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Procopius: A parable

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Procopius: Refuge from war

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Procopius
From History of the Wars
Translated by H. B. Dewing

At this same time an insurrection broke out unexpectedly in Byzantium among the populace, and, contrary to expectation, it proved to be a very serious affair, and ended in great harm to the people and to the senate, as the following account will shew. In every city the population has been divided for a long time past into the Blue and the Green factions; but within comparatively recent times it has come about that, for the sake of these names and the seats which the rival factions occupy in watching the games, they spend their money and abandon their bodies to the most cruel tortures, and even do not think it unworthy to die a most shameful death. And they fight against their opponents knowing not for what end they imperil themselves, but knowing well that, even if they overcome their enemy in the fight, the conclusion of the matter for them will be to be carried off straightway to the prison, and finally, after suffering extreme torture, to be destroyed. So there grows up in them against their fellow men a hostility which has no cause, and at no time does it cease or disappear, for it gives place neither to the ties of marriage nor of relationship nor of friendship, and the case is the same even though those who differ with respect to these colours be brothers or any other kin. They care neither for things divine nor human in comparison with conquering in these struggles; and it matters not whether a sacrilege is committed by anyone at all against God, or whether the laws and the constitution are violated by friend or by foe; nay even when they are perhaps ill supplied with the necessities of life, and when their fatherland is in the most pressing need and suffering unjustly, they pay no heed if only it is likely to go well with their “faction”; for so they name the bands of partisans. And even women join with them in this unholy strife, and they not only follow the men, but even resist them if opportunity offers, although they neither go to the public exhibitions at all, nor are they impelled by any other cause; so that I, for my part, am unable to call this anything except a disease of the soul. This, then, is pretty well how matters stand among the people of each and every city.

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“The peace, therefore, as far as concerns him, has already been broken for thee, and he himself has set an end to the endless peace. For they break the peace, not who may be first in arms, but they who may be caught plotting against their neighbours in time of peace. For the crime has been committed by him who attempts it, even though success be lacking. Now as for the course which the war will follow, this is surely clear to everyone. For it is not those who furnish causes for war, but those who defend themselves against those who furnish them, who are accustomed always to conquer their enemies…”

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“It is the part of men of discretion and those by whom divine things are treated with due respect, when causes of war arise, and in particular against men who are in the truest sense friends, to exert all their power to put an end to them; but it belongs to foolish men and those who most lightly bring on themselves the enmity of Heaven to devise occasions for war and insurrection which have no real existence. Now to destroy peace and enter upon war is not a difficult matter, since the nature of things is such as to make the basest activities easy for the most dishonourable men. But when they have brought about war according to their intention, to return again to peace is for men, I think, not easy…”

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