BELISARIUS was married to a woman of whom I had something to say in the preceding books. Her father and grandfather were charioteers, who had displayed their skill in Byzantium and Thessalonica; and her mother was an actress of easy virtue. She herself in her early years had lived a profligate kind of life and had thrown off all moral restraint; she had been continually in the company of her father's magic-mongering friends, and had learnt the arts essential to her trade. Later when with all due ceremony she married Belisarius, she had already given birth to one child after another. So it was already her intention to be unfaithful from the start; but she took great care to conceal this business, not because her own conduct gave her any qualms, or because she stood in any fear of her spouse — she never felt the slightest shame for any action whatever, and thanks to her regular use of magic she could twist her husband round her little finger — but because she dreaded the vengeance of the Empress; for Theodora was only too ready to rage at her and bare her teeth. But by assisting her in matters. of exceptional importance she quickly brought her to heel. The first step was to get rid of Silverius by a means to be described in a later volume; the second was to ruin John the Cappadocian, as described already in an earlier volume. — The way was now clear; her fears vanished and there was no further concealment; she could commit every crime in the calendar without the slightest hesitation.
The household of Belisarius included a young Thracian of the name of Theodosius, who had been brought up in the belief called Eunomianism. On the eve of his voyage to Libya, Belisarius washed this youngster in the sacred bath, then lifted him out in his arms, thereby making him the adopted son of his wife and himself in accordance with the rules for adoption observed by Christians. From that moment Antonina, as was to be expected, loved Theodosius, since the sacred word had made him her son; and she watched over him with extreme care and kept him under her wing. Then a little while after she fell madly in love with him during this voyage, and surrendering herself body and soul to her passion threw off all fear and respect for the laws of God and men, and had intercourse with him, at first in secret but finally before the eyes of domestics of both sexes. For by now she was helpless against this desire and unmistakably the slave of her lust, so that she could no longer see any impediment to its indulgence. Once, in Carthage, Belisarius surprised them in the very act; yet he swallowed his wife's lying explanation open-mouthed. He had found them together in a basement room, and though he was mad with rage she did not flinch or disguise what she had done, but merely remarked,
'I came so that the young man could help me conceal the pick of the spoils here, in case the Emperor should get to know about them.'
This of course was only an excuse, but he seemed satisfied and let the matter drop, though he saw that Theodosius had unfastened the belt holding up the trousers which covered his nakedness. For his passionate love for the woman compelled him to pretend that the evidence of his own eyes was utterly false.
Antonina's profligacy steadily increased till it reached an unimaginable pitch and everybody saw what was going on; but nobody said a word, except a female slave called Macedonia. In Syracuse, when Belisarius had conquered Sicily, this woman made her master swear the most terrible oaths never to betray her to her mistress, and then blurted out to him the whole story, corroborated by the testimony of two lads whose task was to look after the bedroom. On hearing this Belisarius ordered some of his attendants to put Theodosius out of the way. Theodosius, however, heard of this in time and made a dash for Ephesus; for most of Belisarius' attendants; bearing in mind his swiftly changing moods, thought it more expedient to be in the wife's good books than to appear to favour the husband; so they betrayed the instructions then given to them regarding Theodosius.
When Constantine saw how distressed Belisarius was by what had happened, he expressed his complete sympathy, adding the remark,
'If I'd been in your shoes, I should have got rid of the woman rather than the youngster.'
When this came to Antonina's ears, she kept her indignation against him secret, waiting for the right moment to display her hatred against him; for she was as malignant as a scorpion and expert at concealing her feelings. A little while later, whether by magic or by cajolement, she convinced her husband that there was no truth in the girl's accusation; and he at once invited Theodosius to return, and agreed to hand over Macedonia and the boys to his wife. She first cut out the tongues of all three, we are told, then carved them up into little bits, which she dropped into sacks and threw into the sea without turning a hair, assisted in all this unholy business by one of the menservants called Eugenius, the man who had been instrumental in the monstrous treatment of Silverius. A little while later Belisarius was persuaded by his wife to kill Constantine too. For it was at this very time that the affair of Praesidius and the daggers took place: I related the whole story in an earlier volume. Constantine would have been acquitted, but Antonina was inexorable till he had paid the penalty for the comment which I recorded a few lines back. By his acquiescence Belisarius brought on himself the bitter hostility of the Emperor and of the influential Romans one and all. So ended that chapter of the story.
