The History of History

No Source Documents

It was not possible to write about Ximene without learning about the fourteenth century, what she believed and what pressures were placed upon her.

This need took me into a journey of discovery which challenged everything I had been taught. It turns out that there are virtually no “source” documents. The earliest records we have, date to the tenth century or later.

learned-discussion-small I have not personally been to Istanbul or Cairo, Central London or Berlin for that matter to see original documents for myself. If a person of good scholarship refers to the content of documents and then draws reasonable conclusions then I initially assume them to be correct.

History is however compartmentalised. This enabled and still enables scholars to specialise in small segments of history.  Information from different compartments is often in direct conflict.  There are many sources of error. Even within small compartments of study, cliques form. Every shade of interpretation of the record is supported, and opposed, often vehemently.

Credibility

library_trajans All I wanted to do was to be sure I could write about Ximene and her life in the 14th century with confidence and credibility.

There were two issues which demanded an improved understanding; from where did kings get their right to rule and what were the beliefs of the religion we now call Cathars.

I started off with great confidence all I had to do was locate original documents, not translations and from them would flow the knowledge I needed. I soon became aware that what I had been taught about the use of “credible” source documents was seriously flawed. In the terms in which I was taught at school, there are no original documents!

Curthoys and Docker

is-history-fiction In their book “Is history fiction” Ann Curthoys and John Docker, both eminent lecturers at the Australian National University come to a somewhat academic conclusion.

“Our general argument is that the very doubleness of history – in the space between history as rigorous scrutiny of sources and history as part of the world of literary forms – gives it ample room for uncertainty, disagreement, and creativity. And perhaps this doubleness is the secret of history’s cunning as a continuing practice, an always porous, shifting, inventive, self-transforming discipline. Herein lies our enjoyment of, our fascination with, our affection for, our love of, history.”

This may well be true but it is far from satisfactory for those with the illusion that history is truth.

Voltaire

Voltaire wrote his “Essay on the Customs and the spirit of Nations in 1756. He became dissolusioned with the sources available to him. He said that “History is the lie commonly agreed upon” and “History is a pack of lies”. he voiced the opinion that everything we know about the classical world was invented by monks between the with and tenth century. He claims that the whole of history is distorted.

Anatoli Fomenko

fomenko Anatoli Fomenko, (History, Fiction Or Science), faced with much the same discoveries, has declared that everything we know about ancient history was invented in the monasteries of the 12th to 15th centuries.

What is certain that revisionist tendancies were widespread and that the continual rewriting of texts gave lots of opportunities for the revisionism to occur. I now take nothing for granted and treat “alternative” histories with a new found respect.


Anatoly Fomenko, a full member of the Russian Academy has gone further. Based esentially on problems with recorded astronomical observations through the ages he claims that the history of the last 3000 years was in fact encompassed in a few hundred years. In order to support his theory he points out that the the underlying science of carbon dating is all comparative, and dependent on the choice of a time for a datum. One fascinating, but unexplainable observation is that the purported astronomical observations taken to fix the date of Easter, supposedly made during the council of Nicea in 325 actually belong to the period just earlier than 784. Once again Fomenko concludes that the history we know was invented in the late middle ages.

Faced with these discoveries Fomenko in his book “History, Fiction Or Science”, has declared that everything we know about ancient history was invented in the monasteries of the 12th to 15th centuries.

I have not gone so far, merely using these suggestions as a caution that perhaps the history we have been taught may be not only misleading but incorrect. What is certain that revisionist tendancies were widespread and that the continual rewriting of texts gave lots of opportunities for the revisionism to occur. I now take nothing for granted and treat “alternative” histories with a new found respect.

 

Who writes history?

book-burning History is generally written by the victors. There is a tendance therefore to praise the effort and ethics of the victor and denigrate those of the loosers.

Even without war, documents critical of the Goverment in power or to the established church may be “lost” or openly destroyed.

Franziska Gasser

the-rose_0 Franziska Gasser, University of Zurich (Switzerland),
 Classics department:-

“If you’re reading a mere translation of a classical work, the translator
 often didn’t look at the manuscripts himself. Translators often use a
”critical edition” of the work to do their job (perhaps their’s a note of 
his source somewhere in the book). “Critical editions” are works of (if 
you’re lucky …) competent scientists, who viewed all the available
 manuscripts of a work (they can differ a lot, be full of (different)
faults, not be complete etc.).

