Justinian's: Appearance - Character — Theodora's: Character - Appearance
WHAT sort of people were Justinian and Theodora? and how did it come about that they destroyed the greatness of Rome? These are the questions that I must answer next.
When Leon occupied the imperial throne of Byzantium, three young farmers of Illyrian origin, Zimarchus, Dityvistus, and Justin who came from Vederiana, had been waging an endless war at home with all that poverty meant. So they determined to get away from it all and went off to join the army. They covered the whole distance to Byzantium on foot, carrying on their own shoulders cloaks in which on their arrival they had nothing but dry biscuits dropped in before they left home. Their names were entered in the army lists, and the Emperor picked them out to serve in the Palace Guard, as they were all men of exceptional physique.
Some time later when Anastasius had succeeded to the imperial power, he was involved in war with the Isaurians, who had taken up arms against him. He sent an army of considerable size to deal with them, the commander being John the Hunchback. This John had locked up Justin in prison because of some misdemeanour, intending to dispatch him on the following day. This he would have done but for a dream-vision which came to him in time to prevent it. The general said that in a dream he was confronted by a being of colossal size, too powerful in every way to be taken for a man. This being commanded him to release the man whom he had that day imprisoned: he himself on waking from sleep dismissed the vision from his mind. But when the next night came, he dreamt that he again heard the same words as before, but remained just as unwilling to carry out the order. Then for the third time the vision stood over him, threatening total ruin unless he did as he was told, and adding that one day he would be in a great rage, and then he would need this man and his family.
This occurrence enabled Justin to survive his immediate danger; and as time went on he acquired great power. The Emperor Anastasius gave him command of the Palace Guards; and when he himself passed from the scene, Justin on the strength of this command succeeded to the throne, though he was by now a doddering old man, totally illiterate — in popular parlance, he didn't know his ABC an unheard-of thing in a Roman. It was the invariable custom that the Emperor should append his own signature to all documents embodying decrees drafted by him. Justin, however, was incapable of either drafting his own decrees or taking an intelligent interest in the measures contemplated: the official whose luck it was to be his chief adviser — a man called Proclus, who held the rank of 'Quaestor' — used to decide all measures as he himself thought fit. But to secure authority for these in the Emperor's own handwriting the men responsible for this business proceeded as follows. On a short strip of polished wood they cut a stencil in the shape of four letters spelling the Latin for I HAVE READ. Then they used to dip a pen in the special ink reserved for emperors and place it in the hands of the Emperor Justin. Next they took the strip of wood described above and laid it on the document, grasped the Emperor's hand, and while he held the pen guided it along the pattern of the four letters, taking it round all the bends cut in the wooden stencil. Then away they went, carrying the Emperor's writing, such as it was.
That was the kind of emperor the Romans had in Justin. He was married to a woman called Lupicina, a foreign slave who had previously been purchased by another man and had become his concubine. But in the evening of her days she became joint ruler with Justin of the Roman Empire. Justin was not capable of doing any harm to his subjects or any good either. He was uncouth in the extreme, utterly inarticulate and incredibly boorish. His nephew Justinian, though still quite young, used to manage all the affairs of state, and he brought on the Romans disasters which surely surpassed both in gravity and in number all that had ever been heard of at any period of history: For without the slightest hesitation he used to embark on the inexcusable murdering of his fellow-men and the plundering of other people's property; and it did not matter to him how many thousands lost their lives, although they had given him no provocation whatever. The maintenance of established institutions meant nothing to him: endless innovations were his constant preoccupation. In a word, he was a unique destroyer of valuable institutions.
