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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 6

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 8

The Anecdota
or Secret History

Chapter VII

 p77  Now the populace from of old has been divided into two Factions, as was stated by me in the preceding narrative,​1 and he now adopted one of them, namely the Veneti or "Blues,"​2 of whom, as it happened, he had previously been an enthusiastic supporter, and thus succeeded in throwing everything into confusion and disorder; and thereby he brought  p79 the Roman State to its knees.​3 2 But not all the Blues saw fit to follow the will of this man, but only those who chanced to be militant. 3 And yet even these, as the evil developed, seemed to be the most temperate men in the world;​4 for their sins fell short of their licence to commit them. 4 And of course the militant group of the Greens did not on their part remain quiet, but they too were constantly busy with crimes, as far as came within their power, although they were being punished continually, one at a time. 5 Yet this very fact always led them on to deeds of much greater daring; for men, when they unjustly treated, are wont to become desperate. 6 So at this time, while he kept fanning the flames and manifestly stirring up the Blues, the whole Roman Empire was agitated from top to bottom, as if an earthquake or a deluge had fallen upon it, or as if each and every city had been captured by the enemy. 7 For everything was thrown into confusion in every part and nothing thereafter remained fixed, but both the laws and the orderly form of the government were completely overturned by the confusion that ensued.

8 In the first place, the mode of dressing the hair was changed to a rather novel style by the Factions; 9 for they did not cut it at all as the other Romans did. For they did not touch the moustache or the beard at all, but they wished always to have the hair of these grow out very long, as the Persians do. 10 But the hair of their heads they cut off in front back  p81 to the temples, leaving the part behind to hang down to a very great length in a senseless fashion, just as the Massagetae do. Indeed for this reason they used to call this the "Hunnic" fashion.

11 In the second place, as to fashions in dress, they all insisted on being well clad in fine garments, clothing themselves in raiment too pretentious for their individual rank. 12 For they were enabled to acquire such clothing from stolen funds. And the part of the tunic which covered the arms was gathered by them very closely about the wrist, while from there to each shoulder it billowed out to an incredible breadth. 13 And as often as their arms were waved about, either as they shouted in the theatres and hippodromes, or urged men on to victory in the customary manner, this part of their garments would actually soar aloft, causing the foolish to suppose that their bodies must be so fine and sturdy that they must needs be covered by such garments, not taking into consideration the fact that by the loosely woven and empty garment the meagreness much rather than the sturdiness of their bodies was demonstrated. 14 Also their cloaks and their drawers and especially their shoes, as regards both name and fashion, were classed as "Hunnic."

15 Now at first practically all of them carried weapons openly at night, but in the day-time they concealed small two-edged swords along the thigh under their mantle, and they gathered in groups as soon as  p83 it became dark and would waylay men of the better classes both in the market-place at large and in the alleys, robbing their victims of their clothing and their girdles and gold brooches and whatever besides they might have in their hands. 16 And some they saw fit to kill as well as to rob, to keep them from carrying word to anyone of what had befallen them. 17 Now these performances outraged everyone and particularly the partisans of the Blue Faction who were not militant, for not even they remained immune. 18 The result of this was that thereafter most men used girdles and brooches of bronze and mantles much inferior to their station, in order that they might not destroyed by their love of beautiful things, and even before the sun had set they would withdraw into their houses and remain out of sight. 19 And as the evil continued and no attention was paid to the offenders by the city Government, the boldness of these men kept steadily rising to a great height. 20 For when wrongdoing is accorded full licence, it naturally goes beyond all bounds, since even such crimes as are punished are usually not completely eradicated; 21 for by nature most men turn readily to sin.

