Sunday 28 September 2014

Mosaics of Time

A book review from Journal of Ecclesiastical History 65, 872-3 

Mosaics of Time. The Latin Chronicle Tradition from the First Century BC to the Sixth Century AD. 1. A Historical Introduction to the Chronicle Genre from its Origins to the High Middle Ages. By R.W. Burgess and Michael Kulikowski. Pp. xvi + 446. Turnhout: Brepols, 2013. €100 (hbk). ISBN 978-2-503-53140-3.

This is the first of four projected volumes on the Latin chronicle tradition in the Roman world. Although the surviving elements of that tradition are mostly late antique, with Jerome the central figure, one of the main emphases of the authors is that chronicle writing is a much enduring continuous tradition than those highlights might imply, and one which it is misguided to see as intrinsically Christian. The second, third, and fourth volumes will offer texts, translations and full historical commentary, covering respectively the early Latin chronicle tradition and consularia; Jerome and his continuators in Gaul and Spain; and the last Latin chronicles of antiquity. Burgess is acknowledged as the first author in terms of contribution as well as alphabetical order; and anyone familiar with the accuracy and acuity of his previous work in this area (from The Chronicle of Hydatius and the Consularia Constantinopolitana (1993) to the collected pieces in Chronicles, Consuls, and Coins (2011)) will look forward to the coming volumes, not only for providing reliable texts and accessible translations, but also in revising our chronologies of the period: the authors give notice that the fifth century will be particularly affected. The present volume is an introduction different in purpose and broader in scope. It aims to characterise the chronicle genre and place it in a wider context reaching back beyond the Greek world to the ancient Near East, and forward to medieval Europe. The authors start by carefully defining their terms, arguing convincingly that confusion has arisen from the use of different terminology in different periods (medievalists in particular are urged to mend their ways). Inter alia they argue for the acceptance of consularia as a subtype, for the abandonment of the term ‘annals’, and for the designation of some longer works which are often called chronicles as breviaria or epitomes . Chapters 2 to 5 then cover the early history of the chronicle from third millennium BC Egypt to the early Roman empire; Eusebius’ apologetic use of chronography (a practice traced to pre-Christian models); Roman calendars and consularia; and the late Roman chronicle. The last and longest chapter, drafted by Kulikowski, is a remarkably wide-ranging treatment of the medieval chronicle in both east and west down to Sigebert of Gembloux at the turn of the twelfth century; a highlight is the spare summary of Burgess’ innovative conclusions on the Irish chronicle tradition, to be published separately. Appendices follow, including some which are spillover footnotes. This volume, notably readable considering its comprehensiveness of reference and general complexity, is an important moment in the study of the chronicle and historiography in general: it deserves a wide readership among scholars of both the ancient and medieval worlds.