Read The Secret History by Procopius Online


Having dutifully written the official war history of Justinian's reign, Procopius turned round and revealed in The Secret History the other faces of the leading men and women of Byzantium in the sixth century. Justinian, the great law-giver, appears as a hateful tyrant, wedded to an ex-prostitute, Theodora; and Belisarius, the brilliant general whose secretary Procopius haHaving dutifully written the official war history of Justinian's reign, Procopius turned round and revealed in The Secret History the other faces of the leading men and women of Byzantium in the sixth century. Justinian, the great law-giver, appears as a hateful tyrant, wedded to an ex-prostitute, Theodora; and Belisarius, the brilliant general whose secretary Procopius had been, is seen as the pliable dupe of his wife Antonina, a woman as corrupt and scheming as Theodora herself....

Title : The Secret History
Author :
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ISBN : 9780140441826
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 208 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Secret History Reviews

  • ✘✘ Sarah ✘✘ (former Nefarious Breeder of Murderous Crustaceans)
    2019-05-21 09:18

    Warning: this review is short. Because, YES, I can do short and almost-to-the-point when I really want to. It's just that I don't really want to very often.You gotta give it to the Byzantines, these guys and gals really knew how to live: debauchery, greed, cruelty, a total lack of morals, corruption, duplicity, wickedness, mass slaughter, mean-spiritedness, spite, shrewdness...They really had the seven deadly sins more than covered. If you believe Procopius, that is. Considering he used to be Justinian's official court historian, and wrote The Secret History after he got the sack, you might not want to take everything he says here for granted. I mean, there is a slight possibility that his only reason for writing this book was good old retaliation. Despite this probably being nothing more than a bunch of delicious lies meant to demolish Justinian (the most useless, vile, impulsive, treacherous, homicidal, corrupted emperor ever), his lovely wife Theodora (basically a crazy, bloodthirsty, capricious whore/slut/bitch), his first councillor Belisarius (the lamest, most pathetic, cuckolded Roman general ever), and Belisarius' wife Antonina (a sex-crazed, utterly depraved, calculating whore/slut/bitch), it is still lots of fun to read. And had Procopius not asked for this delightful piece of slightly biased literature to be published only after his death (view spoiler)[ (hide spoiler)], I'm pretty sure Justinian would have gone all libel suit on his ass. I mean, this kind of ruins his image of saint of the Eastern Orthodox Church. If some of you silly people are petrified and terrified at the thought of reading books like this one because it is History written by an Ancient Dude {insert sudden bouts of uncontrollable shuddering here}, don't be. Petrified and terrified, I mean. This malicious bit of defamatory fun reads as easily as your average tabloid. So much so that even my 13-year-old niece could read it. Well, being my niece she is obviously superiorly intelligent and probably cleverer than most of you, but you know what I mean. Even total nitwits with half a grey cell should be able to understand what this book is about, so there's a good chance you will, too, my Little Barnacles! ➽ And the moral of this non-review is: Ancient Historian Dudes cannot be trusted. ➽ And the other moral of this non-review is: Justinian can't have been THAT bad. I mean, the guy even got a plague named after him, which obviously means he was super cool and uber awesome and stuff.➽ And the other, other moral of this non-review is: Procopius, you rock.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>

  • Markus
    2019-05-19 15:11

    When some people lose their jobs, they’ll write a post on Facebook about how much of a scumbag their boss is. Procopius wrote a book.Once the official court historian of the emperor and an important member of the Byzantine Imperial court, Procopius wrote the History of the Wars of Justinian and worked on his great chronicles for decades. Then he got fired…The Secret History is his story of how things really were in the dark heart of the Byzantine Empire, meant to be published only after his death. The emperor Justinian was a power-hungry bastard who ”spoiled the beauty of the cities and plundered the poor”. His wife Theodora was a lying whore whose depravities knew no bounds. The great general Belisarius was a worthless idiot who was duped by everyone. And they were all ”fiends in human form” and, of course, created by the devil.This book is filled to the brim with tales of the evil deeds of Justinian and his vile courtiers. You get to learn how the emperor was personally responsible for the deaths of one trillion people (Procopius provides a fully coherent argument where he arrives at this number), and much, much, more…All in all, this might be the most entertaining medieval book ever.

