Posted by: ken98 | September 13, 2011

Rome Makes One Last Push, Mixed Feelings About Church Historians, and Yet Another Gate

Day 732 – Ken here (T)(9-13-2011)
(DEF II, v.4, Ch.46, pp.910-920)(pages read: 1970)

A gold-boxed day.

And why is that, you ask?

Together with tomorrow this is the unexpected, but complete comeback of the Romans and the Roman Empire (briefly) – it’s an amazing sight to behold – like seeing a limping, worn-out, long-shot quarter-horse stumbling out of the gates, barely making it past the half-way point, round the last turn in a blinding flash of speed and strength and take first place by fourteen lengths – it’s that kind of comeback.

Rome just spent the last 50 years fighting exhausting wars, then tightening their belts until their armies ceased to exist, then losing 2/3 of their tax base to a foreign power, then starting down the bloody and final path towards civil war and probable civil dissolution. When Heraclius “took office”, and during his first 10 years, no political pundit in the country (or the Late Antique equivalent) would have given a single nummus for the future of a country surrounded by murderous Avars and Sassanids. But Rome pulled out, with a little help from its freinds and Heraclius.

And now today, having watched Rome teeter on the edge of non-being, almost sucked into its own vortex of chaos, we watch Persia (tomorrow, in her total defeat at the hands of the Romans and their allies) walk down the same path into civil war, disorder, and helplessness – but for the Persians, i.e. the Sassanids, there will be no going back.

The Story
Sad State of Roman Empire – The First Years of Heraclius (610-622)
  • Persia’s Extraordinary Wealth – Gibbon goes on for 2 pages describing an extraordinary, a gargantuan list (which might, again, have come from Rabelais listing enormous amounts of servants, tents, etc – which I will NOT reproduce as we learn its all from the Chronicler Theophanes – written 200 years after the fact, and the Life of Saint Anastasius – slim pickings indeed

    After Rebuilding, Heraclius Starts Up the Reconquest (621)
  • Gibbons is at a loss to explain the period 610-621 when apparently Heraclius did nothing – Theophanes has the same problem – the solution is to make something up – and the time-honored “indolent, pleasure-seeking youth suddenly discovering responsibility” theme is used – probably, Heraclius had his hands full – with Avars, the loss of most of his tax base, and food supplies, and the fact that he murdered his way onto the throne, a la Crisis of the 200’s, so he had to consolidate his position quickly with the fickle Romans
  • The Avars attack and stay in the Balkans, and attack the Lombards in Italy – Theophanes continues with the crude portrait of Baian the Chagan of the Avars as the devil incarnate – cruel, stupid, and faithless – again, a typically Christian, Roman viewpoint, and one that hardly describes the Avars taking advantage of the Roman’s weaknesses – but ROMANS THROUGHOUT THEIR HISTORY DENIGRATE “BARBARIANS” – wait till we get to the Roman Princess Anna Comneni (ca. 1100) and her history of her emperor-father The Alexiad – where she describes Frenchmen and Normans in the same way Theophanes describes Baian – stupid, childish, coarse, cruel.
  • Heraclius apparently decides to MOVE ROME TO CARTHAGE – ie safe in North Africa and start over – but wonder of wonders, the Patriarch of Const. steps in and forces Her. to SWEAR TO DEFEND CONST. TO THE END – again, a suspiciously CHURCHY story – the Church is the only one with bravery and the only true patriot
  • Gibbon gives a short desc of a supposed attack on Heraclius by the Avars – the Avars plan a fake peace conf, Her. goes OUTSIDE THE WALLS to attend, and is almost TAKEN during a FAKE HORSE RACE – again, possible, but not likely
  • Heraclius supp. asks for peace – and the King of Kings Khusrau II says – renounce Christ and embrace the worship of the SUN and we will have peace – Heraclius refuses, and is forced to pay a tribute – he uses this time to begin to prepare for war – AGAIN AN OBVIOUS FABRICATION – at this point I doubt either the ROmans or the Persians were INSISTING on the mass conversion fo the other empire (MORE MONKISH FANTASY HISTORY) – and Zoroasterians DO NOT WORSHIP THE SUN, OR FIRE – they are monotheists – AGAIN an obvious fabrication – like the previous ROMAN ZOROASTERIAN FANTASY (from the very Christian Lactantius) about the SKIN OF VALERIAN (mid 200’s) being displayed in a Fire Temple – dead bodies are incredibly unclean to a ZORO., thats why they don’t even put them into the ground, but allow vultures to eat them in their sky towers – a dead body in a fire temple would be like an reg sched’d orgy on the high altar of St Peters – not very likely
  • IF YOU TAKE OUT ALL THE NONSENSE – we have about one paragraph of fact – so Gibbon had to pad it all out – which is understandable this is one of the most dramatic, most powerful of stories in Roman history – and we have next to NO SOLID EVIDENCE – a pite

