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Unravelling the Alexiad: Who was ‘Devgenevich’ of the Russian Primary Chronicle and ‘Pseudo-Diogenes’ of the Greek sources?1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 January 2016

Peter Doimi De Frankopan*
Oxford University


An individual claiming to be related to the Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes (1068–71) took part in a major Cuman invasion of Byzantium on the eve of the First Crusade. This article assesses the date of the assault, which is recorded by the Russian Primary Chronicle, by John Zonaras, and by Anna Komnene in the Alexiad. The identity of the man referred to as the False Diogenes by the Byzantine sources is considered, and it is argued that, rather than being an impostor, the individual in question may well indeed have been the son of Romanos IV Diogenes. Modern scholars have tended to ignore this possibility, instead following Anna Komnene’s meticulous character assassination of the man who accompanied the nomad attack. This paper therefore also seeks to address the question of the identity of ‘Pseudo-Diogenes’, to examine Anna Komnene’s methods of savaging a natural rival to her father for the imperial throne, and to assess her motives for doing so.

Copyright © The Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, University of Birmingham 2005

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I am very grateful to the Dean of the Fellows and to the Program in Hellenic Studies at Princeton University for awarding me a Stanley J. Seeger Visiting Fellowship in 2002–3, when this piece was largely written, and also to the Provost and Fellows of Worcester College, Oxford, for their continued support and encouragement.


2 Povest’ vremmenykh let, ed. Shakhmatov, A. (Petrograd 1916, repr. Paris 1969) 285 Google Scholar; Povest’ vremmenykh let, ed. Likhachev, D. (St Petersburg 1996) 95 Google Scholar.

3 Ioannis Zonarae Epitome Historiarum, eds Pinder, M. and Büttner-Wobst, T., 3 vols (Bonn 1841-97) XVIII.23, 3, 744 Google Scholar; Michaelis Glycae Annales, ed. Bekker, I (Bonn 1836) 621 Google Scholar; Theodori Skutariotes Synopsis Chronike, in Biblioteca Graeca Medii Aevi, ed. Sathas, K., 7 vols (Paris 1872-94) 7 Google Scholar, 184. For some comments on the composition of these three texts, see Hunger, H., Die hochsprachliche profane Literatur der Byzantiner, 2 vols (Munich 1978) 1 Google Scholar, 416, 422-3, 477-8.

4 For the deposition of Romanos IV Diogenes, Polemis, D., ‘Notes on 11th Century chronology (1059-81)’, Byzantinische Zeitscrhift 58 (1965) 63-5Google Scholar; Cheynet, J-C., Pouvoir et contestations à Byzance 963-1210 (Paris 1990) 346-9Google Scholar.

5 Annae Comnenae Alexias, eds Reinsch, D. and Kambylis, A. (Berlin 2001), X.2.ii-X.4.xi, 283-95CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 Bulgarian historians in particular have asserted that the Cuman attack took place in 1091/2, e.g. Zlatarski, V., Istoriya na B’lgarskata d’rzhava prez sredite vekové, 2 vols (Sofia 1927-34) 2 Google Scholar, 519; Tapkova-Zaimova, V., ‘Ioan Zonara’, Gr’tski Izbori za B’lgarskata Istoriya 14, 206 n. 1Google Scholar; Angelov, D., Istoriya na Vizantiya, 2 vols (Sofia 1993) 2, 149-50Google Scholar. Also Rasovskii, D., ‘Polovtsyi IV: Voennaya istoriya polovtsev’, Seminarium Kondakovianum 11 (1940) 107 Google Scholar.

7 Thus, Vasilievskii, V., Trudy, 4 vols (St Petersburg 1908-30) 3, 289Google Scholar; Chalandon, F., Essai sur le règne d’Alexis I Comnène (Paris 1900) 151 Google Scholar, 276; Mutafciev, P., Bulgares et Roumains dans l’histoire des pays danubiens (Sofia 1932) 355 Google Scholar; Grégoire, H., ‘Devgenij ou Digenij’, Byzantion 22 (1952) 148 Google Scholar.