Theodosius, however, sent word that he would be unable to come to Italy, where Belisarius and Antonina were making a stay at the time, unless Photius were got out of the way. For Photius was temperamentally quick to take offence if anyone else had more influence than himself in any quarter whatever. But in the case of Theodosius and his friends he had ample excuse for choking with rage: he himself, though he was a son, found himself counting for nothing, while his rival enjoyed great power and was becoming immensely wealthy. It is said that at Carthage and Ravenna he had purloined no less than £1,500,000 from the two palaces, which he was privileged to administer on his own responsibility and with full powers. When Antonina learnt of Theodosius's refusal, she made persistent attempts to trap the boy, and pursued him with murderous plots until she succeeded in forcing him to leave Italy and proceed to Byzantium, as he could no longer risk falling into her traps, and in persuading Theodosius to join her in Italy. There she gained unlimited enjoyment from the company of her lover and the blindness of her husband, and a little later she returned to Byzantium escorted by them both.
In the capital Theodosius was in an agony of fear through the knowledge of his guilt, and his mind was distracted. He saw no possibility at all of averting suspicion, as he realized that Antonina could no longer keep her passion out of sight or give vent to it in secret, but was perfectly happy to be an avowed adulteress and to be spoken of as such. So he again betook himself to Ephesus, and adopting the customary tonsure had himself enrolled amongst the 'monks'. At this Antonina became completely demented, and changing her dress and her whole manner of life to the style of those in mourning she wandered continually about the house, wailing, shrieking, and lamenting even in the presence of her husband. What a treasure she had lost; how faithful, how winning, how kind, how alive! Finally, she even dragged her husband into these lamentations and made him join in. Anyway, the unfortunate man began weeping and crying aloud for his beloved Theodosius! Later he even approached the Emperor, appealing both to him and to the Empress, till he persuaded them to fetch Theodosius back, as he was indispensable to his domestic life and always would be. Theodosius, however, flatly refused to leave Ephesus, insisting that he was determined to give unswerving obedience to the monastic discipline. This was a downright lie; the moment Belisarius left Byzantium he planned to join Antonina surreptitiously.
And join her he did; for very soon Belisarius, accompanied by Photius, was on his way to resume hostilities against Chosroes. But Antonina stayed behind, a thing she had never done before: to prevent her husband from being alone and coming to his senses, and from treating her magic with contempt and seeing her for what she was, it was her invariable custom to accompany him to all parts of the world. And in order that Theodosius might be able to resume his association with her, she was impatient to get Photius out of the way. To this end she urged some of her husband's staff to torment and insult him continually, never missing an opportunity; while she herself wrote almost every day, pouring out slanders in an endless stream and making the boy the target for every weapon. Under this treatment Photius perforce resolved to use slander against his mother; and when a man arrived from Byzantium with the news that Theodosius was secretly staying with Antonina, he at once took him into Belisarius' presence, adjuring him to tell the whole story.
When Belisarius learned the truth, he was beside himself with fury, and prostrated himself before Photius's feet and implored. the boy to avenge him, monstrously ill used as he was by those from whom he least expected it.
'My precious boy,' he cried, 'you have no idea what your father was like; for you were only an infant in arms when he departed this life, leaving you nothing at all: he was not over-blest with this world's goods. It was I who brought you up, though I am only your stepfather: now you've reached an age when it is your duty to defend me with might and main if I am wronged; and you have risen to the rank of consul and have amassed so much wealth that I might be called your father and every other kind of relation, my good fellow, as to all intents and purposes I am. For it is not by community of blood but by mutual kindness that people habitually measure their affection for each other. The time has come when you must no longer allow me, besides the wrecking of my marriage, to be stripped as well of possessions on so vast a scale, or your own mother to bring upon herself universal and utter contempt. And remember that the sins of women do not fall on their husbands only: they do still more damage to their children, whose misfortune it will almost certainly be to incur a reputation for having a natural resemblance in character to their mothers. You must realize too that this is the position with me: I love my wife dearly, and if I get the chance to give the wrecker of my marriage his deserts I shall do her no harm; but while Theodosius is alive I can never forgive her for what she is accused of.'
