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Zosimus (d. 418)

Zosimus of Syracuse (d. c. 660)


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Greek historian. Little is known of his life except that he had been advocatus fisci (lawyer acting for the central imperial treasury) and obtained the dignity of comes (‘count’). His identification with either the sophist Zosimus of Ascalon or the sophist Zosimus of Gaza is very unlikely. He wrote a history (Historia nova) of the Roman empire from Augustus reaching as far as ad 410, where his extant text terminates just before the sack of Rome by Alaric. He completed his work after 498, if indeed he refers to the abolition of the auri lustralis collatio (2. 38), and c.518, since the work is quoted in the chronicle of Eustathius of Epiphania, written apparently in the early years of Justin II. Book 1 summarizes the history of the first three centuries of the empire (the section of Diocletian is lost); in books 2–4 he gives a more precise account of the 4th cent. and in books 5–6 a narrative of the years 395–410 for which he is our most important historical source. His excursus on the secular games (2. 1–6) derives from Phlegon of Tralles, and for the fourth and early fifth centuries he used extensively and uncritically the histories of Eunapius and Olympiodorus, enabling the reconstruction of the texts and attitudes of these writers. His view of events is determined, even at the late date at which he wrote, by his paganism. He sees the decadence of the empire as a consequence of the rejection of paganism. He is naturally hostile to Constantine I and Theodosius I and favourable to Julian, reproducing in these attitudes those of Eunapius. As he reached 407 he changed his source from Eunapius to Olympiodorus, and his view of Stilicho changed correspondingly from one of hostility to one of favour. The same moment is marked by a change in emphasis from eastern to western events, and by the appearance, from then to the end of his surviving text, of Latin transcriptions and quoted phrases.

John F. Matthews

Subjects: Classical studies

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