Working with Bauer’s 1783 translation of Bar Hebraeus’ “History of the Dynasties”

Following my last post, I’ve started to look at the PDFs of Bauer’s 1783-5 German translation of Bar Hebraeus’ History of the Dynasties.

It must be said that the Fraktur print is not pleasant to deal with.  But it could be very much worse!  I’ve seen much worse.  Here’s the version from Google Books:

And here is the same page from the MDZ library:

I’ve tried running both through Abbyy Finereader 15 Pro.  Curiously the results are better, on the whole, from the higher resolution MDZ version.  I had expected that the bleed-through from the reverse might cause problems – and it may yet!  Even more oddly, the OCR on the “Plain Text” version of Google Books is better still.

But there is a problem with using Google Books in plain text mode.  There is no way to start part way through the book.  You will always be placed at the very start, and you can only navigate by clicking “Next page” or whatever it is.  This is not good news if you have 100 pages to click through before you get to where you want to be.

The opening portion of these world chronicles is always a version of the biblical narrative about the creation, followed by material from the Old Testament, combined with apocryphal material.  I may be alone here, but I have always found these parts of the narratives unreadable.  When I translated Agapius, I started with the time of Jesus, part way through.  I did the same with Eutychius. I only did the opening chapters at the end, after I had translated all the way from Jesus to the end of the book first.  I recall that it felt like wading through glue. I might have given up, except that I had already invested so much time in the project.

Starting in the time of Jesus immediately introduces us to familiar figures.  On page 88 of volume 1, the “Sixth Dynasty” starts, with Alexander the great.  It ends on page 98 with Cleopatra.  Each section starts with a familiar name, one of the Ptolemies in most cases.

On page 99, dynasty 7 begins, after an introduction, with Augustus.  The dynasty ends on p.139 with Justinian.  Each ruler gets a paragraph, often only a few sentences.

It’s all do-able, clearly.  I’m not sure that I want to get into working on this book seriously, with the St Nicholas project still in mid-air.  But it’s not hard work, which is something!


The “Historia Dynastiarum” or “History of the Dynasties” by Barhebraeus

The last of the five big Arabic Christian histories is the Historia Dynastiarum (Tarikh Mukhtasar Ad-Duwal) of Bar Hebraeus.  This is a revision, abbreviation, and expansion, of his Syriac world history, the Chronicum Syriacum.  There seems very little evidence in Google that the Historia Dynastiarum has received very much attention.

Here is a Google Translate version of the relevant parts of his entry in Graf’s Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Litteratur, vol. 2.  This is of course very old now.  First the man himself (p.272):

92. Gregorius Abu ‘l-Farag ibn al-`Ibri, almost universally referred to in the Western scholarly world with the Latinization of the nickname Barhebraeus, the most important writer of the Jacobites [=monophysites], is one of the most important of his diverse writings, which cover all areas of profane and theological knowledge extends to Syrian literary history. Only two works that certainly came from his pen were written in Arabic from the start. The days of his life fell during the difficult time of the Mongol invasions.

Barhebraeus was born in Melitene in 1225-6 as the son of a Christian doctor who had been converted from Judaism and was given the baptismal name Johannes. After his parents moved to Antioch, he took lessons in logic and medicine from a Nestorian in Tripoli, Syria. Consecrated bishop under the name Gregorius in 1246, he successively held three bishoprics, most recently Aleppo, and in 1264 became Maphrian of the East, i.e. the Deputy of the Patriarch in the East Syrian-Persian church area with changing residence. He died in Maraga on July 30, 1286, highly revered by Muslims and all Christian parties, and was buried in the Monastery of Matthew (Deir Matta) near Mosul.

Graf states that Barhebraeus only composed two works in Arabic.  The first is a work on the Soul.  The second is the History of the Dynasties.

The crowning achievement of Barhebraeus’s life’s work is his Arabic history entitled the “History of the Dynasties”, which he wrote at the request of Muslim friends and completed shortly before his death. It is a partly abridged, partly expanded adaptation of his secular history (chronography), which he had previously written in Syriac, and which was accompanied by a church history in the same language. The additions to the Arabic abstract include, above all, valuable information about scientific and literary figures, including older Arabic sources. He reports events based on the ruling personalities, which are arranged in groups of 10 “dynasties”, these are the (Old Testament) patriarchs (al-auliya’), the judges, the Israelite and Chaldean kings, the kings of the Magi (Medes ), the. the pagan Greeks (Alexander to Cleopatra), the Franks (in the sense of Westerners: Augustus to Justinian II), the Christian Greeks (Tiberius II to Heraclius), the Muslim Arabs (Muhammed to al-Musta’sim) – by far the most extensive and most detailed part of the entire work – and the kings of the Mongols from Hulägu until the death of Ilkhan Argun in 1285.

