Chapter 8 AD 815 and the End of History

In: The Chronographia of George the Synkellos and Theophanes
Jesse W. Torgerson
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In the previous chapter I argued that the original impetus of the Chronographia project, its end or goal, led up to the entry for Nikephoros’ eighth year, namely AM 6302. This year was the work’s authorial present, noted as such from the very beginning of the Chronographia project when George the Synkellos declared his work “both dependable and equally accurate … up to the current 6302nd year.” Without any evidence to the contrary, I assume George had mapped out his Chronographia project to this date, and that this was the impetus, the end, the idea or plan which he communicated to Theophanes. The project was designed to be fulfilled in the present moment of AM 6302. Even if this was somehow not the actual plan shared between our two historical authors, the work undeniably asks its readers to read it in this manner.

The entry for AM 6302 (AD 809/10) brought the many strands of the project together in an invective, a set piece portraying Nikephoros I (r. 802–811) as the All-Devourer. In chapter 7 I explained how that entry also put the impetus on the reader to decide whether they would affirm this portrait of Nikephoros. The reader is put in a position where they must accept or reject the description of Nikephoros’ actions not as merely evil, but as an image of the Antichrist. A reader who acquiesced to the validity of this image would be putting themselves on the side of those who the Chronicle arrayed against Nikephoros: first empress Irene, then Bardanes Tourkos, and then Arsaber the quaestor and the officials and soldiers who joined his revolt. The connection of the work’s rhetorical, polemical goals with these contemporary individuals and their associates meant that the Chronographia project had immediate political implications in the world of ninth-century Constantinople.1

In this chapter, I describe the Chronographia project’s political implications. I first expand on the direct and indirect references to the above individuals throughout the Chronicle to define the political alliances with which the project associated itself. I then apply the interests of these alliances to the project’s coda—the final entries of AM 6303–6305—as the best source available for the issues and alliances at stake in the Chronographia’s completion. The rhetorical goals of these entries are complementary to those I have found in the entire project, but they are also different in some specific and telling ways. By reading these differences in light of the alliances just defined, I am able to explain the rhetorics of this new ending as an effort to reposition the work in light of the significant changes in political circumstances between AD 810 and AD 815. This makes it possible to read the last entries of the project in an entirely different light than scholars have done until now. Scholars have held that the iconophile authors of the text must have completed the work in 813 since they could not possibly have known that Leo V (whom the Chronicle calls “most pious”) would call a church council to reopen the question of icons and would then decide in favor of an iconoclast policy in 815. In light of the rhetorics of the Chronicle and its professed alliances, I instead find that the work most likely described Leo V as it did specifically because the authors knew Leo had reinstituted iconoclasm. The most plausible scenario is that the Chronicle’s final entries were written in 815, or just after, by iconophiles within the inner circles of Leo V. The end of the Chronicle is their response to the new emperor.

1 Who Was against Nikephoros? The Faction behind the Chronographia Project

To make sense of the discrepancies in rhetoric between the driving goal of the Chronographia project up through AM 6302 and the final entries of AM 6303 to AM 6305, we must turn to the private histories behind the work.2 Through its account of the reigns of Irene and Nikephoros I, the Chronicle revealed clues to these private histories not only with its redemption of Irene and invective against Nikephoros, but by valorizing groups and factions who aligned with its positions on imperial politics.

I have already noted one aspect of the private history of the project: the ambitions of the authorial persona. The intellectual and cultural impetus for constructing the Chronographia was the opportunity afforded by the condemnation of Eusebius of Caesarea at the second council of Nicaea (AD 787). George the Synkellos used this event to re-write the chronography of empire under his new concept of historical time. Furthermore, George’s idea of the First-Created Day applied the experience of the Incarnation in liturgical worship to the epistemological project of chronology. In its historical march up to its present day, the work’s impetus expanded from these intellectual ambitions into a series of imperial types. The succession of the images of emperors led up to AM 6302 (AD 810) when Nikephoros I was at the height of his powers. At that point empress Irene was praised as the foil to Nikephoros I, the All-Devourer. Favor for Irene was not merely a claim about her historical legacy: it directly justified actual, recent revolts against Nikephoros. Any reader of the work thereby implicitly sided with the pro-rebellion, anti-Nikephoran politics of the authorial persona. In siding with this position, with which actual historical persons in Constantinople ca. AD 810 were readers of the Chronicle implicitly aligning themselves?

We can constitute the socio-political contours of the political faction behind the Chronicle—and get a fuller picture of the private politics behind this history of the empire—by connecting the dots between groups that were either positively or negatively portrayed in the run-up to the work’s conclusion. I begin this task by returning to a passage on the re-discovery of the relics of St. Euphemia under Constantine V to note the historical association claimed there between the authorial persona and the empress Irene. This leads to identifying other figures whom the text aligned with the empress and her policies. While this group is largely constituted of individuals known to posterity as “iconophiles,” it is not defined by a stance on icons but by alignment with Irene’s policies of low taxes, general liberality with the imperial treasury, and religious accommodation.3 This is clear from a passage siding with patriarch Nikephoros against the iconophile monks from the monastery of St. John in Stoudios. The larger political network behind the work is revealed by the positive account of the rebellious groups who revolt under, or associate themselves with, prominent Armenians such as Arsaber the quaestor (AD 808–811) and Bardanes Tourkos (AD 802). I then examine how what we know of the historic interests of these groups in ca. 815 aligns with the Chronicle’s entries for AM 6303–6305. I conclude with a discussion of what now seems the most likely date for the completion of the Chronographia project as it survives today—ca. 815—and how reading this masterwork of chronography in light of what we know about Constantinople in that year reveals new evidence about the internal politics of the groups around Leo V in the wake of his declaration for iconoclasm.

1.1 Rebels for Irene: Pulcheria, Euphemia, and the Author

To make the connection between the authorial persona and the faction behind the Chronographia I return to a narrative thread mentioned in chapter 6: the ongoing political significance of St. Euphemia. St. Euphemia had first appeared in the Chronographia when during the joint reign of Pulcheria and Theodosios II her relics were translated to Alexandria.4 A later passage on the re-discovery of the relics of St. Euphemia connected the authorial persona to Euphemia, to Constantine VI, to the empress Irene, and to the patriarch Tarasios.5

Under the entry which K. de Boor labels AM 6258 (our AD 765/6) the Chronicle used a story about Euphemia’s relics to condemn Constantine V as the “Forerunner to the Antichrist” through his treatment of her saintly body. According to the text Constantine V was so incensed that relics of the saints inspired prayers for their intercession that he took up the reliquary of St. Euphemia and cast it into the sea. When Constantine V cast Euphemia’s holy body into the Bosphoros the the Chronicle portrays the emperor as rejecting the saint, the council of Chalcedon which Euphemia facilitated, and the empress Pulcheria who had honored her.6

The Chronicle breaks from its historical narrative of Constantine V’s desecration (in AD 765/6) to state that the relics had been lost for decades but that the author himself saw the relics miraculously recovered. In the fourth indiction under the joint rule of Constantine VI and Irene, this very reliquary of Euphemia was rediscovered washed up on the shores of Lemnos. It was then translated to Constantinople.

I myself saw this … twenty-two years after the criminal [Constantine V]’s death … in the company of the most pious emperors and Tarasios the most holy patriarch and, along with them, I kissed it, unworthy as I was to have been granted so signal a grace.7

Constantine V died on 14 September 775, the Chronicle’s AM 6267. Adding twenty-two years (counting inclusively) results in AM 6268 (AD 795/6) which is indeed the fourth indiction, and the year before Constantine was blinded (in the summer of 797). The relics of St. Euphemia would have been viewed by the emperors, patriarch and the chronicler between September 795 and August 796, excluding March and April when Constantine VI was on campaign.8

We should actually expect to find a synkellos in such a gathering: here literally embodying the function of his office by standing between imperium and ecclesia. Even if this passage was not in fact written by George the Synkellos it is written to imply that it was. Any alert reader would assume this to be the historical author speaking as the actual synkellos “of Tarasios,” appointed by Constantine VI in 795/6 to be in constant contact between Constantine, Irene, and Tarasios. In this reading a reader would take this to mean that in the context of his office George the Synkellos was present for the reception of St. Euphemia and placed his own lips upon the body of the saint. We have seen how the narrative of the Chronicle connected Pulcheria to Irene through St. Euphemia. Even if one does not follow this presumption about the historical author, it is undeniable that the authorial persona in the story of the rediscovery of Euphemia’s relics is associated with her cult and the three most powerful individuals in the empire. This connection not only helps to explain the defense of both the Empress Irene and Emperor Constantine VI, but connects these figures to the community behind the Chronographia project. Who else did the text align with the empress Irene and her policies?

1.2 Rebels against Avarice: Support Bardanes, Oppose the Magnaura

To pursue the community or network behind the Chronicle I turn to its account of the transition between the reign of Irene and that of Nikephoros I. According to the Chronicle the very first act of Nikephoros I was to make a significant change in judicial procedure in Constantinople via a new court in the public-facing imperial throne room of the Magnaura court. This new court took over a number of the jurisdictions previously under the civic court of the quaestor of the city of Constantinople. The Chronicle’s rhetoric frames this administrative action into a reason to rebel against Nikephoros by explaining it as “evil and unjust” and claiming its purpose was “not to give the poor their due … but to dishonor and subjugate all persons in authority and to gain personal control of everything, which, indeed, [Nikephoros] did.”9 The rhetoric of the passage also implies to its readers that the founding of the court in the Magnaura did away with the specific political virtues—liberality and generosity to both monks and laity—which it used to valorize the latter part of Irene’s reign. In this way the narrative of Nikephoros’ reign begins by associating the maintenance of the judicial powers of the quaestor with Irene’s liberality and with rebellious action against Nikephoros.10 It implies that those who would revolt against Nikephoros are (by implication) advocates for sharing power and supporting the poor.11

The revolt of the Armenian Bardanes Tourkos (or Bardas the Turk) follows on the discussion of the Magnaura court. That revolt began on 19 July AD 803 when the strategos of the Anatolikon Thema, Bardanes Tourkos, was acclaimed by his army. As was emphasized in chapter 7 (sections 1 and 2) the Chronicle makes every effort—both with rhetoric and narrative structure—to connect Bardanes’ revolt with the legacy of Irene the martyr-empress. The revolt was introduced just after a summary of the transition to the reign of Nikephoros I, who in “wickedness and avarice” seized power. The “Devourer of All … [was] unable even for a short time to hide by means of dissimulation his innate wickedness and avarice,”12 directly opposing “the liberalities of the pious Irene.”13 The accounts of Irene and Bardanes are also interwoven: the story of Nikephoros unjustly seizing power from Irene moves directly into an account of the revolt of Bardanes, returns to record Irene’s death after being lied to by Nikephoros, and returns again to Bardanes to record how he was blinded and punished after also being lied to by Nikephoros.

The way in which Bardanes’ story is told frames him as a fellow-victim of the evils of Nikephoros and a champion of Irene’s political virtues. Bardanes is described as attempting to refuse his troops’ demands that he seize control of the empire. Furthermore, Bardanes progressed no farther than Bithynia when he realized the people of Constantinople opposed his claims.14 He would not proceed against Nikephoros militarily: “a massacre of Christians should not occur on his account.”15 For Bardanes, “filled with the fear of God,” surrender had become the only option. Patriarch Tarasios extracted Nikephoros’ pledge that Bardanes “would remain unharmed and unpunished together with all his companions.”16 This narrative makes Bardanes and Irene both victims of Nikephoros’ lies.17 The Chronicle summarizes its perspective on the entire sequence of events: no one “would be able to give an adequate account of the deeds committed by [Nikephoros] in those days by God’s dispensation and on account of our sins.”18

Irene and Bardanes were a united front against Nikephoros. Due to Nikephoros’ greed the good empress Irene had died and the philanthropic Bardanes—a potential good emperor—had in good faith declined to seize the empire only to be oppressed, lied to, and mutilated. Nikephoros’ evil and incompetence contrast with Irene and Bardanes’ righteousness and public support. By interweaving the story of Irene’s death with Bardanes’ rebellion his followers are associated with her positive virtues and both are associated with opposition to the foundation of the Magnaura court. Before turning to the significance of this latter association (revealed towards the end of Nikephoros’ reign) an intervening passage indicates the ecclesiastical politics of the Chronographia project.

1.3 Rebels for Grace: Patriarch Nikephoros and His Οἰκονοµία

Though all of the associations noted thus far were pro-icon, iconophilism does not define the Chronicle’s outlook. In fact, the Chronicle distinguished itself quite clearly from the most historically well-known faction of pro-icon Constantinopolitans, the monastic community of St. John in Stoudios. A carefully-crafted passage drove a wedge between these Stoudites and the group behind the Chronographia project by identifying the Stoudites’ antagonism with the patriarch Nikephoros I. Under Nikephoros’ seventh year (AM 6301 or AD 808/809) in the second indiction it is stated:

Theodore, abbot of Stoudios, and his brother Joseph, the archbishop of Thessalonica, along with the recluse Platon and their other monks withdrew from communion with Nikephoros, the most holy patriarch, on account of the oikonomos Joseph who had unlawfully married Constantine and Theodote. Seizing this opportunity, the emperor Nikephoros assembled many bishops and abbots and ordered that a synod be held against them. By this means they were expelled from their monastery and from the City and were banished in the month of January of the second indiction.19

A clear line is drawn here between the Stoudites and the patriarch Nikephoros I. Support for the patriarch of Constantinople—and especially for his principled policy of accommodation (οἰκονοµία) must also characterize the group behind the Chronographia project.

1.4 Rebels for Justice: Arsaber and His Allies

Under the entry for Nikephoros’ fifth year (AM 6299 or AD 806/7) the Chronographia records an attempted revolt by the imperial tagmata based in Thrace at Adrianople.

When [Nikephoros] had come to Adrianople, he became aware that a revolt against him was being planned by imperial officials and by the tagmata and so he returned empty-handed, having achieved nothing except vengeance on his fellow-countrymen, many of whom he punished by scourging, exile, and confiscation.20

I pointed out in the previous chapter that this revolt must be read in conjunction with the attempted revolt suppressed in Nikephoros’ sixth year (K. de Boor’s AM 6300 or AD 807/8). This claim is based on the geographical proximity of the two rebel groups (Adrianople is 150 miles from Constantinople), the proximity of and lack of a significant division between the two passages in the unbroken narrative of PG 1710, and the verbal similarity between the punishments given to both intended rebel groups.

