The Destruction Wrought by a Demon-Emperor
From 'The Secret History' by Procopius

THAT the emperor was not a man but, as I have already pointed out, a demon in human shape, could be demonstrated by considering the magnitude of the calamities which he brought on the human race. For it is by the immensity of what he accomplishes that the power of the doer is manifested. To make any accurate estimate of the number of lives destroyed by this man would never, it seems to me, be within the power of any living being other than God. For sooner could one number all the sands than the hosts of men destroyed by this potentate. But making a rough estimate of the area which has been denuded of its inhabitants I suggest that a million million lost their lives. Libya, for instance, in spite of its enormous size, has been laid so utterly waste that however far one went it would be a difficult and remarkable achievement to find a single person there. Yet the Vandals who took part in the recent armed revolt in that country were eighty thousand strong, and the number of their women and children and slaves can hardly be guessed. As for the Libyans who had once lived in the cities and farmed the land or toiled on the sea — as I know only too well since I saw it with my own eyes — how could any man on earth begin to estimate their vast numbers? And even they were few in comparison with the Moorish inhabitants, who perished to a man along with their wives and little ones. Furthermore, many of the Roman soldiers and many of those who had accompanied them from Byzantium lie under the earth. Thus if one insisted that in Libya alone five million people lost their lives, he would, I suspect, be understating the facts. The reason was that as soon as the Vandals had been crushed Justinian took no steps to tighten his hold over the country, and made no plans to ensure that its resources should be secured for him by winning the firm loyalty of the inhabitants. Instead he immediately instructed Belisarius to return home without loss of time, accusing him of political ambitions of which he was entirely innocent, so that from then on he could order things at his own sweet will and swallow up all the plunder of Libya.

He immediately sent out assessors, if you please, to value the land, and imposed crushing taxation unknown before, and assumed the ownership of all the most valuable estates. Then he turned his attention to the Arians, whom he debarred from celebrating their customary sacraments. Finally, he kept his armed forces waiting for their pay, and in other ways made life a burden for his soldiers. The result of all this was an outbreak of revolts that led to widespread destruction. For he could never bring himself to let well alone: he had an innate passion for throwing everything into confusion and chaos.

Italy, which is at least three times as large as Libya, has been far more completely depopulated than the latter; so proof of the scale of destruction there too will not be far to seek. The responsibility for what happened in Italy has already been made clear in an earlier chapter . All the blunders that he made in Libya had their counterparts here. And by sending his audit-officers, as they are called, to swell the staff on the spot, he instantly overturned and ruined everything.

Before this war began, the Gothic Empire stretched from Gaul to the boundaries of Dacia, where stands the city of Sirmium. Gaul and Venetia were for the most part in German occupation at the time when the Roman army arrived in Italy. Sirmium and its neighbourhood are in the hands of the Gepaides; but all this region, roughly speaking, is completely depopulated. For some died in the war, others succumbed to disease and starvation, which war inevitably brings in its train. Illyricum and the whole of Thrace — that is to say, from the Ionian Gulf to the suburbs of Byzantium, an area which includes Greece and the Chersonnese — were overrun almost every year by Huns, Slavs, and Antae, from the day that Justinian took charge of the Roman Empire. In these raids the local inhabitants suffered untold miseries. I believe that in every incursion more than two hundred thousand of the Romans residing there were killed or enslaved, so that the whole region was turned into a second Scythian desert.

Such were the consequences of the wars in Libya and in Europe. All this time the Saracens were continuously over-running Roman territory in the East from Egypt to the frontiers of Persia, doing their deadly work so thoroughly that the whole of that region was left almost uninhabited: I do not think it possible that any human being, however careful his investigations, will ever find out the numbers of those who perished in these raids. Again, the Persians under Chosroes thrice invaded the rest of the Roman territory and razed the cities to the ground. Of the men and women they captured in the cities that they stormed and in the various country districts, some they butchered, others they carried away with them, leaving the land completely uninhabited wherever they happened to swoop. And from the time when they first invaded Colchis the destruction of the Colchians, the Lazi, and the Romans has continued to this day.