Editions: Edvardus Pocockius, Specirnen historiae Arabum etc., Oxonii 1650, excerpts, beginning with the history of the Arabs before Islam, in Latin. Translation and notae. Complete: Historia compendiosa Dynastiarum, authore Gregorio Abul-Pharajio Malatiensi medico . .. Arabice edita, et latine versa, Oxonii 1663. Antun Salhani, Ta’rih muhtasar ad-duwal, Beirut 1890. German translation: Georg Lorenz Bauer, Des Gregorius Abulfaradsch kurze Geschichte der Dynastien, oder Auszug der allgemeinen Weltgeschichte (= Gregorius Abulfaradsch’s short history of the dynasties, or excerpt from general world history), 2 vols., Leipzig 1783 and 1785. Cf. J. H. Hottingeri Promtuarium; Sive, Bibliotheca orientalis, Heidelbergae 1658, pp. 80-82.

Manuscripts: Paris ar. 296 (15th century); 297 (1554 AD); Additions in the margins and on the endpaper: historical, geographical and chronological notes on the city of Amid, Iraq, Palestine, Syria, and lists of the Jacobite Primates up to 1493 and the Nestorian Catholicoi. Par. ar. 298 (1598 AD); 299 (1693 AD); 6501 (1355 AD).  Leiden or. 759; 760.  Vatican Borg. syr. 59 (Karshuni, 1688 AD, written in Rome by Athanasius Safar, Bishop of Mardin). Copenhagen or. 8 (1663/4 AD; see John Erichsen, Udsigt over den gamle Manuscript-Samling i det store Kongelige Bibliothek [= Overview of the old Manuscript Collection in the great Royal Library], Copenhagen 1768, p. 5).   Petersb. Inst. or. 37 (1605/6 AD). Sbath 50 (Kars., 17th century), incomplete; Fihris 61.

The 1663 edition by Pococke is available online in many places.  Here are a few:

Bauer’s 1783-5 German translation – printed in Fraktur -, the Des Gregorius Abulfaradsch kurze Geschichte der Dynastien, is also online:

Because of the awkward Fraktur text, this looks rather intimidating to the English reader, unless you view the copy in Google Books.  There you can click on the “gearwheel” at top right, and select “plain text”.  This will give you the text, already OCR’d into a Roman font.  If you do this in Chrome, your browser will then automatically translate it into some sort of English.  Curiously, if you copy the German plain text into Google Translate, you get a much better English translation!

By this process, we get this for Bauer’s rather charming preface (slightly cleaned up by me):

I do not think that I need to make an apology by daring to present to the public a German translation of an Arab historian, of Gregorius Abulfaradsch’s Brief History of the Dynasties. At a time when everything with healthy hands is eager to give every product of the mind, no matter how poor, a German robe if it is stamped with the name of a Briton or a Frenchman; At a time when translation factories for Greek and Latin classics are being set up everywhere, I thought that the dear public, which always shows a fair amount of patience, should not make a sheepish face and reject me out of hand if I ever do produce an Arab, and ask for his favor and protection for him.

Or does the Arab have less right to do this than the Romans and Greeks? “But Pocock has already appended a Latin translation to the edition of Abulfaradsch?” But there are also Latin translations from old Latin and Greek authors that are just as pleasant to read and clear as the one from my hero, and yet one explains it those German translations are not superfluous; And here it is also the case that Pokock’s work is rare, expensive and certainly in few hands of historians and history lovers.

Or do only the Greeks and Romans deserve to appear in German garb for the sake of the important content? It is true that the Oriental historian does not write as gracefully as a Herodotus or not after. The history of a people whose religion arose after the Christian one and has well over half of the human race among its followers; of a people whose language surpasses most of the world in terms of wealth, culture and spread across vast lands; of a people who had never been subjugated, but who were seized by religious enthusiasm and, as a result, a desire for conquest, subjugated almost the entire world and founded an immense empire that even exceeded the Roman one in size; a people who have done so many harm to the Christian religion, with whom the Christians in Spain, Italy and France, the Greek emperors in their provinces, and later the Western Christians fought so many bloody wars during the Crusades; of a people that embraced the sciences and translated the Greek philosophers, historians and poets into their mother tongue, while Christian Europe was covered in stark darkness by monkery and pfaffery.  Shouldn’t the history of such a people deserve to be known, and shouldn’t the author be important, who can be used as a source in its study?

