Theotokos: Pierius of Alexandria

Our next possible candidate for the earliest use of the term “Theotokos” is Pierius of Alexandria, who died “after 309 AD”.  Our source isn’t great for this, for it is some fragments, which may or may not be by Philip of Side (ca. 380-431+), whose vast history of the early church has otherwise perished.

Back in 2010 – gosh isn’t that a long time ago – Andrew Eastbourne kindly went through the mess of fragments of Philip of Side and translated the lot for us.  It’s online here.  Among them is this:

Fragment 4.7.  Pierius, a presbyter of Alexandria, flourished at this time, and in Pontus, Meletius the bishop—men who were amazing with respect to their learning.  And Pierius too, in his first discourse[111] of those On the Pascha, asserts strongly that Paul had a wife and dedicated her to God for the sake of[112] the Church, renouncing his association with her. And I also read quite a number of his other indispensable works and especially the one Concerning the Mother of God and the one On the beginning of Hosea.  And Theodorus, a certain court-pleader in Alexandria, writing in epic verse, says in his 13th book that Pierius and Isidorus his brother suffered martyrdom and have a very large shrine in Alexandria.  And in his discourse On the Life of the Holy Pamphilus, Pierius himself provided very much help in the divine Scripture.

111. Or “book” (Gk. λόγος); but from Jerome, De viris illustribus 76, this work appears to have been homilies on Hosea orally delivered at Easter; and Photius (Bibl. cod. 119) speaks of 12 λόγοι (of which he particularly mentions the one “on the Pascha and Hosea”) contained in one βιβλίον.

112. Gk. διά (Cf. Sophocles, Lexicon s.v. διά 3).

Since these are “fragments”, where does this come from?  Well, from manuscripts full of miscellaneous extracts of this and that.  In this case, these are found in MS Oxford Bodleian Barocci 142, on fol. 212r-216r; and in MS Oxford Bodleian misc. 61 (= Auct. E.4.18), on fol. 136r-143r (which material is, however not published anywhere).

Now Barocci or Barozzi was a Cretan Greek who collected manuscripts and sold his collection to an Englishman.

Dr Eastbourne noted:

In the translations below, the italicized material is directly from Eusebius, whether verbatim or paraphrased; the normal text represents the additions made by our author to Eusebius’ history.

The Greek text for this material, taken from that Barocci manuscript, was printed by C. de Boor, “Neue Fragmente des Papias, Hegesippus und Pierius in bisher unbekannten Excerpten aus der Kirchengeschichte des Philippus Sidetes,” TU 5.2 (1888), pp. 169-71.  Thankfully a list of the volumes of Texte und Untersuchungen is on German Wikipedia here.  Vol. 5, p.170-171 is:

There’s “theotokou” nice and clear at the start of p.171 line 2.

De Boor’s preface says that the series of historical extracts runs from the birth of Christ to the close of the Church History of Socrates, i.e. in 439 AD.  Scholars have tended to suppose that these are from Philip of Side, since this lost 5th century church history is the obvious source for early material.  Philip is the last writer to know Papias, for instance.  But the manuscript does not name the compiler, and we don’t know who he was or when he wrote.  The Bodleian website states that the manuscript itself is 13-14th century and the material in it was compiled by Nicephorus Callistus as source material for his own Ecclesiastical History.

Barocci 142 is online, so we can inspect the folios ourselves.  Here’s folio 216r:

Sadly I find the book-hand completely impenetrable.  I presume the red headings are for each extract?

So… what do we make of this?  Is this a valid witness?

I’m slightly inclined to feel that it is.  The extracts come from someone with genuine access to early material.  The fact that the extracts terminate in the 5th century suggests that the source work did also.  Whether it is indeed Philip of Side, or some other, now forgotten compiler of the period, is not of importance, really, compared to the date.

But the compilation cannot date prior to the toxic Nestorian disputes, in which the use of – or failure to use – the word “theotokos” suddenly became a matter to kill for.  A reference to a book title – we’re told that Pierius wrote On the Theotokos – is something less than knowing the content of the book.  Ancient book titles are fluid things, more about indicating content, in many cases.  This may not be the original title either.  There’s plenty of room for zealous tampering, if the title did not please the copyist or excerptor, or needed to be “improved”.

But in the end, the negatives are just speculation.  We do have an ancient source that Pierius wrote a book “On the Mother of God”.  Perhaps indeed he did.

What it said, of course, is another matter.


Theotokos: ps.Dionysius of Alexandria’s Letter to Paul of Samosata

In my last post we looked at whether Origen used the word “Theotokos” (Mother of God) for the virgin Mary.  Let’s continue this by looking at another supposed 3rd century use of the term, in Dionysius of Alexandria, Letter to Paul of Samosata (CPG 1708).

Dionysius died in 264 AD, and the text does indeed use the term Theotokos:

How do you say that a man is a superior Christ, and not really God, and adored by every creature with the Father and the Holy Spirit, incarnated from the holy virgin and Mary the Mother of God?

But is the text authentic?  Well a little further on, we read:

You call him abandoned who was Lord by nature, and the Word of the Father, “through whom the Father made all things,” (John 1) and whom the holy fathers called “homoousion” of the Father, for they taught us about God…

That is a pretty overt reference to the First Council of Nicaea (325 AD), and, by itself, tells us that the text is not 3rd century.

The work itself is full of arguments about Christology.  These were analysed by N. Bonwetsch and G. Bardy in the early 20th century, who concluded that they were clearly directed against the school of Antioch, and especially Diodorus of Tarsus and his pupil Theodore of Mopsuestia.  The tone was somewhat monophysite, and in fact somewhat Apollinarian. They concluded that the text was composed by an unknown Apollinarist in the late 4th-early 5th century.

