Procopius of Caesarea:
The Secret History
Procopius: Secret History, translated by Richard Atwater,
(Chicago: P. Covici, 1927; New York: Covici Friede, 1927), reprinted,
Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1961, with indication
that copyright had expired on the text of the translation.
For information on the translator, see the note on Richard Atwater at the end of this file.
Procopius of Caesarea (in Palestine) [born c.490/507- died c.560s]
is the most important source for information about the reign of
the emperor Justinian [born 482/3, ruled. 527-565] and his wife
Theodora [d. 547/8]. From 527 to 531 Procopius was a counsel the
great general of the time, Belisarius [505-565]. He was on Belisarius's
first Persian campaign [527-531], and later took part in an expedition
against the Vandals [533-534]. He was in Italy on the Gothic campaign
until 540, after which he lived in Constantinople, since he describes
the great plague of 542 in the capital. His life after that is
largely unknown, although he was given the title illustris in 560 and in may have been prefect of Constantinople in 562-3.
He wrote a number of official histories, including On the Wars in eight books [Polemon or De bellis], published
552, with an addition in 554, and On the Buildings in six
books [Peri Ktismaton or De aedificiis], published
561. He also left a "Secret History" [Anecdota,
i.e. "unpublished things", not "anecdotes"],
probably written c. 550 and published after his death, which was
a massive attack on the character of Justinian and his wife Theodora.
Parts are so vitriolic, not to say pornographic [esp. Chapter
9], that for some time translations from Greek were only available
into Latin [Gibbon - in Ch. 40 of Decline and Fall of the Roman
Empire wrote about Theodora that "her arts must be veiled
in the obscurity of a learned language ", and then went on
to quote the passage in Greek with Latin comments!]
The Secret History claims to provide explanations and additions
that the author could not insert into his work on the Wars for
fear of retribution from Justinian and Theodora. Since both before
and afterward, Procopius wrote approvingly of the emperor, it
was suggested in the past that he was not the author of the work,
but it is now generally accepted that Procopius wrote it. Analysis
of text, which show no contradictions in point of fact between
the Secret History and the other works, as well a linguistic
and grammatical analysis makes this a conclusive opinion.
- Alemannus, editio princeps, (Lyons: 1623) [with omission
of one section thought to be indecent.]
- Maltretus, (Paris: 1663) [with omissions].
- Comparetti, (Rome: 1898)
- Procopius, Opera Omnia, 3. Vols., (Leipzig: 1905-13),
ed. J. Haury, rev. G. Wirth, 4 Vols., (Teubner Series), (Leipzig,
1962-64). Now the standard edition. Vol 3 of the Haury-Wirth version
contains the Secret History
- Procopius: The Anecdota of Secret History, translated
by H.B. Dewing, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1935), Vol
VI of the seven volume Loeb translation, which includes the Buildings and the Wars in parallel Greek and English texts. Greek
text based on Haury.
- Procopius: Secret History, translated by Richard Atwater,
(New York: Covici Friede; Chicago: P. Covicii, 1927), reprinted,
Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1961, - the version
- Procopius: The Anecdota of Secret History, translated
by H.B. Dewing, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1935), Vol
VI of the seven volume Loeb translation, which includes the Buildings and the Wars.
- Cameron, Averil, Procopius: History of the Wars, Secret
History, and Buildings, translated, edited and abridged, (New
- Procopius: Secret History, translated by G.A. Williamson,
(New York: Penguin, 1966) - this is the most easily available
Secondary Literature: Procopius
- Beck, Hans Georg, Kaiserin Theodora und Prokop : der Historiker
und sein Opfer, (Munich: Piper, c1986)
- Evans, James A.S., Procopius, (New York: Twayne, 1972)
- Cameron, Averil, "The `Scepticism' of Procopius", Historia 15 (1966)
- Cameron, Averil, Procopius and the Sixth Century, (Berkeley
: University of California Press, c1985) - probably the best place
- Downey, Granville, "Paganism and Christianity in Procopius", Church History 18 (1949)
- Gordon, C.D., "Procopius and Justinian's Financial Policies", Phoenix 13 (1959)
- Rubin, Berthold., Prokopio von Kaisareia, (Stuttgart,
- Rubin, Berthold, "Prokopios" in Pauly-Wissowa, Real-Encyclopaedie 23.1, (Stuttgart:, 1957), cols. 273-599
Secondary Literature: Theodora
- Browning, Robert, Justinian and Theodora, 2nd ed.,
(London: 1971, 198?)
- Diehl, Charles, Théodora, impératrice de
Byzance, 3rd. ed (Paris: 1904, repr. 1937)
- Diehl, Charles, Byzantine Empresses, trans. Harold
Bell and Theresa de Kepely, (New York: Alfred A, Knopf, 1963)
- Grimbert, E., Theodora: Die Tanzerin auf dem Kaiserthron,
- Holmes, W.G., The Age of Justinian and Theodora, 2
vols. (London: 1912)
- Kraus, R. Theodora. The Circus Empress, (New York:
- McCabe, Joseph. Empresses of Constantinople, (London:
Methuen, 1913; Boston: n.d.)
- Schubart, W., Justinian und Theodora, (Munich: 1943)
- Stadelmann, H., Theodora von Byzanz, 2 vols., (Dresden:
- Vandercook, John W., Empress of the Dusk: A Life of Theodora
of Byzantium, (New York: 1940)
- Bradshaw, Gillian, The Bearkeeper's Daughter, (Houghton
Mifflin Company, 1987). Justinian and Theodora in the later years
of her life from the perspective of Theodora's illegitimate son
who is passed off as her nephew.
- Dixon, Pierson, Sir, The glittering horn: secret memoirs
of the Court of Justinian, (London, J. Cape, 1958)
- Fischer-Pap, Lucia, Eva, Theodora : Evita Peron, Empress
Theodora reincarnated, (Rockford, Ill. : LFP Publications,
- Gerson, Noel Bertram, 1914-, Theodora, a novel, (Englewood
Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall, 1969)
- Graves, Robert, Count Belasarius, (New York : Literary
Guild, 1938; London: Cassell, 1938) Graves narrates the life of
perhaps the most glamorous Byzantine general. Given Graves gripping
view of the early Empire in I, Claudius and Claudius
the God, the availability of Procopius as a source, and the
dramatic events and personalities of Belasarius's career, it is
hard to see how Graves could have failed. Most readers though
seem to find the novel pedestrian and, frankly, boring.
- Hubbard, Elbert, and Alice Hubbard, Justinian and Theodora,
a drama; being a chapter of history and the one gleam of light
during the dark ages, (East Aurora, N.Y.: The Roycrofters,
- Kraus, Rene, 1902-1947, Theodora, the Circus Empress,
translated from the German by June Head. 1st ed. Garden City :
Doubleday, Doran, 1938)
- Lamb, Harold, 1892-1962, Theodora and the Emperor; the
drama of Justinian, 1st ed., (Garden City, N. Y., Doubleday
- Letraz, Jean de, 1897-, Moumou ; L'extravagante Theodora
; Une nuit chez vous ; Madame!, (Paris : Nagel, c1949)
- Masefield, John, 1878-1967, Basilissa, a tale of the Empress
Theodora, (London, Heinemann 1940; New York, Macmillan, 1940)
- Phillips, Watts, 1825-1874, Theodora, actress and empress
: an original historical drama, in five acts, (London : T.H.Lacy,
- Rachet, Guy, Theodora : Roman (Paris : Olivier Orban,
- Sardou, Victorien, 1831-1908, Theodora. Drama in funf aufzugen
und acht bildern, Deutsch von Hermann von Lohner ... (Leipzig,
P. Reclam jun. [n.d.])
- Sardou, Victorien, 1831-1908., Theodora, drame en cinq
actes et sept tableaux ..., (Paris, Impr. de l'Illustration,
- Underhill, Clara., Theodora, the courtesan of Constantinople,
(New York, Sears, c1932)
- White, Eliza Orne, 1856-1947, The Coming of Theodora [a
novel], (Boston, New York, Houghton, Mifflin and Company,
Procopius: The Secret History
- How the Great General Belisarius Was Hoodwinked by His Wife
- How Belated Jealousy Affected Belisarius's Military Judgment
- Showing the Danger of Interfering with a Woman's Intrigues
- How Theodora Humiliated the Conqueror of Africa and Italy
- How Theodora Tricked the General's Daughter
- Ignorance of the Emperor Justin, and How His Nephew Justinian
Was the Virtual Ruler
- Outrages of the Blues
- Character and Appearance of Justinian
- How Theodora, Most Depraved of All Courtesans, Won His Love
- How Justinian Created a New Law Permitting Him to Marry a
- How the Defender of the Faith Ruined His Subjects
- Proving That Justinian and Theodora Were Actually Fiends in
- Perceptive Affability and Piety of a Tyrant
- Justice for Sale
- How All Roman Citizens Became Slaves
- What Happened to Those Who Fell Out of Favor with Theodora
- How She Saved Five Hundred Harlots from a Life of Sin
- How Justinian Killed a Trillion People
- How He Seized All the Wealth of the Romans and Threw It Away
- Debasing of the Quaestorship
- The Sky Tax, and How Border Armies Were Forbidden to Punish
- Further Corruption in High Places
- How Landowners Were Ruined
- Unjust Treatment of the Soldiers
- How He Robbed His Own Officials
- How He Spoiled the Beauty of the Cities and Plundered the
- How the Defender of the Faith Protected the Interests of the
- His Violation of the Laws of the Romans and How Jews Were
Fined for Eating Lamb
- Other Incidents Revealing Him as a Liar and a Hypocrite
- Further Innovations of Justinian and Theodora, and a Conclusion
BY THE HISTORIAN
In what I have written on the Roman wars up to the present point,
the story was arranged in chronological order and as completely
as the times then permitted. What I shall write now follows a
different plan, supplementing the previous formal chronicle with
a disclosure of what really happened throughout the Roman Empire.
You see, it was not possible, during the life of certain persons,
to write the truth of what they did, as a historian should. If
I had, their hordes of spies would have found out about it, and
they would have put me to a most horrible death. I could not even
trust my nearest relatives. That is why I was compelled to hide
the real explanation of many matters glossed over in my previous
These secrets it is now my duty to tell and reveal the remaining
hidden matters and motives. Yet when I approach this different
task, I find it hard indeed to have to stammer and retract what
I have written before about the lives of Justinian and Theodora.
Worse yet, it occurs to me that what I am now about to tell will
seem neither probable nor plausible to future generations, especially
as time flows on and my story becomes ancient history. I fear
they may think me a writer of fiction, and even put me among the
However, I have this much to cheer me, that my account will not
be unendorsed by other testimony: so I shall not shrink from the
duty of completing this work. For the men of today, who know best
the truth of these matters, will be trustworthy witnesses to posterity
of the accuracy of my evidence.
Still another thing for a long time deferred my passion to relieve
myself of this untold tale. For I wondered if it might be prejudicial
to future generations, and the wickedness of these deeds had not
best remain unknown to later times: lest future tyrants, hearing,
might emulate them. It is deplorably natural that most monarchs
mimic the sins of their predecessors and are most readily disposed
to turn to the evils of the past.
But, finally, I was again constrained to proceed with this history,
for the reason that future tyrants may see also that those who
thus err cannot avoid retribution in the end, since the persons
of whom I write suffered that judgment. Furthermore, the disclosure
of these actions and tempers will be published for all time, and
in consequence others will perhaps feel less urge to transgress.
For who now would know of the unchastened life of Semiramis or
the madness of Sardanapalus or Nero, if the record had not thus
been written by men of their own times? Besides, even those who
suffer similarly '-from later tyrants will not find this narrative
quite unprofitable. For the miserable find comfort in the philosophy
that not on them alone has evil fallen.
Accordingly, I begin the tale. First I shall reveal the folly
of Belisarius, and then the depravity of Justinian and Theodora.
1. HOW THE GREAT GENERAL BELISARIUS WAS HOODWINKED BY HIS
The father of Belisarius's wife, a lady whom I have mentioned
in my former books, was (and so was her grandfather) a charioteer,
exhibiting that trade in Constantinople and Thessalonica. Her
mother was one of the wenches of the theater; and she herself
from the first led an utterly wanton life. Acquainted with magic
drugs used by her parents before her, she learned how to use those
of compelling qualities and became the wedded wife of Belisarius,
after having already borne many children.
Now she was unfaithful as a wife from the start, but was careful
to conceal her indiscretions by the usual precautions; not from
any awe of her spouse (for she never felt any shame at anything)
and fooled him easily with her deceptions), but because she feared
the punishment of the Empress. For Theodora hated her, and had
already shown her teeth. But when that Queen became involved in
difficulties, she won her friendship by helping her, first to
destroy Silverius, as shall be related presently, and later to
ruin John of Cappadocia, as I have told elsewhere. After that,
she became more and more fearless, and casting all concealment
aside, abandoned herself to the winds of desire.
There was a youth from Thrace in the house of Belisarius: Theodosius
by name, and of the Eunomian heresy by descent. On the eve of
his expedition to Libya, Belisarius baptized this boy in holy
water and received him in his arms as a member henceforth of the
family, welcoming him with his wife as their son, according to
the Christian rite of adoption. And Antonina not only embraced
Theodosius with reasonable fondness as her son by holy word, and
thus cared for him, but soon, while her husband was away on his
campaign, became wildly in love with him; and, out of her senses
with this malady, shook off all fear and shame of God and man.
She began by enjoying him surreptitiously, and ended by dallying
with him in the presence of the men servants and waiting maids.
For she was now possessed by passion and, openly overwhelmed with
love, could see no hindrance to its consummation.
Once, in Carthage, Belisarius caught her in the very act, but
allowed himself to be deceived by his wife. Finding the two in
an underground room, he was very angry; but she said, showing
no fear or attempt to keep anything hidden, "I came here
with the boy to bury the most precious part of our plunder, where
the Emperor will not discover it." So she said by way of
excuse, and he dismissed the matter as if he believed her, even
as he saw Theodosius's trousers belt somewhat unmodestly unfastened.
For so bound by love for the woman was he, that he preferred to
distrust the evidence of his own eyes.
As her folly progressed to an indescribable extent, those who
saw what was going on kept silent, except one slave, Macedonia
by name. When Belisarius was in Syracuse as the conqueror of Sicily,
she made her master swear solemnly never to betray her to her
mistress, and then told him the whole story, presenting s witnesses
two slave boys attending the bed-chamber.
When he heard this, Belisarius ordered one of his guards to put
Theodosius away; but the latter learned of this in time to flee
to Ephesus. For most of the servants, inspired by the weakness
of the husband's character, were more anxious to please his wife
than to show loyalty to him, and so betrayed the order he had
given. But Constantine, when he saw Belisarius's grief at what
had befallen him, sympathized entirely except to comment, "I
would have tried to kill the woman rather than the young man."
Antonina heard of this, and hated him in secret. How malicious
was her spite against him shall be shown; for she was a scorpion
who could hide her sting.
But not long after this, by the enchantment either of philtres
or of her caresses, she persuaded her husband that the charges
against her were untrue. Without more ado he sent word to Theodosius
to return, and promised to turn Macedonia and the two slave boys
over to his wife. She first cruelly cut out their tongues, it
is said, and then cut their bodies into little bits which were
put into sacks and thrown into the sea. One of her slaves, Eugenius,
who had already wrought the outrage on Silverius, helped her in
And it was not long after this that Belisarius was persuaded by
his wife to kill Constantine. What happened at that time concerning
Presidius and the daggers I have narrated in my previous books.
For while Belisarius would have preferred to let Constantine alone,
Antonina gave him no peace until his remark, which I have just
repeated, was avenged. And as a result of this murder, much enmity
was aroused against Belisarius in the hearts of the Emperor and
all the most important of the Romans.
So matters progressed. But Theodosius said he was unable to return
to Italy, where Belisarius and Antonina were now staying, unless
Photius were put out of the way. For this Photius was the sort
who would bite if anyone got the better of him in anything, and
he had reason to be choked with indignation at Theodosius. Though
he was the rightful son, he was utterly disregarded while the
other grew in power and riches: they say that from the two palaces
at Carthage and Ravenna Theodosius had taken plunder amounting
to a hundred centenaries, as he alone had been given the management
of these conquered properties.
But Antonina, when she learned of Theodosius's fear, never ceased
laying snares for her son and planning deadly plots against his
welfare, until he saw he would have to escape to Constantinople
if he wished to live. Then Theodosius came to Italy and her. There
they stayed in the satisfaction of their love, unhindered by the
complaisant husband; and later she took them both to Constantinople.
There Theodosius became so worried lest the affair became generally
known, that he was at his wit's end. He saw it would be impossible
to fool everybody, as the woman was no longer able to conceal
her passion and indulge it secretly, but thought nothing of being
in fact and in reputation an avowed adulteress.
Therefore he went back to Ephesus, and having his head shaved
after the religious custom, became a monk. Whereupon Antonina,
insane over her loss, exhibited her grief by donning mourning;
and went around the house shrieking and wailing, lamenting even
in the presence of her husband what a good friend she had lost,
how faithful, how tender, how loving, how energetic! In the end,
even her spouse was won over to join in her sorrow. And so the
poor wretch wept too, calling for his beloved Theodosius. Later
he even went to the Emperor and implored both him and the Empress,
till they consented to summon Theodosius to return, as one who
was and would always be a necessity in the house of Belisarius.
But Theodosius refused to leave his monastery, saying he was completely
resolved to give himself forever to the cloistered life. This
noble pronouncement, however, was not entirely sincere, for he
was aware that as soon as Belisarius left Constantinople, it would
be possible for him to come secretly to Antonina. Which, indeed,
2. HOW BELATED JEALOUSY AFFECTED BELISARIUS'S MILITARY JUDGMENT
For soon Belisarius went off to war on Chosroes, and he took Photius
with him; but Antonina remained behind, though this was contrary
to her usual habit. She had always preferred to voyage wherever
her husband went, lest he, being alone, come to his senses and,
forgetting her enchantments, think of her for once as she deserved.
But now, so that Theodosius might have free access to her, she
planned once more how to rid herself permanently of Photius. She
bribed some of Belisarius's guards to slander and insult her son
at all times; while she, writing letters almost every day, denounced
him, and thus set everything in motion against him. Compelled
by all of this to counterplot against his mother, Photius got
a witness to come from Constantinople with evidence of Theodosius's
commerce with Antonina, took him to Belisarius, and commanded
him to tell the whole story.
When Belisarius heard it, he became passionately angry, fell at
Photius's feet, kissed them, and begged him to revenge one who
had been so wronged by those who should least have treated him
thus. "My dearest boy," he said, "your father,
whoever he was, you have never known, for he left you at your
mother's breast when the sands of his life were measured. Nor
have you even benefited from his estate, since he was not overblessed
with wealth. But brought up by me, though I was only your stepfather,
you have arrived at an age where it becomes you to avenge my wrongs.
I, who have raised you to consular rank, and given you the opportunity
of acquiring such riches, might call myself your father and mother
and entire kindred, and I would be right, my son. For it is not
by their kinship of blood, but by their friendly deeds that men
are wont to measure their bonds to one another.
"Now the hour has come, when you must not only look on me
in the ruin of my household and the loss of my greatest treasure,
but as one sharing the shame of your mother in the reproach of
all mankind. And consider too, that the sins of women injure not
only their husbands, but touch even more bitterly their children,
whose reputation suffers the greater from this reason, that they
are expected to inherit the disposition of those who bore them.
"Yet remember this of me, that I still love my wife exceedingly
well; and if it is in my power to punish the ruiner of my house,
to her I shall do no hurt. But while Theodosius is present, I
cannot condone this charge against her."
When he had heard this, Photius agreed to serve him in everything;
but at the same time he was afraid lest some trouble might come
to himself from it, for he had little confidence in Belisarius's
strength of will, where his wife was concerned. And among other
unhappy possibilities, he remembered with distaste what had happened
to Macedonia. So he had Belisarius exchange with him all the oaths
that are held most sacred and binding among Christians, and each
swore never to betray the other, even in the most mortal peril.
Now for the present they decided the time had not yet come to
take action. But as soon as Antonina should arrive from Constantinople
and Theodosius return to Ephesus, Photius was to go to Ephesus
and dispose without difficulty of Theodosius and his property.
It was at this time that they had invaded the Persian country
with the entire army, and there occurred to John of Cappadocia
what is reported in my previous works. There I had to hush up
one matter out of prudence, namely, that it was not without malice
aforethought that Antonina deceived John and his daughter, but
by many oaths, than which none is more reverenced by the Christians,
she induced them to trust her as one who would never use them
ill. After she had done this, feeling more confident than before
of the friendship of the Empress, she sent Theodosius to Ephesus,
and herself, with no suspicion of opposition, set out for the
Belisarius had just taken the fort of Sisauranum when the news
of her coming was brought to him; and he, setting everything else
as nothing in comparison, ordered the army to retire. It so happened,
as I have shown elsewhere, that other things had occurred to the
expedition which fitted in with his order to withdraw, however,
as I said in the foreword to this book, it was not safe for me
at that time to tell all the underlying motives of these events.
Accusation was consequently made against Belisarius by all the
Romans that he had put the most urgent affairs of state below
the lesser interests of his personal household. For the fact was
that, possessed with jealous passion for his wife, he was unwilling
to go far away from Roman territory, so that as soon as he should
learn his wife was coming from Constantinople, he could immediately
seize her and avenge himself on Theodosius.
For this reason he ordered the forces under Arethas to cross the
Tigris River; and they returned home, having accomplished nothing
worthy of mention. And he himself was careful not to leave the
Roman frontier for much more than a one hour's ride. Indeed, the
fort of Sisauranum, going by way of the city of Nisibis, is not
more than a day's journey for a well-mounted man from the Roman
border; and by another route is only half that distance. Yet if
he had been willing in the beginning to cross the Tigris with
his entire army, I believe he could have taken all the plunder
in the land of Assyria, and marched as far as the city of Ctesiphon,
with none to hinder him. And he could have rescued the captured
Antiochans and whatever other Romans misfortune had brought there,
and restored them to their native lands.
