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Procopius of Caesarea
Born c. 500
Caesarea, Palestine
Died c. 565
Occupation Barrister and legal adviser
Subjects Secular history
Notable work(s) The Wars of Justinian
The Buildings of Justinian
Secret History

Procopius of Caesarea (Latin: Procopius Caesarensis, Greek: Προκόπιος ὁ Καισαρεύς; c. 500 – c. 565) was a prominent Byzantine scholar from Palestine. Accompanying the general Belisarius in the wars of the Emperor Justinian I, he became the principal historian of the 6th century, writing the Wars of Justinian, the Buildings of Justinian and the celebrated Secret History. He is commonly held to be the last major historian of the ancient world.

Contents

Life

Before the source of his own writings, the main source for Procopius' life is an entry in the Suda,[1] a 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia that tells nothing about his early life. He was a native of Caesarea in Palaestina Prima[2] (modern Israel). He would have received a conventional élite education in the Greek classics and then rhetoric,[3] perhaps at the famous School of Gaza,[4] may have attended law school, possibly at Berytus (modern Beirut) or Constantinople,[5] and became a rhetor (barrister or advocate).[1] He evidently knew some Latin, as would be natural for a man with legal training.[6] In 527, the first year of Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I's reign, he became the adsessor (legal adviser) for Belisarius, Justinian's chief military commander who was then beginning a brilliant career.[7]

Procopius was with Belisarius on the eastern front until the latter was defeated at the Battle of Callinicum in 531[8] and recalled to Constantinople.[9] Procopius witnessed the Nika riots of January, 532, which Belisarius and his fellow general Mundo repressed with a massacre in the Hippodrome.[10] In 533, he accompanied Belisarius on his victorious expedition against the Vandal kingdom in North Africa, took part in the capture of Carthage, and remained in Africa with Belisarius' successor Solomon when Belisarius returned to Constantinople. Procopius recorded a few of the extreme weather events of 535-536, although these were presented as a backdrop to Byzantine military activities, such as a mutiny, in and near Carthage.[11] He rejoined Belisarius for his campaign against the Ostrogothic kingdom in Italy and experienced the Gothic siege of Rome that lasted a year and nine days, ending in mid-March, 538. He witnessed Belisarius' entry into the Gothic capital, Ravenna, in 540. Book Eight of The Wars of Justinian, and the Secret History, suggest that his relationship with Belisarius seems to have cooled thereafter. When Belisarius was sent back to Italy in 544 to cope with a renewal of the war with the Goths, now led by the able king Totila, Procopius appears to have no longer been on Belisarius' staff.

It is not known when Procopius himself died, and many historians (James Howard-Johnson, Averil Cameron, Geoffrey Greatrex) date his death to 554, but in 562 there was an urban prefect of Constantinople who happened to be called Procopius. In that year, Belisarius was implicated in a conspiracy and was brought before this urban prefect.

Writings

The writings of Procopius are the primary source of information for the rule of the Roman emperor Justinian. Procopius was the author of a history in eight books of the wars fought by Justinian I, a panegyric on Justinian's public works throughout the empire, and a book known as the Secret History (Greek: Anekdota) that claims to report the scandals that Procopius could not include in his published history.

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The Wars of Justinian

Procopius' Wars of Justinian (Greek: Ὑπέρ τῶν πολέμων λόγοι, Latin: De Bellis, "About the Wars") is clearly his most important work, although it is not as well-known as the Secret History. The first seven books, which may have been published as a unit, seem to have been largely completed by 545, but were updated to mid-century before publication, for the latest event mentioned belongs to early 551. The first two books (often known as the Persian War, Latin De Bello Persico) deal with the conflict between the Romans and Sassanid Persia in Mesopotamia, Syria, Armenia, Lazica and Caucasian Iberia (roughly modern-day Georgia). It details the campaigns of the Sasanian Shah Kavadh I, the 'Nika' revolt in Constantinople in 532, the war by Kavadh's successor, Khosrau I, in 540 and his destruction of Antioch and the transportation of its inhabitants to Mesopotamia, and the great plague that devastated Constantinople in 542. They also cover the early career of the Roman general Belisarius, Procopius' patron, in some detail. The next two books, the Vandal War (Latin De Bello Vandalico), cover Belisarius' successful campaign against the Vandal kingdom in Roman Africa. The remaining books cover the Gothic War (Latin De Bello Gothico), the campaigns by Belisarius and others to recapture Italy, then under the rule of the Ostrogoths. This includes accounts of the sieges of Naples and Rome.

