Skip to main content Accessibility help


  • Marion Kruse (a1)

The speech of the Armenian embassy to Khusrow in the opening of Book 2 of Procopius' Wars has received little scholarly attention. Historians propose that this embassy, along with those sent by the Goths and Lazi, provided Khusrow with a pretext for violating the Eternal Peace in 540. As for the speeches themselves, they have been considered formulaic set pieces, requirements of the genre in which Procopius was writing. However, Anthony Kaldellis has argued that Procopius uses the Armenians as a mouthpiece for his own criticisms of Justinian, namely that the emperor is to blame for ending the Eternal Peace and that he behaved like an oriental despot. While these literary and historical readings are not incompatible, none fully explicates the mechanics and function of the Armenians' speech.

Corresponding author
Hide All

Procopius' Wars (sometimes History of the Wars) is divided into eight books, of which the first seven are arranged by theatre rather than chronology. Books 1 and 2 cover the Persian War, Books 3 and 4 the Vandal War in Africa, and Books 5–7 the Gothic War in Italy. The eighth book is a supplement that extends the narrative down to 552/3 across all theatres.

Hide All

2 Treadgold, W., The Early Byzantine Historians (New York, 2007), 194.

3 Cameron, A., Procopius and the Sixth Century (London, 1985), 148–50.

4 Kaldellis, A., Procopius of Caesarea: Tyranny, History, and Philosophy at the End of Antiquity (Philadelphia, 2004), 91; id., Prokopios' Persian War: a thematic and literary analysis’, in Macrides, R. (ed.), History as Literature in Byzantium (Burlington, 2010), 253–73, at 259–62.

5 PLRE 3b.1211–12 (Symeon 1).

6 PLRE 3a.54 (Amazaspes).

7 PLRE 3a.8–9 (Acacius 1).

8 This Artabanes would later defect to the Romans and hold high posts, including magister militum per Africam, magister militum per Thracias and honorary consul. He also allegedly conspired with Arsaces and Chanaranges against Justinian in 548–9 (PLRE 3a.125–30 [Artabanes 2]).

9 All translations of Procopius are my own, with consultation of Dewing, H.B. (tr.), Procopius, 7 vols. (Cambridge, MA, 1968–79). Wars 2.3.26: οὕτω τε ὁ Σίττας ἐξ ἀνθρώπων ἠϕάνιστο οὐδενὶ λόγῳ, ἀναξίως τῆς τε ἀρετῆς καὶ τῶν ἐς τοὺς πολεμίους ἀεὶ πεπραγμένων, ἀνὴρ τό τε σῶμα ἐς ἄγαν καλὸς γεγονὼς καὶ ἀγαθὸς τὰ πολέμια, στρατηγός τε ἄριστος τῶν καθ᾽ αὑτὸν οὐδενὸς ἥσσων. τινὲς δέ ϕασι τὸν Σίτταν οὐ πρὸς τοῦ Ἀρταβάνου ἀπολωλέναι, ἀλλὰ Σολόμωνα, λίαν ἐν Ἀρμενίοις ἀϕανῆ ἄνδρα, τὸν ἄνθρωπον διαχρήσασθαι.

10 For the reorganization of Armenia, see below.

11 Bouzes was able to kill one of the leaders, John of the Arsacidae, father to Artabanes, PLRE 3a.641 (Ioannes 28).

12 Wars 2.3.32: Εἰσὶ μὲν ἡμῶν πολλοὶ Ἀρσακίδαι, ὦ δέσποτα, ἐκείνου Ἀρσάκου ἀπόγονοι, ὃς δὴ οὔτε τῆς Πάρθων βασιλείας ἀλλότριος ἐτύγχανεν ὢν, ἡνίκα ὑπὸ Πάρθοις ἔκειτο τὰ Περσῶν πράγματα, καὶ βασιλεὺς ἐπιϕανὴς γέγονε τῶν καθ᾽ αὑτὸν οὐδενὸς ἧσσον.