Ed. Schwartz, who produced a critical edition in 1927, called the writer a “bungler”:

Ein weiteres, bisher, wie es scheint, nicht benutztes Argument für die Unechtheit liefert die Sprache, über die allerdings ein sicheres Urteil erst möglich ist, wenn die willkürlichen Glättungen von de Torres beseitigt sind. Der ‘große’ Dionysius war einer der elegantesten und glänzendsten Stilisten nicht nur seiner, sondern der Kaiserzeit überhaupt; der Verfasser der drei Schriften ist ein Stümper, dessen sprachliche und schriftstellerische Kenntnisse und Fähigkeiten in umgekehrtem Verhältnis zu seinem frommen Eifer stehen.

Another argument for inauthenticity, which it seems has not been used up to now, is provided by the language, about which, however, a reliable judgment is only possible if the arbitrary smoothings by de Torres are eliminated. The ‘great’ Dionysius was one of the most elegant and brilliant stylists not only of his time but of the whole of the empire; the author of the three writings is a bungler whose linguistic and literary knowledge and skills are in inverse proportion to his pious zeal.

The Apollinarians were notorious for forging texts in the names of earlier respected fathers, under which they advanced their own beliefs.  Indeed Leontius of Byzantium even wrote a book “Against the frauds of the Apollinarists”.  They also seem to have interpolated the letters of Ignatius of Antioch, creating the “long version” of 15 letters.

Others have looked at the text since, and given it an even later date, possibly 6th century.  See for instance in Lang, John Philoponus, p.110, n.355, online here:

The forger of the spurious Letter to Paul of Samosata, attributed to Dionysius of Alexandria and most likely written in the sixth century, also adduces Col. 2:9: Ps.-Dionysius of Alexandria. Resp. 7 ad Paul. Samos. 261.3-10: Schwartz. This passage is a good example of how the forger uses the Letter of the Six Bishops and adopts its themes. De Riedmatten (1952). 123-6. shows that Ps.-Dionysius of Alexandria develops the thought of the earlier letter in an Apollinarian direction, pace Schwartz (1927), 55. who dismisses both documents as spurious.

H. De Riedmatten, Acta de Paulo Samosateno seu Disputatio inter Paulum ac Malchionem (fragmenta), (1952).

The last bit is from the bibliography: but I think there must be something wrong with that reference, for I can find no such volume.  It is perhaps:

Henri de Riedmatten, Les Actes du procès de Paul de Samosate. Etude sur la christologie du IIIe au IVe siècle (= Paradosis. Études de littérature et de théologie anciennes, VI). Fribourg en Suisse, Éditions Saint-Paul, 1952. In-8°, 171 p.

This used to be online here, but is no longer.

To summarise, we cannot use Dionysius of Alexandria as a witness for the use of “Theotokos” in the third century.

Just for fun, I pasted the 1608 Latin translation (byTurrianus) of the Greek into Google Translate, and cleaned it up a bit.  I frankly don’t understand all the theological noodling, so it may well contain crass errors.  But I place it online anyway:

I’ve also placed it at here.  It has no scholarly value, of course, but it might save someone the effort of doing the same, merely in order to read it.  As ever, I make it public domain.  Do whatever you like with it, personal, educational, or commercial.


From my diary

We take for granted the availability of so much on the internet, that it can come as a shock when we need to go and physically find articles and books.  Of course even 20 years ago, that was routine.  But not every language group has kept up.  German articles in particular are very hard to obtain online.  Finding myself in need of three of these, today I drove 200 miles to my nearest research library in order to photocopy them.  I’m feeling frankly very stiff from the journey, even though it was a good journey!  The physical pain of scholarship is quite something!

These days the “photocopier” is a multi-function device (MFD).  I had to work out how to use it but it was much quicker than the old photocopiers.  Usefully it had a feature to email scans to me, picking up my email address from my user account.  In days of yore I had to type in the email address with a very awful on-screen keypad, and in practice any more than 3 pages just conked out.  There was a small notice telling the user that files over 50 pages would probably not send!  I only saw this after doing one!  Of course the scan went to my spam box.  But it was really very good.  And … they don’t seem to charge for scans, only for photocopies.

They used to have a room full of photocopiers, but this has closed and the machines are scattered around the building.  This meant a long walk to find a free MFD.  In busy times I would imagine that you’d get very fit!

I’ve started to look at all the references given online for the use of “theotokos” – “mother of God” in 3rd century literature.  I dealt with Origen in a previous post.  I’m currently working on Dionysius of Alexandria’s “Letter to Paul of Samosata”.  The letter seems to be spurious; possibly an Apollinarian forgery of the late 4th century, possibly later still.  I’ll know more when I have read today’s trove of articles.

I had trouble finding the Greek text, and I found it in Mansi’s Concilia vol. 1.  This states that the facing Latin translation is that of Turrianus.  Turrianus is Francisco Torres, in the 16th century, but I had a devil of a time trying to identify the work in which he made this translation.  After a huge amount of searching online, I did find the details, and found the book itself on Google Books.  It turns out that his book was pretty much reprinted literally in Mansi, and in collections like Labbe in between.  What they did not print was his endnotes – “scholia” as he called them – which will be interesting to look at.

On a whim I have decided to run Turrianus’ translation through Google translate, polish it up, and make it available online.  I’m about halfway through.  The modern Latin is not difficult as such.  If there was a Google translate for ancient Greek, and if there was OCR for ancient Greek, then one could do that.  Sadly there is not.  We do what we can.

