Monthly Archives: October 2014

Writing and Maple Syrup


Writing for me has always been a bit like making maple syrup. As a kid growing up in Vermont, my mom would send me and my sisters out into the freezing cold armed only with hammers, spigots, hooks and buckets. After hours of work, and a few smashed fingers, about twelve of our Maple trees would begin the drip by drip process of filling our cavernous steel-grey buckets. Only after an agonizingly long period….I was eight and never very patient….would we have enough sap to try and make some syrup. I still remember my despair upon learning that it took 86 gallons of sap to make a gallon of tasty syrup. It did not seem very fair, but my mom reminded me that all good things took hard work, time, and the involvement of many like-minded individuals. At the end of the day, I enjoyed that syrup and maple candy….enough…

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Generalship in Procopius

Busy creating a database on the full range of qualities for “good” and “bad” generals in Procopius for a paper on Generalship. A bit tedious, but I want to lay out the range of values to and Greek terms used by Procopius, though I may get sick of typing out agathos ta polemia.  I am not just listing terms but qualities. I think that Narses is the only general he describes as oxus (sharp), though despite the claim of others it is not eunuch-specific because he describes Justinian as oxus as well. Procopius three eunuch-generals, at first glance, all seem to be described in largely non-gendered ways. One thinks, however, that if Narses had suffered any major defeats the tide would have turned (there are signs of this in seventh-century western sources) as it did in later Byzantine scholarship when a Byzantine eunuch commander was defeated.

Any general eunuch or eunuch risked being labelled as unmanly softies; starting with the non-eunuch generals Sergius and Aerobindus, it seems in Procopius mind, that anandros or malthakos men were the unsuccessful generals. One’s manliness or unmanliness then is largely (with exceptions, Teias comes to mind) determined by results on the battlefield. and the opposite way when he struggles…it also might make uncovering Procopius “true” opinions on Belisarius more nuanced than is seen in much of the recent literature. This is not to say that tyche (chance) and providence don’t play a part as well, but unlike Kaldellis, I do not think these are the primary forms of causation in Wars or Secret History. For instance, in SH it is almost purely Belisarius’ effeminization at the hands of Antonina that causes the problems for him politically and his military campaigns. Recapture his manliness and in Procopius’ telling things in the private and public domain would quickly improve. This model helps us understand how P could swiftly reverse judgements and invert character traits that most moderns consider more steadfast.

This research mostly stems from my work on Narses who is described by P and his successor Agathias as an Andreios man. Gendered vocabulary plays little role in the entire account of Narses, which is interesting since it plays such a big role in the whole Roman/Greek Goth/barbarian debate in Gothic Wars. So too, are numerous other generals described in both positive and negative gendered ways…so we will see where this leads….pun intended… since I will hopefully be giving a paper based on this research at Leeds 2015.


Here is a sample of part of the database I am setting up:

ἀνανδρία–(and cognates): unmanliness, cowardice. Procopius, Secret History 4.23 (Belisarius’ political and domestic turmoil cause him to be tormented by fear which was cowardly and ἀνανδροις). Wars 4.22.2 (Roman general Sergius as ἄνανδρος and μαλθακος) Wars 4.26.9 (Roman general Areobindus slandered as ἄνανδρος Wars 5.9.1 (Procopius describes Gothic rex Theodahad as ἄνανδρος by nature). Wars 5.27.21 (Vitigis insists that ἀνανδρῳ had caused a Gothic defeat). Wars 6.18.14 (Belisarius warns his generals that the Goths’ previous defeats were not due to ἀνανδρία). Wars 6.29.34 (Gothic women accuse Gothic soldiers of ἄνανδριαν). Wars 6.30.5 (Vitigis is described by the Goths at the end of his reign as ἀνάνδρως and unlucky). Wars 8.23.25 (Goth describes Byzantine soldiers as by nature ἄνανδροι). Wars 8.23.26 (A Gothic commander argues that when one merely despises ἀνανδρία, it thrives).