In the month of February (AD 808) many officials planned a revolt against [Nikephoros I] and conferred their choice on the quaestor and patrician Arsaber, a pious and cultivated man. But when the resourceful [scheming] Nikephoros had been informed of this, he had [Arsaber] scourged and tonsured and—having made him a monk—exiled him to Bithynia; whilst the others he punished with lashes, banishment, and confiscation—not only secular dignitaries, but also holy bishops, and monks, and the clergy of the Great Church, including the synkellos, the sakellarios, and the chartophylax, men of high repute and worthy of respect.21

Read in conjunction, these passages thus associate the revolt led by the quaestor Arsaber and a synkellos—an obvious reference to the authorial persona of George22—other patriarchal officials, ecclesiastical hierarchs, monks, and imperial officials, with the thwarted revolt of the army just prior.

As quaestor of Constantinople Arsaber had a great deal of responsibility: as the second-highest figure in the judicial hierarchy, and thirty-fourth overall among all officials, he led the last court of appeals before the emperor’s final judgment seat.23 Arsaber must have been someone with some prominence and he almost certainly held a previous office that would have prepared him for the position of quaestor.24 We can flesh out the group aligned with Arsaber by pursuing what can be recovered about this historical individual.25

One such individual is known through a series of four surviving late eighth-century seals. The four seals in question were sent by a patrikios Arsaber, the strategos (governor-general) of Thrace.26 It is probable that these late eighth-century seals of Arsaber the strategos represent the early career of the same Arsaber who would later become quaestor. If so Arsaber the strategos likely attained his position as quaestor of Constantinople through his success in the military administration. This hypothesized career trajectory for our Arsaber coincides with the proposal (just above) that the tagmata revolt in Thracian Adrianople in AD 806/7 is part of the same revolt as the officials in Constantinople in AD 807/8. If as the Chronicle implies this Arsaber was the leader of this single revolt, it is quite likely he would have drawn upon his connections to the military officers in Thrace for support and to coordinate a consensus around his attempted usurpation.

Furthermore, if we are correct in identifying Arsaber the early ninth-century quaestor with Arsaber the late eighth-century strategos, then we can develop our portrait a bit further. Peter Charanis has argued that—parallel to the better-studied Skleros family—this Arsaber the strategos should be understood as a member of a prominent Armenian family brought to the capital to serve in the military administration, likely under Constantine V.27 If we assume this connection we can make the following hypothesis: Arsaber the patrikios and strategos left a series of seals from the late eighth century from a successful career in the military administration of Thrace. This same Arsaber, at some point near the turn of the ninth-century, achieved the position of quaestor of Constantinople, possibly from the empress Irene.

I have already made a prosopographical connection between Arsaber the quaestor and the associates of Bardanes Tourkos implied by the Chronicle’s account of Bardanes’ revolt. The Chronicle made Bardanes’ reason for revolt against Nikephoros I not only the injustices committed against Irene, but Nikephoros’ first official act of creating the new court of justice at the imperial palace of the Magnaura.28 Besides the Chronicle’s rhetorical framing of this event as evidence that Nikephoros was the form of greed and the antithesis of mercy, the substance of his action was to take over direct control of all judicial appeals brought to the city of Constantinople by bringing them behind the Chalke gate. By removing the customary first stage in the process of appeals, Nikephoros’ act took away the authority of the quaestor and brought the topography of justice entirely within the confines of the imperial palace complex.29 One can imagine that a contemporary reader aware of the political figures involved would have known that this meant Arsaber would have worked his way up through the military administration to be governor-general (strategos) of Thrace and then quaestor of Constantinople only to see the new emperor eliminate the meaning of his office. One of Bardanes’ causes may have been to restore Arsaber’s authority.

By beginning its invective against Nikephoros I with this affront to the quaestor, the Chronicle also set up its later account of the quaestor’s revolt to be a revolt on behalf of benevolence, justice, and mercy. The Chronicle’s rhetoric makes this explicit, stating the emperor pretended the new court would eradicate injustice but instead he established injustice; he pretended to help the poor (πτωχοί) but in truth he only wanted “to dishonor and subjugate all persons in authority and to gain personal control of everything.” This language set up anyone opposing Nikephoros’ action (such as a dispossessed quaestor) as an actor against greed and a supporter of justice for the poor, and so prepared a contemporary audience—who knew who Arsaber was and what his office of quaestor meant—to read the entry on the revolt of 808 favorably and in doing so also associate his revolt with the earlier revolt of Bardanes.

Intriguingly, Arsaber’s associations with the revolt of Bardanes Tourkos at the beginning of the reign of Nikephoros I also connects him to a close-knit circle of military men around Leo V. J. Signes Codoñer has identified the Armenian factions supporting Leo V with the largely Armenian group who had served under Bardanes Tourkos in Anatolia in the late eighth century.30 This group had first been given favorable positions by Michael I Rhangabe (r. 811–813), but would go on to include the emperors to succeed him: both Leo V (r. 813–820), and after him Michael II “the Amorian” (r. 820–829). The group was not only connected by serving together in the military, but through intermarriage: Michael II (for instance) had married Thekla, the daughter of Bardanes Tourkos.31 To be clear: any reader post-813 would have known that the revolt of 808 had not, as it turns out, ended in failure. Arsaber’s family was clearly important within the group of early ninth-century Constantinopolitans who backed the rise of Leo V. A Constantinopolitan audience reading the Chronographia after AD 813 would have known that Arsaber and his family were at that moment more important and influential than they ever had been before.

Our knowledge of the later career of Arsaber provides us with further information about his complex place within the socio-political network of Leo V the Armenian (r. 813–820). Arsaber’s revolt may have failed in AD 808, but just a few years later his family was embedded in the chambers of imperial power. These positions of power came with consequences for the family. The history of Theophanes Continuatus and Genesios’ mid-tenth-century On the Reigns of Emperors records that Arsaber was the father of empress Theodosia, Leo V’s wife.32 We are also told something about another of Arsaber’s children, Theophanes (not the chronicler). Theophanes the son of Arsaber had attained the rank of spatharios under Leo V and, according to the Life of Patriarch Nikephoros I, Arsaber’s son was attempting to persuade the patriarch to engage in a debate with Leo V over the use of icons in worship.33According to that Life this Theophanes the spatharios helped Leo V pressure the patriarch Nikephoros I to support the emperor’s return to the iconoclast policies of the Isaurians Leo III and Constantine V. It is therefore essential to be clear, here, that having a family stake in imperial politics did not necessitate lining up as a family on one side or the other in specific debates over icons. While Arsaber’s daughter the empress Theodosia had attempted to persuade Leo V to not adopt an iconoclast policy, his son Theophanes helped the emperor enforce his iconoclast policy on the patriarch. Ninth-century political reality does not line up neatly with the simplistic iconoclast vs. iconophile division often imposed on this period.

In the rhetoric of the Chronographia project a community which included the patriarch Nikephoros, the rebel Bardanes Tourkos, the quaestor Arsaber, and the future emperor Leo V were all associated with support for the policies of empress Irene. They now seem to also have been a part of the same socio-political network, a community which was either directly behind the Chronographia project or else it was this network for whom it was written. This community was largely pro-icon, but that stance was complicated, for the text emphatically sided with the patriarch Nikephoros against the monastic community of St. John in Stoudios, and we have just found that the spatharios Theophanes (son of Arsaber) actually helped Leo V renew iconoclast policies in the capital. We can also more positively define the wider audience for the project without reference to icons at all: this was not only a group of elites that supported Irenic fiscal policies, but were participants and/or sympathizers with Arsaber’s revolt against Nikephoros I, and with Bardanes’ (earlier) revolt recorded under the first year of Nikephoros I’s reign (K. de Boor’s AM 6295 and our 803).

All of this contributes to our understanding of the diversity of the networks, opinions, and debates in the “inter-iconoclast” period. When the Chronographia was first begun in 808 no one knew that Leo the Armenian would rise to the throne and become Leo V in 813. No one knew that with Leo’s rise the legacies of the failed revolts of Bardanes Tourkos and Arsaber the quaestor would be exonerated by Arsaber’s daughter Theodosia becoming empress, or Bardanes’ daughter Thekla becoming Michael II’s empress. Nor would anyone have known that in AD 815 iconoclasm would make a comeback. Instead, the original impetus of the work was to frame the network behind the Chronographia as righteous rebels, and through a clever, subtle, and damning portrait of the iconophile emperor Nikephoros I as the Devourer of All, to justify their opposition to him. That this vitriol focused on an “orthodox” emperor underscores how important it is to remember that the political discourse of the time had plenty of room for debate without reference to iconoclasm. However, this situation changed utterly and completely in the years after AD 810. Those changes in the political climate of Constantinople are what explains the change in rhetoric and argument for the final three entries of the Chronicle, AM 6303–AM 6305.

2 Who Was for Leo V? The Entries for AM 6303–6305

The entries which cover AM 6303–AM 6305 or AD 811–813 are the final three entries of the Chronographia as it survives to the present. They tell of the death of Nikephoros, the short reign of Michael I, and then the very last entry (AM 6305 or AD 813) brings Leo V to the throne. These entries must be read with an eye to the socio-political context just uncovered. In this section I connect the rhetoric of these passages with the interests of the groups just defined—specifically of Arsaber the former quaestor—and in doing so uncover what the Chronographia might have meant in the context of the 815 council called by Leo V (r. 813–820).

To review, the end achieved by the argument of the Chronographia up through AM 6302 was to put those who had stood against the emperor Nikephoros I on the right side of God’s providence (οἰκονοµία). However, three events over the course of the subsequent four years 811–814 rendered that opposition to and invective against Nikephoros I—and thereby the entire focus of the Chronographia project through AM 6302 (AD 810)—misdirected and obsolete.

First, Nikephoros died.34 In 811 the emperor finally embarked on the campaign against the Bulgars which had been delayed by the rebellions of 807–809. After initially driving deep into Bulgarian territory the emperor was trapped and slaughtered, his disembodied skull turned into a silver-lined drinking goblet for the Bulgar ruler Krum. The carefully shaded and allusive AM 6302 entry, which so artfully crafted a lesson for Constantinople out of Nikephoros’ reign in implicit let-the-reader-understand rhetoric, was rendered superfluous in the obvious black-and-white conclusion to be drawn from the emperor’s death: God had destroyed the evil Nikephoros. An impending Antichrist is cause for worry; a present Antichrist is cause for revolt; but a dead Antichrist is no Antichrist at all. The first end of the Chronographia had vanished. The final First-Created Day was yet to come.

Second, Leo V “the Armenian” (r. 813–820) came to power, and his wife—the daughter of Arsaber—suddenly became the empress Theodosia.35 With the accession of Leo V the associates and family of Arsaber, for whom the first end of the Chronographia was a careful piece of propaganda, went from dispossessed and banished rebels to occupants of the imperial palace. Controlling the legacy of the murdered Nikephoros I and his powerless son Staurakios surely still had some value, but spending the intellectual, cultural, and political capital of the Chronographia on such an end was an unjustifiable expense. Instead, what the supporters of Arsaber and the devotees of the legacy of Irene now needed was an explanation for why Leo V was in power, and a map for the divinely sanctioned order and unity of the Roman Empire of which they were now at the helm.

Third, iconoclasm made a comeback. This comeback threatened to split the newly ascendant faction before they had even settled into power. In AD 814 Leo V called a council to reconsider iconoclasm.36 The council amounted to a loyalty test to reveal who would publicly oppose the emperor’s iconoclasm. Leo V had his team of intellectuals—including the young and brilliant John Grammatikos—ready to deal with any challengers. Intriguingly, opposition to the emperor’s position would center on patriarch Nikephoros I, identified above as a key ally of the group behind the Chronographia.

Leo V’s iconoclasm split Arsaber’s coalition, even as he had brought them into the palace. It must have been maddening for these iconophile supporters of Leo V to try to sort out what to do with their Chronographia in 814. The Chronographia’s attack on Nikephoros could still explain why Leo V needed to come to the throne, but it could not justify why—having decided for iconoclasm—Leo should stay on the throne. The work’s explicit opposition to iconoclasm meant it could not possibly fulfill its intended destiny as the historical justification for Leo V’s reign. And we find this very tension expressed in the changed rhetoric of the final entries, the new ending which reconfigured the contours of the past to bring it into line with this new era.

It is important to note that the prevailing scholarly consensus still holds that this third event is irrelevant because the Chronographia project was completed in AD 813, the date of the final entry. The idea that the chronographer put down his pen in that year is based on two points. First, AD 813 is the last year the Chronicle described. Second, it is assumed to be impossible for our iconophile author to have written that Leo V was “pious” (as under AD 813) while knowing that in 814 Leo V would convene a council to restore iconoclasm. In contradistinction, my analysis below finds that the final three entries (AM 6303–6305) make little sense unless author and audience know Leo V had reinstated iconoclasm. I make my case for 815 (or just after) as the date of completion by starting with the uncontroversial premise that the impetus which had driven George the Synkellos’ project to AM 6302 (AD 810)—to compose a historical invective against the emperor Nikephoros I—was no longer relevant by the time the final three entries were composed. Given this premise, I then argue that the final three entries of the Chronicle were added to re-direct the entire political ethic of the project towards staking out a position for a pro-icon faction within the supporters of the iconoclast Leo V. This second purpose, or end, is the impetus for the updated ending of the Chronographia.

2.1 The New Narrative Voice from AM 6303

The language of the Chronicle itself gives us evidence that AM 6303 began a second ending, written by a new author. The previous chapters have already argued for a narrative break at AM 6302. In addition to those arguments, a unique first-person statement in AM 6303 directly signals a new authorial voice. In an anecdote concerning Nikephoros’ self-regard the author reveals his source by stating “these things—God knows—I, myself, the compiler, heard viva voce from Theodosios.”37 Up through AM 6302 the authorial persona related first-person anecdotes with the phrase “αὐτὸς ἐγώ” (I, myself). However, the additional identifier “the compiler” (ὁ συγγραφόµενος) is new.38 Tellingly, this participial noun (ὁ συγγραφόµενος) is the same used to describe the authorship of the Chronographia in the Preface.39 While that possibility could be pursued further, the important conclusion here is simply that this is a different authorial persona in AM 6303.

