Johannes Malalas Open this page in a new tab

Jeffries et al (1986:xxi) reports that everything that is known about Johannes Malalas (~491 – 578 CE) has to be gleaned from the chronicle itself, except that later writers refer to him as 'John the Rhetor', 'John Malalas' or 'Malelas', and 'John of Antioch'. Jeffries et al (1986:xxi-xxii) further reports that as a 'rhetor' or 'scholastikos' (which is the meaning of the Syriac word 'malal' from which the name Malalas is derived) Malalas possessed the education designed to equip one for the mainstream of government service, and so he was fairly well educated by contemporary standards.

His Book Chronographia was written in Greek and is a valuable and frequently unique reservoir of information however Malalas himself has been has been dismissed as entirely naive, ignorant and incompetent (Jeffries et al, 1986:xxii). For example, Olmstead (1942:22) states that John Malalas was undoubtedly the world's worst chronicler ... but [the historian] must use him for Malalas has preserved a great amount of the most important data... and Vasiliev (1958:184) characterizes his work as confused in content, mixing fables and facts, important events and minor incidents which was clearly intended not for educated readers but for the masses.

Fluent in Syriac, Latin, and Greek, Malalas was presumably educated in Antioch but at some point in his life moved to Constantinople perhaps between 535 and 540 CE (Jeffries et al, 1986:xxii). He probably continued his bureaucratic career in Constantinople until he died there in 578 CE (Jeffries et al, 1986:xxii).

His chronicle was composed and circulated in two editions. The first edition was put together in Antioch in the 530s CE and most likely reached the end of Book 17 (AD 527) (Jeffries et al, 1986:xxiii). It is not so clear where the final edition of the chronicle ended, although the most likely point is the end of Justinian's reign in 565 CE (Jeffries et al, 1986:xxiii). Presumably, everything from Book 18 forward was composed in Constantinople after 535-540 CE. Despite the chronological problems Chronographia is noted for, Malalas appears to produce accurate chronology for some earthquakes - likely due to the source(s) he accessed for the event.