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The Secret History of the Court of Justinian by Procopius

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Procopius, the most important of the Byzantine historians, was born at
Caesarea in Palestine towards the beginning of the sixth century of
the Christian era. After having for some time practised as a
"Rhetorician," that is, advocate or jurist, in his native land, he
seems to have migrated early to Byzantium or Constantinople. There he
gave lessons in elocution, and acted as counsel in several law-cases.
His talents soon attracted attention, and he was promoted to official
duties in the service of the State. He was commissioned to accompany
the famous Belisarius during his command of the army in the East, in
the capacity of Counsellor or Assessor: it is not easy to define
exactly the meaning of the Greek term, and the functions it embraced.
The term "Judge-Advocate" has been suggested[1], a legal adviser who
had a measure of judicial as well as administrative power. From his
vivid description of the early years of Justinian's reign, we may
conclude that he spent some considerable time at the Byzantine court
before setting out for the East, at any rate, until the year 532, when
Belisarius returned to the capital: he would thus have been an
eye--witness of the "Nika" sedition, which, had it not been for the
courage and firmness displayed by Theodora, would probably have
resulted in the flight of Justinian, and a change of dynasty.

In 533 he accompanied Belisarius on his expedition to Africa. On the
way, he was intrusted with an important mission to Sicily. He appears
to have returned to Byzantium with Belisarius in 535. He is heard of
again, in 536, as charged with another mission in the neighbourhood of
Rome, which shows that, at the end of 535, he had accompanied
Belisarius, who had been despatched to Italy and Sicily to conquer the
territory in the occupation of the Goths. This expedition terminated
successfully by the surrender of Vitiges and his captivity at
Byzantium in 540.

As the reward of his services, Justinian bestowed upon him the title
of "Illustrious" (_Illustris_), given to the highest class of public
officials, raised him to the rank of a Senator, and, finally,
appointed him Praefect of Byzantium in 562. He does not, however, seem
to have been altogether satisfied: he complains of having been
ill-paid for his labours; for several years he was even without
employment. This is all that is known of his life. He died shortly
before or after the end of the reign of Justinian (565), when he would
have been over sixty years of age.

His career seems to have been as satisfactory as could be reasonably
expected, all things being taken into consideration; but the violent
hatred displayed by him against Justinian in the "Anecdota" or "Secret
History"--if the work be really his[2]--appears to show that he must
have had some real or imaginary grounds of complaint; but history
throws no light upon these incidents of his political career.

Another question which has been much discussed by the commentators is:
"What were the religious opinions of Procopius?"

His own writings do not decide the question; he seems to shew a
leaning towards heathenism and Christianity alternately. The truth
seems to be that, being of a sceptical turn of mind, he was
indifferent; but that, living under an orthodox Emperor, he affected
the forms and language of Christianity. Had he been an open and avowed
adherent of Paganism, he would scarcely have been admitted to the
Senate or appointed to the important official position of Praefect of
Byzantium. His description of the plague of 543, which is exceedingly
minute in its details, has given rise to the idea that he was a
physician, but there is no proof of this. The same thing might have
been with equal justice said of Thucydides; or we might assert that
Procopius was an architect, on the strength of his having written the

Procopius, holding a position in a period of transition between
classical Greek and Byzantine literature, is the first and most
talented of Byzantine historians. His writings are characterized by an
energetic combination of the Attic models of the affected, but often
picturesque style employed by the Byzantine writers. Although he is
not free from errors of taste, he expresses his ideas with great
vigour, and his thoughts are often worthy of a better age. The
information which he has given us is exceedingly valuable. He had
ample opportunities of observation, and his works present us with the
best picture of the reign of Justinian, so important in Greco-Roman

His chief work is the "Histories," in eight books: two on the Persian
wars (408-553), two on the Vandal wars (395-545), and four[3] on the
Gothic wars, bringing down the narrative to the beginning of 559. The
whole work is very interesting; the descriptions are excellent: in the
matter of ethnographical details, Procopius may be said to be without
a rival among ancient historians.

He shews equal descriptive talent in his work on the "Buildings" of
Justinian, a curious and useful work, but spoiled by excessive
adulation of the Emperor. Gibbon is of opinion that it was written
with the object of conciliating Justinian, who had been dissatisfied
with the too independent judgment of the "Histories." If this be the
case, we can understand why the historian avenged himself in the
"Secret History," which is a veritable _chronique scandaleuse_ of the
Byzantine Court from 549-562. Justinian and Theodora, Belisarius and
his wife Antonina, are painted in the blackest colours. Belisarius,
who is treated with the least severity, is nevertheless represented as
weak and avaricious, capable of any meanness in order to retain the
favour of the Court and his military commands, which afforded him the
opportunity of amassing enormous wealth. As for Antonina and Theodora,
the revelations of the "Secret History" exhibit a mixture of crime and
debauchery not less hideous than that displayed by Messalina.
Justinian is represented as a monstrous tyrant, at once cunning and
stupid, "like an ass," in the the words of the historian, and as the
wickedest man that ever lived. The author declares that he and his
wife are spirits or demons, who have assumed the form of human beings
in order to inflict the greatest possible evils upon mankind. These
accusations seem to be founded sometimes upon fact, sometimes upon
vague rumours and blind gossip. Generally speaking, the author of the
"Secret History" seems sincere, but at the same time he shows a
narrowness by confounding all Justinian's acts in one sweeping
censure, and in attributing to him the most incredible refinements of
political perversity. Critics have asked the question whether the
author of such a work can be Procopius of Caesarea, the impartial
historian of the wars. Direct proofs of authenticity are wanting,
since the most ancient authors who attribute it to him--Suidas and
Nicephorus Callistus--lived centuries later.[4] But it is easy to
understand that a work of this kind could not be acknowledged by its
author, or published during the lifetime of Justinian. In later times,
it circulated privately, until the lapse of time had rendered the
Byzantine Court indifferent to the hideous picture of the vices of a
previous age. The work is evidently that of a contemporary of
Justinian; it can only have been written by a functionary familiar
with the ins and outs of Court intrigue, who had private grievances of
his own to avenge. It is true that it sheds little lustre upon the
character of Procopius, since it exhibits him as defaming the
character of the masters whom he had formerly served and flattered.
But this kind of inconsistency is not uncommon in writers of memoirs,
who often revenge themselves posthumously by blackening the reputation
of their former masters. Although the author writes under the
influence of the most violent resentment, there seems no reason to
doubt that, although details may be exaggerated, the work on the whole
gives a faithful picture of the Byzantine Court of the period.

The following sketch of the "Character and Histories of Procopius"
from Gibbon,[5] although modern authorities have taken exception to it
in certain points, will be read with interest: "The events of
Justinian's reign, which excite our curious attention by their number,
variety, and importance, are diligently related by the secretary of
Belisarius, a rhetorician, whom eloquence had promoted to the rank of
senator and praefect of Constantinople. According to the vicissitudes
of courage or servitude, of favour or disgrace, Procopius successively
composed the _history_, the _panegyric_, and the _satire_ of his own
times. The eight books of the Persian, Vandalic, and Gothic wars,
which are continued in the five books of Agathias, deserve our esteem
as a laborious and successful imitation of the Attic, or at least of
the Asiatic, writers of ancient Greece. His facts are collected from
the personal experience and free conversations of a soldier, a
statesman, and a traveller; his style continually aspires, and often
attains, to the merit of strength and elegance; his reflections, more
especially in the speeches which he too frequently inserts, contain a
rich fund of political knowledge; and the historian, excited by the
generous ambition of pleasing and instructing posterity, appears to
disdain the prejudices of the people and the flattery of courts. The
writings of Procopius were read and applauded by his contemporaries;
but, although he respectfully laid them at the foot of the throne, the
pride of Justinian must have been wounded by the praise of an hero who
perpetually eclipses the glory of his inactive sovereign. The
conscious dignity of independence was subdued by the hopes and fears
of a slave, and the secretary of Belisarius laboured for pardon and
reward in the six books of imperial _edifices._[6] He had dexterously
chosen a subject of apparent splendour, in which he could loudly
celebrate the genius, the magnificence, and the piety of a prince,
who, both as a conqueror and legislator, had surpassed the puerile
virtues of Cyrus and Themistocles. Disappointment might urge the
flatterer to secret revenge, and the first glance of favour might
again tempt him to suspend and suppress a libel, in which the Roman
Cyrus is degraded into an odious and contemptible tyrant, in which
both the Emperor and his consort Theodora are seriously represented as
two demons, who had assumed a human form for the destruction of
mankind. Such base inconsistency must doubtless sully the reputation
and detract from the credit of Procopius; yet, after the venom of his
malignity has been suffered to exhale, the residue of the 'Anecdotes,'
even the most disgraceful facts, some of which had been tenderly
hinted in his public history, are established by their internal
evidence, or the authentic monuments of the times."[7] It remains to
add that in some passages, owing to imperfections in the text or the
involved nature of the sentences, it is difficult to feel sure as to
the meaning. In these the translator can only hope to have given a
rendering which harmonises with the context and is generally
intelligible, even if the Greek does not seem to have been strictly

For a clear and succinct account of the reign of Justinian, the four
chapters in Gibbon (xl.-xliv.), which are generally admitted to be the
most successful in his great work, should be read.



Arrangement of the work--The manner in which it has been drawn up--The
causes of events omitted in previous writings--The duty of the
historian towards posterity--Lessons necessary to tyrants--Semiramis,
Sardanapalus, and Nero--Facts relating to Belisarius, Justinian, and


Birth and character of Antonina--Her marriage with Belisarius--Her
adulterous amours--Services rendered by her to the Empress
Theodora--Her passion for the Thracian Theodosius--Adoption of the
latter--The lovers surprised by Belisarius--His weakness--Revelation
made by the slave Macedonia--Flight of Theodosius--Vengeance of
Antonina upon Macedonia, and upon Constantine, who had spoken
insultingly of her--Theodosius refuses to return to her until the
departure of her son Photius--Retirement of Photius--Demands of
Theodosius--His return--Infatuation of Belisarius--His return to
Byzantium--Theodosius enters a cloister at Ephesus--Despair of
Antonina--She causes him to be recalled--His resistance--His secret


Departure of Belisarius, accompanied by the "consular" Photius, for
the war against Chosroes, King of Persia--Antonina remains at
Byzantium--Her intrigues against Photius--The latter denounces her
adulterous intimacy with Theodosius--Indignation of Belisarius--His
agreement with Photius--His vengeance postponed--Entry of the Roman
army into Persia--Downfall of John the Cappadocian--Antonina's
perjuries--She sets out for the army--Theodosius sent back to
Ephesus--Capture of Sisauranum--Arrival of Antonina--Retirement of
Belisarius--Arethas and the Saracens--Colchis or Lazica invaded by
Chosroes--Capture of Petra--Reverse sustained by Chosroes--The Huns
defeated by Valerian--Insurrectionist movement amongst the
Persians--Letter of Theodora to Zaberganes--Return of Chosroes to


Arrest of Antonina--Hesitation of Belisarius--Photius repairs to
Ephesus, and extorts from Calligonus a confession of his mistress's
secrets--Theodosius, having taken refuge in a temple, is given up by
Andreas the Bishop--Intervention of Theodora--Photius removes
Theodosius, and puts him away in Cilicia--The latter and Calligonus
set free--The Empress hands over Antonina's enemies to her--Her
vengeance--Punishment of the senator Theodosius--Forced reconciliation
between Belisarius and his wife--Arrest of Photius: his firmness under
torture--Calligonus restored to Antonina--Theodosius restored to her
arms--The Empress's favours--She promises him a high military
command--His death from dysentery--Long imprisonment of
Photius--Sacred asylums violated--Weakness displayed by the
priests--Deliverance of Photius, who enters a convent at
Jerusalem--Perjury of Belisarius--His punishment--Failure of the third
expedition against Chosroes--Capture of Callinikus--Roman
prisoners--Belisarius accused of treachery and cowardice.


