Lucius Procopius – The Persian Wars

The Persian Wars (ca. 553) by Lucius Procopius are in fact Books I & II of The History Of The Wars. I could read the whole thing first but the edition I have (by the Echo Library) has cut them into three volumes according to the subject of the books. Even though the book is short there is enough to mention for a review, and besides, I am in no hurry to read the rest. It was just a quick read I was going for.

The relevance of this history is substantial. It is written by the secretary to the greatest general of the era, Belisarius, during a period of reconquest by the Eastern Roman Empire (also known, later, as the Byzantine Empire) under the emperor Justinianus. Procopius served Belisarius throughout his career and allows the reader a eyewitness account of these times. Nevertheless, Procopius was no neutral observer so the words need to be read carefully. He could not lie outright and much can be discerned by the careful reader.

The translation provides easy readable prose. Procopius seems a good storyteller and this is what he starts with. The book deals with the wars that the Eastern Roman Empire fought with one of the incarnations of Persia (this was the second) not only during Procopius’ lifetime but also before. Procopius starts off with an introduction to Persia and describes the recent history to provide the reader a good feel and insight to the character of the Persian. There are a number of amusing anecdotes and it seems to take some fair time before the Eastern Roman Empire gets involved.

Now I need to provide some background to it all. The Eastern Roman Empire had no ambitions to venture beyond its traditional boundaries to the east. It mainly had its sights on the west to recover the territory lost after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476. During this particular period the Eastern Roman Empire was very active in the reconquest. It had no interest in Persia. Peace was preferable.

One thing that is particular about the Persian Wars is that they are mainly defensive wars. Any attack on Persian territory were feeble attempts that were not very serious. One thing that is not mentioned in the book, but rather clear if you look well at it, is that the borders with Persia are very undermanned and that the Eastern Roman Empire could hardly form an army to defend itself against incursions by Persia. The wars are in fact a series of threats (in exchange for gold), looting and burning of Roman cities in the plains in the Middle East by Persia with rarely any resistance or counteroffensive by the Eastern Roman Empire. Even more staggering seems to be that the Empire doesn’t seem to care about the destruction of cities and the loss of wealth and people. The only question that remains is why Persia did not take full advantage. It is possible Persia was already overstretched in size, had internal problems and considered the great size of the Eastern Roman Empire too dangerous in case it decided to really strike. Any aims for conquests was focuses on minor states that were either subservient to one of the two powers.

The Persian Wars is a somewhat unusual book. There is hardly any mentioned about events in the Eastern Roman Empire itself. Most of the story is focused on Persia and the wars take only place around the border areas. Procopius remains neutral about the great losses. It happened and one should not be too much troubled by it as the Persians did not really gain actual territory. I enjoyed this particular history as it has a characters of its own and does provide certain insights in those times in that region of the world.


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