The scripture references are reprinted in every case from Turrianus, and always very small and blob-like.  Turrianus is quite happy to offer “Philipp. 2” for an allusion, so I am looking up each of them in the Vulgate.  Most are just vague similarities.  It is amusing to see that nobody before me has made them more precise: such as “Philippians 2:7-8”!

The critical text was printed by E. Schwartz in the 1920s, and this was one of the items that I got today.  I have just checked, and he gives proper scripture references.  That will save me pain.  His remarks on text should also be interesting.


How long does it take to produce a professional translation from Latin?

A fascinating twitter thread by Dr Jenny Benham (blog here), on translating a 1500 word medieval treaty text.  We don’t get many explanations of the process!  (Paragraphing is mine)

A colleague has asked me how long it takes to do a translation from Latin into English of one of my treaties. I don’t think he quite understood what he was asking…

A simple 1500-word treaty takes about 3 days, including notes on names and dates of individuals. I usually make a literal translation first, which I then refine into something resembling modern English. However I usually refine the translation many times after this, often over several weeks or months as I come across more relevant information. If the Latin is corrupt or complex, this can take considerably longer.

I might also compare my English translation to any available translation into any other modern foreign language. Such comparisons are useful for areas where I have less knowledge of the historical context, and often also provide information for names of places and individuals. Almost every treaty has some sort of quirk that can’t easily be resolved. Sometimes relating to the Latin – don’t run off with this idea of Latin as Lingua Franca across medieval Europe. The same words and phrases can have very different meanings in different regions.

Other times the difficulties might be around particular legal meanings, or the date (is any date ever correct?!), or the names of people and places. My geography has been getting a thorough workout! The longest Time spent translating a single treaty was probably Treaty of Pavia (840). It is long but I approached it completely wrong by making rough translations of individual clauses as and when I needed them. Putting the whole together then didn’t quite come right and I had to re-do the whole from the beginning.

As a general, it is easier to do translations of treaties from regions where I have the strongest contextual knowledge and from where the documents on which my skills training was done those many years ago. I am improving but providing translations of treaties 700-1200, some 400 from across whole of Europe, has been a project of nearly 15 years. Ok, I have had breaks…

But in short, there’s no such thing as how quickly can you translate an average treaty. It depends and practice is key.



Theotokos: Did Origen use the term “Theotokos” for Mary?

There are many websites online that suggest that Origen used the word “theotokos”, “Mother of God”, to refer to Mary the mother of Jesus.  Often the same references float around, or none are  given.  The term “theotokos” was a controversial one in the 5th century, and the determination of some people to use it was responsible for the Nestorian dispute that came to a head in the Council of Ephesus in 433 AD.

One lengthy example of the genre by E. Artemi may be found here. This is valuable because it does include some sort of references for the claims to ancient sources.[1]

The primary authority for the claim that Origen used the term “theotokos” is not in fact Origen himself.  The works of Origen are poorly preserved anyway.  Instead we have a passage in the 5th century writer Socrates.  In his Historia Ecclesiastica book 7, chapter 32, we read as follows (NPNF translation online here):

Origen also in the first volume of his Commentaries on the apostle’s epistle to the Romans,108 gives an ample exposition of the sense in which the term Theotocos is used.

108. Cf. Origen, Com. in Rom. I. 1. 5.

This sounds good.  Origen’s Commentary on Romans (CPG 1457) is extant, but poorly preserved.  The majority of it is in the ancient Latin translation of Rufinus.  There are also extracts of the Greek text, and a chunk that was found in a papyrus at Tura in 1941.   But if we go to the text as we have it, we find no such use of the term.  In the Fathers of the Church 103 translation, p.17, we find the plain statement by the editor in n.73:

The quotation is from Book 1 of the Commentary but does not correspond to Rufinus’s translation. Socrates is discussing the Nestorian controversy and claims that Origen had used the title theotokos, “mother of God” with reference to Mary in his Commentary. To Socrates this was proof of two things: The tradition supported the controversial title for Mary and Nestorius was not very well read in ecclesiastical literature.

Indeed book 1, chapter 1, has nothing at all about Mary.  Likewise if we look at the Sources Chrétiennes 532 edition, and examine book 1, chapter 1, section 5, there is nothing about Mary.

Yet the Artemi article states:

Origen also in the first volume of his Commentaries on the apostle’s epistle to the Romans, gives an ample exposition of the sense in which the term Theotokos is used.8

8. Origen of Alexandria, Commentary in Romans, I, 1. 5. See Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastic History, 7, 32, 2.

The reference given derives, no doubt, from the NPNF translation.  The same reference is often given.  But plainly it is false.

But Artemi is not done.  She then goes on to offer another reference, in a different work.

Origen underlines that the name Mariam is the name of Mary, who will be called Theotokos.6

6.  Origen of Alexandria, Homily on Luke, fragment 26,1, 41,1, 33, 2

This looks like it refers to three fragments rather than one.  The reference seems to be to CPG 1452, the Commentarii in Lucam which is fragmentary, and the CPG says that the material may be found in found in the PG 13:1901-1909, and PG 17:312-369, with modern Latin translation.

The CPG helpfully adds that “Fragment 26” is Eusebius, PG23:1341D-1344A.  PG 23 is Eusebius’ Commentary on the Psalms.  Here is the passage, in the commentary on Ps. 109, with the modern Latin parallel translation:

There is no mention of Origen in this.  Indeed whether this material is even by Eusebius may be questioned, for it is assembled out of catena fragments by a pre-modern editor.  Only the material on Ps.51-100 is certainly Eusebian.

Aliquo autem narrante novi, Hebraicam vocem hic Mariam meminisse: nam illud, “Mariam”, Mariae nomen significat; ita ut his nominatim Deipara commemoretur.