13 Wars 2.3.39–42: οὐχ ἡμῖν μὲν ϕόρου ἀπαγωγὴν ἔταξεν οὐ πρότερον οὖσαν, καὶ Τζάνους τοὺς ὁμόρους ἡμῖν αὐτονόμους ὄντας δεδούλωται, τῷ δὲ βασιλεῖ τῶν ἀθλίων Λαζῶν ἄρχοντα Ῥωμαῖον ἐπέστησε; πρᾶγμα οὔτε τῇ ϕύσει τῶν πραγμάτων ξυμβαῖνον οὔτε λόγῳ ῥᾴδιον ἑρμηνεύεσθαι. οὐ Βοσπορίταις μὲν τοῖς Οὔννων κατηκόοις στρατηγοὺς ἔπεμψε καὶ τὴν πόλιν προσεποιήσατο οὐδὲν αὐτῷ προσῆκον, ὁμαιχμίαν δὲ πεποίηται πρὸς τὰς τῶν Αἰθιόπων ἀρχὰς, ὧν καὶ ἀνήκοοι τὸ παράπαν Ῥωμαῖοι ἐτύγχανον ὄντες; ἀλλὰ καὶ Ὁμηρίτας τε καὶ θάλασσαν τὴν Ἐρυθρὰν περιβέβληται καὶ τὸν ϕοινικῶνα προστίθησι τῇ Ῥωμαίων ἀρχῇ. ἀϕίεμεν γὰρ λέγειν τὰ Λιβύων τε καὶ Ἰταλῶν πάθη.

14 Nov. 21 and 31. See also Adontz, N., Armenia in the Period of Justinian: The Political Conditions based on the Naxarar System, revised by Garsoïan, N.G. (tr.), (Lisbon, 1970), 136–40.

15 Legal codification is the stated rationale for Cod. Iust. 1.29.5, while the military reorganization and reinforcement of the region is attested in Procop. Aed. 3.1.28–9. John Malalas, Chronographia 18.10 also reports that the creation of the post of magister militum per Armeniam, first held by Sittas, was designed to reinforce the area. The reform of Armenia appears to have been a priority for Justinian as his earliest reforms date to the beginning of his reign. For this and the potential goals of the legal reforms, see Adontz (n. 14), 106–9, 141–2 and 151–3.

16 For the structure of the Secret History see Kaldellis, A., ‘The date and structure of Prokopios' Secret History and his projected work on church history’, GRBS 49 (2009), 585616, at 598–606.

17 Procop. Anec. 2.30, and PLRE 3b.1355–61 (Valerianus 1).

18 Justinian claimed control in Nov. 28. For subsequent Roman policy, see Braund, D., Georgia in Antiquity: A History of Colchis and Transcaucasian Iberia, 550 BC–AD 562 (Oxford, 1994), 289–90.

19 Wars 1.12.14–15. The passage is problematic and not explicit about the identity of the emperor who sent Irenaeus (either Justin or Justinian) or about the chronology. Other sources (John Malalas, John of Nikiu, Theophanes, the Life of Grigor and the Chron. Pasch.) confuse the issue further. It appears that Procopius is telescoping his narrative in order to bring his history of the region up to the point of his main narrative and that the dispatch of Petrus and Irenaeus should be placed sometime between 526 and 528. Within that range opinions vary. Rubin, B., Das Zeitalter Iustinians (Berlin, 1960), 263, favours 526/7 and gives both Justin and Justinian credit, while PLRE favours 527/8 for Irenaeus' dispatch: PLRE 2.625–6 (Irenaeus 7), and places Petrus' return to the region after Irenaeus' defeat in 528: PLRE 2.870–1 (Petrus 27). In support of this dating, see Greatrex, G., Rome and Persia at War, 502–532 (Cambridge, 1998), 140–6, esp. nn. 15, 16 and 18. Greatrex (145 n. 18) argues, from the phrase Ἔπειτα δὲ, that the emperor to whom Procopius is referring is Justinian.

20 PLRE 2.527 (Gurgenes).

21 PLRE 2.912–13 (Fl. Probus 8).

22 The chronology here is clearer than for the dispatch of Irenaeus. The consensus for Gurgenes' flight is 526 or early 527. See Greatrex (n. 19), 142 n. 9 following Braund (n. 18), 282 and PLRE 2.527 (Gurgenes) and 912–13 (Fl. Probus 8). Rubin (n. 19), 263 also settles on 526. There is some variance, irrelevant to the current issue, as to whether the appeal from Gurgenes came in the same year, 524/5, or 522. Again, see Greatrex (n. 19), 142 n. 9. Control of Iberia had been a focal point of Sassanian policy since Shapur I: Braund (n. 18), 240–4.

23 Braund (n. 18), 268–9 and 276–8.

24 For the threat posed by a Persian-affiliated Lazica, see Wars 2.15.27–30.

25 These were the forts of Sarapanis and Scanda, which would later become sticking points in the negotiation of the Eternal Peace in 532: see Wars 1.22.

