Everyone and Everything Sacrificed to the Emperor's Greed
From 'The Secret History' by Procopius

THE misdeeds of Justinian were so many that eternity itself would not suffice for the telling of them. It will be enough for me to pick out from the long list and set down a few examples by which his whole character will be made crystal clear to men yet unborn — what a dissembler he was, and how little he cared for God or priests or laws, or for the people to whom he professed to be so devoted, or again for any decency at all, or the interest of the State, or anything that might be to its advantage. He did not attempt to make his actions seem excusable, nor did anything count with him except this alone — the seizure of all the wealth in the world. I will begin with this.

As archpriest of Alexandria he nominated a man called Paul. It happened that one Rhodo, a Phoenician by birth, was at that time Governor of Alexandria, and the Emperor instructed him to assist Paul in all his undertakings to the limit of his power, so that not a single order issued by him might remain unfulfilled. By this means he thought he would be able to persuade the heretics in Alexandria to adhere to the Council of Chalcedon. There was a native of Palestine, by name Arsenius, who had been useful to the Empress Theodora in the most important matters, and had thereby made himself very powerful and extremely rich, so that he achieved the rank of senator, though his character was of the basest. This man was a Samaritan, but to avoid losing the power he now held he had decided to call himself a Christian. His father and brother, on the other hand, putting their trust in his power had remained in Scythopolis, clinging to their ancestral religion, and at his suggestion treating all the Christians with shocking cruelty. As a result, the citizens revolted against them and put them both to a most miserable death, causing a train of disasters to befall the people of Palestine. At the time he met with no retribution at the hands of either Justinian or Theodora, although he was fully responsible for the whole trouble, but they forbade him to come to the Palace anymore; for the stream of protests by the Christians about his behaviour left them no peace.

To get himself into the Emperor's good books Arsenius soon afterwards set off with Paul for Alexandria, to assist him generally and in particular to do all in his power to cooperate with him in bringing the Alexandrians into line. For he affirmed that, during the time when he had been unlucky enough to be debarred from entering the Palace, he made himself thoroughly familiar with all the doctrines held by Christians. This annoyed Theodora; for she kept up a pretence of going against the Emperor in doctrinal matters, as I stated on an earlier page. So when the two men arrived in Alexandria, Paul handed over to Rhodo a deacon named Psoes to be executed, alleging that it was Psoes alone who prevented him from fulfilling the Emperor's wishes. Rhodo in obedience to the Emperor's written instructions, which came thick and fast and were most peremptory, decided to torture the man: he was stretched on the rack, and died at once.

When this came to the Emperor's ears, under the strongest pressure from the Empress he at once set everything in motion against Paul, Rhodo, and Arsenius, as if he had entirely forgotten the directives which he had sent to the three of them. He appointed Liberius, a patrician from Rome, Governor of Alexandria, and dispatched several eminent priests to Alexandria to investigate the position. These included the Archdeacon of Rome, Pelagius, representing the Archpriest Vigilius, who had given him full authority to do so. Paul was convicted of the homicide and at once removed from his priesthood. Rhodo fled to Byzantium and was beheaded by the Emperor, who confiscated all his property to the Treasury, although he produced thirteen letters which the Emperor had written to him, adjuring and commanding him to assist Paul in everything that he wished done, and in no circumstances to go against him, so that he should be able to carry out the Emperor's wishes concerning doctrine. Arsenius at a hint from Theodora was impaled by Liberius, and the Emperor decided to confiscate his property, though he had no charge to bring against him except his association with Paul.

