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Michael the Syrian (also known as Michael the Great; or Michael Syrus) (d. 1199 AD) was a patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church from 1166-1199. He is best known today as the author of the largest medieval Chronicle, which he composed in Syriac. Various other materials written in his own hand have survived.


He was born ca. 1126 in Melitenemarker (today Malatya), the son of the Priest Eliya (Elias), of the Qindasi family. He died at the monastery of Bar Sauma on 7th Nov. 1199.

The Chronicle

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 Flavianum.

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. The manuscript is today held in a locked box in a church in Aleppomarker and not accessible to scholarship. However the French scholar J.B. Chabot arranged for a copy to be made by hand and published it, with a French translation.

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 Vatican manuscript.

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 sour grapes."

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 cross-examination."

He also praises the Templars and Hospitallers 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 sick."

He identifies the Syriac-speakers of his time with the ancient Arameans:

"...the kingdoms which have been established in antiquity by our race, (that of) the Arameans, namely the descendants of Aram, who were called Syriac".


  1. J.B.Chabot, Chronique... vol. 1, p. ii.
  2. ""
  3. ""
  4. 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.

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