Procopius: His Three Works |
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Ancient Greece

Procopius: His Three Works


Procopius of Caesarea, is the last great Greek historian to write in the classical tradition of Herodotus, Thucydides and Polybius, and, although he wrote in the Sixth Century A.D., right at the end of the classical era, and on the cusp of the Dark Ages, he was one of the greatest of these historians. His reputation is mainly founded upon his “Histories of the Wars” of the reign of Justinian (527-565 A.D.) in eight books. Books I-VII, covering the years 527-550, were published in 550-1, and Book VIII, which brought the record up to 553, in 554. But he also wrote two other very different books – the “Anecdota” or “Secret History”, probably dated to 551 and compiled simultaneously with Book VII of “The Wars”, and the “On Buildings”, probably dated to 554-5. The sharp differences between the nature of these books has puzzled historians of later centuries. Indeed, as Edward Gibbon noted in his “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, Procopius ” successively composed the history, the panegyric, and the satire of his own times.” The difference in the nature of these works makes Procopius unique among historians of antiquity, but has also made him the source of some suspicion among modern scholars. In this article Sabidius offers a translation of the introductions to all three of these works, and these opening passages are then analysed to see what they tell us about their underlying motivations and, in particular, Procopius’ attitude to the Emperor Justinian.

1. De Bello Persico: Book I, Chapter I.

“Procopius of Caesarea has written the history of the wars which Justinian, the Emperor of the Romans, carried through against the barbarians of the east and of the west, so that what happened in each of them was somehow brought together in order that the long course of time, having subdued enormously important deeds through lack of a record, should not utterly abandon them to oblivion and make them altogether extinct, of which very things he, himself, thought that the memory would be something great and would be profitable to the greatest degree both to those now living and to those who will come in the future, if time should ever again thrust men into some similar constraint. For the display of a similar history can provide some service to those intending to go to war and those about to contend in some other way, disclosing how once the result of a similar struggle happened in the case of men of former times, and hinting, for those who plan as well as possible, at what kind of outcome present events will probably have. Furthermore, men (said) that it was known well to him that he was especially competent among all men to write the history of these things for no other reason than that it befell him, having been appointed as counsel to the general Belisarius to be present in some way at almost all the things that had been done. He considered that cleverness was appropriate to rhetoric, and inventiveness to poetry, but truth to writing history. Accordingly, he did not conceal those wretched deeds of his very intimate acquaintances, but, being precise, he wrote down every event in detail, whether it happened to have been done well or in some other way by them.

It will be evident that (there has been) no mightier (deed) than those which occurred in these wars, at least to those wishing to base their judgment on the truth. For in them more amazing things have been performed than in all (other wars), of which we know by report, that is unless anyone of those reading this (narrative) should give the prize of honour to the old time and not deem events (seen) by oneself worthy to be considered amazing, and so, just as, of course, some call the soldiers of today bowmen and to those of the most ancient times wish to apportion the names hand-to-hand fighters and shieldsmen and whatever such (names), and they think that this courage has by no means survived to the present time, holding an opinion about them at once careless and remote from experience. For a certain thought did not ever yet occur to them, that with regard to the bowmen of the time of Homer, to whom, having been so named, it happened that they were ridiculed by their craft, no horse was near at hand, no spear or shield defended (them), nor was there any other protection for the body, but they went into battle on foot, and there was a need for them to conceal themselves, choosing the shield of some comrade, or lying down behind a tombstone on some mound, from where they were able neither to save themselves when turning to flight nor to attack a fleeing enemy, nor indeed (could) they fight it out in the open, but they always seemed to be stealing something from those taking part in the engagement. But, apart from this, they used their skill so indifferently that, drawing the bowstring to their breast, thereupon they discharged a dart which would in all likelihood be both blunt and harmless to those receiving (it). Such seemed to be the kind of archery in the past.

And yet, the bowmen of the present go into battle, having put on a breastplate and fitted out with greaves up to the knee. Their arrows hang from their right sides, and from their other the sword. And there are (some) from whom a spear is suspended as well and at the shoulders a kind of small shield without a grip such as to cover around the face and the neck. They ride as well as possible and, with their horse running as quickly as possible, they are able to bend their bows with no difficulty to either side and to shoot at an enemy, both one pursuing and one fleeing. The bowstring is drawn by their forehead, about opposite the ears on the right, impelling the arrow with such force that it always kills whomever gets in its way, neither shield nor breast plate alike having the power to deflect its force in any way. There are (some) who, considering these things hardly at all, feel awe for, and are astonished at, the ancient time, and do not give much (credit) to (modern) contrivances. But none of these (considerations) will prevent the view that the greatest and most remarkable events have happened in these wars. As far as it happened to the Romans and the Medes making war, both what they suffered and what they accomplished, it will be told by starting at first almost from the beginning.”