The plague, as I mentioned in an earlier volume, fell upon the whole world; yet just as many people escaped as had the misfortune to succumb — either because they escaped the infection altogether, or because they got over it if they happened to be infected. But this man not a single person in the whole Roman Empire could escape: like any other visitation from heaven falling on the entire human race he left no one completely untouched. Some he killed without any justification; others he reduced to penury, making them even more wretched than those who had died. In fact, they begged him to put an end to their misery, by any death however painful. Some he deprived of their possessions and of life as well. But it gave him no satisfaction merely to ruin the Roman Empire: he insisted on making himself master of Libya and Italy for the sole purpose of destroying their inhabitants along with those already subject to him. He had not been ten days in office before he executed Amantius, controller of the Palace eunuchs, with several others, for no reason at all, charging him with nothing more than an injudicious remark about John, the archpriest of the city. This outrage made him more feared than any man alive. His next step was to send for the pretender Vitalian, whose safety he had previously guaranteed by taking part with him in the Christian sacraments. But a little later Justinian took offence through groundless suspicion, and put him to death in the Palace along with his closest friends without the slightest justification, making no attempt to honour his pledges, the most solemn imaginable.
The people have long been divided into two factions, as I explained in an earlier volume. Justinian attached himself to one of them, the Blues, to whom he had already given enthusiastic support, and so contrived to produce universal chaos. By doing so he brought the Roman State to its knees. However, not all the Blues were prepared to follow the lead of Justinian, but only the militant partisans. Yet even these, as things went from bad to worse, appeared to be the most self-disciplined of men; for the licence given them went far beyond the misdemeanours which they actually committed. Needless to say, the Green partisans did not stay quiet either: they too pursued an uninterrupted career of crime, as far as they were permitted, although at every moment one or other was paying the penalty. As a result they were constantly provoked to commit crimes far more audacious still; for when people are unfairly treated they naturally turn to desperate courses. So now that he was fanning the flames and openly spurring on the Blues, the entire Roman Empire was shaken to the foundations as if an earthquake or a cataclysm had struck it, or as if every city had fallen to the enemy. For everywhere there was utter chaos, and nothing was ever the same again: in the confusion that followed, the laws and the orderly structure of the State were turned upside down.
To begin with, the partisans changed the style of their hair to a quite novel fashion, having it cut very differently from the other Romans. They did not touch moustache or beard at all, but were always anxious to let them grow as long as possible, like the Persians. But the hair on the front of the head they cut right back to the temples, allowing the growth behind to hang down to its full length in a disorderly mass, like the Massagetae. That is why they sometimes called this the Hunnish style. Then as regards dress, they all thought it necessary to be luxuriously turned out, donning attire too ostentatious for their particular station. For they were in a position to obtain such garments at other people's expense. The part of the tunic covering their arms was drawn in very tight at the wrists, while from there to the shoulders it spread out to an enormous width. Whenever they waved their arms as they shouted in the theatre or the hippodrome and encouraged their favourites in the usual way, up in the air went this part of their tunics, giving silly people the notion that their bodies were so splendidly sturdy that they had to be covered with garments of this kind: they did not realize that the transparency and emptiness of their attire rather served to show up their miserable physique. Their capes and breeches too, and in most cases their shoes, were classed as Hunnish in name and fashion.
At first the great majority carried weapons at night quite openly, while in the day time they concealed short two-edged swords along their thighs under their cloaks. They used to collect in gangs at nightfall and rob members of the upper class in the whole forum or in narrow lanes, despoiling any they met of cloaks, belts, gold brooches, and anything else they had with them. Some they thought it better to murder as well as rob, since dead men told no tales. These outrages caused universal indignation, especially in those Blues who were not militant partisans, since they suffered as badly as the rest. Consequently, from then on most people wore belts and brooches of bronze, and cloaks of much poorer quality than their station warranted, for fear that their love of the beautiful would cost them their lives; and even before sunset they hurried back home and got under cover. As this shocking state of affairs continued and no notice was taken of the offenders by the authorities in charge of the city, the audacity of these men increased by leaps and bounds. For when nothing is done to discourage wrongdoing there is of course no limit to its growth: even when punishment does follow offences it does not often put an end to them altogether: it is natural for most people to turn easily to wrongdoing.
