The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 10 (part 2)

Up to now, Eutychius has repeated material derived from the Greek chronographic tradition.  As we saw in the last post, in chapter 10, for the first time, he introduces material from elsewhere: a now lost Sassanid Persian chronicle, beginning with Ardashir, founder of that dynasty.  Since it is unlikely that Eutychius knew Middle Persian, we may reasonably surmise that he consulted it in an Arabic translation.

5.  As for Sabur, son of Azdashir, king of the Persians, as far as he could he ruled the people with justice.  He dedicated himself to visit the provinces and to support the urban system of the countries.  After eleven years of his reign, he marched with his soldiers to the city of Nisibis (23), in which were garrisoned many soldiers of Antoninus Caracalla, King of the Romans, and he besieged it for some time without being able to conquer it.  Once aware of being unable to get the better of it, he ordered a large, spacious well-fortified seige-tower to be built next to the city.  After it was completed, he climbed up with the generals of his army, and looked down from the height into the inside of the city.  They shot arrows, so that no one dared to go into the open.  Eventually the besieged decided to surrender the city.  Meanwhile, it was reported that an enemy out of Khurasan had attacked the people of his kingdom.  For this reason, he sent messengers to the nobles of Nisibis, proposing to them either to give entry to the soldiers there that had kept them engaged in combat until his return, or to enter into a covenant with him, by which they agreed not to remove the seige-engine unless he did not return.  They preferred to enter into a covenant with him, and an agreement whereby they undertook to leave the bastion where it was, and the king left.  However the people of Nisibis poured out of the walls of the city, opened a gap in the wall near the place where the seige-engine was, took it inside the city, and surrounded it with a well fortified wall.

6. Antoninus Caesar, King of the Romans, diedAfter him reigned over the Romans Marcianus Caesar (24), for a year and two monthsHe was killed, and after him reigned another Antoninus Caesar (25) for three years and nine months.  This happened in the fourteenth year of the reign of Sabur, king of the Persians[Antoninus Caesar] sent a huge army to Nisibis to defend and protect the city. In the first year of the reign of Antoninus Caesar Bitiyanus was made patriarch of Rome (26).  He held the office for five years and diedIn the second year of his reign Zebennus was made patriarch of Antioch. He held the office for nine years and died.

7. Quanto a Sābūr, figlio di Azdashir, re dei Persiani, tornato che fu a Nissfbfn e visto quel che gli abitanti avevano fatto del propugnacolo, li tacciò di tradimento e disse:

7.  As for Sabur, son of Azdashir, king of the Persians, he returned to Nisibis and saw what the people had done to the seige-engine, he spoke of betrayal and said:  “You have been rebels, and have broken the covenant.”  So he besieged the city.  But since already a long time had passed, without having found a way to get the better of the city, he was worried and said to his men, “Come, let us see if there is any of our soldiers who are not worrying at all about how long this is taking!”  They made a tour of the field and found two men intent on drinking wine and singing. [The king] said to them:  “Seemingly you have no right to be with us, since you behave in this way and you stand on the sidelines.”  They answered: “O king, however worried you are about how to conquer this city, we have a good chance of success, if you do what we tell you.”  “How so?” asked the king. They replied: “Advance with your soldiers in close order, and raise invocations to your Lord, to make you conquer the city.” Sabur ordered that it should be done as they had said.  But since that was no good, he said to them: “We have implemented your advice, but we have not seen any results. What have you to say to us now?” They answered: “We fear that what we suggested doing has just been taken lightly. But if you think it’s possible to get them to be sincere in what they do, and to invoke their Lord all together, as if it was the invocation of one man, then you’ll get what you want.”  Sabur then summoned his men and urged them to do what they were going to do with sincere intention and firm conviction.  It is said that they had not yet raised the second invocation when the wall fell down from top to bottom, leaving open a passage through which the men were able to enter the city.  Great was the dismay of the inhabitants and they exclaimed: “This is what we deserve for our treachery!”  Sabur entered the city and killed as many warriors as he could.  Then he captured the rest of the inhabitants, and took away with him many riches.  He left just as it was the gap that had opened in the walls, because people saw it and it was a lesson to them.  Next he stormed several cities of Syria, slaughtering the inhabitants and taking away great plunder.  He overran the territories of the Romans and made great slaughter, occupying Qalawniyah (27) and Cappadocia.

8. Antoninus Caesar, King of the Romans, died.  After him reigned over the Romans, in Rome, Alexander Caesar (28) for thirteen years.  This was in the seventeenth year of the reign of Sabur, son of Azdashir, king of the Persians.  In his day the Christians lived peacefully and were left in peace.  His mother’s name was Marna (29) and he was very fond of the Christians.  In the first year of his reign Heraclas was made patriarch of Alexandria.  He held the office for thirteen years and died.  It was in his time that the Patriarch of Alexandria was called “Baba”, or “grandfather”.  In the third year of his reign Antis was made patriarch of Rome (30).  He held the office for twelve years and died.  In the eighth year of his reign Babilas was made Patriarch of Antioch.  He held the office for eight years and died.  In the second year of his reign Narcissus he was made bishop of Jerusalem.  He held the office for twelve years, and fled.

