Archive Page 2

A drawing of the Meta Sudans by Piranesi

A correspondent kindly drew my attention to this page on Wikimedia Commons, where there is a drawing published in 1756 by Piranesi, from Le antichità Romane vol. 1, pl. 36, of the Arch of Constantine, and the now destroyed fountain, the Meta Sudans.[1]  The scans were made in Japan from a 19th century reprint.

Here is a small version of the whole drawing, for context:


The Meta Sudans is at the right.  Here’s a zoomed in version of that part of the drawing:


The nearby figure of a man conveniently gives the scale, which indicates just how tall the monument was in the 18th century; three times the height of a man, and so about twice the size that it appears in 19th century photographs, after the top half was removed.  It also confirms the foliage growing on top of it, as is seen in some paintings.

This is a very useful bit of documentary evidence of the state of the fountain before it was truncated.

  1. [1] Le antichità Romane. Tomo I, tav. XXXVI // Opere di Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Francesco Piranesi e d’altri. Firmin Didot Freres, Paris, 1835-1839. Tomo 1. Scans from

The hairstyle of Julia Domna

Via Ticia Verveer on Twitter I came across this unusual item, today held in the Metropolitan Museum in New Year.  It is a gem, a beryl, an intaglio – i.e. an incised – portrait of Julia Domna, the wife of the emperor Septimius Severus.  According to the museum, it is 2.4 cms in height – just under an inch tall, and dates to 201-210 A.D.  Click on the image below for full size.

Beryl Intaglio with Portrait of the Empress Julia Domna. Met Museum.

Beryl Intaglio with Portrait of the Empress Julia Domna. Met Museum.

What interested me was that the hair looked almost real.  We have many portraits of the women of that family, with the elaborate hairstyles then in fashion, but they always look utterly artificial and unlike anything a woman would wear.

But the portrait above is not like that.  I can easily visualise a woman whose hair is braided like that.  It is not too different from what women do even today, although more elaborate.

Which makes this item, despite being a precious art work, invaluable as a way to bring the past to life.

My thanks to the museum for making such a wonderful portrait available online.

From my diary

A translation of another piece on Nicholas of Myra has arrived.  This is the Laudatio S. Nicholai, found in the manuscripts of the sermons of Proclus of Constantinople – early 5th century – but is clearly not by him.  Once I’ve paid for it, I will release it online.

From my diary

My apologies for the test posts.  Twitter insists on displaying an image with every notification of a post made here, and it’s always blank unless I include an image.  I’ve just been tweaking the theme to ensure that an image is always displayed.  It took 3 goes to get right!

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 18b (part 2)

We now get the first significant chunk of Islamic history.

