Archive Page 2

Another photograph of the Meta Sudans

Meta Sudans, ca. 1910

Meta Sudans, ca. 1910

Regular readers will be aware of my fascination with the Meta Sudans, the ruined Roman fountain that stood beside the Colosseum until 1936.  The Roma Ieri Oggi site tweeted another photograph.  Here it is:


There is always room here for photographs of the Meta Sudans!

The faces of Theodosius and his sons

A series of tweets by the Classical Association of Northern Ireland drew my attention to a curiosity about Theodosius the Great, and his two sons Arcadius and Honorius.

Let’s look first at the disk of Theodosius:

Commemorative disk of Theodosius I from Badajoz

Commemorative disk of Theodosius I from Badajoz

Note how long the face of Theodosius is.  He was only 48 when he died.  Next, a statue of Arcadius, who came to the throne aged 18.

Bust of Arcadius. Istanbul?

Bust of Arcadius. Istanbul?

Again note the very long face.  And finally Honorius, who was only 8 when he came to the throne.


Consular diptych of Probus (406 AD) showing the emperor Honorius.

He, by contrast, has a square face – and the first image shows it too.  Chubby, even.

It’s interesting how these figures, who are little more than names to most of us, acquire personality once we can see their portraits.

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 16 (part 4)

In response to fan mail (!), here is some more of the Annals of the Arabic Christian writer, Sa`id ibn Batriq / Eutychius of Alexandria.  This is not a translation from the Arabic, and nobody has seen fit to make one.  So I’m turning the Italian translation of Bartolomeo Pirone (itself a very rare item, and the only translation known to me) into English.  I’m doing so with the aid of Google Translate, with a view to making the work better known.  I make no guarantees of it’s accuracy!  Academics should go direct to Pirone, or indeed to the Arabic.  With luck, someone will make a proper translation.

We continue the narrative of events in the late 5th century AD.  Remember that Eutychius is a Melkite, accepting the Council of Chalcedon – as all westerners do – and so his perspective is that of someone hostile to monophysite teachings. 

Much of this disputing was really the politics of the time in theological dress, because of the ban on politics.  After nearly 50 years of incessant ecclesiastical strife, the emperor Anastasius was sympathetic to the possibility that the decisions at Chalcedon had been a mistake.  The monophysites saw their chance.

14. There lived in Constantinople a man named Severus. He professed the doctrine of Dioscorus and Eutyches and he was saying that there is only one nature, one person and one will [in Christ].  [He] presented himself to King Anastasius and said: “The six hundred bishops, who in the past gathered in the city of Chalcedon and excommunicated Dioscorus and Eutyches, were wrong in what they did.  The sound religion is solely that affirmed by Eutyches and Dioscorus.  Don’t follow what the monks that came to you from Jerusalem said, because their doctrine is false.  Instead send letters to all the provinces, giving your instruction to excommunicate the six hundred bishops gathered in the city of Chalcedon, and ensure that people profess only one nature, one will and one person.”  King Anastasius agreed to do what he asked.

15. When Flavian, patriarch of Antioch, received the news of what the king Anastasius had set out to do, he wrote him a letter saying: “Do not act as Severus has said, because the six hundred bishops, gathered in the city of Chalcedon were in the truth, and he who is opposed to their doctrine is an excommunicate.”  King Anastasius was angry, and he sent to depose Flavian, Patriarch of Antioch, and in his place he made Severus Patriarch of Antioch.

16. When Elias, Patriarch of Jerusalem, learned that Flavian had been deposed and Severus had been elected in his place, he summoned the monks before the Tomb and Golgotha ​​and excommunicated the king Anastasius, the patriarch Severus and anyone who professed their doctrine.  On receiving the news of what Elijah, Patriarch of Jerusalem, had done, the king Anastasius sent to depose him and exiled him to Aylah [Aqaba].  This happened in the twenty-third year of the reign of Anastasius.  He then made a man named John Patriarch of Jerusalem, because that John had assured him that he would excommunicate the six hundred bishops who had been at Chalcedon.  When [John] arrived in Jerusalem, he went to the monks at Saba and said: “I do not accept the doctrine of Severus but rather defend the council of Chalcedon and I will remain on your side.”  He assured them that he would do this, contrary to what the king had ordered him to do.  Learning of this, the king sent his general to John, Patriarch of Jerusalem, to hold him to the promise made to him and to disavow the resolutions of the Council of Chalcedon: and if he did not, to remove him from office.  The commander came, arrested John, Patriarch of Jerusalem, and put him in prison.  The monks went to visit him in prison, and they advised him to assure the general that he would do what he had first assured the king, and then, once outside, to excommunicate all those whom the monks excommunicated.  He followed their advice.  The monks gathered – there were about ten thousand of them, and with them Theodosius, Cantonus and Saba, the founders of the monasteries – and excommunicated Dioscorus, Eutyches, Severus and Nestorius; they also excommunicated anyone else who had not accepted the doctrine of the Council of Chalcedon.  The envoy of the king was afraid of the monks.  This was the son of the uncle of the king.  Seeing himself cornered, he assured the monks that the king would abandon that doctrine and return to that he had professed and to all truth.

