Michael the Syrian Sources Open this page in a new tab

Michael the Syrian Sources

Neuhauser et al (2021:19) notes that when Michael the Syrian quotes large texts, he names his sources, but when he gathers information to include in a Chapter, he picks and copies, but not necessarily in chronological order. Dorothea Weltecke in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition (2011) described Michael's sources and characterized his Chronicle as follows:

Michael used chronographies and ecclesiastical histories as sources and added further material. Only part of these he had directly before his eyes; others he used through intermediaries, as he reveals himself. Michael related his own time from a well informed and independent point of view. In view of source-critical methods and the universality of the chronological scope the highest standard in Syr. Orth. chronography was reached with this chronicle. Michael intended his work for learned clerical readers with access to a well-stocked library.
Hoyland, 1997:416-419 notes that Michael explicitly cites Dionysius of Tell-Mahre as a source who in turn cited Theophilus of Edessa as a source. Ambraseys (2009) suggests that Michael used Pseudo-Dionysius of Tell-Mahre as a source and may have also used Elias of Nisibis as a source. Brooks (1906) wrote the following about Michael the Syrian's sources:
For the period 582—843 the work of Michael is mainly based on that of Dionysius the patriarch1 [JW: the real Dionysius of Tell Mahre], whom he probably reproduces almost in full, and we find also mention of James of Edessa and John the Stylite of Litarba 2.
Brooks (1906) went on to add:
To sum up, Michael used Dionysius (843—6), and Theophanes used a Palestinian Melchite author who wrote in Greek not long after 780, while both of these last used a chronicler who wrote not long after 746, whoin there is some reason to identify with John the son of Samuel, though we cannot positively assert that he was not Theophilus of Edessa.

Sources for Theophanes, Michael the Syrian, and Agapius of Menbij

In discussing sources for Theophanes, Michael the Syrian, and Agapius of Menbij (all thought to have been informed by Theophilus of Edessa), Conterno (2014:147) contributes:

One might be tempted to see in this common additional detail the proof of the derivation of information from the same written source, but we find the same comment associated with a very similar astronomical phenomenon in the Chronicle of Zuqnin, which is not supposed to be linked to the "circuit of Theophilus of Edessa“.
In the year 937 the stars of the sky fell and threw like arrows to the north, giving a terrible omen of the defeat of the Romans and the invasion of their lands by the Arabs, which actually happened to them after a short while, without delay.
As already mentioned, Hoyland observes that this type of news could easily migrate from one report to another. And as we have seen in the previous chapter, events of this type were recorded in the chronological lists linked to the city or ecclesiastical archives, lists that circulated in different versions and were used by chroniclers as a basis in compiling their chronicles. Furthermore, as in the case of Phocas' commentary on bloody politics, it may well be that multiple sources independently described an event that had been widely commented on and discussed by the people, and transformed, in collective memory, into a prophecy ex eventu.