The January Poems in the Chronography of 354

Each month in the Chronography of 354 consists of a two-page spread.  On the left there is an illustration of the month, on the right a calendar of days and festivals and anniversaries.

For the month of January the 4-line poem (= tetrastich) is preserved only in manuscripts of the Anthologia Latina.  Here it is:

Hic Iani mensis sacer est, en aspice ut aris
Tura micent, sumant ut pia tura Lares.
Annorum saeclique caput, natalis honorum
Purpureis fastis qui numerat proceres.

This month is sacred to Janus; Lo! See on the altars
How the incense glitters, how the Lares accept the pious incense.
It is the start of years and time, the birthday of the offices
Which the nobles enumerate in their purpled calendars.

The 2-line poem (= distich) is present, thankfully.  Each distich consists of a hexameter at the foot of the left-hand page, and a pentameter at the foot of the right-hand page.  Here it is:

Primus, Iane, tibi sacratur ut omnia mensis
Undique cui semper cuncta videre licet.

The first month is sacred to you, Janus, like everything;
From both sides it is possible for him always to see everything.

But there is a twist here: the first line is different in two of the manuscripts, R1 and R2.  Instead the first line reads:

Ianus adest bifrons primusque ingreditur annum…

Two-faced Janus is here, and first begins the year…

It seems to be taken for granted in the literature that the illustration and the hexameter in R1 and R2 are not genuine; but renaissance compositions.

The 16th century Vienna manuscript 3416 (online here) is the only one that has twelve images in it.   But these have clearly been redrawn by someone who fancied himself as an artist.  Here is the one for January (f.2v, image 15):

Vienna (Vindobonensis 3416, f.2v) – January

The 17th century R1 manuscript, Vat. (online here) image, f.16, seems more authentic in style, and is within the original border.

R1 (Vat. Barb. lat. 2154B, f.16r) – January

The only month illustration in R2 (available online in a scanned microfilm here) is as follows:

R2 (Vat. lat. 9135, f.224r, p.288 in the viewer) – January

R1 and R2 are the same image, copied at the same time.

The figures in V and R1 are both making a sacrifice with incense, but there the similarity ends.

(For more information on this series of posts, please see the Introduction to the Poems of the Chronography of 354).


An Introduction to the Poems of the Chronography of 354

I’m going to do a little series of twelve posts, one per month, on the poems in an ancient text, the Chronography of 354.  Let me first say something about that book.

In 354 AD, perhaps as a gift for New Year’s Day, an otherwise unknown Roman nobleman named Valentinus received a  very splendid present.  It was a luxury book, containing a series of useful official-type documents: lists of consuls, months, a calendar, lists of church festivals and much more.  It is known today as the Chronography of 354.

These were all useful, but what made it special was the full-page illustrations that filled it.  These were made by a famous artist named Furius Dionysius Filocalus.  They included portraits of “our emperors” – a sour-looking Constantius dropping coins from his hand, and his nephew, the luckless Gallus, executed later that year.  Each month of the calendar had a facing picture depicting some aspect of the month or the seasonal activities.

The book itself seems to have survived to around 800 AD, when copies were made.  A mass of partial copies of these copies have reached us, all more or less unsatisfactory.  Some contain some of the images.  Some are text only.  Modern editions are all rather unsatisfactory too.  It is a hard text to edit, in fairness. It is curious that, even today, the only publication that gives the newcomer an idea of the work as a whole, in order, is the version that I compiled for my own website (here) in 2006.

Part VI of the work, the calendar, may be found here. For each month, on facing pages, there is an illustration, within an ornate frame – and then opposite, the various days and events of the month.  Here is the picture for February, from a renaissance manuscript, printed in the 19th century:

Chronography of 354 – illustration of February

There are two elements to this picture that I did not engage with back in 2006, since they are most likely not original.  To the right, drawn clumsily down the side, is a four-line poem, a tetrastich.  Underneath, in majuscule, is half of a two line poem or distich – the second line appears underneath the facing page.

I intend to do a short series of posts here, dealing with the tetrastichs and distichs.  It would be nice to deal with them month by month, just as they appear in the manuscripts of the Chronography.

Now for a bit of bibliography.

Since 2006 an excellent study has appeared by Richard Burgess, “The Chronograph of 354: Its manuscripts, contents and history”, Journal of Late Antiquity 5 (2013), 345-396. This includes a convincing discussion of the tetrastichs and distichs.

