Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Click here for the text in ancient Greek.]

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]

This webpage reproduces a section of
The 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!


[image ALT: link to next section]

(Vol. V) Procopius

Book VIII (continued)

 p235  18 1 While these events were taking place as described, meanwhile the following transpired in Europe. The Gepaedes had in the first place, as I have stated in the previous narrative,​1 confirmed a treaty with their enemies the Lombards. 2 But being utterly unable to compose their differences with them, they decided not much later that they must make war. 3 So the Gepaedes and the Lombards advanced in full force against each other, both being fully prepared for the war. 4 And the commanders were, on the side of the Gepaedes, Thorisin, and on that of the Lombards, Auduin, each of them being followed by many myriads of men. Now they had already come close to one another, but the two armies could not yet see each other. 5 But that fright which is called panic suddenly fell upon both armies and carried the men all backward in a flight which had no real cause, only the commanders being left where they were with a small number of men. 6 And though they strove to draw their men back and check the retreat, they could accomplish nothing either by the use of abject entreaty or by fearful threats.

p237 7 So Auduin became thoroughly frightened at seeing the men taking to their heels in this disorderly manner (for he did not know that the enemy had shared the same fate), and straightway sent some of his followers on an embassy to his opponents to beg for peace. 8 But these men, when they came to Thorisin, the commander of the Gepaedes, and observed what was taking place and under from their own experience what had befallen their enemies, enquired of Thorisin, when they came into his presence, where in the world the host of his subjects was. 9 And he, for his part, without making any denial of what had happened, said, "They are fleeing, though no man pursues." Thereupon the envoys said to him in reply, "This is the very thing which has happened to the Lombards also. For seeing that you speak the truth, O king, we shall conceal nothing on our side. 10 Accordingly, since it is not at all the will of God that these nations should utterly perish, and since for this reason He dissolved the battle lines, smiting both armies with a saving fear, come now, let us too yield to the will of God by putting an end to the war." "Very well, let it be so," said Thorisin. 11 Thus they made a two years' truce, to the end that by maintaining diplomatic relations with one another in the interval, they might make a thorough settlement of all their differences. So at that time they each withdrew with this understanding.

12 But finding themselves unable during this truce to come to such terms with each other as to reach a  p239 settlement of the disputed points, they were once more on the point of resorting to warfare. 13 But the Gepaedes, fearing the Roman power (for it was expected that the Romans would array themselves with the Lombards), were purposing to invite some of the Huns to an offensive and defensive alliance. 14 They sent, accordingly, to the rulers of the Cutrigurs, who live on the western side of the Maeotic Lake, and begged that they assist them in carrying on the war against the Lombards. 15 And these Huns straightway sent them twelve thousand men, under different commanders, among whom was Chinialon, an especially capable warrior. 16 But the Gepaedes were for the moment embarrassed by the presence of these barbarians, since the time had not yet arrived when a battle could be fought, for the truce still had a year to run, and so they persuaded them to overrun the emperor's land in the interval, thus turning their embarrassment to their profit by delivering this attack on the Romans. 17 But since the Romans were guarding carefully the crossing of the Ister River both in Illyricum and in the land of Thrace, they themselves ferried these Huns across the Ister at the point where their own territory touched the river and turned them loose in the Roman domain.

18 And they had indeed plundered practically the whole country there, when the Emperor Justinian hit upon the following plan. Sending to the rulers of the Utigur Huns, who live on the eastern side of the Maeotic Lake, he reproached them and branded as  p241 unjust their inactivity with regard to the Cutrigurs, if indeed one ought to consider the act of watching without protest the destruction of one's friends as the height of injustice. 19 "For the Cutrigurs," he said, "paying no heed to their neighbours, the Utigurs, and that too though they receive great sums of money every year from Byzantium, are unwilling in any degree to cease from their injustice toward the Romans, but they are every day raiding and plundering them for no good reason. 20 And though the Utigurs themselves gain no portion of this plunder nor share in the booty with the Cutrigurs, they are not taking the side of the Romans who are being wronged, though they have been on terms of close friendship with them from ancient times." 21 Thus the Emperor Justinian, by sending this message to the Utigurs, and not only making a gift of money to them but also reminding them of all the gifts they had previously received from him on many occasions, persuaded them immediately to make an attack upon those of the Cutrigurs who had been left behind.

