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The Maronite Chronicle is an anonymous syriac chronicle thought by some to be completed shortly after 664 CE. It is likely a contemporaneous source for the events in question and may rely on eyewitness accounts (Marsham (2013)). The fact that it lists several dates (e.g. 9 June 659 CE) correctly accompanied by the day of the week (e.g. Sunday) further bolsters the case that it is contemporaneous and knowledgeable about the events it discusses. Despite this, it also appears to contain some forced synchronicities.
Extended Background on the Maronite Chronicle

Palmer et al (1993:29) provides background

This chronicle goes up to AD 664 and was probably written by someone who was alive then. The writer is clearly one of the Maronites and a supporter of the Romans, i.e. the Byzantines; that makes it likely that he was writing before the Sixth Council (AD 680/1), which the Maronites rejected, and certain that he wrote before the disputes of AD 727. The accuracy of this chronicle as to weekdays makes it likely that it was compiled during and immediately after the events. Like the other West-Syrian chronicles, it seems to favour Mu‘awiya, rather than ‘Ali. The chronicler describes in tendentious terms the {Ar. dhimma} (denoting the ‘protection’ accorded to the {Ar. ahl al-kitib}, the People of the Book), by which the Jacobite patriarch had entered into a special relationship with the caliph and paid him a yearly tribute in return for the liberty to run the affairs of his own Church and the backing of the State for his authority. The inference that the Maronites were not so successful as the Jacobites in adapting to the new political system seems to be justified. The Maronite author uses a few success-stories from the Byzantine defence of Asia Minor to boost the morale of his readers, who would have liked to see the Byzantines back in Syria. The Jacobites only wanted the Byzantines back if they would reject Chalcedon; but if the Arab conquest had not convinced them of their error, what could? At this date the Jacobites were perhaps already accommodating themselves to what they saw as a situation that would continue.

The text of the Maronite Chronicle is preserved, with some lacunas, in BL Add. 17,216 (VIIIth or IXth century), fol. 12a, and edited in CM 2, pp. 43-74. The narrative of the earlier seventh century is lost and the chronicle resumes after the lacuna.
Penn (2015:54-57) also provides background
Maronite Chronicle

Possibly mid- to late seventh century c.e.

The title of this universal chronicle no longer survives. Due to the theological affiliation of its anonymous author, modern scholars most often refer to it as the Maronite Chronicle. Because only fragments remain, basic questions such as the work’s composition date remain unresolved. Nevertheless, the Chronicle’s discussion of Islam, especially of Muʻāwiya’s caliphate, is particularly valuable. In addition to providing data on mid-seventh-century military and political history, the Maronite Chronicle includes three particularly interesting episodes of interreligious encounter.

The first relates a debate between Miaphysites and Maronites that allegedly took place in front of the Umayyad caliph Muʻāwiya. According to the Maronite Chronicle, Muʻāwiya judged in favor of the Maronites and fined the Miaphysites. The Miaphysite patriarch, however, soon turned this to his advantage by continuing to pay Muʻāwiya to protect the Miaphysites from the Maronites. The next episode discusses Muʻāwiya’s visit to Jerusalem, where he prayed at Golgotha, Gethsemane, and Mary’s tomb. The text then refers to Muʻāwiya’s issuing of gold and silver coins that broke from the widely used Byzantine coin type, no longer including the traditional depiction of the cross.

Although none of these anecdotes is innately implausible, scholars continue to debate their historical accuracy. Independent of their veracity, stories of a caliph who adjudicated intraChristian debates and prayed at Christian holy sites but refused to mint coins with a cross remind one that the characters found in early Syriac sources often defy attempts to pigeonhole them into easily defined, mutually exclusive religious categories.

