Michael the Syrian

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[pp. 308-321]

Michael the Syrian

(d. 1199 A.D.)

Michael the Great, born in Melitene, Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch 1166 - 1199 A.D. Wrote, besides other works, a Chronicle in Syriac, which is the main source for the history of the Jacobite Church up to 1195 A.D.

Krumbacher 405.

Ed.: J. B. Chabot, 3 vols. CSCO, Paris 1899-1905, with French transl.

[p. 309] [Stories from the Old Testament Era]

[Lib. II, ch. I]: Among the descendants of Ham are: the Hindôyê<ref>"Hindūyē" (Indians) here indicates the peoples of Ethiopia. (Chabot)</ref>, the Mesrôyê (Egyptians), the Hittites, the Jebusites, the Hivites, the Amorites, the Gergesites, the Aradites. (Chabot I, p. 16).

[Lib.II, ch. III]: The children of Hām, the second son of Noah, received as their lot all the southern region [of the world] which can be inhabited, from the East to the West, i.e. from the middle and the southern Indias<ref>"India" was vaguely used by the Middle Ages writers for all the Red Sea countries: Ethiopia, Yemen, Aden and adjoining hinterland. some writers specified "Inner India", "Outer India" and "Middle India" but they never mentioned any known country as corresponding to any specific part of "India".</ref>, the country of Kūsh, Saba, Egypt. (ibid., I, p. I8).

[Lib.II, ch.VIII]: Names of peoples who possess the art of writing: from among the descendants of Hām: [the] Egyptians, [the] Pamphylians, the Phrygians. Those who do not know the art of the writing: the Kushites, the Troglodites. (ibid. I, p. 32).

[Lib.III, ch.II]: In his 28th year Moses built Hermoupolis and waged war against the Kushites: he captured Ragusa, the daughter of king Zaros, and put her among his womenfolk ... The Ethiopians left the river Indus to settle near Egypt. (ibid. I, p. 39).

[p. 310] [Lib.III, ch.V]: In that year [the 37th year of Moses] the third deluge occurred in Thessaly, while Deucalion was king; there was also a big fire at the time of Phaeton, in the land οf Kūsh. (ibid. I, p. 40).

[Lib.IV, ch.XII]: At this time [2nd year of King Abias of Judah [915-913 B.C.]] the Kushitē King Zārah, having recruited some Libyans, marched against Judah. Asa [King of Juda, 913-873 B.C.] moved forward, won the battle and defeated him at Gerar. This happened in the 10th year of Asa. The Ethiopians together with the Libyans numbered hundred thousand. (ibid. I, p. 40; 2 Chron. 14:8).

[Lib.IV, ch.XII]: While the king of Egypt, whose name was [Ne]ctanebos, or according to others, Necotanebonis, was fleeing to Ethiopia, an augury made him see the numerous armies which were advancing against him. Some people claim that he was the father of Alexander, (ibid. p. 112).

[Events in the Christian Era]

[Lib.V, Appendix]: We record below the names and the martyrdom of the Seventy Disciples [of Jesus]:


30. Mârmâtos, (St. Matthew?) went to preach to the Ethiopians and died among them. (ibid. I, pp. 149 - 150).

[Lib.IX, ch.I]: He [Gregory the wonderworker] became very famous [to such an extent] that the Ethiopians sent [some one] to pay him a visit, as it is written. (ibid. p. 136).

[Lib.IX, ch. XXVIII]: In the book of John of Asia [i.e. [p. 311] John of Ephesus] there is a comprehensive account of the plague which broke out in the year 855 [= 543 A.D.], which is the 16th year of Justinian. It was a plague such as had had no equal since the beginning of the world nor will it ever have. The whole world was struck by this scourge. It started among the people living in the interior of the countries South-East of India<ref>cf. n. 2</ref>, that is to say Kush, the Himyarites and others; later on, it also began spreading among the western countries which are called the Upper Countries: viz. the "Romans" [probably to be read: the Rūm], Italians, Gauls and Spaniards. It was said that men became enraged like dogs, turned mad, attacked one another and went to the mountains to commit suicide. ... The scourge advanced and reached the countries of Kush on the frontiers of Egypt, and from there it spread all over Egypt itself.<ref>Michael reported on the same page [right side column] the parallel account by John of Ephesus, who, however, failed mentioning the countries struck by the plague.</ref> (ibid. II, pp. 235 - 236).

[Lib.IX, ch.XXX]: At this same time Julian, bishop of Halicarnassus in Caria, originated a heresy teaching that since the [time spent in the] womb of the Virgin, Our Lord had made his body incapable of suffering. His heresy perverted the minds of the simple, in some places, in the countries of the Rūm, the Persians, the Indians, the Kushites, the Himyarites, and the Armenians. (Ibid. II, p. 251).