Illness of Justinian--Resolutions of the army consequent upon his
supposed death--Peter and John the Glutton denounce Belisarius and
Buzes--The latter put away and tortured--Disgrace of Belisarius--He is
superseded by Martin in the command of the army of the East--His
treasures carried away by Theodora--His friendship for Antonina--His
letter to Belisarius--Submission of the latter to his wife--Division
of his fortune--Betrothal of Joannina, his daughter, to Anastasius,
grandson of Theodora--Belisarius appointed Count of the Royal Stable
and again commander of the army in Italy--Comparison of the two


Conduct of Belisarius in Italy--His greed--Defection of
Herodianus--Loss of Spoletum--Success of Totila and his Goths--Rupture
with John--Betrothal of the latter to Justina, daughter of
Germanus--Recall of Belisarius--Perusia taken by the Goths--The
marriage between Joannina and Anastasius consummated by a trick on the
part of the dying Empress--Return of Antonina, who separates the young
pair--Belisarius despised for his weakness--Sergius causes the loss of
the Roman army in Africa--Murder of Pegasius by Solomon--The vengeance
of Heaven.


History of Justin and his two brothers, poor Illyrian
husbandmen--Their enrolment in the army--Their admission into the
Palace Guards, in the reign of Leo--Justin condemned to death, during
the reign of Anastasius, by the General John Kyrtus, for some breach
of discipline--His escape by divine intervention--He becomes praefect
of the Praetorian guards--In spite of his ignorance, he is proclaimed
Emperor--The way in which he was assisted to sign imperial
documents--The Empress Lupicina-Euphemia--Justinian, the nephew of
Justin, the real master of the Empire--His cruelty, his avarice, his
inconsistency in regard to the laws--He oppresses Italy, Africa, and
the rest of the Empire--Amantius condemned, to avenge an outrage upon
the bishop John--Perjury towards Vitalianus.


Byzantium divided between two factions: the Blues and the
Greens--Justinian puts himself at the head of the former--The Empire
entirely upset by the quarrels between these factions--The Blues dress
their hair after the manner of the Huns--Their general attire--Their
excesses--Behaviour of the Greens--Corruption of the morals of young
men--Murder committed with impunity--Inaction on the part of the
authorities--Acts of violence committed upon both sexes--A woman
throws herself into the sea to save her virtue--Culpability of
Justinian--His partiality for the oppressors, upon whom he bestows
favours and dignities.


Calamities in the provinces--Justinian's apathy--Waste of the public
money during his reign--Useless presents of money made to the
Huns--Extravagance in buildings on the sea-shore--Attack upon the
fortunes of private individuals--Description of Justinian's personal
appearance--His resemblance to Domitian--Domitian's wife--Alterations
in established institutions.


The bear-keeper Acacius, Theodora's father--His widow loses her place
in the amphitheatre of the Greens and takes another in that of the
Blues--Her daughters--The beginning of Theodora's career--Her
precocious immorality--Her accomplishments--Her debaucheries--Her
intercourse with Hecebolus, governor of Pentapolis--Her return from
the East--Justinian, enamoured of her, wishes to marry
her--Assassination of Hypatius--The Praefect Theodotus
Colocynthius--Punishment of malefactors--His exile and death.


The Empress Euphemia--Her opposition to the marriage of Justinian and
Theodora--Justin repeals the law prohibiting the marriage of a
patrician with a stage-performer--Justinian and Theodora colleagues on
the throne--Death of Justin--Effect of the marriage--Adulation of the
senate, clergy, people, and army--General feeling of
discouragement--Personal advantages of Theodora--Pretended antagonism
between her and Justinian--Theodora deceives the Christians and the
factions--Consolidation of despotism.


Legislative innovations--Avarice and cruelty of Justinian--Barbarian
invasions provoked--Exorbitant subsidies to the chiefs of the Huns and
Chosroes King of Persia, followed by disturbances and violation of
truce--Saracens, Slavs, Antes, and other barbarous peoples--Desolation
of the provinces--Religious persecutions and confiscation of Church
property--Montanists, Sabbatians, Arians, and Samaritans--Pretended
conversions--Manicheans and Polytheists--Caesarea, the author's
birthplace--Revolt of the peasants under Julian--Hellenism--Law
against paederasty--Persecution of astrologers--Continuous emigration.


Downfall and death of Zeno, grandson of Anthemius, Emperor of the
West--Robbery of Tatian, Demosthenes, the wealthy Hilara, Dionysus of
Libanus and John of Edessa--Forged wills--Theodora and Justinian evil
spirits, not simple human beings--Justinian the putative son of
Sabbatius--His mother's intimate relations with a spirit--The
adventure of a monk--Justinian's temperate manner of living--His
fondness for women--Theodora's intercourse with a spirit--Reputation
of Macedonia during Justin's time--Her prediction to Theodora--Dream
of her marriage with the Prince of the Demons.


Justinian's qualities--His accessibility--His partiality for the
clergy--His gifts to the churches--His passion for blood and money,
shared by him with Theodora--Flattery of Tribonianus--Justinian's
fickleness and ill-faith--Venality of justice--Corruption of
officials--Justinian's fasting and temperate mode of life.


Abolition of various old customs--The attributes of the quaestor and
imperial secretaries--The senate a mere cipher--Corruption of the
"Referendaries"--Guilty conduct of Zeno, the Cilician.


Cruelty of Theodora--Her voluptuous life--Her ambition--Her character
and Justinian's compared--Her harshness towards persons of rank--Their
servility--Pretended mildness of Justinian--Theodora's eagerness for
vengeance--Her partiality--The insult offered by her to a
patrician--Her stay at Heraeum, on the sea-shore.


Assassination of Amalasunta, Queen of the Goths, by Peter, Theodora's
agent--The secretary, Priscus, obliged to enter a
cloister--Justinian's hypocrisy--Disgrace of Areobindus, Theodora's
lover--Her way of getting rid of persons of rank--Punishment of
Basianus--False accusation against Diogenes, a member of the municipal
council--Suborning of witnesses--Theodora's courage.


Murder of Callinicus, governor of Cilicia--His property confiscated by
Justinian--Theodora's severe measures against prostitutes--She compels
two girls of noble birth to marry--Her frequent
abortions--Disappearance of her natural son, John--Corrupt morals of
the ladies of the capital--Theodora disposes of ecclesiastical
dignities--Takes upon herself the general superintendence of
marriages--Adventure of Saturninus--Persecution of John of Cappadocia.


Justinian, a devil in the form of a man, causes the destruction of
millions of men--His policy towards the Vandals, Goths, and other
barbarians--Chosroes and the Persians--Invasion of the Huns, Saracens,
and others--Justinian's theological studies--Religious
persecution--Divine anger--Inundations, earthquakes, and the plague.


A dream relating to Justinian's avarice--The vast treasures of
Anastasius squandered by Justinian--He makes himself master of the
fortunes of private individuals by false accusations, and squanders
them in presents of money to the barbarians, who plunder the
Empire--Fulfilment of the dream.


Justinian impoverishes private individuals by "monopolies"--Two new
magistrates appointed at Constantinople--Praetor of the People to
judge cases of robbery--Legislation in regard to paederasty and female
morality--Establishment of an inquisition against
heretics--Condemnations and confiscations--Degradation of the
quaestorship in the hands of Junilus and Constantine--Their venality.


The impost called "Aerikon"--Exactions authorised by Justinian--The
property of John the Cappadocian confiscated--The farming of the taxes
entrusted to salaried commissioners--Increased spoliation--Oath taken
against venality--Increasing corruption of officials--The Thracians
and Illyrians at first check the depredations of the Huns, Goths, and
other barbarians, and then, in turn, take to plundering themselves.


John of Cappadocia replaced by Theodotus, and Theodotus by Peter
Barsyames, the Syrian, an old usurer--His greed--He suppresses the
gratuities to the soldiers--Traffic in every kind of
employment--Speculation in wheat--Scarcity of provisions at
Byzantium--Discontent--Barsyames upheld by Theodora and his own
sorceries--His connection with the Manicheans--Their influence over
Justinian--Barsyames supersedes John of Palestine as treasury
minister--He abolishes the assistance rendered to the unfortunate.


Ruin of private properties--Abolition of the remission of arrears of
taxes, even in the case of cities taken by the barbarians--The imposts
called Syn[=o]n[=e], Epibol[=e], and Diagraph[=e]--Soldiers billeted
in private houses.


Oppression of the soldiers by the Logothetes--Division of the soldiers
into three classes--Their promotion suspended--Their pay diverted to
other purposes--The diminishing army--Praetorian soldiers
disbanded--Alexander the Logothete in Italy--The general's
aides-de-camp--The frontier garrisons abandoned--Palace guards,
Scholares, and supernumeraries--Armenians--Peter, the Master of
Offices, the murderer of Amalasunta--Palace officials, Domestics, and
Protectors--Suppression of the quinquennial gratuity--The imperial
officers and dignitaries.


Unjust treatment of merchants, mariners, and artisans--The straits of
the Bosphorus and the Hellespont burdened with custom-house
dues--Enormous dues levied by Addeus in the port of Byzantium--Change
in the silver coinage: its depreciation--Monopoly of the silk
trade--Ruin of Berytus and Tyre--Malversations of Peter Barsyames and
his successors--Tyranny of Theodora and avarice of Justinian.