Furthermore, he was culpable for Chosroes's unhindered return
home from Colchis. How this happened I shall now reveal. When
Chosroes, Cabades's son, invading the land of Colchis, accomplished
not only what I have elsewhere narrated, but captured Petra, a
great part of the army of the Medes was destroyed, either in battle
or because of the difficulty of the country. For Lazica, as I
have explained, is almost roadless and very mountainous. Also
pestilence, falling upon them, had destroyed most of -the army,
and many had died from lack of necessary food and treatment. It
was at this time that messengers came from Persia with news that
Belisarius, having conquered Nabedes in battle before the city
of Nisibis, was approaching; that he had taken the fort of Sisauranum
by siege, captured at the point of the spear Bleschames and eight
hundred Persian cavalry; and that he had sent a second army of
Romans under Arethas, ruler of the Saracens, to cross the Tigris
and ravage all the land there that heretofore had not known fear.
It happened also that the army of Huns which Chosroes had sent
into Roman Armenia, to create a diversion there so that the Romans
would not notice his expedition into Lazica, had fallen into the
hands of Valerian and his Romans, as other messengers now reported;
and that these barbarians had been badly beaten in battle, and
most of them killed. When the Persians heard this, already in
low spirits over their ill fortune among the Lazi, they now feared
if they should meet a hostile army in their present difficulties,
among precipices and wilderness, they would all perish in disorder.
And they feared, too, for their children and their wives and their
country; indeed, the noblest men in the army of the Medes reviled
Chosroes, calling him one who had broken his plighted word and
the common law of man, by invading in time of peace the land of
the Romans. He had wronged, they cried, the oldest and greatest
of all nations, which he could not possibly surpass in war. A
mutiny was imminent.
Aroused at this, Chosroes found the following remedy for the trouble.
He read them a letter which the Empress had recently written to
Zaberganes. This was the letter:
"How highly I esteem you, Zaberganes, and that I believe
you friendly to our State, you, who were ambassador to us not
so long ago, are well aware. Would you not be acting suitably
to this high opinion which I have for you, if you could persuade
King Chosroes to choose peace with our government? If you do this,
I can promise you will be rewarded by my husband, who does nothing
without my advice."
Chosroes read this aloud, and asked the Persian leaders if they
thought this was an Empire which a woman managed. Thus he calmed
their nervousness. But even so, he withdrew from the place with
considerable anxiety, thinking that at any moment Belisarius's
forces would confront him. And when none of the enemy appeared
to bar his retreat, with great relief he marched back to his native
3. SHOWING THE DANGER OF INTERFERING WITH A WOMAN'S INTRIGUES
On his return to Roman territory, Belisarius found his wife just
arriving from Constantinople. He put her under guard in disgrace,
and often was on the point of putting her to death; but each time
he weakened, overcome, I suppose, by the rekindling of his love
for her. But they say he was also driven from his senses by philtres
she gave. him.
Meanwhile the outraged Photius had gone to Ephesus, taking the
eunuch Calligonus, pander for his mistress, with him, in chains;
and under the whip, during the course of his journey Calligonus
confessed all his lady's secrets. But Theodosius again learned
of his peril, and fled to the Church of St. John the Apostle,
which is the holiest and most revered sanctuary thereabouts. However
Andrew, Bishop of Ephesus, was bribed by Photius to give the man
up into his hands.
Theodora was now in some fear for Antonina, for she had heard
what had happened to her; so she sent word to Belisarius to bring
his wife to Constantinople. Photius, hearing of this, sent Theodosius
to Cilicia, where his own lancers and shield-bearers happened
to be wintering; enjoining upon those who took him thither to
do so as secretly as possible, and on arriving in Cilicia to hide
him privately in the garrison, letting no one know where in the
world he was. Then, with Calligonus and Theodosius's considerable
moneys, Photius went to Constantinople.
Now the Empress gave evidence to all mankind that for every murder
to which she was indebted, she could pay in greater and even more
savage requital. For Antonina had betrayed for her one enemy,
when she had lately ensnared the Cappadocian; but she ruined,
for Antonina's sake, a number of blameless men. Some of Belisarius's
and Photius's acquaintances she put to the torture, when the only
charge against them was that they were friends of the two (and
to this day we do not know what was their ultimate fate), and
others she banished into exile on the same accusation.
One man who had accompanied Photius to Ephesus, a Senator who
was also named Theodosius, not only lost his property but was
thrown into a dungeon, where he was, fastened to a manger by a
rope around his neck so short that the noose was always tight
and could not be slackened. Consequently the poor man had to stand
at the manger all the time, whether he ate or sought sleep or
performed the other needs of the body. The only difference between
him and an ass, was that . he could not bray. The time the man
passed in this condition was not less than four months; after
which, overcome by melancholy, he went mad, and as such they set
him free to die.
The reluctant Belisarius she forced to become reconciled with
his wife; while Photius, after she had him tortured like a slave
and scourged on the back and shoulders, was ordered to tell where
Theodosius and the pander were. But in spite of his anguish at
the torture he kept silent as he had sworn to do; though he had
always been delicate and sickly, had had to be very careful of
his health, and was hitherto inexperienced in such outrage and
ill treatment. Yet none of Belisarius's secrets did he divulge.
Later, however, everything that up to this time had been concealed
came to light. Discovering Calligonus in the neighborhood, Theodora
handed him over to Antonina, and then had Theodosius brought back
to Constantinople, where she hid him in her palace. On the day
after his arrival she sent for Antonina. "My dearest lady,"
she said, "a pearl fell into my hands yesterday, such a one
as no mortal has ever seen. If you wish, I will not grudge you
a sight of this jewel, but will show it to you." Not knowing
what had happened, her friend begged Theodora to show her the
pearl; and the Empress, leading Theodosius from the rooms of one
of the eunuchs, revealed him.
For a moment Antonina, speechless with joy, remained dumb. Then
she broke into an ecstasy of gratitude, and called Theodora her
saviour, her benefactress, and her true mistress. Thereafter,
the Empress kept Theodosius in the palace, wrapping him in every
luxury, and declared she would even make him general of all the
Roman forces before long. justice, however, intervened. Carried
off by a dysentery, he disappeared from the world of men.
Now in Theodora's palace were certain secret dungeon rooms: dark,
unknown, and remote, wherein there was no difference between day
and night. In one of these Photius languished for a long time.
He had the good fortune, however, to escape, not once, but twice.
The first time he took refuge in the Church of the Virgin Mother,
which is the most holy and famous of the churches in Constantinople,
and there took his place at the sacred table as a suppliant. But
she captured him even here, and had him removed by force. The
second time he fled to the Church of St. Sophia and sought sanctuary
at the holy font, which of all places the Christians most reverence.
Yet even from here the woman was able to drag him: for to her
no spot was too awful or venerable to transgress, and she thought
nothing of violating all the sanctuaries put together. Like all
the rest of the people, the Christian priests were struck dumb
with horror, but stood to one side and suffered her to do as she
Now for three years Photius remained thus in his cell; and then
the prophet Zechariah came to him in a dream, and ordered him
in the name of the Lord to escape, promising to aid him in this.
Trusting in the vision, he broke loose again, and unnoticed by
anyone made his way to Jerusalem. Though he passed through countless
thousands of men on his flight, not one of them saw the youth.
There he shaved his head, assumed the garb of the monks, and was
free at last from the punishment of Theodora.
But Belisarius, disregarding his word of honor, took no measures
to avenge his accomplice's suffering of such impious treatment
as has been told. And all of his military expeditions from this
time on- failed, presumably by the will of God- For his next campaign
against Chosroes and the Medes, who were for the third time invading
Roman territory, was severely criticized; though one good thing
was said of him, that he had driven the foe back. But when Chosroes
crossed the Euphrates River, took the great city of Callinicus
without a battle, and enslaved myriads of Roman citizens, while
Belisarius was careful not even to pursue the enemy when he retired,
he won the reputation of being one of two things-either a traitor
or a coward.
4. HOW THEODORA HUMILIATED THE CONQUEROR OF AFRICA AND ITALY
Soon after this, a further disaster befell him. The plague, which
I have described elsewhere, became epidemic at Constantinople,
and the Emperor Justinian was taken grievously ill; it was even
said he had died of it. Rumor spread this report till it reached
the Roman army camp. There some of the officers said that if the
Romans tried to establish anyone else at Constantinople as Emperor,
they would never recognize him. Presently, the Emperor's health
bettered, and the officers of the army brought charges against
each other, the generals Peter and John the Glutton alleging they
had heard Belisarius and Buzes making the above declaration.
This hypothetical mutiny the indignant Queen took as intended
by the two men to refer to herself. So she recalled all the officers
to Constantinople to investigate the matter; and she summoned
Buzes impromptu to her private quarters, on the pretext she wished
to discuss with him matters of sudden urgency.
Now underneath the palace was an underground cellar, secure and
labyrinthian, comparable to the infernal regions, in which most
of those who gave offense to her were eventually entombed. And
so Buzes was thrown into this oubliette, and there the man, though
of consular rank, remained with no one cognizant of his fate.
Neither, as he sat there in darkness, could he ever know whether
it was day or night, nor could he learn from anyone else; for
the man who each day threw him his food was dumb, and the scene
was that of one wild beast confronting another. Everybody soon
thought him dead, but no one dared to mention even his memory.
But after two years and four months, Theodora took pity on the
man and released him. Ever after he was half blind and sick in
body. This is what she did to Buzes.
Belisarius, although none of the charges against him were proved,
was at the insistence of the Empress relieved of his command by
the Emperor; who appointed Martinus in his place as General of
the armies of the East. Belisarius's lancers and shield-bearers,
and such of his servants as were of military use, he ordered to
be divided between the other generals and certain of the palace
eunuchs. Drawing lots for these men and their arms, they portioned
them as the chances fell. And his friends, and all who formerly
had served him, were forbidden ever to visit Belisarius. It was
a bitter sight, and one no one would ever have thought credible,
to see Belisarius a private citizen in Constantinople, almost
deserted, melancholy and miserable of countenance, and ever expectant
of a further conspiracy to accomplish his death.
Then the Empress learned he had acquired great wealth in the East,
and sent one of the eunuchs of the palace to confiscate it. Antonina,
as I have told, was now quite out of temper with her husband,
but on the most friendly and intimate terms with the Queen, since
she had got rid of John of Cappadocia. So, to please Antonina,
Theodora arranged everything so that the wife would appear to
have asked mercy for her husband, and from such peril to have
saved his life; and the poor wretch not only became quite reconciled
to her, but let her make him her humblest slave for having saved
him from the Queen. And this is how that happened.
One morning, Belisarius went to the palace as usual with his few
and pitiful followers. Finding the Emperor and Empress hostile,
he was further insulted in their presence by baseborn and common
men. Late in the evening he went home, often turning around as
he withdrew and looking in every direction for those who might
be advancing to put him to death. Accompanied by this dread, he
entered his home and sat down alone upon his couch. His spirit
broken, he failed even to remember the time when he was a man;
sweating, dizzy and trembling, he counted himself lost; devoured
by slavish fears and mortal worry, he was completely emasculated.
Antonina, who neither knew just what arrangement of his fate had
been made nor much cared what would become of him, was walking
up and down nearby pretending a heartburn; for they were not exactly
on friendly terms. Meanwhile, an officer of the palace, Quadratus
by name, had come as the sun went down, and passing through the
outer hall, suddenly stood at the door of the men's apartments
to say he had been sent here by the Empress. And when Belisarius
heard that, he drew up his arms and legs onto the couch and lay
down on his back, ready for the end. So far had all manhood left
Quadratus, however, approached only to hand him a letter from
the Queen. And thus the letter read: "You know, Sir, your
offense against us. But because I am greatly indebted to your
wife, I have decided to dismiss all charges against you and give
her your life. So for the future you may be of good cheer as to
your personal safety and that of your property; but we shall know
by what happens to you how you conduct yourself toward her."
When Belisarius read this intoxicated with joy and yearning to
give evidence of his gratitude, he leapt from his couch and prostrated
himself at the feet of his wife. With each hand fondling one of
her legs, licking with his tongue the sole of first one of her
feet and then the other, he cried that she was the cause of his
life and of his safety: henceforth he would be her faithful slave,
instead of her lord and master.
The Empress then gave thirty gold centenaries of his property
to the Emperor, and returned what was left to Belisarius. This
is what happened to the great general to whom destiny had not
long before given both Gelimer and Vitiges to be captives of his
spear! But the wealth that this subject of theirs had acquired
had long ago gnawed jealous wounds in the hearts of Justinian
and Theodora, who deemed it grown too big for any but the imperial
coffers. And they said he had concealed most of Gelimer's and
Vitiges's moneys, which by conquest belonged to the State and
had handed over only a small fraction, hardly worth accepting
by an Emperor. Yet, when they counted the labors the man had accomplished,
and the cries of reproach they might arouse among the people,
since they had no credible pretext for punishing him, they kept
their peace: until now, when the Empress, discovering him out
of his senses with terror, at one fell stroke managed to become
mistress of all his fortune.
To tie him further to her, she betrothed Joannina, Belisarius's
only daughter, to Anastasius her nephew.
Belisarius now asked to be given back his old command, and as
General of the East lead the Roman armies once more against Chosroes
and the Medes; but Antonina would not hear of it. It was there
she had been insulted by him before, she said, and she never wanted
to see the place again. Accordingly, Belisarius was instead made
Count of the imperial remounts, and fared forth a second time
to Italy; agreeing with the Emperor, they say, not to ask him
at any time for money toward this war, but to prepare all the
military equipment from his private purse.
Now everybody took it for granted that Belisarius had arranged
this with his wife and made the agreement about the expedition
with the Emperor, merely so as to get away from his humiliating
position in Constantinople; and that as soon as he had gotten
outside the city, he intended to take up arms and retaliate, nobly
and as becomes a man, against his wife and those who had done
him wrong. Instead, he made light of all he had experienced, forgot
or discounted his word of honor to Photius and his other friends,
and followed his wife about in a perfect ecstasy of love: and
that when she had now arrived at the age of sixty years.
However, as soon as he arrived in Italy, some new and different
trouble happened with each fresh day, for even Providence had
turned against him. For the plans this General had laid in the
former campaign against Theodatus and Vitiges, though they did
not seem to be fitting to the event, usually turned out to his
advantage; while now, though he was credited with laying better
plans, as was to be expected after his previous experience in
warfare, they all turned out badly: so that the final judgment
was that he had no sense of strategy.
Indeed, it is not by the plans of men, but by the hand of God
that the affairs of men are directed; and this men call Fate,
not knowing the reason for what things they see occur; and what
seems to be without cause is easy to call the accident of chance.
Still, this is a matter every mortal will decide for himself according
to his taste.
5. HOW THEODORA TRICKED THE GENERAL'S DAUGHTER
From his second expedition to Italy Belisarius brought back nothing
but disgrace: for in the entire five years of the campaign he
was unable to set foot on that land, as I have related in my former
books, because there was no tenable position there; but all this
time sailed up and down along the coast.
Totila, indeed, was willing enough to meet him before his city
walls, but could not catch him there, since like the rest of the
Roman army he was afraid to fight. Wherefore Belisarius recovered
nothing of what had been lost, but even lost Rome in addition;
and everything else, if there were anything left to lose. His
mind was filled with avarice during this time, and he thought
of nothing but base gain. Since he had been given no funds by
the Emperor, he plundered nearly all the Italians living in Ravenna
and Sicily, and wherever else he found opportunity: collecting
a bill, as it were, for which those who dwelt there were in no
way responsible. Thus, he even went to Herodian and asked him
for money, and his threats so enraged Herodian that he rebelled
against the Roman army and gave his services, with those of his
followers and the city of Spoletum, to Totila and the Goths.
And now I shall show how it came about that Belisarius and John,
the nephew of Vitalian, became estranged: a division that brought
great disaster to Roman affairs.
Now so thoroughly did the Empress hate Germanus, and so conspicuously,
that no one dared to become a relative of his, though he was the
nephew of the Emperor. His sons remained unmarried while she lived,
and his daughter Justina, though in the flower of eighteen summers,
was still unwedded. Consequently, when John, sent by Belisarius,
arrived in Constantinople, Germanus was forced to approach him
as a possible son-in-law, though John was not at all worthy in
station of such an alliance. But when they had come to an agreement,
they bound each other by most solemn oaths to complete the alliance
by all means in their power; and this was necessary because neither
had any confidence in the good faith of the other. For John knew
he was seeking a marriage far above his rank, and Germanus feared
that even this man might try to slip out of the contract.
The Empress, of course, was unable to contain herself at this:
and in every way, by every possible device, however unworthy,
tried to hinder the event. When, for all her menaces, she was
unable to deter either of them, she publicly threatened to put
John to death. After this, on john's return to Italy, fearing
Antonina might join the plot against him, he did not dare to meet
Belisarius until she left for Constantinople. That Antonina had
been charged by the Queen to help murder him, no one could have
thought unlikely; and when he considered Antonina's habits and
Belisarius's enslavement by his wife, John was as greatly as he
was reasonably alarmed.
The Roman expedition, already on its last legs, now collapsed
entirely. And this is how Belisarius concluded the Gothic war.
In despair he begged the Emperor to let him come home as fast
as he could sail. And when he received the monarch's permission
to do this, he left straightway in high spirits, bidding a long
farewell to the Roman army and to Italy. He left almost everything
in the power of the enemy; and while he was on his way home, Perusia,
hard pressed by a most bitter siege, was captured and submitted
to every possible misery, as I have elsewhere related.
As if this were not enough, he suffered a further personal misfortune
in the following manner. The Empress Theodora, desiring to marry
the daughter of Belisarius to her nephew, worried the girl's parents
with frequent letters. To avoid this alliance, they delayed the
ceremony until they could both be present at it," and then,
when the Empress summoned them to Constantinople, pretended they
were unable at the time to leave Italy. But the Queen was still
determined her nephew should be master of Belisarius's wealth,
for she knew his daughter would inherit it, as Belisarius had
no other child. Yet she had no confidence in Antonina; and fearing
that after her own life was ended, Antonina would not be loyal
to her house, for all that she had been so helpful in the Empress's
emergencies, and that she would break the agreement, Theodora
did an unholy thing.
She made the boy and girl live together without any ceremony.
And they say she forced the girl against her will to submit to
his clandestine embrace, so that, being thus deflowered, the girl
would agree to the marriage, and the Emperor could not forbid
the event. However, after the first ravishing, Anastasius and
the girl fell warmly in love with each other, and for not less
than eight months continued their unmarital relations.
But when, after Theodora's death, Antonina came to Constantinople,
she was unwilling to forget the outrage the Queen had committed
against her. Not bothering about the fact that if she united her
daughter to any other man, she would be making an ex-prostitute
out of her, she refused to accept Theodora's nephew as a son-in-law,
and by force tore the girl, ignoring her fondest pleadings, from
the man she loved.
For this act of senseless obstinacy she was universally censured.
Yet when her husband came home, she easily persuaded him to approve
her course: which should have openly disclosed the character of
the man. Still, though he had pledged himself to Photius and others
of his friends, and then broken his word, there were plenty who
sympathized with him. For they thought the reason for his perjury
was not uxoriousness, but his fear of the Empress. But after Theodora
died, as I have told, he still took no thought of Photius or any
of his friends; and it was clear he called Antonina his mistress,
and Calligonus the pander, his master. And then all men saw his
shame, made him a public laughing stock, and reviled him to his
face as a nitwit. Now was the folly of Belisarius completely revealed.
As for Sergius, son of Bacchus, and his misdeeds in Libya, I have
described that affair sufficiently in my chapter elsewhere on
the subject: how he was most guilty for the disaster there to
Roman power, and how he disregarded the gospel oath he had sworn
to the Levathae, and criminally put to death their eighty ambassadors.
So there remains for me to add now only this, that neither did
these men come to Sergius with any intention of treachery, nor
did Sergius have any suspicion that they did; but nevertheless,
after inviting them to a banquet under pledge of safety, he put
them shamefully to death. This resulted in the loss of Solomon,
the Roman Army, and all the Libyans. For consequent to this affair,
especially after Solomon's death, as I have told, neither officer
nor soldier was willing to venture the dangers of battle. Most
notably John son of Sisinnolus, kept entirely from the filed of
war because of his hatred of Sergius, until Areobinus came to
This Sergius was a luxurious person and no soldier; juvenile in
nature and years; a jealous and swaggering bully; a wanton liver
and a blowhard. But after became the accepted suitor of her niece
and was this related to Antonina, Belasarius's wife, the Empress
would not allow him to be punished or removed from his command,
even when she saw Libya sure to be lost. And with the Emperor's
consent she even let Solomon, Sergius brother, go scot-free after
the murder of Pegasius. How this happened, I shall now relate.
After Pegasius had ransomed Solomon from the Levathae, and the
barbarians had gone home, Solomon with Pegasius his ransomer and
a few soldiers, set out for Carthage. And on the way Pegasius
reminded Solomon of the wrong he had done, and said he should
thank God for his rescue from the enemy. Solomon vexed at being
reproached for having been taken captive, straightway slew Pegasius;
and this was his requital to the man who saved him. But when Solomon
arrived in Constantinople, the Emperor pardoned him on the ground
that the man he killed was a traitor to the Roman state. So Solomon
this escaping justice, left gladly for the East to visit his native
country and his family. Yet God's vengeance overtook him on the
very journey, and removed him from the world of men.
This is the explanation of the affair between Solomon and Pegasius.
6. IGNORANCE OF THE EMPEROR JUSTIN, AND HOW HIS NEPHEW JUSTINIAN
WAS THE VIRTUAL RULER
I now come to the tale of what sort of beings Justinian and Theodora
were, and how they brought confusion on the Roman State.
During the rule of the Emperor Leo in Constantinople, three young
farmers of Illyrian birth, named Zimarchus, Ditybistus, and Justin
of Bederiana, after a desperate struggle with poverty, left their
homes to try their fortune in the army. They made their way to
Constantinople on foot, carrying on their shoulders their blankets
in which were wrapped no other equipment except the biscuits they
had baked at home. When the arrived and were admitted into military
service, the Emperor chose them for the palace guard; for they
were all three fine-looking men.
Later, when Anastasius succeeded to the throne, war broke out
with the Isaurians when that nation rebelled; and against them
Anastasius sent a considerable army under John the Hunchback.
This John for some offense threw Justin into the guardhouse, and
on the following day would have sentenced him to death, had he
not been stopped by a vision appearing to him in a dream. For
in this dream, the general said, he beheld a being, gigantic in
size and in every way mightier than mortals: and this being commanded
him to release the man whom he had arrested that day. Waking from
his sleep, John said, he decided the dream was not worth considering.
But the next night the vision returned, and again he heard the
same words he had heard before; yet even so he was not persuaded
to obey its command. But for the third time the vision appeared
in his dreams, and threatened him with fearful consequences if
he did not do as the angel ordered: warning that he would be in
sore need of this man and his family thereafter, when the day
of wrath should overtake him. And this time Justin was released.