The following year there appeared a mighty two-volume attempt at a modern edition and commentary: J. Divjak & W. Wischmeyer, Das Kalenderhandbuch von 354: Der Chronograph des Filocalus, Vienna: Holzhausen (2014).  Generously, the publishers have since made it available for free download: vol.1, and vol. 2.  This is no small blessing.

The new book was reviewed harshly by Burgess, and it seems as if the task of handling so much data perhaps overwhelmed the editors, as much as it overwhelms the reader.  But they edit the tetrastichs and distichs and even – very wisely – provide them with German translations.  So I intend to make use of their efforts.

Since 2006 a bunch of the manuscripts have come online and are accessible, particularly at the Vatican.  This also is a blessing, and I hope to use some of this material.

There is a mass of scholarly literature on every aspect of the Chronography, but most of it I have not read.  My purpose here is to make these texts better known.

Let’s talk a bit about how these texts actually come to us.

The distichs were edited by A. E. Housman, as a poem of twenty-four lines, who pronounced it to be pure “Augustan” in style.  The verses are perhaps 1st century.

The tetrastichs are said to be fifth-century, but I’m not sure on what basis.  But, although they are transmitted to us with the Chronography, they also circulated independently and have reached us in that way also, as part of the Latin Anthology.  The content of the poems seems to describe pictures in a calendar, but not always the pictures that we have.

The manuscript tradition of all this material is rather tangled, but a few details (from Burgess) may explain why the tetrastichs and distichs are thought to be later.

All but one of the extant manuscripts of the Chronography derive from a now lost Luxemburg manuscript of the 9-10th century which comes to light in 1560.  This is given the siglum “L”.  It was copied from Valentinus’ original book (siglum “O”).  The Luxemberg manuscript clearly had the tetrastichs and distichs, at least by the time that renaissance copies were made from it.

But the Luxemburg manuscript was not the only copy made from “O”.  It seems that St Gall 878 (= “S”), which contains only text from various parts of the work, was also copied directly from “O” in the 830s.  The copyist of “S” included the distichs, but he did not copy the tetrastichs.  This suggests that the tetrastichs were not present in “O”.

Neither the tetrastichs nor the distichs fit into the ornate graphic design of the framework of the ancient original.  They are tacked on the side and the bottom of the page.  This suggests again that neither is original.  The distichs are present in a clear rustic capitals, and were probably added in antiquity.  They do not relate to the text in any way, however.  The tetrastichs were added in a sloppy way, which might even be as late as the renaissance.  But they do relate in some ways to the illustrations.

I think that’s more than enough detail for now.  One problem with writing about the Chronography is that you always feel the urge to add more detail.  And then more.  Almost nobody who has written about this has resisted this temptation, with the result that the publications are very dense and unreadable.  Divjak and Wischmeyer almost drowned in the mass of data!  I shall try to do better, but those wanting more information must refer to the sources above.

I will post this and the first two months, since we’re a bit late with starting this.  I hope to post the other months at the start of each month.  For each month I will give the tetrastich and the distich.  Since the tetrastich often refers to the ancient image for the month, I will include this also.


A good portrait of Constantius II?

I’ve been googling online, and I have been unable to locate a good likeness of Constantius II, who succeeded his father Constantine, murdered all his cousins, then his brothers and left only a nephew, Julian the Apostate, to succeed him.  His reign is described vividly by Ammianus Marcellinus, and the church remembered him as an Arian.

Long ago I placed online the Chronography of 354, a magnificent collection of documents illustrated by a famous artist and presented to a nobleman in that year.  The original is lost, but copies have reached us.  One of the illustrations is of “our emperors”, Constantius and his nephew, the luckless Gallus.

Since then the Barberini manuscript (Vatican barberini latini 2154B) of the Chronography has come online.  Here’s the portrait of Constantius from it, online here:

Constantius II in 354 AD. From Ms. Vatican Barb. lat. 2154 B, folio 13.

It is a splendid portrait, isn’t it?  What a face!

But I was surprised to discover that the illustrations were monochrome.  The printed version was monochrome but I had always assumed that was just to make it possible to print.

Another manuscript of the Chronography is also online,  in Vienna, here.  But this does not include the portraits of the emperors, although it does include other illustrations.

I wanted to see if other representations matched the one above.  The first item that I found was a bust of a young prince, almost 3 feet tall, and identified as either Constantius II or possibly his brother Constans.  It’s at the Capitoline Museum in Rome, inv. MC2882:

Colossal head of Constantius II or possibly Constans. Musei Capitolini, Roma, inv. MC2882.

