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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 22

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.
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Chapter 24

The Anecdota
or Secret History

Chapter XXIII

p267 First of all, though it had been customary from ancient times that each successive Emperor should make, not once, but many times, a donation to all their subjects of the arrears of their debts to the Treasury, in order, on the one hand, to prevent p269the destitute and those who had no means of paying these arrears from being strangled regularly, and, on the other hand, to avoid providing the tax-gatherers with pretexts in case they should try to denounce those who, though subject to the tax, owed nothing in arrears, this man, for a period of thirty-two years,1 has done nothing of the kind for his subjects.2 2 And for this reason it was necessary for the destitute to go away and in no case to return again. 3 And the denouncers kept harassing the more respectable farmers by holding over them the threat of an accusation, alleging that they had for a long time been paying their tax at a lower rate than that imposed upon their district. 4 For the poor wretches had to fear not only the new payment of the tax, but also the possibility that they might be weighed down by the burden of taxes for so great a number of years for which they owed nothing. 5 In any case, many men actually handed over their property either to the blackmailers or to the Treasury and went their ways. 6 Furthermore, though the Medes and Saracens had plundered the greater part of the land of Asia, and the Huns and Sclaveni and Antae the whole of Europe, and some of the cities had been levelled to the ground, and others had been stripped of their wealth in very thorough fashion through levied contributions, and though they had enslaved the population with all their property, making each region destitute of inhabitants by their p271daily inroads, yet he remitted the tax to no man, with the single exception that captured cities had one year's exemption only. 7 And yet if he had seen fit, as did the Emperor Anastasius, to remit to captured cities all their taxes for seven years,3 I think that even thus he would not have been doing all he should have in view of the fact that, although Cabades had gone his way without doing the least damage to the buildings, yet Chosroes had not only fired every structure and razed it to the ground, but had also inflicted greater sufferings upon his victims. 8 And now to these men to whom he remitted this ridiculously small portion of the tribute, as to all the others likewise — men who had often supported the attacks of the Median army, and though Huns and Saracens had continuously ravaged the lands of the East, and though not less terribly the barbarians in Europe were also wreaking such destruction every day and unceasingly — to these men, I say, this Emperor shewed himself from the first more savage than all the barbarians together. 9 For through "buying on requisition"4 and what are called "imposts" and "pro-rated assessments,"5 the owners of the land were immediately, once the enemy had withdrawn, reduced to ruin. 10 Now what these terms are and what they mean I shall proceed to explain.

11 The owners of property are compelled to provision the Roman army in proportion to the tax levied upon each owner, the deliveries being made, not where the p273season of the year at which the requisition is to be filled permits, but where the officials find it possible and have determined, and in making these requisitions no enquiry is made to see whether the farmers happen to have the required provisions on their land. 12 Thus it comes about that these wretched men are compelled to import provisions for both soldiers and horses, buying them all at very much higher prices than they are to receive, and that, too, in a market which, if it so happens, may be at a great distance from their farms, and then to haul back these provisions6 to the place where the army chances to be, and they must measure out these supplies to the Quartermasters of the army, not in the way accepted by all the world, but just as the Quartermasters wish. 13 And this is the thing which is called "buying on requisition," and the result of it has been that all the owners of farms have been bled to death.7 14 For by this process they are compelled to pay their annual tax not less than tenfold, seeing that it has often fallen to their lot, not only to furnish supplies directly to the army, as stated, but also, on top of what they have suffered that way, to transport grain to Byzantium; for not alone Barsymes, as he was called, has dared to perpetrate this outrage, but even before him the Cappadocian, and later on those who succeeded Barsymes in the dignity of this office.

15 Such in a general way was "buying on requisition." p275But the term "impost" is used to describe a kind of unforeseen ruination that falls suddenly upon the owners of land and destroys root and branch their hope of a livelihood. 16 For this is a tax on lands that have become abandoned or unproductive, the owners and farmers of which have already had the misfortune either to perish altogether or, abandoning their ancestral estates, to be now living in wretchedness because of the woes imposed upon them by reason of these imposts; and they do not hesitate to impose it upon any who have not yet been ruined altogether.

17 Such is the meaning of the term "impost," a term which with good reason gained its widest currency during the period in question. But as for the "pro-rated assessments" — to dispose of the subject in the fewest possible words — the matter is about as follows. 18 That the cities should be subjected to many damaging exactions at all times and particularly during this period was inevitable; as to the motives that led to their imposition and the manner of their application, I forbear to discuss them on this occasion, lest my treatise become interminable. 19 These assessments were paid by the owners of the lands, each paying an assessed sum in proportion to the tax regularly levied upon him. 20 But trouble did not stop here; on the contrary, when the plague came, seizing in its grip the whole civilized world and especially the Roman Empire,8 and wiping out most of the farmers, and when for this reason the lands, as one might expect, had become deserted, the Emperor shewed p277no mercy to the owners of these lands. 21 For he never relaxed his exaction of the annual tax, not merely as he imposed it upon each separate person, but also exacting the share which fell to his deceased neighbours.9 22 And in addition they also had to stand all the other exactions which I mentioned a moment ago as always falling upon those who were cursed with the ownership of farms, and over and above all these things, they had to house the soldiers, in the best and most expensive of their rooms and to wait upon them, while they themselves throughout this whole time lived in the meanest and the most dilapidated of their outhouses.

23 All these evils kept constantly afflicting the people during the reign of Justinian and Theodora, for it so happened that neither war nor any other of the greatest calamities subsided during this time. 24 And since we have made mention of rooms for billeting, we must not pass over the fact that the owners of the houses in Byzantium, having to turn over their dwellings there as lodgings for barbarians to the number of about seventy thousand, not only could derive no benefit from their own property, but were also afflicted by these other disagreeable conditions.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 From the accession of Justinus, A.D. 518, for whom Justinian acted as Regent.

2 Cf. Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. Bury, IV.237.

3 Cf. Book I.vii.35.

4 Cf. Chap. xxii.19 and note.

5 Pauly-Wissowa, Real-Encyclop. s.vv. Preisigke, Wörterbuch der griechischen Papyruskunden. The "pro-rated assessments" were levied in order to realise the amount defaulted by deceased owners, as explained below.

6 i.e. from the place of purchase to the place where the soldiers are billeted.

7 Lit. "have had their sinews cut," i.e. "have been incapacitated."

8 Book II.xxii, xxiii.

9 i.e. the taxes defaulted by the death or disappearance of owners were pro-rated among the surviving owners.

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