As time went on, this Justin came to great power. For the Emperor
Anastasius appointed him Count of the palace guard; and when the
Emperor departed from this world, by the force of his military
power Justin seized the throne. By this time he was an old man
on the verge of the grave, and so illiterate that he could neither
read nor write: which never before could have been said of a Roman
ruler. It was the custom for an Emperor to sign his edicts with
his own hand, but he neither made decrees nor was able to understand
the business of state at all.
The man on whom it befell to assist him as Quaestor was named
Proclus; and he managed everything to suit himself. But so that
he might have some evidence of the Emperor's hand, he invented
the following device for his clerks to construct. Cutting out
of a block of wood the shapes of the four letters required to
make the Latin word, they dipped a pen into the ink used by emperors
for their signatures, and put it in the Emperor's fingers. Laying
the block of wood I have described on the paper to be signed,
they guided the Emperor's hand so that his pen outlined the four
letters, following all the curves of the stencil: and thus they
withdrew with the FIAT Of the Emperor. This is how the Romans
were ruled under Justin.
His wife was named Lupicina: a slave and a barbarian, she was
bought to be his concubine. With Justin, as the sun of his life
was about to set, she ascended the throne.
Now Justin was able to do his subjects neither harm nor good.
For he was simple, unable to carry on a conversation or make a
speech, and utterly bucolic. His nephew Justinian, while still
a youth, was the virtual ruler-, and the of more and worse calamities
to the Romans than any one man in all their previous history that
has come down to us.- For he had no scruples; against murder or
the seizing of other persons property; and it was nothing to him
to make away with myriads of men, even when they gave him no cause.
He had no care for preserving established customs, but was always
eager for new experiments, and, in short, was the greatest corrupter
of all noble traditions.
Though the plague, described in my former books, attacked the
whole world, no fewer men escaped than perished of it; for some
never were taken by the disease, and others recovered after it
had smitten them. But this man, not one of all the Romans could
escape; but as if he were a second pestilence sent from heaven,
he fell on the nation and left no man quite untouched. For some
he slew without reason, and some he released to struggle with
penury, and their fate was worse than that of those who had perished,
so that they prayed for death to free them from their misery;
and others he robbed of their property and their lives together.
When there was nothing left to ruin in the Roman state, he determined
the conquest of Libya and Italy, for no other reason than to destroy
the people there, as he had those who were already his subjects.
Indeed, his power was not ten days old, before he slew Amantius,
chief of the palace eunuchs, and several others, on no graver
charge than that Amantius had made some rash remark about John,
Archbishop of the city. After this, he was the most feared of
Immediately after this he sent for the rebel Vitalian, to whom
he had first given pledges of safety, and partaken with him of
the Christian communion. But soon after he became suspicious and
jealous, and murdered Vitalian and his companions at a banquet
in the palace: thus showing he considered himself in no way bound
by the most sacred of pledges.
7. OUTRAGES OF THE BLUES
The people had since long previous time been divided, as I have
explained elsewhere, into two factions, the Blues and the Greens.
Justinian, by joining the former party, which had already shown
favor to him, was able to bring everything into confusion and
turmoil, and by its power to sink the Roman state to its knees
before him. Not all the Blues were willing to follow his leadership,
but there were plenty who were eager for civil war. Yet even these,
as the trouble spread, seemed the most prudent of men, for their
crimes were less awful than was in their power to commit. Nor
did the Green partisans remain quiet, but showed their resentment
as violently as they could, though one by one they were continually
punished; which, indeed, urged them each time to further recklessness.
For men who are wronged are likely to become desperate.
Then it was that Justinian, fanning the flame and openly inciting
the Blues to fight, made the whole Roman Empire shake on its foundation,
as if an earthquake or a cataclysm had stricken it, or every city
within its confines had been taken by the foe. Everything everywhere
was uprooted: nothing was left undisturbed by him. Law and order,
throughout the State, overwhelmed by distraction, were turned
First the rebels revolutionized the style of wearing their hair.
For they had it cut differently from the rest of the Romans: not
molesting the mustache or beard, which they allowed to keep on
growing as long as it would, as the Persians do, but clipping
the hair short on the front of the head down to the temples, and
letting it hang down in great length and disorder in the back,
as the Massageti do. This weird combination they called the Hun
Next they decided to wear the purple stripe on their togas, and
swaggered about in a dress indicating a rank above their station:
for it was only by ill-gotten money they were able to buy this
finery. And the sleeves of their tunics were cut tight about the
wrists, while from there to the shoulders they were of an ineffable
fullness; thus, whenever they moved their hands, as when applauding
at the theater or encouraging a driver in the hippodrome, these
immense sleeves fluttered conspicuously, displaying to the simple
public what beautiful and well-developed physiques were these
that required such large garments to cover them. They did not
consider that by the exaggeration of this dress the meagerness
of their stunted bodies appeared all the more noticeable. Their
cloaks, trousers, and boots were also different: and these too
were called the Hun style, which they imitated.
Almost all of them carried steel openly from the first, while
by day they concealed their two-edged daggers along the thigh
under their cloaks. Collecting in gangs as soon as dusk fell,
they robbed their betters in the open Forum and in the narrow
alleys, snatching from passersby their mantles, belts, gold brooches,
and whatever they had in their hands. Some they killed after robbing
them, so they could not inform anyone of the assault.
These outrages brought the enmity of everybody on them, especially
that of the Blue partisans who had not taken active part in the
discord. When even the latter were molested, they began to wear
brass belts and brooches and cheaper cloaks than most of them
were privileged to display, lest their elegance should lead to
their deaths; and even before the sun went down they went home
to hide. But the evil progressed; and as no punishment came to
the criminals from those in charge of the public peace, their
boldness increased more and more. For when crime finds itself
licensed, there are no limits to its abuses; since even when it
is punished, it is never quite suppressed, most men being by nature
easily turned to error. Such, then, was the conduct of the Blues.
Some of the opposite party joined this faction so as to get even
with the people of their original side who had ill-treated them;
others fled in secret to other lands, but many were captured before
they could get away, and perished either at the hands of their
foes or by sentence of the State. And many other young men offered
themselves to this society who had never before taken any interest
in the quarrel, but were now induced by the power and possibility
of insolence they could thus acquire. For there is no villainy
to which men give a name that was not committed during this time,
and remained unpunished.
Now at first they killed only their opponents. But as matters
progressed, they also murdered men who had done nothing against
them. And there were many who bribed them with money, pointing
out personal enemies, whom the Blues straightway dispatched, declaring
these victims were Greens, when as a matter of fact they were
utter strangers. And all this went on not any longer at dark and
by stealth, but in every hour of the day, everywhere in the city:
before the eyes of the most notable men of the government, if
they happened to be bystanders. For they did not need to conceal
their crimes, having no fear of punishment, but considered it
rather to the advantage of their reputation, as proving their
strength and manhood, to kill with one stroke of the dagger any
unarmed man who happened to be passing by.
No one could hope to live very long under this state of affairs,
for everybody suspected he would be the next to be killed. No
place was safe, no time of day offered any pledge of security,
since these murders went on in the holiest of sanctuaries even
during divine services. No confidence was left in one's friends
or relatives, for many died by conspiracy of members of their
own households. Nor was there any investigation after these deeds,
but the blow would fall unexpectedly, and none avenged the victim.
No longer was there left any force in law or contract, because,of
this disorder, but everything was settled by violence. The State
might as well have been a tyranny: not one, however, that had
been established, but one that was being overturned daily and
The magistrates seemed to have been driven from their senses,
and their wits enslaved by the fear of one man. The judges, when
deciding cases that came up before them, cast their votes not
according to what they thought right or lawful, but according
as either of the disputants was an enemy or friend of the faction
in power. For a judge who disregarded its instruction was sentencing
himself to death. And many creditors were forced to receipt the
bills they had sent to their debtors without being paid what was
due them; and many thus against their will had to free their slaves.
And they say that certain ladies were forced by their own slaves
to do what they did not want to do; and the sons of notable men,
getting mixed up with these young bandits, compelled their fathers,
among other acts against their will, to hand over their properties
to them. Many boys were constrained, with their fathers' knowledge,
to serve the unnatural desires of the Blues; and happily married
women met the same misfortune.
It is told that a woman of no undue beauty was ferrying with her
husband to the suburb opposite the mainland; when some men of
this party met them on the water, and jumping into her boat, dragged
her abusively from her husband and made her enter their vessel.
She had whispered to her spouse to trust her and have no fear
of any reproach, for she would not allow herself to be dishonored.
Then, as he looked at her in great grief, she threw her body into
the Bosphorus and forthwith vanished from the world of men. Such
were the deeds this party dared to commit at that time in Constantinople.
Yet all of this disturbed people less than Justinian's offenses
against the State. For those who suffer the most grievously from
evildoers are relieved of the greater part of their anguish by
the expectation they will sometime be avenged by law and authority.
Men who are confident of the future can bear more easily and less
painfully their present troubles; but when they are outraged even
by the government what befalls them is naturally all the more
grievous, and by the failing of all hope of redress they are turned
to utter despair. And Justinian's crime was that he was not only
unwilling to protect the injured, but saw no reason why he should
not be the open head of the guilty faction; he gave great sums
of money to these young men, and surrounded himself with them:
and some he even went so far as to appoint to high office and
other posts of honor.
8. CHARACTER AND APPEARANCE OF JUSTINIAN
Now this went on not only in Constantinople, but in every city:
for like any other disease, the evil, starting there, spread throughout
the entire Roman Empire. But the Emperor was undisturbed by the
trouble, even when it went on continually under his own eyes at
the hippodrome. For he was very complacent and resembled most
the silly ass, which follows, only shaking its ears, when one
drags it by the bridle. As such Justinian acted, and threw everything
As soon as he took over the rule from his uncle, his measure was
to spend the public money without restraint, now that he had control
of it. He gave much of it to the Huns who, from time to time,
entered the state; and in consequence the Roman provinces were
subject to constant incursions, for these barbarians, having once
tasted Roman wealth, never forgot the road that led to it. And
he threw much money into the sea in the form of moles, as if to
master the eternal roaring of the breakers. For he jealously hurled
stone breakwaters far out from the mainland against the onset
of the sea, as if by the power of wealth he could outmatch the
might of ocean.
He gathered to himself the private estates of Roman citizens from
all over the Empire: some by accusing their possessors of crimes
of which they were innocent, others by juggling their owners'
words into the semblance of a gift to him of their property. And
many, caught in the act of murder and other crimes, turned their
possessions over to him and thus escaped the penalty for their
Others, fraudulently disputing title to lands happening to adjoin
their own, when they saw they had no chance of getting the best
of the argument, with the law against them, gave him their equity
in the claim so as to be released from court. Thus, by a gesture
that cost him nothing, they gained his favor and were able illegally
to get the better of their opponents.
I think this is as good a time as any to describe the personal
appearance of the man. Now in physique he was neither tall nor
short, but of average height; not thin, but moderately plump;
his face was round, and not bad looking, for he had good color,
even when he fasted for two days. To make a long description short,
he much resembled Domitian, Vespasian's son. He was the one whom
the Romans so hated that even tearing him into pieces did not
satisfy their wrath against him, but a decree was passed by the
Senate that the name of this Emperor should never be written,
and that no statue of him should be preserved. And so this name
was erased in all the inscriptions at Rome and wherever else it
had been written, except only where it occurs in the list of emperors;
and nowhere may be seen any statue of him in all the Roman Empire,
save one in brass, which was made for the following reason.
Domitian's wife was of free birth and otherwise noble; and neither
had she herself ever done wrong to anybody, nor had she assented
in her husband's acts. Wherefore she was dearly loved; and the
Senate sent for her, when Domitian died, and commanded her to
ask whatever boon she wished. But she asked only this: to set
up in his memory one brass image, wherever she might desire. To
this the Senate agreed. Now the lady, wishing to leave a memorial
to future time of the savagery of those who had butchered her
husband, conceived this plan: collecting the pieces of Domitian's
body, she joined them accurately together and sewed the body up
again into its original semblance. Taking this to the statue makers,
she ordered them to produce the miserable form in brass. So the
artisans forthwith made the image, and the wife took it, and set
it up in the street which leads to the Capitol, on the right hand
side as one goes there from the Forum: a monument to Domitian
and a revelation of the manner of his death until this day.
Justinian's entire person, his manner of expression and all of
his features might be clearly pointed out in this statue.
Now such was Justinian in appearance; but his character was something
I could not fully describe. For he was at once villainous and
amenable; as people say colloquially, a moron. He was never truthful
with anyone, but always guileful in what he said and did, yet
easily hoodwinked by any who wanted to deceive him. His nature
was an unnatural mixture of folly and wickedness. What in olden
times a peripatetic philosopher said was also true of him, that
opposite qualities combine in a man as in the mixing of colors.
I will try to portray him, however, insofar as I can fathom his
This Emperor, then, was deceitful, devious, false, hypocritical,
two-faced, cruel, skilled in dissembling his thought, never moved
to tears by either joy or pain, though he could summon them artfully
at will when the occasion demanded, a liar always, not only offhand,
but in writing, and when he swore sacred oaths to his subjects
in their very hearing. Then he would immediately break his agreements
and pledges, like the vilest of slaves, whom indeed only the fear
of torture drives to confess their perjury. A faithless friend,
he was a treacherous enemy, insane for murder and plunder, quarrelsome
and revolutionary, easily led to anything evil, but never willing
to listen to good counsel, quick to plan mischief and carry it
out, but finding even the hearing of anything good distasteful
to his ears.
How could anyone put Justinian's ways into words? These and many
even worse vices were disclosed in him as in no other mortal nature
seemed to have taken the wickedness of all other men combined
and planted it in this man's soul. And besides this, he was too
prone to listen to accusations; and too quick to punish. For he
decided such cases without full examination, naming the punishment
when he had heard only the accuser s side of the matter. Without
hesitation he wrote decrees for the plundering of countries, sacking
of cities, and slavery of whole nations, for no cause whatever.
So that if one wished to take all the calamities which had befallen
the Romans before this time and weigh them against his crimes,
I think it would be found that more men had been murdered by this
single man than in all previous history.
He had no scruples about appropriating other people's property,
and did not even think any excuse necessary, legal or illegal,
for confiscating what did not belong to him. And when it was his,
he was more than ready to squander it in insane display, or give
it as an unnecessary bribe to the barbarians. In short, he neither
held on to any money himself nor let anyone else keep any: as
if his reason were not avarice, but jealousy of those who had
riches. Driving all wealth from the country of the Romans in this
manner, he became the cause Of universal poverty.
Now this was the character of Justinian, so far as I can portray
9. HOW THEODORA, MOST DEPRAVED OF ALL COURTESANS, WON HIS
He took a wife: and in what manner she was born and bred, and,
wedded to this man, tore up the Roman Empire by the very roots,
I shall now relate.
Acacius was the keeper of wild beasts used in the amphitheater
in Constantinople; he belonged to the Green faction and was nicknamed
the Bearkeeper. This man, during the rule of Anastasius, fell
sick and died, leaving three daughters named Comito, Theodora
and Anastasia: of whom the eldest was not yet seven years old.
His widow took a second husband, who with her undertook to keep
up Acacius's family and profession. But Asterius, the dancing
master of the Greens, on being bribed by another ' removed this
office from them and assigned it to the man who gave him the money.
For the dancing masters had the power of distributing such positions
as they wished.
When this woman saw the populace assembled in the amphitheater,
she placed laurel wreaths on her daughters' heads and in their
hands, and sent them out to sit on the ground in the attitude
of suppliants. The Greens eyed this mute appeal with indifference;
but the Blues were moved to bestow on the children an equal office,
since their own animal-keeper had just died.
When these children reached the age of girlhood, their mother
put them on the local stage, for they were fair to look upon;
she sent them forth, however, not all at the same time, but as
each one seemed to her to have reached a suitable age. Comito,
indeed, had already become one of the leading hetaerae [high
class prostitutes] of the day.
Theodora, the second sister, dressed in a little tunic with sleeves,
like a slave girl, waited on Comito and used to follow her about
carrying on her shoulders the bench on which her favored sister
was wont to sit at public gatherings. Now Theodora was still too
young to know the normal relation of man with maid, but consented
to the unnatural violence of villainous slaves who, following
their masters to the theater, employed their leisure in this infamous
manner. And for some time in a brothel she suffered such misuse.
But as soon as she arrived at the age of youth, and was now ready
for the world, her mother put her on the stage. Forthwith, she
became a courtesan, and such as the ancient Greeks used to call
a common one, at that: for she was not a flute or harp player,
nor was she even trained to dance, but only gave her youth to
anyone she met, in utter abandonment. Her general favors included,
of course, the actors in the theater; and in their productions
she took part in the low comedy scenes. For she was very funny
and a good mimic, and immediately became popular in this art.
There was no shame in the girl, and no one ever saw her dismayed:
no role was too scandalous for her to, accept without a blush.
She was the kind of comedienne who delights the audience by letting
herself be cuffed and slapped on the cheeks, and makes them guffaw
by raising her skirts to reveal to the spectators those feminine
secrets here and there which custom veils from the eyes of the
opposite sex. With pretended laziness she mocked her lovers, and
coquettishly adopting ever new ways of embracing, was able to
keep in a constant turmoil the hearts of the sophisticated. And
she did not wait to be asked by anyone she met, but on the contrary,
with inviting jests and a comic flaunting of her skirts herself
tempted all men who passed by, especially those who were adolescent.
On the field of pleasure she was never defeated. Often she would
go picnicking with ten young men or more, in the flower of their
strength and virility, and dallied with them all, the whole night
through. When they wearied of the sport, she would approach their
servants, perhaps thirty in number, and fight a duel with each
of these; and even thus found no allayment of her craving. Once,
visiting the house of an illustrious gentleman, they say she mounted
the projecting corner of her dining couch, pulled up the front
of her dress, without a blush, and thus carelessly showed her
wantonness. And though she flung wide three gates to the ambassadors
of Cupid, she lamented that nature had not similarly unlocked
the straits of her bosom, that she might there have contrived
a further welcome to his emissaries.
Frequently, she conceived but as she employed every artifice immediately,
a miscarriage was straightway effected. Often, even in the theater,
in the sight of all the people, she removed her costume and stood
nude in their midst, except for a girdle about the groin: not
that she was abashed at revealing that, too, to the audience,
but because there was a law against appearing altogether naked
on the stage, without at least this much of a fig-leaf. Covered
thus with a ribbon, she would sink down to the stage floor and
recline on her back. Slaves to whom the duty was entrusted would
then scatter grains of barley from above into the calyx of this
passion flower, whence geese, trained for the purpose, would next
pick the grains one by one with their bills and eat. When she
rose, it was not with a blush, but she seemed rather to glory
in the performance. For she was not only impudent herself, but
endeavored to make everybody else as audacious. Often when she
was alone with other actors she would undress in their midst and
arch her back provocatively, advertising like a peacock both to
those who had experience of her and to those who had not yet had
that privilege her trained suppleness.
So perverse was her wantonness that she should have hid not only
the customary part of her person, as other women do, but her face
as well. Thus those who were intimate with her were straightway
recognized from that very fact to be perverts, and any more respectable
man who chanced upon her in the Forum avoided her and withdrew
in haste, lest the hem of his mantle, touching such a creature,
might be thought to share in her pollution. For to those who saw
her, especially at dawn, she was a bird of ill omen. And toward
her fellow actresses she was as savage as a scorpion: for she
was very malicious.
Later, she followed Hecebolus, a Tyrian who had been made governor
of Pentapolis, serving him in the basest of ways; but finally
she quarreled with him and was sent summarily away. Consequently,
she found herself destitute of the means of life, which she proceeded
to earn by prostitution, as she had done before this adventure.
She came thus to Alexandria, and then traversing all the East,
worked her way to Constantinople; in every city plying a trade
(which it is safer, I fancy, in the sight of God not to name too
clearly) as if the Devil were determined there be no land on earth
that should not know the sins of Theodora.
Thus was this woman born and bred, and her name was a byword beyond
that of other common wenches on the tongues of all men.
But when she came back to Constantinople, Justinian fell violently
in love with her. At first he kept her only as a mistress, though
he raised her to patrician rank. Through him Theodora was able
immediately to acquire an unholy power and exceedingly great riches.
she seemed to him the sweetest thing in the world, and like all
lovers, he desired to please his charmer with every possible favor
and requite her with all his wealth. The extravagance added fuel
to the flames of passion. With her now to help spend his money
he plundered the people more than ever, not only in the capital,
but throughout the Roman Empire. As both of them had for a long
time been of the Blue party, they gave this faction almost complete
control of the affairs of state. It was long afterward that the
worst of this evil was checked in the following manner.
Justinian had been ill for several days, and during this illness
was in such peril of his life that it was even said he had died;
and the Blues, who had been committing such crimes as I have mentioned,
went so far as to kill Hypatius, a gentleman of no mean importance,
in broad daylight in the Church of St. Sophia. The cry of horror
at this crime came to the Emperor's ears, and everyone about him
seized the opportunity of pointing out the enormity of what was
going on in Justinian's absence from public affairs; and they
enumerated from the beginning how many crimes had been committed.
The Emperor then ordered the Prefect of the city to punish these
offenses. This man was one Theodotus, nicknamed the Pumpkin. He
made a thorough investigation and was able to apprehend many of
the guilty and sentence them to death, though many others were
not found out, and escaped. They were destined to perish later,
together with the Roman Empire.
Justinian, unexpectedly restored to health, straightway undertook
to put Theodotus to death as a poisoner and a magician. But since
he had no proof on which to condemn the man, he tortured friends
of his until they were compelled to say the words that would wrongfully
ruin him. When everyone else stood to one side and only in silence
lamented the plot against Theodotus, one man, Proclus the Quaestor,
dared to say openly that the man was innocent of the charge against
him, and in no way merited death. Thanks to him, Theodotus was
permitted by the Emperor to be exiled to Jerusalem. But learning
there that men were being sent to do away with him, he hid himself
in the church for the rest of his life until he died. And this
was the fate of Theodotus.
But after this, the Blues became the most prudent of men. For
they ventured no longer to continue their offenses, even though
they might have transgressed more fearlessly than before. And
the proof of this is, that when a few of them later showed such
courage, no punishment at all befell them. For those who had the
power to punish, always gave these gangsters time to escape, tacitly
encouraging the rest to trample upon the laws.
