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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 24

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 26

The Anecdota
or Secret History

Chapter XXV

 p291  Thus were the men in service mishandled by this tyrant. And I shall now proceed to tell of his treatment of merchants and sailors and craftsmen and traders in the market-place and, through these, of all the others. 2 There are two straits on the two sides of Byzantium, the one at the Hellespont between Sestus and Abydus and the other at the mouth of the sea called Euxine, where is the place named Hieron.1 3 Now on the Strait of the Hellespont there was no public Customs House at all, but a certain  p293 magistrate commissioned by the Emperor was stationed at Abydus, watching to see whether any ship bearing arms went towards Byzantium without the Emperor's permission, and also whether anyone was putting out from Byzantium without carrying a permit and seals from the men who have this function (for it is illegal for anyone to put out from Byzantium without being released by the men who serve the office of the official known as the "Magister"), and collecting from the masters of the ships a toll which was felt by no one, but which was, as it were, a sort of payment claimed by the man who held this office as compensation for his labour. 4 But the man dispatched to the other strait had always received his salary from the Emperor, and he watched with great care for the things which I have mentioned and, in addition, to see whether anything was being conveyed to the barbarians who are settled along the Euxine Sea, of a sort which it is not permitted to export from the land of the Romans to their enemies. This man, however, was not permitted to accept anything from those who sailed that way. 5 But since the time when the Emperor Justinian took over the Empire, he has established a public Customs House on each strait, and sending out regularly two salaried officials, although he did provide the salary agreed upon, yet he directed them to use every means in their power to make a return to him from that source of as much money as possible. 6 And they, being concerned only with demonstrating to him their loyalty towards him, finished by plundering from the shippers the entire value of their cargoes.

 p295  7 Such were the measures he took at each of the two straits. And at Byzantium he hit upon the following plan. He gave a commission to one of his intimates, a Syrian by birth named Addaeus, instructing him to secure for him some profit from the ships which put in at that port. 8 And he from that time on would not allow any boat which put in to the harbour of Byzantium to depart from there unmolested, but he either penalized the ship-masters the value of their ships or else compelled them to put back to Libya and Italy. 9 And some of them were unwilling either to take on a return cargo or to continue any longer in the maritime business, but were glad enough to get off by burning their own boats straightway. 10 All those, however, who were obliged to make their living from just this occupation would first collect treble charges from the importing merchants and thereafter continue to take on cargoes; and as for the merchants, their way out of the difficulty was to make good their own loss at the expense of those who purchased the goods; and thus it came about that the Romans were being starved to death by every device.

11 Such is the way things were going as regards the administration of affairs. But I think that I should not omit to mention also what was done by the imperial pair with reference to the small coinage. 12 For while the money-changers formerly were accustomed to give to those who bargained with them in exchange for one gold stater two hundred and ten obols, which they call pholleis,2 these persons, contriving private gain for themselves, had it arranged  p297 that only one hundred and eighty obols should be given for the stater. In this way they cut off a seventh3 part of the value of every gold coin . . . of all men.

13 But when these sovereigns had brought most of the merchandise under the control of the monopolies, as they are called, and every single day were strangling those who wished to buy anything, and only the shops where clothing is sold were left untouched by them, they devised this scheme for that business also. 14 Garments made of silk had been wont from ancient times to be produced in the cities of Beirut and Tyre in Phoenicia. 15 And the merchants and craftsmen and artisans of these stuffs had lived there from ancient times, and this merchandise was carried thence to the whole world. 16 And when, in the reign of Justinian, those engaged in this trade both in Byzantium and in the other cities were selling this fabric at an excessive price, excusing themselves with the statement that at the time in question they were paying the Persians a higher price than formerly, and that the customs-houses were now more numerous in the land of the Romans, the Emperor gave everyone the impression that he was vexed with this, and he made a general provision by law that one pound of this stuff should not cost more than eight gold pieces. 17 And the penalty appointed for those who should transgress this law was to be deprived of all the money they had. This seemed to the people altogether impossible and out  p299 of the question. For it was not possible for the importing merchants, having bought these cargoes at a higher price, to sell them to the dealers for less. 18 Therefore they no longer cared to engage in the importation of this stuff, and they gradually disposed of the remainder of their cargoes by rather furtive methods, selling no doubt to certain of the notables who found a satisfaction in making a shew of such finery through the lavish expenditure of their money — or, in a certain sense, they were obliged to do so. 19 And when the Empress became aware of these transactions through the whisperings of certain persons, though she did not investigate the gossip that was going round, she immediately took the entire cargoes away from the men and, in addition, imposed upon them a fine of a centenarium of gold.4 . . . But this particular business is under the control, among the Romans at least, of the official in charge of the imperial treasures. 20 Consequently, having appointed Peter surnamed Barsymes to this position not long afterwards, they indulged him in doing execrable things. 21 For while he required all other men strictly to observe the law, the craftsmen of this trade he required to work for himself alone, and he would sell dyes, no longer furtively but in the public square of the market-place, at the rate of no less than six gold pieces the ounce for the ordinary quality, but more than twenty-four pieces for the imperial dye which they are wont to call holoverum.5 22 And while he produced large sums from that source for the Emperor, he himself gained still  p301 more without being observed, and this practice, which began with him, has always continued. 23 For he alone, up to the present time, is established, with no attempt at concealment, as both importer and retailer of this merchandise. 24 Consequently the importers who in former times had engaged in this trade both at Byzantium and in the other cities, on sea and on land, now had to endure, as was to be expected, the hardships arising from this procedure. 25 And in the other cities practically the whole population found itself suddenly reduced to beggary. For the mechanics and the hand-workers were naturally compelled to struggle with hunger, and many in consequence changed their citizenship and went off as fugitives to the land of Persia. 26 But always the Master of the Treasures6 stood alone as sole manager of this business, and while he did consent to deliver to the Emperor a portion of its profits, as has been said, he carried off the greater portion for himself and was enriching himself through public calamities. So much then for this.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Cf. Chap. xv.36. The modern quarantine station for ships coming from the Black Sea is near this point.

2 The φόλλις was a coin valued at two denarii; under the earlier Emperors the word had been used to designate a money-bag (a meaning derived from φόλλις, "bellows" — a leather bag), and then such a bag filled with pieces of two denarii each; (p295)these bags, when officially sealed and stamped, were current at a fixed value. See Pauly-Wissowa, Real-Encyclop. s.v.

3 The stater, cut from 21 obols to 18, lost one-seventh of its original value.

4 Cf. Chap. i.33, note.

5 "All genuine"; a hybrid word.

6 Praefectus Aerarii.

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