The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – opening section of chapter 8

(I thought that it might be interesting to see how an Arabic Christian writer of the 10th century, Eutychius, also known as Sa’id al-Bitriq, the patriarch of Alexandria, saw the events of the time of Christ.  I think we may all have some fun trying to recognise the names from the Arabic transcriptions!)

1. In the fourth year of the reign of Cleopatra, there reigned over the city of Rome a king named Ghābiyūs Qaysar for four years.  After him then reigned, over Rome, a king called Yūliyūs Qaysar for three years (1).  After him, there reigned in the city of Rome Awghustus Qaysar son of Mūnarkhus, in the eleventh year of the reign of Cleopatra.

Caesar Augustus extended his dominion over the world and made kings subject to him.  When Cleopatra heard of Caesar Augustus she was dismayed, and felt a great fear.  She therefore strengthened her kingdom by erecting a wall from Nubia to al-Farama (2), on the east bank of the Nile, and a wall from Nubia to Alexandria on the west bank of the Nile.  Today [that] wall is called “Hayt al-‘Ağūz” (3).  Cleopatra then lived at Alexandria in Egypt and had a lieutenant named Anthony.  Caesar Augustus heard about her and decided to subject her to his dominion.  Then Augustus learned that the Jews of Ūrashalīm had refused obedience to him, and that the kingdom of Judah had not been ruled by the family of David since the time of their deportation at the hands of Bakhtanassar.  The Jews, in fact, do not recognize anyone as their king, even today, unless he is one of the descendants of David.  At that time there was a priest descended from David, named Aristūbal, who ruled the Jews instead of a king.  Augustus sent his general named Bitiyūs (4), who laid siege to Bayt al-Maqdis [Jerusalem] and conquered it.  He bound Aristobulus, priest of the Jews, together with a group of his men, and he sent them to Rome after imposing a personal tribute on the Jews.  Then he went away from them.  Among the Jews there arose serious disorder, and they elected as priest, instead of Aristobulus, his brother called Irqān (5).  Irqān had become friends with a man of Ascalon, named Antibatrus (6).  A native of Cyprus (7), he was a servant of the temple of idols and the father of Hirūdus.

The priest Hyrcanus appointed Herod, son of Antipater, to hunt down thieves, he being a very rude man.  But some residents of the Ghawr (8) made a raid on Bayt al-Maqdis, captured the priest Hyrcanus and killed Antipater, father of Herod.  The city was thus without an administrator and headless.  Herod ingratiated himself with the Rums [Romans] who resided in Bayt al-Maqdis, and gave them great wealth, thus becoming governor and leader of Bayt al-Maqdis.  Then Herod learned that Caesar Augustus, king of Rum, was on his way to Egypt in search of Cleopatra.  He met him in ar-Ramlah (9) bringing many gifts and he made with him a covenant of friendship.  When he arrived in Egypt, Augustus had Anthony, Cleopatra’s lieutenant, killed, and he went to Alexandria in search of Cleopatra to seize her, and expose her to ignominy and show her at Rum.  When Cleopatra heard that Caesar Augustus had killed her lieutenant Anthony, and had occupied Egypt, fearing to be exposed to mockery, and preferring to die, killed herself to avoid dishonour once she had fallen into his hands.  But she called two of her handmaidens, one named Abra, who combed her hair and made her beautiful, and the other named Mitriya, who cut her nails and dressed her, and commanded them to go into the garden and bring her the snake was called bāsīlidah (10).  That done, she tried it at first on the two maids who, bitten, died instantly.  Seeing that the viper caused death swiftly, [Cleopatra] took the crown, and she put on her head, every ornament of gold and silver, gems, corundum and chrysolido she had, then put on her royal robes, took the snake and pulled it to her left breast, because she knew that the heart is on the left side.  The snake bit her and [Cleopatra] died instantly.  When Caesar Augustus saw her, he was astonished by what she had done, and the fact that she had preferred death to a life of slavery and humiliation. They say that when King Caesar Augustus went in to her, he found her with her left hand grasping the crown, as to not have it fall from the head, and found her seated on a throne.  Others have said that, she wanting to die, injured her arm with a knife, to bring out the blood, and then took some snake venom that she had with her and putting it on the wound, she died instantly.  This took place in the twelfth year of the reign of Caesar Augustus.  Thus ended the reign of Cleopatra.

