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date: 08 August 2020

Sozomen, church historian

Salamanes Hermeias Sozomenus, also known as Sozomen, was a lawyer and church historian. The scarce biographical information that we have about him derives from ex silentio arguments and from the interpretation of passages of his extant work, The Ecclesiastical History. Even his full name presents doubts, as the three names that it consisted of are presented in different orders in the manuscripts transmitting his work. It has also been argued that Sozomen could be a Greek translation of Salamanes, a name of Semitic origins. Sozomen’s date of birth has also been a matter of debate, with estimates ranging from 380 to 427, although a date at the beginning of the 5th century seems to be the most likely approximation. Less problematic is to determine his place of birth, Betheleia, a village near Gaza in Palestine where Sozomen’s family had been long established. His grandfather seems to have been the first of the family to convert to Christianity when he witnessed how the monk Hilarion cast out a demon that had possessed a fellow citizen (Sozomen, Historia Ecclesiastica 5.15.14–15).

Also controversial are the form and degree of influence of the monks from the regions near to Sozomen’s birthplace on the historian’s education, although from his texts (HE I.12; III.14), it is apparent that he visited them. It is plausible that he attended the prestigious school of Beirut, where he would have learned Latin and law, hence his title “scholasticus” and the numerous quotations from the Codex Theodosianus (a compilation of laws from the years 311–437, commissioned by the emperors Theodosius II and Valentinian III) in his Ecclesiastical History. Before settling in Constantinople to work as an advocate, Sozomen spent some time travelling, although it is not possible to detail his itinerary. He provides information about Jerusalem, Egypt, Rome, and Palestine but it is unclear if this information derived from visits to these locations or from oral testimonies. His education and work in Constantinople did not gain him a place of influence or connections with the imperial court. It was during his stay there that he engaged in the composition of the Ecclesiastical History while practicing law. Constantinople came to symbolize for Sozomen the result of the transition from a pagan order to a Christian world (see especially HE II.3). The year 448 has been suggested as the date of his death.

Sozomen tells us (HE 1.1.12) that he wrote a compendium in two books of the main events of the Christian Church, from the Resurrection to the defeat of the emperor Licinius by Constantine I (324). This work, however, has not come down to us. The exact date of composition of his HE remains unknown although in all likelihood it was written between 439 and 450. The HE is preceded by a lengthy dedication to the emperor, Theodosius II. Dealing with ecclesiastical and non-Christian issues from 323, the HE is divided into nine books following the reign of Constantine until the times of Theodosius II. The last book, however, is incomplete. There are significant differences in terms of approach, scope and style between Sozomen’s HE and Socrates ScholasticusHistoria Ecclesiastica, one of Sozomen’s main sources together with the historiographical works by Eunapius and Olympiodorus. Strongly linked to the Nicene Creed, Sozomen was greatly concerned with the internal disputes within the Church, although he did not go into detail when it came to explaining the theological debates that caused disunion.

Sozomen’s HE enjoyed a good reputation in Byzantine times and was even mentioned in a letter (Ep. 7.34) of Pope Gregory I. It was part of Theodore the Lector’s Tripartite History, a compilation of the Church histories by Socrates Scholasticus, Sozomen, and Theodoret of Cyrus. This positive appraisal was shared by other authors such as Cassiodorus, in the preface to his Ecclesiastical History, and Photius (Bibliotheca 30).

Primary Texts

Sozomen. Kirchengeschichte. Edited and translated by Joseph Bidez, and Günther Christian Hansen. Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin. Kommission für Spätantike Religionsgeschichte. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1995.Find this resource:

Sozomen. Historia Ecclesiastica: Kirchengeschichte, 4 vols. Edited and translated by Günther Christian Hansen. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2004.Find this resource:

Sozomen. Histoire ecclésiastique, 3 vols. Translated and commented by Bernard Grillet, Guy Sabbah, and André Jean Festugière. Sources Chrétiennes. Paris: Les éditions du CERF, 1983–2005.Find this resource:

Sozomen. The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen: Comprising a History of the Church from A.D. 324 to A.D. 440. Translated by Edward Walford. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1855.Find this resource:

Further Reading

Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft, s.v. “Sozomenos 2.”Find this resource:

Cross, F. L., and E. A. Livingstone, ed. “Sozomen”. In The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Amato, Eugenio. “Un perduto epitafio per lo storico Sozomeno?” Byzantion 79 (2009): 20–24.Find this resource:

Berardi, Caterina. Linee di storiografia ecclesiastica in Sozomeno di Gaza. Bari, Italy: Edipuglia, 2016.Find this resource:

Bidez, Joseph. La tradition manuscrite de Sozomène et la Tripartite de Théodore le Lecteur. Leipzig, Germany: J. C. Hinrich, 1908.Find this resource:

Chesnut, Glenn. The First Christian Histories: Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, and Evagrius. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1986.Find this resource:

Hansen, Günther Christian. Studien zu dem Kirchenhistoriker Sozomenus. PhD diss., Verlag nicht ermittelbar, Berlin, 1960.Find this resource:

Leppin, Hartmut. Von Constantin dem Grossen zu Theodosius II: das christliche Kaisertum bei den Kirchenhistoriken Socrates, Sozomenus, und Theodoret. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1996.Find this resource:

Van Nuffelen, Peter. Un héritage de paix et de piété: Étude sur les histoires ecclésiastiques de Socrate et de Sozomène. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2004.Find this resource:

Rohrbacher, David. The Historians of Late Antiquity. London: Routledge, 2002.Find this resource:

Urbainczyk, Theresa. “Observations on the Differences between the Church Histories of Socrates and Sozomen.” Historia 46, no. 3 (1997): 355–373.Find this resource:

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