I WILL now go on to explain how Justinian everywhere ruined the owners of agricultural land. When a little while ago we mentioned the officials dispatched to all the cities, there was no need for us to do more than outline what happened to the country-folk. The freeholders were the first to be attacked and plundered by these officials; even so the rest of the story shall be told in full.
In the first place, it had been the custom for centuries past for every ruler of the Roman Empire, not once but repeatedly, to remit to all his subjects the balance of their debts to the Exchequer, and that with two objects in view — to make sure that those whose capital was exhausted and who had no means of clearing their debt were not subjected to continual pressure, and to avoid furnishing the tax-collectors with excuses for attempting to inform against men who were liable to the tax, but owed nothing; but the present emperor let thirty-two years go by without doing anything of the kind for his subjects. This meant that those who had no money left had no option but to flee the country and never return. And the informers worried the more prosperous farmers to death by threatening to prosecute them on the ground that for years they had been paying their dues at a lower rate than the payment required from their region: For not only did these unfortunate people shudder at the new level of taxation: they were appalled at the thought of being crushed beneath the unjust burden of retrospective taxation covering so many years. Many were even driven to make a present of their property to the informers or to the Exchequer and let everything go.
In the second place, the Medes and Saracens had ravaged the greater part of Asia, and the Huns, Slavs, and Antae the whole of Europe; they had razed some of the cities to the ground, and compelled others to pay up almost to the last penny; they had carried off the population into slavery with all their possessions, and had emptied every district of its inhabitants by their daily raids. Yet Justinian did not relieve a single man of the tax due, except that he granted captured cities exemption for one year. And yet, if like the Emperor Anastasius he had decided to relieve the captured cities of all the payments due for a period of seven years, I think that even so he would have done less than he should, considering that Cabades had done the minimum damage to the buildings and then gone right away, whereas Chosroes had burned whole cities to the ground and had brought far greater misery than Cabades on those who fell in his path. To these men for whom he made this derisory remission of taxation and to all the others — though they had often been invaded by the army of the Medes, and though the Huns and wild Saracens had continually ravaged the eastern part of the Empire, and the semi-civilized tribes of Europe were doing the same thing all the time and every day to the Romans in that area — this emperor from the very start showed himself a worse enemy than all the foreign invaders combined. For what with requisitions, and the so-called imposts and special levies, the enemy had no sooner withdrawn than the landowners were brought to ruin.
The meaning and implication of these names I will now explain. Those who own farms are compelled to feed the Roman army on the basis of the tax which each man is required to pay, the contributions being handed in not to meet the pressure of the immediate crisis but to suit the predilection and convenience of the officials, who do not bother to find out whether the farmers are lucky enough to have the provisions called for in their possession. This means that these poor wretches are forced to go elsewhere to find provisions for the soldiers and fodder for the horses, buying them all at shockingly inflated prices, and that from a district which may possibly be a long way off, and then to cart them back to the place where the army happens to be. On arrival they must measure them out to the army quarter-masters, not in the universally accepted manner, but as it suits these gentlemen. This is the procedure known as 'requisitioning', the effect of which has been to bankrupt all who own farms. For it compels them to pay in annual taxation not less than ten times the proper sum, since, as already remarked, besides contributing supplies for the army they have often had to face the additional task of transporting grain to Byzantium. For Barsymes, as he was called, was not the only one who had dared to behave in this abominable way; before him there was the Cappadocian, and since Barsymes' time all who have followed him in his high office have been equally guilty. This is roughly what 'requisitioning' means.
The term 'impost' denotes an unforeseen catastrophe that falls out of the blue on owners of farms and puts paid to all their hopes of a livelihood. In other words, it is a tax on lands that have been abandoned or have gone out of production, whose proprietors with all who work on their land have already perished altogether, or else have deserted their ancestral estates and are buried under the troubles that have come upon them as a result of these imposts. And they are shameless enough to impose them on anyone who has not yet gone under completely. Such is the signification of the term 'impost', a word which naturally was on everyone's lips at this particular time.
