Volume 7, issue 2 (winter 1999-2000)

Redactioneel – Editorial Volume 7 issue 2 (winter 1999-2000)

door Annabelle Parker

In dit nummer van Gouden Hoorn besteden we aandacht aan een kerkvader die zowel voor de Syrische als voor de Griekse kerk belangrijk was: Efrem de Syriër, die in beide tradities verschillend afgebeeld is, en ons heden nog steeds aanspreekt met zijn poëtische uitleg van onder andere bijbelse verhalen.

Karin White geeft in haar artikel een samenvatting van de positie van de zigeuners, Roma, in het Byzantijnse rijk. Er zijn nog niet veel studies naar de sociale positie van Roma in de geschiedenis van Byzantium; White’s artikel en onderzoek vormt hopelijk een interessante en serieuze uitnodiging tot nadenken hierover.

Tot slot feliciteren wij de Australian Association of Byzantine Studies (AABS), die 21 jaar bestaat. Ann Moffat’s artikel hierover voor de Newsletter van de AABS vindt u hier herdrukt. Tevens vormt dit artikel de voortzetting van de in jaargang 1 van Gouden Hoorn gestarte serie ‘Byzantium in…’.

by Annabelle Parker

In this issue of Golden Horn we draw the attention towards a churchfather who has been important for both the Syriac and Greek church: Ephrem the Syrian, who was depicted differently in both traditions.

Karin White gives in her article a summary on the position of the Gypsies, or Roma, in the Byzantine empire. There has not yet been much research on the social situation of the Roma in the history of Byzantium; White’s article and research will hopefully be an interesting and serious invitation to deeper reflection on this topic.

Finally, we congratulate the Australian Association of Byzantine Studies (AABS), which celebrates its 21st birthday. We have reprinted Ann Moffat’s article about this from the AABS Newsletter. This forms the follow-up of the series that started in volume 1 of Golden Horn, entitled ‘Byzantium in…’.

Published in print in Golden Horn Volume 7 issue 2 (winter 1999-2000)

Metal-workers, agriculturists, acrobats, military-people and fortune-tellers Roma (Gypsies) in and around the Byzantine empire

by Karin White

The Roma have no book, no promised land or great founders.1 Thus we are led to believe that the Roma have no history. In popular belief their past is shrouded by mystery, their origin and sojourns are obscure. Academic interest mostly is limited to certain aspects, like public policy, ritual, kinship, philology, while historians show very little interest in Rom history. There are exceptions, of course, like Donald Kenrick, or Ian Hancock and Mateo Maximoff, themselves Roma.

Is the lack of interest in Roma history a direct result of the absence of any historic evidence, considering the high level of illiteracy among the Roma? Clearly, the answer is no. There is a wealth of documented evidence for Rom history, which provides us with insight into a past marked by persecution, exploitation and scape- goating.2 Why then has so little research been carried out in the field of Rom history? There is a saying in Romani: ‘He who wants to enslave you will never tell you about your forefathers’. Indeed, the Gypsies have been the most enslaved and persecuted people in our history, yet little is made known about their ordeals to the general public. For how could we continue to persecute them and use them as scape-goats, if we were not ignorant of their past?

Puxon writes: ‘The history of the Romani people is a story of relentless persecution. From the Middle Ages to the present day, they have been the target of racial discrimination and outright genocide’.3

Yet, hardly ever is the public informed of the Rom slavery in Rumania, which was only abolished 150 years ago, the half million Roma killed during the holocaust, or the centuries of torture, murder and persecution following the Roma’s arrival in Western Europe.

Instead, the image of the Roma has been mostly formed by the popular press, which is a main contributor to their stereotyping, portraying them as either asocial criminals or romantic and exotic nomads. The majority of Western non-Rom population thinks of the Roma as a intrinsically nomadic people, which has always been at variance with the rest of the population, especially with the rural farming communities. This view has already been successfully challenged by scholars like Ian Hancock. Although the four- hundred years of slavery in Rumania constituted enforced settlement, today the majority of Roma are settled, often voluntarily. Among them we find artists, politicians, business-people, factory workers, farmers, academics, in short the full spectrum of occupations. The nomadic life-style, which Roma in the past adhered to seemed to have been more imposed than voluntary. Western documentation starting in the late thirteenth century confirms that Roma were hardly ever allowed to settle, and the dark strangers from the East were frequently associated with the Turkish invaders, their strange clothes and customs associated with witch-craft, their other-ness making for the perfect scape-goat.

However, little attention has been paid to the Roma’s long sojourn in Byzantium and in the Byzantine-Venetian colonies. In the whole of documented Roma history this sojourn compares quite favourably, and I argue, that the Roma as an ethnic group were not persecuted in Byzantium, as far as we know.

Originating in India, the Roma came to Byzantium via Persia in the eleventh century. It is very possible to connect them with a people called Zott, who are mentioned by Arab historians. The Zott were Indian migrants to Persia, who worked as mercenary soldiers, merchants, musicians, palace guards, farmers and buffalo-keepers. Their migration took place both voluntary and by force. At least on three occasions the Zott were sent to Antioch on the Mediterranean coast; in 669, around 710 and in 720. The resettlement aimed to add to the military strength of the area, and apparently also to protect Antioch from lions of whom the Zott’s buffaloes were not afraid. The capture of Antioch put the Zott under Byzantine rule, and it is assumed that some of them made their way from Antioch to Crete4. In any case, in 1323 the monk Symeon Symeonis more than likely describes Roma in Crete, when he writes: ‘There we also saw a race outside the city asserting themselves to be of the family of Chaym.5 They rarely or never stop in one place beyond thirty days but always wander and flee as if accursed by God, and after the thirtieth day they remove themselves from field to field with their oblong tents, black and low, and from cave to cave.’6 Even earlier, in the tenth century, Leo Diaconos writes about Cretans who are fortune-telling and roving.