Destruction of city decorations and ornaments--Advocates deprived of
their fees by the institution of arbitrators--Physicians and
professors deprived of their pensions--Public spectacles
discontinued--The consulship suppressed--Scarcity of corn and water at
Byzantium, Rome, and Alexandria--Generosity of Theodoric, the
conqueror of Italy--Greed of Alexander Forficula--Disbanding of the
garrison of Thermopylae--Spoliation of Athens and other Greek
cities--Hephaestus and Diocletian.


Conduct of Justinian and Theodora in regard to the clergy and council
of Chalcedon--Arsenius the Samaritan persecutes the Christians of
Scythopolis with impunity--Paul, archbishop of Alexandria, has the
deacon Psoes put to death--Rhodon, the governor, by his orders,
tortures him: but he is dismissed, and then put to death, together
with Arsenius, through the influence of Theodora--Liberius, the new
governor, and Pelagius, legate of Pope Vigilius at Alexandria, depose
Paul, who buys back the favour of Justinian--Resistance of
Vigilius--Faustinus, governor of Palestine, denounced by the
Christians as a Samaritan--His condemnation by the Senate--The
sentence annulled by Justinian--Outrages upon the Christians.


Laws changed for money considerations--Affair of the church of
Emesa--Priscus the forger--A hundred years' prescription granted to
the churches--Mission of Longinus--Persecution of the Jews at the
Passover--Justinian's intolerance.


Justinian's hypocrisy--Letters sent to both Liberius and John
Laxarion, confirming them as governors of Egypt--Intervention of
Pelagius and Eudaemon--Murder of John--Liberius acquitted by the
Senate--Fine inflicted by Justinian--Confiscation of the inheritances
of Eudaemon, Euphratas, and Irenaeus--New law as to the inheritances
of municipal councillors--Spoliation of the daughter of Anatolia and
Ascalon, the widow of Mamilianus--Affair of Tarsus--Malthanes and the
Blues of Cilicia--Unpunished assassinations--Justinian's
corruptness--Leo the Referendary.


The "posts" and "spies"--Rapidity of the imperial couriers--Their
chief routes--Superiority of the Persians--Reverses of the Romans in
Lazica at the hands of Chosroes--The army commissariat--Spoliation of
the lawyer Evangelius--Justinian's sarcasm--He and Theodora required
their feet to be kissed by those who had audience of them--Their
titles of "master" and "mistress"--The palace crowded by applicants
for audiences--The death of Justinian alone will show how the vast
wealth of the Empire has been spent.


I have thus described the fortunes of the Romans in their wars up to
the present day, as far as possible assigning the description of
events to their proper times and places. What follows will not be
arranged with the same exactness, but everything shall be written down
as it took place throughout the whole extent of the Roman empire. My
reason for this is, that it would not have been expedient for me to
describe these events fully while those who were their authors were
still alive; for, had I done so, I could neither have escaped the
notice of the multitude of spies, nor, had I been detected, could I
have avoided a most horrible death; for I could not even have relied
upon my nearest relatives with confidence. Indeed, I have been forced
to conceal the real causes of many of the events recounted in my
former books. It will now be my duty, in this part of my history, to
tell what has hitherto remained untold, and to state the real motives
and origin of the actions which I have already recounted. But, when
undertaking this new task, how painful and hard will it be, to be
obliged to falter and contradict myself as to what I have said about
the lives of Justinian and Theodora: and particularly so, when I
reflect that what I am about to write will not appear to future
generations either credible or probable, especially when a long lapse
of years shall have made them old stories; for which reason I fear
that I may be looked upon as a romancer, and reckoned among
playwrights. However, I shall have the courage not to shrink from this
important work, because my story will not lack witnesses; for the men
of to-day, who are the best informed witnesses of these facts, will
hand on trustworthy testimony of their truth to posterity. Yet, when I
was about to undertake this work, another objection often presented
itself to my mind, and for a long time held me in suspense.

I doubted whether it would be right to hand down these events to
posterity; for the wickedest actions had better remain unknown to
future times than come to the ears of tyrants, and be imitated by
them. For most rulers are easily led by lack of knowledge into
imitating the evil deeds of their predecessors, and find it their
easiest plan to walk in the evil ways of their forefathers.

Later, however, I was urged to record these matters, by the reflection
that those who hereafter may wish to play the tyrant will clearly see,
in the first place, that it is probable that retribution will fall
upon them for the evil that they may do, seeing that this was what
befell these people; and, secondly, that their actions and habits of
life will be published abroad for all time, and therefore they will
perhaps be less ready to transgress. Who, among posterity, would have
known of the licentious life of Semiramis, or of the madness of
Sardanapalus or Nero, if no memorials of them had been left to us by
contemporary writers? The description of such things, too, will not be
entirely without value to such as hereafter may be so treated by
tyrants; for unhappy people are wont to console themselves by the
thought that they are not the only persons who have so suffered. For
these reasons, I shall first give a description of the evil wrought by
Belisarius, and afterwards I shall describe the misdeeds of Justinian
and Theodora.


The wife of Belisarius, whom I have spoken of in my previous writings,
was the daughter and grand-daughter of chariot-drivers, men who had
practised their art in the circus at Byzantium and at Thessalonica.
Her mother was one of the prostitutes of the theatre. She herself at
first lived a lewd life, giving herself up to unbridled debauchery;
besides this, she devoted herself to the study of the drugs which had
long been used in her family, and learned the properties of those
which were essential for carrying out her plans. At last she was
betrothed and married to Belisarius, although she had already borne
many children.

She formed adulterous connections as soon as she was married, but took
pains to conceal the fact, by making use of familiar artifices, not
out of any respect for her husband (for she never felt any shame at
any crime whatever, and hoodwinked him by enchantments), but because
she dreaded the vengeance of the Empress; for Theodora was very bitter
against her, and had already shown her teeth. But, after she had made
Theodora her humble friend by helping her when in the greatest
difficulties, first of all by making away with Silverius, as shall be
told hereafter, and afterwards by ruining John of Cappadocia, as I
have already described, she became less timid, and, scorning all
concealment, shrank from no kind of wickedness.

There was a Thracian youth, named Theodosius, in the household of
Belisarius, who by descent was of the Eunomian faith. On the eve of
his departure for Libya, Belisarius held the youth over the font,
received him into his arms after baptism, and thenceforth made him a
member of his household, with the consent of his wife, according to
the Christian rite of adoption. Antonina therefore received Theodosius
as a son consecrated by religion, and in consequence loved him, paid
him especial attention, and obtained complete dominion over him.
Afterwards, during this voyage, she became madly enamoured of him,
and, being beside herself with passion, cast away all fear of
everything human or divine, together with all traces of modesty, and
enjoyed him at first in secret, afterwards even in the presence of her
servants and handmaidens; for she was by this time so mad with lust,
that she disregarded everything that stood in the way of her passion.

Once, when they were at Carthage, Belisarius caught her in the act,
but permitted himself to be deceived by his wife. He found them both
together in an underground chamber, and was furiously enraged at the
sight; but she showed no sign of fear or a desire to avoid him, and
said, "I came to this place with this youth, to hide the most precious
part of our plunder, that the Emperor might not come to know of it."
This she said by way of an excuse, and he, pretending to be convinced,
let it pass, although he saw that the belt which held Theodosius's
drawers over his private parts was undone; for he was so overpowered
by his love for the creature that he preferred not to believe his own
eyes. However, Antonina's debauchery went on from bad to worse, till
it reached a shameful pitch. All who beheld it were silent, except one
slave woman, named Macedonia, who, when Belisarius was at Syracuse
after the conquest of Sicily, first made her master swear the most
solemn oaths that he never would betray her to her mistress, and then
told him the whole story, bringing as her witnesses two boys who
attended on Antonina's bed-chamber.

When Belisarius heard this, he told some of his guards to make away
with Theodosius, but the latter, being warned in time, fled to
Ephesus: for the greater part of Belisarius's followers, influenced by
the natural weakness of his character, were at more pains to please
his wife than to show their devotion to him; and this was why they
disclosed to her the orders they had received concerning Theodosius.
When Constantine saw Belisarius's sorrow at what had befallen him, he
sympathized with him, but was so imprudent as to add: "For my own
part, I would have killed the woman rather than the youth."

This having been reported to Antonina, she conceived a secret hatred
for him, until she could make him feel the weight of her resentment;
for she was like a scorpion, and knew how to hide her venom.

Not long afterwards, either by enchantments or by caresses, she
persuaded her husband that the accusation brought against her was
false; whereupon, without any hesitation, he sent for Theodosius, and
promised to deliver up to his wife Macedonia and the boys, which he
afterwards did. It is said that she first cut out their tongues, and
then ordered them to be hewn in pieces, put into sacks and thrown into
the sea. In this bloody deed she was assisted by one of her slaves
named Eugenius, who had also been one of those who perpetrated the
outrage on Silverius.

Shortly afterwards, Belisarius was persuaded by his wife to kill
Constantine. What I have already recounted about Praesidius and his
daggers belongs to this period. Belisarius would have let him go, but
Antonina would not rest until she had exacted vengeance for the words
which I have just repeated. This murder stirred up a great hatred
against Belisarius on the part of the Emperor and of the chief nobles
of the Empire.

Such was the course of events. Meanwhile, Theodosius refused to return
to Italy, where Belisarius and Antonina were then staying, unless
Photius were sent out of the way; for Photius was naturally disposed
to show his spite against anyone who supplanted him in another's good
graces; but he was quite right in feeling jealous of Theodosius,
because he himself, although Antonina's son, was quite neglected,
whereas the other was exceedingly powerful and had amassed great
riches. They say that he had taken treasure amounting to a hundred
centenars of gold [about L400,000] from the treasure-houses of the two
cities of Carthage and Ravenna, since he had obtained sole and
absolute control of the management of them.

When Antonina heard this determination of Theodosius, she never ceased
to lay traps for her son and to concoct unnatural plots against him,
until she made him see that he must leave her and retire to Byzantium;
for he could no longer endure the designs against his life. At the
same time she made Theodosius return to Italy, where she enjoyed to
the full the society of her lover, thanks to the easy good-nature of
her husband. Later on, she returned to Byzantium in company with both
of them. It was there that Theodosius became alarmed lest their
intimacy should become known, and was greatly embarrassed, not knowing
what to do. That it could remain undetected to the end he felt was
impossible, for he saw that the woman was no longer able to conceal
her passion, and indulge it in secret, but was an open and avowed
adulteress, and did not blush to be called so.

