Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.11.51 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.11.51

Laura Carrara, Mischa Meier, Christine Radtki-Jansen (ed.), Die Weltchronik des Johannes Malalas: Quellenfragen. Malalas-Studien, 2.   Stuttgart:  Franz Steiner Verlag, 2017.  Pp. 409.  ISBN 9783515116442.  €68.00.  

Reviewed by Geoffrey Greatrex, University of Ottawa (

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[Authors and titles are listed below.]

The Malalas project continues apace. The on-line commentary on Malalas’ work already provides useful information to researchers on large chunks of book 18. The present volume focuses on the much-debated topic of the author’s sources. A table of contents is given at the end of this review; the volume is divided into four sections, three of which deal with his handling of earlier history, while the last, by far the largest, tackles more general issues with a focus on the sixth century.

The introduction by Laura Carrara and Olivier Gengler sets the scene with an overview of work on Malalas’ sources. As they point out, scepticism about the sources to which Malalas refers can go too far: a certain Philostratus, to whom he refers at 12.26, is attested elsewhere, notwithstanding doubts expressed regarding his genuineness (17, cf. 74-5).

The first two chapters consider the early books of Malalas, in which myths and history are blended into a euhemerising account of early times. Both articles, by William Adler and Umberto Roberto, emphasise Malalas’ debt to Julius Africanus, direct and indirect; they both also discuss his use of traditions found in the Book of Jubilees. Each article has interesting things to say about Malalas’ adaptation of this material, making it more Roman, but it is puzzling how little cross-referencing there is between them, especially since they cover such similar ground (e.g., at 34-5, 58-9).

The following two chapters comprise the second section of the book, which considers the third and fourth centuries. Laura Mecella’s contribution surveys the author’s sources on the third century. She rightly devotes space to a detailed refutation of Treadgold’s views,1 according to which both Malalas and John of Antioch reproduced the chronicle of Eustathius of Epiphania (74-8), and to the problematic nature of Thurn’s reconstruction of the text in the lacuna of the Baroccianus manuscript for the years between 211 and 253 (78-84). Bruno Bleckmann’s substantial contribution focuses on Julian’s Persian expedition of 363 and demonstrates the importance of Malalas’ account. Rejecting the sceptical attitudes of some anglophone scholars towards Quellenkritik, he shows how Malalas used the work of the contemporary writer Magnus of Carrhae and hence preserves eye-witness information independent of Ammianus and Zosimus.

In the third section, Pia Carolla proposes to add four new fragmenta dubia to Priscus’ work, which, as she argues, have been considerably altered by Eustathius of Epiphania and/or Malalas for insertion in the latter’s work. Dariusz Brodka, in a typically thorough and lucid fashion, focuses his attention on the shadowy Eustathius of Epiphania. By a close comparison of Malalas, Evagrius, and Theophanes, he demonstrates that Malalas indubitably used Eustathius, but not exclusively; moreover, he did not share Eustathius’ critical assessment of the Emperor Zeno, for instance, nor did he take over his source’s idiosyncratic chronological system, which put the birth of Christ in A.M. 4350/1. Through a close examination of the brief fragment of Eustathius that survives, concerning the Jewish war of the first century A.D., Brodka shows that he did not rely exclusively on Josephus, although for the most part he summarises his work. Eustathius’ work, it emerges, was an epitome of world history that drew on a wide range of sources, from which Malalas may well in turn have derived citations of earlier authors, such as Arrian and Priscus, but which inserted them into an unusual chronological framework that gained no acceptance subsequently. Pauline Allen’s brief contribution concerns the debate on the Council of Chalcedon in Malalas’ work. Although she begins by discussing issues of genre and even refers to the contribution by Richard Burgess and Michael Kulikowski in the previous Malalas volume, she continues to assume that Malalas’ work is indeed a chronicle, a claim clearly denied by the two authors that requires consideration, even if one disagrees.2 She rightly argues that doctrinal allegiances in the early sixth century were far from straightforward; from Malalas’ general neglect of conflicts within the Church she draws the inference that he was writing in the current of the Neo-Chalcedonian movement, which sought to reconcile supporters and opponents of the council. The second part of her article, discussing other sources’ treatment of imperial involvement in ecclesiastical issues, is rather cursory. It is hard to understand how Pseudo-Zachariah of Mytilene can be said not to discuss Justinian’s church policies (192), when much of book IX is devoted to ecclesiastical matters, e.g., to the discussions held in Constantinople in January 532; on John of Ephesus (194), reference should now be made also to M. Debié’s recent monograph on Syriac historiography.3

