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The Secret History of the Court of Justinian   By:

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[Transcriber's Note: Macrons (straight line above a vowel) are indicated in this text by surrounding square brackets and an = sign. For example, [=e] indicates an e macron]






Procopius, the most important of the Byzantine historians, was born at Caesarea in Palestine towards the beginning of the sixth century of the Christian era. After having for some time practised as a "Rhetorician," that is, advocate or jurist, in his native land, he seems to have migrated early to Byzantium or Constantinople. There he gave lessons in elocution, and acted as counsel in several law cases. His talents soon attracted attention, and he was promoted to official duties in the service of the State. He was commissioned to accompany the famous Belisarius during his command of the army in the East, in the capacity of Counsellor or Assessor: it is not easy to define exactly the meaning of the Greek term, and the functions it embraced. The term "Judge Advocate" has been suggested[1], a legal adviser who had a measure of judicial as well as administrative power. From his vivid description of the early years of Justinian's reign, we may conclude that he spent some considerable time at the Byzantine court before setting out for the East, at any rate, until the year 532, when Belisarius returned to the capital: he would thus have been an eye witness of the "Nika" sedition, which, had it not been for the courage and firmness displayed by Theodora, would probably have resulted in the flight of Justinian, and a change of dynasty.

In 533 he accompanied Belisarius on his expedition to Africa. On the way, he was intrusted with an important mission to Sicily. He appears to have returned to Byzantium with Belisarius in 535. He is heard of again, in 536, as charged with another mission in the neighbourhood of Rome, which shows that, at the end of 535, he had accompanied Belisarius, who had been despatched to Italy and Sicily to conquer the territory in the occupation of the Goths. This expedition terminated successfully by the surrender of Vitiges and his captivity at Byzantium in 540.

As the reward of his services, Justinian bestowed upon him the title of "Illustrious" ( Illustris ), given to the highest class of public officials, raised him to the rank of a Senator, and, finally, appointed him Praefect of Byzantium in 562. He does not, however, seem to have been altogether satisfied: he complains of having been ill paid for his labours; for several years he was even without employment. This is all that is known of his life. He died shortly before or after the end of the reign of Justinian (565), when he would have been over sixty years of age.

His career seems to have been as satisfactory as could be reasonably expected, all things being taken into consideration; but the violent hatred displayed by him against Justinian in the "Anecdota" or "Secret History" if the work be really his[2] appears to show that he must have had some real or imaginary grounds of complaint; but history throws no light upon these incidents of his political career.

Another question which has been much discussed by the commentators is: "What were the religious opinions of Procopius?"

His own writings do not decide the question; he seems to shew a leaning towards heathenism and Christianity alternately. The truth seems to be that, being of a sceptical turn of mind, he was indifferent; but that, living under an orthodox Emperor, he affected the forms and language of Christianity. Had he been an open and avowed adherent of Paganism, he would scarcely have been admitted to the Senate or appointed to the important official position of Praefect of Byzantium. His description of the plague of 543, which is exceedingly minute in its details, has given rise to the idea that he was a physician, but there is no proof of this... Continue reading book >>

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