As might be expected of a historian setting himself to follow in the historiographical tradition of antiquity, Procopius’ opening sentence imitates to some extent the initial sentences of both Herodotus and Thucydides. One of Herodotus’ proclaimed purposes was “that human achievements may not become forgotten in time”, and Thucydides states at once that the conflict about which he was writing was ” a great war and more worth writing about than any of those which had taken place in the past”. By specifically stating that he was determined to ensure that the events of Justinian’s wars should be rescued from oblivion, and that he was recording the memory of great events, Procopius is specifically tying himself to the traditions of classical historiography as exemplified by Herodotus and Thucydides, and indeed such imitation was unavoidable for any writer following in this genre. The whole of this preface to ” The Wars” is full of allusions to these writers and to other classical authors, notably Homer. In claiming that his histories will be useful to those intending to go to war, Procopius also follows Polybius, who offered tactical advice to generals.

Despite the many superficial resemblances between Procopius and his classical models, the underlying tone of his history is one of deep hostility to Justinian. Since this hostility could not be overt, his real views involve both coded criticism and an ironic stance towards both his classical models and his subject matter. There is a significant imbalance in the focus of Procopius’ work. Whereas Herodotus consciously wrote about the deeds of Greeks and Persians alike, and Thucydides about both the Athenians and the Peloponnesians, Procopius’ primary focus is upon Justinian alone. Whereas some classical historians, notably Polybius and Procopius’ immediate successor, Agathias, saw praise as a source of inspiration to future generations, the lack of praise in relation to Justinian in “The Wars” is positively deafening. In fact, he does on occasions even offer specific criticisms of Justinian. For instance in Book VIII.26.5. he refers to “the Emperor Justinian who had been very negligent in his conduct of the war before this.” Furthermore, while he appears to be following Thucydides when he states in the preface that more “amazing things” have been performed in the wars about which he is writing than in all others, he totally fails to substantiate this claim and mentions none of the things which he might have mentioned in this context, such as the reconquest of territories, the great victories that occurred, the number of prisoners taken, including kings, and cities captured, all things about which Justinian boasted in the prologue to many of his laws. Instead, Procopius immediately undermines his claim of the amazing nature of his times by the statement that a reader might prefer to give the badge of honour to antiquity.

It is in this context that we must understand the bizarre contest of archers in Procopius’ preface. On the face of it, Procopius appears to be seeking to demonstrate the superiority of the mounted archers of his own day to the hand-to-hand fighters of the Homeric age, and to defend the former from ridicule, as a way of justifying his theme of the greatness of the wars of his own time. In practice, however, he fails totally to make his case. To do this, Procopius either has to defend the profession of archery or argue that modern soldiers of the Sixth Century were the equals of the hand-to -hand fighters of the Homeric Age. He does neither. What he does do is to denigrate unfairly the archers of the Homeric era, and thus lower artificially the standard that modern soldiers must reach to justify his argument, and he then juxtaposes the weakness of Homeric bowmen to the armoured and mounted archers of his own day. This argument is not convincing because he needs to demonstrate that modern soldiers are superior not just to the most despised element of Homeric armies -that is, the archers or bowmen – but to the heroes such as Achilles or Ajax. But he totally fails to compare modern soldiers to the heroes of Homer, which is what he needs to do to convince the reader. Such heroes are markedly absent from Procopius’ introduction. That Procopius is aware of the flaw in his argument is surely indicated by his repetition of the comment that some will continue to rate ancient times above the “contrivances” of the modern period. What is left, this preposterous contest of archers, could never have demonstrated the greatness of Justinian’s wars. So what then is the purpose of this mockery? The target for this trivialisation of the claim of the greatness of these wars is not so much the classical tradition itself but the pretentious propaganda of the Emperor himself. When Procopius offers us poor arguments for the greatness of Justinian’s wars we may suspect that he is drawing our attention to the weakness of that position, something which, however, he could not openly state. It was often only through pointed omissions that ancient authors could indicate their real views, and, as has been said, the lack of praise for Justinian in “The Wars” is devastating in its implications. At the same time this ridiculous and irrelevant contest of archers, and its sheer levity, served to deflate still further the Emperor’s claims to glory.

