Monday, 22 September 2014

Military Bulletins in Late Antiquity

Two of the major projects that I'm working on at the moment are on Procopius.  One of them, as alluded to in an earlier post, will present some sort of evaluation of Procopius as a military historian.  Or maybe as a source for war is better (2 works aren't histories).  In this project more than the other Procopius one (culture and combat in the Wars), I'll be delving into his sources, so pseudo-oldschool Quellenkritik and the like.

What were Procopius' sources?  Well, in good Thucydidean and Polybian fashion, he had the benefit of experience, and had even seen firsthand much of the military material that he described.  While it's true that firsthand and eye-witness shouldn't be equated with the reliability of his material, it certainly helps.  So, Procopius had his own experiences and reports (in whatever form they took) to work with.  Being there, and getting to know the officers, and hypothetically even some of the men (though would a man like Procopius with, perhaps, great expectations want to mingle with the regular soldiers?), meant that he and the opportunity both then and afterwards to interview these participants. It's likely he used them too.

As scholars have long recognized, however, he also had to deal with those conflicts and military things for which he had no firsthand experience or account.  What did he use in those instances?  Well, perhaps the military dispatch/report/bulletin, that have been discussed for other authors (Malalas, Menander ProtectorTheophylact and the Chronicon Paschale) and periods (middle Byzantine).  Could he have used these?  Perhaps.  The frustrating thing with respect to these official reports, though with any of the evidence that he used, is that there is no virtually no way of proving unequivocally what he used.  Classicizing historians tend not to name their sources, and Procopius is no different.  On the other hand, for a number of reasons he seems likely to have used something.  So what about these dispatches?

Greatrex suggested that these might have been housed in facilities not only in Constantinople but also in Antioch at the HQ for the Comes Orientis.  Procopius could easily have accessed them, particularly those in Constantinople, especially if we are right to think Procopius spent the last bit (however long that might have been) of his life in the capital.  However his life might have panned out, it seems likely he could have found a way to access these if need be.

What form would these bulletins take?  Guess that depends, in part, on what the government might have wanted to make a record of and, indeed, some of the entries in late antique and early medieval chronicles are suggestive.  Essentially the basics: the whos, whats, wheres, whens, and maybe less likely the hows and whys of a campaigns.  The whys might, more often than not, be left for the historians to discuss, or the inquiries launched when things go wrong.  Would they have kept them for each and every campaign?  Would it depend on the particular emperor or even his staff?  We have hints at some possible examples of these:  Heraclius' letter from Azerbaijan reporting on military matters in 628.  Caesar's Gallic Wars might also evoke (or be indicative of?) these sorts of things - though in the latter case they would seem to be quite detailed.

More to come...

No comments:

Post a Comment