There is also a narrative reason to see AM 6302 composed before AM 6303 (AD 811). As noted, in that year the emperor led his armies into a military disaster against the Bulgarians. Not only would Nikephoros lose his life but his decapitated skull was made into a silver-plated drinking goblet for the victorious Krum.40 It is characteristic of the Chronographia to forecast the consequences of emperors’ sins long before they happen. All four of the previous emperors are subjected to this treatment: Leo III, Constantine V, Irene, and Constantine VI.41 Nevertheless, the Chronographia is silent about Nikephoros’ demise until the entry in which it happened, despite the fact that Nikephoros was the most reviled figure in the entire Chronographia.42 It is difficult to imagine the chronographer missing an opportunity to also incorporate Nikephoros’ ultimate fate into the descriptions of his sins, discussed in detail in chapter 7. The most likely explanation is that the opportunity was not there because the chronographer was writing this entry in AM 6302 (AD 810) without knowledge of the next year’s events.

Further evidence for a new author lies in the thematic changes between the entries for AM 6302 and AM 6303. Some earlier themes are altered, while new ideas are introduced. First, the indirect way in which Nikephoros’ “greed” (πλεονεξία) needed to be drawn out of the language of AM 6295–AM 6302 is cast aside in favor of explicit statements about that key vice. In addition, passages where greed is explicit carry a slightly diferent meaning than the conclusion to Nikephoros’ Ten Evils. There it was stated that “these few actions out of many—inscribed by me as though in summary—signify the inventiveness of this man in every form of πλεονεξία.”43 Here and in the entries leading up to this point a better way of rending πλεονεξία would be as “extortion,” the kind of greed that can be exerted only by a person with power.44 However, in AM 6303 it is repeated more often, signifies a more general idea of greed, and instead of being the entire focus of the invective against Nikephoros becomes only one of several aspects of his evil.45

Additionally, after AM 6302 Nikephoros’ epithet of “All-Devourer” disappears. New typologies take its place and they make much freer use of comparisons which muddy the subtlety of the image of Nikephoros as the new Pharaoh.46 From this point Nikephoros even framed himself in the image of the Old Testament king most renowned for being an enemy of God and God’s servants, the king of Israel Ahab.47 In the entry for AM 6303 Nikephoros is still also the new Pharaoh, but where the ten vexations of AM 6302 had generated an implied pharaonic typology, in AM 6303 Nikephoros is suddenly not only explicitly compared to Pharaoh, but he makes the comparison himself: “‘If God has hardened my heart as He hardened Pharaoh’s, what good can come to my subjects?’”48 The entry for AM 6302 had impelled its readers to think about Nikephoros as Pharaoh without directly announcing this connection. Whether this was done to display literary skill, to avoid an accusation of slander, or both, it is a shift to both announce the connection directly and to make Nikephoros self-incriminate.

Finally, AM 6303 is replete with simple pejoratives in a manner unlike any other portion of the Chronographia. Nikephoros is “ungodly”49 and a sympathizer with heretics: an “ardent friend” to the Paulicians (called “Manichees”) and a defender of those who “blasphemed against the true religion and the holy icons.”50 He incites “military officers to treat bishops and clergy-men like slaves,”51 levels “unjust confiscations and fines,”52 and “greatly encouraged mutual hostility and railed at every Christian who loved his neighbor.”53 Nikephoros is an atheist who “denied Providence (πρόνοια)”54 and plotted evil.55 He is subject to homophobic slurs56 and marked by God for death.57 Everything that Nikephoros does is subject to hyperbole: planning “a thousand other evil intentions” on his failed campaign he lost “an infinite number of soldiers so that the flower of Christendom was destroyed.” As the entry closes, the author begs the reader to accept Nikephoros as the height of evil against Christians: “At no time did Christians have the misfortune of experiencing a rule more grievous than his. He surpassed all his predecessors by his greed, his licentiousness, his barbaric cruelty.” All of the subtlety discovered in the text for the AM 6302 entry was abandoned in AM 6303.

There is one detail in the entry for AM 6301 (AD 808/9) that seems to counter my proposal that the author of that entry did not know of events after AM 6302. Under AM 6301, internal strife at the death of Harun al-Rashid spilled over into Syria during the succession crisis and a persecution arose against Christians in Syria that “lasted five years” (i.e., to AM 6305).58 However, that phrase projecting the duration of the persecution could easily have been added retrospectively by the author for AM 6305.59 In fact, exact parallels in the descriptions of the destruction in both AM 6305 and AM 6301 point to the author of the latter having copied the former. This sort of repetition might be expected from a secondary, supplementary author.60 Finally, the list of sites indicates that the author of the passage in AM 6301 had their own perspective on the relative hierarchy of Palestinian monastic centers (according with the persona of George the Synkellos),61 whereas the author of AM 6305 seems to be familiar with the spiritual topography of Jerusalem in only a second-hand manner.62

In conclusion, there is ample evidence that the entry for AM 6303 introduces a new narrative unit. It begins by dethroning Nikephoros from his central role in the narrative by informing the reader that God had judged and slayed Nikephoros. Previously wary and oblique, the text turned from invective to diatribe. The resulting portrait of Nikephoros is damning but haphazard, with so many typologies evoked that the emperor is no longer the culmination of evil but an evil ruler like every other and none in particular. Nikephoros goes from being an Antichrist to be feared to an anecdote of God’s just judgment. This new voice clears the way to see a new agenda from AM 6303.

In the next section, I will first describe how the entries for AM 6303–6305 wove a new definition of the reader into the narrative. From AM 6303 the reader became defined by the first-person plural collective of we Romans and we Christians who needed to be responsible for our sins. From this observation I will tease out the more subtle side of the new paradigm: what, exactly, was the sin that we were meant to be responsible for? The answer to this question is the dual purpose served by returning the narrative to the age of Constantine V. Not only did returning time to the age of Constantine V mean re-setting the progression of narrative types, but it meant a return to Constantine’s specific sin: iconoclasm. The new ending to the Chronographia set up this revelation by re-framing Nikephoros I himself in the mold of the iconoclasts.

2.2 “We Christians”: The New Audience of AM 6303–6305

Nikephoros’ death presented a combination of problems for the Chronicle. This apocalyptic chronography had set up Nikephoros in the image of the Antichrist, but such an agenda ultimately undermined chronology itself. Since time was calculated by the reigns of kings, if the last ruler was dead, then time was up and there was no chronography.63 Nikephoros’ death also meant a narrative collapse. The Antichrist was to be the last earthly ruler and his demise should inaugurate the final First-Created Day. But since the rulers of Rome marched on with the reigns of Michael I and Leo V then so did universal Roman time. Time had a different end. What new end, or purpose, would govern the new ending?

Extending the narrative of time meant resetting the succession of imperial types. And so, the Chronographia’s new ending provided a new end by returning to an earlier typological turning point. This point was the arrival of the forerunner to the Antichrist. The reasoning here is clever. If the present time was still the time of the forerunner, then the Antichrist was yet to come. Specifically, this return meant demonstrating that Rome was still in the age of Constantine V.64 This new era then placed its redefined audience into a new moral crisis. Instead of the reader of AM 6302, a singular entity called upon to oppose the Antichrist in Nikephoros I, the new ending called upon a collective who would together take responsibility for the state of present affairs and prevent the rise of the Antichrist. The new end called upon its readers to take responsibility even as God was punishing us for “our sins.”

The entry for AM 6303 immediately established its new reader as “Christians”:

In this year Nikephoros extended his designs against Christians … to describe all of them in detail would appear tedious to those who seek to learn events in a succinct form.65

In the passage that follows, the listed evils are “designs against Christians” (τὰς κατὰ Χριστιανῶν ἐπινοίας). Nikephoros’ actions are not merely directed against specific Christians (as in AM 6302) but against “every Christian” and “all Christians.” The list begins with specifics but ends returning to the same noun, claiming Nikephoros also had “a thousand other evil designs” (καὶ ἄλλας µυρίας κακῶν ἐπινοίας). In other words, Nikephoros’ focus had subtly shifted from greedy “devouring” to a series of designs against this collective, the entire populace of the Romans (Christians). The beginning harangue against Nikephoros creates a discourse around the Christian collective, and then continues and even intensifies through the end of AM 6305.66 This all establishes the new rhetorical context or plotline for these final entries.

This turn towards persistently setting the reader within a new collective makes the reader and his community responsible for the evils of the age. That responsibility is established in the opening sentences of AM 6303:

As a result [of performing certain incantations] he [Nikephoros I] won a victory which God allowed because of the multitude of our sins.

Nikephoros’ success is not due to his ability to bring victory but to God’s permissiveness in order to punish “us” for “our sins.” If Nikephoros’ victories are a result of “our sins,” then Christians as a whole are implicated in the emperor’s deeds. The text combines these two points to impel the reader to a sense of responsibility. After narrating Nikephoros’ decisions leading to the destruction of the Byzantine army at the court of Kroummos, the chronographer prays: “May not Christians experience another time the ugly events of that day for which no lamentation is adequate.”67 And, when the army had been destroyed, he concludes that “the beauty of the Christians was totally destroyed.”68 Nikephoros’ actions were attacks against a Christian collective.69

Thus, while the entries AM 6302 and AM 6303 both begin with statements about Nikephoros’ designs and their impact on “Christians,” nevertheless in context each usage of “Christians” had a different referent. In AM 6302 the Chronographia stated that Nikephoros “removed Christians from all the themata and ordered them to proceed to the Sklavinias after selling their estates.”70 However, “Christians” here referred only to those whom Nikephoros had singled out. Nikephoros was “intent on humiliating the army,” he did not oppose the entire collective of Christians. Labeling the Roman citizens Nikephoros attacked as “Christians” simply served the rhetorical purpose of showing Nikephoros’ actions caused them to renounce Christ and the Empire: “many in their folly uttered blasphemies and prayed to be invaded by the enemy.”71 The use of “Christians” in AM 6302 was to show the destruction in individual piety wrought by Nikephoros’ greed, not to emphasize the collective of which the reader or audience was a part.

In contrast, the entry for AM 6303 changes the story even as it also emphasizes this universal collective of “we Christians” by sustaining certain themes—taking over an independent judiciary to seize power, undermining Christians’ ability to be Christians, and acting according to greed. The narrative’s argument is no longer to portray Nikephoros as the culmination of evil emperors—a point proven by showing him to be wholly evil in his own right—but to place him within a succession of heretical emperors whose drive is to oppose “the Christians,” emperors whom “the Christians” can only defeat by being attentive to “our sins.”

By changing the definition of the audience in these ways, AM 6303’s portrayal of Nikephoros as the height of evil is no longer focused on proving that he is the image of the Antichrist, but on proving the level of suffering that the Christians had brought upon themselves. The passage ends with a prayer more a warning to the reader that a request to God: “May not Christians experience another time the ugly events of that day for which no lamentation is adequate.” With the evil emperor now brutally murdered this entry shifts the onus for Nikephoros onto the entire community. The narrative has shifted from one that seeks understanding of the meaning of emperors’ eras to one that proposed how to understand the status of the entire political-religious community. How did the Christians come to experience such an era, and how could they avoid doing so? The key lay in a new portrait of Nikephoros.

2.3 Nikephoros I the Iconoclast: The Redefined Enemy of AM 6303

In AM 6303 the text suddenly and surprisingly connects Nikephoros to the iconoclast emperors. At the beginning of the entry for AM 6303 an iconoclast preacher appears in Constantinople. Nikephoros is depicted as so enthusiastic about defending the preacher’s right to preach iconoclasm that he prevented the patriarch Nikephoros from accusing the heretic.72 This passage stops short of calling Nikephoros an iconoclast, as he was not, but implies he is highly sympathetic to their cause. The reason provided for the emperor’s stance explicitly refers the reader (as the new collective of “all Christians”) back to Nikephoros’ first evil action, the founding of the penal court in the Magnaura:

… for he greatly encouraged mutual hostility and railed at every Christian who loved his neighbor, being as he was a subverter of the divine ordinances. He was also eager for good or bad cause to institute proceedings against all Christians at the penal tribunal of the Magnaura so that nobody should be free to censure his impious deeds.73

The connection to the iconoclasts is more subtle but still significant. The epithet which the chronographer applies to Nikephoros—“subverter”—was the Chronicle’s label for iconoclast emperors, used for both Leo III and Constantine V.74 The passage continues to catalogue Nikephoros’ dedication to expanding imperial power but concludes with the foreshadowing already noted above: “But he was confounded in his imaginations, he whom God was to slay.”

Thus the chronicler ties the new turn in the narrative to already established signposts.75 Just as in AM 6302 the first of his “ten evils” caused many Christians to deny their faith, so here Nikephoros is accused of trying to undermine the basic Christian injunction to “love thy neighbor.” Nikephoros is still the Nikephoros who took the process of judicial appeal away from the people and brought it into the Magnaura, into the confines of the palace under his own jurisdiction. And he is still characterized by greed, seizing the rights to ecclesiastical landed and moveable properties by allowing military men to use church buildings as residences and by seizing the gold and silver treasures of churches as “common” (i.e. imperial).

However, the chronographer goes on to now also link Nikephoros’ reign to the iconoclast emperors. After the death of Nikephoros, the chronographer claims:

At no time did Christians have the misfortune of experiencing a rule more grievous than his. He surpassed all his predecessors by his greed, his licentiousness, his barbaric cruelty: to describe everything in detail would be for us a laborious task and make a story that future generations will not believe. [But] as the proverb says, the cloth can be judged by its hem.76

Consistent with the rest of the entry, Nikephoros’ greed has become a weapon against [we] Christians rather than a proof of Nikephoros as the All-Devourer. This concluding statement about Nikephoros’ ultimate characteristic also places the entire harangue in the context of the discourse against the iconoclasts as a sort of anti-gospel. The statement “to describe everything in detail would be for us a laborious task” echoes the reference to a gospel passage at the very end of the reign of Constantine V, AM 6258.77 There the invective against Constantine V discussed how Constantine had appointed three strategoi to enforce iconoclasm in the provinces. The chronographer had concluded:

Who would be able to recount their sacrilegious deeds, some of which we shall describe in their proper places? For if one were to set down all the deeds they committed to win the emperor’s favour, it is fair to say with the Gospel that the whole world would not contain the books that should be written concerning them.78

The echoes of the end of the Gospel According to John in this phrasing have already been discussed in chapter 6. In the similar passage about Nikephoros the idea is given the slightly different formulation of an impossible quantity of stories to relate, but still parrots the general idea that like the deeds of Christ Nikephoros’ deeds are unrelatable in their multitude. The contrast already pointed out remains: the earlier iconoclasts committed sacrilegious actions, but Nikephoros’ entire reign was an attack against the Christians.

