Classics Agathias
Larisa Ficulle Santini, Gianfranco Agosti
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 April 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 April 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0412


Agathias Scholasticus (approximately 532–580 CE) was a lawyer, poet, editor, and historian. He is one of the main sources for the reign of Justinian (527–562 CE) and the protagonist of the sixth-century revival of the Greek epigram: in addition to his own poems, he gathered and edited those of his contemporaries (e.g.: Paul the Silentiary, Macedonius and Julian of Egypt) creating the so-called Cycle of Agathias, later incorporated into the Greek Anthology. Without Agathias’s editorial efforts, the 6th-century epigrammatic output would in all likelihood have been lost. According to his own information, he also wrote nine books of hexametric erotic poetry under the name of Daphniaca, now lost. His Histories in five books are the continuation of Procopius of Caesarea’s Wars and cover the years 552–559. The work narrates the two main conflicts of the time, the one in Italy against the Goths, Franks, and Alamanni (Book 1 - Book 2.17) and the one in Lazica against the Persians (Book 2.18 - Book 4). Book 5 focuses on the disastrous events that struck Constantinople in the years 557–559 (earthquake, plague, Hunnic invasion). The Histories, following the historiographical model set by Herodotus and Thucydides, fall under the label of early Byzantine classicizing historiography, whose major exponent is Procopius. The comparison with the latter—special adviser (symboulos/paredros) to Belisarius, and witness of many of the events he narrates—triggered Agathias’s reputation as an inferior historian in modern times (though not among the Byzantines). Recent scholarship is going in another direction, casting light to understudied aspects of the Histories and reassessing their literary and historical value.

General Overviews

Cameron 1970 is still the only modern monograph on Agathias, and it is commonly considered the reference text on the author (and especially on the Histories). Veh 1953 provides a preliminary survey on Agathias’s life and work as historian. Students can consult Treadgold 2007 for a general introduction to early Byzantine historians, including Agathias.

  • Cameron, Averil. 1970. Agathias. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    The only modern monograph on Agathias, with a focus on the Histories, but also a chapter on Agathias’s biography and one on the Cycle. This groundbreaking study, although it could be updated in many respects, is still the place to start for every student wishing to approach Agathias and his literary production.

  • Treadgold, Warren. 2007. The early Byzantine historians. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

    The first of a three-volume project on Byzantine historiography, followed by one on the middle Byzantine historians (2013). A third, on the late Byzantine period, is planned to be published.

  • Veh, Otto. 1953. Zur Geschichtsschreibung und Weltauffassung des Prokop von Caesarea. III. Teil: Der Geschichtsschreiber Agathias von Myrina. Bayreuth, Germany: Vorwort.

    Third and last part of a study devoted primarily to Procopius. Cameron used it for Cameron 1970, and especially for Agathias’s biographical information, although it can now be considered outdated. In German.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.