Viewing means: you look which manuscripts
are related (copied from each other), trying to establish
a “stemma” (sort of genealogic tree of manuscripts), then, if there’re
differences,  you take the presumably best version (most up in the “tree”,
most parallel versions of other manuscripts of another branch of the
”tree” (suitable meaning etc.). You see, it’s very
 complicated (The science is called “textual criticism”) and be aware: The
”oldest” surviving manuscript can, but isn’t bound to offer the best
version of the text (a “younger” manuscript can be copied from a very old,
but lost version) …”

The Villa at Herculanium

getty-villa-16 In Ad 79, in the reign of Titus Flavius Caesar, the villa once owned by Julius Caesar’s father in law at Herculaneum, was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The villa was covered by 30m of volcanic ash.

At the time of the inundation, one thousand eight hundred papyrus rolls had been packed in wooden crates and had been indexed. Faced with disaster the inhabitants of the villa gave priority to saving the rolls from distruction. The library was considered extremely valuable.

In the 1750’s, the Bourbon kings of the two Sicilies commenced an excavation of the villa and discovered some of the rolls still intact but blackened.

In the intervening period many of the rolls were destroyed but today 300 are virtually complete, 970 are partly decipherable and 500 are merely charred fragments. The rolls were however dispersed as they were sent as gifts to scientific institutions and individuals around the world.

Using what is called “multi spectral” technology.  The rolls can be “virtually” unrolled and read. The rolls turn out to be the documents of belief  of the epicurean life style. They include the works of Philoemus, a proponent of the epicurian life style, which stipulates that life should be lived to the full and that the criterion for fulfilment should be pleasure.

Other than the dead sea scrolls this find represents the only surviving library of antiquity. If it had nor been buried in the lava flow the library would long ago have been destroyed by the climate of Naples or alternatively by the Church of Rome.

Scrolls and Tablets

dead-sea-scrolls As for the dead sea scrolls themselves, age dating ?! has proved that some of the scrolls are much older than others.  Some date from as much as 400 BC, whilst others may be as young as AD 100  An interesting example of how the discovery of an older version of a document can give credibility to other versions. Many of these documents concern themselves with the Jewish old testament and are a very close match despite differences like the transposition of the positions of verbs.

Before the painstaking deciphering of the scrolls the earliest copy of the hebrew bible, the old testament, was the Masoretic text dated to AD 980. Scholars believed that there were “errors’ in the masoretic text and felt free to “correct” those  errors.  The scrolls do not prove that the old testament is factual but they do prove that over approximately 1000 years the continual recopying of the text was carried out with extraordinary accuracy.

This places a much greater constraint on those who would like to make alterations. It also reveals that without a reference, the alteration of texts during the copying process was relatively commonplace.

Wax tablets

tablets The modern era did not only introduce a new religion but also a radical change in the means of communicating. At the time of Julius Caesar, Romans communicated using wooden and wax tablets.

Examples of wooden tablets have been found at Vinlandia in Northern England dated to approximately 170 AD one tablet is a letter:-

Octavius to Candidus: “I need money. I have bought 5,000 bushels of grain, and unless you send me some money, I shall lose my deposit and be embarrassed. The hides which you write about are still at Catterick. I would have already collected them apart from the fact that the roads are so bad that I did not care to injure the animals”.

The same or similar methods were used much later. Examples of both wooden and wax tablets have been found in the Kievan Rus (Novgorod)

The evidence is that the wax tablets were wiped clean and reused many times. These tablets have been dated to roughly AD 1000 but they may be much earlier.

Papyrus

papri-small Edwin P Menes-  of the Loyola University Faculty for Classical Studies, says:-

“There’s a lot of dispute about ancient book 
production, but the author most likely wrote on wax tablets (which 
allowed easy correction).  The finished work on wax would then have been 
copied onto a papyrus roll by a secretary, for final correction by the 
author.  From there it would go to friends for further comment or it 
might enter the book trade immediately, either via a 
commercial seller or via a private publisher .”

In the first century, possibly driven by a shortage of papyrus a switch was made to “codex” what we know today as books. There was also the advantage that the spines could be clearly labelled and the new system permitted something we today take for granted – random access.

There was an intermediate stage in which numbers of wax tablets were wired together. They were known as polyptychs.

Codex

euclid The codex copied the format of the tablets but used pages made of papyrus, parchment or vellum. Parchment and vellum which are both made from animal skin were invented in Pergamum. It’s use favored perhaps even triggered the Codex format. The period between AD 1 and AD 300 experienced the gradual switch from papyrus rolls to codex. As always there were progressives and conservatives. Eventually a great program was put in place for transferring knowledge, from existing Papri to the Codex format.

