Of the wickedness of men

I apologise for the fact that there is currently no way to contact me through my website.

The Tertullian.org contact form has been targeted by a professional spammer in the last week.  I wasted an hour of my life this evening, which I could ill afford, reworking the form to require human input.  The spam didn’t stop at all.  I can only infer that the spammer employs peasants in the third world to do his evil work.  So I had to take it down.

Then I discovered that the contact form on this blog is now out of action.  Some time ago I found that Contact Form 7, which I used, was “upgraded” to use a new version of Google’s “Recaptcha” service, which added spam to every page on the blog.  So I downgraded it.  Today I find that it is not functioning.  The greed of Google for advertising is to blame, without a doubt.

Between the two I see no way to have a contact form right now.  I will look into this more.  Comments on the blog are still working tho.

I must confess to some resentment.  I have so little time to spare.  I did a day’s work, and domestic chores, and I had an hour for me at the end of it.  And … some nameless swine has stolen it.

It is annoying that the political class has spent so much time on measures to implement censorship of opinion online, under the cynical label of “anti-hate”, yet has not bothered in the slightest about the endless avalanche of spam that everyone gets.


T. D. Barnes on Rodney Stark’s claim that only a “tiny number of Christians were ever martyred”

Some time ago, someone on social media started a campaign under the hashtag of “Black Lives Matter”.  Someone else soon started another in response under the hashtag of “All Lives Matter”.  The supporters of the former responded with extreme fury to what, on the face of it, was a neutral response.  They saw it as belittling them.  Of course they were right to think this, and such was indeed the intention.  On matters of controversy, playing down something is not a neutral stance, however it is presented.

A certain Rodney Stark, who I understand is a sociologist, in his The Rise of Christianity.  A Sociologist reconsiders History (Princeton, 1996), page 179 writes (I have highlighted the relevant passage):

But how could a rational person accept grotesque torture and death in exchange for risky, intangible religious rewards?

First of all , many early Christians probably could not have done so, and some are known have recanted when the situation arose . Eusebius reported that when the first group of bishops was seized, “some indeed, from excessive dread, broken down and overpowered by their terrors, sunk and gave way immediately at the first onset” (The Martyrs of Palestine l , 1850 ed.) . Second, persecutions rarely occurred, and only a tiny number of Christians ever were martyred–only “hundreds, not thousands” according to W.H.C. Frend (1965:413). Indeed, commenting on Tacitus’s claim that Nero had murdered “an immense multitude ” of Christians, Marta Sordi wrote that “a few hundred victims would justify the use of this term, given the horror of what happened” (1986:31) . The truth is that the Roman government seems to have cared very little about the “Christian menace. ” There was surprisingly Iittle effort to persecute Christians, and when a wave of persecution did occur, usually only bishops and other prominent figures were singled out. Thus for rank-and-file Christians the threat of persecution was so slight as to have counted for little among the potential sacrifices imposed on them.

The statement of W.H.C. Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church, Oxford, 1965, p.413 and p.435 is as follows:

How many victims were there? Porphyry believed that ‘thousands’ had died in the persecution of Decius and Valerian.163 The writers of the Ancient World, however, had only their personal experience and rumours to rely upon. Accurate statistics are the product of the needs of modern government. Dionysius of Alexandria states that ‘very many’ were killed in Egyptian towns and villages,164 but he only names seventeen victims. In Palestine and Syria the deaths only of Bishops Alexander and Babylas are recorded, though Origen was imprisoned. In Asia Minor hardly a dozen deaths are known, though others, like the famous Seven Sleepers of Ephesus said to have been immured in a cave outside the city, survived in legend. Rome could boast of its Bishop Fabian, and the Presbyter Moses.165 In Africa, where Cyprian’ s letters and other writings give a remarkably complete picture of the situation in Carthage in Decius’ reign, eighteen martyrs who died in various ways are recorded by name, and another seventeen as confessors.166 The numbers of the victims may have been considerably higher, however, for there is no knowing how many ‘companions’ accompanied their leaders, nor indeed, how many died in prison and were accepted by Cyprian as martyrs. 167 Deaths over the whole Empire may probably be numbered in hundreds rather than thousands, but they were enough to vindicate the martyr-spirit at the moment when it was in danger of foundering amid the outward prosperity of the Church.

[163] Porphyry, Frag. 36 (ed. A. Harnack) ABAW., 1916, 63 (citing Macarius Magnes, iv.4) ‘μύριοι τούτοις ὁμόδοξοι οἱ μὲν ἐκαύθησαν, οἱ δ̕ἄλλοι τιμωρίαν ἠ λώβην δξάμενοι διεφθάρησαν‘. The context suggests gross exaggeration!
[164] H.E., vi.42.1. See for a summary of the available evidence, Albert Ehrhard, Die Kirche der Märtyrer, München, 1932, 66-8.
[165] Liber Pontif., xxi (Duchesne; 148). Also mentions Maximus the presbyter and Nicostratus, a deacon, who were imprisoned.
[166] Cyprian, Ep.,,22.2-3 (CSEL., iii.1, 534-5).
[167] Ibid., Ep., 12.1.

Stark’s claim has been widely echoed, I believe.  So it was with some interest that I came across the remarks of T. D. Barnes, Early Christian Hagiography and Roman History, Mohr Siebeck, 2010, p.294-5, n.18 on the subject.  I have added paragraphs to what was in fact a footnote.

[18] Unfortunately, Dodwell’s work [on Lactantius] gave rise to a long and ultimately sterile controversy over the total number of early Christian martyrs.

On the one hand, it is absurd to imagine (with Des Knaben Wunderhorn and Gustav Mahler) how in heaven ‘Elftausend Jungfrauen / Zu tanzen sich trauen’ after being martyred at Cologne with Saint Ursula (BHL 8426-8451).

On the other hand, Edward Gibbon was being deliberately tendentious when he accepted Grotius’ high estimate of the number of Protestants executed in the Low Countries under the emperor Charles V in order to argue that ‘the number of Protestants who were executed in a single province and in a single reign far exceeded that of the primitive martyrs in the space of three centuries and of the Roman empire’ (Decline and Fall 1 [London, 1776], Chapter XVI [2.139 Bury = 1.580 Womersley]).

