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Truth or Lies Part 9

Cont. – 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.


Justinian, while otherwise of such character as I have shown, did make himself easy of access and affable to his visitors; nobody of all those who sought audience with him was ever denied: even those who confronted him improperly or noisily never made him angry. On the other hand, he never blushed at the murders he committed. Thus he never revealed a sign of wrath or irritation at any offender, but with a gentle countenance and unruffled brow gave the order to destroy myriads of innocent men, to sack cities, to confiscate any amount of properties.

One would think from this manner that the man had the mind of a lamb. If, however, anyone tried to propitiate him and in suppliance beg him to forgive his victims, he would grin like a wild beast, and woe betide those who saw his teeth thus bared!

The priests he permitted fearlessly to outrage their neighbors, and even took sympathetic pleasure in their robberies, fancying he was thus sharing their divine piety when he judged such cases, he thought he was doing the holy thing when he gave the decision to the priest and let him go free with his ill-gotten booty: justice, in his mind, meant the priests’ getting the better of their opponents. When he himself thus illegally got possession of estates of people alive or dead, he would straightway make them over to one of the churches, gilding his violence with the color of piety-and so that his victims could not possibly get their property back. Furthermore he committed an inconceivable number of murders for the same cause: for in his zeal to gather all men into one Christian doctrine, he recklessly killed all who dissented, and this too he did in the name of piety. For he did not call it homicide, when those who perished happened to be of a belief that was different from his own.

So quenchless was his thirst for human blood; and with his wife, intent on this end, he neglected no possible excuse for slaughter. For these two were almost twins in their desires, though they pretended to differ: they were both scoundrels, however they affected to oppose each other, and thus destroyed their subjects. The man was lighter in character than a cloud of dust, and could be led to do anything any man wished him to do, so long as the matter did not require philanthropy or generosity. Flattery he swallowed whole, and his courtiers had no difficulty in persuading him that he was destined to rise as high as the sun and walk upon the clouds.

Once, indeed, Tribonian, who was sitting beside him, said his greatest fear was that Justinian some day by reason of his piety would be carried off to heaven and vanish in a chariot of fire. Such praise, if not irony, as this he treasured fondly in his mind.

Yet if he ever remarked on any man’s virtue, he would soon revile him as a villain; and whenever he abused any of his subjects, he would next as inconsistently commend him, with no reason for the change. For what he thought was always the opposite of what he said and wished to seem to think.

How he was affected by friendship or enmity I have indicated by the evidence of his actions. For as a foe he was relentless and unswerving, and to his friends he was inconstant. Thus he ruined recklessly most of those who were loyal to him, but never became a friend to any whom he hated. Even those who seemed to be his nearest and dearest associates he betrayed, and after no long time, to please his wife or anybody else, though he was well aware that it was only because of their devotion to him that they perished. For he was openly faithless in everything, except indeed to inhumanity and avarice. From these ideals no man could divert him. Whatever his wife could not otherwise induce him to do, by suggesting the great profits to be hoped for in the matter she intended, she led him willingly to undertake. For if there were an ever infamous, he had no scruple against making a law and then repudiating it. Nor were his decisions made according to the laws himself had written: but whichever way was to his greater advantage, and promised the more elaborate bribe. Stealing, little by little, the property of his subjects, he saw no reason for feeling any shame; when, indeed, he did not somehow grab it all at once, either by bringing some unexpected accusation or by presenting a forged will.

There remained, while he ruled the Romans, no sure faith in God, no hope in religion, no defense in law, no security in business, no trust in a contract. When his officials were given any affair to handle for him, if they killed many of their victims and robbed the rest, they were looked upon by the Emperor with high favor, and given honorable mention for carrying out so perfectly his instructions. But if they showed any mercy and then returned to him, he frowned and was thenceforth their enemy.

Despising their qualms as old-fashioned, he called them no more to his service. Consequently many were eager to show him how wicked they were, even when they were really nothing of the sort. He made frequent promises, guaranteed with a sworn oath or by a written confirmation; and then purposely forgot them directly, thinking this summary negligence added to his importance. And Justinian acted thus not only to his subjects, but to many of the enemy, as I have already said.

He was untiring; and hardly slept at all, generally speaking; he had no appetite for food or drink, but picking up a morsel with the tips of his fingers, tasted it and left the table, as if eating were a duty imposed upon him by nature and of no more interest than a courier takes in delivering a letter. Indeed, he would often go without food for two days and nights, especially when the time before the festival called Easter enjoins such fasting. Then, as I have said, he often went without food for two days, living only on a little water and a few wild herbs, sleeping perhaps a single hour, and then spending the rest of the time walking up and down.

If, mark you, he had spent these periods in good works, matters might have been considerably alleviated. Instead, he devoted the full strength of his nature to the ruin of the Romans, and succeeded in razing the state to its foundation. For his constant wakefulness, his privations and his labors were undergone for no other reason than to contrive each day ever more exaggerated calamities for his people. For he was, as I said, unusually keen at inventing and quick at accomplishing unholy acts, so that even the good in him transpired to be answerable for the downfall of his subjects.


Everything was done the wrong way, and of the old customs none remained; a few instances will illustrate, and the rest must be silence, that this book may have an end. In the first place, Justinian, having no natural aptitude toward the imperial dignity, neither assumed the royal manner nor thought it necessary to his prestige. In his accent, in his dress, and in his ideas he was a barbarian. When he wished to issue a decree, he did not give it out through the Quaestor’s office, as is usual, but most frequently preferred to announce it himself, in spite of his barbarous accent; or sometimes he had a whole group of his intimates publish it together, so that those who were wronged by the edict did not know which one to complain against.

The secretaries who had performed this duty for centuries were no longer trusted with writing the Emperor’s secret dispatches: he wrote them himself and practically everything else, too; so that in the few cases where he neglected to give instructions to city magistrates, they did not know where to go for advice concerning their duties. For he let no one in the Roman Empire decide anything independently, but taking everything upon himself with senseless arrogance, gave the verdict in cases before they came to trial, accepting the story of one of the litigants without listening to the other, and then pronounced the argument concluded; swayed not by any law or justice, but openly yielding to base greed. In accepting bribes the Emperor felt no shame, since hunger for wealth had devoured his decency.

Often the decrees of the Senate and those of the Emperor nominally conflicted. The Senate, however, sat only for pictorial effect, with no power to vote or do anything. It was assembled as a matter of form, to comply with the ancient law, and none of its members was permitted to utter a single word. The Emperor and his Consort took upon themselves the decisions of all matters in dispute, and their will of course prevailed. And if anybody thought his victory in such a case was insecure because it was illegal, he had only to give the Emperor more money, and a new law would immediately be passed revoking the former one. And if anybody else preferred the law that had been repealed, the ruler was quite willing to reestablish it in the same manner.

Under this reign of violence nothing was stable, but the balance of justice revolved in a circle, inclining to whichever side was able to weight it with the heavier amount of gold. Publicly in the Forum, and under the management of palace officials, the selling of court decisions and legislative actions was carried on.

The officers called Referendars were no longer satisfied to perform their duties of presenting to the Emperor the request of petitioners, and referring to the magistrates what he had decided in the petitioner’s case; but gathering worthless testimony from all quarters, with false reports and misleading statements, deceived Justinian, who was naturally inclined to listen to that sort of thing; and then they would go back to the litigants, without telling them what had been said during their interview with the Emperor, to extort as much money as they desired. And no one dared oppose them.

The soldiers of the Pretorian guard, attending the judges of the imperial court in the palace, also used their power to influence decisions. Everybody, one might say, stepped from his rank and found he was now at liberty to walk roads where before there had been no path; all bars were down, even the names of former restrictions were lost. The government was like a Queen surrounded by romping children. But I must pass over further illustrations, as I said at the beginning of this chapter.

I must, however, mention the man who first taught the Emperor to sell his decisions. This was Leo, a native of Cilicia, and devilish eager to enrich himself. This Leo was the prince of flatterers, and apt at insinuating himself into the good will of the ignorant. Gaining the confidence of the Emperor, he turned the tyrant’s folly toward the ruin of the people. This man was the first to show Justinian how to exchange justice for money.

As soon as the latter thus learned how to be a thief, he never stopped; but advancing on this road, the evil grew so great that if anyone wished to win an unjust case against an honest man, he went first to Leo, and agreeing that a share of the disputed property would be given to be divided between this man and the monarch, left the palace with his wrongful case already won. And Leo soon built up a great fortune in this way, became the lord of much land, and was most responsible for bringing the Roman state to its knees.

There was no security in contracts, no law, no oath, no written pledge, no penalty, no nothing: unless money had first been given to Leo and the Emperor. And even buying Leo’s support gave no certainty, for Justinian was quite willing to take money from both sides: he felt no guilt at robbing either party, and then, when both trusted him, he would betray one and keep his promise to the other, at random. He saw nothing disgraceful in such double dealing, if only it brought him gain. That is the sort of person Justinian was.


Theodora too unceasingly hardened her heart in the practice of inhumanity. What she did, was never to please or obey anyone else; what she willed, she performed of her own accord and with all her might: and no one dared to intercede for any who fell in her way. For neither length of time, fulness of punishment, artifice of prayer, nor threat of death, whose vengeance sent by Heaven is feared by all mankind, could persuade her to abate her wrath. Indeed, no one ever saw Theodora reconciled to any one who had offended her, either while he lived or after he had departed this earth. Instead, the son of the dead would inherit the enmity of the Empress, together with the rest of his father’s estate: and he in turn bequeathed it to the third generation. For her spirit was over ready to be kindled to the destruction of men, while cure for her fever there was none.

To her body she gave greater care than was necessary, if less than she thought desirable. For early she entered the bath and late she left it; and having bathed, went to breakfast. After breakfast she rested. At dinner and supper she partook of every kind of food and drink; and many hours she devoted to sleep, by day till nightfall, by night till the rising sun. Though she wasted her hours thus intemperately, what time of the day remained she deemed ample for managing the Roman Empire.

And if the Emperor intrusted any business to anyone without consulting her, the result of the affair for that officer would be his early and violent removal from favor and a most shameful death.

It was easy for Justinian to look after everything, not only because of his calmness of temper, but because he hardly ever slept, as I have said, and because he was not chary with his audiences. For great opportunity was given to people, however obscure and unknown, not only to be admitted to the tyrant’s presence, but to converse with him, and in private.

But to the Queen’s presence even the highest officials could not enter without great delay and trouble; like slaves they had to wait all day in a small and stuffy antechamber, for to absent himself was a risk no official dared to take. So they stood there on their tiptoes, each straining to keep his face above his neighbor’s, so that eunuchs, as they came out from the audience room, would see them. Some would be called, perhaps, after several days; and when they did enter to her presence in great fear, they were quickly dismissed as soon as they had made obeisance and kissed her feet. For to speak or make any request, unless she commanded, was not permitted.

Not civility, but servility was now the rule, and Theodora was the slave driver. So far had Roman society been corrupted, between the false geniality of the tyrant and the harsh implacability of his consort. For his smile was not to be trusted, and against her frown nothing could be done. There was this superficial difference between them in attitude and manner; but in avarice, bloodthirstiness, and dissimulation they utterly agreed. They were both liars of the first water.

