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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a Chapter of
The Secret History


published in the Loeb Classical Library,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 2

The Anecdota
or Secret History

Chapter I

 p3  All that has befallen the Roman Nation in its wars up to the present day has been narrated by me,1 as far as it proved possible, on the plan of arranging all the accounts of its activities in accordance with their proper time and place. Henceforth, however, this plan of composition will be followed by me no longer, for here shall be set down everything that came to pass in every part of the Roman Empire. 2 The reason for this is that it was not possible, as long as the actors were still alive, for these things to be recorded in the way they should have been. For neither was it possible to elude the vigilance of multitudes of spies, nor, if detected, to escape a most cruel death. Indeed, I was unable to feel confidence even in the most intimate of my kinsmen. 3 Nay, more, in the case of many of the events described in the previous narrative I was compelled to conceal the causes which led up to them. It will therefore be necessary for me in this book to disclose, not only those things which have hitherto remained undivulged, but also the causes of those occurrences which have already been described.

4 As I turn, however, to a new endeavour which is  p5 fraught with difficulty and is in fact extraordinarily hard to cope with, being concerned, as it is, with the lives lived by Justinian and Theodora, I find myself stammering and shrinking as far from it as possible, as I weigh the chances that such things are now to be written by me as will seem neither credible nor probable to men of a later generation; and especially when the mighty stream of time renders the story somewhat ancient, I fear lest I shall earn the reputation of being even a narrator of myths and shall be ranked among the tragic poets. 5 But I shall not flinch from the immensity of my task, basing my confidence on the fact that my account will not be without the support of witnesses. For the men of the present day, being witnesses possessing full knowledge of the events in question, will be competent guarantors to pass on to future ages their brief in my good faith in dealing with the facts.2

6 And yet there was still another consideration which very often, when I was eager to undertake my narrative, held me back for a very long time. For I conceived the opinion that for men of future generations such a record as this would be inexpedient, since it will be most advantageous that the blackest deeds shall if possible be unknown to later times, rather than that, coming to the ears of sovereigns, they should be imitated by them. 7 For in the case of the majority of men in power their very inexperience always causes the imitation of the base actions of their predecessors to be easy, and they ever turn with greater ease and facility to the faults committed by the rulers of an earlier time. 8 But after I was brought to write my history of these events by the thought that it will assuredly  p7 be clear to those who hereafter shall hold sovereign power that, in the first place, punishment will in all probability overtake them likewise for their misdeeds, just as befell these persons; and, in the second place, that their own actions and characters will likewise be on record for all future time, so that consequently they will perhaps be more reluctant to transgress. 9 For what man of later times would have learned of the licentious life of Semiramis or of the madness of Sardanapalus and Nero, if the records of these things had not been left behind by the writers of their times? And apart from these considerations, in case any should chance to suffer like treatment at the hands of their rulers, this record will not be wholly useless to them. 10 For those who have suffered misfortunes are wont to receive consolation from the thought that not upon themselves alone have cruel disasters fallen.3 For these reasons, then, I shall proceed to relate, first, all the base deeds committed by Belisarius; and afterwards I shall disclose all the base deeds committed by Justinian and Theodora.

11 Belisarius had a wife,4 whom I have had occasion to mention in the previous books; her father and grandfather were charioteers who had given exhibition of their skill in both Byzantium and Thessalonica, and her mother was one of the prostitutes attached to  p9 the theatre.5 12 This woman, having in her early years lived a lewd sort of a life and having become dissolute in character, not only having consorted much with the cheap sorcerers who surrounded her parents, but also having thus acquired the knowledge of what she needed to know, later became the wedded wife of Belisarius, after having already been the mother of many children. 13 Straightway, therefore, she decided upon being an adulteress from the very start, but she was very careful to conceal this business, not because she was ashamed6 of her own practices, nor because she entertained any fear so far as her husband was concerned (for she never experienced the slightest feeling of shame for any action whatsoever and she had gained complete control of her husband by means of many tricks of magic), but because she dreaded the punishment the Empress might inflict. For Theodora was all too prone both to storm at her and to shew her7 teeth in anger. 14 But after she had made her tame and manageable, by rendering services to her in matters of the greatest urgency — having, in the first place, disposed of Silverius in the manner which will be described in the following narrative,8 and later having brought about the ruin of John the Cappadocian, as related  p11 by me in my earlier books9 — then at last she felt no hesitation in carrying out all manner of wickedness more fearlessly and with no further concealment.