Some recent estimates carry the process of minimising the number of martyrs to absurd extremes. Thus R. Stark, The Rise of Christianity. A Sociologist reconsiders History (Princeton, 1996), 179, states that ‘only a tiny number of Christians ever were martyred.’ Stark estimates, apparently in all seriousness, that a total of fewer than one thousand Christians were ever executed by the Roman authorities over the course of nearly three hundred years. He justifies this impossibly low total by alleging that W. H.C. Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church (Oxford, 1965), 413. estimated the total as ‘only “hundreds, nor thousands”.’

There are errors here on three levels. First, Stark seriously misreports Frend, who was talking solely about the number of Christians who were martyred under Decius and Valerian, that is, in 250-251 and 257-260. Second, Frend misreports the ancient source whom he took to be Porphyry and whom he accused of ‘gross exaggeration’ (435 n. 163): that source spoke not of ‘thousands,’ but of ‘countless’ (μύριοι) Christians who were burned alive or tortured and put to death in other ways (Macarius of Magnesia 4.4, whence Porphyry, Contra Christianos, frag. 36 Harnack. Third, while Macarius certainly derived material from Porphyry, he cannot legitimately be assumed to preserve Porphyry’s actual words: JTS, N.S. 24(1973), 428-430.

Which neatly disposes of Stark, and indeed of Frend.

It is always interesting to hear of the Apocriticus of Macarius Magnes, who preserves the words of a bitter late-antique anti-Christian source.  Porphyry was a contemporary of the persecutions of the late third century, so his testimony would have some value.  But Macarius Magnes was probably a century later.  What does he actually say?  Omitting the editorial titles, here is book 4, chapter 4, from the SPCK translation.  It is the pagan speaking:

Let us look at what was said to Paul, “The Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee” (Acts xviii. 9-10). And yet no sooner was he seized in Rome than this fine fellow, who said that we should judge angels, had his head cut off. And Peter again, who received authority to feed the lambs, was nailed to a cross and impaled on it. And countless others, who held opinions like theirs, were either burnt, or put to death by receiving some kind of punishment or maltreatment. This is not worthy of the will of God, nor even of a godly man, that a multitude of men should be cruelly punished through their relation to His own grace and faith, while the expected resurrection and coming remains unknown.

I was quite unclear why Frend claims that “The context suggests gross exaggeration!” Nothing suggests it to me.

On such shaky foundations were a world of belittling anti-Christian jeers founded.  But the lesson for us all is: verify your sources!


An early printed hagiography – the volumes of Aloysius Lippomanus

First came Mombritius, probably in 1480, who printed his Sanctuarium in the incunable era.  This was essentially a two volume version of a late medieval collection of Saint’s lives.

But next came Luigi Lippomano, or Aloysius Lippomanus, (Wikipedia article) with his vitarum Sanctorum priscorum Patrum, 1551-1560, in 8 volumes in Venice.  The links to the volumes are as follows:

I spent some time locating these volumes, which was less easy than you might think, so it’s worth giving the links.

After Lippomanus came Surius, with his De probatis Sanctorum histories (Cologne, 1570-1577); an expanded edition by his colleague Mosander, published as De vitis sanctorum omnium nationum, ordinum et temporum, (Venice, 1581); and a still more expanded version in twelve volumes was printed in Cologne in 1617-18.  These I leave for another time.

After that, the Bollandists started up the Acta Sanctorum.

The trouble is that we don’t have a complete set of critically edited Saint’s lives.  So these early collections still have value.  Which is bizarre!


More on Mombritius, and John the Deacon’s “Life of St Nicholas”

The first collection to be printed of the lives of the saints was issued in Milan in 1477 by Mombritius in two large folio volumes.  These featured forms of the text which differed from subsequent collectors such as Lipomani, Surius and of course the Bollandists.  But the volumes became so rare that two monks of the Solesmenses monastery in 1910 found it worthwhile to produce a fresh edition of it.[1]

In fact the original volumes are now online, here (vol.1) and here (vol.2) thanks to the Bavarian State Library (=Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, BSB).  The latter resource is becoming really invaluable for high-quality PDFs of early books and manuscripts.

Over the last couple of days I have been OCRing the text of the life of St Nicholas found in the 1910 reprint, which I obtained from Archive.org a few days ago.  This I finished this afternoon.  It was interesting to look through it, word by word.  The monks reproduced even the printer’s mistakes – “qni” for “qui”! – although they did mark these with a little superscript “+”.  Likewise they indicated the end of the column and end of the page with “|” and “||” respectively.  I was obliged to read the Latin introduction with some care to determine the meaning of both these codes.

Once I had produced a Word document, I was distracted.  Word complained about the number of spelling errors, and this led me to wonder if there was a Latin language spell-checker for Word.  Indeed there is!   It’s called COL, and may be downloaded for free from here.  It’s not perfect, but it does catch a lot.

But the longer I looked at the Mombritius text, the less I liked it.  The punctuation is weird, the spelling is eccentric, and so forth.  So it looks as if I shall be using  the Falconius edition of 1751 instead, as the base for my translation, but consulting Mombritius.

This is a familar feeling.  We had this with the Life of St Valentine of Terni.  It’s not just a matter of translating a text.  First find your text; and then you find that you must actually make your text yourself, from such pre-critical texts as are around.  For St Valentine I felt obliged to include the text that I had made in order to translate it.  It looks as if I shall be obliged to do the same here for John the Deacon.

This is annoying.  I do not want or need to start editing texts.  That is a quite separate enterprise.  So my texts are not critical texts.  They are simply what I could find, edited to remove annoying errors of spelling and punctuation, to produce a readable Latin text.

At this point I found myself wondering just why the texts of such major saints are not available in modern critical editions.  The St Valentine was only available in the Bollandist edition of 1658 (!) and in a modern critical edition with very odd spelling.

For John the Deacon we are less lucky, as the Bollandists have not managed to produce an edition of his work, despite four centuries of work.  But then four centuries pass easily if you don’t do much in them.  The Bollandists last printed a volume of the Acta Sanctorum in 1940.  That is nearly 80 years ago.  Since then they have only produced a couple of ancillary volumes.  Producing critical texts of the Lives of the Saints is what the Bollandists exist to do.  So what the heck are they doing with their time?  It seems to me that they need a kick up the backside.

