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The Secret History of the Court of Justinian by Procopius

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election to the terror with which he inspired those who gave him their

So Justinian and Theodora ascended the Imperial throne three days
before Easter, at a time when it is forbidden to make visits or even
to greet one's friends. A few days later Justin was carried off by
disease, after a reign of nine years, and Justinian and Theodora
reigned alone.

Thus did Theodora, as I have told you, in spite of her birth and
bringing-up, reach the throne without finding any obstacle in her way.
Justinian felt no shame at having wedded her, although he might have
chosen the best born, the best educated, the most modest and
virtuously nurtured virgin in all the Roman Empire, with outstanding
breasts, as the saying is; whereas he preferred to take to himself the
common refuse of all mankind, and without a thought of all that has
been told, married a woman stained with the shame of many abortions
and many other crimes. Nothing more, I conceive, need be said about
this creature's character, for all the vices of his heart are
thoroughly displayed in the fact of so unworthy a marriage. When a man
feels no shame at an act of this kind, and braves the loathing of the
world, there is thereafter no path of wickedness which may not be
trodden by him, but, with a face incapable of blushing, he plunges,
utterly devoid of scruple, into the deepest baseness.

However, no one in the Senate had the courage to show dissatisfaction
at seeing the State fasten this disgrace upon itself, but all were
ready to worship Theodora as if she had been a goddess. Neither did
any of the clergy show any indignation, but bestowed upon her the
title of "Lady." The people who had formerly seen her upon the stage
now declared themselves, with uplifted hands, to be her slaves, and
made no secret of the name. None of the army showed irritation at
having to face the dangers of war in the service of Theodora, nor did
anyone of all mankind offer her the least opposition. All, I suppose,
yielded to circumstances, and suffered this disgraceful act to take
place, as though Fortune had wished to display her power by disposing
human affairs so that events came about in utter defiance of reason,
and human counsel seemed to have no share in directing them. Fortune
does thus raise men suddenly to great heights of power, by means in
which reason has no share, in spite of all obstacles that may bar the
way, for nothing can check her course, but she proceeds straight on
towards her goal, and everything makes way for her. But let all this
be, and be represented as it pleases God.

Theodora was at this time handsome and of a graceful figure, but she
was short, without much colour, but rather of a pale complexion, and
with brilliant and piercing eyes. It would take a life-time to tell of
all her adventures during her theatrical life, but I think what little
I have selected above will be sufficient to give an indication of her
character. We must now briefly set forth what she and her husband did,
for during their married life neither ever did anything without the
other. For a long time they appeared to all to be at variance both in
their characters and in their actions; but afterwards this
disagreement was seen to have been purposely arranged between them, in
order that their subjects might not come to an agreement and rise
against them, but might all be divided in their opinion. First, they
split up the Christians into two parties and brought them to ruin, as
I shall tell you hereafter, by this plan of pretending to take
different sides. Next they created divisions amongst the State
factions. Theodora feigned to be an eager partisan of the Blues, and
gave them permission to commit the greatest atrocities and deeds of
violence against the opposite faction, while Justinian pretended to be
grieved and annoyed in his secret soul, as though he could not oppose
his wife's orders; and often they would pretend to act in opposition.
The one would declare that the Blues must be punished because they
were evil-doers, while the other pretended to be enraged, and angrily
declared that she was overruled by her husband against her will. Yet,
as I have said, the Blue faction seemed wondrously quiet, for they did
not outrage their neighbours as much as they might have done.

In legal disputes, each of them would pretend to favour one of the
litigants, and of necessity made the man with the worse case win; by
this means they plundered both the parties of most of the disputed
property. The Emperor received many persons into his intimacy, and
gave them appointments with liberty to do what they pleased in the way
of violent injustice and fraud against the State; but when they were
seen to have amassed a considerable amount of wealth, they straightway
fell into disgrace for having offended the Empress. At first Justinian
would take upon himself to inquire kindly into their case, but soon he
would drop the pretence of good-will, and his zeal on their behalf
would throw the whole matter into confusion. Upon this, Theodora would
treat them in the most shameful way, while he, pretending not to
understand what was going on, would shamelessly confiscate their
entire property. They used to carry on these machinations by appearing
to be at variance, while really playing into each other's hands, and
were thus able to set their subjects by their ears and firmly
establish their own power.


When Justinian came to the throne, he straightway succeeded in
upsetting everything. What had previously been forbidden by the laws
he introduced, while he abolished all existing institutions, as though
he had assumed the imperial robe for no other purpose than to alter
completely the form of government. He did away with existing offices,
and established other new ones for the management of affairs. He acted
in the same manner in regard to the laws and the army; not that he was
led to do so by any love of justice or the public advantage, but
merely in order that all institutions might be new and might bear his
name; if there was any institution that he was unable to abolish at
once, he gave it his name, that at least it might appear new. He
could never satisfy his insatiable desire, either of money or blood;
but after he had plundered one wealthy house, he would seek for
another to rob, and straightway squander the plunder upon subsidies to
barbarians, or senseless extravagance in building. After he had
destroyed his victims by tens of thousands, he immediately began to
lay plots against even greater numbers. As the Roman Empire was at
peace with foreign nations, his impatience of quiet led him, out of
uncontrollable love of bloodshed, to set the barbarians fighting with
one another. Sending for the chieftains of the Huns for no reason
whatever, he took a pride in lavishing great sums of money upon them,
under the pretext of securing their friendship, just as he did in the
time of the Emperor Justin, as I have already told you. These Huns,
when they had got the money, sent to some of their fellow-chieftains
with their retainers, and bade them make inroads into the Emperor's
territory, that they also might make a bargain with him for the peace
which he was so ready to purchase. These men straightway subjugated
the Empire, and nevertheless remained in the Emperor's pay; and,
following their examples, others straightway began to harass the
wretched Romans, and, after they had secured their booty, were
graciously rewarded by the Emperor for their invasion. Thus the whole
Hunnish nation, one tribe after another, never ceased at any time to
lay waste and plunder the Empire; for these barbarians are under
several independent chieftains, and the war, having once begun through
his foolish generosity, never came to an end, but always kept
beginning anew; so that, during this time, there was no mountain, no
cave, no spot whatever in the Roman Empire that remained unravaged,
and many countries were harried and plundered by the enemy more than
five several times.

These calamities, and those which were brought upon the Empire by the
Medes, the Saracens, the Sclavonians, the Antes, and other barbarians,
I have described in the previous books of my history; but, as I have
said at the beginning of this story, I was here obliged to explain the
causes which led thereto.

Justinian paid Chosroes many centenars in order to secure peace, and
then, with unreasonable arbitrariness, did more than anyone to break
the truce, by employing every effort to bring Alamundur and his Huns
over to his own side, as I have already set forth in plain terms in my

While he was stirring up all this strife and war to plague the Romans,
he also endeavoured, by various devices, to drench the earth in human
blood, to carry off more riches for himself, and to murder many of his
subjects. He proceeded as follows. There prevail in the Roman Empire
many Christian doctrines which are known as heresies, such as those of
the Montanists and Sabbatians and all the others by which men's minds
are led astray. Justinian ordered all these beliefs to be abandoned in
favour of the old religion, and threatened the recusants with legal
disability to transmit their property to their wives and children by
will. The churches of these so-called heretics--especially those
belonging to the Arian heresy--were rich beyond belief. Neither the
whole of the Senate, or any other of the greatest corporations in the
Roman Empire, could be compared with these churches in wealth. They
had gold and silver plate and jewels more than any man could count or
describe; they owned many mansions and villages, and large estates
everywhere, and everything else which is reckoned and callled wealth
among men.

As none of the previous Emperors had interfered with them, many
people, even of the orthodox faith, procured, through this wealth,
work and the means of livelihood. But the Emperor Justinian first of
all sequestrated all the property of these churches, and suddenly took
away all that they possessed, by which many people lost the means of
subsistence. Many agents were straightway sent out to all parts of the
Empire to force whomsoever they met to change the faith of his
forefathers. These homely people, considering this an act of impiety,
decided to oppose the Emperor's agents. Hereupon many were put to
death by the persecuting faction, and many made an end of themselves,
thinking, in their superstitious folly, that this course best
satisfied the claims of religion; but the greater part of them
voluntarily quitted the land of their forefathers, and went into
exile. The Montanists, who were settled in Phrygia, shut themselves up
in their churches, set them on fire, and perished in the flames; and,
from this time forth, nothing was to be seen in the Roman Empire
except massacres and flight.

Justinian straightway passed a similar law with regard to the
Samaritans, which produced a riot in Palestine. In my own city of
Caesarea and other cities, the people, thinking that it was a foolish
thing to suffer for a mere senseless dogma, adopted, in place of the
name which they had hitherto borne, the appellation of "Christians,"
and so avoided the danger with which they were threatened by this law.
Such of them as had any claims to reason and who belonged to the
better class, thought it their duty to remain stedfast to their new
faith; but the greater part, as though out of pique at having been
forced against their will by the law to abandon the faith of their
fathers, adopted the belief of the Manicheans, or what is known as

But all the country people met together in a body and determined to
take up arms against the Emperor. They chose a leader of their own,
named Julian, the son of Sabarus, and for some time held their own in
the struggle with the Imperial troops, but were at last defeated and
cut to pieces, together with their leader. It is said that one hundred
thousand men fell in this engagement, and the most fertile country on
the earth has ever since been without cultivators. This did great harm
to the Christian landowners in that country, for, although they
received nothing from their property, yet they were forced to pay
heavy taxes yearly to the Emperor for the rest of their lives, and no
abatement or relief from this burden was granted to them.

After this he began to persecute those who were called Gentiles,
torturing their persons and plundering their property. All of these
people, who decided to adopt the Christian faith nominally, saved
themselves for the time, but not long afterwards most of them were
caught offering libations and sacrifices and performing other unholy
rites. How he treated the Christians I will subsequently relate.

Next he forbade paederasty by law, and he made this law apply not only
to those who transgressed it after it had been passed, but even to
those who had practised this wickedness long before. The law was
applied to these persons in the loosest fashion, the testimony of one
man or boy, who possibly might be a slave unwilling to bear witness
against his master, was held to be sound evidence. Those who were
convicted were carried through the city, after having had their
genitals cut off. This cruelty was not at first practised against any
except those who belonged to the Green faction or were thought to be
very rich, or had otherwise offended.

Justinian and Theodora also dealt very harshly with the astrologers,
so that the officers appointed to punish thieves proceeded against
these men for no other cause than that they were astrologers, dealt
many stripes on their backs, and paraded them on camels through the
city; yet they were old and respectable men, against whom no reproach
could be brought except that they dwelt in Byzantium and were learned
about the stars.

There was a continual stream of emigration, not only to the lands of
the barbarians, but also to the nations most remote from Rome; and one
saw a very great number of foreigners both in the country and in each
city of the Empire, for men lightly exchanged their native land for
another, as though their own country had been captured by an enemy.


Those who were considered the wealthiest persons in Byzantium and the
other cities of the Empire, next after members of the Senate, were
robbed of their wealth by Justinian and Theodora in the manner which I
have described above. I shall now describe how they managed to take
away all the property of members of the Senate.

There was at Constantinople one Zeno, the grandson of that Anthemius
who formerly had been Emperor of the West. They sent this man to Egypt
as governor. He delayed his departure, while he loaded his ship with
precious valuables; for he had silver beyond any man's counting, and
gold plate set with pearls and emeralds, and with other like precious
stones. But Justinian and Theodora bribed some of those who passed for
his most faithful servants, to take everything out of the ship as fast
as they could, set it on fire in the hold, and then go and tell Zeno
that his ship had taken fire of its own accord, and that all his
property was lost. Some time after this Zeno died suddenly, and they
took possession of his property as his heirs, producing a will which,
it is currently reported, was never made by him.

