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The Danger of the Soft Life: Manly and Unmanly Romans in Procopius’s Gothic War
By Michael E. Stewart
Journal of Late Antiquity, Vol.10:2 (2017)
Abstract: Procopius’s Secret History has attracted the attention of a generation of social historians. Yet, the significant, albeit subtler ways, in which gender colors Procopius’s most significant work, the Wars, has received far less notice. Seeking to address this imbalance, the present study examines how gender shapes Procopius’s presentation of the Goths, East Romans, and Italo–Romans in his Wars.
Rather than uncovering the Goths, Byzantines, and Italians “as they really were,” this paper seeks to unearth some of the purpose and reasoning behind Procopius’s gendered depictions and ethnicizing worldview. A careful investigation of Procopius’s discussions about the manly and unmanly provides crucial insights into not just the larger narrative but also the historian’s knotty authorial agenda.
Despite the Gothic War’s reliance on classical ethnic and gender patterns, Procopius did not compose his history in a vacuum. Indeed, the gendered discourse, which undergirds much of the Wars, must be understood within the broader context of the political debates reverberating around the late antique Mediterranean at a time when control of Italy from Constantinople was contested.
Top Image: Detail of a Byzantine plate with the Battle of David and Goliath. Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art