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Ch. 23
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of the Later Roman Empire

by J. B. Bury

published by Macmillan & Co., Ltd.,

The text is in the public domain.

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 p417  Chapter XXIV


Throughout the fifth century there were Greek historians writing the history of their own times, and, if their writings had survived, we should possess a fairly full record of events, particularly in the East, from the accession of Arcadius to the reign of Zeno. And it would have been a consecutive record, or at least there would have been only one or two short gaps. The bitter pagan sophist Eunapius of Sardis carried down his history, composed in his old age, to A.D. 404.​1 Olympiodorus, a native of Egyptian Thebes, began his book at A.D. 407 and went down to A.D. 425.​2 The work of Priscus of Panion (near Heraclea on the Propontis) probably began about A.D. 434 and ended with the death of Leo I. Malchus, of the Syrian Philadelphia, continued Priscus, and embraced in his work either the whole or a part of the reign of Zeno.​3 But all these histories have perished. Some of the information they contained passed into later writers; for instance, Zosimus, who wrote towards the end of the fifth century, derived much of his material for the later portion of his work from Eunapius and Olympiodorus.4  p418  But of the original text we possess only excerpts which in many case are mere summaries. The ecclesiastical histories written by the orthodox laymen, Socrates and Sozomen, about the middle of the century, have fared better; we have them intact and fortunately they include notices of secular events rather capriciously selected.5

The fragments of these lost historians enable us to judge that Priscus is a greater loss than any of the rest. The long fragment on Attila and his court, of which a translation was given in an earlier chapter, shows that he was a master of narrative, and the general impression we get is that he was the ablest Roman historian between Ammian and Procopius.

Why did all these works disappear? Some of them survived till the ninth and tenth centuries, but were doubtless extremely rare then, and no more copies were made from the one or two copies that existed. The probability is that they never had a wide circulation, and it is fair to ascribe this partly to the fact that their authors were pagans.​6 But there is another reason which may partly account for the loss of some of these historians, and may also explain the character of the excerpts which have come down. In the ninth and following centuries the Greeks were interested in the past history of the Illyrian peninsula and in the oriental wars with the Persians, which were fought on the same ground as the contemporary wars with the Moslems; they were not interested in the history of Italy and the West. Now in the fifth century, with the exception of one or two short and unimportant episodes of hostility, there was hardly anything to tell of the oriental frontier, so that the portions of historians like Priscus and Malchus that had a living interest for readers were those which dealt with the invaders and devastators of the Balkan provinces. And so we find that the most considerable  p419  fragments of Priscus, preserved in the summaries and selections that were made in the ninth and tenth centuries, relate to the doings of the Huns, and the most considerable fragments of Malchus to the doings of the Ostrogoths. It is, in fact, probable that these extracts represent pretty fully the information on these topics given by both writers. On the other hand, it is significant that the Gallic and Italian campaigns, which Priscus must certainly have described, were passed over by those who made the selections.7

That there is almost as much to tell about thirty years of the sixth century, as there is about the whole of the fifth, is due partly to Justinian's activity as a legislator, but chiefly to the pen of Procopius. It was one of the glories of Justinian's age to have produced a writer who must be accounted the most excellent Greek historian since Polybius. Procopius was a native of Caesarea, the metropolis of the First Palestine. He was trained to be a jurist, and we have seen how he was appointed in A.D. 527 councillor to Belisarius,​8 how he accompanied him in his Persian, African, and Italian campaigns, and how he was in Constantinople when the city was ravaged by the plague. He was not with Belisarius in his later campaigns in the East, and it is improbable that he revisited Italy.9

His writings attest that Procopius had received an excellent literary education. There is nothing which would lead us to suppose that he had studied either at Athens or at Alexandria, and it seems most probable that he owed his attainments to the  p420  professors of the university of Constantinople. It has indeed been held that he was educated at Gaza,​10 but this theory rests on no convincing external evidence, and the internal evidence of his style does not bear out the hypothesis that he ever sat at the feet of his namesake Procopius and the other sophists of Gaza. We know a good deal about that euphuistic literary school.

It may be conjectured that Procopius formed the design of writing a history of the wars, of which Belisarius was the hero, at the time of the expedition against the Vandals, and that he commenced then to keep a written record of events.​11 He had  p421  certainly begun to compose his history immediately after his return from Italy with Belisarius, for he states that, as that general's councillor, he had personal knowledge of almost all the events which he is about to relate, a statement which would not be true of the later campaigns. While he is studiously careful to suppress feeling, he gives the impression, in his narrative of the early wars, that he sympathised with Justinian's military enterprises, and viewed with satisfaction the exploits of Belisarius. As to Justinian himself he is reticent; he may sometimes imply blame; he never awards praise. The sequel disillusioned him. He was disappointed by the inglorious struggles with Chosroes and Totila, and by the tedious troubles in Africa; and his attitude of critical approbation changed into one of bitter hostility towards the government. His vision of his own age as a period of unexpected glory for the Empire faded away, and was replaced by a nightmare, in which Justinian's reign appeared to him as an era of universal ruin. Seeking to explain the defeat of the early prospects of the reign, he found the causes in the general system of government and the personalities of the rulers. The defects of the Imperial administration, especially in the domain of finance, were indeed so grave, that it would have been easy to frame a formidable indictment without transcending the truth, or setting down aught in malice; but with Procopius the abuses and injustices which came to his notice worked like madness on his brain, and regarding the Emperor as the common enemy of mankind he was ready to impute the worst of motives to all his acts.

We may divine that the historian went through a mental process of this nature between A.D. 540 and 550, but we cannot believe that pure concern for the public interests is sufficient to explain the singular and almost grotesque malignity of the impeachment of Justinian and all his works, which he drew up at the end of the decade. Any writer who indulges in such an orgy of hatred as that which amazes us in the Secret History, exposes himself to the fair suspicion that he has personal reasons for spite. We hardly run much risk of doing an injustice to Procopius if we assume that he was a disappointed man. One who had occupied a position of intimate trust by the side of the conqueror of Africa and Italy could not fail to entertain hopes of preferment to some administrative post. But he was  p422  passed over. The influence of Belisarius, if it was exerted in his favour, did not avail, and from being a friendly admirer of his old patron he became a merciless critic.