5. When Abu Bakr became caliph, there was the first riddah [war] among the Arabs, but he fought those who did not remain in Islam to the end.  Then he sent Khalid ibn al-Walid with a huge army into Iraq.  Khalid encamped in Mesopotamia.  The notables of the place came to meet them, he gave them a guarantee of security and they made a pact of peace with him by giving him seventy thousand dirhams: this was the first jizya in Iraq and the first money that was given to Abu Bakr from Iraq.  Next Abu Bakr sent letters to Yemen, to Ta’if, Mecca and to other Arab people asking aid to subjugate Rum.  They responded to his appeal, and Abu Bakr put in charge of the expedition Amr ibn al-As, Sarhabil ibn Hasana, Abu Ubayda ibn al-Garrah and Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan.  He entrusted to them the fighters and designated as supreme head Amr ibn al-As, ordering them to focus on Syria taking the road to Aylah.  He ordered them not to kill old people or children or women, not to cut down fruit trees, not to destroy the towns, not to burn the palms, not to cripple and kill sheep, cows and goats.  They made their way until they came to a village called Tādūn, in the territory of Ghazza, on the border with al-Hiğāz.  Having been informed that in the city of Ghazza the armies of Heraclius were concentrating, who was then in Damascus, Amr ibn al-As wrote to Abu Bakr asking for reinforcements, and making him aware of the plans of Heraclius.  Abu Bakr then wrote to Khalid ibn al-Walid to bring his men to Amr ibn al-As to support him.  So Khalid ibn al-Walid moved from Mesopotamia taking the way of the desert until he reached Amr ibn al-As.  Meanwhile the soldiers of Heraclius were well fortified in Ghazza.  Having come to Ghazza, the patrician who commanded the army of Heraclius turned to the Muslim soldiers and asked them to send him their commander, in order to know, through him, what they had to say.  Khalid then said to Amr ibn al-As: “You go”, and Amr went.  He opened the gate of Ghazza and entered.  When he came to the patrician, he greeted him and said: “Why have you come into our country, and what do you want?”  Amr ibn al-As replied: “Our king has ordered us to fight you.  But if you embrace our religion, if you feel it is as useful to you as it is to us, and harmful to your interests as it is to ours, if you are our brothers, then we will not allow wrong or revenge to be done to you.  If you refuse, you will pay the jizya: a jizya agreed between us, every year, forever, as long as we live, and you live: we will fight for you against anyone who dares to oppose you and lay claim on your territory, on your lives, on your assets, and on your children; we will take care of these things for you if you accept our protection by entering into an agreement for this purpose.  If you refuse then there will be between us only the judgment of the sword: we will fight to the death, and until we get what we want from you.”  On hearing the words of Amr ibn al-As and seeing the lack of hesitation that the subject gave him, the patrician said to his men: “I think he is the leader of the people.”  So he ordered them to kill Amr as soon as he came to the gate of the city.  There was with Amr a slave named Wardan, who knew Greek very well because he was Greek.  Wardan informed Amr of what he had heard: “Be very careful how to escape.”  The patrician then asked Amr ibn al-As: “Is there anyone like you, among your companions?”  Amr replied: “I’m the the least of all who speak, and less authoritative than any other.  I am merely a messenger, and repeat what was said to me by my colleagues, ten people more important than me, who are busy with soldiers and wanted to come with me, here with you.  But they sent me to hear what you have to tell us.  However, if you want me to make them come here, so you can listen to them, and to know that I told you the truth, I will.”  The patrician said to him: “Yes, let them come.”  In fact, he thought and said to himself: “I think it’s better to kill many than just one.”  So he sent word to those, to whom he had given the order to kill Amr, not to do it, and to let him out without any trouble, in the hope that he would bring his ten companions and kill them all together.  After he had come out of the gate, Amr ibn al-As informed his men of what had happened and said: “I never go back to someone like that,” and he finished talking, shouting, “Allahu Akbar!”  The Rum came out against the Arabs and engaged in a violent battle with them, but were put to flight.  The Muslims made a great slaughter of them, and then gave chase, driving them into Palestine and Jordan.  They took refuge in Jerusalem, in Caesarea, and wherever they could.  The Muslims left them and went away from the parts of al-Bathaniyyah.  Then he wrote to Abu Bakr informing him of what had happened.  When the messenger came to him, he was already dead and had been succeeded by Umar ibn al-Khattab.  Abu Bakr himself, when he was sick, designated Umar ibn al-Khattab as his successor and ordered  Uthman ibn Affan to put this in writing.

6. Abu Bakr died on the penultimate day of the month of ğumāda al-akhar, in the thirteenth year of the Hegira.  The ritual prayers were held by Umar ibn al-Khattab.  He was buried in the same house in which Muhammad had been buried.  His caliphate lasted two years, three months and twenty-two days.  He died at the age of seventy-three.  Abu Bakr was tall, with a fair complexion which verged on pale, thin, with a thin, sparse beard, a gaunt face and sunken eyes.  He dyed his beard with hinna and cetamo, and his waist could barely bear the izar.  His minister was Abu Qahhafa as-Sandas and his hāgib was his freedman Sadid.