2.4 Michael I the Peaceful: The New Paradigm of AM 6304

The Chronicle’s new agenda in these final three entries drew on the positive imperial type—the emperors who repented—discussed in chapter 6. The Chronicle had crafted portraits of generous early Roman emperors and bishops as martyrs for unity. It had moved into an image of liberality and piety in the portrait of Constantine I guided by Helena, and of Theodosios II guided by Pulcheria. It then put those who strove for the ideal of Theodosios II under Pulcheria into images of repentant emperors such as Justin, Justinian, and Maurice. All of these strands were brought together in the reign of Irene and her son Constantine VI to show how an ambitious emperor could still achieve Pulcheria-like policies of generosity and unity. The portrait of Irene built on the model of the repentant emperor who undid the work of evil predecessors and thus managed to stave off the inevitable judgement to come. The reign of Irene had earlier been crafted as an antidote to Constantine V’s portrait as the “Forerunner to the Antichrist.” Irene showed how—from her fiscal policies to her response to her own imperial sins—to be a good emperor in evil times. Irene’s portrait was ultimately an image in the form of Maurice: an emperor who needed to repent and did so to the point of martyrdom. A ruler in the model of Irene was the Chronicle’s original idea of hope for the future. If Nikephoros I was the Chronicle’s ultimate opponent, Irene’s repentance was the new end of the Chronographia project, a way to stave off “evil and ignorance, and the Devil who is its author.”

The last two entries of the Chronicle build on this paradigm by presenting a world in which the emperors Michael I and Leo V hold firm against the temptation of imperial greed, against the people’s iconoclasm, and against the schismatic tendencies among the doctrinally pious monks of the monastery of St. John in Stoudios. The thrust of the narrative is that the emperors are holding strong as yet, but that there is a pressing need for the Romans to right themselves and support their emperors’ desires for good. Michael I, for instance, was beset from many sides:

distressed by those who severed themselves from the holy Church for any cause whatever—reasonable and unreasonable—and [Michael] did not cease begging on their behalf the most holy patriarch and those able to contribute to the general peace.79

For all of the imperial efforts—“the pious emperor Michael executed not a few of those heretics”80—in the end it is the Roman people who must preserve unity and peace.

Michael himself saved the Romans from the succession to Nikephoros’ son Staurakios who—despite being desperately wounded on his father’s fated campaign—sought to retain imperial power.81 The Chronographia’s image of Michael I is thus another foil to Nikephoros’ all-consuming greed. A dying Staurakios sought to withhold the last of his father’s unjust seizures from church treasuries. Michael “being magnanimous and liberal” instead “indemnified all those who had been injured by the greed of Nikephoros and restored the Senate and the army by means of gifts.”82 Like Irene, Michael is presented as a model of liberality and repentant restoration. He rejuvenates domestic governance and relations with the western Roman empire by inviting patriarch Nikephoros to correspond with the pope Leo and re-opening marriage negotiations with “Karoulos, king of the Franks.”

While Michael I presents an image of how to protect the faith against Nikephoros’ “iconoclasm,” the difficulty is the corruption of the Christian Romans “who had neglected to censure the evil doctrines prevalent among many men, namely the widespread heresies of God’s enemies, the Paulicians, Athinganoi, iconoclasts and Tetraditai.” Under Michael it is the collective of the Roman people who now call for a return to the policies of Constantine V by arguing that “he had won victories over the Bulgarians thanks to his piety,” meaning his iconoclasm.83 The Roman people are clamoring for their emperors to become iconoclasts. The Chronographia’s rhetoric chastises the people and begs the emperor to resist.

2.5 The New Iconoclasm: The Warning of AM 6305

The end of the entry for AM 6305 places Krum—the ruler of the Bulgars who had defeated and beheaded Nikephoros—in opposition to the new emperor Leo V in Biblical terms. The Romans are a new Chosen People led by a pious king but suffer due to their own sins. Thus the Chronographia places the nascent reign of Leo V within the drama we have tracked as a question of whether or not the Roman empire will remain pure, or whether it will fall prey to “our sins,” its own schismatic tendencies.

When the Bulgarians surrounded Constantinople, the emperor Leo V prayed that his city’s walls would not suffer the destruction the residents deserved “because of the multitude of our sins.” Krum is here labelled “the new Sennacherib” in apparent reference to the ancient Assyrian king’s campaigns against Hezekiah of Judah. According to the Biblical account of that campaign, Sennacherib had devastated the countryside of Judea but failed to sack Jerusalem, guarded by the pious king Hezekiah. So Krum also looted suburban palaces, took surrounding cities such as Adrianople, but left Constantinople unharmed under the guard of Leo V, “pious, extremely courageous, and fit in every respect to assume the kingship.” Although the emperor’s intercessions are heard by God and Leo keeps the City safe, when Leo tries to solidify the victory by executing Krum his plot is nevertheless unsuccessful because of his own people. Leo is “prevented from accomplishing this plan by the multitude of our sins.”

Leo’s purported piety establishes the dramatic choice before the collective group of Christian readers. Just before Krum’s bivouacking of the City, an anti-liturgy takes place at the Church of the Holy Apostles, the ancient cathedral of Constantine the Great.84 During the performance of the liturgy the supporters of Constantine V called out for the dead iconoclast emperor—“the God-hated … deceiver … who dwells in Hell in the company of demons!”—to arise as an anti-image of Christ and “save a civilization on the brink” of disaster. These supporters of Constantine V were calling for Leo V to turn to iconoclasm and restore the military prowess and success of the Roman empire.

This anecdote accomplishes several purposes. First, it is the clear sign that the Roman Empire is still in the age of Constantine V, his historical image a shadow over the present. Second, in the image of Constantine V, the Chronographia frames its drama in terms of a choice for or against iconoclasm. But finally, unlike in the accounts of either Constantine V or Nikephoros I, the agency to make the choice for good does not lie with the emperors—as indeed it had throughout the entire Chronographia—but with the people. The potential for resolution was left to the reader in the persona of the entire people of the Christian Romans. The last entries of the Chronographia thus built to a historical crisis in which the Roman people themselves would determine whether Leo V could stay the course or fall from “the pious” to “the impious,” as had his namesake Leo III. The choice before the people remained in the balance: the Chronographia did not resolve the choice in its conflicting images. Would the reader “save (our) civilization” by turning from the “multitude of our sins”?

Before drawing these threads together, I want to be clear that the idea of “our sins” being to blame for crises is not without precedence in the Chronographia. The emperor Julian’s reign was attributed to a disunity which was the result of “the mass of our sins.”85 The victories of the Bulgars and Avars during the reign of Constantine IV are attributed directly to God’s will that “the Romans be put to shame for their many sins.”86 The iconoclast emperors themselves were at times explained as God’s desire to teach the Romans piety. Leo III’s reign began with the opportunity to “learn by experience that God and the all-holy Virgin, the Mother of God, protect this City and the Christian Empire, and [to learn] that those who call upon God in truth are not entirely forsaken, even if we are chastised for a short time on account of our sins.”87 And, Constantine V’s reign was the fault of the Christian people, who were to suffer that emperor “by God’s judgment on account of the multitude of our sins.”88 Nikephoros I’s rebellion against Irene under AM 6295 also began by nothing that “God, in his inscrutable judgment permitted this because of the multitude of our sins.”89 Finally, the empress Irene acknowledged that “the cause of my downfall I attribute to myself and to my sins.”90

Nevertheless, though AM 6303 certainly echoes these instances, the idea of “our sins” is given a unique coherence and intensity in these final entries. After AM 6303 the text does not use “Christians” to frame actions against specific Roman citizens but against the Romans as a collective. The persistence and repetitiveness of this usage places the reader in a new moral crisis. Up to AM 6303 the Chronographia invited its reader to identify typological connections between the actions of emperors. But in these last entries the nature of participatory reading changed to self-reflection, from a call to identify the Antichrist to a call for repentance. The new emphasis on “our sins” shifted the onus of responsibility for the present and thus action into the future from the emperor onto a collective. Instead of deciding what to think about a particular ruler, the reader is placed within a larger political collective and warned to change their ways lest God visit suffering and even destruction upon all Roman Christians.91 In terms of historical ecclesiology, these final entries change the rhetorical frame from an impending apocalypse brought about by an evil king to the long historical drama of the Chosen People of God where “we Christians” are heirs to the children of Israel’s pursuit of God-pleasing purity.92 The specific sin which the collective must avoid to maintain purity before God is the heresy of iconoclasm. But why would the group behind the Chronographia project need to re-frame the entire work in this way? Why would this group re-fashion the end of the text so that it became a self-reflective challenge to resist temptation, to resist the urge to return to the false promises of the Age of Constantine V, the Forerunner to the Antichrist?

3 AM 6303–6305 and the Community of the Chronographia

In the new political landscape of AD 815, the community behind the Chronographia had risen from exile to the palace. But in this moment of triumph, the alliance of imperial and ecclesiastical bureaucrats around Arsaber faced a particularly intense crisis. I will argue that though the community directly behind the Chronographia had influence within the new regime of Leo V, they do not seem to have had power. Insofar as they had control over the Chronographia they had the ability to shape and reshape the past to the present, and they seem to have made good use of that resource by using the last three entries to fashion a strong pragmatic turn that sought to deal with the questions posed by the new political present: (1) What did it mean that Nikephoros (the apparent Antichrist) was now dead? (2) What did it mean for the group behind the Chronographia to participate in a discourse of power rather than martyrdom? And, (3) What was to be said about the fact that the head of this new political alliance, the emperor, had turned towards the iconoclasm of Constantine V?

I believe the final entries answered these questions by redirecting the project, by swerving the Chronographia’s long historical argument towards the new impetus of iconoclasm. Constantine V had originally been given the title of “forerunner” not because of a need to attack iconoclasts but in order to set up the damning portrait of Nikephoros I. The genius of the second ending was to relieve the portrait of Constantine V from dependence on the portrait of Nikephoros and to refashion it as a condemnation of iconoclasm in its own right, turning a focus on the All-Devourer into a focus on the consequences of iconoclasm.93

The overlooked connection in the account of the reign of Nikephoros between the “Armenian faction” of Bardanes Tourkos, the co-rebels and allies of Arsaber the quaestor, as well as the conjunction between these groups and the political ethic of the Chronographia are the keys to unlocking the implications of its second ending for our understanding of the political moment of 815.94 Reading the entries for AM 6303–6305 as being completed in 815 instead of 813 allows us to read the work in light of the interests of the associates of Arsaber who in AD 815 were committed to the universalizing interests of the ruling regime. Those interests coincide with the text’s clear support for the reign of Leo V over that of Michael I.95 The three final entries therefore speak directly to the way the interests of the community of the Chronographia had changed between AD 810 and AD 815. The second end or purpose of the Chronographia project would fit this masterwork to the needs of the group in the specific moment of AD 815 in Constantinople.

When Leo V ascended the throne in AD 813, Arsaber and his supporters also came to power. By marrying his daughter Theodosia to Leo V, Arsaber had added his allies to those of Leo V. Leo’s support was also constituted around the legacy of the figure of Bardanes Tourkos, whose predominantly Armenian faction or hetaireia had come together while serving in the Asiatic thema of the Anatolikon.96 The significance of this alliance lies in my identification of Arsaber as not only the former quaestor but as the former strategos of the Thrakesions (i.e. Thrace). Arsaber’s personal history as strategos of Thrace not only explains why the imperial Tagmata regiments supported his rebellion in 806–808, but perhaps also how Leo V had enough support from the army to become emperor himself. When Arsaber married his daughter Theodosia to Leo V this may well have connected his Thracian military supporters to those of Bardanes on the Asian side of the empire.

Why would Arsaber’s allies coming to power have generated a new end to the Chronographia? We have already shown how the Chronographia linked Bardanes’ and Arsaber’s revolts by tying them both to support of the reign of Irene. The authorial persona of George the Synkellos and his associations with Syria-Palestine, as well as the work’s long-proven attention to events in that region might lead us to associate the work with a group of refugees or émigrés from that region living in Constantinople.97 It is in this light that we should read the above-mentioned description of the flight of “Christians of Palestine: monks and laymen from all of Syria” as refugees from the “general anarchy that prevailed in Syrian, Egypt, Africa and all [the ʿAbbasids’] entire dominion.”98 Finally, I have also shown how the group of officials—both imperial and ecclesiastical—in the AD 808 revolt should also be associated with the patriarchate of Nikephoros I.99

To the extent that the above hypothesis about the alliances behind the Chronographia is accepted, I can propose this conglomerate group as the community of readers whose ideas, discussions, and political aspirations formed the context within which the Chronographia came into being. This group consisted of the powerful “Armenian” military elites, the family of Irene (whose relative was essentially forced into marrying Staurakios in 809 as under AM 6301), with the imperial and ecclesiastical civic elites dissatisfied with Nikephoros’ reform of the administration, and with whatever Syrian diaspora George the Synkellos may have been associated. All of this gives substantive content to the new narrative dynamic at the conclusion to the Chronographia. The Christian people who need to take responsibility for “our sins” is this very group, now adjacent to full imperial power, itself constituted as a diasporic Christian people that is contained within the historic and providential notion of the Roman Empire as the οἰκουµένη which far exceeds the current bounds of its actual imperium. The people whose collective sins are now the cause of their troubles—the generic “us” of the first end but which in the final entries became “(we) Christians” responsible for “our sins”100—is strikingly consistent with the multi-ethnic group suddenly in power who must now take responsibility for the direction of the Roman empire.