17. When the son of the uncle of the king arrived in Constantinople, he made the king aware of what had happened.  The king considered removing John, Patriarch of Jerusalem.  The monks and bishops gathered and wrote to the king Anastasius saying that they would never accept the doctrine of Severus, or any of the heretics, even at the cost of shedding their own blood.  They asked him also to desist from harming them.  When Symmachus, patriarch of Rome, heard what Anastasius had done, he wrote him a letter in which he reproved the action and excommunicated him.  Symmachus, patriarch of Rome, died after having held the office for fourteen years.  After him Hormisdas was made patriarch of Rome.  He excommunicated Severus, Patriarch of Antioch and all who professed the doctrine.  This happened in the twenty-third year of the reign of Anastasius, king of Rūm.  Hormisdas was patriarch of Rome for seven years and died.  The excommunicate Severus was Patriarch of Antioch for six years and died.  Severus had a disciple named James, who used to wear a garment made of pieces of saddles, the kind used for the beasts of burden, which he stitched together, and he was therefore called Jacob Baradaeus.  According to the theory he supported, Christ has only one nature rather than two natures, [only] one substance rather than two substances and one will, in conformity with the doctrine of the excommunicated Severus, Dioscorus and Eutyches.  By going to Mesopotamia, to Giza, Tikrit, Harran and into Armenia, he sowed corruption in the faith of those people causing them to profess his doctrine.  Those who followed the religion of James, and professed the doctrine were called Jacobites, from the name of James.

From my diary

Two long works of Methodius of Olympus (d.311 AD) are preserved only in Old Slavonic: De Autexusio (=On Free-Will) and De Resurrectione.  Yesterday I applied for some grant money to get these translated and put online.  Wish me luck!

I’ve never applied for grant funding before.  The price is just beyond my means to do; but on the other hand, who knows when someone with the skills to create such a translation will be available again?  Not for a century, that we know.

I find the process rather intimidating.  The online application is straightforward enough.  But the regulations impose barriers to normal people.  For instance, the grant body require that more than one source of funds is used – presumably to avoid them being blamed alone for a daft grant.  But I actually don’t know any other body that might fund translations.  Indeed I only discovered that they did so by accident!  So this policy excludes people other than those with access to databases of grant-making bodies.  It’s one more way in which the charitable sector exists for itself, rather than the public.    However I have offered to put in some money myself, and with luck that will be enough for them.  I must say that they have been reasonable enough to deal with so far.

I’ve also commissioned a translation today of Proclus’ Encomium on St Nicholas of Myra.  It’s another source of the legends which became Santa Claus.  If this is really by Proclus of Constantinople, then it will be a 5th century source.  Frankly I doubt that it is, despite my negligible knowledge of that author!  It’s bound to be later.  It’s only 5 pages of Anrich’s edition, tho.

Andrew of Crete, Encomium on St Nicholas of Myra – now online in English

Happy new year to you all!  Here’s a belated Christmas present – a translation of Andrew of Crete’s Encomium on St Nicholas of Myra, otherwise known as Santa Claus!  It would have appeared for Christmas, except for email communication difficulties (and believe me, we had a few!).  It was kindly translated for us all by Dr Jaakko Olkinuora of the University of Eastern Finland.[1]

As I’ve remarked before, considering all the talk about Santa throughout the world every year, it is remarkable that the legends of Nicholas of Myra – the basis for it all – do not exist in English.  Last year we managed to get a couple online, so this is another addition.

I’ve also placed copies of these files at

As usual I make these files and their contents public domain – make whatever use of them you like, personal, educational or commercial.

  1. [1] Dr O. asked me to revise it for English style, so any errors are probably down to me. I also added a lot of the notes from our email discussions.

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 16 (part 3)

9. Firuz died after reigning for twenty-seven years.  Then the two sons of Firuz, i.e. Qabād and Balābis, contested for the kingdom.  Balābis got the better of Qabād and drove him off, far away from him.  Qabād repaired to Khurasan to ask Khāqān, king of the Turks, to help him against his brother.

10. Balābis reigned well, and he built a city, and called it Balāsūr.  He reigned four years and died.  This happened in the tenth year of the reign of Zeno, king of the Rum.  When Qabād went to Khurasan he had with him Zarmihr, son of Sukhrān.  Together they stayed at a remarkably large house, but did not reveal who they were.  Then Qabād told Zarmihr: “Find me a woman of noble lineage.  I have a keen desire for women and I would not lie with a nobody, maybe low-class, because if she were to give birth, this would be a disgrace for us.”  The owner of the house where he was staying had a daughter still unmarried.  Zarmihr then approached the mother and spoke to her, spoke to her father and then also having presented them in good stead as he was asking, the two gave their assent.  The woman slept with Qabād and became pregnant.  When the time came to go away, [Qabād] commanded that she should be given a gift.  Her mother had asked her questions about the [financial] condition of Qabād and she had told of having seen leggings brocaded with gold.  The mother understood that he belonged to the royal house and was glad.  Qabād came to Khāqān and said: “I am the son of the king of Persia.  After the death of my father, my brother resisted me and seized the kingdom.”  [Khāqān] promised to help him to regain the kingdom.  For four years [Qabād] stayed with him, waiting for him to decide to give him the promised aid. Then [Khāqān] gave him a strong army and Qabād departed and came to Abarsahr.  [Here] he took up residence in the same house in which he had stayed and asked about the woman: She met him, holding the hand of a child of three years old.  Qabād said: “Who is this child?”  She replied: “He is your son.” Zarmihr told him that she was the daughter of the landlord.  [Qabād] was happy with this, and he took her along with the child whom he called Bābūdakht.  Arriving at Ctesiphon, Qabād found that his brother was dead and he took possession of the kingdom.

