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The Secret History (1935)

by Procopius

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,5602811,662 (3.67)1 / 121
Procopius, born at Caesarea in Palestine late in the 5th century, became a lawyer. In 527 CE he was made legal adviser and secretary of Belisarius, commander against the Persians, and went with Belisarius again in 533 against the Vandals and in 535 against the Ostrogoths. Sometime after 540 he returned to Constantinople. He may have been that Procopius who was prefect of Constantinople in 562, but the date of his death (after 558) is unknown.Procopius's History of the Wars in 8 books recounts the Persian Wars of emperors Justinus and Justinian down to 550 (2 books); the Vandalic War and after-events in Africa 532-546 (2 books); the Gothic War against the Ostrogoths in Sicily and Italy 536-552 (3 books); and a sketch of events to 554 (1 book). The whole consists largely of military history, with much information about peoples and places as well, and about special events. He was a diligent, careful, judicious narrator of facts and developments and shows good powers of description. He is just to the empire's enemies and boldly criticises emperor Justinian. Other works by Procopius are the Anecdota or Secret History-vehement attacks on Justinian, Theodora, and others; and The Buildings of Justinian (down to 558 CE) including roads and bridges as well as churches, forts, hospitals, and so on in various parts of the empire.The Loeb Classical Library edition of Procopius is in seven volumes.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
This was a tell-all by Procopius, who served as the official scribe and historian for Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora. (6th century) Procopius wrote what historians consider a respectable if not propagandistic war history of Justinian's reign. The publication of this book did not happen until after his death. One could only imagine the horrors this author would have been subjected to if he were alive when published. Is it true? Probably some of it; though to what degree or percentage one will never know. Most scandalous was the sexual appetite of Theodora. Evidently one of her favorite sexual escapades was sprinkling her genitals with grain and allowing geese and ducks to peck off the grains. ???? We do know that Procopius' numbers were incorrect as he uses the number 1 trillion to describe the number of people that Justinian slew. That was more than the total world population at that time, especially since part of these years were plague years. Favorite "new" word--rapine (violent seizure of someone's property) ( )
  Tess_W | Apr 5, 2024 |
Imagine a man with insider knowledge (and probably more than one ducked knife/arrow/poison during his career) and disillusioned with situation around him.

What can he do but write a publication into which he will pour as much of his poison as he can and make sure nobody finds out about it until he is safely dead.

Now lets make some things clear - this is period when people lose life on a basis of a gossip (advancement today is that nobody gets killed but yes it can get complicated) or simply because somebody does not like them (privileges when executioner also writes the laws). Imagine you are a writer with almost ultimate academic status and you have a very good job at court (government join with all the perks but also with all of the dangers because management anger or management change usually meant removal of entire chain). So you get a job to write historical works about the ruler's achievements (Justinian's wars and building achievements) but at the very same moment you witness things that don't go so well with you (one theory says one possible reason for this book was to secure survival in case of regime change, but I think this was product of a grudge because if it weren't I think book would not survive at all, what would be the reasoning?), some possibly set against you personally but, you know, you prefer living. So what do you do? You start writing a very sensitive document and hope nobody finds it while you are alive.

The way rulers are portrayed in my opinion is not an exaggeration at all - they both are rules of life and death, capable schemers and not hesitant when it comes to stab/back-stab whoever needs it. Do we actually think that ruthlessness of old Roman Emperors died with rise of Christianity? In days when Popes were warrior Popes (not to mentione Borgias almost a millennia later - they resonate dont they?) . If you think portrayal is too much - believe me same behavior can be found in any Eastern European country post Berlin Wall fall. Some of these tyrants might be romanticized by West because of anti-Russian sentiment and "open market" approach but believe me it took around 20 years to make sure elected government officials are at least kept responsible and not constantly stealing in some of these states. And now imagine position where you can order cities completely destroyed and everyone killed. You know how they say - power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

And one more thing about the book itself and it possible effect on society. I am very sure that Justinians and Theodora's acts would be that shocking at the time (6th century). This could be shocking in Renaissance period but for contemporaries this would be juicy (to a degree) but condemning to initiate the revolt and overthrow - I dont think so (I mean, even from today's perspective if they had good PR Justy and Thea would not have to worry at all (and yes, that's what our society became)). When you look at what they did it differs not from any of their contemporaries in power or pretending to gain power. These were much cruder times.