That is how things went with the Blues. Of their opponents some came over to their faction through a desire to join in their criminal activities without paying any penalty, others took to flight and slipped away to other countries; many who were caught in the city were put out of the way by their opponents or executed by the authorities. Many other young men poured into this organization: they had never before shown any interest in such things, but ambition for power and unrestrained licence attracted them to it. For there is not one revolting crime known to men which was not at that time committed and left unpunished. They began by destroying the partisans of the opposite faction, then went on to murder those who had given them no excuse whatever. Many also won them with bribes, then indicated their own enemies; these the partisans got rid of at once, labelling them Greens though they knew nothing at all about them. All this went on no longer in darkness or out of sight, but at any moment of the day and in every part of the city, and the most eminent citizens as often as not were eyewitnesses of what was happening. There was no need to keep the crimes concealed, since the criminals were not troubled by any fear of punishment; in fact, they were actually moved by a spirit of rivalry, so that they organized displays of brawn and toughness to show that with a single blow they could kill anyone they met unarmed, and no one now could expect to live much longer amid the dangers that daily threatened him. Constant fear made everyone suspect that death was just round the corner: no place seemed safe, no time could guarantee security, since even in the most revered churches and at public festivals people were being senselessly murdered, and confidence in kith and kin was a thing of the past. For many perished through the machinations of their nearest relatives.
No inquiry, however, was held into the crimes committed: the blow invariably fell without warning, and the fallen had no one to avenge them. No law or contract retained any force on the secure basis of established order, but everything turned to growing violence and confusion, and the government was indistinguishable from a tyranny; not however a stable tyranny, but one that changed every day and was for ever starting afresh. The decisions of the magistrates suggested the paralysis of fear; their minds were dominated by dread of a single man; while juries, when settling questions in dispute, based their verdicts, not on their notions of what was just and lawful, but on the relations, hostile or friendly, which each of the disputants had with the partisans. For any juror who disregarded their injunctions would pay the penalty with his life.
Many creditors were under irresistible pressure to return the written agreements to their debtors without recovering a penny of the debt, and many people to their chagrin had to free their domestic servants; and it is said that a number of women were forced by their own slaves to yield to many suggestions most repugnant to them. And by now the sons of men in high positions, after associating with these young criminals, compelled their fathers to do a number of things they were most reluctant to do, and particularly to hand over their money to them. Many unwilling boys, with the full knowledge of their fathers, were forced into immoral relations with the partisans; and women who were happily married suffered the same humiliation. It is said that one woman, very elegantly attired, was sailing with her husband to one of the suburbs on the mainland opposite; and during this crossing the partisans intercepted them, tore the lady from her husband's arms, and carried her to their own boat. Before going on board with the young men she whispered encouragement to her husband and told him to have no fear on her account: she would never submit to physical outrage. Then, while her husband was still watching her through his tears, she jumped overboard, and from that moment was never seen again.
Such were the acts of violence of which at that period the partisans in Byzantium were guilty. But these things caused less misery to the victims than the wrongs which the community suffered at Justinian's hands, because those whom miscreants have injured the most cruelly are relieved of most of the misery resulting from a disordered society by the constant expectation that the laws and the government will punish the offenders. For when people are confident of the future they find their present troubles more tolerable and easier to bear; but when they are subjected to violence by the State authorities they are naturally more distressed by the wrongs they have suffered, and fall into utter despair through the hopelessness of expecting justice. Justinian betrayed his subjects not only because he absolutely to uphold the victims of wrong, but because he was perfectly prepared to set himself up as the recognized champion of the partisans; for he lavished great sums of money on these young men and kept many of them in his entourage, actually promoting some to magistracies and other official positions.
Such then was the state of affairs in Byzantium and everywhere else. For like any other disease the infection that began in the capital rapidly spread all over the Roman Empire. The Emperor took no notice at all of what was going on, since he was a man incapable of perception, although he was invariably an eyewitness of all that happened in the hippodromes. For he was extremely simple, with no more sense than a donkey, ready to follow anyone who pulls the rein, waving its ears all the time.
While Justinian behaved in this way he was making a mess of everything else. He had no sooner seized upon his uncle's authority than he began to squander public money in the most reckless manner and with the greatest satisfaction, now that he had got it in his hands. From time to time he came in contact with some of the Huns, and showered money on them 'for services to the State'. The inevitable result was that Roman territory was exposed to constant incursions. For after tasting the wealth of the Romans these barbarians could never again keep away from the road to the capital. Again, he did not hesitate to throw vast sums into erecting buildings along the sea-front in the hope of checking the constant surge of the waves. He pushed forward from the shore by heaping up stones, in his determination to defeat the onrush of the water, and in his efforts to rival, as it were, the strength of the sea by the power of wealth.
