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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 19

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.
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Chapter 21

The Anecdota
or Secret History

Chapter XX

 p235  First of all, as a general thing he appointed over the people in Byzantium a Prefect,​1 who, while splitting the annual revenue with those who controlled the markets, planned to give them authority to sell their merchandise at whatever price they wanted. 2 And the result for the people of the city was that, although they had to pay a threefold price for the provisions they bought, yet they had no one at all to whom they could protest on account of this. 3 And great harm arose from this business. For since the Treasury received a share of this tax, the official in charge of these matters was eager to use this means of enriching himself. 4 And next, the servants of the official who had undertaken this shameful service, and those who controlled the markets, seizing upon the licence to disregard the law, treated outrageously those who were obliged to buy at that time, not only collecting the prices many times over, as it has been reported, but also contriving certain unheard-of deceptions in the goods offered for sale.

5 In the second place, he set up a great number of what are called "monopolies," and sold the welfare of his subjects to those who wanted to operate these abominations, and thus he, on the one hand, carried off a price for the transaction, and to those, on the other hand, who had contracted with him he gave the privilege of managing their business as they wished. 6 And he applied this same vicious method, without any concealment, to all the other magistracies. For  p237 since the Emperor always derived some small share from the peculations of the magistrates, for this reason these, and also those in charge of each function, kept plundering more fearlessly those who fell into their clutches. 7 And just as if the offices which had long been established did not suffice him for this purpose, he invented two additional magistracies to have charge of the State, although before that time the Prefect of the City was wont to deal with all the complaints. 8 But to the end that the sycophants might be ever more numerous and that he might maltreat much more expeditiously the persons of citizens who had done no wrong, he decided to institute these new offices. 9 And to one of the two he gave jurisdiction over thieves, as he pretended, giving it the name of "Praetor of the Plebs";​2 and to the other office he assigned the province of punishing those who were habitually practising sodomy and those who had such intercourse with women as was prohibited by law, and any who did not worship the Deity in the orthodox way, giving the name of "Quaesitor" to this magistrate. 10 Now the Praetor, if he found among the peculations any of great worth, would deliver​3 these monies to the Emperor, saying that the owners of it were nowhere to be found. 11 Thus the Emperor was always able to get a share of the most valuable plunder. And the one who was called Quaesitor, when he got under his power those who had fallen foul of him, would deliver to the Emperor whatever he wished to give up, while he himself would become rich none the less, in defiance of all law, on the property of other men. 12 For the  p239 subordinates of these officials would neither bring forward accusers nor submit witnesses of what had been done, but throughout this whole period the unfortunates who fell in their way continued, without having been accused or convicted, and with the greatest secrecy, to be murdered as well as robbed of their money.

13 And later this monster commanded these magistrates and the Prefect of the City to take cognizance of all accusations alike,​4 bidding them vie with one another to see which of them would be able to destroy the largest number of men and with the greatest speed. 14 And they say that one of them straightway asked him, if anyone should at any time slander the three of them, which one of them should have the jurisdiction in the case; whereupon the Emperor retorting, said: "Whichever one of you gets ahead of the others." 15 Furthermore, he handled the office called the Quaestorship in unseemly fashion — an office which practically all previous Emperors had maintained with exceptional care, to the end that those who administered this office should be men of wide experience and, especially, skilled in matters involving the laws and also conspicuously incorruptible in money matters, on the ground that they could not fail to be most harmful to the State if those who held this office should either be handicapped by any inexperience or give rein to avarice. 16 But this Emperor first of all appointed to this office Tribonianus,  p241 whose practices have been sufficiently described in the previous Books.​5 17 And when Tribonianus departed from among men, Justinian confiscated a portion of his property, although he was survived by a son and a large number of grandchildren when the final day of his life arrived; and he appointed Junilus,​6 a Libyan, to this office, a man who had not even a hearsay acquaintance with the law, since he was not even one of the orators;​7 and while he did understand Latin, yet, as far as Greek was concerned, he had neither attended an elementary school, nor was he able to pronounce the language itself in the Greek manner (indeed, on many occasions when he tried hard to speak a Greek word, he won the ridicule of his assistants); he was, furthermore, extraordinarily fond of shameful gain, as evidenced by the fact that he experienced no shame at all when he put up public sale documents belonging to the Emperor. 18 And for one stater he never hesitated to extend his hand to those he met. 19 And for a space of no less than seven years​8 the State was made ridiculous in this way. 20 And after Junilus came to the end of  p243 his life, he appointed to this office Constantinus,​9 a man who, while not unacquainted with the law, was very young and as yet had no experience of the keen struggles of the court-room, and withal was the most thieving and the most boastful of all men. 21 This man had come to be very close to Justinian and one of his dearest friends; for this Emperor never hesitated to use him as his agent in both stealing and deciding cases at law. 22 Consequently Constantinus amassed great sums of money in a short time, and he assumed a sort of superhuman pomposity, treading the air and contemplating all men with contempt;​10 and if any were willing to hand out large sums of money to him, they would deposit this in the hands of some of his most faithful retainers, and thus succeed in carrying through the schemes on which they had set their hearts. 23 But to meet the man personally or to confer with him was quite impossible for any man at all, except while he was racing to the Emperor or leaving his presence, not at a walk, to be sure, but with great haste and speed, calculated to prevent those he met from inflicting upon him any ungainful business.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 i.e. Prefect of the City, cf. Chap. ix.37 τῷ τῆς πόλεως ἐπάρχῳ.

2 Praetor Plebis.

3 Lit. "claimed to be delivering," or "insisted on delivering." A display of such zeal would further his own interest.

4 i.e. obliterated their special jurisdictions.

5 Cf. Book I.xxiv.16, where a more temperate judgment is expressed concerning this "extraordinary man," as he is characterised by Gibbon; he was pre-eminent among his contemporaries in learning and in native ability, though tainted with avarice — a trait which Procopius chooses to isolate and to magnify unduly. As chairman of the board (p241)appointed by Justinian in 527 A.D. for the codification of the Roman Law, he performed a difficult and complicated task with remarkable skill.

6 Of this man nothing is known beyond this bitter and obviously unfair notice. It is fair to recall that Justinian's uncle, Justinus, actually had risen to the imperial power "without the alphabet," and that Justinian himself (cf. Chap. xiv.2, 3) made himself ridiculous when he insisted on reading Greek aloud.

7 i.e. not a regular member of the legal profession.

8 Since the Secret History was written in 550, Junilus became Quaestor not later than 543 — probably somewhat earlier, since Constantinus appears from what follows to have been in office some little time.

9 Praised in the highest terms by Justinian in the constitutio with which he promulgated the Digests: "qui semper nobis ex bona opinione et gloria sese commendavit." Constantinus already had held official positions of honour and of importance.

10 Cf. Aristophanes, Clouds 225, ἀεροβατῶ καὶ περιφρονῶ τὸν ἥλιον, a passage which Procopius clearly had in mind, as in Chap. xiii.11.º

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