But I know in saying this, that we must keep in mind the Hebrew word “Mariam”: for that “Mariam,” signifies the name of Mary; so that the Mother of God should be remembered in this by name.

The last clause, referring to Theotokos, does seem a bit tacked on, subjectively.

The CPG tells us that Rauer in his GCS 49 edition of Origenes Werke IX (2nd ed., 1959), p.227-336, collected the fragments. Unfortunately I have no access to this.

But I did have access to the first edition (1930).  This was mainly concerned with the homilies – not the commentary – on Luke, preserved in an ancient Latin translation by St Jerome.  So I looked up “theotokos” in the list of words on p.320, and it gave me two references; to page 44. line 10 – which turned out to be the very same passage as  before, here assigned to Homily 6 (!); and p.50, line 9, where a chunk of Greek in homily 7 again does include the word.  In neither case does the passage appear in the parallel ancient translation by Jerome.  So it looks as if, for each homily, the editors have started by extracting Latin material from the manuscripts preserving Jerome’s translation, and then included whatever catena material parallelled it.  In both cases they have continued the catena extract beyond the end of the Latin version, because it may belong.

The edition is very hard to follow: what bit comes from what source?  I hope the second edition is better, but as I say, I don’t have access to it.

What do we make of this?  Well, very little.  This is the problem with catena fragments: they were extracted at a date not earlier than the 6th century, and adapted to fit into the “chains” of quotations.  The authorship of every one is doubtful, and it is often very unclear where the quote ends and another writer begins.  Also the catenas were edited at precisely the period when using the word “theotokos” was a mark of loyalty and failure to do so made a writer suspect.

To conclude, as far as I can see, there is no reliable evidence that Origen referred to Mary as the “Mother of God”.  The references offered are either non-existent, or based on texts composed from the 5th century onwards.

Update (21 Aug. 2023): Post title modified to link it to the other “Theotokos” posts.

  1. [1]Eirini Artemi, “The Modulation of the Term THEOTOKOS from the Fathers of 2nd Century to Cyril of Alexandria”, International Journal of Social Science and Humanities Research 2 (2014), 27-30.  Online here.  The “journal” looks like a fake journal to me, but we are not using this as an authority, but a witness to the claims being made.”

Roberto Caro on the date of the “Oration concerning Simeon and Anna” of Pseudo-Methodius

In my last post on the Sermo de Symeone et Anna, “Oration concerning Simeon and Anna” (CPG 1827), I mentioned that I had no access to the discussion in R. Caro, La homilética mariana griega en el siglo V (= Greek Marian Homilies in the 5th Century), Dayton, Ohio (1971-2), vol.2, pp. 610-617.  But commenter “Diego” kindly pointed out that the whole work is downloadable  from here.

Caro’s interest is in material about Mary and the ecclesiastical devotion to her.  In the volume above he reviews 28 works from the 5th century, all of them pseudonymous and few much studied.  So this is a valuable study, even for those not particularly interested in that subject.

I ran Caro’s text through Google Translate, as I know no Spanish, and I thought it might be useful to give some extracts here that help us understand why he reaches the conclusion of a 6th century text.

The thirty-one manuscripts indicated by A. Ehrhard attribute it to Methodius, Bishop of Patara (and Olympus).  A. Wenger observes that the piece is included in the homiliaries of the 7th century, and therefore Bardenhewer’s hypothesis, that it is by Methodius, Patriarch of Constantinople in the 9th century is inadmissible; he believes that it should be dated from the 5th century,2 coinciding with the opinion of E. Amann.3

  1. Laurentin, loc. cit.
    3. DThC X, 1613.

He then summarises the work, and goes on:

In what circumstances was this homily delivered? First of all, it deals with the panegyric of a liturgical festivity: the characteristic σήμερον repeated five times in the exordium, the expression ἑορτὴν ἄγομεν referring precisely to the liturgical assembly, the mission of the ecclesiastical orators in the liturgical assembly and the far-from-exegetical development of the theme that predominates in homilies of this type.

Which liturgical festival? The answer is not as easy as seems at first sight: if we dispense for a moment with the title of the homily and we focus our attention on the first sentence of the exordium, we would affirm that it is about Christmas: the day of salvation when God comes into the world… The second sentence offers a different aspect: inspired by the image of the living ark, the speaker quotes at length the text of Isaiah 6,1-9 that allows him to present Mary as the royal throne of the Lord, centres on the town of Bethlehem, the place of birth, and allows him to refer to the Marian festival… Starting with the third sentence and by means of a sudden and forced step, the previous ideas are linked with the scene of the presentation in the temple that will be the subject of the rest of the homily.

Undoubtedly, the festivity of Hypapante comes to occupy the center of the homily, but one gets the impression that the speaker deals with the liturgical theme from a quite peculiar angle: reading the summary gives a sufficiently clear idea of how the figure of Mary dominates the evangelical picture, diverting its initial Christological orientation and making the speaker’s thinking confused and disordered.

The extensive and enthusiastic address to the city of Jerusalem, surprisingly structured in the form of χαιρετισμοί, parallel to that found in the preceding homilies, suggests a Jerusalem origin for the homily.

Some clues will help to investigate the date of composition:

The style is more typical of literary decadence with its verbosity and continuous digressions, its frequent repetitions, its introductory formulas and editorial deficiencies in the dramatic dialogues; yes, some lyrical highlights and some examples of anaphoric repetitions can be pointed out; the praise trend predominates: Christological praise, Marian, Simeon, or to Jerusalem, or to the Catholic Church, to the people themselves. Certain unusual expressions draw our attention: …

The orator’s christological thought seems to echo the christological controversies of the fifth century: inexplicable double generation of the Word,the double personality, divine and human, of Christ, his unity before and after the incarnation. The Mariological thought belongs to a period of greater doctrinal evolution.