However, finding themselves in the Byzantine empire, the Roma’s next move seemed to have led them to Constantinople. An eleventh century text from Mt Athos, The Life of Saint George the Athonit, tells us that in 1050 Emperor Constantine Monomachos complained about wild animals, who were destroying the game in the imperial park of Philopation. He employed ‘a Samaritan people, descendants of Simeon the Magician, named Adsincani, who were renowned sorcerers and villains’. They left at various places pieces of meat over which they had spoken a spell and which killed the beasts. The emperor was very impressed and asked for the Adsincani to perform their magic in his presence. The Adsincani repeated their magic as requested, but St George stepped forward and, before the beast in question could devour the meat, made the sign of the cross over it, and the animal survived. This impressed the emperor even more than the Adsincani’s trick and he declared: ‘as long as this holy man stands near me I shall not fear either the sorcerers or their deadly poison.’7

The image of Roma in control of wild animals is not unusual. Later in history we find among the Roma the Ursari, the bear-leaders, and also the snake-charmers. Furthermore, as mentioned above, earlier on the Zott in Antioch were said to have kept the lions in check. The text also portrays the first Roma in Constantinople as magicians. This, too, is a quite common perception of Roma, in the past as well as today. Marcel Mauss observes: ‘All unsettled tribes who live among a settled population are considered as sorcerers. This is still in our time the case with the Gypsies, and also of many wandering castes in India’. The text refers to the Adsincani, which is the Latin version of Atsinganoi, the main Byzantine term applied to Roma, of which we know versions like Tsinganoi, Cingane, Zigar, Zigeuner. Other names also were common, like Aigyptoi, which indicated their presumed connection with Egypt, either as place of their origin or because of the Roma’s practise of magic. The idea of Roma as sorcerers also plays a part in the apparent confusion between the Atzinganoi (the Roma), and the Athinganoi, a ninth century heretical sect, who had been accused of practising magic and fortune-telling. In the second half of the twelfth century Balsamon comments on canon 61 from the council in Trullo, which punishes fortune- telling, and the display of animals with six years excommunication.8 In another commentary Balsamon writes about ventriloquists and wizards.9 In both commentaries he names the Athinganoi as the culprits who engage in these offensive activities. However, we can assume that the Athinganoi mentioned by Balsomon are the Roma, since the heretical sect hardly was an issue during Balsomon’s times. Furthermore, in the beginning of the thirteenth century Athanasius, Patriarch of Constantinople, wrote a circular letter to instruct the clergy not to let their people associate with the Athinganoi, because ‘they teach devilish things’.10 This is the last time we can find the term Athinganoi, which we assume describes Roma. In the fourteenth century Joseph Bryennios complains about people associating with magicians, soothsayers and Atzinganoi (the Roma),11 while a hundred years later a nomocanon threatens with excommunication those, who consult the Aiguptissa12.

However, if we are looking for evidence for the persecution of Roma in the Byzantine empire and the Venetian colonies, we have to stop here. For no other documents can be found in the sources to prove a negative attitude towards the Roma.

On the other hand, Nikephoras Gregoras supplies us with a wonderful description of Roma acrobats in early fourteenth century Constantinople: ‘During this time we saw in Constantinople a transient group of people, not less than twenty in number, versed in certain acts of jugglery….they came originally from Egypt….And the arts they performed were stupendous and full of wonder.’ Nikephoros stresses that ‘they had nothing to do with magic, but were products of an adroit nature, trained for a long time in the practice of such works’. Then comes a lengthy description of performances which include acts on tight rope, trapeze, horses, balancing acts and the performance of dances. Nikephoros stresses the length of training these performances involved, and the danger involved. He expresses a sentiment of respect and admiration for these acrobats and shows them performing a trade rather than a spectacle13.

It is quite possible that Roma also established themselves in the guilds in Constantinople, which still existed as late as the second half of the fifteenth century, since we have evidence for the participation of Roma in the guilds of Ottoman Constantinople under Murat IV in the first half of the seventeenth century. According to Evliya, a Turkish scholar and traveller, they appeared in the guilds as leaders of bears, horse-dealers and rich merchants, musicians, dancing boys and Buza-makers.14

From Constantinople the Roma spread to the Greek mainland. In 1415 Mazaris writes in his imaginary letter Sojourn of Mazaris in Hades,15 that ‘in the Peloponnese live numerous nations, of which it is not easy nor very necessary to retrace the boundaries, but every ear can easily distinguish them by language, and here are the most notable of them: Lacedaemonians, Italians, Peloponnesians, Slavs, Illyrians, Egyptians and Jews.’ Since there is no evidence of Egyptians having settled in the Peloponnese, the Egyptians can be understood as Roma speaking their own language.

In the Peloponnese the majority of Roma seemed to have preferred to settle in the Venetian territories, finding more stability there than in the rest of the Peloponnese. The seaport of Modon had a Rom suburb in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Situated half way from Venice to Jaffa, it was a welcome stopping place for pilgrims to the holy land. It is from these pilgrims that we get some of the liveliest descriptions of the contemporary Roma, who, we may assume, surely got their share from the Modon tourist trade, and it may have been this lively coming and going of travellers which attracted them to Modon in particular. It may even have been their acquaintance with pilgrims at Modon and other places, which led them to adopt that guise when they arrived later in the West.

In 1383 Frescobaldi, a traveller to the Holy Land, believes the Roma of Modon to be penitents doing penance for their sins.16 Later, in 1483, Bernhard von Breydenbach, a German traveller to Jerusalem, mentions 300 reed covered huts outside Modon, ‘in which dwell certain poor folk like Ethiopians, black and unshapely….the Gippen who are called Gypsies…nothing but spies and thieves, who claim to come from Egypt when they are in Germany; but it is all a lie, ……. called Saracens in Germany ….. in reality natives of Gyppe, near Modon, and spies and traitors.’17 This statement reflects the perception of Roma in medieval Germany, where they were suspected of being spies for the Turks, due to their exotic looks and the fact that they always moved before the advancing Turks. Also in the second half of the fifteenth century a German pilgrim describes these Roma in the suburb of Modon as ‘Albanians’, known in German countries as ‘Egyptians and heathens’.18 This may be an indication that the Roma settled in the Peleponnese at the same time as the Albanians.

