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Ch. 15, §§5‑6
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of the Later Roman Empire

by J. B. Bury

published by Macmillan & Co., Ltd.,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has not been proofread.
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Ch. 16


(Part 3 of 3)

§ 7. The Fall of John the Cappadocian (A.D. 541)

The nine or ten years following the suppression of the Nika revolt were the most glorious period of Justinian's reign. He was at peace with Persia; Africa and Italy were restored to his dominion. The great legal works which he had undertaken were brought to a successful conclusion; and Constantinople, as we have just seen, arose from its ashes more magnificent than ever.

But the period was hardly as happy for the subjects as it was satisfactory to their ruler. For a short time the fiscal exactions under which they had groaned may have been alleviated under the milder administration of the popular Phocas, who had succeeded the Cappadocian, and who at least had no thought of using his office to enrich himself.144 But Phocas was soon removed, probably because his methods failed to meet the financial needs of the Emperor, engaged in preparations for the African expedition and in plans for rebuilding the city on a more splendid scale. In less than a twelvemonth John the Cappadocian was once more installed in the Prefecture, and was permitted for eight or nine years to oppress the provinces of the East.145 Justinian did not feel himself bound by the promises he had made to the insurgents, seeing that they had been made in vain. He also restored to the post of Quaestor  p56  the great jurist Tribonian, who, otherwise most fitted to adorn the office, seems to have been somewhat unscrupulous in indulging his leading passion, a love of money.

The only person whom John the Cappadocian feared was the Empress. He knew that she was determined to ruin him. He was unable to undermine her influence with Justinian, but that influence did not go far enough to shake Justinian's confidence in him. He dreaded that her emissaries might attempt to assassinate him, and he kept around him a large band of armed retainers, a measure to which no Praetorian Prefect except Rufinus had resorted before. He was exceedingly superstitious, and impostors who professed to foretell the future encouraged him in the hope that he would one day sit on the Imperial throne. In A.D. 538 he enjoyed the expensive honour of the consulship.146

If there was one man whom John detested and envied it was the general Belisarius, who in A.D. 540 arrived at Constantinople, bringing the king of the Ostrogoths as a captive in his train. If any man was likely to be a dangerous rival in a contest for the throne, it was the conqueror of Africa and Italy, who was as popular and highly respected as John himself was unpopular and hated. As a matter of fact, thoughts of disloyalty were far from the heart of Belisarius, but he was not always credited with unswerving fidelity to Justinian, even by Justinian himself.

Belisarius, like his master, was born in an Illyrian town,147 and, like his master, he had married a woman whose parents were associated with the circus and the theatre and who was the mother of children before she married the soldier.148 Unlike Theodora, she did not mend her morals after her marriage, and her amours led to breaches with her husband. But notwithstanding temporary estrangements she preserved the affection  p57  of her husband, who had a weak side to his character, and she faithfully accompanied him on his campaigns and worked energetically in his interests. She often protected him, when he was out of favour with the Emperor, through her influence with Theodora, who found her a useful ally and resourceful agent.

The cunning of this unscrupulous woman compassed the fall of John of Cappadocia. She was interested in destroying him as the enemy both of her husband and of her Imperial mistress. The only hope of damaging him irretrievably in the eyes of the Emperor was to produce clear evidence that he entertained treasonable designs, and for this purpose Antonina resorted to the vile arts of an agent provocateur. The Prefect had a daughter, his only child, whom he loved passionately; it was the one amiable trait in his repulsive character. His enemies could cast no reproach on the virtue of Euphemia, but she was very young and fell an easy victim to the craft of Antonina. It was in April or May A.D. 541 that the treacherous scheme was executed. Belisarius had set out in the spring to take command in the Persian war, and his wife had remained for a short time at Constantinople before she followed him to the East. She employed herself in cultivating the acquaintance of Euphemia, and having fully won her friendship she persuaded the inexperienced girl that Belisarius was secretly disaffected towards Justinian. It is Belisarius, she said, who has extended the borders of the Empire, and taken captive two kings, and the Emperor has shown little gratitude for his services. Euphemia, who, taught to see things through her father's eyes, feared Theodora and distrusted the government, listened sympathetically to the confidences of her friend. "Why," she asked, "does Belisarius not use his power with the army to set things right?" "It would be useless," said Antonina, "to attempt a revolution in the camp without the support of civilian ministers in the capital. If your father were willing to help, it would be different." Euphemia eagerly undertook to broach the matter to her father. John, when he heard his daughter's communication, thought that a way was opened for realising the vague dreams of power which he had been cherishing. It was arranged that he should meet Antonina secretly. She was about to start for the East, and she would halt for a night near Chalcedon at the palace  p58  of Rufinianae, which belonged to her husband.149 Hither John agreed to come secretly, and the day and hour were arranged. Antonina then informed the Empress of all she had done and the details of the scheme. It was essential that the treasonable conversation should be overheard by witnesses, whose testimony would convince Justinian. Theodora, who entered eagerly into the plot, chose for this part the eunuch Narses, and Marcellus, commander of the Palace guards, a man of the highest integrity, who stood aloof from all political parties, and never, throughout a long tenure of his command, forfeited the Emperor's respect.150 Theodora did not wait for the execution of the scheme to tell Justinian of what was on feet, and it was said that he warned John secretly not to keep the appointment. This may not be true. In any case, John arrived at Rufinianae at midnight, only taking the precaution of bringing some of his armed retainers. Antonina met him outside the house near a wall behind which she had posted Marcellus and Narses. He spoke, without any reserve, of plans to attempt the Emperor's life. When he had fully committed himself, Narses and Marcellus emerged from their hiding-place to seize him. His men, who were not far off, rushed up and one of them wounded Marcellus. In the fray John succeeded in escaping, and reaching the city he sought refuge in a sanctuary.151 The historian who tells the tale thought that if he had gone boldly to the Palace he would have been pardoned by Justinian. But the Empress now had the Emperor's ear. John was deprived of the office which he had so terribly abused and banished to Cyzicus, where he was ordained a deacon against his will. His large ill-gained possessions were forfeited as a matter of course, but the Emperor showed his weakness for the man by letting him retain a considerable portion, which enabled him to live in great luxury in his retirement.152