    Heraclius vs Khusrau II-1st Campaign-THE GATES OF CILICIA-Asia Minor (622)
  • The Cilician Gates are a pass into the interior of Asia Minor, just at the point where Asia Minor bends down towards Palestine – the abrupt corner – Heraclius put his armies here to retake Asia Minor in his 1st campaign – in this way he could attack either Syria (South), the coast (East), or the heartland-Armenia (North) – Persia had to try and defend all 3 at the same time – a masterful move on Heraclius’s part
  • This period begins – in MY ESTIMATION – the genius of Later Rome – Byzantium had to make do with much less wealth, men, etc and manage such small resources carefully – Heraclius, by not just attacking the Persians, but beginning a long, drawn-out campaign, masterfully marshalling his VERY MEAGER resources (he’d lost the Balkans, Egypt, Palesting, Asia Minor – he had only the sea left)
  • The thorn in Heraclius’s side his whole life was his marriage to his niece Martina (after his wife Eudoxia died) as it was not sanctioned by the church – but since this was the East and not the West, like the emperor Justinian (who shouldn’t have been allowed to marry the actress Theodora), the emperor Heraclius is in one sense the head of the Church also (like Queen Elizabeth II) and so he just MADE IT OK to marry his niece against church law – it brought on UNENDING COMPLICATIONS and made it more difficult for him
  • Heraclius melts down the Church’s wealth (which is “freely” given in most cases – this is a RECONQUISTA, almost a CRUSADE after all) to finance his NEW ARMY – much of it was considered a “loan”

    Heraclius vs Khusrau II-2nd Campaign-THE BACK DOOR-Asia Minor (623,624,625)
  • Heraclius masterfully changes his strategy after getting a foothold again in Asia Minor – he goes NORTH (Trebizond) and comes down from the BLACK SEA dropping right on top of and into the Persian heartland – the land of Summer Palaces and the First Fire Temple of Zoroaster – a sacred, high-visibility target
  • He hits it again, and again, coming down through the mountains of Kurdistan to HIT THE PERSIAN EMPIRE PROPER and BRING THE WAR HOME TO THE PERSIANS
  • The Persians were already having money problems – financing the war, defending the new Mediterranean Territories of Greater Persia – this is the last thing they needed – a marauding army raiding and sacking in their interior
  • Heraclius begins to see possibilities of success – then Persia strikes back with what they hoped would be a hammer blow to the Roman Empire – see tomorrow


    Gustave Doré's pencil sketch of Rabelais's Gargantua

    Gustave Doré's pencil sketch of Gargantua - of Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel - a very large man - and a kind of metaphor for us of the long, fantasmagorical lists of improbable events that seem to litter our historical sources for our current period - the 600's in the Roman Empire and the emperor Heraclius in particular


    Further Into the Time of Legends, The Sources Syncellus, Theophanes and Nicephorus


    Three men (chroniclers, men of the Church) are responsible for a lot of what we know about the 600’s – Syncellus, Theophanes the Confessor, and Patriarch Nicephorus I of Constantinople.

    Theophanes is now our source (together with Saints’ Lives) for much of this period. Which is to say, that we actual have NO SOURCES (well…a slight exaggeration on my part). Gibbon had to write something, after all, so he copies out long lists of things, and various strange anecdotes about Persians and Persian kings (Khusrau II had a superstitious dread of Ctesiphon, therefor he never visited it, and made his capital in Dastagerd – there might have been other reasons – it smacks of a very limited view of history/culture/human behavior such as might be found in a cloister).

