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John of Nikiu

Egyptian chronicler (seventh century)

John of Nikiu, an Egyptian chronicler who flourished in the latter part of the seventh century. The little we know of his life is gathered from the “History of the Patriarchs” by Severus of Ashmunein. He lived under John of Semnud, Isaac, and Simeon, respectively fortieth, forty-first, and forty-second patriarchs, and seems to have played an important part in the affairs of the Egyptian Church, both as Bishop of Nikiu (Coptic, Pshati in the Delta) and as general administrator of the monasteries of Egypt. But having disciplined a monk guilty of a grave offense against morals so severely that he died ten days later, he was deposed from both offices by the patriarch Simeon, and reduced to the rank of a simple monk. His “Chronicle”, composed very likely before his deposition, is a work of no mean value, extending from Adam to the end of the Arabic conquest. In many respects it does not materially differ from the Byzantine chronicles, which the author often copies, especially those of John Malalas, and the monk John of Antioch. But it has preserved some local traditions, not to be found elsewhere, on the ancient history of Egypt, also some details otherwise unknown, and apparently authentic, on certain periods of the Eastern Empire, in particular on the revolution which brought about the fall of Phocas and the accession of Heraclius I, and the condition of Egypt during the seventh century. The last chapters contain a relation of the conquest of Egypt by the Arabs, but little posterior to the events.

This chronicle was originally written in Greek, with the exception of some of the chapters concerning Egypt, which were very probably written in Coptic. It has come down to us in an Ethiopic version made in 1602 by an Abyssinian scholar, with the assistance of an Egyptian monk, on a much older Arabic text now lost like the original. The text, unfortunately, has suffered much at the hands of the translators and copyists, especially in passing into Arabic. Such as it is, it has been the subject of a careful study and analysis by H. Zotenberg, in the “Journal Asiatique”, 7th series, vols. X, XII, XIII (Paris, 1877-79), “La Chronique de Jean de Nikioi3, notice et extraits” (also in book form, Paris, 1879); later it was published in its entirety, with a French version, by the same scholar; “La Chronique de Jean de Nikioil” (Paris, 1883), in “Notices et Extraits des manuscrits de la Bibliotheque Nationale”, t. XXIV, I, p. 125-605 (also separately, Paris, 1883).

H. HYVERNAT


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