10.. HOW JUSTINIAN CREATED A NEW LAW PERMITTING HIM TO MARRY
Now as long as the former Empress was alive, Justinian was unable
to find a way to make Theodora his wedded wife. In this one matter
she opposed him as in nothing else: for the lady abhorred vice,
being a rustic and of barbarian descent, as I have shown. She
was never able to do any real good, because of her continued ignorance
of the affairs of state. She dropped her original name, for fear
people would think it ridiculous, and adopted the name of Euphemia
when she came to the palace. But finally her death removed this
obstacle to Justinian's desire.
Justin, doting and utterly senile, was now the laughing stock
of his subjects; he was disregarded by everyone because of his
inability to oversee state affairs; but Justinian they all served
with considerable awe. His hand was in everything, and his passion
for turmoil created universal consternation.
It was then that he undertook to complete his marriage with Theodora.
But as it was impossible for a man of senatorial rank to make
a courtesan his wife, this being forbidden by ancient law, he
made the Emperor nullify this ordinance by creating a new one,
permitting him to wed Theodora, and consequently making it possible
for anyone else to marry a courtesan. Immediately after this he
seized the power of the Emperor, veiling his usurpation with a
transparent pretext: for he was proclaimed colleague of his uncle
as Emperor of the Romans by the questionable legality of an election
inspired by terror.
So Justinian and Theodora ascended the imperial throne three days
before Easter, a time, indeed, when even making visits or greeting
one's friends is forbidden. And not many days later Justin died
of an illness, after a reign of nine years. Justinian was now
sole .monarch, together, of course, with Theodora.
Thus it was that Theodora, though born and brought up as I have
related, rose to royal dignity over all obstacles. For no thought
of shame came to Justinian in marrying her, though he might have
taken his pick of the noblest born, most highly educated, most
modest, carefully nurtured, virtuous and beautiful virgins of
all the ladies in the whole Roman Empire: a maiden, as they say,
with upstanding breasts. Instead, he preferred to make his own
:what, had been common to all men, alike, careless of all her
revealed history, took in wedlock a woman who was not only guilty
of every other contamination but boasted of her many abortions.
I need hardly mention any other proof of the character of this
man: for all the perversity of his soul was completely displayed
in this union; which alone was ample interpreter, witness, and
historian of his shamelessness. For when a man once disregards
the disgrace of his actions and is willing to brave the contempt
of society, no path of lawlessness is thereafter taboo to him;
but with unflinching countenance he advances, easily and without
a scruple, to acts of the deepest infamy.
However, not a single member of even the Senate, seeing this disgrace
befalling the State, dared to complain or forbid the event; but
all of them bowed down before her as if she were a goddess. Nor
was there a priest who showed any resentment, but all hastened
to greet her as Highness. And the populace who had seen her before
on the stage, directly raised its hands to proclaim itself her
slave in fact and in name. Nor did any soldier grumble at being
ordered to risk the perils of war for the benefit of Theodora:
nor was there any man on earth who ventured to oppose her.
Confronted with this disgrace, they all yielded, I suppose, to
necessity, for it was as if Fate were giving proof of its power
to control mortal affairs as malignantly as it pleases: showing
that its decrees need not always be according to reason or human
propriety. Thus does Destiny sometimes raise mortals suddenly
to lofty heights in defiance of reason, in challenge to all out
cries of injustice; but admits no obstacle, urging on his favorites
to the appointed goal without let or hindrance. But as this is
the will of God, so let it befall and be
Now Theodora was fair of face and of a very graceful, though small,
person; her complexion was moderately colorful, if somewhat pale;
and her eyes were dazzling and vivacious. All eternity would not
be long enough to allow one to tell her escapades while she was
on the stage, but the few details I have mentioned above should
be sufficient to demonstrate the woman's character to future generations.
What she and her husband did together must now be briefly described:
for neither did anything without the consent of the other. For
some time it was generally supposed they were totally different
in mind and action; but later it was revealed that their apparent
disagreement had been arranged so that their subjects might not
unanimously revolt against them, but instead be divided in opinion.
Thus they split the Christians into two parties, each pretending
to take the part of one side, thus confusing both, as I shall
soon show; and then they ruined both political factions. Theodora
feigned to support the Blues with all her power, encouraging them
to take the offensive against the opposing party and perform the
most outrageous deeds of violence; while Justinian, affecting
to be vexed and secretly jealous of her, also pretended he could
not openly oppose her orders. And thus they gave the impression
often that they were acting in opposition. Then he would rule
that the Blues must be punished for their crimes, and she would
angrily complain that against her will she was defeated by her
husband. However, the Blue partisans, as I have said, seemed cautious,
for they did not violate their neighbors as much as they might
And in legal disputes each of the two would pretend to favor one
of the litigants, and compel the man with the worse case to win:
and so they robbed both disputants of most of the property at
In the same way, the Emperor, taking many persons into his intimacy,
gave them offices by power of which they could defraud the State
to the limits of their ambition. And as soon as they had collected
enough plunder, they would fall out of favor with Theodora, and
straightway be ruined. At first he would affect great sympathy
in their behalf, but soon he would somehow lose his confidence
in them, and an air of doubt would darken his zeal in their behalf.
Then Theodora would use them shamefully, while he, unconscious
as it were of what was being done to them, confiscated their properties
and boldly enjoyed their wealth. By such well-planned hypocrisies
they confused the public and, pretending to be at variance with
each other, were able to establish a firm and mutual tyranny.
11.. HOW THE DEFENDER OF THE FAITH RUINED HIS SUBJECTS
As soon as Justinian came into power he turned everything upside
down. Whatever had been before by law, he now introduced into
the government, while he revoked all established customs: as if
he had been given the robes of an Emperor on the condition he
would turn everything topsy-turvy. Existing offices he abolished,
and invented new ones for the management of public affairs. He
did the same thing to the laws and to the regulations of the army;
and his reason was not any improvement of justice or any advantage,
but simply that everything might be new and named after himself.
And whatever was beyond his power to abolish, he renamed after
Of the plundering of property or the murder of men, no weariness
ever overtook him. As soon as he had looted all the houses of
the wealthy, he looked around for others; meanwhile throwing away
the spoils of his previous robberies in subsidies to barbarians
or senseless building extravagances. And when he had ruined perhaps
myriads in this mad looting, he immediately sat down to plan how
he could do likewise to others in even greater number.
As the Romans were now at peace with all the world and he had
no other means of satisfying his lust for slaughter, he set the
barbarians all to fighting each other. And for no reason at all
he sent for the Hun chieftains, and with idiotic magnanimity gave
them large sums of money, alleging he did this to secure their
friendship. This, as I have said, he had also done in Justin's
time. These Huns, as soon as they had got this money, sent it
together with their soldiers to others of their chieftains, with
the word to make inroads into the land of the Emperor: so that
they might collect further tribute from him, to buy them off in
a second peace. Thus the Huns enslaved the Roman Empire, and were
paid by the Emperor to keep on doing it.
This encouraged still others of them to rob the poor Romans; and
after their pillaging, they too were further rewarded by the gracious
Emperor. In this way all the Huns, for when it was not one tribe
of them it was another, continuously overran and laid waste the
Empire. For the barbarians were led by many different chieftains,
and the war, thanks to Justinian's senseless generosity, was thus
endlessly protracted. Consequently no place, mountain or cave,
or any other spot in Roman territory, during this time remained
uninjured; and many regions were pillaged more than five times.
These misfortunes, and those that were caused by the Medes, Saracens,
Slavs, Antes, and the rest of the barbarians, I described in my
previous works. But, as I said in the preface to this narrative,
the real cause of these calamities remained to be told here.
To Chosroes also -he paid many centenaries in behalf of peace,
and then with unreasonable arbitrariness caused the breaking of
the truce by making every effort to secure the friendship of Alamandur
and his Huns, who had been in alliance with the Persians: but
this I freely discussed in my chapters on the subject.
Moreover, while he was encouraging civil strife and frontier warfare
to confound the Romans, with only one thought in his mind, that
the earth should run red with human blood and he might acquire
more and more booty, he invented a new means of murdering his
subjects. Now among the Christians in the entire Roman Empire,
there are many with dissenting doctrines, which are called heresies
by the established church: such as those of the Montanists and
Sabbatians, and whatever others cause the minds of men to wander
from the true path. All of these beliefs he ordered to be abolished,
and their place taken by the orthodox dogma: threatening, among
the punishments for disobedience, loss of the heretic's right
to will property to his children or other relatives.
Now the churches of these so-called heretics especially those
belonging to the Arian dissenters, were almost incredibly wealthy.
Neither all the Senate put together nor the greatest other unit
of the Roman Empire, had anything in property comparable to that
of these churches. For their gold and silver treasures, and stores
of precious stones, were beyond telling or numbering: they owned
mansions and whole villages, land all over the world, and everything
else that is counted as wealth among men.
As none of the previous Emperors had molested these churches,
many men, even those of the orthodox faith, got their livelihood
by working on their estates. But the Emperor Justinian, in confiscating
these properties, at the same time took away what for many people
had been their only means of earning a living.
Agents were sent everywhere to force whomever they chanced upon
to renounce the faith of their fathers. This, which seemed impious
to rustic people, caused them to rebel against those who gave
them such an order. Thus many perished at the hands of the persecuting
faction, and others did away with themselves, foolishly thinking
this the holier course of two evils; but most of them by far quitted
the land of their fathers, and fled the country. The Montanists,
who dwelt in Phrygia, shut themselves up in their churches, set
them on fire, and ascended to glory in the flames. And thenceforth
the whole Roman Empire was a scene of massacre and flight.
A similar law w as then passed against the Samaritans, which threw
Palestine into an indescribable turmoil.
Those, indeed, who lived in my own Caesarea and in the other cities,
deciding it silly to suffer harsh treatment over a ridiculous
trifle of dogma, took the name of Christians in exchange for the
one they had borne before, by which precaution they were able
to avoid the perils of the new law. The most reputable and better
class of these citizens, once they had adopted this religion,
decided to remain faithful to it; the majority, however, as if
in spite for having not voluntarily, but by the compulsion of
law, abandoned the belief of their fathers, soon slipped away
into the Manichean sect and what is known as polytheism.
The country people, however, banded together and determined to
take arms against the Emperor: choosing as their candidate for
the throne a bandit named Julian, son of Sabarus. And for a time
they held their own against the imperial troops; but finally,
defeated in battle, were cut down, together with their leader.
Ten myriads of men are said to have perished in this engagement,
and the most fertile country on earth thus became destitute of
farmers. To the Christian owners of these lands, the affair brought
great hardship: for while their profits from these properties
were annihilated, they had to pay heavy annual taxes on them to
the Emperor for the rest of their lives, and secured no remission
of this burden.
Next he turned his attention to those called Gentiles, torturing
their persons and plundering their lands. of this group, those
who decided to become nominal Christians saved themselves for
the time being; but it was not long before these, too, were caught
performing libations and sacrifices and other unholy rites. And
how he treated the Christians shall be told hereafter.
After this he passed a law prohibiting pederasty: a law pointed
not at offenses committed after this decree, but at those who
could be convicted of having practised the vice in the past. The
conduct of the prosecution was utterly illegal. Sentence was passed
when there was no accuser: the word of one man or boy, and that
perhaps a slave, compelled against his will to bear witness against
his owner, was defined as sufficient evidence. Those who were
convicted were castrated and then exhibited in a public parade.
At the start, this persecution was directed only at those who
were of the Green party, were reputed to be especially wealthy,
or had otherwise aroused jealousy.
The Emperor's malice was also directed against the astrologer.
Accordingly, magistrates appointed to punish thieves also abused
the astrologers, for no other reason than that they belonged to
this profession; whipping them on the back and parading them on
throughout the city, though they were old men, and in every way
respectable, with no reproach against them except that they studied
the science of the stars while living in such a city.
Consequently there was a constant stream of emigration not only
to the land of the barbarians but to places farthest remote from
the Romans; and in every country and city one could see crowds
of foreigners. For in order to escape persecution, each would
lightly exchange his native land for another, as if his own country
had been taken by an enemy.
12. PROVING THAT JUSTINIAN AND THEODORA WERE ACTUALLY FIENDS
IN HUMAN FORM
Now the wealth of those in Constantinople and each other city
who were considered second in prosperity only to members of the
Senate, was brutally confiscated, in the ways I have described,
by Justinian and Theodora. But how they were able to rob even
the Senate of all its property I shall now reveal.
There was in Constantinople a man by the name of Zeno, grandson
of that Anthamius who had formerly been Emperor of the West. This
man they appointed, with malice aforethought, Governor of Egypt,
and commanded his immediate departure. But he delayed his voyage
long enough to load his ship with his most valuable effects; for
he had a countless amount of silver and gold plate inlaid with
pearls, emeralds and other such precious stones. Whereupon they
bribed some of his most trusted servants to remove these valuables
from the ship as fast as they could carry them, set fire to the
interior of the vessel, and inform Zeno that his ship had burst
into flames of spontaneous combustion, with the loss of all his
property. Later, when Zeno died suddenly, they took possession
of his estate immediately as his legal heirs; for they produced
a will which, it is whispered, he did not really make.
In the same manner they made themselves heirs of Tatian, Demosthenes,
and Hilara, who were foremost in the Roman Senate. And others'
estates they obtained by counterfeited letters instead of wills.
Thus they became heirs of Dionysius, who lived in Libanus, and
of John the son of Basil, who was the most notable of the citizens
of Edessa, and had been given as hostage, against his will, by
Belisarius to the Persians: as I have recounted elsewhere. For
Chosroes refused to let this John go, charging that the Romans
had disregarded the terms of the truce, as a pledge of which John
had been given him by Belisarius; and he said he would only give
him up as a prisoner of war. So his father's mother, who was still
living, got together a ransom not less than two thousand pounds
of silver, and was ready to purchase her grandson's liberty. But
when this money came to Dara, the Emperor heard of the bargain
and forbade it: saying that Roman wealth must not be given to
the barbarians. Not long after this, John fell ill and departed
from this world, whereupon the Governor of the city forged a letter
which, he said, John had written him as a friend not long before,
to the effect that he wished his estate to go to the Emperor.
I could hardly catalogue all the other people whose estates these
two chose to inherit. However, up to the time when the insurrection
named Nika took place, they seized rich men's properties one at
a time; but when that happened, as I have told elsewhere, they
sequestrated at one swoop the estates of nearly all the members
of the Senate. On everything movable and on the fairest of the
lands they laid their hands and kept what they wanted; but whatever
was unproductive of more than the bitter and heavy taxes, they
gave back to the previous owners with a philanthropic gesture.
Consequently these unfortunates, oppressed by the tax collectors
and eaten up by the never-ceasing interest on their debts, found
life a burden compared to which death were preferable.
Wherefore to me,- and many others of us, these two seemed not
to be human beings, but veritable demons, and what the poets call
vampires: who laid their heads together to see how they could
most easily and quickly destroy the race and deeds of men; and
assuming human bodies, became man-demons, and so convulsed the
world. And one could find evidence of this in many things, but
especially in the superhuman power with which they worked their
For when one examines closely, there is a clear difference between
what is human and what is supernatural. There have been many enough
men, during the whole course of history, who by chance or by nature
have inspired great fear, ruining cities or countries or whatever
else fell into their power; but to destroy all men and bring calamity
on the whole inhabited earth remained for these two to accomplish,
whom Fate aided in their schemes of corrupting all mankind. For
by earthquakes, pestilences, and floods of river waters at this
time came further ruin, as I shall presently show. Thus not by
human, but by some other kind of power they accomplished their
And they say his mother said to some of her intimates once that
not of Sabbatius her husband, nor of any man was Justinian a son.
For when she was about to conceive, there visited a demon, invisible
but giving evidence of his presence perceptibly where man consorts
with woman, after which he vanished utterly as in a dream.
And some of those who have been with Justinian at the palace late
at night, men who were pure of spirit, have thought they saw a
strange demoniac form taking his place. One man said that the
Emperor suddenly rose from his throne and walked about, and indeed
he was never wont to remain sitting for long, and immediately
Justinian's head vanished, while the rest of his body seemed to
ebb and flow; whereat the beholder stood aghast and fearful, wondering
if his eyes were deceiving him. But presently he perceived the
vanished head filling out and joining the body again as strangely
as it had left it.
Another said he stood beside the Emperor as he sat, and of a sudden
the face changed into a shapeless mass of flesh, with neither
eyebrows nor eyes in their proper places, nor any other distinguishing
feature; and after a time the natural appearance of his countenance
returned. I write these instances not as one who saw them myself,
but heard them from men who were positive they had seen these
strange occurrences at the time.
They also say that a certain monk, very dear to God, at the instance
of those who dwelt with him in the desert went to Constantinople
to beg for mercy to his neighbors who had been outraged beyond
endurance. And when he arrived there, he forthwith secured an
audience with the Emperor; but just as he was about to enter his
apartment, he stopped short as his feet were on the threshold,
and suddenly stepped backward. Whereupon the eunuch escorting
him, and others who were present, importuned him to go ahead.
But he answered not a word; and like a man who has had a stroke
staggered back to his lodging. And when some followed to ask why
he acted thus, they say he distinctly declared he saw the King
of the Devils sitting on the throne in the palace, and he did
not care to meet or ask any favor of him.
Indeed, how was this man likely to be anything but an evil spirit,
who never knew honest satiety of drink or food or sleep, but only
tasting at random from the meals that were set before him, roamed
the palace at unseemly hours of the night, and was possessed by
the quenchless lust of a demon?
Furthermore some of Theodora's lovers, while she was on the stage,
say that at night a demon would sometimes descend upon them and
drive them from the room, so that it might spend the night with
her. And there was a certain dancer named Macedonia, who belonged
to the Blue party in Antioch, who came to possess much influence.
For she used to write letters to Justinian while Justin was still
Emperor, and so made away with whatever notable men in the East
she had a grudge against, and had their property confiscated.
This Macedonia, they say, greeted Theodora at the time of her
arrival from Egypt and Libya; and when she saw her badly worried
and cast down at the ill treatment she had received from Hecebolus
and at the loss of her money during this adventure, she tried
to encourage Theodora by reminding her of the laws of chance,
by which she was likely again to be the leader of a chorus of
coins. Then, they say, Theodora used to relate how on that very
night a dream came to her, bidding her take no thought of money,
for when she should come to Constantinople, she should share the
couch of the King of the Devils, and that she should contrive
to become his wedded wife and thereafter be the mistress of all
the money in the world. And that this is what happened is the
opinion of most people.
13. . DECEPTIVE AFFABILITY AND PIETY OF A TYRANT
Justinian, while otherwise of such character as I have shown,
did make himself easy of access and affable to his visitors; nobody
of all those who sought audience with him was ever denied: even
those who confronted him improperly or noisily never made him
angry. On the other hand, he never blushed at the murders he committed.
Thus he never revealed a sign of wrath or irritation at any offender,
but with a gentle countenance and unruffled brow gave the order
to destroy myriads of innocent men, to sack cities, to confiscate
any amount of properties.
One would think from this manner that the man had the mind of
a lamb. If, however, anyone tried to propitiate him and in suppliance
beg him to forgive his victims, he would grin like a wild beast,
and woe betide those who saw his teeth thus bared!
The priests he permitted fearlessly to outrage their neighbors,
and even took sympathetic pleasure in their robberies, fancying
he was thus sharing their divine piety when he judged such cases,
he thought he was doing the holy thing when he gave the decision
to the priest and let him go free with his ill-gotten booty: justice,
in his mind, meant the priests' getting the better of their opponents.
When he himself thus illegally got possession of estates of people
alive or dead, he would straightway make them over to one of the
churches, gilding his violence with the color of piety-and so
that his victims could not possibly get their property back. Furthermore
he committed an inconceivable number of murders for the same cause:
for in his zeal to gather all men into one Christian doctrine,
he recklessly killed all who dissented, and this too he did in
the name of piety. For he did not call it homicide, when those
who perished happened to be of a belief that was different from
So quenchless was his thirst for human blood; and with his wife,
intent on this end, he neglected no possible excuse for slaughter.
For these two were almost twins in their desires, though they
pretended to differ: they were both scoundrels, however they affected
to oppose each other, and thus destroyed their subjects. The man
was lighter in character than a cloud of dust, and could be led
to do anything any man wished him to do, so long as the matter
did not require philanthropy or generosity. Flattery he swallowed
whole, and his courtiers had no difficulty in persuading him that
he was destined to rise as high as the sun and walk upon the clouds.
Once, indeed, Tribonian, who was sitting beside him, said his
greatest fear was that Justinian some day by reason of his piety
would be carried off to heaven and vanish in a chariot of fire.
Such praise, if not irony, as this he treasured fondly in his
Yet if he ever remarked on any man's virtue, he would soon revile
him as a villain; and whenever he abused any of his subjects,
he would next as inconsistently commend him, with no reason for
the change. For what he thought was always the opposite of what
he said and wished to seem to think.
How he was affected by friendship or enmity I have indicated by
the evidence of his actions. For as a foe he was relentless and
unswerving, and to his friends he was inconstant. Thus he ruined
recklessly most of those who were loyal to him, but never became
a friend to any whom he hated. Even those who seemed to be his
nearest and dearest associates he betrayed, and after no long
time, to please his wife or anybody else, though he was well aware
that it was only because of their devotion to him that they perished.
For he was openly faithless in everything, except indeed to inhumanity
and avarice. From these ideals no man could divert him. Whatever
his wife could not otherwise induce him to do, by suggesting the
great profits to be hoped for in the matter she intended, she
led him willingly to undertake. For if there were an ever infamous,
he had no scruple against making a law and then repudiating it.
Nor were his decisions made according to the laws himself had
written: but whichever way was to his greater advantage, and promised
the more elaborate bribe. Stealing, little by little, the property
of his subjects, he saw no reason for feeling any shame; when,
indeed, he did not somehow grab it all at once, either by bringing
some unexpected accusation or by presenting a forged will.
There remained, while he ruled the Romans, no sure faith in God,
no hope in religion, no defense in law, no security in business,
no trust in a contract. When his officials were given any affair
to handle for him, if they killed many of their victims and robbed
the rest, they were looked upon by the Emperor with high favor,
and given honorable mention for carrying out so perfectly his
instructions. But if they showed any mercy and then returned to
him, he frowned and was thenceforth their enemy.