26 Braund, D., ‘Procopius on the economy of Lazica’, CQ 41 (1991), 221–5, at 223–4, argues that the difficulty was not transport, but rather the logistics of supporting such a large Roman force in the area.

27 Procopius is explicit that the Huns occupied only the territory between the two cities.

28 This blurring is found throughout Procopius, but particularly in the Secret History which depicts Justin as feeble and dominated by his nephew and wife, see esp. Procop. Anec. 6.11, 6.19 and 9.50. This depiction, at least for the final years of Justin's reign, is largely accepted, but can be taken too far. For a useful, though not entirely convincing, corrective, see Croke, B., ‘Justinian under Justin: reconfiguring a reign’, ByzZ 100 (2007), 1356.

29 This assumes that Justinian was not, in fact, ruling the empire towards the end of Justin's reign.

30 Wars 2.15.14–30. See also Braund (n. 18), 292–5.

31 This claim is false. Rome was aware of and in competition with the Axumites as early as the reign of Augustus, see Thorley, J., ‘The development of trade between the Roman Empire and the East under Augustus’, G&R 16 (1969), 209–23, at 210–13. In Late Antiquity, political and religious relations with Axum intensified, as evidenced by a law of Constantius II regarding ambassadors to Axum, Cod. Theod. 12.12.2. For the development of Christianity in Axum, see Haas, C., ‘Mountain Constantines: the Christianization of Aksum and Iberia’, Journal of Late Antiquity 1 (2008), 101–26.

32 The chronology and significance of events in the Red Sea between c. 500 and 531 remain uncertain. I follow the chronology of Robin, C.J., ‘Nagrān vers l'époque du massacre: notes sur l'histoire politique, économique, et institutionnelle et sur l'introduction du Christianisme (avec un reéxamen du Martyre d'Azqīr)’, in Beaucamp, J., Briquel-Chatonnet, F.C. and Robin, C.J. (edd.), Juifs et chrétiens en Arabie aux Ve et VIe siècles: regards croisés sur les sources (Paris, 2010), 42106, at 78–9. For alternative views on both the chronology and significance of these events, see Greatrex (n. 19), 225–39 and Rubin, Z., ‘Byzantium and Southern Arabia – the policy of Anastasius’, in French, D.H. and Lightfoot, C.S. (edd.), The Eastern Frontier of the Roman Empire: Proceedings of a Colloquium held at Ankara in September 1988 (Oxford, 1989), 383420, at 391–2. For a comprehensive overview of events, see Smith, S., ‘Events in Arabia in the 6th century A.D.’, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 16 (1954), 425–68. For issues of chronology related to the epigraphic evidence, see A.F.L. Beeston, ‘Problems of Sabaean Chronology’, ibid. 37–56.

33 Wars 1.20.9–12 and PLRE 3a.258–9 (Caisus).

34 Wars 1.20.19. For the date of Abraha's rebellion, see Robin (n. 32), 79. For the dating of the expedition against Persia, see PLRE 3a.3–4 (Abraha) and Conrad, L.I., ‘Abraha and Muhammad: some observations apropos of chronology and literary “topoi” in the early Arabic historical tradition’, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 50 (1987), 225–40, at 227–30.

35 The extent and importance of events in the Caucasus after 540 would have precluded a similar tactic earlier in the speech.

36 PLRE 3a, 3 (Abocharabus).

37 This contributes to the bridging of those two books, which is discussed below.

38 Wars 2.3.47: οὐκ Ἀλαμούνδαρον μὲν ἐν σπονδαῖς τὸν σὸν, ὦ κράτιστε βασιλεῦ, δοῦλον ἀπάτῃ τε περιελθεῖν καὶ βασιλείας ἀποστῆσαι τῆς σῆς ἔργον πεποίηται, Οὔννους δὲ τοὺς οὐδαμόθεν αὐτῷ γνωρίμους ἐπὶ τοῖς σοῖς ἔναγχος ἑταιρίζεσθαι πράγμασιν ἐν σπουδῇ ἔσχε;

39 PLRE 3a.34–7 (Alamundarus).

40 Wars 2.1.3–15. Kaldellis (n. 4, 2010), 262–3 argues that this episode demonstrates Justinian's bad faith during the Eternal Peace.

41 Wars 2.3.52: Ῥωμαίοις γὰρ τῶν τε στρατιωτῶν πλείστους πρὸς ταῖς τῆς οἰκουμένης ἐσχατιαῖς ξυμβαίνει εἶναι καὶ δυοῖν στρατηγοῖν, οἵπερ αὐτοῖς ἄριστοι ἦσαν, τὸν ἕτερον μὲν Σίτταν κτείναντες ἥκομεν, Βελισάριον δὲ οὔποτε Ἰουστινιανὸς τὸ λοιπὸν ὄψεται.

