Roman Emperors Dir Procopius

An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors

map DIR Atlas

Procopius (365-366 A.D.)

Thomas M. Banchich

Canisius College

Coin with the image of Procopius (c)1998 CGB numismatique, Paris

As is so often the case with figures from the third quarter of the fourth century, Ammianus Marcellinus and Zosimus provide us with most of what we know about Procopius 4 (PLRE I, pp. 742-743). Photius' epitome of Philostorgius' Historia ecclesiastica adds several interesting details. On the other hand, Themistius' Or. 7, an apologia for the role of the citizens of Constantinople in Procopius' usurpation and a plea to Valens for clemency, offers little of substance.[[1]]

Procopius was, according to Ammianus (26.9.11), born about 326 and spent his early years in Cilicia (26.6.1), several Greek sources specifying the city of Corycus.[[2]] The names of his parents are unknown, but his career and kinship tie -- probably through his mother's family -- to the Emperor Julian confirm Ammianus' characterization of his family as distinguished (26.6.1: insigne genere Procopius ... natus). He was perhaps related to the governor of Cilicia Procopius 2 (PLRE I, p. 742), posited by some as the referent of Julian's Misopogon 351 B, where the future apostate mentions a magistrate closely linked to him by kinship who several times compelled the young Julian's attendance at the theater.[[3]] Artemisia (PLRE I, p. 111-112) may be his wife. The fifth-century magister utriusque militum Procopius 2 (PLRE II, p. 920) and his son, the emperor Anthemius 3 (PLRE II, pp. 96-98), are among his descendants (Sidonius Apollinaris 2.67-69). Although it is often assumed that he was a pagan, there is no explicit evidence about his religious predilections.

About 358, Procopius accompanied Lucillianus 3 (PLRE I, pp. 517-518) to Persia on an embassy dispatched by Constantius, during whose reign Ammianus (26.6.1) styles him a notarius and tribunus. Sometime after that emperor's death (November 3, 361), he became a comes in the retinue of Julian (Amm. Marc. 26.6.1). In 363, he, together with Sebastianus 2 (PLRE I, pp. 812-813), was placed in charge of an element of Julian's army of invasion. He was to patrol the upper Tigris and, if circumstances were favorable, join with King Arsaces of Armenia (PLRE I, p. 109 ) in a march south to link up with Julian in Assyria. However, when the rendezvous did occur at Thilsaphata, between Nisibis and Singara, Julian was already dead, his army beaten, and Jovian 3 (PLRE I, p. 461) emperor.[[4]]

Zosimus and Ammianus give divergent accounts about what next transpired. Zosimus (4.4.1-3) recounts that Julian had presented to Procopius an imperial robe and explained to him alone his rationale for so doing. Upon Jovian's accession, Procopius quickly surrendered the robe to the new emperor, revealed Julian's motive, and requested that, after the resignation of his military command, he be allowed to retire with his family to oversee his estates and to tend to business interests. When Jovian agreed, Procopius, together with his family, repaired to properties in Caesarea. Ammianus, on the other hand, whose account depends partly on the subsequent testimony of Strategius 2 (PLRE I, p. 858), records that a baseless rumor about Julian admonishing Procopius to assume the purple in the event of his death on the Persian campaign combined with fear inspired in Procopius by Jovian's execution of the primus notarium Jovianus 1 (PLRE I, P. 460) -- championed by some soldiers as Julian's successor -- to drive him underground. But after supervising the transport to and burial of Julian's body in Tarsus (Amm. Marc. 25.9.12), he withdrew with his wife and children to properties he possessed at Caesarea in Cappadocia (Zos. 4.4.3). After a period of intense deprivation and suffering, Procopius, compelled by his dire circumstances, sought refuge near Chalcedon with the aforementioned Strategius, formerly of the court guard but by then a senator. These events -- Procopius' flight and return -- Zosimus places after the emperor Jovian's death. According to Zosimus (4.5.1-2), Valentinian and Valens sent agents to arrest Procopius, who surrendered to them on the condition that he be allowed to visit his wife and children. While his captors dined and drank, Procopius escaped with his family to the Black Sea and, eventually, hid in the Tauric Chersonese. However, a constant fear of betrayal prompted Procopius' eventual return on a merchant ship bound for Constantinople, where an unnamed friend -- probably Strategius -- gave them shelter. From this point on, Ammianus and Zosimus tell that same tale, though Ammianus in far more detail.[[5]] Philostorgius simply says that many thought the throne should belong to Procopius, who, through fear of suspicion of designs on the throne, upon Jovian's ascession fled Mesopotamia with his wife and went into hiding. Eventually, having found life as a fugitive unbearable, he moved to an estate in Chalcedon belonging to Eunomius, who was then residing elsewhere in the city (Hist. eccl. 9.5, p. 117).[[6]]

