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Truth or Lies Part 8

Procopius: Secret History, translated by Richard Atwater, (Chicago: P. Covici, 1927; New York: Covici Friede, 1927), reprinted, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1961, with indication that copyright had expired on the text of the translation.


  • By the Historian
  1. How the Great General Belisarius Was Hoodwinked by His Wife
  2. How Belated Jealousy Affected Belisarius’s Military Judgment
  3. Showing the Danger of Interfering with a Woman’s Intrigues
  4. How Theodora Humiliated the Conqueror of Africa and Italy
  5. How Theodora Tricked the General’s Daughter
  6. Ignorance of the Emperor Justin, and How His Nephew Justinian Was the Virtual Ruler
  7. Outrages of the Blues
  8. Character and Appearance of Justinian
  9. How Theodora, Most Depraved of All Courtesans, Won His Love
  10. How Justinian Created a New Law Permitting Him to Marry a Courtesan
  11. How the Defender of the Faith Ruined His Subjects
  12. Proving That Justinian and Theodora Were Actually Fiends in Human Form
  13. Perceptive Affability and Piety of a Tyrant
  14. Justice for Sale
  15. How All Roman Citizens Became Slaves
  16. What Happened to Those Who Fell Out of Favor with Theodora
  17. How She Saved Five Hundred Harlots from a Life of Sin
  18. How Justinian Killed a Trillion People
  19. How He Seized All the Wealth of the Romans and Threw It Away
  20. Debasing of the Quaestorship
  21. The Sky Tax, and How Border Armies Were Forbidden to Punish Invading Barbarians
  22. Further Corruption in High Places
  23. How Landowners Were Ruined
  24. Unjust Treatment of the Soldiers
  25. How He Robbed His Own Officials
  26. How He Spoiled the Beauty of the Cities and Plundered the Poor
  27. How the Defender of the Faith Protected the Interests of the Christians
  28. His Violation of the Laws of the Romans and How Jews Were Fined for Eating Lamb
  29. Other Incidents Revealing Him as a Liar and a Hypocrite
  30. Further Innovations of Justinian and Theodora, and a Conclusion


In what I have written on the Roman wars up to the present point, the story was arranged in chronological order and as completely as the times then permitted. What I shall write now follows a different plan, supplementing the previous formal chronicle with a disclosure of what really happened throughout the Roman Empire. You see, it was not possible, during the life of certain persons, to write the truth of what they did, as a historian should. If I had, their hordes of spies would have found out about it, and they would have put me to a most horrible death. I could not even trust my nearest relatives. That is why I was compelled to hide the real explanation of many matters glossed over in my previous books.

These secrets it is now my duty to tell and reveal the remaining hidden matters and motives. Yet when I approach this different task, I find it hard indeed to have to stammer and retract what I have written before about the lives of Justinian and Theodora. Worse yet, it occurs to me that what I am now about to tell will seem neither probable nor plausible to future generations, especially as time flows on and my story becomes ancient history. I fear they may think me a writer of fiction, and even put me among the poets.

However, I have this much to cheer me, that my account will not be unendorsed by other testimony: so I shall not shrink from the duty of completing this work. For the men of today, who know best the truth of these matters, will be trustworthy witnesses to posterity of the accuracy of my evidence.

Still another thing for a long time deferred my passion to relieve myself of this untold tale. For I wondered if it might be prejudicial to future generations, and the wickedness of these deeds had not best remain unknown to later times: lest future tyrants, hearing, might emulate them. It is deplorably natural that most monarchs mimic the sins of their predecessors and are most readily disposed to turn to the evils of the past.

But, finally, I was again constrained to proceed with this history, for the reason that future tyrants may see also that those who thus err cannot avoid retribution in the end, since the persons of whom I write suffered that judgment. Furthermore, the disclosure of these actions and tempers will be published for all time, and in consequence others will perhaps feel less urge to transgress.

For who now would know of the unchastened life of Semiramis or the madness of Sardanapalus or Nero, if the record had not thus been written by men of their own times? Besides, even those who suffer similarly ‘-from later tyrants will not find this narrative quite unprofitable. For the miserable find comfort in the philosophy that not on them alone has evil fallen.

Accordingly, I begin the tale. First I shall reveal the folly of Belisarius, and then the depravity of Justinian and Theodora.


The father of Belisarius’s wife, a lady whom I have mentioned in my former books, was (and so was her grandfather) a charioteer, exhibiting that trade in Constantinople and Thessalonica. Her mother was one of the wenches of the theater; and she herself from the first led an utterly wanton life. Acquainted with magic drugs used by her parents before her, she learned how to use those of compelling qualities and became the wedded wife of Belisarius, after having already borne many children.

Now she was unfaithful as a wife from the start, but was careful to conceal her indiscretions by the usual precautions; not from any awe of her spouse (for she never felt any shame at anything) and fooled him easily with her deceptions), but because she feared the punishment of the Empress. For Theodora hated her, and had already shown her teeth. But when that Queen became involved in difficulties, she won her friendship by helping her, first to destroy Silverius, as shall be related presently, and later to ruin John of Cappadocia, as I have told elsewhere. After that, she became more and more fearless, and casting all concealment aside, abandoned herself to the winds of desire.

There was a youth from Thrace in the house of Belisarius: Theodosius by name, and of the Eunomian heresy by descent. On the eve of his expedition to Libya, Belisarius baptized this boy in holy water and received him in his arms as a member henceforth of the family, welcoming him with his wife as their son, according to the Christian rite of adoption. And Antonina not only embraced Theodosius with reasonable fondness as her son by holy word, and thus cared for him, but soon, while her husband was away on his campaign, became wildly in love with him; and, out of her senses with this malady, shook off all fear and shame of God and man. She began by enjoying him surreptitiously, and ended by dallying with him in the presence of the men servants and waiting maids. For she was now possessed by passion and, openly overwhelmed with love, could see no hindrance to its consummation.

Once, in Carthage, Belisarius caught her in the very act, but allowed himself to be deceived by his wife. Finding the two in an underground room, he was very angry; but she said, showing no fear or attempt to keep anything hidden, “I came here with the boy to bury the most precious part of our plunder, where the Emperor will not discover it.” So she said by way of excuse, and he dismissed the matter as if he believed her, even as he saw Theodosius’s trousers belt somewhat unmodestly unfastened. For so bound by love for the woman was he, that he preferred to distrust the evidence of his own eyes.

As her folly progressed to an indescribable extent, those who saw what was going on kept silent, except one slave, Macedonia by name. When Belisarius was in Syracuse as the conqueror of Sicily, she made her master swear solemnly never to betray her to her mistress, and then told him the whole story, presenting s witnesses two slave boys attending the bed-chamber.

When he heard this, Belisarius ordered one of his guards to put Theodosius away; but the latter learned of this in time to flee to Ephesus. For most of the servants, inspired by the weakness of the husband’s character, were more anxious to please his wife than to show loyalty to him, and so betrayed the order he had given. But Constantine, when he saw Belisarius’s grief at what had befallen him, sympathized entirely except to comment, “I would have tried to kill the woman rather than the young man.” Antonina heard of this, and hated him in secret. How malicious was her spite against him shall be shown; for she was a scorpion who could hide her sting.

But not long after this, by the enchantment either of philtres or of her caresses, she persuaded her husband that the charges against her were untrue. Without more ado he sent word to Theodosius to return, and promised to turn Macedonia and the two slave boys over to his wife. She first cruelly cut out their tongues, it is said, and then cut their bodies into little bits which were put into sacks and thrown into the sea. One of her slaves, Eugenius, who had already wrought the outrage on Silverius, helped her in this crime.

And it was not long after this that Belisarius was persuaded by his wife to kill Constantine. What happened at that time concerning Presidius and the daggers I have narrated in my previous books. For while Belisarius would have preferred to let Constantine alone, Antonina gave him no peace until his remark, which I have just repeated, was avenged. And as a result of this murder, much enmity was aroused against Belisarius in the hearts of the Emperor and all the most important of the Romans.

So matters progressed. But Theodosius said he was unable to return to Italy, where Belisarius and Antonina were now staying, unless Photius were put out of the way. For this Photius was the sort who would bite if anyone got the better of him in anything, and he had reason to be choked with indignation at Theodosius. Though he was the rightful son, he was utterly disregarded while the other grew in power and riches: they say that from the two palaces at Carthage and Ravenna Theodosius had taken plunder amounting to a hundred centenaries, as he alone had been given the management of these conquered properties.

But Antonina, when she learned of Theodosius’s fear, never ceased laying snares for her son and planning deadly plots against his welfare, until he saw he would have to escape to Constantinople if he wished to live. Then Theodosius came to Italy and her. There they stayed in the satisfaction of their love, unhindered by the complaisant husband; and later she took them both to Constantinople. There Theodosius became so worried lest the affair became generally known, that he was at his wit’s end. He saw it would be impossible to fool everybody, as the woman was no longer able to conceal her passion and indulge it secretly, but thought nothing of being in fact and in reputation an avowed adulteress.

Therefore he went back to Ephesus, and having his head shaved after the religious custom, became a monk. Whereupon Antonina, insane over her loss, exhibited her grief by donning mourning; and went around the house shrieking and wailing, lamenting even in the presence of her husband what a good friend she had lost, how faithful, how tender, how loving, how energetic! In the end, even her spouse was won over to join in her sorrow. And so the poor wretch wept too, calling for his beloved Theodosius. Later he even went to the Emperor and implored both him and the Empress, till they consented to summon Theodosius to return, as one who was and would always be a necessity in the house of Belisarius.

