The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 18b (part 1)

We now come to the start of the portion of the Annals where the Muslims take centre stage.  But there is still some Roman and Sassanid Persian history to run.

CALIPHATE OF ABU BAKR (11-13 / 632-634)

1. The Muslims were unanimous in giving the bay`ah to Abu Bakr, i.e. to ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Uthman b. ‘Amir b. Ka’ab b. Sa’d b. Taym b. Murra.  His mother was Selma, daughter of Sakhr b. ‘Amur b. Ka’ab b. Sa’d b. Taym b. Murra.  He was given the bay’ah on the same day that Mohammed died.  His influential advisers were Umar ibn al-Khattab and Uthman ibn Affan.  This was in the eleventh year of the reign of Heraclius, King of Rum.  In that year there was made patriarch of Rome Honorius.  He held the office for eighteen years and died.

2. As for Kisra, son of Hormuz, now in his city, and seeing the killings and destruction that Heraclius had caused there, he was deeply distressed, but he did not cease his despotic behavior.  The people felt oppressed by his authority, their patience broke down and they said:  “This is a man who has a jinx.  During his reign the Persians have been killed and their homes have been destroyed.”  So they deposed him, after a thirty-eight year reign, and put in his place his son Qabād, whose real name was Shirūyeh, son of Mary, the daughter of king Maurice, king of Rum, because of whom all those misfortunes had arisen: in fact he had been killed and Kisra had tried to avenge him as his son-in-law.  Having become king, Qabād, son of Kisra, proclaimed justice, made public the misfortune of which the sons of his father were the architects, who were adverse to him because of his mother, and had eighteen of them killed.  Others managed to escape.  Then he said: “I will free the people from tax, because of my justice and my good will.”  Unfortunately it was not long before the plague fell upon the people of his kingdom.  Many died and among them the king Shirūyeh, i.e. Qabād, and his father Kisra.  His reign had lasted eight months.

3. After him reigned Azdashīr, son of Shirūyeh, but the governor of the neighboring western state attacked him, and killed him.  His reign had lasted five months.  Then a man named Gurhan advanced his claims over the kingdom, a man who did not belong to the royal line, and none of whose lineage had ever aspired to be king before him.  He was the same man whom Abarwiz had sent to fight against the Rum and had named Shahrmārān, and he was then murdered by a woman of the royal house, named Arazmindukht, who managed to make him fall by his own treachery.  His reign lasted twenty-two days and he does not appear in the list of Kings.  After him there reigned a descendant of Hurmuz who was based in Turkey.  He came when he learned that he was in line for the succession.  His name was Kisra, son of Qabād, son of Hurmuz.  But the governor of the neighboring state of Khurasan attacked him and killed him.  His reign lasted only three months and he does not appear in the list of Kings.  After him reigned Murli, daughter of Kisra II, sister of Kisra on her mother’s side, for a year and a half;  she did not demand tribute and divided her property among the soldiers.  She reigned and was counted in the number of the kings of Persia.  After her reigned a man named Hushnastadih, a son of the paternal uncle of Kisra.  He reigned for two months, then he was killed.  He does not appear in the list of Kings.  There reigned after him Azarmindukht, daughter of Kisra, but only for a short time because she was poisoned and died.  She reigned one year and four months.  She reigned and was counted in the number of the kings of Persia.  After her reigned a man named Farrukhrādkhushri for a single month and was killed.  He is not counted among the kings of Persia.

4. The period during which Shirūyeh and the men and women who succeeded him reigned, whether included or not included in the number of the kings of Persia, up until Farrukhrādkhushrī, including an interruption between [the] two reigns, was four years.  It was a period of unrest and turmoil.  But when the Persians became aware of the discord that reigned over them, of the ascendancy that was gradually going to Rum and of the corruption into which their religion and their ordinary life had fallen, they sent for a son of Kisra named Yazdagard, who had run away from Shirūyeh when he had had his brothers put to death.  They proclaimed him their king even though he was only fifteen.  There were various parties and their factions were divided, warring against each other.  The inhabitants of each place, town or village of the kingdom fought against their neighbors.  Such a diffusion of disorder, of division of the community, corruption of the kingdom and discord among the people in the city lasted for eight months.  The reign of Yazdagard coincided with the first year of the caliphate of Abu Bakr, and the eleventh year of the reign of Heraclius, King of Rum.


Some post-renaissance paintings of the Meta Sudans

Regular readers will be aware that I am interested in the Meta Sudans, a Roman fountain that stood in Rome outside the Colosseum, and behind the Arch of Constantine, until it was demolished by Mussolini in the 1930s.  By that time it was merely a stump, but earlier representations show that it was originally much taller.

Today I came across a paper by Dafina Gerasimovska, which collected representations of the Colosseum, as a way to learn more about Roman architecture.[1]:

When talking about architectural buildings from Antiquity we rely on archaeological finds and written sources. Even coins can provide information about the look of ancient Roman architecture. …

An additional rich source of clues to the original appearance of buildings and their condition at certain times, however, can be found in paintings, drawings, engravings, etchings, prints, watercolours, old reconstructions and other artistic works of different periods in the past. Many painters, engravers, architects, travellers and diplomats interested in architectural remains have left works that serve as alternative sources for the study of cultural history and the architectural monuments which form a part of that history.