22 Such were the fortunes of the Blues. And of the partisans of the opposing side, some swung over to their faction through an eagerness to have a hand in committing offences without incurring punishment, while others took to flight and were lost to sight in other lands; many also who were caught there in the  p85 city were destroyed by their opponents or were put to death as a punishment by the Government. 23 Many young men also flocked to this association, men who previously had never taken an interest in these affairs, but were now drawn to it by the lure of power and the opportunity for wanton insolence. 24 For there is no unholy act which bears a name among men which was not committed during this period and remained without punishment. 25 Now at first they were destroying their rival partisans, but as time went on they began to slay also those who had given them no offence at all. 26 Many too won them over by bribes and then pointed out their own personal enemies, and these they would destroy immediately, attributing to them the name of Greens, though they were in fact altogether unknown to them. 27 And these things took place no longer in darkness or concealment, but at all hours of the day and in every part of the city, the crimes being committed, it might well be, before the eyes of the most notable men. For the wrongdoers had no need to conceal their crimes, 28 for no dread of punishment lay upon them, nay, there even grew up a sort of zest for competitions among them, since they got up exhibitions of strength and manliness, in which they shewed that with a single blow they could kill any unarmed man who fell in their way, and no man longer dared to hope that he would survive among the perilous circumstances of daily life. 29 For all suspected, because of their great fear, that death was pressing close upon them, and neither did any place seem to be safe nor any time to offer a guarantee of safety to  p87 any man, because men were being killed even in the most honoured of the sanctuaries and at the public festivals for no reason, and no confidence remained in either friends or relatives. For many were being killed through the treachery of those most closely akin to them.

30 No investigation, however, of the crimes which had been committed took place. But the calamity in all cases fell unexpectedly and no one would try to avenge the fallen. 31 And in no law or contract was there left any effective power resting upon the security of the existing order, but everything was turned to a reign of increasing violence and confusion, and the Government resembled a tyranny, yet not a tyranny that had become established, but one rather that was changing every day and constantly beginning again. 32 And the decisions of the magistrates seemed like those of terrified men whose minds were enslaved through fear of a single man; and those who sat in judgment, in rendering their decisions on the points in dispute, gave their verdicts, not as seemed to them just and lawful, but according as each of the disputants had hostile or friendly relations with the Factions. For should any judge have disregarded the instructions of these men, the penalty of death hung imminently over him.

33 And many money-lenders were forced through sheer compulsion to restore to their debtors their contracts without having received back any part of their loan, and many persons not at all willingly set their slaves free. 34 And they say that certain women were forced  p89 by their own slaves to many acts that were sore against their will. 35 And already the sons of men of high station, having mingled with these lawless youths, were compelling their fathers to do much against their will and in particular to deliver over their money to them. 36 And many unwilling boys were compelled to enter into unholy intercourse with the Factionists, with the full knowledge of their fathers. 37 And women, too, while living with husbands, had to submit to this same treatment. And it is said that one woman, dressed in elegant fashion, was crossing with her husband to some suburb on the opposite mainland; and in the course of this crossing they were met by some of the Factionists, who tore her from her husband with a threat and placed her in their own boat; and as she entered the boat with the young men, she stealthily urged her husband to be of good courage and to fear no harm for her; 38 for, she said, she would not suffer any outrage to her person. And even while her husband looked upon her in great sorrow, she threw herself into the sea and straightway vanished from among men.

39 Such, then, was the outrageous conduct of the Factionists at this time in Byzantium. Yet these things distressed the victims less than the wrongs committed by Justinian against the State, for in the case of those who have suffered the cruelest treatment at the hands of malefactors, the greatest part of the distress arising from a state of political  p91 disorder is removed by the constant expectation of punishment to be exacted by the laws and the Government. 40 For in their confident hope of the future men bear their present ills more lightly and easily, but when treated with violence by the power in control of the State, they naturally grieve over their misfortunes the more and are constantly driven to despair by the fact that punishment is not to be expected. 41 And Justinian offended not alone in that he refused absolutely to champion the cause of the wronged, but also because he did not object at all to making himself the avowed protector of the Factionists; 42 for he kept issuing great sums of money to these youths, and retained many of them about his own person, and some of them he even saw fit to summon to the magistracies and to other stations of honour.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Book I.xxiv.2.

2 Called "Veneti," which is explained in Book II.xi.32 as equivalent to "Blues." They wore blue (κερύλεον) as their colour, particularly in the hippodrome.

3 The expression, taken from classical poetry, is used for the drooping posture of the weary and almost defeated warrior.

4 Cf. Chap. ix.43.

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Page updated: 9 Jun 20