42 For this battle, see Greatrex (n. 19), 193–212.

43 Greatrex, G., ‘The composition of Procopius' Persian Wars and John the Cappadocian’, Prudentia 27 (1995), 113, at 6–9.

44 PLRE 3a.639–40 (Ioannes Cottistis 24).

45 Cameron (n. 3), 157–9.

46 Greatrex (n. 43), 1–2 and id., Procopius the outsider?’, in Smythe, D.C. (ed.), Strangers to Themselves: the Byzantine Outsider (Aldershot, 2000), 215–28, at 216–19.

47 Greatrex (n. 43), 9.

48 Procop. Anec. 1.1–3 and Kaldellis, A., ‘Introduction’, in A. id. (tr.), Prokopios: The Secret History with Related Texts (Cambridge, 2010), viilix, at xxiv–xxvii.

49 Greatrex (n. 43), 4–7.

50 Kaldellis (n. 4, 2010), 257–8.

51 The conflation of the two occurs even on a grammatical level: Εὐθὺς δὲ βασιλεῖ ἑκατέρῳ ἐπιβουλὴν γενέσθαι ξυνηνέχθη πρὸς τῶν ὑπηκόων.

52 PLRE 2.1195 (Zames).

53 Procopius' account of this expedition can be found at Wars 2.17.

54 PLRE 3a.15–16 (Adergoundounbades).

55 Wars 1.23.1–24. For Procopius' Persian sources, see Börm, H., Prokop und die Perser: Untersuchungen zu den römisch-sasanidischen Kontakten in der ausgehenden Spätantike (Stuttgart, 2007).

56 Wars 1.23.12: Χρόνῳ δὲ ὕστερον ὁ μὲν Χοσρόης ἐς γῆν τὴν Κολχίδα στρατῷ μεγάλῳ ἐσέβαλλεν, ὥς μοι ἐν τοῖς ὄπισθεν λόγοις γεγράψεται.

57 For a detailed account of the revolt, see Greatrex, G., ‘The Nika Revolt: a reappraisal’, JHS 117 (1997), 6086, and Meier, M., ‘Die Inszenierung einer Katastrophe: Justinian und der Nika-Aufstand’, ZPE 142 (2003), 273300.

58 The letter indicates an awareness of Persian preparations for the invasion; see Lee, A.D., Information and Frontiers: Roman Foreign Relations in Late Antiquity (Cambridge, 1993), 112–13. For more on this letter, see below.

59 Cameron (n. 3), 157–9.

60 For Justinian's foreign policy failures, see Procop. Anec. 11.1–13. For Justinian's maladministration, see Procop. Anec. 19–30 and Kaldellis (n. 16), 598–9 and 603–6.

61 Wars 1.25.11: Ἐν τούτῳ δὲ Βελισάριος Ἰταλίαν καταστρεψάμενος βασιλεῖ ἐς Βυζάντιον ξὺν Ἀντωνίνῃ τῇ γυναικὶ μετάπεμπτος ἦλθεν, ἐϕ᾽ ᾧ ἐπὶ Πέρσας στρατεύσειε.

62 Greatrex (n. 43), 6–9.

63 PLRE 3b.868 (Mebodes 1).

64 PLRE 3b.1410 (Zaberganes 1).

65 For the archaeology of Dara, see Gregory, S., Roman Military Architecture on the Eastern Frontier, vol. 2 (Amsterdam, 1996), 80–8, and Whitby, M., ‘Procopius' Description of Dara (“Buildings” II 1–3)’, in Freeman, P. and Kennedy, D.L. (edd.), The Defence of the Roman and Byzantine East (Oxford, 1986), 737–83; contra Croke, B. and Crow, J., ‘Procopius and Dara’, JRS 73 (1983), 143–59.

66 See also Greatrex (n. 19), 120–2.

67 The other major account of the rebellion is found in Marcellinus Comes, Additamentum, a.537.4. Pseudo-Zachariah of Mytilene, Ecclesiastical History, 10.1.c, in all likelihood refers to this event as well, but it is impossible to be certain given the state of the text. See also Greatrex, G. and Lieu, S., The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars, Part II, AD 363–630 (London, 2002), 101.

