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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
Though Theodora was Procopius's primary target for vitriol, none of the personages who graced Justinian's court come off smelling so great. Justinian's most celebrated general, Belisarius (whom Procopius accompanied in several campaigns), comes across as kind of a good natured boob, whom Theodora easily tricks. Justinian himself is nowhere near the paragon Procopius depicted him as in his "official" history. When Justinian isn't scheming or engaged in petty retributions, he is basically passive, letting his wife run the show.
However interesting numerous passages are throughout the Secret History (P's recounting of the Plague that wiped out most of Constantinople in 542 AD, for instance), what it boils down to are the juicy parts. Who can say how many Latin scholars through the ages have turned to Procopius when they felt the need for a little titillation? Though the shock value has definitely diminished as far as our "modern" sensibilities are concerned, it's still some pretty heady stuff. I mean, Theodora makes Catherine the Great look like Mother Theresa, by comparison.
Procopius' official histories (eight books on military campaigns and five books on architecture) are perhaps of more merit to Byzantine scholars. In terms of enjoyable reading, however, this is definitely the place to start.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book was as new - I bought it as a New Years present for a friend.
The text is the same as the Penguin edition which I read many years ago.
This account lifts the lid on the 'world' leaders of his day and, guess what? It seems that absolute power always has corrupted absolutely, or maybe its just the case that,... Read morePublished 23 months ago by Donus
Does what it says on the tin - a savage attack on the policies (and character) of Justinian. Not an objective history - but a useful corrective to the Justinian-as-hero of most... Read morePublished on 13 July 2014 by Paul Marks
Supposed to be a great Christian emperor and empress but just power mongers and nasty with it. enlightening read changes view of themPublished on 15 Jan. 2014 by david gloin