Despising their qualms as old-fashioned, he called them no more
to his service. Consequently many were eager to show him how wicked
they were, even when they were really nothing of the sort. He
made frequent promises, guaranteed with a sworn oath or by a written
confirmation; and then purposely forgot them directly, thinking
this summary negligence added to his importance. And Justinian
acted thus not only to his subjects, but to many of the enemy,
as I have already said.
He was untiring; and hardly slept at all, generally speaking;
he had no appetite for food or drink, but picking up a morsel
with the tips of his fingers, tasted it and left the table, as
if eating were a duty imposed upon him by nature and of no more
interest than a courier takes in delivering a letter. Indeed,
he would often go without food for two days and nights, especially
when the time before the festival called Easter enjoins such fasting.
Then, as I have said, he often went without food for two days,
living only on a little water and a few wild herbs, sleeping perhaps
a single hour, and then spending the rest of the time walking
up and down.
If, mark you, he had spent these periods in good works, matters
might have been considerably alleviated. Instead, he devoted the
full strength of his nature to the ruin of the Romans, and succeeded
in razing the state to its foundation. For his constant wakefulness,
his privations and his labors were undergone for no other reason
than to contrive each day ever more exaggerated calamities for
his people. For he was, as I said, unusually keen at inventing
and quick at accomplishing unholy acts, so that even the good
in him transpired to be answerable for the downfall of his subjects.
14. JUSTICE FOR SALE
Everything was done the wrong way, and of the old customs none
remained; a few instances will illustrate, and the rest must be
silence, that this book may have an end. In the first place, Justinian,
having no natural aptitude toward the imperial dignity, neither
assumed the royal manner nor thought it necessary to his prestige.
In his accent, in his dress, and in his ideas he was a barbarian.
When he wished to issue a decree, he did not give it out through
the Quaestor's office, as is usual, but most frequently preferred
to announce it himself, in spite of his barbarous accent; or sometimes
he had a whole group of his intimates publish it together, so
that those who were wronged by the edict did not know which one
to complain against.
The secretaries who had performed this duty for centuries were
no longer trusted with writing the Emperor's secret dispatches:
he wrote them himself and practically everything else, too; so
that in the few cases where he neglected to give instructions
to city magistrates, they did not know where to go for advice
concerning their duties. For he let no one in the Roman Empire
decide anything independently, but taking everything upon himself
with senseless arrogance, gave the verdict in cases before they
came to trial, accepting the story of one of the litigants without
listening to the other, and then pronounced the argument concluded;
swayed not by any law or justice, but openly yielding to base
greed. In accepting bribes the Emperor felt no shame, since hunger
for wealth had devoured his decency.
Often the decrees of the Senate and those of the Emperor nominally
conflicted. The Senate, however, sat only for pictorial effect,
with no power to vote or do anything. It was assembled as a matter
of form, to comply with the ancient law, and none of its members
was permitted to utter a single word. The Emperor and his Consort
took upon themselves the decisions of all matters in dispute,
and their will of course prevailed. And if anybody thought his
victory in such a case was insecure because it was illegal, he
had only to give the Emperor more money, and a new law would immediately
be passed revoking the former one. And if anybody else preferred
the law that had been repealed, the ruler was quite willing to
reestablish it in the same manner.
Under this reign of violence nothing was stable, but the balance
of justice revolved in a circle, inclining to whichever side was
able to weight it with the heavier amount of gold. Publicly in
the Forum, and under the management of palace officials, the selling
of court decisions and legislative actions was carried on.
The officers called Referendars were no longer satisfied to perform
their duties of presenting to the Emperor the request of petitioners,
and referring to the magistrates what he had decided in the petitioner's
case; but gathering worthless testimony from all quarters, with
false reports and misleading statements, deceived Justinian, who
was naturally inclined to listen to that sort of thing; and then
they would go back to the litigants, without telling them what
had been said during their interview with the Emperor, to extort
as much money as they desired. And no one dared oppose them.
The soldiers of the Pretorian guard, attending the judges of the
imperial court in the palace, also used their power to influence
decisions. Everybody, one might say, stepped from his rank and
found he was now at liberty to walk roads where before there had
been no path; all bars were down, even the names of former restrictions
were lost. The government was like a Queen surrounded by romping
children. But I must pass over further illustrations, as I said
at the beginning of this chapter.
I must, however, mention the man who first taught the Emperor
to sell his decisions. This was Leo, a native of Cilicia, and
devilish eager to enrich himself. This Leo was the prince of flatterers,
and apt at insinuating himself into the good will of the ignorant.
Gaining the confidence of the Emperor, he turned the tyrant's
folly toward the ruin of the people. This man was the first to
show Justinian how to exchange justice for money.
As soon as the latter thus learned how to be a thief, he never
stopped; but advancing on this road, the evil grew so great that
if anyone wished to win an unjust case against an honest man,
he went first to Leo, and agreeing that a share of the disputed
property would be given to be divided between this man and the
monarch, left the palace with his wrongful case already won. And
Leo soon built up a great fortune in this way, became the lord
of much land, and was most responsible for bringing the Roman
state to its knees.
There was no security in contracts, no law, no oath, no written
pledge, no penalty, no nothing: unless money had first been given
to Leo and the Emperor. And even buying Leo's support gave no
certainty, for Justinian was quite willing to take money from
both sides: he felt no guilt at robbing either party, and then,
when both trusted him, he would betray one and keep his promise
to the other, at random. He saw nothing disgraceful in such double
dealing, if only it brought him gain. That is the sort of person
15. HOW ALL ROMAN CITIZENS BECAME SLAVES
Theodora too unceasingly hardened her heart in the practice of
inhumanity. What she did, was never to please or obey anyone else;
what she willed, she performed of her own accord and with all
her might: and no one dared to intercede for any who fell in her
way. For neither length of time, fulness of punishment, artifice
of prayer, nor threat of death, whose vengeance sent by Heaven
is feared by all mankind, could persuade her to abate her wrath.
Indeed, no one ever saw Theodora reconciled to any one who had
offended her, either while he lived or after he had departed this
earth. Instead, the son of the dead would inherit the enmity of
the Empress, together with the rest of his father's estate: and
he in turn bequeathed it to the third generation. For her spirit
was over ready to be kindled to the destruction of men, while
cure for her fever there was none.
To her body she gave greater care than was necessary, if less
than she thought desirable. For early she entered the bath and
late she left it; and having bathed, went to breakfast. After
breakfast she rested. At dinner and supper she partook of every
kind of food and drink; and many hours she devoted to sleep, by
day till nightfall, by night till the rising sun. Though she wasted
her hours thus intemperately, what time of the day remained she
deemed ample for managing the Roman Empire.
And if the Emperor intrusted any business to anyone without consulting
her, the result of the affair for that officer would be his early
and violent removal from favor and a most shameful death.
It was easy for Justinian to look after everything, not only because
of his calmness of temper, but because he hardly ever slept, as
I have said, and because he was not chary with his audiences.
For great opportunity was given to people, however obscure and
unknown, not only to be admitted to the tyrant's presence, but
to converse with him, and in private.
But to the Queen's presence even the highest officials could not
enter without great delay and trouble; like slaves they had to
wait all day in a small and stuffy antechamber, for to absent
himself was a risk no official dared to take. So they stood there
on their tiptoes, each straining to keep his face above his neighbor's,
so that eunuchs, as they came out from the audience room, would
see them. Some would be called, perhaps, after several days; and
when they did enter to her presence in great fear, they were quickly
dismissed as soon as they had made obeisance and kissed her feet.
For to speak or make any request, unless she commanded, was not
Not civility, but servility was now the rule, and Theodora was
the slave driver. So far had Roman society been corrupted, between
the false geniality of the tyrant and the harsh implacability
of his consort. For his smile was not to be trusted, and against
her frown nothing could be done. There was this superficial difference
between them in attitude and manner; but in avarice, bloodthirstiness,
and dissimulation they utterly agreed. They were both liars of
the first water.
And if anyone who had fallen out of favor with Theodora was accused
of some minor and insignificant error, she immediately fabricated
further unwarranted charges against the man, and built the matter
up into a really serious accusation. Any number of indictments
were brought, and a court appointed to plunder the victim, with
judges selected by her, to compete with themselves to see which
one could please her most in fitting his decision to the Empress's
inhumanity. And so the property of the victim would be straightway
confiscated, and after he was cruelly whipped, even if he perhaps
belonged to an ancient and noble family, she would callously have
him sentenced to exile or to death.
But if any of her favorites happened to be caught in the act of
murder or any other serious crime, she ridiculed and belittled
the efforts of their accusers, and compelled them, however unwillingly,
to quash the charge. Indeed, whenever she felt the inclination,
she turned the most serious matters of state into a jest, as if
she were again on the stage of the theater.
Once an elderly patrician, who had been for a long time in high
office (whose name I well know, but shall carefully refrain from
mentioning, so as not to bring eternal ridicule upon him), being
unable to collect from one of her attendants a considerable sum
of money owed him, went to her with the intention of asking his
due and imploring her just aid. But Theodora was warned, and told
her eunuchs, as soon as the patrician should be admitted to her
presence, to surround him in a body and listen to her words; telling
them what to say after she had spoken. And when the patrician
was admitted to her private quarters, he kissed her feet in the
customary manner and, weeping, addressed her:
"Highness, it is hard for a patrician to ask for money. For
what in other men brings sympathy and pity, in one of my rank
is considered disgraceful. Any other man suffering hardships from
poverty may plead this before his creditors, and receive immediate
relief from his difficulty; but a patrician, not knowing whence
he can find the wherewithal to pay his creditors, would be ashamed
in the first place to admit it. And if he did say this, he could
never persuade them that one of such rank could know penury. And
even if he did persuade them, he would be making himself suffer
the most shameful and intolerable disgrace imaginable.
"Yet, Highness, such is my plight. I have creditors to whom
I owe money, while others owe money to me. And those whom I owe,
who are pressing me for payment, I cannot, for the sake of my
reputation, attempt to cheat of their due; while my debtors, for
they are not patricians, deny me with unmanly excuses. I charge
you, therefore; I beseech and beg of you, to aid me in what is
right, and release me from my present trouble."
So he said, and the Queen answered musically:
"Patrician Mr. Such-and-such-" whereupon the chorus
of eunuchs sang:
"Your hernia seems to bother you much!"
And when the man entreated her again, making a second speech similar
to his first one, she answered as before, and the chorus sang
the same refrain: till, giving it up, the poor wretch bowed and
Most of the year the Empress resided in the suburbs on the seashore,
especially in the place called Heraeum, and the numerous crowd
of her attendants was subjected to great inconvenience. For it
was hard to get necessary supplies, and they were exposed to the
perils of the sea: especially to the frequent sudden storms and
the attack of sharks. Nevertheless they counted the most bitter
misfortunes as nothing, so long as they could share the licenses
of her court.
16. WHAT HAPPENED TO THOSE WHO FELL OUT OF FAVOR WITH THEODORA
How Theodora treated those who offended her will now be shown,
though again I can give only a few instances, or obviously there
would be no end to the demonstration.
When Amasalontha decided to save her life by surrendering her
queendom over the Goths and retiring to Constantinople (as I have
related elsewhere), Theodora, reflecting that the lady was well-born
and a Queen, more than easy to look at and a marvel at planning
intrigues, became suspicious of her charms and audacity: and fearing
her husband's fickleness, she became not a little jealous, and
determined to ensnare the lady to her doom.
So she forthwith persuaded Justinian to send Peter, alone, to
Italy as ambassador to Theodatus. When he set out the Emperor
gave him the instructions I described in the chapter on that event:
where, however, I could not tell the whole truth of the matter,
for fear of the Empress. But she gave him this single secret command:
to remove the lady from this world with all dispatch; bribing
the fellow with the hope of much money if he performed his order.
And when he arrived in Italy (for man is not by nature too hesitant
at committing murder, if he has been bribed by the promise of
high office or considerable money), by what argument I know not,
he persuaded Theodatus to make away with Amasalontha. Consequently
raised to the rank of Master of Offices, he achieved immense power
and universal hatred. And so ends the story of Amasalontha.
Then ,there was a secretary to Justinian named Priscus: an utter
villain and Paphlagonian, of a character likely to please his
master, to whom he was more than devoted, and from whom he expected
similar consideration. And accordingly he very soon became the
owner of great and ill-gotten wealth. Finding him insolent and
always trying to oppose her, Theodora denounced him to the Emperor.
At first she was unsuccessful; but before long she took the matter
in her own hands: embarked the man on a ship, sailing to a determined
port, had his head shaved, and compelled him against his will
to become a priest. And Justinian, pretending he knew nothing
of the matter, never asked where on earth Priscus was, nor ever
after mentioned him: remaining silent as if he had utterly forgotten
him. However, he did not forget to seize what property Priscus
had been forced to abandon.
Again, Theodora was overtaken with suspicion of one of her servants
named Areobindus, a barbarian by birth, but a handsome young man,
whom she had made her steward. Instead of accusing him directly,
she decided to have him cruelly whipped in her presence (though
they say she was madly in love with the fellow) without explaining
her reason for the punishment. What became of the man after that
we do not know, nor has any one ever seen him since. For if the
Queen wanted to keep any of her actions concealed, it remained
secret and unmentioned; and neither was any who knew of the matter
allowed to tell it to his closest friend, nor could any who tried
to learn what had happened ever find out, no matter how much of
a busybody he was.
No other tyrant since mankind began ever inspired such fear, since
not a word could be spoken against her without her hearing of
it: her multitude of spies brought her the news of whatever was
said and done in public or in private. And when she decided the
time had come to take vengeance on any offender, she did as follows.
Summoning the man, if he happened to be notable, she would privately
hand him over to one of her confidential attendants, and order
that he be escorted to the farthest boundary of the Roman realm.
And her agent, in the dead of night, covering the victim's face
with a hood and binding him, would put him on board a ship and
accompany him to the place selected by Theodora. There he would
secretly leave the unfortunate in charge of another qualified
for this work: charging him to keep the prisoner under guard and
tell no one of the matter until the Empress should take pity on
the wretch or, as time went on, he should languish under his bondage
and succumb to death.
Then there was Basanius, one of the Green faction, a prominent
young man, who incurred her anger by making some uncomplimentary
remark. Basanius, warned of her displeasure, fled to the Church
of Michael the Archangel. She immediately sent the Prefect after
him, charging Basanius however not with slander, but pederasty.
And the Prefect, dragging the man from the church, had him flogged
intolerably while all the populace, when they saw a Roman citizen
of good standing so shamefully mistreated, straightway sympathized
with him, and cried so loud to let him go that Heaven must have
heard their reproaches. Whereupon the Empress punished him further,
and had him castrated so that he bled to death, and his estate
was confiscated; though his case had never been tried. Thus, when
this female was enraged, no church offered sanctuary, no law gave
protection, no intercession of the people brought mercy to her
victim; nor could anything else in the world stop her.
Thus she took a hatred of a certain Diogenes, because he belonged
to the Greens: a man urbane and beloved by all, including the
Emperor himself. None the less she wrathfully denounced him as
homosexual. Bribing two of his servants, she presented them as
accusers and witnesses against their master. However, as he was
tried publicly and not in secret, as was her usual practise in
such cases, the judges chosen were many and of distinguished character,
because of Diogenes's high rank; and after cross-examination of
the evidence of the servants, they decided it was insufficient
to prove the case, especially as the latter were only children.
So the Empress locked up Theodorus, one of Diogenes's friends,
in one of her private dungeons; and there first with flattery,
then with flogging, tried to overwhelm him. When he still resisted,
she ordered a cord of oxhide to be wound around his head and then
turned and tightened. But though they twisted the cord till his
eyes started from their sockets and Theodora thought he would
lose them completely, still he refused to confess what he had
not done. Accordingly the judges, for lack of proof, acquitted
him, while all the city took holiday to celebrate his release.
And that was that.
17. HOW SHE SAVED FIVE HUNDRED HARLOTS FROM A LIFE OF SIN
I have told earlier in this narrative what she did to Belisarius,
Photius and Buzes.
There were two members of the Blue faction, Cilicians by birth,
who with a mob of others offered violence to Callinicus, Governor
of the second Cilicia; and when his groom, who was standing near
his master, tried to protect him, they slew the fellow before
the eyes of the Governor and all the people. The Governor, convicting
the two of this and many previous murders, sentenced them to death.
Theodora heard of this, and to show her preference f or the. Blues,.
crucified Callinicus, without troubling to remove him from his
office, on the spot where the murderers had been buried.
The Emperor affected to lament and mourn the death of his Governor,
and sat around grumbling and making threats against those responsible
for the deed. But he did nothing, except to seize the estate of
the dead man.
Theodora also devoted considerable attention to the punishment
of women caught in carnal sin. She picked up more than five hundred
harlots in the Forum, who earned a miserable living by selling
themselves there for three obols, and sent them to the opposite
mainland, where they were locked up in the monastery called Repentance
to force them to reform their way of life. Some of them, however,
threw themselves from the parapets at night and thus freed themselves
from an undesired salvation.
There were in Constantinople two girls: sisters, of a very illustrious
family -not only had their father and grandfather been Consuls,
but even before that their ancestors had been Senators. These
girls had both married early, but became widows when their husbands
died; and immediately Theodora, accusing them of living too merrily,
chose new husbands for them, two common and disgusting fellows,
and commanded the marriage to take place. Fearing this repulsive
fate, the sisters fled to the Church of St. Sophia, and running
to the holy water, clung tightly to the font. Yet such privations
and ill treatment did the Empress inflict upon them there, that
to escape from their sufferings they finally agreed to accept
the proposed nuptials. For no place was sacred or inviolable to
Theodora. Thus involuntarily these ladies were mated to beggarly
and negligible men, far beneath their rank, although they had
many well-born suitors. Their mother, who was also a widow, attended
the ceremony without daring to protest or even weep at their misfortune.
Later Theodora saw her mistake and tried to console them, to the
public detriment, for she made their new husbands Dukes. Even
this brought no comfort to the young women, for endless and intolerable
woes were inflicted on practically all their subjects by these
men; as I have told elsewhere. Theodora, however, cared nothing
for the interest of office or government, or anything else, if
only she accomplished her will.
She had accidentally become pregnant by one of her lovers, when
she was still on the stage; and perceiving her ill luck too late
tried all the usual measures to cause a miscarriage, but despite
every artifice was unable to prevail against nature at this advanced
stage of development. Finding that nothing else could be done,
she abandoned the attempt and was compelled to give birth to the
child. The father of the baby, seeing that Theodora was at her
wit's end and vexed because motherhood interfered with her usual
recreations, and suspecting with good reason that she would do
away with the child, took the infant from her, naming him John,
and sailed with the baby to Arabia. Later, when he was on the
verge of death and John was a lad of fourteen, the father told
him the whole story about his mother.
So the boy, after he had performed the last rites for his departed
father, shortly after came to Constantinople and announced his
presence to the Empress's chamberlains. And they, not conceiving
the possibility of her acting so inhumanly, reported to the mother
that her son John had come. Fearing the story would get to the
ears of her husband, Theodora bade her son be brought face to
face with her. As soon as he entered, she handed him over to one
of her servants who was ordinarily entrusted with such commissions.
And in what manner the poor lad was removed from the world, I
cannot say, for no one has ever seen him since, not even after
the Queen died. The ladies of the court at this time were nearly
all of abandoned morals. They ran no risk in being faithless to
their husbands, as the sin brought no penalty: even if caught
in the act, they were unpunished, for all they had to do was to
go to the Empress, claim the charge was not proven, and start
a countersuit against their husbands. The latter, defeated without
a trial, had to pay a fine of twice the dower, and were usually
whipped and sent to prison; and the next time they saw their adulterous
wives again, the ladies would be daintily entertaining their lovers
more openly than ever. Indeed, many of the latter gained promotion
and pay for their amorous services. After one such experience,
most men who suffered these outrages from their wives preferred
thereafter to be complaisant instead of being whipped, and gave
them every liberty rather than seem to be spying on their affairs.
Theodora's idea was to control everything in the state to suit
herself. Civil and ecclesiastical offices were all in her hand,
and there was only one thing she was always careful to inquire
about and guard as the standard of her appointments: that no honest
gentleman should be given high rank, for fear he would have scruples
against obeying her commands.
She arranged all marriages as if that were her divine right, and
voluntary betrothals before a ceremony were unknown. A wife would
suddenly be found for a man, chosen not because she pleased him,
which is customary even among the barbarians, but because Theodora
willed it. And the same was true of brides, who were forced to
take men they did not desire. Frequently she even made the bride
jump out of her marriage bed, and for no reason at all sent the
bridegroom away before he had reached the chorus of his nuptial
song; and her only angry words would be that the girl displeased
her. Among the many to whom she did this were Leontius, the Referendar,
and Saturninus, the son of Hermogenes the Master of Offices.
Now this Saturninus was betrothed to a maiden cousin, freeborn
and a good girl, whom her father Cyril had promised him in marriage
just after the death of Hermogenes. When their bridal chamber
was in readiness, Theodora arrested the groom, who was conducted
to another nuptial couch, where, weeping and groaning terribly,
he was compelled to wed Chrysomallo's daughter. Chrysomallo herself
had formerly been a dancer and a hetaera; at this time she lived
in the palace, with another woman of the same name and one called
Indaro, having given up Cupid and the stage to be of service to
Saturninus, lying down finally to pleasant dreams with his new
bride, discovered she was already unmaidened; and later told one
of his friends that his new-found mate came to him not imperforate.
When this comment got to Theodora, she ordered her servants, charging
him with impious disregard of the solemnity of his matrimonial
oath, to hoist him up like a schoolboy who had been saucy to his
teacher: and after whipping him on his backsides, told him not
to be such a fool thereafter.
What she did to John the Cappadocian I have told elsewhere; and
need add only that her treatment of him was due to her anger,
not at his transgressions against the state (and a proof of this
is that those who later did even more terrible things to their
subjects met no such similar fate from her), but because he had
a not only dared oppose her in other things, but had denounced
her before the Emperor: with the result that she was all but estranged
from her husband. I am explaining this now, for it is in this
book, as I said in the foreword, that I necessarily tell the real
truths and motives of events.
