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Procopius of Caesarea

Wace's Dictionary of Early Christian Biography

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Procopius (9) of Caesarea , Byzantine historian. Born at Caesarea in Palestine, he went during the reign of Anastasius to Constantinople, where he taught rhetoric and pleaded in the courts.

We meet him first c . 527, when he was sent by Justinian to accompany Belisarius, as secretary and privy councillor, in his expeditions against the Persians. In 533 he was with him in Africa, warring against the Vandals, and, after their subjection, was left behind to reduce the conquered into order. A mutiny of the soldiers drove him in 536 to Sicily, which Belisarius was then engaged in reducing, and he accompanied the latter into Italy in his campaign against the Goths. In 542 Procopius returned to Constantinople, where he seems to have remained to the end of his life, devoting himself mainly to writing a history of the expeditions, in which he had borne no unimportant part.

It is a question whether he was a Christian or a heathen. He speaks of the church of St. Sophia at Constantinople as the temple of the great Christ of God (τὸ ἱερὸν τοῦ μεγάλου Χριστοῦ τοῦ Θεοῦ , de Bell. Vandal. i. 6). He describes Jesus as the Son of God Who went about clothed with a human body, shewing that He was the Son of God both by His sinless life and His superhuman deeds ( de Bell. Pers. ii. 12). Christians are in his eyes those who have right opinions respecting God ( de Bell. Vandal. i. 21). The Virgin Mary is often mentioned under the name θεοτόκος ( e.g. de Aedif. v. 7). The Hellenic religion is alluded to as impiety ( ib. vi. 4). On the other hand, he often alludes alike to Christians and heretics as if he occupied a calm position superior to them both ( de Bell. Pers. i. 18). The controversies of the church had done much to alienate him from doctrinal Christianity; and, though he does speak at times as if he had embraced some of its distinct tenets, it is hardly possible to think that he had done so in the sense of regarding them as an express revelation of divine truth to man.

His works consist of a history of the Persian war from 408 to 549; a history of the war with the Vandals in Africa from 395 to 545; a history of the Gothic wars in Italy from 487 to 574; a work de Aedificiis Justiniani Imp.; and a work entitled Anecdota or a secret history of Justinian, the empress Theodora, Belisarius, his wife Antonina, and others of the court. This last, intended for publication only after the author's death, is described by Cave in the strongest terms of reprobation, as written to shew the court of Justinian as no better than a diabolorum lerna , and as exhibiting such audacity, falsehood, calumny, and charges of unheard-of crimes, that it has been doubted whether Procopius really wrote it. (See Schröckh, vol. xvi. p. 168, etc.)

As to the value of the three works first mentioned there can be no doubt. Procopius had enjoyed most favourable opportunities of acquainting himself with the events he describes. Gibbon draws largely on the "sober testimony of Procopius," and also describes him as "the gravest historian of the times" (c. xxxviii.).

De Aedificiis is throughout a tribute to the glory of Justinian. It is devoted to a description of the great buildings, temples, forts, castles, bridges, monasteries, and structures of every description erected by Justinian in all the different parts of the Roman empire.

The works of Procopius may be consulted with advantage for information on such points as the condition of the nations and tribes of the Abasgi, Bruchi, Alani, Franks, Goths, Huns, Persians, Vandals; the wars of Belisarius, his character and life; geographical notices of towns, rivers, seas, mountains, and countries over a widespread area; the names of the bishops, and the ecclesiastical occurrences of his time, etc. The best ed. is that of Dindorf in the Corpus Script. Hist. Byz. , with the Latin trans. of Maltritus.


Bibliography Information
Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Procopius of Caesarea'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography.​dictionaries/​eng/​hwd/​p/procopius-of-caesarea.html. 1911.