And if anyone who had fallen out of favor with Theodora was accused of some minor and insignificant error, she immediately fabricated further unwarranted charges against the man, and built the matter up into a really serious accusation. Any number of indictments were brought, and a court appointed to plunder the victim, with judges selected by her, to compete with themselves to see which one could please her most in fitting his decision to the Empress’s inhumanity. And so the property of the victim would be straightway confiscated, and after he was cruelly whipped, even if he perhaps belonged to an ancient and noble family, she would callously have him sentenced to exile or to death.

But if any of her favorites happened to be caught in the act of murder or any other serious crime, she ridiculed and belittled the efforts of their accusers, and compelled them, however unwillingly, to quash the charge. Indeed, whenever she felt the inclination, she turned the most serious matters of state into a jest, as if she were again on the stage of the theater.

Once an elderly patrician, who had been for a long time in high office (whose name I well know, but shall carefully refrain from mentioning, so as not to bring eternal ridicule upon him), being unable to collect from one of her attendants a considerable sum of money owed him, went to her with the intention of asking his due and imploring her just aid. But Theodora was warned, and told her eunuchs, as soon as the patrician should be admitted to her presence, to surround him in a body and listen to her words; telling them what to say after she had spoken. And when the patrician was admitted to her private quarters, he kissed her feet in the customary manner and, weeping, addressed her:

“Highness, it is hard for a patrician to ask for money. For what in other men brings sympathy and pity, in one of my rank is considered disgraceful. Any other man suffering hardships from poverty may plead this before his creditors, and receive immediate relief from his difficulty; but a patrician, not knowing whence he can find the wherewithal to pay his creditors, would be ashamed in the first place to admit it. And if he did say this, he could never persuade them that one of such rank could know penury. And even if he did persuade them, he would be making himself suffer the most shameful and intolerable disgrace imaginable.

“Yet, Highness, such is my plight. I have creditors to whom I owe money, while others owe money to me. And those whom I owe, who are pressing me for payment, I cannot, for the sake of my reputation, attempt to cheat of their due; while my debtors, for they are not patricians, deny me with unmanly excuses. I charge you, therefore; I beseech and beg of you, to aid me in what is right, and release me from my present trouble.”

So he said, and the Queen answered musically:

“Patrician Mr. Such-and-such-” whereupon the chorus of eunuchs sang:

“Your hernia seems to bother you much!”

And when the man entreated her again, making a second speech similar to his first one, she answered as before, and the chorus sang the same refrain: till, giving it up, the poor wretch bowed and went home.

Most of the year the Empress resided in the suburbs on the seashore, especially in the place called Heraeum, and the numerous crowd of her attendants was subjected to great inconvenience. For it was hard to get necessary supplies, and they were exposed to the perils of the sea: especially to the frequent sudden storms and the attack of sharks. Nevertheless they counted the most bitter misfortunes as nothing, so long as they could share the licenses of her court.


How Theodora treated those who offended her will now be shown, though again I can give only a few instances, or obviously there would be no end to the demonstration.

When Amasalontha decided to save her life by surrendering her queendom over the Goths and retiring to Constantinople (as I have related elsewhere), Theodora, reflecting that the lady was well-born and a Queen, more than easy to look at and a marvel at planning intrigues, became suspicious of her charms and audacity: and fearing her husband’s fickleness, she became not a little jealous, and determined to ensnare the lady to her doom.

So she forthwith persuaded Justinian to send Peter, alone, to Italy as ambassador to Theodatus. When he set out the Emperor gave him the instructions I described in the chapter on that event: where, however, I could not tell the whole truth of the matter, for fear of the Empress. But she gave him this single secret command: to remove the lady from this world with all dispatch; bribing the fellow with the hope of much money if he performed his order. And when he arrived in Italy (for man is not by nature too hesitant at committing murder, if he has been bribed by the promise of high office or considerable money), by what argument I know not, he persuaded Theodatus to make away with Amasalontha. Consequently raised to the rank of Master of Offices, he achieved immense power and universal hatred. And so ends the story of Amasalontha.

Then ,there was a secretary to Justinian named Priscus: an utter villain and Paphlagonian, of a character likely to please his master, to whom he was more than devoted, and from whom he expected similar consideration. And accordingly he very soon became the owner of great and ill-gotten wealth. Finding him insolent and always trying to oppose her, Theodora denounced him to the Emperor. At first she was unsuccessful; but before long she took the matter in her own hands: embarked the man on a ship, sailing to a determined port, had his head shaved, and compelled him against his will to become a priest. And Justinian, pretending he knew nothing of the matter, never asked where on earth Priscus was, nor ever after mentioned him: remaining silent as if he had utterly forgotten him. However, he did not forget to seize what property Priscus had been forced to abandon.

Again, Theodora was overtaken with suspicion of one of her servants named Areobindus, a barbarian by birth, but a handsome young man, whom she had made her steward. Instead of accusing him directly, she decided to have him cruelly whipped in her presence (though they say she was madly in love with the fellow) without explaining her reason for the punishment. What became of the man after that we do not know, nor has any one ever seen him since. For if the Queen wanted to keep any of her actions concealed, it remained secret and unmentioned; and neither was any who knew of the matter allowed to tell it to his closest friend, nor could any who tried to learn what had happened ever find out, no matter how much of a busybody he was.

No other tyrant since mankind began ever inspired such fear, since not a word could be spoken against her without her hearing of it: her multitude of spies brought her the news of whatever was said and done in public or in private. And when she decided the time had come to take vengeance on any offender, she did as follows. Summoning the man, if he happened to be notable, she would privately hand him over to one of her confidential attendants, and order that he be escorted to the farthest boundary of the Roman realm. And her agent, in the dead of night, covering the victim’s face with a hood and binding him, would put him on board a ship and accompany him to the place selected by Theodora. There he would secretly leave the unfortunate in charge of another qualified for this work: charging him to keep the prisoner under guard and tell no one of the matter until the Empress should take pity on the wretch or, as time went on, he should languish under his bondage and succumb to death.

Then there was Basanius, one of the Green faction, a prominent young man, who incurred her anger by making some uncomplimentary remark. Basanius, warned of her displeasure, fled to the Church of Michael the Archangel. She immediately sent the Prefect after him, charging Basanius however not with slander, but pederasty. And the Prefect, dragging the man from the church, had him flogged intolerably while all the populace, when they saw a Roman citizen of good standing so shamefully mistreated, straightway sympathized with him, and cried so loud to let him go that Heaven must have heard their reproaches. Whereupon the Empress punished him further, and had him castrated so that he bled to death, and his estate was confiscated; though his case had never been tried. Thus, when this female was enraged, no church offered sanctuary, no law gave protection, no intercession of the people brought mercy to her victim; nor could anything else in the world stop her.

Thus she took a hatred of a certain Diogenes, because he belonged to the Greens: a man urbane and beloved by all, including the Emperor himself. None the less she wrathfully denounced him as homosexual. Bribing two of his servants, she presented them as accusers and witnesses against their master. However, as he was tried publicly and not in secret, as was her usual practise in such cases, the judges chosen were many and of distinguished character, because of Diogenes’s high rank; and after cross-examination of the evidence of the servants, they decided it was insufficient to prove the case, especially as the latter were only children.

So the Empress locked up Theodorus, one of Diogenes’s friends, in one of her private dungeons; and there first with flattery, then with flogging, tried to overwhelm him. When he still resisted, she ordered a cord of oxhide to be wound around his head and then turned and tightened. But though they twisted the cord till his eyes started from their sockets and Theodora thought he would lose them completely, still he refused to confess what he had not done. Accordingly the judges, for lack of proof, acquitted him, while all the city took holiday to celebrate his release. And that was that.


I have told earlier in this narrative what she did to Belisarius, Photius and Buzes.

There were two members of the Blue faction, Cilicians by birth, who with a mob of others offered violence to Callinicus, Governor of the second Cilicia; and when his groom, who was standing near his master, tried to protect him, they slew the fellow before the eyes of the Governor and all the people. The Governor, convicting the two of this and many previous murders, sentenced them to death. Theodora heard of this, and to show her preference f or the. Blues,. crucified Callinicus, without troubling to remove him from his office, on the spot where the murderers had been buried.

The Emperor affected to lament and mourn the death of his Governor, and sat around grumbling and making threats against those responsible for the deed. But he did nothing, except to seize the estate of the dead man.

Theodora also devoted considerable attention to the punishment of women caught in carnal sin. She picked up more than five hundred harlots in the Forum, who earned a miserable living by selling themselves there for three obols, and sent them to the opposite mainland, where they were locked up in the monastery called Repentance to force them to reform their way of life. Some of them, however, threw themselves from the parapets at night and thus freed themselves from an undesired salvation.

There were in Constantinople two girls: sisters, of a very illustrious family -not only had their father and grandfather been Consuls, but even before that their ancestors had been Senators. These girls had both married early, but became widows when their husbands died; and immediately Theodora, accusing them of living too merrily, chose new husbands for them, two common and disgusting fellows, and commanded the marriage to take place. Fearing this repulsive fate, the sisters fled to the Church of St. Sophia, and running to the holy water, clung tightly to the font. Yet such privations and ill treatment did the Empress inflict upon them there, that to escape from their sufferings they finally agreed to accept the proposed nuptials. For no place was sacred or inviolable to Theodora. Thus involuntarily these ladies were mated to beggarly and negligible men, far beneath their rank, although they had many well-born suitors. Their mother, who was also a widow, attended the ceremony without daring to protest or even weep at their misfortune.

Later Theodora saw her mistake and tried to console them, to the public detriment, for she made their new husbands Dukes. Even this brought no comfort to the young women, for endless and intolerable woes were inflicted on practically all their subjects by these men; as I have told elsewhere. Theodora, however, cared nothing for the interest of office or government, or anything else, if only she accomplished her will.

She had accidentally become pregnant by one of her lovers, when she was still on the stage; and perceiving her ill luck too late tried all the usual measures to cause a miscarriage, but despite every artifice was unable to prevail against nature at this advanced stage of development. Finding that nothing else could be done, she abandoned the attempt and was compelled to give birth to the child. The father of the baby, seeing that Theodora was at her wit’s end and vexed because motherhood interfered with her usual recreations, and suspecting with good reason that she would do away with the child, took the infant from her, naming him John, and sailed with the baby to Arabia. Later, when he was on the verge of death and John was a lad of fourteen, the father told him the whole story about his mother.

So the boy, after he had performed the last rites for his departed father, shortly after came to Constantinople and announced his presence to the Empress’s chamberlains. And they, not conceiving the possibility of her acting so inhumanly, reported to the mother that her son John had come. Fearing the story would get to the ears of her husband, Theodora bade her son be brought face to face with her. As soon as he entered, she handed him over to one of her servants who was ordinarily entrusted with such commissions. And in what manner the poor lad was removed from the world, I cannot say, for no one has ever seen him since, not even after the Queen died. The ladies of the court at this time were nearly all of abandoned morals. They ran no risk in being faithless to their husbands, as the sin brought no penalty: even if caught in the act, they were unpunished, for all they had to do was to go to the Empress, claim the charge was not proven, and start a countersuit against their husbands. The latter, defeated without a trial, had to pay a fine of twice the dower, and were usually whipped and sent to prison; and the next time they saw their adulterous wives again, the ladies would be daintily entertaining their lovers more openly than ever. Indeed, many of the latter gained promotion and pay for their amorous services. After one such experience, most men who suffered these outrages from their wives preferred thereafter to be complaisant instead of being whipped, and gave them every liberty rather than seem to be spying on their affairs.