Apart from living off the tourist trade, the Roma of Modon were practising smith craft. Dieter von Schachen, who visited Modon in 1491, writes: ‘At Modon, outside the city on the hill by the wall there are many miserable little huts, where Gypsies, so-called in Germany, dwell, very poor people and generally all smiths. They sit down on the ground for their work and have a pit made in the earth in which they keep the fire and if the man or woman has a pair of bellows in his hands, they are quite contented, blow with the bellows, a miserably poor thing that is beyond description, and make a great number of nails and very well.’19

Almost one and a half centuries earlier we know of Roma, Zingarie, dependants of the monastery of Michael and Gabriel, whose yearly tax consisted of fourty horse-shoes.20

A fourteenth century Byzantine ballad, The Philosophy of a Drunkard, mentions the Rom, who sees in the sun ‘nothing else but a hoop to make a cauldron with’,21 and from an account of the celebrations which took place at the circumcision of Sultan Mehmet’s son in 1582 we learn that smith-craft was one of the main occupations of Roma in the Balkans.22

However, the Roma also settled in other parts of the Peleponnese, for example in Nauplion. According to a Venetian document dated 12 August 1444, they were an organised group under a drungarius acinganorum, a military leader with the name Johannes Cinganus (John the Gypsy). The document mentions privileges granted to John and his ancestors.23

Various documents show that in Corfu by the second half of the fourteenth century the Roma formed an independent fief, the feudum acinganorum, which existed until the end of feudalism in Corfu in the nineteenth century. The documentation shows that the Roma in Corfu were a settled community and an important and established part of the economy.24

It appears that before the end of the fourteenth century the Roma had established themselves widely throughout the Balkan provinces. From 1362 on Roma are mentioned in Ragusan registers, as Egyptians (Egiptius), Egiupach, Jegupach, Cinganus, Cingalus, and Azinganus. Looking at the evidence from Ragusa a picture emerges of Roma occupying the lower social strata together with other Ragusans. They lived in suburbs and worked mainly as traders, but also as servants, musicians, inn-keepers, cobblers, millers or smiths. They were not singled out as ethnic group nor persecuted. They were free people, were allowed to settle and treated equally to others of their social strata. 25

It appears that the Roma in the Byzantine Empire, in the Venetian colonies, in Ragusa and in early Ottoman Constantinople were not persecuted as an ethnic group, and that they were allowed to settle, which they did quite happily. The canons and commentaries mentioned above do try and act against certain activities connected with Roma, e.g. fortune-telling, but they are not directed against an ethnic group as such, but against activities perceived contrary to orthodox teaching. So we find the Roma mostly at the lower end of the social strata, but an integrated part of the economy, as smiths, traders, musicians, agriculturists or military people. Always adjusting and adapting to whatever society, economy and culture they found themselves in, the Roma at the same time maintained a distinct identity and language up to this very day.

Looking at this considerable period of Rom history we have to question strongly the common assumption that the Roma are intrinsically nomadic and have always been excluded by so-called ‘settled’ populations owing to their different life style and lack of positive economic contributions to society. On the contrary, the evidence shows that the Roma had found their economic niches through-out their stay in the Byzantine empire, the Venetian colonies and Ragusa, and in the latter they seem to have been a fully integrated part of society. Furthermore, the Roma’s economic contribution in Rumania was of such importance, that they were enslaved there for over three-hundred years.26 Although we have evidence of nomadic Roma, we find many of them settled in the Byzantine empire, Ragusa and the Venetian colonies, as well as in Ottoman Constantinople. It was only when the Roma came as dark skinned strangers to the West of Europe that they were perceived as a threat, due to their ‘other-ness’ and due to the danger their skills may have been to a flourishing and rigid guild-system. In the multi-ethnic Byzantine empire however, where at the Roma’s arrival the guilds still existed, but were in decline,27 there was more tolerance and space for ethnic minorities like the Roma.


1 Isabel Fonseca, Bury Me Standing, New York, 1995.

2 To the concept of scape-goating, s. Declan Quigley ‘Scape-goats: the killing of kings and ordinary people’, JRAS, June 2000 (forthcoming).

3 G. Puxon, Roma: Europe’s Gypsies, London, 1987, 12.

4 S. J. de Goeje, Mémoire sur les migrations des Tsiganes à travers l’Asie, Leiden, 1903; however, his argument has been criticised in J. Sampson, ‘On the Origin and Early Migrations of the Gypsies’, Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, 3rd ser., 2, 1923.

5 This is the only instance when the name ‘Chaym’ is used for Rom. It has been translated previously as ‘Ham’.

6 in P. Girolamo Golubovich, Biblioteca Bio-Bibliographica, della Terra Santa e dell’Oriente Francescano, Tomo III, 1919, 254-255.

7 P. Peeters, ‘Histoire monastiques géorgiennes’, Analecta Bollandiana, 36-37, 1917-19.

8 G. A. Rhalles and M. Potles, Suntagma toon theioon hieroon kanonoon, II, Athens, 1852.

9 ibid.

10 Vat. Gr. 2219, f.120.

11 Koukoules, Buzantinoon Bios kai politismos, I, pt. 2, Athens, 1948, 137.

12 A. Pavlov, Nomokanon pri bol’ som Trebnikê, Moscow, 1897.

13 Nikephoros Gregoras, Jan Louis van Dieten Rhomäische Geschichte II, 58-60.

14 Evliya Efendi, tr. Von Hammer, Narrative of Travels in Europe, Asia and Africa, in the seventh century, 1850.

15 in Elissen, Analecten der mittel- und neugriechischen Literatur, 1860.

