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Procopius: The Buildings

 p. ix 


The praise which Procopius bestows on Justinian in the Buildings would, as Bury remarked, astonish us as coming from the author of the Wars even if the Secret History had been lost or never written.​1 The criticism of the Emperor which appears in veiled passages had been elaborated with minute care in the Secret History, written in 550; but this libel of course was designed to remain unpublished during Justinian's lifetime, and the treatise on the Buildings, published in 560 or soon after,​2 would have presented, in appearance at least, a wonderful change in the writer's feelings. The introduction to the work declares that the Emperor saved and transformed the State, drove back the barbarians, rescued religion from error and reformed the laws; and when the writer goes on, in the remainder of the book, to tell how Justinian fortified the frontiers, restored and founded cities, and everywhere made province for the safety and comfort of his subjects, no opportunity is lost to point out the Emperor's wisdom, generosity and ingenuity.

To account for this apparent change on the part of  p. x Procopius is not entirely possible, for the scanty evidence is capable of interpretation in different ways.​3 Though the wish to flatter the Emperor is obvious, it is difficult to determine whether the circumstances which furnished the immediate occasion for writing the book differed from the original motives which Procopius may have had for planning it. A number of reasons why Procopius should have written the treatise can be suggested. He may have wished to defend himself from the charges of disloyalty which could have been brought against him as a result of the criticisms of the administration which he allowed to appear in the Wars. On the other hand, he may have acted either in gratitude for official preferment or in the hope of it; but these motives must remain conjectural, for though we know that he had the title of illustris,​4 there is nothing to shew that this was given to him before or after the publication of the Buildings. Again, a Procopius was city-prefect of Constantinople in 562,​5 shortly after the publication of the Buildings; but the name was not uncommon, and it remains only a possibility that it was the author of the Buildings to whom this office was given as a reward for this work. Or it is possible  p. xi that the work was undertaken by imperial command or desire, directly or indirectly conveyed.​6 Finally, it is possible to detect a hint of personal gratitude in the introduction of the work,​7 and an effort has been made, though without complete success, to shew that there were circumstances in Procopius's life which caused him to feel such gratitude to the Emperor.​8 Depending upon one's belief or disbelief in these grounds, the work can be read either as a panegyric, containing a greater or less amount of irony, or as a recantation, spontaneous or constrained, of the writer's earlier criticism of the Emperor.9

 p. xii  In the circumstances it is not possible to prove any one of these explanations satisfactorily. They need not, however, be mutually exclusive, and it is conceivable that all these motives may have been present in the author's mind, in various degrees and combinations, when he wrote the work. A passage in the Wars suggests, indeed, that Procopius contemplated writing such a book as early as 545;​10 but it is possible, if not likely, that when he actually wrote it he was impelled by motives quite different from those which he may originally have had.

The subject was inherently dull and monotonous,​a and much of Procopius's treatment of it is perfunctory, being controlled in large measure by his rhetorical tendency; he was also limited not only by the nature of his material but by the necessity of keeping the Emperor constantly in the foreground. Yet the flattery of the Emperor was not necessarily, to Procopius and his contemporaries, as exaggerated and pointless as it now seems. By long tradition each Roman and each Byzantine Emperor was regarded as the direct source and origin of all the  p. xiii public building operations executed during his reign.​11 In pagan thought the ruler was a god among men, and in the Christian Empire he became the Vice-regent of God on earth (the Empire being a mimesis of Heaven). The Hellenistic ruler and the Roman and the Christian Byzantine Emperor thus represented the source and "creator" of all things on earth. So if Justinian is portrayed as personally responsible for the design and construction of public buildings of all kinds and in every part of the Empire, his rôle was only one phase of his constant and pervading care for his subjects. The Emperor's importance in this respect is only heightened when on occasion he receives guidance and inspiration from God;​12 and the assistance which he receives from his master-builders is but another manifestation of God's watchfulness in providing the Emperor with the best means for the execution of his mission, which was, as Procopius says, "to watch over the whole Roman Empire and, so far as possible, to remake it."13

Naturally, Procopius's adulation of the Emperor was not motivated entirely by this conception; but it certainly was made possible by it and if Procopius felt any hesitation in heaping up the flattery  p. xiv of Justinian (though it is debatable whether such a scruple occurred to him) his doubts would have been removed by the thought that his account in this respect could be considered normal and in no way grotesque. And of course the official correctness of his presentation would provide an admirable screen for the irony which some scholars find in the work.

