Zosimus, New History. London: Green and Chaplin (1814). Introduction to the online edition.

The presence of the 'New History' of Zosimus in a collection of the fathers requires some explanation.  Zosimus was not one of the fathers, nor indeed a Christian.  He was a bigoted pagan, who wrote in order to smear the Christians, and to abuse the founders of the Christian empire, Constantine and Theodosius.  He was not even a contemporary of the events, writing around 500 AD.  Nor is he unwilling to adjust the facts to fit his thesis that abandoning the sacrifices of paganism was the cause of the collapse of the empire.  For instance he moves the conversion of Constantine to 326, so that Constantine's military successes can be assigned to a 'pagan' period, and thus must omit all mention of the Council of Nicaea in 325, or the legislation dating from 313 onwards. 

Because of his anti-Christian stance, some writers have been ready to treat him as the only objective witness to the period.  While this is absurd, nevertheless his statements are of interest as reflecting a very different point of view from our other sources, the ecclesiastical historians.  The adjustments that he or his source makes to the facts are not outside the legitimate bounds of history as it was understood in classical times, and his sources are now mostly lost.  As such, his work is valuable.

The public domain translation is very difficult for ordinary readers to obtain.  In view of the interest of the text, I have therefore decided to include it in this collection, albeit as an appendix.

About Zosimus

All of our information derives from the Bibliotheca of Photius (elsewhere in this collection).  Codex 98 is our text:

98.  Read the History of count Zosimus, ex-advocate of the fisc, in six books. Being an impious heathen, he frequently yelps at those of the true faith. His style is concise, clear, and pure, and not devoid of charm. He begins his history almost from the time of Augustus, and glances rapidly at the emperors down to Diocletian, merely mentioning their proclamation and the order of succession. From Diocletian he treats at greater length of his successors in five books. The first book contains the emperors from Augustus to Diocletian and the sixth book ends at the time when Alaric, who was besieging Rome for the second time, when the citizens were reduced to desperate straits, raised the siege and proclaimed Attalus emperor. Soon afterwards he deposed him because of his incapacity, and sent an embassy to Honorius, who was then at Ravenna, with proposals for peace. But Sarus, himself a Goth and an enemy of Alaric, with about 300 men attached himself to Honorius, and, promising to do his utmost to assist him against Alaric, succeeded in making the negotiations unsuccessful. Here the sixth book ends.

It may be said that Zosimus did not himself write the history, but that he copied that of Eunapius, from which it only differs in brevity and in being less abusive of Stilicho. In other respects his account is much the same, especially in the attacks upon the Christian emperors. I think that both these authors brought out new editions, although I have not seen the first edition, but it may be conjectured from the title of the "new edition," which I have read, that, like Eunapius, he published a second edition. He is clearer and more concise, as we have said, than Eunapius, and rarely employs figures of speech. (SPCK)

The 'fisc' is the imperial treasury.  Photius draws attention to the title, Nea Historia, which he presumes indicates a new edition.  However this is not generally accepted today.

There had been much legislation to prevent pagans holding office from the fourth century onwards.  Neverthless pagans continued to do so.  Others in the late fifth century include the jurist Demochares, Pamprepius (consul ca. 479 and magister officiorum to Leontius, RE 18.3.409), and Severus who was consul in 470.

It is thought that Zosimus used Dexippus for book 1, Eunapius for books 2-5.27, and Olympiodorus thereafter.  The history of the latter went down to 425.  All these are entirely or mostly lost, but Zosimus copied them slavishly.  This can be seen in book 5 where the presentation of Stilicho is hostile while he follows Eunapius, and then becomes mildly positive in 5.34 when he is following Olympiodorus.

Zosimus refers to the hated tax, the Chryargyrum (2.38.4), abolished by Anastasius I in 498, in terms that suggest strongly that he lived after that date.  Evagrius Scholasticus (elsewhere in this collection) writing at the end of the 6th century attacks Zosimus, and tells us that Eustathius, who died around 518,  also wrote against him.  This allows us to date Zosimus to the early 6th century.

About the manuscripts and editions

The text of Zosimus survives in a single manuscript now in the Vatican, Codex Vaticanus Graecus 156.  This was written over a period of two centuries, the 10th-12th, probably in the celebrated and scholarly Studios monastery in Constantinople.  However the manuscript has suffered damage.  A quaternion of 8 leaves is missing at the end of book 1 / start of book 2.  Also a single leaf has been cut out in book 5, ch. 22.  The Ms. was in the Vatican in 1475, but was moved to the closed shelves during the wars of religion in 1572.  It was made available again in the 1850s.  A surreptitous copy was made in the 16th century, however, and from copies of this all the texts until 1887 were derived.