In a book which was intended to be published and to establish a literary reputation, Procopius could not venture to say openly what was in his mind. But to an attentive reader of his narrative of the later wars there are many indications that he disapproved of the Imperial policy and the general conduct of affairs. His History of the Wars was divided into seven books, and the material, on the model of Appian, was arranged geographically. Two books on the Persian War brought the story down to A.D. 548, two on the Vandalic War embraced events in Africa subsequent to the conquest and reached the same date. The three books of the Gothic War terminated in A.D. 551. It was probably the final defeat of Totila in A.D. 552 that moved the author afterwards to complete his work by adding an eighth book, in which, abandoning the geographical arrangement, he not only concludes the story of the Italian War, but deals with military operations on every front from A.D. 548 to 553.

We shall presently see that in the later parts of this work the historian went as far as prudence permitted in condemning the policy of Justinian. But in A.D. 550 he secretly committed to writing a sweeping indictment of the Emperor and the late Empress, of their private lives and their public actions. It was a document which he must have preserved in his most secret hiding-place, and which he could read only to the most faithful and discreet of his friends. It could never see the light till Justinian was safely dead, and if he were succeeded by a nephew or cousin, its publication even then might be impossible. As a matter of fact we may suspect that his heir withheld it from circulation, and that it was not published till a considerable time had elapsed. For it was unknown to the writers of the next generation, unless we suppose that they deliberately ignored it.12

The introduction to the Secret History13 states that its object  p423  is to supplement the History of the Wars by an account of things that happened in all parts of the Empire, and to explain certain occurrences which in that work had been barely recorded, as it was impossible to reveal the intrigues which lay behind them. It is hinted that so long as Theodora was alive,​14 it would have been dangerous even to commit the truth to writing, for her spies were ubiquitous, and discovery would have meant a miserable death. This reinforces other evidence which goes to prove that Theodora was held in much greater fear than Justinian.

The thesis of the Secret History15 is that in all the acts of his public policy Justinian was actuated by two motives, rapacity and an inhuman delight in evil-doing and destruction. In this policy he was aided by Theodora, and if they appeared in certain matters, such as religion, to pursue different ends, this was merely a plot designed to hoodwink the public.​16 Procopius gravely asserts that he himself and "most of us" had come to the conclusion that the Emperor and Empress were demons  p424  in human form, and he did not mean this as a figure of speech.​17 He tells a number of anecdotes to substantiate the idea. Justinian's mother had once said that she conceived of a demon. He had been seen in the palace at night walking about without a head, and a clairvoyant monk had once refused to enter the presence chamber because he saw the chief of the demons sitting on the throne. Before her marriage, Theodora had dreamt that she would cohabit with the prince of the devils. Even Justinian's abstemious diet is adduced as a proof of his non-human nature. It was a theory which did not sound so ludicrous in the age of Procopius as in ours, and it enabled him to enlarge the field of the Emperor's mischievous work, by imputing to his direct agency the natural calamities like earthquakes and plagues which afflicted mankind during his reign.

In elaborating his indictment Procopius adopted two sophistic tricks. One of these was to represent Justinian as responsible for institutions and administrative methods which he had inherited from his predecessors. The other was to seize upon incidental hardships and abuses arising out of Imperial measures, and to suggest that these were the objects at which the Emperor had deliberately aimed. The unfairness of the particular criticisms can in many cases be proved, and in others reasonably suspected. But it may be asked whether the book deserves any serious consideration as an historical document, except so far as it illustrates the intense dissatisfaction prevailing in some circles against the government. The daemonic theory, the pornographic story of Theodora's early career, the self-defeating maliciousness of the whole performance discredit the work, and have even suggested doubts whether it could have been written at all by the sober and responsible historian of the wars.​18 The author­ship, however, is indisputable. No imitator could have achieved the Procopian style of the Secret History, and a comparison with the History of the Wars shows that in that work after A.D. 541 the author makes or suggests criticisms which are found, in a more explicit and lurid form, in the libel.

For in the public History he sometimes used the device of  p425  putting criticism into the mouths of foreigners. One of the prominent points in the Secret History is Justinian's love of innovations; he upset established order, and broke with the traditions of the past. The same character is given him in the public History by the Gothic ambassadors who went to the Persian Court.​19 The motive of the speech which is attributed to the Utigur envoys in A.D. 552 is to censure the policy of giving large grants of money to the trans-Danubian barbarians, which is bitterly assailed in the Secret History.​20 Procopius indeed criticises it directly by an irony which is hardly veiled. The Kotrigurs, he says, "receive many gifts every year from the Emperor, and, even so, crossing the Danube they overrun the Emperor's territory continually."​21 Although Justinian was here only pursuing, though perhaps on a larger scale, the inveterate practice of Roman policy, his critic speaks as if it were a new method which he had discovered for exhausting the resources of the Empire. "It is a subject of discussion," he says, "what has happened to the wealth of the Romans. Some assert that it has all passed into the hands of the barbarians, others think that the Emperor retains it locked up in many treasure chambers. When Justinian dies, supposing him to be human, or when he renounces his incarnate existence if he is the lord of the demons, survivors will learn the truth."22

