Baanes the Filthy

1. Birth - Family - Education

Baanes was born around in the mid-8th century in Armenia. He was the offspring of an illegitimate affair between a Jewish - as it was claimed - disciple of Joseph-Epaphroditos, fifth teacher of the Paulicians, and an Armenian disciple of his. His mother probably cared for him during his childhood, for he received an Armenian name (Vahan), and in contemporary and later historical sources he is mentioned as an Armenian. He studied under Joseph-Epaphroditos, receiving the dogmas of the faith both his parents believed in. His teaching took place before 778, the year of Joseph's death. Besides the above-mentioned, nothing else is known on Baanes upbringing and education.

2. Activity

Shortly after Joseph-Epaphroditos’ death in 778,1 Baanes succeeded him as the sixth teacher of the Paulicians. We do not precisely know the place the community of his disciples resided; possibly it was Kynochorion or Koinochorion (ancient Kainochorion, modern Mahala Kalesi), a town in the Pontus, close to Neocaesarea (modern Niksar). Baanes taught for several years; his activity was probably coextensive with the entire reign of Empress Irene the Athenian.

In 800/801 a new teacher of the Paulicians made his appearance, Sergios; he was of Byzantine descent and had received the apostolic name Tychikos. His activity brought him in contact with Baanes, with whom he clashed due to differences over dogmatic issues. Furthermore, Baanes had been accused by his adversaries of leading a debauched life and succumbing to promiscuity; he was in fact given the sobriquet "the Filthy" for this reason.2

Baanes accused Sergios-Tychikos as an upstart who had joined the community belatedly and was not inculcated into the dogmas by any recognized teacher, whereas himself had been taught by Joseph-Epaphroditos and was considered his successor. Sergios, on the other hand, argued that he too had earned the right to teach among the Paulicians because of the many travels he made throughout Asia Minor in order to spread the faith, and also publicly accused Baanes of debauchery. As a result a schism developed in the Paulician community: some sided with Baanes, while others -the majority- sided with Sergios Tychikos. The responsibility for the schism was mainly attributed to Sergios, even by his own students, which suggests that Baanes remained in the consciousness of the Paulicians as an established teacher. The clash between these two groups was bound to greatly intensify after the death of the two teachers.

3. Death

Baanes died before Sergios and quite a few years after the latter had made his appearance as a teacher. Consequently, his death should be dated between 800/1 and 834/5 (the year of Sergios-Tychikos' death), perhaps in Kynochorion. His followers, known as "Baaniotes" or "Baanites", remained in this region until Sergios-Tychikos' death. A series of murders they committed caused a large wave of persecution against them by Sergios’ followers. The bloodshed finally came to an end after the intervention of one of Sergios' disciples and successors, who averted the further extermination of the Baanites.

4. Assessment

Baanes was one of the very few teachers of the Paulicians to be intensely criticized by the members of his own community, mainly by the disciples of his opponent, Sergios-Tychikos. These accusations pertained to his demeanour in his private life, charges which probably gave rise to his sobriquet ‘the Filthy’. We may suppose, however, that a part of the Paulician community (the minority) continued to support him, for his disciples remained united even after his death. Furthermore, contrary to Zacharias, the other controversial teacher of the Paulicians, not one of the Paulicians ever doubted the legitimacy of Baanes’ succession or his status as the teacher of the community; under questioning they refused to anathematize him, exactly as they had done for their other teachers. Byzantine historians did little more than reiterate the accusation of Baanes’ opponents concerning his supposedly immoral comportment and debauched life.

Modern scholars repeat these charges against Baanes with some reservation, but attribute his clash with Sergios-Tychikos to other reasons. They believe that the root cause of this conflict was Baanes’ conservatism; he had been nurtured in the traditional teachings of his predecessors and reacted against the ground-breaking nature of Sergios’ reforms, refusing progress and remaining true to the community’s old dogmas. Some even argue that this clash partly was due to ‘ethnic’ differences between the two opponents, the conservative and uneducated Armenian and the cultured and dynamic Greek-speaking Byzantine.

1. Garsoïan, N., The Paulician Heresy (The Hague-Paris 1967), p. 121, n. 34, dates Joseph-Epaphroditos' death and his succession by Baanes’ to 783.

2. Lemerle, P., "L'histoire des Pauliciens d'Asie Mineure d'après les sources grecques", Travaux et Mémoires 5 (1973), p. 69, n. 51, assumes that the sobriquet "the Filthy" may in fact be associated with the mzlneuthin, an Armenian sect of the 5th century.