M.M. was a refugee, an adventurer, and an accomplished counterfeiter, who even forged Palaeologan documents to win a dispute about ecclesiastical authority in his territory in the Morea. Both he and one of his brothers, Theodoros, participated in a rebellion against the Ottoman authorities after the battle of Lepanto (1571) and were then compelled to emigrate to Italy.
Very few details about the activities of the Melissourgos brothers can be found before the battle of Lepanto (Ναύπακτος) (3 October 1571). M.M. was the bishop of Monemvasia (Μονεμβασία) in 1570. It was in July of 1570 he enters into a dispute with the metropolitan of Christianoupolis (city in the Peloponnese; no longer exists), Sophronios, in regard to the jurisdiction of the see of Androusa (Ανδρούσσα). In 1571 M.M. becomes involved in rebellious activities against the Ottoman authorities by conspiring with Spanish agents, who were preparing the ground for intervention that led to the battle of Lepanto. After the battle, M.M. and his brothers continued their seditious activities on Ottoman territories from their base in the Mani peninsula (Μάνη), but with the departure of the western fleet from the Adriatic and the Ionian Seas the Melissourgos brothers fled from the Morea on board a Spanish ship to Italy. They settled in the Greek community of Naples, where M.M. produced his Chronicon Maius and died in 1585.
The chronicle that has been attributed to the pen of George Sphrantzes (d. 1477), attendant to Manuel II Palaeologus (r. 1391-1425), diplomat of John VIII Palaeologus (r. 1425-48), and intended Grand Chancellor of the last Greek emperor, Constantine XI Palaeologus (r. 1448-53), has come down to us in two forms: a short version, the Chronicon Minus and a much larger account, the Chronicon Maius, which incorporates the text of the Minus and inserts a great deal of additional material. The Minus is comprised mostly of relatively brief notices and seems to represent the notes that George Sphrantzes had amassed in his career until his death in 1477. It also contains a short notice on the conquest of Constantinople (May 29, 1453) that mentions the death of the emperor and the fact that Sphrantzes and other members of his family were taken prisoners during the sack. It was once believed that the Minus was either a later epitome of the Maius or that it represented the brief notes that Sphrantzes had collected during his life in the imperial entourage, which he then organized and expanded into the Maius in his old age.
Since 1934 scholarly efforts have demonstrated clearly that only the Minus is the authentic work of Sphrantzes. The Chronicon Maius is, in fact, an elaboration and expansion of the Minus, composed more than a century after Sphrantzes’ death by M.M., the metropolitan of Monemvasia.
The Chronicon Maius is an ambitious work written during M.M.’s Naples years (ca. 1580) and offers a comprehensive history of the Palaeologan dynasty up to 1477 with extensive digressions on the history of the Ottomans and a heavy emphasis on religious events. It is comprised of a prologue and four books. The Prologue is derivative; its main theme is the usefulness of history but it has been elaborated from a prelude that opens the narrative of the thirteenth-century historian George Akropolites. Book I deals with the origins of the Palaeologan dynasty but also offers an extensive excursus into early Ottoman history. An awkward transition incorporates and expands the opening passages of the Minus. Although the authentic Minus covers the events of the years between 1401 and 1412 in summary fashion, M.M. treats them in extenso and in detail. Book I concludes with the death of Emperor Manuel II in 1425 (r. 1391-1425). Book II gives an account of the events of the reign of Emperor John VIII Palaeologus (r. 1425-48), presents elaborated versions of the information encountered in the Minus, and adds irrelevant digressions.
Book III has always been considered the jewel of this composition as it discusses the disastrous reign of the last Greek emperor, Constantine XI Palaeologus (r. 1448-53), and includes a detailed narrative of the operations during the siege of Constantinople by the Ottomans. By contrast, the authentic Minus fails to describe the siege and takes notice of the conquest in a single entry (25.8). Historians have valued this section of M.M.’s narrative, as it was supposedly composed by a member of the imperial administration and of the diplomatic corps, who had contacts with influential members of the sultan’s Porte. Scholarship, however, has demonstrated beyond doubt that this section is in fact a translation and a paraphrase into Greek of another account composed in Latin by an eyewitness, Bishop Leonardo Giustiniani (d. 1359) who wrote a summary of the observations he made during the siege. The authoritative Latin epistula by Bishop Leonardο Giustiniani which was completed and sent to Pope Nicholas V on August 16, 1453, still remains one of the most authoritative accounts of the defense of Constantinople in 1453. In his Greek paraphrase of the bishop’s letter M.M. added his own observations, changed a number of details, and improved on Leonardo’s topography of Istanbul (with which he was familiar, as he spent a year in the Patriarchate involved in litigation over ecclesiastical jurisdiction regarding his territories in the Morea).
Book IV relates the events surrounding the Ottoman conquest of the Morea. Numerous details presented here are not found in the Minus, especially in connection with Monemvasia, which was M.M.’s see. Numerous digressions have been added, including an essay on the origin of earthquakes. There is a great deal of material here, both derivative and original, which deserves a closer look by modern scholarship. Extremely valuable in this section is a narrative that deals with the early patriarchate under Meḥmed II (r. 1444-46, 1451-81), the installment of the first patriarch under Ottoman rule, and the origin of the so-called privileges of the Patriarchate that were supposedly bestowed on the first patriarch by the sultan himself. Some of the information here derives from the work of Damaskenos the Stoudite (d. 1577), with whose work M.M. must have been unquestionably familiar, and which, independently of M.M., also found its place in the monumental Turcograecia by Martinus Crusius (d. 1607).
