-in-law and presumably retained her high rank at court as curopalatissa, one of the highest female dignitaries in the empress' court.21 Her status there and association with the empress in the 'court of the women' must have given Anna a close knowledge of the character and priorities of Maria of Alania.22

Anna had also to make arrangements for an alliance for her second surviving son. Alexius had been briefly married or engaged to an Argyropoulaena (the Argyri were a very wealthy military family and Romanus III Argyrus had been Zoe's first husband).23 Following the girl's death, the Caesar John Ducas (uncle of Michael VII), in the September of 1077, persuaded Anna to allow Alexius to marry his granddaughter Irene Ducaena, one of the three daughters of his son Andronicus, who had led the retreat at Mantzikert which caused Romanus IV's defeat and downfall. The marriage probably took place early in the next year when Irene was twelve; Alexius had been born c. 1056/1057, for he was fourteen at the time of Romanus IV's expedition against the Turks in 1070.24 Anna Dalassena's hostility towards the Ducas family was still implacable: according to Anna Comnena, 'the family Ducas had long recognised the undisguised hatred the Mother of the Comneni bore them. They lived in constant dread and suspicion of her as I have repeatedly heard them tell.'25 However, they were arguably of greater prominence than the Comneni at this point, and Irene was the ruling emperor's cousin once removed: the alliance was an expedient one and was to be followed by even closer links. In 1081 or shortly afterwards, Anna Dalassena's son Adrian married Zoe, daughter of Eudocia Macrembolitissa and Constantine X Ducas, thus uniting the families of two great marriage-brokers even more closely.26 The date of Eudocia's death is not known, but she seems not to have been alive at this point as her son Nicephorus Diogenes is said to have arranged the match: his brother Constantius Ducas had wanted in 1077 to see his sister Zoe married to Alexius, but Irene Ducaena was the preferred candidate.27 Instead Zoe was initially betrothed to Nicephorus Synadenus, who was perhaps the Synadenus who was Botaniates' heir-elect,28 and then married to Adrian, Alexius' younger brother.

These links with Michael VII Ducas and his family were no bar to Anna's ambition and intrigue against them. An initial Comnenian coup was forestalled by that of Botaniates in 1078, who was then to proceed to marry his predecessor's ex-wife, Maria of Alania. Alexius had certainly attempted to persuade Constantius Ducas, Eudocia's son and Michael VII's brother who had already been crowned co-emperor with Michael, to take the throne,29 and this step must have represented Anna's views too and presumably Eudocia's. Had this been successful she would have reaped great rewards from her networking with the Ducas family. Nevertheless, withBotaniatesin power, Anna immediately took steps to form an alliance with the new regime, betrothing her granddaughter Anna, the only daughter of Manuel, her eldest son (now deceased), to Botaniates'grandson, though Anna Comnena implies he was not Botaniates' heir-apparent.30 As was normal in Byzantine aristocratic family, this boy was brought up with his fiancée under the care of Anna Dalassena, just as Anna Comnena was to be brought up by her fiancé's mother, Maria of Alania.31Anna Comnena gives a lovely vignette of the foiling of the young boy and his tutor, who were asleep in the family house in an apartment separated by double doors, when the rest of the family escaped without their noticing: the house gates were closed by Isaac and Alexius and the Comnenian womenfolk fled to St Sophia for protection at the onset of the coup.32

