Procopius of Caesarea

Procopius Of Caesarea, a noted character in the history of the East in the 6th century, is especially distinguished as the writer of a history in which he dwells at large on the ecclesiastical condition of the periods of which he treats. He was born at Cesarea, in Palestine, about the end of the 5th or beginning of the 6th century. After studying rhetoric in his native country, he went to Constantinople, where he gave lessons in rhetoric, and appears to have been also a lawyer. His reputation for learning and ability reached the court; and the emperor Justin the elder, in the last year of his reign, appointed him assessor (συγκάθεδρος) to Belisarius, who was about that time sent as governor to Dara, on the frontiers of Armenia. Procopius afterwards accompanied that commander in his first war against the Persians (530), afterwards in that against the Vandals in Africa (533-535), and lastly against the Goths in Italy (536-539). During these campaigns he appears to have rendered himself very useful by his ability and activity, and to have been intrusted by Belisarius with important commissions connected with the service of the army. In his capacity of assessor, he was the general's legal adviser, and he was also his private secretary. In 538 he assisted Antonina, the wife of Belisarius, in raising troops in Campania, and in sending some by sea to Rome, which was then besieged. On his return to Constantinople, about 540, the emperor Justinian made him a senator, as a reward for his services. In 562 he was made prefect of Constantinople, unless perhaps it was another of the name who obtained this dignity in that year. He died in that city at an advanced age, but the precise year of his death is not ascertained. It was during his extensive travels that he gathered the materials for the History of his Own Times (in eight books), translated into Latin by Claude Mattret, a Jesuit, under the title Procopii Caesariensis Historiurum sui Temporis Libri Octo (Paris, 1662, fol.; with the Greek text in English, Lond. 1653, fol.). His descriptions of the manners of the various barbarous nations which invaded the Roman empire are vivid and interesting. The first two books of his history concern the Persian wars. He begins his narrative with the death of Arcadius, and briefly relates the wars between the Romans and Persians under Theodosius the younger, Anastasius, and Justinus, and lastly Justinian. As he comes down to contemporary times, his history is more diffuse. He closes with the twenty-third year of Justinian's reign (A.D. 550). Books 3 and 4 treat of the wars of the Vandals in Africa, and the reconquest of that province by Belisarius. The 5th, 6th, and 7th books are concerned with the history of the Gothic kingdom in Italy founded by Theodoric, and the expedition of Belisarius against Totilas. The 8th book is of a mixed character; it resumes the account of the Persian wars, then speaks of the affairs of the Roman empire in other quarters — in Africa, on the Rhine, and in Thrace — and at last resumes the narrative of the Gothic war in Italy, the expedition of Narses, the defeat and death of Teia, and the final overthrow of the Gothic kingdom. — English Cyclop. s.v. As a historian, Procopius took Herodotus for his pattern, and even resembles his master's fatalism in the material conception of history. Procopius assumes the role of a sceptic, and as such regards himself as above all positive religion and dogmatic disputes. On account of the cold, unsympathetic manner in which he writes of Christianity, some have not believed him a Christian, but a deist, Jew, or even a heathen. He was, however, at least in outward confession, a Christian, as appears from his second work, Περὶ Κτισμάτων, De Edificiis, which contains a history of all churches, convents, and other public buildings reared under Justinian at the public expense in the Roman empire. Another of his writings, entitled Ανέκδοτα, or Secret History, in thirty chapters, is a sort of complement to the books De Bellis. Justinian and Theodora are here painted in the darkest colors. Procopius says that he wrote it because in his first work he could not, through fear of torture and death, speak of living persons as they deserved. Some grossly obscene passages concerning Theodora, who was evidently a very bad woman, have been expunged in most editions. There seems little doubt that Procopius is the author of the work. The Paris edition of Procopius, already quoted, is enriched with copious historical notes, prefaces, and an index. The works of Procopius, with valuable notes, are included in the Bonn edition of the Byzantine historians (1833-38, 3 vols. 8vo), which is, of course, the best. See Fabricius, Bibl. Graeca, 7:555 sq.; Hanke, De Scriptor. Byz. p. 145 sq.; Tueffel, in Schmidt's All geem. Zeitschrift fur Gesch. 8:38-79; Herzog, Real-Encyklop. s.v.; Smith, Dict. of Gr. and Rom. Biog. and Mythol. s.v.; Piper, Mon. Theol. § 204: Dahn, Procopius v. Ccesarea (Berl. 1865).

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