2. Historia Arcana: Introduction: By the Historian.

“All the things which have happened to occur to the nation of the Romans in its wars right up to the present have been set out in detail by me as far as it has proved possible through arranging all the accounts of its activities in accordance with their proper times and places; but henceforth events will no longer be composed by me in the manner stated, since here will be set down everything such as has chanced to happen throughout the empire of the Romans. The reason (for this is) that it was not possible, the perpetrators being still alive, for these things to be recorded in a manner such as is necessary. For neither was it possible (for me) to elude the multitude of spies, nor, having been detected, not to perish in a miserable death. For I did not even have confidence in the most intimate of my kinsmen. But in the case of the many events described in my previous narrative I was compelled to conceal the causes (that led up to them). So now it will be necessary for me to disclose the things that have remained concealed before this and the causes of occurrences previously explained already. But for me, going towards another endeavour, something difficult and exceedingly hard to cope with, to stammer and correct myself concerning (the lives) lived by Justinian and Theodora, it particularly occurs to me to consider that the things about to be written by me in the present will appear neither credible nor probable to those coming after (us), and, especially when time, streaming greatly, will render the story somewhat ancient, I fear that I shall gain the reputation of a narrator of myths and shall be ranked among the trainers of tragic poets. At this point, however, I shall not shrink from the immensity of this task, having the confidence that my account is not without witnesses. For the men of the present day, being very knowledgeable witnesses of the events (in question) will be sufficient purveyors to future time of the truth concerning these (events). And yet something else often held me back for a long time when I was eager to (undertake) this narrative. For I considered that this (record) would be inexpedient for men coming in the future, since it would be most advantageous that the most wicked of deeds should be unknown to future times rather than that, coming to their attention, they should become worthy of imitation by tyrants. For the imitation of the evil deeds of their predecessors (is) always easy for the majority of those in power through lack of experience, and they always turn more easily and with little difficulty towards the faults of those of an earlier time. But afterwards this brought me to (writing) the history of these deeds, that assuredly it will be clear to the tyrants of the future that it was not unlikely that punishment would in all probability overtake them for their misdeeds, just as this happened to befall those people; and then that their actions and their characters will be on the record for the future, and from this they will perhaps transgress more hesitantly. For who of those men of later times would have learned of the licentious life of Semiramis or of the madness of Sardanapalus and Nero, if the records of these things had not been left behind by the writers of their times; otherwise this account will not be wholly without value to those who may so chance to suffer similar things at the hands of their rulers. For those suffering misfortunes are wont to be consoled by the (thought) that these evils have not fallen upon themselves alone. So, for these (reasons), I am going to tell first about the wretched deeds wrought by Belisarius; and afterwards I shall disclose all the wretched deeds committed by Justinian and Theodora.”


Procopius’ clear intention is that the Secret History should be taken together with “The Wars” to provide a true explanation of events, which he has been unable to give in the published document through fear of the Emperor Justinian. It seems to have been compiled in secret in the period following Belisarius’ return from Italy in 549, when Procopius’ view of his former employer had become extremely critical. The connection between “The Wars” and the “The Secret History” becomes immediately clear from his use of the word “mochthera”, meaning “wretched” or “wicked deeds” in both introductory passages. This is clearly no coincidence. Perhaps the grievances which he had developed against Belisarius and his wife, Antonina, were the initial impetus for this secret compilation, and the first five chapters broadly comply with his intentions as stated in the preface to “The Secret History”. From there onwards, however, the work broadens out into a general diatribe against both Justinian and Theodora, to whom Procopius attributes direct responsibility for all the ills of the Roman Empire. In Chapter XII Procopius calls them demons (“daimones”) in human form, and later he calls Justinian the prince of demons (“archon ton daimonon”), capable of levitation and of walking around his palace without a head. Chapter IX is devoted to a vicious and pornographic attack on the immoral background of the Empress Theodora, whose death in 548 had only just preceded this piece of writing. The “Secret History” was probably not known until the Tenth Century in Byzantium – it is listed in the Tenth Century lexicon, the “Souda” – , and not until the Seventeenth Century in Western Europe, when its initial publication led to such dismay that for a long time many scholars sought to deny Procopius’ authorship of it. This was partly because of a desire to shield Justinian, long seen as a Catholic lawgiver, and because it appeared to dent the image of Procopius as a rationalist historian in the Thucydidean tradition.

