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Medieval Sourcebook: Michael Psellus: Chronographia: Book VI

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Medieval Sourcebook:
Michael Psellus: Chronographia

Complete Text | Introduction | Book 1 | Book 2 | Book 3 | Book 4 | Book 5 | Book 6 | Book 7



    ZOE AND THEODORA 1042 [p.113]
    CONSTANTINE IX 1042 - 1055 [p.119]
    THEODORA 1055 - 1056 [p.197]




1055 - 1056

1. So the Empire passed into the hands of the two sisters, and for the first time in our lives we saw the transformation of a gynaeconitis **76 into an emperor's council chamber. What is more, both the civilian population and the military caste were working in harmony under empresses, and more obedient to them than to any proud overlord issuing arrogant orders. In fact, I doubt if any other family was ever so favoured by God as theirs was -- a surprising thing, when one reflects on the unlawful manner in which the family fortune was, so to speak, rooted and planted in the ground, with murder and bloodshed. Yet the plant blossomed out and sent forth such mighty shoots, each with its royal fruit, that no others could be compared with it, either in beauty or grandeur. But this is a mere digression from my main story.

2. For a while the sisters preferred to govern alone. The Empire was administered without the appointment of new officials, and no immediate reforms were brought in to affect the constitution already established.** 77 After dismissing only the members of the rebel family, Zoe and Theodora maintained in their position of authority the other ministers of state, who were men of proved loyalty and known for their traditional allegiance to themselves.**78 These men, because they were afraid lest at some future time they should be accused of introducing new ideas into the constitution, or of making foolish [114] decisions, or of acting illegally, were meticulously careful in their conduct of state affairs, both military and civil, and as far as possible, they treated the empresses with all due honour.

3. Court procedure, in the case of the sisters, was made to conform exactly to the usual observance of the sovereigns who had ruled before them. Both of them sat in front of the royal tribunal, so aligned that Theodora was slightly behind her sister. Near them were the Rods and Sword-bearers and the officials armed with the Rhomphaia. Inside this circle were the special favourites and court officials, while round them, on the outside of the circle, was the second rank of the personal bodyguard, all with eyes fixed on the ground in an attitude of respect. Behind them came the Senate and the privileged class, then persons of the second class and the tribes, all in ranks and drawn up at proper intervals. When all was ready, the other business was carried on. There were lawsuits to be settled, questions of public interest, or contributions of money, audiences with ambassadors, controversies or agreements, and all the other duties that go to fill up an emperor's time. Most of the talking was done by the officials concerned, but sometimes, when it was necessary, the empresses also gave their instructions, in a calm voice, or made their replies, sometimes being prompted and taking their cue from the experts, sometimes using their own discretion.

4. For those who did not know them it may be instructive if I give here some description of the two sisters. The elder, Zoe, was the quicker to understand ideas, but slower to give them utterance. With Theodora, on the other hand, it was just the reverse in both respects, for she did not readily show her inmost thoughts, but once she had embarked on a conversation, she would chatter away with an expert and lively tongue. Zoe was a woman of passionate interests, prepared with equal enthusiasm for both alternatives -- death or life, I mean. In that she reminded me of sea-waves, now lifting a ship on high and then again plunging it down to the depths. Such characteristics were certainly not found in Theodora: in fact, she had a calm disposition, and in one way, if I may put it so, a dull one. Zoe was open-handed, the sort of woman who could exhaust a sea teeming with gold-dust in one day; the other counted her staters when she gave away money, partly, no doubt, because her limited resources forbade any reckless spending, and partly because inherently she was more self-controlled in this matter. [115]

5. To put it quite candidly (for my present purpose is not to compose a eulogy, but to write an accurate history) neither of them was fitted by temperament to govern. They neither knew how to administer nor were they capable of serious argument on the subject of politics. For the most part they confused the trifles of the harem with important matters of state. Even the very trait in the elder sister which is commended among many folk today, namely, her ungrudging liberality, dispensed very widely over a long period of time, even this trait, although it was no doubt satisfactory to those who enjoyed it because of the benefits they received from her, was after all the sole cause, in the first place, of the universal corruption and of the reduction of Roman fortunes to their lowest ebb. The virtue of well-doing is most characteristic of those who govern, and where discrimination is made, where the particular circumstances and the fortune of the recipients and their differing personal qualities are taken into account, there the distribution of largess is to be commended. On the contrary, where no real discernment is exercised in these questions, the spending of money is wasted.

6. Such were the differences that marked the sisters in character. In personal appearance there was an even greater divergence. The elder was naturally more plump, although she was not strikingly tall. Her eyes were large, set wide apart, with imposing eyebrows. Her nose was inclined to be aquiline, without being altogether so. She had golden hair, and her whole body was radiant with the whiteness of her skin. There were few signs of age in her appearance: in fact, if you marked well the perfect harmony of her limbs, not knowing who she was, you would have said that here was a young woman, for no part of her skin was wrinkled, but all smooth and taut, and no furrows anywhere. Theodora, on the other hand, was taller, more taper of form. Her head was small, and out of proportion with the rest of her body. she was more ready with her tongue than Zoe, as I have said, and quicker in her movements. There was nothing stern in her glance on the contrary, she was cheerful and smiling, eager to find any opportunity for talk.

7. So much for the character and physical appearance of the two empresses. I will return to the government. In those days, it seems to me, a peculiar magnificence, and an added prestige, attached itself to the executive power. The majority of the officials underwent a sudden change, as if they were playing parts on a stage and had been [116] promoted to a role more glorious than any they had acted before. Largess was poured out as never in the past. Zoe, in particular, opened the coffers of the imperial treasury.**79 Any trifles hidden away there were distributed by her with generous abandon. These monies had not been contributed voluntarily, but were the fruits of robbery and plunder. In fact, all this squandering, together with the high standard of living, was the beginning of the utter decline in our national affairs and the cause of our subsequent humiliation. But that was clear only to the prophets: only the wise saw what was really happening.

8. The prize-money for the soldiers and the revenues devoted to army expenditure were quite unnecessarily diverted and put aside for the use of other persons -- a crowd of sycophants and those who at that time were deputed to guard the empresses -- as if the emperor Basil had filled the imperial treasuries with wealth for this very purpose.

9. Most men are convinced that the nations around us have made their sudden incursions against our borders, these wild unexpected inroads, for the first time in our day, but I myself hold a different view. I believe the house is doomed when the mortar that binds its bricks together becomes loose, and although the start of the trouble passed unnoticed by the majority, there is no doubt that it developed and gathered strength from that first cause. In fact, the gathering of the clouds in those days presaged the mighty deluge we are suffering today. But I must not speak of that yet.


10. In the description of the events that follow I will speak with greater authority and more personal knowledge. The affairs of state urgently demanded vigorous and skilful direction. The country needed a man's supervision -- a man at once strong-handed and very experienced in government, one who not only understood the present situation, but also any mistakes that had been made in the past, with their probable results. We wanted a man who would make provision for the future and prepare long beforehand against all possible attacks or likely invasions from abroad. But the love of power, or the lack of power, the apparent freedom and the absence [117] of supervision and the desire for ever greater power -- these were the things that made the emperor's apartment into a gynaeconitis.

11. Even so, most people had no settled convictions. One rumour after another was bruited abroad, either favourable or otherwise to Zoe (for there were some who thought that Theodora should rightly be empress, on the ground that she had championed the cause of the people; moreover, they said, she had never married; others, again, believed the elder sister was more suited to rule, because she had previous experience of power, and power exercised a peculiar fascination on her). While these rumours were spreading, first one way, then another, among the people, Zoe anticipated their decision and seized all power for herself a second time. The next move was to search for and decide on the man of the most illustrious descent and of the most distinguished fortune, whether he held a seat in the senate or served in the army.

12. Among others who were living at that time was a native of Dalassa (a most celebrated place) whose name was Constantine. He was an extraordinarily handsome man, and it seemed that Nature herself had prepared him for the supreme position in the Empire. Even before his tenth birthday rumour had it that he was destined for the highest honours. It was inevitable, of course, that the emperors should fear such a man, and all of them refused him access to the palace. In fact, Michael the Paphlagonian even committed him to prison, not so much through fear of him personally as for dread of the people acting on his behalf for there was great excitement in the city when he was seen, and the people were so agitated that a revolution seemed imminent. However, Michael shut him up in a castle and he was closely watched. Michael's nephew, who succeeded him, was no sooner seated on the imperial throne than he put an end to the young man's hopes of promotion, by compelling him to enter the Church. Constantine's spiritual welfare meant nothing to the emperor and his admission to a monastery was designed only to prevent him from achieving his secret ambitions. Still, Constantine was too enamoured of life to attempt resistance. Opportunity still held out the prospect of power, and he had an example near at hand where another had changed her profession, for the empress had once suffered the same fate and still had given up her nun's habit. Actually, it was some other business that called him to the palaces but while there he was presented to the empress. At [118] this interview he spoke with more than usual abruptness, expressing rather bold ideas on the subject of the Empire and showing himself ready to compromise on nothing. In fact, he adopted a lofty attitude of condescension. The result was that most people found him rather unpleasant and a somewhat overwhelming person to deal with: they suspected his motives and took care to frustrate him.

13. So once again the votes were cast. In this case, the man was not particularly distinguished in fortune, but blessed with a commanding and dignified presence.**80 He was secretary once to the emperor Romanus, and not only succeeded in impressing the great man with his administrative ability, but also won the approval of Zoe by his charming manners. Indeed, she was even accused of meeting him secretly. Romanus, however, was not a very jealous man and he turned a deaf ear to all such rumours. Michael, on the other hand, expelled him from the palace. Under the pretence or giving him a more important office, he was posted away from the capital. That biased the empress in his favour and after his recall from exile, he cultivated her friendship, deliberately effacing himself in order to please her. By this time everybody, up to a point, was inclined to support his claims, but he was suddenly carried off by an illness, and their hopes were never realized.**81

14. Fate, indeed, decreed that the new master of the Empire should be Constantine, the son of Theodosius.**82 He was the last scion of the ancient family of the Monomachi, in the male line. A long account of him will be given by me later, when I launch out into the description of his reign -- a long account, because he was emperor for more years than any of Basil's successors, and because there was more to relate. Constantine was more active than his predecessors, although it must be admitted that he was not uniformly more successful. Indeed, in some ways he was greatly inferior. There is no reason why I should not be candid about this and tell the true story. Immediately after his accession I entered his service, served throughout his reign, was promoted to the Senate, entrusted with the most honourable duties. Thus there was nothing that I did not know, no overt act, no secret diplomacy. Naturally, therefore, I shall devote more space to him than to the other emperors. [119]


15. But this is not the time to speak of these things. Our present task is to describe how, and for what reasons, and by what turn of fate, he came to power. Because of his family this man held very high rank in the Empire. He had the additional advantage of great wealth, and his personal appearance was singularly charming. Beyond all doubt he seemed a fit person to marry into the most illustrious families. In the first place he became son-in-law to the most prominent member of court society, but his wife fell ill and died. He was forced into a second alliance. At the time Romanus, the future emperor, was still a private citizen, although high hopes were entertained that he would eventually be promoted and the people treated him with the greatest respect, because of his position. Romanus had conceived a deep affection for Constantine -- a young man in the flower of his manhood and scion of a most noble family -- and he grafted this fine young cutting on his own rich fertile olive. The lady in question was none other than the daughter of his sister Pulcheria, who in the past had been married to Basil Sclerus (he had the misfortune later to be deprived of his sight) and she had become the mother of this one child, a daughter. Alliance with this family conferred on the young man extraordinary brilliance, but he still held no important office. Basil's advisers, because of the hatred they nursed for the father, vented their spite on the son, and Sclerus's revolutionary designs had an unfortunate effect on the emperor's relations with Constantine. That was the reason why neither Basil nor Constantine, his brother, ever promoted him to any responsible post in the government. Actually, they did him no harm, but he was slighted, and they certainly never dreamed that the man had a glorious future.

16. Even the accession of Romanus did little to help Constantine in his career, so mistaken was the new emperor in his estimate of the young man's qualities. However, Romanus did at least keep him at the imperial court, and if for no other reason, he was very much in the public eye through his near relationship with the emperor. His fresh complexion (to the men of our generation he was as unspoiled as spring fruit) and his graceful manners and his conversation, in which he excelled all others, these were the things that won the heart of the [120] empress. She delighted in his company again and again. He for his part made himself thoroughly agreeable to her, and by cleverly adapting himself to please her on all occasions, he captivated her completely. By these arts he obtained favours from her, but at the same time both he and she were assailed with calumny from the court. There were times when their clandestine meetings were not much to the liking of most courtiers.

17. At any rate, these activities made him a likely candidate for promotion to the throne, and Michael, who succeeded Romanus, viewed him with suspicion. In fact, Michael, even after his own accession, remained stubbornly jealous, although not unfriendly at first. Later he trumped up false accusations, suborning witnesses unjustly, and Constantine was driven from the city. His punishment was relegation to a certain determined area, in this case the island of Mitylene, and there for seven years -- the exact length of Michael's reign -- he endured his misfortune. Michael Calaphates, like Paphlagon, inherited the emperors' hatred of the young man.

18. Zoe's first reaction, when for the second time she found herself at the head of the Empire, was, as I have already said, to protect herself against any sudden reversal of fortune in the future. To strengthen her position, she proceeded to look for a husband, not a man from abroad, but someone in the court circle. However, as one had been discredited through misfortune, another rejected because of his ignoble lineage, a third suspected as dangerous, and stories had been invented one after another to bring into disrepute her various suitors, she renounced all of them and again considered the claims of Constantine. She spoke openly on the subject to her personal bodyguard and household staff, and when she saw that they were unanimous in their support of Constantine as the future emperor -- their agreement seemed almost preconcerted -- she informed the senate also of her designs. There too her plan was greeted as an inspiration from God. So Constantine was recalled from his exile, and he set out, still a private citizen and without the paraphernalia of his new dignity.**83

19. When he drew near the city, however, a more sumptuous lodging was prepared for his reception and an imperial tent was pitched for him, surrounded by an imperial guard. In front of the palace there met his eyes a vision of magnificent splendour. People of all ages and conditions poured out in a flood to meet him. There were salutations and addresses of congratulation and good wishes. [121] The city wore all the appearance of a popular festival; perhaps it would be nearer the mark to say that there were two cities, for beside the Queen of Cities there had been hastily erected a second city and the townsfolk had poured out right up to the walls, with markets, and fairs. When all was ready and the preparations for his official entry had been completed, the signal to go forward was given, and with great magnificence Constantine entered the courts of the palace.

20. Since the common laws respecting marriage**84 could hardly be flouted, the patriarch Alexius settled the question of the wedding. He made concessions to expediency -- or shall we say that he bowed to the will of God in the whole affair? Certainly he did not himself lay his hands upon them in blessing at the coronation, but he did embrace them after the marriage ceremony and the act of crowning had been performed.**85 Whether this was done in accordance with priestly tradition, or was a bit of flattery and done to suit the occasion, I do not know.

21. For the empresses, these events marked the end of their authority and personal intervention in the affairs of state; for Constantine, the beginning of his reign. His power was now for the first time established. So, after a joint rule of three months, the sisters retired from public life and the emperor -- but we must not speak of him yet. First I have some brief remarks to make, for the benefit of those who may be interested.

22. Several persons, on more than one occasion, have urged me to write this history. Among them were not only men in authority and leaders in the senate, but also students of theology, who interpret the mysteries of Holy Writ, and men of great sanctity and holiness. Through the passing of time the historical evidence has already proved inadequate for the writing of a proper record. There is a danger that events may be hidden in the remote past, so forgotten that our knowledge of bygone days rests on no sure foundation.

These gentlemen, therefore, asked me to do what I could to remedy those deficiencies: it was not right, they argued, that our own contemporary history should be concealed and utterly obscured, while events that took place before our time were thought worthy of record by succeeding generations. Such was the pressure and such the arguments with which they urged me to take up this task, but for myself I was not particularly enthusiastic for the undertaking. It was not that I was lazy, but I was afraid of two alternatives, either of which [122] could not be disregarded: I might pass over, for reasons which I will explain later, things done by certain individuals, or distort my account of them, and so be convicted not of writing a history, but of mere fabrication, as if I were composing a play. That was one alternative. The other was that I might go to extreme lengths in hunting down the truth, and so become a laughing-stock to the critics. They would think me, not a lover of history, but a scandalmonger.

23. For these reasons I was not very eager to tackle the history of our times, especially as I knew that in many things I would clash with the emperor Constantine, and I would be ashamed of myself if I did not seize every opportunity of commending him. I should be ungrateful and altogether unreasonable if I did not make some return, however small, for his generosity to me, a generosity which showed itself not only in positive acts, but in the indirect ways in which he helped me to better my condition. It would be shameful if I did not prove my gratitude in my writings. It was therefore because of this man that I consistently refused to compose the history. I was most anxious to avoid imputing any blame to him. I did not want to reveal by my words any actions not to his credit and things it is better to keep dark. I was loath to put before the public a dishonest story, yet at the same time I was unwilling to shame the hero of my former eulogy. In my opinion, it was wrong to exercise literary talents, which I had perfected because of his encouragements to do him harm.

24. Philosophers will tell you that the vain and superfluous are of all things on earth the most despicable. For them the object of life is to understand those things that are necessary to their nature. All else is regarded as merely so many external attributes. However that may be, I cannot use such an argument as an excuse for ingratitude, especially to one who honoured me above my deserts and raised me above my fellows. What I would like, therefore, is either to commemorate him in a panegyric or to pass over in silence those actions in his life which did not spring from worthy motives. If, having set out to eulogize his career, I then rejected those deeds which were the fit object of praise and gave the impression that I had lumped together all that was reprehensible, I would be the worst scoundrel on earth, like the son of Lyxes, who selected the worst deeds of the Greeks for his history.**86 [123]

25. on the other hand, suppose I set aside this project for the moment and propose to write a history of the lives of the emperors, how, when I leave unsaid things which belong to the province of history, am I to deal with those which are the proper object of eulogy? lit would look as if I had forgotten my purpose, or was caricaturing the art of history, by failing to distinguish its subjectmatter and by confusing the role of two forms of literature whose aims are incompatible. Actually I had composed many panegyrics in honour of Constantine before I undertook this work, not without commendation from the public. The high praises I lavished on him were not undeserved, but other writers have failed to understand my methods of composition. The truth is, the actions of emperors are a conglomerate patchwork of bad and good, and these other writers find themselves able neither to condemn without reservation nor to commend with sincerity, because they are overmuch impressed by the close conjunction of opposite qualities. In my own case, I do offer criticisrn, but only for form's sake or in dramatic passages where the prose is affected. In the composition of a eulogy, in fact, my subject-matter is not chosen usually with complete indifference to good or bad: the latter I reject, the former I set on one side, afterwards putting it in proper order. So a homogenous pattern is worked out, a tapestry of the finest cloth.

26. Such is the method I have adopted in composing eulogies of Constantine, but now that I have undertaken to write a history, this plan becomes impossible, for I cannot bring myself to distort the facts of history, where truth is of more importance than anything else, in order to escape the reproaches of my contemporaries. They may accuse me of blaming, where in their opinion I should praise, but I prefer to ignore such criticisms. What I am writing now is not an indictment, not a speeds for the prosecution, but a true history. Then again, had I seen other emperors pursuing an uninterrupted, invariable course of noble action, on all occasions displaying an admirable character, whereas the reign of Constantine alone was marked by deeds of the opposite kind, then I would have said nothing about him at all. Yet no one on earth is faultless and we judge a man by the trait which chiefly distinguishes him from everyone else. So why should I feel ashamed to declare openly whatever injustice or indiscretion this emperor, in common with the rest, may have committed? [124]

27. Most men who have set themselves to record the history of the emperors have found it surprising that none of them kept his reputation untarnished in every particular. Some won greater praise for their conduct in early life, others impressed more in their latter years, and while some preferred a life of pleasure, others dabbled in philosophy, only to confound the principles they had elected to follow and end in muddle. For my own part, I find such inconsistency nothing to marvel at; on the contrary, it would be extraordinary if someone were always unalterable. Of course, it is possible that you may discover some ordinary citizen who pursued the same undeviating path throughout life, from the very beginning to the very end (although there cannot be many examples of such consistency), but an emperor, one who inherited from God supreme power, especially if he lived longer than most, would never be able to maintain the highest standards all through his reign. In the case of the ordinary man, his own nature, plus a good start in life, may be sufficient to ensure virtuous conduct, for the simple reason that he is not overmuch troubled by outside affairs, nor do external events have any effect on his private disposition. How different it is with an emperor, whose private life is never, even in its most intimate detail, allowed respite from trouble! Consider how brief are the moments when the sea is calm and peaceful, and how at other times it is swollen, or lashed by waves, as Boreas,**87 or Aparktias,**88 or some other storm-wind disturbs its rest -- a sight I have seen myself many a time. An emperor's life is like that. If he seeks recreation, at once he incurs the displeasure of the critics. If he gives rein to kindly sentiments, he is accused of ignorance, and when he rouses himself to show interest, they blame him for being meddlesome. If he defends himself or takes blunt reprisals, everyone levels abuse at his 'wrath' or his 'quick temper'. And as for trying to do anything in secret -- Athos**89 would be more likely to hide itself from human gaze than an emperor's deeds to escape the notice of his subjects! No wonder then that no sovereign's life has been blameless.

28. Naturally, I would have wished that my favourite emperor had been perfect, even if such a compliment was impossible for all the others, but the events of history do not accommodate themselves to our desires. So,**90 divine soul, forgive me, and if sometimes in describing your reign I speak immoderately, concealing nothing and telling the truth, pardon me for it. Not one of your nobler deeds [125] shall be passed over in silence. They shall all be revealed. Likewise, whatever derives not from the same nobility, that too shall be made manifest in my history. And there we must leave the matter and return to our narrative.

29. At the start of his reign Constantine ruled neither with vigour nor with discretion. Apparently, before his accession, he had imagined that being an emperor was to confer on him undreamed-of happiness, something he had never experienced in his life. He had visions, quite unreasonably, of a sudden and complete reversal of his fortunes, and no sooner had he ascended the throne than he attempted to realize these ambitions. Now two things in particular contribute to the hegemony of the Romans, namely, our system of honours and cur wealth, to which one might add a third: the wise control of the other two, and prudence in their distribution. Unfortunately, Constantine's idea was to exhaust the treasury of its money, so that not a single obol was to be left there, and as for the honours, they were conferred indiscriminately on a multitude of persons who had no right to them, especially on the more vulgar sort who pestered the man, and on those who amused him by their witticisms. It is wellknown, of course, that there is in the political world a proper scale of honours, with an invariable rule governing promotion to a higher office, but Constantine reduced this cursus honorum to mere confusion and abolished all rules of advancement. The doors of the senate were thrown open to nearly all the rascally vagabonds of the market, and the honour was conferred not on two or three, nor on a mere handful, but the whole gang was elevated to the highest offices of state by a single decree, immediately after he became emperor.**9l Inevitably, this provided occasion for rites and solemn ceremonies, with all the city overjoyed at the thought that their new sovereign was a person of such generosity. The new state of affairs seemed incomparably better than that to which they had been accustomed, for the truth is, folk who live in the luxury of a city have little conception of government, and those who do understand such matters neglect their duties, so long as their desires are satisfied.

