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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 29

This webpage reproduces a Chapter of
The Secret History


published in the Loeb Classical Library,

The text is in the public domain.

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The Anecdota
or Secret History

Chapter XXX

 p347  And as to the question whether Justinian had any consideration for the welfare of the State, the things he did to the public post and to the spies will be illuminating. 2 For the Roman Emperors of earlier times, by way of making provision that everything should be reported to them speedily and be subject to no delay, — such as the damage inflicted by the enemy upon each several country, whatever befell the cities in the course of civil conflict or of some unforeseen calamity, the acts of the magistrates and of all others in every part of the Roman Empire — and also, to the end that those who conveyed the annual taxes might reach the capital safely and without either delay or risk, had created a swift public post extending everywhere, in the following manner.​1 3 Within the distance included in each day's journey for an unencumbered traveller​2 they established stations, sometimes eight, sometimes less, but as a general thing not less than five. 4 And horses to the number of forty stood ready at each station. And grooms in proportion to the  p349 number of horses were detailed to all stations. 5 And always travelling with frequent changes of the horses, which were of the most approved breeds, those to whom this duty was assigned covered, on occasion, a ten-days' journey in a single day,​3 and accomplished all those things which have just been mentioned; and furthermore, the owners of the land everywhere, and particularly if their lands happened to lie in the interior, were exceedingly prosperous because of this system. 6 For every year they sold the surplus of their crops to the Government for the maintenance of horses and grooms, and thus earned much money. 7 And the result of all this was that while the treasury regularly received the taxes assessed upon each man, yet those who paid the taxes received their money but also again immediately,​4 and there was the further advantage that the State business has been accomplished.

8 Now in earlier times this was the situation. But this Emperor first of all abolished the post from Chalcedon as far as Daciviza​5 and compelled all the couriers, much against their will, to proceed from Byzantium directly to Helenopolis by sea. 9 When they make the passage, then, in small boats of the kind the folk are accustomed to use in crossing the strait, in case a storm happens to descend upon  p351 them, they come into great danger.​6 For since the haste which is obligatory keeps urging them on, it is impossible for them to watch for the right weather and wait for the next calm. 10 And, in the second place, while on the route leading into Persia he did allow the previous arrangement to stand, yet for all the rest of the East as far as Egypt he allowed one station only for each day's journey,​7 using not horses, however, but mules and only a few of them. 11 It is no wonder, consequently, that the things which take place in each country, being reported both with difficulty and too late to give opportunity for action and behind the course of events, cannot be dealt with at all, and the owners of the lands, with crops rotting on their hands and going to waste, continually lose all their profits.

12 And the matter of the spies is as follows. Many men from ancient times were maintained by the State, men who would go into the enemy's country and get into the Palace of the Persians, either on the pretext of selling something of by some other device, and after making a thorough investigation of everything, they would return to the land of the Romans, where they were able to report all the secrets of the enemy to the magistrates. 13 And they, furnished with this advance information, would be on their guard and nothing unforeseen would befall them.  p353 And this practice had existed among the Medes also from ancient times. Indeed Chosroes, as they say, increased the salaries of his spies and profited by this forethought. 14 For nothing that was happening among the Romans escaped him. Justinian, on the other hand, by refusing to spend anything at all on them blotted out from the land of the Romans even the very name of spies, and in consequence of this action many mistakes were made and Lazica was captured by the enemy, the Romans having utterly failed to discover where in the world the Persian king and his army were. 15 Nay more, the State had also been wont from ancient times to maintain a great number of camels, which followed the Roman army as it moved against an enemy and carried all the provisions. 16 And in those days neither were the farmers obliged to provide transportation nor did the soldiers find themselves in want of any of the necessities; but Justinian abolished these too, practically all of them. So now-a‑days, when a Roman army proceeds against the enemy, none of the needful measures can possibly be taken.

17 Now the most important affairs of the State were going on badly in this fashion. And there is no harm in mentioning also one of Justinian's absurdities. 18 There was among the orators of Caesarea a certain Evangelus, a man of no little distinction, who, since the breeze of fortune had blown favourably for him,  p355 had become owner of other property and especially of much land. 19 And later on he even purchased a village on the seashore, Porphyreon by name, paying three centenaria of gold.​8 Learning of this, the Emperor Justinian immediately took the place away from him, giving him some small portion of its value, with the remark that it would never comport with the dignity of Evangelus, an orator, to be the owner of such a town. 20 But I shall say nothing more about these matters, now that I have, after a fashion, made mention of them.