Manuscript of Eusebius’ Quaestiones ad Stephanum/Marinum now online!

Readers may remember that a few years ago I published a translation of Eusebius of Caesarea’s Gospel Problems and Solutions (Quaestiones ad Stephanum et Marinum).  Today I learn from a correspondent that the main manuscript, Vaticanus Palatinus Graecus 220, has been digitised and is now online at the Vatican website!  Folios 61-91 contain the work, which is itself an abbreviation of the original in 3 books, which discussed differences between the start and end of each gospel, and attempted to resolve them.

It is interesting to see that there are scholia on some leaves.  I include an image of one below.  Does anyone know what it says?

Here’s the opening of the work (f.61) (click on the images for a clearer image):


Here is an example of the start of a “question” (f.92):


Here is where it breaks of, without any colophon (f.96):


And here on folio 90v is a scholion:


I’ve zoomed in somewhat, and it would be interesting to know what it says.

Seeing this crystal-clear manuscript makes me wish we had had it available, back when David Miller was working on the translation.   As it is, we may be so grateful that this is now freely available online!

UPDATE: A correspondent in the comments has kindly translated the gloss for us – thank you!  It reads:

No! But the true mother of the Lord herself is said mother of Jacob and Jose, who are considered brothers of the Lord, being natural sons of Joseph, from his first wife, Salome. For Joseph had four sons: Jacob and Jose and Simon and Jude. And as the mother of the Lord was considered wife of Joseph, so she was considered mother of his sons.

In Memoriam: Eve Parkes (d. 2016), Interlibrary loans officer at Ipswich Library

Scholarship depends more than we sometimes admit on the support that we receive from library staff.  I learned today that the lady, who for almost two decades has handled my interlibrary loans, died suddenly in the street.  I’d like to acknowledge what she did for me, although she was a stranger to me.

I first became seriously interested in the Fathers and Tertullian in 1997, when I came onto the web and started the Tertullian Project.  I live in a small town in the country.  But the library service offered a free interlibrary loans facility, via the British Lending Library in Boston Spa, whereby scholarly books and articles could be obtained, so long as you were willing to wait for several weeks.  I borrowed the volumes of Quasten, from which I learned most of what I know, before buying my own copies through Amazon.  I borrowed all sorts of items, and became well known to the staff; and indeed I have done so now for almost twenty years.  Sadly the free service soon became a charged-for service; and the prices rose so high that almost nobody can afford to use it.

One of the staff was a rather confused-looking cringing woman, who appeared to be a bit mentally deficient.  I was rather dismayed, therefore, when she was placed in charge of handling interlibrary loans.  Her name was Eve Parkes, and it could be rather a trial to explain to her what I wanted.  She tended to just repeat herself a lot.  I rather worried that the service would become impossible.  But instead she grew into the role.  Doing a responsible role successfully was good for her as well – she had found a niche in life, which she knew thoroughly, and she could even grow argumentative in her authority.

At one point the library service allowed me to order books by email.  They soon found it convenient to stop this; but Eve allowed me to continue by emailing her directly.  This was a great boon to me, as I often travel during the week, and it can be rather a trial of patience to get served in person on a Saturday.

A couple of years ago the county council decided to get rid of the library service in order to divert money to other purposes.[1]  The method chosen was not simple abolition, which might have attracted public outrage, but by the devious “slow death” method of replacing staff with “volunteers”, closing branches, etc.  This shameful action meant many changes at the library.  One of them was that British Library orders now cost $22 each – an impossible sum.  But I learned from Eve that the “local” ILL service, which had only covered the county and its adjoining counties, now also could obtain books from university libraries.  This was only $4.50; and it worked fine.

In recent years the availability of Google Books and PDFs online meant that I did fewer orders.  But they all came through.  Indeed I once needed books urgently, and she made it happen.

