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Bill Thayer

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B. P. II.28‑30

This webpage reproduces a section of
The Vandal Wars


published in the Loeb Classical Library,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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B. V. I.3‑7

(Vol. II) Procopius
Vandal Wars

Book I (beginning)

 p3  1 1 Such, then,​a was the final outcome of the Persian War for the Emperor Justinian; and I shall now proceed to set forth all that he did against the Vandals and the Moors. But first shall be told whence came the host of the Vandals when they descended upon the land of the Romans. 2 After Theodosius, the Roman Emperor, had departed from the world, having proved himself one of the most just of men and an able warrior, his kingdom was taken over by his two sons, Arcadius, the elder, receiving the Eastern portion, and Honorius, the younger, the Western. 3 But the Roman power had been thus divided as far back as the time of Constantine and his sons; for he transferred his government to Byzantium, and making the city larger and much more renowned, allowed it to be named after him.

4 Now the earth is surrounded by a circle of ocean, either entirely or for the most part (for our knowledge is not as yet at all clear in this matter); and it  p5 is split into two continents by a sort of outflow from the ocean, a flow which enters at the western part and forms this Sea which we know, beginning at Gadira​1 and extending all the way to the Maeotic Lake.​2 5 Of these two continents the one to the right, as one sails into the Sea, as far as the Lake, has received the name of Asia, beginning at Gadira and at the southern​3 of the two Pillars of Heracles. 6 Septem​4 is the name given by the natives to the fort at that point, since seven hills appear there; for "Septem" has the force of "seven" in the Latin tongue. 7 And the whole continent opposite this was named Europe. And the strait at that point separates the two continents​5 by about eighty-four stades, but from there on they are kept apart by wide expanses of sea as far as the Hellespont. 8 For at this point they again approach each other at Sestus and Abydus, and once more at Byzantium and Chalcedon as far as the rocks called in ancient times the "Dark Blue Rocks," where even now is the place called Hieron. For at these places the continents are separated from one another by a distance of only ten stades and even less than that.

9 Now the distance from one of the Pillars of Heracles to the other, if one goes along the shore and does not pass around the Ionian Gulf and the sea called the Euxine but crosses from Chalcedon​6 to Byzantium and from Dryous​7 to the opposite mainland,8  p7 is a journey of two hundred and eighty-five days for an unencumbered traveller. 10 For as to the land about the Euxine Sea, which extends from Byzantium to the Lake, it would be impossible to tell everything with precision, since the barbarians beyond the Ister River, which they also call the Danube, make the shore of that sea quite impossible for the Romans to traverse — except, indeed, that from Byzantium to the mouth of the Ister is a journey of twenty‑two days, which should be added to the measure of Europe by one making the computation. 11 And on the Asiatic side, that is from Chalcedon to the Phasis River, which, flowing from the country of the Colchians, descends into the Pontus, the journey is accomplished in forty days. 12 So that the whole Roman domain, according to the distance along the sea at least, attains the measure of a three hundred and forty-seven days' journey, if, as has been said, one ferries over the Ionian Gulf, which extends about eight hundred stades from Dryous. 13 For the passage across the gulf​9 amounts to a journey of not less than four days.​b Such, then, was the size of the Roman empire in the ancient times.

14 And there fell to him who held the power in the West the most of Libya, extending ninety days' journey — for such is the distance from Gadira to the boundaries of Tripolis in Libya; and in Europe he received as his portion territory extending seventy-five days' journey — 15 for such is the distance from the  p9 northern​10 of the Pillars of Heracles to the Ionian Gulf.​11 And one might add also the distance around the gulf. 16 And the emperor of the East received territory extending one hundred and twenty days' journey, from the boundaries of Cyrene in Libya as far as Epidamnus, which lies on the Ionian Gulf and is called at the present time Dyrrachium, as well as that portion of the country about the Euxine Sea which, as previously stated, is subject to the Romans. 17 Now one day's journey extends two hundred and ten stades,​12 or as far as from Athens to Megara. Thus, then, the Roman emperors divided either continent between them. 18 And among the islands Britain, which is outside the Pillars of Heracles and by far the largest of all islands, was counted, as is natural, with the West; and inside the Pillars, Ebusa,​13 which lies in the Mediterranean in what we may call the Propontis, just inside the opening where the ocean enters, about seven days' journey from the opening, and two others near it, Majorica and Minorica, as they are called by the natives, were also assigned to the Western empire. 19 And each of the islands in the Sea itself fell to the share of that one of the two emperors within whose boundaries it happened to lie.