11. Qabād, son of Firuz, reigned forty-three years.  This happened in the twenty-fourth year of the reign of Zeno, king of the Rum.  Qabād entrusted the administration of the kingdom to Sūkhrān and his son, Zarmihr.  He founded, between al-Ahwaz and Faris, a town called Qabād-Khurrah, namely ar-Ragan, in which he placed the deportees of Hamadan.  He founded a city on the border of the territory of al-Mahat called Harawān, and another near Azdashīr-Khurrah, called Qabād-Khurrah, and then he founded many [others], built villages, dug rivers, opened canals and built arched bridges.

12. Zeno, king of Rum, died after a reign of seventeen years.  This happened in the fifth year of the reign of Qabād, son of Firuz, king of the Persians.  After him Anastasius reigned over Rum for twenty-seven years.  He was a Jacobite, an opponent of the doctrine of the Melkites.  He was from the city of Hamah.  He ordered the [re]building of the city of Hamah and furnished it with walls.  The construction of the walls took two years.  He had reigned for ten years when the people of the East were affected by a severe drought and an invasion of locusts.  Qabād, king of the Persians, invaded Amida and destroyed it, and he sent a large army against Alexandria, and the surroundings of Alexandria were set on fire.  Between the men of Qabād, king of the Persians, and the men of Anastasius, king of Rum, there were fierce wars and many deaths.  Alexandria was ruled, in the name of King Anastasius, by a governor named Istat.  As a consequence of all this, there fell upon Alexandria and Egypt a severe famine, to the point that people were dying of hunger, and Alexandria and Egypt were reduced to ruins by the pestilence, and the plague mowed down the population.

13. There lived in Alexandria, a wealthy Jew named Urib, who had become a Christian.  He buried the abandoned corpses, and on Easter Sunday lavished abundant alms in the church of Arqādah.  Three hundred men died in the rush and the crowds.

In the sixth year of the reign of Anastasius, king of Rum, John the monk was made patriarch of Alexandria.  He was a Jacobite.  He held the office for nine years and died.  In the fifteenth year of his reign another John was made patriarch of Alexandria. He was a Jacobite.  He held the office for eleven years and died.  In the twenty-sixth year of his reign Dioscorus was made patriarch of Alexandria.  He was a Jacobite.  He held the office for only one year and died.  In the twenty-seventh year of his reign Timothy was made patriarch of Alexandria.  He was a Jacobite.  He held the office for two years and was deposed.  In the fourth year of his reign Timothy was made patriarch of Constantinople.[1] He held the office for four years and died.  In the ninth year of his reign Timothy was made patriarch of Constantinople.  He held the office for six years and died.  In the fifteenth year of his reign John of Cappadocia was made patriarch of Constantinople.  He held the office for nine years and died.  In the twenty-fourth year of his reign Anthimus was made patriarch of Constantinople.  He was a Jacobite.  He held the office for five years and was deposed.  In the fourth year of his reign Pelagius was made patriarch of Rome.  He held the office for four years and died.  In the eighth year of his reign Anastasius was made patriarch of Rome.  He held the office for a year and died.  In the ninth year of his reign Symmachus was made patriarch of Rome.  He held the office for fourteen years and died.  In the fourth year of his reign Flavian was made patriarch of Antioch.  He held the seat for fourteen years and was deposed.

King Anastasius had abjured the doctrine of the Melkites and had become a Jacobite.  Elias, Patriarch of Jerusalem, then wrote a letter to him on the validity of the doctrine of the Melkites and to tell him that anyone contradicting them was to be considered excommunicated.  He sent it to the superiors of the monasteries, including Theodosius, the founder of the monastery of ad-Dawākis, Chariton, founder of the Old Laura, Saba, founder of the New Laura, which excelled over all the Lauras, the superior of the Old Laura, i.e. of the Laura of Chariton, and a group of superiors of monks and of priests, along with a letter in which he said: “I have sent you a group of the servants of God, and of the superiors of the monks of our desert including the distinguished Saba.  He has transformed the desert into cities filling them with people and is the star of Palestine.”  When the monks came to Constantinople, they asked to be received by King Anastasius.  The king gave them a hearing and they went into to him.  Saba was wearing a worn robe, and after a delay the chamberlains would not let him in.  After reading the letter from Elias, Patriarch of Jerusalem, the king Anastasius told the monks: “Which of you is Saba, who gets so much praise in the letter?”  They looked at each other and they knew that he was not among them.  They sent to look for him, and he came in to the king, who told him to approach and made him sit next to him, asking him news about Jerusalem and its inhabitants.  Saba replied that both the city as its inhabitants fared well.  Then he expounded the doctrine of the Melkites, showed him the merits and asserted that he had considered excommunicated anyone who objected.  Finally he said: “We ask you not to disturb the church, because as long as the church will have peace, there will be peace among ourselves.  Not pander therefore to the doctrine of heretics.”  The king gave him willingly what he asked, gave gifts to the monks and ordered them to return to Jerusalem.  He wrote to Elias, Patriarch of Jerusalem, in response to his letter, and ordered Saba to remain with him.  So the monks returned to Jerusalem, while Saba was retained [with the king].  The following year, Saba asked the king whether he could leave.  He granted this and handed him two thousand dinars, saying: “Use this money to build monasteries.” Saba then went to Jerusalem.

