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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The Iconoclastic epoch (717-867)

Literature, learning, and art 


Icon of the Christ and New Testament Reader
Page 2

Another significant writer of this period was Nicephorus, patriarch of Constantinople in the early part of the ninth century. For his bold opposition to iconoclasm in the time of Leo V the Armenian, he was deposed and exiled. In his theological works, of which some are still unpublished, Nicephorus defends with a remarkable power based on deep conviction the correctness of the iconodulist views. He refutes the arguments of the iconoclasts chiefly in his three Refutations of the Ignorant and Godless Nonsense of the Impious Mammon (he name he applied to Constantine V) against the Salutary Incarnation of the Word of God. From the historical point of view, his Brief History, which narrates events from the death of Emperor Maurice in the year 602 until the year 769, is of considerable value. In spite of the fact that in attempting to make this work a popular account suitable for a wider circle of readers, Nicephorus gave it a somewhat didactic character, it still remains a source of importance, since it contains many interesting facts regarding the political and church history of the period. The very striking similarity of this History and the work of Theophanes may be explained by the fact that both used one common source.

Finally, George the Monk (Monachus) Hamartolus, also a convinced enemy of the iconoclasts, left a universal chronicle from Adam to the death of Emperor Theophilus in 842 A.D., in other words, until the final victory of image-worship. This work is of much value for the cultural history of the period because it contains many discussions of problems which preoccupied the Byzantine monastics of that period, namely, the nature of monasticism itself, the spread of iconoclastic heresy, and the spread of the Saracen faith. It also gives a vivid picture of the aspirations and tastes of the Byzantine monasteries of the ninth century. The chronicle of Hamartolus formed the basis for later Byzantine arrangements of universal history, and exerted enormous influence upon the early pages of Slavonic literatures, particularly the Russian. Suffice it to say that the beginning of Russian chronicles is very closely connected with the work of Hamartolus. A manuscript of the old Slavo-Russian translation of Hamartolus contains 127 miniatures, which have not yet been thoroughly studied and appreciated, but which are of greatest importance for the history of the Russian and Byzantine art of the thirteenth century. This manuscript is the only illustrated copy of the Chronicle of Hamartolus that has come down to us.

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