Zosimus, likely born into a distinguished family around the first half of the sixth century, had access to an exceptional education, evident from his deep familiarity with Greek literature, as highlighted in his “New History.” He referenced notable historians like Herodotus, Thucydides, and Polybius, indicating a sophisticated intellectual background. The name Zosimus, though rare, was known in regions such as Ascalon and Gaza, suggesting his family’s origins in that vicinity.

Living through the era of Emperor Anastasius, over a century past the Christianization efforts of Constantine and Theodosius, Zosimus maintained his allegiance to the old pagan deities. His writings attribute the decline of the Roman world to the ascendance of Christianity, a perspective that showcases his conservative stance amidst significant religious transformations within the empire.

Noted by Photius, the ninth-century patriarch of Constantinople, Zosimus held the title of comes, a rank signifying high official status, though specifics of his duties remain unclear. His role as ἀποφισκοσυνήγορος (advocatus fisci) hints at a legal education, possibly acquired in Beirut, home to the era’s preeminent law school. Descriptions in his works suggest Zosimus also spent time in Constantinople.

“New History” likely penned between 498 and 518, delves into the empire’s decline, contrasting the optimistic histories of Rome’s ascendancy. This work, unfinished and abruptly concluding in 410 AD, was built on sources like Eunapius’s Universal History and Olympiodorus’s History, weaving a narrative that is critical of the empire’s Christianization and its impact on Roman decline.

Zosimus stands out for his pessimistic and pagan interpretation of Rome’s history, positioning the abandonment of traditional gods and practices as pivotal to the empire’s downfall. His work critically assesses the transition from a polytheistic society to a Christian empire, offering a unique perspective on this transformative period.

Despite its inaccuracies and biases, Zosimus’s “New History” provides valuable insights into the third and fourth centuries, presenting a pagan viewpoint that contrasts with the predominantly Christian narratives of his contemporaries. His acknowledgment of Rome’s decline, devoid of the optimism seen in other historical accounts, marks him as a pioneering historian of the Roman Empire’s fall.

More about Zosimus