30. Gradually the error of this policy became apparent, when privileges that in the old days had been much coveted were now distributed with a generous abandon that knew no limits, with the consequence that the recipients lost distinction. At the time, though, most people had not yet realized the implications of all this profusion, [126] and so the squandering and waste went on, all to no purpose. Nevertheless, I know that some later historians will find in this trait of Constantine subject for commendation. My own custom, one that I have always followed, is to examine nothing in itself alone, whether apparently good or reputedly evil, but to search out the causes and probable results of each occurrence as well, particularly where my informants are also interested in such hypothetical arguments. Experience has proved that this systematic treatment is better than my successors may perhaps be prepared to admit.

31. The emperor's first act, therefore, was the result of what I may call youthful folly, but there was another side to his character which I confess met with my approval at the time; in fact, even today I am no less convinced of its nobility. I refer to the man's utter lack of boastfulness and false pride; the fact that no haughty or bombastic words ever fell from his lips; that he bore no malice towards those who had treated him none too kindly in the past and who had offered him little help in his fight for power. Not only were all his former accusers forgiven, but he took especial care to conciliate those who might reasonably expect his vengeance before all others.

32. No man was better endowed by Nature with qualities that endeared him to his subjects. He was a good mixer, winning everyone's affections by an art that was conscious, yet unaffected. In his efforts to charm there was no trace of insincerity, only a genuine desire to cultivate friendship, by deliberated setting out to please.

33. Listening to the emperor's conversation was a real delight. He was always ready to smile and his expression was cheerful, not merely in moments of recreation when a smiling face is normal, but even when he was obviously engaged in serious business. His favourite companions were simple persons, the type that did not stand greatly in awe of himself, and he hated to see anybody approach him with a worried look. He had the lowest opinion of these latter individuals, with their air of superiority, their preoccupation with affairs of national importance, and their anxiety to discuss these matters with himself. They must, he thought, have a mental outlook quite different from his own. Consequently, those who lived with him accommodated their behaviour to please him. If someone had serious business to put before the emperor, he would be careful not to mention it at once, but to begin the conversation with some playful remark, or mix serious and playful together, like a man offering [127] an invalid a purgative, with a dash of something to sweeten its bitter taste.

34. The truth is, Constantine looked upon the palace as a harbour, in which he had taken refuge after much buffeting by the waves in a storm -- the sufferings he had endured as an exile -- and to recompense him for the past, he needed complete rest and absolute tranquility. The man who found favour with him was one with a smooth brow, a man with a tongue always ready to tell a diverting story and to utter the most favourable prophecies about the future.

35. Although he could scarcely be called an advanced student of literature, or, in any sense of the word, an orator, yet he admired men who were, and the finest speakers were invited to the imperial court from all parts of the empire, most of them very old men.

36. At that time I was in my twenty-fifth year and engaged in serious studies. My efforts were concentrated on two objects: to train my tongue by rhetoric, so as to become a fine speaker, and to refine my mind by a course of philosophy. I soon mastered the rhetoric enough to be able to distinguish the central theme of an argument and logically connect it with my main and secondary points. I also learnt not to stand in complete awe of the art, nor to follow its precepts in everything like a child, and I even made certain contributions of a minor character myself. Then I applied myself to the study of philosophy, and having acquainted myself sufficiently with the art of reasoning, both deductive, from cause to immediate effect, and inductive, tracing causes from all manner of effects, I turned to natural science and aspired to a knowledge of the fundamental principles of philosophy through mathematics.

37. If the reader does not find me boring in this and will allow me to go on, I will add to what I have already said concerning my own activities The fact to which I am about to refer will undoubtedly win for me high approval among men of learning, quite apart from all other considerations. And you, who read my history today, will bear witness to the truth of my words. Philosophy, when I first studied it, was moribund as far as its professors were concerned, and I alone revived it, untutored by any masters worthy of mention, and despite my thorough research, finding no germ of philosophy either in Greece or in the barbarian world. I had heard that Greece had a great reputation for philosophy, expressed in simple words and simple propositions, and their work in this field set a standard and [128] criterion for the future. There were some who belittled the simplicity of the Greeks, but I sought to learn more, and as I met some of the experts in the art, I was instructed by them how to pursue my studies in a methodical way. One passed me on to another for tuition, the lesser light to the greater, and he again recommended me to a third, and he to Aristotle and Plato. Doubtless my former teachers were well-satisfied to take second place to these two.

38. Starting from these authors I completed a cycle, so to speak, by coming down to Plotinus,**92 Porphyry,**93 and Iamblichus.**94 Then, continuing my voyage, I put in at the mighty harbour of the admirable Proclus,**95 eagerly picking up there his doctrine of perception, both in its broad principles and in its exact interpretation. From Proclus I intended to proceed to more advanced studies -- metaphysics, with an introduction to pure science, -- so I began with an examination of abstract conceptions in the so-called mathematics, which hold a position midway between the science of corporeal nature, with the external apprehension of these bodies, and the ideas themselves, the object of pure thought. I hoped from this study to apprehend something that was beyond the reach of mind, something that was not subject to the limitations of substance.

39. It was therefore consonant with this plan that I should pay especial attention to systems of number and examine geometrical proofs, which some call 'logical necessities'. Moreover, I devoted time to the study of music and astronomy, as well as to their various subsidiary arts. First I would concentrate on each study by itself, then synthesize my knowledge, in the belief that the several branches of learning would by their individual contributions lead me to one simple goal, according to the teaching of Plato's Epinomis.**96 So, thanks to these sciences, I was able to launch out into the more advanced studies.

40. I had heard it said by the most learned philosophers that there is a wisdom which is beyond all demonstration, apprehensible only by the intellect of a wise man, in moments of inspiration. Even here my resolution did not falter. I read some of the mystic books and grasped their meaning (as far as human nature allowed me, of course for I myself would never claim that I had an accurate understanding of these things, nor would I believe anyone else who said he had). On the other hand, it is by no means beyond our natural capacity to dwell on one science, as a special subject, and for sake of research [129] to make excursions, as it were, into other branches of learning in a general survey, returning later to one's original starting-point.

41. Literature has two branches. One comprises the works of the orators and the philosophers have arrogated the other. The first, knowing nothing of the deeper things, issues forth merely in a mighty torrent of noisy words; it concerns itself with the composition of speeches, sets forth certain rules for the arrangement of arguments on political subjects and for the various divisions of political orations, lends distinction to the spoken word, and in general beautifies the language of politics. Philosophy is less concerned with the embellishments of words. Its aim is rather to explore the nature of the universe, to unravel its secrets. Its lofty dictums are not even confined to the visible world, for with great subtlety it praises the glory of that realm, whatever it be, that lies beyond the heaven. Now I had no mind to follow the example of most other men, and emulate their experiences -- men who study the art of the orator while despising the science of the philosopher, or else engross themselves in philosophy and enjoy the riches to be found in the marvels of thought, but contemn the glories of rhetoric and the skill required to arrange and divide the various parts of a speech. Thus, from time to time, when I compose an oration, I introduce some scientific proof, not without some elegance. Many persons have reproached me for this and they dislike the way I brighten a philosophic discourse with the graceful arts of rhetoric. My purpose in this is to assist the reader when he finds it difficult to absorb some deep thought, and so to prevent him losing the thread of philosophic argument.

42. But there is a new philosophy, based on the mystery of our Christian religion, which transcends the ancient systems. This mystery, too, has a dual aspect, in nature (human and divine), and in time (finite and infinite), not to mention a further dualism when one considers how it is capable of proof, and yet the object of faith and divinely inspired into men's consciousness. It was this philosophy, rather than the profane, which became the object of my special study. In some respects I agreed with the doctrine of the great Fathers of the Church, but I also made some contribution to the body of divine teaching on my own account. I say this in all sincerity and without boastfulness: if any man should feel constrained to praise my literary works, I would beg him not to commend my researches in the field of religion, not to extol my extensive reading (I am not

[130] deluded by a false impression of my own importance, nor am I ignorant of my own limitations: my capacity is very small when compared with the ability of the orators and philosophers who have surpassed me). No, if anyone praises my efforts, let it be rather because I drew my small measure of wisdom from no living fount: the sources I discovered were choked up, and I had to open and cleanse them myself. Their waters, too, were hidden in the depths and only brought to the surface after I had expended much energy.

43. Today, in fact, neither Athens, nor Nicomedeia, nor Alexandria in Egypt, nor Phoenicia, nor even the two Romes (the ancient and lesser Rome, and the later, more powerful city), nor any other state, glories any longer in literary achievements The golden streams of the past, and baser silver, and streams of metal more worthless still, all are blocked and choked up: their damming is complete. So, since I was unable to reach the living sources themselves, I perforce studied their images. These second-hand imitations I greedily devoured in my mind, and having collected the knowledge, I grudged no one else a share in what I had myself acquired at the cost of much labour. Everybody was welcome to learn from me, and far from demanding a fee for my lessons, I was even prepared to help keen students with money from my own purse. But that story must wait until later.

44. In my career, even before the fruit was ripe, the blossom gave promise of a brilliant future. Certainly the emperor did not know me as yet, but I was well-known to all his bodyguard and they spoke of me in his presence, some recounting one quality, and others stressing another. They told him, moreover, that I was an eloquent orator. I would like to say something on this subject here. At the time of our birth, we are endowed with certain natural virtues, or their opposites. When I use the word 'virtue' in this connection, I am not referring to moral virtue, nor to political virtue, nor to the virtue which surpasses these others and attains to the pattern or perfection of the Creator; but just as some bodies, from the moment of birth, are endowed with beauty, while on others nature from their very beginning bestows blemishes and wrinkles, so with souls, too, some are distinguished at once with extreme grace and attractiveness, while others leave a trail of sombre and deep gloom. As time goes on, the innate graces of the first sort become more and more apparent, but in the second everything goes wrong and even the reason functions poorly. [131]

45. However that may be, even in simple utterances I have been told that my language is peculiarly graceful, and though I do not strive after effect, there is in my words a certain natural beauty. Of course, I would not know this myself, had not many folk told me so in the course of conversation and had they not listened with rapt attention while I talked with them. Anyhow, it was this characteristic that first won me access to the emperor, and it was the eloquence of my tongue that, so to speak, proved to be my fore-runner, giving him a foretaste of the spirit deep-hidden within me.

46. At that first interview, my words were distinguished neither by their fluency nor by their elegance, but I told him about my family and the sort of education I had received in literature. As for Constantine, he was affected by a strange feeling of pleasure, as inexplicable as the divinely-inspired utterance of men in a trance. So influenced was he at the first sound of my voice that he almost embraced me. Other men had the right of access to him at set times and for a limited period, but to me his heart's doors were now thrown wide open, and gradually, as I became more intimate with him, he shared with me all his secrets. Please do not blame me if I have wandered somewhat from the main theme of my history, and please do not imagine that this digression is mere self-advertisement. If I have indulged in a certain amount of personal reminiscence, at least it is all directly concerned with the main thread of the story. Without disclosing the reason for it, it would have been impossible for me to speak of that first interview; and, of course, if I wished to explain the reason, it was essential to introduce some remarks on my own career. My history must be written in a methodical way: first the reference to my source, then the sifting of evidence, and finally the account of subsequent events. That is why so long a preface was necessary. Now that I have introduced myself with such a wealth of detail into this part of the history, I can assure you that my evidence will avoid all falsehood; whatever is not said, will remain hidden, but none of the things I am going to say will be of doubtful veracity.

47. Constantine had no very clear conception of the nature of monarchy. He failed to realize that it entailed responsibility for the well-being of his subjects, and that an emperor must always watch over the administration of his realm and ensure its development on sound lines. To Constantine the exercise of power meant rest from [132] his labours, fulfilment of desire, relaxation from strife. He had entered the harbour of the palace, so to speak, to enjoy the advantages of a calm retreat and to avoid the duties of helmsman in the future. As for the administration of public affairs, and the privilege of dispensing justice, and the superintendence of the armed forces, they were delegated to others. Only a fraction of these duties was reserved for himself. Instead, he chose a life of pleasure and luxury, as if it were his natural right (not without some justification, for he had inherited an innate predilection for such things). Now, having acquired supreme power, he had greater opportunity for pleasure, and he indulged himself more than ever.

48. A healthy animal, with a thoroughly strong constitution, is not altered in a moment at the first symptoms of illness. So with the empire in the reign of Constantine: it was by no means moribund and its breathing was still energetic; the neglect from which it was suffering seemed an insignificant item, until, by slow degrees, the malady grew, and reaching a crisis, threw the patient into utter confusion, complete disorder. This later stage, however, had not yet been approached, and the emperor, taking little share in the anxieties of power, but seeking recreation in a multitude of pleasures, was preparing the then healthy body of his empire for a thousand maladies destined to attack it in the future.

49. What contributed in no moderate fashion to such immoderation, was the weak character of the two empresses, and Constantine's willing acquiescence in their luxurious, laughter-loving habits. Participation in these revels he regarded as a service to them; and far from wishing in any way to oppose their desires, he took care to provide them with every amusement. When a certain trouble did arises he would soon have clashed with them, had his wife not agreed with his point of view. Whether she merely concealed her jealousy on this occasion, or had become devoid of it because of her age, I know not.


50. It all came about in the following way. Constantine's**98 second wife, a member of the famous Sclerus family, died, and since he was at that time an ordinary citizen, he was prevented from marrying a

[133] third time, on conscientious grounds (by Roman law such marriages were illegal). But he substituted for marriage a less reputable condition -- a secret affaire. It was actually the niece of his late wife, a beautiful and, normally, a discreet woman, whom he induced to share in this singularly improper associations. He may have bribed her; possibly he charmed her with words of love; or he may have used other methods of persuasion to achieve his purpose.

51. Whatever the reason, they were so much in love with each other that both found separation intolerable, even when they were threatened with misery, for when Constantine went into exile (as I have remarked in a previous chapter), this woman still remained at his side. With loving care she tended his wants, put at his disposal all her possessions, gave him all manner of comfort, and lightened the bitter load of his affliction. The truth is, she, no less than himself, was sustained by hopes of power; nothing else mattered, if only in the future she might share the throne with her husband. I say 'husband' because at that time she was convinced that their marriage would be legally sanctioned, and all their desires fulfilled, when Constantine, as emperor, overruled the laws. When one of these ambitions was realized (his elevation to the throne), but circumstances did not permit the realization of the second, because the empress Zoe seized all power for herself, she despaired altogether, not only of her cherished hopes, but even of life itself. The empress filled her with dread, and she anticipated grievous retribution.

52. Nevertheless, the emperor did not forget his beloved, even after his accession. With his physical eyes he beheld Zoe, but in his mind's eye was the image of his mistress; while he folded the empress in his arms, it was the other woman whom he clasped in the imagination of his heart. Regardless of the consequences, regardless of Zoe's jealousy, turning a deaf ear to all entreaty, he brushed aside every counsel that would frustrate his wishes. Prominent among those who differed with him was his own sister Pulcheria, one of the cleverest women of our generation. She gave him excellent advice but in vain, for he despised all opposition, and at his very first meeting with the empress spoke to her of this woman. He referred to her, not as a wife, nor as a prospective mistress, but as one who had suffered much at the hands of the imperial family. Moreover, she had endured, he said, much for his own sake, and he begged Zoe to recall her from exile and grant her reasonable privileges.

53. The empress at once gave her consent. The fact is, Zoe was no longer given to jealousy. She had had her own fill of trouble, and in any case, she was now too old to harbour such resentment. Meanwhile the emperor's beloved was expecting the worst, when suddenly there arrived messengers with an imperial bodyguard, summoning her back to Byzantium. They gave her letters, one from the emperor, the other from Zoe herself, promising a friendly reception and encouraging her to return. Such were the circumstances in which she arrived at the Queen of Cities.

54. At first it was considered proper that she should live in a modest house, with a bodyguard of no particular distinction. However, in order that he might have an excuse for going there often, Constantine treated it as a private residence of his own. Then, to give it an imposing appearance and make it a place fit to receive an emperor, he laid down new foundations for an annexe, with grand projects for the future.

55. He always had a pretext tor these visits -- that he was supervising some detail of the building -- and several times a month he would go there, nominally to watch the progress of the work, but in reality to be with his mistress. He used to be accompanied by certain individuals of Zoe's faction, and last they should busy themselves too much with his private affairs, he would see that a table loaded with delicacies was ready for them outside the house. They were invited to join in the banquet. The menu was chosen by themselves beforehand, and all their demands were satisfied. They were well aware of the real cause of these arrangements, but for all their indignation at the way he treated their empress, it could not outweigh the pleasure they felt in the fulfilment of their own desires. Thus, if they knew Constantine was debating whether to visit his lady-love, but hesitating to set out and actually ashamed to go (and he usually was), they smoothed the path for him, each suggesting a different pretext. It was a singularly effective way of winning his favour.

56. At first, Constantine kept his affaire with this woman a secret, by visiting her in the way I have described, and he was still careful to avoid an open scandal. But gradually he lost all sense of impropriety and his real plans were revealed. All presence of the lady's 'apartment' in his house was abandoned. From now on, he accompanied her quite openly, as often as he wished, and lived with her. If I may sum up the whole story before I continue, the liaison had [135] a strange air of unreality about it. Whether one saw what was going on with one's own eyes or merely heard of it from others, it was hard to believe, for Constantine no longer visited the woman as a mistress, but as if she were in truth his wife.

57. He wasted the imperial treasures in satisfying her every whim. For example, he found in the palace a bronze casket, ornamented with figures carved in relief, and having filled it with money, sent it as a gift to her. Nor was this an occasional present, for there was a constant stream of such offerings to his beloved.



58. So far, however, the love-affair was carried on in semi-secrecy. Yet efforts at concealment proved less and less effective as time went on, and eventually the emperor admitted publicly that he loved her. There followed an interview with Zoe, at which he suggested very plausibly that she should consent to live with his mistress. Even when Zoe agreed he was still not satisfied. A treaty of friendship was set out in a document and an imperial pavilion built for the ceremony of ratification. In front sat Constantine, Zoe, and Sclerena, while the Senate filed in to witness this extraordinary contract, blushing and for the most part talking in undertones. Despite their embarrassment, the senators still praised the agreement as if it were a document sent down from heaven. They called it a 'loving-cup', and lavished on it all the other flattering epithets that deceive and cajole a frivolous and empty-headed person.

59. The contract being signed and the oaths administered, she who had hitherto been only a lover, was now introduced to the private apartments of the imperial palace, no longer called 'mistress', but 'My Lady' and 'Empress', officially. What was most astounding was the fact that, although most people were greatly distressed at the way in which Zoe had been deceived and neglected and despised, she herself evinced no emotion whatever, except that she smiled on everyone and apparently was quite pleased with the arrangement. At all events, she embraced her new partner with unusual warmth, and both of them accompanied the emperor. Both, too, discussed with him the same problems. Constantine weighed the judgment of each woman with equal impartiality, although it must be admitted [136] that occasionally he allowed himself to be more readily influenced by his junior consort.

60. In appearance Sclerena was not specially remarkable. On the other hand, she was certainly no easy target for insult or raillery. As for her character and intellectual ability, she could charm a heart of stone, and she was extraordinarily adept in her interpretation of any matter whatever. Her speech was wonderful. It had a delicate beauty of expression, the rhythmic perfection of a scholar. There was in her conversation an unaffected sweetness of diction, an inexpressible grace in her manner of telling a story. She bewitched me, at any rate, when, as often happened, she would ply me with questions about the Greek myths and add a point here and there herself which she had learnt from some expert on the subject. No woman ever had a more sensitive ear, although I imagine this was not a natural accomplishment, but acquired because she knew that everyone was talking about her. She could hear a soft whisper quite clearly, and a word muttered under the breath was readily understood by her.

61. I will give an example of this. One day, when we, the imperial secretaries, were all together, the empress's retinue were taking part in a procession. Zoe herself and her sister Theodora walked in this procession, followed by the Augusta (a new title granted to her by the empresses, at the instigation of Constantine). As they were on their way -- the route led them to the Theatre and this was the first time the ordinary people had seen Sclerena in company with Zoe and Theodora -- one of the subtle flatterers softly quoted Homer's**99 'It were no shame. . .' but did not complete the lines. At the time Sclerena gave no sign of having heard these words, but when the ceremony was over, she sought out the man who had uttered them and asked him what they meant. She repeated his remark without a single mistake, pronouncing the words exactly as he had whispered them. As soon as he told her the story in detail, and the crowd showed its approval of his interpretation of the anecdote, as well as of the quotation itself, she was filled with pride and her flatterer was rewarded for his compliment. The presents she gave him were not a few, nor were they paltry trifles, but such as she was used to receiving and giving in her own circle. As a matter of fact, the emperor had given her a private fund for presents to individuals of either sex, in order to win the sympathies of the court, and especially of the two empresses.

[137] 62. Now the elder of the two sisters (Zoe) had a passion for gold -- not for the sake of mere possession or hoarding of it, but so that she could satisfy her instinct for generosity . She was also fond of sweet herbs, the purest Indian kind, especially of those that still retained their natural moisture, dwarf olives and the whitest sort of bays. The younger sister (Theodora) daily gloated over her collection of darics, for which she had had bronze coffers made. Knowing their hobbies, therefore, the Augusta won the gratitude of them both by giving the presents they liked best. It was no difficult matter, for Zoe no longer felt jealous of her rival (she was past the age for that) and there was no ill-will on her side. As the years passed, too, she had lost her capacity for vehement hatred. And, as for Theodora, since her own desires were satisfied, she showed even less resentment than her sister.

63. Thus the wealth which the emperor Basil had accumulated in the imperial treasury, at the cost of much sweat and labour, became the plaything of these women, to be expended on their pleasures. Presents were exchanged or given as rewards one after another. Some of the money was even paid out to strangers, and soon all was spent and exhausted. However, that is a subject which I must deal with later. I must finish the present story. When Constantine and the women had decided which apartments each was to occupy in the palace, the emperor had the room in the centre, with the sisters on either side of him, but it was Sclerena who had the most private apartment. And Zoe never visited the emperor's room, unless she had first made sure that he was alone and his lady-love far away. Otherwise, she occupied herself with her own affairs. I must now explain what these activities were.

64. The tasks that women normally perform had no appeal whatever for Zoe. Her hands never busied themselves with a distaff nor did she ever work at a loom or any other feminine occupation. Still more surprising, she affected scorn for the beautiful dresses of her rank, though I cannot tell whether she was so negligent in the prime of life. Certainly in her old age she lost all desire to charm. Her one and only concern at this time, the thing on which she spent all her energy, was the development of new species of perfumes, or the preparation of unguents. Some she would invent, others she improved. Her own private bedroom was no more impressive than the workshops in the market where the artisans and the blacksmiths toil, [138] for all round the room were burning braziers, a host of them. Each of her servants had a particular task to perform: one was allotted the duty of bottling the perfumes, another of mixing them, while a third had some other task of the same kind. In winter, of course, these operations were demonstrably of some benefit, as the great heat from the fires served to warm the cold air, but in the summer-time the others found the temperature near the braziers almost unbearable. Zoe herself, however, surrounded by a whole bodyguard of these fires, was apparently unaffected by the scorching heat. In fact, both she and her sister seemed naturally perverse. They despised fresh air, fine houses, meadows, gardens; the charm of all such things meant nothing to them . on the other hand, once they were inside their own private rooms, one sealing off the flow of the golden stream, the other cleaning out the channels to make it flow faster, then they really enjoyed themselves.