In reply to this Photius agreed to give all the help he could, though he was afraid it might cost him dear: he had precious little confidence in his stepfather's swiftly changing moods towards his wife; for a great many things worried him, especially what had happened to Macedonia. In view of this the two swore to each other all the most terrible oaths that are in use among Christians and are recognized as such, pledging themselves never to leave each other in the lurch, even in situations of the most desperate danger. To make the attempt then and there struck them as inadvisable; but when Antonina arrived from Byzantium and Theodosius went to Ephesus, that would be the moment for Photius to appear in Ephesus and take possession both of Theodosius and of the money with the minimum of trouble. Now at this very time when they had launched their all-out attack on Persian territory, the incident involving John the Cappadocian happened to be taking place in Byzantium, as I explained in an earlier volume. In that account, I confess, fear led me to suppress one fact. The deception of John and his daughter by Antonina was no casual occurrence: it was backed by a multitude of oaths, the most terrible form of declaration in Christian eyes, assuring them that no treachery was purposed towards them. When her object had been achieved and she felt much more secure in the affections of the Empress, she dispatched Theodosius to Ephesus, while she herself, anticipating no difficulty, set out for the East. Belisarius had just captured the fortress of Sisauranon when someone informed him of her imminent arrival. He instantly dismissed everything else from his mind and withdrew his forces. It happened that, as I made clear in my earlier account, certain other events which had taken place in the Roman camp disposed him to retreat at this time. But the information now received induced him to take this step much more precipitately. As I stated, however, in the first paragraph of this book, at that time I judged it too dangerous to disclose all the reasons for what had occurred.
The result of this move was that an accusation was levelled at Belisarius by Romans everywhere of having sacrificed the most vital interests of the State to his own domestic concerns. For at the start he had been so incapacitated by his wife's waywardness that he positively refused to go thus far beyond the bounds of the Roman Empire, determined as he was that the moment he learnt that his wife had arrived from Byzantium he must be able to turn back and catch and punish her then and there. To this end he ordered Arethas and his men to cross the River Tigris; but they effected nothing to speak of and were soon on their way home, while he himself was careful not to go even a day's march beyond the Roman frontier: The fortress of Sisauranon, even for a lightly equipped traveller, is certainly more than a day's journey — from the limits of Roman territory if he goes via the city of Nisibis; but there is another route which is only half as long. And yet if he had been prepared from the first to cross the Tigris with his entire army, I have no doubt that he would have despoiled the whole Assyrian region, gone right on to the city of Ctesiphon without meeting any resistance at all, freed the prisoners from Antioch and any other Romans who happened to be there, and then returned safely to his fatherland. Then again it was mainly his fault that Chosroes met no real opposition on the way back from Colchis. How this happened I will explain at once.
When Chosroes, son of Cabades, invaded the territory of Colchis and won the successes which I recorded in an earlier volume, including the capture of Petra, the Persian army suffered heavy casualties both in the actual fighting and in negotiating the difficult country. As I pointed out in that volume, roads are almost non-existent in Lazica and precipices abound on every side. As if that was not enough, an epidemic swept through the army and most of the soldiers died, while many of the survivors perished for want of necessary food. At this crisis too persons arriving there from Persia brought the news that Belisarius had defeated Nabedes in battle near Nisibis and was now advancing; that he had stormed Sisauranon and taken Bleschames prisoner with eight hundred Persian cavalry; that he had dispatched another Roman force under Arethas the Saracen commander; and that this force had crossed the Tigris and plundered the whole countryside, which till then had remained unravaged. It happened too that Chosroes had sent a column of Huns against the Armenians who were Roman subjects, in the hope that the Romans in that locality would be so busy dealing with this threat that they would be Oblivious to events in Lazica. Other messengers now brought word that these Huns had been intercepted by Valerian and his Romans: they had joined battle with them and had been severely worsted in the encounter, the column being almost wiped out.
The Persians had suffered untold misery in Lazica, and they were apprehensive lest during their retreat they should run into some enemy force in the narrow defiles and dense thickets, and in their sorry disarray perish to a man. When they heard of the latest disaster they were alarmed by the danger to their wives and children and to their homeland. The more responsible members of the invading army began to protest vehemently to Chosroes, accusing him of violating both his own oaths and international laws accepted by all nations: in time of peace he had invaded Roman territory entirely without provocation, and he was guilty of aggression against a state that had stood the test of time and was superior to all others, capable of withstanding all his armed onslaughts.