Later, Procopius added an eighth book (Wars VIII or Gothic War IV) which brings the history to 552/553, when a Roman army led by the eunuch Narses finally destroyed the Ostrogothic kingdom. This eighth book covers campaigns both in Italy and on the Eastern frontier.

The Wars of Justinian was influential on later Byzantine history-writing.[12] A continuation of Procopius' work was written after Procopius' death by the poet and historian Agathias of Myrina.

Secret History

The famous Secret History (Lat. Historia Arcana) was discovered centuries later in the Vatican Library and published by Niccolò Alamanni in 1623 at Lyons. Its existence was already known from the Suda, which referred to it as the Anekdota (Greek: Ἀνέκδοτα, Latin Anecdota, "unpublished writings"). The Secret History covers roughly the same years as the first seven books of the History of Justinian's Wars and appears to have been written after they were published. Current consensus generally dates it to 550 or 558, or maybe even as late as 562.

The Secret History reveals an author who had become deeply disillusioned with the emperor Justinian and his wife, Empress Theodora, as well as Belisarius, his former commander and patron, and Antonina, Belisarius' wife. The anecdotes claim to expose the secret springs of their public actions, as well as the private lives of the emperor, his wife, and their entourage. Justinian is raked over the coals as cruel, venal, prodigal and incompetent; as for Theodora, the reader is treated to the most detailed and titillating portrayals of vulgarity and insatiable lust combined with shrewish and calculating mean-spiritedness.

Among the more titillating (and doubtful) revelations in the Secret History is Procopius' account of Theodora's thespian accomplishments:

Often, even in the theater, in the sight of all the people, she removed her costume and stood nude in their midst, except for a girdle about the groin: not that she was abashed at revealing that, too, to the audience, but because there was a law against appearing altogether naked on the stage, without at least this much of a fig-leaf. Covered thus with a ribbon, she would sink down to the stage floor and recline on her back. Slaves to whom the duty was entrusted would then scatter grains of barley from above into the calyx of this passion flower, whence geese, trained for the purpose, would next pick the grains one by one with their bills and eat.[13]

Her husband Justinian, meanwhile, was a monster whose head would suddenly vanish, at least according to this passage:

And some of those who have been with Justinian at the palace late at night, men who were pure of spirit, have thought they saw a strange demoniac form taking his place. One man said that the Emperor suddenly rose from his throne and walked about, and indeed he was never wont to remain sitting for long, and immediately Justinian's head vanished, while the rest of his body seemed to ebb and flow; whereat the beholder stood aghast and fearful, wondering if his eyes were deceiving him. But presently he perceived the vanished head filling out and joining the body again as strangely as it had left it.[14]

The Buildings of Justinian

Procopius' Buildings of Justinian (Greek: Περί Κτισμάτων, Latin: De Aedificiis, "On Buildings") is a panegyric on Justinian's building activity in the empire. The first book may date to before the collapse of the first dome of Hagia Sophia in 557, but some scholars (for example Michael Whitby) think that it is possible that the work postdates the building of the bridge over the Sangarius in the late 550s. The Peri ktismaton (or De Aedificiis) tells us nothing further about Belisarius, but it takes a sharply different attitude towards Justinian. He is presented as an idealised Christian emperor who built churches for the glory of God and defenses for the safety of his subjects and who showed particular concern for the water supply. Theodora, who was dead when this panegyric was written, is mentioned only briefly, but Procopius' praise of her beauty is fulsome. The panegyric was likely written at Justinian's behest, however, and we may doubt if its sentiments are sincere.

Context

Procopius belongs to the school of late antique secular historians who continued the traditions of the Second Sophistic; they wrote in Attic Greek, their models were Herodotus and especially Thucydides, and their subject matter was secular history. They avoided vocabulary unknown to Attic Greek and would insert an explanation when they had to use contemporary words. Thus Procopius explains to his readers that ekklesia, meaning a Christian church, is the equivalent of a temple or shrine and that monks are "the most temperate of Christians...whom men are accustomed to call monks." (Wars 2.9.14; 1.7.22) In classical Athens, monks had been unknown and an ekklesia was the assembly of Athenian citizens which passed the laws.

