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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 11

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 13

The Anecdota
or Secret History

Chapter XII

 p143  There was a certain man in Byzantium named Zeno, grandson of that Anthemius who previously had attained to the royal power in the West. This man they had purposely made a Prefect of Egypt and sent him thither. 2 But he loaded the ship with the most valuable property and made ready to put to sea; for he had an incalculable weight of silver plate and objects of gold adorned with pearls and emeralds and other such precious stones. They thereupon, bribing  p145 certain of those who seemed most loyal to them, removed the valuables from the ship with all speed, and casting fire into the hold of the vessel, ordered a message sent to Zeno that the fire had occurred spontaneously in his ship and that his property had been destroyed. 3 And at a later time it came to pass that Zeno died suddenly, and they themselves, in the guise of heirs, immediately became owners of the property. 4 For they produced a sort of will, which common gossip said had not been written by him.

5 And by a similar method they made themselves heirs of Tatianus and of Demosthenes and of Hilara, who both in other respects and in rank were foremost members of the Roman Senate. And in some cases they fabricated, not wills, but letters, and so acquired the property. 6 For it was in this way that they became heirs of Dionysius, who lived in Lebanon, and of John, son of Basilius, who, though he was the most distinguished of all the people of Edessa,​1 was forcibly delivered into the hands of the Persians by Belisarius as a hostage, as has been related by me in the previous narrative.​2 7 For thereafter Chosroes refused to release this John, reproaching the Romans with having disregarded all the conditions on which he had been given over to him by Belisarius, but he did consent to sell him as having become a prisoner of war. 8 And the man's grandmother, who happened to be still alive, provided the ransom to an amount not less than two thousand pounds of silver and with this was expecting to buy back her grandson. 9 But  p147 after this ransom had come to Daras,​3 the Emperor, learning of it, refused to permit the agreement to be put into effect, in order, as he said, that the wealth of the Romans might not be conveyed to the barbarians. 10 And not much later it came to pass that John fell sick and departed this world, and the magistrate in charge of the city, forging some sort of a letter, stated that not long before John had written to him as a friend that it was his will that his estate should go to the Emperor. 11 I could not, however, enumerate the names of all the others whose heirs they have automatically become.

12 Now up to the time when what is known as the Nika insurrection​4 took place, they saw fit to gather in the properties of the wealthy one by one; but when this revolt took place, as described in the previous narrative, they began to confiscate in a body the estates of practically all the members of the Senate, and they dealt as they wished with all the furnishings and the lands that were fairest, but they segregated those properties which were subject to a severe and very heavy tax and, with a pretence of generosity, handed them back to their former owners. 13 So, being strangled by the tax-collectors and ground down by what we may term the ever-flowing interest on their debts, they unwillingly lived on in a life  p149 which was a lingering death. 14 For such reasons, to me and to the most of us these two persons never seemed to be human beings, but rather a kind of avenging demons and, as the poets say, "a twin bane of mortals,"​5 seeing that they purposed together how they might be able most easily and most quickly to destroy all races of men and their works, and, assuming human form and becoming man-demons, they harassed in this fashion the whole world. 15 And one might draw such an inference from many indications and particularly from the power their actions revealed. 16 For demons are distinguished from human beings by a marked difference. Indeed, he though many men in the long course of time either by accident or by nature have shewn themselves supremely terrible, some ruining by their own sole effort cities or countries or other such things, yet no man, with the exception of these two, has been able to accomplish the destruction of all mankind and to bring about calamities affecting the whole world; 17 it is true, however, in their case that chance also assisted their purpose, co-operating in the destruction of men, for by earthquakes, by pestilence, and by the overflowing of the waters of rivers very great destruction was wrought at about this time, as will be told by me directly. Thus they performed their fearful acts, not by human strength, but another kind.

18 And they say that Justinian's mother stated to  p151 some of her intimates that he was not the son of her husband Sabbatius nor of any man. 19 For when she was about to conceive him, a demon visited her; he was invisible but affected her with a certain impression that he was there with her as a man having intercourse with a woman and then disappeared as in a dream.

