previous next

Nice'phorus Gre'goras

Νικηφόρος Γρηγορᾶς), one of the most important Byzantine historians, was probably born in 1295, in the town of Heralcleia Pontica, in Asia Minor. While he lived in his native town, his education was conducted by John, archbishop of Heracleia, but, having been sent to Constantinople, he was placed under the care of John Glycis, patriarch of Constantinople. [GLYCIS.] He learned mathematics and astronomy from Theodorus Metochita, the writer. At an early age Gregoras, who had taken orders, became acquainted with the emperor Andronicus I., the elder, who took a great fancy to him, and offered him the important place of Chartophylax, or keeper of the imperial archives, but the modest young priest declined the office, on the plea of youth. He afterwards, however, accepted several offices of importance, and in 1326 was sent as ambassador to the Kral, that is, the king of Servia. Gregoras was still very young, when he became celebrated for his learning. A dispute having arisen as to the day on which Easter was to be celebrated, Gregoras, in an excellent dissertation, proved that the system then adopted for computing that day was erroneous, and proposed another method. If it had not been for the fear which the clergy entertained of exciting the superstitious mob of Constantinople by a reform of the calendar, the computation of Gregoras would have been adopted by the Greek church. When pope Gregory XIII., 300 years afterwards, reformed the calendar, it ws found that the computation of Gregoras was qite right: the treatise which he wrote on the subject is still extant, and highly appreciated by astronomers. Being a staunch adherent of the elder Andronicus, Gregoras was involved in the fate of this unfortunate emperor, when he was deposed, in 1328, by his grandson, Andronicus III., the younger, who punished the learned favourite of his grandfather by confiscating his property. For a few years after that event Gregoras led a retired life, only appearing in public for the purpose of delivering lectures on various subjects, which were crowned wich extraordinary success. The violence of his language, however, caused him many enemies. In 1332 he pronounced funeral orations on the emperor Andronicus the elder, and the Magnus Logotheta, Theodorus Metochita, mentioned above. He opposed the union of the Greek and Latin churches proposed by pope John XXII., who had sent commissioners for that object to Constantinople. An excellent opportunity for exhibiting his learning and oratorical qualities presented itself to Gregoras, when the notorious Latin monk Barlaam came over from Calabria to Constantinople, for the purpose of exciting dissensions among the Greek clergy. Barlaam had reason to expect complete success, when his career was stopped short by Gregoras, who challenged the disturber to a public disputation, in which Barlaam was so completely defeated, that, in his shame and confusion, he retired to Thessaloneica, and never more appeared in the capital. The dissensions, however, occasioned by Barlaam had a most injurious influence upon the peace of the Greek church, and caused a revolution, which ended most unfortunately for Gregoras. Gregorius Palamas, afterwards archbishop of Thessalonica, espoused the dogmas of Barlaan he was opposed by Gregorius Acindynus, and hence arose the famous controversy between the Palamites and Acindynites. This quarrel, like most disputes on religious matters in the Byzantine empire, assumed a political character. Gregoras resolved to remain neutral: his prudence ruined him, because, as his violent temper was known, be became suspected by both parties. Palamas, having been condemned by the synod of 1345, the victorious Acindynites were going to sacrifice Gregoras to their suspicions, but he was protected by John Cantacuzenus, afterwards emperor, who during a long time had professed a sincere friendship for him. A short time afterwards the Acindvnites were condemned in their turn, and the Palamites became the ruling party; they were joined by John Cantacuzenus, and this time Gregoras did not escape the resentment of the victors, though his only crime was neutrality. Abandoned by Cantacuzenus, he was imprisoned in 1351. He was afterwards released; but his enemies, among whom his former friend Cantacuzenus was most active, rendered him odious to the people, and when he died, in, or probably after, 1359, his remains were insulted by the mob.


Gregoras wrote a prodigious number of works on history, divinity, philosophy, astronomy, several panegyrics, some poems, and a considerable number of essays on miscellaneous subjects: a list of them is given by Schopen in the Bonn edition of the History of Gregoras, and by Fabricius, who also gives a list of several hundred authors perused and quoted by Gregoras.

