1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bryennius, Nicephorus

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BRYENNIUS, NICEPHORUS (1062–1137), Byzantine soldier, statesman and historian, was born at Orestias (Adrianople). His father, of the same name, had revolted against the feeble Michael VII., but had been defeated and deprived of his eyesight. The son, who was distinguished for his learning, personal beauty and engaging qualities, gained the favour of Alexius I. (Comnenus) and the hand of his daughter Anna, with the titles of Caesar (then ranking third) and Panhypersebastos (one of the new dignities introduced by Alexius). Bryennius successfully defended the walls of Constantinople against the attacks of Godfrey of Bouillon (1097); conducted the peace negotiations between Alexius and Bohemund, prince of Antioch (1108); and played an important part in the defeat of Malik-Shah, the Seljuk sultan of Iconium (1116). After the death of Alexius, he refused to enter into the conspiracy set on foot by his mother-in-law and wife to depose John, the son of Alexius, and raise himself to the throne. His wife attributed his refusal to cowardice, but it seems from certain passages in his own work that he really regarded it as a crime to revolt against the rightful heir; the only reproach that can be brought against him is that he did not nip the conspiracy in the bud. He was on very friendly terms with the new emperor John, whom he accompanied on his Syrian campaign (1137), but was forced by illness to return to Byzantium, where he died in the same year. At the suggestion of his mother-in-law he wrote a history (called by him Ὕλη Ἱστορίας, materials for a history) of the period from 1057 to 1081, from the victory of Isaac I. (Comnenus) over Michael VI. to the dethronement of Nicephorus Botaneiates by Alexius. The work has been described as rather a family chronicle than a history, the object of which was the glorification of the house of Comnenus. Part of the introduction is probably a later addition. In addition to information derived from older contemporaries (such as his father and father-in-law) Bryennius made use of the works of Michael Psellus, John Scylitza and Michael Attaliota. As might be expected, his views are biased by personal considerations and his intimacy with the royal family, which at the same time, however, afforded him unusual facilities for obtaining material. His model was Xenophon, whom he has imitated with a tolerable measure of success; he abstains from an excessive use of simile and metaphor, and his style is concise and simple.

Editio princeps, P. Possinus, 1661; in Bonn Corpus Scriptorum Hist. Byz., by E. Meincke (1836), with du Cange’s valuable commentary; Migne, Patrologia Graeca, cxxvii.; see also J. Seger, Byzantinische Historiker des 10. und 11. Jahrhunderts (1888), and C. Krumbacher, Geschichte der byzantinischen Litteratur (1897). The estimate of his work in R. Nicolai, Griechische Literaturgeschichte, iii. p. 76 (1878), is too unfavourable.