[p. 312] [The Conversion of the Nubians<ref>Michael wrote his own account of the conversion of Nubia and an abridged account of John of Ephesus's History on two columns, side by side. The two parallel accounts are given below, one after the other. The full text of John's History is given under John of Ephesus [q.v.]</ref>]

[The Phantasiasts and the Conversion at the Nubians]

[Michael's Account]

[Lib.IX, ch.XXXI]: The abominable Eutropius, a vessel of damnation, added to his own malice by ordaining ten bishops, whom he sent out in all directions to be champions of the heresy of the Phantasiasts. One of them went to Hirte of Beit Na'mān and to the country of the Himyarites. His name was Sergius. He had been an ascetic and had received the tonsure; then he became a vessel of damnation. He spread the doctrine of the Phantasiasts and perverted those countries. He ordained priests and, after having spent three years in the country of the Himyarites, he appointed a bishop by name of Moses to become his successor: then Sergius himself died in the country of the Himyarites. The other [nine] bishops went to other countries far distant and deluded many peoples. By telling lies and spreading false accusations they calumniated the holy Severus [of Antioch, the Jacobite]. Then the Phantasiasts allied with the Gaianites<ref>A heretical faction of Alexandria, which opposed the Monophysistes [Copts], supported the Phantasiasts and was also favourable to the Council of Chalcedon. Cf. John of Ephesus, note 4.</ref> of Alexandria and had one of their bishops consecrated a Patriarch. He, in his turn, made many bishops whom he sent out to all the country of Egypt and Kūsh, as well as to far distant countries, so that they eventually caused many people to fall into their ways of error. Then they split into factions among themselves. (ibid. II, pp. 263 - 264).

[p. 313] [John of Ephesus' Account]

There was among the entourage (synodos) of Pope Theodosius a priest named Julian. He showed himself fired by zeal for the people who were inhabiting the upper frontier of Thebaid, to the east, in Upper Egypt. These people used to receive a tribute from the Romans, on the condition that they did not carry out raids [in Egypt]. As Julian wished to devote himself to the care of these people, he informed our late empress, Theodora, who then considered how to protect the faith. She joyfully informed the emperor about the project, in order that he himself might support her plan to have this Julian sent. But the emperor decided to send a bishop [from the party] of the Chalcedonians. He hastened to write to the prefect of the Thebaid to send one of the bishops of that region. As the empress learned that, she wrote to the prefect a letter like this: 'The emperor and I have decided to send [a mission] to [the people of] the Nabados. Now I am sending Julian and want him to be the first to enter there.' The prefect delayed the delegate of the emperor until Julian arrived and had proceeded further. When the delegate of the emperor realized [the trick], he tore his vestment but he succeeded in entering only later on.

Julian, when he came to the king of the Nabados, was received with rejoicing. The letter from the empress was read. The king and all his people were converted and baptized. Julian told them about the schism of Chalcedon.

[p. 314] When the delegates of the emperor arrived and warned [the Nabados] not to join the schismatics, they [the Nabados] replied: "We accept the present sent by the emperor and we too shall send him a present; but we will not receive his corrupted faith. We have been found worthy to become Christians. We follow Theodosius who has been deprived of his seat on account of his orthodox faith. Please God that we did not renounce paganism to fall into heterodoxy." With these words they dismissed the messenger of the emperor.

Julian stayed there for two years. People used to tell that from the third to the tenth hour of the day, he was staying in caverns full of water, naked, except for wearing a loin cloth, keeping only the upper part of his body out of the water.

He baptised the king and all his people. He had taken along with him a bishop from Thebaid. After he had instructed and organized them [the Nabados], he left them in the charge of this bishop and came back to the capital, where he died.

Patriarch Theodosius, about the time of his death, remembered those people and ordained Longinus to be their bishop. When the emperor learned that, he prevented Longinus from travelling to that country. At the end of three years, this [Longinus] escaped, reached that country and built there some churches. He also taught them the discipline (taxis) and the holy mysteries of Christianity. ... Longinus had already spent six years there when he was invited by the faithful to take part in the election of the Pope of Alexandria. He then left for Mareotis. These people were subject to the seat of Alexandria and kept the pure [Orthodox] faith. (Ibid. II, pp. 265-267).

[p. 315] [Merwan the Last Omayyad [749 A.D.]]

[Lib. XI, ch. XXIV]: When Merwan came back, ashamed after having been beaten in several territories, he was afraid to settle at Harran. He had his treasure loaded on three thousand camels and fled to Askalon on the coast. Then Abdalla, the son of Ali, went in pursuit of him. But Merwan had already left that place; he camped on the banks of the Nile opposite the town of Syene, which is on the frontier of the Nabados. Merwan was killed in battle there: then Abdalla reigned alone over all the kingdom of the Tayaye [= Arabs]. (ibid. II, p. 517).