But Theodosius refused to leave his monastery, saying he was completely resolved to give himself forever to the cloistered life. This noble pronouncement, however, was not entirely sincere, for he was aware that as soon as Belisarius left Constantinople, it would be possible for him to come secretly to Antonina. Which, indeed, he did.


For soon Belisarius went off to war on Chosroes, and he took Photius with him; but Antonina remained behind, though this was contrary to her usual habit. She had always preferred to voyage wherever her husband went, lest he, being alone, come to his senses and, forgetting her enchantments, think of her for once as she deserved. But now, so that Theodosius might have free access to her, she planned once more how to rid herself permanently of Photius. She bribed some of Belisarius’s guards to slander and insult her son at all times; while she, writing letters almost every day, denounced him, and thus set everything in motion against him. Compelled by all of this to counterplot against his mother, Photius got a witness to come from Constantinople with evidence of Theodosius’s commerce with Antonina, took him to Belisarius, and commanded him to tell the whole story.

When Belisarius heard it, he became passionately angry, fell at Photius’s feet, kissed them, and begged him to revenge one who had been so wronged by those who should least have treated him thus. “My dearest boy,” he said, “your father, whoever he was, you have never known, for he left you at your mother’s breast when the sands of his life were measured. Nor have you even benefited from his estate, since he was not overblessed with wealth. But brought up by me, though I was only your stepfather, you have arrived at an age where it becomes you to avenge my wrongs. I, who have raised you to consular rank, and given you the opportunity of acquiring such riches, might call myself your father and mother and entire kindred, and I would be right, my son. For it is not by their kinship of blood, but by their friendly deeds that men are wont to measure their bonds to one another.

“Now the hour has come, when you must not only look on me in the ruin of my household and the loss of my greatest treasure, but as one sharing the shame of your mother in the reproach of all mankind. And consider too, that the sins of women injure not only their husbands, but touch even more bitterly their children, whose reputation suffers the greater from this reason, that they are expected to inherit the disposition of those who bore them.

“Yet remember this of me, that I still love my wife exceedingly well; and if it is in my power to punish the ruiner of my house, to her I shall do no hurt. But while Theodosius is present, I cannot condone this charge against her.”

When he had heard this, Photius agreed to serve him in everything; but at the same time he was afraid lest some trouble might come to himself from it, for he had little confidence in Belisarius’s strength of will, where his wife was concerned. And among other unhappy possibilities, he remembered with distaste what had happened to Macedonia. So he had Belisarius exchange with him all the oaths that are held most sacred and binding among Christians, and each swore never to betray the other, even in the most mortal peril.

Now for the present they decided the time had not yet come to take action. But as soon as Antonina should arrive from Constantinople and Theodosius return to Ephesus, Photius was to go to Ephesus and dispose without difficulty of Theodosius and his property.

It was at this time that they had invaded the Persian country with the entire army, and there occurred to John of Cappadocia what is reported in my previous works. There I had to hush up one matter out of prudence, namely, that it was not without malice aforethought that Antonina deceived John and his daughter, but by many oaths, than which none is more reverenced by the Christians, she induced them to trust her as one who would never use them ill. After she had done this, feeling more confident than before of the friendship of the Empress, she sent Theodosius to Ephesus, and herself, with no suspicion of opposition, set out for the East.

Belisarius had just taken the fort of Sisauranum when the news of her coming was brought to him; and he, setting everything else as nothing in comparison, ordered the army to retire. It so happened, as I have shown elsewhere, that other things had occurred to the expedition which fitted in with his order to withdraw, however, as I said in the foreword to this book, it was not safe for me at that time to tell all the underlying motives of these events. Accusation was consequently made against Belisarius by all the Romans that he had put the most urgent affairs of state below the lesser interests of his personal household. For the fact was that, possessed with jealous passion for his wife, he was unwilling to go far away from Roman territory, so that as soon as he should learn his wife was coming from Constantinople, he could immediately seize her and avenge himself on Theodosius.

For this reason he ordered the forces under Arethas to cross the Tigris River; and they returned home, having accomplished nothing worthy of mention. And he himself was careful not to leave the Roman frontier for much more than a one hour’s ride. Indeed, the fort of Sisauranum, going by way of the city of Nisibis, is not more than a day’s journey for a well-mounted man from the Roman border; and by another route is only half that distance. Yet if he had been willing in the beginning to cross the Tigris with his entire army, I believe he could have taken all the plunder in the land of Assyria, and marched as far as the city of Ctesiphon, with none to hinder him. And he could have rescued the captured Antiochans and whatever other Romans misfortune had brought there, and restored them to their native lands.

Furthermore, he was culpable for Chosroes’s unhindered return home from Colchis. How this happened I shall now reveal. When Chosroes, Cabades’s son, invading the land of Colchis, accomplished not only what I have elsewhere narrated, but captured Petra, a great part of the army of the Medes was destroyed, either in battle or because of the difficulty of the country. For Lazica, as I have explained, is almost roadless and very mountainous. Also pestilence, falling upon them, had destroyed most of -the army, and many had died from lack of necessary food and treatment. It was at this time that messengers came from Persia with news that Belisarius, having conquered Nabedes in battle before the city of Nisibis, was approaching; that he had taken the fort of Sisauranum by siege, captured at the point of the spear Bleschames and eight hundred Persian cavalry; and that he had sent a second army of Romans under Arethas, ruler of the Saracens, to cross the Tigris and ravage all the land there that heretofore had not known fear.

It happened also that the army of Huns which Chosroes had sent into Roman Armenia, to create a diversion there so that the Romans would not notice his expedition into Lazica, had fallen into the hands of Valerian and his Romans, as other messengers now reported; and that these barbarians had been badly beaten in battle, and most of them killed. When the Persians heard this, already in low spirits over their ill fortune among the Lazi, they now feared if they should meet a hostile army in their present difficulties, among precipices and wilderness, they would all perish in disorder. And they feared, too, for their children and their wives and their country; indeed, the noblest men in the army of the Medes reviled Chosroes, calling him one who had broken his plighted word and the common law of man, by invading in time of peace the land of the Romans. He had wronged, they cried, the oldest and greatest of all nations, which he could not possibly surpass in war. A mutiny was imminent.

Aroused at this, Chosroes found the following remedy for the trouble. He read them a letter which the Empress had recently written to Zaberganes. This was the letter:

“How highly I esteem you, Zaberganes, and that I believe you friendly to our State, you, who were ambassador to us not so long ago, are well aware. Would you not be acting suitably to this high opinion which I have for you, if you could persuade King Chosroes to choose peace with our government? If you do this, I can promise you will be rewarded by my husband, who does nothing without my advice.”

Chosroes read this aloud, and asked the Persian leaders if they thought this was an Empire which a woman managed. Thus he calmed their nervousness. But even so, he withdrew from the place with considerable anxiety, thinking that at any moment Belisarius’s forces would confront him. And when none of the enemy appeared to bar his retreat, with great relief he marched back to his native land.


On his return to Roman territory, Belisarius found his wife just arriving from Constantinople. He put her under guard in disgrace, and often was on the point of putting her to death; but each time he weakened, overcome, I suppose, by the rekindling of his love for her. But they say he was also driven from his senses by philtres she gave. him.

Meanwhile the outraged Photius had gone to Ephesus, taking the eunuch Calligonus, pander for his mistress, with him, in chains; and under the whip, during the course of his journey Calligonus confessed all his lady’s secrets. But Theodosius again learned of his peril, and fled to the Church of St. John the Apostle, which is the holiest and most revered sanctuary thereabouts. However Andrew, Bishop of Ephesus, was bribed by Photius to give the man up into his hands.

Theodora was now in some fear for Antonina, for she had heard what had happened to her; so she sent word to Belisarius to bring his wife to Constantinople. Photius, hearing of this, sent Theodosius to Cilicia, where his own lancers and shield-bearers happened to be wintering; enjoining upon those who took him thither to do so as secretly as possible, and on arriving in Cilicia to hide him privately in the garrison, letting no one know where in the world he was. Then, with Calligonus and Theodosius’s considerable moneys, Photius went to Constantinople.

Now the Empress gave evidence to all mankind that for every murder to which she was indebted, she could pay in greater and even more savage requital. For Antonina had betrayed for her one enemy, when she had lately ensnared the Cappadocian; but she ruined, for Antonina’s sake, a number of blameless men. Some of Belisarius’s and Photius’s acquaintances she put to the torture, when the only charge against them was that they were friends of the two (and to this day we do not know what was their ultimate fate), and others she banished into exile on the same accusation.

One man who had accompanied Photius to Ephesus, a Senator who was also named Theodosius, not only lost his property but was thrown into a dungeon, where he was, fastened to a manger by a rope around his neck so short that the noose was always tight and could not be slackened. Consequently the poor man had to stand at the manger all the time, whether he ate or sought sleep or performed the other needs of the body. The only difference between him and an ass, was that . he could not bray. The time the man passed in this condition was not less than four months; after which, overcome by melancholy, he went mad, and as such they set him free to die.

The reluctant Belisarius she forced to become reconciled with his wife; while Photius, after she had him tortured like a slave and scourged on the back and shoulders, was ordered to tell where Theodosius and the pander were. But in spite of his anguish at the torture he kept silent as he had sworn to do; though he had always been delicate and sickly, had had to be very careful of his health, and was hitherto inexperienced in such outrage and ill treatment. Yet none of Belisarius’s secrets did he divulge.

