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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

Justinian the Great and his successors (518-610)

Literature, learning, and art 


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A contemporary of Justinian and Procopius, the historian Peter the Patrician, a brilliant lawyer and diplomat, was repeatedly sent as ambassador to the Persian Empire and to the Ostrogothic court, where he was kept as prisoner for three years. His writings consisted of Histories, or A History of the Roman Empire, narrating, if one may judge by the extensive fragments in which alone it has survived, events from the second Triumvirate (from Augustus) to the time of Julian the Apostate, and a treatise On the State Constitution (Katastasis or Book of Ceremonies), part of which was included in the famous work of the time of Constantine Porphyrogenitus in the tenth century, The Book of Court Ceremonies.

From Procopius until the early part of the seventh century there was a continuous line of historical writings, and each historian carried on the work of those who preceded him.

Procopius was followed directly by the well-educated lawyer, Agathias, of Asia Minor, who left, in addition to some short poems and epigrams, the somewhat artificially written work, On the Reign of Justinian, which embraces the period from 552 to 558. Following Agathias, Menander the Protector wrote in the time of Maurice, his History which was a continuation of Agathias work, and related events from the year 558 until 582, i.e., up to the year of the accession of Maurice. Only fragments of this work are in existence today, but they give a sufficient basis for judging the importance of this source, particularly from the geographic and ethnographic point of view; they offer sufficient indication that he was a better historian than Agathias. The work of Menander was continued by Theophylact Simocatta, an Egyptian, who lived during the period of Heraclius and occupied the position of imperial secretary. Besides a small work on natural science and a collection of letters, he also wrote a history of the period of Maurice (582-602). The style of Theophylact is overcharged with allegories and artificial expressions to a much greater extent than that of his immediate predecessors. In comparison with Procopius and Agathias, says Krumbacher, he is the peak of a rapidly rising curve. The historian of Belisarius, in spite of bombast, is still simple and natural; more abounding in poetical flowery expressions is the poet Agathias; but both these writers seem quite unaffected in comparison with Theophylact, who surprises the reader at every turn with new, unexpected flashes of far-fetched images, allegories, aphorisms, and mythological and other subtleties. But in spite of all this Theophylact is an excellent major source on the time of Maurice, and he also gives extremely valuable information about Persia and the Slavs in the Balkan peninsula at the end of the sixth century.

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