However, neither Persians nor Saracens nor Huns, nor the Slav peoples nor any other foreign invaders, were lucky enough to withdraw from Roman soil unscathed. During their incursions, and still more during sieges and battles, they came up against many obstacles and their casualties were as heavy as their enemies'. For not only Romans but nearly all the nations outside their borders had the benefit of Justinian's bloodthirstiness. As if Chosroes was not a bad enough character himself, Justinian, as I made clear in the appropriate part of my book, provided him with every inducement to go to war. For he took no pains to fit his actions to the circumstance of the moment, but did everything at the wrong time. In time of peace or truce he was always treacherously contriving pretexts for aggression against his neighbours; in time of war he slackened 'off in the most foolish way, showing a woeful lack of energy in preparing for the projected operations, simply because he hated to part with his money. Instead of giving his mind to the task in hand he went in for stargazing and for foolish attempts to determine the nature of God: he would not abandon the war because he was bloodthirsty and murderous by nature, nor could he overcome his enemies because sheer meanness prevented him from tackling the essential problems. Is it surprising that while he was on the throne the whole earth reeked of human blood, shed in an unending stream both by the Romans and by nearly all the peoples outside their borders?

Such, in fine, was the toll of the wars that took place at this time in all parts of the Empire. And when I reckon up the toll of the civil strife that took place in Byzantium and every city besides, my conclusion is that as many lives were lost in this way as in the wars. Justice and impartial punishment for crimes committed were hardly ever seen, and the Emperor gave enthusiastic support to one of the two parties; so naturally their rivals did not lie down either. They all took to desperate courses, utterly heedless of the consequences, the one side because they were the underdogs, the other side because they were on top. Sometimes they went for each other en masse, sometimes they fought in small groups, or again, from time to time they laid traps for individual opponents; and for thirty-two years they never missed one opportunity of practising frightful brutalities against each other, while at the same time they were constantly being sentenced to death by the magistrate responsible for public order. But even so, punishment for the crimes committed fell almost entirely on the Greens. We may add that punitive action against Samaritans and so-called heretics filled the Roman Empire with blood. This brief sketch is all that I propose to offer now: I gave a sufficiently detailed account two chapters back.

Such were the disasters which in the time of this demon in human form befell the entire human race, disasters for which Justinian as the reigning emperor must bear the responsibility. The immeasurable distress which some hidden power and demonic nature enabled him to bring upon his fellow-men will be the next subject of my story. For while this man was at the head of affairs there was a continuous series of catastrophes, which as some maintained were due to the presence here of this wicked demon and to his machinations, though others argued that the Deity, hating all that Justinian did and turning His back on the Roman Empire, had given the avenging demons licence to work all the mischief that I am about to describe.

To begin with, the River Scirtus inundated Edessa, bringing on the inhabitants calamities without number, which I shall recount in a later volume . Next, the Nile rose in the usual way but failed to sink again at the proper time, bringing upon some of the inhabitants sufferings which I described earlier . Thirdly, the Cydnus poured almost all round Tarsus, inundated the city for days on end, and did not subside until it had done incalculable damage there. Again, earthquakes destroyed Antioch, the first city of the East, Seleucia, which is its nearest neighbour, and Anazarbus, the most famous city in Cilicia. The number of lives lost in these three cities it is impossible to estimate; and we must not forget Ibora and Amasia, the first city in Pontus, or Polybotus in Phrygia, and the town which the Pisidians call Philomede, or. Lychnidus in Epirus, and Corinth, all of which had had huge populations for centuries past. Every one of these cities has been overthrown by an earthquake during this short period, and the inhabitants almost without exception have perished with them. On top of the earthquakes came the epidemic which I mentioned before ; this carried off about half the survivors. On such a vast scale was the loss of life, first while this man was acting as Head of the State, and later when he reigned as monarch.

I shall now go on to relate how he appropriated all the money he could lay his hands on, first mentioning a dream-vision which at the beginning of Justin's reign appeared to a citizen of high rank. He told how in his dream he had fancied that he was standing somewhere in Byzantium on the sea shore exactly opposite Chalcedon, and that he saw Justinian standing in front of him right in the middle of the channel. First Justinian drank up all the water of the sea, so that from then on he seemed to the dreamer to be standing on dry land, as the waves did not break on the shore at this point; then other water appeared there, choked with masses of filth and rubbish and pouring out of sewers on both sides. This Justinian drank up as well, laying bare once more the bed of the channel. This was what the man saw in his dream-vision.