This article is not intended to highlight the artistic value of the achievements of famous artists inspired by Roman buildings but to emphasize the significance of these works as historical documents—as evidence of their existence, of changes in their appearance over time, of their ruin or of their recovery.

Inevitably this paper contained images of the Meta Sudans.  Here are some of them.  I apologise for the rather awkward way that WordPress displays these – click on the image to get the full size original.

The oldest one is by Dutch artist Gaspar van Wittel (1653–1736) who went to Rome in 1675.  From his views of the Colosseum, I have excerpted the following:

Gaspar van Wittell, Colosseum - extract view of the Meta Sudans
Gaspar van Wittell, Colosseum – extract view of the Meta Sudans

Note the slender, tall appearance of the fountain, which I have marked with a red box.  The next one is by Giovanni Paolo Panini (c.1691–c.1765), from his 1758 Gallery Displaying Views of Ancient Rome.

Panini (1758) - Meta Sudans
Panini (1758) – Meta Sudans

The interesting part of this one, is that it shows a band around the Meta Sudans, about halfway up.  This sort of thing appears in the ancient coins that depict the Meta Sudans.

The final item is a drawing by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778) from his The Antiquities of Rome in 1756:


Again this shows a tall Meta Sudans, although not clearly.

All of these are very interesting evidence on the shape of a now vanished Roman monument.

  1. [1]Dafina Gerasimovska, “Alternative Sources for studying Roman architecture”, Online here.

What patristic authors are extant in Old Slavonic?

An interesting volume came into my hands lately:

Regarding your question as to what patristic works have been translated into Old Slavonic, the best resource to check with is a catalogue of the Old Slavonic texts prepared by a group of Russian scholars two years ago: Katalog Pam’jatnikov drevnerusskoj pismennosti XI-XIV vv. (rukopisnyje knigi), Studiorum Slavicorum Orbis (Saint Petersburg: Bulanin, 2014). This work covers XI-XIV centuries and includes one section on Scripture and one section on patristic texts with a list of MSS for each particular writing. …

The section on patristic writers is on pages 98-280, preceeded by translations of Scripture and followed by hagiographic (mostly Byzantine) works, homilies and other things.

The work is, of course, in Russian, which makes it rather difficult for the rest of us.  But I thought that I would have a go at seeing what Google Translate could make of it.  The results were less good than I had hoped, but better than I had feared.  Here is what I could make of the list of authors:

  • Augustine
  • Agapetus
  • Abba Ammon
  • Amphilochius of Iconium
  • Anastasius of Antioch
  • Anastasius Sinaiticus – a lot of this
  • Andrew of Crete
  • Anthony
  • Athanasius of Alexandria – lots
  • Basil of Amasea
  • Basil of Ancyra – lots
  • Gennadius of Constantinople
  • Gennadius of Jerusalem
  • George of Nicomedia
  • Patriarch Germanus I of Constantinople
  • Gregory of Antioch
  • Gregory the Dialogist (Pope Gregory the Great)
  • Gregory of Nyssa
  • Gregory of Sinai
  • Gregory Thaumaturgus
  • Diadochus of Photiki (?)
  • Dionysius of Alexandria
  • Dionysius the Areopagite
  • Dorotheus of Gaza
  • Dorotheus of Tyre
  • Evagrius
  • Eusebius of Alexandria
  • Eusebius of Caesarea – looks like bits of the Quaestiones ad Marinum
  • Epiphanius
  • Ephrem the Syrian
  • John Damascene
  • John Chrysostom – an awful lot of this
  • John the Faster, patriarch of Constantinople
  • John Philoponus
  • Hippolytus of Rome
  • Irenaeus of Lyons
  • Isaac the Syrian
  • Isidore of Pelusium – more than you’d expect
  • Hesychius
  • Justin the Philosopher (i.e. Justin Martyr)
  • Cyril of Alexandria
  • Cyril of Jerusalem
  • Clement of Alexandria
  • Clement of Ohrid
  • Pope Leo I – Tome to Flavian
  • Macarius the Great
  • Maximus the Confessor
  • Nemesius
  • Nicetas of Heraclea
  • Nilus of Sinai
  • Olympiodorus
  • Palladius
  • Peter of Alexandria
  • Peter of Antioch
  • Peter of Damascus
  • Saba
  • Symeon the New Theologian
  • Sosipater
  • Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem
  • Timothy, Archbishop of Alexandria
  • Timothy, Presbyter of Constantinople
  • Theodoret of Cyrrhus – a fair amount
  • Theophanes
  • Theophilus of Alexandria
  • Epictetus the Philosopher

The section ends with anonymous homilies.  I’ve left the order above as it is in the Russian, for ease of location.

Happy fishing!


From my diary

Brady Kiesling has kindly sent me a translation from the Greek of codex 186 of Photius’ Bibliotheca.  I have added it to the translations that I have online here.  My list of all the codices – sections – in the Bibliotheca is here.

Photius’ work, composed in the 9th century, consists of summaries of the content of 280 volumes of ancient literature still extant in his day.  Since many are now lost, these summaries are invaluable.

Codex 186 contains a summary of the Fifty Narrations by Conon, a Greek writing at the time of Augustus.  The work gives summaries of Greek mythology.

My sincere thanks to Dr Kiesling for his generosity.  I wish that I could return to translating the Bibliotheca.  Perhaps one day!

I am still convalescing from the vicious dose of flu, which has so far lasted more than three weeks.  Fortunately I seem to be recovering, at long last.