There was imminent danger of mutiny, and Chosroes, seriously alarmed, attempted to cure the distemper with the following remedy. He read aloud to them a letter which the Empress happened to have written to Zaberganes a little while before. The contents were as follows:
What an impression you made on me, Zaberganes, by your evident regard for our interests, you saw for yourself a little while back, when you came as an ambassador to our court. My high opinion of you would be confirmed if you were to induce King Chosroes to pursue a peaceful policy towards our State. In that ease I can guarantee that you will reap a handsome reward from my husband, who would not think of taking any action whatever without my approval.
When Chosroes had read this aloud, he took to task any of the leading Persians who imagined that any state worth the name was run by a woman: He managed thus to stem the violence of the men's hostility; but even so he was very apprehensive as he marched away, fully expecting to find his route blocked by the forces of Belisarius. Not a single enemy, however, appeared in his path, and to his great relief he got back safely to his own domains.
On reaching Roman territory Belisarius found that his wife had arrived from Byzantium. He kept her under guard in disgrace, and made repeated moves to get rid of her altogether. But he always relented, overcome, it seems to me, by red-hot passion. Rumour has it also that his wife used magic arts to enslave him, instantly destroying his resolution. Meanwhile Photius set off posthaste for Ephesus, taking with him one of the eunuchs, Calligonus by name, who served as procurer to his mistress. He had put the man in fetters, and on the journey he tortured him till he disclosed all Antonina's secrets. Theodosius, forewarned, took sanctuary in the Church of John the Apostle, the most sacred shrine in Ephesus and one held in special honour. But Andrew, the Archpriest of Ephesus, accepted a bribe and handed him over to his pursuer.
Meanwhile Theodora, who had heard all that had befallen Antonina and was anxious for her safety, ordered Belisarius to bring her to Byzantium. Photius on learning this sent Theodosius into Cilicia, where the picked spearmen and footguards happened to be quartered for the winter, instructing the escort to convey the prisoner with the utmost stealth, and on arrival in Cilicia to keep him in an absolutely safe place of confinement, giving no one a chance to discover his whereabouts. He himself, accompanied by Calligonus, took Theodosius's money, amounting to a very considerable sum, to Byzantium. There the Empress was demonstrating to the world that she knew how to repay bloody favours with bigger and more polluted gifts. Antonina had recently entrapped a single enemy, the Cappadocian, and betrayed him to Theodora: Theodora handed over a small army of men to Antonina, and without preferring a charge brought them to destruction. Some of the close friends of Belisarius and Photius she subjected to physical tortures, even though she had nothing against them except their friendship with these two men, and disposed of in such a way that even now we do not know what happened to them in the end. Others too she charged with the same offence and sentenced to be deported. One of the men who had accompanied Photius to Ephesus, Theodosius by name, though he had been honoured with membership of the Senate, she deprived of his property and threw into a dungeon, where he was forced to stand in pitch darkness, his neck tied to a manger with a noose so small that it was always pulled tight round his throat and never for a moment hung loose. And so the poor fellow stood continuously at this manger, eating and sleeping and performing all other natural functions; and he resembled an ass in every particular short of braying. Four months, no less, he passed in this sort of existence, until he was overcome by sick melancholy and went stark mad; then at last he was released from his prison, and promptly died.
Theodora also compelled Belisarius, much against his inclination, to lay aside his quarrel with his wife Antonina. Photius she subjected to one servile torture after another, tearing the flesh off his back and shoulders with merciless flogging, insisting that he should disclose the whereabouts of Theodosius and the procurer. But Photius, despite the torment that he was enduring, was determined to keep his sworn word, though he was of feeble constitution and had been a loose liver in his youth, and had always attended to his physical comfort with the greatest care, while rough treatment and hardship were unknown to him. Anyway, Photius gave away none of Belisarius's secrets; later, however, all the facts hitherto concealed came to light. The Empress also found Calligonus there and passed him over to Antonina.
Next she summoned Theodosius to Byzantium, and when he arrived she for the moment concealed him in the Palace: next day she sent for Antonina and said,
'Dearest Patrician, a pearl fell into my hands yesterday, the most beautiful that has ever been seen. If you wish, I shall not grudge you the sight of it, but will show it to you.'
