Now this went on not only in Constantinople, but in every city: for like
any other disease, the evil, starting there, spread throughout the
entire Roman Empire. But the Emperor was undisturbed by the trouble,
even when it went on continually under his own eyes at the hippodrome.
For he was very complacent and resembled most the silly ass, which
follows, only shaking its ears, when one drags it by the bridle. As such
Justinian acted, and threw everything into confusion.
As soon as he took over the rule from his uncle, his measure was to
spend the public money without restraint, now that he had control of it.
He gave much of it to the Huns who, from time to time, entered the
state; and in consequence the Roman provinces were subject to constant
incursions, for these barbarians, having once tasted Roman wealth, never
forgot the road that led to it. And he threw much money into the sea in
the form of moles, as if to master the eternal roaring of the breakers.
For he jealously hurled stone breakwaters far out from the mainland
against the onset of the sea, as if by the power of wealth he could
outmatch the might of ocean.
He gathered to himself the private estates of Roman citizens from all
over the Empire: some by accusing their possessors of crimes of which
they were innocent, others by juggling their owners' words into the
semblance of a gift to him of their property. And many, caught in the
act of murder and other crimes, turned their possessions over to him and
thus escaped the penalty for their sins.
Others, fraudulently disputing title to lands happening to adjoin their
own, when they saw they had no chance of getting the best of the
argument, with the law against them, gave him their equity in the claim
so as to be released from court. Thus, by a gesture that cost him
nothing, they gained his favor and were able illegally to get the better
of their opponents.
I think this is as good a time as any to describe the personal
appearance of the man. Now in physique he was neither tall nor short,
but of average height; not thin, but moderately plump; his face was
round, and not bad looking, for he had good color, even when he fasted
for two days. To make a long description short, he much resembled
Domitian, Vespasian's son. He was the one whom the Romans so hated that
even tearing him into pieces did not satisfy their wrath against him,
but a decree was passed by the Senate that the name of this Emperor
should never be written, and that no statue of him should be preserved.
And so this name was erased in all the inscriptions at Rome and wherever
else it had been written, except only where it occurs in the list of
emperors; and nowhere may be seen any statue of him in all the Roman
Empire, save one in brass, which was made for the following reason.
Domitian's wife was of free birth and otherwise noble; and neither had
she herself ever done wrong to anybody, nor had she assented in her
husband's acts. Wherefore she was dearly loved; and the Senate sent for
her, when Domitian died, and commanded her to ask whatever boon she
wished. But she asked only this: to set up in his memory one brass
image, wherever she might desire. To this the Senate agreed. Now the
lady, wishing to leave a memorial to future time of the savagery of
those who had butchered her husband, conceived this plan: collecting the
pieces of Domitian's body, she joined them accurately together and
sewed the body up again into its original semblance. Taking this to the
statue makers, she ordered them to produce the miserable form in brass.
So the artisans forthwith made the image, and the wife took it, and set
it up in the street which leads to the Capitol, on the right hand side
as one goes there from the Forum: a monument to Domitian and a
revelation of the manner of his death until this day.
Justinian's entire person, his manner of expression and all of his features might be clearly pointed out in this statue.
Now such was Justinian in appearance; but his character was something I
could not fully describe. For he was at once villainous and amenable; as
people say colloquially, a moron. He was never truthful with anyone,
but always guileful in what he said and did, yet easily hoodwinked by
any who wanted to deceive him. His nature was an unnatural mixture of
folly and wickedness. What in olden times a peripatetic philosopher said
was also true of him, that opposite qualities combine in a man as in
the mixing of colors. I will try to portray him, however, insofar as I
can fathom his complexity.
This Emperor, then, was deceitful, devious, false, hypocritical,
two-faced, cruel, skilled in dissembling his thought, never moved to
tears by either joy or pain, though he could summon them artfully at
will when the occasion demanded, a liar always, not only offhand, but in
writing, and when he swore sacred oaths to his subjects in their very
hearing. Then he would immediately break his agreements and pledges,
like the vilest of slaves, whom indeed only the fear of torture drives
to confess their perjury. A faithless friend, he was a treacherous
enemy, insane for murder and plunder, quarrelsome and revolutionary,
easily led to anything evil, but never willing to listen to good
counsel, quick to plan mischief and carry it out, but finding even the
hearing of anything good distasteful to his ears.
How could anyone put Justinian's ways into words? These and many even
worse vices were disclosed in him as in no other mortal nature seemed to
have taken the wickedness of all other men combined and planted it in
this man's soul. And besides this, he was too prone to listen to
accusations; and too quick to punish. For he decided such cases without
full examination, naming the punishment when he had heard only the
accuser s side of the matter. Without hesitation he wrote decrees for
the plundering of countries, sacking of cities, and slavery of whole
nations, for no cause whatever. So that if one wished to take all the
calamities which had befallen the Romans before this time and weigh them
against his crimes, I think it would be found that more men had been
murdered by this single man than in all previous history.
He had no scruples about appropriating other people's property, and did
not even think any excuse necessary, legal or illegal, for confiscating
what did not belong to him. And when it was his, he was more than ready
to squander it in insane display, or give it as an unnecessary bribe to
the barbarians. In short, he neither held on to any money himself nor
let anyone else keep any: as if his reason were not avarice, but
jealousy of those who had riches. Driving all wealth from the country of
the Romans in this manner, he became the cause Of universal poverty.
Now this was the character of Justinian, so far as I can portray it.