This week that I emailed an order in, and found to my surprise that it came back “unknown address”.  I went into the library today (Saturday), and learned from her colleagues that she died suddenly, collapsing in the street.  The cause of death is not known, but she was overweight and looked unhealthy; and no doubt it was a heart attack or something of the sort.  She was only in her early 60’s.

I didn’t know her personally, but she looked after me down the years.  I don’t suppose that anyone will remember her.  So let me here acknowledge how much I owed to her, someone who made a difference.

May she rest in peace.

  1. [1] As the council tax continues to rise, the money is still there; but clearly being diverted.

Paul the Persian: Zoroastrianism is incoherent, but science is a better guide

In my last post, we found Armenian writer Eznik of Kolb stating that the Avesta was not in written form in his own time, the 5th century AD.  This information came to us via Zaehner’s book on Zurvan.[1]

Zaehner also gives us a comment on Zoroastrianism by none other than Paul the Persian!  This obscure writer will be familiar to few of us, as he wrote in Middle Persian, and almost none of the Christian literature in that language survives.  However we know a little about him from Bar Hebraeus, and a few other sources.

Paul the Persian lived in the later 6th century. The Chronicle of Seert tells us that he hoped to be Bishop of Persis, but on failing to be elected, sadly he apostasised to Zoroastrianism.

He wrote works in Middle Persian on Aristotle, for the Sassanid Persian king. Some of these were translated into Syriac, some by Severus Sebokht, and so they exist in a shadowy form in Syriac manuscripts and obscure publications.

Zaehner quotes Paul on Zoroastrianism, and we will come to this in a moment.  But his source is almost equally interesting.  For he gives as a reference “Casartelli, The Philosophy of the Mazdayasnian Religion under the Sassanids, p.1″.  This itself is a curiosity. It can be found at here, from which I learn that it is a translation from the French[2], and that it was published in 1889, in India!  The translation was made by Firoz Jamaspji Dastur Jamasp Asa, rather than by an Anglo-Indian.  Here is what the learned Indian – a Parsee? – has to say:

1. Paul of Dair-i Shar, a learned Persian, who flourished at the court of the greatest of the Sassanide kings, Khosrav Anosheravan (A. D. 531—57S) gives us, in an impressive picture, the different theories on the nature and attributes of God, which were shared at the time among the minds of his fellow-countrymen.

“There are some,” he says, “who believe in only one God; others claim that He is not the only God; some teach that He possesses contrary qualities; others say that He does not possess them; some admit that He is omnipotent; others deny that He has power over everything. Some believe that the world and everything contained therein have been created; others think that all the things are not created. And there are some who maintain that the world has been made ex nihilo; according to others (God) has drawn it out from an (preexisting matter).”[1]

2. One might suspect that in this passage, amidst some general remarks on philosophical theories, Paul is speaking about various doctrines scattered over the whole world, especially as he was a Christian, and had studied the heathen philosophies of Greece in the schools of Nisibis or of Jondishapur.[2] But it must be remembered that the writer is here addressing himself directly to king Khosrav, and mentioning to him details which must have been familiar to him, just as he cites elsewhere[3] in proof of multi vocal words the Persian names of the sun. It is therefore very probable that the author is here describing the opinions which were current in his time in the bosom of the Eranian religion itself. Moreover, it cannot be doubtful to those who are aware of the divergence of opinions which separated the numerous Eranian sects, that Paul is here enumerating faithfully the characteristic doctrines of the Eranian sects of the Sassanide period.

[1] Paulus Persa, Logica, fol. 56; from Land, Anecdota Syriaca, vol. IV, Leyden, 1875 (translation p.8).
[2] Land, ibid., Scholia, p.100.
[3]  Paulus Persa, Logica, fol. 58v.

Paul, then, is testifying that Zoroastrianism had no settled teachings on a good number of subjects even in the 6th century AD.

While looking up Paul, I discovered yet another interesting snippet.