In the mean time, confined to a sofa as I have been, I have taken the opportunity to scour Twitter for claims that “Easter = Ishtar / Astarte” and the like.  All these claims derive from the nonsensical claims of Alexander Hislop in 1850 in his anti-Catholic tract, Two Babylons.  There have been quite a few instances of tweets of this nature, often accompanied by a deliberately hideous depiction of some Babylonian goddess, although fewer than I really expected.

Anyway, I have tweeted a rebuttal of some of them.  Inevitably in some cases this has been met with abuse, or impudence.  It is remarkable how invested some ignorant people are in falsehoods of this kind!  But really, nobody is served by getting the raw facts wrong.  I could wish, however, that there was some way of correcting widely-held mistakes of this kind, other than people like myself writing about it.

This evening I have seen material online suggesting that the damage to the ancient city of Palmyra is rather less than was feared.  I hope this proves to be true.  It is heartening to hear that the Syrians propose to restore the damage.  There is a tendency in Britain to do the opposite.  I remember a fire in a historic street in Ipswich, 20 or 30 years ago.  The Tudor timbers were barely cold before the town council announced its intention, not to rebuild the medieval street as it was, but instead to demolish whatever had survived and build some nondescript modern shops.  And so they did, the vandals.  Thank heavens that the Syrians know better.


“I have run away. Seize me!” – a slave collar of the time of Constantine, and other similar items

Roman society was a brutal place.  At the bottom of the heap were slaves, who could endure a very unpleasant time.  Not unnaturally, some of them ran away; and some were recaptured.

In the museum in Rome in the Baths of Diocletian, there is a slave collar on display. Here are some images of it (click on the images to enlarge them).[1]

Slave collar. 4th century. Baths of Diocletian, Rome.
Slave collar. 4th century. Baths of Diocletian, Rome.


The inscription is straightforward.  Slightly normalised it reads:


I have run away. Catch me. If you return me to my master Zoninus, you will receive a solidus.

A solidus is the standard gold coin of the later Roman empire, so not a small sum.  Clearly this was a valuable slave, and one who didn’t like his or her “employment” much.

For comparison, here is the receipt for another slave.  The tablet was found in London.  The image was reversed and coloured from a photograph.[2]



Vegetus, assistant slave of Montanus the slave of the August Emperor and sometime assistant slave of Secundus, has bought and received by mancipium the girl Fortunata, or by whatever name she is known, by nationality a Diablintian, from […] for six hundred denarii. And that the girl in question is transferred in good health, that she is warranted not to be liable to wander or run away, but that if anyone lays claim to the girl in question or to any share in her, […] in the wax tablet which he has written and sworn by the genius of the Emperor Caesar […]

The girl is a Gaul.  Montanus is an imperial slave – really a civil servant.  Vegetus is also a slave, but clearly able to buy things with his own money, and for a not inconsiderable sum.

There are more items about slaves here.  One of these is witness to an apparently more tender relationship:

Bracelet for a slave girl, from her master. Found near Pompeii
Bracelet for a slave girl, from her master. Found near Pompeii

The inscription reads:


The master to his slave-girl.

It was found on the girl’s arm.  For she died while hiding from the eruption of 79 AD at Pompeii, and her remains were found at modern Moregine, near Pompeii.  The item is now in the National Archaeological Museum, Naples.

But why does it not give her name?

  1. [1]These from Twitter: the first via Kate Cooper; the others taken by Sarah Bond in 2014.
  2. [2]Published in Britannia 34, 2003, 41-51.  Details via here.

P. Petaus 30: A letter describing a travelling book dealer

A tweet today from Sarah Bond drew my attention to an interesting papyrus:

2nd c letter of touring bookseller hawking small membranae (parchment codices)

P.Petaus 30, recto. 2nd c. AD.
P.Petaus 30, recto. 2nd c. AD.
Verso (Click on the image for full size)

Details of the papyrus may be found here, with full-size photographs of recto and verso.  It was first published in 1969.

The papyrus was written around 150 AD by a scribe named Petaus, who lived in the village of Ptolemais Hormou, modern El-Lahun.  It is currently held in Cologne, where the inventory number is P.376.

The author who dictated the letter to the scribe was named Julius Placidus.  The letter was addressed to his father, Herclanus.  It concerned the purchase of books from a dealer who came to him.

The text is transcribed here (and rather better than I can manage in WordPress):


Ἰούλιος Πλάκ[ι]δος Ἡρκλανῶι τῶι
πατρὶ χαίρειν.
Δεῖος γενόμενος παρʼ ἡμε[ῖ]ν ἐπέδει-
ξεν μὲν ἡμεῖν(*) τὰς μεμβρά-
νας ἕ̣ξ̣ .  ἐκεῖθεν μὲν οὐδὲν ἐξελε-
ξάμεθα, ἄλλα δὲ ὀ̣κτὼ ἀντεβά-
λ[ο]μεν, εἰς ἃ ἔδωκα ἐπὶ λόγου (δραχμὰς) ρ.
προνοήσεις μέντοι ̣ ̣ω[ ̣]τα.
τα̣[ ̣] ̣ ̣[ ̣] ̣ ̣ ̣ ̣α ἡμεῖν γενέσθαι.
[ἐρ]ρῶσθ[αί] σε εὔχ̣ο̣μαι.