The very orientation of the liturgical festivity in Jerusalem suggests a later period, in accordance with previous data, perhaps the 6th century, without absolutely excluding the possibility that it belongs to the late 5th century, as Wenger believes.

In this hypothesis how do we explain the explicit allusion to the Symposium on Chastity that most likely determined the manuscript tradition in favour of Methodius of Olympus? The observations we made about the contradictory character of the exordium, open the possibility that our speaker used the beginning of an authentic homily by Methodius, which would constitute a very interesting liturgical testimony on the festival of the birth. Perhaps it could be a reference to a brief comment that the speaker had previously made to the authentic work of Methodius. The possibility of a false allusion to give authority to a homily that has little value in itself cannot be excluded.

He then turns to evaluating the Mariological ideas.

The first basic aspect is the divine maternity affirmed explicitly and frequently…

This divine maternity is always presented as virginal…. the birth was immaculate, exempt from natural laws, not only because her conception was carried out without the work of a man, but because the Lord kept natural virginity intact and indissoluble. after childbirth. …

Special attention deserves the doctrine on the salvific activity carried out by Mary. Activity that is exercised indirectly by her powerful intercession as mother of the Redeemer….

Note that although the ideas correspond to the Mariological heritage of the 5th century, its exuberant and sometimes exaggerated formulation corresponds better to the characteristics of Byzantine oratory.

It all sounds very conclusive, especially the points about the veneration of Mary, because the author is so familiar with the normal  usage of the 5th century.  There does not seem to be any real case that the homily is authentic, or early.


Bits and Bobs 4

This is another page of miscellaneous material.  It’s mostly from Twitter.  I bookmarked it over the last 4-5 years, with the intention of writing more, but never did.  So I may as well share them here.

The first item is a combined fork and spoon, made of silver, possibly 3rd century, from the Metropolitan Museum in New York.  The handle is decorated with a spotted panther, an animal often associated with the god Dionysus.  It’s about 6″ long (16.2 cms).  Accession no. 2006.514.3.

Paul Harrison posted here a lovely image of a Roman calendar of fasti, legal and religious feast days, now in the Baths of Diocletian:

The Thesaurus Linguae Latinae project is now searchable online, and open-access, here.  You can search for the start or end of words, helpfully, and iyou get the printed page displayed.

When the basilica of Old St Peter’s was demolished, in order to build the present church, a Roman tomb – the chapel of St Petronilla – had to be demolished also. Inside the grave of the Empress Maria was found.  She was the wife of Honorius, and daughter of Stilicho.  The tomb was full of precious things, which were eagerly seized upon to help pay for the new church.  But a pendant does survive, now in the Louvre, with the names of her parents, her husband and herself.  (h/t @TrimontiumTrust)  See also this article.

Roman temples are often depicted on coins, although often the result is a bit sketchy.  Here’s a picture of the temple of Isis in Rome, on a sestertius of Vespasian from AD 71. (h/t here).  An example was offered for sale in 2013 here.  The British Museum specimen is here.  It does give us an impression of what the temple must have looked like!

I imagine that we can all stare at the Colosseum all day long.  Indeed on my last visit to Rome, I used to walk there every evening and eat a ciabatta while sitting outside.  This photograph from here is from 1896, and shows the Meta Sudans from an unusual angle.

Another photograph taken “before 1871” shows the Arch of Constantine, and the Meta Sudans peeking through one of the arches (h/t Archaeology and Art).  This is one of a set taken by Giacomo Brogi during his travels in Italy in the 1860s (see Digital Maps of the Ancient World, here).

A news report appeared in 2020 about a tablet recording an edict of Caesar threatening punishment for grave robbers.  Thought to come from Palestine, indeed from Nazareth, soon after the time of Christ, it has been seen as perhaps referring to the disappearance of Jesus’ body.  But an analysis of the marble shows that it isn’t local, but comes from the island of Kos in the Aegean.  Obviously that is not proof of anything very much, but the circumstances would better fit events in Kos in 20 BC. The JAS article (vol. 30, 2020) is here. (h/t Trimontium Trust)

Outside the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul stand a group of immense porphyry sarcophagi, thought to come from the mausoleum of the house of Constantine in the Church of the Holy Apostles.  This was demolished by the Turks after their conquest of the city.  Most are decorated Christian symbols, but one is not.  It is hypothesised that this one belonged to Julian the Apostate.  It was discovered in the second courtyard of the Topkapi Palace, buried underneath an immense plane tree. (h/t The Hidden Face of Istanbul).

I’m sure that we all are familiar with the depiction of Roman centurions with a helmet crest mounted cross-wise, like this:

But how do we know that they did this?  The answer, I find, is the gravestone of T. Calidus Severus, in the Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum (inv. III 365).  He came from Italy, and died aged 58 in Carnutum as a centurion of the 15th legion, and his brother Quintus erected the monument with pictures of his equipment. (h/t Symmachus).  There is a German Wikipedia article about him.

The inscription reads:

T(itus) Calidius / P(ublii filius) Cam(ilia) Sever(us) / eq(ues) item optio / decur(io) coh(ortis) I Alpin(orum) / item leg(ionis) XV Apoll(inaris ) / annor(um) LVIII stip(endiorum) XXXIIII / h(ic) s(itus) e(st) / Q(uintus) Calidius fratri / posuit.