    But, onto particulars – these men are religious men, concerned more with setting up tabular forms for arranging dates than writing a history – that is: they are typical monastic chroniclers.

    What they attempted to do is laudable – set up tabular entries where you could cross-reference events by various dating systems – regnal years of emperors, of Arab Caliphs, of Persian Kings, of the Five Oecumenical Patriarchs – since the years all overlap, it is a very complicated way of dating and a very difficult calculation – which are often erroneous. So the dating itself is suspect.

    The point of view is obviously that of the Church, but more importantly, a certain section of the Church, in the East – the Icon-Worshipping factions (that eventually won out over the Icon-Breaking faction – the Iconoclasts – in the East – so don’t expect much good to be written of Iconoclast emperors of the 700’s like Leo III, Constantine V, Leo V, etc) – AND it is of course the viewpoint of the nobility – Theophanes was nobly born and very wealthy.

    And much of what Syncellus, Theophanes and Nicephorus were writing about was centuries old – they wrote at the turn of the 800’s – we are reading now at the turn of the 600’s (time of Heraclius) – checking and cross-checking historical sources to provide as accurate and least polemic, most-value-neutral (as much as that can EVER be attained) were things unknown – and most probably – things hateful to these men. Life was about encouraging your fellow man towards salvation, by whatever means necessary – NOT trying to achieve dispassionate description of human behavior. As I said, THAT GOAL would have seemed cruel and possibly satanic. Life was a serious matter. It was a fight between good and evil. You had better know which side you were on – esp. when writing an “instructive” text such as a history – or, in this case – a CHRONICLE.

    Having said all that – I am extremely grateful they did the work they did – or we’d HAVE NO HISTORY AT ALL – they are the reasons that what little we have survived – and gratitude, and copious amounts of it, is their due (so, see I don’t always rant and rave about ecclesiastical historians).

    Here are some brief notes from WIKI about these three men:

    Syncellus – late 700’s

    His chronicle, as its title implies, is more of a chronological table with notes than a history. Following on from the Syriac chroniclers of his homeland, who were writing in his lifetime under Arab rule in much the same fashion, as well as the Alexandrians Annianus and Panodorus (monks who wrote near the beginning of the 5th century), George used the chronological synchronic structures of Sextus Julius Africanus and Eusebius of Caesarea, arranging his events strictly in order of time, and naming them in the year which they happened. Consequently, the narrative is regarded as secondary to the need to reference the relation of each event to other events, and as such is continually interrupted by long tables of dates, so markedly that Krumbacher described it as being “rather a great historical list [Geschichtstabelle] with added explanations, than a universal history.” George reveals himself as a staunch upholder of orthodoxy, and quotes Greek Fathers such as Gregory Nazianzen and John Chrysostom. But in spite of its religious bias and dry and uninteresting character, the fragments of ancient writers and apocryphal books preserved in it make it especially valuable. For instance, considerable portions of the original text of the Chronicle of Eusebius have been restored by the aid of George’s work. His chief authorities were Annianus of Alexandria and Panodorus of Alexandria , through whom George acquired much of his knowledge of the history of Manetho; George also relied heavily on Eusebius, Dexippus and Julius Africanus.

    George’s chronicle was continued after his death by his friend Theophanes; Theophanes’ work was heavily shaped by George’s influence, and the latter may have had a greater influence on Theophanes’ Chronicle than Theophanes himself. Anastasius, the Papal Librarian, composed a Historia tripartita in Latin, from the chronicles of George Syncellus, Theophanes Confessor, and Patriarch Nicephorus. This work, written between 873 and 875, spread George’s preferenced dates for historical events through the West. Meanwhile, in the East George’s fame was gradually overshadowed by that of Theophanes.

