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George Syncellus

George Syncellus

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George Syncellus was a Byzantine
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 chronicler and ecclesiastic. He had lived many years in Palestine
Palestine
Palestine is a conventional name, among others, used to describe the geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining lands....

 (probably in the Old Lavra of Saint Chariton or Souka, near Tekoa) as a monk, before coming to Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

, where he was appointed syncellus (literally, "Cell-mate") to Tarasius, patriarch of Constantinople
Patriarch of Constantinople
The Ecumenical Patriarch is the Archbishop of Constantinople – New Rome – ranking as primus inter pares in the Eastern Orthodox communion, which is seen by followers as the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church....

. He later retired to a monastery to write what was intended to be his great work, a chronicle of world history, Ekloge chronographias, or Extract of Chronography. According to Anastasius Bibliothecarius
Anastasius Bibliothecarius
Anastasius Bibliothecarius was Head of archives and antipope of the Roman Catholic Church.- Family and education :...

, George "struggled valiantly against heresy [i.e. Iconoclasm] and received many punishments from the rulers who raged against the rites of the Church", although the accuracy of the claim is suspect.

As one of several syncelloi (by the end of the 8th century, there were at least two, and probably more) George stood high in the ecclesiastical establishment of Constantinople. The position carried no defined duties, but the incumbent would generally serve as the patriarch's private secretary, and might also be used by the Emperor to limit the movements and actions of a troublesome patriarch (as was the case during the reign of Constantine VI, when several of George's colleagues were set as guards over Patriarch Tarasius). The office would be an imperial gift by the time of Basil I, and was probably so earlier; as such, George may well have owed his position to the Empress Irene. Many syncelloi would go on to become Patriarchs of Constantinople, or Bishops of other sees (for example George's colleague, John, another syncellus under Patriarch Tarasius, who became Metropolitan Bishop of Sardis in 803). George, however, did not follow this path, instead retreating from the world to compose his great chronicle. It would appear that the Emperor Nicephorus I incurred George's disfavour at around the same time: in 808, Nicephorus discovered a plot against him, and punished the suspected conspirators, amongst whom were not only secular figures "but also holy bishops and monks and clergy of the Great Church, including the synkellos...men of high repute and worthy of respect"; it is unknown whether the syncellus in question was George himself or a colleague/successor, but the attack on the clergy, including George's friends and colleagues, would not have endeared the Emperor to George, and is suggested as the motivating factor in the "pathological hatred" towards Nicephorus I in the Chronicle of Theophanes The date of his death is uncertain; a reference in his chronicle makes clear that he was still alive in 810, and he is sometimes described as dying in 811, but there is no evidence for this, and textual evidence in the Chronicle of Theophanes suggests that he was still alive in 813.

His chronicle
Chronicle
Generally a chronicle is a historical account of facts and events ranged in chronological order, as in a time line. Typically, equal weight is given for historically important events and local events, the purpose being the recording of events that occurred, seen from the perspective of the...

, as its title implies, is more of a chronological table with notes than a history. Following on from the Syriac chroniclers of his homeland, who were writing in his lifetime under Arab rule in much the same fashion, as well as the Alexandrians Annianus
Annianus of Alexandria
Annianus of Alexandria or Annianos was a monk who flourished in Alexandria during the bishopric of Theophilus of Alexandria around the beginning of the fifth century...

 and Panodorus
Panodorus of Alexandria
Panodorus of Alexandria was an Egyptian Byzantine monk, historian and writer who lived around 400 C.E.He introduced a world era calculation, who reckoned 5,904 years from Adam to the year 412 C.E., about which time he lived...

 (monks who wrote near the beginning of the 5th century), George used the chronological synchronic structures of Sextus Julius Africanus
Sextus Julius Africanus
Sextus Julius Africanus was a Christian traveller and historian of the late 2nd and early 3rd century AD. He is important chiefly because of his influence on Eusebius, on all the later writers of Church history among the Fathers, and on the whole Greek school of chroniclers.His name indicates that...

 and Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea also called Eusebius Pamphili, was a Roman historian, exegete and Christian polemicist. He became the Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine about the year 314. Together with Pamphilus, he was a scholar of the Biblical canon...

