Theophylact Simocatta (Byzantine Greek: Θεοφύλακτος Σιμοκάτ(τ)ης Theophýlaktos Simokát(t)ēs; Latin: Theophylactus Simocatta)[1] was an early seventh-century Byzantine historiographer, arguably ranking as the last historian of Late Antiquity, writing in the time of Heraclius (c. 630) about the late Emperor Maurice (582–602).[2]


Byzantine Emperor Heraclius receiving the submission of the Sassanid king Khosrau II – during Simocatta's times (plaque from a cross. Champlevé enamel over gilt copper, 1160–1170, Meuse Valley). Housed at the Louvre.

Simocatta is best known as the author of History, a work split into eight books, about the reign of the emperor Maurice (582–602), for which period he is the best and oldest authority. Though his work is of lesser stature than that of Procopius and his self-consciously classicizing style is pompous, he is an important source of information concerning the seventh-century Slavs, the Avars and the Persians, and the emperor's tragic end.[3] He mentions the war of Heraclius against the Persians (610–628), but not that against the Arabs (beginning 629), so it is likely that he was writing around 630. Among his sources he used the history of John of Epiphania.

Edward Gibbon wrote:

His want of judgement renders him diffuse in trifles and concise in the most interesting facts.[4]

This notwithstanding, Simocatta's general trustworthiness is admitted. The history contains an introduction in the form of a dialogue between History and Philosophy.

Nicolaus Copernicus translated Greek verses by Theophylact into Latin prose and had his translation, dedicated to his uncle Lucas Watzenrode, published in Kraków in 1509 by Johann Haller. It was the only book that Copernicus ever brought out on his own account.[5]

Simocatta was also the author of Physical Problems, a work on natural history,[6] and of a collection of 85 essays in epistolary form.[7]

In regards to the Far East, Simocatta wrote a generally accurate depiction of the reunification of China by Emperor Wen (r. 581–604 AD) of the Sui dynasty, with the conquest of the rival Chen dynasty in southern China, correctly placing these events within the reign period of Byzantine ruler Maurice.[8] Simocatta also provided cursory information about the geography of China along with its customs and culture, deeming its people "idolatrous" but wise in governance.[8] He also related how the ruler was named Taisson, the meaning of which was "Son of God", possibly derived from Chinese Tianzi (Son of Heaven, a title of the emperor of China) or even the name of the contemporaneous ruler Emperor Taizong of Tang.[9]


Quaestiones physicae, 1597


  1. ^ "Snub-nosed cat". Other forms of the name are Simocattos and Simocatos.
  2. ^ J.D.C. Frendo, "History and Panegyric in the Age of Heraclius: The Literary Background to the Composition of the 'Histories' of Theophylact Simocatta", Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 1988.
  3. ^ Important editions published in 1609, ed. pr. by J. Pontanus, and C.G. de Boor in 1887.
  4. ^ E. Gibbon, The History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, The Folio Society (1997), s.v. "Simocatta".
  5. ^ Angus Armitage, The World of Copernicus, pp. 75–77.
  6. ^ Cf. ed. J. Ideler in Physici et medici Graeci minores, i. 1841.
  7. ^ The best edition is published in the prestigious Bibliotheca Teubneriana: Zanetto, Ioseph [Giuseppe] (1985). "Theophylacti Simocatae epistulae" [The Letters of Theophylactus Simocata]. Bibliotheca Scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana (in Greek and Latin). Leipzig: BSB B.G. Teubner Verlagsgesellschaft. ISSN 0233-1160. The letters were translated into Latin by Copernicus in 1509, reprinted in 1873 by F. Hipler in Spicilegium Copernicanum. See also Zanetto, Giuseppe (2013). "Romanzo greco ed epistolografia: il caso di Teofilatto Simocatta". Lettere, mimesi, retorica: studi sull'epistolografia letteraria greca di età imperiale e tardoantica. Lecce–Brescia: Pensa Multimedia. pp. 469–491. ISBN 978-88-6760-097-7.
  8. ^ a b Yule (1915), pp 29-31.
  9. ^ Yule (1915), p. 29, footnote #4.