In the Secret History the Emperor is arraigned as the guilty party in causing the outbreak of the second Persian War. In the published History the author could not say so, but goes as far as he dares by refusing to say a word in his favour. Having stated the charges made by Chosroes that Justinian had violated the treaty of A.D. 532, he adds, "Whether he was telling the truth, I cannot say."​23 On the peace of A.D. 551, which evidently excited his indignation, he resorts to the same formula. "Most of the Romans were annoyed at this treaty, not unnaturally. But whether their criticism was just or unreasonable I cannot say."​24 Nor did the historian of the Vandalic War fail to  p426  suggest the same conclusion which is drawn in the Secret History as to the consequences of the Imperial conquest. Having recorded the victory of John, the brother of Pappus, over the Moors in A.D. 548, he terminates the story with the remark, "Thus, at last and hardly, to the survivors of the Libyans, few and very destitute, there came a period of peace."25

In fact, the attitude of Procopius towards the government, as it is guardedly displayed in the History of the Wars, is not inconsistent with the general drift of the Secret History, and the only reason for doubting the genuineness of the libel was the presumption that the political views in the two works were irreconcilable. It is another question whether the statements of the Secret History are credible. Here we must carefully distinguish between the facts which the author records, and the interpretation which he places upon them. Malice need not resort to invention. It can serve its purpose far more successfully by adhering to facts, misrepresenting motives, and suppressing circumstances which point to a different interpretation. That this was the method followed by Procopius is certain. For we find that in a large number of cases his facts are borne out by other contemporary sources,​26 while in no instance can we  p427  convict him of a statement which has no basis in fact.​27 We have seen that even in the case of Theodora's career, where his charges have been thought particularly open to suspicion, there is other evidence which suggests that she was not a model of virtue in her youth. The Secret History therefore is a document of which the historian is entitled to avail himself, but he must remember that here the author has probably used, to a greater extent than elsewhere, material derived from gossip which he could not verify himself.

Procopius entertained the design of writing another book dealing especially with the ecclesiastical policy of the reign.​28 If the work was ever executed it was lost, but as there is no reference to it in subsequent literature, it seems most probable that it was never written. Among other things which the historian promised to relate in it was the fate of Pope Silverius, concerning which our extant records leave us in doubt as to the respective responsibilities of Vigilius and Antonina. Apart from the facts which it would have preserved to posterity, the book would have been of singular interest on account of the Laodicean attitude of the author, who, whatever may have been his general opinion of Christian revelation, was a Gallio in regard to the theological questions which agitated the Church. "I am acquainted with these controversial questions," he says somewhere, referring to the Monophysite disputes, "but I will not go into them. For I consider it a sort of insane folly to investigate the nature of God. Man cannot accurately apprehend the constitution of man, how much less that of the Deity."​29 The words imply an  p428  oblique hit at the Emperor who in the Secret History is described as gratuitously busy about the nature of God.​30 That the book would also have been a document of some significance in the literature of toleration we may infer from a general remark which Procopius makes on Justinian's ecclesiastical place. "Anxious to unite all men in the same opinion about Christ, he destroyed dissidents indiscriminately, and that under the pretext of piety; for he did not think that the slaying of men was murder unless they happened to share his own religious opinions."31

An amazing change came to pass in the attitude of Procopius between the year in which he composed the Secret History and ten years later when he wrote his work on the Buildings, in which he bestows on the policy and acts of the Emperor superlative praise which would astonish us as coming from the author of the History of the Wars, even if the Secret History had been lost or never written. The victories of Narses had probably mitigated the pessimism into which he had fallen through the failure of Belisarius and the long series of Totila's successes; but it is difficult to avoid the conjecture that he had received some preferment or recognition from the Emperor.​32 In the opening paragraph of the Buildings there is a hint at private motives of gratitude. "Subjects who have been well treated feel goodwill towards their benefactors, and may express thanks by immortalising their virtues." The author goes on to review and appreciate briefly Justinian's achievements in augmenting the size and prestige of the Empire, in imposing theological unity on its inhabitants, in ordering and classifying its laws, in strengthening its defences, and, noting particularly his indulgent treatment of conspirators, praises his general beneficence. This was a wonder­ful recantation of the unpublished libel, and we may doubt whether it was entirely sincere. Procopius did not take the Secret History out of its hiding-place and burn it, but he abstained from writing the book on ecclesiastical history which he had planned.

Wherever he was educated, Procopius had been saturated  p429  with Herodotus and Thucydides. His works are full of phrases which come from their works, and his descriptions of military operations sometimes appear to be modelled on passages in Thucydides. This fact has in modern days suggested the suspicion that some of his accounts of battles or sieges are the literary exercise of an imitator bearing little relation to what actually occurred.​33 But when we find that in some cases, which we can control, other sources bear out his accounts of operations at which he was not present (for instance, of the siege of Amida in the reign of Anastasius), we see that he did not misconceive the duty of a historian to record facts, and was able through his familiarity with Thucydides and Herodotus to choose phrases from their writings suitable to a particular case. It is remarkable that he does not seem to have read the History of Priscus, for, where he relates events of the fifth century, he seems to have derived his information not directly from that historian, but from intermediate writers who had used Priscus and perhaps distorted his statements.​34 He appears to have known the Syriac tongue, and it has been suggested that this knowledge recommended him to Belisarius when he selected him as his assessor in his first Persian campaigns.35

For his own time he derived information as to events and transactions, with which he was not in contact himself by virtue of his office on the staff of Belisarius, from people who had personal knowledge of them. It is probable that Peter, the Master of Offices, and possible that John, the nephew of Vitalian, were among his informants on Italian affairs.​36 And he seems to have lost no opportunity of making the acquaintance of ambassadors who came from foreign courts of Constantinople, and questioning them about the history of their countries.37

He wrote in the literary Greek which had developed in a  p430  direct line from the classical writers of antiquity, and had hardly been affected by the ordinary spoken language, from which it was far removed. His prose is straightforward and unadorned; his only affectation is that he liked to imitate Thucydides. For it would be unfair to describe as an affectation the avoidance of current terms of his own day,​38 especially when they were of Latin origin, or the introduction of them with an explanation which is almost an apology.​39 For that was common form with all authors who aimed at writing dignified prose. His "so‑called" is simply equivalent to our inverted commas. But he did not conform to the technical rules which governed the prose of the more pretentious stylists of his time. He did not contort his sentences in order to avoid hiatus, and he ignored the rule which had recently been coming into fashion as to the fall of the accents in the last words of a clause. This rule was that the last accented syllable in a clause must be preceded by at least two unaccented syllables.​40 Thus a sentence ending with the words pánton anthrópōn would be right, but one ending with anthrópōn pánton would be wrong. This rule is observed by Zosimus, and was strictly adopted by the two chief sophists of the school of Gaza, Procopius and Choricius.​41 Some writers observed it in a modified form, allowing occasional exceptions.

