Book Review: Procopius of Caesarea: Tyranny, History, and Philosophy at the End of Antiquity


by Anthony Kaldellis

Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004. Pp. x, 306. Appends., notes , biblio., index. $55.00. ISBN: 0812237870

The Complexities of Last Ancient Historian

The last notable historian of the ancient world, Procopius (c. 500-c. 560), renown for his history of the wars of Justinian, having accompanied the great general Belisarius on many campaigns, and also of the Emperor’s many building projects, as well as the famous tell-all Secret History that would have cost him his head had it been published in his lifetime. 

In this work Prof. Kaldellis (Ohio State), who has written extensively on Late Antiquity and Byzantine society, breaks with some long held views of Procopius. He demonstrates that Procopius was not merely imitating classical models, but was well grounded in the Classics, and skillfully used many classical forms in developing his own style. Procopius also appears to have been less of a committed Christian than has been thought, believing in chance (Tyche) rather than Providence, and was in tune with some of the less popular contemporary trends in philosophy.  

Kaldellis also argues that Procopius adopted a style and vocabulary that enabled him to be subtly critical of imperial excess, many of his contemporaries, and the events of his times without risking imperial displeasure. 

All of this, Kaldellis argues, makes Procopius’s work valuable not only for his account of events, but for insights into the complexities of contemporary culture, politics, dissidence, and philosophy. Of particular value for serious students of Late Antiquity, particularly for its insights into the reign and this is so well written that even the casual reader will find it interesting and at times even entertaining. 


Note: Procopius of Caesarea is also available as an e-book, $55.00, ISBN 978-0-8122-0241-0


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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