16 Viaggio di Lionardo di Noccolo Frescobaldi in Egitto, e in Terra Santa 1383, Rome 1818.

17 Hugh Wm. Davies ed., Bernhard von Breydenbach and his journey to the Holy Land 1483-4, reprint, Utrecht 1968.

18 Ludwig Conrady ed., Vier Rheinische Palaestina-Pilgerschriften des XIV. XV. und XVI. Jahrhunderts, Wiesbaden, 1882.

19 R. Röhricht und H. Meisner, Deutsche Pilgerreisen nach dem Heiligen Lande, Berlin 1880.

20 Helmut Wilsdorf, ‘Zigeuner auf den karpato-balkanischen Bergrevieren – montanethnographische Aspekte, Abhandlungen und Berichte des staatlichen Museums für Völkerkunde, Dresden, 1984.

21 Anon. Philosophy of a Drunkard, Sp. Lampros, 1904.

22 Hans Lewenklaw von Amelbeurn, Neuwe Chronica Türckischer Nation, Frankfurt am Main, 1590.

23 Avogaria di Comun, Numero Generale 3649, Raspe 1442-1458.

24 S. Lampros, Athens 1882 and A. Andreades, Athens 1914.

25 Djurdjica Petrovic, Gypsies in Medieval Ragusa, Belgrade, 1976.

26 N. Gheorghe ‘Origin of Roma’s Slavery in the Rumanian Principalities’, Roma, 1983, Vol.7, 12-27; also P. N. Panaitescu ‘The Gypsies in Wallachia and Moldavia: A Chapter of Economic History’, Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society (3rd S.), 1941, Vol. 20, 58-72.

27 To the Byzantine Guilds s. Speros Vryonis, ‘Byzantine demokratia and the guilds in the eleventh century’, DOP 17, 1963; Nicolas Oikonomidès,Documents et études sur les institutions de Byzance 7e-15e s., London, 1976.

Published in print in Golden Horn Volume 7 issue 2 (winter 1999-2000)

The Vita of St. Ephrem the Syrian (1)

The Vita of St. Ephrem the Syrian1

by Edip Aydın

St. Ephrem the Syrian, known as ‘Harp of the Holy Spirit’ is undoubtedly the greatest poet and theologian that the Syrian Church ever produced. In the words of Dr. Murray, he is ‘the greatest poet of the patristic age and perhaps the only theologian-poet to rank beside Dante.’2

St. Ephrem was not only a well-known figure in the Syriac-speaking world but also had a great reputation in the Greek East as well as the Latin West. Within the patristic age itself Ephrem’s reputation as a holy man, poet and a noteworthy theologian was widely known far beyond his Syrian homeland. Less than fifty years after Ephrem’s death ‘Palladius included a notice of him among the ascetic saints whose memory he celebrated in the Lausiac History. Sozomen the historian celebrated Ephraem’s memory as a popular ecclesiastical writer, some of whose works had been translated into Greek even during his lifetime. St. Jerome recognized Ephraem’s theological genius in a Greek translation he read of a book by Ephraem on the Holy Spirit. And toward the end of the fifth century, Gennadius of Marseilles called attention to Ephraem as a composer of metrical psalms.’3

The testimonies to the great popularity of St. Ephrem throughout the medieval Christian world all refer to works in Greek. Although Sozomen the historian testifies that Ephrem’s works were translated during the saint’s lifetime, the scholars today have come to recognize that there is only a spiritual affinity between the writers of the works ascribed to St. Ephrem in Greek and those attributed to him in Syriac. Moreover, in the hagiographical tradition, an examination of the Greek and Syriac sources for the saint’s life gives us two different images of St. Ephrem. This is also reflected in the iconographical tradition. For the sake of convenience Dr. Griffith styles these two different depicted characters of the saint as ‘icon of Ephrem Byzantinus’ and the portrait of ‘Ephrem the Syrus’.4

The ‘icon of Ephrem Byzantinus’ is the product of the writers in the Greco-Syrian monastic communities of the fifth and sixth centuries. They transmitted the works of St. Ephrem in Greek as well as Syriac, and they even composed new hymns and homilies in Ephrem’s style and ascribed them to him. Also, they composed the Syriac Vita of St. Ephrem and a Syriac work called the Testament of St. Ephrem, which is also attributed to him. These two works are the primary sources for the literary icon of Ephrem Byzantinus.5

In the Vita, Ephrem is depicted as a monk living in a cave on the mountain near Edessa. He only leaves his cave shortly before his death to supervise relief efforts in Edessa during a severe famine. Incidentally, he is said to have composed some madroshe (doctrinal hymns) and memre (verse homilies) in Syriac, to overcome the heresy of Bar Daysan (154-222), a native of Edessa. In this account, to ensure the authenticity of his monastic lifestyle, Ephrem is said to have visited St. Bishoi (Pisoes) in the Egyptian Desert. Even today a visitor to Deyr al-Suryan monastery in Wadi al-Natron is shown a tree claimed to have been planted by St. Ephrem during his visit there. The Vita also tells of his visit to St. Basil of Caesarea in order to guarantee his orthodoxy for the Imperial Church. He flees priestly ordination at Basil’s hands, in good monastic style, though he accepts the office of the diaconate. Parallel to this account, the Testament of St. Ephrem reflects the world-view of a monastic hero, a desert solitary whose stories John of Ephesus may have told. According to Dr. Griffith, ‘This literary, or verbal icon, in fact must lie behind the best-known artistic presentation of St. Ephraem, the composition known as the ‘Dormition of Ephraem Syrus’, in which Ephrem’s body, lying on a funeral slab, surrounded by mourners, is the focal point of a tableau made of other scenes from a cycle of hermits, stylites and recluses.’6 Examples of this are to be found both in the Vatican gallery and the Monastery of Dokherias on Mount Athos. This is a perfect presentation of the profile of ‘Ephraem Byzantinus’.

