The Secret History/Part 3

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
The Secret History by Procopius
Chapters XI - XV

Chapter XI[edit]

Accordingly, when Justinian took over the Empire he immediately succeeded in bringing confusion upon everything. For things which previously had been forbidden by law he kept introducing into the constitution, and tearing down all existing institutions and those made familiar by custom, as if he had put on the imperial garb on the condition that he should change all things also into another garb. For instance, he would depose the existing officials and appoint new ones in control of the State's business; and he treated the laws and the divisions of the army in the same way, not yielding to demands of justice nor influenced to this course by any public advantage, but simply that everything might be new and might bear the impress of his name. And if there was anything which he was quite unable to transform at the instant, still he would at least put his own name upon it.

As for seizing property and murdering men, he never got his fill of them, but after plundering numerous homes of affluent men he kept seeking new ones, straightway pouring out the proceeds of his earlier robbery in making presents to sundry barbarians or in erecting senseless buildings. And after he had slain perhaps myriads for no good reason, he straightway embarked on plans for the ruin of many more. So then, the Romans being at peace with the whole world, and he by reason of his lust for blood not knowing what to do with himself, Justinian kept bringing all the barbarians into collision with one another, and summoning the leaders of the Huns for no good reason, he handed over to them with amazing prodigality huge donatives, pretending that he was doing this as a pledge of friendship; indeed it was said that he had done this even during the period of Justinus' reign. And they, even after having received money, would send some of their fellow-leaders together with their followers, bidding them overrun and ravage the Emperor's land, so that they too might be able to sell peace to the man who for no good reason wished to purchase it. And these then began straightway to enslave the Roman Empire, and they nevertheless were receiving pay in the meantime from the Emperor; and after these, others promptly took over the business of plundering the hapless Romans, and after the pillage they would receive, as rewards for the attack, the Emperor's generous gifts. Thus all the barbarians, one may almost say, omitting no season of the year, made raids in rotation, plundering and harrying absolutely everything without a moment's pause. For these barbarians have many groups of leaders and war went the rounds — war that originated in an unreasoning generosity, and could never reach an end, but kept for ever revolving about its own centre. Consequently, during this period no settlement, no mountain, no cave — nothing, in fact, in the Roman domain — remained unplundered, and many places had the misfortune to be captured more than five times. Yet all these things and all that was done by Medes, Saracens, Sclavenians, and Antae and the other barbarians have been set forth by me in previous Books; but, as I said at the beginning of this present Book, it was necessary for me to state in this place the causes of what happened.

And though he paid out to Chosroes huge sums of gold in return for peace, still, acting on his own judgment in a senseless way, he became the chief cause of the breaking of the truce by his intense eagerness to gain the alliance of Alamundarus and the Huns who are allied to the Persians, a matter which I believe to have been mentioned without concealment in the narrative referring to them. And while he was stirring up the evils of faction and of war for the Romans and fanning the flames, with the one thought in mind that the earth should by many a device be filled with human blood and that he should plunder more money, he contrived another massacre of his subjects on a large scale, in the following manner.

There are in the whole Roman Empire many rejected doctrines of the Christians, which they are accustomed to call "heresies" — those of the Montani, the Sabbatiani, and all the others which are wont to cause the judgment of man to go astray. All these heretics he commanded to change their earlier beliefs, threatening many things in case of their disobedience, and in particular that it would be impossible for them in the future to hand down their property to their children or other relatives. Now the shrines of these heretics, as they are called, and particularly those who practised the Arian belief, contained wealth unheard-of. For neither the entire Senate nor any other major group of the Roman State could be compared with these sanctuaries in point of wealth. For they had treasures of gold and of silver and ornaments set with precious stones, beyond telling or counting, houses and villages in great numbers, and a large amount of land in all parts of the world, and every other form of wealth which exists and has a name among all mankind, since no man who had ever reigned previously had ever disturbed them. And many persons, and that too of the orthodox faith, excusing themselves by the occupations in which they were engaged, always depended upon the property of these sects for the means of their livelihood. So the Emperor Justinian began by confiscating the properties of these sanctuaries, thus stripping them suddenly of all their wealth. From this it came about that thereafter most of them were cut off from their livelihood.

