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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 4

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 6

The Anecdota
or Secret History

Chapter V

 p55  Belisarius, coming to Italy for the second time, departed from there most ignominiously. For during a space of five years he did not succeed once in setting foot on any part of the land, as stated by me in the previous narrative,​1 except where some fortress was, but during this whole period he kept sailing about  p57 visiting one port after another. 2 And Totila was frantic to catch him outside a walled town, but he did not succeed because both Belisarius himself and the entire Roman army were possessed by great fear. 3 Consequently he not only recovered nothing of what had been lost, but he even lost Rome in addition and practically everything else. 4 And he became greedy for money during this period above all other men and a most assiduous schemer for shameful gain, seeing that he had brought nothing with him from the Emperor, and he recklessly plundered almost all the Italians who lived in Ravenna and in Sicily and anyone else whom he had the power to reach, alleging that he was making them pay a reckoning for the acts of their past lives. 5 Thus he, for instance, even pursued Herodian with demands for money, holding every sort of threat over the man. 6 This treatment made Herodian so indignant that he detached himself from the Roman army and straightway put himself and all his followers and Spoletium​a into the hands of Totila and the Goths.​2 7 And how it came about that he and John, the nephew of Vitalian, quarrelled, an event which did the greatest harm to the Roman cause, I shall disclose forthwith.

8 The Empress had come to such a point of hostility towards Germanus (and was making her hostility perfectly obvious to all) that no one dared to make a marriage alliance with him, even though he was nephew to the Emperor, and his sons remained unmarried until they had reached middle age. 9 And his daughter Justina, though she had reached the  p59 maturity of eighteen years, was still unwed. For this reason, when John came to Byzantium on a mission​3 from Belisarius, Germanus was forced to open negotiations with him concerning marriage, though John was much below his rank. 10 And since the project pleased both of them, they decided to bind one another by the most terrible oaths that they would put forth every effort to bring about the alliance, inasmuch as neither one of them had any confidence at all in the other, the one because he realized that he was reaching above his rank, the other because he was in sore need of a son-in‑law. 11 The Empress, however, was beside herself, and resorting to every course she did not hesitate to bring every possible pressure to bear upon each of them to the end that she might put a stop to the negotiations. 12 But since she was unable to convince either one of them, though she tried hard to intimidate them, she threatened explicitly that she was going to destroy John. 13 Consequently, when John was sent back to Italy, he did not dare to meet Belisarius, fearing the hostility of Antonina, until after she had gone back to Byzantium. 14 For that the Empress had commissioned her to murder him was a thing which anyone might quite reasonably have suspected and as he weighed the character of Antonina, knowing well, as he did, that Belisarius gave in to the woman in every matter,​4 he came to feel a great fear which disturbed him much. 15 This situation did, in any event, shatter the fortunes of  p61 the Romans, which even before that time had been standing on a single leg, and dashed them to the ground.

16 Thus, then, the Gothic War proceeded for Belisarius. Finally, in despair, he begged the Emperor that he be permitted to depart from Italy with all speed.​5 17 And when he found that the Emperor accepted his plea, he returned home immediately, well pleased to bid faewell to the Roman army and to the Italians; and he left most of the strongholds in the hands of the enemy and Perusia in the grip of a very close siege; indeed this city, while he was still on this journey, was captured by storm and experienced every form of misery, as has been narrated by me previously.​6 And it happened that misfortune fell upon his own house also, as will now be related.

18 The Empress Theodora, pressing to bring about the betrothal of the daughter of Belisarius to her grandson, kept writing constantly and harassing the parents of the girl. 19 But they, seeking to avoid the proposed alliance, tried to put off the marriage until they should be present, and when the Empress summoned them to Byzantium, they pretended that at the moment they were unable to leave Italy. 20 But she was itching to make her grandson master of the wealth of Belisarius, for she realized that the girl would be the heiress, since Belisarius had no other offspring; yet she had not the slightest confidence in the purpose of Antonina, and fearing that after she was gone Antonina would not shew herself faithful to her house, though she had found the Empress  p63 so generous at times of the greatest necessity, and would tear up the agreement, she performed an unholy deed. For she caused the young girl to live with the youth without any sanction of law. 21 And they say that secretly she actually forced her to offer herself, much against her will, and thus, after the girl had been compromised, she arranged the wedding for her, to the end that the Emperor might not put a stop to her machinations. 22 Still, when the deed had been accomplished, Anastasius and the girl found themselves held by an ardent love for one another, and a space of no less than eight months was passed in this way. 23 But when Antonina, after the Empress' death, came to Byzantium,​7 she purposely forgot the benefits which the Empress recently had conferred upon her, and paying no attention whatever to the fact that if the girl should marry anyone else, her previous record would be that of a prostitute, she spurned the alliance with the offspring of Theodora and forced the child, entirely against her will, to abandon her beloved. 24 And from this act she won a great reputation for ingratitude among all mankind, yet when her husband arrived, she had no difficulty in persuading him to share with her in this unholy business. Consequently the man's character was openly revealed at that time. 25 And yet, though he previously had given his oath to Photius and certain of his kinsmen, and though he utterly repudiated this oath, he received pardon from all the world. 26 For they suspected that the cause of his faithlessness was not the domination of his wife, but his fear of the Empress. 27 But when, after the death of Theodora8  p65 which I have mentioned, he shewed no consideration either for Photius or for any of his other kinsmen, but his wife was seen to be mistress over him and Calligonus, the go-between, his master, then finally all men repudiated him, mocked him with busy tongues, and reviled him as one who had shewn himself guilty of sheer folly. Such, then, in a general way, to state the facts without concealment, were the sins committed by Belisarius.

