Scholars & Scientists of the Eastern Roman (‘Byzantine’) Empire – a quick view – Part II

In this series of articles we shortly present names and lives of the most famous Scholars and Scientists of the Eastern Roman Empire.

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CHALKOKONDYLES, LAONIKOS. Byzantine historian of the Ottoman conquest. Born in Athens, he was a student of the humanist George Gemistos Plethon at Mistra. In his old age, sometime after 1480, he composed his magisterial history of the rise of the Ottomans, carrying it down to the capture of Lemnos in 1463. His sense of chronology leaves much to be desired, and the modern reader will not appreciate the contrived speeches (after the manner of Thucydides). However, he did use first-rate Turkish sources and his focus on an enemy of Byzantium is unique among Byzantine historians, of whom he was the last.

CHIONIADES, GREGORY. Astronomer (q.v.) who worked in Constantinople and Trebizond (qq.v.) until he died around 1320. He journeyed to Tabriz, capital of the Mongol ruler of Persia (q.v.), Ghazan Khan (1295–1304), where he studied Persian astronomy, and then returned to Trebizond to train students in it.

CHONIATES, NIKETAS. One of the great historians of medieval Byzantium, along with Psellos and Anna Komnene; he was the younger brother of Michael Choniates. His History deals with the period from 1118–1206, when hostility between Byzantium and the West reached the breaking point. His work, which is particularly important for the reign of Manuel I Komnenos and his immediate successors, relies on eyewitnesses, including his own personal experience as a high official during the reign of Isaac II Angelos. His treatment of the reign of John II may derive from the work of Kinnamos. He paints a tragic picture of the Crusader sack of Constantinople in 1204.

CHRYSOKOKKES, GEORGE. Fourteenth-century compiler of astronomical tables who studied in Trebizond, where he had access to the works of Trebizond astronomer Gregory Chioniades. He was of the generation before the most famous Palaiologan astronomers, among whom was John Abramios. He should not be confused with the 15th-century humanist George Chrysokokkes, who taught Bessarion.

CHRYSOLORAS, MANUEL. Diplomat and scholar during the reign of Manuel II who introduced to the Italian Renaissance the systematic study of Greek literature. His impact on the humanists of Florence, where he taught from 1397–1400, was immense. All of the leading Florentine humanists, including Guarino and Leonardi Bruni, were his pupils. He inculcated in them skills for translation and textual analysis and an enthusiasm for Greek literature. The texts they used came from Manuel’s own library, which he brought with him. His skills as a diplomat were highly prized by Manuel II, who regarded him as a personal friend and advisor. He converted to the Latin rite, and toward the end of his life he spent two years in Rome, dying in 1415 while attending the Council of Constance. In the Louvre Museum there is a charming portrait of Manual sketched by an anonymous 15th-century artist.

EUSTATHIOS OF THESSALONIKE. Scholar, writer, teacher, archbishop of Thessalonike, and the most celebrated teacher of the 12th century. For a while he taught rhetoric, grammar, and philosophy at the Patriarchal School. His extensive and detailed commentaries on the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer, on Aristophanes, Pindar, and John of Damascus, illustrates how 12thcentury scholars were assimilating and reflecting on classical literature. However, it is his descriptions of contemporary life that modern historians find most useful, and a sheer delight to read. His style is naturalistic, immediate, like that of his predecessors Michael Psellos and Anna Komnene. His gripping account of the Norman siege and occupation of Thessalonike in 1185 is perhaps the best eyewitness account in Byzantine literature. His treatise on monasticism is scathing in its criticism of contemporary monks who swore, fornicated, engaged in trade, and acted no different from laymen. He also wrote panegyrics to Manuel I Komnenos and letters that include an enormous amount of useful details about 12th-century agriculture. When he died in 1196 Byzantium lost an intellect and writer the likes of which had not been seen since Psellos.

EVAGRIOS SCHOLASTIKOS. Church historian whose Ecclesiastical History in six books continues the ecclesiastical histories of Socrates, Theodoret, and Sozomenos, beginning with the Council of Ephesus in 431 and ending in 593. The work is of great value for secular history, as well as for church history. For example, Evagrios’s work is one of only a few important sources for the penetration of Greece by Slavs and Avars in the last quarter of the sixth century.

(Source: «Historical Dictionary of Byzantium», by John H. Rosser)

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