Caesarea (Greek: Προκόπιος ὁ
Καισαρεύς Prokópios ho Kaisareús; Latin: Procopius
Caesariensis; c. 500 – c. after 565) was a
prominent late antique Byzantine Greek scholar from Palaestina
Prima.[a] Accompanying the Byzantine general
Emperor Justinian's wars,
Procopius became the principal Byzantine
historian of the 6th century, writing the History of the Wars, the
Buildings, and the Secret History. He is commonly classified as the
last major historian of the ancient Western world.
2.1 History of the Wars
2.2 Secret History
2.3 The Buildings
5 List of selected works
8 Further reading
9 External links
9.1 Texts of Procopius
9.2 Secondary material
Apart from his own writings, the main source for Procopius's life is
an entry in the Suda, a Greek encyclopaedia written
sometime after 975, which discusses his early life. He was a native of
Caesarea in the province of Palaestina Prima. He would have
received a conventional elite education in the Greek classics and
rhetoric, perhaps at the famous school at Gaza.
He may have attended law school, possibly at Berytus (present-day
Constantinople (now Istanbul),[b] and
became a lawyer (rhetor). He evidently knew Latin, as was
natural for a man with legal training.[c] In 527, the first
year of the reign of the emperor Justinian I, he became the legal
adviser (adsessor) for Belisarius, a general whom Justinian made his
chief military commander in a great attempt to restore control over
the lost western provinces of the empire.[d]
Procopius was with
Belisarius on the eastern front until the latter
was defeated at the
Battle of Callinicum
Battle of Callinicum in 531 and
recalled to Constantinople.
Procopius witnessed the Nika
riots of January, 532, which
Belisarius and his fellow general Mundus
repressed with a massacre in the Hippodrome. In 533, he
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's successor Solomon the Eunuch when
Belisarius returned east to the capital.
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 around Carthage.[e] He rejoined
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's entry into the Gothic
capital, Ravenna, in 540. Both the Wars and the Secret
History suggest that his relationship with
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's staff.
As magister militum,
Belisarius was an "illustrious man" (Latin: vir
illustris; Greek: ἰλλούστριος, illoústrios); being his
Procopius must therefore have had at least the rank of a
"visible man" (vir spectabilis). He thus belonged to the mid-ranking
group of the senatorial order (ordo senatorius). However, the Suda,
which is usually well informed in such matters, also describes
Procopius himself as one of the illustres. Should this information be
Procopius would have had a seat in the Constantinople's
senate, which was restricted to the illustres under Justinian.
It is not certain when
Procopius died. Many historians—including
Howard-Johnson, Cameron, and Greatrex—date his death to 554, but
there was an urban prefect of
Constantinople (praefectus urbi
Procopius in 562. In that year,
Belisarius was implicated in a conspiracy and was brought before this
urban prefect. In fact, evidence shows that
Procopius died at least a
few years after 565 as he unequivocally states in the beginning of his
Secret History that he wrote it AFTER the death of Justinian for fear
he would be tortured and killed by the emperor (or even by general
Belisarius) if the emperor (or the general) learned about what
Procopius wrote (his scathing criticism of the emperor, of his wife,
of Belisarius, of the general's wife, Antonia: calling the former
"demons in human form" and the latter incompetent and treacherous) in
this later history. Surely, the book took some years to write so it is
likely he died at the minimum a few years after 565 and perhaps even
much later as there is no mention of his death we know of and it would
be only sheer speculation to mention any date after 565.
The writings of
Procopius are the primary source of information for
the rule of the emperor Justinian I.
Procopius was the author of
a history in eight books on the wars prosecuted by Justinian, a
panegyric on the emperor's public works projects throughout the
empire, and a book (written after 565) known as the Secret History
that claims to report the scandals that
Procopius could not include in
his officially sanctioned history for fear of angering the emperor,
his wife, Belisarius, and the general's wife and had to waut that all
these die in order to escape revenge for his writing at their hand.