Thus, the beautifully complex and unique historical account of the Chronographia should be read as an explanation of, a history of, the logics of this alliance. I have argued that the first end of the Chronographia was to explain two revolts that had failed to achieve ultimate power in the empire. In this context we might also imagine some portion of this alliance patronizing George the Synkellos’ composition. We might even imagine how the Chronographia could have been read as a mirror for princes, as an argument that the successful wielding of imperial power needed a balance between male and female rule (as in chapter 6) that not only justified Irene but also gave Leo V and Theodosia a model to follow.

Everything that we have argued about the Chronographia’s way of framing the past shows how it was perfectly tuned to the self-conception of the groups aligned under Arsaber, patriarch Nikephoros, and now ascendent under Leo V. When Leo V came to the throne in 813, the Chronographia was poised to take its rightful place as a newly-endowed imperial history which associated the ruling faction with mercy, justice, and liberality in opposition to the greedy Antichrist that was the All-Devourer Nikephoros I. As this community and its associates moved from rebels in exile to occupants of the palace, they must have felt like the prophets of a new age. By 815 the reality of the imperium had destroyed any such notions. The story of the Chronographia’s final three entries is the story of how this group of iconophiles staked out a new position of support for Leo V even as he turned to a policy of iconoclasm.101

Whatever the actual connection may be between the Chronographia and the historic Theophanes (the Confessor and abbot of Megas Agros), it is a fact that the Preface directly associates him with the completion of the work. Though neither surviving hagiographic Vita of Theophanes mentions his authorship of the Chronographia, both agree that Theophanes was summoned to testify for the iconophile position at the council of 814. He was summoned to attend but he did not because of his health. He is said to have been tried personally by John the Grammarian and then detained in the capital for two years.102 Theophanes earned his title of Confessor for this testimony under duress, in which context we might also imagine him representing the coalition behind the Chronographia of the deceased George the Synkellos, the patriarch Nikephoros I, the empress Theodosia, and perhaps Arsaber himself. It must be emphasized once again that the first end of the Chronographia was not about promoting iconophilism. And neither was the second end written to promote iconophilism so much as to moderate iconoclasm from within the political alliance which was enforcing it. The second end of the Chronographia was thus meant to be the fulfillment of the political ambitions embedded in its account of the reign of Nikephoros. However, this moment of perfect harmony fell into discord even as it came to fulfillment. Just as the Chronographia was poised to be the historical instrument of the new age, Leo V disrupted its tuning.

The council of 814 thus destroyed the very political consensus that the Chronographia would indicate had brought Leo V to the throne. The Chronographia was highly supportive of Nikephoros I as the patriarch, aligned as he was with the faction of Arsaber and a direct supporter of Leo’s original coup.103 Nevertheless, the council of 814 was not only undertaken without the support of the patriarch, it was called in spite of his direct opposition. When Leo V deposed the patriarch for his disloyalty it must have necessitated a rift in the community we have identified. On the one hand, Arsaber’s daughter, the empress Theodosia, opposed her husband in this and begged him to leave the Patriarch enthroned and continue in the policies of his immediate predecessors.104 On the other hand, Leo V ignored Theodosia and forcibly removed Nikephoros from the patriarchal throne with the help of Arsaber’s own son, Theophanes.105 Immediately, in 815, Nikephoros composed a polemical treatise against the entire proceeding.106 The rift created by Leo V’s council extended into the immediate family of Arsaber.107

Perhaps the reason Leo V broke with previous policy is embedded in the Chronographia itself. Did Leo and his closest advisors think that the alliances and networks which had brought him to the throne were already too powerful?108 Perhaps Leo’s turn to an iconoclast policy was seen as a way to re-center political discourse around himself, a strategy scholars have attributed to the Isaurians Leo III and Constantine V.109 In any case, the regime that Leo V articulated at the Council of 815 and the worldview articulated by the Chronographia were not compatible. The great synthesis of the Chronographia had tied all of time to defining Nikephoros I as the devil of the new age, it had reconceptualized time itself to justify two revolts against that emperor. But it had done so by in no small part damning the legacy of the iconoclasts. Leo V could still put together his own political agenda from the ethic of imperial power laid out by the Chronographia—characterized by policies of generosity, liberality, and unity within the ecclesia—but Leo’s agenda was ultimately incompatible with the Chronographia’s strident opposition to past iconoclasts.110 Although much of the Chronographia still worked in Leo’s favor, his regime could not promote such a work. Leo V might still speak the political language of the Chronographia but its story could not be his own.

This context is the impetus for our second ending. Those who had crafted the Chronographia brought its story into the new era of Leo V, an era for which they were responsible but which was quickly and unexpectedly turning against their values. Written by and for the network of allies who coalesced around Leo, helped him to power, and took over as the ruling faction of the empire, the Chronographia had nevertheless not anticipated that future. The second end rewrote the story. It reframed the Chronographia in light of the unexpected political crisis. This reframing is entirely coherent with the perspective of those around Arsaber (Theodosia, Theophanes the Confessor, patriarch Nikephoros, and perhaps even Arsaber himself) who yet sought to influence Leo V to return to the set of policies and ideologies that had united them all in opposition to Nikephoros I. Rather than reading those who wrote the final entries of the Chronographia (AM 6303 to AM 6305) as either ignorant of or hiding from the fact that Leo V was pursuing an iconoclast policy, these entries read coherently as a rallying cry from Leo V’s own powerful supporters—perhaps from a circle now centered on the patriarch Nikephoros I—to reclaim the discourse of power. In the early years of the reign of Leo V it would have been essential for these supporters to continue to promote the idea that Leo V could be a “pious emperor” in the model of one of the imperial types of the Chronographia.

4 The Second End(ing) of the Chronographia

The ultimate impetus for the Chronographia—from the First-Created Day thesis to the portrait of Nikephoros I—was to bring together the whole of the Roman past in a way that gave it meaning in the present. The portraits of past bishops and emperors as figural types in an eschatological framework combined particular political virtues and vices to make sense of the reigns of recent emperors. In this chapter I have been concerned with the private histories embedded in these portraits. Until recently our standard accounts of political alliances in this period started with the premise that the citizens of the empire distinguished themselves in terms of competing doctrinal orthodoxies: iconoclasm remained the implicit if not explicit framework.111 Even when we renounce this paradigm, it takes much more than a general recanting of the historical vision of the Triumph of Orthodoxy to be able to read the surviving sources on their own terms. That scholars have not internalized a different paradigm is seen by what we still choose to ignore or leave unresolved. Why the iconophile Chronographia would be so vicious to the iconophile Nikephoros I has been left unexplained, as has how an iconophile Chronographia could be so naïve as to call Leo V “pious” months before he imposed iconoclasm.

My counter proposal has been developed from pursuing the second end of the Chronographia as written between 814–815. This has revealed not only a more complex text but also a richer context. The first and the second endings of the Chronographia (AM 6302 and AM 6305) belong to the same political community. But this community had developed different needs in the five years between the writing of these two ends. The two very different endings for the work arose from the group’s changing circumstances between the years 810 and 815. Though AM 6302 had served their purposes while Nikephoros I was alive, the authors of the Chronographia needed a new ending that brought the story of the past up to their new present. The challenge was to redirect the river of history from a course that had already flowed through 6,302 years.

Shortly after he became emperor, Leo V reorganized the alliances that brought him to the throne. He consolidated power around his person through his return to an iconoclastic framing of the imperium. If the Chronographia was written for the parts of the political alliance which brought Leo to power but which were bound to oppose his iconoclasm, we should expect it to be dynamic in its treatment of that policy. And indeed, even at its most strident the Chronographia did not condemn heretics or even praise orthodoxy in specifically theological terms. Instead it presented the “piety” of emperors as something known by their fruit: a “pious” emperor was revealed by a unified and peaceful imperium and ecclesia.

The Chronographia was not first written to promote a pro-icon policy but it certainly assumed that an iconoclast policy was evil. This explains why these final entries—far from triumphant—imply a new impending crisis that is not explicitly named. Even as Leo V came to power, his policy changes caused a rift in the very alliance that had brought him to the throne. Leo’s sin was not so much iconoclasm per se, but the disunity brought about by impiety. In this case that specifically meant his bringing about disunity within his own network of allies and relations. If we read these final entries in light of the crises facing the groups allied behind the Chronographia, it becomes clear that they directly address the key question before these factions in 814/815: what shall we do about our own Leo?

The last entry of the Chronicle, and so of the entire surviving Chronographia project, describes a dramatic event in the second year of the Emperor Michael I (r. 811–813). According to the entry in the 805th Year-of-the-Divine-Incarnation (AD 812/13) and the 6,305th Year-of-the-World, a litany was celebrated by Nikephoros I, patriarch of Constantinople, in a packed Church of the Holy Apostles. In the midst of the celebration, supporters of the deceased Constantine V (r. 741–775) broke off from the crowd and forced open the mausoleum of that emperor, now three-decades deceased. The narrative proceeds to turn this event into an image of a false resurrection to a false Christ by false apostles proclaiming a false gospel. The Holy Apostles—in whose church this liturgy was celebrated—were those who had dedicated themselves to proclaiming the message of the Christ. These new messengers of Constantine V were anti-Apostles for they did not demand Christ but “the God-hating Constantine.” That is, they showed themselves to be antitypes of the Holy Apostles by demanding the coming to life of the dead emperor whom they proclaimed as another savior. The men “fell before the imposter’s (πλάνος) tomb” and by “calling on him and not on God” their supplications put Constantine V before Christ.

Then, utilizing the same christological formulas as the sanctioned holy liturgy, they sang out to their lord in words reserved for the Lord:

Καὶ βοήθησον τῇ πολιτείᾳ ἀπολλυµένῃ!
Arise! (the invocation of the Resurrection)
And save the perishing state!112

The City Prefect would find these men guilty of “blessing Constantine V as prophet and victor and embracing his wrong-teaching in an upending (ἐπ’ ἀνατροπῇ) of the incarnate economy (οἰκουµένη) of our lord Jesus Christ.”113 The chronographer leaves the reader in no doubt that all this is worship of an Antichrist—“he who dwells in Hell in the company of demons!” (ὁ τάρταρον οἰκῶν µετὰ δαιµόνων).

Despite the Chronographia’s abhorrence at this antithesis of true religion, the desire expressed by the worshippers at the tomb of Constantine was the very same as that which drove the entire co-authored project. The heretical anti-apostles of this Antichrist desired the image of the emperor to rise up and show the way to save their polity: the civilization, the πολιτεία, the res publica. In its conclusion the Chronographia used this picture of a community on the brink of perishing, even of damnation, to bring forth images of emperors past. Just like the protestors it condemned, the Chronographia sought to use these resurrected images to show a way through the harrowing present into a peaceful and prosperous future.

S. Papaioannou has set the making of “Byzantine historia” in the context of the making of images and the writing of lives, highlighting the similar social functions of icons, vitae, and histories. The present book has been similarly devoted to shifting historians’ view of the message and meaning of the Chronographia project from the lens of a very specific debate over images—the iconoclast controversy—to historical images more generally. We have seen the text making images of the emperors, historical images, to bear true meaning to readers via the means described by Papaioannou:

Byzantine histories may navigate between myth-making and myth-breaking. They aim at the former through encomium or teleological views of time. They gesture to the latter by alerting the reader to the impact of rhetoric on history-writing, by their consciousness of the limitations of earlier sources, or by deconstructing the aura of imperial power.114

All these moves can be found in the Chronographia. There is some conservativism, but there is a great deal of “freedom from tradition.”115 The work made and broke myths to accomplish its specific ends. Its ends sought the deconstruction of a certain vision of imperial power, for we have seen that this chronography was no panegyric but a manifesto for revolt against the evils in the imperium and for repentance and reform among the political community of Roman Christians.

The second ending of the Chronographia articulated a cautionary, critical response to Leo V’s turn towards an “iconoclast” view of the meaning of the past for the present. I read the new second ending as a means whereby the group which brought Leo to power—Irenic in their political commitments— then attempted to use the Chronographia to bring him back to their way of thinking. When Michael II came to power in 820, he managed to undo some of the disunity that Leo had wrought.116 But it was not possible to completely restore what Leo V had destroyed, for although the military-based alliances seem to have reunited under Michael II, they seem also to have alienated the more intellectual circles around the former patriarch Nikephoros I who remained committed to an uncompromisingly iconophile position. A non-persecuting iconoclasm became the status quo, bringing a functional if not perfect peace to domestic politics.

In the chronographer’s tale of the upended liturgy, above, the antagonists struggled against each other for leadership of the empire, but they agreed on the rules of the contest. They fought with the same presumptions about truth, about the divine, about power, about words, and about time. The anti-apostolic protestors had sought to summon a still-present Constantine V with the words and actions of the liturgy. The Chronographia performed its own historical resurrections by articulating a mastery of time that it claimed was in line with the language and practice and worship of the imperial church of Constantinople, of the “Orthodox Christians.” These sides held each other in opposition, but in the end they held more in common than not. In this context it would seem that as a part of the peace under the Amorians, the Chronographia’s paradigm had to remain on the shelf: it was too obviously in opposition to the new emperor’s policies for its backers to have any motivation to distribute it widely. But though its codices would literally have been shelved, it is clear that this masterwork and its potential cultural and political power was in no way forgotten. Thirty years after it was completed a new empress would come to power. Under that empress—the great Theodora—a new political discourse developed which allowed for an overhaul of Michael II’s iconoclast compromise without needing to vilify all those who had participated in his regime. In this moment the Chronographia made its comeback by being rewritten, once again, for yet another political moment. This rewriting resulted in either the manuscript PG 1710 itself or the recension of which it is a copy. The next effort—to create the third end of the Chronographia project—is what would determine its legacy as the historical masterwork of the age.


On the connection between political factions and historical texts in general, see: Dimitris Krallis, “Historiography as Political Debate,” in The Cambridge Intellectual History of Byzantium, ed. Anthony Kaldellis and Niketas Siniossoglou (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 599–614.


My approach here is deeply informed by Janet L. Nelson, “Public Histories and Private History in the Work of Nithard,” Speculum 60, no. 2 (1985): 251–93.


Contrast the portrait composed in Nicola Bergamo, Irene, imperatore di Bisanzio, Historica 6 (Milan: Jouvence 2015).


MS 149 / dB 95 (AM 5932).


MS 607–8 / dB 439–40 (AM 6258).