It is partly because of this conception that the titles which Procopius gives to Anthemius, Isidorus and Chryses have been translated here as "master-builder." Procopius generally uses mechanikos or mechanopoios in speaking of these men,​14 and Isidorus is called mechanikos in an inscription of Chalcis in Syria which records work executed there in A.D. 550‑1 — evidently the repair of the circuit-wall which Procopius describes.​15 These craftsmen are always spoken of as "serving" or "assisting" the Emperor in his undertakings;​16 they apply to him for help when their skill is unable to cope with a difficult situation, and the devices with which he overcomes these problems are beyond their powers of imagination.​17 The implication conveyed in the modern term "master-builder" thus seems to express most closely the relation­ship which Procopius sought to depict. It is necessary to use it also because the modern terms "architect" and "engineer" impute to ancient workers methods and resources which, however great their skill, they did not possess.

 p. xv  There is a notable exception to Procopius's usage: in his reference to Trajan's bridge across the Danube he says that Apollodorus of Damascus was "architektôn of the whole work."​18 This is the only passage in the Buildings in which Procopius uses the word architektôn, and its appearance here suggests that he made a distinction between the relation­ship of the "master-builders" to Justinian and the relation­ship of similar craftsmen to other emperors: apparently Procopius wished to imply that Justinian had a greater share of originality and responsibility in such work than his predecessors had had, a thought which of course would not necessarily, in the case of Trajan, run counter to the conception of the ruler as the originator of public building operations.

For sources, it is plain from the amount of information which Procopius gives that he had access to official records of some sort: the use of such material is indicated particularly by his three long lists​19 of fortresses and other buildings. In addition, he must have used the knowledge acquired during his own travels,​20 and he probably drew also upon the experience of others.​21 It is of course not to be expected that all his information, especially that concerning work done in remote districts, is completely accurate. Many of the place-names are corrupted, for in addition to the dangers of corruption in manuscript tradition to which unusual names are peculiarly exposed, the names may have been garbled in the records which Procopius used, and he may himself have transcribed them inaccurately. In the present edition it is impossible to deal with the problems  p. xvi thus created. The more important of the places mentioned have, however, been identified so far as it is possible, and their modern names given; and a few studies of individual sites have been mentioned in the notes.22

To facilitate the use of the translation by students of the history of architecture, the Greek architectural terms have sometimes been transliterated in the English version, and a selection of these words has been gathered in the index under the heading Architectural Terms. When the same term occurs several times in a single passage, it has usually been transliterated only at its first occurrence, and when the English term which is used in that place recurs, the reader can assume that it represents the same Greek term. In certain passages, however, it has seemed desirable to repeat the transliteration of the same word several times in order to make clearer the way in which different terms are used by Procopius. When "stoa" has been used in the translation to represent Greek στοά, no transliteration has been added; but when it is necessary to translate Greek στοά by different words ("colonnaded stoa," "portico," etc.) the transliteration has been supplied.​23 Certain  p. xvii terms with well-established and unmistakeable meanings (e.g. peribolos, "circuit-wall"; proteichisma, "outworks"; pyrgos, "tower") occur so frequently in this work that it has seemed unnecessary to transliterate them except in passages in which it is desirable to distinguish them from other terms. In some instances, of course, Procopius employs literary locutions in place of technical terms, and it has usually seemed unnecessary to attempt to reproduce his phraseology in transliteration; in such cases the translation has generally been made as literal as possible.

The material gathered in the Index does not comprise all the occurrences of all the technical terms which Procopius uses. This collection is intended rather to represent unusual words, words which Procopius employs with different shades of meaning or in quite different senses, and in general terms such as apsis, tholos and stoa which are often used so loosely by ancient writers that it is always desirable to collect examples of them. In some instances words have been included because they happen to occur in contexts which make their meanings unusually clear. When the meaning of a word is well established, and when its use by Procopius has no significance either for his technique of description  p. xviii or for the history of architecture, it has seemed unnecessary to list it.