The Last Statues database catalogues this as LSA-561, and gives a reference to a catalogue, sadly offline.[1]  I must say the portrait is not obviously similar to that of the Chronography.

Another portrait at Wikipedia is this:

Presumed bust of emperor Constantius II (317 – 361), son and successor of Constantine the Great. Temporary exhibition in Colosseum (aug.2013), Rome, Italy.

I don’t know anything else about this, but I can see that the nose seems to be restored, and much else; so I fear this is not a likeness.  There is also a widely miscaptioned picture of Theodosius II under the name of Constantius.

The next item I found on Tumblr:

Emperor Constantius II (?). Second third of IV century AD. Bust is modern. Marble. Musée du Louvre, Paris. Inv. Cp 6399 / Ma 1021

The head is ancient but the darker bust material is modern.  But again is this Constantius?

Also on Tumblr, was this silver bowl from the Bosporan kingdom, i.e. the Crimea.  I think that it is from Kerch, and is probably held in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia.[2]

Bowl: the triumph of Constantius II. Place of origin: Eastern Mediterranean. Date: A.D. 4th century. Archaeological site: Bosporan Necropolis, vault on the Gordikov estate.

The long face is very like that of the Chronography.

Here’s another item, the Missorium of Kerch, preserved in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg in Russia.  Wikipedia has a monochrome image here.

The Missorium of Kerch is a ceremonial dish depicting the Emp. Constantius II on horseback, leading a soldier and being crowned by Victory.

This also depicts a long-faced Constantius.  So I think we may treat the depiction in the Chronography as fairly accurate.  Not bad for a renaissance copy of a Carolingian copy of an ancient book!

  1. [1]Fittschen, K. and P. Zanker, Katalog der Porträts in den Capitolischen Museen und den anderen kommunalen Sammlungen der Stadt Rom, Band I, Mainz 1985, 156-7, no. 125, pl. 156
  2. [2]This I infer from a snippet view of a book on Google Books: Bernard Samuel Myers, Encyclopedia of world art, – Volume 9 – Page xcvi: “Two dishes found at Kerch (Leningrad, The Hermitage) refer to an anniversary of Constantius in 343. The style of these dishes … The third, and most splendid, piece of this type is the Missorium of Theodosius I (II, PL. 487), which celebrates …”

New edition and commentary of the Chronography of 354!

The Chronography of 354 was a physical book, compiled for a late Roman nobleman and illustrated by a famous artist.  It contained 12 sections of practical information like calendars.  It also contained pictures of cities, and of Constantius and Gallus, “our emperors” – which the fall of Gallus later in the year must have made awkward.  The book is lost, but copies of all or part of it survive in various medieval manuscripts.  It was published piecemeal in the 19th century, and I gathered the bits and made them available online many years ago.  My scans of the illustrations have appeared all over the web since, amusingly.

A correspondent writes to tell me that a new edition and commentary has appeared, and is open-access!  You can download the PDFs!

A new open access edition is available:

Johannes Divjak and Wischmeyer Wolfgang, eds., Das Kalenderhandbuch von 354. Der Chronograph des Filocalus, 2 vols. (Wien: Holzhausen, 2014)

vol. 1: Der Bildteil des Chronographen,

vol. 2: Der Textteil,

Burgess has a detailed critique:

Richard W.  Burgess, “The New Edition of the Chronograph of 354: A Detailed Critique,” Zeitschrift fur Antikes Christentum / Journal of Ancient Christianity 21, no. 2, (2017): 383–415, doi: 10.1515/zac-2017-0020

Thankfully Dr Burgess has placed his article online at here, in which he complains about formatting – not something I care much about.  The editors did publish a one-page response in ZAC, which you can pay DeGruyter $42 for if you so wish (does anyone? ever?  I’ve written to Dr Divjak suggesting he post it on instead.)

This is a great undertaking.  The content of the Chronography means that writing a commentary is a devil of a task.  Minute objections will always be possible.  But let’s recognise that they have performed a considerable service to us all, and even more so in making it accessible online.


A few more interesting links from my backlog

Here are a few more stories that I saw over the last few weeks, and thought might be of general interest, some concerned with antiquity, others less so.

Ps.Chrysostom, “De remissione peccatorum (CPG 4629)” – now edited with French translation

Another tweet alerts me that Sergey Kim has put online at here a new edition of the pseudo-Chrysostom homily “de remissione peccatorum” (the forgiveness of sins), together with a French translation.  This is very welcome!  It also includes the editio princeps of a Bohairic Coptic version!

Papyri from Nessana?