The question of the 'special levies' we may dispose of in very few words, if we put it this way. Many crushing demands, especially at this time, were showered on the cities, as was inevitable: what prompted them and what form they took I will not attempt to explain at this stage, or my tale would go on for ever. These demands were met by the freeholders in accordance with their individual assessments. But that was not the finish of their troubles: when pestilence swept through the whole known world and notably the Roman Empire, wiping out most of the farming community and of necessity leaving a trail of desolation in its wake, Justinian showed no mercy towards the ruined freeholders. Even then he did not refrain from demanding the annual payment of tax, not only the amount at which he assessed each individual but also the amount for which his deceased neighbours were liable. Beyond this they had to cope with all the other demands which I mentioned a little way back, as resting all the time on the shoulders of those who were unfortunate enough to own farms. And on top of all that, they had to vacate their best and most richly furnished rooms in order to accommodate soldiers and wait on them hand and foot, while they themselves had to live all the time in the most wretched, tumbledown shanties they possessed.
Throughout the reign of Justinian and Theodora all these miseries were constantly afflicting the people, for during this time there was no respite from war or any other major calamity. And as I have referred to the vacating of rooms I must not omit to mention this fact, that owners of houses in Byzantium had to provide accommodation in them for some twenty thousand semi-civilized aliens, and not only could get no satisfaction from their own property but had to put up with a great deal of other unpleasantness into the bargain.
Nor can I possibly leave unrecorded Justinian's treatment of the soldiers, whom he put under the authority of the greatest scoundrels he could find, commanding these officers to rake in as much as they could from this source, on the clear understanding that a penny in the shilling of all they managed to collect would be theirs to keep. He gave them the title of Audit-officers. These devised the following plan, to apply year by year. It is the established custom that army pay is not given to all soldiers alike on the same scale. When the men are still young and have not been long in uniform the rate is lower: when they have seen active service and are now half-way up the list the pay goes up too. Finally, when they have grown old in the service and are nearing the date of their discharge, the pay is much more impressive still, so that they themselves after returning to civilian life may have enough to live on for the rest of their days, and when at last their time is up they may be in a position to leave out of their own property something to console their families. Time, in fact, is continually raising the soldiers at the foot of the ladder to the rungs vacated by those who have died or have been discharged from the forces, adjusting on the basis of seniority the pay which each man receives from public funds.
But the 'audit-officers' would not permit the names of the dead to be removed from the lists, even when large numbers had died at the same time, chiefly in the constant wars. And they no longer bothered to add new names to the lists, even over a long period. The inevitable result has been that the State never has enough soldiers with the colours, and the soldiers that remain are kept out by others long since dead, and so are left with status much lower than their due, and receive pay at less than the proper rate, while the audit-officers allot to Justinian all the time his percentage of the soldiers' money.
Moreover, they impoverished the soldiers with deductions of many other kinds — a poor reward for the dangers they faced in war — reproaching some with being Graeci (as if it was quite impossible for any man from Greece to be worthy of respect) ; others with being in the armed forces without orders from the Emperor, though on this point they could produce a document from the Emperor's hand, which the audit-officers were impudent enough to impugn without hesitation; and still others on the ground that they had been absent for a few days without leave. Later some of the Palace Guards were sent into all parts of the Empire, allegedly to scrutinize the lists for the names of any men quite unfit for military service. From some of these they were brutal enough to remove their belts as a sign that the men were useless or worn out. For the rest of their days these outcasts had to stand in the open forum, begging charitable folk to give them something to eat, to the great distress of all who met them. The rest they compelled to pay heavily for the privilege of not suffering the same fate themselves. Thus it was that the soldiers, robbed right and left, became the most poverty-stricken people in the world and lost all their appetite for active service.
It was this that led to the destruction of Roman power in Italy. When Alexander the audit-officer was sent there, he had the brazen audacity to reproach the soldiers with these very things, and he extracted money from the Italians, declaring that he was punishing them for their policy towards Theuderic and the Goths. And it was not only the rank and file who were reduced to poverty and destitution by the audit-officers: the officers on the staffs of all the senior commanders, a large body of men who had previously been held in high esteem, were crushed beneath the burden of hunger and extreme poverty. For they had no means of providing themselves with their daily fare.
While we are on the subject of the soldiers I will add one thing more to what I have said. The Roman emperors before Justinian's time stationed a huge number of soldiers in all the remote areas of their dominions to guard the frontiers of the Roman Empire, particularly in the eastern region as a means of stopping the incursions of Persians and Saracens. These troops were called Limitanei. The Emperor Justinian treated them with such indifference and niggardliness from the start that their paymasters were four or five years in arrears with their pay, and when peace was declared between the Romans and the Persians these unfortunate men, on the ground that they too would enjoy the blessings of peace, were forced to make a present to the Exchequer of the pay due to them for a stated period. Later he deprived them even of the name of soldiers without giving any reason. From then on the frontiers of the Roman Empire were left ungarrisoned, and the soldiers suddenly found themselves dependent on the generosity of those who were charitable by habit.
