John Skylitzes: A Synopsis of Byzantine History, 811–1057: Translation and Notes

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In the late 11th century, following the reign of Emperor Isaac I Komnenos, historian John Skylitzes recorded a history of the Byzantine Empire. This history, later to be called The Synopsis of Histories follows the Byzantine Empire from the year 811CE to 1057. Sometime in the two centuries to follow, the 250 year history was copied by scribes onto several manuscripts.
Named after the current city it rests in, the Madrid Skylitzes is the only surviving manuscript of The Synopsis of Histories. Not only is the Madrid Skylitzes the only surviving manuscript of John Skylitzes’ work, it is also the only surviving illuminated manuscript of a Greek chronicle.

The manuscript contains over 500 individually painted miniatures along with many pages containing space for miniatures that the illuminators failed to complete. 

Along with missing illuminations, many of the original manuscript pages are missing altogether. Despite the manuscript’s incompleteness, it still stands as a significant work in both the fields of history and art. In recent years the manuscript has been the center of many studies and is slowly gaining popular attention.

The conditions surrounding the initial writing of The Synopsis of Histories is unknown. Nothing is known about John Skylitzes accept for what can be assumed through his works. For instance, it is known that he was a historian in the Byzantine Empire sometime during the 11th century. 

Despite the absence of details surrounding Skylitzes’ life, a pretty consistent estimate among scholars puts the original writing at about 1070CE.3 During this time, Skylitzes recorded the history of the Byzantine Empire from the reign of Emperor Michael I. Rangabe (r. 811-13) to the ending of Emperor Komnenos’ reign in 1059CE.4 Beginning in the seventh century, the Byzantine Empire was quickly declining due to both inward and outward forces. 

John Skylitzes. A Synopsis Of Byzantine History (trans. By J. Wortley)

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