The Secret History of the Court of Justinian by Procopius

Produced by Ted Garvin, Project Manager; Keith M. Eckrich, Post-Processor; the PG Online Distributed Proofreaders Team THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE COURT OF JUSTINIAN PROCOPIUS _LITERALLY AND COMPLETELY TRANSLATED FROM THE GREEK FOR THE FIRST TIME ATHENS: PRIVATELY PRINTED FOR THE ATHENIAN SOCIETY: MDCCCXCVI_ PREFACE Procopius, the most important of the Byzantine historians, was born
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Produced by Ted Garvin, Project Manager; Keith M. Eckrich, Post-Processor; the PG Online Distributed Proofreaders Team






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Quadratus, before entering, showed him the Empress’ letter. It ran as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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