  • Sarah (Presto agitato)
    2019-06-15 10:24

    I found this book after reading Bird Brian’s terrific review. First, though, I read Count Belisarius, a work of historical fiction by Robert Graves (author of I, Claudius) written about the same people - the Byzantine/Roman Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora, and leading general Belisarius and his wife, Antonina. In Graves’s novel, Belisarius emerges as a sympathetic character. In Procopius’s contemporary history - not so much. Procopius lived during the first half of the 6th century. He was secretary to Belisarius and is known for writing several sober histories of the period. In The Secret History, though, he lets it all out, attacking his subjects with a lurid fervor unmatched by any modern day tabloid. The narrator in Count Belisarius described the origins of The Secret History, saying, “Then Procopius in the bitterness of his heart wrote a book of libels not only upon Belisarius and my mistress Antonina but upon the Emperor himself and dead Theodora. Sometimes he told the truth, sometimes he distorted the facts, sometimes he lied - according to his vindictive purposes.”That’s putting it mildly. In his section on “The Tyranny of Women,” Procopius makes sure that we are left with no doubt that Theodora and Antonina were wanton sluts who manipulated their husbands shamelessly and had no regard for the collateral damage wreaked on the Roman empire. The conservative Procopius was no fan of powerful women in general, and the Empress Theodora, demanding displays of servile obeisance from patricians as she pulled Justinian’s strings, made him apoplectic. But in her younger days, according to Procopius, the future Empress could sleep with more than 30 men at a single dinner party, and she had a trick involving nudity, barley grains, and geese that it’s best not to get into on a family website. Procopius doesn’t spare Emperor Justinian or Belisarius, though. He tells us Justinian is worse than the bubonic plague (with the plague, “just as many people escaped as had the misfortune to succumb - either because they escaped the infection altogether, or because they got over it if they happened to be infected. But this man not a single person in the Roman Empire could escape.”) Justinian may also, in fact, have been a demon. Justinian’s mother said she conceived him not with a man but with a demon (I wonder what Byzantine birthers had to say about that). Later on, a witness noticed the Emperor’s head disappearing from his body while he paced the floor, and then returning spontaneously to its usual location, a sure sign that something was up.Procopius tell us that the greedy Justinian was the worst Emperor the Roman empire has seen, which is saying a lot: “So that if one chose to add up all the calamities which have befallen the Romans from the beginning and to weight them against those for which Justinian was responsible, I feel sure that he would find that a greater slaughter of human beings was brought about by this one man than took place in all the preceding centuries.” He also blames him for floods, earthquakes, and the plague, since he feels anyone that awful surely must have provoked divine retribution.As history books go, this one may not be the most reliable, but it has to be the most entertaining. It makes The Twelve Caesars seem like a tame and sedate analysis. I’m not sure what exactly Justinian and Theodora did to Procopius to make him so mad, but he certainly has his revenge here. He tells us he writes for the “enlightenment of future generations,” and it turns out he gets the bonus of giving tabloid journalists something to aspire to.Empress Theodora, as depicted by Procopius

  • Hadrian
    2019-06-05 15:18

    An extended gossip sheet of the Eastern Roman Empire. Filled with accusations so extreme that they move from just regular tales of horrifying corruption to the downright hilarious. (One trillion deaths? Doing what with their nipples?) I can't vouch for its accuracy in detail, but it is still a morbidly entertaining read.

  • Yann
    2019-05-27 09:33

    ThéodoraL’homme de main du fameux Bélisaire est, outre d'une histoire des guerres Byzantines, l’auteur de cet ouvrage qui contient de mordantes invectives contre l’empereur Justinien(483-565) et surtout contre l’impératrice Théodora (morte en 548). Leurs réformes furent en effet très mal reçues par la classe de possédant, et cette dent dure de Procope de Césarée (première moitié du VIeme siècle) est l’expression de l’exaspération que suscitèrent les impôts et expropriations rendues nécessaires par les nombreuses campagnes qui devaient rendre à l’empire sa grandeur. Rien n’est épargné à Justinien, comparé à un antéchrist, affublé de toutes les tares et de tous les vices, inculte notoire, véritable génie du mal, ne ménageant pas sa peine pour inventer de nouveaux tourments, récompensant ceux qui se distinguaient dans le crime. Son épouse ne lui est pas inférieure en turpitudes, et l’auteur se complait dans la description de ses luxures les plus scandaleuses et les plus extravagantes. Bien sûr, une telle outrance dans la virulence fait naître des soupçons et requiert une certaine circonspection. Le commentaire érudit et pénétrant d’Ernest Renan qui accompagne l’ouvrage est particulièrement instructif.