Manuscript and Edition

The Maronite Chronicle survives in a single, fragmentary manuscript. A flyleaf now housed in St. Petersburg contains the Chronicle’s beginning. The remaining leaves come from later folios in the Chronicle and are now found in the British Library, where they have been rebound as part of British Library Additional 12,216. On paleographic grounds, William Wright dated the manuscript to the eighth or ninth century. The extant sections begin in the time of Alexander the Great and continue until the mid660s, although the discussion of the period between 361 and 658 no longer survives. With the exception of a missing leaf, BL Add. 12,216 does, however, preserve a continuous narrative from 658 until 665/66, when the manuscript breaks off prior to the Chronicle’s conclusion. In 1904 Ernest Walter Brooks published an edition of the surviving text.

Authorship and Date of Composition

The author’s allegiance to the Maronites is made quite clear in the Chronicle. In its depiction of an intra-Christian debate before Caliph Muʻāwiya, the Chronicle champions “those of the faith of Mār Maron” and vilifies the Miaphysites. This has led some scholars to suggest that the author was the famed mid-eighth century Maronite chronicler Theophilus of Edessa. More recent research on Theophilus has discredited this hypothesis, especially as there is no overlap between passages found in the Maronite Chronicle and the extensive fragments of Theophilus’s Chronicle that later authors quote. As a result, the clear majority of scholars now consider the Maronite Chronicle’s author unknown.

Because the British Library manuscript breaks off in 665/66, there is no indication of how much further the Chronicle originally extended. Nevertheless, some scholars have forwarded several arguments suggesting a composition date not long after the 660s, including the facts that the Chronicle betrays no familiarity with the division between the Maronites and the Byzantine church, which took place in the early 680s, or their intensifying conflicts in the early eighth century; and that the proper correlation of specific dates and days of the week in the Chronicle’s last pages suggest that it was written by a near contemporary of the events it describes. Others have noted that the Chronicle’s dating of Christ’s birth to the year 309 in the Seleucid calendar might betray a knowledge of Jacob of Edessa’s Chronicle, which was not finished until the 690s. So too numismatists debate whether the Chronicle’s reference to Muʻāwiya’s changing of Islamic coinage is plausible. Alternatively, it may be an anachronism based on the author’s knowledge of ʻAbd al-Malik’s famous coin reform in the 690s. As a result, it remains uncertain whether the Maronite Chronicle was written in the mid-seventh century or simply comes from a somewhat later author well informed about the 660s.

Commentary by Shoemaker (2021)

Shoemaker (2021:150-163) reports the following on the Maronite Chronicle


This Syriac chronicle was originally a history covering events from Alexander the Great up to the early 660s, although today it survives only in a dozen or so folios that report on various intervals within this span. The section covering the period from the late fourth century through the beginning of the seventh is missing, for instance. Likewise, we do not have the opening section of the chronicle, and so we do not know what it may have been called in late antiquity. Nevertheless, the chronicle suggests an affiliation with a seventh-century Christian group known as the Maronites, the early medieval ancestors of the contemporary Christian group by this name, located primarily in Lebanon. In the seventh century, the Maronites were distinguished from other Christian groups in the Near East by their adherence to a doctrine known as Monothelitism, a belief that after the incarnation Christ had only a single divine will and no human will. Although many contemporary Maronites vigorously deny this element of the group’s formative history, the evidence for this confessional identity in the early Middle Ages is unmistakable.1


This section of the fragmentary chronicle opens abruptly with a notice concerning the First Civil War, or Fitna, in which Muhammad’s followers fought with one another over the leadership of their religious polity. The war was set in motion when the third caliph, Uthmān, was murdered in 656 CE, and ʿAlī, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, was proclaimed caliph after him. Muʿāwiya had been governor of the important province of Syria since the reign of the second caliph, ʿUmar, who appointed him in 639, and he was a cousin of the murdered caliph Uthmān.7 When ʿAlī came to power, a conflict soon developed between him and Muʿāwiya for leadership of the Believers, in which Muʿāwiya emerged victorious following ʿAlī’s assassination in January 661 in Kufa by one of his own disaffected followers.