22 So they first drew into alliance with them two thousand of the Goths called Tetraxitae, who are their neighbours, and then crossed the Tanais River in full force. 23 And they were commanded by Sandil, a man of the greatest cleverness and experienced in many wars, and one, moreover, well endowed with prowess and fortitude. 24 So after they had made the crossing of the river, they engaged with a large  p243 number of the Cutrigurs who disputed their advance. And since this force offered a most vigorous resistance to their assailants, the battle continued for a very long time, but finally the Utigurs routed their opponents and slew many. And only a small number of them, by fleeing wherever each man found it possible, saved themselves. Then their enemy made slaves of their women and children and so departed on their homeward way.

19 1 While these barbarians were fighting it out with each other in the manner described, and when the struggle was now at the most violent point, it so fell out that great good fortune came to the Romans. 2 For all those Romans who chanced to be among the Cutrigurs in the status of slaves, during this struggle departed hastily from there without being detected, and, since no one followed them up, they reached their native land, thus profiting by another nation's victory at the time of their sorest need. 3 The Emperor Justinian now sent to Chinialon and the other Huns the general Aratius, bidding him announce to them what had befallen in their own land and, by offering them money, persuade them to depart with all possible speed from the territory of the Romans. 4 So these Huns, upon learning the inroad of the Utigurs and receiving at the same time  p245 a large sum of money from Aratius, made an agreement that they would commit no further bloodshed nor enslave any one of the Romans nor do any other harm, but would make their withdrawal, treating the people on the way as friends. 5 And this also was agreed upon, that if, on the one hand, these barbarians should be able to return and settle in their own country, they would both remain there and hold fast for the future their allegiance to the Romans; but if, on the other hand, it should be impossible for them to remain in that land, they were to return once more to Roman territory, and the emperor would confer upon them some district in Thrace, to the end that they should establish their houses there and be for ever at peace with the Romans while they assisted in guarding the land carefully against all barbarians.

6 By this time two thousand of the Huns who had been defeated in the battle and escaped the Utigurs had entered the Roman empire, bringing their wives and children; 7 and among their several leaders was Sinnion, who long before​2 had marched with Belisarius against Gelimer and the Vandals, and they now made themselves suppliants of the Emperor Justinian. He received them with all kindness and bade them settle on Thracian soil. 8 But when Sandil, the king of the Utigurs, learned this, he was exasperated and filled with anger, seeing that, while he himself, by way of punishing the Cutrigurs who were his kinsmen for the wrong they had done the Romans, had driven them from their ancestral abode, they for their part had been received by the emperor, had settled in the land of the Romans, and were going to  p247 live much more comfortably; he accordingly sent envoys to the emperor to remonstrate at what had been done, not putting any letter into their hands (for the Huns are unacquainted with writing and unskilled in it up to the present time, and they neither have any writing-master nor do the children among them toil over their letters at all as they grow up), but instructing them rather to deliver by word of mouth in the barbarian fashion everything which he enjoined upon them.

