The Relationship between Theophanes' and Nicephorus' Works

79 views 7 pages ~ 1698 words
Get a Custom Essay Writer Just For You!

Experts in this subject field are ready to write an original essay following your instructions to the dot!

Hire a Writer

Pieces of work depicting the Byzantine history from 600s to 800s are rare to find in their original state. Most of the available work has been paraphrased from the original work. Some of the early Byzantine authors whose written sources are still surviving include the Patriarch Nicephorus and Theophanes Confessor. The sources that will be analyzed are "The Chronicles of Theophanes" and "Nikephoros, Patriarch of Constantinople: Short History." The two wrote about the ancient history of Byzantine which included the life of Heraclius. From the many parallels in their works, it is clear that the two authors shared a few of the initial sources in their writings. However, their works have linguistic differences which show that they paraphrased the works quite differently. Nicephorus used a more elevated style. The parallels also revealed both Theophanes and Nicephorus had no idea about the content of each other's work. When writing their works, they copied some of the work of the earlier historians. In this essay, the relationship between the two sources and how they depict Heraclius' life will be analyzed.

Unlike most Byzantine works including that of Nicephorus, Theophanes starts with the accession of Diocletian in 284 instead of beginning with the creation (Treadgold 12). "The Chronicle of Theophanes" records the Byzantine history up-to 813. It documents most of the events in between until the death of Leo V in 813. The reason for this is that he had continued the work done by another author, George Syncellus, who documented from the Creation to 284 (Totomanova 14). It is argued that Theophanes was the final editor of the work of George. George was the syncellus of Patriarch Tarasius who was succeeded by Nicephorus. However, others say that Theophanes' work was influenced by the second period of Iconoclasm and thus had to be dated to 815 (Totomanova 10). It gave Theophanes enough time to write his work before he died in 818. They claimed that Theophanes' work was contribution was original and not an editorial. Some of the information found in Nicephorus work is absent in Theophanes'. However, the discussion will not be on the biased part of their works but the relationship between the writings and not the authors.

The work written by Nicephorus is believed to have been documented in the 780's when he was still a young man. His history is full of bulletins that are Constantinopolitan (Treadgold 23). It includes a series of events from the events involving Heraclius, the safety of the empire like the Avar Surprise, and the undocumented stories like the shipwreck of the imperial treasure. In his writing, Nicephorus ensured that he included obscure detail for the happenings in the capital. For instance, he mentioned the servant girl who dared spit in the open coffin of Eudocia. Similar to the "Chronicon Paschale," Nicephorus lacked a detailed account of the early eastern campaigns of Heraclius. However, Nicephorus did not copy and paste information from the "Chronicon Paschale." He added well-detailed information on events that took place after the Avar Surprise and the only religious event he mentioned was the succession of Sergius.

Nicephorus' work has some information that is absent in Theophanes'. The speech that was written by Shahin to Heraclius is present in Nicephorus' work and absent in Theophanes'. Shahin is recorded to have died after returning from Persia Nicephorus's work while in Theophanes' work it is documented to have occurred in 626 (Treadgold 25). After discussing the Avar Surprise and the Hunnic embassy, Nicephorus criticized the marriage of Heraclius to Martina, the daughter to Heraclius' sister, claiming that Heraclius was unable to handle the state affairs and could not handle his personal affairs. On the other hand, Theophanes claims that the marriage took place in 613 which was much earlier. He also fails to mention Martina's two sons, Fabius and Theodosius, who were both handicapped. In chapter 12, Nicephorus mentions that Heraclius went east due to the Jerusalem being captured (Treadgold 21). It was chronologically wrong since Jerusalem was captured in 614 before the Avar Surprise. Another mistake made by Nicephorus is stating that Heraclius first crossed into Asia during the same period as the Alliance with the Khazars. Nicephorus claims that Heraclius borrowed a church plate to pay the barbarians while Theophanes states that it was for the Persian war.

Nicephorus and Theophanes differ on their narrative concerning the letter of Chosroes to Shahbaraz. Theophanes states that the letter was written to keep Shahbaraz at Chalcedon while Nicephorus says that it was for the return to counter Heraclius in Persia (Totomanova 13). Also, Nicephorus provides more detailed information on the siege of Constantinople compared to Theophanes (Treadgold 45). Both of them document the personal contact of Heraclius with Rhazates. Nicephorus mentions the murder of the Persian general by Heraclius while Theophanes only records the injuries that his horse suffered. Nicephorus failed to mention the Persian political machinations before the fall of Chosroes. The two authors document similar information about the role of Siroes and his message to his father. Also, both of them have included the letter wrote by Siroes to Heraclius.

