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  • The History of Leo the Deacon: Byzantine Military Expansion in the Tenth Century
  • Glenn Bugh
The History of Leo the Deacon: Byzantine Military Expansion in the Tenth Century. Introduction, translation, and annotations by Alice-Mary Talbot and Denis F. Sullivan with the assistance of George T. Dennis and Stamatina Grath. Dumbarton Oaks Studies, 41. Washington, D.C., 2005. ISBN 0-88402-306-0. Maps. Notes. Bibliography. Indexes. Pp. xix, 264. $45.00.

Leo the Deacon was an historian of the Byzantine world at the height of its power in the tenth century A.D. Born ca. 950, he died sometime after 992 or 994 A.D. Educated in the queen of cities, Constantinople, Leo became a palace deacon, hence the name. His history covers the period from 959 to 976, therein the reigns of the warrior emperors, Nikephoros II Phokas, John I Tzimiskes, and the early years of Basil II.

The publication history of this volume is complicated. The story begins in 1970-71 when the Byzantine scholar Nikolaos Panagiotakis was in residence at Dumbarton Oaks. He was working on a critical Greek edition of Leo's History for publication in the series Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae (CFHB). His edition was intended to replace the older Greek edition by C. B. Hase (Bonn, 1828). At the same time, Panagiotakis approached Alice-Mary Talbot about providing an accompanying English translation to his critical edition (a hand-written copy of which he loaned to her). However, the series Press rejected the idea of including a translation, so the project was dropped. As it turned out, Panagiotakis never completed his edition, having moved on to other research interests in Venetian Crete and assuming the directorship of the Hellenic Institute for Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies in Venice, Italy (where I met him just before his untimely death in 1997). Panagiotakis's unpublished critical Greek edition is now being completed by Athanasios Markopoulos, a Byzantine specialist at the University [End Page 628] of Athens. In the meantime, Alice-Mary Talbot put her English translation aside until the late 1990s when she selected Leo's History as the subject of a weekly Byzantine Greek reading group at Dumbarton Oaks. This renewed interest in Leo led to a decision to publish the English translation as a free-standing book, utilizing both Hase's and Panagiotakis's texts and accompanied by an historical commentary by Denis F. Sullivan and several collaborators. The helpful introduction (pp. 1-50) includes distinct essays on Leo as an historian and on political and military matters of the tenth century. Annotated historical notes by Talbot and her collaborators accompany the text. Maps, genealogies, bibliography, and indices (including Greek words) close out the book.

The translation is excellent, clearly the product of careful study, reflection, and discourse. The indices are clean ('helepolis' [p. 257] omits the reference at p. 77, n. 39). The historical notes are informative and judicious. References to the standard Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium allow the reader to pursue unfamiliar topics with ease. I have only two small points to query: 1) Leo refers to the emperor Nikephoros's siege of Arka and his success in "demolishing its towers with his siege machines" (helepolis, p. 122). The editors suggest that Leo may have exaggerated (pp. 45-46) since artillery of the day (trebuchets) are not thought to have been powerful enough to batter down a wall (as opposed to forcing the defenders from the ramparts as antipersonnel weapons). I think Leo deserves some benefit of the doubt on this point since walls and towers can come in varying thicknesses and structural integrity. 2) Leo comments (p. 111) that Nikephoros was hesitant to attack Mysia (=Bulgaria) because of earlier military reverses in the thickly forested and mountainous region. The editors' note (p. 111, n. 42) refers to the Byzantine defeat in 917 A.D near Anchialos and in 918 A.D. at Katasyrtai, but not to the famous disaster and death of the emperor Nikephoros I in 811 at the hands of Khan Krum. Surely Nikephoros II would also have been reminded of his namesake, whose skull was used as a drinking goblet. The Bulgarians are a tough bunch...


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