When Valens left Constantinople for Antioch at the end of the winter of 365/6, Procopius considered conditions in the city ripe for rebellion.[[7]] With the help of a wealthy former palace eunuch, Eugenius 4 (PLRE I, p. 292), he bribed two legions based in Constantinople, then armed slaves and volunteers. By night he entered Constantinople, rousing the populace, which looked on in confusion. So Zosimus (4.5.2-5, with which cf. Themistius Or. 7.86b-87a, ed. Downey, I, pp. 130-131, and Philostorgius Hist. eccl. 9.5, p. 117, who styles Procopius' seizure of power "bloodless"). Themistius (Or. 7.91b, pp. 137-138) speaks of the murder of some citizens in their beds and the arrest of others. Ammianus describes how, after Valens ' departure, Procopius "worn out by long continued troubles, and thinking that even a cruel death would be more merciful than the evils by which he was tormented, hazarded at one cast all perils whatsoever" (26.6.12, trans. Rolfe). It happened that the legions Divitenses and the Thungricani Iuniores, which were enroute to Thrace, were billeted in the Anastasian Baths of Constantinople during a two-day break in march. Procopius, in exchange for promised advancement, won over friends in their ranks. After an all-night meeting, they acted. The cadre presented Procopius to the legionaries and they, in anticipation of rewards, acclaimed him emperor. Under their escort, Procopius marched to the to the vicinity of the palace and senate house -- the buildings themselves, together with the monuments associated with them, testimony to the grandeur of Procopius' lineage --, where he first addressed a crowd seeded with his supporters. Hailed as imperator, he next entered the Senate chambers, there to find but a few low-ranking members (Amm. Marc. 26.6.10-19).8 Faustina (PLRE I, p. 326), present during at least some of Procopius' investiture -- described in general by Ammianus almost as a burlesque -- lent an aura of dynastic legitimacy upon which Procopius would later play (Amm. Marc. 26.7.10). According to the Consularia Constantinopolitana (sub annum 365, ed. Richard Burgess, The Chronicle of Hydatius and the Consularia Constantinopolitana [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993], p. 239) he was hailed emperor on September 28, 365.[[9]]

Valens learned what had transpired from the notarius Sophronius 3 (PLRE I, pp. 847-848), who, hastening from Constantinople, reached the disheartened emperor in Caesarea and convinced him to march posthaste to secure Galatia. Others, too, among them some former soldiers, fled toward Valens (Amm. Marc. 26.7.1-2). In the west Valentinian learned of these events about 1 November while enroute to Paris. Distracted by war against the Alammani and uncertain whether news of Procopius' revolt meant that Valens was dead, he initially decided to move east to check Procopius, but was soon convinced that the German problem should take precedence. Valentinian did, however, send Flavius Neoterius (PLRE I, p. 623) to Africa to guard against any attack by Procopius (Amm. Marc. 26.5.8-14).[[10]]