8 The fact that twelfth-century Russian chronicles (including the Primary Chronicle) are often neither consistent with each other nor even internally with their use of a calendar, therefore sometimes using a Byzantine-style September-August year, sometimes a March-February year, and sometimes even the ‘ultra-Martovsky’ year (nine months retrospectively to March), means that the outer dates provided here would in the very worst case be March 1094 (ultra-Martovsky) to February 1096 (Byzantine calendar). Apart from the fact that there seems little reason in this part of the Chronicle to think that the author has diverted away from the March-February dating (thus, spring 1095 — early 1096), even the most generous and defensive position here points to a date of 1095 for the attack. For some comments about the dating systems in use in this region in the twelfth century, and about this section of the text specifically, see Berezhkov, N., Khronologiya russkogo letopisaniya (Moscow 1963) 2837 Google Scholar, 213-24, 228-9. I am very grateful to Jonathan Shepard for his comments and thoughts about this issue.

9 For the composition and interpretive problems posed by the Primary Chronicle, see Shakhmatov, Povest’, i-lvvii, Likhachev Povest’, 272-358. Also Franklin, S. and Shepard, J., The Emergence of Rus’ (London 1996) 317 Google Scholar.

10 See here above all Shakhmatov, Povest’, 265-71, Likhachev, Povest’, 78-85 for the burial of Theodosios. For some additional comments about the reliability of the Primary Chronicle, see Nasonov, A., Russkoe letopisanie (Moscow 1969) 2331 Google Scholar.

11 For the steppe world, Grousset, R., The Empire of the Steppes (Paris 1939)Google Scholar; Barfield, T., The Perilous Frontier (Oxford 1989)Google Scholar; Golden, P., ‘The peoples of the Russian forest belt’, in Sinor, D. (ed.) The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia (Cambridge 1990) 256-84CrossRefGoogle Scholar; idem, An Introduction to the History of the Turkic peoples (Wiesbaden 1992).

12 On some of the problems here, Diaconu, P., Les Coumans au Bas-Danube aux XIe et XIIe siècles (Bucharest 1978) 52-8Google Scholar.

13 E.g. Gautier, P., Theophylacti Achridensis Opera (Thessalonica 1980) 92-3Google Scholar; Cheynet, , Pouvoir, 99, 366 Google Scholar.

14 For the terminus post quern, see Alexiad, ,, 279, and Liubarskii, Ia., Aleksiada (Moscow 1965) 550 Google Scholar, n. 916.

15 For example, Gyöni, M, ‘La première mention historique des Vlaques des Monts Balkans’, Acta Antiqua 2 (1952) 497-8Google Scholar; Liubarskii, Aleksiada, 556 n. 959; Diaconu, Coumans, 50. Others favouring 1094 include Dölger, F., Regesten der Kaiserurkunden des oströmischen Reiches von 565-1453, 3 vols (Munich 1924-32) no. 1174 Google Scholar; Leib, B., Alexiade, 3 vols (Paris 1937-45) 2 Google Scholar, 187; Ostrogorsky, G., Histoire de l’Etat byzantin (Paris 1956) 381-2Google Scholar; Stephenson, P., Byzantium’s Balkan Frontier (Cambridge 2000) 105 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

16 Liubarskii, Ia., ‘Ob istochnikakh ‘Aleksiady’ Anny Komninoi’, Vizantiiskii Vremennik 25 (1965) 113 Google Scholar, and idem, ‘Zamechaniya k khronologii XI knigi ‘Aleksiada’ Anny Komninoi’, Vizantiiskii Vremennik 24 (1963) 47-56. Also see here Lilie, R-J., Byzantium and the Crusader states, tr. Morris, J., and Ridings, J. (Oxford 1993) 259-76Google Scholar.