65. With regard to Zoe's other peculiarities -- I must speak of her at rather greater length, while the emperor is still taking his ease with his Augusta -- there is not much that I can commend, but one trait never fails to excite my admiration, her piety. In this she surpassed all others, both women and men. Some men lose themselves in the contemplation of God; their whole being is directed to one perfect object, and on that object they depend entirely. Others, with still greater devotion, and truly inspired with the Divine Spirit are even more identified with the object of their worship. So it was with Zoe. Her passionate veneration for the things of God had really brought her into contact, so to speak, with the First and Purest Light. Certainly there was no moment when the Name of God was not on her lips.


66. I will give an example of this piety of hers. She had made for herself an image of Jesus, fashioning it with as much accuracy as she could {if such a thing were possible). The little figure, embellished with bright metal, appeared to be almost living. By changes of colour, it answered questions put to it, and by its various tints foretold coming events. Anyway, Zoe made several prophecies with regard to the future from a study of this image. So, when she had met with some good fortune, or when some trouble had befallen her, she would at once consult her image, in the one case to acknowledge [139] her gratitude, in the other to beg its favour. I myself have often seen her, in moments of great distress, clasp the sacred object in her hands, contemplate it, talk to it as though it were indeed alive, and address it with one sweet term of endearment after another. Then at other times I have seen her lying on the ground, her tears bathing the earth, while she beat her breasts over and over again, tearing at them with her hands. If she saw the image turn pale, she would go away crestfallen, but if it took on a fiery red colour, its halo lustrous with a beautiful radiant light, she would lose no time in telling the emperor and prophesying what the future was to bring forth.

67. From my reading of Greek literature, I know that perfumes give off a vapour which drives away evil spirits and which at the same time invokes the spirits of the just, attracting them by its very nature. The same property is found in other substances: precious stones and certain herbs and magic ceremonies have the power of invoking deities. The theories of that sort expounded in Greek books made no impression on me when I first read them, and far from believing in magic rites, I rejected them with scorn. Zoe's religious ceremonies, however, for all their attention to detail, were not conducted after the Greek, or any other, style. She worshipped God in her own way, making no secret of her heart's deep longing and consecrating to Him the things which we regard as most precious and most sacred.

68. Having reached this point in our account of the empress, let us return once more to the Augusta and Constantine. Perhaps it may be the reader's wish that we rouse them from their slumbers, and separate them. The emperor we will keep for a later description, but Sclerena's life-history we will finish now.


69. It is possible that the emperor intended to found an empire for her in the future -- at least there was much talk of it. How it was to be done I do not know, but he certainly cherished ambitions in that direction. Whatever his plans, they were cut short, together with her hopes, by a sudden illness which resisted all the skill and attention of the doctors. Sclerena was afflicted with chest pains and suffered terribly from asthma. Despite all their efforts to cure her, she made no progress and death carried her off before her desires could be [140] brought to fruition -- she who till then had imagined for herself such a glorious future.**l00

70. It should be superfluous to interrupt the main thread of my history at this point, by dilating on the tremendous effect her death produced on the emperor, his lamentations, and the way he behaved. It would be of no real value to describe how, overcome by his sorrow, he expressed the grief he felt like a child. It is no part of the historian's duty to give a minute account of all that is said or done, nor is he required to write on what are comparative trifles. Where details are of little consequence, they belong to the province of the critic; where they give occasion for praise, it is the panegyrist who must use them. If I have a few times made use of details myself --the sort which I am advising historians to shun -- that need cause no surprise, for the province of history has no positive, clearlydefined, boundaries. There may be places where it is even right to indulge in digression or parenthesis. For all that, the historian should waste no time in returning to his narrative. The important thing is to concentrate on the subject, and treat everything else with reserve.

71. So I think I am justified in passing over the details in this case, and as for the chief thing that resulted from his mourning -- the tomb which he built to commemorate her -- I will not refer to that yet. It shall be dealt with in the proper place, after I have first given an account of all the matters that preceded her death. The fact is, in touching on the matter of Sclerena and in priding myself that her story had been told in its entirety, I have omitted many remarkable things that happened before she died. The reason why I did this was to avoid the necessity of referring to her on separate occasions and so breaking up the continuous narrative. Anyhow, as far as she is concerned, the story ends at the moment when she departed this life. We will return once more to the emperor, the hero of this part of my history.

72. More than once already I have remarked that Constantine was like a man who had fought the waves in a great storm, and then put in to a shore where all was peace, the calm waters of an imperial harbour, and he had no intention of sailing the high seas a second time. In other words, he wanted to rule his empire in peace, and not fight any wars, exactly like most of the emperors before him. Unfortunately, affairs do not usually follow the course we would prefer. A stronger power, beyond our control, presides over human destiny

[141] and guides it according to His plans. Sometimes the path is smooth, often strangely rough. So with Constantine, affairs did not go as he had hoped. Waves of trouble, one after another, descended upon him. At one time the empire was gravely perturbed by civil wars, at another by the incursions of barbaric tribes, who plundered most of our provinces and returned to their own countries laden with useful articles of all kinds and with booty to their hearts' content.

73. It would require much time and many words to describe in detail all these things in order as they occurred, to give an accurate account of the causes and results of every single event, to tell of the armies and camps, the skirmishes and battles, and all the other minutiae in which the careful historian is accustomed to indulge. For the moment I must defer such a plan, for it was your express desire, my dearest friend,**101 that I should produce a history which was more a summary than an elaborate treatise. To meet your wishes I have passed over in this work many facts worthy of mention. The years have not been numbered by Olympiads nor divided into seasons (as Thucydides divided his), but I have simply drawn attention to the most important facts and all the things which I have been able to recollect as I was writing this book. As I say, I am not making any attempt, at the moment, to investigate the special circumstances of each event. My object is rather to pursue a middle course between those who recorded the imperial acts of ancient Rome on the one hand, and our own modern chroniclers on the other. I have neither aspired to the diffuseness of the former, nor sought to imitate the extreme brevity of the latter, for fear lest my own composition should be over-burdened, or else omit what was essential.

74. I will say no more on that subject now. To return to Constantine: I will describe the events of his reign in chronological order, beginning with the very first war in which he was engaged as emperor. But first I will go back a little further still, putting the head, as it were, on the body that I am creating. 'Goodness', say the epigrammatists, 'is scarce'.**102 True enough, but even the few are not immune from the creeping paralysis of envy. It is universally true that wherever the fine bloom of natural fertility, or of stoutheartedness and courage, or of any other good quality, wherever such a bloom appears, there straightway stands the pruner ready with his knife, and that part of the plant is cut off. But the shoots that run to wood [142] and produce no flowers at all, these are encouraged to spread, while the thorns grow apace. It is not surprising that those who are less endowed with admirable qualities should normally envy persons of outstanding character, but I do regard it as strange that emperors also are not exempt from this failing. It is not enough, forsooth, that they should have their diadems and their purple, for unless they are wiser than the wise, cleverer than the experts -- in short, if they are not placed on the highest summit of all the virtues -- they consider themselves grievously maltreated. Either they must rule over us like gods or they refuse to govern at all. I have seen some of them myself, who would have died, with the greatest of pleasure, rather than accept help from certain individuals, rather than owe their position of power to any assistance these persons might render them. Just when they should have rejoiced that God had raised up for them a helping hand, they chose rather to cut it off, simply because of the quarter from which that help was coming.

75. I have written this long preface with an eye on one who flourished in our time, a man who proved the worth of good generalship, who, no less by his boldness as a soldier than by his great skill, thwarted the hostile expeditions of the barbarians, and who assured for the Romans a liberty that was freed from danger.**103


76. This George Maniaces did not rise to the rank of army-commander from the baggage-men all at once. It was not a case of blowing a trumpet and acting as herald one day and the next being entrusted with the leadership of a legion. Actually his progress was gradual, and he held successive ranks until he attained the highest position open to a soldier. No sooner did he win some success, however, than he was again thrown into prison, even in the hour of his triumph. He returned to the emperors a conqueror, and for a home he was given -- the public gaol! He was sent forth as general, with supreme command over all the armed forces, with a staff of senior officers to help him. They were young men and they urged him to take a road he should never have traversed -- but here things will go wrong both for him and for us. Edessa was captured and he was accused; he was sent to conquer Sicily, and then, to prevent him winning that honor, he was recalled once more, in disgrace.

[143] 77. I have seen this man myself, and I wondered at him, for nature had bestowed on him all the attributes of a man destined to command. He stood ten feet high and men who saw him had to look up as if at a hill or the summit of a mountain. T here was nothing soft or agreeable abort the appearance of Maniaces. As a matter of fact, he was more like a fiery whirlwind, with a voice of thunder and hands strong enough to make walls totter and shake gates of brass. He had the quick movement of a lion and the scowl on his face was terrible to behold. Everything else about the man was in harmony with these traits and just what you would expect. Rumour exaggerated his appearance and the barbarians, to a man, lived in dread of him, some because they had seen and marvelled, others because they had heard frightful tales of his prowess.

78. When we were despoiled of Italy and the noblest part of our empire was lost, the second Michael sent this man to make war on the enemy who had seized it. He was ordered to recover this province for the Romans. When I speak of Italy here, I am referring not to the whole coast-line, but only to that part which lies opposite us and has appropriated the name of the whole peninsula. Maniaces descended on those districts in full force. No military stratagem was left untried, and it was clear that he would drive out the conquerors and check their inroads -- if all else failed, then he would do it with his own hands.

79. Now when Michael was forced to abdicate and the present emperor succeeded him, the latter should have lost no time in loading Maniaces with honours; he should have dispatched all manner of letters to recommend him, decorated him with ten thousand crowns, done anything in the world to win his favour. Instead, the emperor affected utter contempt for such things, and thereby sowed the seeds of distrust in Maniaces and laid the foundations of trouble destined to fall on the empire long afterwards. When he did, eventually, notice the man, although Maniaces's **104 evil intentions were by then recognized and he was known to be contemplating revolt, even then Constantine failed to handle the affair with diplomacy. Instead of pretending to be ignorant of what, even at that stage, was still only a project, he burst out in anger against his general as if he had already raised the standard of rebellion.

80. The envoys he sent out to him were intended neither to flatter, nor simply to smooth out his troubles and bring him back to the [144] path of virtue. Their task, to put it bluntly, was to kill him, or, not so drastic to chide him persistently with his unfriendly attitude to the emperor. They could do anything short of flogging him, casting him into prison, and driving him out of the city. The leader of these ambassadors, moreover, was not a man who had proved his worth in missions of this kind before; he had not even had previous experience, over any considerable period, in civil or military affairs. He was, in fact, a parvenu off the streets who had wormed his way into the palace.**105

81. By the time he had sailed to Maniaces, the latter had already decided on open revolt, and he was now in command of an army and awaiting his arrival with suspicion. The envoy gave him no definite assurance, before he actually arrived, that his errand was a peaceful one. Indeed, he gave no previous intimation of his arrival at all. Instead, he suddenly rode up to him on horseback, as if he were about to attack him, and without one word of appeasement without any introduction, such as would put his conversation with the man on a proper footing, he promptly struck out at him with violent abuse, in a haughty manner, and threatened him with the most dreadful punishment. Maniaces, now quite convinced that his distrust was excusable, and nervous too of other secret intentions of which he knew nothing, flared up into a rage and lifted his hand against the ambassador, not intending to strike, but only to scare him. The other, as if from that moment he had caught him in the very act of rebellion, called the bystanders to witness his audacity. He added that Maniaces would not escape the consequences, for it was a serious matter to be caught in such an act. Naturally Maniaces, and his army with him, was impressed by the desperate position. With one accord they fell upon the envoy and killed him. Believing that the emperor would, in any case, refuse to negotiate, they there and then broke into open revolt.

82. It was not surprising that multitudes flocked to join a man so brave and such a master of strategy as Maniaces, not only men of military age, but youths and old men. He knew that victories are not won by mere numbers, but by skill and experience, and so he picked out for his army those who had the most practical acquaintance with war, men with whom he had sacked many cities and gained possession of much treasure and many prisoners. Then with his army he crossed over to the opposite mainland, after avoiding [145] the attention of all the coastguards. None of his adversaries dared to attack him; without exception, they retired to a safe distance, so terrified were they.

83. Meanwhile the emperor, having heard of the envoy's assassination and of Maniaces's foolish conduct, levied an enormous army to fight him. Then came the problem who was to command this force. Constantine was afraid that the defeat of the enemy might be the signal for another revolt: his own general might turn against himself, the very person who had put him in command, and a second pretender might well prove more dangerous than the first, with a considerable army already mobilized and fresh laurels of victory. The man appointed, therefore, was not a distinguished soldier, but he was a loyal servant of the emperor, a eunuch in fact, and a person who inspired no respect whatever in his troops.**106 Setting out from the capital, this man advanced on the rebel army with his huge force. Information reached Maniaces that the whole Roman army was on the march, but the news did not alarm him. Neither the enemy's superior numbers nor their strategic change of position could divert him from his plan. His object was to catch his opponents off their guard, and before they expected him, he launched an attack with his light-armed troops.

84. The imperial forces were slow in drawing up their line of battle, and once they were in position, they were much more concerned to watch Maniaces himself than take part in actual fighting, although rnost of them never had a chance of seeing him, because he moved too fast. Thundering out words of command, riding up and down his ranks, he struck terror at once into the hearts of everyone who saw him, and his proud bearing overwhelmed our vast numbers from the very start. Nevertheless he met his downfall. It was one of those acts of God, the reasons for which are beyond our ken. He was circling round our legions, spreading confusion everywhere: he had only to attack, and the serried ranks gave way, the solid wall of troops withdrew. Indeed, our whole army was being broken up into groups and destroyed. Then, suddenly, he was hit in the right side. It was not a superficial wound, and the blood flowed freely at once from the deep gash. Apparently he was unaware of the blow at first, but when he saw the trickle of blood, he tried to staunch it with his hand. He realized he had been mortally wounded and in sheer desperation tried to regain his own lines. He did, in fact, get some [146] little way from our army, but as he was now unable to turn his horse's head -- his body had lost all strength and he was fainting--he gave a gentle moan, a last gesture, dropped his reins and slid out of his saddle to the ground, a pitiable sight.

85. Even when our men saw him lying there, they did not recover their bravery. They still reined in their chargers, for fear lest the enemy were planning an ambush. However, as Maniaces's attendant squire was some distance away and his horse, free to roam now cantered up and down the space between the two armies, all of them, in one great mob, rushed up to the body. The sight that met their eyes was astounding, so great was the area of ground covered by that sprawling corpse. The head they cut off and brought it back to their own general, whereupon a host of men claimed to have killed him. Descriptions of the murder were supplied as invention or imagination dictated, but since it was impossible to demonstrate the truth of these stories, they invented another, to the effect that certain unknown horsemen had fallen upon him and cut off his head. Many such accounts were fabricated, without any convincing evidence. On the other hand, they did claim, frorn the fact that he was wounded in the side, that the weapon must have been a lance. Yet the man who inflicted the wound was still unknown, right up to the day when I wrote this history.

86. That, at all events, was the manner of his death. Maniaces had undoubtedly suffered injustice during his life, although one cannot commend all that he did. As for his army, some got away to their native countries without attracting the enemy's attention, but the majority deserted. The emperor was presented with the rebel's head before his army actually returned to the capital, and he had it impaled at the top of the Great Theatre, suspended in mid-air for all men to see, even at a distance. Then, with the air of a man who has been delivered from some wave that was about to overwhelm him, like a man who had won some respite from danger, he gave thanks to God.

87. When the army came back, most of the soldiers were decorated with crowns, in honour of the victory. They were now encamped near the walls, in front of the city, and Constantine decided that he must celebrate their success with a triumph. He had a genius for organizing shows on the grand scale. The procession, worthy of its author, was arranged as follows: -- the light-armed troops were ordered to lead, armed with shields, bows, and spears, but with [147] ranks broken, in one conglomerate multitude; behind them were to come the picked knights, in full defensive armour, men who inspired fear, not only because of their forbidding appearance, but by their fine military bearing. Next came the rebel army, not marching in ranks, nor in fine uniforms, but seated on asses, faces to the rear, their heads shaven and their necks covered with heaps of shameful refuse. Then followed the pretender's head, borne in triumph a second time,**107 and immediately after it some of his personal belongings; next came certain men armed with swords, men carrying rods, men brandishing in their right hands the rhomphaea -- a great host of men preceding the army commander -- and, in the rear of them all, the general himself on a magnificent charger, dressed in magnificent robes and accompanied by the whole of the Imperial Guard.

88. Such was the order of march. The emperor, meanwhile was seated, very distinguished and proud, in front of the so-called Chalke Phylake, in the actual precinct of the sacred church**108 built by John, the great emperor who succeeded Nicephorus Phocas. Seated with him, on his left and right, were the empresses, also watching the triumph. When the procession, as I have described it, was finished, he returned to the palace wearing his crown, the object of extraordinary tributes. It was characteristic of the man that he should celebrate his victory with his one glorious triumph and then return to his usual moderate habits.

89. This part of the emperor's life was indeed brilliant, and yet, despite all the hero-worship, he never exulted in his victories nor made vainglorious speeches. He got a natural pleasure when he triumphed, but he still kept his head. It was normal for him to live moderately. Nevertheless, he was lacking in circumspection: like a man who needs rest after great exertions, he was in the habit of easing off -- a custom which involved him in wave after wave of misfortune.


90. Indeed, this lack of vigilance was the cause of the war against the barbarians, the war which followed the crushing of Maniaces's revolt.**l09 Russian vessels, almost too numerous to count, either slipping past the intercepting squadrons that had long kept them at bay, [148] or forcing their way in, occupied the Propontis. It was like a mighty cloud that came up from the sea and enveloped the city in darkness. At this stage of my history I would like to explain the reasons for this naval expedition on the part of the Russians, quite unprovoked by the emperor.

91. This barbarian nation had consistently cherished an insane hatred for the Roman Empire, and on every possible occasion, first on one imaginary pretext, then on another, they waged war against us. After the emperor Basil had died (he was a real terror to the Russians) and after his brother Constantine, his successor, had fulfilled the allotted span of his life too (an event that marked the end of a noble dynasty), they once more revived their ancient antagonism and little by little trained themselves for future struggles. Some traces of glory and distinction in Romanus's reign impressed them -- their preparations were in any case still incomplete -- but when he died soon after his accession, and when power fell into the hands of some obscure person called Michael, they proceeded to mobilize all their forces. Recognizing the necessity of a sea-borne invasion, if any attack was to be launched against us, they cut down trees in the interior and made boats large and small. Step by step their preparations were made in secret until they were reader for war. A great fleet was, in fact, on the point of sailing against Michael, but while they were making the final adjustments and war hung in the balance this emperor, too, died before the assault was begun. His successor, without making any notable contribution to national affairs, also departed this life, and the Empire passed into the safe keeping of Constantine. There was no complaint, as far as he was concerned, that the barbarians could make to justify the war, but lest their efforts should seem to be wasted, they attacked him fiercely without provocation.**1l0 Such was the cause then -- the unjustifiable cause -- of their assault on the ernperor.

92. Having escaped detection, they had already got inside the Propontis when they made their first proposals for peace, conditional on the payment of an enormous sum for reparations. They mentioned the actual amount, a thousand staters for each ship,**111 on the understanding that this money should be counted out to them in one way only -- on one of the ships in their own fleet. Such were the proposals they put forward, either because they imagined that there were springs of gold in our domains, or simply because they had decided [149] to fight in any case. The terms were impossible, purposely so, in order that they could haste a plausible excuse for going to war. So, as their envoys were not even considered worthy of an answer, both sides prepared for combat. The enemy were so confident in their own overwhelming numbers that they thought the city, with all its inhabitants, would surrender.

93. At the time our naval forces were below strength**112 and the fireships were scattered at various naval stations, some here and some there, on guard duty. The emperor therefore gathered together some hulks of the old fleet and strengthened them with new thwarts, added some transport vessels used in the imperial service, and got ready for sea a few triremes, on which he embarked a certain number of fighting men. After a generous supply of Greek fire**113 had been put aboard these ships, he ranged them in the opposite harbour to face the Russian vessels. He himself, with a picked body of senators, spent the night at anchor in the actual harbour, not far frorn the shore. A clear declaration of war at sea was made to the barbarians by a herald, and when day broke Constantine set his fleet in battlearray. The enemy also put to sea from the port on the other side. They sailed out as if they were leaving a military camp, complete with fortified rampart. When they were well out from the land, they arranged all their ships in line, so that they formed a continuous chain stretching across the water from the harbour on one side to the harbour on the other. They were now ready to attack us, or, if we made the first assault, to repel us. It was a sight that produced the most alarming effect on every man who saw it. For my own part, I was standing at the emperor's side. He was seated on a hill which sloped gently down to the sea, watching the engagement from a distance.

94. Such then was the order of battle on their side and ours. No attempt was made to join combat, however, for each fleet remained motionless, with line intact. A considerable part of the day had already passed, when the emperor signalled two of our big ships to advance slowly on the enemy. They sailed forward line abreast, moving beautifully, with the pikemen and stone-throwers cheering aloft and the hurlers of Greek fire standing by in good order ready to shoot. At this, several of the Russian vessels left their line and bore down on our ships at full speed. Then, dividing in two, they circled round each of the triremes and hemmed them in, while they tried to [150] hole them below deck with long poles. Our men, meanwhile, engaged them with stones from above and fought them off with their cutlasses. Greek fire, too, was hurled at them, and the Russians, being unable to see now, threw themselves into the water, trying to swim back to their comrades, or else, at a loss what to do, gave up all hope of escape.

95. Thereupon a second signal was given and more triremes put out to sea. Other ships followed or sailed alongside. It was our fleet now that took courage, while the enemy hove-to in amazement. When the triremes neared the barbarians, the latter lost all coherence and their line broke. Some had the fortitude to stay where they were but the majority fled. Suddenly the sun attracted a mist off the lowlying land (most of the horizon consisted of high ground) and the weather changed. A strong breeze blew from east to west, ploughed up the sea with a hurricane, and rolled waves down on the Russians. Some of their ships were overwhelmed on the spot under the weight of tremendous seas; others were driven far away and hurled on to rocks and precipitous coasts. A certain number of these latter were hunted down by our triremes. Some they sank in deep water, with the crews still aboard. The fighting men in the triremes cut others in half and towed them, partially submerged, to nearby beaches. So a great massacre of barbarians took place and a veritable stream of blood reddened the sea: one might well believe it came down the rivers off the mainland.**114

96. After this notable victory over his enemies, the emperor returned to the palace in triumph. As a matter of fact, there was a widespread legend -- despite a thorough examination of these stories I myself discovered no real foundation for the prophecy -- however it was said that although the emperor was destined to meet with a host of dangers, some arising from abroad and the barbarian world, others engineered in territories then under Roman domination, all of them would come to nothing. Some special good fortune, they said, favoured the emperor, and because of it he would stamp out every revolt with the greatest ease. It is a fact, too, that Constantine himself used to refer proudly to certain prophecies and auguries connected with his reign. He recalled extraordinary visions and dreams, some that he had experienced himself, others that he had heard of from soothsayers. On this subject he had some wonderful things to say. So it came about that when danger was imminent and while other [151] men were alarmed and filled with dread for the future, he himself was confident of ultimate victory. He would comfort the fainthearted and face disaster with a self-composure that gave no indication of the dangers that threatened him.