In like manner they made themselves the heirs of Tatian, of
Demosthenes, and of Hilara, persons who at that time held the first
rank in the Roman Senate. They obtained other persons' fortunes by the
production, not of formal wills, but of counterfeit conveyances. This
was how they became the heirs of Dionysius, who dwelt in Libanus, and
of John the son of Basil, who was the leading man in Edessa, and had
been delivered up to the Persians as a hostage against his will by
Belisarius, as I have told already. Chosroes kept this John a
prisoner, and refused to let him go, declaring that the Romans had not
performed all the terms of the treaty for which John had been given in
pledge by Belisarius, but he was prepared to let him be ransomed as a
prisoner of war. His grandmother, who was still alive, got together
the money for his ransom, not less than two thousand pounds of silver,
and would have ransomed her grandson; but when this money arrived at
Dara, the Emperor heard of the transaction and forbade it, that the
wealth of Romans might not be conveyed to barbarians. Not long after
this John fell ill and died; whereupon the governor of the city forged
a letter which he said John had written to him as a friend not long
before, to the effect that he desired the Emperor to succeed to his

I could not give the list of all the other people whose heirs
Justinian and Theodora became by the free will of the testators.
However, up to the time of the insurrection called Nike, they only
plundered rich men of their property one by one; but when this broke
out, as I have described in my former works, they then sequestrated
nearly all the property of the Senate. They laid their hands upon all
movables and the finest parts of the estates, but set apart such lands
as were burdened with grievous imposts, and, under pretence of
kindness, restored them to their former possessors. So these people,
oppressed by the tax-gatherers, and tormented by the never-ceasing
interest to be paid upon their debts, became weary of their lives.

For the reasons which I have stated, I, and many of my position, never
believed that they were really two human beings, but evil demons, and
what the poets call scourges of mankind, who laid their heads together
to see how they could fastest and most easily destroy the race and the
works of man, but who had assumed human forms, and become something
between men and demons, and thus convulsed the whole world. One can
find proofs of this theory more particularly in the superhuman power
with which they acted.

There is a wide distinction between the human and the supernatural.
Many men have been born in every age who, either by circumstances or
their own character, have shown themselves terrible beings, who became
the ruin of cities, countries, and whatever else fell into their
hands; but to destroy all men and to ruin the whole earth has been
granted to none save these two, who have been helped by Fortune in
their schemes to destroy the whole human race. For, about this time,
much ruin was caused by earthquakes, pestilences and inundations of
rivers, as I shall immediately tell you. Thus it was not by mere human
power, but by something greater, that they were enabled to work their
evil will.

It is said that Justinian's mother told some of her intimates that
Justinian was not the son of Sabbatius, her husband, or of any human
being; but that, at the time when she became pregnant, an unseen demon
companied with her, whom she only felt as when a man has connection
with a woman, and who then vanished away as in a dream.

Some who have been in Justinian's company in the palace very late at
night, men with a clear conscience, have thought that in his place
they have beheld a strange and devilish form. One of them said that
Justinian suddenly arose from his royal throne and walked about
(although, indeed, he never could sit still for long), and that at
that moment his head disappeared, while the rest of his body still
seemed to move to and fro. The man who beheld this stood trembling and
troubled in mind, not knowing how to believe his eyes. Afterwards the
head joined the body again, and united itself to the parts from which
it had so strangely been severed.

Another declared that he stood beside Justinian as he sat, and of a
sudden his face turned into a shapeless mass of flesh, without either
eyebrows or eyes in their proper places, or anything else which makes
a man recognisable; but after a while he saw the form of his face come
back again. What I write here I did not see myself, but I heard it
told by men who were positive that they had seen it.

They say, too, that a certain monk, highly in favour with God, was
sent to Byzantium by those who dwelt with him in the desert, to beg
that favour might be shown to their neighbours, who had been wronged
and outraged beyond endurance. When he arrived at Byzantium, he
straightway obtained an audience of the Emperor; but just as he was
about to enter his apartment, he started back, and, turning round,
suddenly withdrew. The eunuch, who was escorting him, and also the
bystanders, besought him earnestly to go forward, but he made no
answer, but like one who has had a stroke of the palsy, made his way
back to his lodging. When those who had come with him asked why he
acted thus, they say that he distinctly stated that he saw the chief
of the devils sitting on his throne in the midst of the palace, and he
would not meet him or ask anything of him. How can one believe this
man to have been anything but an evil demon, who never took his fill
of drink, food, or sleep, but snatched at the meals which were set
before him anyhow, and roamed about the palace at untimely hours of
the night, and yet was so passionately addicted to venery.

Some of Theodora's lovers, when she was still on the stage, declare
that a demon had fallen upon them and driven them out of her
bedchamber that it might pass the night with her. There was a dancer
named Macedonia, who belonged to the Blue faction at Antioch, and had
very great influence with Justinian. This woman used to write letters
to him while Justin was still on the throne, and thus easily made away
with any great man in the East whom she chose, and caused their
property to be confiscated for the public use. They say that this
Macedonia once greeted Theodora, when she saw her very much troubled
and cast down at the ill-treatment which she had received at the hands
of Hecebolius, and at the loss of her money on her journey, and
encouraged and cheered her, bidding her remember the fickleness of
fortune, which might again grant her great possessions. They say that
Theodora used to tell how, that night, she had a dream which bade her
take no thought about money, for that when she came to Byzantium, she
would share the bed of the chief of the demons; that she must manage
by all means to become his wedded wife, and that afterwards she would
have all the wealth of the world at her disposal.

This was the common report in regard to these matters.


Although Justinian's character was such as I have already explained,
he was easy of access, and affable to those whom he met. No one was
ever denied an audience, and he never was angry even with those who
did not behave or speak properly in his presence. But, on the other
hand, he never felt ashamed of any of the murders which he committed.
However, he never displayed any anger or pettishness against those who
offended him, but preserved a mild countenance and an unruffled brow,
and with a gentle voice would order tens of thousands of innocent men
to be put to death, cities to be taken by storm, and property to be
confiscated. One would think, from his manner, that he had the
character of a sheep; but if anyone, pitying his victims, were to
endeavour, by prayers and supplications, to make him relent, he would
straightway become savage, show his teeth, and vent his rage upon his
subjects. As for the priests, he let them override their neighbours
with impunity, and delighted to see them plunder those round about
them, thinking that in this manner he was showing piety. Whenever he
had to decide any lawsuit of this sort, he thought that righteous
judgment consisted in letting the priest win his cause and leave the
court in triumph with some plunder to which he had no right whatever;
for, to him, justice meant the success of the priest's cause. He
himself, when by malpractices he had obtained possession of the
property of people, alive or dead, would straightway present his
plunder to one of the churches, by which means he would hide his
rapacity under the cloak of piety, and render it impossible for his
victims ever to recover their possessions. Indeed, he committed
numberless murders through his notion of piety; for, in his zeal to
bring all men to agree in one form of Christian doctrine, he
recklessly murdered all who dissented therefrom, under the pretext of
piety, for he did not think that it was murder, if those whom he slew
were not of the same belief as himself. Thus, his thoughts were always
fixed upon slaughter, and, together with his wife, he neglected no
excuse which could bring it about; for both of these beings had for
the most part the same passions, but sometimes they played a part
which was not natural to them; for each of them was thoroughly wicked,
and by their pretended differences of opinion, brought their subjects
to ruin. Justinian's character was weaker than water, and anyone could
lead him whither he would, provided it was not to commit any act of
kindness or incur the loss of money. He especially delighted in
flattery, so that his flatterers could easily make him believe that he
should soar aloft and tread upon the clouds. Once indeed, Tribonianus,
when sitting by him, declared that he was afraid that some day
Justinian would be caught up into heaven because of his righteousness,
and would be lost to men. Such praises, or rather sneers, as these he
constantly bore in mind; yet, if he admired any man for his goodness,
he would shortly afterwards upbraid him for a villain, and after
having railed at one of his subjects without any cause, he would
suddenly take to praising him, having changed his mind on no grounds
whatever; for what he really thought was always the opposite of what
he said, and wished to appear to think. How he was affected by
emotions of love or hate I think I have sufficiently indicated by what
I have said concerning his actions. As an enemy, he was obstinate and
relentless; as a friend, inconstant; for he made away with many of his
strongest partisans, but never became the friend of anyone whom he had
once disliked. Those whom he appeared to consider his nearest and
dearest friends he would in a short time deliver up to ruin to please
his wife or anyone else, although he knew well that they died only
because of devotion for him; for he was untrustworthy in all things
save cruelty and avarice, from which nothing could restrain him.
Whenever his wife could not persuade him to do a thing, she used to
suggest that great gain was likely to result from it, and this enabled
her to lead him into any course of action against his will. He did not
blush to make laws and afterwards repeal them, that he might make some
infamous profit thereby. Nor did he give judgment according to the
laws which he himself had made, but in favour of the side which
promised him the biggest and most splendid bribe. He thought it no
disgrace to steal away the property of his subjects, little by little,
in cases where he had no grounds for taking it away all at one swoop,
either by some unexpected charge or a forged will. While he was
Emperor of the Romans neither faith in God nor religion was secure, no
law continued in force, no action, no contract was binding. When he
intrusted any business to his officials, if they put to death numbers
of those who fell into their hands and carried off great wealth as
plunder, they were looked upon as faithful servants of the Emperor,
and were spoken of as men who had accurately carried out his
instructions; but, if they came back after having shown any mercy, he
took a dislike to them and was their enemy for life, and never again
would employ them, being disgusted with their old-fashioned ways. For
this reason many men were anxious to prove to him that they were
villains, although they really were not such. He would often make men
repeated promises, and confirm his promise by an oath or by writing,
and then purposely forget all about it, and think that such an action
did him credit. Justinian behaved in this manner not only towards his
own subjects, but also towards many of his enemies, as I have already
told. As a rule he dispensed with both rest and sleep, and never took
his fill of either food or drink, but merely picked up a morsel to
taste with the tips of his fingers, and then left his dinner, as if
eating had been a bye-work imposed upon him by nature. He would often
go without food for two days and nights, especially when fasting was
enjoined, on the eve of the feast of Easter, when he would often fast
for two days, taking no sustenance beyond a little water and a few
wild herbs, and sleeping, as it might be, for one hour only, passing
the rest of the time in walking to and fro. Had he spent all this time
in useful works, the State would have nourished exceedingly; but, as
it was, he used his natural powers to work the ruin of the Romans, and
succeeded in thoroughly disorganizing the constitution. His constant
wakefulness, his privations, and his labour were undergone for no
other purpose than to make the sufferings of his subjects every day
more grievous; for, as I have said before, he was especially quick in
devising crimes, and swift to carry them out, so that even his good
qualities seemed to have been so largely bestowed upon him merely for
the affliction of his people.