Nessana is not a name that we associate with papyri.  But while looking for information on St George, I came across mention of them – mostly documents of the community of Nessana in the early muslim period – here.[1]  There’s biblical papyri, texts of the Aeneid (!), and a lot of hagiographical stuff.  And, of course, documents with prices.  The article gives some nice ideas of what things cost at that period.

When a muslim student went to Cambridge in 1816

Quite a different story from Nile Green here, telling the story of a group of Persians sent to Britain to learn from western civilisation just after Waterloo.  It must have been obvious to the Shah that the power of the west was becoming immense, and he understandably wanted to keep up.  One of the students ended up at Cambridge, through the networks of connections through which Georgian England functioned, and came under the patronage of Samuel Lee.

Lee is a figure that was already known to me.  He was the editor and translator of the Theophania of Eusebius, after it was retrieved from the Nitrian desert in the 1840s. But before then, he was already famous as the “Shrewsbury linguist”, an ordinary man who had proven to have immense gifts for language.  It was naturally to Lee that the Persian was entrusted.  I did not know, however, that Lee was an enthusiastic Christian – why do secular writers always try to hide this behind terms like “evangelical”? – and generally a very worthy man.  Of course as a professor, yet social outsider, he was perfect to assist the visitor.

Buying books online? Beware the book-jacker!

A couple of weeks ago I decided to buy the autobiography of rock keyboard player Keith Emerson, Pictures of an Exhibitionist.  I was perplexed to see a series of copies offered for sale, starting at $100 and moving swiftly up.  Then I learned about book-jacking.

From what we’ve been able to piece together, there are about 40 “sellers” on Abe & Amazon … that do not own any of their own stock, but simply hijack other legitimate booksellers’ listings from other websites and then post the listings with inflated prices.

The availability of APIs from Abe, and (especially) Amazon have made it very easy for people with computer programming skill to become bookjackers and pull the wool over unsuspecting consumers’ collective eyes.  …

At 10 a.m. on Monday morning:
Book A becomes available on by a legitimate seller for $25
Book A is currently not available on
Shortly thereafter bookjacker software detects the book on and quickly posts it to So a few hours later the Marketplace on Amazon looks like:

Bookjacker1, $89.95
Bookjacker2, $89.99
Bookjacker3, $91.11
Bookjacker4, $95.50

After sifting the listings for the Emerson book, it looks like a classic example.  There is perhaps one copy for sale, at a bookshop in London.  The others are all get-rich-quick swindlers.  Beware!

How the quakers got rid of haggling in shops

Slashdot tells me about a video (yuk) on the invention of … the fixed price tag:

Belying its simplicity and ubiquity, the price tag is a surprisingly recent economic development, Aeon magazine writes. For centuries, haggling was the norm, ultimately developing into a system that required clerks and shopkeepers to train as negotiators. In the mid-19th century, however, Quakers in the US began to believe that charging people different amounts for the same item was immoral, so they started using price tags at their stores to counter the ills of haggling. And, as this short video from NPR’s Planet Money explains, by taking a moral stand, the Quakers inadvertently revealed an inefficiency in the old economic system and became improbable pricing pioneers, changing commerce and history with one simple innovation.

The end of tithes, and the British Union of Fascists

The medieval system of agricultural taxes where the (often poor) farmers paid the (often wealthy) rector a “tithe” of the crop was very obsolete in the 20th century, and greatly resented.

In the 1930s the British Union of Fascists was active, and they chose to take up the case of farmers being prosecuted for failure to pay tithes.  The political establishment didn’t like this at all; and the tithe system was quickly abolished.

But I came across a photo of blackshirts in Norfolk confronting bailiffs.  The page then has the very interesting story beneath.  It’s here.

February 1934: BUF black shirts and farm workers defend Doreen Wallace’s Wortham Manor Farm from the bailiffs and the police.

 In 1934, Doreen Wallace and her husband Rowland Rash, who was from a long line of Wortham landowners, refused to pay their tithes for Wortham Manor farm. For sixteen days, some fifty members of the British Union of Fascists surrounded the farm to stop the court’s bailiffs gaining access to remove goods. They were confronted by lines of police drafted in from Ipswich, and then many were arrested on a technicality and carted off to prison in Norwich.

On February 22nd 1934 the bailiffs entered and took £702 worth of goods. Doreen Wallace recalled in an interview many years later that the bailiffs had come down from Durham, as no East Anglian firm could be found to take on the job. The police had to intervene to stop the bailiffs lifting the piglets by ears and tail, a practice outlawed in East Anglia but apparently still acceptable in the north. The bailiffs had previously wanted the farm’s 1934 wheat harvest, but they couldn’t find any farmworkers for miles around who were prepared to take it in for them, a fact of which all East Anglians should be proud. The events are remembered by a memorial on the edge of the Wortham Manor Estate near to Wortham church.

