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The Secret History of Procopius, tr. by Richard Atwater, [1927], at

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p. 280 p. 281



BELISARIUS, according to one learned guess, is a Latin transliteration of the Slavonic "Beli-Tsar," or "White Prince." Procopius elsewhere says Belisarius came from Germania, a village "on the border of Thrace and Illyria." Thus both the Germans and the Hungarians have been able to claim this general as an early hero of their race.


SILVERIUS'S later destruction, promised on page 28, seems to have been overlooked by the impetuous historian.


JOHN OF CAPPADOCIA, pretorian prefect, was highly unpopular because of his extreme cruelties, but Justinian refused to remove him from an office he made so financially successful. Discovering he was plotting to make the Emperor distrustful of her, Theodora had Belisarius's wife, Antonina, lure John into a nocturnal assignation "to discuss a rebellion." An ambuscade of the Empress's guards nearly captured the prefect; he escaped with his life, but was permanently disgraced and became a priest.

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CONSTANTINE. An officer under Belisarius.


PRESIDIUS, a loyal Italian, was despoiled of two jewelled daggers by Constantine, then military governor of Spoleto. Presidius complained to Belisarius. In a resulting dispute between the general and his subordinate, Constantine drew his sword against his commander. This act of mutiny resulted in his being put to death at the general's command.


PHOTIUS. Son of Antonina by a former marriage.


CENTENARY. One centenary equaled one hundred pounds of gold.


CHOSROES. King of Persia, sometimes called Nushirvan the Just.


LAZICA. Country of the Lazi on the isthmus between the Euxine (Black) and the Caspian Seas; also known anciently as Colchis, the fabled land of Medea and the Golden Fleece.


THEODOSIUS'S death. Gibbon nicely prefers a more romantic end than the Greek allows: "Theodosius

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expired in the first fatigues of an amorous interview"!


GELIMER. Vandal King of Africa.


VITIGES. Visigoth King of Italy.


ANASTASIUS. Nephew of Theodora. The Greek word usually means "daughter's son" only, while the same noun with a feminine ending means "daughter's daughter" but sometimes "niece." Gibbon argues that Theodora according to other records had no grandson, and that in any case he could not have reached the age of puberty at this time. Furthermore, if Theodora killed a natural son on his coming to court, so that Justinian would not know of him, it is unlikely she would acknowledge the second fruit of her early misdeeds (her only issue by the Emperor, a girl, died soon after birth). The translation "nephew", since it often carries a possible romantic connotation, seems the most diplomatic escape from the indicated problem.


ANTONINA sixty years old. Gibbon would like, by "a forced but more polite construction", to make Antonina's age refer to the moment when Procopius is writing. This chronology, he thinks, "would be compatible with the manhood of Photius 

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in 536." I suspect that Gibbon's emendation is historically preferable, and that Procopius's statement as I have translated it was a tempting sarcasm which his conscience would have corrected in the later revision, had he lived to make it.


THEODORA'S fear of death. She suffered from cancer, which presently proved fatal.


BELISARIUS'S end. A picturesque but discredited later fable tells how the ungrateful Justinian finally accused Belisarius of a conspiracy against his life, stripped him of his possessions and put out his eyes, so that he was forced to beg in the streets, "Give a penny to Belisarius the general!" 


SOLOMON. Known as "the beardless general": an accidental eunuch, who on Belisarius's recall from Africa, was by him entrusted with the command of that province, and had proved a capable successor. Another eunuch, Narses, similarly reached a merited military command for a time of the armies in Italy.


QUAESTOR. Chancellor, or Secretary of State.


BLUES AND GREENS. Colors of rival hippodrome teams, whose partisans eventually differed 

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also in matter of politics and even, Gibbon suggests, religion: the Greens, in the time of Anastasius, favoring that defender of (Unit—) Arianism; the Blues, when Justinian came to notice, following him and Athanasian orthodoxy.


TYRANNY. Tyrant, to a Greek, meant specifically a monarch who had usurped the throne by force and not by normal succession.

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THEODORA and the Geese. This skit was apparently a burlesque of Leda and the Swan.

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MARRIAGE permitted between men of senatorial rank and courtesans. The nominal object of the new law was to save the girls by offering them this reward for "a glorious repentance." 

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AMASALONTHA. Gothic Queen of Italy, who had been imprisoned by her husband Theodatus.

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INSTRUCTIONS given Peter by the Emperor. Demanding Amasalontha's life and liberty be kept inviolate.

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THEODATUS eliminates Amasalontha. She was strangled in her bath.

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PAGE 160

PAPHLAGONIAN, by a familiar Greek pun, frequent in Aristophanes, also suggests "a blusterer." 

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THREE OBOLS. Ten cents.

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A TRILLION PEOPLE. "A myriad myriads of myriads," is the text, a myriad, or 10,000 being the highest number in Greek arithmetic. The commentator Alemannus computes the total as two hundred millions; and by an even stranger and more economical figuring, the translator for the Athenian Society makes two millions of it. Gibbon suggests dropping one of the myriads, to give one hundred million: "a number not wholly unpermissable." 

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SCHOLARS (Latin, scholares) was their actual nickname; but the reference is to their life of ease, not to their erudition.

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SCISSORS. The nickname refers, of course, to his economical clipping of gold coins.

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BARBARIAN, to a Greek, meant anyone who spoke a foreign language; not till late Roman times did the word take on its modern significance. Considering Procopius's occasional levities, I suspect he was aware of the humor of his phrase.