When she confined him in Egypt, after he had suffered such humiliations
as I have previously described, she was not even then satisfied
with the man's punishment, but never ceased hunting for false
witnesses against him. Four years later, she was able to find
two members of the Green party who had taken part in the insurrection
at Cyzicus, and who were said to have shared in the assault upon
the bishop. These two she overwhelmed with flattery and threats,
and one of them, inspired by her promises, accused John of the
murder; while the other utterly refused to be an accomplice in
this libel, even when he was so injured by the torture that he
seemed about to die on the spot. Consequently for all her efforts
she was unable to cause john's death on this pretext. But the
two young men had their right hands cut off: one, because he was
unwilling to bear false witness; the other, that her conspiracy
might not be utterly obvious. Thus she was able to do things in
full public sight, and still nobody knew exactly what she had
18. HOW JUSTINIAN KILLED A TRILLION PEOPLE
That Justinian was not a man, but a demon, as I have said, in
human form, one might prove by considering the enormity of the
evils he brought upon mankind. For in the monstrousness of his
actions the power of a fiend is manifest. Certainly an accurate
reckoning of all those whom he destroyed would be impossible,
I think, for anyone but God to make. Sooner could one number,
I fancy, the sands of the sea than the men this Emperor murdered.
Examining the countries that he made desolate of inhabitants,
I would say he slew a trillion people. For Libya, vast as it is,
he so devastated that you would have to go a long way to find
a single man, and he would be remarkable. Yet eighty thousand
Vandals capable of bearing arms had dwelt there, and as for their
wives and children and servants, who could guess their number?
Yet still more numerous than these were the Mauretanians, who
with their wives and children were all exterminated. And again,
many Roman soldiers and those who followed them to Constantinople,
the earth now covers; so that if one should venture to say that
five million men perished in Libya alone, he would not, I imagine,
be telling the half of it.
The reason for this was that after the Vandals were defeated,
Justinian planned, not how he might best strengthen his hold on
the country, nor how by safeguarding the interests of those who
were loyal to him he might have the goodwill of his subjects:
but instead he foolishly recalled Belisarius at once, on the charge
that the latter intended to make himself King (an idea of which
Belisarius was utterly incapable), and so that he might manage
affairs there himself and be able to plunder the whole of Libya.
Sending commissioners to value the province, he imposed grievous
taxes where before there had been none. Whatever lands were most
valuable, he seized, and prohibited the Arians from observing
their religious ceremonies. Negligent toward sending necessary
supplies to the soldiers, he was over-strict with them in other
ways; wherefore mutinies arose resulting in the deaths of many.
For he was never able to abide by established customs, but naturally
threw everything into confusion and disturbance.
Italy, which is not less than thrice as large as Libya, was everywhere
desolated of men, even worse than the other country; and from
this the count of those who perished there may be imagined. The
reason for what happened in Italy I have already made plain. All
of his crimes in Libya were repeated here; sending his auditors
to Italy, he soon upset and ruined everything.
The rule of the Goths, before this war, had extended from the
land of the Gauls to the boundaries of Dacia, where the city of
Sirmium is. The Germans held Cisalpine Gaul and most of the land
of the Venetians, when the Roman army arrived in Italy. Sirmium
and the neighboring country was in the hands of the Gepidae. All
of these he utterly depopulated. For those who did not die in
battle perished of disease and famine, which as usual followed
in the train of war. Illyria and all of Thrace, that is, from
the Ionian Gulf to the suburbs of Constantinople, including Greece
and the Chersonese, were overrun by the Huns, Slavs and Antes,
almost every year, from the time when Justinian took over the
Roman Empire; and intolerable things they did to the inhabitants.
For in each of these incursions, I should say, more than two hundred
thousand Romans were slain or enslaved, so that all this country
became a desert like that of Scythia.
Such were the results of the wars in Libya and in Europe. Meanwhile
the Saracens were continuously making inroads on the Romans of
the East, from the land of Egypt to the boundaries of Persia;
and so completely did their work, that in all this country few
were left, and it will never be possible, I fear, to find out
how many thus perished. Also the Persians under Chosroes three
times invaded the rest of this Roman territory, sacked the cities,
and either killing or carrying away the men they captured in the
cities and country, emptied the land of inhabitants every time
they invaded it. From the time when they invaded Colchis, ruin
has befallen themselves and the Lazi and the Romans.
For neither the Persians nor the Saracens, the Huns or the Slavs
or the rest of the barbarians, were able to withdraw from Roman
territory undamaged. In their inroads, and still more in their
sieges of cities and in battles, where they prevailed over opposing
forces, they shared in disastrous losses quite as much. Not only
the Romans, but nearly all the barbarians thus felt Justinian's
bloodthirstiness. For while Chosroes himself was bad enough, as
I have duly shown elsewhere, Justinian was the one who each time
gave him an occasion for the war. For he took no heed to fit his
policies to an appropriate time, but did everything at the wrong
moment: in time of peace or truce he ever craftily contrived to
find pretext for war with his neighbors; while in time of war,
he unreasonably lost interest, and hesitated too long in preparing
for the campaign, grudging the necessary expenses; and instead
of putting his mind on the war, gave his attention to stargazing
and research as to the nature of God. Yet he would not abandon
hostilities, since he was so bloodthirsty and tyrannical, even
when thus unable to conquer the enemy because of his negligence
in meeting the situation.
So while he was Emperor, the whole earth ran red with the blood
of nearly all the Romans and the barbarians. Such were the results
of the wars throughout the whole Empire . during this time. But
the civil strife in Constantinople and in every other city, if
the dead were reckoned, would total no smaller number of slain
than those who perished in the wars, I believe. Since justice
and impartial punishment were seldom directed against offenders,
and each of the two factions tried to win the favor of the Emperor
over the other, neither party kept the peace. Each, according
to his smile or his frown, was now terrified, now encouraged.
Sometimes they attacked each other in full strength, sometimes
in smaller groups, or even lay in ambush against the first single
man of the opposite party who came along. For thirty-two years,
without ever ceasing, they performed outrages against each other,
many of them being punished with death by the municipal Prefect.
However, punishment for these offenses was mostly directed against
Furthermore the persecution of the Samaritans and the so-called
heretics filled the Roman realm with blood. Let this present recapitulation
suffice to recall what I have described more fully a little while
since. Such were the things done to all mankind by the demon in
flesh for which Justinian, as Emperor, was responsible. But what
evils he wrought against men by some hidden power and diabolic
force I shall now relate.
During his rule over the Romans, many disasters of various kinds
occurred: which some said were due to the presence and artifices
of the Devil, and others considered were effected by the Divinity,
Who, disgusted with the Roman Empire, had turned away from it
and given the country up to the Old One. The Scirtus River flooded
Edessa, creating countless sufferings among the inhabitants, as
I have elsewhere written. The Nile, rising as usual, but not subsiding
in the customary season, brought terrible calamities to the people
there, as I have also previously recounted. The Cydnus inundated
Tarsus, covering almost the whole city for many days, and did
not subside until it had done irreparable damage.
Earthquakes destroyed Antioch, the leading city of the East; Seleucia,
which is situated nearby; and Anazarbus, most renowned city in
Cilicia. Who could number those that perished in these metropoles?
Yet one must add also those who lived in Ibora; in Amasea, the
chief city of Pontus; in Polybotus in Phrygia, called Polymede
by the Pisidians; in Lychnidus in Epirus; and in Corinth: all
thickly inhabited cities from of old. All of these were destroyed
by earthquakes during this time, with a loss of almost all their
inhabitants. And then came the plague, which I have previously
mentioned, killing half at least of those who had survived the
earthquakes. To so many men came their doom, when Justinian first
came to direct the Roman state and later possessed the throne
19. HOW HE SEIZED ALL THE WEALTH OF THE ROMANS AND THREW IT
How he seized all wealth I will next discuss: recalling first
a vision which, at the beginning of Justinian's rule, was revealed
to one of illustrious rank in a dream.
In this dream, he said, he seemed to be standing on the shore
of the sea somewhere in Constantinople, across the water from
Chalcedon, and saw Justinian there in midchannel. And first Justinian
drank up all the water of the sea, so that he presently appeared
to be standing on the mainland, there bring no longer any waves
to break against it; then other water, heavy with filth and rubbish,
roaring out of the subterranean sewers, proceeded to cover the
land. And this, too, he drank, a second time drying up the bed
of the channel. This is what the vision in the dream disclosed.
Now Justinian, when his uncle Justin came to the throne, found
the state well provided with public funds. For Anastasius, who
had been the most provident and economical of all monarchs, fearing
(which indeed happened) that the inheritor of his Empire should
find himself in need of money, would perhaps plunder his subjects,
filled all the treasuries to their brim with gold before he completed
his span of life. All of this Justinian immediately exhausted,
between his senseless building program on the coast and his lavish
presents to the barbarians; though one might have thought that
it would take the most extravagant of Emperors a hundred years
to disburse such wealth. For the treasurers and those in charge
of the other imperial properties had been able, during Anastasius's
rule of more than twenty-seven years over the Romans, easily to
accumulate 3,200 gold centenaries; and of all these nothing at
all was left, for it had been squandered by this man while Justin
still lived; as I have already related.
What he illegally confiscated and wasted during his lifetime,
no tale, no reckoning, no count could ever make manifest. For
like an ever flowing river swallowing more each day he pillaged
his subjects, to disgorge it straightway on the barbarians.
Having thus carried away the public wealth, he turned his eye
upon his private subjects. Most of them he immediately robbed
of their estates, snatching them arbitrarily by force, bringing
false charges against whoever in Constantinople and each other
city were reputed to be rich.
Some he accused of polytheism, others of heresy against the orthodox
Christian faith; some of pederasty, others of love affairs with
nuns, or other unlawful intercourse; some of starting sedition,
or of favoring the Greens, or treason against himself, or anything
else; or he made himself the arbitrary heir of the dead and even
of the living, when he could. Such were the subtleties of his
actions. And how he profited from the insurrection against himself
which is called Nika, making himself heir to the Senators, I have
already shown; and how, some time before the sedition broke out,
he privately robbed each man of his estate.
To all the barbarians, on every occasion, he gave great sums:
to those of the East and those of the West ' to the North and
to the South, as far as Britain, and over all the inhabited earth;
so that nations whose very names we had never heard of, we now
learned to know, seeing their ambassadors for the first time.
For when they learned of this man's folly, they came to him and
Constantinople in floods from the whole world. And he with no
hesitation, but overjoyed at this, and thinking it good luck to
drain the Romans of their prosperity and fling it to barbarian
men or to the waves of the sea, daily sent each one home with
his arms full of presents.
Thus all the barbarians became masters of all the wealth of the
Romans, either being presented with it by the Emperor, or by ravaging
the Roman Empire, selling their prisoners for ransom, and bartering
for truces. And the prophecy of the dream I mentioned above, came
to pass in this visible reality.
20. DEBASING OF THE QUAESTORSHIP
He also had contrived other ways of plundering his subjects (which
I will now describe as well as I can) by which he robbed them,
not all at once, but little by little of their entire fortunes.
First he appointed a new municipal magistrate, with the power
to license shopkeepers to sell their wares at whatever prices
they desired: for which privilege they paid an annual tax. Accordingly,
people buying their provisions in these shops had to pay three
times what the stuff was worth, and complainants had no redress,
though great harm was thus done; for the magistrates saw to it
that the imperial tax was fattened accordingly, which was to their
advantage. Thus the government officials shared in this disgraceful
business, while the shopkeepers, empowered to act illegally, cheated
unbearably those who had to buy from them, not only by raising
their prices many times over, as I have said, but by defrauding
customers in other unheard-of ways.
Again he licensed many monopolies, as they -are called; selling
the freedom of his subjects to those who were willing to undertake
this reprehensible traffic, after he had exacted his price for
the privilege. To those who made this arrangement with him, he
gave the power to manage the business however they pleased; and
he sold this privilege openly, even to all the other magistrates.
And since the Emperor always got his little share of the plundering,
these officials and their subordinates in charge of the work,
did their robbing with small anxiety.
As if the formerly appointed magistrates were not enough for this
purpose, he created two new ones; though the municipal Prefect
had formerly been able to look after all criminal charges. His
real reason for the change was, of course, so that he could have
additional informers, and thus misuse the innocent with more celerity.
Of the two new officials, one, nominally appointed to punish thieves,
was called Praetor of the People; the other was charged with the
punishment of cases of pederasty, illegal intercourse with women,
blasphemy, and heresy; and his official name was Quaestor.
Now the Praetor, whenever he found anything very valuable among
the stolen goods that came to his notice, was supposed to give
it to the Emperor and say that no owner had appeared to claim
it. In this way the Emperor continually got possession of priceless
goods. And the Quaestor, when he condemned persons coming before
him, confiscated as much as he pleased of their properties, and
the Emperor shared with him each time in the lawlessly gained
riches of other people. For the subordinates of these magistrates
neither produced accusers nor offered witnesses when these cases
came to trial, but during all this time the accused were put to
death, and their properties seized without due trial and examination.
Later, this murdering devil ordered these officials and the municipal
Prefect to deal with all criminal charges on equal terms: telling
them to vie with each other to see which of them could destroy
the most people in the shortest time. And one of them asked him
at once, they say, "If somebody is sometime denounced before
all three of us, which of us shall have jurisdiction over the
case?" Whereupon he replied, "Whichever of you acts
faster than the rest."
Thus shamelessly he debased the Quaestor's office, which former
emperors almost without exception had held in high regard, taking
care that the men they appointed to it were experienced and wise,
law-abiding, and uncorruptible by bribes; since otherwise it would
be a calamity to the state, if men holding this high office were
ignorant or avaricious.
But the first man that this Emperor appointed to the office was
Tribonian, whose actions I have fully related elsewhere. And when
Tribonian departed from this world, Justinian seized a portion
of his estate, though a son and many other children were left
destitute when the fellow ended the final day of his life. Junilus,
a Libyan, was next appointed to this office: a man who had never
even heard the law, for he was not a rhetorician; he knew the
Latin letters, but as far as Greek went, he had never even gone
to school, and was unable to speak the language. Frequently when
he tried to say a Greek word, he was laughed at by his servants.
And he was so damned greedy for base gain, that he thought nothing
of publicly selling the Emperor's decrees. For one gold coin he
would hold out his palm to anybody without hesitation. And for
not less than seven years' time the State shared the ridicule
earned by this petty grafter.
When Junilus completed the measure of his life, Constantine was
appointed Quaestor: a man not unacquainted with law, but exceeding
young, and without actual experience in court; and the most thievish
bully among men. Of this person Justinian was very fond, and became
his bosom friend, since through him the Emperor saw he could steal
and run the office as he wished. Consequently, Constantine had
great wealth in a short time, and assumed an air of prodigious
pomp, with his nose in the clouds despising all men; and even
those who wanted to offer him large bribes had to entrust them
to those who were in his special confidence, to offer him together
with their requests; for it was never possible to meet or talk
with him, except when he was running to the Emperor or had just
left him, and even then he trotted by in a great hurry, lest his
time be wasted by somebody who had no money to give him. This
is what the Emperor did to the quaestorship.
21. THE SKY TAX, AND HOW BORDER ARMIES WERE FORBIDDEN TO PUNISH
The Prefect in charge of the praetors each year handed over to
the Emperor more than thirty centenaries in addition to the public
taxes; this tribute was called the sky tax, to show, I suppose,
that it was not a regular duty or assessment, but as it were fell
into his hands by chance out of the sky: it should have been called
the villainy tax, for in its name the magistrates robbed their
subjects worse than ever, on the ground they had to hand it over
to the autocrat, while they themselves acquired a king's fortune
in no time. For this Justinian left them unpunished, awaiting
the time when they should have gained immense riches; as soon
as this happened, he brought some charge against them for which
there was no defense, and confiscated their entire property all
at once, as he had done to John of Cappadocia.
Everyone appointed to office during this period of course became
immensely wealthy at once, with two exceptions: Phocas, whom I
have mentioned elsewhere as an utterly honest man, who remained
uncorrupted by gain during his office; and Bassus, who was appointed
later. Neither of these gentlemen held their office for a year,
but were removed after a few months as useless and unsuited to
the times. But if I went into all the details, this book would
never end: suffice it to say that all the rest of the magistrates
in Constantinople were equally guilty.
Also everywhere else in the Roman Empire Justinian did the same.
Picking out the worst scoundrels he could find, he sold them the
offices they were to corrupt, for large sums of money. Indeed,
an honest man or one with any sense at all, would never think
of throwing away his own money on the chance of getting it back
by robbing the innocent. When Justinian had collected this money
from such bargainers, he gave them complete power over their subjects,
by which, pillaging the country and the inhabitants, they were
to become rich. And since they had borrowed money at heavy interest
to pay the Emperor for their magistracies, as soon as they arrived
in the cities of their jurisdiction, they treated their subjects
with every kind of evil, caring for nothing but how they might
fulfill their agreements with their creditors and themselves thereafter
be listed among the super-wealthy. They saw no peril and felt
no shame in this conduct; rather, they anticipated that the more
they wrongfully killed and plundered, the higher would be their
reputation; for the name of murderer and robber would prove the
energy of their service. However, as soon as he heard these officials
had become adequately wealthy, Justinian snared them with a fitting
pretext, and straightway seized their fortunes in one swoop.
He passed a law that candidates for offices must swear they would
keep themselves clean of all graft and never give or receive any
bribe as officials; and all the curses that were named by the
ancients he invoked on any who should violate this agreement.
But the law was not over a year old before he himself, disregarding
its words and maledictions, shamelessly put these offices up for
sale; and not secretly, but in the public Forum. And the buyers
of the offices, breaking their oaths also, plundered more than
Later he contrived another unheard-of scheme. The offices which
he believed to be the most powerful in Constantinople and the
other large cities, he decided not to sell any longer as he had
been doing, but put them in the hands of picked men on a fixed
salary, who were commanded to turn over all revenues to himself.
And these men, after receiving their pay, worked fearlessly and
carried off everything on earth, going around tin the name of
their office to rob the subjects. . The Emperor was always very
careful to choose for his agents men who were truly of all people
the worst scoundrels; and he had no trouble finding those who
were bad enough. When, indeed he appointed the first rascals to
office, and their power brought to light their corruption, we
were astonished that nature had produced such evil in human form.
But when the successors to these offices later went far beyond
the first occupants in villainy, men were at a loss to see how
their predecessors could have been thought to be wicked, since
in comparison to the new officials the former had - And the third
been noble gentlemen in their actions set, and those who followed
them, out-Heroded the second lot in every kind of depravity; and
by their ingenuity in inventing new methods of bringing false
charges, gave all their predecessors the name of being virtuous
and honest. As the evil progressed, it was eventually demonstrated
that the wickedness of man has no natural limit, but when it feeds
on the experience of the past, and is given the opportunity to
mistreat its victims, it is encouraged to such a degree that only
those who are oppressed by it can measure it. And thus were the
Romans treated by their magistrates.
After armies of the hostile Huns had several times enslaved and
plundered inhabitants of the Roman Empire, the Thracian and Illyrian
generals planned to attack them on their retreat, but gave up
the idea when they were shown letters from the Emperor Justinian
forbidding them to attack the barbarians on the ground that alliance
with them was necessary to the Romans against the Goths, forsooth,
or some other foe.
And after this, these barbarians ravaged the country as if they
were the foe, and enslaved the Romans there; and, laden with booty
and captives, these friends and allies of the Romans returned
to their homes. Often some of the farmers of these regions, induced
by longing for their children and wives who had been carried off
to slavery, formed into bands and attacked the Huns, kill' capturing
their horses ladening many, and with spoils; but the consequence
of their success was unfortunate. For agents were sent from Constantinople
to beat and torture them and seize their property, until they
had given up all the horses they had taken from the barbarians.
22. FURTHER CORRUPTION IN HIGH PLACES
Now when the Emperor and Theodora dismissed John of Cappadocia,
they wished to appoint a successor to his office, and agreed to
choose a still baser rogue; so they looked everywhere for such
an instrument of tyranny, examining all manner of men that they
might be able to ruin their subjects the faster. For the time
being, they appointed Theodotus to the office: a man who was by
no means good, but still not bad enough to satisfy them; and meanwhile
they continued their general search till finally, almost to their
surprise, they discovered a banker named Peter, a Syrian by birth,
surnamed Barsyames; who, after years of sitting at the copper
money-changer's table had made himself rich by thievish malpractices,
being gifted at stealing obols, which he could filch under the
eyes of customers by the quickness of his fingers. He was not
only smart at this sleight-of-hand thievery, but if he were ever
detected, would swear it was a mistake, covering up the sins of
his hands with the impudence of his tongue.
Enlisting in the Pretorian guard, he behaved so outrageously that
Theodora was delighted with him, and decided he could most easily
serve her in the worst of her nefarious schemes. So Theodotus,
who had succeeded the Cappadocian, was straightway removed from
office and Peter appointed in his place; and he did everything
to their taste. Cheating all the soldiers of -their due pay, without
the slightest shame or fear, he also offered offices for sale
to a greater extent than ever to those who did not hesitate to
engage in this impious traffic for dishonored positions; and he
openly licensed those who bought these offices to use as they
wished the lives and substance of their subjects. For he claimed
himself, and granted to whoever paid the price of a province,
the right to destroy and ravage without restriction.
This sale of human lives proceeded from the first officer of the
State; and by him the contract for the ruin of cities was made.
Through the principal law courts and in the public Forum went
the licensed bandit who was given the name of Collector-collector
of the money paid for high offices which was in turn extorted
from the despairing people. And of all the imperial agents, many
of whom were men of repute, Peter selected for his own service
those who were villains.
In this he was not unique; for those who held the same office
before and after him were equally dishonest. So were the Master
of Offices, the Palatine Treasurers of the public and the Emperor's
private moneys, and those in charge of his personal estates; and,
in short, all who held public offices in Constantinople and the
other cities. For from the time when this tyrant first managed
the affairs of state, in each department the ministers without
any justification claimed the moneys pertaining to that department
for themselves whenever he did not take them himself; and the
subordinates of these officials, suffering the extremes of penury
during all this time, were compelled to serve in the manner of
Most of the great stores of grain that had been kept in Constantinople
had rotted; but he forced each of the cities of the East to buy
what was not fit for human consumption; and he made them pay not
what was the usual price for the best grain, but a still higher
rate; so that the purchasers who had thrown away large sums of
money, buying at such extravagant prices, had then to throw the
rotten grain into the sea or down the sewers. Then the grain that
was still sound and wholesome, of which there was great abundance,
he decided to sell to the cities that were in danger of famine.
In this way he made twice the money which the public collectors
had formerly taken by the sale of this grain.
The next year, however, the harvests were not so ample, and the
grain transports arrived at Constantinople with less than the
necessary supply. Peter, worried over the situation, determined
to buy a large quantity of grain in Bithynia, Phrygia, and Thrace.
