Michael the Syrian
(also known as Michael
; or Michael Syrus
) (d. 1199 AD)
was a patriarch
the Syriac Orthodox Church
from 1166-1199. He is best known today as the author of the largest
, which he composed in Syriac
. Various other materials written in
his own hand have survived.
born ca. 1126 in Melitene (today
Malatya), the son of the Priest Eliya (Elias), of the Qindasi
He died at the monastery of Bar Sauma on 7th Nov.
This work ran from Creation up to his own times. It is also a
source of many documents not otherwise preserved. He made use of
earlier Ecclesiastical Histories now lost. It includes a version of
the so-called Testimonium
The work is extant in a single manuscript written in 1598 in Syriac
in a Serto
hand. This was copied from an
earlier manuscript, itself copied from Michael's autograph.
manuscript is today held in a locked box in a church in Aleppo and not
accessible to scholarship.
However the French scholar
arranged for a copy to be made by hand and published it, with a
An abbreviated Armenian translation also exists, from which Victor
Langlois published a French translation in 1868. This alone
preserves the preface of the work. A shorter Armenian version also
exists which has not been published.
A Garshuni version is also extant in British Library ms. Orient.
4402, and an Arabic version beginning with book 5 exists in a
Points of interest
His work has been used by NASA scientists because of his record of
climatic changes, now known to be linked to volcano eruptions. He
records that in 536 AD:
- "The sun became dark and its darkness lasted for 18 months.
Each day it shone for about 4 hours, and still this light was only
a feeble shadow. Everyone declared that the sun would never recover
its full light. The fruits did not ripen and the wine tasted like
and in 626 AD:
- "In the year A.D. 626, the light of half the sphere of the sun
disappeared, and there was darkness from October to June. As a
result people said that the sphere of the sun would never be
restored to its original state."
He is a contemporary source for the Latin crusader states
, and records the tolerance
and liberalism of the Catholic Franks towards the monophysites
- "The pontiffs of our Jacobite church lived in the middle of
them without being persecuted or molested. In Palestine, as in
Syria, they never raised any difficulty on account of their faith,
nor insisted on a single formula for all the peoples and all the
languages of the Christians. But they considered as Christian
everyone who venerated the cross without enquiry or
He also praises the Templars
to his own people:
- "When the Templars or Hospitallers have to occupy a military
post, and hold it to the death, they die doing so. When a brother
dies, they feed the poor on his behalf for forty days, and give
lodgings to forty people. They consider those who die in combat as
martyrs. They distribute to the poor a tenth part of their food and
drink. Every time they bake bread in one of their houses, they
reserve a tenth part for the poor. In spite of their great riches,
they are charitable to all who venerate the cross. They founded
everywhere hospitals, serving and helping strangers who had fallen
He identifies the Syriac-speakers of his time with the ancient
- "...the kingdoms which have been established in antiquity by
our race, (that of) the Arameans, namely the descendants of Aram,
who were called Syriac".
- J.B.Chabot, Chronique... vol. 1, p. ii.
- J-B Chabot, Chronique de Michel le Syrien Patriarche
Jacobite d'Antioche (1166-1199) Tome I-II-III (French) and
Tome IV (Syriac), Paris, 1899, p. 748, appendix II
- Sebastian Brock, A brief outline of Syriac literature.
Moran Etho 9. Kottayam, India: SEERI (1997)
- Jean-Baptiste Chabot, Chronique de Michel le Syrien,
Patriarche Jacobite d'Antiche (1166-1199). Éditée pour la
première fois et traduite en francais I-V
(1899;1901;1905;1910;1924 Repr.1963). In 5 volumes.
- F[rancois] Nau, Sur quelques autographes de Michel le Syrien,
in: Revue de l'Orient Chrétien 19 (1914) 378-397.