The Seventh Century in the West-Syrian Chronicles (review)
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The Seventh Century in the West-Syrian Chronicles. Introduced, translated and annotated by Andrew Palmer. Including two seventh-century Syriac apocalyptic texts introduced, translated and annotated by Sebastian Brock, with added annotation and an historical introduction by Robert Hoyland. Translated Texts for Historians, 15 Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1993. $17.95 (Paper).

It has often been noted how completely the rise of Islam in the seventh century upset the traditional balance of powers. While the Greeks and the Persians had been at odds for more than a millenium, an enmity that transcended many dynastic changes, there was a certain comfort and familiarity with that ever-present enemy. The Byzantines were still basking in the glory of Heraclius' victory over the Persians and recovery of the Cross, when the swift onslaught of the Islamic nation not only upset that comfortable and familiar antagonism, but did so decisively and finally. Within barely more than a decade of Heraclius' restoring the Cross in Jerusalem, the nation of Islam quickly took complete control of Persia, Mesopotamia, and Armenia, from which points it was to launch its campaigns for nearly the next millenium. The end came to the Sassanid dynasty in 651/2, when Yazdgird III was caught in hiding and beheaded.

While the Byzantine sources for this period have been translated into English and are generally well known from the standard histories and from such studies as those of Stratos and Kaegi, the oriental sources have, until recently, been almost exclusively in the domain of the specialist. The Islamic historians, especially al-Tabari (more than half of which has already appeared), the Armenian historians Levond and Yovhannēs Drasxanakerttc'i have also now appeared in English with others in the works. The numerous Syriac Chronicles and histories are extremely important sources for the history of this period, and reliable English translations [End Page 95] are great desiderata. They alone provide inside information on the workings of the early Islamic state by those who actually lived under that yoke, significantly augmenting what we know from the Byzantine sources.

Dr. Palmer has rendered a huge service in this volume. The texts translated here—most for the first time into English—are those already described by Sebastian Brock [Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 2 (1976) 18-23, 34], with the addition of a Melkite Chronicle, which was subsequently discovered and edited by Rev. A. de Halleux [Le Museon 19 (1978) 5-44]. In this collection, Palmer has divided these texts into three sections. The first section comprises relatively brief extracts from twelve shorter chronicles. These are 1. A Record of the Arab Conquest of Syria, 2. A Chronicle composed about 640 A.D., 3. the Melkite Chronicle, 4. the Maronite Chronicle, 5. the Chronicle of Jacob of Edessa, 6. a Chronicle of Disasters, 7. the Chronicle of Zūqnin (ascribed to Dionysius of Tell-Mahrē in some manuscripts), 8. Two Chronicles to A.D. 819/846, along with two lists of Arab Caliphs and a few inscriptions. Section two, fully half of the book, is comprised of the long section of the Anonymous Chronicle of A.D. 1234. This work is almost certainly based on, if it has not actually preserved as Palmer assumes, the great, but now lost, Secular History of Dionysius of Tell-Mahrē. In the notes to the translation of this text, Palmer also provides generous parallel extracts from the twelfth-century Chronicle of Michael the Syrian, Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch, 1166-1199, as well as cross-references to the Byzantine chroniclers Theophanes, Agapius, Nikephoros and the Chronicon Paschale. The third and last section provides translations of two seventh-century Syriac apocalypses: the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius and the Edessene Apocalyptic Fragment. These two works, along with the Chronicle of Disasters above, are the contribution of Sebastian Brock.

While the texts translated in this volume were written over the period between the early seventh to the mid-thirteenth centuries, they treat only the period from the year 582, when Maurice ascended the throne of the Byzantine Empire, to the year 718, when the Arabs finally abandoned their long siege of Constantinople. These parameters were chosen not only for...