Anyone would be ashamed not to know anything about the ancient Persians and their kings, about the Greeks and Romans. But in the history of the equally famous empires of the Khalifs and the Mogols, which overthrew them and which are so close to us in time and other circumstances, one did not want to count oneself to be a disgrace? I have often been surprised that the name of the Khalifs and their empire was something completely unknown to many a self-studied and not ignorant man. And if the names of great scholars who are respected by the world can serve to justify my undertaking, I can also refer to the fact that Mr. D. Dache in Leipzig, and my former excellent teacher in oriental languages, Prof. Nagel, too Altorf, honored my project with your approval, and expressed his consideration for me, which I have always enjoyed to the fullest extent, and as a grateful student I boast here with true reverence, that he also supported me from the stock of his library.

This, I thought, should protect me from criticism for publishing a German translation of Abulfaradsch, which mainly provides the history of the Khalifs and Mogols. For those who do not already know him or are familiar with Pocock’s work, I note that he is a native of Malatia, a city on the west side of the Euphrates, where his father, Aharon, was a famous physician, and that he in the XIII. century lived. He himself was very experienced in the science of medicine, which is why he reveals many predilections for doctors in his book and weaves in some nice anecdotes about them. He has written several works, such as: a Syriac grammar and a Chronicon Syriacum, which Asseman published in his Bibliotheca Oriental. Tom. II. p. 308. Wherever one finds more from our author, and among other things the opinion expressed in the preface by Pokock that our Abulfaradsch is the same person as Abulfaradsch Abdallah Ibn Attajeb (a Nestorian monk) is refuted. By religion he was a Christian, and of the Jacobite sect. The accuracy of his reports results from their comparison with other proven historians, such as Abulfeda, Eutychius, Al Makin. He was partly a contemporary and eyewitness to the events under the Mogol government. He continued his story of the creation of the world, according to the custom of Eastern historians, up to the year of Christ 1283. I was surprised that he wasn’t often missing from the oldest story and, despite its brevity, that he included many a pleasant anecdote. His style is simple and completely unadorned, the tone of his narrative is uniform and dull, still more bearable than Eastern pomp. Compare the preface by Mr. Ritter Michaelis to his Arabic grammar.

I also ask that the reader keep in mind when reading the translation that I could not embellish the original. The respect he was held in because of his learning is demonstrated by the titles given to him in the title of the book: He was the greatest scholar, the king among scholars, the model and phoenix of his age, the pride of the wise. How important his reports are is demonstrated by the frequent use which the authors of the General World History, in the 19th and 20th parts, in the history of the Muslim empire, have made of him.**

In my translation I tried to express exactly the meaning of the original, and I flatter myself that, through comparison with other writers, I have mostly hit the mark. Wherever errors have crept in that did not escape my eyes, I have corrected them in the following notes, and I will diligently point these out to the reader. If I had immediately at hand the subsidies of several Arabic writers, as I received them later, I could certainly have given my translation greater perfection, which the second part will certainly contain. As for the explanatory and corrective notes, I was advised by a respected scholar that most of the sheets had already been printed, so they had to be appended at the end. The time I was granted was short, which is why I only briefly touched on the bare essentials. But because I feel that it is more convenient if the notes are always placed under the text, where they belong, I will give them this more appropriate placard for the second part if the audience receives this first attempt with indulgence and care. “Why I didn’t deliver the Abulfaradsch in its entirety right away?” Someone might also ask about the translation of an Arabic book!

– Written in Nuremberg, March 21, 1783.

I would have given the opening of Barhebraeus’ preface also, but there are some OCR errors there which would make this harder work!

Update (19 Dec 2023): In the comments, Diego points out that the mysterious reference to the “General World History” must refer to volumes 19 and 20 of “Allgemeine Weltgeschichte von der Schöpfung an bis auf gegenwärtige Zeit” (Leipzig 1765-1808, 29 vols.). This was a German translation/adaptation of W. Guthrie and ‎J. Gray’s “A General History of the World, from the Creation to the Present Time” (1764-7).  Thank you!