Although the beginning of this section is missing, the Maronite Chronicle appears to locate this event mistakenly in 658/59, but such errors in chronology are not uncommon in the historical writings of this era.8 Nevertheless, the Maronite Chronicle accurately reports that ʿAlī was murdered while praying in a mosque, and although it locates this mosque in Ḥira rather than Kufa, this is actually not incorrect. Kufa was a new military encampment established by the Believers in 639 adjacent to Ḥira, which had been the capital of the Lakhmids, the Christian Arab allies of the Sasanians mentioned in chapter 11 in relation to the Khuzistan Chronicle. Accordingly, it was not uncommon for medieval writers, and for Christians in particular, to use the names Ḥira and Kufa interchangeably.9 Given Ḥira’s importance for the Christians of the pre-Islamic Near East, it is no surprise to find that this text names the location of ʿAlī’s assassination Ḥira rather than Kufa.

As for Ḥudhayfa, or Muḥammad b. Abi Ḥudhayfa, he was one of the chief conspirators against Uthmān, although he was put to death shortly thereafter in 656.10 The Maronite Chronicle seems to place the death of ʿAlī’ and Ḥudhayfa mistakenly in the same year, 658/59 judging from what follows, an error in both instances. Yet despite these lapses in chronology, which again are endemic in the historical writing of this period, the author of this chronicle does indeed seem well informed about political developments among the Believers during the First Civil War and the establishment of the new Umayyad caliphate under Muʿāwiya.


The second interpretation, that Muʿāwiya here arbitrates a dispute among Christians because it affects members of the nascent community of the Believers, is in fact consistent with a number of other reports concerning Muʿāwiya and his personal involvement with Christianity, including especially the account of his coronation that follows in this very chronicle. Other Christian sources from this period, as we will see, similarly describe Muʿāwiya, almost reverently, for his tolerance of Christianity and his respect for the Christian faith and its churches. Moreover, the later Islamic historical tradition is often hostile to Muʿāwiya (and indeed, the Umayyads in general), accusing him of, among other things, being indifferent to the practice of true Islam while demonstrating what the later Islamic tradition considered inappropriate pro-Christian sympathies.17 One could attribute this memory of Muʿāwiya in the Islamic historical tradition as a result of its well-known anti-Umayyad bias.18 Yet, in light of a farily consistent pro-Christian portrait of Muʿāwiya that emerges from the contemporary Christian sources,19 maybe we should consider the possibility that the estimation of the Islamic historians concering Muʿāwiya may in this case be based in some historical realities.

If we follow Donner’s hypothesis regarding the interconfessional nature of the community of the Believers for the first several decades of its existence, these reports about Muʿāwiya from both Christian and Islamic sources converge to suggest a very different understanding of his actions and religious faith of the community that he led. From such a vantage, Muʿāwiya appears not as the Muslim caliph of an Islamic polity, but instead as the leader of an alliance of Abrahamic monotheists that included Christians. His preferred title, it would seem, was not caliph but amīr al-muʾminīn, “the leader of the Believers,” judging from the coinage, inscriptions, and papyri of his age. Moreover, his marriage to a Christian, the fact that the core of his army, not to mention his navy, consisted primarily of Christian troops, and his appointment of Christians to high-level positions in government certainly would all be consistent with his leadership of such an interconfessional community.20

Indeed, perhaps nowhere in any of the relevant sources is such an interpretation of Muʿāwiya and the community that he led more strongly suggested than in this chronicle’s initial notice for the next year, 660/61. The chronicle reports that Muʿāwiya had his coronation in Jerusalem: presumably, the choice of this location was deliberate. Muʿāwiya chose to become the new leader of the Believers in the city of King David and of Christ the King. One imagines that these Jewish and Christian associations were not insignificant in his decision to be proclaimed ruler there. And there can be little question that Jerusalem was a locus of the highest sanctity for Muhammad’s followers in this age. Jersualem and the biblical Holy Land seem to have been the primary focus of the Believers’ sacred geography, holding far greater significance than Mecca and Medina in the Hijaz. These two Arabian cities would emerge as the foci of a new distinctively Islamic holy land only somewhat later in the history of the religious movement, as it sought greater distinction from the biblical religions that were its matrix.21


