This is one of several translated excerpts from Byzantine sources produced and mounted with historical introduction and commentary by Paul Stephenson.


The Chronicle of 811 and the Scriptor Incertus

Two fragments of ninth-century history have, since 1936, been attributed to the same "unknown writer", known after the Latin title given to the second fragment as Scriptor Incertus [de Leone Armenio]. The first fragment relates to the disastrous campaign of 811, launched by Emperor Nikephoros I (802-11) against Khan Krum's Bulgaria; the second, longer fragment describes the reigns of Michael I (811-13) and Leo V (813-20). Both provide details not contained in the chronicles of Theophanes or his continuater. Beyond this, following Grégoire (1936), the fragments have been attributed to the same unknown author on the basis of style and vocabulary. For example, in both fragments Khan Krum is referred to, quite unusually and pejoratively, as "First man of Bulgaria "(protos tes Boulgarias), rather than the more familiar (and respectful) archon. Protos is generally used to refer to small dependent communities or cities, not rulers of peoples (Cf. Browning, 1965, p. 402). More substantially, the author offers brief physical descriptions of emperors, in a manner reminiscent of the chronicler John Malalas (although not unknown in later authors: Dujcev, 1965, p. 249, n. 181, provides a list).

The first fragment is contained in a single manuscript preserved in the Vatican Library (Cod. Vat. gr. 2014, 13th c.), where it is placed after two accounts of sieges of Constantinople (626 and 717) and before succinct lives of the empresses Irene and Theodora, and the absolution of Emperor Theophilos (829-42). The date of the fragment has been disputed, and an effort made to place it after the conversion of Bulgaria to Christianity in the 860s. However, a reference to this conversion is possibly a later interpolation, specific to the context in which the fragment was used or indeed copied, and not to the historical account it contains. That is, the fragment may have been modified for use in a liturgical context, to honour those it alleges were imprisoned and tortured as a consequence of the battle of 811 (23rd or 26th July in the Synaxarion of Constantinople), and not those killed in the battle, for such men could not be considered martyrs according to Orthodox theology.Wortley (1980) suggested that the textual  modification took place in the 960s -- which would make it contemporary with a number of military texts which express similar sentiments -- and notes that the first extant appearance of the "martyrs" of 811 is in the Menologion (i.e. Synaxarion) of Basil II, produced c. 1000. (In fact the extant part of Basil's illuminated Menologion covers only the months September to February, but a document believed to be derived from the second part is copied into a Grotta Ferrata manuscript.) The fragment of historical narrative, therefore, should be dated to before the conversion of Bulgaria, and may even be contemporary with the events it describes, although it was modified slightly in the later tenth century. It has been maintained, for example, that Theophanes, writing within three years of 811, knew of the work by the Scriptor Incertus and may have used it. This, however, may have to be revised slightly in light of conclusions reached for the second fragment (completed post 820).

The second, longer fragment also survives in a sole manuscript, now at the BN in Paris (Cod. Par. gr. 1711, dated 1013). Passages from this fragment are copied verbatim or in paraphrase into the chronicle attributed to Pseudo-Symeon Magistros, which has similarly been preserved in one Parisian manuscript (BN Cod. Par. gr. 1712, 12th-13th c.). However, such borrowings from the Scriptor Incertus as exist in Pseudo-Symeon, Browning (1965) convincingly demonstrated, relate only to the period after the accession of Michael I Rangabe in 811. That is, the unpublished portion of Pseudo-Symeon Magistros' text dealing with the period 714-811 (which is mainly drawn from accounts by Theophanes and George the Monk), contains no obvious sections which may have been borrowed from a lost portion of the Scriptor Incertus. This led Browning to conclude that the Scriptor Incertus was a contemporary history of the reigns of Nikephoros I, Michael I and Leo V (i.e. 802-820), and not a continuation of the world chronicle of John Malalas, as Grégoire (1936) had suggested. Hence, in its finished form, the full text (containing both fragments and perhaps not much more) must have been completed after -- probably shortly after -- 820.