  1. [1]These details I owe to a brief review by H. Omont, found in Persee.fr here.

Some thoughts on Craig Evans, “How Long Were Late Antique Books in Use?”

A few days ago I wrote about the statement of Peter of Alexandria (d.311) that the original manuscript of John’s gospel was still around and that readings could be obtained from it.

A few days ago I came across an interesting article by Craig Evans, “How Long Were Late Antique Books in Use? Possible Implications for New Testament Textual Criticism”, Bulletin for Biblical Research 25 1 (2015) 23-37.  The article makes some interesting points.

The first part of the article is a dossier of evidence that ancient papyrus books could be in use for considerable periods of time, perhaps even a couple of centuries.  Our papyrus data is from Egypt and the desert of Qumran, both locations where the climate may play a part.  But there are literary references as well, that refer to Rome.  The article might also have referenced Aulus Gellius for further examples of long-lived literary texts, such as Fabius Pictor.  The evidence does suggest that a papyrus book containing a literary text might be in use 200 years after it was written.

The article then digresses, before giving us the statement of Peter of Alexandria that the church at Ephesus preserved the autograph of the Gospel of John, and what a particular reading was said to be in that autograph.

These two things together lead to an interesting thought.

Firstly, we have clear evidence that papyrus books could remain in use in the ancient near east for a couple of centuries.

Secondly, we have clear evidence (from Peter of Alexandria) that this actually happened to the original manuscript of the Gospel of John.

These two points together seem rather interesting.  Neither point is exciting by itself.  Just because a few rare books did remain in use for centuries does not mean that the gospel autographs were among them.  But then we have an ancient literary testimony that one of them was among them.

I don’t see that the force of this evidence can be disregarded.  The autograph, the original manuscript of the Gospel of John, was around much later than we would expect; possibly as late as 300 AD.

This is a rather amazing statement, but it is what the evidence says.  What kind of contrary evidence do we have?  Nothing.

Having established this point, unfortunately the article introduces various distractions.

The first distraction is references to the parchment codices of late antiquity; but the long life of such items is irrelevant, because these are parchment codices of a higher technological standard than anything available in the first century AD.  I have myself handled British Library Additional 12150, which was written in 411 AD, and is none the worse for its fifteen centuries.

It may be guessed that the reason for introducing parchment books lies in 2 Tim. 4:13, where Paul refers to the books and the parchments.  This phrase was used as a title for a famous book by F. F. Bruce, and was likely enough in Dr.E’s mind.  But there is no evidence in our possession that the NT autographs were written on anything but papyrus.  They may have been in roll or codex form, but we can’t suppose a parchment codex without evidence.

The next distraction is an attempt to draw upon Tertullian, De praescriptione haereticorum 36:1-2:

Age iam, qui uoles curiositatem melius exercere in negotio salutis tuae, percurre ecclesias apostolicas apud quas ipsae adhuc cathedrae apostolorum suis locis praesident, apud quas ipsae authenticae litterae eorum recitantur sonantes uocem et repraesentantes faciem uniuscuiusque.  (CSEL 57)

Come now, if you are ready to exercise your curiosity better in the business of your own salvation, run through the apostolic churches, where the very thrones of the apostles preside to this day over their districts, where the authentic letters of the apostles are still recited, bringing the voice and face of each one of them to mind.[84] (Greenslade’s translation)

Greenslade indeed adds a footnote:

84. Eusebius, H.E., VII, 19, believed that the actual throne of James still existed at Jerusalem. Some think that Tertullian means by cathedrae here the physical objects. That is unnecessary, and on the whole unlikely, but not impossible. But “authentic” will scarcely mean autograph; he means unmutilated texts.

If we look to see how Tertullian uses “authenticae”, we find only one other reference, in De Monogamia 11:16:

Sciamus plane non sic esse in Graeco authentico, quomodo  in usum exiit per duarum syllabarum aut callidam aut simplicem   eversionem: Si autem dormierit vir eius, quasi de futuro  sonet ac per hoc videatur ad eam pertinere, quae iam in fide  virum amiserit. (CSEL 57, Bulhart)

Let us plainly know that, in the Greek original, it does not stand in the form which (through the either crafty or simple alteration of two syllables) has gone out into common use, “But if her husband shall have fallen asleep,” as if it were speaking of the future, and thereby seemed to pertain to her who has lost her husband when already in a believing state. (ANF, Thelwall)

There seems no reason to suppose a reference to the original manuscript of 1 Corinthians; but instead to the correct reading, the authentic reading of scripture, rather than the somewhat dodgy Old Latin translation then in circulation.

Dr. E. plainly consulted his dictionaries. The Oxford Latin Dictionary does indeed define “authenticum, -i, n.” as “an original document, autograph” and the adjective as “(of documents) Original”, referencing the Greek αὐθεντικός (Glare, p.220), but the examples given in both cases refer to documentary or legal texts, where the original means the actual thing itself.  But Souter’s Glossary of Later Latin has the adjective meaning “authoritative, genuine, true, original”, and even “authentica” used for Greek antigrapha, “copies” – presumably authentic ones.  Both of the Latin usages belong to the time of Tertullian, but here he is anticipating the later, and indeed the modern use of “authentic”.  A look at Liddell and Scott reveals both meanings hanging around the Greek word.

Tertullian, then, does not provide any support for the idea of autograph New Testament manuscripts; the subject is rather of honest copies instead of heretical forgeries or corrupt translations.

The article continues with some interesting general points about ancient letters, but this really only distracts from the key message.

Finally it ends with the very distracting claim that the NT texts were more textually stable than the gnostic writings, and hypothesises that the availability of the autographs may be the reason why.  This leads up to the tremendous final statement:

…. there really is no justification for supposing that the text of the NT writings underwent major changes in the first and second centuries.

Indeed not; but that does not follow from what has been said.

Such claims weaken the paper, because they have nothing to do with the evidence presented.  We can discuss them briefly, but as I said, they are a distraction.