Meanwhile, Procopius acted quickly, spurred by reports that Valentinian was dead. Perhaps this moment is the historical context of a fragment of Eunapius (fr. 31, Müller, FHG IV, p. 26) in which the Cynic philosopher Heraclius admonishes Procopius to bold action. Araxius (PLRE I, p. 94) and Phronimius (PLRE I, p. 701) became praetorian prefect and urban prefect of Constantinople, respectively, and their deposed predecessors -- Nebridius 1 (PLRE I, p. 619) and Caesarius 1 (PLRE I, pp. 168-169) -- were jailed. Euphrasius (Eufrasius 2, PLRE I, p. 299) became magister officiorum. An embassy dispatched to a king of the Goths -- perhaps Athanaric -- solicited military aid due, it maintained, the family of Constantius (Amm. Marc. 26.10. 4)..[[11]] Through a summons extorted from Nebridius, Procopius lured Julius 2 (PLRE I, p. 481), military commander in Thrace, to Constantinople and imprisonment (Amm. Marc. 26.7.3-6). Ammianus observes: "And as commonly happens in times of civil strife, some rose from the dregs of the people, led by desperation or by blind ambitions, while on the other hand some men of distinguished origin fell from their high estate even to death and exile (26.7.7, trans. Rolfe).

Procopius' control of Faustina and the daughter of her union with Constantius II, Constantia (PLRE I, p. 221), together with promised rewards, won over some infantry and cavalry units in transit through Constantinople to Thrace. However, an attempt by agents of Procopius to turn troops stationed in Illyricum through the distribution of coinage bearing the image of the new emperor was crushed, and Flavius Equitius 2 (PLRE I, p. 282), per eas regiones militum rector, blocked the passes through which any army invading from the east would have to march (Amm. Marc. 26.7.10-12).

Procopius' initial encounter with units of Valens ' forces at Mygdus was a bloodless victory, as the Jovii and Victores deserted to Procopius' standards (Amm. Marc. 26.7.13-17). Valens ' attempt to regain control of Nicaea (captured for Procopius by Rumitalca [PLRE I, p. 786]) and Chalcedon, which, together with Helenopolis, were in enemy hands nearly resulted in disaster. For Rumitalca, having broken the siege of Nicaea and routed Vadomarius (PLRE I, p. 928), attempted to encircle Valens , then invested Chalcedon. Valens , abandoning Bityhinia, only barely escaped to Ancyra (Amm. Marc. Adding to Valens ' woes was the fall of Cyzicus, taken in part through the daring of the tribune Aliso (PLRE I, p. 45) by forces under the command of Marcellus 5 (PLRE I, p. 551), a relative of Procopius and a later pretender to the throne. Besides the importance of the city itself, the loss of Cyzicus -- whose inhabitants Procopius pardoned, perhaps as the result of the intercession her bishop Eunomius (Amm. Marc. 26.8.11, with Philostorgius Hist. eccl. 9.6, p. 118, on Eunomius) -- meant the loss of monies gathered for Valens by Venustus (an apparitor largitionum, not in PLRE) and earmarked as pay for that emperor's troops. It also involved the capture -- either in Cyzicus or later in Lydia -- of the comes domesticorum Serenianus 2 (PLRE I, p. 825), who, according to Zosimus (4.6.4-6), had, in response to a thrust by Marcellus, fled with a cavalry detachment from Bithynia to Cyzicus..[[12]] Next Marcellus, strengthened by the arrival of 3,000 Goths, occupied Chalcedon (Amm. Marc. 26.10.3). Valens ' forces did nearly manage to capture Procopius' proconsul Asiae Hormisdas 3 (PLRE I, p. 443) and Flavius Arintheus (PLRE I, pp. 102-103), described by Ammianus (26.8.4) as Valens ' "best commander," on a sortie from Ancyra, so overawed a Procopian unit at Dadastana that simply on his order they slaughtered their commander, Hyperechius (PLRE I, 449-450), and surrendered (Amm. Marc. 26.8.4-5). Procopius' sway also extended to Lesbos, where Philostorgius (Hist. eccl. 9.6, p. ) recounts the arrest of Aetius, Julian's former preceptor in religious matters and the spiritual guide of Eunomius, by one of Procopius' appointees (Anoymous 117, PLRE I, p. 1023) on charges of loyalty to Valens . However, Aetius' life was saved by the timely arrival of a representative of Procopius. Philostorgius does not give his name, but does note his kinship to Herrenianus and Gerresianus, two friends of Eunomius, who had been indicted as Aetius' co-conspirators.