  1. [1] Pirone: ‘In another text it says “Macedonius”‘.

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 16 (part 2)

Eutychius (=Sa`id ibn Bitriq) is still writing the history of the 5th century AD, mainly from Greek/Byzantine chroniclers.  But he also has access to an Arabic translation of a lost Persian chronicle of the Sassanid kings, and material from this is inserted at intervals.  We now return to the Sassanid history.  

The major threat to the Sassanid realm during the 5th century was not the Romans, but rather the Ephthalites, or White Huns, here called the Hayātilah. These were a nomadic East Iranian nation (or so their names suggest) based in the area of modern Afghanistan.  Eutychius, writing five centuries later, describes the two campaigns of King Peroz I (=Firuz) against them, which ended in his complete defeat and death in 483 AD at the battle of Herat.  This left Persia tributary to the White Huns for a generation. 

The common cultural links between the adversaries are apparent in the shared values on each side. 

7. As for Firuz, son of Yazdağard, king of the Persians, he built two cities near Kashkar, namely Duris-Firuz and Rām-Firuz.  Then he went with the army towards Khurasan in order to occupy the territory of Khshunwār.  When Akhshunwār, king of the Hayātilah, in Balkh, heard this, he was afraid, and he called his experts and asked their advice about what to do.  One of them spoke thus: “If you promise me with my peace and quiet that you will give me what will sustain my family and my descendants and that you will ensure them these necessaries, I will show you a way in which God will grant you victory over Firuz”.  Having received a full guarantee from the king, he said: “Tie up my hands and feet”,[1] then abandon me on the road that Firuz will take, and I will save you from his hands.”  The king ordered that it should be done as requested, and they took him and threw him where he had told them, and they left. Curious about him, Firuz asked him the reason for his state, and [the man] replied: “I was one of the magnates of Hayātilah.  As soon as news came that you were marching against us, Khshunwār consulted, among others, myself also, and I told him openly that he could do nothing against Firuz because of the great power of this man, and that it would be better for him if he sent word to be ready to pay tribute and the ransom. Great was his anger against me, and he ordered them to reduce me to the state in which you see me, saying: ‘Let it be with him as with so many.’  He gave instructions to some of his soldiers, telling them: ‘Go and carry him to Firuz’.  O please, I beg you, have mercy and compassion on me, take me with you, so that I do not fall prey to the wild beasts in this deserted land.  I will show you the shortest way, and how to defeat Akhshunwār without suffering damage, and I have my revenge on him through God.  The road I will show you is only two days’ journey, but in the end you will get what you seek.”

On hearing this, the ministers of Firuz smelled the trap that Akhshunwār intended for them, and they said to Firuz: “This man has been asked for advice and he has certainly given according to his vast knowledge and intelligence.  All this dramatic stuff is a trap, pure and simple.  If fact Akhshunwār had reduced him to such, driven by anger, he would not bother to let us meet him in this deserted land.  Put no faith in what he says.  Perhaps Akhshunwār and his men have already visited the place that this man has shown us, and have deployed plenty of soldiers there.”

But Firuz was not of the same opinion, and he continued to walk in the company of this man for the two days but without arriving at the place indicated.  Firuz asked him for an explanation, and [the man] replied: “I calculated the path wrongly, but today will end it.”  When they had also walked all that day, asking all the time how much further they had to go, the man kept saying they were going to get there, and that he was not misleading them.  When they realized that they were out of all the food and water they had, and that they were in a place where they could not go back, he told them the truth.  Then the advisers of Firuz said: “We told the truth, O king, but you would not accept our advice.  Now we must just continue, in the hope of finding water.”  So they carried on, dividing themselves to right and left, in search of water.  Most of them died of thirst.

Firuz and a small number of brave warriors survived, who went with him until they reached their enemies, who met them that night, in the condition that they were in, and parlayed.  Then Firuz asked Akhshunwār to grant him and the men that were left to return to their countries, and to enter into a covenant with him, in which they promised not to make war again for the rest of his life, establishing between him and his kingdom a border that neither would ever pass.  Akhshunwār agreed.  Firuz placed this in writing, making himself guarantor, and swore that it never would be broken, and returned to his own kingdom.