He gathered into his own hands the private property of all the Romans in every land, either accusing them of some crime they had never committed, or coaxing them into the belief that they had made him a free gift. Many who had been convicted of murders and other capital crimes made over to him their entire property, and so escaped without paying the penalty of their offences. Others, who were perhaps laying claim without any justification to lands belonging to their neighbours, found it impossible to win judgement against their opponents because they had no legal case; so they actually made the Emperor a present of the property in dispute and got clear of the whole business: they themselves by generosity that cost nothing secured an introduction to His Majesty, and by the most unlawful means managed to get the better of their opponents.
Justinian's Personal Appearance
At this point, I think, it would be well to describe Justinian's personal appearance. In build he was neither tall nor unusually short, but of normal height; not at all skinny but rather plump, with a round face that was not unattractive: it retained its healthy colour even after a two-day fast. To describe his general appearance in a word, he bore a strong resemblance to Domitian, Vespasian's son, whose monstrous behaviour left such a mark upon the Romans that even when they had carved up his whole body they did not feel that they had exhausted their indignation against him: the Senate passed a decree that not even the name of this emperor should remain in inscriptions, nor any statue or portrait of him be preserved. Certainly from the inscriptions everywhere in Rome, and wherever else his name had been inscribed, it was chiseled out, as can still be seen, leaving all the rest intact; and nowhere in the Roman Empire is there a single likeness of him except for a solitary bronze statue, which survived in the following way.
Domitian's consort was a woman of good birth, and highly respected, who had herself never done the least wrong to any man alive, or approved a single one of her husband's actions. So she was very highly esteemed, and the Senate at this time sent for her and invited her to ask for anything she liked. She made only one request — that she might take Domitian's body and bury it, and set up a bronze statue of him in a place of her own choosing. The Senate agreed to this; and the widow, wishing to leave to later generations a monument to the inhumanity of those who had carved up her husband, devised the following plan. Having collected Domitian's flesh, she put the pieces together carefully and fitted them to each other; then she stitched the whole body together and showed it to the sculptors, asking them to make a bronze statue portraying the tragic end of the dead man. The artists produced the statue without loss of time; and the widow took it and erected it in the street that leads up to the Capitol, on the right-hand side as you go there from the Forum: it showed the appearance and the tragic end of Domitian, and does so to this day. It seems probable that Justinian's general build, his actual expression, and all the characteristic details of his visage are clearly portrayed in this statue.
Such then was his outward appearance; his character was beyond my powers of accurate description. For he was both prone to evil-doing and easily led astray — both knave and fool, to use a common phrase: he never spoke the truth himself to those he happened to be with, but in everything that he said or did there was always a dishonest purpose; yet to anyone who wanted to deceive him he was easy meat. He was by nature an extraordinary mixture of folly and wickedness inseparably blended. This perhaps was an instance of what one of the Peripatetic philosophers suggested many years ago — that exactly opposite qualities may on occasions be combined in a man's nature just as in the blending of colours. However, I must limit my description to facts of which I have been able to make sure.
Well, then, this emperor was dissembling, crafty, hypocritical, secretive by temperament, two-faced; a clever fellow with a marvellous ability to conceal his real opinion, and able to shed tears, not from any joy or sorrow, but employing them artfully when required in accordance with the immediate need, lying all the time; not carelessly, however, but confirming his undertakings both with his signature and with the most fearsome oaths, even when dealing with his own subjects. But he promptly disregarded both agreements and solemn pledges, like the most contemptible slaves, who by fear of the tortures hanging over them are driven to confess misdeeds they have denied on oath. A treacherous friend and an inexorable enemy, he was passionately devoted to murder and plunder; quarrelsome and subversive in the extreme; easily led astray into evil ways but refusing every suggestion that he should follow the right path; quick to devise vile schemes and to carry them out; and with an instinctive aversion to the mere mention of anything good.
