The Lost Secret History of Nicetas the Paphlagonian

Nicetas the PaphlagonianThe Lost Secret History of Nicetas the Paphlagonian

Warren Treadgold

The Steppe Lands and the World Beyond Them: Studies in Honor of Victor Spinei on his 70th Birthday (2013)


Although the Secret History of Nicetas the Paphlagonian has failed to reach us in its original form, it has probably shaped our knowledge of Byzantium in the ninth and early tenth centuries more than any surviving text. Nicetas’ Secret History seems also to have been the only Byzantine source to record an attack on Constantinople in 907 by the Rus’, a subject closely related to those on which Victor Spinei has made his many distinguished contributions to scholarship. Before being lost around the end of the Byzantine period, the Secret History was consulted and copied by several tenth-century writers whose works survive: the anonymous author of Theophanes Continuatus and the Life of Basil (in both cases probably to be identified as Theodore Daphnopates), Joseph Genesius, Symeon the Logothete, Pseudo-Symeon, and the anonymous biographer of Euthymius, Patriarch of Constantinople. While much about Nicetas’ history remains conjectural or obscure, it surely deserves more attention than it has yet received. Both its existence and its significance have only been established recently, from disparate pieces of evidence.


One piece of evidence is a fourteenth-century manuscript containing the church histories of Sozomen and Evagrius Scholasticus and excerpts from other works, which also describes a lost history that was apparently composed around 921. The manuscript includes three book reviews that were inserted not by the main scribe but by someone else who wrote on a page and a half that the main scribe had left blank. The anonymous reviewer first copied from Photius’ Bibliotheca Photius’ descriptions of the sixth-century church histories of John Diacrinomenus and Basil the Cilician, both now lost. Then, evidently taking Photius as his model, the reviewer added his own description of a later history that he had read himself, if only in part.

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