Ρ̓ωμαικῆς Ἱστορίας Λόγοι (

The principal work of our author is his Ρ̓ωμαικῆς Ἱστορίας Λόγοι, commonly called Historia Byzantina, in thirty-eight books, of which, as yet, only twenty-four are printed. It begins with the capture of Constantinople by the Latins in 1204, and goes down to 1359; the twenty-four printed books contain the period from 1204 to 1351. The earlier part of that period is treated with comparative brevity; but as the author approaches his own time, he enters more into detail, and is often diffuse. This history ought to be read together with that of John Cantacuzenus: they were at first friends, but afterwards enemies, and each of them charges the other with falsehood and calumnies. Each of them represents events according to his own views, and their exaggerated praises of their partizans deserve as little credit as their violent attacks of their enemies. Gregoras was more learned than John Cantacuzenus, but the latter was better able to pass a judgment upon great historical facts. One cannot help smiling at seeing Gregoras, who was ambitious of nothing more than the name of a great philosopher, forget all impartiality and moderation as soon as the presumed interest of his party is at stake: his philosophy was in his head, not in his heart. His style is, generally speaking, bombastic, diffuse, full of repetitions of facts as well as of favourite expressions: he is fond of narrating matters of little importance with a sort of artificial elegance, and he cannot inform the reader of great events without an additional display of pompous words spun out into endless periods. Like most of his contemporaries, he mixes politics with theology.

These are his defects. We are indebted to him, however, for the care he has taken in making posterity acquainted with an immense number of facts referring to that period of Byzantine history when the Greek empire was still to be saved from ruin by a cordial understanding, both in political and religious matters, with the inhabitants of Europe.


It is said that Frederic Rostgaard published the History of Gregoras, with a Latin translation, in 1559, but this is a mistake; at least, nobody has seen this edition.

The editio princeps is the one published by Hieronymus Wolf, Basel, 1562, fol., with a Latin translation and an index, which, bowever, contains only the first eleven books. Wolf was persuaded to undertake the task by Dernschwam, a German scholar, who had travelled in the East, where he obtained a MS. of the work. Wolf obtained another MS. in Germany, and was enabled to publish the work by the liberality of the celebrated patron of learning and arts, Count Anthony Fugger. He published this work, together with the Paralipomena of Nicetas, and the Turkish history of Laonicus Chalcocondylas, with a Latin translation by Konrad Clauser. The same edition was reprinted in the Historiae Byzantinae Descriptores Tres, Geneva, 1615, fol.

The MSS. perused by Wolf had many considerable lacunae, or passages that could not be deciphered. The corresponding text was afterwards found in other MSS by Petavius, who published them, together with the Breviarium of Nicephorus the Patriarch, Paris, 1616, 8vo.

The Paris edition was edited by Boivin, two volumes, 1702, fol. The first vol. is a carefully revised reprint of Wolf's edition, containing the first eleven books; the second vol. contains the following thirteen books, with a Latin translation by the editor, except books 23 and 24, which were translated by Claudius Copperonerius; it contains also the excellent notes of Du Cange to the first seventeen books. Boivin deserves great credit for this edition. He intended to add a third volume, containing the remaining fourteen books, and a fourth volume with commentaries, &c., but neither of them was published. The Venice edition, 1729, fol., is a careless reprint of the Paris edition. The Bonn edition, by Schopen, 1829-30, 2 vols. 8vo., is a careful and revised reprint of the Paris edition. It is to be regretted that the learned editor of this edition has not thought it advisable to publish the remaining fourteen books also, the materials of which he would have found in very excellent condition in Paris.

Other Printed Works


The other printed works of Gregoras are--

Oratio in Obitum Theodori Metochitae (Gr. Lat.), in Theodori Metochitae (that is, Michael Glycas [GLYCAS]) Historia Romana, ed. Joh. Meursius, Leyden, 1618, 8vo.; Commentarii sive Scholia in Synesium De Insomniis, in the Paris edition of Synesius, 1553, fol.; Vita Sancti Codrati et Sociorum Martyrum, interprete Reinoldo Dehnio, in the second vol. of Acta Sanctorum; Paschalium Correctum, Τὸ διορθωθὲν πασχάλιον ὑπὸ Νικηφόρου φιλοσόφου τοῦ Γρηγορᾶ, περὶ οὗ καὶ Ἄργυρος ἐν τῇ ῥηθείσῃ μεθόδῳ διαλαμβάνει, in Petavius, Uranologium, and in the third volume of the same author's Doctrina Temporum, the celebrated work mentioned above; Epistola ad Theodulum Monachum, in Normann's edition of Theodulus, Upsala, 1693, 4to.

Further Information

Dissert. de Nicephoro Gregora, in Oudin, Commentarii de Script. Eccles., vol. iii. p. 768, &c.; Boivin, Vita Nic. Greg., in the Paris and Bonn editions of Gregoras, Hist. Byz. ; Cave, Hist. Lit., Appendix, p. 45; Fabric. Bibl. Graec. vol. vii. p. 633, &c.; Hankius, De Byz. Rer. Script. p. 579, &c.


hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: