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7-08-2015, 20:10

Historical writing in and out of court

A few other grand presentations of imperial deeds from insiders at court are – or soon will be – available to Anglophone readers, for example the Life of Basil, Anna Komnena’s highly personal portrayal of her father Alexios I (the Alexiad), and the grand logothete George Akropolites’ account of events between the fall of Alexios III in 1203 and Michael VIII’s restoration of Constantinople to Roman imperial status in 1261.35 Anna, however, carried out her work after leaving court life, Niketas Choniates revised his history shortly after Constantinople’s fall, and in fact major historical compositions often come from the fringes of the court, from writers formerly at the centre, or ensconced in administrative, legal or ecclesiastical niches rather than at the dizziest heights. A slight distancing from the very top facilitated composition of well-informed, more or less ostensibly favourable presentations of current emperors’ deeds or the reigns of an ongoing dynasty. This generally holds true of historians of the era of Justinian and his successors – Procopius, Agathias and Theophylact Simocatta – and also holds for the period when the empire’s fortunes were once again related in formats reminiscent of classical historians, as by Leo the Deacon and John Kinnamos. All these have English translations.36 Adding the translations of church histories and works generally labelled chronicles, with their diverse priorities and perspectives – for example, the works of John Malalas, Evagrius Scholasticus, the Paschal chronicle, Theophanes the Confessor, Patriarch Nikephoros I (806–15) and John Skylitzes – one obtains a continuous account of the earlier and middle empire’s history available in English.