John the Deacon

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[pp. 40-45]


(about 770 A.D.)

Secretary and biographer of the Coptic Patriarch Michael I. (744-768 A.D.). Severus used his work in an Arabic version.

Ed.: Severus: Evetts PO 5, 1 (1909) with English translation. Chr.Fr. Seybold, Severus Ben el Moqaffa Historia Patriarcharuni Alexandrinorum, CSCO, Ser.Ar., Paris-Beirut 1904; Id., Severus ibn al-Muqaffa Alexandrinische Patriarchengeschichte (61-767), Hamburg 1912.

T.: Evetts A: Evetts

I am constrained to record briefly a matter which should not be ignored. That is that there was at Dongola, a city of the Nubians, a king named Mercurius (Marqūrīs), who was called the New Constantine, for he became by his beautiful conduct like one of the Disciples: and the Lord gave him a son whom he named Zacharias (Zakhariāʾ). When king Mercurius died, Zacharias did not choose to become king, but occupied himself with the word of God and the salvation of his soul, gave up his rank as king, and appointed to the kingly office a kinsman of his, named Simon (Simūn), who was orthodox, and walked in the excellent path of Mercurius. When Simon died, Zacharias adopted a valiant youth attached to the palace, named Abraham [p.41] (Ibrāhīm) and made him king; but he was proud and wicked.

And the bishop of the capital city used to warn him and instruct him, but he paid no heed to him, and therefore a dispute took place between the king and the bishop. So the king wrote a letter to the father patriarch, Abba Michael (Mikhā’il) in which he said with an oaths - "If thou dost not excommunicate Cyriacus (Kiryāqūs), I will make all my country worship idols". For he had written concerning that bishop absurd calumnies and false testimonies. But when the patriarch had read this letter, he wrote letters of peace to the king. Yet the king was not satisfied, but wrote other letters worse than the first, full of false testimonies, and despatched them to Alexandria by Cyriacus, the holy bishop. So the father assembled the bishops,and formed a synod (sinūdus) in the city of Alexandria. And when they had met together, he produced the letters, which were read aloud; but the bishops recognised that their allegations were absurd.

Then indeed they spoke a word concerning the king of that country, fearing lest Satan should bring corruption upon it; and therefore they prayed the bishop Cyriacus to reside in one of the monasteries of Alexandria, until the wrath of the king should subside; but he refused to do that. So when they saw that he would not listen to them, they said: "Depart whithersoever thou wilt in order to abide there". But they would not allow him to celebrate the Liturgy (al-quddās) in the churches of Egypt. And they ordained the person whom the king had sent to them, a man named John, saying to Cyriacus: - "If this matter is not from God, thou wilt see what will happen, and wilt return to thy see once more. For we have not removed thee from thy see by excommunication, but on account of the wickedness of the king and his evil intentions".

[p. 42] But when they rose up to depart, each to his own place, there appeared a great wonder. For there was a great board over the throne of the patriarch, Abba Michael, on which was a painting of John Chrysostom (Yuhannā fam adh-dhahab); and after the bishop had been removed from his see, the cords of the picture broke, and it fell into the midst of the bishops, and continued to move and leap until it had passed beyond them. Therefore they went and took it up, and restored it to its former place. Then it did the same thing a second and a third time; for as often as they hung it up it fell again, until it reached a certain place in the church and remained there. Now that bishop resembled the picture of John Chrysostom, for his cheeks were almost free from hair, so that he seemed to have no beard, and this was one of the characteristics of John Chrysostom's face. And the bishop Cyriacus was an old man, eighty years of age on that day; and his appearance was like that of an angel of God. Then the bishops dispersed to their own districts; and Cyriacus departed to one of the monasteries of Nubia, while John, the new bishop, went to the capital city. Now trustworthy persons have testified to me that no rain fell upon that city during the remainder of the life of Cyriacus, the bishop, and that every year the people were visited by a pestilence, and that those who bore false witness against him were suddenly struck blind. And he lived to be one hundred and four years old. Then he prayed to God to remove him from the body; and, when he was dead, the people of his country visited his tomb, and prayed him with many tears to beseech God to send down rain upon them; and this took place so that their country was fertilized, and the pestilence ceased from them.

