Friday, 2 December 2016

War and the Plague in the Sixth Century (AD)

I've been going back over some material on the sixth-century plague in the past month or two, partially for another project (digital textbook), partially for this new (ish) research project, and partially out of interest.  I've made Meier's new article (Early Medieval Europe 2016) bus reading, and so I've been slowly working my way through it, and definitely enjoying it.  My bus trips are short, so I only ever get so far.

So far, just over halfway through, I think he's done a good job of summarizing earlier research - it's an excellent introduction as is to the subject - and is making some good points all the same.  Earlier today, I came across his brief sections, lines even, on the effects of the plague on waging war.  As he notes, this is an issue that hasn't been resolved. 

Some hold that the plague had a significant impact on Rome's ability to wage war, let alone that of other states like Persia.  This impacted everything from financing war to the paying of troops.  The varied instances of military unrest that cropped up afterwards in places like Africa should be attributed to the lack of money to pay the men.  Problems with recruitment too - Belisarius had to rely on finding men himself later during the war in Italy - would also come down to the impact of the plague.  There simply weren't enough men. 

Others, however, hold the opposite line.  Rome was able to wage war on at least two fronts simultaneously during the outbreak of the plague, which would seem to minimize its impact on the empire's ability to wage war.  The thinking goes:  if plague really did have a significant impact on Justinian's military, how could they put 1000s of men in the field in Africa, Italy, Bulgaria, and Syria at the same time? 

As noted, this is an issue that hasn't been resolved, and it's one that's interested me for a little while.  Coming back to it again now, however, is it even possible to get any kind of resolution?  Most importantly, how could we hope to measure the plague's direct impact on the state's ability to wage war?  Our evidence isn't good enough, so far as I can tell, to indicate changes in the number of soldiers fighting for Rome before or after the plague took hold.  There are a few big figures for the military as whole, and references to various armies by Procopius and others.  But those are very much context specific, and there's often a lot of material that gets left out.

We also know little about the specifics of recruitment.  There are a few pieces of legislation that get into recruitment, and some of this we can date with a good deal of precision.  But the recruitment material is from the years before the plague broke out.  It also tends to be about the process itself:  these are the sorts of men who can and should be recruited, and this is what they should and should not do.  It doesn't reveal anything, really, about where they might be from and what to do if men couldn't be found.  There's no legislation that reveals any sort of crisis in recruitment in the middle years of the sixth century. 

The truth is, the evidence, as a whole, is often ambiguous.  While it might reveal things like damage, depopulation, financial instability, and mixed success in war, it doesn't connect these potential impacts of war to the wars themselves or the plague.  For instance, was the Roman Empire in the 540s and 550s struggling in war so much because of the plague, or because it was engaged on so many different fronts?  To take another example, Procopius spends a good deal of time on the impact of the plague on the empire in his famous passage.  He also details the impact of the wars in his Wars and Secret History.  What he doesn't do, however, is connect the plague to the mixed success at war.  It could be because there was no connection.  It could also be that he didn't realize that there was a connection.  Or it could be that there was one that he recognized, but one he chose to ignore in favour of other explanations, like the evils of Justinian. 

In short, there's no resolution yet for this problem, but I'm not sure we could ever get a definitive one.  With that said, the best, I think, that we could hope for is an analysis of the indirect or circumstantial kind.  There seems to be better evidence for the impact of the plague on other aspects of life, like the broader economy and rural agriculture.  If we can establish its impact on all these other matters, it seems likely that it would have had an impact on the military too. 

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Procopius, War, and the Law

One of the biggest surprises of the summer was receiving a grant for a research project on more sixth-century things.  I’ve applied for all sorts of grants over the years, and generally been unsuccessful.  I’d all but dismissed my chances of getting this one until I received the shocking notice. 

The grant is, effectively, for a book that will be the follow-up to Procopius book one, and it will look more at the history side than the historiographical one.  That means Procopius is still important, but he’s one part of a whole, with the other part/s occupied by the archaeological, epigraphic, legal, and papyrological evidence.  It also entails considering, at least to some degree, the other literary evidence.  Ultimately the book will provide something of a commentary on how Procopius deals with war in the sixth century, with the discussion ranging from military organization to planning and logistics, and even how war was fought. 

