Agapius of Menbij References Open this page in a new tab

Translations and Original Texts

Note: Hoyland (2011:35) states that references listed below are machine translations from Vasilev's French translation.

Vasilev, A. (1909) Agapius, Universal History - Home Page/Table of Contents

Vasilev, A. (1909) Agapius, Universal History Part 1

Vasilev, A. (1909) Agapius, Universal History Part 2

Prefaces and Introductions

Preface to the online edition

Agapius, Universal History (1909) Preface to the online edition

Who was Agapius?

When the first Moslems began raiding into Egypt, Palestine and Mesopotamia in the 630's AD, they encountered little resistance.  Twenty years of incessant fighting between the Eastern Romans and the Sassanid Persians had left both militarily prostrate.  Greatly to their surprise, the Arabs found themselves quickly victorious and accepting the surrender of wide lands and great cities of a wealth and culture utterly beyond their own.  Their response was to seize whatever money and power they could, and otherwise leave things alone.

In all these lands, the majority of the population was Christian, at least in name.  Under Moslem rule the bishops continued to exercise the considerable authority that they had acquired in late Antiquity.  They became responsible for supplying the ruling race with money, but otherwise were left largely alone.

The political disputes of the Eastern Empire had taken the form of theological dispute.  Real political activity was illegal, but the Greeks of the empire had discovered that theological dissent was tolerated, that councils could be held, votes taken, anathemas pronounced, and enemies demonised, excluded and exiled. In short all the activities associated with Greek city politics could take place under another form. 

Consequently every dispute clothed itself as a disagreement over some obscure point of Christology, and the issues were fought with all the fervour that today leads people to organise demonstrations and run smear campaigns. Even the philosophical arguments could be transplanted into theology, with the result that all the works of Aristotle were translated during the 5-6th centuries into Syriac; indeed not just once, but twice, by different factions, because of the universal employment of his methods and vocabulary in the disputes of that period.  To this activity we owe the transmission of Greek science and philosophy to the Arabs, and hence to ourselves.

The first group to be excluded were known as Nestorians.  These were expelled from the church after 433, and found safety in the Persian empire, and still exist today.  The struggle between the Monophysites, who had expelled them, and the Chalcedonians is the history of the Eastern Empire for a century from 451 onwards.  Most of the people in Syria, Palestine and Egypt belonged to the monophysites.  After their defeat in the mid-sixth century, they organised themselves into a rival hierarchy, which also exists today.  Those in these lands who followed the Chalcedonian position were known as Melkites -- "kingsmen" -- indicating their support for the imperial government.  While the Eastern Emperor ruled these lands, placemen and timeservers would be Melkites.  After the Moslem invasion, this link could be a source of peril to them.

The Christian populations retained their culture and their languages; Greek, Coptic and Syriac.  But over time, they were increasingly obliged to adopt Arabic, the language of the rulers.  The struggles of the Copts against this, and their efforts to retain their own language, are lamented in the Apocalypse of Simon of Kalamoun, elsewhere on this site.  The Melkites were some of the earliest to adopt Arabic, doing so from the ninth century on.

Agapius, son of Constantine, was Melkite bishop of Menbidj in Syria during the 10th century AD, as he himself tells us.  The town had a famous history as a monophysite centre; known as Mabbug in Syriac, it had been the home of Philoxenus.  In Greek it had been called Hierapolis, and been a pagan centre.

Little is known of Agapius' life.  He is one of the earliest Christian writers to use Arabic, but his work is full of material derived from Syriac sources, and thereby from Greek chroniclers in translation.  He has left us a history of the world from the Creation down to his own times.  The work was divided into two parts, split at the time of Christ.

The first part of his work exists in several manuscripts.  The second half exists only in a single water-damaged copy in the Biblioteca Mediceo Laurenziana in Florence.  The work seems to have originally ended in 941 AD, as we can see from a casual reference to 330 AH in part 2 (footnote 28); but the Florence manuscript is incomplete, and ends in the second year of the Caliph al-Mahdi, almost two centuries earlier.  There are also quotations of Agapius' work in the thirteenth century Arabic Christian history by  al-Makin ibn-Amid.  This has never been completely or adequately published, however.