Later, however, everything that up to this time had been concealed came to light. Discovering Calligonus in the neighborhood, Theodora handed him over to Antonina, and then had Theodosius brought back to Constantinople, where she hid him in her palace. On the day after his arrival she sent for Antonina. “My dearest lady,” she said, “a pearl fell into my hands yesterday, such a one as no mortal has ever seen. If you wish, I will not grudge you a sight of this jewel, but will show it to you.” Not knowing what had happened, her friend begged Theodora to show her the pearl; and the Empress, leading Theodosius from the rooms of one of the eunuchs, revealed him.

For a moment Antonina, speechless with joy, remained dumb. Then she broke into an ecstasy of gratitude, and called Theodora her saviour, her benefactress, and her true mistress. Thereafter, the Empress kept Theodosius in the palace, wrapping him in every luxury, and declared she would even make him general of all the Roman forces before long. justice, however, intervened. Carried off by a dysentery, he disappeared from the world of men.

Now in Theodora’s palace were certain secret dungeon rooms: dark, unknown, and remote, wherein there was no difference between day and night. In one of these Photius languished for a long time. He had the good fortune, however, to escape, not once, but twice. The first time he took refuge in the Church of the Virgin Mother, which is the most holy and famous of the churches in Constantinople, and there took his place at the sacred table as a suppliant. But she captured him even here, and had him removed by force. The second time he fled to the Church of St. Sophia and sought sanctuary at the holy font, which of all places the Christians most reverence. Yet even from here the woman was able to drag him: for to her no spot was too awful or venerable to transgress, and she thought nothing of violating all the sanctuaries put together. Like all the rest of the people, the Christian priests were struck dumb with horror, but stood to one side and suffered her to do as she willed.

Now for three years Photius remained thus in his cell; and then the prophet Zechariah came to him in a dream, and ordered him in the name of the Lord to escape, promising to aid him in this. Trusting in the vision, he broke loose again, and unnoticed by anyone made his way to Jerusalem. Though he passed through countless thousands of men on his flight, not one of them saw the youth. There he shaved his head, assumed the garb of the monks, and was free at last from the punishment of Theodora.

But Belisarius, disregarding his word of honor, took no measures to avenge his accomplice’s suffering of such impious treatment as has been told. And all of his military expeditions from this time on- failed, presumably by the will of God- For his next campaign against Chosroes and the Medes, who were for the third time invading Roman territory, was severely criticized; though one good thing was said of him, that he had driven the foe back. But when Chosroes crossed the Euphrates River, took the great city of Callinicus without a battle, and enslaved myriads of Roman citizens, while Belisarius was careful not even to pursue the enemy when he retired, he won the reputation of being one of two things-either a traitor or a coward.


Soon after this, a further disaster befell him. The plague, which I have described elsewhere, became epidemic at Constantinople, and the Emperor Justinian was taken grievously ill; it was even said he had died of it. Rumor spread this report till it reached the Roman army camp. There some of the officers said that if the Romans tried to establish anyone else at Constantinople as Emperor, they would never recognize him. Presently, the Emperor’s health bettered, and the officers of the army brought charges against each other, the generals Peter and John the Glutton alleging they had heard Belisarius and Buzes making the above declaration.

This hypothetical mutiny the indignant Queen took as intended by the two men to refer to herself. So she recalled all the officers to Constantinople to investigate the matter; and she summoned Buzes impromptu to her private quarters, on the pretext she wished to discuss with him matters of sudden urgency.

Now underneath the palace was an underground cellar, secure and labyrinthian, comparable to the infernal regions, in which most of those who gave offense to her were eventually entombed. And so Buzes was thrown into this oubliette, and there the man, though of consular rank, remained with no one cognizant of his fate. Neither, as he sat there in darkness, could he ever know whether it was day or night, nor could he learn from anyone else; for the man who each day threw him his food was dumb, and the scene was that of one wild beast confronting another. Everybody soon thought him dead, but no one dared to mention even his memory. But after two years and four months, Theodora took pity on the man and released him. Ever after he was half blind and sick in body. This is what she did to Buzes.

Belisarius, although none of the charges against him were proved, was at the insistence of the Empress relieved of his command by the Emperor; who appointed Martinus in his place as General of the armies of the East. Belisarius’s lancers and shield-bearers, and such of his servants as were of military use, he ordered to be divided between the other generals and certain of the palace eunuchs. Drawing lots for these men and their arms, they portioned them as the chances fell. And his friends, and all who formerly had served him, were forbidden ever to visit Belisarius. It was a bitter sight, and one no one would ever have thought credible, to see Belisarius a private citizen in Constantinople, almost deserted, melancholy and miserable of countenance, and ever expectant of a further conspiracy to accomplish his death.

Then the Empress learned he had acquired great wealth in the East, and sent one of the eunuchs of the palace to confiscate it. Antonina, as I have told, was now quite out of temper with her husband, but on the most friendly and intimate terms with the Queen, since she had got rid of John of Cappadocia. So, to please Antonina, Theodora arranged everything so that the wife would appear to have asked mercy for her husband, and from such peril to have saved his life; and the poor wretch not only became quite reconciled to her, but let her make him her humblest slave for having saved him from the Queen. And this is how that happened.

One morning, Belisarius went to the palace as usual with his few and pitiful followers. Finding the Emperor and Empress hostile, he was further insulted in their presence by baseborn and common men. Late in the evening he went home, often turning around as he withdrew and looking in every direction for those who might be advancing to put him to death. Accompanied by this dread, he entered his home and sat down alone upon his couch. His spirit broken, he failed even to remember the time when he was a man; sweating, dizzy and trembling, he counted himself lost; devoured by slavish fears and mortal worry, he was completely emasculated.

Antonina, who neither knew just what arrangement of his fate had been made nor much cared what would become of him, was walking up and down nearby pretending a heartburn; for they were not exactly on friendly terms. Meanwhile, an officer of the palace, Quadratus by name, had come as the sun went down, and passing through the outer hall, suddenly stood at the door of the men’s apartments to say he had been sent here by the Empress. And when Belisarius heard that, he drew up his arms and legs onto the couch and lay down on his back, ready for the end. So far had all manhood left him.

Quadratus, however, approached only to hand him a letter from the Queen. And thus the letter read: “You know, Sir, your offense against us. But because I am greatly indebted to your wife, I have decided to dismiss all charges against you and give her your life. So for the future you may be of good cheer as to your personal safety and that of your property; but we shall know by what happens to you how you conduct yourself toward her.”

When Belisarius read this intoxicated with joy and yearning to give evidence of his gratitude, he leapt from his couch and prostrated himself at the feet of his wife. With each hand fondling one of her legs, licking with his tongue the sole of first one of her feet and then the other, he cried that she was the cause of his life and of his safety: henceforth he would be her faithful slave, instead of her lord and master.

The Empress then gave thirty gold centenaries of his property to the Emperor, and returned what was left to Belisarius. This is what happened to the great general to whom destiny had not long before given both Gelimer and Vitiges to be captives of his spear! But the wealth that this subject of theirs had acquired had long ago gnawed jealous wounds in the hearts of Justinian and Theodora, who deemed it grown too big for any but the imperial coffers. And they said he had concealed most of Gelimer’s and Vitiges’s moneys, which by conquest belonged to the State and had handed over only a small fraction, hardly worth accepting by an Emperor. Yet, when they counted the labors the man had accomplished, and the cries of reproach they might arouse among the people, since they had no credible pretext for punishing him, they kept their peace: until now, when the Empress, discovering him out of his senses with terror, at one fell stroke managed to become mistress of all his fortune.

To tie him further to her, she betrothed Joannina, Belisarius’s only daughter, to Anastasius her nephew.

Belisarius now asked to be given back his old command, and as General of the East lead the Roman armies once more against Chosroes and the Medes; but Antonina would not hear of it. It was there she had been insulted by him before, she said, and she never wanted to see the place again. Accordingly, Belisarius was instead made Count of the imperial remounts, and fared forth a second time to Italy; agreeing with the Emperor, they say, not to ask him at any time for money toward this war, but to prepare all the military equipment from his private purse.

Now everybody took it for granted that Belisarius had arranged this with his wife and made the agreement about the expedition with the Emperor, merely so as to get away from his humiliating position in Constantinople; and that as soon as he had gotten outside the city, he intended to take up arms and retaliate, nobly and as becomes a man, against his wife and those who had done him wrong. Instead, he made light of all he had experienced, forgot or discounted his word of honor to Photius and his other friends, and followed his wife about in a perfect ecstasy of love: and that when she had now arrived at the age of sixty years.

However, as soon as he arrived in Italy, some new and different trouble happened with each fresh day, for even Providence had turned against him. For the plans this General had laid in the former campaign against Theodatus and Vitiges, though they did not seem to be fitting to the event, usually turned out to his advantage; while now, though he was credited with laying better plans, as was to be expected after his previous experience in warfare, they all turned out badly: so that the final judgment was that he had no sense of strategy.

Indeed, it is not by the plans of men, but by the hand of God that the affairs of men are directed; and this men call Fate, not knowing the reason for what things they see occur; and what seems to be without cause is easy to call the accident of chance. Still, this is a matter every mortal will decide for himself according to his taste.