The book will offer a holistic approach, and we’re fortunate in that the age of Justinian is so well documented, perhaps more so than just about every other period of the ancient or late antique worlds, at least in my opinion.  The catch is that the voluminous evidence doesn’t always cover the same affairs, and this is particularly true for military matters.  There are, for instance, some detailed reports on fortifications in Jordan and Bulgaria, but scarce reports on those same structures in our surviving literary evidence.  We have detailed descriptions of battles from Procopius and some other authors, but little in the way of surviving weaponry.  This means we can’t always compare this disparate material, and trying to make sense of all of it can be a bit of a challenge.  The danger, lo temptation, too is trying to make all the pieces fit together, when, in reality, the pieces come from different puzzles.  Still, one of the great thrills of this project is that it’s given me the opportunity to dabble into all sorts of other kinds of evidence that I’ve paid less attention to in the past. 

To this point, when I haven’t been embroiled in all sorts of other work matters, I’ve been concentrating a great deal on the other evidence.  I’ve discovered, for instance, that there is far more epigraphic evidence for military matters in the sixth century than I’d previously believed.  While we’re nowhere near the epigraphic heights of the first two centuries AD, there are a few inscriptions in Latin that either mention Justinian, a general, and assorted other commanders as well some military units.  There are even more Greek ones.  Many of these have only a tangential bearing on my project, for most of the war-related ones have more to say about war’s impact than about how it is waged, and I’m starting to think I won’t be able to get into those matters.  There’s also the Anastasius edict, which I’d only been vaguely familiar with before.  I certainly hadn’t realized what a fabulous document it is. 

In fact, I feel fortunate that there are so many wonderful research tools at our disposal now, from the two excellent epigraphic databases (for Greek and Latin), to the papyrological one, and the TLG, which does require access to a research library of some capacity or other. 

We also now have the wonderful text and translation of the Justinianic Codex, and the grant allowed me to buy a copy.  I’ve been looking at this legal material in more depth than I ever have before, and it’s forced me to come to grips with what is quite a substantial body evidence, and one that’s been scarcely applied to the military sphere, especially in the sixth century, apart from Jones.  So far it’s posing all sorts of interesting questions for me.  For one thing, there’s a staggering amount of legislation, and it seems aspiring lawyers would have had to understand, even know, just about all of it.  If Procopius himself had been a lawyer, and I think he had, this means that he too would have had to have been intimately familiar with the material.  It turns out too that assessors were tasked with knowing the law, and even providing guidance to judges who might require assistance. 

If Procopius was both a lawyer and an assessor, this in itself raises interesting questions about Procopius’ practices as an historian, but also what or who was considered an essential part of an army.  Surely Procopius wasn’t the only assessor acting in a military environment, just the only one who wrote quite so much and so well.  It also raises questions about the long reach of Justinian, and how exactly Procopius might have got the job.  Were generals assigned assessors by Justinian so that he could, in some ways, keep a check on the generals?  Maybe not directly, but indirectly.  In other words, were the generals expected to follow the letter of the law as dictated by Justinian, and were they assigned assessors to ensure that this happened? It seems unlikely, perhaps, but then quite a lot of the legislation found in the Corpus Iuris Civilis that specifically concerns military matters actually deals with what could be considered property duties and expectations of generals and the like. 

The legal material also has me wondering if it, in some way, should be considered an ideal:  this is how things should be, in Justinian’s eyes.  How often would they work that way in practice?  And for my purposes (military stuff), can Procopius provide evidence for this?  Is the law in some sense the rhetoric, and what Procopius describes the reality? 