  • happy
    2019-05-29 13:20

    To sum this book up, this book is Peyton Place in Constantinople. The person who wrote this (if it was Procopius) really, really didn't like the royal family!!! He accuses the empress of all kinds of sexual misdeeds (before she married Justinian) and the translator says they are too deviant to translate for modern readers (this translation was first published in 1966, so it makes one wonder just what she was doing. He has already accused her of beastialty and taking on all comers in addition to being a high class courtesan. After her marriage to the Justinian, the emperor (who had the laws changed to allow it) the author says she is fiercely faithful to him. She is portrayed as as the power behind the throne. She is not above falsely accusing anyone who might threaten both her and the power of the emperor. About her only good quality is her absolute devotion to Justinian and more importantly the throne. During the Nikka Riots she is the one who insists they stay and ride it out.Justinian does not fair any better. He is accused of being the devil's spawn and gross corruption. According to the author he is dissolute and only caring for his worldly comforts and riches. He would falsely accuse almost any one to take there wealth. He also not above forging will for the same purpose. He is given no credit for the accomplishments of his reign - the codifying of the legal code, the great building projects - Hagia Sophia for one and lastly the reconquering of most of the Mediterranean basin for the empire.About the person who comes out well is the general Belisarius. Even then he is painted as so besotted with his wife, who happens to be Theodora best friend, that when he catches her in bed with her stepson, he willing to disbelieve his own eyes and take no notice of it.In some ways this reads like a novel, but doesn't flow well in spots. The transitions also are sometimes a little clunky.All in all an eye opening look at royal life in 6th century Constantinople - 3 stars

  • Liz Janet
    2019-06-15 12:34

    This author is the definition of this meme, I am very pleased.

  • Jonfaith
    2019-05-20 13:37

    My day to day involves routine investigations regarding incidents and accidents involving the significantly disabled. Most of the actual conversation is with caretakers. I go home often feeling drowned in bullshit, well maybe dunked with spittle-some baiting in between the submersions. I can handle tall tales, I could listen to Dylan spin a yarn about his upbringing amongst Chippewa carnies all night long. I just can’t handle the shit, the demonizing. It shouldn’t be surprising then that this book wasn’t fun. No tales of trained geese pleasuring the nympho queen of Byzantium could lift this from being labor. The last forty percent of the account regards the rapine corruption of the regime. Measure upon measure robbing the populace and all without recourse. Somewhere Steven Pinker is saying, see I told you it was all improving.

  • Alp Turgut
    2019-05-30 08:19

    Bizans İmparatoru İustinianos ve karısı Theodora'nın ne kadar korkunç insanlar olduğunu oldukça akıcı bir dille anlatan "Bizans'ın Gizli Tarihi / The Secret History", Bizans hakkında harika bilgiler barındıran okunması gereken ders niteliğindeki tarih kitaplarından biri. Yazar Procopius / Prokopios'un dil ve anlatış bakımında Herodotus'tan çok Plutharkos'un izinden gittiği kitabı okurken Bizans İmparatorluğu'nun neden yıkıldığını daha iyi anlıyorsunuz. Bir liderin ne kadar korkunç olabileceğini Prokopios'un zaman zaman abartarak da olsa anlattığı kitabı okumak oldukça eğlenceli. Bu arada, kitapta bugünün Türkiye'siyle uyumlu bir sürü şey bulmak da mümkün ki bu durum bence kitabı Türk okuyucular için daha değerli kılıyor. Beklentim olmadan başladığım kitabın Plutharkhos tarzında okuması keyifli bir tarih eseri çıkması açıkçası beni çok mutlu etti. 05.08.2016İstanbul, TürkiyeAlp Turgut