Arabic Christian Historians: Yahya ibn Sa`id al-Antaki

When the early Muslims conquered the Near East, they subjugated large areas populated by Christians, politically part of the Greek-speaking Eastern Roman empire, but speaking either Syriac or Coptic.  Over time these were forced to adopt Arabic, and to translate their literature into that language from the 9th century onwards.  This multi-lingual environment produced the Translation Movement, which translated Greek science into Arabic.  Arabic Christian literature is little known, but voluminous.

There are five major historians prior to 1500.  These are Agapius, Eutychius, Yahya ibn Sa’id al-Antaki, Al-Makin, and Bar Hebraeus.  I always find it hard to remember the barbarous-sounding Yahya ibn Sa’id al-Antaki – it means John, son of Said, of Antioch – and, having managed to remember, I thought I would say a few words about him.

TLDR: He was an Egyptian who went to Antioch and wrote a continuation of the Annals of Eutychius covering the years 938-1028.

I think we’d better start with the entry in Georg Graf’s Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Litteratur vol. 2 (1947), p.49 f.  (Written 76 years ago!)  I’m not bothering with the dots and accents here.

14.  Yahya (Yuhanna) ibn Said ibn Yahya al-Antaki.  According to Ibn Abi Usaibia, he was a relative of Eutychius, and composed his annals under the title “The Book of the Appendix” (Kitab ad-Dail) for the years 938-1027-8 AD.  He wrote the majority of the work before his move to Antioch in 1015, but then corrected, supplemented and expanded it based upon the archival documents which he found there. Apart from presenting Byzantine history, it is above all an important source for the history of Fatimid rule in Egypt and Syria. It is also rich in valuable details about ecclesiastical conditions and events in the eastern countries.

We then get some very elderly bibliography, which I will abbreviate a bit.

Ibn Abi Usaibia, vol. 2, 87.  Krumbacher 368.  … An excerpt on the seige and capture of Antioch by the Byzantines in 967-8 was printed in translation by Alfred von Kremer, Beiträge zur Geographie des nördlichen Syriens, Wien 1852, p. 4-6.  … (Russian publication) deals with, among other things, the Christianization of the Russians and the history of the Bulgarians at the end of the 10th and beginning of the 11th century, with a different perspective to that in Byzantine sources.  The first complete edition of the Arabic text was  part of the publication of Eutychius by L. Cheikho &c in CSCO, Scriptores Arabici, textus, series III, t. VII (Beirut 1909), p.89-273, and taken from Ms. Paris ar. 291 (17th century), folios 82v-137v, and a manuscript of the collection of excerpts by the deacon Paul az-Za`im of Aleppo (17th century), itself derived from a copy of Yahya ibn Said al-Antaki’s text made in Cairo in 1291.

A new edition with French translation was made in the Patrologia Orientalis series, volumes 18 pt 5 and 23 pt 3.  …. using various rather late manuscripts.

This is online so I will skip Graf’s remarks about it, and give links:

Three other works of the same author also exist, although I have no idea whether any have been printed, or even exist now.  These remarks are from 1947.

Three theological works by the same author, “Abu’l Farag Yahya ibn Sa`id ibn Yahya al-Antaki” are in manuscripts in a private collection in Aleppo:

  • Treatise (maqala) on the truth of the (Christian) religion, catalogued in Sbath, Fihris 2527 (13th c.)
  • Refutation of the Jews, 2528.
  • Refutation of the Muslims, 2529.

Some sources refer to a supposed English translation of the historical work:

J.H. Forsyth “The Chronicle of Yahya ibn Sa’id al-Antaki”, Univ. of Michigan Ph.D. thesis, 1977.

But this is now online here, and in fact is only a study.

An Italian translation does exist, and selections from this are available online at the publisher’s website!  I do approve of that practice.

Yaḥyā ibn Sa’ïd, al-Anṭākī, Cronache dell’Egitto fāṭimide e dell’impero bizantino : (937-1033) (PDF). Translated by Bartolomeo Pirone, (3rd ed. heavily revised and corrected), Milan: Jaca Book (1998).  Series: PCAC 3.  The publisher has a page for it here.

Since I don’t have the English translation, why don’t we let Google translate give us the first couple of sections of the Italian of Bartolomeo Pirone?  (Saʿīd Ibn Baṭrīq = Eutychius).