And many straightway went everywhere from place to place and tried to compel such persons as they met to change from their ancestral faith. And since such action seemed unholy to the farmer class, they all resolved to make a stand against those who brought this message. So, then, while many were being destroyed by the soldiers and many even made away with themselves, thinking in their folly that they were doing a most righteous thing, and while the majority of them, leaving their homelands, went into exile, the Montani, whose home was in Phrygia, shutting themselves up in their own sanctuaries, immediately set their churches on fire, so that they were destroyed together with the buildings in senseless fashion, and consequently the whole Roman Empire was filled with murder and with exiled men.

And when a similar law was immediately passed touching the Samaritans also, an indiscriminate confusion swept through Palestine. Now all the residents of my own Caesarea and of all the other cities, regarding it as a foolish thing to undergo any suffering in defence of a senseless dogma, adopted the name of Christians in place of that which they then bore and by this pretence succeeded in shaking off the danger arising from the law. And all those of their number who were persons of any prudence and reasonableness shewed no reluctance about adhering loyally to this faith, but the majority, feeling resentment that, not by their own free choice, but under compulsion of the law, they had changed from the beliefs of their fathers, instantly inclined to the Manichaeans and to the Polytheists, as they are called. And all the farmers, having gathered in great numbers, decided to rise in arms against the Emperor, putting forward as their Emperor a certain brigand, Julian by name, son of Savarus. And when they engaged with the soldiers, they held out for a time, but finally they were defeated in the battle and perished along with their leader. And it is said that one hundred thousand men perished in this struggle, and the land, which is the finest in the world, became in consequence destitute of farmers. And for the owners of the land who were Christians this led to very serious consequences. For it was incumbent upon them, as a matter of compulsion, to pay to the Emperor everlastingly, even though they were deriving no income from the land, the huge annual tax, since no mercy was shewn in the administration of this business.

He then carried the persecution to the "Greeks," as they are called, maltreating their bodies and plundering their properties. But even those among them who had decided to espouse in word the name of Christians, seeking thus to avert their present misfortunes, these not much later were generally seized at their libations and sacrifices and other unholy acts. . . . For the measures that were taken with regard to the Christians will be told by me in the following narrative.

Afterwards he also prohibited sodomy by law, not examining closely into offences committed subsequently to the law but concerning himself only with those persons who long before had been caught by this malady. And the prosecution of these cases was carried out in reckless fashion, since the penalty was exacted even without an accuser, for the word of a single man or boy, and even, if it so happened, of a slave compelled against his will to give evidence against his owner, was considered definite proof. Those who were thus convicted had their privates removed and were paraded through the streets. Not in all cases, however, but only upon those reputed to be Greens or to be possessed of great wealth or those who in some other way chanced to have offended the rulers.

Furthermore, they were bitter against astrologers. Consequently, the official who was placed in charge of burglaries would maltreat them for no other reason than their being astrologers and, inflicting many stripes upon them, would parade them upon the backs of camels throughout the whole city, old men and persons who were in general respectable, though he had no other complaint against them, except that they wished to be wise in the science of the stars in a place like this. So a great throng of persons were fleeing constantly, not only to the barbarians, but also to those Romans who lived at a great distance, and it was possible to see both in the country and in every city great numbers of strangers. For in order to escape detection they readily exchanged their respective native lands for foreign soil, just as if their home-country had been captured by an enemy. So, then, the wealth of those reputed to be prosperous, both in Byzantium and in every other city, that is, after the members of the Senate, was plundered and seized by Justinian and Theodora in the manner which has been described. But how they succeeded in depriving the Senators also of all their property, I shall now proceed to make known.

