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Among the first translations and first books brought to Russia from Bulgaria were the Byzantine chronicles. The chronicle or chronograph was the name given to historiographical works recording world history. A particularly important role in the development of original Russian chronicle-writing and chronography was played by the Chronicle of Georgios Hamartolos. It was compiled by a Byzantine monk, Georgios the “Sinful”, a traditional self-abasing epithet used by monks.

The Chronicle of Georgios Hamartolos begins with the story of the Creation; it then recounts Biblical history, the history of the Babylonian and Persian kings, and the Roman emperors of Byzantium, from Constantine the Great to Michael III. Originally the Chronicle went up to the middle of the ninth century, but later, still on Greek soil, an extract from the Chronicle of Simon Logothetes was added, and the narrative was continued up to the middle of the tenth century.

The chronicler is interested primarily in church history. He constantly quotes lengthy theological discourses and gives detailed accounts of church councils, heresies and the struggle of conflicting trends within the ByzantineChurch. Purely historical events are mentioned very briefly, and only in the final part of the work (which belongs to the pen of Hamartolos’ successor, Simon Logothetes) is the reader introduced to the complex political life of Byzantium in the ninth and tenth centuries.

The Old Russian scribe, however, was interested in history as such: the fates of the great powers of antiquity, information about their mighty rulers, and fascinating stories about the lives of famous kings, emperors and wise men. For example mediaeval scribes were particularly fond of the story of the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, who were suckled by a she-wolf and later became the founders of Rome, and the deeds of Alexander the Great who conquered nearly the whole of the ancient world. As early as the eleventh century Russian scribes compiled an abridged chronicle based on extracts from the Chronicle of Georgios Hamartolos, which appears to have been called The Great Narrative Chronicle. It contained brief information about the kings and emperors of the Orient, Rome and Byzantium, several interesting historical legends and stories about miracles and heavenly signs, and the decisions of church councils. The Great Narrative Chronicle was used in the compilation of Russian chronicles.

The Chronicle of Georgios Hamartolos existed as a single manuscript, and was also included almost in full in the lengthy chronographical collection of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries entitled The Hellenic and Roman Chronicle.[1] The Old Russian translation of the Chronicle of Georgios Hamartolos has been studied and published by Vasily Istrin.23

[1]  The title reflects the main sections of the chronicle. It sets out Hellenic (Ancient Greek, pagan) history and Roman (Byzantine, Christian) history. Byzantines called themselves rhomaioi, which means Romans.