Edwin P Menes again:-

“One of the great filters in the transmission process, in fact, was the choice of what to copy from papyrus scrolls onto vellum pages (late 3rd to early 5th century, for the most part). Also, though autograph manuscripts would be neat to have, the only one I 
know of is papyrus pieces, in the hand of Dioscorus of Aphrodito (6th 
century A.D. Egypt).  There’s also some dispute about the durability of materials, but the best 
I’ve read for papyrus under ordinary care in Italy is 100 years, (whereas under ideal conditions) 
vellum could last 1000 years.

scriptorium-2 If we are looking at a document who’s author lived in the first century, frequently the oldest 
available manuscript comes from the ninth century. That document itself, is most likely to be a copy of a 
manuscript from the sixth century and from then to one copied in the 
fourth century from papyrus.  Before that, there was another papyrus 
copy, and before that another one (and perhaps one more).  The original 
trade papyrus would have been copied from the author’s final copy, which 
would have been made from his tablets.   The oldest surviving manuscript, then, is at six or seven removes from 
the author’s own hand. The opportunity for change either accidental or malicious is ever present during these processes.”

And the question then is “How reliable is the information in the document we prize so highly?”

On this site I have continued to distinguish between “History” and “Pseudo History”, but for me, after five years of study, the only difference is the degree of acceptance by mainstream historians,academicians and theologians.

Christianity and Codex

02-scrolls

The change in the format of written material, from papyrus to the Codex co-incided with the growth of Christianity.

One of the early users of the Codex format was the Church of Rome. It is even possible that someone inside the church invented it, certainly the timing is about right. Unlike most other religions Christian teaching was text based, lessons based around scripture.



01-church-and-bible The ability to find desired quotations with the judicious use of book marks must have seemed in itself miraculous to congregations who had been used to lengthy delays to find the correct scroll and then specific text within a scroll.

In addition the Church of Rome perhaps wanted to distinguish themselves from the other scripture based religion Judism, whose liturgy made extensive use of papyrus scrolls.

The Libraries

06-burning-of-the-library The great libraries where the accumulated wisdom of the ancient world were stored were Tashasila, Ctestiphon, Athens, Miletus, Ephesus, Antioch, Pergamom, Byzantium ,Alexandria.

Collections from Athens and Pergamom were, in the main, later transferred to Alexandria.

Miletus, Ephesus and Antioch were destroyed in inter religious squabbles. The destruction of the “pagan” oriented library at Antioch was the only recorded act of the Emperor Jovian.

The greatest library of all at Alexandria was destroyed in three stages; accidentally by Julius Caesar when he burnt his fleet, hoping to use fireships to protect himself against the Egyptian fleet; secondly and most seriously by St Theophilus as part of his erradication of pagan worship in 391.

Mainstream History tells us that any remnants of the Alexandrian library were then destroyed by the invading Arabs in 642. The Arabs also have the distinction of being blamed for the libraries of Ctestiphon and Tashasila and much later for the destruction of Byzantium.

Arab learning

05-toledo All this does not quite ring true. Another group of historians identify the roots of the European Roman Law to Bologna where a complete set of codex of the laws of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian were discovered.  They were found to be complex and utilised the works of Aristotle. The content of this codex found its way to Bologna from Cordova or Toledo where moorish libraries set up a translation facility to make ancient works and more modern scientific works available to Western Europe.

Apparently the great enlightenment was due to this export of knowledge from a Moorish and therefore Arab libraries. This does not quite tie in with the destruction of the earlier libraries. If indeed, much of our knowledge of the ancient wisdom did com through Toledo then then is another complication in the process of transition. The documents which in the main would have been originally in Greek were at this time in Arabic and were translated by Jewish scribes into Spanish and then by Christian Monks into Latin, so that the church could control distribution.

The opportunities for mistakes and /or manipulation was obviously very great.

The libraries of Rome



04-scriptoriumvendell The Majority of Roman libraries were private not public. The earliest recorded libraries belonged to the great roman generals who brought Greek manuscripts back to Rome after their victories. The library belonging to Sulla was much praised by Cicero. Julius Caesar made plans for a library to eclipse that of Alexandria but his plans were never realised due to his early demise. When public libraries were created by Octavian the quality of their content never matched that of the private collections.

The collections had an uncertain fate; some were transferred to Byzantium as many Roman Families moved to the new capital, and then absorbed into the Byzantine library, some were absorbed into the library of the Church of Rome, and during the last days of the Roman Empire, some were put for safe keeping into monasteries, never to be reclaimed.



03-scriptorium-2 The mortality of manuscripts would have been high, some monasteries would have been looted, there would have been fires( not uncommon in ancient libraries) and some would have been deliberately destroyed because they were in conflict with the Church of Rome’s teaching.

It is obvious that there was another problem. The monasteries had no idea what they possessed. Even those with a large scriptorium could not keep pace with the deterioration process. The format of papyrus scrolls meant that prioritisation was difficult. This explains why surprise discoveries were continually made.

Virgil







09-vergilius-vaticanus Virgil lived at the beggining of the  modern era and his works were allowed as specimen texts for the teaching of latin. However what we have today is based on copies made relatively recently .

