Post-classical history

Matthew of Edessa

An Armenian historian, writing in the early twelfth century. Matthew of Edessa was a monk, possibly senior, in or near that city (mod. Şanlıurfa, Turkey).

Matthew’s Chronicle is divided into three parts: book 1, covering the period 951-1051; book 2, 1051-1101; and book 3, up to about 1129; there is some debate as to whether the last entries, relating to 1136, are his or those of his continuator. At first he is reliant on other Armenian sources, but gradually there is a change of focus away from these and also from affairs in the Armenian homeland to turn to information gathered orally. The third part concentrates on the region around Edessa and contains little on Caucasian or Byzantine affairs. Matthew describes his method of work: he “spent many years in laborious research” and, having consulted widely, “collated all the material contained in these histories with the greatest care,” obtaining “facts from respectable people ... knowledgeable in the events” [Armenia and the Crusades, pp. 182-184].

Matthew occasionally shows hostility to the Greeks, but he seems above all aware of a shared Christian identity; the Franks are at first welcomed as protectors of the Christians and then praised or condemned according to their merits. His work is a vital source for the early history of the Frankish states of Edessa and Antioch and the changing relationship of the Franks with their new subject communities. It seems that he obtained information directly from Franks, which may explain his extreme hostility to the Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos, and he provides information of great interest. For example, Matthew explains that in 1108 Tancred would only return Edessa to Baldwin II as a fief of Antioch, provoking the war between them. His work was continued by Gregory the Priest, resident further west in Kesoun (mod. Keysun, Turkey). Matthew’s Chronicle was extensively used by many later Armenian historians.

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