But he was not long suffered to enjoy his exile in peace. The  p59  bishop of Cyzicus, Eusebius, was hated by the inhabitants. They had preferred charges against him at Constantinople, but his influence there was so great that he was able to defy Cyzicus. At last some young men, who belonged to the local circus factions, murdered him in the market-place. As it happened that John and Eusebius were enemies, it was suspected that John was accessory to the crime, and, considering his reputation, the suspicion was not unnatural. Senators were sent to Cyzicus to investigate the murder. John's guilt was not proved;153 but the commission of inquiry must have received secret orders to punish him rightly or wrongly, for he was stripped and scourged like a common highwayman, and then put on board ship, clad in a rough cloak. The ship bore him to Egypt, and on the voyage he was obliged to support life by begging in the seaports at which it called. When he reached Egypt he was imprisoned at Antinoopolis. For these illegal proceedings the Emperor, we may be sure, was not responsible, and no private enemy could have ventured to resort to them. The hand of Theodora could plainly be discerned. But she was not yet satisfied with his punishment; she desired to have him legally done to death.154 Some years later she got into her power two young men of the Green faction who were said to have been concerned in the murder of the bishop. By promises and threats she sought to extract a confession implicating John the Cappadocian. One of them yielded, but the other, even under torture, refused. Baffled in her design she is said to have cut off the hands of both the youths.155 John remained in prison till her death, after which he was allowed by the Emperor to return to Constantinople, a free man, but a priest. Yet it was said that he still dreamed of ascending the throne.156

 p60  It is incontestable that Theodora performed a public service by delivering the eastern provinces from the government of an exceptionally unscrupulous oppressor, and that his sufferings, although they were illegally inflicted, were richly deserved. But the revolting means imagined by her unprincipled satellite Antonina and approved by herself, the employment of the innocent girl to entrap her father,157 do not raise her high in our estimation. It must be observed, however, that the public opinion of that time found nothing repulsive in a stratagem which to the more delicate feelings of the present age seems unspeakably base and cruel. For the story is told openly in a work which the author could not have ventured to publish if it had contained anything reflecting injuriously on the character of the Empress.158

It was not long before the Empress had an opportunity of repaying her friend for her dexterous service. Belisarius and Antonina had adopted a youth named Theodosius, for whom Antonina conceived an ungovernable passion. Their guilty intrigue was discovered by Belisarius in Sicily (A.D. 535‑536), and he sent some of his retainers to slay the paramour, who, however, escaped to Ephesus.159 But Antonina persuaded her uxorious husband that she was not guilty, regained his affection, and induced him to hand over to her the servants who had betrayed her amour. It was reported that having cut out their tongues she chopped their bodies in small pieces and threw them into the sea. Her desire for Theodosius was not cooled by an absence of five years, and while she was preparing her intrigue against John the Cappadocian she was planning to recall her lover to her side when Belisarius departed for the East. But her son Photius, who had always been jealous of the favourite preferred to himself, penetrated her design and revealed the matter to his stepfather, and they bound themselves by solemn oaths to punish Theodosius. They decided, however, that  p61  nothing could be done immediately; they must wait till Antonia followed her husband to the East. Photius accompanied Belisarius in the campaign, and for some months Antonina enjoyed the society of her paramour at Constantinople. When, in the summer of the year, she set out for Persia, Theodosius returned to Ephesus. The general met his wife, showed his anger, but had not the heart to slay her. Photius hastened to Ephesus, seized Theodosius, and sent him under a guard of retainers to be imprisoned in a secret place in Cilicia. He proceeded himself to Constantinople, in possession of the wealth which Theodosius had been allowed to appropriate from the spoils of Carthage.160 But the danger of her favourite had come to the ears of Theodora. She caused Belisarius and his wife to be summoned to the capital and she forced a reconciliation upon the reluctant husband. Then she seized Photius and sought by torture to make him reveal the place where he had concealed Theodosius. The secret was disclosed, however, through another channel and Theodosius was rescued; the Empress concealed him in the Palace, and presented him to Antonina as a delightful surprise.

The unhappy Photius, who showed greater force of character than Belisarius, was kept a captive in the dungeons of Theodora. He escaped twice, but was dragged back from the sanctuaries in which he had sought refuge. His third attempt at the end of three years was successful; he reached Jerusalem, became a monk, and escaped the vengeance of the Empress. He survived Justinian, and in the following reign was appointed, notwithstanding his religious quality, to suppress a revolt of the Samaritans, a task which he carried out, we are told, with the utmost cruelty, taking advantage of his powers to extort money from all the Syrian provinces.161

 p62  § 8. The Great Pestilence (A.D. 542‑543)

Justinian had been fourteen years on the throne when the Empire was visited by one of those immense but rare calamities in the presence of which human beings could only succumb helpless and resourceless until the science of the nineteenth century began to probe the causes and supply the means of preventing and checking them. The devastating plague, which began its course in the summer of A.D. 542 and seems to have invaded and ransacked nearly every corner of the Empire, was, if not more malignant, far more destructive, through the vast range of its ravages, than the pestilences which visited ancient Athens in the days of Pericles and London in the reign of Charles II; and perhaps even than the plague which travelled from the East to Rome in the reign of Marcus Aurelius. It probably caused as large a mortality in the Empire as the Black Death of the fourteenth century in the same countries.162