68 Wars 1.26.5: Ἰωάννης τις ἦν ἐνταῦθα ἐν καταλόγῳ τεταγμένος πεζῶν.

69 Namely, Marcellinus Comes, Additamentum, a.537.4

70 Wars 1.26.9: τινὲς δέ ϕασιν οὐ τοὺς στρατιώτας αὐτὸ πρώτους εἰργάσθαι, ἀλλ᾽ αὐτῶν ἔτι μελλόντων τε ἐν τῇ μεταύλῳ καὶ κατωρρωδηκότων τὸν κίνδυνον, τῶν τινα ἀλλαντοπωλῶν ξὺν αὐτοῖς ὄντα ἐσπηδῆσαί τε ξὺν τῇ κοπίδι καὶ τῷ Ἰωάννῃ ἐντυχόντα ἀπροσδοκήτως παῖσαι.

71 The word for a sausage vendor, ἀλλαντοπώλης, is rare in extant Greek and Aristophanes is the only other author of note to use it. Procopius' use of Aristophanic language, particularly in the Secret History, is well documented, see esp. Lozza, G., ‘Tracce di linguaggio comico negli Anecdota di Procopio’, in Criscuolo, U. and Maisano, R. (edd.), Categorie linguistiche e concettuali della storiografia bizantina (Naples, 2000), 8197, as well as Kaldellis (n. 4, 2004), 58–9 and 149 n. 89; (n. 4, 2010), 261–2.

72 Ar. Eq. 1387–92.

73 Connor, W.R., Thucydides (Princeton, 1984), 210–13 and Hornblower, S., A Commentary on Thucydides, vol. 3 (Oxford, 2008), 744–5.

74 Pazdernik, C., ‘Procopius and Thucydides on the labors of war: Belisarius and Brasidas in the field’, TAPhA 130 (2000), 149–87, at 149–52.

75 Dignas, B. and Winter, E., Rome and Persia in Late Antiquity: Neighbours and Rivals (Cambridge, 2007), 171–2.

76 Wars 2.1.1: Χρόνῳ δὲ οὐ πολλῷ ὕστερον ὁ Χοσρόης μαθὼν ὡς καὶ Ἰταλίαν Βελισάριος Ἰουστινιανῷ βασιλεῖ προσποιεῖν ἤρξατο, οὐκέτι κατέχειν οἷός τε ἦν τὴν διάνοιαν, ἀλλὰ σκήψεις ἐπινοεῖν ἤθελεν, ὅπως δὴ λόγῳ τινὶ εὐπρεπεῖ τὰς σπονδὰς λύσειεν.

77 Kaldellis (n. 4, 2010), 262–4.

78 Wars 2.3.4–11 and Dignas and Winter (n. 75), 106–7.

79 Kaldellis (n. 4, 2010), 260–2.

80 Ibid. 261–2.

81 Wars. 2.3.57: οὐ μέντοι Ῥωμαῖοι τοῦτο ὑπώπτευον, οὐδὲ δὴ Πέρσας λύσειν ποτὲ τὰς ἀπεράντους καλουμένας σπονδὰς ᾤοντο ...

82 Wars. 2.3.50–1: λύουσι γὰρ τὴν εἰρήνην οὐχ οἳ ἂν ἐν ὅπλοις γένοιντο πρῶτοι, ἀλλ᾽ οἳ ἂν ἐπιβουλεύοντες ἐν σπονδαῖς τοῖς πέλας ἁλοῖεν. τὸ γὰρ ἔγκλημα τῷ ἐγκεχειρηκότι, κἂν ἀπῇ τὸ κατορθοῦν, πέπρακται.

83 Wars. 2.4.22: τὰ γὰρ τῶν ἠδικηκότων ἐγκλήματα αἱ πράξεις, οὐχ αἱ διάνοιαι, δηλοῦσι τοῖς πέλας.

84 Wars 2.4.15: ὃς καὶ τὴν ἐν Δάρας ἔναγχος γενομένην τυραννίδα καταλελύκει.

85 I am greatly indebted to the anonymous referee and Bruce Gibson for many helpful comments, as well as to Anthony Kaldellis and Walter Stevenson for their advice and support. I owe a broader debt to Ruth Bellows.

1 Procopius' Wars (sometimes History of the Wars) is divided into eight books, of which the first seven are arranged by theatre rather than chronology. Books 1 and 2 cover the Persian War, Books 3 and 4 the Vandal War in Africa, and Books 5–7 the Gothic War in Italy. The eighth book is a supplement that extends the narrative down to 552/3 across all theatres.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Classical Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0009-8388
  • EISSN: 1471-6844
  • URL: /core/journals/classical-quarterly
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed