Anna's mother Irene Doukaina suggested he write a political history of the quarter century leading up to the coronation of his father-in-law, Alexios. It would largely be a "family history" of the Comnenos clan, and he gathered information for his "Material for a History." He drew on writings of contemporary historians such as Michael Psellos, John Skylitzes and Michael Attaleiates, covering many topics of which he would have no personal experience
Before the work was finished, Nikephoros died after becoming ill while on a military campaign in Syria. His widow, Anna, took the notes and turned them into The Alexiad, with a large focus on exalting her father:
I, Anna, the daughter of two royal personages, Alexius and Irene, born and bred in the purple. I was not ignorant of letters, for I carried my study of Greek to the highest pitch, and was also not unpractised in rhetoric; I perused the works of Aristotle and the dialogues of Plato carefully, ...
However, to resume—I intend in this writing of mine to recount the deeds done by my father for they should certainly not be lost in silence, or swept away, as it were, on the current of time into the sea of forgetfulness, and I shall recount not only his achievements as Emperor, but also the services he rendered to various Emperors before he himself received the sceptre.
The 15 chapters include not only the political rise and fall of emperors, but also the encounter with the "Frankish barbarians" of the Crusade, with details useful to modern historians:
For the Frankish weapon of defence is this coat of mail, ring plaited into ring[s], and the iron fabric is such excellent iron that it repels arrows and keeps the wearer’s skin unhurt. An additional weapon of defence is a shield which is not round, but a long shield, very broad at the top and running out to a point, hollowed out slightly inside, but externally smooth and gleaming with a brilliant boss of molten brass.
About 10 manuscripts of the finished work survive, some of them complete. Written in Attic Greek, The Alexiad gives us another version of the time period for scholars to study with some unusual traits. It is the only historical work written by a woman, and it differs radically from other histories because the author acknowledges feelings and opinions of the events discussed.
She virtually ignores her brother, John II Comnenos, who became emperor after Alexios. Anna, of course, wanted Nikephoros to succeed her father. Was John that bad an emperor? Was his reign worthy of being ignored in The Alexiad? Let's look at John II Comnenos next time.