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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 10

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,
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Chapter 12

The Anecdota
or Secret History

Chapter XI

 p129  Accordingly, when Justinian took over the Empire he immediately succeeded in bringing confusion upon everything. For things which previously had been forbidden by law he kept introducing into the constitution, and tearing down all existing institutions and those made familiar by custom, as if he had put on the imperial garb on the condition that he should change all things also into another garb. 2 For instance, he would depose the existing officials and appoint new ones in control of the State's business; and he treated the laws and the divisions of the army in the same way, not yielding to demands of justice nor influenced to this course by any public advantage, but simply that everything  p131 might be new and might bear the impress of his name. And if there was anything which he was quite unable to transform at the instant, still he would at least put his own name upon it.

3 As for seizing property and murdering men, he never got his fill of them, but after plundering numerous homes of affluent men he kept seeking new ones, straightway pouring out the proceeds of his earlier robbery in making presents to sundry barbarians or in erecting senseless buildings. 4 And after he had slain perhaps myriads for no good reason, he straightway embarked on plans for the ruin of many more. 5 So then, the Romans being at peace with the whole world, and he by reason of his lust for blood not knowing what to do with himself, Justinian kept bringing all the barbarians into collision with one another, and summoning the leaders of the Huns for no good reason, he handed over to them with amazing prodigality huge donatives,​1 pretending that he was doing this as a pledge of friendship; indeed it was said that he had done this even during the period of Justinus' reign. 6 And they, even after having received money, would send some of their fellow-leaders together with their followers, bidding them overrun and ravage the Emperor's land, so that they too might be able to sell peace to the man who for no good reason wished to purchase it. 7 And these then began straightway to enslave the Roman Empire, and they nevertheless were receiving pay in  p133 the meantime from the Emperor; and after these, others promptly took over the business of plundering the hapless Romans, and after the pillage they would receive, as rewards for the attack, the Emperor's generous gifts. 8 Thus all the barbarians, one may almost say, omitting no season of the year, made raids in rotation, plundering and harrying absolutely everything without a moment's pause. 9 For these barbarians have many groups of leaders and war went the rounds — war that originated in an unreasoning generosity,​2 and could never reach an end, but kept for ever revolving about its own centre. 10 Consequently, during this period no settlement, no mountain, no cave — nothing, in fact, in the Roman domain — remained unplundered, and many places had the misfortune to be captured more than five times. 11 Yet all these things and all that was done by Medes, Saracens, Sclavenians, and Antae and the other barbarians have been set forth by me in previous Books; but, as I said at the beginning of this present Book,​3 it was necessary for me to state in this place the causes of what happened.

12 And though he paid out to Chosroes huge sums of gold in return for peace,​4 still, acting on his own judgment in a senseless way, he became the chief cause of the breaking of the truce by his intense eagerness to gain the alliance of Alamundarus and the Huns who are allied to the Persians, a matter which I believe to have been mentioned without concealment in the narrative referring to them.5  p135 13 And while he was stirring up the evils of faction and of war for the Romans and fanning the flames, with the one thought in mind that the earth should by many a device be filled with human blood and that he should plunder more money, he contrived another massacre of his subjects on a large scale, in the following manner.

14 There are in the whole Roman Empire many rejected doctrines of the Christians, which they are accustomed to call "heresies"​6 — those of the Montani, the Sabbatiani, and all the others which are wont to cause the judgment of man to go astray. 15 All these heretics he commanded to change their earlier beliefs, threatening many things in case of their disobedience, and in particular that it would be impossible for them in the future to hand down their property to their children or other relatives. 16 Now the shrines of these heretics, as they are called, and particularly those who practised the Arian belief, contained wealth unheard-of. 17 For neither the entire Senate nor any other major group of the Roman State could be compared with these sanctuaries in point of wealth. 18 For they had treasures of gold and of silver and ornaments set with precious stones, beyond telling or counting, houses and villages in great numbers, and a large amount of land in all parts of the world, and every other form of wealth which exists and has a name among all mankind, since no man who had ever reigned previously had ever disturbed them. 19 And many persons, and that too of the orthodox faith, excusing themselves by  p137 the occupations in which they were engaged,​7 always depended upon the property of these sects for the means of their livelihood. 20 So the Emperor Justinian began by confiscating the properties of these sanctuaries, thus stripping them suddenly of all their wealth. From this it came about that thereafter most of them were cut off from their livelihood.

21 And many straightway went everywhere from place to place and tried to compel such persons as they met to change from their ancestral faith.​8 22 And since such action seemed unholy to the farmer class, they all resolved to make a stand against those who brought this message. 23 So, then, while many were being destroyed by the soldiers and many even made away with themselves, thinking in their folly that they were doing a most righteous thing, and while the majority of them, leaving their homelands, went into exile, the Montani, whose home was in Phrygia, shutting themselves up in their own sanctuaries, immediately set their churches on fire, so that they were destroyed together with the buildings in senseless fashion, and consequently the whole Roman Empire was filled with murder and with exiled men.

