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Chronicon Paschale

Valuable Byzantine chronicle of the world written in the seventh century

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Chronicon Paschale (PASCHAL CHRONICLE), the name ordinarily given to a valuable Byzantine chronicle of the world written in the seventh century, so designated because, like many other chronicles of the Middle Ages, it follows a system of Christian chronology based on the paschal canon, or cycle. It is also indicated at times under other titles, as: Chronicon Alexandrinum, Antiochenum, Casaubonianum, Constantinopolitanum, or Fasti Siculi. The anonymous author who wrote the chronicle called it, however: Epitome Chronon ton apo Adam tou protoplastou anthropou eos k etous tes basileias ‚ÄòErakleiou tou eusebestatou kai meta upateian etous ith kai ie etous tes basileias ‚ÄòErakleiou neou Konstantinou tou autou uiou indiktionos g.[Summary (or epitome) of the ages from Adam the first man to the 20th year of the reign of the most august Heraclius, and the 19th consulat (18th regnal) year of his son Constantine, the third indiction.] It is, therefore, one of those numerous universal chronicles which imitate the method of Eusebius. Being a Byzantine chronicle, it shows all the peculiarities of this branch of the literature of the Eastern Empire. The Byzantine chroniclers were devoted especially to universal history, began with the Creation, and carried the narrative down to their own epoch. Ordinarily they ended their histories with the beginning of the imperial reign in which they wrote. These histories were intended to be popular narratives; the authors introduce many trifling anecdotes, stop with pleasure to describe the physical and intellectual qualities of the chief personages, and at times execute careful portraits of them, like those miniatures of old manuscripts in which the hero of the story is elaborately depicted. The writers enjoy describing extraordinary events, such as earthquakes and the appearance of comets. They regarded most events from the point of view of church history, with which the chronological plan of the Bible was made to agree. The idiom used was that of common life, little polished, but finically ornate. Thus these productions were intended for the mass of the people, and above all for the countless monks of the Eastern Empire, eager to learn the ordinary and extraordinary occurrences of the world’s history. Sempronius Asellius himself points out this difference in the public appealed to and in the style of composition which distinguished the chroniclers (Annales) from the historians (Historia) of Byzantium.

The “Chronicon Paschale”, an example of this type of composition, has for its basis a chronological list of events extending from the creation of Adam to the year A.D. 629. At least this is the ground it covers in the principal manuscript, the Codex Vaticanus graecus 1941 of the tenth century; this codex is damaged at the beginning and end and stops at A.D. 627. The chronicle proper is preceded by an introduction which contains some reflections on Christian chronology and on the calculation of the paschal cycle. The author was a contemporary of the Emperor Heraclius (610-41), and was probably a cleric attached to the suite of the ecumenical Patriarch Sergius. The work was probably written during the last ten years of the reign of Heraclius. It was formerly maintained that it had been originally begun in the time of Constantine the Great, then brought down to 354, and finally revised under Heraclius. This view has been solidly refuted by Gelzer in his work on Sextus Julius Africanus.

The “Chronicon Paschale” is a huge compilation. For the earlier part of his history the author follows the antediluvian chronology of the work of Sextus Julius Africanus. In his genealogies he makes use of the Bible, quoting passages from it, and also employs another, unknown, source. After reaching the history of Abraham he follows the “Chronicle” of Eusebius (always bearing in mind his ecclesiastical purpose) and another authority which probably agreed with the old Byzantine chronicles of Panodorus (395-408) or Annanius (412). He also makes use of the “Chronographia” (Chronographia) of Malalas (537) in its most complete text. When he reaches the history of the Roman Republic he depends for his authorities on the Fasti consulares (register of events, the dates being indicated by the respective consuls) and on the so-called Annales consulares. Here the author gives in Greek the version of the Fasti which the chronicle of Hydatius gives in Latin. But, as Frick has pointed out, the “Chronicon Paschale” combines what it borrows from the Fasti, or from their source, with extracts from Eusebius and especially from Malalas. For certain chronological annotations the writer may have made use of the Easter tables of the Dioceses of Alexandria and Antioch. In recounting the events of ecclesiastical history the principal sources used by the writer are the “Chronicle” and the “Ecclesiastical History” of Eusebius and the “Chronographia” of Malalas. He also employs the Acts of the martyrs and the Peri metron kai stathmon (On measures and weights) of Epiphanius of Cyprus (d. 403). From 532 until about the close of the reign of the Emperor Maurice (582-602) the Chronicle gives little information and contains nothing more than the Fasti consulares. On the other hand, from 600 to 627, that is, for the last years of the Emperor Maurice, the reign of Phocas, and the first seventeen years of the reign of Heraclius, the author is a contemporary historian, and his narrative is in every way quite interesting.

The chronology of the writer is based on the figures of the Bible and begins with March 21, 5507. It is the first attempt at chronology of the so-called Byzantine, or Roman, Era followed by the Greek Church until modern times. For its influence on Greek Christian chronology, also, and because of its wide scope, the “Chronicon Paschale” takes its place beside Eusebius, and the chronicle of the monk Georgius Syncellus which was so important in the Middle Ages; but in respect of form it is far inferior to these works.

Where the chronicle treats of Julius Caesar a later hand has inserted a list of the Roman and Byzantine Emperors, the latter ending with Constantine Monomachus (1042). In the Bonn edition of the Byzantine historians (Corpus Scriptorum Histories Byzantine, Bonn, 1828-78, II, 90) this addition is rightly rejected and put in an appendix.


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