Everything was done at the wrong time, and nothing that was
established was allowed to continue. To prevent my narrative being
interminable, I will merely mention a few instances, and pass over the
remainder in silence. In the first place, Justinian neither possessed
in himself the appearance of Imperial dignity, nor demanded that it
should be respected by others, but imitated the barbarians in
language, appearance, and ideas. When he had to issue an Imperial
decree, he did not intrust it to the Quaestor in the usual way, but
for the most part delivered it himself by word of mouth, although he
spoke his own language like a foreigner; or else he left it in the
hands of one of those by whom he was surrounded, so that those who had
been injured by such resolutions did not know to whom to apply. Those
who were called A Secretis,[12] and had from very ancient times
fulfilled the duty of writing the secret dispatches of the Emperor,
were no longer allowed to retain their privileges; for he himself
wrote them nearly all, even the sentences of the municipal
magistrates, no one throughout the Roman world being permitted to
administer justice with a free hand. He took everything upon himself
with unreasoning arrogance, and so managed cases that were to be
decided, that, after he had heard one of the litigants, he immediately
pronounced his verdict and obliged them to submit to it, acting in
accordance with no law or principle of justice, but being evidently
overpowered by shameful greed. For the Emperor was not ashamed to take
bribes, since his avarice had deprived him of all feelings of shame.
It frequently happened that the decrees of the Senate and the edicts
of the Emperor were opposed to each other; for the Senate was as it
were but an empty shadow, without the power of giving its vote or of
keeping up its dignity; it was assembled merely for form's sake and in
order to keep up an ancient custom, for none of its members were
allowed to utter a single word. But the Emperor and his consort took
upon themselves the consideration of questions that were to be
discussed, and whatever resolutions they came to between themselves
prevailed. If he whose cause had been victorious had any doubt as to
the legality of his success, all he had to do was to make a present of
gold to the Emperor, who immediately promulgated a law contrary to all
those formerly in force. If, again, anyone else desired the revival of
the law that had been repealed, the autocrat did not disdain to revoke
the existing order of things and to reestablish it. There was nothing
stable in his authority, but the balance of justice inclined to one
side or the other, according to the weight of gold in either scale. In
the market-place there were buildings under the management of palace
officials, where traffic was carried on, not only in judicial, but
also in legislative decisions. The officers called "Referendars" (or
mediators) found it difficult to present the requests of petitioners
to the Emperor, and still more difficult to bring before the council
in the usual manner the answer proper to be made to each of them; but,
gathering together from all quarters worthless and false testimony,
they deceived Justinian, who was naturally a fit subject for
deception, by fallacious reports and misleading statements. Then,
immediately going out to the contending parties, without acquainting
them with the conversation that had taken place, they extorted from
them as much money as they required, without anyone venturing to
oppose them.

Even the soldiers of the Praetorian guard, whose duty it was to attend
the judges in the court of the palace, forced from them whatsoever
judgments they pleased. All, so to speak, abandoned their own sphere
of duty, and followed the paths that pleased them, however difficult
or untrodden they had previously been. Everything was out of gear;
offices were degraded, not even their names being preserved. In a
word, the Empire resembled a queen over boys at play. But I must pass
over the rest, as I hinted at the commencement of this work.

I will now say something about the man who first taught the Emperor to
traffic in the administration of justice. His name was Leo; he was a
native of Cilicia, and passionately eager to enrich himself. He was
the most utterly shameless of flatterers, and most apt in ingratiating
himself with the ignorant, and with the Emperor, whose folly he made
use of in order to ruin his subjects. It was this Leo who first
persuaded Justinian to barter justice for money. When this man had
once discovered these means of plunder, he never stopped. The evil
spread and reached such a height that, if anyone desired to come off
victorious in an unjust cause against an honest man, he immediately
repaired to Leo, and, promising to give half of his claim to be
divided between the latter and the Emperor, left the palace, having
already gained his cause, contrary to all principles of right and
justice. In this manner Leo acquired a vast fortune, and a great
quantity of land, and became the chief cause of the ruin of the State.
There was no longer any security in contracts, in law, in oaths, in
written documents, in any penalty agreed upon, or in any other
security, unless money had been previously given to Leo and the
Emperor. Nor was even this method certain, for Justinian would accept
bribes from both parties; and, after having drained the pockets of
both of those who had put confidence in him, he was not ashamed to
cheat one or other of them (no matter which), for, in his eyes, there
was nothing disgraceful in playing a double part, provided only that
it turned out profitable for him.

Such a man was Justinian.


As for Theodora, her disposition was governed by the most hardened and
inveterate cruelty. She never did anything either under persuasion or
compulsion, but employed all her self-willed efforts to carry out her
resolutions, and no one ventured to intercede in favour of those who
fell in her way. Neither length of time, nor fulness of punishment,
nor carefully drawn-up prayers, nor the fear of death, nor the
vengeance of Heaven, by awe of which the whole human race is
impressed, could persuade her to abate her wrath. In a word, no one
ever saw Theodora reconciled to one who had offended her, either
during his lifetime or after his death; for the children of the
deceased father inherited the hatred of the Empress, as if it were
part of his patrimony; and, when he died, left it in turn to his sons.
Her mind was ever most readily stirred to the destruction of men, and
was incapable of being checked. She bestowed upon her person greater
care than necessity demanded, but less than her desire prompted her
to. She entered the bath very early in the morning; and, having spent
a long time over her ablutions, went to breakfast, and afterwards
again retired to rest. At dinner and supper she partook of every kind
of food and drink. She slept a great deal: during the day, till
nightfall, and, during the night, till sunrise. And, although she thus
abandoned herself to every intemperance, she considered that the
little time she had left was sufficient for the conduct of the affairs
of the Roman Empire. If the Emperor intrusted anyone with a commission
without having previously consulted Theodora, the unfortunate man soon
found himself deprived of his office, in the deepest disgrace, and
perished by a most dishonourable death. Justinian was speedy in the
conduct of business of all kinds, not only owing to his continual
sleeplessness (as has been mentioned before), but also by reason of
his easiness of temper, and, above all, his affability. For he allowed
people to approach him, although they were altogether obscure and
unknown; and the interview was not limited to mere admission to the
presence of the Emperor, but he permitted them to converse and
associate with him on confidential terms. With the Empress the case
was different; even the highest officials were not admitted until they
had waited a long time, and after a great deal of trouble. They all
waited patiently every day, like so many slaves, in a body, in a
narrow and stifling room; for the risk they ran if they absented
themselves was most serious. There they remained standing all the time
on tip-toe, each trying to keep his face above his fellow's, that the
eunuchs, as they came out, might see them. Some were invited to her
presence, but rarely, and after several days of attendance; when at
last they were admitted, they merely did obeisance to her, kissed both
her feet, and then hastily retired in great awe; for they were not
allowed to address her or to prefer any request except at her bidding;
so slavishly had the spirit of Roman society degenerated under the
instruction of Theodora, and to such a state of decay had the affairs
of the Empire sunk, partly in consequence of the too great apparent
easiness of the Emperor, partly owing to the harsh and peevish nature
of Theodora; for the easiness of the one was uncertain, while the
peevishness of the other hindered the transaction of public business.

There was this difference in their disposition and manner of life;
but, in their love of money, thirst of blood, and aversion to truth,
they were in perfect accord. They were, both of them, exceedingly
clever inventors of falsehoods; if any one of those who had incurred
the displeasure of Theodora was accused of any offence, however
trivial and unimportant, she immediately trumped up against him
charges with which he was in no way concerned, and greatly aggravated
the matter. A number of accusations were heard, and a court was
immediately appointed to put down and plunder the subjects; judges
were called together by her, who would compete amongst themselves to
see which of them might best be able to accommodate his decision to
the cruelty of Theodora. The property of the accused was immediately
confiscated, after he had first been cruelly flogged by her orders
(although he might be descended from an illustrious family), nor had
she any scruples about banishing, or even putting him to death. On the
other hand, if any of her favourites were found guilty of murder or
any other great crime, she pulled to pieces and scoffed at the efforts
of the accusers, and forced them, against their will, to abandon
proceedings. Whenever it pleased her, she turned affairs of the
greatest importance into ridicule, as if they were taking place upon
the stage of the theatre. A certain patrician, of advanced age, and
who had for a long time held office (whose name is known to me,
although I will not disclose it, in order to avoid bringing infinite
disgrace upon him), being unable to recover a large sum of money which
was owing to him from one of Theodora's attendants, applied to her,
intending to press his claim against the debtor, and to beg her to
assist him in obtaining his rights. Having heard of this beforehand,
Theodora ordered her eunuchs to surround the patrician in a body on
his arrival, and to listen to what was said by her, so that they might
reply in a set form of words previously suggested by her. When the
patrician entered her chamber, he prostrated himself at her feet in
the usual manner, and, with tears in his eyes, thus addressed her:

"O sovereign lady! it is hard for a patrician to be in want of money;
for that which in the case of others excites pity and compassion,
becomes, in the case of a person of rank, a calamity and a disgrace.
When any ordinary individual is in great straits, and informs his
creditors, this immediately affords him relief from his trouble; but a
patrician, when unable to pay his creditors, would, in the first
place, be ashamed to own it; and, if he did so, he would never make
them believe it, since the world is firmly convinced that poverty can
never be associated with our class; even if he _should_ persuade them
to believe it, it would be the greatest blow to his dignity and
reputation that could happen. Well, my lady, I owe money to some,
while others owe money to me. Out of respect for my rank, I cannot
cheat my creditors, who are pressing me sorely, whereas my debtors,
not being patricians, have recourse to cruel subterfuges. Wherefore, I
beg and entreat and implore your majesty to assist me to gain my
rights, and to deliver me from my present misfortunes!"

Such were his words. Theodora then commenced to sing, "O patrician,"
and the eunuchs took up her words and joined in chorus, "you have a
large tumour." When he again entreated her, and added a few words to
the same effect as before, her only answer was the same refrain, which
was taken up by the chorus of eunuchs. At length the unhappy man,
tired of the whole affair, did reverence to the Empress in the usual
manner, and returned home.

During the greater part of the year, Theodora resided in the suburbs
on the coast, chiefly in the Heraeum, where her numerous retinue and
attendants suffered great inconvenience, for they were short of the
necessaries of life, and were exposed to the perils of the sea, of
sudden storms, or the attacks of sea-monsters. However, they regarded
the greatest misfortunes as of no importance, if only they had the
means of enjoying the pleasures of the court.


I will now relate how Theodora treated those who had offended her,
merely giving a few details, that I may not seem to have undertaken a
task without end.

When Amalasunta, as I have narrated in the earlier books, desiring to
abandon her connection with the affairs of the Goths, resolved to
change her manner of life, and to retire to Byzantium, Theodora,
considering that she was of illustrious descent and a princess, that
she was of singular beauty, and exceedingly active in forming plans to
carry out her wishes, was seized with suspicion of her distinguished
qualities and eminent courage, and at the same time with apprehensions
on account of her husband's fickleness. This made her exceedingly
jealous; and she determined to compass the death of her rival by
intrigue. She immediately persuaded the Emperor to send a man named
Peter, by himself, to Italy, as ambassador to her. On his setting out,
the Emperor gave him the instructions which I have mentioned in the
proper place, where it was impossible for me to inform my readers of
the truth, for fear of the Empress. The only order she gave the
ambassador was to compass the death of Amalasunta with all possible
despatch, having bribed him with the promise of great rewards if he
successfully carried out his instructions. This man, expecting either
preferment or large sums of money (for under such circumstances men
are not slow to commit an unjust murder), when he reached Italy, by
some arguments or other persuaded Theodatus to make away with
Amalasunta. After this, Peter was advanced to the dignity of "Master
of Offices," and attained to the highest influence, in spite of the
detestation with which he was universally regarded. Such was the end
of the unhappy Amalasunta.

Justinian had a secretary named Priscus, a Paphlagonian by birth, a
man distinguished in every kind of villainy, a likely person to please
the humour of his master, to whom he was exceedingly devoted, and from
whom he expected to receive similar consideration; and by these means,
in a short time, he unjustly amassed great wealth. Theodora, unable to
endure his insolence and opposition, accused him to the Emperor. At
first she was unsuccessful, but, shortly afterwards, she put him on
board a ship, sent him away to a place she had previously determined
upon, and having ordered him to be shaved, forced him to become a
priest. In the meantime, Justinian, pretending that he knew nothing of
what was going on, neither inquired to what part of the world Priscus
had been banished, nor ever thought of him again afterwards, but
remained silent, as if he had fallen into a state of lethargy.
However, he seized the small fortune that he had left behind him.