10 thoughts on “The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 10 (part 2)

  1. Thanks for pressing on with Eutychius, Roger. A little surprising that, as a Copt, he should be quite so interested in events in Nisibis and elsewhere in the Roman East. I haven’t come across his interesting story of how Shapur took Nisibis before, but my knowledge of the sources for this period is by no means exhaustive, and I would imagine that it’s derivative.

  2. Thank you for the feedback! I shall get back to him in a little bit – I’ve been seized with the urge to convert 15 years of photocopies into PDF and I’m going with it. 9 boxes; 6 and a bit now done.

    The material about Sassanid events is clearly from quite another tradition. I think Pirone says that it is an Arabic translation of a lost Sassanid chronicle. I think the description is somewhat dubious, in truth.

  3. A lost Sassanid chronicle! That would explain why we get seemingly circumstantial material from the Persian side. I thought I didn’t recognise the anecdote from Ammianus Marcellinus and the other Roman sources.

    How wonderful! But what on earth was Eutychius doing recycling material about a long-forgotten siege of Nisibis for his bemused Coptic audience? He should have been giving us a complete list of the Chalcedonian bishops of Egypt and their Coptic successors. Really, these medieval historians never get their priorities right!

    Do push on with Eutychius whenever you have time. I am enjoying him immensely. My own translation of the ‘Chronicon Ecclesiasticum’ of Bar Hebraeus is now nearing completion (I think I said that a year ago), and I am also pressing on with my translation of the ‘Chronicle’ of Michael the Syrian. Both texts will eventually be published by Gorgias Press. BH should appear by this summer, Inshallah.

  4. I will certainly push on. At the moment I’m busy converting 15 years of photocopies into PDF, but I will get back to it.

    Yes, I had no idea that Eutychius had such sources. But of course the Arab conquest made all sorts of things accessible.

    Excellent news re Bar Hebraeus – well done! And indeed for Michael. You heard that Matti Moosa had died?

  5. Yes, I saw your post a week ago. Sad news. He only just got Michael the Syrian out in time: a warning to us all.

    I think he will be remembered above all for his translations into English of Ephrem Barsawm’s books. While most of us can struggle by with Chabot’s French translation of Michael the Syrian, few of us read Arabic well enough to cope with Barsawm’s scholarly works in the original. Barsawm’s ‘Scattered Pearls’ (al-Lulu al-Manthur) and his history of Tur Abdin are of fundamental importance for researchers like myself who are interested in the ecclesiastical organisation of the Eastern Churches; and although the standard of Moosa’s English leaves something to be desired, his translations have made these indispensable texts accessible to Western scholars. If only he had made more of these precious translations from Arabic!

  6. The Scattered Pearls was invaluable. I wasn’t aware of the history of Tur Abdin – is that worth looking at?

    There was sniffiness towards him that I never liked. As you say, he did invaluable work on everything he touched. And it is a warning: none of us know how much time we have. We must stay make Jesus our Lord (Rom.10:9) and be aware that all our contemporaries have already begun to go over to the majority, and be prepared.

  7. I haven’t yet consulted Moosa’s translation of the history of Tur Abdin directly – though it is definitely on my ‘to do’ list -, but get the impression from the late J. M. Fiey’s frequent citations from it in his topographical studies of Tur Abdin that it contains gold dust for prosopographers like myself. Barsawm seems to have cited the colophons of many manuscripts not readily available to Western scholars, mining them for the names of bishops, priests, scribes etc.

  8. Okay, I tried posting this in chapter 11, but the comment system ate it, so I’ll try again. Maybe it was the funny academic diacritics. This is the first article you have on the topic of the so-called “Khuday Nameh”, so this is a better place for the comment anyway.

    Michael R Jackson Bonner has dealt with the synoptic sources on the Sasanians in his PhD thesis, which is being published formally as “Al-Dînawarî’s Kitâb al-Akhbâr al-Tiwâl: An Historiographical Study of Sasanian Iran”, Res Orientales XXII. It doesn’t get into Eutychius much. But then few academics do care (and MRJB is in any case writing about Dînawarî), which is why we love your translation-efforts.

    MRJB does not find a single source. He finds many, each of which the later Arabic- and Persian-speaking historians adapt for their own purposes. Dînawarî for his part was keen to harmonise Persian history with the Qur’an. (Also to prove Persians superior to Arabs, but then his Persian sources already agreed with that much, so this bias didn’t affect his transmission of Persian material.)

    If it’s a consolation, you are in excellent company. Noeldeke also thought there was a single Khuday Nameh, delivered to Eutychius and to other Arabic-speakers by Ibn al-Muqaffa’.

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