9 So when these envoys came into the presence of the Emperor Justinian, they stated that their king Sandil spoke through them as by a letter as follows: "I know a certain proverb which I have heard from my boyhood, and if I have not forgotten it, the proverb runs somewhat as follows. 10 That wild beast, the wolf, might, they say, possibly not be unable actually to change in some degree the colour of his fur, but his character he doth not transform, nature not permitting him to change this. 11 This proverb," says Sandil, "have I heard from my elders, who thus hinted at the ways of men by means of a dark saying.​3 And I know something also which I have learned from experience, one of those things which it would be natural that a rough barbarian should learn: 12 the shepherds take dogs when they are still suckling and rear them with no lack of care in the house, and the dog is an animal grateful to those who feed it and most mindful of kindness. Now this is obviously done by the shepherds with this purpose, that  p249 when the wolves attack the flock at any time, the dogs may check their attacks, standing over the sheep as guardians and saviours. And I think this takes place throughout the whole world. 13 For no man in the world has at any time seen dogs attacking a flock nor wolves defending it, but nature as a law‑maker has established this as a kind of ordinance, as it were, for dogs and sheep and wolves. 14 And I think that even in your empire, where practically everything is found in abundance, including doubtless even impossible things, there is not the slightest variation from this rule. 15 Otherwise make a demonstration to my envoys in order that on the threshold of old age we may actually learn something to our experience. But if these things are by nature everywhere fixed, it is not, I think, a fair thing for you to receive hospitably the nation of the Cutrigurs, inviting in a foul set of neighbours, and making people at home with you now whom you have not endured beyond your boundaries. 16 For they will, after no long delay, shew their own true character toward the Romans, and apart from this, neither will an enemy be lacking who will prey upon the Roman domain in the hope that, if defeated, he will be better off at your hands, nor will a friend be left the Romans who some day will stand in the way of those who would overrun your land, through fear lest, when he gains the mastery by the gift of fortune, he may see the vanquished faring more splendidly than himself at your hands, seeing that while we eke out our existence in a deserted and thoroughly unproductive  p251 land, the Cutrigurs are at liberty to traffic in cornº and to revel in their wine-cellars and live on the fat of the land. 17 And doubtless they have access to baths too and are wearing gold — the vagabonds — and have no lack of fine clothes embroidered and overlaid with gold. 18 Yet another point: the Cutrigurs had previously enslaved thousands of Romans and carried them off to their own land. 19 And these cursed rascals have been at no slight pains to impose all the indignities of slavery upon these victims, for they were doubtless ever ready even to apply the lash to those who had done no wrong or to put them to death, and they practised such other cruelties as natural inclination and opportunity suggest to a barbarian master. 20 We, on the other hand, by our struggles and perils which involved our lives in danger, delivered them from the fate which then enchained them and restored them to their parents, so that they came to represent for us the object, it proves, of all our labours in the war. 21 And for these things we and they have each of us received from you for these different actions rewards of an opposite nature, if it is true that we, on the one hand, still partake of our ancestral woes, but they are allotted an equal share in the land of those who by our valour escaped from being their slaves." 22 Thus spoke the envoys of the Utigurs. But the emperor, after wheedling them with many words and comforting them with a quantity of gifts, sent them away not long afterward. Such was the course of these events.

 p253  20 1 At about this time war and fighting sprang up between the nation of the Varni and soldiers who live on the island called Brittia;​4 and it came about from the following cause. 2 The Varni dwell beyond the Ister River, and extend as far as the northern ocean along the river Rhine, which separates them from the Franks and the other nations who dwell in that region. 3 Now among all these nations which in ancient times dwelt on both sides of the Rhine river each people had its own particular name, but the whole group was called in common Germans. 4 The island of Brittia lies in this part of the ocean not far from the coast, being about two hundred stades off and approximately opposite the mouth of the Rhine, and between the islands of Britain and Thule. 5 For while Britain lies to the west about in line with the extreme end of Spain,​5 separated from the continent by a distance which at the least is about four hundred stades, Brittia is towards the rear of Gaul, that side namely which faces the ocean, being, that is, to the north of both Spain and Britain. 6 And Thule, as far as men know at any rate, is situated towards the extremity of the northern ocean. But the description of Britain and of Thule have been set down by me in the preceding narrative.​6 The island of Brittia is inhabited by three very  p255 numerous nations, each having one king over it. 7 And the names of these nations are Angili, Frissones, and Brittones, the last being named from the island itself. 8 And so great appears to be the population of these nations that every year they emigrate thence in large companies with their women and children and go to the land of the Franks. 9 And the Franks allow them to settle in the part of their land which appears to be more deserted, and by this means they say they are winning over the island. 10 Thus it actually happened that not long ago the king of the Franks, in sending some of his intimates on an embassy to the Emperor Justinian in Byzantium, sent with them some of the Angili, thus seeking to establish his claim that this island was ruled by him. Such then are the facts relating to the island that is called Brittia.