Whether he was justified or not in taking these steps it is not for me to say, but the reason why I have described these incidents I shall make clear at once. A little later Paul came to Byzantium and offered the Emperor £105,000 with a request that he might be reinstated in his priesthood, on the ground that he had been illegally deprived of it. Justinian received the money graciously and treated the man with great respect, agreeing to make him archpriest of Alexandria immediately, although another now occupied that position — as if he did not know that he himself had executed those who had lived with Paul and had dared to assist him, and had deprived them of their possessions. So the Augustus flung himself into the scheme with enthusiasm and exerted himself to the utmost, and Paul was confidently expected to get back his priesthood by hook or by crook. But Vigilius, who was in Byzantium at the time, flatly refused to yield to the Emperor if he should issue such instructions: he declared that it was impossible for him to reverse his own decision — meaning the verdict given by Pelagius. Could anything prove more conclusively that nothing ever mattered to the Emperor but laying his hands on other people's property?

Now we come to another incident. Faustinus was a native of Palestine. He was a Samaritan by descent, but had become a nominal Christian under pressure from the law. This Faustinus had attained the rank of senator and had become governor of the region; but he was soon removed from office and proceeded to Byzantium, where some of the priests denounced him, alleging that he had observed the customs of the Samaritans and had treated atrociously the Christians resident in Palestine. Justinian appeared to be very angry and highly indignant at the thought that while he was master of the Roman Empire the name of Christ should be insulted by anyone. So the Senate inquired into the matter, and under heavy pressure from the Emperor sentenced Faustinus to be deported. But as soon as the Emperor, had got out of him all the money that he wanted, he rescinded the judgement of the court. Faustinus, restored to his former dignities, was on easy terms with the Emperor, who appointed him Overseer of the Imperial Domains in Palestine and Phoenicia. There he was able to do whatever he liked with no fear now for the consequences. Of the methods, then, by which Justinian chose to defend the claims of the Christians we have not said very much: but even from this brief account it will be easy to draw a conclusion.

Trampled On The Laws
Now I will reveal as succinctly as possible how he trampled on the laws without turning a hair when money was in question.

There was one Priscus in the city of Emesa who was remarkably skilled at imitating other people's handwriting, and was a most accomplished artist at this mischievous occupation. It happened that many years earlier the Church of Emesa had been made the heir of one of the eminent citizens. This man was of patrician rank; and his name was Mammianus, and he was a man of very distinguished birth and of immense wealth. During Justinian's reign Priscus investigated all the families of the city we have named, and if he found any persons who were very well off and able to survive the loss of large sums, he would trace their progenitors with great care, and if he could put his hand on any old letters of theirs, he forged documents purporting to have been written by them. In these they promised to pay Mammianus large sums which they were supposed to have received from him in return for a mortgage. The amount of money acknowledged in these forged documents totalled not less than £1,500,000. At the time when Mammianus was still alive there was a man with a great reputation for honesty and other virtues, who used to sit in the forum executing all the citizens' documents and countersigning each one himself in his own handwriting. The Romans call such a man a tabellio. Priscus made a devilishly clever imitation of this man's writing, and handed the documents to those who managed the affairs of the Church in Emesa, in return for a promise that a share of the money they expected to collect from that source should be reserved for him. But the law barred the way; for it laid down a thirty-year limitation for all ordinary claims, the period being extended to forty years in a few cases, particularly those arising from mortgages. So they contrived the following scheme. They came to Byzantium and paid over a great deal of money to this emperor, begging him to cooperate with them in engineering the ruin of their completely innocent fellow-citizens. He gathered up the money, and in the twinkling of an eye he had promulgated a law to the effect that churches should be allowed to prosecute their claims not only during the statutory period but for a whole century. This regulation was to hold good not only in Emesa but throughout the entire Roman Empire. To supervise the new system in Emesa he nominated Longinus, a man of action, and of splendid physique, who later became chief magistrate of Byzantium. Those in charge of church affairs began by lodging a claim for £30,000, on the basis of the documents mentioned, against one of the citizens. They soon obtained judgement against the unfortunate man, who was quite incapable of putting up a defence because so much time had elapsed, and he knew nothing about what had happened at the period in question. Being equally at the mercy of the informers, all his fellow-citizens were distressed beyond measure, especially the leading members of the community.

