Religious views of Procopius and Agathias
By Michael Whitby
Paper given at 21st International Congress of Byzantine Studies (2006)
Introduction: A generation ago it appeared that the much-disputed issue of the religious affiliation of authors such as Procopius and Agathias had been resolved in favour of Christianity, primarily by Averil Cameron in a series of publications; subsequent work on late Roman historians or sixth-century literary culture has accepted and built upon her conclusions. In such circumstances a reaction is inevitable at some stage, and it would be unhealthy for any discipline for received wisdom not to be subjected to periodic questioning. For us this has been achieved through some of Anthony Kaldellis’ recent work, and it important to scrutinise how far the previous consensus has been upset by his researches.
There are certainly many important positive aspects to Kaldellis’ thesis. It can often seem that scholars who write about late antique authors have little liking for, or even sympathy with, the objects of their study. As a result the literary and intellectual qualities of these authors are belittled, or significant issues are brushed aside with blunt assertions of incoherence, poor formulation, or incompetence. Such approaches are simply unworthy of both authors and scholars. Kaldellis has reasserted the need for positive engagement with late Roman authors, and his insistence upon sensitivity to the literary qualities of works has paid dividends, for example in his clarification of the contrasting roles played by chance or fortune in Procopius’ account of the Vandal War and the early part of the Gothic campaigns.