(‘lawyer’), historian and poet in Constantinople, c.ad 532–c.580. A native of Myrina in Asia Minor, where his father was a rhetor, he was educated at Alexandria and Constantinople, where he later practised law, a profession about whose conditions he complains in his Histories. His poetic activity began early, with a lost Daphniaca, amatory hexameters, and he is the author of numerous epigrams in classical style on personal and traditional subjects, including love poems; Nonnus was a major influence in style, vocabulary, and versification. Many of these, as well as poems by his contemporaries, including Paul the Silentiary and other officials, were included by him in a collection known as the Cycle, compiled, or at any rate completed, in the early years of Justin II (ad 565–78), and modelled on the earlier Garland of Meleager. The epigrams of the Cycle reflect the technical literary accomplishments of members of the office-holding élite in Constantinople in the latter part of the reign of Justinian (ad 527–65), as well as their classicizing tastes. Agathias' Histories, a continuation in five books of Procopius' History of the Wars, covers only the years ad 553–9, and is likewise highly literary and rhetorical, an aim which Agathias defends himself (Hist. 3.1),including also digressions and speculative passages about the meaning of the events narrated. The work is important also for its long excursuses on the Franks and the Sasanids, each of which draws on good information, however much imbalance they introduce to the work as a whole. Though apparently a Christian and a moralist, Agathias' work is literary and secular. Unlike Procopius, he was not a participant in the events he describes, nor did he have military experience. Nevertheless, his work made sufficient impact for it to be continued by Menander Protector, and to take its place in the line of early Byzantine secular historians.
Averil M. Cameron
Subjects: Classical Studies.