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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 15

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 17

The Anecdota
or Secret History

Chapter XVI

 p189  At the time when Amalasuntha, desiring to leave the company of the Goths, decided to transform her life and to take the road to Byzantium, as has been stated in the previous narrative,​1 Theodora, considering that the woman was of noble birth and a queen, and very comely to look upon and exceedingly quick at contriving ways and means for whatever she wanted, but feeling suspicious of her magnificent bearing and exceptionally virile manner, and at the same time fearing the fickleness of her husband Justinian, expressed her jealousy in no trivial way, but she schemed to lie in wait for the woman even unto her death. 2 Straightway, then, she persuaded her husband to send Peter, unaccompanied by others, to be his ambassador to Italy. 3 And as he was setting out, the Emperor gave him such instructions as have been set forth in the appropriate passage,​2 where, however, it was impossible for me, through fear of the Empress, to reveal the truth of what took place. 4 She herself, however, gave him one command only, namely, to put the woman out of the world as quickly as possible, causing the man to be carried away by the hope of great rewards if he should execute her commands. 5 So as soon as he arrived in Italy — and indeed man's nature knows not how to proceed in a hesitant, shrinking way to a foul murder when some office, perhaps, or a large sum of money is to be hoped for — he persuaded Theodatus, by what kind of exhortation I do not know, to destroy Amalasuntha. And as a reward for this he attained the  p191 rank of Magister,​3 and acquired great power and a hatred surpassed by none.

6 Such, then, was the end of Amalasuntha. 7 But Justinian had a certain secretary, Priscus by name, a thorough villain and a blusterer,​4 and very well qualified by character to satisfy his master, but very well disposed towards Justinian and believing that he enjoyed a similar goodwill on his part. Consequently, by unjust means, he very quickly became possessed of a large fortune. 8 But Theodora slandered the man to her husband, alleging that he bore himself with supercilious pride and was always trying to oppose her. 9 And though at first she met with no success, she not much later, in the middle of the winter, put the man aboard ship and sent him away to a destination which the Empress had selected, and she caused his head to be shaved and compelled him quite against his will to be a priest. 10 Justinian himself meanwhile gave the impression that he knew nothing of what was going on, and he made no investigation as to where in the world Priscus was nor did the man enter his thoughts thereafter, but he sat in silence as if overcome by lethargy, not forgetting, however, to plunder all the small remainder of the man's fortune. 11 And at one time a suspicion arose that Theodora was smitten with love of one of the  p193 domestics, Areobindus by name, a man of barbarian lineage but withal handsome and young, whom she herself had, as it chanced, appointed to be steward; so she, wishing to combat the charge, though they say that she did love the man desperately, decided for the moment to maltreat him most cruelly for no real cause, and after we knew nothing at all about the man, nor has anyone seen him to this day. 12 For if it was her wish to conceal anything that was being done, that thing remained unspoken of and unmentioned by all, and it was thenceforth not permitted either for any man who had knowledge of the matter to report the fact to any of his kinsmen or for anyone who wished to learn the truth about him to make enquiry, even though he were very curious. 13 For since there have been human beings there has never been such fear of any tyrant, for there was not even a possibility of concealment for one who had given offence. 14 For a throng of spies kept reporting to her what was said and done both in the market-place and in the homes of the people. 15 When, therefore, she did not wish the offender's punishment to be published abroad, she used to take the following course. 16 She would summon the man, if he chanced to be one of the notables, and secretly would put him in the charge of one of her ministers and command him secretly to convey the man to the uttermost parts of the Roman Empire. 17 So he at an unseasonable hour of the night would put the man on board a ship, seeing that he was thoroughly bundled up and shackled, and also go on board with him, and he very stealthily delivered him over, at the point which had been indicated by the woman, to the man qualified for this service; then he departed  p195 after directing the man to guard the prisoner as securely as possible and forbidding him to speak of the matter to anyone until either the Empress should take pity on the poor wretch, or, after suffering for years a lingering death by reason of the miseries of his existence in that place and utterly wasting away, he should at last end his days.

18 And she also conceived an anger against a certain Vasianus, a youthful member of the Green Faction and not without distinction, for having covered her with abuse. For this each Vasianus (for he had not failed to hear of this anger) fled to the Church of the Archangel.​5 19 And she immediately set upon him the official in charge of the people,​6 commanding him to make no point of his abuse of her, but laying against him the charge of sodomy. 20 And the official removed the man from the sanctuary and inflicted a certain intolerable punishment upon him.​7 And the populace, upon seeing a free-born man involved in such dire misfortunes, were all straightway filled with anguish at the calamity and in lamentation raised their cries to the heavens, seeking to intercede for the youth. 21 She, however, only punished him even more, and cutting off his private parts destroyed him without a trial and confiscated his property to the Treasury. 22 Thus whenever this hussy became excited, no sanctuary proved secure nor did any legal prohibition hold, nor could the supplication of a  p197 whole city, as it were, as it was clearly shown, avail to rescue the offender, nor could anything else whatever stand in her way.

23 And being angry with a certain Diogenes, as being a Green, a man who was witty and liked by all, even by the Emperor himself, she nevertheless was determined to bring against him the slanderous charge of male intercourse. 24 Consequently she persuaded two of his own domestics to act as both accusers and witnesses and set them upon their owner. 25 And when he was first examined, not secretly and with the great privacy which is usually observed, but in a public trial, with many judges appointed who were men of note, all on account of the reputation of Diogenes, since it did not seem to the judges, as they sought to get at the exact truth, that the statements of the domestics were of sufficient weight to justify a decision, particularly as they were young boys, she confined Theodore, one of the connections of Diogenes, in the usual cells. 26 There she attacked the man with much cajolery and also with abuse. But since she met with no success, she caused the attendants to wind a leathern strap on the man's head, about his ears, and then ordered them to twist and so to tighten the strap. 27 And Theodore believed that his eyes had jumped out of his head, leaving their proper seats, yet he was unwilling to fabricate any untruth. 28 So finally the judges acquitted Diogenes on the ground that the charge was unsupported by evidence, and the whole city in consequence celebrated a public holiday.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Book V.ii.22.

2 Book V.iv.17.

3 Magister Officiorum, Commander of the Palace troops, a position of considerable importance; cf. Book I.viii.2.

4 As if from παφλάζω, "bluster." The word has acquired this meaning from Aristophanes, Knights, where Cleon appears as "the Paphlagonian" with the connotation "blusterer."

5 Of the several churches in Byzantium and the suburbs dedicated to the Archangel Michael it is probably not possible to identify the one to which Vasianus fled.

6 Probably the Quaesitor; cf. Chap. xx.9.

7 The exact nature of this humiliating punishment is not known. But cf. Chap. xi.36: Gibbon-Bury IV.505, note 202 (ed. 4) refer, for the laws of Constantine and his successors against sexual crimes, to the Theodosian Code l. ix tit. vii. leg. 7; l. xi tit. xxxvi. leg. 1, 4, and to the Justinian Code l. ix tit. ix. leg. 30, 31.

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