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Masculinity, Identity, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian: A Study of Procopius
 9462988234, 9789462988231

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Masculinity, Identity, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

Social Worlds of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages The Late Antiquity experienced profound cultural and social change: the political disintegration of the Roman Empire in the West, contrasted by its continuation and transformation in the East; the arrival of ‘barbarian’ newcomers and the establishment of new polities; a renewed militarization and Christianization of society; as well as crucial changes in Judaism and Christianity, together with the emergence of Islam and the end of classical paganism. This series focuses on the resulting diversity within Late Antique society, emphasizing cultural connections and exchanges; questions of unity and inclusion, alienation and conflict; and the processes of syncretism and change. By drawing upon a number of disciplines and approaches, this series sheds light on the cultural and social history of Late Antiquity and the greater Mediterranean world. Series Editor Carlos Machado, University of St. Andrews Editorial Board Lisa Bailey, University of Auckland Maijastina Kahlos, University of Helsinki Volker Menze, Central European University Ellen Swift, University of Kent Enrico Zanini, University of Siena

Masculinity, Identity, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian A Study of Procopius

Michael Edward Stewart

Amsterdam University Press

Cover illustration: San Vitale, mosaic of the south apse wall, a flowing fountain with details of two eunuch cubicularii. The eunuch furthest to the left garbed in a white tunic and gold chalmys draws open a curtain as he gazes at the Empress Theodora. The second eunuch dressed in a white tunic and white chalmys stands next to the empress. Cover design: Coördesign, Leiden Lay-out: Crius Group, Hulshout isbn 978 94 6298 823 1 e-isbn 978 90 4854 025 9 doi 10.5117/9789462988231 nur 684 © M.E. Stewart / Amsterdam University Press B.V., Amsterdam 2020 All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this book may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the written permission of both the copyright owner and the author of the book. Every effort has been made to obtain permission to use all copyrighted illustrations reproduced in this book. Nonetheless, whosoever believes to have rights to this material is advised to contact the publisher.

To, John-David, Annabelle, Sophie, and Charlotte, Πάντα σέθεν φιλέω.

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations




A Note on Translations, Sources, and Names




Part I  Finding Procopius 1. Introduction


2. Will the Real Procopius Please Stand Up


Part II  The Contest 3. The Danger of the Soft Life


4. Courage, Fear, and Generalship in the Vandal War


5. Shattering the Glass Ceiling: Eunuchs in a Changing World


Part III  Chaos Encroaching 6. Killing Justinian


7. Totila: Hero or Trope?


Conclusion: All Quiet on the Italian Front









List of Abbreviations

Auctores Antiquissimi Australian Association for Byzantine Studies (Byzantina Australiensia) Ante-Nicene Christian Library ANCL British Archaeological Reports BAR Before the Common Era (or BC) BCE Basileia Historia BH Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies BMGS Byzantinoslavica BS Byzantion Revue Internationale des Éstudes Byzantines Byzantinische Zeitschrift BZ Cambridge Ancient History CAH The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Attila CCAA The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian CCAJ Common Era (or AD) CE CJ Justinian, Codex Iustinianus Chronicon Minora CM Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae CSHB Chronicon Chron. Corpus Iuris Civilis CIC Codex Theodosianus CTh Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library DOML English Historical Review EHR Epistulae Epist. Fragmenta frag. Journal of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies GRBS Historia Augusta HA Historia Ecclesiastica HE Journal of Roman Studies JRS JHS Journal of the History of Sexuality Journal of Late Antiquity JLA JTS Journal of Theological Studies Journal of Women’s History JWH Loeb Classical Library LCL MGH Monumenta Germaniae Historica NCMH The New Cambridge Medieval History, Volume 1, c. 500-700 PG Patrologia Curus Completus, Series Graecea



Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

Patrologiae Curus Completus, Series Latina The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire Sources chrétiennes Transactions of the American Philological Association Translated Texts for Historians

Acknowledgements I have incurred numerous debts of gratitude while writing this book. My honorary fellowship at the University of Queensland has granted me precious access to the resources and the support of a tight-knit social network of dedicated scholars. Special thanks to Kriston Rennie, Morris Low, and Amelia Brown for helping me to share my love of history with the students at the University of Queensland—who never objected when I kept sneaking Byzantium into the syllabus. I am grateful to Leonora Neville, Henning Börm, Dariusz Brodka, and Christopher Lillington-Martin for graciously reading and offering invaluable feedback on some early chapter drafts; any errors or inaccuracies that remain are mine. The two peer reviewers for AUP made many helpful suggestions and asked many stimulating questions, which have contributed to a better final product. I owe particular thanks to my big sister Jennifer Miller for both her keen editorial eye and support of my trips to Europe and the United States to give seminars or attend conferences where I presented papers based on some of the chapters in this book. I must also thank a wider family of Byzantine and Procopian scholars. While we do not always agree, and indeed often stand by our positions with tenacity, I have benefited from the generosity of scholars such as Averil Cameron, Anthony Kaldellis, Geoffrey Greatrex, and John Moorhead—just to name a few. Having absorbed the excellence of their scholarship, I have come to appreciate the struggles of confidence suffered by Byzantine historians like Agathias and Menander the guardsman, who also wrote their histories in the shadows of a master, Procopius. On a more personal level, it is a great deal to ask of one’s family to have daddy spend an enormous amount of time on a monograph that will do little to put food on the table. This book was indeed written amidst the joyful cacophony of raising four children ten years old and under. Writing a monograph in such circumstances is never an easy task, but it has been made much easier with my wife Gina’s diligent perseverance to allow ‘daddy’ to spend countless hours in his study pecking away at a keyboard and reading countless books and articles when he could have been making dinner or helping put children to bed. It is therefore to her and my children that I dedicate this book.

A Note on Translations, Sources, and Names

The quotations from Procopius’ works provided here derive from H.B. Dewing’s edition in the Loeb Classical Library (1914-1940). This monograph relies on a combination of my own and existing translations. References to the translator are provided in the footnotes and in certain instances the original language. However, when I modernise English words or idiom found in some of the older translations, no notation will be made. Although Procopius used the term ‘Byzantine’ when referring to a denizen of Constantinople or at times ‘Greek’ to describe the East Romans, the historian’s preferred term was ‘Roman’. Throughout this monograph I employ ‘East Roman’, ‘Byzantine’, and ‘Roman’ to describe Justinian’s soldiers. Procopius also distinguished between Goths and Italians in what he saw as a post-Roman kingdom. I use ‘Italians’ and ‘Italo-Romans’ to describe the ‘natives’ of late fifth- and early sixth-century Italy. Finally, to better reflect Procopius’ usage, ‘Goth’ will usually be preferred instead of ‘Ostrogoth’. Finally, despite the gradual move towards Greek name-spellings in recent scholarship, with some exceptions, I have adopted the Latin name-spellings familiar to a more general reading audience. This means, for example, that I have used ‘Procopius’ instead of ‘Prokopios’ and ‘John Malalas’ and not ‘Ioannes Malalas’.

Preface A generation of historians has been captivated by the notorious views on gender found in the mid-sixth-century Secret History by the Byzantine historian Procopius of Caesarea. Yet the notable but subtler ways in which gender coloured Procopius’ most significant work, the Wars, have received far less attention. This monograph examines how gender shaped the presentation of not only key personalities, but also the Persians, Vandals, Goths, East Romans, and Italo-Romans, in both the Wars and the Secret History. By analysing the purpose and rationale behind Procopius’ gendered depictions and ethnicising worldview, this investigation unpicks his knotty agenda. Despite Procopius’ reliance on classical antecedents, the gendered discourse that undergirds both texts under investigation must be understood within the broader context of contemporary political debates at a time when control of Italy and North Africa from Constantinople was contested.

Part I Finding Procopius

I (Goddess Roma) love the Amal (Theodahad) who has sucked at my breast, the brave man formed by my society, dear to the Romans for his wisdom, revered for his courage by the tribes […]. For, if Africa deserved to receive her freedom through you, it is cruel for me to lose a freedom which I have always been seen to possess. Greatest of victors control the impulses of your anger. – Cass. Var. 11.13.4-5 (trans. Barnish) There was among the Goths one Theodahad by name, a son of Amalafrida, the sister of Theoderic, a man already of mature years, versed in Latin literature and the teachings of Plato, but unpractised in war and far removed from the active life, and yet he was extraordinarily accomplished at making money. This Theodahad had obtained most of the lands in Tuscany, and he was eager to take the remainder from their owners by violent means. – Proc. Wars 5.3.1-2 (trans. Kaldellis, modified)

1. AR antoninianus of Philip the Arab struck in Rome 247 AD. Reverse: Roma seated left, holding Victory and scepter ROMAE AETERNAE.

1. Introduction In November of 536, a Roman army of 6,000 soldiers was on the move along the Via Latina in Italy.1 Led by the Constantinopolitan Emperor Justinian’s (r. 527-565) renowned general, Belisarius, the heterogenous force of battlehardened veterans—many of whom had helped defeat the Vandals in North Africa in 534 and the Goths in Sicily in 535—were fresh off another triumph, the bloody storming of Naples and the capitulation of its Gothic garrison.2 Belisarius and his men were now in search of larger quarry—Rome, the birthplace of empire.3 Though Belisarius had received assurances from a papal delegation that Rome would open its gates to him, the general likely knew the Goths would not relinquish their control of Italy so easily. In fact, once Naples fell to Belisarius, the Gothic army reacted by electing a new king, the dux [general] Vitigis, who had served previously as the deposed Gothic King Theodahad’s spatharios [head bodyguard] and had been playing a leading role in organising Gothic resistance to Belisarius’ advance. 4 With the East Roman army fast approaching, in the early days of December Vitigis retreated to Rome. Shortly thereafter, Vitigis abandoned Rome for the better protected Ravenna, where he began rallying a segment of the Gothic nobility that was viscerally opposed to the rule of Italy from Constantinople.5 For Vitigis, the challenge was twofold. We learn from a contemporary source that his decision to abandon Rome stemmed from the Gothic king’s 1 For this route, see Proc. Wars. 5.14.6. 2 On Belisarius, see PLRE III: 181-224 [Belisarius]. For Belisarius in the works of Procopius, see Brodka, Die Geschichtsphilosophie, pp. 115-120; Whately, Battles and Generals. 3 As Lucy Grig (‘Competing Capitals’, p. 48) has shown, late antique imperial iconography and literature often depicted Rome and Constantinople as ‘twin’ cities, ‘sharing sovereignty over the globe’. 4 Vitigis PLRE III: 1382-1386 [Vitigis]. Vitigis had earned his military reputation with an important victory over a combined Gepid and Herule army in 530, on which see Wolfram, History of the Goths, pp. 340-341. Massimiliano Vitiello (Theodahad, pp. 27-29) proposes that perhaps some physical impairment had prevented Theodahad from the ‘prerequisite’ Gothic military education. This goes too far. It seems more plausible that, as their hold on Italy grew more secure, a distinct minority of Gothic elites would have willingly abstained from the ‘prerequisite’ military training. For a more detailed analysis of the blurring of the boundaries between Goths and Italo-Romans in Ostrogothic Italy, see Halsall, ‘The Ostrogothic Military’. 5 Proc. Wars 5.11.10-11, Jord. Get. 310, Rom. 372, Marc. com. Chron. s.a. 536. Upon hearing the news of his replacement, Theodahad had escaped Rome with a small cadre of loyal followers. However, one of Vitigis’ henchmen caught and executed Theodahad fifteen miles outside of Ravenna.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

overestimation of the size of Belisarius’ force, and the need for Vitigis to consolidate his hold on the throne.6 A defeat in the early days of his rule would have surely proven disastrous for a man whose propaganda espoused the notion that he had received the ‘kingly office’ largely because of his martial prowess.7 Moreover, though Vitigis had the necessary military qualifications for Gothic kingship, he lacked the noble background that also served as a vital prerequisite. This gap in his resume could only be resolved by heading to the stronghold of Gothic power, Ravenna, which at that time was one of Europe’s most important cities.8 Vitigis’ politically advantageous marriage to the former Gothic King Theoderic’s (r. 471-526) granddaughter, Matasuentha, shortly after he arrived in Ravenna proved enough to secure Amal support.9 This respite in Ravenna also provided Vitigis crucial time to raise a larger army. So, unopposed on 9 December 536, Belisarius captured the city of Rome from the Goths without a fight.10 As Belisarius’ army marched triumphantly through the Asinarian Gate located to the southeast of the city, through a prearranged agreement with Belisarius, in the northwest the 4,000 soldiers of the Gothic garrison fled through the Flaminian Gate and headed along the Via Flaminia to Ravenna. Belisarius then ordered Leuderis, the Gothic garrison commander who had stayed behind in order to surrender Rome, to deliver ‘the keys of the gates to the city’ to Justinian. The seminal historian of Justinian’s reign, Procopius of Caesarea—who was there on what must have been a gloriously symbolic entrance—proclaimed happily ‘that Rome became subject to the Romans again after a space of sixty years’.11 Belisarius had triumphed again. Yet a reader of Procopius’ memorable account of these campaigns, the Wars, soon learns this declaration was a tease; although the city of Rome had fallen, the real fighting between the Goths and the East Romans had just begun. The momentum of Belisarius’ 6 Proc. Wars 5.11.11, 5.16.19. 7 Cass. Var. 10.31.1 (trans. Barnish), ‘I was chosen not in the privy chambers, but in the wild open field. I was not sought among the subtle debates of sycophants, but as the trumpets blared’ [Non enim in cubilis angustiis, sed in campis late patentibus electum me esse noveritis, nec inter blandientium delicata colloquia, sed tubis concrepantibus sum quaesitus]. La Rocca, ‘Consors regni’, p. 141, discusses the gendered aspects of this declaration. 8 On late antique Ravenna’s exalted status as the residence of late Roman emperors, Gothic kings, and Byzantine exarchs, see Deliyannis, Ravenna in Late Antiquity. For the prominence of Ravenna during Theoderic’s reign, see Moorhead, Theoderic in Italy, pp. 141-144. 9 Proc. Wars 5.11.27. 10 Lib. Pont. Vita Vigilius 61.4 assigns it to ‘10 December’. 11 In providing this date, Procopius followed Marcellinus Comes’ (chron s.a. 476.2) suggestion that the empire in the West had fallen in 476.

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deep thrust into Italy quickly proved logistically and politically difficult to sustain. Rome, in fact, would change hands four more times in the next sixteen years. By 547, the revered city had been reduced to rubble and largely denuded of people for the first time in its long history.12 The Goths unquestionably resisted with greater determination than had the Vandals. In early 537, with his hold on the kingship secure, Vitigis prepared to mount a campaign to retake Rome. He likely knew that he needed to drive Belisarius and his small army out of Rome before reinforcements and resupplies from Constantinople could arrive. Vitigis either left Ravenna or arrived outside of Rome on 21 February 537—our source provides an ambiguous date.13 The speed and scale of Vitigis’ counter-attack seems to have caught even the usually well-prepared Belisarius off guard. Desperate to delay the advance of Vitigis’ army, the East Romans launched a series of sorties against the Gothic vanguard. From Procopius’ perspective, the Romans had held the upper hand in these initial skirmishes, but the Goths’ sheer numbers overwhelmed them, and Belisarius—who had led one of the daring raids—barely made it back into Rome alive.14 After the Gothic army arrived outside the walls of Rome, Vitigis established a series of fortified camps by which to tighten the noose by restricting movement in and out of the city. Procopius, who would have witnessed the arrival of the Gothic army, vividly described in the Wars the fear that engulfed the city in the early days of the siege.15 Reflecting what was surely a harrowing experience, Procopius later detailed the ups and downs of the blockade with dramatic flourish. His account of the year-long siege is one of the most riveting in the Wars; indeed, it has been described recently as ‘one of the most remarkable combat narratives in any text from antiquity’.16 As Procopius describes it, the battle for Italy was a contest of competing ideologies as much as one of men and arms. As we will see, the gendered rhetoric in the Wars functions as a key weapon in Procopius’ literary arsenal. Though scholars have rightly stepped back from seeing Procopius as 12 Croke, Chronicle of Marcellinus, p. 138. 13 Lib. Pont. Vita Silverius 60.4. 14 For a fuller account of Procopius’ description of this skirmish, see Stewart, ‘Contests of Andreia’, pp. 36-38. 15 For the enormous size of the Gothic army, see Lib. Pont. Vita Silverius 60.4. In contrast to his usual precision, Procopius (Wars 5.16.10, 5.24.3) provides the impossibly large number of 150,000 for Vitigis’ army. Anthony Kaldellis (Wars of Justinian, p. 291, n. 529) and Conor Whately (‘Some Observations on Procopius’ Use of Numbers’) discuss some of the possible reasons for this exaggeration. 16 Whately, Battles and Generals, p. 159.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

an unfiltered mouthpiece for Justinian’s propaganda, his enthusiasm for Belisarius and the East Roman side is clear—especially in Books 5 and 6 of the Wars. Even in these earlier books, however, Procopius’ tale is much more than just one of ‘heroic’ Romans versus ‘villainous’ barbarians. Procopius’ ability to tell both sides of the story by looking at the wide swath of the lives the Gothic war adversely affected throughout Italy, is what, for some, ranks him amongst the greatest historians of antiquity.17 One should not see Procopius’ impartiality, however, as the mere residue of the historian’s increasing disillusionment with the campaign as it dragged on. It was a key expectation of ancient rhetoric and history to tell both sides of the story, a mandate which Procopius follows, providing the opinions and viewpoint from the opposing sides and pointing out the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ in his main and bit players. Though surely not immune from either exaggeration or a reliance on long-standing stereotypes about those non-Roman peoples he and his contemporaries labelled as barbarians, Procopius also offers sympathetic portraits of the Vandals, Goths, and Persians both as peoples and as political entities with legitimate claims over the lands they held.18 Procopius does such a fine job of this impartiality, as we will see in the next chapter, that some modern historians have a difficult time determining just whose side he was on. This is not to say that the Wars lacks prejudices or always offers accurate visions of the actions and actual motivations and strategies of Justinian’s enemies. For these alternate views, we fortunately have extant documents like the Varia of Cassiodorus that in a collection of 468 letters, edicts, and panegyrics tells parts of the Gothic side of this eye-grabbing story.19 This balance is necessary, since some of the claims Procopius makes offer a suspiciously Constantinopolitan view of contemporary realities.20 As modern scholars have become increasingly aware, Justinian’s ‘reconquest’ was not just being contested on the battlefields in North Africa and Italy, but also 17 Michael Whitby, ‘The Greatness of Procopius’, p. 38. 18 On Procopius’ sympathetic and varied vision of non-Roman peoples, see Greatrex, ‘Roman Identity in the Sixth Century’; Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, p. 221; Sarantis, ‘Roman or Barbarian’. Cf. Averil Cameron (Procopius, p. 239), who argues that Procopius attempted to preserve the ‘established order by creating a strong demarcation between civilised peoples and barbarians’. Cf. Goffart (Barbarian Tides, pp. 94-96), who uses Procopius’ account of the Herules to make the larger claim that Procopius wanted to expel all the barbarians from the Roman Empire. On the standardised classical vocabulary and tropes in Procopius’ depictions of non-Roman peoples, see Curta, ‘The Making of the Slavs’, p. 167. 19 Arnold, Roman Imperial Restoration, p. 46. One finds sound accounts of Cassiodorus’ life and career in O’Donnell, Cassiodorus and Giardina, Cassiodoro Politico. 20 Frankforter, ‘Procopius and a Woman’s Place’, p. 42.

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in the discourse of elites in late antique foci of power such as Carthage, Rome, Ravenna, and Constantinople.21 Shane Bjornlie describes lucidly the turbulent ideological landscape in which Procopius wrote the Wars: The instability of loyalties during the Gothic War meant that the interpretation of ideologically charged events had particular significance. Procopius’ history is replete with episodes in which Goths, Italians and eastern imperial representatives change allegiance during the course of the war. In such a fluid environment, signifying attachment to a specific memory carried even more weight.22

This is a point worth repeating. What is history if not an attempt to relate memories of the past to justify contested events in the present? Elites within the Vandal, Visigothic, Ostrogothic, and Frankish courts undoubtedly disputed Justinian’s claims to former Roman lands. As I have argued elsewhere, elements of these vigorous debates also survive in the Wars. In the Gothic War, for example, we find Procopius countering propaganda emanating from the Gothic side that portrays the Goths as manly protectors of Italy, while simultaneously casting the East Romans as ‘outsiders’ and unmanly Greeks.23 The rhetoric demonstrates, in my estimation, how one’s cultural identity can be shaped by a particular view of the past. To borrow the erudite assessment of Jussi Rantala, ‘The world as we understand it, our culture, customs, values, and many other things important to us, affected by facts and events which once were—or which we imagine once were’.24 Such a view concerning the links between cultural identity and history helps to elucidate why it was so important for Procopius in each section of the Wars—the Persian, Vandal, and the Gothic—to first explain what he believed to be the key developments of the previous century to then better 21 For a discussion of these sources and the disputed nature of Justinian’s imperial renovatio, see Bjornlie, Politics and Tradition; Arnold, Roman Imperial Restoration; Gillett, ‘Telling Off Justinian’. A consensus has developed that what is commonly referred to as Justinian’s reconquest resulted from opportunity rather than a long-held plan to restore the glory of the Roman Empire; see, for instance, Heather, Restoration of Rome, pp. 137-153. For the notion that Procopius cast the Italian campaign as ‘a punishment of rebels’ rather than a reconquest, see Boy, ‘History of Wars’, pp. 202-229. For an examination of the political and religious ideologies behind Justinian’s Western military campaigns, see Brodka, ‘Prokopios von Kaisareia und Justinians Ideeder Reconquista’, pp. 243-255. And for some of Justinian’s core objectives, see Lillington-Martin, ‘Procopius, πάρεδρος / quaestor’. 22 Bjornlie, Politics and Tradition, p. 148. 23 Stewart, ‘Contests of Andreia’, pp. 21-54. 24 Rantala, ‘Identity in the Roman World’, p. 20.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

appreciate contemporary political disputes.25 Byzantine historians like Procopius composed their histories with a didactic purpose in mind. By reading about both the mistakes and successes of their forefathers, current and future generations of Byzantine soldiers and political leaders could learn not to repeat the mistakes of the past.26 This political, and oft-times gender-laced, rhetoric surrounding Procopius’ depiction of Justinian’s military campaigns is one of the central themes of my book. I will suggest that a detailed analysis of Procopius’ writings will not only help us better know aspects of his authorial intent, but also offer an important window into sixth-century Mediterranean culture and politics.27 In fact, though it is imperative to appreciate the influence of his classical literary models upon Procopius’ writings, so too is it vital to grasp the fundamental historicity that structures and shapes Procopius’ subject matter. For some, my use of gendered approaches to better understand Procopius and his world might raise apprehensions or generate accusations of methodological anachronism.28 There is certainly a need to remain alert to the dangers of applying present preoccupations and modern definitions to ancient societies that might have seen the world very differently than we do. As Leonora Neville has recently suggested, ‘the fields of social history, economic history, women’s history, cultural history, literary history, and others would have been confusing to authors of ancient and medieval Greek history’.29 Nevertheless, as this same scholar and others have shown, obsessions with gender and codes of proper manliness are not merely a modern concern. Discussions of masculinity and femininity permeate the ancient Roman and early Byzantine literature. Unquestionably many Byzantines from the governing classes valued ‘true’ manliness as a cultural ideal and appreciated reading about it in works of history.30 Indeed, the 25 For a stimulating discussion on the didactic importance of these fanciful tales for interpreting subsequent events in the Wars, see Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, pp. 62-93. 26 Neville, Anna Komnene, p. 22. 27 For a summation of the disputes surrounding gender as a category for historical inquiry, see Kuefler, Manly Eunuch, pp. 1-15; Stewart, ‘Some Disputes’; Soldier’s Life. 28 For a more complete analysis of the debates surrounding gender and masculinity as methodological tools to interpret the past, see Tosh, ‘What Should Scholars Do with Masculinity?’; Scott, ‘Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis’. 29 Cf. Neville, Anna Komnene, p. 21; Stewart, ‘Some Disputes’, pp. 77-91. 30 For just a sampling of some of the excellent recent work on this topic, see Gleason, Making Men; Conway, Behold the Man; Kuefler, Manly Eunuch; Burrus, Begotten Not Made; McDonnell, Roman Manliness; Neville, Heroes and Romans; Anna Komnene; Buckley, The Alexiad of Anna Komnene.

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dichotomy between virtue and vice was often a gendered one.31 As Mathew Kuefler posits, whereas the masculine was considered essential and faultless, the feminine was frequently perceived to be insignif icant and flawed. The degraded social role that women played in much of history remained intimately connected with the idealisation of the ‘universalised masculine’.32 Gendered approaches play a critical role in Procopius’ writings. One need only to read the emotive gendered language unleashed in his Secret History to be aware of how important it was for Procopius for men and women to adhere to what he considered to be the proper codes of their gender conduct. Procopius’ three works, the Wars, the Secret History, and the Buildings, supply insight into how not only the historian but his contemporaries perceived conceptions of manliness. It has indeed been demonstrated that, ‘masculinity is in large part created by language’.33 I draw on Andrew Romig’s insight that such gendered configurations ‘dictate what individual people can and cannot do, who they can and cannot be, and under which circumstances these allowances and restrictions occur’.34 In such ways, dominant gender ideologies regulate a full spectrum of behaviour.35 Leaning upon the work of Judith Butler,36 Coleen Conway suggests that ‘gender is something that one does rather than something one is’.37 In short, one did not just become a ‘true’ man in ancient Rome and Constantinople, one had to earn it.38 The precarious nature of manhood then helps to explain our ancient authors’ anxiety about the insecure nature of masculinity in even male-dominated states like early Byzantium.39 Such active gendering did not just apply to individuals but entire peoples as well. In the Wars, Procopius wielded gendered themes to aid him in unravelling the complexities of disputes between nations. Some of this 31 Stewart, Soldier’s Life, esp. pp. 43-130. 32 Kuefler, Manly Eunuch, pp. 2-3. 33 Thibodeaux, The Manly Priest, p. 16. 34 Romig, Be a Perfect Man, p. 6. 35 On these hegemonic and subordinate masculinities, see Connell, Gender and Power, pp. 183-188. 36 Butler, Gender Trouble. 37 Conway, Behold the Man, p. 9. 38 On the notion that ‘real’ Roman men were created and not just born, see Connolly, ‘Andreia and Paideia’, pp. 287-317. Anthropologists have demonstrated that in many cultures, manhood is not a status attained by entering ‘adulthood’ but an elusive category that must be demonstrated or won, see Gilmore, Manhood in the Making. 39 On this anxiety over men’s masculinity in imperial and late Rome, see Barton, ‘All Things Beseem the Victor’; Kuefler, Manly Eunuch. On current scholarly debates concerning these reoccurring ‘crises of masculinity’, see Stone, Morality and Masculinity in the Carolingian Empire, pp. 19-21.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

reliance has to do with the classical literary traditions Procopius followed. The notion that Rome’s military struggle against foreign enemies served as a test of each side’s masculinity represented a prominent theme in Roman historiography.40 In the Roman literary tradition, the mightier and manlier the barbarian enemy the better, since, however brave they were, they would fall eventually to the might of Roman arms and masculine prowess. Craig Williams expresses pithily this common paradigm: True Roman men, who possess virtus by birthright, rightfully exercise their dominion or imperium not only over women but also over foreigners, themselves implicitly likened to women. An obvious implication is that non-Roman peoples were destined to submit to Rome’s masculine imperium. 41

Quite simply, many Romans seemed convinced that their numerous victories over foreign forces had occurred not only because they had better training, equipment, and tactics, but as Myles McDonnell phrased it, because they believed that ‘they were better men’. 42 Of course, Procopius’ East Roman Empire based in Constantinople was a different political entity than the Latin-speaking Italian-based Republican and early and high Rome(s) described by McDonnell and Williams. By the opening of the sixth century, the empire ruled by the primarily Greek speakers from Constantinople had been cut off from not only Italy and the city of Rome, but from most of the old lands in North Africa and Western Europe. 43 For a culture built on triumphal masculine imagery, the loss of the ancestral homelands in the f ifth century had come as quite a shock. 44 Letting go of the notion of Roman exceptionalism indeed was difficult for Byzantines like Justinian and Procopius. In my view, this connection to a glorious past—as much as the need to adhere to genre expectations—helps to explain why discussions of masculinity and femininity permeate the writings of Procopius and that of many of his contemporaries. In this highly competitive androcentric world, attacking one’s enemy often 40 For a more detailed discussion, see Stewart, Soldier’s Life, pp. 43-90. 41 Williams, Roman Homosexuality, p. 135. 42 McDonnell, Roman Manliness, p. 3. 43 On the growing prominence of the Greek language in the fifth-century East Roman Empire, see Millar, A Greek Roman Empire, pp. 15, 96-97. 44 Kuefler, Manly Eunuch, pp. 46-49. For this sense of loss as primarily reflecting a Constantinopolitan perspective, see (with further references) Arnold, Roman Imperial Restoration, pp. 26-27.

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meant attacking their masculinity with a barrage of gendered insults. The gendered nature of Procopius’ discourse can therefore be partly explained by the changing nature of political power and identity in the wider sixth-century Mediterranean world. 45 For Justinian to sell his costly military adventures, his propaganda needed to adhere to many of the conventional barbarian tropes found in the ancient literary tradition, which were often based on the Romans’ dominance over those labelled as barbarians. Defining precisely who were the former Romans and who were the barbarians in these former imperial lands proved a challenging task indeed. Those peoples in North Africa and in Italy labelled ‘the Romans of old’ by Procopius needed to accept that the armies sent from Constantinople were not only ‘fellow’ Romans endowed with traditional martial Romanitas, but they also needed to accept that they needed rescuing from a harsh barbarian yoke. Though we can debate how closely Procopius adhered to these ideological mandates, it is vital to always keep them in mind when we read his writings. In some sense, taking a gendered approach to history came naturally to Procopius. Of course, a thorough understanding of Procopius’ classical models— especially Thucydides and Herodotus—is essential for comprehending Procopius’ views on concepts such as identity, virtue, courage, and masculine ideology.46 Nevertheless, we should also see Procopius’ writings as a product of his own age. Just because Procopius emulates Thucydidean concepts, language, and/or narrative strategy, it does not mean that the subsequent thoughts or descriptions were disconnected from ‘sixth-century values’. As I declared in Soldier’s Life: […] imagine if we rejected early Byzantine writers’ use of passages and concepts found in the Old and New Testament, and/or early Christian theologians, as ‘products of an earlier age,’ and hence not representative of early Byzantine values. Early Byzantium was not a monolithically Christian world. Raised in a culture that educated many young elites on the writings of Thucydides and other classical authors, it is little wonder that some long-established views on manliness and unmanliness also survived. 47 45 For similar links between power and identity and late antique apocalyptic discourse, see Palmer, The Apocalypse in the Early Middle Ages, p. 54. 46 For a recent discussion of these intertextual connections in Procopius’ writings, see Moore, ‘Procopius of Caesarea and Historical Memory’. 47 Stewart, Soldier’s Life, pp. 29-30.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

It is also vital to differentiate between modern-day and sixth-century Byzantine notions of gender and identity. We should avoid seeing a world with numerous and rapidly changing gender ideologies like our own. The Mediterranean world of Procopius’ day had far more stable and restricted views about masculinity, femininity, or indeed, about society in general, than is typically found in our modern age, where rapidly evolving cultures and technologies have created far more adaptable and varied understandings of these concepts. 48 I do not claim that this book offers a comprehensive examination of Procopius’ political and gendered rhetoric. Moreover, because this book is primarily concerned with the ways Procopius and his contemporaries used a gendered lens to view and interpret issues surrounding Justinian’s attempts to retake the ‘lost’ Roman provinces in the West, this study focuses primarily on the military campaigns in North Africa and Italy, rather than those against the Sassanian Persians. I contend that the wars between Late Antiquity’s two great agrarian powers raise a separate set of geopolitical and literary issues for Procopius. 49 Those looking for a chronological political history of the age may be disappointed as well. Nevertheless, I contend that a careful investigation of Procopius’ polyphonic discourse demonstrates that his language of masculinity and effeminacy reflect wider ethnic and political concerns. To achieve a better understanding of these connections, I divide the book into seven chapters framed by this prologue, a short conclusion, and a chronology. The chapters are separated by theme rather than strict adherence to chronology. By looking at Procopius and his writings from different thematic angles and theatres of war, each chapter builds on the arguments of the preceding one. Chapter 2 investigates what we know about Procopius, both as a man and as an author. Chapter 3 switches attention to Procopius’ gendered discourse to examine with greater scrutiny how the language of masculinity and effeminacy reflects wider ethnic and political debates at a time when Justinian laid claim to the ‘lost’ territories in North Africa and Western Europe, a period of tremendous tension between East and West. By looking at Procopius’ presentation of those he considered the native Italo-Romans, I will demonstrate that Procopius’ beliefs concerning Roman and Gothic identity were linked intimately to masculinity and manliness. By centring on the emotion of ‘fear’, Chapter 4 explores how Procopius 48 Discussed in McDonnell, ‘McDonnell on Kaster’. 49 For a fine recent study on Procopius’ presentation of the Persians, see Börm, Prokop und die Perser.

Introduc tion


masterfully combines ‘facts’ and literary topoi to vividly supply a didactic account of the East Romans’ lightening victory over the fearsome Vandals in 533-534. Chapter 5 considers Procopius’ presentation of military eunuchs within the larger framework of late antique and Mediterranean attitudes towards castrates as unique symbols of imperial power. By exploring the ways attitudes about imperial court eunuchs as military commanders shifted in parallel in Latin and Greek texts from the fourth to the sixth centuries, and considering the key role played by Justinian’s eunuch military commanders Solomon and Narses in this shift, I seek to highlight Procopius’ part in a larger societal move to a more positive attitude towards castrates. Chapter 6 examines in detail a failed plot to assassinate Justinian in 549. It seeks to explain why the heavily gendered rhetoric in Procopius’ account of the plot resembles that found in the Secret History, which was likely being written at around the same time. By doing so, I will demonstrate how the historian consciously connected his character sketches of the Persarmenian general Artabanes in the Wars and the ‘anti-Belisarius’ found in the Secret History. To achieve a deeper understanding of Procopius’ presentation of nonRomans, his literary process, and perhaps his attitudes towards the Italian campaign, Chapter 7 examines Procopius’ vivid and nuanced portrait of the Gothic King Totila in Books 7 and 8 of the Wars. Recent research has shown that the line between Romans and those labelled as ‘barbarians’ by Procopius—like the Goths and Vandals—had become more permeable in the fifth and sixth centuries. Some have seen reflections of this new reality in Procopius’ portrait of Totila. Others, however, conclude that the older constructs of barbarians fighting manfully but ultimately submitting to Rome’s masculine imperium still rule supreme in Procopius’ works. It has recently been suggested that Procopius praised Totila simply because he comes the closest of all the Gothic kings to living up to this old paradigm. This chapter strives to add further nuance and context to these views.


Will the Real Procopius Please Stand Up Furthermore, he was aware that he was able to write this history better than anyone else, if for no other reason, because it fell to his lot, when appointed advisor to the general Belisarius, to be an eyewitness of practically all the events to be described. It was his convention, moreover, that while cleverness is appropriate to rhetoric, and inventiveness to poetry, truth alone is appropriate to history. – Proc. Wars 1.1.3-4 (trans. Kaldellis)

As with most ancient historians, we know little about the ‘real’ Procopius.1 What we do know derives principally from references to himself sprinkled throughout his writings and bits of information found in contemporary and later Byzantine sources. To these literary accounts we may add recent epigraphical, archeological, and topographical approaches, which have contributed greatly to our understanding of the world Procopius inhabited.2 As scholars have rightly cautioned, however, taking a biographical approach to Procopius presents certain challenges—and indeed raises some insurmountable barriers. Separating authors from their writings is difficult. Even what appears to be the most straightforward autobiographical material found in the Wars, the Secret History, and the Buildings must be used with care, since even if we feel we get to know Procopius from these writings, much of what we encounter is a carefully constructed facade. There can be a great gulf between the life and the work. To borrow the sage warning of Alan Ross, ‘these moments of ostensible self-revelation are also among Procopius’ most literary and […] they allow Procopius consciously to create a narratorial persona as much as they may incidentally uncover the man behind the work’.3 Put slightly differently, Peter Van Nuffelen stresses that ‘text and author are two related but distinct identities’. 4 This is eminently sensible advice. Ancient authors strove to manipulate their audiences to provoke an emotional response.5 Moreover, relating both sides of the story 1 For some recent accounts of Procopius’ life, see Treadgold, Early Byzantine Historians, pp. 176–192; Greatrex, ‘Recent Work’, pp. 77-82; Börm, ‘Genesis of the Anecdota’, pp. 323-326; Whately, Battles and Generals, pp. 38-67. Lillington-Martin, ‘Procopius, πάρεδρος / quaestor’. 2 Lillington-Martin, ‘Procopius on the Struggle for Dara and Rome’. 3 Ross, ‘Narrator and Participant’, p. 73. 4 Van Nuffelen, ‘Wor(l)ds of Procopius’, p. 40. 5 Neville, Anna Komnene, p. 10.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

was a basic tenet of ancient Greek and Byzantine rhetoric. Chameleon-like, the author was expected to adapt his persona to the edicts of his chosen rhetorical form.6 We should therefore not just assume that the attitudes expressed in any text reveal deeper truths about the author’s outward or inner self. Procopius’ personality therefore will always remain an enigma. But this is not to say that we cannot learn anything about the ‘real’ Procopius, his opinions, or his wider world. It is impossible for any author to avoid imbibing the atmosphere of their surrounding cultural milieu. Comparable to the fingerprints inadvertently left at a crime scene by an incautious perpetrator, an author like Procopius imbues his texts with not only information about himself but slices of the cultural and social norms of his times.7 With these caveats in mind, through some fine recent ‘detective’ work a consensus has been reached about some basic facts concerning Procopius’ life.8 He was born around 500 and, as he tells us, hailed from the important harbour town of Caesarea in Palestine,9 and died sometime between 554 and the early 560s.10 Procopius’ broad knowledge and the wide range of classical literary works he cites, suggests that he had received an education available to a privileged few. Given his excellent schooling and his sympathies towards the conservative aristocracy displayed in all his writings, it is likely that Procopius hailed from the land-owning elite of Caesarea.11 If true, Procopius 6 See, for example, Psellos, On Rhetoric, based on Longinos’ Art of Rhetoric 87-93. 7 Averil Cameron, ‘Writing about Procopius’, p. 19. 8 This brief biography has no new information on Procopius, but primarily summarises the conclusions of some of the most recent work on Procopius and debates about the historian’s likely biography and influences for those less familiar with the historian and these current disputes. 9 Proc. Secret History 11.25. 10 For the ongoing debates concerning the range of these possible dates for Procopius’ death and the possibility that Procopius was the city prefect of Constantinople mentioned in Malalas (18.141) and John of Nikiu (92.20), see Whately, Battles and Generals, pp. 39-41; Börm, ‘Genesis of the Anecdota’, p. 325. For supporters of the earlier date, see Averil Cameron, Procopius, p. 12; Howard-Johnston, ‘Education and Expertise of Procopius’, pp. 20-21, where he maintains that Procopius could have been dead as early as 553, which, for him, explains the unfinished state of the Secret History and the Buildings, as well as the perfunctory state of Book 8 of the Wars; cf. Kouroumali, ‘Procopius and the Gothic War’, p. 21. For those who support the later date, see Signes Codoñer, Historia Secreta, pp. 16-20; Börm, Prokop und die Perser, pp. 50-52, with more caveats, ‘Genesis of the Anecdota’, pp. 325-326; Whately, Battles and Generals, p. 41. 11 Greatrex, ‘Procopius the Outsider?’, p. 227; Sarris, Economy and Society, pp. 115-130; Bell, Social Conflict, pp. 226-229; Börm, ‘Genesis of the Anecdota’, p. 323. Some have proposed that Procopius hailed from the middle or the upper stratum of the merchant class, which might help to explain some of our difficulties in learning much about his parents, see Howard-Johnston, ‘Education and Expertise of Procopius’, p. 20, n. 4; Whately, Battles and Generals, p. 43, n. 36.

Will the Real Procopius Please Stand Up


would have been just one of many sixth-century historians who came from the provincial elite.12 As with many Romans in Late Antiquity, Procopius’ hometown played an important part in defining his self-identity. As Kenneth Holum has observed, Procopius’ own words clearly indicate this civic loyalty.13 Procopius describes his native city as ‘my Caesarea’.14 Most famously, during an episode from the Vandal War when Belisarius dispatched Procopius to scout for information after the imperial fleet had arrived in Sicily, Procopius closely identifies with a sea merchant who he had happened upon in Syracuse, describing the man affectionately as a ‘fellow-citizen’ and a ‘childhood friend’.15 So, we are confident that we know when Procopius was born, where he grew up, and that he did not outlive Justinian, and hence was one of the rare narrative historians who wrote about events during the reign of a living emperor.16 What can this information tell us about Procopius? Caesarea was an important harbor city positioned to exploit the flourishing Mediterranean-Atlantic trade routes.17 Extensive excavations of the city’s material remains have revealed that in the sixth century, it was a thriving urban centre, with a population somewhere between 35,000 to 100,000.18 Archeologists have discovered it had a theatre, market square, baths, and a basilica. Caesarea was also wealthy and large enough to have its own provincial governor supported by a contingent of 100-300 staff, as well as soldiers, and men who maintained order, collected taxes, approved infrastructure projects, and acted as judges.19 It was in this context that Procopius may have first tasted the potency of imperial power, and perhaps 12 Averil Cameron, Procopius, p. 6; Rapp, ‘Literary Culture under Justinian’, pp. 381-382. 13 Holum, ‘Classical City’, pp. 87-88. 14 Proc. Secret History 11.25. 15 Proc. Wars 3.14.7, Γενόμενος δὲ ἐν ταῖς Συρακούσαις Προκόπιος καὶ ἀνδρὸς παρὰ δόξαν ἐπιτυχὼν πολίτου μέν οἱ καὶ φίλου ὑπάρχοντος ἐκ παιδός. 16 Kaldellis (Procopius’ Persian War’, p. 10) rightly emphasises the rarity of historians writing about living emperors. However, as Henning Börm (‘Genesis of the Anecdota’, p. 327, n. 165) comments, Procopius was not unique in this task. Dio Cassius and Velleius Paterculus wrote histories that covered their own lifetimes. In addition, other historical genres such as chronicles, epitomes, and breviaria often wrote about reigning emperors, albeit less critically than Procopius. As Burgess and Kulikowski suggest (Mosaics of Time, pp. 223-224), the history written by Procopius’ contemporary, John Malalas, which survives only in a later epitome, is better seen as a large-scale breviarium of world history rather than a chronicle as it is usually categorised. Like Procopius’ history, it deals in detail with events during the reign of a living emperor, Justinian. 17 Lillington-Martin, ‘Procopius, πάρεδρος / quaestor’, p. 173. 18 Greatrex, ‘Perceptions of Procopius’, p. 77. 19 Holum, ‘Classical City’, pp. 100-109.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

come to loath outside interference in what he and other locals perceived to be civic matters.20 In sixth-century Caesarea, Christian bishops were also men who garnered respect. They had their own rural estates from which they gathered a sizable income. This wealth was used to both feed the poor and build Churches, which were gradually replacing pagan temples. On this crucial transition, Holum writes: By the Age of Justinian, the Mediterranean cities had generally completed the process of ‘Christianizing’. The pagan gods everywhere had yielded to Christian martyrs as the city’s divine protectors, and a city’s calendar of pagan religious festivals and processions had been reorganized around saints.21

Procopius’ hometown had experienced this incremental but steady shift. Sometime during Procopius’ lifetime, Caesarea’s theatre and hippodrome had fallen into disuse. In the Secret History, Procopius lamented Justinian’s closing down of theatres, hippodromes, and circuses, which has been seen by some as an indication of his bitterness at similar closures in Caesarea.22 We also see in his works, however, criticisms of theatre and events in the circus and hippodrome, driving home the point of how difficult it is to pin down the ‘real’ Procopius. For example, his famous censure of Theodora in the Secret History concentrates on her early life on the stage as an actress in pantomime, suggesting that he viewed such women as little better than whores.23 Procopius showed little sympathy for the circus factions, casting them as foppish young troublemakers struggling with masculinity issues.24 Procopius’ ethical values—espoused throughout his writings—mesh nicely with a sixth-century Christian moral worldview. Procopius indeed highlighted in the Secret History humanity’s propensity for moral transgressions, lamenting, ‘When wrongdoing is allowed, it naturally grows out of control, since even when such crimes are punished, they are not absolutely eradicated; for most by nature turn easily to sin’.25 20 Averil Cameron, Procopius, p. 5. Cf. Börm, ‘Genesis of the Anecdota’, p. 323. 21 Holum, ‘Classical City’, pp. 106-107. 22 Proc. Secret History 26.8-9. Greatrex, ‘Perceptions of Procopius’, p. 78. 23 Proc. Secret History 9.11-26. 24 Proc. Wars 7.20. For Justinian’s crackdowns on all faction members throughout the empire at the opening of his reign, see Mal. Chron. 17.18. 25 Proc. Secret History 7.20-21, ἁμαρτία γὰρ παρρησίας ἀξιωθεῖσα ἐπ̓ ἄπειρον φέρεσθαι πέφυκεν, ἐπεὶ καὶ κολαζόμενα τὰ ἐγκλήματα φιλεῖ οὐκ ἐς τὸ παντελὲς ἀποκόπτεσθαι. φύσει γὰρ οἱ πλεῖστοι ἐς

Will the Real Procopius Please Stand Up


Procopius’ Caesarea was also a place where Jews, Christians, and Samaritans intermingled. Geoffrey Greatrex estimates that ‘Samaritans may have accounted for one third of the population’.26 It has even been suggested that Procopius was a Samaritan himself.27 Yet despite this claim and another recent attempt to cast him as a pagan along the same lines of his near contemporary, the historian Zosimus, the bulk of the evidence supports the long-accepted conviction that Procopius was a Christian—if not one in the same vein of rigorist Christians found in many ancient and modern accounts of the age.28 Though we are now moving firmly into the realm of conjecture, Procopius’ mother and father may have belonged to the upper crust of Christian families in Caesarea wealthy enough to dwell in the recently excavated urban mansions along a ridge overlooking the sea. Typical of the homes of elites across the empire, these villas in Caesarea were ‘decorated with multi-coloured marbles, equipped with internal peristyles, formal reception and dining rooms, private baths’, and gardens.29 Learning anything more about his family is trickier. Unlike his near contemporary, the ecclesiastical historian Evagrius, we never learn if Procopius ever married or had any children, though Warren Treadgold believes that there are subtle hints that the historian may have had an unhappy marriage—this, however, is probably stretching the evidence too far.30 The same scholar also takes up the old suggestion made by Jakob Haury that a governor of Palestine mentioned in the Buildings 5.7.14—Procopius of Edessa—may have been Procopius’ father.31 A case has also been made that Procopius was the son of a proconsul Stephanus, but as with most details about his τὸ ἁμαρτάνειν εὐπετῶς τρέπονται. For Procopius’ use of ἁμαρτία in the Christian sense of sin, see Wars 2.11.12, where he declares that only Jesus Christ was without sin [μηδὲν τὸ παράπαν ἁμαρτεῖν]. This passage is discussed in Averil Cameron, ‘The “Scepticism” of Procopius’, p. 469. 26 Greatrex, ‘Perceptions of Procopius’, pp. 77-78. 27 Adshead, ‘Procopius and the Sarmatians’. 28 Arguing against Averil Cameron’s contention (‘The “Scepticism” of Procopius’, p. 482) that Procopius ‘was not only a Christian, but a conventional one’, Kaldellis contends (Procopius of Caesarea, p. 52, ch. 3) that Procopius ‘was no Christian’, but that he was at the middle of a pagan neo-Platonic revival in sixth-century Constantinople. Cf. the sympathetic views of Sarris, Economy and Society, p. 221. And the critiques of Michael Whitby, ‘Religious Views of Procopius and Agathias’, pp. 73–93; Greatrex, ‘Perceptions of Procopius’, pp. 91-92; Whately, Battles and Generals, pp. 43-45; Börm, ‘Genesis of the Anecdota’, p. 335. 29 Holum ‘Classical City’, p. 101. 30 Treadgold, Early Byzantine Historians, p. 188. See, for example, Proc. Wars 7.31.12, where the historian offers what appears to be personal observations on the strains that married couples faced. 31 Treadgold, Early Byzantine Historians, pp. 177-178.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

family and early upbringing, these possible identifications must remain conjecture.32 In fact, it is conceivable that his social origins were slightly humbler.33 Many elites in Caesarea had become wealthy trading wine, grain, and oil from their estates in the countryside. It has been inferred logically that Procopius’ familiarity with the merchant in Syracuse stemmed from his family’s membership in Caesarea’s merchant class, a group that grew wealthy capitalising on the city’s role as an entrepôt.34 Though, as has been recently pointed out, it is also feasible that if Procopius hailed from the landowning elite, he may have been familiar with those from the merchant class in Caesarea.35 Procopius offers an enticing titbit about the political loyalties of his family in the opening to the Secret History, remarking that he did not feel safe sharing its subversive views, ‘with even the most intimate of his kinsmen’.36 Warren Treadgold, stretching the autobiographical evidence to its limits, speculates that these family members were probably not his ‘blood relatives’, but more likely ‘members of his wife’s family or his wife herself, who may not have shared her husband’s mounting rage against Justinian and Theodora’.37 This, however, is not the only way this comment may be read. Highlighting the dangers of the biographical approach already mentioned, this passage works just as well as evidence that Procopius (outwardly at least) and his kinsmen—whoever they were—remained tethered tightly to Justinian. We know more about aspects of Procopius’ education and his career path after leaving school. His near contemporary, Agathias—who continued and admired his work—describes Procopius as a rhetor [attorney of law], an assertion that is repeated in other sixth-century sources and in the generally reliable tenth-century Suda.38 As Henning Börm contends, Procopius’ position as Belisarius’ adsessor and consiliarius ‘suggests that he had had a legal and rhetorical education’.39 On this assumption, he may have first attended school in Gaza, which at that time served as a centre of classical learning—though, as Geoffrey Greatrex submits, it is also possible that he attended school in his native Caesarea. 40 The curriculum in both schools 32 Greatrex, ‘Stephanus, the father of Procopius of Caesarea?’. 33 Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, p. 47; Whately, Battles and Generals, p. 41. 34 Howard-Johnston, ‘Education and Expertise of Procopius’, p. 23; Lillington-Martin, ‘Procopius, ‘πάρεδρος / quaestor’, p. 173. 35 Whately, Battles and Generals, p. 43, n. 35. 36 Proc. Secret History 1.2 (trans. Dewing). 37 Treadgold, Early Byzantine Historians, p. 188. 38 Agath. Histories 2.19.1. Evag. HE 4.12,4.29,5.24 Men. Prot. frag. 14.2, Suda II 2479. 39 Börm, ‘Genesis of the Anecdota’, p. 323. 40 Greatrex, ‘Stephanus, the father of Procopius of Caesarea?’, p. 133; cf. Averil Cameron, Procopius, p. 6, n. 24.

Will the Real Procopius Please Stand Up


likely stressed Greek classics, especially the works of the master historians Herodotus and Thucydides. Perhaps because of this Greek literary influence and a desire to show off his education and knowledge, Procopius would later choose to style his history on the models established by these seminal Greek historians. 41 Although Procopius knew Latin and Roman mythology, the extent of his knowledge of Latin literature is unclear. And yet, Latin histories composed in Constantinople by Procopius’ contemporaries Marcellinus Comes and Jordanes demonstrate that there was a significant Latin-speaking audience for such works in Constantinople. 42 Moreover, Belisarius and many of the soldiers who served in his retinue were native Latin speakers, so one suspects that Procopius had a good knowledge of Latin. It has indeed been suggested that we may include Procopius with other bilingual Byzantine intellectuals like John Lydus. 43 Still, despite his probable language skills and an obvious interest in reading history, his knowledge of the Roman Empire’s history before the fourth century CE appears limited.44 Judging by Procopius’ refined Greek prose, it is probable that he flourished academically, and this success allowed him to begin training for an elite position within the empire’s bureaucracy. Beyrtus or Constantinople are the likeliest places that he studied law. 45 Five years of study would have seen him become a rhetor. Details about Procopius’ early career can only be a matter of speculation. After completing his studies, Procopius, like many ambitious provincials seeking a better life, settled down in Constantinople where he presumably practised law. We return to firmer biographical territory when discussing Procopius’ career path after 527, when he officially enters the historical record. We learn from Procopius that he had been appointed personal advisor [σύμβουλος] to Belisarius—the newly appointed dux Mesopotamiae in 527.46 The next thirteen years of his life, from his late twenties and entire thirties, were spent accompanying Belisarius on his military campaigns in the East against the Persians, to the West in North Africa against the Vandals, and in Italy against the Goths. 47 Procopius’ duties and responsibilities 41 Greatrex, ‘Stephanus, the father of Procopius of Caesarea?’, pp. 129-130. 42 Averil Cameron, ‘Old Rome and New Rome’. 43 Elsner, ‘Rhetoric of Buildings’, p. 35. 44 Evans, Procopius, p. 101. For the breadth of Procopius’ reading, see Whately, Battles and Generals, pp. 45-56. 45 Treadgold, Early Byzantine Historians, pp. 177-178. 46 Proc. Wars 1.1.3, 1.12.24. For the various terms Procopius used to describe his role(s) under Belisarius, see Lillington-Martin, ‘Procopius, πάρεδρος / quaestor’, pp. 158-162. 47 Proc. Wars 1.1.3.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

grew during this time. 48 As Belisarius’ career flourished so it seems did Procopius’. 49 In 529, Belisarius was named by Justinian as the commander [magister militum per Orientem] of the Eastern forces based at Dara.50 Prior to departing on campaign to North Africa in 533, Belisarius had been granted powers second only to those of Justinian.51 Procopius’ emphasis on his role as a πάρεδρος or quaestor [literally defined as assessor to a king] may reflect his increased responsibilities and status.52 In this capacity, composing Belisarius’ speeches, letters, and military reports would have represented some of Procopius’ primary duties, suggesting that his material on earlier battles and set speeches given by Belisarius may be more accurate than some scholars would have us believe. His service was eventful. Though he was not by Belisarius’ side for the entire decade of the 530s,53 he seems to have witnessed most of Belisarius’ major battles before 540. After the capture of the Gothic king Vitigis, Procopius returned to Constantinople in June of 540 and we lose track of the historian’s precise location. We are not sure if he joined Belisarius’ campaign against the Persians in 541, though he was present in Constantinople the next year when the plague struck. It is probable that after 542 he no longer witnessed the events he described but relied on Byzantine diplomatic records and on his contacts in the Byzantine army and within the senate of Rome.54 Some contend that Procopius may 48 For these possible duties, see Colvin, ‘Understanding Campaigns in Procopius and Agathias’, pp. 571-597; Lillington-Martin, ‘Procopius, πάρεδρος / quaestor’, esp. pp. 158-160; Kruse, ‘Justinian’s laws and Procopius’ Wars’. 49 For this probability, see Börm, ‘Genesis of the Anecdota’, p. 336. 50 Proc. Wars 1.12.24. Most historians believe that Procopius was a lawyer: Tinnefeld, ‘Prokopios [3]’; Signes Codoñer, Procopio de Caesarea, pp. 11-12; Greatrex, ‘Lawyers and Historians’, p. 151. Contra Fatouros, ‘Zur Prokop-Biographie’, pp. 517-518, who doubts Procopius had legal training. James Howard-Johnston suspects that Procopius was an engineer/architect, Howard-Johnston, ‘Education and Expertise of Procopius’. These revisionist views, however, have not garnered much acceptance. 51 Proc. Wars 3.11.20, γράμματά τε αὐτῷ βασιλεὺς ἔγραφε, δρᾶν ἕκαστα ὅπη ἂν αὐτῷ δοκῇἄριστα ἔχειν, ταῦτά τε κύρια εἶναι ἅτε αὐτοῦ βασιλέως αὐτὰ διαπεπραγμένου. βασιλέως γὰρ αὐτῷ ῥοπὴν τὰ γράμματα ἐποίει. As Moorhead asserts (Justinian, p. 67), Procopius’ use of the term βασιλεύς, which means ‘king’ or ‘emperor’, indicates that the emperor had granted Belisarius authority ‘to act in his stead while on campaign far from home’. 52 Lillington-Martin, ‘Procopius, πάρεδρος / quaestor’, pp. 160-161. 53 See, for example, Proc. Wars 4.14.37-42, where Procopius was stranded in Carthage during a mutiny while Belisarius was in Sicily. 54 On these contacts in Italy, see Evans, Procopius, pp. 31-36. For Procopius and Agathias’ use of oral sources, see Michael Whitby, ‘Greek Historical Writing’, p. 46. For the possible identities of some of these oral sources, see Brodka, ‘Prokop von Kaisareia und seine Informanten—Ein Identif ikationsversuch’. Brodka maintains that ‘Peter of Thrace (doryphoros of Solomon), Marcellus (comes excubitorum), George (conf idant of Belisarius), Paulus of Cilicia (cavalry

Will the Real Procopius Please Stand Up


have been included in a group of friends and associates banned in 542 by Justinian from associating with Belisarius, a sanction that may have still been in effect when Belisarius went to Italy for a second time in 544.55 If so, it might have been this forced decoupling that granted Procopius the time and perhaps the impetus to start writing the Wars.56 In this instance, however, I concur with Warren Treadgold that it is more probable that Procopius stayed behind in Constantinople for more mundane reasons: he was in his mid-forties, settled down, and busy writing the first seven books of his history, which he likely started working on in the early 540s.57 Though scholars have long disagreed about the extent of Procopius’ learning and his literary achievements, a growing cluster of academics now consider him as not only one of ‘the best historians of antiquity’ but one of the great intellectuals of his age.58 Jaś Elsner, for instance, lauds Procopius ‘as a master of considerable literary sophistication, skill, and extensive reading’.59 Procopius’ history was also popular during his own lifetime; the historian, in fact, claimed that the Wars had found an audience in every part of the empire.60 Though some modern commentators have seen this statement as hyperbole, since self-deprecation was deemed as an essential trait of ancient historians, it would be out of character for Procopius to exaggerate here, especially since many within his contemporary audience would have been able to judge the officer, former head of household of Belisarius), Sinnion (leader of the Cutrigurs) and Ortaias (Berber ruler)’ were some of Procopius’ key oral sources for many of the episodes in the Wars. On Procopius’ use of personal notes and official sources, see Averil Cameron, Procopius, pp. 136, 156; Greatrex, Rome and Persia at War, pp. 62-64, suggests that for his accounts of the Anastasian War Procopius employed both oral and written accounts. For events up to 503, he probably consulted the lost chronicle of Eustathius of Epiphaneia. For oral testimonies he had access to Cabades’ grandson, the younger Cabades, and Peranius, the son of the Iberian king Gourgenes, both of whom accompanied Procopius on the Italian campaigns. Procopius also used additional written material. Unfortunately, like many ancient historians, he failed to specify which authors he consulted. On Procopius’ possible reliance on archived documents such as official battlefield reports recording valorous deeds, off icers’ letters, and accounts of embassies, see Colvin, ‘Understanding Campaigns in Procopius and Agathias’. 55 Proc. Secret History 4.15. Averil Cameron, Procopius, p. 50. Bjornlie (Politics and Tradition, p. 105) expands on Cameron’s contention, submitting that Procopius’ ‘ban’ coincided with Justinian’s other crackdowns, such as his ‘Hellene purge of 545’. 56 For this as the most likely date that Procopius began serious writing, see Averil Cameron, Procopius, pp. 8-10; Bjornlie, Politics and Tradition, p. 105; Börm, ‘Genesis of the Anecdota’, p. 336. 57 Treadgold, Early Byzantine Historians, p. 184. 58 Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, p. 213. 59 Elsner, ‘Rhetoric of Buildings’, p. 34. 60 Proc. Wars 8.1.1.


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validity of his claim. The relative abundance of manuscripts that have come down to us and his frequent citation in later Byzantine sources add further credence to Procopius’ claims.61 His focus on military affairs, and in particular Belisarius’ deeds, appealed to prevailing literary tastes as well.62 Though the audience for such a detailed prose account of Justinian’s campaigns could never have been large, its Byzantine readership probably included influential Greek-speaking members of the bureaucracy and the military high command.63 Moreover, sections of the Wars may have been recited in front of larger and less-educated audiences, who, as Brian Croke reminds us, ‘were no less used to formal rhetoric and found these works enjoyable’.64 Many within this shadowy audience probably lacked sophisticated Greek.65 Nonetheless, as modern students can attest, Procopius’ repetitive use of vocabulary and phrases makes his text fairly easy to understand for intermediate students of Greek, hence we must not assume that Byzantines, fluent in Greek, would have been unable to ingest the content of the Wars. Just as Shakespearean English can be enjoyed by an audience that does not comprehend the archaic language, so too could a sixth-century audience appreciate a lively account of Justinian’s wars composed in Attic Greek spoken a thousand years earlier on the streets of Periclean Athens. James Evans has recently pointed out several possible examples from the Wars, which contain evidence that they may have f irst been read orally before live audiences before being inserted into the history.66 The Wars also influenced other early Byzantine historians. Agathias, who accused some of his fellow sixth-century intellectuals of composing histories that demonstrated a ‘flagrant disregard for the truth and no concern for historical accuracy’, in contrast, complimented Procopius for his precision and reliability.67 So too did Agathias compliment Procopius for his encyclopaedic knowledge, only half jesting that Procopius ‘had read 61 Treadgold, Early Byzantine Historians, pp. 370-376. 62 For the popularity of military matters and the praise of military men in a variety of literary genres in the sixth century, see Whately, ‘Militarization’. On later Byzantines’ tendency to refer to the Wars ‘as the campaigns of Belisarius’ and not the ‘wars of Justinian’, see Whately, Battles and Generals, p. 5. 63 For this likely audience, see Treadgold, Early Byzantine Historians, p. 189; Croke, ‘Historiographical Audience’, p. 33. For early Byzantine generals’ ability to read Greek and Latin military texts, see Whately, ‘The Genre and Purpose of Military Manuals’. 64 Croke, ‘Historiographical Audience’, p. 32. Cf. Greatrex, ‘Perceptions of Procopius’, p. 81. 65 For the readability of Procopius’ Greek, see Treadgold, Early Byzantine Historians, p. 226. 66 Evans, Power Game in Byzantium, pp. 213-214. Proc. Wars 1.24.22-41, 2.12.20-30, 6.5.24-27. 67 Agath. Histories preface 16-22 (trans. Frendo).

Will the Real Procopius Please Stand Up


practically every historical work ever written’.68 Menander the guardsman, who continued Agathias’ history, expressed similar sentiments, praising Procopius’ achievements in reverent terms: I am not able, nor do I wish, to hold up a candle before such eloquence as his. I will be satisfied to busy myself with my own little enterprise and harken to the poet Ascra when he says that the man who competes against those who are stronger is a fool and out of his wits.69

This praise was not limited to secular historians. The sixth-century ecclesiastical historian Evagrius, who paraphrased large sections of the Wars for his own history, spoke with great admiration: ‘Procopius has set forth most assiduously and elegantly what was done by Belisarius, when he commanded the Eastern forces and by the Romans and Persians when they fought each other’.70 The regard in which contemporary historians held him and his popularity amongst an influential segment of Byzantine society throughout the long span of Byzantium’s existence indicates that his history was considered not only accurate, but appealed to Byzantine tastes. Modern historians have mostly echoed these sentiments. Warren Treadgold comments wryly, ‘It cannot be mere coincidence that the best preserved history from the early Byzantine period is also the best’.71

Procopius’ Oeuvre Let us now turn to Procopius’ writings. Unlike most late antique historians, all three of Procopius’ works, the Wars, the Secret History, and the Buildings, have come down to us in full, thus providing a precious lens through 68 Agath. Histories 4.26.4 (trans. Frendo). 69 Men. Prot. frag. 14.2 (trans. Blockley). As Blockley notes (Menander the Guardsman, p. 270, n. 172), some of this respect on the part of Menander may be attributed to the author’s selfdeprecation, which was typical in ancient histories. This lavish praise of Procopius by Menander, however, appears heartfelt. 70 Evagr. HE 4.12 (trans. Michael Whitby) Admittedly, as Michael Whitby points out (Evagrius, Intro., pp. 31-32), the rhetor Evagrius shifts the focus of Procopius’ secular military narrative to better highlight the providential aspects of the episodes he borrows to better f it his genre. 71 Treadgold, Early Byzantine Historians, p. 226. Cf. Michael Whitby, ‘The Greatness of Procopius’. Not all modern scholars consider Procopius to be a ‘great’ historian or intellectual; see, for example, the criticisms in Averil Cameron, Procopius, pp. 86, 241. And more generally, Kouroumali, ‘Procopius and the Gothic War’.