To be continued…

7 thoughts on “The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – opening section of chapter 8

  1. It looks like Eutychius made a historical mistake. There was no one before “Yulius”. It was a triumvirate.

    A couple of possibilities on “Ghabius”. He might be thinking “Gaius” and “Julius” are two different people when they’re the same. It could be a variation of a much earlier consul who had the name “Octavius”.

  2. Mina:

    There are some problems with the annals here, but you can make it work. Caesar was often referred to simply as Gaius Caesar—I think he even did so himself—, and the dates also match:

    First year of Cleopatra: 51
    Fourth year of Cleopatra: 48

    48 – 44: Ghabiyus Qaysar (Gaius [Julius] Caesar, dictator)
    (Caesar was appointed dictator for the first time in 48)
    (Caesar died in 44 as “eternal dictator”)

    After that (before the second triumvirate) Eutychius probably refers to Octavian, whose correct name after the adoption was “Gaius Julius Caesar”; he would have needed to use a different combination of the three names to distinguish the young from the great Caesar in his annals; it would also make sense here to stress the adoption by naming the gentilicium. The dates somewhat match:

    44 – 42: Yuliyus Qaysar (= Octavian = [Gaius] Julius Caesar)

    It’s reasonable to see Octavian as Rome’s new ruler in that time, even though he wasn’t consul etc., but he was seen as Caesar’s political heir, and had soon won against his biggest rival Marc Antony in 43 BC. The triumvirate, however, was agreed on at the beginning of November and came into effect on 23 Nov of 43, so following Eutychius’ logic you could ascribe 2 years to the rule of “king Yuliyus Qaysar”, but not 3, so there seems to be a mistake there. But politically it makes sense, because in 42 the battles of Philippi had been won, and that’s an important turning point in Roman history (death of Caesar’s murderers). That is indeed the year when the triumvirate could finally rule, after the proscriptions had ended, after Philippi was won.

    After that we have the 11th year of Cleopatra = 41 BC.

    This is the beginning of the rule of Awghustus Qaysar, according to Eutychius, but that doesn’t work, because Augustus’ rule began in 27 BC, where he also got the name “Augustus”. So the use of the name is surely some kind of “retcon” here. So we would need to find a political/military turning point for the year 41 BC, and that’s the division of the empire among the triumvirs, and Octavian received the West, and Rome. It’s not 100% accurate to the month, but for a historian who wrote so far removed from the actual events (10th cent. AD), it’s pretty good.

  3. It’s not brilliant though, particularly if you compare it with, say, the twelfth-century Chronicle of Michael the Syrian on the same events. Access to sources was obviously very difficult for the Christians of Egypt after the Arab Conquest, and we must also take into account the decay of Christian institutions under Muslim rule. The Jacobite patriarch Dionysius of Tel Mahre, who accompanied the caliph al-Mamun on a visit to Egypt in 929, and whose impressions of the Coptic Church have been preserved by Michael the Syrian, commented on the deplorable ignorance of the Coptic monks whom he met: ‘I found a people that was chaste, sincere, humble and rich in the love of God, and was treated with such honour during my stay among them that they accorded to me every mark of respect that they give their own pope in his dominions. But I also noticed some customs that were unworthy of their virtue. The study of the Holy Scriptures is at a low ebb among them. The monks in particular lack this knowledge, and those who aspire to holy orders care nothing for acquiring knowledge and wisdom, but only for amassing money; for nobody can attain the highest ecclesiastical office without laying out 200 or 300 darics. When I rebuked them for this, the pope replied by way of explanation that this violation of the canons had acquired the force of habit.’ I imagine that monks who cared little for the study of the Bible were likely to be even less interested in the study of secular history.

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