When Justin ascended the throne, his nephew Justinian found the government's coffers full of public money. For Anastasius had shown himself the most provident and economical of all the emperors, and fearing — with good cause — that his successor might find himself short of money and be tempted to plunder his subjects, he had filled all the treasuries to the doors with gold before he reached the end of his days. All this Justinian dissipated in next to no time, partly on constructions on the shore which served no useful purpose, partly on largesse to tribes outside the Empire. Yet one would have expected it to keep the most extravagant of emperors amply provided for a hundred years. For it was emphatically stated by the officials in charge of the funds and treasuries and all other forms of imperial wealth that Anastasius, after reigning over the Romans for more than twenty-seven years, had left gold to the value of £48,000,000 in the state coffers. But in the nine short years of Justin's reign this man Justinian created such confusion and disorder in the body politic that no less than £60,000,000 was brought into the Imperial Treasury by improper means; yet nothing whatever was left of all that accumulated wealth: while Justin was still alive this spendthrift squandered the lot in the manner already described. As to the sums which in his lifetime he managed to appropriate to himself illegally and then expend, there is no possible way of accounting for them or estimating their magnitude: Like an overflowing river he daily ravaged and despoiled his subjects; but the whole flood swept straight on to enrich the natural enemies of his country.

As soon as he had denuded the country of all its public wealth, he turned his eyes towards his individual subjects, and lost no time in stripping most of them of their estates, which he seized by main force with no attempt at justification. Though no charges had been brought, he hauled up those who were thought to be well off in Byzantium and in every city besides. Some he accused of polytheism, some of professing unorthodox beliefs about Christ, some of offences against boys, others of love-affairs with nuns or other improper forms of intercourse, others of provoking faction-fights, or of attachment to the Green party, or of disloyalty to himself, or of anything else in the catalogue of crimes. Another trick was by a stroke of the pen to make himself heir of deceased persons, or even of the living if he saw a chance, on the ground that they had adopted him. These were his most distinguished efforts. The way in which he turned to his own advantage the insurrection against him known as 'Nika', and immediately became heir of every senator, I explained a little way back; also the way in which before the insurrection he had appropriated to himself, one at a time, the estates of a considerable number of them.

On all his country's potential enemies he lost no opportunity of lavishing vast sums of money — on those to East, West, North, and South, as far as the inhabitants of Britain and the nations in every part of the known world, nations of which not even a rumour had ever before reached our ears, and whose names we learnt only when we at last saw them with our eyes. For when they heard what sort of man Justinian was they did not wait for an invitation: from every direction they poured into Byzantium to get in touch with him. The Emperor was not in the least dismayed, but delighted at the whole business, deeming it an unexpected piece of luck to be able to ladle out Roman wealth and toss it to members of inferior races or pour it on to the waves of the sea; and day after day he continued to send them home, every one of them with masses of money. Thus it is that foreign nations on every side have come to be possessed of all the wealth of the Romans, either by receiving the money from the Emperor's hand, or by plundering the Roman Empire, or by selling back their prisoners of war, or by demanding money in return for a cease-fire. In this way the dream-vision which I related a little way back was fulfilled for the man who saw it.

There were yet other methods which Justinian managed to devise for despoiling his subjects, and which without more ado I shall describe to the best of my ability — methods which made it perfectly simple for him to plunder the estates of all his subjects, not all at once, but bit by bit.

First, he made it his practice to give authority over the people in Byzantium to a prefect who was to take a half share of the annual profits of the shopkeepers in return for giving them permission to sell their wares at whatever price they liked. Consequently, the customers who did their household shopping there had to pay three times the proper price, and there was no one to whom they could complain about it. This scandal was productive of a great deal of harm. For as the Treasury collected a share of these profits, the official responsible for these matters was only too pleased to enrich himself from this source. In the next place the subordinates to whom the official had delegated these unsavoury duties, joining forces with the shopkeepers, grasped with both hands this freedom to break the law, and treated abominably those who had to do their shopping then or not at all, not only collecting, as has been said, monstrously inflated prices, but practising unspeakable frauds in the quality of the commodities sold.