Anyway, there’s a lot to chew on, and quite a bit more to digest, so I hope to provide more posts in the coming months.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Roman Military Kaibos (i.e. loos)

One of the biggest surprises of my tour of select Roman military sites on the British frontier/s has been coming across the "prominently" placed, and often signposted, Roman military loos (in Britain, so loos).  Of course, there had to be a place where people did numbers ones and number twos, but in normal conversation or discussion - at least in my experiences in class and in the course of my research - it's not something that's entered my stream (pun intended) of consciousness.  Toilets have come occasionally, or rarely even, in my preparation in years past for the UofW's Roman Society course.  It's always fun too to bring up the famed bleaching of Roman togas, for which we have such great evidence from Pompeii.  Indeed, I remember learning all about it in my 4th year honours seminar class on Pompeii at Mac.  

Anyway, point is it's come up on occasion, I know it had to be there (in the back of my mind), but I hadn't given much thought beyond that.  I've come across five Roman military loos on this comparably short and condensed tour:  one at Caerleon in Wales, one at Chesters in England, one at Housesteads in England, and one at Arbeia in England.  Evidently too, though I haven't seen it myself, they've found a wooden "posh" toilet seat at Vindolanda.  What's familiar about seeing what few "seats" we've found is that the shape is basically the same that you find in most toilets, at least in the west, today.  What's less familiar, again in the west, save for those troughs you find in so many UK mens' toilets, is the public aspect of the urination and defecation.  Some of us don't have any trouble doing the duty in the presence of others; others of us, myself included, like to keep our number ones and numbers twos on the down-loo.  In the Roman forts, however, at least those that I've seen, the common soldiers are more often than not going to be doing the business - how many euphemisms can I use? - in the presence of their comrades.  Sure, we can't prove that those long-dead Roman soldiers who shared my views didn't go off into the middle of the woods to do their thing, but I'm guessing given various rules and regulations surrounding movement into and out of a fort on duty, this might have been more difficult to do.  

Ultimately, this public pooing raises all sorts of interesting questions.  For one thing, from the perspective of the sensory experience of Roman life, it's not hard to imagine what it might have been like.  If you've ever had some experience of port-o-johns, as they called them in my youth, put up for construction workers or at outdoor concerts and the like, or even the kaibos and outhouses of the Canadian cottage-country world, then you know how bad those things can smell when you're inside.  Many of those, at least the former, would be emptied on some sort of rotation; of the latter, I've never really known.  In the case of Roman military bases, however, would anyone every empty those things?  Presumably something would have to give, though beyond my experience with dog poo in the cities and wilds of Canada, I know little-to-nothing about how long it takes for it decompose.  Still, if it was allowed to pile up, and if the all the men (to say nothing of the women and children) in a base were regular (no fibre needed), it wouldn't be long before you might have something approaching "Aegean Stable" proportions with no Herakles in sight.  Even so, even if the emptying of the loos wasn't regular, the smell, possibly even the taste, of those environments would have been remarkable unless they made some attempt to mask the smell or keep things in check.  And, these loos were also found within the confines of what where enclosed settlements – Roman military forts were without fail surrounded by walls, often stone ones that would, I’m guessing, trap the smell inside.  For, as bad as it might be for those who went in to do a number one or number two, there’s also the issue of the smell wafting over to those who lived beside the loos.  If I recall, at Caerleon the loos were positioned right beside one part of the barracks.  Perhaps if you’d been a bad soldier you’d have to live at that end for a time?

As many forts as possible, it seems, from what I can gather, tried their utmost to be self-sustaining.  Should the loos be seen as part of this practice?  When it comes to urine I would think so, if we assume that there was some sort of piping that led the urine to some sort of fulling centre.  On the other hand, I don’t recall ever coming across some sort of place in a fort.  Maybe they’re there and I missed them, but maybe not.  Of course, Roman soldiers, the odd officer aside, would likely have little concern with getting their togas gleaming white.  If we get back to the poo, might it have been used as part of wider fertilization practices in and around the fort?  I have no idea how useful human poo is when it comes to fertilization, though I imagine it would have some benefit.  At the same time, their diets wouldn’t have been comprised of the same sorts chemicals and processed foods that ours are today, so their poo might have been more valuable from a re-use perspective, though I’m speculating.

