The House of David

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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Turn of a millennium

Mossman Roueché, “Stephanus the Alexandrian Philosopher, the Kanon and a Seventh-Century Millennium”, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institute 74 (2011), 1-30 has delivered many interesting notes about Byzantine memory, which I didn’t know, but there’s an offhand note which tripped my notice. This has to do with Mu’awiya’s attack on Constantinople in the late 660s, or the middle 670s – a topic of some debate this decade. Roueché has assumed the latter. Jankowiak's been promoting the former so…

Our tale begins, as so many Greek tales begin, with Alexander the Great and his family.

Roueché investigates a Byzantine-era chronological table called "Concise Chronography from the works of Eusebius Pamphilus", Chronographeion suntomon, which he translates at page 5. This Chronographeion parallels the so-called Royal Canon, page 13, the official Byzantine king-list carrying on the year-by-year bookkeeping which the astronomer Ptolemy had started. Both tables note among other events King Philip III Arrhidaeus’s coronation – not the Philip (his father), but the ill-starred figurehead after Alexander. Arrhidaeus is basically noted by accident, because Ptolemy had to choose something from which to kick off his Handy Tables; the Byzantine canons carry this over.

The Chronographeion also mentions the seventh year of Constantine IV, counting from September so running from 674-5 AD (Roueché, 17-8). Roueché highlights that this text thus presents 674-5 AD as overlapping the Hellenistic Millennium. So: what about this year did the Chronographeion find important? Roueché hunts for noteworthy events of Constantine IV’s reign around the mid-670s, and he finds the great Arab siege.

However this siege is absent from our subject. In fact the Chronographeion entry mentions one event only:

And from [the beginning of the reign of] Diocletian up to the seventh year of the reign of Constantine, the great-grandson of Heraclius, under whom also Stephanus the Alexandrian philosopher interpreted the kanon, 392 years

Which is to say, the event of Stephen’s “Canon”. Even that much might be intended for Heraclius. One might imagine an allusion to whatever this Canon said about the siege, but if this exists Roueché doesn't bring it. Nicephorus in his Breviarum summary does note the siege but unhappily does not constrain it. So Roueché must go to Mango’s note and, ultimately, to Theophanes. Whom Jankowiak has since refuted.

Roueché notes that George Syncellus used the Royal Canon, p. 16, which George believed had been synchronized accurately with Ptolemy’s Handy Tables, p. 14. As for the Chronographeion, Roueché p. 21 argues that its “Stephen of Alexandria” is the (‘Abbasid-era forgery) Horoscope of Islam, which Constantine VII in the 900s would call Stephen’s Canon. This is in fact Roueché’s main aim here: to assign the correct Stephens to their correct Canons or to totally different works, which is overall convincing to me.

But where it comes to Roueché’s lemma on the Chronographeion’s millennium: this date is already implied in the Royal Canon, which I repeat counts forward from Ptolemy's arbitrarily-chosen ancient king; and its spinoff the Chronographeion has nothing to say about the date except to reference Horoscope of Islam. The years were going to roll past as they must in the Greeks’ base-ten thinking. So I would not use Ptolemy’s millennium as significant for dating the siege. Jankowiak's work still stands.

It is however possible that Syncellus (or his mathematically-minded teachers; like another Stephen, the Philosopher) noticed the Arrhidaean millennium itself. If so this influenced the eighth-century historians in misdating that seventh-century siege. Either way it has certainly confused modern Byzantinists.

posted by Zimri on 17:37 | link | 0 comments

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