97. Personally, I know of no power of divination possessed by the man. I attribute the phenomenon to an easy-going and carefree disposition. Men who have an eye for trouble, men who know that tiny causes have often given birth to very great disasters, are full of worry at every unusual event, and when their troubles are at the zenith, they fear for the outcome and tremble at every harassing rumour. Even if their luck turns, they still cannot believe it. On the other hand, there are the simple-minded folk, who neither suspect the origin of future troubles nor bestir themselves to deal with the cause of their woes. They have an inclination for pleasures and they desire to revel in them for ever. What is more, they like to convert strangers to the same way of thinking. In order to live a peaceful existence, to follow their peaceful pursuits, they tell the rest of the world, with the air of soothsayers, that they will find swift relief from their grievous misfortunes. There is also a third class of people, with a finer temperament. If trouble should come upon them surreptitiously, it does not catch them unprepared: certainly their ears are not dinned with the crashes and noise around and outside them. Trouble does not scare them, cannot cow them into submission. On the contrary, when all others have given up in despair, these persons stand imperturbable in the face of peril, relying for support not on material things, but on the soundness of reason and on their own superior judgment. I must admit, though, that so far I have not met with men of that sort in my life-time. In our generation it is considered a fine thing if a man, believing trouble to be at hand, braces himself to meet the blow, and when it has fallen, tries to the last gasp to repel it. In the emperor's case, the people were convinced that some supernatural power foretold him the future: because of this he had more than once shown himself undaunted in time of calamity. Hence, they argued, his contempt of danger and his utter nonchalance.

98. The reason why I have made such a long preliminary explanation is to prevent the majority of my readers from thinking the man was possessed of prophetic powers. They might believe he had such powers when I tell them, in the course of my history, that he predicted or repudiated this or that result. They must realize that his [152] words were merely in harmony with his general character. The outcome of events must, of course, be ascribed to the Will of God. At this stage I would like to describe a second revolt against the emperor, a revolt more terrible even than the first. Let me go back therefore to the beginning of the story. First I will explain the origin of this revolt and what were its causes. Then I will give an account of the rebellion that preceded it, its character and background, the person responsible for both outbreaks, and what it was that encouraged him to make his attempt.

99. I will begin then where I left off the narrative. The emperor had a second cousin on the maternal side, a man called Leo, a member of the Tornician family.**115 He lived in Adrianopolis and reeked of Macedonian arrogance. The fellow was not insignificant as far as personal appearance went, but his disposition was crafty and his mind was perpetually open to revolutionary ideas. He had not yet grown up to manhood before a brilliant career -- the usual kind of nonsense often talked of with regard to certain people -- was predicted for him bit a great number of persons. When he did become a man and showed some strength of character, the Macedonian party definitely attached itself to him. Daring attempts at revolt, involving considerable danger, were made frequently, but they failed to make them at the right time; sometimes Leo was not available, because he was out of the country; sometimes the excuse for revolt was inadequate. However, the idea of rebellion was still secretly cherished in their hearts. Such was the state of affairs when the following event took place, an event that not only stirred them to secede from the Empire, but to engage in active opposition to the emperor.

100. The emperor Constantine had two sisters, the elder called Helena, the younger Euprepia. Of Helena he took no notice, but in the case of the younger sister his treatment was quite different. In her youth she had no particular distinction to boast of: her fortunes had not then attained their subsequent splendour. She was a woman of great pride. In fact, of all the women I have seen, she was the most steadfast and the hardest to influence. Her brother, as I have already remarked, was cautious in his dealings with her -- not unnaturally. He had no brotherly feelings for the lady, even when she acquiesced in his wishes. On the contrary, there was more fear than respect in his demeanour. She was therefore deceived of the proud hopes she had built upon her brother, and although she refrained from show- [153]ing her displeasure with Constantine by really eccentric behaviour -- she never did that -- yet she rarely approached him, and when she did, she was not confident in his presence, as a sister should have been. If she condescended to talk with him at all, it was in a supercilious way. With old-fashioned arrogance she would find fault with most of his actions. She would find fresh causes for complaint and then, when she saw that he was angry, quietly withdraw with a glance of disdain, murmuring abuse under her breath. Now when she found that her brother was by no means favourably disposed or rather downright hostile, to the aforesaid Tornicius, she welcomed the attentions of the latter gentleman and showed herself most amiable to him. She held frequent conversations with him, although in the past her relations had not been so friendly. Constantine was extremely angry about this, but he kept dark his intentions with regard to Tornicius; so far he had no reasonable excuse for doing him injury. However, in order to separate them, he sent him away from the city, without for the moment disclosing his real purpose to Euprepia. The pretext was plausible enough -- he was to be made governor of Iberia, and, although he did not say so, he was thereby condemned to an honourable exile.

101. Yet even when the man was abroad his reputation followed him. Perhaps I ought rather to say that most people seized on this reputation of his as an opportunity to accuse him. They invented stories to slander him, declaring that he was plotting a coup, and so persistent were they that Constantine was forced to anticipate the danger. He himself was not unduly perturbed at these rumours, but when he saw his sister taking Tornicius's part, and when he heard her pass a remark on one occasion to the effect that her cousin would assuredly not come to any harm, for the Lord on High watched over him, he was really alarmed. Although no longer able to contain his wrath, he still made no attempt to destroy the man: his policy was rather to cut him off from all possibility of leading a revolt. He therefore sent men under orders to cut off Tornicius's hair and garb him, with all speed, in a monkish habit. So was Tornicius bereft of his hopes. Once clothed in magnificent robes, he was now suddenly reduced to rags, and it was in this sorry plight that he returned to the city. Even under these circumstances Constantine had no word of sympathy for him, no pity for his fate, that destiny which had once buoyed him up with high expectations and then had suddenly cast him down. Many a time when Tornicius approached him he sent him away harshly, and then laughed at his pitiable condition. Only Euprepia, whether because of their kinship or for some other reason befriended him and greeted him in a kindly way. Their relationship gave her an excellent pretext for this kindness.

102. It happened that at that particular time there was a Macedonian colony living in the neighbourhood of the city. Prominent among them were people who had originally pitted in Adrianopolis. They were crafty individuals, saying one thing and meaning another, only too willing to take up any ridiculous project and most energetic in carrying it out, very clever at hiding their thoughts, and absolutely loyal to the agreements they made among themselves. The emperor treated them with complete indifference. As far as he was concerned the lion had already been sacrificed and his claws had been drawn. However that may be, the Macedonians thought that here at last was the oft-sought chance of revolution, and after a brief consultation between their leaders -- they had long ago determined their aims -- they stirred Tornicius to make his ridiculous attempt and encouraged themselves to give mutual undertakings to strike the daring blow. They got him out of the city by night secretly with the help of a few confederates -- they were quite insignificant persons -- and drove straight for Macedonia. To prevent horsemen riding out in pursuit and reaching the passes before them, or hunting them down by following their tracks, each time they stopped at a stage they killed the state horses. So, pressing on without respite, they crossed the Macedonian border, seized Hadrian's city as an acropolis, and at once set to work.

103. As they had to levy troops and no money was ready to hand, nor anything else likely to induce army commanders to join therm and subscribe to their plan of campaign, their first move was to send out immediately a band of expert propagandists in all directions. These men approached individual soldiers wherever they chanced to be and deliberately confirmed that the emperor was dead. They told them that Theodora was now mistress of the Empire and had chosen as her partner, in preference to all others, Leo of Macedonia, a man distinguished for his wisdom, and a man of action, and descended from illustrious forebears. Thanks to this ruse and by inventing this lie, they assembled the armies of the west from all directions in a matter of a few days. It was not the lying story alone that effected this [155] union: no doubt they nourished some hatred for the emperor on their own account. There were reasons for this: he had somewhat disparaged their military talents, and he suspected them (there had been some revolutionary movement before this) and it was his intention to punish them one by one. It was now a question of who got in the first blow.

104. The concentration of their forces was carried out with an expedition which surprised even themselves. A common policy was adopted and they chose Leo as emperor.**116 The ceremony of proclamation was performed as far as circumstances allowed, with Leo dressed in magnificent robes and raised on the shield. For his part, once he was garbed in an emperor's apparel, he lorded it over his supporters in a dictatorial and truly imperial fashion, as if he had already won success in his rebellion. He forgot that he was merely a kind of actor playing a rle on the stage or striking a pose. Admittedly, his followers were quite content that he should rule with a firm hand, and as for the mass of the people, since he was neither able to distribute largess nor win them over by bribes, he gained their adherence by remission of taxes. They were given the privilege, too, of going out to plunder and of reckoning as their own undisputed property whatever they could capture. With regard to the officials and members of the senate, once he had made his selection, he appointed some to command his armies, others he kept near his imperial throne, others he constituted an inner council of state. In all cases he conformed to their wishes as well as his own, and the administrative posts were divided among them to suit each man's individual capacity. Then he set out without further delay for the city. They hoped in this way to forestall the emperor's plans by surprise and throw themselves upon him before he could move his eastern army to repel them.**117 Besides, they were under the impression that the inhabitants of Constantinople would not remain loyal: they expected no opposition there, because the emperor had made himself unpopular by introducing reforms which curbed the liberty of the citizens. The people loathed him as a ruler and wanted to see a soldier-emperor, a man who would endanger his own life on their behalf and put an end to barbarian incursions.

105 Certainly, even before they drew near to the city walls, a considerable body did join them on the march and a host of soldiers came from the uplands too. The whole country as far as the city, in [156] fact, was favourable to their project and lent its support. Such was the state of their affairs; with the emperor it was altogether different. There was no national army; no auxiliary forces were concentrated anywhere in the district, with the exception of a small band of mercenaries whose duty was to act as escort in the imperial processions. As for the army of the east, it was not even encamped in its own provinces, where, if the order was given, it could concentrate quickly and bring help to the emperor when danger threatened. These men had been quartered in the depths of Iberia, where they were engaged in repelling a barbarian invasion. There was no hope of succour for Constantine from abroad; safety for him depended on one thing only -- the circle of walls around him -- and it was on the avails that he expended his efforts, building up the parts which had been allowed by negligence to fall into a state of disrepair, and planting his stonethrowing machines thick on the ramparts.

106. By some chance at was precisely at this moment that his gout became worse. In fact, it became so distressing that his hands were completely dislocated and his feet swollen with terrible pairs. Apart from that, he was quite incapable of walking. His stomach, too, was in a disordered condition, with diarrhoea and general putrefaction. His whole body was being consumed and eaten away by a wasting illness, so that he could neither move nor come into contact with the people. It was natural, therefore, that the city populace should think he was dead, and mass meetings were held in different parts of the city where they debated whether they ought to run away and join the pretender. To counter this, although it was against his inclination, Constantine was compelled from time to time to mix with the people, or allow himself to be seen from a distance and prove by his gestures that he was still alive.

107. So much for the emperor. The pretender, meanwhile, running like the wind, encamped with all his army on a spot in front of the city.**118 The operation was not war, nor a pitched battle, but a pure siege and simple wall-fighting. I heard some of the soldiers and some of the older men say that never before had any rebel been so daring as to prepare to set up artillery in front of the city and bend his bows against its battlements, with an army encircling the whole outer circumference of the walls. Amazement and confusion reigned everywhere and it seemed that the entire city would fall an easy prey to the enemy. The rebel had meanwhile moved up to a position [157] some little distance from the walls. Here he threw up a rampart and pitched his camp in full view of the defending army. He bivouacked on his rampart for a short time that night, but the rest of the time he spent on horseback, encouraging his men to follow his own example and sleep on the fortification. He arranged his light-armed troops and went forward himself on foot. At break of day they were all in position before the walls, not in a confused mob, nor massed together in one great body, but disposed in a soldier-like way and giving every sign of readiness for battle. And in order to fill us with terror -- we, forsooth, had no experience of war -- every man wore armour. Some were completely armed, with greaves and breastplate, and their horses clad in mail at all points, but others were protected with whatever they could get.

108. The rebel himself, riding on a white horse, was in the exact centre of his army, together with the pick of his knights and the better part of his troops. He had surrounded himself, also, with light-armed soldiers, all of them good shots at long range, and lightly equipped and fast runners. The rest of the army stood on either flank in order of battle under their several commanders. Although the battalions preserved their formations, they had been divided into groups, not of sixteen men, but less. The object of this was to allow the whole body to deploy over a bigger area. Thus congestion was avoided and the men were not in close order. Behind was a great multitude, which, to those on the walls, seemed countless, for they also had been divided into small groups. Nevertheless, as they charged on foot or on horseback, both groups at the same time, they gave the impression not so much of a strong army as of a disordered mob.

l09. I will leave them and come back to the emperor. Besieged as he was inside the city walls, his immediate object was to prove to his enemies that he was still alive. So, dressed in his imperial robes, he sat together with the empresses on a balcony of one of the imperial apartments, breathing faintly and groaning in a feeble manner. The only part of the enemy's army that he saw was that immediately in front and near him. The rebels were, in fact, drawn up in good order close by the walls. Their first move was to remind the defenders on the wall of the dreadful things they had suffered at the emperor's hands. They brought to their notice the alleviation that would result from his capture, the sufferings that would follow his continued [158] freedom. This information was proffered at different parts of the wall in turn. They begged the defenders to open the gates to them and receive within their city a sovereign who was kindly and merciful, one who would treat them with humanity and bring new glory to the Roman Empire by waging victorious wars against the barbarians.

110. As no favourable reply was forthcoming from the persons to whom these remarks had been addressed -- actually they poured forth a torrent of abuse, with all manner of disgraceful epithets, both on them and their pretender -- they definitely gave up all hope of support from the people of the city. Thereupon they began hurling insults at the emperor. They reviled him for his bodily weakness. They called him 'accursed', a 'degenerate seeker after unholy pleasures', 'the bane of the city', 'corrupter of the people', with a whole string of other disgusting and scurrilous invectives. Most of the Macedonians, being a folk who delight in arrogance and insolent bearing more accustomed to the buffoonery of townsmen than the simplicity of the camp, most of them, I say, dismounted from their horses and started choral dances, where everyone could see them. They improvised comic turns at the emperor's expense, stamping on the ground with their feet in time to their music and dancing in triumph. Some of these performances Constantine saw, others he only heard. I was standing near him at the time, shocked at the things that were being said, but still trying to comfort him. He did not know what to do, put to shame as he was, not only by their actions, but also by their insults.

111. However, some of the city-men got outside the wall and stopped their cavalry as they were riding up and down, some by hurling stones from their slings, others by shooting arrows. The enemy feigned flight -- a manoeuvre they had rehearsed beforehand -- and having lured our men to pursue them, they suddenly wheeled about, slaying with sword and spear. One of the rebels, who knew how to shoot arrows from horseback, got near the walls without our knowledge, and drawing his bow right opposite the emperor, shot straight at him. The arrow sped through the air at tremendous speed, but the emperor moved slightly to one side and it missed him, just grazing one of his chamberlains in the ribs, a young man of some note.**119 We ourselves were transfixed with terror. Constantine shifted his seat and took up a position further away from the enemy's [159] troops. They had risen early, as I have said, and they stayed there right up to mid-day, talking, listening, now flattering us, now uttering threats. Then they turned their horses aside and made for their rampart. Machines of war were prepared and the siege of the city was immediately begun once more.

112. The emperor, after he had recovered his self-composure, thought it would be disgraceful if he did not get together some soldiers to oppose them: they would have to be prevented from making attacks by a ditch and cut of from entry into the city by a barricade. He must keep them at a distance, so as not to hear their remarks or have insults thrown in his teeth. That was his first bad mistake. The second was made when he referred his plan to certain persons who had no experience of war.**120 Most of them were pleased with his scheme, so, first of all, a thorough search of the prisons was carried out to find if any soldiers had been shut up in them. These men were liberated, armed with bows and spears, and equipped for battle. Constantine's next step was to enrol in what was left of his army a mob of ordinary citizens. They were quite numerous, volunteers who fooled at war as if it were just another of their games. Throughout that night the digging went on at a ditch to encircle the city and a palisade was set up in front of it. At dawn, before the enemy presented themselves to our view, he drew up in order of battle the elite of our troops and got them into position exactly opposite the enemy. They were partly composed of squadrons of cavalry, partly of companies of light-armed soldiers, all protected by defensive armour. He arranged the whole force in battalions, and then, seating himself a second time on a high vantage-point, he decided to watch what happened from a distance.

113. The enemy knew nothing of these preparations. When they approached and found our battalions massed in their path, they immediately drew rein, judging it wise to find out first whence all this army of ours had been collected. What they feared was that some contingent from the east had come to our aid. However, when they discovered that the defenders were merely a pack of vagabonds and saw the ditch was shallow and easy to cross, they laughed the emperor to scorn for his folly. Here, they decided, was the chance they were seeking. So, in close order, shield to shield, and howling their war-cry, they made a concerted attack in full force, on horseback. The ditch was cleared without the slightest difficulty and the [160] defenders, who until that moment had kept their ranks, were at once put to flight. The enemy then worked round to their rear and wiped them out to a man, some by the sword, others with their spears. Actually the majority were jostled by their own comrades, slipped off their horses, and were trampled to death on the spot. Nor were those who had gone outside the city the only ones to run away: their example was followed by all those who chanced to be standing near the emperor. They believed the rebel was an the point of entering the city and all of them would be destroyed.

114. Apart from arguments suggested by prudence, there was nothing to prevent the enemy getting inside the fortifications: the prize was there to be taken with impunity. The officers in charge at the wall-gates had already abandoned their guard, while they looked for some place to give them shelter. Throughout the city were men on the way back to their homes, or men who contemplated going over to the pretender. But Tornicius shirked the final entry. Perhaps it would be truer to say that he was confidently awaiting our invitation to make him emperor; he expected to be led up to the palace preceded by torches, in a procession worthy of a sovereign. So he put off his entry to the morrow. For the moment he was content to ride on horseback to the several divisions of his army, shouting his orders. There was to be an end to the murder of their kinsmen: the massacre of the enemy must stop. He even set free intended victims and prevented any show of force.

115. Meanwhile the emperor had been deserted. It was believed that he was about to die in a few moments. But when he heard Tornicius shouting these orders and saw him stopping the massacre, he turned to me. 'This is really serious,' he said. 'When a cruel fellow like this rebel turns to compassion and mercy, it may win him Divine approval.'

116. His sister was meanwhile lamenting bitterly (I am talking now of the elder sister, for Euprepia had already been condemned to exile) and she urged him to flee and take refuge in one of the churches. Constantine glared at her fiercely. 'Let somebody lead her away,'' he said, 'if we still have anyone left. She can keep her dirges to herself. Besides, she may make me soft as well.' Then he added, turning to me a second time, 'The enemy's good luck will end today. From now on his fortunes will change. He might as well try to get foothold in a quicksand.'

[161] 117. After completing his arrangements and taking a fair number of prisoners, Tornicius retired to his own entrenchments in good order. For his part, the emperor decided against any fresh attempt at surprise. Instead, he repaired the breaches in the city walls, and proceeded to curry favour with the people. He showed his appreciation of their loyalty in the past, and promised them rewards, as if at the Games, if they continued to be faithful in the future. The siege itself had little effect on him. Meanwhile his opponent, after bivouacking just that one night on the rampart, advanced at daybreak with his army, apparently under the impression that the Empire was his for the taking. With him he brought his prisoners, loaded with chains, and set them before the walls. They had been instructed what to say at the appointed moment. So they stood there, some distance apart from one another, stirring pity by their cries as well as by their gestures. To the emperor they said nothing, but addressed their remarks to the people. They begged them not to treat with contempt men of their own race and their own families, nor bear to watch themselves, a pitiable sight, being hacked into pieces before their very eyes, like victims at a sacrifice. They warned us not to tempt Providence by making light of a sovereign such as the world had never seen before, one whom they themselves knew well by experience. He could have destroyed them even then, they said, and he could have treated them as enemies, but no, -- till that moment he had put off the massacre, sparing their lives in order to do us a favour. Thereupon, by way of contrast, they gave a dramatic account of the terrible deeds of our ruler. They described how in the beginning of his reign he had raised very high the hopes of the city, only to bring us down from the clouds to the edge of a precipice. Such were the main points touched on by these prisoners. But the people's loyalty still did not waver.

118. The sequel to these events came about in the following way. The defenders kept throwing considerable masses of rock from inside the walls at their enemies, but no one was hit, for the missiles fell short. Then those who were working the machine pulled back the sling further than usual and shot one of their biggest stones at Tornicius himself. They missed him, but so frightened him and his staff that they took to their heels. The panic and confusion caused among them by this one incident not only broke their ranks but made them retire to their own rampart.

119. That event marked the change in their fortunes. After being buoyed up by their hopes for a brief interval, and (it must be admitted) by the serious condition of our own affairs, their expectations swiftly declined and vanished away. At all events, they never came near the city walls again, but after bivouacking a few days in their camp they returned whence they had come, most of them in disorder, with all the appearance of an army on the run. At that stage, no doubt, if only sixteen or seventeen knights had come in sight of their rearguard, not even a pyrphorus**121 would have been left in that scattered disorderly force. The emperor expected them to retreat, but no attempt was made to pursue them, for he was held back by memories of his previous shock, and so the opportunity was lost.

120. Nevertheless, to us even the withdrawal from their entrenchments seemed a most glorious triumph, and the populace of the city poured out to see them. They found great quantities of supplies left in the encampment, abandoned because the enemy had no time to load them on their baggage-animals. They had been more concerned with their own retreat from the lines, without attracting attention, than getting away loaded with riches and full equipment. Despite this precaution, the rebels no sooner got away than they vented their wrath on Tornicius. Everyone was eager to desert him for they all dreaded the future. On the other hand, mutual suspicion, as well as the difficulty of running away, forced them to stay together. Meanwhile, whenever opportunities of escape did occur they seized them and made off to the emperor and the city with all speed. Not only was this the case with the ordinary soldiers, but with the officials and commanding officers too.**122 The rebel suffered a series of misfortunes, one after the other. He attacked the fortresses in the west which for several reasons were easy to capture:**123 in particular, the ground favoured the assailants, and the disposition of the walls -- it was a long time since they had been a prospective line of defence. Yet he failed to reduce any of them. The storming-party, in fact, was more intent on running off home than on pressing a siege, and they made it very plain to the beleaguered enemy that they had no stomach for fighting, except in mock battles.