The first part of the work draws uncritically on whatever sources were available to the author.  Apocryphal legends are mingled with biblical stories, excerpts from Josephus, Eusebius, all through whatever summarised form was available at the time.  The work is naturally of more historical interest when it deals with the Islamic period.

The text was published by Alexander Vasiliev in the Patrologia Orientalis series in four fascicles, in PO 5, 7, 8 and 11 (1910-1915).  This was accompanied by a French translation, which is the basis for these pages.  In 1912 an edition based mainly on Beirut manuscripts was produced by Louis Cheikho in the Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium series, without a translation.  This included material derived from manuscripts of al-Makin as an appendix.  However the CSCO edition was produced in 1907, and printing delayed.

About this translation

The only translation that exists of Agapius is the French translation of Alexander Vasiliev.  This is available online at, but there are a very large number of people who do not know French.

What we need is a new edition of the text, which uses modern technology to read all the passages illegible to Vasiliev, with an English translation.  But as the last work on this text was done in 1915, there seems no reason to suppose this will happen soon.

So I have taken the time to turn the translation of Vasiliev into English.  Vasiliev was a Russian writing in a foreign language, and his version is therefore in simple French.  It works quite well with the Google machine translator; and I have fixed the inevitable errors.  

This version has no scholarly value whatever.  It is more in the nature of research notes facilitating access. The specialist will of course go directly to the Arabic text.  But it is hoped that it will help people who might never otherwise read any work of Arabic Christian literature to access this work, and thereby encourage people to explore this almost unexplored region of late antique studies.  I hope, indeed, that the availability of this version may stir some Arabist to undertake the task of making a proper edition and translation!

I would like to thank Stephen C. Carlson who generously sent me a version that he had prepared for his own use of the first 50 or so pages of part 2, and inspired me to translate the whole thing! 

Agapius, the Testimonium Flavianum, and Papias

The work of Agapius would be purely a matter of interest for specialists were it not for two passages which have attracted wider attention.  In part 2, Agapius quotes a portion of the lost work of the early 2nd century Christian writer Papias of Hierapolis, which seems to mention the pericope from John 7 where Jesus meets the woman accused of adultery. 

The other passage is also in part 2, and consists of a version of the famous Testimonium Flavianum of Josephus; the longer passage in which Josephus describes Christ.  Attention was drawn to this in a famous publication by Shlomo Pines in 1971, and discussion has raged since as to whether the words attributed by Agapius to Josephus are in some way more authorial than the slightly strange-sounding version today found in all the Greek manuscripts, and which has attracted so much unfavourable comment down the years.  Pines used the text as printed in the CSCO edition, augmented from al-Makin. 

Note about the page numbering in part 1

The reader will probably wish to refer from this text back to the pages of the Patrologia Orientalis edition, from which it is translated.  The first part was published in two fascicles; 1.1 in PO vol. 5 and 1.2 in PO 11.  Each page of each fascicle had two page numbers.  The pages in each fascicle were numbered from 1-150; and also there was a continuous page number.

The editors of the Patrologia Orientalis edition unfortunately made several mistakes in numbering the pages of the edition, in the continuous numbering which we use here.  There are no faults in 1.1, which ends on page 135.

1.2 should therefore begin on page 136.  Unfortunately the compositor started the continuous numbers in the prefatory material of the fascicle -- title pages, etc --, causing a gap.  The first page is actually p.147.  This is unfortunate; but worse is to come.

Mid-way through 1.2, the page numbers go from 226 to 217!.  Consequently there are two sets of pages, both numbered 217-226.  The reader who wishes to refer to each set of these would be best advised to signal which is which; 217 (1) and 217 (2).  This approach has been taken here.  The HTML bookmarks are #p217 for page 217 (1) and #p217_2 for 217 (2).

