Secret History

Work Name: Secret History
Work Type: Historiography
Date: c. 550
Movement: Medieval Literature

Secret History

Procopius's now famous Anecdota also known as Secret History (Greek: , Apkryphe Histora; Latin: Historia Arcana) was discovered centuries later at the Vatican Library in Rome and published in Lyon by Niccol Alamanni in 1623. Its existence was already known from the Suda, which referred to it as Procopius's "unpublished works" containing "comedy" and "invective" of Justinian, Theodora, Belisarius and Antonina. The Secret History covers roughly the same years as the first seven books of The History of the Wars and appears to have been written after they were published. Current consensus generally dates it to 550, or less commonly, 558.

In the eyes of many scholars, the Secret History reveals an author who had become deeply disillusioned with Emperor Justinian, his wife Theodora, the general Belisarius, and his wife Antonina. The work claims to expose the secret springs of their public actions, as well as the private lives of the emperor and his entourage. Justinian is portrayed as cruel, venal, prodigal, and incompetent. In one passage, it is even claimed that he was possessed by demonic spirits or was himself a demon:

And some of those who have been with Justinian at the palace late at night, men who were pure of spirit, have thought they saw a strange demoniac form taking his place. One man said that the Emperor suddenly rose from his throne and walked about, and indeed he was never wont to remain sitting for long, and immediately Justinian's head vanished, while the rest of his body seemed to ebb and flow; whereat the beholder stood aghast and fearful, wondering if his eyes were deceiving him. But presently he perceived the vanished head filling out and joining the body again as strangely as it had left it.

Similarly, the Theodora of the Secret History is a garish portrait of vulgarity and insatiable lust juxtaposed with cold-blooded self-interest, shrewishness, and envious and fearful mean-spiritedness. Among the more titillating (and dubious) revelations in the Secret History is Procopius's account of Theodora's thespian accomplishments:

Often, even in the theatre, in the sight of all the people, she removed her costume and stood nude in their midst, except for a girdle about the groin: not that she was abashed at revealing that, too, to the audience, but because there was a law against appearing altogether naked on the stage, without at least this much of a fig-leaf. Covered thus with a ribbon, she would sink down to the stage floor and recline on her back. Slaves to whom the duty was entrusted would then scatter grains of barley from above into the calyx of this passion flower, whence geese, trained for the purpose, would next pick the grains one by one with their bills and eat.

Furthermore, Secret History portrays Belisarius as a weak man completely emasculated by his wife, Antonina, who is portrayed in very similar terms to Theodora. They are both said to be former actresses and close friends. Procopius claimed Antonina worked as an agent for Theodora against Belisarius, and had an ongoing affair with Belisarius' godson, Theodosius.

On the other hand, it has been argued that Procopius prepared the Secret History as an exaggerated document out of fear that a conspiracy might overthrow Justinian's regime, whichas a kind of court historianmight be reckoned to include him. The unpublished manuscript would then have been a kind of insurance, which could be offered to the new ruler as a way to avoid execution or exile after the coup. If this hypothesis were correct, the Secret History would not be proof that Procopius hated Justinian or Theodora.