20 And some of those who were present with the Emperor, at very late hours of the night presumably, and held conference with him, obviously in the Palace, men whose souls were pure, seemed to see a sort of phantom spirit unfamiliar to them in place of him. 21 For one of these asserted that he would rise suddenly from the imperial throne and walk up and down there (indeed he was never accustomed to remain seated for long), and the head of Justinian would disappear suddenly, but the rest of his body seemed to keep making these same long circuits, while he himself, as if thinking he must have something the matter with his eyesight, stood there for a very long time distressed and perplexed. 22 Later, however, when the head had returned to the body, he thought, to his surprise, that he could fill out that which a moment before had been lacking. 23 And another person said that he stood beside him when he sat and suddenly saw that his face had become like featureless flesh; for neither eyebrows nor eyes were in their proper place, nor did it shew any other means of identification whatsoever; after a time,  p153 however, he saw the features of his face return. These things I write although I did not see them myself, but I do so because I have heard the story from those who declare that they saw the occurrences at the time.

24 And they said that a certain monk, very dear to God, being persuaded by those who lived with him in the wilderness, set out to Byzantium in order to plead the cause of the people who lived very near the monastery and were being mistreated and wronged in an unbearable manner; and straightway upon his arrival he received admittance to the Emperor. 25 But when he was about to go into his presence, he stepped over the threshold with one foot, but suddenly recoiled and stepped back. 26 Now the eunuch who was his conductor and the others present besought the man earnestly to go forward, but he, making no answer, but acting like a man who had suffered a stroke, departed thence and went to the room where he was lodged. And when his attendants enquired for what reason he acted thus, they said that he declared outright that he had seen the Lord of the Demons in the Palace sitting on the throne, and he would not care to associate with him or ask anything from him. 27 And how could this man fail to be some wicked demon, he who never had a sufficiency of food or drink or sleep, but taking a taste at haphazard of that which was set before him, walked about the Palace at unseasonable hours of the night, though he was passionately devoted to the joys of Aphrodite?

28 And some of the lovers of Theodora say that when  p155 she was on the stage some sort of a demon descended upon them at night and drove them from the room in which they were spending the night with her. And there was a dancing-girl, Macedonia by name, belonging to the Blue Faction in Antioch, a woman who had acquired great influence. 29 For by writing letters to Justinian while he was still administering the empire for Justinus, she without difficulty kept destroying whomsoever she wished among the notable men of the East and causing their property to be confiscated to the Treasury. 30 They said that once this Macedonia, when greeting Theodora as she came from Egypt and Libya, noticed that she was very distressed and vexed over the high-handed treatment to which she had been subjected by Hecebolius,​6 and also because she had lost some money on that journey, and so she comforted her greatly and encouraged her by suggesting that Fortune was quite able to become once again for her a purveyor of great wealth. 31 On that occasion, they said, Theodora remarked that in fact a dream had come to her during the night just past and had bidden her to lay aside all anxiety as far as wealth was concerned. 32 For as soon as she should come to Byzantium, she would lie with the Lord of the Demons, and would quite certainly live with him as his married wife, and he would cause her to be mistress of money without limit.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 An important fortified city on the eastern frontier, in Mesopotamia.

2 Book II.xxi.27.

3 Now Dara. According to Stephanus of Byzantium the correct form is Darai (Lat. Darae), though he says the form Daras "is now used."

4 The Nika insurrection of A.D. 532 was a desperate and ill-organized attempt on the part of the Circus Factions, the Blues and the Greens, acting for the moment together, to dethrone Justinian by violence and to set up a government more favourable to themselves and, in general, less tyrannical. See Book I.xxiv and Gibbon-Bury, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, III.222 ff. (4th ed.).

Thayer's Note: See also the very detailed account in Bury's History of the Later Roman Empire, Chapter 15.

5 Cf. Homer, IliadV.31 Ἄρες, Ἄρες βροτολοιγέ; Aeschylus, Suppliants, 664, βροτολοιγὸς Ἄρες.

6 Chap. ix.27.

Thayer's Note: where he is called Hecebolus. Not a typo in the Loeb edition, though: the fa­cing Greek here has the following critical note:

Ἑκηβολίου MSS. Cf. Ἑκηβόλῳ in ix.27.

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Page updated: 9 Jun 20