121. Such was the shameful withdrawal from the Great City of the man who had once contested its throne. Still more shameful was his repulse before the castles which he attacked in succession. The [163] emperor, meanwhile, w as summoning the armies of the east,**124 and as soon as they arrived, despatched them to the west, where the rebel forces were composed of national and barbarian troops alike. When the latter heard of their advance, the question of war or peace was debated no more; the rebels at once dispersed, with maledictions on their leader. Some returned home, but the greater part came over to Constantine, forgetful of the many oaths they had sworn, ignoring the fact that they had promised by the Holy Relics to die, united in one common cause, side by side under the eyes of their rebel general. Now, frozen with fear, they had little thought for those professions of loyalty.

122. One man, of all that number, remained faithful to Tornicius to the end -- an old comrade-in-arms, John by name, with the surname Vatatzes, a man who in physique and strength of arm rivalled the famous heroes of old. So when Tornicius fled and sought refuge in a sacred building, this man fled with him and together they asked for sanctuary, although Vatatzes could have left him and won great honours for himself. Yet he refused to break his pledged word: nothing else mattered. They fled then to a certain holy church, and drawing their swords, threatened to kill themselves if anyone dared to drag them away by force. Being assured on oath that they would be safe, they finally left the sanctuary and surrendered to the person who had given the promise. At this stage the erstwhile pretender lost his courage. Not only did he emit pitiable cries, but turned to begging for his life. Nor were these the only proofs of his cowardice. Vatatzes, on the contrary, even in these dreadful circumstances, never forgot his pride. He still assumed an air of lofty disdain, and his undaunted bravery was evident in all he did.

123. At that time it was the emperor's intention to grant a general amnesty. None of the rebels was to be punished. And he made this promise before God, calling down on his own head the most fearful curses if he failed to show clemency and grant forgiveness to all who had raised a hand against him. However, when these two (Tornicius and Vatatzes) arrived at the walls, he at once recalled their previous effrontery. Without a moment's hesitation, with no thought for reason, he condemned them to blinding on the spot. At that the pretender emitted a cry of anguish and basely lamented his fate; his comrade merely remarked that the Roman Empire was losing a valorous soldier, straightway lay down on the ground, face upwards, [164] and nobly submitted to his punishment.**125 Afterwards the emperor celebrated a triumph greater than ant of those which won renown in the past, and having vented his spite on them so far, made peace with the rebels, apparently content with this vengeance.

124. There is one thing that I forgot to mention before, namely the state of his bodily health at the beginning of his reign, the quality of that manliness and vigorous strength which later suffered such complete degeneration, and the manner in which, so far from preserving the freshness of his youth unspoiled to the end, he exhibited to all beholders his natural glory dimmed, like a sun obscured by the clouds. I will describe these things now, beginning with his youthful excellence.


125. It was a marvel of beauty that Nature brought into being in the person of this man, so justly proportioned, so harmoniously fashioned, that there was no one in our time to compare with him. To this symmetry she added a robust vigour, as though she were laying firm foundations for a beautiful house. This strength that she gave him was not manifest in long hands or the great size of his limbs or other parts of his body: rather, I fancy, she hid it deep in his heart, for it was not revealed In the parts that were visible. They, in facts were more distinguished for their beauty and proportion than for any unusual size. Indeed, his hands were only moderately big, and the same can be said of his fingers: their medium size was most noticeable, but they were endowed with more than ordinary strength, for there was no object, however hard and solid, which he could not very easily crush with his hands and break in pieces. An arm gripped by the man was painful for days. They do say that he rode very well too and was a very fast runner, supple and light, and absolutely without a rival in the pentathlon, so strong was he and agile and swift of foot.

126. His beauty, we are told, was that of Achilles or Nireus.**126 But whereas, in the case of these heroes, the poet's language, having in imagination endowed them with a body compounded of all manner of beauties, barely sufficed to their description, with Constantine it was different, for Nature, having formed him in reality, and brought him to perfection, with the fine skill of the sculptor [165] shaped him and made him beautiful, surpassing with her own peculiar art the imaginative effort of the poet. And when she had made each of his limbs proportioned to the rest of his body, his head and the parts that go with it, his hands and the parts that go with them, his thighs and his feet, she shed over each of them severally the colour that befitted them. His head she made ruddy as the sun, but all his breast, and his lower parts down to his feet, together with their corresponding back parts, she co1oured the purest white all over, with exquisite accuracy. When he was in his prime, before his limbs lost their virility, anyone who cared to look at him closely would surely have likened his head to the sun in its glory, so radiant was it, and his hair to the rays of the sun, while in the rest of his body he would have seen the purest and most translucent crystal. His personal characteristics, too, contributed to the general harmony of the man, his refined speech, his charming conversation, and a singularly attractive smile which exercised an immediate fascination over those who saw him.


127. Such was the beauty with which the emperor was endowed when he ascended the throne, but a year had not gone by before Nature, in her efforts to glorify him, seemed to falter before such wonder and delight: it was as if she gave up the task in exhaustion, and then destroyed his strength and ruined his manhood. At all events, there can be no doubt that a radical change took place in the disposition of the primary substances in his body (that is, the basic humours) and they accumulated, in proportions that made harmony impossible, in his feet and the cavities of his joints, then in his hands. Later they descended in great waves on the muscles themselves, and the bones in his back, shaking him through and through, like seacurrents converging on a ship of burthen which had started its voyage in calm water.

128. The symptoms of disease were not all immediately apparent. The humours first flowed into his feet, and at once he was compelled to take to his bed. If he had to walk at all, he did so with the help of other people. The illness was recurrent, and it was evident that the flux continued for a certain number of days, followed by an equal period of rest. Later on, the intervals between these attacks [166] diminished and his relief became short-lived. As this condition developed, the flux gradually approached his hands, then with a kind of upward flow, the humours attacked his shoulders, and finally occupied the whole of his body. The result was that every one of his members, swamped by this terrible flux, lost the ability to perform its natural functions. His muscles and ligaments were out of place, his limbs ceased to work in harmony, with consequent lack of general equilibrium and a development of nervous exhaustion. I myself saw his fingers, once so beautifully formed, completely altered from their natural shape, warped and twisted with hollows here and projections there, so that they were incapable of grasping anything at all. His feet were bent and his knees, crooked like the point of a man's elbow, were swollen, making it impossible for him to walk steadily, or to stand upright for any length of time. Mostly he lay on his bed, and whenever he wished to give audience, others had to prop him up and make him comfortable.

129. For the sake of the city populace he considered it his unavoidable duty to attend the imperial processions, and it was on these occasions that he most bitterly complained. However, through the skill of his equerry he was arranged and settled in the saddle, and since he found breathing difficult once he was mounted, and as the bridle hung useless, attendants, tall strong men, used to prop him up on either side as he rode. So, holding him steady on right and left, like some heavy load, they would convey him to his intended destination. Yet even under these terrible conditions, he never entirely forgot his normal habits. He would assume an expression of great benevolence, and even moved and changed his position (the only time he ever did so unaided), so that the spectators were not really sure that he was in pain, or that his body was suffering from paralysis. Such were the arrangements made for him at the precessions. Even the stones of the pavements were covered with carpets, to prevent his horse slipping on the smooth surface. Of course it was different in his palace, for there he was carried on a litter, and he used to pass from one apartment to another and be conveyed wherever he wished. But if the flux came on -- what awful agonies he suffered!

130. Even while I write this history I am still absolutely amazed to think how the man was able to bear the excruciating pain of those attacks during that period. Paralysis followed paralysis in rapid [167] succession, impairing the parts still untouched by the disease and dislocating what was still coherent. He did not know how to lie on his bed so as to enjoy a proper rest: every position proved uncomfortable. His valets would hold up and support his poor body on either side until after much experiment they discovered the posture which afforded some relief to him. Then they would arrange him and make him comfortable, with cushions so placed that he might be kept firm in that position. But change of posture was not the only thing that caused him pain: even his tongue hurt him when he was speaking, and the slightest movement of the eyes set the humours in motion. Consequently he remained absolutely still, never turning in either direction.

131. While on the subject of this illness, I solemnly declare, and I call on God to witness the truth of my words, that Constantine, despite the dreadful troubles that exhausted and overwhelmed him, despite the altogether pitiable condition in which he found himself, never once allowed a word of blasphemy against God to escape his lips. In fact, if he saw anyone else distressed at his own sufferings, he dismissed him from his presence with more than usual severity. The misfortune, he said, was laid upon him as a punishment. More often he referred to it as a 'curb on his nature'. Indeed, he was afraid of his instincts, and he used to say, 'When they refuse to give way to reason, they yield to bodily pain. My body is afflicted, but at least the unruly desires of my heart are now repressed.' So he argued about his suffering like a philosopher, and if one set aside all else that he did, and considered him in this matter alone, surely one would say that here was a godly man.

132. He had another good quality, one that I myself do not wholly approve of, but he held it in high esteem. However, I will leave my readers to judge for themselves. He completely neglected to take precautions for his own safety. When he was sleeping the doors were left open and no guard kept watch outside his bedchamber. Indeed, the chamberlains often left him completely and it was possible for anyone to walk past his door, and pass it again on the way back, without the slightest interference from others. If one took the liberty of rebuking him for this laxity, Constantine was not vexed about it, but he dismissed the reproach as unnecessary. It was due, he said, to wrong ideas about God. What he meant by this, was that he occupied the throne by the grace of God and by Him alone he was [168] protected. Being defended by the Perfect Guard, he saw no need of human sentinels who fell short of perfection.

133. On several occasions I tried myself to convince him of the danger. I quoted the case of builders and helmsmen, and finally of captains and generals. 'Not one of these men,' I argued, 'undertakes his particular task without placing his trust in God. Yet the one levels off his building with a rule, the other guides his ship with a rudder, and everyone who goes to war carries a shield and sword. The soldier's head is protected by a helmet, while a breastplate covers the rest of his body.' Having got so far, I developed the argument by pointing out that these safeguards were even more appropriate in the case of an emperor, but for all my efforts I failed to persuade him. It does credit to the man's noble character, but his obstinacy made things easy for would-be assassins.


134. There is no doubt that it brought about a host of calamities. One or two of them I will describe, and leave my readers to deduce from them the nature of the rest. Here I will deviate somewhat from the main narrative for one moment. In well-governed cities there are inscribed on the citizen-rolls the names not only of the best persons and men of noble birth, but also of people whose origin is obscure, and military authorities observe this custom no less than civil magistrates. That, at all events, was the system followed by the Athenians and in all those cities which emulated their form of democracy. In our polity, however, this excellent practice has been contemptuously abandoned, and nobility counts for nothing. The process of corruption has been going on in the Senate for a long time: it is, in fact, a heritage of the past, for Romulus**127 was the first to encourage the kind of confusion we see now. Today the citizenship is open to all. No doubt you would find not a few wearing civilized clothes, who formerly covered themselves in a goat's-hair cloak. Many of our government are, I am sure, ex-slaves whom we bought from barbarians, and our great offices of state are entrusted not to men of the stamp of Pericles, or Themistocles, but to worthless scamps like Spartacus.**128

135. There was a fellow in my time, a filthy barbarian scoundrel who far outdid the Romans in arrogance and was so brazen that he [169] took advantage of his exalted position and physically maltreated some who afterwards became emperors, and then, when they had actually ascended the throne, proudly boasted of it in public. 'With this hand,' he would say, showing his right hand, 'with this hand I have many a time struck Roman Emperors!' I once heard him utter those words myself and I was terribly upset. I almost strangled the insolent foreigner with my own two hands: the shock of those words was more than I could bear.

136. Actually this remark caused no more offense than his promotion to our Senate, the noble members of which had been polluted by his presence shortly before the incident. In the first place he had done the emperor some service, then he wormed his way into favour with the magistrates, and his name appeared or the roll of the Senate. He was, as I have said, a person of obscure origin. To be more explicit, he was a common worthless rogue. However, having once drunk of the Roman streams, and found them good to the taste, he thought it would be a pity if he missed the chance of becoming master of their very source -- emperor, in fact, with Romans of the noblest families his subjects, and he a slave bought at a price! When therefore the rascal conceived this idea, he saw in the emperor's unguarded state a godsend for his venture. Meanwhile he kept his design secret, informing none of his colleagues, and smoothed the path to the realization of his dreams. When the emperor was in procession from the Theatre to the Palace, he mingled with the ranks in the rear of the guard and marched with them. Once inside the Palace he lay in wait somewhere near the kitchens, everyone who met him believing that the emperor had told him to stay there, and so nobody whatever threw him out. Later, under cross-examination, he disclosed his secret intentions, and it appears that his idea was to fall upon Constantine in his sleep, kill him with a sword (which he had concealed in his clothes) and make himself supreme ruler.

137. Such was his plan. When the emperor went to rest, lying there, as I have already said, quite unguarded, the desperado proceeded to carry out his plot. However, after advancing a few paces, his nerve gave way and he faltered, overcome with faintness. He was caught, running hither and thither in an aimless fashion, quite bewildered. The emperor was at once roused from his sleep. Meanwhile the guards had collected and were questioning the barbarian with some severity. Naturally, Constantine was annoyed at the [170] fellow's daring; what piqued him was the fact that such a man could bring himself to treat an emperor with impudence so brazen. He put him in chains at once, and on the next day he himself sat as judge at the trial -- a very stern judge too. The man was cross-examined about the attempted assassination. Constantine asked if he had accomplices in the plot, if there was a ring-leader of the conspiracy, if someone else had instigated him to dare it. These preliminary investigations having produced no profitable answer, the prisoner was put to the cruellest tortures. He was stripped, hoisted up to a wooden beam, and suspended from it by his feet, then flogged till he was half-dead. This punishment had a crushing effect upon him, I fancy, for he denounced certain high-tanking officials as his accomplices, and among his victims the barbarian madman numbered some gentlemen whose loyalty and honour were quite undeniable. Nevertheless, time has restored them to their original place of honour, while he, as the years go by, is still numbered among the greatest scoundrels of history.

138. For a while the emperor did take precautions for his safety, but later the vigil was again relaxed -- a negligence which very nearly cost him his own life and involved the city in troubles even greater and more terrible still. I will set forth the causes of this calamity, the extent to which it prevailed, and the manner of the emperor's deliverance from danger for a second time, after all had despaired of his safety. Constantine had a cheerful disposition. Any kind of pastime appealed to him and he required constant amusement. But he had no taste for organ music, or the melody of flutes, or a fine voice, or dancing, or mimes, or anything of that sort. On the other hand, if someone had an impediment in his speech and was unable to pronounce his words correctly, or if a man simply talked nonsense, uttering any word that chanced to come into his head, he thought it highly diverting. Generally speaking, in fact, nothing was more calculated to please Constantine than a wrong use of words.

139. Now at that time there used to visit the palace a certain scallawag**129 afflicted with just that kind of impediment in his speech. When he spoke his tongue would stop functioning altogether, or when he made special efforts, glide over the words. This fellow, moreover, exaggerated the natural defect, and the resulting jumble of syllables was no more effective than the noises of a mute. Indeed, in both cases, whether he spoke normally or affected dumb- [171]ness, the audience was quite incapable of understanding his meaning.

140. At first the emperor treated the man with indifference. In fact, he only appeared at court every now and then after the ceremony of ablution. It was typical of the emperor though, that as time passed he should take more pleasure in his babblings, till he reached a point where he found himself unable to be parted from the fellow. Consequently there was no time set apart for his foolery: even when Constantine was holding audience, appointing magistrates, or carrying out any of his other public duties, the man was there with him, showing off his natural defect and generally acting the clown. Indeed, there can be no doubt but that the emperor encouraged him. He went further: he made a new man of him, an imitation of the great men of the realm, and this street-lounger was translated to the centre of Roman government. He was rapidly promoted to positions of honour, took his place with the chief officers of state, had permission to go anywhere, and was appointed captain of the emperor's bodyguard. With characteristic lack of courtesy he did not confine his visits to his master to any fixed time, but suited his own convenience. He would go up to him, kiss him on breast and face alike, speak to him without first being addressed himself, and then, breaking into a wide grin, sit down on the same couch, and squeeze the emperor's feeble hands between his own, an action that pained him, yet at the same time gave him pleasure.

141. For my own part I did not know at whom to wonder the more, this fellow who had been transformed to suit the whim and fancy of the emperor, or the sovereign who brought himself down to the other's level, for each was desirous of pleasing the other, and they were devoted friends. What the master wanted the comedian did: what he did the master wanted. So it came about that although Constantine understood the general drift of his clowning, he was still content to be the object of buffoonery, and the actor made merry over his ruler's stupidity, making joke after joke admirably suited to the other's simple nature.

142. It went so far that the emperor refused to be parted from him at all. The clown, on the other hand, became bored with this constant attendance. He longed for freedom, to pass the time as he wished. Now it chanced on a certain occasion that he lost a particularly good polo-pony. At that time he used to sleep beside the [172] emperor, and suddenly, in the middle of the night, he got up, roused him from a deep sleep, and gave way to uncontrollable demonstrations of joy. Constantine, who was by no means displeased at being awakened in this manner, asked him what was the matter and why he was so exultant. The clown put his arms round the emperor's neck and kissed him, over and over again, on the face 'Sir,' said he, 'he has been found -- the horse that I lost! It is a eunuch that rides him now, a wrinkled old chap, too old for riding. Please let me take a horse now from the palace and bring him here to you, and the mount with him.' At these words the emperor laughed most gaily. 'Ah well,' he replied, 'you have my permission to go -- but mind you come back as quickly as possible, and tell me all about it when you find him.' So off he went, without more ado, to enjoy the pleasures he had in mind. After his feasting was done, back he came in the evening, panting and puffing, trailing behind him a eunuch. 'Here he is, Sir,' he said, 'the fellow who stole my horse. He has it for sure, but refuses to give it up. What is more, he swears he never stole it in the first place.' At this, the poor old man appeared to be weeping. He seemed to be at a loss for words to answer the clown's abuse. The emperor, meanwhile, did not know how to refrain from laughing.

143.To settle the matter, he consoled the one with a fresh horse a better one too, while he quenched the counterfeit tears of the eunuch with gifts which surpassed his wildest dreams. Actually, this eunuch was one of the comedian's most fervid admirers, and the object of his flattery had long desired him to benefit from the emperor's generosity. Since, however, he could hardly petition the sovereign on behalf of a man Constantine did not know, he devised the playacting about his dream and made the emperor his dupe, tricking him with the story of the old man and his own imaginary vision -- a deceit made the easier by the emperor's somewhat dull wit. What made it even more deplorable was the fact that we were all aware of his duplicity, but as for denouncing that duplicity, we never dreamed of it: we were merely the victims, compelled to witness the emperor's stupidity and the other's clowning in public, forced to laugh at things which should have made us weep. Indeed, if I had not promised to write on serious matters, and if I cared to record foolish trifles, my history would be augmented with a vast collection of such anecdotes. This is only one of many, and it must serve as [173] an example of the rest. I will return to my narrative of events as they happened.

144. Well, this clown of ours not only took possession of the men's apartments in the palaces but having wormed his way into the imperial gynaeconitis (women's quarters) as well, he won the favour of both empresses. Indulging in all kinds of silly talk, he maintained he had been born of the elder sister. Further than that, he swore most solemnly that the younger sister, too, had given birth to a child. His own birth, said he, had taken place thus -- and then, as if recalling how he had been brought into the world, he gave a description of her labour, with shameless details. His most witty anecdotes, however, concerned Theodora's accouchement, the conversations she had with her child during the pregnancy, and the manner of her delivery. These foolish women, captivated by the clown's stories, allowed him to come and go as he pleased by secret doors. It would not be easy, indeed, to enumerate all the privileges that were showered on him, both in the men's and women's apartments in the palace.

145. For some time his foolery was confined merely to play-acting of this sort, but when the empress died (an event which I will describe shortly) the simpleton began to commit crimes, crimes which eventually caused great trouble. I will tell part of the story, but first I will anticipate my history by touching on a subject which will be dealt with later. The emperor had a mistress,**130 a girl who was held as a hostage by us from a country of no great importance.**131 She was not distinguished in any way, but being of royal blood she was respected by the emperor and treated with great honour. Our clown conceived a deep love for this girl. Whether she returned his affection I cannot say with any certainty, but it appeared that the love was mutual. Maybe she moderated her passion, but in his case concealment became impossible -- it was the only time his acting failed him. Certainly he gazed at her quite brazenly and they met frequently. He was undoubtedly on fire with love. However, since it was beyond his power to master the affection, or win his beloved princess for himself, he made up his mind to become supreme ruler of the Roman Empire. The idea, of course, sounds absolutely absurd, and quite incredible, but he determined to carry it out. Perhaps he bad been influenced by the advice of ill-disposed persons, or maybe the plot originated in his own mind; I do not know, but, in any case, he thought his plan would be extremely easy to put into practice, [174] for two reasons. He calculated that there was no difficulty in murdering the emperor, and secondly, he himself had the keys to the secret entrances: he had power to shut or open all doors as he wished. Unfortunately for him, he had been led to believe that his success would be popular, and it simply was not true. The fact is, he listened to the not inconsiderable mob of sycophants who fed at his table, and one of the leaders of that chorus, a man who had complete ascendancy over him, happened to be commander of the mercenaries.

146. Well, to begin with, he kept this plan to himself, and no one at all had an idea that he was considering any such scheme. But when his crazy infatuation proved altogether too much for him, he threw caution to the winds and revealed his intentions to quite a number of other people, a move which rapidly led to his downfall. Actually his arrest came none too soon -- less than an hour before he was to commit his horrible crime. When evening came and the emperor, following his normal custom, lay down to rest, he was probably engaged in sharpening his dagger ready for the murder, but one of his confidants suddenly arrived at the palace, saying he had a message for Constantine. Still panting hard, he entered the Imperial bedchamber, and without waiting to get his breath, gave his warning. "He will kill you, Sir! At once -- your dearest friend (mentioning the man by name). Find some way of escaping instant death!" The emperor could not believe it. He did not know what to do. The clown, meanwhile, realizing what had happened, threw away his dagger, made for the church which was near there, and took refuge at the Holy Altar. He confessed his plot and all the deception he had practised in order to carry it out. He admitted the preparations he had made and acknowledged that he had intended to kill the emperor outright.

147. Constantine, instead of returning thanks to God for his deliverance, was extremely angry with the messenger, because, forsooth, his beloved friend had been caught. Already, before he even heard the charges brought against him, he was defending the prisoner. However, as the plot could not possibly be hushed up (for everyone knew of it), he decided to hold a semblance of trial the next day, and the culprit was led into court, in chains, to hear sentence pronounced. At the sight of his friend's hands bound thus (it was a strange and unusual spectacle), the emperor could hardly refrain [175] from openly showing his sorrow. His eyes filled with tears. 'Be good enough to set him free,' he said, 'for my heart melts with pity when I look at him thus.' And when those who had been ordered to do so had loosed him from his chains, Constantine gently urged him to make his defence; the charges were dismissed at once. 'You have a most ingenuous character,' he said. 'I know your sincerity and frankness. But tell me, who pushed you into this ridiculous plot? Who has deceived your simple soul? Who led you astray from the path of innocence? Tell me again, which of my possessions do you covet? What is it that pleases you most? I assure you, you shall have all your heart's desire.'