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which to view the seminal reign of Justinian.72 Procopius has received a great deal of attention in the past fifteen years, with superb monographs by a number of talented scholars that deal exclusively or partly with the historian and his main works.73 Anthony Kaldellis (Procopius of Caesarea, 2004), Dariusz Brodka (Die Geschichtsphilosophie, 2004), and Henning Börm (Prokop und die Perser, 2007) provide thorough reviews of the earlier literature and stimulating, if at times opposing, ideas on Procopius’ religion, methods, intentions, and merits as a historian. Warren Treadgold’s short study (Early Byzantine Historians, 2007) provides a sound summary of the content of the Wars, as well as some interesting if somewhat speculative insights into Procopius’ possible creative process. Conor Whately’s recent study (Battles and Generals, 2016) offers a commentary on the literary and practical aspects of Procopius’ battle descriptions. David Parnell (Justinian’s Men, 2017) leans heavily upon Procopius to examine the complex web of social networks in Justinian’s armies. To these monographs one must make note of three recent edited volumes dedicated to Procopius.74 Finally, special mention must be made of Brian Croke’s masterful examination on the long and winding road from the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Byzantine manuscripts of Procopius’ the Wars, the Secret History, and the Buildings to their many modern editions in many languages.75 Add to these an ever-growing mountain of secondary material dealing with Procopius, and one truly begins to appreciate that we have entered a fecund period for Procopian studies. Nor does this frenzied activity show any signs of abating. One might then ask, why the sudden surge of interest in Procopius? We might attribute some of the current fascination with Procopius to a recent 72 If Procopius had acted on his plan (Wars 8.25.13) to write an ecclesiastical history, we might have been even more confused about just who was the ‘real’ Procopius. Treadgold (Early Byzantine Historians, p. 226) believes that, reflecting the military successes of the early 550s, the ecclesiastical history ‘would have been more favourable to Justinian than those of Secret History, and perhaps even those in The Wars. Opposing this view, Kaldellis speculates (‘The Date and Structure of Procopius’ Secret History’) ‘that it probably would have been unconventional for the genre’ and would have been written ‘in the spirit of the Secret History’. Signes Codoñer, ‘Dating and Genre in Procopius’ works’, p. 3, is sceptical that Procopius ever seriously planned to write an ecclesiastical history. As is Evans, Power Game in Byzantium, p. 240, n. 15. 73 For thorough and thoughtful rundowns and critiques of Procopian scholarship in the last twenty-five years, see Greatrex, ‘Recent Work on Procopius’; ‘Perceptions of Procopius’; ‘Work on Procopius Outside the English-Speaking World’. 74 Lillington-Martin and Turquois, eds., Procopius of Caesarea; Greatrex and Janniard, Le Monde de Prokope/ The World of Procopius; Meier and Montinaro, Brill’s Companion to Procopius. 75 Croke, ‘Procopius, from Manuscripts to Books’.

Will the Real Procopius Please Stand Up


curiosity with Justinian and late antique and Byzantine historiography more generally.76 An abundance of new scholarly journals and social media feeds suggests that the number of academics and members of the educated public fascinated by Late Antiquity and Byzantium is growing. This attention has become even more pronounced in the past decade. Averil Cameron suspects that this popularity may reflect a ‘return to historiography and narrative political and military history’ and a ‘shift away from the broader cultural and religious emphasis of much recent writing on late antiquity’.77 I would add that in a modern world increasingly interested in both how empires collapse or recover, Justinian’s rebuilding of a purportedly fallen Roman Empire has reminded a wider audience of the longevity of the Roman state, especially when seen from a Constantinoplian perspective.78 Indeed, Justinian’s role in reaffirming Constantinople’s position at the heart of an economic and cultural network that connected Asia, Europe, and Africa offers an instructive example of how a powerful leader of the Church and the state can wield religious and political rhetoric to reignite the flames of imperial revival from the embers of defeat.79 It must be pointed out, however, that this increased interest in Byzantium and its historians also has more sinister origins. It is no mere coincidence that in a new millennium, which has seen increased conflict between Christian and Muslims, in Byzantine studies we have seen a turn away from cultural and religious approaches and a return to an interest in Byzantine politics, identity, and warfare. An oft-times malicious fascination with the medieval crusades and the subsequent ‘rediscovery’ by the alt-right of a formerly ‘Christian’ Middle East has led naturally to an increased interest in the longest lasting and most potent Christian power in the region, Byzantium.80 Though most scholars and politicians in the West do not take the idea found in social media feeds of Christians regaining Istanbul seriously, it functions 76 Greatrex, ‘Perceptions of Procopius’, p. 79. 77 Averil Cameron, ‘Writing about Procopius’, p. 13. 78 A topic which is vibrantly addressed in Kaldellis, Byzantine Republic. 79 For example, Ferguson, Colossus. On how a recent interest in Chinese and Central Eurasian history has galvanized increased interest in medieval Byzantium, see Frankopan, The Silk Roads. Some of the recent fascination with Justinian’s Byzantium may also stem from associations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, on which see Christou, ‘The Byzantine History of Putin’s Russian Empire’,, accessed 10 May 2019. 80 On the alt-right’s fascination with Byzantium, see Luke O’Brian, ‘My Journey to the Center of the Alt-Right’,, accessed 10 May 2019. Goldwyn, ‘Byzantium in the American Alt-Right Imagination’.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

as potent propaganda for leaders like the current Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan by which to whip up political support and repress the memory of Byzantium in Turkey.81

Historiographical Debates Interest in Justinian, and Procopius’ account of his seminal reign, is not new. Historians have long portrayed the sixth century as a transitional age. Within this paradigm, Procopius has been seen as the last great Roman historian, and symbolic of a profound shift from the ‘rationality’ of the classical past to the ‘barbarity’ of the early Middle Ages.82 Nineteenth- and early twentiethcentury historians, lamenting the ‘fall’ of the Roman Empire and what they considered to be the onset of the ‘Dark Ages’, praised Procopius as the last bastion of rationality in an increasingly backward and irrational world.83 Attempting to draw comparisons between the works and eras of Procopius and Thucydides, W.H. Parks insisted that Procopius lived in a dying world, lamenting: ‘We find Thucydides living in the very atmosphere of freedom, in the springtime of the world’s life and thought; behold Procopius, on the other hand, living at a time when no one dared to call his life, or even his thought his own’.84 In A History of the Later Roman Empire, J.B. Bury claimed that Procopius’ Christianity was a mere veneer: ‘In fact Procopius was at core, in the essence of his spirit, a pagan: Christianity, assented to by his lips and his understanding, was alien to his soul, like a half known foreign language’. These historians, who praised the Wars for its ‘rationality’, placed more intellectual value on it and tended to separate it from both the Buildings and the Secret History. The Buildings was dismissed as a lesser work, and its fawning account of Justinian and his reign was perceived as a typical panegyric, with little historical value. The Secret History, with its virulent attacks on Justinian and Belisarius and its obsession with the 81 See, for example, accessed 9 May 2019 82 Some object to labelling late antique historians like Procopius as ‘classicising’, see Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, p. 34; Brodka, Die Geschichtsphilosophie, p. 7. I would concur with Henning Börm’s retort (‘Genesis of the Anecdota’, p. 324, n. 143) that while this observation by Kaldellis and Brodka ‘is basically correct, however, I do not use the term ‘classicizing’ in a pejorative sense but simply to state that the historiographical tradition was particularly important for these authors’. 83 On this traditional view, see Goffart, Narrators of Barbarian History, p. 13. 84 Parks, ‘Some Suggestions’, p. 41, quoted in Evans, Procopius, p. 132.

Will the Real Procopius Please Stand Up


empress Theodora’s purported sexual depravity, was described as either a fraud or the result of Procopius’ disillusionment, and therefore discounted as unrelated to the other two works. Until he changed his mind in the 1920s, Bury argued that it was ‘almost impossible to believe that Procopius, the author of the [Wars], would ever have used the exaggerated language in which the writer of the Secret History pours out vials of wrath upon Justinian’.85

A Christian Procopius Beginning in the late 1940s, however, historians started to acknowledge Procopius’ Christian faith. Glanville Downey, who traced Christian influences in Procopius’ works, nonetheless still defined Procopius as a fringe Christian, proclaiming ‘The way in which Procopius writes makes it very hard indeed to decide whether he was an unbeliever, a skeptic, or a Christian of detached and possibly somewhat cynical opinions’. Put slightly differently, Downey concludes hedgingly that ‘Procopius may well have been a Christian of the independent and skeptical sort which seems to have existed, apparently tolerated, or at least not seriously molested by the orthodox believers’.86 Building upon Averil Cameron’s pathbreaking article, ‘The “Scepticism” of Procopius’ (1966), in Procopius (1972), James Evans further refuted the assertion that ‘Procopius was a half pagan’ whose thoughts reflected ‘a pre-Christian World’. Instead Evans argued: ‘he [Procopius] may have borrowed vocabulary from the Periclean age, but the substance belonged to the sixth century after Christ’.87 In Procopius and the Sixth Century (1985), Averil Cameron warns us not to be fooled by Procopius’ ‘seductively classical appearance. For beneath the surface is a set of assumptions much more closely in line with the rest of his society than his classicism might suggest’.88 I agree. Despite Procopius’ reputation as a classicising historian, unquestionably some of the themes in Procopius’ writings would have bewildered Herodotus and Thucydides. Foremost of these novelties were Christian influences upon his works. Despite his attempts to adhere to restrictions required of his chosen genre of classicising history, my sense is that Procopius believed in the reality of the Christian message. He openly states his belief that Jesus was the son of 85 Bury, A History of the Later Roman Empire, vol. 1., pp. 178, 364. 86 Downey, ‘Paganism and Christianity in Procopius’, pp. 91, 102. 87 Evans, Procopius, p. 80. 88 Averil Cameron, Procopius, p. 32.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

God.89 His writings also expose the reality of a highly Christianised world: a place where holy relics, Christian bishops, holy men, monks, angels, and demons all played an essential part in peoples’ daily lives.90 While some of the attention to holy men and miracles in the Persian War may be derivative, Procopius’ reliance on these accounts in his writings indicates that both he and his audience were interested in the deeds of Christian heroes and theological themes.91 Though Procopius resolutely avoided non-classical terms, the membrane between his classicising language and the world around him was very thin indeed.92 This Christian reality consistently seeps into the nooks and crannies of the Wars. In a history that primarily related the deeds of military men, Procopius also drew attention in the Wars to many examples that suggest that, even without the help of divine intervention, Christian men could triumph over their enemies by showing humility and practising nonviolence.93 In an episode taken from an earlier account of the Persian invasion of Syria in 503, Procopius explains the role played by bishops in protecting their communities from destruction. Where typical pagan Roman heroes had relied on their courage and mastery of arms, Procopius promoted the deeds of the new Christian heroes who relied on humility and a fearlessness in the face of death. The historian described how the bishop of Tella-Constantina, Bar-Hadad, whom Procopius indicated was a ‘just man and especially beloved by God’, attempted to keep the Persian shah Cabades from sacking Constantia (modern Viransehir) by offering him figs, bread, and wine. Bar-Hadad pleaded for the general to show mercy to the city, pointing out that it had no soldiers defending it, only its ‘inhabitants 89 Proc. Wars 2.12.22 (trans. Dewing), ‘But about that time Jesus, the Son of God, was in body and moving among the men of Palestine, showing manifestly by the fact that he never sinned at all, and also by his performing even things impossible, that he was the Son of God in truth; for he called the dead and raised them up as if from sleep, and opened the eyes of men born blind, and cleansed those whose whole bodies were covered with leprosy, and released those whose feet were maimed, and cured all other diseases which are called by physicians incurable’. On this passage as firm evidence of Procopius’ sincere Christian faith, see Averil Cameron, ‘The “Scepticism” of Procopius’, p. 469. Compare, however, with Kaldellis’ contention (‘Procopius’ Persian War’, p. 271) that this statement of belief should not be taken at face value since Procopius ‘lived in an age when all were required by law to profess Christianity in order to hold a position’. 90 Full discussion in Wood, ‘Being Roman’. 91 An apt point made by Greatrex, Rome and Persia at War, p. 62. 92 On Procopius’ avoidance of non-classical terms—and especially Christian modernisms, see Averil Cameron, ‘The “Scepticism” of Procopius’, pp. 470-471. 93 The literature concerning the rise and popularity of these Christian ‘heroes’ in Late Antiquity is vast, for some fine introductions to the topic, see Peter Brown, ‘Holy Men’; Goehring, Ascetics, Society, and the Desert; Noble and Head, Soldiers of Christ.

Will the Real Procopius Please Stand Up


who were a pitiable folk’. Cabades not only spared the city but presented the priest with the food supplies that he had saved for the siege.94 At times, however, even the local clergy’s bravery was not enough to save a city from the enemy’s wrath. On these occasions, the populace needed to depend upon the ultimate Christian weapon: the holy relic. When the citizens of Apamea heard that Chosroes sought to conquer their city in 540, they made a desperate plea to the local clergy that they be given one final chance to see the city’s most cherished holy relic: a part of Christ’s cross.95 Procopius related that as soon as they fell on their knees to view the cross, a miracle occurred: Then indeed something occurred there mightier than description or faith. For as the priest was carrying and displaying the piece of wood, from above him trailed fiery flame, and part of the roof above him glowed with an unaccustomed light. While the priest slowly walked throughout the church, the flame followed him, always keeping guard upon the roof. So, the people of Apamea, enraptured by the miracle, rejoicing and astounded, now felt reassured that their deliverance was already assured.96

One must note that this marvel did not prevent Chosroes from capturing the city. In fact, like most of the Eastern cities during the Persian invasion, Apamea’s citizens surrendered without a fight and paid off the Persian army with a bribe.97 Nonetheless, things could have been much worse. Making this exact point, Procopius proclaims, ‘I believe that he [Chosroes] would not have hesitated from enslaving and plundering the entire city had some 94 Proc. Wars 2.13.14-15. Cf. Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite, Chron. 284-286. Trombley and Watt (Chronicle of Pseudo-Joshua, p. 74, n. 359) find it unlikely that Cabades would have handed over food and supplies to Bar-Hadad, believing instead that Procopius had picked up the story after it was put into circulation by Chosroes I to justify his invasion of Syria in 540. For the increasingly significant role Syrian bishops played in boosting the morale of the besieged populations during the war between Persia and Byzantium 502-506, see Trombley and Watt, ‘Introduction’ to The Chronicle of Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite, pp. xlviii-xlix. 95 Anthony Kaldellis counters plausibly (‘Procopius’ Persian War’, pp. 271-273) that Procopius’ emphasis on the role of miracles, holy men, and bishops’ role in protecting the native populations during the Persians plundering of Syria may represent an implicit criticism of Justinian’s failure to have properly defended Syria in the first place. Even if so, it does not necessarily follow that Procopius did not believe in the effectiveness of these Christian responses. 96 Proc. Wars 2.11.17-19. Cf. the eyewitness account in Evag. HE 4.26, where the miracle episode formed one of his earliest memories. 97 A point emphasised (‘Procopius’ Persian War’, p. 272) by Kaldellis in the case of Apamea and Edessa.


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divine power not taken steps to prevent it’.98 Adding to this sentiment, Procopius later declares unequivocally that ‘God had saved Apamea’.99 As we can sense in the statements above, for Procopius, God plays an important if incomprehensible role in shaping the secular realm.100 A further example of his conviction may be seen when Procopius tried to comprehend God allowing the Persians to sack the empire’s third largest city, Antioch: ‘I am unable to understand why indeed it should be the will of God to exalt on high the fortunes of a man or a place and then cast them down and destroy them for no cause which appears to us. For it is wrong to say that with Him all things are not always done with reason’.101 Averil Cameron argues that this passage, which some historians have used to suggest Procopius’ cynicism towards Christianity, on the contrary ‘is a statement of uncomprehending faith’.102 As Peter Van Nuffelen adds, such sentiments concerning the inability of humankind to ‘grasp God’s nature’ ought not to be used as ‘evidence of disbelief or scepticism’ on the part of Procopius. To the contrary, it represented a pervasive idea in the theological debates of his day.103 The special rapport between the emperors and the spiritual realm may be further explored in Procopius’ description of the saints interceding to save Justinian’s life. When the emperor fell seriously ill, two Syrian saints, St. Cosmas and St. Damian, ‘came to him in a vision’ and healed his malady.104 Procopius presented the emperor not as a God, but merely as a mortal man reliant like any supplicant on divine intervention for survival. God did not give His protection unconditionally. Procopius explained that God felt compelled to assist Byzantine emperors when they built magnificent churches: It was in requital for this honour which the emperor showed them that these Apostles appeared to men on this occasion. For when the emperor is pious, divinity walks not far from human affairs, but is inclined to mingle with men and to take delight in associating with them.105 98 Proc. Wars 2.11.25, οἶμαι δ ̓ ἂν αὐτὸν καὶ τὴν πόλιν ὅλην ἀνδραποδίσασθαί τε καὶ ληίσασθαι οὐκ ἂν ἀποκνῆσαι, εἰ μή τι θεῖον αὐτὸν ἐκ τοῦ ἐμφανοῦς διεκώλυσεν. On this point, and for a discussion of this passage, see Averil Cameron, ‘The “Scepticism” of Procopius’, p. 468. 99 Proc. Wars 2.11.28, ὁ θεός, Ἀπάμειαν διεσώσατο. 100 Brodka, Die Geschichtsphilosophie, pp. 41-44. 101 Proc. Wars 2.10.4 (trans. Dewing). 102 Averil Cameron, Procopius, p. 117. For congruencies between Procopius’ attitudes here and those of Boethius in his Consolations of Philosophy, see Murray, ‘Procopius and Boethius’, p. 113. 103 Van Nuffelen, ‘Wor(l)ds of Procopius’, p. 45. 104 Proc. Buildings 1.6.5. 105 Proc. Buildings 1.4.23-4 (trans. Dewing).

Will the Real Procopius Please Stand Up


This passage suggests that when an emperor acted justly, the saints and God prevailed on earth, yet, if the emperor was unjust, the saints and God would depart, leaving the Byzantine populace at the mercy of demons.106 For Christians within Justinian’s realm, it was logical to assume that if a just emperor relied on God’s and the saints’ supernatural help to promote his reign, then an unjust emperor must have another mystical form of support: demons. As the Buildings and the Secret History demonstrate, powerful imperial couples could be a force for good or evil in the world. Procopius in the Buildings describes a magnificent mosaic decorated on the Chalke Gate entrance to the imperial palace in Constantinople in 538,107 which unfortunately no longer exists, depicting Justinian and Theodora celebrating the Roman Empire’s freeing of North Africa and Italy from the barbarian yoke of the Vandals and of the Goths while surrounded by adoring senators whose ‘faces convey joyful exaltation’.108 This homage to Justinian’s intervention in the West is famously inverted in the Secret History to reveal instead an imperial couple motivated by greed and a blood-thirsty malice for the destruction of the noble senators and the enslavement of humankind. In this sharp invective, Procopius also concluded that the most potent players in the Byzantine Empire dwelled in the spiritual realm. While Procopius described both Justinian and Theodora’s evil scheming as resulting from their sordid characters, he had a tough time attributing all of their ‘crimes’ to their own actions: Therefore, to me and also to many of us these two never seemed to be human beings at all but rather murderous demons of some kind, or as the poets would say, ‘a baneful pair they were for all mortal men’, who conspired together for the purpose of destroying all the nations and the works of men as quickly and efficiently as possible. They put on human form, thereby becoming man-demons [ἀνθρωποδαίμονες], and in this way demolished the entire world.109 106 As depicted in Proc. Secret History 30.34. 107 For this probable date for the installation of the mosaic, see Mal. Chron. 18.85. 108 Proc. Buildings 1.10.16-20 (trans. Dewing), ἐφ’ ἑκάτερα μὲν πόλεμός τέ ἐστι καὶ μάχη, καὶ ἁλίσκονται πόλεις παμπληθεῖς, πὴ μὲν Ἰταλίας, πὴ δὲ Λιβύης· καὶ νικᾷ μὲν βασιλεὺς Ἰουστινιανὸς ὑπὸ στρατηγοῦντι Βελισαρίῳ, ἐπάνεισι δὲ παρὰ τὸν βασιλέα, τὸ στράτευμα ἔχων ἀκραιφνὲς ὅλον ὁ στρατηγός, καὶ δίδωσιν αὐτῷ λάφυρα βασιλεῖς τε καὶ βασιλείας, καὶ πάντα τὰ ἐν ἀνθρώποις ἐξαίσια. Κατὰ δὲ τὸ μέσον ἑστᾶσιν ὅ τε βασιλεὺς καὶ ἡ βασιλὶς Θεοδώρα, ἐοικότες ἄμφω γεγηθόσι τε καὶ νικητήρια ἑορτάζουσιν ἐπί τε τῷ Βανδίλων καὶ Γότθων βασιλεῖ, δορυαλώτοις τε καὶ ἀγωγίμοις παρ’ αὐτοὺς ἥκουσι. 109 Proc. Secret History (trans. Kaldellis) 12.14-16. As Conor Whately has pointed out to me (personal communication), since Justinian did not actively campaign as emperor, it seems


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

This assessment made perfect theological sense to Procopius and his prospective audience. A mere mortal man and woman could never have stood up to God or the Apostles; therefore, in Procopius’ eyes, a logical explanation for their success was that the two had become ‘man-demons’ who had thwarted God and led not just East Rome, but the wider Mediterranean world to ruin. Historians are divided on the extent of Procopius’ belief that Justinian and Theodora had been taken over by demons. Some see it as sincere,110 whilst others perceive it to be more of a literary tactic, whereby Procopius subverts Justinian’s propaganda promoting the emperor as God’s vehicle on earth.111 As Geoffrey Greatrex cogently comments, ‘It is not necessary to infer that the historian believed in the literal truth of his rhetoric [….] The only way therefore to counter the barrage of excessive claims put out by the imperial authorities was to turn it on its head’.112 In a society in which religious men had gained ever-increasing authority, it became essential for Justinian to stress his own morality together with his essential role as a mediator between the realms of heaven and earth. This reliance on heavenly authority put Justinian and future Byzantine emperors in a difficult position. John Haldon has suggested that by accepting their inferior position in the divine hierarchy and the importance of divine support in secular affairs, imperial governments had become more susceptible to attacks on their political authority.113 The Secret History offers concrete evidence of this new reality. Despite the largely rhetorical intent behind the demonology in the episode above, we should not, however, underestimate both Procopius’ and his audiences’ belief in the porous nature of the boundaries between heaven and earth and the possibility that the imperial couple could be taken over by evil spirits. While I believe that there is primarily a symbolic and non-literal intent behind Procopius’ depiction of Justinian and Theodora’s demonic possession, we should not dismiss it as pure burlesque.114 What makes the invective in the Secret History so effective in a sixth-century context is its blend of the rhetorical and the literal. While some of Procopius’ likely that in the Buildings Procopius chose instead to showcase Justinian’s role in protecting the empire from barbarian threats by fortifying its border regions. 110 Treadgold, Early Byzantine Historians, pp. 210-213. 111 Brodka, Die Geschichtsphilosophie, pp. 32-39. 112 Greatrex, ‘Perceptions of Procopius’, p. 101. The Secret History is rife with such inversions. Seen in this way, the restoration of imperial authority, which Justinianic propaganda—including Procopius in parts of the Wars—depicted as freeing the lost West Roman provinces from the tyranny of ‘barbarian’ rule, is simply inverted in the Secret History to portray the reconquest as a systematic enslavement of the Roman and non-Roman peoples of North Africa and Italy. 113 Haldon, Byzantium and the Seventh Century, pp. 365-366. 114 Cf. the similar view in Averil Cameron, ‘The “Scepticism” of Procopius’, p. 474.

Will the Real Procopius Please Stand Up


contemporary readers (if it had become available) may have recognised the reversal of the imperial couple’s pious official imagery, other more devout members of his audience probably took the accusation literally.115 Indeed, it must be emphasised that one needs to be careful not to assume that a modern audience’s reaction to the bombastic rhetoric in the Secret History can be used to extrapolate how Procopius’ contemporary readers might have read the text.116 One finds an example from the Buildings that highlights Procopius’ tendency to interweave the ‘practical’ with the ‘spiritual’. As Procopius makes plain, saints did not only help esteemed individuals like the emperor but could also be called upon to help more humble Byzantines. Procopius described how Justinian’s dedication of shrines to the holy martyrs throughout Constantinople attracted many pilgrims: When people find themselves assailed by illnesses which are beyond the control of physicians, in despair of human assistance they take refuge in the one hope left them and boarding the flat boats they are carried up the bay to this very church. And as they enter its mouth, at once they see the shrine as on an acropolis, priding itself in the gratitude of the emperor and permitting them to enjoy the hope, which the shrine offers.117

One must note that Procopius highlights here that seeking out divine aid remained a last step, taken only out of desperation. He suggested that physicians were the first people to be consulted when one experienced a medical problem, yet he does not doubt the power of the miraculous to heal the truly needy. Here we have the dilemma of a classically educated yet Christian man. Procopius believed in divine power and in the authenticity of miracles, but he also valued established scientific tradition. It is important, however, to recognise that by taking this stance, Procopius followed closely the contentions of devout Christians like Augustine of Hippo and Gregory of Tours. We should not interpret this cynicism as a sign of Procopius’ irreligiosity. Ian Wood has shown that most early medieval Christians valued 115 See a similar description of Justinian as a ‘beast’ in Evag. HE 4.32, discussed in Evans, Power Game in Byzantium, p. 241, n. 31. 116 Peter Heather (Rome Resurgent, pp. 16-17) contends that since the sexual escapades of the Theodora we know from the Secret History provokes laughter in his students, it probably evoked a similar response in Byzantine readers. With differing attitudes towards gender and other social norms than our own, I believe that Byzantine audiences would have read this text differently and less whimsically than Heather supposes. 117 Proc. Buildings 1.6.7-9.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

both rational and miraculous solutions for medical dilemmas. Even devout Christians, such as Gregory of Tours, when confronted by illness, first sought to cure themselves by scientific means, and only if this failed, resorted to the miraculous power of relics.118In the Buildings Procopius paints a respectful vision of Christian monks: On this Mt. Sinai live monks whose life is a kind of rehearsal of death, and they enjoy without fear the solitude, which is very precious to them. Since these monks had nothing to crave for they are superior to all human desires and have no interest in possessing anything or in caring for their bodies, nor do they seek pleasure in any other thing whatever; the Emperor Justinian built them a church which he dedicated to the Mother of God, so that they might be enabled to pass their lives therein praying and holding services.119

With its praise of austere living and emphasis on the superior self-control of Christian monks, this quotation could be found in any ecclesiastical history from Late Antiquity or the Middle Ages. That it comes from Procopius’ writings highlights the importance of not underestimating the impact of Christianity upon his works. Not everyone, however, accepts this portrait of Procopius as a believing Christian. Building on trends in recent historiography that paint a stirring image of the reign of Justinian as a ‘tyranny’ along the same lines of twentieth-century megalomaniacs like Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Pol Pot,120 in a sharp and provocative revision—Procopius of Caesarea (2004)—Anthony Kaldellis describes Procopius not only as a non-Christian, but as a dissident Platonist. Kaldellis continues by praising Procopius as ‘the greatest thinker of his age [who] was perhaps the most principled enemy of religious bigotry the Christian world had yet seen’. For Kaldellis, Procopius’ aff irmation of traditional Christian beliefs in his writings functioned merely as a cleverly fashioned disguise by which to conceal his ‘true’ views concerning the Christian God, which, indeed, Kaldellis 118 Ian Wood, ‘How Popular was Medieval Devotion?’, vol14/14ch1.html. For the late antique Church’s interest in medical matters and Augustine of Hippo’s belief in scientific and miraculous cures, see Cilliers, Roman North Africa, pp. 12-13. Cf. Kaldellis, ‘Hagiography of Doubt’, pp. 467-468. 119 Proc. Buildings 5.8.4-6 (trans. Dewing). 120 For just two examples, see Honoré, Tribonian, pp. 28-30; Heather, Restoration of Rome, p. 203. For the growing intolerance found in Justinian’s reign, see now Bell, Social Conflict. See, however, the sage caveats in Greatrex, ‘Perceptions of Procopius’, pp. 84-87.

Will the Real Procopius Please Stand Up


believes were closer to those of ‘the Enlightenment philosophers’ than to those Christians of his own day. Kaldellis concludes that ‘the deism of both Procopius and the Enlightenment was born of disgust at the havoc that theological enthusiasm wreaked in an otherwise civilized world’.121 Procopius was not alone in his discontent, but inhabited a literary underworld that rejected the tyranny of Justinian and his vision of strict religious orthodoxy.122 More recently Kaldellis has placed the wider field of Byzantine cultural and religious studies on alert, contending that many scholars in these fields have been blinded by what he sees as their ‘obsessions’ with a ‘Christian sixth century’, where ‘Christianity is not the object of study […] but rather it is its very framework’.123 Kaldellis rightly cautions that if we only evaluate late antique intellectuals via the lens of rigorist Christian faith we miss ‘the psychological complexity of life in Byzantium’.124 Kaldellis is surely correct in his assertion that we should not see sixth-century Byzantium as a monolithically Christian world where Christianity suffused basically everything—a point on which I personally suspect that many Byzantinists would agree.125 Byzantium was a polyphonic society. Procopius offers us a vision of a world where holy men and priests walked the streets alongside circus faction members more intent on attending that day’s races or visiting one of Constantinople’s many brothels rather than listening to a sermon or discussing theology at the bookstalls in front of the Basileios Stoa.126 The writings of early Byzantine authors like Procopius and Agathias unquestionably demonstrate a subtle and nuanced approach to theological issues and Christian belief. Yet some of the same may be said of ecclesiastical historians like Socrates, Sozomen, and Evagrius; we should not sever Procopius from this intellectual milieu. Certainly we need to be careful when we interpret Procopius as a bold outlier, when much of 121 Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, pp. 168, 172-173. 122 For the possibility of these ‘dissident’ circles, see Kaldellis, ‘Last Laugh’; Bell, Social Conflict; Bjornlie, Politics and Tradition. 123 Kaldellis, ‘Epilogue’, p. 265. 124 Kaldellis, ‘Hagiography of Doubt’, p. 462. This view is not new, see, for example, Glanville Downey’s assertion (‘Paganism and Christianity in Procopius’, p. 101), ‘Paganism indeed was, in Procopius’ eyes, far from dead’. Cf. the powerful caveats found in Alan Cameron, Wandering Poets, pp. 255-286. 125 For a helpful overview of these debates over the survival of paganism in sixth-century Byzantium, see Smith, Greek Epigram, p. 16-17. 126 For the seedier side of Justinianic Constantinople, see Smith, Greek Epigram, pp. 103-138. On Justinian and Theodora’s attempt to crack down on Constantinople’s brothel owners, see Proc. Buildings 1.9.1-10. For these bookstalls and the large crowds that gathered in them to discuss theological issues, see Agath. Histories 2.29.2.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

what he proclaims about Providence, holy men, saints, and relics echoes the thoughts of those whose Christian beliefs are unquestioned.127 There is always the danger of reimagining Procopius in the image of either an earlier classical or a more modern age. While Procopius’ models are predominantly non-Christian, we ought not to see some sort of anti-Christian pagan worldview in his writings. Although Kaldellis’ stimulating and important revisionist views concerning Procopius and Byzantium more generally are not exactly a step back in time to the works of W.H. Parks, they suggest that some historians continue to perceive Procopius as a representative of a more ‘rational’ pre-Christian age. One thing these two opposing schools would probably agree on is the notion of seeing Procopius’ writings as works of literature as well as historical documents.128 Our understanding of Procopius has benefitted greatly from the literary turn in Byzantine studies. Certainly, scholars have taken note of the Wars’ literary character. Yet for some, Procopius’ excessive storytelling, frequent moralising, and heavy emphasis on a rather limited number of virtues and vices to describe his leading characters hinder attempts to discover these people’s actual personalities or to uncover the ‘real’ history of the age.129 It is true that Procopius could shift chronology and abandon verisimilitude in an effort to create a more dramatic narrative. Though his reliance on rhetoric and the need to tell a good story undeniably influence his writings, Procopius presents a picture of events, geography, and people that is largely corroborated by other contemporary textual sources as well as recent archeology and topographical studies.130 Procopius’ writings in fact are the primary, and at times the only, sources for events in the crucial reign of Justinian. In their accounts of the era, eminent historians such as J.B. Bury have paid Procopius the ultimate compliment by summarising large sections of the Wars, a practice that continues to this day in the works of scholars like Peter Heather.131 Disclosing his debt to Procopius, Heather comments in his most recent book, ‘there is one classicizing historian in particular who must stand centre stage in any account of Justinian and his regime, whose work both Agathias and Menander set themselves to continue: Procopius of Caesarea’.132 127 On which, see Van Nuffelen, Wor(l)ds of Procopius’, pp. 51-52. 128 Kaldellis, ‘Procopius’ Persian War’, p. 256; Averil Cameron, ‘Writing about Procopius’, p. 15. 129 Ljubarskij, ‘Quellenforschung’; Averil Cameron, Procopius, p. 12. 130 Lillington-Martin, ‘Procopius on the Struggle for Dara’. 131 Heather, Restoration of Rome; Rome Resurgent. 132 Heather, Rome Resurgent, p. 10.

Will the Real Procopius Please Stand Up


Dates The dating of Procopius’ three main works has long been the subject of vigorous debate. Understanding the chronology of Procopius’ oeuvre is important because, as Geoffrey Greatrex explains, ‘it affects our perception of the relationship between the works and the evolution of the historian’s thought’.133 Recently, however, some consensus has emerged. It is accepted that Procopius composed Books 1-7 of the Wars in the 540s, publishing them in 550/551. These f irst seven books are arranged by geographical theatre of war rather than chronologically. He completed Book 8, which covers developments in the East and the West from 550 to 553, in 554.134 Most scholars now date the present state of the Secret History to 550/551,135 though some still push for a later date ranging from 558/559.136 This date depends largely upon how one interprets Procopius’ assertion made in the Secret History that he was writing in the thirty-second year of Justinian’s reign.137 Proponents of the early date contend that Procopius means 518, since he points to Justinian being the true ruler during what most scholars see as his uncle Justin’s largely titular reign, while those who advocate the later date, count from the time of Justinian’s sole rule.138 The date of the Buildings is more contentious: scholars have offered possible dates of publication from 551 to 562.139 One fascinating new theory is that an early version was published to accompany the publication of Books 1-7 of the Wars in 550/551 and then an updated version containing more panegyric was published alongside Book 8 of the Wars in 554.140 I lean towards a date of 550 for the Secret History and 554 for the Buildings, which I believe was issued separately from the second installment of the Wars. I further suspect that Procopius died just before or shortly after this final publication. 133 Greatrex, ‘Perceptions of Procopius’, p. 103. 134 For just some of the arguments for and against the earlier and later dates for its proposed composition, see Averil Cameron, Procopius, pp. 8-11; Evans, ‘Dates of Procopius’ Works’, pp. 301320; Greatrex, ‘The Dates of Procopius’ Works’, pp. 101-114. 135 Kaldellis, ‘The Date and Structure of Prokopios’ Secret History’. 136 Scott, ‘Justinian’s Coinage’, pp. 215-221; Croke, ‘Procopius and the Secret History’, pp. 405-432. 137 Proc. Secret History 24.29. 138 Croke, ‘Justinian under Justin’, p. 55. 139 For a sound summary concerning these early and later dates, see Greatrex, ‘The Date of Procopius’ Buildings’. 140 Montinaro, ‘Power, Taste, and the Outsider’, pp. 191-206.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

Genre Let us close this chapter by returning to troubled waters. For the uninitiated, Procopius’ three works may appear either to have different authors or to be the work of one severely schizophrenic individual. In the Buildings, Procopius extols Justinian as God’s messenger on earth, leading the empire back to glory by rebuilding its cities, bolstering its fortresses, and glorifying its churches.141 In sharp contrast, as we saw earlier, in the Secret History Justinian appears as the ‘Lord of the Demons’, driving Byzantium to disaster through bloodthirsty military campaigns and an insatiable appetite for the Roman elites’ lands and wealth. The Wars takes the middle ground, combining candid criticisms and more positive assessments of the emperor and his military adventures in the East and the West. Some of these discrepancies stem from differences in genre. Unquestionably, like many well-educated intellectuals from Late Antiquity, Procopius could shift between rhetorical genres with ease. The Wars is a work of secular history whose primary subject is great men and great battles. The Secret History fuses a myriad of literary genres, including biography, invective, and satire, while in the Buildings, Procopius—while leaning heavily on panegyric—blends a unique combination of genres.142 As Jaś Elsner explains, ‘Within the framework of simultaneous panegyric, biography, protreptic, and geography, Procopius chooses buildings as his key instrument of argument’.143 To appreciate the differing shades of Procopius one therefore must comprehend the subtle and varied approaches of the author in all three works.144 Even so, Procopian scholars have begun to recognise that an understanding of genre does not supply the cipher by which to unlock the mystery of Procopius’ intellectual universe. Averil Cameron has stepped back from her earlier assumption that a key to comprehending Procopius’ writings lies in a deeper knowledge of their diverse genres.145 Instead, Cameron now believes that we must consider 141 Elsner, ‘Rhetoric of Buildings’, p. 46. 142 Warren Treadgold posits (Early Byzantine Historians, p. 209) that the Secret History’s ‘literary antecedents are not histories’ but were based partly on Procopius’ own speeches against defendants given in courts of 520s Constantinople. 143 Elsner, ‘Rhetoric of Buildings’, p. 39. However, as Averil Cameron cautions (‘Writing about Procopius’, p. 21, n. 12), we should not see the Buildings as just a work of literature, since if used with some caution, it offers a great deal of detailed information ‘on building work and sites’. On the role of panegyric in shaping imperial messaging to an emperor’s subjects, see Omissi, Emperors and Usurpers, pp. 41-55. 144 Mullet, ‘Madness of Genre’, p. 238. 145 Averil Cameron, ‘Conclusion’, p. 178.

Will the Real Procopius Please Stand Up


all three works as a whole, contending that ‘A genuinely literary approach to Procopius’ writings would start from an attempt to chart his writing strategies across all three works and within them’.146 It has even been recently suggested by Juan Signes Codoñer that ‘the three texts were in fact different sections of the same work published in instalments by Procopius’. While I see less unity among Procopius’ works than Cameron and Signes Codoñer, it is surely fundamental that if we are to make any sense of Procopius the historian and the man, we must start by understanding both the connections and disconnections among the Wars, the Secret History, and the Buildings.147 Anthony Kaldellis has offered a general critique of those seeking to interpret Procopius primarily through the lens of genre, arguing that ‘Contrary to what is implied in recent scholarship, genres do not write books. Authors do’.148 Kaldellis does, however, leave a place for genre to interpret the Buildings, since he sees it as panegyrical literature out of touch with what he considers to be Procopius’ ‘true’ attitudes and, in fact, sees in the Buildings implicit criticisms, a view which others have shared.149 I would agree with Averil Cameron, however, that it is problematic to reject the Buildings as wholly insincere while accepting hook, line, and sinker the attitudes found in the Secret History.150 Others question whether we should consider the Secret History apart from the Wars at all, since parts of it unquestionably follow closely the rhetoric, themes, and phraseology found at the close of Book 7 of the Wars. This issue divides scholars. And herein also lies the dilemma, since the lens through which one envisions the Secret History’s construction, purpose, and relationship to Procopius’ attitudes heavily influences how one construes the historian’s writings and his beliefs about the individuals and the events that shaped the world around him. Given this importance, before pushing ahead, let us examine the current debates and some scholars’ varying approaches to the Secret History. 146 Averil Cameron, Writing about Procopius’, p. 18. Cf. Averil Cameron, Procopius, pp. 106-107. 147 Turquois, ‘Technical Writing, Genre, and Aesthetic in Procopius’. For the view that a deep apocalyptic theme unites all three texts, see Murray, ‘Procopius and Boethius’, p. 115. 148 Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, p. 143. 149 Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, p. 51. For example, Downey, ‘Composition of Procopius’, p. 171; Evans, ‘Christianity and Paganism in Procopius’, p. 137. 150 Averil Cameron, ‘Writing about Procopius’, pp. 16, 21. I cannot agree, however, with Michael Angold’s contention (‘Procopius’ Portrait of Theodora’) that the monumental shift in attitude towards Justinian found in the Buildings reflects merely Procopius’ reconciliation with Justinian.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

Cistern or Safety Net The problem with the Secret History is real. When asked in a recent interview who she would like to meet from history, Averil Cameron replied, ‘Procopius, so that I could ask him why he wrote the Secret History and how his works relate to each other’.151 Some might be surprised by this answer, since most scholars and well-educated individuals familiar with Procopius and his oeuvre assume that the Secret History—though sensational and lurid—reflects what the historian truly wanted to put into the Wars, but could not, since to do so would have meant censure or even death.152 For this currently dominant school of thought, only Justinian’s stubborn longevity prevented Procopius from making the truth known to all. In line with this understanding is the belief that Procopius grew increasingly disillusioned with Belisarius and Justinian’s military campaigns as they bogged down in the 540s, which led to his strident rebuke of Belisarius/Antonina and Justinian/Theodora in the Secret History.153 The extent of Procopius’ disenchantment, however, is disputed. Though some Procopian scholars believe that by the mid-540s Procopius had ‘turned against the war machine of Justinian’, others are more cautious.154 Geoffrey Greatrex, for example, contends—to my mind correctly—that this disillusionment stemmed more from Procopius’ exasperation with the ‘incompetence and bungling of the generals assigned to the task’ of reclaiming Italy and North Africa, rather than the historian’s pacifist views and opposition to the military campaigns in the West.155 Nevertheless, despite disagreement over either the reasons behind his disgruntlement or the extent of his malaise, it is generally presumed that by the second half of the 540s Procopius had become—at the very least—disheartened with the progress of Justinian’s attempts at territorial expansion. This ‘Vietnam or Iraq war syndrome’156 then helps to explain why Procopius 151 History Today, ‘On the Spot: Averil Cameron’, spot-averil-cameron, accessed 15 March 2019. 152 For example, Kouroumali, ‘Procopius and the Gothic War’, p. 16. Kaldellis Procopius of Caesarea; Treadgold, Early Byzantine Historians, pp. 205-213. 153 See, for example, the comments in Honoré, Tribonian, pp. 8-21; Averil Cameron, Procopius, pp. 8, 15, 52-54; Moorhead, Justinian, pp. 171-172. Greatrex, ‘Perceptions of Procopius’, pp. 95-96. 154 Moorhead, ‘Totila the Revolutionary’, p. 382. Cf. Cesa, ‘La politica de Giustinianno’. Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea. 155 Greatrex, ‘Perceptions of Procopius’, p. 93. 156 One can note the prevalence of this thesis amongst scholars who had experienced the quagmire and aftermath of the Vietnam War. For this association with the American President George W. Bush’s second Iraq war, see Kaldellis, ‘Procopius’ Persian War’, p. 256.

Will the Real Procopius Please Stand Up


started work on the Secret History as a corrective to his more optimistic Wars. The death of Procopius’ nemesis Theodora, in 548, accelerated the process, explaining why aspects of his deep grievances found in the Secret History seep into the last half of Book 7 of the Wars, which was likely being written simultaneously.157 A series of events in the early 550s, however, conspired to forever prevent the Secret History’s production. In 550, the emperor’s cousin Germanus died, quashing Procopius’ hopes for a worthy replacement for Justinian. In addition, the military situation in Italy had improved dramatically. Though it would not be until the early 560s that Gothic resistance would be crushed completely, the East Roman general Narses’ decisive victories over the Goths in Italy in 552 provided Justinian with a needed propaganda boost. The situation on the ground in North Africa and Italy had improved markedly in the early 550s, which would certainly have undermined some of Procopius’ main complaints in the Secret History.158 With Germanus’ untimely death and the reconquest once again on the front foot, Procopius likely knew that Justinian was not going to be replaced any time soon. In fact, even if Justinian died of natural causes, he would have groomed a successor, who would build upon his legacy and certainly not support the views of his imperial predecessor as expressed in the Secret History.159 So, Procopius set the Secret History aside as ‘too dangerous to make public’, hiding it away.160 In a view that has gained much traction amongst Procopian scholars lately,161 Geoffrey Greatrex goes further, maintaining that the Secret History should not be considered as a separate genre (or genres) from the Wars, but as a cistern of material collected by Procopius in the hopes that these ‘truths’ could be integrated into the Wars if the emperor predeceased him. On the topic of genre, Greatrex expounds: 157 Treadgold, Early Byzantine Historians, p. 187. 158 This is not to understate the ongoing financial impact of decades of war, which led to an attempt by Justinian to debase the coinage in early 553. John Malalas (Chron. 18.117) tells us this reform led to public rioting in Constantinople, forcing Justinian to rescind the debasement. Malalas (Chron. 18.119) also describes an uprising in 556 of Samaritans and Jews in Procopius’ hometown of Caesarea against the Christian majority, which according to the author caused great consternation to many Romans in the East. 159 As I discuss in greater detail below, this is indeed exactly how the succession played out when Justinian died in 565. 160 For the dangerous, if not fatal, consequences for Procopius if the Secret History had been discovered by Justinian, see Averil Cameron, Procopius, p. 9. Greatrex, ‘Perceptions of Procopius’, p. 90. 161 For example, Whately, Battles and Generals, p. 40, n. 15; Kaldellis, ‘The Date and Structure of Procopius’ Secret History’.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

Procopius did not pigeon-hole what he had to say. Reserving criticism and invective for the Anecdota, classicizing history for the Wars, or panegyric for the Buildings. There is classicizing history in the Anecdota and invective in the Wars; and this is because the division between these two works is a contingent one, dependent on circumstance.162

Greatrex then adds more controversially that this process of integration may have already begun by 547; according to this hypothesis, incidents involving Theodora in the Wars, such as the key episode from the Persian War when Theodora and Antonina moved in unison against John the Cappadocian in 544, derived from the Secret History, and Theodora’s key role in John’s downfall was added to the Wars sometime between 547 and 551.163 Justinian’s continued survival forced Procopius to abandon the project, as Greatrex writes: ‘Procopius, of course, was unfortunate in not surviving the emperor whom he wished to attack […]’. Greatrex contends that if Justinian had predeceased Procopius, it would have allowed him to integrate the remainder of the Secret History into the Wars.164 This contention underestimates just how much political and military circumstances had shifted for Procopius and the East Romans in the early 550s. It is surely improbable that it was just Justinian’s continued survival that caused Procopius to abandon the Secret History in the middle of 550. Was it less likely that the aged emperor, who was at that time around seventy—ancient in Late Antiquity—was going to die then, as compared to earlier? Building upon Greatrex’s thesis by addressing this question, Juan Signes Codoñer contends that the reasoning behind the Secret History’s creation at the close of the 540s, and eventual abandonment in mid-550, may be traced to the fraught political climate in mid-sixth-century Constantinople.165 As he points out, in the Secret History Procopius always speaks of the emperor in the past tense, as though he was already dead. Justinian’s death is even a prerequisite for the publication of the work, since Procopius’ comment in the Prooimion that only the death of the leading actors of his history, which included Justinian, would make the work possible. For Signes Codoñer, the fact that Justinian’s cousin—the general Germanus—stands at the centre 162 For the complex and unique mixture of genres in the Secret History, see now Turquois, ‘Technical Writing, Genre and Aesthetic in Procopius’, pp. 219-220. 163 Greatrex, ‘The Composition of Procopius’ Persian Wars and John the Cappadocian’, pp. 1-13 and ‘Procopius the Outsider?’, pp. 215-228. 164 Greatrex, ‘Perceptions of Procopius’, p. 90. 165 Rather than cite items individually, the arguments below largely summarise the main conclusions found in Signes Codoñer, ‘Prokops “Anekdota” und Justinians Nachfolge’.

Will the Real Procopius Please Stand Up


of Procopius’ narrative offers us an essential clue on its intended audience and the reason behind its composition. He believes that Procopius hoped that Germanus would replace Justinian—through natural or unnatural means. Signes Codoñer shows that Procopius’ idealised portrait of Germanus in Book 7 of the Wars serves as the yin to the yang of Justinian’s dark image in the Secret History. Like Kaldellis, Signes Codoñer sees the Secret History as a conduit to the second half of Book 7 of the Wars, contending that the Secret History was aimed both at Germanus’ clique as well as those from Constantinople’s ruling elite opposed to Theodora.166 In Signes Codoñer’s opinion, antagonism towards Theodora had escalated during the 540s because of her more active political role in the wake of Justinian’s bouts of ill health during the decade. This increased political influence had seen the empress taking steps to promote the interests of her side of the family, while simultaneously thwarting the careers and marital fortunes of Germanus and his sons as well as interfering with marriage plans and political appointments of other leading nobles from Constantinople’s upper stratum. Signes Codoñer also contends that the empress might have had something to do with Justinian’s lack of focus on the Italian campaign throughout the 540s. Theodora’s death in June of 548, thus allowed Justinian to pivot politically and therefore thwart an assassination attempt by a group of Persarmenians who had recruited Germanus and his sons to join their plot. With Theodora out of the picture, Justinian drew closer to Germanus, a move that saw his cousin named as the commander of an impressively funded army that gathered in the Spring of 550— seeking to crush Gothic resistance once and for all. Signes Codoñer posits that this full-scale reconciliation between the cousins not only enabled Germanus’ marriage to Matasuentha, since Vitigis had died in 542, but also ushered in a period of political detente in which the works of Jordanes (Getica, Romana) and Procopius (Wars), which both contained tacit and explicit criticisms of the imperial couple and their floundering Italian campaign, could be published without fear of recrimination. Following the general lines of Greatrex’s thought that we should see the Wars and the Secret History as different versions of the same work, Signes Codoñer contends that much of the incendiary material from the Secret History was meant to be integrated into the close of Book 7, which would then lay the ideological groundwork for a new government led by Germanus.167 The hostile portrait of Justinian would therefore bookend the arrival of the 166 Kaldellis, ‘How Perilous Was it to Write History’, p. 50. 167 Recently elucidated further in Signes Codoñer, ‘Dating and Genre in Procopius’ Works’.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

romanticised Roman soldier-emperor, Germanus. The severe denigration of the imperial couple and their policies merely reflects the harsh reality surrounding the rhetoric of regime change in Late Antiquity.168 According to Signes Codoñer, contrasting a new emperor positively by highlighting the shortcomings of his predecessor was common in Byzantium, of which we have several examples, such as the propaganda against the iconoclasts or the Macedonian dynasty (ruled the Byzantine Empire from 867 to 1056) against the Amorians (or Phrygian dynasty who ruled from 820 to 867). Echoing the sentiments of other Byzantines, Procopius perhaps hoped that a Germanus-based dynasty would not only differ ideologically from Justinian’s but would turn its full attention to the faltering campaign in Italy. Germanus’ sudden death in the summer of 550 dashed Procopius’ hopes, so the historian dropped the work, never giving the nearly completed text a f inal polish. When Narses’ victories over the Goths made many of Procopius’ complaints moot—and with Justinian showing no signs of slowing down, Procopius laid the book aside, expecting one day to publish it if the emperor f inally died. Yet the opportunity never arose. Signes Codoñer concludes that even Justinian’s death in 565 allowed no opportunity for publication by whomever had a copy (or copies) of the work, since Justinian’s nephew Justin was the successor. Justin had linked himself intimately with the old regime by marrying a niece of Theodora, Sophia, who became the new empress. Sophia indeed would play a significant role throughout Justin’s reign. With Sophia ruling, therefore, the memory and figure of the puissant empress Theodora, who had died seventeen years previously, came to the fore again. The publication of the Secret History hence became unthinkable forever.169 Not everyone, however, is convinced that the Secret History can be so easily mined or to conclude that it reflected his genuine disillusionment with Belisarius, Justinian, and the military campaigns in the West. In a recent revision, Henning Börm proposes with conviction that the views expressed in the Secret History were merely Procopius’ attempt to ingratiate himself with a new ruling power in case Justinian died or was murdered, and therefore do not necessarily reflect the historian’s ‘true’ views at all.170 168 On the damnatio memoriae of the magister militum praesentalis and consul for 520, Vitalian, who was murdered—most likely at Justinian’s behest—in July 520, see Croke, ‘Justinian under Justin’, p. 35. 169 Contra Warren Treadgold’s supposition (Early Byzantine Historians, p. 192) that Procopius had ‘entrusted his Secret History to a loyal friend, who circulated it only after Justinian’s death in 565’. 170 Börm, ‘Genesis of the Anecdota’, pp. 305-345.

Will the Real Procopius Please Stand Up


Building upon and adjusting some of the arguments made by Signes Codoñer, Börm supposes that the Secret History’s hasty composition and incomplete state indicate that it was produced because Procopius feared a coup was inevitable, and in that event, he would need to quickly disassociate himself from Belisarius and Justinian’s inner circle. As we have seen, Procopius had risen to great heights in Justinian’s Constantinople. His services to Belisarius and Justinian had certainly not gone unrewarded. As Börm lays out, Procopius had attained at least the rank of a vir spectabilis, and thus was of senatorial status. Börm, moreover, supports the Suda’s assertion that Procopius had ultimately risen to become a vir illustris, which means that he had ‘a seat in the senate of Constantinople, which was restricted to the illustres under Justinian’.171 Using this evidence, Börm contends that there had been no break between Procopius and the general and the regime he had loyally served and thrived under. Some might ask why then Procopius openly chides Justinian and his campaigns of reconquest even in the Wars. Börm’s reply is that such censure merely followed the convention of historical writing.172 By carefully analysing the historiographical traditions preceding Procopius, Börm suggests that the reproaches of Justinian in the Wars primarily reflects expected literary requirements, and therefore Secret History’s polemical tone tells us very little about Procopius’ true feelings. To borrow Börm’s words: It should be stressed that, precisely because the ‘Kaiserkritik’ complies entirely with the traditional categories with regard to content, the Bella allows no inference concerning the author’s actual attitude towards Justinian. It appears that Procopius’ careful distancing from the emperor was simply intended to comply with the expectations of the audience, who belonged to the educated elite of the Eastern Roman Empire.173

Seen from this perspective, Procopius did not create the Secret History because he had grown apart from Belisarius and Justinian and needed to set the record straight, but, to the contrary, it was hurriedly produced because he remained entangled with the pair and needed to quickly distance himself so not to be seen as their loyal adherent.174 171 Börm, ‘Genesis of the Anecdota’, p. 325. 172 Cf. the similar sentiments in Greatrex, ‘Perceptions of Procopius’, p. 97. 173 Börm, ‘Genesis of the Anecdota’, p. 337. 174 A point which, as I suggested earlier, better explains why Procopius contends that his kinsmen would have been shocked by Procopius’ attitudes as they were projected in the Secret History.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

Dissenting with Signes Codoñer, Börm questions whether the strident rhetoric concerning Justinian found in the Secret History would have been palatable for the emperor’s cousin Germanus, who Börm imagines would not have condoned being linked to such a miscreant and certainly would not want a close relative of his to be described as the ‘Lord of Demons’.175 Börm suggests instead that around this period there was another possible—albeit admittedly unnamed—usurper. Moreover, flexing his thesis to fit both the more accepted date of 550/551 and the later possible date of 557/558 for the completion of the Secret History, Börm contends that his hitherto unrecorded usurpation could have occurred in 550 or 557/558. In any new regime there were bound to be winners and losers. The coup for whatever reason never materialised, so Procopius set aside the Secret History, leaving it to languish, largely forgotten, until the author of the Suda came across a copy of it in the tenth century. It appears, however, not to have been widely available to later Byzantine writers, since they hardly ever referenced it.176 Where do I stand? While there are merits and flaws in each of the theories above, I find myself agreeing with many of Greatrex, Signes Codoñer, and Börm’s interpretations. I would make some additional points as well. As I have argued elsewhere, it strikes me that Procopius’ opinions concerning the reconquest, or relating to individuals and military actions, often shift in terms of military successes or failures. Victories as well as defeats needed explanations, and humankind’s virtues and vices often delivered the best rationalisations.177 This does not mean that Procopius was never conflicted or never changed his mind about events or people. This was almost certainly the case concerning certain aspects of Procopius’ views toward the reconquest, Belisarius, and Justinian. Nevertheless, it need not be the only reason for his pivots. Besides genuinely changing our minds about issues or individuals, many of us shift our views to placate our audience. Think of the boss everyone hates, but when that person enters the room the haters become the grovelers. Procopius lived in a volatile political world where even a peaceful regime change saw winners and losers—and the losers 175 Proc. Secret History 12. Börm, to my mind, unnecessarily eliminates Germanus as the likeliest candidate whom Procopius wanted to placate, since I believe that the over-the-top religious rhetoric wielded by Procopius must be taken with a grain of salt. Moreover, Constantine I’s sons’ violent struggle for imperial dominion in the fourth century demonstrates that relatives from the imperial hierarchy could use harsh rhetoric against one another. 176 As Henning Börm has suggested (personal communication),’the author of the Suda—or rather the much earlier author whose work he was using (Hesychius?)— (probably) knew a codex or another collection that included both Procopius’ published and unpublished works’. 177 Stewart, Soldier’s Life, p. 293, n. 153.

Will the Real Procopius Please Stand Up


tended to be the ones linked the tightest to the old regime or those unable to drop their old friends and adapt to the new political reality. One finds many examples throughout Roman history of individuals fearing treachery by association. As the work of Adrastos Omissi on usurpation in the Later Roman Empire has made us keenly aware, when a new emperor grasped the reins of government in the wake of an imperial assassination or disputed ascension, one of the first steps he took was to demonise the former regime. During such transitions public intellectuals needed to quickly choose a side—and in some instances abandon old allies—if they wanted to avoid becoming irrelevant. Attacking the emperor they had previously lauded during a regime change had been a common practice for Roman literati like the fourth-century Greek rhetorician Libanius, who exalted the emperor Constantius II when he ruled, but castigated him ‘as a monster in every speech he delivered under Julian and after’.178 Hence, as with trying to retrieve the sycophant Libanius’ ‘real’ attitudes about Constantius II, Procopius’ ‘true’ feelings about Justinian and/or Belisarius may be less recoverable than most suppose, especially if we rely purely upon the Secret History to retrieve them. Procopius was not the only ancient historian to leave an inconsistent portrait of a Roman emperor and his foreign policy. The third-century historian Dio Cassius, for instance, offers a problematic portrait of the emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193-211) that combines positive and negative remarks.179 Moreover, it is possible that both ‘Procopiuses’ are ‘real’, the one that admires Justinian and the one that hates him. Geoffrey Greatrex rightly highlights overlaps in genre as well as some similarities in the vocabulary deployed by Procopius in certain episodes in the Wars, and throughout the Secret History, as I will suggest in Chapter 6, there are further echoes in Procopius’ depiction of the failed plot to kill Justinian from Book 7 of the Wars. However, while I agree that at least parts of the work were meant to be integrated into the Wars, I do not think that this process had begun in the 540s.180 Furthermore, I concur with Henning Börm that it is likely that the Secret History does not represent Procopius’ long-festering hostility, but is better seen as a piece of panicked political 178 Omissi, Emperors and Usurpers, p. 49. 179 For some possible reasons for Dio’s discordant portrait, see Rantala, ‘Dio the Dissident’, pp. 159-171. 180 Others have highlighted what they perceive to be weaknesses in Greatrex’s thesis. Marion Kruse (‘Speech of Armenians’, pp. 873-874), for example, opines that ‘if Procopius intended to introduce material from the Secret History into the Wars, we would expect him to have planned a place for them in his narrative and the years between the first insertion and publication in 551 would have given him ample opportunity for revision’.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

manoeuvring. This is not to say that the Secret History does not reflect any of the historian’s ‘true’ attitudes, only that what it says must be considered carefully alongside the more positive views expressed in the Wars and the Buildings, something I will strive to do throughout this study. Whichever school on the Secret History one embraces, I suspect that most current scholars would nod their head in agreement to Averil Cameron’s recent assertion that a holistic approach is necessary to appreciate the many faces of Procopius reflected in his writings. As Cameron also reminds us, despite the differences in approach and genre, it is also clear that there are many common threads that unite all three of his extant works.181 Nevertheless, it bears repeating that we must recognise that text and author can be different things in all three of Procopius’ works, including the Secret History. None of this is to say that Procopius never found faults in Belisarius’ conduct nor did not dislike Theodora, Antonina, or many of Justinian’s policies. And yet whatever he says on paper, it is problematic to interpret the Secret History as straightforward reporting of Procopius’ authentic feelings while simultaneously taking the sentiments divulged in the Buildings as the antithesis to everything the historian really believed.182 As Peter Van Nuffelen maintains perceptively, Procopius’ ‘particular view of reality’—which in many ways differs from our own—may then help to explain why modern scholars sometimes disagree so vehemently about interpreting ‘what message Procopius precisely wishes to convey’.183 The truth is we may never find the answers we seek. Like most historians—ancient and modern—we need to be sensitive to the fact that irreconcilable contradictions will occur in Procopius’ writings. We also need to be careful not to overthink things. Although Procopius skilfully creates a didactic tale that rewards the attentive reader, we should not always see Procopius as some sort of grand strategist whose every utterance is imbued with deeper meaning and/or intertextual references.184 Sometimes the intended meaning—no matter how shallow it may seem to us—is staring at us straight in the face.185 Moreover, not every characterisation or narrative twist and turn served Procopius’ larger

181 Averil Cameron, ‘Writing about Procopius’. Cf. Signes Codoñer, ‘Dating and Genre in Procopius’ works’. 182 For instance, Kaldellis, ‘Prokopios’ Secret History and Church History’, p. 612, n. 42. 183 Van Nuffelen, ‘Wor(l)ds of Procopius’, p. 52. 184 On this vital point, see Greatrex, ‘Perceptions of Procopius’, p. 101; Croke, ‘The Search for Homogeneity in Procopius’ Literary Works’. 185 Neville, ‘Why Did the Byzantines Write History?’, pp. 265-276.

Will the Real Procopius Please Stand Up


literary aims. Like most historians, ancient and modern, many of his threads lead to dead ends or contradict earlier statements for no logical reason.186 To these prudent sentiments I would reiterate that just as it is dangerous to take a fundamentally positivist approach to the Wars and the Buildings, so too do we need to judge the scurrilous Secret History by similarly strict standards. This impartiality is vital because while many scholars rightly reject aspects of the sexually charged rhetoric concerning Theodora’s youthful escapades in the Secret History as ridiculous exaggeration composed to generate hilarity rather than to be taken literally,187 many still willingly mine the Secret History for other facts and information that should be closely scrutinised in order to sift the wheat from the chafe. When interpreting the past there is always the danger that our own skewed perspective exposes what we want to see. We must appreciate not only the common threads between our thought-world and that of Procopius, but also be aware of much that is alien, on concepts like ethnicity, morality, fear, courage, gender, causation, and human motivation more generally. Through a careful reading of Procopius’ writings, my aim in the following chapters is to offer my own contribution to this challenging but necessary process.

186 Croke, ‘The Search for Homogeneity in Procopius’ Literary Works’. 187 For a recent example, see Heather, Rome Resurgent, pp. 16-17.

Part II The Contest They [the Romans] are sure to have some specious justification with which to cover up their territorial ambitions and will in fact will be pursuing a just claim against you, citing as a precedent men like Marius and Camillus and the majority of the Caesars on the grounds that they had fought in the past against the inhabitants of upper Germany and had occupied all the territory across the Rhine. In this way they [the Romans] will not give the impression of resorting to violence, but of fighting a just war aimed not at the expropriation of a foreign nation but at the recovery of the possessions of their forefathers. – Agath. Histories 1.5.5 (trans. Frendo) On either side is war and battle, and many cities being captured, some in Italy, some in Libya; and the Emperor Justinian is achieving victories through his General Belisarius, and the General is returning to the Emperor, with his entire army intact, and he offers the emperor booty, both kings and kingdoms and all the other things that men most cherish. In the middle stand the Emperor and the Empress Theodora, both seeming to rejoice and to celebrate victories over the kings of the Vandals and of the Goths, who approach them as captives of war to be led into bondage. They are surrounded by the Roman senate, who are all in a festive mood. This delight is depicted on the mosaic tiles, which on their faces convey joyful exaltation. So, they rejoice and smile as they offer the Emperor divine honours, because of the extent of his achievements. – Proc. Buildings 1.10.16-2 (trans. Dewing, modified)

2. Spangenhelme (strap helmets). This Gothic or Byzantine helmet (c. sixth to seventh century) was found in the Saône River near Trévoux, France. Metropolitan Museum, New York City, USA.


