The Secret History/Part 5

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The Secret History by Procopius
Chapters XXI - XXV

Chapter XXI[edit]

Thus were these matters handled by this Emperor. And by the Praetorian Prefect upward of thirty centenaria were collected each year in addition to the public taxes. To these he gave the name "air-tax," to suggest, I presume, that this did not happen to be any regular or customary tax, but that he always got it by a stroke of luck, as though it came of itself out of the air, though in reality this sort of thing should be called villainy on his part. Under the shield of this name those who successively held this office kept up their brigandage towards their subjects with ever-increasing fearlessness. And though they claimed to be delivering this money to the Emperor, they, on their part, found no difficulty in appropriating imperial wealth to themselves. But Justinian saw fit to take note of none of these things, watching for his opportunity with the idea that, as soon as ever they should appropriate some huge piece of wealth, bringing against them some accusation or other which would give no room for excuses, he would thus be able to seize their property all at once. Indeed, this is exactly what he did to John the Cappadocian. Now every single man who held this office during this period suddenly became wealthy beyond measure, with only two exceptions, namely Phocas — whom I have mentioned in an earlier Book as being a man who shewed himself a most scrupulous respecter of justice; for this man remained clear of any gain whatsoever while in that office — and Bassus, who assumed the office at a later time. Yet neither one of these two succeeded in holding the position a year, but, on the ground that they were useless and altogether alien to the spirit of the times, they were relieved of their office within some few months. But in order that my account may not be interminable, through my relating each separate thing, I might say that the same intrigues were being carried out in all the other magistracies in Byzantium.

In all parts of the Roman Empire, however, Justinian's method was as follows. Picking out the basest men, he would sell to them at a great price the offices that were to be corrupted by them; for no man of decency or any degree of intelligence would think for a moment of paying out his own money in order to buy the privilege of plundering those who had done no wrong. Then, after collecting this money from those who were making the bargain with him, he would confer upon them authority to treat their subjects in any way they pleased. As a result of this, they were destined, after ruining all the districts under their jurisdiction, along with their entire population, to be very rich themselves from that time on. These men, then, borrowed from the bank at a staggering rate of interest the amount of the prices they had paid for the cities, paid it to the man who had made the sale, and then, as soon as they reached their cities, proceeded to inflict upon their subjects every form of misery, having no concern for anything else than how they might meet their obligations to their creditors and themselves be rated thenceforth among the most wealthy, seeing that this business involved neither danger nor disgrace for them, but actually conferred upon them a certain amount of glory, in proportion to the number of those falling into their clutches whom they were able without any justification to kill and to plunder. For the titles of "murderer" and "brigand" came to be regarded by them as equivalent to "energetic"! All these office-holders, however, whom Justinian observed to be abounding in wealth, he bagged on trumped-up charges and straightway wrested from them absolutely all their fortunes.

But later he promulgated a law that all who sought the offices should take an oath that in very truth they would themselves be innocent of all theft, and that they would neither give nor take anything for the sake of the office. And he laid upon them all the curses which have been mentioned by men of most ancient times, in case anyone should depart from the written terms. Yet when the law had been in force not yet a year, he himself, disregarding the written terms and the curses and the disgrace which would ensue, proceeded more fearlessly than before to negotiate the prices of the offices, not in secret, but in the public square of the market-place. And those who purchased the offices proceeded, though under oath, to pillage everything still more than before.