In the portrait of ‘Ephrem the Syrus’ on the other hand, which is the recovery of Ephrem’s genuine works in Syriac and other texts in Syriac, ‘we find no mention whatsoever of any monastic tendencies, but instead only an overwhelmingly and entirely consistent picture of Ephrem as teacher and caretaker of the souls of the flock and even as a friend and advisor to his bishops.’7 Ephrem was born in 303 to Christian parents (Hymns Against Heresies 26.10), in or around Nisibis and received baptism in his youth (Hymns on Virginity 37.10.1-4). He became a ‘teacher’ (malpana) and a poet who for the majority of his almost seventy years, served the bishops of Nisibis namely Jacob, Babu and Vologeses (Hymns on Nisibis 13-21), as a catechist, biblical exegete, and liturgical composer. When Rome handed over Nisibis to Persia in 363, Ephrem was forced to leave the town and move some hundred miles west to Edessa where he served Abraham, the bishop of Edessa, for the last ten years of his life in the same capacity. He died in 373. St. Ephrem was certainly not a monk; but as an unmarried man he was probably a ‘single’ person (ihidaya) dedicated to the service of God.8

Ephrem refers to himself as a ‘herdsman'(‘alana), a member of the shepherd-bishop’s pastoral staff. At the end of his Hymns Against the Heresies Ephrem wrote of himself, saying:

O Lord, may the works of your herdsman (‘alana)
not be negated.
I will not then have troubled your sheep,
but as far as I was able,
I will have kept the wolves away from them,
and I will have built, as far as I was capable,
Enclosures of madrashe
for the lambs of your flock.

I will have made a disciple
of the simple and unlearned man,
And I will have given him a strong hold
on the herdsmen’s (‘alone) staff,
the healers’ medicine,
and the disputants’ armor.9

This is all that Ephrem is telling us about his role and position in the Church. It is probable that he was a deacon but there is no early Syriac text that identifies him as such. The word (‘alana) translated as ‘herdsman’ is very difficult to define precisely. Most often it is interpreted in relation to the Greek tradition simply as a term meaning deacon. But the normal Syriac word for deacon is mshamshono. As Dr. Matthews has noted, the term (‘alana) ‘is often used to denote a disciple in relation to his master, most significantly, after the pattern of that of Elisha to Elijah. Though in this instance, the term expresses Ephrem’s relationship to God, it is this very same relationship of Ephrem to his bishops’.10 What inspired the Syriac writers to celebrate Ephrem as a teacher par excellence was the fame of his teaching and that of the holiness of his life. The same also led the hagiographers in the Greek-speaking world, and those under their influence, to fashion the image of Ephrem Byzantinus.11


In the iconographic tradition the way St. Ephrem is portrayed is not all that different from the literary or verbal icon of the saint himself. In iconography, as in the case of hagiography, one may classify the icons into two different types. The first type of icons is largely based on his Vita that developed in Greco-Syrian monastic circles. The other type is that which depicts St. Ephrem closer to the image that emerges from his authentic writings and other texts in Syriac. Especially some modern Syriac icons attempt to portray him in this way. The former may correspond to what Dr. Griffith has termed the ‘icon of Ephrem Byzantinus’, and the latter to what he named the portrait of ‘Ephrem the Syrus’ in his writing about the images of Ephrem. For the sake of convenience, one may classify the extant iconographic images of St. Ephrem as follows:

  • Icons that fall under the type ‘Ephrem Byzantinus’:
    • St. Ephrem in monastic habit. (The modern icon that covers Kathleen McVey’s book, Ephrem the Syrian Hymns, in the Classics of Western Spirituality series).
    • ‘Dormition of Ephrem Syrus’ in which St. Ephrem’s body is lying on a funeral slab and surrounded by mourners. (See John R. Martin, ‘The Death of Ephraim in Byzantine and Early Italian Painting,’ The Art Bulletin 33 (1951), pp. 217-225).
    • St. Ephrem featured with a scroll and vine. (Based on the Vita, 14, 15).
  • Icons that may fall under the type of ‘Ephrem the Syrus’:
    • St. Ephrem as a deacon. (He is depicted in liturgical vestments holding a thurifer in his hand. An original type of this icon today adorns the wall of St. Mary’s Syrian Orthodox Church in Diyarbekõr, Turkey).
    • St. Ephrem with St. Basil. This is the earliest surviving icon portraying St. Ephrem in a rather appropriate way. (Illustrated in K. A. Manafis (ed.), Sinai: Treasures of the Monastery of St. Catherine (Athens, 1990), p. 145).
    • St. Ephrem the ‘Harp of the Holy Spirit’. (The modern icon of St. Ephrem that came out recently from the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate in Damascus, Syria).

Liturgical Material

In the area of liturgical tradition for the feast of St. Ephrem, Dr. Brock has published a very good article.12 His study, for reasons of practicality, is confined to the printed editions of the Hudra and Panqitho (hymnodies or liturgical books for the yearly cycle of prayers for Sundays and feastdays in the Syriac Church). Hudra is used in the East Syrian and Panqitho in the West Syrian Churches. Here, I shall closely follow Brock’s observations and incorporate a great deal from him.

St. Ephrem is commemorated both in Eastern and Western Syrian tradition. In the Church of the East his commemoration feast, along with other Syriac teachers falls on Friday of the fifth week after Epiphany. The printed Hudra offers little that is very specific: Ephrem (along with Narsai) is celebrated as a teacher who ‘interpreted and illuminated the Scripture’, and who ‘quenched and rendered ineffective the sects of the erroneous heretics’. Ephrem is compared to a ‘skilled doctor who blended the insights of the Scriptures for the healing of the sick world’s ill’. Furthermore, we read in the Hudra that Ephrem ‘became a fountain and caused life to flow for the whole world.’

