Byzantine historian of the fifth and sixth century; dates of birth and death unknown
Zosimus, Byzantine historian of the fifth and sixth century; dates of birth and death unknown. Nothing further is known of the circumstances of the life of this writer, to whom we owe a history of the era of the Roman empire up to 410, than that he was a lawyer connected with the treasury at Constantinople and was an upholder of Paganism. The era in which he lived is also uncertain. Formerly he was assigned to the first half of the fifth century, but now it is generally assumed that he was a contemporary of the Emperor Anastasius I (491-518). There are two chief reasons for this opinion. The later chronographer, Eustathius of Epiphania, who made use of the work of Zosimus, carries his history up to 503; consequently it is inferred that Zosimus must have lived at this period. More weight is attached to another argument drawn from the history of Zosimus itself; this work refers (II, xxxviii) to the suppression of the oppressive tax laid by Chrysargyron in the Byzantine Empire, and this tax was abolished in 501. Therefore the historian was still at work on his history shortly after 501. Perhaps he is identical with the Sophist Zosimus of Gaza, or Ascalon, mentioned by Suidas in his lexicon; opposed to this view, however, is the fact that Suidas mentions no historical work written by this Sophist. Zosimus is the author of a history of the Roman emperors (“Historia romana” or “Historia novae”) in six books. It begins with Augustus, and sketches briefly the period up to 270 (I, i-xxxvi); from this date the work is more copious and detailed. It closes with the negotiations which preceded the conquest of Rome in 410. It is evident that the author intended to continue the history, and was prevented from carrying out his purpose by some circumstance, perhaps his death. The work is one of the chief authorities for Roman history of the fourth century, and individual statements concerning the preceding period are also of importance. The work does not lack sensible criticism, and shows the philosophical acuteness of the author. He was a heathen and devoted to the worship of the old Roman gods. He describes, in particular, the gradual decay of the Roman Empire, and attributes this to fact that the Romans had ceased to worship the ancient gods (II, vii). He also adhered to heathen superstitions, i.e. as the influence of the stars on man’s life and pagan sooth-sayings. The last editions of the history were edited by Immanuel Becker, in “Corpus scriptorum historian Byzantinae” (Bonn, 1837), and by Ludwig Mendelssohn (Leipzig, 1867).
J. P. KIRSCH