The infection first attacked Pelusium, on the borders of Egypt, with deadly effect, and spread thence to Alexandria and throughout Egypt, and northward to Palestine and Syria. In the following year it reached Constantinople, in the middle of spring,163 and spread over Asia Minor and through Mesopotamia into the kingdom of Persia.164 Travelling by sea, whether from Africa or across the Adriatic, it invaded Italy and Sicily.165

It was observed that the infection always started from the coast and went up to the interior, and that those who survived  p63  it had become immune. The historian Procopius, who witnessed its course at Constantinople, as Thucydides had studied the plague at Athens, has detailed the nature and effects of the bubonic disease, as it might be called, for the most striking feature was a swelling in the groin or in the armpit, sometimes behind the ear or on the thighs. Hallucinations occasionally preceded the attack. The victims were seized by a sudden fever, which did not affect the colour of the skin nor make it as hot as might be expected.

The fever was of such a languid sort from its commencement and up till evening that neither to the sick themselves nor a physician who touched them would it afford any suspicion of danger. . . . But on the same day in some cases, in others on the following day, and in the rest not many days later a bubonic swelling developed. . . . Up to this point everything went in about the same way with all who had taken the disease. But from then on very marked differences developed. . . . There ensued with some a deep coma, with others a violent delirium, and in either case they suffered the characteristic symptoms of the disease. For those who were under the spell of the coma forgot all those who were familiar to them and seemed to be sleeping constantly. And if any one cared for them, they would eat without waking, but some also were neglected and these would die directly through lack of sustenance. But those who were seized with delirium suffered from insomnia and were victims of a distorted imagination; for they suspected that men were coming upon them to destroy them, and they would become excited and rush off in flight, crying out at the top of their voices. And those who were attending them were in a state of constant exhaustion and had a most difficult time. . . . Neither the physicians nor other persons were found to contract this malady through contact with the sick or with the dead, for many who were constantly engaged either in burying or in attending those in no way connected with them held out in the performance of this service beyond all expectation. . . . [The patient] had great difficulty in the matter of eating, for they could not easily take food. And many perished through lack of any man to care for them, for they were either overcome with hunger, or threw themselves from a height.

And in those cases where neither coma nor delirium came on, the bubonic swelling became mortified and the sufferer, no longer able to endure the pain, died. And we would suppose that in all cases the same thing would have been true, but since they were not at all in their senses, some were quite unable to feel the pain; for owing to the troubled condition of their minds they lost all sense of feeling.

Now some of the physicians who were at a loss because the symptoms were not understood, supposing that the disease centred in the bubonic swellings, decided to investigate the bodies of the dead. And upon opening some of the swellings they found a strange sort of carbuncle [ἄνθραξ] that had grown inside them.

 p64  Death came in some cases immediately, in others after many days; and with some the body broke out with black pustules about as large as a lentil, and these did not survive even one day, but all succumbed immediately. With many also a vomiting of blood ensued without visible cause and straightway brought death. Moreover I am able to declare this, that the most illustrious physicians predicted that many would die, who unexpectedly escaped entirely from suffering shortly afterwards, and that they declared that many would be saved who were destined to be carried off almost immediately. . . . While some were helped by bathing others were harmed in no less degree. And of those who received no care many died, but others, contrary to reason, were saved. And again, methods of treatment showed different results with different patients. . . . And in the case of women who were pregnant death could be certainly foreseen if they were taken with the disease. For some died through miscarriage, but others perished immediately at the time of birth with the infants they bore. However they say that three women survived though their children perished, and that one woman died at the very time of child-birth but that the child was born and survived.

Now in those cases where the swelling rose to an unusual size and a discharge of pus had set in, it came about that they escaped from the disease and survived, for clearly the acute condition of the carbuncle had found relief in this direction, and this proved to be in general an indication of returning health. . . . And with some of them it came about that the thigh was withered, in which case, though the swelling was there, it did not develop the least suppuration. With others who survived the tongue did not remain unaffected, and they lived on either lisping or speaking incoherently and with difficulty.166

This description167 shows that the disease closely resembled in character the terrible oriental plague which devastated Europe and parts of Asia in the fourteenth century. In the case of the Black Death too the chief symptom was the pestboils, but the malady was generally accompanied by inflammation of the lungs and the spitting of blood, which Procopius does not mention.168

In Constantinople the visitation lasted for four months altogether, and during three of these the mortality was enormous. At first the deaths were only a little above the usual number, but as the infection spread 5000 died daily, and when it was at its worst 10,000 or upward.169 This figures are too  p65  vague to enable us to conjecture how many of the population were swept away; but we may feel sceptical when another writer who witnessed the plague assures us that the number of those who died in the streets and public places exceeded 300,000.170 If we could trust the recorded statistics of the mortality in some of the large cities which were stricken by the Black Death — in London, for instance, 100,000, in Venice 100,000, in Avignon 60,000 — then, considering the much larger population of Constantinople, we might regard 300,000 as not an excessive figure for the total destruction. For the general mortality throughout the Empire we have no data for conjecture; but it is interesting to note that a physician who made a careful study of all the accounts of the Black Death came to the conclusion that, without exaggeration, Europe (including Russia) lost twenty-five millions of her inhabitants through that calamity.171