In 1999, A. Markopoulos, who is producing a new definitive edition of the Scriptor Incertus (but not the Chronicle of 811) for the series Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae, offered an alternative interpretation of both fragments and their relationship to each other. He argued argued, on stylistic grounds, that "the two fragments were composed in two entirely distinct milieux and for different reasons." The first fragment was not, he observed, taken from a work of history, but rather a hagiographical text produced for a liturgical purpose after 864/5. Markopoulos highlighted the hagiographic elements in the text and asserted that there is no reason to suppose that the text and its conclusion were composed at different times. The hagiographical account, he maintained, drew on a dossier of information likely compiled from eyewitness accounts by survivors of the tragedy shortly after 811, but which had not been worked into a history or chronicle. Although Markopoulos does not say it, his essay suggests that it is as inappropriate to call it the first fragment The Chronicle of 811 as it is to attribute it to the Scriptor Incertus, but we retain that nomenclature for the sake of clarity. The second fragment, which retains its attribution to the Scriptor Incertus, was produced, on internal evidence, shortly after 820 by an iconodule author hostile to the iconoclast emperors Michael I and Leo V. It is an historical work, but is unlikely to have been excerpted from a much longer work. Markopoulos' conclusion was independently corroborated in a brief study published shortly before by Alexander Kazhdan and Lee Sherry. Going further than Markopoulos, who refused to suggest a date other than post-864/5, Kazhdan and Sherry dated the fragment to the later ninth century, and further suggested a comparison with the Martyrion of the Twenty Sabaites. I agree that the two works are not by the same author, but present them here together nonetheless for historical reasons.

Fragment 1: I. Dujcev, "La chronique byzantine de l'an 811", Travaux et Mémoires 1 (1965), 205-54, which offers an introduction to the manuscript, its discovery and earlier treatments, as well as a definitive edition of the text with translation and commentary in French.

Additional insights may be gleaned from: H. Grégoire, "Un nouveau fragment du <Scriptor Incertus de Leone Armenio>", Byzantion 11 (1936), 417-27, which offers a revision of the text (first published by Dujcev in 1935) and brief commentary.

Fragment 2: "Historia de Leone Bardae Armenii filio", in Leo Grammaticus, Eustathius, ed. B. Niebuhr, CSHB (Bonn, 1842), 335-62; with essential corrections and commentary in R. Browning, "Notes on the <Scriptor Incertus de Leone Armenio>", Byzantion 35 (1965), 389-411. See also F. Iadevaia, Scriptor Incertus (Messina, 1987; 2nd edn. 1997) [Partial translation to follow, once Markopoulos' edition is published]


Useful commentary can also be found in:

A. Kazhdan & L. Sherry, "Some notes on the Scriptor Incertus de Leone Armenio," Byzantinoslavica 58 (1997), 110-12.

A. Kazhdan with L. Sherry & C. Angelidi , A History of Byzantine Literature (650-850) (Athens, 1999), 208-11.

A. Markopoulos, "La chronique de l'an 811 et le Scriptor Incertus de Leone Armenio : problèmes des relations entre l'hagiographie et l'histoire," Revue des études byzantines 57 (1999), 255-62.

P. Stephenson, "'About the emperor Nikephoros and how he leaves his bones in Bulgaria.' A context for the controversial Chronicle of 811," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 60 (2006), forthcoming.

D. Turner, "The origins and accession of Leo V (813-20)", Jahrbuch der Oesterreichischen Byzantinistik 40 (1990), 171-203.

J. Wortley, "Legends of the Byzantine disaster of 811" Byzantion 50 (1980), 533-62, which is extremely insightful, despite the author evidently being unaware of Dujcev's 1965 re-edition.

And the entries on "Scriptor Incertus" and "Symeon Magistros, Pseudo", in the Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, eds. A. Kazhdan et al. (Oxford & New York, 1991).

Paul Stephenson, February 2003

Revised, November 2006; revised July 2010