A few miles away across Suffolk, the Elmsett Tithe Memorial recalls a similar incident, in which possessions were seized from the home of a land owner in lieu of payments to the Church. It reads 1934. To commemorate the Tithe seizure at Elmsett Hall of furniture including baby’s bed and blankets, herd of dairy cows, eight corn stacks and seed stacks valued at £1200 for tithe valued at £385.

Charles Westren, the farmer at Elmsett, had refused to pay his tithes to the church. After the seizure, he set up this monolithic concrete memorial on the edge of his land facing into the gateway of Elmsett church, so that anyone leaving a service would be reminded of the injustice of the system. Westren eventually emigrated to America during the Second World War.The legal abolition of the tithes system in England and Wales was set in motion after the War, the system coming to a final end in the 1970s, by which time very few tithes were still collected because of the cost of doing so.

I never knew that ecclesiastical tithes were still being collected in the 1970s.  The injustice with which they were collected in the 1930s is breathtaking.  But, as parishioners and clergy of the US Episcopalian Church found in recent years, or even the presbyterian congregation of Tron church in Glasgow, the brass-faced determination of a certain sort of ecclesiastic, to tear whatever they can get out of the hands of others, even if they don’t need it, is far from dead, even today.

My impression is that the system pretty much ceased to exist in the 1930s after the BUF started to make capital from it.

And that’s your news round-up for now!


A few interesting items

Here are three items that might be of interest.  I had intended to blog about these, but they have sat in my inbox for more than six months, so clearly I never will.  So I thought I’d post a quick note about them.

Firstly, how many people know that there is an 1885 volumes, China and the Roman Orient, published in Shanghai, with text and English translation of a Chinese account of embassies to Antioch and Constantinople?  It was edited by F. Hirth, and can be found at here.

Next, a dossier of documents relating to Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt (1798-1809) is online at the Bibliotheque Nationale Francais here.  I’m not certain what these are, but they look as if they might be the original drawings used to produce the Description de l’Egypte.  If so, it would be great to get behind the printed version.

Finally, among the manuscript digitisations at the Vatican library, is Barberini latini 2154 part B.  This is a manuscript containing the pictures from the Chronography of 354.  The Chronography was a lavishly illustrated volume of calendrical and other lists, produced by a known artist for a Roman nobleman in that year, complete with portraits of Constantius II and his nephew, the soon-to-be-disgraced Gallus.  The volume is lost, but copies of it, with or without the pictures, have reached us.  Long ago I found a printed version of the images and scanned it in; and I have enjoyed seeing those drift, unacknowledged, around the web.  But here are the originals.

We are fortunate to have such things online, aren’t we!


A portrait of Constantius II from 354, via two intermediaries

As manuscripts of the Vatican come online, it becomes possible to look at items previously known to us only from poor-quality photographs.  This is a good thing.

Years ago I made an online edition of the Chronography of 354, an illustrated luxury manuscript made for a Roman aristocrat in 354 AD, and transmitted to us by copies.  The pictures exist in various versions, mostly derived from a Carolingian copy now lost.  The best set, in monochrome, are preserved in Vatican Ms. Barberini lat.2154 B.  Sadly the full colours of the ancient original are not preserved; but the renaissance artist did his best to copy the Carolingian original.

Here’s one of the illustrations, on folio 13, depicting Constantius II, in the uncharacteristic pose of money falling from his hand.  Somehow one suspects that this charmless man did look rather like this.  (It is a pity that, as with other Italian stuff put online, the image is defaced with a watermark screaming “mine! mine! mine!!”)


Vatican Manuscript of the Chronography of 354 uploaded

Another discovery by the excellent J.-B. Piggin is that a crucial manuscript of the Chronography of 354 has been uploaded at the Vatican site.  This is purely illustrations; but then that was always the hard part of this text to get hold of.

In 354 AD a famous artist named Furius Dionysius Philocalus was commissioned to create an illustrated volume of texts for a Roman nobleman named Valentinus.  The original copy is lost, but copies were made during the dark ages.

The texts were mostly connected with time.  Some years ago I created a digital edition online of the work, with whatever pictures I could find.  So it is wonderful to find a manuscript online!  For more information about the manuscripts, there is an article by Richard Burgess here at

The manuscript is  It’s here!