The revolt of the Comneni

In their rebellion in 1081 the Comneni were to be greatly aided by the current empress, Maria of Alania. The wife of both Michael VII Ducas and then of Nicephorus III Botaniates, Maria's interests centred on the future of her son by Michael Ducas, the purple-born Constantine. Nicephorus' decision, to leave the throne not to this boy but to one of his own relatives, resulted in Maria's throwing in her lot with the Comneni and betraying her husband. The moving force behind this unofficial alliance appears to have been Anna Dalassena, who encouraged her sons to liaise with Maria and who saw the potential value of having the empress as an ally and an inside informant about intrigues at court.33Mariawas already closely linked with the Comneni through her cousin Irene's marriage to Isaac Comnenus, and this relationship allowed the two young men to visit the empress privately, on Anna Dalassena's suggestion. To facilitate this conspiracy and allow the Comneni unrestricted access to her quarters, Maria had even adopted Alexius as her son, though he was not so much younger than herself (she was born c. 1052 and thus was only some five years his senior) so he could visit her frequently and in private.34Maria was supposedly persuaded to the adoption by officials of the women's quarters, presumably her own 'Alans' and her eunuch officials, who had been instigated to this by Isaac Comnenus. Obviously Anna Dalassena was consulted on this move and was probably the plan's originator: Alexius already had a mother -- it would only have been courteous to inform her that she was getting a colleague (and one much younger and more beautiful): after all two mothers might be considered by some to be one too many.35 Knowing Anna Dalassena's tight hold over her family, it must have been with her agreement that she now shared Alexius with another mother figure. As a result of this adoption, Alexius and Maria's son Constantine were now adoptive brothers, and Isaac and Alexius took an oath that they would preserve Constantine's rights as emperor.36 By passing on inside information to the brothers, Maria was an invaluable ally in the plot against her second husband.37 We do not know what direct contact there was between Maria and Anna, but the latter was clearly the mastermind of the conspiracy.

So once again, this betrothal of her granddaughter to one of Nicephorus III Botaniates' closest relatives had not stopped Anna intriguing against the new regime in the interests of her family. When her sons Isaac and Alexiusleft Constantinople on 14 February 1081 to form an army to take the field against Nicephorus III, Anna mobilised the rest of her family and took refuge in St Sophia, from there negotiating with the emperor for the safety of family members in Constantinople, as well as protesting her sons' allegiance to Nicephorus III and (disingenuously) their innocence of treachery against the regime.

Gathering the whole household on the pretence of making an evening visit for the purposes of worship at the city's churches, but deliberately avoiding the inclusion of Nicephorus III's grandson and his tutor, the women's horses were appropriately prepared with their saddle-cloths, while Isaac and Alexius locked the house gates and ceremoniously handed Anna, as head of the household, the keys. Even before the first cockcrow the women of the family -- mother, sisters, wives and children -- proceeded on foot to the Forum of Constantine. From here the men departed on the first stage of their rebellion, and the women hurried to St Sophia. When the boy's tutor missed them and arrived in search of them, Anna pretended that the visit to the churches was to be followed by one to the palace and deceived him into preceding them to announce their imminent arrival.

To gain entry from the verger at the sanctuary of Bishop Nicholas near the Great Church, the women pretended to be visitors from Asia Minor who had spent all their money and wanted to worship before beginning their return journey. When Nicephorus III sent his eunuch Straboromanus and other envoys to summon them to the palace, Anna protested that her sons were entirely loyal to his regime and had fled to escape a plot forged by jealous enemies who wanted them blinded.38 She refused to go with the envoys, first angrily demanding that they allow her to enter St Sophia to pray to the Theotokos (the Mother of God). When this request was granted her histrionic abilities came into full play:

She was allowed to enter [St Sophia]. As if she were weighed down with old age and worn out by grief, she walked slowly (in reality she was pretending to be weary) and when she approached the actual entrance to the sanctuary made two genuflections; on the third she sank to the floor and taking firm hold of the sacred doors, cried in a loud voice: 'Unless my hands are cut off, I will not leave this holy place, except on one condition: that I receive the emperor's cross as guarantee of safety.39

She thus forced Nicephorus III Botaniates into a public statement that he would protect the family. His envoys tried to accede to her request. However, in her view, the cross handed her by her emperor's messenger Straboromanus was not sufficiently visible: it had to be a cross of reasonable size so that all bystanders could witness the oath. Also the cross had to be sent by the emperor personally as a clear guarantee of his good faith. Nicephorus III obliged, sending her not only the cross but a complete reassurance of her continued safety. The women - Anna and her daughters and daughters-in-law including Irene of Georgia (Isaac's wife and Maria of Alania's cousin) who had joined them in St Sophia -- then for their own protection left for the convent of Petrion at the emperor's orders, where they were followed at the emperor's command by Irene Ducaena's mother, Maria of Bulgaria. They were refugees rather than prisoners: 'their cellars, granaries and all their store-houses were to be kept free of all interference' (which shows the importance of their economic contribution to the household) and they were allowed to have their own food brought in. They were also clearly on good terms with the guards whom Maria of Bulgaria bribed with the best of their food in exchange for news of current events.40 Anna Dalassena had thus distracted the emperor and given her sons time to arm themselves, acquire horses from the imperial stables, and escape, while also lulling Botaniates into a false sense of security on the grounds that there was no real threat against him.