  • Siria
    2019-06-16 16:26

    This is an odd, odd little book. It's probably the strangest ancient work of history you will ever come across. In fact, if it weren't for the fact that Procopius is otherwise a respected author of sixth century Byzantine history, one would be inclined to dismiss this work as the work of someone who was more than a little biased, sex-crazed, and, well, insane.As it is, it contrasts strangely with Procopius' other works, which are neutral-to-favourable on the subject of Justinian and Theodora, the rulers of the empire at the time he was writing. In The Secret History, however, Theodora is represented as a sex-crazed, infant-killing harlot, and Justinian, we are told, is quite literally the devil. No-one knows quite why this happened - was Procopius writing the real and unvarnished truth, in the hopes that his work would come down to posterity after his death? Is it a grudge-piece? Is it even written by Procopius?Much of the work cannot be taken at face value; much of the rest of it has to be skimmed in distaste (I really don't want to read about Theodora servicing fifty men in one night, thank you so much). However, if that is taken into account, it is still a fascinating read for someone examining some of the political attitudes and social mores which permeated Byzantium at the time - even if one does not believe the accusations laid at the door of the imperial couple, the question of why these particular accusations were made against them is an interesting one to ask. Worthwhile reading if you have any interest in the late Roman empire or Byzantium.

  • sologdin
    2019-06-01 16:35

    just fantastic, in both senses of the term. we know that we're in a reckless political polemic, which accounts veracity lightly, when justinian can be accused as follows:"And that he was no human being, but, as has been suggested, some manner of demon in human form, one might infer by making an estimate of the magnitude of the ills which he inflicted upon mankind. For it is in the degree by which a man's deeds are surpassingly great that the power of the doer becomes evident. Now to state exactly the number of those who were destroyed by him would never be possible, I think, for anyone soever, or for God. For one might more quickly, I think, count all grains of sand than the vast number whom this Emperor destroyed. But making an approximate estimate of the extent of territory which has become to be destitute of inhabitants, I should say that a myriad myriad of myriads perished."10,000 cubed is 1,000,000,000,000 human persons (1 trillion, aye?), which in my reckoning is more people than have existed throughout all history and prehistory up to the present moment. (anyone know how to count diachronic/serial population, rather than mere synchronic/parallel population, incidentally?)

  • فاطمة الابراهيم
    2019-06-08 11:38

    أوائل القرن الخامس الميلادي يسير الإمبراطور الروماني جوستنيان بخطى ثابته مستمعا لقائده العسكري بليزاريوس عن آخر حملة عسكرية شنها على الأراضي الشرقية ، ويتبعهما إمرأتهما ثيودورا وأنطونينا وهمس يعقبه ضحكة تنم عن الخبث ، وبروكوبيوس في مؤخرة السير يسترق السمع من ورائهما ، يهم ذلك الأخير بأداء عمله على أكمل وجه كأمين سر ومستشار قانوني ومناصب أخرى أعطيت له تكليفا أكثر من كونه تشريفا !وحينما يحل الظلام يعود إلى حجرته وعلى أثر شمعته الوحيدة يدون بريشته " هنا تكمن الحقيقة !" لطالما أشادت المصادر التأريخية بعظمة ذلك الإمبراطور وإمرأته ثيودورا كحامي الإمبراطورية والكنسية ، لكن هنالك مصادر أخرى تثبت العكس ، كهذا الكتاب على سبيل المثال ، فصاحبه - أي الكاتب بروكوبيوس - كان صديقا حميما لجوستنيان وبليزاريوس وكان على مقربة من تلك الأحداث وسرا يدونها يوما بيومه . هذا الكتاب هو أقرب لأن يكون سيرة ذاتية لأربع شخصيات سياسية من أن يكون كتاب تأريخي ، كلا الشخصيات الأربع وإن اختلفت مناصبهم فالإنحلال الأخلاقي كان القاسم المشترك فيما بينهم فجوستنيان " بطبيعته خليطا نادرا من الحماقة والشرورية والتولع بالأذى" وإمرأته ثيودورا ذات منبت فاسد وتكرار عمليات الإجهاض خير دليل على ذلك !أما أنطونينا فقد اتخذت من صديقتها ثيودروا مثلا يحتذى به ، فهى لم تعرف طريقا آخر سوى الرذيلة وهى التي لم تصاحب سوى السحره استطاعت أن تجعل من أعظم قادة الإمبراطورية عبدا لا يصدرا فعلا منه إلا بأمرها وهى التي تكبره بما يقارب العشرين سنه وربما أكثر ظل أسيرا بهواها حتى بعدما علم من قبل إحدى الجاريات بفعلها المشين مع ابنهما بالتبني بل رأى بأم عينيه لكن السحر كان أقوى من أن يثأر بخيانتها له ، كانت أنطونينا متعطشه للدماء لدرجة أنها قامت بقطع لسان خادمتها -التي فضحت أمرها - وتقطيع جسدها قطعا صغيرة ومن ثم رميها في البحر .بقي أن أشير بأن الكتاب نشر بعد وفاة الإمبراطور وإمرأته وقائده لأنه كان على يقين بأن هلاكه سيكون قائما لا محاله ودون رحمه ، إلا أنه مخلص للعلم وكان من واجبه كتابة مايجب كتابته " فإن أسناني تصطك وأجد نفسي أتراجع أكبر قدر ممكن من المهمة " على أية حال هذا الكتاب حافل بالدموية والسوداوية ولاشيء آخر يدعو للبهجة فهو أشبه بقصص الرعب !ما أشار إليه بروكوبيوس في كتابه لايشوبه نفاق أو تلويث الحقائق هذا ما أكدته الدراسات الأخيرة بإعتباره مرجعا لايمكن التغاضي عنه !