So the inhabitants of these regions were forced to the heavy task
of bringing their harvests down to the seacoast and to transport
it at considerable peril to Constantinople, where they received
a miserably small price. So great indeed were their losses, that
they would have been glad to give their grain outright to the
State and pay a fine for that privilege. This is the grievous
burden which was called "co-operative buying."
But when even thus the supplies of grain in Constantinople were
insufficient for its needs, many denounced this system before
the Emperor. And at the same time nearly all the soldiers, because
they had not been given their due pay, assembled mutinously throughout
the city and created a great uproar. The Emperor turned now against
Peter and decided to remove him from office, because of the above-mentioned
complaints, and since he heard he had hidden a devilishly large
amount of plunder of which he had robbed the State. Which was
indeed the case.
But Theodora would not let her husband do this, for she was marvelously
delighted with Barsyames, I suppose because of 'his wickedness
and his remarkable cruelty to his subjects. For she herself was
utterly savage and bursting with inhumanity, and thought those
who served her should be as nearly as possible of a character
with herself. They say, too, that she had been involuntarily charmed
by magic to become Peter's friend; for this Barsyames was a devotee
of sorcerers and demons, and was admittedly a member of the Manichaeans.
Although the Empress had heard all this, she did not withdraw
her favor from the man, but decided to prefer and favor him all
the more on this account. For she herself from childhood had consorted
with magicians and sorcerers, as her pursuits inclined her toward
them and all her life she believed in the black art and had' great
confidence in it.
They even say that it was not so much by flattery that she made
Justinian eat from her hand as by demoniac power. For this was
not a kindly, just, or good man, to prevail over such machinations,
but plainly overmastered by his passion for murder and money;
easily yielding to those who deceived and flattered him, and in
the midst of his fondest plans he could be diverted with facility,
like a bit of dust caught up by the wind. None of his kindred
or his friends had any sure confidence in him, and his plans were
continually subject to change. Thus, he was an easy mark to sorcery,
as I have said, and with no difficulty fell into the power of
Theodora. And it was for this reason that the Empress regarded
Peter, practised in such arts, with great affection.
So it was all the Emperor could do to remove him from office;
and at Theodora's insistence, soon afterward he made him chief
of the treasurers, removing John from this position which he had
given him only a few months before. This man John was a native
of Palestine, exceedingly good and gentle, ignorant of the possibility
of increasing his private fortune, and had never wronged a single
man. All the people loved him; and therefore he could not please
Justinian and his wife, who, as soon as they saw among their agents
an unexpected decent gentleman, became faint with horror, and
determined to get rid of him at the first possible opportunity.
So it was that Peter succeeded John as chief of the treasurers,
and once more became the cause of great calamities. Embezzling
most of, the moneys which had been set apart since the time of
a long-past Emperor to be distributed each year to the many poor,
he made himself thus unjustly rich at the expense of the people,
and handed a share of it to the Emperor. Those who were thus deprived
of their dole sat around in great grief. Furthermore, he did not
coin the customary amount of gold, but issued a less amount, a
thing that had never happened before. And this is how the Emperor
dealt with the magistracies.
23. HOW LANDOWNERS WERE RUINED
I will now tell how he ruined the landowners everywhere; although
it were a sufficient indication of their sufferings to refer to
what I have just written about the officials who were sent to
all the cities, for these men plundered the landowners and did
what other violence has been told.
Now it had formerly been the long-established custom that each
Roman ruler should, not only once during his reign but often remit
to his subjects whatever public debts were in arrears, so that
those who were in financial difficulty and had no means of paying
their delinquencies would not be too far pressed; and so that
the tax collectors would not have the excuse of persecuting, as
subject to the tax, those who really owed nothing. But Justinian,
during thirty-two years' time, made no such concession to his
subjects, and consequently those who were unable to pay had to
flee their country and never return. Others, more prosperous,
grew weary of trying to answer the continual accusations of the
informers that the tax they had always paid was less than required
by the present rate on their estates. For these unfortunates feared
not so much the imposition of a new tax as that they should be
burdened by the unjust weight of additional back taxes for so
many years. Many, indeed, preferred to abandon their property
to the informers or to the confiscation of the state.
Besides, the Medes and the Saracens had ravaged most of Asia,
and the Huns and Slavs all of Europe; captured cities had either
been razed to their foundations, or made to pay terrible tribute;
men had been carried off into slavery together with all their
property, and every district had been deserted by its inhabitants
because of the daily raids: yet no tax was remitted, except in
the case of cities that had been captured by the enemy, and then
only for one year. Yet if, as the Emperor Anastasius had done,
he had decided to exempt the captured cities from taxation for
seven years, even so I believe, he would not have done as much
as he should.
For Cabades retired after doing hardly any damage to the buildings,
but Chosroes burned to the foundations everything he took, and
left greater ruin in his track. Yet to these remaining sufferers,
for whom he made this ridiculous remission of taxes, and to all
the others, who had many times been invaded by the army of the
Medes, and been continually plundered by the Huns and barbarous
Saracens in the East, and to those Romans who had met an equal
fate daily from the barbarians in Europe, this Emperor straightway
became a more bitter foe than all the barbarians put together.
For as soon as the enemy had retreated, the landowners immediately
were overwhelmed by new requisitions, imposts and levies.
What these were I will now explain. Those who owned land were
compelled to feed the Roman army, according to a special assessment
determined by the actual emergency but arbitrarily fixed by law.
And if sufficient provisions for the soldiers and horses were
not to be found on their estates, these unfortunates had to go
out and buy them at an excessive price, wherever they could, even
if they had to transport them from a distant country to the place
where the army was quartered , and then distribute them to the
army officials not at a legal price, but at the whim of the commanders.
This requisition, called co-operative buying, took the heart out
of the landowners. For it made their annual taxes easily ten times
what they had been, as they had not only to feed the army, but
often to transport grain from Constantinople. Barsyames was not
the only one who dared this outrage, for the Cappadocian before
him had done the same, and Barsyames's successors after him. And
this is what co-operative buying meant.
The "impost" was an unexpected ruin which suddenly attacked
the landowners, pulling up their hope of livelihood by the roots.
In the case of estates that had run down and been deserted, whose
owners and farmer tenants had either perished or left the country,
on account of their misfortunes, and disappeared, a ruthless tax
was still laid on those who had already lost all. This was called
the impost, levied frequently during this time.
The nature of the third levy was briefly as follows: Many losses,
especially at this time, were suffered by the cities, whose causes
and extents I refrain from describing now, or the tale would be
endless. These losses the landowners had to repair, by special
assessment on each individual; and their troubles did not even
stop there. The pestilence, which had attacked the inhabited world,
did not spare the Roman Empire. Most of its farmers had perished
of it, so that their lands were deserted; nevertheless Justinian
did not exempt the owners of these properties. Their annual taxes
were not remitted, and they had to pay not only their own, but
their deceased neighbors' share. And in addition to all of this,
these land-poor wretches had to quarter the soldiers in their
best rooms, while they themselves during this time existed in
the meanest and poorest part of their dwellings.
Such were the constant afflictions of mankind under the rule of
Justinian and Theodora; for there was no release from war or any
other of these calamities in all their time.
While I am on the subject of quartering, I should not fail to
mention that the householders in Constantinople had to quarter
seventy thousand barbarians, so that they got no pleasure from
their own houses, and were greatly inconvenienced in many ways.
24. UNJUST TREATMENT OF THE SOLDIERS
I must not pass over his treatment of the soldiers, over whom
he appointed paymasters with instructions to hold out as much
of their money as they found possible, on the understanding that
one twelfth of what they thus collected was theirs. Their method
each year was as follows. It was the regulation that different
ranks in the army receive different pay: the young and newly enlisted
received less, those who had seen hard service and had advanced
half way up the list received more, and the veterans who should
soon retire from service had a still higher rating, so that they
could live on their savings as private citizens, and when their
span of life was complete, might be able to leave some consolation
to their families. In this way, the soldiers step by step arose
in rank as their older comrades died or retired, and each man's
pay fitted his degree of seniority.
But the paymasters forbade the erasing from the lists of the names
of soldiers who died, even when many perished together, as frequently
happened in the constant wars. Nor did they fill the vacancies
in the lists, even after considerable time.
The result of this was that the number of soldiers grew continually
less, and those who survived their dead comrades were deprived
of their proper advancement in rank and pay; while the paymasters
handed over to Justinian the money that should have gone to these
soldiers all this time.
Furthermore, they fined the soldiers for other personal and unjust
reasons, as a reward for the perils they underwent in the battlefield:
on the charge that they were Greeks, as if none of that nation
could be brave; or that they were not commissioned by the Emperor
to serve, even when they showed his signature to that effect,
which the paymasters did not hesitate to question; or that they
had been absent from duty for a few days.
Later, some of the palace guards were sent throughout the whole
Roman Empire to investigate how many on the military lists were
unfit for service; and some were relieved of their uniform for
being old and use less, so that for the rest of their lives they
had to beg their meals of the charitable in the public Forum,
exhibiting their tears and lamentations to passersby; and the
rest, lest they might suffer a similar fate, handed over their
savings as a bribe, with the result that all the soldiers lost
heart for their profession, were reduced to poverty, and had no
further enthusiasm for campaigning.
This was ruinous to the Romans and their authority in Italy; and
the paymaster Alexander, sent thither, had the audacity to reproach
the soldiers for their poor morale; while he exacted further money
from the Italians, on the pretext of punishing them for their
negotiations with Theodoric and the Goths. The common soldiers,
indeed, were not the only ones to be reduced to poverty and helplessness
by these commissioners; for all the staff officers, under the
generals, who had formerly been in high esteem, were utterly impoverished
and in danger of famine, as they had no money left with which
to buy their customary provisions.
Speaking of the soldiers reminds me to add further details. The
Roman emperors hitherto had stationed large armies on all frontiers
of the State to protect its boundaries; and particularly in the
East, to repel incursions of the Persians and Saracens. These
border troops Justinian used so ill and meanly from the start
that their pay became four or five years overdue; and when peace
was declared between the Romans and Persians, these poor men,
instead of sharing in the fruits of peace, were forced to contribute
to the public treasury whatever was owed them; after which they
were summarily discharged from the army. Thereafter the boundaries
of the Roman Empire were unguarded, and the soldiers were left
suddenly on the hands of charity.
Another corps of not less than three thousand, five hundred other
soldiers, originally mustered for the palace guard, and called
the Scholars, had always received higher pay from the public treasury
than the rest of the army. Originally they were chosen to this
preferred company by special merit, from the Armenians; but from
the time when Zeno became Emperor, it was possible for anyone,
no matter how poor or cowardly a soldier, to wear this uniform.
Now when Justin came to the throne, this Justinian distributed
the honor among a large number upon their paying him a considerable
price for it. And when he saw there was no further possible vacancy,
he enrolled two thousand more, whom he called Supernumeraries.
When he himself took over the throne, he immediately disbanded
the Supernumeraries, without giving them back any of the money
they had paid him.
This, however, is what he schemed with reference to the Student
Corps. Whenever an army was about to be sent against Libya, Italy,
or the Persians, he ordered them to pack for service with the
regulars, though he knew well they were utterly unfit for the
campaign. And they, trembling at the possibility of active service,
surrendered their pay for the period of the war. The Students
had this unpleasant experience more than once. Also Peter, during
all the time he was Master of Offices, worried them daily with
For he was a gentle seeming and unassuming man, but the biggest
thief alive, and simply bursting with sordid meanness. It was
this Peter whom I mentioned before as responsible for the murder
of Amasalontha, Theodoric's daughter.
There were also others in the palace guard of much higher rank;
and the more they paid into the treasury for their commissions,
the higher was their military rating. These were called Domestics
and Protectors, and had always been exempt from active service.
Only as a matter of form they were listed in the palace guard.
Some of them were regularly stationed in Constantinople, others
had always been assigned to Galatia or other provinces. Justinian
scared these, too, in the same way, into forfeiting their pay
Finally, it was the law that every five years the Emperor should
give each soldier a bonus of a fixed sum in gold. And every five
years commissioners had been sent over all the Roman Empire to
give each soldier five gold staters. Not to comply with this custom
was simply unthinkable. Yet from the time that this man managed
the State, he never once did this, nor had any idea of doing it,
though he reigned for thirty-two years: so that the very custom
was finally forgotten by everyone.
25. HOW HE ROBBED HIS OWN OFFICIALS
I will next describe another way in which he robbed his subjects.
Those who serve the Emperor and the magistrates in Constantinople,
either as guards or as secretaries or what not, are inscribed
last in the list of officials. As time goes on, their rank advances
as their superiors die or retire and they replace them, until
they reach the topmost dignity. Those who attained this highest
rank, according to the long-established rule, were paid more than
one hundred gold centenaries a year, so as to have a competence
for their old age, and that they might be able to discharge their
many debts: which resulted in the affairs of state being competently
and smoothly managed. But this Emperor deprived them of nearly
all this money, to the great harm of these officials and everybody
else. For poverty, attacking them first, soon spread to the others
who formerly shared their solvency. And if one could calculate
the sums of money thus lost during thirty-two years, he would
know of how great a total they were thus deprived. This is how
the tyrant used his military aides.
What he did to merchants and sailors, artisans and shop-keepers,
and through them to everybody else, I will now relate. There are
two straits on either side of Constantinople: one in the Hellespont
between Sestos and Abydus, the other at the mouth of the Euxine
Sea, where the Church of the Holy Mother is situated. Now in the
Hellespontine strait there had been no customhouse, though an
officer was stationed by the Emperor at Abydus, to see that no
ship carrying a cargo of arms should pass to Constantinople without
orders from the Emperor, and that no one should set sail from
Constantinople without papers signed by the proper officials;
for no ship was allowed to leave Constantinople without permission
of the bureau of the Master of Offices. The toll exacted from
the ship owners, however, had been inconsequential. The officer
stationed at the other strait received a regular salary from the
Emperor, and his duty was exactly the same, to see that nothing
was transported to the barbarians dwelling beyond the Euxine that
was not permitted to be sent from Roman to hostile territory;
but he was not allowed to collect any duties from navigators at
But as soon as Justinian became Emperor, he stationed a customhouse
at either strait, under two salaried officials, to whom he gave
full power to collect as much money as they found possible. Eager
to show their zeal, they made the mariners pay such tributes 'on
everything as pirates might have exacted. And this was done at
At Constantinople, he concocted the following scheme. He appointed
one of his intimates, a Syrian named Addeus, in charge of the
port, with orders to collect duty from the ships anchoring there.
And he, accordingly, never allowed any of the vessels putting
in to Constantinople to leave until their owners either paid clearance
fees or submitted to taking a cargo for Libya or Italy. Some of
the ship owners, however, refused to submit to this compulsion,
preferring to burn their boats rather than sail at such a price;
and considered themselves lucky to escape with this sacrifice.
Those who had to continue sailing in order to live, on the other
hand, charged merchants three times the former rate for carrying
their wares: so that the merchants had to recoup these losses
by selling their stuff to individual purchasers at a correspondingly
high price, with the result that the Romans nearly died of starvation.
This was the state of affairs throughout the Empire.
I must not omit, I suppose, mention of what the rulers did to
the petty coinage. Formerly the money changers had customarily
given two hundred and ten obols, or "folles," for one
gold stater; but Justinian and Theodora, as a scheme for their
private profit, ordered that only one hundred and eighty obols
should be given for a stater. In this way they clipped off one
sixth of each gold coin possessed by the people.
By licensing monopolies of nearly all kinds of wares, these rulers
daily oppressed the purchasers; the sale of clothes was the only
thing they left untouched, and even in this case they contrived
the following scheme. Cloaks of silk had long been made in Berytus
and Tyre, in Phoenicia. Merchants who dwelt in these, and all
the artisans and workers connected with the trade, had settled
there in early times, and from these cities this trade had spread
throughout the earth. But during the reign of Justinian, those
in this business at Constantinople and in the other cities, raised
the price of these garments: claiming that the price for such
stuffs had been raised by the Persians, and that the import duties
to Roman territory were also higher.
The Emperor, pretending to be incensed at this, proclaimed by
edict that such clothing could not be sold for more than eight
gold coins a pound; and the punishment for disobeying this law
was the confiscation of the transgressor's property. This seemed
to everybody impossible and futile. For it was not practicable
for the merchants who imported silk at a higher price, to sell
it to their customers for less. Consequently they decided to stop
dealing in it at all, and privately got rid of their present stock
as best they could, selling it to such notables as took pleasure
in throwing away their money for such finery, or thought they
had to wear it.
The Empress, hearing what was going on through her whispering
spies, without stopping to verify the rumor, immediately confiscated
these persons' wares, fining them a centenary in addition. Now
the imperial treasurer is to be in charge of all matters connected
with this trade. So when Peter Barsyames was given that office,
they soon left it to him to do their unholy deeds. He ruled that
all should obey the letter of the law, while he ordered the silk
makers to work for himself. And this was no secret, for he sold
colored silk in the Forum at six gold pieces an ounce, while for
the imperial dye, which is known as holovere, he charged more
In this way he got much money for the Emperor and more, quietly,
for himself; and the custom he started continues to this day,
the treasurer being admittedly the sole silk merchant and controller
of this trade.
The former dealers in silk in Constantinople and every other city,
by sea and by land, were naturally heavily damaged. Almost the
whole populace in the cities mentioned were suddenly made beggars.
Artisans and mechanics were forced to struggle against famine,
and many consequently left the country and fled to Persia. Only
the imperial treasurer could transact this business, giving a
share of the profits aforesaid to the Emperor, and himself taking
most of them, fattening on the public calamity. And so much for
26. HOW HE SPOILED THE BEAUTY OF THE CITIES AND PLUNDERED
How he ruined the beauty and appearance of Constantinople and
every other city, we shall now see.
First he determined to debase the standing of the lawyers. He
deprived them of all court fees, by which they had formerly lived
in comfort and elegance; and in consequence they lost caste and
significance. And after he had confiscated the estates of the
Senators and other prosperous people, as has been related, in
Constantinople and all over the Roman Empire, there was little
use for lawyers anyway; men no longer had anything worth mentioning
to go to court about. So of all the many noted advocates, only
a few were left; and they were despised and reduced to penury,
reaping nothing but insult from their work.
Furthermore, he caused physicians and teachers of the liberal
arts to be deprived of the necessities of life. For he stopped
all their living subsidies, which former emperors had paid men
of these professions from the public treasury.
Also all of the taxes which the municipalities had devoted to
public use or entertainments, he transferred arbitrarily to the
imperial treasury. No consideration was now given to any physician
or teacher; no one dared pay any attention to public buildings;
there were no public lights in any city, nor any entertainments
for the citizens. For the theaters, hippodromes, and circuses,
in which his wife had been born, bred and educated, were all discontinued.
Later he even stopped the public spectacles in Constantinople,
to avoid spending the usual State money on them, by which an almost
incalculable number of people had got their livelihood. On these,
individually and collectively, ruin and desuetude descended, and
as if some cataclysm had fallen on them from Heaven, their happiness
was slain. And no other subject was spoken of among men, at home
or in public or in the churches, than their calamities, their
sufferings, and their overwhelming by the latest misfortune. Such
was the state of affairs in the cities.
Of what is left to tell, this is worth mentioning. Each year two
Roman consuls were appointed: one at Rome, the other at Constantinople.
And whoever was called to this honor was expected to spend more
than twenty gold centenaries on the public; some of which came
from the Consul's private purse, but most was furnished by the
Emperor. This money was given to those others whom I have mentioned,
but mostly to the poor and those employed in the theater; all
of which was to the good of the city. But from the time Justinian
came to power, these distributions were not made at the customary
time; for sometimes a Consul remained in office for year after
year, till finally people wearied of hoping for a new one, even
in their dreams. As a result, universal poverty was the case,
since the usual annual relief was no longer afforded to subjects;
and in every way all that they had was taken from them by their
Now I think I have shown sufficiently how this destroyer devoured
all the public moneys and robbed each member of the Senate, publicly
and privately, of all his estates; and how by bringing false charges
he confiscated the properties of everybody else who was reputed
to be wealthy, I imagine I have adequately told: as in the case
of the soldiers, subordinate officers, and the palace guard; the
farmers and landowners; those whose business is in words; merchants,
ship owners and sailors; mechanics, artisans, and market dealers;
those whose livelihood is in the theater; and indeed everyone
else, who was affected in turn by the damage done to these. And
now let us see what he did to those in need of alms: the poor,
the beggars, and the diseased; for what he did to the priests
will be described later.
First, as I have said, he took control of all the shops, licensed
monopolies of all the wares most necessary to life, and exacted
a price of more than triple their worth from the citizens. And
other details of what he did I would not even attempt to catalogue
in an endless book, since they were simply uncountable.
He put a bitter and perpetual tax on the sale of bread, which
the day laborers, the poor and the infirm could not help buying.
From this source he demanded three centenaries a year, with the
result that the bakers filled their loaves with shells and dust;
for the Emperor had no scruples against profiting meanly from
even this unholy adulteration. Those in charge of the markets,
turning this trick to their private gain, with ease became very
wealthy and reduced the poor to an unexpected famine even in prosperous
times; since it was not permitted to bring in grain from other
places, but all were forced to eat bread purchased in the city.
One of the municipal aqueducts, which furnished not a small share
of the city water, collapsed; but the rulers disregarded the matter
and refused to repair it, though the constant crowds who had to
use the wells were fairly stifling, and all the baths were shut
down. On the other hand, he threw away great sums of money senselessly
on buildings by the seashore and elsewhere, in all the suburbs,
as if the palaces in which all the former emperors had been content
to dwell were not enough for this pair. So it was not to save
money, but to destroy his subjects, that he refused to rebuild
the aqueduct; for no one in all history had ever been born among
men more eager than Justinian to get hold of money, and then to
throw it immediately away again. Through the two things left to
them to drink and eat, water and bread, this Emperor injured those
who were in the last extremes of poverty; making the one hard
to procure at all, and the other too expensive to buy.
This he did not only to the poor in Constantinople, but to inhabitants
elsewhere, as I shall now relate. When Theodoric captured Italy,
he permitted the palace guard to remain in Rome, that some trace
of the ancient State might be left; and he continued their daily
pay. These soldiers were quite numerous, comprising the Silentiarii,
the Domestics, and the Student Corps, who were soldiers only in
name; their pay was just enough to live on; and Theodoric ordered
that this should revert, on their deaths, to their children and
families. Among the poor, who lived near the Church of St. Peter
the Apostle, he distributed each year three thousand bushels of
grain from the public granary; which they continued to receive
until the arrival in Italy of Alexander the Scissors.