Theodora’s idea was to control everything in the state to suit herself. Civil and ecclesiastical offices were all in her hand, and there was only one thing she was always careful to inquire about and guard as the standard of her appointments: that no honest gentleman should be given high rank, for fear he would have scruples against obeying her commands.

She arranged all marriages as if that were her divine right, and voluntary betrothals before a ceremony were unknown. A wife would suddenly be found for a man, chosen not because she pleased him, which is customary even among the barbarians, but because Theodora willed it. And the same was true of brides, who were forced to take men they did not desire. Frequently she even made the bride jump out of her marriage bed, and for no reason at all sent the bridegroom away before he had reached the chorus of his nuptial song; and her only angry words would be that the girl displeased her. Among the many to whom she did this were Leontius, the Referendar, and Saturninus, the son of Hermogenes the Master of Offices.

Now this Saturninus was betrothed to a maiden cousin, freeborn and a good girl, whom her father Cyril had promised him in marriage just after the death of Hermogenes. When their bridal chamber was in readiness, Theodora arrested the groom, who was conducted to another nuptial couch, where, weeping and groaning terribly, he was compelled to wed Chrysomallo’s daughter. Chrysomallo herself had formerly been a dancer and a hetaera; at this time she lived in the palace, with another woman of the same name and one called Indaro, having given up Cupid and the stage to be of service to the Queen.

Saturninus, lying down finally to pleasant dreams with his new bride, discovered she was already unmaidened; and later told one of his friends that his new-found mate came to him not imperforate. When this comment got to Theodora, she ordered her servants, charging him with impious disregard of the solemnity of his matrimonial oath, to hoist him up like a schoolboy who had been saucy to his teacher: and after whipping him on his backsides, told him not to be such a fool thereafter.

What she did to John the Cappadocian I have told elsewhere; and need add only that her treatment of him was due to her anger, not at his transgressions against the state (and a proof of this is that those who later did even more terrible things to their subjects met no such similar fate from her), but because he had a not only dared oppose her in other things, but had denounced her before the Emperor: with the result that she was all but estranged from her husband. I am explaining this now, for it is in this book, as I said in the foreword, that I necessarily tell the real truths and motives of events.

When she confined him in Egypt, after he had suffered such humiliations as I have previously described, she was not even then satisfied with the man’s punishment, but never ceased hunting for false witnesses against him. Four years later, she was able to find two members of the Green party who had taken part in the insurrection at Cyzicus, and who were said to have shared in the assault upon the bishop. These two she overwhelmed with flattery and threats, and one of them, inspired by her promises, accused John of the murder; while the other utterly refused to be an accomplice in this libel, even when he was so injured by the torture that he seemed about to die on the spot. Consequently for all her efforts she was unable to cause john’s death on this pretext. But the two young men had their right hands cut off: one, because he was unwilling to bear false witness; the other, that her conspiracy might not be utterly obvious. Thus she was able to do things in full public sight, and still nobody knew exactly what she had done.


That Justinian was not a man, but a demon, as I have said, in human form, one might prove by considering the enormity of the evils he brought upon mankind. For in the monstrousness of his actions the power of a fiend is manifest. Certainly an accurate reckoning of all those whom he destroyed would be impossible, I think, for anyone but God to make. Sooner could one number, I fancy, the sands of the sea than the men this Emperor murdered. Examining the countries that he made desolate of inhabitants, I would say he slew a trillion people. For Libya, vast as it is, he so devastated that you would have to go a long way to find a single man, and he would be remarkable. Yet eighty thousand Vandals capable of bearing arms had dwelt there, and as for their wives and children and servants, who could guess their number? Yet still more numerous than these were the Mauretanians, who with their wives and children were all exterminated. And again, many Roman soldiers and those who followed them to Constantinople, the earth now covers; so that if one should venture to say that five million men perished in Libya alone, he would not, I imagine, be telling the half of it.

The reason for this was that after the Vandals were defeated, Justinian planned, not how he might best strengthen his hold on the country, nor how by safeguarding the interests of those who were loyal to him he might have the goodwill of his subjects: but instead he foolishly recalled Belisarius at once, on the charge that the latter intended to make himself King (an idea of which Belisarius was utterly incapable), and so that he might manage affairs there himself and be able to plunder the whole of Libya. Sending commissioners to value the province, he imposed grievous taxes where before there had been none. Whatever lands were most valuable, he seized, and prohibited the Arians from observing their religious ceremonies. Negligent toward sending necessary supplies to the soldiers, he was over-strict with them in other ways; wherefore mutinies arose resulting in the deaths of many. For he was never able to abide by established customs, but naturally threw everything into confusion and disturbance.

Italy, which is not less than thrice as large as Libya, was everywhere desolated of men, even worse than the other country; and from this the count of those who perished there may be imagined. The reason for what happened in Italy I have already made plain. All of his crimes in Libya were repeated here; sending his auditors to Italy, he soon upset and ruined everything.

The rule of the Goths, before this war, had extended from the land of the Gauls to the boundaries of Dacia, where the city of Sirmium is. The Germans held Cisalpine Gaul and most of the land of the Venetians, when the Roman army arrived in Italy. Sirmium and the neighboring country was in the hands of the Gepidae. All of these he utterly depopulated. For those who did not die in battle perished of disease and famine, which as usual followed in the train of war. Illyria and all of Thrace, that is, from the Ionian Gulf to the suburbs of Constantinople, including Greece and the Chersonese, were overrun by the Huns, Slavs and Antes, almost every year, from the time when Justinian took over the Roman Empire; and intolerable things they did to the inhabitants. For in each of these incursions, I should say, more than two hundred thousand Romans were slain or enslaved, so that all this country became a desert like that of Scythia.

Such were the results of the wars in Libya and in Europe. Meanwhile the Saracens were continuously making inroads on the Romans of the East, from the land of Egypt to the boundaries of Persia; and so completely did their work, that in all this country few were left, and it will never be possible, I fear, to find out how many thus perished. Also the Persians under Chosroes three times invaded the rest of this Roman territory, sacked the cities, and either killing or carrying away the men they captured in the cities and country, emptied the land of inhabitants every time they invaded it. From the time when they invaded Colchis, ruin has befallen themselves and the Lazi and the Romans.

For neither the Persians nor the Saracens, the Huns or the Slavs or the rest of the barbarians, were able to withdraw from Roman territory undamaged. In their inroads, and still more in their sieges of cities and in battles, where they prevailed over opposing forces, they shared in disastrous losses quite as much. Not only the Romans, but nearly all the barbarians thus felt Justinian’s bloodthirstiness. For while Chosroes himself was bad enough, as I have duly shown elsewhere, Justinian was the one who each time gave him an occasion for the war. For he took no heed to fit his policies to an appropriate time, but did everything at the wrong moment: in time of peace or truce he ever craftily contrived to find pretext for war with his neighbors; while in time of war, he unreasonably lost interest, and hesitated too long in preparing for the campaign, grudging the necessary expenses; and instead of putting his mind on the war, gave his attention to stargazing and research as to the nature of God. Yet he would not abandon hostilities, since he was so bloodthirsty and tyrannical, even when thus unable to conquer the enemy because of his negligence in meeting the situation.

So while he was Emperor, the whole earth ran red with the blood of nearly all the Romans and the barbarians. Such were the results of the wars throughout the whole Empire . during this time. But the civil strife in Constantinople and in every other city, if the dead were reckoned, would total no smaller number of slain than those who perished in the wars, I believe. Since justice and impartial punishment were seldom directed against offenders, and each of the two factions tried to win the favor of the Emperor over the other, neither party kept the peace. Each, according to his smile or his frown, was now terrified, now encouraged. Sometimes they attacked each other in full strength, sometimes in smaller groups, or even lay in ambush against the first single man of the opposite party who came along. For thirty-two years, without ever ceasing, they performed outrages against each other, many of them being punished with death by the municipal Prefect.

However, punishment for these offenses was mostly directed against the Greens.

Furthermore the persecution of the Samaritans and the so-called heretics filled the Roman realm with blood. Let this present recapitulation suffice to recall what I have described more fully a little while since. Such were the things done to all mankind by the demon in flesh for which Justinian, as Emperor, was responsible. But what evils he wrought against men by some hidden power and diabolic force I shall now relate.

During his rule over the Romans, many disasters of various kinds occurred: which some said were due to the presence and artifices of the Devil, and others considered were effected by the Divinity, Who, disgusted with the Roman Empire, had turned away from it and given the country up to the Old One. The Scirtus River flooded Edessa, creating countless sufferings among the inhabitants, as I have elsewhere written. The Nile, rising as usual, but not subsiding in the customary season, brought terrible calamities to the people there, as I have also previously recounted. The Cydnus inundated Tarsus, covering almost the whole city for many days, and did not subside until it had done irreparable damage.

Earthquakes destroyed Antioch, the leading city of the East; Seleucia, which is situated nearby; and Anazarbus, most renowned city in Cilicia. Who could number those that perished in these metropoles? Yet one must add also those who lived in Ibora; in Amasea, the chief city of Pontus; in Polybotus in Phrygia, called Polymede by the Pisidians; in Lychnidus in Epirus; and in Corinth: all thickly inhabited cities from of old. All of these were destroyed by earthquakes during this time, with a loss of almost all their inhabitants. And then came the plague, which I have previously mentioned, killing half at least of those who had survived the earthquakes. To so many men came their doom, when Justinian first came to direct the Roman state and later possessed the throne of autocracy.


How he seized all wealth I will next discuss: recalling first a vision which, at the beginning of Justinian’s rule, was revealed to one of illustrious rank in a dream.

In this dream, he said, he seemed to be standing on the shore of the sea somewhere in Constantinople, across the water from Chalcedon, and saw Justinian there in midchannel. And first Justinian drank up all the water of the sea, so that he presently appeared to be standing on the mainland, there bring no longer any waves to break against it; then other water, heavy with filth and rubbish, roaring out of the subterranean sewers, proceeded to cover the land. And this, too, he drank, a second time drying up the bed of the channel. This is what the vision in the dream disclosed.

Now Justinian, when his uncle Justin came to the throne, found the state well provided with public funds. For Anastasius, who had been the most provident and economical of all monarchs, fearing (which indeed happened) that the inheritor of his Empire should find himself in need of money, would perhaps plunder his subjects, filled all the treasuries to their brim with gold before he completed his span of life. All of this Justinian immediately exhausted, between his senseless building program on the coast and his lavish presents to the barbarians; though one might have thought that it would take the most extravagant of Emperors a hundred years to disburse such wealth. For the treasurers and those in charge of the other imperial properties had been able, during Anastasius’s rule of more than twenty-seven years over the Romans, easily to accumulate 3,200 gold centenaries; and of all these nothing at all was left, for it had been squandered by this man while Justin still lived; as I have already related.