The Encyclopedia Iranica informs us that Paul’s Treatise on the Logic of Aristotle the Philosopher addressed to King Ḵosrow or Chosroes I, as we would know him, is the Logica referenced above, published by Land, and extant in British Library ms. 988 [Add. 14660], foll. 55ᵛ-67ʳ; Wright, 1872, p. 1161.  Apparently the first half of this work has been translated into French by Teixidor (1992, pp. 129-32; 1998b), which is good news for those who wish to read it in something other than a Latin translation.

Apparently Paul argued, either in this or a related lost work, that through knowledge one may attain certainty, allowing people to reach unanimous agreement. Faith, however, can neither gain exact knowledge nor eliminate doubt, leading to dissension and discord.  These ideas influenced later Arabic writers, who record some of the ideas.[3]  Sadly I was unable to obtain access to either of the references.  One would like to know exactly whose words these are; and how closely related to Paul’s own words.

  1. [1] Robert Charles Zaehner, Zurvan: A Zoroastrian Dilemma, Biblo & Tannen Publishers, 1955; 128-9.  Google Books preview here.
  2. [2] L.C.Casartelli, La philosophie religieuse du Mazdeisme sous les Sassanides, 1884.  Google Books (US only).  The French includes the original Syriac, which is omitted by the English.
  3. [3] EI gives: D. Gutas, “Paul the Persian on the Classification of the Parts of Aristotle’s Philosophy: A Milestone Between Alexandria and Baghdad,” Der Islam 60/2, 1983, pp. 231-67 (p.247); reprinted in his Greek Philosophers in the Arabic Tradition, Aldershot, 2000; J. Texidor, “Science versus foi chez Paul le Perse. Une note,” in From Byzantium to Iran: Armenian Studies in Honour of Nina Garsoïan, ed. J.-P. Mahé and R. W. Thomson, Atlanta, 1996, pp. 509-19.

Eznik of Kolb: the Avesta was not transmitted in writing but orally

A tweet by @BLAsia_Africa led me to a neglected passage in Eznik of Kolb, the 5th century Armenian writer, and a quotation from Paul the Persian!  From it I learned that:

…the Avesta was transmitted orally and not written down!

The author drew this conclusion after reading some remarks by R. C. Zaehner in 1955[1]:

However, whatever our view on the evidence of Paulus Persa, we have two other testimonies which can leave us in little doubt as to the fluidity of Zoroastrian dogma in Sassanian times. These are supplied by the Armenians Eznik of Kolb and Elise Vardapet. Eznik, like the nameless heretic of the Denkart, was struck by their inconsistency. ‘Their foolishness’, he says, ‘is enough to refute them from their own words which are mutually exclusive and self-contradictory’;[7] and again, repeating the oft-made charge that they had no books, he says: ‘Since their laws are not in books, sometimes they say one thing with which they deceive, and sometimes another with which they seduce, the ignorant.’[1]

[7] Ed. Venice, 1926, bk. ii, §2, p.128; Langlois, ii, p.375; Schmid, p.94.
[1] Venice, 1926, ii, 9, p.156; Langlois, ii, p.381; Schmid, pp. 111-12.

(Langlois = V. Langlois, Collection des historiens anciens et modernes de l’Arménie, 2 vols, 1867: p.179-251; Schmid = J.M. Schmid, Wardapet Eznik von Kolb: Wider die Sekten. Aus den Armenischen ubersetzt…, Vienna, 1900. Online here.)

There is actually a complete English translation, and I used to have a copy but it was mislaid.  So let’s use Langlois, and just check the context of that quote.  It appears in column 1 on p.381, in about the middle of the page:

En second lieu, pour cacher cette honteuse action, [Zoroastre] publie que pour le besoin des jugements [Ormizt et Arhmèn] ont créé [le soleil].  Aussi comme les dogmes religieux ne sont pas écrits, tantôt ils disent une chose, et se trompent, tantôt ils en disent une autre, et ils trompent les ignorants. Cependant si Ormizt était Dieu, il pouvait tirer les autres du néant, comme il avait créé les cieux et la terre, et non pas au moyen d’un commerce infame, ou bieu en raison de l’absence d’un juge.