28 Now the wrongs committed in Libya by Sergius, son of Bacchus, have been sufficiently described by me at the proper point in the narrative.​9 This man, indeed, made himself chiefly responsible for the collapse of the Roman rule in that district, not only by disregarding the oaths which he had sworn on the Gospels to the Leuathae, but also by putting to death the eighty ambassadors without any justification;​10 but at this point it will be necessary to add to my account only that neither did these men come to Sergius with evil intent nor did Sergius have any pretext for suspicion concerning them, but he had bound himself by oath when he invited the men to a banquet and there did them to death in a shameful manner. 29 As a result of this act it came about that Solomon and the Roman army and all the Libyans were destroyed. 30 For on account of him, especially after Solomon had died in the manner related by me,​11 no one, either commander or soldier, cared to face the perils of war. 31 And, most serious of all, John, the son of Sisinniolus, because of the hostility  p67 which he felt towards Sergius, refused to fight​12 until Areobindus came to Libya. 32 For Sergius was soft and unwarlike and he was very immature both in character and in years, yet he was dominated to an excessive degree by jealousy and a spirit of braggadocio towards all men, effeminate in his way of living and puffing out his cheeks with pride. 33 But since he happened to have become a suitor of the daughter of Antonina, wife of Belisarius, the Empress was quite unwilling to inflict any punishment upon him or to discharge him from his office, though she saw that Libya was being most systematically ruined; indeed both she and the Emperor left Solomon, the brother of Sergius, unpunished for the murder of Pegasius. Now what this incident was I shall straightway explain.

34 When Pegasius had ransomed Solomon​13 from the Leuathae and the barbarians had gone off home, Solomon, in company with Pegasius, who had ransomed him, and some few soldiers set out for Carthage; and on this trip Pegasius, catching Solomon committing some wrong or any other, made the remark that he ought to bear in mind that God had recently rescued him from the enemy. 35 But he flew into a rage since he felt that Pegasius was reproaching him because he had been taken prisoner in battle and killed him out of hand and thus repaid the man for his rescue. 36 And when Solomon came to Byzantium, the Emperor cleared him of the murder on the ground that he had slain a traitor to the Roman rule. 37 And he provided him with a letter which guaranteed him  p69 immunity on that score. So Solomon, having escaped punishment in this way, gladly went to the East in order to see his native land and his relatives at home. 38 But the punishment of God overtook him on this journey and removed him from the world. Such was the course of events touching Solomon and Pegasius.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Book VII. p.xxxv.1.

2 Cf. Book VII.xii.16.

3 Cf. Book VII.xii.1 and 11.

4 Cf. iv.41 p53.

5 Cf. Book VII.xxx.25.

6 Book VII.xxxv.2.

7 Cf. Book VII.xxx.25.

8 548 A.D.; cf. Book VII.xxx.40.

9 Book IV.xxi.1 ff.

10 The slaughter of these men, ostensibly envoys of peace from the Moors, is explained in Book IV.xxi as dictated by necessity; they were cut down by the guards of Sergius.

11 Book IV.xxi.28.

12 Book IV.xxiii.32.

13 Book IV.xxii.14 ff.

Thayer's Note:

a The Loeb edition has "Spolitium", transcribing the Greek Σπολιτίῷ. Normally I would leave the curious spelling, as I do in the Wars, but a note in the Greek text tells us that Σπολιτίῷ was in fact added by an editor — at which point, the more useful standard spelling is just as warranted. At any rate, the town is of course the modern Spoleto.

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