John of Nikiû

John of Nikiû (fl. 680-690) was an Egyptian Coptic bishop of Nikiû (Pashati) (now Zawyat Razin) in the Nile Delta and general administrator of the monasteries of Upper Egypt in 696. He is the author of a Chronicle extending from Adam to the end of the Muslim conquest of Egypt. John of Nikiû's Chronicle contains important historical details otherwise unknown.


According to the History of the Patriarchs by Severus, Bishop of Al-Ashmunyn (Heliopolis), John of Nikiû lived under the Patriarchs John III, Isaac, and Simeon. But when John of Nikiû disciplined a monk guilty of some moral offense so severely that the monk died ten days later, the Patriarch Simeon removed John from his office.


The original editor of this text, Zotenberg, argued that John of Nikiû's Chronicle was originally written mostly in Greek, theorizing that some of the name forms indicate that John wrote the sections concerning Egypt in Coptic. Scholarly opinion has shifted, however, to the belief that this chronicle was originally written in Coptic.[1] The work survives only in a Ge'ez translation.[2] made in 1602 of an Arabic translation of the original. Sections of the text are obviously corrupted with accidental omissions. Most notably, a passage covering thirty years (from 610 to 640) is missing.

John's view of the earliest periods of history is informed by sources such as Sextus Julius Africanus and John Malalas. The Chronicle is most noteworthy for its passages dealing with the early 7th century. John covers in detail the revolt of the Thracian armies in 602 and the subsequent overthrow of the Emperor Maurice by the usurper Phocas. His account adds considerably to our knowledge of the reign of Phocas and particularly to the successful revolt against him begun at Carthage by Heraclius. Unfortunately, the section dealing with the climactic Persian wars waged by Heraclius is not extant.

Perhaps the most important section of John's Chronicle is that which deals with the invasion and conquest of Egypt by the Muslim armies of Amr ibn al-Aas. Though probably not an eyewitness, John was most likely of the generation immediately following the conquest, and the Chronicle provides the only near-contemporary account. John describes the major events of Amr's campaign, such as the taking of the Roman fortress at Babylon, the capture of Alexandria, and the murder of Hypatia. Though its narrative details are often vivid, the timeline is occasionally confusing.

John records Muslim atrocities committed against Copts and the prohibitive new taxes placed on the native population. In some cases, the taxes were so burdensome that families were forced to sell their children into slavery. John also admonishes Egyptians who abandoned Christianity in favor of Islam.

Writing from a miaphysite point of view — at odds with the diophysite Christology affirmed at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 — John describes the Islamic invasion of his homeland as divine punishment for the Chalcedonian beliefs which held sway in the Byzantine Empire. At the close of his Chronicle, John describes the despair felt by the conquered Alexandrians, writing: "None could recount the mourning and lamentation which took place in that city....And they had none to help them, and God destroyed their hopes and delivered the Christians into the hands of their enemies." However, the account ends on a note of hope and faith: "But the strong beneficence of God will put to shame those who grieve us, and He will make His love for man to triumph over our sins, and bring to naught the evil purposes of those who afflict us, who would not that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords should reign over them, (even) Jesus Christ our true God. As for those wicked slaves, He will destroy them in evil fashion: as saith the holy Gospel: 'As for Mine enemies who would not that I should reign over them, bring them unto Me.'"


  1. ^ Booth, Phillip (2011). "Shades of Blues and Greens in the Chronicle of John of Nikiu". Byzantinische Zeitschrift. 104: 557.
  2. ^ The 1883 translation by Zotenberg into French states, less precisely, ''translated from the Ethiopic''.


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