And later on he hit upon still another device, one transcending all report. He decided that he would no longer sell, as formerly, those offices which he considered most valuable both in Byzantium and the other cities, but he sought out hired agents and put them in office, instructing them, for a wage of whatever it was, to deliver to him all their plunder. And they, having taken their pay, proceeded to collect and carry off everything from the whole country quite fearlessly, and a hireling authority was thus going the rounds and, in the guise of the office, plundering the subjects. Thus the Emperor, making his calculations with nice exactness, kept putting in power constantly those who were in very truth the vilest rascals in the world, and he always succeeded in tracking down the abominable creatures he wanted. Indeed, when he appointed the first set of rogues to office and the licence of power brought to light their inherent villainy, we were in truth astonished that man's nature had room for depravity so great. But when those who at some later time succeeded them in office were able to surpass these men by a very wide margin, men wondered among themselves how it was that those who formerly seemed most base were now outdone by their successors to such a degree that they now seemed to have been men of high character in their dealings, and the third group, in turn, overshot the second in every manner of wickedness, and after them still others, by their innovations in crime, caused an honourable name to be attached to their predecessors. And with the long continuance of the evil all men have finally been taught by facts that whereas man's natural depravity is wont to grow beyond all limits, yet when it is nourished by the instruction of predecessors, and when, through the influence of the licence which complete immunity inspires, it is lured on to wreak foul injuries upon all who fall in its path, then it seems invariably to attain to so great a bulk that not even the imagining of its victims is able to measure it.

Such was the state of affairs for the Romans, as touching their magistrates. And many a time, when a hostile army of Huns had enslaved and plundered the Roman domain, the generals of Thrace and Illyricum, after purposing to attack the retreating enemy, recoiled when they saw a letter from the Emperor Justinian forbidding them to make the attack upon the barbarians, they being necessary to the Romans as allies against the Goths, it might be, or against some other enemy. As a result of this, these barbarians used to plunder and enslave the Romans in those parts as enemies, and then, taking with them their prisoners and the rest of their plunder, they would retire to their own homes as friends and allies of the Romans. And often some of the farmers of that region, moved by the loss of their children and women, who had been reduced to slavery, gathered in a body, attacked the retreating foe, and succeeded in slaying many of them and in capturing their horses together with all the booty; then, however, they found themselves involved in serious difficulties. For certain men, sent out from Byzantium, saw fit to maul and mutilate their bodies and to impose fines upon them without the least compunction, until they gave up all the horses which they had wrested from the barbarians.

Chapter XXII[edit]

When the Emperor and Theodora had destroyed John the Cappadocian, they wished to appoint someone to his office in his stead, and they made it their common task to find some man of the baser sort, looking about to find such a tool of their tyranny and investigating thoroughly attitude of the candidates, to the end that they might be able still more speedily to ruin their subjects. Now as a temporary measure they put in John's place in the office Theodotus, a man who, though not of good character, had never proved able to please them completely. After this they went about investigating every possibility. And unexpectedly they found a certain money-changer named Peter, a Syrian by birth, called by the surname of Barsymes. He had years before sat at the table where bronze coins are exchanged and was gaining most shameful returns from this business, contriving his theft of the ha'pennies with great skill and always baffling his customers by the swiftness of his fingers. For he was clever enough to steal freely the possessions of those who fell in with him, and when caught, to give his oath and to cover the sin of his hands by the impudence of his tongue. And when he had been enrolled as a member of the Praetorian Guard, he became so outrageous that he was exceedingly pleasing to Theodora and he gave her readiest assistance in the perplexing details of her wicked enterprises. So they immediately released Theodotus from the office to which he had been appointed after the Cappadocian, and they appointed thereto Peter, who accomplished everything to the liking of them both. For though he deprived the soldiers on active service of all their pay, he was never seen to be moved by either shame or fear, nay, he even offered the offices for sale to a still greater extent than had been done before, and by making them less honourable he used to sell them to men who did not hesitate to carry on this unholy business, giving explicit permission to those who purchased the offices to treat the lives and property of their subjects as they wished. For a bargain was straightway concluded between him and the man who had paid down the price of the office that gave the latter full licence to plunder and pillage. Thus from the capital of the State there issued the traffic in human lives, and there Peter negotiated the contract for the destruction of the cities, while in the highest courts and in the public square of the market-place there paraded a legalized brigand, who described his business as the recouping of the monies put up as the price of office, there being no hope that his misdeeds ever would be punished. And among all those who served this magistracy as subordinates, a numerous and notable company, he always drew to himself the basest men. But herein not he alone was guilty, but rather all who have assumed this office before and since.

And a similar abuse was practised also in the office of the Magister, as he is called, and among the Palace officials who are wont to attend to the service that has to do with the treasures and with the funds known as privata and the administration of the patrimonium, and, broadly speaking, in all the regular offices established not only in Byzantium but also in the other cities. For since the time when this tyrant took charge of affairs, in each office the revenues which belonged to the minor officials were regularly claimed, without just reason, sometimes by Justinian himself, and sometimes by the man who held the office; and the men who served under their orders, being extremely poor, throughout this whole period were compelled to work under most servile conditions.

Now at one time a very great quantity of grain had been transported to Byzantium, but after the largest part of this had rotted already, he himself consigned it in proportionate quantities to each several city of the East, though it was not suitable to be eaten by man; and he consigned it, not at the price at which the finest grain is wont to be sold, but at a much higher price, and it was necessary for the purchasers, after spending very great sums of money to meet the very oppressive prices, to throw the grain into the sea or a sewer. And since a huge supply of sound grain which had not yet rotted also lay in storage there, he decided to sell off this too to the very large number of the cities which were in some need of grain. For in this way he made double the money which the Treasury had previously paid to the tributary states for this same grain. But the next year, when the crop of the grains was no longer bountiful to the same degree, the grain-fleet arrived in Byzantium with less than was needed, and Peter, being at a loss because of this situation, decided to buy from the farm-lands of Bithynia and Phrygia and Thrace a great supply of grain. And the inhabitants of these regions were compelled to transport with great labour the cargoes to the sea and to convey them to Byzantium at great peril, and to receive from him the small amounts which passed for prices; and the loss for them mounted up to such a figure that they were glad to be permitted to present the grain to a government warehouse and to deposit a further payment for the privilege. This is the burden which they are accustomed to call "requisition." But when even thus the supply of grain in Byzantium had not become sufficient to meet the need, many made bitter complaints of the situation to the Emperor. And at the same time pretty nearly all the men in military service, seeing that they had not received their usual pay, gave themselves over to tumults and disturbances throughout the city. So the Emperor seemed at last to be vexed with the man and wished to relieve him of his office both on account of these facts which have been mentioned and also because he had heard that a prodigious amount of money had been hidden away by him, which, as it chanced, he had filched from the Government. And this was true. But Theodora would not permit her husband to act; for she had an extraordinary affection for Barsymes on account of his depravity, as it seems to me, and because he was exceedingly efficient in bringing ruin upon the citizens. For she herself was a very ruthless person and completely filled with inhuman cruelty, and she required that her minions should conform as closely as possible to herself in character. But they say that she was put under a spell by Peter and shewed him favour against her will. For this Barsymes had shewn an exceptional interest in sorcerers and in the evil spirits, and he had a great admiration for the Manichaeans, as they are called, and never hesitated to stand forth openly as their champion. And yet, even when the Empress heard of these reports, she did not abate her good-will towards the man, but she saw fit to both protect and cherish him even more on this account. For she too from childhood on had consorted with magicians and sorcerers, her habits of life seeming to lead her in this direction, and throughout her life she retained her faith in such things and always based her confidence upon them. And it is also said that the way she made Justinian tractable was not so much by cajoling him as by applying to him the compulsion of the evil spirits. For this man was not so right-minded or just a person or so steadfast in virtue as to be at any time superior to attempts upon him of the kind just mentioned, but, on the contrary, while conspicuously susceptible to the appeal of bloodshed and money, yet he found it easy enough to yield to those who tried to cozen and flatter him. But even in those matters in which he took particular interest he used to reverse his position for no real reason and he had become absolutely like a cloud of dust in instability For this reason none of his relatives, and none of his acquaintances in general, ever based any confident hope on him, but, on the contrary, he had become subject to constant shiftings of his opinion as regards what he was to do. Thus, being easily accessible to the sorcerers, as has been said, he very readily became tractable in the hands of Theodora also; and chiefly for this reason the Empress loved Peter exceedingly as being an expert in such matters. So the Emperor removed him only with difficulty from the office which he previously held, but at the insistence of Theodora he not long afterwards appointed him Master of the Treasuries, dismissing from this office John, who chanced to have assumed it only a few months earlier. Now this man was a native of Palestine, and a very gentle and good person, who neither was skilled in opening ways to wrongful gain nor ever had maltreated any man in the world. In fact, the whole populace loved him with extraordinary devotion. And just for this reason he did not satisfy Justinian and his spouse at all, for as soon as they unexpectedly discovered among their subordinates any man of high character, losing their heads and being vexed to the utmost, they eagerly sought by any and every means to push him out of the way at the earliest possible moment.

It was in this way, at any rate, that Peter succeeded this John and took charge of the imperial treasuries, and he once more became the chief cause of great calamities for all. For he cut off the greater part of the payment which it had been ordained from of old should be given by the Emperor each year to many in the guise of a "consolation," and he himself, meanwhile, by improper means, grew rich on the public money and kept handing over a portion of it to the Emperor. And those who had been stripped of their money sat about in great sorrow, since he saw fit also to issue the gold coinage, not at its usual value, but reducing its value materially, a thing which had never been done before.

Such were the dealings of the Emperor in the matter of the magistrates. And I shall next proceed to tell how, in each division of the Empire, he ruined those who owned the lands. Now it was sufficient for our purpose, in mentioning a short time ago the magistrates sent out to all the cities, to note also the sufferings of the common people. For the owners of land were the first whom these magistrates oppressed and plundered; but even so all the remainder of the story shall be told.

Chapter XXIII[edit]

First of all, though it had been customary from ancient times that each successive Emperor should make, not once, but many times, a donation to all their subjects of the arrears of their debts to the Treasury, in order, on the one hand, to prevent the destitute and those who had no means of paying these arrears from being strangled regularly, and, on the other hand, to avoid providing the tax-gatherers with pretexts in case they should try to denounce those who, though subject to the tax, owed nothing in arrears, this man, for a period of thirty-two years, has done nothing of the kind for his subjects. And for this reason it was necessary for the destitute to go away and in no case to return again. And the denouncers kept harassing the more respectable farmers by holding over them the threat of an accusation, alleging that they had for a long time been paying their tax at a lower rate than that imposed upon their district. For the poor wretches had to fear not only the new payment of the tax, but also the possibility that they might be weighed down by the burden of taxes for so great a number of years for which they owed nothing. In any case, many men actually handed over their property either to the blackmailers or to the Treasury and went their ways. Furthermore, though the Medes and Saracens had plundered the greater part of the land of Asia, and the Huns and Sclaveni and Antae the whole of Europe, and some of the cities had been levelled to the ground, and others had been stripped of their wealth in very thorough fashion through levied contributions, and though they had enslaved the population with all their property, making each region destitute of inhabitants by their daily inroads, yet he remitted the tax to no man, with the single exception that captured cities had one year's exemption only. And yet if he had seen fit, as did the Emperor Anastasius, to remit to captured cities all their taxes for seven years, I think that even thus he would not have been doing all he should have in view of the fact that, although Cabades had gone his way without doing the least damage to the buildings, yet Chosroes had not only fired every structure and razed it to the ground, but had also inflicted greater sufferings upon his victims. And now to these men to whom he remitted this ridiculously small portion of the tribute, as to all the others likewise — men who had often supported the attacks of the Median army, and though Huns and Saracens had continuously ravaged the lands of the East, and though not less terribly the barbarians in Europe were also wreaking such destruction every day and unceasingly — to these men, I say, this Emperor shewed himself from the first more savage than all the barbarians together. For through "buying on requisition" and what are called "imposts" and "pro-rated assessments," the owners of the land were immediately, once the enemy had withdrawn, reduced to ruin. Now what these terms are and what they mean I shall proceed to explain.

The owners of property are compelled to provision the Roman army in proportion to the tax levied upon each owner, the deliveries being made, not where the season of the year at which the requisition is to be filled permits, but where the officials find it possible and have determined, and in making these requisitions no enquiry is made to see whether the farmers happen to have the required provisions on their land. Thus it comes about that these wretched men are compelled to import provisions for both soldiers and horses, buying them all at very much higher prices than they are to receive, and that, too, in a market which, if it so happens, may be at a great distance from their farms, and then to haul back these provisions to the place where the army chances to be, and they must measure out these supplies to the Quartermasters of the army, not in the way accepted by all the world, but just as the Quartermasters wish. And this is the thing which is called "buying on requisition," and the result of it has been that all the owners of farms have been bled to death. For by this process they are compelled to pay their annual tax not less than tenfold, seeing that it has often fallen to their lot, not only to furnish supplies directly to the army, as stated, but also, on top of what they have suffered that way, to transport grain to Byzantium; for not alone Barsymes, as he was called, has dared to perpetrate this outrage, but even before him the Cappadocian, and later on those who succeeded Barsymes in the dignity of this office.

Such in a general way was "buying on requisition." But the term "impost" is used to describe a kind of unforeseen ruination that falls suddenly upon the owners of land and destroys root and branch their hope of a livelihood. For this is a tax on lands that have become abandoned or unproductive, the owners and farmers of which have already had the misfortune either to perish altogether or, abandoning their ancestral estates, to be now living in wretchedness because of the woes imposed upon them by reason of these imposts; and they do not hesitate to impose it upon any who have not yet been ruined altogether.

Such is the meaning of the term "impost," a term which with good reason gained its widest currency during the period in question. But as for the "pro-rated assessments" — to dispose of the subject in the fewest possible words — the matter is about as follows. That the cities should be subjected to many damaging exactions at all times and particularly during this period was inevitable; as to the motives that led to their imposition and the manner of their application, I forbear to discuss them on this occasion, lest my treatise become interminable. These assessments were paid by the owners of the lands, each paying an assessed sum in proportion to the tax regularly levied upon him. But trouble did not stop here; on the contrary, when the plague came, seizing in its grip the whole civilized world and especially the Roman Empire, and wiping out most of the farmers, and when for this reason the lands, as one might expect, had become deserted, the Emperor shewed no mercy to the owners of these lands. For he never relaxed his exaction of the annual tax, not merely as he imposed it upon each separate person, but also exacting the share which fell to his deceased neighbours. And in addition they also had to stand all the other exactions which I mentioned a moment ago as always falling upon those who were cursed with the ownership of farms, and over and above all these things, they had to house the soldiers, in the best and most expensive of their rooms and to wait upon them, while they themselves throughout this whole time lived in the meanest and the most dilapidated of their outhouses.

All these evils kept constantly afflicting the people during the reign of Justinian and Theodora, for it so happened that neither war nor any other of the greatest calamities subsided during this time. And since we have made mention of rooms for billeting, we must not pass over the fact that the owners of the houses in Byzantium, having to turn over their dwellings there as lodgings for barbarians to the number of about seventy thousand, not only could derive no benefit from their own property, but were also afflicted by these other disagreeable conditions.

Chapter XXIV[edit]

Nor assuredly is his treatment of the soldiers to be consigned to silence; for over them he put in authority the most villainous of all men, bidding them collect from this source as much as they could, and these officers were well aware that the twelfth part of what they should thus procure should fall to them. And he gave them the title of "Logothetes." And these each year devised the following scheme. According to a law the military pay is not given to all alike year after year, but when the men are still young and have only recently joined the army, the rate is lower, while for those who have been in service and are now at about the middle of the muster-roll, it grows larger. But when they have grown old and are on the point of being discharged from the army, the pay is very much more imposing, to the end not only that they may, when in future they are living as private citizens, have sufficient for their own maintenance, but may also, when it is their lot to have completely measured out the term of life, be able to leave from their own property some consolation to the members of their households. Thus time, by continuously promoting the soldiers who are lower down in the scale to the rank of those who have died or been discharged from the army, regulates on the basis of seniority the payments to be made from the Treasury to each man. But the Logothetes, as they are called, would not allow the names of the deceased to be removed from the rolls, even when great numbers died at one time from other causes, and especially, as was the case with the most, in the course of the numerous wars. Furthermore, they would no longer fill out the muster-rolls, and that too for a long period. And the result of this practice has proved unfortunate for all concerned — first, for the State in that the number of soldiers in active service is always deficient; secondly, for the surviving soldiers, in that they are elbowed out by those who have died long before and so find themselves left in a position inferior to what they deserve, and that they receive a pay which is lower than if they had the rank to which they are entitled; and, finally, for the Logothetes, who all this time have had to apportion to Justinian a share of the soldiers' money.

Furthermore, they kept grinding down the soldiers with many other forms of penalties, as though to requite them thus for the dangers incurred in the wars, charging some with being "Greeks," as though it were wholly impossible for any man from Greece to be a decent man, others with being in the service without an order from the Emperor, even though they could shew, on this point, an imperial order, which, however, the Logothetes with no hesitation had the effrontery to denounce; and others still they accused on the ground that for some days they had chanced to be absent from their comrades. Later on also some of the Palace Guards were sent out through the whole Roman Empire, and ostensibly they were in search of any among the armies who were quite unsuitable for active service; and they dared to strip the belts from some of these as being unfit or too old, and these thereafter had to beg their bread from the pious in the public square of the market-place, so that they became a constant cause for tears and lamentation on the part of all who met them; and from the rest they exacted great sums of money, to the end that they might not suffer the same fate, so that the soldiers, broken in manifold ways, had become the poorest of all men and had not the slightest zest for warfare. It was for just this reason that the Roman power came to be destroyed in Italy. Indeed, when Alexander the Logothete was sent thither, he had the effrontery to lay these charges without compunction upon the soldiers, and he tried to exact money from the Italians, alleging that he was punishing them for their behaviour during the reign of Theoderic and the Goths. And it was not alone the soldiers who were oppressed by destitution and poverty through the conduct of the Logothetes, but also the subordinates who served all the generals, formerly a numerous and highly esteemed group, laboured under the burden of starvation and dire poverty. For they had not the means wherewith to provide themselves with their customary necessities.

And I shall add one further item to those I have mentioned, since the subject of the soldiers leads me thereto. The Roman Emperors in earlier times stationed a very great multitude of soldiers at all points of the Empire's frontier in order to guard the boundaries of the Roman domain, particularly in the eastern portion, thus checking the inroads of the Persians and the Saracens; these troops they used to call limitanei. These the Emperor Justinian at first treated so casually and so meanly that their paymasters were four or five years behind in their payments to them, and whenever peace was made between the Romans and the Persians, these wretches were compelled, on the supposition that they too would profit by the blessings of peace, to make a present to the Treasury of the pay which was owing to them for a specified period. And later on, for no good reason, he took away from them the very name of regular troops. Thereafter the frontiers of the Roman Empire remained destitute of guards and the soldiers suddenly found themselves obliged to look to the hands of those accustomed to works of piety.

Another group of soldiers, no fewer than three thousand five hundred in number, had been assigned originally to the guarding of the Palace; these are called Scholarii. And the Treasury has been accustomed from earliest times always to pay these higher wages than all others. These men were picked for their excellence by earlier Emperors, being recruited for this honour from among the Armenians. But since the time when Zeno succeeded to the throne, the way has been open for all, both cowards and wholly unwarlike men, to achieve the honour of this title. And as time went on, even slaves, by putting up a bribe, could purchase admission to this service. So when Justinus took over the Empire, this Justinian appointed many to this honourable service, thus securing for himself great amounts of money. But when at length he observed that there was no longer any vacancy in these ranks, he added to their number two thousand recruits, and these they used to call "supernumeraries." But when he himself took over the Empire, he shook off these supernumeraries with great speed, giving them no payment whatever.