…̣ ̣[ ̣] ̣[ -ca.?- ] π̣α̣ρ̣[ὰ]

Ἰουλ(ίου) Πλακί[δ](ου) ̣ ̣ ̣ο̣ ̣ ̣ ̣ν̣ο̣ς̣


“Julius Placidus to his father Herclanus, greeting. Dius came to us and showed us six parchment codices (tas membranas hex). We selected none of those, but we collated (antebalomen) eight, for which I paid on account 100 drachmas. You will be on the lookout in any case. . . I hope you are well. . .by Julius Placidus.”[1]

The papyrus is interesting as demonstrating the activities of a bookseller, travelling to his customer.  He had six “parchments”, but Julius Placidus didn’t buy them.  The other eight items, which they “collated”, or “compared” (with copies they already had?) were presumably books on papyrus, the normal material.

The “parchments” are translated above as “parchment codices”, which they probably were.  The first codices were made of wood, in the form of tablets inset with wax, and they were used for exercises or notes.  The wax could be erased easily.  Folded leaves of parchment were the next alternative to these wax tablets, as parchment can also be erased by scraping with a knife.  These notebooks may have been used for the autograph of at least some of the gospels, since early copies of these works are usually in codex form.  But they were mainly used by tradesmen, and literary works were usually on the traditional roll.  The poet Martial extols the value of the parchment codex, ca. 100 AD, in his early work, but as he grew more famous, those encomiums vanish and his books are for sale in roll format.  The eight books of unspecified material were perhaps papyrus rolls.

It is very nice to see the book trade in operation.  It is even nicer that we can get good quality images of the papyrus on the web, with transcription and translation.  We are fortunate people!

  1. [1]From Harry Y. Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church, 1995, p.53.

Why does the date of Easter move about so much?

Very few people seem to understand how the date of Easter is calculated, or why.  I am not among that select group!  I am deeply ignorant of the details.  But I thought that I would share what I do understand, because most people don’t even know as much as I do.  And it is Good Friday, and an Easter post seems appropriate.

Easter is the anniversary of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  The following is the sequence of events:

  • Thursday night – the Jewish passover  began at dusk.  Jesus ate the “Last Supper” – which was actually the passover meal – with his disciples.  He then went out to the Mount of Olives, and was arrested.
  • Friday – Jesus was tried and executed, and died before the sabbath began at dusk; in fact the Romans made sure that he was dead before the sabbath.
  • Saturday – the Jewish sabbath.
  • Sunday – the resurrection.

As we can see, the date of the resurrection is very closely connected with the Jewish festivals.  Because Jesus was a Jew, and was carrying out and fulfilling the Jewish law, you do want to connect your anniversary with these events.

The problem is, you can’t.  And it’s the Jews’ fault, and you can’t fix this unless the Jews change their calendar.

This is because the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar.  It doesn’t relate to the solar calendar that we have.  It has 13 months.  So any date on that lunar calendar moves around, by about a month, when you look at it on our solar calendar.  This is why Easter keeps moving around between March and April in our (solar) calendar.

In fact the Jewish calendar doesn’t even relate that well to itself.  Because the Sabbath is on a Saturday.  But the passover moves around on days of the week.  Thus the passover does not usually start on Thursday night, immediately before the sabbath.

Now the date of passover, which is specified in Leviticus, is the 14th of the Jewish month of Nisan.  This should be on the first full moon of spring (note the lunar element to this).  The first full moon of spring is defined as being the full moon after the spring equinox.  And the spring equinox is the day on which the day and night are of the same length.

But even so the calendar doesn’t really work.  Sometimes an extra month is inserted.  I am told that, in fact, sometimes the rabbis had to adjust the calendar manually to get the passover to appear in the spring at the right point.

So the Jewish calendar is a pain to use.  On the other hand … if you don’t use it, you lose the connection with passover.

Now the decisions had to be made back in the first century AD.  At that time, the situation on calendars was not as simple as it is today.

Firstly, the Jewish calendar is a very ancient thing.  Defective as it is – as all calendars of that period were – it was used wherever the Jews had a synagogue, and so in every city in the Roman world.  It was universal.  So you could follow it anywhere in the Roman empire, or indeed outside.  Your local synagogue would provide the dates.

You could, if you wanted, use the Roman calendar instead.  You’d always know when Sunday was.  But the Roman solar calendar – the Julian calendar – was not used nearly as universally.  Cities would often use the Macedonian months, instead of the Roman ones.  The year would start and stop at different dates.  The main means of dating an event was from the election of annual magistrates.  So in your city, you might not have the choice of saying “23 March”; if, locally, nobody used March to reckon time.  In the east, indeed, nobody did use the Roman months.

The Christians of the 1st and 2nd century AD therefore faced some difficult decisions.

In this awful situation, what are the options?

You can celebrate the Sunday, on the Julian calendar, always on the same solar date.  This is simple – so long as your city uses the Julian calendar! – but then you lose all the connections with the Jewish passover.  This isn’t good, because passover is what Jesus was actually doing when he was arrested and executed.  Passover is the first holy communion.  Jesus sacrificed himself, as a perfect passover sacrifice for sin, once for all.  You want these links, because the meaning of Easter is about that sacrifice.