What he illegally confiscated and wasted during his lifetime, no tale, no reckoning, no count could ever make manifest. For like an ever flowing river swallowing more each day he pillaged his subjects, to disgorge it straightway on the barbarians.

Having thus carried away the public wealth, he turned his eye upon his private subjects. Most of them he immediately robbed of their estates, snatching them arbitrarily by force, bringing false charges against whoever in Constantinople and each other city were reputed to be rich.

Some he accused of polytheism, others of heresy against the orthodox Christian faith; some of pederasty, others of love affairs with nuns, or other unlawful intercourse; some of starting sedition, or of favoring the Greens, or treason against himself, or anything else; or he made himself the arbitrary heir of the dead and even of the living, when he could. Such were the subtleties of his actions. And how he profited from the insurrection against himself which is called Nika, making himself heir to the Senators, I have already shown; and how, some time before the sedition broke out, he privately robbed each man of his estate.

To all the barbarians, on every occasion, he gave great sums: to those of the East and those of the West ‘ to the North and to the South, as far as Britain, and over all the inhabited earth; so that nations whose very names we had never heard of, we now learned to know, seeing their ambassadors for the first time. For when they learned of this man’s folly, they came to him and Constantinople in floods from the whole world. And he with no hesitation, but overjoyed at this, and thinking it good luck to drain the Romans of their prosperity and fling it to barbarian men or to the waves of the sea, daily sent each one home with his arms full of presents.

Thus all the barbarians became masters of all the wealth of the Romans, either being presented with it by the Emperor, or by ravaging the Roman Empire, selling their prisoners for ransom, and bartering for truces. And the prophecy of the dream I mentioned above, came to pass in this visible reality.


He also had contrived other ways of plundering his subjects (which I will now describe as well as I can) by which he robbed them, not all at once, but little by little of their entire fortunes. First he appointed a new municipal magistrate, with the power to license shopkeepers to sell their wares at whatever prices they desired: for which privilege they paid an annual tax. Accordingly, people buying their provisions in these shops had to pay three times what the stuff was worth, and complainants had no redress, though great harm was thus done; for the magistrates saw to it that the imperial tax was fattened accordingly, which was to their advantage. Thus the government officials shared in this disgraceful business, while the shopkeepers, empowered to act illegally, cheated unbearably those who had to buy from them, not only by raising their prices many times over, as I have said, but by defrauding customers in other unheard-of ways.

Again he licensed many monopolies, as they -are called; selling the freedom of his subjects to those who were willing to undertake this reprehensible traffic, after he had exacted his price for the privilege. To those who made this arrangement with him, he gave the power to manage the business however they pleased; and he sold this privilege openly, even to all the other magistrates. And since the Emperor always got his little share of the plundering, these officials and their subordinates in charge of the work, did their robbing with small anxiety.

As if the formerly appointed magistrates were not enough for this purpose, he created two new ones; though the municipal Prefect had formerly been able to look after all criminal charges. His real reason for the change was, of course, so that he could have additional informers, and thus misuse the innocent with more celerity. Of the two new officials, one, nominally appointed to punish thieves, was called Praetor of the People; the other was charged with the punishment of cases of pederasty, illegal intercourse with women, blasphemy, and heresy; and his official name was Quaestor.

Now the Praetor, whenever he found anything very valuable among the stolen goods that came to his notice, was supposed to give it to the Emperor and say that no owner had appeared to claim it. In this way the Emperor continually got possession of priceless goods. And the Quaestor, when he condemned persons coming before him, confiscated as much as he pleased of their properties, and the Emperor shared with him each time in the lawlessly gained riches of other people. For the subordinates of these magistrates neither produced accusers nor offered witnesses when these cases came to trial, but during all this time the accused were put to death, and their properties seized without due trial and examination.

Later, this murdering devil ordered these officials and the municipal Prefect to deal with all criminal charges on equal terms: telling them to vie with each other to see which of them could destroy the most people in the shortest time. And one of them asked him at once, they say, “If somebody is sometime denounced before all three of us, which of us shall have jurisdiction over the case?” Whereupon he replied, “Whichever of you acts faster than the rest.”

Thus shamelessly he debased the Quaestor’s office, which former emperors almost without exception had held in high regard, taking care that the men they appointed to it were experienced and wise, law-abiding, and uncorruptible by bribes; since otherwise it would be a calamity to the state, if men holding this high office were ignorant or avaricious.

But the first man that this Emperor appointed to the office was Tribonian, whose actions I have fully related elsewhere. And when Tribonian departed from this world, Justinian seized a portion of his estate, though a son and many other children were left destitute when the fellow ended the final day of his life. Junilus, a Libyan, was next appointed to this office: a man who had never even heard the law, for he was not a rhetorician; he knew the Latin letters, but as far as Greek went, he had never even gone to school, and was unable to speak the language. Frequently when he tried to say a Greek word, he was laughed at by his servants. And he was so damned greedy for base gain, that he thought nothing of publicly selling the Emperor’s decrees. For one gold coin he would hold out his palm to anybody without hesitation. And for not less than seven years’ time the State shared the ridicule earned by this petty grafter.

When Junilus completed the measure of his life, Constantine was appointed Quaestor: a man not unacquainted with law, but exceeding young, and without actual experience in court; and the most thievish bully among men. Of this person Justinian was very fond, and became his bosom friend, since through him the Emperor saw he could steal and run the office as he wished. Consequently, Constantine had great wealth in a short time, and assumed an air of prodigious pomp, with his nose in the clouds despising all men; and even those who wanted to offer him large bribes had to entrust them to those who were in his special confidence, to offer him together with their requests; for it was never possible to meet or talk with him, except when he was running to the Emperor or had just left him, and even then he trotted by in a great hurry, lest his time be wasted by somebody who had no money to give him. This is what the Emperor did to the quaestorship.


The Prefect in charge of the praetors each year handed over to the Emperor more than thirty centenaries in addition to the public taxes; this tribute was called the sky tax, to show, I suppose, that it was not a regular duty or assessment, but as it were fell into his hands by chance out of the sky: it should have been called the villainy tax, for in its name the magistrates robbed their subjects worse than ever, on the ground they had to hand it over to the autocrat, while they themselves acquired a king’s fortune in no time. For this Justinian left them unpunished, awaiting the time when they should have gained immense riches; as soon as this happened, he brought some charge against them for which there was no defense, and confiscated their entire property all at once, as he had done to John of Cappadocia.

Everyone appointed to office during this period of course became immensely wealthy at once, with two exceptions: Phocas, whom I have mentioned elsewhere as an utterly honest man, who remained uncorrupted by gain during his office; and Bassus, who was appointed later. Neither of these gentlemen held their office for a year, but were removed after a few months as useless and unsuited to the times. But if I went into all the details, this book would never end: suffice it to say that all the rest of the magistrates in Constantinople were equally guilty.

Also everywhere else in the Roman Empire Justinian did the same. Picking out the worst scoundrels he could find, he sold them the offices they were to corrupt, for large sums of money. Indeed, an honest man or one with any sense at all, would never think of throwing away his own money on the chance of getting it back by robbing the innocent. When Justinian had collected this money from such bargainers, he gave them complete power over their subjects, by which, pillaging the country and the inhabitants, they were to become rich. And since they had borrowed money at heavy interest to pay the Emperor for their magistracies, as soon as they arrived in the cities of their jurisdiction, they treated their subjects with every kind of evil, caring for nothing but how they might fulfill their agreements with their creditors and themselves thereafter be listed among the super-wealthy. They saw no peril and felt no shame in this conduct; rather, they anticipated that the more they wrongfully killed and plundered, the higher would be their reputation; for the name of murderer and robber would prove the energy of their service. However, as soon as he heard these officials had become adequately wealthy, Justinian snared them with a fitting pretext, and straightway seized their fortunes in one swoop.

He passed a law that candidates for offices must swear they would keep themselves clean of all graft and never give or receive any bribe as officials; and all the curses that were named by the ancients he invoked on any who should violate this agreement. But the law was not over a year old before he himself, disregarding its words and maledictions, shamelessly put these offices up for sale; and not secretly, but in the public Forum. And the buyers of the offices, breaking their oaths also, plundered more than ever.

Later he contrived another unheard-of scheme. The offices which he believed to be the most powerful in Constantinople and the other large cities, he decided not to sell any longer as he had been doing, but put them in the hands of picked men on a fixed salary, who were commanded to turn over all revenues to himself. And these men, after receiving their pay, worked fearlessly and carried off everything on earth, going around tin the name of their office to rob the subjects. . The Emperor was always very careful to choose for his agents men who were truly of all people the worst scoundrels; and he had no trouble finding those who were bad enough. When, indeed he appointed the first rascals to office, and their power brought to light their corruption, we were astonished that nature had produced such evil in human form. But when the successors to these offices later went far beyond the first occupants in villainy, men were at a loss to see how their predecessors could have been thought to be wicked, since in comparison to the new officials the former had – And the third been noble gentlemen in their actions set, and those who followed them, out-Heroded the second lot in every kind of depravity; and by their ingenuity in inventing new methods of bringing false charges, gave all their predecessors the name of being virtuous and honest. As the evil progressed, it was eventually demonstrated that the wickedness of man has no natural limit, but when it feeds on the experience of the past, and is given the opportunity to mistreat its victims, it is encouraged to such a degree that only those who are oppressed by it can measure it. And thus were the Romans treated by their magistrates.

After armies of the hostile Huns had several times enslaved and plundered inhabitants of the Roman Empire, the Thracian and Illyrian generals planned to attack them on their retreat, but gave up the idea when they were shown letters from the Emperor Justinian forbidding them to attack the barbarians on the ground that alliance with them was necessary to the Romans against the Goths, forsooth, or some other foe.

And after this, these barbarians ravaged the country as if they were the foe, and enslaved the Romans there; and, laden with booty and captives, these friends and allies of the Romans returned to their homes. Often some of the farmers of these regions, induced by longing for their children and wives who had been carried off to slavery, formed into bands and attacked the Huns, kill’ capturing their horses ladening many, and with spoils; but the consequence of their success was unfortunate. For agents were sent from Constantinople to beat and torture them and seize their property, until they had given up all the horses they had taken from the barbarians.


Now when the Emperor and Theodora dismissed John of Cappadocia, they wished to appoint a successor to his office, and agreed to choose a still baser rogue; so they looked everywhere for such an instrument of tyranny, examining all manner of men that they might be able to ruin their subjects the faster. For the time being, they appointed Theodotus to the office: a man who was by no means good, but still not bad enough to satisfy them; and meanwhile they continued their general search till finally, almost to their surprise, they discovered a banker named Peter, a Syrian by birth, surnamed Barsyames; who, after years of sitting at the copper money-changer’s table had made himself rich by thievish malpractices, being gifted at stealing obols, which he could filch under the eyes of customers by the quickness of his fingers. He was not only smart at this sleight-of-hand thievery, but if he were ever detected, would swear it was a mistake, covering up the sins of his hands with the impudence of his tongue.

