Kritobulos of Imbros: Learned Historian, Ottoman Raya and Byzantine Patriot
By Diether R. Reinsch
Recueil des travaux de l’Institut d’etudes byzantines, Vol.40 (2003)
Abstract: Kritobulos of Imbros, the author of a historical work covering the period from 1451 to 1467, describes the deeds of the Sultan Mehmed Fatih. The work, written between 1465 and 1467 is an autograph of the author. Apart from a knowledge of literature (Thucydides), one can discern in this work a definite interest in medicine. K. was sultan’s governor of Imbros for almost ten years. At the same time he was a patriot in the sense that he expressed solidarity with the unfortunate inhabitants of Constantinople.
Introduction: Kritobulos of Imbros is known to us as the author of a historical work of some 200 printed pages covering the period from 1451 to 1467. It describes the deeds of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed Fatih, the Conqueror, in particular the war against the remnants of the Byzantine Empire and the capture of the capital Constantinople on the 29th of May 1453. The historical work has come down to us in a single manuscript which to this day remains in Constantinople — Istanbul, in the library of the Topkapi Saray.
This manuscript, 160 pages of paper manufactured in Venice, was dated as originating from the 16th century by its first publisher and by some other scholars who had been studying it. In reality, however, it dates from the years 1465 to 1467 (as the paper’s watermarks prove) and is an autograph of the author. Proof of this fact are the many corrections and sometimes substantial additions in the margins of the text. The corrections and additions are such that they can only have been made by the author himself. We also know the characteristics of Kritobulos’ handwriting from a manuscript containing the historical works of Thucydides, which is in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. There Kritobulos wrote on an endpaper a well-known epigram in praise of Thucydides and above the epigram another contemporary writer (we now know that it is the handwriting of Georgios Amirutzes) wrote the words “this is the writing of Kritobulos”