During the winter of 365/6 Procopius attempted to consolidate his gains and to amass the wealth necessary to finance a spring offensive..[[13]] In the process, Ammianus censures him for forfeiting his strategic initiative at a time when the provinces of the east were "eager to see any change, from their dislike of the strict rule under which they were then held" (26.8.14-15, trans. Rolfe). During this same period, Procopius, reacting to a series of perceived slights, drove Flavius Arbitio 2 (PLRE I, pp. 94-95), former magister equitum under Constantius and Julian, into the arms of Valens (Amm. Marc. 26.8.13). This seemingly minor incident was to have telling consequences.

In the spring of 366 Valens , after linking up with his magister equitum Flavius Lupicinus 6 (PLRE I, pp. 520-521), launched an offensive. Their initial objective was Pessinus, which would be used as a base of operations for a thrust into Lydia (mss. of Ammianus have Lycia) against enemy units under the command of Gomoarius (PLRE I, pp. 397-398). To counter the effect on the soldiers of Procopius' dynastic claim, Valens , heartened by Arbitio (Eunapius fr. 33, Müller, FHG IV, p. 27), now played on the authority of the old commander, whose pleas undermined the loyalty of Gomoarius' troops and precipitated their voluntary surrender (Amm. Marc. 26.9.1-6) -- a mass defection which Eunapius alleges that heroic action by Hormisdas nearly overcame (fr. 34, Müller, FHG IV, p. 27 ). As the main forces advanced, the armies apparently missed one another, with the result that Procopius' contingent ended up in Phrygia, that of Valens in Lydia at Sardis (Eunapius fr. 32 , Müller, FHG IV, p. 26, Zosimus 4.8.3, Zosimus 4.8.1). But Valens quickly turned about towards Phrygia, where, in battle near Nacolia, the desertion during combat of Procopius' general Aglio sealed the usurper's fate (Amm. Marc. 26.8.7). Procopius went into hiding, accompanied by Florentius 4 (PLRE I, pp. 363-364), commander of the garrison of Nicaea, and Barchalba (PLRE I, p. 147). However, these two quickly gave Procopius over to Valens . According to Ammianus (26.9.1-10), the usurper was beheaded on the spot and his betrayers then executed. Philostorgius, too, has Procopius beheaded but says with regard to Florentius that the troops, out to even an earlier grudge, burnt him alive (9.5). Socrates (Hist. eccl. 4.5), Sozomenus (Hist. eccl. 6.8), and Theophanes (AM 5859, A.D. 366/7) record that Valens had Procopius tied to bent trees, which, when released, tore him in half, and add that Gomoarius and Aglio were sawn into pieces. The execution took place on May 27, 366 (Consularia Constantinopolitana sub annum 366, ed. Burgess, p. 239. Cf. Socrates Hist. eccl. 4.9).

Ammianus' closing remarks on Procopius may reflect personal observation: Procopius departed this life at the age of forty years and ten months. Personally he was a tall man and not bad looking; he was somewhat dark complexioned, and walked with his gaze always fixed on the ground. In his secretive and gloomy nature he was like that Crassus who, as Lucilius and Cicero declare, laughed only once in his life; but the surprising thing is, that throughout all his life he was not stained with blood " (26.9.11, trans. Rolfe). Some modern scholars have seen Procopius' rebellion as a reflection, in part, of the discontent of the lower classes. Others have attributed to it a religious dimension: a continuation of Julian's alleged program of pagan revival with Procopius at its head. Neither view finds adequate support in what evidence we possess. Support of and opposition to Procopius, together with what we are told he put forward as the grounds for his claim to the purple, belie such tidy but simplistic interpretations. Indeed, so far as concerns Procopius' religion, no ancient source calls him a Christian or Hellene. While the bearded countenance on his coinage recalled Julian, some of his issues also bore the Chi Rho monogram on the labarum (e.g., RIC IX, plate xv, no. 17) and a standard legend of the house of Constantine: REPARATIO FEL. TEMP.[[14]]


[[1]]John Vanderspoel, Themistius and the Imperial Court (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995), pp. 161-167, discusses and summarizes Or. 7, which he dates to the winter of 366/7.