Another corps, numbering not less than three thousand five hundred men, had been formed originally to guard the Palace. These troops were known as Scholarii. From the start the Treasury has always rewarded them with higher pay than any of the soldiers received. The men whom the earlier emperors enrolled in this corps d'elite were Armenians chosen for their merit alone; but from the accession of Zeno there was nothing to prevent the feeblest and most unwarlike specimen of humanity from gaining admission to this exclusive body. As time went on, even slaves by handing over the necessary cash were able to buy the privilege of serving in it. So on Justin's accession this man Justinian admitted a shoal of candidates to this famous corps, thereby making a handsome profit. Then, when he saw that there was not one vacancy left on the roll of the unit, he added the names of two thousand additional recruits, who were known as Supernumeraries. But when he himself mounted the throne, he shook off these supernumeraries in double quick time without giving them a penny of the money due to them.
For those who belonged to the main body of the scholarii he devised the following scheme. When an army was likely to be sent into Libya or Italy or against the Persians, he used to order these too to pack their baggage ready to join the expedition, though he knew perfectly well that they were quite unfit for active service. They, in terror lest this might really happen, surrendered their pay to him for a stated period. This happened to the scholarii again and again. Peter too, all the time that he occupied the position of Magister, as it is called, plagued them every day with unspeakable thefts. For though he was mild-mannered and would never dream of wronging anyone, he was the biggest thief alive, full to overflowing with sordid meanness. This man Peter was referred to also in an earlier volume as having engineered the murder of Amalasuntha, Theuderic's daughter.
Besides this body of men there are two others in the Palace much more highly regarded; for the Treasury always allows them a still higher rate of pay in recognition of the fact that they have paid still larger sums for the prestige attached to the service. These are known as Domestici and Protectores, and never from the start have they come within sight of an enemy: it is merely for the sake of rank and appearance that they apply for admission to the Palace Guards. For a long time now some of these have been stationed in Byzantium and some in Galatia and other places. But these like the others Justinian periodically frightened by the method described already, compelling them to surrender their claim to the pay that was theirs by right. This can be explained in a few words. There was a law that once in five years the emperor should bestow on every soldier a fixed sum of gold; and every fifth year they sent to all parts of the Empire and presented each soldier with £10 in gold. It was quite impossible ever to invent an excuse for evading this duty. Yet from the day that this man took over the running of the State he has never done anything of the kind or shown any intention of doing it, although no fewer than thirty-two years have already gone by, — so that this custom has been forgotten by most people.
I will now go on to describe yet another method by which he despoiled his subjects. Those who serve the Emperor and his ministers in Byzantium, either by undertaking guard duty or by handling his correspondence or in any other way, start on the bottom rung of the ladder of promotion, and as time goes on they mount steadily to take the places of those who have deceased or retired, and every man rises in rank till the moment comes when he plants his foot on the topmost rung and arrives at last at the summit of his career. Those who have reached this exalted rank are entitled by long-established custom to a salary on such a scale that their annual income amounts to more than ^1,500,000, and besides being amply provided for in their old age they are as a rule in a position to make contributions from this source for the assistance of many others. As a result, the business of the State has always achieved a high degree of efficiency. Then came this emperor, who by depriving them of nearly all these emoluments injured not only the officials themselves but everyone else as well. For poverty attacked them first and then went on through the rest who had hitherto enjoyed some share of their prosperity. And if anyone were to compute the loss from this source which they have had to bear for thirty-two years, he would soon arrive at the total sum of which they were so cruelly deprived. Such then were the ways in which this autocrat ruined the men in uniformed service.
Merchants, Sailors, Mechanics, And Stall-Holders
Now I shall go on to relate what he did to merchants and sailors, to mechanics, and stall-holders and through them to everyone else. There are straits on both sides of Byzantium, one at the Hellespont between Sestus and Abydus, the other at the mouth of the Euxine Sea, where the place called Hieron is situated. Now on the strait at the Hellespont there had never been an official customs house, but an officer sent out by the Emperor was stationed at Abydus, keeping an eye open for any ship carrying arms to Byzantium without the Emperor's leave, and for anyone setting sail from Byzantium without papers carrying the signature of the appropriate officials; for it is not permissible for anyone to sail from Byzantium till he has been cleared by the men employed in the office of the Magister. A further duty of the Emperor's representative was to collect from the owners of the ships a toll which hurt no one but was a sort of fee which the holder of the office felt that he should receive as a reward for his trouble. By contrast the man stationed at the other strait had always received his salary from the Emperor, and kept both eyes wide open for the things mentioned above, and for anything that was being taken to the tribes settled along the coast of the Euxine in contravention of the rules governing exports from Roman territory to that of enemies. But this man was forbidden to accept anything from those whose voyage took them that way.