How could anyone find words to describe Justinian's character? These vices and many yet greater he clearly possessed to an inhuman degree: it seemed as if nature had removed every tendency to evil from the rest of mankind and deposited it in the soul of this man. In addition to everything else he was far too ready to listen to false accusations, and quick to inflict punishment. For he never ferreted out the facts before passing judgement, but on hearing the accusations immediately had his verdict announced. Without hesitation he issued orders for the seizure of towns, the burning of cities, and the enslavement of entire nations, for no reason at all. So that if one chose to add up all the calamities which have befallen the Romans from the beginning and to weigh them against those for which Justinian was responsible, I feel sure that he would find that a greater slaughter of human beings was brought about by this one man than took place in all the preceding centuries. As for other people's money, he seized it by stealth without the slightest hesitation; for he did not even think it necessary to put forward any excuse or pretence of justification before taking possession of things to which he had no claim. Yet when he had secured the money he was quite prepared to show his contempt for it by reckless prodigality, or to throw it to potential enemies without the slightest need. In short, he kept no money himself and allowed no one else in the world to keep any, as if he were not overcome by avarice but held fast by envy of those who had acquired money. Thus he cheerfully banished wealth from Roman soil and became the creator of nation-wide poverty.
The features of Justinian's character, then, as far as I am in a position to state them, were roughly as suggested above. He married a wife, whose origin and upbringing I must now explain, and how after becoming his consort she destroyed the Roman State root and branch.
In Byzantium there was a man called Acacius, a keeper of the circus animals, belonging to the Green faction and entitled the Bearward. This man died of sickness while Anastasius occupied the imperial throne, leaving three daughters, Comito, Theodora, and Anastasia, of whom the eldest had not yet completed her seventh year. The widow married again, hoping that her new husband would from then on share with her the management of her house and the care of the animals. But the Greens' Dancing-master, a man called Asterius, was offered a bribe to remove these two from their office, in which he installed his Paymaster without any difficulty, for the Dancing-masters were allowed to arrange such matters just as they chose. But when the wife saw the whole populace congregated in the circus, she put wreaths on the heads of the little girls and in both their hands, and made them sit down as suppliants. The Greens refused absolutely to admit the supplication; but the Blues gave them a similar office, as their Bearward too had died.
When the children were old enough, they were at once put on the stage there by their mother, as their appearance was very attractive; not all at the same time, however, but as each one seemed to her to be mature enough for this profession. The eldest one, Comito, was already one of the most popular harlots of the day. Theodora, who came next, clad in a little tunic with long sleeves, the usual dress of a slave girl, used to assist her in various ways, following her about and invariably carrying on her shoulders the bench on which her sister habitually sat at public meetings. For the time being Theodora was still too undeveloped to be capable of sharing a man's bed or having intercourse like a woman; but she acted as a sort of male prostitute to satisfy customers of the lowest type, and slaves at that, who when accompanying their owners to the theatre seized their opportunity to divert themselves in this revolting manner; and for some considerable time she remained in a brothel, given up to this unnatural bodily commerce But as soon as she was old enough and fully developed, she joined the women on the stage and promptly became a courtesan, of the type our ancestors called 'the dregs of the army'. For she was not a flautist or harpist; she was not even qualified to join the corps of dancers; but she merely sold her attractions to anyone who came along, putting her whole body at his disposal.
Later she joined the actors in all the business of the theatre and played a regular part in their stage performances, making herself the butt of their ribald buffoonery She was extremely clever and had a biting wit, and quickly became popular as a result. There was not a particle of modesty in the little hussy, and no one ever saw her taken aback: she complied with the most outrageous demands without the slightest hesitation, and she was the sort girl who if somebody walloped her or boxed her ears would make a jest of it and roar with laughter; and she would throw off her clothes and exhibit naked to all and sundry those regions, both in front and behind, which the rules of decency require to be kept veiled and hidden from masculine eyes.