While due allowance for the requirements of the genres of “komodia” (satire) and “psogos” (invective) needs to be made, there is little doubt that the virulence of Procopius’ attacks on Justinian and Theodora does reflect the extent of his disaffection with the regime. Procopius saw Justinian as responsible for undermining the position of both the traditional landowning aristocracy and the professional classes at Constantinople, whose influence had been superseded by lowly-born bureaucrats, while he was also intensely critical of Justinian’s suppression of classical culture, which he viewed as potentially subversive, and his elevation of despotism into almost a legal principal. Although probably not a Christian himself, Procopius condemned Justinian’s persecution of religious dissidents, and dismissed Christian theology as an insanely stupid attempt to investigate the nature of an unknowable entity (see “The Wars”, Book V.3.6.) He also became increasingly disillusioned with the results of Justinian’ s reconquests, which he claimed had destroyed both Italy and Africa, and he may have resented Justinian’s increasingly ungracious treatment of his employer Belisarius. The suggestion that Procopius’ hyperbolic abuse of Justinian and Theodora may not have been entirely serious should be disregarded. For men of the Seventh Century it was quite normal to ascribe disastrous events to the intervention of demons, and, despite the extremity of the abuse in the “Secret History”, no one has succeeded in impugning the factual basis of its background content. An analysis of Chapters XIX-XXX shows that Procopius is attacking specific edicts issued by the Emperor. However, it must be accepted that after Chapter V Procopius is increasingly distracted from his avowed purpose of explaining the true causes of events in “The Wars”, and indeed he fails completely to link Chapter XXX, the final chapter, back to the preface. Since he was not able to publish “The Secret History”, as Justinian lived on to 565 and there is no record of Procopius after the completion of the “On Buildings” in 554-5, it is possible that he died without revising the work, and that, if he had, he might have addressed more coherently the aims set out in the preface. Nevertheless, “The Secret History” provides a devastating indictment of Justinian’s regime, which complements dramatically the coded criticisms and the occasionally more overtly adverse comments in “The Wars”.

3. De Aedificiis: Book I, Chapter I.

“Not wishing to make a display of my skill, nor being confident in the power of my speech, nor priding myself on my experience of countries, I have set out on the writing of this history; indeed I have not had anything through which I might bring such licence to it. But the thought has often occurred to me that history is wont to be a cause of so many and such great benefits to states, transmitting to posterity the memory of things that occurred of old, and resisting the making of affairs hidden by time exerting itself to the full, and inciting virtue among those reading it from time to time by the praise (it bestows), and continuously attacking vice and repelling its influence in this way. So, it is necessary for us to take care of this alone, that (all) the deeds of the past will be clearly set forth and by whomsoever among all men they were wrought. And this is not even a helpless (task) for a tongue which is lisping and stuttering. Apart from this, history shows that those who have been well treated by their rulers have become indulgent towards their benefactors, and that they have brought forth thank offerings in generous measure, (as) they, it may be so, have had joy for the moment of the beneficence of their rulers towards themselves, and will preserve their virtue immortal in the memory of those who will come in the future. For, on account of this, many of those coming after (them) will thrive emulating the honours of those preceding (them), and, having difficulty with censure, are quite likely to shun the basest of practices. And on account of what reason I have written this preface I shall disclose forthwith.