The gnostic texts are known to us in tiny quantities of manuscripts, and, to the best of my knowledge, show a great deal of variation which is not a matter of textual transmission, but rather of editing changes.  In this they resemble the later hagiographical texts.  But we know from Irenaeus and especially Tertullian that the gnostics themselves did not consider that a rigid fidelity to what they heard was important.  As Tertullian pointed out – “what has Athens to do with Jerusalem” – they drew upon the pop-philosophical schools, where innovation was necessary in order to become a teacher.  Consequently every gnostic master taught something different.  The texts that they produced – we need hardly suppose any of them to be very old – will not be exempt from such an attitude.  Consequently they tell us nothing about the stability or otherwise of the New Testament texts.

Likewise the documented existence of the autograph of John by Peter of Alexandria does not force us to understand that it was consulted in such a way as to control the text.  Cathedrals preserve relics, in our own day, but getting access can be a test of patience.[1]  In fact the reading offered by Peter of Alexandria, with the authority of the autograph, looks very much the opposite, a lectio facilior.

This corrupt reading is most likely evidence that the Ephesus church was not doing what the article suggests.  If they were not doing it then we cannot suppose that others were doing so.

It is perfectly possible that Peter of Alexandria was an isolated instance.  It is quite likely that he was copying from an earlier, now lost source – he must have had access to lost works of Origen, for instance.  So the date of his anecdote may easily be fifty years earlier.

Nor does the existence of a “standard text” prevent the creation of “wild copies”.  Most ancient copies of books were probably produced in-house, by a literate slave.  Such copies are commonplace in the texts of the classics at Oxyrhynchus.  The medieval codices that transmit the Iliad and Odyssey to us do not derive from such trashy copies, but from the corrected texts of Alexandria, as the scholia show.  But the trashy copies still got produced.  No doubt it was exactly the same for Christian texts.  It is telling that our solitary text critical anecdote itself also comes from Alexandria.

These points should not distract us from what is a fine and interesting paper.

It may be relevant that it is the Gospel of John that is preserved.  Anybody who reads Eusebius’ Church History will be struck by the way in which stories about John are preserved.  Little is recorded about the other writers of the New Testament.  There were few Christians in the early days, and most likely they died before the Christian community was numerous enough to preserve very much.  How could those early believers in their house churches have managed to preserve autographs anyway?  But Irenaeus tells us that John lived on until the time of Trajan, 100 AD, and that Polycarp came to Rome ca. 155 and preached about what he had himself heard the apostle say.  Pliny the Younger tells Trajan that the temples are deserted.  This is a numerous group.  If John wrote his Gospel around 90 AD, it would appear in a world a generation later from that which the works of Mark and Luke had to face.  We are not obliged to believe in all or even most of the stories recorded, but the point is that they were recorded at all.  Such a world and such an environment might have been favourable to preservation.  But all this is speculation.

But regardless of its defects, this is a useful article.

Note: For some reason Dr. E.’s article greatly offended some readers.  Of the material that Google throws up, the hostile blogpost by Brice Jones is written in terms that would most certainly mean a duel in earlier days.  It also has comments below by various scholars.  Timothy N. Mitchell gives a critical but less excited reply.

  1. [1]This writer was once comprehensively prevented over a period of months from accessing an incunable by the apparently motiveless spite of an archivist at Canterbury Cathedral.

The column of Arcadius – a detailed pre-1700 drawing

Yesterday I posted about the column of Arcadius in Constantinople, designed like Trajan’s column in Rome, but destroyed by an earthquake in 1719.  In the process, I came across something rather remarkable – a very detailed drawing of the column, produced shortly before the column fell!  Here it is:

This, I hope you will agree, is remarkable.

The item was published by A. Geoffroy, “La colonne d’Arcadius à Constantinople, d’après un dessin inédit”, in:  Monuments et mémoires de la Fondation Eugène Piot, vol. 2, 1895, pp. 99-130, and online here.  Thankfully the site digitised the drawing properly.  His comments on the column may be summarised briefly, for those who don’t read French.

The first column with bas-reliefs like Trajan’s column was erected by Theodosius I in 386.  The column of Arcadius was erected in 403, on the seventh hill, known as Xerolophos or “the dry hill”, part of the 12th region of the city.  Geoffroy gives as sources Theophanes, Chronography[1], Cedrenus[2], and Codinus, De signis[3].

Theophanes the confessor:[4]

[AM 5895 / AD 402-3 (p.118)] …

In the same year Arkadios set up the column of Xerolophos [12] and founded Arkadioupolis in Thrace.  …

[AM 6041 /AD 548-9 (p.330)]

ln this year there was much terrifying thunder and lightning, so that many were struck by lightning while they slept. On St John’s day the thunder and lightning were so terrible that part of the column of the Xerolophos was sliced off, as was the carved capital of the same column. …[5]

[AM 6232 / AD 740 (p572)]

ln the same year a violent and fearful earthquake occurred at Constantinople on 26 October, indiction 9, a Wednesday, in the 8th hour. Many churches and monasteries collapsed and many people died. There also fell down the statue of Constantine the Great that stood above the gate of Atalos as well as that of Atalos himself, the statue of Arkadios that stood on the column of the Xerolophos, and the statue of Theodosios the Great above the Golden Gate; furthermore, the land walls of the City, many towns and villages in Thrace, Nicomedia in Bithynia, Prainetos, and Nicaea, where only one church was spared. In some places the sea withdrew from its proper boundaries. The quakes continued for twelve months.

Cedrenus has the baffling comment (in the Latin translation):

Xerolophus Arcadii opus est, tauro per omnia simile.

The Xerolophus is the work of Arcadius, with the image of the bull throughout.

But in fact the Forum Tauri was the Forum of Theodosius, not Arcadius.

The “Codinus, De signis” I was unable to locate, but it may be the same as the Patria of Constantinople, which has the following information:[6]

Book 2, 19 (p.63):

On the Xerolophos. -The Xerolophos was formerly called a spectacle. For sixteen spiral columns stood there, a composite statue of Artemis, one of the founder Severus, and a horoscope on three feet. Severus often sacrificed there, and many oracles happened at this place, where also a maiden was sacrificed. And there was an astronomical installation which encompasses thirty-six years. This same Xerolophos had, according to Diakrinomenos, a statue ofTheodosios the Younger, and of Valentinian and Marcianos below the column, but they fell down during an earthquake.

Book 2, 47 (p.83):

On the Tauros. – A statue of Theodosios the Great, which was formerly silver, stands in the Tauros where he used to receive those who came from the foreigners. … Similarly, both the huge, hollow column there and the Xerolophos have the story of the final days of the city and its conquests depicted as reliefs.

It’s rather thin, but that’s what we have.

A description of the column was made in the 16th century by Pierre Gilles, and published in 1561 by his nephew Antoine Gilles.  Extraordinarily Geoffroy does not even  give the titles of the two volumes – the description is in the second – instead referring vaguely to reprints.  I looked at Banduri, Imperium Orientale, vol. 1, online here.  Inspecting the title page (p.49 of the PDF) reveals “Petri Gyllii de topographia Constantinopoleos et de illius antiquitatibus libri iv”.  The description appears to be in book 4, chapter 7, “De septimo colle & duodecima regione, & de columna Arcadii, 416” which is p.711 of the PDF, there being no continuous page numbering.  Being two pages of Latin in archaic typeface, on this hot evening, I will not attempt to make a translation.  But Geoffroy tells us that Gilles had to sneak into the column in order to measure it, because the Turks didn’t want a foreigner to get access, and made his measurements in fear that his lead weight might bang into the sides and give him away!  It had 56 windows, and the stair wound around 223º.  He does not describe the exterior reliefs in any detail, however.

There is a large volume among the collections of Roger de Gaignieres, in the French National Library (BNF) in the prints department, number 6514 in the catalogue drawn up in 1891 by H. Bouchot, and it is headed Topographie de pays etrangers.  In it is found our drawing of the column of Arcadius, on several pieces of 17th century paper.  The original drawing is 2.42 metres long and 0.43m wide.

At the base of the drawing are the words Dessein de la Colomne historiale de coste de la Tramontane.  The sculptures seem damaged, especially where they are closer to the ground.  It is clearly badly cracked, and has been reinforced with iron bands.

The drawing seems to belong to the last decades of the 17th century, as Gaignieres collected between 1680-1711, and the increased damage to the reliefs is noted by travellers after 1650, when the area had acquired shops and a market around and against it.  The column of Theodosius had collapsed in the 16th century, and the Ottoman government, seeing the risk of collapse, had attempted to reinforce it with iron.

It is not clear what the reliefs represented, other than the military triumphs of Theodosius and his house, possibly from the campaigns of 386 against the Goths, which included naval actions by river.

It is wonderful to see what remains of these now vanished monuments.  Who knows what else slumbers, forgotten, in archives or in private hands?

  1. [1]Bonn edition vol. 1, pp.110, 121.
  2. [2]Bonn edition, vol. 1, pp.566-7.
  3. [3]Bonn ed., p.38, 42.
  4. [4]Cyril Mango & Roger Scott (tr.), The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor, Oxford, 1997, p.118.
  5. [5]This second part is apparently based on John Malalas, 483.22-484.3, p.289 of the Australian translation.
  6. [6]A. Berger, Accounts of medieval Constantinople: the Patria, 2013.  In the notes p.281 he says the Patria is known as pseudo-Codinus.

Some wonderful pictures from the Column of Arcadius in Istanbul, and notes on when it was destroyed

The column of Arcadius stood at the centre of a circular forum in Constantinople.  It was pattern on Trajan’s column in Rome.  Like Trajan’s column it was hollow, with a spiral staircase inside, and richly decorated.  But it is no longer standing.  It was badly damaged by earthquakes, and eventually taken down by the Ottoman state in the 18th century after it became notably unsafe.  Only the massive base remains, stuck between modern houses.

But today on Twitter a couple of wonderful photographs were posted here by @ByzantineLegacy.  They show inside the base, and the view of the staircase from above!  Here they are:

He says that the photos by Muzaffer Özgüleş (2009) @TimelineTravelP of timelinetravel.net, although I was unable to find them at that site.

Here is the column as it is today:

And finally a drawing of the column, as it stood in 1575, taken from the “Freshfield album”, a manuscript held at Trinity College Cambridge, and indeed online:

Queried about how one could see the inside, the author wrote:

It is always “open” but involves getting permission and then climbing on the nearby roof. It was possible to enter in the past, but it is really the case now. It would be amazing to enter the staircase one day.

I noticed that the Wikipedia article was uncertain about when the column was taken down:

 It was destroyed in either the 16th or the 18th century when, weakened by earthquakes, it threatened to topple and had to be taken down. Only its massive masonry base of red granite now survives, known as the Avret Tash in Turkish, located on Haseki Kadın Sokuk in the Fatih district of Istanbul.

(snipNot, I think red granite!)  So when was it?  A little googling led me to O.M. Dalton, Byzantine Art and Archaeology, Oxford, 1911, p.144, online at Archive.org here, which said:

The column of Arcadius,[4] like the vanished column of Theodosius,[5] was on the triumphal way between the Golden Gate and the imperial palace, its actual site being the forum known as Xerolophos. It stood until the year 1719, when it was so damaged by an earthquake that the Government ordered its removal. What remains is called the Avret Tash, or Woman’s Stone, because there was formerly a woman’s market in the neighbourhood. It is in a side street; and though only the base and lowest part of the shaft still stand, it rises above the one-storied houses which surround it. The square base contains two chambers, on the roof of one of which is a design in relief with the sacred monogram between a and w, in a lozenge inscribed in a rectangle: the spandrels at the corners of the latter figure contain palmettos and scrolls. Of the exterior only the east side is visible, the other sides being concealed by the structures which crowd round it. The remaining reliefs have suffered severely from the effects of fire and neglect. Hardly a complete figure has survived,[6] and it is impossible to use these damaged remains as the basis for a study of contemporary sculpture.

The footnotes are also interesting:

4.  See J. Strzygowski, Jahrb. k. d. A. I., viii, 1898, pp. 230 ff. The sculpture at the upper end of the spiral was drawn by Melchior Lorch, who was in Constantinople in 1557-9 (A. Michaelis, Mittheilungen, as above, 1892 ; Strzygowski, p. 241, Fig. 7) : it shows a procession of warriors with their prisoners approaching Arcadius and Honorius. The column, as it was in the early seventeenth century, was published by Sandys in 1610 (reproduced by Strzygowski, as above, Fig. 1 on p. 232). Its appearance at the end of the same century is shown by other drawings (A. Geffroy, La colonne d’Arcadius a Constantinople d’après un dessin inédit, in Mon. Piot, 1899, pp. 99-130, and PL X-XIII (here). See also E. Muntz, Revue des études grecgues, 1888, p. 3181. A detail by the French artist Cassas (d. 1827) is reproduced by d’Agincourt, Sculpture, PI. XI, Fig. 3 (Strzygowski, p. 235).