The history of Procopius breaks off in A.D. 552, and Agathias of Myrina takes up the story.​42 Agathias is a much less interesting person. By profession he was a lawyer, and his ambition was to be a poet. He was inferior to Procopius as a historian, and  p431  modern readers will judge him inferior as a writer, though this would not have been the opinion of his contemporaries, to whose taste his affected style, with its abundance of metaphors and its preciosity, strongly appealed. His clauses carefully observed that accentual law which Procopius had wisely neglected.

Agathias occupies a place in the history of Greek poetry both for his own compositions and for the anthology which he compiled of short poems by contemporary writers, including some of his own and some of his friend Paul the Silentiary.​43 This, like the earlier collections of Meleager and Philip, passed, perhaps almost entire, into the Anthology of Constantine Cephalas which has been preserved.​44 His talent was considerable, and he was a master of metrical technique in the style which was then fashionable, and of which the best example from the age of Justinian is the poem of Paul on the church of St. Sophia. This technique had been elaborated in the previous century by Nonnus of Panopolis.45

The Dionysiaca of Nonnus​a is the most interesting Greek poem that was written since the days of the great Alexandrines, Theocritus, Callimachus, and Apollonius. Published perhaps after the middle of the fifth century,​46 it arrested the attention  p432  of all young men who were addicted to writing verse, and for the next three or four generations poets imitated his manner, and observed, some more and some less, the technical rules which had made his heroic metre seem a new revelation. Of these rules the most important were that a spondee is never admitted in the fifth foot; that of the first four feet two at least must be dactyls, and when there are two spondees they should not be successive;​47 that hiatus is forbidden; and that elision is allowed only in the case of some particles and prepositions. If we add to these restrictions the fact that the caesura after the second syllable of the third foot predominates far more than in earlier poets, it is evident that the hexameters of Nonnus produce an entirely different poetical effect from those of Homer or of Apollonius. But Nonnus introduced another rule of a different kind which points to the direction in which Greek versification was to develop in later times. He strictly excludes proparoxytone words from the ends of his verses. This consideration of accent, which was a complete departure from classical tradition, was due doubtless to the influence of popular poetry; and may be set side by side with the consideration of accent which, as we saw, was affecting Greek prose. The truth is, that in this age the Greeks had ceased to feel instinctively the difference between long and short syllables, and only those whose ear was educated by classical studies could appreciate poems written in the old metres. All vowels had the same value, and the new Christian hymnography, which was at its best in the sixth and seventh centuries,​48 took no account of quantity, but was governed by the simple rules that corresponding verses should have the same number of syllables and should have the final accent on the same syllable.

 p433  By these metrical innovations the character of the epic metre was changed and made a suitable instrument for a Dionysiac theme. In order to achieve a whirling breathless speed Nonnus bound it in fetters which excluded the variety of metrical effects that the unrestricted use of spondees had enabled the Homeric hexameter to compass.​49 His harmonious dactyls, with the procession of long compound words which is almost a necessary consequence of the predominance of this foot,​50 however pleasing and effective in a short poem, become, in a long epic like the Dionysiaca which has forty-eight cantos, monotonous and wearisome.

The poem begins with the rape of Europa. The fiery birth of the hero is not reached till the eighth book, and the proper subject of the poem, the expedition of Dionysus to India, begins only in the thirteenth. Such is the scale of the work. We are carried along throughout the whole range of mythology in a sort of corybantic dance, — a dance of words. The interest for us lies in the unclassical, one is tempted to say romantic, treatment of classical themes. Astraeus takes the horoscope of Persephone for her mother.​51 We are taken aback by the surprising modesty of Zeus when he is gazing at Semele bathing.​52 As an example of the poet's dexterity take the verses in which he describes the invention of the alphabet by Cadmus.53

αὐτὰρ ὁ πάσῃ

Ἑλλάδι φωνήεντα καὶ ἔμφρονα δῶρα κομίζων
γλώσσης ὄργανα τεῦξεν ὁμόθροα, συμφυέος δὲ
ἁρμονίης στοιχηδὸν ἐς ἄζυγα σύζυγα μίξας
γραπτὸν ἀσιήτοιο τύπον τορνώσαντο σιγῆς.

To the peoples of Hellas he gave guerdons of speech and thought;
Symbols he placed in array, of the sounds which they uttered; and wrought,
Mingling the yoked with the free, and setting the order of each,
The form of a speech that is soundless, a silence as vocal as speech.

The world of this poet's imagination has not the clear-cut lines of classical art. He produces his effects by reflexions,  p434  correspondences, indirections, and has a whole vocabulary of words for this purpose.​54 But he could have achieved distinction in simple pastoral poetry, as some idyllic passages show; for instance the song with the refrain

βούτης καλὸς ὄλωλε, καλὴ δέ μιν ἔκτανε κούρη.

And occasionally he strikes off a verse which stays in the memory, like

σήμερον ἐν χθονὶ μέλπε, καὶ αὔριον ἐντὸς Ὀλύμπου.

That Nonnus was a pagan or quite indifferent to religion when he wrote the Dionysiaca is always taken for granted, on the ground that a believing Christian of that age would not have revelled in such a theme. But he was converted, and he composed a free paraphrase of the Gospel of St. John, which he strangely thought suitable for his dactyls. That he should have spent his extraordinary skill on such an experiment illustrates the curious defect in literary taste common to most of the poets of the age.

