Theophilus of Edessa Chronology Open this page in a new tab

Hoyland (2011:19) discusses issues of chronology in Theophilus' Lost Chronicle

From a comparison of Theophanes, Dionysius and Agapius it becomes immediately apparent that their notices for the seventh and eighth century follow a chronological order. A few are misplaced, but the intention was clearly to progress through history from some point in the past up until the author’s own day. Yet it is also evident from the frequency with which Dionysius and Agapius either begin a notice with ‘at this time’ or else disagree with each other on dating that Theophilus’ work was not annalistic and was indeed rather sparing with dates.63 This is an important point, for modern scholars often rely upon Theophanes for ascertaining the date of an event. But it is because he is writing an annalistic work that he puts notices under specific years, not necessarily because these notices were dated in the sources he is using. And in the case of the notices on eastern affairs, Theophanes often had to place them just where he thought best.

What the start and end point were for Theophilus is a difficult question. Since he is quoted as saying that there were 5197 years separating Adam from Seleucus, Theophilus is usually thought to have made Creation his starting point. But this is hardly cogent, for as an astrologer he would often have been obliged to make chronological calculations, or it could well be that he prefaced his chronography with some such computation.64 Theophanes, Dionysius and Agapius are clearly dependent on a common source from the notice on Abu Bakr’s despatch of four generals in 634 onwards.

63 Theophilus may have proceeded by simply narrating events, arranging his entries in chronological order as far as possible and occasionally giving synchronisms after the fashion of Eusebius; e.g. ‘In the year 34/35/37 of the Arabs, 10/13 of Constans and 9 of ‘Uthman. Mu'awiya prepared a naval expedition against Constantinople’ (Theophanes. 345; Agapius. 483; Msyr 1 l.XI, 430/445; Chmn 1234, 274).

64 Agapius. 455. gives a calculation of the years from Adam before proceeding to relate amr al- ‘arab/'the affairs of the Arabs’, but it seems somewhat corrupt. Conrad, ‘The Mawâli, 388, is perhaps the most recent to state, without explanation, that Theophilus' chronicle began with Creation.

Mango and Scott (1997:lxxxiv n. 104) discuss the possible calendar used by Theophilius.
The Chronography of Gregory Abu '1-Faraj. . . known as Bar Hebraeus, trans. E. A. W. Budge, i (London, 1932,1, 116. Cf. A. Baumstark, Geschichte der syrischen Liteiatur (Bonn, 1922), 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.
The references are
Excerpt from Budge (1932:40)
And SELEUCUS reigned alone over SYRIA, and over all GREATER ASIA, and BABYLON as far as INDIA, for twenty-one years. And with him began the reckoning by the years of the GREEKS (i.e. the Era of the Greeks) which we SYRIANS use, even though it be called after ALEXANDER. SELEUCUS built ANTIOCH, and SELEUCIA, and LATAKIA, and APAMEA, and URHAI (EDESSA), and BEROEA, and PILAS, and GERMANIKI, which iS MAR'ASH.

From ADAM to SELEUCUS, according to EUSEBIUS, iS 4,889 years
From ADAM to SELEUCUS, according to ANDRONICUS, is 5,083 years
From ADAM to SELEUCUS, according to GIWARGI (GEORGE) the most ex-cellent Elder, is 5,085 years
From ADAM to SELEUCUS, according to AFRICANUS, is 5,083 years
From ADAM to SELEUCUS, according to THEOPHILUS of EDESSA, is 5,197 years
From ADAM to SELEUCUS, according to JACOB of EDESSA, is 5,149 years
From ADAM to SELEUCUS, according to GEORGE, bishop of the Arab peoples, is 4,929 years
From ADAM to SELEUCUS, according to ANIANUS, is 5,180 years and 10 months.

And with this last the Greek Septuagint agreeth. The reckoning which the Greeks use in our time agreeth with that of THEOPHILUS of EDESSA. Now if we add to 5,197 years the complete years of SELEUCUS, and one month to the complete months of the incomplete year, which beginneth with the FIRST TESHRIN (OCTOBER), there are gathered together for US the complete solar years from ADAM, and the months from the incomplete year which beginneth with 'ILUL (SEPTEMBER). What then in respect of the day which remaineth (?), the tenth of 'ILUL [of the] year of the GREEKS 1587 ? Let us add five thousand one hundred and ninety-seven to one thousand five hundred and eighty-six, and their total is six thousand seven hundred and eighty-three ; then add to the eleven months one month and they become twelve months. Let us add then one year to the complete years, and they become six thousand seven hundred and eighty-four. And we say that the tenth of 'ILUL belongeth to the incomplete year, that is to say, the year six thousand seven hundred and eighty-five.
Excerpt from Nau (1899:327)
In another place (Hist. Dyn., p. G3 of Pococke's translation) Bar-Hebreus tells us that Theophilus of Edessa placed the beginning of the Era of the Seleucids in the year 5197 of the world. The same author (Book of the Ascension of the Spirit, p. 199) tells us again: "Nowadays, the people around us use six chronologies. One, which the Greeks use, starts from Adam. There are various opinions to his knowledge,the most famous,in our time, reproduces that of Theophilus of Edessa. The chronology of Theophilus, who thus placed the birth of N.-S. the year 5508 5197 H-- 311), is based on the text of the Septuagint.

JW: Nau's years of 5508 and 311 may be a year off. The starting date for the Byzantine reckoning of the Anno Mundi Calendar is 1 Sept. 5509 BCE. The starting date for Macedonian reckoning of the A.G. calendar is 1 Oct. 312 BCE. Add 5197 to 312 and you arrive at 5509 BCE. This suggests that Theophilius of Edessa made use of Byzantine reckoning of the A.M. calendar ( which was the standard of the time and Macedonian reckoning of the A.G. calendar (which was standard among Syriac writers of the time - Sebastian Brok, personal communication, 2021)