M.M. also included a proper ending to the work. While Sphrantzes’ work, the authentic Minus, ends abruptly after an entry in the late summer of 1477, the Maius ends by informing its reader that the author (i.e., supposedly Sphrantzes) wrote his account upon the insistence of prominent citizens and that he was seriously ill. It further states that this account was completed on March 29, 1488.
Perhaps the ultimate motives for the elaboration of the Minus into the Maius had to do with the desire of the bishop to elevate his family into the Greek expatriate nobility, as he found himself at pains to enforce his own fabrication that his family (whose name he improved from “Melissourgos” with its humble origins to the more notable “Melissenos”) was related to Sphrantzes himself. In his efforts to glorify his family M.M. did not hesitate to invent personalities as defenders of Constantinople in 1453, who, he claims, died heroically, at the side of the emperor on the very day of the fall of the city.
M.M. has been generally viewed as a negative figure by modern scholarship, which has emphasized his activities as a member of a family that is notoriously known for its forging and counterfeiting activities. However, it is maybe more appropriate to think of him as a 16th-century literary figure rather than an outright plagiarist. His elaboration of the Minus is more than a mechanical expansion of this prototype. His “paraphrase” of the Bishop Leonardo’s letter demonstrates that he was not simply a mechanical translator, as M.M.’s Greek elaboration manages to raise his Latin prototype to a level that evokes pathos and improves the presentation encountered in the Latin original.
M.M.’s elaboration of Sphrantzes’ authentic work occupies a special position in the annals of Ottoman historiography as it provides a sixteenth-century bridge to the end of Byzantine historiography. Moreover, as it furnished a long narrative of the operations of the siege of Constantinople, it exercised immense influence on scholarship, as the events that it relates were purportedly written by Sphrantzes, an eyewitness who was a member of the imperial administration close to the emperor himself and had maintained personal contacts with officials at the Porte, until modern scholarship demonstrated the secondary nature of this document. The immense popularity of the Chronicon Maius in the Ottoman centuries attests to the high literary quality of the narrative.
1) Μέγα Χρονικὸν (Chronicon Maius)
Manuscripts: The work was very popular and numerous manuscripts (especially of the seventeenth century) survive throughout the Balkans. The earliest and most important (which have been utilized in modern printed editions) include:
(1) Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Codex Ambrosianus P 24 (sup. gr. 613). 1578. Copyist Andreas Darmarios (close to MM). (2) Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Codex Ambrosianus P 123 sup. (gr. 641); 16th century; copyist John Santamaura (close to MM). (3) Rome, Biblioteca Vallicelliana, Codex Vallicellianus Graecus CLXXII, fasc. 4, 17th century. (4) Turin, Biblioteca nazionale universitaria, Codex Taurinensis B 11 20 (gr. 102 bis); 16th century; copied by the circle of Andreas Darmarios (close to MM). (5) Turin, Biblioteca nazionale universitaria, Codex Taurinensis 246 (B VI 20). 17th century. (6) Vatican City, Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, Codex Ottobonianus Graecus 260; fols. 113-206, 16th century. (7) Vatican City, Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, Codex Vaticanus Barberinianus Graecus 175; fols. 1-97, 17th century (“ex codice ms Leonis Allatii”). (8) Vatican City, Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, Codex Vaticanus Barberianianus Graecus 176; fols. 1-81, 17th century.
A complete list of the 16th and 17th century manuscripts, with pertinent discussion, can be found in R. Maisano, “Il manoscritto Napoletano II E.25 e la storia della tradizione dello pseudo-Sfranze.” Ἰταλοελληνικά: Rivista di cultura greco-moderna 2 (1989), 126-129.
Editions & Translations: 1) I. Bekker. Georgius Phrantzes, Ioannes Cananus, Ioannes Anagnostes (Bonn, 1838). It includes a Latin translation of the entire text. 2) V. Grecu. Georgios Sphrantzes, Τὰ καθ’ έαυτὸν καί τινα γεγονότα ἐν τῷ χρόνῳ τῆς ζωῆς αὐτοῦ, 1401-1477, cum Pseudo-Phrantzes in appendice sive Macarii Melissenis Chronicon, 1258-1481 (Bucharest, 1966). It includes a Rumanian translation of the entire text. 3) I. Papadopulos Georgios Phrantzes: Chronicon, vol.1 (Leipzig, 1935). No complete translation of the Chronicon Maius into English exists. The section on the conquest of Constantinople by Meḥmed II (Book III) has been translated into English: 4) Marios Philippides. The Fall of the Byzantine Empire: A Chronicle by George Sphrantzes, 1401-1477 (Amherst, 1980), 99-151. 5) M.G. Carroll. A Contemporary Greek Source for the Siege of Constantinople, 1453: The Sphrantzes Chronicle (Amsterdam, 1985).
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