5.  Ducange, Constantinopolis Christiana, i, p. 79 (Fig.), after an early drawing ; also reproduced by d’Agincourt (Sculpture, PI. XI), by Banduri (ii. 509), and by Strzygowski, as above, p. 243. On the shaft were the triumphs of Theodosius ; on the base, the emperor receiving homage. See also Unger in Repertorium, ii, 1879, pp. 118 ff. ; de Beylie, L’habitation byzantine, p. 28.

6. Strzygowski’s Fig. 6 on p. 237 shows some ornamental detail, one complete figure of a man, and fragments of other figures.

From this I infer that there are other early drawings of the column available, which would repay investigation another time.

The Strzygowski reference turns out to be Josef Strzygowski, “Die Säule des Arkadius in Konstantinopel,” In: Jahrbuchdes Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts vol. 8 (1893) p. 230-249, online at Heidelberg here.  This reads:

Die Statue des Arkadius verlor schon bei einem Erdbeben im Jahre 542 die rechte Hand, im Jahre 740 fiel sie, ebenfalls in Folge eines Erdbebens, ganz herab.12  Die Säule selbst litt unter einem starken Gewitter des Jahres 549, indem Teile des Schaftes und des Kapitells abgeblättert wurden13. So stand sie dann bis 1719, in welchem Jahre sie bei einem Erdbeben gröfstenteils zusammenfiel und auf Befehl der Regierung ganz abgetragen wurde14. Es blieben nur die Teile stehen, die auch heute nochden Bestand der im Volksmunde Awret Tasch, der Weiberstein, genannten Ruine bilden. Die Identität dieser letzteren mit der Arkadius-Säule ist ohne Schwierigkeit nachzuweisen; denn es gab in Konstantinopel nur zwei Säulen, die nach Art der römischen des Trajan und Marc Aurel mit spiralförmig um den Schaft gewundenen Figurenreliefs geschmückt waren: die total vom Erdboden verschwundene Säule des Theodosius am Taurus, d. i. auf dem dritten Hügel, …

The statue of Arcadius lost its right hand during an earthquake in 542, and in 740 it also fell down, also as a result of an earthquake. The column itself suffered from a severe storm in 549, with parts of the shaft and the capital were cracked.13. So it stood until 1719, in which year it was greatly damaged by an earthquake and was completely removed by order of the government.14. There remained only the parts that still today form the remains of the popularly named “Awret Tasch”. The identity of these latter with the Arcadius column can be proved without difficulty; for there were only two pillars in Constantinople, which were adorned in the manner of Roman figures of the Trajan and Marcus Aurelius with spiraling reliefs around the shaft: the column of Theodosius on the Taurus, which has disappeared completely from the ground; i.e. on the third hill, …

The description of the remains is very thorough, with illustrations, including this plan:

But let’s pursue instead the question of when the column was taken down.  Foot note 14 is given as Hammer, Constantinopolis und der Bosporos, 1822, vol. 1, p.182.  I was unable to find this using Google, but the Europeana site took me to it here.  Page 182 is here.  It states:

So stand dieselbe noch vor hundert Jahren, bis sie im grossen Erdbeben d. J. 1719 grössten Theils zusammenfiel, und dann auf Befehl der Regierung ganz abgetragen wurde 5), bis auf das Fussgestell, das noch heute von diesem vor vierzehn hundert Jahren errichteten Monumente des Sieges in Ruinen übrig ist.

So it stood for hundreds of years until in the great earthquake of 1719 most of it collapsed and it was then completely dismantled by order of the government 5), except for the pedestal, the ruins of which today are all that remain of this monument erected fourteen centuries ago.

5. Takwimot-tewarich.

The footnote is obscure, it must be said!  Searching for it brings up loads of copies of Hammer, all of which steadfastly refused to appear earlier today.

So who or what is this?  Looking at another work by Hammer, is Hadschi Chalfa, “Takwim et-tewarich”.  This Mustafa Hadschi Chalfa has an article here, from which we learn that he was also known as Kâtib Tschelebi, and was a Turkish scholar (1600-1658).  His main work was his “Keschf ez-zunûn”, a bibliography, encyclopedia and lexicon (a Latin translation exists  in 7 volumes, ed. Flügel, Leipzig and London, 1835-58; e.g. this volume).  His “Takwîmu’t-tawârîch”, printed in Constantinople in 1733, in Turkish and Persian, is a set of chronological tables of historical events.  His alternative name leads us to a Wikipedia article, under the name of Kâtip Çelebi, also as Haji Khalifa, which is probably how we would call him today.  This tells us that an Italian translation of his “Taqwīm at-Tawārikh” exists, printed in 1697, made by Gio. Rinaldo Carli and titled Cronologia Historica; and it can be found at Google Books here.

But of course he died before 1729!  The title is probably a generic one; so we are no further forward in locating the volume.

I went back to find some of the searchable copies of Hammer, such as this one.  A bit of experimenting shows that Hammer also spells it “Takwimet” and “Takwimot” (!).  Searching on “Takwimet” leads us to the same author’s Histoire de l’empire ottoman, 1844, page 501, which is a table of oriental authors used for the work.  We find there:

6. Takwimet-Tewarich, les Tables de l’histoire, contenant la chronologie d’Hadschi-Chalfa jusqu’à l’an 1058 [10481; ensuite celle de l’émir Buchari jusqua l’an 1144 | 1731], continuée par Ibrahim-Muteferrika jusqu’en 1146 [ 1733]; imprimée cette même année à Constantinople, petit in-folio de 247 p. ; traduite en italien sous ce titre : Cronologia historica scritta in linqua turca, persiana ed araba da Hazi-Halife-Mustapha, e tradottanell’idioma italiano da Gio. Rinaldo Carli, Venez. 1697.

This is the same chronicle; but there is talk of continuators, who printed in 1733 – just as  before.