24 And when a similar law was immediately passed touching the Samaritans also, an indiscriminate confusion swept through Palestine. 25 Now all the residents of my own Caesarea​9 and of all the other cities, regarding it as a foolish thing to undergo any  p139 suffering in defence of a senseless dogma, adopted the name of Christians in place of that which they then bore and by this pretence succeeded in shaking off the danger arising from the law. 26 And all those of their number who were persons of any prudence and reasonableness shewed no reluctance about adhering loyally to this faith, but the majority, feeling resentment that, not by their own free choice, but under compulsion of the law, they had changed from the beliefs of their fathers, instantly inclined to the Manichaeans and to the Polytheists, as they are called. 27 And all the farmers, having gathered in great numbers, decided to rise in arms against the Emperor, putting forward as their Emperor a certain brigand, Julian by name, son of Savarus. 28 And when they engaged with the soldiers, they held out for a time, but finally they were defeated in the battle and perished along with their leader. 29 And it is said that one hundred thousand men perished in this struggle, and the land, which is the finest in the world, became in consequence destitute of farmers. 30 And for the owners of the land who were Christians this led to very serious consequences. For it was incumbent upon them, as a matter of compulsion, to pay to the Emperor everlastingly, even though they were deriving no income from the land, the huge annual tax, since no mercy was shewn in the administration of this business.10

31 He then carried the persecution to the "Greeks," as they are called,​11 maltreating their bodies and  p141 plundering their properties. 32 But even those among them who had decided to espouse in word the name of Christians, seeking thus to avert their present misfortunes, these not much later were generally seized at their libations and sacrifices and other unholy acts. . . . 33 For the measures that were taken with regard to the Christians will be told by me in the following narrative.12

34 Afterwards he also prohibited sodomy by law, not examining closely into offences committed subsequently to the law but concerning himself only with those persons who long before had been caught by this malady. 35 And the prosecution of these cases was carried out in reckless fashion, since the penalty was exacted even without an accuser, for the word of a single man or boy, and even, if it so happened, of a slave compelled against his will to give evidence against his owner, was considered definite proof. 36 Those who were thus convicted had their privates removed and were paraded through the streets. Not in all cases, however, but only upon those reputed to be Greens or to be possessed of great wealth or those who in some other way chanced to have offended the rulers.

37 Furthermore, they were bitter against astrologers. Consequently, the official who was placed in charge of burglaries​13 would maltreat them for no other reason than their being astrologers and, inflicting many stripes upon them, would parade them upon the backs of camels throughout the whole city, old men and persons who were in general  p143 respectable, though he had no other complaint against them, except that they wished to be wise in the science of the stars in a place like this.​14 38 So a great throng of persons were fleeing constantly, not only to the barbarians, but also to those Romans who lived at a great distance, and it was possible to see both in the country and in every city great numbers of strangers. 39 For in order to escape detection they readily exchanged their respective native lands for foreign soil, just as if their home-country had been captured by an enemy. 40 So, then, the wealth of those reputed to be prosperous, both in Byzantium and in every other city, that is, after the members of the Senate, was plundered and seized by Justinian and Theodora in the manner which has been described. 41 But how they succeeded in depriving the Senators also of all their property, I shall now proceed to make known.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Cf. Book VIII.xviii.19.

2 On the part of Justinian.

3 Chap. i.3.

4 The exact amount, one hundred and ten centenaria, is given in Book I.xxii.3.

5 Book II.i.12.

6 See Appendix II.

7 Orthodox farmers or workmen were willing to sell produce or service to the heretics and justified such action by the argument that they chanced to be able to meet genuine needs, and by the profit accruing to themselves.

8 The Pagan religion of the ancient Greeks, sometimes called the "Hellenic faith," as in Book I.xx.1; cf. Secret History, xxvii.8; also the discredited sects of the Christians, on which see Appendix II.

9 Caesarea in Palestine was the birthplace of Procopius. Cf. Book I.i.1.

10 But see Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. Bury, IV.237, 4th edition.

11 See note on Sec. 21, above, and cf. Book I.xix.35.

12 An unredeemed promise; cf. Chap. i.14, note.

13 The newly constituted magistrate called "Praetor Plebis"; cf. Chap. xx.9.

14 The reference in the last words is taken by most editors to be an allusion to the cultured city of Byzantium; (p143)quod astrorum scientiae periti in ea urbe degerent, Alemannus followed by Dindorf; non che mentre dotti nella scienza degli astri, volessero starsene in un luogo tale, Comparetti. According to this interpretation, the place in which these astrologers should, it is intimated, practice their profession, was in the seat of that superstition, Assyria. The present translator, however, is inclined to think these words mean, "were always wishing to be in so elevated a position" as the camels' backs.

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