Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.09.39

Brian Croke, Count Marcellinus and His Chronicle.   Oxford:  University Press, 2001.  Pp. xvi + 300.  ISBN 0-19-815001-6.  £45.  

Reviewed by Maria Kouroumali, Corpus Christi College, Oxford (
Word count: 2081 words

Christian chronicles, Greek and Latin, and their authors have usually been allocated to the sidelines of history as somehow inferior to other forms of historiography. This unfortunate approach has begun to change during the last twenty or so years thanks to the influence and research efforts of a number of scholars such as Mosshammer and his work on Eusebius, E. Jeffreys, Scott and Croke on John Malalas, Burgess on Hydatius, and Muhlberger on the fifth century Latin chroniclers to name but a few.1 Brian Croke's Count Marcellinus and His Chronicle (henceforth Count Marcellinus) is a welcome addition to the ever-expanding scholarship on chronicle writing. Count Marcellinus is the long-awaited publication of Croke's 1978 Oxford D.Phil. thesis (Sydney 1995). In the intervening twenty-three years, Croke has produced a translation and commentary of Marcellinus' Chronicle as well as many articles on chronicles and related topics, collected in one volume and published in 1992.2 His considerable expertise and research experience have turned a remarkable thesis into an exceptional book.

The subject of the book is the Latin chronicle of Count Marcellinus written in Constantinople in the sixth century during the reigns of the emperors Justin and Justinian (518-565 AD). The aims of the book are set out in his remarkably lucid introduction which both reflects and expands the scope of his original thesis. These goals are: a) to examine the author and his chronicle extensively for the first time; b) to place them in their contemporary and historiographical context; and finally c) to present, on the one hand, a model for investigating and evaluating the late antique chronicles in general and, on the other, to provide a basis for a more wide-ranging analysis of the nature and function of chronicles as a mode of both interpreting and presenting the past. In this way, he hopes to underline the importance of Christian chronicles as a literary genre and to break with the established tradition of considering them an inferior form of history.

The first part of the book is devoted to the World of Marcellinus. Chapter One, 'Marcellinus comes: the Man and his Work, studies the author, Count Marcellinus and his literary work. As is usually the case with ancient authors, we have very little evidence concerning his background and life. Croke makes very good use of all available sources of information such as internal references in the chronicle and other contemporary references, and addresses the hypotheses of modern scholarship to produce a convincing picture of the man. Marcellinus emerges as an Illyrian native with a possible military background who arrived in Constantinople in the late fifth or early sixth centuries presumably to escape the barbarian invasions of his homeland. In the 520s he entered the service of his fellow Illyrian, Justinian, where he acquired the title of comes. During that time, he decided to write a chronicle, continuing that of Jerome, which covered events from 378 to 518 AD originally. Some time later, he updated his account to include events to 534 AD which was then continued by an anonymous author to at least 548 AD. Apart from the chronicle, which is his only extant work, Marcellinus appears to have also been the author of two other works, topographical in content, which have not survived, but whose existence is known from Cassiodorus' recommendation of them to his brethren at Vivarium.

Chapter Two, 'Marcellinus and Illyricum', surveys the relationship of Marcellinus with his native province of Illyricum more closely in order to define the context and background of the chronicle. Croke first identifies late Roman Illyricum geographically and administratively as a diverse area which in the sixth century included the territory stretching from the lower Danube (Dacia, Pannonia, Dalmatia, Dardania, Praevalitana Moesia I) to Crete (Macedonia I and II, Epirus Vetus and Nova, Achaea, Thessalia). Although it is difficult to pinpoint Marcellinus' own hometown in such a vast area, Croke believes that he was probably a native of Dardania, perhaps from the area around Scupi (mod. Skopje). The numerous references in the chronicle to events in Illyricum highlight Marcellinus' preoccupation with and interest in this area. During the fifth and sixth centuries, Illyricum and the surrounding provinces underwent successive raids and invasions from Huns, Goths and Bulgars. The ensuing uncertainty forced many natives to seek refuge in the capital. Marcellinus could have been one of them, and his concerns underlie the chronicle and reflect his hopeful look to the regimes of Justin and Justinian, themselves Illyrians, for the restoration of peace and security not only in his native region but in the whole empire.