Antonina, who did not grasp the purport of all this, begged and besought the Empress to show her the pearl. Whereupon Theodosius was produced from the chamber of one of the eunuchs and shown to her. Antonina was so overcome with joy that at first she was too delighted to say a word; then she acknowledged that Theodora had showered favours upon her, and hailed her as Protectress and Benefactress and Mistress indeed. This Theodosius the Empress detained in the Palace, surrounding him with luxury and pleasures of every kind, and swearing that she would make him a general in the Roman army in the near future. But justice of a sort forestalled her: he had an attack of dysentery, and that was the end of him.
Theodora had secret chambers completely hidden from view, pitch-dark and isolated, where night and day were indistinguishable. There she imprisoned Photius and kept him guarded for a long time. From this prison he had the extraordinary luck to escape twice over and get clear. The first time he took refuge in the Church of the Mother of God, which the Byzantines consider most sacred — the name that was actually given to it — and sat down in front of the holy table as a suppliant.
From there Theodora removed him by brute force, and sent him back to his prison. The second time he wentto the Church of Sophia and before anyone could stop him he actually sat down in the baptismal tank, which Christians at all times reverence more than anything else. But even from there the woman was able to drag him: there was not one inviolable spot that ever remained beyond her reach; and in her eyes violence done to sacred things of any and every kind was nothing at all. And like the common people the Christian priests were so terrified of her that they left the way clear and allowed her to do as she liked. So it was that Photius spent no less than three years in this kind of existence; but afterwards the prophet Zechariah stood over him in a dream and, it is said, commanded him to flee, solemnly promising to assist him in this endeavour. Convinced by this vision he broke out of his prison and made his way to Jerusalem without being caught; for though thousands were on the lookout for him, not a single person recognized him even after meeting him face to face. In Jerusalem he adopted the tonsure and arrayed himself in the habit of a 'monk', managing thus to escape Theodora's vengeance.
Belisarius, on the other hand, had paid no regard to his oaths and had chosen to give no help at all to his stepson, though he was being treated in the abominable way that I have described. So it is not surprising that in all his subsequent undertakings he found the hand of God against him. For no sooner had he been dispatched against Chosroes and his Persians, who had for the third time invaded Roman territory, than he laid himself open to a charge of cowardice. He did indeed appear to have won a notable success in that he had shaken off the war from that region; but when Chosroes crossed the River Euphrates, captured the teeming city of Callinicus without meeting any resistance, and enslaved tens of thousands of Romans, Belisarius did not bother even to pursue the enemy, leaving people to think that one of two things must be true: he had hung back either through wilful neglect of his duty or through sheer cowardice.
It was not long before Belisarius suffered another blow. The epidemic which I recorded in an earlier volume — was taking heavy toll of the people in Byzantium. Among those attacked was the Emperor Justinian, who became very ill indeed; it was even stated that he was dead. This story was spread about by rumour and carried right to the Roman camp. There some of the officers declared that if the Romans set up someone else in Byzantium as emperor over them, they would never submit to him. But the unexpected happened, and before long the Emperor recovered; thereupon the officers of the army flung accusations at each other. Peter the general and John, nicknamed 'The Guzzler', insisted that they had heard Belisarius and Buzes talking in the way I have just mentioned. These criticisms, the Empress Theodora alleged, had been directed by their authors against herself, and she could not contain her indignation. She instantly recalled them all to Byzantium, and held an inquiry ito the report. Then without notice she summoned Buzes to her private apartment as if to consult him on some matter of the first importance.
Thiere was a system of cellars beneath the Palace, secure and labyrinthine, and suggestive of hell itself. In these she habitually kept under lock and key any who had incurred displeasure. Into this hole Buzes was flung in his turn; and there, though the descendant of consuls, he remained, forever oblivious of the passage of time. For as he sat in darkness he could not himself make out whether it was day or night, and he was never allowed to speak to anyone else. The man who tossed him his daily ration of food met him as beast meets beast, neither saying a word. Everyone took it for granted that he had died at once, but to mention his name or say a word about him was more than anyone dared to do. Two years and four months later Theodora took pity on her prisoner and set him free. Everybody stared at him as if he had come back from the dead. For the rest of his life the unfortunate man suffered from bad eyesight, and his general health was very feeble.
