Agathias on Procopius’ Gothic Wars

I created this blog originally as a place to share my often caffeine induced shards of discombobulated thoughts. These shards sometimes, however, lead to better things. Three weeks ago I posted a draft of a future article on notions of return in Procopius’ Gothic Wars. Unlike many papers, this one progressed rapidly and last week I sent off the first draft to a journal for peer review. It will likely be months before I hear anything, but today medievalists.net picked it up so for those interested in seeing a more polished version of this original blog you can see it here: http://www.medievalists.net/2014/09/06/justinians-reconquest-notions-return-procopius-gothic-wars/. This is the quandary facing scholar’s instantaneous feedback versus the more traditional approach that will lead to a slightly more polished piece. So forgive any typos or stilted prose I will be working on those.

This brings me to one of my secondary points raised in this article, the notion of Procopius’ attitude towards Justinian’s reconquest, which I argue ends on a positive note. Scholars like Kaldellis have argued for a more cryptic Procopian view shared by a group of like-minded ant-Justinian intellectuals. Yet it is funny that a contemporary that we know had read Wars deeply Agathias say nothing about this hidden agenda, which seems to be an invention of modern scholars. So what follows is how Agathias summarised what he thought to be the main points of Gothic Wars. It is necessary to quote in full (my interjections will be in bold):

After the Persian Wars the scene shifts to the West and the death of Theoderic the Goths and the murder of Amalasuintha by Theodahad and all of the events which occasioned the outbreak of the Gothic War, and then told the story of Vitigis who succeeded Theodahad as ruler of the Goths was, after prolonged fighting, captured by Belisarius, and taken to Constantinople, and of how Italy, Sicily, and Rome cast off the yoke of foreign domination and were restored to their ancient way of life. Procopius then provides an account of the Italian expedition of the eunuch Narses, who was made Commander-in-Chief by Justinian, of his brilliantly executed campaigns against Totila, and how after the death of Totila, Teïas succeeded the leadership of the Goths and how not long afterwards he too was slain.

Okay pretty basic, but one would think that if Procopius had intended to create a negative portrait of the campaign his continuer Agathias would have noticed it. A hidden message does little good if the intended audience does not notice it. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, the fact that we live in a post-Vietnam post- Iraq world has caused many modern scholars to pick out the negative parts of Procopius’ history, while ignoring the more positive parts. Indeed, even the parts that the modern audience sees as negative are not necessarily so e.g. Teïas’ death and the slaughter of native Italians. The modern view of Justinian as a murdering despot is largely anachronistic….a view which my scholarly hero Averil Cameron supported in a tweet to me.

Cheers for now….

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