    Theophanes – late 700’s, early 800’s


    At the urgent request of his friend George Syncellus, Theophanes undertook the continuation of his chronicle, during the years 810-15 (P.G., CVIII, 55), making use of material already prepared by Syncellus, probably also the extracts from the works of Socrates Scholasticus, Sozomenus, and Theodoret, made by Theodore Lector, and the city chronicle of Constantinople. Cyril Mango has argued that Theophanes contributed but little to the chronicle that bears his name, and that the vast bulk of its contents are the work of Syncellus; on this model, Theophanes main contribution was to cast Syncellus’ rough materials together in a unified form.

    Theophanes’ chronicle of world events, covering events from the accession of Diocletian in 284 (the point where the chronicle of George Syncellus ends) to the downfall of Michael I Rhangabes in 813, is valuable for preserving the accounts of lost authorities on Byzantine history that would be otherwise lost for the seventh and eighth centuries. The language occupies a place midway between the stiff ecclesiastical and the vernacular Greek.

    The work consists of two parts, the first giving the history, arranged according to years, the other containing chronological tables, full of inaccuracies. It seems that Theophanes had only prepared the tables, leaving vacant spaces for the proper dates, but that these had been filled out by someone else (Hugo von Hurter, Nomenclator literarius recentioris I, Innsbruck, 1903, 735). In chronology, in addition to reckoning by the years of the world and the Christian era, Theophanes introduces in tabular form the regnal years of the Roman emperors, of the Persian kings and Arab caliphs, and of the five oecumenical patriarchs, a system which leads to considerable confusion, and therefore of little value.

    The first part, though lacking in critical insight and chronological accuracy, which could scarcely be expected from a man of such ascetical disposition, greatly surpasses the majority of Byzantine chronicles (Krumbacher, “Geschichte der byzant. Litteratur,” 1897, 342). Theophanes’s Chronicle becomes valuable with the reign of Justin II (565) the point in his work he drew upon sources that have not survived his times (Traianus Patricius, Theophilus of Edessa).

    His Chronicle was much used by succeeding chroniclers, and in 873-875 a Latin compilation (published in vol. ii. of De Boor’s edition) was made by the papal librarian Anastasius from the chronicles of Patriarch Nicephorus, George Syncellus, and Theophanes for the use of a deacon named Johannes in the second half of the ninth century, and thus was known to Western Europe.
    There also survives a further continuation, in six books, of the Chronicle down to the year 961 written by a number of mostly anonymous writers (called Theophanes Continuatus or Scriptores post Theophanem), who undertook the work at the instructions of Constantine Porphyrogenitus.

    The Patriarch Nicephorus – late 700’s

    St. Nikephoros I or Nicephorus I (Greek: Νικηφόρος Α΄, Nikēphoros I ), (c. 758 – April 5, 828) was a Christian Byzantine writer and Patriarch of Constantinople from April 12, 806, to March 13, 815.

    He was born in Constantinople as the son of Theodore and Eudokia, of a strictly orthodox family, which had suffered from the earlier Iconoclasm. His father Theodore, one of the secretaries of Emperor Constantine V Kopronymos, had been scourged and banished to Nicaea for his zealous support of Iconodules, and the son inherited the religious convictions of the father. Nevertheless, he entered the service of the Empire, became cabinet secretary, and under Irene took part in the synod of 787 as imperial commissioner. He then withdrew to one of the cloisters that he had founded on the Propontis, until he was appointed director of the largest home for the destitute in Constantinople c. 802.

    After the death of the Patriarch Tarasios, although still a layman, he was chosen patriarch by the wish of the emperor (Easter, April 12, 806). The uncanonical choice met with opposition from the strictly clerical party of the Stoudites, and this opposition intensified into an open break when Nikephoros, in other respects a very rigid moralist, showed himself compliant to the will of the emperor by reinstating the excommunicated priest Joseph.

    After vain theological disputes, in December 814, there followed personal insults. Nikephoros at first replied to his removal from his office by excommunication, but was at last obliged to yield to force, and was taken to one of the cloisters he had founded, Tou Agathou, and later to that called Tou Hagiou Theodorou. From there he carried on a literary polemic for the cause of the iconodules against the synod of 815. On the occasion of the change of emperors, in 820, he was put forward as a candidate for the patriarchate and at least obtained the promise of toleration.