At first, relatives and domestics attended to the burial of the dead, but as the violence of the plague increased this duty was neglected, and corpses lay forlorn not only in the streets, but even in the houses of notable men whose servants were sick or dead. Aware of this, Justinian placed considerable sums at the disposal of Theodore, one of his private secretaries,172 to take measures for the disposal of the dead. Huge pits were dug at Sycae, on the other side of the Golden Horn, in which the bodies were laid in rows and tramped down tightly; but the men who were engaged on this work, unable to keep up with the number of the dying, mounted the towers of the wall of the suburb, tore off their roofs, and threw the bodies in. Virtually all the towers were filled with corpses, and as a result "an evil stench pervaded the city and distressed the inhabitants still more, and especially whenever the wind blew fresh from that quarter."173 It is particularly noted that members of the Blue and Green parties laid aside their mutual enmity and co-operated in the labour of burying the dead.

 p66  During these months all work ceased; the artisans abandoned their trades. "Indeed in a city which was simply abounding in all good things starvation almost absolute was running riot. Certainly it seemed a difficult and very notable thing to have a sufficiency of bread or of anything else."174 All court functions were discontinued, and no one was to be seen in official dress, especially when the Emperor fell ill. For he, too, was stricken by the plague, though the attack did not prove fatal.175

Our historian observed the moral effects of the visitation. Men whose lives had been base and dissolute changed their habits and punctiliously practised the duties of religion,176 not from any real change of heart, but from terror and because they supposed they were to die immediately. But their conversion to respectability was only transient. When the pestilence abated and they thought themselves safe they recurred to their old evil ways of life. It may be confidently asserted, adds the cynical writer, that the disease selected precisely the worst men and let them go free.

Fifteen years later there was a second outbreak of the plague in Constantinople (spring A.D. 558), but evidently much less virulent and destructive. It was noticed in the case of this visitation that females suffered less than males.177

§ 9. The Conspiracy of Artabanes (A.D. 548)

The Empress Theodora died of cancer of June 28, A.D. 548.178 Her death was a relief to her numerous enemies, but to Justinian it must have been a severe blow. We would give much to have a glimpse into their private life or a record of one of their intimate  p67  conversations. We have no means of lifting even a corner of the veil. But it is a significant fact that, though they disagreed on various questions of policy, scandal, which had many evil things to tell of them both, never found any pretext to suggest that they quarrelled or were living on bad terms.

Soon after this event a conspiracy was formed against the Emperor's life, which had little political significance but created a great sensation because men of his own family were indirectly involved.179 A general named Artabanes, of Armenian race, whom we shall meet as a commander in Africa, had conceived the ambition of marrying the Emperor's niece Praejecta, but the plan had been thwarted by Theodora, who compelled him to live again with the wife whom he had put away.180 After her death he repudiated his wife for the second time, but Praejecta, who had been given to another, was lost to him, and he bore no goodwill towards the Emperor. His disaffected feelings would not have prompted him to initiate any sinister design, but a kinsman of his, one Arsaces, was animated by a bitter desire of revenge upon Justinian, who, when he was found guilty of a treacherous correspondence with the king of Persia, had ordered him to be scourged lightly and paraded through the streets on the back of a camel. Arsaces fanned into flame the smouldering resentment of Artabanes, and showed him how easy it would be to kill the Emperor, "who is accustomed to sit without guards till late hours in the night, in the company of old priests, deep in the study of the holy books of the Christians." But perhaps what did most to secure the adhesion of Artabanes was the prospect that Germanus, Justinian's cousin, and his two sons181 would sanction, if they did not take an active part in, the design.

For Germanus, at this time, had a personal grievance against the Emperor. His brother Boraides had died, leaving almost all his property to Germanus, allowing his daughter to receive only so much as was required by the law. But Justinian, deeming the arrangement unfair, overrode the will in the daughter's favour.182 relying on the indignation which this arbitrary act had aroused in the family, Arsaces opened communications with Justin, the elder son of Germanus. Having bound him by oath not to reveal  p68  the conversation to any person except his father, he enlarged on the manner in which the Emperor ill-treated and passed over his relatives, and expressed his conviction that it would go still harder with them when Belisarius returned from Italy. He then revealed the plan of assassination which he had formed in conjunction with Artabanes and Chanaranges, a young and frivolous Armenian who had been admitted to their counsels.

Justin, terrified at this revelation, laid it before his father, who immediately consulted with Marcellus, the Count of the Excubitors, whether it would be wise to inform the Emperor immediately. Marcellus, an honourable, austere, and wary man, dissuaded Germanus from taking that course, on the ground that such a communication, necessitating a private interview with the Emperor, would inevitably become known to the conspirators and lead to the escape of Arsaces. He proposed to investigate the matter himself, and it was arranged that one of the conspirators should be lured to speak in the presence of a concealed witness. Justin appointed a day and hour for an interview between Germanus and Chanaranges, and the compromising revelations were overheard by Leontius, a friend of Marcellus, who was hidden behind a curtain. The programme of the matured plot was to wait for the arrival of Belisarius and slay the Emperor and his general at the same time; for if Justinian were slain beforehand, the conspirators might not be able to contend against the soldiers of Belisarius. When the deed was done, Germanus was to be proclaimed Emperor.