Directly Justinian ascended the throne he established official customs houses on both straits and regularly sent out two salaried officers. He arranged for the salary to be paid to them it is true; but he impressed on them that they must use every endeavour to see that he received from their operations as much money as possible. The officers, having no other ambition than to convince him of the strength of their loyalty to him, forced the seamen to hand over the entire cash value of their cargoes, and so discharged their own obligations. That was the course he followed at both straits.
In Byzantium he thought out the following scheme. He created a special post for one of his closest friends, a Syrian name Addaeus: he was to secure a little profit from the ships that put in there, and pass it on to his master. From then on Addaeus never allowed any vessel that put in to the harbour of Byzantium to weigh anchor again, but either mulcted the shipmasters of the value of their own ships or forced them to return to Libya or Italy. Some of them declined either to accept a return cargo or to go seafaring any more: they preferred to burn their boats and wash their hands of the whole business. There were some, however, who were unable to earn their living in any other way: their answer was to treble their charges to the importers and take on cargoes as before. The only course left to the importers was to recoup their own losses at the expense of those who purchased the cargoes. Thus everything possible was being done to kill off the Romans by starvation. So much for that aspect of public affairs.
Devaluation of Gold Coin
Another subject which I think I ought to mention is the action which the joint monarchs took with regard to coins of the smaller denominations. The money-changers had always been prepared to give their customers two hundred and ten obols (which they call folles) in exchange for one gold stater. Now Their Majesties managed to line their own pockets by ordaining that only one hundred and eighty obols should be given for the stater. By this means they clipped off from every gold coin one sixth of its value, causing loss all round.
When this couple of monarchs had put almost all commodities in the hands of the 'monopolies', all the time relentlessly choking the life out of would-be customers, and only the clothiers' shops were free from their clutches, they contrived a scheme for disposing of these as well. The manufacture of silken garments had for many generations been a staple industry of Beirut and Tyre, two cities of Phoenicia. The merchants who handled these and the skilled and semi-skilled workmen who produced them had lived there from time immemorial, and their wares were carried from there into every land. When Justinian was on the throne, those engaged in this business in Byzantium and the other cities began to charge a higher price for dress materials of this kind, justifying themselves on the ground that they were now having to pay the Persians more for it than in the past, and that it was no longer possible to avoid paying the ten per cent duty on imports.
The Emperor gave everyone to understand that he was highly displeased at this, and published a law debarring anyone from charging more than £16 for twelve ounces of this material. The penalty fixed for anyone who broke this law was to forfeit all his property. The reaction of the public, was to condemn this legislation as impracticable and quite impossible. For how could the importers who had bought the material in bulk at a higher price be expected to sell it to their customers at a lower? The result was that they were no longer prepared to spend their energies in this traffic, and proceeded to dispose of their remaining stocks by selling under the counter, presumably to some of the men about town who enjoyed parading in such finery however much it might deplete their finances, or felt it incumbent on them to do so. But when the Empress as a result of certain whispers became aware of what was going on, she did not stop to investigate the rumours, but immediately stripped the owners of all their stocks, fining them £15,000 in gold into the bargain.
Now by Roman custom this trade is under the control of the Imperial Treasurer. So soon after appointing Peter Barsymes to this office they left him free to engage in any shady transaction he wished. He insisted that everyone else should obey the law to the last detail; but he forced those employed in this business to work for his benefit alone; and without any further concealment, in full view of the people in the forum, he proceeded to sell dyed silk of common quality at a price of not less than £12 a for a single ounce, while for the imperial dye, generally known as holoverum, he charged more than four times as much. By this means he was able to hand over large sums to the Emperor, and to keep still more for himself without its being noticed. This practice, which began with him, has continued ever since; for to this day the Treasurer openly occupies the position of sole importer and retailer in this line of business.
The importers who had hitherto been occupied with this trade in Byzantium and all the other cities, whether operating on the sea or on land, naturally had to endure the hardships resulting from these operations. And in the cities referred to almost the whole population suddenly found themselves beggars. Mechanics and handicraftsmen were inevitably compelled to struggle against starvation, and many in consequence abandoned the community to which they belonged and fled for refuge to the land of Persia. Year after year the whole profit from this trade came into the hands of one man, the Treasurer, who as we have said was good enough to hand a portion of his receipts from this source to the Emperor, but secured the bulk for himself and grew rich at the cost of public misery. We may leave the matter there.
