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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 23

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 25

(Vol. VI) Procopius
The Anecdota
or Secret History

Chapter XXIV

 p277  [link to original Greek text] 1 Nor assuredly is his treatment of the soldiers to be consigned to silence; for over them he put in authority the most villainous of all men,​1 bidding them collect from this source as much as they could, and these officers were well aware that the twelfth part of what they should thus procure should fall to them. [link to original Greek text] 2 And he gave them the  p279 title of "Logothetes."​2 And these each year devised the following scheme. According to a law the military pay is not given to all alike year after year, but when the men are still young and have only recently joined the army, the rate is lower, while for those who have been in service and are now at about the middle of the muster-roll,​3 it grows larger. [link to original Greek text] 3 But when they have grown old and are on the point of being discharged from the army, the pay is very much more imposing, to the end not only that they may, when in future they are living as private citizens, have sufficient for their own maintenance, but may also, when it is their lot to have completely measured out the term of life, be able to leave from their own property some consolation to the members of their households. [link to original Greek text] 4 Thus time, by continuously promoting the soldiers who are lower down in the scale to the rank of those who have died or been discharged from the army, regulates on the basis of seniority the payments to be made from the Treasury to each man. [link to original Greek text] 5 But the Logothetes, as they are called, would not allow the names of the deceased to be removed from the rolls, even when great numbers died at one time from other causes, and especially, as was the case with the most, in the course of the numerous wars. Furthermore, they would no longer fill out the muster-rolls,​4 and that too for a long period. [link to original Greek text] 6 And the result of this practice has proved unfortunate for all concerned — first, for the State in that the number of soldiers in active service is always deficient; secondly, for the surviving soldiers, in that they are elbowed  p281 out by those who have died long before and so find themselves left in a position inferior to what they deserve, and that they receive a pay which is lower than if they had the rank to which they are entitled; and, finally, for the Logothetes, who all this time have had to apportion to Justinian a share of the soldiers' money.

[link to original Greek text] 7 Furthermore, they kept grinding down the soldiers with many other forms of penalties, as though to requite them thus for the dangers incurred in the wars, charging some with being "Greeks,"​5 as though it were wholly impossible for any man from Greece to be a decent man, others with being in the service without an order from the Emperor, even though they could shew, on this point, an imperial order, which, however, the Logothetes with no hesitation had the effrontery to denounce; and others still they accused on the ground that for some days they had chanced to be absent from their comrades. [link to original Greek text] 8 Later on also some of the Palace Guards were sent out through the whole Roman Empire, and ostensibly they were in search of any among the armies who were quite unsuitable for active service; and they dared to strip the belts​6 from some of these as being unfit or too old, and these thereafter had to beg their bread from the pious in the public square of the market-place, so that they became a constant cause for tears and lamentation on the part of all who met them; and from the rest they exacted great sums of money, to the end that  p283 they might not suffer the same fate, so that the soldiers, broken in manifold ways, had become the poorest of all men and had not the slightest zest for warfare. [link to original Greek text] 9 It was for just this reason that the Roman power came to be destroyed in Italy. Indeed, when Alexander the Logothete​7 was sent thither, he had the effrontery to lay these charges​8 without compunction upon the soldiers, and he tried to exact money from the Italians, alleging that he was punishing them for their behaviour during the reign of Theoderic and the Goths. [link to original Greek text] 10 And it was not alone the soldiers who were oppressed by destitution and poverty through the conduct of the Logothetes, but also the subordinates who served all the generals, formerly a numerous and highly esteemed group, laboured under the burden of starvation and dire poverty. [link to original Greek text] 11 For they had not the means wherewith to provide themselves with their customary necessities.

[link to original Greek text] 12 And I shall add one further item to those I have mentioned, since the subject of the soldiers leads me thereto. The Roman Emperors in earlier times stationed a very great multitude of soldiers at all points of the Empire's frontier in order to guard the boundaries of the Roman domain, particularly in the eastern portion, thus checking the inroads of the Persians and the Saracens; these troops they used to call limitanei.​9 [link to original Greek text] 13 These the Emperor Justinian at first treated so casually and so meanly​10 that their paymasters  p285 were four or five years behind in their payments to them, and whenever peace was made between the Romans and the Persians, these wretches were compelled, on the supposition that they too would profit by the blessings of peace, to make a present to the Treasury of the pay which was owing to them for a specified period. And later on, for no good reason, he took away from them the very name of regular troops. [link to original Greek text] 14 Thereafter the frontiers of the Roman Empire remained destitute of guards and the soldiers suddenly found themselves obliged to look to the hands of those accustomed to works of piety.