15 There was a certain youth from Thrace in the household of Belisarius, Theodosius by name, who had been born of ancestors who professed the faith of those called Eunomians.10 16 Now when Belisarius was about to embark on the voyage to Libya, he bathed this youth in the sacred bath, from which he lifted him with his own hands, thus making him the adopted child of himself and his wife, as is customary for Christians to make adoptions, and consequently Antonina loved Theodosius, as she naturally would, as being her son through the sacred word, and with very particular solicitude she kept him near herself. 17 And straightway she fell extraordinarily in love with him in the course of this voyage, and having become insatiate in her passion, she shook off both fear and respect for everything both divine and human and had intercourse with him, at first in secret, but finally even in the presence of servants of both sexes. 18 For being by now possessed by this passion and manifestly smitten with love, she could see no longer any obstacle to the deed. And one occasion Belisarius caught them in the very act in Carthage, yet he willingly allowed himself to be deceived by his wife. 19 For though he found them both in an underground chamber and was transported  p13 with rage, without either playing the coward or attempting to conceal the deed, remarked "I came down here in order to hide with the aid of the boy the most valuable of our booty, so that it may not get to the knowledge of the Emperor." 20 Now she said this as a mere pretext, but he, appearing to be satisfied, dropped the matter, though he could see that the belt which supported the drawers of Theodosius, covering his private parts, had been loosened. For under compulsion of love for the woman, he would have it that the testimony of his own eyes was absolutely untrustworthy.11

21 Now this wantonness kept growing worse and worse until it had become an unspeakable scandal, and though people in general, observing what was going on, kept silence about it, yet a certain slave-girl named Macedonia, approaching Belisarius in Syracuse, when he had conquered Sicily, and binding her master by the most dread oaths that he would never betray her to her mistress, told him the whole story, adducing as witnesses two lads who were charged with the service of the bedchamber. 22 Upon learning these things, Belisarius ordered certain of his attendants to destroy Theodosius. He, however, learned this in advance and fled to Ephesus. 23 For most of the persons in attendance upon Belisarius, moved by the instability of the man's temper, were more eager to please the wife than to seem to the husband well-disposed towards him, and for this reason they betrayed the command laid upon them at that time touching Theodosius. 24 And Constantinus,  p15 observing that Belisarius had become very sorrowful at what had happened, sympathized with him in general and added the remark, "If it were I, I should have destroyed the woman rather than the youth." 25 And when Antonina heard of this, she nourished her anger against him secretly, in order that she might, when occasion offered, display the hatred she bore him. 26 For she had the ways of a scorpion12 and concealed her wrath in darkness.13 So not long afterwards, using either magic or beguilement, she persuaded her husband that the accusation of this girl was unsound, and he without delay recalled Theodosius and agreed to hand over Macedonia and the boys to the woman. 27 And they say that she first cut out all their tongues, and then cut them up bit by bit, threw the pieces into sacks, and then without ado cast them into the sea, being assisted throughout in this impious business by one of the servants named Eugenius, the same one who performed the unholy deed upon Silverius.14 28 And not long afterwards Belisarius, persuaded by his wife, killed Constantinus also. For at that time fell the affair of Presidius and the daggers, as has been set forth by me in the preceding narrative.15 29 For though the man was about to be acquitted, Antonina would not relent until she had punished him for the remark which I have  p17 just mentioned. 30 As a result of this act Belisarius became the object of great hostility on the part of both the Emperor and all the Roman notables.

31 Such was the course of these events. But Theodosius declared that he was not able to come to Italy, where Belisarius and Antonina were then tarrying, unless Photius16 should be got out of the way. 32 For Photius was by nature prone to be vexed if anyone had more influence than he with any person, and in the case of Theodosius and his associates he chanced to have a just cause to be sorely aggrieved, in that he himself, though a son, was made of no account, while Theodosius enjoyed great power and was acquiring great wealth. 33 For they say that at Carthage and Ravenna together he had plundered as much as one hundred centenaria17 from the two Palaces, since he chanced to manage these without any associate and with full power. 34 Now when Antonina learned of the decision of Theodosius, she did not cease laying snares for the youth Photius and pursuing him with certain murderous plots, until she succeeded in bringing it about that he departed from there and set out for Byzantium, being no longer able to withstand her snares, and Theodosius came to Italy to join her. 35 There she enjoyed to the full both the attentions of her lover and the simplicity of her husband and later on came to Byzantium in company with both of them. 36 There Theodosius became terrified by the consciousness of his guilt and his mind was in torment. For he thought that he  p19 would by no means escape detection altogether, since he saw that the woman was no longer able to conceal her passion nor to let it break out in secret only, but on the contrary did not object either to being or being called outright an adulteress. 37 So once more he repaired to Ephesus and first assuming the tonsure, as was the custom in such cases, enrolled himself among the monks, as they are called. 38 Antoninaa thereupon became utterly frantic, and changing her dress together with the routine of her life to the mourning mode, she went about through the house moaning constantly, weeping and wailing even when her husband was close at hand and lamenting what a good thing had been lost from her life, how faithful he was, how charming, how gracious, how energetic. 39 Finally, she dragged even her husband into these scenes of lamentation and made him sit there. At any rate the poor man used to weep and call upon the beloved Theodosius. 40 And later he actually went to the Emperor, entreating both him and the Empress, and persuaded him to recall Theodosius as being both for the present and for the future an indispensableº part of his household. 41 But Theodosius declined absolutely to leave the place where he was, asserting that he intended to observe the practice of the monks as steadfastly as possible. 42 Yet this answer proved to be fictitious, his purpose being that as soon as Belisarius should depart from Byzantium, he himself should come secretly to the side of Antonina. And this is exactly what happened.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Books I-VII of the "Histories" had been published already; see Introduction, p. vii.