Ultimate success

On her sons' victorious entry into the city on 1 April 1081, Anna may have tried again to prevent the hated Ducas family from sharing the imperial honours: she had never liked the marriage of Alexius to Irene Ducaena,41 and the situation was now worse in that the teenage Irene would be Augusta. After all, which of the two brothers -- Isaac or Alexius -- was to take the throne had not been not a settled affair until the intervention of the Caesar John Ducas in favour of Alexius during the course of the revolt, and the realisation that Alexius' troops were closer at hand than Isaac's.42There had been two rival factions in favour of Isaac and Alexius respectively, and, though Anna Comnena makes Alexius' accession seem a fait accompli, he was some six years the junior. This may not have been what Anna Dalassena had planned; she may have expected Isaac and his Georgian wife to take the throne, and Alexius' accession would have made her more anxious than ever to dissolve her son's connection with the Ducas family. There was certainly suspicion at the time that Alexius was planning to divorce Irene and marry Maria of Alania, thus making her empress for the third time. Undoubtedly this plan would have been masterminded by Anna. After all Maria's son by Michael VII Ducas was born in the purple, a 'porphyrogenitus', and already crowned emperor, and Maria would hardly have supported Alexius had she anticipated that her son would be demoted: she doubtless had been assured that the two adoptive 'brothers' would rule together. The fact that Alexius moved into the palace with Maria and his blood relatives, and was crowned alone on 4 April, while the fourteen-year old Irene remained for several days with her own family, and was not crowned till a week later, was highly suspicious. Indeed it is possible that Anna Dalassena, whose relationship with Maria must have been close for nearly a decade, had all along planned the rejection of Irene in the contingency that it was her son Alexius who would rise to the purple. After all they were 'both' his mothers and united by this bond of adoption -- why should not Maria and Anna share the throne as Alexius' mothers and wife? Maria, already an empress-mother twice over through her own son Constantine and her adopted son Alexius, was far more regal and experienced than the little Irene, who as yet had no children (their eldest child, Anna Comnena, was not to be born until December 1083), and who, to make things worse, was a Ducaena.

In her disingenuous account of this episode, Anna Comnena states that the Comneni refused to drive Mary from the palace, because of the many kindnesses they had received from her as empress and because of their close relationship, while Maria herself was reluctant to leave because of her lonely position: 'she was in a foreign country, without relatives, without friends, with nobody whatever of her own folk.'43 That there is a cover-up here is obvious.

It is true that Maria's marriage to Alexius would have been canonically illegal because his brother Isaac was married to her cousin.44 In addition, her first two husbands, Michael VII Ducas and Nicephorus III Botaniates, were still alive. But rules were made to be broken - the practice of 'economy '('economia') by the Byzantine church saw to that.45 In the end, however, Irene's rights were vehemently supported by her grandfather the Caesar John Ducas, her brother-in-law George Palaeologus (the admiral in charge of the fleet), and the Patriarch Cosmas. George Palaeologus was particularly under the influence of his mother-in-law, Irene's mother Maria of Bulgaria, who had insisted on his joining the Comnenian rebellion,46 and under such circumstances he would certainly have supported his sister-in-law. In the end, therefore, a compromise was reached. The Comneni wanted to appoint a new patriarch, the monk and eunuch Eustratius Garidas, who was a personal friend and protégé of Anna Dalassena's and who had supposedly already prophesied Alexius' rise to the throne to the 'Mother of the Comneni':47 the implication is that, as a long-term supporter of and propagandist for the family, he was more pliable than Cosmas and more in tune with their plans for the church and establishment. Cosmas, however, refused to resign the patriarchate unless he personally crowned Irene. This was reported to 'the empress', Anna Dalassena, by her sons and the decision was finally made. So Irene was crowned seven days after Alexius, and any deal which Anna or Alexius may have done with Maria of Alania was aborted; Cosmas resigned and was replaced with Eustratius, Anna Dalassena's nominee. At least she had gained the patriarch of her choice to offset the rank of her hated daughter-in-law.48