And do remember Justinian and Theodora re not the only ones mentioned. There is a plethora of characters in the book that are pillaging and murdering their subjects, that work under protection of Justinian and his wife or suddenly find themselves targeted by them, then forgiven (and possibly killed immediately afterward).

Excellent little book that proves that there is an universal pattern to human behavior. And if you want to see how good is someone give then the ultimate power (but truly you should not do this ever - always elect them for a limited term and do a litmus test). ( )
  Zare | Jan 23, 2024 |
A fascinating if depressing read, an examination of the damage that can be wrought on society by a single person and those encouraged to match them in corruption and avarice. We have learned nothing since this book was written. ( )
  soylentgreen23 | Feb 17, 2023 |
The scandals of the rulers of the Byzantine Empire are chronicled in this engaging narrative. One wonders at the nature of the age and how the rulers maintained the power of the Byzantine Empire. ( )
  jwhenderson | Aug 24, 2022 |
I was prompted to read this account of the life and times of the late Roman/Byzantine emperor Justinian and his consort Theodora from listening to a series of episodes about them on the Rest of History podcast channel this week. Procopius writing in the 6th century AD was one of the last significant historians of the old Roman Empire, despite being from the western Latin half he wrote his works in Greek, the language of the Byzantine Empire based in Constantinople that saw itself as the inheritor of the original Roman Empire. Procopius's original work on the wars Justinian waged to expand the Empire were seen as too uncritical and propagandistic and, as if to compensate, he wrote this work in secret, only to be published after the Emperor's and his own death. Fair enough perhaps, but this work is comically absurd in its exaggerations. His hatred of Justinian and Theodora is such that he says "these two seemed not to be human beings, but veritable demons, and what the poets call vampires: who laid their heads together to see how they could most easily and quickly destroy the race and deeds of men; and assuming human bodies, became man-demons, and so convulsed the world". On various occasions he claims that "Justinian's head vanished, while the rest of his body seemed to ebb and flow" or that "of a sudden the face changed into a shapeless mass of flesh, with neither eyebrows nor eyes in their proper places, nor any other distinguishing feature". Furthermore in a claim wild even by the numerical standards of pre-modern historians, Procopius writes "Examining the countries that he made desolate of inhabitants, I would say he slew a trillion people"; a trillion is some 120 times the total world population even now in 2022, never mind in the 6th century, in the process also blaming the rulers for earthquakes and plagues. The tone of the narrative makes it difficult to take Procopius seriously as a historian, colourful and extravagant (and rather confusing) though it is. ( )
  john257hopper | Aug 12, 2022 |
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» Add other authors (112 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Procopiusprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Williamson, G. A.Translatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Atwater, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Boak, Arthur E.R.Forewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dewing, Henry BronsonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Linnér, StureTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nadaud, AlainIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Renan, ErnestTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sarris, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ziegler, PhilipIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In recording everything that the Roman people has experienced in successive wars up to the time of writing I have followed this plan—that of arranging all the events described as far as possible in accordance with the actual times and places.
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Procopius, born at Caesarea in Palestine late in the 5th century, became a lawyer. In 527 CE he was made legal adviser and secretary of Belisarius, commander against the Persians, and went with Belisarius again in 533 against the Vandals and in 535 against the Ostrogoths. Sometime after 540 he returned to Constantinople. He may have been that Procopius who was prefect of Constantinople in 562, but the date of his death (after 558) is unknown.Procopius's History of the Wars in 8 books recounts the Persian Wars of emperors Justinus and Justinian down to 550 (2 books); the Vandalic War and after-events in Africa 532-546 (2 books); the Gothic War against the Ostrogoths in Sicily and Italy 536-552 (3 books); and a sketch of events to 554 (1 book). The whole consists largely of military history, with much information about peoples and places as well, and about special events. He was a diligent, careful, judicious narrator of facts and developments and shows good powers of description. He is just to the empire's enemies and boldly criticises emperor Justinian. Other works by Procopius are the Anecdota or Secret History-vehement attacks on Justinian, Theodora, and others; and The Buildings of Justinian (down to 558 CE) including roads and bridges as well as churches, forts, hospitals, and so on in various parts of the empire.The Loeb Classical Library edition of Procopius is in seven volumes.

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