2 1 Now while Honorius was holding the imperial power in the West, barbarians took possession of his land; and I shall tell who they were and in what manner they did so. 2 There were many Gothic nations in  p11 earlier times, just as also at the present, but the greatest and most important of all are the Goths, Vandals, Visigoths, and Gepaedes. In ancient times, however, they were named Sauromatae and Melanchlaeni;​14 and there were some too who called these nations Getic. 3 All these, while they are distinguished from one another by their names, as has been said, do not differ in anything else at all. 4 For they all have white bodies and fair hair, and are tall and handsome to look upon, and they use the same laws and practise a common religion. 5 For they are all of the Arian faith, and have one language called Gothic; and, as it seems to me, they all came originally from one tribe, and were distinguished later by the names of those who led each group. 6 This people used to dwell above the Ister River from of old. Later on the Gepaedes got possession of the country about Singidunum​15 and Sirmium,​16 on both sides of the Ister River, where they have remained settled even down to my time.

7 But the Visigoths, separating from the others, removed from there and at first entered into an alliance with the Emperor Arcadius, but at a later time (for faith with the Romans cannot dwell in barbarians), under the leader­ship of Alaric, became hostile to both emperors, and, beginning with Thrace, treated all Europe as an enemy's land. 8 Now the Emperor Honorius had before this time been sitting in Rome, with never a thought of war  p13 in his mind, but glad, I think, if men allowed him to remain quiet in his palace. 9 But when word was brought that the barbarians with a great army were not far off, but somewhere among the Taulantii,​17 he abandoned the palace and fled in disorderly fashion to Ravenna, a strong city lying just about at the end of the Ionian Gulf, 10 while some say that he brought in the barbarians himself, because an uprising had been started against him among his subjects; but this does not seem to me trustworthy, as far, at least, as one can judge of the character of the man. 11 And the barbarians, finding that they had no hostile force to encounter them, became the most cruel of all men. For they destroyed all the cities which they captured, especially those south of the Ionian Gulf, so completely that nothing has been left to my time to know them by, unless, indeed, it might be one tower or one gate or some such thing which chanced to remain. 12 And they killed all the people, as many as came in their way, both old and young alike, sparing neither women nor children. Wherefore even up to the present time Italy is sparsely populated. 13 They also gathered as plunder all the money out of all Europe, and, most important of all, they left in Rome nothing whatever of public or private wealth when they moved on to Gaul. But I shall now tell how Alaric captured Rome.

14 After much time had been spent by him in the siege, and he had not been able either by force or by any other device to capture the place, he formed the following plan. 15 Among the youths in the army whose beards had not yet grown, but who had just come of age, he chose out three hundred whom he  p15 knew to be of good birth and possessed of valour beyond their years, and told them secretly that he was about to make a present of them to certain of the patricians in Rome, pretending that they were slaves. 16 And he instructed them that, as soon as they got inside the houses of those men, they should display much gentleness and moderation and serve them eagerly in whatever tasks should be laid upon them by their owners; 17 and he further directed them that not long afterwards, on an appointed day at about midday, when all those who were to be their masters would most likely be already asleep after their meal, they should all come to the gate called Salarian and with a sudden rush kill the guards, who would have no previous knowledge of the plot, and open the gates as quickly as possible. 18 After giving these orders to the youths, Alaric straightway sent ambassadors to the members of the senate, stating that he admired them for their loyalty toward their emperor, and that he would trouble them no longer, because of their valour and faithfulness, with which it was plain that they were endowed to a remarkable degree, and in order that tokens of himself might be preserved among men both noble and brave, he wished to present each one of them with some domestics. 19 After making this declaration and sending the youths not long afterwards, he commanded the barbarians to make preparations for the departure, and he let this be known to the Romans. 20 And they heard his words gladly, and receiving the gifts began to be exceedingly happy, since they were completely ignorant of the plot of the barbarian. 21 For the youths, by being unusually obedient to their owners, averted suspicion, and in  p17 camp some were already seen moving from their positions and raising the siege, while it seemed that the others were just on the point of doing the very same thing. 22 But when the appointed day had come, Alaric armed his whole force for the attack and was holding them in readiness close by the Salarian Gate; for it happened that he had encamped there at the beginning of the siege. 23 And all the youths at the time of the day agreed upon came to the gate, and, assailing the guards suddenly, put them to death; then they opened the gates and received Alaric and the army into the city at their leisure. 24 And they set fire to the houses which were next to the gate, among which was also the house of Sallust, who in ancient times wrote the history of the Romans, and the greater part of this house has stood half-burned up to my time; and after plundering the whole city and destroying the most of the Romans, they moved on. 25 At that time they say that the Emperor Honorius in Ravenna received the message from one of the eunuchs, evidently a keeper of the poultry, that Rome had perished. And he cried out and said, "And yet it has just eaten from my hands!" 26 For he had a very large cock, Rome by name; and the eunuch comprehending his words said that it was the city of Rome which had perished at the hands of Alaric, and the emperor with a sigh of relief answered quickly: "But I, my good fellow, thought that my fowl Rome had perished." So great, they say, was the folly with which this emperor was possessed.

 p19  27 But some say that Rome was not captured in this way by Alaric, but that Proba, a woman of very unusual eminence in wealth and in fame among the Roman senatorial class, felt pity for the Romans who were being destroyed by hunger and the other suffering they endured; and seeing that every good hope had left them, since both the river and the harbour were held by the enemy, she commanded her domestics, they say, to open the gates by night.