1.   In the name of God, the Merciful, the Merciful!  A book composed by Yaḥyā Ibn Saʿīd al-Anṭākī, a continuation of the Annals of Saʿīd Ibn Baṭrīq.  I propose, with this book, to narrate those past events and present events of which I have come to know, and which I believe to be true, starting from the time at which the Annals of Saʿīd Ibn Baṭrīq, patriarch of Alexandria, end, to the present day, thus taking care to oblige myself towards the one who asked me to compose and write it, encouraging me to draft it and arrange the parts in good order. May God guard him, and preserve him, too, from what he fears!

2.  Now Saʿīd Ibn Baṭrīq stops, in the Annals that he wrote, at the fifth year of the caliphate of al-Rāḍī, i.e. in the year 326 of the hegira, while he himself died in the year 328 of the hegira. The day and the month of the year in which he died, I will mention them at the right place in this book of mine. I will classify the material I have collected following the same classification criterion he adopted and, in doing so, I will stick to the methods he followed. For my part, I will add the names of all the caliphs and all the rulers that have come to me and I will define the period of government completed by each of them; to this I will add everything I have learned about their deeds, their lives and the events that took place in their days, avoiding, in doing so, giving in, at the same time, to verbosity of exposition and excessive conciseness, following, at the on the contrary, somewhere in between. Indeed the minds of men more often seek, and pursue with greater desire, knowledge of events close to their own time.

Few of us, perhaps, will ever have reason to venture into this book.  But it is useful to have some idea of what is out there, and how to find it.

Update (9 December 2023): The Forsyth “translation” does not exist; it is merely a study.


Al-Makin: Critical edition and English translation published!

Arabic Christian literature is little known to most of us.  It is the literature of the Christian communities of the Near East, the Syriac and Coptic worlds, after they were overrun by Islam, and their languages started to fade under the pressure of the dominant Arabic-speaking culture.  Naturally much of it begins with translations from the original languages, and consequently there is a strong connection to Greek and Byzantine literature.

Within Arabic Christian literature there are the five big histories: those of Agapius, Eutychius, Yahya ibn Said al-Antaki, Al-Makin, and Bar-Hebraeus.   All these need work, to make them accessible, and I have done things with Agapius and Eutychius.  But none has been neglected like al-Makin.  He wrote in the 13th century, but he is known in mainstream circles, if at all, today because of a 1971 article, Shlomo Pines, “An Arabic version of the Testimonium Flavianum and its implications.”  In this Pines gave a version of the Testimonium Flavianum from Agapius, which he mangled using the unpublished text of Al-Makin.

Like most such chronicles, Al-Makin divided his work into two halves; the first containing history until the appearance of Islam, and the second covering the Islamic period up to his own time.  The second half was printed back in 1625 with a Latin translation by Erpenius.  A French translation of part of this appeared in 1955.  I myself made attempts to create an Arabic text, which proved futile.  The first half was never even printed.

But… today I received an email from Dr Martino Diez, who has … produced a critical edition, with parallel English translation, of the opening section of the first half!

Martino Diez, al-Makīn Ǧirǧis Ibn al-ʿAmīd: Universal History. The Vulgate Recension. From Adam to the End of the Achaemenids.  Leiden: Brill (2024). Pages: xxii, 1115 pp. 

Dr Diez is professor of Arabic language and literature at the Catholic University of Milan, and has written a number of excellent papers on the subject.  Here’s what he says:

I am happy to announce that the first part of al-Makin Ibn al-Amid’s Universal History is now available in critical edition with parallel English translation.

This part covers from Adam to the end of the Achaemenids. Unfortunately this means that for the Testimonium Flavianum you will have to wait a little longer, but I am supervising a PhD student and we have already established the Arabic text.

In the introduction, apart from the Ibn al-‘Amid’s life and the different recensions in which his book has been handed down, I discuss the sources and the fortune of the work.

The link leads to the Brepols site, which has a PDF of the table of contents.  This indicates an extensive and very interesting-looking introduction.  There are two versions of the text in existence, as is also the case with other Arabic-laanguage histories, and he has rightly chosen to work with the most commonly encountered “vulgate” edition.

The Brepols site adds:

When the 13th-century Coptic official al-Makīn Ibn al-ʿAmīd was thrown into prison by Sultan Baybars, he set out to compile a summary of Biblical, Graeco-Roman, and Islamic history for his own consolation. His work, which drew from a vast array of sources, enjoyed enduring success among various readerships: Oriental Christians, in Arabic-speaking communities but also in Ethiopia; Mamluk historians, including Ibn Ḫaldūn and al-Maqrīzī; and early modern Europe.

