Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.03.27 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.03.27

Thomas M. Banchich, The Lost History of Peter the Patrician: An Account of Rome's Imperial Past from the Age of Justinian. Routledge classical translations.   London; New York:  Routledge, 2015.  Pp. xii, 185.  ISBN 9780415516631.  $120.00.  

Reviewed by Panagiotis Antonopoulos, University of Ioannina (


When R. C. Blockley wrote a critical edition with English translation of the early Byzantine fragmentary classicizing historians, it was surprising that the fragments attributed to Peter the Patrician were left out, and that no explanation was offered.1 Thomas Banchich has decided to fill this gap, and this is a most welcome project. Banchich is well qualified to do this, since he has already issued a partial English translation of the Epitome of the early 12th century Byzantine historian John Zonaras, who evidently made use of Peter’s history, or at least its surviving fragments.2

As with books including translations of texts, the author’s views are kept in the background, and only appear in sporadic comments, or the introductory chapters. This is a bonus in terms of the work’s conciseness, but more frequent appearance of Banchich’s personal opinion would have been desirable, though admittedly, this is very difficult with a work that survives in a fragmentary state and is in large part clouded by doubtful interpretations and uncertain provenance.

The book comprises three major sections: an introduction that takes the form of a brief biography of Peter the Patrician, the main section that includes the historical fragments assigned to him, together with other parallel sources on the same events, and a bibliography. A list of testimonia provides further supplementary material to the existing notes, and the book ends with indexes of parallel enumeration of fragments in other editions, literary sources, epigraphic material, and an index of places, gods and people.

Peter the Patrician was a diplomat, a magister officiorum, and a writer during Justinian I’s rule (AD 527-565). Only fragments of his extensive works survive.

The book’s introduction (pp 1-16) consists of a short biography of Peter, including the author’s text, translated testimonies, and a section on the historical work of Peter, presenting the state of the fragments and most importantly, the opinions of scholars and editors who attempted to find solutions with regard to authorship, originality and transmission. Banchich attempts to draw a picture of Peter in a few pages. For the present reviewer, who is aware of the difficulties that Peter’s biography exposes, the section should have been more fully treated with the possibility that questions presented as facts by Banchich, in his attempt to draw a clear picture for his readers, might be discussed in greater detail and with a less affirmative tone. For example, Menander Protector, a somewhat later historian who also survives in fragmentary form and who draws extensively from a work by Peter, is thought by the author to assert that Peter might wish to procure self-promotion by overstating his achievements, procure self-promotion, whereas in reality, Menander he only raises such a possibility. Banchich also claims that Peter was probably a Monophysite, based on the fact that a certain Theodore, who became master of the offices after Peter, is thought to have been a Monophysite. This is a view supported by a minority of researchers, since another Peter, a Syrian known as Peter Barsymes who was also a high dignitary of Justinian, is the more likely Monophysite. After all, it is difficult to imagine that Justinian would endorse Peter the Patrician with missions to Italy if he had been Monophysite.

In the second part of his introduction, Banchich approaches the the historical work of Peter the Patrician. In concise but clear language, he describes the history and difficulties of the currently available text. Bearing in mind that this is not only a fragmentary and anonymous text, but also the surviving portion of a palimpsest, which was read with techniques available at the beginning of the 19th century, Banchich carefully presents its subsequent treatment by scholars and offers a balanced view of the diversity of opinions it has provoked. No conclusive results have been reached so far, and the author demonstrates his strength here, because he not only offers a full picture of the ongoing discussion and current views, but takes sides himself such that the opinions of scholars who disagree are also present and treated entirely with respect.

This analysis of questions regarding text and authorship is followed by a detailed explanation of the methodology he follows, a sound way to conclude the introduction and assist the reader to better comprehend the book’s main section. The author chooses to present the surviving fragments, whether attested or otherwise, of Peter’s history in chronological order, in the hope that readers will manage to form a more coherent concept of a source which, if it really consists of a single work, allows for considerable gaps in its reconstruction. It is also useful that he quotes parallel texts of an earlier or later era which affected or were affected by Peter’s history in separate columns according to their chronology. This can help the reader relate possible additions or differences as these emerge with the lapse of time. He also provides a brief guide for using both the bibliography and index.

