Post-classical history

Choniates, Niketas (d. c. 1217)

Byzantine statesman, court orator, and historian of the Kom- nenos and Angelos dynasties as well as of the first years of the Empire of Nicaea. His historiographical work is one of the most important Greek sources for the Second (1147-1149), Third (1189-1192), and Fourth (1202-1204) Crusades.

Born in Chonai (mod. Honaz, Turkey) in Phrygia between 1155 and 1160, Choniates studied theology, law, and history in Constantinople (mod. Istanbul, Turkey), where he was promoted to high posts in the Byzantine administration by the Angeloi. In 1189, while governor of Philippopolis (mod. Plovdiv, Bulgaria), he encountered the leader of the German contingent of the Third Crusade (1189-1192), Frederick I Barbarossa, and personally clashed with Emperor Isaac II Angelos over the latter’s resistance to the crusade and his alliance with Saladin. Choniates eventually attained the important administrative post of grand logothete, which he held from 1191/1192 to early 1204, when he was forced to emigrate with his family to Nicaea (mod. Iznik, Turkey) following the second crusader capture of the capital (12-13 April 1204).

At Nicaea Choniates became a fervent supporter of the emperor Theodore I Laskaris, and it was there that he began the compilation of his main work, the Chronike Die- gesis. In twenty-one books it describes the period from the death of Alexios I Komnenos to the fourth year of the Empire of Nicaea (1118-1207); the narrative ends abruptly with the siege of Adrianople by the Bulgarian tsar Kalojan in the autumn of 1207, probably on account of the author’s death (after spring 1217). To a considerable extent an eyewitness account, with trustworthy information but also clear traces of its author’s strong personal feelings and assessments, the work provides invaluable information on Byzantium’s relations with the Balkan peoples, Hungarians, Turks, and crusaders and other Westerners, particularly concerning the crusader conquest of 1204. Together with the account of John Kinnamos, that of Choniates continues the narrative of Anna Komnene’s Alexiad; both works were themselves continued (for the post-1204 period) by Akropolites. Also of historical interest are several of Choniates’s orations and speeches, as well as his theological works, containing refutations of heresies up to his own time.

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