Thursday, January 21, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Thomas M. Banchich, Eugene N. Lane (trans.), The History of Zonaras from Alexander Severus to the Death of Theodosius the Great. Routledge Classical Translations. London/New York: Routledge, 2008. Pp. x, 317. ISBN 9780415299091. $110.00.
Reviewed by Anthony Kaldellis, The Ohio State University

In the early- to mid-twelfth century, Ioannes Zonaras wrote a historical epitome that covered sacred and Jewish history down to Titus' capture of Jerusalem (in six books) and then Roman history from the kings to the death of Alexios I Komnenos in 1118 AD (in another twelve books). In addition to Zonaras' prologue and postscript, Banchich and Lane have here translated books 12.15-35 and 13.1-19, which contain a continuous narrative of the years 235-395 AD and are based on a number of now-lost sources. In a brief introduction, Banchich reviews the facts of Zonaras' life and the state of the scholarship on the question of his sources. The bulk of the book consists of his commentary on the two translated sections of the history, which includes information about people and events, references to the most proximate surviving sources for the period, and supplementary translations of corresponding passages in Byzantine sources that preserve similar or divergent traditions to those in Zonaras. These translations in the commentary are printed in parallel columns when it is warranted. The commentary does not aim to present recent scholarship on the events of this period (which would have been a vast and not especially useful undertaking in this context). The research into the late antique and Byzantine historiographical tradition is thorough and spot-checks indicate that the translations, both of Zonaras and the other sources, are reliable. Anyone who has worked with these sources will appreciate the depth and range of the labor required to produce a usable commentary such as this. The book makes a valuable contribution to the study of the historiographical tradition and its sources, and will also provide a new angle of study for those interested in the history of those years, especially the obscure events of the mid-third and early fourth centuries. The readers of this Review need not be reminded how often "late," i.e., Byzantine, sources provide unexpectedly crucial evidence for antiquity.

Zonaras will be familiar to most classicists as one of our main sources for the Roman History of Cassius Dio, the other being the eleventh-century epitomator Ioannes Xiphilinos (the nephew of the patriarch Xiphilinos).1 The question of Zonaras' sources for the period covered here (after Dio and Herodian give out) is tangled and more uncertain than for any of his other books. Banchich provides a lucid introduction to the state of this question and judiciously leaves the matter unresolved (8-11).2 In fact, a major goal of the commentary and its parallel columns is to facilitate future study by placing the traditions side-by-side. To simplify the matter, Zonaras variously reflects traditions found in the continuator of Cassius Dio and in a series of chronicles, namely Ioannes of Antioch (probably seventh century; henceforth "John"); Georgios the monk (ninth century); Symeon Magistros (mid-tenth century); Georgios Kedrenos (twelfth century); and the thirteenth-century synopsis published by K. Sathas and later attributed to Theodoros Skoutariotes, to name only the main witnesses. Not only are the relations among these works uncertain, it is possible that Zonaras did not use any at first-hand (e.g., 80: there was an intermediate source not only between Herodian and Zonaras but also between Zonaras and John of Antioch; see 79, 91 for his indirect use of Herodian and Eusebios). Scholars must, then, reconstruct the lost intermediary sources that preserved common traditions. We now have vastly improved editions of Symeon (by S. Wahlgren; BMCR 2007.09.34) and John of Antioch (U. Roberto; BMCR 2006.07.37), but are still held back by outdated editions of Kedrenos and Skoutariotes. Even when the latter are reedited, we may not be able to do more than "elucidate broad strands of tradition" (10). But the commentary in this book points the way towards doing exactly that and even excites the image of a vast online edition of all these texts in parallel columns. . . It should be possible, as de Gruyter will hold most of the rights.

The translation of these chapters of Zonaras would be service enough to the field, but the commentaries provide an indispensible starting- and reference-point for Quellenforschung. Some facets of the problem have already taken new twists since Banchich finished work on his commentary. The very text of John of Antioch has been thrown into doubt with S. Mariev's rival edition and English translation.3 Mariev rejects the post-518 fragments attributed to John, whom he dates to the early sixth century, and takes the opposite position from Roberto on the provenance of the different so-called Salmasian fragments of John. This has serious implications for the way in which John is utilized in the commentary, which follows Roberto. But the debate has only begun. W. Treadgold contends that Roberto's edition is to be preferred over Mariev's on all these points.4 In fact, Treadgold's recent work offers a solution to the mystery of how Ammianus Marcellinus entered this maze of Greek texts (as it is clear from the notes at 222-223 that he did). Ammianus, he argues, was utilized by Eustathios of Sebasteia, who wrote a chronicle from Adam to 503 and was in turn utilized by Ioannes Malalas in the sixth century and (independently) by John of Antioch in the early seventh.5 We are in a position to detect the influence of Ammianus only for the period covered by his surviving text (353-378 AD), though the later tradition must also reflect his (now lost) account of previous years. Dexippos may be the ultimate source for the Gothic raids of the third century (119) and Zosimos was part of the mix too (126-127); at least we can correct for the latter. For the third- and fourth-century sources, P. Janiszewski's handbook will now be useful,6 as will the individual entries in the ongoing Brill's New Jacoby project (ed. I. Worthington; online). R. Macrides has recently questioned the ascription of the synopsis published by K. Sathas to Skoutariotes (though the debate is probably not over).7 This, of course, does not affect the use of this text to reconstruct the tradition.

