Procopius of Caesarea
Tyranny, History, and Philosophy at the End of Antiquity
Publication Year: 2004
Justinian governed the Roman empire for more than thirty-eight years, and the events of his reign were recorded by Procopius of Caesarea, secretary of the general Belisarius. Yet, significantly, Procopius composed a history, a panegyric, as well as a satire of his own times. Anthony Kaldellis here offers a new interpretation of these writings of Procopius, situating him as a major source for the sixth century and one of the great historians of antiquity and Byzantium.
Breaking from the scholarly tradition that views classicism as an affected imitation that distorted history, Kaldellis argues that Procopius was a careful student of the classics who displayed remarkable literary skill in adapting his models to the purposes of his own narratives. Classicism was a matter of structure and meaning, not just vocabulary. Through allusions Procopius revealed truths that could not be spoken openly; through anecdotes he exposed the broad themes that governed the history of his age.
Elucidating the political thought of Procopius in light of classical historiography and political theory, Kaldellis argues that he owed little to Christianity, finding instead that he rejected the belief in providence and asserted the supremacy of chance. By deliberately alluding to Plato's discussions of tyranny, Procopius developed an artful strategy of intertextuality that enabled him to comment on contemporary individuals and events. Kaldellis also uncovers links between Procopius and the philosophical dissidents of the reign of Justinian. This dimension of his writing implies that his work is worthy of esteem not only for the accuracy of its reporting but also for its cultural polemic, political dissidence, and philosophical sophistication.
Procopius of Caesarea has wide implications for the way we should read ancient historians. Its conclusions also suggest that the world of Justinian was far from monolithically Christian. Major writers of that time believed that classical texts were still the best guides for understanding history, even in the rapidly changing world of late antiquity.
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press
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This book has been read at various stages by John Fine, Traianos Gagos, Ray Van Dam, Beate Dignas, Stephanos Efthymiadis, Dimitris Krallis, Kim Vogel, and Chris Lillington-Martin, all of whom I thank for their valuable suggestions. Dimitris was present at the creation on that gray day in November 1999 ...
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Justinian was the last Roman emperor of ecumenical importance and the last to claim a place among the famous rulers of antiquity. After the late eleventh century, he was known to every educated man in the West as the arbiter of the Roman legal tradition. The Corpus was indeed the empire's last great contribution ...
1 Classicism and Its Discontents
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"Procopius of Caesarea composed a record of the wars which Justinian, the emperor of the Romans, waged against the barbarians of the east and of the west." The first sentence of the Wars announces its author and his theme and does so by imitating the first sentences of Thucydides and, to a lesser degree, of Herodotus. ...
2 Tales Not Unworthy of Trust: Anecdotes and the Persisan War
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Ancient and Byzantine historical narratives represent a nexus of scholarship and literature. To describe real events, they utilize techniques of empirical verification in conjunction with a broad range of literary devices. Also, they have moral or philosophical goals that seem inappropriate to factual reporting today. ...
3 The Secret History of Philosophy
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We have examined the individual stories that constitute the introduction to the Persian War and have shown how each story foreshadows some of the main themes that Procopius intends to develop in the main body of the narrative as well as in the Secret History. Those stories are not offered as factual reporting, ...
4 The Representation of Tyranny
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The first sentence of the Wars declares the work to be about the wars waged by Justinian against the barbarians. The narrative takes place mostly on the frontiers and in lands being conquered, paradoxically relegating the capital to the margins. Yet though he never left the capital, Justinian determined the course ...
5 God and Tyche in the Wars
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In 537, the city of Rome was besieged by the Goths and defended by a small imperial army under Belisarius. Civic life was disrupted and the populace unsure of its loyalties and prospects. Procopius was present throughout the siege, of which he wrote a gripping narrative. Among the omens, intrigues, and wonders ...
Appendix 1. Secret History 19 - 30 and the Edicts of Justinian
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Appendix 2. The Plan of Secret History 6 - 18
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List of Abbreviations
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Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2004