Chapter XII[edit]

There was a certain man in Byzantium named Zeno, grandson of that Anthemius who previously had attained to the royal power in the West. This man they had purposely made a Prefect of Egypt and sent him thither. But he loaded the ship with the most valuable property and made ready to put to sea; for he had an incalculable weight of silver plate and objects of gold adorned with pearls and emeralds and other such precious stones. They thereupon, bribing certain of those who seemed most loyal to them, removed the valuables from the ship with all speed, and casting fire into the hold of the vessel, ordered a message sent to Zeno that the fire had occurred spontaneously in his ship and that his property had been destroyed. And at a later time it came to pass that Zeno died suddenly, and they themselves, in the guise of heirs, immediately became owners of the property. For they produced a sort of will, which common gossip said had not been written by him.

And by a similar method they made themselves heirs of Tatianus and of Demosthenes and of Hilara, who both in other respects and in rank were foremost members of the Roman Senate. And in some cases they fabricated, not wills, but letters, and so acquired the property. For it was in this way that they became heirs of Dionysius, who lived in Lebanon, and of John, son of Basilius, who, though he was the most distinguished of all the people of Edessa, was forcibly delivered into the hands of the Persians by Belisarius as a hostage, as has been related by me in the previous narrative. For thereafter Chosroes refused to release this John, reproaching the Romans with having disregarded all the conditions on which he had been given over to him by Belisarius, but he did consent to sell him as having become a prisoner of war. And the man's grandmother, who happened to be still alive, provided the ransom to an amount not less than two thousand pounds of silver and with this was expecting to buy back her grandson. But after this ransom had come to Daras, the Emperor, learning of it, refused to permit the agreement to be put into effect, in order, as he said, that the wealth of the Romans might not be conveyed to the barbarians. And not much later it came to pass that John fell sick and departed this world, and the magistrate in charge of the city, forging some sort of a letter, stated that not long before John had written to him as a friend that it was his will that his estate should go to the Emperor. 11I could not, however, enumerate the names of all the others whose heirs they have automatically become.

Now up to the time when what is known as the Nika insurrection took place, they saw fit to gather in the properties of the wealthy one by one; but when this revolt took place, as described in the previous narrative, they began to confiscate in a body the estates of practically all the members of the Senate, and they dealt as they wished with all the furnishings and the lands that were fairest, but they segregated those properties which were subject to a severe and very heavy tax and, with a pretence of generosity, handed them back to their former owners. So, being strangled by the tax-collectors and ground down by what we may term the ever-flowing interest on their debts, they unwillingly lived on in a life which was a lingering death. For such reasons, to me and to the most of us these two persons never seemed to be human beings, but rather a kind of avenging demons and, as the poets say, "a twin bane of mortals," seeing that they purposed together how they might be able most easily and most quickly to destroy all races of men and their works, and, assuming human form and becoming man-demons, they harassed in this fashion the whole world. And one might draw such an inference from many indications and particularly from the power their actions revealed. For demons are distinguished from human beings by a marked difference. Indeed, he though many men in the long course of time either by accident or by nature have shewn themselves supremely terrible, some ruining by their own sole effort cities or countries or other such things, yet no man, with the exception of these two, has been able to accomplish the destruction of all mankind and to bring about calamities affecting the whole world; it is true, however, in their case that chance also assisted their purpose, co-operating in the destruction of men, for by earthquakes, by pestilence, and by the overflowing of the waters of rivers very great destruction was wrought at about this time, as will be told by me directly. Thus they performed their fearful acts, not by human strength, but another kind.

And they say that Justinian's mother stated to some of her intimates that he was not the son of her husband Sabbatius nor of any man. For when she was about to conceive him, a demon visited her; he was invisible but affected her with a certain impression that he was there with her as a man having intercourse with a woman and then disappeared as in a dream.

And some of those who were present with the Emperor, at very late hours of the night presumably, and held conference with him, obviously in the Palace, men whose souls were pure, seemed to see a sort of phantom spirit unfamiliar to them in place of him. For one of these asserted that he would rise suddenly from the imperial throne and walk up and down there (indeed he was never accustomed to remain seated for long), and the head of Justinian would disappear suddenly, but the rest of his body seemed to keep making these same long circuits, while he himself, as if thinking he must have something the matter with his eyesight, stood there for a very long time distressed and perplexed. Later, however, when the head had returned to the body, he thought, to his surprise, that he could fill out that which a moment before had been lacking. And another person said that he stood beside him when he sat and suddenly saw that his face had become like featureless flesh; for neither eyebrows nor eyes were in their proper place, nor did it shew any other means of identification whatsoever; after a time, however, he saw the features of his face return. These things I write although I did not see them myself, but I do so because I have heard the story from those who declare that they saw the occurrences at the time.