Obviously I have not seen the book itself, but this is an enormously welcome volume.  It is very good news that Martino Diez has a second volume in progress!

It’s well worth reading these sorts of chronicles, to see what sort of things they contain.  After all, if you’re working with Byzantine histories, in Greek or Syriac, you are basically working with the same material which finds its way into the Arabic language.  You need to know what that material looks like, a century or two further down the line.  The pre-islamic half of Al-Makin is entirely derived from Byzantine and Syriac sources, and consequently of great interest to anyone looking into those sorts of Chronicles.



Anthony Alcock: Three short texts relating to Severus of Antioch – now online

Anthony Alcock is continuing his series of translations from Coptic and Arabic.  Today he emailed over a translation of three short texts in Arabic, relating to Severus of Antioch.  The original language material may be found in the Patrologia Orientalis 2 (1907).

This is very welcome.  Thank you very much, Dr. A!


The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – opening section of chapter 8

(I thought that it might be interesting to see how an Arabic Christian writer of the 10th century, Eutychius, also known as Sa’id al-Bitriq, the patriarch of Alexandria, saw the events of the time of Christ.  I think we may all have some fun trying to recognise the names from the Arabic transcriptions!)

1. In the fourth year of the reign of Cleopatra, there reigned over the city of Rome a king named Ghābiyūs Qaysar for four years.  After him then reigned, over Rome, a king called Yūliyūs Qaysar for three years (1).  After him, there reigned in the city of Rome Awghustus Qaysar son of Mūnarkhus, in the eleventh year of the reign of Cleopatra.

Caesar Augustus extended his dominion over the world and made kings subject to him.  When Cleopatra heard of Caesar Augustus she was dismayed, and felt a great fear.  She therefore strengthened her kingdom by erecting a wall from Nubia to al-Farama (2), on the east bank of the Nile, and a wall from Nubia to Alexandria on the west bank of the Nile.  Today [that] wall is called “Hayt al-‘Ağūz” (3).  Cleopatra then lived at Alexandria in Egypt and had a lieutenant named Anthony.  Caesar Augustus heard about her and decided to subject her to his dominion.  Then Augustus learned that the Jews of Ūrashalīm had refused obedience to him, and that the kingdom of Judah had not been ruled by the family of David since the time of their deportation at the hands of Bakhtanassar.  The Jews, in fact, do not recognize anyone as their king, even today, unless he is one of the descendants of David.  At that time there was a priest descended from David, named Aristūbal, who ruled the Jews instead of a king.  Augustus sent his general named Bitiyūs (4), who laid siege to Bayt al-Maqdis [Jerusalem] and conquered it.  He bound Aristobulus, priest of the Jews, together with a group of his men, and he sent them to Rome after imposing a personal tribute on the Jews.  Then he went away from them.  Among the Jews there arose serious disorder, and they elected as priest, instead of Aristobulus, his brother called Irqān (5).  Irqān had become friends with a man of Ascalon, named Antibatrus (6).  A native of Cyprus (7), he was a servant of the temple of idols and the father of Hirūdus.

The priest Hyrcanus appointed Herod, son of Antipater, to hunt down thieves, he being a very rude man.  But some residents of the Ghawr (8) made a raid on Bayt al-Maqdis, captured the priest Hyrcanus and killed Antipater, father of Herod.  The city was thus without an administrator and headless.  Herod ingratiated himself with the Rums [Romans] who resided in Bayt al-Maqdis, and gave them great wealth, thus becoming governor and leader of Bayt al-Maqdis.  Then Herod learned that Caesar Augustus, king of Rum, was on his way to Egypt in search of Cleopatra.  He met him in ar-Ramlah (9) bringing many gifts and he made with him a covenant of friendship.  When he arrived in Egypt, Augustus had Anthony, Cleopatra’s lieutenant, killed, and he went to Alexandria in search of Cleopatra to seize her, and expose her to ignominy and show her at Rum.  When Cleopatra heard that Caesar Augustus had killed her lieutenant Anthony, and had occupied Egypt, fearing to be exposed to mockery, and preferring to die, killed herself to avoid dishonour once she had fallen into his hands.  But she called two of her handmaidens, one named Abra, who combed her hair and made her beautiful, and the other named Mitriya, who cut her nails and dressed her, and commanded them to go into the garden and bring her the snake was called bāsīlidah (10).  That done, she tried it at first on the two maids who, bitten, died instantly.  Seeing that the viper caused death swiftly, [Cleopatra] took the crown, and she put on her head, every ornament of gold and silver, gems, corundum and chrysolido she had, then put on her royal robes, took the snake and pulled it to her left breast, because she knew that the heart is on the left side.  The snake bit her and [Cleopatra] died instantly.  When Caesar Augustus saw her, he was astonished by what she had done, and the fact that she had preferred death to a life of slavery and humiliation. They say that when King Caesar Augustus went in to her, he found her with her left hand grasping the crown, as to not have it fall from the head, and found her seated on a throne.  Others have said that, she wanting to die, injured her arm with a knife, to bring out the blood, and then took some snake venom that she had with her and putting it on the wound, she died instantly.  This took place in the twelfth year of the reign of Caesar Augustus.  Thus ended the reign of Cleopatra.