Time passed.  Then Firuz remembered what had passed between him and Akhshunwār, and he felt annoyed and was afraid that there might be less loyalty [towards himself].  This motivated him to attack him again.  But his servants said to him: “You have entered into a covenant with him and we are afraid of the consequences of  the betrayal and injustice that you mean to perpetrate.”  But Firuz said to them: “I simply agreed with him that I would not pass the [border] stone. Well, I will take this stone with me on the cart in front of me, and never go beyond it.”  But they answered: “The deal is not based on your interpretation, but on what was clearly understood.”  Firuz paid no attention to their words and left to invade [the territory] of Akhshunwār.  Hearing of this, Akhshunwār was extremely surprised, and had no doubt about the treachery.  So he wrote to Firuz, reminding him what was assumed under the agreement entered into by him, and asking him to leave him alone.  But Firuz ignored his words and continued on his way, until he came near to the territory of the Hayātilah.  Akhshunwār had dug a ditch between his country and that of Firuz.  Firuz ordered bridges to be built, so he could pass over, and flags to be hoisted on them that serve as signals in case of retreat.  When the soldiers were deployed for combat, Akhshunwār sent word to Firuz to go outside with him, in the middle of the two sides, because he wanted to talk to him.  Akhshunwār met him and told him: ‘For my part, I believe that nothing has pushed to the point where you are but shame at your defeat.  But, on my life, if you had been cheated as you think, we would certainly have demanded more than that.  Yet the violation of the pact should be more shameful for you than that.  Think of this, and distinguish between these two things, pondering which one is good for you because of shame: to say “He ordered them to achieve something but it was not realized and his enemy had the better of him and those who were with him, but he was generous with them and sent them away free, on conditions”, or that they say “He broke the pact and the agreement, returned a favor with an insult”? Your men will know that you have involved them in a unjust business, even although you’re not sure to win, and are trying to do something which others may do to you.  If you win, you will not have a good reputation, nor will what is done will be worthy of praise.  And if you lose, you will cover yourself and your soldiers with infamy. Be careful, then! I warned you!  Telling you the words that you hear is not because of some weakness or fear for myself or my soldiers, but I want to say all these words to persuade, and not to save myself in some way.”

8. Firuz replied: “I am not one of those who, intimidated by menaces, allow themselves to be diverted from exactly the business that the intimidation is intended to counteract.  If I had thought that I was intending to do something as a piece of disloyalty on my part, no one else would feel more shame than me.  But I only signed the pact with you because of what I concealed within me.  Do not be deceived by the inferiority and weakness in which we met the first time. Know that I will not leave you alone until I have got back what you got from me.”

Akhshunwār replied: “Don’t bother with the error with which you try to deceive yourself, carrying the boundary-stone in front of you.  The terms and clauses of an agreement are according to words openly spoken, and not according to what they may be made to mean.  And the worst condition is the violation of the terms and provisions of an agreement.”

But Firuz ignored his words and so passed that day. Firuz said to his men: “Akhshunwār gave proof of a brilliant conversation, and I have never seen a mount like the horse he rode.  In fact, it never moved its feet, nor raised its hooves from their position, or done anything to speak of for the entire time we faced each other.”

And Akhshunwār told his men: “Finding myself at the front, I saw, and you’ve seen too, a Firuz all covered with arms.  He never moved on his horse, never removed his foot from the stirrup, nor did he ever bend, or turn right or left, as I often supported myself on the one or the other hip, I bent over my horse, I have looked back and forward with my eyes, as he stood erect and motionless. “

Both Firuz and Akhshunwār resorted to these descriptions because they spread their words among the soldiers, and thus diverted them from inquiring about what they discussed.

When they awoke, Akhshunwār pulled out the sheet on which Firuz had put [the agreement] in writing, and had it raised on a spear, so that the soldiers could see it.  Akhshunwār proclaimed victory over Firuz.

Firuz was defeated, and while fleeing started down a different path from the one with banners on the bridges to show him the way back; he took refuge in the ditch, in to which his men fell one after another.  Akhshunwār took everything that was with Firuz and his sons, and distributed the property among his soldiers. Then Akhshunwār said the advisors of Firuz: “Why didn’t you advise him and avoid this?”  They answered, “We did, but he would not listen.”

In Sigistān a member of the family of Azdashīr called Sūkhrān was in command. He was a Persian nobleman and had with him a number of generals as his subordinates.  When he heard the news of what had happened to Firuz, he moved at once with his men to the territory of the Hayātilah, where he soon gathered up the soldiers of Firuz. His power became great and strong.  When he was in sight of the army of Akhshunwār, he sent him a message:  “I did not come to fight you, but only so that you can return the property of Firuz, which you have, and release the prisoners that you have with you.  Let this be the basis for peace among ourselves and for our part we will abstain from any belligerent actions towards you.  If you agree, we will do the same, and we will withdraw; if you refuse then I fear that you will regret it.” Akhshunwār agreed to what Sūkhrān asked, freed their captives, returned their possessions, and departed, so that all ended with his and their satisfaction.  Then Sūkhrān retired to Ctesiphon.  The people of Persia remembered what he had done for them and they were grateful.

  1. [1] Pirone: ‘In another text he says, “Amputate my [hands and feet]”, which is undoubtedly more accurate.

From my diary

The Christmas and New Year holiday season has been in full swing here, although the very unseasonably warm weather – 14C most days, and warm at night – has disguised this.  We’ve even had sunny days, such as today.

I’m spending this holiday quietly, as it is really the first holiday that I have had in 2015.  It’s really important to take your holidays, and not just work through them.

I’ve been doing a little light translating from Eutychius, and I may do some more.

Today I had some business in Norwich, and I took the opportunity to go into the Norwich Castle museum, and photograph all the items on display in the Roman gallery, using the camera on my mobile phone.   I had to stop when my hands grew shaky, but I think I got the lot.  The photos are not great – but they exist, and I have uploaded them to Flickr.

The majority of the items on display came from Venta Icenorum, modern Caistor St Edmunds.  They were found during the never-published excavations in the 1920’s.  Most of the rest came from hoards, discovered at one place or another.

