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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 18

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 20

The Anecdota
or Secret History

Chapter XIX

 p227  I shall now proceed to tell how he robbed the State of quite all its monies, first, however, telling about the vision of a dream which one of the notables chanced to see at the beginning of the reign of Justinus. 2 He said, namely, that in the dream it seemed to him that he was standing somewhere in Byzantium on the shore of the sea which is opposite Chalcedon, and that he saw this man​1 standing in the middle of the strait​2 there. 3 And first he drank up all the water of the sea, so that he had the impression thereafter that the man was standing on dry land, since the water no longer filled the strait at this point, but afterwards other water appeared there that was saturated with much filth and rubbish and welled up from sewer-outlets which are on either side of the strait, and the man immediately drank even this too, and again laid the tract of the strait bare.

4 Such were the things revealed by the vision of the dream. Now this Justinian, when his uncle Justinus took over the Empire, did find the Government well supplied with public money. 5 For Anastasius had  p229 been both the most provident and the most prudent administrator of all Emperors, and fearing, as actually happened, lest his future successor to the throne, finding himself short of funds, might perhaps take to plundering his subjects — he had filled all the treasuries to overflowing with gold before he completed the term of his life. 6 All this money Justinian dissipated with all speed, partly in senseless buildings on the sea,​3 and partly by his kindness to the barbarians; and yet one would have supposed that even for an Emperor who was going to be extremely prodigal these funds would last for a hundred years. 7 For those who were in charge of all the treasures and treasuries and all the other imperial monies declared that Anastasius, after his reign over the Romans of more than twenty-seven years,​4 left behind him in the Treasury three thousand two hundred centenaria​5 of gold. 8 But during the nine years of the reign of Justinus, while this Justinian was inflicting the evils of confusion and disorder upon the Government, they say that four thousand centenaria were brought into the Treasury by illegal means, and that of all this not a morsel was left, but that even while Justinus was still living it had been squandered by this man in the manner described by me in an earlier passage.​6 9 For as to the amounts which, during all the time he was in power, he succeeded in wrongfully appropriating to himself and then spending, there is no means by which any man could give a reckoning or a calculation  p231 or an enumeration of them. 10 For like an everflowing river, while each day he plundered and pillaged his subjects, yet the inflow all streamed straight on to the barbarians, to whom he would make a present of it.

11 No sooner had he thus disposed of the public wealth than he turned his eyes towards his subjects, and he straightway robbed great numbers of them of their estates, which he seized with high-handed and unjustified violence, haling to court, for crimes that never happened, men both in Byzantium and in every other city who were reputed to be in prosperous circumstances, charging some with belief in polytheism, others with adherence to some perverse sect among the Christians,​7 or with sodomy, or with having amours with holy women, or with other kinds of forbidden intercourse, or with fomenting revolt, or with predilection for the Green Faction, or with insult to himself, or charging crimes of any other name whatsoever, or by his own arbitrary act making himself the heir of deceased persons or, if it should so happen, of the living even, alleging that he had been adopted by them. 12 Such were the most august of his actions. As to the manner in which he so managed the insurrection which arose against him, the one which they called "Nika,"​8 that he immediately became heir of all members of the Senate, and also how, before the insurrection, he had stolen the property of no small number of them, taking them individually and one at a time, has already been set forth by me in a recent chapter.9

 p233  13 And he never ceased pouring out great gifts of money to all the barbarians, both those of the East and those of the West and those to the North and to the South, as far as the inhabitants of Britain — in fact all the nations of the inhabited world, even those of whom we had never so much as heard before, but the name of whose race we learned only when we first saw them. 14 For they, of their own accord, on learning the nature of the man, kept streaming from all the earth into Byzantium in order to get to him. 15 And he, with no hesitation, but overjoyed at this situation, and thinking it a stroke of good luck to be bailing out the wealth of the Romans and flinging it to barbarians or, for that matter, to the surging waves of the sea, day by day kept sending them away, one after the other, with bulging purses. 16 In this way the barbarians as a whole came to be altogether the owners of the wealth of the Romans, either by having received the money as a present from the Emperor or by plundering the Roman domain, or by selling back their prisoners of war, or by auctioning off an armistice, and thus the vision of the dream which I have just mentioned worked out to this result for the man who beheld it. 17 However, Justinian succeeded in devising still other ways of exacting booty from his subjects, ways which will be described directly, in so far as I may be able to do so, by which he succeeded completely, not all at once, but little by little, in plundering the property of all men.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 i.e. Justinian.

2 i.e. the southern end of the Bosporus, which is of great depth and swept constantly by the currents, usually running "down" to the Sea of Marmora.

3 A silly and pointless charge repeated from Chap. viii.7.

4 A.D. 491‑518.

5 Cf. Chap. i.33, note.

6 Chap. viii.4.

7 See Appendix II.

8 This serious outbreak is described in Book I.xxiv.

Thayer's Note: See also the very detailed account in Bury's History of the Later Roman Empire, Chapter 15.

9 Chap. xii.12.

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Page updated: 9 Jun 20