Michael I Rabo (d. 1199) [Syr. Orth.]

Patr. and historian, most notably author of a World Chronicle. Michael I Rabo (1126–99) was a distinguished patr. and a dominant figure in the intellectual history of the Syr. Orth. Church during the 12th cent. He was renowned for his intrepid diplomacy, his rigorous legislation, and sanctions in order to reform the Syr. Orth. ecclesiastical administration as a means to enhance Christian autonomy. Michael was born in 1126 in a still largely Christian Melitene, where Greeks as well as Syr. Orth. and Armenians lived side by side with Muslims. Being a member of a clerical family, Michael was sent to the nearby Dayro d-Mor Barṣawmo for education. He stayed on as a monk and prior. In the year 1166 Michael was elected patr. of the Syr. Orth. Church under the pressure of a reform party among the bishops. In order to ensure his and his flock’s interests and freedom of action Michael balanced out his relations with the warring parties in the area of his jurisdiction. Especially in the first half of his patriarchate his authority was felt and sought within the entire group of non-Chalcedonian churches, Copts and Armenians included. Michael was accepted as a frequent visitor in Latin Antioch with the consent of the Byzantine emperor Manuel Komnenos (1143–80) in spite of the opposition of the Greek-orthodox community. In Antioch he was the first Syr. Orth. patr. after the expulsion of Severus of Antioch (in 518) to act as patr. there and to consecrate a number of bishops. He also visited Jerusalem several times. Michael was invited to take part in the third Lateran Council in 1179, but declined.

The second half of his patriarchate was overshadowed by the election of an anti-patriarch, named Theodoros bar Wahbun (d. 1193) in 1180, who was supported by the Latins in the Crusader States as well as by the Armenian Cath. Gregory IV (1173–93). Apart from a rapprochement between Michael and the Seljuk Sultan Qilij Arslan II (1155–92), this led to some temporary diplomatic isolation until 1193, when Michael was fully recognized again by his church as well as by his Christian neighbors. Michael was buried in his newly-built church in Mor Barṣawmo.

Michael’s writing was largely concentrated on the reform project. Parallel to his numerous obligations as a patr., he collected mss. of theological and historical content and restored and compiled hagiographical and liturgical works. His canonistic work is partly conserved in later collections, but the greater part is lost, as is his treatise on dualist heresies composed for the Lateran Council. He also composed some liturgical and hagiographical works and collected ancient theological and historical sources.

These he used for his monumental world chronicle from the origin of the world to 1195. Michael’s chronicle has been studied intensively since its edition and translation by J.-B Chabot. Inspired by the works of Bp. Yaʿqub of Edessa (d. 708) and Patr. Dionysios of Tel Maḥre (d. 845), Michael’s chronicle blended both Eusebian genres, the chronological tables and the narrative ecclesiastical history. Michael used chronographies and ecclesiastical histories as sources and added further material. Only part of these he had directly before his eyes; others he used through intermediaries, as he reveals himself. Michael related his own time from a well informed and independent point of view. In view of source-critical methods and the universality of the chronological scope the highest standard in Syr. Orth. chronography was reached with this chronicle. Michael intended his work for learned clerical readers with access to a well-stocked library.

The text is not preserved in its entirety, and the layout of Michael’s chronicle was distorted through the process of copying. Chabot’s edition is a facsimile of a documentary copy written for him in Edessa (Urfa) from 1897 to 1899. While the scribes tried to imitate the layout, a number of mistakes were introduced. Its Vorlage, the only extant ms., was written in 1598 by a very competent scribe. It is kept by the community of the Edessenians in Aleppo. In view of the loss of the original, this beautiful manuscript is the best witness for the layout of the chronicle. Fortunately it will soon be made available in print. This ms. was probably the Vorlage for an Arabic translation, which also sought to preserve some of the visual features, while changing others. The Arabic translation has much the same lacunae as the Syriac text. By comparing his version with the Arabic translation preserved in ms. London, Brit. Libr. Or. 4402 (which is one of several Arabic copies), Chabot detected some details lost in the Syriac text. No further research has been done so far on this problem.

The historical material was originally organized in four columns, the first being designated as the ‘succession of the patriarchs’, the second as ‘succession of the kings’, the chronological canon as ‘computation of the years’. No title of the additional column, which contains mixed material, is now known. Chapters with excursus were inserted, which interrupted the system of columns. After an open and abrupt end, six appendices follow. The first appendix is a monumental synopsis of all the kings and patriarchs mentioned. It was supposed to function as a directory. The second appendix is a treatise on the historical identity of the Syrians, who are connected to the Ancient Oriental Empires, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the Arameans. When the chronicle was translated into Armenian, in two different translations, in 1246 and 1247, it was transformed according to Armenian interests.

Michael’s chronicle was motivated by a strong cognitive interest in historical and chronological knowledge. It also examines the historical role of the Syr. Orth. as a cultural-ethnic group as well as a church on the one hand with respect to God’s plan of salvation and on the other the universal reality of historical change and contingency.

See Fig. 75 and 76c.

    Primary Sources

    • Chabot, Chronique de Michel le Syrien, I–V. (Syr. with FT)
    • G.  Kiraz (ed.), Texts and translations of the Chronicle of Michael the Syrian (2009–). (a multi-volume series that includes a repr. of Chabot’s edition and translation, and a facsimile edition of the Aleppo ms.)

    Secondary Sources

    • R. Abramowski, Dionysius von Tellmahre. Jakobitischer Patriarch von 818–845. Zur Geschichte der Kirche unter dem Islam (1940).
    • L. P.  Bernhard, ‘Die Universalgeschichtsschreibung des christlichen Orients’, in Mensch und Weltgeschichte. Zur Geschichte der Universalgeschichtsschreibung, ed. A.  Randa (1969), 111–141.
    • S. P.  Brock, ‘Syriac historical writing: A survey of the main sources’, Journal of the Iraqi Academy. Syriac Corporation 5 (1978–80), 1–30. (repr. in Studies in Syriac Christianity [1992], ch. I)
    • J.  van Ginkel, ‘Michael the Syrian and his sources’, JCSSS 6 (2006), 53–60.
    • A.  Schmidt, ‘Die zweifache armenische Rezension der syrischen Chronik Michaels des Großen’, LM 109 (1996), 299–319.
    • Weltecke, Die «Beschreibung der Zeiten».
    • W.  Witakowski, The Syriac Chronicle of Pseudo-Dionysius of Tel-Maḥrē. A Study in the History of Historiography (1987).
    • W.  Witakowski, ‘The Chronicle of Eusebius: Its Type and Continuation in Syriac Historiography’, ARAM 11–12 (1999–2000), 419–37.


How to Cite This Entry

Dorothea Weltecke, “Michael I Rabo,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay, https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Michael-I-Rabo.

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Dorothea Weltecke, “Michael I Rabo,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018), https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Michael-I-Rabo.

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Weltecke, Dorothea. “Michael I Rabo.” In Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition. Edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay. Digital edition prepared by David Michelson, Ute Possekel, and Daniel L. Schwartz. Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018. https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Michael-I-Rabo.

A TEI-XML record with complete metadata is available at https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Michael-I-Rabo/tei.

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