The document known as Vergilus Augusteus is seven pages of Virgil’s work once claimed as originals but now known to be copies. they have been dated to the fourth century . They contain fragments of the Aeneid and the Georgics. They are treasured as the they are still the earliest existing copies.

Another version of the Aeneid is Vergilus Vaticanus dated to the early 5th century. This document is the earliest example of an illustrated copy. It comprises 76 pages of an estimated original 440 pages.

Tacitus

We rely on Tacitus for much of our knowledge of a critical period in Roman History from the demise of Nero though to Domitian. Even classical scholars claim that he is difficult to translate. It is almost as if he invites personal interpretation. Perhaps he intended that.

Two of Tacitus’ descendants became Roman Emporers. Though their total period in office lasted less than twelve months the Emperor Tacitus, descendant of the historian, found time to order that his ancestor’s books be carried by every public library. We should therefore expect them to be readily available. Not so.

In fact only parts of his major work “Annales” have survived. books 1-6, dated to 850 found its way into the collection of Lorenzo Medici, and from there into Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence, Annales books 11-16  found their way into the same library but from a totally different source. These books were copied at monte cassino in the fourteenth century and then passed through the hands of Poggio Brocollini in 1427 before arriving in florence.

Suetaneus



07-gaius_suetonius_tranquillus_de_vita_caesarum_ Suetaneus was a little later than Tacitus but his major work covered the same period. (Augustus to Domitian). They are both considered important as they both refer to the “punishment of Chrestians” by Nero.

The oldest surviving manuscript of ‘De Vita Caesarum’ is the most important. It comes from the
 early ninth century and it’s now in Paris (“Paris.lat. 6115”).
 Traditionally it’s called “Mesmianus” (M) from its sixteenth-century
owner, Henri de Mesmes. It was copied at Tours (France) about 820.

From “Byzantium, the early centuries”, which I bought as recently as 1990 but is already badly yellowing.

The Author, John Julius (Lord) Norwich at the close of the introduction observes:-

“For periods as remote as that which we are dealing, the surviving records are often pitifully thin, and on those occasions where we have two chroniclers covering the same ground we are as likely as not to find themselves contradicting one another.The luckless historian can only weigh the probabilities and tell his story as best he can.”

Examination of Lord Norwich’s book shows that his earliest reference, in an extensive bibliography, is 1685.

Precopius



08-theodora Precopius was a courtier and historian in the time of the Emperor Valantinian. He wrote two extensive histories one called “The discourses about the wars”, which covered the Persian, Vandal and Gothic wars and another simply called “Buildings”, in which he describes Valantinian’s construction projects. It is from these books that the image of a revitalised, expansionist and successful Eastern Roman Empire is derived.

Precopius however wrote another book “Anecdota’ which has been mistranslated as “Anecdotes” but actually means “Unpublished things” It would appear that Precopius had a bad conscience about the misleading picture given of Justinian’s reign by his first book and at least in private set the record straight.  This third book is now popularly known as “The Secret History”

It gives a totally different view of Justinians successes and failures and of the character of the main protagonists, Justinian, his wife Theodora, Belasarius Justinian’s general and Antonia, Belasarius’ wife. It was kept secret, unpublished, because Theodora was quite capable of flaying someone alive if she felt she had been criticised.

A critical edition was produced by G A Williamson in 1966 ( Penguin IBSN?  9 10 8) he reviewed all the previous editions back to 1600 identified unjustified modifications and corrected them.

In his introduction Precopius makes the following comment:-

‘As long as those responsible were still alive, it was out of the question to tell the story in the way it deserved, for it was impossible to avoid detection by swarms of spies, or if caught to escape death in it’s most agonising form’

By some miracle the “Secret History” has come down to the present day and it begs the question how many other “Secret Histories” were written and hidden away so carefully that they never again saw light of day?

Intelligent speculation



book-of-kells Historians have always filled in unknowns by intelligent speculation and resolved conflicts by making decisions, without necessarily letting their readers know they have been speculating. Historians, even those of good scholarship, argue amongst themselves about what are legitimate speculations and conclusions. Some beautiful venerable books are rejected out of hand because their content is full of myth and legend, whilst others whose content is scarcely more believable are accepted.

Nevertheless despite all my concerns about the inherent reliability of mainstream history, it is my intention is to continue to record in ‘History” only the information which is mainstream and which I am confident is based on reasonable source documents. If you, my readers, see anything which is factually incorrect in this “History” section please let me know.

At the same time i will accumulate alternative views and interpretations under “Pseudo History” paying particular reference where there are departures from mainstream views which may have an influence on the way Ximene thought and behaved.

The most dangerous woman in the world