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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 17

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,
please let me know!


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Chapter 19

The Anecdota
or Secret History

Chapter XVIII

 p211  And that he was no human being, but, as has been suggested,​1 some manner of demon in human form, one might infer by making an estimate  p213 of the magnitude of the ills which he inflicted upon mankind. 2 For it is in the degree by which a man's deeds are surpassingly great that the power of the doer becomes evident. 3 Now to state exactly the number of those who were destroyed by him would never be possible, I think, for anyone soever, or for God. 4 For one might more quickly, I think, count all grains of sand than the vast number whom this Emperor destroyed. But making an approximate estimate of the extent of territory which has become to be destitute of inhabitants, I should say that a myriad myriad of myriads​2 perished. 5 For in the first place, Libya, which attains to so large dimensions, has been so thoroughly ruined that for the traveller who makes a long journey it is no easy matter, as well as being a noteworthy fact, to meet a human being. 6 And yet the Vandals who recently​3 took up arms there​4 numbered eight myriads, and as for their women and children and slaves, who could guess their number? 7 And as for the Libyans, those who formerly lived in the cities, those who tilled the soil, and those who toiled at the labours of sea — all of which I had the fortune to witness with my own eyes — how could any man estimate the multitude of them? And still more numerous than these were the Moors there, all of whom were in the end destroyed together with their wives and offspring. 8 Many too of the Roman soldiers and of those who  p215 had followed them there from Byzantium the earth has covered. So that if one maintains that five hundred myriads of human beings perished in Libya, he would not by any means, I know, be doing justice to the facts. 9 And the reason for this was that immediately after the defeat of the Vandals, Justinian not only did not concern himself with strengthening his dominion over the country, and not only did he not make provision that the safeguarding of its wealth should rest securely in the good-will of its inhabitants, but straightway he summoned Belisarius to return home without the least delay, laying against him an utterly unjustified accusation of tyranny,​5 to the end that thereafter, administering Libya with full licence, he might swallow it up and thus make plunder of the whole of it.

10 At any rate he immediately sent out assessors of the land and imposed certain most cruel taxes which had not existed before.​6 And he laid hold of the estates, whichever were best. And he excluded the Arians from the sacraments which they observed. 11 Also he was tardy in the payment of his military forces, and in other ways became a grievance to the soldiers.​7 From these causes arose the insurrections which resulted in great destruction. 12 For he never was able to adhere to settled conditions, but he was naturally inclined to make confusion and turmoil everywhere.

13 And as to Italy, which has not less than three times the area of Libya, it has become everywhere even more destitute of men than Libya. 14 Consequently the estimate of persons likewise destroyed  p217 here will be fairly easy. For the cause of what happened in Italy has already been explained by me in an earlier passage.​8 Indeed all the errors which he made in Libya were repeated by him here also. 15 And by adding to the administrative staff the Logothetes, as they are called,​9 he upset and ruined everything immediately. 16 Now the sway of the Goths extended, before this war, from the land of Gaul as far as the boundaries of Dacia, where the city of Sirmium​10 is situated. 17 As for Gaul and Venetia, the Germans held the greater part of them at the time when the Roman army came into Italy. 18 But the Gepaides control Sirmium and the country thereabout, which is all, roughly speaking, completely destitute of human habtation. 19 For some were destroyed by the war, some by disease and famine, the natural concomitants of war. 20 And Illyricum and Thrace in its entirety, comprising the whole expanse of country from the Ionian Gulf​11 to the outskirts of Byzantium, including Greece and the Thracian Chersonese,​12 was overrun practically every year by Huns, Sclaveni and Antae, from the time when Justinian took over the Roman Empire, and they wrought frightful havoc among the inhabitants of that region. 21 For in each invasion more than twenty myriads of Romans, I think, were destroyed or  p219 enslaved there, so that a veritable "Scythian wilderness"​13 came to exist everywhere in this land.

22 Such are the disasters wrought by the wars in Libya and in Europe. The Saracens meantime were overrunning the Romans of the East, from Egypt to the frontiers of Persia, throughout this whole period without interruption, and they accomplished such thorough-going destruction that this entire region came to be very sparsely populated, and it will never be possible, I think, for any human being to discover by enquiry the numbers of those who perished in this way. 23 The Persians under Chosroes four times made inroads into the rest of the Roman domain and dismantled the cities, and as for the people whom they found in the captured cities and in each country district, they slew a part and led some away with them, leaving the land bare of inhabitants wherever they chanced to descend. 24 And ever since the Persian invasion of the land of Colchis, the Colchians and the Lazi and the Romans have continued to be steadily destroyed up to the present day.