The relics of St. Euphemia were associated with the reign of Pulcheria through their rediscovery under Irene, and the fact that the Council of Chalcedon at the end of Pulcheria’s reign was held at the purpose built martyrium which first housed them.


MS 607–8 / dB 440 (AM 6258).


See chapter 2, section 3. The solution that fits the current evidence is that sometime between September 795 and September 796 George the Synkellos, having only just been appointed earlier that year as synkellos, witnessed the ceremonial return of the relics of St. Euphemia with the emperors Constantine and Irene and the patriarch Tarasios.


MS 657 / dB 479 (AM 6295).


I studied the implied slight to the court of the quaestor in the context of Nikephoros’ Ten Evils under the entry for AM 6302. In chapter 7 section 5 I pointed out that the quaestor would have been the official most directly impacted by Nikephoros’ actions. Nikephoros subsumed the job of the quaestor into his own imperial bureaucracy. The quaestor Arsaber was, of course, the leader of the revolt in 808.


L. Brubaker and J. Haldon suggest the Chronicle promotes “opposition both to the emperor’s fiscal as well as his religious/ecclesiastical policies” in Leslie Brubaker and John F. Haldon, Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era c. 680–850: A History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 361.


MS 657 / dB 478 (AM 6295).


MS 657 / dB 478–9 (AM 6295).


Specifically he halted at the military encampment of Malagina in the Sangarius valley; the standard gathering point for the armies of the East in preparation for a campaign.


MS 657 / dB 479 (AM 6295).


At Bardanes’s blinding it is emphasized how fit he was for office. He was humble and fully supported by the troops and when his blinding on the island of Prote became known, it was to the horror of “the patriarch, the Senate, and all God-fearing people.” MS 659 / dB 480 (AM 6296). The abhorrence for Nikephoros’ deed was felt by the entire political community of the empire.


Nikephoros went back on his word to allow Irene to stay in Constantinople and instead exiled her to the Prince’s Island of Prinkipios. Likewise, immediately upon Bardanes’ accepting monastic tonsure at his own island monastery of Prote (modern Kınlaıda), the Chronographia notes that Nikephoros broke that oath just as he had with Irene. Irene had only just been removed from her own monastery on another of the “Prince’s Islands,” namely Prinkipios (modern Büyükada). Nikephoros had promised Bardanes to “not harm him in any respect,” but he went on to seize Bardanes’ fortune and oppress the officers and landowners of the Themata, the supporters of his revolt. MS 658 / dB 480.


MS 659–60 / dB 480–81 (AM 6296).


MS 665 / dB 484 (AM 6301).


MS 664 / dB 483 (AM 6300).


τῷ δὲ Φεβρουαρίῳ µηνὶ στάσιν ἐννοήσαντες κατ’ αὐτοῦ πολλοὶ τῶν ἐν τέλει Ἀρσαβήρ, τὸν κυαίστωρα καὶ πατρίκιον, ἄνδρα εὐσεβῆ καὶ λογιώτατον ἐψηφίζοντο. γνοὺς δὲ τοῦτο ὁ πολυµήχανος Νικηφόρος, αὐτὸν µὲν τύψας καὶ ἀποκείρας µοναχὸν πεποίηκεν, ἐν Βιθυνίᾳ τοῦτον ἐξορίσας, τοὺς δὲ λοιποὺς δαρµοῖς καὶ ἐξορίαις, πρὸς δὲ καὶ δηµεύσεσι καθυπέβαλεν, οὐ µόνον τοὺς ἐν τῷ κοσµικῷ βίῳ ἄρχοντας, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐπισκόπους ἁγίους καὶ µοναχοὺς καὶ τοὺς τῆς µεγάλης ἐκκλησίας, τόν τε σύγκελλον καὶ τὸν σακελλάριον καὶ τὸν χαρτοφύλακα, ἄνδρας ἐλλογίµους ὑπάρχοντας καὶ αἰδοῦς ἀξίους. MS 664 / dB 483.23–484.2 (AM 6300).


Regardless of whether or not this synkellos of AD 808 is—in actual fact—associated with the historical person of George the Synkellos, the reader is invited to make this assumption. “Even if the synkellos who was so punished was not George, but his successor, the emperor’s retribution fell on George’s friends and colleagues in the patriarchal clergy.” Cyril A. Mango and Roger D. Scott, Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor: Byzantine and Near Eastern History, AD 284–813 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), lviii.


Nicolas Oikonomidès, Les listes de préséance byzantines des IXe et Xe siècles: Introduction, texte, traduction et commentaire, Le monde byzantine (Paris: Éditions du Centre national de la recherche scientifique, 1972), 101.35. Chapter 2 (section 4) discussed a surviving early ninth-century seal from Arsaber the quaestor (PmbZ no. 1735): Vitalien Laurent, Le corpus des sceaux de l’Empire byzantin, vol. 2, L’administration centrale (Paris: Éditions du Centre national de la recherche scientifique, 1981), no. 1100. Both PmbZ and Laurent accept the identification of the historical Arsaber of this seal with the usurper of the Chronicle (dB 483,25). See the comment under PmbZ no. 600.


There are two prominent individuals named Arsaber who are known to have flourished in the mid-ninth century whom I do not seriously consider here. For the chronology of Arsaber the quaestor to also be these persons, he would have had to be a very young man at the beginning of his career in 808. Someone who was also flourishing in the 840s is highly unlikely to have also been the quaestor of Constantinople who revolted in 808. One such Arsaber (PmbZ no. 601) was likely a relative of the eventual patriarch Photios. This Arsaber attached himself to the imperial family of emperor Theophilos by marrying Kalomaria, sister of the Empress Theodora. This same Arsaber was, as a result, awarded the dignity of magistros. The Arsaber of PmbZ no. 601 can perhaps be also identified with the Arsabers of PmbZ no. 609–11 (but see doubts about this under PmbZ no. 609). The Arsaber of PmbZ no. 602 was the brother of the synkellos and eventual patriarch of Constantinople John Grammatikos. This Arsaber likely was dignified as patrikios and received a Bosporos estate “en to steno” from the emperor Theophilos at the promotion of his brother John. Mark W. Herlong conflated these two in asserting that Arsaber the brother of John VII Grammatikos was the husband of Kalomaria. Mark W. Herlong, “Kinship and Social Mobility in Byzantium: 717–959” (PhD diss., Catholic University of America, 1986), 354. Herlong was followed by the translation of the History of Skylitzes in John Wortley, John Skylitzes: A Synopsis of Byzantine History, 811–1057 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 87n23; 98n70; 99n71. But the PmbZ is surely correct in asserting the figures’ distinction. See: PmbZ no. 601 Arsaber; no. 602 Arsaber; no. 4738 Kalomaria.


For the period of ca. 750–850, the PmbZ identifies a maximum of eighteen distinct historical figures with this name who are known. The majority of these figures are known from inscriptions on lead seals which officials in the Byzantine empire used to certify documents and letters sent to one another from approximately the sixth century, but especially from the seventh century on. The way the PmbZ uses these seals for prosopography is relevant to my argument. Unless there is absolute certainty that figures known from literary texts are the figures known from these seals, the PmbZ does not identify them as such, but enters them as distinct individuals and rightly leaves to scholars the decision on whether the “Arsaber” of a seal is the “Arsaber” of a text. As a result, it is entirely possible that many of the eighteen “Arsabers” in the PmbZ are in fact the same person. The appearance of these seals is essentially coterminous with the development of the administrative system of “Themes”, tying their use to the major change in bureaucratic practice that the development of this “Thema system” occasioned. Seals were struck as coins, on both sides, with the obverse usually having an invocative prayer (with or without an image) and the reverse having the name and office of the relevant official.


The strategos of the “Thrakesianoi,” that is thematic army of Thrace (PmbZ no. 595 Arsaber), left four seals. Three are discussed in ZV = v.1:1 nos. 751–753 with an updated reading at Catalogue (Oik) = v. III, 1.2 (p. 1). DO 55.1.1937. The latter is available online at: A fourth seal held at the Hermitage (M-1751) is discussed in Friedhelm Winkelmann, Byzantinische Rang- und Ämerstruktur im 8. und 9. Jahrhundert: Faktoren und Tendenzen ihrer Entwicklung, BBA 53 (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1985), 82. Winkelman identifies this figure as being the same who produced the single seal (ZV no. 1736) of a patrikios and strategos (personified as PmbZ no. 599 Arsaber). That is, Arsaber’s rank as strategos was augmented by the fact that he had also acquired the senatorial dignity of patrikios. Note that even with all of Arsaber’s dignities, a quaestor with the rank of patrikios was still far below a synkellos. For instance, according to the mid-ninth-century Uspenskij Taktikon, a synkellos would not have benefitted in rank by also being a senator (patrikios). When historical synkelloi—such as Euthymios—were made patrikios it was likely in order to explicitly signal the synkellos’ ties to the imperial hierarchy.


Juan Signes Codoñer, The Emperor Theophilos and the East, 829–842: Court and Frontier in Byzantium During the Last Phase of Iconoclasm, BBOS 13 (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014), 64–65. And see: Peter Charanis, “The Armenians in the Byzantine Empire,” Byzantinoslavica 22 (1961): 222–23. Arsaber is discussed as perhaps being the head of a prominent Armenian family brought to the capital in the military administration to function as the strategos of Thrace. If this happened in the late eighth century it would most likely have been under Constantine V. In making these statements I take PmbZ no. 595 Arsaber and PmbZ no. 599 Arsaber to be the same historic individual.


“So when this Devourer of All (ὁ παµφάγος) had seized power, he was unable even for a short time to hide by means of dissimulation his innate wickedness and avarice (κακία καὶ φιλαργυρία); nay, pretending to be about to eradicate injustice he set up that evil and unjust tribunal at the Magnaura … not to give the poor (πτωχοί) their due, but by this means to dishonour and subjugate all persons in authority and to gain personal control of everything, which, indeed, he did.” ὁ γοῦν παµφάγος οὗτος τοῦ κράτους ἐπιλαβόµενος οὐδὲ κἂν πρὸς βραχὺ ἴσχυσεν ἐπικαλύψαι δι’ ὑποκρίσεως τὴν ἔµφυτον αὐτοῦ κακίαν τε καὶ φιλαργυρίαν· ἀλλ’ ὡς δῆθεν τὴν ἀδικίαν µέλλων ἐκκόπτειν τὸ πονηρὸν ἐν τῇ Μαγναύρᾳ καὶ ἄδικον συνεστήσατο δικαστήριον…. οὐ τοῖς πτωχοῖς τὰ δίκαια ἀποδιδόναιἀλλὰ διὰ τούτου πάντας τοὺς ἐν τέλει ἀτιµάσαι τε καὶ αἰχµαλωτίσαι, καὶ εἰς ἑαυτὸν τὰ πάντα µετενεγκεῖν· ὃ καὶ πεποίηκεν. MS 657 / dB 478–9 (AM 6295). Slightly adapted.


The Chronographia’s rhetorically significant placement of this as Nikephoros’ first and character-defining act should be read in conjunction with A. Christophilopoulou’s point that from a historical perspective this act must be taken in the context of Nikephoros’ other reforms. Aikaterina Christophilopoulou, Byzantine History II: 610–867, trans. Timothy Cullen, 2nd ed. (Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert, 1993), 202.


Signes Codoñer, Emperor Theophilos, 65 defines this group as a “hetaireia” to mean “a common sense of belonging to the same group.” This usage was rejected outright in a recent review, though on scanty and unjustified grounds: Warren T. Treadgold, “Review: The Emperor Theophilos and the East,” Mediaevistik 28 (2015): 500–501. I largely follow Signes Codoñer in connecting the dots between various alliances and persons whom he connects under this “Armenian Family Network” in chapters 3 and 7 of his work.


Signes Codoñer, Emperor Theophilos, 65.


Theodosia = PmbZ no. 7790. Theodosia is mentioned in these histories in the following manner. Michael the Amorian (eventually emperor from 820–829) had been undermining Leo V with threats of deposition and the empress Theodosia with accusations of “unlawful sexual unions.” On 24 December 820 Michael’s designs were brought to light. He was “convicted of high treason” and was to be taken to the palace baths to be burnt in the furnace. “After the Imperial order was given, the emperor was eager to witness its execution. But his wife the Empress Theodosia—the daughter of the patrikios and quaestor Arsaber—rushed out without carefully considering the consequences and confronted her husband.” Genesios, On the Reigns of Emperors 1.18. Ed. Anthony Kaldellis, Genesios on the Reigns of the Emperors, BYZAUS 11 (Canberra: Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, 1998), 20. In Genesios’ anecdote Theodosia was protesting the imprisonment and planned execution of one Michael, who would go on to become emperor (r. 820–829) later that year and found the Amorian dynasty. See: Theophanes Continuatus, Chronography 1.22. Ed. [Jeffrey] Michael Featherstone and Juan Signes Codoñer, Chronographiae quae Theophanis Continuati nomine fertur Libri I–IV, CFHB 53 (Boston: De Gruyter, 2015), 35.7. Following these texts, John Skylitzes makes a similar comment about the same event: “As they made their way to the bathhouse, the empress Theodosia (Arsaber’s daughter) heard what was going to take place.” Translated by Wortley, John Skylitzes, 22 with n23.


See: Elizabeth A. Fisher, “Life of the Patriarch Nikephoros I of Constantinople,” in Byzantine Defenders of Images: Eight Saint’s Lives in English Translation, ed. Alice-Mary Talbot, BSLT 2 (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 1998), 106n339, 108.


Pavlos E. Niavis, The Reign of the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus I. (AD 802–811) = Hē Basileia tou Byzantinou Autokratora Nikēphorou 1 (802–811 m. Ch.), Historikes Monographies 3 (Athens: Basilopoulos, 1987). Brubaker and Haldon, Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era c. 680–850, 357–65.


Signes Codoñer, Emperor Theophilos, 13–32.


Brubaker and Haldon, Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era c. 680–850, 366–85.


ταῦτα, κύριος οἶδεν, αὐτὸς ἐγὼ ζώσῃ φωνῇ ὁ συγγραφόµενος ἀκήκοα παρὰ Θεοδοσίου. MS 673 / dB 490 (AM 6303). Nikephoros had told the story to his “faithful servant” Theodosios Salibaras. It should be noted that there has been some discussion of this passage in relation to the question of authorship (see MS 676n11). Part of this centers around the question of the date, which in the context of the entry would seem to place the conversation in June of AD 811, just before Theodosios Salibaras accompanied Nikephoros on his fateful campaign against the Bulgars. However, if this entry was the first written by a new author, perhaps that author got this anecdote from Theodosios at a different time but decided to place it into this context, as appropriate and explanatory of Nikephoros’ mindset.