The Danger of the Soft Life

In a modern world obsessed with sex and celebrity scandals, it should arouse minimal surprise that the scurrilous Secret History is currently Procopius’ most popular work.1 Teeming with accounts of the carnal escapades and political misdeeds of puissant women, often at the expense of enfeebled men, the work offers students an apt corrective to stereotypes of the Byzantines as androcentric ‘prudes’ with minimal interest in sexual matters.2 Procopius’ fondness for gendered discourse in this tract has also attracted the attention of scholars. The Secret History’s notorious views on gender, especially in its portraits of the seminal power couples of sixth-century Byzantium—Theodora and Justinian on the one hand, and Antonina and Belisarius on the other—have held the attention of a generation of social historians.3 Yet the significant, albeit subtler and less erotic ways in which gender colours the Wars has received only minimal attention. 4 Looking to address this imbalance, this chapter turns to Procopius’ description of the Italian campaigns found in the Gothic War. It investigates how gender shapes Procopius’ presentation of the Goths, East Romans, and Italo-Romans during the nearly two-decade struggle for Italy. Here, my primary goal is not to uncover the Goths, Byzantines, and Italians ‘as they really were’, but rather to glean some of the reasoning and purpose behind Procopius’ gendered depictions and ethnicising worldview.5 I will 1 A scan of the Amazon best-seller list on 3 February 2019 saw Peter Sarris’ 2007 Penguin translation standing at number 118,425, while Anthony Kaldellis’ 2010 translation was ranked 100,452. In contrast, volume IV of the Loeb translation of the Gothic War stood at 2,504,341, while Anthony Kaldellis’ 2014 abridged translation of the Wars was ranked at 422,502. On the Secret History’s current popularity and the abundance of recent translations in numerous languages, see Greatrex, ‘Perceptions of Procopius’, p. 100. 2 Kaldellis, Byzantine Republic, p.185. For the more sensual side of Justinian’s Constantinople, see Smith, Greek Epigram, 18. 3 For just a small sample of this topic’s extensive literature, see Fisher, ‘Theodora and Antonina’; Herrin, ‘In Search of Byzantine Women’; Baldwin, ‘Sexual Rhetoric in Procopius’; Allen, ‘Contemporary Portrayals’; Garland, Byzantine Empresses; James, Empresses and Power; Brubaker, ‘Gender and Society’; Ziche, ‘Abusing Theodora’. 4 Procopius’ characterisation of the Gothic Queen Amalasuintha in the Wars has received significant recent attention, see Frankforter, ‘Procopius and a Woman’s Place’; Fauvinet-Ranson, ‘Portrait d’une regent’; La Rocca, ‘Consors regni’; Stewart, ‘Contests of Andreia’; Cooper, The Heroine and the Historian’. 5 For the Italians’ attitudes towards the Goths and the East Romans, see Moorhead, ‘Italian Loyalties’, pp. 575-96; Kouroumali, ‘Justinianic Reconquest’, pp. 968-1000. Questioning Moorhead’s conclusion that the Italians during Justinian’s conquest were primarily pro-East


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

suggest that by examining his discussions about the manly and the unmanly carefully, one may obtain crucial insights into the larger narrative strategy and Procopius’ complex personal and political agendas.6

Rhetoric and Reality Those relying on Procopius for their vision of the sixth century need to first address some issues of literary representation. While valuing its details and admiring its artistry, one must keep in mind the extent to which the Wars offers a genuine reflection of sixth-century realities, and that to which it reflects conventional elements adopted from his classical models.7 Aristophanes, Diodorus, Herodotus, Thucydides, Herodotus, Homer, Plato, Polybius, Plato, and Xenophon have all been shown to greater and lesser degrees to have influenced his writings.8 Choosing to compose a grand history of warfare in the classical style, Procopius naturally adhered to certain expectations for his selected genre: the use of Attic Greek, didacticism, a reliance on set speeches before battles, a rather limited vocabulary, a fondness for anecdotes, and finally, archaic names and gender assumptions for his portrayals of the characteristics of nations and peoples.9 As a result, the neat distinctions that Procopius routinely makes among East Romans, Goths, and Italo-Romans, disguise a more complicated sixth-century reality.10 Gender scholars have also noticed dissonances between Procopius’ characterisations of individuals and their ‘actual’ motivations, personalities, and deeds. As Kate Cooper observes, Procopius’ ‘tendency to rely on ethnic and Roman, Kouroumali concludes that the Italians had no preference for one side or the other, but merely made alliances with their own best interests in mind. 6 As Kaldellis cautions (Hellenism in Byzantium, pp. 87-89), the terminology used by the Romans and the Byzantines to describe ethnicity (ethnos, genos, and phylon) had more nuanced, flexible, and frequently contradictory meanings than the modern concepts of ‘nations’ ‘races’, or ‘peoples’. 7 On Procopius’ reliance on classical sources for his descriptions of sieges and battles, see Shaw, ‘War and Violence’, p. 133. See, however, Whately, Battles and Generals, esp. pp. 232-234, arguing forcefully that despite Procopius’ literary aims, ‘Procopian combat is real combat’. 8 Whately, Battles and Generals, pp. 45-56; Moore, ‘Procopius of Caesarea and Historical Memory’. 9 Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, pp. 11-12, 18. On the necessity of seeing classicising histories like the Wars as products of their age, see Croke and Emmett, ‘Historiography in Late Antiquity’, pp. 5-7; Averil Cameron, Procopius, p. 32. 10 Amory, People and Identity; Goffart, Barbarian Tides; Conant, Staying Roman; Arnold, Roman Imperial Restoration.

The Danger of the Sof t Life


gender patterns’ leads to highly stylised and, at times, deceptive portrayals of key individuals such as the Gothic Queen Amalasuintha.11 Similarly, an important article by Leslie Brubaker argues that Procopius’ construction of feminine and masculine virtues closely followed classical Roman and Christian precepts; particularly in the Secret History, Theodora represents ‘everything a late Roman [woman] should not be’. So, while Brubaker is convinced that Procopius’ writings can teach us about sixth-century gender constructions,12 she questions whether the historian tells us anything about the ‘real’ Theodora and Justinian, declaring that the Secret History ‘is useless as a source of history about what really happened’.13 Although this chapter challenges these assertions, they offer timely reminders of the difficulties facing one hoping to recover sixth-century realities from an ancient historian such as Procopius.14 Yet, in Procopius’ writings, deceptions can be as important as truths. Exploring the text beneath the text has shone needed light on formerly underappreciated paradigms and possibilities.15 A greater appreciation of Procopius’ sophistication represents one welcome by-product of these innovative approaches. Recent intertextual studies have demonstrated how Procopius cleverly deployed direct and indirect classical allusions as literary tools—and often potent weapons—to delve into sensitive topics, including political issues. Operating in a shared thought-world of symbol and allegory, the author and select members of his audience were privy to details in the text that the less educated might miss.16 11 Cooper, ‘The Heroine and the Historian’, pp. 298-299. For a similar problem with Procopius’ depiction of the Emperor Justin I (r. 518-527), see Croke, ‘Justinian under Justin’. 12 Brubaker, ‘Sex, Lies, and Textuality’, pp. 87, 100-101. 13 Brubaker, ‘Gender and Society’, p. 432. For the notion that the Secret History should be regarded primarily as a work of fiction, see Constantinou, ‘Violence in the Palace’. Most scholars, however, maintain—I believe correctly—that even the most virulent rhetoric found in the Secret History contains kernels of truth; see, for example, Evans, Empress Theodora, p. 15. For a critique of Brubaker’s assertion, see Greatrex, ‘Perceptions of Procopius’, p. 101. 14 For the trustworthiness of the Wars, see Brodka, Die Geschichtsphilosophie; Whately, Battles and Generals, pp. 13-20. For Procopius as an accurate source on the Persians, see Börm, ‘Prokop und die Perser’. While Massimiliano Vitiello (Theodahad, pp. 22-23) accepts that Procopius could distort his characterisations of Goths such as Theoderic and Theodahad to better suit his didactic purpose, he concludes that ‘the evidence from Ostrogothic sources’, more often than not, collaborates Procopius’ portraits. On Procopius’ ‘accuracy in recording distances regarding relative army positions and camps’, see Lillington-Martin, ‘Procopius on the Struggle for Dara and Rome’. 15 For some stimulating examples of this approach, see Pazdernik, ‘Procopius and Thucydides’; Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, pp. 18-36; Kruse, ‘Speech of Armenians’. 16 Rapp, Holy Bishops, p. 380.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

A Soft Empire Let us begin by discussing the role that Procopius suggests the fifth-century Western imperial government had played in the Vandals’ and the Goths’ triumphs. This account offers a fine starting point for considering how gender shapes not only the Gothic War but also wider sixth-century discussions on the decline of imperial power in the fifth-century West. Procopius echoed Justinianic and Ostrogothic propaganda by placing primary responsibility for these losses on the unmanly or ‘effeminate’ (which amounts to the same thing) West Roman emperors’ leadership, and what he described as the fifth-century West Romans’ demilitarisation.17 The Vandal War’s prologue proposes that Western decay originated during the reign of Honorius (r. 395-423).18 Procopius chooses to see this decline through a moral rather than a political lens. In marked contrast to his soldier-emperor father, Theodosius I (r. 379-395), Honorius preferred life within the palace with his chickens, rather than fighting on the field of battle with his soldiers.19 Consequently, the ‘Gothic nations’ ran amok and seized his lands.20 In Procopius’ portrayal, only a combination of good fortune and divine intervention halted for a time the barbarians’ predation.21 After describing Alaric and his Goths’ sack of Rome in August of 410, Procopius explains that God’s proclivity to assist even the idiotic and inactive—as long as they were not wicked—saved Honorius and his realm.22 This respite, however, proved temporary. Procopius then explains how a continuing turn away from masculine martial virtues during the reign of Honorius’ successor, Valentinian III (r. 425-455), led to further defeats and even more catastrophic territorial losses. Valentinian failed emphatically in his essential masculine role as the guardian of the State and of his family, 17 For Justinian’s attitude towards his predecessors’ failures in the West, see Jus. Nov. 30.11.2; see also, Joh. Lyd. De mag. 3.55. 18 On the reign of Honorius, see now Doyle, Honorius. 19 Proc. Wars 3.2.25-26 relates the famous story of Honorius’ relief upon finding out from his advisor that it was the city of Rome that had ‘perished’ in August of 410 and not his beloved rooster named ‘Rome’. 20 Proc. Wars 3.2.1-2. The Gothic nations for Procopius included the Goths, Visigoths, Vandals, and Gepids. 21 Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, pp. 178-179, points to Procopius’ emphasis on tyche in this episode, and what he perceives to be Procopius’ intended sarcasm and irreligious attitude. See, however, the analysis of Wood, ‘Being Roman’, pp. 431-437, on the cases of Christian miraculous interventions found in the Wars. 22 Proc. Wars 3.2.34-40, φιλεῖ γὰρ ὁ θεὸς τοῖς οὒτε ἀγχίνοις οὒτε τι οἴκοθεν μηχανᾶσθαι οἴοις τε οὖσιν, ἢν μὴ πονηροὶ εἶεν, ἀπορομένοις τὰ ἔσχατα ἐπικουρεῖν τε καὶ ξυλλαμβάνεσθαι.

The Danger of the Sof t Life


and so both of his wards fell captive to the barbarians. Procopius’ description is worth quoting in full: Placidia, his mother, had reared this emperor and educated him in a womanish way, and because of this, from childhood, he was filled with wickedness. He socialized with many sorcerers and astrologers, and he was an extraordinarily fervent pursuer of amours with other men’s wives. He lived indecently although he was married to a woman of extraordinary beauty. Not only that, but he failed to rescue for the empire anything that had been taken before, and he lost Libya [North Africa], and moreover was himself killed. When this happened, his wife and children fell captive.23

The biographic sketches above demonstrate how Procopius connected his moralising, theological, and gendered rhetoric. In telling the story of Honorius, Procopius primes his audience for the later portrait of Valentinian III. Unlike the case of the unmanly yet benevolent fool Honorius, the prologue confirms that divine agency did not protect the politeia of the dually ‘wicked’ and ‘effeminate’ Valentinian III.24 Other authors from the fifth and sixth centuries likewise faulted the ‘unmanly’ Theodosian-Valentinian emperors for the ‘loss’ of the West.25 In the opinion of the mid-sixth-century Byzantine historian Jordanes, the naming of Marcian as Eastern emperor in 450 had helped to reinvigorate an empire, which had suffered for nearly sixty years under his ‘effeminate predecessors’ [delicati decessores]. 26 As Jonathan Arnold has recently 23 Proc. Wars 3.3.10-13, Πλακιδία δὲ ἡ αὐτοῦ μήτηρ θηλυνομένην παιδείαν τε καὶ τροφὴν τὸν βασιλέα τοῦτον ἐξέθρεψέ τε καὶ ἐξεπαίδευσε, καὶ ἀπ̓ αὐτοῦ κακίας ἔμπλεως ἐκ παιδὸς γέγονε. φαρμακεῦσί τε γὰρ τὰ πολλὰ καὶ τοῖς ἐς τὰ ἄστρα περιέργοις ὡμίλει, ἔς τε ἀλλοτρίων γυναικῶν ἔρωτας δαιμονίως ἐσπουδακὼς πολλῇ ἐχρῆτο ἐς τὴν δίαιταν παρανομίᾳ, καίπερ γυναικὶ ξυνοικῶν εὐπρεπεῖ τὴν ὄψιν ἐς ἄγαν οὔσῃ. ταῦτά τοι οὐδέ τι ἀνεσώσατο τῇ βασιλείᾳ ὧν ἀφῄρητο πρότερον, ἀλλὰ καὶ Λιβύην προσαπώλεσε καὶ αὐτὸς ἐφθάρη. καὶ ἐπειδὴ ἐτελεύτησε, τῇ τε γυναικὶ ταῖς τε παισὶ δορυαλώτοις γενέσθαι ξυνέπεσε. γέγονε δὲ ὧδε τὸ ἐν Λιβύῃ πάθος. 24 I therefore question Kaldellis’ contention (Procopius of Caesarea, p. 179), that Procopius believed that ‘[h]ad Honorius been more wicked, he might have preserved his realm’. 25 Byzantine historians likewise attributed the mid-fifth-century military struggles of the East Roman Empire to the unwarlike and cowardly nature of the Emperor Theodosius II (r. 408-455); see Prisc. fr. 3.2, Θεοδόσιος, βασιλεὺς Ῥωμαίων, ὁ μικρός. οὗτος διαδεξάμενος παρὰ πατρὸς τὴν ἀρχήν, ἀπόλεμος ὢν καὶ δειλίᾳ συζῶν καὶ τὴν εἰρήνην χρήμασιν οὐχ ὅπλοις κτησάμενος, πολλὰ προεξένησε κακὰ τῇ Ῥωμαίων πολιτείᾳ. The disparate gendered rhetoric surrounding Theodosius II’s reign is discussed at greater length in Stewart, Soldier’s Life, pp. 165-201. 26 Jord. Rom. 332 (MGH.AA 5: 42). See also, Sid. Apoll. Pan. Maj. 350-369. Croke, ‘Jordanes and the Immediate Past’, pp. 473-494, discusses Jordanes’ negative assessment of Roman generals and emperors’ military prowess.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

underlined, the sixth-century Italo-Roman author Cassiodorus (c. 490-583) spun a similar tale whereby the slack militarism of an effeminate regime brought about a decline in the West Roman army’s manly vigour.27 In his Variae, Cassiodorus complained that under Placidia—who had served as Valentinian III’s regent from 423 to 437—the West’s armed forces had been ‘weakened through too much inaction’. 28 Indeed, unable to hone their skills on the f ield of battle, the West Roman soldiers had, instead, been ‘softened by extended peace’.29 This passive and effeminate West Roman rule stood in stark contrast to Cassiodorus’ depiction of the manly, martial rule of queen Amalasuintha (r. 525-534) and her Goths.30 Procopius followed this vision of a manly and sagacious Amalasuintha in the Wars and the Secret History.31 Moreover, immediately after describing the enfeebled rule of Valentinian III, the historian famously said of two fifth-century West Roman generalissimos, Bonifatius and Flavius Aëtius, ‘if one were to call either of them “the last man of the Romans”, he would not err’.32 After relating in the remainder of Books 3 and 4 the East Romans’ relatively straightforward victory over the Vandals, the Gothic War begins by summarising events that had led to the Gothic control of Italy.33 In contrast to his more even-handed approach throughout the Wars, Procopius here adheres to a strict division between ‘barbarian’ and ‘Roman’. The barbarisation of the Western army and the Italians’ demilitarisation helps to explain the ‘loss’ of Italy.34 As the non-Roman element of the Western army rose, the Roman soldiers’ status waned. In Procopius’ opinion, these non-Romans had little grasp of Roman law and slight regard for the Italo-Romans. Non-Roman dominance within 27 This section owes much to Arnold, Roman Imperial Restoration, pp. 48-50. 28 Cass. Var. 11.1.9, Militem quoque nimia quiete dissolvit. 29 Cass. Var. 11.1.10, Qui [i.e. exercitus] provida dispositione libratus nec assiduis bellis adteritur nec iterum longa pace mollitur. 30 Arnold, Roman Imperial Restoration, p. 49. See Fauvinet-Ranson, ‘Portrait d’une regent’, pp. 267-308. 31 Proc. Wars 5.2.3-4; Proc. Secret History 16.1. 32 Proc. Wars 3.3.15 (trans. Kaldellis), […] ἄνδρα Ῥωμαίων ὕστατον […]. 33 Though book 4, which describes events in North Africa after Belisarius’ departure for Italy, is far less optimistic than the triumphalist book 3. One finds an excellent treatment of these shifts in Wood, ‘Being Roman’, pp. 424-447. See, however, the revisionist views found in Kaldellis, ‘Procopius’ Vandal War’, pp. 13-22. 34 Proc. Wars 3.3.15. For a further examination of Procopius’ depiction and disapproval of this ‘demilitarisation’, see Liebeschuetz, ‘The Romans Demilitarised’, pp. 230-239. I see Procopius’ attitude towards the large non-Roman part of Justinian’s armies as more nuanced and less hostile than Liebeschuetz posits.

The Danger of the Sof t Life


the army led to an incapacity on the part of the West Romans to protect themselves from these ‘barbarians’ who, from Procopius’ point of view, tyrannically demanded a share of Italy’s land. Under the incompetent rule of the last West Roman emperors, non-Roman generals became the true power behind the throne. In 476, a group of these rebellious barbarians proclaimed one of these strongmen, Odoacer, king. Odoacer deposed the West Roman emperor Romulus Augustulus (r. 475-476), whom Procopius does not name.35 In sharp contrast to the ‘passive’ West Romans, Procopius stressed that the East Romans’ enduring adherence to a martial lifestyle and control over their armed forces had allowed them to continue to deploy non-Romans as their pawns. Even perilous threats such as that posed by Theoderic could be managed by a sturdy and intelligent Roman emperor. For instance, Procopius showed the soldier-emperor Zeno (r. 474-491) and Theoderic colluding to eliminate Odoacer. To avoid a disastrous confrontation with the Goths, the emperor advised Theoderic to move his people into Italy and overthrow Odoacer. After a four-year struggle, Theoderic slew Odoacer at a banquet and secured his rule of Italy as rex. Whether one accepts Procopius’ version and interpretation of these complex events—and some scepticism is merited—the historian clearly respected Theoderic.36 Looking back on Theoderic’s reign, Procopius declared it a ‘Golden Age’.37 Much of the historian’s praise focuses on the Gothic king and his soldiers’ martial attributes, which had provided political stability and a renewed martial pride to an Italy humiliated by its fifth-century impotence. Procopius’ vision of Theoderic shows that the Gothic king had mastered many of the civilised and military traits that had long defined idealised Roman emperors and manly men.38 These qualities earned Theoderic the love of both the Goths and the Italians.39 35 Proc. Wars 5.1.1-39. 36 Arnold, Roman Imperial Restoration, esp. pp. 64-69, 78-79, 94-95, rightly rejects aspects of Procopius’ version of Theoderic’s rise and rule as anachronistic. On some of the basic factual errors found in Procopius’ account of fifth-century West Roman history, see Treadgold, Early Byzantine Historians, pp. 215-216. 37 Proc. Wars 7.9.10, 7.21.12-23. 38 For the idea that an idealised late Roman emperor needed to be both a philopolemos (lover of war) and a philologos (lover of reason), see Themistius, Or. 4.54a. Compare Ennodius’ need, in his Pan. (2.5, 3.11), to highlight Theoderic’s military and intellectual achievements. 39 Proc. Wars 5.1.27-29, ἔρως τε αὐτοῦ ἔν τε Γόθοις καὶ Ἰταλιώταις. As Bjornlie points out (Politics and Tradition, p. 151), Procopius offers a far more sympathetic view of Theoderic’s execution in 524 of the Roman senators Boethius and Symmachus than other contemporary sources.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

Vita Militaris As noted above, Procopius offers a skewed vision of fifth- and early sixthcentury Italy. To be sure, Procopius’ vision of an increasingly demilitarised fifth-century Italian aristocracy is inaccurate. 40 In fact, the fifth-century West Roman Empire appears to have become more militarised; the ban on civilians carrying arms had been lifted and many aristocrats led their own private armies. 41 However, it is true that after 493 the Goths dominated military roles within Italy.42 To thwart the potential for rebellion, Theoderic concentrated his forces in the principal Gothic strongholds of Pavia, Milan, and Ravenna. Following trends found in the late Roman army, specific social signifiers such as hairstyle and clothing distinguished the Gothic army from the civilians. Being a Goth meant being a soldier in Ostrogothic Italy. Yet, we should be careful not to create too sharp a division between Goths and Italo-Romans. The fluid nature of ethnic identity in Late Antiquity meant that Italo-Romans who chose to join the army often then took on a Gothic identity, since military service served as a key marker of Gothic identity in Ostrogothic Italy. 43 The blurring of these boundaries naturally accelerated as time went by. 44 It is important nevertheless to emphasise that Ostrogothic sources offer a comparable vision of an Italy divided between martial Goths and civilian Italo-Romans. John Moorhead and Jonathan Arnold share the conviction that the martial virtues and, indeed, the Goths’ manliness, were key factors in their acceptance as Rome’s legitimate protectors. As Moorhead observes, ‘Our native (Italian) sources for the history of the Ostrogoths persistently associate the word (virtus), with its overtone of force and masculinity, with both the people in general and Theoderic in particular’. 45 Jonathan Arnold explains, ‘what separated the Goths from these [other Romanised peoples] was the fact that they remained proudly, perhaps even defiantly, 40 On the increased militarisation of the concept of Romanitas and the East Roman Empire from the fourth century, see Merrills and Miles, The Vandals, pp. 88-93; Whately, Militarization, pp. 49-57. 41 CTh 15.15.1. On this legislation, see MacGeorge, Late Roman Warlords, pp. 170-171; Arnold, Roman Imperial Restoration, p. 141, n. 109. 42 On the Goths’ dominant role within Theoderic’s armies, see O’Donnell, ‘Liberius the Patrician’, pp. 38-39; Moorhead, Theoderic in Italy, pp. 271-275; Kouroumali, ‘Justinianic Reconquest’, pp. 982-983. 43 For intimate links between Gothic identity and military service, see Amory, People and Identity, p. 68. For criticisms of aspects of this view, see Heather, ‘Migrations’, pp. 1-19. 44 Halsall, ‘The Ostrogothic Military’. 45 Moorhead, Theoderic in Italy, p. 81.

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unconquered by Rome’. Whereas the Goths were depicted as reinvigorated Romans, the same propaganda cast the East Romans as unmanly Greeks. Arnold continues, Goths and Gothicness represented martialism, the old Roman virtue of virtus (the very source of the term ‘virtue’), meaning ‘manliness’ or ‘courage’. Virtus was an ideal that the Romans had seemingly lost, becoming overly effeminate (perhaps even overly Greek), yet that until recently had been fundamental to Romanness and the existence of a Roman Empire. 46

Italo-Roman sources frequently assert that the Goths should do the fighting while the native Italians bask in serenity .47 Cassiodorus commented that, ‘While the Gothic army wages war, let the Roman be at peace’. 48 When describing Theoderic’s thrust into Italy in 489, Ennodius of Pavia (c. 473-521), declared, ‘Rome, the mistress of the world, demanded you [Theoderic] for the restoration of her status’. 49 In this vision, the Goths personify an active manliness and real Roman values. Cassiodorus explained that the warlike Goths strove constantly to test their courage in battle.50 Raised in educational systems based on a steady diet of classical Latin authors, Cassiodorus’ Italo-Roman audience would have understood readily the time-honoured adulation of the military ethic as an essential aspect of both manly Romanitas and Rome’s right to imperium.51 46 Arnold, Roman Imperial Restoration, pp. 124, 141. And yet, as Arnold explains (pp. 148-149), the Italo-Romans could admire the Byzantines for their sophistication, paidea, and piety. Nevertheless, Procopius primarily used the term ‘Greek’ [Ἕλλην] pejoratively; see Kaegi, ‘Procopius the Military Historian’, pp. 79-81. 47 The thorny question of how sincerely the Italo-Romans accepted such imperial rhetoric on behalf of the Goths is discussed in Devecka, ‘White Elephant Gifts’. 48 Cass. Var. 12.5.4 (trans. Barnish), Dum belligerat Gothorum exercitus, sit in pace Romanus. A division between the civilian and military spheres was accepted in the late Roman Empire; see, for example, Amm. Res gestae 21.16.3, Valdeque raro contigerat, ut militarium alquis ad civilia regenda transiret. 49 Ennod. Pan. 30, quoted in and trans. by Arnold, Roman Imperial Restoration, p. 56: te orbis domina ad status reparationem Roma poscebat. 50 Cass. Var. 1.24.1, Innotescenda sunt magis Gothis quam suadenda certamina, quia bellicosae stirpi est gaudium comprobari: laborem quippe non refugit, qui virtutis gloriam concupiscit. 51 Arnold, Roman Imperial Restoration, pp. 13-14. Merrills and Miles, The Vandals, pp. 88-89 define Romanitas not as shared biological traits of ‘a specific group’ but as the fluid characteristics ‘that made a man Roman, made him an appropriate husband, father, general, and politician, and which distinguished him from a woman, child, barbarian or slave’, Moreover, distinct ethnic groups and regional identities could both appropriate and shape ‘the form in which Romanitas was expressed in different places and in different circumstances’.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

Such sentiments had deep roots in earlier Greek and Roman literature.52 Roman intellectuals had long espoused the manly virtues of the soldier’s life.53 We find the Stoic Seneca (c. 4 BCE-65 CE), for instance, arguing that there was no virtue if there was no adversary.54 Such an intimate connection between conflict and virtue explains why Romans such as Seneca believed that the ‘finest men’ became soldiers.55 This is not to claim that martial virtues or the soldier’s life represented the sole path to Roman manhood. Since the days of the Republic, alternative routes to ‘true’ manliness had been available to Roman elites who chose a civilian life. Extreme ascetics, courageous martyrs, fearless philosophers, and prodigous political and church leaders were all, at times, compared favourably to military men and, at times, more favourably.56 Despite these alternative pathways to a ‘true’ masculine identity, one senses a tension within ancient literature over what authors described as the Romans’ hazardous abandonment of their military roles. The supposed demilitarisation of the Romans in the later empire was a popular topic for early Byzantine authors to discuss.57 To take just two examples from among many, we find Priscus, the mid-fifth-century East Roman diplomat and historian, in his celebrated debate with a former citizen who had joined the Huns, arguing over whether the Roman state had fallen into decline because of its citizens’ rejection of their martial legacy.58 At the close of the fourth century, Synesius of Cyrene condemned in overtly gendered terms what he described as the Goths’ growing domination of the East Roman army, declaring: 52 For Hellenic influences on Roman definitions of manliness and virtue in the late Republic and early Empire, see McDonnell, Roman Manliness. 53 Kuefler, Manly Eunuch; McDonnell, Roman Manliness; Conway, Behold the Man. 54 Sen. Prov. 2.4, Marcet sine adverserio virtus. 55 Sen. Prov. 5.1, Adice nunc, quod pro omnibus est optimumqumque, ut ita dicam, militare et edere operas. 56 On the gradual shift away from a Roman code of masculinity based primarily on martial virtues beginning in the late Republic, see McDonnell, Roman Manliness, esp. pp. 320-389; Gleason, Making Men; Edwards, ‘The Suffering Body’. For the early Christians’ adoption, rejection, and reshaping of Rome’s adulation of martial manliness, see Harlow, ‘In the Name of the Father’; Conway, Behold the Man. On the growth of ‘pacifist’ Christian masculine ideals in the wake of Roman military decline in the fourth and fifth centuries, see Burrus, Begotten Not Made; Kuefler, Manly Eunuch. See, however, Stewart, Soldier’s Life, for the lingering relevance of martial virtues as an essential aspect of Byzantine ideology. 57 Revisionist military historians have challenged the notion that the late Roman army was highly barbarised; see Michael Whitby, ‘Emperors and Armies’, pp. 166-173; Lee, War in Late Antiquity, pp. 79-85. 58 Prisc. fr. 11.2.405–453

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The same organization holds good for the politeia as in the household; the male must defend while the female takes care of the household. How then can you allow the male element to be foreign?59

Of course, the Romans’ adulation of their past guaranteed that contemporary achievements would often pale in comparison with the heroic and manly deeds of their ancestors.60 Roman literature had a tradition of presenting Roman masculinity in a perpetual state of crisis.61 As early as the second century BCE, the Greek Polybius had cautioned the Romans that universal dominion could be hazardous for Roman masculine ideals premised on battle and austere living.62 Polybius, who had composed his history, in part, to explain Greece’s decline and Rome’s rise, illustrated that, just like the Greeks before them, the Romans remained in constant danger of succumbing to the temptation of the easy, and therefore effeminate, life.63 By surrendering to the unmanly temptations of civilisation, ‘soft’ Roman men threatened the survival of the state. This theme of Roman men’s failure to live up to the martial deeds of their manly ancestors had particular resonance at the close of the fifth century. For an empire that had long prided itself on its military prowess and ability to subjugate barbarian peoples, the fifth century had been disastrous; it had, in fact, lost nearly two-thirds of its territory in the West.64 By the beginning of the sixth century, the pagans within the empire had lost their intellectual battle with the Christians. Yet despite their waning influence, some non-Christians continued to hold important 59 Synes. de regno 14.8 τέτακται γὰρ ὥσπερ ἐν οἴκῳ καὶ πολιτείαι ὁμοίως τὸ μὲν ὑπερασπίζον κατὰ τὸ ἄρρεν, τὸ δὲ εἰς τὴν ἐπιμέλειαν ἐστραμμένον τῶν εἴσω κατὰ τὸ θῆλυ. πῶς οὖν ἀνεκτὸν παρ’ ἡμῖν ἀλλότριον εἶναι τὸ ἄρρεν; Compare Pl. Meno 17e (trans. Lamb), ‘Why, there is no difficulty, Socrates, in telling. First of all, if you take the virtue of a man, it is easily stated that a man’s virtue is this—that he be competent to manage the affairs of his city, and to manage them so as to benefit his friends and harm his enemies, and to take care to avoid suffering harm himself. Or take a woman’s virtue: there is no difficulty in describing it as the duty of ordering the house well, looking after the property indoors, and obeying her husband. And the child has another virtue—one for the female, and one for the male; and there is another for elderly men—one, if you like, for freemen’. 60 See, for example, Polyb. Hist. 31.25; Hdt. Hist. 2.2. 3-6; Amm. Res gestae 31.5.14. 61 Burrus, Begotten Not Made, p. 31. 62 On ‘the opposition between virtue and pleasure’ in Greek philosophy, and the absorption of this ideal in Republican Rome, see McDonnell, Roman Manliness, pp. 114-116. 63 Polyb. Hist. 31.25. See also, Dio Cass. Hist. 62.6.4 For Polybius’ influence on Procopius, see Evans, Procopius, p. 133. On the opposition between Roman codes of masculinity and ‘softness’ and ‘luxury’, see Craig Williams, Roman Homosexuality, p. 153. 64 Moorhead, Roman Empire Divided, p. 125.


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political positions in the East Roman government. One of these pagan office holders was the historian Zosimus.65 His history, likely composed sometime between 498-501, demonstrates that some pagans were not happy with their increasingly negligible role in Constantinople.66 They tended to blame their plight and the problems of the empire on their Christian rivals. Zosimus compared his work to that of Polybius; however, where Polybius studied Rome’s rise, Zosimus attempted to understand its fall. For him it was a combination of neglect of pagan rites, the decline of the army, and the barbarisation of the empire that had caused its ‘fall’. Instead of glorifying the first Christian emperor Constantine, as many of his Christian contemporaries did,67 Zosimus lamented that Constantine had granted ‘the barbarians unhindered access to the Roman empire’. So too, by removing the troops from the frontiers to the cities, had Constantine undermined the empire’s security. Now, instead of being cowed by Roman might at the boundaries, the barbarians moved freely into Roman lands. Falling back on a familiar Polybian theme, Zosimus closed with the claim that Constantine had enervated his soldiers by allowing them to revel in ‘shows and luxuries’. As far as Zosimus was concerned, ‘Constantine was the origin and beginning of the present destruction of the empire’.68 Staunch pagans were not the only ones complaining about the loss of the empire in the West. Marcellinus Comes, a Latin-speaking Christian from Central Illyricum who had served as Justinian’s personal aide [cancellarius] both before and after he became emperor, emphasised that it was the deleterious impact of the Goths in the fourth and fifth centuries that had shifted the empire off course, not Constantine’s political and social policies.69 According to Shane Bjornlie, Marcellinus’ precise dating of the 65 On some of the main themes in Zosimus’ history, see Goffart, ‘Zosimus, The First Historian of Rome’s Fall’. 66 For this date of composition, see Alan Cameron, ‘The Date of Zosimus’, pp. 106-110; Liebeschuetz, ‘Pagan historiography’, p. 215. Treadgold, Early Byzantine Historians, p. 18. Believing that Zosimus’ ardent paganism is out of touch with the religiosity of this period, Elizabeth Jeffreys prefers to believe that Zosimus wrote in the mid-fifth century, see Jeffreys, ‘Literary Genre or Religious Apathy?’, p. 512. Shane Bjornlie (Politics and Tradition, p. 85) contends that Zosimus wrote during Justinian’s reign. These alternate dates have not convinced many scholars, however. 67 Bjornlie, Politics and Tradition, p. 87. 68 Zos. New History 2.34. 69 On Marcellinus, see Croke, Count Marcellinus; Treadgold, Early Byzantine Historians, pp. 227-235. The f irst edition of his chronicle covered events from 378-518. He consequently updated his work to extend from 519 to 534, which is the part that has come down to us. After Marcellinus’ death, an anonymous continuer updated the chronicle to include events from 534 to 548.

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fall of the Roman West served the political aims of his master Justinian. By highlighting that West Rome had fallen in 476, Justinian was able to cast Ostrogothic Italy as a barbarous anomaly in need of liberation.70 Yet this strident view was not the only one circulating on the streets of midsixth-century Constantinople. Writing during this period, Jordanes—who was likely a Goth himself—argued the opposite, attributing Constantine’s victories to the Goths serving within his armies.71 In Jordanes’ version of the Roman past, it was the manly martial prowess of the Goths’ fighting within Constantine’s armies that allowed him to defeat his enemies and enabled him to build Constantinople.72 It is only against this backdrop of competing ideologies that we can appreciate some of the Wars’ historical and gendered themes. With this in mind, we now return to Procopius’ dramatic portrayal of the first siege of Rome (537/538).

Romans and Goths By March of 537, Justinian’s reconquest of Italy was in trouble. The East Roman army and its commander Belisarius found themselves pinned down in Rome, while a large Gothic force led by King Vitigis gathered outside the city’s formidable but poorly defended circuit of walls. Procopius divides the account’s perspective three ways among Goths, Italians, and East Romans. The Goths and the Italians perceive the situation similarly: the sanguine Goths expect an easy victory, while the Italo-Romans dread what they envision as the inescapable storming of Rome and the inevitable punishment for their disloyalty to the Goths.73 Awaiting the arrival of a relieving army from the emperor, the undermanned Belisarius had been forced to press the Italo-Romans into service as guards along the 70 Bjornlie, Politics and Tradition, p. 94. This direct ideological connection to Justinian seems less plausible if Marcellinus was composing this section around 518. It must be pointed out that Marcellinus Comes also points to Aëtius’ assassination in 454 as key date in the collapse of West Rome, Marc. com. chron. s.a. 454.2. On the centrality of the concept of Liberatas in Ostrogothic and pro-imperial propaganda before, during, and after the Gothic war, see Vitiello, Theodahad, pp. 169-173. 71 For a synopsis of recent scholarly work on Jordanes and some intriguing insights into his possible creative process, see Van Hoof and Van Nuffelen, ‘The Historiography of Crisis’. 72 Jord. Get. 21. Many within the Gothic court and a good number of the senatorial aristocracy of Italy had emigrated to Constantinople during the Gothic wars. On these émigrés, see Bjornlie, Politics and Tradition, p. 31; Averil Cameron, ‘Old Rome and New Rome’, pp. 25-27. 73 Proc. Wars 5.19.1.


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city’s poorly defended walls. Unfamiliar with the rigours of warfare and craving their civilian luxuries, according to Procopius, the Italo-Romans descend even further into despair.74 Alerted to the simmering tensions between the Italo-Romans and the East Romans within the city, Vitigis organised a delegation to seek Belisarius’ surrender. Though it is likely that the historian was present at the actual meeting, he embroidered his version of the encounter with invented speeches laced with classical motifs, as Procopius was prone to do. He frames the meeting around a debate based on Aristotelian distinctions and connections among the Greek concepts of fear, rashness, virtue, and courageous manliness.75 Addressing Belisarius with a group of Byzantine officers and Italo-Roman senators looking on, the Gothic diplomat, Albis, defines the two sides of thrasos [θάρσος]. ‘Rashness [θάρσος] differs from courage [ἀνδρεία],’ he announces, ‘for rashness, when it takes hold of a man, leads him into danger with dishonour, but courage bestows upon him an adequate prize in a reputation for valour [ἀρετῆς]’.76 The diplomat advises sardonically that if the Byzantines had attacked the Goths because of a belief in their ‘manliness’ [ἀνδρεία], then by all means they should take the opportunity to ‘play the man’ [ἀνδραγαθίζεσθαι] in battle against the Goths. However, if, as the Goth suspects, the Byzantines had been driven by ‘rashness’ when they launched their attack, then the Goths would give them the chance to come to their senses and ‘repent […] of the reckless undertaking’. Albis makes a final attempt to coax Belisarius to submit, pleading with the commander to ease the suffering of the Italo-Romans, ‘men whom Theoderic had nurtured like children in a life of soft luxury and stop hindering him [Vitigis] who is master of the Goths and the Italians’.77 Conjoining the East Romans and Italo-Romans, he enquires why they remained ‘trapped’ in Rome, ‘cowering, while the king of this city [Vitigis] spends his time in an entrenched camp 74 Proc. Wars 5.20.5-6. 75 As Bassi, ‘Semantics of Manliness’, p. 53, suggests, Aristotle (Eth. Eud. 1228a26-30a37, 1230a26-33) considered ἀνδρεία as ‘the attributes of a man whose actions demonstrate a moderate negotiation between ‘boldness’ [θάρσος] and ‘fear’ [φόβος]’. One finds further instances of this theme in Wars 5.20.8, 6.23.29-30. See also, Thuc. Hist. 2.40.3. Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, pp. 149, 212, 220 discusses Procopius’ familiarity with Aristotle. 76 In classical Greek, θράσος describes either ‘recklessness’ or ‘valour’, while, depending on its usage, the term ἀνδρεία can mean either ‘courage’ or ‘manliness’. As in Herodotus (Harrell, ‘Marvellous Andreia’, p. 79), Procopius in this debate associates andreia with strength in war and emphasises the gendered aspect of the concept. 77 Proc. Wars 5.20.11, ‘[…] οὓς δὴ Θευδέριχος ἐν βίῳ τρυφερῷ τε καὶ ἄλλως ἐλευθέρῳ ἐξέθρεψε, μήτε τῷ Γότθων τε καὶ Ἰταλιωτῶν δεσπότῃ ἐμποδὼν ἵστασο. For the close association in Roman culture of men’s love of luxury and effeminacy, see Kuefler, ‘Between Bishops and Barbarians’, pp. 41-42.

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exacting the evils of war upon his own subjects?’ Hoping that the Byzantines would now repent their ‘folly’, he offers Belisarius and his army safe passage out of the city. The Gothic envoy then closes his remarks by rhetorically asking the Italo-Romans why ‘they had betrayed both us and themselves’.78 Belisarius responds by rejecting the notion that Rome ever belonged to the ‘usurping’ Goths, emphasising the point that—after sixty years—Rome had now returned to its rightful rulers.79 Procopius then has Belisarius shift gears. Foreshadowing the coming Byzantine triumph, Belisarius warns the Goths that a day would soon come when they would need to hide, but they would find no shelter.80 As if the Goths or Procopius’ wider audience needed any more evidence that Belisarius was not one of the ‘soft’ ItaloRomans, the general proclaims heroically, ‘Whoever of you has hope of setting foot in Rome without a fight is mistaken in his judgement. For as long as Belisarius lives, it is impossible to relinquish the city’.81 To bolster his contrast between the ‘active’ East Romans and the ‘passive’ Italo-Romans even further, Procopius concludes his account with a vivid and telling depiction of the Italo-Roman senators’ stunned reaction to Belisarius’ bravado. The Roman senators, frozen ‘by a great fear’ [δέει μεγάλῳ], sit by silently, while the Gothic envoys hurl further abuse at them for their ‘betrayal’ [προδοσία].82 Upon their return to camp, Vitigis asks his envoys ‘what kind of man Belisarius was, and where he stood with regard to withdrawing from Rome’. The representatives reply, ‘the Goths were mistaken if they believed that they would scare Belisarius’. The Goths who had met with Belisarius were beginning to realise that the general and his soldiers were not the meek and unmanly Romans the Goths had been expecting to rout in battle.83 In this negotiation, we see how Procopius’ apparent trite classical mimesis, gendered vocabulary, and bombastic set speeches set the ground for the 78 Proc. Wars 5.20.8-14 (trans. Kaldellis). 79 Proc. Wars 5.20.17-18, Ῥώμην μέντοι ἑλόντες ἡμεῖς τῶν ἀλλοτρίων οὐδὲν ἔχομεν, ἀλλ’ ὑμεῖς ταύτης τὰ πρότερα ἐπιβατεύσαντες, οὐδὲν ὑμῖν προσῆκον, νῦν οὐχ ἑκόντες τοῖς πάλαι κεκτημένοις ἀπέδοτε. See also, Proc. Wars 5.14.14. On Procopius’ consistent linking of the East Romans with the legacy of the city of Rome and the former Empire, see Saradi, Τα ‘μνημεία του γένους’, pp. 313-329; Borgognoni, ‘Capitals at War’, pp. 455-480. 80 For the arrogance of the Goths as a common trope in late antique literature, see Cristini, ‘Theoderic’s ΑΓΝΩΜΟΣΥΝΗ’, p. 290. 81 Proc. Wars 5.20.18 (trans. Kaldellis). 82 Proc. Wars 5.20.15-20; cf. Proc. Wars 6.6.22-33. 83 Proc. Wars 5.21.1, ‘[…] ἀπεκρίναντο ὡς οὐκ εἰκότα Γότθοι ἐλπίζουσι, δεδίξεσθαι Βελισάριον ὅτῳ δὴ τρόπῳ οἰόμενοι.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

combat to come. It soon becomes evident that the Goths were the rash party, and that Belisarius had not been compelled by rashness or fear but by a justified belief in the Byzantines’ superior manly virtues and tactical advantages.84 The portrait that Procopius paints of Belisarius indeed offered his learned Greek audience the quintessence of the andreios man: the East Roman general, to borrow the words of Karen Bassi, ‘neither fears too much nor too little’.85 One can offer a further plausible explanation for why Procopius packed this incident with gendered rhetoric. Although the East Romans achieved a resounding victory over the Goths in April of 537, it did not bring the war to a close. For Procopius, it did nevertheless accomplish two important things. First, it helped Procopius to establish the East Romans as the rightful possessors of Rome. And second, by demonstrating that the Byzantines were more than worthy military rivals to the martial Goths, it countered Gothic rhetoric found earlier in his account of the siege that taunted the East Romans as unmanly ‘Greeks’.86 With some exceptions, the sentiments that Procopius expresses in Book 5 towards the Italo-Romans, Goths, and Byzantines remain relatively consistent throughout the remainder of the Gothic War.87 On the one hand, the Goths and East Romans were evenly matched in military terms, so political control of Italy ebbs and flows according to combinations of shifting factors such as politics, fortune, inf ighting, and good or bad generalship. On the other hand, unable to defend themselves from the two warring parties and faced with deteriorating conditions within Italy, the Italo-Romans become passive observers to an increasingly miserable fate. 88 84 After his victory, Belisarius explains to his men (Wars 5.28.26-27) that his earlier confidence stemmed from a tactical advantage that he had spotted during his first skirmish with the Goths. He realised that, in a larger battle, his mounted archers would have a distinct advantage over the Gothic cavalry, who carried spears. 85 Bassi, ‘Semantics of Manliness’, p. 53. 86 See Proc. Wars 5.18.40, ὃς ἐνταῦθα ἐλθὼν καὶ Ῥώμαίους τῆς ἐς Гότθους ἀπιστίας, κακίσας τὴν προδοσίαν ὠνείδιζεν ἣν αὐτοὺς ἐπί τε τῇ πατρίδι πεποιῆσθαι καὶ σφίσιν αὐτοῖς ἔλεγεν, οἳ τῆς Гότθων δυνάμεως Γραικοὺς τοὺς σφίσιν οὐχ οἵους ἀμύνειν ὅντας ἠλλάξαντο, ἐξ ὧν τὰ πρότερα οὐδένα ἐς Ἰταλίαν ἥκοντα εἶδον, ὅτι μὴ τραγῳδούς τε καὶ μίμους καὶ ναύτας λωποδύτας. On the unmanly reputation of Greeks, mimes, and actors in the Roman literary tradition, see Williams, Roman Homosexuality, pp. 35, 65, 153-155. 87 Stewart, ‘Contests of Andreia’, pp. 45-51. 88 Procopius, who expressed his appreciation of Rome’s legacy (Wars 7.22.9-16), also shows genuine concern for the native population’s suffering during the purges, plagues, and famines that ravaged Italy during the war (see Wars 5.20.5-7, 6.3.8-32, 6.20.15-33, 7.6.7, 8.34.3-5).

The Danger of the Sof t Life


Aeneas’ Ship To delve a bit deeper into Procopius’ attitudes towards the Italians, East Romans, and Goths, let us move to the final Book of the Wars, and a digression that touches on many of the issues we have already discussed. At the opening of Book 8, Procopius describes how the citizens of Rome were unable to defend or rebuild their city after it had been damaged by the continual tit-for-tat warfare between the Goths and East Romans. Procopius wrote: ‘But these Romans being reduced to the state of slaves and stripped of all their money, were not only unable to lay claim to the public funds but could not even secure those that belonged to them personally’.89 Although the passage just quoted is consistent with Procopius’ generally disapproving outlook found throughout the Gothic War, in what follows, he seems to admire the Italians’ tenacity in remembering their past: The Romans indeed love their city above all the men we know and are eager to protect their heritage and preserve it, so that nothing of the ancient legacy of Rome may be obliterated. Even though they have lived for a long time under barbarous rule, they preserved the buildings of the city and most of the adornments, those which could withstand so long a lapse of time and such neglect through the sheer excellence of their workmanship.90

We can see in this quotation that Procopius renders the Italo-Romans as some sort of museum custodians of their ancient past.91 The historian does not stop here; he then describes how the citizens had preserved the ship of the legendary founder of Rome, Aeneas.92 Recent scholarship has pointed to the anecdote’s significance for reconstructing how sixth-century Italians linked themselves to their civilisation’s legendary founder.93 For our purposes, two examples of this modern view should suffice. Steven Rutledge believes that for Procopius the ship ‘symbolized the Romans’ weathering of adversity, and their native fortitudo et constantina […]. It is an instance where the literal evidence of an object served to mirror the endurance and 89 Proc. Wars 8.22.4. On the intimate links between unmanliness and servility in Procopius’ writings, see Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, p. 145; Stewart, Soldier’s Life, pp. 14-18. 90 Proc. Wars 8.22.5-6 (trans. Kaldellis, modified). 91 Peter Brown (Eye of a Needle, pp. 461-462) discusses the senate of Rome’s creation in the fifth century of ‘a series of “museum islands” devoted to their own version of the past of Rome’. 92 Proc. Wars 8.22.7-16. 93 Averil Cameron, ‘Old Rome and New Rome’; Rutledge, Ancient Rome a Museum.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

antiquity of an ancient people’.94 Averil Cameron places less importance on the digression, maintaining that while interesting, it offers merely the observations of a tourist.95 Although each scholar offers plausible interpretations, neither mentions Procopius’ likeliest reason for attaching this digression to the Wars’ finale. As is true with many of his digressions, Procopius’ ‘authentic’ viewpoints become clear only when one probes further into his account. The episode sets the stage for the impending naval battles. Context and sequence matter. Immediately following the digression, Procopius reported that the Goths under Totila had built their own fleet of 300 vessels to attack Greece. Despite some initial successful raiding and the capture of the East Roman general Narses’ supply ships, according to Procopius this fleet failed to inflict any serious damage on the East Romans’ cause.96 The point is obvious; the Goths were only playing at being martial sailors. Procopius’ conscious appeal to a distinguished Roman naval past thus served a larger narrative aim. Who then in the historian’s mind were the true heirs of Aeneas? Surely not the feeble Italo-Romans, who as Procopius had shown throughout the Gothic War had preserved merely a token of their native martial past, while abandoning the manly virtues found in the soldier’s life.97 The East Romans, in contrast, perform throughout Book 8 deeds of martial manliness worthy of their pugnacious Roman ancestors. Even more telling, a contemporary of Procopius, the North African court poet Corippus, explicitly described Justinian and his soldiers as ‘the sons of Aeneas’.98 Therefore, it is likely that this anecdote is not superfluous to Procopius’ larger didactic purpose. Only after reading about the campaigns of Totila’s navy in the Mediterranean Sea, and another seemingly innocuous description by Procopius on the geography of Homer (Wars 8.22.16-29), and a description of another mythical ancient vessel (this one the ship that had taken Odysseus home to Ithaca in the Odyssey) does the reader finally discover who the true Romans were in regards to naval competence, namely the East Roman fleet led by its naval commanders John and Valerian.99 Procopius’ account of 94 Rutledge, Ancient Rome a Museum, p. 132. 95 Averil Cameron, ‘Old Rome and New Rome’, p. 203 n. 112. 96 Proc. Wars 8.22.17-32. Procopius, however, later contradicts himself by depicting continued Gothic naval puissance (Wars 8.24.31). 97 On the rise of Byzantine naval power in the sixth century, see Cosentino, ‘Constans II and the Byzantine Navy’, pp. 577-603. 98 Coripp. Ioh. 1.1-19. 99 Hom. Od. 13.157-87.

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the subsequent sea battle supplies the cipher for understanding the earlier digression on Aeneas’ ship. Once again, Procopius employed two set speeches to set up the combat and the lessons to be learned from it. The speeches by John and Valerian are Thucydidean and straightforward.100 The Romans must wage the battle to protect their supply lines. Without sustenance, there can be no virtue or courage. The commanders declare that ‘ἀρετή [“goodness”, “excellence, “virtue”] cannot dwell together with hunger, nature does not allow one to be hungry and to be a valiant man’.101 Indeed, even if the Roman troops decided to behave in a cowardly fashion, the Roman commanders bleakly reminded their men that there would be little chance of escape, since the Goths controlled the land and the sea. This straightforward advice by the Roman commanders stands in stark contrast to the Goths’ subsequent harangue. Lest we forget the gendered framework of the dispute that structures the Gothic War, Procopius has the Gothic naval commanders exhort their men as follows: ‘Show them, therefore, straightaway that they [the East Romans] are Greeks, unmanly [ἄνανδροι] by nature, and they are merely putting on a bold face when defeated, and do not allow this experiment of theirs to continue’. ‘For unmanliness [ἀνανδρία],’ the Goth continued, ‘when merely looked down upon, is emboldened, because audacity loses its restraints merely by being allowed to exist’.102 Here, the Gothic leader harks back (once again) to old Theoderican, and indeed West Roman, propaganda that sought to disparage the East Romans as unmanly Greeks.103 The experiment discussed is nothing less than Justinian’s entire reconquest. The Goths’ boastful and condescending words prove mistaken.104 The battle concludes as an overwhelming East Roman victory. Procopius reveals John and Valerian’s men to be manly Romans, not unmanly Greeks. After providing a rather muddled account of the naval battle, Procopius explains to his readers that, ‘the barbarians, being inexperienced in naval warfare, fought with great indiscipline’.105 The imperial navy had come a long way since the opening of the campaign against the Vandals in 533, 100 Whately, Battles and Generals, p. 202. 101 Proc. Wars 8.23.16, λιμῷ γὰρ οὐκ οἶδεν ἡ ἀρετὴ ξυνοικίζεσθαι, πεινῆν τε καὶ ἀνδραγαθίζεσθαι οὐκ ἀνεχομένης τῆς φύσεως. 102 Proc. Wars 8.23.14-22. 103 Arnold, Roman Imperial Restoration, p. 153. See, Proc. Wars 5.18.40-41. 104 Procopius often used such inaccuracies in his set speeches as a means of later undermining the speaker’s overall argument. See, for instance, Wars 5.18.40-1, 5.20.9-12, 7.21.4-12. 105 Proc. Wars 8.23.31.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

where in Book 3 of the Wars, Procopius had described the East Romans’ ‘terror of naval warfare’.106 In the remainder of the Gothic War, the East Romans fought manfully, while the Goths acted frequently in an unmanly way.107 What Procopius considered to be a major turning point in the entire Italian campaign was not that decisive a victory. The historian’s subsequent account undermines his hyperbolic suggestion that the battle of Senogallia had broken Totila and the Goths’ fighting spirit.108 As one scholar has posited recently, this distortion likely indicates Procopius’ fuzzy knowledge of naval warfare and his ignorance of the actual military manoeuvring and tactics employed by both sides during the campaign’s final stages.109 Yet, such a naval victory better fit Procopius’ larger narrative. In all his writings, Procopius manipulated chronology, distorted the truth, and, at times, told outright lies if it created a more dramatic and edifying narrative.110 Although such a solution may trouble those hoping to uncover the actual events at the conflict’s close, it provides insights into Procopius’ mindset towards Justinian’s reconquest as a return of ‘true’ Romans from the East. Moreover, if I am right in this, it points to a more optimistic vision of the campaign’s final years than some scholars allow.

Narses’ ‘Sack’ of Rome Let us complete our discussion with a final example from the close of Book 8 that magnifies the native Italians’ precarious position near the end of the campaign. In 552, after defeating a Gothic army and killing Totila at the battle of Busta Gallorum, the East Roman eunuch general Narses and his army retook Rome. This sack represents one of the last events in the Wars. As we saw in the previous chapter, most historians believe that by this stage of his writing Procopius had tired of the prolonged Italian war. Indeed, the sack has been used as evidence that the historian had turned against the 106 Proc. Wars 3.14.2, ‘[…] κατωρρωδηκύτες τε τὴν ναυμαχίαν’. See also Proc. Wars 3.10.5. 107 See, for example, the acts of Byzantine ἀρετή and ἀνδρεία at Proc. Wars 8.23.34, 8.29.22-23, 8.30.1, 8.32.11, while one finds instances of the Goths’ shame and cowardice in Proc. Wars 8.23.36, 8.24.3, 8.30.7, 8.32.19. 108 Proc. Wars 8.24.42. 109 Kouroumali, ‘Procopius and the Gothic War’, pp. 211-212. This is an interpretation shared by Whately, Battles and Generals, pp. 201-203. 110 For these deceptions in Buildings, see Amelia Brown, ‘Justinian, Procopius, and Deception’, pp. 355-369; in the Wars, see Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, p. 33.

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campaign.111 A closer examination of the evidence offers a rather different conclusion. The battle begins with the barbarian Herules leading the East Romans’ attacks on Rome’s circuit walls.112 Procopius clearly found the rampant slaughter that prevailed throughout the city once Narses’ forces breached the walls upsetting: For this conquest turned out to be for the Roman senate and people a cause of far greater destruction, in the following manner. In escaping, the Goths had abandoned the mastery of Italy, but along the way they slew any Romans they happened upon, sparing no one. The barbarians in the Roman army also treated as enemies all whom they chanced upon as they entered the city.113

Even more appalling, the Goths then executed all the three hundred upperclass Italo-Romano children they had been holding hostage. Procopius’ lament that for mankind that ‘even those things which appear to be lucky, instead lead to their destruction’114 has been seen by Anthony Kaldellis as firm proof that the historian had irreversibly turned against the campaign, and that he believed primarily in tyche.115 Undeniably, Procopius blamed some of this misfortune on the whims of fate.116 Yet should we go so far as to claim that this angst indicates that Procopius did not support a Roman victory? The two passages quoted above share similarities with Procopius’ depictions of previous sieges. This sack was not the first time that the Italians had suffered at the hands of the East Romans. During the Gothic Wars early stages, Procopius described a similar slaughter of native Italians when Belisarius captured Naples in November of 536. In this instance, the Gothic garrison sent out the Neapolitan Stephanus to treat with Belisarius. In a dramatic address, Stephanus protested to 111 Kaldellis, ‘Procopius’ Persian War’, p. 274. 112 Proc. Wars 8.33.17-21. 113 Proc. Wars 8.34.2-8, Ῥωμαίων γὰρ τῇ τε ξυγκλήτῳ βουλῇ καὶ τῷ δήμῳ τὴν νίκην τήνδε πολλῷ ἔτι μᾶλλον φθόρου αἰτίαν ξυνηνέχθη γενέσθαι τρόπῳ τοιῷδε. Γότθοι μὲν φεύγοντες καὶ τὴν Ἰταλίας ἐπικράτησιν ἀπογνόντες, ὁδοῦ ποιούμενοι πάρεργον, τοὺς παρατυχόντας σφίσι Ῥωμαίους οὐδεμιᾷ διεχρῶντο φειδοῖ. οἱ δὲ βάρβαροι τοῦ Ῥωμαίων στρατοῦ ὡς πολεμίοις ἐχρῶντο πᾶσιν οἷς ἂν ἐντύχοιεν ἐν τῇ ἐς τὴν πόλιν εἰσόδῳ. 114 Proc. Wars 8.34.1, Τότε δὴ τοῖς ἀνθρώποις διαφανέστατα ἐπιδέδεικται ὡς ἅπασιν, οἷσπερ ἔδει γενέσθαι κακῶς. 115 Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, p. 215. See also, Averil Cameron, Procopius, p. 190. 116 Proc. Wars 8.33.24. For Procopius’ nuanced utilisation of tyche as an aspect of causation, see Brodka, Die Geschichtsphilosophie, pp. 40-55.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

the East Romans that the natives had little choice but to support their masters, the barbarian Goths. He appealed to Belisarius not to take the field against fellow Romans, but rather to head straight to Rome, and if he took it, then Naples would recognise his rule.117 Belisarius replied by warning the Neapolitans that if they refused to surrender the city to a ‘fellow’ Roman he would be unable to control his barbarian troops who were eager for vengeance: I pray that an ancient city, which for ages has been inhabited by Christians and Romans, may not meet with such a fate, especially while I am commanding the Roman army, not least because my army contains many barbarians who have lost brothers or relatives before the wall of this city. I will be unable to restrain their wrath if they take the city in war.118

Belisarius’ prediction came true, and when his army sacked the city the ‘barbarians’ took merciless revenge on its defenceless citizenry.119 Only swift action by Belisarius prevented a full-scale slaughter.120 Just as in the carnage at Naples in 536, Procopius emphasised in Narses’ sack of Rome in 552 that it was not the native East Roman soldiers who had caused most of the destruction. Instead, he blamed the ‘barbarians’ in Narses’ army who had cut-down the Italo-Romans indiscriminately. Since they led the offensive, we may conclude that the Herules were the primary culprits. Their behaviour should not surprise, since throughout the Gothic War, the historian hurled particularly harsh vitriol against the Herules.121 Given the fact that Procopius had stressed Narses’ reliance on these rowdy auxiliaries time and again in the Wars, his account of the ‘barbarian sack’ may be a criticism of Narses’ inability to control these unruly men.122 In the Wars, discipline represents a quality essential to successful armies and idealised generals.123 Narses’ soldiers’ indiscipline thus may be contrasted to the historian’s consistent praise throughout the Wars of Belisarius’ ability 117 The exchange echoes elements of Thuc. Hist. 2.71-72. 118 Proc. Wars 5.9.27,πόλιν δὲ ἀρχαίαν καὶ οἰκήτορας Χριστιανούς τε καὶ Ῥωμαίους ἄνωθεν ἔχουσαν ἐς τοῦτο τύχης οὐκ ἂν εὐξαίμην, ἄλλως τε καὶ ὑπ ̓ ἐμοῦ Ῥωμαίων στρατηγοῦντος, ἐλθεῖν, μάλιστα ἐπεὶ βάρβαροι πολλοί μοι τὸ πλῆθος ἐν τῷ στρατοπέδῳ εἰσίν, ἀδελφοὺς ἢ ξυγγενεῖς πρὸ τοῦδε ἀπολωλεκότες τοῦ τείχους: ὧν δὴ κατέχειν τὸν θυμόν, ἢν πολέμῳ τὴν πόλιν ἕλωσιν, οὐκ ἂν δυναίμην. . 119 The extent of the carnage in the Romans’ rampage in Naples is corroborated by the Lib. Pont. Vita Vigilius 61.4; Marc. com. Chron. s.a. 536.3. 120 Proc. Wars 5.10.30-37. See, however, Proc. Secret History 4.43. 121 Proc. Wars 6.14.1-36, 7.34.43. 122 Wars 6.18.6, 7.13.21-22, 7.16.13. 123 Whately, ‘Indiscipline in Sixth Century Historiography’, p. 244.

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to control his wilder allies such as the Huns through displays of strict discipline.124 Just behaviour towards the Italo-Romans, which Procopius maintained throughout the Gothic War would determine the victor in the contest, was conspicuously missing on both sides.125 Calling attention to the collateral damage in the Byzantines’ f inal capture of Rome may have suited Procopius’ purposes. It provided a dig at Narses, while not undercutting his larger accomplishments, which I believe Procopius supported. Perhaps Procopius supposed that, given the opportunity to lead such a large and well-funded force, Belisarius would have achieved a similar result, albeit without the disastrous repercussions for the local populace. It also served as a useful reminder of what could happen to a non-martial people such as the Italians in times of war, when military prowess determined a people’s fate.126 Incapable of protecting themselves from either side, the Italians were gradually bled dry both by the Goths and the Byzantines.127 It is in this context that we should see Procopius’ account of Narses’ sack of Rome.128 The stress at the close of the Wars on the Byzantine soldiers’ superior martial virtues and the Italo-Romans’ impotence indeed furnishes further proof that Procopius’ view of Justinian’s reconquest may be far less gloomy than some assert.129 So too is it significant that Procopius’ contemporaries make no mention of the historian’s supposed negative attitude towards the return of Roman power in the West. For example, Agathias, saw the Wars as pro-reconquest, asserting that they described how ‘Sicily, Rome, and Italy had cast off the yoke of foreign domination’.130 This was a common view of the reconquest in the East. We find similar rhetoric at the famous close of Jordanes’ Getica: 124 Wars 4.42-4. Procopius also commended (Wars 7.20.28-31) the Gothic King Totila for his sense of justice and iron discipline. 125 The question of Italian loyalty, according to Procopius (for example, Wars 7.4.16, 7.9.10-15, 7.30.24), had less to do with the East and West Romans’ shared past, and more with which side, Greek or Goth, could protect the Italians and treat them justly. 126 Brodka, Die Geschichtsphilosophie, p. 106. 127 Proc. Wars 7.9.2. On the other hand, as Kouroumali (‘Procopius and the Gothic War’, pp. 190193) points out, the Italians, in Procopius’ account, were treated far more harshly by the Goths than by the East Romans. 128 For Procopius’ hostile attitude towards Narses, see Kouroumali, ‘Procopius and the Gothic War’, pp. 42-43. For Procopius’ relating both positive and negative views of Narses, see Stewart, ‘Andreios eunuch’. 129 Kaldellis, ‘Procopius’ Persian War’, p. 274; Averil Cameron, Procopius, p. 190. 130 Agath. praef. 30 (trans. Frendo), οὐδέ γε ὅπως Σικελία τε καὶ Ῥώμη καὶ Ἰταλία τοὺς ἐπήλυδας ἀποβαλοῦσα βαρβάρους πάλιν ἤθεσι πατρίοις μετεκοσμεῖτο.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

And now we have recited the origin of the Goths, the noble line of the Amali, and the deeds of brave men. This glorious race yielded to a more glorious prince and surrendered to a more valiant leader, whose fame will be silenced by no agesor cycles of years; for the victorious and triumphant Justinian and his consul Belisarius will be named and known as Vandalicus, Africanus, and Geticus.131

Here, like generations of barbarians before them, the martial Goths have submitted honourably to the superior manly Romanitas of Justinian and Belisarius.132 In another testimony, we see an Eastern contemporary of Procopius, John Lydus, explaining that Justinian had sent his imperial forces to rescue the Italians from the Goths: He [Justinian] attacked the Getans [Goths], who were both tearing asunder sacred Rome and all that was under its authority and were abusing the time-honoured patricians of Rome, and captured them with their households, and presented them with Vitigis their tyrant, and restored to Rome what was Rome’s.133 131 Jord. Get. 315 (trans. Mierow), Haec hucusque Getarum origo ac Amalorum nobilitas et virorum fortium facta. Haec laudanda progenies laudabiliori principi cessit et fortiori duci manus dedit, cuius fama nullis saeculis nullisque silebitur aetatibus, sed victor ac triumphator Iustinianus imperator et consul Belesarius Vandalici Africani Geticique dicentur. 132 In his influential reading of the Getica’s mid-sixth-century political subtext, Walter Goffart, (Narrators of Barbarian History, p. 72) contends: ‘The vision that Jordanes projects is of a new society, symbolised by the infant Germanus, in which the Goth and Romans intermarry and, in their progeny and in submission to Justinian, become one’. Patrick Amory (People and Identity, pp. 292-303), on the other hand, sees things slightly differently, rejecting what he perceives to be ‘Goffart’s literary reading of the Getica as an allegorical love story between (feminine) Goths and (masculine) Romans, written by a pseudonymous author for the emperor’. For Amory, the Getica represented a ‘classical man’s attempt to explain a changing world. The work of Jordanes exemplifies the widening gap between ethnographic description and the newly visible diversity of the former Roman Empire’. Nevertheless, according to Amory, ‘There is no reason to think that Jordanes thought of the [Byzantine] conquest of Italy as anything other than a good thing, despite his pro-Amal remarks’. See, however, Marion Kruse (‘Justinianic Debate’, pp. 233-245), who places Jordanes’ emphasis on imperial failure in Romana within the larger landscape of what he sees as the wider anti-Justinianic sixth-century Byzantine literary landscape. Contra Kruse, Romana may be read—as in the case of Ostrogothic propaganda discussed throughout this chapter—as a call to bolster Roman military prowess by integrating the martial Goths into the Roman state. 133 Joh. Lyd. De mag. 3.55 (trans. Bandy), I have changed Bandy’s ‘king’ for τυράννῳ to ‘tyrant’. Scholars are divided on Lydus’ attitudes towards Justinian and his military campaigns. For these opposing modern views and an erudite analysis of Lydus’ multifaceted opinions on Justinian, see Dmitriev, ‘Political Message’, pp. 1-24.