In Chapter Three, 'Illyrians at Constantinople', Croke takes one step further in placing Marcellinus in context by looking at the community formed by the Illyrians in Constantinople. Various foreign communities had settled in the capital by the sixth century, adding to its cosmopolitan and diverse setting. Croke is here primarily concerned with the Latin-speaking communities of which the Italians and Illyrians were the largest groups. Marcellinus would certainly have belonged to the latter. This is important for the understanding of the concerns of the probable audience for his chronicle. The expectations and demands of the audience are equally decisive in the formation of a literary work, and Croke's exploration in this direction serves to emphasize the need for scholars to consider this when analyzing a literary text. The selection of events presented in the chronicle therefore would not only adhere to the requirements of the genre but also take into account the interests of the intended audience. This is particularly evident in the strong pro-orthodox character of the chronicle and the belief and hope for an effective military power, mirroring the perspective of the Latin-speaking communities of the city and the imperial court.

Chapter Four, 'Marcellinus and Constantinople', looks at the chronicle and the city in which it was written. Croke reveals by a careful analysis of the main elements that the chronicle's central pre-occupation apart from events in the Balkans, is Constantinople itself. Religious ceremonies and processions, imperial anniversaries and court announcements, historical monuments of the city, natural disasters, civil unrest and the emperors of the author's lifetime merge together to create a fascinating image of sixth century Constantinople. This brings Croke to an important point concerning the chronicler's perspective. Tailored to the needs of the Latin-speaking communities of the capital, the chronicle progressively focuses on the imperial city as its subject. This is especially prevalent in Marcellinus' update as almost no events outside Constantinople are reported for the years 519 to 534 AD. Thus, even though the chronicle is written in Latin and primarily for foreign communities, the perspective is markedly Byzantine.

After placing the author in context, Croke turns to the chronicle in part two, 'The Chronicle and its Transmission'. Chapter Five, 'Chronicle writing in Late Antiquity' details the history of chronicle writing. This is a valuable brief introduction to the literary genre drawing on extensive scholarship and Croke's own expertise on the subject. Based on the Hellenistic chronological records and the Roman consular lists, the Christian chronicle emerged as Christian authors, beginning with Eusebius, were concerned with providing a framework which would explain the historical process in light of God's providence. Marcellinus' chronicle follows the typical chronicle pattern developed by a succession of chroniclers in the fourth and fifth centuries. Christian chronicles, whether in Greek or Latin, made use of the work of existing authors in order to continue and adapt their work to the accepted format. The chronicle of Marcellinus does not deviate from this scheme as it continues that of Jerome and is contained in a manuscript which includes both and is dated to within a couple of centuries of the chronicle's composition. Furthermore, Croke dispenses with the view that chronicles were produced by uneducated authors for an equally semi-literate audience. The purpose of the chronicler was to present his narrative in a simple and straightforward manner, avoiding rhetorical flourishes and using unadorned language. It is more the genre which determines questions of style than the education of author and audience.

Chapter Six, 'Constructing the Chronicle', traces the historiographical composition of the text. Every chronicler, although operating within the specific literary genre of the Christian chronicle, was responsible for adapting the guidelines to his own requirements. Croke masterfully dissects the various stages of construction which the chronicle underwent. Marcellinus' distinctive chronological framework, his heavy dependence on pre-existing chronicles for information, especially a non-extant work which Croke terms the 'City chronicle of Constantinople' and his selection of material from this and other sources are presented and interpreted. In this way Croke supports his main argument that chronicles are an important part of the historiographical tradition as texts which had a distinct structure, plot and purpose as well as a coherent understanding of the historical process.