To be continued…


More modern Coptic literature online

John Rostom has written to tell us of other places where we may find words by the modern Copts:

Should you be interested in other books and publications by modern Coptic Orthodox writers, besides those authored by the late Pope Shenouda III, you can access and freely download these from another valuable online source known as The Alpha. It’s the new website for COePA: Coptic Orthodox Electronic Publishing Australia.

It’s got a wealth of English publications by the late Pope Shenouda III, other Bishops, members of the Clergy and scholarly Laity. My advice is to click on the link “The Alpha Christian Orthodox Collection Downloads” located under the Main Menu and view the 13 subcategories, each with its own distinct collection. I’m assuming that since they are freely downloadable from a publishing company, therefore copyright shouldn’t really be a concern.

This is really valuable – thank you!


Modern Coptic Christian materials online in PDF

It’s not very easy for non-specialists to find material by modern Coptic authors in Arabic.  Yet it does exist, and much of it is even online.

In a series of comments, John Rostom has very kindly let us know about a bunch of links which are simply too useful to be left only as comments.  Here is a digest.

Firstly, over 40 books by the late Pope Shenouda III are online in PDF form, in English translation.  The URL is, and all the items are downloadable (with the exception of only 2 of the links, i.e. “The Spiritual Man.pdf” and “The Spiritual Means.pdf” which don’t work).

Second, the History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria is online in Arabic, compiled and edited by the late Bishop Samuel, Bishop of Shebeen el-Qanter (all published in 1999):

In addition is another book:

This is by the late Father Samuel Tawadros al-Syriani which appears to have been published much earlier (1st ed. 1977), with the 2nd edition being the one presented by the online bookshop (2nd ed. 2002) and revised by Bishop Mattaos, current Bishop and Abbot of Dair al-Sorian (Syrian Monastery). This book covers the History of the Patriarchs from Pope Peter VII (109th Pope) to Pope Cyril VI (116th Pope), thus a bit of an overlap with Bishop Samuel’s books.  Why it is called “part 6” is not clear, but that title only applied to the 2nd edition.

Thirdly, the 4th volume (part) of Bishop Samuel’s edition of Abu’l Makarem’s History Of Churches & Monasteries – Part 4 is online here.  Together with links by Dioscorus Boles, that gives links to the entire Arabic text.  (Can anyone find a copy of the English text that exists somewhere?)

Thank you very much indeed, Mr Rostom – invaluable!


Is there an Arabic text of the “History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church” online anywhere?

The monster history of the Coptic church, which Wikipedia says is called Ta’rikh Batarikat al-Kanisah al-Misriyah,  is online in English, at least as far as 1894.  But I know that modern authors have written continuations; and I wonder whether any of these are online.

Does anyone know?

I have someone who might be interested in translating some of it into English, you see.


Books by the Coptic Pope Shenouda III at Google Books

I accidentally stumbled on a mass of English translations of works by the current Coptic Pope, Shenouda III, at Google books.  This search brings up a long list.  Some have preview; some are full view, and can be downloaded in PDF form.

The first one I saw was a hagiography of St. Mark, here.  The work is a modern composition in the traditional style, and references are on p.143 to sources like Eusebius HE, Jerome’s De viris illustribus, Severus ibn al-Mukaffa’s History of the Patriarchs, and other interesting-looking sources.

These books are an invaluable insight into modern Coptic church thinking.  It is very good to see them accessible.  For which of us could otherwise even know they existed?