In the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, the feast of St. Ephrem (together with St. Theodore) is commemorated on Saturday of the first week of Great Lent. One of the striking features of the liturgical texts commemorating the saint is the considerable use made of memro (metrical homily) on Ephrem by Jacob of Serugh.13 This is either direct quotation from the memra or in a rephrased prose form. The direct quotations comprise couplets 21-29 and 148-162 of Amar’s recent edition of the memra. These include a couplet (152) which specifically refers to Ephrem’s role in instructing the women. The couplet reads: ‘This man introduced women to doctrinal disputes; with (their) soft tones he was victorious in the battle against all heresies.’ Further material that is derived from the memro is found primarily in Sedro (a long discourse that usually follows a Premion in the book ofHusoyo, the Syriac liturgical book of propitiatory prayers) which features in the commemoration feast for 28 January (Syrian Catholic only) and on Saturday of the first week of Lent in the Syrian Orthodox Church.

Naturally, the influence of the sixth century Vita is also reflected in several passages, such as ‘God caused Ephrem to pass from paganism and brought him to true faith.’ Also, the anecdote concerning the scroll and vine (Vita 14-15) feature here. The scroll is an indirect comparison of Ephrem’s divine inspiration with Ezekiel’s consuming of a scroll (Ezekiel 3: 1-3). There are also references to Ephrem’s ascetic life on the mountains of Edessa (based on 13 of the Vita) which talk of ‘the fragrance of (Ephrem’s) life of mourning’ (riho d-‘abiluta). There is also a madrosho (doctrinal poem in stanzaic form) on Ephrem that says he was sent to Edessa to combat the heresies of Mani, Marcion and Armianos, son of Bar Daisan. Also from the Vita are a few references to the meeting with St. Basil. There are also many other references from the Vita that feature in the liturgical texts of the feast. Finally, the Mosul edition of the Panqitho contains one of the supposedly autobiographical texts ascribed to St. Ephrem, a Sogitho (dialogue poem) beginning with ‘How often have I hungered…’ This Sogitho is also to be found in the current hymnal book of the Syrian Orthodox Church titled: Zmirotho d-Ito,Songs of the Church, and is chanted at the Divine Liturgy commemorating the feast of the saint that falls on Saturday during the first week of Lent.

The West Syriac liturgical tradition for the commemoration feast of St. Ephrem as we have seen above, draws on a variety of sources, primarily on Jacob of Serugh’s memro on St. Ephrem and the Vita. As Dr. Brock has concluded, ‘The result, not surprisingly, is that no consistent portrait is offered of the saint who is being commemorated.’14

Regarding the transformations that have taken place in the Syriac tradition with the portrait of St. Ephrem, Dr. Brock offers a good explanation. He says: ‘Perhaps all that the fifth -and sixth- century biographers wanted to do was to present the saint in modern guise, to make him relevant to their own context.’15 Dr. Griffith, further illustrating this point, states: ‘It was not that the Syriac-speaking monks in the Greco-Syrian communities of east Byzantium were deliberately trying to conceal St. Ephraem’s true identity behind an Evagrian mask. Rather, their intention was doubtless to praise the virtues of their most famous holy man, in the newly popular Byzantine idiom of asceticism in which the citizens of fifth and sixth-century Edessa were desperate to claim a place of pride for themselves and for their city. So it was that in popular piety Ephraem, the bishop’s man, became St. Ephraem, the model Byzantine monk, the deacon of Edessa.’16

Some Concluding Remarks

By way of a conclusion, I would like to say that St. Ephrem’s memre and madrashe, the homilies and hymns, became central to both East and West Syrian liturgical tradition, and his works have played a decisive role and influenced all aspects of Syrian ecclesiastical life. His fame as a hymnodist and ascetic spread to all branches of the Church. And today, thanks above all to the late Dom Edmund Beck’s editions of St. Ephrem’s genuine works, and the work of other prominent scholars in the field, there is a universal appeal to St. Ephrem. He has become a spiritual Father for the whole Church.


Amar, Joseph P., The Syriac Vita Tradition of Ephrem the Syrian, Ph.D. Diss., The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., 1988.

Amar, Joseph P. (Ed.), A metrical Homily on Mar Ephrem by Mar Jacob of Sarug, Turnhout, 1995 (Patrologia Orientalis 47, fasc. 1, no. 209).

Beck, Edmund, Des Heiligen Ephraem des Syrers Hymnen contra Haereses, Louvain, 1957 (CSCO, vol. 169-170; Script. Syr. 76-77).


1 This is a paper for a class of Hagiology at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, NY, 1999.

2 Robert Murray, ‘Ephrem Syrus’, Catholic Dictionary of Theology, vol. II, London, 1967, pp. 220-223.

3 Sidney Griffith, ‘Images of Ephraem: the Syrian Holy Man and his Church’, Traditio, (1989-1990), p. 7.

4 Sidney Griffith, ‘A Spiritual Father for the Whole Church: the Universal Appeal of St. Ephraem the Syrian’, Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies, vol. 1 (1998) no. 2, §5

5 Idem, §6. See also Joseph P. Amar, The Syriac Vita tradition of Ephrem the Syrian (Ph.D. Dissertation, The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., 1988).

6 Ibid. §7.

7 Edward G. Matthews, Jr., ‘The Vita Tradition of Ephrem the Syrian, the Deacon of Edessa’, Diakonia 22, (1988-1989), p. 26.

8 On the significance of this title see Sidney Griffith, ‘Asceticism in the Church of Syria: the Hermeneutics of Early Syrian Monasticism’, Vincent L. Wimbush & Richard Valantasis (eds.), Asceticism, New York, 1995, pp. 220-245.

9 Edmund Beck, Ephrem des Syrers Hymnen contra Haereses, Louvain, 1957 (CSCO, vol. 169-170; Scr. Syr. 76-77), vol. 169, 56: 10 & 11, pp. 211-212. Quoted by Sidney Griffith, ‘A Spiritual Father for the Whole Church…’, §8.

10 Edward G. Matthews, Jr., ‘The Vita Tradition of Ephrem…’, p. 28.

11 Cf. Sidney Griffith, ‘A Spiritual Father for the Whole Church….’, §9.

12 Sebastian Brock, ‘St. Ephrem in the Eyes of Later Syriac Liturgical Tradition’, Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies, vol. 2, (1999), no. 1.