For this reason he returned to Ephesus, and after having submitted
to the tonsure, joined the monastic order. At this Antonina entirely
lost her reason, showed her distress by putting on mourning and by her
general behaviour, and roamed about the house, wailing and lamenting
(even in the presence of her husband) the good friend she had lost--so
faithful, so pleasant, so tender a companion, so prompt in action. At
last she even won over her husband, who began to utter the same
lamentations. The poor fool kept calling for the return of his
well-beloved Theodosius, and afterwards went to the Emperor and
besought him and the Empress, till he prevailed upon them to send for
Theodosius, as a man whose services always had been and always would
be indispensable in the household. Theodosius, however, refused to
obey, declaring that it was his fixed determination to remain in the
cloister and embrace the monastic life. But this language was by no
means sincere, for it was his intention, as soon as Belisarius left
the country, to rejoin Antonina by stealth at Byzantium, as, in fact,
he did.


Shortly afterwards Belisarius was sent by the Emperor to conduct the
war against Chosroes, and Photius accompanied him. Antonina remained
behind, contrary to her usual custom; for, before this, she had always
desired to accompany her husband on all his travels wherever he went,
for fear that, when he was by himself, he might return to his senses,
and, despising her enchantments, form a true estimate of her
character. But now, in order that Theodosius might have free access to
her, Antonina began to intrigue in order to get Photius out of her
way. She induced some of Belisarius's suite to lose no opportunity of
provoking and insulting him, while she herself wrote letters almost
every day, in which she continually slandered her son and set every
one against him. Driven to bay, the young man was forced to accuse his
mother, and, when a witness arrived from Byzantium who told him of
Theodosius's secret commerce with Antonina, Photius led him
straightway into the presence of Belisarius and ordered him to reveal
the whole story. When Belisarius learned this, he flew into a furious
rage, fell at Photius's feet, and besought him to avenge him for the
cruel wrongs which he had received at the hands of those who should
have been the last to treat him in such a manner. "My dearest boy," he
exclaimed, "you have never known your father, whoever he may have
been, for he ended his life while you were still in your nurse's arms;
his property has been of little or no assistance to you, for he was by
no means wealthy. Bred under my care, though I was but your
stepfather, you have now reached an age when you are capable of
assisting me to avenge the wrongs from which I suffer. I have raised
you to the consulship, and have heaped riches upon you, so that I may
justly be regarded by you as your father, your mother, and your whole
family; for it is not by the ties of blood but by deeds that men are
accustomed to measure their attachment to each other. The hour has now
come when you must not remain an indifferent spectator of the ruin of
my house and of the loss with which I am threatened, of so large a sum
of money, nor of the immeasurable shame which your mother has incurred
in the sight of all men. Remember that the sins of women reflect
disgrace not only on their husbands, but also upon their children,
whose honour suffers all the more because of their natural likeness to
their mothers.

"Be well assured that, for my own part, I love my wife with all my
heart; and should it be granted to me to punish the dishonourer of my
house, I will do her no hurt; but, as long as Theodosius remains
alive, I cannot condone her misconduct."

On hearing these words Photius replied that he would do all that he
could to aid his stepfather, but, at the same time, he feared that he
himself might come to some harm by so doing; for he was unable to feel
any confidence in Belisarius, because of his weakness of character,
especially where his wife was concerned. He dreaded the fate of
Macedonia, and of many other victims. For this reason he insisted that
Belisarius should swear fidelity to him by the most sacred oaths known
to Christians, and they bound themselves never to abandon each other,
even at the cost of their lives.

For the present, they both agreed that it would be unwise to make any
attempt; and they resolved to wait until Antonina had left Byzantium
to join them, and Theodosius had returned to Ephesus, which would give
Photius the opportunity of going thither and easily disposing of both
Theodosius and his fortune. They had just invaded the Persian
territory with all their forces, and during this time the ruin of John
of Cappadocia was accomplished at Byzantium, as I have told in the
former books of my history. I have there only been silent, through
fear, on one point, that it was not by mere hazard that Antonina
succeeded in deceiving John and his daughter, but by numerous oaths,
sworn on all that Christians deem most holy, she made them believe
that she intended to do them no harm.

After this, having risen greatly in favour with the Empress, she sent
Theodosius to Ephesus, and herself, foreseeing no trouble, set out for
the East.

Belisarius had just captured the fortress of Sisauranum, when he was
told of his wife's arrival; whereupon he immediately ordered his army
to turn back, disregarding the interests of the Empire for the sake of
his private feelings. Certain matters had indeed happened, as I have
already set forth, which made a retreat advisable, but his wife's
presence hastened it considerably. But, as I said at the beginning, I
did not then think it safe to describe the real motives of men's

Belisarius was reproached by all the Romans for having sacrificed the
interests of his country to his domestic affairs. The reason was that,
in his first transport of passion against his wife, he could not bring
himself to go far away from Roman territory; for he felt that the
nearer he was, the easier it would be for him to take vengeance upon
Theodosius, as soon as he heard of the arrival of Antonina.

He therefore ordered Arethas and his people to cross the river Tigris,
and they returned home, without having performed anything worthy of
record, while he himself took care not to retire more than an hour's
journey from the Roman frontier. The fortress of Sisauranum, indeed,
for an active man, is not more than a day's journey from the frontier
by way of Nisibis, and only half that distance if one goes by another
route. But had he chosen to cross the river Tigris at first with all
his host, I have no doubt that he would have been able to carry off
all the riches of Assyria, and extend his conquests as far as the city
of Ctesiphon, without meeting with any opposition. He might even have
secured the release of the Antiochians, and all the other Romans who
were there in captivity, before returning home.

Furthermore, he was chiefly to blame for the extreme ease with which
Chosroes led his army home from Colchis. I will now relate how this
came to pass. When Chosroes, the son of Cabades, invaded Colchis, with
the result which I have recounted elsewhere, and took Petra, the Medes
nevertheless sustained severe losses, both in battle and owing to the
difficulties of the country; for, as I have said already, Lazica is a
country almost inaccessible, owing to its rocks and precipices. They
had at the same time been attacked by pestilence, which carried off
the greater part of the troops, and many died from want of food and
necessaries. It was at this crisis of affairs that certain men from
Persia came into that country, bringing the news that Belisarius had
beaten Nabedes in a battle near the city of Nisibis, and was pressing
forward; that he had taken the fortress of Sisauranum, and had made
prisoners of Bleschames and eight hundred Persian lancers; that
another corps of Romans under Arethas, the chief of the Saracens, had
been detached to cross the Tigris, and ravage the land to the east of
that river, which up to that time had remained free from invasion.

It happened also that the army of Huns, whom Chosroes had sent into
Roman Armenia, in order, by this diversion, to prevent the Romans from
hindering his expedition against the Lazi, had fallen in with and been
defeated by Valerian, at the head of a Roman army, and almost
annihilated. When this news was brought to the Persians, having been
reduced to desperate straits by their ill success at Lazica, they
feared that, if an army should cut them off in their critical
position, they might all die of hunger amidst the crags and precipices
of that inaccessible country. They feared, too, for their children,
their wives and their country; and all the flower of Chosroes' army
railed bitterly at him for having broken his plighted word and
violated the common law of nations, by invading a Roman State in a
most unwarrantable manner, in time of peace, and for having insulted
an ancient and most powerful State which he would not be able to
conquer in war. The soldiers were on the point of breaking out into
revolt, had not Chosroes, alarmed at the state of affairs, discovered
a remedy for it. He read to them a letter which the Empress had just
written to Zaberganes, in the following terms:

"You must know, O Zaberganes, since you were ambassador at
our Court not long ago, that we are well disposed towards
you, and that we do not doubt that you have our interests at
heart. You will easily realise the good opinion which I have
formed of you, if you will persuade King Chosroes to
maintain peaceful relations with our empire. I promise you,
in that case, the fullest recompense on the part of my
husband, who never does anything without my advice."

When Chosroes had read this, he reproachfully asked the spokesmen of
the Persians whether they thought that that was an Empire which was
managed by a woman, and thus managed to quell their impetuosity; but,
nevertheless, he retired from his position in alarm, expecting that
his retreat would be cut off by Belisarius and his forces; but, as he
found himself unopposed on his march, he gladly made his way home.


When Belisarius entered Roman territory, he found that his wife had
arrived from Byzantium. He kept her in custody in disgrace, and was
frequently minded to put her to death, but had not the heart to do so,
being overpowered, I believe, by the ardour of his love. Others,
however, say that his mind and resolution were destroyed by the
enchantments which his wife employed against him.

Meanwhile, Photius arrived in a state of fury at Ephesus, having taken
with him in chains Calligonus, a eunuch and pander of Antonina, whom,
by frequently flogging him during the journey, he forced to tell all
his mistress's secrets. Theodosius, however, was warned in time, and
took sanctuary in the temple of St. John the Apostle, which is revered
in that town as a most sacred spot; but Andrew, the bishop of Ephesus,
was bribed into delivering him up into the hands of Photius.

Meanwhile, Theodora was very anxious about Antonina, when she heard
what had befallen her. She summoned both Belisarius and his wife to
Byzantium: on hearing this, Photius sent Theodosius away to Cilicia,
where his own spearmen were in winter quarters, giving orders to his
escort to take the man thither as secretly as possible, and, when they
arrived at Cilicia, to guard him with exceeding strictness, and not to
let anyone know in what part of the world he was. He himself, with
Calligonus and Theodosius's treasures, which were very considerable,
repaired to Byzantium.

At that juncture, the Empress clearly proved to all that she knew how
to recompense the murderous services which Antonina had rendered her,
by even greater crimes committed to further her plans. Indeed,
Antonina had only betrayed one man to her by her wiles, her enemy John
of Cappadocia, but the Empress caused the death of a large number of
innocent persons, whom she sacrificed to the vengeance of Antonina.
The intimates of Belisarius and Photius were some of them flogged,
although the only charge against them was their friendship for these
two persons; and no one, to the present day, knows what afterwards
became of them; while she sent others into exile, who were accused of
the same crime--friendship for Photius and Belisarius. One of those
who accompanied Photius to Ephesus, Theodosius by name, although he
had attained the rank of senator, was deprived of all his property,
and imprisoned by Theodora in an underground dungeon, where she kept
him fastened to a kind of manger by a rope round his neck, which was
so short that it was always quite tense and never slack. The wretched
man was always forced to stand upright at this manger, and there to
eat and sleep, and do all his other needs; there was no difference
between him and an ass, save that he did not bray. No less than four
months were passed by him in this condition, until he was seized with
melancholy and became violently mad, upon which he was released from
his prison and soon afterwards died.

As for Belisarius, she forced him against his will to become
reconciled to his wife Antonina. Photius, by her orders, was tortured
like a slave, and was beaten with rods upon the back and shoulders,
and ordered to disclose where Theodosius and the pander eunuch were.
But he, although cruelly tortured, kept the oath which he had sworn
inviolate; and although he was naturally weak and delicate, and had
always been forced to take care of his health, and had never had any
experience of ill-treatment or discomfort of any kind, yet he never
revealed any of Belisarius's secrets.

But afterwards all that had hitherto been kept secret came to light.
Theodora discovered the whereabouts of Calligonus, and restored him to
Antonina. She also found where Theodosius was, and had him conveyed to
Byzantium, and, on his arrival, concealed him straightway in the
palace. On the morrow she sent for Antonina, and said to her, "Dearest
lady, a pearl fell into my hands yesterday, so beautiful that I think
no one has ever seen its like. If you would like to see it, I will not
grudge you the sight of it, but will gladly show it to you."

Antonina, who did not understand what was going on, begged eagerly to
be shown the pearl, whereupon Theodora led Theodosius by the hand out
of the chamber of one of her eunuchs and displayed him to her.
Antonina was at first speechless through excess of joy, and when she
had recovered herself, warmly protested her gratitude to Theodora,
whom she called her saviour, her benefactress, and truly her mistress.
Theodora kept Theodosius in her palace, treated him with every luxury,
and even boasted that, before long, she would appoint him
generalissimo of the Roman armies. But divine justice, which carried
him off through dysentery, prevented this.

Theodora had at her disposal secret and absolutely secluded dungeons,
so solitary and so dark that it was impossible to distinguish between
night and day. In one of these she kept Photius imprisoned for a long
time. He managed, however, to escape, not only once, but twice. The
first time he took sanctuary in the Church of the Mother of God, which
is one of the most sacred and famous churches in Byzantium, wherein he
sat as a suppliant at the holy table; but she ordered him to be
removed by main force and again imprisoned. The second time he fled to
the Church of St. Sophia, and suddenly took refuge in the holy font,
which is held in reverence by Christians above all other places; but
the woman was able to drag him even from thence, for to her no place
ever was sacred or unassailable; and she thought nothing of violating
the holiest of sanctuaries. The Christian priests and people were
struck with horror at her impiety, but nevertheless yielded and
submitted to her in everything.

Photius had lived in this condition for nearly three years, when the
prophet Zacharias appeared to him in a dream, commanded him to escape,
and promised his assistance. Relying upon this vision, he rose,
escaped from his prison, and made his way to Jerusalem in disguise;
though tens of thousands must have seen the youth, yet none recognised
him. There he shaved off all his hair, assumed the monastic habit, and
in this manner escaped the tortures which Theodora would have
inflicted upon him.

Belisarius took no account of the oaths which he had sworn, and made
no effort to avenge Photius's sufferings, in spite of the solemn vows
which he had made to do so. Hereafter, probably by God's will, all his
warlike enterprises failed. Some time afterwards he was dispatched
against the Medes and Chosroes, who had for the third time invaded the
Roman Empire, and fell under suspicion of treachery, although he was
considered to have performed a notable achievement in driving the
enemy away from the frontier; but when Chosroes, after crossing the
Euphrates, took the populous city of Callinikus without a blow, and
made slaves of tens of thousands of Romans, Belisarius remained quiet,
and never so much as offered to attack the enemy, whereby he incurred
the reproach of either treachery or cowardice.


About this time Belisarius underwent another disgrace. The people of
Byzantium were ravaged by the pestilence of which I have already
spoken. The Emperor Justinian was attacked by it so severely that it
was reported that he had died. Rumour spread these tidings abroad till
they reached the Roman camp, whereupon some of the chief officers said
that, if the Romans set up any other emperor in Byzantium, they would
not acknowledge him. Shortly after this, the Emperor recovered from
his malady, whereupon the chiefs of the army accused one another of
having used this language. The General Peter, and John, surnamed "The
Glutton," declared that Belisarius and Buzes had used the words which
I have just quoted. The Empress Theodora, thinking that these words
applied to herself, was greatly enraged. She straightway summoned all
the commanders to Byzantium to make an inquiry into the matter, and
suddenly sent for Buzes to come into her private apartments, on the
pretext of discussing important matters of business with him. There
was in the palace an underground building, which was securely
fastened, and as complicated as a labyrinth, and which might be
compared to the nether world, wherein she kept imprisoned most of
those who had offended her. Into this pit she cast Buzes; and although
he was of a consular family, nothing was known for certain concerning
him; as he sat in the darkness, he could not tell day from night; nor
could he ask, for he who flung him his daily food never spoke, but
acted like one dumb beast with another. All thought him dead, but none
dared to mention him or allude to him. Two years and four months
afterwards, Theodora relented and released him, and he appeared in the
world like one raised from the dead; but ever afterwards he was
short-sighted and diseased in body. Such was the fate of Buzes.

Belisarius, although none of the charges brought against him could be
proved, was removed by the Emperor, at the instance of Theodora, from
the command of the army in the East, which was given to Martinus. The
command of the Doryphori[8] and Hypaspitae[9] of Belisarius, and of
those of his servants who had distinguished themselves in war, was by
his orders divided amongst the generals and certain of the palace
eunuchs. They cast lots for these soldiers, together with their arms,
and divided them amongst themselves as the lot fell. As for his
friends and the many people who had before served under him, Justinian
forbade them to visit him. Thus was seen in the city a piteous
spectacle which men could scarce believe to be real, that of
Belisarius simply a private individual, almost alone, gloomy and
thoughtful, ever dreading to be set upon and assassinated.

When the Empress learned that he had amassed much treasure in the
East; she sent one of the palace eunuchs to fetch it away to the
Court. Antonina, as I have already said, was now at variance with her
husband, and the nearest and dearest friend of the Empress, because
she had just destroyed John of Cappadocia. To please Antonina, the
Empress arranged everything in such a fashion that she appeared to
have pleaded for her husband's pardon, and to have saved him from
these great disasters; whereby the unhappy man not only became finally
reconciled to her, but her absolute slave, as though he had been
preserved by her from death. This was brought about as follows:

One day Belisarius came early to the palace as usual, accompanied by a
small and miserable retinue. He was ungraciously received by the
Emperor and Empress, and even insulted in their presence by low-born
villains. He went home towards evening, often turning himself about,
and looking in every direction for those whom he expected to set upon
him. In this state of dread, he went up to his chamber, and sat down
alone upon his couch, without a brave man's spirit, and scarce
remembering that he had ever been a man, but bathed with sweat, his
head dizzy, trembling and despairing, racked by slavish fears and
utterly unmanly thoughts. Antonina, who knew nothing of what was going
on, and was far from expecting what was about to come to pass, kept
walking up and down the hall, on pretence of suffering from heartburn;
for they still regarded each other with suspicion. Meanwhile, an
officer of the palace, named Quadratus, came just after sunset, passed
through the court, and suddenly appeared at the door of the men's
apartments, saying that he brought a message from the Empress.

Belisarius, on hearing him approach, drew up his hands and feet on to
the bed, and lay on his back in the readiest posture to receive the
final stroke, so completely had he lost his courage.

Quadratus, before entering, showed him the Empress' letter. It ran as

"You are not ignorant, my good sir, of all your offences against me;
but I owe so much to your wife, that I have determined to pardon all
your offences for her sake, and I make her a present of your life. For
the future you may be of good cheer as regards your life and fortune:
we shall know by your future conduct what sort of husband you will be
to your wife!"

When Belisarius read this, he was greatly excited with joy, and, as he
wished at the same time to give some present proof of his gratitude,
he straightway rose, and fell on his face at his wife's feet. He
embraced her legs with either hand, and kissed the woman's ankles and
the soles of her feet, declaring that it was to her that he owed his
life and safety, and that hereafter he would be her faithful slave,
and no longer her husband.

The Empress divided Belisarius's fortune into two parts; she gave
thirty centenars of gold to the Emperor, and allowed Belisarius to
keep the rest. Such was the fortune of the General Belisarius, into
whose hands Fate had not long before given Gelimer and Vitiges as
prisoners of war. The man's wealth had for a long time excited the
jealousy of Justinian and Theodora, who considered it too great, and
fit only for a king. They declared that he had secretly embezzled most
of the property of Gelimer and Vitiges, which belonged to the State,
and that he had restored a small part alone, and one hardly worthy of
an Emperor's acceptance. But, when they thought of what great things
the man had done, and how they would raise unpopular clamour against
themselves, especially as they had no ground whatever for accusing him
of peculation, they desisted; but, on this occasion, the Empress,
having surprised him at a time when he was quite unmanned by fear,
managed at one stroke to become mistress of his entire fortune; for
she straightway established a relationship between them, betrothing
Joannina, Belisarius's only daughter, to her grandson Anastasius.

Belisarius now asked to be restored to his command, and to be
nominated general of the army of the East, in order to conduct the war
against Chosroes and the Medes, but Antonina would not permit this;
she declared that she had been insulted by her husband in those
countries, and never wished to see them again.

For this reason Belisarius was appointed Constable,[10] and was sent
for a second time into Italy, with the understanding, they say, with
the Emperor, that he should not ask for any money to defray the cost
of this war, but should pay all its expenses out of his own private
purse. Everyone imagined that Belisarius made these arrangements with
his wife and with the Emperor in order that he might get away from
Byzantium, and, as soon as he was outside the city walls, straightway
take up arms and do some brave and manly deed against his wife and
his oppressors. But he made light of all that had passed, forgot the
oaths which he had sworn to Photius and his other intimates, and
followed his wife in a strange ecstasy of passion for her, though she
was already sixty years of age.

When he arrived in Italy, things went wrong with him daily, for he had
clearly incurred the enmity of heaven. In his former campaign against
Theodatus and Vitiges, the tactics which he had adopted as general,
though they were not thought to be suitable to the circumstances, yet,
as a rule, turned out prosperously: in this second campaign, he gained
the credit of having laid his plans better, as was to be expected from
his greater experience in the art of war; but, as matters for the most
part turned out ill, people began to have a poor opinion of him and
his judgment. So true it is that human affairs are guided, not by
men's counsel, but by the influence of heaven, which we commonly call
fortune, because we see how events happen, but know not the cause
which determines them. Therefore, to that which seems to come to pass
without reason is given the name of "chance." But this is a subject
upon which everyone must form his own opinion.


At the end of Belisarius's second expedition to Italy, he was obliged
to retire in disgrace; for, as I have told already, he was unable for
a space of five years to effect a landing on the continent, because he
had no stronghold there, but spent the whole time in hovering off the
coast. Totila was very eager to meet him in the open field, but never
found an opportunity, for both the Roman general and all the army were
afraid to fight. For this reason he recovered nothing of all that had
been lost, but even lost Rome as well, and pretty nearly everything
else. During this time he became exceedingly avaricious and greedy for
ignoble gain. Because he had received no funds from the Emperor, he
plundered all the Italian peoples of Ravenna and Sicily, and the rest
of Italy without mercy, by way of exacting vengeance for
irregularities in their past lives. Thus he fell upon Herodianus, and
asked him for money with the most dreadful threats; whereupon he, in
his rage, threw off his allegiance to Rome and went over with his
troops to Totila and the Goths, and handed over to them the town of

I will now tell how Belisarius fell out with John, the nephew of
Vitalianus, a matter which was exceedingly prejudicial to the
interests of Rome. The Empress was so violently incensed against
Germanus, and showed her dislike of him so plainly, that no one dared
to connect himself with him by marriage, although he was the Emperor's
nephew, and his children remained unmarried as long as she lived,
while his daughter Justina was also without a husband at the age of
eighteen. For this reason, when John was sent by Belisarius on a
mission to Byzantium, Germanus was forced to enter upon negotiations
with him with a view to marriage with his daughter, although such an
alliance was far beneath him. When both had settled the matter to
their satisfaction, they bound each other by the most solemn oaths, to
use their best endeavours to bring about this alliance; for neither of
them trusted the other, as John knew that he was seeking an alliance
above his station, and Germanus despaired of finding another husband
for his daughter. The Empress was beside herself at this, and
endeavoured to thwart them in every possible way; but as her threats
had no effect upon either, she openly threatened to put John to death.
After this, John was ordered to return to Italy, and, fearing
Antonina's designs upon him, held no further communication with
Belisarius until her departure for Byzantium; for he had good reason
to suspect that the Empress had sent instructions to Antonina to have
him murdered; and when he considered the character of Antonina and
Belisarius's infatuation for his wife, which made him yield to her in
everything, he was greatly alarmed.

From this time forth the power of Rome, which had long been unstable,
utterly fell to the ground for want of capable support. Such were the
fortunes of Belisarius in the Gothic war. After this, despairing of
success, he begged the Emperor to allow him to leave Italy with all
speed. When he heard that his prayer had been granted, he joyfully
retired, bidding a long farewell to the Roman army and the Italians.
He left the greater part of Italy in the enemy's power and Perusia in
the last agonies of a terrible siege: while he was on his road home,
it was taken, and endured all the miseries of a city taken by assault,
as I have already related. In addition to his ill-success abroad, he
also had to submit to a domestic misfortune, which came about as
follows:--The Empress Theodora was eager to bring about the marriage
of her grandson, Anastasius, with Belisarius's daughter, and wearied
her parents with frequent letters on the subject; but they, not being
desirous of contracting this alliance, put off the marriage until they
could appear in person at Byzantium, and when the Empress sent for
them, made the excuse that they could not leave Italy. But she
persisted in her determination to make her grandson master of
Belisarius's fortune, for she knew that the girl would be his heiress,
as he had no other children. She did not, however, trust Antonina's
character, and feared lest, after her own death, Antonina might prove
unfaithful to her house, although she had found her so helpful in
emergencies, and might break the compact. These considerations
prompted her to a most abominable act. She made the boy and girl live
together without any marriage ceremony, in violation of the laws. It
is said that the girl was unwilling to cohabit with him, and that the
Empress had her secretly forced to do so, that the marriage might be
consummated by the dishonour of the bride, and so the Emperor might
not be able to oppose it. After this had taken place, Anastasius and
the girl fell passionately in love with each other, and lived together
in this manner for eight months.

Immediately after the Empress's death, Antonina came to Byzantium. She
found it easy to ignore the outrage which Theodora had committed upon
her, and, without considering that, if she united the girl to another,
she would be no better than a harlot, she drove away Theodora's
grandson with insults, and forcibly separated her daughter from the
man whom she loved.

This action caused her to be regarded as one of the most heartless
women upon earth, but nevertheless the mother obtained, without any
difficulty, Belisarius's approval of her conduct, on his return home.
Thus did this man's true character reveal itself. Although he had
sworn a solemn oath to Photius and to several of his intimates and
broken it, yet all men readily forgave him, because they suspected
that the reason of his faithlessness was not the dominion of his wife
over him, but his fear of Theodora; but now that Theodora was dead, as
I have told you, he thought nothing about Photius or any of his
intimates, but entirely submitted to the sway of his wife, and her
pander Calligonus. Then at last all men ceased to believe in him,
scorned and flouted him, and railed at him for an idiot. Such were the
offences of Belisarius, about which I have been obliged to speak
freely in this place.

In its proper place, I have said enough about the shortcomings of
Sergius, the son of Bacchus, in Libya. I have told how he was the
chief cause of the ruin of the Roman power in that country, how he
broke the oath which he swore to the Levathae on the Gospels, and how
he, without excuse, put to death the eighty ambassadors. I need only
add in this place, that these men did not come to Sergius with any
treacherous intent, and that Sergius had not the slightest reason for
suspecting them, but having invited them to a banquet and taken an
oath not to harm them, he cruelly butchered them.

Solomon, the Roman army, and all the Libyans were lost owing to this
crime; for, in consequence of what he had done, especially after
Solomon's death, no officer or soldier would expose himself to the
dangers of war. John, the son of Sisinniolus, was especially averse to
taking the field, out of the hatred which he bore to Sergius, until
Areobindus arrived in Libya.

Sergius was effeminate and unwarlike, very young both in years and in
mind, excessively jealous and insolent to all men, luxurious in his
habits, and inflated with pride. However, after he had become the
accepted husband of the niece of Antonina, Belisarius's wife, the
Empress would not permit him to be punished in any way or removed from
his office, although she saw distinctly that the state of affairs in
Libya threatened its utter ruin; and she even induced the Emperor to
pardon Solomon, Sergius's brother, for the murder of Pegasius. How
this came to pass I will now explain.

After Pegasius had ransomed Solomon from captivity among the Levathae,
and the barbarians had returned home, Solomon and Pegasius, who had
ransomed him, set out, accompanied by a few soldiers, to Carthage. On
the way Pegasius reproached Solomon with the wrong he had done, and
bade him remember that Heaven had only just rescued him from the
enemy. Solomon, enraged at being taunted with his captivity,
straightway slew Pegasius, and thus requited him for having ransomed
him. But when Solomon reached Byzantium, the Emperor absolved him from
the guilt of murder, on the pretext that he had slain a traitor to the
Roman Empire, and gave him letters of acquittal. Solomon, having thus
escaped all punishment for his crime, departed gladly for the East, to
visit his own country and his family; but the vengeance of God fell
upon him on the way, and removed him from amongst mankind. This is
what happened in regard to Solomon and Pegasius.


I now come to the description of the private life and character of
Justinian and Theodora, and of the manner in which they rent the Roman
Empire asunder.

At the time when Leo occupied the imperial throne, three young
husbandmen, of Illyrian birth, named Zimarchus, Ditybistus, and Justin
of Bederiane, in order to escape from their utter poverty at home,
determined to enlist in the army. They made their way to Byzantium on
foot, with knapsacks of goat's-hair on their shoulders, containing
nothing but a few biscuits which they had brought from home. On their
arrival they were enrolled in the army, and chosen by the Emperor
amongst the palace guards, being all three very handsome young men.

Afterwards, when Anastasius succeeded to the throne, war broke out
with the Isaurians who had rebelled against him. He sent a
considerable army against them, under the command of John, surnamed
"The Hunchback." This John arrested Justin for some offence and
imprisoned him, and on the following day would have put him to death,
had not a vision which he beheld in his sleep prevented him. He said
that, in his dream, a man of great stature, and in every way more than
human, bade him release the man whom he had that day cast into prison.
When he awoke, he made light of this vision; and, although he saw
again the same vision and heard the same words on the following night,
not even then would he obey the command. But the vision appeared for
the third time, and threatened him terribly if he did not do what he
was commanded, and warned him that he would thereafter stand in great
need of this man and his family when his wrath should fall upon him.
Thus did Justin escape death.

As time went on, this Justin rose to great power. The Emperor
Anastasius appointed him commander of the palace guard, and when that
prince died, he, by the influence of his position, seized the throne.
He was by this time an old man with one foot in the grave, so utterly
ignorant of letters, that one may say that he did not know the
alphabet--a thing which had never happened before amongst the Romans.
It had been customary for the Emperor to sign the decrees which were
issued by him with his own hand, whereas he neither made decrees, nor
was capable of conducting affairs; but Proclus, who acted as his
quaestor and colleague, arranged everything at his own pleasure.
However, in order that the Emperor's signature might appear in public
documents, his officers invented the following device. They had the
shapes of four Latin letters cut in a thin piece of wood, and then,
having dipped the pen in the imperial ink used by the Emperors in
writing, they put it in the Emperor's hand, and laying the piece of
wood on the paper to be signed, they guided the Emperor's hand and pen
round the outline of the four letters, making it follow all the
convolutions cut in the wood, and then retired with the result as the
Emperor's signature. This was how the affairs of the Empire were
managed under Justin. His wife was named Lupicina; she was a slave and
a barbarian, whom he had bought for his mistress, and at the close of
his life she ascended the throne with him. Justin was not strong
enough to do his subjects either good or harm; he was utterly simple,
a very poor speaker, and a complete boor. Justinian was his sister's
son, who, when quite a young man, practically governed the State, and
brought more woe upon the Romans than anyone we have ever heard of
before. He was ever ready to commit unrighteous murders and rob men of
their estates, and thought nothing of making away with tens of
thousands of men who had given him no cause for doing so. He had no
respect for established institutions, but loved innovations in
everything, and was, in short, the greatest destroyer of all the best
of his country's institutions. As for the plague, of which I have made
mention in the former books of my history, although it ravaged the
whole earth, yet as many men escaped it as perished by it, some of
them never taking the contagion, and others recovering from it. But no
human being in all the Roman Empire could escape from this man, for he
was like some second plague sent down from heaven to prey upon the
whole human race, which left no man untouched. Some he slew without
cause, others he reduced to a struggle with poverty, so that their
case was more piteous than that of the dead, and they prayed daily to
be relieved from their misery even by the most cruel death, while he
robbed others of their lives and their property at the same time.

Not content with ruining the Roman Empire, he carried out the conquest
of Italy and Africa, merely that he might treat them in the same way,
and destroy the inhabitants, together with those who were already his
subjects. He had not been in authority ten days before he put to death
Amantius, the chief of the palace eunuchs, with several others. He had
no complaint whatever against the man beyond that he had said
something offensive about John the archbishop of the city. Owing to
this, he became the most dreaded of all men in the world.

Immediately afterwards he sent for the usurper Vitalianus, to whom he
had given the most solemn pledges for his safety, and had partaken of
the Christian sacrament with him. Shortly afterwards, he conceived
some suspicion of him, and made away with him and his companions in
the palace, for no reason whatever, thus showing that he scorned to
observe even the most solemn oaths.


