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Alexander the Great's liberation of Rome and an idiosyncratic model of World history in the Chronicle of John Malalas, the Excerpta Latina Barbari, and Fulgentius' De Aetatibus

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Alexander the Great, Nebuchadnezzar, Persian Wars, Chronographia of John Malalas, Excerpta Latina Barbari, De Aetatibus Mundi, Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Assyrians

Abstract (summary)

In two sixth-century chronicles, the Greek original of the Excerpta Latina Barbari and the Chronographia of John Malalas, the Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians are said to have been freed by Alexander from a combination of eastern peoples including the Assyrians, Chaldaeans, and Persians. The statement is, without a doubt, unhistorical; nevertheless, such deviations from the received historical record rarely represent simple mistakes, but more often purposeful and meaningful manipulations. In this case, Alexander's liberation of the Greeks and Egyptians can be accounted for with reference to the Alexander Romance, a legendary account of his career, but the principal source on Alexander in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. But the Romans remain a puzzle. The notice on Nebuchadnezzar in the Excerpta, however, says that he conquered the Romans. This notice, moreover, seems to intentionally parallel a brief description of Alexander in the Excerpta. Some examination of the details seems to reveal a model of history that placed more emphasis on symmetry and symbolism than on accuracy. The eastern peoples under Nebuchadnezzar and the western nations under Alexander successively achieve dominion over the world, that is, they each establish a world kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar plays the role of the conqueror and Alexander that of the liberator. Thus, there is demonstrable recourse to the rhetoric employed to describe the Persian Wars and other conflicts with eastern powers that goes back to Herodotus and the beginnings of Greek historiography. The broader circulation of this model seems to be evident in echoes of it that can be found in the contemporary De aetatibus mundi of Fulgentius.

Publication Information

“Alexander the Great’s Liberation of Rome and an Idiosyncratic Model of World History in the Chronicle of John Malalas, the Excerpta Latina Barbari, and Fulgentius’ De aetatibus.” Wiener Studien. Zeitschrift für Klassische Philologie und Patristik und lateinische Tradition 131 (2018) 179-205.



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