13 See Joseph P. Amar, A Metrical Homily on Mar Ephrem by Mar Jacob of Sarug, Patrologia Orientalis 47, fasc. 1, no. 209, Turnhout, 1995. [Critical edition of the Syriac text with translation and introduction].

14 Sebastian Brock, ‘St. Ephrem in the Eyes of the Later Syriac Liturgical Tradition’, § 23.

15 Idem, § 24.

16 Sidney Griffith, ‘Images of Ephraem…’, pp. 32-33.

Published in print in Golden Horn Volume 7 issue 2 (winter 1999-2000)

Byzantinology in Australia* AABS celebrates twenty-one years (1999-2000)

by Ann Moffatt

Frivolity seemed an appropriate reaction. Twenty-one years, someone said, since the first Australian Byzantine Studies conference and the formation of the Australian Association in 1978. Here we were at our 11th conference and with a monograph series having reached eleven volumes, with more in the pipeline, and now 39 issues of a Newsletter. All of this has kept Australian Byzantinists in touch with each other and colleagues around the world. Now the Newsletter is published electronically, information about AABS is on our website, and conferences have taken on a genuinely international character.

The first conference was held in 1978 as part of the ‘Medieval Year’ programme of the then fledgling Humanities Research Centre (HRC) at the Australian National University. Professors Ihor Sevcenko and Herbert Hallam were the éminences grises in the front row, encouraging the speakers and stimulating the discussion. Ihor had come as a Visiting Fellow at the HRC and it was he who suggested the papers merited publication and convinced the HRC to publish them as Byzantina Australiensia vol. 1. He also supported our nomination to become a member of the International Association of Byzantine Studies. For this the AABS committee doubles as the National Committee.

How did it all start? In the early 1960’s Dick Johnson (in Classics at Melbourne and then ANU) suggested to Roger Scott and Ann Moffatt that they might be interested in research in the field of Byzantine Studies. In 1976 Roger, Ann and Margaret Riddle (Melbourne) all attended the International Congress in Athens, and Michael and Elizabeth Jeffreys arrived in Sydney from England. Given this strength in numbers the five then contacted some twenty or more other Byzantine sympathisers in Australia, both within the universities and beyond, to plan a newsletter, the conference, and the formation of the association.

An early concern was to build up the library holdings. In 1969 the National Library had acquired Speros Vryonis’ initial library of over 2,000 titles and published an author/title listing of it in 1978. Most of this material has since been fully integrated into the main National Library collection. It included the Bonn corpus and early runs of a number of serials, many of them published in Greece. The Library maintained the subscriptions to some of these for several years. Meanwhile the university libraries developed their particular strengths over the thousand-year span of Byzantium. Bob Barnes in Classics at ANU was among those who helped coordinate acquisitions.

Byzantine studies are now actively pursued, moving around the nation in anti-clockwise fashion, in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Armidale and Brisbane. AABS Committee members over the years have been: Pauline Allen, Margaret Carroll, Brian Croke, Lynda Garland, Sasha Grishin, Herbert Hallam, Elizabeth Jeffreys, Michael Jeffreys, Wendy Mayer, John Melville-Jones, Ann Moffatt, John Moorhead, Alanna Nobbs, Margaret Riddle, Roger Scott, and Ahmad Shboul.

We regret, however, the deaths in this time of a number of members: Nicholas Draffin, Herbert Hallam, Bill Jobling, Helen Lindsay, Tony McNicoll, Cynthia Stallman-Pacitti, and Ted Stormon OJ. In 1997 Robert Browning of the University of London died, who had taught and encouraged so many of the Australian Byzantinists, witness the volume of Byzantina Australiensia offered to him as “Maistor” for his 70th birthday in 1984.

By 1981 the Malalas co-operative project to produce a translation of the chronicle, and later a volume of studies, was underway, led by Elizabeth Jeffreys and Roger Scott and with funding from the Australian Research Council. This brought a team of fanatics together in the Jeffreys’ house for weekends of hard slog and keen discussion over several years. The Jeffreys’ household has for even longer been the distribution and accounts centre for Byzantina Australiensia. Elizabeth’s key role in this was acknowledged as we noted with pleasure her move from here to the Bywater and Sotheby chair at Oxford. The celebration of the 21st was a splendid opportunity to thank the Jeffreys who provided the critical mass and determination necessary to set Byzantine Studies in Australia on the map and following a course which has proven to be sound.

(AABS Newsletter 39, Nov. 1999)


* Golden Horn follows developments in the area of Byzantine Studies in various countries. In the first volume we concentrated on the Netherlands, in this issue the focus is on Australia.

Published in print in Golden Horn Volume 7 issue 2 (winter 1999-2000)

Byz-Niz Volume 7 issue 2 (Winter 1999-2000)


The Department of Byzantine and Modern Greek Philology at the University of Göttingen set up a mailinglist for Byzantine Philology as a forum for all areas of research in Byzantine Philology. The mailinglist shall provide the opportunity to discuss questions and problems. Research papers and reports, short reviews of recently publisheed books as well as announcements of conferences are also welcome. Students of Byzantine Philology are encouraged to take part in the mailinglist. The mailinglist is unmoderated. If you want to subscribe to the list, send an email to: listproc@gwdg.decontaining only the following line:

subscribe Byzantinistik [first name] [last name]

The e-mail should not contain a subject or further lines such as signatures or address lines.