Titus Calidius Severus, son of Publius, of the tribe Camilia, horseman, then optio and finally decurio of the Cohors I Alpinorum , then centurion of the Legio XV Apollinaris , aged 58, 34 years of service, is buried here. Quintus Calidius built this tomb for his brother/

Useful to see hard evidence, I think.


Bits and Bobs 3 – More stuff from the inbox

Here are a few more items from my pending file.

There is a project dedicated to the Coptic Magical Papyri, which ran from 2018-2023.  The website is here.

Our goal is to advance the study of the corpus of Coptic “magical texts” – manuscripts written on papyrus, as well as parchment, paper, ostraca and other materials, and attesting to private religious practices designed to cope with the crises of daily life in Egypt.

There are about six hundred of these texts which survive, dating to between the third and twelfth centuries of the common era. The largest published collection to-date, Ancient Christian Magic (Marvin Meyer & Richard Smith, 1994), contains only about one hundred of these texts – about a sixth of the total number – while the remainder of those published are scattered in over a hundred books and articles, accessible to and known by only a few specialists.

I can’t find much in the way of an output, tho.

Also Coptic-related is the next item.  It seems that a new critical edition is underway of the Chronicle of John of Nikiu.  This will take account of two 19th century manuscripts written in Amharic, rather than just the couple previously used which were in Ge’ez.  Any find of additional sources for this text would be valuable, since it contains a massive lacuna just around the most interesting point, which covers the Muslim invasion of Egypt.  There is a useful article by the lady who is doing the work, Daria Elagina, “The Ge’ez Text And The Amharic Version Of The ‘Chronicle’ Of John Of Nikiu”, Rassegna di Studi Etiopici, 3a Serie, Vol. 1 (48) (2017), pp. 113-119 (JSTOR):

The Chronicle of John of Nikiu is a historiographical text composed by a Coptic bishop in the 7th-cent. Egypt, in the period of the Arab conquest. Originally written either in Coptic or in Greek, it was translated into Arabic at an unknown time. No material traces are left of any of these versions. At the beginning of the 17th cent., the text was translated into Ge’ez, presumably as a tool within the anti-Jesuits ideological struggle, and then in Amharic in unknown circumstances (Weninger 2007). Only manuscripts in these two languages are known so far, four of them in Ge’ez: London, BLOrient. 818 (= WR. 391), fols. 48-104 (Wright 1877: 300-309); Paris, BnF Éth. 123 (= ZOT. 146), fols. 62-138 (Zotenberg 1877: 223-41); Paris, BnF Abb. 31 (= C.R. 209), fols. 104-65 (Conti Rossini 1914: 207-208); Rome, Accademia nazionale dei Lincei C.R. 27, fols. 1-120 (Strelcyn 1976: 100); and two in Amharic: Paris, BnF, Mondon-Vidailhet 53 [240] (Chaîne 1913:34-35); Paris, BnF, Mondon-Vidailhet 54 [241] (Chaîne 1913: 34-35). The last two are still badly known, unedited and almost unstudied, although they are preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

… The importance of the Chronicle of John of Nikiu as a historical source could hardly be overestimated. While its first part presents a strong relation toother texts like those by John Malalas and John of Antioch, its second part is an account of the Arab conquest of Egypt, written down by an eyewitness from the Christian side. …

Besides the well-known Ge’ez text the Amharic version is still practically unknown. The two manuscripts with the Amharic text were brought to France by Casimir Mondon-Vidailhet (1847-1910) after his stay in Ethiopia in the years 1891-1897…

This Amharic version constitutes the core of my current PhD project supervised by Prof. Alessandro Bausi and the main goal of my work is to prepare a critical edition and translation into English. Both manuscripts date back to the 19th cent…..

And Daria Elagina is still busy with this project, or so I learn from here.  She defended her PhD dissertation in 2022, and a funded project has been created to produce a critical edition with English translation.  This is invaluable.

Back in 2017, an interesting article appeared in Wired by Scott Rosenberg, “How Google Book Search got lost”.  It’s still online, although obstructed by attempts to get us to pay to read it.  If you can access it, it’s worth reading:

When Google Books started almost 15 years ago, it also seemed impossibly ambitious: An upstart tech company that had just tamed and organized the vast informational jungle of the web would now extend the reach of its search box into the offline world. By scanning millions of printed books from the libraries with which it partnered, it would import the entire body of pre-internet writing into its database. […] Two things happened to Google Books on the way from moonshot vision to mundane reality. Soon after launch, it quickly fell from the idealistic ether into a legal bog, as authors fought Google’s right to index copyrighted works and publishers maneuvered to protect their industry from being Napsterized. A decade-long legal battle followed — one that finally ended last year, when the US Supreme Court turned down an appeal by the Authors Guild and definitively lifted the legal cloud that had so long hovered over Google’s book-related ambitions. But in that time, another change had come over Google Books, one that’s not all that unusual for institutions and people who get caught up in decade-long legal battles: It lost its drive and ambition.

Some will know that St George was put to death four times, but resurrected after the first three.  One of these executions involved the use of a windlass.  It’s seen (via Ian Ebbage, circled in 1) in the fresco of Christ with Ss Peter & Paul from the Catacomb of Marcellinus and Peter (2). It seems to be repeated almost as a decorative motif throughout the fresco and they seem linked to each other by a thread.