, arranging his events strictly in order of time, and naming them in the year which they happened. Consequently, the narrative is regarded as secondary to the need to reference the relation of each event to other events, and as such is continually interrupted by long tables of dates, so markedly that Krumbacher
Karl Krumbacher
Karl Krumbacher was a German scholar who was an expert on Byzantine culture.He was born at Kürnach im Allgäu in Bavaria, and was educated at the Universities of Munich and Leipzig, and held the professorship of the middle ages and modern Greek language and literature in the former from 1897 to his...

 described it as being "rather a great historical list [Geschichtstabelle] with added explanations, than a universal history
Universal history
Universal history is basic to the Western tradition of historiography, especially the Abrahamic wellspring of that tradition. Simply stated, universal history is the presentation of the history of humankind as a whole, as a coherent unit.-Ancient authors:...

." George reveals himself as a staunch upholder of orthodoxy
Orthodoxy
The word orthodox, from Greek orthos + doxa , is generally used to mean the adherence to accepted norms, more specifically to creeds, especially in religion...

, and quotes Greek Fathers such as Gregory Nazianzen and John Chrysostom
John Chrysostom
John Chrysostom , Archbishop of Constantinople, was an important Early Church Father. He is known for his eloquence in preaching and public speaking, his denunciation of abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and his ascetic...

. But in spite of its religious bias and dry and uninteresting character, the fragments of ancient writers and apocryphal books preserved in it make it especially valuable. For instance, considerable portions of the original text of the Chronicle of Eusebius
Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea also called Eusebius Pamphili, was a Roman historian, exegete and Christian polemicist. He became the Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine about the year 314. Together with Pamphilus, he was a scholar of the Biblical canon...

 have been restored by the aid of George's work. His chief authorities were Annianus of Alexandria
Annianus of Alexandria
Annianus of Alexandria or Annianos was a monk who flourished in Alexandria during the bishopric of Theophilus of Alexandria around the beginning of the fifth century...

 and Panodorus of Alexandria
Panodorus of Alexandria
Panodorus of Alexandria was an Egyptian Byzantine monk, historian and writer who lived around 400 C.E.He introduced a world era calculation, who reckoned 5,904 years from Adam to the year 412 C.E., about which time he lived...

 , through whom George acquired much of his knowledge of the history of Manetho
Manetho
Manetho was an Egyptian historian and priest from Sebennytos who lived during the Ptolemaic era, approximately during the 3rd century BC. Manetho wrote the Aegyptiaca...

; George also relied heavily on Eusebius, Dexippus
Dexippus
Publius Herennius Dexippus , Greek historian, statesman and general, was an hereditary priest of the Eleusinian family of the Kerykes, and held the offices of archon basileus and eponymous in Athens....

 and Julius Africanus
Julius Africanus
Julius Africanus was a celebrated orator in the reign of Nero, and seems to have been the son of the Julius Africanus, of the Gallic state of the Santoni, who was condemned by Tiberius in 32 AD. Quintilian, who had heard Julius Africanus, spoke of him and Domitius Afer as the best orators of their...

.

George's chronicle was continued after his death by his friend Theophanes
Theophanes the Confessor
Saint Theophanes Confessor was a member of the Byzantine aristocracy, who became a monk and chronicler. He is venerated on March 12 in the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Church .-Biography:Theophanes was born in Constantinople of wealthy and noble iconodule parents: Isaac,...

; Theophanes' work was heavily shaped by George's influence, and the latter may have had a greater influence on Theophanes' Chronicle than Theophanes himself. Anastasius, the Papal Librarian
Anastasius Bibliothecarius
Anastasius Bibliothecarius was Head of archives and antipope of the Roman Catholic Church.- Family and education :...

, composed a Historia tripartita in Latin, from the chronicles of George Syncellus, Theophanes Confessor, and Patriarch Nicephorus. This work, written between 873 and 875, spread George's preferenced dates for historical events through the West. Meanwhile, in the East George's fame was gradually overshadowed by that of Theophanes.

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