Johannes Zonaras

(d. 1160)

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Byzantine historian and canonist of the 12th cent. A commander of the body-guard and imperial secretary, he was probably forced to retire into monastic life after the failure of the conspiracy to make Anna Comnena empress in ad 1118. Living in exile on an island far from the capital he devoted himself to writing. He composed an authoritative commentary to Byzantine canon law, commentaries on the poems of Gregory of Nazianzus and on the terminology of religious poetry. Various other exegetic books and lives of saints go under his name; he is also the author of at least one religious poem. As a historian he wrote a universal history from the creation to ad 1118. Zonaras never claimed to be more than a compiler. For Greek history he mainly used Herodotus, Xenophon, Plutarch, and Arrian. For Roman history to the destruction of Carthage he excerpted Plutarch and the first twenty-one books of Cassius Dio, for which he is our only important source. He was compelled to omit the history of the late Roman republic because he did not have the relevant books of Dio (he only gives some excerpts from Plutarch's Pompey and Caesar), but was able to use Dio's books 44–68 and is, together with Xiphilinus, our main source for the reconstruction of Dio's books 61–8. For the period after Domitian he followed Xiphilinus instead of the original Dio. He added information from other sources (e.g. Eusebius). Petrus Patricius was his chief source for the period between Severus Alexander and Constantine I. The rest derives from various chronicles, not all of which have been identified. Zonaras is especially important as a source for the period ad 450–550. His excerpts are faithful in content, but stylistically independent. See CASSIUS DIO.

Zonaras is not the author of the lexicon that usually goes under his name, a compilation probably made between 1204 and 1253, and much used by the Byzantines.

Arnaldo Momigliano

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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