What Muʿāwiya is said to have done next is nothing short of astonishing, and if the report is accurate, his actions provide some of the strongest evidence for the interconfessional nature of the community that he was leading and the faith that it practiced. According to the chronicle, immediately after his enthronement, Muʿāwiya went and sat at Golgotha, the site of Christ’s crucifixion, where he prayed, and then went down to Gethsemane, to the Tomb of the Virgin Mary, and prayed there as well. These acts portray the new leader of the Believers worshipping in two of Jerusalem’s oldest and most important Christian shrines, showing his devotion to Jesus and Mary in the context of their Christian veneration. One could hardly ask for better evidence that the community of the Believers was confessionally open in its earliest history.23 According to this chronicle, Muʿāwiya’s first act as the community’s leader was to pray not in a mosque or on the Temple Mount, but in the two holiest Christian shrines dedicated to the two most important figures of the Christian tradition. If the leader of the Believers worshipped in these two churches on such a momentous occasion, surely the confessional lines between Christians and the Believers were not yet firmly established, as they would later come to be.

The main question, however, is: did this really happen? It is hard to say with complete certainly. Penn again hesitates slightly, although he notes that there is certainly nothing implausible in the account, while Andrew Marsham concludes that “there are good reasons to believe that . . . the account of Muʿawiya’s actions is based in fact,” and Tannous judges the report as being “historically likely.” Tannous notes that the chronicle seems to have recorded these events only a few years after they happened, and as we have seen above, the Maronite Chronicle otherwise shows evidence of being well informed regarding developments in the leadership of the Believers, a judgment shared also by James Howard-Johnston.24 There is certainly ample testimony that in the early history of the Believers movement, members of the community used Christian churches for their worship, either cooperatively or through cooption. Perhaps the most well-known example is the Believers’ use of the Church of St. John the Baptist in Damascus, which they ultimately appropriated in the construction of the Umayyad Mosque.25 Yet reports of interconfessional sharing of sacred space are especially prominent in regard to Jerusalem during the early years of the community of the Believers. For instance, although the relevant sources are understandably complex, particularly in light of their tension with later Islamic confessional identity, it appears that the early Believers in Jerusalem initially joined the Christians in the Holy Sepulcher for their worship. After capturing the Holy City on Palm Sunday, as Heribert Busse argues, the Believers joined in the Christian celebrations of Holy Week. It did not take very long, however, before they abandoned this practice and turned their attention to the Temple Mount, where they would begin building not ong after the conquest, a project that would finally culminate in the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsā Mosque.26


Finally, the Maronite Chronicle reports that in the same year of his coronation, Muʿāwiya issued new coins, both gold and silver, “but it was not accepted, because there was no cross on it.” There has been some debate about this passage, which is particularly important for understanding the history of early Islamic coinage.30 Of course, it is interesting that Muʿāwiya of all people would have removed the cross from his official coinage, inasmuch as he seems to have merged his political authority with Christianity so dramatically at his enthronement. Perhaps he wanted to distinguish his own currency from that of the Byzantines, whose coins frequently had a cross on their reverse. If that was the case, clearly it backfired, since the coinage was rejected, presumably since there was concern as to whether it was genuine or not without this feature, and all the more so given that the population of Syria and Palestine would have been overwhelmingly Christian at this time. So the cross was retained until the currency reform of ʿAbd al-Malik, in which, as part of a broader program of Islamicizing the state, he established a distinctively Islamic coinage without a cross and eventually without any figures at all, only text.31