Such was the treatment meted out to Buzes. Belisarius, although none of the charges was brought home to him, was at the instigation of the Empress deprived by the Emperor of the command which he held, and replaced by Martin as general in the East. Belisarius's picked spearmen and footguards, together with those of his personal attendants who were trained fighting men, were, on the Emperor's instructions, to be divided up between some of the officers and Palace eunuchs. These drew lots for them and shared them, arms and all, among themselves, as each man happened to be lucky. Many of his friends and other old helpers were forbidden to associate with Belisarius any more. A pitiful sight and an incredible spectacle, Belisarius went about as a private citizen in Byzantium, almost alone, always gloomy and melancholy, in continual fear of death by a murderer's hand. Learning that he had accumulated great wealth in the East, the Empress sent one of the Palace eunuchs to bring it all to her.
Antonina, as I have said, had fallen out with her husband, but was an inseparable friend of the Empress because she had recently contrived to ruin John the Cappadocian. So the Empress, determined to gratify Antonina, did all in her power to make it seem that it was thanks to his wife's intercessions that the husband had been spared and saved from his calamitous position, and to arrange matters so that Antonina should not only be completely reconciled with her unfortunate husband, but should unmistakably be his rescuer as if she had saved a prisoner of war. It happened in this way. Early one morning Belisarius came to the Palace, escorted as usual by a few poor specimens of humanity. He found their Majesties anything but friendly, and into the bargain was grossly insulted there by some vulgar scoundrels. It was late in the evening when he set off for home, and on the way back he repeatedly turned round and looked in every possible direction from which he might see his would-be murderers coming towards him. In the grip of this terror he went upstairs to his bedroom and sat down on the bed alone. There was no one honourable thought in his head; he was not conscious that he had once been a man. The sweat ran down his face unceasingly; his head swam; his whole body trembled in an agony of despair, tormented as he was by slavish fears and craven anxieties utterly unworthy of a man.
Antonina, as if she was quite unaware of what was afoot and had no inkling of anything that was to happen, was walking endlessly about the room to relieve an alleged attack of heartburn; for they still eyed each other suspiciously. Meanwhile a man called Quadratus arrived from the Palace when it was already dark, passed through the outer gateway, and appeared without warning outside the door of the men's apartments, and announced that the Empress had sent him there. When Belisarius heard this, he drew up his hands and feet on the bed and lay motionless on his back, convinced that his time had come; so completely had every spark of manhood deserted him. Without waiting to get near him Quadratus held up a letter from the Empress for him to see. It read as follows:
How you have behaved towards us, my good sir, you know only too well. But I personally owe so much to your wife that for her sake I have resolved to dismiss all the charges brought against you, making her a present of your life. So from now an you need have no fear for either your life or your money. How you regard your wife your future conduct will show us.
When Belisarius had read the letter through, he was beside himself with joy and longed at the same time to show then and there how he felt. So he sprang up at once, threw himself on his face at his wife's feet, and flung his arms round both her knees. Then raining kisses on each ankle in turn he declared that he owed his life entirely to her, and swore that henceforth he would be her faithful slave, not her husband. Of his money the Empress gave gold to the value of £450,00o to the Emperor, and returned the balance to Belisarius.
Such was the downfall of Belisarius the general, to whom fortune a little while before had presented Gelimer and Vittigis as prisoners of war. But for a long time both Justinian and Theodora had been bitterly jealous of the man's wealth: it was far too great, and more suited to the court of an emperor. They maintained that he had spirited way the bulk of the money in the public treasuries of Gelimer and Vittigis, handing over a tiny and quite negligible fraction of it to the Emperor. But the toils Belisarius had undergone and the execration they would bring upon themselves could not be disregarded; nor could they devise any convincing excuse for taking action against him. So they bided their time. But now that the Empress had caught him in a state of abject terror and completely cowed, a single stroke sufficed to make her mistress of his entire property for a marriage-connexion was promptly established between them by the union of Joannina, the only child of Belisarius, with Anastasius, the son of the Empress's daughter. Belisarius now asked to be restored to his proper position and appointed Commander-in-Chief, in the East, so that he could again lead the Roman army against Chosroes and the Persians. But Antonina would not hear of it: in that part of the world, she insisted, she had been grossly insulted by him, and he should never see it again.