But for those included in the regular body of the Scholarii he devised the following. When it was to be expected that an army would be sent against Libya or Italy or Persia, he would issue orders to them to pack up as though to take part in the expedition, though he knew well that they were not at all fit for active service, and they, in terror, remitted their pay to him for a specified period in order that this might not be done. And it so happened that this befell the Scholarii many times. And Peter also, during the whole time while he held the office of Magister, as it is called, was constantly harassing them every day with unheard-of thefts. For while he was indeed a mild man and not at all versed in offering insult, at the same time he was the biggest thief in the world and absolutely filled with shameful avarice. This Peter has been mentioned also in the previous books as having carried out the murder of Amalasuntha, daughter of Theoderic.

And there are also others in the Palace held in much higher esteem, for the Treasury is accustomed to allow them a higher wage on the ground that they on their part have paid larger amounts for the name of belonging to the service; these are called Domestici and Protectores, and from ancient times they have been unpractised in deeds of war. For it is only for the sake of rank and for the appearance of the position that they are wont to have themselves enrolled among the Palace corps. And from ancient times some of these have had their residence in Byzantium, some in Galatia and some in other places. But these too Justinian was constantly intimidating in the manner described, thus compelling them to relinquish the pay which belonged to them. And this shall be explained in summary. There was a law that every four years the Emperor should present to each one of the soldiers a specified sum of gold. So every fourth year they used to send messengers throughout every part of the Roman Empire and present five gold staters to each soldier. And there could not be any failure in this matter at any time or by any means. But since the time when this man took over the administration of the State, he has neither done such a thing nor purposed to do it, though a period of thirty-two years has passed already, so that men have even come to forget this practice to some extent.

And I shall pass on to explain still another of his methods of plundering his subjects. Those who mount guard or handle dispatches for the Emperor and the officials in Byzantium, or who perform any other service whatsoever, are assigned at first to the lowest ranks, and as time goes on they advance steadily to fill the places of those who have died or retired, and each of them keeps moving up from the rank he has held until such time as he mounts the topmost step and attains to the highest attainable point of this career. For those who have achieved this high rank a salary has been assigned from of old, so huge that each year they gather in more than one hundred centenaria of gold, and it has come about that not only they themselves are cared for in old age but that many others also share with them, as a general thing, the assistance derived from this source, and the affairs of the State have in this way advanced to a high point of prosperity. But this Emperor, by depriving them of practically all these revenues, has brought woes upon them and the rest of mankind. For poverty laid hold upon them first and then passed on through the rest who previously had had some share of their benefit. And if anyone should calculate the loss which fell upon them from this source over a period of thirty-two years, he would arrive at the measure of the amount of which it was their misfortune to be deprived.

Chapter XXV[edit]

Thus were the men in service mishandled by this tyrant. And I shall now proceed to tell of his treatment of merchants and sailors and craftsmen and traders in the market-place and, through these, of all the others. There are two straits on the two sides of Byzantium, the one at the Hellespont between Sestus and Abydus and the other at the mouth of the sea called Euxine, where is the place named Hieron. Now on the Strait of the Hellespont there was no public Customs House at all, but a certain magistrate commissioned by the Emperor was stationed at Abydus, watching to see whether any ship bearing arms went towards Byzantium without the Emperor's permission, and also whether anyone was putting out from Byzantium without carrying a permit and seals from the men who have this function (for it is illegal for anyone to put out from Byzantium without being released by the men who serve the office of the official known as the "Magister"), and collecting from the masters of the ships a toll which was felt by no one, but which was, as it were, a sort of payment claimed by the man who held this office as compensation for his labour. But the man dispatched to the other strait had always received his salary from the Emperor, and he watched with great care for the things which I have mentioned and, in addition, to see whether anything was being conveyed to the barbarians who are settled along the Euxine Sea, of a sort which it is not permitted to export from the land of the Romans to their enemies. This man, however, was not permitted to accept anything from those who sailed that way. But since the time when the Emperor Justinian took over the Empire, he has established a public Customs House on each strait, and sending out regularly two salaried officials, although he did provide the salary agreed upon, yet he directed them to use every means in their power to make a return to him from that source of as much money as possible. And they, being concerned only with demonstrating to him their loyalty towards him, finished by plundering from the shippers the entire value of their cargoes.