His second step was to establish a number of monopolies, as they are called, selling the welfare of his subjects to those who were prepared to operate this monstrous system. He himself went off with the payment which he had exacted as his share of the bargain, while those who had come to this arrangement with him were allowed to run their business just as they pleased. He behaved in the same unscrupulous way without any attempt at concealment in dealing with all the other magistracies. The Emperor always pocketed his own little share of their ill-gotten gains; so the magistrates and those immediately responsible for each piece of jobbery plunged all the more recklessly into the plundering of all who came into their power.

As if the historic magistracies were not adequate for this purpose of his, he invented two additional ones for the management of public business, though hitherto all indictments had been dealt with by the magistrate responsible for public order. But to ensure that the number of professional informers should be constantly increasing, and to facilitate yet further the subjection of perfectly inoffensive persons to physical ill-usage, he made up his mind to create these two new offices. The holder of one was appointed supposedly to bring thieves to justice, receiving the title of Praetor of the Plebeians; the holder of the other was charged with the correction of habitual offenders against boys and of those who had illicit intercourse with women, and of those again who did not show orthodox reverence for the Deity. This official received the title of Quaesitor. Now note what happened. The Praetor, if among the stolen goods he put his hand on any articles of great value, made it his business to hand these to the Emperor, explaining that it was impossible to discover their owners. In this way His Majesty always contrived to secure a share of the most valuable plunder. The one called Quaesitor , when he had finished with alleged offenders, would hand over as much as he thought fit, without seriously impairing his capacity to enrich himself illegally at the expense of other people. For the subordinates of these magistrates never produced any accusers, and never called anyone to give evidence of the alleged offences, but through all this time the long line of those unlucky enough to fall into their clutches, though neither accused nor proved guilty, were with the utmost secrecy murdered and stripped of their property.

Later this bloodthirsty devil instructed these officials and the magistrate responsible for public order to deal indiscriminately with all accusations, telling them to compete with each other to find out which of them could destroy the biggest number in the shortest time. It is said that one of them promptly asked him, if one day someone were to be denounced to all three of them, which one should have the handling of the case. The answer came at once — whichever of them got his nose in first.

Again, he meddled most improperly with the office of the magistrate called the Quaestor, an office which had been treated with the greatest respect by previous emperors almost without exception, who saw to it that the highest standard of general experience, and above all of skill in legal matters, should be required in holders of this office, who must in addition be manifestly incapable of accepting a bribe; for the consequences would be calamitous for the State if holders of this office were either hampered by any want of experience or given up to avarice. This emperor on the other hand began by appointing to this office Tribonian, whose activities were described in detail in an earlier volume . When Tribonian departed this life Justinian purloined a slice of his estate, although he had left a son and a number of grandchildren when he was overtaken by his last day on earth. Junilus, a Libyan by race, was chosen to fill the vacancy, though he had not even a nodding acquaintance with the law, since he was not even one of the recognized pleaders. He had a good knowledge of Latin, but as regards Greek he had never even been to school and could not get his tongue round the language — why, often when he did his best to pronounce a Greek word he moved his subordinates to scornful laughter. He had an overwhelming passion for making money in dirty ways: he actually put documents signed by the Emperor up to public auction without turning a hair; and in return for a single gold coin he unblushingly held out his palm to all and sundry. For a period of seven whole years these goings on made the State an object of ridicule. When Junilus too came to the end of his days the Emperor gave this office to Constantine, who had had some training in the law, but was absurdly young and had had no experience hitherto of lawyers' wrangles; and he was the biggest thief and the biggest boaster alive.

This man had wormed his way deep into Justinian's affections and had become one of his dearest friends: at no time did the Emperor hesitate to use him as a tool either in stealing or in manipulating the law-courts. So it was not long before Constantine made a pile of money and became unbearably pompous,' walking the air and contemplating the entire human race with scorn'. If people were prepared to hand over a great deal of money to him, they had to deposit it with some of his most trusted assistants; then they were free to put into effect the plans they had at heart. But to meet the quaestor himself or to have any contact with him was impossible for anyone at all, unless he caught him running to the Palace or returning from there — never at a walk, but in haste and at a great speed, to make sure that those who came near him did not waste his time without paying for it.