Destruction of Honours and Public Ornaments
How Justinian managed to destroy all the honours and public ornaments in Byzantium and every city besides will be our next subject.
First he decided to lower the status of the barristers, and speedily deprived them of all the rewards which had hitherto enabled them to live in luxury and elegance when their work in the courts was done, ordering the litigants to take an oath and settle their disputes for themselves. This contemptuous treatment was a cruel blow to the ambitions of the barristers. And after he had deprived the members of the Senate and everybody else who was regarded as prosperous, either in Byzantium or in any other city, of all their property, as we have already seen, the legal profession was left without employment. For people possessed nothing of the least value to go to court about. So in a very little while their once great numbers and dazzling reputation shrank to vanishing point everywhere, and inevitably they were reduced to penury and ended by getting nothing for their labours except insults.
Again, he caused doctors and teachers of gentlemen's sons to go short of the elementary necessities of life. For the free rations which earlier emperors ordered to be issued to members of these professions Justinian took away altogether. Moreover, the whole of the revenues which all the municipalities had raised locally for communal purposes and for entertainments he took over and shamelessly pooled with the revenues of the central government. From then on doctors and teachers counted for nothing: no one was now in a position to plan any public building projects; no lamps were lit in the streets of the cities; and there was nothing else to make life pleasant for the citizens. Theatres, hippodromes, and circuses were almost all shut — the very places where his wife had been born and brought up, and had received her early training. Later on he gave orders that all these places of entertainment should be closed down in Byzantium, to save the Treasury from having to finance the payments hitherto made to the people — so numerous that I cannot estimate their numbers — who depended on them for a living. Both in private and in public there was grief and dejection, as if yet another visitation from heaven had struck them, and all laughter had gone out of life. People discussed no subject whatever, whether they were at home or meeting each other in the forum or passing a few moments in the churches, other than calamities and miseries and a shoal of unexampled misfortunes. Such was the state of affairs in the cities. The rest of the story deserves to be told. Two Roman consuls were appointed every year, one in Rome, the other in Byzantium. Whoever was honoured with this office was bound to expend for official purposes more than £300,000, a little of this being drawn from his own resources, the bulk from the Emperor. This money was normally handed over to those I have mentioned and to those who were exceptionally short of means, especially to those employed in the theatres, giving regular support to all municipal enterprises. But from the time of Justinian's accession these measures were no longer taken at the proper times: at first a Roman consul was appointed very belatedly, but in the end such an appointment was never seen even in a dream; so that unfortunate mortals were perpetually in the grip of virtual penury, as the Emperor no longer provided his subjects with the customary subventions, but everywhere and in every way stripped them of the little they had.
Now I have said enough, I think, to make clear how this destroyer has swallowed up all the funds of the State, and has stripped all the members of the Senate, both individually and collectively, of their possessions. I think too that I have given an adequate description of the way in which by employing blackmail he succeeded in getting a grip on all others who were believed to be wealthy, thereby stripping them of their property — soldiers, servants of all the ministers, Palace Guards, farmers, landowners and freeholders, professional pleaders; and again, importers, ship-owners and merchant seamen, mechanics, artisans, and retail traders, and those who make their living from the activities of the theatre; and yet again, pretty well all the others who are indirectly affected by the damage done to these.
Beggars And Common People
Next we must speak of beggars and common people, of the very poor and those suffering from various physical disabilities, and what he did to all these: his treatment of the priests will be described in a later volume . First, as already stated, he took possession of all the shops and created 'monopolies' of the most necessary commodities, forcing everyone to pay three times the proper price. The other things that he did seem to me beyond enumeration, and I would not attempt to list them even in a book of unlimited length. He penalized without respite or mercy the consumers of bread — artisans, the very poor, and those suffering from various physical disabilities — who must buy bread or starve. For in order to make a private profit of at least £45,000 a year from this source he arranged for the loaves to be not only smaller but full of ash; for not even to such a monstrous display of shameless covetousness as this did His present Majesty hesitate to resort. And using this as a pretext for finding means to fill their own pockets; those who administered these arrangements found it very easy to enrich themselves quite handsomely, while they brought upon the poor an artificial shortage that seemed impossible at a time of such abundance; for the importing of corn from elsewhere was strictly forbidden and everyone was compelled to buy and eat these loaves.