History of the Wars
Procopius's Wars or History of the Wars (Greek: Ὑπὲρ τῶν
Πολέμων Λόγοι, Hypèr tōn Polémon Lógoi, "Words on the
Wars"; Latin: De Bellis, "On the Wars") is his most important work,
although less well known than the Secret History. The first seven
books seem to have been largely completed by 545 and may have been
published as a unit. They were, however, updated to mid-century before
publication, with the latest mentioned event occurring in early 551.
The eighth and final book brings the history to 553.
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 Iberia (present-day
Georgia).[f] It details the campaigns of the Sassaniad shah
Kavadh I, the 532 'Nika' revolt, the war by Kavadh's successor
Khosrau I in 540, his destruction of Antioch and deportation of
its inhabitants to Mesopotamia, and the great plague that devastated
the empire from 542. The Persian War also covers the early career of
Belisarius in some detail.
The Wars’ next two books—known as The Vandal or Vandalic War
(De Bello Vandalico)—cover Belisarius's successful campaign against
the Vandal kingdom that had occupied Rome's provinces in northwest
Africa for the last century.
The final four books—known as The Gothic War (De Bello
Gothico)—cover the Italian campaigns by
Belisarius and others
against the Ostrogoths. It includes accounts of the 1st and 2nd sieges
of Naples and the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd sieges of Rome. The last book
describes the eunuch Narses's successful conclusion of the Italian
campaign and includes some coverage of campaigns along the empire's
eastern borders as well.
The Wars was influential on later Byzantine
historiography. Histories, a continuation of Procopius's
work in a similar style, was undertaken by
Agathias in the 570s.
Belisarius may be this bearded figure on the right of Emperor
Justinian I in the mosaic in the Church of San Vitale, Ravenna, which
celebrates the reconquest of Italy by the Roman army under the
skillful leadership of Belisarius.
Procopius's now famous Anecdota also known as Secret History (Greek:
Ἀπόκρυφη Ἱστορία, Apókryphe Historía; Latin:
Historia Arcana) was discovered centuries later at the Vatican Library
in Rome and published in
Niccolò Alamanni in
1623. Its existence was already known from the Suda, which referred to
it as Procopius's "unpublished works" (Ἀνέκδοτα, Anékdota;
Anecdota). The Secret History covers roughly the same years as the
first seven books of The History of the Wars and appears to have been
written after they were published. Current consensus generally dates
it to 550 or 558, although others set it as late as 562.
In the eyes of many scholars, the Secret History reveals an author who
had become deeply disillusioned with Emperor Justinian, his wife
Theodora, the general Belisarius, and his wife Antonina. The work
claims to expose the secret springs of their public actions, as well
as the private lives of the emperor and his entourage. Justinian is
portrayed as cruel, venal, prodigal, and incompetent. In one passage,
it is even claimed that he was possessed by demonic spirits or was
himself a demon:
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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
Similarly, the Theodora of the Secret History is a garish portrait of
vulgarity and insatiable lust juxtaposed with cold-blooded
self-interest, shrewishness, and envious and fearful
mean-spiritedness. Among the more titillating (and dubious)
revelations in the Secret History is Procopius's account of Theodora's
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.
On the other hand, it has been argued that
Procopius prepared the
Secret History as an exaggerated document out of fear that a
conspiracy might overthrow Justinian's regime, which—as a kind of
court historian—might be reckoned to include him. The unpublished
manuscript would then have been a kind of insurance, which could be
offered to the new ruler as a way to avoid execution or exile after
the coup. If this hypothesis were correct, the Secret History would
not be proof that
Procopius hated Justinian or Theodora.