From his second expedition to Italy Belisarius brought back nothing but disgrace: for in the entire five years of the campaign he was unable to set foot on that land, as I have related in my former books, because there was no tenable position there; but all this time sailed up and down along the coast.

Totila, indeed, was willing enough to meet him before his city walls, but could not catch him there, since like the rest of the Roman army he was afraid to fight. Wherefore Belisarius recovered nothing of what had been lost, but even lost Rome in addition; and everything else, if there were anything left to lose. His mind was filled with avarice during this time, and he thought of nothing but base gain. Since he had been given no funds by the Emperor, he plundered nearly all the Italians living in Ravenna and Sicily, and wherever else he found opportunity: collecting a bill, as it were, for which those who dwelt there were in no way responsible. Thus, he even went to Herodian and asked him for money, and his threats so enraged Herodian that he rebelled against the Roman army and gave his services, with those of his followers and the city of Spoletum, to Totila and the Goths.

And now I shall show how it came about that Belisarius and John, the nephew of Vitalian, became estranged: a division that brought great disaster to Roman affairs.

Now so thoroughly did the Empress hate Germanus, and so conspicuously, that no one dared to become a relative of his, though he was the nephew of the Emperor. His sons remained unmarried while she lived, and his daughter Justina, though in the flower of eighteen summers, was still unwedded. Consequently, when John, sent by Belisarius, arrived in Constantinople, Germanus was forced to approach him as a possible son-in-law, though John was not at all worthy in station of such an alliance. But when they had come to an agreement, they bound each other by most solemn oaths to complete the alliance by all means in their power; and this was necessary because neither had any confidence in the good faith of the other. For John knew he was seeking a marriage far above his rank, and Germanus feared that even this man might try to slip out of the contract.

The Empress, of course, was unable to contain herself at this: and in every way, by every possible device, however unworthy, tried to hinder the event. When, for all her menaces, she was unable to deter either of them, she publicly threatened to put John to death. After this, on john’s return to Italy, fearing Antonina might join the plot against him, he did not dare to meet Belisarius until she left for Constantinople. That Antonina had been charged by the Queen to help murder him, no one could have thought unlikely; and when he considered Antonina’s habits and Belisarius’s enslavement by his wife, John was as greatly as he was reasonably alarmed.

The Roman expedition, already on its last legs, now collapsed entirely. And this is how Belisarius concluded the Gothic war. In despair he begged the Emperor to let him come home as fast as he could sail. And when he received the monarch’s permission to do this, he left straightway in high spirits, bidding a long farewell to the Roman army and to Italy. He left almost everything in the power of the enemy; and while he was on his way home, Perusia, hard pressed by a most bitter siege, was captured and submitted to every possible misery, as I have elsewhere related.

As if this were not enough, he suffered a further personal misfortune in the following manner. The Empress Theodora, desiring to marry the daughter of Belisarius to her nephew, worried the girl’s parents with frequent letters. To avoid this alliance, they delayed the ceremony until they could both be present at it,” and then, when the Empress summoned them to Constantinople, pretended they were unable at the time to leave Italy. But the Queen was still determined her nephew should be master of Belisarius’s wealth, for she knew his daughter would inherit it, as Belisarius had no other child. Yet she had no confidence in Antonina; and fearing that after her own life was ended, Antonina would not be loyal to her house, for all that she had been so helpful in the Empress’s emergencies, and that she would break the agreement, Theodora did an unholy thing.

She made the boy and girl live together without any ceremony. And they say she forced the girl against her will to submit to his clandestine embrace, so that, being thus deflowered, the girl would agree to the marriage, and the Emperor could not forbid the event. However, after the first ravishing, Anastasius and the girl fell warmly in love with each other, and for not less than eight months continued their unmarital relations.

But when, after Theodora’s death, Antonina came to Constantinople, she was unwilling to forget the outrage the Queen had committed against her. Not bothering about the fact that if she united her daughter to any other man, she would be making an ex-prostitute out of her, she refused to accept Theodora’s nephew as a son-in-law, and by force tore the girl, ignoring her fondest pleadings, from the man she loved.

For this act of senseless obstinacy she was universally censured. Yet when her husband came home, she easily persuaded him to approve her course: which should have openly disclosed the character of the man. Still, though he had pledged himself to Photius and others of his friends, and then broken his word, there were plenty who sympathized with him. For they thought the reason for his perjury was not uxoriousness, but his fear of the Empress. But after Theodora died, as I have told, he still took no thought of Photius or any of his friends; and it was clear he called Antonina his mistress, and Calligonus the pander, his master. And then all men saw his shame, made him a public laughing stock, and reviled him to his face as a nitwit. Now was the folly of Belisarius completely revealed.

As for Sergius, son of Bacchus, and his misdeeds in Libya, I have described that affair sufficiently in my chapter elsewhere on the subject: how he was most guilty for the disaster there to Roman power, and how he disregarded the gospel oath he had sworn to the Levathae, and criminally put to death their eighty ambassadors. So there remains for me to add now only this, that neither did these men come to Sergius with any intention of treachery, nor did Sergius have any suspicion that they did; but nevertheless, after inviting them to a banquet under pledge of safety, he put them shamefully to death. This resulted in the loss of Solomon, the Roman Army, and all the Libyans. For consequent to this affair, especially after Solomon’s death, as I have told, neither officer nor soldier was willing to venture the dangers of battle. Most notably John son of Sisinnolus, kept entirely from the filed of war because of his hatred of Sergius, until Areobinus came to Libya.

This Sergius was a luxurious person and no soldier; juvenile in nature and years; a jealous and swaggering bully; a wanton liver and a blowhard. But after became the accepted suitor of her niece and was this related to Antonina, Belasarius’s wife, the Empress would not allow him to be punished or removed from his command, even when she saw Libya sure to be lost. And with the Emperor’s consent she even let Solomon, Sergius brother, go scot-free after the murder of Pegasius. How this happened, I shall now relate.

After Pegasius had ransomed Solomon from the Levathae, and the barbarians had gone home, Solomon with Pegasius his ransomer and a few soldiers, set out for Carthage. And on the way Pegasius reminded Solomon of the wrong he had done, and said he should thank God for his rescue from the enemy. Solomon vexed at being reproached for having been taken captive, straightway slew Pegasius; and this was his requital to the man who saved him. But when Solomon arrived in Constantinople, the Emperor pardoned him on the ground that the man he killed was a traitor to the Roman state. So Solomon this escaping justice, left gladly for the East to visit his native country and his family. Yet God’s vengeance overtook him on the very journey, and removed him from the world of men.

This is the explanation of the affair between Solomon and Pegasius.


I now come to the tale of what sort of beings Justinian and Theodora were, and how they brought confusion on the Roman State.

During the rule of the Emperor Leo in Constantinople, three young farmers of Illyrian birth, named Zimarchus, Ditybistus, and Justin of Bederiana, after a desperate struggle with poverty, left their homes to try their fortune in the army. They made their way to Constantinople on foot, carrying on their shoulders their blankets in which were wrapped no other equipment except the biscuits they had baked at home. When the arrived and were admitted into military service, the Emperor chose them for the palace guard; for they were all three fine-looking men.

Later, when Anastasius succeeded to the throne, war broke out with the Isaurians when that nation rebelled; and against them Anastasius sent a considerable army under John the Hunchback. This John for some offense threw Justin into the guardhouse, and on the following day would have sentenced him to death, had he not been stopped by a vision appearing to him in a dream. For in this dream, the general said, he beheld a being, gigantic in size and in every way mightier than mortals: and this being commanded him to release the man whom he had arrested that day. Waking from his sleep, John said, he decided the dream was not worth considering. But the next night the vision returned, and again he heard the same words he had heard before; yet even so he was not persuaded to obey its command. But for the third time the vision appeared in his dreams, and threatened him with fearful consequences if he did not do as the angel ordered: warning that he would be in sore need of this man and his family thereafter, when the day of wrath should overtake him. And this time Justin was released.

As time went on, this Justin came to great power. For the Emperor Anastasius appointed him Count of the palace guard; and when the Emperor departed from this world, by the force of his military power Justin seized the throne. By this time he was an old man on the verge of the grave, and so illiterate that he could neither read nor write: which never before could have been said of a Roman ruler. It was the custom for an Emperor to sign his edicts with his own hand, but he neither made decrees nor was able to understand the business of state at all.

The man on whom it befell to assist him as Quaestor was named Proclus; and he managed everything to suit himself. But so that he might have some evidence of the Emperor’s hand, he invented the following device for his clerks to construct. Cutting out of a block of wood the shapes of the four letters required to make the Latin word, they dipped a pen into the ink used by emperors for their signatures, and put it in the Emperor’s fingers. Laying the block of wood I have described on the paper to be signed, they guided the Emperor’s hand so that his pen outlined the four letters, following all the curves of the stencil: and thus they withdrew with the FIAT Of the Emperor. This is how the Romans were ruled under Justin.

His wife was named Lupicina: a slave and a barbarian, she was bought to be his concubine. With Justin, as the sun of his life was about to set, she ascended the throne.

Now Justin was able to do his subjects neither harm nor good. For he was simple, unable to carry on a conversation or make a speech, and utterly bucolic. His nephew Justinian, while still a youth, was the virtual ruler-, and the of more and worse calamities to the Romans than any one man in all their previous history that has come down to us.- For he had no scruples; against murder or the seizing of other persons property; and it was nothing to him to make away with myriads of men, even when they gave him no cause. He had no care for preserving established customs, but was always eager for new experiments, and, in short, was the greatest corrupter of all noble traditions.