This man immediately decided to deprive them of all this. When
Justinian, Emperor of the Romans, learned of this economy, he
was greatly pleased, and favored Alexander more than ever. It
was on his way here that Alexander treated the Greeks as follows.
The fortress at Thermopylae had long been guarded by the neighboring
farmers, who took turns watching the wall whenever an incursion
of barbarians into the Peloponnese was anticipated.
But this Alexander, when he arrived there, claimed it was to the
advantage of the Peloponnesians not to allow this pass to be kept
by farmers. So he stationed two thousand soldiers there, to be
paid not out of the imperial treasury, but by all the cities of
Greece; and on this pretext, he diverted all their public and
entertainment revenues to the general fund, saying that from it
food would be bought for these soldiers. In consequence, after
this, everywhere in Greece, including even Athens, no public buildings
or any other benefit could be considered. But Justinian of course
approved this action of the Scissors. And that is what happened
Then there is the matter of the poor in Alexandria. Among the
lawyers there was one Hephaestus, who, on being made Governor
of Alexandria, put a stop to civic sedition by intimidating the
rioters, but reduced all the inhabitants to the utmost misery.
For he immediately brought all the wares in the city under a monopoly,
forbidding other merchants to sell anything, and himself became
the only dealer and sole vendor of all wares: fixing prices as
he pleased under his supreme power. By the consequent shortage
in necessary provisions the city of Alexandria was greatly distressed,
where formerly even the very poor had been able to live adequately;
and the high price of bread pinched them most. For he alone bought
up all the grain in Egypt, not allowing anyone else to purchase
as much as a single bushel; and thus he controlled the supply
and price of bread as he pleased. In this way he soon amassed
unheard-of wealth, at the same time satisfying the greed of the
Emperor. The people of Alexandria through fear of Hephaestus bore
their suffering in silence; and the Emperor, awed by the abundance
of money that continuously came to him from that quarter, was
wonderfully delighted with his Governor.
This Hephaestus, planning to incur even greater favor of the Emperor,
contrived the following additional scheme. When Diocletian became
ruler of the Romans, he ordered a large quantity of grain to be
given yearly to the poor in Alexandria. And the Alexandrians,
distributing this among themselves at that time, had transmitted
the right to receive this bounty to their descendants up to this
time. But Hephaestus, depriving these needy ones of this charity,
which amounted to two million bushels, diverted it to the imperial
granary, and wrote to the Emperor that these men had been getting
this dole unjustly and not in accordance with the interests of
state. The Emperor, approving this action, was still fonder of
him than before. But such Alexandrians whose hope of life had
been in the distribution, in their present bitter distress felt
the full benefit of his inhumanity.
27. HOW THE DEFENDER OF THE FAITH PROTECTED THE INTERESTS
OF THE CHRISTIANS
The deeds of Justinian were such that all eternity would not be
long enough in which to describe them adequately. So a few examples
will have to suffice to illuminate his whole character to future
generations: what a dissembler he was, how he disregarded God,
the priests, the laws, and the people who showed themselves loyal
to him. He had no shame at all, either when he brought destruction
on the State or at any misdeed; he did not bother to try to excuse
his actions, and his only care was how he might get sole possession
of all the wealth of the world. To begin:
As bishop of Alexandria he appointed a man by the name of Paul.
At this time one Rhodon, a Phoenician, was Governor of that city.
Him he ordered to serve Paul with all zeal, and to allow none
of his instructions to be unfulfilled. For thus he thought he
could associate all the priests in Alexandria under the synod
Now there was a certain Arsenius a native of Palestine, who had
become one of the most useful intimates of the Empress Theodora,
and consequently after acquiring great power and wealth, had been
raised to senatorial rank, though he was a disgusting fellow.
He was a Samaritan, but so as not to lose his official rank and
power, became a nominal Christian; while his father and brother,
encouraged by his authority, continued in their ancestral faith
in Scythopolis, where, with his consent, they persecuted the Christians
intolerably. As a result of this, the citizens revolted and put
them both to a most shameful death. Many later troubles afflicted
the people of Palestine because of this. At the time, however,
neither Justinian nor the Empress did anything to punish Arsenius,
though he was principally responsible for the whole trouble. They
merely forbade him entrance to the palace, to get rid of the crowds
of Christians complaining against him.
This Arsenius, thinking to please the Emperor, soon after went
to Alexandria with Paul, to assist him generally and in special
to help him get the good will of the Alexandrians. For during
the time he had been barred from the palace, he affirmed he had
become learned in all the Christian doctrines. This displeased
Theodora, for she pretended to disagree with the Emperor in religious
matters, as I have told before.
As -soon as they arrived in Alexandria, Paul handed over a deacon
by the name of Psoes to Rhoden to be put to death, on the charge
that this man alone stood in the way of the accomplishment of
the Emperor's wishes. And following instructions in letters from
the Emperor, which came frequently and cogently, Rhodon ordered
the man to be scourged; after which, while he was being racked
by the torture, he up and died.
When news of this reached the Emperor, at the Empress's instigation
he expressed horror at what had been done by Paul, Rhodon and
Arsenius: as if he had forgotten his own instructions to these
men. He now appointed Liberius, a patrician from Rome, Governor
of Alexandria, and sent certain priests of good reputation to
Alexandria, to investigate the matter; among these were the Archdeacon
of Rome, Pelagius, who was commissioned by Pope Vigilius to act
as his legate.
Paul, convicted of the murder, was removed from the bishopric;
Rhodon, who fled to Constantinople, was beheaded by the Emperor
and his estates confiscated, although the man produced thirteen
letters which the Emperor had written him, insisting and commanding
him to serve Paul in everything and never to oppose him, so that
he could fulfill his every wish in religious matters. Liberius,
at Theodora's order, crucified Arsenius, and the Emperor confiscated
his property, though he had no charge to bring against him except
that he had been intimate with Paul. Now whether his actions in
this matter were just or otherwise, I cannot say; but I shall
soon show why I have described the affair.
Some time later, Paul came to Constantinople and offered the Emperor
seven gold centenaries if he would reinstate him in the holy office
from which, he claimed, he had been illegally removed. Justinian
genially took the money, treated the man with great respect, and
agreed to make him Bishop of Alexandria again very soon, though
another now held the office; as if he did not know that he himself
had put to death Paul's friends and helpers, and had confiscated
So the Augustus zealously extended every effort to arrange this
matter, and Paul was generally expected to regain his bishopric
one way or another. But Vigilius, who was in the capital at the
time, decided not to yield to the Emperor's command in such a
case; and he said he could not annul a decision which Pelagius
had given as his legate. And the Emperor, whose only idea was
to get the money, dismissed the matter.
Here is another similar case. There was a certain Faustin, born
in Palestine, and of an old Samaritan family, who accepted a nominal
Christianity when the law constrained him. This Faustin became
a Senator and a Governor of his province; and when his term of
office expired a little later, he came to Constantinople, where
he was denounced by certain priests as having favored the Samaritans
and impiously persecuted the Christians in Palestine. Justinian
appeared to be very angry and outraged that during his rule over
the Romans, anybody could have insulted the name of Christ.
So the Senate investigated the affair and by the will of the Emperor,
punished Faustin with exile. But the Emperor, after getting from
him the money he wanted, straightway annulled the decree. And
Faustin, restored to his former rank, and the Emperor's friendship,
was made Count of the imperial domains in Palestine and Phoenicia,
where he fearlessly did as much harm as he wanted. Now in what
way Justinian protected the true interests of the Christians may
clearly be seen in these instances, few of them as I have had
time to give.
28. HIS VIOLATION OF THE LAWS OF THE ROMANS, AND HOW JEWS
WERE FINED FOR EATING LAMB
How he unhesitatingly abolished laws when money was in question
will now be shown in a few words. There was one Priscus in the
City of Emesa, who was a skilful forger of others' handwriting,
and a rare artist in such c ' rime. It happened that the church
of Emesa had a long time before inherited the property of a distinguished
patrician named Mammian, of illustrious family and of great wealth.
During Justinian's reign, Priscus inventoried all the families
of the mentioned city, so as to find which were adequately rich
to be worth plundering, and after he investigated their family
history, and found ancient letters in their ancestors' handwriting,
he forged documents purporting to be their agreements to pay to
Mammian large sums of money which were supposed to have been left
with them by him as a deposit.
The amount of money mentioned as an obligation in these forgeries
was not less than one hundred gold centenaries. He also imitated
very craftily the writing of a certain notary public whose office
was in the Forum during Mammian's lifetime: a man of high reputation
for truth and every other virtue, who used to draw up all the
citizens' documents, fixing them with his own seal. To those who
were in charge of ecclesiastical affairs at Emesa he gave these
documents, after they agreed that he would get a share of the
money to be obtained from the matter.
But since there was a statute of limitations barring action after
thirty years, except in mortgages and certain other matters, where
the limit was forty years, they formed the following plan. Going
to Constantinople and offering the Emperor large sums of money,
they begged him to join in accomplishing the destruction of their
innocent fellow citizens. He took the money, and without scruple
published a new law, to the effect that the statute of limitations
did not apply to the church, but claims connected with that institution
might be brought at any time within a hundred years. And this
was now the law not only in Emesa, but throughout the whole Roman
To enforce his decree he sent to Emesa one Longinus, a man of
deeds and of great bodily strength, who later was Prefect of Constantinople.
And those in charge of church affairs there immediately brought
suit for two centenaries against some of the citizens whose ancestors
were mentioned in the forgeries; and soon obtained judgment against
these men, who had no defence owing to the great lapse of time
and their ignorance of the facts. And all the other citizens were
greatly grieved over this, and incensed against the accusers;
the most reputable men of Emesa being the most perturbed.
Just as this evil was now progressing against the majority of
the citizens, Providence intervened in the following way. Longinus
ordered Priscus, the inventor of the mischievous trick, to bring
him all the documents in the case; and when he objected, slapped
him with all his might. Priscus, unable to bear the shock of a
blow from a strong man, fell on his back, now trembling and shaking
with fear; and supposing that Longinus had discovered him and
that the whole deceit had been brought to light, stopped bringing
As if it were not enough to do away with the laws of the Romans
daily, the Emperor also exerted himself to destroy the traditions
of the Jews. For whenever in their calendar Passover came before
the Christian Easter, he forbade the Jews to celebrate it on their
proper day, to make then any sacrifices to God or perform any
of their customs. Many of them were heavily fined by the magistrates
for eating lamb at such times, as if this were against the laws
of the State.
Knowing countless other such acts of Justinian, I cannot include
them, since the end of this book draws near. In any case, what
I have told will be enough to show the nature of the man.
29. OTHER INCIDENTS REVEALING HIM AS A LIAR AND A HYPOCRITE
I will now show what a liar and hypocrite he was. This Liberius,
whom I recently mentioned, he removed from office and in his stead
appointed John, an Egyptian, surnamed Laxarion. When Pelagius,
a particular friend of Liberius's, heard of this, he asked the
Emperor if the report about Laxarion's appointment were true.
And he immediately denied it, assuring him he had done nothing
of the sort; and gave him a letter to take to Liberius charging
him to stick tight to his office and give it over to nobody, as
he, Justinian, had not the slightest idea of removing him from
it at this time.
Now John had an uncle in Constantinople named Eudemon, of consular
rank and great wealth, who was at the time Count of the imperial
estates. This Eudemon, when he heard the rumor, also went to the
Emperor to inquire if the office were really going to his nephew.
And Justinian, in contradiction of what he had written to Liberius,
now wrote a document to John, telling him to take over the office
by all means, as his intentions were unchanged. John, trusting
in this instruction, ordered Liberius to retire from his office
as he had been officially removed. But Liberius, with equal confidence,
of course, in the letter he had had from the Emperor, refused.
So John went after Liberius with an armed guard, and Liberius
with his own guard defended himself. During the fight many were
killed, including John himself, the new Governor.
Now at Eudemon's instigation, Liberius was summoned to Constantinople;
the Senate investigated the affair, and acquitted Liberius, since
what he did had been in self-defense. The Emperor, however, did
not let him off until he had privately paid him a fine. This shows
Justinian's love of truth and how he kept his word.
It might not be out of the way for me to tell a sequel of this
incident. This Eudemon died a little later, leaving many relatives
but no will of any kind. About the same time the chief eunuch
of the palace, Euphrates, was released from life, leaving a nephew
but no will disposing of his considerable property. The Emperor
seized both estates, making himself the arbitrary heir, and did
not give as much as a three-obol piece to the legal inheritors.
Such was the respect for law and the kinsmen of his friends that
this Emperor had. So, also ' he seized the estate of Ireneus,
who had died some time before, without any proper claim to it
of any kind.
Another thing that happened at this time I must also not fail
to tell. One Anatolius was foremost in the Senate of Ascalon.
His daughter was married to a citizen of Caesarea by the name
of Mamilian, of illustrious family. This girl was Anatolius's
legal heir, since she was his only child. Now there was an ancient
law that when a Senator of any of the cities departed this world,
leaving no male issue, one fourth of his estate should go to the
Senate of his city, and all the rest to his heirs. Here again
the tyrant had showed his true character. He made a new law reversing
the rule, decreeing that when a Senator died without male issue,
his heirs should get one fourth of his estate, and all the rest
should go to the imperial treasury and the local Senate. Never
in the memory of man had the treasury or the Emperor shared the
estate of a Senator.
While this new law was in force, Anatolius reached the final day
of his life. His daughter was about to divide her inheritance
with the treasury and the city Senate according to the law, when
she received letters from both the Emperor and the Ascalon Senate,
dismissing all their claims to the property, on the ground they
had already all that was properly their just due.
Later Mamillan also died, Anatolius's son-in-law, leaving one
daughter, who of course inherited his estate. While her mother
was still living, this daughter too died, after marrying a man
of distinction by whom she had no children, male or female. Justinian
immediately seized the whole estate, on the remarkable ground
that it would be an unholy thing for the daughter of Anatolius,
an old woman, to become rich on the property of both her father
and her husband. But that the woman might not be reduced to beggary,
he ordered her to be given one gold stater a day so long as she
lived: writing in the decree by which he robbed her of these properties
that he was granting her this stater for the sake of religion,
"for it is my custom to do what is holy and pious."
This will have to suffice, in order that my book may not be overfilled
with such anecdotes; and indeed, no one man could recall everything
I will show how he cared nothing for even the Blues, who were
devoted to him, when money was at stake. There was a Cilician
named Malthanes, son-in-law of that Leo who was, as I have said,
a Referendar. Justinian sent this Malthanes to restore order among
the Cilicians. On this pretext Malthanes inflicted intolerable
sufferings on most of his fellow citizens, and robbed them of
their money, some of which he sent to the tyrant, enriching himself
unjustly with the rest.
Now some bore their sufferings in silence; but those of the inhabitants
of Tarsus who were Blues, trusting in the favor of the Empress,
assembled in their Forum to insult Malthanes, who was not present.
When Malthanes heard of this, he assembled a body of soldiers
and arrived in Tarsus by night; and sending his soldiers into
the private houses, ordered them to put the inhabitants to death.
Thinking this was an invasion by an enemy, the Blues defended
themselves. And among other evils that took place in the darkness,
it happened that Damian, a Senator, was killed by an arrow wound.
This Damian was president of the local Blues; and when the news
came to Constantinople, the indignant Blues there made a great
uproar throughout the city, and gathered in crowds to complain
violently to the Emperor, while they uttered terrible threats
against Leo and Malthanes. The Emperor pretended to be no less
outraged at the affair, and immediately wrote to order an investigation
and punishment of Malthanes by his citizens. But Leo gave him
a large sum of money, so he stopped inquiry and his interest in
With the affair thus unsettled, the Emperor received Malthanes
at Constantinople with all favor and esteem. As he was leaving
the imperial presence, the Blues, who had been on the lookout
for him, attacked him in the very palace and would have killed
him, if some of their party, who had been bribed by Leo, had not
stopped them. Who would not call that state most miserable, in
which the Emperor accepts bribes to leave an inquiry unfinished,
and in which factionists, while the Emperor is in the palace,
dare to mutiny against one of their own magistrates and lift violent
hands against him? However, no punishment for this was ever brought
on either Malthanes or those who attacked him. And from this alone,
if you pleased, you could prove the character of Justinian.
30. FURTHER INNOVATIONS OF JUSTINIAN AND THEODORA, AND A CONCLUSION
How much he cared for the interests of the State may be seen by
what he did to the public couriers and the spies. For the preceding
Roman emperors, so that they might most quickly and easily have
news of enemy invasions into any province, of sedition in the
cities or any other unexpected trouble, of the actions of the
governors and everyone else everywhere in the Roman Empire, and
also so that those bringing in the annual taxes might be kept
from delay and danger, had established a system of public couriers
everywhere in the following manner.
As a day's journey for an active man, they decided on eight stages
in some places, in others less, but hardly ever less than five.
Forty horses were kept for each stage, and grooms in proportion
to the number of horses. By frequent relays of the best mounts,
couriers were thus able to ride as long a distance in one day
as would ordinarily require ten, and bring with them the news
required. Also the landowners in these provinces, especially those
whose estates were in the interior ' were greatly benefited by
the system, as they sold at a high price to the government each
year their surplus harvests to feed the horses and the grooms.
And accordingly the State received the due tribute from each of
these, immediately reimbursing them for furnishing it: and this
was to the advantage of the whole State. Now this is how things
were formerly done.
But this tyrant first suppressed the post from Chalcedon to Dacibiza,
and then compelled the couriers to go from Constantinople to Helenopolis,
however little they liked it, by sea. Faring in small boats, such
as were usually used for crossing the strait, they were in serious
peril if a storm came up. For because speed was demanded of them,
they could not wait for calm weather. In the case of the road
to Persia, he permitted the former system to remain; but everywhere
else in the East, as far as Egypt, he reduced the number of stages
making a day's journey to one, and provided, instead of horses,
a few asses. Consequently news of what happened in each province
was brought with great difficulty, too late to be of any use and
long after the event, and the farm owners got no benefit of their
crops which either rotted or lay idle.
The spies were organized as follows. Many men were formerly supported
by the treasury, who visited the enemy, especially the Persian
court, to find out exactly what was going on; on their return
to Roman territory, they were able to report to the Emperors the
secrets of the enemy. And the Romans, being warned, were on guard
and could not be taken by surprise. This system was also a long-established
custom with the Medes; and Chosroes, they say, increased the pay
of his spies, and benefited by the precaution. But Justinian did
away with the practice of hiring Roman spies, and in consequence
lost much territory to the enemy, including Lazica, which was
taken because the Romans had no information as to where the Persian
King was with his army.
The State had also always kept a large number of camels, which
carried all the baggage when the Roman army marched against the
foe. Thus the peasants did not have to carry burdens, and the
soldiers lacked no necessity. But Justinian did away with almost
all of these animals. Consequently when the Roman army now marches
against the enemy, it is impossible for it to be supplied with
what it needs. Such was the zeal he displayed for the interests
of the State.
There is nothing like mentioning one of his ridiculous acts. Among
the lawyers at Caesarea was one Evangelius, a man of no mean distinction,
who, favored by the winds of Fate, became the master of much money
and much land. Eventually he bought a village on the seacoast,
named Porphyreon, for three gold centenaries. Learning of this,
Justinian immediately took the place from him, giving him back
only a small fraction of the price he had paid, and uttered the
remark that it would never do for Evangelius, a mere lawyer, to
be the lord of such a village. Well, we must stop somewhere when
we begin to recall all these stories.
This, however, is worth telling among the innovations of Justinian
and Theodora. Formerly, when the Senate approached the Emperor,
it paid homage in the following manner. Every patrician kissed
him on the right breast; the Emperor kissed the patrician on the
head, and he was dismissed. Then the rest bent their right knee
to the Emperor and withdrew. It was not customary to pay homage
to the Queen.
But those who were admitted to the presence of Justinian and Theodora,
whether they were patricians or otherwise, fell on their faces
on the floor, stretching their hands and feet out wide, kissed
first one foot and then the other of the Augustus, and then retired.
Nor did Theodora refuse this honor; and she even received the
ambassadors of the Persians and other barbarians and gave them
presents, as if she were in command of the Roman Empire: a thing
that had never happened in all previous time.
And formerly intimates of the Emperor called him Emperor and the
Empress, Empress; and the other officials according to the title
of their rank. But if anybody addressed either of these two as
Emperor or Empress without adding "Your Majesty" or
"Your Highness," or forgot to call himself their slave,
he was considered either ignorant or insolent, and was dismissed
in disgrace as if he had done some awful crime or committed an
And before, only a few were sometimes admitted to the palace;
but from the time when these two came to power, the magistrates
and everybody else had no trouble in fairly living in the palace.
This was because the magistrates of old had administered justice
and the laws according to their conscience, and made their decisions
while in their own offices, while their subjects, neither seeing
nor hearing any injustice, of course had little cause to trouble
the Emperor. But these two, taking control of everything to the
misfortune of their subjects, forced everyone to come to them
and beg like slaves. And almost any day one could see the law
courts nearly deserted, while in the hall of the Emperor there
was a jostling and pushing crowd that resembled nothing so much
as a mob of slaves.
Those who were supposed to be in the imperial favor would stand
there all day and most of the night, sleepless and foodless, until
they were exhausted; and this is what their presumed good fortune
got them. And those who were free of all this sort of thing, asked
each other what would become of the prosperity of the Romans.
For some were sure it was already in the hands of the barbarians,
and others said the Emperor had hidden it away in his various
dwelling places. But only when Justinian, be he man or King of
the Devils, shall have departed this life, shall they who then
happen to survive him, discover the truth.
Procopius: Secret History, translated by Richard Atwater,
(Chicago: P. Covici, 1927; New York: Covici Friede, 1927), reprinted,
Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1961, with indication
that copyright had expired on the text of the translation.
Richard Atwater, the translator of this text, is better known
as co-author, with his wife Florence Atwater, of the children's
classic, MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS (Boston: Little Brown,
1938, and a continuing best-seller).
A limited edition of THE SECRET HISTORY (760 copies) was
published by Pascal Covici in 1927. Design by Douglas McMurtrie,
with a specially created Procopius type on vellum.
[Information supplied by Mr. Atwater's daughter]
This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book.
The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted
texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.
Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the
document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying,
distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal
use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source.
No permission is granted for commercial use.
(c)Paul Halsall Mar 1996