11 The Varni, not long ago, were ruled by a man named Hermegisclus. He, being eager to strengthen his kingdom, had made the sister of Theudebert, ruler of the Franks, his wedded wife. 12 For his previous wife had died recently, having been the mother of one child, Radigis by name, whom she left to his father; and he sought a marriage for this child with a maiden born in Brittia, whose brother was then king of the nation of the Angili, and had given her a large sum of money because of his wooing. 13 Now this man,​7 while riding with the most notable of the Varni in a certain place, saw a bird sitting in a tree and croaking loudly. 14 And whether he really comprehended the bird's voice, or, possessing some other knowledge, simply made a mysterious pretence of comprehending the bird's  p257 prophecy, he at any rate immediately told those with him that he would die forty days later. 15 For this, he said, was revealed to him by the pronouncement of the bird. "Now I," he said, "making provision that you should live most securely and at your ease, have related myself with the Franks by taking from their country the wife who is now my consort, and I have bestowed Brittia upon my son by betrothal. 16 But now, since I expect to die very shortly, and, as far as this wife is concerned, I am without issue male or female, and my son furthermore is still unwed and without his bride, come now, let me communicate my thought to you, and, if it should seem to you not without some profit, do you, as soon as I reach the term of my life, put upon it the seal of your approval and execute it. 17 I think, then, that it will be more to the advantage of the Varni to make the alliance by marriage with the Franks than with the islanders. 18 For the men of Brittia, on the one hand, are not even able to join forces with you except after a long and difficult journey, while the Varni and the Franks, on the other hand, have only yonder water of the Rhine between them, so that they, being very close neighbours to you, and having achieved an enormous power, have the means ready at hand both to help you and to harm you whenever they wish; 19 and they will undoubtedly harm you if the said marriage alliance shall not prevent them. For men naturally find a neighbouring state's power, when it surpasses their own, grievous and a most ready cause of injustice, for a powerful neighbour may with comparative ease secure causes of war against his neighbours who are doing no wrong. 20 Since, then, the facts are these, let the island girl  p259 who has been wooed for this boy​8 be given up by you, and all the money which she has received from us for this purpose,​9 let her retain as remuneration for the indignity, as the common law of mankind has it; but let my son Radigis be married to his own stepmother thenceforth, just as our ancestral law permits us."

21 So he spoke, and on the fortieth day from the pronouncement he fell sick and fulfilled his destiny. Then the son of Hermegisclus, after taking over the kingdom of the Varni, by the will of the notable men among these barbarians, carried out the counsel of the dead king, and straightway renouncing his marriage with his betrothed, became wedded to his stepmother. 22 But when the betrothed of Radigis learned this, she could not bear the indignity of her position and undertook to secure revenge upon him for his insult to her. 23 For so high is virtue regarded among those barbarians, that when merely the name of marriage has been mentioned among them, though the fact has not been accomplished, the woman is considered to have lost her maidenhood. 24 First, then, she sent an embassy to him of some of her kinsmen and inquired for what reason he had insulted her, though she had neither been unfaithful nor done him any other wrong. 25 But since she was unable to accomplish anything by this means, she took up the duties of a man and proceeded to deeds of war.