28 Now when Alaric was about to depart from Rome, he declared Attalus, one of their nobles, emperor of the Romans, investing him with the diadem and the purple and whatever else pertains to the imperial dignity. And he did this with the intention of removing Honorius from his throne and of giving over the whole power in the West to Attalus. 29 With such a purpose, then, both Attalus and Alaric were going with a great army against Ravenna. But this Attalus was neither able to think wisely himself, nor to be persuaded by one who had wisdom to offer. 30 So while Alaric did not by any means approve the plan, Attalus sent commanders to Libya without an army. Thus, then, were these things going on.

31 And the island of Britain revolted from the Romans, and the soldiers there chose as their king Constantinus, a man of no mean station. And he straightway gathered a fleet of ships and a formidable army and invaded both Spain and Gaul with a great force, thinking to enslave these countries. 32 But Honorius was holding ships in readiness and waiting to see what  p21 would happen in Libya, in order that, if those sent by Attalus were repulsed, he might himself sail for Libya and keep some portion of his own kingdom, while if matters should go against him, he might reach Theodosius and remain with him. 33 For Arcadius had already died long before, and his son Theodosius, still a very young child,​18 held the power of the East. 34 But while Honorius was thus anxiously awaiting the outcome of these events and tossed amid the billows of uncertain fortune, it so chanced that some wonderful pieces of good fortune befell him. 35 For God is accustomed to succour those who are neither clever nor able to devise anything of themselves, and to lend them assistance, if they be not wicked, when they are in the last extremity of despair; such a thing, indeed, befell this emperor. 36 For it was suddenly reported from Libya that the commanders of Attalus had been destroyed, and that a host of ships was at hand from Byzantium with a very great number of soldiers who had come to assist him, though he had not expected them, and that Alaric, having quarrelled with Attalus, had stripped him of the emperor's garb and was now keeping him under guard in the position of a private citizen. 37 And afterwards Alaric died of disease, and the army of the Visigoths under the leader­ship of Adaulphus proceeded into Gaul, and Constantinus, defeated in battle, died with his sons. 38 However the Romans never succeeded in recovering Britain, but it remained from that time on under tyrants. 39 And the Goths, after making the crossing of the Ister, at first occupied Pannonia, but afterwards, since the emperor gave them the right, they inhabited the country of  p23 Thrace. 40 And after spending no great time there they conquered the West. But this will be told in the narrative concerning the Goths.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Cadiz.

2 Sea of Azov.

3 Abila.

4 Or Septem Fratres.

5 Most ancient geographers divided the inhabited world into three continents, but some made two divisions. It was a debated question with these latter whether Africa belonged to Asia or to Europe; cf. Sallust, Jugurtha, 17.

6 Kadi Keui.

7 More correctly Hydrous, Lat. Hydruntum (Otranto).

Thayer's Note: Usually transcribed as Hydrus; also often Dryus — the form adopted by our translator everywhere else in the Wars.

8 At Aulon (Avlona).

9 Adding these four days to the other items (285, 22, 40), the total is 351 days.

10 Calpe (Gibraltar).

11 i.e., instead of stopping at Otranto, one might also reckon in the coast-line around the Adriatic to Dyrrachium.

12 Almost twenty-four English miles.

Thayer's Note: It is often stated that there were exactly 8 stadia in one Roman mile, by which reckoning 210 stadia would be 26.25 Roman miles, equal to 38.85 km (24.14 miles). Our translator here has adopted a slightly lower equivalence, which seems to be closer to the truth.

By today's roads, and the ancient road must have been very much the same, the distance between Athens and Megara is 40.8 km (25.35 English miles, 27.55 Roman miles). So in fact, Procopius here makes the Roman mile equal to about 7.6 stadia; elsewhere, his figure ranges rather wildly from 5.9 to 17.5 stadia to the mile: see the details in my note to B. G. I.11.2.

13 Iviza.

Thayer's Note: Today, usually spelled Ibiza.

14 "Black-cloaks."

15 Belgrade.

16 Mitrovitz.

17 In Illyricum.

18 He ascended the throne at the age of seven.

Thayer's Notes:

a Following on the end of the author's Persian Wars.

b Something is wrong here. The distance across the Adriatic at Otranto is only about 90 km. The sailing speed of ships in Antiquity was about 2 to 5 knots depending on the winds (Casson, "Speed under Sail of Ancient Ships", TAPA 82:139 ff.), so this crossing should have taken only ten hours to a day at most. Even measuring to Dryus from Epidamnus, which will be mentioned in this context a few sentences further on, the distance is about 150 km, and the crossing would have taken at most sixteen to forty hours, not four days.

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Page updated: 14 Sep 20