The Danger of the Sof t Life


The subtext of the passage above is clear: incapable of protecting themselves, Rome’s patricians needed to rely on Justinian and his soldiers for their liberation from the Goths.134 We find similar sentiments in Justinian’s visual propaganda.135 A vestment that was placed over Justinian’s coffin at his funeral in 565 depicted the emperor ‘amid his court, trampling on the bold neck of the Vandal king’ while the personifications of Libya and Old Rome looked on in approval.136

A Fight Between Real Men When describing Theoderic’s Italy, one thing the Goths and the Byzantines seemed to agree on was the notion that the Italo-Romans lacked the manly courage and martial virtues necessary to protect their native land.137 As discussed earlier, the Wars reflects accurately some of the gendered propaganda brandished by each side.138 This was a propaganda that emphasised the Italians’ passive and non-martial role in the conflict. In a work that focused on battle and the exploits of soldiers, it should not shock us that in the Wars a ‘manly man’ [ἀνὴρ ἀνδρεῖος] was a military man.139 Procopius’ portrayal of the final battle in the Wars between the Goths and the East Romans, at Mons Lactarius, was sympathetic to both sides.140 While appreciating the fighting qualities and, indeed, the Goths’ manliness, the historian, nevertheless, had already confirmed the East Romans as the superior and manlier side. Therefore, as did Agathias, Jordanes, and John Lydus, Procopius perceived the return to Roman rule in the West to be the restoration of the proper order whereby barbarian warrior elites were subdued by manly Roman military might, and then either annihilated, evicted, or reintegrated into a reinvigorated imperial realm.141 134 Vitiello, Theodahad, pp. 171-172. 135 Proc. Buildings 1.10.16-20. The imperial dishware displayed similar triumphant imagery; see Coripp. In laudem Iustini Augusti minoris 3.110-25. 136 Coripp. In laudem Iustini Augusti minoris 1.288-90 (trans. Cameron, slightly modified). 137 Proc. Wars 3.3.10-13, 7.11.12-14. 138 See, Proc. Wars 5.18.40-1. 139 I suspect that this tendency also reflects the increasing militarisation in Byzantine culture in the sixth century. For just some of the many possible examples of Procopius’ valorising in the Wars of men with military backgrounds: Theodosius I (Wars 3.1.2-3), Majorian (Wars 3.7.4-13), Leo I (Wars 3.6.11), Belisarius (Wars 7.1.1-21), Totila (Wars 7.6.4), and Germanus (Wars 7.40.9). 140 Stewart, ‘Contests of Andreia’, pp. 52-53. 141 Proc. Wars 8.35.31-38. For this topos in Procopius and Roman literature more generally, see Conant, Staying Roman, pp. 260-261.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

In Procopius’ rhetoric, as the Goths became more attuned to Roman masculine ideals, the Italo-Romans became less martial and hence more effeminate. For Procopius, this left them particularly helpless and vulnerable to barbarian aggression. Indeed, even when Justinian employed Italo-Romans for pivotal roles in the imperial army, Procopius denigrated them for their cowardice and inexperience in military matters. 142 Largely excluded from the Gothic and Roman armed forces, Italian aristocrats, who had been able to forgo their martial roles for more intellectual forms of male self-fashioning, had a more diff icult time being ‘true’ men during Justinian’s wars, when Italy’s destiny was on the line. Therefore, contrary to some recent arguments, Procopius’ descriptions of the Italians’ suffering at the hands of the Goths and the Byzantines should not be used as evidence that the historian was anti-reconquest.143 Moreover, the reconquest in Procopius’ account did not signify the reunif ication of two Roman peoples. Although the Byzantine Empire remained active throughout the Western and Eastern Mediterranean for many centuries to come, too much had changed within Italy for the Roman Empire to re-establish its dominance or invigorate the Italians. As Patrick Amory reasons insightfully, by the mid-sixth century, the concept of a united Roman culture and identity had already disappeared in the West: The eventual failure of Justinian and his successors to retain the allegiance of Africa and Italy and finally after Phocas, the Balkans, was partly a result of the inadequacy of imperial ideology to draw together the varied elites of new frontiers into a single homogeneous cultural, religious, and political culture determined by Constantinople.144 142 Proc. Wars 7.39.7, where he censures the leader of Justinian’s campaign in Sicily (550), the Italo-Roman Liberius (c. 465-554: PLRE 2: 677-81 Petrus Marcellinus Felix Liberius 3; O’ Donnell, ‘Liberius the Patrician’, pp. 31-72), for his lack of military experience, an assertion that Cassiodorus contradicts (Var. 11.1.16; cf. Amory, pp. 153-154). Procopius may have been aware of Liberius’ earlier military and quasi-military appointments but instead chose to highlight the native Italian’s lack of military expertise to better fit his vision of the non-martial Italians offered throughout the Gothic War. Procopius likewise condemned (Wars 7.6.12) another of Justinian’s military appointments, the Roman Senator and praetorian prefect of Italy, Maximinus, for his supposed cowardice and ignorance of military matters. On the uncertain identity of Procopius’ ‘Maximinus’ and a consideration of some of Justinian’s reasoning for employing these Italo-Roman elites in these military roles, see Vitiello, Theodohad, pp. 121-122. 143 See, for example, Bjornlie, Politics and Tradition, p. 108. 144 Amory, People and Identity, p. 313.

The Danger of the Sof t Life


Procopius’ writings supply further evidence of this decoupling. As I have maintained throughout this book, Procopius did not compose the Wars in a vacuum. Though shaped by classical precepts, Procopius’ tailored contrast throughout the Gothic War of unmanly Italo-Romans and manly Romans reflects an era when rule of Italy from Constantinople was contested. The Wars offers insights into the issues in play before and during Justinian’s Western military campaigns. In Procopius as well as sixth-century ItaloRoman sources, the West Romans’ ‘decision’ to forego their martial roles in the fifth century had not only led to the rise of the ‘barbarian’ Vandals and Goths, but it had separated the Italians from an essential component of manly Romanitas—martial virtues. This helps to explain why gendered martial rhetoric undergirds the Gothic War. In the increasingly militarised and competitive Mediterranean world of Late Antiquity—where might still made right—it was natural for Procopius to conclude that only when the manly martial Romans from Constantinople defeated the ‘trespassing’ Goths would Italy once again become truly Roman. As we have discussed in this chapter, this battle between competing ideologies had not begun in the sixth century but had deep roots in earlier Roman history. To appreciate the intimate connections between martial virtues, masculinity, and imperium in the wider late antique Mediterranean world, the next chapter examines how Procopius wielded these themes in his account of Justinian’s first attempt in Vandalic North Africa to recover western territories that had been lost in the first half of the fifth century. By centring on the emotion of ‘fear’ we will see how Procopius masterfully combines ‘facts’ and literary topoi to vividly supply a didactic account of the East Romans’ surprisingly easy victory over the fearsome Vandals in 533-534.

4. Courage, Fear, and Generalship in the Vandal War […] the courageous man’s fears are great and many.1 ‒ Aristotle EE 1228b

The emotion of ‘fear’ takes centre stage in the Vandal War.2 I am certainly not the first to notice this emphasis. Recent scholarship has underlined Procopius’ stress on the febrile anxiety that gripped Constantinople when the Emperor Justinian announced his military expedition to recover the former Roman territories of North Africa from the Vandals in the summer of 533.3 According to Procopius, the generals, who had just waged a series of hard-fought land campaigns against Persia, were reluctant to launch a sea invasion of a realm that had been out of Roman hands for over a century: Each of the generals, supposing that he himself would command the army, was in terror [κατωρρώδει] and dread [ἀπώκνει] at the greatness of the danger, if it should be necessary for him—assuming he survived the perils of the sea—to encamp in enemy land and, using his ships as a base, to engage in a war against a kingdom both large and formidable. 4

The memory of a botched military expedition in 468 against the Vandals had clearly left its mark on the Roman psyche.5 This defeat had seen a formidable 1 ὥστε συμβαίνει τὸν ἀνδρεῖον μεγάλους φόβους καὶ πολλοὺς ποιεῖσθαι. 2 Procopius’ vocabulary for ‘fear’ and ‘terror’ consists of three primary word groups, based on the nouns φόβος, ὀρρωδία, and δέος. In ancient Greek, δέος typically refers to future or possible danger, while φόβος represents the fear that seizes one when danger is clear and present. The study of emotions has become a valuable methodological tool for modern scholars studying the thought-worlds behind classical and late antique literature. For a range of recent examples, see Nussbaum, Therapy of Desire; Shivola and Endberg-Pederson, Emotions in Hellenistic Philosophy; Desmond, ‘Lessons of Fear’; Sidwell and Dzino, Studies in Emotion and Power. For the emotions of important personalities as a vital factor in determining the historical process in the writings of Procopius, see Brodka, Die Geschichtsphilosophie, p. 71. 3 See, for example, Anagnostakis, ‘Procopius’ Dream’; Kaldellis, ‘Procopius’ Vandal War’; Whately, Battles and Generals; Sarris, ‘Landownership and Rural Society’, p. 239; Ross, ‘Narrator and Participant’, p. 78. 4 Proc. Wars 3.10.4 (trans. Kaldellis). 5 Parnell, Justinian’s Men, pp. 61-62, discusses the impact on Procopius of lingering fears of ‘barbarians’ in mid-sixth-century Byzantium.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

Roman naval force devastated by Vandal fire-ships just off the shores of North Africa, and had left both halves of the empire’s pride dented, and their finances depleted.6 In spite of that, Procopius reports that the Roman generals were too frightened to speak up. Only the praetorian prefect John the Cappadocian, a man denigrated by the historian throughout the Wars, had the nerve to warn the emperor about the financial and political ramifications of such a venture. Heeding John’s advice, Justinian relented, temporarily abandoning his plan.7 It takes a religious vision to change the devout emperor’s mind.8 Procopius describes how a visiting bishop related to the emperor a dream where God commanded the bishop to remind Justinian that ‘after undertaking the task of protecting Christians in Libya from tyrants’ the emperor ‘for no good reason had become afraid [κατωρρώδησε]’. God, the bishop reassured, would be fighting on Justinian’s side ‘and make him master of Libya’. With his confidence restored, Justinian assembled his armada with Belisarius in command and his staff secretary Procopius by his side when the Byzantine fleet set sail at the close of June 533.9 Since Procopius probably included Belisarius among this group of jittery generals, some have seen it as an implicit criticism of Belisarius.10 For these revisionists it offers evidence of Procopius’ opposition to Justinian’s campaigns in the West from the start and indicates that the historian was no sycophant of Belisarius even at this early stage.11 Yet there are grounds 6 John Lydus (De Mag 3.43-44) and Candidus ( fr. 2) highlight the ongoing financial ramifications of the defeat. 7 For elements of John’s speech, which recall Herodotus’ depiction of Artabanus’ attempt to dissuade Xerxes from invading Greece, see Evans, Procopius, pp. 85-86; Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, p. 180; Zali, ‘Divine Phthonos’, pp. 93-95. According to Procopius (Wars 3.9.8-14) and Malalas (Chron. 18.57), Gelimer’s dethronement of his cousin Hilderic (r. 523-530) provided Justinian with his casus belli. We find further emphasis on Justinian’s need to protect orthodox Christians in North Africa from persecution in CJ 1.27.1-4. 8 A contemporary African source, Victor of Tunnuna (Chron. s.a. 534) offers another version of the religious vision. He explains that a fifth-century bishop, Laetus, who had been executed by the Vandal king Huneric in 479, appeared to Justinian in a vision, which inspired the emperor to launch his campaign. Countering older scholarship, most scholars now believe that the religious rhetoric surrounding the campaign only developed after the Romans achieved their surprisingly quick and easy victory. See, for example, Averil Cameron, Procopius, p. 108; Conant, Staying Roman, pp. 306-309. 9 Proc. Wars 3.10.13-20. On the likelihood that the fleet departed at the end of June rather than the middle of June, see Dijkstra and Greatrex, ‘Patriarchs and Politics’, p. 259, n. 113. 10 Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, pp. 176-177; followed by Anagnostakis, ‘Procopius’ Dream’, pp. 79-94. 11 Whately, Battles and Generals, p. 33, summarises ancient and modern historiography on Procopius’ nuanced treatment of Belisarius in his writings.



for caution. I will suggest in this chapter that such views simplify the role that the multifaceted Greek emotion of fear plays in Procopius. When we pay special attention to the Vandal War’s structure and composition a more complex picture appears. For Procopius, far from being just a negative trait, ‘rational fear’—in multiple contexts—functions as an essential tool of sound generalship. Moreover, the episodes concerning fear in the Vandal War offer far more than hollow rhetoric; Procopius’ recurrent discussions on fear follow closely the advice found in Byzantine military practices and manuals.12 While ostensibly a history about Justinian’s wars in the East and the West, the Wars also offered future political and military leaders practical and anecdotal instruction.13 So while Procopius’ emphasis on fear stems partly from his reliance on Thucydides as a historiographical role model,14 it too served a utilitarian purpose of offering a moral evaluation of the North African campaign.15 Let us begin, then, by making some general observations on the role of fear in some sixth-century sources.16

Military Maxims First the bad.17 In battle, fear leads to panic, which invariably leads to defeat. Little wonder then that late antique military planners strove to limit 12 This is not to downplay the role that fear plays throughout the Wars. The emotion stands out particularly in book 3 and the early parts of book 4. For ‘fear’ elsewhere in the Wars, see Whately, Battles and Generals, pp. 87-88, 97-99. 13 Proc. Wars 1.1.2. For members of the bureaucracy, educated elite, and the officer class as the primary audience for the Wars, see Kaegi, ‘Procopius the Military Historian’, p. 66; Treadgold, Early Byzantine Historians, p. 189; Whately, Battles and Generals, p. 5; Zali, ‘Divine Phthonos’, p. 119. 14 On fear as a crucial element of historical causation in Thucydides, see Romilly, ‘La crainte dans L’oeuvre de Thucydide’, pp. 119-27; Hunter, Past and Process in Thucydides, p. 33; Luginbill, Thucydides on War; Desmond, ‘Lessons of Fear’. 15 Whately, Battles and Generals, pp. 6-20, examines recent debates concerning the extent to which Procopius’ narrative reflects actual combat as opposed to adherence to literary conventions. 16 I have primarily limited my discussion on parallels in the Wars with maxims in the Strategikon, since it reflects contemporary (if cavalry-centric) military policies, rather than the sometimes-anachronistic suggestions, of a military manual such as Vegetius’ likely latefourth-century Latin Epitoma Rei Militaris. For further elucidation on the purpose and audience of these military manuals, see Whately, ‘Genre and Purpose of Military Manuals’, pp. 249-261. On some of the similarities and differences between Procopian combat and the views expressed in the Strategikon, see Rance, ‘Battle of Taginae’, pp. 429-433. 17 Mary Williams, Ethics in Thucydides, pp. 57, 78-79, touches on some of the differences between ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ fear in Thucydides.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

their own fears, while simultaneously maximising their enemies’ terrors. There were many ways to achieve these aims. With some qualifications, armies were encouraged to shout and make noise to rattle their enemies. The Strategikon proclaims, ‘An army which shouts its war cries good and loud can strike terror into the enemy’.18 The mid-sixth-century polymath Agathias describes a Roman army stealthily sneaking behind their enemy and startling them with ‘a loud and piercing war-cry’. The Romans then easily routed the enemy who were ‘beside themselves with fear [τοῦ δέους]’.19 Certain tactics and strategies, such as the bait-and-switch tactics favoured by the Hunnic cavalry and adopted by the Romans, functioned to induce a state of panic in their foes.20 The potential for soldiers’ fear to rapidly degrade an army’s fighting capabilities meant that a successful general needed to constantly monitor his men’s fear levels before, during, and after battle. Speeches offered generals one avenue to achieve this goal. The mid-sixth-century Anonymous Dialogue on Political Science advises prospective generals to ‘make your speeches both concise and military in style, so far as audibility and circumstances permit’.21 Depending on the morale of his army, a set speech could either boost their courage by easing their trepidation or regulate their ardour by implanting a bit of ‘needed’ fear. The Strategikon highlights the practical importance of speeches, commenting that ‘the general who possesses some skill in public speaking is able, as in the past, to rouse the weak-hearted (δειλιῶντας) to battle and restore proper contentment to a defeated army’.22 ‘Defeated troops’, the author of the Strategikon maintained in another maxim, ‘should not be allowed to fall into despair, but they should be dealt with by stirring hope’.23 Procopius too shows how one could deliver pre-battle speeches to manipulate an army’s teetering emotions. Before a naval encounter in the Gothic War, Procopius has a pair of Roman commanders in a pre-battle speech purposely frighten their men by explaining to them that even if they decided to behave in a cowardly fashion during the coming battle, there would be little chance of escape, since the Goths controlled land and sea.24 18 Maur. Strat. 8.2.46 (trans. Dennis). For further ancient examples concerning the use of battlefield acoustics to terrify one’s foes, see Lenski, ‘Two Sieges of Amida’, pp. 233-234. 19 Agath. Histories 5.2.2 (trans. Frendo). Cf. Proc. Wars 4.3.13. 20 Agath. Histories 1.22.1. 21 Dialogue on Political Science 4.1. 22 Maur. Strat. 8.2.74: I have changed the translator Dennis’ ‘courage’ for ‘εὐκόλως συμφοράς’ to ‘proper contentment’. 23 Maur. Strat. 8.1.14 (trans. Dennis). 24 Proc. Wars 8.23.14-22.



Although Procopius’ fondness for set speeches stems from Thucydides,25 we can see by the examples above that we should not discount their significance in either the narrative or actual Byzantine warfare.26 Even though the Wars’ speeches were no doubt embellished, and in some cases perhaps made up, Procopius most probably based them on actual battle speeches he had written for Belisarius or those he had heard in person.27 Regulating their men’s fear during the chaos of battle was another vital duty for generals.28 Although Procopius sometimes chastised Belisarius for fighting on the frontlines,29 the Wars contains several instances where a general’s ability to monitor his men’s fear during battle contributes to a victory. For example, at the battle of Mammes in 534, the Roman general Solomon changes tactics during a cavalry charge when he has his men dismount and fight on foot after he notices the Roman soldiers and their horses were terrified of the Berber camels. This shift in tactics allows his men to recoup their courage, which leads to a notable victory for the Romans.30 Conversely, after the Gothic King Totila turns tail at the fateful battle of Busta Gallorum, it proves devastating to the Gothic cause, on the one hand, for the psychological damage it inflicts on the remaining Gothic soldiers, and on the other, for the practical loss of their commander who can no longer massage his soldiers’ fears.31 Overconfident troops could prove to be just as dangerous as frightened troops, as when Belisarius’ failure to quash his men’s eagerness for battle before the Battle of Callinicum in 531 contributes to a Roman defeat.32 A successful Roman general needed to provoke fear both in the enemy and in his own men.33 When dealing with insubordinate soldiers the Strategikon advised to use punishments to swiftly restore order and thus avoid insurrection: By being just in punishing offenders the general should instil fear [φοβεόν]. At the very first sign of a disciplinary problem he should take action to 25 The emotion of fear also plays an important part in Thucydides’ set speeches. As William Desmond avers (‘Lessons of Fear’, p. 362), the battle speeches in Book 1 ‘play largely upon Athenian and especially Spartan fear’. 26 Colvin, ‘Understanding Campaigns in Procopius and Agathias’, pp. 574-575. 27 Treadgold, Early Byzantine Historians, p. 179. 28 Maur. Strat. 7, ‘Points to be Observed on the Day of Battle’, 1. 29 See, for instance Proc. Wars 5.18.5. 30 For Procopius’ admiration of Solomon, see also Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, p. 189. 31 Proc. Wars 8.32.22-36. 32 Proc. Wars 1.18.19-26; cf. Wars 5.28.1-14. 33 The Strategikon (8.2.35, trans. Dennis) cautions generals to not be too harsh in their treatment of subordinates, since ‘Fear (Φόβος) leads to great hatred’.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

end it and not delay in dealing with it until it grows more serious. The general is successful when his men regard him as unshakeable and just.34

A general’s reputation, moreover, could strike such fear in the enemy that they might capitulate before a sword had been unsheathed. For example, Procopius notes that the Berbers’ failure to ally with the Vandals against the Byzantines is out of ‘fear’ of Belisarius.35 Only after Belisarius leaves North Africa do the Berbers recover their nerve and attack the Romans, which as we see in Book 4 undermines many of the Romans’ earlier accomplishments.36 Lastly, as Byzantine war manuals constantly stress, a general had to fear all the unknowns before, during, and after battle. This fear could either prove overwhelming or spur a general to victory. Motivated by fear, a vigilant general sweated the details; such thoroughness often proved the difference in battles between evenly matched sides. To this point, the Strategikon comments, ‘that a general who takes nothing for granted is secure in war’.37 This conviction underscores why we should not take Procopius’ depiction of Belisarius’ near-constant fretting before and after battles as criticisms, as some modern interpretations do; in fact, we shall see that Procopius portrays rational fear as a positive emotion. Let us now examine more closely how fear shapes the Vandal War.

Fifth-century Roman Failures As we saw earlier, Procopius opens Book 3 by trying to explain the Vandals’ triumphs and the Romans’ crushing defeats during the fifth century.38 The feeble and effeminate rule of Theodosius’ early-fifth-century successors plays an integral part in his explanation for later Roman decline. As time passed the situation became even more dire. Taking advantage of the political chaos in Rome in the aftermath of Valentinian’s assassination on 16 March 455, the Vandals sacked Rome just over two months later.39 During their fourteen-day rampage the Vandals destroyed and looted property, stripping the ancient 34 Maur. Strat. 8.1.3 (trans. Dennis). 35 Proc. Wars 4.8.11-17 (trans. Kaldellis). 36 For ‘the Berbers rather than Vandals’ being a greater threat to the East Romans, see Conant, Staying Roman, p. 255. On the Berbers’ inroads onto Vandal lands in Mauretania and Southern Numidia in the early sixth century, see Modéran, Les Maures et l’Afrique romaine. 37 Maur. Strat. 8.2.47 (trans. Dennis). Cf. Thuc. Hist. 2.11.4. 38 On the three failed fifth-century efforts in 441, 460, and 468 to retake Roman North Africa, see McEvoy, ‘Between the Old Rome and the New’. 39 Cf. Prisc. frag. 30.



capital of many of its treasures, such as the riches seized by Titus from the Jewish population of Jerusalem when the future-emperor sacked the city in 70 CE. The Vandals also gathered an impressive haul of human booty. A number of Roman aristocrats, including Valentinian’s widow and daughters, were abducted and taken back to Carthage.40 This included Eudocia (439-c. 466/474), who would go on to marry Geiseric’s son Huneric (r. 477-484) and give birth to the future Vandal king Hilderic (r. 523-530). 41 Inverting the expected gender role of a manly and protective Roman pater familias, Procopius placed the blame for the debacle firmly at the feet of the feeble and ‘effeminate’ Valentinian III. 42 For Procopius, the sack of Rome by the Vandals represented a key moment in the ‘fall’ of the West. 43 Yet the story is not one of pure linear Roman decline; in Procopius’ view, under a series of soldier-emperors, the military capabilities of the Romans improved somewhat. Despite their setbacks at the hands of the Vandals, Procopius praises fulsomely the West Roman Emperor Majorian (r. 457-461) and the East Roman Emperor Leo I (r. 457-474) for at least standing up to the Vandals and becoming, to borrow the historian’s description of Majorian, ‘an object of fear [φοβερóς] to his enemies’.44 While Procopius provides a muddled account of Majorian’s reign and the soldier-emperor’s aborted attempt to invade Vandal Africa in 460, he offers a more accurate and detailed vision of Leo I and the West Roman Emperor Anthemius’ (r. 467-472) ambitious joint campaign against the Vandals in 468. 45 The Romans’ shattering defeat in 468 provides the cipher for understanding Belisarius’ unexpected victory in 533; the two campaigns have been rightly designated as mirror images of each other. 46 40 Procopius adheres to the rumour found in other Eastern sources (Prisc. frag. 30, Marc. com. Chron. s.a. 455.3) that, seeking to avoid a marriage with the new Roman emperor Petronius Maximus, Valentinian III’s widow Licinia Eudoxia had summoned Geiseric to Rome. For a recent account of the sack and its impact on the senatorial elite, see Salzman, ‘Emperors and Elites’. 41 In Procopius’ telling, Hilderic’s overthrow by his cousin Gelimer (only related through Geiseric’s line) in 530 would play a significant part in Justinian’s subsequent decision to invade North Africa. Conant (Staying Roman, pp. 313-314) suggests that Gelimer’s usurpation genuinely upset Justinian, who had known Hilderic since the early 520s and had developed a close political relationship with the Vandal king based on the Vandal king’s conciliatory position towards Orthodox North Africans and hostile stance against Ostrogothic Italy. 42 Proc. Wars 3.3.10-12. Cf. Cass. Var. 11.1.9-10. 43 This view echoes Justinianic propaganda, see CJ 44 Proc. Wars 3.7.14 (trans. Dewing). On Procopius’ admiration of Majorian as a soldier-emperor, see Börm, ‘Genesis of the Anecdota’, pp. 308-309. 45 On the disaster, see Courtois, Les Vandales, pp. 201-202. 46 Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, p. 179; Wood, ‘Being Roman’, p. 431; Whately, Battles and Generals, p. 131.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

In contrast to what Procopius describes as Belisarius’ modest force of around 18,000 f ighting men, Procopius portrays Leo’s expedition as a much larger-scale affair with up to 100,000 soldiers. 47 Combining forces from the West and the East, Leo and his high command organised a threepronged operation that approached Vandalic North Africa by land and sea. A formerly independent Roman warlord, Marcellinus took Sardinia from the Vandals. 48 Meanwhile, the commander and future emperor, Basiliscus (r. 475-476), sailed the bulk of the East Roman fleet just south of Carthage to Mercurium, where they prepared to assault the Vandal capital; lastly, a smaller fleet led by the Eastern Comes rei militaris Heracleius successfully occupied the Vandal stronghold of Tripolis. Heracleius and his army then marched towards Carthage to link up with Basiliscus’ troops when they arrived in Vandal North Africa. Procopius remarks that in the face of such overwhelming strength even the formidable Vandal King Geiseric considered surrendering, ‘So overcome was Geiseric with awe of Leo as an invincible emperor’. 49 However, Basiliscus, either through treachery or cowardice, delayed attacking Carthage, thereby granting Geiseric the opportunity to launch his fire-ships.50 Even then, Procopius hints that if the craven Basiliscus had not abandoned his men to return to Constantinople, the Romans might still have won the day. The tale of Basiliscus’ failure thus serves as an internal exemplum by which to compare the actions and manly characters of the Vandal War’s two main protagonists, Belisarius and Gelimer.51 Against this backdrop, Procopius introduces his episode on Justinian’s controversial decision to invade Vandalic North Africa.

The Launch So, we can see that Procopius has already shown the reader that the atmosphere of fear which gripped the capital in the summer of 533, while understandable, was based on a largely false premise of Vandal military 47 Proc. Wars 3.6.1-24. 48 The circumstances and dates of this joint expedition are disputed and in need of a reappraisal. I largely follow Merrills and Miles’ reconstruction (The Vandals, pp. 121-123). For more details on the campaign, see Brodka, ‘Priskos und der Feldzug des Basiliskos gegen Geiserich’, pp. 103-120. 49 Proc. Wars 3.1.2 (trans. Kaldellis). 50 Merrills (‘Rome and the Vandals’, p. 505) adds: ‘Geiseric was fully aware of the fear in which he was viewed and presented himself as an instrument of divine vengeance’. 51 Whately, Battles and Generals, p. 157.



superiority.52 Although Procopius includes himself among those stifled by fear when war was first declared, he makes it clear that he was among the first to discover that such fears were misguided. Procopius inserts himself into the story to disclose that he had a prophetic dream, which made him eager to go on the campaign since it forecast that the Romans would emerge triumphant.53 Though recent scholarship has pointed out this dream’s possible subversive political messages,54 I, like Averil Cameron, am inclined to take it at face value.55 It is just one of many places where Procopius grants himself foresight that others in the Wars besides Belisarius mostly lack.56 For our purpose, it is surely significant that fear plays a didactic role during the Romans’ arduous three-month journey to North Africa, where everything that could go wrong did go wrong. I would suggest that besides the educational purpose, Procopius describes accurately the fear enveloping the East Romans, which nearly undid the campaign even before the imperial forces had set foot on African soil. In the narrative, Belisarius is the most important character. Procopius’ retelling of the first stages of the Vandalic campaign indeed offers a blueprint on how an exemplary general like Belisarius could transform terror into courage and turn impending defeat into triumph.57 From the outset, Procopius projects an image of Belisarius as a modifying force over his unruly heterogeneous forces.58 Fear is one of Belisarius’ strongest tools against indiscipline. We see a good example of this when, stalled by a lack of wind, the fleet anchors at Abydos in the Hellespont for four days. With his army’s morale and discipline deteriorating, one of Belisarius’ first acts after the fleet makes landfall is to execute two Hun soldiers who had 52 Those of us who lived through the trepidation into the lead-up of the first Iraq war in 1990 can appreciate that a perceived military threat may not be equal to reality. 53 Conor Whately (personal communication) has reminded me just how prevalent the big dream was in ancient historiography dealing with major impending military operations. For instance, Xerxes’ dream in Herodotus (7.11-19). Livy’s (21.22.6-9) description of Hannibal’s dream prior to his march to Italy. And finally, Lactantius’ (De Mort. Pers. 44.4–6) and Eusebius’ (Vita Constantini 1.28-30) account of Constantine’s famous dream before the battle of Milvian Bridge. For an overview of the use of dreams in sixth-century literature, see McEvoy, ‘Dynastic Dreams and Visions of Early Byzantine Emperors’, pp. 99-117. 54 Cf. Kaldellis, ‘Procopius’ Vandal War’; Anagnostakis, ‘Procopius’ Dreams’, p. 24. 55 Averil Cameron, Procopius, pp. 173, 186. Craig Williams (Roman Homosexuality, p. 57) reveals how for Thucydides ‘fear in a positive sense is […] equated with foresight’. 56 Procopius and Belisarius’ unique prescience displayed throughout the Wars is discussed by Van Nuffelen, ‘Wor(l)ds of Procopius’, pp. 47, 49, 51, 54. 57 For Procopius’ notions on the proper truthfulness in historical writing, see Treadgold, ‘The Unwritten Rules’, pp. 277-292. 58 Wood, ‘Being Roman’, pp. 434-435.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

murdered a colleague in a drunken dispute. Rejecting the Huns’ pleas that Roman law did not apply to them as allies, he crucifies the two Huns in plain view of his expeditionary force.59 To elucidate Belisarius’ reasoning, Procopius has the commander deliver an impassioned speech to his men, in which Belisarius declares that there can be no victory without one maintaining the proper balance between courage and justice.60 The theme of justice becomes particularly important once the army lands in North Africa, since in Procopius’ view the Romans will only gain the Libyans and God’s support if they treat the natives justly.61 Procopius then inserts a third factor, noting that when the soldiers gazed upon the two impaled men ‘a great fear [δέος] washed over them’ and, straight away the army’s discipline improved.62 Matters, however, grew graver for the Romans after they took again to the sea. Betrayed by the penny-pinching praetorian prefect John, who had provisioned the ships with tainted water and bread, disease quickly spreads throughout the Roman army. Barely staving off disaster, due in large part to the sage actions of his wife Antonina in storing some untainted water, Belisarius and his bedraggled force manage to finally dock in Ostrogothic Sicily.63 The foreboding ghosts of earlier naval defeats at the hands of the Vandals continues to haunt the Romans. Like any good general, Belisarius fretted about his lack of reliable intelligence on the Vandals, and especially their awareness of his impending attack. Procopius once again inserts himself into the narrative, explaining that Belisarius had sent him to seek out the necessary intelligence on the Vandals. Procopius then encounters a childhood friend involved in the shipping business in Syracuse; the friend, whose slave had just returned from Carthage, assures Procopius that since the Vandal fleet was busy crushing an insurrection in Sardinia, they remained completely unaware of the East Roman attack force.64 Reassured, Belisarius and Procopius head more confidently to North Africa. 59 Cf. Procopius’ depiction (Wars 7.8.12-25) of the Gothic King Totila’s just execution of two fellow Goths for raping an Italo-Roman woman. 60 For the connection between morality and success in Procopius, see Meier, Das andere Zeitalter Justinians, p. 187. 61 For the necessity of treating the newly conquered North Africans justly in Justinianic legislation; see CJ, 62 Proc. Wars 3.12.7-22 (trans. Dewing). On the military maxims used in Belisarius’ speech, see Whately, Battles and Generals, p. 146. 63 For the free passage and aid that the Goths provided to the Byzantine army in Sicily, see Proc. Wars 5.2.22-24. 64 Andy Merrills contends (‘Rome and the Vandals’, pp. 501-502) that the merchant’s knowledge about the Vandalic navy’s whereabouts and the North-African regime’s awareness of the impending invasion were linked with his membership of a regional merchant-sailing community.



Back at sea, Belisarius mulls over with his officers an invasion strategy that would surprise the Vandals and at the same time alleviate his soldiers’ dual terror of the ocean and the Vandals.65 As he does frequently in the Wars, Procopius crafts a pair of set speeches, which frame the debate and foreshadow coming events. Tracing Basiliscus’ earlier route and strategy, the admiral Archelaus argues that since Gelimer and the Vandals were preoccupied in Sardinia, the fleet should head straight to Carthage, where there was a safe harbour just south of the city that could be used as a secure base, from which to swiftly capture the Vandals’ capital. Ever the cautious calculator, Belisarius rejects this strategy, as Procopius presents it, not so much because Basiliscus had previously failed using a similar plan, but because of his soldiers’ terror of staying on the ships, which Belisarius foresaw would cripple his strike force if a storm struck or the Vandal forces met them before they disembarked. Belisarius’ more prudent strategy called instead for most of his men to land at Caput Vada 240 km south of Carthage, whilst the ships with a contingent of bowmen would shadow Belisarius’ advance north. There were sound strategic reasons for this. This approach shared several of the benefits espoused in the Strategikon: it had the element of surprise, split up potentially mutinous troops, and allowed Belisarius the necessary time to galvanise his men’s courage.66 Belisarius wins the debate, and the Roman soldiers take their first hesitant steps onto Vandal territory. Their unmolested landing does little to quash their terror, however. Once again, Procopius shifts his focus to fear’s positive side. Spurred on by a combination of Belisarius’ exhortations and their ‘fear’ (φόβου) of being left exposed to the enemy, the troops frantically make camp and while digging a trench miraculously strike water.67 Procopius says he told Belisarius at the time that this discovery served as a further sign God had preordained their victory.68 Whichever way one chooses to interpret the theological implications of this episode, Procopius clearly expected his reader to admire Belisarius’ deft manipulation of his men’s fears to his advantage.69 65 Dimitris Krallis (‘Tyche, Virtue and the Byzantine General’) discusses this same speech and the vital place of such deliberations amongst the officer corps within the Roman and Byzantine military traditions. 66 Maur. Strat. 7.11. 67 Wood (‘Being Roman’, pp. 434-447) scrutinises instances of miraculous intervention and Providence in the Wars. See also, Zali, ‘Divine Phthonos’, pp. 92-100. 68 Proc. Wars 3.15.35. 69 Treadgold, Early Byzantine Historians, p. 177; Wood, ‘Being Roman’, pp. 436-437. Cf. Kaldellis (Procopius of Caesarea, pp. 180-183), who denies that Procopius sincerely believed in the miracle. I concur, however, with Dariusz Brodka’s recent assertion (Narses: Politik, Krieg und Historiographie, p. 260) that in Procopius’ worldview piety is admired, not mocked.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

Indiscipline amongst the Roman force reared its head again, so Belisarius censored his soldiers, this time for stealing fruit from the local Libyan orchards. Betraying Procopius’ fondness for connected narrative flow, this incident prepares the reader for the East Romans’ first contact with the native Libyans, whom Procopius labels ‘Romans of old’.70 After marching to the outskirts of the unwalled coastal city of Syllectus, Belisarius attempts to coax the locals to support the Roman cause. In this instance, Procopius provides us with evidence of the conciliatory tone and style of Justinian’s ideological offensive; it was indeed important that the character of the invasion be defined as a liberation movement. In a letter read out to the Libyans, the emperor explicitly promises the locals that the Byzantines are not making war on the Vandals—and thus breaking the treaty signed in the previous century with Geiseric—but merely punishing the usurper Gelimer who had wrongfully overthrown the rightful Vandal rex.71 Not daring to publish the letter openly, the locals rebuff Belisarius’ overtures; fear of the Vandals at this stage exceeded the Libyans’ fear of the strangers from Constantinople.72 Notably lacking the foresight and readiness of Belisarius, Gelimer finally learns of the Romans’ impending attack.73 After executing his royal rivals, Gelimer launches what Procopius concludes should have been a devastating and decisive counter-attack. Procopius indicates here that Geiseric’s victory in 468 played a vital role in the Vandals’ historical memory. Brimming with confidence, the Vandals scorned the impending invasion, declaring that the Romans would meet, ‘a similar fate to those whom the Vandals had defeated consistently during the fifth century’.74 This sentiment plays into Procopius’ consistent adherence to the idea that barbarians like the Vandals had an 70 The extent to which the Vandals, Libyans, and Berbers kept distinct identities as depicted by Procopius is doubtful; on these ethnonyms, see Conant, Staying Roman; Kaldellis, ‘Procopius’ Vandal War’, p. 21. 71 Cf. Novel 78.4.1, of 539. 72 Jonathan Conant (Staying Roman, pp. 316-323) contends that those described by Procopius as the Libyans appear to have been hostile to the East Romans, who differed from them linguistically and theologically. Yet, as Merrills and Miles (The Vandals, p. 230) point out, Procopius and his contemporary the Syrian historian, Pseudo-Zacharias, tell us that North-African nobles from both inside and outside of the Vandalic kingdom had encouraged Justinian in the years leading up to the campaign to remove Gelimer. 73 As William Desmond highlights (‘Lessons of Fear’, pp. 358-359), Thucydides criticised leaders or generals whose ‘fearless confidence’ led them to a ‘fatal neglect of the many dangers at home and abroad’. 74 Proc. Wars 3.24.4-5. Procopius’ depiction of the Vandals’ over-confidence bears similarities with Thucydides’ description (5.91, 97, 105, 111) of the Athenians’ bravado and contempt for their enemies before the disastrous Sicilian expedition.



innately martial nature.75 At this point, each side possesses a distorted image of the other. Much, however, had changed since the Vandals had last faced the East Romans in battle seventy years earlier. Procopius in fact consistently undermines the historiographical ‘myth’ of Vandalic invincibility; as we will learn, their decades of living the ‘soft life’ in civilised luxury had undermined the Vandals’ martial spirit,76 while, to borrow the words of Philip Wood, ‘the Romans had been hardened by fighting the Persians’.77 Procopius has Belisarius touch on some these points in the pre-battle speech the general gave in the safety of the Romans’ fortified camp to rouse his men prior to the battle of Ad Decimum. Making it clear that the days of skulking along the African coast hoping to avoid detection were now over, he warns his soldiers that they could no longer rely on the safety of their ships or hope to find allies in the cities of North Africa. Instead the time had come ‘to put trust in ourselves’. Relying on the gendered tropes that cast the contest as one that would test the Romans’ and the Vandals’ martial manliness, Belisarius declares, ‘If we prove to be exemplary men,78 it is likely we will defeat the enemy in the war, but if we should weaken at all, all that remains is for us to submit to the Vandals and be disgracefully destroyed’.79 Belisarius then lists what he saw as the Romans’ advantages over the Vandals. Justice, the general contends, was surely on the Romans’ side since they were in North Africa to ‘recover’ former Roman lands. Next, he declares problematically (considering a large Vandal army was thundering towards them) that they could rely on the Vandals’ hatred ‘towards their own tyrant’ Gelimer. According to Belisarius, it therefore followed logically that since God supported the just, He would be on the side of the Romans. In addition, the Vandals’ dissatisfaction with the tyrant Gelimer would hinder their fighting prowess, since ‘the soldier who is disgruntled with 75 Conant, Staying Roman, p. 58. Conant puts this shift down to their increased urbanisation in the mid-fifth century. It is interesting, however, to note that Orosius (Seven Books of History Against the Pagans 7.38.1), writing prior (418) to the Vandals’ arrival into North Africa, also mentions the Vandals’ supposed effeminacy. 76 Proc. Wars 4.6.5–13. In the Roman literary tradition, urbanisation and wealth led to softness, which, in turn, effeminised men; on this trope, see Williams, Roman Homosexuality, p. 153. 77 Wood, ‘Being Roman’, p. 431. For the Persians’ superior fighting capabilities in comparison to other non-Roman peoples such as the Vandals and the Goths, see Börm, ‘A Threat or a Blessing?’, p. 620. 78 On the aner agathos in the Greek literary tradition and its links with military deeds and service in Athens in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE, see Engen, Honor and Profit, pp. 121-122. 79 Proc. Wars 3.19.4, ἀλλ̓ εἰ μὲν ἄνδρες ἀγαθοὶ γενοίμεθα, εἰκὸς ἂν εἴη καὶ περιέσεσθαι ἡμᾶς τῷ πολέμῳ τῶν ἐναντίων: ἢν δέ τι μαλακιζοίμεθα, λελείψεται ἡμῖν ὑπὸ Βανδίλοις γεγενημένοις αἰσχρῶς διεφθάρθαι.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

his ruler cannot be fierce nor act bravely’.80 Driving home a further point about the idleness of the Vandals, Belisarius declares that while the Romans had been fighting warrior peoples like the Persians and the Huns, since they had conquered Libya, the Vandals had ‘not beheld any enemy except naked Moors’.81 ‘I hope’, Belisarius’ dramatically closes, ‘that each of you, remembering his own excellence and those you left at home, march against the enemy with disdain’.82 The narrative that follows has been rightly described as one of the most complex and asymmetric in the Wars.83 To put it simply, during the crucial opening stages of the battle, a combination of God,84 tyche [fortune/chance],85 Vandal missteps, and Belisarius’ competent generalship—highlighted by his wise decision to divide his army—preserves the East Romans from annihilation.86 Misfortune and poor generalship afflict the Vandals during the first skirmishes of the opening battle, when Belisarius dispatches his cavalry to probe the Vandals’ vanguard.87 Misjudging his arrival to Decimum, Gelimer’s brother Ammatas falls prey to a Roman ambush led by the general John the Armenian, which sees Ammatas killed and his force wiped out. Gelimer’s nephew Gibamundus compounds the disaster. Here, fear of the unknown turns the tide of battle.88 In this instance, however, the emotion works to the Romans’ advantage. Having never laid eye upon a Hun, Gibamundus and his 2,000 men panic when they meet the fearsome ‘barbarians’ and are easily cut down by the Roman allies: 80 Proc. Wars 3.19.6, καὶ στρατιώτης τῷ κρατοῦντι δύσνους ἀνδραγαθίζεσθαι οὐκ ἐπίσταται. 81 Proc. Wars 3.19.7, χωρὶς δὲ τούτων ἡμεῖς μὲν Πέρσαις τε καὶ Σκύθαις τὸν ἅπαντα ὡμιλήσαμεν χρόνον, οἱ δὲ Βανδίλοι, ἐξ ὅτου Λιβύης ἐκράτησαν, οὐδένα πολέμιον ὅτι μὴ γυμνοὺς Μαυρουσίους τεθέανται. 82 Proc. Wars 3.19.10, εὔχομαι δὲ ὑμῶν ἕκαστον τῆς τε οἰκείας ἀρετῆς καὶ τῶν κατὰ τὸν οἶκον ἀναμνησθέντα οὕτω δὴ καταφρονήματι ἐπὶ τοὺς πολεμίους χωρεῖν. 83 Ross, ‘Narrator and Participant’, pp. 83-85. 84 Dariusz Brodka has pointed out to me (personal communication) that in many military speeches from Late Antiquity, when generals are not confident of success and fear that their soldiers are not strong or confident enough to win a battle, they express a deep conviction that the army needs God’s protection and help to achieve victory. On this theme, see further the discussions in Heim, Virtus: idéologie politique et croyances religieuses au IVe siècle; La théologie de la victoire de Constantin a Théodose. 85 On Procopius’ layered construction of causation in this battle depiction, see Brodka, Die Geschichtsphilosophie, pp. 41-42. 86 On the Herodotean parallels in Procopius’ notions on causation, see Zali, ‘Divine Phthonos’, pp. 92-100. 87 Rance, ‘Battle of Taginae’, p. 432, n. 30. 88 Fear of the ‘exotic barbarian’ was a common feature in Roman literature, see, for example, Amm. Res gestae 16.12.36.



And since they [the Vandals] had never experienced a battle with the Massagetae [Huns], but heard that the nation was very warlike, they were for this reason terrified [κατωρρωδῆσαι] of the danger […] and the Vandals did not withstand them, but breaking their ranks […], they were all disgracefully destroyed.89

Nevertheless, Procopius reveals that the Vandals continued to hold the upper hand; in fact, the bulk of the Vandals’ elite fighters remained safely under Gelimer’s command. Procopius declares that Gelimer allowed an easy victory to slip through his fingers when, not pressing home his advantage and attacking the Romans, he stopped instead to mourn his dead brother. It is against the backdrop of this mayhem that the narrative returns to Belisarius, who is ignorant of this scenario. In this instance, Belisarius cannot rely on the meticulous planning and foresight that has guided him so far, but only upon his personal merits. When the Vandals gain the high ground, the panic-stricken Romans were nearly overrun; only Belisarius’ arrival averts an unmitigated disaster. The Romans’ position, however, remains exceptionally tenuous. Belisarius nevertheless stands firm in the midst of his men’s panicked retreat: appealing to their honour, he converts their fear to courage.90 Employing a strong moralising undertone, Procopius draws attention to Belisarius’ concern for the larger military cause, while also stressing Gelimer’s personal focus on his brother’s death. Fortune favours the brave, and so instead of scurrying away to fight another day, the unwavering Belisarius rallies his men and charges the Vandals, thereby raising up a large cloud of drifting dust that gives the impression of a much larger Roman force.91 The temporarily leaderless Vandals, by contrast, collapse into disorder. Considering the battle to be over, the complacent Vandal cavalry dismount, inspecting the battlefield while Gelimer arranges his brother’s funeral rites. ‘Unprepared to face the onslaught of the Romans’, the Vandals wilt under the force of the Romans’ charge, and flee ‘not to Carthage nor to Byzacium, whence they had come, but to the plain of Bulla and the road leading into Numidia’.92 Preaching continuing moderation towards the Libyans and cautious of Vandal counter-attacks, Belisarius on September 14 enters Carthage unhindered, and he then sits on Gelimer’s 89 Proc. Wars 3.18.17-19 (trans. Dewing). 90 Proc. Wars 3.19.30-33. 91 On luck as a key aspect of good generalship, see Maur. Strat. 8.2.94,’Εὐτυχὴς στρατηγός τοῦ γενναίου μᾶλλον τοῖς κοινοῖς ἐστιν ὠφελιμώτερος’. See also, Krallis, ‘Tyche, Virtue and the Byzantine General’. 92 Proc. Wars 3.19.31-33.


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throne and, with his men, feasts on the food that the palace chefs had prepared for the Vandal king’s ‘triumphant’ return. Procopius ponders the reasons for Gelimer’s failures with typical rhetorical flourish: I am unable to say what happened to Gelimer that, with victory in his hands, he willingly conceded it to the enemy, unless one ought to refer foolish actions also to God […] I do not think that even Belisarius would have withstood him, and our cause would have been utterly and completely lost, so numerous appeared the force of Vandals and so great the fear [δέος] they inspired in the Romans.93

So, we can see that a combination of luck, God, and men’s fear and courage plays a part in the unexpected Roman victory.94 By halting to mourn his brother, Gelimer lost his best opportunity to defeat the East Romans. As with Basiliscus’ infamous retreat in 468, Gelimer’s bad luck, private concerns, and failure to adapt to the vagaries of battle turn what should have been a victory into a defeat. Moreover, as the reader has learned throughout the narrative, other factors were in play. Belisarius’ heroic fortitude contributed heavily to the Roman victory. Fortune was often connected to opportunity and daring deeds during the shifting tides of battle.95 One senses that Procopius would have nodded his head in agreement with the Strategikon’s advice to generals to ‘[t]ake your time in planning, but when you have made your decision be fast in putting it into action. In war opportunity is fleeting and cannot be put off at all’.96 The defeat was a serious blow to the conf idence and prestige of the Vandals. By the close of Book 3 we find Gelimer utterly despondent. With the Vandals’ hold on North Africa rapidly collapsing, Gelimer dispatches a much-cited letter to his brother Tzazon in Sardinia, in which he mulls over some reasons for the Vandals’ lamentable fate: 93 Proc. Wars 3.19.25 (trans. Dewing). 94 Averil Cameron (Procopius, p. 174) believes that Procopius emphasises here ‘the hand of God’. Anthony Kaldellis (Procopius of Caesarea, p. 173), on the other hand, highlights the role of tyche. Both, in my view, underplay the connection Procopius makes between courage and Providence and/or chance, on which see Murray, ‘Procopius and Boethius’. See also, Krallis (‘Tyche, Virtue and the Byzantine General’) for an excellent discussion on the intimate connection between virtue and tyche in Byzantine ideals of generalship; See also, Brodka, Die Geschichtsphilosophie, pp. 41-42 on tyche as a part of God’s activity in history and on the importance of free will, pp. 57-58. 95 Murray, ‘Procopius and Boethius’, pp. 110-111. 96 Maur. Strat. 8.2.31 (trans. Dennis).



It was not, I think, Godas who caused the island to revolt from us, but some bane from Heaven [οὐρανοῦ] that fell upon the Vandals. For by depriving us of you and the best Vandals, it has stripped all the good things from the house of Geiseric at a stroke. It was not to recover the island for us that you sailed from here, but so that Justinian might be master of Libya. What Chance [τύχη] had decided upon previously it is now possible to know from the outcome. When Belisarius came against us with a small army, valour [ἀρετή] instantly departed from the Vandals, taking good fortune [ἀγαθὴν τύχην] with it.97

Gelimer’s recollection of the Vandals’ downfall exposes a part of a broader Procopian theme. By explicitly linking Providence and fortune to military valour, Procopius probably expected his audience to cross-reference his earlier digression on the plight of the unmanly fifth-century West Romans, whose inability to match the martial acumen of the barbarians had resulted in God and fortune deserting their cause.98 Now instead of Valentinian III’s family being led into captivity after Geiseric’s sack of Rome in 455, it was the wives and children of the Vandals who had fallen into enemy hands.99 Upon learning of the disaster, Tzazon departs Sardinia with his fleet. Curiously not using his navy to attack the Byzantines in Carthage, Tzazon instead abandons the ships and marches overland with his army to join up with Gelimer on the plains of Bulla. The two brothers embrace, aware that the Vandals’ hold on North Africa sits on a razor’s edge.

Tricamarum ‘Fear’ continues to loom large in Procopius’ account of the lead-up to the final major battle between the Romans and the Vandals. Book 4 opens with Gelimer and his reinvigorated army on the outskirts of Carthage. Belisarius stays ensconced with his army within the city, unwilling to meet the Vandals in open combat until he shores up the city’s neglected fortifications. Gelimer pins much of his hope for victory on his spy networks’ ability to undermine the Romans’ hold on Carthage through a combination of provoking ‘treason’ 97 For the complete letter, see Proc. Wars 3.25.10-18 (trans. Kaldellis, modified). 98 On free will and fate in the Wars, see Brodka, Die Geschichtsphilosophie, pp. 40-43, 57-58. Cf. Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, pp. 173-221; Zali, ‘Divine Phthonos’, pp. 89-100. 99 There are divergent modern opinions about how we should translate ‘daimonion’ in this passage here and elsewhere; see Treadgold, Early Byzantine Historians, p. 211, n. 134; Kaldellis, ‘Procopius’ Vandal War’, p. 15; Murray, ‘Procopius and Boethius’, p. 107.


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amongst the native Carthaginians and using fear to drive a wedge between the Romans and their ‘reluctant’ allies, the Huns and Arian Christian soldiers.100 According to Procopius, the Huns feared that if the Romans defeated the Vandals, they would never allow them to return home with their war spoils.101 Playing upon these fears, the Vandals convinced the Huns to betray the Romans. Luckily for the Romans, the ever-suspicious Belisarius hears rumours of these plots. Using the recommended carrot and stick approach advocated in military handbooks for dealing with potential treason,102 he counters the Vandals’ subterfuge. First, he impales a suspected Vandal spy on a hill before the city. This had an immediate effect on those Carthaginians contemplating resistance. In Procopius’ words, ‘the others came to feel a sort of irresistible fear [δέος] and refrained from attempts at treason’.103 Belisarius did not rely only upon fear and violence to control his men. Instead of punishing them for their planned betrayal, he showered the Huns with gifts and pledged that he would allow them to return to their homelands once they helped him to defeat the Vandals, Belisarius coaxed the Huns to reveal their planned treason, and once they came clean, made them reaffirm their oaths to him and the Roman cause.104 With the immediate dangers of rebellion quashed and Carthage’s defences repaired, Belisarius readies his army to attack. Procopius then crafts three set speeches, one each by Belisarius, Gelimer, and Tzazon. Belisarius’ battle speech focuses on buttressing the new-found conf idence his men had gained in the aftermath of their victory at Ad Decimum.105 Belisarius tells his soldiers that this victory offered proof of their superior courage. To bring about the final collapse of Vandal rule in North Africa, they only had to maintain this heroism and self-assurance. Once again, he stresses that the Vandals’ numerical and physical superiority would mean little in the forthcoming clash. Differentiating innate physical courage from cultivated spiritual courage, Belisarius declares that ‘war is decided not by numbers of men nor their bodily size, but by the valour that is in the soul [ψυχῶν ἀρετῇ]’.106 While appreciating that luck had contributed 100 On Procopius’ depiction of and reaction to Vandal Arianism, see Averil Cameron, Procopius, pp. 175-177. 101 Proc. Wars 4.1.10. For Procopius’ stress on the importance of ‘native soil’ for Romans and non-Romans in the Wars, see Sarris, ‘Landownership and Rural Society’. 102 Maur. Strat. 8.2.35. 103 Proc. Wars 4.1.8 (trans. Dewing). 104 For the importance of such oaths in solidifying soldiers’ loyalty within the late Roman military, see Hebblewhite, The Emperor and the Army, pp. 159-164. 105 Whately, Battles and Generals, p. 135; Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, p. 195. 106 Proc. Wars 4.1.16 (trans. Kaldellis). Cf. Men. Prot. frag. 26.3.



to their victory at Ad Decimum, he implies that actions on the battlefield could also shape one’s fate. Belisarius’ confidence springs as much from Vandal incompetence as from Roman prowess: ‘For I know well’, the general continues, ‘that terror [ὀρρωδία] and the memory of misfortunes have taken hold of the enemy and compel them to become less brave, for the one fills them with fear [δεδιττομένη] because of what has already happened, the other brushes aside their hope of success’.107 Continuing, Belisarius rejects the contention by some of his men that the Vandals would act more courageously than they had at Ad Decimum since they were now fighting to protect their wealth and loved ones. By instructing his men to ‘go against the enemy with great contempt’, Belisarius breaks with his usual cautious approach found during his earlier exhortations, when his men trembled with fear at the very thought of facing the Vandals.108 The reader is privy to other details. We know that the Romans had only obtained their courage after nearly succumbing to the fears that had haunted them throughout the campaign. Their mental state before the battle of Ad Decimum, in fact, mirrored closely Belisarius’ description of the Vandals’ current emotional state. Yes, random chance and God had played a role in the Roman victory, but this is not the whole story. Though Procopius does not mention it, we know that Belisarius’ courageous and erudite generalship had contributed heavily to the Roman victory. Belisarius concludes his speech by predicting that with both the cavalry and infantry under his direct command, the Romans would easily defeat the Vandals and bring the war to a close. Such sentiments underscore the vital role late antique intellectuals believed a general played in battle; as the Strategikon puts it, ‘it is better to have an army of deer commanded by a lion than an army of lions commanded by a deer’.109 On the Vandal side, with the arrival of his brother and his reinforcements, as Procopius presents it, Gelimer’s mood brightens. Exploiting fear to motivate his men to deeds of courage, Gelimer forewarns his army that their families and possessions will fall captive to the Romans if they do not defeat them in battle. Adding further shame to his future conduct, Procopius has Gelimer proclaim: ‘Our fear [φόβος] is not for our bodies, nor is our danger death, but how not to be defeated by the enemy. For if we lose the victory, death will be to our advantage […] When a man is ashamed of 107 Proc. Wars 4.1.17-18. Here I have used (and slightly adapted) Dewing’s rather than Kaldellis’ translation because it better captures the causative relationship between ὀρρωδία and δεδιττομένη. 108 Proc. Wars 4.1.13-25. 109 Maur. Strat. 8.2.68 (trans. Dennis).


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

disgrace, he need never fear danger’. He then tells his men to forget about their earlier defeats, contradicting Belisarius by suggesting that the tides of fortune shifted arbitrarily. Gelimer closes by boasting that the Vandals’ superior ‘manliness’ [ἀνδρείῳ] and large numbers will lead to victory.110 Those familiar with Roman military maxims would have known that Gelimer’s sudden optimism was ill-founded. With its clear emphasis on God and sound generalship as the key factors behind a victory, the Strategikon specifically rejects such views: A ship cannot cross the sea without a helmsman, nor can one defeat an enemy without tactics and strategy. With these and the aid of God it is possible to overcome not only an enemy of equal strength but even one with superior numbers. For it is not true, as some inexperienced people believe, that battles are decided by courage [θράσους] and number of troops, but, along with God’s favour [εὐμενείας Θεοῦ], by tactics and generalship [τάξεώς τε καὶ στρατηγίας], and our concern should be with these rather than wasting our time mobilizing large numbers of men.111

Tzazon’s speech is brief and to the point. Addressing his soldiers, who he had just led to victory in Sardinia, he declares confidently that they would be more valorous than the recently defeated Vandals. Defeat at the hands of the Romans he warns, however, would erase any memory of their victory over Godas. Urging his men to summon God, he instructs them to set an example for the Vandals led by Gelimer. With Tzazon and his men leading the centre of the army, the Vandals catch the Romans off guard just as they are preparing to have lunch. The well-trained Romans, however, quickly recover, and set up their battle lines with Belisarius’ 500 horsemen in support, while the Hunnic cavalry stood in reserve. As the two armies faced off, Procopius describes Gelimer darting back-and-forth along the Vandals’ frontline exhorting his men, ‘and urging them to daring’. After a protracted stand-off, an elite force of Romans selected by Belisarius finally storm the Vandal centre. The Vandals withstood this and a second attack, driving the Romans back to their lines. The Roman general John, grabbing Belisarius’ standard—which he had carried into battle—then launched a third and decisive attack. Procopius strikingly described John and his men streaming towards the Vandal lines shouting their battle cries. Tzazon and his men, to use Procopius’ words, 110 Proc. Wars 4.2.17. 111 Maur. Strat. 8, prologue (trans. Dennis).



‘resist manfully’ for a time the brutal Roman advance, driving back wave after wave of attacks.112 Yet, they could not hold back this Roman charge, and the battle quickly became a rout, where, according to Procopius, many of the noblest Vandals died, including the brave Tzazon. Seeing that the Romans were gaining the upper hand, the Huns then joined the fray. With his brave and manly brother dead, Gelimer’s moment of reckoning is vividly described by Procopius: Gelimer, sensing that Belisarius was now moving against him with his infantry and the rest of his army, without saying anything or giving any command sprung upon his horse and fled onto the road to Numidia. His kinsmen and a few of his servants followed him, stunned, keeping silent about what was happening.113

Why did Gelimer bolt during the height of the battle? Nuances of meaning can be tweaked this way and that, but the reader is left suspecting that the Vandal king’s nerve had deserted him at this most meaningful moment. By facing his death manfully, Tzazon lives up to the words in his pre-battle speech. Gelimer’s withdrawal only stalls his inevitable capture. Even more, it disgraces a general who had counselled his men before the battle to prove their manly courage by facing even defeat courageously and ‘not bring shame upon the legacy of Geiseric’.114 Whereas Procopius did occasionally approve of a general’s prudent retreat to live to fight another day, the result here for the Vandals was a catastrophic defeat from which they never recovered.115 Even after the Romans’ decisive victory, Belisarius, following military maxims on wise generalship, continued to fret.116 He feared that his men’s insatiable hunger for plunder would give the remaining Vandals the opportunity to launch what might be a devastating counter-attack. Luckily for the Romans, the now leaderless Vandals were too befuddled to take advantage of the moment. According to Procopius, the threat to the Roman 112 Procopius contrasts (Wars 4.3.14-15) ‘the manly courage of Tzazon and his men’ [τῶν δὲ βαρβάρων ἀνδρείως] with Gelimer’s disgraceful cowardice. 113 Proc. Wars 4.3.20-21, Γελίμερ δὲ γνοὺς Βελισάριον ξύν τε τοῖς πεζοῖς καὶ τῷ ἄλλῳ στρατῷ ἐπ̓ αὐτὸν αὐτίκα ἰέναι, οὐδὲν οὔτε εἰπὼν οὔτε ἐντειλάμενος ἐπί τε τὸν ἵππον ἀναθρώσκει καὶ τὴν ἐπὶ Νουμίδας φέρουσαν ἔφευγε. καὶ αὐτῷ οἵ τε ξυγγενεῖς καὶ τῶν οἰκετῶν ὀλίγοι τινὲς εἵποντο καταπεπληγμένοι τε καὶ τὰ παρόντα ἐν σιγῇ ἔχοντες. 114 Proc. Wars 4.3.22. 115 Proc. Wars 6. 23.29-33. For Procopius’ endorsement of retreat under certain circumstances, see Kaegi, ‘Procopius the Military Historian’, p. 65. 116 Maur. Strat. 8.1.32, ‘After a victory we must not become careless but be on our guard even more against surprise attacks by the vanquished’.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

cause nevertheless remained all too real. It was not, however, the Vandals whom Belisarius needed to cow, but disorderly soldiers within the imperial army: For neither did fear [φόβος] of the enemy nor respect for Belisarius occur to them, nor indeed anything else at all except for desire for spoils and, being overmastered by this, they came to disregard everything else.117

It was only on the next day that Belisarius managed to reassert some control over his troops and marshal enough men to pursue Gelimer. Suspiciously supplying balance to his account, Procopius blames Gelimer’s escape to Mt. Papua, in Numidia, on Belisarius pausing his pursuit of the Vandal king to mourn the accidental death of the man in charge of his personal household, John the Armenian.118 The delay supplied crucial breathing space for Gelimer. One at once recalls Gelimer’s blunder when he paused to mourn his brother at Ad Decimum. Nevertheless, to read this incident as a harsh criticism of Belisarius is, I contend, to misread Procopius’ larger intent.119 Prefiguring deep fissures within the imperial forces in the second half of Book 4, Procopius blames Gelimer’s escape and John’s unfortunate death on a faction of undisciplined soldiers within the East Roman army. Belisarius’ ‘mistake’ also serves to balance the scales of fortune. Yet, while Gelimer succumbs to his misfortune by fleeing, Belisarius, by keeping his cool in the face of adversity, quickly overcomes his bad luck. Gelimer’s freedom indeed proves illusory.120 Belisarius quickly tightens the noose on the Vandal king’s neck by sending a contingent of soldiers to surround Gelimer’s mountain fortress.121 117 Proc. Wars 4.4.5 (trans. Kaldellis). 118 Proc. Wars 4.4.14-24. Belisarius’ drunken guardsman Uliaris accidently slew John when the former attempted to shoot a bird with his bow, but instead hit John. Uliaris was the same officer who Procopius (Wars 3.19.24) blamed for the Roman retreat at the battle of Ad Decimum. 119 Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, p. 186. This is not to claim that Belisarius’ conduct was ideal. In fact, the Strategikon (7: On the Day of Battle, 12: After a Victory) specifically admonishes generals who fail to promptly follow up on a victory, claiming, ‘as in hunting, a near-miss is still a complete miss’. It also highlights the need in the aftermath of a victory of ‘maintaining good order among the soldiers’. 120 Procopius’ description of the gradual metamorphosis of Gelimer and the Vandals’ confidence and fearlessness into despair and terror echoes Thucydides’ account of the emotional transformation of the Athenians in 415 during their defeat and later withdrawal from Sicily. For a discussion of these passages from Thucydides, see Desmond, ‘Lessons of Fear’, p. 369. 121 The fact that Belisarius attends more pressing matters accentuates the doomed nature of Gelimer’s escape.