26 She accordingly collected four hundred ships immediately and put on board them an army of not fewer  p261 than one hundred thousand fighting men, and she in person led forth this expedition against the Varni. 27 And she also took with her one of her brothers who was to assist her in settling the situation, not that he was holding the kingship, for he was still living in the position of a private citizen. 28 Now these islanders are valiant beyond any of the barbarians we know, and they enter battle on foot. 29 And this is not merely because they are unpractised in horseman­ship, but the fact is that they do not even know what a horse is, since they never see so much as a picture of a horse on that island; for it is clear that this animal has in no time lived in Brittia. 30 And whenever it happens that some of them on an embassy or some other mission make a visit among the Romans or the Franks or any other nation which has horses, and they are there constrained to ride on horseback, they are altogether unable to leap upon their backs, but other men lift them in the air and thus mount them on the horses, and when they wish to get off, they are again lifted and placed on the ground. 31 Nor, in fact, are the Varni horseman either, but they too all march on foot. Such, then, are these barbarians. And there were no supernumeraries in this fleet, for all the men rowed with their own hands. Nor do these islanders have sails, as it happens, but they always navigate by rowing alone.

32 When they came to land on the continent, the maiden who commanded them, having established a strong stockade close by the mouth of the Rhine River, remained there with a small number, but  p263 commanded her brother to lead forward all the rest of the army against the enemy. 33 Now the Varni at that time were encamped not far from the shore of the ocean and the mouth of the Rhine. So when the Angili reached that place, marching swiftly, the two armies engaged in combat with one another, and the Varni were defeated decisively. 34 And many of them fell in this struggle, while the entire number of those remaining, together with the king, turned to retreat, and the Angili, after keeping up the pursuit for only a short distance, as is customary for infantry, retired to their camp. 35 But the maiden rebuked them when they returned to her and inveighed most vehemently against her brother, declaring that nothing worthy of mention had been achieved by the army, because they had not brought her Radigis alive.

36 She then selected the most warlike men among them and sent them off straightway, instructing them to bring the man captive without fail. 37 Then, by way of carrying out her mission, these men went about searching that whole country thoroughly, until they found Radigis hiding in a dense wood; then they bound him and took him back to the girl. 38 So he stood before her eyes trembling and expecting to die instantly by the most cruel death; she, however, contrary to his expectations, neither killed him nor inflicted any other harm upon him, but by way of reproaching him for his insult to her, enquired of the fellow why in the world he had made light of the agreement and allied himself to another woman, and that too though his betrothed had not been  p265 unfaithful. 39 And he, seeking to defend himself against the charge, brought forward the commands of his father and the zeal of his subjects, and he uttered words of supplication and mingled many prayers with his defence, excusing his action by the stress of necessity. 40 And if it was her will that they should be married he promised that what he had done unjustly in the past would be repaired by his subsequent conduct. 41 Now when this was approved by the girl, and Radigis had been released from his bonds and received kind treatment in all other matters, he straightway dismissed the sister of Theudebert and wedded the girl from Brittia. Thus did these events take place.

42 Now in this island of Brittia the men of ancient times built a long wall, cutting off a large part of it; and the climate and the soil and everything else is not alike on the two sides of it. 43 For to the east of the wall there is a salubrious air, changing with the seasons, being moderately warm in summer and cool in winter. 44 And many people dwell there, living in the same fashion as other men, and the trees abound with fruits which ripen at the fitting season, and the corn-lands flourish as abundantly as any; 45 furthermore, the land seems to display a genuine pride in an abundance of springs of water. But on the west side everything is the reverse of this, so that it is actually impossible for a man to survive there even a half-hour, but countless snakes and serpents and every other kind of wild creature occupy this area as their own. 46 And, strangest of  p267 all, the inhabitants say that if any man crosses this wall and goes to the other side, he dies straightway, being quite unable to support the pestilential air of that region, and wild animals, likewise, which go there are instantly met and taken by death.

47 Since I have reached this point in the history, it is necessary for me to record a story which bears a very close resemblance to mythology, a story which did not indeed seem to me at all trustworthy, although it was constantly being published by countless persons who maintained that they had done the thing with their own hands and had heard the words with their own ears, and yet it cannot be altogether passed over lest, in writing an account of the island of Brittia, I gain a lasting reputation for ignorance of what takes place there.