Theodora had become suspicious of one of her servants named
Areobindus, a barbarian by birth, but a youth of great comeliness,
whom she had appointed her steward. Wishing to purge the imagined
offence, (although, as was said) she was violently enamoured of him,
she caused him to be cruelly beaten with rods, for no apparent reason.
What became of him afterwards we do not know; nor has anyone seen him
up to the present day. For when Theodora desired to keep any of her
actions secret, she took care to prevent their being talked about or
remembered. None of those who were privy to them were permitted to
disclose them even to their nearest relations, or to any who desired
to obtain information on the subject, however curious they might be.
No tyrant had ever yet inspired such fear, since it was impossible for
any word or deed of her opponents to pass unnoticed. For she had a
number of spies in her employ who informed her of everything that was
said and done in public places and private houses. When she desired to
punish anyone who had offended her, she adopted the following plan. If
he were a patrician, she sent for him privately, and handed him over
to one of her confidential attendants, with instructions to carry him
to the furthest boundaries of the empire. In the dead of night, her
agent, having bound the unfortunate man and muffled his face, put him
on board a ship, and, having accompanied him to the place whither he
had been instructed to convey him, departed, having first delivered
him secretly to another who was experienced in this kind of service,
with orders that he was to be kept under the strictest watch, and that
no one should be informed of it, until either the Empress took pity
upon the unfortunate man, or, worn out by his sufferings, he at length
succumbed and died a miserable death.

A youth of distinguished family, belonging to the Green faction, named
Basianus, had incurred the Empress's displeasure by speaking of her in
sarcastic terms. Hearing that she was incensed against him, he fled
for refuge to the church of St. Michael the Archangel. Theodora
immediately sent the Praetor of the people to seize him, bidding him
charge him, however, not with insolence towards herself, but with the
crime of sodomy. The magistrate, having dragged him from the church,
subjected him to such intolerable torments, that the whole assembled
people, deeply moved at seeing a person of such noble mien, and one
who had been so delicately brought up, exposed to such shameful
treatment, immediately commiserated his sufferings, and cried out with
loud lamentations that reached the heavens, imploring pardon for the
young man. But Theodora persisted in her work of punishment, and
caused his death by ordering him to be castrated, although he had been
neither tried nor condemned. His property was confiscated by the
Emperor. Thus this woman, when infuriated, respected neither the
sanctuary of the church, nor the prohibitive authority of the laws,
nor the intercession of the people, nor any other obstacle whatsoever.
Nothing was able to save from her vengeance anyone who had given her
offence. She conceived a hatred, on the ground of his belonging to the
Green faction, for a certain Diogenes, a native of Constantinople, an
agreeable person, who was liked by the Emperor and everyone else. In
her wrath, she accused him, in like manner, of sodomy, and, having
suborned two of his servants, put them up to give evidence against and
to accuse their master. But, as he was not tried secretly and in
private, as was the usual custom, but in public, owing to the
reputation he enjoyed, a number of distinguished persons were selected
as judges, and they, scrupulous in the discharge of their duties,
rejected the testimony of his servants as insufficient, especially on
the ground of their not being of legal age. The Empress thereupon
caused one of the intimate friends of Diogenes, named Theodorus, to be
shut up in one of her ordinary prisons, and endeavoured to win him
over, at one time by flattery, at another by ill-treatment. When none
of these measures proved successful, she ordered a cord of ox-hide to
be bound round his head, over his forehead and ears and then to be
twisted and tightened. She expected that, under this treatment, his
eyes would have started from their sockets, and that he would have
lost his sight. But Theodorus refused to tell a lie. The judges, for
want of proof, acquitted him; and his acquittal was made the occasion
of public rejoicing.

Such was the manner in which Theodorus was treated.


As for the manner in which she treated Belisarius, Photius, and Buzes,
I have already spoken of it at the commencement of this work.

Two Cilicians, belonging to the Blue faction, during a mutiny, laid
violent hands upon Callinicus, governor of the second Cilicia, and
slew his groom, who was standing near him, and endeavoured to defend
his master, in the presence of the governor and all the people.
Callinicus condemned them to death, since they had been convicted of
several other murders besides this. When Theodora heard of this, in
order to show her devotion to the party of the Blues, she ordered that
the governor, while he still held office, should be crucified in the
place where the two offenders had been executed, although he had
committed no crime. The Emperor, pretending that he bitterly lamented
his loss, remained at home, grumbling and threatening all kinds of
vengeance upon the perpetrators of the deed. He did nothing, however;
but, without scruple, appropriated the property of the dead man to his
own use. Theodora likewise devoted her attention to punishing those
women who prostituted their persons. She collected more than five
hundred harlots, who sold themselves for three obols in the
market-place, thereby securing a bare subsistence, and transported
them to the other side of the Bosphorus, where she shut them up in the
Monastery of Repentance, with the object of forcing them to change
their manner of life. Some of them, however, threw themselves from the
walls during the night, and in this manner escaped a change of life so
contrary to their inclinations.

There were at Byzantium two young sisters, illustrious not only by the
consulships of their father and grandfather, but by a long descent of
nobility, and belonging to one of the chief families of the Senate.
They had married early and lost their husbands. Theodora, charging
them with living an immoral life, selected two debauchees from the
common people and designed to make them their husbands. The young
widows, fearing that they might be forced to obey, took refuge in the
church of St. Sophia, and, approaching the sacred bath, clung closely
to the font. But the Empress inflicted such privations and cruel
treatment upon them, that they preferred marriage in order to escape
from their immediate distress. In this manner Theodora showed that she
regarded no sanctuary as inviolable, no spot as sacred. Although
suitors of noble birth were ready to espouse these ladies, they were
married against their will to two men, poor and outcast, and far below
them in rank. Their mother, who was a widow like themselves, was
present at the marriage, but did not venture to cry out or express her
sorrow at this atrocious act. Afterwards, Theodora, repenting of what
she had done, endeavoured to console them by promoting their husbands
to high offices to the public detriment. But even this was no
consolation to these young women, for their husbands inflicted
incurable and insupportable woes upon almost all their subjects, as I
will describe later; for Theodora paid no heed to the dignity of the
office, the interests of the State, or any other consideration,
provided only she could accomplish her wishes.

While still on the stage, she became with child by one of her friends,
but did not perceive her misfortune until it was too late. She tried
all the means she had formerly employed to procure abortion, but she
was unable prematurely to destroy the living creature by any means
whatsoever, since it had nearly assumed the form of a human being.
Therefore, finding her remedies unsuccessful, she abandoned the
attempt, and was obliged to bring forth the child. Its father, seeing
that Theodora was at a loss what to do, and was indignant because, now
that she had become a mother, she was no longer able to traffic with
her person as before, and being with good reason in fear for the
child's life, took it up, named it John, and carried it away with him
to Arabia, whither he had resolved to retire. The father, just before
his death, gave John, who was now grown up, full information
concerning his mother.

John, having performed the last offices for his dead father, some time
afterwards repaired to Byzantium, and explained the state of affairs
to those who were charged with the duty of arranging admission to an
audience with the Empress. They, not suspecting that she would
conceive any inhuman designs against him, announced to the mother the
arrival of her son. She, fearing that the report might reach the ears
of the Emperor, ordered her son to be brought to her. When she saw him
approaching, she went to meet him and handed him over to one of her
confidants, whom she always intrusted with commissions of this kind.
In what manner the unfortunate youth disappeared I cannot say. He has
never been seen to this day--not even after his mother's death.

At that time the morals of women were almost without exception
corrupt. They were faithless to their husbands with absolute licence,
since the crime of adultery brought neither danger nor harm upon them.
When convicted of the offence, they escaped punishment, thanks to the
Empress, to whom they immediately applied. Then, getting the verdict
quashed on the ground that the charges were not proved, they in turn
accused their husbands, who, although not convicted, were condemned to
refund twice the amount of the dower, and, for the most part, were
flogged and led away to prison, where they were permitted to look upon
their adulterous wives again, decked out in fine garments and in the
act of committing adultery without the slightest shame with their
lovers, many of whom, by way of recompense, received offices and
rewards. This was the reason why most husbands afterwards put up with
unholy outrages on the part of their wives, and gladly endured them
in silence in order to escape the lash. They even afforded them every
opportunity to avoid being surprised.

Theodora claimed complete control of the State at her sole discretion.
She appointed magistrates and ecclesiastical dignitaries. Her only
care and anxiety was--and as to this she made the most careful
investigation--to prevent any office being given to a good and
honourable man, who might be prevented by his conscience from
assisting her in her nefarious designs.

She ordered all marriages as it were by a kind of divine authority;
men never made a voluntary agreement before marriage. A wife was found
for each without any previous notice, not because she pleased him (as
is generally the case even amongst the barbarians) but because
Theodora so desired it. Brides also had to put up with the same
treatment, and were obliged to marry husbands whom they did not
desire. She often turned the bride out of bed herself, and, without
any reason, dismissed the bridegroom before the marriage had been
consummated, merely saying, in great anger, that she disapproved of
her. Amongst others whom she treated in this manner was Leontius the
"referendary," and Saturninus, the son of Hermogenes the late Master
of Offices, whom she deprived of their wives. This Saturninus had a
young maiden cousin of an age to marry, free-born and modest, whom
Cyrillus, her father, had betrothed to him after the death of
Hermogenes. After the bridal chamber had been made ready and
everything prepared, Theodora imprisoned the youthful bridegroom, who
was afterwards conducted to another chamber, and forced, in spite of
his violent lamentations and tears, to wed the daughter of
Chrysomallo. This Chrysomallo had formerly been a dancer and a common
prostitute, and at that time lived with another woman like her, and
with Indaro, in the palace, where, instead of devoting themselves to
phallic worship and theatrical amusements, they occupied themselves
with affairs of State together with Theodora.

Saturninus, having lain with his new wife and discovered that she had
already lost her maidenhead, informed one of his friends that his wife
was no virgin. When this reached the ears of Theodora, she ordered the
servants to hoist him up, like a boy at school, upbraiding him with
having behaved too saucily and having taken an unbecoming oath. She
then had him severely flogged on the bare back, and advised him to
restrain his talkative tongue for the future.