Questions have been raised about the accuracy of this passage, causing some numismatic scholars even to propose a later date for the chronicle on this basis. The main issue concerns the minting of silver coinage, for which there is no clear evidence in Syria prior to ʿAbd al-Malik. Nevertheless, gold coins have been discovered from Muʿāwiya’s reign near Antioch with the cross on the reverse altered or removed, which can confirm the report that he introduced this change. Moreover, these coins show evidence that “the obverse die had seen heavy use and was beginning to deteriorate badly when this coin was struck,”32 meaning that these coins were produced in large numbers, yet this coin type is extremely rare. As Clive Foss explains, this evidence seems to indicate a situation in which a large number of coins were produced but failed to be accepted in circulation, precisely the circumstance that the Maronite Chronicle describes. Likewise, this would also explain the absence of any silver coinage. Although we know that Muʿāwiya minted silver in other regions, presumably no exemplars have been discovered from Syria because these crossless verions were rejected by the populus.33


1. For example, Tannous, “In Search of Monotheletism.”

7. Humphreys, Muʿawiya, 28–33, 45–50.

8. See, e.g., Shoemaker, Death of a Prophet, 1–114.

9. See, e.g., Tannous, Making, 433.

10. See, e.g., Humphreys, History of al-T˘abarī, esp. 75n130.

17. Ibid., 9, 126.

18. See, e.g., ibid., 3–10, 15–19; Hawting, First Dynasty of Islam, 2–3, 11–18; Crone, Slaves on Horses, 3–8; Hodgson, Venture of Islam, 247–51.

19. In addition to the other sources included in this volume that present Muʿāwiya in highly positive terms, one should also see The Armenian Chronicle of 682, which describes him as having “worldly humility and human kindness”: Movses Daskhowrantsʻi, History of the Caucasian Albanians 2.27 (Shahnazariantsʻ, Մուսէս Կաղանկատուացի, vol. 1, 315). Although the chronicle in which this report occurs is itself later, dating to the 990s, here it draws on a much earlier source from the later seventh century: see Howard-Johnston, Witnesses, 105–28.

20. Humphreys, Muʿawiya, 61, 63, 97; Donner, Muhammad and the Believers, 176–77, 182; Hoyland, Seeing Islam, 690–92.

21. Shoemaker, Death of a Prophet, 218–65.

23. Donner oddly fails to consider this report, even though he is generally interested in other evidence of the Believers worshipping in Christian churches. Donner, “From Believers to Muslims,” 51–52; Donner, Muhammad and the Believers, 115

24. Tannous, Making, 305, 379; Howard-Johnston, Witnesses, 178.

25. Donner, “From Believers to Muslims,” 51–52; Donner, Muhammad and the Believers, 115. See also Creswell and Allen, Short Account, 65–67. In Jerusalem, the Church of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives was similarly appropriated and transformed into a mosque: Murphy-O’Connor, Holy Land, 124–25. Likewise, during the early Islamic period, a mihrab was added to the Church of the Kathisma, an early Nativity Shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary midway between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and it was converted into a mosque. Nevertheless, although Rina Avner and Leah Di Segni have argued that Christians and Muslims shared usage of this sacred shrine during the early Islamic period, in fact the evidence does not support this conclusion, but rather contradicts it, as I explain in a forthcoming article on the Kathisma shrine: Shoemaker, “Mary between Bible and Quran.” See Di Segni, “Christian Epigraphy,” 248–49; Di Segni, “Greek Inscription”; Avner, “Recovery of the Kathisma Church,” 180–81; Avner, “Kathisma: Christian and Muslim Pilgrimage,” 550.

31. See, e.g., Robinson, ʿAbd al-Malik, 72–78.

32. Metcalf, “Three Seventh-Century Byzantine Gold Hoards,” esp. 99n7.

33. Foss, “Syrian Coinage,” 362–63