Procopius : biography

500 – 565

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.Cresci, Lia Raffaella. "Procopio al confine tra due tradizioni storiografiche". Rivista di Filologia e di Istruzione Classica 129.1 (2001) 61–77. 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 Its existence was already known from the Suda, which referred to it as the Anekdota ( Latin Anecdota, "unpublished writings").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 portrayed 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 theatre, 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.Procopius 9.20-21, trans. Atwater.

Her husband Justinian, meanwhile, was a monster whose head could 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.Procopius, 12.20-22, trans. Atwater.

The Buildings of Justinian

Procopius Buildings of Justinian ( , "On Buildings") is a panegyric on Justinian’s building activity in the empire.Downey, G. (1947) "The Composition of Procopius, De Aedificiis." Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 78: pp. 171–183; from JSTOR The first book may date to before the collapse of the first dome of Hagia Sophia in 557, but some scholarsWhitby, Michael (2006) "Procopian Polemics: a review of A. Kaldellis Procopius of Caesarea. Tyranny, History, and Philosophy at the End of Antiquity" The Classical Review 55 (2): pp. 648– 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. He built new aqueducts as well as restoring those that had fallen into disuse.

Historians consider Buildings to be an incomplete work, due to evidence of the surviving version being a draft with two possible redactions.Cameron, Averil. Procopius and the Sixth Century. London: Routledge, 1985.

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 it is doubtful that the sentiments expressed are sincere.

Due to the panegyrical nature of the The Buildings, historians have discovered in several occasions discrepancies between claims made by Procopius and other primary sources. A primary example is in Procopius starting the reign of Justinian in 518, which was actually the start of the reign of Justin I, Justinian’s predecessor and uncle. This discrepancy can be seen as part of Procopius’ panegyric method, as it allowed him to credit buildings constructed under the rule Justin I as Justinian’s accomplishments. In this context can be mentioned the renovations to the walls of Edessa after a flood in 525, along with several churches in the region, all of which were completed under Justinian’s uncle. Similarly, Procopius falsely credits Justinian for the extensive re-fortifications made in the cities of Tomis and Histria in Scythia Minor, along the Danubian frontier, actual accomplishments of Anastasius I, predecessor of Justin I.Croke, Brian and James Crow. "Procopius and Dara”. The Journal of Roman Studies. 73. (1983), 143-159.