Empress and uncontested matriarch

He loved her exceedingly and depended on her for advice (such was his affection for her). His right hand he devoted to her service; his ears listened for her bidding. In all things he was entirely subservient, in fact, to her wishes. I can sum up the whole situation thus: he was in theory the emperor, but she had real power.49

So Anna Comnena describes the relationship between her father and grandmother during the early years of his reign. True that Anna was writing more than forty years after her grandmother's death,50 and admits that she only knew her grandmother for a short time, as Dalassena died while her granddaughter was in her late teens.51 And after all Anna Comnena spent much of her youth being brought up by Maria of Alania.52 But she insists that all she says is the truth -- indeed, Dalassena is also praised by the family historian Bryennius, Anna Comnena's husband. No doubt there had been tension in the imperial family as a result of Anna Dalassena's maternal influence over Alexius, for her position markedly overshadowed that of Alexius' consort Irene, to whom her daughter was also devoted, and who, with Alexius, is the subject of the Alexiad's panegyric. Yet Bryennius himself had been commissioned to write up the deeds of Alexius by Irene Ducaena,53 and must have considered his eulogistic treatment of Dalassena appropriate for his patron and audience, though Irene died in 1123, before the work was finished.

There was nothing unmanly or inappropriate in Byzantium about revering your mother. Bryennius says that Alexius was, 'if any man was', a war-lover and a mother-lover.54 The two are seen as complementary, which tells us a great deal about Anna Dalassena. Both Alexius and his elder brother Isaac are depicted as relying totally on their mother's judgement. Indeed at the conclusion of their coup, in their victorious march into the capital on 1 April 1081, they stopped at the square of the martyr George Sykeotes to wonder whether they should first go to pay their respects to 'their mothers' (presumably not only Anna Dalassena but Maria of Alania as well) 'according to custom', before proceeding to secure the palace - Caesar John Ducas represented this as unnecessary dawdling under the circumstances and made them postpone the family reunion until later.55 From his very first day as emperor Alexius relied on his mother's advice and he shared all his plans with her, while she was kept minutely informed of anything of importance.56 When Isaac's son John was cleared c. 1094 at Philippopolis of charges of plotting against the emperor, Alexius' first reaction was to instruct Isaac to return to Constantinople and tell their mother.57

Anna's influence on her children commenced from their earliest infancy. Alexius, who was ten years at his father's death (Isaac was some six years older), 'had enjoyed a good education from his earliest years and, obedient to the precepts of his mother, had the fear of the Lord deeply implanted in his soul'.58John Comnenus' role as father had doubtless been more in the example he set in warfare, though he hardly had the chance to be prominent during the Ducas regime. Standard education at the time included training in philosophy, grammar and rhetoric, the Bible, and classical literature, while noble boys were also expected to take part in physical exercise, such as ball games, hunting, and archery to develop military skills. Anna's five sons were expected to have military careers: the eldest, Manuel, served in the army during his father's lifetime and was successful enough to be appointed protostrator by Romanus IV. He was commander of all the Eastern troops when he died in 1071 at the age of twenty-six. Isaac was already in the military at the point and served as the domestic of the East, where, like Manuel, he was captured by the Turks, and ransomed c. 1073. He was then sent c. 1074 to Antioch as governor where he remained until 1078. The same was the case for the younger sons. At Manuel's death, Alexius was 14 years of age and was sent to take his brother's place in the armed forces, but this was blocked by Romanus IV out of consideration for his mother - implying that the age itself was not a problem.59

The youngest boys, Adrian and Nicephorus had also received appropriate training to become, under Alexius, Grand Domestic and Commander of the fleet respectively.60 Their upbringing was entirely due to their mother: from the time of her husband's death, Anna Dalassena made sure these two youngest sons had 'tutors instructed to give them well-rounded instruction'.61 The children's other skills were not neglected: as emperor Alexius enjoyed hunting and polo, and frequently played chess with his relatives after his afternoon siesta.62

Anna's main influence on her sons, however, as depicted by her granddaughter, was in the area of piety and religious conformity. To please his mother 'whom he so dearly loved' and by whose 'admonitions he directed his conduct', Alexius when on campaign always had a monk in his tent till he married. These monks were considered important enough for Anna Comnena, Bryennius and Kataspekenos, author of the life of St Cyril the Phileote, to record the separate names of several of these monks - a certain 'Little John', Symeon, and Ignatius.63 Not only did these act as his spiritual advisors, there was no possibility for him to get into mischief when away from his mother's eye; after all, if Byzantine armies were anything like those of the crusaders, prostitutes were a regular part of the baggage-train.