Marcellus still hesitated to reveal the plot to the Emperor, through friendship or pity for Artabanes. But when Belisarius was drawing nigh to the capital he could hesitate no longer, and Justinian ordered the conspirators to be arrested. Germanus and Justin were at first not exempted from suspicion, but when the Senate inquired into the case, the testimony of Marcellus and Leontius, and two other officers to whom Germanus had prudently disclosed the affair, completely cleared them. Even then Justinian was still indignant that they had concealed the treason so long, and was not mollified until the candid Marcellus took all the blame of the delay upon himself. The conspirators were treated with clemency, being confined in the Palace and not in the public prison. Artabanes was not only soon pardoned  p69  but was created Master of Soldiers in Thrace and sent to take part in the Ostrogothic war.183

Another plot to assassinate Justinian was organised by a number of obscure persons in November A.D. 562,184 and would hardly merit to be recorded if it had not injured Belisarius. One of the conspirators talked indiscreetly to Eusebius, Count of the Federates, and they were all arrested. Their confessions involved two followers of Belisarius, who, seized and examined by the Prefect of the City and the quaestor, asserted that Belisarius was privy to the plot. The Emperor convoked a meeting of the Senate and Imperial Council; the depositions of the prisoner were read; and suspicion weighed heavily on the veteran general. He made no resistance when he was ordered to dismiss all his armed retainers, and he remained in disgrace till July A.D. 563, when he was restored to favour.185 His character and the whole record of his life make it highly improbable that he was guilty of disloyalty in his old age. He died in March A.D. 565.186 His disgrace, though it was brief, made such an impression on popular imagination in later times that a Belisarius legend was formed, which represented the conqueror of Africa and Italy as ending his days as a blind beggar in the streets of Constantinople.187

 p70  § 10. The Succession to the Throne

As Justinian had no children of his own, it was incumbent on him to avert the possibility of a struggle for the throne after his death by designating a successor. So long as Theodora was alive the importance of providing for the future was not so serious, as it might be reasonably supposed that she would be able to control the situation as successfully as Pulcheria and Ariadne. But after her death it was a dereliction of duty on the part of Justinian, as it had been on the part of Anastasius, not to arrange definitely the question of the succession. His failure to do so was probably due partly to his suspicious and jealous temper, and partly to an inability to decide between the two obvious choices.

Of his three cousins, Germanus, Boraides, and Justus,188 only Germanus survived Theodora, but he, who was an able man and whom the popular wish would have called to the throne, died two years later. His two sons, Justin and Justinian, were competent officers. We have seen them occupying important military posts, and if they were not trusted with the highest commands, it is probable that they did not display ability of the first rank. They were both unreservedly loyal to the sovran, and Justin seems, like his father, to have enjoyed general respect and popularity.189 If Justinian had decided to create him Caesar or Augustus, the act would have been universally applauded.

The influence of Theodora had rendered it impossible for the Emperor, in her lifetime, to show any special preference for this branch of his kin. Germanus, whose amiable qualities and sense of justice endeared him to others, was hated and suspected by her. She resolved that his family should not multiply. He had children, but he should have no grandchildren. In this design she so far succeeded that neither of his sons married till after her death. All her efforts, however, did not prevent his daughter Justina from espousing the general John, nephew of Vitalian, but she threatened that she would destroy John and he went in fear of his life.190

 p71  Justinian had nephews, sons of his sister Vigilantia,191 and on the eldest of these, Justin, the Empress bestowed her favour. Her desire was that her own blood should be perpetuated in the dynasty, and she married her niece Sophia, a woman who possessed qualities resembling her own, to Justin. After her death, Justinian seems to have been convinced that the conspicuous merits of Germanus entitled him to the succession, but he was unable to bring himself to take a definite decision. When Germanus died the choice lay between the two Justins, the nephew and the cousin, and we may divine that there was a constant conflict between their interests at court. The Emperor's preference inclined, on the whole, to Justin, the husband of Sophia. He created him Curopalates, a new title of rank which raised him above the other Patricians, yet did not give him the status of an heir apparent which would have been conferred by the title of Caesar or even Nobilissimus.192 But Justin enjoyed the great advantage of living in the Palace and having every opportunity to prepare his way to the throne; while the services of his rival and namesake were employed in distant Colchis.

Not the least of Theodora's triumphs was the posthumous realisation of her plan for the succession. Justinian died on Nov. 14, A.D. 565,193 and Justin, the son of Vigilantia, supported by the Senate and the Excubitors, secured the throne without a struggle.


The chronicle of Theophanes contains a remarkable record of a conversation between Justinian and the Green party in the Hippodrome. It is apparently an official record (preserved in the archives of the Greens?), under the title Ἄκτα διὰ Καλοπόδιον τὸν κουβικουλάριον  p72  καὶ σπαθάριον, and is inserted after the short summary of the Nika riot which the chronicler has prefixed to his detailed narrative. But it exhibits no connexion whatever with the causes of that event, and may record an incident which occurred at some other period of the reign.194 It seems likely that Calopodius who had offended the Greens is the same as Calopodius who was praepositus s. cub. in A.D. 558 (John Mal. XVIII p490).

As we are totally ignorant of the circumstances, a great part of this allusive dialogue is very obscure. Some act on the part of the chamberlain Calopodius had excited the anger of the Greens; they begin by complaining of this in respectful tones, and obtaining no satisfaction go on to air their grievances as an oppressed party, with violent invective. A mandator or herald speaks for the Emperor, standing in front of the kathisma, and the Greeks evidently have a single spokesman.

Greens. Long may you live, Justinian Augustus! Tu vincas. I am oppressed, O best of sovrans, and my grievances, God knows, have become intolerable. I fear to name the oppressor, lest he prosper the more and I endanger my own safety.

Mandator. Who is he? I know him not.

Greens. My oppressor, O thrice august! is to be found in the quarter of the shoemakers.195

Mandator. No one does you wrong.

Greens. One man and one only does me wrong. Mother of God, may he be humbled (μὴ ἀνακεφαλίσῃ)!

Mandator. Who is he? We know him not.

Greens. Nay, you know well, O thrice august! I am oppressed this day.

Mandator. We know not that anyone oppresses you.

Greens. It is Calopodius, the spathar, who wrongs me, O lord of all!

Mandator. Calopodius has no concern with you.196

Greens. My oppressor will perish like Judas; God will requite him quickly.

Mandator. You come, not to see the games, but to insult your rulers.