She used to tease her lovers by keeping them waiting, and by constantly playing about with novel methods of intercourse she could always bring the lascivious to her feet; so far from waiting to be invited by anyone she encountered, she herself by cracking dirty jokes and wiggling her hips suggestively would invite all who came her way, especially if they were still in their teens. Never was anyone so completely given up to unlimited self-indulgence. Often she would go to a bring-your-own-food dinner-party with ten young men or more all at the peak of their physical powers and with fornication as their chief object in life, and would lie with all her fellow-diners in turn the whole night long: when she had reduced them all to a state of exhaustion she would go to their menials, as many as thirty on occasions, and copulate with every one of them; but not even so could she satisfy her lust.
One night she went into the house of a distinguished citizen during the drinking, and, it is said, before the eyes of all the guests she stood up on the end of the couch near their feet, pulled up her dress in the most disgusting manner as she stood there, and brazenly displayed her lasciviousness. And though she brought three openings into service, she often found fault with Nature, grumbling because Nature had not made the openings in her nipples wider than is normal, so that she could devise another variety of intercourse in that region. Naturally she was frequently pregnant, but by using pretty well all the tricks of the trade she was able to induce immediate abortion.
Often in the theatre, too, in full view of all the people she would throw off her clothes and stand naked in their midst, having only a girdle about her private parts and her groins — not, however, because she was ashamed to expose these also to the public, but because no one is allowed to appear there absolutely naked: a girdle round the groins is compulsory. With this minimum covering she would spread herself out and lie face upwards on the floor. Servants on whom this task had been imposed would sprinkle barley grains over her private parts, and geese trained or the purpose used to pick them off one by one with their bills and swallow them. Theodora, so far from blushing when she stood up again, actually seemed to be proud of this performance. For she was not only shameless herself, but did more than anyone else to encourage shamelessness.
Many times she threw off her clothes and stood in the middle of the actors on the stage, leaning over backwards or pushing out her behind to invite both those who had already enjoyed her and those who had not been intimate as yet, parading her own special brand of gymnastics. With such lasciviousness did she misuse her own body that he appeared to have her private arts not like other women in the place intended by nature, but in her face! And again, those who were intimate with her showed by so doing that they were not having intercourse in accordance with the laws of nature; and every person of any decency who happened to meet her in the forum would swing round and beat a hasty retreat, for fear he might come in contact with any of the hussy's garments and so appear tainted with this pollution. For to those who saw her, especially in the early hours of the day, she was a bird of ill-omen. As for her fellow-actresses, she habitually and constantly stormed at them like a fury; for she was malicious in the extreme.
Later she accompanied Hecebolus, a Tyrian who had taken over the government of Pentapolis, in order to serve him in the most revolting capacity, but she got into bad odour with him and was shot out without more ado; as a result she found herself without even the necessities of life, which from then on she provided in her customary fashion by making her body the tool of her lawless trade. First she came to Alexandria; then after making a tour round the whole East she returned to Byzantium, in every city following an occupation which a man had better not name, I think, if he hopes ever to enjoy the favour of God. It was as if the unseen powers could not allow any spot on earth to be unaware of Theodora's depravity.
Such, then, was the birth and upbringing of this woman, the subject of common talk among women of the streets and among people of every kind. But when she arrived back in Byzantium Justinian conceived an overpowering passion for her. At first he consorted with her only as a mistress, though he did promote her to Patrician rank. This at once enabled Theodora to possess herself of immense influence and very considerable wealth. For as so often happens to men consumed with passion, it seemed in Justinian's eyes the most delightful thing in the world to lavish all his favours and all his wealth upon the object of his passion. And the whole State became fuel for for this passion. With Theodora to help him he impoverished the people far more than before, not only in the capital but in every part of the Empire. As both had long been supporters of the Blue Faction, they gave the members of this faction immense powers over State affairs. It was a very long time before the evil was mitigated to any great extent. It happened in this way.