Further reading

  • Adshead, Katherine: Procopius' Poliorcetica: continuities and discontinuities, in: G. Clarke et al. (eds.): Reading the past in late antiquity, Australian National UP, Rushcutters Bay 1990, pp.93119
  • Alonso-Nez, J. M.: Jordanes and Procopius on Northern Europe, in: Nottingham Medieval Studies 31 (1987), 116.
  • Amitay, Ory: Procopius of Caesarea and the Girgashite Diaspora, in: Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 20 (2011), 257276.
  • Anagnostakis, Ilias: Procopius's dream before the campaign against Libya: a reading of Wars 3.12.1-5, in: C. Angelidi and G. Calofonos (eds.), Dreaming in Byzantium and Beyond, Farnham: Ashgate Publishing 2014, 7994.
  • Bachrach, Bernard S.: Procopius, Agathias and the Frankish Military, in: Speculum 45 (1970), 435441.
  • Bachrach, Bernard S.: Procopius and the chronology of Clovis's reign, in: Viator 1 (1970), 2132.
  • Baldwin, Barry: An Aphorism in Procopius, in: Rheinisches Museum fr Philologie 125 (1982), 309311.
  • Baldwin, Barry: Sexual Rhetoric in Procopius, in: Mnemosyne 40 (1987), pp.150152
  • Belke, Klaus: Prokops De aedificiis, Buch V, zu Kleinasien, in: Antiquit Tardive 8 (2000), 115125.
  • Brm, Henning: Prokop und die Perser. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2007. (Review in English by G. Greatrex and Review in English by A. Kaldellis)
  • Brm, Henning: Procopius of Caesarea, in Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, New York 2013.
  • Brm, Henning: Procopius, his predecessors, and the genesis of the Anecdota: Antimonarchic discourse in late antique historiography, in: H. Brm (ed.): Antimonarchic discourse in Antiquity. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag 2015, 305346.
  • Braund, David: Procopius on the Economy of Lazica, in: The Classical Quarterly 41 (1991), 221225.
  • Brodka, Dariusz: Die Geschichtsphilosophie in der sptantiken Historiographie. Studien zu Prokopios von Kaisareia, Agathias von Myrina und Theophylaktos Simokattes. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2004.
  • Burn, A. R.: Procopius and the island of ghosts, in: English Historical Review 70 (1955), 258261.
  • Cameron, Averil: Procopius and the Sixth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.
  • Cameron, Averil: The scepticism of Procopius, in: Historia 15 (1966), 466482.
  • Colvin, Ian: Reporting Battles and Understanding Campaigns in Procopius and Agathias: Classicising Historians' Use of Archived Documents as Sources, in: A. Sarantis (ed.): War and warfare in late antiquity. Current perspectives, Leiden: Brill 2013, 571598.
  • Cresci, Lia Raffaella: Procopio al confine tra due tradizioni storiografiche, in: Rivista di Filologia e di Istruzione Classica 129 (2001), 6177.
  • Cristini, Marco: Il seguito ostrogoto di Amalafrida: confutazione di Procopio, Bellum Vandalicum 1.8.12, in: Klio 99 (2017), 278289.
  • Croke, Brian and James Crow: Procopius and Dara, in: The Journal of Roman Studies 73 (1983), 143159.
  • Downey, Glanville: The Composition of Procopius, De Aedificiis, in: Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 78 (1947), 171183.
  • Evans, James A. S.: Justinian and the Historian Procopius, in: Greece & Rome 17 (1970), 218223.
  • Evans, James A. S.: Procopius. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1972.
  • Gordon, C. D.: Procopius and Justinian's Financial Policies, in: Phoenix 13 (1959), 2330.
  • Greatrex, Geoffrey: Procopius and the Persian Wars, D. Phil. thesis, Oxford, 1994.
  • Greatrex, Geoffrey: The dates of Procopius' works, in: BMGS 18 (1994), 101114.
  • Greatrex, Geoffrey: The Composition of Procopius' Persian Wars and John the Cappadocian, in: Prudentia 27 (1995), 113.
  • Greatrex, Geoffrey: Rome and Persia at War, 502532. London: Francis Cairns, 1998.
  • Greatrex, Geoffrey: Recent work on Procopius and the composition of Wars VIII, in: BMGS 27 (2003), 4567.
  • Greatrex, Geoffrey: Perceptions of Procopius in Recent Scholarship, in: Histos 8 (2014), 76121 and 121ae (addenda).
  • Howard-Johnson, James: The Education and Expertise of Procopius, in: Antiquit Tardive 10 (2002), 1930
  • Kaegi, Walter: Procopius the military historian, in: Byzantinische Forschungen. 15, 1990, ISSN0167-5346, 5385 (online (PDF; 989 KB)).
  • Kaldellis, Anthony: Classicism, Barbarism, and Warfare: Prokopios and the Conservative Reaction to Later Roman Military Policy, American Journal of Ancient History, n.s. 3-4 (2004-2005 [2007]), 189218.
  • Kaldellis, Anthony: Identifying Dissident Circles in Sixth-Century Byzantium: The Friendship of Prokopios and Ioannes Lydos, Florilegium, Vol. 21 (2004), 1-17.
  • Kaldellis, Anthony: Procopius of Caesarea: Tyranny, History and Philosophy at the End of Antiquity. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.
  • Kaldellis, Anthony: Prokopios Persian War: A Thematic and Literary Analysis, in: R. Macrides, ed., History as Literature in Byzantium, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2010, 253273.
  • Kaldellis, Anthony: Prokopios Vandal War: Thematic Trajectories and Hidden Transcripts, in: S. T. Stevens & J. Conant, eds., North Africa under Byzantium and Early Islam, Washington, D.C: Dumbarton Oaks, 2016, 1321.
  • Kaldellis, Anthony: The Date and Structure of Prokopios Secret History and his Projected Work on Church History, in: Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies, Vol. 49 (2009), 585616.
  • Kruse, Marion: The Speech of the Armenians in Procopius: Justinian's Foreign Policy and the Transition between Books 1 and 2 of the Wars, in: The Classical Quarterly 63 (2013), 866881.
  • Kovcs, Tams: "Procopius's Sibyl - the fall of Vitigis and the Ostrogoths", Graeco-Latina Brunensia 24.2 (2019), 113124.
  • Lillington-Martin, Christopher, 20072017:
    • 2007, "Archaeological and Ancient Literary Evidence for a Battle near Dara Gap, Turkey, AD 530: Topography, Texts and Trenches" in BAR S1717, 2007 The Late Roman Army in the Near East from Diocletian to the Arab Conquest Proceedings of a colloquium held at Potenza, Acerenza and Matera, Italy edited by Ariel S. Lewin and Pietrina Pellegrini, pp.299311;
    • 2009, "Procopius, Belisarius and the Goths" in Journal of the Oxford University History Society,(2009) Odd Alliances edited by Heather Ellis and Graciela Iglesias Rogers. ISSN1742-917X, pages 1 17,;
    • 2011, "Secret Histories",;
    • 2012, "Hard and Soft Power on the Eastern Frontier: a Roman Fortlet between Dara and Nisibis, Mesopotamia, Turkey: Prokopios Mindouos?" in The Byzantinist, edited by Douglas Whalin, Issue 2 (2012), pp.45,;
    • 2013, Procopius on the struggle for Dara and Rome, in A. Sarantis, N. Christie (eds.): War and Warfare in Late Antiquity: Current Perspectives (Late Antique Archaeology 8.18.2 201011), Leiden: Brill 2013, pp.599630, ISBN978-90-04-25257-8;
    • 2013 La defensa de Roma por Belisario in: Justiniano I el Grande (Desperta Ferro) edited by Alberto Prez Rubio, no. 18 (July 2013), pages 4045, ISSN 2171-9276;
    • 2017, Procopius of Caesarea: Literary and Historical Interpretations (editor), Routledge (July 2017),;
    • 2017, "Introduction" and chapter 10, Procopius, / quaestor, Codex Justinianus, I.27 and Belisarius strategy in the Mediterranean in Procopius of Caesarea: Literary and Historical Interpretations above.
  • Maas, Michael Robert: Strabo and Procopius: Classical Geography for a Christian Empire, in H. Amirav et al. (eds.): From Rome to Constantinople. Studies in Honour of Averil Cameron, Leuven: Peeters, 2007, 6784.
  • Martindale, John: The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire III, Cambridge 1992, 10601066.
  • Meier, Mischa: Prokop, Agathias, die Pest und das Ende der antiken Historiographie, in Historische Zeitschrift 278 (2004), 281310.
  • Pazdernik, Charles F.: Xenophons Hellenica in Procopius Wars: Pharnabazus and Belisarius, in: Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 46 (2006) 175206.
  • Rance, Philip: Narses and the Battle of Taginae (552 AD): Procopius and Sixth-Century Warfare, in: Historia. Zeitschrift fr alte Geschichte 30.4 (2005) 424472.
  • Rubin, Berthold: Prokopios, in Realencyclopdie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft 23/1 (1957), 273599. Earlier published (with index) as Prokopios von Kaisareia, Stuttgart: Druckenmller, 1954.
  • Stewart, Michael, Contests of Andreia in Procopius Gothic Wars, 4 (2014), pp.2154.
  • Stewart, Michael, The Andreios Eunuch-Commander Narses: Sign of a Decoupling of martial Virtues and Hegemonic Masculinity in the early Byzantine Empire?, Cerae 2 (2015), pp.125.
  • Stewart, Michael, Masculinity, Identity, and Power Politics in the Age of Justinian: A Study of Procopius, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2020:
  • Treadgold, Warren: The Early Byzantine Historians, Basingstoke: Macmillan 2007, 176226.
  • The Secret History of Art by Noah Charney on the Vatican Library and Procopius. An article by art historian Noah Charney about the Vatican Library and its famous manuscript, Historia Arcana by Procopius.
  • Whately, Conor, Battles and Generals: Combat, Culture, and Didacticism in Procopius' Wars. Leiden, 2016.
  • Whitby, L. M. "Procopius and the Development of Roman Defences in Upper Mesopotamia", in P. Freeman and D. Kennedy (ed.), The Defence of the Roman and Byzantine East, Oxford, 1986, 71735.