In the former part of my history I have explained how the people had
long been divided into two factions. Justinian associated himself with
one of these, the Blues, which had previously favoured him, and was
thus enabled to upset everything and throw all into disorder. Thereby
the Roman constitution was beaten to its knees. However, all the Blues
did not agree to follow his views, but only those who were inclined to
revolutionary measures. Yet, as the evil spread, these very men came
to be regarded as the most moderate of mankind, for they used their
opportunities of doing wrong less than they might have done. Nor did
the revolutionists of the Green faction remain idle, but they also, as
far as they were able, continually perpetrated all kinds of excesses,
although individuals of their number were continually being punished.
This only made them bolder, for men, when they are treated harshly,
usually become desperate.

At this time Justinian, by openly encouraging and provoking the Blue
faction, shook the Roman Empire to its foundation, like an earthquake
or a flood, or as though each city had been taken by the enemy.
Everything was everywhere thrown into disorder; nothing was left
alone. The laws and the whole fabric of the State were altogether
upset, and became the very opposite of what they had been. First of
all, the revolutionists altered the fashion of wearing the hair, for
they cut it short, in a manner quite different to that of the rest of
the Romans. They never touched the moustache and beard, but let them
grow like the Persians: but they shaved the hair off the front part of
their heads as far as the temples, and let it hang down long and in
disorder behind, like the Massagetae. Wherefore they called this the
Hunnic fashion of wearing the hair.

In the next place they all chose to wear richly-embroidered dresses,
far finer than became their several stations in life, but they were
able to pay for them out of their illicit gains. The sleeves of their
tunics were made as tight as possible at the wrists, but from thence
to the shoulder were of an astounding width, and whenever they moved
their hands, in applauding in the theatre or the hippodrome, or
encouraging the competitors, this part of the tunic was waved aloft,
to convey to the ignorant the impression that they were so beautifully
made and so strong that they were obliged to wear such robes as these
to cover their muscles. They did not perceive that the empty width of
their sleeves only made their bodies appear even more stunted than
they were. The cloaks, drawers and shoes which they mostly affected
were called after the Huns, and made in their fashion.

At first they almost all openly went about armed at night, but by day
hid short two-edged swords upon their thighs under their cloaks. They
gathered together in gangs as soon as it became dusk, and robbed
respectable people in the market-place and in the narrow lanes,
knocking men down and taking their cloaks, belts, gold buckles, and
anything else that they had in their hands. Some they murdered as well
as robbed, that they might not tell others what had befallen them.
These acts roused the indignation of all men, even the least
disaffected members of the Blue faction; but as they began not to
spare even these, the greater part began to wear brazen belts and
buckles and much smaller cloaks than became their station, lest their
fine clothes should be their death, and, before the sun set, they went
home and hid themselves. But the evil spread, and as the authorities
in charge of the people did nothing to punish the criminals, these men
became very daring; for crime, when encouraged to manifest itself
openly, always increases enormously, seeing that even when punished it
cannot be entirely suppressed. Indeed, most men are naturally inclined
to evil-doing. Such was the behaviour of the Blues.

As for the opposite faction, some of them joined the bands of their
opponents, hoping thus to be able to avenge themselves upon the party
which had ill-used them; some fled secretly to other lands, while many
were caught on the spot and killed by their adversaries, or by order
of the government. A number of young men also joined this party
without having previously taken any interest in such matters, being
attracted by the power and the licence which it gave them to do evil.
Indeed, there was no sort of villany known amongst men which was not
committed at this time unpunished.

In the beginning men put away their own opponents, but, as time went
on, they murdered men who had done them no hurt. Many bribed the Blues
to kill their personal enemies, whom they straightway slew, and
declared that they were Greens, though they might never have seen them
before. And these things were not done in the dark or by stealth, but
at all hours of the day and in every part of the city, before the
eyes, as it might be, of the chief men of the State; for they no
longer needed to conceal their crimes, because they had no fear of
punishment; but to kill an unarmed passer-by with one blow was a sort
of claim to public esteem, and a means of proving one's strength and

Life became so uncertain that people lost all expectation of security,
for everyone continually had death before his eyes, and no place or
time seemed to offer any hope of safety, seeing that men were slain
indiscriminately in the holiest churches, and even during divine
service. No one could trust friends or relations, for many were slain
at the instance of their nearest of kin. No inquiry took place into
such occurrences, but these blows fell unexpectedly upon everyone, and
no one helped the fallen. Laws and contracts, which were considered
confirmed, had no longer any force; everything was thrown into
confusion and settled by violence. The government resembled a
despotism, not a securely established one, but one which was changed
almost daily, and was ever beginning afresh. The minds of the chief
magistrates seemed stricken with consternation, and their spirits
cowed by fear of one single man. The judges gave sentence on disputed
points not according to what they thought to be lawful and right, but
according as each of the litigants was a friend or an enemy of the
ruling faction; for any judge who disregarded their instructions was
punished with death. Many creditors also were compelled by main force
to restore their bills to their debtors without having received
anything of what was owing them, and many, against their will, had to
bestow freedom upon their slaves.

It is said that some ladies were forced to submit to the embraces of
their own slaves; and the sons of leading men who had been mixed up
with these youths, forced their fathers to hand over their property to
them, and to do many other things against their will. Many boys, with
their fathers' knowledge, were forced to undergo dishonour at the
hands of the Blues, and women living with their own husbands were
forced to submit to the like treatment.

We are told that a woman, who was not over-well dressed, was sailing
with her husband in a boat towards the suburb across the strait; they
met on their way some men of this faction, who took her away from her
husband with threats, and placed her in their own boat. When she
entered the boat together with these young men, she secretly told her
husband to take courage, and not to fear any evil for her. "Never,"
said she, "will I permit myself to be outraged;" and while her husband
was gazing on her with the greatest sorrow, she sprang into the sea,
and was never seen again. Such were the outrages which the people of
this faction dared to commit in Byzantium.

Yet all this did not so much gall the victims as Justinian's offences
against the State; for those who suffer most cruelly from evil-doers
are in great part consoled by the expectation that the law and the
authorities will avenge them. If they have any hope for the future,
men bear their present sufferings with a much lighter heart; but when
they are outraged by the established government, they are naturally
much more hurt by the evil which befalls them, and the improbability
of redress drives them to despair. Justinian's fault was, not only
that he turned a deaf ear to the complaints of the injured, but did
not even disdain to behave himself as the avowed chief of this party;
that he gave great sums of money to these youths, and kept many of
them in his own retinue; that he even went so far as to appoint some
of them to governments and other official posts.


These excesses took place not only in Byzantium, but in every city of
the Empire: for these disorders were like bodily diseases, and spread
from thence over the whole Roman Empire. But the Emperor cared not at
all for what was going on, although he daily beheld what took place in
the hippodrome, for he was exceedingly stupid, very much like a
dull-witted ass, which follows whoever holds its bridle, shaking its
ears the while. This behaviour on the part of Justinian ruined

As soon as he found himself the head of his uncle's empire, he at once
did his utmost to squander the public treasure over which he now had
control. For he lavished wealth extravagantly upon the Huns who from
time to time came across and, ever afterwards, the Roman provinces
were subjected to constant incursions; for these barbarians, having
once tasted our wealth, could not tear themselves away from the road
which led to it. Justinian also threw away great sums upon the
construction of large moles, as if he thought to restrain the force of
the never-resting waves. He ran out stone breakwaters from the beach
far into the water to divert the currents of the ocean, and, as it
were, to match his wealth against the power of the sea.

As for the private fortunes of individual Romans, he confiscated them
for his own use in all parts of the empire, either by accusing their
possessors of some crime of which they were innocent, or by distorting
their words into a free gift of their property to him. Many were
convicted on these charges of murder and other crimes, and in order to
escape paying the penalty for them, gave him all that they had. Some
who were engaged in making frivolous claims to land belonging to their
neighbours, when they found that they had no chance of winning their
cause, as the law was against them, would make him a present of the
land in dispute, and so get out of the difficulty. Thus they gained
his favour by a gift that cost them nothing, and got the better of
their adversaries by the most illegal means.

It will not be out of place, I think, to describe his personal
appearance. He was neither tall nor too short, but of a medium height,
not thin, but inclined to be fat. His face was round and not
ill-favoured, and showed colour, even after a two days' fast. In a
word, he greatly resembled Domitian, Vespasian's son, more than
anybody else. This was the Emperor whom the Romans detested so much
that they could not slake their hatred for him, even when they had
torn him to pieces, but a decree of the Senate was passed to remove
his name from all documents, and that all statues of him should be
destroyed; wherefore his name has been erased from every inscription
at Rome and everywhere else, except where it occurs in a list together
with other emperors, and no statue of him is to be found in the Roman
Empire, save one only, the history of which is as follows: Domitian
had married a lady of noble birth and admirable conduct, who never
harmed anyone, and always disapproved of her husband's evil deeds. As
she was so much beloved, the Senate sent for her, after the death of
Domitian, and bade her ask whatever favour she pleased. All that she
asked was to receive Domitian's body for burial, and permission to
erect a bronze statue to him in whatever place she might choose. The
Senate consented, and Domitian's wife, not wishing to leave to
posterity a memorial of the brutality of those who had butchered her
husband, adopted the following plan. She collected the pieces of his
body, pieced them accurately together, joined them properly, and sewed
the body together again. She then sent for the statuaries, and bade
them reproduce this pitiable object in a brazen statue. The workmen
straightway made the statue, and his wife, having received it from
them, set it up in the street which leads up to the Capitol from the
Forum, on the right hand side, where to this day one may see
Domitian's statue, showing the marks of his tragic end. One may say
that the whole of Justinian's person, his expression, and all his
features can be traced in this statue.

Such was his portrait; but it would be exceedingly difficult to give
an accurate estimate of his character; he was an evil-doer, and yet
easily led by the nose, being, in common parlance, a fool as well as a
knave. He never was truthful with anyone, but always spoke and acted
cunningly, yet any who chose could easily outwit him. His character
was a sorry mixture of folly and bad principles. One may say of him
what one of the Peripatetic philosophers of old said long ago, that in
men, as in the mixing of colours, the most opposite qualities combine.
I will therefore only describe his disposition as far as I have been
able to fathom it.

This prince was deceitful, fond of crooked ways, artificial, given to
hiding his wrath, double-faced, and cruel, exceedingly clever in
concealing his thoughts, and never moved to tears either by joy or
grief, but capable of weeping if the occasion required it. He was
always a liar not merely on the spur of the moment; he drew up
documents and swore the most solemn oaths to respect the covenants
which he made with his subjects; then he would straightway break his
plighted word and his oath, like the vilest of slaves, who perjure
themselves and are only driven to confess through fear of torture. He
was a faithless friend, an inexorable foe, and mad for murder and
plunder; quarrelsome and revolutionary, easily led to do evil, never
persuaded to act rightly, he was quick to contrive and carry out what
was evil, but loathed even to hear of good actions.

