Byzantine historians and chroniclers, Fourth-seventh centuries
(Βυζαντινοί ιστορικοί και χρονογράφοι, 4ος-7ος αι.)
In Greek. Athens: Kanake, 1997. Paper. Pp. 642.
Reviewed by DEMETRIOS J. CONSTANTELOS, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
From "SPECULUM" July 1998, Vol. 73, No 3, pp.862-863
This is an important and very useful volume for advanced students, instructors, and research scholars who read classical, medieval, and modern Greek. It is an indispensable tool for seminars in historiography and research in the period of the early Byzantine or later Roman Empire. Apparently it is the first of a series of three volumes intended to cover the whole Byzantine era (330-1453). An English translation of this and future volumes would make this series even more useful for students interested in the history of the Greek East and the Latin West of late antiquity.
Excellently researched and beautifully written and produced, this book is divided into two major parts; each part is subdivided into three lengthy chapters. The first part, the smaller of the two, is devoted to ecclesiastical historiography, including narrative history and chronicles. The second part (pp. 257-616) considers what the Greeks themselves called "thyrathen," literally "by the door," that is, secular historiography, which in many ways followed the Greek classical prototypes.
The book opens with a solid discussion of the background, sources, and origins of Christian historiography, the history of salvation (historia salutis), which carries the student back to the Bible and early Christian theologians who viewed history in eschatological terms and served as precursors to ecclesiastical historians such as Eusebius of Caesarea. Hegisippos and Sextus lulius Africanus are considered influential figures. Eusebius occupies a prominent place in the first part of this book. Though his influence became pervasive, other ecclesiastical historians such as Socrates, Sozomenos, Philostorgios, and Evagrios Scholastikos did not necessarily follow his method and approach. While Eusebius was almost exclusively concerned with ecclesiastical matters, his successors combined ecclesiastical and secular interests, and their histories present a fuller picture of the events of the proto-Byzantine period.
The discussion of each historian and chronicler follows a standard format: first, an account of everything we know about the life and work of the historian, including writings, problems involved with manuscripts and manuscript tradition, and editions, both old and more recent critical editions if they exist; second, a general bibliography where one can find basic information such as manuals of patrologists; and third, a list of monographs and specialized studies. Karpozilos also provides several brief but illuminating essays on specific themes that preoccupied the historians of the period under review: for example, how the appearance of comets or other physical phenomena were interpreted eschatologically.
In his treatment of the various historians, the author maintains a balance between Orthodox and non-Orthodox historians such as Eusebius versus Philostorgios. Also, due consideration is paid to some less well known historians whose work was cited by writers of later centuries. Such are the writings of Gelasios, which have survived in part in the work of Georgios Monachos, and Philippos Pisides, whose Christianiki Istoria was used by little-known or anonymous authors of the Byzantine era.
Excerpts have been chosen with a view to their importance for the times in which they were written, such as Socrates Scholastikos's account of Julian's policy toward Christians teaching the Greek classics, and the attitude of churchmen such as the Apolinarii toward Greek learning. Socrates is treated as the most important ecclesiastical historian after Eusebius. In his History he combined sacred and secular history, including events unflattering to Christians, such as the violence against the Neoplatonist Hypatia.
Ecclesiastical historiography after Socrates declined. Of the twelve church historians of the period, Eusebius and Socrates stand out as the most influential. Though ecclesiastical history was a new genre, it, too, did not escape the influence of classical prototypes and of Greek language and thought. The Greek Fathers realized the value of classical education and used it as an instrument in the propagation of the Gospel. Christianity did not cause a discontinuity with the past but a transformation. For the leading Greek Fathers, Jerusalem and Athens supplemented each other.
The second part of this thought-provoking volume reviews the philosophy, nature, content, strengths, and weaknesses of secular historiography from the fourth to the seventh century. Eunapios of Sardis, Olympiodoros of Thebes, Priskos Panites, Malchos of Philadelphia, Zosimos, Prokopios, Agathias, Menander Protiktor, and Theophilaktos of Simokatta were the most important secular historians. There were others of less significance, several of whom are known through Photios's Bibliotbeca and the Suda.
Modern historians have paid more attention to secular historiography; thus it is understandable why the bibliographical notes on them are by far longer than those for ecclesiastical historians. Paradoxically absent from this group is Ammianus Marcellinus. Though Ammianus wrote in Latin, he considered himself an Easterner. He writes of himself as "I, a former soldier and a Greek" (The Later Roman Empire 31.16) and "we Greeks" (ibid. 31.16 and 18.6). Absent also is John Lydos, whose On the Magistracies is a mirror of social and. intellectual life in sixth-century Byzantium.
To be sure, Prokopios, Justinian's court historian, is the most important of the no ecclesiastical historians of the period. Thus some fifty pages are dedicated to him. In addition to lengthy excerpts, editions, general works, and specialized monographs and studies, Karpozilos adds some interesting and illuminating scholia on Prokopios's history.
This major volume concludes with an essay on the nature of Byzantine chronography, with particular attention to loannes Malalas and the Paschalion Chronikon, and with excerpts describing the capture of Jerusalem by the Persians in 614 and the siege of Constantinople by the Avars and Slavs in 626-27. The seventh century marked the end of traditional historiography. In addition to an up-to-date bibliography after each chapter, the book includes two very helpful detailed indices. Although it is impossible to cite every book and article, it seems to me that Robert Browning's Julian and W. J. Malley's Hellenism and Christianity, deserved to be included in the bibliography. The author's awareness of modern scholarship in several languages, including English, German, French, Italian, Russian, and, of course, Greek, is impressive. Karpozilos knows not only philology and history but also theology and the theological issues of the times. He deserves our thanks and warm congratulations for making available to us such an indispensable tool.