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Sources and textual variations of the Chronicle of Theophanes according to Mango and Scott (1997)

Mango and Scott (1997:lxxiv-xcviii) state the following about Theophanes' sources


Except for an indeterminate part of its final section the Chronicle of Theophanes can best be viewed as a file of extracts borrowed from earlier sources. These have been subjected in varying degrees to a process of abbreviation and paraphrase (see below, p. xciff.), but no attempt has been made to impose a stylistic uniformity to the resultant text. On the contrary, peculiarities of diction and style, from the archaic to the vernacular, that were present in the sources have, more often than not, been left untouched. An extreme case is provided by the borrowings from the iambic poems by George of Pisidia, many of which retain their metrical form. Unfortunately, this telltale diversity cannot be fully conveyed in translation and can only be sensed in the original.

... It should be noted that, unlike the Syriac chroniclers, who are often scrupulous in naming their authorities, Theophanes hardly ever does so.

... 2. An eastern (Syriac) chronicle. Theophanes is unique among Byzantine chroniclers in his direct use of a foreign source, which makes up a major part of his narrative for the seventh and eighth centuries. The credit for proving this fact is due to E. W. Brooks,101 whose acute remarks admit of further elaboration thanks to the subsequent publication to texts not available to him, in particular the Chronicle of 1234 and Agapios of Membidj.

There can be little doubt that the source used by Theophanes (for the sake of simplicity we shall speak of a single source, although there may have been more than one) was a Greek translation of a chronicle written in Syriac. That this translation was made in the East is indicated, amongst other clues, by the use of Macedonian months, which was traditional in Syria—Palestine: these occur between 6126 and 6242. It is also evident that this source in its final form was a product of Melkite circles. It is difficult to determine its place of origin, since there are divergent pointers to Edessa, Antioch, Emesa, and Palestine. But even if the final redaction was Melkite, the source incorporated a good deal of material common to the Syrian Jacobite tradition, as represented notably by Michael the Syrian and the Chronicle of 1234.

The identification of the eastern passages (which, for the reader's convenience, we have distinguished by a different font) is not always beyond dispute. Setting aside some cases of overlap as early as the fourth century (discussed below), the passages in question start with the Persian invasion in the reign of Phokas (Am 6099), become more or less continuous from AD 630 onwards, and extend at least to AD 780.

If we wish to go further and try to identify Theophanes' eastern source, we find ourselves in deep waters. It is known that Michael's Chronicle (completed in 1195) was chiefly based for the period 582-842 (i.e. books x. 2I-xii) on that of Dionysios of Tel-Mahre, who is also acknowledged to have been the source of the Chronicle of 1234, the latter being independent of Michael. But Dionysios died in 845 and his Chronicle, which is lost except for a few fragments,102 could not, therefore, have been the source of Theophanes. The latter must have been already incorporated in Dionysios.

The next point to notice is that whereas Theophanes' eastern source extended to at least 780, his correspondence with Michael (as with Chr. 1234) stops in about 750, as already stressed by Brooks. The relationship of the various texts we have been discussing, setting aside Agapios, can, therefore, be expressed by the following schema:
Schema on the eastern source
Schema for the 'eastern source' - Mango and Scott (1997:lxxxiii)

With regard to the postulated Chronicle of 750, it ought to correspond to the work of one of the six authors cited by Dionysios in his Preface, which is reproduced by Michael (ii. 358). Their respective claims have been examined by Brooks, who, after eliminating four of them as being too early, too late, or otherwise unsuitable, was left with two candidates, namely a certain John son of Samuel and Theophilos of Edessa, expressing a preference for the former. Since nothing whatever is known concerning John son of Samuel, we shall be none the wiser if we ascribe to him the Chronicle of 750. Theophilos of Edessa, who is specifically mentioned as a source by Agapios of Membidj (whose work belongs to the same nexus of sources),103 is a more attractive candidate. He was a Melkite, an 'astrologer', and a favourite of the Caliph al-Mahdi. In addition to his historical interests, he also translated the Iliad and the Odyssey into Syriac. He died in 785.104 Recently a detailed case has been made for Theophilos' authorship of the 'Chronicle of 75O,105 which may be accepted as a working hypothesis. That, however, still leaves open the identity of the eastern source for the period 750-80, which does not appear to offer any close parallels either with the Syriac tradition or with Agapios, whose published text breaks off in the second year of al-Mahdi (AD 776/7). One possible solution would be to suppose that whoever translated Theophilos into Greek wrote the post-750 narrative in addition to being responsible for a number of other entries in the pre-750 section, which, although of eastern derivation, are unique to Theophanes.
the Latin translation of Anastasius (also edited by de Boor)127 assumes considerable importance. This was made in Rome between 871 and 874 in the interests of John Immonides, who was then compiling his historico-ecclesiastical encyclopaedia.128 The Greek manuscript Anastasius had before him may have been acquired in the course of his mission to Constantinople in 869-70 and was probably similar in content to some of the extant Greek manuscripts, since it also included part of Synkellos and the Chron. syntomon of Nikephoros (like f and o). It was, however, of much better quality than the entire Greek tradition, except a and b. Unfortunately, Anastasius did not translate it in full: he made only short excerpts down to the death of Theodosios II, fuller ones to the death of Justinian I, but from the accession of Justin II (and even more closely from that of Maurice) he provided a full translation.

