Overview

Malalas

(c. 480—570)


Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

(c.ad 480–c.570),

author of an influential universal chronicle in Greek. John Malalas came from Antioch in Syria where legal expertise probably secured him administrative employment (Malalas is Syriac for ‘rhetor’, ‘lawyer’). His eighteen-book Chronographia covers world history from the Creation to ad 563, where the single manuscript of a continuous text breaks off (12th-cent. Oxford MS Bodl. Baroccianus 182): the chronicle probably terminated in 565, less plausibly 574. Apart from lacunae, this MS is also an abridgement of the original, but Malalas was used by later Greek, Syriac, Coptic, Latin, and Slavonic writers and through these adaptations a fuller version of the original has been reconstructed.

The preface proclaims a dual purpose, to narrate the course of sacred history as presented in Christian chronography and present a summary of events from Adam to Justinian. These motives coalesce in the chronological computations which present an unusual date for Christ's crucifixion, 6,000 years after Creation (normally c.5,500): this permitted Malalas to dismiss contemporary apocalyptic fears that the world would endure for only 6,000 years and hence end in the early 6th cent. Books 1–8 cover the period before Christ, with Greek mythology and history incorporated within a framework of Hebrew affairs. Books 9–10 treat the late Roman republic and early empire, with special attention to the chronology of Christ's incarnation, while 11–17 narrate Roman imperial history from Trajan to Justin I(uncle of Justinian); the account becomes increasingly detailed, and from Zeno's reign deserves credit as a major contemporary source, especially for events at Antioch to which Malalas naturally devoted much attention. Book 18 covers Justinian's reign, and at least in part represents a continuation, not necessarily by the same author: the focus of the narrative switches to Constantinople; after a very detailed, document-based account of Justinian's early years (527–32), it abruptly deteriorates into a series of brief notices until the mid-540s when fuller coverage resumes. Malalas' religious views seem orthodox, though theological matters were not a major concern. The Chronographia provides important evidence for the interests and attitudes of the educated administrative élite in the eastern empire.

L. Michael Whitby

Subjects: Classical Studies.


Reference entries

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.