I will next describe another way in which he robbed his subjects. Those
who serve the Emperor and the magistrates in Constantinople, either as
guards or as secretaries or what not, are inscribed last in the list of
officials. As time goes on, their rank advances as their superiors die
or retire and they replace them, until they reach the topmost dignity.
Those who attained this highest rank, according to the long-established
rule, were paid more than one hundred gold centenaries a year, so as to
have a competence for their old age, and that they might be able to
discharge their many debts: which resulted in the affairs of state being
competently and smoothly managed. But this Emperor deprived them of
nearly all this money, to the great harm of these officials and
everybody else. For poverty, attacking them first, soon spread to the
others who formerly shared their solvency. And if one could calculate
the sums of money thus lost during thirty-two years, he would know of
how great a total they were thus deprived. This is how the tyrant used
his military aides.
What he did to merchants and sailors, artisans and shop-keepers, and
through them to everybody else, I will now relate. There are two straits
on either side of Constantinople: one in the Hellespont between Sestos
and Abydus, the other at the mouth of the Euxine Sea, where the Church
of the Holy Mother is situated. Now in the Hellespontine strait there
had been no customhouse, though an officer was stationed by the Emperor
at Abydus, to see that no ship carrying a cargo of arms should pass to
Constantinople without orders from the Emperor, and that no one should
set sail from Constantinople without papers signed by the proper
officials; for no ship was allowed to leave Constantinople without
permission of the bureau of the Master of Offices. The toll exacted from
the ship owners, however, had been inconsequential. The officer
stationed at the other strait received a regular salary from the
Emperor, and his duty was exactly the same, to see that nothing was
transported to the barbarians dwelling beyond the Euxine that was not
permitted to be sent from Roman to hostile territory; but he was not
allowed to collect any duties from navigators at this point.
But as soon as Justinian became Emperor, he stationed a customhouse at
either strait, under two salaried officials, to whom he gave full power
to collect as much money as they found possible. Eager to show their
zeal, they made the mariners pay such tributes 'on everything as pirates
might have exacted. And this was done at both straits.
At Constantinople, he concocted the following scheme. He appointed one
of his intimates, a Syrian named Addeus, in charge of the port, with
orders to collect duty from the ships anchoring there. And he,
accordingly, never allowed any of the vessels putting in to
Constantinople to leave until their owners either paid clearance fees or
submitted to taking a cargo for Libya or Italy. Some of the ship
owners, however, refused to submit to this compulsion, preferring to
burn their boats rather than sail at such a price; and considered
themselves lucky to escape with this sacrifice. Those who had to
continue sailing in order to live, on the other hand, charged merchants
three times the former rate for carrying their wares: so that the
merchants had to recoup these losses by selling their stuff to
individual purchasers at a correspondingly high price, with the result
that the Romans nearly died of starvation.
This was the state of affairs throughout the Empire.
I must not omit, I suppose, mention of what the rulers did to the petty
coinage. Formerly the money changers had customarily given two hundred
and ten obols, or "folles," for one gold stater; but Justinian and
Theodora, as a scheme for their private profit, ordered that only one
hundred and eighty obols should be given for a stater. In this way they
clipped off one sixth of each gold coin possessed by the people.
By licensing monopolies of nearly all kinds of wares, these rulers daily
oppressed the purchasers; the sale of clothes was the only thing they
left untouched, and even in this case they contrived the following
scheme. Cloaks of silk had long been made in Berytus and Tyre, in
Phoenicia. Merchants who dwelt in these, and all the artisans and
workers connected with the trade, had settled there in early times, and
from these cities this trade had spread throughout the earth. But during
the reign of Justinian, those in this business at Constantinople and in
the other cities, raised the price of these garments: claiming that the
price for such stuffs had been raised by the Persians, and that the
import duties to Roman territory were also higher.
The Emperor, pretending to be incensed at this, proclaimed by edict that
such clothing could not be sold for more than eight gold coins a pound;
and the punishment for disobeying this law was the confiscation of the
transgressor's property. This seemed to everybody impossible and futile.
For it was not practicable for the merchants who imported silk at a
higher price, to sell it to their customers for less. Consequently they
decided to stop dealing in it at all, and privately got rid of their
present stock as best they could, selling it to such notables as took
pleasure in throwing away their money for such finery, or thought they
had to wear it.
The Empress, hearing what was going on through her whispering spies,
without stopping to verify the rumor, immediately confiscated these
persons' wares, fining them a centenary in addition. Now the imperial
treasurer is to be in charge of all matters connected with this trade.
So when Peter Barsyames was given that office, they soon left it to him
to do their unholy deeds. He ruled that all should obey the letter of
the law, while he ordered the silk makers to work for himself. And this
was no secret, for he sold colored silk in the Forum at six gold pieces
an ounce, while for the imperial dye, which is known as holovere, he
charged more than twenty-four.
In this way he got much money for the Emperor and more, quietly, for
himself; and the custom he started continues to this day, the treasurer
being admittedly the sole silk merchant and controller of this trade.
The former dealers in silk in Constantinople and every other city, by
sea and by land, were naturally heavily damaged. Almost the whole
populace in the cities mentioned were suddenly made beggars. Artisans
and mechanics were forced to struggle against famine, and many
consequently left the country and fled to Persia. Only the imperial
treasurer could transact this business, giving a share of the profits
aforesaid to the Emperor, and himself taking most of them, fattening on
the public calamity. And so much for that.