The secular historians eschewed the history of the Christian church, which they left to ecclesiastical history—a genre that was founded by Eusebius of Caesarea. However, Averil Cameron has argued convincingly that Procopius' works reflect the tensions between the classical and Christian models of history in 6th century Byzantium. Procopius indicated (Secret History 26.18) that he planned to write an ecclesiastical history himself and, if he had, he would probably have followed the rules of that genre. But, as far as we know, the ecclesiastical history remained unwritten.

A number of historical novels based on Procopius' works (along with other sources) have been written, one of which, Count Belisarius, was written by poet and novelist Robert Graves in 1938.

Further reading

  • Börm, Henning: Prokop und die Perser. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2007.
  • Brodka, Dariusz: Die Geschichtsphilosophie in der spätantiken Historiographie. Studien zu Prokopios von Kaisareia, Agathias von Myrina und Theophylaktos Simokattes. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2004.
  • Cameron, Averil: Procopius and the Sixth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.
  • Evans, James A. S.: Procopius. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1972.
  • Greatrex, Geoffrey: The dates of Procopius' works; in: BMGS 18 (1994), 101-114.
  • Greatrex, Geoffrey: Rome and Persia at War, 502-532. London: Francis Cairns, 1998.
  • Greatrex, Geoffrey: Recent work on Procopius and the composition of Wars VIII; in: BMGS 27 (2003), 45-67.
  • Howard-Johnston, James: The Education and Expertise of Procopius; in: Antiquité Tardive 10 (2002), 19-30
  • Kaldellis, Anthony: Procopius of Caesarea: Tyranny, History and Philosophy at the End of Antiquity. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.
  • Martindale, John: The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire III, Cambridge 1992, 1060–1066.
  • Meier, Mischa: Prokop, Agathias, die Pest und das ′Ende′ der antiken Historiographie, in: Historische Zeitschrift 278 (2004), 281–310.
  • Rubin, Berthold: Prokopios, in: RE 23/1 (1957), 273–599. Earlier published (with index) as Prokopios von Kaisareia, Stuttgart: Druckenmüller, 1954.
  • Treadgold, Warren: The Early Byzantine Historians, Basingstoke 2007, 176-226.

List of selected works

  • Procopii Caesariensis opera omnia. Edited by J. Haury; revised by G. Wirth. 3 vols. Leipzig: Teubner, 1976-64. Greek text.
  • Procopius. Edited by H. B. Dewing. 7 vols. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press and London, Hutchinson, 1914-40. Greek text and English translation.
  • Procopius, The Secret History, translated by G.A. Williamson. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1966. A readable and accessible English translation of the Anecdota. Recently re-issued by Penguin (2007) with an updated and livelier translation by Peter Sarris, who has also provided a new commentary and notes.

References

  1. ^ a b Suda pi.2479. See under 'Procopius' on Suda On Line.
  2. ^ Procopius, Wars of Justinian I.1.1; Suda pi.2479. See under 'Procopius' on Suda On Line.
  3. ^ Cameron, Averil (1985) Procopius and the Sixth Century, p.7. Duckworth, London. ISBN 0-7156-1510-7.
  4. ^ Evans, James A. S. (1972) Procopius, p.31. Twayne Publishers, New York.
  5. ^ Cameron, Procopius and the Sixth Century, p. 6. For an alternative reading of Procopius as an engineer, see Howard-Johnston, James. 'The Education and Expertise of Procopius', in Antiquité Tardive 10 (2002), 19-30.
  6. ^ Procopius uses and translates a number of Latin words in the Wars of Justinan. Börm suggests a possible acquaintance with Vergil and Sallust: Börm, Henning (2007) Prokop und die Perser, p.46. Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart. ISBN 978-3-515-09052-0
  7. ^ Procopius Wars of Justinian 1.12.24. Procopius speaks of becoming Belisarius' symboulos, 'advisor', in that year.
  8. ^ Wars of Justinian I.18.1-56
  9. ^ Wars of Justinian I.21.2
  10. ^ Procopius Wars of Justinian I.24.1-58
  11. ^ http://www.gutenberg.org/files/16765/16765-h/16765-h.htm Before modern times, European and Mediterranean historians, as far as weather is concerned, typically recorded only the extreme or major weather events for a year or a multi-year period, preferring to focus on the human activities of policymakers and warriors instead.
  12. ^ Cresci, Lia Raffaella. "Procopio al confine tra due tradizioni storiografiche". Rivista di Filologia e di Istruzione Classica 129.1 (2001) 61–77.
  13. ^ Procopius Secret History 9.20-21, trans. Atwater.
  14. ^ Procopius, Secret History 12.20-22, trans. Atwater.

