Chronology and History in Byzantium
By Patricia Varona
Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies, Vol. 58 (2018)
Introduction: Chronology is not only the technique of measuring time, but also a traditional form of historical writing with a particularly venerable lineage. It was intensively cultivated in Antiquity and the Middle Ages until the emergence of modern historiography in the eighteenth century, when it definitively declined. It is also at the core and very origin of historiography, which provides chronological specifications to all types of stories using various sources as a basis for further developments.
Although chronology is very ancient as a historical form, it developed greatly with the emergence of Christianity. It became an important vehicle of religious polemics, imposed and developed the chronological framework of the Bible with apologetic and polemic goals, and reached the very top of most cultivated historical forms. However, we are so permeated with the historiographical thought produced by nineteenth-century positivism that we have difficulties in recognising chronology as an important pre-modern form of historical writing using techniques, methods, and assumptions that can be seen as fundamental for the study of historiography. Yet our mentality is not the sole difficulty posed by the study of ancient and medieval historical chronology.
Compared with historiography, chronological writing develops against a wider background than human affairs, and it focuses on the order of events and the time intervals between them, rather than on their internal development, their meaning, or their causes. It is bound, therefore, to conceptions of historiographical practice that radically differ from ours.
Top Image: Madrid Skyllitzes, fol. 10v.