Another issue is the standing or sitting for number ones – and one can’t hope to resolve (I think?).  We thinking of men standing to pee and, well, obviously sitting to poo.  From a practical point of view – and bear in mind you would get a whole row of these toilets – would those who had to pee be standing, hypothetically, between those who had to poo?  What happened if the spray got out of control?  On the other hand, did you just sit in these environments?  Standing while peeing, at least among males, seems like a biological characteristic, at least when toilets aren’t involved.  But if you were in this environment would you change your habits?

One last thing to note:  unit cohesion.  What better way to bond with your fellow soldiers than in the loos?  Those who shit together, fight better together.  Might these public military loos have had some sort of advantage from that perspective?  I guess the only catch with this angle is that I believe that public loos were a common thing in the Roman Empire in general.  In that instance it might have been less the case that it provided soldiers an opportunity to bond and more the case that it was just part of regular Roman urban life.  Indeed, many see Roman forts as mini-outposts of Roman urban life, which I think is a reasonable enough assumption.  

All in all, much food for thought – or in this case digest.  And I leave you with a photo of the Roman military kaibos at Arbeia.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

England, Hadrian's Wall, and the Romans Part 2 (images)

In the previous I blabbed a bit about the trip and included a few observations. Above are a few of the highlights.  I'd have done more but the internet connection here is slow.  Suffice to say, there are shots from Roman Cardiff (the wall at the start), a helmet, the amphitheatre, and part of the barracks at Caerleon (Wales), some shots from a milefort and the wall at Cawfields on Hadrian's Wall, and a couple of shots from Vindolanda, one with the spaces underneath the floor (I believe) and the other, a gravely block, which is where they found the remains of a child (evidence for children in the fort).

More next time, possibly in a few days.

England, Hadrian's Wall, and the Romans Part 1 (text)

I’m currently in the tail end of my whirlwind tour of British libraries and military sites.  After making the trek, by car, from Winnipeg to Brantford with the dog, I flew off to London to head to the Institute for Classical Studies library.  Had four productive days, then, after a brief layover just outside of Worcester, it was off to Wales – with another family layover at the start, this time in Cardiff.  I spend two nights taking photos of the area around Caerleon, site of some well-preserved legionary ruins.  Next I charged off for two nights in Aberystwyth, for a lecture on cohesion and combat motivation.  Went down well, and got some excellent feedback.

A brief sojourn to Devon (Sidmouth and family) was followed by a trip to Oxford for some more library work – and some typing.  I also squeezed in two nights in Birmingham to catch up with some friends and colleagues, including my former PhD supervisor.  Then a night back in Oxford (family) and a night in Devon (Sidmouth, family again).  This week, however, I’ve been in the north, along Hadrian’s Wall.  The purpose of this portion of the trip has been to visit as many Roman military sites along the wall as is feasible and to take as many photos as possible.  These photos, or the best of them, will appear in an introduction to the Roman military, in the works.  I think in a follow-up post I’ll attach a couple of the pictures.  Perhaps, too, I’ll consider joining Instagram.  Although I’ll be posting this written entry from Newcastle, I’m writing it on the train from Carlisle, a train trip I’ve done twice before. 

Anyway, there’s probably any number of things I could say at this point, from how I’m feeling about the news about Gord Downie (hits close to home in a number of ways) to the remarkable beauty of this landscape, but I should say a thing or two about military stuff, since I’ve devoted this blog to work matters.

What I’d like to draw attention to here is how well-sited most of the bases are along the wall.  The wall, one of the most glorious archaeological sites in the world, in my humble opinion, runs for about 73 miles (British? – never understood the difference, if there is one, between US and UK miles) from coast to coast, or sea to sea.  That’s from just west of Carlisle to Newcastle.  Now, at many points the isle of Britain tends to be much wider, so that they’ve chosen one of narrowest points, though not necessarily the easiest in terms of landscape, to build the wall reflects, I think, Roman practicality.  Sure, their geographical knowledge differs from ours, but after brief consideration it’s a remarkable coincidence that they built it at this point.  I’m sure there were geographical and tribal considerations in part, but practicality and cost must have been a major consideration.