Note about terms in brackets

There seems to be no real consistency in the PO text as to what is bracketed and what is not.  I have followed what the edition gives.

This text was written by Roger Pearse, 2008. This file and all material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.

Greek text is rendered using unicode.

Translator Vasiliev's Introduction to Part 1

Agapius, Universal History (1909) pp.1-8. Translator's Introduction


Agapius (Mahboub) the Greek, son of Constantine, bishop of Menbidj (10th century of our era), of whose work I offer to the public the Arabic text and French translation, is a Christian Arab writer almost unknown in the historical literature. Indeed, he is not found either in the work of Wästenfeld, Die Geschichtschreiber der Araber und ihre Werke, nor in the Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur of Brockelmann, nor in the Littérature arabe of Ch. Huart (Paris, 1902), nor in the even more recent book, dedicated especially to the Arabic Christian literature, Die christlich-arabische Literatur of G. Graf (1905). K. Krumbacher is no more familiar with Agapius in his excellent history of Byzantine Literature, where other Christian Arab chroniclers, such as Yahya of Antioche and Al-Makin, have found their place. It is only in 1907, that we find a few lines on Agapius in the summary of Arabic Christian literature by G. Brockelmann 1, who drew his information from my article in Vizantiysky Vremennik "Agapius of Manbidj, Arabic Christian historian of 10th century". (in Russian).  

Agapius, based on the time when he lived, is the first Arabic Christian historian. However it would in correct to say that the name of Agapius (Mahboub) and the manuscripts of his history were unknown to the learned world. In 1742 Assemani, in his Catalogue of the Eastern manuscripts of the Laurentian Library of Florence, |7 described in a more or less detailed way (not too exact on the whole) manuscript 132, which contains the second part of the history of Mahboub. In 1835 in the Catalogus codicum manuscriptorum orientalium Bibliothecae Bodlejanae we find a description of the ms. LI (Hunt 478a.,1320), which contains the first part of the history of Agapius.

The first to interest himself in this writer was the baron V. Rosen, the eminent Russian scholar, whose untimely and unexpected death was felt by all the Orientalists and Byzantinists († January 10/23, 1908). After looking through the Florence manuscript and making some extracts from it, in 1884 he published the following article in the Newspaper of the Ministry for the State education (in Russia): Notes on the chronicle of Agapius de Manbidj (in Russian). Unfortunately this article remained unknown not only abroad, but even in Russia.  

It was the baron Rosen, whose pupil I had the honour to be and to whose memory I dedicate this edition, who drew my attention to this historian.  

The Catalogus Porphyrianus 2 and that of Mrs. Gibson 3 informed us that there were two further manuscripts of Agapius at the monastery of Mount Sinai. Then I set to work: in 1902, during my stay in Sinai, I copied two mss. which are in the library of this convent and which contain only the first part of the chronicle, and in 1903 I made a copy of the ms. of Florence, which contains the second part; but I was missing the Oxford ms., which I had seen in 1907 and of which I had noted the importance. With very great kindness M. Graffin procured for me photographs of this manuscript; so that I now have at my disposal four manuscripts, on which I base the text of my publication. |8

There are further mss. of Agapius, which I was unable to make use of.  Thus, in the newspaper Al-Machrik of Beirut, there is a description of a ms. of Agapius, which, based on the extracts published in this catalogue, appears to me to relate to the Oxford ms.; we also read in the same publication that there exist in Syria several mss. of Agapius 4.  

I shall begin by publishing the first part of the chronicle of Agapius, which tells the history of the world before Christ and the life of the Messiah. The edition of the text of this part is based on three manuscripts: 1) ms. C; this is the Ms. Oxford LI (Hunt 478. Pusey), very well written, dated (A.D. 1320), which I took as the basis of my edition; 2) ms B; this is Ms. Sinai 580, 21x16, 208 fol. (Gibson), also written rather well, whose text corresponds to the Oxford ms. 3) ms. A; this is Ms. Sinai 456, 27x18,175 fol. (Gibson), more recent; it is a very abridged copy and its text differs much from the other mss. above; this manuscript contains various treatises, and the first part of Agapius occupies folios 103-164v, where the text, stopping in the middle of a sentence, is incomplete at the end.