The city's aqueduct had broken and was carrying only a fraction of the usual quantity of water into the city. But Their Majesties took no notice and would not spend a penny on it, though there was always a great crowd of people round the fountains with their tongues hanging out , and all the public baths were closed. Yet he lavished money inexcusably on buildings along the shore and other senseless erections, littering all the suburbs with them, as if there was not room for him and his consort in the palaces in which all his predecessors had been happy to spend their whole lives. Thus it was not the desire to save money but the set purpose of destroying his fellowmen that led him to neglect the rebuilding of the aqueduct; for no one who has ever lived at any period of human history has been more ready than Justinian to pile up wealth by immoral means and instantly squander it in still more shocking ways. Only two things, then, in the way of food and drink were left to those who were utterly destitute and wholly without means — bread and water; and the Emperor, as I have already made clear, employed both of these to make life impossible for them, by making the one much more costly, the other quite unobtainable.
Alexander the Clipper
It was not only the beggars in Byzantium but also some who lived elsewhere that suffered thus at his hands, as I shall now relate. When Theuderic had overrun Italy, he let the armed guard in the palace at Rome remain where it was, so that some trace of the ancient State might be preserved there, leaving a small daily wage for each man. These men were very numerous; they included the so-called Silentiarii and Domestici and Scholarii, who had nothing left to them but the name of soldiers and this pay (which was hardly enough to keep body and soul together): these two things were to be passed on to their children and descendants. To the beggars who spent their days in the shadow of the Church of the Apostle Peter, he instructed the Treasury to distribute every year four thousand five hundred bushels of corn. This allowance all these men continued to receive until the arrival in Italy of Alexander the Clipper , — who without the slightest hesitation made up his mind at once to strip these unfortunates of all their perquisites. When he heard about this, Justinian, Emperor of the Romans, expressed approval of this action and held Alexander in still higher regard than before.
On this journey Alexander had also victimized the Greeks, as will now appear. The guard-post at Thermopylae had for many years been in the care of the local farmers, who took turns in guarding the wall there whenever an incursion of one foreign tribe or other into the Peloponnese seemed imminent. But when Alexander arrived there on this occasion, he pretended to be rendering a service to the Peloponnesians by declining to leave this guard-post to be manned by farmers. So he stationed regular soldiers there to the number of two thousand and arranged that their pay should not be withdrawn from the Treasury: instead he diverted all the general and entertainment revenues of every city to the Treasury on this pretext: they would be used to provide rations for these soldiers. The result was that nowhere in Greece, not even in Athens itself, was any public building restored; nor could any other improvement be made. Justinian nevertheless lost no time in confirming the Clipper's activities in Greece. So much for events in that country.
Now we must turn our attention to the poor of Alexandria. Among the local barristers there was one Hephaestus, who on being made governor of the city put a stop to public rioting by his drastic treatment of the rioters, but brought every imaginable misery on the inhabitants. He started by bringing all the shops in the city under a 'monopoly', forbidding any other merchant to carry on this business, and making himself the one and only retailer. Then he began selling commodities of every kind, fixing their prices, it goes without saying, by the authority of his office, so that the city of Alexandria, where hitherto even the very poorest had found everything cheap enough to buy, was brought down to starvation level. They felt the pinch most of all through his manipulation of the bread supply; for he kept all the purchasing of grain from Egypt entirely in his own hands, allowing nobody else to buy so much as a single bushel: in this way he controlled the supply of bread and the price of a loaf to suit his own convenience. So he soon amassed unheard of wealth himself, and at the same time satisfied the demands of the Emperor in this matter. The people of Alexandria through fear of Hephaestus endured their sufferings in silence; and the Emperor, out of respect for the money that was all the time replenishing his coffers, could not say too much in praise of the governor.
This man Hephaestus, seeking ways of ingratiating himself still further with the Emperor, devised this additional scheme. When Diocletian had become Roman Emperor, he had arranged for a large quantity of corn to be provided yearly by the Treasury as a gift to the needy in Alexandria. From the start the citizen body shared this out among themselves, and they passed on the tradition to their descendants right down to our own time. But from the day he took office Hephaestus robbed those who lacked the barest necessities of as much as three million bushels a year, putting it in government warehouses, and informing the Emperor by letter that up to then these people had been receiving the corn without any justification and without regard for the interests of the State. As a result the Emperor endorsed his action and gave him still more enthusiastic support, while those of the Alexandrians who had no other hope of a livelihood suffered most terribly from the effects of this inhumanity.