The documentation of Heraclius' return from the east has the same chronological schema but different details. In Theophanes' account, he mentions olive branches and lanterns which are absent in Nicephorus' narrative. Nicephorus mentions that Heraclius brought four elephants, distributed largesse, and held horse races (Treadgold 60). Afterward, Heraclius returned what he had borrowed from the church and made a provision for the rest of the debt to be paid annually. Unlike Theophanes, Nicephorus does not mention any religious dispute, and the Yarmuk chastises Heraclius for the Roman defeat which was believed to be a result of his marriage to Martina.

Nicephorus is the only one who gave the details of Heraclius sending his sons to represent him in ceremonies held in Hieria. Also, he mentions that Heraclius' son Atalarichus and his nephew Theodore conspired. They were later caught and exiled. Nicephorus continues to state that Heraclius punished Cyrus utilizing tactics that were considered "pagan" when he tried to marry Eudocia to an Arab general. Cyrus supported his policy of using trade profits to pay the Arabs to keep them out of Egypt. Theophanes did not document the above. However, Theophanes mentions that Cyrus was sent back to the province to make attempts of resurrecting the deal with Amr (Totomanova 20). According to Nicephorus, Heraclius denied Cyrus' pretests and put him in the hands of the city prefect to be punished while his temporary replacement, Manuel as stated by Theophanes, is not mentioned. Heraclius is believed to have died of dropsy, and it was connected to his marriage to Martina, but none of the sources mentioned Monothelitism. According to Nicephorus, Heraclius named his sons Heraclius and Constantine to be his successors and reserved a special place for his wife. Nicephorus continues to say that Heraclius died when he was 66 years of age and reigned for thirty years, four months and ten days. Nicephorus account of Heraclius' reign is an individual compilation which made it distinct from that of Theophanes.

The two sources have few things in common. It could be because Theophanes was a chronicler who progressed through the events that took place during the reign of Heraclius yearly while Nicephorus wrote the history based on themes and issues that arose instead of cataloging the data (Treadgold 15). Also, the two authors referred to different earlier sources when writing. Nicephorus used John of Antioch while Theophanes adhered to George's work. Also, it is believed that Nicephorus documented his work way earlier than Theophanes during the Constantinople which is evident in his capital-oriented narration of events.

One of the main overlaps between Theophanes and Nicephorus occurs when they describe the revolt of Heraclius. In their description, they legitimized Heraclius' right to be the ruler by explaining the mythical story of the race to Constantinople between Heraclius and Nicetas, his cousin. The winner had the right to claim the throne because the previous emperor, Phocas, had lost his right to rule by his poor governing of the empire. Another main similarity between the two sources is the documentation of the Avar Surprise. However, Nicephorus provided more information on the event compared to Theophanes. Nicephorus mentions that Heraclius sent the names of the Ambassadors to the Chagan and that Heraclius rested near Selymbria on his way to Heraclius, which justifies the ambush at Heraclius and makes it more understandable compared to Theophanes' narration. Nicephorus describes Heraclius flight from the scene of the ambush in an embarrassing way. He mentions that Heraclius ran away with his crown placed safely under his arm. Even though Nicephorus and Theophanes recorded the same event, the difference in their accounts is evident.

The strength of Nicephorus' narration is that it provided detailed information about most of the events. For instance, details about the Avar Surprise. He gives the circumstances that led to the ambush. His information is clearer and more understandable compared to Theophanes. Also, Nicephorus includes a lot of information that is absent in Theophanes' work. However, in some instances, Nicephorus provided wrong chronological information. For example, he mentions in chapter 12 that the reason for Heraclius going east was the caption of Jerusalem which turned out to be chronologically wrong (Treadgold 43). Another mistake was dating Heraclius' first crossing to Asia at the same time as the Alliance with the Khazars.

The strength of Theophane's work is that it provided a clear chronological recording of the data. Unlike Nicephorus, Theophanes was cautious about the dates on which certain events took place. However, Theophanes omitted a considerable part of the information provided in Nicephorus' work. He did not get into details when describing various events which made his work quite shallow. The two sources depict Heraclius' life but have a lot of differences in the recorded information. The authors interpret different issues differently and end up having entirely different explanations for some of the actions. For instance, Theophanes claims that the reason for Heraclius borrowing the church plate was for the Persian war while Nicephorus claimed that it was to pay the barbarians.

Works Cited

Totomanova, Anna-Maria. "A Lost Byzantine Chronicle in Slavic Translation."(2011).

Treadgold, Warren. The Middle Byzantine Historians. Springer, 2013.

November 24, 2023



Roman Empire

Subject area:

Byzantine Empire

Number of pages


Number of words




Writer #



Expertise Byzantine Empire
Verified writer

GeraldKing is an amazing writer who will help you with History tasks. He is the friendliest person who will provide you with explanations because he really wants you to learn. Recommended for your history or anthropology assignments!

Hire Writer

This sample could have been used by your fellow student... Get your own unique essay on any topic and submit it by the deadline.

Eliminate the stress of Research and Writing!

Hire one of our experts to create a completely original paper even in 3 hours!

Hire a Pro

Similar Categories