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  • Multiple Voices in Chronicle Sources: The Reign of Leo I (457–474) in Book Fourteen of Malalas
  • Philip Wood

Malalas’ Chronicle has been frequently mined as source for the events of the fifth and sixth centuries. Its interest in popular rumor, in imperial building, and in the enforcement of religious policy in Antioch and Constantinople have all augmented the military focus of more traditional, classicizing historians such as Procopius.1 And its use of imperial archives has allowed an occasional glimpse into the workings of the imperial bureaucracy and how it collected information.

Although Malalas and his continuators wrote in the reign of Justinian, his accounts of the fourth and fifth centuries are extremely varied in their assessment of imperial rulers, and reflect the wide variety of underlying sources that they had access to. The significance of this has not been appreciated in the historiography. Firstly, there has been a failure to apply the more nuanced methodology employed for the sixth century to the earlier sections of the Chronicle, a tendency to mine the text for data rather than using it to investigate attitudes and political awareness, as Scott has done for the Justinianic period. The second, related, issue is the need to investigate Malalas as a source for multiple independent testimonies, even if we cannot always divine authorship for these testimonies.

The fifth century, unlike the fourth and sixth, suffers from the lack of a great historian of the rank of Ammianus Marcellinus or Procopius around whose work a complex narrative can be woven, to produce both an histoire événementielle and a history of ideas and their reception.2 However, Malalas’ [End Page 298] Chronicle can be read in a way that reveals the tendencies of its different internal sources, and allow us to ask more complex questions of the main political actors of the late fifth century. I focus here on the representation of the fall of the federate leader Aspar, who was presented as a heretic and a barbarian in the propaganda of the emperor Leo I (457–474). Following this I turn to the subversion of the same ideas in one anonymous historian embedded in Malalas, who presents Leo himself as a barbarian and tries to undermine Leo’s claims to “Romanitas” by emphasizing his cruelty and untrustworthiness.

Malalas and His Sources

Malalas’ Chronicle combines sources from a number of different registers. These range from named historians, whose works may have included complex political commentary, to much more brief informal notices taken from city chronicles that he leaves unattributed.3 My analysis here rests on the different textures of the Chronicle in its fifth century sections. In particular, I suggest the existence of a history composed at the end of the fifth century that subordinated the record of political events to a more subversive structure and commentary that has been reused by Malalas in his sixth-century composition.

Much of this fifth-century material has a distinct focus on Constantinople, especially on its circus factions and the emperor’s councilors, but it also adopts a much more disrespectful vision of the emperor and his circle than the fourth-century material embedded in the Chronicle. Theodosius II is portrayed as a jealous ruler, eager to prevent aristocrats from rivaling his civic patronage.4 Malalas’ source also discusses the sexual politics of the empire, and reports a series of scenes that describe Theodosius’ selection of Eudocia and her suspected affair with Theodosius’ friend Paulinus. Like Procopius’ Anecdota, this account may have provided a covert way of attacking an emperor who surrounded himself with an image of pious rule.5 Here, [End Page 299] sexual slander against the emperor is also tied to an attack against his “bad minister,” in this case, the cubicularius Chrysaphius, which allowed him “to plunder everything.”6

These scurrilous descriptions of Theodosius’ reign form the background to the diverse material gathered by Malalas on the reigns of Marcian and Leo. Much of this is represented by bland notices on military and ecclesiastical events, but they are interspersed by scenes with much more developed narratives. These more developed scenes are linked by the same dramatis personae of significant figures, not only the emperors, but...


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pp. 298-314
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