[link to original Greek text] 15 Another group of soldiers, no fewer than three thousand five hundred in number, had been assigned originally to the guarding of the Palace; these are called Scholarii.​11 [link to original Greek text] 16 And the Treasury has been accustomed from earliest times always to pay these higher wages than all others. These men were picked for their excellence by earlier Emperors, being recruited for this honour from among the Armenians. [link to original Greek text] 17 But since the time when Zeno succeeded to the throne, the way has been open for all, both cowards and wholly unwarlike men, to achieve the honour of this title. [link to original Greek text] 18 And as time went on, even slaves, by putting up a bribe, could purchase admission to this service. So when Justinus took over the Empire, this Justinian appointed many to this honourable service, thus  p287 securing for himself great amounts of money. [link to original Greek text] 19 But when at length he observed that there was no longer any vacancy in these ranks, he added to their number two thousand recruits, and these they used to call "supernumeraries." [link to original Greek text] 20 But when he himself took over the Empire, he shook off these supernumeraries with great speed, giving them no payment whatever.12

[link to original Greek text] 21 But for those included in the regular body of the Scholarii he devised the following. When it was to be expected that an army would be sent against Libya or Italy or Persia, he would issue orders to them to pack up as though to take part in the expedition, though he knew well that they were not at all fit for active service, and they, in terror, remitted their pay to him for a specified period in order that this might not be done. And it so happened that this befell the Scholarii many times. [link to original Greek text] 22 And Peter also, during the whole time while he held the office of Magister, as it is called, was constantly harassing them every day with unheard-of thefts. [link to original Greek text] 23 For while he was indeed a mild man and not at all versed in offering insult, at the same time he was the biggest thief in the world and absolutely filled with shameful avarice. This Peter has been mentioned also in the previous books​13 as having carried out the murder of Amalasuntha, daughter of Theoderic.

[link to original Greek text] 24 And there are also others in the Palace held in much higher esteem, for the Treasury is accustomed to allow them a higher wage on the ground that they on their part have paid larger amounts  p289 for the name of belonging to the service; these are called Domestici and Protectores, and from ancient times they have been unpractised in deeds of war. [link to original Greek text] 25 For it is only for the sake of rank and for the appearance of the position that they are wont to have themselves enrolled among the Palace corps.​a And from ancient times some of these have had their residence in Byzantium, some in Galatia and some in other places. [link to original Greek text] 26 But these too Justinian was constantly intimidating in the manner described, thus compelling them to relinquish the pay which belonged to them. And this shall be explained in summary. [link to original Greek text] 27 There was a law that every four years the Emperor should present to each one of the soldiers a specified sum of gold. [link to original Greek text] 28 So every fourth year they used to send messengers throughout every part of the Roman Empire and present five gold staters to each soldier. [link to original Greek text] 29 And there could not be any failure in this matter at any time or by any means. But since the time when this man took over the administration of the State, he has neither done such a thing nor purposed to do it, though a period of thirty-two years has passed already, so that men have even come to forget this practice to some extent.

[link to original Greek text] 30 And I shall pass on to explain still another of his methods of plundering his subjects. Those who mount guard or handle dispatches for the Emperor and the officials in Byzantium, or who perform any other service whatsoever, are assigned at first to the lowest ranks, and as time goes on they advance steadily to fill the places of those who have died or retired, and each of them keeps moving up from the  p291 rank he has held until such time as he mounts the topmost step and attains to the highest attainable point of this career. [link to original Greek text] 31 For those who have achieved this high rank a salary has been assigned from of old, so huge that each year they gather in more than one hundred centenaria of gold,​14 and it has come about that not only they themselves are cared for in old age but that many others also share with them, as a general thing, the assistance derived from this source, and the affairs of the State have in this way advanced to a high point of prosperity. [link to original Greek text] 32 But this Emperor, by depriving them of practically all these revenues, has brought woes upon them and the rest of mankind. For poverty laid hold upon them first and then passed on through the rest who previously had had some share of their benefit. [link to original Greek text] 33 And if anyone should calculate the loss which fell upon them from this source over a period of thirty-two years, he would arrive at the measure of the amount of which it was their misfortune to be deprived.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Cf. Book II.xv.9.

2 Oppressive agents of the imperial Treasury; cf. Chap. xviii.15.

3 The position of a man's name on the muster-roll depended upon the length of his service.

4 i.e. by enlisting new recruits.

5 The contemptuous use of the term "Graeci" was often noted by Procopius, e.g. Book IV.xxvii.38. Cf. the "Graeculus esuriens" of Juvenal's Third Satire, line 78.

6 i.e. "discharged in disgrace."

7 Cf. Book VII.i.28 ff.

8 That they were "unfit" or "too old."

9 Soldiers of the frontier, limes.

10 i.e. "stingily."

11 An Imperial Guard formed by Constantine I to replace the earlier Praetorian Cohort, so called from the Scholae or companies of cadets assigned to the Palace; cf. Book VIII.xxvii.2.

12 He dismissed them without pay.

13 Book V.iv.17 ff. Cf. also Secret History xvi.2‑5.

14 Cf. Chap. i.33, note.

Thayer's Note:

a Published translations of this passage vary, and to be frank, both this one and Atwater's ("Only as a matter of form they were listed in the palace guard") seem to me to have missed the mark. Τάξεως γὰρ καὶ προσώπου ἕνεκα μόνον, literally, means "On account only of rank and appearance (or: face)". Thomas Hodgkin (Italy and Her Invaders, 2d edition, I.112) understands the passage in the simplest and most natural way: the protectores domestici "were generally selected on account of their beauty and good family" — as honor guards often are.

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