Monthly Archives: September 2016

Headed to the “Zoo

Ï am headed to give a paper in Kalamazoo next May. Jon Arnold was kind enough to invite me to his session on barbarians and barbarian kingdoms. I am also just finishing up with the final proofs of my forthcoming book The Soldier’s Life, which really look great. The editor has done a fine job, particularly with the images.Once this is finished, a project which lasted 15 years will be done and dusted. This should give me time to start on the Procopius book.

I am also busy with 220 or so students…December can not come soon enough. What follows is an abstract (draft) for my paper, enjoy!


The Fine Line between Fear and Courage in Book III of Procopius’s Vandalic Wars


Fear plays a vital if subtle role in the Wars of the mid sixth-century Byzantine historian Procopius. Book III, describing the East Roman’s attempts to wrest North Africa from the Vandals, particularly relies upon the Greek concept of fear as a narrative tool. Several important articles have recently stressed Procopius’ heavy emphasis on the Romans’ foreboding when the Emperor Justinian announced that he was readying to confront the Vandals. According to Wars, Justinian’s magistrates and generals acutely feared a repeat of the disastrous naval campaign in 468 against the Vandals under the Emperor Leo I, which had seen the Roman navy destroyed by Vandal fire-ships and East Rome nearly bankrupted. Only the praetorian prefect John the Cappadocian, however, had the nerve to warn the emperor about the “folly” of his venture. Following John’s advice, Justinian relented and abandoned temporally his plan for war. Only when a visiting bishop advised the emperor that God had visited him in a dream and commanded the bishop to remind Justinian that God would too fight on his side “and make him master of Libya”, was the emperor’s confidence in the invasion restored.

The papers mentioned above, have used this and subsequent episodes in book III of Wars, which accentuate  Belisarius and Procopius’ concerns for the prospects of the impending campaign, to suggest that not only was the historian not the general’s apologist, but, indeed, sought to paint Belisarius and the East Roman army in a hostile light. For these revisionists, it offers further proof that Procopius was against Justinian’s reconquest from the beginning. This paper will refute all of these claims. It will suggest that the views discussed above simplify not only the role that fear plays in Procopius and other early Byzantine writers, but misunderstand the complex early Byzantine concept of fear. Far from a negative trait, fear represented an essential aspect of sound generalship and soldiering in Wars. Procopius, in fact, echoes notions found in Aristotle and early Byzantine military manuals that demonstrate that fear when properly controlled represented an essential quality for good generals and manly soldiers to possess. Indeed, in Wars courageous and manly men—both Roman and non-Roman—were often those who followed Aristotle’s famous adage that andreios men feared neither too much nor too little.