How could any man fully describe Justinian's character? He had all
these vices and other even greater ones, in larger proportion than any
man; indeed, Nature seemed to have taken away all other men's vices
and to have implanted them all in this man's breast. Besides all this,
he was ever disposed to give ear to accusations, and quick to punish.
He never tried a case before deciding it, but as soon as he had heard
the plaintiff he straightway pronounced his judgment upon it. He wrote
decrees, without the slightest hesitation, for the capture of
fortresses, the burning of cities, the enslaving of whole races of men
for no crime whatever, so that, if anyone were to reckon all the
calamities of this nature which have befallen the Roman people before
his time, and weigh them against those which were brought about by
him, I imagine that it would be found that this man was guilty of far
more bloodshed than any ruler of previous times.

He had no hesitation in coolly appropriating people's property, and
did not even trouble himself to put forward any pretext or colourable
legal ground for taking another man's goods; and, when he had got it,
he was quite ready to squander it in foolish munificence or to spend
it in unreasonable largesses to the barbarians. In fine, he neither
had any property himself, nor would he suffer anyone else of all his
subjects to have any; so that he did not seem to be so much governed
by avarice as by jealousy of those who possessed wealth. He carelessly
drove all the wealth of the Romans out of the country, and was the
cause of general impoverishment. Such was the character of Justinian,
as far as I am able to describe it.


As for Justinian's wife, I shall now describe her birth, how she was
brought up, how she married him, and how in conjunction with him she
utterly ruined the Roman Empire.

There was one Acacius at Byzantium, of the Green faction, who was
keeper of the wild beasts used in the amphitheatre, and was called the
Bear-keeper. This man died of some malady during the reign of
Anastasius, and left three daughters, Comito, Theodora and Anastasia,
the eldest of whom was not yet seven years of age. His widow married
her husband's successor in his house and profession; but the chief
dancer of the Green faction, named Asterius, was easily bribed into
taking away the office from this man and giving it to one who paid him
for it: for the dancers had the power to manage these matters as they

When Theodora's mother saw the whole populace assembled in the
amphitheatre to see the show of the wild beasts, she placed fillets on
her daughters' heads and hands, and made them sit in the attitude of
suppliants. The Greens regarded their appeal with indifference, but
the Blues, who had lately lost their own bear-keeper, bestowed the
office upon them. As the children grew up, their mother straightway
sent them on the stage, for they were handsome girls. She did not send
them on all at once, but as each one arrived at a fit age so to do.
The eldest girl, Comito, had already become one of the most celebrated
prostitutes of her time.

Theodora, the next eldest, was dressed in a little sleeved tunic, such
as a slave-girl would wear, and waited on her sister, carrying on her
shoulders the stool in which she was wont to sit in public. Theodora
was still too young to have intercourse with a man after the manner of
women, but she satisfied the unnatural passions of certain wretches,
even the vilest slaves, who followed their masters to the theatre and
amused their leisure by this infamy. She remained for some time also
in a brothel, where she practised this hateful form of vice.

As soon, however, as she reached the age of puberty, as she was
handsome, her mother sent her into the theatrical troupe, and she
straightway became a simple harlot, as old-fashioned people called it;
for she was neither a musician nor a dancer, but merely prostituted
herself to everyone whom she met, giving up every part of her body to
debauchery. She associated chiefly with the theatrical "pantomimes,"
and took part in their performances, playing in comic scenes, for she
was exceedingly witty and amusing; so that she soon became well known
by her acting. She had no shame whatever, and no one ever saw her put
out of countenance, but she lent herself to scandalous purposes
without the least hesitation.

She excelled in raising a laugh by being slapped on her puffed-out
cheeks, and used to uncover herself so far as to show the spectators
everything before and behind which decency forbids to be shown to men.
She stimulated her lovers by lascivious jests, and continually
invented new postures of coition, by which means she completely won
the hearts of all libertines; for she did not wait to be solicited by
anyone whom she met, but herself, with joke and gestures, invited
everyone whom she fell in with, especially beardless boys.

She never succumbed to these transports; for she often went to a
supper at which each one paid his share, with ten or more young men,
in the full vigour of their age and practised in debauchery, and would
pass the whole night with all of them. When they were all exhausted,
she would go to their servants, thirty in number, it may be, and
fornicate with each one of them; and yet not even so did she quench
her lust. Once she went to the house of some great man, and while the
guests were drinking pulled up her clothes on the edge of the couch
and did not blush to exhibit her wantonness without reserve. Though
she received the male in three orifices she nevertheless complained of
Nature for not having made the passage of her breasts wider, that she
might contrive a new form of coition in that part of her person also.

She frequently became pregnant, but as she employed all known remedies
without delay, she promptly procured abortion. Often, even on the
stage, she stripped before the eyes of all the people, and stood naked
in their midst, wearing only a girdle about her private parts and
groin; not because she had any modesty about showing that also to the
people, but because no one was allowed to go on the stage without a
girdle about those parts. In this attitude she would throw herself
down on the floor, and lie on her back. Slaves, whose duty it was,
would then pour grains of barley upon her girdle, which trained geese
would then pick up with their beaks one by one and eat. She did not
blush or rise up, but appeared to glory in this performance; for she
was not only without shame, but especially fond of encouraging others
to be shameless, and often would strip naked in the midst of the
actors, and swing herself backwards and forwards, explaining to those
who had already enjoyed her and those who had not, the peculiar
excellences of that exercise.

She proceeded to such extremities of abuse as to make her face become
what most women's private parts are: wherefore her lovers became known
at once by their unnatural tastes, and any respectable man who met her
in the public streets turned away, and made haste to avoid her, lest
his clothes should be soiled by contact with such an abandoned
creature, for she was a bird of ill-omen, especially for those who saw
her early in the day. As for her fellow-actresses, she always abused
them most savagely, for she was exceedingly jealous.

Afterwards she accompanied Hecebolus, who had received the appointment
of Governor of Pentapolis, to that country, to serve his basest
passions, but quarrelled with him, and was straightway sent out of the
country. In consequence of this she fell into want of common
necessaries, with which she hereafter provided herself by
prostitution, as she had been accustomed to do. She first went to
Alexandria, and afterwards wandered all through the East, until she
reached Byzantium, plying her trade in every city on her way--a trade
which, I imagine, Heaven will not pardon a man for calling by its
right name--as if the powers of evil would not allow any place on
earth to be free from the debaucheries of Theodora. Such was the
birth, and such the training of this woman, and her name became better
known than that of any other prostitute of her time.

On her return to Byzantium, Justinian became excessively enamoured of
her. At first he had intercourse with her merely as her lover,
although he raised her to the position of a patrician. By this means
Theodora was straightway enabled to gain very great influence and to
amass considerable sums of money. She charmed Justinian beyond all the
world, and, like most infatuated lovers, he delighted to show her all
the favour and give her all the money that he could. This lavishness
added fuel to the flame of passion. In concert with her he plundered
the people more than ever, not only in the capital, but throughout the
Roman Empire; for, as both of them had for a long time been members of
the Blue faction, they had placed unlimited power in its hands,
although the evil was subsequently somewhat checked, in the manner
which I will now relate.

Justinian had for some time suffered from a dangerous illness; in
fact, it was even reported that he was dead. The Blue faction were
committing the crimes of which I have spoken, and slew Hypatius, a
person of consequence, in the Church of St. Sophia, in broad daylight.
When the murderer had accomplished his work, clamour was raised which
reached the Emperor's ears, and all his courtiers seized upon the
opportunity of pointing out the outrageous character of the offence
which, owing to Justinian's absence from public affairs, the murderer
had been enabled to perpetrate, and enumerated all the crimes that had
been committed from the outset. Hereupon the Emperor gave orders to
the prefect of the city to punish these crimes. This man was named
Theodotus, nick-named Colocynthius.[11] He instituted an inquiry into
the whole matter, and had the courage to seize and put to death,
according to the law, many of the malefactors, several of whom,
however, hid themselves and so escaped, being destined to perish
afterwards together with the Roman Empire. Justinian, who miraculously
recovered, straightway began to plan the destruction of Theodotus, on
the pretext that he was a magician and used philtres. However, as he
found no proofs on which the man could be condemned, he flogged and
tortured some of his intimates until he forced them to make most
unfounded accusations against him. When no one dared to oppose
Justinian, but silently bewailed the plot against Theodotus, Proclus,
the Quaestor, alone declared that the man was innocent and did not
deserve to die. Theodotus was therefore sentenced by the Emperor to
banishment to Jerusalem. But, learning that certain men had been sent
thither to assassinate him, he took sanctuary in the temple, where he
spent the rest of his life in concealment until he died. Such was the
end of Theodotus.

From this time forth, however, the Blue party behaved with the
greatest moderation; they did not venture to perpetrate such crimes,
although they had it in their power to abuse their authority more
outrageously and with greater impunity than before. Here is a proof of
this; when a few of them afterwards showed the same audacity in
evil-doing, they were not punished in any way; for those who had the
power to punish always gave malefactors an opportunity to escape, and
by this indulgence encouraged them to trample upon the laws.


As long as the Empress Euphemia was alive, Justinian could not
contrive to marry Theodora. Though she did not oppose him on any other
point, she obstinately refused her consent to this one thing. She was
altogether free from vice, although she was a homely person and of
barbarian descent, as I have already said. She never cultivated any
active virtues, but remained utterly ignorant of State affairs. She
did not bear her own name, which was a ridiculous one, when she came
to the palace, but was re-named Euphemia. Soon afterwards, however,
she died.

Justin was in his second childhood and so sunk in senility that he was
the laughing-stock of his subjects. All despised him utterly, and
disregarded him because he was incompetent to control State affairs,
but they paid their court to Justinian with awe, for he terrified them
all by his love of disturbance and reckless innovations.

He then resolved to bring about his marriage with Theodora. It was
forbidden by the most ancient laws of the State that anyone of the
senatorial order should marry a courtesan; so he prevailed upon the
Emperor to repeal the existing law and introduce a new one, whereby he
was allowed to live with Theodora as his legitimate wife, and it
became possible for anyone else to marry a courtesan. He also
straightway assumed the demeanour of absolute despot, veiling his
forcible seizure of power under the pretext of reasons of State. He
was proclaimed Emperor of the Romans, as his uncle's colleague.
Whether this was legal or not may be doubted, since he owed his

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