Soon after this, a further disaster befell him. The plague, which I have
described elsewhere, became epidemic at Constantinople, and the Emperor
Justinian was taken grievously ill; it was even said he had died of it.
Rumor spread this report till it reached the Roman army camp. There
some of the officers said that if the Romans tried to establish anyone
else at Constantinople as Emperor, they would never recognize him.
Presently, the Emperor's health bettered, and the officers of the army
brought charges against each other, the generals Peter and John the
Glutton alleging they had heard Belisarius and Buzes making the above
This hypothetical mutiny the indignant Queen took as intended by the two
men to refer to herself. So she recalled all the officers to
Constantinople to investigate the matter; and she summoned Buzes
impromptu to her private quarters, on the pretext she wished to discuss
with him matters of sudden urgency.
Now underneath the palace was an underground cellar, secure and
labyrinthian, comparable to the infernal regions, in which most of those
who gave offense to her were eventually entombed. And so Buzes was
thrown into this oubliette, and there the man, though of consular rank,
remained with no one cognizant of his fate. Neither, as he sat there in
darkness, could he ever know whether it was day or night, nor could he
learn from anyone else; for the man who each day threw him his food was
dumb, and the scene was that of one wild beast confronting another.
Everybody soon thought him dead, but no one dared to mention even his
memory. But after two years and four months, Theodora took pity on the
man and released him. Ever after he was half blind and sick in body.
This is what she did to Buzes.
Belisarius, although none of the charges against him were proved, was at
the insistence of the Empress relieved of his command by the Emperor;
who appointed Martinus in his place as General of the armies of the
East. Belisarius's lancers and shield-bearers, and such of his servants
as were of military use, he ordered to be divided between the other
generals and certain of the palace eunuchs. Drawing lots for these men
and their arms, they portioned them as the chances fell. And his
friends, and all who formerly had served him, were forbidden ever to
visit Belisarius. It was a bitter sight, and one no one would ever have
thought credible, to see Belisarius a private citizen in Constantinople,
almost deserted, melancholy and miserable of countenance, and ever
expectant of a further conspiracy to accomplish his death.
Then the Empress learned he had acquired great wealth in the East, and
sent one of the eunuchs of the palace to confiscate it. Antonina, as I
have told, was now quite out of temper with her husband, but on the most
friendly and intimate terms with the Queen, since she had got rid of
John of Cappadocia. So, to please Antonina, Theodora arranged everything
so that the wife would appear to have asked mercy for her husband, and
from such peril to have saved his life; and the poor wretch not only
became quite reconciled to her, but let her make him her humblest slave
for having saved him from the Queen. And this is how that happened.
One morning, Belisarius went to the palace as usual with his few and
pitiful followers. Finding the Emperor and Empress hostile, he was
further insulted in their presence by baseborn and common men. Late in
the evening he went home, often turning around as he withdrew and
looking in every direction for those who might be advancing to put him
to death. Accompanied by this dread, he entered his home and sat down
alone upon his couch. His spirit broken, he failed even to remember the
time when he was a man; sweating, dizzy and trembling, he counted
himself lost; devoured by slavish fears and mortal worry, he was
Antonina, who neither knew just what arrangement of his fate had been
made nor much cared what would become of him, was walking up and down
nearby pretending a heartburn; for they were not exactly on friendly
terms. Meanwhile, an officer of the palace, Quadratus by name, had come
as the sun went down, and passing through the outer hall, suddenly stood
at the door of the men's apartments to say he had been sent here by the
Empress. And when Belisarius heard that, he drew up his arms and legs
onto the couch and lay down on his back, ready for the end. So far had
all manhood left him.
Quadratus, however, approached only to hand him a letter from the Queen.
And thus the letter read: "You know, Sir, your offense against us. But
because I am greatly indebted to your wife, I have decided to dismiss
all charges against you and give her your life. So for the future you
may be of good cheer as to your personal safety and that of your
property; but we shall know by what happens to you how you conduct
yourself toward her."
When Belisarius read this intoxicated with joy and yearning to give
evidence of his gratitude, he leapt from his couch and prostrated
himself at the feet of his wife. With each hand fondling one of her
legs, licking with his tongue the sole of first one of her feet and then
the other, he cried that she was the cause of his life and of his
safety: henceforth he would be her faithful slave, instead of her lord
The Empress then gave thirty gold centenaries of his property to the
Emperor, and returned what was left to Belisarius. This is what happened
to the great general to whom destiny had not long before given both
Gelimer and Vitiges to be captives of his spear! But the wealth that
this subject of theirs had acquired had long ago gnawed jealous wounds
in the hearts of Justinian and Theodora, who deemed it grown too big for
any but the imperial coffers. And they said he had concealed most of
Gelimer's and Vitiges's moneys, which by conquest belonged to the State
and had handed over only a small fraction, hardly worth accepting by an
Emperor. Yet, when they counted the labors the man had accomplished, and
the cries of reproach they might arouse among the people, since they
had no credible pretext for punishing him, they kept their peace: until
now, when the Empress, discovering him out of his senses with terror, at
one fell stroke managed to become mistress of all his fortune.
To tie him further to her, she betrothed Joannina, Belisarius's only daughter, to Anastasius her nephew.
Belisarius now asked to be given back his old command, and as General of
the East lead the Roman armies once more against Chosroes and the
Medes; but Antonina would not hear of it. It was there she had been
insulted by him before, she said, and she never wanted to see the place
again. Accordingly, Belisarius was instead made Count of the imperial
remounts, and fared forth a second time to Italy; agreeing with the
Emperor, they say, not to ask him at any time for money toward this war,
but to prepare all the military equipment from his private purse.
Now everybody took it for granted that Belisarius had arranged this with
his wife and made the agreement about the expedition with the Emperor,
merely so as to get away from his humiliating position in
Constantinople; and that as soon as he had gotten outside the city, he
intended to take up arms and retaliate, nobly and as becomes a man,
against his wife and those who had done him wrong. Instead, he made
light of all he had experienced, forgot or discounted his word of honor
to Photius and his other friends, and followed his wife about in a
perfect ecstasy of love: and that when she had now arrived at the age of
However, as soon as he arrived in Italy, some new and different trouble
happened with each fresh day, for even Providence had turned against
him. For the plans this General had laid in the former campaign against
Theodatus and Vitiges, though they did not seem to be fitting to the
event, usually turned out to his advantage; while now, though he was
credited with laying better plans, as was to be expected after his
previous experience in warfare, they all turned out badly: so that the
final judgment was that he had no sense of strategy.
Indeed, it is not by the plans of men, but by the hand of God that the
affairs of men are directed; and this men call Fate, not knowing the
reason for what things they see occur; and what seems to be without
cause is easy to call the accident of chance. Still, this is a matter
every mortal will decide for himself according to his taste.