Triumphal arch at the entrance to the Sangarius Bridge
The Buildings (Greek: Περὶ Κτισμάτων, Perì Ktismáton;
Latin: De Aedificiis, "On Buildings") is a panegyric on Justinian's
public works projects throughout the empire. The first
book may date to before the collapse of the first dome of Hagia Sophia
in 557, but some scholars think that it is possible that the work
postdates the building of the bridge over the Sangarius in the late
550s. Historians consider Buildings to be an incomplete
work due to evidence of the surviving version being a draft with two
Buildings was likely written at Justinian's behest, and it is doubtful
that its sentiments expressed are sincere. It tells us nothing further
about Belisarius, and 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. He is depicted showing particular concern for the water
supply, building new aqueducts and restoring those that had fallen
into disuse. Theodora, who was dead when this panegyric was written,
is mentioned only briefly, but Procopius's praise of her beauty is
Due to the panegyrical nature of Procopius's Buildings, historians
have discovered several discrepancies between claims made by Procopius
and accounts in other primary sources. A prime example is Procopius's
starting the reign of Justinian in 518, which was actually the start
of the reign of his uncle and predecessor Justin I. By treating the
uncle's reign as part of his nephew's,
Procopius was able to credit
Justinian with buildings erected or begun under Justin's
administration. Such works include renovation of the walls of Edessa
after its 525 flood and consecration of several churches in the
Procopius falsely credits Justinian for the
extensive refortification of the cities of Tomis and Histria in
Scythia Minor. This had actually been carried out under Anastasius I,
who reigned before Justin.
Procopius belongs to the school of late antique historians who
continued the traditions of the Second Sophistic. They wrote in Attic
Greek; their models were Herodotus, Polybius
and—particularly—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
includes glosses of monks ("the most temperate of Christians") and
churches (as equivalent to a "temple" or "shrine"), since monasticism
was unknown to the ancient Athenians and their ekklesía had been a
The secular historians eschewed the history of the Christian church;
ecclesiastical history was left to a separate genre after Eusebius.
However, Cameron has argued convincingly that Procopius's works
reflect the tensions between the classical and Christian models of
history in 6th-century Constantinople. This is supported by Whitby's
analysis of Procopius's depiction of the capital and its cathedral in
comparison to contemporary pagan panegyrics.
be seen as depicting Justinian as essentially God's vicegerent, making
the case for buildings being a primarily religious
Procopius indicates that he planned to write an
ecclesiastical history himself and, if he had, he would
probably have followed the rules of that genre. As far as known,
however, such an ecclesiastical history was never written.
A number of historical novels based on Procopius's works (along with
other sources) have been written. Count
Belisarius was written by poet
Robert Graves in 1938.
Procopius himself appears as a
minor character in Felix Dahn's
A Struggle for Rome and in L. Sprague
de Camp's alternate history novel Lest Darkness Fall. The novel's main
character, archaeologist Martin Padway, derives most of his knowledge
of historical events from the Secret History.
List of selected works
Procopii Caesariensis opera omnia. Edited by J. Haury; revised by G.
Wirth. 3 vols. Leipzig: Teubner, 1962–64. 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.
^ "Like many Byzantine scholars,
Procopius affected a remarkable
traditional form of writing".
^ For an alternative reading of
Procopius as a trained engineer, see
Procopius uses and translates a number of
Latin words in his Wars.
Börm suggests a possible acquaintance with Vergil and
Procopius speaks of becoming Belisarius's advisor (symboulos) in
^ 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.
^ A detailed analysis is provided by Börm.
^ "Procopius", John Moorhead, Encyclopedia of Historians and
Historical Writing: M–Z, Vol. II, Kelly Boyd, (Fitzroy Dearborn
Publishers, 1999), 962.
^ a b
Suda pi.2479. See under 'Procopius' on
Suda On Line.
^ Procopius, Wars of Justinian I.1.1;
Suda pi.2479. See under
Suda On Line.
^ Cameron, Averil:
Procopius and the Sixth Century, London: Duckworth,
^ Evans, James A. S.: Procopius. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1972, p.
Procopius and the Sixth Century, p. 6.
^ Howard-Johnson, James: 'The Education and Expertise of Procopius';
in Antiquité Tardive 10 (2002), 19–30.
^ Börm, Henning (2007) Prokop und die Perser, p.46. Franz Steiner
Verlag, Stuttgart. .mw-parser-output cite.citation font-style:inherit
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^ Procopius, Wars, 1.12.24.
^ Wars, I.18.1-56
^ Wars, I.21.2
^ Wars, I.24.1-58
^ Wars, VIII.
