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Wednesday, April 27, 2016
How Constantine IV knew about the Arabs
A few years ago I stumbled online across mention of Uranius (Ouranios) of Apamea, in Syria; who wrote an “Arabika”. This seems the sort of topic Byzantine agents would have loved to know more about.
The modern scholar who seems to know most about this Arabika is one Jan Retsö, who wrote The Arabs in Antiquity. Perhaps published in 2003. (Sometimes I hear 2013.)
Uranius's book made note of a town named after Constantius II; as a result, Retsö and others consider the Arabika East Roman in date and locale. I am unaware to what degree Uranius was East Roman in religion, however. Many scholars have even (mistakenly) wondered if he was writing during Strabo's own day - when being "Christ" hadn't occurred even to Jesus, or maybe during Pliny's when that messiah's followers were few. The Arabika seems never to have entered the monasteries. The book held much interest by contrast to secular authorities and it is they who commissioned and copied this text.
In the sixth century or so, the encyclopaedist Stephen (Stephanos) from Constantinople itself got wind of the “Arabika”, and collected what he could. For his “Ethnika”, he excerpted 32 passages, directly or not. One Hermolaus swiftly condensed that Ethnika into an epitome and dedicated this to Justinian, presumably the first of that name. This is the version that got copied and survived to this day. The fuller Ethnika remained in the royal library, where Constantine Porphyrogennetos found it and quoted from it. [UPDATE 7/1: phases de réduction.]
Karl Wilhelm Ludwig Müller helpfully published the fragments then known in "fragmenta historicorum graecorum", page 523f. It is a directory of names, because – remember – we are not reading Uranius directly, but only excerpts from Stephen’s encyclopaedia. Although Stephen, for each Uranius entry, does usually tell us which “book” furnished it.
I am now trying to find out what happened to the Arabika. I find it hard to believe, given that the Byzantines kept copying its successor the Ethnika, that they’d have neglected its source.
UPDATE 4/5/2017: Where it went.
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