Or you can follow the Jewish pattern, and have the Easter celebration based on passover.  That’s simple enough; you hold it on 14 Nisan, and ask your local rabbi when that is.   But in that case, it won’t be on a Sunday.  And the resurrection did actually happen on a Sunday, the day after the Sabbath.  So you lose your anniversary.  Worse yet, your celebration date is being determined by some Jewish rabbi.  Now Christianity is illegal.  That rabbi probably hates you all.  He may even have denounced you to the authorities a few months earlier.  How can you possibly have someone like that deciding when Easter is?

So it’s really difficult.

Stepping back a little from this, the anniversary is the anniversary, not of Jesus’ death, on the passover, but of his resurrection.  If you have to choose, surely that is the more important?

Well, the ancients took a middle path between all this, and tried to hold to as much as they could.  They decided that the anniversary of the resurrection would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the date on which the passover should happen; and if the passover was on a Sunday, then Easter would be the next Sunday.

They also decided that they were just as capable of working out when the passover ought to occur as any Jewish rabbi, so they did their own calculation of this.  It wasn’t good for Christians – an illegal group – to be that much at the mercy of the hostile Jewish establishment.

Based on this, the early Christians worked out the calculation that we use today.


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

Heraclius arrives at Jerusalem, and massacres the Jews. 

6. When he entered the city and saw that everything had been destroyed and burned by the Persians, he felt a deep sadness; then when he saw that Modestus had [re]constructed the Church of the Resurrection, of the Skull and the church of Mar Constantine, he felt great joy and thanked Modestus for what he had done.  The monks and the inhabitants of Jerusalem said to him: “The Jews living around Jerusalem, together with those from Galilee, took the side of the Persians, and they helped them when they invaded the country.  They went to the trouble of killing more Christians than did the Persians: they destroyed the churches and set fire to them”.  Then they let him see the dead who had been cast in the Mamilla, and made him aware of how many Christians they murdered, how many churches had been destroyed at Tyre by the Jews.

Heraclius said to them: “What do you want, then?”

“That you give us satisfaction,” they replied. “Kill every Jew who is found around Jerusalem and in Galilee, because if another hostile people come to us, we don’t want them to help them again against us, just as they have helped the Persians.”

Heraclius said to them: “How could I kill them, having already given them my protection and having put in writing my promise to them? You yourselves know what happens to those who violate a treaty.  If I violated the treaty and the oath, it would be shameful for me, and a reprehensible action on my part.  And I do not think that, if I were to give in writing a treaty to others who were not Jews, that they would accept it from me.  No, if I do not keep faith with the treaty signed with them, I would be a perjurer, a traitor, I would no longer be trusted by the people, not to mention the severe guilt and shame that I would receive in the presence of Christ our Lord, for the extermination of a people to whom I had given my protection, leaving my promise in writing.”

They answered: “Christ our Lord, he knows that killing them by your hand would be a cause of forgiveness for your sins and purification for your sins. Men, for their part, will justify you, because when you gave your protection to the Jews you did not know, or had not learned, how many Christians they had killed nor how many churches had been destroyed.  They have come to meet you and have they received you with gifts with the sole purpose of deceiving you, to avoid the punishment for what they have perpetrated.  If you kill them, it would be a worthy sacrifice that you offer to God.  We would not assign this guilt to you, or cause it to be imputed to you.  So also we will ask our Lord Jesus Christ to pardon it.  We will do for you, in the week that precedes the great fast and in it which is allowed to eat eggs and cheese, a [period] of absolute fasting: for the whole of the great fasting period we will fast for you and will abstain, in that time, from eating eggs and cheese, to last as long as Christianity”.  The Melkites, in fact, in that week abstained from meat and lived on eggs, cheese and fish, as is demonstrated by the Typicon of saint Mar Saba. “We will fast for you,” they said, “and we will abstain from eating all kinds of fat things.  We will make it a rule, a prohibition and a curse so that this can never be changed, and will send written in every part of the world, as we ask forgiveness for what will be done.”

Heraclius appeased them, and he killed an uncountable number of Jews who lived around Jerusalem and in Galilee.  Others managed to hide, and the rest fled into the wilderness, and into the valleys, the mountains and into Egypt.  So it was decided that the first week of fasting, in which the Melkites abstained only from flesh, should become a period of absolute fasting.  They fasted for King Heraclius, to beg pardon, because he had violated the treaty and killed the Jews: in this period they refrained from eating eggs, cheese and fish.  They sent written statements in this regard into all corners of the earth.  The Copts of Egypt still fast like this today, although not those of Syria, nor the Greek Melkites, because after the death of Heraclius they resumed eating eggs, cheese and fish in this week.  In the same week they abstain on Wednesdays and Fridays until the ninth hour, then they eat eggs, cheese and fish according to the Rule of St Nicephorus, patriarch of Constantinople, martyr and confessor, according to the Typicon of the church, allowing the Orthodox to eat in this week eggs and cheese also on Wednesdays and Fridays, although only after the ninth hour.  This rule is in sharp contrast with the behavior of those who fast for the Maronite king Heraclius, and may God will preserve us from their evil behaviour, because it is not permissible to fast for a man born of a woman and, even worse, for a king who has left this world and died a Maronite!

7. But let us return to [our] story.  Heraclius made as Patriarch of Jerusalem the monk Modestus, superior of the monastery of ad-Dukas, and ordered him to go with him to Damascus in order to hand over part of the money raised in Damascus and the Palestinian money, so that he could [re]construct in Jerusalem all the churches that the Persians had destroyed there.  Heraclius then came back from Jerusalem to Damascus, and he stopped and took the money from Mansur.  Modestus was patriarch for nine months and died.  After his death the see of Jerusalem had no patriarch for six years.