The other matter, or the principal matter, that I wanted to touch on was also how well-placed the sites are.  In nearly all those sites that survive that I saw – and the forts and fortlets in particular – you are afforded excellent views of the surrounding countryside.  This, too, could be chance:  it’s not the case that the landscape has changed enough that my modern perspective is defective, as you can see when you notice how the wall hugs the landscape.  No, some thinking went into choosing the locations, and again, in an albeit small sample size, and without making any mathematical calculations using, say, Google Earth, it’s clear they wanted their forts in spots where they could observe approaching visitors with comparable ease.  In some cases too they went to such remarkable lengths to do this that certain forts were built into the side of hills.  Housesteads, for instance, is one the side of the hill, and the slope is not inconsiderable.  I don’t doubt that there might have been some levelling in the past, but the surviving foundations suggest that this was limited.

 Now, there are obviously lower points – the wall goes in as straight a line as possible, but the landscape is anything but flat and straightforward.  This means it snakes its way up and down up and over hills and then down into valleys.  That also means that certain spots would have been easy to get across for a determined group.  Even there, however, it should be stressed that there were towers or forts or something every mile (or is it Roman mile? – can’t remember off the top of my head).  And given you could see that sort of distance fairly easily, unless the conditions were dreadful, I don’t think they need have been too concerned, and they probably weren’t. 

All in all, as I’m sure commentators have noted time and again, even when they have disagreed over the precise function of the wall, it’s clear that a great deal of care, consideration, and planning when into its construction.  This was no mean feat for any number of reasons, and it is a testament to Roman ingenuity and practicality – and in some instances their efficiency.  Plus, while I don’t doubt that the wall had all sorts of functions ranging from the control of peoples to the movement of goods, when you’re here and you see it on the ground it’s hard to get past its defensive function too.

From the train south of the wall, until next time.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Catafractarius: officer rank, type of soldier, or both?

I'm frantically trying to make some notes and do some reading so that I can do some typing. I have three draft chapters due June 1st (thought they were do July 1st, then double-checked and saw the mistake). I'm also giving a paper in 2 weeks (the ideas, and nearly an outline, are ready to go -and I've been told the rougher the better). I also have a paper that was due May 31, but which has been pushed to July 1st. Anyway, frantically working away.

One of those pieces is a chapter in my intro to the Roman military book-project, and a chapter on combat at that. I've been struggling, a bit, with how much to include, especially since you can only say so much about combat in 8,500 words (my target) - and given it's meant, really, as in introduction, I'm cognizant of the need to keep the material manageable (not overwhelming with titles, for instance). Anyway, nearly ready to start typing the chapter and gather some last minute research. In particular, I'm going back over Speidel's (the elder, so to speak) 2000 paper, "Who Fought in the Front?". It's a bit fuzzy, because I read it ages ago. Essentially it takes the evidence of Maurice and uses it to look at who was at the front of the ranks in combat fighting in the years between 300 and 600.

It's not an unreasonable idea - using Maurice for an earlier period. After all, Vegetius is regularly used in that way, though he does regularly refer to this antiqua legio (though scholars use other information too). Now, all well and good in this chapter until I get to Speidel's claim that catafractarius could refer to a rank in the military, like decurio (a cavalry rank, usually), and that it under-officers of this new rank were those who fought in the front. That they were heavily-armoured would, on the surface, seem to support his claim. Indeed, if you're at the front doing most of the fighting, then you really do or probably would need more armour, though there's a lot we don't know about what actually happened when opposing sides came to blows, so to speak.

As suggested, what stood out to me was Speidel's claim that catafractarius could refer to rank, and not just a type of soldier. On the surface the suggestion struck me as just plain wrong - I did an encyclopaedia article on them, and I didn't come across any indication it could be an officer. So, I decided to do some digging and find out if I'd been mistaken (wouldn't be the first or the last time I've gotten things wrong). It turns out, however, that the evidence for this is comprised of two lone papyri: CHLA 18 660, and CHLA 43 1248. You can look up all the papyri at, and the inscriptions I'll allude to at The two papyri, however, need not be interpreted as Speidel (and actually Rea in ZPE 56 and Zuckerman in ZPE 100) suggest.