Such were the methods of Justinian in this sphere of his operations. If we turn now to the Praetorian Prefect, we find that every year he levied more than £450,000 on top of the regular taxes. To this impost he gave the name ' sky tax' — to show, I suppose, that this was not a regular or permanent tax, but that by some lucky chance it always seemed to drop out of the sky into his lap. These practices might better be described as an exhibition of his villainy. In the name of this tax holders of this office grew continually bolder in their plundering of the common people. The proceeds were supposed to be handed over to the Emperor, but the officers acquired a princely fortune for themselves without the slightest trouble. Justinian, however, saw no need to take the least notice of such things: he looked for the day when they had made a really big pile; for then he could at once bring against them some charge or other to which there was no answer, and there would be nothing to prevent him from depriving them at one stroke of everything they possessed. This was the treatment that he meted out to John the Cappadocian.

Everyone, of course, who occupied this position during the period in question suddenly found himself rich beyond his dreams. There were just two exceptions. One was Phocas, whom I described in an earlier volume as a man of unshakeable integrity: he resisted all temptation to enrich himself while in office. The other was Bassus, who did not assume the office till a later date. But neither of these two retained the position for a single year: on the ground that they were useless and quite out of touch with the age they lived in they were ousted from their position within a few months. But I must not go into minute detail and drag my story out interminably: I need only say that the same things were going on in all the other ministries in Byzantium.

Everywhere in the Roman Empire Justinian followed this method. He picked out the most degraded specimens of humanity he could lay his hands on and sold them the offices they were to corrupt, charging a very high price; for no one with any decency or any vestige of good sense would ever think of pouring out his own money for the pleasure of robbing inoffensive citizens. After collecting the cash from those with whom he was negotiating he gave them permission to do anything they liked to those under them. This enabled them to ruin all the districts allotted to them, inhabitants and all, and make enough money to keep them in luxury for the rest of their lives. To find the money to pay for their cities they obtained a loan from the bank at a very high rate of interest and handed over the money to the vendor; then when they arrived in the cities, from then on they brought every variety of misery upon their subjects, having no other object in life than to make sure that they could satisfy their creditors, and themselves be included from then on amongst the richest in the land. The business did not lay them open to any risk or criticism; it brought them on the contrary a good deal of admiration, which became greater and greater as they succeeded in the senseless killing and despoiling of more and more of their chance victims. For to call them murderers and despoilers was to give them credit for vigour and effectiveness. But the moment that Justinian noticed that any office-holder had amassed a fortune, he found some excuse for netting him and dropping him and all he possessed into his creel.

Later he made a law that candidates for offices must swear that they would faithfully keep their own hands clean from all thieving, and would neither, give nor receive any payment in connexion with their official duties. And he laid all the curses that have come down from the distant past on anyone who broke the written agreements. But the law had been in force less than a year when he himself, scorning agreements and oaths and the disgrace involved, began with less hesitation than ever to bargain about the prices of the various offices, not in some dark corner but in the open forum. Naturally those who bought the offices, regardless of their oath, looted right and left more recklessly than before.

Later still he contrived yet another scheme, quite breath-taking. Those offices which he considered the most important in Byzantium and the other cities he decided that he would not continue to sell as before. Instead he sought out hirelings to fill the vacancies, arranging with them that in return for a salary of some kind they should hand over to him all the loot. They, on receiving their salary, blithely set to work collecting and carrying off everything from the whole countryside, and a hireling authority went out in all directions plundering the ordinary people in the name of the office. In this way the Emperor, choosing with the greatest care, all the time put in charge of affairs those who without any doubt were the biggest scoundrels in the world, and always managed to track down this loathsome quarry. In fact, when he installed the first batch of scoundrels in office and the licence which power gave them brought their evil dispositions to light, we were utterly astounded that human nature could find room for such immense wickedness. But when in the course of time their places were taken by others who were able to go far beyond them, people began to ask each other how it came about that those who a little while ago seemed the most utter scoundrels were so amazingly outdone by their successors that they now appeared to have behaved like perfect gentlemen in all their proceedings. The third batch in their turn outranged the second in every kind of iniquity, only to be followed by others who by their ingenuity in dragging people into court surrounded the memory of their predecessors with an odour of virtue. As things went from bad to worse all men came to learn by experience that man's innate wickedness knows no limit: when it feeds on the knowledge of the past, and when the licence which impunity bestows encourages it to victimize all whom it encounters, it seems to swell inevitably to such proportions that it is not even possible for the minds of the sufferers to grasp its immensity. Such were the miseries the Romans underwent at the hands of their magistrates.

