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  • The Life of Patriarch Ignatius by Nicetas David
  • Andrew Louth
The Life of Patriarch Ignatius. By Nicetas David. Text and translation by Andrew Smithies, with notes by John M. Duffy. [Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzanti-nae, Vol. LI.] (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. Distrib. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. 2013. Pp. xxxviii, 194. $30.00. ISBN 978-0-88402-381-4.)

About twenty-five years ago, Andrew Smithies submitted as a doctoral dissertation a critical text and translation of the Life of Ignatius, ascribed to Nicetas David the Paphlagonian. Since then he has pursued a career in librarianship, and his thesis has been consulted frequently, but with inevitable difficulty. This text and translation has now been published, with notes added by John M. Duffy. The Vita Ignatii is a (very partisan) account of Ignatius, who was the son of Michael II Rangabe, was originally named Nicetas, and was briefly emperor in the confused years between the death of Emperor Nicephorus (whose skull ended up, inlaid with silver, as a drinking bowl for the Bulgarian Khan Krum) and the accession of Emperor Leo V, who reintroduced iconoclasm. Later in the ninth century, Nicetas (now Ignatius, and emasculated and tonsured by Leo) succeeded Methodius, the patriarch who had overseen the end of iconoclasm. It was most likely a political appointment, and as the political climate changed, Ignatius was deposed as patriarch and replaced by Photius who, with another shift in the political landscape, found himself deposed and Ignatius reinstated. From the point of view of the supporters of Ignatius, [End Page 809] Photius was a figure of hate, and this Vita expresses their point of view eloquently. Nicetas David, the biographer, acknowledges Photius’s vast intellectual culture and wealth, with which “every book found its way into his possession” (Vita 21, p. 35); he acknowledges, too, that, once a churchman by per saltum ordination, he devoted himself to ecclesiastical learning. Nevertheless, he is presented as a man of overbearing pride, whose learning and culture became the basis for corruption and compromise with the secular authorities. The Vita Ignatii is one of the main sources for the vilification of Photius. The supporters of Ignatius called on Pope Nicholas to investigate Photius’s accession to the patriarchal throne: a strategic opportunity to exercise papal claims within the Byzantine Empire. This set in motion a sequence of events, which included Khan Boris’s attempts to play Rome off against Constantinople as he came to embrace Christianity, that led to the Photian schism in the 860s. Duffy’s clear and concise notes to the translation set the evidence provided by the Vita in the context of the other accounts we have of these events and scholarly discussion of them. The ninth century was an important and complex century for Byzantium, as the empire emerged from the troubled years of iconoclasm into a world in which the rift between East and West had become more firmly established, and both papacy and patriarchate found themselves able to develop a more defined identity. History-writing in the ninth century in Byzantium is, more than ever, an attempt to tell a story from the perspectives of various groups claiming to define the world in which they were living. Within Byzantium, these encompassed the newly confident patriarchal court and various monastic groups, most obviously the Studites. The papal court, too, was busily gathering material to support a papal view of the history of the Empire, notably in the material translated by Anastasius the Librarian. The Vita Ignatii is an important element in this bid to interpret the past with a view to the future. It is very good to have it available in an excellent critical edition and accurate translation, supported by invaluable notes.

Andrew Louth
University of Durham, UK


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