When the mischief was already sweeping over the majority of the citizens, divine providence stepped in opportunely as follows. Priscus, the author of this knavish trick, was ordered by Longinus to bring him the whole collection of documents, and when he declined to do so, Longinus struck him as hard as he could. Priscus, unable to stand up to the blow of such a powerful man, fell flat on his back; and trembling now and overcome with terror, and suspecting that Longinus knew all about what had been going on, he made a clean breast of it. Thus all his knavery was brought to light and his efforts as an informer came to an end.

Constant Daily Interference With Laws
This constant and daily interference with the laws of the Romans was not all that the Emperor did: he also did his best to abolish the laws reverenced by the Hebrews. Whenever the returning months happened to bring the Passover Feast before that kept by the Christians, he would not permit the Jews to celebrate this at the proper time, nor to offer anything to God at this feast, nor to perform any of their customary ceremonies. Many of them were brought into court by government officials and charged with an offence against the laws of the State, in that they had tasted lamb at this period. They were then sentenced to pay heavy fines. Justinian was guilty of innumerable other acts of the type; but though I know all about them I shall not include any of them in this narrative, which must shortly be brought to an end. The incidents already recorded will suffice to reveal the man's character only too clearly.

Next I will show what a dissembling hypocrite he was. The Liberius whom I mentioned a few pages back was dismissed from the office which he held and replaced by an Egyptian, John Laxarion. When this became known to Pelagius, who was a very intimate friend of Liberius, he asked the Emperor whether the report concerning Laxarion was correct. Justinian flatly denied it, assuring him that he had done no such thing; and he handed him a letter to Liberius, instructing him to hold on to his office with might and main and in no circumstances to relinquish it: he had no intention of relieving him of it at that stage.

But John had an uncle in Byzantium called Eudaemon, who had attained the rank of consul and had made a great deal of money, becoming for a time controller of the Emperor's private property. When Eudaemon heard the story, he in turn asked the Emperor whether his nephew had been definitely appointed to the office. Justinian, denying all knowledge of the letter he had written to Liberius, wrote a letter to John instructing him to take possession of his office and to brook no interference: he himself had had no second thoughts about the matter. Taking these statements at their face value John ordered Liberius to vacate his official quarters, as he had been relieved of his post. Liberius emphatically refused to accept his orders, he too relying of course on the letter he had received from the Emperor. John then armed his followers and went for Liberius, and Liberius with his own supporters took steps to defend himself. A fight developed and many lost their lives, among them John himself, the new holder of the office.

After urgent representations from Eudaemon Liberius was instantly summoned to Byzantium, where the Senate, after making a thorough investigation of the case, acquitted him, as he had not been the aggressor but had been defending himself when this dreadful thing had happened. The Emperor, however, did not allow the matter to drop until he had secretly forced him to pay a heavy fine. Such was Justinian's notion of truth-telling and straightforwardness.

I think it would be to the point if I mentioned the sequel to this story. Eudaemon died soon after, leaving a host of relations but making no will and giving no instructions whatever. About the same time a man called Euphratas, who had been in charge of the Palace eunuchs, departed this life, leaving a nephew but making no arrangements for the disposal of his estate, which was of exceptional size. Both these estates the Emperor seized for himself, making himself the heir by a stroke of the pen and sparing not one penny piece for any of the lawful heirs. Such was the respect which this emperor showed for the laws of the land and for the kinsfolk of his closest friends! In just the same way he had seized the property of Irenaeus, who had died at a much earlier date, though he had no claim to it whatever.

