Priscus was born in Panion (located in Thrace) between 410-420 AD. In 448/449 AD, he accompanied Maximinus, the head of the Byzantine embassy representing Emperor Theodosius the Younger (r. 408–450), on a diplomatic mission to the court of Attila the Hun. While there, he met and conversed with a Greek merchant, dressed in "Scythian" (or Hunnic) fashion, who was captured eight years earlier (circa 441–442) when the city of Viminacium (located on the Danube east of modern-day Belgrade) was sacked by the Huns. The trader explained to Priscus that after the sack of Viminacium, he was a slave of Onegesius, a Hunnic nobleman, but obtained his freedom and chose to settle among the Huns. Priscus ultimately engaged in a debate with the Greek defector regarding the qualities of life and justice in both the Byzantine Empire and in barbarian kingdoms.
After an interlude in Rome, Priscus traveled to Alexandria and the Thebaid in Egypt. He last appeared in the East, circa 456, attached to the staff of Euphemios as Emperor Marcian's (r. 450–457) magister officiorum. He died after 472 AD.
History of Byzantium
Priscus was the author of an eight-volume historical work, written in Greek, entitled the History of Byzantium (Greek: Ἱστορία Βυζαντιακή), which was probably not the original title name. The History probably covered the period from the accession of Attila the Hun to the accession of Emperor Zeno (r. 474–475), or from 433 up until 474 AD. Priscus's work currently survives in fragments and was very influential in the Byzantine Empire. The History was used in the Excerpta de Legationibus of Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (r. 913–959), as well as by authors such as Evagrius Scholasticus, Cassiodorus, Jordanes, and the author of the Souda. Priscus's writing style is straightforward and his work is regarded as a reliable contemporary account of Attila the Hun, his court, and the reception of the Roman ambassadors.
The remaining works of Priscus are currently published in three collections:
- Blockley, Roger C. (2009). The Fragmentary Classicising Historians of the Later Roman Empire II. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Francis Cairns. ISBN 0-905205-51-0.
- Dindorfius, Ludovicus (1870). Historici Graeci Minores (Volume 1). Leipzig, Germany: B. G. Teubneri.
- Gordon, Colin Douglas (1966). The Age of Attila: Fifth-century Byzantium and the Barbarians. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press.
- Kazhdan 1991, "Priskos", p. 1721.
- Chisholm 1911, "Priscus—Prison", p. 361.
- Toynbee & Myers 1948, p. 14: "The renegade Greek business man from Viminacium whom the Greek historian and Roman diplomatist Priscus encountered in Attila's ordu on the Alföld in A.D. 449 has already come to our notice."
- Christophilopoulou 1986, p. 209: "For information about Attila, his court and the organization of life generally in his realm we have the authentic and reliable evidence of contemporary Greek historian Priscus, who accompanied Maximinus, the head of the Byzantine embassy, in 448."
- Halsall 1996; Kelly 2004, p. 176; Toynbee & Myers 1948, p. 14.
- Jones 1964, p. 866: "Priscus of Panium met one of these in Attila's camp. He was, he said, a Greek who had settled at Viminacium on the Danube and prospered in trade and married a rich wife. He was wealthy enough to be allotted as a special prize to Onegesius, one of the Hunnic nobles, when the town was captured."
- Halsall 1996.
- Chisholm, Hugh (1911). The Encyclopædia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information, Volume 22. The Encyclopædia Britannica Co.
- Christophilopoulou, Aikaterinē (1986). Byzantine History (Volume 1). Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Adolf M. Hakkert. ISBN 90-256-0836-1.
- Halsall, Paul (March 1996). "Medieval Sourcebook: Priscus at the Court of Attila". New York City, New York: Fordham University. Retrieved 4 December 2011.
- Jones, Arnold Hugh Martin (1964). The Later Roman Empire, 284-602 (Volume Two). Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8018-3354-X.
- Kazhdan, Alexander Petrovich, ed. (1991). The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. New York, New York and Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-504652-6.
- Kelly, Christopher (2004). Ruling the Later Roman Empire. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-01564-9.
- Toynbee, Arnold Joseph; Myers, Edward DeLos (1948). A Study of History (Volume 8). Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
- Gordon, Colin Douglas (1964). "Fifth Century Chronology of in the Fragments of Priscus". New Review IV (2–3).
- Thompson, E. A. (July–October 1945). "Priscus of Panium, Fragment I b". The Classical Quarterly (Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press) 39 (3/4): 92–94. doi:10.1017/s0009838800022643.
- Media related to Priscus at Wikimedia Commons
- Georgetown University: "Priscus at the Court of Attila" (Translation by J. B. Bury)