And so Belisarius was appointed Commander of the Imperial Grooms, and for the second time he set out for Italy, Italy after giving the Emperor an undertaking, it is said, that he would never ask him for money during this campaign, but would himself pay for all the necessary equipment out of his own pocket. It was universally surmised that ' Belisarius settled the problem of his wife in this way, and gave the Emperor the undertaking described above regarding the forthcoming campaign, simply with the object of getting away from life in Byzantium; and that the moment he found himself outside the city walls he would instantly resort to arms and plunge into some gallant and heroic enterprise in order to score off his wife and those who had humiliated him. Belisarius, however, paid no heed to anything that had happened: completely oblivious and indifferent to the oaths which he had sworn to Photius and all his most intimate friends, he went where his wife directed him; for he was hopelessly in love with her, though she was already a woman of sixty.
But when he arrived in Italy, there was not a single day when things went right for him, because the hand of God was unmistakably against him. At first, it is true, the plans which in the circumstances he devised for dealing with Theudatus and Vittigis, though apparently unsuited to his purpose, for the most part brought about the desired result; but in the later stages, despite the reputation which he gained for having planned his campaign on sound lines as a result of the experience gained in dealing with the problems of this war, his ill success in the sequel was for the most part put down to apparent errors of judgement. So true is it that it is not our own devices that control our lives, but the power of God — the thing which we too often refer to as chance, simply because we do not know what makes events follow the course we see them follow. When there seems to be no reason for a thing it is almost inevitably put down to chance. But this is a question on which opinions may reasonably differ.
So it was that after coming to Italy a second time Belisarius returned home utterly discredited. For, as I explained in an earlier volume in spite of five years' effort he never once succeeded in disembarking on any part of the coast, unless there was a fortress handy: the whole of that time he sailed about, trying one landing-place after another. Totila was desperate to catch him outside a protecting wall; but he failed to make contact, as Belisarius himself and the entire Roman army were in the grip of panic fear, with the result that he not only failed to recover a yard of lost ground but actually lost Rome as well, and very nearly everything else. At the same time he devoted himself heart and soul to the pursuit of wealth and the unlimited acquisition of illicit gain, on the plea that he had not received a penny from the Emperor. In fact, he plundered indiscriminately nearly all the Italians who lived at Ravenna or in Sicily and anyone else he could reach, pretending that he was making them pay the penalty of their misdeeds. Thus he even went for Herodian, demanding money from him and using every possible means to terrorize him. This so infuriated Herodian that he turned his back on the Roman army and at once put himself, the units under his command, and the town of Spolitium in the hands of Totila and the Goths.
How Belisarius came to quarrel with Vitalian's nephew John, thereby doing untold damage to the Roman cause, is the next question that I must answer.
Such savage enmity against Germanus had the Empress conceived — enmity of which she made no secret at all — that although he was the Emperor's nephew no one dared marry into his family, and his sons remained single until their best years had gone. His daughter Justina, too though she was a mature woman of eighteen, was still without a bridegroom. Consequently, when John was dispatched by Belisarius on an errand to Byzantium, Germanus was compelled to negotiate with him on the subject of a marriage with her, despite the fact that John's rank was far inferior to his own. As the suggestion appealed to them both, they agreed to bind each other by the most terrible oaths that they would do everything in their power to effect the proposed union; for each of them profoundly distrusted the other, the one being aware that he was reaching far beyond his rank, the other having no other hope of a son-in-law.
This was more than the Empress could bear. Putting all scruples aside, she went for them both with every available weapon and without hesitation, in her determination to bring their plans to nothing. When all her efforts at intimidation produced no effect on either of them, she announced in so many words that she would destroy John. In consequence, when John was again dispatched to Italy, he dared not go anywhere near Belisarius for fear of Antonina's machinations, until that lady was safely back in Byzantium. For there was every reason to suspect that the Empress had entrusted her with the task of arranging his murder; and as John weighed Antonina's character and reminded himself that Belisarius let his wife have her own way in everything, he was seized with uncontrollable fear. Is it to be wondered at that Roman authority, already on its last legs, collapsed completely?
This then is how the Gothic War went for Belisarius. Despairing of success, he appealed to the Emperor for permission to leave Italy forthwith. When he learnt that Justinian was agreeable to his request he was delighted and set off immediately for home, leaving the Roman army and the Italians to take care of themselves. Most of the country he left in enemy hands, while the beleaguered city of Perusia was in such a desperate plight that before his journey was completed it was taken by storm and experienced every horror imaginable, as I recorded in full long ago. At the same time a heavy blow fell upon his own household, as we shall see next.