In my former writings I have already related her treatment of John of
Cappadocia, which was due to a desire to avenge personal injuries, not
to punish him for offences against the State, as is proved by the fact
that she did nothing of the kind in the case of those who committed
far greater cruelties against their subjects. The real cause of her
hatred was, that he ventured to oppose her designs and accused her to
the Emperor, so that they nearly came to open hostilities. I mention
this here because, as I have already stated, in this work I am bound
to state the real causes of events. When, after having inflicted upon
him the sufferings I have related, she had confined him in Egypt, she
was not even then satisfied with his punishment, but was incessantly
on the look out to find false witnesses against him. Four years
afterwards, she succeeded in finding two of the Green faction who had
taken part in the sedition at Cyzicus, and were accused of having been
accessory to the assault upon the Bishop. These she attacked with
flattery, promises, and threats. One of them, alarmed and inveigled by
her promises, accused John of the foul crime of murder, but the other
refused to utter falsehoods, although he was so cruelly tortured that
he seemed likely to die on the spot. She was, therefore, unable to
compass the death of John on this pretext, but she caused the young
men's right hands to be chopped off--that of the one because he
refused to bear false witness; that of the other, to prevent her
intrigue becoming universally known, for she endeavoured to keep
secret from others those things which were done in the open


That Justinian was not a man, but a demon in human shape, as I have
already said, may be abundantly proved by considering the enormity of
the evils which he inflicted upon mankind, for the power of the acting
cause is manifested in the excessive atrocity of his actions. I think
that God alone could accurately reckon the number of those who were
destroyed by him, and it would be easier for a man to count the grains
of sand on the sea-shore than the number of his victims. Considering
generally the extent of country which was depopulated by him, I assert
that more than two millions of people perished. He so devastated the
vast tract of Libya that a traveller, during a long journey,
considered it a remarkable thing to meet a single man; and yet there
were eighty thousand Vandals who bore arms, besides women, children
and servants without number. In addition to these, who amongst men
could enumerate the ancient inhabitants who dwelt in the cities,
tilled the land, and traded on the coast, of whom I myself have seen
vast numbers with my own eyes? The natives of Mauretania were even
still more numerous, and they were all exterminated, together with
their wives and children. This country also proved the tomb of numbers
of Roman soldiers and of their auxiliaries from Byzantium. Therefore,
if one were to assert that five millions perished in that country, I
do not feel sure that he would not under-estimate the number. The
reason of this was that Justinian, immediately after the defeat of the
Vandals, did not take measures to strengthen his hold upon the
country, and showed no anxiety to protect his interests by securing
the goodwill of his subjects, but immediately recalled Belisarius on a
charge of aspiring to royal power (which would by no means have suited
him) in order that he might manage the affairs of the country at his
own discretion, and ravage and plunder the whole of Libya. He sent
commissioners to value the province, and imposed new and most harsh
taxes upon the inhabitants. He seized the best and most fertile
estates, and prohibited the Arians from exercising the rites of their
religion. He was dilatory in keeping his army well supplied and in an
effective condition, while in other respects he was a severe martinet,
so that disturbances arose which ended in great loss. He was unable to
abide by what was established, but was by nature prone to throw
everything into a state of confusion and disturbance.

Italy, which was three times larger than Libya, was depopulated far
more than the latter throughout its whole extent, whence a computation
may be made of the number of those who perished there, for I have
already spoken of the origin of the events that took place in Italy.
All his crimes in Africa were repeated in Italy; having despatched
Logothetae to this country also, he immediately overthrew and ruined

Before the Italian war, the Empire of the Goths extended from the
territory of the Gauls to the boundaries of Dacia, and the city of
Sirmium; but, when the Roman army arrived in Italy, the greater part
of Cisalpine Gaul and of the territory of the Venetians was in the
occupation of the Germans. Sirmium and the adjacent country was in the
hands of the Gepidae. The entire tract of country, however, was
utterly depopulated; war and its attendant evils, disease and famine,
had exterminated the inhabitants. Illyria and the whole of Thrace,
that is to say, the countries between the Ionian Gulf and the suburbs
of Byzantium, including Hellas and the Chersonese, were overrun nearly
every year after the accession of Justinian by the Huns, Slavs and
Antes, who inflicted intolerable sufferings upon the inhabitants. I
believe that, on the occasion of each of these inroads, more than two
hundred thousand Romans were either slain or carried away into
slavery, so that the solitude of Scythia overspread these provinces.

Such were the results of the wars in Libya and Europe. During all this
time, the Saracens also made perpetual inroads upon the Eastern
Romans, from Egypt to the Persian frontiers, and harassed them so
persistently, that those districts gradually became depopulated. I
believe it would be impossible for anyone to estimate correctly the
number of men who perished there.

The Persians under Chosroes thrice invaded the rest of the Roman
territory, destroyed the cities, slew or carried off those whom they
found in the captured towns in each district, and depopulated the
country wherever they attacked it. From the time they entered Colchis,
the losses were divided between themselves, the Lazes, and the Romans,
as up to the present day.

However, neither Persians, Saracens, Huns, Slavs, nor any other
barbarians were themselves able to evacuate Roman territory without
considerable loss, for, in their inroads, and still more in their
sieges and engagements, they often met with numerous reverses which
inflicted equal disasters upon them. Thus not only the Romans, but
almost all the barbarians, felt the bloodthirstiness of Justinian.
Chosroes (as I have stated in the proper place) was certainly a man of
depraved character, but it was Justinian who always took the
initiative in bringing about war with this prince, for he took no care
to adapt his policy to circumstances, but did everything at the wrong
moment. In time of peace or truce, his thoughts were ever craftily
engaged in endeavouring to find pretexts for war against his
neighbours. In war, he lost heart without reason, and, owing to his
meanness, he never made his preparations in good time; and, instead of
devoting his earnest attention to such matters, he busied himself with
the investigation of heavenly phenomena and with curious researches
into the nature of God. Nevertheless, he would not abandon war, being
by nature tyrannical and bloodthirsty, although he was unable to
overcome his enemies, since his meanness prevented him from making the
necessary preparations. Thus, during the reign of this prince, the
whole world was deluged with the blood of nearly all the Romans and

Such were the events that took place, during the wars abroad,
throughout the whole of the Roman Empire; but the disturbances in
Byzantium and every other city caused equal bloodshed; for, since no
regard was had to justice or impartiality in meting out punishment for
offences, each faction being eager to gain the favour of the Emperor,
neither party was able to keep quiet. They alternately abandoned
themselves to the madness of despair or presumptuous vanity, according
as they failed or succeeded in ingratiating themselves with him.
Sometimes they attacked one another _en masse_, sometimes in small
bands, sometimes in single combat, or set ambuscades for each other at
every opportunity. For thirty-two years without intermission they
inflicted horrible cruelties upon one another. They were frequently
put to death by the Praefect of the city, although punishment for
offences fell most heavily upon the Green faction. The punishment of
the Samaritans also, and other so-called heretics, deluged the Roman
Empire with blood. Let it suffice, on the present occasion, to recall
briefly what I have already narrated in greater detail. These
calamities, which afflicted the whole world, took place during the
reign of this demon in the form of a man, for which he himself, when
Emperor, was responsible. I will now proceed to relate the evils he
wrought by some hidden force and demoniacal power.

During his control of the Empire, numerous disasters of various kinds
occurred, which some attributed to the presence and artifices of his
evil genius, while others declared that the Divinity, in detestation
of his works, having turned away in disgust from the Roman Empire, had
given permission to the avenging deities to inflict these misfortunes.
The river Scirtus overflowed Edessa, and brought the most grievous
calamities upon the inhabitants of the district, as I have already
related. The Nile, having overflown its banks as usual, did not
subside at the ordinary time, and caused great suffering among the
people. The Cydnus was swollen, and nearly the whole of Tarsus lay for
several days under water; and it did not subside until it had wrought
irreparable damage to the city.

Several cities were destroyed by earth-quake--Antioch, the chief city
of the East, Seleucia, and Anazarbus, the most famous town in Cilicia.
Who could calculate the numbers of those who were thereby destroyed?
To these cities we may add Ibora, Amasea (the chief city of Pontus),
Polybotus in Phrygia (called Polymede by the Pisidians), Lychnidus in
Epirus, and Corinth, cities which from ancient times had been thickly
populated. All these cities were overthrown at that time by an
earthquake, during which nearly all their inhabitants perished.
Afterwards the plague (which I have spoken of before) began to rage,
and swept away nearly half the survivors. Such were the disasters that
afflicted mankind, from the day when Justinian first commenced to
manage the affairs of the kingdom to the time, and after he had
ascended the Imperial throne.


I will now relate the manner in which he got possession of the wealth
of the world, after I have first mentioned a vision which was seen in
a dream by a person of distinction at the commencement of his reign.
He thought he was standing on the coast at Byzantium, opposite
Chalcedon, and saw Justinian standing in the midst of the channel. The
latter drank up all the water of the sea, so that it seemed as if he
were standing on dry land, since the water no longer filled the
strait. After this, other streams of water, full of filth and rubbish,
flowing in from the underground sewers on either side, covered the dry
land. Justinian again swallowed these, and the bed of the channel
again became dry. Such was the vision this person beheld in his dream.

This Justinian, when his uncle Justin succeeded to the throne, found
the treasury well filled, for Anastasius, the most provident and
economical of all the Emperors, fearing (what actually happened) that
his successor, if he found himself in want of money, would probably
plunder his subjects, filled the treasure-houses with vast stores of
gold before his death. Justinian exhausted all this wealth in a very
short time, partly by senseless buildings on the coast, partly by
presents to the barbarians, although one would have imagined that a
successor, however profligate and extravagant, would have been unable
to have spent it in a hundred years; for the superintendents of the
treasures and other royal possessions asserted that Anastasius, during
his reign of more than twenty-seven years, had without any difficulty
accumulated 320,000 centenars, of which absolutely nothing remained,
it having all been spent by this man during the lifetime of his uncle,
as I have related above. It is impossible to describe or estimate the
vast sums which he appropriated to himself during his lifetime by
illegal means and wasted in extravagance; for he swallowed up the
fortunes of his subjects like an ever-flowing river, daily absorbing
them in order to disgorge them amongst the barbarians. Having thus
squandered the wealth of the State, he cast his eyes upon his private
subjects. Most of them he immediately deprived of their possessions
with unbounded rapacity and violence, at the same time bringing
against the wealthy inhabitants of Byzantium, and those of other
cities who were reputed to be so, charges utterly without foundation.
Some were accused of polytheism, others of heresy; some of sodomy,
others of amours with holy women; some of unlawful intercourse, others
of attempts at sedition; some of favouring the Green faction, others
of high treason, or any other charge that could be brought against
them. On his own responsibility he made himself heir not only of the
dead, but also of the living, as opportunity offered. In such matters
he showed himself an accomplished diplomatist. I have already
mentioned above how he profited by the sedition named Nika which was
directed against him, and immediately made himself heir of all the
members of the Senate, and how, shortly before the sedition broke out,
he obtained possession of the fortunes of private individuals. On
every occasion he bestowed handsome presents upon all the barbarians
alike, those of East and West, and North and South, as far as the
inhabitants of the British Islands and of the whole world, nations of
whom we had not even heard before, and whose names we did not know,
until we became acquainted with them through their ambassadors. When
these nations found out Justinian's disposition, they flocked to
Byzantium from all parts of the world to present themselves to him.
He, without any hesitation, overjoyed at the occurrence, and regarding
it as a great piece of good luck to be able to drain the Roman
treasury and fling its wealth to barbarians or the waves of the sea,
dismissed them every day loaded with handsome presents. In this
manner the barbarians became absolute masters of the wealth of the
Romans, either by the donations which they received from the Emperor,
their pillaging of the Empire, the ransom of their prisoners, or their
trafficking in truces. This was the signification of the dream which I
have mentioned above.


Besides this, Justinian found other means of contriving to plunder his
subjects, not _en masse_ and at once, but by degrees and individually.
These methods I will now proceed to describe as well as I am able.
First of all he appointed a new magistrate, who had the right of
conferring upon all those who kept shops the privilege of selling
their wares at whatever price they pleased, on payment of a yearly
rent to the Emperor. The citizens were compelled to make their
purchases in the market, where they paid three times as much as
elsewhere; nor, although he suffered severe loss, was the purchaser
allowed to claim damages from anyone, for part of the profit went to
the Emperor, and part to increase the salary of these officials.
Purchasers were equally cheated by the magistrates' servants, who took
part in these disgraceful transactions, while the shopkeepers, who
were allowed to put themselves beyond reach of the law, inflicted
great hardships upon their customers--not merely by raising their
prices many times over, but by being guilty of unheard-of frauds in
regard to their wares. Afterwards, Justinian instituted several
"monopolies," as they were called, and sold the liberty of the subject
to any who were willing to undertake this disgraceful traffic, after
having settled with them the price that was to be paid. This done, he
allowed those with whom he had made the bargain to carry out the
management of the affair in whatever way they thought fit. He made
these disgraceful arrangements, without any attempt at concealment,
with all the other magistrates, who plundered their subjects with less
apprehension, either themselves or through their agents, since some
part of the profits of the plunder always fell to the share of the
Emperor. Under the pretence that the former magistrates were
insufficient to carry out these arrangements (although the city
prefect had Previously been able to deal with all criminal charges) he
created two new ones. His object in this was, that he might have at
his disposal a larger number of informers, and that he might the more
easily inflict punishment and torture upon the innocent. One of these
was called Praetor of the People, whose nominal duty it was to deal
with thieves; the second was called the Commissioner, whose function
it was to punish all cases of paederasty, buggery, superstition and
heresy. If the Praetor found any articles of value amongst stolen
goods, he handed them over to the Emperor, declaring that no owner
could be found for them, and in this manner Justinian every day got
possession of something of very great value. The Commissioner, after
he had condemned offenders, confiscated what he pleased out of their
estates and bestowed it upon the Emperor, who thus, in defiance of the
law, enriched himself out of the fortunes of others; for the servants
of these magistrates did not even take the trouble at the commencement
of the trial to bring forward accusers or to produce any witnesses to
the offences, but, during the whole of this period, without
intermission, unexamined and unconvicted, the accused were secretly
punished by death and the confiscation of their property by the

Afterwards, this accursed wretch ordered both these magistrates and
the city prefect to deal with all criminal affairs indifferently,
bidding them enter into rivalry to see which of them could destroy the
greatest number of citizens in the shortest time. It is said that,
when one of them asked him which of them should have the decision if
anyone was accused before all three, he replied, "Whichever of you has
anticipated the others."

