The Byzantine Secrets of Procopius

Judith Herrin considers the Jekyll-and-Hyde output of Justinian's court historian, alternately respectful official chronicler and tabloid-style exposer of imperial scandal.

How many and how great are the benefits which are wont to accrue to states through History, which transmits to future generations the memory of those who have gone before and resists the steady effort of time to bury events in oblivion... Wherefore our concern must be solely this – that all the deeds of the past shall be clearly set forth, and by what man, whosoever he might be, they were wrought ... Indeed it is through this very service that many men of later times strive after virtue by emulating the honours of those who have preceeded them and ... are quite likely to shun the basest practices.

This classic statement on the role of history was written by Procopius in the sixth-century AD at the opening of his treatise On Buildings, in praise of the Emperor Justinian. With its insistence that good examples inspire and guide the young, it would seem to fit the present Secretary of State for Education's idea of the role of history in education today.

Indeed, the aim of Procopius' major work, A History of the Wars in eight books, is presented in clear pedagogic terms:

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email if you have any problems.