Greens. If anyone wrongs me, he will perish like Judas.

Mandator. Silence, Jews, Manichaeans, and Samaritans!

Greens. Do you disparage us with the name of Jews and Samaritans? The Mother of God is with all of us.

Mandator. When will ye cease cursing yourselves?

Greens. If anyone denies that our lord the Emperor is orthodox, let him be anathema, as Judas.

 p73  Mandator. I would have you all baptized in the name of one God.

Greens.am baptized in One God.197

Mandator. Verily, if you refuse to be silent, I shall have you beheaded.

Greens. Every person seeks a post of authority, to secure his personal safety. Your Majesty must not be indignant at what I say in my tribulation, for the Deity listens to all complaints. We have good reason, O Emperor! to mention all things now.198 For we do not even know where the palace is, nor what is the government. If I come into the city once, it is sitting on a mule;199 and I wish I had not to come then, your Majesty.200

Mandator. Every one is free to move in public, where he wishes, without danger.

Greens. I am told I am free, yet I am not allowed to use my freedom. If a man is free but is suspected as a Green, he is sure to be publicly punished.

Mandator. Have ye no care for your lives that ye thus brave death?

Greens. Let this (green) colour be once uplifted201 — then justice disappears. Put an end to the scenes of murder, and let us be lawfully punished. Behold, an abundant fountain; punish as many as you like. Verily, human nature cannot tolerate these two (contradictory) things. Would that Sabbatis had never been born, to have a son who is a murderer. It is the twenty-sixth murder that has been committed in the Zeugma;202 the victim was a spectator in the morning, in the afternoon, O lord of all! he was butchered.

Blues. Yourselves are the only party in the hippodrome that has murderers among their number.

Greens. When ye commit murder ye leave the city in flight.

Blues. Ye shed blood, and debate. Ye are the only party here with murderers among them.

Greens. O lord Justinian! they challenge us and yet no one slays them. Truth will compel assent.203 Who slew the woodseller in the Zeugma, O Emperor?

Mandator. Ye slew him.

Greens. Who slew the son of Epagathus, Emperor?

Mandator. Ye slew him too, and ye slander the Blues.

Greens. Now have pity, O Lord God! The truth is suppressed. I should like to argue with them who say that affairs are managed by God. Whence comes this misery?

 p74  Mandator. God cannot be tempted with evil.

Greens. God, you say, cannot be tempted with evil? Who is it then who wrongs me? Let some philosopher or hermit explain the distinction.

Mandator. Accursed blasphemers, when will ye hold your peace?

Greens. If it is the pleasure of your Majesty, I hold my peace, albeit unwillingly. I know all — all, but I say nothing. Good-bye, Justice! you are no longer in fashion. I shall turn and become a Jew. Better to be a "Greek" (pagan) than a Blue, God knows.

Blues. You are detestable, I cannot abide the sight of you. Your enmity dismays me.

Greens. Let the bones of the spectators be exhumed.204

The language of this astonishing dialogue obeys metrical laws, which concern not quantity but the number of the syllables and the accentuation of the last word in each clause. The most frequently occurring form is five syllables with the penultimate accented + four with the antepenultimate (or ultimate?) accented, e.g.:

οὐδὲ τὸ παλάτιν τρισαύγουστε.

It is evident that to converse in metrical chant both the Imperial mandator and the spokesmen of the demes must have had a special training in the art of improvising.205

The Author's Notes:

144 Phocas, son of Craterus, was of good family and well off. He began as a silentiary in the Palace. He had been prosecuted as a pagan in 529 (John Mal. XVIII.449, where it is falsely said that he was put to death). See the panegyric of John Lydus (III.70 sqq.), where his liberality and personal frugality are praised. When he became Prefect he set himself to learn Latin, and John Lydus procured him the services of an instructor. He is highly spoken of by the Emperor in Nov. 82, § 1 (539).

145 John Mal., ib. 477, dates John's restoration to 532. We know from Procopius, B. V. 1.10 and 13, that he was Prefect before June 533. He fell in the tenth year of his Prefecture (B. P. I.25.3), and as his fall can be fixed to May 541 (see below), Procopius seems to count as if his two tenures of office had been continuous. Phocas held the Prefecture long enough to furnish 4000 lbs. of gold (£288,000) towards the building of St. Sophia (John Lyd. ib. 76), but for less than a year (Proc. H. A. 21.7).

146 Fasti cons. (p56): Flavius Johannes. Cp. CIL VI.32, 042.

147 Germania, on the borders of Illyricum and Thrace, Procop. B. V. I.11.21. Cp. the town of Germae (Γερμαή) in Dardania (Aed. IV.1.31); Hierocles, Synecd. 654.5).

148 Her father and grandfather were chariot-drivers, her mother a disreputable actress (τῶν τινος ἐν Θυμέλῃ πεπορνευμένων), Procop. H. A. 1.11. She is said to have been 60 years old in 544 (ib. IV.41). She had borne a daughter to Belisarius, Joannina. An illegitimate daughter married Ildiger, an officer who was prominent in the wars of the time; and by another illegitimate child she had a granddaughter who married Sergius, a nephew of Solomon the eunuch (see below, p145). For his son Photius see below, p60.

149 At Jadi Bostan (see above, Vol. I p87) We do not know how this Imperial residence passed into the possession of Belisarius. At Παντείχιων, near Chalcedon, evidently to be identified with Pendik, Belisarius had also a villa. See Pargoire, Rufinianes, pp459, 477.

150 It is uncertain whether he was Count of the Excubitors or Commander of the Scholarians. For his character see Procopius, B. G. III.32.22.

151 Ἐς τὸ ἱερόν (B. P. I.25.30), where Haury conjectures that the words τοῦ Λαυρεντίου have fallen out.