^ Börm, Henning. Prokop und die Perser. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner
^ Cresci, Lia Raffaella. "Procopio al confine tra due tradizioni
storiografiche". Rivista di Filologia e di Istruzione Classica 129.1
^ Procopius, Secret History 12.20–22, trans. Atwater.
Procopius Secret History 9.20–21, trans. Atwater.
^ Cf. Börm (2015).
^ a b Downey, Glanville: "The Composition of Procopius, De
Aedificiis", in Transactions and Proceedings of the American
Philological Association 78: pp. 171–183; abstract from
^ Whitby, Michael: "Procopian Polemics: a review of A. Kaldellis
Procopius of Caesarea. Tyranny, History, and Philosophy at the End of
Antiquity", in The Classical Review 55 (2006), pp. 648–
^ Cameron, Averil.
Procopius and the Sixth Century. London: Routledge,
^ Croke, Brian and James Crow: "
Procopius and Dara", in The Journal of
Roman Studies 73 (1983), 143–159.
^ Wars, 2.9.14 and 1.7.22.
^ Buildings, Book I.
^ Whitby, Mary: "Procopius' Buildings Book I: A Panegyrical
Perspective", in Antiquité Tardive 8 (2000), 45–57.
^ Secret History, 26.18.
^ de Camp, L. Sprague (1949). Lest Darkness Fall. Ballantine Books.
p. 111. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
This article is based on an earlier version by James Allan Evans,
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Procopius. An article by art historian
Noah Charney about the Vatican
Library and its famous manuscript, Historia Arcana by Procopius.
Whately, Conor, Battles and Generals: Combat, Culture, and Didacticism
in Procopius' Wars. Leiden, 2016.
Whitby, L. M. "
Procopius and the Development of Roman Defences in
Upper Mesopotamia", in P. Freeman and D. Kennedy (ed.), The Defence of
the Roman and Byzantine East, Oxford, 1986, 717–35.
Wikisource has original works written by or about:Procopius
Texts of Procopius
Complete Works, Greek text (Migne Patrologia Graeca) with analytical
The Secret History, English translation (Atwater, 1927) at the
Internet Medieval Sourcebook
The Secret History, English translation (Dewing, 1935) at LacusCurtius
The Buildings, English translation (Dewing, 1935) at LacusCurtius
The Buildings, Book IV Greek text with commentaries, index nominum,
etc. at Sorin Olteanu's LTDM Project
Procopius at Project Gutenberg
Works by or about
Procopius at Internet Archive
H. B. Dewing's Loeb edition of the works of Procopius: vols. I–VI at
Internet Archive (History of the Wars, Secret History)
Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society (1888): Of the buildings of Justinian
by Procopius, (ca 560 A.D)
Complete Works 1, Greek ed. by K. W. Dindorf,
Latin trans. by Claude
Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae
Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae Pars II Vol. 1,
1833. (Persian Wars I–II, Vandal Wars I–II)
Complete Works 2, Greek ed. by K. W. Dindorf,
Latin trans. by Claude
Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae
Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae Pars II Vol. 2,
1833. (Gothic Wars I–IV)
Complete Works 3, Greek ed. by K. W. Dindorf,
Latin trans. by Claude
Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae
Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae Pars II Vol. 3,
1838. (Secret History, Buildings of Justinian)
Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "
Procopius of Caesarea" .
Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
Procopius from the Suda.
vteByzantine historians5th century
Annianus of Alexandria
Olympiodorus of Thebes
Panodorus of Alexandria
Sabinus of Heraclea
Socrates of Constantinople
Cyril of Scythopolis
Eustathius of Epiphania
Hesychius of Miletus
John of Ephesus
John of Epiphania
Joshua the Stylite
Liberatus of Carthage
Peter the Patrician
Theophanes of Byzantium
John of Antioch
Trajan the Patrician
Hippolytus of Thebes
Theophanes the Confessor
Nikephoros I of Constantinople
Chronicle of Monemvasia
Leo the Deacon
Symeon the Metaphrast
Yahya of Antioch
Nikephoros Bryennios the Younger
Eustathius of Thessalonica
Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthopoulos
John VI Kantakouzenos
BNF: cb121468212 (data)
ISNI: 0000 0001 1578 9700
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