Of the poets of his school, all of whom are vastly inferior to the master, Paul, the poet of St. Sophia, was the most talented, and there was something to be said for employing the new hexameter in a description of the aerial creation of Justinian. But the poet whose name, though never mentioned by contemporaries, is best known to posterity is Musaeus.​55 His Hero and Leander caught the fancy of modern poets, more for the romance of the subject than for his treatment. The lamp of  p435  Hero gives it a certain charm, but it shows no more distinguished poetical talent than the little epics of Tryphiodorus and Colluthus, and the Nonnian metre is as little suitable to the subject.

To return from this digression, the historians like Procopius, Agathias, and Menander, who kept up the unbroken line of literary tradition and believed they wrote Attic Greek, could not be read except by highly educated people. So far had the spoken language drifted away from literary prose. For a larger public there was need of a popular history, written simply in the vulgar tongue. For this purpose John Malalas​56 of Antioch compiled, perhaps about A.D. 550, a chronicle of the history of the world, coming down to the first year of Justinian. In a new edition there was added, whether by the author or by another hand, a continuation treating Justinian's reign on a much larger scale than the reigns of his predecessors. In the earlier part of the work there is no sense of proportion, and there are many blunders. It was written down to the level of the masses, and was nicely calculated to give them what would interest them. Pages and pages are occupied with descriptions of the personal appearances of the heroes of the Trojan War. It hit the popular taste, was largely used by subsequent writers, was in a later age translated into Slavonic, and was the first of a long series of popular Byzantine chronicles.

It is an unfortunate gap in our knowledge that we have no information as to the activities of the book trade. It would be interesting to know whether the booksellers of Constantinople received regular announcements of the works produced at Alexandria, Athens, and other places, and how many copies were circulated of a book like the Dionysiaca of Nonnus, or the Wars of Procopius, or the Chronicle of Malalas, during the lives of their authors. We should then have some idea what these works meant for their own times.

In literature, as in law, the age of Justinian witnessed the  p436  culmination of the old Graeco-Roman tradition, and at the same time the signs were quite clear that the world was turning in a new direction. While his talented lawyers were shaping the greatest creation of Rome, its jurisprudence, into a final form, Latin was being definitely abandoned for Greek as the language of the legislator and the jurist; and from the same age which produced the best Greek historian since the time of Scipio Africanus comes the first of the popular chronicles which reflected the ignorance and superstition of the Middle Ages. It must not, however, be supposed that the old Greek tradition in literature disappeared. It was attenuated and modified in many tasteless ways, but the literary language was always learned as a second tongue, and never fell into disuse. The educated laity never ceased to read the ancient classics, and while in western Europe the writing of books was almost confined to ecclesiastics, in Greek lands the best books were generally written by laymen.

The Author's Notes:

1 Eunapius designed his history as a continuation of that of Dexippus which ended at 270. The evidence does not point to any continuity between him and Olympiodorus, or between Olympiodorus and Priscus.

2 Olympiodorus was a traveller and a poet. He was sent on an embassy in 412 to Donatus, a Hunnic prince of whom otherwise we know nothing.

3 From the evidence of the excerpts and the notice of Photius, Bibl. 78, we should conclude that he stopped at 480, but Suidas sub nomine says that he went down to the reign of Anastasius. He certainly wrote after the death of Zeno, to whom he was hostile.

4 After a brief survey of the earlier Empire, Zosimus began his fuller narrative about A.D. 270. He is the only important historian who wrote non-contemporary history in the fifth and sixth centuries, except Peter the Patrician — the diplomatist and Master of Offices — who composed a History of the Roman Empire from (p418) Augustus to Julian. Of this we have fragments, some of which — known as the anonymous continuation of Dio Cassius — have only recently been connected with Peter's work, by C. de Boor, Römische Kaisersgeschichte, B. Z. I.13 sqq., 1892.

5 For secular history Theodoret's Ecclesiastical History is almost negligible; it has hardly anything that is not in Socrates or Sozomen. The work of Philostorgius, the Eunomian, is a real loss, as the fragments show; the works of heretics had little chance of surviving.

6 This is not so clear in the case of Priscus, but his friendship with the pagan Maximin establishes a presumption. The sympathies of Malchus were plainly Neoplatonic, as is shown by his treatment of Pamprepius, and his designation of Proclus as "the great Proclus." — It is curious that the aggressively pagan work of Zosimus survived.

7 Perhaps the clearest illustration of the point is that, if the works of Procopius had been lost, we should know a great deal about his Persian Wars, but very little about his Vandalic and Gothic Wars; for Photius, in his Bibliotheca, gives a long account of the former, but none of the latter.

8 Haury argues that he was not a jurist (Zur Beurteilung, etc. p20), but he is not convincing. For the post of consiliarius (ξύμβουλος) cp. C. J. I.51.11. Cp. Dahn, Prokopius, pp19‑20.

9 It is indeed possible that Procopius was with Belisarius in 541, though it seems more probable that his place had been taken by George (B. P. II.19.22; cp. Haury, ib.). Dahn leaves it open (ib. p30) whether he was in Italy after 542. Haury has argued that he went to Italy in 546, because he relates the events of 546‑547 at greater length than those of the other years of the Second Italian War (Procopiana, I.8‑9). But this is not very convincing. It appears probable to me that he lived at Constantinople continuously after his return from Italy, and there collected from officers, ambassadors, etc., the material which he required for his History, both in the East and in the West from 541 to 553. Haury thinks that he wrote his History in Caesarea (ib. 26), but it would have been difficult for him there to have obtained regularly first-hand and detailed information about the war in Italy.

