Francis Cairns Publications

ARCA Classical and Medieval Texts, Papers and Monographs ISSN 0309-5541

The Fifth-Century Chroniclers. Prosper, Hydatius and the Gallic Chronicle of 452

S. Muhlberger

ARCA 27. ISBN 978-0-905205-76-2. Cloth, xii+329. Publ. 1990.
(pb repr. 2006. 978-0-905205-46-5)

Extract Reviews

The fifth century A.D. is a crucial period in the transition from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Among the most important western historical sources from that century are three ecclesiastical chroniclers: Prosper of Aquitaine (southern France), Hydatius (from Gallaecia in north-west Spain), and the anonymous Gaul of 452 (who probably lived in Marseilles). Scholars have mined their brief works for individual dates and facts, but have not taken them seriously as practitioners of the historian's art, regarding them only as preservers of otherwise unobtainable material.

Steven Muhlberger in The Fifth-Century Chroniclers does take these three writers seriously, as witnesses to a fascinating era of change and conflict, and as historians. All three chronicles were conceived as works of universal Christian history, in the tradition of Eusebius and Jerome. Each author sought to show how recent events fitted into the sweep of salvation history. Far from being impersonal records, they are works of interpretation. Once the purposes behind them are understood, what they reveal about the fifth century and about Christian reactions to the decline of Roman power can be properly appreciated.

For the historian of the fifth century, The Fifth-Century Chroniclers provides a detailed commentary on key texts, discusses essential technical matters such as manuscript tradition and chronological accuracy, and places the chronicles firmly within their individual contexts, evaluating each author as a witness for his time. The book also examines the interrelationships of the three near-contemporary writers, and explains how they differ in their judgements on political and ecclesiastical movements.

From the point of view of medieval history, these three chroniclers were pioneers in Christian historiography. The genre they adopted and developed is the chief link between the historical writing of Antiquity and that of the Middle Ages. Thus the strategies they used to interpret the past and to express their visions of history are of great interest as background to the medieval chronicle tradition.

The Fifth-Century Chroniclers will interest scholars working on ancient history and historiography, specialists in late antiquity, and medievalists working on the chronicle tradition.

STEVEN MUHLBERGER studied history at Michigan State University and at the University of Toronto, where he took his doctorate in medieval history. He has taught at several Canadian universities, including Toronto, Trent, Brock, and currently Nipissing University College.


(from Introduction, p.2): Those who wrote history in Latin in the fifth century were not interested in the detailed description and analysis of current politics and military affairs, nor in creating great works of literary history. Christians to a man, they were preoccupied by the sweep of history as a whole, because they saw it as the working out of God's plan for humanity. Recent events had meaning for them only in the context of salvation history. The connection between present and past was for them best and most easily shown in a new type of historical work, the Christian world chronicle. In the chronicle, the narrative structure of literary history was replaced by a chronological framework, usually a list of consuls, emperors, or kings. Events were noted very briefly and were placed in rough chronological order by inserting them at appropriate points in the list. The chronicler could in this manner summarize the events of the recent past, or, for that matter, all of history. The form was as popular with readers as with writers. The Latin reading public had long preferred epitomes to full narrative histories; Christian world chronicles were the ultimate epitomes, since they made it possible to put the highlights of universal history in one small book. The chronicle so well suited the taste of the new Christian culture that it became the most popular historical genre of the Middle Ages.



The English Historical Review 109 (1994) 677-8 (Peter Heather): "Muhlberger makes so many detailed contributions ... that his work is likely to remain invaluable for the foreseeable future ... the enduring contribution of this thoroughly good book will be the light it sheds on matters of detail for historians writing about the end of the Roman Empire."

Revue des Etudes Latines 70 (1992) 403-4 (Alain Tranoy): "une bonne synthèse claire et précise sur en ensemble de sources dont l'accès n'est pas toujours facile"

Phoenix 47 (1993) 181-3 (Richard Burgess). "This is a revolutionary book."

Church History (1993) 242-3 (Harry Rosenberg): "Steven Muhlberger in his sturdy monograph scrutinizes the historical work of the Gallic, Spaniard, and anonymous authors with precision and imaginative insights."

Anzeiger für die Altertumswissenschaft 46 (1993) 59-60 (Gerhard Dobesch): "Solche Bücher brauchen wir: Neues erschließend; den Stoff in mühevoller Detailarbeit und gewissenhafter Argumentation erfassend; den Stoff mit realistischer, nüchterner Imaginationskraft und Teilnahme deutend; vorzüglich dokumentiert."

Francia 191 (1992) 277-8 (Ralf Scharf)

Revue des Etudes anciennes 94 (1992) 277-80 (Jean-Pierre Callu)

Classical Review 41 (1991) 419-20 (J.F. Drinkwater): "a relatively brief, but learned, lucid and immensely illuminating study" "One puts down M. with the feeling that one has been informed over a wide range of issues; this book will be a standard work of reference for many years to come."

Gnomon 64 (1992) 600-604 (Ilona Opelt)

Deutsches Archiv für Erforschung des Mittelalters 47 (1991) 627 (Heinz Löwe)

Ecclesiastical History 43 (1992) 462-3 (Roger Collins): "Amongst its many merits the ARCA series has provided an outlet for the publication of a number of excellent editions and studies of otherwise neglected or inaccessible late Antique Greek or Latin historical texts. Muhlberger's book is another worthy addition to this number, and represents the most sustained and scholarly treatment that any of the three authors he considers has received for several decades."