Narratives about Constantinople – the “Patria”

There is a collection of medieval texts, more or less inter-connected, which contain descriptions of Constantinople, its monuments, statues, origins and so on.  I have mentioned a couple already in discussing the tombs of the emperors at the Church of the Holy Apostles, and I have discussed why George Codinus cannot be the author of any of them.  But the time has come to give a proper list of the texts in question, if only because I am becoming a little confused myself!

Thankfully I found online today a PDF copy of G. Dagron’s Constantinople Imaginaire (1984), which gives us the information we need to make sense of this confusing body of texts.

  • Edition: Th. Preger, Scriptores originum Constantinopolitarum, 2 vols, 1901 and 1907.  Page numbering is continuous across both vols.
  • English translation: Albrecht Berger, Accounts of Medieval Constantinople: The Patria, Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 24, 2013.

The Patria may be divided into three groups as follows:

1.  Three independent works which were assimilated into the patriographical corpus in the 10th century.

1.1.  H = A work under the title Patri/a Kwnstantinoupo/lewj, being a abbreviated extract from Hesychius of Miletus’ lost History (6th c.).  Preserved only in ms. Vatican Palatinus gr. 398 (10th c.).  Ed. Preger, p.1-18.

1.2.   P  = A series of “Brief historical notes”, Parasta/seij su/ntomai xronikai, on the monuments and marvels of Constantinople.  A single manuscript, ms. Paris gr. 1336 (11th c.), gives us what one might be tempted to call the original 8th century text, except that it is more a stage in the transmission and stabilisation of a tradition which seems to originate in the 6th century and appears in remodelled form in the collection in the 10th. Ed. Preger, p.19-73.

1.3.    D   =  A narrative which may be dated with difficulty between the 8-10th century, on the construction of Hagia Sophia by Justinian.  Historical matter and direct observation is fitted into a largely legendary framework.  This work has a separate manuscript tradition of its own, being found not only in the Patria of the 10th c. but also in later chronicles: Glycas and Dorotheus of Monemvasia.  Ed. Preger, p.74-108.

2.  The second collection seems to go back to around 995 AD and was later placed under the name of one Georgios Kodinos.  It was in this form that the Patria circulated most widely: Preger lists 64 manuscripts, and there may be more.  The collection contains:

2.1.  K I  = A reworked version of the Hesychius fragment.  Ed. Preger p. 133-150.

2.2.  K II = A chapter “on the statues” created from “brief notices” but also including other sources about the monuments of Constantinople.  Ed. Preger, p.151-209.

2.3.  K III = After a “parasite” text on the first 8 councils of the church, there is a collection of 215 paragraphs “on the foundations”, perhaps extracted from some chronicle.  Ed. Preger, p.214-283.

2.4.  K IV = A repeat of the “Narrative of the construction of Hagia Sophia” augmented with some additions.  Ed. Preger, p.284-289.

3.  A remodelling of the above which doesn’t change the content or form, but merely the order of the text, given by various “topographical recensions”, one of which was edited by Alexius I Comnenus (1081-1118).

It would be interesting to know what the Bekker edition and the Patrologia Graeca reprint of it relate to, since these are freely available and contain a Latin translation.


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