  • Elizabeth
    2019-06-14 13:36

    Think of this as the Byzantine equivalent to one of those trashy pop biographies of a celebrity that consists mainly of sexual rumors. Procopius apparently harbored a secret hatred of the Empress Theodora and everyone associated with her, and, secretly, wrote this vituperative companion to his other, public, more neutral works, apparently for the point of detailing the sexual excesses and blatant immoralities of the Justinian court. Examples of the Empress' behavior include: anointing her genitalia with barley, and then having geese loosed to peck at the seeds, while she was on stage; going on a picnic to cavort with ten young men, and after exhausting their stamina, taking on their thirty servants; having dozens of abortions; making the bastard son she didn't manage to abort in time "disappear"; arranging her bastard daughter's son's marriage to the very young daughter of a rich general and forcing them to have sex so that the marriage could not be undone and she would have claim to that wealth; and various other infamous behavior.It amazes me that this narrative is taken as a relatively accurate history. The tone is so gleefully disappointed in the behaviors therein described, the events so repeatedly unbelievable, that it seems so biased as to deserve some skepticism.

  • Jan-Maat
    2019-05-23 13:14

    I'm a bit puzzled by the allegation that the same Procopius of Caesarea wrote this as wrote History of the Wars because the tone is so different. The one gossipy and imprecise with millions of Ethiopians (ie inhabitants of North Africa) dying as a result of the reconquest of Vandal occupied North Africa the other careful and sober. The Secret History is a dirt dishing account of the reign of Justinian. The validity of argument was for me undercut by its hyperbole, it's rather like reading The Lives of the Later Caesars. It has that same sense of something scurrilous that catered for the reader who loved their share of scandal. Very readable and entertaining though and your go to source for scurrilous stories about the Empress Theodora.

  • Joshua Lister
    2019-06-03 08:13

    The nature of this book compared to other works from Procopious and the scandalous claims that smear Justinian's historical legacy are what make this work so fascinating. I will let the academics debate the validity of the claims in "The Secret History" and take the majority of them as basically true. It is not a coincidence that Justinian passed more legislation than any emperor before him and had more money and power than any emperor before him. Legislation from rulers is historically the means for the growth of tyranny. It was even done under the pretense of helping the citizenry then, in the same way that it is done now.

  • Malini Sridharan
    2019-06-06 15:23

    Apparently, one of the political factions in Constantinople wore haircuts that sound exactly like mullets (he says it was cut short at the temples and grew long in the back or something like that). Procopius did not approve.

  • Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont
    2019-06-07 12:31

    This is probably the racist, most scurrilous history book ever written!

  • Marijan
    2019-06-07 14:24

    jao, koji je tračer bio taj Prokopije!