The Buildings was first published, incompletely, by Beatus Rhenanus at Basel in 1531; his edition was reprinted at Paris in 1543. A more complete text was edited by David Hoeschel at Augsburg in 1607. The next edition was that of Claudius Maltretus (Paris, 1663), which was reprinted at Venice in 1729. The text was again edited by G. Dindorf at Bonn in 1838, largely on the basis of Maltretus's edition. The present edition is based upon that of J. Haury in the Teubner series (Leipzig, 1913), though his text occasionally has been modified. There is an English translation by Aubrey Stewart, with notes by C. W. Wilson and Hayter Lewis, in the series of the Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society (London, 1896).

The plans and elevations used in this book, while redrawn, have been taken from the following publications, to which due acknowledgement is hereby given:

W. R. Lethaby and H. Swainson, The Church of Sancta Sophia, London, Macmillan, 1894, Figs. 3 and 4.

A. Van Millen, R. Traquair, and others, Byzantine Churches in Constantinople, London, Macmillan, 1912, Plan of SS. Sergius and Bacchus, p80.

K. Wulzinger, "Die Apostelkirche und die Mehmedije zu Konstantinopel," Byzantion, VII, 1932, Plan of St. John's at Ephesus, p26.

H. Spanner and S. Guyer, Rusafa (Forschungen zur Islamischen Kunst, hrsg. F. Sarre), Berlin, D. Reimer (E. Vohsen), 926, Plans of fortifications, Plates 2, 4 and 5.

 p. xix  The maps have been taken, with the omission of certain details, from the following publications, to which acknowledgement is made:

Van Millingen, op. cit., Map of Constantinople, facing p15.

Cambridge Ancient History (Cambridge University Press), Map of the Euphrates Frontier, vol. I, map no. 7; Map of the Roman Empire, vol. II, map no. 15.

At the last moment before this volume goes to press it is possible to add:

Kenneth J. Conant, "The First Dome of St. Sophia and its Rebuilding," American Journal of Archaeology, XLIII (1939), 589‑591, which has an important bearing upon the narrative of Procopius in I.i.66 ff.,º pages 29‑33 infra. Professor Conant's study of the architectural history of this church was to have appeared in the first issue for 1940 of the Bulletin of the Byzantine Institute, whose publication has been delayed by the war in Europe. In advance of that publication Professor Conant reproduces architectural drawings of the cross-section of the building which show (1) the original plan of the dome, (2) the deformation which occurred before the building settled, and (3) the reconstruction which took place in 558‑563.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 J. B. Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire, London, 1923, II, p428.

2 The date is given by the statement (V.iii.10) that the construction of a bridge over the Sangarius was in progress when Procopius wrote; Theophanes (A.M. 6052, I, p234, 15‑18 ed. De Boor) states that this work was carried out in the year A.D. 559‑60.

3 Cf.  F. Dahn, Prokopius von Cäsarea, Berlin, 1865, pp352‑67; J. Haury, Procopiana, I, Augsburg, 1891, pp28‑31, 34; K. Krumbacher, Geschichte der byzantinischen Litteratur, ed. 2, Munich, 1897, pp232 f.; Ch. Diehl, Justinien et la civilisation byzantine au VIe siècle, Paris, 1901, pp. xiii. xviii f.; P. Friedländer, Johannes von Gaza und Paulus Silentiarius, Leipzig, 1912, pp44, 54; Bury, loc. cit. On Procopius's relations with Justinian, see also Haury, "Prokop und der Kaiser Justinian," Byzantinische Zeitschrift, XXXVII, 1937, pp1‑9.

4 Suidas, s.n. Προκόπιος.

5 Theophanes, A.M. 6055, I, pp238, 10; 239, 7 ed. De Boor; cf. Haury, Procopiana, I, pp34 f.

6 Procopius writes, in I.iii.1: "We must begin with the churches of Mary Mother of God. For we know that this is the wish of the Emperor himself, and true reason manifestly demands that from God one must proceed to the Mother of God." This allusion does not, however, seem sufficient to prove that the Emperor ordered the work: he could, for example, have expressed his wish after he learned that the book was planned or was being written.

7 I.i.4: "Apart from all this, history shews that subjects who have received benefits have proved themselves grateful toward their benefactors, and that they have repaid them with thank-offerings in generous measure, seeing that while they have profited, it may be, for the moment only by the beneficence of their rulers, they nevertheless preserve their sovereigns' virtue imperishable in the memory of those who are to come after them."