148. Thus spoke the emperor, his eyes all swollen with weeping and his cheeks wet with tears. As for the clown, he ignored the first questions as though they had never been asked: in fact, he offered no explanation whatever. In regard to the later queries, which referred to his desires, he did reply, and a wonderful exhibition of play acting it was. Kissing the emperor's hands and laying his head on the emperor's knees, 'Seat me on the imperial throne,' he said, 'and adorn me with a crown of pearls. Give me this collar too (pointing to the ornament Constantine wore round his neck) and let me share in the acclamation with you. I longed for this before, and now it is my greatest desire.'

149. The effect of these words on the emperor was extraordinary. He was really delighted. What he wanted was to find some reasonable excuse for acquitting the fellow of making this absurd attempt on his own life. If it could be shown that he was simple and honest, then he would be completely free of suspicion, and condemnation would be unnecessary. 'I will put a diadem on your head as well,' he said, 'and clothe you in a robe of purple. One thing I beg of you: please be your old self and put an end to this trouble. Away with that dark look on your face and let me see there the old expression, the happiness that used to shine in your eyes!' Even the seriousrninded smiled at these words, and the judges, without so much as asking a single question, left the court in a body, laughing. They did not even stay to see the end of the comedy. As for the emperor, he made a thank-offering to God for his safety and rendered prayers of gratitude, as if he himself had been the accused and had himself been acquitted. This was followed by a feast more sumptuous than usual, the emperor giving the banquet and presiding over it, and the [176] guest of honour was none other than this clown, the very man who had plotted against him.

150. When [he empress Theodora and his sister Euprepia, like the goddesses in the poem**132 expressed severe disapproval of these proceedings, and instead of being agreeable constantly criticized the emperor's stupidity, his composure was ruffled, and to please them he condemned the culprit to exile. The place was not far away, **133 in fact, he ordered him to reside quite near, on one of the islands lying off the city, advising him to enjoy the bathing there and amuse himself to his heart's content. Less than ten days afterwards he recalled him with every mark of honour. He was to be granted more license than ever: greater favours should be conferred on him. In a history such as this, I have passed over in silence many remarkable facts, things which not only injure the reputation of an author, but bore his readers. In the case of this particular incident I have not told the whole story. To complete it, I shall have to digress at some length and insert here another anecdote, in order to make the history free from obscurity. After this digression I will return to my original story and finish it.

151. The empress Zoe was already past the age for sexual relations, but the emperor's desires were still feverish. His Augusta had died some time ago, and his conversations on the subject of love tended to become involved in a mass of strange and fanciful ideas. He was naturally inclined to sexual indulgence, but he could find no satisfaction in cheap harlotry. Yet memories of his early amours were always rousing in him fresh waves of desire, and eventually he fell in love with a young girl, one of our hostages from Alania (I have already mentioned this fact earlier in my history). The kingdom of Alania was not particularly distinguished in itself, nor had it any great prestige, but it regularly supplied pledges of its loyalty to the Roman Empire. This girl was the daughter of the king there. She was not remarkable for beauty and few suitors sought her hand in marriage. Only two attributes lent her especial charm -- the whiteness of her skin, and the brilliance of her very beautiful eyes. Yet when the emperor once came under her influence, he forsook all his other paramours. He lived with this girl alone and conceived for her a most violent passion.

152. As long as the empress was still alive, his intrigues were more or less secret: he preferred to go and come unseen, under a cloak of [177] mystery. When she was dead, though, he flaunted his passion and openly fanned the flame of desire. He very nearly had a bridal chamber furnished and escorted his lady-love there, as if she were indeed his wife. Her appearance was suddenly transformed in an extraordinary way. Her head was garlanded in strange decorations, her neck was resplendent with gold, bracelets of gold, fashioned like snakes, twined round her arms, and heavy pearls were suspended from her ears. As for her girdle, it was made of gold, adorned with a chain of pearls. The woman was a veritable Proteus, with all his changes and variations.**134

153. Really he wanted to crown her with the diadem of an empress, but two things restrained him: the law limiting the number of marriages, and the empress Theodora, who would neither tolerate his insult, nor agree to be both ruler and ruled. So the lady was not permitted to wear the imperial robes, but Constantine did allow her to share his title, for he called her Augusta. An imperial bodyguard was also provided for her. Every door that led to her desires was thrown wide open, rivers flowing with gold were diverted for her pleasure, streams of wealth, endless floods of opulence. So once more all our treasures were wasted away and squandered. Some were scattered inside the walls of the city, others carried away to the barbarian world. For the first time in its history the land of the Alanians was surfeited with good things that came to it from our Rome. Ships sailed into harbour, and when they once more put to sea, they were all loaded with precious things that belonged to us, things that in he old days made the Roman Empire the object of envy.

154. It used to grieve me then, seeing all our possessions thrown away like that, and I am just as distressed at the thought of it today, for no one ever admired the Romans or loved his country more than I do. I still blush for my master and emperor. Two or three times every year envoys used to come from her father in Alania to this girl Augusta, and Constantine would show her off to them (like an exhibition on a stage), proclaiming that she was his consort and empress, and he actually called her by those names. He himself gave them some gifts, others he encouraged his beautiful 'wife' to present to them.

155. The actor fellow, of whom I spoke some time ago, had been in love with this princess before, and he was successful in his wooing. So he plotted against the emperor, but the plot went awry. [178] When he returned from exile, he was more passionately in love than ever. I was well aware of this, but I thought Constantine knew nothing about it. Really, I was rather doubtful. However, it was he himself who settled the question for me. On a certain occasion when I was accompanying him on one of his visits to the lady (he was being carried on a litter), her lover was also one of the party At the time she was in her private apartment in the palace, standing by some latticed gates. Before embracing her, the emperor stopped, thinking of something, and while he was concentrating on the matter in question, the clown cast his eyes in the direction of his beloved. Seeing her, he smiled gently and then showed other signs of his love for her. Again and again his eyes turned towards her. While this was going on, the emperor gently nudged me in the ribs. 'See the rascal,' he said, 'still in love. His past punishment hasn't done him the least good.' Immediately I heard him, I was covered in confusion, but he went on to see the lady, while the other, by no means abashed, looked at her with more insolence than ever. However, it all came to nothing, for the emperor died, as I shall tell you later in my history, and of the other two the Augusta was again considered a mere hostage, and the lover saw his passion end in nothing but empty dreams.

156. It must be clear that in this account I have repeatedly passed over many events that occurred during this period, so I will return to the emperor. But first I will devote some pages to the empress Zoe, ending with her death, and then I will take up any main story again. What she was like in her youth I cannot say with any certainty, I have already given some description of her earlier in this book, but what I wrote then depended on hearsay.


157. When she had grown old, she was somewhat lacking in stability. I do not wish to convey the impression that she was deranged or out of her right mind, but she was absolutely ignorant of public affairs and her judgment was completely warped by the vulgar extravagance that prevailed in the palace. Whatever intellectual advantages she may have enjoyed in the past, her character certainly did not suffer her to preserve even them free from insincerity, for a perverse delight in displaying her knowledge showed her [179] for what she was -- not intellectually honest, but lacking in taste. We will not speak of her reverence for God: I cannot find fault with immoderation in that. Surely nobody could surpass her in that good quality, for she depended wholly on God, ascribed all events to His influence, thought all things were brought about by Him. I have duly commended her for this earlier in my history. For the rest, she was characterized not only by tenderness and laxity, but also by extreme harshness and tension, and these two aspects would interchange for no reason at all in a single moment. She could be both things to the same person. For instance, if one saw her unexpectedly and made pretend to fall down as if struck by lightning (many played this trick on her), he was at once presented with chains of gold, but if he expressed his gratitude with too much effusion, he would promptly find himself in chains of iron. Again, perceiving that her father was somewhat indiscriminate in the infliction of blinding as a punishment, one had but to commit the slightest error, and she would put him to a similar torture, without any hesitation. Had not the emperor frowned on this, many a man would have lost his eyes for no reason at all.

158. She was the most generous of women, and this virtue of generosity, which in her case knew no bounds, led her to pour out all her wealth regardless of all economy. With one hand she would pay out the money, and at the same time raise the other in supplication to God for blessings on the head of her beneficiary. Any enthusiastic account of the glorious deeds of her family, especially those of her uncle Basil, filled her with delight: the effect on her spirits was instantaneous. Although she had already passed her seventieth year, there was not a wrinkle on her face. She was just as fresh as she had been in the prime of her beauty. It must be admitted, though, that her hands were unsteady. She was subject to tremors too, and her back was bent. As for ornaments about her person, she absolutely despised them: she wore neither cloth of gold, nor diadems, nor beautiful things about her neck. Her garments were not of the heavy sort: in fact, she clothed herself in a thin dress.

159. She left the administration of the Empire entirely in the hands of Constantine, preferring to be relieved of all responsibilities in that direction. Nor was she interested in the things that appeal to women -- looms, distaffs, wool, or weaving. One thing above all claimed her attentions and on this she expended all her enthusiasm -- the offering [180] of sacrifices to God. I am not referring so much to the sacrifice of praise, or of thanksgiving, or of penitence, but to the offering of spices and sweet herbs, the products of India and Egypt.

160. As her life drew to its appointed close, when she was on the point of dying, slight changes made their appearance in her normal state of health, signs that the end was near. She lost her appetite and as the lack of nourishment made itself felt more and more, she caught a fever, which proved fatal. It was obvious from the pining away of her body -- one might almost say its decay -- that death was at hand. Her first thought was for those in prison. Debts were remitted, and an amnesty granted to condemned criminals. She opened up the imperial treasury and allowed the gold kept there to pour forth like a river. So the gold was squandered with all the uncontrolled profusion of a flood, and Zoe, after a short and painful illness, but little change in her outward appearance, departed this life at the age of seventy-two.**135

161. Having completed my account of the empress, I will return to Constantine. First, however, I have this observation to make. It was not my desire to write a history, or to acquire a reputation for veracity in that sphere. What I wanted to do was to compose a panegyric in honour of this ruler. Certainly I should have been able to contribute a host of compliments to my eulogy, for he afforded abundant justification for them. The encomiast, you see, passes over all that is unworthy in his hero, and concentrates on his nobler deeds. Where the bad deeds are in the majority, the orator needs to find only one incident where his subject conducted himself in a noble fashion, and he will produce a passable eulogy. By clever handling even mean exploits can be misinterpreted so as to become an excuse for praise. But the man who writes a history is like a judge, no respecter of persons and incorruptible. In his description of events he is biassed in favour of neither side, but adepts in his account a policy of strict impartiality. He brings forward no subtle arguments on behalf of the good, or of the bad, but purely and simply tells what happened. Where two persons are involved in the history, and of them one (a virtuous man) had previously treated the author with boundless contempt, while the other (a man of quite a different stamp) used to confer on him certain favours, the historian will not be influenced by the behaviour of either man towards himself, and each will be represented in his true character. Suppose the historian [181] were allowed to return favour for favour, in the case of someone who had been friendly to him in the past, and suppose he were granted the privilege of perverting the truth for that purpose, all because of some act of friendship or generosity, is there any man more entitled than I to eulogize this particular emperor in his writings? Indeed, Constantine never set eyes on me before he ascended his throne, and yet once he had seen me, he was so charmed with my eloquence that he seemed to 'hang on my lips by his ears', as the proverb says.

162. My difficulty is this -- how am I to preserve the true story, and at the same time give him the credit that he deserves? If I am unduly particular in writing a true history, at least I preserve his great reputation in one respect, for when I make a thorough and candid examination of his career, even where his actions are apparently bad, if we still see the light of virtue shining through his good deeds, and if we find the good scale on the balance, carrying a fairly heavy weight of good deeds, outweighs the bad, then, surely, Constantine will be considered a greater man than all those emperors whose panegyrics appear to be suspects plausible rather than true. Was there ever a man (here I am trying to justify his mistakes), above all, was there ever an emperor, who won the crown of praise for all his deeds, without exception?

163. When we look at the great leaders of men, persons renowned for their characters and their words and deeds, men such as Alexander the Macedonian, the two Caesars,**136 Pyrrhus of Epirus, Epaminondas the Theban, Agesilaus the Spartan, not to speak of others who won brief commendation from their admirers, when we look at these men, we do not find in their lives an equal balance of virtue and vice, as we know from their biographers, but generally they incline somewhat to the worse. What then can one say of those who imitated them, if they seemed inferior to them in some small degree -- I do not mean in all aspects of virtue, but in those where these great men have succeeded above all others?

164. When therefore I compare this very great emperor with them, I am aware that he is their inferior in bravery, but he is a finer man than they when one considers the other good qualities -- and his superiority here is just as marked as theirs in the first case, where he had to yield them the palm. He was impetuous by nature, gifted with remarkable shrewdness and a most retentive memory, but he exercised such control over this lively temperament that he, more [182] than all the others, seems to have been endowed with kindliness. I was not deceived by appearances myself, though, and I knew that he had a temper, and that he held it in check, as a charioteer holds back a spirited horse. So, when the blood rushed to his face and his body was suddenly moved with anger, he would calm down more quickly still, and give way at once to reason. If, by any chance, in the course of his duties as emperor, he spoke rather sharply or threatened anyone with punishment, he would blush immediately afterwards, as if he revere ashamed of uttering words which were, to him, unusual.

165. When he acted as judge, it was impossible for an onlooker to distinguish either the successful litigant, or the defeated party, by their behaviour after he had given the verdict. To put it more clearly the party that obtained the white pebble naturally went away radiant with joy; his opponent, on the other hand, even before he knew that he had lost his case, had no hopes of success, but meeting with treatment more lenient than he had expected, he too went away in triumph, more privileged than he had dared to anticipate.

166. Numerous conspiracies were formed against him, and in the majority of them the rebels even went so far as to attempt assassination. Yet he preferred to draw a veil over their recklessness and talk with them in his normal way, as if he knew nothing of these attempts, or had at once forgotten their impudence. And when those who surrounded the throne, and who had not been deprived of the right to speak freely in his presence, tried to provoke him to anger against them, saying that he would very soon be killed if he did not take steps to defend himself against these adventurers, he was more concerned to score a verbal triumph over them in court, than to give them a regular trial. He appointed judges to hear them, and himself discussed their daring attempts in a speech full of bombast -- and what a clever speaker he was, with what range of expression! Then, as he saw them shuddering with fear, he concluded his speech with a brief defence, conducting even that in frivolous vein -- and straightway sent them away unpunished.

167. With regard to his public acts, I will leave the recording of them to many other writers who like to chronicle those things. But I will disclose a small number of intimate facts about him, things which are the common topic of conversation, the kind of deeds likely to be either praised or blamed. Of the qualities which have [183] built up his good reputation I choose one for special commendation: his clemency. He knew that he was by temperament a kindly and merciful man, and he never bore malice against any of the individuals who vented their spite on him. This gentleness was most obvious in his dealings with moderate offenders -- I mean by 'moderate' those who did no great harm to others. But if he discovered men going so far as to utter blasphemies against the Lord Himself, he punished them by exile, or restricted their movements to a circumscribed area, or kept them in close confinement in prison, and he used to bind himself by secret oaths never to release them.

168. I once remarked that he would not find it easy to keep this resolve and he understood me to mean that that was the only way he could keep evil-doers in check. For a few days, anyhow, he stood by his original decision -- his righteous indignation was still fresh in his mind -- but as soon as his anger began to die (the inevitable result of hearing someone commend his kindness, or speak highly of some predecessor of his for the same virtue), he immediately recalled the culprits in prison. He burst into tears, quite at a loss how to deal best with them. He asked for my advice on such a problem, and I suggested that it was better to err on the side of humanity. He did so, too, appeasing God in some other way.

169. In all my past experience, I have never seen a man more sensitive to the feelings of others. In my opinion, none of the present generation can compare with him in that respect. What is more, I know of nobody more generous, nor one who in his behaviour more resembled the ideal emperor. He was persuaded that his power had been inherited for this very purpose, that he might exhibit these qualities. Any day, therefore, that passed without some kindly deed on his part, any day when he did not exercise in some way his generous instincts, marked a failure to fulfil his duties as a sovereign. Nor did he sow the seeds of well-doing in what I may call fertile hearts, in order to reap the harvest of gratitude at once, and certainly the recipients were not more eager to show forth the fruits of thankfulness than he to sow 'the earth, rich-clodded and fat'.**137

170. For the sake of those who appreciate such anecdotes, I will give a brief example of this characteristic virtue. A certain man was caught stealing military funds, and he was condemned to pay a heavy fine, far beyond his means. He was actually one of the moneyed class and a nobleman. The collector of fines was unrelent- [184]ing in his demands, for the imperial treasury, as well as the public funds, was concerned in the case. The debtor thereupon demanded an audience of the emperor, with the idea of getting him to pass judgment in his favour. The public tribunal would thus be prevented from enforcing the verdict against him. Both parties to the suit were granted the right of appeal to the emperor, and the trial attracted a large audience in court. I was there myself, in the important role of secretary, to record the decisions of Themis.**138 When the two parties came into court, the person who had committed the theft -- or apparently had done so -- defended himself in a straightforward and most pathetic manner. He pleaded that restitution to the public funds should be made from his own personal property alone: he did not want to leave the obligation to meet debts incurred by himself as a heritage to his children. At this point he proceeded to strip of his clothes, as if he could meet his liabilities in only one way -- by divesting himself of all his possessions.

171. Here Constantine interrupted him, his eyes full of tears. 'Wait, my dear fellow! Surely you would be ashamed to bring this dishonour on your family? You mustn't reduce yourself to such sudden and extreme poverty that even food and clothing depend on others' generosity!' -- 'But Sir,' replied the man, 'with all the good will in the world, I could not possibly provide the money they ask for.' And the emperor's answer to this? 'If someone were to pay off a part of this debt, would you be satisfied that justice had been done?' 'It would be a godsend,' said the man, 'but, so far as I can see, no angel or divine being has come down from heaven to watch over human justice and busy itself with the affairs of this world's cities.' 'Never mind,' answered the emperor, 'I will act the part and relieve you of a third of the debt.'

172. At these words the nobleman could restrain himself no longer, but fell on his knees on the ground and almost expired with joy. Constantine, deeply impressed by his gratitude, went on: 'I will do more. I will pay off two-thirds.' And then, before the other could really understand what he had said, he added: 'And the rest!' The debtor had never dreamed that the emperor could be so generous, and now, all his worries solved, like a man who has won a great victory, he clothed himself in his finest robes and with a garland on his head offered thanksgiving to God.

173. I could, if I wished, tell you other anecdotes of this sort about [185] Constantine. There are things which a historian would probably reject, but which a really convincing orator would not disdain to use as the legitimate material for a panegyric. I will give a few examples. The emperor devoted some time to amusements, and while to other men 'amusement', however they regarded it, had only one connotation, to him it was a serious business, invested with dignity. If he wished to make a grove, or to fence a park, or to flatten a racecourse, it was not sufficient to carry out merely the plan as he had first conceived it. New ideas at once occurred to him. As some men covered the meadows with soil, others were fencing them round (all with the greatest expedition): vines and trees were rooted up, but others immediately took their place, already loaded with fruit.

174. How was it done? Well, suppose the emperor wanted to transform a barren plain into a fertile, productive field. No time was lost. Trees which were growing elsewhere were transported to the plain, complete with fruit, and planted in the earth there; clods of soil covered with grass, brought from mountain groves, were spread all over it. And if grasshoppers were not soon chirruping among his blossoming trees, if nightingales were not soon singing everywhere in his grove, Constantine was a fiery disappointed man. He took the thing seriously and it was not long before he was enjoying all kinds of sounds to his heart's content.

175. These habits and the trouble they involve seem, to me at least, perhaps unworthy of 'a counsellor, one to whom the guidance of the people has been entrusted, one who has so many cares', to quote the poetic language of Calliope.**139 Another man, however, seeing the beauty of his works, may admire the emperor for their magnificence, and he will use every argument he can think of to persuade you that Constantine showed extraordinary acumen in dividing his life between business and pleasure, so that neither interfered with the other. No embellishments, he thought, were necessary for the serious side of his life -- that was already endowed with a peculiar beauty of its own -- but the pleasure he invested with a most gracious charm, or rather, with a rare dignity. And as for his acumen, that was proved by the profits he made; by the clever ways in which he saved labour; by the successful and yet economical basis on which he ran his estates; by the way he produced things from nothing, with their qualities already developed, like the Creator in the beginning of the world; by the way he forestalled the seasons in [186] the development of his crops; by the ingenious inventions which enabled him to dispense with farm-workers; by the miracles of improvisation he performed, so wonderful that most people could not believe their own eyes when they saw a field today, where yesterday they had seen a flat plain, and two days ago a hill.

176. When I make statements like that, I am using my arts of rhetoric and persuasion only to a minimum degree. If one were willing to bring into play the full force of one's powers of argument, it would be possible to convince any intelligent audience of anything. To me, however, such feats are not to be commended -- I loathe the kind of clever dialectic that perverts the truth.

177. My object in this history is to stick to the truth, and, in my opinion, these trifles are absolutely inconsistent with Constantine's good qualities. So was his puerile infatuation for an extremely callow and foolish youth who, a year before, had near used pen and ink, a guttersnipe promoted to the centre of an empire's government Such an influence did this scoundrel exert over Constantine that he almost put in his hands supreme power. He used to call him 'his sweet boy', and made him a leading member of the Senate. The 'sweet boy' was in reality a thorough rascal and good-for-nothing, but the emperor looked upon his every word and deed as divinely inspired. I will explain the reason for this sudden affection and for the youth's promotion, but first I must go back to, events that happened before he obtained this power.

178. When Constantine acceded to the imperial throne, he thought the time had come for a rest, like a man who has reached harbour after a long sea-voyage. So he handed over the administration of the empire to someone else. The gentleman in question was of noble birth, a first-class scholar, a practised and witty speaker in all departments of oratory, and an experienced politician.**140 In addition to his study of rhetoric (an art on which he conferred greater distinction because of his unusual powers of persuasion), he had applied himself to civil law. This versatility enabled him to express in clear language the difficult points of legal interpretation. He had the ability to shed new light on any given law. Moreover, Providence had endowed him with an intelligence that was remarkably practical, with the result that he was most admirably adapted, by training and nature, to the intricate task of conducting public affairs. Although an ardent student of all branches of rhetoric, he devoted [187] himself to forensic oratory in particular. When delivering a public speech, he cultivated a style both elegant and pure Attic, but in everyday business he spoke simply, in the direct language of the ordinary man. He had a distinguished presence and a fine figure; his voice, too, lent him dignity, for it had resonance and clarity -- qualities that were much in evidence when he read the imperial decrees from the balcony on the Palace.

179. The emperor, having entrusted his duties to this excellent man, indulged in some quiet recreation -- a natural reaction for a mariner who had but lately escaped a storm at sea and who was still spitting out the brine. Meanwhile affairs prospered, or were changing for the better, and his vice-regent gradually became more prominent, until he was playing the leading role in the state. Then the emperor became jealous. He was unable to bear the thought that power had been transferred to someone else: he wished to control

matters himself, not that the Empire might be more efficiently governed, but in order to have his own way. At the moment he was nothing better than a puppet, and every time he tried to follow the example of his predecessors, his powerful minister restrained him.