[[2]]See PLRE I, p. 742, for references. For Coryca and most of the other locations mentioned in this article, see Tim Cornell and John Matthews, Atlas of the Roman World (New York and Oxford: Facts on File, Inc., 1982), p. 150.

[[3]]PLRE I, pp. 1023-1024, s.v. Anonymus 120, suggests Procopius 1 or 2. Julian may, in fact, mean his own half-brother Fl. Claudius Constantius Gallus 4, PLRE I, pp. 224-225.

[[4]]For the place of the command of Sebastianus and Procopius in Julian's strategic plan, see Francois Paschoud, Zosime. Histoire Nouvelle (Paris: Société d'édition "Les Belles Lettres," 1979), II.1, n. 33, pp. 106-109.

[[5]]On the accounts of Zosimus and Ammianus -- indeed, on almost every point important to Procopius --, consult Paschoud's commentary to the relevant chapters of Zosimus' Book 4 in Zosime, II.2, especially nn. 114-124, pp. 340-352. Paschoud is highly skeptical of Zosimus' testimony.

[[6]]Philostorgius (Hist. eccl. 9.8, p. 119) records that Eunomius was later exiled for sheltering Procopius. Julian gave properties near Mytilene to Aetius (Philostorgius Hist. eccl. 9.4, p. 117). Was Eunomius' estate also Julian's gift? On Aetius and Eunomius, see The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), I, p. 30, s.v. Aetios, and II, p. 746, s.v. Eunomios, and Hanns Brennecke, Studien zur Geschichte der Homoer, Beitrage zur historischen Theologie 73 (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1988), passim.

[[7]]John Matthews, The Roman Empire of Ammianus (London: Duckworth, 1989), p. 197, offers a succinct summary of the challenges confronting Valens. As always, see also Paschoud, supra, n. 5.

[[8]]The Anastasian Baths were named for the sister of Constantine the Great, Anastasia 1, PLRE I, p. 58, who some sources confuse with Valens' daughter of the same name. For the evidence see Anastasia 2, PLRE I, p. 58. These baths were in what later came to be designated the ninth region of Constantinople, which to the south contained ports on the Sea of Marmora. The Divitenses and Thungricani had doubtless been ferried from Chalcedon to one of these harbors. The Mese, the main street of the city, bordered the region to the north. By marching southwest along the Mese, the troops billeted in the baths would reach the Via Egnatia, the great Roman road to points west; by marching east -- as they did -- they reached the Forum of Constantine, the Senate House, and the Great Palace. For monuments celebrating Constantine and his family, see, e.g., Chronicon Paschale sub annum. 328, translated by Michael and Mary Whitby, Chronicon Paschale 284-628 A.D., Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1989, p. 16, with valuable topographical comments in n. 54. Note Matthews, The Roman Empire of Ammianus, p. 190, on the Divitenses and Thungricani, both Iuniores.

[[9]]Though nowhere does the Consularia identify Procopius by name, he clearly is the "public enemy" referred to therein. Theophanes sub annum 5859, A.D. 366/367, also specifies September. For Ammianus' literary art as it pertains to Procopius, cf. Roger Blockley, Ammianus Marcellinus: A Study of His Historical and Political Thought, Collection Latomus 141 (Brussells: Editions Latomus, 1975), pp. 55-61, and Matthews, The Roman Empire of Ammianus, pp. 191-203.

[[10]]See Matthews, The Roman Empire of Ammianus, p. 198, on Valentinian's actions.

[[11]]Eunapius fr. 37, Müller, FHG IV, p. 28, and Zosimus 4.10.1-2, with the observations of Paschoud, Zosime, II.2, no. 119, pp. 345-346, and Peter Heather, Goths and Romans, 322-489 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 101-102, 106.

