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The beginning of Agathias' Histories in the Latin translation of Cristoforo Persona in the dedication copy for Pope Sixtus IV. , The manuscript Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. Lat. 2004, fol. 2r (15th century)

Agathias (nickname Scholastikos ; * around 531/532 in Myrina in Asia Minor ; † around 582 in Constantinople ) was an Eastern Roman historian and poet .


Agathias was a son of the rhetorician Memnonios from the Polis Myrina in Aeolia . Most of the information about his life can be found in his own works. As he himself reports, his mother Perikleia died when he was only three years old in Constantinople. His family had probably relocated there before and perhaps lived in the suburb of Sosthenion. In 551 Agathias was studying rhetoric in Alexandria , Egypt , when a strong earthquake destroyed Berytus ( Beirut ). Soon after, he returned to Constantinople, where he devoted himself to studying law . In the fourth year of his law degree, he and three fellow students placed dedicatory verses under a votive picture of the Archangel Michael . After completing his legal training, he practiced as a lawyer (Scholastikos) in Constantinople. He pursued this profession less out of interest than to earn a living. In the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, he witnessed another natural disaster, the earthquake of 557. Later, as pater civitatis in Smyrna, he was responsible for building public toilets. From evidence from his historical work it is concluded that he died around 582.

His hometown Myrina had erected a statue in his honor, on the inscription of which his eloquence and poetry are emphasized, but not his histories .



Agathias, who was apparently a Christian, is known as the author of a work entitled Daphniaka , which contained short erotic myths written in hexameters . It was divided into nine books and was published during the lifetime of Emperor Justinian (527 to 565), but has been lost apart from a few verses. As a further poetic work Agathias published around 567 the so-called Kyklos of the new epigrams , comprising seven books , which contained a number of his own epigrams as well as those of several of his friends. Through the later inclusion in the Anthologia Graeca , over 100 epigrams of Agathias have been preserved.


Content, drafting time, style

On the advice of his friends wrote Agathias also preserved (but unfinished) work of history , under the title history is known. It covers the reign of Emperor Justinian for the years 552 to 559 in five books. It consciously follows on from the (much more important) work of Prokopios of Caesarea and is one of the last works of late antique historiography. When compiling his histories , however, Agathias paid little attention to the chronology and only rarely noted dates in his work.

The first book as well as the beginning of the second report on the incursion of the Franks and Alamanni into Italy after the death of the Ostrogoth king Teja in October 552 , as well as the clashes of the Eastern Roman general Narses with the Franks and Goths up to the death of the Merovingian ruler Theudebald ( November / December 555). In the further course of the second book the representation of the earthquake of 551, which destroyed Berytos, as well as the turn to the eastern theater of war of Lazika follows . After a detailed overview of the Persian religion at the end of the second book, the third and fourth mainly deal with the struggles of the Eastern Romans and Lazs against the Sassanids , the murder of the Laz king Gubazes II by two Eastern Roman commanders as well as the subsequent trial against the assassins and finally the Eastern Roman-Persian peace talks in 557. The fifth book describes primarily the 557 that occurred in Constantinople Opel earthquakes that caused thereby destroying and then made restoration of the Hagia Sophia and the outbreak of plague in the eastern Roman capital in 558. It ends abruptly with a report on the won in the following year defensive successes of Belisarius against an attack by the Kutriguren who threatened Constantinople.

In the foreword to his historical work, Agathias states that he only began to write it after the death of Emperor Justinian (565). He complains that his professional business has cost him so much time that the writing of the histories has been slow. Since Agathias mentions the death of the Persian king Chosrau I (579), but at the same time does not seem to know anything about Maurikios' emperor rise (582), the author is likely to have worked on his work until around 580. Agathias probably had planned to continue the histories at least into the 560s, whereupon the allusion to events no longer depicted, e.g. B. on the death of the Eastern Roman general Justinos in 566, indicates. The author's death may have prevented the work from being completed. Agathias was then continued by Menander Protektor , whose work has only survived in fragments, and perhaps also by Theophanes of Byzantium .

Agathias, like Prokopios, wrote a very good Attic ancient Greek (even if some of his works already point to Middle Greek ) and thus stood entirely in the tradition of older Greek literature. The very strong emphasis on his classical education ( Paideia ) , however, sometimes leads to a very diffuse and awkward way of expression.

Digression, sources

As explained above, Agathias devoted a relatively large amount of attention to the Sassanid Empire and went into two digressions on Persia. The important Sassanid king Chosrau I is characterized in this context by Agathias; Agathias also went into the famous episode of the departure of seven pagan philosophers to Persia after Justinian had closed the “ Platonic Academy ” in Athens in 529 (see Damascius and Simplikios ). It is important that Agathias, according to his own statements, also had access to Persian sources of that time, such as the Sassanid imperial annals, which an acquaintance, the translator Sergios, is said to have summarized and translated for him. Whether he actually had access to a Greek translation of the Reichsannalen is at least doubtful in view of the numerous errors and mistakes.

