The date of the military compendium of Syrianus Magister (Formerly the sixth-century anonymus Byzantinus)

The date of the military compendium of Syrianus Magister (Formerly the sixth-century anonymus Byzantinus)

By Philip Rance

Byzantinische Zeitschrift, Volume 100, Issue 2 (2008)

Introduction: The Greek military manual known by the modern title De Re Strategica, and conventionally ascribed to the sixth-century Anonymus Byzantinus, has been substantially transformed by recent scholarship. This treatise on diverse aspects of warfare has been edited twice, by Herman Kochly and Wilhelm Rostow in 1855, and by George Dennis in 1986, on both occasions published as a discrete and self-contained item, of which the author and title were unknown owing to the loss of the initial folio in the manuscript prototypes. Thanks to Constantine Zuckerman’s magisterial study of 1990, De Re Strategica has at last been reunited with two other sections of the same work preserved separately in the manuscript tradition, an anonymous Rhetorica Militaris and a Naumachia, both of which had been edited independently. Since the unique manuscript of the Naumachia bears an ascription to a Syrianus Magister, recognition of the common authorship of all three sections necessarily assigns the entire composition to this author.

This conclusion is the protracted culmination of earlier scholarship, dating as far back as the seventeenth century, which has consistently pointed to the textual unity of these three pieces, but the full implications of which were obscured by the error of the influential codicologist Alphonse Dain in 1943, whose apparent affirmation of the textualindepende nce of De Re Strategica led two generations of scholars to treat this work in isolation. In short, the former sixth-century anonymous De Re Strategica is no longer anonymous and is now one element of a larger compilation that recent studies have variously styled the ‘Compendium‘ or ‘Strategikon‘ of Syrianus. These aspects of the text have been demonstrated beyond dispute, even if some scholars still fail to acknowledge these new realities, but the date of Syrianus’ compendium remains a persistent conundrum.

Even before the publication of Zuckerman’s study, two articles, one by Barry Baldwin, the other by Doug Lee and Jonathan Shepard, had independently noted the flimsy foundations upon which the sixth-century dating of De Re Strategica rests and pointed to aspects of the text potentially incongruent with this date and/or more appropriate to the ninth or tenth centuries. Subsequent studies, notably that of Salvatore Cosentino, have further undermined the traditionaldating and adduced possible indications of authorship in the middle Byzantine period.

On the whole recent scholarship has succeeded in demonstrating that the evidence hitherto cited in support of a sixth-century date is at best inconclusive and could with equal validity relate to any period between the later sixth and late ninth/early tenth centuries, but positive evidence that might firmly anchor Syrianus’ work within these three centuries is less easily discerned, and at present the issue remains unproven. It is the purpose of this paper to scrutinise the arguments of previous scholarship and to adduce additional dating criteria which suggest that the compendium of Syrianus is not a late antique text, but belongs to the middle Byzantine period.

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