image with the sign of Myriobiblos

Main Page | Library | Homage | Seminars | Book Reviews






Web Unit



Α. Karpozilos

Byzantine historians and chronographers, 2: (8th— 10th c.)
Βυζαντινοί ιστορικοί και χρονογράφοι, 2: (8ος-10ος αι)

Athens: Kanake, 2002. Paper. Pp. 653;
Reviewed by DEMETRIOS J. CONSTANTELOS, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

From "SPECULUM" January 2005, Vol.80, No 1, pp.244-246

Impressive, excellently written, and conveniently presented, Apostolos Karpozilos's new volume picks up where volume 1 of his work on Byzantine historiography left off.

Following a prologue and a detailed introduction (pp. 27-52), the book is divided into three parts (fourteen chapters); three indices, of manuscripts, terms and proper names, and names used in notes; and the bibliography. Like the first volume, this, too, is an indispensable tool for the study of Byzantine historiography. Advanced students, instructors, but also research scholars in Byzantine history and related fields will be grateful to Karpozilos for this work of exemplary quality.

Successful writing of tomes like this requires a thorough knowledge of Byzantine primary sources and secondary literature of the post-Byzantine era. Karpozilos fully commands the sources in Greek and modern literature in Greek, English, French, Italian, German, and Russian. His holistic approach to literature, medieval Greek or modern and in several languages, is what makes this book first-rate scholarship. When he disagrees with opinions of eminent modern scholars (Alexander Kazhdan, Cyril Mango, Alexander Vasiliev, others), he is cautious and fair. His analysis of subjects and persons is exhaustive and critical, displaying an encyclopedic knowledge of biblical, patristic, hagiographical, and historiographical writing. Motivated by modern trends in historiographical writing, which seek to explore background topics and subjects of a social nature, Karpozilos has researched not only major figures but also several little-known chronicles of the period.

The author follows the same methodology as in his first volume. He emphasizes the unity of each work, adding a foreword in which the historicity of the text is related to other historiographical sources of the same period. Furthermore, he explores the problem of authorship and states his own conclusions. Each chapter ends with samples of the writings by the author discussed.

Karpozilos first asks what is historia (history) and what is chronographia or chronikon (chronicle). A variety of definitions have been given to those two terms'by modern historians. But what did the two terms mean to the Byzantine authors themselves? Do we observe any strict distinction in the use of the terms between the proto-Byzantine centuries and the centuries between the seventh and the tenth? It is a mistake, however, to believe that the so-called dark centuries (seventh to first half of the ninth) did not produce historiographical texts of significance; works such as that of Traianos Patrikios and the anonymous chronicle of Alexandria were used as sources by later and better-known writers such as Theophanes Omologetes and Patriarch Nicephoros. Karpozilos indicates that the chronicles present various types of historiography and must be studied in the context of the whole of history.

While many Byzantine writers did not make a strict distinction between bistoria and chronographia, Photios (ca. 810AD. after 893), one of the most important teachers and scholars of the Byzantine era, who did much to revive interest in antiquity, was the first to differentiate the two. Historia is characterized by a fullness (a pleroteta), clarity and elegance, unaffected exactness, combined with intellectual honesty, in contrast to chronographia, which is marked by shortness and the writing of the very essential, overlooking the total picture of the events. Photios condemned the chroniclers' use of language (lexilogion), their lack of aesthetic sensitivity, and their mediocrity. Furthermore, the historians and chroniclers differ in the sense that the historians placed their personal character on their work. The chroniclers, with some exceptions, wrote without concern for criticism of the events they described, made no comments, and impressed no persona on their writing. The anonymity of many chronicles indicates that their authors possessed a sense of self-abnegation and humility, indications that they came from the monastic world.

For Photios, the first historian of the period under discussion was the learned Patriarch Nicephoros. Though his Istoria Syntomos is brief, it includes all the necessary elements of what Photios considered historia. Karpozilos adds that there were some chroniclers who deserve to be classified as historians, chroniclers who were very careful in the use of sources, critical of their validity and cautious in their use.

Theophanes Omologetes (760-818) is considered one of the most important sources for the seventh, eighth, and early ninth centuries. In a detailed chapter (pp. 117-88) Karpozilos discusses Theophanes' sources, his accuracy, and his style. In addition to Theophanes, Georgios Monachos, too, stands out because he introduced some innovations in his writings (pp. 213-49).

Among the historians of the period, special treatment is reserved for loannes Kaminiates, Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, and Symeon Magistros Logothetes. Kaminiates' vivid and detailed description of the Arab siege of Thessaloniki in 904 makes it one of the most interesting literary compositions of the Byzantine era. Constantine Porphyrogennetos (905-59) possessed an encyclopedic knowledge and wrote on a number of subjects: foreign policy, diplomacy, historical events, internal politics and organization, and geography. He remains an indispensable source not only for Byzantine history but also for the history of several tribes and neighboring nations. Thus Karpozilos devotes a lengthy section to him (pp. 281-343).

The critical analysis of the Continuator of Theophanes is especially impressive. "While many Byzantine historians and chroniclers viewed events in religious terms, attributing natural catastrophes, foreign invasions, and defeats in war to God's will and the people's sins, some did not see divine intervention in everything. Theophanes Continuatus attributed the Arab invasions, including the occupation of Crete, to overpopulation and poverty, which forced many Arabs to seek new lands.

The sense of continuity with the past is present in the writings of Byzantine historiographers. Prototypes, terms, and ideas from classical and later Greek writers, such as Plutarch, are present in the writings of both secular and ecclesiastical authors. Their sense of continuity was not an invention but an inherited tradition.

Competent and equal in value and usefulness is Karpozilos's analysis of little-known short chronicles such as the Scriptor incertus of 811, a balanced account of the tragic reign of Emperor Nicephoros I. The author of the Incertus praised peace and condemned unjustified and purposeless wars, motivated by the arrogance, vanity, paranoia, and avarice of those in power.

In his discussion of historiography on the iconoclastic controversy, Karpozilos translates proskynesis as latreia (worship). It seems to me that, even though proskynesis could be translated as latreia, in the context of the theology of the period, timē (honor), rather than worship, is the proper term. Even though worship of icons by ordinary people was not absent, the official church used proskynesis in the sense of paying honor to the icon, which is transferred to the prototype, as the Seventh Ecumenical Synod put it.

In the general bibliography, I would add Constantine Amantos, Istoria tou Byzantinou Kratous, 2nd ed. 1953, vol. 2 1957, which provides many original insights. Constantine Porphyrogennetos, Pros ton idion Yion Romanon (De administrando imperio), was edited by G. Moravcsik, corrected and translated by Romilly J. H. Jenkins. In his discussion of Georgios Monachos's views on the "ideal emperor" (p. 227), the author may want to refer to my paper "Philanthropy as a Political Virtue in 10th Century Byzantium" in the Anglican Theological Review (January 1962), pp. 71-94 (condensed in my Byzantine Philanthropy and Social Welfare, chapter 4). Instead of "Klemes Alexandreias," write "Klemes of Alexandreia": the first title would indicate he was a bishop of Alexandria, and he was not. But these minor flaws in no way diminish Karpozilos's monumental contribution, for which students and scholars will be indebted to him for many years to come.