Justinian suffered from a prolonged illness, which brought him into such extreme danger that he was even reported to be dead. All the time the factionists were misbehaving in the ways already described, and one Hypatius, a man of some distinction, was murdered by them in full daylight in the Church of Sophia. When this crime had been committed, the disorders it provoked were reported to the Emperor; and all those about him, seizing the opportunity provided by Justinian's absence from public affairs, did everything they could to emphasize the gravity of what had occurred, giving him a complete list of all the happenings from beginning to end. At that the Emperor instructed the Prefect of the City to bring all the offenders to justice. This official was named Theodotus, but was generally referred to as the Pumpkin. He made a thorough examination of all concerned, and was able to arrest many of the perpetrators and sentence them to execution according to the law, though many of them slipped through his fingers and escaped. At a later date they were to share the ruin of the Empire.
Contrary to expectation the Emperor suddenly recovered, and actually took steps to get rid of Theodotus as a poisoner and magician. But as he could invent no possible pretext to justify his destroying him, he subjected some of the man's friends to the most horrible torments, and drove them to make accusations against him that were without foundation. When all others kept out of his way and remained discreetly silent about their distress at his machinations against Theodotus, Proclus alone, who held the quaestorship, as it was called, openly asserted that the accused man was innocent of the charge and had done nothing to deserve death. In consequence Theodotus, on the suggestion of the Emperor, conveyed himself away to Jerusalem. But it came to his knowledge that men had arrived there who were bent on getting rid of him; so ever after that he remained hidden in the church, and never emerged till the day of his death.
Of Theodotus there is no more to be said. But the factionists from that time on became the most prudent people in the world. They no longer ventured to misbehave in such shocking ways, though they had every opportunity to follow their career of lawlessness with even greater impunity. Here is evidence enough: when a few of them later showed similar audacity, they suffered no penalty whatsoever. For those authorized to inflict punishment invariably provided the perpetrators of crimes with every opportunity to evade it, encouraging them by this connivance to trample on the laws.
As long as the Empress was still alive, it was quite impossible for Justinian to make Theodora his lawful wife. On this one point the Empress opposed him, though she objected to none of his other actions. For the old lady abhorred anything improper, though she was completely without culture and was of barbarian origin, as stated earlier. She was quite incapable of making any mark, and remained utterly ignorant of State affairs; in fact, she dropped her real name, which she felt to be ridiculous, before entering the Palace, and assumed the name Euphemia. But some time later it happened that the Empress died. Justin was in his dotage and quite senile, so that he became the laughing-stock of his subjects, treated by everyone with complete contempt because of his ignorance of what was happening, and left out of account; Justinian on the other hand was greatly feared and assiduously courted, for he stirred up trouble all the time, producing universal turmoil and confusion. This was the moment he chose for arranging his engagement to Theodora. But as it was impossible for a man who had reached the rank of senator to make a courtesan his wife, such a thing being prohibited from the beginning by the most venerable laws, he forced the Emperor to abrogate the laws by establishing a new one. From that moment he lived with Theodora as his legal spouse, thereby enabling everyone else to get engaged to a courtesan. Then by one bold stroke he seized upon the imperial office, fabricating an excuse to disguise the high-handedness of his action. He was proclaimed Emperor of the Romans, in conjunction with his uncle, by all the aristocracy, whom overpowering fear compelled to vote in this way. Imperial authority was assumed by Justinian and Theodora three days before the Feast, a time when one is not allowed to greet any of one's friends or to wish him good day. A few days later Justin died from natural causes, after reigning nine years, and Justinian in conjunction with Theodora became sole monarch.
So it came about that Theodora born, brought up, and educated as described above, despite all obstacles, mounted the imperial throne. It never even occurred to her husband that his conduct was shocking, though he was in a position to take his pick of the Roman Empire and select for his bride the most nobly born woman in the world, who had enjoyed the most exclusive upbringing, and was thoroughly acquainted with the claims of modesty, and had lived in an atmosphere of chastity, and in addition was superbly beautiful and still a virgin — or, as they say, firm-breasted. No: he must needs make the common bane of all mankind his very own, oblivious of all the facts recorded in these pages, and consort with a woman double-dyed with every kind of horrible pollution, and guilty over and over again of infanticide by wilful abortion.