In our own time there has been born the Emperor Justinian, who taking over the state which was stirred up with disorder, has made it greater and much more illustrious, expelling hence those barbarians who had pressed upon it from of old, as has been shown by me writing in detail in my books concerning the wars. And indeed they say that Themistocles, the son of Neocles, once boastfully stated that he was not unable to make a small state large, but he is not unpractised in acquiring other states. Certainly he has already added many (states) to the empire of the Romans that were belonging to others in his own time, and he has created countless cities which did not previously exist. And finding belief about god slipping, before his time, into error and being forced to go in many (directions), having completely destroyed all the paths leading to these errors, he brought it about that it stood on the firmness of the foundation of a single faith. And, finding in respect of the laws, that they had become very numerous with no need, being obscure and obviously confused by going in opposite (directions) from each other, and, having purged them from their mass of verbal trickery, and, controlling very firmly their discrepancies towards each other, he preserved (them), and, dismissing of his own accord the charges against those plotting against (him), and, having made those wanting in life satiated with wealth and crushing the fortune dealing spitefully with them, he wedded the state to a prosperous life. But he strengthened the domain of the Romans that had lain everywhere exposed to the barbarians by a multitude of soldiers and, by constructing strongholds, be built a wall along its remotest parts. However, most of his other (achievements) have been described by me in my other writings, inasmuch as the benefits which have been created by him by building will be written up in this present (work). We know by report that the best king was the Persian Cyrus and that he was chiefly responsible for (establishing) the kingdom for the people of his race; but whether that Cyrus was such a man as he whose education was described by Xenophon the Athenian I am not able to be sure. For the quick cleverness of the man who somewhere had written these things having been refined by the power of his speech was sufficiently capable of becoming an embellishment of his deeds. But in the case of the king of our time, Justinian [whom one would rightly, I think, call a king by nature, since he is, in the words of Homer, as gentle as a father], if one should examine his reign with care, one will consider that the rule of Cyrus was a sort of child’s play. Thus it will be proved that the state under him , just as has been lately said by me, has become more than doubled both in territory and in power generally. And the proof of the benevolence of the Emperor, that those devising mischievously the plot against him right up to his murder, not (only) that they are living to this (moment) of time and are holding their own possessions, although had clearly been found guilty but are even serving as generals of the Romans still and described in the rank of consuls. But now it is necessary for us to proceed, as I have said to the buildings of this emperor so that it may not come to pass in the future time that those seeing them disbelieve by their size that they happen to be indeed the works of one man. For already many works of men of former times not established on the written record have become incredible due to the surpassing (nature) of their merit. And in all probability the (buildings) in Byzantium beyond all (the rest) may be a foundation for my narrative. For the work beginning according to the old saying, it is necessary to set a face that shines from afar.”


As the preface to the “On Buildings” clearly indicates, this final work of Procopius, with its unrestrained praise of the Emperor Justinian, sets it totally apart from the vitriolic abuse of him in “The Secret History” and the silence and coded criticisms in “The Wars”. “On Buildings” is an example of the genre of “panegyric”, which would have been familiar in the sycophantic atmosphere of the court of Justinian. The question obviously arises why Procopius should have written this laudatory work concerning Justinian when only a few years before he should have penned, albeit in secret, such devastatingly different views. While some have sought to argue that this may reflect a genuine change of heart on the part of Procopius in the mid-550s – such a view has been linked to the erroneous identification of Procopius of Caesarea with the Procopius who was Praefectus urbi in Constantinople in 562 -, the most likely explanation is that Procopius wrote this piece in order to demonstrate his loyalty, and to placate Justinian who may have doubted his reliability. This would hardly have been surprising, since Justinian can scarcely have failed to notice the absence of praise of him in “The Wars”, which was very widely read by the intelligentsia of Byzantium on its publication in 550-1, and, while it is perhaps unlikely that Justinian would have personally understood the critical significance of the classical allusions in this work, there can be little doubt that a number of his courtiers would have been sufficiently well grounded in classical literature to have done so, and that, equally, some of them at least may have drawn Justinian’s attention to their hostile implications. In the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that Procopius may have felt it necessary to prove his loyalty and to safeguard the position of himself and his family by writing such a panegyric. It is even possible that he himself may have been involved in some way in the plots against Justinian which he mentions twice in the preface, and that he wrote “On Buildings” under instruction in expiation of his guilt. Another possibility is that Procopius wrote it in the hope of personal advancement. In that case, there may be some direct relevance in his comment in the preface about subjects being grateful to rulers who benefit them. At all events, it is most unlikely that Procopius’ true sentiments towards Justinian will have changed, and, hence, while the “On Buildings” remains an invaluable source of information about the Sixth Century Later Roman Empire, one must doubt the sincerity of the views expressed in it by Procopius towards Justinian.

