Sozomen, writing in mid-fifth century Constantinople, stands out as an exception proving the rule in Byzantine historiography. He is the first and last Christian Byzantine historian to make a serious effort at ethnography.5 When we consider how quickly Christianity was spreading outside the boundaries of the eastern Empire in the fourth and fifth centuries it is striking how little mention barbarians and their evangelization earn in the early ecclesiastical histories.6 To illustrate this point I will begin by showing that Sozomen’s predecessors, Eusebius, Rufinus, and Socrates, de-emphasized the natural interest that the historical genre had expressed in ethnography, and that Sozomen broke away from his predecessors with an experiment in adapting ethnography to Christian history. We will then consider why Sozomen made this innovation, and why his successors rejected it. I will argue that the Byzantine court’s need for Christian unity against a hostile world had a narrowing effect on historians who themselves felt more of a threat than curiosity when considering foreigners. By contrast, Sozomen’s eastern background7 may point to an explanation for his ethnographic interests, since subsequent Syriac interest in evangelism and ethnography contrasts with Byzantine historiography.
Copyright © 2002/2003 Greek Roman and Byzantine Studies. This article first appeared in Greek Roman and Byzantine Studies 43 (2003), 51-75.
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Stevenson, Walter. "Sozomen, Barbarians and Early Byzantine Historiography." Greek Roman and Byzantine Studies 43 (2003): 51-75.