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.


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