17 Alexiad, X.1.i-vi, 281-3. For the date of Neilos’ trial, Grumel, V., Les Regestes des Actes du Patriarchat de Constantinople (Paris 1947) nos 945 Google Scholar, 946.

18 Kazhdan, A., ‘Rus’-Byzantine Princely Marriages in the 11th and 12th Centuries’, Harvard Ukranian Studies 12-3 (1988/9) 422 Google Scholar.

19 For the plot against the emperor, Alexiad,, 267-79. Also Leib, B., ‘Complots à Byzance contre Alexis Ier Comnène’, Byzantinoslavica 23 (1962) 256-6Google Scholar; Skoulatos, Personnages, 233-1.

20 Alexiad, IX.6.i-iii, 270-1. C.f. IX.9.iv, 278.

21 It seems that the revolt of a certain ‘Rhapsomates’ on Cyprus, which is also reported at length in the Alexiad, may also have a specifically anti-Diogenes theme, Frankopan, P., ‘Challenges to imperial authority in Byzantium: revolts on Crete and Cyprus at the end of the 11th Century’, Byzantion 74 (2004) 382402 Google Scholar.

22 Alexiad,—viii, 40-1.

23 Alexiad, X.2.ii, 284.

24 Nicephori Bryennii Historiarum Libri Quattuor, ed. Gautier, P. (Brussels 1975) II.29, 207 Google Scholar.

25 For the composition of the Alexiad, Howard-Johnston, J., ‘Anna Komnene and the Alexiad’, in Mullett, M. and Smythe, D. (eds) Alexios I Komnenos (Belfast 1996) 263ffGoogle Scholar.

26 Alexiad, IV.5.iii, p. 130; VII.2.iii, p. 205.

27 E.g. Chalandon, Essai, 151-3; Mathieu, M., ‘Les faux Diogènes’, Byzantion 22 (1952) 133-5Google Scholar; Liubarskii, Aleksiada, 553, n. 931; Skoulatos, Personnages 75.

28 Alexiad, VII.3.viii, 212.

29 Alexiad, X.2.ii, 284.

30 Alexiad, X.2.iii, 284.

31 Alexiad, X.2.iii, 285.

32 Ibid.

33 Theodora is described as ‘τής Άλεξίου τοΰ κρατουντος άδελφής [Θεοδώρας] κοα όμευνου του άνοαρεθέντος έκείνου υίου τού Διογένους,’ Alexiad, X.2.iii, 284.

34 Ibid.

35 Ibid.

36 Bryennios, I.6, 85-7, Barzos, K., He Genealogia ton Komnenon, 2 vols (Thessalonica 1984), 1, 85 Google Scholar.

37 Adrian married Zoë Doukaina, daughter of Constantine X Doukas and Eudokia Makrembolitissa; the latter later married Romanos IV Diogenes and was the mother of Constantine, Nikephoros, and Diogenes, Leo, Polemis, D., The Doukai (London 1968) 54-5Google Scholar, and Barzos, Genealogia, 1, 116-17.

38 For an indication of the support which Nikephoros had managed to gather, Alexiad, IX.6.v, 272. See Leib, ‘Complots’, 256-66, for a commentary on the Diogenes plot.

39 Alexiad, IX.9.i-vi, 276-9.

40 For the ringleaders and for the fact that these were the only conspirators to be punished, Alexiad, IX.8.iv, 276. Nikephoros’ blinding appears at, 279.

41 The conspiracy is normally dated to 1094, e.g. Chalandon, Essai, 150; Leib, , ‘Complots’, 256, 265 Google Scholar; Liubarskii, Aleksiada, 550, n. 916; Mullett, M., ‘The ‘disgrace’ of the Ex-Basilissa Maria’, Byzantinoslavica 45 (1984) 206 Google Scholar, 209; Cheynet, Pouvoir, 365-6; Magdalino, P., The Empire of Manuel I Komnenos 1143-1180 (Cambridge 1993) 203 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

42 Alexiad,, 290.

43 Bryennios, I.13, 107; I.15, 111; I.16, 115 Guilland, R., Recherches sur les institutions Byzantines, 2 vols (Berlin 1967) 1 Google Scholar, 430, Skoulatos, Personnages, 219.

