Count Belisarius
Count Belisarius is a historical novel
Historical novel
According to Encyclopædia Britannica, a historical novel is-Development:An early example of historical prose fiction is Luó Guànzhōng's 14th century Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which covers one of the most important periods of Chinese history and left a lasting impact on Chinese culture.The...

 by Robert Graves
Robert Graves
Robert von Ranke Graves 24 July 1895 – 7 December 1985 was an English poet, translator and novelist. During his long life he produced more than 140 works...

, first published in 1938, recounting the life of the Byzantine
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 general Belisarius
Flavius Belisarius was a general of the Byzantine Empire. He was instrumental to Emperor Justinian's ambitious project of reconquering much of the Mediterranean territory of the former Western Roman Empire, which had been lost less than a century previously....

 (AD 500-AD 565).

Just as Graves' Claudius books (I, Claudius
I, Claudius
I, Claudius is a novel by English writer Robert Graves, written in the form of an autobiography of the Roman Emperor Claudius. As such, it includes history of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty and Roman Empire, from Julius Caesar's assassination in 44 BC to Caligula's assassination in AD 41...

and Claudius the God and his Wife Messalina) were based upon, for example, The Twelve Caesars of Suetonius
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, commonly known as Suetonius , was a Roman historian belonging to the equestrian order in the early Imperial era....

, Count Belisarius is largely based on Procopius
Procopius of Caesarea was a prominent Byzantine scholar from Palestine. Accompanying the general Belisarius in the wars of the Emperor Justinian I, he became the principal historian of the 6th century, writing the Wars of Justinian, the Buildings of Justinian and the celebrated Secret History...

's History of Justinian's Wars and Secret History. However, Graves's history has been criticized by at least one modern historian.

Although the books based on Claudius use an autobiographical style, this work purports to be a biography written by Eugenius, a eunuch servant of Belisarius' wife Antonina
Antonina may refer to:*Antonina is a genus from the Lamiaceae*Antonina *Antonina *Antonina is a municipality in Brazil*Antonina is a novel by Wilkie Collins...

. The novel covers the entire life of Belisarius, with the bulk of the text devoted to accounts of his life while on campaign in North Africa and Italy. Antonina was often with him during these years, and Graves uses stories about her connections to the court of the emperor Justinian
Justinian I
Justinian I ; , ; 483– 13 or 14 November 565), commonly known as Justinian the Great, was Byzantine Emperor from 527 to 565. During his reign, Justinian sought to revive the Empire's greatness and reconquer the lost western half of the classical Roman Empire.One of the most important figures of...

 and his empress Theodora
Theodora (6th century)
Theodora , was empress of the Roman Empire and the wife of Emperor Justinian I. Like her husband, she is a saint in the Orthodox Church, commemorated on November 14...

to incorporate political intrigue and other information into the story of Belisarius' military exploits.

Graves' treatment of Belisarius is mostly respectful: the general is, if anything, hampered by his rigid code of honor and loyalty to his emperor. Other primary characters do not fare as well. Antonina and Theodora are presented as extremely intelligent, savvy, and capable individuals who are nevertheless prone to holding grudges and jealousy. Justinian is portrayed as intelligent but reckless, a tragically poor judge of character, and a spendthrift (even if driven by genuine piety).

Further reading

  • Graves, Robert; Count Belisarius, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, (1982 paperback) ISBN 978-0374517397
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