Procopius relates that, after three months on the mountain top, Gelimer, racked by the dual fears of watching his young relatives starve to death and facing the inevitable storming of his stronghold, surrenders meekly to Belisarius’ men.122 Even though scholars have rightly detected sincere pathos in Procopius’ depiction of Gelimer and the Vandals’ downfall,123 we should not conclude that he did not perceive Gelimer’s capture and the Vandals’ defeat to be a good thing. Among other things, Procopius’ intent in his account of Gelimer and the Vandals may have been a literary one. Reverses are yet another theme which Procopius borrowed from his classical predecessors.124 With Gelimer and the Vandals’ shocking defeat, the tale begun in Book 3 has come full circle; it inverts both the sack of Rome in 455 and the calamitous naval campaign in 468. 125 His sympathetic sketch of the Vandals’ plight likewise resembles his subsequent portrait of the suffering of the non-martial Italo-Romans at the hands of the Goths and the East Romans during the two-decade Gothic war in Italy. As we observed in the previous chapter, without swords in their hands to defend themselves, whole peoples became mere playthings to more martial societies. Moreover, the contention that the defeat of the Vandals led to a protective, if metaphorical, ‘enslavement’ of the Libyans under the just yoke of Roman imperial rule represents a common leitmotif in Justinianic propaganda.126 Adding to these points, Peter Van Nuffelen has spotted perceptively that once Gelimer forsakes his men at Tricamarum, he loses his narratorial voice and thus his ability to shape events: ‘As long as Gelimer speaks, he can exhort his soldiers and issue orders, he is capable of having an influence on the course of events. Mute, he becomes the mere plaything of others.’ Gelimer’s faulty generalship and enervated conduct at key points in the campaign contributes heavily to the Vandals’ utter destruction. Procopius’ description of a bewildered Gelimer marching downtrodden and locked in chains alongside his family through the streets of Constantinople during the Roman triumphal parade sears these lessons into the reader’s mind. 122 Proc. Wars 4.7.1-9. 123 Averil Cameron, Procopius, p. 141; Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, pp. 184-188; Pazdernik ‘Xenophon’s Hellenica in Procopius’ Wars’, pp. 176-182. 124 As Zali points out (‘Divine Phthonos’, p. 93), Procopius’ ‘preoccupation with the theme of reversal offers a marked affinity with Herodotus’. 125 Whitby, ‘The Greatness of Procopius’, p. 36. 126 Paul the Silentiary, Description of the Hagia Sophia 15, 230.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

Conclusion Hence, I find Procopius’ depiction of Gelimer to be less sympathetic than some.127 As in the Strategikon, successful generals in the Wars needed to control their own and their men’s fear, be prepared for defeat, and adapt to tyche’s entanglements. Gelimer fails on all fronts. He leaves his cities without walls, neglects to predict Belisarius’ southern approach, underestimates his opponents, and twice deserts his men when they need him most. In sharp contrast to Belisarius, he never tests his luck when the tides of fortune turn against him, instead, as with Basiliscus in 468, he cravenly flees. The topos of fear remains a driving force throughout. Much more than mere garnish absorbed thoughtlessly from his classical models; I suspect that the prominence of fear in the structure of the Vandal War was a conscious decision on Procopius’ part. The first half of the Vandal War is fundamentally a story about the value of rational fear and the dangers of overconfidence during the shifting fortunes of a military campaign. Procopius associates Gelimer’s incompetence as a leader with the Vandal king’s inability to, at first, experience rational fear when Belisarius’ army approaches his realm, and next when he does not manage the emotion during the heat of battle. I contend, therefore, that the Roman victory over the Vandals was not ‘due to dumb luck’, as supposed by Anthony Kaldellis,128 but determined in large part by Procopius’ belief in moral differences between Gelimer and Belisarius.129 With his portrait of Belisarius, Procopius illuminates an ideal of generalship that was difficult for others, Roman and non-Roman, to match. The rest of Book 4, after Belisarius leaves North Africa, paints a far gloomier picture of the return to Roman rule. Indeed, his lurid invective, the Secret History, is even more fervid with Procopius’ denunciations of Justinian’s conduct of the military campaigns and criticisms of Belisarius.130 It is tempting, but misleading, to conclude on the basis of this evidence that Procopius had turned against Belisarius or rejected the justice of the Romans’ reoccupation of the lost African territories. When reading the Wars, we should not rely primarily on the criticisms, while ignoring the praise. I concur with a scholar’s recent assessment that the Wars ‘is, in fact, much more open-ended 127 Averil Cameron, Procopius, p. 147; Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, p. 187; Pazdernik, ‘Xenophon’s Hellenica in Procopius’ Wars’, pp. 205-206; Wood, ‘Being Roman’, pp. 443-445. 128 Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, p. 184. 129 Treadgold, Early Byzantine Historians, p. 181. Procopius (Wars 4.7.20-21) gives special credit for the victory over the Vandals to Belisarius’ cavalry. 130 For example, Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, pp. 19-20, 143-50; Sarris, Economy and Society, pp. 5-10.



than we may be willing to admit’.131 In my reading, Procopius laments the messy process behind the reintegration of Vandalic North Africa back into the empire, not the justice of the Roman cause. Moreover, since, for Procopius, virtue-based generalship contributes heavily to victories, it follows logically that a general’s moral shortcomings contribute to defeats. Certainly, we should not underestimate the role that generalship plays in Procopius’ vision of the Romans’ triumphs over first the Vandals and then the Berbers. As with another writer associated with Justinian’s regime—the North African court rhetorician Corippus (or Gorripus)132—for Procopius, virtuous generalship would play a significant role in returning Vandalic Africa to the Roman fold, while internal bickering, avarice, unmanly cowardice, intolerance, and unjust behaviour by the Roman soldiers would lead to chaos and insurrection. Some readers may be uncomfortable with my approach to Procopius. On the one hand, some may suggest that Procopius buried his intended meanings beneath his literary surface—safely concealed for those with the intellect to uncover the ‘real’ truths. On the other hand, others may lament what they see as Procopius’ naïve political analysis and his clichéd images and rhetorical topoi of fear. Both of these arguments discount the primary purpose the primary of historical writing in Late Rome and Byzantium. As Leonora Neville has recently remarked, ‘Our desires and expectations for good history’ differed from the Byzantines. Consequently, what some modern Byzantinists consider as pointless tropes or mere surface rhetoric designed to appease the ruling clique, instead offer critical insights into why and how Byzantines wrote and read histories. Neville continues: Historians told their audiences who they should admire and emulate, and whose behaviors they should avoid. They were bound to speak truth without favor or hatred, but they did so with the explicit purpose of presenting models of behavior. In deciding which deeds to commemorate and how to present them, historians became arbiters of morality and character, as well as success and failures.133

Even though Neville’s analysis concentrates on Middle Byzantine historians, to my mind her conclusions are applicable to early Byzantine historians like Procopius. 131 Van Nuffelen, ‘Wor(l)ds of Procopius’, p. 52; Averil Cameron, ‘Writing about Procopius’, p. 16. 132 The poet’s name was likely Gorippus rather than Corippus, on which, see Riedlberger, ‘Again on the Name’. 133 Neville, ‘Why Did the Byzantines Write History?’, pp. 269-270.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

It is scarcely surprising that in a history dedicated to recounting truthfully events Procopius had witnessed and the conduct of individuals he had known, the Wars bespeaks both the shifting fortunes of battle, human transience, and proper and improper conduct on both sides. While variable tyche and rare divine Providence play their part in shaping events, human free will is, for Procopius, the fundamental historical principle behind the Romans’ unexpected victory over the Vandals. Though far from perfect, Belisarius’ ability to master the emotion of fear enabled the East Romans to achieve a stunning victory. By fearing neither too much nor too little, in the Vandal War, Belisarius stands as a model andreios general and man. As will see vividly in the next chapter, however, if for the Romans, men could achieve ‘true’ manliness only with great difficulty and stringent perseverance, as Procopius shows us with his highly gendered portrait Belisarius in the Secret History, it is something that could be easily lost. Indeed, the transitory nature of masculinity worked both ways: if ‘soft’ living could quickly cause a Roman man to lose his masculine edge, by displaying the manly characteristics of ‘real’ Roman men on the field of battle and in the political arena, even individuals from marginalised and innately effeminate groups like eunuchs could ultimately achieve the respect garnered by even the most manly of Roman soldiers.


Shattering the Glass Ceiling: Eunuchs in a Changing World

Justinian’s eunuch general Narses has long earned historians’ respect.1 He deserves this acclaim since his key victories over the Goths in 552 and versus the Franks and Alamanni in 554 helped to secure Justinian’s defeat of the Goths in Italy after an arduous nineteen-year struggle.2 So too did Narses perform admirably for twelve years in his role as prefect of Italy. Of course, it has always been important to highlight that Narses was a eunuch. Indeed, for many modern historians, Narses’ identity as a castrate is more important for study than his military deeds and political achievements, which proved ephemeral. For some, the presence of a eunuch in such an essential military role indicates a turn away from codes of generalship based on traditional martial courage and manliness.3 This chapter questions this view, suggesting that Byzantines like Procopius had more flexible notions of eunuchs’ gender status than some recent scholarship allows. By comparing Procopius and other Byzantine writers’ presentation of these

3. Sarcophagus of Seda: Museo Arcivescovile in Ravenna, Sarcophagus of Seda the Eunuch, photo used with permissions by Nick Thompson.

1 For earlier historians’ attitudes to Narses, see Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 4.36; Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire, pp. 267-280; T.S. Brown, Gentlemen and Officers, pp. 80-84; For recent views, see Fauber, Narses, p. 135; Martyn, ‘The Eunuch Narses’, pp. 46-56. 2 Military historians, for example, have rated Narses as a better general than his rival Belisarius. See, for example, Alexander, How Wars are Won, pp. 49-52. 3 Ringrose, The Perfect Servant, p. 133.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

eunuch generals, with Procopius’ highly gendered portrait of Belisarius in the Secret History, I will argue that Narses and the other chief eunuch general, Solomon, fit into a continuing hegemony of traditional masculine values based on the supremacy of Byzantine men’s martial virtues. Moreover, this two-part chapter examines the significance of eunuchs taking on powerful political and military roles in the newly ‘reconquered’ territories in North Africa and Italy. As symbols of Byzantine imperial power and otherness, influential eunuchs like Solomon and Narses offer a stimulating instrument to examine how Byzantine culture was translated and transported to North Africa, Italy, and post-Roman Europe.

The Blame Game Superficially, the argument that eunuchs’ increased military role marks a turn away from martial masculinity as a part of Byzantine ideology appears attractive. The Byzantine period saw eunuchs playing important roles at all levels of court society. 4 Although their primary function throughout the Byzantine era remained service within the imperial palace, Narses was one of three eunuchs to command Byzantine armies during Justinian’s reign. The eunuch Solomon was magister militum and praetorian prefect of Africa.5 Another castrate, Scholasticus, served as commander of an army sent against the Sklavenoi in 551.6 The number of eunuch generals only grew larger in later centuries.7 Moreover, in contrast to the gendered vitriol that had accompanied the eunuch Eutropius’ military command against the Huns at the close of the fourth century, Narses and Solomon’s prominent military commands, as far as we know, provoked little or no hostile response. This absence may surprise since the battlefield had long represented a masculine realm in the Roman and Byzantine world. One sees late Roman sources, such as the poets 4 On the role of eunuchs in Byzantine civilisation, see Guilland, ‘Les Eunuques’, pp. 197-238; Hopkins, Conquerors and Slaves; Ringrose, Perfect Servant; Tougher, Eunuch in Byzantine History. 5 For instance, Proc. Wars 4.11.47-56. Procopius (Wars 3.11.6) differentiated Solomon from man-made eunuchs by emphasising that his castration resulted from a childhood accident. For a discussion on the subtle differences in Byzantine attitudes towards ‘accidental’ eunuchs like Solomon and ‘created’ eunuchs, see Tougher, Eunuch in Byzantine History, pp. 31-32, 46. For further details on Solomon, see PLRE 3b 1167-1177 [Solomon 1]. 6 Proc. Wars 7.40.5. 7 For a select prosopography of eunuchs in Byzantine civilisation, see Tougher, Eunuch in Byzantine History, pp. 133-171.

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Claudian (c. 370-404) and Sidonius Apollonaris (c. 430-489), expressing the idea that eunuchs could not ‘possess masculine military virtue’.8 A native Greek-speaker from Alexandria based in Italy, Claudian had crafted a famously hostile portrait of the late-fourth-century Eastern eunuch general and consul, Eutropius.9 The poet’s gendered invective In Eutropium (Against Eutropius) lambasted the East Romans for allowing an ‘unmanly’ eunuch to take on what he saw as the hyper-masculine duties of a military commander and consul.10 But, in fact, as we will see, this assessment is largely absent in sixth-century Byzantine writers like Procopius and Agathias. Modern scholars have used these ancient writers’ depictions of Narses and Solomon as skilled military commanders as evidence of larger societal shifts. Shaun Tougher sees Procopius and Agathias’ flattering views of Narses as an indication of ‘a lessening of hostility towards eunuchs’ from the fifth century, whilst in her influential study on eunuchs in Byzantine civilisation, Kathryn Ringrose contends that it serves as proof of a decline in the importance of andreia (the interchangeable concept of manliness or courage in ancient Greek) as a quality of a sixth-century Byzantine general. She also posits that contemporaries respected Narses for displaying what she considers ‘good’ eunuch traits such as ‘cleverness and deviousness’.11 While I agree with Tougher’s stance, this chapter challenges aspects of Ringrose’s contentions. Before tackling these questions, let us briefly explore some of the reasons that moderns and ancients have sometimes perceived eunuchs as a threat to masculinity. To better appreciate Solomon and Narses’ achievements, it is first necessary to return to an earlier era. At the dawn of the fifth century, eunuchs were a common sight on the streets of Rome and Constantinople.12 Although their primary function throughout the Byzantine era remained service

8 Long, Claudian’s ‘In Eutropium’, p. 129. Sid. Apol. Carmina 1.9. 9 As a propagandist for the Western generalissimo Stilicho, Claudian was extreme in his denigration of a rival from a then hostile Eastern half of the empire. It is important to point out, however, that several Eastern sources (for example, Eunap. frag. 64, 65, Zos. New History 5.38-18, Marc. com. Chron. s.a. 396) criticised Eutropius with similar hostile rhetoric. For a lucid discussion on the gendered aspects of Claudian’s vilification of Eutropius, see Kuefler, Manly Eunuch, pp. 65-67, 69. 10 For just two specific examples, see Claudian, In Eutropium 1. 281, 2 112-14. 11 Tougher, ‘Social Transformation, Gender Transformation’, p. 88; Ringrose, Perfect Servant, p. 33. 12 For eunuchs as a defining feature of Roman culture in the East and the West, see Tougher, ‘Eunuchs in the East’, p. 161.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

within the imperial palace, eunuchs served as diplomats, assassins, and political leaders, led armies, and played essential roles within the Church. However, the seeming gender ambiguity of eunuchs could be troubling for Late Roman writers. 13 We f ind this sentiment expressed in a latefourth-century source, which described eunuchs as ‘exiles from the society of the human race, belonging to neither one sex nor the other’.14 The very ease that a man could literally be severed from the ‘source’ of his sexual identity troubled many Romans. At the opening of the fifth century, the poet Claudian quipped that the knife makes ‘males womanish’ [mollire mares].15 A gendered and negative view of eunuchs appears particularly prevalent at the close of the fourth century, a time when relations between the Western and Eastern halves of the empire dramatically broke down. Claudian, a native Greek-speaker from Alexandria based in Italy, crafted a frequently cited polemic on the Emperor Arcadius’ (r. 395-408) grand chamberlain [praepositus sacri cubiculi] Eutropius.16 The poet’s In Eutropium (Against Eutropius) lambasted the East Romans for allowing an ‘unmanly’ eunuch to take on the hyper-masculine duties of a military commander and consul. When describing the shame of having a eunuch leading Roman armies, the poet lamented, ‘[…] shall we ever have the power to cure the East of effeminacy. Will this corrupt age never stiffen up?’17 To those in Constantinople who had ‘permitted’ a eunuch to fight, he scolded ‘to leave arms to men’.18 Of course, as a propagandist for Stilicho and the Western regime, Claudian spared no vitriol when denigrating a rival from a then hostile Eastern court.19 However, several East Roman sources criticised Eutropius with similar harsh rhetoric.20 East Roman writers also censured West Romans for their ‘over-dependence’ on eunuchs.21 So too did Claudian’s 13 See, for example, Hopkins, Conquerors and Slaves; Kuefler, Manly Eunuch; Ringrose, Perfect Servant; Tougher, ‘Social Transformation’. 14 Claudius Mamertinus, Gratiarum action suo Juliano imperatori 19.4 (trans. Lieu), sed spadones quoque, quos quasi a consortio humani generis extorres ab utroque sexu aut naturae origo aut clades corporis separvit. 15 Claudian, In Eutropium 1.48. 16 See, for example, Long, Claudian’s ‘In Eutropium’; Kuefler, Manly Eunuch, pp. 36, 65-67, 97-100; Tougher, ‘Eunuchs in the East’. For the political roles and social significance of Eutropius and other praepositus sacri cubiculi in the fourth and fifth centuries, see Schlinkert, ‘Der Hofeunuch’, pp. 342-359; Scholten, Der Eunuch, pp. 226-30. 17 Claudian, In Eutropium 2, 112-114 (partial trans. Kuefler, Manly Eunuch, p. 68), Nedum mollitiia, nedum, germana, mederi possumus Eoae? numquam corrupta rigescent saecula? 18 Claudian, In Eutropium 1, 281 (trans. Platnauer), […] arma relinque viris. 19 For this rivalry, see Alan Cameron, Claudian, pp. 37-62. 20 Eunapius frag. 64, 65. 1-7; Zosimus, New History 5.38-18; Marc. com. Chron. s.a. 396. 21 Amm. Res gestae 31.11.1; Eunapius, frag. 47; Zosimus, New History 4.22.

Shat tering the Gl ass Ceiling: Eunuchs in a Changing World 


contemporary and fellow Eastern émigré to Rome, Ammianus Marcellinus, decry the large number of eunuchs in the city of Rome.22 The former soldier Ammianus lamented that whereas their Roman ancestors had acted ‘as skillful directors of battles’ leading their brave soldiers, many of the nobility of his day instead spent their time arranging banquets and assembling bands of eunuchs, whom the historian disparaged as ‘troops of mutilated men’ [mutilorum hominum agmina]. Having ‘abandoned’ their customary political and military offices, these aristocrats no longer led real soldiers into battle, but merely commanded eunuchs.23 Hostility towards eunuchs was not universal. Even the renowned persecutor of castrates, the fourth-century Emperor Julian (r. 361-363), had admitted that he owed much of his manly deportment and love of classical literature to his eunuch childhood tutor Mardonius—who was probably a Goth.24 Ammianus too furnished some positive portraits of eunuchs.25 Despite these lurid accounts these late Roman imperial court eunuchs remain shadowy figures. Indeed, pinpointing the actual individuals beneath the tropes is notoriously difficult. Like ancient women and other sidelined groups, much of the hostile rhetoric hurled at eunuchs served as literary devices whereby the ancient authors could attack their main targets. For example, Claudian used Eutropius to attack the Eastern court.26 The poet also expected his reader to contrast the unmanly eunuch Eutropius with his hero and, for him, the epitome of late antique manliness—Stilicho.27 Ammianus had larger prey to bag, setting his sights on certain members of Rome’s elite and those eunuchs who had served in the regime of the historian’s bête noire—Constantius II (r. 337-361) who could be contrasted to Ammianus’ paragon of manly virtue, Emperor Julian.28 Not coincidently, ‘bad’ eunuchs appear usually in the reigns of ‘bad’ emperors or serving ‘wicked’ men or women.29 Unquestionably, we find a general level of acceptance for eunuchs in Late Roman society. Nevertheless, no other eunuch after Eutropius would be named consul, and it would not be until the reign 22 For the close association of the term mollitia ‘softness’ with ‘effeminacy’, see Williams, ‘Semantics of mollitia’, pp. 240-263. 23 Amm. Res gestae 14.6.17 (trans. Hamilton). Cf. Tougher, ‘Ammianus and the Eunuchs’, p. 63. 24 Julian, Mispogon 351A-351C. 25 Sidéris, ‘Ammien Marcellin et les eunuques’, pp. 681-717. 26 Long, Claudian’s ‘In Eutropium’, pp. 221-262. 27 Nathan, ‘The Ideal Male in Late Antiquity’, pp. 16-17. 28 Tougher, ‘Social Transformation’, p. 71. On Ammianus’ idealised presentation of Julian, see Stewart, Soldier’s Life, pp. 112-130. 29 Tougher, ‘Eunuch in Byzantine History, p. 126.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

of Emperor Justinian in the sixth century that another eunuch would lead a large Roman army. The use of eunuchs only accelerated in the fifth century. Eunuchs played essential, and at times, dominant roles in the fifth-century political dynamics that reshaped the ‘twin regimes’ in the East and West.30 We observe eunuchs performing martial duties. Unable to procreate, eunuchs had been used originally to perform jobs within the intimate regions of the palace. Carrying the emperor’s sword in all probability served as one of the many duties expected of a court eunuch in the later part of the fourth century.31 Moreover, their presence in the imperial bedchambers meant that they stood as the last line of defence for the imperial family in the case of an assassination attempt. So, it is logical that they received training for the weapons that they could carry within the inner sanctuaries of the palace. This quite naturally had over time seen them being pressed into service as imperial bodyguards [spatharii]. As the non-campaigning fifth-century emperors began to retreat ever further behind the walls of their palaces, they found themselves surrounded and protected by an ever-thicker layer of chamberlains and bodyguards. In fact, it is in the reign of Theodosius  II that we see the blending of the two roles signified by the rise of the eunuch Chrysaphius, who, before becoming chief minister [praepositus sacri cubiculi], had served as head of the imperial bodyguards [spatharios], who along with other armed cubiculi served the dual role within the palace as the imperial family’s personal attendants and, if the circumstances demanded it, protectors.32 Eunuchs in these prominent positions remained vulnerable to execution during political crises or regime changes.33 When Theodosius II died of injuries sustained in a horse-riding accident in July of 450, Chrysaphius’ execution at the behest of the incoming regime soon followed.34 Chrysaphius’ downfall offers firm proof that powerful eunuchs continued to make convenient fall guys; it is safe to assume that the extreme vilification of Chrysaphius in Byzantine sources composed in the aftermath of the eunuch’s execution served as a way of shifting blame away from Emperor Theodosius II. Recent scholars have convincingly shown that 30 Tougher, Eunuch in Byzantine History; Scholten, Der Eunuch. 31 Brodka, Politik, Krieg und Historiographie, p. 44. 32 On Chrysaphius, see Scholten, Der Eunuch, pp. 248-249; Tougher, Eunuch in Byzantine History, pp. 40-41, 44, 47, 140. As Brodka posits (Narses: Politik, Krieg und Historiographie, p. 44), it is plausible that Chrysaphius was not the first eunuch spatharios. Moreover, it is plausible that Chrysaphius’ rise to prominence under Theodosius II had increased the status of the position. 33 On this expendability, see Hopkins, Conquerors and Slaves, pp. 176-196. 34 Prisc. frag. 3.1; Marc. com. Chron. s.a. 450.3; cf. Mal. Chron. 14.32.

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Chrysaphius’ role in the religious-political conflicts of the mid-fifth century, such as the so-called Robber Synod of 449, were exaggerated by later sources searching for a convenient dupe.35 The acute dependence of eunuchs on the emperors they served saw them perform the ultimate act of devotion—the elimination of imperial rivals or the quashing of threats. While contemporary cinema tends to depict ancient assassins as evil advisors slipping poison into a victim’s drink, or as stealthy warriors slinking into their victim’s bedchamber with a knife clenched between their teeth, reality was far more prosaic. In fact, two of the most sensational political assassinations in the mid-fifth-century Roman Empire—those of the famed consuls and pre-eminent generals of their day, Flavius Aëtius and Flavius Ardaburius Aspar—occurred in front of witnesses and succeeded in large part because of the roles played by armed court eunuchs. Granted permission to carry weapons within the palace, head chamberlains and eunuch bodyguards certainly made good assassins.36 If one could name the least likely emperor to murder a formidable general with his own hands, the feeble Valentinian III (r. 425-455) would be high on the list. Yet, on 21 or 22 September 454, the 36-year-old Valentinian invited Aëtius and the praetorian prefect of Italy, Boetius, to the imperial palace to discuss financial matters relating to the debt-ridden empire. Catching the aged general off guard, Valentinian drew his sword and fell upon Aëtius, while his eunuch Heraclius attacked simultaneously with a cleaver he had concealed beneath his robes—a preferred hiding place, Priscus informs us, for imperial eunuchs to hide their weapons. Having slain the famous ‘conqueror’ of Attila, neither Valentinian nor Heraclius had much time to bask in their victory, and Aëtius’ supporters murdered the pair shortly afterwards. The Heraclius described by the fifth-century historian and diplomat Priscus is a spectral figure, motivated by the typical desire of court eunuchs, to further his hold upon a weak Roman emperor by eliminating a rival for imperial attention.37 35 Bevan and Gray, ‘Trial of Eutyches’, pp. 621-624. In Malalas (Chron. 14.19) Chrysaphius makes a convenient scapegoat for the Empire’s struggles under Theodosius II. Malalas casts the relationship in overtly gendered terms. To accentuate Theodosius II’s feminine role, Malalas promotes the idea that Theodosius II had been swayed to further the eunuch’s career partly because of his physical attraction to Chrysaphius. In Malalas’ portrait, the emperor plays the unnatural passive feminine role to a eunuch, Chrysaphius, who has reversed the expected passive role of a eunuch as a devoted servant under a virile master—the emperor—to become the manly master who runs the empire under a besotted emperor, Theodosius II. 36 McEvoy, Child Emperor Rule, pp. 188-189. 37 Sid. Apol. Carmina 7.359; Marc. com. Chron. s.a. 455.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

The East Roman Emperor Leo I employed similar tactics to assassinate his patricus. Around seventy at the time, Aspar, a patrician and the leader of the senate as the oldest living consul, was likely unarmed and without his bodyguards when he and his sons arrived at a meeting of the grand council within the imperial palace in Constantinople. Leo’s eunuch assassins seem to have taken them by surprise, ambushing and murdering them shortly after they entered the chamber (Patricus may have survived for a time).38 Unlike his Western counterpart—though a narrow escape—Leo and his eunuchs emerged unscathed, though the emperor earned from his critics the disparaging epithet ‘the butcher’ for the killings.39 The eunuchs involved in this assassination stay nameless, mere weapons in the hands of the emperor they serve. It has been credibly suggested, however, that the eunuch guardsmen’s success in assassinating Aspar and his sons may have helped to transform the spatharii from a largely ceremonial dignity into a fully-fledged unit within the imperial bodyguards. 40 It was not only within the borders of the Roman Empire that eunuchs flourished in Late Antiquity. We find eunuchs performing their familiar roles in the post-imperial regimes found in fifth- and early-sixth-century Vandalic North Africa and Gothic Italy. 41 Once again, one finds a combination of positive and negative attitudes towards castrates. Mocking court eunuchs in a classical and gendered literary style appears to have been a favourite pastime of the court poets who flourished in the Vandalic court. In his poem About a Royal Eunuch who put on a Turban, the North African Luxurous spoofed a Vandalic court eunuch: A youthful eunuch of the royal household, resplendent in his reddish hair and flame-coloured locks, placed a turban on his head. Mindful of his own modesty, knowing well what he was, he put it on, with nobody forcing him, what had not been appropriate to him. 42 38 Marc. com. Chron. s.a. 471. 39 Malchus, frag. 1.3. 40 Brodka, Narses: Politik, Krieg und Historiographie, p. 46, n. 137. 41 For eunuchs in Vandalic North Africa, see Merrills and Miles, The Vandals, p. 108; For eunuchs in Ostrogothic Italy, see Moorhead, Theoderic in Italy, p. 75. 42 Luxorius, Poem 12 (trans. Rosenblum), Rutilo decens capillo / Roseoque crine ephebus / Spado regius mitellam/ Capiti suo locavit. / Proprii memor pudoris, / Bene conscius quid esset, / Posuit, cogente nullo, / Fuerat minus quod illi.

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A surviving sarcophagus (plate 3) of Theoderic’s eunuch chamberlain, Seda, offers another reminder that eunuchs also garnered respect in Ostrogothic Italy. The inscription reads, ‘Here rests in peace the vir sublimis and eunuch, Seda, cubicularius of King Theoderic, who lived around 40 years. Buried here before the ides of March during the consulship of the vir clarissumus Basilius (541) in the fourth indiction (of Justinian)’. 43 By this period, contingents of eunuchs signified imperial Roman authority. 44 Hence, Theoderic and the Vandal kings’ employment of eunuchs may have served as one way to proclaim their Romanitas.45 The eunuchs’ presence in Gothic Italy may provide an explanation for why in the wide array of gendered invective hurled at the East Romans by their Gothic foes during Justinian’s reconquest of Italy, none of it—as far as we know—mentions the emperor’s reliance on eunuch commanders. 46 It is to the first of Justinian’s eunuch generals, Solomon, that we may now turn.

Solomon The magister militum and two-time praetorian prefect Africae (534-536, 539-544) Solomon (c. 480/490-544) was the first of the three eunuchs to command Byzantine armies during Justinian’s reign. We first hear of Solomon serving under Belisarius. The Monophysite Chronicle of Pseudo-Zachariah records: Accompanying him (Belisarius) was Solomon, a eunuch, from the fortress of Idriphthon. He was an astute man, capable in the affairs of the world, having been a notarius to the dux Felicissimus [Felicissimo duci notarius Fureat] having been attached to the rest of the governors, and he had become cunning through training by [tackling] problems. 47 43 CIL 11, 64 no. 310, HIC REQUIESCIT IN PACE VIR S(u)BL(imis) SEDA IGNVCVS ET CVBICVLARIVS REGIS THEODERICI QVI VIXITANN(os) PL(us)M(inus) XL DEPOSITVS EST SVB D(ie) IIII ID(us)MARTIAS, BASILIO IVN(iore) V(iro) C(larissmo) CONS(ule) INDICTIONE QVARTA. 44 Tougher, Eunuch in Byzantine History, p. 116. 45 Schoolman, ‘Reassessing the Sarcophagi of Ravenna’, p. 65, n. 66. 46 Accounts of this gendered propaganda is found in, Kaegi, ‘Procopius the Military Historian’, pp. 79-81; Stewart, ‘Contests of Andreia’, pp. 21-54. Arnold, Roman Imperial Restoration, pp. 48-51, 141-158. Procopius also has the Goths criticise the ‘barbaric’ make-up of Justinian’s forces; see, for example, Proc. Wars 8.28.2. 47 Pseudo-Zach. HE 9.2a.18 (trans. Phenix and Horn).


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

Felicissimus had been dux of Mesopotamia in 505-506, so Solomon’s career in the intervening two decades remains a mystery; though it is likely by 527 Solomon was already an experienced soldier. Belisarius likely chose Solomon for his previous service as a secretary and soldier well versed in the politics and main players on and about the dangerous Eastern border with Persia. 48 Little has come down to us about Solomon’s service in the Persian campaigns, but he had earned Belisarius’ esteem, and the war against the Vandals in 533 found him serving as Belisarius’ domesticus (the protectores domestici were an elite guard unit of the early Byzantine Army, who functioned as both bodyguards and staff officers). Procopius memorably introduces Solomon as one of two commanders of Belisarius’ foederati: ‘This Solomon was a eunuch, but it was not by the intent of any man that his genitals had been severed: some accident imposed this lot upon him when he was in swaddling clothes’.49 Though differentiated from other eunuchs in this passage, Shaun Tougher maintains that Byzantines placed accidental eunuchs in the same category of ‘those individuals who either had undescended testes, or were born without them’.50 Solomon’s eunuchism did not inhibit his rapid advancement within the East Roman army. When Belisarius headed to Sicily to arrange his impending invasion of southern Italy, he named Solomon as the supreme commander (praetorian prefect) of North Africa, a role that combined military and political leadership.51 Just as Belisarius before him, Solomon’s holding of both a military and civilian role granted him power in North Africa second only to Justinian.52 The command of this newly reconquered region points to the faith both Belisarius and the Emperor Justinian placed in Solomon’s capabilities.53 Solomon represents the rare individual in Wars whom Belisarius, Procopius, and Justinian trusted and admired.54 That Belisarius’ assessor Procopius knew and likely had a close relationship with Solomon, 48 Moving up from the position of notarius (secretary, scribe) occurred often in the Early Byzantine Empire. Indeed, two sixth-century emperors, Tiberius II (r. 574-582) and Maurice (r. 582-602), had begun their careers as notarius. 49 Proc. Wars 3.11.6 (trans. Kaldellis), ‘ὁ δὲ Σολόμων οὕτος εὐνοῦχος μὲν ἦν, οὐκ ἐξ ἐπιβουλῆς δὲ ἀνθρώπου τὰ αἰδοῖα ἐτύγχανεν ἀποτμηθείς, ὰλλά τις αὐτῷ τύχη ἐν σπαργάνοις ὄντι τοῦτο ἐβράβευσε. 50 Tougher, Eunuch in Byzantine History, p. 31. 51 Proc. Wars 4.8.23. 52 As John Moorhead (Justinian, pp. 66-67) points out, Procopius reports (Wars 3.11.20) that Justinian, prior to the Vandal campaign, had provided ‘Belisarius a document granting him the power of an emperor’. 53 Conant, Staying Roman, pp. 204-205: Conant posits reasonably that Justinian and Solomon were close. 54 Proc. Wars 3.29.19, 4.8, 4.22.11.

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helps to partly explain why in the Wars Solomon is described so positively.55 To be sure, Procopius depicts Solomon’s trials and tribulations during his two tenures in North Africa in a highly sympathetic light. Solomon is loyal, intelligent, restrained, innovative, and courageous. Anthony Kaldellis indeed describes Solomon ‘as the most highly praised person in Vandal War’.56 Romans and non-Romans in North Africa seemed to have cared little about Solomon’s status as a eunuch. After his introduction, Procopius only rarely mentioned Solomon’s eunuchism.57 Instead, Procopius cast him as an idealised battle-hardened leader, a man’s man; Solomon’s selfless courage and adroit generalship are on display throughout the narrative.58 For just one example, at the battle of Mammes in 534, Solomon’s quick thinking and courageous generalship averted disaster and obtained a notable victory over the Berbers.59 Procopius largely explains away Solomon’s setbacks. For instance, Solomon’s failure during his first command in North Africa, according to Procopius, resulted primarily from his fierce loyalty to Justinian and his policies. Following an imperial edict, Solomon refused to allow the Roman soldiers who had taken Vandal wives to inherit these women’s lands. Moreover, adhering to Justinian’s strict religious policies for the newly conquered province, he would not allow the 1,000 Arians in his army to practise their religion. Whipped up by the Vandal clergy and the soldiers’ Vandal wives, Solomon narrowly escaped a plot by a group of these men to assassinate him on Easter Sunday (23 March) 536, fleeing along with Procopius to Sicily, where the pair then sought Belisarius’ assistance to put down the revolt.60 For the next three years, North Africa suffered internal and external rebellion. 55 The fact that Solomon served as Belisarius’ domesticus means that like Procopius, he was in the general’s inner circle and thus the two were at the very least familiar to one another. This relationship is bolstered by the fact that Procopius was included in the small number of men who fled North Africa with Solomon to Sicily in the aftermath of Stozas’ revolt in 536. 56 Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, p. 189. 57 Proc. Wars 4.12.28, in which Procopius describes a Berber prophecy where ‘their nation would be destroyed by a beardless man [ὡς ἄρα τὸγένος αὐτοῖς προς ἀνδρὸς ἀγνείου ὀλεῖται]’. 58 Whately, Battles and Generals, p. 138. 59 Proc. Wars 4.11.47-56. 60 Proc. Wars 4.14.30-37. In Secret History (18.9-13), Procopius harshly criticised Justinian’s policies against Arians and native landowners. However, in Wars he was clearly hostile to the rebels. In taking such a neutral stance towards the theological dividing lines between the churches, Procopius echoes the more disinterested view towards Nicenes and the Homoians held by many late antique Christians. On which, see Whelan, Being Christian in Vandal North Africa, pp. 165-168.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

After his return to Africa in 539, Procopius presented Solomon as a leader who had learned from his previous mistakes: ‘Solomon sailed to Carthage, and having rid himself of Stotzas [the rebel Byzantine general], he ruled with moderation […] and setting the army in order […] Libya became powerful under his rule’.61 In a series of swift campaigns, Solomon stamped out the rebellion’s remnants and drove the Berbers from Numidia. As many idealised generals before him, Solomon treated his defeated enemies, Roman and non-Roman, with respect. Procopius described the aftermath of Solomon’s sage policies: ‘As a result of this all the Libyans who were subjects of the Romans, coming to enjoy secure peace and finding the rule of Solomon wise and very moderate, no longer had any thought of war in their minds, and seemed the most fortunate of all men’.62 As occurs regularly in the Wars, through a combination of bad fortune and men’s propensity to moral depravity, the good times did not last. Justinian, in 544, assigned Solomon’s nephews Sergius and Cyrus to key commands in North Africa. Such nepotism was common in the early Byzantine army,63 but Procopius, likely looking to shift blame away from his hero Solomon, lamented, ‘And this man (Sergius) became the chief cause of great ruin to the populace of Libya’. According to Procopius, the dux Tripolitaniae Sergius’ unjust slaying of eighty Berber envoys led to a dangerous uprising, resulting in Solomon’s downfall. Defections by Solomon’s Berber allies swung the balance of power back to the rebel’s favour. Solomon’s death, as described by Procopius, is heroic and tragic in the best Roman literary fashion.64 Abandoned by many of his Roman and non-Roman soldiers, and overwhelmed by the Berber’s superior numbers, Solomon and his loyal bodyguards at the battle of Cillium in Byzacena make a hasty retreat. On the brink of escaping, Solomon’s horse stumbles in a ravine, throwing its rider to the ground. Injured and unable to remount, Solomon perishes making a heroic last stand, a fitting end for a man Procopius revered throughout the Wars as an ideal Roman soldier.65 What should attract our interest, however, is the vocabulary that Procopius employs in the Secret History and the Wars to describe Sergius in the aftermath of his uncle’s death. Out of loyalty to Solomon, Justinian named 61 Proc. Wars 4.21.28. 62 Proc. Wars 4.20.33. Cf. Marc. com. Chron. s.a. 540. 63 Conant, Staying Roman, pp. 227-229. 64 For these idealised deaths in battle in Greco-Roman literature, see Eckstein, Moral Vision, pp. 42-43. 65 Proc. Wars 4.21-22.1; cf. Vic. Ton. Chron. s.a. 543 (11, 201); Marc. com. Chron. s.a. 541.3; Corip. Iohannis 3.417-41.

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Sergius as Solomon’s successor.66 Procopius attributed Sergius’ subsequent failures in North Africa to his ‘unmanly’ [ἄνανδρος], ‘soft’ [μαλθακòς], and ‘effeminate nature’ [γνáθους φυσων],67 gendered epithets that we have seen critics had long deployed to undermine eunuchs in positions of authority.68 Moreover, whether consciously or not, Procopius inverted the old trope of the unmanly eunuch undermining the achievements of a manly Roman. While the eunuch Solomon died nobly in battle, the non-eunuch Sergius’ constant meddling, deceit, and unmanliness in his two short years as magister militum Africae nearly destroyed everything his uncle had achieved.69 Therefore, the more pessimistic vision of Vandalic North Africa found at the close of Book 4 of the Wars may reflect both Procopius’ general disillusionment with the slow pace of Justinian’s North African reconquest as a whole, and represent a symptom of the historian’s anguish over the loss of an individual, Solomon, whom he respected equally as a leader and a man.70

Narses: The Manly Eunuch If Solomon established the precedent for a eunuch successfully holding military and civilian commands for the native North Africans and East Romans, then Narses accentuated the point to those in the East and the West.71 Like most sixth-century Byzantine eunuchs, Narses began his life in Constantinople as an outsider.72 Most of what we know of his life before 530, such as how and when he became a eunuch, is based on conjecture rather than concrete evidence.73 All that we can say with any real certainty is that he hailed from Persarmenia and had risen to prominence under Justinian. He had first attended Justinian and Theodora as a cubicularius [chamberlain], and it is assumed that he had obtained the top post available to a court 66 Proc. Wars 4.22.1. 67 Proc. Secret History 4.32-3, Wars 4.22.2, οἱ δὲ στρατιῶται, ὅτι δὲ ἄναδρός τε καὶ μαλθακòς παντάπασιν ἦν. 68 Kuefler, Manly Eunuch, pp. 35-36; Tougher, Eunuch in Byzantine History, pp. 97-98. 69 On the dangerous meddling in political affairs by Eutropius and Chrysaphius, see Eunap. frag. 65.5; Prisc. frag. 4.15. 70 Kaldellis, ‘Procopius’ Vandal War’, p. 15. 71 PLRE 3b 912-928 [Narses 1]. 72 For the life and career of Narses, see now the fine study by Brodka, Narses: Politik, Krieg und Historiographie. 73 Browning, Justinian and Theodora, p. 41; Martyn, ‘Narses’, p. 46. On the difficulty of knowing whether Narses during the early part of his life was a slave or not, see Brodka, Narses, p. 22.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

eunuch, the position of praepositus sacri cubiculi [grand chamberlain].74 He was also a treasurer (a common position for Byzantine eunuchs to hold) and a spatharios. Although Procopius depicted Narses, at times, as vain, jealous, insubordinate, petty, and overly reliant on barbarian auxiliaries, the historian respected Narses for being a successful and resourceful commander.75 Yet it does not appear that Procopius or Agathias took Narses’ position as a general for granted. When Narses arrived in Italy from Constantinople in 538 with a large army, the historian proclaimed that the eunuch was more ‘keen and more energetic than would be expected of a eunuch’.76 Agathias too indicated that Narses was unusual for a eunuch. After praising him for his shrewdness and ability for coping effectively with any eventuality, he declared that his courage [ἀνδρεῖον] and heroism [μεγαλουργὸν] were absolutely incredible’.77 Seen in this light, Procopius’ biographic sketch of Narses offers yet another inversion of ‘typical’ behaviours one finds throughout the Wars.78 Procopius’ presentation of Narses does not indicate, however, that just any eunuch could become an able military commander, only that in certain instances, just as one can find manly women and restrained barbarians, one can find a vigorous, and indeed, a manly eunuch. These inversions were not an invention of sixth-century writers. One finds such reverses before the fifth century. Ammianus Marcellinus, for instance, supplied a similar account of an ‘atypical’ eunuch a century and a half earlier when he provided a backhanded compliment to the court eunuch Eutherius by quipping, ‘Among the brambles roses spring up, and among the savage beasts some are tamed’.79 Procopius and Agathias, however, undermine Kathryn Ringrose’s contention that ‘neither Prokopios nor Agathias attributes Narses’ success

74 Stein, Histoire du bas empire, vol. 2, p. 357. For the uncertain dates that Narses held these various positions and the overlapping duties involved in these off ices, see Brodka, Narses, pp. 32-34. 75 Procopius’ portrait of Narses is more nuanced, and in places, less favourable than Tougher or Ringrose imply. For his ‘negative’ qualities, see Proc. Wars 6.18.11, 6.18.28-29, 6.19.18., 8.23.17-20. For ‘positive’ traits, see Proc. Wars 6.13.16, 8.26.5, 8.26.14, 8.31.22, 8.35.36. 76 Proc. Wars 6.13.16-17, ἄλλως δὲ ὀξὺς καὶ μαλλον ἠ κατ ευνοῡχον δραστήριος. 77 Agath. Histories 1.16.1-2. 78 For a full discussion of these inversions in Gothic War, see Stewart, ‘Contests of Andreia’, pp. 21-54. 79 Amm. Res Gestae 16.7.4-8. For these accounts of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ eunuchs throughout the late Roman and Byzantine eras, see Tougher, Eunuch in Byzantine History, pp. 26-35.

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to traditional courageous manliness’.80 Examples from both historians demonstrate the opposite. Procopius reported with little sense of irony that Narses’ supporters in the officer corps hoped that the eunuch would achieve his own fame through ‘deeds of wisdom and manliness’ [ἔργα ξυνέσεώς τε καὶ ἀνδρείας].81 As we noted earlier, Agathias too described Narses as ‘manly and heroic’ [τὸ δὲ ἀνδρεῖον καὶ μεγαλουργὸν].82 The use of the Greek term andreia by both historians is significant for the gendered aspect of Ringrose’s argument. As Edward Cohen suggests, ‘even in cases where ‘courage’ seems an appropriate translation (for andreia) the broader concept of ‘manliness’ always determines the classical conceptualization of “courage”‘.83 These treatments by Procopius and Agathias serve as convincing proof that contemporaries had few qualms with seeing Narses as an andreios military man. With his remark about Narses ‘that true nobility of soul cannot fail to make its mark, no matter what obstacles are put in its path’, it seems clear that Agathias would have placed Narses on or near the top of his ladder of human excellence and/or gender difference.84 As we have seen, neither Procopius nor Agathias took Narses’ position as a general for granted. Procopius presented Narses ‘as an anomalous example’ of a typical eunuch, observing that Narses was ‘sharper and more active than would be expected of a eunuch’.85 Agathias declared that Narses’ mastery of oratory, shrewdness, courage, and heroism were ‘remarkable in a eunuch and in one who had been brought up in the soft and comfortable atmosphere of the imperial court’.86 He continued by remarking, ‘that true nobility of soul cannot fail to make its mark, no matter what obstacles are put in its path‘. Such words illustrate Agathias’ respect for Narses.87 That Procopius perceived eunuchism as an obstacle one needed to overcome, however, also points to some lingering prejudicial attitudes towards eunuchs. 80 Ringrose, Perfect Servant, p. 133. 81 Proc. Wars 6.18.7. I have changed the translator Dewing’s ‘courage’ for ἀνδρείας to ‘manliness’. Eunuch commanders after Narses continued to face hostile gendered rhetoric. See the eleventh-century historian, John Skylitzes, Synopsis of Histories 16.8. 82 Agath. Histories 1.16.12. To better match the gendered tone of this section of Agathias’ history, I have changed the translator Frendo’s’ ‘courage’ for ἀνδρεῖον to ‘manliness’. 83 Cohen, ‘High Cost of andreia’, p. 145. 84 Agath. Histories 1.16.2. 85 Proc. Wars 6.13.16-17, ἄλλως δὲ ὀξὺς καὶ μαλλον ἠ κατ ευνοῡχον δραστήριος. 86 Agath. Histories 1.16.1 (trans. Frendo), […] φύσεως δὲ ὅ γε δεξιότητι διέπρεπε καὶ παραστῆσαι οἷός τε ἦν λογῳ τὰ βεβουλευμένα καὶ ταῦτατομίας γε ὢν καὶ ἐν τοῖς βασιλείοις τρυφερώτερον ἀνατεθραμμένος. 87 Agath. Histories 1.16.2 (trans. Frendo), οὔτως ἄρα ὅτῳ ἂν ἐν τῇ ψυχῇ φρόνημα ἐλευθέριόν τε καὶ γενναῖον ἐνῇ, τούτῳ δὲ οὐδὲν ὁτιοῦν κώλυμα γιγνεται μὴ οὐχὶ εῖναι ἀρίστῳ.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

Procopius and Agathias, however, showed that Narses’ status as a castrate did little to hinder his military prowess. Agathias indeed rejected traditional historiographical tropes surrounding eunuch generals like Eutropius. He depicted two Alemanni warriors in a Frankish army assuming foolishly that they would best the Romans in battle because ‘a puny little man, a eunuch of the bedchamber, used to a soft and sedentary existence, and with nothing masculine about him’, commanded their army.88 Guided expertly by Narses, the Roman army annihilated the Franks.89 Agathias attributed this and other Roman victories to Narses’ ‘excellent generalship’.90 At the fateful battle of Busta Gallorum in 552 against the Goths, Procopius lauded Narses for outwitting the brave but rash ‘barbarian king’ Totila. Narses proved to be the better tactician and strategist.91 Of course, Roman generalship had never focused heavily on courage or physicality. According to Agathias, the foremost quality of an effective general was brains, not brawn.92 Procopius criticised generals for reckless fighting on the frontline or for relying solely upon their personal courage and strength in battle.93 In his mind, effective generals used their mental discipline to adapt to the shifting circumstances of battle. By employing the proper strategy and tactics, and by arming, consulting, inspiring, and disciplining one’s men, one could defeat courageous enemies like Totila and his Goths. This attitude need not surprise us. These historians were following established Roman military practices. As we saw in the previous chapter, Roman military handbooks told generals to avoid fighting on the frontlines with their men. Such sentiments help to explain why men with little or no military background could and did lead Roman and Byzantine armies.94 Procopius’ account demonstrates that it was the combination of Narses’ ‘brains’ with his soldiers’ ‘brawn’ that had led to the Byzantines’ final victories over the Goths. Still, one should not suppose that Narses avoided danger during these battles or assume that the eunuch had not received military training. Despite the eunuch’s diminutive stature, Agathias described Narses 88 Agath. Histories 1.7.8 (trans. Frendo), θαυμάζειν δὲ ἔφασαν τῶν Γότων, εἰ μάλα οὔτω πεφρίκασιν ἀνδράριόν τι θαλαμηπόλον σκιατραφές τε καὶ ἁβροδίαιτον καὶ πόρρω τοῦ ἀρρενωποῦ τεταγμένον. 89 Agath. Histories 1.6.8, 1.22.6. 90 Agath. Histories 2.9.1 (trans. Frendo). 91 Rance, ‘Battle of Taginae’, p. 426. 92 Agath. Histories 2.22.5. 93 See, for example, Proc. Wars 5.18.5. 94 Though these inexperienced commanders are the exceptions not the rule, a famous example is Areobindus the magister militum Africae (545) who was married to Justinian’s niece Prajecta. Procopius described (Wars, 4.16.2, 4.25.25) him as having no military experience.

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on horseback leading his men into a skirmish against the Franks.95 Narses’ age (if we believe Agnellus, he may have been over seventy during the events depicted in Book 8 of the Wars),96 more than the fact that he was a former court eunuch, might be another factor behind his failure to play a larger role in combat. Moreover, it is likely that Narses had received military training, since as a spatharios he was the commander of a group of armed eunuchs who provided personal security for the imperial family.97 As we have seen, Procopius showed Solomon leading cavalry charges and fighting on the frontlines with his men.98 In 541, the empress Theodora had dispatched Narses—then the commander of Emperor Justinian’s bodyguard—to capture the praetorian prefect John the Cappadocian. Though, thanks primarily to John’s large contingent of armed retainers, the attempt failed; it is important to highlight Procopius’ emphasis on Narses’ active and indeed physical role in the actual ambush.99 The imperial family often chose castrates for such delicate tasks because of their eunuchism. Moreover, military eunuchs could lessen the threat of usurpation. As Ringrose explains, ‘eunuchs were seen as a safer option, and often used when women or minor children ruled’.100 Though Procopius failed to make this point, no eunuch could hope to become emperor.101 This reality had more to do with their ‘mutilation’ than their liminal gender status. Indeed, any type of mutilation barred one from taking on the purple. As God’s representative on earth the emperor needed to keep his corporeal perfection. Blinding, castration, and rhinokopia (cutting off the nose) all served as effective methods to incapacitate one’s rivals.102 So why did Justinian use eunuchs as military commanders? The emperor’s reasons for doing so appears multiple. His break with recent precedent may 95 Agath. Histories 1.21.5. For Narses’ small, frail body, see Agath. Histories 1.16.2. 96 Brodka, Narses, pp. 21-22, rightly questions Agnellus’ assertion (Liber Pontificalus Ravennatis, Petrus Senior, c. 830s to 840s) that Narses lived to the ripe old age of ninety-five. As Brodka submits, it is surely significant Procopius and Agathias never mention Narses’ supposed advanced age. 97 Brodka, Narses, pp. 279-280. 98 Proc. Wars 4.11.15, 4.19.17. 99 Proc. Wars 4.11.47-56; 1.25.24-30. 100 Ringrose, Perfect Servant, p. 134. 101 Though according to contemporary sources, the eunuch exarch of Ravenna, Eleutherios, had tried to have himself proclaimed Western emperor in 619. The chronicle known as the Auctarii Havniensis Extrema (ch. 25), published around 625, offers the fullest account on Eleutherius, explaining that the eunuch had been coaxed to head to Rome to be crowned. For a complete account of how Eleutherius and another eunuch exarch, Olympius, aspired to rule as emperors in seventh-century Italy, see Stewart, ‘Breaking Down Barriers’, pp. 33-35. 102 Herrin, Unrivalled Influence, p. 268.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

have been a practical decision based on the fact that Solomon and Narses were the best qualified to lead.103 Narses’ loyalty and financial acumen represent two more likely reasons for his appointment to a military command.104 Moreover, Narses, who was then serving Justinian as a cubicularius and spatharios, had performed coolly under pressure during an uprising in 532 known as the Nika revolt, which had seen the near overthrow of the emperor.105 The combination of Narses’ quick thinking during the revolt and his seemingly close relationship with Theodora—due in part to their shared Christological position 106 —provide the likely rationale for the eunuch’s appointment in 535 to lead a Byzantine army into Alexandria to reinstate the monophysite Theodosius as patriarch.107 Fear of usurpation appears to have also played a role in Narses’ promotion. Procopius and Agathias both made it plain that Justinian felt threatened by Belisarius’ growing popularity.108 The army could make or break an emperor’s reign, so emperors like Justinian needed to spend abundant time and money massaging the mood of his soldiers. The fifth and early sixth centuries had seen Roman and non-Roman soldiers playing increasingly important roles in the making and the unmaking of Roman emperors. Generals like Aëtius and Ricimer in the West and Aspar in the East were some of the most powerful powerbrokers in the fifth century. These men hailed from the military aristocracy, and they often used their power and influence to control the reigning emperors, who were often little better than puppets. Moreover, many fifth-century emperors had begun their careers as relatively obscure soldiers in these generalissimos’ armies.109 Procopius and Agathias clearly state that Justinian felt threatened by Belisarius’ growing popularity.110 After Belisarius defeated the Gothic king Vitigis, the Gothic nobility had offered ‘to declare Belisarius emperor of the West’.111 This threat to Justinian’s authority appears to have made the emperor question Belisarius’ loyalty. This anxiety had begun in the wake of Belisarius’ stunning successes in North Africa. Though Procopius explained 103 Pseudo-Zach. HE 9.93; Proc. Wars 3.11.5-6. 104 Tougher, ‘Byzantine Eunuchs as Generals’. 105 For Narses’ vital role in thwarting the revolt by distributing money to the blue faction, see Mal. Chron. 18.71. As Brodka (Narses, p. 47) posits, it is perhaps significant that Procopius does not mention Narses’ active role in thwarting the uprising. 106 For the likelihood that Narses was a monophysite, see John of Ephesus, HE 1.39. 107 Kruse, ‘Narses and the birth of Byzantine Egypt’, pp. 24-27. 108 Proc, Wars 6.30.1-5; Agath. Histories 5.20.5. 109 Further elucidated in Stewart, ‘The First Byzantine Emperor?’. 110 Proc. Wars 6.30.1-5, Secret History; Agath. Histories 5.20.5. 111 Proc. Wars 6.30.27.

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in the Wars (3.11.20) that prior to Belisarius setting off to North Africa, Justinian had given his general a document ‘granting him the power of the emperor’,112 in the Secret History, Procopius backpedalled somewhat, explaining that after defeating the Vandals, Justinian suspected that Belisarius meant to rule Africa independently.113 He therefore had sent Solomon back to Libya in 534 to test Belisarius’ loyalty.114 Narses arrival in Italy in 538 with an army to oversee the progress of Belisarius’ campaign may have served a similar purpose. Belisarius may have deduced this intent. Indeed, according to Procopius, dissension between the two generals grew so serious that in 539 Justinian was forced to recall Narses to Constantinople after the eunuch accused Belisarius at a meeting of the Roman high command of ‘acting against the interests of the Roman State’.115 David Parnell has recently suggested that in an effort to strengthen his grip on power Justinian may have purposefully promoted a competitive environment amongst his high command in an effort to protect himself from the threat presented by a potential usurper from a unified army.116 By appointing Narses, Justinian therefore removed the real threat that a charismatic—and corporeally intact—military man like Belisarius could present to those in the imperial leadership. Narses’ survival depended heavily on the emperor he served and thrived under. Beholden to the ruling imperial regime, eunuchs in positions of prominence had long been vulnerable to execution during political crises or regime changes.117 Narses, as we will see, famously clashed with Justinian’s successor Justin II and his wife Sophia.118 Barring a mission to the Herules in 545, between 539 and 551 Narses largely stayed in and around Constantinople and saw no military action. Narses’ appointment as the supreme commander of the Italian army in 551 may have arisen more from convenience than part of any grand plan by Justinian. As John Moorhead points out, it seems that Justinian had not granted Narses a title; Procopius only vaguely describes the eunuch as 112 Moorhead, Justinian, p. 67. 113 Once again, it is difficult to know if Justinian really felt threatened by Belisarius’ achievements or if Procopius’ chose to magnify the distrust between the emperor and his general in the Secret History. 114 Proc. Secret History 18.9. 115 Proc. Wars 6.22.4-5. Cf. Marc. com. Chron. s.a. 539.1, who makes no mention of the two generals’ rivalry. 116 Parnell, Justinian’s Men, pp. 126-127. 117 Hopkins, Conquerors and Slaves, pp. 176-196. 118 Isidore of Seville Chron. 116, Paul the Deacon, Historia Langobardorum 2.5. Justin was the son of Justinian’s sister.


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‘commander-in-chief [αὐτοκράτορα τοῦ πολέμου]’.119 Justinian’s top choice, his cousin Germanus, had died in 550 while preparing for a final push into Italy. Justinian’ second choice, John, the nephew of the early-sixth-century rebel Vitalian who had likely been murdered on Justinian’s orders in 520, lacked Narses’ ability to get along with the other Roman commanders.120 Procopius declared that Justinian’s selection of Narses to take over the Italian campaign surprised him and his contemporaries: ‘The reason why the emperor had made this decision was explicitly clear to no one in the world’.121 Procopius commented on a Tuscan prophecy from the reign of the Gothic rex Athalaric (r. 526-534) that predicted ‘that one day a eunuch would undo the ruler of Rome’.122 Shaun Tougher senses enmity towards Narses and eunuchs more generally in these passages.123 So too does Averil Cameron contend that ‘it was for Procopius a galling blow that Narses achieved the final victory in Italy, not Belisarius’.124 Procopius unquestionably provided a nuanced portrait of Narses in Wars, offering both negative and positive descriptions. On the one hand, Procopius described Narses as an energetic and skilful politician who was also a fine general, capable of designing his own strategy and using his ability to get along well with both his soldiers and fellow generals to create a stable fighting coalition, which Belisarius had been less able to do on a consistent basis. On the other hand, particularly in Book 6 of the Gothic War, Procopius portrays Narses as selfishly using his connection at court and close relationships with other East Roman generals to thwart Belisarius and thus ultimately hinder the East Romans’ cause in Italy at a time when Procopius suggested a decisive and therefore quick victory over the Goths was still possible.125 So, Procopius had mixed feeling about Narses. Still, as Dariusz Brodka has recently underlined, the surprise of Procopius and of his contemporaries about Narses’ appointment should not be overinterpreted. Procopius’ amazement at Narses’ appointment quickly yields to admiration. 119 Moorhead, Justinian, p. 197. Proc. Wars 8.21.6. As Conor Whately has suggested to me (personal communication), this omission may just be another example of Procopius being vague about official titles. 120 Proc. Wars 8.21.5-9. 121 Proc. Wars 8.21.7 (trans. Dewing). 122 Proc. Wars 8.21.10-21 (trans. Dewing). 123 Tougher, ‘Bearding Byzantium’, p. 163. 124 Averil Cameron, Procopius, p. 203. 125 For Narses’ ‘negative’ traits, see Proc. Wars 6.18.11, 6.18.28-29, 6.19.18., For Procopius’ depiction of Narses and Belisarius’ strained relationship, see Brodka, Narses, pp. 86-107. For his ‘positive’ traits, see Proc. Wars 6.13.16, 8.26.5, 8.26.14, 8.31.22, 8.35.36. For a further discussion of Procopius’ praise and criticisms of Narses, see Brodka, Narses, pp. 252-258.

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Moreover, Belisarius had recently failed in his attempt to defeat the Goths; as Brodka rightly asks, why should his redeployment in Italy be expected?126 With his complex and I believe to be mixed feelings concerning Narses, one might ask then why does Procopius appear to celebrate Narses’ virtues at the close of the Wars? As Anthony Kaldellis has claimed, it may have served as a means of contrasting Narses’ victories with what Procopius saw as Belisarius’ failures in Italy after 540.127 What better way to denigrate Belisarius than to explain how a eunuch had defeated the pugnacious Goths. One should, however, be careful not to stretch the Wars’ subtext too far. Procopius never expressed this sentiment directly in any of his extant writings, including the Secret History.128 The closest he came to offering a gendered contrast between the two generals comes in Book 6 where he related a rift in 538 between Narses and Belisarius that had paralysed the Byzantine army’s progress in Italy. When relating an intense argument Belisarius had with Narses, Procopius tellingly described Belisarius as a ‘man general’ [στρατηγῷ ἀνδρὶ ].129 Nevertheless, it must be stressed that Book 8 of the Wars, published shortly after Narses’ successes, provides a largely positive assessment of Belisarius.130 So too, as we have seen in Chapter 3, the close of the Wars demonstrates a more upbeat attitude towards the reconquest as a whole than some suggest.131 Indeed, as noted in the introduction, the negative portraits found in the Secret History and Books 6 and 7 of the Gothic War were all likely composed and published at the nadir of the East Romans’ fortunes in Italy around 550/551. Book 8 also exonerates Belisarius’ ineffectiveness in Italy somewhat, by claiming that the Romans’ victories under Narses were partly due to Justinian’s refocus on the campaign and, most importantly, providing Narses with the supplies and the men that Belisarius had long begged for, but had never received.132 So the historian’s admiration for the general who had finally ‘defeated’ the martial Goths may have been genuine. Certainly, as we will discuss in greater depth in Chapter 7, in Procopius’ account, Narses played a primary role in defeating the martial Gothic King Totila at the fateful battle of Busta Gallorum (also known as the Battle of 126 Brodka, Narses, p. 258. 127 Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, pp. 193-196. 128 Brodka, Narses, pp. 252-253. 129 Proc. Wars 6.18.4-5. Discussed in Kruse, ‘Narses’, p. 10. 130 Proc. Wars 8.21.1-3, 8.25.12. 131 Further discussed in Stewart, ‘Danger of the Soft Life’. 132 Proc. Wars 7.21-10, 8.26.7. Cf. Proc. Secret History 4.39-40.