44 Alexiad, X.3.iii, 288.

45 Ibid.

46 Alexiad, X.3.iv, 289.

47 Ibid.

48 Alexiad,, 311, Zonaras, XVIII.22, 3, 738-9, Skoulatos, Personnages, 225. For the relationship between the two Nikephoros Bryennioi, Chalandon, Essai, v-vi, Jongh, S. Wittek-de, ‘Le César Nicéphore Bryennios l’historien et ses ascendants,’ Byzantion 23 (1953) 463-8Google Scholar, Gautier, Historiarum, 21-2.

49 Leib, B., ‘Un basileus ignoré — Constantin Doucas, v. 1074-94, Byzantinoslavica 17 (1956) 356-9Google Scholar; Mullett, ‘Disgrace’, 206.

50 Frankopan, P., ‘The imperial governors of Dyrrakhion in the reign of Alexios I Komnenos’, Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 26 (2002) 98100 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Gautier, P., Theophylacti Achridensis Epistulae (Thessalonica 1986) 41-3Google Scholar.

51 Alexiad,, 289-90.

52 Alexiad, X.3.i-ii, 287-8; X.4.i, 290.

53 Alexiad, X.4.i, 290.

54 Alexiad, X.4.ii, 291.

55 Alexiad, X.4.ii, 291.

56 Alexiad, X.4.iv-v, 291-2.

57 Alexiad, X.4.v, 292.

58 Thus, ‘μεμαθηκυΐα δέ τοθτο ή του βασιλέως μήτηρ καί δέσποινα ... εύθύς τον δρουγγάριον τοθ στόλου Κυμινειανον τον έκτομίαν Εύστάθιον διά τάχους άπέστειλεν έφ’ ф τον τοιοθτον παραλαβεΐν Ktxì είσαγαγεΐν είς τήν μεγαλόπολιν,’ Alexiad, X.4.v, 292-3.

59 Ibid.

60 For the death of Constantine, above 151.

61 Alexiad, IX.8.iv, 276.

62 For the death Leo Diogenes, above 151-152.

63 Shakhmatov, Povest’, 356; Likhachev, Povest’, 129, 547. Also see Kazhdan, ‘Princely marriages’, 421-2.

64 Likhachev, Povest’, 489, 547.

65 Both Nikephoros and Leo are referred to as porphyrogennetoi in the Alexiad, which places their births no earlier than 1067. In consequence, therefore, and although we do not know the precise birth dates of the brothers, Leo may not have been born until as late as 1071, which would have made him ten years old during the campaign at Dyrrakhion. For his appearance there, and for his advice on this occasion to the emperor, Alexiad, IV.5.iii, 130.

66 We know of Romanos’ negotiations from later correspondence from Michael VII Doukas with Guiscard, Biblioteca Graeca Medii Aevi, ed. Sathas, , 7 vols (Paris 1872-94) 5 Google Scholar, 387. It is not clear when Romanos’ overtures to the Norman leader took place, though evidently they date to the period between 1067-71, when Romanos was emperor, Antoniadis-Bibicou, H., ‘Une page d’histoire diplomatique de Byzance au XIe siècle’, Byzantion 29 (1959) 52 Google Scholar.

67 Gautier, Historiarum, 85 n. 12.

68 Soloviev, M., ‘La date de la version russe du Digénis Akritas’, Byzantion 22 (1952) 131-2Google Scholar.

69 Vitális, Orderic, Historia Ecclesiastica, ed. and tr. Chibnall, M., 6 vols (Oxford 1967-80) 6 Google Scholar, 68-70.

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Unravelling the Alexiad: Who was ‘Devgenevich’ of the Russian Primary Chronicle and ‘Pseudo-Diogenes’ of the Greek sources?1
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