He debased the office of Quaestor, which almost all the preceding
Emperors had held in especial regard, so that it was only filled by
men of wisdom and experience, who above all were learned in the law
and free from all suspicion of corruptibility, for it was felt that it
would unavoidably be disastrous to the State if it were to be filled
by men without experience or who were the slaves of avarice. This
Emperor first bestowed it upon Tribonianus, whose character and
misdeeds I have sufficiently described elsewhere. After his death,
Justinian seized part of his estate, although he had left a son and
several relatives who survived him. He then appointed Junilus (a
Libyan by birth), a man who had not so much as a hearsay knowledge of
law, for he had not even studied it in the public schools. Although he
had a knowledge of Latin, he had never had any tuition in Greek, and
was unable to speak the language. Frequently, when he attempted to say
a few words in Greek, he was laughed at by his own servants. He was so
mad after filthy lucre, that he had not the least scruple m publicly
selling letters of office signed by the Emperor, and was never ashamed
to stretch out his hand to those who had to do with him for a stater
of gold. For no less than seven years the State dured the shame and
ridicule brought upon it by this officer.

On the death of Junilus, Justinian elevated to this office
Constantine, who was not unacquainted with law, but was very young and
had never yet taken part in a trial; besides which, he was the most
abandoned thief and braggart in the world. Justinian entertained the
highest regard for him and showed him very great favour, condescending
to make him the chief instrument of his extortion and sole arbiter in
legal decisions. By this means Constantine in a short time amassed
great wealth, but his insolence was outrageous, and his pride led him
to treat everyone with contempt. Even those who were desirous of
making him considerable presents were obliged to intrust them to those
who seemed to be most in his confidence, for no one was permitted to
approach or converse with him, except when he was hurrying to or
returning from the Emperor. Even then he did not slacken his pace,
but walked on hastily, for fear that those who approached him might
waste his time without paying for it. Such was the manner in which
Justinian dealt with the Quaestorship.


The Praefect of the supreme tribunals, besides the public tax,
annually paid to the Emperor more than thirty centenars of gold. This
sum was called the "aerial tribute," doubtless because it was no
regular or usual one, but seemed to have fallen as it were by chance
from Heaven, whereas it ought rather to have been called "the impost
of his wickedness," for it served as a pretext to those functionaries,
who were invested with high power, to plunder their subjects
incessantly without fear of punishment. They pretended that they had
to hand over the tribute to the Emperor, and they themselves, without
any difficulty, acquired sufficient sums to secure regal affluence for
themselves. Justinian allowed them to go on unchecked and unheeded,
waiting until they had amassed great wealth, when it was his practice
to bring against them some charge from which they could not readily
clear themselves, and to confiscate the whole of their property, as he
had treated John of Cappadocia. All those who held this office during
his reign became wealthy to an extraordinary degree, and suddenly,
with two exceptions. One of these was Phocas, of whom I have spoken in
my previous writings--a man in the highest degree observant of
integrity and honesty; who, during his tenure of office, was free from
all suspicion of illegal gain. The other was Bassus, who was appointed
later. Neither of them enjoyed their dignity for a year. At the end of
a few months they were deprived of it as being incapable and unsuited
to the times. But, not to go into details in every case, which would
be endless, I will merely say that it was the same with all the other
magistrates of Byzantium.

In all the cities throughout the Empire, Justinian selected for the
highest offices the most abandoned persons he could find, and sold to
them for vast sums the positions which they degraded. In fact, no
honest man, possessed of the least common sense, would ever have
thought of risking his own fortune in order to plunder those who had
committed no offence. When Justinian had received the money from those
with whom he made the bargain, he gave them full authority to deal
with their subjects as they pleased, so that, by the destruction of
provinces and populations, they might enrich themselves in the future;
for, since they had borrowed large sums from the bankers at heavy
rates of interest to purchase their magistracies, and had paid the sum
due to him who sold them, when they arrived in the cities, they
treated their subjects with every kind of tyranny, paying heed to
nothing save how they might fulfil their engagements with their
creditors and lay up great wealth for themselves. They had no
apprehension that their conduct would bring upon them the risk of
punishment; on the contrary, they expected that the greater number of
those whom they plundered put to death without cause, the greater the
reputation they would attain, for the name of murderer and robber was
regarded as a proof of activity. But when Justinian learned that they
had amassed considerable wealth during office, he entangled them in
his net, and on some pretence or other deprived them of all their
riches in a moment.

He had published an edict that candidates for offices should swear
that they would keep themselves free from extortion, that they would
neither give nor receive anything for their offices, and uttered
against those who transgressed the law the most violent curses of
ancient times. The law had not been in force a year when, forgetting
its terms and the malediction which had been pronounced, he
shamelessly put up these offices for sale, not secretly, but publicly
in the market-place, and those who purchased them, in spite of their
oaths to the contrary plundered and ravaged with greater audacity than

He afterwards thought of another contrivance, which may seem
incredible. He resolved no longer to put up for sale, as before, the
offices which he believed to be of greatest repute in Byzantium and
other cities, but sought out a number of hired persons, whom he
appointed at a fixed salary, and ordered to bring all the revenues to
himself. These men, having received their salary, shamelessly got
together from every country and carried off everything that they
could. The stipendiary commission went from one place to another,
plundering the subjects of the Empire in the name of their office.

Thus the Emperor exercised in every case the greatest care in the
selection of these agents of his, who were truly the greatest
scoundrels in the world; nor were his efforts and industry in this
detestable business unsuccessful. When he advanced the first of his
wicked agents to high offices, and the licence of authority revealed
their corruption, we were astounded to think how the nature of man
could be capable of such enormity. But when those who succeeded them
far outdid them, men were at a loss to understand how their
predecessors could have appeared the most wicked of mankind, since, in
comparison with their successors, who had surpassed them in
evil-doing, they might be considered good and honest men. But the
third set and their successors so far outstripped the second in every
kind of villainy, and in their cleverness in inventing new
accusations, that they secured for their predecessors a certain
reputation and a good name. As the misfortunes of the State increased,
all learned by experience that there is no limit to the innate
wickedness of man, and that, when it is supported by the knowledge of
precedents, and encouraged by the power in its hands to torment its
victims, no man can tell how far it will extend, but only the thoughts
of the oppressed are capable of estimating it. Such was the state of
affairs in regard to the magistrates.

The hostile armies of the Huns had often reduced to slavery and
plundered the inhabitants of the Empire. The Thracian and Illyrian
generals resolved to attack them on their retreat, but turned back
when they were shown letters from the Emperor forbidding them to
attack the barbarians, on pretence that their help was necessary to
the Romans against the Goths and other enemies of the Empire.

Making use of this opportunity, these barbarians plundered the country
like enemies, and carried away the inhabitants into slavery; and in
this manner these pretended friends and allies of the Romans returned
home with their plunder and a number of prisoners. Frequently, some of
the peasants in those parts, urged on by a longing for their wives and
children who had been carried away into slavery, formed themselves
into bands, marched against the barbarians, slew a number of them, and
succeeded in capturing their horses together with their plunder. This
success, however, proved very unfortunate for them; for agents were
sent from Byzantium, who had no hesitation in beating and wounding
them and seizing their, property, until they had restored all the
horses that they had taken from the barbarians.


After the Emperor and Empress had destroyed John of Cappadocia, they
were desirous of appointing someone else to his office, and agreed to
search for a man even more vicious than he. They looked around to find
this instrument of tyranny, and examined the dispositions of all, in
order that they might the more speedily be able to ruin their
subjects. They temporarily conferred the office upon Theodotus, who,
though certainly not an honourable man, was not sufficiently wicked to
satisfy them. They continued their search in all directions, and at
last by accident found a banker named Peter, a Syrian by birth,
surnamed Barsyames. He had long sat at the copper money-changer's
counter, and had amassed large sums by his disgraceful malpractices.
He was exceedingly cunning at thieving obols, ever deceiving his
customers by the quickness of his fingers. He was very clever at
filching without ado what fell into his hands, and, when detected, he
swore that it was the fault of his hands, and made use of most
impudent language in order to conceal his guilt.

This Barsyames, having been enrolled in the praetorian guard, behaved
so outrageously that he approved himself beyond all others to
Theodora, and was selected by her to assist in carrying out those of
her nefarious schemes which required the most inventive genius. For
this reason Justinian and Theodora immediately deprived Theodotus of
the dignity bestowed upon him as the successor of the Cappadocian, and
appointed Peter in his stead, who in every respect acted in accordance
with their wishes.

He not only, without the least fear or shame, cheated the soldiers of
their pay, but offered commands and offices for sale to a greater
extent than before. Having thus degraded them, he sold them to persons
who were not ashamed to engage in this unholy traffic, giving express
permission to the purchasers to deal as they pleased with the lives
and properties of those who were subject to their authority; for
Barsyames claimed for himself and granted to anyone who had paid down
the price of a province the right of plundering and ravaging it at
pleasure. It was from the chief of the State that this traffic in
lives proceeded, and agreements were entered into for the ruin of the
cities. In the chief courts and in the public market-place the
legalised brigand went round about, who was called "collector" from
his duty of collecting the money paid for the purchase of dignities,
which they exacted from the oppressed, who had no hope of redress. Of
all those who were promoted to his service, although several were men
of repute, Barsyames always preferred such as were of depraved

He was not the only offender in this respect; all his predecessors and
successors were equally guilty. The "Master of Offices" did the same,
likewise the officials of the imperial treasury, and those who had
the duty of superintending the Emperor's private and personal
estate--in a word, all who held public appointments in Byzantium and
other cities. In fact, from the time that this tyrant had the
management of affairs, either he or his minister claimed the subsidies
suitable to each office, and those who served their superiors,
suffering extreme poverty, were compelled to submit to be treated as
if they were the most worthless slaves.

The greater part of the corn that had been imported to Byzantium was
kept until it rotted; but, although it was not fit for human
consumption, he forced the cities of the East to purchase it in
proportion to their importance, and he demanded payment, not at the
price paid even for the best corn, but at a far higher rate; and the
poor people, who had been forced to purchase it at an outrageously
heavy price, were compelled to throw it into the sea or the drains.