ἀνδρεία–(and cognates): manliness, bravery, courage. Procopius, Wars 5.1.27 (Procopius suggests that Theoderic’s combination of ἀνδρίας and wisdom allowed him to protect Italy from barbarian invaders). Wars 5.2.12 (One faction of Goths contend that ἀνδρίας was far removed from a literary education). Wars 5.11.20-1 (Vitigis proclaims that the title of the coward, fittingly applied, has saved many, while the reputation for ἀνδρείας, which some men have gained at the wrong time, has afterward led them to defeat). Wars 5.20.9-10 (Gothic ambassador explains to the Italians and the Byzantines that rashness was different from ἀνδρεία). Wars 6.26.13 (Vitigis calls on the Goths to endure ἀνδρείως). Wars 7.40.9 (Procopius eulogises the Byzantine general Germanus by calling him an ἀνηρ ἀνδρεῖός). Wars 8.3.7 (In Procopius’ telling, after all of their male soldiers died in a previous battle, the Amazons were still able to make display of ἀνδρεῖα).


ἄρρην–masculine, manly, strong. Procopius, Secret History 4.26 (Ruled by his wife Antonina Belisarius’ ἀρρενωπὸν dwindles) Wars 5.2.3. (Procopius describes Amalasuintha as displaying very much an ἀρρενωπὸν nature). Wars 8.3.7 (According to Procopius, the death of all their male soldiers forced the Amazons to put on ἀρρενωπὸν).

3.Sergius: Bad: Procopius blamed the general Sergius’failures in North Africa on his ‘soft’ [μαλθακòς] and ‘effeminate nature’ [γνáθους φυσων]. Nephew? Stupid and Young komide and neos.4.22.2 ἄνανδρος and fond of other peoples wives and goods.

Good: He was agathos ta polemia

Why no Narses in Procopius’ Secret History?

Sorry I have been away for a bit. I have been writing a bit on my old friend the eunuch Narses. I have asked this question before, but relooking at my old work has brought up why Narses does not appear in Procopius’ Secret History. Moreover, when the Goths (and they do so frequently in Gothic Wars) disparage the Eastern Romans as unmanly Greeks fond of plays and other unmanly things in Wars, they make no mention of their use of eunuch-commanders as a further sign of their unmanly nature, though this may of course be because we know the Goths themselves used eunuchs. Here is a short blurb from one those papers:

Though it is always dangerous to make an argument based on omission, it is interesting that Narses does not appear at all in Secret History. If Procopius was writing around 552 (though 550-51 is the probable date) , then he may well have been aware of Narses’ appointment as commander-in-chief.[i] Indeed, even if he had not yet been appointed, one would think that his influential role in Justinian’s army and rivalry with Belisarius should have merited some comment. Like Eutropius a century and a half earlier, Narses as a eunuch-commander would have seemed to have made a perfect target for a historian so fond of gendered invective. Yet Procopius says nothing. Of course Procopius seems pretty accepting of eunuchs’ role in Byzantine civilisation. Procopius seems to have seen Narses as a male in sex and gender. This does not mean that Narses evaded all gendered jibes. Procopius’ continuer Agathias used the eunuch trope in his history. Yet he turns it on its head. Agathias, in fact, seemingly took pleasure in rejecting this trope by depicting two Alamanni warriors in a Frankish army assuming foolishly that they would best the Romans in battle because ‘a eunuch of the bedchamber’ commanded their army. Guided magnificently by Narses, the Roman army annihilated the Franks.[ii]

So Procopius was probably aware of these gendered attitudes towards eunuch, but he chose not to use them. Is this a sign of a lessoning of hostility towards eunuchs from the sixth century as argued by Tougher and Ringrose? Perhaps. Or maybe Procopius hoped to serve in Narses’ command? Perhaps, but impossible to prove. Or maybe he just did not get around to it since Anecdota was hastily composed, and after Narses’ achieved his dramatic and somewhat surprising victories over the Goths in Franks from 552-554, it would have made the whole work rather pointless. Any thoughts?

[i]J.A.S. Evans, “The Dates of Procopius’ Works,” Greek and Byzantine Studies 37 (1996): 301-320, Cameron, Procopius, 8-11, and Geoffrey Greatrex, “The Dates of Procopius’ Works,” BMGS 18 (1994), 101-14.

14Agathias, Histories 1.6.8, 1.22.6.