Enlisting in the Pretorian guard, he behaved so outrageously that Theodora was delighted with him, and decided he could most easily serve her in the worst of her nefarious schemes. So Theodotus, who had succeeded the Cappadocian, was straightway removed from office and Peter appointed in his place; and he did everything to their taste. Cheating all the soldiers of -their due pay, without the slightest shame or fear, he also offered offices for sale to a greater extent than ever to those who did not hesitate to engage in this impious traffic for dishonored positions; and he openly licensed those who bought these offices to use as they wished the lives and substance of their subjects. For he claimed himself, and granted to whoever paid the price of a province, the right to destroy and ravage without restriction.

This sale of human lives proceeded from the first officer of the State; and by him the contract for the ruin of cities was made. Through the principal law courts and in the public Forum went the licensed bandit who was given the name of Collector-collector of the money paid for high offices which was in turn extorted from the despairing people. And of all the imperial agents, many of whom were men of repute, Peter selected for his own service those who were villains.

In this he was not unique; for those who held the same office before and after him were equally dishonest. So were the Master of Offices, the Palatine Treasurers of the public and the Emperor’s private moneys, and those in charge of his personal estates; and, in short, all who held public offices in Constantinople and the other cities. For from the time when this tyrant first managed the affairs of state, in each department the ministers without any justification claimed the moneys pertaining to that department for themselves whenever he did not take them himself; and the subordinates of these officials, suffering the extremes of penury during all this time, were compelled to serve in the manner of slaves.

Most of the great stores of grain that had been kept in Constantinople had rotted; but he forced each of the cities of the East to buy what was not fit for human consumption; and he made them pay not what was the usual price for the best grain, but a still higher rate; so that the purchasers who had thrown away large sums of money, buying at such extravagant prices, had then to throw the rotten grain into the sea or down the sewers. Then the grain that was still sound and wholesome, of which there was great abundance, he decided to sell to the cities that were in danger of famine. In this way he made twice the money which the public collectors had formerly taken by the sale of this grain.

The next year, however, the harvests were not so ample, and the grain transports arrived at Constantinople with less than the necessary supply. Peter, worried over the situation, determined to buy a large quantity of grain in Bithynia, Phrygia, and Thrace. So the inhabitants of these regions were forced to the heavy task of bringing their harvests down to the seacoast and to transport it at considerable peril to Constantinople, where they received a miserably small price. So great indeed were their losses, that they would have been glad to give their grain outright to the State and pay a fine for that privilege. This is the grievous burden which was called “co-operative buying.”

But when even thus the supplies of grain in Constantinople were insufficient for its needs, many denounced this system before the Emperor. And at the same time nearly all the soldiers, because they had not been given their due pay, assembled mutinously throughout the city and created a great uproar. The Emperor turned now against Peter and decided to remove him from office, because of the above-mentioned complaints, and since he heard he had hidden a devilishly large amount of plunder of which he had robbed the State. Which was indeed the case.

But Theodora would not let her husband do this, for she was marvelously delighted with Barsyames, I suppose because of ‘his wickedness and his remarkable cruelty to his subjects. For she herself was utterly savage and bursting with inhumanity, and thought those who served her should be as nearly as possible of a character with herself. They say, too, that she had been involuntarily charmed by magic to become Peter’s friend; for this Barsyames was a devotee of sorcerers and demons, and was admittedly a member of the Manichaeans. Although the Empress had heard all this, she did not withdraw her favor from the man, but decided to prefer and favor him all the more on this account. For she herself from childhood had consorted with magicians and sorcerers, as her pursuits inclined her toward them and all her life she believed in the black art and had’ great confidence in it.

They even say that it was not so much by flattery that she made Justinian eat from her hand as by demoniac power. For this was not a kindly, just, or good man, to prevail over such machinations, but plainly overmastered by his passion for murder and money; easily yielding to those who deceived and flattered him, and in the midst of his fondest plans he could be diverted with facility, like a bit of dust caught up by the wind. None of his kindred or his friends had any sure confidence in him, and his plans were continually subject to change. Thus, he was an easy mark to sorcery, as I have said, and with no difficulty fell into the power of Theodora. And it was for this reason that the Empress regarded Peter, practised in such arts, with great affection.

So it was all the Emperor could do to remove him from office; and at Theodora’s insistence, soon afterward he made him chief of the treasurers, removing John from this position which he had given him only a few months before. This man John was a native of Palestine, exceedingly good and gentle, ignorant of the possibility of increasing his private fortune, and had never wronged a single man. All the people loved him; and therefore he could not please Justinian and his wife, who, as soon as they saw among their agents an unexpected decent gentleman, became faint with horror, and determined to get rid of him at the first possible opportunity.

So it was that Peter succeeded John as chief of the treasurers, and once more became the cause of great calamities. Embezzling most of, the moneys which had been set apart since the time of a long-past Emperor to be distributed each year to the many poor, he made himself thus unjustly rich at the expense of the people, and handed a share of it to the Emperor. Those who were thus deprived of their dole sat around in great grief. Furthermore, he did not coin the customary amount of gold, but issued a less amount, a thing that had never happened before. And this is how the Emperor dealt with the magistracies.


I will now tell how he ruined the landowners everywhere; although it were a sufficient indication of their sufferings to refer to what I have just written about the officials who were sent to all the cities, for these men plundered the landowners and did what other violence has been told.

Now it had formerly been the long-established custom that each Roman ruler should, not only once during his reign but often remit to his subjects whatever public debts were in arrears, so that those who were in financial difficulty and had no means of paying their delinquencies would not be too far pressed; and so that the tax collectors would not have the excuse of persecuting, as subject to the tax, those who really owed nothing. But Justinian, during thirty-two years’ time, made no such concession to his subjects, and consequently those who were unable to pay had to flee their country and never return. Others, more prosperous, grew weary of trying to answer the continual accusations of the informers that the tax they had always paid was less than required by the present rate on their estates. For these unfortunates feared not so much the imposition of a new tax as that they should be burdened by the unjust weight of additional back taxes for so many years. Many, indeed, preferred to abandon their property to the informers or to the confiscation of the state.

Besides, the Medes and the Saracens had ravaged most of Asia, and the Huns and Slavs all of Europe; captured cities had either been razed to their foundations, or made to pay terrible tribute; men had been carried off into slavery together with all their property, and every district had been deserted by its inhabitants because of the daily raids: yet no tax was remitted, except in the case of cities that had been captured by the enemy, and then only for one year. Yet if, as the Emperor Anastasius had done, he had decided to exempt the captured cities from taxation for seven years, even so I believe, he would not have done as much as he should.

For Cabades retired after doing hardly any damage to the buildings, but Chosroes burned to the foundations everything he took, and left greater ruin in his track. Yet to these remaining sufferers, for whom he made this ridiculous remission of taxes, and to all the others, who had many times been invaded by the army of the Medes, and been continually plundered by the Huns and barbarous Saracens in the East, and to those Romans who had met an equal fate daily from the barbarians in Europe, this Emperor straightway became a more bitter foe than all the barbarians put together. For as soon as the enemy had retreated, the landowners immediately were overwhelmed by new requisitions, imposts and levies.

What these were I will now explain. Those who owned land were compelled to feed the Roman army, according to a special assessment determined by the actual emergency but arbitrarily fixed by law. And if sufficient provisions for the soldiers and horses were not to be found on their estates, these unfortunates had to go out and buy them at an excessive price, wherever they could, even if they had to transport them from a distant country to the place where the army was quartered , and then distribute them to the army officials not at a legal price, but at the whim of the commanders. This requisition, called co-operative buying, took the heart out of the landowners. For it made their annual taxes easily ten times what they had been, as they had not only to feed the army, but often to transport grain from Constantinople. Barsyames was not the only one who dared this outrage, for the Cappadocian before him had done the same, and Barsyames’s successors after him. And this is what co-operative buying meant.

The “impost” was an unexpected ruin which suddenly attacked the landowners, pulling up their hope of livelihood by the roots. In the case of estates that had run down and been deserted, whose owners and farmer tenants had either perished or left the country, on account of their misfortunes, and disappeared, a ruthless tax was still laid on those who had already lost all. This was called the impost, levied frequently during this time.

The nature of the third levy was briefly as follows: Many losses, especially at this time, were suffered by the cities, whose causes and extents I refrain from describing now, or the tale would be endless. These losses the landowners had to repair, by special assessment on each individual; and their troubles did not even stop there. The pestilence, which had attacked the inhabited world, did not spare the Roman Empire. Most of its farmers had perished of it, so that their lands were deserted; nevertheless Justinian did not exempt the owners of these properties. Their annual taxes were not remitted, and they had to pay not only their own, but their deceased neighbors’ share. And in addition to all of this, these land-poor wretches had to quarter the soldiers in their best rooms, while they themselves during this time existed in the meanest and poorest part of their dwellings.

Such were the constant afflictions of mankind under the rule of Justinian and Theodora; for there was no release from war or any other of these calamities in all their time.

While I am on the subject of quartering, I should not fail to mention that the householders in Constantinople had to quarter seventy thousand barbarians, so that they got no pleasure from their own houses, and were greatly inconvenienced in many ways.


I must not pass over his treatment of the soldiers, over whom he appointed paymasters with instructions to hold out as much of their money as they found possible, on the understanding that one twelfth of what they thus collected was theirs. Their method each year was as follows. It was the regulation that different ranks in the army receive different pay: the young and newly enlisted received less, those who had seen hard service and had advanced half way up the list received more, and the veterans who should soon retire from service had a still higher rating, so that they could live on their savings as private citizens, and when their span of life was complete, might be able to leave some consolation to their families. In this way, the soldiers step by step arose in rank as their older comrades died or retired, and each man’s pay fitted his degree of seniority.

But the paymasters forbade the erasing from the lists of the names of soldiers who died, even when many perished together, as frequently happened in the constant wars. Nor did they fill the vacancies in the lists, even after considerable time.

The result of this was that the number of soldiers grew continually less, and those who survived their dead comrades were deprived of their proper advancement in rank and pay; while the paymasters handed over to Justinian the money that should have gone to these soldiers all this time.

Furthermore, they fined the soldiers for other personal and unjust reasons, as a reward for the perils they underwent in the battlefield: on the charge that they were Greeks, as if none of that nation could be brave; or that they were not commissioned by the Emperor to serve, even when they showed his signature to that effect, which the paymasters did not hesitate to question; or that they had been absent from duty for a few days.

Later, some of the palace guards were sent throughout the whole Roman Empire to investigate how many on the military lists were unfit for service; and some were relieved of their uniform for being old and use less, so that for the rest of their lives they had to beg their meals of the charitable in the public Forum, exhibiting their tears and lamentations to passersby; and the rest, lest they might suffer a similar fate, handed over their savings as a bribe, with the result that all the soldiers lost heart for their profession, were reduced to poverty, and had no further enthusiasm for campaigning.

This was ruinous to the Romans and their authority in Italy; and the paymaster Alexander, sent thither, had the audacity to reproach the soldiers for their poor morale; while he exacted further money from the Italians, on the pretext of punishing them for their negotiations with Theodoric and the Goths. The common soldiers, indeed, were not the only ones to be reduced to poverty and helplessness by these commissioners; for all the staff officers, under the generals, who had formerly been in high esteem, were utterly impoverished and in danger of famine, as they had no money left with which to buy their customary provisions.