48 They say, then, that the souls of men who die are always conveyed to this place. And as to the manner in which this is done, I shall presently explain, having many a time heard the people there most earnestly describe it, though I have come to the conclusion that the tales they tell are to be attributed to some power of dreams. 49 Along the coast of the ocean which lies opposite the island of Brittia there are numerous villages. These are inhabited by men who fish with nets or till the soil or carry on a sea‑trade with this island, being in other respects subject to the Franks, but never making them any payment of tribute, that burden having been remitted to them from ancient times on account, as they say, of a certain service, which will here be described by me.

 p269  50 The men of this place say that the conduct of souls is laid upon them in turn. So the men who on the following night must go to do this work relieving others in the service, as soon as darkness comes on, retire to their own houses and sleep, awaiting him who is to assemble them for the enterprise. 51 And at a late hour of the night they are conscious of a knocking at their doors and hear an indistinct voice calling them together for their task. 52 And they with no hesitation rise from their beds and walk to the shore, not understanding what necessity leads them to do this, but compelled nevertheless. 53 There they see skiffs in readiness with no man at all in them, not their own skiffs, however, but a different kind, in which they embark and lay hold of the oars. 54 And they are aware that the boats are burdened with a large number of passengers and are wet by the waves to the edge of the planks and the oarlocks, having not so much as one finger's breadth above the water; they themselves, however, see no one, but after rowing a single hour they put in at Brittia. 55 And yet when they make the voyage in their own skiffs, not using sails but rowing, they with difficulty make this passage in a night and a day. Then when they have reached the island and have been relieved of their burden, they depart with all speed, their boats now becoming light and rising above the waves, for they sink no further in the water than the keel itself.

 p271  56 And they, for their part, neither see any man either sitting in the boat with them or departing from the boat, but they say that they hear a kind of voice from the island which seems to make announcement to those who take the souls in charge as each name is called of the passengers who have come over with them, telling over the positions of honour which they formerly held and calling out their fathers' names with their own. 57 And if women also happen to be among those who have been ferried over, they utter the names of the men to whom they were married in life. 58 This, then, is what the men of this country say takes place. But I shall return to the previous narrative.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Book VII.xxxiv.45.

2 Cf. Book III.xi.12.

3 Literally "a slanting, or indirect, statement."

4 Probably modern Denmark.

Thayer's Note: Although what then should we make of § 20.4‑5, and in particular of "Brittia is towards the rear of Gaul, that side namely which faces the ocean, being, that is, to the north of both Spain and Britain"?

Looking only at the distance of the island from the shore of the continent given in the text (200 stades, which can only be vaguely approximated to 30 km given the uncertainty in the length of Procopius' stade, see my note to B. G. I.11.2), and especially at the tale Procopius can't resist telling us with his amusing show of diffidence in 20.47, my candidate is Heligoland, which would explain its name ("Holy Island"). On the other hand, "three very numerous nations" (20.6) will hardly fit there.

A great deal, however, of what else Procopius says about Brittia, including the very name of the place, sounds very much like Britain, especially the garbled account of Hadrian's or Antonine's Wall in 20.42 — it will be remembered that ancient geographers regularly twisted Scotland around by ninety degrees (see Ptolemy's map), although Procopius would then, in addition, have got his directions reversed — so that we would have a duplication of the actual island of Britain under its own name and also "Brittia".

Diffidence on my part as well, then: such a tangled clump of vague and contradictory statements and Procopius not seeming ever to have visited the area make not only the identification but the very existence of Brittia problematic.

5 Procopius imagines England roughly five degrees too far to the west.

6 See Book VI.xv.4 ff.

7 The king.

8 i.e. Radigis.

9 i.e. as a dowry which she would bring to Radigis.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 14 Sep 20