Though the plague, described in my former books, attacked the whole world, no fewer men escaped than perished of it; for some never were taken by the disease, and others recovered after it had smitten them. But this man, not one of all the Romans could escape; but as if he were a second pestilence sent from heaven, he fell on the nation and left no man quite untouched. For some he slew without reason, and some he released to struggle with penury, and their fate was worse than that of those who had perished, so that they prayed for death to free them from their misery; and others he robbed of their property and their lives together.

When there was nothing left to ruin in the Roman state, he determined the conquest of Libya and Italy, for no other reason than to destroy the people there, as he had those who were already his subjects.

Indeed, his power was not ten days old, before he slew Amantius, chief of the palace eunuchs, and several others, on no graver charge than that Amantius had made some rash remark about John, Archbishop of the city. After this, he was the most feared of men.

Immediately after this he sent for the rebel Vitalian, to whom he had first given pledges of safety, and partaken with him of the Christian communion. But soon after he became suspicious and jealous, and murdered Vitalian and his companions at a banquet in the palace: thus showing he considered himself in no way bound by the most sacred of pledges.


The people had since long previous time been divided, as I have explained elsewhere, into two factions, the Blues and the Greens. Justinian, by joining the former party, which had already shown favor to him, was able to bring everything into confusion and turmoil, and by its power to sink the Roman state to its knees before him. Not all the Blues were willing to follow his leadership, but there were plenty who were eager for civil war. Yet even these, as the trouble spread, seemed the most prudent of men, for their crimes were less awful than was in their power to commit. Nor did the Green partisans remain quiet, but showed their resentment as violently as they could, though one by one they were continually punished; which, indeed, urged them each time to further recklessness. For men who are wronged are likely to become desperate.

Then it was that Justinian, fanning the flame and openly inciting the Blues to fight, made the whole Roman Empire shake on its foundation, as if an earthquake or a cataclysm had stricken it, or every city within its confines had been taken by the foe. Everything everywhere was uprooted: nothing was left undisturbed by him. Law and order, throughout the State, overwhelmed by distraction, were turned upside down.

First the rebels revolutionized the style of wearing their hair. For they had it cut differently from the rest of the Romans: not molesting the mustache or beard, which they allowed to keep on growing as long as it would, as the Persians do, but clipping the hair short on the front of the head down to the temples, and letting it hang down in great length and disorder in the back, as the Massageti do. This weird combination they called the Hun haircut.

Next they decided to wear the purple stripe on their togas, and swaggered about in a dress indicating a rank above their station: for it was only by ill-gotten money they were able to buy this finery. And the sleeves of their tunics were cut tight about the wrists, while from there to the shoulders they were of an ineffable fullness; thus, whenever they moved their hands, as when applauding at the theater or encouraging a driver in the hippodrome, these immense sleeves fluttered conspicuously, displaying to the simple public what beautiful and well-developed physiques were these that required such large garments to cover them. They did not consider that by the exaggeration of this dress the meagerness of their stunted bodies appeared all the more noticeable. Their cloaks, trousers, and boots were also different: and these too were called the Hun style, which they imitated.

Almost all of them carried steel openly from the first, while by day they concealed their two-edged daggers along the thigh under their cloaks. Collecting in gangs as soon as dusk fell, they robbed their betters in the open Forum and in the narrow alleys, snatching from passersby their mantles, belts, gold brooches, and whatever they had in their hands. Some they killed after robbing them, so they could not inform anyone of the assault.

These outrages brought the enmity of everybody on them, especially that of the Blue partisans who had not taken active part in the discord. When even the latter were molested, they began to wear brass belts and brooches and cheaper cloaks than most of them were privileged to display, lest their elegance should lead to their deaths; and even before the sun went down they went home to hide. But the evil progressed; and as no punishment came to the criminals from those in charge of the public peace, their boldness increased more and more. For when crime finds itself licensed, there are no limits to its abuses; since even when it is punished, it is never quite suppressed, most men being by nature easily turned to error. Such, then, was the conduct of the Blues.

Some of the opposite party joined this faction so as to get even with the people of their original side who had ill-treated them; others fled in secret to other lands, but many were captured before they could get away, and perished either at the hands of their foes or by sentence of the State. And many other young men offered themselves to this society who had never before taken any interest in the quarrel, but were now induced by the power and possibility of insolence they could thus acquire. For there is no villainy to which men give a name that was not committed during this time, and remained unpunished.

Now at first they killed only their opponents. But as matters progressed, they also murdered men who had done nothing against them. And there were many who bribed them with money, pointing out personal enemies, whom the Blues straightway dispatched, declaring these victims were Greens, when as a matter of fact they were utter strangers. And all this went on not any longer at dark and by stealth, but in every hour of the day, everywhere in the city: before the eyes of the most notable men of the government, if they happened to be bystanders. For they did not need to conceal their crimes, having no fear of punishment, but considered it rather to the advantage of their reputation, as proving their strength and manhood, to kill with one stroke of the dagger any unarmed man who happened to be passing by.

No one could hope to live very long under this state of affairs, for everybody suspected he would be the next to be killed. No place was safe, no time of day offered any pledge of security, since these murders went on in the holiest of sanctuaries even during divine services. No confidence was left in one’s friends or relatives, for many died by conspiracy of members of their own households. Nor was there any investigation after these deeds, but the blow would fall unexpectedly, and none avenged the victim. No longer was there left any force in law or contract, because,of this disorder, but everything was settled by violence. The State might as well have been a tyranny: not one, however, that had been established, but one that was being overturned daily and ever recommencing.

The magistrates seemed to have been driven from their senses, and their wits enslaved by the fear of one man. The judges, when deciding cases that came up before them, cast their votes not according to what they thought right or lawful, but according as either of the disputants was an enemy or friend of the faction in power. For a judge who disregarded its instruction was sentencing himself to death. And many creditors were forced to receipt the bills they had sent to their debtors without being paid what was due them; and many thus against their will had to free their slaves.

And they say that certain ladies were forced by their own slaves to do what they did not want to do; and the sons of notable men, getting mixed up with these young bandits, compelled their fathers, among other acts against their will, to hand over their properties to them. Many boys were constrained, with their fathers’ knowledge, to serve the unnatural desires of the Blues; and happily married women met the same misfortune.

It is told that a woman of no undue beauty was ferrying with her husband to the suburb opposite the mainland; when some men of this party met them on the water, and jumping into her boat, dragged her abusively from her husband and made her enter their vessel. She had whispered to her spouse to trust her and have no fear of any reproach, for she would not allow herself to be dishonored. Then, as he looked at her in great grief, she threw her body into the Bosphorus and forthwith vanished from the world of men. Such were the deeds this party dared to commit at that time in Constantinople.

Yet all of this disturbed people less than Justinian’s offenses against the State. For those who suffer the most grievously from evildoers are relieved of the greater part of their anguish by the expectation they will sometime be avenged by law and authority. Men who are confident of the future can bear more easily and less painfully their present troubles; but when they are outraged even by the government what befalls them is naturally all the more grievous, and by the failing of all hope of redress they are turned to utter despair. And Justinian’s crime was that he was not only unwilling to protect the injured, but saw no reason why he should not be the open head of the guilty faction; he gave great sums of money to these young men, and surrounded himself with them: and some he even went so far as to appoint to high office and other posts of honor.


Now this went on not only in Constantinople, but in every city: for like any other disease, the evil, starting there, spread throughout the entire Roman Empire. But the Emperor was undisturbed by the trouble, even when it went on continually under his own eyes at the hippodrome. For he was very complacent and resembled most the silly ass, which follows, only shaking its ears, when one drags it by the bridle. As such Justinian acted, and threw everything into confusion.

As soon as he took over the rule from his uncle, his measure was to spend the public money without restraint, now that he had control of it. He gave much of it to the Huns who, from time to time, entered the state; and in consequence the Roman provinces were subject to constant incursions, for these barbarians, having once tasted Roman wealth, never forgot the road that led to it. And he threw much money into the sea in the form of moles, as if to master the eternal roaring of the breakers. For he jealously hurled stone breakwaters far out from the mainland against the onset of the sea, as if by the power of wealth he could outmatch the might of ocean.

He gathered to himself the private estates of Roman citizens from all over the Empire: some by accusing their possessors of crimes of which they were innocent, others by juggling their owners’ words into the semblance of a gift to him of their property. And many, caught in the act of murder and other crimes, turned their possessions over to him and thus escaped the penalty for their sins.

Others, fraudulently disputing title to lands happening to adjoin their own, when they saw they had no chance of getting the best of the argument, with the law against them, gave him their equity in the claim so as to be released from court. Thus, by a gesture that cost him nothing, they gained his favor and were able illegally to get the better of their opponents.

I think this is as good a time as any to describe the personal appearance of the man. Now in physique he was neither tall nor short, but of average height; not thin, but moderately plump; his face was round, and not bad looking, for he had good color, even when he fasted for two days. To make a long description short, he much resembled Domitian, Vespasian’s son. He was the one whom the Romans so hated that even tearing him into pieces did not satisfy their wrath against him, but a decree was passed by the Senate that the name of this Emperor should never be written, and that no statue of him should be preserved. And so this name was erased in all the inscriptions at Rome and wherever else it had been written, except only where it occurs in the list of emperors; and nowhere may be seen any statue of him in all the Roman Empire, save one in brass, which was made for the following reason.