Anna portrays her father after the conquest of Constantinople by his troops as filled with terror of the wrath of God. He consulted his mother seriously on how to relieve his conscience for the pillaging of the capital and its churches and took her advice to lay the case before senior churchmen: on the instruction of the patriarch Cosmas and other church leaders, the imperial family took to fasting and sleeping on the floor with stone pillows, while Alexius in addition wore sackcloth for forty days and nights.64 During his reign he also engaged seriously in matters of theology: in his investigation of the Bogomils, Anna portrays him as having studied the Holy Writings more than anyone else in order to sharpen his tongue for combating heretics,65 an interest no doubt inspired by his mother's preoccupations.

'Mother of the emperor'

Anna's position as mother of the emperor was now assured, and the term appears on her seals of this period as an official title. One common type of seal reads: 'Lord, protect Anna Dalassena, nun, mother of the emperor,' and it depicts the Transfiguration of Christ and the 'dormitio' (Assumption) of the Theotokos. 66Alexius gave Anna a place in the court hierarchy and awarded her the title despoina (empress or mistress), though she was not crowned: perhaps it was not considered appropriate that the title Augusta be given to someone already wearing the monastic habit, as she did even on the day of her son's coronation.67 But, more importantly, it was Anna who wielded political power. In the early years of Alexius' reign, especially in the years 1081-1095, when he and the other adult males of the family were frequently on campaign against Normans, Pechenegs and Seljuk Turks, she acted as regent and was given a wide sphere of authority, with almost total control over the entire civil government. Comnena speaks of Alexius in this period as doing nothing without Anna Dalassena's advice; taking her as his confidante and co-partner in government; involving her increasingly in state affairs; and declaring openly that without her intellect and judgement the empire would not survive.68

While Anna herself is shown as desiring the monastic life instead of this political prominence, her 'quite exceptional' love for her son is said to have overridden her own desires and she was persuaded to govern with him. Indeed she at times 'alone drove the chariot of power - and without accident or error'.69 Her 'fine intellect' and 'really first-class aptitude for government' had no doubt been honed as the matriarch and controller of a huge propertied household and extensive family network and were fully recognised by her son. This is born out by Anna Comnena's frequent term for her grandmother as the 'Mother of the Comneni' -- her political role springs naturally from her maternal function.70

Alexius' reliance on Anna culminated in the chrysobull of August 1081, in which she was nominated as regent following Robert Guiscard's invasion of Epirus, and in which he declared her decisions to be above all present and future criticism -- they were to stand whether justified or unjustified, as were the actions of her ministers and officials. She was to be responsible to no one.

This famous official document, which Anna Comnena purports to quote verbatim (omitting only the scribe's professional embellishments), begins with the remarkable words:

"When danger is foreseen or some other dreadful occurrence is expected, there is no safeguard stronger than a mother who is understanding and loves her son, for, if she gives counsel, her advice will be reliable; if she offers prayers, they will confer strength and certain protection. Such at any rate has been the experience of myself, your emperor, in the case of my own revered mother, who has taught and guided and sustained me throughout, from my earliest years. She had a place in aristocratic society, but her first concern was for her son and his faith in her was preserved intact. It was well known that one soul animated us, physically separated though we were, and by the grace of Christ that happy state has persisted to this day. Never were those cold words, 'mine' and 'yours', uttered between us, and, what was even more important, the prayers she poured out during all that time reached the ears of the Lord and have raised me now to the imperial throne."71

This sentiment, publicly stating Alexius' faith in his mother and their mutual respect and devotion, was beautifully reworked by the Alexandrian poet Constantine Cavafy in 1927, in his poem Anna Dalassene, in which the last line of the poem directly incorporates Anna Comnena's own phraseology:

In the golden bull that Alexius Comnenus issued Especially to honour his mother, The very sagacious Anna Dalassene -- Who was renowned in both her deeds and habits of life -- There are many words of praise. Here, of them all, I present just one phrase, One that is beautiful and sublime: 'That, between us, those cold words "mine" and "yours" were never spoken.'72

