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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 13

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 15

The Anecdota
or Secret History

Chapter XIV

 p167  For in the administration of affairs it was a time of the greatest confusion, and none of the customary procedures was maintained, as I shall shew by citing a few examples, while all the rest must be consigned to silence, so that my discourse might not be endless. 2 First of all, he neither himself possessed any quality appropriate to the imperial dignity nor cared to foster any such quality in others, but in speech and in dress and in thinking he played the barbarian. 3 And as to all the rescripts which he wished to have written from himself, he would not send them, as was the custom, to the man holding the office of Quaestor to promulgate, but instead would generally insist upon reading them out  p169 himself,​1 although his speech was uncouth, as I have just stated, and that too while a great throng of bystanders . . .,​2 so that those who were wronged thereby had no one against whom they could lay a charge.​3 4 And the confidential secretaries,​4 as they are called, were not assigned the function of writing the Emperor's confidential matters — the purpose for which these secretaries were appointed originally — he not only wrote practically everything himself, but also, whenever it became necessary to give instructions to the public arbitrators​5 in the city, he would tell them in writing what course they must take as regards the judgment they were to render. 5 For he would not allow anyone within the Roman Empire to give decisions on independent judgment, but with an obstinate determination and with a sort of unreasoning frankness he himself arranged in advance the decisions to be given, accepting hearsay from one of the contestants, and thus straightway, without investigation, he upset cases which had been adjudged, not because he had been influenced by any law or consideration of justice, but manifestly because he was overcome by base greed. 6 For the Emperor felt no shame in accepting bribes, since his insatiable greed took away all shame from him.

 p171  7 But often that which had been decided by the Senate and by the Emperor came up for another and final judgment. 8 For the Senate sat as in a picture, having no control over its vote and no influence for good, but only assembled as a matter of form and in obedience to an ancient law, since it was quite impossible for anyone whomsoever of those gathered there even to raise a voice, but the Emperor and his Consort generally pretended to divide between them the matters in dispute, but that side prevailed which had been agreed upon by them in private. 9 And if it seemed to any man who had broken the law that victory was not certain, such a person flung more gold to this Emperor and straightway secured a law going contrary to all laws which had been previously established. 10 And if someone else should miss this cancelled law, the Emperor felt no reluctance about calling it back once more and re-establishing it, and nothing stood firmly in force, but the scales of justice wavered and wandered in every direction according as the larger amount of gold weighing them down availed to pull them in one direction or the other; Justice was established in the market-place, and that too though she had once dwelt in the Palace, and there one could find salesrooms where could be bought for a price not only court decisions but also legislation.

11 And the Referendarii, as they were called,​6 were no longer satisfied with merely referring to the Emperor the petitions of suppliants, and then informing  p173 the magistrates, in the usual way, what his decisions were concerning the petitioners, but collecting from the whole world the "unjust reason,"​7 they kept deceiving Justinian with sundry sophistries​8 and chicaneries, he being by nature an easy victim for those practising these tricks. 12 And as soon as they were outside the Palace and had taken measures to keep the litigants away from those with whom they themselves had talked, they proceeded to extract money — there being nobody to protect the rights of the litigants — in such a way that the business could not be proved against them and in such quantities as seemed to them sufficient. 13 And the soldiers who kept guard in the Palace would come before the public arbitrators as they sat in the Royal Stoa​9 and force them to admit their cases. 14 And practically all the soldiers at that time were abandoning their proper posts and, according to their own sweet will, walking in ways that were forbidden and had hitherto never been open to them to tread, and everything was being swept along pell-mell, not even retaining any proper designation of its own, and the commonwealth resembled a kingdom of children at play.​10 15 But while the rest must be passed over by me, as I intimated when I began this account,​11 yet it shall be told who the first man was to persuade this Emperor to accept a bribe while presiding at a trial.

 p175  16 There was a certain Leon, a Cilician by birth, a man extraordinarily devoted to the love of money. This Leon came to be the mightiest of all flatterers and shewed a capacity for suggesting to the minds of stupid persons that which already had been determined upon. 17 For he had a kind of persuasiveness which helped him, when dealing with the fatuity of the tyrant, to accomplish the destruction of his fellow-men. This man was the first to persuade Justinian to sell legal decisions for money. 18 And when that sovereign had once decided to follow, in his stealing, the plan which has been described, he never stopped, but this evil kept advancing until it grew to a great size; and whoever was eager to lodge an unjust accusation against a citizen of the respectable sort proceeded straightway to Leon, and by promising that some portion of the disputed property should fall to both the tyrant and to him, he had forthwith won his case, however unjustly, before he left the Palace.​12 19 And Leon succeeded in acquiring from this source a truly huge amount of money, and he came into possession of much land, and in so doing became the chief agent in bringing the Roman State to its knees. 20 Indeed there was no security for those who had entered into contracts, no law, no oath, no documents, no fixed penalty, no other resource at all except to fling out money to Leon and the Emperor. 21 Yet not even this process enjoyed the fixed approval of Leon's judgment, but he insisted upon getting money from the other side as well. 22 For since he stole constantly in both directions, he never suspected  p177 that to neglect those who had put their confidence in him and to go against him involved any shame. 23 For provided only that gain accrue, he believed that no disgrace would attach to him in playing off both sides.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 The documents in question would seem to have been imperial rescripta, which took the form either of epistolae, independent replies to petitions of individuals or of corporations, or of subscriptiones or adnotationes written at the foot of petitions.

2 Something like ἤκουεν, "listened," or παρέστησεν, "attended," has been lost; possibly ἐπευφήμει, "gave servile applause."

3 Imperial rescripta, issuing from the highest authority of the State, were not subject to review.

4 The Greek word is a transliteration of the Latin a secretis; cf. Book II.vii.15.

5 The term is an inheritance from the Athens of classical times, where the διαιτηταί, both "public" and "private," transacted much of the petty business which otherwise would encumber the law-courts.

6 Officials charged with "announcing to the Emperor the petitions of his clients, and declaring to them in turn whatever his wish was." Book II.xxiii.6.

7 Taken from Aristophanes, Clouds, 889 ff., where Unjust Reason is a character who defends the "new education" sponsored there by Socrates.

8 Cf. Aristophanes, Knights, 632, καὶ τοῖς φενακισμοῖσιν ἐξαπατωμένην.

9 The site of this building is probably defined by the cistern, which still serves its purpose, now known as Yeri Batan Serai ("Under­ground Palace") and situated a short distance to the west of the Church of St. Sophia; this cistern was excavated (p173)by Justinian under a section of the Royal Stoa; see BuildingsI.xi.12.

10 The reference is to the children's game called βασιλίνδα, in which the children are ruled over by a make-believe king, who is surrounded by court officials after the fashion of his country. Cf. the boy Cyrus as "King" in Herodotus, I.114, Pollux, IX.110.

11 Chap. i.1‑10.

12 i.e. getting Leon's consent to bring the suit was tantamount to winning the case, so completely were the judges under control.

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