And they said that a certain monk, very dear to God, being persuaded by those who lived with him in the wilderness, set out to Byzantium in order to plead the cause of the people who lived very near the monastery and were being mistreated and wronged in an unbearable manner; and straightway upon his arrival he received admittance to the Emperor. But when he was about to go into his presence, he stepped over the threshold with one foot, but suddenly recoiled and stepped back. Now the eunuch who was his conductor and the others present besought the man earnestly to go forward, but he, making no answer, but acting like a man who had suffered a stroke, departed thence and went to the room where he was lodged. And when his attendants enquired for what reason he acted thus, they said that he declared outright that he had seen the Lord of the Demons in the Palace sitting on the throne, and he would not care to associate with him or ask anything from him. And how could this man fail to be some wicked demon, he who never had a sufficiency of food or drink or sleep, but taking a taste at haphazard of that which was set before him, walked about the Palace at unseasonable hours of the night, though he was passionately devoted to the joys of Aphrodite?

And some of the lovers of Theodora say that when she was on the stage some sort of a demon descended upon them at night and drove them from the room in which they were spending the night with her. And there was a dancing-girl, Macedonia by name, belonging to the Blue Faction in Antioch, a woman who had acquired great influence. For by writing letters to Justinian while he was still administering the empire for Justinus, she without difficulty kept destroying whomsoever she wished among the notable men of the East and causing their property to be confiscated to the Treasury. They said that once this Macedonia, when greeting Theodora as she came from Egypt and Libya, noticed that she was very distressed and vexed over the high-handed treatment to which she had been subjected by Hecebolius, and also because she had lost some money on that journey, and so she comforted her greatly and encouraged her by suggesting that Fortune was quite able to become once again for her a purveyor of great wealth. On that occasion, they said, Theodora remarked that in fact a dream had come to her during the night just past and had bidden her to lay aside all anxiety as far as wealth was concerned. For as soon as she should come to Byzantium, she would lie with the Lord of the Demons, and would quite certainly live with him as his married wife, and he would cause her to be mistress of money without limit.

Chapter XIII[edit]

Now the case stood as I have said as regards the opinion of most of the people. And while Justinian was such as I have described in respect to his character in general, he still shewed himself approachable and kindly to those who came into contact with him; and no man whatever had the experience of being excluded from access to him, but on the contrary he was never angry even with those who failed to observe decorum as to standing or speaking in his presence. However, he did not, on that account, blush before any of those destined to be ruined by him. Indeed he never allowed himself to shew anger, either, or exasperation, and thus to reveal his feelings to those who had given offence, but with gentle mien and with lowered brows and in a restrained voice he would give orders for the death of thousands of innocent men, for the dismantling of cities, and for the confiscation of all monies to the Treasury. And one would infer from this characteristic that he had the spirit of a lamb. Yet if anyone sought to intercede through prayers and supplications for those who had given offence and thus to gain for them forgiveness, then, "enraged and showing his teeth," he would seem to be ready to burst, so that no one of those who were supposed to be intimate with him had any hope after that of getting the desired pardon.