Over and over again when an army of enemy Huns had plundered the Roman Empire and enslaved the inhabitants, the Thracian and Illyrian commanders planned to attack them as they retired; but they reversed their decision when they were shown a letter from the Emperor Justinian forbidding them to launch their attack on the invaders, since they were needed as allies of the Romans against the Goths, perhaps, or against some other of their enemies. The result was that these wild tribes began to act as open enemies and to plunder and enslave any Romans within reach; then with their prisoners and other booty they would, in their capacity as friends and allies of the Romans, return to their own homes. Over and over again some of the farmers of those parts, impelled by longing for their wives and children who had been carried off as slaves, made a united assault on the retreating enemy and succeeded in killing numbers of them and capturing their horses together with all the booty — only to find that the consequences of their action were very painful indeed. For a body of men dispatched from Byzantium took it upon them without the slightest hesitation to assault them and knock them about in addition to imposing fines, until they handed over all the horses which they had taken from the raiders.

When the Emperor and Theodora had got rid of John the Cappadocian, they wanted to appoint a successor; so they made united and strenuous efforts to find someone still more degraded, looking round for such an instrument of their tyranny, and minutely investigating the temperaments of the candidates, in the hope of ruining their subjects even faster than before. For the time being they chose Theodotus to fill John's place, not a good man by any means, but not bad enough to fill the bill completely.

Peter Barsymes
After doing so they continued their painstaking scrutiny in all directions. To their surprise they found a money-changer of Syrian origin called Peter and surnamed Barsymes. For years he had stood behind the counter changing bronze coins and making an inexcusably high profit out of the transaction, having a very clever knack of filching the halfpennies and deceiving one customer after another by the quickness of his fingers. He showed remarkable dexterity in pocketing the property of any who came his way, and if caught he instantly swore his innocence and covered up the misdemeanour of his hands with the effrontery of his tongue. He enlisted in the Imperial Guard, and charged into such horrifying courses that he delighted Theodora and helped her enthusiastically to overcome the difficulties in her own unscrupulous plans. So Theodotus, whom they had appointed to succeed the Cappadocian, was immediately relieved of his office, and replaced by Peter, who performed their wishes in every particular. He robbed the soldiers on active service of their pay and allowances without ever giving a hint of shame or fear. He even put up the local magistracies to auction more brazenly than ever before, and lowering their prestige he used to sell them to those who did not shrink from engaging in this unholy traffic, expressly authorizing purchasers of the offices to treat the lives and property of their subjects in any way they chose. For it was agreed at once between Peter and the man who had put down the price of the locality that he should have licence to plunder and pillage as he liked.

Thus from the virtual Head of the State proceeded the traffic in men's lives, and with him the bargain was struck for the destruction of the cities. Through the chief law-courts and round the open forum strode a licensed bandit, who defined his duties as the collection of the sums handed over in payment for public office. There was of course no hope that notice would be taken of his misdemeanours. Then again, of all persons in State employment — they were both numerous and distinguished — he invariably attracted to himself the very worst. Such misconduct, alas, was not practised by him alone, but by all the earlier and later occupants of this office. The same sort of thing went on in the department of the Magister, as he is called, and among the Officers of the Household, whose duties are to attend to all business in connexion with State finances, with the privata, as they are called, and the patrimonium — in fact, in all the departments centred in Byzantium and the other cities. For from the time that this autocrat took charge of affairs, in every department the monies earmarked for the junior officials were commandeered without any justification, sometimes by Justinian himself, sometimes by the head of the department. Meanwhile the men who took their orders from them were reduced to extreme penury, and had to work all the time as if they were the lowest of slaves. A very large quantity of grain had been stored in Byzantium, but most of it was rotten already; so without consulting anyone the Emperor foisted it on all the eastern cities in proportion to their population, though it was unfit for human consumption; and foisted it on them, not at the normal rate for top quality grain, but at a much higher price. After pouring out vast sums to meet these inflated charges there was nothing that the purchasers could do except to dump the grain in the sea or in a sewer. There was still a large store of sound grain that had not yet gone rotten; this too he decided to sell at top price to those cities that were at all short of grain. By this means he made a hundred per cent profit on the money which the Treasury had originally paid to the tributary states for this grain.