As long as it was believed that the oldest manuscript of Theophanes was not earlier than the late tenth century it was possible to speculate, in view of the undoubted superiority of Anastasius, that the chronicler's text underwent considerable deterioration between c.850 and 950. The view that de Boor's Theophanes was not the 'real' Theophanes was argued at length by a Russian clergyman, P. G. Preobranskij,129 who thought that the authentic text had to be reconstructed with the help of A[nastasius] as well as d = Paris. gr. 1710 (of which he had a much higher opinion than did de Boor) and later compilers, notably Kedrenos130 and pseudo-Symeon,131 who allegedly had access to a better tradition than we do. It was further suggested that the preserved Theophanes represented an inferior edition made at the time of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, who, undoubtedly, had a keen interest in the Confessor, as shown by the lengthy extracts he included in his De administrando imperio.132 Besides, Constantine believed that Theophanes was related to him through his mother Zoe.
The deterioration of the Greek text by comparison with Anastasius must, therefore, have taken place much earlier, towards the middle of the ninth century, that is as soon as it was published, and can best be explained on the assumption that the Chronicle enjoyed a wide diffusion from the start. The fact that the same scribe (or, at any rate, the same scriptorium) made two copies, c and o, seems to indicate something like mass production, which one may be tempted to localize in the monastery of Megas Agros. Palaeographically these two manuscripts belong to a much discussed group, which has been christened 'tipo Anastasio'.133 It may be worth noting that another important member of the group (Paris. gr. 1470 + 1476) has been attributed to Bithynia on the basis of its ornament,134 a conclusion that has been tentatively endorsed in a recent study.135 The chronicler George the Monk, who was probably active in the second half of the ninth century,136 used Theophanes in a version that appears to have been rather distinctive. At about the same time the Chronicle, including its Preface, was extensively plagiarized by the author of the Life of the probably imaginary St Theodore of Chora,137 a monastery which, incidentally, had close links with Palestine. Further research in this direction may prove fruitful.

In sum, we do not wish to claim that the text we have translated is the 'definitive' Theophanes. There may be room for further improvement of the text, but that can only be done in the context of a new edition, an undertaking that will require many years of labour.

101 BZ 15 (1906), 578-87. Cf. N. Pigulevskaja, JOBG 16 (1967), 55-60, for Theophanes' relation to Ps.-Dionysios. A useful survey of Syriac historical sources for the 7th cent. is given by S. P. Brock, BMGS 2 (1976), 17-36. See now also L. I. Conrad, ByzF 15 (1990), 1-44; R. Hoyland, 'Arabic, Syriac and Greek Historiography in the First Abbasid Century', Aram, 3 (1991), 217-39; Palmer, Seventh Century, esp. 96 ff. (by R. Hoyland).

102 An attempt to reconstruct it is made by Palmer, Seventh Century, III ff.

103 PO viii. 525

104 The Chronography of Gregory Abu 'l-Faraf . known as Bar Hebraeus, trans. E. A. W. Budge, i (London, 1932), 116. Cf. A. Baumstark, Geschichte der syrischen Literatur (Bonn, 192.2), 341-2. Note that Theophilos appears to have used the Byzantine era, since he calculated AG as starting in 5197 from Adam: Budge, 40 [39]; F. Nau, ROC 4 [1899], 327.

105 L.I. Conrad, The Conquest of Arwad' in A. Cameron and L.I. Conrad, eds., The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East, i (Princeton, 1992), 317-401.

127 Along with Theophanes, ii. 31 ff.

128 See G. Arnaldi, 'Anastasio Bibliotecario', Dizionario biogr. degli Italiani, iii (1961), 25-37, with further bibliography.

129 Letopisnoe povestvovanie sv. Feofana Ispovednika (Vienna, 1912). This work, which is not only very scarce but practically unreadable, was not well received. See critical review by F. Uspenskij, VizVrem 22 (1916), 297-304, and the somewhat more cautious one by E. W. Brooks, BZ 2.2 (1913), 154-5.

