Laonikos Chalkokondyles

Summary

Laonicus Chalkokondyli (1430 – 1490) was a Greek historian, a member of the eponymous noble family of Athens, which produced several scholars in the 15th century.

He was born in Athens. The year of his birth (1430 or a little later) is inferred from his descriptions in his work, where he does not mention Thessaloniki as free (it fell in 1430). His real name was Nicholas, but to emphasize his sanity he used the anagram Laonikos. He was the son of George Chalcondylis (1390-1466) and nephew of Demetrius Chalcondylis (1423-1511). His father held an important office at the court of the Florentine Duke of Athens, Antonio Achagioli. When he died in 1435, his wife Maria Melissini tried to expel the Florentines from the Duchy of Athens and keep it under Greek rule. To this end, she sent her relative George Chalcocondyli to Sultan Murat II to recognize her as the legitimate heir to the duchy and in return give him her family possessions in Messinia and Laconia. But while George was on the journey to negotiate with the Sultan, on learning this the Athenians revolted and expelled his family, Maria and then, on his return, George himself, remaining loyal to his son Antonio and the new duke Nerio II Achagioli.

His family settled in Mystras, capital of the homonymous Despotate. According to the testimony of Kyriakos of Agonitis , on August 2, 1447, Laonicus Chalkokondyli was living at the court of the Despot of Mystras, Constantine IA Palaiologos. The young Laonicus was attending lessons in philosophy and history from the supercilious George Gemistos Plethon. Their Italian visitor, impressed by Laonicus, wrote that he was “gregie latinis atque grecis litteris eruditum (“erudite in Latin and Greek letters”). Plethon gave him his own book of the Histories of Herodotus, written in 1318, with handwritten notes by Plethon and Bessarion of Trapezium from 1436, to copy.

During his father”s lifetime, he gained first-hand experience of the Ottoman court and learned a lot of Turkish, probably by visiting Adrianople (their capital before the Fall) or Constantinople, as his descriptions suggest. According to the scholarly historian Theodore Spanduginos, he was present at the battle of Varna (1444), in the camp of Murat II, close to his father George, who was by then a translator and secretary in the service of the Ottomans, but this version is disputed by other scholars, since Laonicus was at most 14 years old at the time.

After the Fall of Constantinople (1453) it is considered probable by historians such as Con.Sathas that he left for Italy where his cousin Demetrios Chalcocondylis was already living, and that he remained until his death, but neither when nor where exactly is known. There is also no mention of him by an Italian scholar of that time. The Byzantine scholar Kaldellis assumes, based on the manner of description, that Laonicus was present at the circumcision of the sons of Muhammad II in Constantinople in 1457, i.e. he never left for the West, and that he finished writing his Histories in 1464. After that, however, we do not know either when or where he died. According to an account by Cyriacus of Agonitis, he was still alive in 1487.

After his flight to Italy, he wrote a history entitled “Proofs of Histories” in 10 volumes, covering the period 1298-1463. The history of Laonicus Chalcocondyli is one of the most important sources for the study of the period. The central theme of the book is the gradual decline of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, the rise of the Ottoman Turks and the efforts of the states of the region to resist Turkish expansionism.

His model in writing his history is Thucydides and Herodotus. His language is clear and correct and his style simple and comprehensible, but the text, which is in very poor condition, and the archaic language, make it unreadable in many places, as he uses the ancient names of the peoples of the time, instead of the modern ones, while by the extensive use of the name “Greeks” instead of the established “Romans”, he connects his contemporaries with the ancient Greeks.

The content of the books deals with the following:

This story was translated and printed in Latin (1556) and French (1577), and is contained in Migne”s Patrologia Graeca (volume 159, columns 13-555).

Sources

  1. Λαόνικος Χαλκοκονδύλης
  2. Laonikos Chalkokondyles