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Taginae) in 552. A recent analysis of the battle by Philip Rance suggests that Procopius simplifies the actual circumstances of the battle, and instead crafted a ‘caricaturing of the wily “eunuch-general” outwitting the brave but rash “barbarian king” Totila’.133 Narses proved to be the better tactician and strategist. Even if Procopius secretly held a grudge against the eunuch for disrupting Belisarius’ earlier military campaigns, he needed to explain how and why Narses had achieved a victory that his former superior had failed to achieve. Following values found in his historical model Thucydides,134 Procopius believed in the link between one’s virtues and one’s success in the world.135 This mindset might help to explain why the historian replaced the flawed, conniving, and less politically successful Narses found in much of Book 6 of the Gothic War with the more virtuous and triumphant eunuch portrayed in Books 7 and 8. Undeniably, in Agathias and Procopius Narses displayed many of the traits of an ideal Roman general. The eunuch’s affability, courage, cleverness, organisational and tactical abilities, as well as his oratory skills that allowed him to incite his soldiers to perform great deeds of courage and manliness on the battlefield, represent some of Narses’ best ‘martial’ qualities. Unlike Kathryn Ringrose and Philip Rance, however, I do not think that Procopius necessarily saw Narses’ organisational skills and ‘cleverness’ as eunuchspecific traits; they are characteristics expected of any successful leader or general.136 As we have discussed, Procopius described Belisarius as clever, well organised, and, at times, devious.137 133 Rance, ‘Battle of Taginae’, p. 426. 134 For this influence, see Pazdernik, ‘Procopius and Thucydides on the Labors of Wars’, pp. 149187; Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, pp. 17-61; On some ways Procopius’ Wars differs from Thucydides, see Kouroumali, ‘Procopius and the Gothic War’, pp. 9-26. 135 Treadgold, Early Byzantine Historians, p. 223. 136 See, for example, the traditional topoi on ideal generalship found in the description of the f ifth-century Roman generalissimo Aëtius found in the fragment of the Historia of Renatus Profuturus Frigeridus recorded by the sixth-century historian Gregory of Tours (Historia Francorum, 2.8, trans. Thorpe), ‘His (Aëtius’) intelligence was keen, he was full of energy, a superb horseman, a f ine shot with an arrow and tireless with the lance. He was extremely able as a soldier and he was skilled in the arts of peace. There was no avarice in him and even less cupidity. He was magnanimous in his behaviour and never swayed in his judgement by the advice of unworthy counsellors. He bore adversity with great patience, was ready for any exacting enterprise, he scorned danger and was able to endure hunger, thirst and the loss of sleep’. 137 See, for example, Proc. Wars 5.22.1-9 (Belisarius cleverly lures the Goths into battle and laughs at their ‘barbarian simplicity’), Proc. Wars 6.30.24-7 (Belisarius shows his devious side by going along with the Goths’ offer to make him emperor of the West). Procopius (Wars 3.9.25) described Belisarius as ὀξὺς [sharp, clever].

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Martial Manliness A key question is whether the early Byzantines understood that the use of eunuchs in the military represented a larger societal move away from the traditional idea that the battlefield represented a masculine realm. If andreia was becoming a less important cultural and/or military value, one would expect to see a decrease in the number of examples of idealised military men displaying typical martial courage and manliness during this period. The evidence does not support such a view. Procopius and Agathias consistently praise military men for upholding the best traditions of ‘Roman’ manliness. Echoing a long line of ancient historians who promoted Roman exceptionalism based on their martial superiority, we find Agathias proclaiming that for Rome ‘to triumph forever over our enemies is our birthright and ancestral privilege’.138 When describing why he chose to write his history about Justinian’s military campaigns in the East and the West, Procopius declared proudly in his opening that, ‘It will be shown that no stronger or mightier deeds are to be found in history than those which have been displayed in these wars—provided one wants to base his judgment on the truth’.139 For these Byzantine intellectuals, the manly deeds of courage and self-restraint performed in the theatre of war by idealised soldiers set a standard of masculine excellence that was difficult for their civilian counterparts to match. These historians shared a view found in Ammianus that suggested that Roman pre-eminence had been achieved because its early citizens had avoided the ‘life of softness/ effeminacy’ [vita mollitia]140 brought on by wealth and the sedentary life and ‘fought in fierce wars’ which allowed them to ‘overcome all obstacles by valour [virtute]’.141 We find similar sentiments when Agathias has Narses declare in a set speech to his soldiers that, ‘It would indeed be disgraceful, my fellow Romans, if you were to suffer the same fate as the barbarians and not to surpass them as much by your superior intelligence as you do in physical prowess’.142 In works that focused on warfare and the deeds of soldiers, it should not shock 138 Agath. Histories 2.12.2 (trans. Frendo), συγγενὲς γὰρ ἡμῖν καὶ πάτριον κρατεῖν ἀεὶ τῶν πολεμίων. 139 Proc. Wars 1.1.6, Κρεῖσσον δὲ οὐδὲν ἢ ἰσχυρότερον τῶν ἐν τοῖσδε τοῖς πολέμοις τετυχηκότων τῷ γε ὡς ἀληθῶς τεκμηριοῦσθαι βουλομένῳ φανήσεται. 140 For the close association of the term mollitia ‘softness’ with ‘effeminacy’, see Williams, ‘Semantics of mollitia’, pp. 240-263. 141 Amm. Res Gestae 31.5.14; 14.6.10. Cf. Theoph. Sim. History 2.14.6. 142 Agath. Histories 2.12.6, aἰσχρὸν τοίνυν ὕμᾶς, ὥ ἅνδρες Ῥωμαἵοι, ταὐτὸ παθεἵν τοἵς βαρβάροις καὶ μὴ τοσοὕτον ταἵς γνώμαις αὐτῶν περιεἵναι, ὁπόσον τῇ ῥώμῃ.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

us that Procopius and Agathias adulated the deeds of military men.143 In order to delve deeper into the ways sixth-century Byzantines connected the concept of andreia with military virtues, let us turn to Procopius’ infamous portrait of Belisarius found in the Secret History.

Draining Belisarius’ andreia Procopius in the Secret History famously attributes the Goths and Persians’ resurgence after 540 to Belisarius’ shortcomings as a general and a man. Where in the Wars, he primarily blames a lack of funding and attention by Justinian, combined with the Roman high command’s rapacity and constant bickering in the wake of Belisarius’ departure from Italy in 540;144 in the Secret History, Procopius blames many of Belisarius’ military defeats, not on failed military strategies, but on his contention that Belisarius had been effeminised. Procopius revealed that it was not rival generals or insubordinate troops that brought about Belisarius’ downfall, but an even more formidable enemy: his wife. Procopius, who as we have seen, praised Belisarius throughout the Wars for his ability to govern even the most fearsome barbarians, in the Secret History condemned his superior for becoming a slave to his own lust. Like any virile warrior, Belisarius did not give in without a fight and he waged a difficult campaign against Antonina’s ‘womanly wiles’. Again and again, he attempted to escape his wife’s clutches and for brief moments he was able to restore his honour by rejecting her ‘tricks of magic’, and thereby he lived up to the standards of normative masculinity once more.145 Each time, however, the respite was fleeting, and Belisarius returned once again to be Antonina’s ‘faithful slave not her husband’.146 The use of such masculine language allowed Procopius to highlight a variety of Belisarius’ failures to act as a virile man should. To define ideal manly conduct, Procopius wields gendered language that stresses virile action. Procopius draws attention to how a ‘real’ man handled disruptive women when he recounts and episode when the Byzantine general Constantine berated Belisarius for ignoring Antonia’s suspected adultery. The general spat: ‘If I had been in your shoes, I should have got rid of that 143 Stewart, Soldier’s Life, p. 313. 144 See Stewart, ‘Contests of Andreia’, pp. 21-54, for further details. 145 PLRE 3a 91-93 [Antonina]. 146 Proc. Secret History (trans. Dewing) 2.33.2, 2.37.2, 4.29-30.

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woman instead of the youngster [Theodosius, Antonina’s purported lover]’. Belisarius not only refused to heed Constantine’s advice, but as Procopius related, shortly afterwards, he had the general executed at Antonina’s behest. These actions, according to Procopius, evoked the ‘bitter hostility of the emperor and of the influential Romans one and all’.147 Procopius here deftly demonstrated how troubles in one’s domestic world could spill over into the public domain. Following a rhetorical commonplace in classical literature, Procopius emphasised that once a man became enslaved to a woman, he could never be a superior leader of men. Belisarius’ concern over his wife’s depravity led him to sacrifice the State’s most vital interests to his family problems. According to Procopius, Belisarius’ obsession with Antonina led to the Byzantine setbacks in the war against the Persians and the Goths. ‘Incapacitated by his wife’s waywardness’, Belisarius refused to travel far beyond the empire’s boundaries, and therefore failed to take the initiative against the Persians. Procopius related that his fellow Romans claimed that Belisarius had ‘sacrificed the most vital interests of the State to his own domestic concerns’.148 The historian also blamed Belisarius’ lacklustre second campaign in Italy on his refusal to punish his wife for her ‘crimes’.149 In Procopius’ telling, Belisarius’ ‘manliness had departed [ἀρρενωπὸν ἀπελελοίπει]’, leaving him an unmanly shell of his former masculine self.150 The historian wrote: In such a state of sheer terror, he went up to his bedroom and sat down alone upon his couch. Thinking not one sensible thought nor even remembering that he had once been a man, but sweating constantly, with his head swimming, shaking violently in helpless despair, tortured by servile fears and apprehensions, which were cowardly and completely unmanly.151 147 Proc. Secret History 1.25-30 (trans. Dewing). This conclusion thus inverts the native Constantinopolitans’ adulation of Belisarius found at the opening of Book 7 of the Wars. 148 Proc. Secret History 2.33.3, 2.25-7, 3.31. 149 Proc. Secret History 4.39-45. Such rhetoric in some ways shifts the blame away from Belisarius and makes Antonina the primary culprit for the military failures in Italy. Cf. the more positive assessment (Proc. Wars 8.21.1-4) of Belisarius composed after Narses had defeated the Goths. 150 Proc. Secret History 4.25. 151 Proc. Secret History 4.22 (trans. Dewing, modified), ξὺν ταύτῃ τε τῇ ὀρρωδίᾳ εἰς τὸ δωμάτιον ἀναβὰς ἐπὶ τῆς στιβάδος καθῆστο μόνος, γενναῖον μὲν οὐδὲν ἐννοῶν, οὐδὲ ὅτι ἀνὴρ ἐγεγόνει ἐν μνήμῃ ἔχων, ἱδρῶν δὲ ἀεὶ καὶ ἰλιγγιῶν καὶ ξὺν τρόμῳ πολλῷ ἀπορούμενος, φόβοις τε ἀνδραποδώδεσι καὶ μερίμναις ἀποκναιόμενος φιλοψύχοις τε καὶ ὅλως ἀνάνδροις.


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By allowing Antonina to take on the dominant role in their marriage and condoning her active role in political affairs,152 Belisarius not only drained his andreia, but according to Procopius, at that moment, ‘the hand of God was unmistakably against him’.153 Although one can debate whether the hostile rhetoric above represents Procopius’ ‘true’ feelings about Belisarius or the extent to which it offers us actual insights into the general’s mindset while on campaign in Italy and Persia,154 it certainly supplies proof concerning the role that a general’s masculine virtues like andreia played in determining outcomes on the field of battle. As we saw with the example of Sergius, Belisarius’ failures in the Secret History are only one of several examples in Procopius’ writings where military failures resulted from a general’s lack of andreia.155 Conversely, Procopius never depicts Narses and his fellow eunuch commander Solomon as soft, effeminate, or unmanly. Though it is always dangerous to make an argument based on omission, it is also intriguing that Narses does not appear in the Secret History.156 Although Procopius had likely composed Secret History before Narses’ commission, one would think that the eunuch’s influential role in Justinian’s army and ongoing rivalry with Belisarius should have merited some comment. Like Eutropius a century and a half earlier, as a eunuch commander closely tied to the ruling regime, Narses would have made a perfect target for a historian so fond of gendered invective. Indeed, as a eunuch, Narses would have been perceived by most Byzantines to be immune to a woman’s charms. Yet Procopius said nothing. Procopius was accepting of eunuchs’ roles in Byzantine civilisation. This does not mean that Narses evaded all gendered jibes. As mentioned earlier, 152 If the Liber Pontificalis is to be trusted, it seems that Antonina did indeed take part in political affairs and may have, at times, dominated Belisarius. The Liber Pontificalis (Vita Silverius 60.8 [trans. Davies]) relates a vivid scene in Rome from 537 where Antonina has Pope Silverius deposed after giving him a tongue lashing while Belisarius sits by: ‘On Silverius’ entry with Vigilius alone into the inner chamber, the patrician Antonina was lying on a couch with Belisarius sitting at her feet. When Antonina saw him, she said to him: “Tell us, lord pope Silverius, what have we done to you and the Romans to make you want to betray us into the hands of the Goths?” While she was still speaking, John, the regionary subdeacon of the first region, came in, took the pallium from his neck, and led him to a side room. He stripped him, dressed him in a monk’s habit and hid him away’. 153 Proc. Secret History 4.42, 5.1-8 (trans. Dewing). 154 Greatrex (‘Procopius in Esperanto’) finds it plausible that Belisarius was distracted by his marital problems while on campaign against the Persians in 541; I am more sceptical. 155 Proc. Wars 7.7.12, 7.39.7. 156 Martyn, ‘Narses’, p. 55, where Martyn attributes this omission to Procopius’ sincere respect for Narses, yet, as we have seen, Procopius’ could be critical of Narses.

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Procopius’ continuer Agathias used the eunuch trope in his history. So, Procopius was probably aware of these gendered attitudes towards eunuchs but chose not to use them. Later Byzantine historians largely shared Procopius and Agathias’ respect for Narses.157 We see, in the twelfth century, a successful eunuch general described as ‘a new Narses’.158 Perhaps more surprising, non-Byzantine Western sources from the sixth to the ninth centuries—even when critical of the reconquest of Italy—have also passed down respectful portraits of Narses. They mention his eunuch status but focus extensively on his military and political achievements. For example, Marius of Avenches, writing in the Frankish kingdom of Burgundy in the early 580s, lauded Narses’ accomplishments in Italy: After Narses, former superintendent [of the sacred bedchamber] and patrician, had laid low so many usurpers—that is Baudila [Totila] and Tëias kings of the Goths; and Buccelin, a duke of the Franks; as well as Sindual the Herule—he was recalled from Italy in this year, by the abovementioned Augustus [Justin II] having commendably restored Milan and other towns the [Ostro]Goths had destroyed.159

From his vantage in 560s North Africa, Victor of Tunnuna appeared more surprised at Narses’ triumphs, recording: ‘The eunuch Narses, a patrician and ex-prefect, in battle quite miraculously overcame Totila, the king of the Goths, and killed him and took all of his riches’.160 Writing in 590s post-imperial Gaul, Gregory of Tours—who opposed Byzantine/Roman rule in Italy—depicted Narses as a formidable military commander.161 After conflating and exaggerating the Franks’ successes in their military campaigns in Italy in 538 and 553/554, Gregory admitted that Narses had succeeded in revitalising the Roman army. He then explained that Narses’ slaying of the Frankish general Buccelen had placed Italy firmly into imperial hands.162 Later Western sources also stress Narses’ military achievements. For instance, while lamenting the devastating aftermath of Justinian’s reconquest of Italy, the ninth-century Liber Pontificas Ecclesiae Ravennatis 157 See, Mal. Chron. 18.113; Evag. HE 4.24; John of Ephesus, HE 3.1.39. 158 Tougher, Eunuch in Byzantine History, p. 152. 159 Marius of Avenches, Chron. s.a. 568 (trans. Murray). 160 Vic. Ton. Chron. s.a. 553 (trans. in Martyn, ‘Narses’, p. 46). 161 For Gregory’s attitudes towards Justinian’s wars of reconquest and Narses’ military victories in Italy, see Reimitz, ‘After Rome, before Francia’, pp. 58-79. 162 Gregory of Tours, Historia Francorum 4.9.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

commended Narses for his numerous military successes: ‘Lord Narses died at Rome; after he had won many victories in Italy, with the plundering of all the Romans of Italy, he rested in his palace; he died in the ninety-fifth year of his life’.163 Significantly, for our purposes, even Western sources that subscribed to Narses’ anachronistic ‘betrayal’ of Italy to the Lombards, first recorded in Isidore of Seville’s chronicle from 616, portray Narses’ reasoning for the ‘duplicity’ sympathetically.164 As Shaun Tougher rightly stresses, Western authors mostly twist the story to Narses’ advantage. The anonymous seventh-century author of the Liber Pontificalis, 7th-century historian Fredegar, and Paul the Deacon transform Narses into a maligned ex-war hero who valiantly resists attempts by Emperor Justin II and Empress Sophia to dismiss him from Italy and return him to his former ‘domestic and feminine’ life within Constantinople.165 Building upon earlier accounts, Paul wrote: ‘[…] because he was a eunuch, she [Sophia] is said to have sent him this message, that she would make him portion out to the girls in the women’s chamber the daily tasks of wool’. Paul has Narses respond, ‘That he would begin to weave her such a web as that she could not lay down as long as she lived’.166 As Agathias had explained previously, Narses had moved beyond such gendered insults. Now instead of the offensive Germanic barbarians found in Agathias, in these Western accounts it is the Byzantine emperor and his wife that must learn the consequences of trusting in stale eunuch topoi, and so underestimating the new-world eunuch Narses.

163 Agnellus, Liber Pontificas Ecclesiae Ravennatis, Petrus Senior (Latin text and trans. Deliyannis), Narsique patricius obit Romae, postquam gessit multas uictorias in Italia cum denudatione omnium Romanorum Italiae, in palacio quieuit; nonagesimo quinto uitae suae anno mortuus est. 164 For example, Isidore of Seville, Chron. 116; Lib. Pont. Vita John ch. 3-4; Paul the Deacon, Historia Langobardorum 2.5. 165 Tougher, ‘Eunuchs in the East’; cf. Paul Brown, ‘Perceptions of Byzantine Virtus’, where Brown shows that Paul also idealised Narses for his Christian virtues. 166 Paul the Deacon, Historia Langobardorum 2.5, Tunc Augustus in tantum adversus Narsetem commotus est, ut statim in Italiam Longinum praefectum mitteret, qui Narsetis locum obtineret Narsis vero, his cognitis, valde pertimuit; et in tantum maxime ab eadem Sophia Augusta territus est, ut regredi ultra Constantinopolim non auderet. Cui illa inter cetera, quia eunuchus erat, haec fertur mandasse, ut eum puellis in genicio lanarum faceret pensa dividere. Ad quae verba Narsis dicitur haec responsa dedisse: talem se eidem telam orditurum, qualem ipsa, dum viveret, deponere non possit. Cf. Origio Gentis Langobardorum, 2.5: Ipse Albuin adduxit Langobardes in Italia, invatos a Narsete scribarum.

Shat tering the Gl ass Ceiling: Eunuchs in a Changing World 


Brave New World Traditional hegemonic masculinity secured in acts of bravery in warfare proved resilient in the early Byzantine period.167 The increasing use of eunuchs in positions of command from the sixth century did little to shake the idea that ‘Roman’ greatness had been earned by the manly blood of its soldiers. As a realm dominated by true men, the battlefield continued to offer one of the easiest places for men in the early Byzantine period to prove not only their courage, but also their manliness. Byzantines like Procopius and Agathias allowed room for eunuchs like Solomon and Narses in this hyper-masculine world. Solomon and Narses may have emanated from the Byzantine East, but they had risen to prominence as powerful generals, efficient administrators, and de facto political rulers in post-reconquest North Africa and Italy. Basking in an aura of political authority that continued to impress Byzantines and non-Byzantines alike in an increasingly post-imperial West, these men had proven military and leadership skills. Little wonder, then, that these eunuchs had pulled apart many of the nasty stereotypes concerning just what a eunuch could hope to achieve on the empire’s western fringes.

167 On which, see Stewart, Soldier’s Life.

Part III Chaos Encroaching

At this point in the war, the barbarians became unquestionably masters of the whole West. Though the Romans had been at first decisively victorious in the Gothic War, as I have previously recounted, the result for them was that they had not only spent money and lives in huge amounts and to no advantage, but they had also lost Italy besides, and had to look on while practically all of Illyria and Thrace were being ravaged and destroyed in confusion by the barbarians, who were now their neighbours. – Proc. Wars 7.33.1 (trans. Kaldellis)

4. Drawing of a lost equestrian statue of Justinian in the Augustaion in Constantinople, by Nimphyrios. Photograph from Charles Diehl, Justinien et la civilisation byzantine au VIe siècle, Paris, 1901. wiki commons.



By June of 548, Justinian’s public and private worlds were unravelling. Gone were the halcyon days of 534 and 540, when Belisarius had hauled the Vandal king Gelimer and the Gothic king Vitigis back to Constantinople as captives, along with the treasures of their kingdoms.1 The emperor’s attempts to recover the lost territories of the Western Empire had instead devolved into a quagmire of seemingly endless military campaigns on multiple fronts. In North Africa, two serious mutinies in 536 and 546 had left the Roman army divided, which contributed to a series of insurrections by the Berbers. The situation in Italy was even worse. In Belisarius’ absence, squabbling amongst the Roman high command and maltreatment of the locals had led to a recognition by many Italian natives that the East Romans were not the saviour they claimed to be.2 The Italo-Romans’ angst contributed to the rise of a new and powerful Gothic king, Totila, who had not only halted the Roman advance, but had increasingly taken the fight to them. Even the return of Belisarius to Italy, in 544, after a four-year absence, did little to stem the tide of the Gothic onslaught. More troubling, in 540, the Persians had violated the ‘Endless Peace’, storming into a Roman Syria denuded of troops. Procopius relates how city after city fell to the rampaging armies of the Persian shah Chosroes, lamenting that any Romans who were not slaughtered were hauled back to Persia in chains.3 In the aftermath of these disasters, Roman resistance stiffened somewhat. A Persian invasion of Mesopotamia in 542 led to a failed attempt by the Persians to take the city of Sergiopolis. The Romans could not capitalise on this Persian set-back; a large Roman army suffered defeat at the hands of the Persians the next year. In 544, Chosroes laid siege to Edessa, but vigorous resistance by the locals and a payment of 500 pounds of gold saw Chosroes returning to Persia. Both sides had had enough for the time being. A five-year truce signed between the two warring parties in 545 saw Justinian making a payment of 5,000 pounds of gold to the Persians.4 Faced with a deteriorating situation in North Africa and Italy, the emperor may have indeed been thankful for getting off so lightly. That the Persians represented East Rome’s greatest threat and adversary is driven home by the fact that the equestrian statue (plate 4) of Justinian set up in the Augousteion in 5435 depicted the emperor, in the 1 Peter Heather in Rome Resurgent offers a sound narrative account that covers the planning, implementation, and long-term impact of Justinian’s Western military campaigns. 2 Further discussed in Stewart, Soldier’s Life. 3 See, Proc. Wars 2.8-10. Börm, ‘Der Perserkönig im Imperium Romanum’, pp. 299-328, deals at length with the Persian invasion of 540. 4 Proc. Wars 2.28.7-11. 5 Malalas Chron. 18.94; Proc. Buildings 1.9.7-10.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

words of Procopius, ‘clad like Achilles [ἔσταλται δὲ Ἀχιλλεὺς]’ and facing eastward towards the empire’s most formidable enemy, Persia. In his left hand the emperor held a globe, which according to Procopius, signified the idea that the ‘entire earth and sea are subject to him’. Yet, Procopius continues, as a non-campaigning Christian emperor, the statue of Justinian wielded neither ‘sword nor spear’ but only ‘a cross […] the emblem by which alone the emperor had obtained his empire and strength in war’.6 Procopius closes by offering his personal insight into the imperial messaging behind the monument, declaring that through such militant imagery, Justinian was ‘ordering the barbarians in those lands to stay put’.7 The populace of Constantinople, shaken by the Persians’ recent strikes into Roman territory, surely needed reassuring that Justinian knew where the most potent threat to his people lay.8 The East Romans were not solely to blame for their misfortunes;9 the 540s had seen deadly waves of a variant of bubonic plague [Yersinia pestis] devastating every corner of the empire—Justinian, in fact, had nearly succumbed to the sickness during the first and most virulent wave in 542.10 A near contemporary of Procopius, Evagrius Scholasticus (c. 536-594), vividly describes the devastation of the so-called Justinianic plague that recurrently afflicted him, his family, and his servants: I was affected by what are called buboes while I was still at elementary school (542), but in the subsequent visitations of these great misfortunes I lost many of my offspring and my wife and other relatives, and numerous servants and estate dwellers […]. Thus, as I write this, while in the 58th 6 As Brian Croke (‘Justinian under Justin’, p. 21) suggests that it is possible that during Anastasius’ reign Justinian had campaigned in the East and had in fact earned ‘a military reputation’, which saw him being named to Anastasius’ personal guard, the candidati. 7 Proc. Buildings 1.2.4-19. 8 These concerns by the East Roman populace may help to explain why in the Buildings, Procopius spends so much time discussing Justinian’s fortifications along the Persian frontiers as well as his restoration of the cities ransacked by the Persians. So, whereas the Wars, and to some extent the Secret History, highlight Justinian’s attempts to expand the Roman Empire, in the Buildings, Procopius depicts a more inward-looking emperor, focusing on how Justinian ‘preserved the Empire, by building its defences and thus protected it from outside threats. The notion of the emperor as the driving force behind either the preservation or destruction of the empire is a theme that unifies the Wars, the Secret History, and the Buildings. 9 Meier, Das andere Zeitalter Justinians, pp. 656-670, offers a useful list of the various catastrophes that hit the Roman Empire during Justinian’s reign. 10 Proc. Wars 2.23.20. John Moorhead (Justinian, p. 100) proposes plausibly that Justinian’s bouts of illness during the 540s had led to more power and influence for Theodora—a shift that we can see Procopius reacts against in the Secret History.



year of my life, not more than two years previously […] I lost a daughter and the son she produced, quite apart from these earlier.11

Though modern scholars continue to debate the severity of the demographic carnage sown by the plague, as well as its ramifications on the fate of Justinian’s expansion, clearly it impacted the Romans’ ability to recruit soldiers for Justinian’s far-flung military adventures and raise taxes to pay them.12 It was thus a time of great uncertainty and waning confidence when Procopius was putting the finishing touches on the first seven books of the Wars.13 Little wonder, then, that he and others began to question the practicality of expansion.14 That the Romans continued to fight to recover lands in North Africa and Italy in such deteriorating conditions at all is remarkable.15 As one historian has recently remarked, ‘In the wake of this calamity, it should also make us better appreciate the valiant efforts of the Illyrian soldier-emperors, and Justinian and his successors, in keeping the empire together as well as they did in such abysmal circumstances’.16 Admittedly not all the news coming from the western front was bad. From 546, the Roman general, John Troglita, had achieved a series of victories over the Berbers, a tide of successes that would culminate with a triumph in August of 548 that would see North Africa firmly in the grasp of the East Romans until the Muslims captured Carthage in the 690s.17 But, 11 Evagr. HE 4.29 (trans. Whitby). 12 Hordon, ‘Mediterranean Plague in the Age of Justinian’, pp. 134-160; Harper, Fate of Rome; Haldon et al., ‘A response to Kyle Harper’s The Fate of Rome’. Championing the high estimate, Kyle Harper posits that the plague led to the East Roman population declining by as much as half. See, however, the important points and wise caveats in Sessa, ‘The New Environmental Fall of Rome’, pp. 235-236. For a minimalist stance, see Mordechai and Eisenberg, ‘Rejecting Catastrophe: The Case of the Justinianic Plague’, pp. 3-50. 13 Agathias (Histories 5.10.5, trans. Frendo) explained that during his day there were two main theories of causation for the prevalence of plague. One theory contended that there was an endless course of ‘lucky and unlucky cycles’ when warfare, internal dissension, and plague ran rampant. The second, advocated by Christians, was the notion of divine vengeance, ‘exacting just retribution from mankind for its sins and decimating whole populations’. Yet, it bears remembering that Christians like Augustine (De civitate Dei) had also argued that historical misfortunes were not necessarily a sign of divine wrath. 14 One must note, however, that Procopius (Wars 7.39-40) showed greater enthusiasm when Justinian appointed Germanus to lead a major campaign into Italy in 550. 15 For the heavy financial burden to the empire’s finances in dealing with the plagues’ aftermath, see Proc. Wars 2.23.6-10. The long-term devasting effects of the Gothic wars upon cities and countryside of Italy are discussed adeptly in T.S. Brown, Gentlemen and Officers, pp. 1-60. 16 Wijnendaele, ‘Review of Harper, The Fate of Rome’, p. 2. 17 Peter Heather (Rome Resurgent, pp. 299-302) aptly reminds us that Justinian’s reconquest achieved many of its original goals by establishing East Roman control of vital lands and seaways


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

early in the summer of 548, the emperor could not have known that heavy fighting had come to an end in North Africa, particularly since he had seen such turning points before. Faced with these difficulties, throwing more money and troops at a disintegrating western front may have seemed a foolish idea. It was said by Procopius that Belisarius had become so desperate for funding and reinforcements that he had sent Antonina back to Constantinople to ask her old friend Theodora for money.18 Unquestionably a lack of pay had led entire regiments to desert or, in some cases, go over to the Goths.19 Yet, this meeting between Antonina and Theodora never happened. The empress had died of cancer on 28 June 548. Justinian, who never remarried and invoked and lauded the empress’ memory for the rest of his life, must have suffered a bitter bereavement.20 Theodora’s death not only shook Justinian, but created a power vacuum that needed to be filled, and quickly. According to Procopius, it was Theodora who pulled the strings of the emperor’s network of spies who prowled the streets, markets, and private homes of the capital, constantly seeking out subversives and quashing potential threats.21 It makes sense, therefore, that her death had left Justinian more susceptible to court intrigue and the machinations of dissatisfied social elites increasingly squeezed by imperial tax collectors. This vulnerability and the emperor’s increasingly isolated position, together with the Persians ramping up for another invasion of the poorly defended Eastern frontier, made it an easy decision then for Justinian to agree to Antonina’s request to recall Belisarius to Constantinople. Who better to count on for support than the general who had proven on numerous occasions—in spite of the constant murmurings of naysayers—his loyalty to the emperor?22 Despite some notable victories—highlighted by his recapture of Rome in April of 547—even the hitherto charmed Belisarius had seen his military reputation tarnished in the late 540s. In stark contrast to the general’s triumphant returns to the imperial capital in the past, Procopius in North Africa, Southern Italy, and Sicily for a long time, particularly if we take a medieval perspective. 18 Proc. Wars 7.30.3. 19 Parnell, Justinian’s Men, p. 169. 20 For Justinian’s lifelong devotion to Theodora, see Bell, Three Political Voices, pp. 192-193, n. 17. 21 Proc. Secret History 16.14-15. Though it was the magister officiorum (master of the offices), Peter the Patrician, who ran the state’s spy networks from 539 to 565. Once again, we need to balance Procopius’ need in the Secret History to exaggerate the sinister role of Theodora with the probability that the empress did have her own network of spies. 22 On this loyalty, see Heather, Rome Resurgent, p. 327.



in the Secret History vividly captures the ignominy of Belisarius’ return in the spring of 549: Finally, in despair, he (Belisarius) begged the Emperor that he be allowed to depart Italy as quickly as possible. When he heard that the Emperor had accepted his plea, he returned to Constantinople at once, content to say goodbye to the Roman army and to the Italians; and he left most of the strongholds in the hands of the enemy and Perusia in the grip of a deadly siege.23

The account in the Wars leading up to Belisarius’ departure from Italy is more detailed, yet just as troubling for the Roman prospects of westward expansion. Procopius describes the gruesome result of Totila’s capture of the Roman fortress at Rusciane: ‘He (Totila) cut off both the hands of Chalazar (the Roman commander) and his private parts and then killed him immediately’. Wielding the more magnanimous policies that had seen the Gothic ranks swell, Totila granted more mercy to the starving Roman soldiers, offering them the choice to join the Gothic army or leave peacefully, albeit unarmed. Only eighty soldiers chose to return to the Roman lines, while the rest joined the Goths. Faced with this deteriorating situation in Italy and with another Persian invasion looming, Procopius explains that Justinian recalled Belisarius. It is against this alarming backdrop that Procopius then transitions back in time to relate the circumstances surrounding a bungled plot to assassinate Justinian in early 549.24 This episode plays an essential role in the close of Book 7 of the Wars, and offers keen insights into Procopius’ mindset as he put the finishing touches on what was then the final section of his Wars.25 It is therefore worth examining in the next chapter Procopius’ intricate story of the plot in some detail, before closing the study in the final chapter by looking at what I see to be Procopius’ complex and shifting characterisation of the Gothic King Totila. 23 Proc. Secret History 5.16-17 (trans. Dewing). Procopius here concentrates on Antonina and Belisarius’ attempts to thwart Theodora’s wish to marry their daughter to Theodora’s grandson—an episode that makes one think that the two were not as close as the historian would have us believe. For the sound reasoning behind Belisarius and Antonina’s reluctance to link their daughter to Theodora’s low-born grandson, see Alan Cameron, ‘House of Anastasius’. 24 For a more complete analysis of the gendered themes found in Book 7, see Stewart, ‘Contests of Andreia’, pp. 21-54. 25 This need to connect the conspiracy to the declining situation in Italy offers the simplest answer to Anthony Kaldellis’ query (Procopius of Caesarea, pp. 262-263, n. 127) concerning Procopius’ reasoning for placing the plot in the Gothic rather than the Persian sections of Wars.

5. Consular diptych [540] of Justin, Bode museum, Berlin, Germany. wiki commons.


Killing Justinian

As scholars have long documented, Procopius provides a version of the conspiracy to kill Justinian in 549 that raises as many questions as it answers.1 While our understanding of the Secret History has benefited from an abundance of recent research taking a literary approach,2 efforts to apply such methods to the Wars are in their infancy.3 With some notable exceptions, modern scholarship on this episode largely takes Procopius’ account at face value. 4 This is not to claim that Procopius does not accurately relay basic elements of the plot. Although ancient historians’ conceptualisations about ‘truth’ differed from our own,5 Procopius seldom strayed too far from what he considered to be reality.6 In fact, other sensational episodes found in the Wars, such as Procopius’ vivid description of Theodora and Antonina’s part in John the Cappadocian’s downfall, are corroborated by other contemporary sources.7 I concur with Anthony Kaldellis that Procopius creates a picture of the conspiracy that draws heavily on themes found in the Secret History. Unquestionably, the section from Book 7 concerning Artabanes closely matches the gendered style of those concerning Belisarius in the Secret History. I will contend, however, that the staunch belief of scholars like Kaldellis that the Secret History represents Procopius’ unfiltered and therefore ‘true’ views—has led to a simplified analysis of a complex episode.8 To better appreciate Procopius’ aims, and perhaps his attitude, one needs a much deeper analysis of the metanarrative than hitherto has been supplied. The primary purpose of this chapter is therefore to examine deeply how and why the historian wrote as he did. By doing so, we will see that Procopius created visions of individuals and their motivations that followed very closely the gendered rhetoric found in the Secret History. I will show how the historian consciously connected his character sketches of Artabanes in 1 Averil Cameron. Procopius, p. 151. In fact, some scholars have even claimed Procopius had been involved in the conspiracy, see Angold, ‘Procopius’ Portrait of Theodora’, p. 24; Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, p. 164, citing Brückner, ‘Zur Beurteilung’, p. 34. 2 Harvey, ‘Theodora the Believing Queen’, p. 212. 3 Averil Cameron, ‘Writing about Procopius’, pp. 14-15. 4 For example, Moorhead, Justinian, pp. 172-173; Mary Whitby, ‘On the Omission’, p. 484; Parnell, Justinian’s Men, pp. 89-90; Heather, Rome Resurgent, p. 328. 5 Treadgold, ‘The Unwritten Rules’, pp. 278-281; Börm, Prokop und die Perser, pp. 70-74. 6 Proc. Wars 1.1.5-6. 7 Mal. Chron. 18.89. 8 Börm, ‘Genesis of the Anecdota’, pp. 326-335; Brubaker‚’Sex, Lies, and Textuality’, p. 101.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

the Wars and the ‘anti-Belisarius’ found in the Secret History.9 To achieve this goal, we must return to the final episodes of the Vandal War, in which the scion of the former Armenian royal house of the Arsacid, the general Artabanes, rises to fame.

Artabanes: Slayer of Tyrants Artabanes is one of the rare secondary protagonists who appears in the Persian, Vandalic, and Gothic Wars, as well as the supplement, Book 8, which touches on the general’s activities in Sicily and Italy from 552-553. It has been suggested that Procopius knew Artabanes, so had received some of his insider information concerning the plot from him.10 It is important to emphasise that given the historian’s criticisms of Artabanes and his motivations, Procopius did not merely regurgitate whatever information Artabanes may have told him onto the pages of the Wars, but in his detailed expositions on Artabanes interpreted his character through the lens of his own literary and historiographical purpose. Procopius’ presentation of Artabanes and his motivations for his actions in the Vandal and Gothic Wars is indeed markedly complex and nuanced. If one acknowledges this complexity, a more sophisticated and open-ended vision of the lessons Procopius hopes to impart upon his readers appears. I will suggest below that Procopius’ heavy emphasis on Artabanes serves a literary as much as a historical purpose. Procopius frames each of the episodes with a key set speech, which spurs the easily manipulated Artabanes to action. Moreover, there are suspicious similarities and linkages to this speech and the one found at the end of Book 4 when Artabanes’ cousin convinced Artabanes to murder Gontharis. The two speeches certainly offer insight into Procopius’ rhetorical strategy. Let us begin our analysis by returning to Book 4 of the Vandalic Wars to examine how Procopius constructed a set speech to entice Artabanes to assassinate the ‘tyrant’ Gontharis, who had seized control of Carthage in 545.11 Shortly after they had defected to the Romans from the Persian side in 545, Artabanes and his brother John and nephews George and Gregory were shipped off to North Africa to serve the newly appointed magister 9 PLRE 3a.125-130 [Artabanes 2]. 10 Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, p. 163. 11 Adrastos Omissi (Emperors and Usurpers, p. 132) examines shifts in the meaning of ‘tyrant’ in Late Antiquity.

Killing Justinian


militum Africae, the blue-blooded,12 yet militarily inexperienced, Areobindus.13 Areobindus arrived just as internal rivalries within the Roman army combusted. Following a common standard in Roman and Byzantine discourse ‘to consider one man the legitimate emperor and all rivals rebels’,14 Procopius then explores the choice made by the outsider, Artabanes, to join the insurrection or support his oaths to his former enemy, Justinian. In the aftermath of Gontharis’ murder of Areobindus, Procopius constructs a speech in which Gregory appealed to his uncle to slay the tyrant. Up to this point Artabanes played the role of the wildcard, in Procopius’ telling, more loyal to his fellow Armenians than to the rebels or Justinian’s cause. This should not surprise us, since the ancient mountain kingdom of Armenia had long served as a buffer between Rome and Persia. The highlands of Armenia cultivated rival clans brimming with military elites whose fighting prowess made them highly sought-after warriors.15 When they were not fighting amongst themselves, these soldiers frequently earned a living fighting for either the Romans or the Persians.16 The Armenians had closer links to Persian culture than to Roman culture. Since 226, the Arsacids were no longer kings of Persia, and from 428 they were no longer kings of Armenia, but in the sixth century there were still men who proudly claimed to be decedents of the royal Arsacids. As one specialist puts it, ‘The nobles, nakharars, who shaped Armenian political life were a Persian aristocracy writ small’.17 This helps to explain why, in the terms of the Persian-Roman agreement of 387, only a quarter of ‘Armenian’ lands had been given to the Romans. The rapid Christianisation of the Armenians in the fourth and fifth centuries, however, eventually began to push some Armenians closer to the East Romans. Some 12 For Areobindus’ likely relation to the Alan Ardraburii, and therefore the famous fifth-century ‘barbarian’ strongman Aspar, see Conant, Staying Roman, p. 203, n. 25. McEvoy (‘The Not-So-Curious Case of Aspar’, pp. 483-509) discusses the Ardaburii’s rapid Romanisation. On Aspar’s downfall, see Crawford, The Roman Emperor Zeno, pp. 41-97. It is interesting, however, that Procopius does not mention Areobindus’ relation to Aspar, since he describes in detail Aspar’s failures against the Vandals in North Africa at the opening of Book 3 (Wars 3.4.35-36). It is possible that Procopius expected his reader to appreciate the irony that the scion of the fearsome Adraburii clan had been softened by his upbringing within the comfortable confines of Constantinople. 13 Proc. Wars 4.24.2. As David Parnell (Justinian’s Men, p. 78) points out, such foreign postings for recently defected or defeated troops served to cut down on betrayals or defections. 14 Neville, Heroes and Romans, p. 67; Omissi, Emperors and Usurpers, pp. 16, n. 55, 21-34. 15 For Procopius’ lauding of the Armenians’ fighting prowess, see Proc. Wars 1.13.29-38, 6.28.16. 16 For the difficult integration of Armenians into the Byzantine military, see Garsoïan, ‘The Problem of Armenian Integration into the Byzantine army’. We should reject the idea that the Armenian rebellion of 538-539, described in detail in the Persian War, offers us a nascent vision of Armenian statehood as suggested in Ayvazyn, The Armenian Military in the Byzantine Empire. 17 Thomson, ‘Introduction to The Armenian History Attributed to Sebeos’, p. 13.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

scholars have suggested that the Zoroastrian Persians’ crackdowns on Christians in the fifth and sixth centuries only sped up the decoupling.18 Justinian was certainly one to play upon a perceived advantage, and it seems he was attempting to further integrate the Armenians into the empire.19 This knotty political reality helps to explain why, instead of appealing to Artabanes’ heartfelt loyalty to Justinian or to the Roman Empire, Procopius instead has Gregory plea to his uncle’s thirst for glory and masculine pride, suggesting with florid hyperbole that Artabanes had an opportunity ‘to win glory like Belisarius, or even surpass that glory by far’.20 Where Belisarius had achieved his triumph with the backing of the might of Roman arms, Artabanes would save Africa with just his small band of Armenian comrades. According to Gregory, Roman power in North Africa dangled by a thread. Yet, with the simple act of eliminating Gontharis, Artabanes could rescue the situation. Procopius has Gregory underline the fact that it would not be a ‘true’ Roman who would rescue the day, but a man ‘of the house of the Arsacids by ancient descent’. To drive home this ironic point further, the nephew recites his uncle’s greatest deeds, performed ‘on behalf of freedom’, which had all been achieved while fighting against Justinian: When you were still young you slew Acacias, the ruler of the Armenians, and Sittas the general of the Romans [who had been sent by Justinian to pacify an Armenian rebellion], and as a result you became close to king Chosroes and campaigned with him against the Romans.21

Speaking to Artabanes’ flexible loyalties and appealing to a higher nobility and courage that transgressed state boundaries, Procopius has Gregory conclude: Now that you have reached this station in life it is your duty not to allow Roman power to lie subject to a drunken dog. Show now, good sir, that it was your nobility and virtuous spirit that you performed those deeds then. I and Artasires here will assist you, insofar as we have the power.22 18 Heather, Rome Resurgent, p. 77. However, the extent of these alleged persecutions of Christians by the Zoroastrians was probably exaggerated by the Christian sources; on Christians in the Sasanian Empire, see Payne, A State of Mixture. 19 Kruse, ‘Speech of the Armenians’, p. 869. 20 Proc. Wars 4.27.9. 21 Procopius (Wars 2.3.25, trans. Kaldellis) supplies two versions of the magister militum per Armeniam Sittas’ death. In the first, Artabanes stealthily killed Sittas with a spear from behind. In the second version, another Armenian, Solomon, killed him. 22 Proc. Wars 4.27.18 (trans. Kaldellis).

Killing Justinian


Here again, Procopius does not stray too far from the basic facts surrounding events in Artabanes’ life, but the literary embellishments contained in this speech are obvious. Well aware of the complex divisions within Transcaucasia and the subsequent mixed loyalties of the Armenians, Procopius’ contemporaries would have surely appreciated the irony that the man who quashed Gontharis’ imperial ambitions,23 Artabanes, who was himself a turncoat, who had rebelled against the Romans, joined the Persians, and then deserted to the Roman side, was the man who would save North Africa for the emperor.24 So too would disgruntled Roman aristocrats have likely seen parallels between the description above of Acacias and Gonatharis’ ‘tyranny’, and the conditions they faced under Justinian. So, we can see Artabanes’ actions in the Persian and Vandal Wars allow the reader a chance to ponder the nature of tyranny and the fine line between an enemy and a friend. As with Procopius’ explanation of the root causes of Belisarius’ failures in the Secret History, Procopius traces the origins of Artabanes’ decision to join the plot to a woman, in this case, Praejecta, Justinian’s niece and the former wife of the general Areobindus.25 According to Procopius, Artabanes’ determination to marry Praejecta stemmed from a combination of political ambition and an ‘immoderate desire’ [ἐξαισία τις ἐπιθυμία] for Justinian’s niece. 26 Praejecta pursues the marriage for more practical and, in the historian’s eyes, more rational reasons. According to Procopius, she did not love Artabanes, but ‘acknowledged a heavy debt of gratitude to him’, for protecting her from Gontharis. Following older Roman marital practices, which saw Roman noble women as spoils to be fought over in disputes between military elites (Roman and non-Roman), Praejecta is more than willing to marry a man—Artabanes—whom she may have admired but did 23 Conant, Staying Roman, p. 216, contends reasonably that Stotzas in 536 and Gontharis in 545 had each hoped to claim the imperial title. 24 Yet conversely, Procopius could argue that he was merely highlighting Justinian’s ability to transform former enemies into powerful allies. 25 As Hagith Sivan (Galla Placida, pp. 60-93) adroitly discusses, royal women in early Byzantium often served as marital prizes in generals’ struggles. One only needs to recall two famous examples from the fifth century: the empress Galla Placidia’s marriage to Honorius’ general Constantius, the future emperor Constantius III (r. 421—not recognised in the East) after the former had ‘rescued’ her from captivity under the Visigoths, and Aëtius’ marriage of the rival general Bonifatius’ wife Pelagia (from whom he had a son, Gaudentius) after he had mortally wounded Bonifatius at the battle of Rimini in 432. 26 Proc. Wars 7.31.2. Dewing’s ‘immoderate desire’ captures the negative connotations of ἐξαισία τις ἐπιθυμία more accurately than Kaldellis’ ‘strong desire’. Compare this with the negative connotations in Secret History (9.30) that Procopius gives to Justinian’s ‘overpowering love [ἔρωτα ἐξαίσιον]’ for Theodora.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

not love.27 We may contrast Praejecta’s modesty with Procopius’ vision of Antonina’s and Theodora’s immodesty in the Secret History.28 In comparison to ideal Roman women like Praejecta, who were demur, loyal, pious, merciful, and chaste, Theodora and Antonina were, in Procopius’ view, immoral prostitutes eager to take on unnatural masculine roles.29 By describing Antonina and Theodora in this way, it seems likely that Procopius sought to undermine these social climbers’ claims to be virtuous and noble Roman women. Peter Brown once noted that, ‘Procopius wrote to prove that the Empress had once been a “non-person”, what had happened in public made plain that she was a girl of the lower classes: the good Christian senators of Constantinople could look on a body thus exposed with impunity’.30 By publicly submitting to Artabanes’ masculine authority and accepting her normal role in public as a reward in a contest of war, Praejecta, on the other hand, displayed the characteristics of the idealised woman from the Roman upper classes.31 This opening salvo also offers Procopius’ key Constantinopolitan audience a way to ponder the nature of Artabanes. Displaying subtle differences between current and late antique gender values, Procopius’ portrait of a lovestruck Artabanes was not meant to be flattering, as it might be by present standards. Roman writers used a lack of sexual self-control to discredit their opponents. Classical Roman ideals of masculinity dictated that the effeminate was one who gave into carnal desire.32 In the late antique world, conceptions of manliness often centred around men’s ability to restrain 27 For the hyper-sexual nature of women in late antique thought, see Herrin, ‘In Search of Byzantine Women’, p. 167; Neville, Anna Komnene, p. 16. 28 Proc. Secret History 1.40, 9.17-20, 16.5-18. 29 Unable to f ind any instances of Theodora’s inf idelity during her marriage to Justinian, Procopius in the Secret History focused instead on her reputed sordid past. As Hartmut Ziche comments (‘Abusing Theodora’, p. 318), rather than highlight the developing Christian notion of redemption for prostitutes, which he does in the Buildings 1.9-10, Procopius appealed ‘to traditional models of historical and moral discourse in which the concept of the redeemed sinner is still alien’. Brubaker (‘Sex, Lies, and Textuality’, pp. 94-100) distrusts this story concerning Theodora’s youthful sexual escapades, contending that Procopius tells us little about the ‘real’ Theodora. Peter Heather expresses similar doubts, Rome Resurgent, pp. 89. James Evans (Empress Theodora, p. 15) asserts that as an actress, Theodora may have prostituted herself prior to marrying Justinian. See too, Potter, Theodora: Actress, Empress, Saint, pp. 36-43; Signes Codoñer, ‘Prokops “Anekdota” und Justinians Nachfolge‘. For the considerable number of prostitutes and brothels in sixth-century Constantinople, see Moorhead, Justinian, p. 36. 30 Peter Brown, Body and Society, p. 320. 31 Neville, Anna Komnene, pp. 16-17. 32 Williams, Roman Homosexuality; Kuefler, Manly Eunuch.

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their desires; for Christians and non-Christians, true manliness was often an epic battle of sexual self-control.33 As Leslie Brubaker explains, in the Secret History, ‘Procopius plays on the Byzantine view of women as vehicles of emotion (as opposed to rational men) in his picture of Theodora’s inability to control her passions’.34 Hence, in a culture that saw unbridled lust as an unmanly emotion, Artabanes here acted more like a woman than a man. In spite of that, modern consensus contends that Procopius sympathised with Artabanes.35 To see the representation of Artabanes in the Wars in simple terms of like or dislike, however, is to simplify Procopius’ highly nuanced portrait of Artabanes, and hence underestimate the heavy literary role he plays in Procopius’ story. As will be discussed further below, with frequent associations between the pair throughout the Wars, Procopius expected his audience to contrast Artabanes with the man who set the standard of Roman manliness in the Wars—Belisarius.36 Despite his character flaws, Artabanes reaped the rewards for his ‘loyalty’ to the emperor. Justinian named him as Areobindus’ replacement as magister militum per Africam. His rapid ascendency from rebel to commander in North Africa, however, did not satisfy Artabanes. Believing that a marriage to Praejecta would bring him closer to the throne, Artabanes, to use the words of Procopius, ‘continued to invent various specious pretexts to induce the emperor to summon him to Constantinople so that the wedding could proceed’.37 These are not the actions of a conventional hero. Rather than portray Artabanes as a typical anti-hero, however, Procopius explained that Artabanes’ meteoric rise from rebel to mighty general played a role in his improper conduct: For when men lay hold upon prosperity unexpectedly, their minds remain unstable, but in their hopes, they ever keep going forward, until they are deprived even of the felicity that had been undeservedly theirs.38 33 For a more detailed treatment, see Stewart, Soldier’s Life. 34 Brubaker, ‘Gender and Society’, p. 435. 35 Averil Cameron, Procopius, p. 141; Moorhead, Justinian, pp. 106-107; Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, pp. 163-164; Signes Codoñer, ‘Prokops “Anekdota” und Justinians Nachfolge‘, p. 62. 36 Unlike the self-controlled Belisarius, Artabanes is ruled by his desires and his pride. In contrast, as we saw in the last chapter, Procopius consistently praised Belisarius for manly self-control over avarice and sexual desire, as well as for his lack of yearning for imperial power. Procopius, in the Secret History, haphazardly inverts these positive qualities of Belisarius. 37 Proc. Wars 7.31.4 (trans. Kaldellis). 38 Proc. Wars 7.31.6 (trans. Dewing).


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Procopius then declares that while Artabanes’ ‘great deeds’ had played a role in his rapid rise, so had ‘good fortune’.39 I would suggest that by highlighting innate character flaws and accentuating the role of chance in his rise, Procopius prepares the reader for Artabanes’ eventual disgrace. Fortune, for the time being, however, continued to shine upon the Armenian general. In a sign of how readily Constantinopolitans assimilated those from the fringes and outside of the empire—especially warriors—Procopius relates Artabanes’ hero’s welcome upon his arrival to the capital. 40 Outwardly, at least, Artabanes displayed many of the essential qualities of ‘true’ masculine virtue. The populace respected Artabanes as a tried and loyal f ighter; a man of few words; he was tall, handsome, and a fine fighter—the epitome of the manly warrior in sixthcentury Byzantium. 41 Importantly for the Wars’ status-obsessed Byzantine readership, the general’s deeds in North Africa and loyalty to the emperor had seen Artabanes climbing even further up the ladder of imperially sponsored offices. One is struck by resemblances between this portrait of Artabanes and Procopius’ depiction of Constantinopolitans’ admiration of Belisarius after he returned to the capital in 540 from Italy, memorably described at the opening of Book 7.42 The parallel is not exact, but these two episodes function as a diptych; the first half, the encomium to Belisarius, was meant to be compared with the second half, describing Artabanes’ glowing reception from Constantinopolitans in 546. Procopius vividly relates how the populace treated Belisarius like a celebrity: The populace of Byzantium took delight in watching Belisarius as he left his house each day on his way to the forum or as he returned home, and none of them could get enough of this sight. For his movements resembled a crowded festival procession, since he was always escorted by a retinue 39 Proc. Wars 7.31.13. Procopius in the Secret History (4.32) attributed Belisarius’ capture of Gelimer and Vitigis to luck. This is a single-minded view of causation that I argued in Chapter 3, Procopius rejects in the Wars. 40 On the ways that military service offered non-Romans a means to overcome their ‘barbarity’, see Parnell, Justinian’s Men, pp. 33-76. Belisarius and Justinian famously were both native Latin speakers who hailed from the rural regions of Illyricum. 41 Stewart, Soldier’s Life, pp. 44-90. 42 Procopius (Secret History 4.4-5) highlights Belisarius’ large retinue and tremendous wealth, which intensif ied jealousy amongst his rival generals and, according to the Secret History (4.33-34), even Justinian. Artabanes’ retinue was smaller, but his ability to draw on recruits from Armenian lands still made him a formidable leader.

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of Vandals, Goths and Berbers. Moreover, he was tall, had a beautiful body and a handsome face. 43

We can compare this account with Artabanes’ arrival to Constantinople in 546 when Justinian had named the Armenian magister militum praesentalis and comes foederatorum. 44 The emperor also granted Artabanes the now honorary title of consul.45 Artabanes was truly a man on the rise; who better to marry Justinian’s niece?46 The marriage made sense for both sides. The emperor was surely aware of the importance of thwarting further uprisings amongst the Armenians, which had left Justinian’s Eastern borders vulnerable to Persian attacks throughout the previous two decades. The binding of his family to a powerful Armenian warlord would have strengthened Justinian’s alliance with Artabanes and his cadre of tough fighters. It would have instantly elevated Artabanes to a higher social and cultural level matched by no other Roman general—including Belisarius. Like the fifth-century generalissimos Stilicho, Constantius, Aëtius, and Aspar, 47 Artabanes’ marriage to the blue-blooded Praejecta would have made their sons’ contenders for the purple, particularly since Justinian stubbornly refused to name an heir—a reluctance that would continue right up until his death in 565. 48 No wonder then Theodora would have been reluctant to give the marriage the green light. We find proof of the validity of Artabanes’ dreams in the parentage of the empress Sophia (c. 530-c. 601), who was likely the daughter of Theodora’s elder sister Komito and Justinian’s former bodyguard and magister militum praesentalis, Sittas (a Goth or an Armenian) who, coincidentally, had been 43 Proc. Wars 7.1.5-6, ἦν τε Βυζαντίοις πρὸς ἡδονὴν Βελισάριον ἐπὶ τῆς ἀγορᾶς ἐς ἡμέραν ἑκάστην ἐκ τῆς οἰκίας προϊόντα ἰδεῖν, ἢ ἐς αὐτὴν ἐπανήκοντα, κόρον τε αὐτῶν τοῦ θεάματος τούτου οὐδεὶς ἔλαβεπομπῇ γὰρ αὐτοῦ ἰσχυροτάτῃ ἡ πρόοδος ἐῴκει, ἐπεί οἱ Βανδίλων τε πλῆθος καὶ Γότθων τε καὶ Μαυρουσίων ἀεὶ εἵπετο. ἦν δὲ καὶ τὸ σῶμα καλός τε καὶ μέγας καὶ εὐπρόσωπος πάντων μάλιστα. 44 Proc. Wars 7.1.3. For Procopius’ focus on Justinian’s suspicions over Belisarius’ imperial ambitions, see Moorhead, Justinian, pp. 84-88. However, as Moorhead also notes, there are indications that suggest that Justinian trusted Belisarius more than Procopius implies. 45 As Anthony Kaldellis remarks (Wars of Justinian, p. 441, n. 700) ‘not the office itself, which had been abolished in 541, but the now honorary title’. 46 For the short supply of acceptable spouses for those from the upper crust of Byzantine society, see Moorhead, Justinian, p. 107, n. 13. 47 A deeper discussion of these strongmen’s ‘attempts’ to attach themselves to royal women and make their offspring contenders for the purple is found in Stewart, Soldier’s Life, pp. 81-82, 239-240. 48 John Moorhead (Justinian, p. 174) posits that Justinian’s reluctance to name an heir stemmed from the emperor’s ‘canny’ sense of self-preservation and a desire to remain relevant.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

killed by Artabanes in battle in 538. 49 So, we can see that there was a precedent for marriages between members of the imperial family and the military high command.

Theodora Steps in However, as occurs often in the Wars, when something seemed too good to be true, it usually was.50 Artabanes’ former life in Persarmenia unravelled his plans for a new one in Constantinople. Gender bias sneaks into Procopius’ analysis, as it was prone to do. Similar to how Belisarius’ obsession with his wife Antonina impacted military affairs in the Secret History, Artabanes’ schemes were undone by his wife—described by Procopius as a ‘relation of his’ who had married Artabanes when he was a young man—only, after years apart, to suddenly appear in Constantinople to thwart the new marriage by proclaiming that she remained legally married to Artabanes. In this instance, Procopius clearly commiserated with Artabanes’ ‘plight’, seeing the woman—to use a modern expression—as a gold-digger, who had only sought out Artabanes because of his new-found fortune and fame. Relying heavily upon Artabanes’ side of the story, Procopius contends that Artabanes had repudiated her long ago, glibly commenting, ‘doubtless because one of those causes had developed such as lead to the estrangement of man and wife’.51 Rejected by Artabanes, the spurned woman, in Procopius’ version of the tale, took her case to the empress Theodora, who makes one of her rare appearances in the Wars. The focalisation on Theodora should raise our suspicions, especially since Theodora’s meddling in men’s marital affairs 49 We rely on Mal. Chron. 18.10. for the information that Sittas had married Komito. Procopius certainly knew about this marriage but chose not to mention it. John of Ephesus (HE 2.10) only says that Sophia was the niece of Theodora, who had two sisters. I find it intriguing—and perhaps significant—that Procopius never mentions in the Wars nor in the Secret History that some of Theodora’s antagonism towards Artabanes may have stemmed from the fact that while fighting for the Persians the Persarmenian had killed her brother-in-law Sittas in battle. For Procopius’ admiration of Sittas, see Proc. Wars 2.3.26. 50 For this pessimistic worldview in Procopius, see Van Nuffelen, ‘Wor(l)ds of Procopius’, pp. 40-52. 51 Proc. Wars 7.31.12 (trans. Dewing). For the possible connection with this assertion and comments in the Secret History 17.24.26, with Procopius’ own possible marital woes, see the speculation in Treadgold, Early Byzantine Historians, p. 188. Divorce was an acceptable practice in Justinian’s Constantinople. Although more rigorist Christians advocated ‘the marital bond as an irreversible union of two individuals’, Justinian, in Novel 22, supported the idea that in the imperfect secular world, ‘whatever is bound is soluble’, quoted in Cooper, Roman Household, p. 147.

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serves as a key line of attack against her in the Secret History, where Procopius engaged with and inverted imperial propaganda.52 Up to this point, Theodora plays only a marginal role in the narrative.53 It is conceivable that this, like other episodes concerning the empress, may have originated from the Secret History and was only integrated into the Wars after her death.54 Even if, as I suppose, this episode is not a later insertion, it seems that Procopius sought to appeal to an audience in Constantinople that—if not calling for Justinian’s assassination—hoped that the emperor would shift political course in the wake of Theodora’s death, a more conciliatory path Justinian did in fact take.55 A notorious critic of women who played an active part in political affairs,56 Procopius implicitly disapproved of the empress’ interventions in marital matters, which echoes the more sustained slander of Theodora’s ‘plotting’ to undermine aristocrats’ lives found in Secret History: Falling upon the mercy of the empress, she [Artabanes’ wife] requested that her husband take her back. The empress then—for it was her nature to side with women in distress—decided that Artabanes had to live with her whether he liked it or not, and that Praejecta would marry John, the son of Pompey, the son of Hypatius.57

Like other East Romans of his day, Procopius deemed that a husband’s control of his wife and their children was a manifestation of his masculinity. 52 Brubaker, ‘Sex, Lies, and Textuality’, p. 100. 53 The relevant scholarship on Theodora is vast and ever-growing. For two good biographies on the empress, see Evans, The Empress Theodora; Potter, Theodora: Actress, Empress, Saint. 54 Greatrex, ‘Composition of Procopius’ Persian Wars and John the Cappadocian’. 55 Signes Codoñer, ‘Prokops “Anekdota” und Justinians Nachfolge‘, pp. 78-81. 56 James, Empresses and Power in Early Byzantium, pp. 86-87. For Procopius’ notes with disgust in the Secret History (17.17) that women found guilty of adultery could bring a countersuit and drag their husbands into court. Averil Cameron (Procopius) remains fundamental for Procopius’ attitude towards women. Though we should be careful when we brand Procopius a misogynist (Procopius, pp. 68, 75), since by modern standards every ancient historian could be branded a misogynist, especially when it came to their attitudes towards authoritative women. As Henning Börm has suggested to me (personal communication), ‘The whole point was to emphasize the social hierarchy: people stood over animals, freemen stood over slaves, Greeks and Romans stood over barbarians, senators stood over knights, men stood over eunuchs, and men stood over women. Whenever Procopius denounces the alleged breach of these rules, he simply follows the rules of historiography’. 57 Proc. Wars 7.31.13-14, ἱκέτις τε γενομένη τῆς βασιλίδος ἀπολαβεῖν τὸν ἄνδρα ἠξίου. ἡ δὲ βασιλὶς ῾ἐπεφύκει γὰρ ἀεὶ δυστυχούσαις γυναιξὶ προσχωρεῖν̓ ἀκουσίῳ αὐτὴν τῷ Ἀρταβάνῃ ὡς μάλιστα ξυνοικεῖν ἔγνω, τήν τε Πρεϊέκταν Ἰωάννης ὁ Πομπηίου τοῦ Ὑπατίου γυναῖκα γαμετὴν ἐποιήσατο.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

Therefore, for a woman—even an empress—to dictate whom Artabanes should marry, broke the acceptable pattern of sexual hierarchy and, I would suggest, emasculated the general. Mirroring his approach in other parts of the Wars, Procopius hesitates to censure the empress too severely, since one could read his statement concerning Theodora’s tendency to ‘assist unfortunate women’ on multiple levels. Due to legislation that protected wives from their increasingly powerful husbands, Theodora was well within her rights when she stepped in to keep a wife from unlawfully being cast off.58 Moreover, Procopius had reason to describe this encounter with care.59 Even though tradition granted historians leeway to speak uncomfortable truths,60 Procopius needed to be careful not to push his censure of the empress too far.61 In the words of Anthony Kaldellis, ‘The Wars is as critical of Justinian and his high officials as the author of the Secret History could make it, and he opens various “conduits” from one text to the other’.62 So perhaps fearing retribution, Procopius could argue here that Theodora was simply following prevailing customs that propagated the Roman domina as a powerful personage.63 In fact, in the Buildings, Procopius promotes this positive paradigm by presenting Theodora’s charitable deeds toward downtrodden women more constructively.64 Theodora’s focus on altruistic deeds and the disenfranchised represents a central feature in the ample Byzantine sources friendly and/or more 58 Cooper, Roman Household, p. 144. 59 Adrastos Omissi reviews (Emperors and Usurpers, pp. 36-39, 162-163) the art of ‘memory sanctions’ in late antique historiography, where unpalatable events or individuals were simply erased from the record to please the current ruling regime. 60 Börm,’Genesis of the Anecdota’, pp. 305-346. 61 Yet, as Geoffrey Greatrex advises, even if the Secret History had been discovered, it is likely that Procopius would not have been executed. As Greatrex points out (‘Perceptions of Procopius’, pp. 89-90). Justinian was relatively lenient towards opponents and authors who criticised him and his policies openly during his reign. For further examples of his leniency, see Mal. Chron. 18.22, 18.147. 62 Kaldellis, ‘How Perilous Was it to Write History’, p. 50. Kaldellis’ further contention (p. 51), however, that ‘Justinian and his top courtiers’ were unaware of the Wars’ existence seems implausible. Warren Treadgold (‘The Unwritten Rules’, p. 280) is probably correct when he contends that Procopius’ rise to the rank of illustrus reveals the emperor’s appreciation of the Wars and shows Justinian’s increasing tolerance in the aftermath of Theodora’s death. So too does Procopius hint in the Buildings (1.1.4) that Justinian had commissioned him to write this work and, therefore, was aware of the Wars. 63 Cooper, Roman Household, p. 114. For the overreliance on Procopius—in comparison to the rich lodes of information on Theodora found in other Byzantine sources—in many older and modern works on Theodora, see Harvey, ‘Theodora the Believing Queen’. 64 Proc. Buildings, 5.2.7.