Secondly, in order to conceal this shameful act, [Zoroaster] set forth that [Ormazd and Ahriman] created [the sun] to perform judgements.  Also as the religious teachings are not written down, sometimes they say one thing, and are deceived, sometimes they say another about this, and deceive the ignorant.  However if Ormazd was god, he could brings the others out from nothing, like he created the heavens and the earth, and not by means of an infamous commerce, or because there was no judge.

That does seem like a pretty clear statement that the Avesta, the Zoroastrian scriptures, did not exist in written form at this date as far as Eznik knew; and that in consequence Zoroastrian teaching was pretty fluid.  I have seen popular claims that Christianity borrowed from Zoroastrian sources; but if there really are similarities, chronology would suggest that the borrowing is in the other direction.

  1. [1] Robert Charles Zaehner, Zurvan: A Zoroastrian Dilemma, Biblo & Tannen Publishers, 1955; 128-9.  Google Books preview here.

A couple of pictures of the start and end of Melito’s “De pascha” (On Easter)

Until 1940 Melito of Sardis was an obscure figure of the 2nd century AD, known mainly from Eusebius, who mentioned that he wrote a work on Easter.  In that year there appeared an edition and translation of On Easter (De Pascha).  It was based on a 4th c. papyrus codex which had come from Egypt.[1] This had been broken up, and portions of the almost complete text were in Dublin at the Chester Beatty library[2] while the remainder were at the University of Michigan.  A more complete text was published in 1960 from Bodmer Papyrus XII (start of the 4th c.),[3]  and a modern edition appeared in 1979.[4]

Coptologist Alin Suciu recently published pictures of manuscript pages on his facebook page, showing the start and end of the work.  I thought that many people might perhaps like to see them.

First the start of the work (following the end of Enoch), from the Chester Beatty codex.  Click on the image for a larger picture.


There is a large ENWX, then a line, and then MELITWN (Of Melito).  The title, however, is missing.

The Chester Beatty-Michigan manuscript is defective at the end, so we don’t know how the final portion of it looked.   But in the Bodmer manuscript, both the start and end of the work are present, and the name and title are shown in both places as Μελίτωνος Περὶ Πασχα.  I am told that in fact there is a title page with this on, before the first actual page of text.[5]


The work ends with MELITWNOS PERI PASXA.  This is followed by two lines which Alin translates for us:

After the subscription of the work, the scribe added a “colophon” (actually a scribal note): “Peace to the one who wrote, to the one who reads, and to those who love the Lord with sincerity of heart.”

An otherwise lost work found in damaged papyrus codices… Indiana Jones, eat your heart out!

UPDATE: My thanks to the correspondent who pointed out my mistake in supposing these images were from a single manuscript; and also that the Chester Beatty portions of the ms. are online here.

  1. [1] Campbell Bonner, The Homily on the Passion by Melito Bishop of Sardis with some fragments of the Apocryphal Ezekiel, London, 1940.
  2. [2] Shelfmark CBL BP XII, images online at the CSNTM site here, but viewable only through a dreadful “viewer” application.
  3. [3] M. Testuz, Bibliotheca Bodmeriana, Cologny-Geneve, 1960.
  4. [4] Edition and translation by Stuart Hall, Melito of Sardis: On Pascha and fragments, Oxford, 1979.  For the Bodmer papyri, see James M. Robinson, The Story of the Bodmer Papyri: From the First Monastery’s Library in Upper Egypt to Geneva and Dublin, 2014.  Preview here.
  5. [5] My thanks to the correspondent who drew my attention to my mistakes and supplied this information.