That which was sound and not yet spoilt, of which there was great
abundance in the capital, the Emperor determined to sell to those
cities which were scantily supplied. In this manner he realised twice
the amount that had formerly been obtained by the receivers of the
public tribute in the provinces. The next year the supply of corn was
not so abundant, and the transports did not bring a sufficient
quantity to supply the needs of the capital. Peter, disconcerted at
the state of affairs, conceived the idea of buying up a great quantity
of corn from Bithynia, Phrygia and Thrace. The inhabitants of those
provinces were forced to bring it down to the coasts themselves (a
work of great labour), and to convey it at considerable risk to
Byzantium, where they had to be satisfied with an absurdly low price.
Their losses were so considerable, that they would have preferred to
have given the corn gratuitously to the public granaries, and even to
have paid twice as much. This burdensome duty was called Syn=on=e, or
provisioning the capital with corn from the provinces. But, as even
then the supply of corn was not sufficient for the needs of the city,
many complaints were made to the Emperor. At the same time the
soldiers, hardly any of whom had as yet received their pay, assembled
and created a great disturbance in the city. The Emperor appeared
greatly irritated against Peter, and resolved to deprive him of his
office, both for the reasons stated and also because it was reported
to him that he had amassed extraordinary wealth, which he kept hidden
away, by robbing the public treasury; and this in fact was the case.
But Theodora opposed her husband's intention, being exceedingly
enamoured of Barsyames, apparently on account of his evil character
and the remarkable cruelty with which he treated his subjects; for,
being herself exceedingly cruel and utterly inhuman, she was anxious
that the character of her agents should be in conformity with her own.
It is also said that Theodora, against her will, had been forced by
the enchantments of Barsyames to become his friend; for this man had
devoted great attention to sorcerers and supernatural beings, admired
the Manichaeans, and was not ashamed openly to profess himself their
supporter. Although the Empress was not ignorant of this, she did not
withdraw her favour, but resolved on this account to show even greater
interest and regard for him than before, for she herself also, from
her earliest years, had associated with sorcerers and magicians, since
her character and pursuits inclined her towards them. She had great
faith in their arts, and placed the greatest confidence in them. It is
even said that she did not render Justinian susceptible to her
influence so much by her flatteries as by the irresistible power of
evil spirits; for Justinian was not sufficiently kindly, or just, or
persistent in well-doing to be superior to such secret influence, but
was manifestly dominated by a thirst for blood and riches, and fell an
easy prey to those who deceived and flattered him. In undertakings
which needed the greatest attention, he changed his plans without any
reason and showed himself as light as the dust swept before the wind.
Thus none of his kinsmen or friends had the least confidence in his
stability, but, in the execution of his purpose, his opinion
perpetually changed with the greatest rapidity. Being, as I have said,
an easy object of attack for the sorcerers, he in like manner readily
fell a victim to Theodora, who, for this reason, entertained the
highest affection for Peter as one devoted to the study of these arts.

The Emperor only succeeded with great difficulty in depriving him of
his office, and, at the pressing entreaty of Theodora, soon afterwards
appointed him chief of the treasury, and deprived John of these
functions, although he had only been invested with them a few months
previously. This John was a native of Palestine, a good and gentle
man, who did not even know how to find out the means of increasing his
private fortune, and had never done injury to a single individual. The
more decided the affection of the people for him, the less he met with
the approval of Justinian and his partner, who, as soon as they found
amongst their agents, contrary to expectation, a good and honourable
man, were quite dumbfounded, showed their indignation, and endeavoured
by every possible means to get rid of him with the least delay. Thus
Peter succeeded John as chief of the royal treasury, and was one of
the chief causes of great misery to all the inhabitants of the Empire.
He embezzled the greater part of the fund, which, in accordance with
an ancient custom, was annually distributed by the Emperor to a number
of families by way of assisting them. Part of this public money he
sent to the Emperor, and kept part for himself, whereby he acquired
illgotten wealth. Those who were thus deprived of this money lived in
a pitiable state. He did not even coin the same amount of gold as
before, but less--a thing which had never been done before. Such was
the manner in which Justinian dealt with the magistracies.


I will now relate how he everywhere ruined the possessors of estates,
although, to show their misery, it would really be sufficient to refer
to what has been said, just before this, concerning the governors
dispatched to all the provinces and cities, for it was they who
plundered those who possessed landed estates, as before related.

It had long been an established custom that the Roman Emperor should,
not only once, but on several occasions, remit to his subjects all the
arrears that were owing to the treasury, so that those who were in
difficulties and had no means of settling these arrears might not be
continually pressed, and that the tax collectors might not have an
excuse for vexatiously attempting to exact money from those liable to
tribute, where in many cases it was not due. Justinian, however, for
thirty-two years made no concession of the kind to his subjects, the
result of which was that the poor people were forced to quit the
country without any hope of return. The more honest were perpetually
harassed by these false accusers, who threatened to charge them with
having paid less than the amount at which they were rated. These
unhappy individuals were less afraid of the imposition of new taxes
than of the insupportable weight of the unjust exactions which for
many years they had been compelled to pay, whereupon many of them
abandoned their property to their accusers or to the rise.

The Medes and Saracens had ravaged the greater part of Asia, and the
Huns and Slavs had plundered the whole of Europe. Cities had been
razed to the ground or subjected to severe exactions; the inhabitants
had been carried away into slavery with all they possessed, and every
district had been deserted by its inhabitants in consequence of the
daily inroads. Justinian, however, remitted no tax or impost to any
one of them, except in the case of cities that had been taken by the
enemy, and then only for a year, although, had he granted them
exemption for seven years, as the Emperor Anastasius had done, I do
not think that even then he would have done enough: for Cabades
retired after having inflicted but little damage upon the buildings,
but Chosroes, by ravaging the country with fire and sword and razing
all its dwellings to the ground, brought greater calamities upon the
inhabitants. Justinian only granted this absurd remission of tribute
to these people and to others who had several times submitted to an
invasion of the Medes and the continuous depredations of the Huns and
Saracen barbarians in the East, while the Romans, settled in the
different parts of Europe, who had equally suffered by the attacks of
the barbarians, found Justinian more cruel than any of their foreign
foes; for, immediately after the enemy withdrew, the proprietors of
estates found themselves overwhelmed with requisitions for
provisions,[13] impositions,[14] and edicts[15] of various kinds, the
meaning of which I will now explain. Those who possessed landed
property were obliged to furnish provisions for the soldiers in
proportion to the amount imposed upon each, and these dues were fixed,
not in consideration of the necessities of the moment, but according
to an authorised imperial assessment; and, if at any time they had not
a sufficient supply upon their lands for the needs of the horses and
soldiers, these unhappy persons were forced to purchase them even at a
price far above their proper value, and to convey them in many cases
from a considerable distance to the place where the troops were
encamped, and to distribute them to the adjutants in what quantity and
at what rate the latter pleased, not at a fair and reasonable price.
This import was called "the import of victualling," which, as it were,
cut the sinews of all the landed proprietors; for they had to pay an
annual tribute ten times greater than before, and were obliged not
only to furnish supplies the soldiers, but on several occasions to
convey corn to Byzantium. Barsyames was not the only man who had the
audacity to introduce this cursed exaction, John of Cappadocia had set
the example, and the successors of Barsyames in his office followed
it. Such was the nature of the Syn[=o]n[=e], as it was called.

The "Epibol[=e]" was a kind of unforeseen ruin, which suddenly
attacked the landed proprietors and utterly deprived them of the hope
of subsistence; for, in the case of estates that were deserted and
unproductive, the owners or tenants of which had either died or
abandoned their country and hidden themselves after the misfortunes
they had undergone, Justinian did not hesitate to impose a tax. Such
were these "impositions," which were of frequent occurrence during
that time.

A few words will suffice for the impost called "Diagraph[=e]." At this
time especially, the cities were afflicted with heavy losses, the
causes and extent of which I will say nothing about, for it would be
an endless tale. These losses had to be repaired by the landed
proprietors in proportion to the rate at which they were assessed.
Their misery, however, did not stop there, but, although pestilence
had attacked the whole world, and, especially, the Roman Empire;
although most of the farmers had fallen victims, and their properties
had become deserted, Justinian did not show the least clemency towards
the owners. He continued to exact the yearly tribute from them, not
only their own proportion, but that of their neighbours who had died
of the plague.[16] Further, they were obliged to treat the soldiers
with the greatest civility, and to allow them to take up their
quarters in their finest and richest apartments, while they themselves
all the time had to content themselves with the poorest and meanest
rooms. Such were the calamities that without intermission befell
mankind during the reign of Justinian and Theodora, for there was no
cessation of war or any other most terrible calamities. Since I have
mentioned the word "quarters," I must not forget to say that at one
time there were 70,000 barbarians at Constantinople, whom house owners
were obliged to quarter, being thus shut out from all enjoyment of
their own, and in many other ways inconvenienced.


I must not, however, omit to mention the manner in which Justinian
treated the soldiers. He appointed commissioners, called
Logothetae,[17] with directions to squeeze as much money as they could
out of them, a twelfth part of the sum thus obtained being assured to
them. The following was their mode of operation every year. It was an
established custom that the soldiers should not all have the same pay.
Those who were young, and had just joined, received less than those
who had undergone hardships in the field and were already half-way up
the list; while the veterans, whose term of service was all but over,
received a more considerable sum, that they might have sufficient to
live upon as private individuals, and, after their death, might be
able to leave a small inheritance by way of consolation to their
families. Thus, in course of time, the soldiers gradually rose in
rank, according as their comrades died or retired from the service,
and their pay from the public funds was regulated in accordance with
their seniority. But these commissioners would not allow the names of
those who had died or fallen in battle to be struck out, or the
vacancies to be filled, until a long interval had elapsed. The result
was, that the army was short of men, and the survivors, after the
death of the veterans, were kept in a position far inferior to their
merits, and received less pay than they ought to have done, while in
the meantime the commissioners handed over to Justinian the money they
thus purloined from the soldiers. In addition, they harassed the
soldiers with several other kinds of injustices, by way of recompense
for the dangers they had undergone in the field; they were taunted
with the name of Greeks, as if Greece could never produce a brave
soldier; others were cashiered, as not having been ordered by the
Emperor to serve, although they showed their commissions, the
genuineness of which the Logothetae did not hesitate to call in
question; others, again, were disbanded for having absented themselves
a short time from their quarters. Afterwards, some of the Palace
Guards were sent into every part of the Empire to take an exact
inventory of the soldiers who were or were not fit for service. Some
were deprived of their belts, as being useless and too old, and for
the future were obliged to solicit alms from the charitable in the
open market-place--a sad and melancholy spectacle to all beholders.
The rest were reduced to such a state of terror that, in order to
avoid similar treatment, they offered large sums of money to buy
themselves out, so that the soldiers, being thus rendered destitute
and in many ways enfeebled, conceived an utter aversion to the

This endangered the authority of the Romans, especially in Italy.
Alexander, who was sent thither as commissioner, unhesitatingly
reproached the soldiers for this. He also exacted large sums of money
from the Italians, under the pretence of punishing them for their
negotiations with Theoderic and the Goths. The soldiers were not the
only persons who were reduced to poverty and privation by the
commissioners; but those who had accompanied the generals in different
capacities and had formerly enjoyed a high reputation, found
themselves in great distress, as they had no means of procuring the
ordinary necessaries. Since I am speaking of the soldiers, I will give
a few additional details. Preceding Emperors had, for a very long time
past, carefully posted upon all the frontiers of the Empire a large
military force to protect its boundaries, and particularly, in the
Eastern provinces, in order to repel the inroads of the Persians and
Saracens, they had established garrisons called "frontier troops."
Justinian at first treated these troops with such shameful neglect
that their pay was four, or even five years in arrear; and, when peace
was concluded between Rome and Persia, these unhappy individuals, who
expected to enjoy the advantages of peace, were obliged to make a
present to the treasury of the money due to them; and the Emperor
finally disbanded them most unjustly. Thus the frontiers of the Roman
Empire remained ungarrisoned, and the troops had nothing to subsist
upon except the benevolence of the charitable.