Domitian’s wife was of free birth and otherwise noble; and neither had she herself ever done wrong to anybody, nor had she assented in her husband’s acts. Wherefore she was dearly loved; and the Senate sent for her, when Domitian died, and commanded her to ask whatever boon she wished. But she asked only this: to set up in his memory one brass image, wherever she might desire. To this the Senate agreed. Now the lady, wishing to leave a memorial to future time of the savagery of those who had butchered her husband, conceived this plan: collecting the pieces of Domitian’s body, she joined them accurately together and sewed the body up again into its original semblance. Taking this to the statue makers, she ordered them to produce the miserable form in brass. So the artisans forthwith made the image, and the wife took it, and set it up in the street which leads to the Capitol, on the right hand side as one goes there from the Forum: a monument to Domitian and a revelation of the manner of his death until this day.

Justinian’s entire person, his manner of expression and all of his features might be clearly pointed out in this statue.

Now such was Justinian in appearance; but his character was something I could not fully describe. For he was at once villainous and amenable; as people say colloquially, a moron. He was never truthful with anyone, but always guileful in what he said and did, yet easily hoodwinked by any who wanted to deceive him. His nature was an unnatural mixture of folly and wickedness. What in olden times a peripatetic philosopher said was also true of him, that opposite qualities combine in a man as in the mixing of colors. I will try to portray him, however, insofar as I can fathom his complexity.

This Emperor, then, was deceitful, devious, false, hypocritical, two-faced, cruel, skilled in dissembling his thought, never moved to tears by either joy or pain, though he could summon them artfully at will when the occasion demanded, a liar always, not only offhand, but in writing, and when he swore sacred oaths to his subjects in their very hearing. Then he would immediately break his agreements and pledges, like the vilest of slaves, whom indeed only the fear of torture drives to confess their perjury. A faithless friend, he was a treacherous enemy, insane for murder and plunder, quarrelsome and revolutionary, easily led to anything evil, but never willing to listen to good counsel, quick to plan mischief and carry it out, but finding even the hearing of anything good distasteful to his ears.

How could anyone put Justinian’s ways into words? These and many even worse vices were disclosed in him as in no other mortal nature seemed to have taken the wickedness of all other men combined and planted it in this man’s soul. And besides this, he was too prone to listen to accusations; and too quick to punish. For he decided such cases without full examination, naming the punishment when he had heard only the accuser s side of the matter. Without hesitation he wrote decrees for the plundering of countries, sacking of cities, and slavery of whole nations, for no cause whatever. So that if one wished to take all the calamities which had befallen the Romans before this time and weigh them against his crimes, I think it would be found that more men had been murdered by this single man than in all previous history.

He had no scruples about appropriating other people’s property, and did not even think any excuse necessary, legal or illegal, for confiscating what did not belong to him. And when it was his, he was more than ready to squander it in insane display, or give it as an unnecessary bribe to the barbarians. In short, he neither held on to any money himself nor let anyone else keep any: as if his reason were not avarice, but jealousy of those who had riches. Driving all wealth from the country of the Romans in this manner, he became the cause Of universal poverty.

Now this was the character of Justinian, so far as I can portray it.


He took a wife: and in what manner she was born and bred, and, wedded to this man, tore up the Roman Empire by the very roots, I shall now relate.

Acacius was the keeper of wild beasts used in the amphitheater in Constantinople; he belonged to the Green faction and was nicknamed the Bearkeeper. This man, during the rule of Anastasius, fell sick and died, leaving three daughters named Comito, Theodora and Anastasia: of whom the eldest was not yet seven years old. His widow took a second husband, who with her undertook to keep up Acacius’s family and profession. But Asterius, the dancing master of the Greens, on being bribed by another ‘ removed this office from them and assigned it to the man who gave him the money. For the dancing masters had the power of distributing such positions as they wished.

When this woman saw the populace assembled in the amphitheater, she placed laurel wreaths on her daughters’ heads and in their hands, and sent them out to sit on the ground in the attitude of suppliants. The Greens eyed this mute appeal with indifference; but the Blues were moved to bestow on the children an equal office, since their own animal-keeper had just died.

When these children reached the age of girlhood, their mother put them on the local stage, for they were fair to look upon; she sent them forth, however, not all at the same time, but as each one seemed to her to have reached a suitable age. Comito, indeed, had already become one of the leading hetaerae [high class prostitutes] of the day.

Theodora, the second sister, dressed in a little tunic with sleeves, like a slave girl, waited on Comito and used to follow her about carrying on her shoulders the bench on which her favored sister was wont to sit at public gatherings. Now Theodora was still too young to know the normal relation of man with maid, but consented to the unnatural violence of villainous slaves who, following their masters to the theater, employed their leisure in this infamous manner. And for some time in a brothel she suffered such misuse.

But as soon as she arrived at the age of youth, and was now ready for the world, her mother put her on the stage. Forthwith, she became a courtesan, and such as the ancient Greeks used to call a common one, at that: for she was not a flute or harp player, nor was she even trained to dance, but only gave her youth to anyone she met, in utter abandonment. Her general favors included, of course, the actors in the theater; and in their productions she took part in the low comedy scenes. For she was very funny and a good mimic, and immediately became popular in this art. There was no shame in the girl, and no one ever saw her dismayed: no role was too scandalous for her to, accept without a blush.

She was the kind of comedienne who delights the audience by letting herself be cuffed and slapped on the cheeks, and makes them guffaw by raising her skirts to reveal to the spectators those feminine secrets here and there which custom veils from the eyes of the opposite sex. With pretended laziness she mocked her lovers, and coquettishly adopting ever new ways of embracing, was able to keep in a constant turmoil the hearts of the sophisticated. And she did not wait to be asked by anyone she met, but on the contrary, with inviting jests and a comic flaunting of her skirts herself tempted all men who passed by, especially those who were adolescent.

On the field of pleasure she was never defeated. Often she would go picnicking with ten young men or more, in the flower of their strength and virility, and dallied with them all, the whole night through. When they wearied of the sport, she would approach their servants, perhaps thirty in number, and fight a duel with each of these; and even thus found no allayment of her craving. Once, visiting the house of an illustrious gentleman, they say she mounted the projecting corner of her dining couch, pulled up the front of her dress, without a blush, and thus carelessly showed her wantonness. And though she flung wide three gates to the ambassadors of Cupid, she lamented that nature had not similarly unlocked the straits of her bosom, that she might there have contrived a further welcome to his emissaries.

Frequently, she conceived but as she employed every artifice immediately, a miscarriage was straightway effected. Often, even in the theater, in the sight of all the people, she removed her costume and stood nude in their midst, except for a girdle about the groin: not that she was abashed at revealing that, too, to the audience, but because there was a law against appearing altogether naked on the stage, without at least this much of a fig-leaf. Covered thus with a ribbon, she would sink down to the stage floor and recline on her back. Slaves to whom the duty was entrusted would then scatter grains of barley from above into the calyx of this passion flower, whence geese, trained for the purpose, would next pick the grains one by one with their bills and eat. When she rose, it was not with a blush, but she seemed rather to glory in the performance. For she was not only impudent herself, but endeavored to make everybody else as audacious. Often when she was alone with other actors she would undress in their midst and arch her back provocatively, advertising like a peacock both to those who had experience of her and to those who had not yet had that privilege her trained suppleness.

So perverse was her wantonness that she should have hid not only the customary part of her person, as other women do, but her face as well. Thus those who were intimate with her were straightway recognized from that very fact to be perverts, and any more respectable man who chanced upon her in the Forum avoided her and withdrew in haste, lest the hem of his mantle, touching such a creature, might be thought to share in her pollution. For to those who saw her, especially at dawn, she was a bird of ill omen. And toward her fellow actresses she was as savage as a scorpion: for she was very malicious.

Later, she followed Hecebolus, a Tyrian who had been made governor of Pentapolis, serving him in the basest of ways; but finally she quarreled with him and was sent summarily away. Consequently, she found herself destitute of the means of life, which she proceeded to earn by prostitution, as she had done before this adventure. She came thus to Alexandria, and then traversing all the East, worked her way to Constantinople; in every city plying a trade (which it is safer, I fancy, in the sight of God not to name too clearly) as if the Devil were determined there be no land on earth that should not know the sins of Theodora.

Thus was this woman born and bred, and her name was a byword beyond that of other common wenches on the tongues of all men.

But when she came back to Constantinople, Justinian fell violently in love with her. At first he kept her only as a mistress, though he raised her to patrician rank. Through him Theodora was able immediately to acquire an unholy power and exceedingly great riches. she seemed to him the sweetest thing in the world, and like all lovers, he desired to please his charmer with every possible favor and requite her with all his wealth. The extravagance added fuel to the flames of passion. With her now to help spend his money he plundered the people more than ever, not only in the capital, but throughout the Roman Empire. As both of them had for a long time been of the Blue party, they gave this faction almost complete control of the affairs of state. It was long afterward that the worst of this evil was checked in the following manner.

Justinian had been ill for several days, and during this illness was in such peril of his life that it was even said he had died; and the Blues, who had been committing such crimes as I have mentioned, went so far as to kill Hypatius, a gentleman of no mean importance, in broad daylight in the Church of St. Sophia. The cry of horror at this crime came to the Emperor’s ears, and everyone about him seized the opportunity of pointing out the enormity of what was going on in Justinian’s absence from public affairs; and they enumerated from the beginning how many crimes had been committed. The Emperor then ordered the Prefect of the city to punish these offenses. This man was one Theodotus, nicknamed the Pumpkin. He made a thorough investigation and was able to apprehend many of the guilty and sentence them to death, though many others were not found out, and escaped. They were destined to perish later, together with the Roman Empire.