The final section contains more general contributions on Malalas’ sources. Michael Kulikowski insists again in his chapter on Malalas’ lack of interest in chronology; hence his work is not a chronicle, but rather a breviarium. He emphasises the folkloric nature of some of Malalas’ anecdotes, e.g., in the tale of Theodosius II’s marriage to Eudocia (XIV.3-5).4 He argues that Malalas made little use of official archives, pointing to the lack of any specific dates for the events described. He supposes rather that Malalas used local sources and other breviaria in compiling his work; in Antioch, as later in Constantinople, he was also happy to exploit official documents that came his way. Roger Scott, for his part, tackles the challenging issue of Malalas’ sources for the later books. Eustathius of Epiphania once more comes to the fore here, although there is only one brief cross-reference to Dariusz Brodka’s chapter (220 n.11). He speculates that Malalas – whom he continues to designate as a chronicler – started his work with books XVII and XVIII, perhaps at the insistence of Justinian, before dealing with earlier history, for which he relied in large measure on Eustathius. There are serious problems with his discussion of Eustathius, however. Unlike Brodka, Scott insists that Eustathius died in 503, the year in which his work is said to break off, as Evagrius relates. This need by no means be the case, as others have pointed out; and, despite what Scott here argues about the dearth of material concerning events after the fall of Amida (222-3), both Malalas and Theophanes do provide an account of the Persian war after 503, the latter in some detail. There is a danger here of too readily invoking Eustathius, as I have noted elsewhere.5 Scott also believes that Eustathius is responsible for the considerable attention given by Malalas to circus faction disturbances, which disappear, for the most part, in books XVII and XVIII. The observation is an interesting one but requires closer examination: contrary to what Scott asserts (224), XVII.12 is not the only chapter in XVII where hippodrome material may be found, for the Excerpta de Insidiis supplement the Baroccianus manuscript at XVII.8, relating riots in Alexandria.6 On the reign of Justinian, Scott persuasively argues for the view that Malalas reflects imperial propaganda, most likely the consequence of direct imperial prompting.

The next chapter considers oral sources. Jonas Borsch discusses Malalas’ detailed account of events surrounding the last years of Justinian’s first Persian war. In it we find genuine letters exchanged between the protagonists and detailed descriptions, many of which may well stem from the magister officiorum Hermogenes; Borsch insists (248) that Malalas may have derived his material from him in person in Antioch, although clearly written reports are also involved (XVIII.65-6), which may have passed through Antioch (246). Christine Radtki discusses XVIII.23, the story of Justinian’s honouring of Eulalius’ request to him to look after his three daughters, which she suggests represents a popular story put out to counter criticisms of the emperor’s handling of testamentary issues. Peter van Nuffelen takes an optimistic view of Malalas’ allusions to his sources, arguing that we should believe in his use of Domninus of Antioch, attested as an author of local Antiochene history, and in the genuineness of the three authors cited at XVIII.8, viz. Theophilus, Timothy, and Clement. Malalas emerges as an author who blends ‘local history and chronography’ (270); he frequently had difficulty in reconciling the varying traditions he found, which in turn may explain the inconsistencies and problems in his own work.

The volume concludes with three substantial studies. Laura Carrara convincingly argues that Malalas’ account of the earthquake that struck Antioch in 526, recounted at XVII.26, is derived from a (lost) monody by Procopius of Gaza; Malalas, a rhetor, was quite capable of integrating such a high-style work into his own ‘chronicle’. Fabian Schulz considers the prophecies that occur in Malalas’ work and from where he might have derived them. As he shows, collections of such prophecies certainly circulated, e.g., the Tübingen Theosophy, but he argues that Malalas most likely drew on a range of sources rather than one particular collection. Wolfram Brandes’ contribution offers a detailed analysis of the bankers’ plot of 562 against Justinian, the result of stretched imperial finances and tensions within the Constantinopolitan élite. Although Malalas is the only source to recount the episode, we have three versions of his account, one in the Baroccianus, one in the Excerpta de Insidiis, and one in Theophanes, which allow for a comparison of these variants. Brandes analyses the careers of the conspirators in detail but remains puzzled at the mildness of Justinian’s response to the plot’s denunciation (370-1); he attributes it to the high status of those implicated and to his weak position. On the other hand, the emperor’s mildness seems rather consistent, e.g., in his treatment of the three generals who conspired against him in 550, one of whom swiftly returned to high office.7 Brandes has interesting observations to make on the increasing importance of curatores and of Aetherius in particular. The argentarii or argyropratai, he argues, had come to exercise great influence by the mid-sixth century, perhaps, he suggests (373), because they had taken over the administration of senatorial estates confiscated by Justinian in the wake of the Nika riots. Despite the emperor’s efforts they bought their way into the aristocracy, becoming ever more enmeshed in government administration; the praetorian prefects Marinus and Peter Barsymes were originally argyropratai. Brandes concludes his chapter by suggesting that Malalas relied on an official source for his account(s), as he had for the Nika riot.

