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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 27

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 29

The Anecdota
or Secret History

Chapter XXVIII

p327 There was a certain Priscus in the city of Emesa who had a great natural ability in imitating the handwriting of others, and he was a very clever p329artist at this evil business. 2 Now it happened that the Church of Emesa had a good many years before become the heir of one of the notables.1 3 The man in question was of patrician rank, one Mammianus by name, a man of distinguished family and great wealth, 4 and during the reign of Justinian Priscus investigated all the families of the above-named city, and if he found any persons who both abounded in wealth and were capable of sustaining great losses of money, he would carefully trace out their ancestors, and when he chanced upon old letters of theirs, he made many documents purporting to have been written by them, in which they promised to pay to Mammianus large sums of money on the ground that they had received this as a deposit from him. 5 And the total amount acknowledged in these forged documents amounted to no less than a hundred centenaria.2 6 And selecting the writing of a certain man who had been wont to have a seat in the market-place at the period when Mammianus was alive, a man who had a great reputation for truth and for virtue in general, and who used to execute all the documents of the citizens, sealing each personally with his own writing (such a person the p331Romans call tabellio), Priscus, after making a marvellous imitation of this man's writing, delivered the documents to those who administered the affairs of the Church of Emesa, they having promised that a share of the money to be derived from that source should fall to him. 7 But since the law stood in the way, which provided that all ordinary cases should be subject to a thirty-year limitation, yet some few cases, including cases involving mortgages, should be extended to include a period of forty years, they hit upon the following expedient. 8 Coming to Byzantium and paying out great sums of money to this Emperor, they besought him to co-operate with them in accomplishing the destruction of the citizens who had been found guilty of nothing. 9 And he, after he had got the money, without the least hesitation published a law that Churches should be debarred from prosecuting their claims, not after the regular period of time, but after the lapse of full one hundred years,3 and providing that this should be valid, not in Emesa alone, but throughout the whole Roman Empire. 10 And to arbitrate this question for the people of Emesa he designated a certain Longinus, an energetic man and very powerful in body, who later also held the office of Mayor of Byzantium. p33311 And those who managed the affairs of the Church lodged, to begin with, a case for two centenaria,4 based on the documents mentioned, against one of the citizens, and they immediately secured the man's conviction, since he was utterly unable, both because of such a lapse of time and because of his ignorance of what had been done at the time in question, to make any defence whatever. 12 And all men were filled with great sorrow, and above all the most notable among the men of Emesa, as being all equally exposed to the denouncers. 13 And since the evil was by now spreading out over the majority of the citizens, it so happened that a providence of God, one may say, occurred as follows. 14 Longinus commanded Priscus, the author of this mischief, to bring together before him all the documents, and when he declined to do so, he struck him with great violence. 15 And he, unable to support the blow of a very strong man, fell on his back, and by this time trembling and in a state of panic he suspected that Longinus knew entirely what he had done and so confessed the truth; thus the entire deviltry was brought to light and the denouncing ceased.

16 Yet these constant and daily tamperings with the laws of the Romans were not the only harm he did, but the Emperor also took pains to abolish the laws which the Hebrews honour. 17 If it ever happened, for instance, that the year in its recurring rounds brought on the Feast of the Passover before the festival of the Christians,5 he would not allow the p335Jews to celebrate this at the proper time nor to make any offering to God at that feast nor to perform any of the rites customary among them. 18 And many of them used to be brought to trial as having tasted the flesh of lambs at this time by those who were in positions of authority, and these punished them by heavy fines, arraigning them for violation of the laws of the State. 19 And though I know well of countless other such actions on the part of Justinian, I shall not add anything, for an end must be set to my discourse. For the man's character will be disclosed with sufficient clearness by what has been said.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Priscus proposed to enrich the Church by enlarging an inheritance to which it had fallen heir, and actually (if Procopius may be trusted) got a formal decision from the Emperor (see Note on par. 10, below) which granted the Church not forty years, as formerly, but one hundred for the prosecution of claims. In the meantime he set about fabricating claims in favour of the estate, forged by his own skilful hand, thus increasing the amount expected by the Church and securing for himself a percentage. His exposure prevented the consummation of the plan.

2 Cf. Chap. i.33, note.

3 This was enacted by Justinian in A.D. 535 in Novella 9: "cum enim antiqua iura triginta annorum metis temporales exceptiones circumcludebant et, si hypotheca fuerat, paulo longiora eis spatia condonabant, nos . . . centum tantummodo annorum lapsu temporalem exceptionem eis opponi sancimus . . ." "Whereas ancient laws decreed that protests on the basis of time should be limited to a period of thirty years, and, if there had been a mortgage, granted them slightly longer periods, we decree that a protest on the basis of time may be lodged against them only after the lapse of one hundred years." Again, in A.D. 541, in Novella 111, he cites, "constitutionem, quae praescriptionem centum annorum locis venerabilibus dederat" — i.e. "an ordinance" (issuing from the Emperor) "which had granted a limitation of one hundred years to religious foundations."

4 Cf. Chap. i.33, note.

5 i.e. Easter.

Page updated: 8 May 12