There was a certain body of soldiers, about 3,500 in number, called
"Scholares," who had been originally appointed as an imperial
palace-guard, and received a larger pay from the imperial treasury
than the rest of the army. They were first chosen according to merit
from the Armenians; but, from the reign of Zeno, anyone, however
cowardly and unwarlike, was allowed to enter this body. In course of
time, even slaves, on payment of a sum of money, were admitted to
their ranks. When Justin succeeded to the throne, Justinian enrolled a
large number on payment of considerable sums of money. When the list
was filled up, he added about 2,000 more who were called
"Supernumeraries," but disbanded them, when he himself came to the
throne, without any reimbursement. In regard to these "Scholares," he
invented the following plan: Whenever it was probable that an
expedition would be despatched to Italy, Libya, or Persia, he ordered
them to make ready to take part in the campaign, although he knew that
they were utterly unfit for war; and they, being afraid of this,
surrendered their salaries to the Emperor. This was a frequent
occurrence. When Peter was "Master of Offices," he daily harassed them
with monstrous thefts. This man, although he was of a mild and by no
means overbearing disposition, was the greatest thief in the world and
an absolute slave to sordid avarice. He it was who (as I have related)
contrived the murder of Amalasunta, the daughter of Theodoric.

There are in the imperial household other officers of much higher
rank, who, having purchased their positions for a larger sum, receive
better pay in proportion. These are called "Domestics" and
"Protectors." They have always been exempt from military service, and
are only reckoned members of the palace on account of their dignity
and rank. Some of them are constantly in Byzantium, while others have
long been established in Galatia or other provinces. Justinian
frightened these in the same manner into abandoning their salaries to
him. In conclusion, it was the custom that, every five years, the
Emperor should present each of the soldiers with a fixed sum in gold.
Accordingly, every five years, commissioners were despatched to all
parts of the Empire, to bestow five staters of gold upon every soldier
as a gift from the Emperor. This had long been an established and
inviolable practice. But, from the day that Justinian assumed the
management of affairs, he did nothing of the kind, and showed no
intention of doing so during the thirty-two years of his reign, so
that the custom was almost completely forgotten.


I will now proceed to mention another mode in which he plundered his
subjects. Those who, at Byzantium, serve the Emperor or magistrates,
either as secretaries, or in a military or any other capacity, are
placed last upon the list of officials. As time goes on, they are
gradually promoted to the place of those who have died or retired,
until they reach the highest rank and supreme dignity. Those who had
attained to this honour, in accordance with an ancient institution,
had the right to the enjoyment of a fund of not less than 100
centenars of gold yearly, so that they might have a comfortable means
of subsistence for their old age, and might be able to assist others
as much as possible; and this was of great influence in bringing about
a successful administration of the affairs of state. But Justinian
deprived them of all their privileges, and did great harm, not only to
them, but to many others besides, for the poverty which attacked them
extended to all those who formerly shared their prosperity. If anyone
were to calculate the sums of which they were thus deprived during
these thirty-two years, he would find that the amount was very
considerable. Such was the shameful manner in which the tyrant treated
his soldiers.

I will now relate how he behaved towards merchants, mariners,
artisans, shopkeepers and others. There are two narrow straits on
either side of Byzantium, the one in the Hellespont, between Sestos
and Abydos, the other at the mouth of the Euxine Sea, close to the
chapel of the Holy Mother. In the strait upon the Hellespont, there
was no public custom-house, but an officer was sent by the Emperor to
Abydos, to see that no ship loaded with arms should pass on the way to
Byzantium without the Emperor's leave, and also that no person should
put out to sea from Byzantium without letters of licence signed by the
proper official, no ship being allowed to leave the city without the
permission of the secretaries of the Master of Offices. The amount
which the praetor exacted from the shipmasters under the name of toll
was so insignificant that it was disregarded. A praetor was also sent
to the other strait, who received his salary regularly from the
Emperor, and whose duties were the same--to take care that no one
transported to the barbarians on the Euxine any wares, the export of
which to hostile countries was forbidden; but he was not allowed to
exact any duties from these navigators. But, from the day that
Justinian succeeded to the government of affairs, he established a
custom-house on both straits, and sent thither two officials to
collect the dues at a fixed salary, who were ordered to get in as much
money as they could. These officials, who desired nothing better than
to show their devotion to him, extorted duty upon all kinds of
merchandise In regard to the port of Byzantium, he made the following
arrangement:--He put it in charge of one of his confidants, a Syrian
by birth, named Addeus, whom he ordered to exact duty from all vessels
which put in there. This Addeus would not allow those ships which had
been any length of time in the harbour to leave it, until the masters
had paid a sum of money to free them, or else he compelled them to
take on board a freight for Libya or Italy. Some, resolved not to take
in a return cargo or to remain at sea any longer, burned their ships
and thus escaped all anxiety, to their great rejoicing. But all those
who were obliged to continue their profession in order to live, for
the future demanded three times the usual amount from merchants for
the hire of the ships, and thus the merchants had no means of covering
their losses except by requiring a higher price from purchasers; and
thus, by every possible contrivance, the Romans were reduced to the
danger of starvation. Such was the general state of affairs. I must
not, however, omit to state the manner in which the rulers dealt with
the small coinage. The money-changers had formerly been accustomed to
give 210 obols (called Pholes) for a single gold stater. Justinian and
Theodora, for their own private gain, ordered that only 180 obols
should be given for the stater, and by this means deprived the public
of a sixth part of each piece of gold. Having established "monopolies"
upon most wares, they incessantly harassed would-be purchasers. The
only thing left free from duty was clothes, but, in regard to these
also, the imperial pair contrived to extort money. Silken garments had
for a long time been made in Berytus and Tyre, cities of Phoenicia.
The merchants and workmen connected with the trade had been settled
there from very early times, and from thence the business had spread
throughout the world. During the reign of Justinian, those who lived
in Byzantium and other cities raised the price of their silks, on the
plea that at the present time they were dearer in Persia, and that the
import tithes were higher. The Emperor pretended to be exceedingly
indignant at this, and subsequently published an edict forbidding a
pound of silk to be sold for more than eight gold pieces; anyone who
disobeyed the edict was to be punished by the confiscation of his
property. This measure appeared altogether impracticable and absurd.
For it was not possible for the merchants, who had bought their wares
at a much higher price, to sell it to customers at a lower rate. They
accordingly resolved to give up this business, and secretly and
without delay disposed of their remaining wares to certain well-known
persons, who took delight in wasting their money upon such adornments,
and to whom it had become in a manner an absolute necessity. Theodora
heard of this from certain persons who whispered it confidentially,
and, without taking the trouble to verify the report, she immediately
deprived these persons of their wares, and, in addition, inflicted
upon them a fine of a centenar of gold. At the present time, the
imperial treasurer is charged with the superintendence of this trade.
When Peter Barsyames held the office, they soon allowed him all manner
of licence in carrying out his nefarious practices. He demanded that
all the rest should carefully observe the law, and compelled those who
were engaged in the silk factories to work for himself alone. Without
taking any trouble to conceal it, he sold an ounce of any ordinary
coloured silk in the public market-place for six pieces of gold, but
if it was of the royal dye, called Holovere, he asked more than
four-and-twenty for it. In this manner he procured vast sums of money
for the Emperor, and even larger sums, which he kept privately for
himself; and this practice, begun by him, continued. The grand
treasurer is at this moment avowedly the only silk merchant and sole
controller of the market. All those who formerly carried on this
business, either in Byzantium or any other city, workers on sea or
land, felt the loss severely. Nearly the whole population of the
cities which existed by such manufactories were reduced to begging.
Artisans and mechanics were forced to struggle against hunger, and
many of them, quitting their country, fled to Persia. None but the
chief treasurer was allowed to have anything to do with that branch of
industry, and, while he handed over part of his gains to the Emperor,
he kept the greater part for himself, and thus grew wealthy at the
expense of the unfortunate public.


I must now relate how he robbed Byzantium and other cities of their
ornaments. In the first place he resolved to humiliate the lawyers. He
deprived them of all the fees, which, after they had finished their
case, were considerable, and enriched them and increased their
distinction. He ordered that litigants should come to an agreement
upon oath, which brought the lawyers into contempt and insignificance.
After he had seized the estates of the Senators and other families
reputed wealthy, in Byzantium and throughout the Empire, the
profession had little to do, for the citizens no longer possessed
property worth disputing about. Thus, of the numerous and famous
orators who once composed this order there remained only a few, who
were everywhere despised and lived in the greatest poverty, finding
that their profession brought them nothing but insult. He also caused
physicians and professors of the liberal arts to be deprived of the
necessaries of life. He cut off from them all the supplies which
former emperors had attached to these professions, and which were paid
out of the State funds. Further, he had no scruple about transferring
to the public funds all the revenues which the inhabitants of the
cities had devoted either to public purposes or for providing
entertainments. From that time no attention was paid to physicians or
professors; no one ventured to trouble himself about the public
buildings; there were no public lights in the cities, or any
enjoyments for the inhabitants; the performances in the theatres and
hippodromes and the combats of wild beasts, in which Theodora had been
bred and brought up, were entirely discontinued. He afterwards
suppressed public exhibitions in Byzantium, to save the usual State
contribution, to the ruin of an almost countless multitude who found
their means of support in these entertainments. Their life, both in
public and private, became sad and dejected and utterly joyless, as if
some misfortune had fallen upon them from Heaven. Nothing was spoken
of in conversation at home, in the streets, or in the churches, except
misfortune and suffering. Such was the state of the cities.

I have still something important to mention. Every year two consuls
were appointed--one at Rome, the other at Byzantium. Whoever was
advanced to that dignity was expected to expend more than twenty
centenars of gold upon the public. This sum was to a small extent
furnished by the consuls themselves, while the greater part was due to
the liberality of the Emperor. This money was distributed amongst
those whom I have mentioned, above all to the most necessitous, and
principally to those employed upon the stage, which materially
increased the comfort of the citizens. But, since the accession of
Justinian, the elections never took place at the proper time;
sometimes one consul remained in office for several years, and at last
people never even dreamed of a fresh appointment. This reduced all to
the greatest distress; since the Emperor no longer granted the usual
assistance to his subjects, and at the same time deprived them of what
they had by every means in his power.

I think I have given a sufficient account of the manner in which this
destroyer swallowed up the property of the members of the Senate and
deprived them all of their substance, whether publicly or privately. I
also think that I have said enough concerning the fraudulent
accusations which he made use of, in order to get possession of the
property of other families which were reputed to be wealthy. Lastly, I
have described the wrongs he inflicted upon the soldiers and servants
of those in authority and the militia in the palace; upon countrymen,
the possessors and proprietors of estates, and professors of the arts
and sciences; upon merchants, shipmasters and sailors; mechanics,
artisans, and retail dealers; those who gained their livelihood by
performing upon the stage; in a word, upon all who were affected by
the misery of these. I must now speak of his treatment of the poor,
the lower classes, the indigent, and the sick and infirm. I will then
go on to speak of his treatment of the priests.

At first, as has been said, he got all the shops into his own hands,
and having established monopolies of all the most necessary articles
of life, exacted from his subjects more than three times their value.
But if I were to enter into the details of all these monopolies, I
should never finish my narrative, for they are innumerable.

He imposed a perpetual and most severe tax upon bread, which the
artisans, the poor, and infirm were compelled to purchase. He demanded
from this commodity a revenue of three centenars of gold every year,
and those poor wretches were obliged to support themselves upon bread
full of dust, for the Emperor did not blush to carry his avarice to
this extent. Seizing upon this as an excuse, the superintendents of

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