Such were the measures he took at each of the two straits. And at Byzantium he hit upon the following plan. He gave a commission to one of his intimates, a Syrian by birth named Addaeus, instructing him to secure for him some profit from the ships which put in at that port. And he from that time on would not allow any boat which put in to the harbour of Byzantium to depart from there unmolested, but he either penalized the ship-masters the value of their ships or else compelled them to put back to Libya and Italy. And some of them were unwilling either to take on a return cargo or to continue any longer in the maritime business, but were glad enough to get off by burning their own boats straightway. All those, however, who were obliged to make their living from just this occupation would first collect treble charges from the importing merchants and thereafter continue to take on cargoes; and as for the merchants, their way out of the difficulty was to make good their own loss at the expense of those who purchased the goods; and thus it came about that the Romans were being starved to death by every device.

Such is the way things were going as regards the administration of affairs. But I think that I should not omit to mention also what was done by the imperial pair with reference to the small coinage. For while the money-changers formerly were accustomed to give to those who bargained with them in exchange for one gold stater two hundred and ten obols, which they call pholleis, these persons, contriving private gain for themselves, had it arranged that only one hundred and eighty obols should be given for the stater. In this way they cut off a seventh part of the value of every gold coin . . . of all men.

But when these sovereigns had brought most of the merchandise under the control of the monopolies, as they are called, and every single day were strangling those who wished to buy anything, and only the shops where clothing is sold were left untouched by them, they devised this scheme for that business also. Garments made of silk had been wont from ancient times to be produced in the cities of Beirut and Tyre in Phoenicia. And the merchants and craftsmen and artisans of these stuffs had lived there from ancient times, and this merchandise was carried thence to the whole world. And when, in the reign of Justinian, those engaged in this trade both in Byzantium and in the other cities were selling this fabric at an excessive price, excusing themselves with the statement that at the time in question they were paying the Persians a higher price than formerly, and that the customs-houses were now more numerous in the land of the Romans, the Emperor gave everyone the impression that he was vexed with this, and he made a general provision by law that one pound of this stuff should not cost more than eight gold pieces. And the penalty appointed for those who should transgress this law was to be deprived of all the money they had. This seemed to the people altogether impossible and out of the question. For it was not possible for the importing merchants, having bought these cargoes at a higher price, to sell them to the dealers for less. Therefore they no longer cared to engage in the importation of this stuff, and they gradually disposed of the remainder of their cargoes by rather furtive methods, selling no doubt to certain of the notables who found a satisfaction in making a shew of such finery through the lavish expenditure of their money — or, in a certain sense, they were obliged to do so. And when the Empress became aware of these transactions through the whisperings of certain persons, though she did not investigate the gossip that was going round, she immediately took the entire cargoes away from the men and, in addition, imposed upon them a fine of a centenarium of gold. . . . But this particular business is under the control, among the Romans at least, of the official in charge of the imperial treasures. Consequently, having appointed Peter surnamed Barsymes to this position not long afterwards, they indulged him in doing execrable things. For while he required all other men strictly to observe the law, the craftsmen of this trade he required to work for himself alone, and he would sell dyes, no longer furtively but in the public square of the market-place, at the rate of no less than six gold pieces the ounce for the ordinary quality, but more than twenty-four pieces for the imperial dye which they are wont to call holoverum. And while he produced large sums from that source for the Emperor, he himself gained still more without being observed, and this practice, which began with him, has always continued. For he alone, up to the present time, is established, with no attempt at concealment, as both importer and retailer of this merchandise. Consequently the importers who in former times had engaged in this trade both at Byzantium and in the other cities, on sea and on land, now had to endure, as was to be expected, the hardships arising from this procedure. And in the other cities practically the whole population found itself suddenly reduced to beggary. For the mechanics and the hand-workers were naturally compelled to struggle with hunger, and many in consequence changed their citizenship and went off as fugitives to the land of Persia. But always the Master of the Treasures stood alone as sole manager of this business, and while he did consent to deliver to the Emperor a portion of its profits, as has been said, he carried off the greater portion for himself and was enriching himself through public calamities. So much then for this.