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Procopius : biography

500 – 565

Procopius of Caesarea (Latin: Procopius Caesarensis, ; c. AD 500 – c. AD 565) was a prominent Byzantine scholar from Palaestina Prima.Procopius, John Moorhead, Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing:M-Z, Vol. II, Kelly Boyd, (Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1999), 962;"Like many Byzantine scholars, Procopius affected a remarkable traditional form of writing". 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.


Apart from his own writings, the main source for Procopius’ life is an entry in the Suda,Suda pi.2479. See under ‘Procopius’ on . a 10th-century Byzantine encyclopedia that tells nothing about his early life. He was a native of Caesarea in Palaestina PrimaProcopius, Wars of Justinian I.1.1; Suda pi.2479. See under ‘Procopius’ on . (modern Israel). He would have received a conventional élite education in the Greek classics and then rhetoric,Cameron, Averil (1985) Procopius and the Sixth Century, p.7. Duckworth, London. . perhaps at the famous School of Gaza,Evans, James A. S. (1972) Procopius, p.31. Twayne Publishers, New York. may have attended law school, possibly at Berytus (modern Beirut) or Constantinople,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. and became a rhetor (barrister or advocate). He evidently knew Latin, as was natural for a man with legal training.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 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.Procopius Wars of Justinian 1.12.24. Procopius speaks of becoming Belisarius’ symboulos, ‘advisor’, in that year.

Procopius was with Belisarius on the eastern front until the latter was defeated at the Battle of Callinicum in AD 531Wars of Justinian I.18.1-56 and recalled to Constantinople.Wars of Justinian I.21.2 Procopius witnessed the Nika riots of January, 532, which Belisarius and his fellow general Mundo repressed with a massacre in the Hippodrome.Procopius Wars of Justinian I.24.1-58 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 the Eunuch 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. 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 policy makers and warriors instead. 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.