180. I recognized what was going on -- there were certain indications -- and I warned the gentleman of the emperor's secret intentions. He, being a man of spirit, was by no means inclined to relax his hold, nor to hand over the reins to his master. With philosophic detachment, he remarked that he would not voluntarily stand by and watch the emperor crash, but when he did climb down from the chariot and resign the whip, he would not envy Constantine his new position.

181. After one stormy scene, the latter deprived him of his viceregal power, and turned a deaf ear to all remonstrance. One might, of course, argue that this act was to his credit: one could assert that the emperor was a highly intelligent man himself, quite capable of sustaining on his own shoulders the whole burden of government and in need of no outside assistance. Anyhow, he deposed him. But, by the will of God, he was promoted to a position even more important -- no other than that of Interpreter of the Mysteries and of High Priest in the Church of St. Sophia.**141 The story of that elevation I will tell in more detail later in my history.

182. These acts are of doubtful interpretation -- it depends on your point of view -- but there was nothing at all moderate about certain other activities which I propose to speak about: he put his whole heart and soul into them. It was typical of the man, for instance, that where he loved, his love knew no bounds; and if he was angry with someone, he would recount his troubles most pathetically and with more than common bitterness, even letting his imagination run away with him. On the other hand, it was incredible how affectionate he could be if he liked.

183. Again, when the empress Zoe departed this life,**142 in extreme old age, he was completely heartbroken at his loss. Not only did he mourn her and shed tears at her tomb and propitiate Heaven on her behalf, but he even wished to pay her divine honours. One of the little columns that surrounded her burial-place became somewhat moist in a spot where the precious metal had cracked (it was plated with silver) and by some trick of nature a mushroom sprang up there. At this phenomenon Constantine was like a man inspired and he proclaimed loudly in the palace that the Lord had worked a miracle at the empress's tomb, so that all men might know that her soul was now numbered with the angels. Everyone knew, of course, what had really happened, but they all supported him in his ardent belief, some through fear and others because they saw in the lie some opportunity for enriching themselves.

184. Such was his attitude to Zoe, but his sister Helen's death passed almost unnoticed and mention of it had not the least effect on him. If his other sister (the one whom I wrote about earlier in the history) had gone before him, he would have been equally unperturbed.

185. In this catalogue of the emperor's foolish excesses, I now come to the worst example of all -- the building of the Church of St. George the Martyr.**143 Constantine pulled down and completely destroyed the original church; the present one was erected on the site of its ruins. The first architect did not plan very well, and there is no need for me to write of the old building here, but it appears that it would have been of no great dimensions, if the preliminary plans had been carried out, for the foundations were moderate in extent and the rest of the building proportionate, while the height was by no means outstanding. However, as time went by, Constantine was fired by an ambition to rival all the other buildings that had ever been erected, and to surpass them altogether. So the area of the church and its precincts was greatly enlarged. The old founda-[189] tions were raised and strengthened, or else sunk deeper. On these latter bigger and more ornate pillars were set up. Everything was done on a more artistic scale. with gold-leaf on the roof and precious green stones let into the floor or encrusted in the walls. And these stones, set one above another, in patterns of the same hue or in designs of alternate colours, looked like flowers. And as for the gold, it flowed from the public treasury like a stream bubbling up from inexhaustible springs.

186. The church was not yet finished, however, and once again the whole plan was altered and new ideas incorporated in its construction. The symmetrical arrangement of the stones was broken up, the walls pulled down, and everything levelled with the ground. And the reason for it? Constantine's efforts to rival other churches had not met with the complete success he hoped for: one church, **144 above all, remained unsurpassed. So the foundations of another wall were laid and an exact circle described with the third church in its centre (I must admit that it certainly was more artistic). The whole conception was on a magnificent and lofty scale. The edifice itself was decorated with golden stars throughout, like the vault of heaven, but whereas the real heaven is adorned with its golden stars only at intervals, the surface of this one was entirely covered with gold, issuing forth from its centre as if in a never-ending stream. On all sides there were buildings, some completely, others half-surrounded by cloisters. The ground everywhere was levelled, like a race-course, stretching further than the eye could see, its bounds out of sight. Then came a second circle of buildings bigger than the first, and lawns full of flowers, some on the circumference, others down the centre. There were fountains which filled basins of water; gardens, some hanging, others sloping down to the level ground; a bath that was beautiful beyond description. To criticize the enormous size of the church was impossible, so dazzling was its loveliness. Beauty pervaded every part of the vast creation, so that one could only wish it were even greater and its gracefulness spread over an area still wider. And as for the lawns that were bounded by the outer wall, they were so numerous that it was difficult to see them in one sweeping glance: even the mind could scarcely grasp their extent.

187. It was not merely the exceptional beauty of the whole, composed as it was of most beautiful parts, but just as much the individual details that attracted the spectator's attention, and although he [190] could enjoy to his heart's content all its charms, it was impossible to find one that palled. Every part of it took the eye, and what is more wonderful, even when you gazed on the loveliest part of all, some small detail would delight you as a fresh discovery. To attempt to place its various merits in any order of preference was useless, for when all the parts were so lovely, even the least attractive could not fail to give pleasure inimitable. Its every detail excited the greatest admiration. People marvelled at the size of the church, its beautiful symmetry, the harmony of its parts, the variety and rhythm of its loveliness, the streams of water, the encircling wall, the lawns covered with flowers, the dewy grass, always sprinkled with moisture, the shade under the trees, the gracefulness of the bath. It was as if a pilgrimage had ended, and here was the vision perfect and unparalleled.

188. Yet to Constantine all this was but the prelude to the future. There were new miracles to be devised, fresh additions to be made. He lived in a dreamland, where past achievement, however won, however acclaimed, seemed to him at once despicable, and he neglected his masterpiece. But he had secret ambitions. These were his new incentives: it was they that fired him with a desire for paths hitherto untrodden.

189. He was moody and inconsistent, but he had one object above all others: to make his country great and famous. I must admit that, in this respects he was not altogether unsuccessful, for the boundaries of the Empire were much extended in the east, and a considerable part of Armenia was annexed. Certain kings of that country were deposed and forced to acknowledge Roman suzerainty. On the other hand, when expediency demanded that he should address other rulers in terms of extreme arrogance, he despatched envoys to them with letters that were abject, quite unworthy of an emperor -- doubtless because he wished to win their friendship.

190. In the case of the Sultan of Egypt,**145 for example, he was far too conciliatory -- deliberately so, to all appearances -- and the Sultan flattered himself because of Constantine's humility. Like a wrestler who is losing his fight, he changed his tactics. Instead of allowing his opponent to dictate the strategy of the contest, he introduced grips of his own -- and won. He was proud of it, too. Many a time the emperor trusted me with secret despatches and ordered me to write them for him (he recognized my patriotism and my love for the

[191] Romans), suggesting that I should voluntarily humiliate himself and glorify the Egyptian. Nevertheless, I conveyed exactly the opposite impression by subtle allusion: what I wrote had one meaning for Constantine and another for the Sultan. I had sly digs at the latter and hurt his dignity without being too overt. And that is why letters to the Egyptian were in future dictated by Constantine himself, my own efforts being ambiguous. Writing on states of bodily health, Hippocrates the Coan**l46 points out that when they have developed to their fullest extent, it is impossible for them to remain quiescent, owing to the constant changes going on in the body: they must, therefore, enter on a decline. Now Constantine did not suffer that experience himself, but he made his friends do so. He would quietly advance them to high office, then suddenly cast them down, his whole attitude completely altered. It is a fact, though, that some of them were reinstated in their former positions. It was all a gamble.


191. The story that I am about to tell will explain why I adopted the life of a monk. Most people have expressed astonishment that I should hurriedly abandon the brilliant reputation so painfully acquired, just at the moment when I had overcome the jealous machinations of my rivals, and turn to the Church. The change was due partly to an innate desire which I had experienced from my earliest years, a deep love for the meditative life, and partly to the complete metamorphosis in political affairs. The emperor's fickleness alarmed me. He was like a soldier in war, striking out at his foes indiscriminately. In order to trace the whole story, however, I will explain what happened from the very beginning.

192. Many persons had claims on my friendship, but two men in particular. They came from other countries and migrated to our magnificent capital. For these two I had the deepest affection.**147 The reason for our mutual attachment was an interest in learning. They were both much older than I, and lest I should be accused of perverting the truth, I must admit that, while they loved philosophy, I was more advanced in my studies. When they met me, each of them recognized in me something of a kindred spirit, and I, no less, saw mirrored in them my own enthusiasms: we were complementary one to the other. Just as my studies were more advanced, so, if I may [192] be allowed to say it, was my spiritual progress. My position at court, moreover, was higher than theirs. Since I could not bear to be separated from them in any way, I at once introduced one of them to the emperor. The other, who was not so willing to approach the sovereign, was presented later.

193. When we were all admitted to the imperial circle and enjoyed to the full what men call 'high life', we naturally got to know how affairs were conducted, and we were not very favourably impressed by this outward splendour. However, each of us was afraid to express his feelings: each waited for a suitable opportunity before revealing his inmost thoughts. The primary cause of our mutual revelations was provided by the emperor himself. It was he who set in motion the chariot of state, and of those who rode in it most were thrown overboard or struck down by him. As we, too, were aboard, there was every reason why we should fear some great jolt on the wheel: he might jerk us off, as well as the rest, for we were not very firmly seated.

194. Such was the reason for our common decision -- it was the emperor's own character that made us choose the monastic life. Having once arrived at the same conclusion, each of us revealed his secret intention to the other two. It was as if each read the other's thoughts. We were agreed, therefore, on the action to be taken and we made an everlasting covenant, but seeing that any immediate or sudden alteration of status on the part of all together would be, necessarily, out of the question, we postponed it for the present. Nevertheless, we bound ourselves by solemn oaths to follow the example of the first one to become a monk.

195. First to lead us along the path to God was he on whom Fortune had smiled most favourably. True to his character, having once made a decision on solid grounds and having once determined to serve God, he brought forward a pretext for his conversion. He pleaded ill-health. Bit by bit, with much panting and puffing, he informed the emperor of his trouble, and begged to be allowed to go. Constantine was much concerned over the matter, but he gave his permission. It grieved him exceedingly to lose so soon a man of such qualities.**148

196. The outcome of this interview reacted instantly on me. I could neither sleep nor rest because of it, and it was equally difficult to wait patiently for my own opportunity to go. I visited my friend [193] and with many tears of protestation I promised that I would follow his example forthwith. And he, once again with a feigned excuse -- this time that his health had miraculously improved since he had donned the monkish habit -- without more ado retired to the holy monastery on Mount Olympus.

197. I decided to imitate him exactly, and alleged, by way of excuse, that I was suffering from liver trouble and serious heart-burn, I pretended to be delirious and talked to myself, as though the business of everyday life were too much for me. I went dumb and made signs with my fingers that I desired tonsuration. Messages soon reached the emperor that I was out of my senses. He was told that I was on the point of dying, that I was heartbroken by the terrible disaster that had overtaken me, but that whenever I did recover my wits, I longed for the chance to enter Holy Church. At the news of my 'illness' Constantine was greatly upset, far more than my position deserved. His first concern was that my life was in danger -- a prospect that filled him with consternation and called forth bitter laments. The thought that he was about to lose me particularly worried him, for he loved my conversation immensely. There is no reason, surely, why I should not admit it. Perhaps I may be permitted to speak with some little pride of my own resourcefulness in dealing with him. My life, as far as possible, was dedicated to the pursuit of philosophy, but I carefully accommodated myself to his every mood. He was a man who soon tired of his enthusiasms. He liked change -- in musical parlance, he alternated the highest treble with the deepest bass; sometimes he struck a chord of both together. There were certain occasions, therefore, when I would discourse to him in philosophic vein on the First Cause, on the Universal Good, on Virtue, on the Soul. I would prove to him how the soul can be visible in the body, and again, how it can float above the body, like a cork, but still attached to it: this phenomenon I compared to some object, suspended in the air, balancing itself lightly on the wing, relying entirely on its own strength and altogether unaffected by the weight of the bond that ties it to something else below it.**149 Then, when I saw that he was becoming bored with these lectures, and that he wanted to change the subject to something more to his taste, I would turn to the Muse of Rhetoric and introduce him to another aspect of Excellence, delighting him with word-harmonies and rhythmic cadences, composition and figures of speech (which lend the art its

[194] peculiar force). The function of Rhetoric is not merely to deceive by persuasive argument, or to deck itself out with ambiguous sentiments: it is an exact science. On the one hand, it expresses philosophic ideas; on the other, by means of its flowery imagery, it beautifies them. The listener is equally charmed by both. Rhetoric teaches a man to think clearly, undisturbed by the associations of words; to classify, to analyse, to make one's meaning plain without undue fuss. Its peculiar excellence lies in its freedom from confusion its clarity, the way it suits itself to time or to circumstance, even when a man uses simple diction, without recourse to periods or long sentences. By dwelling on all these points I inspired him to a love of the art. But if I perceived that he was growing weary, I would alter my tactics and pretend that my memory was failing, or that my fire, after the manner of Hermogenes's Heat, had almost burnt itself out through its own excess.**150

198. Constantine, recalling these conversations, was by no means inclined to let me go to a monastery. To begin with, in his eagerness to stop my designs, he sent me letters and deputations of noblemen. He assured me that I would soon recover my health, and promised me a brilliant future. Even to this day I cannot read those letters without shedding tears, so great was the affection he displayed in them. He called me 'the apple of his eye', 'the comfort of his soul', 'his heart and light and life'. He begged me not to 'leave him in darkness'. Despite this, I was deaf to all entreaties, for my friend, who had preceded me to the monastery, meant more to me than Constantine's letters. So, as gentle persuasion had failed, he abandoned the fox for the lion, and brandished the big stick. He swore that he would consign me, and my fellow-conspirators, to the flames with no more ado: he would bring utter disaster, not only on myself, but on all my family.

199. I heard these threats with composure -- they were an omen of better things to come -- and took refuge in the harbour of Holy Church. There I surrendered that which covered my head, and cut myself off from the life of this world.**151 When he heard that I had undergone the ceremony, he did not bear me a grudge. In fact, he sent me other messages, of quite a different tenor, in which he congratulated me on preferring the spiritual life and actually encouraged me in my resolve. He criticized the courtier's brilliant coloured robes, and praised the rough habit I was now wearing; he crowned me [195] with the victor's diadem -- all because I had risen superior to every enticement.

200. But enough about myself, for it was not my wish that I should figure in this history. Unfortunately, my plans were upset by these digressions. What compelled me to adopt a monastic life was the emperor's inconstancy. We were afraid of his whimsy and therefore we preferred a monk's life to the inferior existence of a courtier, the untroubled calm of the Church to the confusion and disorder of the Palace.

201. Now that the emperor was deprived of our comforting presence, and now that he no longer had the lyre of rhetoric to charm him, he took refuge again in worldly pleasures. For instance, in the middle of a park, teeming with all kinds of fruit, he had a deep pond made. It was so constructed that the edge of it was level with the surrounding earth. Water was then directed into it by channels. The result was, that unless someone knew beforehand that the ground in the middle of the park had been excavated, he would walk about unsuspectingly to gather apples or pears, and fall into the pond. Getting into deep water, he would bob up to the surface and swim for it -- much to the amusement of the emperor. However, the pond was not made only for fun, and a pleasure-house was built near it, in most beautiful surroundings. Here Constantine would bathe several times a day in the warm water, and it was while going in and out on one of these occasions that he caught a chill. At the time he did not notice it, and although not much troubled by it at first, the poison later spread to his vital organs and affected his lungs.

202. He thought he was going to die, and lay on his bed like an expiring ox that has just been sacrificed. Yet he held no consultation with the empress Theodora about a successor.**152 Instead, he kept his designs secret, and without any reference to her considered by himself who was to be the next occupant of the throne. Such an inquiry, of course, could not remain a secret, and Theodora was told of it. She at once embarked on one of the imperial galleys with her leading advisers and, like a traveller returning home from a stormy voyage, took refuge in the courts of the palace. Having arrived she won over to her side the whole of the imperial bodyguard. There were certain factors that made her influence with them all-powerful: the fact that she had been born in the purple; her gentle character; the sad circumstances of her former life. The emperor was seriously [196] perturbed by this news and he became more ill than ever, but as a restoration to normal health and the making of any sensible plan were equally out of the question now, he plunged once more into deep meditation. His eyes closed; his mind and tongue wandered. He did rally for a brief interval, enough to realize the seriousness of his condition. Then he died, cursing his fate.

203. So passed the emperor Constantine Monomachus, after a reign of twelve years.**153 In public life, he had, for the most part, covered himself with glory; in his private habits too, he had set a fine example to those who cultivate the good life. I say this, because apart from his quick temper, he was in other respects the mildest of men. His history appears to be somewhat inconsistent, on account of his moodiness: the changes in himself and the various phases of his character are reflected in my record of his reign. It is a true record, not a rhetorical exercise -- a sympathetic picture of the emperor as he really was.



1. When he died, supreme power passed into the hands of Theodora, the daughter of Constantine (VIII). Everybody expected that she would entrust the actual government to one of the leading noblemen, but contrary to all opinion and belief, she took on her own shoulders the duties of Roman sovereign. The truth is, she knew that there is no man on earth so ungrateful as one who finds himself emperor through the generosity of someone else: his greatest benefactor, indeed, is the last person to whom he shows his indebtedness. She had good reason to believe this, not only from her own experience but from that of her immediate predecessor, and she had before her examples of it in the case of her sister. She had no desire, therefore, to establish anyone else on the throne. The Empire was her inheritance and hers alone, and she herself superintended all the affairs of state. She was supported in this resolution by her retinue and palace officials, men who from long experience understood imperial policy and knew how the administration of the Empire functioned.**154

2. Convinced that she was doing what was right, the empress proceeded to use her authority in all matters of government, quite openly. Without the slightest embarrassment she assumed the duties of a man and she abandoned all pretence of acting through her ministers. She herself appointed her officials, dispensed justice from her throne with due solemnity, exercised her vote in the courts of law, issued decrees, sometimes in writing, sometimes by word of [198] mouth. She gave orders, and her manner did not always show consideration for the feelings of her subjects, for she was sometimes more than a little abrupt.

3. Now it was the custom among the Romans, at the accession of new emperors, that honours should be distributed both to civilians and to the soldiers. But this empress, while ignoring precedent persuaded the people that she had not really broken with tradition. It was, in fact, generally admitted that this was not her first introduction to the government of the Empire. She was not succeeding to the throne now, but had inherited it long ago from her father only to see it snatched away by outside powers: now she was again assuming her natural and rightful heritage. This explanation seemed plausible enough, and although the people were ready to complain before, they were satisfied now.

4. Everyone was agreed that for the Roman Empire to be governed by a woman, instead of a man, was improper, and even if the people did not think so, it certainly seemed that they did. But if one removes this single objections it must be admitted that in everything else the Empire prospered and its glory increased. No conspiracy whatever was formed against the government:**155 nobody held in contempt the proclamations and orders issued by it. Throughout the Empire the seasons of the year went well, and the harvest was abundant. No Roman territory was plundered by marauding barbarians. There was no open warfare. No section of the state was discontented, for justice was maintained everywhere.

5. Most people expected her to live a long life, past the normal span. Well they might, for her body was in no way bent, despite her exceptional height, and her mental powers were quite equal to more than usually long spells of work or of conversation. To some problems she would devote study before discussing them, but there wore other occasions when she considered them without any previous deliberation, and her facility of expression enabled her perfectly to explain what she meant.

6. Nevertheless, the situation called for an energetic man, one who understood the functions of government, one thoroughly conversant with the imperial rescripts, but none of Theodora's courtiers was entrusted with this responsibility. She knew his downfall would quickly be brought about, for his companions at court would soon become jealous. Her search for the best man in the Senate resulted in [199] an unfortunate choice.**156 The person she placed at the head of affairs was not one with long-standing qualifications in the realm of literature or of oratory. His recommendations comprised an ability to hold his tongue and keep his eyes fixed on the ground, a certain gaucherie in society, a complete lack of all the other graces that normally characterize a politician. This was the man whom she promoted to the most important position in the state. It is a fact, of course, that the emperors allot the higher offices to men whose fidelity is least likely to waver, provided that they are dignified in appearance, rather than to others who are eloquent and highlycultured individuals with an inherited aptitude for politics. In the case of this man, it has to be allowed that he did have a certain facility in speaking, but his oratory owed more to gestures than words, for although he used neither tongue nor hand with any adroitness, he undoubtedly was more successfull with the latter -- indeed, it was the one thing in which he showed any natural ability, for if he tried to show off his knowledge in words, the impression produced in his audience was just the opposite of what he intended. His style was so crabbed and obscure.

7. At any rate, this man took upon his shoulders the burden of imperial administration. Most people found him intolerable, for he was, as I have said, completely lacking in political temperament. There was nothing very gracious about him: his conversation in society was awkward, and invariably in whatever company he happened to be, he gave the impression of habitual rudeness. He avoided all intercourse with others, and made himself generally unpopular because of his fits of rage and inhumour. He indulged in these displays of temper when someone failed to go straight to the point of his subject and made remarks by way of preface. Nobody was willing to approach him, unless compelled by absolute necessity. I myself admire the inflexibility of such a mind, but its proper place, in my opinion, lies not in time, but in eternity: not in this present life, but in the existence hereafter. The absolutely unemotional and the completely inexorable, I believe, are above all the spheres, outside the circumference of the universe. But human life, just because it is lived in the wider circle of society, is better fitted to encounter the vicissitudes of its present existence -- in other words, the emotional element in the soul reacts harmoniously to the physical stimuli in the body. [200]

8. According to my observations, I distinguish three kinds of soul, each having a character of its own. The first type is that which lives in isolation, by itself, freed from the body, unbending and altogether incapable of compromise; the other two I have examined in the light of their co-existence with the body. For instance, if the soul, despite the deep and numerous emotions to which it is subject, chooses to live the life of moderation, as though it were the exact centre of a circle, then it brings into being the man who plays his part in public affairs. Such a soul is neither really divine nor entirely concerned with the apprehension of spiritual things, nor yet overprone to indulge the body, nor subject to passion. On the other hand, if the soul turns aside from this middle course and marches on the path that leads to low, base passions, then it produces the voluptuous and the sensual man. Suppose then that someone were able to step outside the bounds of all things pertaining to the body, and take up his position at the height of spiritual perfection, what would he have in common with the world around him ? 'I have put off my tunic,' says the Scripture, 'and how shall I put it on again?'**157 By all means let him go up his high and lofty mountain: let him stand with the angels, so that unearthly light may be shed upon him: let him separate himself from men and avoid their society. No one on earth has ever triumphed over the force of nature to such an extent, but if this imaginary person were by chance entrusted with the direction of state affairs, I would counsel him to take matters in hand like a man dealing with his fellow-men, not to pretend that he was endowed with the unerring straightness of a ruler, for not all have been made equally perfect. If he renounces all deviation from the path of moral rectitude, it naturally follows that he at once rejects also those who traverse the crooked path.

