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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 1

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 3

The Anecdota
or Secret History

Chapter II

 p19  For soon Belisarius was despatched with Photius to carry on the war against Chosroes, while Antonina remained in Byzantium, contrary to her  p21 previous custom. 2 For in order that the man might not be alone and thus come to himself, and scorning her enchantments might come to think as he ought concerning her, she had taken care to travel all over the world with him. 3 Furthermore, in order that Theodosius might once more have access to her, she took measures to have Photius put out of her way. 4 So she persuaded some of the retinue of Belisarius to torment him constantly and insult him, sparing him not a moment; she herself, meanwhile, by writing practically every day was maintaining a steady attack of slander and was moving everything against the youth. 5 So he in turn, under the compulsion of these measures, decided to resort to slander against his mother, and when a certain person arriving from Byzantium announced that Theodosius was secretly staying with Antonina, he straightway brought him before Belisarius, bidding him to reveal the whole story. 6 And when Belisarius heard the story, he was transported with rage and fell on his face before the feet of Photius and begged him to avenge his father who was suffering unholy treatment from those who, least of all, should do such things. And he said: "O son most beloved, you have no knowledge of what your father was, since while you were still being nourished at the breast, he fulfilled the term of life and left you and you have profited by no portion of his estate; for he was not very fortunate in the matter of possessions. 7 But you were reared under my care, who am only your stepfather, and you are now of such an age that it is your duty to  p23 defend me to the utmost when I suffer injustice; and you have risen to the rank of Consul and have acquired such a mass of wealth, my noble boy, that I might justly be called, and indeed might be, both father to you and mother and all your kindred. 8 For it is not by ties of blood, but in very truth by deeds, that men are wont to gauge their affection for one another. 9 The time has come, then, for you not to stand by and see me, in addition to the ruin of my home, also deprived of property in so vast an amount and your own mother fastening upon herself a disgrace so great in the eyes of all mankind. 10 And bear in mind that the sins of women do not fall upon the husbands alone, but affect their children even more; for it will generally be their lot to carry with them a certain reputation to the effect that they resemble their mothers in character. 11 Thus would I have you take counsel concerning me, that I love my wife exceedingly, and if it be granted me to take vengeance upon the corrupter of my home, I shall do her no harm; but while Theodosius lives, I cannot forgive her the accusation against her."

12 Upon hearing all this Photius said that he would indeed assist in everything, but that he feared he might suffer some harm therefrom, for he decidedly could feel no confidence in the unsteady judgment of Belisarius in matters touching his wife; for many circumstances, and in particular the fate of Macedonia,​1 troubled him. 13 Accordingly the two men swore to each other all the oaths which are the most terrible among the Christians and are in fact so designated  p25 by them, that they would never betray each other, even in the presence of dangers threatening their destruction. 14 And so for the present it seemed to them not advisable to undertake the deed, but when Antonina should arrive from Byzantium and Theodosius should go to Ephesus, at that moment Photius was to arrive in Ephesus, where without difficulty he would lay hands upon Theodosius and the money. 15 Now at that time, while they were making the invasion into the land of Persia with the whole army, the affair of John the Cappadocian chanced to be taking place in Byzantium, as has been set forth by me in the preceding narrative.​2 16 But in the other account one fact was passed over in silence by me through fear — that Antonina had practised deception upon John and his daughter, not without intent, but after giving them the assurance of countless oaths, than which none is accounted more terrible among Christians, at any rate, that she was not acting with any treacherous purpose towards them. 17 So after she had completed this transaction and felt a much greater confidence in the friendship of the Empress, she sent Theodosius to Ephesus and herself, foreseeing no obstacle, set out for the East. 18 And just after Belisarius had captured the fortress of Sisauranon,​3 it was reported to him by someone that she was on the way. Whereupon he, counting all other things as of no importance, led his army back. 19 For it so happened that certain other things  p27 too, as related by me previously,​4 had occurred in the army which influenced him to this retreat. 20 This information, however, led him much more quickly to the decision. But, as I said at the beginning of this book, it seemed to me at that time to be dangerous to state all the causes of what had taken place. 21 As a result of this action Belisarius was accused by all Romans as having subordinated the most vital interests of the State to those of his own family. 22 For from the first he was so constrained by the misconduct of his wife that he had been quite unwilling to get to a region as distant as possible from Roman territory,​5 in order that he might be able, as soon as he learned that the woman had come from Byzantium, to turn back and to catch and to punish her immediately. 23 So for this reason he ordered Arethas and his men to cross the Tigris River,​6 and they, after having accomplished nothing worthy of mention, departed for home, while as for himself he saw to it that he did not get even one day's march from the Roman boundary. 24 For while the fortress of Sisauranon, if one goes by way of the city of Nisibis, is indeed for an unencumbered traveller more than one day's journey​7 from the Roman boundary, yet by another road it is only half that distance. 25 And yet if he had been willing in the first place to cross the Tigris River with his whole  p29 army, I believe that he would have plundered the whole land of Assyria and would have reached the city of Ctesiphon without encountering any opposition whatever, and would have rescued the prisoners from Antioch​8 and all the other Romans who chanced to be there before he finally returned to his native land. Furthermore, he was chiefly responsible for the fact that Chosroes returned home from Colchis in comparative security. And the manner in which this happened I shall straightway make clear.

