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Descriptions of battle in the Wars of Procopius

By Conor Campbell Whately


Procopius of Caesarea wrote a classicizing history of the wars of Justinian, which focuses squarely on warfare in an age when his contemporaries were often directing their attention towards theological matters. Battles make up a significant portion of this history and they are the focus of this thesis, with particular attention paid to their literary construction, as well as the values, norms, and assumptions which underscore them. \ud Chapter one focuses on the life and social background of Procopius, addressing issues such as his literary career and education. Chapter two looks at the wider context, including the three strands of thought concerning the composition of a work of history written in Greek, namely rhetoric, historiographical theory, and Greek military theory. It looks, particularly, at the theorists’ respective discussions of battle; and, the practices adopted by Procopius’ contemporaries when approaching battle, whether writing an ecclesiastical history, chronicle, or classicizing history, or a military treatise. \ud In the next four chapters I focus on the text itself. Chapter three, on the Persian Wars, looks at issues such as narrative order and pace, the exhortation, and morale, discipline, and the use of stratagems. Battles in the Vandal Wars is the subject of chapter four, and here I look at how Procopius engages with his audience through the use of literary devices such as narrator interventions and narrative markers, as well as how he characterizes the warfare itself. In chapter five I explore the influence that Homer has had on Procopius’ descriptions of battle in the Gothic Wars, especially the siege of Rome. The last chapter, six, skips the thematic approach used in the previous three chapters and instead evaluates his battles on a case-by-case basis. \ud While Procopius’ conception of battle betrays many of the hallmarks of his classical predecessors, there are unmistakable signs of the influence of his contemporary context, such as the attribution of outcomes to God. What is more, these battles, which are carefully constructed, and integrated into the wider text, showcase Procopius’ skill and ingenuity as a writer, and historian. As a result, my thesis demonstrates that Procopius needs to be taken seriously as a literary, cultural, and historical source for the sixth century

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