8.  In the sixteenth year of the reign of Heraclius there died Muhammad, son of ‘Abd Allah, prophet of the Muslims, on the second Monday of the month of rabi` al-awwal in the eleventh year of the Hegira.  He was buried in his own house, where he died, that is in the house of Aishah, after thirteen days of illness.  He died at the age of sixty-three, leaving no [other] children other than Fatimah, who died forty days after him (Others say “seventy days later”), in the time of the caliphate of Abu Bakr.


Is Easter really Astarte, a Babylonian goddess (or festival)?

It is terribly easy for the learned and scholarly readers of this blog – and even its author – to forget that most people in this world honestly have no idea about history at all.  To the ordinary man, the present fills almost his entire field of view.  To him history is a kind of cloud, somewhere far away and not at all important, in which float about Greeks and Romans and knights in armour and the like.  But to the educated man the world is like an onion, of successive layers, with the present growing out of the past.

These thoughts, which if I recall correctly are from C.S.Lewis somewhere, were prompted by seeing twitter posts asserting that Easter was Babylonian, or indeed the name of Astarte.  Only those utterly ignorant could suppose this.  But I wondered from where this came.

A little searching brought me to a curious anti-Catholic book by Alexander Hislop named The Two Babylons.  This seems to be the origin of it.

Consider this passage:

Then look at [the festival of] Easter. What means the term Easter itself? It is not a Christian name. It bears its Chaldean origin on its very forehead. Easter is nothing else than Astarte, one of the titles of Beltis, the queen of heaven, whose name, as pronounced by the people of Nineveh, was evidently identical with that now in common use in this country. That name, as found by Layard on the Assyrian monuments, is Ishtar.* The worship of Bel and Astarte was very early introduced into Britain, along with the Druids, “the priests of the groves.” Some have imagined that the Druidical worship was first introduced by the Phenicians …

But the unequivocal traces of that worship are found in regions of the British Islands where the Phenicians never penetrated, and it has everywhere left indelible marks of the strong hold which it must have had on the early British mind. From Bel, the first of May is still called Beltane in the Almanac;+ and we have customs still lingering at this day among us, which prove how exactly the worship of Bel or Moloch (for both titles belonged to the same god) had been observed even in the northern parts of this island.

“The late Lady Baird of Fern Tower, in Perthshire,” says a writer in ‘Notes and Queries,’ thoroughly versed in British Antiquities++ “told me, that every year, at Beltane (or the first of May), a number of men and women assemble at an ancient Druidical circle of stones, on her property near Crieff. They light a fire in the centre, each person puts a bit of oat cake in a shepherd’s bonnet; they all sit down and draw blindfold a piece from the bonnet. One piece has been previously blackened, and whoever gets that piece has to jump through the fire in the centre of the circle, and pay a forfeit. This is, in fact, a part of the ancient worship of Baal, and the person on whom the lot fell was previously burnt as a sacrifice. Now the passing through the fire represents that, and the payment of the forfeit redeems the victim.”

If Baal was thus worshipped in Britain, it will not be difficult to believe that his consort Astarte was also adored by our ancestors; and that from Astarte, whose name in Nineveh was Ishtar, the religious solemnities of April, as now practised, are called by the name of Easter—that month, among our Pagan ancestors, having been called Easter-monath. The festival of which we read in Church history, under the name of Easter, in the third or fourth centuries, was quite a different festival from that now observed in the Romish Church, and at that time was not known by any such name as Easter.* It was called Pasch, or the Passover, and though not of Apostolic institution,+ was very early observed by many professing Christians, in commemoration of the death and resurrection of Christ.

++ The Right Hon. Lord John Scott.
* The name of Easter is peculiar to the British Islands.
+ Socrates, the ancient ecclesiastical historian, after a lengthened account of the different ways in which Easter was observed in different countries in his time, i.e., the fifth century, sums up in these words: “ Thus much already laid down may seem a sufficient treatise, to prove that the celebration of the feast of Easter began everywhere more of custom than by any commandment either of Christ or any Apostle.” (Hist. Ecclesiast, lib. v., cap. 22).

 The author then goes on to discuss the idea of Lent, and to make a series of claims about the origins of this which need not detain us.

The argument above is simple, once we remove the verbiage, and so let’s examine it:

  1. There is a folk custom of celebrating “Beltane”, according to a 19th century almanac.
  2. The name must refer to the Babylonian god Bel or Ba`al.  (Why?)
  3. This is confirmed by a piece of folk-lore where people in Scotland burn something. (If this story is true, why does it relate in any way?)
  4. If Bel was here, then Astarte must be too.  (Why?)
  5. If the pagans of whatever period is mentioned worshipped Bel and Astarte, then Eosturmonath – the name of the spring season, given by Bede and nowhere else – must refer to Astarte.  (Why?)
  6. So the inhabitants of Babylon must pronounce Astarte in the same way as Britons of 19th century England pronounce Easter. (Why?)

Each claim is open to a simple objection – that the claim made is not evidenced, and that there is no special reason to believe it.  Each and every step in this argument is open to the very same objection.  Yet unless all of them are true, the argument collapses.

And the claims are simply ridiculous.

Why should a modern Scottish folk custom relate to Bel of Babylon?  Why should a modern Scottish custom relate to the nomenclature of the Anglo-Saxons a millennium earlier?

Which people precisely are supposed to have adopted Bel – the beaker folk?  The celts?  The Romano-British?  The picts? For there has been much movement of peoples in Britain.

The claim to know how the ancient Babylonians pronounced Astarte … where does Hislop get his information? Time travel?

But it is pointless to go on with beating this drivel to death.  Hislop has no evidence, his argument is just a sequence of claims, none of them at all probable.  It’s drivel and nothing else.

As a final note, let’s return to Hislop’s footnote about Socrates:

Socrates, the ancient ecclesiastical historian, after a lengthened account of the different ways in which Easter was observed in different countries in his time, i.e., the fifth century, sums up in these words: “ Thus much already laid down may seem a sufficient treatise, to prove that the celebration of the feast of Easter began everywhere more of custom than by any commandment either of Christ or any Apostle.” (Hist. Ecclesiast, lib. v., cap. 22)

The HE of Socrates is online, and book 5 chapter 22 is here.  We may note that Hislop’s words are not to be found in it.  In fact Socrates doesn’t discuss that issue, but instead says that the exact date of celebrating Easter, and the fasts connected to it, were not specified by the apostles; not that celebrating it was not specified.


The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 18 (part 1)

Let us venture into the second part of the history by Eutychius.  It opens with the reign of Heraclius and his war against the Sassanid Persian king Chosroes.


1. In the first year of the reign of Heraclius, king of Rum, there took place the Hegira of the Prophet to Medina, in the month of rabī‘ al-awwal.  He stayed there in exile for ten years and in the eighth year there he erected the minbar.  From Diocletian to the Hegira three hundred and thirty years had passed; from Christ, our Lord, to the Hegira had passed six hundred and fourteen years; from Alexander to the Hegira had passed nine-hundred and thirty years; from the Babylonian captivity to the Hegira one thousand one hundred and ninety six years; from David to the Hegira one thousand six hundred and seventy-three years; from the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt to the Hegira two thousand, two hundred and seventy-nine years; from Abraham to the Hegira two thousand seven hundred and six years; from Fāliq to the Hegira three thousand, three hundred and twenty-seven years; from the flood to  the Hegira three thousand eight hundred and fifty-eight years; from Adam to the Hegira 6114 years.

2. When Heraclius began to reign at Constantinople, he was engaged for six years in a violent siege.  Exhausted by the siege, the inhabitants of Constantinople, many of whom had already died from hunger, decided to open [the gate of the city of] Constantinople to Kisra.  Learning of this, Heraclius was afraid that they would open the gate and hand him over to Kisra.  So he sent to Kisra saying: “I’ll give you anything you want as long as you leave me alone.”  Kisra wrote him saying: “If you want me to leave you in peace, pledge to send as your ransom, and for the city, a thousand qintār of gold and a thousand qintār of silver, a thousand virgin maidens, a thousand horses and a thousand heads of embroidered silk.  This ransom you will give to me every year, I will stay away and I’ll leave you alone.  Send me immediately the ransom for this year, and do not postpone it, if you want me to leave you alone.”  Heraclius wrote to him: “I consent to what the merciful king is asking of me; at the moment, though, I do not possess all the ransom money, for the merciful king has not permitted me to do whatever I wanted.  But if the merciful king will give me the opportunity to go out, I will gather the money and everything else required of me.  I will send you everything in six months, if the king will wait for me, and will allow me to go undisturbed around the villages in order to collect the goods for which he has asked me and so satisfy him.”  Kisra granted this request.  So Heraclius gathered his ministers and generals and told them: “I have only placated Kisra in order to calm him, and inspire confidence in his men.  In truth I’m going to travel to Persia.  I am certain that Jesus Christ, our Lord, will give me the victory over the Persians, and so we will get rid of Kisra and his men.  If I am late and do not return at the end of six months, make sure to keep Kisra in suspense, filled with promises and defer throughout the year your commitment to give him what he requested.  If I don’t come back, or not come back to you, do what you please.  I leave my brother Constantine as my successor.  Do you accept what I’ve said to you?”  They accepted and wished him victory.  Heraclius chose about five thousand men, selecting the strongest among the commanders of soldiers of Constantinople and among the nobles, and took them with him.  And he took some of the ships, on which he embarked men and horses and left the city of Constantinople direct for Trebizond.  Here he landed, summoned the people and gave them their own instructions.  He asked the king of al-Gurzān for help, and he made with him a covenant and gave him a sarir to sit upon when he was attending levees.  He also asked the king of al-Angāz for help, and gave him a diadem to wear at court audiences.  Also he asked the king of as-Sanāriyyah for help, made a covenant with him, and likewise gave him a sarir to sit on when he was attending court receptions.  It was at that time that the king of as-Sanāriyyah became known as “the king of the sarir“.  Heraclius continued his march in this way until he arrived at al-Gabal, at Isfahan and at Mird, the city of Sabur.  Every time he went into a city he gathered the people and dictated laws to them.  If he found in his path a Persian man, woman or child, he had them killed.  When they saw the soldiers of Heraclius, the inhabitants of Sabur were terrified and fortified the city by placing catapults and ballistae near the gates.  Heraclius engaged them in battle for a few days and then ended the fighting by storming the city, putting to death all the men, women and children that were there.  They would open the wombs of pregnant women and pull out the unborn children and slam them against the rocks.  Then Heraclius said: “I am the one of whom David prophesied in Psalm 136[1] saying: “Blessed is he who takes your babies and dashes them against the rock”.  He then set fire to the city, took many prisoners, carried off with him many riches and jewels and sowed destruction in the Persian territory.  Then he began marching on in the direction of Hulwān, Shārūz and Ctesiphon, went into Mayyāfāriqin and the Tigris territory, then invading Armenia until he reached the river Arsanās.  There was, among his prisoners, a son of Kisra, called Qabād and named Sirūyeh: he was the son of Mary, the daughter of King Maurice who had been the cause of all those wars.  When he came to Mayyāfāriqin, Heraclius sent for Qabād, son of Kisra, made him shave his head and his chin, and sent him back riding on a donkey with a letter to his father Kisra.  With him he sent a group of delegates to lead him to his father.  This was the text of the letter he sent to Kisra through his son:  “From the servant of God, the victorious Heraclius, to Kisra the humiliated, the confused, the abandoned.  I have collected for you, as my redemption and as the ransom of my whole country, whatever I could gather, that is, the heads of the Persians. As soon as you read this letter, take a look at the bearer, before putting it aside. Be well.”