External links

Texts of Procopius

  • Complete Works, Greek text (Migne Patrologia Graeca) with analytical indexes
  • The Secret History, English translation (Atwater, 1927) at the Internet Medieval Sourcebook
  • The Secret History, English translation (Dewing, 1935) at LacusCurtius
  • The Buildings, English translation (Dewing, 1935) at LacusCurtius
  • The Buildings, Book IV Greek text with commentaries, index nominum, etc. at Sorin Olteanu's LTDM Project
  • Works by Procopius at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Procopius at Internet Archive
  • Procopius on LibriVox
  • H. B. Dewing's Loeb edition of the works of Procopius: vols. IVI at the Internet Archive (History of the Wars, Secret History)
  • Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society (1888): Of the buildings of Justinian by Procopius, (ca 560 A.D)
  • Complete Works 1, Greek ed. by K. W. Dindorf, Latin trans. by Claude Maltret in Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae Pars II Vol. 1, 1833. (Persian Wars III, Vandal Wars III)
  • Complete Works 2, Greek ed. by K. W. Dindorf, Latin trans. by Claude Maltret in Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae Pars II Vol. 2, 1833. (Gothic Wars IIV)
  • Complete Works 3, Greek ed. by K. W. Dindorf, Latin trans. by Claude Maltret in Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae Pars II Vol. 3, 1838. (Secret History, Buildings of Justinian)

Secondary material

  • Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Procopius of Caesarea". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  • Entry for Procopius from the Suda.

Content provided by Wikipedia

Our Mission

The History of Creativity is a visual encyclopaedia that allows you to time travel to any time and place in the past or present.