And while he seemed to have a firm belief as regards Christ, yet even this was for the ruin of his subjects. For he permitted the priests with comparative freedom to outrage their neighbours, and if they plundered the property of the people whose lands adjoined theirs, he would congratulate them, thinking that thus he was shewing reverence for the Deity. And in adjudicating such cases, he considered that he was acting in a pious manner if any man in the name of religion succeeded by his argument in seizing something that did not belong to him, and, having won the case, went his way. For he thought that justice consisted in the priests' prevailing over their antagonists. And he himself, upon acquiring by means which were entirely improper the estates of persons either living or deceased and immediately dedicating them to one of the Churches, would feel pride in this pretence of piety, his object, however, being that title in these estates should not revert to the injured owners. Nay, more, he carried out an indefinite number of murders to accomplish these ends. For in his eagerness to gather all men into one belief as to Christ, he kept destroying the rest of mankind in senseless fashion, and that too while acting with a pretence of piety. For it did notº seem to him murder if the victims chanced to be not of his own creed. Thus his single interest was the ceaseless destruction of men, and in company with his spouse he never ceased contriving accusations leading to this end. For these two persons had their desires for the most part akin, and where they did actually chance to differ in their characters, though each of them was base, yet by displaying the most opposite tendencies they kept destroying their subjects. For he was lighter than dust in his judgment, always submitting himself to those who from time to time wished to lead him into evil according to their whims,— unless indeed the project involved an act of kindness or loss of gain — and endlessly listening to "fawning speeches." For his flatterers could persuade him with no difficulty that he was raised to the skies and "walking the air."

And one occasion Tribonianus, who was acting as •Assessor to him, said that he was exceedingly fearful lest some day on account of his piety he might unawares be swept up into the heavens. Such praises, or rather gibes, he would interpret in accordance with the fixed conviction of his mind. But even when, should it so happen, he expressed his admiration for the virtues of some man, a little later he would be reviling him as a scoundrel. And after abusing one of his subjects, he would turn about and seem to praise him, shifting his ground for no cause at all. For his thinking ran in a direction exactly contrary to what he himself said and to what he wished to appear. 15I have already described his character with regard to personal friendship and enmity, citing as evidence for the most part the things the man actually did. For as an enemy, he was sure and unswerving, but to his friends very untrustworthy. Consequently he really caused the ruin of great numbers who had been cultivated by him, but he never became a friend to anyone whom he had once hated. But those whom he seemed to know best and to regard as most intimate he after no long time betrayed to their destruction by delivering them as a favour to his consort or to someone else, even though he was well aware that they would die solely because of their loyalty to him. For he was conspicuously untrustworthy in all things except, to be sure, his cruelty and his avarice. For to make him give up this last proved an impossible task for any man. But also in those matters in which his spouse was not able to persuade him, by injecting into the argument the hope of large sums of money to accrue from the transaction she could win over her husband quite against his will to the action she desired. Indeed for the sake of unseemly gain he never refused either to set up laws or again to tear them down.

And he rendered judgment, not according to the laws which he himself had written, but according as he was influenced by the vision of a greater or more magnificent promise of money. For he even believed that to take away the property of his subjects by small thefts brought no disgrace whatever upon him — in those cases, namely, where he was not able to take everything at once on some pretence, either by advancing an unexpected accusation or by the pretext of a will never made. And while he ruled over the Romans, neither good faith nor belief in God remained secure, no law remained fixed, no transaction safe, no contract valid. And when any of his intimates were sent by him on some mission, if they had the fortune to destroy many of those whom they encountered and to plunder a quantity of money, they immediately seemed to the Emperor worthy both to be and to be called men of distinction, as having carried out with exactness all their instructions; but if when they returned to him they had shewn mercy to men in any way, he was offended with them thereafter and hostile. And despairing of the ability of these men, as being somehow out of date, he no longer called them to service. Consequently many were eager to shew him how base they could be, even though their usual conduct was not of such sort. And in certain cases, after making a promise many times and making his promise more binding by an oath or by a writing, he straightway became wilfully forgetful, thinking that this conduct brought him some credit. And Justinian continued to act thus, not only to his subjects, but also to many of his enemies, as I have stated previously.

