I now come to the tale of what sort of beings Justinian and Theodora were, and how they brought confusion on the Roman State.
During the rule of the Emperor Leo in Constantinople, three young
farmers of Illyrian birth, named Zimarchus, Ditybistus, and Justin of
Bederiana, after a desperate struggle with poverty, left their homes to
try their fortune in the army. They made their way to Constantinople on
foot, carrying on their shoulders their blankets in which were wrapped
no other equipment except the biscuits they had baked at home. When the
arrived and were admitted into military service, the Emperor chose them
for the palace guard; for they were all three fine-looking men.
Later, when Anastasius succeeded to the throne, war broke out with the
Isaurians when that nation rebelled; and against them Anastasius sent a
considerable army under John the Hunchback. This John for some offense
threw Justin into the guardhouse, and on the following day would have
sentenced him to death, had he not been stopped by a vision appearing to
him in a dream. For in this dream, the general said, he beheld a being,
gigantic in size and in every way mightier than mortals: and this being
commanded him to release the man whom he had arrested that day. Waking
from his sleep, John said, he decided the dream was not worth
considering. But the next night the vision returned, and again he heard
the same words he had heard before; yet even so he was not persuaded to
obey its command. But for the third time the vision appeared in his
dreams, and threatened him with fearful consequences if he did not do as
the angel ordered: warning that he would be in sore need of this man
and his family thereafter, when the day of wrath should overtake him.
And this time Justin was released.
As time went on, this Justin came to great power. For the Emperor
Anastasius appointed him Count of the palace guard; and when the Emperor
departed from this world, by the force of his military power Justin
seized the throne. By this time he was an old man on the verge of the
grave, and so illiterate that he could neither read nor write: which
never before could have been said of a Roman ruler. It was the custom
for an Emperor to sign his edicts with his own hand, but he neither made
decrees nor was able to understand the business of state at all.
The man on whom it befell to assist him as Quaestor was named Proclus;
and he managed everything to suit himself. But so that he might have
some evidence of the Emperor's hand, he invented the following device
for his clerks to construct. Cutting out of a block of wood the shapes
of the four letters required to make the Latin word, they dipped a pen
into the ink used by emperors for their signatures, and put it in the
Emperor's fingers. Laying the block of wood I have described on the
paper to be signed, they guided the Emperor's hand so that his pen
outlined the four letters, following all the curves of the stencil: and
thus they withdrew with the FIAT Of the Emperor. This is how the Romans
were ruled under Justin.
His wife was named Lupicina: a slave and a barbarian, she was bought to
be his concubine. With Justin, as the sun of his life was about to set,
she ascended the throne.
Now Justin was able to do his subjects neither harm nor good. For he was
simple, unable to carry on a conversation or make a speech, and utterly
bucolic. His nephew Justinian, while still a youth, was the virtual
ruler-, and the of more and worse calamities to the Romans than any one
man in all their previous history that has come down to us.- For he had
no scruples; against murder or the seizing of other persons property;
and it was nothing to him to make away with myriads of men, even when
they gave him no cause. He had no care for preserving established
customs, but was always eager for new experiments, and, in short, was
the greatest corrupter of all noble traditions.
Though the plague, described in my former books, attacked the whole
world, no fewer men escaped than perished of it; for some never were
taken by the disease, and others recovered after it had smitten them.
But this man, not one of all the Romans could escape; but as if he were a
second pestilence sent from heaven, he fell on the nation and left no
man quite untouched. For some he slew without reason, and some he
released to struggle with penury, and their fate was worse than that of
those who had perished, so that they prayed for death to free them from
their misery; and others he robbed of their property and their lives
When there was nothing left to ruin in the Roman state, he determined
the conquest of Libya and Italy, for no other reason than to destroy the
people there, as he had those who were already his subjects.
Indeed, his power was not ten days old, before he slew Amantius, chief
of the palace eunuchs, and several others, on no graver charge than that
Amantius had made some rash remark about John, Archbishop of the city.
After this, he was the most feared of men.
Immediately after this he sent for the rebel Vitalian, to whom he had
first given pledges of safety, and partaken with him of the Christian
communion. But soon after he became suspicious and jealous, and murdered
Vitalian and his companions at a banquet in the palace: thus showing he
considered himself in no way bound by the most sacred of pledges.