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Chapter Four: Common Sources

Sixth-century Byzantine world histories are based on sources that are often lost or

fragmentary. Understanding what sources an author used, and how those sources shaped

his work, is a difficult process. One method is to detect the bias of an author in order to see

if the bias remains in a later history. Language can be a guide, but some writers cannot

match the stylistic level of their source if the source has maintained a high level of

competence in Greek. The best method is to look for nearly identical passages in different

works, in hope of establishing a common source or sources among them. The two most

prominent chronicles of this period, those of John of Antioch and John Malalas, bear many

similarities. There are two competing theories over which author used the other as a

source. A more probable scenario, however, is that both authors used a common source,

most likely one that is lost except for literary fragments.

Ernst Patzig and Erich Gleye drew up opposing theories about the Chronological

History. A debate between these two German scholars began on the pages of the

Byzantinische Zeitschrift in 1892 with an article about John Malalas and John of Antioch by

Ernst Patzig. Patzig argued that John of Antioch was largely dependent on Malalas, whose

history he had corrected and extended into the seventh century. Erich Gleye disputed this

claim, stating that John of Antioch was the main source for Malalas. Gleye thought that he

had demolished Patzigs argument, but in a series of articles over the next eight years

Patzig exposed the weakness of Gleyes articles. The debate went back and forth to the

point of deadlock when the editor of the Byzantinische Zeitschrift, Karl Krumbacher,

declared the debate over due to a lack of critical editions of the relevant texts.

This debate, after remaining largely dormant for much of the 20th century, revived in

the 21st century with the two different critical editions of John of Antioch's Chronological
Chapter Four: Common Sources

History. Umberto Roberto translated the Constantinian excerpts and the Salmasian

fragments, as well as some related fragments, into Italian. Roberto echoes the work of

Patzig, placing John in the early seventh century, attributing the Koine fragments to an

epitome of the Chronological History. Roberto did a thorough study of the work, although

he later admitted that further fragments could be found. He also did not try to refute the

works of Gleye and Panagiotis Soutiroudis, who in 1989 rejected the later date of 610 for

John, placing him around 520. Malalas, he reasons, had rewritten John of Antioch in a lower

register of Greek, adding fantastical elements to the work. A former student of Soutiroudis,

Sergei Mariev, rejected a large number of fragments, including all of the Salmasian

fragments and a portion of the Constantinian excerpts. His main criterion is the difference

in style between the koine fragments and the Attic fragments. The difference in register is

dramatic enough to allow Mariev to reject many excerpts attributed to John on this ground

alone. Mariev includes at least one fragment, however, that is clearly a Greek translation of

Julius Africanus. Replying to several sharp comments made in Mariev's English edition,

Roberto criticized Marievs methodology, defending his own inclusion of more fragments in

the work, and claiming that Mariev ignored the literary method of the history. Neither

scholar has ended the debate, nor have they considered a point raised by Michael Whittow

in a review of Robertos edition, that both authors drew on common Greek and Latin

sources. Warren Treadgold reached the same conclusion, postulating Eustathius of

Epiphania as the main source for John of Antioch and John Malalas.

here are very few authors that would fit the chronology to be a common source. The

fifth-century authors Priscus of Panium, Candidus of Isauria, Malchus of Philadelphia, and

Olympiodorus of Thebes are all possible. A comparison of the surviving fragments of these
Chapter Four: Common Sources

two authors could possibly eliminate them as a main source or delineate how much these

sources were used by John of Antioch. Examining the language and content of the

fragments could determine how much sixth-century chronicles drew on different Greek


Another contemporary historian of this period was Eustathius of Epiphania, who

finished his Chronological Epitome around 526. The late sixth-century ecclesiastical

historian Evagrius claims that Eustathius wrote a history drawing thoroughly on a vast

array of sources in elegant Attic Greek. Only a couple of paragraphs of Evagrius are

considered fragments of Eustathius in Muellers nineteenth-century collection of Greek

fragments of histories. None of Eustathius' work is part of the collection of excerpts

commissioned by Emperor Constantine VII in the tenth century, although only a fraction of

that work survives. Eustathius' Chronological Epitome was certainly a source of Evagrius,

and likely to be a main source for the work of John of Epiphania, who finished a history

around 595, some of which survives. Eustathius may be the main source for both John

Malalas and the elusive John of Antioch. He may also be a source of the history of Zachariah

the Rhetor, preserved in a Syriac epitome. Fragments of his work may also exist in the

chronicle of Theophanes (eighth century) and perhaps as late as the ecclesiastical history of

Patriarch Nicephorus Callistus Xanthopulus in the 14th century.