Procopius : biography
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.
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 inserted 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 that 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. This is supported by Mary Whitby’s analysis of Procopius’ Book I depiction of Constantinople and the Church of Hagia Sophia in comparison to contemporary pagan panegyrics. Procopius can be seen as depicting Justinian as essentially God’s Vicegerent, making the case for buildings being a primarily religious panegyric.Whitby, Mary. "Procopius’ Buildings Book I: A Panegyrical Perspective” Late Antiquity. 8. (2000), 45-57.
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 it is known, 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.
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.
- Prokopios, The Secret History, translated by Anthony Kaldellis. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2010. This edition includes related texts, an introductory essay, notes, maps, a timeline, a guide to the main sources from the period and a guide to scholarship in English. The translator uses blunt and precise English prose in order to adhere to the style of the original text.
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.
The Wars of Justinian
Procopius’ Wars of Justinian ( , "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.