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Basiliscus the Boy-Emperor

Basiliscus the Boy-Emperor

By Brian Croke

Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, Vol.24:1 (1983)

Coin of Basiliscus - Photo: Panairjdde/Wikicommons

Introduction: For the fifth and sixth centuries the Chronicle of Victor of Tunnuna is a valuable source that deserves close inspection. What may not always be sufficiently appreciated, because Victor is most frequently referred to as an African bishop and because he wrote in Latin, is that he spent a good deal of his later life in Constantinople. His Chronicle, which covers the years 444-567, was in fact written in Constantinople and is a generally well-informed source for events in the East during this period.

Like so many other African bishops, Victor fell foul of his sovereign Justinian by defending the works condemned by the emperor in 543 in the so-called Three Chapters edict. This resulted in a trying period of internment for Victor in the Mandracion monastery near Carthage, then on the Balearic Islands, then Algimuritana, and finally with his episcopal colleague Theodore of Cebaruscitana in the prison of the Diocletianic fortress behind the governor’s palace in Alexandria. In 556 after a twelve-day trial in the praetorium Victor and Theodore were transferred to the Tabennesiote monastery near Canopus, twelve miles east of Alexandria. Nine years later, at the request of Justinian himself, Victor and Theodore were summoned from Egypt. At the imperial court they stood their ground in the argument over the ‘Three Chapters’ with both Justinian and the patriarch Eutychius. As a punishment the two African bishops were placed under house arrest in separate monasteries in Constantinople. As Victor himself tells us, Theodore died in 567 while he himself lived on in monastic exile, where he wrote his chronicle a couple of years later.

The chronicle itself is constructed principally around tracing the changes of occupancy of the major sees – Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem. For the period of Victor’s own lifetime it is particularly full on ecclesiastical politics and local Constantinopolitan events. Of special interest to Victor, however, are the emerging persecutions in Africa, first by the Vandals and later by those supporting imperial policy on the ‘Three Chapters’. Although the author indicates some sense of community among the African exiles in Constantinople, he was clearly influenced by his Greek environment. Several topographic and other phrases in the chronicle reflect this.

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