Further googling reveals a new spelling again: “taqwim al-tawarikh” by Katib Chelebi / Haji Khalifa (via here).  This leads us to … a 1733 copy offered for sale online here!

Takvim ut tevarih (Taqwim ut Tawarikh)
by Katib Celebi (Chalabi) Haci Halife (Hajji Khalifa)
Condition: Very Good

Istanbul: Ibrahim Muteferrika, 1733 Book. Very Good. Hardcover. 1st Edition. 4to – over 9¾ – 12″ tall. the 12th book to be printed by Ibrahim Muteferrika in 1146 (1733). 6, 3, 247 p. in Modern fine Ottoman style binding ornamented in gilt. .

Only $20,000 – a snip!  In fact I find that even the Italian translation of part of it is more than $10,000.

But I think we’ve now ventured rather beyond my area of competence, into strange languages, none of which are accessible.

All the same, a book printed in 1733 should certainly know what happened in 1719, in the same city.  Hammer plainly had access to it.  I think we can conclude, even if we can’t look at Haji Khalifa’s book, or rather the continuation of it, that the column did indeed collapse in 1719.  I find a magazine article in the Daily Sabah here that says that the earthquake took place on May 25, 1719.


From my diary

There is a heatwave affecting southern England at the moment, which made it impossible to sleep last night, and filled the roads with sleep-deprived traffic early this morning.  I’ve started a new contract, which is very welcome after so long.  The air-conditioning in the office is even more welcome!  But all of this means that things only move in dribs and drabs.

A couple of chunks of the oldest Life of St George have appeared.  I need to revise these.  This in fact leaves only two chapters left – 15 and 16.  So this is progressing well.

An old correspondent wrote to me enquiring if I was commissioning at the moment.  It is a great evil that young scholars with amazing language skills are left on the market.   Sadly I had to tell him “no”.  I’m not sure whether I will ever commission more translations, in truth.

I’ve started to OCR the Mombritius edition of the Life of St Nicholas, as translated by John the Deacon.  Here again I find eccentric spellings, which is a nuisance.  I was able to do four pages this evening before I had to stop.

A kind correspondent has sent me a copy of the Craig Evans paper, “How long were ancient books in use?”  It makes some very valid points, and some obviously invalid ones too.  But I think it’s an important paper, and I hope to review it some time soon.


Extracts from Peter of Alexandria (d.311) and the original copy of the Gospel of John

In the 10th century one or more scribes created what is now a parchment manuscript with the shelfmark Vatican gr. 1941 (scanned microfilm online here).  The majority of the pages today (folios 19r-290v) are occupied by an anonymous chronicle of the 7th century, written, as it tells us, by a contemporary of Heraclius.  This world chronicle is known today as the Chronicon Paschale, bcause the manuscript starts with a long preface dedicated to discussing differing methods of calculating Easter.  The only copies known to us of the work are three of the 16th century – Munich 557 (written 1573), “Holmensis e. 30. I. 21, and Upsala 2; and there are some extracts in two manuscripts of the 15th and 18th century, Ambrosian 814 f.1-14, and Athos mon. Lavra 1866, f. 265-279.[1]  But largely the work was ignored.[2]

The text, including the prefatory material about Easter, was edited by L. Dindorf under the title “Chronicon Paschale” in the Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae (=CSHB) series in Bonn in 1832, with the Latin translation of Du Cange.  Vol. 1 is online here. Dindorf basically reprinted Du Cange’s Paris edition of 1688 (reprinted in Venice in 1729), and made corrections from the Vatican manuscript.[3]  This is most noticeable in the page of Greek text at the start, where there is no Latin translation.

But the start of the work contains something else altogether.  The horrible microfilm is too poor for me to make out what is actually in the Vatican manuscript.  The work starts with an extract from Philo, On the Life of Moses, book 3.  Then it says, “So much for Philo”, and tells us that after the fall of Jerusalem under Vespasian, various church writers discussed the question of the date of Easter, including Peter of Alexandria, an unknown Tricentius, the great Athanasius, and Epiphanius. (p.4, ll.1-5).  We then pass into material on the subject itself, which Du Cange headed as being by Peter of Alexandria from his lost work on Easter.  This has all been translated in the ANF 6, where it appears as fragment 5, ending in the CSHB on p.12, line 7.  What follows seems to be editorial, and then there is material from Hippolytus and then Apollinaris.

Nothing in the text actually identifies this material as being by Peter of Alexandria, but it is a reasonable inference – by Du Cange? – from the list of names just before it.

One portion of the text, however, is very interesting, on page 11, lines 5-10:

ἤ δὲ παρασκευὴ τοῦ πάσχα· ὥρα ἦν ὡσεὶ τρίτη”· καθὼς τὰ ἀκριβῆ βιβλία περιέχει, αὐτό τε τὸ ἰδιόχειρον τοῦ εὐαγγελιστοῦ, ὅπερ μέχρι νῦν πεφύλακται χάριτι θεοῦ ἐν τῇ Ἐφεσίων ἁγιωτάτῃ ἐκκλησίᾳ, καὶ ὑπὸ τῶν πιστῶν ἐκεῖσε προσκυνεῖται.

And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the third hour,” as the correct books render it, and the copy itself that was written by the hand of the evangelist, which, by the divine grace, has been preserved in the most holy church of Ephesus, and is there adored by the faithful.[4]

The evangelist here is John.  This is a claim that the autograph copy of John’s gospel was preserved at Ephesus at the time of the writer.

The context is the discrepancy between Mark 15:25, which says that Jesus was crucified at the third hour; and John 19:14, which says that Pilate sentenced Jesus to death at the sixth hour.  [5]

Peter is saying that the text of John 19:14 is corrupt, and should read “third hour”, rather than “sixth hour”; and he is appealing to the original copy of John’s gospel.This is extraordinary!

This passage was mentioned in a controversial article by Craig Evans, “How Long were Late Antique Books in Use?”, in: Bulletin of Biblical Research  (BBR) 25.1 (2015), 25-37.  I have no access to this, but it drew excited responses such as this by G.W. Schwendner[6] and this by Brice C. Jones.  Evans suggested, I believe that this was evidence that the autographs of the NT were accessible for centuries and were used to correct the text.

In a way, the statement of Peter of Alexandria is inscrutable.  It says what it says.  What can we make of it?