One caught my eye:

Gold solidi, mainly of Honorius. Norwich Castle Museum

Gold solidi, mainly of Honorius. Norwich Castle Museum

It’s a collection of gold (and silver, according to the card) coins, mainly of Honorius, and was found in “South Norfolk” – a description that makes me think of the huge extant walls of the Roman fort at Burgh Castle.  Sadly the card did not indicate precisely what coins, and of what dates, we are looking at.

Is it possible that this is a donative, a collection of imperial solidi given to the soldiers at the accession of the new emperor?  Is this the property of some late Roman soldier, buried for some reason and then never reclaimed in the disorders that almost immediately followed?

Did that soldier march with one of the usurpers of the time?  Did he hear, when Stilicho removed most of the British troops in 402 AD?

In 409 AD the British rose in revolt and disgust and “expelled the Roman magistrates”, in Zosimus’ phrase.  Were those coins already in the ground then?

It’s worth making these speculations, not as history, but to bring before our mind that these are not just lumps of gold, but something that took part in momentous events, and belonged to a real man who saw them.

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 16 (part 1)

We continue our translation of the Annals of Eutychius, melkite patriarch of Alexandria.  The text has reached the second half of the 5th century AD.  Marcian became emperor in 450 AD.  At this point Eutychius (or Sa`id ibn Bitriq as he was known) again relates material from a lost Sassanid Persian chronicle.  As before, “Rum” is the Arabic name for the Eastern Romans. 

1. In the sixth year of the reign of Marcian, king of Rum, Yazdagard, son of Bahram, king of the Persians, died.  On the death of Yazdagard, his two sons Firuz and Hurmuz contested the kingdom.  Some took the side of Firuz and others the side of Hurmuz.  After fierce fighting between the supporters of the two parties, Hurmuz was killed along with three members of his family.  Firuz, son of Yazdagard reigned over the Persians for twenty-seven years.  This was in the sixth year of the reign of Marcian, king of Rum.  King Marcian had the true faith, and he defended and promoted the faith of the Melkites.

2. King Marcian died. After him Leo the Great reigned over Rum, for sixteen years.  This happened in the second year of the reign of Firuz, son of Yazdagard, king of the Persians.  Leo was of the true faith, a Melkite.  When the inhabitants of Alexandria came to know of the death of Marcian, they rose up against Proterius, patriarch of Alexandria, and killed him in the church of Kūriyon; they brought his body on a camel to the great hippodrome that Ptolemy Lagus had built and they burned it.  Then there appeared in the sky a cloud of fire and there was thunder, lightning and violent storms for forty days.  Proterius was killed after having held the office for six years.  After him Timothy, brother of Anatolius, better known as Yānūriyūs, was made patriarch of Alexandria.  He was a Jacobite.  He held the office for three years.  Then a general named Balāwus came to Alexandria from Constantinople, who deposed Timothy, exiling him to a place called Marsūfin, a village on the coast of the Pontic Sea, and made another Timothy, better known as Swrs, Patriarch of Alexandria.  He was a Jacobite.  He held the seat for fifteen years and died.

3. In the sixteenth year of the reign of Leo the Great, Martin was made patriarch of Jerusalem.  He was a Jacobite.  He held the office for eight years and died.  In the tenth year of his reign Acacius was made patriarch of Constantinople.  He held the office for thirteen years and died.  In the twelfth year of his reign John was made patriarch of Antioch.  He held the seat for six years and died.  In the thirteenth year of his reign Julian was made patriarch of Antioch.  He held the office for five years and died.  In the eighth year of his reign Hilary was made patriarch of Rome.  He held the seat for six years and died.  In the sixteenth year of his reign Sīlfnūs was made patriarch of Rome.  He held the seat for fourteen years and died. This patriarch excommunicated Timothy, brother of Anatolius, Patriarch of Alexandria.

Leo the Great, King of Rum, died.  After him Leo the Less reigned over Rum, for one year only.  He was a Jacobite.  This happened in the eighteenth year of the reign of Firuz, son of Yazdağard, king of the Persians.

4. Leo the Less, king of the Rum, died.  After him his son Zeno reigned over Rum for seventeen years.  He was a Jacobite.  This was in the nineteenth year of the reign of Firūz, king of the Persians.  While the king Zeno was out strolling in a place called Surah, a man named Basiliscus, along with his son Marcus, took over the kingdom for twenty months.  The fighting between them did not stop until Zeno got the better of them, returned to Constantinople, killed Basiliscus and his son, confiscated their homes and possessions, and put to death all their supporters.  At that time there was a great earthquake in the city of Constantinople; the sun was darkened, and the stars appeared in the sky in broad daylight. Many houses collapsed and many people died because of the violence of the earthquake.  This happened in the ninth year of the reign of Zeno, king of Rum.

In the second year of his reign Timothy, patriarch of Alexandria, better known as Swrs, fled to Wadi-Habib, and Timothy, brother of Anatolius, returned from Marsūfin to the patriarchal see of Alexandria, held the office for two years and died.  After him the archdeacon Peter was made patriarch of Alexandria.  He was a Jacobite.  He held the office for thirty-six days and fled to Constantinople.  Then Timothy, better known as Swrs, returned from Wadi-Habib[1], was patriarch for four years and died.

