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Chronicon Pictum, the "Illuminated Chronicle" from the royal Hungarian court from 1358

A chronicle (Latin: chronica, from Greek χρονικά chroniká, from χρόνος, chrónos – "time") is a historical account of events arranged in chronological order, as in a timeline. Typically, equal weight is given for historically important events and local events, the purpose being the recording of events that occurred, seen from the perspective of the chronicler. A chronicle which traces world history is a universal chronicle. This is in contrast to a narrative or history, in which an author chooses events to interpret and analyze and excludes those the author does not consider important or relevant.

The information sources for chronicles vary. Some are written from the chronicler's direct knowledge, others from witnesses or participants in events, still others are accounts passed down from generation to generation by oral tradition.[1] Some used written material, such as charters, letters, and earlier chronicles.[1] Still others are tales of unknown origin that have mythical status.[1] Copyists also changed chronicles in creative copying, making corrections or in updating or continuing a chronicle with information not available to the original chronicler.[1] Determining the reliability of particular chronicles is important to historians.[1]

Many newspapers and other periodical literature have adopted "chronicle" as part of their name.


"It is well known that history, in the form of Chronicles, was a favourite portion of the literature of the middle ages. The annals of a country were usually kept according to the years of the sovereign's power, and not those of the Christian æra. The Chronicles compiled in large cities were arranged in like manner, with the years reckoned according to the annual succession of chief magistrates."

John Gough Nichols, critical edition foreword to Chronicle of the Grey Friars of London (1852)[2]

Scholars categorize the genre of chronicle into two subgroups: live chronicles, and dead chronicles. A dead chronicle is one where the author assembles a list of events up to the time of their writing, but does not record further events as they occur. A live chronicle is where one or more authors add to a chronicle in a regular fashion, recording contemporary events shortly after they occur. Because of the immediacy of the information, historians tend to value live chronicles, such as annals, over dead ones.

The term often refers to a book written by a chronicler in the Middle Ages describing historical events in a country, or the lives of a nobleman or a clergyman, although it is also applied to a record of public events. The earliest medieval chronicle to combine both retrospective (dead) and contemporary (live) entries, is the Chronicle of Ireland, which spans the years 431 to 911.[3]

Chronicles are the predecessors of modern "time lines" rather than analytical histories. They represent accounts, in prose or verse, of local or distant events over a considerable period of time, both the lifetime of the individual chronicler and often those of several subsequent continuators. If the chronicles deal with events year by year, they are often called annals. Unlike the modern historian, most chroniclers tended to take their information as they found it, and made little attempt to separate fact from legend. The point of view of most chroniclers is highly localised, to the extent that many anonymous chroniclers can be sited in individual abbeys.

It is impossible to say how many chronicles exist, as the many ambiguities in the definition of the genre make it impossible to draw clear distinctions of what should or should not be included. However, the Encyclopedia of the Medieval Chronicle lists some 2,500 items written between 300 and 1500 AD.

Citation of entries

Entries in chronicles are often cited using the abbreviation s.a., meaning sub anno (under the year), according to the year under which they are listed. For example, "ASC MS A, s.a. 855" means the entry for the year 855 in manuscript A of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The same event may be recorded under a different year in another manuscript of the chronicle, and may be cited for example as "ASC MS D, s.a. 857".

English chronicles

The most important English chronicles are the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, started under the patronage of King Alfred in the 9th century and continued until the 12th century, and the Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (1577–87) by Raphael Holinshed and other writers; the latter documents were important sources of materials for Elizabethan drama.[4] Later 16th century Scottish chronicles, written after the Reformation, shape history according to Catholic or Protestant viewpoints.


A cronista is a term for a historical chronicler, a role that held historical significance in the European Middle Ages. Until the European Enlightenment, the occupation was largely equivalent to that of a historian, describing events chronologically that were of note in a given country or region. As such, it was often an official governmental position rather than an independent practice. The appointment of the official chronicler often favored individuals who had distinguished themselves by their efforts to study, investigate and disseminate population-related issues. The position was granted on a local level based on the mutual agreements of a city council in plenary meetings. Often, the occupation was honorary, unpaid, and stationed for life. In modern usage, the term usually refers to a type of journalist who writes chronicles as a form of journalism or non-professional historical documentation.[5]

Cronista in the Middle Ages

Before the development of modern journalism and the systematization of chronicles as a journalistic genre, cronista were tasked with narrating chronological events considered worthy of remembrance that were recorded year by year. Unlike writers who created epic poems regarding living figures, cronista recorded historical events in the lives of individuals in an ostensibly truthful and reality-oriented way. [citation needed] Even from the time of early Christian historiography, cronistas were clearly expected to place human history in the context of a linear progression, starting with the creation of man until the second coming of Christ, as prophesied in biblical texts.[6]

Lists of chronicles

Alphabetical list of notable chronicles

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This is a dynamic list and may never be able to satisfy particular standards for completeness. You can help by adding missing items with reliable sources.

Chronicles of Flanders. Manuscript manufactured in Flanders, 2nd half of the 15th century. Manuscript preserved in the University Library of Ghent.[7]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Elisabeth M. C. Van Houts, Memory and Gender in Medieval Europe: 900–1200 (Toronto; Buffalo : University of Toronto Press, 1999), pp. 19–20.
  2. ^ "Chronicle of the Grey Friars of London : Camden Society (Great Britain) : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive". Internet Archive. Retrieved 18 June 2023.
  3. ^ Roy Flechner, '"The Chronicle of Ireland: Then and Now" Early Medieval Europe v.21:4(2013) 422-54 Article doi:10.1111/emed.12025
  4. ^ 'A Glossary of Literary Terms' – M.H. Abrams
  5. ^ Dadson, Trevor J. (1983). The Genoese in Spain: Gabriel Bocángel Y Unzueta, 1603-1658 : a Biography (in Spanish). Tamesis. ISBN 978-0-7293-0161-9.
  6. ^ Richard W. Burgess, Studies in Eusebian and post-Eusebian Chronography, Stuttgart (1999).
  7. ^ "Kroniek van Vlaanderen, van de aanvang tot 1467". Retrieved 2020-08-24.
  8. ^ "Machairas, Leontios". doi:10.1163/9789004184640_emc_sim_01737. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)