Theodora too unceasingly hardened her heart in the practice of
inhumanity. What she did, was never to please or obey anyone else; what
she willed, she performed of her own accord and with all her might: and
no one dared to intercede for any who fell in her way. For neither
length of time, fulness of punishment, artifice of prayer, nor threat of
death, whose vengeance sent by Heaven is feared by all mankind, could
persuade her to abate her wrath. Indeed, no one ever saw Theodora
reconciled to any one who had offended her, either while he lived or
after he had departed this earth. Instead, the son of the dead would
inherit the enmity of the Empress, together with the rest of his
father's estate: and he in turn bequeathed it to the third generation.
For her spirit was over ready to be kindled to the destruction of men,
while cure for her fever there was none.
To her body she gave greater care than was necessary, if less than she
thought desirable. For early she entered the bath and late she left it;
and having bathed, went to breakfast. After breakfast she rested. At
dinner and supper she partook of every kind of food and drink; and many
hours she devoted to sleep, by day till nightfall, by night till the
rising sun. Though she wasted her hours thus intemperately, what time of
the day remained she deemed ample for managing the Roman Empire.
And if the Emperor intrusted any business to anyone without consulting
her, the result of the affair for that officer would be his early and
violent removal from favor and a most shameful death.
It was easy for Justinian to look after everything, not only because of
his calmness of temper, but because he hardly ever slept, as I have
said, and because he was not chary with his audiences. For great
opportunity was given to people, however obscure and unknown, not only
to be admitted to the tyrant's presence, but to converse with him, and
But to the Queen's presence even the highest officials could not enter
without great delay and trouble; like slaves they had to wait all day in
a small and stuffy antechamber, for to absent himself was a risk no
official dared to take. So they stood there on their tiptoes, each
straining to keep his face above his neighbor's, so that eunuchs, as
they came out from the audience room, would see them. Some would be
called, perhaps, after several days; and when they did enter to her
presence in great fear, they were quickly dismissed as soon as they had
made obeisance and kissed her feet. For to speak or make any request,
unless she commanded, was not permitted.
Not civility, but servility was now the rule, and Theodora was the slave
driver. So far had Roman society been corrupted, between the false
geniality of the tyrant and the harsh implacability of his consort. For
his smile was not to be trusted, and against her frown nothing could be
done. There was this superficial difference between them in attitude and
manner; but in avarice, bloodthirstiness, and dissimulation they
utterly agreed. They were both liars of the first water.
And if anyone who had fallen out of favor with Theodora was accused of
some minor and insignificant error, she immediately fabricated further
unwarranted charges against the man, and built the matter up into a
really serious accusation. Any number of indictments were brought, and a
court appointed to plunder the victim, with judges selected by her, to
compete with themselves to see which one could please her most in
fitting his decision to the Empress's inhumanity. And so the property of
the victim would be straightway confiscated, and after he was cruelly
whipped, even if he perhaps belonged to an ancient and noble family, she
would callously have him sentenced to exile or to death.
But if any of her favorites happened to be caught in the act of murder
or any other serious crime, she ridiculed and belittled the efforts of
their accusers, and compelled them, however unwillingly, to quash the
charge. Indeed, whenever she felt the inclination, she turned the most
serious matters of state into a jest, as if she were again on the stage
of the theater.
Once an elderly patrician, who had been for a long time in high office
(whose name I well know, but shall carefully refrain from mentioning, so
as not to bring eternal ridicule upon him), being unable to collect
from one of her attendants a considerable sum of money owed him, went to
her with the intention of asking his due and imploring her just aid.
But Theodora was warned, and told her eunuchs, as soon as the patrician
should be admitted to her presence, to surround him in a body and listen
to her words; telling them what to say after she had spoken. And when
the patrician was admitted to her private quarters, he kissed her feet
in the customary manner and, weeping, addressed her:
"Highness, it is hard for a patrician to ask for money. For what in
other men brings sympathy and pity, in one of my rank is considered
disgraceful. Any other man suffering hardships from poverty may plead
this before his creditors, and receive immediate relief from his
difficulty; but a patrician, not knowing whence he can find the
wherewithal to pay his creditors, would be ashamed in the first place to
admit it. And if he did say this, he could never persuade them that one
of such rank could know penury. And even if he did persuade them, he
would be making himself suffer the most shameful and intolerable
"Yet, Highness, such is my plight. I have creditors to whom I owe money,
while others owe money to me. And those whom I owe, who are pressing me
for payment, I cannot, for the sake of my reputation, attempt to cheat
of their due; while my debtors, for they are not patricians, deny me
with unmanly excuses. I charge you, therefore; I beseech and beg of you,
to aid me in what is right, and release me from my present trouble."
So he said, and the Queen answered musically:
"Patrician Mr. Such-and-such-" whereupon the chorus of eunuchs sang:
"Your hernia seems to bother you much!"
And when the man entreated her again, making a second speech similar to
his first one, she answered as before, and the chorus sang the same
refrain: till, giving it up, the poor wretch bowed and went home.
Most of the year the Empress resided in the suburbs on the seashore,
especially in the place called Heraeum, and the numerous crowd of her
attendants was subjected to great inconvenience. For it was hard to get
necessary supplies, and they were exposed to the perils of the sea:
especially to the frequent sudden storms and the attack of sharks.
Nevertheless they counted the most bitter misfortunes as nothing, so
long as they could share the licenses of her court.