  • Chris
    2019-06-16 12:13

    I’ve never yet been to Istanbul — formerly Constantinople and before that Byzantium — but I have been to Ravenna on Italy’s east coast. Here the visitor can glimpse some of the glory that was Byzantium of old in the form of the magnificent mosaics, located in various surviving structures such as the Arian Baptistry, the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo and the Basilica of San Vitale. Amidst splendid religious mosaics of Christ’s baptism and the Adoration of the Magi are more secular images, in particular of the 6th-century Emperor Justinian I, his Empress Theodora and possibly the general Belisarius. These are icons meant to impress, and it’s noteworthy that the heads of the two imperial figures are each surrounded by a nimbus — what we recognise as the halo associated with Christ and the saints but which was also, as here, applied to rulers or heroes. To see these figures so bedecked with jewels and crowns and aureoles one would be rightly suspect a measure of self-glorification; but in truth, if their contemporary the writer Procopius is to be believed, no two individuals were less suited to being portrayed thus in a Christian context.Procopius was the private secretary of Count Belisarius, long the emperor’s most trusted general, and was present when Ravenna was captured for the Byzantine Empire in 540. A score or so years later he had risen to become — we surmise – Prefect of Constantinople as well as official imperial historian, whose job was to chronicle the Emperor’s achievements in law, history and public works. Procopius did his job well, providing supporting evidence of Justinian’s vast law codification for the Empire and the raising of edifices such as the simply astounding Hagia Sophia in the 530s, with its jaw-dropping dome: “marvellous in its grace, but by reason of the seeming insecurity of its composition altogether terrifying. For it seems somehow to float in the air with no firm basis but to be poised aloft to the peril of those inside…”But this seeming imperial paragon of virtue was, to Procopius, no such thing. While he was writing and publishing The Histories and Buildings the historian was also putting together The Secret History, at no great danger to himself. We are all aware of the malign propensities of modern-day tyrants and dictators — no continent seems immune from them — and it is a brave individual who attempts to record their abuses and injustices, especially one in a position of trust and authority. “It was impossible either to avoid detection by swarms of spies, or if caught to escape death in its most agonizing form,” he writes in a foreword from around 550, fifteen years before his and Justinian’s deaths. Even now, he adds, ”I envisage the probability that what I am now about to write will appear incredible and unconvincing to future generations.” And, in a prescient comment, he tells the reader that he is “afraid that I shall be regarded as a mere teller of fairy tales or listed among the tragic poets.”But despite lingering fears of reprisals on his future descendants he dares to set down the facts of Justinian’s reign secure in the knowledge that there have been ample enough witnesses to support his report, that such an account might cause future tyrants to rein back on their excesses from fear of divine retribution and, moreover, that future victims could take small comfort from knowing that they are not the only ones to suffer from misrule. With the words “This is my justification for first recounting the contemptible conduct of Belisarius, and then revealing the equally contemptible conduct of Justinian and Theodora,” Procopius embarks on a character assassination of his erstwhile employers that sickeningly outdoes any gossipy exposé by today’s tabloids.He structures his report into seven chapters: first outlines the weaknesses and failings of Count Belisarius and his scheming wife Antonina, then goes on to the less than salubrious family background of the emperor, the latter’s uncle the Emperor Justin and, last but not least, the empress; these are followed by chapters on Justinian’s misgovernment and the Theodora’s crimes; then we’re treated to the consequences of their misdeeds — needless destruction, wanton ruin, pointless sacrifice — with a last word on “The Arrogance of the Imperial Pair”. Frankly, I found it hard to read this account without breaks. In terms of the scandalous doings of these two of the original quartet the sheer piling of Pelion on Ossa is mind-numbing: ruthlessness, vindictiveness, rapaciousness, disloyalty, wastefulness, greed, depravity – of the seven deadly sins only sloth and gluttony seem alien to the monsters Procopius depicts, and the imperial pair seem to have invented as many variations on the remaining five as they could.The Latin-speaking Justinian and his soldier uncle Justin were from a Balkan village but, moving to Byzantium, Justin was fortuitously placed as captain of the guard to become Emperor, and Justinian was equally well placed to slip into the role when his time came. The actress and prostitute Theodora caught his eye on his way to the throne in 527 and together the two very strong-minded individuals weathered riots in 532 and a devastating plague 540-2 until the reconquest of Italy by Belisarius led to the completed mosaics of San Vitale in 547, a year before Theodora’s death at 48 from cancer. Orthodox historians call this a Golden Age of art and architecture and praise Justinian for his streamlining of bureaucracy and the law and his support of Catholic Christianity against heresy; Procopius had already chronicled his military and religious successes but in The Secret History more than balances this with an alternative and very disturbing view of a corrupt court aided and abetted by an equally corrupt state apparatus. Peter Brown suggests that Justinian “has been trapped in his own image. His astute manipulation of the resources of propaganda has been taken at face value. Hence he has gained the reputation of being a romantic idealist, haunted by the mirage of a renewal of the Roman empire…” Even if only a third or a quarter of what Procopius says is true, untainted by hyperbole, that romantic idealist image must be very far from the truth.The San Vitale portraits, for all the drawbacks of mosaic techniques, present what seem to be very powerful individuals. It’s difficult not to look into those eyes desperately seeking answers to the apparent conundrums of later judgements, and perhaps being a little frightened by what one sees there. And that reminds me: I must re-read Donna Tartt’s novel of the same name…Peter Brown The World of Late Antiquity, Thames & Hudson 1971Speros Vryonis Byzantium and Europe Thames & Hudson 1967