An English visitor to Palestine in December 15,1856 mentions incidentally how there were no more 150 Turkish soldiers in the whole of Palestine.  This by the Rev. Albert Augustus Isaacs in “The Dead Sea: Notes and Observations made during a journey to Palestine in 1856-7”, London (1857), p.9:

Although but little is known, and still less has been written, concerning this part of the land of Palestine, my determination to circumscribe the limits of this narrative will lead me to omit the mention of any but leading points. The Abou-daouk tribe were at this time at war with the Government. They had refused to pay the usual taxes, and in consequence they might at any time have been attacked by the Turkish soldiery. Although it was not likely that the indifferently disciplined and poorly equipped troops of the Turkish Government (whose number at that time, as it happened, was not one hundred and fifty throughout the land of Palestine) would venture to attack these Bedouins, yet it was expedient for them to guard against surprise. They accordingly were moving about from place to place, and at this time Sheik Hamsi did not know where Abou-Daouk was to be found.

I find that the catalogue of the medieval library of Glastonbury is still extant, and is preserved on folios 102-4 of Trinity College Cambridge R.5.33, which contains other  administrative material from Glastonbury Abbey.  And the MS is online!  Here’s the top of fol.102r.

Glastonbury Abbey Library Catalogue: MS. Trinity College Cambridge R.5.33, f102r

Something that may have escaped most of us, but the Dictionnaire de théologie catholique (Paris, 1899-1950) is online at  The French Wikipedia article lists the volumes and links here.  References to this massive work turn up in bibliographies.

I’m still finding that many old tweets have vanished, so I make no apology for reposting this from @KoineGreekcom, here:

In Byzantine Palestine, a πούς ‘foot’ was the same measure as today. In CIIP 3431, a law against sowing or planting w/in 15 feet of an ὑδραγώγιον ‘aqueduct’: το δε μετρον του ποδος υποτετακται τουτοις τοις τυποις ‘And the measure of a foot is appended below these engravings’

That’s enough for the moment, I think!


The Letter of Claudius to the Alexandrians

In 41 AD an embassy arrived in Rome from the Greeks of Alexandria.  The emperor Claudius responded with a letter, which was read in the city.  The Prefect of Egypt, L. Aemilius Rectus, then ordered copies to be made and circulated to other cities of the region, with a covering letter dated 10 November 41.  One of these copies was made on the back of a tax register from Philadelphia, written on papyrus, and it has survived!  The entry and transcription is here.  It is held in the British Library, where it has the shelfmark of P. Lond. VI 1912v, or BL Papyrus 2248.  Usefully, it is online in full colour.

H. I. Bell in 1924 made a very literal translation.  This followed the lines on the papyrus as far as possible, and so is quite hard to read.  It is online here.

I thought it might be interesting to produce something a little more readable from Bell’s translation.  I split up the long columns into paragraphs, added commas, split sentences, and moved the odd word around to reflect better normal English word order.  I have not consulted the Greek.

Lucius Aemilius Rectus says: Since all the city was not able to be present at the revelation of the most sacred and beneficial letter to the city, because of its size, I thought it necessary to publish the letter, so that, man by man, each understanding the letter, you may wonder at the majesty of our god Caesar and be grateful for his goodwill toward the city.  2nd year of Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, Imperator, month of Neos Sebastos, 14th day.

    *    *    *    *

Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, Imperator, Pontifex Maximus, having the Tribunician power, Consul designate, to the city of the Alexandrians, greeting.

Tiberius Claudius Barbillus Apollonios son of Artimidoros, Chairemon son of Leonidas, Marcus Julius Asclepiades, Gaius Julius Dionysios, Tiberius Claudius Phanias, Pasion son of Potamon, Dionysios son of Sabbion, Tiberius Claudius, Apollonios son of Ariston, Gaius Julius Apollonios, Hermaïskos son of Apollonios – the ambassadors from you – after delivering the decree to me, went on extensively about the city, drawing my attention to the goodwill towards us which for some time, as you should know well, has been held in trust with me.  For you are respectful with regard to the emperors, as has become evident to me from many things, especially how you are both eager about my house and how that eagerness is returned, of which ‑ I mention the latest, passing over others ‑ the greatest witness is my own brother, Germanicus Caesar, when he spoke to you publicly in his own voice.

Therefore, I did happily accept the honours granted me by you, even though I am not prone to such things. First of all I leave it to you to treat my birthday as august in the manner that you yourselves proposed.  Also I agree to the erection in several places of statues of me and my family, for I see you are eager to establish everywhere reminders of your piety towards my house.

Concerning the twin golden statues, however, the one of the Claudian‑Augustan Peace shall be set up at Rome, as was suggested, and as my most honoured friend Barbillus entreated while I demurred, on account of seeming too arrogant.  The other, moreover, in a manner you see fit, shall process among you on eponymous days.  Moreover, a throne shall accompany it, adorned with any decoration you wish.

It might, then, perhaps be silly, after accepting such honours as these, to refuse the establishment of a Claudian tribe and groves according to the custom of Egypt; therefore I also grant these things to you.  Moreover, if you wish you may erect an equestrian statue of Vitrasius Pollio my procurator.

Moreover, regarding the erection of the four horse chariots at the entrance into the chora, which you wish to set up for me, I agree to setting up one near the place called Taposiris in Libya, another near Pharos in Alexandria, a third near Pelusium in Egypt.  But I deprecate my own high priest and the building of a temple, not wishing to be arrogant towards men of my own day.  For sacred things and the like are granted by every age to the gods alone, as special honours, in my opinion.

About the requests, however, which you have been eager to get from me I decide as follows: all who became epheboi up to my leadership I confirm, and I protect for them the citizenship of the Alexandrians, with the privileges and indulgences of the polis, to all except any who have escaped your notice as born from slaves, while becoming epheboi.  And no less with respect to other matters I wish everything to be confirmed which was graciously granted you by leaders before my time, and kings and prefects just as the god Augustus had confirmed.