In the ninth year of the reign of Zeno, Ibn Ghustus was governor of Alexandria, on behalf of Zeno.  Then John became Patriarch of Alexandria.  He was a Jacobite.  He held the office for six months.  Then another governor came to Alexandria on behalf of Zeno, called Aughustāliyūs, together with Peter, the patriarch who had fled to Constantinople.  The general Ibn Ghustus fled before Awghustāliyus and the patriarch John fled with him also.  So the patriarch Peter, who had fled, reoccupied his own place.  He held the office for eight years and died.  In the sixteenth year of the reign of Zeno Abinās was made patriarch of Alexandria.  He was a Jacobite.  He held the seat for seven years and died.  He built many churches in Alexandria and several burial sites.

5. At that time, the great hippodrome that Ptolemy Lagus had built in Alexandria, and where the patriarch Proterius had been burned, caught fire.  In the seventh year of the reign of Zeno Militūs was made patriarch of Jerusalem.  He was a Jacobite.  He held the office for eight years and died.  In the sixteenth year of his reign Elias was made patriarch of Jerusalem.  He held the seat for twenty-four years.[2] He built churches and erected the church of Eleona, but did not finish it so it was [later] turned over to Aylah.[3] At that time there were in Jerusalem Anba Theodosius, the founder of the monastery of ad-Dawākis, Anba Chariton, founder of the monastery of the Old Laura and Anba Saba, founder of the New Laura.

6. In the sixth year of the reign of Zeno Iwfūtiyūs was made patriarch of Constantinople.  He held the office for five years and died.  In the eleventh year of his reign[4] Iwfathimiyūs was made patriarch of Constantinople.  He held the office for ten years and died.  In the first year of the reign of Zeno Peter, nicknamed the Fuller, was made patriarch of Antioch.  He was a Jacobite.  He held the seat for six years and was removed.[5]  He was excommunicated and removed by Bāsīlīqūs, patriarch of Rome.  Once removed, Stephen was made patriarch of Antioch.  He held the office for only one year and died.  After him another Stephen was made patriarch of Antioch. He held the office for six months and died. After him Qalidiyūn was made patriarch of Antioch. He was a Nestorian.  He held the office for four years and died.  Then Peter the Fuller returned to occupy the Patriarchal See of Antioch.  He held the office for eight years and died.[6].  After him Palladius was made patriarch of Antioch.  He held the office for ten years and died.  This happened in the eleventh year of the reign of Zeno, king of Rum.  In the thirteenth year of his reign Filnīqūs was made patriarch of Rome.  He held the office for eight years and died.

  1. [1] Note by B. Pirone in the body of the text: ‘In another text it says “Dayr Habib”, which is undoubtedly more accurate’.
  2. [2] Pirone: ‘in another text it says “for fourteen years”‘.
  3. [3] Aqaba, location of a see in Byzantine times.
  4. [4] Pirone: ‘In another text he says “in the twenty-first year of his reign”‘.
  5. [5] Pirone: ‘in another text it says “for two years”‘.
  6. [6] Pirone: ‘In another text he says, “for three years”‘

In Memoriam: Acharya S

Did you know that:

  • Mithra [sic] was born on December 25th.
  • He was considered a great traveling teacher and master.
  • He had 12 companions or disciples.
  • He performed miracles.
  • He was buried in a tomb.
  • After three days he rose again.
  • His resurrection was celebrated every year.
  • Mithra was called “the Good Shepherd.”
  • He was considered “the Way, the Truth and the Light, the Redeemer, the Savior, the Messiah.”
  • He was identified with both the Lion and the Lamb.
  • His sacred day was Sunday, “the Lord’s Day,” hundreds of years before the appearance of Christ.
  • Mithra had his principal festival on what was later to become Easter, at which time he was resurrected.
  • His religion had a Eucharist or “Lord’s Supper”

Or that very much the same is also true of Horus, Krishna and Prometheus?

These claims, and others equally strange, were widely circulated on the early internet.  They originated from a website,, run by a woman calling herself “Acharya S”.[1]

These claims were met with much derision at the time, at least among those with any knowledge of antiquity.  But they were terribly useful to a certain sort of ignorant atheist, and so were repeated endlessly.  Indeed they may still be met with online, in one form or another.  The author never withdrew them, or admitted any mistake of fact.

I was led to interest myself in Mithras as a direct result of the circulation of these claims.  Occasionally I crossed swords with the authoress or one of her close disciples on various online discussion forums, an encounter that seldom left a pleasant impression behind.  But always the claims were stimulating, and I received a great deal of enjoyment in chasing down the real facts of the matter on more than one occasion, and learning of strange or unusual ancient sources, such as Antiochus of Athens.  We all need intellectual stimulus, and sometimes it may be found in strange places.

On Christmas Day 2015, she died.  She was 55 years old, and died of cancer, leaving a 13-year old son.

That she should die on 25 December was itself full of irony.  Acharya S was certain, certain with a degree of certainty that would appall most of us, that Christmas Day was a fraud: that Jesus of Nazareth never lived, and that the day was in fact the birthday of a huge number of pagan deities – Attis, Mithras, Adonis, Osiris, Horus, and so on.  So she wrote, and so she preached with a fierce fervour that contradiction only strengthened.

I cannot tell you her real name.  She went by the pen-name of Acharya S; before that, of Acharya Sanning.  In recent years she used the name “D. M. Murdock” on her books, but whether that was her legal name is not clear.   If it was, her name may have been Dorothy.

