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The Secret History (Classics) Paperback – 27 Aug 1981

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Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New impression edition (27 Aug. 1981)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140441824
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140441826
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.3 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,247,626 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Very little is known about Procopius. He was born in Palestine around AD 500 and fought for the Byzantine Empire in Persia, Africa and Italy.

G. A. Williamson (1895-1982) also translated Josephus: The Jewish Wars (1959) and Eusebius: The History of the Church (1965) for Penguin Classics.

Peter Sarris is a University Lecturer in Early Medieval History and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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BELISARIUS was married to a woman of whom I had something to say in the preceding books. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Marshall Lord TOP 500 REVIEWER on 15 Feb. 2007
Format: Paperback
In which an apparently loyal aide gets a mountain of bile off his chest and proves that no man is a hero to his private secretary ...

Procopius was the Byzantine equivalent of a civil servant. Among other things he was secretary to the great general Belisarius. Throughout his life, and in the books which he published in his lifetime, he appeared to be totally loyal to Belisarius, and even more so to Emperor Justinian.

Procopius wrote an eight-volume history of Belisarius's campaigns, usually referred to as "The Histories" or "The Discourses about the Wars" (or sometimes "The history of the wars") which is one of the definitive historial sources for the life of Belisarius. Later he wrote an an account of the great works of architecture construced under Justinian's regime. That book, known as "The Buildings," is so nauseatingly sycophantic to Emperor Justinian that it makes the average New Labour MP look like a severe critic of Tony Blair by comparison.

But in "The secret history" which he wrote to be published after his death, Procopius got off his chest all the negative comments about Belisarius, Justinian, and their wives which he ruthlessly suppressed himself from making anywhere where they might get to hear about them. The book is pure undiluted poison, in a horribly fascinating way.

This book accuses Belisarius of being a trusting fool, but he gets off lightly. His wife Antonina is accused of fornication (including with her adopted son) and murder. Justinian is accused of being quite literally a demon in human form, and his Empress Theodora of being a Messalina: both Justinian and Theodora are represented as mass murderers.

God only knows how much truth there is in this account.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Luciano Lupini on 16 Feb. 2003
Format: Paperback
A review by Luciano Lupini. This is a good translation of Procopius most controversial opus, by G.A.Williamson, Senior Master of Classics at Norwich School (from 1922 to 1960). Whilst The Histories and Buildings are recognized as Procopius politically correct works, The Secret History tells a stunning tale of greed, corruption and destruction under Justinian and Theodora's empire.
Undoubtedly Procopius (A.D. 500?-565) was a qualified witness (having been private secretary to the greatest of Byzantium generals, Belisarius), although modern historians are at odds with the contradictions between what he wrote before and after this History, and still wonder what true motivations lie at the bottom of this work. But in my opinion, for anyone interested in a different , more private, assessment of Justinian and Theodora's deeds and character, this is a book that requires to be read. With caution, but with interest.
The architect of the Corpus Juris Civilis, the Codex Constructionum and the Digest, normally viewed as a "great conqueror, a great lawgiver, a great diplomat, and a great builder" (J.B. Bury) is screened in its defects by the author. The History mainly revolves around Justinian, Theodora, Belisarius and Antonina, their deeds, defects and personal motivations.
Justinian is portraited as a man of infinite greed and vicious cruelty. Theodora is exposed as a harlot, with a mind perpetually fixed upon inhumanity, constantly meddling in the affairs of the state.........
But let's not spoil the juicy tidbits. Let me just say that after one sorts out the mess created by this book, a more clear picture of the causes of the demise of the Roman Empire, the workings of the Imperial Court under Justinian and corruption of the mores will remain.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Brownbear101 on 25 May 2009
Format: Paperback
Written in 550 AD, this is my kind of book - it's a vicious piece of political backstabbing written by one of the inner circle of Justinian - the Eastern Roman Emperor.

Procopius was a high born Syrian who became adviser to Belisarius, Justinian's most able and successful military commander Justinian is married to Theodora, a former prostitute, and Procopius paints them as a couple of Byzantian chavs. Amoral, rootless, capricious, shameless, vulgar and grasping. They were also cruel either physically, in the case of Theodora, or by absention in the case of Justinian. However, like modern day chavs, Procopolis does accept that Justinian had the common touch and he comes across as engaging and personable. Theodora too had physical beauty and attraction on her side. The pair are also street smart and politically cunning in a low way.

Procopius really digs the dirt about their family history, their corruption, evil doings and incompetence. Many of the stories are jaw droppingly wonderful. It's very one sided but in fairness Procopius had already written two official books about Justinian - one concerning his military achievements and one his building programme. This book was written in secret and for publication after Justinian's death. In any case, a balanced account wouldn't be half as much fun.

A lovely translation by G A Williamson and a super introduction from Peter Sarris.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Chris Lawton on 15 Nov. 2002
Format: Paperback
The Secret History was suspected to be a fake for some years but is now regarded as genuine. I have my doubts: Procopius paints Justinian to be a complete stinker and his wife Theodora as an evil witch given to bumping off her illigitimate sons. However, other histories record that Justininans reign was the last flowering of the Eastern Roman Empire, which is at odds with Procopius's memoirs. Procopius also did rather well from his time as courtier and achieved high status, so it couldn't have been all that bad for him. Anyway, it's a meaty read and they do the sort of things that loopy emperor types do. Would make a good TV series.
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