130 On whom see Moravcsik, Byzantinoturcica, i. 273-5. The part of Kedr. that concerns us here is still only available in the uncritical Bonn edn. (1838).

131 The major part of this work, contained in cod. Paris. gr. 17I2, remains unpublished. See A. Markopoulos, [H Xpovoypaslita Tov greek text which did not trancribe well], diss. Ioannina, 1978, esp. 111 ff.

132 Notably DAI, 22.9 ff. and 25.3 ff.

133 E. Follieri, 'La minuscola libraria dei secoli IX e X', in La Paleographie grecque et byzantine, Colloques internat. du CNRS, 559 (Paris, 1977),144-5.

134 K. Weitzmann, Die byzantinische Buchmalerei des 9. and so. Jahrhunderts (Berlin, 1935), 40, 43.

135 L. Perria, 'La minuscola "tipo Anastasio" ', in G. Cavallo et al., eds., Scritture, libri e testi nelle aree provinciali di Bisanzio (Spoleto, 1991), i. 316.

136 See above, n. 34.

137 Ed. C. Loparev, De S. Theodoro monacho hegumenoque Chorensi, Zapiski Klass. Otd. Imp. Russk. Arkheol. Obsc;. I (1904), suppl. 1-16. Its dependence on Theophanes was demonstrated by T. Schmit, Kahriye Dzami, IRAIK II (1906), 9 ff., who supposed (p. 16) that the author of the Life used either a fuller redaction of Theophanes or one of the latter's sources.

Theophanes' 7th and 8th century Sources

The 'Eastern Source'

The three earliest Byzantine sources (Paul the Deacon, Anastasius Bibliothecarius, and Theophanes in that order1) speak of two earthquakes separated by 3 years. The similarity of the ten Byzantine accounts, dates of composition, and the distance of the authors from the region (e.g., writing in Constantinople or Italy) suggests that the accounts are derived from a shared local source(s) and each other. None of the three earliest Byzantine authors could have experienced the earthquakes firsthand. As none of the Byzantine authors cite a source, the shared source - often referred to as the ‘eastern source’ - is a matter of conjecture2. Several scholars (e.g., Brooks, 1906) have suggested that the ‘eastern source’ was cobbled together by a Melkites3 monk who wrote around 780 CE. After civil unrest led to the dissolution of Melkite monasteries in Palestine and Syria, a number of Melkite Monks ended up in Constantinople in 813 CE (Brooks, 1906:587). One of the monks may have brought this text with him – a text that would eventually find its way into the hands of Theophanes. How this source was cobbled together is also a matter of conjecture. Two authors whose works are now lost have been proposed as promising candidates in providing source material - John son of Samuel of whom nothing is known beyond that he lived in Western Syria and Theophilus of Edessa. Theophilus, who wrote in Greek, Syriac, and Arabic, was in his 50’s and living in the region when the earthquakes struck4. John’s Chronicle is thought to have ended in 746 CE (supposedly5) and the unknown editor of ~780 CE may have been a continuator – meaning he added his own version of events from ~746 to ~780 CE. He may have also incorporated Theophilus’ text, simply used Theophilus alone, or used other texts and information. Further, he may have been a redactor meaning that he modified John and/or Theophilus’ original text in addition to adding his own events. Some hypothetical possibilities are shown in Fig. 2. However this ‘eastern source’ came to be, since the Byzantine accounts write about earthquakes which affected Palestine, Syria, and Jazira (northern Mesopotamia), it would appear that the original report(s) of these earthquakes came from these territories.


1 Although Anastasius Bibliothecarius wrote after Theophanes, Neil (1998:46) points out that Anastasius likely based his account on an earlier non-extant and perhaps ‘unfinished’ version of Theophanes thus making his account effectively older than the extant copies of Theophanes we currently have access to.

2 Brooks (1906:587) was one of the first scholars to hypothesize about who wrote the ‘eastern source’. Subsequent work on the subject is discussed in multiple publications including but not limited to Proudfoot (1974), Mango and Scott (1997: lxxxii – lxxxiv), Conrad (1992, 2004), Hoyland, (2011:10), and Conterno (2014).

3 Melkites were supporters of the Council of Chalcedon (i.e., Chalcedonians) who resided in Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. In the church schisms of the time, Chalcedonians were allied with the same faction as Byzantine writers such as Theophanes and wrote in Greek and Syriac thus producing texts which could have been read by the Greek reading Byzantine authors.

4 Theophilus’ Lost Chronicle is known to have directly informed Arabic writer Agapius of Menbig and indirectly informed later Syriac authors such as Michael the Syrian and Chronicon Ad Annum 1234 (Hoyland, 2011:11-15). All three of these authors wrote about the Sabbatical Year Quakes.