10 This theory of Haury (op. cit.), is closely connected with a theory as to his parentage. Haury argues that he was the son of Stephanus, a leading citizen of Caesarea, who, before A.D. 526, held the post of astynomos or commissioner of public works, won distinction by restoring the aqueduct which supplied the city, and in 536 was appointed proconsul of the First Palestine (Choricius, Epithal. p22; In Arat. et Stephanum, § 10; Justinian, Nov. 103, § 1; Aeneas Gaz. Ep. 11). Stephanus was a friend of Procopius of Gaza, and sent his son to be educated there (Procopius, Ep. 18). This unnamed son Haury identifies with a Procopius who married a young woman of Ascalon, wealthy and of good family; two of his fellow-students married at the same time; and Choricius wrote an (extant) epithalamion for the occasion. In the Samaritan revolt of A.D. 556, Stephanus was murdered by the rebels in his court house. His wife went to Constantinople and besought Justinian to punish the murderers. The Emperor did her justice promptly, ordering Amantius, Master of Soldiers in the East, to search them out, and they were executed (John Mal. fr. 48, De ins.). In this incident Haury finds the explanation of the revolution in the attitude of Procopius towards Justinian between 550 and 560. The theory is ingenious, but much more evidence would be needed to make it probable. It is difficult to believe that, if Procopius had been the son of such a notable civil servant as Stephanus, the fact would not have been recorded. The known facts do not point to any connexion with Gaza. And it is to be observed that the theory involves two conjectural identifications: that of the historian with the Procopius who married the girl of Ascalon, and that of this Procopius with the son of Stephanus.

11 The account of the First Persian War (B. P. I.12‑22) is so (comparatively) brief and incomplete that we may perhaps infer that he had not formed the plan of writing a history of it during its progress. The chronology of the composition of his works has been cleared up by the researches of Haury (ProcopianaI). In the latter part of 545 he was writing B. P. I.25.43; B. G. I.24.32 (cp. Procopiana, II p5); and II.5.26‑27. These passages indicate that he contemplated this year as the termination of his history, and if he had then published it, it would have consisted of B. P. I‑II.28, 11; B. V., except the last two pages; B. G. I‑III.15. He may have circulated what he had written among his acquaintances, but he continued to add to it from year to year, without changing what he had already written, and finally published the seven Books of the Wars, as they stand, in 550. In the same year he wrote the Secret History. In 553 he published the eighth and last Book of the Wars. In 560 he wrote the De aedificiis, as is proved by the mention of the building of the bridge over the Sangarius (V.3.10) which was built in 559‑560 (Theoph. A.M. 6052). On this bridge cp. Anderson, J. H S. XIX.66 sq.

12 Some have supposed that Evagrius was acquainted with it, but the evidence is quite unconvincing. The earliest reference to the work is in Suidas (tenth century), s.v. Προκόπιος. He calls it the Anecdota.

13 It used to be supposed that the date of composition was 559, because it was written in the thirty-second year of Justinian's régime (H. A. 18.33; 23.1; 24.29). But it is a fundamental part of the thesis of Procopius that Justinian was the real governor (διῳκήσατο τὴν πολιτείαν) (p423) throughout the reign of Justin, and the thirty-second year is to be reckoned from 518, not from 527. This was first established by Haury (Procop. I). On the old view it would be impossible to explain why Procopius should have ignored all the material which the events between 550 and 559 supplied for his purpose. Cp. also Haury, Zur Beurteilung, p37. The revised date of the Secret History shows that the first lines of the last Book of the Wars (B. G. IV) were modelled on the opening lines of H. A. and not vice versa. Haury has suggested that the author originally began B. G. IV. with ἤδη μὲν οὗν (c. i.3), and afterwards added the preceding sentences for the purpose of misleading posterity, and suggesting that H. A. was the work of an imitator. Conversely it might be argued that the motive was to indicate identity of author­ship.

14 1.2 περιόντων ἔτι τῶν αὐτὰ εἰργασμένων must mean simply Theodora (cp. 16.3).

15 The book is badly arranged. A preliminary section (1‑5) is devoted to Belisarius and the scandals connected with his private life; his piti­ful uxoriousness, his weakness, which leads him into breach of faith, and his military failures. The next subject is the family and character of Justinian (6‑8), and then the author goes on to tell the scandalous story of Theodora's early life (9, 10). He proceeds to characterise the revolutionary policy of the Emperor, and to give a summary account of his persecutions, his avarice, and his unjust judgments (11‑14). Then he reverts again to Theodora, and illustrates her power, her crimes, and her cruelties (15‑17). He goes on to review the calamities and loss of life brought not only upon his own subjects, but also on the barbarians by Justinian's wars, as well as by the pestilence, earthquakes, and inundations, for which he holds him responsible (18); and then enters upon a merciless criticism of his financial administration (19‑23). Various classes of society — the army, the merchants, the professions, the proletariate — are then passed in review, and it is shown that they are all grievously oppressed (24‑26). The last chapters are occupied with miscellaneous instances of cruelty and injustice (27‑29), the decline of the cursus publicus, and new servile customs in court etiquette (30).

16 10.14.

17 12.14 sqq.; 18.1. Theodora's influence over her husband is ascribed to magic practices, 22.27.

18 L. von Ranke (Weltgeschichte, IV.2.300 sqq.) argued that it was not written by Procopius, but was partly based on a Procopian diary. The Procopian style of the Secret History is unmistakable and has been well illustrated by Dahn, 257 sqq., 416 sqq.

19 B. P. II.2.6 νεωτεροποιός τε ὢν φύσει . . . μένειν τε οὐ δυνάμενος ἐν τοῖς καθεστῶσι, cp. H. A. 11.1‑2. See also the remark in a speech of Armenian envoys to Chosroes, B. P. II.3.38 τί οὐκ ἐκίνησε τῶν καθεστώτων;

20 B. G. IV.19.9 sqq.; H. A. 11.5-7.

21 B. G. IV.5.16.

22 H. A. 30.33‑34, the last words of the book.

23 B. P. II.1.15; H. A. 11.12.

24 B. G. IV.15.13 (the author's opinion is clearly suggested ib. 7). His dissatisfaction with the particular favour shown by Justinian to the Persian envoy Isdigunas is not disguised, ib. 19, 20; B. P. II.28.40‑44.

