15.08.43, Dewing and Kaldellis, trans., The Wars of Justinian

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Marc Carrier

The Medieval Review 15.08.43

Dewing, H. B., trans., revised and modernized, with an introduction and notes, by Anthony Kaldellis. Prokopios, The Wars of Justinian. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2014. pp. xxxii, 642. ISBN: 9781624661709 (paperback).

Reviewed by:
Marc Carrier
 Université de Sherbrooke

Prokopios is to this day hailed as a prominent scholar from the sixth century and one of the most important historians of early Byzantine history and of the emperor Justinian's reign. A prolific writer, Prokopios produced three major works: The Wars of Justinian, The Buildings of Justinian and the somewhat more scandalous Secret History. The latter is better known and more widely published, often sidelining Wars and Buildings. And yet, Buildings is essential to understanding the monumental achievements of Justinian's reign, while Wars remains a masterpiece of military history and ethnography. Mostly completed by 545, and updated until 553, The Wars of Justinian describes the epic military campaigns and events of one of Byzantium's greatest rulers, such as the many wars against the Sasanian empire, the conquest of the Vandal kingdom in Africa and the Ostrogothic kingdom in Italy by the renowned general Belisarios, as well as the fateful Nika revolt of 532 and the great plague that ravaged the empire in 542. Comprised of eight books, The Wars of Justinian is a surprisingly lengthy work for its time and certainly influenced later Byzantine historians; and yet, it has often been neglected by publishers and the public alike. This new and modernized translation is not only welcome because it puts one of late antiquity's greatest works of history back on the map, but because it also makes it available to a much wider audience, and is sure to captivate students and scholars for years to come.

Prokopios' Wars of Justinian has been translated into many languages, although most renditions are outdated or based on faulty editions. Given the length of the work, some translations have also abridged the original text or are limited to specific sections, or events, in Prokopios' account. The most notable and complete English translation is by Henry Bronson Dewing and was published in five volumes in the Loeb Classical Library series between 1924 and 1928. Dewing's translation, although masterful and by all rights a classic, is at times technical and by now sometimes archaic. The current translation, although based on Dewing's translations, is not a reprint of the Loeb edition and is overall quite different. Firstly, it packs Dewing's translation into one volume, making its consultation a lot more convenient and practical, especially in a classroom setting. Secondly, it benefits from being thoroughly revised, modernized, and augmented by Anthony Kaldellis.

Kaldellis, who is Professor of Classics at The Ohio State University, is a talented historian and translator. While acknowledging Dewing's original translation, Kaldellis has corrected some mistakes and brought much needed nuances to some passages, but has also completely adapted the text, sentence by sentence, for a modern audience. Furthermore, Kaldellis' revision not only makes the text more elegant and appealing to modern readers, but also serves pedagogical purposes, by tidying up passages that were often challenging to undergraduate--and even graduate--students. In the end, Kaldellis achieves a faithful, generally more accurate, and overall authoritative rendering of an often complex text. Prokopios' Wars of Justinian is now not only readable, it is functional.

The introduction is detailed and complete, while not so extensive as to overburden an already lengthy volume. Kaldellis makes a good presentation of Prokopios' Wars and the most recent scholarship surrounding it. He duly presents the author and his works, as well as the historical context in which they were produced. He offers an interesting overview of the armies of Justinian, as well as a thorough explanation of the historical context and military realities of the sixth century, which are essential to understanding Prokopios' account. Most notably, he reminds us that Prokopios shaped his narrative on the model of classical authors such as Thucydides, Herodotos, and Xenophon, a fact sometimes lost to modern readers. Kaldellis also dutifully explains his editorial practices and translation principles. The source itself is clearly edited and presented, and contains hundreds of notes, which are invaluable to understanding the more obscure passages of Prokopios' text (namely references to complex military, geographical, or political matters). The notes also point out citations from classical sources, a significant contribution to modern scholarship. The source is divided into its eight books and Kaldellis has maintained chapter separations that modern editors have traditionally used. Indicating the corresponding pages from the Loeb edition would certainly have been a convenient and welcome addition for making the transition from Dewing's original translation, which was so widely used in the past and which most likely still permeates the research notes and publications of previous scholars. Nonetheless, section numbers are embedded within the chapters which facilitates referencing.

Finally, added reference material and supplements embellish the volume and truly set it apart from other translations. Numerous maps, provided by Ian Mladjov, and remarkable for their scope and detail, are a necessary complement to understanding the text. The appendices complete the volume with glossaries, annotated guides to contemporary primary sources, a guide to scholarship in English, lists of rulers and genealogies, and a very detailed and extensive index, all showing the level of perfection and care that was devoted to the preparation of this work.

Anthony Kaldellis' rendering of Prokopios' Wars of Justinian is in many regards impeccable, not only for its modernized translation, but also for its notes, added scholarship, and detailed reference material. It is sure to be indispensable to a new generation of college and university students, and even scholars who already master Greek, who will use it for its assets and contributions beyond the translation.

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