Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Procopius' Sources

For the second major Procopius project of mine, I've been investigating sources and thinking about reliability in ways that I wasn't for the first one.  It's all much more interesting than I'd considered, and I've benefitted from reading some interesting things of relevance by people like Borm, Whitby, Howard-Johnston, Kaegi, Colvin, Cameron, Greatrex, Treadgold, Parnell (excellent prosopography) and especially Sinclair (military bulletins), among others.

One of the first things that I did was evaluate, or consider, those instances where Procopius, the historical figure, intervened himself in the action, whether it was to provide advice about trumpets, get some intel from Sicily, or scope out some supply routes (and the supplies themselves) for the Romans.  He doesn't intervene too often, though when he does he evinces some knowledge and experience with military stuff.

More recently I've turned to campaign reports and bulletins, and oral sources.  I've been engaged in some TLG searches with a few choice words and phrases, and they have turned up some interesting results.  There are, for instance, far more references to specific spearmen (doryphoroi) and shield-bearers (hypaspistes) than I had appreciated before, and possibly more than there should be given their relative numbers.  I had wondered if this was, in part, due to their increased usage - and the connections with buccellarii, Procopius' experiences, and Belisarius' wealth might bear this out - in sixth century combat.  But, I've also noticed that it is invariably the spearmen who are mentioned rather than the shield bearers.  Not unusual in and of itself - all classical and classicizing (or just about) authors and theorists advocate attention be focused on the elite - though it's definitely something that's worth exploring.  I can certainly appreciate why some see these men as the ones who gave Procopius much of his information.

I should add, on the subject of oral sources I'm also taking a look at Procopius' usage of words like phasi.  Has a good pedigree, of course.  What's stuck me so far is how much he uses it in what I consider the Herodotean parts of the Wars:  books 1, 2 and 8 - the majority of usages are found there. This too might not be a coincidence, given, if I recall (off the top of my head) Herodotus' practices.

Bulletins and reports are a tougher nut to crack.  None of these survive, save a possible example in the Chronicon Paschale.  We also lack all those strength reports from the earlier empire, which seem to hint at some sort of record keeping of this sort, at least to my mind.  Having considered some battles again, and looked closely (again) at one or two, I'm finding it hard trying to decide how we would find evidence of this sort of thing, and if we did what it would mean.  Just because something's official it doesn't make it right.  It does seem entirely likely that they existed in some form, and Procopius himself might have composed some for Justinian.  If that's true, he probably did use them - maybe it was in his capacity as writer of official reports that he decided to compose the Wars?

Anyway, lots of interesting things being uncovered (to my mind), with many more to follow.  This also happens to be raising, at least in my mind, interesting questions about composition.  More to come...

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