A pair of researchers have discovered and published a lost ancient text in the Vatican library. It’s the long-lost opening portion of a text usually dated to the early 6th century, and known as the “Julian Romance.” This is a novelisation of the reign of Julian the Apostate, who reigned ca. 362 AD, and his persecution of the church. The work was composed in Syriac, but widely translated in antiquity into other nearby languages including Greek.
The publication is Marianna Mazzola & Peter Van Nuffelen, “The Julian Romance: A Full Text and a New Date”, in: Journal of Late Antiquity 16 (2023) pp.324-377. (Paywalled here; first page here). This prints the Syriac text, with an English translation, and a thorough study.
Here’s the abstract:
The Syriac Julian Romance, a tripartite fictional account of the reign of the Emperor Julian, was hitherto only partially known from two manuscripts. This article publishes the missing first section from Vat. Sir. 37, a section that narrates the death of Constantius II. The complete text allows us to demonstrate that the narrative was composed by a single author and that the tripartite structure does not reflect three older, separate texts. Further, we identify the Miscellaneous Chronicle of 640 as the source for most of the historical information in the Romance. This implies a new date in the first half of the seventh century, which is supported by other chronological indications in the Romance.
The majority of the text of the Julian Romance was already known, and can be found in British Library Additional MS 14,641. But this copy was obviously missing a large chunk at the start. A small part of the beginning was later found in Paris BNF Syr. 378. But there was still, obviously, a large amount missing.
Marianna Mazzola was one of the scholars:
I was checking the historiographical excerpts contained in Syriac doctrinal florilegia for a project I have been collaborating with at Ghent University and stumbled on this text mistakenly cataloged by J. Assemani as an excerpt from Michael the Syrian’s Chronicle on the Death of Constantius II.
I did not remember such a passage in Michael’s Chronicle so I started to translate it and realised that the style was not at all the plain, dry style of Syriac chroniclers. Gradually, I realised that it could be the Romance of Julian and finally when on the last page my text overlapped with that of MS Add. 14641, I no longer had any doubts.
The article is written with Peter van Nuffelen in which we also propose a new date on the basis of the new textual evidences. Looking forward to hear any remarks! We are aware this is a much debated text that has always sparkled much scholarly discussion.
In response to a query, she added:
I worked on the on-line manuscript. Sadly, it was still COVID time when I worked on it, and it was impossible to travel to the Vatican Library. Certainly further study of the manuscript would be an important addition.
The manuscript is indeed online, and may be found at the Vatican site here. The article lists the contents of the manuscript. The new text is on folio 168v-173r. Here’s the opening:
ܐܝܟܙ ܐܟܠܡ ܣܘܢܝܛܢܛܣܘܩ ܪܒ ܣܝܛܢܛܣܘܩܕ ܗܢܩܦܡ ܠܥܕ ܐܬܝܥܫܬ ܒܘܬ
.ܝܗ̈ܘܗܒܐ ܠܥ ܦܣܘܬܬܐܘ ܗܡܥ ܬܘܠ ܫܢܟܬܐܘ ܐܒܪ ܣܘܢܝܛܢܛܣܘܩܕ ܗܬ̈ܡܘܝ ܘܡܠܫ ܕܟ ܠܥܒ ܝܗܘܬܝܐܕ ܗܪܟܘܒ ܢܝܕ ܣܘܢܝܛܢܛܣܘܩ .ܝܗ̈ܘܢܒ ܐܬܠܬ ܗܪܬܒ ܢܡ ܐܬܘܟܠܡ ܘܕܚܐܘ ܐܬܘܝܘܐ ܐܕܚܒ ܢܘܗܬܢܝܒ ܐܘܗ ܬܝܐ ܐܡܠܫܘ .ܣܘܛܣܘܩܘ .ܣܝܛܢܛܣܘܩܘ .ܗܡܫ ܬܝܡ ܆ܬܠ̈ܬ ܢܝ̈ܢܫ ܟܝܐ ܐܬܘܟܠܡ ܘܪܲܒܕ ܕܟܘ .ܢܘܗܬܘܢܪܒܕܡܒ ̇ܗܣܟܛܒ ܐܝܕܪܕ .ܐܬܢܝܫܡ ܣܘܛܣܘܩ ܒܘܬ ܕܟܘ .ܝܗ̈ܘܚܐ ܕܝܨ ܐܬܘܟܠܡ ̇ܬܟܪܲܫܘ ܉ܐܫܝܫܩ ܢܘܗܘܚܐ ܣܘܢܝܛܢܛܣܘܩ ܐܬܘܟܠܡ ̇ܗܠܟܒ ܪܚܬܫܐܘ .ܐܡܠܥ ܢܡ ܕܼܢܥ ܘܼ ܗ ܦܐ ܆ܢܝܬܪ̈ܬ ܢܝ̈ܢܫ ܐܬܘܟܠܡܒ ܕܼܒܥ ܛܠܲܬܫܐܘ ܐܝܡܘܪ̈ܕ ̇ܗܠܟ ܐܬܘܟܠܡܠ ܕܼܚܐܘ .ܢܘܗܘܚܐ ܣܝܛܢܛܣܘܩ ܼ ܘܗ ܐܬܘܢܪܒܕܡܘ .ܐܝܢ̈ܘܝܕ ܐܢܝܢܡܒ ܥܒܪ̈ܐܘ ܢܝܫܡܚܘ ܐܐ̈ܡܬܫ ܬܢܫܒ .ܐܬܘܟܠܡ ܝܗܘ̈ܕܝܐܒ ̇ܬܢܩܬܘ .ܢܘܗܝܠܥ
[168v] History of the death of Constantius, son of Constantine the victorious king.
(1) When the days of Constantine the Great ended, he was gathered to his people and joined his fathers, and his three sons reigned after him: Constantine, his first-born who was named after him, Constantius, and Constans, and there was peace with one pacific consent between them, current in their government. After they had ruled for around three years, Constantine the oldest brother died, and the rule remained with his brothers. After Constans had reigned for two years, he also died, and Constantius, their brother, was left [in control of] the entire realm and the governance. He took the entire realm of the Romans and ruled over them. The realm was established under his control in the year 654 of the era of the Greeks…. (etc)
The new material is 16 pages in translation, so not a small discovery. It renders obsolete much of the existing scholarship. The authors discuss the date of the Julian Romance. They make clear a word-for-word connection with the Miscellaneous Chronicle of 640, which therefore kicks the date of composition back from the early 6th century well into the 7th, and locates events around the reign of Heraclius.
It’s a fine article, and a wonderful discovery for 2023. It goes to show that there is still stuff out there! Never assume that even a well-studied and major collection has any idea about what is on their shelves. The age of discovery is not over. It just requires effort, and a bit of luck.
The discovery also shows the huge value of digitisation of manuscripts. The Vatican have the best programme for mass digitisation known to me. But isn’t it time that some other major manuscript libraries did the same?