8 Haury believed (Zur Beurteilung des Geschichtschreibers Procopius, Munich, 1896, pp19, 44 f.) that Procopius was grateful to Justinian for avenging the murder of his father Stephanus, an official in Palestine, and saving the family property. Haury is, however, unable to find enough evidence to make the theory convincing; cf. Bury, op. cit., II, p420, n. 1.

9 Either interpretation is possible in several instances in which Procopius gives, in the Buildings, descriptions and interpretations of events which are quite different from those which he gives elsewhere (cf. Haury, Procopiana, I, pp31‑33). Compare, for example, Buildings I.i.9 with Secret History xiii.7; Buildings I.i.25, 26 with Secret History xxi.7, 9, 22‑25; Buildings IV.ii.15 with Secret History xxvi.31‑33.

10 Wars II.xii.29; cf. Haury, Procopiana, I, pp18, 28, and in Byzantinische Zeitschrift, XXXIV, 1934, p10. But there are many instances in which Procopius announced (as he does in the present passage) that he would describe a certain subject or incident in another place, and then failed to do so. There is also a passage in the Secret History, written in 550, in which Procopius seems to allude to his intention of writing the Buildings: see below, note on II.vii.4.

11 On this conception cf. Downey, "Imperial Building Records in Malalas," Byzantinische Zeitschrift, XXXVIII, 1938, pp1‑15. In addition to the studies cited there, reference may be made to W. Schubart, "Das Gesetz und der Kaiser in griechischen Urkunden," Klio, XXX, 1937, pp54‑69, and L. Berlinger, Beiträge zur inoffiziellen Titulatur der römischen Kaiser: Eine Untersuchung ihres ideengeschichtlichen Gehaltes und ihrer Entwicklung, Breslau, 1935.

12 I.i.71; II.iii.8, 13;, 20; cf. I.i.61.

13; cf. I.1.25, 26, II.ix.11.

14 I.i.24, 71, 76; II.iii.2, 11, 14. Their craft is called μηχανική (I.i.24; Wars II.xiii.26) and τὰ μηχανικά (II.iii.7).

15 See the notes on II.xi.1 and viii.25.

16 Their work is spoken of as ὑπουργία, e.g. II.viii.25; cf. I.i.24.

17 I.i.68‑78; II.iii.7‑13.


19 IV.iv and xi; V.ix.

20 Cf. II.iv.3; VI.vii.18.

21 Cf. VI.vii.18.

22 For a recent example of a study of the geographical material in the Buildings, see P. Skok, "De l'importance des listes toponomastiques de Procope pour la connaissance de la latinité balkanique," Revue internationale des études balkaniques, III, 1937, pp47‑58.

23 Procopius nearly always employs stoa to describe any structure which consists basically of a covered colonnade (see the entry for stoa in the heading Architectural Terms in the Index); once he uses embolos for a covered portico in a wall (Buildings, III.v.11) and twice he speaks of peristyloi aulai (Buildings, I.i.58, II.x.20). In this translation, "stoa" alone is employed when the nature of the structure is is clear from the context; "porch" and "portico" are sometimes employed in special cases, and sometimes "colonnaded stoa" and stoa-like colonnade" are used when it is necessary to indicate that Procopius is using στοά to describe both the columns and the whole of the structure of which they form a part. Cf. Downey, "The Architectural Significance of the Use of the Words Stoa and Basilikê in Classical Literature," American Journal of Archaeology, XLI, 1937, pp194‑211.

 p. xx  Manuscripts and Editions Cited

A = Cod. Ambrosianus A 182 sup.
L = Cod. Laurentianus 70, 5.
V = Cod. Vaticanus 1065.
I = Cod. Laurentianus 9, 32.

Dindorf = W. Dindorf , ed. of 1838.
Haury = J. Haury, ed. of 1913.
Hoeschel = D. Hoeschel , ed. of 1603.
Maltretus = C. Maltretus , ed. of 1663.

Thayer's Note:

a Speak for yourself, Professor Dewing! I for one find it fascinating, and can only regret that, as you go on to say, Procopius has treated it in a perfunctory and often uncomprehending way.

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