[Lib. XII, ch. XVI]: In this year 1141 [830 A.D.] while Ma'mūn the king of the Tayaye<ref>The Arabs</ref> was at Kaishūm Mar Dionysius went to him to have a meeting with him. But as the king suddenly left for Damascus, the patriarch, too, went there with him. There, through the mediation of Lazarus the mardanāya, the presents, or "xenia", which he had brought [to offer to the king] were received [by the king]. The king ordered the patriarch: 'Await here, so that you may accompany me to Egypt,<ref>It was not, however, on this occasion [830 A.D.] that Dionysius visited Egypt, but only two years later, Dionysius had previously visited Egypt, soon after his election in 818 A.D. His visits to Alexandria not only show the close relationship between the two Jacobite patriarchates, but also, indirectly, shed light on the contemporary political-religious history of Nubia. Cf. Severus Ibn al-Muqaffa', note 6.</ref> for we want to send you as our ambassador to the Biamāyē (= Bashmurites) in Lower Egypt, that they stop the rebellion which they have begun and make submission, (ibid. III, p. 76).

[p. 316] [The Journey of the Nubian Prince to Baghdad]

[Lib. XII, ch. XIX]: In this year 1147 [= 835/836 A.D.], Georgius, who was the son of the king of the Nubians, set out on a journey [to come] to pay a visit to the king of the Tayâyê, and this was the reason. The kings of the Nubians since olden times used to give every year to the king of the Tayâyê 360 Moorish slaves, trained monkeys which could imitate men in their manners, some animals which are called Zoraphê (giraffe), elephant tusks and skins of tigers [= leopards]. The kings of the Tayâyê used to give the Nubians a certain number of khure of wheat, vegetables from Egypt, a specified number of kaile of olive oil and textiles for precious vestments and they permitted the king of the Nubians to collect taxes from the Nubians who were living throughout the empire of the Tayâyê, without hindrance. By virtue of this agreement and arrangement, the Tayâyê would not seize the Nubians, nor did the Nubians cross beyond the town of Syene, which is on the frontiers on the side of Egypt and the empire of the Arabs.

Now, it happened that this agreement was being infringed, as a consequence of the trouble which spread over the world and caused disturbances<ref>The strife between al-Ma'mūn and his half-brother, al-Amīn, which began over the succession, continued for years after the death of the latter in 813 A.D.</ref> and unrest at the time of the sons of Harun. Also it was a consequence of the extension of the empire of the Tayâyê who disparaged the Nubians. These arrangements had been abandoned: the Nubians did not keep the tradition of sending something to the Arabs, nor did the Arabs keep their part of the bargain in sending something to the Nubians.

[p. 317] Mu'taṣim noticed these things. He summoned one of his advisers and sent him to say to the king of the Nubians: "Send me the presents, according to the old custom of all the years past: if you fail to do that, I shall send the Tayâyê to devastate your country." When the envoy arrived, he found that the king of the Nabados had died and that, at that time, the kingdom was ruled by a prince named Zacharias. He [= Zacharias] was not of royal descent - without which it is unlawful among them to become king - but he had a son of a woman whose family was of royal descent. This son was called Georgi[us]. They crowned him king, while his father ruled the kingdom until such time as the boy became of age.

When Zacharias saw the messenger of the Tayâyê, thinking of the snares which the Arabs extended to him, he decided to send his son, who was [already proclaimed] a king, to Abū Isḥāq<ref>Al-Mu'taṣim's own name was "Ibrāhīm", hence the nickname "Abū Isḥāq"</ref>, if he would grant such a favour, in order to settle satisfactorily all the requests of the royal delegation. He said to the messenger: "I do not want to conclude a treaty by letters; I shall send my son who is king over the Nubians, to pay homage to your king."