Speaking of the soldiers reminds me to add further details. The Roman emperors hitherto had stationed large armies on all frontiers of the State to protect its boundaries; and particularly in the East, to repel incursions of the Persians and Saracens. These border troops Justinian used so ill and meanly from the start that their pay became four or five years overdue; and when peace was declared between the Romans and Persians, these poor men, instead of sharing in the fruits of peace, were forced to contribute to the public treasury whatever was owed them; after which they were summarily discharged from the army. Thereafter the boundaries of the Roman Empire were unguarded, and the soldiers were left suddenly on the hands of charity.

Another corps of not less than three thousand, five hundred other soldiers, originally mustered for the palace guard, and called the Scholars, had always received higher pay from the public treasury than the rest of the army. Originally they were chosen to this preferred company by special merit, from the Armenians; but from the time when Zeno became Emperor, it was possible for anyone, no matter how poor or cowardly a soldier, to wear this uniform. Now when Justin came to the throne, this Justinian distributed the honor among a large number upon their paying him a considerable price for it. And when he saw there was no further possible vacancy, he enrolled two thousand more, whom he called Supernumeraries. When he himself took over the throne, he immediately disbanded the Supernumeraries, without giving them back any of the money they had paid him.

This, however, is what he schemed with reference to the Student Corps. Whenever an army was about to be sent against Libya, Italy, or the Persians, he ordered them to pack for service with the regulars, though he knew well they were utterly unfit for the campaign. And they, trembling at the possibility of active service, surrendered their pay for the period of the war. The Students had this unpleasant experience more than once. Also Peter, during all the time he was Master of Offices, worried them daily with unheard-of thefts.

For he was a gentle seeming and unassuming man, but the biggest thief alive, and simply bursting with sordid meanness. It was this Peter whom I mentioned before as responsible for the murder of Amasalontha, Theodoric’s daughter.

There were also others in the palace guard of much higher rank; and the more they paid into the treasury for their commissions, the higher was their military rating. These were called Domestics and Protectors, and had always been exempt from active service. Only as a matter of form they were listed in the palace guard. Some of them were regularly stationed in Constantinople, others had always been assigned to Galatia or other provinces. Justinian scared these, too, in the same way, into forfeiting their pay to him.

Finally, it was the law that every five years the Emperor should give each soldier a bonus of a fixed sum in gold. And every five years commissioners had been sent over all the Roman Empire to give each soldier five gold staters. Not to comply with this custom was simply unthinkable. Yet from the time that this man managed the State, he never once did this, nor had any idea of doing it, though he reigned for thirty-two years: so that the very custom was finally forgotten by everyone.


I will next describe another way in which he robbed his subjects. Those who serve the Emperor and the magistrates in Constantinople, either as guards or as secretaries or what not, are inscribed last in the list of officials. As time goes on, their rank advances as their superiors die or retire and they replace them, until they reach the topmost dignity. Those who attained this highest rank, according to the long-established rule, were paid more than one hundred gold centenaries a year, so as to have a competence for their old age, and that they might be able to discharge their many debts: which resulted in the affairs of state being competently and smoothly managed. But this Emperor deprived them of nearly all this money, to the great harm of these officials and everybody else. For poverty, attacking them first, soon spread to the others who formerly shared their solvency. And if one could calculate the sums of money thus lost during thirty-two years, he would know of how great a total they were thus deprived. This is how the tyrant used his military aides.

What he did to merchants and sailors, artisans and shop-keepers, and through them to everybody else, I will now relate. There are two straits on either side of Constantinople: one in the Hellespont between Sestos and Abydus, the other at the mouth of the Euxine Sea, where the Church of the Holy Mother is situated. Now in the Hellespontine strait there had been no customhouse, though an officer was stationed by the Emperor at Abydus, to see that no ship carrying a cargo of arms should pass to Constantinople without orders from the Emperor, and that no one should set sail from Constantinople without papers signed by the proper officials; for no ship was allowed to leave Constantinople without permission of the bureau of the Master of Offices. The toll exacted from the ship owners, however, had been inconsequential. The officer stationed at the other strait received a regular salary from the Emperor, and his duty was exactly the same, to see that nothing was transported to the barbarians dwelling beyond the Euxine that was not permitted to be sent from Roman to hostile territory; but he was not allowed to collect any duties from navigators at this point.

But as soon as Justinian became Emperor, he stationed a customhouse at either strait, under two salaried officials, to whom he gave full power to collect as much money as they found possible. Eager to show their zeal, they made the mariners pay such tributes ‘on everything as pirates might have exacted. And this was done at both straits.

At Constantinople, he concocted the following scheme. He appointed one of his intimates, a Syrian named Addeus, in charge of the port, with orders to collect duty from the ships anchoring there. And he, accordingly, never allowed any of the vessels putting in to Constantinople to leave until their owners either paid clearance fees or submitted to taking a cargo for Libya or Italy. Some of the ship owners, however, refused to submit to this compulsion, preferring to burn their boats rather than sail at such a price; and considered themselves lucky to escape with this sacrifice. Those who had to continue sailing in order to live, on the other hand, charged merchants three times the former rate for carrying their wares: so that the merchants had to recoup these losses by selling their stuff to individual purchasers at a correspondingly high price, with the result that the Romans nearly died of starvation.

This was the state of affairs throughout the Empire.

I must not omit, I suppose, mention of what the rulers did to the petty coinage. Formerly the money changers had customarily given two hundred and ten obols, or “folles,” for one gold stater; but Justinian and Theodora, as a scheme for their private profit, ordered that only one hundred and eighty obols should be given for a stater. In this way they clipped off one sixth of each gold coin possessed by the people.

By licensing monopolies of nearly all kinds of wares, these rulers daily oppressed the purchasers; the sale of clothes was the only thing they left untouched, and even in this case they contrived the following scheme. Cloaks of silk had long been made in Berytus and Tyre, in Phoenicia. Merchants who dwelt in these, and all the artisans and workers connected with the trade, had settled there in early times, and from these cities this trade had spread throughout the earth. But during the reign of Justinian, those in this business at Constantinople and in the other cities, raised the price of these garments: claiming that the price for such stuffs had been raised by the Persians, and that the import duties to Roman territory were also higher.

The Emperor, pretending to be incensed at this, proclaimed by edict that such clothing could not be sold for more than eight gold coins a pound; and the punishment for disobeying this law was the confiscation of the transgressor’s property. This seemed to everybody impossible and futile. For it was not practicable for the merchants who imported silk at a higher price, to sell it to their customers for less. Consequently they decided to stop dealing in it at all, and privately got rid of their present stock as best they could, selling it to such notables as took pleasure in throwing away their money for such finery, or thought they had to wear it.

The Empress, hearing what was going on through her whispering spies, without stopping to verify the rumor, immediately confiscated these persons’ wares, fining them a centenary in addition. Now the imperial treasurer is to be in charge of all matters connected with this trade. So when Peter Barsyames was given that office, they soon left it to him to do their unholy deeds. He ruled that all should obey the letter of the law, while he ordered the silk makers to work for himself. And this was no secret, for he sold colored silk in the Forum at six gold pieces an ounce, while for the imperial dye, which is known as holovere, he charged more than twenty-four.

In this way he got much money for the Emperor and more, quietly, for himself; and the custom he started continues to this day, the treasurer being admittedly the sole silk merchant and controller of this trade.

The former dealers in silk in Constantinople and every other city, by sea and by land, were naturally heavily damaged. Almost the whole populace in the cities mentioned were suddenly made beggars. Artisans and mechanics were forced to struggle against famine, and many consequently left the country and fled to Persia. Only the imperial treasurer could transact this business, giving a share of the profits aforesaid to the Emperor, and himself taking most of them, fattening on the public calamity. And so much for that.


How he ruined the beauty and appearance of Constantinople and every other city, we shall now see.

First he determined to debase the standing of the lawyers. He deprived them of all court fees, by which they had formerly lived in comfort and elegance; and in consequence they lost caste and significance. And after he had confiscated the estates of the Senators and other prosperous people, as has been related, in Constantinople and all over the Roman Empire, there was little use for lawyers anyway; men no longer had anything worth mentioning to go to court about. So of all the many noted advocates, only a few were left; and they were despised and reduced to penury, reaping nothing but insult from their work.

Furthermore, he caused physicians and teachers of the liberal arts to be deprived of the necessities of life. For he stopped all their living subsidies, which former emperors had paid men of these professions from the public treasury.

Also all of the taxes which the municipalities had devoted to public use or entertainments, he transferred arbitrarily to the imperial treasury. No consideration was now given to any physician or teacher; no one dared pay any attention to public buildings; there were no public lights in any city, nor any entertainments for the citizens. For the theaters, hippodromes, and circuses, in which his wife had been born, bred and educated, were all discontinued. Later he even stopped the public spectacles in Constantinople, to avoid spending the usual State money on them, by which an almost incalculable number of people had got their livelihood. On these, individually and collectively, ruin and desuetude descended, and as if some cataclysm had fallen on them from Heaven, their happiness was slain. And no other subject was spoken of among men, at home or in public or in the churches, than their calamities, their sufferings, and their overwhelming by the latest misfortune. Such was the state of affairs in the cities.

Of what is left to tell, this is worth mentioning. Each year two Roman consuls were appointed: one at Rome, the other at Constantinople. And whoever was called to this honor was expected to spend more than twenty gold centenaries on the public; some of which came from the Consul’s private purse, but most was furnished by the Emperor. This money was given to those others whom I have mentioned, but mostly to the poor and those employed in the theater; all of which was to the good of the city. But from the time Justinian came to power, these distributions were not made at the customary time; for sometimes a Consul remained in office for year after year, till finally people wearied of hoping for a new one, even in their dreams. As a result, universal poverty was the case, since the usual annual relief was no longer afforded to subjects; and in every way all that they had was taken from them by their ruler.

Now I think I have shown sufficiently how this destroyer devoured all the public moneys and robbed each member of the Senate, publicly and privately, of all his estates; and how by bringing false charges he confiscated the properties of everybody else who was reputed to be wealthy, I imagine I have adequately told: as in the case of the soldiers, subordinate officers, and the palace guard; the farmers and landowners; those whose business is in words; merchants, ship owners and sailors; mechanics, artisans, and market dealers; those whose livelihood is in the theater; and indeed everyone else, who was affected in turn by the damage done to these. And now let us see what he did to those in need of alms: the poor, the beggars, and the diseased; for what he did to the priests will be described later.

First, as I have said, he took control of all the shops, licensed monopolies of all the wares most necessary to life, and exacted a price of more than triple their worth from the citizens. And other details of what he did I would not even attempt to catalogue in an endless book, since they were simply uncountable.

He put a bitter and perpetual tax on the sale of bread, which the day laborers, the poor and the infirm could not help buying. From this source he demanded three centenaries a year, with the result that the bakers filled their loaves with shells and dust; for the Emperor had no scruples against profiting meanly from even this unholy adulteration. Those in charge of the markets, turning this trick to their private gain, with ease became very wealthy and reduced the poor to an unexpected famine even in prosperous times; since it was not permitted to bring in grain from other places, but all were forced to eat bread purchased in the city.