Futhermore, even the “On Buildings” contains a number of coded criticisms of Justinian via the esoteric technique of classical allusions. Best known perhaps is when he is describing the colossal bronze statue of Justinian, dressed like Achilles in the Augusteum in Constantinople. He writes: “One might say, in poetic speech, that here is that star of Autumn” (Book I, Chapter 2.10). Those of his readers who knew their “Iliad” would have recognised the reference to Achilles as the Autumn Star “which is brightest amongst the stars, and yet is wrought as a sign of evil and brings on the great fever for unfortunate mortals”( Homer’s Iliad 22.26-31). Even the curious references to Themistocles and Cyrus in the preface probably betoken coded criticism. When he refers to “Themistocles, the son of Neocles” he is taking his readers back to Plutarch’s “Life of Themistocles”, in which Plutarch writes that his origins were lowly, his father Neocles undistinguished and his mother an alien. His boast quoted in the preface that he could make small states great is juxtaposed by Plutarch against the comment that he lacked cultural refinement and social skills. This reference to Themistocles in the preface therefore almost certainly involves a coded jibe against the humble social origins of Justinian and his uncle Justin I. The reference to “the rule of Cyrus as a sort of child’ s play” in the preface links to a comment in “The Secret History” that Justinian’s government made “the state seem like the game of ‘King’ played by children” (HA, XIV.14); both of these extracts involve an allusion to a passage in Herodotus, in which the young Cyrus and his playmates play a game in which they pretend that Cyrus is king. The purpose of this allusion is perhaps somewhat obscure but it certainly involves a belittling of Justinian’s rule. In this context too, his reference to the power of speech facilitating an embellishment of Cyrus’ deeds may also have significance, since this refers back to the reference to his own “power of speech” at the beginning of the preface. This is perhaps a subtle hint to the reader not to take too literally some of the praise been presented here. Finally, even the apparently innocuous reference in the preface to Justinian being, in Homer’s words “as gentle as a father” has a sinister implication. The passage in Homer’s “Odyssey” to which it alludes goes as follows: “First, I have lost my noble sire, who sometime was king among you here, and was as gentle as a father; and now there is an evil greater far, which surely shall soon make grievous havoc of my whole house and ruin all my livelihood”(Homer’s Odyssey 2.47-49.)


The translations of the introductions or prefaces to Procopius’ three works do provide some insight into the separate motivations behind them. What cannot be doubted is the depth of hostility entertained towards Justinian and his wife Theodora, whom Procopius clearly hated even more. It has taken historians some time to perceive the full significance behind Procopius’ failure to praise Justinian in “The Wars” and of the classical allusions with which his works are full. Perhaps there has been a desire to see the best in Justinian as “the Last of the Romans” and to cast his wife Theodora in something of a romantic light, as a reformed prostitute who saved Justinian’s throne by her stirring speech during the Nika riots in 532. It has, perhaps, been painful for some to have to acknowledge that Theodora probably never made her courageous speech, often quoted as fact, and that this is mainly an invention by Procopius to condemn Justinian’s rule as a tyranny. ( Her famous remark that the purple was a good winding sheet was a clear allusion to the earlier statement, by Dionysius of Syracuse, quoted by Diodorus Siculus among others, that “tyranny was a good burial shroud”.) At the same time there has been a desire to portray Procopius as an objective and rational analyst of historical events in the true tradition of Thucydides, and certainly many histories of the Sixth Century and of Justinian’s reign have involved little more than paraphrases of his work (viz. J.B. Bury’s “History of the Later Roman Empire”, 1923). For such historians, the existence of “The Secret History” has been most unwelcome, and some have tried to pass it off as the temporary aberration of a man who eventually made his peace with Justinian. Undoubtedly, it has damaged the reputation of both Justinian and Procopius. In the case of Justinian, it is difficult not to accept that the views of Procopius must have been shared by very many people of his social and intellectual milieu, and that Justinian’s repressive attitude to traditional classical culture and the high levels of taxation imposed upon the wealthier classes to pay for his foreign wars must have made him intensely unpopular. Even the value of his codification of the laws was vitiated by the welter of laws which he issued himself, which served to renew the very confusion he had sought to address.

In the case of Procopius, himself, the extent of the recent criticism of him, based upon the vitriolic excesses of “the Secret History” and a lack of understanding of the techniques of ancient historiography amongst modern historians lacking a background in the classics themselves, has almost certainly been misplaced. Once the purposes behind his writings are fully understood, it is clear that Procopius remains a historical writer of the highest order. He must also have been a man of considerable courage, particularly in view of his comments in the preface to “The Secret History” about the ubiquity of spies and the penalty he might face for hostile comments. While one assumes that the “the Secret History” never saw the light of day during his lifetime, his deliberate withholding of praise of Justinian and his sophisticated use of classical allusions to provide coded criticisms of him, not only in “The Wars” but also, as has just been demonstrated, even in the “On Buildings”, which he wrote ostensibly as a panegyric, must surely have involved him in considerable personal risk, a risk that must have been dramatically increased if he shared the text of “The Secret History” with anyone. It is possible that he died in about 555, and that the “On Buildings” was never completed. The lack of a section in it on Italy otherwise seems difficult to explain. At the same time, the work is very uneven, with Book IV (Parts 2 and 3) and Book V, being little more than lists of fortresses in the Balkans and monasteries in Asia, respectively. A more finished work would surely have developed these lists into something more substantial.

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