Much work clearly remains to be done, but Banchich and Lane have provided an indispensable foundation here. Moreover, future scholars of Zonaras will have to strike a balance between Quellenforschung (cf. 12: "shifts in diction and vocabulary may suggest shifts in sources") and a respect for his control over his material. To a degree, Zonaras certainly reworked and synthesized his sources and added his opinions and digressions.8 He also chose which tradition to follow in each instance. The commentary shows that he sometimes deviated from John of Antioch (93); that he is sometimes closer to Symeon and Skoutariotes than Georgios the monk and Kedrenos (94-96), or closer to Synkellos than to any of them (108), or following now-lost traditions (114-115). As this volume shows, these two approaches to an author are not and must not be mutually exclusive.

Some minor additions and corrections:

Regarding the transfer of Julian's body from Tarsos to Constantinople, Banchich conjectures that it "may have occurred between the composition of Symeon's Chronicle and that of the common source of Cedrenus, Zonaras, and Scutariotes" (236 n. 114). The presence of his body in Constantinople is attested in the tenth-century Book of Ceremonies 2.42. Some historians believe that the transfer occurred in the late fourth century,9 while recently D. Woods has argued that it never occurred, though later Byzantines mistakenly believed that it had.10

Banchich (228 n. 100) comments that Salmasian John fr. 268 (ed. Roberto) "alone parallels" the story containing Julian's quip "who will be acquitted, if the accuser is to be believed without proof"? This is in fact in Ammianus 18.1.4 (where the defendant is Numerius, not Numerianus, and is set in Gaul). In the index, under Numerianus = Numerius, Banchich cites his PLRE I entry, which gives the Ammianus passage. So this parallel was probably lost in the processing of the (hugely complex) data. At any rate, it reinforces the stratum of Ammianus that underlies Zonaras' material, discussed above.

After Odenathos attacked the Persians as they were leaving Roman territory, Zonaras says that among the bodies of the fallen were found women armed like men. Banchich comments that "no other source mentions this detail" (109 n. 68). Not regarding this battle, to be sure, but this detail turns up in other accounts of Roman warfare in the East, e.g., Prokopios' Wars 8.3.10. Plutarch reports that after a battle against the Albanians only Amazon weaponry was discovered afterwards, not their bodies (Pompeius 35.3).

In his prologue, Zonaras mentions dialogues embedded in historical works. "It is difficult to tell precisely what he or his friends had in mind," Banchich comments (33). The Melian dialogue in Thucydides 5.85-111 comes to mind; also Prokopios, Wars 5.6.6-13 and 6.6; and the Platonic dialogue on icons in Ignatios the deacon's Life of the Patriarch Nikephoros 172-185, a key historical source for that period.

It is not safe to conclude that a Byzantine had elite origins just because he held high office (2: Zonaras himself). Many rose from obscurity, even to the throne.

At 213 n. 51 there is a typo regarding the date of the battle: "At Singara in 343 or 343." The second Numerianus in the index (312) is to be found at PLRE I, p. 634, not p. 364.


1.   F. Millar, A Study of Cassius Dio (Oxford 1964) 2-3, 195-203; and N. G. Wilson, Scholars of Byzantium (Duckworth 1983) 179.
2.   For Zonaras' sources, see now A. Karpozilos, Byzantinoi historikoi kai chronographoi, v. 3 (Athens 2009) 465-486, esp. 470-474 for this period.
3.   S. Mariev, ed. and tr., Ioannes Antiochenus: Fragmenta quae supersunt omnia (Berlin and New York 2008 = Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae 47).
4.   W. Treadgold, review of the Roberto and Mariev editions, forthcoming in Speculum.
5.   W. Treadgold, The Early Byzantine Historians (Palgrave 2007) esp. 314, 317; idem, 'The Byzantine World Histories of John Malalas and Eustathius of Epiphania,' The International History Review 29 (2007) 709-745.
6.   P. Janiszewski, The Missing Link: Greek Pagan Historiography in the Second Half of the Third Century and in the Fourth Century AD (Warsaw 2006).
7.   R. Macrides, George Acropolites: The History (Oxford 2007) 65-71.
8.   This approach was pioneered by I. Grigoriadis, Linguistic and Literary Studies in the Epitome historion of John Zonaras (Thessalonike 1998) before his untimely death.
9.   E.g., R. Van Dam, Kingdom of Snow: Roman Rule and Greek Culture in Cappadocia (Philadelphia 2002) 31 with 198 n. 34.
10.   D. Woods, 'On the Alleged Reburial of Julian the Apostate in Constantinople,' Byzantion 76 (2006) 364-371.

1 comment:

  1. The Banchich translation of Zonaras is also available in a Kindle edition, for $15.92. I don't own a Kindle, so it won't help me, but the information might help others.

    Of course, the absurd difference between Kindle edition and print edition suggests outrageous profiteering by Routledge at the expense of libraries and accessibility. Authors should stay away.


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