25 Moreover, neither the Persians on their part nor the Saracens nor the Huns nor the race of the Sclaveni nor any other of the barbarians have had the fortune to retire unscathed from Roman soil. 26 For in the course of their inroads, and particularly during the sieges and battles, they fell foul of many obstacles and were destroyed equally with their enemies. 27 For not  p221 alone Romans but practically the whole barbarian world as well felt the influence of Justinian's lust for bloodshed. 28 For not only was Chosroes himself likewise vicious in character, but he was also provided by Justinian, as has been stated by me in the appropriate place,​14 with all the motives for waging war. 29 For he did not think it worth while to adapt his activities to the opportune occasions, but he kept doing everything out of season, in times of peace and in periods of truce ever devising, with crafty purpose, occasions of war against his neighbours, and in times of war, on the other hand, growing lax for no good reason and carrying on the preparations for military operations too deliberately, all because of his parsimony, and instead of devoting himself to such things, scanning the heavens and developing a curious interest concerning the nature of God, and neither giving over the war, because of his bloodthirsty and abominable character, nor being, on the other hand, able to get the better of his enemy, because he was prevented by his niggardliness from busying himself with the necessary things. 20 Thus during his reign the whole earth was constantly drenched with human blood shed by both the Romans and practically all the barbarians.

31 This, then, to state the case in a word, is what came to pass during this period of wars throughout the whole Roman Empire. 32 And when I reckon over the events which took place during the insurrections both in Byzantium and in each several city, I believe that no less slaughter of men came about in this way than in actual warfare. 33 For since justice and impartial chastisement for wrong-doing scarcely  p223 existed at all, but of the two Factions one was actually supported by the Emperor, assuredly the other party did not remain quiet either; on the contrary, because one group was being worsted and the other was full of confidence, they constantly had in view desperation and mad recklessness; and sometimes attacking each other in crowds and sometimes fighting in small groups, or even, if it so happened, setting ambuscades one against one, for two-and‑thirty years without a pause they kept wreaking fearful vengeance upon one another, and at the same time they were being put to death by the magistrate,​15 as a rule, who was charged with the control of the populace. 34 But the punishment for their crimes was, for the most part, levelled against the Greens. Furthermore, the punishment of the Samaritans and of those called heretics filled the Roman Empire with slaughter. 35 These things, however, are here mentioned by me merely in summary, inasmuch as they have been sufficiently recorded by me somewhat earlier.16

36 Such, then, were the calamities which fell upon all mankind during the reign of the demon who had become incarnate in Justinian, while he himself, as having become Emperor, provided the causes of them. And I shall shew, further, how many evils he did to men by means of a hidden power and of a demoniacal nature. 37 For while this man was administering the nation's affairs, many other calamities chanced to befall, which some insisted came about through the aforementioned presence of this evil demon and through his contriving, while  p225 others said that the Deity, detesting his works, turned away from the Roman Empire and gave place to the abominable demons for the bringing of these things to pass in this fashion. 38 Thus the Scirtus River, by overflowing Edessa, became the author of countless calamities to the people of that region, as will be written by me in a following Book.​17 39 The Nile also rose as usual but did not recede at the proper time, and thus caused serious loss on the part of some of the inhabitants, as has been told by me previously.​18 40 And the Cydnus River rose so as to surround practically the whole of Tarsus, and after flooding it for many days only subsided after it had done irreparable damage to it.​19 41 And earthquakes destroyed Antioch, the first city of the East, and Seleucia which is close to it, as well as the most notable city in Cilicia, Anazarbus. 41 And the number of persons who perished along with these cities who would be able to compute? And one might add to the list Ibora and also Amasia, which chanced to be the first city in Pontus, also Polybotus in Phrygia, and the city which the Pisidians call Philomede, and Lychnidus in Epirus, and Corinth, all of which cities have from ancient times been most populous. 43 For it befell all these cities during this period to be overthrown by earthquakes and the inhabitants to be  p227 practically all destroyed with them. 44 And afterwards came the plague as well, mentioned by me before,​20 which carried off about one-half of the surviving population.

45 Such was the destruction of life which took place, first when Justinian was administering the Roman State as Regent, and later when he held the imperial office.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Chap. xii.14.

2 The "cube of ten thousand" is not the language of exact computation, and Procopius is trying to make out a strong case against Justinian.

3 A.D. 531.

4 History, Books III, IV.

5 Book IV.viii.2.

6 On the new taxes mposed by Justinian cf. Chap. xxiii.

7 Cf. Chap. xxiv.

8 Book VII.xxiii ff.

9 Oppressive financial agents of the imperial Treasury: cf. Book VII.i.28.

10 Modern Mitrovitza.

11 Modern Adriatic Sea.

12 Roughly, the Balkan Peninsula.

13 The uninhabited wilderness of Eastern Russia, described by Herodotus IV.17. The expression passed into a proverb, connoting the most absolute desolation and a state of utter savagery; cf. Aristophanes, Acharnians 704 and scholium, "for 'the Scythian wilderness' means a state of savagery."

14 Book I.xxiii.1.

15 Praetor Plebis; cf. Chap. xx.9.

16 Chap. xi.14 ff.

17 Buildings II.vii.2 ff.

18 Book VII.xxix.6 ff.

19 Cf. Buildings V.v.14 ff.

20 Book II.xxi, xxiii.

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Page updated: 9 Jun 20