25 B. V. II.28.52. Other points of comparison between the public and the Secret History may be noted. (1) The view of Justin's reign as virtually part of Justinian's, B. V. I.9.5 (Justin is ὑπεργήρως): H. A. 6.11 (Justin is τυμβογέρων). (2) Pessimistic utterances as to the general situation, A.D. 541‑549; B. P. II.21.34; B. G. III.33.1. (3) Justinian's slackness in prosecuting his wars is ascribed, in H. A. 18.29, partly to his avarice and partly to his occupation with theological studies. The latter reason is plainly assigned in B. G. III.35.11 βασιλεὺς δὲ Ἰταλίας μὲν ἐπηγγέλλετο προνοήσειν αὐτός, ἀμφὶ δὲ τὰ Χριστιανῶν δόγματα ἐκ τοῦ ἐπὶ πλεὶστον διατριβὴν εἶχεν, and is perhaps hinted at ib. 36.6 ἀσχολίας οἱ ἴσως ἐπιγενομένης ἑτέρας τινὸς τὴν προθυμίαν κατέπαυσε. (The same ironical formula is employed when the Emperor failed to send money due to Gubazes at the right time, ἐπιγενομένης οἱ ἀσχολίας τινός, B. P. II.29.32). Cp. also B. G. III.32.9. (4) The financial oppression of the government is exposed in the case of the logothete Alexander (ib. III.1.29). More pointed is the remark that John Tzibos was created a general because he was the worst of men, and understood the art of raising money, B. P. II.15.10. The criticism of Justinian that, though well aware of the unpopularity of Sergius in Africa, οὐδ’ ὥς would he recall him, may be noted. (5) In holding up to reprobation the conduct of the second Italian War by Belisarius, the author of the libel has only to repeat (H. A. 5.1) what was said in B. G. III.35.1. Compare also the remarks, ib. xiii.15‑19.

26 E.g. (1) The unscrupulousness of Theodora is illustrated by the episode of the Nobadae, above, p328 sqq.; (2) the statements as to the intrigue against Amalasuntha fit into the other evidence, above, p165 sqq.; (3) the connexion of Antonina with the episode of Silverius, cp. p378; (4) John Eph. (Hist. ecc. I c32) confirms the information that Antonina's son Photius was a monk; (5) the (p427) story of Callinicus, H. A. 17.2, is confirmed by Evagrius, IV.32; (6) that of Priscus, H. A. 16.7, by John Mal. XVIII.449, and fr. 46, De ins.; (7) that of Theodotus by John Mal. XVIII.416; while (8) the story of Psoes, H. A. 27.14, is consistent with ecclesiastical records. (9) The laws referred to in the H. A. can be verified in the legal monuments of the reign; (10) the statements about religious persecutions accord with facts; and (11) in what is said, H. A. 17.5 sqq., of the attempts to repress prostitution, other evidence shows that the author is only representing facts in a light unfavourable to the policy.

27 There is indeed an exception in the statement, H. A. 22.38, that the gold nomisma was reduced in value, which is not in accordance with the numismatic evidence. But even here it may be doubted whether Procopius had not some actual temporary or local fact in mind.

28 This intention can be inferred from three passages in H. A. (1.14; 11.33; 26.18), and from B. G. IV.25.13. The fulfilment of the promise in H. A. 17.14, to tell the sequel of the story of two young women who had been unhappily married, may possibly have been also reserved for this book, though there is no hint that it had anything to do with ecclesiastical affairs.

29 B. G. I.3.6.

30 H. A. 18.29.

31 Ib. 13.7.

32 There is some evidence (see Suidas sub Προκόπιος) that he attained the rank of Illustrious, and there is a possibility that he was the Procopius who was Prefect of the City in 562 (Theophanes, A.M. 6055). But the name was a common one.

33 See the tracts of Braun and Brückner, mentioned in Bibliogr. II.2, B, and the refutation of their suggestions by Haury, Zur Beurt.sqq. — The fatalistic remarks which Procopius introduces from time to time are Herodotean.

34 One of the intermediaries may have been Eustathius of Epiphania, who (see Evagrius, V.24) wrote a universal history, for the latter part of which his sources were Zosimus and Priscus, whom he abbreviated. It ended with the year 503. He was one of the principal sources of Evagrius. See further Haury's preface to his ed. of Procopius.

35 Haury, Zur Beurt. p20. Haury thinks that he made use of Zacharias of Mytilene, and perhaps of the History of Armenia by Faustus of Byzantium in a Syriac version, ib. pp4 and 21.

36 See above, Chap. XVIII § 2.

37 See above, Chap. XIX § 8.

38 For instance he regularly describes a bishop as ἱερεύς, not ἐπίσκοπος.

39 Φοιδεράτοι is one of the few words of this class that he employs sans phrase.

40 Attention was drawn to it by W. Meyer (Der accentuirte Satzschluss), but his conclusions have been considerably modified by C. Litzica (Das Meyersche Satzschlussgesetz), who pointed out that, in all Greek prose writers, the majority of sentences conform to the rule. This is due to the nature of the language. His conclusion is that unless the exceptions do not exceed 10 or 11 per cent the writer was unconscious of the rule.

41 The fact that the historian Procopius did not observe it would not prove that he was not educated at Gaza, for the contemporary sophist Aeneas of Gaza does not seem to have adopted it. But it is an argument against Haury's attempt to associate him, on grounds of style, with the Gaza school of prose.

42 Born c. 536, he died in 582. He probably intended to continue his history till 565. It was continued by his admirer, Menander, who was trained as a lawyer, but spent his early life as a man about town. The fragments of Menander, whose work terminated at 582, suggest that he was a better historian than Agathias. It is to be noticed that Agathias made some use of Persian chronicles, from which his friend Sergius, the official interpreter, made translations for him.