And he was not given to sleep, as a general thing, and he never filled himself to repletion with either food or drink, but he usually just touched the food with the tips of his fingers and went his way. For such matters seemed to him a kind of side-issue imposed upon him by Nature, for he often actually remained without food two days and nights, especially when the time before the festival called Easter led that way. For on that occasion he many times abstained from food for two days, as has been said, and insisted upon living on a little water and certain wild plants, and after sleeping perhaps one hour he would spend the rest of the time walking about constantly. And yet, if he had been willing to spend just this Easter-tide on good deeds, affairs would have advanced to a high pitch of prosperity. But as it was, by employing his natural strength for the ruin of the Romans, he succeeded in pulling down to the ground their whole political structure. For he made it his task to be constantly awake and to undergo hardships and to labour for no other purpose than to contrive constantly and every day more grievous calamities for his subjects. For he was, as has been said, particularly keen in devising and swift in executing unholy deeds, so that in the end even his natural good qualities resulted in the undoing of his subjects.

Chapter XIV[edit]

For in the administration of affairs it was a time of the greatest confusion, and none of the customary procedures was maintained, as I shall shew by citing a few examples, while all the rest must be consigned to silence, so that my discourse might not be endless. First of all, he neither himself possessed any quality appropriate to the imperial dignity nor cared to foster any such quality in others, but in speech and in dress and in thinking he played the barbarian. And as to all the rescripts which he wished to have written from himself, he would not send them, as was the custom, to the man holding the office of Quaestor to promulgate, but instead would generally insist upon reading them out himself, although his speech was uncouth, as I have just stated, and that too while a great throng of bystanders . . ., so that those who were wronged thereby had no one against whom they could lay a charge. And the confidential secretaries, as they are called, were not assigned the function of writing the Emperor's confidential matters — the purpose for which these secretaries were appointed originally — he not only wrote practically everything himself, but also, whenever it became necessary to give instructions to the public arbitrators in the city, he would tell them in writing what course they must take as regards the judgment they were to render. For he would not allow anyone within the Roman Empire to give decisions on independent judgment, but with an obstinate determination and with a sort of unreasoning frankness he himself arranged in advance the decisions to be given, accepting hearsay from one of the contestants, and thus straightway, without investigation, he upset cases which had been adjudged, not because he had been influenced by any law or consideration of justice, but manifestly because he was overcome by base greed. For the Emperor felt no shame in accepting bribes, since his insatiable greed took away all shame from him.

But often that which had been decided by the Senate and by the Emperor came up for another and final judgment. For the Senate sat as in a picture, having no control over its vote and no influence for good, but only assembled as a matter of form and in obedience to an ancient law, since it was quite impossible for anyone whomsoever of those gathered there even to raise a voice, but the Emperor and his Consort generally pretended to divide between them the matters in dispute, but that side prevailed which had been agreed upon by them in private. And if it seemed to any man who had broken the law that victory was not certain, such a person flung more gold to this Emperor and straightway secured a law going contrary to all laws which had been previously established. And if someone else should miss this cancelled law, the Emperor felt no reluctance about calling it back once more and re-establishing it, and nothing stood firmly in force, but the scales of justice wavered and wandered in every direction according as the larger amount of gold weighing them down availed to pull them in one direction or the other; Justice was established in the market-place, and that too though she had once dwelt in the Palace, and there one could find salesrooms where could be bought for a price not only court decisions but also legislation.

And the Referendarii, as they were called, were no longer satisfied with merely referring to the Emperor the petitions of suppliants, and then informing the magistrates, in the usual way, what his decisions were concerning the petitioners, but collecting from the whole world the "unjust reason," they kept deceiving Justinian with sundry sophistries and chicaneries, he being by nature an easy victim for those practising these tricks. And as soon as they were outside the Palace and had taken measures to keep the litigants away from those with whom they themselves had talked, they proceeded to extract money — there being nobody to protect the rights of the litigants — in such a way that the business could not be proved against them and in such quantities as seemed to them sufficient. And the soldiers who kept guard in the Palace would come before the public arbitrators as they sat in the Royal Stoa and force them to admit their cases. And practically all the soldiers at that time were abandoning their proper posts and, according to their own sweet will, walking in ways that were forbidden and had hitherto never been open to them to tread, and everything was being swept along pell-mell, not even retaining any proper designation of its own, and the commonwealth resembled a kingdom of children at play. But while the rest must be passed over by me, as I intimated when I began this account, yet it shall be told who the first man was to persuade this Emperor to accept a bribe while presiding at a trial.