CHLA 18 660, a list of sorts (of supplies) seems to be contrasting soldier catafractarius with actuarius, and an actuarius in this case isn't a rank in the military, but effectively an accountant (albeit one doing paperwork for the military). So, to my mind a type of civilian in the military, and unintentionally contrasted, with a type of soldier in the military. CHLA 43 1248 might point to catafractarius as a rank – for we have a Sarapio promoted (provectus) to decurio at line 1.13: sarapio catafracta(rius), prou(ectus) decur(io), and an Apion promoted to catafractarius at line 1.14: Apion eq(ues) prou(ectus) catafra(ctarius). But in the case of Sarapio, why must it be evidence he’s going from catafractarius to decurio, and why can’t it be that he’s a catafractarius who’s promoted to decurio?  In the case of Apion, might it not be evidence for a regular cavalryman (eques) who’s just been upgraded to catafract? Indeed, in the other two instances, in the same papyrus (CHLA 43 1248), catafractarius is clearly being used to refer to soldier-type. It would seem to me to be needlessly complicated to use both (potential) senses of term, rank and soldier-type, in this document (Contra see Speidel 2000: 477, n. 22).  The two other uses are at 2.8, where we find scholam catafractariorum, and at 3.15, where we find catafractarii. The latter, admittedly, is a bit more ambiguous.

In any case, in these instances it's best to bring in comparative evidence, and for that I turned to the Notitia Dignitatum, and the aforementioned epigraphic and papyrological databases.  In the ND, it should come as no surprise that all mentions of catafract denote a type of soldier (or type of unit). There are at least three units of catafractarii in the eastern praesental armies (Not. Dign. or. 5.34, 6.35, 6.36), one in Thrace, (Not. Dign. or. 8.29), another in the Thebaid (Not. Dign. or. 31.52), and a third in Scythia (Not. Dign. or. 39.16), to say nothing of those we find in Britain   (Not. Dign. oc. 7.200, Not. Dign. oc. 40.21).  

In the epigraphic database there are 16 inscriptions (Latin) that come up that list a form of "cataf", the term I used in my search.  They are AE 1912, 192; AE 1919, 18; CIL 3.99; CIL 3.10307; CIL 3.14406a (here specifies that he’s a heavily armoured cavalryman – equites catafractarios); CIL 5.6784; CIL 11.5632; CIL 13.1848; CIL 13.3493; CIL 13.7323; CIL 16.110; IBulgarien 52; IIFDR 110; IK 31.40 (this one lists both catafractariorum and clibaniariorum); ILCV 504; and AE 1931, 68.  In all 16 of those inscriptions, a form of catafract is used to refer to describe or denote a type of unit, and without question. 

Next I turned back to the papyrological database and decided to try the Greek form, kataphraktos/oi.  In this instance I got 9 hits, but of those only 7 of 9 dated to the common era, and those 7 generally dated between the early third and middle fourth centuries. The first, BGU 1.316, uses the term to refer to a heavily-armoured horse. The second,  P. Abinn. 77, is a lot like CHLA 18 660, and so makes distinctions between civil-military persons and strictly military ones, again actuarius vs. catafractarius (though Hellenized forms, of course). Yes, it could be for officials, but I think catafractarius as heavily-armed cavalry soldier conveys the sense just as well.  The next one, P. Abinn. 78, another this food or supply list, like the previous one makes a distinction between a soldier, and in this case a citizen (or something like a citizen - completely civil then). The next case, P. Oxy 41.2951, uses catafractrius in the exact manner we find it in the epigraphy, namely as a kind of soldier or unit (line 19, ἀριθμοῦ καταφράκτων). P. Panop. Beatty 2 makes the sort of contrast we have in P. Abinn. 77 and 78 and CHLA 18 600.  The penultimate case, SB 18.13852, is the only really ambiguous one, where it could refer to a type of officer. It could also, however, refer to a type of solider. Finally we come to Stud. Pal. 5.97. This, like the occasional other example, could refer to officers, for they are listed as ἐπιμελητῶν καταφράκτων, so armoured men in charge,  or those in charge of the catafracts, who are sent off (ἀποστελλομένων) to Alexandria (lines 5-7). On the other hand, if the term katafractarius refers to officer, why bother specifying that they are in charge? Makes no sense.