In conclusion, the volume contains much of value for those interested in Malalas and late antique historiography in general. It is unfortunate that there is so little contact between the papers, despite a few exceptions: Laura Carrara’s paper, for instance, is widely referred to by the contributors. Given that the volume emerges from a conference, one might have hoped for greater co-ordination. It is, however, well produced and equipped with an index locorum and index, both of which were lacking in the first volume, as Steffan Wahlgren pointed out in BMCR 2017.01.24.

Authors and titles

Zu den Quellen der Chronik des Johannes Malalas: Eine Einleitung (L. Carrara, O. Gengler)
I. Quellen zur Früh- und Vorgeschichte
From Adam to Abraham: Malalas and Euhemeristic Historiography (W. Adler)
The Influence of Julius Africanus’ Chronographiae on Malalas’ View of Ancient History (U. Roberto)
II. Quellen für die Darstellung des 3. und 4. Jahrhunderts n.Chr.
Malalas und die Quellen für die Zeit der Soldatenkaiser (L. Mecella)
Magnus von Karrhai: Zur Bedeutung der Malalas-Chronik für die Rekonstruktion der Zeitgeschichte Julians (B. Bleckmann)
III. Quellen für die Darstellung des 5. Jahrhunderts n.Chr.
New fragments of Priscus from Panion in John Malalas? Issues of Language, Style and Sources (P. Carolla)
Eustathios von Epiphaneia und Johannes Malalas (Dariusz Brodka)
Malalas and the Debate over Chalcedon: Tendencies, Influences, Sources (P. Allen)
IV. Vielfalt und Formen der von Malalas genutzten Quellen
Malalas in the Archives (M. Kulikowski)
Malalas’ Sources for the Contemporary Books (R. Scott)
Diplomaten und Anekdoten: Mündliche Quellen bei Malalas? (Jonas Borsch, Christine Radtki-Jansen)
Malalas and the Chronographic Tradition (P. van Nuffelen)
Johannes „der Rhetor“: Eine rhetorische Quelle für die Chronik des Malalas (zu Malalas, Chronographia XVII 16) (L. Carrara)
Theosophische Weissagungen bei Malalas (F. Schulz)
Eine Verschwörung gegen Justinian im Jahre 562 und Johannes Malalas (W. Brandes)


1.   See W. Treadgold, ‘The Byzantine World Histories of John Malalas and Eustathius of Epiphania’, International History Review 29 (2007), 709-44, cf. idem, The Early Byzantine Historians (Basingstoke, 2007), 118-19, 246-56, 311-29.
2.   See R. Burgess and M. Kulikowski, ‘The Historiographical Position of John Malalas. Genre in Late Antiquity and the Byzantine Middle Ages’, in M. Meier, C. Radtki, F. Schulz (edd.). Die Weltchronik des Johannes Malalas. Autor – Werk – Überlieferung (Stuttgart, 2016), 93-117, cf. iidem, Mosaics of Time (Turnhout, 2012), 30, 223-4, and Kulikowski’s contribution to the volume under review.
3.   M. Debié, L’écriture de l’histoire en syriaque (Louvain, 2015).
4.   Cf. the episode of Paulinus and the apple, on which see F. Schulz, ‘Fragmentum Tusculanum II und die Geschichte eines Zankapfels’ in Meier et al. (edd.), op. cit., 153-66 and Scott’s contribution to the volume under review, 218.
5.   G. Greatrex, ‘Théophane et ses sources sur la guerre d’Anastase Ier contre les Perses’, TM 19 (2015), 273 and n.15 on the issue Eustathius’ death. This article appeared too late to be taken into account by contributors to the volume under review. Cf. Brodka’s article in the volume, 179-80 and n.71, also considering the siege of Amida of 502-3.
6.   At 224 n.17 Scott insists that this contrast (in hippodrome material) is not due to omissions from the Baroccianus, although this example rather implies that it may be. Kulikowski rightly points out in his contribution, 205 n.10, that there is still no consensus of the degree to which the manuscript reflects the original work of Malalas, on which see my contribution in Meier et al. (edd.), op. cit., 169-74.
7.   Procopius, De Aedificiis i.1.16, cf. Wars vii.32.

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