Nor can I tell you anything much of her background.  She claimed to have modelled when young, in New York City; to have become a Christian briefly at that time.  But she gave no account of her life.  This cannot, therefore, be an obituary – only an account of what I encountered or found online.

Her key assertion was that Jesus of Nazareth never lived, and that Christianity was merely an antique and fraudulent concoction from pagan beliefs.  This she derived from 19th century atheist popular writers, and embedded into a hazy new-age system of her own that she called “Astrotheology”.  But this system was really nothing: her life-energy was really spent in trying to rewrite history to prove Christianity false, and to convince as many as possible of her preferred account of events.

Without the internet, it is unlikely that Acharya S would have ever been heard of.  But the “Jesus myth” was taken up eagerly by atheists on the web.  Claiming that Jesus never existed, and demanding people prove them wrong, is an easy way to render discussion futile, while creating an impression of doubt; for it requires no education, merely impudence, a willingness to demand others prove to them what everyone knows, and a determination that any evidence to the contrary shall be “inadequate”.

Carried along by this tide, in 1999 she published The Christ Conspiracy: the greatest story ever sold.  How well this sold I do not know, but it certainly attracted attention, and material from it has continued to circulate.  She contributed to a film, Zeitgeist, which made many of the same claims.

But mythicism did not pay well.  She wrote online that she was very poor.  It is a fact that, in the last year of her life, she was obliged to seek money from the public in order to pay medical bills.  Pitifully, her executors have been obliged to continue the appeal in order to pay her funeral expenses.

What can we say about her?

Acharya S stirred up interest in a whole load of obscure aspects of antiquity.  It gave us all something to research, something to investigate, and much time and fun online in rebutting it.  To this extent we are all poorer for her passing.

On the other hand she did some real harm.  Nobody is well served by getting the raw facts wrong.  Many a gullible young atheist will have been confirmed in his newly-minted obscurantism by her work, and led just a step or two further from the light of knowledge into the darkness of ignorance and intellectual self-destruction.  “Jesus mythicism” is the judgement of God upon modern atheists – that those who boast most frequently of their own logic, science, reason and learning should be led to advocate an ignorant, stupid claim in the face of the world.  In this judgement she took a full part.  To dedicate yourself full-time to proving that others are completely wrong is perilous to every human soul that does so, whatever the object so hated.  It leads those who do it into a darkness of hate and blindness.  This path she walked.

She dedicated herself to trying to destroy the Christian religion, to the extent that she was able.  I never knew the reason for this, but it must be personal.

She was not an educated woman.  This fact lay at the root of all the mistakes of historical judgement that filled her books.  I never detected the slightest interest in history for its own sake.  If she had had this, it might have given her the education she lacked.  As far as I can tell, she never understood that history must start by compiling the primary sources and seeing what they say.  To the end, a book by some writer of the 19th or 20th century was “authority” – so long as he said what she wanted to hear!  In fairness she used better sources in her later books.  Acharya S wanted, wanted very badly, to be learned; but only, one sensed, to bolster the cause.

This lack of education meant that she had no critical detachment from her own claims.  What she wanted to believe was what she believed, and woe betide you if you contradicted her wishes.  Like many ignorant people, she seemed unaware that men may honestly disagree sometimes.  Even her admirers describe her as “strong-willed”.  I remember asking for evidence that Mithras had twelve disciples, and, after much abuse, being shown a relief with a Zodiac on it, and told that if the apostles were sometimes depicted as the zodiac in the renaissance, then clearly this showed that Mithras had twelve disciples.  If you disagreed with her, on whatever basis, she asserted that you were simply dishonest.

I usually felt sorry for her, except when provoked by some very gross piece of intellectual dishonesty.  Perhaps I am unduly imaginative or sentimental, but I always felt pity for this poor woman.  She was somebody’s little girl, somebody’s “mum”.  Indeed any sensitive man must look at how women are treated in our times with hearthbreak and shame.  Everything is against them.  Everything encourages women when young to throw themselves away outside of marriage.  The pain, guilt and misery that results must ruin many lives.  In attempting to cope with the guilt, some turn into railers at Christians – the only people to say “this is wrong” – and, in their howls, one can sometimes hear the pain of a violated conscience.  Acharya often railed against men, and “patriarchy”.  Was there some awful experience at the hands of some selfish man or selfish men in her past?  I do not know.

But it is impossible to look at her life, and not feel a sense of waste.  The world owes a great debt to energetic, single-minded women such as Florence Nightingale, or Elizabeth Fry, or several modern women.  Such women are often personally charming, as Acharya was, and often attract dedicated supporters who feel chivalrous towards them, as she did.  They are often determined to an intimidating degree, as Acharya seems to have been.  Such women can achieve much.  What can be vices in conversation can become virtues for society as a whole.  Acharya S might have been one such.  Who can say?

May the God whom she was so fierce against in life have mercy upon her, and rescue her, somehow, from the consequences of her wrong choices in life.

RIP “Acharya S”, 25th December 2015.

Edit: Add a couple of words of clarification at one or two points.

  1. [1] A sample post from 2005 is here, which helpfully tells us the source from which they were then disseminated: The page at no longer contains these claims, and were prevented from archiving it.  However her PDF “Origins of Christianity”, although revised somewhat, still contains a  version of much of these claims.