152 All the details are derived from Procopius, B. P. I.25. In the summary notice of John Mal. XVIII.480 (cp. De ins. p172), the date is given as August. But Theodotus had succeeded John as Prefect between May 7 and June 1, 541 (Nov. 109 and 111).

153 Οὐ λίαν ἐξελήλεγκτο, Procop. ib. Theodora's name is not mentioned in the episode as narrated here, but the part which she played comes out in the supplementary story in H. A. 17.40 sqq. Procopius wrote B. P. I.25 in the third year of John's imprisonment in Egypt (τρίτον τοῦτο ἔτος αὐτὸν ἐνταῦθα καθείρξαντες τηροῦσιν, § 43), probably in 544‑545. For when he says (§ 44) that the retribution for his acts overtook John ten years later, he seems to mean that ten years elapsed between John's reappointment after the Nika, in 532‑533, and the affair at Cyzicus, which would thus have occurred in 542‑543.

154 What follows comes from H. A. 17, where the date given is τέτρασι ἐνιαυτοῖς ὑστερον (i.e. 546‑547, see last note).

155 This was done publicly in the Forum of Constantine. Justinian, according to Haury's very probable emendation of the text (ib., ad fin.), pretended to know nothing about it.

156 Procop. B. P. II.30.

157 We are not told what became of Euphemia.

158 One point was indeed omitted, the shameless perjury of Antonina, and in the Secret History Procopius holds it up to censure. She had sworn both to John and to his daughter by the most solemn oaths that a Christian can take that no treachery was intended. H. A. 2.61.

159 The story is told in Procopius, H. A. 1.15 sqq. Theodosius was a Thracian; his parents belonged to the Eunomian sect, and he was baptized into the true faith at his adoption just before the Vandal expedition started. Perhaps he is referred to in B. V. I.12.2 as "one of the soldiers recently baptized."

160 H. A. 1.17, "it is said that he had got by plunder 10,000 nomismata from the palaces of Carthage and Ravenna." He was with Belisarius at Carthage, but was at Ephesus when Ravenna was taken; so that, if the report is true, Belisarius or Antoninus must have sent him a share of the Italian plunder.

161 John Eph. Hist. ecc. part 3, book I cc31, 32. This notice gives a very unfavourable impression of Photius, with whom Procopius is sympathetic. They agree in the statement that he became a monk.

162 The best and principal authority is Procopius (B. P. II.22‑23), who was living in Constantinople during the visitation. But we have a second first-hand source in John of Ephesus, who was in Palestine when the plague broke out there, and then, travelling to Mesopotamia and returning to Constantinople through Asia Minor, observed its ravages in Cilicia, Cappadocia, and Bithynia (extracts from his History in Land's ed. of the Commentarii, p227 sqq.). The date of the outbreak is fixed to 542 by the order of events in Procopius, and this agrees with the specific date of another contemporary, John Malalas (XVIII p48), who places it in the 5th indiction (541‑542), and with that of Evagrius (IV.29), who places it two years after the Persian capture of Antioch (June 540). The date of John of Ephesus (year of Alexandria 855 = A.D. 543‑544) may be explained by supposing that the year of the journey was 543. The plague was also noticed by Zachariah of Mitylene in the lost portion of book X, but a short extract is preserved in the chronicle of Michael Syrus (IX.28; see Zachariah, p313).

163 Procopius, op. cit. 22, 9.

164 Zachariah mentions Nubia, Ethiopia, Armenia, Arzanene, and Mesopotamia. For Persia cp. also Procopius, op. cit. 25, 12.

165 Cont. Marcellini, sub 453, mortalitas magna Italiae solum devastat, Orientem iam et Illyricum peraeque attritos. Zachariah's list of the visited countries includes Italy, Sicily, Africa, and Gaul.

166 I have borrowed Dewey's translation.

167 It agrees generally with the less accurate description of John of Ephesus.

168 See Hecker, The Epidemics of the Middle Ages (transl. Babington, ed. 3), p3 sqq. The coma in some cases, the sleeplessness in others, are mentioned.

169 So Procopius. John of Ephesus (op. cit. p234) says that 5000, 7000, 12,000, even 16,000 corpses of the poor were removed daily from the streets in the early stage of the plague; and they were counted by men stationed at the harbours, the ferries, and the gates.

170 John Eph. ib.

171 Hecker, op. cit. p29.

172 Referendarii; there were fourteen (Justinian, Nov. 10). For these officials, not to be confounded with the magistri, see Bury, Magistri scriniorum, ἀντιγραφῆς, and ῥεφερενδάριοι.

173 Procopius B. P. II.23. His account of the measures for the disposal of the corpses agrees with that of John Eph., who, however, does not mention the towers, and says that each of the pits could contain 70,000 bodies. One would have thought that all the arrangements would have been made by the Prefect of the City, but that functionary is not mentioned.

174 Ib. (Dewey's rendering).

175 Καὶ αὐτῷ γὰρ ξυνέπεσε βουβῶνα ἐπῆρθαι. Gibbon suggests that Justinian may have owed his safety to his abstemious habits. Another serious illness of Justinian is recorded by Procopius, Aed. I.7.6 sqq.

176 Cp. Hecker, op. cit. p31.

177 Agathias, V.10. He identifies this disease with that of 543. Of the plagues of the fourteenth century, which were frequent after 1350 until 1383, Hecker says that he does not consider them as the same as the Black Death. "They were rather common pestilences without inflammation of the lungs, such as in former times, and in the following centuries, were excited by the matter of contagion everywhere existing" (p27). The plague in Italy and Gaul which Marius Avent. notices, sub a. 570, as morbus validus cum profluvio ventris et variola seems to be the same as that whose ravages in Liguria Paulus Diac. (Hist. Lang. II.4) describes. Paul mentions the pestboils.