9. This will explain why the gentleman I was talking about, by acting the philosopher in matters that were not the proper object of philosophy, earned the reputation, not of being a philosopher, but a mimic of one. However, in order to consider all aspects of the man, it has to be allowed that he was quite different in private life, for he lived on a magnificent, sumptuous scale, was generous and incorruptible. If someone, dining with him, assumed a smiling gaiety and, to quote from the poet,158 'stretched forth his hands to the food that was ready', he would eat with more gusto than usual, chatter away with his guest, and follow his mood with all kinds of [201] pleasantry. Afterwards, he would change again, returning to his normal habits, in no way modified. Nobody else, if he had his way, would share with him the duties of government -- but that word reminds me: I must digress once more and introduce myself again to this history.

10. Not long before Theodora's accession, I had adopted the monk's cowl. Owing to the fact that I took this step shortly before Monomachus died, many persons surmised that I had previous knowledge of the event. According to them, I knew he was going to die and for this reason changed my manner of life. It is a fact that most people give me credit for more learning than I actually possess. Because I have dabbled in geometry, they imagine that I am capable of measuring the whole heavens, and since I have devoted a certain amount of study to the phenomena of the celestial sphere, they insist that I must also be acquainted with the phases, the obliquity of the ecliptic, eclipses, full moons, cycles and epicycles. They even claim that I can predict the future, despite my repudiation of books written on these subjects.

11. Another thing in which I have been interested is Horoscopy, far enough to learn something of the nonsense that derives from it. The truth is, my education was so wide and the questions of those who consulted me so diverse, that there is no science which I was not induced to study. Because of this interest in horoscopes, I find myself inevitably subjected to troublesome inquiries about them. That I have applied myself to the science in all its aspects I admit but at the same time none of these studies, forbidden by the leaders of the Church, has been put to improper use. I know the theory about the lottery of Fortune and about a presiding Evil Genius, but I certainly do not believe that the positions or the appearance of stars affect what goes on in the sublunary world. To blazes with all those who tell us there is a spiritual life, and who then declare that its direction lies in the hands of their newfangled gods! These are the folk who deny the unity of human life, for while according to them life owes its origin and birth to the Creator in Heaven, and derives from Him alone, they also insist that the stars, which have no power of reasoning, are living beings, and they give them a dwelling-place in every part of the human body before it lives, grafting on to it, so to speak, the power of thought afterwards.

12. Nobody with any sense would find fault with a man who [202] knew these theories, but gave them no credence. On the other hand, where a man rejects Christian Doctrine, and turns to such hypotheses, his studies are useless and may well be regretted. For my own part -- and this is the truth -- it was no scientific reason that made me give up these ideas, but rather was I restrained by some divine force. It is not a matter of logical argument -- and I certainly pay no attention to other methods of proof. But the same cause, which, in the case of greater and more learned intellects than mine, has brought them down to a level where they accept Hellenic culture, in my case exercises a compulsion upwards, to a sure faith in the truth of our Christian Theology. If then my deeds have not always harmonized with what I profess, may I find mercy with the Mother of the Word, and with the Son born of no earthly father, with the sufferings He endured with the crown of thorns about His Head, the reed and the hyssop, the Cross on which He stretched out his Hands, my pride and my glory!

13. But I must return to the original subject that I was discussing and carry on my narrative. As I was saying, shortly before the emperor's death I renounced the worldly life I had been living and became a monk. But when Theodora ascended the throne, she at once sent for me. After a tragic account of the treatment she had received at the hands of her brother-in-law, she told me of her own secret plans and encouraged me to visit her frequently. If I had any information I was on no account to conceal it from her. This was not the first occasion on which I had an interview with her. In fact, even during Monomachus's lifetime, if she wished to write secret dispatches or conduct any other private business, it was her habit to consult me about her letters and her plans.

14. My visits, made at her invitation, excited jealousy, and when those who had got there before me were unable to injure my reputation with malicious tales, they proceeded to criticize my monastic robes and the way I lived apart from the others. Theodora listened to their complaints and in future she was careful to treat them with the same friendly regard as myself. However, I saw how things stood, and my visits became less frequent, with the result that she again turned to me for advice. She reproached me for lack of initiative and accused me of neglecting her orders altogether.

15. This typifies her tenacity of purpose and the way she would set her heart on some course of action, regardless of consequences. [203] The truth is, she had little faith in her own opinions, and this led her to fear for the future welfare of the Empire. So she came to rely more on the advice of others than on herself. There is no doubt that she had a great respect for the emperor who preceded her, even after his death. Not only did she keep alive the memory of his noble deeds, but no decision made by him, so far as she was concerned, could be looked on as worthless. Despite this determination to follow his example, she failed, with the result that most of his measures were rendered useless. As a matter of fact, the person to whom she entrusted the general supervision of the governments -- the man I was speaking of just now -- having failed to obtain high honours in the reign of the last emperor, and having been denied the privilege of standing beside him in council, as he had always done in the case of the sovereigns before him, grumbled at Constantine during his lifetime and, now that he was dead, bore him malice for past slights. Of course, there was some justification for what he did, as well as for the attitude of the empress, and for the feelings of others who had been ill-disposed toward Monomachus. What was indefensible was the way she forgot that she was only a temporary dweller on this earth, and her failure to make proper provision for the future. Her councillors, moreover, should have impressed this on her, instead of imagining that she would live for ever, always at the same age, or even that she was freed from the influence of time altogether and had blossomed afresh, like some young plant. They thought their fortunes were secured for ever, refused to consider the appointment of an emperor, made no effort to ensure a smooth transfer of power. Surely no one could excuse, either in her or in them, such extreme and such disgraceful folly.

16. When I saw her actually installing certain persons in positions of authority in the Church, and explaining her actions in endless, wearisome discourse, I could contain myself no longer. I expressed my dissatisfaction in private, complaining of her behaviour to trusted friends. Her conduct surprised me, because I knew she was most careful in matters concerned with religion. Desire for absolute power had led her even to break the law: at all events, it altered her pious attitude towards Heavenly things, and she was not so inclined to be sympathetic as she had been before. Whether she was reverting to her real character, to show that her past life had been merely a sham, or whether this lack of sympathy was deliberately cultivated, [204] to avoid being imposed on by her courtiers, or to discourage attempts to win her over by sudden outbursts of emotion, I am unable to say.

17. The Oecumenical Patriarch (the customary title of the Patriarch of Constantinople) was at that time Michael, the successor of the divine Alexius on the Holy Throne.**160 Although she had been most friendly towards him in the time before she became empress and had treated him with marked respect, once she was firmly established in power she abominated the man, refusing even to meet him. There was a reason for this: the patriarch was vexed because the Roman Empire was being governed by a woman. Characteristically, he was filled with wrath at this state of affairs, and he spoke his mind freely. It is not improbable that she would have deposed him from his office, had her mortal life been somewhat prolonged.

18. The extremely generous persons who passed all bounds of liberality, with their munificent gifts, were not angels carrying messages to her from God, but men, who imitated the angelic beings in outward appearance, and at heart were hypocrites. I am referring to the Naziraeans of our time.**161 These men model themselves on the Divine, or rather they have a code of laws which is, superficially, based on the imitation of the Divine. While still subject to the limitations of human nature, they behave as though they were demi-gods among us. For the other attributes of Divinity they affect utter contempt. There is no effort to harmonize the soul with Heavenly things, no repression of the human desires, no attempt by the use of oratory to hold in check some men and goad on others. These things they regard as of minor importance. Some of them utter prophecies with the assurance of an oracle, solemnly declaring the will of God. Others profess to change natural laws, cancelling some altogether and extending the scope of others: they claim to make immortal the dissoluble human body and to arrest the natural changes which affect it. To prove these assertions they say that, like the ancient Acarnanians,**162 they always wear armour and for long periods of time walk on air -- descending very rapidly when they smell savoury meat on earth! I know their kind and I have often seen them. Well, these were the men who led the empress astray telling her she would live for ever, and through their deceit she very nearly came to grief herself and brought ruin on the whole Empire as well.

19. They predicted for her a life going on for centuries without end. In fact, she was already nearing the day which Fate had decreed should be her last. I ought not to use such an expression -- what I mean is that she had nearly finished her life and the end was at hand. As a matter of fact, she was assailed by a very terrible illness. Her excretory processes broke down, and this was followed by loss of appetite and vomiting. Later she was afflicted with violent diarrhoea and an almost total evacuation of the intestines left her at death's door. Everyone (I am talking now of her intimate friends) despaired of her life, quite naturally, and they at once began to consider what was to become of the Empire and also of themselves. They started to make plans. I am not making this statement from hearsay, for I was present myself when these projects were discussed and made, seeing with my own eyes and hearing with my own ears how they played fast and loose with the Empire, like men playing at dice.

20. It was not yet mid-day and the empress was breathing with difficulty. She appeared to be on the point of dying. The councillors were gathered together round the throne, their leader in the midst, deciding whom they should elect as the new emperor, in preference to all others, a man likely to favour themselves, one who would be reliable and would protect their own interests. It is not my purpose at the moment to describe the object of their choice, but I will say that the man chosen was pretty well the best candidate, except that he was the sort of person less qualified to rule than to be ruled and led by others. He was already in the autumn of his years, verging on old age, and his hair was completely grey.

21. This was the man, therefore, that they persuaded her to nominate as their future sovereign. There was no hesitation on her part and she at once crowned him as her successor. She lingered on for a little while, still as empress, and died four months before the year's end.**163 So Michael ascended the imperial throne, only to be deprived of power soon after. Before I enter on any description of him as a man, however, I will give a brief introduction to his reign.


76. 'Women's quarters.'

77. It had been the custom for high offices to be bought. This practice was now forbidden and letters were sent to the provinces to this effect (Cedrenus, 753, p. 541)

78. Nicolaus was appointed to high office in the East and Constantine Cabasilas in the West. George Maniaces became magister and was sent back to Italy as supreme commander there (Cedrenus, ibid.).

79. The Nobilissimus was recalled from exile and forced to surrender to the empresses his own considerable fortune. He was then banished a second time (Cedrenus, 753A, p. 541)

80. Constantine Catepanus, surnamed Artoclinas, who was said to have been a lover of Zoe in the past.

81. Possibly poisoned by his own wife, who, says Cedrenus (753C, p. 542), could not bear to lose him.

82. Cedrenus, who is not without some humor, suggests that Zoe decided to marry Monomachus because one Constantine was as good as another: Catepanus had been murdered, therefore another of the same name should take his place! At the beginning of the reign he had been recalled from exile (John the Guardian of the Orphans had sent him to Mitylene) and was given a post in Greece.

83. One of Zoe's chamberlains, a eunuch, Stephanus Pergamenus, was sent to escort him to the palace.

84. The Byzantine Church forbade a third marriage.

85. The ceremony was performed by the priest Stypes on 11. June 1042. The patriarch crowned Constantine the next day.

86. Herodotus, the famous Greek historian, is said to have beer the son of Lyxes and Dryo, and was born at Halicarnassus in 484 B.C. Several Greek writers are known to have attacked him on the ground that he was biased in tavour of the Persians vis--vis his own countrymen. Judging by the work De Malignitate Herodoti, usually ascribed to Plutarch, their arguments were futile.

97. Lat. Aquilo, the north wind.

98. Lat. Septentrio, a north wind.

89. The classical Acte, the famous mountain on the most easterly of the three peninsulas of Chalcidice in north-east Greece, the home of thriving monastic communities and known as the Holy Mountain.

90. Psellus here apostrophizes the emperor.

91. Not altogether fair. Constantine relied on the advice and judgment of such eminent men as Michael Cerularius, who became patriarch in 1043, Constantine Lichudes, and Psellus himself. His elevation of Romanus Sclerus was perhaps not so wise, but he could hardly be expected to foresee the rebellion of Maniaces to which Romanus directly contributed the cause. There were personal reasons why this grandson of Bardas Sclerus was promoted: he was the brother of the new emperor's mistress, Sclerena. At the beginning of the reign certain other changes took place: Michael V was sent to Chios, the Nobilissimus to Samos, the Guardian of the Orphans to Mitylene (perhaps to remind him of Constantine's own sojourn there?).

92. Plotinus (A.D. 205-269) was one of the great neo-platonist philosophers. The facts of his life are known to us chiefly through the Vita of Porphyry prefixed to the Enneads, the series of essays in which Plotinus explains his doctrines.

93. Porphyry of Tyre (A.D. 232-c. 305) wrote voluminously on many subjects. Although not an original thinker himself, he is important because of his frequent references to older authorities.

94. Iamblichus was born at Chalcis, in Coele Syria, about A.D. 250. He enjoyed a reputation quite out of proportion to his real merit as a neo-platonic philosopher, for his main interests were in thaumaturgy.

95. Proclus flourished in the fifth century A.D. He was given the surname Diadochus, because it was comrnonly believed that he had inherited the mantle of Plato. Certainly his writings are extensive, and if one is to credit even a fraction of what his admirers attributed to him, he must have been a remarkable man.

96. The Epinomis, though usually ascribed to Plato, is really of doubtful origin. Diogenes Laertius (III. 37) hints that the author of the book was Philip of Opus who is said to hare transcribed the De Legibus of Plato.

97. Sclerena was a niece of Pulcheria, sister of Romanus Sclerus and grand-daughter of Bardas. She had shared Constantine's exile on Lesbos. She was unpopular with the people. In fact, so vehement was the feeling against her that a riot broke out during the emperors's procession to the Church of the Holy Martyrs (9 March 1044) and he escaped with his life only through the intervention of Zoe.

98. His second wife was Pulcheria's daughter, niece of Romanus III Argyrus.

99. Homer, Iliad, III, I56-7: 'It were no shame that Trojans and well-greaved Achaeans should suffer pain long time for a woman such as she.'

100. The exact date is unknown, but she probably died in 1044. She was buried in the monastery of Mangana and eleven years later Constantine was interred beside her.

101. Probably Constantine Lichudes.

102. Proverb ascribed to Solon.

103 . George Maniaces . In the reign of Romanus III, he avenged the emperor's defeat near Antioch by routing the Saracens. Shortly afterwards he captured Edessa (1032) and found there the famous letter said to have been addressed by Our Lord to Abgarus, the king of that city. This precious relic Maniaces presented to the emperor. In 1035 he was sent by Michael IV Paphlagon to carry on the war with the Saracens in South Italy. The conquest of Sicily followed and a great victory over the enerny (1040). Stephen, who was in command of the fleet, allowed the Saracen admiral to escape, and Maniaces was justly incensed (c, note 49). The latter was recalled, accused of aiming at supreme power, and imprisoned. He was however soon released when Michael V Calaphates became emperor, and once again he was put in command of the Italian armies (1042). He quickly restored the province to some semblance of discipline, although outnumbered and despite the terrible reverses suffered by his predecessors Doceianus and Boioannus.

104. The true story is told in Cedrenus (756-7, pp. 547-8). It appears that Maniaces had possessions in the East. One of his neighbours was that Romanus Sclerus mentioned aheady (cf. note 91). Possibly owing to some insult he had suffered in the past, more probably because he saw in Maniaces a serious rival for honours that he coveted himself, he plundered the general's estates in Anatolia and seduced his wife. Not content with that he slandered him and Maniaces was deprived of his title of Magister. It was only then that rebellion was seriously considered.

105. The protospatharius Pardus owed his appointment as successor to Maniaces not to any outstanding ability but to the fact that he was known to the emperor.

106. Stephanus (cf. note 83). The batde took place near Ostrovo. The imperial troops were routed and Maniaces' men, flushed with their triumph, saluted him as emperor on the field of battle It was at this moment that he fell mortally wounded (Cedrenus, 757B, p. 549). The date was 1043.

107. It had already been displayed in the Hippodrome (ch. 86).

108. St. Saviour of Chalce was founded by Romanus I Lecapenus and enlarged by John I Tzimisces.

109. June 1043.

110. The Russians had long been friendly with the Byzantine emperors (cf. Cedrenus, 758, p. 551). Trade between them was cultivated and merchants travelled freely. The immediate cause of the war was said to be the death of some Scythian nobleman in a brawl at Constantinople. Vladimir, son of the ruler of Kiev, collected a force of some 100,000 men and despite the efforts of Constantine to avert war refused to accent compensation for this outrage.

111. The sum mentioned by Cedrenus (759B, p. 552) is three pounds of gold for each sailor.

112. Many ships had been lost in a great fire three years before.

113. The secretweapon of the Byzantine emperors. It is said to have been invented by a Syrian engineer, one Callinicus, in the seventh century. The 'liquid fire' was thrown on to the ships of their enemies and as it was reputed to be inextinguishable caused panic and dread. The secret formula was handed down from emperor to emperor, jealously preserved for seven centuries.

114. There were no less than some 15,000 enemy corpses washed up on the shores of the Bosphorus (Cedrenus, 758D, p. 553). The commander of the Roman fleet was Basil Theodorocanus. After this battle the Russians retreated by land up the west coast of the Black Sea, harassed constantly by the victors (and not invariably with success).

115. Leo Tornicius, a patrician, traced his descent from Armenian kings and had in fact been governor of Iberia. While there he was accused of revolutionary intentions and deposed, being compelled to become a monk. He had other reasons for hating Constantine: in the first place, he had been sent to Iberia in order that the emperor might separate him from his (Constantine's) sister, EuprepiaCpossibly it was a loveaffair; secondly, he disapproved of the imperial policy im Armenia (it had been made a province of the Empire and its king, Gagik II, had been sent into exile).

116. In September 1047.

117. The army of the East was at this time engaged in Armenia Magna.

118. In the part near the monastery of the Anargyroi, not far from Blachernae.

119. Cedrenus (765D, p. 564) says the arrow struck a servant's helmet.

120. Chiefly Constantine Lichudes. He was vehemently opposed by Argyrus Italus, who did his best to dissuade the emperor from this course.

121. In the Spartan army the pyrphoros was the priest who kept the sacrificial fire, never allowed to go out. Hence to say that not even a pyrophoros was left is equivalent to admitting total defeat (cf. Herodotus, VIII, 6 and Dio Cassius, 39, 45).

122. Cf. Cedrenus, 766C, p. 565, where three officers are mentioned by name.

123. In particular Rhaedestus, on the Sea of Marmora (October 1047).

124. These reinforcetnents were put under command of Michael Iasitas.

125. December 24, 1047.

126 Nireus was said to have been, next to Achilles, the handsomest of the Creeks who fought at Troy.

127. Psellus apparently had only the haziest knowledge of Roman history.

128. Leader of the gladiators in the so-called Servile War in South Italy and finally crushed by Crassus and Pompey. The Romans regarded him as no better than common robber, but the man's character has been deliberately maligned.

129. Romanus Boilas rose to high rank about 1049. Cedrenus (788E, p. 605) speaks of him as being a person of some accomplishments.

130. The lady's name is unknown.

131. Alania.

132. Athena and Hera (Homer, Iliad, IV, 20).

133. Principo.

134. The legendary old man of the sea who had the power to assume any shape he pleased.

135. Zoe died in 1050.

I36. Psellus is referring to Julius Caesar and Augustus.

137. Homeric epithets (cf. Odyssey, II, 328, and X, 34).

138. In the poems of Homer Themis is the personification of Law and Justice.

139. Calliope is the Muse of Epic Poetry. Psellus quotes Homer, Iliad, II, 24-5.

140. Constantine Lichudes, who was promoted to the high office of protovestiarius as successor to Michael Cerularius. The latter had become Patriarch in 1043.

141. Lichudes became Patriarch in 1059, appointed by Isaac Comnenus.

142. Zoe was seventy-two when she died in 1050.

143. The Church of St. George of Mangana (Cedrenus, 790B, p. 608).

144. St. Sophia.

145. The Sultan sent presents to Constantine (Cedrenus speaks of an elephant and a giraffe, 789C, p. 607).

146. The well-known Greek physician and contemporary of Socrates.

147. These two friends were John Xiphilinus, a native of Trebizond, who had been appointed Professor of Law (Nomophylax) in the University of Constantinople reorganized in 1045 and probably John Mauropous, a native of Paphlagonia who was a distinguished scholar and Psellus's old teacher.

148. Xiphilinus retired to a monastery on Mount Olympus in Bithynia as a monk.

149. A neo-platonic theory.

150. Hermogenes of Tarsus (c. A.D. 150) was a celebrated sophist and rhetorician. He acquired a great reputation as an orator while still a very young man, but it appears that he was afflicted with some disease that rendered him totally unfit mentally and although he lived to an advanced age he did nothing worthy of note after he was twenty-five. Psellus here obviously refers to this extraordinary collapse of H.'s intellectual powers.

151. I.e. Psellus was tonsured.

152. Theodora had been in retirement and took no interest in state affairs. Her advisers showed great determination and energy at this crisis (Cedrenus, 791C, p. 610).Constantine consulted the leading men of his government and together they decided that the new emperor should be one Nicephorus, governor of Bulgaria. Theodora's faction quickly cut short their plans. Nicephorus was detained at Salonica and deported.

153. The emperor died on 11 January 1055 and was buried in the monastery of Mangana beside Sclerena.

154. Psellus does not mention Michael Cerularius by name, but the Patriarch was undoubtedly expected to play a leading part. To the surprise of everyone Theodora resisted his claims and appointed her own eunuchs to high office. Among others the future emperor Isaac Comnenus was deprived of his military command and Nicephorus Bryennius, whose execution in the next reign precipitated the generals' revolt against Michael VI Stratioticus, was sent into exile.

155. Nevertheless, a revolt was plainly imminent. Not only was Cerularius plotting against the regime, but Theodora's own parsimony alienated the sympathy of the people.

156. Leo Paraspondylus, the protosyncellus (the patriarch's confidential adviser). Psellus is biased in his judgment of this man.

157. Septuagint, Song of Songs, V, 3.

158. Homer, Odyssey, I, 149.

159. Cf. note 156.

160. I.e. Michael Cerularius. The real trouble was that the Patriarch wanted to be completely free of all control in the ecclesiastical sphere.

161. To the Byzantine writers 'Naziraean' is synonymous with 'monk'. The word is derived from the Hebrew nazir, 'separate'. Psellus clearly has nothing but contempt for these fighting monks.

162. Psellus knew hisThucydides well. We are told by the Greek historian that the Acarnanians, being semi-civilized, still went about armed in his time (I, 5).

163. Theodora died 31 August 1056, at the age of seventy-six.

Complete Text | Introduction | Book 1 | Book 2 | Book 3 | Book 4 | Book 5 | Book 6 | Book 7


Michael Psellus: Chronographia, trans E.R.A Sewter, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953)

This copyright on this text was not renewed. Extensive inquiries were made in the records of copyright renewals, and then a correspondence with Yale University Press (on file) confirmed the situation.

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This etext slightly alters the organization and much of the typography of the printed edition.

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Paul Halsall, January 1999
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The Internet History Sourcebooks Project is located at the History Department of  Fordham University, New York. The Internet Medieval Sourcebook, and other medieval components of the project, are located at the Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies.The IHSP recognizes the contribution of Fordham University, the Fordham University History Department, and the Fordham Center for Medieval Studies in providing web space and server support for the project. The IHSP is a project independent of Fordham University.  Although the IHSP seeks to follow all applicable copyright law, Fordham University is not the institutional owner, and is not liable as the result of any legal action.

© Site Concept and Design: Paul Halsall, created 26 Jan 1996: latest revision 5 June 2023 [CV]