26 When Chosroes, son of Cabades, made his invasion into the land of Colchis and achieved all those things which have been set forth by me above,​9 including the capture of Petra, it chanced that many of the army of the Medes were destroyed both by the fighting and by the difficult nature of the country. For Lazica, as I have stated,​10 is a country of bad roads and everywhere abounds in precipices. 27 In addition to these difficulties it chanced that a pestilence fell upon the army and many of the soldiers also met their death as a result of their lack of provisions. 28 At this point also certain persons from the land of Persia, who were passing that way, announced that Belisarius had defeated Nabedes in a battle near the city of Nisibis and was moving forward, had taken the fortress of Sisauranon by siege and captured Bleschames and eight hundred horsemen of the Persians, and had sent out another Roman army under Arethas, leader of the Saracens, and that this army had crossed the Tigris River and laid waste that whole country, which had never been plundered  p31 before. 29 It happened also that Chosroes had sent an army of Huns against the Armenians who are subjects of the Romans, in order that by reason of their preoccupation with this force the Romans there might take no notice of what was going on in Lazica. 30 Still other messengers brought word that these barbarians had encountered Valerian and the Romans and, upon engaging with them, and having been heavily defeated in battle, had for the most part been destroyed. 31 When the Persians heard these things and, partly because of the miseries which they had suffered in Lazica,​11 and partly because they feared lest they might during the withdrawal chance upon some hostile force among the cliffs and the regions overgrown with thickets and all, in the utter confusion of their forces, be destroyed, had become exceedingly anxious for the safety of their wives and children and native land, then all the loyal element in the Medic army began to heap abuses upon Chosroes, charging him with having, in violation of his oaths and the obligations commonly held to by all mankind, made during a truce an invasion of Roman territory to which he had no claim, and was wronging a State which was ancient and worthy, above all states, of the highest honour, one which he could not possibly overcome in war; and they were on the point of a revolution. Now 32 Chosroes was thoroughly disturbed by this situation, but he found the following remedy for the trouble. For he read to them a letter which the Empress had recently chanced to send to Zaberganes. Now this letter set forth the following: 33 "How devoted I am to you, O Zaberganes, believing you to be loyal to our interests, you know already, since you  p33 quite recently came to us on an embassy. 34 You would then be acting in accord with the high opinion I hold of you, if you should persuade King Chosroes to adopt a peaceful attitude toward our State. 35 For in case you do this, I promise that great benefits will accrue to you from my husband, who can be counted upon to carry out no measure whatever without consulting my judgment." 36 When Chosroes had read this to the Persian notables, he reproached any of them who thought that any real State existed when a woman was the administrator, and thus succeeded in checking the vehemence of the men. 37 Yet even so he departed from there in the fear, thinking that the forces of Belisarius would block their way. No hostile force, however, encountered him, and he gladly repaired to his own land.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 A slave-girl who had informed against Antonina; cf. Chap. i.21, above.

2 John had been tricked by Antonina into compromising himself, whereupon he had been removed from the office of Praetorian Prefect and banished in disgrace. See Book I.xxv.13 ff.

3 Book II.xix.24.

4 Book II.xix.26 ff.

5 As far away, for instance, as Mesopotamia and Persia.

6 Book II.xix.15. Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. Bury, IV, p369, cautions the reader to close his ears to the "malevolent whisper of the Anecdota" and gives (p27)high praise to the skill, strategy and diplomacy of Belisarius, whose miscellaneous army was "without pay or discipline" and whose chief general Arethas was disobedient and intractable, having neither returned from his expedition nor sent any intelligence of his movements.

7 This rough unit of measurement is defined by Procopius (Book III.1.17) as 210 stades, or the distance from Athens to Megara — about 24 miles.

Thayer's Note: Measuring from the Archaeological Museum in Megara to the Parthenon, skirting the bay between the two cities of course, I come up with about 26 Roman miles. This gives Procopius' equivalence for the stadion in the range of 8‑8¾ stadia to the mile, in line with other ancient authors.

8 Captured by Chosroes when he sacked the city, 540 A.D. Cf. Book II.xiii.2‑6.

9 Book II.xiv.

10 Book II.xxix.24, 25.

11 Cf. Book VIII.vii.4.

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Page updated: 9 Jun 20