Alexius' appointment of this 'impregnable bulwark for good government', his 'revered mother, of all women most honoured', as controller of the entire administration, explicitly gives her supreme administrative power in the emperor's absence. She is praised in this public document for her vast experience of secular affairs (despite the low value she personally set on them), as a result of which any decree of hers in writing, whether referred to her by the logothete or his subordinate officers or any other administrator concerned with the remission of public debts, is to have permanent validity. Any decision or order, written or unwritten, which bears her seal is to be ratified -- and here Alexius specifically describes her official seal with its depiction of the Transfiguration and the Assumption. She is to have full power over promotions, successions to the tribunals and fiscs (i.e., the hierarchy of judges and finance officials), and over the granting of honours, offices and donations of immoveable property. She is also to have unquestioned control over matters such as increases of salary, additional gifts, reductions of tax, economies and diminution of payments. All economic affairs, great and small, are in her domain. 'In brief,' the chrysobull continues, 'Nothing shall be reckoned invalid which she commands either in writing or by word of mouth, for her words and her decisions shall be reckoned as my own and none of them shall be annulled. In years to come they shall have the force of law permanently'. In other words, she and all her officials are free of the threat of any future investigation or examination, whether their actions appear reasonable or ridiculous: her decisions are to be unquestioned. Anna Comnena in summing up this decree comments that Alexius yielded his mother precedence in everything, 'relinquishing the reins of government, as it were, and running alongside as she drove the imperial chariot.'73

Of course, this picture has to be modified. In her son's absence on his first Norman campaign, Dalassena is here given an effective carte blanche, especially in questions of financial and judicial matters. She is not given total control over the entire administration, and indeed we know that in late 1081 Isaac was left in Constantinople to keep order and subvert enemy propaganda. His role was also to guard the palace and city, and 'at the same time to comfort the women [who were] inclined to be tearful. As far as his mother was concerned, help was, I suppose, uncalled for -- she was herself a tower of strength and in any case a highly skilled administrator', comments her granddaughter.74

Dalassena is shown here as free of all normal feminine weakness, but still, as far as military affairs are concerned, it is her son Isaac who is delegated to organise the defence of the city. But what is important in the chrysobull is the detail in which her priorities and abilities are characterised and seen as having an important bearing on government. The emphasis on her vast experience of secular matters highlights the experiences of the propertied Byzantine materfamilias, who is, almost by definition, fully equipped to deal with the financial problems of the empire, a similar institution, just on a larger scale.75 Her piety is also seen as having a direct relevance to good government. Significantly, her administration was individual enough to be disliked and criticised. The historian and lawyer Zonaras highlights her unpopularity, depicting her as hated and despotic, and this was doubtless the general reaction to her role of balancing the budget and managing the treasury in order to finance Alexius' campaigns. Zonaras states that she was blamed for the financial demands on the empire,76 but she was not alone in having to make savings: Alexius himself had to cut salaries and confiscate property. Early in his reign Alexius had to debase the coinage: this took place in the fir -------------------- nna Dalassene From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. Please help to improve this article by introducing more precise citations. (August 2010) Question book-new.svg This article relies on references to primary sources. Please add references to secondary or tertiary sources. (September 2010) Anna Dalassene Spouse(s) John Komnenos Noble family Dalassenos Father Alexios Charon Mother Adriana Dalassene Born 1025 Died 1102 Anna Dalassene (Greek: Ἄννα Δαλασσηνή, 1025–1102) was an important Byzantine noblewoman who played a significant role in the rise of the Komnenoi to power in the eleventh century. As Augusta, a title bestowed upon her rather th

view all 13

Anna Dalassena's Timeline

1025
1025
Constantinople, Turkey
1042
1042
Age 17
Constantinople,Constantinople,Turkey
1048
1048
Age 23
Byzantium (Constantinople), Istanbul, Turkey
1050
1050
Age 25
1053
1053
Age 28
Byzantium (Constantinople), Istanbul, Turkey
1055
1055
Age 30
Kastamoni
1056
1056
Age 31
1056
Age 31
Constantinople, Byzantine Empire
1060
1060
Age 35
1085
1085
Age 60
Constantinople, Byzantine Empire, Turkey