Nicolaus of Damascus

Nicolaus of Damascus

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Nicolaus of Damascus was a Greek historian
Historian
A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in time. If the individual is...

 and philosopher who lived during the Augustan
Augustus
Augustus ;23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) is considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire, which he ruled alone from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.The dates of his rule are contemporary dates; Augustus lived under two calendars, the Roman Republican until 45 BC, and the Julian...

 age of the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

. His name is derived from that of his birthplace, Damascus
Damascus
Damascus , commonly known in Syria as Al Sham , and as the City of Jasmine , is the capital and the second largest city of Syria after Aleppo, both are part of the country's 14 governorates. In addition to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Damascus is a major...

. He was born around 64 BC.

He was an intimate friend of Herod the Great
Herod the Great
Herod , also known as Herod the Great , was a Roman client king of Judea. His epithet of "the Great" is widely disputed as he is described as "a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis." He is also known for his colossal building projects in Jerusalem and elsewhere, including his...

, whom he survived by a number of years. He was also the tutor of the children of Antony and Cleopatra (born in 40 BC), according to Sophronius. He went to Rome with Herod Archelaus.

His output was vast, but is nearly all lost. His chief work was 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:...

 in 144 books. He also wrote an autobiography
Autobiography
An autobiography is a book about the life of a person, written by that person.-Origin of the term:...

, a life of Augustus, a life of Herod, some philosophical works, and some tragedies and comedies.

Works


All of his works are lost, but substantial fragments remain of some of them. There is an article on him in the Suda
Suda
The Suda or Souda is a massive 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia of the ancient Mediterranean world, formerly attributed to an author called Suidas. It is an encyclopedic lexicon, written in Greek, with 30,000 entries, many drawing from ancient sources that have since been lost, and often...

.

History


Towards the end of his life he composed 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:...

 in 144 books, although the Suda mentions only 80 books. But references to books 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, (8), 96, 103, 104, 107, 108, 110, 114, 123 and 124 are known.

Extensive fragments of the first seven books are preserved in quotation in the Excerpta compiled at the order of Constantine Porphyrogenitus
Constantine VII
Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos or Porphyrogenitus, "the Purple-born" was the fourth Emperor of the Macedonian dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, reigning from 913 to 959...

. These cover the history of the Assyrians, Medes, Greeks, Lydians, and Persians, and are important also for Biblical history.

Josephus
Josephus
Titus Flavius Josephus , also called Joseph ben Matityahu , was a 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer of priestly and royal ancestry who recorded Jewish history, with special emphasis on the 1st century AD and the First Jewish–Roman War, which resulted in the Destruction of...

 probably used this work for his history of Herod (Ant. 15-17) because where Nicolaus stops, in the reign of Archelaus, the account of Josephus suddenly becomes more cursory.

For portions dealing with Greek myth and oriental history he was dependent on other, now lost works, of variable quality. Where he relied on Ctesias, the value of his work is slim. Robert Drews has written:
Classical scholars are agreed that Nicolaus's history of the East, and especially his story of Cyrus, was taken from Ctesias's Persica, a work written early in the fourth century B.C. This work has with justification been denounced by both Assyriologists and classicists as a totally unreliable guide to Mesopotamian history.

Life of Augustus


We have considerable remains of two works of his old age; a life of Augustus, and his own life.

He wrote a Life of Augustus (Bios Kaisaros), which seems to have been completed after the death of the emperor in AD 14, when Nicolaus was 78. Two long chunks remain, the first concerning Octavius' youth, the second Caesar's assassination.

Autobiography


He also wrote an autobiography, the date of which is uncertain. It mentions that he wanted to retire, in 4 BC, but was persuaded to travel with Herod Archelaus to Rome.

The fragments that remain deal mainly with Jewish history.

Compendium on Aristotle


He composed commentaries on Aristotle
Commentaries on Aristotle
Commentaries on Aristotle refers to the great mass of literature produced, especially in the ancient and medieval world, to explain and clarify the works of Aristotle. The pupils of Aristotle were the first to comment on his writings, a tradition which was continued by the Peripatetic school...

. A compendium of excerpts from these is extant in a Syriac manuscript discovered in Cambridge in 1901, (shelfmark Gg. 2. 14). This dates later than 1400, was acquired by Cambridge in 1632, and is very tatty and disarranged. The majority of the manuscript is a work by Dionysius Bar Salibi. The work was probably written in Rome ca. 1 AD, when he attracted criticism for being too involved in philosophy to court the wealthy and powerful.

On plants


An Arabic text of his work De Plantis was discovered in Istanbul in 1923. It also exists in a Syriac manuscript at Cambridge.

The Embassy of an Indian King to Augustus


One of the most famous passages is his account of an embassy sent by an Indian king "named Pandion (Pandyan kingdom
Pandyan Kingdom
The Pandyan dynasty was an ancient Tamil dynasty. The Pandyas were one of the four Tamil dynasties , which ruled South India until the 15th century CE. They initially ruled their country Pandya Nadu from Korkai, a seaport on the Southernmost tip of the Indian Peninsula, and in later times moved...