The neokoroi of the the temple in Alexandria, which is of the god Augustus, I wish to be chosen by lot, in the manner as those in Canopus of the same god Sebastos are chosen by lot.   About the political offices becoming triennial, you seem to me to have planned quite well; for archons out of fear of rendering account of governing badly will behave more moderately with you for the duration of their offices.

About the boule, however, whatever may have been your situation under the old kings, I would have nothing to say.  You know clearly that, however, under the emperors before me, you had none.   As a novel business, now set before me for the first time, and because it is unclear whether it will be useful to the polis or my affairs, I wrote to Aemilius Rectus to investigate, and to inform me if it is necessary for the institution to be established, and, if it should be right to draw one together, the manner to do it.

But as for the riot and uprising against the Judaeans, – or rather, if the truth be told, the war, – which of the two sides was responsible, even though your envoys strove for great honour from the confrontation, and especially Dionysios son of Theon, still I did not want to have a strict investigation, while storing up in myself unrepentant rage against the ones starting again.

But I announce frankly that, unless you put a stop to this destructive, relentless rage against each other, I shall be forced to show what a benevolent leader is when turned toward righteous rage. For this I yet again still bear witness that Alexandrians, on the one hand, behave gently and kindly with the Judeans, the inhabitants of the same city from a long time ago, and not be disrespectful of the customs used in the ritual of their god, but let them use their customs as in the time of the god Augustus, even as I myself, after hearing both sides, have confirmed.

To the Judeans I give strict orders not to agitate for more than they had before, nor, as though dwelling in two cities to send in future two delegations, which had never been done before; nor to intrude in the gymnasiarchic or kosmetic contests, reaping the fruits of their households while enjoying the abundance of benefits without envy in a foreign polis.  Nor shall they introduce or bring in Judeans from Syria, or sailing down from Egypt, from which I shall be forced to have serious suspicions; or else I shall take vengeance on them in every way as though rousing up some common plague on the world.

If, after you stand aside from these things, you both should wish to live together with gentleness and kindness towards each other, I shall send forth to the highest degree providence for the city, as belonging to our household from bygone times.

I bear witness to my companion Barbillus, that he always shows regard for you before me, and who, just now, with complete zeal for honour, has consulted about the contest about you, and to Tiberius Claudius Archibios my companion.


P. Lond.VI 1912v – Letter of Claudius to the Alexandrians in 41 AD.

More Bits and Bobs

Here are a few more miscellaneous items which I squirreled away as I saw them, some as long ago as 2018.  I thought that I would delve into these further, but I never did.  Now that people are deleting their Twitter accounts, it’s worthwhile to preserve some of these.

Ancient books were written on rolls of papyrus.  These were naturally piled end on, so there was a need to know what was in each roll without pulling it out and unrolling it.  The answer was to glue a parchment tag on the end, which hung down and had the books title on it.  Rather like the spine of a modern book.  This was called a “sillybos” – spelling varies – and the British Library has some.  The attached article is also very good.

@BLMedievalRare survival of an ancient ‘library tag’ from a 1,800-year-old private library (Papyrus 2056). In ancient libraries, titles were put on hanging leather labels attached to papyrus scrolls.  See here.

There’s a translation of The Life of Symeon the Holy Fool by Leontius of Neapolis, and it is online in an awkward format:

Jonathan Parkes Allen (@Mar_Musa): The late antique Life of St. Symeon the Holy Fool, which would help provide a paradigm for early modern holy fools, is the subject of a wonderful study by Derek Krueger (which includes a translation of the Life), available as a free e-book.

From Twitter here, linking to a now vanished website here.  This made the interesting claim that:

Most of the popular myths about the origins of Halloween can be traced back to two nineteenth century British authors: Sir John Rhys and Sir James Frazer, who speculated about connections between Halloween and pagan Celtic rituals.

Someone has produced a tiny pocket-book paperback of the Psalms from the Vulgate, which fits in the palm of your hand.  It’s a trivial price, and available from Lulu here.

Ever come across the “peg-calendars” of antiquity, where a piece of wood went in to mark the day?

@TimeTravelRomeThis is a parapegma – a Roman timekeeping device showing days of the lunar calendar, market “nundinal” days, and “regular” planetary weekdays.

The “Infancy Gospel of James” was in the news in 2018:

Tuomas Levänen @TuomasLevanen: Brand new public domain translation of “Infancy Gospel of James” by Mattison – I guess we blame M.R.James for James instead of Jacob.  Here.

Photographs of inscriptions are ever-useful:

Dr Chris Naunton @chrisnaunton: Fitting to end a trip down the Nile visiting ancient monuments with this graffito inscribed on the inner walls of the gateway of Hadrian at #Philae: the last known inscription in hieroglyphs. It dates to 394 by which time #Egypt, under the Romans’, had largely become Christian.

The Roman Society made their publications freely accessible:

Roman Society @TheRomanSoc: Great news! Most of our monographs can now be downloaded for free. The Britannia series is here and the JRS series here Happy reading!

One of the many losses of the Thirty Years War was the library of Lorsch, founded in the Dark Ages and full of important stuff.  Fortunately the loot was carried to Heidelberg, and formed part of the settlement of the war.  Much of it ended up in the Vatican.  The Bibliotheca Laureshamensis Digital team have been trying to reunite the other scattered books through a virtual library.  Sadly the Tertullian of Lorsch seems to be gone for good.

Just because we have artefacts in a museum does not mean that we see them even as the excavators did:

Lisa Brody @LR_Brody: Even the extraordinary amount of pigment preserved on the sculpture from Dura can be better understood through copies made in the field by Herbert Gute. All excavation archives available at Artstor’s Shared Shelf Commons.  Link.

There’s lots more in my folder, but that’s probably enough for now!  My thanks to all those who freely shared their knowledge online.