Kloosters, kerken/Monasteries, churches

Byzantine churches and monasteries a casualty of Kosovo

From/uit: AABS 39, Nov. 1999

The following item has been supplied by the Serbian community in New South Wales. For further information contact Aleksander Pavkovic ( or Mrs Ranka Rajanovic ( More detailed information is available through the following Web Sites:

The province of Kosovo is home to some 1600 Byzantine medieval monuments, and it represents one of the highest concentrations of cultural and historical monuments in the world. Out of 1400 churches and monasteries, many date back to the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries. Most of these monuments and holy shrines survived the wars fought in the region over past centuries, but are now in danger of falling victim to the current geopolitical conflict. Among the endangered medieval monasteries in Kosovo are even ones of exceptional cultural significance:

  • Decani Monastery, nominated for the World Heritage List, built in 1327, its frescoes almost completely preserved and containing over 1000 individual figures and scenes representing the largest existing sources of data on Byzantine iconography. The Decani Treasury is the richest in Serbia with about 60 icons from the fourteenth century.
  • Gracanica Monastery, nominated for the World Heritage List, built in the second decade of the fourteenth century, belongs among the finest architectural achievements of the epoch, with paintings completed in 1321, and with an outstanding collection of icons from the fourteenth century.
  • The Patriarchate of Pecs, the complex of the Pecs’ churches, built in the third part of the thirteenth century, with frescoes painted from 1260 onwards. An entire history of the styles of medieval wall painting can be seen on the walls of the Pecs churches.
  • Ljeviska Mother of God, a five-dome church built in 1306, with very damaged paintings which are considered among the most successful fresco assemblages from the time of the Byzantine dynasty of the Palaeologus, painted by master painter Astrapa from Salonika around 1310-1313, with the famous fresco of Virgin with Christ, fourteenth century.

Between June and September 1999 over seventy monasteries and churches have been plundered and destroyed as a result of retaliatory attacks, and many more damaged. Among them are:

  • The Medieval Holy Trinity Monastery, Musutiste, fourteenth century, looted, and completely destroyed.
  • St. Cosma and Damian Monastery, Zociste, fourteenth century, looted, vandalized, and recently destroyed.
  • The Dormition of Mother of God church in Musutiste, 1315, completely destroyed.
  • St. Archangel Gabriel’s Monastery, Binac, fourteenth century, almost completely destroyed.
  • Devic Monastery of St. Joanikije, from 1440, looted and vandalized.
  • Holy Archangels Monastery, fourteenth century, in Gornje Nerodimlje, destroyed.


Allard Pierson Museum: Muziek in het klassieke Griekenland.

“Het Leven van Jesus”, Russische ikonen van Wasili Wasin, t/m 18 maart in de expositieruimte van de kaarsenmakerij van de Abdij van Egmond, Vennewatersweg 27, 1935 AR Egmond-Binnen.


Karel C. Innemée, Robin Lutz. Koptische kloosters. Gods levende dodenMooi fotoboek met teksten die de geschiedenis van het Koptische monnikendom beschrijven van he begin tot het heden. Baarn: De Fontein,1999. 102 pp., ill., lit. opg.
ISBN 90-261-1381-1.

Hans Hollerweger, English transl. and inroduction: Andrew Palmer, introduction: Sebastian Brock, Turkish tanslation: Sevil Gülçer. Tur Abdin. Lebendiges Kulturerbe. Living Cultural Heritage. Canli Kültür Mirasi. 1999. 367 pp., ill., reg.
ISBN 3-9501039-0-2
Dit kleurrijk geïllustreerde boek is het eerste fotoboek over Tur Abdin, de bergstreek waar het Syrische Christendom zeer vroeg al tot bloei kwam, en waar het nog steeds, zij het onder zeer moeilijke omstandigheden, voortleeft. Jammer dat er geen detailkaart van de streek in staat.

Te bestellen via:
Freunde des Tur Abdin
Bethlehemstrasse 20,
A-4020 Linz, Oostenrijk
fax +43 732 773578


Travel in the Byzantine World: the 34th Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies. 1-4 April 2000, The University of Birmingham, UK.

XXe Congres International des Etudes Byzantines, Paris (Sorbonne and Collège de France). Proposed plenary sessions and round tables: Recherches sur le droit byzantin: un bilan; Les Occidentaux dans les villes de province de l’Empire byzantin; Les villages dans l’Empire byzantine, Ve-XIVe s.; Permanences et changements dans l’occupation du sol: densites, modalites et extension/regression; Byzance entre Occident chrétien et monde musulman. Les relations artistiques; La peripherie dans le temps et l’espace; Alterite religieuse et identite culturelle: les chrétientés orientales non grecques; Reliques de la Passion (the indirect relics of Christ); La petition à Byzance; l’Italie byzantine; Lire et ecrire a Byzance; La Lettre diplomatique; Philosophie et sciences a Byzance; Theologiens et méthodes theologiques a Byzance; Byzance et son histoire en l’an 2000.

Date: 19-25 August 2000.


Dionysius xvii, dec. 1999 (Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada) ISSN 0705-1085.

Nieuwsbrief van de Interdisciplinaire Werkgroep voor de Studie van het Oosters Christendom, vii, december 1999 (Nijmegen, Leiden).

Newsletter. Society for Armenian Studies, vol. xxiii, no. 3 (54), fall 1999.

Salsus Books, catalogue 35: Liturgy, Biblical Studies, Theology, Church History, etc. (

Byzantinologe wint De la Courtprijs

De Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen (KNAW) heeft de De la Courtprijs 1999 toegekend aan dr. Krijnie N. Ciggaar voor haar studie Western Travellers to Constantinople. The West and Byzantium 962-1204. De De la Courtprijs is bestemd voor wetenschappelijk werk op het gebied van alfa- en gammawetenschappen dat onbezoldigd is verricht.

Medewerkers – Contributors Volume 7, issue 2 (winter 1999-2000)


Edip Aydın is in the 3rd year of a Master of Divinity program at St.Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, New York and writing his thesis on ‘The History of the Syrian Orthodox Church in North America: Challenges and Opportunities’. Also, he is involved in Christianity A to Z, the Bimillenium Christian Dictionary project, contributing up to seventy entries about the lives of the saints in the Syriac liturgical tradition.

Karin White is in the final year of her PhD degree. Her research is focussed on the relationship between Roma (Gypsies) and settled people in Byzantium in comparison with such relationships today, in former Byzantine territories.

Ann Moffatt is a lecturer in the Department of Classics and Modern European Languages at Australian National University and one of the founding members of AABS.