There was a certain Leon, a Cilician by birth, a man extraordinarily devoted to the love of money. This Leon came to be the mightiest of all flatterers and shewed a capacity for suggesting to the minds of stupid persons that which already had been determined upon. For he had a kind of persuasiveness which helped him, when dealing with the fatuity of the tyrant, to accomplish the destruction of his fellow-men. This man was the first to persuade Justinian to sell legal decisions for money. And when that sovereign had once decided to follow, in his stealing, the plan which has been described, he never stopped, but this evil kept advancing until it grew to a great size; and whoever was eager to lodge an unjust accusation against a citizen of the respectable sort proceeded straightway to Leon, and by promising that some portion of the disputed property should fall to both the tyrant and to him, he had forthwith won his case, however unjustly, before he left the Palace. And Leon succeeded in acquiring from this source a truly huge amount of money, and he came into possession of much land, and in so doing became the chief agent in bringing the Roman State to its knees. Indeed there was no security for those who had entered into contracts, no law, no oath, no documents, no fixed penalty, no other resource at all except to fling out money to Leon and the Emperor. Yet not even this process enjoyed the fixed approval of Leon's judgment, but he insisted upon getting money from the other side as well. For since he stole constantly in both directions, he never suspected that to neglect those who had put their confidence in him and to go against him involved any shame. For provided only that gain accrue, he believed that no disgrace would attach to him in playing off both sides.

Chapter XV[edit]

Such, then, was Justinian. As for Theodora, she had a mind fixed firmly and persistently upon cruelty. For she never did anything at any time as the result of persuasion or compulsion by another person, but she herself, applying a stubborn will, carried out her decisions with all her might, no one daring to intercede for the victim who had given offence. For neither length of time, nor surfeit of punishment, no trick of supplication, no threat of death — fully expected to fall from Heaven upon the whole race — could persuade her to abate one jot of her wrath. And to state the matter briefly, no one ever saw Theodora reconciled with the one who had given her offence, even after the person had died, but the son of the deceased received the Empress' enmity as an inheritance from him, just as he received anything else that had been his father's, and passed it on to the third generation. For her passion, while more than ready to be stirred to the destruction of men, was beyond any power to assuage.

Her body she treated with more care than was necessary, yet less than she herself could have wished. For instance, she used to enter the bath very early and quit it very late, and after finishing her bathing, she would go thence to her breakfast. After partaking of breakfast she would rest. At luncheon, however, and dinner she partook of all manner of foods and drinks; and sleep for long stretches of time would constantly lay hold of her, both in the daytime up to nightfall and at night up to sunrise; and though she had to such an extent strayed into every path of incontinence for so long a portion of the day, she claimed the right to administer the whole Roman Empire. And if the Emperor should impose any task upon a man without her consent, that man's affairs would suffer such a turn of fortune that not long thereafter he would be dismissed from his office with the greatest indignities and would die a most shameful death.

Now for Justinian it was rather easy to manage everything, not only because of his easy-going disposition, but also because he rarely slept, as has been stated, and was the most accessible person in the world. For even men of low estate and altogether obscure had complete freedom, not merely to come before this tyrant, but also to converse with him and to enjoy confidential relations with him. The Empress, on the other hand, could not be approached even by one of the magistrates, except at the expense of much time and labour, but, actually, they all had to wait constantly upon her convenience with a servile kind of assiduity, waiting in a small and stuffy anteroom for an endless time. For it was a risk beyond bearing for any one of the officials to be absent. And they stood there constantly upon the tips of their toes, each one straining to hold his head higher than the persons next to him, in order that the eunuchs when they came out might see him. And some of them were summoned at last, after many days, and going in to her presence in great fear they very quickly departed, having simply done obeisance and having touched the instep of each of her feet with the tips of their lips. For there was no opportunity to speak or to make any request unless she bade them to do so. For the Government had sunk into a servile condition, having her as slave-instructor. Thus the Roman State was being ruined partly by the tyrant, who seemed too good-natured, and partly by Theodora, who was harsh and exceedingly difficult. For whereas in the good-nature of the one there was instability, in the difficult nature of the other there was a bar to action.