5 The dates of the Sabbatical Year Earthquakes may suggest that it ended in 749 CE.

Hypothetical dependencies for Theophanes' eastern source
Figure 2 - Three hypothetical source dependencies for Theophanes. Dashed arrows indicate uncertain textual transmission. Solid lines are certain. Other Sources refers to some of the many sources thought to have informed Theophanes Chronicle. Mango and Scott (1997: lxxiv-lxxxviii), for example, list 20 possible sources for different time periods and subjects. Other local source refers to unknown sources of information for the Continuator. Alternative source dependencies are also possible. - Williams (in press)

Proudfoot (1974)'s discussion of the 'Eastern Source'

Proudfoot (1974:405-409) summarized Brook's pioneering work on Theophanes' eastern source in several run on sentences (only the first part is shown below)

Exposition of this source might profitably be preceded by discussion of the pioneer studies of Brooks towards identification of the common source underlying much of the seventh and early eighth century narratives of Theophanes and Michael the Syrian, the development and the corroboration of this work in the light of more recently published primary sources and of other chronicle traditions, and its contribution to the emerging perspective of a single Byzantino-Syriac tradition for the historiography of the seventh century. A Monophysite Syriac chronicle extending to 746 written soon after that date by the otherwise unknown John son of Samuel and citing an unknown chronicle composed 724-31 (wherein much of the more detailed material was attributable to a source written either within or on the frontier of the Caliphate before 717) (2) was transmitted to Theophanes through the intermediary of a Melchite monk of Palestine writing in Greek c. 780 whose work was brought to Constantinople in 813 after the dissolution of the Syrian monasteries and the dispersal of their personnel, and to Michael the Syrian through Denis of Tellmahre -writing c. 843-6, while the chronicle dated to 724-31 was one of the sources of the monk of Karthamin whose work was written c.785 and continued as the Chronicon ad 846 pertinens (3). The last notice Theophanes drew from the Melchite continuator of the common source was apparently (780) the persecution of Christians by al-Mandi (775-85) the first caliph of the Abbasid jihad ...

Natural phenomenon in Theophanes

Conterno (2014:106-107) considers the following regarding reports of natural phenomenon in Theophanes:

However, in examining this type of information two aspects must be kept in mind: on the one hand the fact that they represented the main content of the chronological lists linked to the city archives, on the other hand the fact that events of this type could very likely be the subject of independent recording by several sources and, especially in the case of the most impressive phenomena, their memory could also be passed down orally for a long time. The importance of the registers of the archives of Antioch and Edessa in relation to the Syriac and Greek chronicles was highlighted by Muriel Debié. As emerges from one of his studies, in fact, the registers of documents kept in the city and patriarchal archives - the so-called "archive books" - probably also contained annotations, in calendar or annalistic form, of the most relevant local events, references to which they could be contained in the documents and administrative acts themselves: construction of buildings, destruction due to wars or fires and floods, natural disasters and exceptional events of various kinds (plagues, famines, eclipses and other astronomical phenomena ...)

From these registers, short chronological lists were extracted and circulated independently and from which authors of both Greek and Syriac chronicles could draw, as can be seen from the testimony of Giovanni Malalas. To these must also be added the episcopal lists, lists of rulers and lists of synods and councils, and it is precisely to these thematic lists, which circulated independently and in different versions, that the material centered on Edessa, Antioch and Amida which is found in the later chronicles. According to Debié, any dating discrepancies found in the various chronicles can be attributed, on the one hand, to the fact that the chroniclers had different lists available and often crossed the data from the lists with those taken from other chronicles; on the other hand, the probable difficulties encountered by chroniclers in matching the different dating systems or in obtaining absolute datings from chrono related logies, or even to their precise intention to modify the chronological data for ideological reasons. Debié therefore hypothesizes a large production and circulation of these lists, which in fact constituted a concrete form of scheduling relevant events at the local level, primarily for practical purposes. Being instruments of use rather than compositions of a historiographical nature, they were not intended to cover very large periods, but were rather relatively short clips. An aspect that emerges clearly from his study, moreover, is that in these lists the relative chronology was just as and perhaps more important than the absolute one, since the fixing of memorable facts and their concatenation was essentially aimed at establish reference points for the chronological location of other events.

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.

Theophanes' Sources for specific earthquakes

Earthquake(s) Source(s)
Jordan Valley Quake(s) Theophanes' source for the earthquakes and other natural phenomenon during this time period may have been "The World Chronicle written in the eastern provinces of the [Byzantine] empire" authored by Jesudenah of Basra (Proudfoot, 1965:167). Elias of Nisibis specifically listed Jesudenah of Basra as his source.