About this translation

This text is a copy of the 1814 English translation, which implies that it is a fresh translation with the notes of the 1679 Oxford edition.  But since there is a 1684 translation which claims the same, certain points lead me to believe that it is a very careless reprint only.  No translator's name or introduction is present.  The printed book is littered with crass mistakes which could not have occurred had it been proof-read at all. The pagination runs up to p.125, then reverts to 124 and on. The pagination has been tampered again with between pp. 134-137 to add two to the count, so that the final number is correct.  Finally the book is padded out with 70 pages of really irrelevant appendices, plainly there only to increase the price.  These last have been omitted. The title page indicates that it was printed by W. Green and T. Chaplin for Mr. J. Davis, who presumably paid for this inferior product.

An original copy of this edition was not available to me in November 2002.  This online text was originally prepared from a poor quality photocopy of the volume, bound as a book with the pages reversed.  It has been very hard to scan.  Reports of typographical errors which may have escaped me are very welcome.  The copy omitted the 'second' pages 124-5 in book IV, leaving a lacuna.  In August 2003 I was able to consult an original in the Taylorian Institute Annex of the Bodleian Library in Oxford, and used this to complete the edition.

Two cases where the wrong name has plainly been inserted by the compositor -- Jovian for Julian, Constantine for Constantius -- I have corrected.  I have no doubt there are others.  It has been a considerable temptation to correct the typographical errors, but I have refrained from doing so.

As usual, copying and placing copies online is encouraged. 


This is mainly from RIDLEY, who gives a detailed commentary and a list of articles and studies.

Major Editions

H. STEPHANUS (=Estienne), 1581 (Geneva).  Books 1-2 only, following Herodian and with the Latin translation of Leunclavius.
F. SYLBURG, 1590 (Frankfurt).  Series: Historiae romanae scriptores Vol. 3.  The first complete edition of the Greek.
Ch. CELLARIUS (=Keller), 1679 (Zeitz).
T. SPARK, [Zosimou Kometos kai apophiskosynegorou Historias neas bibloi hex] = Zosimi comitis & exadvocati fisci, Historiæ novæ libri sex, notis illustrati. 1679 (Oxford).  Oxonii, : E Theatro Sheldoniano, anno 1679. [8], 384 p. ; 80. Greek text with parallel Latin translation.
J. REITEMEIER, 1784 (Leipzig).  With commentary.
I. BEKKER, 1837 (Bonn).  Series: Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae vol. 20, with commentary by Reitemeier, and the Leunclavius Latin translation.
L. MENDELSSOHN, 1887 (Leipzig).  The standard edition until Paschoud.
F. PASCHOUD, Zosime: Histoire Nouvelle.  1971 (Paris: Collection Budé).  With French translation, introduction and commentary.


J. LEUNCLAVIUS (=Löwenklau), 1576 (Basel).  Into Latin.
L. COUSIN, in Histoire romaine écrite par Xiphilin, Zonare et Zosime, 1678 (Paris).  Into French.  Reprinted in Ouvrages historiques de Polybe, Herodien et Zosime, 1836 (Paris: Pantheon litteraire).
Anon., The New history of count Zosimus. With the notes of the Oxford ed. To which is prefixed Leunclavius's apology for the author. Newly Englished., 1684 (London).  Into English.  There is a copy of this in the Bodleian library.
SEYBOLD-HEYLER, 1802-4 (Frankfurt). Into German.
Anon.,The history of Count Zosimus : sometime advocate and Chancellor of the Roman empire / Translated from the original Greek ; with the notes of the Oxford edition, 1814 (London).  Into English.  (This text). 241 p. ; 25 cm.  The Oxford edition was published in 1679 with notes by Thomas Spark.  Also listed as 'Istoria nea.'
J. BUCHANAN & H. DAVIS, 1967 (Texas).  Into English.  Criticised by Ridley: "Although the work of at least three hands, this translation is marred by errors, slang, lack of chronology (how can one use a history covering four centuries without a date?), inexactness on technical terms (with which Zosimus is replete and a very valuable source), and a 'commentary' which is virtually non-existent."
F. PASCHOUD, loc. cit.
Ronald T. RIDLEY, Zosimus: New History, Sydney (1982).  Byzantina Australiensa 2.  Soon to be reissued in a revised form.
Otto VEH, Neue Geschichte / Zosimos ; übersetzt und eingeleitet von Otto Veh ; durchgesehen und erläutert von Stefan Rebenich. Stuttgart : Hiersemann (1990)

Roger Pearse
19th November 2002
Revised: 20th August 2003.

This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, Ipswich, UK, 2002.  All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.
Greek text is rendered using the Scholars Press SPIonic font, free from here.

Early Church Fathers - Additional Texts