    He died at the monastery of Saint Theodore (Hagiou Theodorou), revered as a confessor. His remains were solemnly brought back to Constantinople by the Patriarch Methodios on March 13, 847, and interred in the Church of the Holy Apostles, where they were annually the object of imperial devotion. His feast is celebrated on this day both in the Greek and Roman Churches; the Greeks also observe 2 June as the day of his death.

    Compared with Theodore of Stoudios, Nikephoros appears as a friend of conciliation, learned in patristics, more inclined to take the defensive than the offensive, and possessed of a comparatively chaste, simple style. He was mild in his ecclesiastical and monastical rules and non-partisan in his historical treatment of the period from 602 to 769 (Historia syntomos, breviarium). He used the chronicle of Traianus Patricius.

    His tables of universal history (Chronographikon syntomon), in passages extended and continued, were in great favor with the Byzantines, and were also circulated outside the Empire in the Latin version of Anastasius Bibliothecarius, and also in Slavonic translation. The Chronography offered a universal history from the time of Adam and Eve to his own time. To it he appended a canon catalog (which does not include the Revelation of John). The catalog of the accepted books of the Old and New Testaments is followed by the antilegomena (including Revelation) and the apocrypha. Next to each book is the count of its lines, his stichometry, to which we can compare our accepted texts and judge how much has been added or omitted. This is especially useful for apocrypha for which only fragmentary texts have survived.

    The principal works of Nikephorus are three writings referring to iconoclasm:

    Apologeticus minor, probably composed before 814, an explanatory work for laymen concerning the tradition and the first phase of the iconoclastic movement;

    Apologeticus major with the three Antirrhetici against Mamonas-Constantine Kopronymos, a complete dogmatics of the belief in images, with an exhaustive discussion and refutation of all objections made in opposing writings, as well as those drawn from the works of the Fathers;

    The third of these larger works is a refutation of the iconoclastic synod of 815 (ed. Serruys, Paris, 1904).

    Nikephoros follows in the path of John of Damascus. His merit is the thoroughness with which he traced the literary and traditional proofs, and his detailed refutations are serviceable for the knowledge they afford of important texts adduced by his opponents and in part drawn from the older church literature.

    The Stichometry part of Nicephorus is fascinating – Nicephorus wrote down how many lines were in each book/manuscript he had for a particular work. You can see today, 1200 years later, in the surviving manuscripts we still have, how many lines of Christian literature may have been suppressed or lost by the Church (see Stichometry of Nicephorus


    Cilician Gates - at far bottom left (South-East) corner of Asia Minor (Turkey) near Syria

    Modern photo of the Cilician Gates - an opening in the mountains which line the coast of Asia Minor preventing access to the interior high plateau - Heraclius in the early 600's chose this strategic spot to begin the Reconquista of the Roman Empire from the Persians - a place at the corner of Syria and the bottom of Asia Minor - as it turned out - A VERY GOOD MOVE on HERACLIUS'S PART

    Last Word…


    The Cilician Gates

    There seem to be a lot of “Gates” in/or near Asia Minor (and the Caspian Gates, etc). Here is the mountain pass/the Gates of Cilicia, near Tarsus (of Paul/Saul New Testament fame) – they are at that point where Asia Minor suddenly bends to the South and becomes the coast of Syria. They are one of only a few easy ways to gain access to the high, inland plateau (Cappadocia, etc.) of Asia Minor. In the future, the inland platueau (and all of Asia Minor itself) will be the heart of Romania – the Land of the Romans.

    Map of Cilician Gates

    Map of Cilician Gates - strategically placed so that you can either go South to Syria, or North to Cappadocia

    More Gates - the Caspian Gates

    Dariel Pass or the Caspian Gates or the Gates of Alexander (between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea) - opening up NOT onto Asia Minor, but onto the vast steppes of Asia itself - another set of Gates like the Cilician Gates - both are INVITINGLY FLAT RIVERBEDS linking 2 plains and extending through VERY MOUNTAINOUS IMPASSABLE REGIONS - thus the term GATES

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