43 It was arranged in seven books according to subject. See his Prooemium (Anth. Gr. IV.3).

44 Anthologia Palatina (so called because the sole MS. is preserved in the Palatine library of Heidelberg). Agathias also wrote a volume of epyllia, love stories from Greek mythology, which he called Daphniaca.

45 The Egyptians, it was said (see next note), are mad about poetry. And so in the fifth and sixth centuries we have a long procession of Egyptian poets: Palladas, Claudian, Synesius, Cyrus, and Nonnus; then Christodorus of Coptus, Colluthus, Tryphiodorus, Julian (writer of many epigrams in the Anth. Gr.); and finally we have the horrible scribblings with which Dioscorus of Aphrodito plagued the life of a duke of the Thebaid (Pap. Cairo, I.67055, 67097, etc.; II.67177‑67188).

46 The date of Nonnus is disputed. We know that he was posterior to Gregory of Nazianzus whom he echoes in Dionys. I.310, and wrote before the reign of Anastasius, during which Christodorus and Colluthus, who were influenced by him, lived (Suidas, sub nn.). Ludwich dates the Dionysiaca about 390‑405 on the ground of a passage in Eunapius, Vit. Proaeresii, p92, who says that the Egyptians ἐπὶ ποιητικῇ σφόδρα μαίνονται. But why should this necessarily allude to the poem of Nonnus? When Eunapius was writing before 405, there were at least two distinguished contemporary Egyptian poets, Palladas and Claudian, as well as Synesius. In two places (XVI.321, XX.372) Nonnus has αἴθε πατήρ με δίδαξε, identical with the first words of a short poem of his fellow-townsman Cyrus, who rose to be Praetorian Prefect (see above, Vol. I p228). Ludwich holds that Cyrus took them from Nonnus; Friedländer, and those who place Nonnus in the second half of the fifth century, hold that Nonnus was the borrower.— Christodorus was a prolific poet. He wrote an epic on the Isaurian war of Anastasius and much else, but the only extant work is the Ecphrasis of the statues in the baths of Zeuxippus, Anth. Gr. Book II. The Capture (p432) of Ilion by Tryphiodorus and the Rape of Helen by Colluthus are preserved. They exhibit Nonnian influence, but do not strictly observe his rules. John of Gaza, who wrote a description of a picture representing the cosmos in the winter-bath of Gaza (opened about A.D. 536), is a servile imitator of the master.— On the technique of this school of poetry see Ludwich, Beiträge zur Kritik des Nonnus, 1873; Friedländer, in Hermes, XLVII.43 sqq.; Tiedke, ib. XLIX.214 sqq. and XII.445 sqq.

47 This is a rule to which he allows very occasional exceptions.

48 For the controversy on the date of Romanus, whom the admirers of hymnography consider the greatest of the Greek hymn writers, see Krumbacher, G.B.L.2 663 sqq.; Studien zu Romanos, 1898; Umarbeitungen bei Romanos, 1879; Romanos und Kyriakos, 1901; C. de Boor, Die Lebenszeit des Dichters R., in B. Z. IX.633 sqq.; P. van den Ven, Encore Romanos le mélode, ib. XII.153 sqq. The last two studies seem to establish that he lived in the sixth century, not in the eighth.

49 Of every five lines of Homer, probably four would have been rejected by Nonnus.

50 Thus the average number of words in his verses is small. It has been calculated that it is 6 to 7·2 in Homer. The great majority of the uncommon compounds in Nonnus are not of his own coinage. They are to be found here and there in earlier poets, whom he carefully searched.

51 VI.58 sqq.

52 VII.265‑268.

53 IV.259 sqq.

54 Such as νοθός, ἀντίτυπος, ἰσότυπος, μιμηλός, ἀντικέλευθος, ἀλλοπρόσαλλος. One of his favourite words is φειδόμενος in the sense of forbearing, discreet, gentle; and adjectives in -αλέος (like φρικαλέος, σιγαλέος, ὑπναλέος), of which he has a great number, are a feature of his poetry. Another characteristic of his technique is the repetition of words, e.g. (XXXV.42)

ἐπεὶ σέο μᾶλλον ὀιστῶν

μαζοὶ ὀιστεύουσιν ὀιστευτῆρες Ἐρώτων.

55 Of his date we have no direct information, and the place of his birth is unknown. Agathias in the epigram Anth. Gr. V.263 seems to be thinking of his poem. It has been guessed that he may be the Musaeus who was a correspondent of Procopius of Gaza (Epp. 48). In any case he probably lived about that time. The contention of Rohde (Der gr. Roman, 502) that he was imitated by Achilles Tatius has been disproved by the discovery that Achilles cannot have composed his romance long after A.D. 300, as a fragment of it, written in the fourth century, was found in Egypt (Pap. Oxyrh. X.1250).— The text of Musaeus is very corrupt. It is to be hoped that in the last line but one he wrote

καδ δ’ Ἡρῶ τέθνηκε σὺν ὀλλυμένῳ παρακοίτῃ

and not καὶ διερὴ, as his latest editor amends.º The double spondee is the one good point in the verse.

56 Malalas is the Syriac for rhetor, and the author is called John Rhetor by Evagrius, who used the work in its first form. The text we possess is an abridgment, and mutilated at the end, but it can be supplemented by many excerpts and fragments, by its use in later chronicles, especially Theophanes and the Pascal Chronicle, and there are also fragments of the Slavonic translation. There are several difficult problems connected with Malalas which cannot be discussed here. See, for a general account, Krumbacher, G.B.L. 325 sqq., and Bury, App. I to Gibbon, vol. IV, where the special studies on the subject are mentioned. Cp. works of Patzig and Gleye cited below, Bibliography, II.2, B.

Thayer's Note:

a The 3‑volume Loeb Classical Library's complete Greek text of the Dionysiaca, based on Ludwich's edition, is online with an English translation at Archive.Org:

I •  II • III

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