21 And among the innovations of Justinian and Theodora in the administration of the Government there is also the following. In ancient times the Senate, as it came into the Emperor's presence, was accustomed to do obeisance in the following manner. Any man of patrician rank saluted him on the right breast. 22 And the Emperor would kiss him on the head and then dismiss him; but all the rest first bent the right knee to the Emperor and then withdrew. 23 The Empress, however, it was not at all customary to salute. But in the case of Justinian and Theodora, all the other members of the Senate and those as well who held the rank of Patricians, whenever they entered into their presence, would prostrate themselves to the floor, flat on their faces, and holding their hands and feet stretched far out they would touch with their lips one foot of each before rising. 24 For even Theodora was not disposed to forego this testimony to her dignity, she who acted as though the Roman Empire lay at her feet,  p357 but was by no means averse to receiving even the ambassadors of the Persians and of the other barbarians and to bestowing upon them presents of money, a thing which had never happened since the beginning of time. 25 And while in earlier times those who attended upon the Emperor used simply to call him "Emperor" and his consort "Empress," and used to address each one of the other magistrates in accordance with his standing at the moment, 26 yet if anyone should enter into conversation with either one of these two and should use the words "Emperor" are "Empress" and fail to call them "Master" or "Mistress," or should undertake to use any other word but "slaves" in referring to any of the magistrates, such a person would be accounted both stupid and too free of tongue, and, as though he had erred most grievously and had treated with gross indignity those whom he should by no means have so treated, would leave the imperial presence.

27 And whereas in former times very few persons entered the Palace, and that too with difficulty, yet since the time when these succeeded to the throne, both magistrates and all others together remained constantly in the Palace. 28 And the reason was that in the old days the magistrates were permitted to do what was just and lawful according to their own judgment. 29 Hence the magistrates, being occupied with their own administrative business, used to remain in their own lodgings, and the subjects of the Emperor, since they neither saw nor heard of any act of violence, bothered him, as was to be expected, very little. 30 But these rulers, always drawing all matters into their own hands to the ruin of their subjects, compelled everybody to dance attendance  p359 upon them in most servile fashion; and it was possible to see, practically every day, all the law-courts, on the one hand, for the most part empty, but at the Emperor's Court, on the contrary, one would find crowds and insolence and mighty pushing and all the time nothing but servility. 31 And those who were supposed to be intimate with the royal pair, standing there continuously the entire day and regularly during the greater portion of the night, being without sleep and without food at the usual hours, were done to death, and this was all that their seeming good fortune amounted to. 32 And when at length they were set free from all this, the poor fellows would quarrel with each other over the question of what had become of the money of the Romans. 33 For whereas some maintained that it was all in the possession of the barbarians, others said that the Emperor kept it shut up in a large number of special rooms. 34 So when Justinian either, if he is a man, departs this life, or, as being the Lord of the evil spirits, lays his life aside, all who have the fortune to have survived to that time will know the truth.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 For an account of the similar Persian post, cf. Herodotus VIII.98.

2 About twenty-four miles; cf. Book III.i.17.

3 About two hundred miles. The "Pony Express" in the United States, before the day of railroads, covered from two hundred to two hundred and fifty miles per day; Mark Twain, Roughing It, Chap. VIII. Cf. also P. A. Rollins, (p349)The Cowboy, p136; ". . . Leon, a Mexican, changing horses, traversed, in 1876, one hundred miles in four hours, fifty-seven minutes; in 1877, five hundred and five miles in forty-nine hours, fifty-one and a half minutes. . . . F. X. Aubrey of the Pony Express rode across-country eight hundred miles in five days, thirteen hours."

4 In the form of payment for the supplies furnished by them.

5 Modern Gebize.

6 The new route did away with about twenty-eight miles of land travel — from Chalcedon to Daciviza — substituting an equally direct, though slower, water route, which would afford (p351)connection with the road to be followed at a point slightly beyond the mouth of the modern Gulf of Ismid. This measure resulted in a certain loss of time, which might become serious in case of storm; for the course lay along a shore exposed to the south wind, which is often troublesome. On the other hand, about four stations of horses, some one hundred and sixty animals, were dispensed with.

7 Cf. Section 3 of this chapter.

8 Cf. Chap. i.33, note.

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Page updated: 9 Jun 20