Not one thing more need be mentioned, I think, regarding the character of this man: this marriage would be quite enough to reveal only too clearly all his moral sickness; it was both interpreter, witness, and chronicler of the course he followed. For when a man cares nothing for the infamy of his actions, and does not hesitate to be known to all and sundry as a revolting character, no path of lawlessness is closed to him, but armed with the shamelessness visible at every moment in his face, he advances cheerfully and without any misgivings to the most loathsome deeds.
Sad to say, not even one member of the Senate, seeing the State saddling itself with this disgrace, saw fit to protest and to oppose such proceedings, though they would all have to fall down before her as if she were a goddess. There was not even one priest who showed any disgust, and that when they would be obliged to address her as 'Mistress'. And the people who had previously watched her performances in the theatre instantly thought fit to be, in fact and name, her grovelling slaves. Nor did one soldier resent being called on to face danger on the battlefield for Theodora's benefit; nor did any other living person oppose her. All of them, I imagine, were subdued by the thought that this was the fate assigned to them, and accordingly lifted no finger to prevent this revolting state of affairs, as though Fortune had given a demonstration of her power; for as she controls all human affairs it is a matter of complete indifference to her that what is done shall be justifiable, or that men shall feel that there was reason behind what has happened already. Suddenly by an unreasoning display of power she uplifts to a lofty eminence a man who seems to have been entangled hitherto in one difficulty after another; she offers no resistance to anything on earth that he takes in hand, and all things conspire to hurry him along to whatever goal she has seen fit to choose for him, while all mankind stand back without hesitation and make way for Fortune as she goes ahead. But we must leave it to God to decide how these things shall be and how they shall be spoken of.
Theodora's Personal Appearance
As for Theodora, she had an attractive face and a good figure, but was short and pallid, though not in an extreme degree, for there was just a trace of colour. Her glance was invariably fierce and intensely hard. If I were to attempt a detailed account of her life upon the stage, I could go on for the rest of time; but the few incidents picked out for inclusion in the preceding paragraphs should be enough to give a complete picture of this woman's character, for the enlightenment of those yet to come.
Pretence of Public Disagreement
Now we must sketch the outlines of what she and her husband did in unison, for neither did anything apart from the other to the end of their joint lives. For a long time it was universally believed that they were exact opposites in their ideas and interests; but later it was recognized that this false impression had been deliberately fostered to make sure that their subjects did not put their own differences aside and rebel against them, but were all divided in their feelings about them. They began by creating a division between the Christians; and by pretending to take opposite sides in religious disputes they split the whole body in two, as will shortly be made clear. Then they kept the factions at logger heads. The Empress made out that she was throwing her full weight behind the Blues, and by extending to them full authority to assail the opposite faction she made it possible for them to disregard all restrictions and perform outrageous deeds of criminal violence. Her husband replied by behaving as if he were boiling over with bottled-up resentment, but was unable to stand up to his wife overtly, and often they confounded the character of their authority and went opposite ways. He, for instance, was determined to punish the Blues as criminal offenders, while she in a synthetic rage would complain bitterly that she had 'yielded to her husband under protest'. And yet the Blue partisans, as I said before, seemed to be the most orderly; for they were satisfied that it was quite unjustifiable to go to the limit in doing violence to one's neighbours. Again, in the bitter animosities aroused by lawsuits each of the two appeared to be backing one of the litigants, and it was so arranged that victory should go to the one who championed the unjust cause, and that in this way the two of them should purloin most of the wealth of both contestants.
Finally, many were included in this emperor's list of intimate friends and raised to positions which enabled them to violate the laws and commit offences against the State to their heart's content; but as soon as it was evident that they had made their pile, they promptly came into collision with Theodora and found themselves in her bad books. At first Justinian was perfectly prepared to declare himself their enthusiastic supporter, but later on his sympathy for the poor fellows would dry up, and his zeal on their behalf would become very uncertain. That would be the signal for his partner to damage them beyond recovery while he, shutting his eyes tight to what was going on, opened his arms to receive their entire possessions, thus shamelessly acquired. In practising these tricks they invariably collaborated, though in public they acted as if they were at daggers drawn; thus they succeeded in dividing their subjects, and in so strengthening their hold that it could never be shaken off.