So when king Zacharias saw these things, he banished king Abraham to an island in the midst of the river, and appointed a king named Mark (Marqus) instead of him; for [p. 43] Zacharias had been father of the kings up to this time. Then the friends of Mark went secretly with guile, to slay Abraham in his place of exile. But, when the partisans of king Abraham learnt this, they conspired against king Mark; and while he was praying in the church before the sanctuary, they slew him in the sixth month of his reign. Then they set up a king named Cyriacus (Quryāqūs) an honest and virtuous man, who has remained king to the day on which I write this history.

Now letters had been sent to this king from Egypt, and had reached him while the father, Abba Michael, was in prison with us. And 'Abd al-Malik heard of these communications, and therefore he seized the patriarch, and kept him in custody.

Then king Cyriacus marched forth from the land of the Nubians towards Egypt with a great army, including a hundred thousand horsemen, with a hundred thousand horses and hundred thousand camels. And we were informed by one who had witnessed it with his own eyes that the horses which the Nubians rode used to fight with their forefeet and hindfeet in battle as their riders fought upon their backs, and that they were small horses, no higher than asses. And when they approached Miṣr that they might capture the city, and had encamped at the pool known to this day as the Pool of the Ethiopians (birkat al-habash), they plundered and slew and made prisoners of the Muslims. And they had already treated the Muslims of Upper Egypt in the same manner. And before he reached Miṣr, the king had sent an envoy, called the Eparch (al-abarkhos) one of the great men of the kingdom, to 'Abd al-Malik, bidding him to release the patriarch, but 'Abd al-Malik seized that envoy and imprisoned him with the patriarch. But when the governor heard of the arrival of the king before Miṣr, not having any means of resisting him, and being greatly [p. 44] afraid of him, he released the envoy, the Eparch, from prison. So the latter went forth to meet the king, having previously made an engagement with Abd al-Malik, and sworn to induce the king to return with his army to his own country, and not to let him approach his fortresses nor besiege him. Now the Muslims were in the habit of kidnapping the Nubians; and selling them as slaves in Egypt. So the king, after carrying off much plunder from the Muslims, led back his army, because the Eparch Informed him that the patriarch had been released, and had been kindly treated by 'Abd al-Malik, and himself bade the Nubians to return homewards with his blessing.

Now many of the tribes of Al-Qays worshipped<ref>Not to be confused with the Qays 'Aylān Arab tribe, which settled in the Delta territory. Monneret (Storia, p. 98) notes that al-Qays [Qais, today El-Qeis] was a town corresponding to ancient Cynopolis, near Beni Mazār, where Anubis was the local God. As for Salkit, it seems that it should correspond to the goddess Sekmet.</ref> an idol named Salkīt, and therefore the king of the Nubians conquered them and plundered them, and his army carried off the booty which they had taken from them. Then Abd al-Malik sent to the patriarch, bidding him to write to the king of the Nubians.

So Abba Michael wrote letters of peace to Cyriacus, in which he prayed for him, and blessed him and his followers; and the king returned without fighting a battle. Now these events took place in the hundred and thirtieth year after the foundation of the empire of the Muslims [began 11 September 747 A.D.].

And there were under the supremacy of Cyriacus, king of the Nubians, thirteen kings, ruling the kingdom and the country. He was the orthodox Ethiopian king of Al-Mukurrah (malik al-muqurrah al-habashī al-urthuduksī); [p. 45] and he was entitled the Great King (al malik al-'azīm), upon whom the crown descended from Heaven and he governed as far as the southern extremities of the Earth, for he is the Greek king (al-malik al-Yunānī), fourth of the Earth; and none of the other kingdoms stands up against him, but their kings attend him when he passes through their territory. And he is under the jurisdiction of Mark the Evangelist, for the patriarch of the Jacobites in Egypt exercises authority over him, and over all the kings of the Abyssinians and the Nubians (mulūk al-habash wa-n-nūbah jamī‘i-him) and he has in his country an orthodox bishop (usquf urthuduksī) whom the patriarch ordains as metropolitan (mutrān) and who ordains for the king the bishops (al-asāqifah) and the priests (al-kahanah) in that land. And when the metropolitan dies, the patriarch of Alexandria appoints another for him, whom he chooses, and ordains him for that people. (PO 5, pp. 145 ff).