The second part of the chronicle of Agapius, which, I dare to hope, will follow the first, is especially interesting for historical studies: it gives much information on the ancient history of the Church, on the period of the Å'cumenical Councils, the history of Byzantium and the Caliphate, especially at the time of the transfer of power from the Ommayads to the Abbasids.

In my edition, I have tried to reproduce, as far as possible, the text as we find it in the mss., without substituting the classical forms, and I am sure that scholars who are interested in the Arabic Christian language, will find much invaluable and new information there.

I would like to cordially thank all those who agreed to help me with their advice and their involvement in my work, and in first place Mr. J. Kratchkovsky, a young Russian Arabist, the youngest pupil of the baron Rosen, who by his inexhaustible kindness deserves a special place in my gratitude, - who helped me in this heavy work, thanks to his erudite knowledge of the Arab language. |9 May I also be allowed to address my hearty thanks to Mr. N. Marr, professor at the University of St. Petersburg, who granted me in abundance the benefit of his invaluable advice and his profound knowledge of oriental languages and literatures. I express also my sincere gratitude to Mr. P. Kokovzoff, member of the Academy of Knowledge at St. Petersburg; to my fellow-member Mr. A. von Boulmerincq, professor at the University of Youryev (Dorpat); to Mr. L. Leroy, professor at the faculties of Angers, and to Mr. E. Blochet, of the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris.

Professor at the University of Youryev (Dorpat), Russia

St. Petersburg, 7/20 June, 1908.

A = ms. 456 of Sinai

B = ms. 580 of Sinai

C = ms. Oxford LI (Hunt. 478).  The edition of part 1 is based on this manuscript.

1. Die christlich-arabische Litteratur, in the series by Ahmelang, Die Litteraturen des Ostens in Einzeldarstellungen.

2. Catalogus librorum manuscriptorum et impressorum Monasterii S. Catherinae in Monte Sinai ad fidem Codicis Porphyriani, N. IV, B. 18/135.  Petropolii, 1891, p. 336 (N. 164)

3. M. D. Gibson, Catalogue of the Arabic mss. in the convent of S. Catherine on Mount Sinai, London, 1894, p. 88 (N. 456) and 123-4 (N. 580).  Studia Sinaitica no. III.

4. Al-Machrik, VIII (1905), p. 1051-2 (no. 90); see also vol. V (1902), p. 909.

This text was turned into English by Roger Pearse, 2009. This file and all material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.

Translator Vasiliev's Introduction to Part 2

Agapius, Universal History (1909) part 2. Translator's Introduction








Professor at the University of Dorpat


PATR.OR. T. VII. F. 4.


The edition of the text of the second part of Agapius is based on the unique manuscript of Florence which is unfortunately incomplete at the end and stops in the middle of a sentence in the course of the 8th century of our era. There are also in this manuscript some pages which, because of moisture, are completely illegible; these are all indicated in the text. The lack of manuscripts in general and the bad condition of the manuscript of Florence in particular may perhaps excuse us for certain passages which have not been deciphered, nor sufficiently interpreted.

For this edition I have at my disposal the copy of the manuscript of Florence which I made in 1903, and the photographs of this manuscript that M. Graffin had kindness to get for me in 1909.

This manuscript has the shelfmark at the Library of Florence CXXXII 1

We have carefully reported in the apparatus all the readings of this manuscript which we have thought necessary to correct in the text; it appeared useless to us to put a siglum before each one of these readings, since they refer to only one manuscript.

In the apparatus we faithfully reproduce the omissions of the diacritical points. These omissions are also very frequent in the proper names.

1. Assemani, Bibliothecae Mediceae Laurentianae et Palatinae Codicum MSS orientalium catalogus. Florentiae, 1742, p.213.

This text was turned into English by Roger Pearse, 2008. This file and all material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.