3. When Qabād came to his father Kisra, he saw him with his head and his chin shaved, astride a donkey, and said to him: “What new do you bring me?” The son replied: “Heraclius has destroyed every city in Persia and killed the men, women and children.  As for the city of the king, he destroyed it and handed it over to iron and fire, killing all who were there, took many prisoners, and brought away untold riches and treasures. This is his letter.”

4. When Kisra had read the letter to Heraclius, he was greatly saddened, and he and his men grieved, and together they wept for a long time for their families and their children.  Then Kisra summoned his ministers and generals and told them: “Tell me what to do; our families and our children have been killed, our houses and our homes destroyed.” The ministers and the generals answered: “We gain nothing just sitting here; rather let’s move, let’s see where Heraclius is and give chase”. Kisra then lifted the siege of Constantinople and began to chase after Heraclius.  As he marched, he was told that Heraclius had taken the road over the Tigris and was definitely about to ford the river Arsanās.  His advisers said to him: “Let us hasten to precede him to the ford, so that he can not pass over.  May God give us victory over him, so as to free the hostages and take back what has been taken away.  He has annihilated the men of Persia and it has lessened our honor.”  When he arrived near the river Arsānis, Kisra’s men made camp near the ford waiting for Heraclius.  Heraclius was a day’s march from the Arsānis river when he was told that Kisra was camped there and waiting for him.  Then leaving the soldiers and the baggage, he chose some of his own men, made them take the straw and manure of animals and began to walk against the current for a whole day.  Then he threw into the river straw and manure and the water carried them off until they appeared under the eyes of Kisra and his men.  Seeing the straw and manure in the river, Kisra and his men thought that Heraclius had forded across the river higher up, on another stream.  So they left the ford where they had camped, and they set out, heading towards the place where Heraclius had forded the river.  Heraclius then returned to his men and informed them that Kisra and the army had left the ford where they had camped and gone up the river.  Heraclius then set off with the army and crossed the river, continuing until he arrived in Trebizond.  Then he boarded and went to Constantinople.  The inhabitants welcomed him with cheers and jubilation, and for seven days they ate, drank and made merry.  Kisra, meanwhile, learned that Heraclius had returned to the place of the ford where he had camped and had crossed the river, and that the straw and manure of animals, which Heraclius had purposely thrown into the river, was just a ruse and a deception.  Kisra then continued on his march until he came to his own city: he found it destroyed, leaving not even a child, and no one to speak to another.  From then, that is in the seventh year of the reign of Heraclius, which was then the seventh year of the Hegira, the king of Persia began to lose prestige and authority.

5. In the second year of the reign of Heraclius there was made patriarch of Rome Yūsātiyūs.  He held the office for five years and died.  In the ninth year of his reign, the ninth of the Hegira, Heraclius left Constantinople for  Jerusalem, to see for himself what the Persians had destroyed. When he arrived at Homs, the population refused to accept him saying: “You are a Maronite, a violator of our religion”.  He left them and went to the monastery of Maron, where the monks came to meet him and they greeted each other.  And since Heraclius was a Maronite, he dispensed enormous wealth to them, assigned funds to the monastery and strengthened the prestige of the monks.  Then he went to Damascus.  There was, in Damascus, a man named Mansur ibn Sarğūn, who had collected the kharag on behalf of king Maurice.  Heraclius then asked him to remit the money he had received in all the years in which the Rum had been beseiged in the siege of Constantinople.  The man told him that he had sent regularly to Kisra the money received at Damascus.  Heraclius then spoke to him brusquely, had him flogged and put in prison until he paid out a hundred thousand dinars.  Then he reconfirmed him in his post, but Mansur began to harbour great resentment against Heraclius.  Heraclius resumed his journey to Jerusalem.  When he arrived near Tiberias, the Jews who lived in Tiberias, in Galilee, to Nazareth, and in all the [other] villages of that area came to meet him, and welcomed Heraclius with gifts, wishing him well and praying for his safety.  Heraclius granted them their safety and left them a treaty in writing.  When Heraclius came to Jerusalem, there met him the monks of the Laura, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem together with Modestus, with censers and incense.

  1. [1]Ps. 137: 8-9.