Note the author as a child playing on icebergs in the Bosporos at MS 600–601 / dB 434 (AM 6255), or kissing the relics of St. Euphemia—narrated under AM 6258 / AD 765/6 at MS 607–608 / dB 439–40, occurring in AM 6288 / AD 796.


The participle (from the Thucydidean verb συγγραφέω for the writing of history) is used both of George the Synkellos and Theophanes. The author who completed the last three entries is also likely the author of the Preface (whether or not this is actually the historical Theophanes the Confessor). See: Andrzej Kompa, “Gnesioi Filoi: The Search for George Syncellus’ and Theophanes the Confessor’s Own Words, and the Authorship of Their Oeuvre,” Studia Ceranea 5 (2015): 155–230; and Andrzej Kompa, “In search of Syncellus’ and Theophanes’ own words: the authorship of the Chronographia revisited,” in Jankowiak and Montinaro, Studies in Theophanes, 73–92. Given my proposal for the identification of George the Synkellos with the σύγκελλος of AM 6300, George would have been living in exile in AM 6303, and it is more likely that another person was the one to have the reported intimate conversation with Nikephoros’ close confidant.


MS 673–74 / dB 491 (AM 6303).


In addition, consider that Nikephoros’ death is forecast from within AM 6303: Nikephoros is “he whom God was to slay.” MS 672 / dB 489 (AM 6303). Some obvious examples of the regular pattern of forecasting the deaths of emperors: Leo III and Constantine V: MS 572–3 / dB 413 (AM 6232); Irene: MS 637 / dB 463 (AM 6281); Constantine VI: MS 643 / dB 468 (AM 6284). To give the context: Leo III had his adoption of the heresy of iconoclasm—his “fury against the correct faith”—prophesied by the patriarch Germanos under AM 6221 at MS 564 / dB 408. That Constantine V would become a “subverter of our ancestral customs” was forecast from his very baptism under the reign of his father in MS 575 / dB 414 (AM 6233). Constantine VI’s death was predicted early on and even done so with exactly the same phrase as Nikephoros’ death in AM 6303. The prophecy indicates Constantine VI was blinded as punishment for his own unjust blinding of the patrician and strategos Alexios (whom Constantine suspected of harboring an intention to revolt). “But not for long did God’s judgment leave this unjust deed unavenged: for after a lapse of five years, in the same month and also on a Saturday the same Constantine was blinded by his own mother.” MS 643 / dB 468 (AM 6284).


Mango and Scott, Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor, lvi: “The emperor Nikephoros I is presented as a monster of iniquity without a single redeeming feature…. No other emperor in the whole Chronicle, with the possible exception of the iconoclast Constantine V, is painted in such black colours.”


Ταῦτα ἐκ τῶν πολλῶν ὡς ἐν κεφαλαίῳ µικρά µοι ἐστηλογράφηται δηλοῦντι τὸ πρὸς πᾶν εἶδος πλεονεξίας αὐτοῦ πολυµήχανον. dB 487.19–21 (AM 6302). Translation mine. C. Mango and R. Scott’s version is: “I have made a succinct and brief record of these actions—and they are but a small part—in order to indicate this man’s inventiveness in all manner of greed.” MS 668.


For reference, Mango and Scott consistently translate πλεονεξία as “greed” throughout the Chronicle.


In a similar manner Nikephoros’ creation of the tribunal at the Magnaura was a subtle but key justification of the revolt of the quaestor (the chief of the court of appeals) Arsaber. Under AM 6303, the new tribunal is simply dropped into a catalogue of sins to construct the argument that Nikephoros sought to turn Christians against one another. Nikephoros’ extortionate greed as the “All-Devourer” was the one dominant idea book-ending the reign of Nikephoros from AM 6295–6302. Referenced explicitly in AM 6303 at MS 672 / dB 489.22 and MS 674 / dB 491.29–30 and in AM 6304 at MS 677 / dB 493.35, “extortion” and greed are emphasized by noting that when Nikephoros invaded Bulgaria, he did not do so in order to achieve a victory for the empire but in order to acquire wealth, being “mindful only of the collection of spoils.” MS 673 / dB 490.23–24 (AM 6303). Having raided Kroummos’ treasury Nikephoros refused to share, ordering that “any Christians who laid hands on the spoils had their ears or other parts of the body amputated.” MS 673 / dB 490.25–26 (AM 6303). Nikephoros had the opportunity to flee with what he could bear, but even this was not enough and allowed the Bulgars to entrap the emperor even after they had been defeated.


Nikephoros used the consolidation of power to limit the avenues for subjects to object to his abuses. This is what made Nikephoros like Judas the Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus. Judas, placed in charge of the disciples’ money and possessions, made the argument that this should be “made public property.” Sounding generous, in practice this made the properties the possessions of the one who held them for the public—whether Nikephoros or Judas. The verb is κοινάω. See: John 12:3–5 and dB 489.12–13 (MS 672).


When Nikephoros embarked on his doomed campaign he meditated on the words Ahab had muttered about his helplessness: both God and the devil draw him against his will. The emperor marched against the Bulgars “frequently repeating these words: ‘Who will go and deceive Ahab?’” found at 1 Kings 22:23. MS 672–73 / dB 490.12–14 (AM 6303). In this scriptural reference God desires a spirit of prophecy who will descend on all of the prophets not to proclaim the truth of Ahab’s impending demise, but to convince Ahab that he will have victory and so seal his death on the battlefield. 1 Kings 22:20–22. This moment occurs at the end of Ahab’s reign when the king, like Nikephoros, was about to embark on a military campaign. Ahab desired prophets to tell him the outcome of his venture, and all the prophets proclaimed that his battle would be successful. Ahab, however, demanded that the one prophet whom he believed always spoke the truth to him—though it was never good—be summoned, one Micaiah. Micaiah at first prophesied success but when Ahab demanded the truth, Micaiah had another vision in which God in heaven asked for a prophet willing to “entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-Gilead.” Ironically, Ahab then rejected Micaiah’s minority report, embarked on the campaign, and so met his fate. Nikephoros here fulfilled the type of Ahab, enticed by prophets into the will of God that the evil king be deceived and so enticed to march to his own death.


MS 672 / dB 489.32–490.2 (AM 6303). The discussions (see MS 676n11) that have assured us that the chronographer is lying and that these words could never have been spoken by Nikephoros have not only failed to imagine both the many contexts in which humans might utter surprising phrases and the many contexts into which others are willing to re-contextualize those remarks. They have also failed to address the rhetorical point of these self-incriminating typologies. Making Nikephoros self-aware of himself as an enemy of God connects him to the portrait of Constantine V in the Chronicle. See for instance Constantine V’s attempt to placate the mother of God at his own death in MS 619 / dB 448 (AM 6267).


MS 671 / dB 488 (AM 6303).


MS 671 / dB 488–89 (AM 6303).


MS 672 / dB 489 (AM 6303).


MS 671 / dB 488 (AM 6303).


MS 671 / dB 489 (AM 6303).


MS 672 / dB 489.14 (AM 6303).


“Confounded in his imaginations” and “by his own evil designs.” MS 672 / dB 489 and 490 (AM 6303).


“As for his effeminate servants with whom he went to bed.” MS 674 / dB 491 (AM 6303).


As described for Ahab in note 53 and in the prediction this was “he whom God was to slay.” MS 672 / dB 489 (AM 6303).


“The inhabitants of Syria, Egypt, and Libya were divided into different principalities and destroyed the common good as well as one another…. The slaughter resulting from this anarchy, directed at each other and against us, lasted five years.” οἱ κατὰ τὴν Συρίαν καὶ Αἴγυπτον καὶ Λιβύην εἰς διαφόρους κατατµηθέντες ἀρχὰς τά τε δηµόσια πράγµατα καὶ ἀλλήλους κατέστρεψαν, … ἐπεκράτησε δὲ τῆς τοιαύτης ἀναρχίας ἡ κατ’ ἀλλήλων καὶ ἡµῶν µιαιφονία ἔτη εʹ. MS 665 / dB 484 (AM 6301).


The alterations, which would only have involved changing the tense of the verb from present to past and adding “for five years” (ἔτη εʹ), occupy the space of only two letters in the shorthand of the manuscript. Proposed original text in AM 6301 (with differences indicated by boldface): πικρατ[εῖ] δὲ τῆς τοιαύτης ἀναρχίας ἡ κατ’ ἀλλήλων καὶ ἡµῶν µιαιφονία; “The slaughter resulting from this anarchy, directed at each other and against us, [holds sway].” Compared to the current text of the Chronographia: πεκράτ[ησε] δὲ τῆς τοιαύτης ἀναρχίας ἡ κατ’ ἀλλήλων καὶ ἡµῶν µιαιφονία [ἔτη εʹ]; “The slaughter resulting from this anarchy, directed at each other and against us, [lasted five years].”


Such as: “were made desolate” and “holy city of Christ our God.” MS 683 / dB 499 (AM 6305); cf. MS 665 / dB 484 (AM 6305).


“The monasteries of the two great lavras, namely that of Sts. Chariton and Kyriakos and that of St. Sabas and the other koinobia, namely those of St. Euthymios and St. Theodosios.” τά τε µοναστήρια τῶν δύο µεγάλων λαυρῶν, τοῦ ἐν ἁγίοις Χαρίτωνος καὶ Κυριακοῦ, καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου Σάβα, καὶ τὰ λοιπὰ κοινόβια τῶν ἁγίων Εὐθυµίου καὶ Θεοδοσίου. MS 665 / dB 484 (AM 6301). The specific monasteries that were affected are noticed and there is a marked preference for the lavra (a collection of hermits) of St. Chariton over St. Sabas. This is consistent with a statement by George Synkellos earlier in the Chronographia (AT 152–53 / M 122). A further point: in AM 6301 the first-person pronoun is used to associate the author directly with the suffering monks residing in the Holy Land also points to George the Synkellos. However, in AM 6305 the first-person pronoun, so distinctive of the rest of the Chronographia when discussing the “Syrians” of the Holy Land, is dropped. For a previous example see: AT 204 / M 165.


“In the same year many of the Christians of Palestine—monks and laymen and from all of Syria—arrived in Cyprus, fleeing the excessive misdeeds of the Arabs…. In the holy city of Christ our God, the venerable places of the Holy Resurrection, of Golgotha, and the rest were profaned. Likewise, the famous lavras in the desert, that of St. Chariton and that of St. Sabas, and the other monasteries and churches were made desolate.” τῷ δ’ αὐτῷ ἔτει πολλοὶ τῶν κατὰ Παλαιστίνην Χριστιανῶν µοναχοὶ καὶ λαϊκοὶ καὶ ἐκ πάσης Συρίας τὴν Κύπρον κατέλαβον φεύγοντες τὴν ἄµετρον κάκωσιν τῶν Ἀράβωνοἵ τε κατὰ τὴν ἁγίαν Χριστοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ ἡµῶν πόλιν σεβάσµιοι τόποι τῆς ἁγίας ἀναστάσεως, τοῦ κρανίου καὶ τῶν λοιπῶν ἐβεβηλώθησαν. ὁµοίως δὲ καὶ αἱ κατὰ τὴν ἔρηµον διαβόητοι λαῦραι τοῦ ἁγίου Χαρίτωνος καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου Σάβα, καὶ τὰ λοιπὰ µοναστήρια καὶ αἱ ἐκκλησίαι ἠρηµώθησαν. MS 683 / dB 499 (AM 6301).


Jesse W. Torgerson, “Time and Again: Early Medieval Chronography and the Recurring Holy First-Created Day of George Synkellos,” in Time: Sense, Space, Structure, Presenting the Past 5 (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 18–57.


This is done both explicitly through the anecdote of the anti-resurrection of Constantine, but also implicitly through the return to the language that provided the rhetorical framing of Constantine V’s reign, “our sins.” See the very beginning of Constantine’s reign at MS 575 / dB 414 (AM 6233): “In this year the subverter of our ancestral customs, Constantine, became emperor by God’s judgment on account of the multitude of our sins.” This term of things happening on account of our sins governs the rhetoric of (especially) AM 6305. But note that Constantine V is also “unrepentant like Pharaoh.” MS 585 / dB 423 (AM 6238): “thus scourging … the impious Constantine and restraining his fury against the Church and the holy icons, even though he remained unrepentant like Pharaoh of old.” This lack of repentance characterizing a pharaonic typology shows up in AM 6303’s updated portrait of Nikephoros I.


C. Mango and R. Scott’s translation (above) would indicate that the rhetoric does this by using a definite article in the later entry (translating Χριστιανούς as “Christians” and κατὰ Χριστιανῶν as “against the Christians”), but this distinction is not present in the language of the manuscripts. Instead, the rhetorical shift is accomplished by the syntax of the sentences as a whole. In the earlier entry the text mentions the Christians in terms of one specific action against specific people (the deportation in MS 671 / dB 488 [AM 6302]).


The entry for AM 6303 works towards its conclusion with eight clear mentions of a Christian collective targeted by Nikephoros who “extended his designs against the Christians” (MS 671 / dB 488), “encouraged mutual hostility and railed at every Christian who loved his neighbor” (MS 671 / dB 489), and who instituted “proceedings against all Christians at the penal tribunal of the Magnaura.” (MS 672 / dB 489).


MS 673 / dB 491 (AM 6302).


C. Mango and R. Scott translate πᾶσά τε ἡ τῶν Χριστιανῶν καλλονὴ διεφθάρη with the idiom: “the flower of Christendom was destroyed.” MS 673 / dB 491.13–14 (AM 6303).


Additional examples include: “Confusion among the Christians.” MS 674 / dB 492 (AM 6303); and, “unsullied by Christian blood.” MS 675 / dB 493 (AM 6303).


MS 667 / dB 486 (AM 6302).


MS 667 / dB 486 (AM 6302).