When this messenger brought the news to Abū Isḥāq, the latter answered: "Let him come", and issued orders to the prefects of Egypt to meet him and receive him with due honour. When Abū Isḥāq was informed that the king of the Nubians had left and had arrived at Fusṭāṭ in Egypt, he wrote to the governors of Egypt to supply him with as many camels as he might need for his luggage, and to give him thirty dīnārs daily for his own expenses and to have him received by the chiefs of every town, with the [p. 318] honours due to a King. When the prince arrived at Callinice,<ref>Callinice or Nicephorium, on the left bank of the Euphrates, corresponds to Raqqa, today in the Syrian Gezira. On the journey of the Nubian king of Baghdad, cf. G. Vantini, '"Le Roi Kirki à Baghdad'", in "Kunst und Geschichte Nubians in Christlicher Zeit, Recklinghausen 1970, pp. 41-48.</ref> the emir of Jezirah came to meet him. The Tayâyê and the Christians accompanied him to see the unprecedented marvel which had happened in their country. He rode a camel harnessed with a saddle quite different from those of our country. An umbrella in the form of a dome covered with scarlet cloth was carried above his head, and on the top of the umbrella was fitted a golden cross. He held the sceptre in one hand, and a cross in the other. On his right and left young Nubians marched carrying crosses in their hands. Before him rode a bishop, he too holding a cross in his hand. All these crosses were of gold. The remainder of the horsemen and slaves followed behind, and around him were all blacks. Two other bishops, who had left with him, had died on the way, as had many other persons of his retinue, because they had journeyed in the time of snow and frost which they had never experienced in their own country. They stopped at Callinice on Christmas day. He went down to Baghdad being escorted in the streets by the troops. He took lodging in one of the royal palaces. He stayed there from sebāt [February] until āb [August]. The reason for this delay was the following. A Nubian who was in charge of receiving the dues of the Nubian subjects in the country of the Tayâyê had rebelled against the king of the Nubians and became a Muslim. Georgi[us] chased him, recaptured him and fettered him.

Now, this wretched man had the idea of writing to the king of the Tayâyê telling him: - "This man is an [p. 319] impostor." The king sent to Egypt to enquire about the accusation brought by the rebel. For this reason the audience of Georgi[us] with Abū Isḥāq was postponed. When the answer arrived, assuring that he actually was the king and son of a king, Abū Isḥāq sent for him. On his arrival, Abū Isḥāq ordered his troops to go out dressed in their armour and ornaments to meet him. They stood on both sides of the road he was passing through. He was wearing the crown, which was a tiara with a cross on top of it. A throne more splendid than usual was prepared for Abū Isḥāq.

Georgi[us] advanced towards the king who took him by the hand and made him sit before him. [Abū Isḥāq] learned from him, through a translator, that he had come to salute him. He received Georgi[us] very well and gave him rich presents of gold and silver and cloths for vestments, musk of amber, ten she-camels from the royal stables, caparisoned, and issued orders that he should be treated with honour in all towns until he entered his own territory, and that thirty dīnārs be given him daily for his expenses.

As we have already mentioned, Patriarch Mar Dionysius descended to Baghdad, as he himself tells it:<ref>The following parallel account by Dionysius of Tell Mahre is quoted by Michael on a separate column side by side, with his own story. CF. R. Abramovski, Dionysius, Leipzig 1940.</ref> "At the beginning of the month of āb (August) of the year 1147 I went to king Abū Isḥāq, as I used to do with his brother. He received me peacefully, in the new palace which he had built between the two canals.

The king of the Nubians, Georgi[us], who had arrived in Baghdad the previous sebāt [February] had not yet been [p. 320] received by Abū Isḥāq. Now, while Georgi[us], the king of the Nubians was on his way to Baghdad, he had written to me upon his arrival at Callinice, that he desired to meet me so that we might personally accompany him with our prayers. I answered him: "That is impossible without leave from the king. You should rather continue your journey. As soon as I arrive there, I shall see you."

That is why I recalled that matter to the mind of the king and told him that I wished to meet him because he was a member of our community. I did not know the reason for the delay.

After Georgi[us] was received by the king and saluted by Solomon, his physician, [the king] said [to us]: Go and see that Nubian.

We went there with some bishops and faithful. We found he was a clever young man, about 20 years old, well mannered, educated and handsome, worthy of the royal rank on account of his manners. After we had talked with him through an interpreter, we found him [to be] a faithful Orthodox, zealous for his faith, who detested having any communication with the heretics. On Sunday, we celebrated the Mass and gave the communion to him as well as to those who formed his retinue. They had carried with them the sacred vases and all the apparel for the celebration of the mysteries. When we had to take leave from the king, at the moment of our departure, we offered to the king of the Nubians a present of some objects of gold and silver, such as it was convenient to our rank to offer, to be a memento to him in his kingdom. While we were going back from Baghdad, in the year 1148 [= 836 A.D.], we learned the news of Abiram's death."(ibid. III, pp. 90 - 94).

[p. 321] [The Chalcedonian Greeks]

[Lib. XVI, ch. III [1126 A.D.]]: There were in Syria and Armenia, as well as in Palestine and Egypt, besides the patriarch and bishops of our nation, and our Egyptian Armenian brethren, also those of the Chalcedonian Greeks, who were troubling, as far as they could, these three nations, and, on occasion, also the Nubians and the Abyssinians. (ibid. III, p. 226).

[Lib. XX, ch. II]: The same year [= 1171 A.D.] Saladin, who was the ruler of Egypt, extended his empire over inner Arabia, as well as over several places of the Nubian Kingdoms, through a brilliant victory, (ibid. IlII, p. 361).