The Empress Theodora, impatient to secure the betrothal of Belisarius's daughter to her own grandson, wrote letter after letter to the girl's parents, worrying them to death. They, in their anxiety to prevent the alliance, sought to postpone the marriage till they themselves returned, and when summoned to Byzantium by the Empress pleaded that they could not leave Italy just then. But she had set her heart on making her grandson master of Belisarius's wealth, knowing that it would all go to the girl, as Belisarius had no other child. She put no trust, however, in the intentions of Antonina, and was afraid that when she herself departed from the scene Antonina would show no loyalty towards the imperial house, although Theodora had treated her so generously when she was in great difficulties, but would tear up the contract. And so, in defiance of all morality, she made the immature girl live with the boy in unlawful union. It is said that by secret pressure she actually forced her, though most unwilling, to have intercourse with him, and when in this way the girl had lost her virginity, arranged for her to marry him, for fear the Emperor might put a stop to her little game. However, when the deed was done, a burning love for each other took possession of Anastasius and his child bride, and they spent eight whole months together in blissful union.
But when death removed the Empress, Antonina came to Byzantium, and wilfully oblivious of the favours Theodora had so recently bestowed on her, paid no regard at all to the fact that if she married the girl to anyone else, she would be regarded as an ex-prostitute. She had no use for Theodora's off spring as a son-in-law, and although the girl was unwilling in the extreme she compelled her to part from the man she adored. By this action she won a universal reputation for utter heartlessness; and yet when her husband arrived she had no difficulty at all in persuading him to share the responsibility with her for this abominable outrage.
This, then, was the moment when the man's character was laid bare for all to see. It is true that when on an earlier occasion he had given his sworn word to Photius and some of his closest friends, and then had shamelessly broken it, he had been forgiven by everyone. For the cause of his faithlessness, they suspected, was not his subservience to his wife but his fear of the Empress. But when, as I remarked, death removed Theodora, he paid no regard either to Photius or any other of those nearest to him, but allowed it to be seen that his wife was mistress over him, and Calligonus her procurer was master. Then at last he was repudiated by everyone, was made the target for endless gossip, and was dismissed with contempt as a hopeless fool.
Such, then, is the record — unvarnished and essentially correct — of the misdeeds of Belisarius. Let us turn now to those committed in Libya by Sergius, son of Bacchus, of which I gave an adequate account in the appropriate place, showing that he did more than anyone to destroy Roman authority in that region; for he not only treated with contempt the oaths which he had sworn on the Gospels to the Leuathae, but even put the eighty ambassadors to death without the slightest pretext. Only one addition need now be made to my account, namely that these men had no sinister motive in coming to Sergius, and Sergius had no excuse for suspecting them: he pledged his word to them, invited them to dinner, and put them to death in the most dastardly manner. It was this outrage that brought about the destruction of Solomon and the Roman army, and of all the Libyans; for on his account, especially after the death of Solomon which I recorded earlier, not an officer nor a private was prepared to face the hazards of war. Worst of all, John son of Sisinniolus was so furious with him that he kept clear of the fighting till Areobindus arrived in Libya. For Sergius was soft and unwarlike, in character and development quite immature, a helpless slave to envy and boastfulness towards everyone, ostentatious in his way of life and blown up with pride. But, as it happened, he had become a suitor for the grand-daughter of Antonina, Belisarius's wife; so the Empress absolutely declined to punish him in any way or to deprive him of his command, although she saw that the ruin of Libya was proceeding apace: with the full approval of the Emperor she even allowed Sergius's brother Solomon, the murderer of Pegasius, to go scot-free. How that happened I will speedily make clear.
When Pegasius had ransomed Solomon from the Leuathae and the tribe had gone back home, Solomon, along with Pegasius his ransomer and a handful of soldiers, set out for Carthage. On the way Pegasius caught Solomon committing an offence of some sort, and remarked with considerable emphasis that he ought not to forget how a short time before God had rescued him from the enemy. Solomon, thinking that he had been sneered at for letting himself be taken prisoner, lost his temper and killed Pegasius on the spot — a poor return to the man who had saved him. When Solomon arrived in Byzantium, the Emperor acquitted him of the murder on the ground that he had executed a traitor to the Roman Empire. He furthermore gave him a letter ensuring his immunity from any proceedings in this matter. Having thus escaped punishment Solomon went off in great glee to the East, to visit his birthplace and his family at home. But punishment at the hand of God overtook him on the way and removed him from human sight. So much for the story of Solomon and Pegasius.