?) or, according to others, Porus
Porus
King Porus was the King of Paurava, an ancient state within the territory of modern day Punjab located between the Jhelum and the Chenab rivers, and later of dominions extending to the Beas...

" to Augustus
Augustus
Augustus ;23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) is considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire, which he ruled alone from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.The dates of his rule are contemporary dates; Augustus lived under two calendars, the Roman Republican until 45 BC, and the Julian...

 around AD 13. He met with the embassy at Antioch
Antioch
Antioch on the Orontes was an ancient city on the eastern side of the Orontes River. It is near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey.Founded near the end of the 4th century BC by Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great's generals, Antioch eventually rivaled Alexandria as the chief city of the...

. The embassy was bearing a diplomatic letter in Greek, and one of its members was a sramana who burnt himself alive in Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 to demonstrate his faith. The event made a sensation and was quoted by Strabo
Strabo
Strabo, also written Strabon was a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher.-Life:Strabo was born to an affluent family from Amaseia in Pontus , a city which he said was situated the approximate equivalent of 75 km from the Black Sea...

 and Dio Cassius
Dio Cassius
Lucius Cassius Dio Cocceianus , known in English as Cassius Dio, Dio Cassius, or Dio was a Roman consul and a noted historian writing in Greek...

. A tomb was made to the sramana, still visible in the time of Plutarch
Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

, which bore the mention "ΖΑΡΜΑΝΟΧΗΓΑΣ ΙΝΔΟΣ ΑΠΟ ΒΑΡΓΟΣΗΣ" ("The sramana master from Barygaza
Bharuch
Bharuch , also known as Broach, is the oldest city in Gujarat, situated at the mouth of the holy river Narmada. Bharuch is the administrative headquarters of Bharuch District and a municipality of more than 1,50,000 inhabitants. As Bharuch is a major seaport city, a number of trade activities have...

 in India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

"):
To these accounts may be added that of Nicolaus Damascenus. This writer states that at Antioch
Antioch
Antioch on the Orontes was an ancient city on the eastern side of the Orontes River. It is near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey.Founded near the end of the 4th century BC by Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great's generals, Antioch eventually rivaled Alexandria as the chief city of the...

, near Daphne
Daphne
Daphne was a female minor nature deity. Pursued by Apollo, she fled and was chased. Daphne begged the gods for help, who then transformed her into Laurel.-Overview:...

, he met with ambassadors from the Indians, who were sent to Augustus Caesar. It appeared from the letter that several persons were mentioned in it, but three only survived, whom he says he saw. The rest had died chiefly in consequence of the length of the journey. The letter was written in Greek upon a skin; the import of it was, that Porus was the writer, that although he was sovereign of six hundred kings, yet that he highly esteemed the friendship of Cæsar; that he was willing to allow him a passage through his country, in whatever part he pleased, and to assist him in any undertaking that was just. Eight naked servants, with girdles round their waists, and fragrant with perfumes, presented the gifts which were brought. The presents were a Hermes (i. e. a man) born without arms, whom I have seen, large snakes, a serpent ten cubits in length, a river tortoise of three cubits in length, and a partridge larger than a vulture. They were accompanied by the person, it is said, who burnt himself to death at Athens. This is the practice with persons in distress, who seek escape from existing calamities, and with others in prosperous circumstances, as was the case with this man. For as everything hitherto had succeeded with him, he thought it necessary to depart, lest some unexpected calamity should happen to him by continuing to live; with a smile, therefore, naked, anointed, and with the girdle round his waist, he leaped upon the pyre. On his tomb was this inscription:

ZARMANOCHEGAS, AN INDIAN, A NATIVE OF BARGOSA, HAVING IMMORTALIZED HIMSELF ACCORDING TO THE CUSTOM OF HIS COUNTRY, HERE LIES.


This accounts suggests that it may not have been impossible to encounter an Indian religious man in the Levant
Levant
The Levant or ) is the geographic region and culture zone of the "eastern Mediterranean littoral between Anatolia and Egypt" . The Levant includes most of modern Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and sometimes parts of Turkey and Iraq, and corresponds roughly to the...

 during the time of Jesus
Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

.

The Jewish historian Josephus references the fourth book of Nicolaus' history concerning Abram (Abraham).

Sources

  • Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, Harper and Brothers, New York, 1898: "Nicolaus"
  • Lightfoot, J. B. 1875. On Some Points Connected with the Essenes: II."Origin and Affinity of the Essenes", Note
  • Wacholder, B. Z. 1962. Nicolaus of Damascus. University of California Studies in History 75.
  • Yarrow, L. M. 2006. Historiography at the End of the Republic. Oxford University Press, pp. 67–77.

External links