Justinian, unexpectedly restored to health, straightway undertook to put Theodotus to death as a poisoner and a magician. But since he had no proof on which to condemn the man, he tortured friends of his until they were compelled to say the words that would wrongfully ruin him. When everyone else stood to one side and only in silence lamented the plot against Theodotus, one man, Proclus the Quaestor, dared to say openly that the man was innocent of the charge against him, and in no way merited death. Thanks to him, Theodotus was permitted by the Emperor to be exiled to Jerusalem. But learning there that men were being sent to do away with him, he hid himself in the church for the rest of his life until he died. And this was the fate of Theodotus.

But after this, the Blues became the most prudent of men. For they ventured no longer to continue their offenses, even though they might have transgressed more fearlessly than before. And the proof of this is, that when a few of them later showed such courage, no punishment at all befell them. For those who had the power to punish, always gave these gangsters time to escape, tacitly encouraging the rest to trample upon the laws.


Now as long as the former Empress was alive, Justinian was unable to find a way to make Theodora his wedded wife. In this one matter she opposed him as in nothing else: for the lady abhorred vice, being a rustic and of barbarian descent, as I have shown. She was never able to do any real good, because of her continued ignorance of the affairs of state. She dropped her original name, for fear people would think it ridiculous, and adopted the name of Euphemia when she came to the palace. But finally her death removed this obstacle to Justinian’s desire.

Justin, doting and utterly senile, was now the laughing stock of his subjects; he was disregarded by everyone because of his inability to oversee state affairs; but Justinian they all served with considerable awe. His hand was in everything, and his passion for turmoil created universal consternation.

It was then that he undertook to complete his marriage with Theodora. But as it was impossible for a man of senatorial rank to make a courtesan his wife, this being forbidden by ancient law, he made the Emperor nullify this ordinance by creating a new one, permitting him to wed Theodora, and consequently making it possible for anyone else to marry a courtesan. Immediately after this he seized the power of the Emperor, veiling his usurpation with a transparent pretext: for he was proclaimed colleague of his uncle as Emperor of the Romans by the questionable legality of an election inspired by terror.

So Justinian and Theodora ascended the imperial throne three days before Easter, a time, indeed, when even making visits or greeting one’s friends is forbidden. And not many days later Justin died of an illness, after a reign of nine years. Justinian was now sole .monarch, together, of course, with Theodora.

Thus it was that Theodora, though born and brought up as I have related, rose to royal dignity over all obstacles. For no thought of shame came to Justinian in marrying her, though he might have taken his pick of the noblest born, most highly educated, most modest, carefully nurtured, virtuous and beautiful virgins of all the ladies in the whole Roman Empire: a maiden, as they say, with upstanding breasts. Instead, he preferred to make his own :what, had been common to all men, alike, careless of all her revealed history, took in wedlock a woman who was not only guilty of every other contamination but boasted of her many abortions.

I need hardly mention any other proof of the character of this man: for all the perversity of his soul was completely displayed in this union; which alone was ample interpreter, witness, and historian of his shamelessness. For when a man once disregards the disgrace of his actions and is willing to brave the contempt of society, no path of lawlessness is thereafter taboo to him; but with unflinching countenance he advances, easily and without a scruple, to acts of the deepest infamy.

However, not a single member of even the Senate, seeing this disgrace befalling the State, dared to complain or forbid the event; but all of them bowed down before her as if she were a goddess. Nor was there a priest who showed any resentment, but all hastened to greet her as Highness. And the populace who had seen her before on the stage, directly raised its hands to proclaim itself her slave in fact and in name. Nor did any soldier grumble at being ordered to risk the perils of war for the benefit of Theodora: nor was there any man on earth who ventured to oppose her.

Confronted with this disgrace, they all yielded, I suppose, to necessity, for it was as if Fate were giving proof of its power to control mortal affairs as malignantly as it pleases: showing that its decrees need not always be according to reason or human propriety. Thus does Destiny sometimes raise mortals suddenly to lofty heights in defiance of reason, in challenge to all out cries of injustice; but admits no obstacle, urging on his favorites to the appointed goal without let or hindrance. But as this is the will of God, so let it befall and be


Now Theodora was fair of face and of a very graceful, though small, person; her complexion was moderately colorful, if somewhat pale; and her eyes were dazzling and vivacious. All eternity would not be long enough to allow one to tell her escapades while she was on the stage, but the few details I have mentioned above should be sufficient to demonstrate the woman’s character to future generations.

What she and her husband did together must now be briefly described: for neither did anything without the consent of the other. For some time it was generally supposed they were totally different in mind and action; but later it was revealed that their apparent disagreement had been arranged so that their subjects might not unanimously revolt against them, but instead be divided in opinion.

Thus they split the Christians into two parties, each pretending to take the part of one side, thus confusing both, as I shall soon show; and then they ruined both political factions. Theodora feigned to support the Blues with all her power, encouraging them to take the offensive against the opposing party and perform the most outrageous deeds of violence; while Justinian, affecting to be vexed and secretly jealous of her, also pretended he could not openly oppose her orders. And thus they gave the impression often that they were acting in opposition. Then he would rule that the Blues must be punished for their crimes, and she would angrily complain that against her will she was defeated by her husband. However, the Blue partisans, as I have said, seemed cautious, for they did not violate their neighbors as much as they might have done.

And in legal disputes each of the two would pretend to favor one of the litigants, and compel the man with the worse case to win: and so they robbed both disputants of most of the property at issue.

In the same way, the Emperor, taking many persons into his intimacy, gave them offices by power of which they could defraud the State to the limits of their ambition. And as soon as they had collected enough plunder, they would fall out of favor with Theodora, and straightway be ruined. At first he would affect great sympathy in their behalf, but soon he would somehow lose his confidence in them, and an air of doubt would darken his zeal in their behalf. Then Theodora would use them shamefully, while he, unconscious as it were of what was being done to them, confiscated their properties and boldly enjoyed their wealth. By such well-planned hypocrisies they confused the public and, pretending to be at variance with each other, were able to establish a firm and mutual tyranny.


As soon as Justinian came into power he turned everything upside down. Whatever had been before by law, he now introduced into the government, while he revoked all established customs: as if he had been given the robes of an Emperor on the condition he would turn everything topsy-turvy. Existing offices he abolished, and invented new ones for the management of public affairs. He did the same thing to the laws and to the regulations of the army; and his reason was not any improvement of justice or any advantage, but simply that everything might be new and named after himself. And whatever was beyond his power to abolish, he renamed after himself anyway.

Of the plundering of property or the murder of men, no weariness ever overtook him. As soon as he had looted all the houses of the wealthy, he looked around for others; meanwhile throwing away the spoils of his previous robberies in subsidies to barbarians or senseless building extravagances. And when he had ruined perhaps myriads in this mad looting, he immediately sat down to plan how he could do likewise to others in even greater number.

As the Romans were now at peace with all the world and he had no other means of satisfying his lust for slaughter, he set the barbarians all to fighting each other. And for no reason at all he sent for the Hun chieftains, and with idiotic magnanimity gave them large sums of money, alleging he did this to secure their friendship. This, as I have said, he had also done in Justin’s time. These Huns, as soon as they had got this money, sent it together with their soldiers to others of their chieftains, with the word to make inroads into the land of the Emperor: so that they might collect further tribute from him, to buy them off in a second peace. Thus the Huns enslaved the Roman Empire, and were paid by the Emperor to keep on doing it.

This encouraged still others of them to rob the poor Romans; and after their pillaging, they too were further rewarded by the gracious Emperor. In this way all the Huns, for when it was not one tribe of them it was another, continuously overran and laid waste the Empire. For the barbarians were led by many different chieftains, and the war, thanks to Justinian’s senseless generosity, was thus endlessly protracted. Consequently no place, mountain or cave, or any other spot in Roman territory, during this time remained uninjured; and many regions were pillaged more than five times.

These misfortunes, and those that were caused by the Medes, Saracens, Slavs, Antes, and the rest of the barbarians, I described in my previous works. But, as I said in the preface to this narrative, the real cause of these calamities remained to be told here.

To Chosroes also -he paid many centenaries in behalf of peace, and then with unreasonable arbitrariness caused the breaking of the truce by making every effort to secure the friendship of Alamandur and his Huns, who had been in alliance with the Persians: but this I freely discussed in my chapters on the subject.

Moreover, while he was encouraging civil strife and frontier warfare to confound the Romans, with only one thought in his mind, that the earth should run red with human blood and he might acquire more and more booty, he invented a new means of murdering his subjects. Now among the Christians in the entire Roman Empire, there are many with dissenting doctrines, which are called heresies by the established church: such as those of the Montanists and Sabbatians, and whatever others cause the minds of men to wander from the true path. All of these beliefs he ordered to be abolished, and their place taken by the orthodox dogma: threatening, among the punishments for disobedience, loss of the heretic’s right to will property to his children or other relatives.

Now the churches of these so-called heretics especially those belonging to the Arian dissenters, were almost incredibly wealthy. Neither all the Senate put together nor the greatest other unit of the Roman Empire, had anything in property comparable to that of these churches. For their gold and silver treasures, and stores of precious stones, were beyond telling or numbering: they owned mansions and whole villages, land all over the world, and everything else that is counted as wealth among men.

