Friday, 9 June 2017

Plundering the Sixth Century Mediterranean

I've been a bit overwhelmed, for lots of reasons.  But, as I trudge on, I think I am making progress.  In fact, the principal offshoot of my grant (SSHRC Insight Development Grant), one part of what was once conceived as one large book-length project and now three, is starting to take shape.  In fact, I think I've found the ties that should bind it all together in a meaningful way.  Given that I expect to start typing before too long, this seemed a good time to pause and write my thoughts/intentions down.

The overarching plan for the grant and now this book was to look at all three of Procopius' works in tandem with a focus on military matters, but more than the battles that occupied book one (and the thesis).  The plan was to make my approach as holistic as possible, with Procopius serving as the foundation for all matters pertaining to war, from organization and strategy to logistics and tactics.  As I plugged away, however, it started to seem that it was going to become something I'd rather it wasn't:  a psuedo-commentary in which I went through all the key topics usually associated with military matters found in Procopius and evaluated them systematically.  While that's important, it has the danger of forcing modern concepts or ideas on Procopius.  And, it might be a bit dry:  I'd rather there be some sort of thread underlining such an approach.

A number of years have passed since I started working on this, and a few things have influenced my thinking including my continued interest in the cultural approach to warfare, which I will likely address in some capacity or other in this book, world history, and in particular the sixth-century Roman state's place in the wider Eurasian world and how it was impacted by people to its west, north, east, and south, and its evidently evolving approach to warfare. Some significant publications have helped too, particularly Justinian's Codex, but also aspects of some of Anastasius' imperial edicts (a bit earlier, yes, but part of the same broader context).

What I've found is that the two central themes that tie the three works together, at least from the perspective I'm interested in, are defence and plunder.  In the Secret History (SH) Procopius lambastes Justinian for, among other things, his greed and desire for money, his inability to protect the empire from plundering raids carried out by myriad peoples in the Balkans and the Near East, and the damage he wrought on newly conquered lands like North Africa and Italy, as well as those of the very people he's trying to protect the empire from, the assorted barbarians.  In the Buildings (B), Procopius is obviously obsessed with Justinian's (alleged in parts) building programme, and much of it is connected with defence.  Indeed, as Procopius sees it in the B, Justinian's job is to protect the empire, and this is done by means of both men and materiel.  The B is, of course, filled with forts and fortified settlements, which Procopius alleges Justinian either built himself or repaired.  While good questions have been raised about how much of this he actually effected, there's good reason to think that he did devote considerable attention to fortification work, as a host of studies have shown.  As I suggested, however, he also regularly mentions the garrisons of these forts in the B, and he even implies that it's not enough to build fortifications, for they need men to man them.  Then there's the Wars (W), and Procopius focuses on either defence or plunder depending on the context of a particular war.  So, there's much more on defence in the PW than there is in the VW and GW.  In fact, defensive-issues tend to surface in those latter two wars after Rome has managed to win, at least initially.  The VW is rife with plundering Roman (or allied) soldiers.  While it is not quite as prevalent in Italy, it remains a problem, as the actions of Bessas, for instance, illustrate. 

I've only just given you the briefest of summaries:  the final version will flesh out the details.  Suffice to say, what we seem to have is a world rife with armies, Roman, Persian, and otherwise, eager for plunder, in which no one entity is greedier than another.  Procopius' works, when read collectively, seem to agree, in some way or another, on this.  Indeed, his perspective is understandably pro-Roman, but even he touches on the impact of Rome's actions in this regard on other places in both the W and SH.  It's also become clear to me that Procopius' emphasis on the importance of a strong defensive outlook is reflected in much of our additional evidence, from inscriptions and papyri to the law and some of our other literary sources.  There is, for instance, a strong undercurrent of fear that seems to pervade life (I've found), and Procopius, and Justinian, really, seems keen on countering this by means of defensive measures that provide safety and security.  It's possible that that this climate of fear was constructed by Justinian, and I think that many feel that this was the case.  What's less clear (and so new to me), I think, is that this extended to foreign affairs too, i.e. not only natural disasters and the social unrest that often plagued Constantinople. 

Anyway, so that's it, or what I'm running with.  The final version, obviously, will be much longer.  Should add that once all this is finished a few years from now (that's all three parts), I'll be delighted to be free from Procopius.  Not sure what I'd do next (I had something I now think I need a prolonged break, if not a clean break, from that former resident of Caesarea), but that's a few years away yet.

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