So in their thinking and in their habits of life the contrast between them was clear, yet they had in common their avarice, their lust for murder and their untruthfulness to all. For both of them were exceedingly gifted in lying, and if any of those who had offended Theodora was reported to be committing any wrong, even though it were trivial and utterly unworthy of notice, she straightway fabricated accusations which had no application to the man and thus she exaggerated the matter into a terrible crime. And she listened to a great mass of accusations, and there was a court which sat on questions of repealing the established laws, and judges assembled who were brought together by her, whose function it was to contend with each other as to which of them by the inhumanity shewn in the judgment should be able better than the others to satisfy the Empress' purpose. And thus she immediately caused the property of any man who had given offence to be confiscated to the public treasury, and after treating him with most bitter cruelty, though he might perhaps belong to an ancient line of patricians, she felt no hesitation whatever in penalizing him with either banishment or death. But if any of her favourites chanced to be found guilty of wrongful manslaughter or of any other of the major offences, she by ridicule and mockery of the zeal of the prosecutors compelled them, much against their will, to hush up what had happened.

Indeed she also made it her business, whenever it seemed best to her, to change even the most serious matters to an occasion for buffoonery, as though she were on the stage in the theatre. And on a certain occasion one of the patricians, an old man who had spent a long time in office — whose name I shall by no means mention, though I know it well, that I may not indefinitely prolong the disgrace which fell upon him — being unable to collect a debt from one of the Empress' servants who owed him a large sum, appealed to her in order to lay a charge against the man who had made a contract with him and to entreat her to assist him to obtain justice. But Theodora, learning of his purpose in advance, instructed the eunuchs that when the patrician came before her, they should all stand about him in a circle and should listen attentively to her as she spoke, suggesting to them what words they should say in the manner of a "response." And when the patrician entered the women's quarters, he did his obeisance before her in the customary manner, and with a face that seemed stained with tears, said, "Mistress, it is a grievous thing for a man of patrician rank to be in need of money. For that which in the case of other men calls forth forgiveness and compassion is accounted outrageous in men of my rank. For in the case of any other man in extreme destitution, it is possible, simply by stating this fact to his creditors, to escape straightway from the embarrassment, but if a man of patrician rank should not have the means to meet his obligations to his creditors, most likely he would be ashamed to mention it, but if he did mention it, he would never be believed, since all men would feel that it is not a possible thing for poverty to be a housemate of a man of this class. But if he does win belief, it will fall to his lot to suffer the most shameful and distressing affliction of all. Now, my Mistress, I do have financial relations with men, some of whom have loaned their substance to me, and some have borrowed from me. As for my creditors, who most persistently dog my steps, I am unable through the shame proper to my position to put them off, while as for those who are in debt to me, since they happen not to be patricians, they take refuge in certain inhuman excuses. Therefore I entreat and supplicate and beg you to assist me in obtaining my rights and in escaping from my present ills." So he spoke. And the woman replied, in sing-song, "O Patrician So-and‑So" (naming him), and the chorus of eunuchs, catching up the strain, said responsively, "It's a large hernia you have!" And when the man again made supplication and uttered words resembling what he had said before, the woman replied again in the same strain and the chorus chanted the response, until the poor wretch in despair made his obeisance in the customary manner and departing thence went home.

And she lived the greatest part of the year in the suburbs on the seashore, and particularly in the place called Herion, and consequently the large retinue of attendants were grievously afflicted. For they had a scant supply of provisions and they were exposed to the dangers of the sea, particularly when a storm came down, as often happened, or when the whale made a descent somewhere in the neighbourhood. However, they considered the ills of all mankind to be nothing at all, provided only that they should be able themselves to live in luxury. And I shall straightway make clear of what sort was the character of Theodora as revealed in her treatment of those who had given offence, mentioning only a few details so that I may not seem to labour at an endless task.