Procopius' Secret History
By Procopius of Caesarea
Published in 550 AD
Thibault’s Score: 3/5
Procopius was one of Emperor Justinian’s advisors. He wrote several histories of the emperor during his lifetime, all of which praised him. However, once Justinian died, he wrote a final “secret” history, repudiating everything he had written earlier.
The secret history is a long laundry list of reasons why one should hate Justinian. Procopius hurls every conceivable insult at Justinian, his wife Theodora, and his other officials. He accuses Theodra of being a prostitute, implying she would participate in orgies. He calls Justinian bloodthirsty, reminding the reader of how much the emperor likes war and raises taxes to pay for such wars.
Procopius goes as far as alleging that Justinian is a literal demon. He brings up rumors that Justinian didn’t need to sleep or drink. He also points out that the emperor would metamorphosize into a faceless monster. Finally, Procopius blames Justinian for the earthquakes and plagues affecting the empire.
I love reading primary sources. But this one was very boring. Every chapter reads like the previous one - another reason to hate Justinian. The history doesn’t feel objective, reading like an anti-Obama hit piece from Breitbart.
The period is quite interesting - the transition from Late Antiquity to the Middle Ages is apparent. Procopius still views himself as a Roman, simply living in a world where Rome itself has become a foreign nation. His religion is nominally Christian, but the way he writes is more reminiscent of a Tacitus or a Polybius.
This book is a must read for the serious historians of the period, but should probably be skipped by amateurs.
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