178 Date: John Mal. XVIII p484, cp. Procopius, B. G. III.30.4 (in Consularia Ital., sub a., the day is given as June 27). The disease is named by Victor Tonn. sub 549.

179 The source is Procopius, B. G. III.32. The date seems to be the latter part of 548.

180 See below, p146.

181 See above, p20.

182 B. G. III.31.17‑18.

183 B. G. III.39.8.

184 John Malalas, XVIII.493, and De ins. fr. 49; Theophanes, A.M. 6055. The conspirators were: Ablabius, son of Miltiades; Marcellus, Vitus, and Eusebius, bankers; Sergius, now of Aetherius, the curator domus divinae; Isaac, ὁ ἀργυροπράτης ὁ κατὰ Βελισάριον; and Paul, a retainer of Belisarius. The workshop of Marcellus was near St. Irene, and he is described as ὁ κατὰ Αἰθέριον τὸν ξουράτωρα. Marcellus, who was arrested as he entered the Palace with a dagger (βοῦγλινpugio), killed himself on the spot. Paul the Silentiary refers to this conspiracy in S. Sophia, 22 sqq.

185 Theophanes, ib. The technical term for political disgrace is ἀγανάκτησις.

186 Theophanes, A.M. 6057. His property went to the Imperial house of Marina. Antonina survived him according to Πάτρια, p254.

187 The earliest mention of this legend is in Πάτρια, p160 (tenth century), cp. Tzetzes, Chil. III.339 sqq. The extant medieval romance on the subject took shape in the age of the Palaeologi. Belisarius, slandered by jealous nobles, is shut up in a tower. The Emperor releases him on the insistent demand of the people that he should be the leader of a military expedition against England (νησὶν τῆς Ἐγγλητέρας). Belisarius sails thither, takes the English κάστρον, and returns to Constantinople with the king of England as prisoner. He is again accused of treason, and is blinded. The three known versions of the story will be found in Wagner, Carmina Graeca medii aevi, p304 sqq. There is a historical case of disgraced generals (Peganes and Symbatios) being blinded and set to beg in the streets in the ninth century (see Bury, Eastern Roman Empire, p176), and perhaps this suggested the mythical fate of Belisarius.

188 See above, p20. Germanus died in 550 (Procopius, B. G. III.40.9); Boraides c. 547‑548 (see above, p67); Justus in 545 (B. P. II.28.1. For the marriage of Germanus see above, p20, and for his death, below, p254.

189 Cp. Evagrius, V.1.

190 Procopius, H. A. 5.8‑15. John, who was in Italy, avoided associating with Belisarius, through fear of Antonina. If we are to connect this with the statement in B. G. III.18.25 (p71) παρὰ Βελισάριον οὐκέτι ἤει (though a different motive is assigned), the date of the marriage of John and Justina would be A.D. 546.

191 See above, p20.

192 He was Curopalates in 559, when he repressed a Hippodrome riot, John Mal. XVIII.491. See Evagrius, V.1. Sophia was perhaps a daughter of Comito and Sittas.

193 Chron. Pasch., sub a. Theophanes gives Nov. 11 as the day. His funeral is described by Corippus in Laud. Iust. III.4 sqq. The Empress Sophia laid over his bier a purple cloth on which were embroidered in gold pictures of his achievements, Iustinianorum series tota laborum, ib. II.276 sqq.

194 See P. Maas, Metrische Akklamationen der Byzantiner, B. Z. XXI.49‑50. He reprints the Greek text so as to bring out the rhythmical character of the conversation. The Acta were known to the compiler of the Chron. Pasch. (c. A.D. 630), who reproduces the opening words of the Greens. He substitutes plural verbs for singular, but otherwise agrees closely with Theophanes. Both writers probably copied from a sixth-century chronicle.

195 Εἰς τὰ τζαγγαρεῖα εὑρίσκεται — an allusion to the name of Calo-podius (as Maas points out).

196 Οὐκ ἔχει πρᾶγμα.

197 The Greens apparently take up the words of the mandator, εἰς ἕνα βαπτίζεσθαι, in a Monophysitic sense. The preceding words, οἱ δὲ πράσινοιº ἐβόησαν ἐράνω ἀλλήλων καὶ ἔκραζον ὡς ἐκέλευσεν Ἄντλας, seem to imply that while the conversation was throughout conducted by a spokesman (Antlas?), here the whole party shouted together.

198 Ὀνομάζομεν ἄρτι πάντα. The sense demands that ἄρτι should be the emphatic word.

199 Ὄταν εἰς βορδώνιν καθέζομαι. Prisoners were drawn by mules to execution or punishment.

200 Εἴθοις μηδὲ τότε, τρισαύγουστε.

201 Ἐπαρθῇ τὸ χρῶμα τοῦτο καὶ ἡ δίκη οὐ χρηματίζει.

202 De Boor prints εἰκότως ἕκτος. Sabbatius, it will be remembered, was Justinian's father.

203 Νοήσει ὁ μὴ θέλων.

204 I.e. let them be murdered. A customary form of curse in the Hippodrome, cp. Theophanes, A.M. 6187 ἀνασκαφῇ τὰ ὀστέα Ἰουστινιανοῦ (Justinian II).

205 An earlier example of metrical cries is preserved in inscriptions on the monument of the famous charioteer Porphyrius (reign of Anastasius). See Woodward's publication in the Appendix to George, Church of Saint Eirene; and his paper in the Annual of the British School at Athens, XVII.88 sqq. The dialogue has considerable interest as a sample of the spoken Greek of the sixth century.

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