Another thing that was connected with these incidents and took place at about the same time deserves mention. There was a man called Anatolius who headed the list of senators in Ascalon. His daughter had become the wife of a citizen of Caesarea, by name Mamilian, a man of very distinguished family. The girl was an heiress, as Anatolius had no other child. Now it was laid down by ancient law that whenever a senator of any of the cities departed this life without male issue, one quarter of his estate should be given to the local Senate, while the next of kin of the deceased enjoyed all the remainder. Here too the Emperor showed his own character in its true colours. He happened to have recently published a law which reversed everything. From then on, whenever a senator died leaving no male issue, the next of kin were to share the quarter of the estate while all the rest went to the Treasury and to the account of the local Senate. And yet never before in the history of mankind had Treasury or Emperor been permitted to share the property of a senator.

After this law came into force Anatolius reached the end of his days, and his daughter divided the estate with the Treasury and the local Senate in accordance with the law. Both the Emperor himself and those who kept the register of senators in Ascalon wrote letters to her indemnifying her against any claim on her share, as they had duly and justly received what belonged to them. Later on Mamilian too departed this life, the son-in-law of the late Anatolius, leaving only one child — a daughter — who naturally received the whole of her father's estate. Later, while her mother was still alive, she too passed away. She had been married to a man of position, but had borne him no children male or female. Justinian promptly grabbed the lot, voicing this amazing suggestion, that the daughter of Anatolius was now an old woman, and that for her to grow rich on both her husband's and her father's money would be quite immoral. But in order that the woman might not have to join the ranks of the beggars, he arranged for her to receive £2 a day for the rest of her life, finding room in the document by which he purloined all this money for a declaration that he was sacrificing the £2 for charity's sake;

'For it is my custom,' he said, 'to do what is pious and charitable.'

But on this subject I have said enough. I do not wish to bore my readers; and in any case no man alive could recount all that Justinian did on these lines.

I will next make it clear that he has never paid any regard even to the Blues, to whom he expressed such devotion, if there was money to be had. In Cilicia there was one Malthanes, son-in-law of that Leon who, as I mentioned earlier, held the office of Referendarius. To this man Justinian gave the duty of suppressing the acts of violence in Cilicia. Seizing on this pretext Malthanes did untold damage to most of the Cilicians, plundering their property and sending some of it to the autocrat at home, while he unscrupulously enriched himself with the rest. Most of them bore their miseries in silence; but those citizens of Tarsus who were Blues, presuming on the liberty allowed them by the Emperor, showered insults in the open forum on Malthanes, who was not there to hear them. But he soon knew all about it, and at the head of a large body of soldiers went straight to Tarsus in the night. Immediately before dawn he sent his men to the houses on every side, ordering them to quarter themselves there. Thinking this to be an armed raid, the Blues put up what defence they could. In the darkness much damage was done; in particular Damian, a member of the Senate, was struck by an arrow and killed.

This Damian had been president of the local group of Blues, and when his death became known in Byzantium the Blues were furious and made an uproarious tumult in the city, protesting to the Emperor about the incident and giving him no peace, and excoriating Leon and Malthanes with terrifying threats. His Imperial Majesty pretended to be just as indignant at what had happened. He at once wrote a letter ordering the conduct of Malthanes to be inquired into and punished. But Leon presented him with a handsome quantity of gold; whereupon both his wrath and his fatherly affection for the Blues vanished in a moment. While the matter remained uninvestigated Malthanes came to Byzantium to see the Emperor, who welcomed him in the most friendly manner and treated him as a distinguished visitor. But as he came out from the Emperor's presence the Blues, who had been waiting for him, showered blows on him in the Palace, and would have finished him off had they not been restrained by some of their number, who happened to have been secretly bribed by Leon already.

Could anything be imagined more wretched than a state in which an emperor accepted a bribe to leave accusations uninvestigated, and factionists, while the Emperor was in his Palace, did not hesitate or scruple to revolt against one of his officers and make an unjustifiable attack on him? Yet no punishment for these crimes ever came the way of either Malthanes or his assailants. From these facts, if anyone should wish to do so, it would be easy to estimate the character of the Emperor Justinian.