The balance of evidence, then, such as I've found, points to catafractius meaning heavily-armoured cavalryman only, and not officer. Of course, if anyone has any evidence or thoughts they'd like to share to contradict or modify this suggestion, please do get in touch! Come to think of it, I think I should draw this up and send it in to a journal. Maybe this summer - and with more detail. Anyway, I believe I've sorted this out.  Now, to get back to the other pages of Speidel's chapter.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Agathias on War

It may seem all too predictable, especially given the trajectories of Cameron and Kaldellis, but for a long time I've considered dabbling much deeper into the world of Agathias. As little as there has been written on Procopius, even less has been written on Agathias, and a good part of that, for obvious reasons, has been devoted to his poetic proclivities. What is more, though this is, to some degree, par for the course, opinions of his capabilities vary widely, and there have been no sustained and extensive treatments of his value as an historian.  Kaldellis did write a handful of papers that focused on Agathias the historian, and Cameron wrote her monograph on Agathias more generally, but there's nothing substantial (in terms of size at least - not quality) out there on Agathias as an historian, and certainly nothing focused on his military credentials.

And yet, despite his legal background and poetic leanings, Agathias devoted a lengthy, or at least significant, and detailed history to military matters, a fact which he himself professed early in his text.  He self-consciously followed in the footsteps of Procopius, at times seeking to distance himself from Procopius' perceived failings, at others subtly agreeing and/or engaging with Procopius' military leanings.  Some see Agathias' discussion of military matters as excellent (Syvanne); others as sub-par (Wheeler).  And yet, if no one has undertaken a sustained analysis, how can we know, and how should we use him, if at all?

It's hard to underscore his importance, whether real or potential.  Like Xenophon in his Hellenica to Thucydides in his History, Agathias picks up exactly where Procopius left off in book 8.  And yet, unlike Procopius, his narrative is concentrated on only a few years, though important ones for Justinian's empire.  Agathias' History is undoubtedly shorter than Procopius' Wars - and the fact that current editions and translations don't exist in comparable texts makes my attempts to eyeball the differences between them questionable at best, there's no getting round the potential benefits of that level of detail. 

As I go through the History for other reasons, and start thinking I should devote more energy to the military character of his writing than I have (my interest in Procopius waxes and wanes several times over the course of a day), there have been a number of things that have jumped out at me.  For instance, he seems to engage with Procopius regularly, often indirectly, at least when one focuses on the military angle.  This is, I think, worth drawing attention too, especially since he's less overt in these instances than he is when it comes to the Persians, for instance. 

In addition, we know that Agathias lacked Procopius' experience with war, and so his sources for military matters would inevitably have differed in significant ways.  This would seem to cast doubt on his usefulness on military matters, though so many people who write about war these days who consider themselves experts, at least of a sort, have had no such experiences themselves, myself included.  Thus, it's not out of the realm of possibility for an educated and intelligent writer like Agathias to track down all the necessary materials to craft a believable work of military historiography.  Indeed, with this in mind, another topic that I'd have to explore would be Agathias' engagement with wider military thinking, both that evinced in the surviving military manuals, but also in the wider world.  It has struck me that Agathias' accounts have seemed far more sensible and satisfactory than I had expected and been led to believe - or even remember.  Admittedly, the last time I read him in this much detail my interest was focused almost squarely on combat. 

Anyway, much to consider.  While a thorough analysis may reveal that he doesn't deserve to be classed with Procopius, it might well be that he deserves more credit than he often gets, at least, again, in the realm of military matters.  Indeed, as I've noted before, if nothing else he seems to be one of the best writers of the experience of combat, a not unimportant subject in the wider category of military history.