One of the municipal aqueducts, which furnished not a small share of the city water, collapsed; but the rulers disregarded the matter and refused to repair it, though the constant crowds who had to use the wells were fairly stifling, and all the baths were shut down. On the other hand, he threw away great sums of money senselessly on buildings by the seashore and elsewhere, in all the suburbs, as if the palaces in which all the former emperors had been content to dwell were not enough for this pair. So it was not to save money, but to destroy his subjects, that he refused to rebuild the aqueduct; for no one in all history had ever been born among men more eager than Justinian to get hold of money, and then to throw it immediately away again. Through the two things left to them to drink and eat, water and bread, this Emperor injured those who were in the last extremes of poverty; making the one hard to procure at all, and the other too expensive to buy.

This he did not only to the poor in Constantinople, but to inhabitants elsewhere, as I shall now relate. When Theodoric captured Italy, he permitted the palace guard to remain in Rome, that some trace of the ancient State might be left; and he continued their daily pay. These soldiers were quite numerous, comprising the Silentiarii, the Domestics, and the Student Corps, who were soldiers only in name; their pay was just enough to live on; and Theodoric ordered that this should revert, on their deaths, to their children and families. Among the poor, who lived near the Church of St. Peter the Apostle, he distributed each year three thousand bushels of grain from the public granary; which they continued to receive until the arrival in Italy of Alexander the Scissors.

This man immediately decided to deprive them of all this. When Justinian, Emperor of the Romans, learned of this economy, he was greatly pleased, and favored Alexander more than ever. It was on his way here that Alexander treated the Greeks as follows. The fortress at Thermopylae had long been guarded by the neighboring farmers, who took turns watching the wall whenever an incursion of barbarians into the Peloponnese was anticipated.

But this Alexander, when he arrived there, claimed it was to the advantage of the Peloponnesians not to allow this pass to be kept by farmers. So he stationed two thousand soldiers there, to be paid not out of the imperial treasury, but by all the cities of Greece; and on this pretext, he diverted all their public and entertainment revenues to the general fund, saying that from it food would be bought for these soldiers. In consequence, after this, everywhere in Greece, including even Athens, no public buildings or any other benefit could be considered. But Justinian of course approved this action of the Scissors. And that is what happened here.

Then there is the matter of the poor in Alexandria. Among the lawyers there was one Hephaestus, who, on being made Governor of Alexandria, put a stop to civic sedition by intimidating the rioters, but reduced all the inhabitants to the utmost misery. For he immediately brought all the wares in the city under a monopoly, forbidding other merchants to sell anything, and himself became the only dealer and sole vendor of all wares: fixing prices as he pleased under his supreme power. By the consequent shortage in necessary provisions the city of Alexandria was greatly distressed, where formerly even the very poor had been able to live adequately; and the high price of bread pinched them most. For he alone bought up all the grain in Egypt, not allowing anyone else to purchase as much as a single bushel; and thus he controlled the supply and price of bread as he pleased. In this way he soon amassed unheard-of wealth, at the same time satisfying the greed of the Emperor. The people of Alexandria through fear of Hephaestus bore their suffering in silence; and the Emperor, awed by the abundance of money that continuously came to him from that quarter, was wonderfully delighted with his Governor.

This Hephaestus, planning to incur even greater favor of the Emperor, contrived the following additional scheme. When Diocletian became ruler of the Romans, he ordered a large quantity of grain to be given yearly to the poor in Alexandria. And the Alexandrians, distributing this among themselves at that time, had transmitted the right to receive this bounty to their descendants up to this time. But Hephaestus, depriving these needy ones of this charity, which amounted to two million bushels, diverted it to the imperial granary, and wrote to the Emperor that these men had been getting this dole unjustly and not in accordance with the interests of state. The Emperor, approving this action, was still fonder of him than before. But such Alexandrians whose hope of life had been in the distribution, in their present bitter distress felt the full benefit of his inhumanity.


The deeds of Justinian were such that all eternity would not be long enough in which to describe them adequately. So a few examples will have to suffice to illuminate his whole character to future generations: what a dissembler he was, how he disregarded God, the priests, the laws, and the people who showed themselves loyal to him. He had no shame at all, either when he brought destruction on the State or at any misdeed; he did not bother to try to excuse his actions, and his only care was how he might get sole possession of all the wealth of the world. To begin:

As bishop of Alexandria he appointed a man by the name of Paul. At this time one Rhodon, a Phoenician, was Governor of that city. Him he ordered to serve Paul with all zeal, and to allow none of his instructions to be unfulfilled. For thus he thought he could associate all the priests in Alexandria under the synod of Chalcedon.

Now there was a certain Arsenius a native of Palestine, who had become one of the most useful intimates of the Empress Theodora, and consequently after acquiring great power and wealth, had been raised to senatorial rank, though he was a disgusting fellow. He was a Samaritan, but so as not to lose his official rank and power, became a nominal Christian; while his father and brother, encouraged by his authority, continued in their ancestral faith in Scythopolis, where, with his consent, they persecuted the Christians intolerably. As a result of this, the citizens revolted and put them both to a most shameful death. Many later troubles afflicted the people of Palestine because of this. At the time, however, neither Justinian nor the Empress did anything to punish Arsenius, though he was principally responsible for the whole trouble. They merely forbade him entrance to the palace, to get rid of the crowds of Christians complaining against him.

This Arsenius, thinking to please the Emperor, soon after went to Alexandria with Paul, to assist him generally and in special to help him get the good will of the Alexandrians. For during the time he had been barred from the palace, he affirmed he had become learned in all the Christian doctrines. This displeased Theodora, for she pretended to disagree with the Emperor in religious matters, as I have told before.

As -soon as they arrived in Alexandria, Paul handed over a deacon by the name of Psoes to Rhoden to be put to death, on the charge that this man alone stood in the way of the accomplishment of the Emperor’s wishes. And following instructions in letters from the Emperor, which came frequently and cogently, Rhodon ordered the man to be scourged; after which, while he was being racked by the torture, he up and died.

When news of this reached the Emperor, at the Empress’s instigation he expressed horror at what had been done by Paul, Rhodon and Arsenius: as if he had forgotten his own instructions to these men. He now appointed Liberius, a patrician from Rome, Governor of Alexandria, and sent certain priests of good reputation to Alexandria, to investigate the matter; among these were the Archdeacon of Rome, Pelagius, who was commissioned by Pope Vigilius to act as his legate.

Paul, convicted of the murder, was removed from the bishopric; Rhodon, who fled to Constantinople, was beheaded by the Emperor and his estates confiscated, although the man produced thirteen letters which the Emperor had written him, insisting and commanding him to serve Paul in everything and never to oppose him, so that he could fulfill his every wish in religious matters. Liberius, at Theodora’s order, crucified Arsenius, and the Emperor confiscated his property, though he had no charge to bring against him except that he had been intimate with Paul. Now whether his actions in this matter were just or otherwise, I cannot say; but I shall soon show why I have described the affair.

Some time later, Paul came to Constantinople and offered the Emperor seven gold centenaries if he would reinstate him in the holy office from which, he claimed, he had been illegally removed. Justinian genially took the money, treated the man with great respect, and agreed to make him Bishop of Alexandria again very soon, though another now held the office; as if he did not know that he himself had put to death Paul’s friends and helpers, and had confiscated their estates.

So the Augustus zealously extended every effort to arrange this matter, and Paul was generally expected to regain his bishopric one way or another. But Vigilius, who was in the capital at the time, decided not to yield to the Emperor’s command in such a case; and he said he could not annul a decision which Pelagius had given as his legate. And the Emperor, whose only idea was to get the money, dismissed the matter.

Here is another similar case. There was a certain Faustin, born in Palestine, and of an old Samaritan family, who accepted a nominal Christianity when the law constrained him. This Faustin became a Senator and a Governor of his province; and when his term of office expired a little later, he came to Constantinople, where he was denounced by certain priests as having favored the Samaritans and impiously persecuted the Christians in Palestine. Justinian appeared to be very angry and outraged that during his rule over the Romans, anybody could have insulted the name of Christ.

So the Senate investigated the affair and by the will of the Emperor, punished Faustin with exile. But the Emperor, after getting from him the money he wanted, straightway annulled the decree. And Faustin, restored to his former rank, and the Emperor’s friendship, was made Count of the imperial domains in Palestine and Phoenicia, where he fearlessly did as much harm as he wanted. Now in what way Justinian protected the true interests of the Christians may clearly be seen in these instances, few of them as I have had time to give.


How he unhesitatingly abolished laws when money was in question will now be shown in a few words. There was one Priscus in the City of Emesa, who was a skilful forger of others’ handwriting, and a rare artist in such c ‘ rime. It happened that the church of Emesa had a long time before inherited the property of a distinguished patrician named Mammian, of illustrious family and of great wealth. During Justinian’s reign, Priscus inventoried all the families of the mentioned city, so as to find which were adequately rich to be worth plundering, and after he investigated their family history, and found ancient letters in their ancestors’ handwriting, he forged documents purporting to be their agreements to pay to Mammian large sums of money which were supposed to have been left with them by him as a deposit.

The amount of money mentioned as an obligation in these forgeries was not less than one hundred gold centenaries. He also imitated very craftily the writing of a certain notary public whose office was in the Forum during Mammian’s lifetime: a man of high reputation for truth and every other virtue, who used to draw up all the citizens’ documents, fixing them with his own seal. To those who were in charge of ecclesiastical affairs at Emesa he gave these documents, after they agreed that he would get a share of the money to be obtained from the matter.

But since there was a statute of limitations barring action after thirty years, except in mortgages and certain other matters, where the limit was forty years, they formed the following plan. Going to Constantinople and offering the Emperor large sums of money, they begged him to join in accomplishing the destruction of their innocent fellow citizens. He took the money, and without scruple published a new law, to the effect that the statute of limitations did not apply to the church, but claims connected with that institution might be brought at any time within a hundred years. And this was now the law not only in Emesa, but throughout the whole Roman Empire.

To enforce his decree he sent to Emesa one Longinus, a man of deeds and of great bodily strength, who later was Prefect of Constantinople. And those in charge of church affairs there immediately brought suit for two centenaries against some of the citizens whose ancestors were mentioned in the forgeries; and soon obtained judgment against these men, who had no defence owing to the great lapse of time and their ignorance of the facts. And all the other citizens were greatly grieved over this, and incensed against the accusers; the most reputable men of Emesa being the most perturbed.

Just as this evil was now progressing against the majority of the citizens, Providence intervened in the following way. Longinus ordered Priscus, the inventor of the mischievous trick, to bring him all the documents in the case; and when he objected, slapped him with all his might. Priscus, unable to bear the shock of a blow from a strong man, fell on his back, now trembling and shaking with fear; and supposing that Longinus had discovered him and that the whole deceit had been brought to light, stopped bringing suits.