[[12]]Ammianus 26.8.11 has Serenianus captured in Cyzicus, imprisoned in Nicaea, and executed there in 366 upon receipt of the news of Procopius' defeat. Zosimus 4.6.4-5 has Serenianus captured in Lydia and implies that he was executed soon thereafter.

[[13]]Mints at Constantinople, Cyzicus, Heraclea, and Nicomedia struck for Procopius. For the evidence, see Roman Imperial Coinage, Vol. IX, edd. Harold Mattingly, C. V. H. Sutherland, and R. A. G. Carson (London: Spink and Son, Ltd., 1951).

[[14]]For the aspect of class, see I. Hahn, "On the Question of the Social Bases of Procopius' Insurrection," Acta Antiquae Academiae Scientarum Hungaricae 6 (1958), pp. 199-211. A. Solari, "La rivolta Procopiana a Constantinopoli," Byzantion 7 (1932), pp. 143-148, favors a religious motive. On the numismatic evidence, cf. J. P. C. Kent, "Fel. Temp. Reparatio," Numismatic Chronicle 7 (1967), pp. 83-90, and N. J. E. Austin, "A Usurper's Claim to Legitimacy. Procopius in A.D. 365/6," Rivista Storica dell' Antichita 2 (1972), pp. 192-193. As properly noted at RIC IX, p. xli, the labarum does not necessarily mean that Procopius was a Christian or that he had Christian sympathies.


Austin, N. J. E. "A Usurper's Claim to Legitimacy. Procopius in A.D. 365/6." Rivista Storica dell' Antichita 2 (1972), pp. 187-194.

Blockley, Roger. Ammianus Marcellinus: A Study of His Historical and Political Thought, Collection Latomus 141. Brussells: Editions Latomus, 1975.

Brennecke, Hanns Christof. Studien zur Geschichte der Homoer. Vol. 73 of Beitrage zur historischen Theologie. Edited by Johannes Wallmann. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1988.

Burgess, Richard. The Chronicle of Hydatius and the Consularia Constantinopolitana. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Hahn, I. "On the Question of the Social Bases of Procopius' Insurrection." Acta Antiquae Academiae Scientarum Hungaricae 6 (1958), pp. 199-211. In Russian with German summary.

Heather, Peter. Goths and Romans, 322-489. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Jones, A. H. M., Martindale, J. R., and Morris, J. The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire. Vol I. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971.

Kent, J. P. C. "Fel. Temp. Reparatio." Numismatic Chronicle 7 (1967), pp. 83-90.

Martindale, J. R. The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire. Vol. II. Cambridge University Press, 1980.

Matthews, John. The Roman Empire of Ammianus. London: Duckworth, 1989.

Mattingly, Harold; Sutherland, C. V. H.; and Carson, R. A. G.. Edd. Roman Imperial Coinage. London: Spink and Son, Ltd., 1951.

Paschoud, Francois. Zosime. Histoire Nouvelle. Vol II.1 and II.2. Paris: Société d'édition "Les Belles Lettres," 1979.

Salamon, M. "The East and West of the Roman Empire before the Procopian Usurpation." Prace Nauk. Univ. Slaskiego 29. Prace hist. III. Katowice, 1972. Pp. 13-14. In Polish with French summary.

Solari, A. "La rivolta Procopiana a Constantinopoli." Byzantion 7 (1932), pp. 143-148.

Thompson, E. A. The Historical Work of Ammianus Marcellinus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1947.

Vanderspoel, John. Themistius and the Imperial Court. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995.

Whitby, Michael and Mary. Chronicon Paschale 284-628 A.D. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1989.

Copyright (C), Thomas M. Banchich This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents, including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.

For more detailed geographical information, please use the DIR/ORBAntique and Medieval Atlas below. Click on the appropriate part of the map below to access large area maps.

 Clickable Image S-EN-O/N-WS-O/S-WN-E

Return to the Imperial Index