External links

Texts of Procopius

Secondary material

This article is based on an earlier version by James Allan Evans, originally posted at Nupedia.


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

PROCOPIUS, Byzantine historian, was born at Caesarea in Palestine towards the end of the 5th century A.D. He became a lawyer, probably at Constantinople, and was in 527 appointed secretary and legal adviser to Belisarius, who was proceeding to command the imperial army in the war against the Persians (De bello persico i. 12). When the Persian War was suspended and Belisarius was despatched against the Vandals of Africa in 533, Procopius again accompanied him, as he subsequently did in the war against the Ostrogoths of Italy, which began in 535. After the capture of Ravenna in 540 Procopius seems to have returned to Constantinople, since he minutely describes the great plague of 542 (op. cit. ii. 22). It does not appear whether he was with the Roman armies in the later stages of the Gothic War, when Belisarius and afterwards Narses fought against Totila in Italy; his narrative of these years is much less full and minute than that of the earlier warfare. Of his subsequent fortunes we know nothing, except that he was living in 559. Whether he was the Procopius who was prefect of Constantinople in 562 (Theophanes, Chronographia, 201, 202), and was removed from office in the year following, cannot be determined. - As the historian was evidently a person of note, who had obtained the rank of illustrius (Suidas), and from a passage in the Anecdota (12) seems to have risen to be a senator, there is no improbability in his having been raised to the high office of prefect.

Procopius's writings fall into three divisions: the Histories (Persian, Vandal and Gothic Wars), in eight books; the treatise on the Buildings of Justinian (De aedificiis), in six books; and the Unpublished Memoirs ('AvEKbora, Historia arcana), so called because they were not published during the lifetime of the author.

The Histories are called by the author himself the Books about the Wars (ol inrip TWV 7roXEµwv Xoyot). They consist of: (1) the Persian Wars,- in two books, giving a narrative of the long struggle of the emperors Justin and Justinian against the Persian kings Kavadh and Chosroes Anushirvan down to 550; (2) the Vandal War, in two books, describing the conquest of the Vandal kingdom in Africa and the subsequent events there from 532 down to 546 (with a few words on later occurrences); (3) the Gothic War, in three books, narrating the war against the Ostrogoths in Sicily and Italy from 536 till 552. The eighth book contains a further summary of events down to 554. These eight books of Histories, although mainly occupied with military matters, contain notices of some of the more important domestic events, such as the Nika insurrection at Constantinople in 532, the plague in 542, the conspiracy of Artabenes in 548. They tell us, however, comparatively little about the civil adfninistration of the empire, and nothing about legislation. On the other hand they are rich in geographical and ethnographical information.

As an historian Procopius is of quite unusual merit, when the generally low literary level of his age is considered. He is industrious in collecting facts, careful and impartial in stating them; his judgment is sound, his reflections generally acute, his conceptions of the general march and movement of things not unworthy of the great events he has recorded. His descriptions, particularly of military operations, are clear, and his especial fondness for this part of the subject seldom leads him into unnecessary minuteness. The style, although marked by mannerisms, by occasional affectations and rhetorical devices, is on the whole direct and businesslike, nor is the Greek bad for the period in which he wrote. His models are Thucydides and Herodotus. The former he imitates in the maxims (-yv14at) he throws in and the speeches which he puts into the mouth of the chief actors; the latter in his frequent geographical digressions, in the personal anecdotes, in the tendency to collect and attach some credence to marvellous tales. The speeches are obviously composed by Procopius himself, rarely showing any dramatic variety in their language, but they seem sometimes to convey the substance of what was said; and even when this is not the case they frequently serve to bring out the points of a critical situation. Procopius is almost as much a geographer as an historian, and his descriptions of the people and places he himself visited are generally careful and thorough. Although a warmly patriotic Roman, he does full justice to the merits of the barbarian enemies of the empire, particularly the Ostrogoths; although the subject of a despotic prince, he criticizes the civil and military administration of Justinian and his dealings with foreign peoples with a freedom which gives a favourable impression of the tolerance of the emperor. His chief defects are a somewhat pretentious and at the same time monotonous style, and a want of sympathy and intensity.