“At the Hexakionion, too, there was a false hermit called Nicholas who, together with his companions, blasphemed against the true religion and the holy icons and was defended by Nikephoros to the distress of the patriarch and of all those who lived according to God. Indeed, he [the emperor Nikephoros I] was vexed when the patriarch [Nikephoros] on many occasions brought charges against those men.” MS 671 / dB 488–89 (AM 6303).


MS 671–72 / dB 489 (AM 6303).


Germanos speaks to Leo III and identifies (unwillingly) that Leo is prophesied to be the bringer of iconoclasm: “May this evil not be accomplished in your reign, O lord! For he who commits this deed is the precursor of the Antichrist and the subverter of the divine Incarnation!” MS 564 / dB 408 (AM 6221). Later, at the announcement of the coronation of Constantine V (to be joint emperor with his father Leo, who was still living), the chronographer gives Constantine this same epithet: AM 6233 (740/1): “In this year the subverter of our ancestral customs, Constantine, became emperor by God’s judgment on account of the multitude of our sins.” MS 575 / dB 414 (AM 6233).


A much earlier and uncharacteristically direct injunction to the reader may have been added as a part of the re-writing of the end of the Chronographia in AD 815 that I am proposing here. At the moment Leo III turns from “the pious” to the “impious,” after a summary of chronology, the chronographer summarizes his point:

The evils that befell the Christians at the time of the impious Leo both as regards the orthodox faith and civil administration … for reasons of dishonest gain and avarice; furthermore, the secession of Italy because of his evil doctrine, the earthquakes, famines, pestilences, and foreign insurrections (not to mention all the details) have been related in the preceding chapters. It is now proper to review in succession the lawless deeds, yea, even more sacrilegious and abhorred by God, of his most impious and altogether wretched son, yet to do so objectively (inasmuch as all-seeing God is observing us) for the benefit of posterity and of those wretched and wicked men who still follow the abominable heresy of that criminal. (MS 573 / dB 413)” The final injunction speaks to a present moment of crisis that is aware of a new iconoclasm, a present stumbling again into Leo’s error. This passage—which only makes sense as a retroactive addition written by someone who knows that iconoclasm has returned—has only ever been read as a much later addition, but there is no reason not to take it as an addition made by the same author who also wrote the concluding entries AM 6303—AM 6305 in AD 815. In any case, similar to the contrast between the narrative voice of AM 6302 and that of AM 6303, this “scholium” also breaks the narrative voice at this point in the Chronicle and tells the reader to make iconoclasm the central issue for the rest of the Chronographia. At this point in the original text, with the original agenda which I have described in chapters 5, 6, and 7, this is a perplexing and confusing injunction that is out of sorts with the issues I demonstrated animate that portion of the Chronicle.


MS 674 / dB 491–92 (AM 6303).


MS 608 / dB 440–41 (AM 6258). This passage was one of the few in which the author had tellingly revealed himself, as discussed in detail in section 1.1.


MS 608 / dB 440-441 (AM 6258).


MS 678 / dB 494 (AM 6304).


MS 678 / dB 495 (AM 6304).


The two officials to whom Staurakios appealed to ensure his transition to real power—the patrician and military domestikos Stephen and the ministerial magistros Theoktistos—end up directly supporting Michael instead.


MS 677 / dB 493–494 (AM 6304).


MS 679 / dB 496 (AM 6304).


MS 684 / dB 501.10–11 (AM 6305).


MS 76 / dB 46 (AM 5853).


MS 499 / dB 359 (AM 5171). Constantine IV himself is presented in a positive light for pushing back against the doctrine of monotheletism.


MS 546 / dB 397–98 (AM 6209).


MS 575 / dB 414 (AM 6233).


MS 655 / dB 476 (AM 6295). Nikephoros’ reign closes by wondering who would be able to give an adequate account of the deeds committed by him in those days by God’s dispensation on account of our sins?” MS 658 / dB 480 (AM 6295).


MS 656 / dB 478 (AM 6295).


See the rarity of “we Christians” in the early part of the Chronographia. Of all mentions of “Christians” in the Chronographia, very few are explicitly first-person plural. For example: “Christians just like us” MS 65 / dB 39 (AM 5840); “directed against us, Christians” MS 463 / dB 3333 (AM 6122).


Shay Eshel, The Concept of the Elect Nation in Byzantium, MM 13 (Leiden: Brill, 2018).


The Chronicle had crafted a clever, subtle, and yet damning portrait of an emperor who was the Devourer of All but who was also an iconophile. That this vitriol focused on an “orthodox” emperor underscores how important it is to remember that the political discourse of the time had plenty of room for debate without reference to iconoclasm. This is an essential reminder that the “inter-iconoclast” period never understood itself in this way, but had its own indigenous issues, its own networks, opinions, debates, and controversies.


C. Mango and R. Scott (Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor, 659n14) observe that this is a much more favorable account—especially of the revolt of Bardanes—than in the later histories of Theophanes Continuatus, Gregory Monachos, and Genesios.


Though “the emperor Michael was kindly and gentle towards everyone,” he could not be trusted to hold steadily on the reigns of state for long since “in the administration of affairs he was incompetent and subservient to the magistros Theoktistos and to other dignitaries.” MS 683 / dB 499–500 (AM 6305).


See note 30 on the term hetaireia, the use of which I take from Signes Codoñer, Emperor Theophilos, 65.


For instance, just before the Chronographia concludes its final entries with the Bulgarian campaign against Constantinople and the anti-liturgy at the Church of the Holy Apostles, the narrative expands the reach and scope of the idea of the Christians to include those outside of the empire in the Holy Land of Syria-Palestine. This dovetails well with the famous “eastern” focus of the Chronographia, but here in the final entries cannot be attributed simply to an accidental result of the use of a “dossier” of Eastern material to fill out entries. See Mango and Scott, Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor, lxxxii–lxxxv. And now: Maria Conterno, “Theophilos, ‘The More Likely Candidate?’ Towards a Reappraisal of the Question of Theophanes’ ‘Oriental Source(s),’” in Jankowiak and Montinaro, Studies in Theophanes, 383–400; Muriel Debié, “Theophanes’ ‘Oriental Source’: What Can We Learn from Syriac Historiography?,” in Jankowiak and Montinaro, Studies in Theophanes, 365–82; Robert G. Hoyland, “Agapius, Theophilos, and Muslim Sources,” in Jankowiak and Montinaro, Studies in Theophanes, 355–64.


MS 683 / dB 499 (AM 6305). This notation of the refugees from a realm of “impious” (i.e., unjust) rule seeking sanctuary from the Romans refers chronologically back to the five-year persecution noted under the entry for AM 6301: “the slaughter resulting from this anarchy, directed at each other and against us, lasted five years.” MS 665 / dB 484. Emphasis mine. And, as noted above in AM 6305 (which, counting inclusively, marks the fifth year), “Christians” were now “fleeing the excessive misdeeds of the Arabs … as a result of the general anarchy that prevailed.” MS 665 / dB 484 vs. MS 683 / dB 499. I showed this was likely added later by the author of the final entries of the Chronographia. If we now pause, we notice that the “continuator” returned to the entry for the year AM 6300 to incorporate those fleeing persecution—new immigrants from Syria—into the narrative as a part of the community of Roman Christians, and likely also into the faction behind the Chronographia. Among those arriving in Constantinople from Syria in AM 813 was Michael the synkellos of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, whom I discuss in the following chapter.


Nikephoros I the patriarch had been trying to shift the power away from Nikephoros I the emperor. He could do that because though he had been appointed by the emperor, he had actually come to power with the support of the Patriarch Tarasios. Confirming this, the Chronicle seems to see no paradox in giving strong approval to the Patriarch Nicephoros, despite his having been chosen by the detested emperor Nicephoros. For sympathetic treatment of the patriarch Nicephoros, see MS 661 / dB 481.22–32 (AM 6298), MS 674 / dB 492.15–17 and MS 674 / dB 493.10–14 (AM 6303), MS 678 / dB 494.33–495.6 (AM 6304), and MS 683 / dB 499.25–28 (AM 6305). See especially support of patriarch Nikephoros I in asides directed towards the monks of St. John in Stoudios. “Certain persons” convinced the emperor not to expel the Stoudites from the city entirely. The advice preserved the legacy of the patriarch Nikephoros I: “the patriarch’s ordination would not be commended if it were accompanied by the expulsion of the aforesaid men and the dissolution of so great a monastery.” The Chronicle eviscerates the Stoudite objection: “what had been done was not alien to the Church nor was it a recent invention, since many other laymen had become bishops and ministered unto God in a manner worthy of their dignity.” MS 661 / dB 481 end. See Paul J. Alexander, Patriarch Nicephorus of Constantinople: Ecclesiastical Policy and Image Worship in the Byzantine Empire (Oxford: Oxford Clarendon Press, 1958), 65.


Mentioned in the beginning of the first of the three final entries at MS 671 / dB 488 (AM 6303) and then repeatedly in the conclusion to the final entry at MS 684–85 / dB 501 and at MS 686 / dB 503 (AM 6305).


That Leo’s supporters consisted of many iconophiles is not surprising at all. See: Signes Codoñer, Emperor Theophilos, 15.


That is, the life by Theodore Studite is in these respects in agreement with the life by Methodios. Confusingly in that text, Nikephoros, Staurakios, and Michael are all praised (ch. 42) but this is to be explained by the context of 843–847 more than with the viewpoint of the faction of Arsaber in 815. The relevant details are that around 809/810 Theophanes fell ill (ch. 43) and he was bedridden to the end of his life (ch. 44). He was summoned to the capital sometime after 24 June 815 (ch. 46) and tried by John Grammarian (ch. 47). After his conviction he was taken to the palace of Eleutherios (note the association with Irene), where he stayed for two years (ch. 48). After being transferred to Samothrace on 18 February, 818, he died there (ch. 50 and 54) after only 22 days on 12 March. Miracles were reported around his body (ch. 56), which was translated to Hiereia at first (ch. 57) between 17–23 March and after a year to Megas Agros (ch. 58). After the death of Leo V on 25 December 820, Theophanes’ body was translated back to Megas Agros in March of 822. See the summary by Mango and Scott (pp. xliv–xlix; li).


While the emperor Michael I “was making his homeward escape [from a failed campaign against the Bulgars], cursing the army and its commanders” he was “swearing he could abdicate the Empire.” His choice fell on “the patrician Leo, the strategos of the Anatolics” for the reasons that “the later was pious, extremely courageous, and fit in every respect to assume the kingship.” Leo initially refused, but “the most holy patriarch Nikephoros agreed to this course because if another were appointed under such circumstances, the emperor and his children would be spared.” In other words: Leo V could be trusted as a man of his word to show mercy and prudence in rule. Leo finally agreed when he “wrote to the patriarch Nikephoros an assurance of his own orthodoxy and asked for his prayers and consent with a view to assuming the power.” Accordingly, “he was most legitimately proclaimed emperor of the Romans” and on July 12, “Leo was crowned by the patriarch Nikephoros in the ambo of the Great Church [of Hagia Sophia].” MS 685–86 / dB 502 (AM 6305).


As noted above in section 1.4. Genesios, On the Reigns of Emperors 1.18. Ed. Anthony Kaldellis, Genesios on the Reigns of the Emperors, BYZAUS 11 (Canberra: Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, 1998), 20. And, Theophanes Continuatus, Chronography 1.22. Ed. [Jeffrey] Michael Featherstone and Juan Signes Codoñer, Chronographiae quae Theophanis Continuati nomine fertur Libri I–IV, CFHB 53 (Boston: De Gruyter, 2015), 35.7. Translated by Wortley, John Skylitzes, 22 with n23.


According to Ignatios Diakonos’ Vita of the Patriarch Nikephoros. Ed. Karl de Boor, Nicephori archiepiscopi Constantinopolitani opuscula historica (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1880.), 190–91.


Edited by Jeffrey M. Featherstone, Nicephori Patriarchae Constantinopolitani: refutatio et eversio definitionis synodalis anni 815 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1997). Using hagiographical texts as historical sources must be done with care, and they should never be treated as though their goal is to construct what we mean by historical biographies. Sergei Hackel, ed., The Byzantine Saint: University of Birmingham Fourteenth Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies 14 (San Bernardino: Borgo Press, 1987).


Theodosia’s break with her husband Leo V extended to pleading for mercy for Michael the Amorian, right up until the night Michael’s supporters murdered Leo V. See: Signes Codoñer, Emperor Theophilos, 63–72.


Signes Codoñer, Emperor Theophilos, 17–20.


Auzépy, “State of Emergency (700–850).”


In that light, it is worth pausing to note that it would still have been possible for supporters of Leo V to argue from the very terms of the Chronographia itself that those claiming to be “orthodox” were acting like “heretics,” which the Chronographia consistently characterized as divisiveness. Specifically, when Leo V came to the throne, the Stoudite monks had swelled to the thousands and were encamped within the city walls in direct opposition to the patriarch Nikephoros I. They had opposed Tarasios over the Moechian affair, and they still opposed Nikephoros over his election. These staunch “defenders of orthodoxy” were acting in the image the Chronographia had constructed for historical heresiarchs. Leo V, defining heretics as those that persecute and divide, may have taken the Chronographia’s lesson to heart by choosing to rid the capital of both Nikephoros I (the patriarch), and the Stoudites. Leo’s iconoclasm was (at first) a non-persecutory iconoclasm. We should allow Leo the possibility of having taken a reading, his own reading, of the Chronographia to heart.


Auzépy, “State of Emergency (700–850).”


C. Mango and R. Scott: “Arise, and save the state that is perishing!” MS 684 / dB 501.10–11.


C. Mango and R. Scott: “extolling Constantine as a prophet and victor and embracing his impiety so as to subvert the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” MS 685 / dB 501.24–27.


Stratis Papaioannou, “Byzantine Historia,” in Thinking, Recording, and Writing History in the Ancient World, ed. Kurt A. Raaflaub (Somerset: John Wiley & Sons, 2013), 302. Citing S. Papaioannou (2010) and P. Magdalino (1983).


Papaioannou, “Byzantine Historia,” 302. “Indeed, at a closer look, Byzantine historiography is marked by diverging individual choices and their remarkable variety. This may be explained by the fact that no particular institution (not even the school curriculum!) lay behind Byzantine historians. A certain level of freedom from tradition was thus encouraged by the system.”


Signes Codoñer, Emperor Theophilos, 63–72.

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