As if it were not enough to do away with the laws of the Romans daily, the Emperor also exerted himself to destroy the traditions of the Jews. For whenever in their calendar Passover came before the Christian Easter, he forbade the Jews to celebrate it on their proper day, to make then any sacrifices to God or perform any of their customs. Many of them were heavily fined by the magistrates for eating lamb at such times, as if this were against the laws of the State.

Knowing countless other such acts of Justinian, I cannot include them, since the end of this book draws near. In any case, what I have told will be enough to show the nature of the man.


I will now show what a liar and hypocrite he was. This Liberius, whom I recently mentioned, he removed from office and in his stead appointed John, an Egyptian, surnamed Laxarion. When Pelagius, a particular friend of Liberius’s, heard of this, he asked the Emperor if the report about Laxarion’s appointment were true. And he immediately denied it, assuring him he had done nothing of the sort; and gave him a letter to take to Liberius charging him to stick tight to his office and give it over to nobody, as he, Justinian, had not the slightest idea of removing him from it at this time.

Now John had an uncle in Constantinople named Eudemon, of consular rank and great wealth, who was at the time Count of the imperial estates. This Eudemon, when he heard the rumor, also went to the Emperor to inquire if the office were really going to his nephew. And Justinian, in contradiction of what he had written to Liberius, now wrote a document to John, telling him to take over the office by all means, as his intentions were unchanged. John, trusting in this instruction, ordered Liberius to retire from his office as he had been officially removed. But Liberius, with equal confidence, of course, in the letter he had had from the Emperor, refused. So John went after Liberius with an armed guard, and Liberius with his own guard defended himself. During the fight many were killed, including John himself, the new Governor.

Now at Eudemon’s instigation, Liberius was summoned to Constantinople; the Senate investigated the affair, and acquitted Liberius, since what he did had been in self-defense. The Emperor, however, did not let him off until he had privately paid him a fine. This shows Justinian’s love of truth and how he kept his word.

It might not be out of the way for me to tell a sequel of this incident. This Eudemon died a little later, leaving many relatives but no will of any kind. About the same time the chief eunuch of the palace, Euphrates, was released from life, leaving a nephew but no will disposing of his considerable property. The Emperor seized both estates, making himself the arbitrary heir, and did not give as much as a three-obol piece to the legal inheritors. Such was the respect for law and the kinsmen of his friends that this Emperor had. So, also ‘ he seized the estate of Ireneus, who had died some time before, without any proper claim to it of any kind.

Another thing that happened at this time I must also not fail to tell. One Anatolius was foremost in the Senate of Ascalon. His daughter was married to a citizen of Caesarea by the name of Mamilian, of illustrious family. This girl was Anatolius’s legal heir, since she was his only child. Now there was an ancient law that when a Senator of any of the cities departed this world, leaving no male issue, one fourth of his estate should go to the Senate of his city, and all the rest to his heirs. Here again the tyrant had showed his true character. He made a new law reversing the rule, decreeing that when a Senator died without male issue, his heirs should get one fourth of his estate, and all the rest should go to the imperial treasury and the local Senate. Never in the memory of man had the treasury or the Emperor shared the estate of a Senator.

While this new law was in force, Anatolius reached the final day of his life. His daughter was about to divide her inheritance with the treasury and the city Senate according to the law, when she received letters from both the Emperor and the Ascalon Senate, dismissing all their claims to the property, on the ground they had already all that was properly their just due.

Later Mamillan also died, Anatolius’s son-in-law, leaving one daughter, who of course inherited his estate. While her mother was still living, this daughter too died, after marrying a man of distinction by whom she had no children, male or female. Justinian immediately seized the whole estate, on the remarkable ground that it would be an unholy thing for the daughter of Anatolius, an old woman, to become rich on the property of both her father and her husband. But that the woman might not be reduced to beggary, he ordered her to be given one gold stater a day so long as she lived: writing in the decree by which he robbed her of these properties that he was granting her this stater for the sake of religion, “for it is my custom to do what is holy and pious.”

This will have to suffice, in order that my book may not be overfilled with such anecdotes; and indeed, no one man could recall everything he did.

I will show how he cared nothing for even the Blues, who were devoted to him, when money was at stake. There was a Cilician named Malthanes, son-in-law of that Leo who was, as I have said, a Referendar. Justinian sent this Malthanes to restore order among the Cilicians. On this pretext Malthanes inflicted intolerable sufferings on most of his fellow citizens, and robbed them of their money, some of which he sent to the tyrant, enriching himself unjustly with the rest.

Now some bore their sufferings in silence; but those of the inhabitants of Tarsus who were Blues, trusting in the favor of the Empress, assembled in their Forum to insult Malthanes, who was not present. When Malthanes heard of this, he assembled a body of soldiers and arrived in Tarsus by night; and sending his soldiers into the private houses, ordered them to put the inhabitants to death. Thinking this was an invasion by an enemy, the Blues defended themselves. And among other evils that took place in the darkness, it happened that Damian, a Senator, was killed by an arrow wound.

This Damian was president of the local Blues; and when the news came to Constantinople, the indignant Blues there made a great uproar throughout the city, and gathered in crowds to complain violently to the Emperor, while they uttered terrible threats against Leo and Malthanes. The Emperor pretended to be no less outraged at the affair, and immediately wrote to order an investigation and punishment of Malthanes by his citizens. But Leo gave him a large sum of money, so he stopped inquiry and his interest in the Blues.

With the affair thus unsettled, the Emperor received Malthanes at Constantinople with all favor and esteem. As he was leaving the imperial presence, the Blues, who had been on the lookout for him, attacked him in the very palace and would have killed him, if some of their party, who had been bribed by Leo, had not stopped them. Who would not call that state most miserable, in which the Emperor accepts bribes to leave an inquiry unfinished, and in which factionists, while the Emperor is in the palace, dare to mutiny against one of their own magistrates and lift violent hands against him? However, no punishment for this was ever brought on either Malthanes or those who attacked him. And from this alone, if you pleased, you could prove the character of Justinian.


How much he cared for the interests of the State may be seen by what he did to the public couriers and the spies. For the preceding Roman emperors, so that they might most quickly and easily have news of enemy invasions into any province, of sedition in the cities or any other unexpected trouble, of the actions of the governors and everyone else everywhere in the Roman Empire, and also so that those bringing in the annual taxes might be kept from delay and danger, had established a system of public couriers everywhere in the following manner.

As a day’s journey for an active man, they decided on eight stages in some places, in others less, but hardly ever less than five. Forty horses were kept for each stage, and grooms in proportion to the number of horses. By frequent relays of the best mounts, couriers were thus able to ride as long a distance in one day as would ordinarily require ten, and bring with them the news required. Also the landowners in these provinces, especially those whose estates were in the interior ‘ were greatly benefited by the system, as they sold at a high price to the government each year their surplus harvests to feed the horses and the grooms. And accordingly the State received the due tribute from each of these, immediately reimbursing them for furnishing it: and this was to the advantage of the whole State. Now this is how things were formerly done.

But this tyrant first suppressed the post from Chalcedon to Dacibiza, and then compelled the couriers to go from Constantinople to Helenopolis, however little they liked it, by sea. Faring in small boats, such as were usually used for crossing the strait, they were in serious peril if a storm came up. For because speed was demanded of them, they could not wait for calm weather. In the case of the road to Persia, he permitted the former system to remain; but everywhere else in the East, as far as Egypt, he reduced the number of stages making a day’s journey to one, and provided, instead of horses, a few asses. Consequently news of what happened in each province was brought with great difficulty, too late to be of any use and long after the event, and the farm owners got no benefit of their crops which either rotted or lay idle.

The spies were organized as follows. Many men were formerly supported by the treasury, who visited the enemy, especially the Persian court, to find out exactly what was going on; on their return to Roman territory, they were able to report to the Emperors the secrets of the enemy. And the Romans, being warned, were on guard and could not be taken by surprise. This system was also a long-established custom with the Medes; and Chosroes, they say, increased the pay of his spies, and benefited by the precaution. But Justinian did away with the practice of hiring Roman spies, and in consequence lost much territory to the enemy, including Lazica, which was taken because the Romans had no information as to where the Persian King was with his army.

The State had also always kept a large number of camels, which carried all the baggage when the Roman army marched against the foe. Thus the peasants did not have to carry burdens, and the soldiers lacked no necessity. But Justinian did away with almost all of these animals. Consequently when the Roman army now marches against the enemy, it is impossible for it to be supplied with what it needs. Such was the zeal he displayed for the interests of the State.

There is nothing like mentioning one of his ridiculous acts. Among the lawyers at Caesarea was one Evangelius, a man of no mean distinction, who, favored by the winds of Fate, became the master of much money and much land. Eventually he bought a village on the seacoast, named Porphyreon, for three gold centenaries. Learning of this, Justinian immediately took the place from him, giving him back only a small fraction of the price he had paid, and uttered the remark that it would never do for Evangelius, a mere lawyer, to be the lord of such a village. Well, we must stop somewhere when we begin to recall all these stories.

This, however, is worth telling among the innovations of Justinian and Theodora. Formerly, when the Senate approached the Emperor, it paid homage in the following manner. Every patrician kissed him on the right breast; the Emperor kissed the patrician on the head, and he was dismissed. Then the rest bent their right knee to the Emperor and withdrew. It was not customary to pay homage to the Queen.

But those who were admitted to the presence of Justinian and Theodora, whether they were patricians or otherwise, fell on their faces on the floor, stretching their hands and feet out wide, kissed first one foot and then the other of the Augustus, and then retired. Nor did Theodora refuse this honor; and she even received the ambassadors of the Persians and other barbarians and gave them presents, as if she were in command of the Roman Empire: a thing that had never happened in all previous time.

And formerly intimates of the Emperor called him Emperor and the Empress, Empress; and the other officials according to the title of their rank. But if anybody addressed either of these two as Emperor or Empress without adding “Your Majesty” or “Your Highness,” or forgot to call himself their slave, he was considered either ignorant or insolent, and was dismissed in disgrace as if he had done some awful crime or committed an unpardonable sin.

And before, only a few were sometimes admitted to the palace; but from the time when these two came to power, the magistrates and everybody else had no trouble in fairly living in the palace. This was because the magistrates of old had administered justice and the laws according to their conscience, and made their decisions while in their own offices, while their subjects, neither seeing nor hearing any injustice, of course had little cause to trouble the Emperor. But these two, taking control of everything to the misfortune of their subjects, forced everyone to come to them and beg like slaves. And almost any day one could see the law courts nearly deserted, while in the hall of the Emperor there was a jostling and pushing crowd that resembled nothing so much as a mob of slaves.

Those who were supposed to be in the imperial favor would stand there all day and most of the night, sleepless and foodless, until they were exhausted; and this is what their presumed good fortune got them. And those who were free of all this sort of thing, asked each other what would become of the prosperity of the Romans. For some were sure it was already in the hands of the barbarians, and others said the Emperor had hidden it away in his various dwelling places. But only when Justinian, be he man or King of the Devils, shall have departed this life, shall they who then happen to survive him, discover the truth.

End of Procopius’ Secret History

Considering the present state of our world and the activities of George Bush and his fellow criminals in power, it really doesn’t look like much has changed, does it?

To Be Continued…