The De aedificiis contains an account of the chief public works executed during the reign of Justinian down to 558 (in which year it seems to have been composed), particularly churches, palaces, hospitals, fortresses, roads, bridges and other river works throughout the empire. All these are of course ascribed to the personal action of the monarch. If not written at the command of Justinian (as some have supposed), it is evidently grounded on official information, and is full of gross flattery of the emperor and of the (then deceased) empress. In point of style it is greatly inferior to the Histories - florid, pompous and affected, and at the same time tedious. Its chief value lies in the geographical notices which it contains.

The Anecdota (" Secret History") purports to be a supplement to the Histories, containing explanations and additions which the author could not insert in the latter work for fear of Justinian and Theodora. It is a furious invective against these sovereigns, their characters, personal conduct and government, with attacks on Belisarius and his wife Antonina, and; on other noted officials in the civil and military services of the empire. Owing to the ferocity and brutality of the attacks upon Justinian, the authenticity of the Anecdota has often been called in question, but the claims of Procopius to the authorship are now generally recognized. In point of style, the Anecdota is inferior to the Histories, and has the air of being unfinished, or at least unrevised. Its merit lies in the furious earnestness with which it is written, which gives it a force and reality sometimes wanting in the more elaborate books written for publication. The history of Philip of Macedon by Theopompus probably furnished the author with a model.

The best complete edition of Procopius is by J. Haury (Teubner Series, 1905); the Gothic War has been edited by D. Comparetti (1895-1898), with an Italian translation. There are English translations of the History of the Wars, by H. Holcroft (1653) of the Anecdota (1674, anonymous); of the Buildings, by Aubrey Stewart (1888, in Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society). Chief authorities: F. Dahn, Procopius von Casarea (1865); W. S. Teuffel in Studien and Charakteristiken (2nd ed., 1889); L. Ranke, Weltgeschichte (1883), iv. 2. On the genuineness of the Anecdota cf. J. B. Bury (who agrees with Ranke in rejecting the authorship of Procopius) A History of the Later Roman Empire (1889), vol. i., and introd. to vol. i. (p. 57) and app. to vol. iv. of his edition of Gibbon's Decline and Fall. For the literature of the subject generally, see C. Krumbacher, Geschichte der byzantinischen Litteratur (2nd ed., 1897).


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Simple English

Procopius of Caesarea (Greek: Προκόπιος ο Καισαρεύς, c. 500 – c. 565) was a prominent Eastern Roman scholar. He took part in the wars of the Emperor Justinian I, and was the major historian of the 6th century AD, writing the Wars of Justinian, the Buildings of Justinian and the celebrated Secret History. He is commonly held to be the last major historian of the ancient world.

Contents

Writings

The writings of Procopius are the primary source of information for the rule of the Roman emperor Justinian. Procopius was the author of a history in eight books of the wars fought by Justinian I, a panegyric on Justinian's public works throughout the empire, and a book known as the Secret History (Greek: Anekdota) that claims to report the scandals that Procopius could not include in his published history.

A number of historical novels based on Procopius' works (along with other sources) have been written, of which the best, Count Belisarius, was written by poet and novelist Robert Graves in 1938.

Further reading

  • Greatrex, Geoffrey: Recent work on Procopius and the composition of Wars VIII; in: Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 27 (2003), 45-67.
  • Treadgold, Warren: The Early Byzantine Historians, Basingstoke 2007, 176-226.

List of selected works

  • Procopii Caesariensis opera omnia. Edited by J. Haury; revised by G. Wirth. 3 vols. Leipzig: Teubner, 1976-64. Greek text.
  • Procopius. Edited by H. B. Dewing. 7 vols. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press and London, Hutchinson, 1914-40. Greek text and English translation.
  • Procopius, The Secret History, translated by G.A. Williamson. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1966. A readable and accessible English translation of the Anecdota.

Other websites

Texts of Procopius

Wikisource has original works written by or about:

This article is based on an earlier version by James Allan Evans, originally posted at Nupedia.


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