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Zosimus (fl. 490s-510s) was a Byzantine historian, who lived in Constantinople during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I (491-518). According to Photius, he was a comes, and held the office of "advocate" of the imperial treasury.

Historia Nova

Zosimus' Historia Nova, "New History", is written in Greek in six books. For the period from 238 to 270, he apparently uses Dexippus; for the period from 270 to 404, Eunapius; and after 407, Olympiodorus. His slavish dependence upon his sources is made clear by the change in tone and style between the Eunapian and Olympiodoran sections, and by the muddled gap left in between them. In the Eunapian section, for example, he is pessimistic, vague, and critical of Stilicho; in the Olympiodoran section, he offers precise figures and transliterations from the Latin, and favors Stilicho. The work breaks off abruptly in the summer of 410 at the beginning of book 6.

The first book sketches briefly the history of the early Roman emperors from Augustus to Diocletian (305); the second, third and fourth deal more fully with the period from the accession of Constantius Chlorus and Galerius to the death of Theodosius I; the fifth and sixth, the most useful for historians, cover the period between 395 and 410, when Priscus Attalus was deposed. For this period, he is the most important surviving non-ecclesiastical source. The work, which is apparently unfinished, is believed to have been written in 498-518.

The style is characterized by Photius as concise, clear and pure; other historians have judged his accounts confused or muddled, and valuable only because he preserves information from lost histories. The historian's object was to account for the decline of the Roman Empire from the pagan point of view. Zosimus is the only non-Christian source for much of what he reports.

As Polybius had narrated the events by which the Roman empire had reached its greatness, so Zosimus undertook the task of developing the events and causes which led to its decline (i. 57). Though the decline of the Roman empire was the main subject which Zosimus selected, it was perhaps his ambition to imitate Polybius, which led him to introduce various matters connected with Persian, Grecian, and Macedonian history, which are not very intimately connected with his main design. It is clear that Photius and Evagrius had not more of the work than we have. Yet it seems likely on some accounts, either that a part of the work has been lost or, what is more likely, that Zosimus did not live to finish it; for as we now have it, it does not embrace all that Zosimus himself tells us he intended to take up (iv. 59. § 4, 5, i. 58. § 9, iv. 28. § 3). There does not seem much probability in the conjecture that the monks and other ecclesiastics succeeded in suppressing that portion of the work in which the evil influences of their body were to be more especially touched upon (v. 23. § 8 ; Harles. ad Fabr. vol. viii. p. 65 ; comp. Voss. de Hist. Gr. p. 312). If the work was thus left incomplete, that circumstance would account for some carelessness of style which is here and there apparent. There may appear some difficulty at first sight, however, in the statement of Photius, that the work, in the form in which he saw it, appeared to him to be a second edition. But it would seem that Photius was under some misapprehension. It is called in the manuscripts Historia Nova (in what sense is not quite clear). This may perhaps have misled Photius. He himself remarks that he had not seen the first edition.

Zosimus was a pagan, and is by no means sparing of the faults and crimes of the Christian emperors. In consequence of this his credibility has been fiercely assailed by several Christian writers, and has been sometimes defended merely because his history tended to the discredit of many leading persons in the Christian party. Evagrius (iii. 40, 41) and Nicephorus (xvi. 41, &c.) speak in the most unfavourable terms. The question does not, as has sometimes been supposed, turn upon the credibility of the historians whom Zosimus followed, for he did not adhere in all cases to their judgment with respect to events and characters. For instance he entirely differed from Eunapius in his account of Stilicho and Serena. Of modern writers, Baronius, Laelius Bisciola, C. v. Barth, J. D. Ritter, R. Bentley, and St. Croix, have taken the derogatory side. Bentley in particular (Remarks upon a late Discourse of Freethinking, Part. ii. p. 21) speaks of Zosimus with great contempt. On the other hand, his historical authority has been maintained by Leunclavius, G. B. von Schirach, J. Matth. Schrockh, and Reite-raeier. There are no doubt numerous errors of judgment to be found in the work, and sometimes (especially in the case of Constantine) an intemperate expression of opinion, which somewhat exaggerates, if it does not distort the truth. But he does not seem fairly chargeable with deliberate invention, or wilful misrepresentation. It is not to be wondered at that one who held to the old faith should attribute the downfall of the empire in great part to the religious innovations attendant upon the spread of Christianity.



The history of Zosimus was first printed in the Latin translation of Leunclavius, accompanied by a defence of the historian (Basel, 1576, fol.). The first two books, in Greek, with the translation of Leunclavius, were printed by H. Stephamis, in his edition of Herodian (Paris, 1581). The first complete edition of the Greek text of Zosimus was that by F. Sylburg (Scriptores Hist. Rom. Min. vol. iii.). Later editions are those published at Oxford (1679), at Zeitz and Jena, edited by Cellarius, with annotations of his own and others (1679, 1713, 1729). The next edition is that by Reitemeier, who, though he consulted no fresh manuscripts, made good use of the critical remarks of Heyne and other scholars (Leipzig, 1784). The last and best edition is by Bekker, Bonn, 1837. There is a German translation by Seybold and Heyler, and also an English and a French translation. (Schöll, Gesch. d. Griech. Lit. vol. iii, p. 232 ; Fabric. Bibl. Graec. vol. viii. p. 62.)

The single good manuscript, in the Vatican Library (MS Vat. Gr. 156 ), was held unavailable to scholars until the mid-19th century. Ludwig Mendelssohn (Leipzig 1887) edited the first dependable text. The modern standard edition is F. Paschoud Zosime: Histoire Nouvelle (Paris 1971) which has a French translation, introduction and commentary.

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