Chronicles, Syriac

There are two basic types of chronicles in Syriac, local and universal (or world) chronicles. Local chronicles discuss the historical, religious, military, and economic conditions of specific regions, though incidental information on world history can also be included. The earliest local chronicle is the so-called Chronicle of Yeshuʿ the Stylite, which deals with the effects of the Byzantine-Sasanian warfare on the Jazīra region in the early 6th cent. Universal chronicles deal with human history from the beginning of the world to the time of the writer. While early human history is based mostly on the Bible, the Hellenistic and subsequent periods are based on a variety of sources, mostly but not uniquely Greek, and for the Islamic period Syriac and sometimes Arabic sources are also used. The earliest universal chronicle is that of Yaʿqub of Edessa (d. 708), which includes a chronography and canons up to the year 692, extended by someone else to the year 710. This chronicle is incompletely preserved, though some gaps can be filled with quotations made from it by Eliya of Nisibis (d. 1046) and Michael Rabo (d. 1199). The Chronicle of Zuqnin written in 774 is universal but its latter part (part 4) is essentially local, concentrating on the economy of the Jazīra under the early Abbasids. Several universal chronicles are known only by the names of their authors, while others survived as extracts in other similar works. This is the case of the chronicle of Patr. Dionysios of Tel Maḥre (d. 845) largely quoted in Chronicle of 1234 (see below) and in the Chronicle of Patr. Michael Rabo. The latter massive Chronicle is divided into three parts in three columns, covering civil and religious histories in two columns and various events in the third one, all up to the year 1195. The chronicle was translated into Armenian and Arabic, though it survived in only one Syriac ms. The last two universal chronicles are the anonymous Chronicle of 1234 and the Chronicle of Bar ʿEbroyo (d.  1286), both divided into two rather than three parts, covering secular and ecclesiastical histories. In Bar ʿEbroyo’s Chronicle, secular history begins with the creation of the world and ends with the Mongol invasion, witnessed by the chronicler. The ecclesiastical history starts with Aaron and subsequent high priests; in the Christian era the chronicler concentrates on the patriarchs of Antioch and by the 7th cent. attention is drawn to the Syriac maphrians. In terms of genres, local chronicles are rooted in annals preserved in royal courts in such cities as Edessa under the Abgarids of Edessa and presumably elsewhere. Reference to the royal archives of Edessa is made by Eusebius (d. 339), the mid-6th century Chronicle of Edessa, and Chronicle of 724. Syriac universal chronicles are modeled after Eusebius’s Chronicon and canons, of which there is more than one Syriac translation, though none has survived completely. Syriac writers followed Eusebius closely but not blindly. Thus, Yaʿqub of Edessa, in his Chronicle and canons made after Eusebius, supplements the list of rulers with names of Sasanian figures, corrects a calculation error in his model, and uses additional computation systems. This is also the attitude of the E.-Syr. Eliya of Nisibis in the first part of his Chronography, where the material is organized differently from his Eusebian model and in which he added information of interest to his own Church.

Sources

  • M. Debié (ed.), L’historiographie syriaque (ÉtSyr 6; 2009).
  • A.  Palmer, The seventh century in the West-Syrian chronicles (TTH 15; 1993).
  • W.  Witakowski, The Syriac Chronicle of Pseudo-Dionysius of Tel-Maḥrē: A Study in the History of Historiography (Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. Studia Semitica Upsaliensia 7; 1987).
  • W.  Witakowski, ‘Interpreting the past: Syriac historical writing’, in Brock and Taylor, Hidden Pearl, vol. 3, 165, 185–94.
  • E.-I. Yousif, Les chroniqueurs syriaques (2002).


How to Cite This Entry

Amir Harrak, “Chronicles, Syriac,” 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/Chronicles-Syriac.

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Amir Harrak, “Chronicles, Syriac,” 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/Chronicles-Syriac.

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Harrak, Amir. “Chronicles, Syriac.” 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/Chronicles-Syriac.

A TEI-XML record with complete metadata is available at https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Chronicles-Syriac/tei.

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