Procopius: The Secret History


The Secret History (Anekdota)



* By the Historian

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.



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.