Agathias also went into the events in the west, where during this time the early medieval world slowly took shape. He could certainly rely on written sources, especially since he could only contribute little from his own experience and had never traveled to the West. In a long excursus on the Franks, he describes their customs and history since Clovis's death in 511 and creates an idealized picture of them. Because of their conversion to Roman Christianity , Agathias thought they were potential allies of the Eastern Roman Empire against the Arian Lombards . This positive portrait contrasts with Prokopios' disparaging remarks about the Franks. However, these people in Constantinople were generally viewed more positively in the 570s, at the time Agathias' work was written, than at the time when Prokopius was writing his history; because meanwhile the Franks were seen as possible helpers in the re-establishment of Byzantine rule in Italy.

Despite great loyalty to Emperor Justinian, Agathias sometimes criticized certain aspects of his government, such as the poor condition of the fortifications of Constantinople and the waste of money to appease barbarian peoples and in favor of prostitutes and functionaries of the Demen. Although he is inferior to his role model Prokopios as a historian simply because of his lack of autopsy, Agathias is a largely reliable and important reporter for the phase of late antiquity he portrays; His report on the Merovingian Empire and other ethnographic excursions mentioned above are also significant.

Tradition and editions

Entry in Clavis Historicorum Antiquitatis Posterioris (CHAP) .

  1. ῾Ιστορίαι also Περἱ τῆς ᾿Ιουστινάνου βασιλείας (Historiae; histories) after 579 AD; Justinian's Wars.
  2. Κύκλος τῶν νέῶν ἐπιγραμμάτῶν (Corona; collection of the new epigrams) around 567.
  3. Δαφνιακά (collection of mythological erotic poems)

There is a manuscript Vaticanus gr. 151 from 10/11. Century. Of the erotic poems, only the prologue in the Anthologia Palatina 6.80 has survived. Bonaventura Vulcanius published the Greek text of the histories with a Latin translation in 1594 in Leiden . The first critical edition of all surviving works by Agathias was published by Barthold Georg Niebuhr in the third volume of the Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae in Bonn in 1828 .

  • Agathias: Historiarium [ The Histories ]. Translated by Joseph D. Frendo, Berlin 1975 (English translation, Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae Series Berolinensis Vol. 2a).
  • Otto Veh : Historiae . Greek-German. In: Prokop, works . Vol. 2. Munich 1966 (only excerpts).


Overview representations

Overall presentations and investigations

  • Dariusz Brodka: The philosophy of history in the late antique historiography. Studies on Prokopios von Kaisareia, Agathias von Myrina and Theophylaktos Simokattes (= studies and texts on Byzantine Studies , Volume 5). Lang, Frankfurt am Main et al. 2004, ISBN 3-631-52528-1 , pp. 152ff. (also: Kraków, Uniwersytet Jagielloński, habilitation thesis).
  • Averil Cameron : Agathias. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1970, ISBN 0-19-814352-4 .
  • Averil Cameron: Agathias on the Sassanians. In: Dumbarton Oaks Papers 23/24, 1969/1970, pp. 67-183.

Web links

Commons : Agathias  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Agathias  - Sources and full texts


  1. a b Herbert Hunger, Die hochsprachliche Profane Literatur der Byzantiner , Vol. 1, S. 304.
  2. Anthologia Palatina 7, 552.
  3. Agathias, Historien V 3 ff.
  4. a b Peter Bell: Agathias. In: The Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity . Volume 1 (2018), p. 33.
  5. The thesis has recently been put forward that Agathias (like Prokopios of Caesarea supposedly too) was in truth a secret pagan, cf. A. Kaldellis, The historical and religious views of Agathias. A reinterpretation , in: Byzantion 69, 1999, p. 206ff. However, this minority position has not caught on in research.
  6. Herbert Hunger, Die hochsprachliche Profane Literatur der Byzantiner , Vol. 1, p. 305.
  7. Herbert Hunger, Die hochsprachliche Profane Literatur der Byzantiner , vol. 1, p. 305 f.
  8. Cf. Agathias, Historien IV 22,9.
  9. a b Herbert Hunger, Die hochsprachliche Profane Literatur der Byzantiner , Vol. 1, p. 306.
  10. Agathias, Historien II 25 ff. (On the Persian religion) and IV 24 ff. (On the history of the Sassanids); see. on this, Cameron, Agathias on the Sassanians , pp. 74ff. or 112ff. (Text with English translation and commentary).
  11. Agathias, Historien II 28 ff. See Cameron, Agathias on the Sassanians , p. 164 ff., And H. Börm, Prokop und die Perser , Stuttgart 2007, p. 277 ff.
  12. Agathias, Historien IV 30.
  13. Cf. but Cameron, Agathias on the Sassanians , pp. 162 f.
  14. Agathias, Historien IV 30.
  15. Agathias, Historien V 13 ff.