Postal Service
Whether Justinian cared anything for the welfare of the State is made plain enough by the way he treated the Postal Service and the Secret Service. The Roman emperors of earlier days took precautions to ensure that everything should be reported to them instantly and should be subject to no delay — such things as damage inflicted by the enemy on this country or that, trouble in the cities caused by faction-fights or by some other unexpected disaster, and the actions of the Emperor's officers and everyone else in every part of the Roman Empire. Secondly, they were anxious that those who conveyed the yearly revenues to the capital should arrive there safely without delay or danger. With these two objects in view they organized a speedy postal service in all directions. The method was this. Within the distance that a man lightly equipped might be expected to cover in a day they established stations, on some roads eight, on others fewer, but very rarely less than five. As many as forty horses stood ready at each station, and grooms corresponding to the number of horses were installed at every station. Always as they rode the professional couriers changed their horses — which were most carefully chosen — at frequent intervals; and covering, if occasion required, a ten days journey in a single day, they performed all the services I have just described. Moreover, freeholders in every region, especially if their farms happened to be a long way from the coast, derived great benefits from this system; for every year the surplus of their crops was bought up by the government to provide food for both horses and grooms, and the farmers made a handsome profit. So it was that the Treasury could rely on receiving the tax due from every citizen, while those who paid the money got it back again immediately; and into the bargain the State got what it wanted.

This had been the state of affairs hitherto. But His Present Majesty began by dismantling the postal service from Chalcedon as far as Daciviza, forcing the couriers to go all the way from Byzantium to Helenupolis by sea, much as they objected. So they sail in tiny boats of the kind normally used for crossing the strait, and if a storm happens to fall on them they run into serious danger. For since it is their duty to make the utmost haste, any watching for the right moment or waiting for a hoped-for calm is ruled out. Secondly, on the road leading to Persia he did allow the postal service to continue according to the established plan; but on all other eastward routes as far as Egypt he laid down that there should be only one station for each day's journey, and that furnished not with horses but with a small number of asses. The result has been that events happening in any region are reported with difficulty, too late to be of any use and long after they happened, so that naturally no useful action can be taken, and the owners of the lands see their crops rotting and going to waste, and their profits gone for good.

Secret Service
The case of the Secret Service is as follows. From the first, numbers of agents were maintained by the State. They used to go into enemy countries and contrive an entry into the Palace of the Persians either by disguising themselves as traders or by some other trick. Then after making careful note of everything they came back to Roman territory and were in a position to acquaint the Emperor's ministers with all the secrets of the enemy. The ministers, warned in advance, kept a sharp look-out and were never taken unawares. This system had long been in use among the Medes also. Chosroes in fact, if our information is correct, raised the pay of his spies and benefited by his foresight. For nothing [that was happening among the Romans escaped] him, [whereas Justinian by refusing to spend a penny on them] blotted out [the very] name of spies from the dominions of Rome. (1) This folly was the cause of many mistakes, and Lazica fell to the enemy, the Romans being completely in the dark as to the whereabouts of the Persian king and his army.

But that was not the limit of his folly. For a very long time the State had regularly maintained a great number of camels, which followed the Roman army as it advanced towards an enemy and carried everything the army required. There was no compulsion on the land-workers to act as porters, nor did the soldiers ever go short of necessities. But Justinian did away with nearly all these camels. Consequently, when the Roman army of today advances against the enemy its movements are severely restricted.

That is the way things were going with the crucial interests of the State. But it would not be amiss to add a word about one of Justinian's more ridiculous actions. Among the barristers at Caesarea was one Evangelus, a man who had made a considerable mark. The wind of Fortune had blown so favourably for him that he had acquired property of many kinds; including a great deal of land. To this he later added a seaside village called Porphyreon, for which he paid £45,000. When news of this transaction reached the Emperor Justinian, he promptly took possession of the place, giving the unfortunate man only a fraction of the price he had paid for it, and solemnly declaring that it would break all the rules of propriety for a barrister like Evangelus to be owner of such a town.

But having touched on these matters in this summary way I will say no more about them.