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neutral to the empress.65 So, Procopius here played both sides of the fence: the episode could be seen as highlighting Theodora’s well-known charitable side, while simultaneously signalling to the empress’ detractors a more sinister critique of Theodora’s tendency to play an active role in the state’s administration given a more sustained treatment in the Secret History.66 All this creates unavoidable contradictions in Procopius’ writings, which highlights the difficulties and some of the dangers of looking for harmonisation between Procopius’ works.67 One can also read the second part of the episode, where Procopius explains that Theodora had already decided to marry Praejecta to the more politically powerful and therefore more palatable scion of the house of Anastasius, either positively or negatively.68 On the one hand, one could conclude that Theodora had ulterior motives, since even the casual reader can detect that the historian sought to show that Theodora cared less here about protecting the rights of a spurned wife than about her family’s continuing rise up the Byzantine social ladder.69 On the other hand, some within the early Byzantine audience would have appreciated Theodora looking out for her niece’s social prestige.70 Outwardly, Theodora had indeed made a reasonable choice, since the blue-blooded John’s connections within Constantinople were certainly prestigious. We should not therefore assume that all of Procopius’ contemporary readers would have seen this rejection of the proposed marriage as a criticism of the empress. These alternate views, built into the gender system concerning wives’ appropriate power, help to explain why each time Procopius condemned Theodora’s meddling, he had to argue that the empress had become involved in political matters for sinister reasons.71 Procopius explains that after Theodora’s death, Artabanes immediately expelled his wife. Nevertheless, thwarted in his plans to marry Praejecta, he supposedly bore a simmering grudge against Justinian’s regime. The fact that Artabanes only felt comfortable to act after Theodora’s death shows that 65 Harvey, ‘Theodora the Believing Queen’, p. 224, n. 42, offers a thorough list of contemporary sources, including Procopius, praising the empress Theodora’s charitable attitude towards the disadvantaged. 66 Secret History, 17.27, discussed in Brubaker, ‘Sex, Lies, and Textuality’, p. 94. 67 For further criticisms of taking a unitary approach to Procopius’ works, see Angold, ‘Procopius’ Portrait of Theodora’, pp. 21-34. 68 On Anastasius and his family, see Haarer, Anastasius I. 69 For these ambitions, see Alan Cameron, ‘House of Anastasius’. 70 On the materfamilias in Late Antiquity, see Cooper, Roman Household, esp. pp. 77, 94-114. 71 Proc. Wars 1.24.32-9, 5.2.3, 8.3.7-11, reveal that Procopius could support women when they made decisions that protected or advanced the careers of male family members.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

it was the empress he feared.72 It fits the pattern of Procopius’ depiction of the imperial couple found in the Secret History, where Theodora is someone who refused to be swayed by others and was a formidable enemy; in contrast, Justinian was easy-going and readily influenced by others.73 Whichever way one interprets Procopius’ opinion about this encounter, in this instance, the formidable empress, Theodora, had bested the manly warrior, Artabanes. According to Procopius, the empress’ death did not bring about an end to imperial meddling in the affairs of relatives. Following Roman inheritance laws that supplied equal rights for sons and daughters,74 Procopius divulges that Justinian had stepped in to protect the rights of his cousin Boraϊdes’ daughter after Boraϊdes (who was also the brother of the powerful general Germanus) died.75 Justinian’s support of the daughter’s rights, according to Procopius, ‘greatly annoyed Germanus’.76 By thwarting the ambitions of Artabanes as well as Germanus and his sons, Justinian sowed the seeds for a future conspiracy—or at least this is how Procopius presents it.77

The Plot According to Procopius, a fellow Armenian, Arsaces, twisted this situation to his advantage, manipulating the malleable Artabanes into joining the plot. The use of a convicted traitor to voice the perspective of the conspirators is significant. Arsaces had been found guilty of conspiring with the Persian shah Chosroes, so the Armenian resented the Romans—and Justinian in 72 Some suggest that Theodora’s death indeed provided Procopius his original impetus to begin work on the Secret History; see, for example, Treadgold, Early Byzantine Historians, p. 187. 73 Allen, ‘Contemporary Portrayals’, p. 98. 74 On these inheritance laws, see Arijava, Women and Law in Late Antiquity. Anthony Kaldellis (The Wars of Justinian, p. 440, n. 699) explains that ‘Justinian had sought to limit testators’ rights to dispose of their property however they wished in their wills and stipulated minimum shares to which different kinds of heirs were entitled, see Novel 18 (of 536). 75 On the possible significance of Boraϊdes keeping his Illyrian baptismal name and his and Germanus’ possible links to the blue-blooded Roman Anicians, see Signes Codoñer, ‘Prokops “Anekdota” und Justinians Nachfolge‘, pp. 73-75. Here, Signes Codoñer also discusses the intriguing possibility that Theodora felt threatened by Germanus and his family’s link to the old Roman nobility, which then explains her attempts to thwart their ambitions in order to advance the interests of her low-born family. 76 Proc. Wars 7.31.17. On Germanus’ life and career, see PLRE 2 505-507 [Germanus 4]. 77 Cf. Secret History 29.25, where Procopius denigrates Justinian for creating legislation that allowed the state to absorb the properties of senators in cases where there was no heir. Justinian’s lust for the local elites’ estates serves as a central theme in Secret History, and as Moorhead explains (Justinian, p. 181), signal the urgent need for the emperor to find new revenue streams.

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particular. Our first impression of Arsaces is therefore negative. Highlighting Procopius’ tendency to expose how seemingly unconnected events could unravel the plans of even the most powerful,78 paradoxically it was Justinian’s lenience towards Arsaces that nearly led to his own death. Rather than execute or exile Arsaces—which Procopius hints should have occurred—Justinian let him off with a minor beating and a humiliating camel ride through the streets of Constantinople. Leaving the wily Persarmenian off the hook for his crimes, Procopius concludes, left a bitter Arsaces ‘furious at what had happened and [he] began to plot treason against Justinian and the state’.79 Hence, Justinian’s moderation leads to a series of independent events that culminate with the assassination plot. Whether Arsaces was really the catalyst who brought the conspirators together is impossible to know with certainty. I am sceptical that Germanus’ son Justin, at the very least, would have naïvely met privately with a convicted traitor. Moreover, we should be suspicious of Procopius’ motives, given that—ever Germanus’ partisan—he sought to absolve the general and his sons from responsibility as much as he could. Whether he did so with imperial approval is hard to say. At any rate, Procopius deploys Arsaces to voice the view of the conspirators, and some have suggested, the historian himself.80 Justinian’s side of the story, as in much of the Wars, is opaque.81 Yet that Procopius would choose Arsaces to voice his perspective seems peculiar. Arsaces from any vantage is a despicable human being, certainly not the type of man Procopius typically admired, and, I contend, would have chosen to voice his ‘true’ opinions. Therefore, I would argue that Arsaces functions primarily as a literary device and a convenient scapegoat to shift blame away from Germanus. With his portrait of Arsaces, Procopius remorselessly depicts humankind’s propensity for selfishness, manipulation of others, and thirst for revenge. Whereas in the opening speech by Artabanes’ nephew, Gregory, Artabanes is persuaded to perform a deed that removes a tyrant, in this second speech, by Arsaces, Artabanes is bullied to enter a plot that could have seen him executed as a traitor. It is important to stress that Procopius did not conceive of fictitious events in the Wars; he embellished very real ones. Once again, however, our suspicions should be raised by the highly charged gendered rhetoric 78 Van Nuffelen, Wor(l)ds of Procopius’, pp. 40-52. 79 Proc. Wars 7.32.3-4 (trans. Kaldellis). 80 Signes Codoñer, ‘Prokops “Anekdota” und Justinians Nachfolge‘, p. 63. 81 Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, p. 163.


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that, for some, makes the Secret History so unreliable as a piece of history.82 Procopius’ style of presentation in Arsaces’ approach to Artabanes bears remarkable similarities with Antonina’s shaming language wielded against Belisarius in the Secret History. To bend the pliable Artabanes to his will, Arsaces bombards Artabanes with a memorable detonation of gendered rhetoric that preyed upon the Armenian’s preoccupation with his military and masculine image. Procopius vividly described Arsaces’ verbal assault: ‘Without letting up day or night, he insulted him by saying that he had picked the wrong times to be manly [ἀνδρεῖόν] at first and then some sort of androgynous [ἀνδρόγυνον] thing’.83 Exploiting the general’s wounded masculine pride further, Arsaces continued his oral battering, accusing Artabanes of being Justinian’s lackey since he killed ‘without any provocation ever’ his former ‘ally and host’ Gontharis. For modern scholars who contend that Procopius approved of the conspirators’ reasons for wanting to kill Justinian,84 this comment should give some pause, since the reader recalls Procopius’ overtly hostile portrait of Gontharis in Vandal Wars. This point, I would then argue, alerts the informed reader to be suspicious of Arsaces’ reasoning and to be on the lookout for further exaggerations. Ramping up the pressure, Arsaces then appealed to Artabanes’ pride as an ancestor of the royal Arsacids. Once again, the words Procopius puts into Arsaces’ mouth are revelatory and deserve to be quoted in full: But present circumstances had unmanned him [Artabanes], so here he sat like a coward while his own country was under a harsh occupation and being bled dry by unheard-of-taxes; his father had been killed for the sake of the terms of some treaty,85 and his entire family had been enslaved and scattered to every part of the Roman Empire.86

Nevertheless, Arsaces continued, Artabanes, showing scant concern for his family’s suffering, had the gall to revel in the commands and the honorific 82 Brubaker, ‘Sex, Lies, and Textuality’, pp. 83-101; Cooper, ‘The Heroine and the Historian’, pp. 296-315. 83 Proc. Wars 7.32.5 (trans. Kaldellis). 84 Averil Cameron, Procopius, p. 141. Procopius—especially in the pages of the Secret History—unquestionably sympathised with many of the grievances of the conspirators, for example, heavy taxation, interference in marriages, and the supressing of Germanus’ political and social ambitions. 85 Artabanes’ father, John, had been murdered by the East Roman general Bouzes while attending a parley. 86 Proc. Wars 7.32.7 (trans. Kaldellis).

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titles granted by their tormentor, Justinian. Here Procopius likely has Arsaces come closer to Artabanes’ actual grievances, which match some of Procopius’ more sustained complaints in the Secret History. Once again, Arsaces’ words can be read two ways, since many of Procopius’ contemporaries would have questioned the independent status of the Armenians, and few Byzantines would have felt any qualms about Justinian’s harsh stance towards the ‘rebels’. After this opening flourish, Arsaces softens his approach, lamenting that Artabanes did not care about the horrible suffering he had incurred at the hands of Justinian, even though, as his ‘friend’, Arsaces had appreciated Artabanes’ frustration at being thwarted in his marriage to Praejecta and compelled by Theodora to live with his spurned first wife. Once again, we know that Procopius believed that Arsaces had in fact got off lightly for his crimes. So, this is another falsehood to add to our growing list. Arsaces then goes for the jugular: Yet it is hardly likely that anyone who had even a trace of spirit [φρόνημα] left in him would shrink back from murdering Justinian, nor need there be any hesitation or dread about it—for that man is always sitting unguarded in some lobby at all hours of the night explicating the Christian scriptures in the company of decrepit priests.87

This passage has generated vigorous scholarly debate. Precisely how Arsaces learned this information, Procopius never clarifies. On the off-chance it is not apocryphal, it is possible that Arsaces could have learned it from Marcellus or Armenian members of the palace corps— 88 units whose loyalty to Justinian had proven flimsy during the Nika revolt.89 It is more probably a literary embellishment. I believe that John Moorhead correctly reads this aside as imparting Procopius’ own sentiments concerning Justinian’s endless contemplation of religious matters at the expense of state politics.90 It demonstrates how the emperor’s obsession with religion 87 Proc. Wars 7.32.9 (trans. Kaldellis, modified). 88 Though Procopius tells us they no longer play a dominant role in the palace guards, one would assume that some warlike Armenians continued to serve in these palace units. For the pivotal role of Armenians in these palace units had played in the fifth century and their excellent fighting skills, see Proc. Secret History 24.16, Wars 7.3.10, 8.31.14-16. 89 The insights of Alan Cameron (‘Review of R.I. Frank, Scholae Palatinae’, pp. 136-138) on this episode are very insightful. 90 Moorhead, Justinian, p. 172, n. 10. Moorhead, however, incorrectly attributes the words to Artabanes.


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had made him take his eyes off the ball, which left him and his empire vulnerable.91 Other scholars have suggested a more sinister aspect to the remark, asserting that it was Procopius’ open message to prospective assassins, ‘other than Artabanes’.92 This intent is improbable, given that the intelligence was well past its use-by date when Procopius published his history. In the wake of the conspiracy, the emperor would have surely tightened security. Moreover, I question whether Justinian was ever completely unguarded within the palace, since other bodyguards—like the candidati,93 who numbered forty men, and the 300-men strong excubitores, and armed eunuch spatharii and cubicularii—loomed.94 Arsaces never explains how Artabanes and the other Armenians were going to gain entry with their weapons into the inner recesses of the palace late at night, even if the emperor were unguarded, which again I think unlikely. Though Procopius notes the emperor’s accessibility in the Secret History, visitors to the confines of the palace had to do so without their retinues or weapons.95 This is why Emperor Leo had been able to have the powerful magister militum Aspar and his sons killed during an audience in 471. In a subsequent failed attempt to assassinate Justinian in 562, the conspirators had been quickly discovered attempting to enter the Great Palace with concealed swords and daggers.96 Their proximity to their victims and permission to carry weapons within the inner reaches of the palace are the primary reason why bodyguards and armed eunuchs were chiefly the ones who killed an emperor or, conversely, imperial enemies within the palace.97 91 Averil Cameron, Procopius, p. 141. 92 Frendo, ‘Three Authors in Search of a Reader’, p. 126, n. 11, quoted in Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, p. 163. 93 Mary Whitby,’On the Omission’, p. 465. 94 On the guard composed of eunuchs of which one of the most famous representatives was the spatharios Narses, see Sidéris, ‘Eunuques, chambre impériale’, pp. 163-180. As Delmaire, ‘Les institutions du Bas-Empire Romain de Constantin à Justinien’, p. 168, points out, all the spatharii known until the close of the sixth century were at the same time cubicularii. On the designation of the armed cubicularii and spatharii as distinct guards units separate from other non-eunuch palace guards such as the candidati, excubitores, and scholae palatinae, see Brodka, Narses, pp. 43-44. 95 Proc. Secret History 13.1, 15.1-2. 96 Mal. Chron. 18.141; Theoph. Chron. AM 6055. Despite their slightly different versions of the failed assassination attempt, both Malalas and Theophanes explained that palace off icials had been tipped off about the conspiracy beforehand. Malalas reveals (Chron. 18.141, 147) that Belisarius had been implicated in this plot, arrested and stripped of his retinue and his titles. However, on 19 July 563, Justinian ‘received’ Belisarius, and him gave ‘him back all his honours’. 97 Stewart, Soldier’s Life, pp. 230-231.

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The next lines supply a clue to our question above and to the more likely plan: ‘Nor’, Arsaces added, will any of Justinian’s relatives oppose you. The one who is most powerful, Germanus, will, I believe, be most eager to join you with his own sons, who are young men boiling with rage against him [Justinian] on account of their age and spirits. In fact, I am hopeful that they will do this deed on their own initiative. For they have been treated unjustly by him, more so than any Armenian.98

So, Artabanes would be working in close coordination with Germanus and his sons. Procopius’ admiration of Germanus is undisputable. As Signes Codoñer puts it, if Justinian in the Secret History is the black, Germanus from the Wars is the white.99 If one goes by Procopius’ definition of an ideal ruler, then the warrior-aristocrat Germanus represented the ideal candidate to replace the supine Justinian.100 Whether Procopius hoped that this could have been accomplished through natural succession or preferred that Justinian be assassinated is the crux of our question, since the narrative that survives, at least in the Wars, leaves reasonable doubt. Though here we are not told what his precise role would be, one suspects that Artabanes and his Armenians were primarily being recruited to deal with the aftermath of a successful assassination, to thwart a counter-attack by Justinian’s allies—especially Belisarius. Procopius indeed informs us the conspirators fretted that Belisarius was nearing the city.101 To dampen the danger of retaliation, Artabanes and his accomplices planned to murder Justinian, Belisarius, and the comes excubitorum Marcellus—the commander of the most important imperial guards—the excubitores— simultaneously. The reasoning Procopius has Arsaces give for Germanus’ unhappiness with Justinian seems dubious. Simple logic undercuts Arsaces’ portrayal of Germanus’ extreme ‘suffering’ under Justinian. One cannot easily square the 98 Proc. Wars 7.32.10-11 (trans. Kaldellis). 99 Signes Codoñer, ‘Prokops “Anekdota” und Justinians Nachfolge‘, p. 78. For Procopius’ view of Germanus as an exemplary andreios man and Roman, see Proc. Wars 7.40.9. 100 For Procopius’ admiration of soldier-emperors, see Börm, ‘Genesis of the Anecdota’, pp. 309312, 315-316. 101 Proc. Wars 7.32.19 (trans. Dewing), ‘Still it was probable that they would still be further humiliated forthwith, as soon as Belisarius should arrive from Italy; for he was reported to be somewhere near the heart of Illycrium’. Procopius does not mention anyone else travelling with Belisarius, but one would imagine he would be travelling at the very least with a contingent of his guardsmen.


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persecution Arsaces so powerfully evokes with the commands and honours Germanus and his sons had obtained under Justin I and Justinian. One of the first moves that Justin I made after being named emperor in 518 was to have Germanus replace the former emperor Anastasius’ nephew Pompeius, as magister militum of Thrace.102 Germanus’ career continued to thrive under Justinian. The fact that the emperor entrusted Germanus to crush Stotzas’ mutiny in 536, by naming his cousin as the supreme commander in North Africa [magister militum praesentalis], a position he held until 539, speaks volumes about this trust.103 In 540, Justinian had dispatched Germanus to deal with the Persian shah Chosroes’ attack on Antioch. Germanus’ sons also received military commands under the emperor—Justin had even been named consul in 540 (plate 5)—so their careers had not exactly languished, even if they had not obtained the marriages or all the public offices they may have desired. To compare their ‘plight’ to the suffering of Artabanes’ relatives therefore is another clear exaggeration on Arsaces’ part, more at home in the scurrilous Secret History than the more even-handed Wars. Once more, I suspect that Procopius expected that the reader would see the incongruences in Arsaces’ claim. The silences and exaggerations in Procopius’ account again speak loudly. Procopius then offers what, at least outwardly, appears to be a hostile view of the Armenian’s speech, proclaiming, ‘With such words Arsaces was constantly working a spell on Artabanes, and, when he saw the man was giving in, he brought the matter to another Persarmenian, Chanaranges by name’.104 The use of the verb καταγοητεύω ‘bewitched’ is more significant than it might seem. Each time Procopius in the Wars or the Secret History claimed someone had been ‘bewitched’ or befuddled by ‘charms’ or ‘magic’, the next action by the victim was bad or ill-fated. This last point is one worth stressing. At the very least, it once again paints Arsaces as a shady character. As Procopius presents it, Arsaces bullies Artabanes to commit 102 Croke, ‘Justinian under Justin’, pp. 24-25. Justinian may have been named as comes domesticorum in 519, but Croke, relying on the evidence of Victor of Tunnuna (Chron. 103) believes that is more plausible that Justinian remained a candidatus being named comes et Magister Militum Praesentalis in 520. 103 Conant (Staying Roman, p. 228) explains that Justinian tended to grant prime military commissions to men of proven loyalty. On Justinian’s mostly successful relationship with his army, see Koehn, Justinian und die Armee des frühen Byzanz. 104 Proc. Wars 7.32.11-12. I have changed the translator Kaldellis’ ‘warming to the idea’ for ἐνδόντα to the more literal and forceful ‘giving in’. Chanaranges (kanārang) was an important office in the Sasanian Empire; see Proc. Wars 1.6.12. However, there was also a noble family which had a hereditary claim to this office, and which was therefore called the Kanārangīyān; Börm, ‘König und Gefolgschaft im Sasanidenreich’, pp. 26-30.

Killing Justinian


a crime that would quench Arsaces’ thirst for revenge. Going even further, I would propose that Arsaces, as depicted by Procopius, is Theodora and Antonina from Secret History, reconfigured as a treasonous bitter man.105 This might incline one to believe that the portraits of Antonina and Theodora from the Secret History may not be as gender-specif ic as some conclude, but indicative of how deceitful individuals intent on achieving their own self ish aims could corrupt weak-minded individuals.106 With his fellow Armenians now on board, Arsaces went ‘to secure the assent of Germanus and his sons to their enterprise’. He approached Justin first, since, according to Procopius, he was young ‘energetic and quick to action [δραστήριος δὲ καὶ ἐς τὰς πράξεις ὀξύτερος]’.107 As we noted above, this drive had seen Justin named consul in 540. While some might perceive such traits as a strength, Procopius shows how Arsaces strove to twist Justin’s youthful exuberance and hunger for success to his advantage. Swearing Justin to secrecy, the two met in a church. Arsaces continues the approach that worked so well on Artabanes, upbraiding Germanus’ son for sitting by idly, while ‘common and vulgar people held offices of the state to which they had no right’. Here, once again, Procopius touches on a sensitive topic from the established nobility’s perspective. Justinian’s Byzantium was a place where—to borrow Procopius’ own words—those from ‘the common herd [ἀγελαῖος]’ could quickly rise.108 Kate Cooper describes the situation well: ‘Across the empire, the emergence of the super-rich made for jostling between “old” and “new” money, “new” money—at least those who were playing the new game—had the advantage’.109 So too, from the fifth century, had non-Romans who had served in the military such as the Ardaburii increasingly acquired the wealth, 105 Proc. Secret History 1.26 (trans. Dewing), ‘So not long afterwards, using either magic or beguilement, she persuaded her husband that the accusation of this girl was unsound, and he [Belisarius] without delay recalled Theodosius and agreed to hand over Macedonia and the boys to the woman [Antonina] [τὸ εἰς αὐτὸν ἔχθος. ἦν γὰρ σκορπιώδης τε καὶ ὀργὴν σκοτεινή. οὐ πολλῷ δὲ ὕστερον ἢ μαγγανεύσασα ἢ θωπεύσασα πείθει τὸν ἄνδρα ὡς οὐχ ὑγιὲς τὸ κατηγόρημα τὸ ταύτης γένοιτο: καὶ ὃς Θεοδόσιον μὲν μελλήσει οὐδεμιᾷ μετεπέμψατο, Μακεδονίαν δὲ καὶ τὰ παιδία τῇ γυναικὶ ἐκδοῦναι ὑπέστη]’; 2.2 ,’For in order that the man [Belisarius] might not be alone and thus come to himself, and scorning her enchantments might come to his senses about her, she had made sure to travel with him all over the world [αὑτῷ τε γενέσθαι καὶ τῶν ἐκείνης μαγγανευμάτων ὀλιγωροῦντα φρονῆσαί τι ἀμφ̓ αὐτῇ τῶν δεόντων, πανταχόσε τῆς γῆς ξὺν αὐτῷ στέλλεσθαι ἐπιμελές οἱ ἐγίνετο]’; 3.2(trans. Dewing),’But they say that it was also through her magic arts that he [Belisarius] was brought under the control of the woman [Antonina] and immediately undone [φασὶ δὲ αὐτὸν καὶ μαγγανείαις πρὸς τῆς γυναικὸς καταλαμβανόμενον ἐν τῷ παραυτίκα ἐκλύεσθαι]’. 106 Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, pp. 143-150. 107 Proc. Wars 7.32.14. 108 Proc. Secret History 17.7. 109 Cooper, Roman Household, p. 113.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

land, and titles, which had allowed them to be absorbed quickly into the upper crust of Constantinopolitan society.110 The social elites from the older nobility, who were a prime audience for the Wars and the Secret History—were it to have come available, would have understood only too well the dishonour of being passed over by men whom they considered to be their social inferiors.111 Procopius has Arsaces switch gears by broaching the topic of Justinian’s ‘interference’ in the settling of his uncle’s inheritance, proclaiming that though he (Justin) was the intended heir of Boraϊdes, ‘almost all of it had been taken away from him’. The Armenian then adds an intriguing point, for those interested in the factional rivalries swirling in mid-sixth-century Constantinople, noting that these snubs would continue, ‘given that Belisarius was swiftly returning from Italy. For he was reported to be halfway through Illyria by then’.112 This emphasis on Belisarius’ loyalty to Justinian and the danger he presented to the conspirators is a significant indicator that if Germanus and Belisarius were not enemies, they surely were not friends. Apart from this enmity, if one imagines, as I do, that Procopius composed the Secret History to distance himself from Belisarius in order to ingratiate himself with Germanus and his faction, it could explain the hostile portrait of Belisarius in the Secret History. The Armenian then revealed everything that he had discussed with Artabanes and Chanaranges. Justin, in Procopius’ telling, demonstrated firmer manly grit than Artabanes.113 Rather than be seduced by Arsaces’ appeals, Justin instead was shocked by what he had heard, and quickly turned to his father for advice. Germanus at once contacted the comes (commander) of the excubitores,114 Marcellus, and the pair deliberated about the wisdom of letting Justinian know straight away. Marcellus insisted, however, that to report the plot to Justinian prematurely might leave Arsaces off the hook for lack of evidence. This concern seems strange since Arsaces had already been convicted of 110 McEvoy, ‘The Not-So-Curious Case of Aspar’. 111 As Treadgold (Early Byzantine Historians, p. 374) suggests, the likely audience for the Wars would have probably numbered only in the thousands. The heavy political influence of this audience, however, was far out of proportion to its small numbers. 112 Proc. Wars 7.32.19. 113 Joy Connolly (‘Andreia and Paideia’, pp. 287-317) offers an illuminating discussion concerning the arduous path young men had to take to become “true” men in Greek and Roman culture. Learning to control one’s f iery youthful nature represented a vital step in transforming the inchoate manliness of young men like Justin into the ‘true’ manliness of ‘Romans’ like his father Germanus. 114 The future emperor Justin I was first known as comes excubitorum, which literally means ‘the commander of those who stand outside the bedchamber’. For the emperor Anastasius’ reasoning for creating this new position and the power its holders exercised within the within the palace in the sixth century, see Emion, ‘Des soldats de l’armée romaine tardive’, pp. 519-522.

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treason—surely the combined evidence of Marcellus and Germanus would have been devastating, torture could have revealed the rest. Marcellus then insists, again oddly, that he needed to hear the treasonous words from the mouths of the conspirators themselves. Even Procopius seems to recognise that his version of these events defied logic. This may explain why he had to cast Marcellus as a bastion of virtue, indeed more of a monk than a trained killer, proclaiming: Now this Marcellus was a most serious man who kept his silence in most matters, did nothing for the sake of money, and did not tolerate jokes or frivolous behaviour. He took no pleasure in relaxation but lived an austere life, always maintaining a lifestyle in which pleasure played no role. He handled everything with a carefully honed sense of justice and burned with a passion for the truth.115

In a history where Procopius’ depictions of individuals usually followed a monotonously predictable series of virtues and vices, this depiction of Marcellus stands out.116 Despite this indelible image describing the bodyguard’s matchless moral character, one cannot help but question the motivations behind the delay in informing the emperor as quickly as possible. We should reject the notion made by one scholar that Marcellus’ hesitance stemmed from his sympathy or pity for Artabanes.117 Of course, even if the conspirators were as innocent as Procopius wants us to believe, they surely would have remembered that Justinian had executed another ‘reluctant usurper’, Hypatius—the nephew of former Emperor Anastasius—in the aftermath of the Nika revolt in 532.118 In fact, during the Nika uprising, many excubitores and scholarii—the two main units of palace guards—instead of protecting the emperor had sat back to see how events would play out.119 This betrayal by those soldiers closest to 115 Proc. Wars 7.32.23 (trans. Kaldellis). 116 On Procopius’ heavy reliance on simple caricatures and repetitive vocabulary, see Averil Cameron, Procopius, p. 44. 117 Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire, vol. 2, p. 68. 118 On Hypatius, see Meier, ‘Flavius Hypatios’, pp. 73-96. The Chronicle of Pseudo-Zacharia (9.14) contends that it was Theodora who insisted on the executions of Hypatius and his brother Pompeius in the aftermath of the Nika revolt, against the wishes of Justinian, who wanted to spare them. 119 Proc. Wars 1.24.45-46, lucidly discussed in Alan Cameron, ‘Review of R.I. Frank, Scholae Palatina’. For an outstanding overview of the Nika riot, see Greatrex, ‘The Nika Revolt: A Reappraisal’. Mischa Meier proposes (‘Zur Funktion der Theodora’, pp. 89, 92) that Procopius’ selective


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

him must have seared itself into the emperor’s mind.120 Justinian, who himself had served as a member of a select forty-men palace guard, the candidati, under Anastasius and commanded these units under Justin I, knew only too well the danger when an emperor lost his hold over these palace guards.121 It helps us understand why the delay in bringing the conspiracy to his attention by the comes of the excubitores, Marcellus, ignited Justinian’s suspicion, putting Germanus at grave risk. Admittedly, much of what follows is pure speculation on my part, but the head of the most powerful palace guard would have made a perfect co-conspirator, since he had the men and the weapons to carry out the assassination. Certainly, Marcellus is someone who would have known the whereabouts of Justinian and when and where he would be unprotected. Indeed, he may even have been Procopius’ source of the information concerning Justinian’s vulnerability during his nightly religious debates. Though we do not know their precise duties within the palace, Mary Whitby suggests it is probable that they ‘guarded the emperor in processions’.122 Moreover, the excubitores had been emperor-makers before. In the aftermath of Anastasius’ death in July 518, a then comes of the excubitores, Justin, had used his guardsmen to intimidate the magister officiorum, silentiaries, and other palace guard units to name him as emperor.123 Lastly, Germanus and Marcellus had both served as commanders along the same battle line at the battle of Dara in treatment of the revolt stems from the likelihood he had received the bulk of his information from Belisarius. 120 Although the majority of the candidati remained loyal, at least one of these elite bodyguards sided with the rioters, see Chron. Paschale 626.2-3. Malalas (Chron. 475 10-11) tells us that the portico of the scholarii, protectores, and candidati had been burned down during the early days of the riot. 121 De cerimoniis 1.93, Εὑρεθεὶς δὲ ὁ εὐσεβέστατος δεσπότης Ἰουστινιανός, τηνικαῦτα κανδιδάτος ὢν […]. 122 Mary Whitby, ‘On the Omission’, p. 484. 123 De cerimoniis 1.93. According to the author, Peter the Patrician (Justinian’s long-serving magister officiorum), the execubitores had threatened to kill the scholarii’s candidate, Patricus, who only survived because Justinian, who was a member of the candidati at the time, stepped in to rescue him. Our author explains that the excubitores offered Justinian—who was then in his late thirties—the purple, but he refused, which then saw his uncle proclaimed by the senate of Constantinople as emperor. Historians mostly accept Paul’s account (for example, Emion, ‘L’Empereur Chrétien et ses Gardes du Corp’, p. 431; Croke, ‘Justinian under Justin’, p. 22). I believe that we should be more cautious, especially since this account was written during Justinian’s reign. Indeed, the episode suspiciously highlights Justinian’s right to rule and the future emperor’s magnanimity towards his enemies, a trait that we will see was exalted in his imperial propaganda, especially during his later years. For the convoluted events surrounding Justin I’s accession, see Greatrex, ‘Early Years of Justin I’s Reign’, pp. 99-100.

Killing Justinian


530, so they knew each other well, and as we can tell by the banter above, were likely friends.124 The guardsman’s conduct as described by Procopius is peculiar at best, treasonous at worst. Even the addition of Marcellus’ name to the conspirators’ hit list may be a smokescreen. The rest of Procopius’ account does little to allay our suspicions.125 In the historian’s version of how Germanus and Marcellus sought to entrap the Armenians, Germanus flatly refused to deal with the slippery Arsaces, instead setting up a meeting between Justin and Chanaranges, where the Armenian reveals the details of the plot as related to him by Arsaces. Here, Germanus seemed to be splicing hairs; if Justinian had caught wind of either meeting, Germanus and his family would have likely been in grave danger. Hoping to reel in the gullible Armenian further, Justin at the clandestine meeting agreed with Charanges to obtain his father’s assent and arrange a meeting between the two. If we trust Procopius, it was a clever trap. Rather than go himself, Marcellus chose another trustworthy man, Leontius, to sit behind a curtain while Charanges spilled his guts about the plan. Here, the Armenian indicates that they would be the primary assassins. To dampen the danger of retaliation, Artabanes and his accomplices planned to wait for Belisarius’ arrival, so that they could kill him, the emperor, and Marcellus simultaneously: It would therefore be necessary to postpone the deed until Belisarius was present, but as soon as the man arrived at Constantinople and went to the emperor in the palace, then, sometime late in the evening, they could go there with daggers but without warning and kill Marcellus and Belisarius along with the emperor.126

All this may have been true, but we never learn how they expected to kill Belisarius, who unlike the emperor never went anywhere without his retinue of highly trained bodyguards, loyal primarily to him.127 Moreover, killing Marcellus would have been no easy task either. Upon learning what should have been alarming news, Marcellus refused to go to the emperor, supposedly because he still feared to condemn Artabanes ‘on insufficient grounds’. Germanus, however, felt more panicky, 124 Proc. Wars 1.13.21. 125 For a similar view to mine concerning Procopius’ suspicious presentation of Germanus and Marcellus’ conduct during the affair, see Signes Codoñer, ‘Prokops “Anekdota” und Justinians Nachfolge‘, pp. 64-65. 126 Proc. Wars 7.32.39 (trans. Kaldellis, slightly modified). 127 Proc. Wars 7.1.18-20.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

so he told two of Justinian’s trusted generals, Bouzes and Constantine, so they could vouch to the emperor that he had nothing to hide. The plot finally came to light only a few days before Belisarius was going to arrive, when Marcellus informed Justinian of the conspiracy. Artabanes and his Armenian co-conspirators were at once imprisoned. Fascinatingly, it seems that Marcellus may not have said anything about Germanus and Justin’s role in the conspiracy, since, if we rely on Procopius’ narrative, it appears that only after the torture of the Armenians did the full breadth of the conspiracy come to light. Only then, with Germanus and Justin implicated, did Justinian call all the members of the senate to the palace to examine the evidence. Luckily for the pair, the evidence of Marcellus, Leontius, Bouzes, and Constantine was enough to clear them in the minds of the senators.128 The senators’ role in exonerating Germanus and Justin, according to Procopius, infuriated Justinian. The emperor rightly questioned Germanus’ delayed disclosure. Procopius tells us that the fires of Justinian’s rage were stoked even higher by officials looking to ingratiate themselves with the distraught emperor. In Procopius’ telling, only Marcellus’ bravery in the face of Justinian’s wrath saved Germanus and Justin from execution. The guardsman explained to the emperor that Germanus had come to him first, and it was his sole decision to delay disclosing all to Justinian straight away. Procopius explains, ‘In this way he placated the emperor’s anger’.129 If this is true, it does not, however, explain the emperors next step of sparing Artabanes and the other Armenians’ lives and keeping them under guard within the palace, rather than within a harsh public prison. Once again, the logic behind this second move, at least, is peculiar, since in any version of the plot the Armenians were complicit. Unfortunately, we learn little more about the conspiracy; Procopius’ conclusion is cursory. We never hear again from Arsaces. Instead, Procopius quickly transitions to how the West had fallen to the barbarians—in the depressing passage that opens this chapter, in which Procopius compares the grim realities of the glooming present with the optimism of a more glorious recent past. So, where does this leave us? Some take Procopius’ word that Germanus was innocent of plotting to kill Justinian, suggesting that with an aging Justinian on the throne, he preferred to bide his time.130 Germanus, however, 128 Greatrex, ‘Procopius the Outsider’, pp. 218-219, rejects the notion that there was a unified senatorial group in this instance opposed to Justinian. Signes Codoñer (‘Prokops “Anekdota” und Justinians Nachfolge, p. 78) suggests plausibly that Justinian’s health had suffered in the aftermath of Theodora’s death, granting the senate of Constantinople increased influence. 129 Proc. Wars 7.33.50. 130 Heather, Rome Resurgent, p. 328.

Killing Justinian


was no spring chicken himself; in fact, he died the next year. Moreover, in the Buildings, Procopius hints at the possible guilt of Justin.131 Whether Procopius had been privy to the plot to kill Justinian is impossible to say. Whatever the actual truth of the matter, Justinian unquestionably drew closer to his cousin in the period after the plot was uncovered. The key role that the senate of Constantinople had played in the pardons of Germanus and Justin indicates that the emperor was operating from a position of weakness rather than strength or forgiveness. It appears that Germanus was well-connected within Constantinople. Eliminating him and his son(s) likely would not have solved Justinian’s problems, and in fact, it would have probably exacerbated them. Rather than use violence to solve his difficulties in the aftermath of the failed plot, Justinian relied upon his intellect to find a pathway out of the darkness. In this instance, magnanimity and forgiveness functioned as his most powerful weapons.132 Justinian’s clemency dissipated the immediate tensions in the capital, where a series of executions would have surely seen a counter-attack by these men’s supporters or others who may have felt threatened by a purge. It is to this period that we can date the emperor’s rapprochement with his cousin.133 So too had Justinian not only freed Artabanes from palace arrest, but in 550, he had appointed him as magister militum per Thracias. Shortly after Germanus’ exoneration, Justinian had allowed his cousin to marry Matasuentha, the daughter of the Gothic Queen Amalasuintha, and so the granddaughter of Theoderic and widow of Vitigis (who had died in 542).134 It is during this period that the emperor may have decided to act on the 131 Proc. Buildings 1.1.16 (trans. Dewing), ‘Those who treacherously formed the plot, against him, going so far as to plan his assassination, are not only living up to the present moment, and in possession of their own property, even though their guilt was proved with absolute certainty, but are actually still serving as generals of the Romans, and are holding consular rank’. Most scholars contend (for example, Greatrex, ‘The Date of Procopius’ Buildings’, p. 28) that here Procopius is speaking about Artabanes, Arsaces, and Chanaranges. His emphasis on consular rank, however, could describe Justin, who we know had a long career as a general before he was murdered by the emperor Justin II. 132 As Henning Börm points out (‘Herrscher und Eliten’), even when operating from a position of strength, Roman emperors like Justinian could not eliminate their aristocratic rivals on a whim, but in most instances needed to proceed cautiously to avoid upsetting the oft-times precarious balance of power in Constantinople. 133 Justinian had made a similar move of reconciliation in the aftermath of Hypatius and Pompeius’ executions after the Nika revolt in 532, when, in 533, the emperor posthumously rehabilitated Hypatius and Pompeius and returned their property to their surviving sons. For some of the possible political reasoning surrounding this rehabilitation, see Alan Cameron, ‘House of Anastasius’, p. 264. 134 PLRE 3b 851-852 [Matasuentha].


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

idea conceived by a party of émigrés from Italy of establishing a ‘politically stable dynasty in Italy’, to be headed by Germanus and Matasuentha.135 So, in the spring of 550, the emperor named Germanus as commander of the invigorated campaign to retake Italy, a move that saw Germanus as first in line for the succession. Yet even that promotion perhaps should not be taken as a sign of intimacy, but rather as an indication of Justinian’s intent to eliminate a threat without provoking Germanus’ many allies. Elements of comparison may be made to Emperor Leo I’s efforts in the middle of the fifth century to consolidate his powerbase in Constantinople by naming the blue-blooded East Roman Anthemius (r. 467-472) as West Roman emperor in 467.136 Procopius recounts that Germanus dreamed of the glory he would obtain if he overthrew the power of the Goths, just as he had (supposedly) recovered Vandalic North Africa for the empire.137 Few Romans could have boasted of such splendid victories. This grand opportunity to restore the momentum of the reconquest of Italy made Germanus’ unexpected death in the summer of 550 as he gathered his great army to invade Italy even more horrible to bear for Procopius, who lamented that Germanus ‘by chance fell sick’, and died.138 After relating the long list of manly qualities that basically defined the ideal manly man and emperor in Late Antiquity, Procopius took a final attempt at exonerating the man that he seemed to have hung his hope on for the future well-being of the empire: He (Germanus) would not permit, so far as his strength allowed, any offence in the palace against the established order, nor did he share either in the purpose or the conversations of the conspirators in Byzantion, although many went so far in their unnatural conduct, even those in power.139

Although we will never recover the precise role Germanus and his sons played in the plot, we can tell that Procopius looked to stifle persistent rumours swirling around Constantinople concerning Germanus’ complicity in the plot, which could not be completely airbrushed from his history. To achieve his goals, Procopius relied on many of the literary tools he wielded in the Secret History, which I suspect was close by his side as he crafted his tale. 135 Bjornlie, Politics and Tradition, p. 112. 136 Peter Bell links Artabanes’ release to the military crisis in Sicily. This supposition is not unreasonable. Indeed, it is backed up by Jord. Rom. 385, which describes Artabanes racing to Sicily. I also suspect Germanus and/or a powerful Armenian faction were pressing for his release. (Three Political Voices, p. 208, n. 85) 137 Proc. Wars 7.39.11. 138 Cf. Jord. Get. 314. 139 Proc. Wars 7.40.9 (trans. Kaldellis).

Killing Justinian


One wonders how Justinian would have reacted to the story of these events in the Wars, which I believe he would have read. With Germanus safely dead and the wars in Italy coming to a victorious close, Justinian need not fret too much about Procopius’ celebration of Germanus or his lamentations regarding the cause in the West, or his fudging about what really occurred behind closed doors in Constantinople in early 549. Justinian’s reconciliation with Germanus in 549 may have offered Procopius the opportunity to write an account of the plot that shone the best light on Germanus while magnifying the role of the Armenians. Since Procopius was relating very recent events, his account needed to be plausible. Accentuating Arsaces’ role in bringing the conspirators together, while downplaying the culpability of Germanus and his sons, was believable enough.140 While one might speculate why a formidable emperor like Justinian allowed himself to be portrayed like he is in the Wars, for an opportunist and sincere Christian like Justinian, his redemption came in his non-violent reaction to the plot. Justinian, in fact, would continue to play the magnanimity card he earned in the aftermath of this conspiracy for the rest of his reign. In the Buildings, Procopius twisted the story of the conspiracy to the emperor’s advantage.141 The passage of time only magnified the emperor’s magnanimity towards the plotters. In 562, we find an important palace official, Paul the Silentiary, in his hexameter ekphrasis commemorating the restoration of the Hagia Sophia’s dome transforming the assassination attempt against Justinian into an act of glory for the emperor: For if ever Justice, after briefly resting, brings before your feet one of your enemies, you immediately calm the storms of necessary anger, you immediately assume a merciful serenity, and the bronze chain, which before was holding him in penal bonds, immediately opens the lock upon his neck. And you directing upon him a glance of gentleness, instead of executing him, elevate to dazzling belts the man who before strove to smite your yoke band. And you profit from the number of your servants’ limbs that the relentless tomb could cover, vanquished by your serenity, thrice August Emperor, much more than by sword, the prisoner turns his mind towards you. Having darted from fear to love, he willingly enslaves his neck to your yoke straps.142 140 On a comparable whitewashing of messy events during Justin I and Justinian I’s reigns, see Greatrex, ‘Early Years of Justin I’s Reign’, p. 104. 141 Proc. Buildings 1.1.10 (trans. Dewing), ‘as for those who plotted against him, he of his own volition dismissed the charges’. 142 Paul the Silentiary, Description of Hagia Sophia, 941-958 (trans. Bell).


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

This statement, extolling the ‘just’ emperor’s act of kindness and clemency towards Artabanes, vividly demonstrates both the paradox of Justinian and the theatre behind his self-presentation. Justinian indeed was an emperor and a man whose ability to combine restraint/excess and magnanimity/ harshness continues to attract and repel in equal measure.

Conclusion Just as it is problematic to define Justinian’s reign as one long wave of political persecution, so too is it dangerous to speak purely in terms of ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ when trying to discern Procopius’ attitudes toward individuals, politics, and military affairs. Procopius was an artful writer. His complex, evolutionary, and oft-times gendered account of Artabanes in the Vandal and Gothic Wars displays a cohesive design that demonstrate the sophisticated manner by which Procopius could wield his character portraits to suit his wider literary and political aims. His use of highly charged gendered language in his account of Artabanes mirrored some of his tactics deployed to drive the didactic lessons from the Secret History. Certainly, the sections on Belisarius in the Secret History and the episodes concerning Artabanes in the Vandal and Gothic Wars offer instructive examples of Procopius’ clever politicking by playing both sides of the middle during a period (c. 548-550) when Justinian’s regime was under threat. So rather than plucking bits and pieces of information about individuals like Artabanes randomly or out of chronological context, this chapter has underlined the need to examine both the context and literary purpose behind aspects of the description. I will suggest in the next chapter that taking such a methodological approach is especially important when examining Procopius’ intricate portrait of the Gothic King Totila that dominates much of Book 7 and 8 of the Wars.


Totila: Hero or Trope? Then the Goths made Badua, called Totila, their king. He came down on Rome and besieged it. Such famine occurred in Rome that they even wanted to eat their own children. One day in the 13th indiction [549-550] he entered Rome by St. Paul’s Gate. To prevent the Romans dying by the sword he had a war trumpet sounded at night till the whole people fled or hid themselves in churches. The king stayed with the Romans like a father with his children. – Lib. Pont. Vita Vigilius 61.7 (trans. Davies)

If you change your course, God too will instantly become hostile to you. For he does not side with a particular race of men or nation, but with those who show the greater honour to justice. For him it is no labour to transfer his blessings from one people to another. – Proc. Wars 7.21.8-9 (trans. Kaldellis)

Totila is one of the most remarkable and memorable figures in the Wars.1 As I have argued elsewhere at greater length, the Gothic king is the most capable general and political leader in Book 7, and is, at the very least, presented by Procopius sympathetically in Book 8.2 Most scholars perceive Procopius’ admiration for Totila as genuine.3 Voicing this consensus, Michael Whitby declares that ‘Totila emerges as the hero of the Western narrative, a wise commander who also behaves well’. 4 As I will argue in this chapter, however, the reality is more complex. Procopius’ nuanced characterisation of Totila is directed by his literary demands as much as a need to supply a window into his ‘true’ feelings about a man that the historian had likely never met or for that matter even observed at close range. This is not to claim that Procopius did not expect his audience to admire Totila. By displaying a singleness of purpose in ejecting the East Romans from Italy in the 540s, Totila steals Belisarius’ thunder in Book 7. The Gothic king found in this section of the Wars encapsulates many of the leadership 1 PLRE IIIb 1328-1332 [Totila]. 2 Stewart, Soldier’s Life, pp. 296-309. Cf. the more hostile views of Totila found in Marc. com. Chron. s.a. 545; Jord. Romana 382; Gregory the Great, Dialogues 2.14–15, 3.12-13. 3 See, for example, Averil Cameron, Procopius, pp. 190, 197; Moorhead, ‘Totila’; Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, p. 198. Cf. the important points raised in Pazdernik, ‘Belisarius’ Second Occupation of Rome’. 4 Michael Whitby, ‘The Greatness of Procopius’, p. 36.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

qualities and virtues found in Procopius’ idealised portraits of Romans like Belisarius and Germanus.5 As was to be expected of a Gothic king, Totila was formidable in battle.6 Similar to Theoderic, he was also energetic and wise.7 Totila, however, exhibited some ‘civilised’ traits less typical in a barbarian king. Procopius at various times in the Wars describes him as ‘humane’ [φιλανθρωπίαν, 7.8.1], ‘restrained’ [σωφροσύνη, 7.20.31], ‘gentle’ [πρᾷόν, 7.8.15], and ‘just’ [δίκαιος, 7.8.21]. Nevertheless, Procopius does not always depict Totila as a wise commander who uniformly behaves well. To cite but two examples, Procopius portrays a more ‘barbaric’ side of Totila by describing an incident in which the Gothic king became so agitated with a bishop named Valentinus that he ordered that the bishop’s hands be chopped off.8 One finds a further example of Totila’s dangerous fury in his impulse to destroy Rome in early 547, which Procopius contends was only prevented because Belisarius sent Totila a letter in which he allegedly warned Totila that he would go down in infamy if he obliterated Rome.9 I must also make the further point that Procopius’ portraits of Totila in Books 7 and 8 were published at separate dates and under vastly different circumstances. This is critical, because whatever Procopius really felt about Totila, he needed to explain in Books 6 and 7 why he had succeeded when Theodahad and Vitigis had failed, whereas in Book 8 he had to rationalise Totila’s downfall.

Order out of Chaos As discussed earlier, the year 540 marked a significant turning point in Justinian’s reconquest of Italy. The close of Book 6 lays the foundation for Totila’s rise in Book 7. As in his depiction of events in North Africa, for Procopius the East Romans’ fortunes started to decline in Italy when certain members of the Byzantine high command began to sow discord between Belisarius and Justinian. Though the emperor, according to Procopius, did not believe the scurrilous rumours, he nevertheless recalled Belisarius from Italy because he needed him to deal with the growing Persian threat. Mistakenly, the 5 Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, p. 194. 6 For the fear Totila’s fighting prowess induced in the East Roman soldiers, see Proc. Wars 7.6.19. 7 Proc. Wars 7.2.7, 7.6.4. 8 Proc. Wars 7.15.13-15. 9 Proc. Wars 7.22.8-16. Procopius later relates (Wars 8.22.3, trans. Kaldellis) that Totila subsequently felt ‘remorse for what he had done to Rome previously’.

Totil a: Hero or Trope?


Goths supposed that Belisarius would disobey Justinian’s order, assuming the general ‘would rather rule Italy than remain loyal to Justinian’. Book 6 closes with Belisarius reaffirming his steadfast loyalty to Justinian to the envoys sent by the new Gothic king, Hildabad.10 The die was cast; Procopius closes Book 6 rather blandly: ‘Belisarius departed for Constantinople; and the winter drew to its close and the fifth year ended in this war, the history of which Procopius has written’.11 As the reader soon learns, however, it was this recall and the resulting disarray amongst the East Roman high command in Italy that granted the Goths the necessary time to recover from their initial shock of Vitigis’ capitulation and to find a worthy successor.12 Despite that, the political situation for the Goths in 540/541, as laid out by Procopius in the opening of Book 7, appeared even more dire than that faced by the East Romans. Gothic Italy was in a sorry state. Torn between those who wanted to capitulate and those who wanted to fight, the Gothic ruling classes were riven with rivalries and internal feuds that had led to the murders of two Gothic kings in quick succession: in May/June of 540, Totila’s uncle, the warlike Hildabad, and in November of that same year, the ineffective Erarius—the latter assassination, according to Procopius, instigated at Totila’s behest.13 Totila therefore ascended the throne at a point when the Goths’ hold on Italy was slipping away. Procopius favoured a multi-causal explanation for Gothic ascendance under Totila, citing several factors. A believer in the ability of the big man to shape events, at least in the short term, Procopius spends much of the f irst half of Book 7 establishing how Totila’s adept and moral leadership had quickly invigorated the Gothic army’s fighting spirit, which had led to a rapid rollback of the Roman gains achieved under Belisarius. Exploiting a Roman failure at Verona in the spring of 542, Totila and the Goths capture one Roman stronghold after the other. Procopius now had to deal with a resurgent Goth nation and the recall of Belisarius. How did the historian explain such a remarkable reversal of fortune? Undoubtedly, the mercurial nature of tyche and the power of God to determine events play a greater role in Books 7 and 8 than they do in Books 5 and 6.14 When attempting to explain Belisarius’ ‘inexplicable’ failures in Italy after his return in 544, Procopius avoids censuring the famous general directly; 10 Proc. Wars 6.30.28. 11 Proc. Wars 6.30.30 (trans. Kaldellis). 12 Proc. Wars 6.30.1-5. 13 Proc. Wars 7.2.12-13. 14 See, for example, Proc. Wars 7.8.15-19. The overarching role of tyche in the Wars is discussed in Kaldellis, Procopius of Casarea, pp. 198-204.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

instead he leans upon a combination of bad luck and divine displeasure to explain Belisarius’ disappointments: And to me it seemed either that Belisarius had chosen the wrong course because it was fated at that time for things to go badly for the Romans, or that he had decided upon the better path, but God had obstructed him in order to assist Totila and the Goths, so that the best plans of Belisarius had turned out utterly contrary to his expectations.15

Here and elsewhere, Procopius makes it clear that such seismic shifts in human behaviour or secular events troubled him. His attempts to find a palatable explanation for Belisarius’ setbacks in Italy suggest the anxieties of one unable to understand why the previously invincible East Roman general had failed. Whereas in the Secret History Procopius attributed Belisarius’ military setbacks to moral failings within his personal life, here and elsewhere in Book 7 he suggests that while the caprice of tyche plays a role in the Romans’ misfortunes, it was primarily a combination of the Roman high command’s immorality and the contrasting moral virtues of Totila that led to God switching divine support to the Goths. Though, as depicted by Procopius, tyche was often f ickle and arbitrary, the historian links God’s favour or disfavour directly to the conduct of individuals and peoples. We find another example of this tendency in the quote from the Wars from the opening of this chapter, where Procopius has Totila declare that God would support ‘those who show the greater honour to justice’.16 As he attempts to explain the Goths’ successes and the East Romans’ failures in the 540s, Procopius’ reasoning appears fairly clear-cut.17 We should take Procopius at his word when he concludes that the ‘insatiable’ greed of certain members of the Byzantine high command in Italy and within the Byzantine treasury 18—not just the caprice of fortune—represented an important reason ‘the entire fabric of Roman power was utterly destroyed in a short space of time’.19 15 Proc. Wars 7.13.15 (trans. Dewing). 16 Proc. Wars 7.21.9 (trans. Dewing). 17 Modern scholarly consensus contends that for Justinian the war in Italy was a minor theatre of war in comparison to Thrace, North Africa, and the troublesome eastern boundary with Persia. For a discussion of this point, see Whately Battles and Generals, p. 259. 18 Proc. Wars 7.1.33. 19 Proc. Wars 7.1.24 (trans. Dewing). I therefore question Kaldellis’ claim (Procopius of Caesarea, pp. 198-200) that Procopius in this section sought to reject the idea that battles and wars were

Totil a: Hero or Trope?


Procopius reveals throughout Book 7 how, in sharp contrast to the discipline instilled in the army under Belisarius, the Roman high command’s immorality and unmanliness had inevitably trickled down to the Roman soldiers and eaten away at their discipline, confidence, and courage.20 Justinian takes a fair share of the blame. At various places in the narrative, Procopius points to Justinian’s disinterest, failure to pay the troops, and his appointment of feeble generals as key factors behind the Goths’ resurgence.21 Procopius explains that the ‘rightful’ rulers of Italy would be the side that best juxtaposed martial capabilities with a policy of restraint and justice towards the Italians. Belisarius’ conduct in North Africa and during the early years of the Italian campaign seem the obvious points of reference.22 In Italy, the tide of battle indeed shifts in the Goths’ favour as, on the one hand, the East Roman generals and administration succumb to jealousy, avarice, bickering, and injustice while, on the other hand, the Goths—ruled with an iron fist by Totila—unite and treat the Italo-Romans and defeated East Roman enemy with a firm but fair adherence to justice and honour.23 Totila’s siege of Naples in 542-543 allowed Procopius to explore these themes at greater length. Here Totila’s proper moral conduct and ability to correctly balance sternness and magnanimity leads to the Goths’ recapture of Naples and the surrender of its 1,000-strong East Roman garrison. Totila wields both stick and carrot. In order to intimidate the Roman garrison, won, not by justice or soldiers’ courage, but primarily by the whims of tyche. 20 Proc. Wars 7.6.19, 7.9.1, 7.12.4. 21 See, for example, Proc. Wars. 7.6.9-12, where Justinian’s appointment in 542 of the inexperienced Italo-Roman commander Maximinus as praetorian prefect of Italy contributed to the loss of Naples. Instead of taking steps to relieve Konon in Naples, according to Procopius, the ‘cowardly’ Maximinus put up anchor in Epeiros in Greece—preferring to let others do the fighting for him. See also, Belisarius’ desperate letter (Wars 7.12.1-11) to Justinian requesting reinforcements and pay for his demoralised troops, an appeal that falls on deaf ears. 22 On the role fortune plays in Belisarius’ campaigns against Vitigis, see Proc. Wars 6.38.2. 23 While Procopius highlights the impact of disease and famine on the population of Italy throughout the Gothic Wars, he makes no direct mention of the plague’s impact on the East Roman and Gothic armies. This is surprising, since many modern scholars consider this a principal cause behind the deterioration of the Romans’ position in the 540s; see, for example, Parnell, Justinian’s Men, p. 52. As Peter Heather (Rome Resurgent, p. 222) posits, however, the plague’s impact may have had some unintended benefits for the East Roman cause; he submits that it may have played a part in the petering-out of the Persian shah Chosroes’ campaign in Syria in 542. Moreover, the primary effect of the plague was probably on recruiting, since the plague should have affected the Gothic and Roman forces in Italy equally, hence not granting either side a military advantage.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

he mutilates a Roman captive who had insulted him and then displays the victim to the Roman soldiers (mainly Isaurians) manning the walls. But once the city had fallen Totila exhibited, in the words of Procopius, ‘a compassion to his captives that was to be expected neither from an enemy nor a barbarian’.24 Fearing that the starving Roman captives might die by overindulgence, Totila gradually supplies them with increased rations to help them slowly restore their strength. Rather more surprising to Procopius, Totila gives the Roman commander Konon and his soldiers the choice to join his side or peacefully return to Roman held territory—Totila even provides them with money and supplies for their journey. Totila’s ability to pay his soldiers and his humane conduct caused many East Roman soldiers to switch sides—an apt reminder of the permeability of the boundaries between the ‘Goths’ and ‘Romans’ in the mid-sixth century.25 Totila, according to Procopius, extended this generous treatment to the native Italo-Romans. When an unnamed Italian accuses one of Totila’s bodyguards of violating his virgin daughter; the Gothic king imprisons the soldier and condemns him to death. This prompt punishment, in the words of Procopius, alarmed ‘the most notable men among the barbarians’ since, ‘he was, as it happened, an energetic and good warrior’. The Gothic nobles, however, relent in the face of Totila’s steadfastness and, not long afterwards, the Goth is executed.26 This example demonstrates that Procopius had no qualms in presenting Totila as a man willing to follow justice and ‘lawful order’ despite the concerns of powerful members of the Gothic hierarchy— a contention that specifically undermines Narses’ subsequent claim that Totila had no regard for justice or Roman law.27 In sharp contrast to Totila’s munificence, Procopius condemns the Roman high command for ‘revelling with mistresses inside the fortresses, while the soldiers, showing themselves, more and more insubordinate to their commanders, were falling into every form of lawlessness’ and plundering the lands of the Italo-Romans indiscriminately.28 Moreover, Procopius later accuses Konon of hoarding grain and then profiting from its sale to Rome’s starving citizens.29 According to Procopius, the general’s own frustrated troops later murdered him in Rome over a lack of pay and provisions. The 24 Proc. Wars 7.8.1, Ἐπειδὴ δὲ Νεάπολιν Τουτίλας εἷλε, φιλανθρωπίαν ἐς τοὺς ἡλωκότας ἐπεδείξατο οὔτε πολεμίῳ οὔτε βαρβάρῳ ἀνδρὶ πρέπουσαν. 25 Parnell, Justinian’s Men, p. 177. 26 Proc. Wars 7.8.12–25 (trans. Kaldellis). 27 Proc. Wars 8.30.5. 28 Proc. Wars 7.9.1. 29 Proc. Wars 7.17.10.

Totil a: Hero or Trope?


mutinous troops then sent some priests to blackmail Justinian, threatening to defect to the Goths if they were not granted amnesty and paid their back wages. Reflecting the desperation of the military situation in Italy, Justinian granted all their requests. Procopius appeared less shocked by the mutinous soldiers’ conduct and threats than by the fact that neither Konon nor Justinian had properly provided for them.30 The vignette on Konon’s demise completes the tale begun at Totila’s siege of Naples.31 Procopius surely expected the reader to contrast the hortatory paradigm of Totila—discussing how a general should act—with the cautionary paradigm of Konon, demonstrating how a general should not behave. Only by looking at the bigger picture and following the thread of the characterisation of Konon from its beginning to its end can the reader absorb the lessons that Procopius sought to impart. So, we can see that Procopius attributes the Goths’ resurgence to a combination of Totila’s political sagacity and the pernicious effects of the East Romans’ moral regression after Belisarius’ recall. Procopius probably exaggerated both Totila’s magnanimity and the East Romans’ immorality. Nevertheless, it seems likely that Procopius did not stray too far from the truth. As we observed at the opening of this chapter, the Liber Pontificalis makes specific reference to Totila’s compassion for the native Italo-Romans, which earned the Gothic king popular acclaim and affection, a congruence that lends credence to the notion that Procopius based his account of Totila and his reign on concrete and authentic details. Besides helping Procopius provide a plausible explanation to his readers for the East Romans’ setbacks in Italy throughout the 540s, such rhetoric may also have prepared Procopius’ readers in early 550s Constantinople for the possibility of a treaty between the East Romans and the Goths that would have seen a partition of Italy, perhaps similar to the one offered by Justinian to Vitigis in 540, which would have allowed the Goths to retain their Italian holdings north of the Po, whereas the East Romans would be granted the lands south of the Po.32 The implication I am suggesting here is that Procopius, some of his audience, and most importantly, Justinian, could conceive of the possibility that the Goths could be the rightful rulers of parts of Italy. Seen in this light, Procopius’ emphasis on Totila and the Goths’ admirable qualities perhaps should not be interpreted as simply reflecting his disenchantment with Justinian’s 30 Proc. Wars 7.30.7-8. 31 Indeed, it likely has deeper roots back to Procopius’ description of Belisarius’ sacking of the city in 536 from Book 5, where the Roman army treats both the Neapolitans and the Gothic garrison harshly. 32 Proc. Wars 6.29.1-4.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

floundering campaign in Italy, but also as offering a valuable snapshot of the political environment in Constantinople (c. 550/551) around the time when Procopius was likely completing Book 7 of the Wars.33

Standing up to Totila Even so, Totila—as presented by Procopius—was not always innately kind or just. Like the Persian shahs before him, Totila sometimes needed the restraining influence of a Christian hero to control his more ‘brutish’ impulses. During Totila’s siege and subsequent sack of Rome in 546, it takes the words of a dedicated Christian, in this instance, the future Pope Pelagius, to shield the Roman citizens from massacre and indiscriminate killings. Here Procopius crafts an encounter in which he contrasts the noble actions of a priest and the restraint of Totila with the selfish and craven conduct of the East Roman generals. In the weeks leading up to Totila’s capture of Rome, Procopius vilifies the Roman commanders for their shameless profiteering. He states that while the populace of Rome was reduced to ‘monstrous foods unknown to the natural desires of man’, the Byzantine commander Bessas exploited the populace’s misery further by selling bushels of grain from his personal horde at exorbitant prices.34 Procopius described the proper Christian response to such a calamity: At Rome too, as it was besieged by Totila, all the necessities of life were already exhausted. Now one of the priests of Rome, a certain deacon named Pelagius, had spent a considerable time in Constantinople and had there become a close friend of the emperor Justinian, and it happened that he had arrived at Rome recently with a great fortune. During this siege he had bestowed most of this money upon those lacking the necessities of life and thus, although he had been a notable person even before among all the Italians, now he naturally won still greater renown for philanthropy.35 33 The opportunity for a peaceful partition of Italy had faded by 552. With his position on the throne in Constantinople more secure and the military situation in Italy turning back in his favour, according to Procopius (Wars 8.24.4-5), Justinian rejected Totila’s offer to cede Sicily and Dalmatia to the Romans, to pay tribute to the emperor, and for the Goths to become an East Roman ally. Procopius explains that Justinian refused to negotiate with Totila, because he had come ‘to loathe the Gothic name and intended to expel them all from Italy’. 34 Proc. Wars 7.17.9-10 (trans. Dewing). For Procopius’ nuanced portrait of Bessas, see Whately, ‘Procopius and the Characterization of Bessas’, pp. 123-136. 35 Proc. Wars 7.16.4-6 (trans. Kaldellis, modified). Cf. Proc. Wars 2.23.6-10, where Justinian eased the citizens of Constantinople’s suffering in the wake of the plague. For Justinian’s construction

Totil a: Hero or Trope?