Chapter Seven, 'The Continuator of Marcellinus', turns to the anonymous author of the continuation of Marcellinus' chronicle. Marcellinus ended his chronicle in 534 AD, but the manuscript which preserves the text (Auct. T. 2. 26, Bodleian Library, Oxford) contains a work usually entitled Additamentum written by an anonymous author known as the Continuator. Croke traces the history of the manuscript and the various suppositions surrounding the identity of this unknown successor of Marcellinus. Marcellinus' narrative is continued to 548 AD although the manuscript breaks off abruptly. Croke examines this continuation with careful attention and notes the sudden change in the perspective of the author compared to the main chronicle. Although the imperial city still features predominantly, there is a noticeable addition of western, especially Italian, events. As a result, it had always been assumed that the continuation had more in common with the works of the other Italian authors in Constantinople such as Cassiodorus and Jordanes. Croke shows that this is not the case. Cassiodorus seems to have been unaware of this work and it was probably written after he left Constantinople in 554. Jordanes' Romana, on the other hand, could have made use of a common source also used by the Continuator, but, there is insufficient evidence to establish a more than superficial connection .The Continuator was certainly someone living in Constantinople in the mid to late sixth centuries, probably a member of one of the Latin-speaking communities of the capital with an equally strong pro-orthodox sentiment as Marcellinus but decisively more western-oriented.

Chapter Eight, 'The Chronicle's Afterlife', examines the influence of Marcellinus' chronicle in the West and its use in Ireland, Britain and Italy. Marcellinus' chronicle presumably gained popularity relatively quickly as it was recommended by Cassiodorus. Croke looks at a series of contemporary and later texts such as the Irish Annals, Bede, Anglo-Saxon documents and other medieval texts. The relationship of the chronicle with these works is studied, although, as Croke is careful to point out, the extent to which it was used as a source by later medieval authors requires further research before exact relationships can be established. Although Byzantine in outlook, the fact that it was written in Latin as a continuation of Jerome's chronicle meant that it became more popular in the Latin West than the Greek-speaking East.

The Ninth Chapter, 'Conclusion: Chronicles and Christian Culture', summarizes the main points of the book. Croke convincingly expresses his view that chronicles are an essential component of Christian culture and a form of historiography equal in value and status to the more rhetorical, classicising histories which other scholars have seen as more sophisticated.

Overall, Croke succeeds admirably in fulfilling the goals he sets himself. He is persuasive and scholarly throughout, devoting the same careful attention to every chapter. Particularly useful for the reader is the recapitulation of the main arguments which he provides at the end of each chapter and the tables of parallel extracts in his comparison between chroniclers. The quality of the book is enhanced by an extensive twenty-page bibliography and a comprehensive index. Perhaps a few photographs of the Bodleian manuscript containing the chronicle would not have been amiss as they would have served to help the reader follow Croke's palaeographical arguments (pp. 219-222). However, this by no means detracts from the general high quality of the book. Although the book's prime target audience will be specialists in Late Antique studies, it should prove indispensable to any scholar seeking an introduction to the complexities of Late Antique chronicle writing and historiography and is a firm testimony to the fact that sterling scholarship can be produced outside the immediate university environment (Dr Croke is the Executive Director of the Catholic Education Commission in Sydney, Australia).


1.   Mosshammer, A. A., The Chronicle of Eusebius and Greek Chronographic Tradition, Lewisburg and London, 1979. Jeffreys, E. M.(ed.), Scott, R., Croke, B., Studies in John Malalas, Sydney, 1990. Burgess, R., The Chronicle of Hydatius and the Consularia Constantinopolitana, Oxford, 1993. Muhlberger, S., The Fifth-Century Chroniclers, Leeds, 1990. Croke, B., The Chronicle of Marcellinus in its contemporary and historiographical context, Oxford, 1978, D. Phil. thesis. Croke, B., The Chronicle of Marcellinus. Translation and Commentary, Sydney, 1995.
2.   Croke, B., Christian Chronicles and Byzantine History, 5th-6th Centuries, London, 1992.

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