Saturday, October 29, 2011

Christ and Goths before Wulfila - Procopius of Caesarea

Byzantine sources about the early history of Christ and the Goths (Geta, Gothorum) are rare. These three historians are mentioned as the best witnesses

Procopius of C├Žsarea (Historia, IV.-VIII., de Bello Italico adversus Gothos gesto)
Jornandes (de Getarum [Gothorum] origine et rebus gestis)
Isidore Hispalensis (Historia Gothorum)

Procopius of Caesarea

Procopius of Caesarea wrote extensively about Goths - but he concentrated on the events during the reign of Justinian.

Procopius was born in Caesarea in Palestine late in the fifth century and died not earlier than AD 562. He is known as one of the greatest later Greek historians. He became a lawyer, and in AD 527 he was made legal adviser and secretary of Belisarius, commander against the Persians , and went with Belisarius again in AD 533 against the Vandals, and in AD 535 against the Ostrogoths. After AD 541, or AD 540, Procopius returned to Constantinople. He might have attended Belisarius again when Belisarius and then Narses campaigned against Tutila in Italy.

His History Of The Wars in 8 books recounts the Persian Wars of emperors Justinus and Justinian down to AD 550 (2 books); the Vandalic War and after events in Africa AD532-546 (2 books); the Gothic War against the Ostrogoths in Sicily and Italy AD 536-552 (3 books); and a sketch of events to AD 554 (1book). The whole consists mostly of military history, with a lot of information about people and places also, and about special events. Procopius was a diligent, careful, judicious narrator of the facts and developments and shows good powers of description. He is just to the Empire's enemies and boldly criticizes Justinian. Procopius's education included all the greatest of the Greek historians and geographers, as well as the poets and the orators. An interesting aspect of Procopius is his personal as well as his official familiarity with the people, the places, and the events of which he writes. His account of "Justinian's Buildings" (peri ktismaton) was completed in A.D. 558 or 559. He is thought to have written it either by Imperial command or to deflect suspicions of disaffection.

Procopius writes about the early history of Goths in his History of Wars that consists of eight books. They are introduced in Book III in the following way:

Now while Honorius was holding the imperial power in the West, barbarians took possession of his land; and I shall tell who they were and in what manner they did so. There were many Gothic nations in earlier times, just as also at the present, but the greatest and most important of all are the Goths, Vandals, Visigoths, and Gepaedes. In ancient times, however, they were named Sauromatae and Melanchlaeni and there were some too who called these nations Getic.

All these, while they are distinguished from one another by their names, as has been said, do not differ in anything else at all. For they all have white bodies and fair hair, and are tall and handsome to look upon, and they use the same laws and practise a common religion. For they are all of the Arian faith, and have one language called Gothic; and, as it seems to me, they all came originally from one tribe, and were distinguished later by the names of those who led each group.

This people used to dwell above the Ister River from of old. Later on the Gepaedes got possession of the country about Singidunum and Sirmium, on both sides of the Ister River, where they have remained settled even down to my time.

Procopius of Caesarea then goes on to describe the Visigoths. The events he describes in more detail  take place over hundred years later than the early history of Goths we are hunting: Flavius Honorius Augustus was Emperor of Western Rome from 395 to 423 A.D.

But the Visigoths, separating from the others, removed from there and at first entered into an alliance with the Emperor Arcadius, but at a later time (for faith with the Romans cannot dwell in barbarians), under the leadership of Alaric, they became hostile to both emperors, and, beginning with Thrace, treated all Europe as an enemy's land.

Now the Emperor Honorius had before this time been sitting in Rome, with never a thought of war in his mind, but glad, I think, if men allowed him to remain quiet in his palace. But when word was brought that the barbarians with a great army were not far off, but somewhere among the Taulantii, he abandoned the palace and fled in disorderly fashion to Ravenna, a strong city lying just about at the end of the Ionian Gulf, while some say that he brought in the barbarians himself, because an uprising had been started against him among his subjects; but this does not seem to me trustworthy, as far, at least, as one can judge of the character of the man.

And the barbarians, finding that they had no hostile force to encounter them, became the most cruel of all men. For they destroyed all the cities which they captured, especially those south of the Ionian Gulf, so completely that nothing has been left to my time to know them by, unless, indeed, it might be one tower or one gate or some such thing which chanced to remain. And they killed all the people, as many as came in their way, both old and young alike, sparing neither women nor children. Wherefore even up to the present time Italy is sparsely populated. They also gathered as plunder all the money out of all Europe, and, most important of all, they left in Rome nothing whatever of public or private wealth when they moved on to Gaul. But I shall now tell how Alaric captured Rome.
Procopius History of the Wars Book III.ii

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