Firstly, Peter does not say that he has seen the autograph.  Rather he says that it is the treasured possession of the church of Ephesus.

There is nothing at all improbable about this.  Indeed modern cathedrals across Europe preserve a great many relics of the apostles, such as their heads, and other body parts.  The authenticity of many of these may be doubtful – and indeed should be subject to DNA testing – but they do boast of holding such relics.  No doubt the church of Ephesus did indeed boast of such a thing.

Did they actually have the autograph, in the late 3rd century?  The autograph would have been a papyrus roll, perhaps; and by that date would have been rather fragile.  But it could be.  If it did exist, possibly it perished during the persecution of Diocletian, when such things were sought out.

But does the testimony of Peter actually suppose that this item existed in his time?  I think of Tertullian referring to the Acts of Pilate, probably copying Justin Martyr.  Peter may simply be using the testimony of a now lost earlier writer, such as a lost work of Origen.  He’s not saying he saw it himself.  Likewise his testimony as to what the reading of this passage was may be derived from his source.  But if we suppose that his source was around 200 AD – picking a random date – there is nothing at all impossible about supposing that the autograph existed at that date.

Was this reading really to be found in it?  Who can now tell?  But let us guess that the volume existed.  If so, it would be treasured, and it would be frail.  Anybody with any experience of dealing with “treasures” will know how the keepers would respond to requests to see it; with hostility.  In such a situation I would imagine that an “authorised” copy of the original might be made available in the church, to save wear and tear on the frail original.  Such a copy, “guaranteed” to be an “exact copy”, is what visitors would have access to.  The actual accuracy of the copy might be less than perfect.

In the end it is all speculation.  But it is certainly interesting to reflect on the longevity of ancient books.

  1. [1]Moravcsik, Byzantinoturcica (Berlin 1958) i. 241-2.
  2. [2]Whitby and Whitby, Chronicon Paschale: 284-628 AD, TTH7 (1989), p.xiv.
  3. [3]As indeed he states on p.4.
  4. [4]ANF 6 p.280 translation.  The references given in the ANF are very strange.  They read, “5 Apud Galland, Ex Chronico Paschal., p. 1, seqq., edit. Venet., 1729.” and “31 Apud Galland, Ex Chronico Paschal., p. 175, D.”  The introduction, on the other hand, says “(4) A passage from the Sermo in Sanctum Pascha, or from some other work of Peter’s on the same subject, is given in the Diatriba de Paschate, prefixed to the Chronicon Alexandrinum S. Paschale, and published separately in the Uranologion of Petavius, fol. Paris, 1630, p. 396.”  P.396 of the Uranologion can be found here, but only contains a Greek text. No work of Galland entitled “Ex Chronico Paschal.” exists, and the truth is that the translator was actually working from the Patrologia Graeca, vol. 18, col. 512, where the following screen shot explains all: The actual source used by the translator is the PG; the 1729 edition mention in it is not by Galland, but simply the reprint of Du Cange’s edition of the Chronicon Paschale that we saw earlier. This error has confused others; the same mistake is found on p.67 in Sacha, Calendar and Community: A History of the Jewish Calendar, 2nd Century BCE to 10th Century CE, Clarendon, 2001, p.67, in the otherwise excellent footnote 261: “261.  This letter, preserved in the preface of the Chronicon Paschale, was published separately by Migne, PG 18. 512 b—520 b, following Galland, Ex Chron. Pasch. (Venice, 1729), which itself follows Du Cange’s first edition of the Chronikon Paschale (Paris, 1688), and on which was based the English translation by Hawkins (1869: 325-32). However, a better edition of this text, based on MS Vat. gr. 1941, was published by Dindorf (1832) and followed by Migne, PG 92. 73 b-c.”
  5. [5]Stephan Witetschek, “The hour of the Lamb? Some remarks on John 19:14 and the hour of Jesus’s condemnation and crucifixion”, in: P. N. Anderson &c, John, Jesus, and History, Volume 3: Glimpses of Jesus through the Johannine Lens, SBL Press, 2016, p. 95f.  Preview here.
  6. [6]This also repeats the “Galland” mistake.  It is terrifying to consider just how many publications must have trusted that lazy editor from the ANF06!

St Nicholas and the “Life” by John the Deacon

The Acta Sanctorum is of no use for the Saints’ Life of St Nicholas of Myra, as his feast day falls in December, a month that the Acta Sanctorum has yet to reach.  However there is a Latin Life that I want to translate.  It is that of John the Deacon.

The text of John the Deacon was edited by N. Falconius in 1751 in Nicolai:… Acta Primigenia.  But this is an awful edition to work with, because of the 18th century typeface.  Worse still, Falconius seems to have got confused in his texts.  He gives the text on pp.113-126, in 23 chapters.  But if you pay attention to the footnotes, something funny happens after chapter 13!

The Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina states plainly that the remainder of the text is to be found, not in the body of the edition, but on p.126.  There, in a footnote, we read “Tertia decima lectio, sic clauditur in membranaceis Codd.Vaticanis, num. 1194. & 5696. pag.109.” – “Chapter 13 is completed thus in the parchment manuscripts Vatican lat. 1194 and 5696, p.109.”  And so the rest of the chapter is given, and a different pair of chapters 14 and 15 also.  How very odd.

I prepared an electronic text from this, but then I became aware of an oddity.

An early printed collection of Saints’ Lives was made by Boninus Mombritius, probably before 1480, “from many manuscripts”.  I had occasion to mention this when dealing with St Valentine.  But I was not aware that it was reprinted in two volumes in modern typeface in 1910 (on archive.org here and here).  It includes the Life of John the Deacon!

One would like to think that the Falconius edition, which at least names manuscripts, was a better text.  But quite frankly it seems possible that it is not!!  I shall have to see.

One red herring that has bothered me is at last cleared up.  Angelo Mai also printed a Life of St Nicholas  by a “John the Deacon” in Spicilegium Romanum vol. 4.  The author is another John, it seems, also a deacon, but of a later date.

The real work is translated in part from the Encomium of Methodius, that inscrutable, hardly translatable Greek text that has defeated all my translators.  But the John the Deacon version in Latin is probably the source of a great deal of western St Nicholas legend.