The 215 fragments that follow in the section Fragments and Commentary (pp 22-150), form the bulk of Banchich’s work. He makes a short but substantial comment on every fragment, asserting its significance in historical critique, pointing out the basic facts, and assessing the usability of the fragments when they provide the sole existing reference. Such an example is fr31, where the author comments that Peter correctly notes that emperor Caligula was in Gaul in AD39, an event not reported by either Cassius Dio or John Xiphilinus, Peter’s parallel sources. The translation of the Greek text is smooth, and, rightly in my view, the author tries to keep as close to the original as possible. He also does not attempt to fill in missing or inconsistent parts. This not only renders the translation more trustworthy as a follow-up to the original text, but permits the reader to sense the difficulties that scholars face when they have to work with fragments, the faulty appearance of which can be blamed on any of several stages during transmission, ranging from the author himself to any of several copyists. Banchich also avoids falling into traps of translation, where scholars have misunderstood a technical term, as in Fr202, where the author correctly translates the termαὐτκράτωρ with regard to the embassy of Sicorius Probus sent by Diocletian and Galerius to the Persian king Narses, as “for the embassy is not fully empowered”.

As expected in every work of this type, I have come across some perhaps less appropriate renderings and a few typos.3

The bibliography (pp 151-61) is well formed and covers all important titles of primary sources and secondary titles, but it is to be wondered why Banchich chooses to include older editions of the same work and their translations as separate items. Could it be that he wants to assist the philologist in tracing forms of the original text that differ in older editions? It is also evident that he aims at providing important introductory works, permitting the reader to explore further points of special interest by his/her own research, a useful and usable approach for a textual translation. However, in at least one work the De Magistratibus Populi Romani by John Lydus, reference is made to the old edition of 1903 by Wuensch, and not the more recent one by A. C. Bandy, Philadelphia, 1983. Also titles of collectively edited sources are placed by the author in the secondary bibliography and not in the primary sources’ section when edited by modern editors, unlike single authors who are given in the section on primary sources, a practice whose usefulness is difficult to comprehend.

The book ends with five indexes (pp 162-85) which deal with correlated fragments with the older but highly popular edition of C. Müller,4 an index of literary sources, inscriptions, manuscripts and finally, an index of people, gods and places. The existence of all five indexes is helpful for those who seek a specific type of information whether historical, or philological.

Banchich is to be commended for a very valuable contribution, because, despite its minor weak points, his rendering of Peter’s fragments into English has been shaped in such a way that it will not only fill the existing gap of an English translation of all early Byzantine fragmentary historians, but will permit English-speaking scholars to advance their research with an enigmatic set of fragments whose final provenance and nature has still a long way to go before it is finally solved.


1.   R. C. Blockley, The Fragmentary Classicising Historians of the Later Roman Empire, Vols. I-II, Liverpool: Francis Cairns, 1981, 1983.
2.   T. M. Banchich, and E. N. Lane, The History of Zonaras from Alexander Severus to the Death of Theodosius the Great, corrected 2009 ed., London and New York: Routledge, 2012. He is also a co-editor and writer of the online De imperatoribus Romanis.
3.   Translation of the personal name Gallus as in fr37 (p40), should be kept intact, rather than be changed to Gaul, which is misleading. The author correctly does this in fr44 (p49). Fr183 (p120-3), has a small typo “positon” instead of position, while fr196 (p131) [Ziphilinos] instead of Xiphilinos. Perhaps in the famous passage of fr201 (p133-5), the spelling [Affarvan] might be preferable to Aphpharban. Also [Theophylact] for Theophyact. However the word [of] is unnecessary, between the words Theophylact and Simocata. In fr202 (p135-140) [Archatepus] instead of Archapetus.
4.   Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum, ed. C. Müller, 5 vols., Paris: Didot, 1841–1883.

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