2 For contemporary evidence, see Introduction, p. xiii ff.

3 The topic οὐ σοὶ μόνῳ (non tibi soli) was used in formal literary Consolations as one of the standard sources of comfort to the bereaved. Cf. Seneca's To Polybius on Consolation, ii.4 (trans. of Basore, Loeb Classical Library, Seneca's Moral Essays, Vol. II, p359): "A man, therefore, will find the greatest comfort in the thought that what has befallen himself was suffered by all who were before him and will be suffered by all who come after him; and Nature has, it seems to me, made universal what she has made hardest to bear in order that the uniformity of fate might console men for its cruelty."

4 In connection with the following account of Antonina (p7)the reader may well be referred to the judgment of Gibbon (Gibbon-Bury, Vol. IV, pp334 ff.). He says that "the generous reader" of Procopius "may cast away the libel, but the evidence of facts will adhere to his memory; and he will reluctantly confess that the fame, and even the virtue, of Belisarius were polluted by the lust and cruelty of his wife; and that the hero deserved an appellation which may not drop from the pen of the decent historian."

5 Literally, "in the thymele," θυμέλη being at this time commonly used as the equivalent of ὀρχήστρα. Originally it meant the "altar" in the orchestra, but later was extended to the whole orchestra area. The persons who gave exhibitions in the thymele were of a much lower class than the dramatic artists, who occupied the stage, being dancers, jugglers, acrobats, etc. The term "thymelic performers" is almost always contemptuous. Cf. Vitruvius, De Architectura V.8.

6 The treatment of καταδύεσθαι in the lexicons is inadequate. (p9)Out of the literal meaning "submerge one's self," "attempt concealment by submergence," has developed the later usage, in which both the desire for concealment and the motive of shame are implied. Cf. Procopius, Anecdota here and in i.14, x.3, xx.17, and Suidas, s.v.

7 An echo of Aristophanes, Pax 620, ἠγριωμένους ἐπ’ ἀλλήλοισιº καὶ σεσηρότας.

8 An unfulfilled promise. See Introduction for a detailed account (Gest. pontif. Rom.) of the humiliation and deposition of Pope Silverius. That Procopius intended to write more than the works we have is evident from Chap. xi.33.

9 Book I.xxv.13 ff. John's fate is mentioned also Chap. ii.16, iii.7, iv.18.

10 Eunomius, Bishop of Cyzicus, held and taught unorthodox views on the interrelationship of the persons of the Trinity. He was banished by Valens in 367 A.D. and again by Theodosius. See Hastings, Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethicss.v.

11 In sharp contrast to the dictum of Gyges to Candaules, Herodotus I.5.8, ὦτα γὰρ τυγχάνει ἀνθρώποισι ἔοντα ἀπιστότερα ὀφθαλμῶν.

12 The scorpion lurks hidden under a rock or other object, ready to strike suddenly any who may disturb him. Hence the proverbial expression, ὑπὸ παντὶ λίθῳ σκορπίον φυλακτέον, and the like.

13 Cf. the tragic fragment of an unknown author, σκοτεινὸς ὀργήν, Adesp. 345, quoted by Phrynichus with the explanation ὁ δόλιος καὶ οὐ φανερὸς ὀργήν; cf. Bekker's Anecdota, p64, 5.

14 Cf. § 14, note.

15 Book VI.viii.1 ff.

16 Stepson of Belisarius; cf. Book V.5.5.

17 The "centenarium" was a sum of money in terms of gold, so designated because it "weighs one hundred pounds"; cf. Book I.xxii.4.

Thayer's Note:

a I am indebted to Claudia Schneider for catching the mistake ("Theodora") in the Loeb edition.

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Page updated: 9 Sep 15