This is one of several translated excerpts from Byzantine sources produced and mounted with historical introduction and commentary by Paul Stephenson.


SYMEON THE LOGOTHETE

INTRODUCTION

The chronicle of Symeon Logothete has been preserved in three forms: an original written to magnify the deeds of Romanos Lekapenos; as the continuation to the Epitome of George the Monk; and as the so-called Chronicle of Pseudo-Symeon. It is also preserved in a Church Slavonic translation. The work has been preserved in more than 30 separate manuscripts: a large number for a Byzantine text, which suggests that Symeon's was a very popular history. (The parallel history, known as Theophanes Continuatus, has been preserved in a single manuscript.) The edition in the Bonn corpus (as Georgius Monachus Contiunatus, ed. Bekker, 1842) is attributed to Leo Grammatikos, a scribe known to have been active in 1013.

Symeon's chronicle covers the period AD 842-948, and consists of three sections which differ in style and perspective. The third section, with which we are concerned, is a description of the period AD 913-48; that is, from the accession of Constantine Porphyrogenitus to the death of Romanos Lekapenos. It must be read alongside book six of Theophanes Continuatus.

Beyond his name, rank and office we know little, with certainty, about the author. Scholarly opinion no longer identifies Symeon the Logothete with Symeon Metaphrastes, although both held the elevated rank of magistros. Alexander Kazhdan (ODB, III, p. 1983) maintained that Metaphrastes, who died c. 1000, was of "the next generation and worked in a different genre". The Logothete was a more modest author, not versed in the high style Greek employed by Metaphrastes. His account was written in the sort of language one would associate with a functionary: a "mandarin" style. Its coverage is geographically uneven, focussing on Constantinople at the expense of the provinces. More fundamentally, it presents a eulogized version of the reign of Romanos I Lekapenos. Symeon Logothete, we might conclude, was an official at the court of Romanos Lekapenos, who was commissioned to produce an official history of that emperor's reign.

However, an alternative identification is possible. James Howard-Johnston has argued convincingly that the core of the Logothete's account was culled from an earlier hagiographical account of Lekapenos' reign, which stopped, naturally, with his death. The centrality of Lekapenos to the text, the attention paid to his spiritual development, and the emphasis placed on his charitable deeds and abasement before monks, all suggest that the Logothete had access to a lost biography of the emperor. Therefore, since it incorporates at least one text completed after 948, the Logothete's chronicle may have been compiled significantly later than is generally supposed: Howard-Johnston has suggested that it was produced in the 980s, in the context of the struggles between provincial aristocrats and the young 'Macedonian' emperor, Basil II. The Logothete's chronicle, with its provincial style, might then have served as a corrective to the view of recent history promoted by the 'Macedonian' dynasty.

Since I wrote this introduction, a new edition has appeared: S. Wahlgreen, Symeonis Magistri et Logothetae Chronicon, CFHB XLVI/i (Berlin, 2006). I shall produce some translated excerpts from this edition in good time.


Paul Stephenson, October 1998

Revised January 2012