With this act of altruism Pelagius (consecrated Pope Pelagius I in 556) earned the Italo-Romans’ trust and respect.36 So, when they needed someone to intervene on their behalf with Totila, they chose Pelagius. According to Procopius, the Gothic leader greeted the deacon’s embassy with civility, yet insisted that he would grant no mercy either to the Sicilians or to the ‘slaves’ who had escaped from his army to join the Byzantine forces.37 Instead of acquiescing to the formidable general’s power and menace, Pelagius stands his ground, challenging Totila by proclaiming that he and his companions would have preferred ‘to have been treated with contempt and still have accomplished some of the objects for which they came than, after hearing more courteous words, to return disappointed’. The future Pope—and favourite of Justinian—closes by warning Totila that he would refer his ‘mission to God, who is accustomed to send retribution upon those who scorn the prayers of suppliants’.38 We may compare Pelagius’ selflessness with the Roman general Bessas’ selfishness after the Goths finally stormed and captured Rome on 17 December 546. Bessas flees along with his soldiers, forcing the remnants of the civilian population to take refuge in the city’s churches to escape the massacres, ravaging, and plundering that typically accompanied such sacks.39 Once again, in Procopius’ version of events, it is Pelagius who shields the Roman citizens from these atrocities: Totila went to the church of the Apostle Peter to pray, but the Goths began to slay those who crossed their path. In this manner there perished among the soldiers twenty-six, and among the people sixty. When Totila arrived at the sanctuary, Pelagius came before him carrying the Christian scriptures in his hand and, making supplication in every way possible, said ‘Spare your own, master’. Totila, mocking him with a haughty air, replied; ‘Now at last Pelagius, you have come as a suppliant to me.’ ‘Yes’, of philanthropic institutions, see Proc. Buildings 1.11.14-15, 1.11.24-27, see also the discussion in Averil Cameron, Procopius, p. 127. 36 Part of bishops’ increased authority in Late Antiquity derived from their roles as the providers of charity for the poor. In Late Antiquity it became the duty of all Christian men to provide both financial and moral support to the poor. The Christian notion of charity differed from classical forms of social welfare in that it obligated members of the clergy and aristocratic Christians to provide assistance to all people in need. For a magisterial monograph on this shift, see Peter Brown, Eye of a Needle. 37 On the unlikelihood that Totila emancipated slaves on a large scale, see Moorhead, ‘Totila’, p. 382. 38 Proc. Wars 7.16.32 (trans. Dewing). 39 Proc. Wars 7.20.1-3.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

Pelagius retorted, ‘Now that God has made me your slave. But, spare your slaves, Master, from now on.’ Totila received this supplication favourably and forbade the Goths thereafter to kill any Romans at all, but he allowed them, while setting aside for him the most valuable of property, to plunder all the rest for themselves at will. 40

As described by Procopius, it was Pelagius’ ability to tap into Totila’s more civilised side that prevents the violent lawlessness typical in earlier sacks in the Gothic war, such as when Belisarius took Naples in 536. 41 In another instance of Totila’s benevolence in the wake of taking Rome, the Gothic king, this time under his own compulsion, thwarts those whom Procopius describes as the baser elements within the Gothic army. According to Procopius, Totila had to protect the high-born Italo-Roman, Rusticiana, who had evoked the ire of influential members of the Gothic army by destroying a statue of Theoderic in an effort ‘to avenge the murder of not only her father Symmachus, but also of her husband Boethius’, the famous philosopher.42 Seeking to punish her for insulting the memory of Theoderic, the vengeful Goths sought to first rape and then murder Rusticiana. Totila, however, comes to her rescue: But Totila would not permit her to suffer any harm, but he guarded both her and all the Roman women safe from insult, although the Goths were extremely eager to rape them. Consequently, not one of them had the ill fortune to suffer personal insult, whether married, unwed, or widow, and Totila won great renown for moderation [σωφροσύνη] from this course. 43

Totila’s civilised moderation [σωφροσύνη] distinguishes him from typical barbarian leaders, and even the manly and wise Theoderic. 44 There may be more behind this story. It is surely no coincidence that the woman that Procopius chose to describe Totila protecting was none other 40 Proc. Wars 7.20.22-25 (trans. Kaldellis, modified). 41 Lib. Pont. Vita Vigilius 61.4; Marc. com. Chron. s.a. 536.3. 42 Boethius (consul 510) was likely executed in 524, while Symmachus (consul 485) was put to death in 525. 43 Proc. Wars 7.20.29–31 (trans. Dewing). I have changed Dewing’s ‘have intercourse’ for κοίτην ‘to rape’. 44 As suggested by Moorhead, ‘Totila’, p. 382. Narses at the close of the Wars (8.33.2) gives a similar punishment, dismissing the Lombards for setting fire to buildings in Rome and raping a group of Italo-Roman women who had sought refuge in churches. Cf. Proc. Wars 2.9.9-11, where, after the Persians’ sacked Soura in 540, Procopius censured Chosroes for his failure to protect the city’s aristocratic women from his soldiers’ ill-treatment.

Totil a: Hero or Trope?


than Boethius’ wife and Symmachus’ daughter—the two men whom the historian had revealed earlier had been ‘unjustly’ executed by Theoderic in 524.45 It has been suggested by Shane Bjornlie that Boethius’ De consolatione, which described in absorbing detail Boethius’ impending execution, had been used as a tool of Justinianic propaganda. His insights are worth quoting in full: The death of Boethius and the memory of the event was a potent piece of ideology that the Anicii assembled as an appeal to Justinian’s court and it was furthermore conveniently complimentary to Justinian’s own agenda. Nothing provided justification for the Gothic War so well as the example of Roman libertas having suffered the injustice of ‘barbarian’ tyranny. Boethius own De consolatione, whether intended as such or not, supplied a scathing indictment of the government in Ravenna. 46

If this supposition is true, then Procopius would have expected his readers to draw a connection between Totila’s just conduct here and Theoderic’s earlier ‘crimes’. Hence, by protecting the scion of two of Italy’s most revered noble families—the Anicii and the Symmachi—Totila, as described by Procopius represents a better version of Theoderic, who, as we touched on in Chapter 3, is portrayed sympathetically by Procopius as a Gothic leader who personified many of the characteristics of an ideal Roman emperor. By placing Totila upon such a pedestal, Procopius—at least on the face of it—appears to undermine Eastern propaganda touting that Justinian’s army was in Italy to rescue the Italo-Romans from a harsh barbarian yoke. Given that these passages were being composed at a time when Totila appeared to be obtaining the upper hand in Italy, this sentiment, however, might be read as promoting Totila as someone with whom Justinian could come to terms. Procopius once more deftly combined historical events and contemporary politics with his own moralising themes and royal and imperial biographies to produce an edifying tale that may be read on many different levels.

Last Dance Of course, by the time that Procopius sat down to write Book 8, events on the ground had shifted in the East Romans’ favour. Still, as the Wars draws to a close, Procopius continues to paint a largely flattering picture 45 Proc. Wars 5.1.32-39. 46 Bjornlie, Politics and Tradition, p. 150.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

of the Gothic king’s personal qualities and leadership skills. The historian describes Totila in all his masculine and martial glory before the fateful clash of Busta Gallorum (also known as the Battle of Taginae) in late June/ early July 552.47 Describing a battle he had not witnessed, Procopius engages in some of his most theatrical writing and so must be used with extreme caution by those hoping to recover the actual circumstances of the battle or Totila’s mindset. 48 Procopius certainly ramps up the rhetoric. After Totila refuses Narses’ offer to broker a truce, the two armies, which had avoided set battles, faced off in what proved to be the most important encounter of the long war. In the pre-battle speech that Procopius has Narses speak, the East Roman general makes clear to his men that that they hold all the tactical and strategic advantages. They have greater numbers, better equipment, and superior ἀρετή [valour/virtue]. Although generals in Procopius’ set speeches often overstate their side’s advantages before battle, in this instance, Narses’ observations prove prescient. 49 Conversely, Totila’s vision of the Goths’ desperate reality, as conjured up by Procopius in the Goth’s set speech, foreshadows the coming disaster.50 As Conor Whately has shown, ‘these speeches complement each other while also conveying the different character of the two generals and their forces’.51 Procopius then contrasts the opposing commanders’ attempts to motivate their men. He describes an animated Totila striding along his battle line desperately trying to quell his men’s terror by ‘using both inspirational words and motivational gestures by which to stimulate his men’s boldness’. Narses too takes steps to inspire his soldiers; yet, in contrast to the mere words used by the Gothic king, the eunuch commander displays to his men the tangible benefits that would be theirs if they performed valiant deeds in the forthcoming combat: bracelets, necklaces, and golden bridles.52 Such gifts appealed particularly to the large non-Roman element within Narses’ army.53 So though outwardly the appeals by Totila and Narses are similar 47 Philip Rance (‘Battle of Taginae’, p. 447) estimates that the Goths had an army of around 15,000-18,000 men while the East Roman army had anywhere from 20,000 to 25,000 men. 48 As Philip Rance aptly warns (‘Battle of Taginae’, pp. 424-428) in his meticulous analysis of Busta Gallorum, historians have been too keen to accept Procopius’ version of the battle, which is heavily influenced by his rhetorical aims. 49 Proc. Wars 8.29.8-10, 8.30.1. 50 Proc. Wars 8.30.7-20. 51 Whately, Battles and Generals, p. 205. 52 Proc. Wars 8.31.8-9. 53 As Mark Hebblewhite points out (The Emperor and the Army, p. 95), from the fourth century, ‘Emperors used torques and armbands, objects that in Germanic society denoted the wealth

Totil a: Hero or Trope?


in that each petitions his men to perform deeds of gallantry, by having Narses brandish the rewards, Procopius highlights the appeal of serving in a well-funded force. Indeed, Procopius suggests throughout his account that basic economics like this had motivated both Roman and non-Roman soldiers at least as much as any particular loyalty to one side or the other.54 Procopius, in fact, tells us that a portion of the funds raised by the emperor for the campaign served ‘to pay the soldiers of Italy all the money he owed them from the past’. Moreover, Justinian had told Narses to use the funds ‘to force the minds of the soldiers who had deserted to Totila, so that they would be made tractable by this money and reverse their allegiance’.55 Neither side, according to Procopius, was in any hurry to strike first. Narses patiently awaited what he foresaw as the undermanned Goths’ inevitable charge, while Totila stalled, because he was waiting for reinforcements to arrive. Building the anticipation and offering further foreshadowing, Procopius describes how a deserter from the Roman army, now fighting for the Goths, Kokkas, bravely rode out alone and challenged any of the Roman soldiers to face him in single combat. It is one of Narses’ Armenian spearmen, Anzalas, who answers the dare. Kokkas attacks first, but the Armenian nimbly avoids his spear thrust, and counters with a deadly aimed strike that dismounts Kokkas, killing the former Roman soldier. A cheer erupts from the East Roman side, the victory in single combat, another auger of victory. While it is possible that this encounter—or something like it—had occurred, the literary aspects of this heroic single combat are clear.56 The Roman deserters would soon rue their decision to join the Gothic cause. It must be said, however, that Procopius appears non-judgemental, understanding that unpaid soldiers naturally might change sides in order and status of the owner, to honour these selected soldiers and draw them closer to the emperor’. By the sixth century, these ornamental and symbolic objects appealed to both the Roman and non-Roman elements within Justinian’s armed forces. For the substantial number of foreign troops and the diverse ethnic make-up in Narses’ army, see Rance, ‘Battle of Taginae’, pp. 444-447. 54 On these financial considerations as a key factor in keeping their soldiers’ loyalty, see Proc. Wars 7.6.7, 7.20.4-7, 7.36.7-29. 55 Proc. Wars 8.26.5-6 (trans. Kaldellis). On the difficulty Justinian had finding the funds to pay his soldiers in Italy in the 540s and the friction it caused between Roman officers and their soldiers, see Parnell, Justinian’s Men, pp. 169-170. 56 For the similarities between the depiction of single combat here and another instance at the battle of Dara in the Persian War, see Whately, Battles and Generals, pp. 207-208. See also Proc. Wars 7.5.21-30, where, in another instance of single combat, the Armenian Artabazes slays a Goth from Totila’s army, suspiciously named ‘Valaris’. However, the valiant Artabazes is wounded (dying three days later), which according to Procopius, ‘shattered all the hopes of the Romans’, who consequently suffer a calamitous defeat.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

to get paid. He certainly felt little reluctance to praise the martial courage of deserters like Kokkas. Such a balanced view concerning the practical motivations of soldiers on both sides offers a further reminder that Procopius did not lay out the war in Italy merely in terms of civilised Romans versus barbarian Goths, as supposed by some.57 This is perhaps not surprising, given the ease with which soldiers switched sides and the fact that some of the f inest and most loyal f ighters in the East Roman army were non-Romans.58 So too was Totila a fine soldier. Procopius paints a famous portrait of the doomed Totila riding out into the gap between the armies and exercising his martial skills to further delay the Romans until his reinforcements arrived: First, he was not reluctant to make an exhibition to the enemy of what kind of man he was. The armour he wore was abundantly plated with gold, and the ample adornments that hung from his cheek-plates as well as from his helmet and spear were not only of purple [the colour of the Roman emperors] but in other respects befitting a king, marvellous in abundance.59

The historian then describes the bellicose king’s prowess and intimidating and virile persona. Totila performs a ‘dance under arms’ upon his horse and ‘hurled his javelin into the air and caught it again as it quivered above him, then passed it rapidly from hand to hand, shifting it with consummate skill’. Totila brandishes the martial prowess one would expect from a man raised for battle. Upping the masculine martial rhetoric, Procopius remarks that Totila was ‘like one who has been instructed with precision in the art of dancing from childhood’.60 Procopius expected a reader to marvel at Totila’s manly presence as a master horseman; he may also be making a further reference to the Goths’ focus on providing a martial education to their children.61 As Philip Rance rightly suggests, however, we should not assume that Procopius saw this display as evidence of ‘flamboyant barbarism; similar lucid feats 57 For example, Thompson, Romans and Barbarians, p. 109. 58 For just a sampling of examples, see Proc. Wars 5.18.29, 5.29.39-4, 6.1.21-33, 7.5.21-30. 59 Proc. Wars 8.31.18 (trans. Kaldellis, modified), πρῶτα μὲν οὐκ ἀπηξίου τοῖς πολεμίοις ἐνδείκνυσθαι ὅστις ποτὲ εἴη. τήν τε γὰρ τῶν ὅπλων σκευὴν κατακόρως τῷ χρυσῷ κατειλημμένην ἠμπίσχετο καὶ τῶν οἱ φαλάρων ὁ κόσμος ἔκ τε τοῦ πίλου καὶ τοῦ δόρατος ἁλουργός τε καὶ ἄλλως βασιλικὸς ἀπεκρέματο θαυμαστος ὅσος. 60 Proc. Wars 8.31.20 (trans. Kaldellis). 61 See, for example, Proc. Wars 5.2.11-17, discussed in Stewart, Soldier’s Life, pp. 267-270.

Totil a: Hero or Trope?


featured in Roman military training’.62 For instance, Agathias offers us evidence that such dexterous horseback riding was a regular feature of East Roman cavalry training: Narses subjected them to a more rigorous combat training and strengthened their training spirit by daily drill. He made them march at the double, practise regular evolutions on horseback, perform elaborate whirling movements in the manner of a war-dance and expose their ears to frequent blasts of the bugle sounding the signal for battle, lest after a winter of inactivity they might forget the arts of war and lose their nerve when faced with real fighting.63

Hence, given Procopius’ long tenure with the East Roman army, it is likely that he did not find Totila’s war dance to be a ‘strange’ manoeuvre by a barbarian king. We should furthermore be cautious to conclude that this depiction indicates, as one scholar suggests, that at the close of the Wars Procopius’ ‘sympathies lay on the side of Totila’.64 As much as it glorifies Totila’s martial prowess, the episode also magnifies Narses’ shrewdness in seeing through the Gothic king’s waffling, and sets the scene for Totila’s inglorious death.65 The reader indeed learns that Totila’s performance is a charade. Procopius’ comment that, ‘By these tactics he [Totila] wore away the early part of the day’, hints that he expects the reader to see Totila’s display as desperate and slightly ridiculous. Each side, however, gets what they want. Narses rejects Totila’s offer for a further parlay, while Totila, seeing that his two thousand reinforcements had arrived, immediately removes the ceremonial garb and dresses and arms ‘himself carefully as a private soldier and then led the army out against the enemy’, hoping to catch the Romans by surprise.66 The intelligent Narses alertly saw through Totila’s ruse, hence: Narses had correctly prepared his men to fight. 62 Rance, ‘Battle of Taginae’, p. 451; Contra, Thompson, Romans and Barbarians, p. 108. 63 Agath. Histories 2.1.2 (trans. Frendo). 64 Averil Cameron, Procopius, p. 201. 65 Rance, ‘Battle of Taginae’, p. 426. 66 Proc. Wars 8.32.2 (trans. Kaldellis, modif ied). Procopius here may be subtly criticising Totila for his failure to follow a normative Gothic masculinity regarding a Gothic ruler’s proper attire during battle. Totila’s humble and inconspicuous battle garb may indeed be contrasted with Ennodius’ depiction (pan. 39-47) of Theoderic’s extravagant attire worn during a battle against Odoacer in 487. Ennodius has Theoderic remark that he wanted to wear such flamboyant garments so that he would be easily recognisable by the enemy.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

The end was not long in coming. In Procopius’ narrative of the battle, the martial skills Totila displayed in his pre-battle exhibition do him and the Goths little good against the well-supplied and supremely confident East Romans. In an account that hardly flatters the Gothic king’s generalship Totila, as predicted by Narses, opens the battle by launching a desperate cavalry charge against the well-disciplined Romans, which exposes the Goths to the withering fire of the Roman archers deployed on the Goths’ flanks. Procopius describes the resulting carnage: Meanwhile the Roman army, exploiting their panic, continued to kill without mercy all who fell in their way, while their victims offered no defense nor dared look them in the face, but gave themselves up to the enemy to treat as they wished. […] Six thousand of them perished in this battle, while great numbers surrendered to their opponents. These the Romans for the moment made prisoners, but a little later they slew them. It was not only the Goths who were destroyed, but also great numbers of the former Roman soldiers who had detached themselves from the Roman army and deserted, as I have told in the previous narrative, to Totila and the Goths.67

For those Goths and former Romans who had somehow escaped this merciless slaughter, it was now every man for himself, and Procopius vividly describes the desperate survivors scattering in every direction. Having related the chaos of battle, Procopius then discusses Totila’s demise. His somewhat garbled account of the Gothic king’s ignoble death probably suggests that the true circumstances surrounding Totila’s death were imperfectly known. Likely relying on a combination of oral accounts from soldiers who had fought at the battle, as well as official reports from the battlefield, Procopius provides two versions of Totila’s death.68 In the f irst,69 Totila was one of the survivors who, with the Romans in close pursuit, had fled during the rout, accompanied by a small band of Goths. Unaware that it was Totila whom they were pursuing, a Gepid in Narses’ army, Asbados, drew close to Totila, intending to thrust his spear into the king’s back. Adding drama to the scene, Procopius has one of the Gothic youths in Totila’s retinue exclaim, ‘What is this dog? Are you rushing to 67 Proc. Wars 8.32.19-20 (trans. Kaldellis). 68 For his account of Totila’s death, Procopius likely relied on a combination of oral sources and official reports. 69 Proc. Wars 8.32.22–28.

Totil a: Hero or Trope?


kill your master?’ Unmoved by the Goth’s desperate appeal to a common heritage,70 Asbados plunges his spear into Totila, who—though mortally wounded—continues to flee. Arriving at a place called Caprae, the Goths finally feel safe enough to rest, but Totila succumbs to his wound, after which his men quickly bury him before fleeing the relentless Roman pursuit. The Romans subsequently discovered where Totila had been buried, dig up his grave, and after confirming that it was in fact him, rebury him—a humble resting place for such a great king.71 In the second version, a random missile strikes Totila at the opening of the battle as he fights as a common soldier. Suffering intensely, he abandons the battlefield and flees to Caprae, where he dies. In this version, the randomness of Totila’s wounding at the start of the battle and his subsequent flight undermines the Gothic soldiers’ confidence, who, ‘plunged into terror’, are easily routed by the Romans.72 Thus ends the life of Totila. One can agree with Procopius that Totila’s death ‘was not worthy of his past deeds’.73 Why, Procopius asks, would Fortune endow ‘Totila of her own free will with prosperity for no particular reason for a long time, and then for no fitting cause’ strike him down ‘with cowardice and destruction’.74 Despite the fact that Procopius had provided numerous reasons for Totila’s previous successes throughout Books 7 and 8, these words may not have been just empty verbiage. During his time on military campaigns, Procopius had seen or heard at close hand about similar inexplicable deaths of courageous men.75 These detailed portraits of heroic and random deaths are a striking feature of the Wars, particularly in the parts where Procopius had been a direct witness. Yet, in contrast to his laudatory account of the Goths’ defeat at the battle of Mons Lactarius in October of 552,76 Procopius’ depiction of Totila and the Goths’ conduct at Busta Gallorum is far from heroic.77 The indiscriminate slaughter of the surrendering soldiers in Totila’s army also deserves some comment. As we saw earlier, Totila’s magnanimity towards the captured East Roman soldiers at the siege of Naples seems to have 70 On which, see Proc. Wars 3.2.2. 71 Malalas (Chron. 18.116) makes no mention of a body when he declares that Totila’s ‘bloodstained clothes were sent to the capital’. 72 Proc. Wars 8.32.33-36. 73 Proc. Wars 8.32.28 (trans. Kaldellis). 74 Proc. Wars 8.32.29 (trans. Kaldellis). 75 For just a sample of instances of Procopius’ depictions of heroic deaths during the Italian war, see Wars 5.29.39-4, the Pisidian Prinkipios, 6.1.21-33, the Hunnic soldier Chorsamiantis, 7.5.21-30, the Armenian Artabazes. For the random deaths of soldiers, see Wars 4.4.15-21, 6.2.30-31. 76 Stewart, Soldier’s Life, pp. 309-311. 77 Contra, Moorhead, Justinian, p. 108.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

earned Procopius’ respect. Moreover, one of the first steps that Narses took after recapturing Rome in 552 was to pledge to its terrified Gothic garrison that he would spare their lives.78 So, I suspect that Procopius’ accentuating of the East Romans’ ruthlessness was meant as a criticism. Still, Procopius also censors the Goths. It is likely no coincidence that Procopius describes how, shortly after the Goths’ defeat, the new Gothic King Tëias slaughters the three hundred noble children whom Totila had taken hostage.79 Procopius likely expected his readers to contrast this brutish and vindictive act with Totila’s generally benevolent and just conduct towards the Italo-Romans discussed in this chapter. These instances of harsh retribution by both sides underline, once again, the necessity of treating both enemy soldiers and the native populations justly.80 Unquestionably, there is a strong literary element to Procopius’ account and depiction of Totila’s downfall. He composes a dramatic tale that helps to counterbalance his detachment from events on the ground. The fierce and manly barbarian succumbing ultimately to the might of Roman arms represented one of the oldest motifs in Roman literature.81 Though the ‘real’ Totila largely eludes us, one suspects that Procopius’ proud ‘Totila’ would have agreed with the former Gothic ruler Vitigis’ assertion that ‘noble men [ἄνδρες γενναῖοι] consider that there is only one misfortune [in battle]—to survive defeat at the hands of the enemy’.82 Nevertheless, Procopius does not exonerate Totila from personal blame for the debacle at Busta Gallorum. In fact, he places culpability for the defeat squarely at the Gothic king’s feet, declaring that Totila’s foolish decision to equip his army only with spears contributed heavily to the defeat. Procopius concludes that ‘Totila was outgeneraled by his own bad planning’.83 Narses’ brains thus overcame Totila’s brawn. Totila’s conduct at Busta Gallorum, as described by Procopius, follows much more closely the traditional trope of the brash yet foolhardy barbarian, a line of argument that is largely absent from the historian’s account in Book 7, which, as we have seen, depicts the Gothic king deftly balancing the intellectual and physical characteristics of good generalship and true Roman manliness. 78 Proc. Wars 8.34.26. 79 Proc. Wars 8.34.8 offers further evidence that Procopius had less sympathy for Tëias than some contend. For a complete discussion of the debates surrounding the literary motifs Procopius wields in his depiction of Mons Lactarius, see Stewart, Soldier’s Life, pp. 309-310. 80 Proc. Wars 7.21.9. 81 See Stewart, Soldier’s Life, pp. 70-77, 85-90, 309-310. 82 Proc. Wars 5.29.9. 83 Proc. Wars 8.32.7 (trans. Kaldellis, modif ied), διὸ δὴ Τουτίλαν πρὸς τῆς ἀβουλίας καταστρατηγηθῆναι τῆς αὑτοῦ ξυνηνέχθη.

Totil a: Hero or Trope?


Such an assessment offers some validation for those who contend that Procopius’ admiration for Totila stems largely from the fact the Goth behaves at the end like an archetypal barbarian—he is courageous and admirable, yet his overconfidence leads to his underestimation of the Romans and his eventual defeat. To this point Guy Halsall declares: ‘Procopius’ less critical attitude towards Totila may stem as much from Totila correctly performing the role of barbarian warlord as allotted to him by Graeco-Roman ethnography—unlike the comic philosopher-king Theodahad or Witigis, bumbling would-be poliorcetes—as from disillusionment with Justinianic policy’. Concerning the rapid vanishing of Gothic Italy, Halsall quips, ‘A kingdom created by the sword had perished by it’.84 As we have seen, however, Procopius does not deploy this paradigm consistently throughout the Wars. Though Procopius occasionally ‘mocks’ Totila, more often Totila deftly displays for the reader the intellectual and physical traits typical in esteemed and manly Romans like Belisarius, Solomon, and Germanus. I must stress once again, moreover, the dangers of conflating the presentation of Totila in Book 7 with that of Book 8. We have seen that the exaltation of Totila in Book 7, which inverts the behaviour norms expected in barbarian warriors, is bound tightly to the vilification of the Roman high command. In the three years since Books 1-7’s publication, political and military circumstances had shifted in Italy, and therefore so do some aspects of Procopius’ depiction of Totila and the Roman soldiers. Consequently, the Totila found in Book 7 behaves more like an idealised Roman soldier-emperor than the ‘barbarian warlord’ he becomes at the close of Book 8, while the Roman army under the able guidance of Narses rediscovers its élan.85 As Book 8 draws to a close, it is the East Romans fighting manfully,86 and the Goths behaving in an increasingly shameful and inglorious manner.87 In creating an account of a battle he had not witnessed, Procopius naturally created a dramatic and tragic fall of a man who—from the historian’s perspective—had almost single-handedly thwarted Justinian and Belisarius’ efforts in Italy for over a decade. Procopius based his account of Totila on oral and written accounts, but also his own imagination. While leaning upon older tropes concerning fiery barbarians, Procopius, at the very least, expected his audience to respect Totila. In a war that had seen the deaths of many good men, Procopius’ sympathetic stories concerning the 84 Halsall, ‘The Ostrogothic Military’, pp. 195-199. 85 Full discussion in Stewart, Soldier’s Life, pp. 307-313. 86 Proc. Wars 8.23.34, 8.29.22-23,8.30.1. 8.33.9-12, 8.34.13-22. 87 Proc. Wars 8.23.36, 8.24.3, 8.30.7, 8.32.19, 8.34.23.


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

soldiers on both sides brought to life for those in Constantinople both the heroics and horrors of war—a chaotic realm where even mighty warriors like Totila, Germanus, Solomon, and Belisarius could not bend the world to their will for long. Faced with such obstacles, it is not surprising that the individual who—according to Procopius—had revived the sagging fortunes of the Goths is depicted positively. Despite Procopius’ nuanced treatment of the Gothic king and the obvious literary role he plays in much of the Wars, Totila comes across as a worthy foil and an archetype of formidable and manly leadership for the East Roman high command to emulate. Though fallible, Totila embodied what the best men and leaders could be—courageous, just, magnificent, warlike, wise, firm—and yet merciful. Hence, as depicted by Procopius, Totila was more hero than trope.

Conclusion: All Quiet on the Italian Front

Let us complete our examination of Procopius with a discussion of a short episode relating to the siege of Rome in 537-538, by which the historian relates a striking story of cooperation between Goths and East Romans that presents the combatants as human beings, not just faceless soldiers.1 Amidst the mayhem of battle, an East Roman soldier falls blindly into a deep hole. Surrounded by enemy soldiers, the Roman fears to cry out for help, and so he is trapped. The next day a Gothic warrior falls into the pit. Instead of killing one another, the two trapped men set aside their differences for a time; to expedite their escape, they pledge to work together. As Procopius puts it, ‘the two men were reconciled to mutual friendship and goodwill, brought together as they were by their necessity, and they exchanged solemn pledges that each would work earnestly for the salvation of the other; then both of them began shouting as loudly as they could’. A group of Gothic soldiers hears their cries for help and offers to rescue the pair. Speaking in the native Gothic language, the Goth explains to his colleagues what had happened and asks them to lower a rope. Fearing for his new friend’s safety, the Goth purposefully makes no mention of the Roman soldier’s presence. He has the Roman go up the rope first, explaining to him that ‘the Goths would never abandon their comrade, but if they discovered that merely one of the enemy was there, they would take no account of him’. After retrieving the Roman from the pit, the Goths initially are astonished at the sight of him, but, when told of the pledge, allow him to return to his own side.2 Was Procopius there on the day when the East Roman soldier surprised his comrades by returning from the dead? Or did he learn about the encounter from one of the soldiers he knew? Perhaps he wrote or read an official report about the encounter. Maybe there was no edifying purpose, perhaps Procopius just thought that his readers would find the story intriguing. More alarming for those seeking the ‘truth’ is the possibility that the entire episode is a fabrication, composed to serve Procopius’ literary art. Whatever the reality of the matter, it should be interpreted within the context of the political climate in which Procopius wrote and published it. It was a story likely crafted at a moment in time when rapprochement was in the air. 1 Amory, People and Identity, p. 24. 2 Proc. Wars 6.1.11-20 (trans. Kaldellis, modified).


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

What better way to bring the Goths back into the fold than by showing his audience that they were a worthy and honourable enemy. Despite Procopius’ reliance on the old binarism of Roman/barbarian, a reader comes away thinking that these soldiers shared more similarities than differences. This was a reality that his readers in Constantinople would have been aware of, especially since Goths had been walking the streets of the Eastern imperial capital since the days of Constantine I. It is certainly an anecdote we could imagine Procopius relating to an enthralled audience in the imperial capital made up of East Romans and perhaps also Italo-Roman and Gothic émigrés, who would have been difficult to distinguish from one another, having both been born and raised in Ostrogothic Italy. One finds fascinating episodes like the one above scattered throughout Procopius’ writings. Though many modern readers skip over them to get to the ‘real’ facts, for me they are what makes Procopius’ history so stimulating and, at times, so enigmatic. Such tales offer insight into Procopius’ authorial agenda, but also offer edifying glimpses of the complexity of the wider Mediterranean cultural environment around him—an evolving world where the relationships between Romans and barbarians based on long-standing codes of masculinity, martial virtues, and identity were breaking down. That Procopius and his contemporary audience believed that they lived in a world where the manly conquered the unmanly is a key conclusion to be drawn from this book. The prior chapters have demonstrated how Procopius embedded anti-effeminate oratory in the political rhetoric he employed in order to perpetuate and/or establish power relations between those he considered Romans and those he branded barbarians. So too have we seen that the highly gendered vitriol, which Procopius so famously wielded in the Secret History to denigrate Justinian/Theodora and Belisarius/ Antonina, could also play an essential role in what many consider to be the more sedate Wars. This suggests more unity between the two works than is commonly assumed. I suspect that if Belisarius had ever fallen from favour, the highly charged gendered rhetoric Procopius has Antonina employ against Belisarius in the Secret History would have slipped neatly into the Wars, a work that we have seen already contained the scathing depiction of John the Cappadocian, the constant comparisons between Roman and barbarian manhood, and gendered reproaches like Arsaces’ speech to Artabanes. Do the critical portraits of Belisarius in the Secret History and in parts of the Wars mean that Procopius had turned against the general or the reabsorption of Vandalic North Africa and Gothic Italy into a Roman Empire ruled from Constantinople? These are difficult questions to answer. Often the ‘answers’ concerning Procopius’ views are presented as though

Conclusion: All Quie t on the Italian Front


they are absolutes. This study shows just how difficult it is to pin down Procopius’ ‘true’ opinions. Moreover, while Procopius’ assessments of Justinian/Theodora and Belisarius/Antonina take up much of the attention in modern literature on Procopius, close scrutiny should also be paid to the way Procopius probes the characters of more minor players like Artabanes, Marcellus, Solomon, and Pelagius. Procopius’ character sketches, as we have seen, often functioned as hortatory or cautionary paradigms by which to edify his readers. To appreciate their meaning, however, one must not just pluck random details about individuals haphazardly from the text, but instead closely follow the threads of these depictions as Procopius wove them into his narrative. This is not to say that every characterisation or interesting anecdote contains a deeper meaning intimately linked to Procopius’ authorial purpose. Nevertheless, Procopius’ biographical details on the Gothic and the Byzantine military hierarchy are frequently genderbased and interlocked. Therefore, to appreciate some of the significant themes found in the larger narrative, one must understand both these character sketches’ didactic purpose and the ways that Procopius drew on early Byzantine attitudes towards gender and, particularly, idealised masculinity in their construction. To close, although the lens through which Procopius viewed history and gender could differ from our own, grasping both the similarities and the differences can shed new light on Procopius and aspects of Justinian’s reign. This book deepens our appreciation of the varied ways gendered and literary approaches may be wielded as particularly effective tools by which to analyse Procopius, his writings, and his world.

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Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

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Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

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Chronology 312 324 330 377 378 379 382 383 c. 390 391 393 395 399 401 404 405 406 408 409 410 414 417 418 419 421 423 423-425 425 429 430-31 430

Battle of Milvian Bridge, Constantine adopts Christianity Constantine becomes sole ruler of the Roman Empire Byzantium is rechristened Constantinople and consecrated as the new Roman capital Birth of Arcadius Battle of Adrianople Ascension of Theodosius I Roman-Gothic treaty Arcadius made co-emperor Birth of Galla Placida/ closure of the Roman pagan temples Birth of Aëtius Honorius made co-emperor Death of Theodosius I Fall of Eutropius Birth of Theodosius II/ Alaric invades Italy Death of Empress Eudoxia Radagasius’ invasion of Italy Vandals, Alans, Sueves cross the Rhine and into Roman territory May: Death of Arcadius Vandals arrive in Spain August: Rome is sacked by Alaric Galla Placida marries the Goth Athaulf in Narbonne After the murder of Athaulf in Spain, Galla Placidia marries Constantius Settlement of Goths in southern Gaul 2 July: Galla Placidia gives birth to the future emperor Valentinian III 8 February: Constantius becomes co-emperor with Honorius 2 September: death of Constantius III Death of Honorius Usurpation of John in Italy Accession of Valentinian III Vandals enter North Africa Vandal siege of Hippo Regius 28 August: Death of Augustine


438 439 450 451 453 454 455 457 468 471 472 474 475 476 476 477 c. 482 484 489 491 493 c. 500 c. 503

Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

Theodosian Code published Vandals capture Carthage Death of Theodosius II Council of Chalcedon Death of Atilla Valentinian III assassinates Aëtius Theoderic’s birth March: Valentinian III murdered June: Geiseric and the Vandals sack Rome and take Valentinian III’s widow, Eudoxia, and their daughters, Placidia and Eudocia as captives to Carthage 27 January: Death of East Roman emperor Marcian thwarts planned invasion of Vandalic North Africa Joint East and West Roman campaign fails to retake Vandalic North Aspar and his sons Ardaburius and Patricus are assassinated in Constantinople Civil war in Italy between Ricimer and West Roman emperor Anthemius 18 January: Death of East Roman emperor Leo I. Reign of Zeno January: Usurpation of Basiliscus, who rules as East Roman emperor until August 476 August: Zeno recaptures Constantinople, exiles Basiliscus 23 August: Odoacer becomes king of a variety of tribes serving in the West Roman army in Italy 28-31 August: Odoacer enters Rome, kills Orestes and deposes and then exiles Orestes’ son, the West Roman emperor Romulus. Vandals cede Sicily to Odoacer Death of Geiseric Birth of Justinian Acacian schism Zeno names Theoderic as consul Vandal king Huneric’s persecution of Catholic North Africans Theoderic and his Gothic confederation arrive in Italy Anastasius becomes emperor March: Theoderic slays Odoacer Births of Procopius and Belisarius Birth of Theodora


502-504 504-505 505 507 508 511 515 518 519 520 523 524 525 526 527 527-532 529 530 531 532 532 533 534 535 536 537 532-537

War between East Romans and Sassanian Persians Theoderic annexes Sirmium Skirmishes between the East Romans and the Ostrogoths Frankish king Clovis defeats Visigothic king Alaric II at the battle of Toulouse Theoderic annexes Visigothic territory in Gaul and Spain Death of Clovis Marriage of Amalasuintha and Eutharic 9 July: Death of emperor Anastasius Justin becomes emperor End of Acacian schism July: Vitalian murdered Hilderic becomes king of the Vandals Execution of Anicius Manilius Severinus Boethius Justinian becomes Caesar John I become the first Pope to visit Constantinople Execution of Q. Aurelius Memmius Symmachus 30 August: Theoderic’s death Romans invade Persarmenia Aug: sole rule of Justinian and Theodora begins War between the East Romans and the Sassanian Persians Work begins on Justinian’s Corpus iuris civilis May: Gelimer overthrows Hilderic July: Battle of Dara 13 September: accession of Chosroes I January: Nika revolt Spring: Endless Peace between the East Romans and Persia June: East Roman fleet departs Constantinople Completion of Corpus iuris civilis March: Gelimer surrenders October: Athalaric dies January: Belisarius named consul April: Amalasuintha murdered Spring: Belisarius puts down rebellion in North Africa Summer: Belisarius invades Sicily November: Belisarius takes Naples December: Belisarius captures Rome February: Vitigis lays siege to Rome Construction of Hagia Sophia on the ruins of its predecessor destroyed during the Nika revolt



540 541-542 541 543 544 545 546 547 548 548/549 549 550 552 556 557 559 561 562 562/563 563 565 568 c. 570 573 579 580 624 632

Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

Summer: Belisarius arrives with Constantinople with Vitigis as his captive Persians sack Antioch Bubonic plague arrives in Constantinople May/June: Gothic King Hildabad murdered November: Erarius murdered, Totila becomes king Equestrian statue of Justinian set up in the Augousteion Death of Solomon Murder of Areobindus December: Totila captures Rome Spring: Belisarius recaptures Rome 28 June: Death of Theodora Conspiracy to assassinate Justinian Totila recaptures Rome January-March: Belisarius departs Italy Summer: Germanus dies East Roman armies take Baetica in Spain Rioting of Jews and Samaritans at Caesarea in Palestine Dome of the Hagia Sophia destroyed in an earthquake Belisarius protects Constantinople from attack of Kotrigur Huns and Slavs Fall of Verona, last Gothic stronghold in Italy November: Plot thwarted to assassinate Justinian December: Belisarius, who was denounced as a co-conspirator, placed under house arrest Rededication of Hagia Sophia 19 July: Belisarius given back his titles and honours Deaths of Justinian and Belisarius Lombards invade Italy Muhammed born in Mecca Death of Narses Death of Chosroes I Death of Cassiodorus Visigoths capture the last Byzantine outpost in Spain Death of Muhammed

Index Acacias 166-67 Ad Decimum, battle of 111, 116-117, 120 Aeneas 87-89 Aëtius 76, 83 n.70, 131, 142, 146, 238 Agathias, historian, 6th century CE 36, 40-41, 53-54, 95, 102, 127, 138-42, 146-48, 151-53, 207 Agnellus, author, 9th century CE 141 Alamanni 125 Alans 237 Alexandria 127-28, 142 alt-right 43 Amalafrida:17 Amalasuintha, Ostrogothic queen regent, 534-535 73, 76, 189, 239 Ammatas 112 Ammianus Marcellinus, historian, 4th century CE 129, 138 Amorian dynasty 62 Amory, Patrick 96 Anastasius, emperor, r. 491-518 158, 175, 182, 184-86, 238-39 andreia 84, 139, 147-48, 150 definition of 127, 139, 148, 150 link to warfare 84 n.66 Anicii 176 n.75, 203 angels 46 anger 17, 191 Anthemius, emperor, r. 467-472 105, 190 Antioch 48, 182, 240 Antonina, wife of Belisarius 58, 60, 66, 71, 108, 148-150, 160-61, 163, 168, 173, 178, 183, 214-15 Anzalas 205 Apamea 47-48 Arcadius, emperor, r. 395-408 128, 237 Archelaus 109 Ardaburii 166, 183 Areobindus 140, 165, 167, 169, 240 Arianism 135 aristocracy 32, 78, 83, 142, 165 Aristophanes, comic playwright, 5th century BCE 72 Aristotle 84, 99 Armenians 61, 164-66, 170-84, 187-88, 190-91, 205 Arnold, Jonathan 75, 78 Arsaces 176-84, 187-89, 191 Arsacids 165-166, 178 Artabanes 29, 163-90, 192, 214-15 Artabazes 205, 209 Asbados 208-09 Aspar 131-32, 165, 171, 180, 238 assassinations 29, 61, 65, 128, 131-32, 136, 164, 173, 180-81, 186, 189, 191, 196, 238 of Aëtius 83 n.70, 131

of Aspar 131-32 of Hildabad 195 of Valentinian III 75, 131 of Vitalian 62 n.168 Athalaric, Ostrogothic king, r. 526-534 144, 240 Athens 40, 111 Attila 131 Augousteion 157, 240 Augustine of Hippo 51-52, 159 n.13, 237 Balkans 96 barbarians 22, 26-27, 29, 49-50,72, 74-77, 81-82, 89, 91-92, 95-97, 99 n.5, 100, 110, 112, 115, 138, 140, 146-48, 152, 155, 158, 173, 188, 194, 198, 202-03, 206-07, 210-11, 214 Bar-Hadad 46-47 Basileios Stoa 53 Basiliscus, emperor, r. 475-476 106, 109, 114, 122, 238 Basilius, consul 133 Baudila see Totila Belisarius 19-22, 29, 31, 33, 37-40, 42, 45, 58, 63-67, 70-71, 76, 83-86, 91-95, 100-101, 103-122, 124-25, 133-35, 142-46, 148-150, 157, 160-61, 163-64, 166-67, 169-72, 178, 180-81, 183-84, 187-88, 193-97, 199-200, 202, 211-212, 215, 239, 240 Bell, Peter 190 n.136 Berbers 39 n.54, 104, 123, 135-36, 171; see also Moors Bessas 200-01 Beyrtus 37 biography 56 blinding 142 bodyguards 19, 130-32, 134, 136, 141, 171, 179 n.88, 180, 185-87, 198; see also candidati, execubitores, protectores domestici, scholarii, spatharii Boethius, praetorian prefect 131 Boethius, philosopher, 6th century CE 48, 202-03, 239 Boraϊdes 176, 184 Börm, Henning 33, 36, 42, 44, 62, 64-65, 189 Bouzes 178 n.85, 179, 188 Brodka, Dariusz 38, 42, 144-45 Brown, Peter 168 Brubaker, Leslie 73, 169 Buccelen 151 Bury, John B. 54 Busta Gallorum, battle of 90, 103, 140, 145, 204, 209-10 Butler, Judith 25 Byzacium 113


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

Cabades, shah of Iran, r. 477-488, 499-531 39, 46-47 Caesarea, in Palestine 32-36 Callinicum, battle of:10 Cameron, Averil 43, 45, 48, 56-58, 66, 88, 107 Camillus 69 candidati 158 n.6, 180,186 cavalry 86, 101-03, 112-13, 117-18, 122, 141, 207-09 Caprae 209 Carthage 23, 38, 105-06, 108-09, 113, 115-16, 136, 159, 164, 238 Cassiodorus, historian, 6th century CE 22, 76, 79, 96, 240 castration 126, 141 Chalazar 161 Chalke Gate 49 Chanaranges 182, 184, 187 chance 91, 112, 114 n.94, 115, 117, 170, 190; see also fortune and tyche Christianity 27, 34-35, 43-50, 52-54, 73, 80 n.56, 81-82, 100 n.7, 116, 152 n.65, 159 n.13, 165-66, 169 n.29, 172 n.51, 179, 200 codes of masculinity 46, 80 n.56, 169, 200-201 city of Rome’s Christian heritage 92 influence on Procopius’ writings 27, 44-52, 73, 74 n.21 modern 43 persecuted Christians 100, 135 n.60, 166 Procopius’ faith and/or attitude to 34-35, 44-49, 51-54, 135 n.60 social influence 34-35, 46, 81-82, 201 n.36 Chorsamiantis 209 n.75 Cillium, battle of 136 Chosroes I, shah of Iran, r. 531-579 47, 157, 166, 176, 197, 202, 239-40 classicising historians 45, 72 n.9, critcisms of the label 44 n.82 Claudian, poet, 5th century CE 127-29 comes excubitorum 38, 181, 184 creation of 184 n.114 Clovis I, king of the Franks, r. 481-511 239 Cohen, Edward 139 Constantia 46 Constantine, officer 148, 188 Constantine I, emperor, r. 306-337 64, 82, 214, 237 Constantinople 19, 21, 23, 25-27, 37-40, 43-44, 49, 51, 53, 56, 60-61, 63, 71, 82-83, 96-97, 99, 106, 110, 121, 127-28, 131, 137-38, 141, 152, 155, 157-58, 160-61, 165, 168-69, 171-73, 175, 177, 184, 186-91, 195, 199, 200, 212, 214, 237-40 Constantius II, emperor, r. 337-361 65, 129, Constantius III, emperor, r. 421 167, 171, 237 Cooper, Kate 72, 183 Corippus, poet, 6th century CE 88, 123 Cosmas, saint 48

courage 17, 27, 46, 79-80, 84, 89, 99, 102-03, 107-09, 113-19, 121, 127, 135, 139-40, 146-47, 153, 197, 206, 211-12 cowardice 75, 89-90, 196-97, 209 Croke, Brian 40,42 crusades 42 Cyrus 136 Damien, saint 48 Dara, battle of 186 205, 239 Demons 46, 49-50, 56, 64 Desertion 122, 160, 167, 205-06, 208 Dio Cassius, historian, 2nd/3rd century CE 33, 65 Diodorus, historian, 1st century CE 72 divorce 172 n.51 domina 174 Downey, Glanville 45 dreams, prophetic 100, 107 Edessa 47, 57 earthquakes 240 effeminancy 28, 74-76, 81, 96, 105, 111, 129 n.22, 137, 147-48, 214 Elsner, Jaś 39, 56 Ennodius, author 5th/6th century CE 77, 79, 207 Erarius, a Rugian, king of the Ostrogoths, 541 195, 240 Eudocia 105, 238 eunuchs 29, 124-34, 137-39, 141-44, 146-47, 149, 151, 153, 173 n.56, 180 Eusebius, author, 4th century CE 107 n.53 Eutropius, consul, eunuch 126-29, 137, 140, 150, 237 Evagrius, historian, 6th/7th-century CE 41, 158-59 Evans, James 40, 45 execubitores 180-81, 184-86 famine 86 n.88, 193, 197 n.23, 198 fear 21, 28, 52, 84-86, 99, 101-10, 112-24, 142, 149, 191, 194, 198 Felicissimus 133-34 femininity 24-26, 28, 73, 94 n.132, 131 n.35, 152; see also effeminancy foederati 134 fortune 48, 74, 86, 113-115, 118, 120, 122, 124, 170, 195-196, 197 n.22, 200, 202, 209; see also chance and tyche. Franks 125, 140-41, 151 Fredegar, historian, 7th-century CE 152 Galla Placidia, empress 167, 237 Gaudentius 167 Gaza 36 Geiseric, king of the Vandals, r. 428-477 10506, 110, 115, 119, 238 Gelimer, king of the Vandals, r. 530-534 100, 105-06, 109-22, 157, 170, 239


gender 21, 24-25, 27-29, 51, 67, 71-75, 80, 83, 85-86, 89, 95, 97, 105, 124-28, 131-33, 139, 141, 145, 148, 150-52, 163, 168, 172, 175, 177-78, 183, 192, 214-15 construction of 25-26, 51 n.116, 67, 72-73, 125, 128, 139, 168, 215 definition of 25-26, 105, 215 rhetoric of 27-28, 71-73, 75, 80-81, 85-86, 95, 97, 111, 126-27, 132-33, 137, 148, 150, 177-78 genre 26, 33, 40-42, 45, 56-57, 59-60, 65-66 Gepids 74 Germanus 59, 61-62, 64, 144, 159, 176-78, 181-91, 194, 211-12, 240 Gibamundus 112 God 46, 48, 50, 52, 74, 100, 108-09, 111, 112-15, 117-18, 141, 150, 193, 195-96, 202 Godas 115, 118 Goffart, Walter 22, 94 Gontharis 164-67, 178 Goths 17, 19-23, 28-29, 37-38, 49, 59, 61-62, 69, 71-74, 76-80, 82-97, 102-03, 108, 111, 125, 125, 130, 133, 140, 142, 144-45, 148-51, 160-61, 171, 190, 193-216, 237-40 Greatrex, Geoffrey 35-36, 50, 55, 58-61, 64-65 Greece 81, 88 Greek language 26 n.43, 40, 72 Gregory, nephew of Artabanes 177 Gregory of Tours, bishop, historian, author, 6th century CE 51-52, 151 Hagia Sophia 191, 239-40 Halsall, Guy 211 Hebblewhite, Mark 116, 204 Heather, Peter 51, 54, 159, 197 Heracleius 106 Heraclius, eunuch 131 Herodotus, historian, 5th century BCE 28, 37, 45, 72, 100, 112 Herules 91-92, 143 Hildabad, king of the Ostrogoths 540-541 19596, 240 Hilderic, king of the Vandals, 523-530 100, 105, 239 hippodrome 34 Hitler, Adolf 52 Holum, Kenneth 33-34 holy men 46-47, 53 Homer, poet, 8th/7 th century BCE 72, 105 Honorius, emperor, r. 395-423 74-75, 167, 237 Huneric, king of the Vandals, r. 477-484 100, 105, 238 Huns 81, 93, 108, 112-13, 116, 119, 127 Hypatius 173, 185-86, 189 n.133, 190 illustris 64, 174 n.62 Illyricum 83, 171 imperium 26, 29, 97 intertextuality 27, 67, 73

243 Isaurians 198 Isidore of Seville, author, 7 th century CE 152 Italo-Romans 20, 28, 71-72, 76, 78-79, 83-85, 88, 92-93, 96-97, 109, 197-99, 201-03, 210, 214 Italy 19-23, 27, 38 n.54, 39, 50 n.12, 59, 63, 71, 76-79, 86, 91, 95-97, 125-27, 132-34, 138, 143-45, 146, 157, 159, 161,181 n.101, 190-91, 194-97, 199-200, 203-06, 211, 237-38, 240 Jesus Christ 35, 45-46 Jews 35, 59, 105, 246 John the Armenian 112, 118, 120 John, brother of Artabanes 164 John the Cappadocian, praetorian prefect 60, 100, 141, 163, 214 John, father of Artabanes 178 n.85 John Haldon 50 John Lydus, author, 6th-century CE 37, 94 John, nephew of Vitalian 88-89 John, son of Pompeius 173 John Troglita 159 Jordanes, historian, 6th-century CE 37, 61, 75, 83, 93, 95 Julian, emperor, r. 361-363 65, 129 Justinian, emperor, r. 527-565 19-20, 22-24, 26-29, 33-34, 36-40, 42-45, 47-56, 58-64, 69, 71, 73, 82-83, 88-90, 94-97, 99-101, 106, 110, 115, 122, 125, 133-34 136-37, 141-45, 148, 155-61, 163, 165-69, 171, 173, 175-91, 184-95, 197, 199, 201-03, 205, 211, 214-15 Justin I, emperor, r. 518-527 73, 182, 186, 191 Justin, son of Germanus 182-84, 186-89 Justin II, emperor, r. 565-574 143, 151-52, 189 Kaiserkritik 65 Kaldellis, Anthony 42, 47, 52, 57, 91, 114, 122, 135, 145, 161, 163, 171, 174, 176, Kokkas 205-06 Komito, sister of Theodora 171-72 Konon 197-99 Kuefler, Mathew 25 Lactanius, author, 4th century CE 107 n.53 Leo I, emperor, r. 457-474 105-06, 132, 180, 190 Leontius 187-88 Leuderis 20 Libanius, author, 4th century CE 65 Liberius 96n.142 Livy, author, 1st century BCE/ 1 st century CE 107 n.53 Lombards 152, 202, 240 loyalty 33, 93 n.125, 116 n.104, 135-36, 142-43, 166, 169-70, 179, 182 n.103, 184, 195, 205 Artabanes to Justinian:166, 169-170 Belisarius to Justinian:142-143, 160, 171 n.44, 184, 195 civic 36 Italo-Romans to the Goths and/or East Romans 71-72 n.5, 83, 93 n.25


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

Justinian to Belisarius:160, 171 n.44 Justinian to Solomon 136-37 Narses to Justinian 142 palace guards to Justinian 179 soldiers to the Roman emperor and/or Empire:116 n.104, 205 Solomon to Justinian 135 Luxurous, poet, 5th century CE 132 Lydus, John, author, 6th century CE 37, 94-95, 100 n.6 Majorian, emperor, r. 457-461 95 n.139, 105 Malalas, John, historian, 6th century CE 32 n.10, 33 n.16, 59 n.158, 131 n.35, 180 n.96 Mammes, battle of 135 manliness 24-25, 27-28, 79-80, 84, 87 n.89, 118, 124-125, 129, 139, 146-147, 169, 184 n.113; see also masculinity Marcellinus Comes, historian, 6th century CE 20 n.11, 37, 82, 83 n.70 Marcellus 38 n.54, 181, 184-89, 215 Marcian, emperor, r. 450-457 75 Marius of Avenches, author, 6th century CE 151 Marius 69 marriages 20, 61, 105 n.40, 167-68, 171-73 of Aëtius and Pelagia 167 n.25 of Belisarius and Antonina 71, 148-150 of Constantius and Galla Placidia 167 n.240 of Justinian and Theodora 36, 71, 158 n.10, 160, 167 n.26, 168 n.29 of Matasuentha and Germanus 61 of Matasuentha and Vitigis 20 of Petronius Maximus and Licinia Eudoxia 105 n.40 of Praejecta and John 173 of Procopius 35 of Sittas and Sophia 172 n.49 Macedonian dynasty 62 masculine 25-27, 29, 73-74, 80-81, 94 n.132, 96, 124, 126-28, 140, 147-150, 153, 166, 168, 170, 178, 204, 206 masculinity 24-28, 34, 47,80 n.56, 81, 97, 124, 126-27, 148, 153, 168, 173, 207 n.66, 214-15; see also manliness ascetics and masculinity 46-47, 80, 200-201 crisis and anxiety 25 definition of 25-26 hegemonic and subordinate 25, n.35 martial virtues and masculinity 46, 80, n.56, 97 Rome’s masculine imperium 26, 29 universalised masculine 25 Matasuentha 20, 61, 189-90 materfamilias 175n.70 Maurice, emperor, r. 582-602 134 n.48 Maximinus 96 n.142, 197 n.21 McDonnell, Myles 26

memory sanctions 174 n.55, 190, 191 n.140 Menander Protector, historian, 6th century CE 11, 44 Mesopatamia 37, 134, 157 Milan 78, 152 Milvian bridge 107 n.53 misogyny 173 n.56; see also prejudice monks 46, 52 Moorhead, John 134 n.52, 143, 158 n.10, 179 Moors 112; see also Berbers mosaics 49, 69 mutiny 38 n.53, 183 Mt. Papua, in Numidia 120 Mt. Sinai, in Egypt 52 Naples 19, 92, 197, 199, 202, 209, 239 Narses 29, 59, 62, 88, 90-93, 125-27, 137-47, 149 n.149, 150-53, 180 n.54, 198, 202 n.44, 204-05, 208, 210, 240 Neo-Platonism 35 n.28 Neville, Leonora 24, 123 Nika revolt 142, 179, 185, 189 n.133, 239 North Africa 19, 27-28, 37-38, 50 n.112, 59, 75-76, 88, 99-101, 105 n.41, 106-08, 111, 115-16, 122-23, 126, 132, 135-37, 143, 153, 157, 159-60, 165 n.12, 166-67, 170, 182, 190, 197, 214, 237-39 Numidia 104 n.36, 113, 119-20, 136 Odoacer 77, 207 n.66, 238 Odysseus 88 Omissi, Adrastos 65, 164 n.11, 174 n.59 Ostrogoths 23, 74, 78, 83, 108, 133, 151, 214; see also Goths use of the term 13 panegyric 55, 56 n.143, 60 Parks, W.H. 44, 54 Paul the Deacon, historian, 8th century CE 152 Paul the Silentiary, author, 6th century CE 191 Patricus 132, 238 Pelagius, pope 200-02, 215 Persarmenia 137, 172, 239 Persia 134, 150, 157-58, 165, 239 Persians 22, 28, 32-38, 47 n.95, 48, 73 n.14, 111-12, 148-49, 157-58, 160, 165-67, 172 n.49, 202 n.44, 239-40 Peter the Patrician 160 n.21, 186 n.123 Peter of Thrace 38 n.54 plague 38, 86 n.88, 158-59, 197 n.21, 240 cause of 159 n.13 impact of 159 n.12 Plato 72 Polybius, historian, 2nd century BCE 72, 81-82 Pompeius 182, 185 n.118, 189 n.133 Pot, Pol 52 Praejecta 167-69, 171, 173, 175, 179 praepositus sacri cubiculi 128, 130, 138 prejudice 22, 139; see also misogony


Prinkipios 209 n.75 Priscus, historian, 5th century CE 80, 131 Procopius of Edessa 35 prostitutes 34, 168 protectores domestici 134 Pseudo-Zachariah, historian, 6th century CE 133 Putin, Vladimir 42 n.79 quaestor 38 Rance, Philip 146, 206 Rantala, Jussi 23 rape 202 Ravenna 19-23, 78, 125, 203 relics 46, 52, 54 Ricimer 142, 238 Rimini, battle of 167 n.25 Ringrose, Kathryn 127, 138-39, 141, 146 Roma, rooster 74 n.19 Romanitas 27, 78 n.40, 79, 94, 97, 133 Rome, city of 19-21, 26, 35, 38, 74, 83, 85, 87, 93-95, 104-05, 115, 121, 141 n.101, 160, 193-94, 198, 200, 202 n.44, 210, 237-40 Romig, Andrew 25 Romulus Augustulus, emperor, r. 476 77 Ross, Alan 31 Rusticiana 202-203 saints 34, 49, 54 Samaritans 35, 59, 240 Sardinia 106, 109, 115, 119 Sassanians 28 scholarii 185-86 Scholasticus, eunuch 126 Seda, eunuch 125, 133 self-control 52, 168-69, 202-203 Seneca, author, 1 st century BCE/1 st century CE 80 Septimius Severus, emperor, r. 193-211 65 Sergius 136-137, 150 set speeches 38, 85, 89, 100, 102-103, 108-09, 111, 116-19, 147, 164-65, 182, 204-05, 214 practical purpose 102-03, 109 rhetorical purpose 84-86, 89 n.104, 100 n.7, 102, 103 n.25, 108 n.62, 112 n.84, 167, 177, 204 Sicily 19, 38 n.53, 96 n.142, 108 n.63, 134-35, 160 n.17, 190 n.136, 239 Sidonius Apollonaris, author, 5th century CE 127 Signes Codoñer, Juan 57, 60-64, 176 n.75, 188 n.128 Silverius, pope 150 n.152 sin 34, 35 n.25 sinner 168 n.29 Sinnion 39 n.54 Sittas 166, 171, 172 n.49 Slaves, actual and metaphorical 87, 121, 137 n.73, 148 173 n.56, 178, 191, 201

245 social media 43 Socrates, historian, 5th century CE 53 Socrates, philosopher, 4th century BCE 81 n.59 Solomon, eunuch-general 29, 103 n.30, 126-128, 133-137, 142-143, 153, 211-212 Sophia, empress 62, 143, 152, 172 n.49 Soura, sack of:202 n.44 Sozomen, historian, 5th century CE 53 spatharii 132, 180 n.94, 181 spatharios 19, 130, 138, 141-142, 180 n.94 Stalin, Josef 52 Stephanus 35 Stilicho 127 n.9, 128-29 Stotzas 136, 167 n.23, 182 Suda 36, 63-64 Syllectus 110 Symmachus, consul 485 77 n.39, 202-203, 239 Synesius of Cyrene, author 4th/5th century 80 Syracuse 33, 36 Syria 46, 47 n. 94, 157, 197 n.23 taxes 33, 159-60, 178-79 Tayyip Erdogan 44 Tëias, Ostrogothic king, r. 552 151, 210 Theodahad, Ostrogothic king 534-536 17, 19, 211 Theoderic, king of the Ostrogoths, 471-525 17, 20, 73, 77-79, 85, 87, 90, 95, 133-34, 190, 194, 202-03, 207, 238-39 Theodora, empress, r. 527-548 35, 45, 49-51, 53, 58-62, 67, 71, 73-74, 137, 141-42, 159-61, 163, 168-169, 171-177, 179, 183, 185-86, 188, 214-15, 238-39 Theodosius, Antonina’s purported lover 149, 183 n.105 Theodosius, patriarch of Alexandria 142 Theodosius I, emperor, r. 379-395 74, 95 n.139, 104, 237 Theodosius II, emperor, r. 408-450 75 n.25, 130, 131 n.35, 237-38 Theophanes, historian, 8th/9th century CE, 180 n.96 Thrace 155, 182, 196 n.17 Thucydides, historian, 5th century BCE 27, 44, 101, 107 n.55, 110 n.73 Tiberius II, emperor, r. 574-582 134 n.48 Titus emperor, r. 79-81, 105 Transcaucasia 167 Treadgold, Warren 36, 39, 42, 56 n.142, 62 n.169 Totila, Ostrogothic king, r. 541-552 29, 88, 90, 140, 146, 151, 161, 193-212, 240 Tougher, Shaun 127, 134, 144, 152 treason 115-16, 177, 183, 185, 187 Turkey 44 Tuscany 17 tyche 74 n.21, 91, 112, 114 n.94, 122, 124, 195-97; see also chance and fortune Tzazon 114-19


Masculinit y, Identit y, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian

Uliaris 120 n.118 unmanliness 72, 74-75, 79, 86, 87 n.89, 90, 97, 128-129, 137, 149-150, 170, 197, 214; see also effeminacy usurpers 105 n.41,151 Valaris 205 n.56 Valerian 88-89 Valentinian III, emperor, r. 425-455 74-76, 104-05, 131, 237 Vandals 19, 21-23, 29, 33, 49, 69, 74, 76, 89, 94-95, 97, 99-101, 104-123, 132-135, 137, 143, 157, 165 n.12, 190, 214, 237-239 Van Nuffelen, Peter 31, 48, 121 Vegetius, author, 5th century CE 101 n.16 Verona 195, 240 Victor of Tunnuna, author, historian 6th century CE 100 n.8, 151, 182 n.102 Vigilius, pope 150 n.152 violence 69, 116, 189 virtus 26, 78-79 Visigoths 23, 74 n.20, 167 n.25, 239-40

Vitalian 62 n.68, 144 Vitigis, Ostrogothic king, r. 536-540 19-21, 38, 61, 83-85, 94, 142, 157, 170n.39, 189, 194-195, 199, 210-11, 239-40 Whately, Conor 42, 49 n.109, 107 n.53,144 n.119, 204 Whitby, Mary 186 Whitby, Michael 193 Williams, Craig 26 Witigis see Vitigis Women 25-26, 34, 129, 138, 148, 167-69, 173-75, 202 n.44 Wood, Ian 51 Xenophon author, 4th century BCE 72 Xerxes 100, 107 n.53 Zeno, emperor, r. 474-491 77, 238 Zoroastrians 166 Zosimus, historian, 6th century CE 35, 82