As none of the previous Emperors had molested these churches, many men, even those of the orthodox faith, got their livelihood by working on their estates. But the Emperor Justinian, in confiscating these properties, at the same time took away what for many people had been their only means of earning a living.

Agents were sent everywhere to force whomever they chanced upon to renounce the faith of their fathers. This, which seemed impious to rustic people, caused them to rebel against those who gave them such an order. Thus many perished at the hands of the persecuting faction, and others did away with themselves, foolishly thinking this the holier course of two evils; but most of them by far quitted the land of their fathers, and fled the country. The Montanists, who dwelt in Phrygia, shut themselves up in their churches, set them on fire, and ascended to glory in the flames. And thenceforth the whole Roman Empire was a scene of massacre and flight.

A similar law w as then passed against the Samaritans, which threw Palestine into an indescribable turmoil.

Those, indeed, who lived in my own Caesarea and in the other cities, deciding it silly to suffer harsh treatment over a ridiculous trifle of dogma, took the name of Christians in exchange for the one they had borne before, by which precaution they were able to avoid the perils of the new law. The most reputable and better class of these citizens, once they had adopted this religion, decided to remain faithful to it; the majority, however, as if in spite for having not voluntarily, but by the compulsion of law, abandoned the belief of their fathers, soon slipped away into the Manichean sect and what is known as polytheism.

The country people, however, banded together and determined to take arms against the Emperor: choosing as their candidate for the throne a bandit named Julian, son of Sabarus. And for a time they held their own against the imperial troops; but finally, defeated in battle, were cut down, together with their leader. Ten myriads of men are said to have perished in this engagement, and the most fertile country on earth thus became destitute of farmers. To the Christian owners of these lands, the affair brought great hardship: for while their profits from these properties were annihilated, they had to pay heavy annual taxes on them to the Emperor for the rest of their lives, and secured no remission of this burden.

Next he turned his attention to those called Gentiles, torturing their persons and plundering their lands. of this group, those who decided to become nominal Christians saved themselves for the time being; but it was not long before these, too, were caught performing libations and sacrifices and other unholy rites. And how he treated the Christians shall be told hereafter.

After this he passed a law prohibiting pederasty: a law pointed not at offenses committed after this decree, but at those who could be convicted of having practised the vice in the past. The conduct of the prosecution was utterly illegal. Sentence was passed when there was no accuser: the word of one man or boy, and that perhaps a slave, compelled against his will to bear witness against his owner, was defined as sufficient evidence. Those who were convicted were castrated and then exhibited in a public parade. At the start, this persecution was directed only at those who were of the Green party, were reputed to be especially wealthy, or had otherwise aroused jealousy.

The Emperor’s malice was also directed against the astrologer. Accordingly, magistrates appointed to punish thieves also abused the astrologers, for no other reason than that they belonged to this profession; whipping them on the back and parading them on camels

throughout the city, though they were old men, and in every way respectable, with no reproach against them except that they studied the science of the stars while living in such a city.

Consequently there was a constant stream of emigration not only to the land of the barbarians but to places farthest remote from the Romans; and in every country and city one could see crowds of foreigners. For in order to escape persecution, each would lightly exchange his native land for another, as if his own country had been taken by an enemy.


Now the wealth of those in Constantinople and each other city who were considered second in prosperity only to members of the Senate, was brutally confiscated, in the ways I have described, by Justinian and Theodora. But how they were able to rob even the Senate of all its property I shall now reveal.

There was in Constantinople a man by the name of Zeno, grandson of that Anthamius who had formerly been Emperor of the West. This man they appointed, with malice aforethought, Governor of Egypt, and commanded his immediate departure. But he delayed his voyage long enough to load his ship with his most valuable effects; for he had a countless amount of silver and gold plate inlaid with pearls, emeralds and other such precious stones. Whereupon they bribed some of his most trusted servants to remove these valuables from the ship as fast as they could carry them, set fire to the interior of the vessel, and inform Zeno that his ship had burst into flames of spontaneous combustion, with the loss of all his property. Later, when Zeno died suddenly, they took possession of his estate immediately as his legal heirs; for they produced a will which, it is whispered, he did not really make.

In the same manner they made themselves heirs of Tatian, Demosthenes, and Hilara, who were foremost in the Roman Senate. And others’ estates they obtained by counterfeited letters instead of wills. Thus they became heirs of Dionysius, who lived in Libanus, and of John the son of Basil, who was the most notable of the citizens of Edessa, and had been given as hostage, against his will, by Belisarius to the Persians: as I have recounted elsewhere. For Chosroes refused to let this John go, charging that the Romans had disregarded the terms of the truce, as a pledge of which John had been given him by Belisarius; and he said he would only give him up as a prisoner of war. So his father’s mother, who was still living, got together a ransom not less than two thousand pounds of silver, and was ready to purchase her grandson’s liberty. But when this money came to Dara, the Emperor heard of the bargain and forbade it: saying that Roman wealth must not be given to the barbarians. Not long after this, John fell ill and departed from this world, whereupon the Governor of the city forged a letter which, he said, John had written him as a friend not long before, to the effect that he wished his estate to go to the Emperor.

I could hardly catalogue all the other people whose estates these two chose to inherit. However, up to the time when the insurrection named Nika took place, they seized rich men’s properties one at a time; but when that happened, as I have told elsewhere, they sequestrated at one swoop the estates of nearly all the members of the Senate. On everything movable and on the fairest of the lands they laid their hands and kept what they wanted; but whatever was unproductive of more than the bitter and heavy taxes, they gave back to the previous owners with a philanthropic gesture. Consequently these unfortunates, oppressed by the tax collectors and eaten up by the never-ceasing interest on their debts, found life a burden compared to which death were preferable.

Wherefore to me,- and many others of us, these two seemed not to be human beings, but veritable demons, and what the poets call vampires: who laid their heads together to see how they could most easily and quickly destroy the race and deeds of men; and assuming human bodies, became man-demons, and so convulsed the world. And one could find evidence of this in many things, but especially in the superhuman power with which they worked their will.

For when one examines closely, there is a clear difference between what is human and what is supernatural. There have been many enough men, during the whole course of history, who by chance or by nature have inspired great fear, ruining cities or countries or whatever else fell into their power; but to destroy all men and bring calamity on the whole inhabited earth remained for these two to accomplish, whom Fate aided in their schemes of corrupting all mankind. For by earthquakes, pestilences, and floods of river waters at this time came further ruin, as I shall presently show. Thus not by human, but by some other kind of power they accomplished their dreadful designs.

And they say his mother said to some of her intimates once that not of Sabbatius her husband, nor of any man was Justinian a son. For when she was about to conceive, there visited a demon, invisible but giving evidence of his presence perceptibly where man consorts with woman, after which he vanished utterly as in a dream.

And some of those who have been with Justinian at the palace late at night, men who were pure of spirit, have thought they saw a strange demoniac form taking his place. One man said that the Emperor suddenly rose from his throne and walked about, and indeed he was never wont to remain sitting for long, and immediately Justinian’s head vanished, while the rest of his body seemed to ebb and flow; whereat the beholder stood aghast and fearful, wondering if his eyes were deceiving him. But presently he perceived the vanished head filling out and joining the body again as strangely as it had left it.

Another said he stood beside the Emperor as he sat, and of a sudden the face changed into a shapeless mass of flesh, with neither eyebrows nor eyes in their proper places, nor any other distinguishing feature; and after a time the natural appearance of his countenance returned. I write these instances not as one who saw them myself, but heard them from men who were positive they had seen these strange occurrences at the time.

They also say that a certain monk, very dear to God, at the instance of those who dwelt with him in the desert went to Constantinople to beg for mercy to his neighbors who had been outraged beyond endurance. And when he arrived there, he forthwith secured an audience with the Emperor; but just as he was about to enter his apartment, he stopped short as his feet were on the threshold, and suddenly stepped backward. Whereupon the eunuch escorting him, and others who were present, importuned him to go ahead. But he answered not a word; and like a man who has had a stroke staggered back to his lodging. And when some followed to ask why he acted thus, they say he distinctly declared he saw the King of the Devils sitting on the throne in the palace, and he did not care to meet or ask any favor of him.

Indeed, how was this man likely to be anything but an evil spirit, who never knew honest satiety of drink or food or sleep, but only tasting at random from the meals that were set before him, roamed the palace at unseemly hours of the night, and was possessed by the quenchless lust of a demon?

Furthermore some of Theodora’s lovers, while she was on the stage, say that at night a demon would sometimes descend upon them and drive them from the room, so that it might spend the night with her. And there was a certain dancer named Macedonia, who belonged to the Blue party in Antioch, who came to possess much influence. For she used to write letters to Justinian while Justin was still Emperor, and so made away with whatever notable men in the East she had a grudge against, and had their property confiscated.

This Macedonia, they say, greeted Theodora at the time of her arrival from Egypt and Libya; and when she saw her badly worried and cast down at the ill treatment she had received from Hecebolus and at the loss of her money during this adventure, she tried to encourage Theodora by reminding her of the laws of chance, by which she was likely again to be the leader of a chorus of coins. Then, they say, Theodora used to relate how on that very night a dream came to her, bidding her take no thought of money, for when she should come to Constantinople, she should share the couch of the King of the Devils, and that she should contrive to become his wedded wife and thereafter be the mistress of all the money in the world. And that this is what happened is the opinion of most people.


Continue to Part 9