  • Sebnem Donbekci
    2019-06-04 09:15

    History and tabloid together! Definitely amusing, but requires at least some basic knowledge of the late antiquity to better contextualize what Procopius is talking about...

  • umberto
    2019-05-19 08:31

    Second Review [May 31, 2014]Having finished reading "Count Belisarius" (Penguin Books, 2006) by Robert Graves, I thought I should reread this book to make sure if I had had the right images of Belisarius, his wife Antonina, the Emperor Justinian and his wife Theodoara so that I would compare them to what Procopius has written to record their misdeeds. ...First Review [August 27, 2011]I think this book is all right for those interested in ancient history since it's a bit tough to follow what the author wanted to reveal textual traces of evidence for posterity. I've never heard/read Procopius before but I decided to read him after finishing reading "The Histories" by Herodotus. It's my idea to say something as an amateur reader in history, not as a professional historian so that, I hope, some of my like-minded Goodreads friends out there may become interested and tried to read any author he/she prefers.First, be assured it takes time to read this obscure book and digest it as far as you can, don't worry too much if you can't remember all important years as indicated in important events/episodes. We need to read for its whole picture, not minor incidents here and there. In other words, the book has suggested such an empire pitifully, unimaginably corrupted by its emperor and empress.Second, its title of course implies something done/hidden as 'secrets' along the developing reign of Justinian. While reading each chapter, I wondered who taught him and how. Maybe his parents or some of his teachers but, sadly, Procopius didn't mention anything about his schooling or effective ways of raising him as a good emperor worth respect, admiration and awe. Comparatively, I always admire Alexander the Great who had Aristotle, such a great formidable philosopher, as his teacher and I visualize he wisely listened to what his teacher said. Moreover, he took Homer (I'm not sure which book) to read in his various campaigns. Just imagine.Lastly, I didn't enjoy reading this kind of biography. Sometime I asked myself if it was a waste of time, however, I kept going till the last chapter. One of the reasons is that all of those notorious secret deeds around 1,500 years ago as revealed should be applied in our daily lives so that they're definitely recorded in "the sand of time" (Longfellow). Therefore, we need to learn from the past so that we won't do anything senseless like some of our ancestors had done before.I presume the original book was written in Greek, however, I found its Latin title [Historia Arcana] in the wikipedia website and I wonder why the translator hasn't told his readers in the Introduction.

  • Tony
    2019-06-17 11:33

    Procopius. THE SECRET HISTORY. (AD 550; this ed. 1990). ****. After re-reading Robert Graves’ novel, “Count Belisarius” a while ago, I decided to go back and re-read Graves’ principal source book. Procopius was a literary servant to Belisarius and accompanied him on all of his battle campaigns. These works are known as “The Discourses About the Wars,” and include histories of the expeditins against the Persians in Mesopotamia, against German and Vandal hordes in North Africa, and against the Goths and Ostrogoths in Italy. They have survived to this day. In these annals he was respectful of Belisarius and his work. In another published work, “Buildings,” he was also respectful – if not fawning – over his emperor, Justinian and the Empress Theodora. It is in this one volume, “The Secret History,” that he professes to tell all and proceeds to do so with an explicitness we find shocking. Belisarius comes off reasonably OK, but the Emperor and Empress and their court at Constantinoble fare poorly. Procopius piles charge after charge on the heads of the rulers, but often contradicted himself. If you want an expose about the end of the Empire, this is the one to read. This edition was translated by G. A. Williamson and contains an introduction by Philip Ziegler. Recommended.

