In the two books of the Persian Wars Procopius was writing of territory that he knew from his own youth and background-the world of the eastern provinces, especially Syria and Mesopotamia, where the inhabitants of ancient cities with cosmopolitan populations had seen the two empires of Byzantium and Iran alternately fighting and negotiating for centuries, and where some of the cities themselves had evolved a cultural amalgam of Greek, Semitic and Persian influences.1 Writing of such places was not at all like writing of Italy or Africa, where the towns were an unknown quantity to Procopius, and their inhabitants Romans felt by the Byzantine government (and by Procopius himself) to need liberation from a barbarian oppressor. The war in the east was not fought against barbarians but against the only power which Byzantium recognised as nearly its equal. The quality of relations between Byzantium and Persia was therefore on an entirely different level, and we should expect to find this reflected in a corresponding emphasis on diplomacy in Procopius’ work. But at the same time the early part of the Persian Wars differed from the rest of the work in having no glorious victories like the conquest of the Vandals or the entry into Ravenna in 540 to record, but a less spectacular achievement, won before Belisarius was at the peak of his recognition as Byzantium’s greatest general. In these years Procopius’ relation to Belisarius was new and enthusiastic; he was readier to defend his patron-and there was more need, for Belisarius was not yet always and overwhelmingly successful.2 Not surprisingly, it is this section which forms the basis of the ‘corrected version’ of the Wars which the Secret History purports to be. So the record of the early campaigns on the eastern front is both more domestic in tone than other parts of the Wars and more vulnerable in general to charges of bias. There are profound differences when Procopius reaches the second expedition to the east after 540, for by now his anger is rising;3 there is no less bias, but its focus is different. In these books taken together, there is more variety than in the other parts of the Wars. They contain, for example, the two major set pieces about Constantinople, on the Nika revolt in 532 and the plague

Theodora. But because of the nature of his material Procopius did not have the same chance of describing great and unequivocal victories as in the Vandal or Gothic Wars. The Persian war was fitful; it could not end in decisive victory for either side, and indeed, much of Book II is occupied with Chosroes’ incursions into Byzantine territory, more a matter for the local people than the Byzantine army, which indeed stayed in the background, powerless to stop the Persian advance. Indeed, a major set-piece of this section is the account of the crushing blow caused to Byzantium by the sack of Antioch, which the Byzantines were unable to prevent, and which therefore Procopius is under an obligation to explain.4 Perhaps indeed the lack of a clear war narrative is what caused him to include in these books the two major sections on the Nika revolt and the plague;5

he does not write on this scale about the capital in the rest of the Wars, where the subject matter in hand gave him a more sustained and engrossing story.