The next year, however, the harvest of the fields was not nearly so abundant, and the grain fleet arrived at Byzantium with quite inadequate supplies. So Peter, not knowing how to deal with the situation, thought it best to buy a great quantity of grain from places in Bithynia, Phrygia, and Thrace. The inhabitants of these regions had no option but to undertake the heavy task of carrying the cargoes down to the coast and to face the dangers involved in transporting them to Byzantium, where they received from him a derisory sum in so-called settlement. Their loss amounted to such a huge total that they would have been glad if they had been allowed to deposit the grain in a government warehouse gratis, and to pay an additional sum for the privilege. This is the burden commonly referred to as ' requisition'. But even so there was still insufficient grain in Byzantium to meet the demand, and many people protested vigorously to the Emperor about the business. At the same time almost all the men in the armed forces, as they had not received the pay to which they were entitled, gave themselves up to disorder and constant rioting all over the city.

The Emperor now made it clear that he was dissatisfied with Peter: he wished to remove him from office, both for the reasons mentioned and because he had been informed that Peter had salted away a fantastic amount of public money which he had managed to embezzle. The information was true enough. But Theodora refused to let her husband do this; for she was extraordinarily attached to Barsymes, apparently because of his sheer badness and his more than brutal treatment of those under him. She herself, of course, was utterly ruthless and full to bursting with inhumanity, and she expected her subordinates to be as like herself as possible in character. They say that she was bewitched by Peter and compelled against her will to show him favour; for sorcerers and demons were an obsession with this man Barsymes, and he was lost in admiration of the Manichees, as they are called, whom he never hesitated to champion publicly. Yet even when she heard about this the Empress did not withdraw her favour from her protégé, but made up her mind to give him still more protection and to show him still more affection on that account. For from her earliest years she had herself consorted with magicians and sorcerers, as her whole way of life led her in that direction, and to the very end she put her trust in these arts and made them at all times the ground of her confidence.

It is said too that it was not so much by cajolery that she got Justinian under her thumb as by the compelling power of the demons. For Justinian was not a gracious or just person, or so unshakeably virtuous as ever to be proof against such subtle attacks; on the contrary he was unmistakably the slave of his passion for bloodshed and money-making, and powerless to resist deception and flattery. Even in matters which roused him to the greatest enthusiasm he would do an about-turn for no reason at all, perpetually reminding one of a weathercock. Consequently not one of his relations, or even of his acquaintances, ever placed any real confidence in him: he was for ever changing his mind about what he proposed to do. Thus, being as we have said an easy target for the sorcerers, he very quickly submitted to Theodora as well: nothing did more than this to increase the affection of the Empress for Peter, as a devotee of these arts. So it was no easy task for the Emperor to remove him from the office he had occupied hitherto; and not long afterwards Theodora insisted on his appointing him First Lord of the Treasury, taking this office away from John, who had been installed in it only a few months before.

John was a Palestinian by birth, a man of very gentle and kindly disposition, who never dreamed of finding means to enrich himself, and had never done an injury to any man alive. Not surprisingly he was regarded with extraordinary affection by the whole people. That was enough to make him thoroughly distasteful to Justinian and his precious spouse; for the moment they unexpectedly found among their ministers a really good man, they lost their heads and were so upset that they made furious efforts to dislodge him at the first opportunity by fair means or foul. So it was that this man John was displaced by Peter, who took over the Imperial Treasury and once more became the man chiefly responsible for great disasters involving everyone. He cut off the bulk of the money which by long-established custom was doled out every year by the Emperor to a large number of citizens as a benefaction, while he himself unscrupulously piled up wealth at the public expense, handing a small percentage of it to the Emperor. Those who had been robbed of their money sat around in great dejection, especially as he took it upon him to issue the gold currency not at its normal value but much depreciated, something that had never happened before.

This concludes our account of the Emperor's dealings with his ministers.