  • Sean Chick
    2019-06-17 15:14

    Procopius is what would happen if Suetonius offered analysis and not just gossip. The Secret History is most notorious for its depiction of scandalized sex and Justinian I's demonic powers. These are, for audiences today, the fun parts. Yet, more searing is the misgovernment and bad policies of Justinian and Theodora. One might say it is only Procopius' opinion, but he tellingly explains the matrix of high taxes, religious oppression, political corruption, and military adventurism that caused the empire to decline. Without Justinian and Theodora there would be no Muslim conquest. The Secret History is also a warning. One could look at the military conquests of Justinian and his legal code and grand buildings and deduce that he was a great man. Procopius insists we look at the cost of these grand achievements. He is telling us, perhaps only tacitly, to never take power, position, and success at face value, that we must understand its arrogance and hypocrisy. It is a lesson we should all heed.

  • Susan
    2019-06-03 11:28

    This is a real cookie full of arsenic, as J. J. Hunsecker would say. It's hard for me to credit the truth of all these evil machinations of Justinian I. According to Procopius, instead of tending to the Byzantine empire the entirety of his time on the throne was spent trying to figure out how he and his cronies could best sack it. Given the litany of his crimes it seems impossible for anyone to find the time and means to accomplish all of it. Procopius had previously written books somewhat favorable to the emperor's reign, so it seems to me like this last book was the result of some personal injury from Justinian. After a while I just got tired of reading about the nefariousness of Justinian and his wicked wife Theodora. The Byzantine empire cranked along for another 900 years so he couldn't have done that much damage. It is my understanding that Justinian preferred to spend his time contemplating Christianity, law and architecture. We do have him to thank for Hagia Sophia after all.

  • Ben
    2019-05-18 08:09

    I've no idea how much of this history is true, and how much of it is polemic, but it is quite a guilty pleasure seeing some of the most revered historical figures, Justinian and Theodora, brought down to size and dragged through the mud. Some of the charges are so perfectly scandalous to a 6th century mindset, particularly those relating to Theodora's early life, that I'm certain a great amount of the narrative is nothing more than inflammatory bluster. It's hard to tell how much. Certainly the empire would have fallen had it all been true... but then again the Persians and Saracens (Arabs, if you prefer modern language) overwhelmed Rome within a century. Perhaps Justinian helped get that ball rolling. Who knows? (Besides historians)One thing I find apparent though. One, if not both, versions of Justinian's reign are propaganda. It's scary - in the eye-opening way - how easily a person's public image can be entirely a well-crafted illusion.

  • Mikel
    2019-06-07 09:16

    This is the first book I've read about the Byzantine Empire or any of it rulers. It was quite a start. It is both scary and fascinating to see how the strings of government can be used by a greedy and corrupt leader. Eerily, while reading you forget this happened 1500 years ago. Undoubtedly much of the credit goes to the translation but in a society so closely patterned to ours today you feel like this could have been only a few decades ago. Absolutely fascinating, this is a great read not only for it’s historical significance but for the understanding it offers us on governments today.

  • Darwin8u
    2019-05-27 15:26

    Doesn't quite rank with Herodotus, and definitely not close to Thucydides, etc. To be fair to Procopius, however, I probably should have read History of the Wars first. This book reminds me of a score-settling memoir Dick Morris/Rumsfiled would write if either was serving Belisarius. Anyway, it was interesting even if a bit uneven and biased. It is amazing what you can still glean about a culture and time from this type of history.

  • Garrett
    2019-06-13 16:33

    "... they were bitterly hostile to the astrologers. Accordingly the official appointed to deal with burglaries made a point of ill-treating them simply because they were astrologers, flogging the backs of many of them and setting them on camels to be shown to jeering crowds all over the city, although they were old men and respectable in every way. Yet he had nothing against them except that they wished to be authorities on the stars in such a place as this."

  • Nick
    2019-06-04 12:08

    This was one of the primary sources for my thesis and I am a wee bit biased. Results may vary! You probably won't give it 5 stars, but it is a surprisingly sultry book full of juicy, controversial, potentially false, certainly embellished, but historically fascinating gossip! A must read for any aspiring Byzantinist or amateur Byzantium fan such as myself.

  • Diane
    2019-06-09 10:22

    A first-hand account of life under the Byzantine Emporer Justinian and his wife Theodora. The author claims to be providing insights that he couldn't talk about during his subjects' lifetimes. Better than a soap opera.