From: “The Secret History” – by Pocopius of Caesarea
13 - Perceptive Affability and Piety of a Tyrant
Justinian, while otherwise of such character as I have shown, did make himself easy of access and affable to his visitors; nobody of all those who sought audience with him was ever denied: even those who confronted him improperly or noisily never made him angry. On the other hand, he never blushed at the murders he committed. Thus he never revealed a sign of wrath or irritation at any offender, but with a gentle countenance and unruffled brow gave the order to destroy myriads of innocent men, to sack cities, to confiscate any amount of properties.
One would think from this manner that the man had the mind of a lamb. If, however, anyone tried to propitiate him and in suppliance beg him to forgive his victims, he would grin like a wild beast, and woe betide those who saw his teeth thus bared!
The priests he permitted fearlessly to outrage their neighbors, and even took sympathetic pleasure in their robberies, fancying he was thus sharing their divine piety when he judged such cases, he thought he was doing the holy thing when he gave the decision to the priest and let him go free with his ill-gotten booty: justice, in his mind, meant the priests' getting the better of their opponents. When he himself thus illegally got possession of estates of people alive or dead, he would straightway make them over to one of the churches, gilding his violence with the color of piety-and so that his victims could not possibly get their property back. Furthermore he committed an inconceivable number of murders for the same cause: for in his zeal to gather all men into one Christian doctrine, he recklessly killed all who dissented, and this too he did in the name of piety. For he did not call it homicide, when those who perished happened to be of a belief that was different from his own.
So quenchless was his thirst for human blood; and with his wife, intent on this end, he neglected no possible excuse for slaughter. For these two were almost twins in their desires, though they pretended to differ: they were both scoundrels, however they affected to oppose each other, and thus destroyed their subjects. The man was lighter in character than a cloud of dust, and could be led to do anything any man wished him to do, so long as the matter did not require philanthropy or generosity. Flattery he swallowed whole, and his courtiers had no difficulty in persuading him that he was destined to rise as high as the sun and walk upon the clouds.
Once, indeed, Tribonian, who was sitting beside him, said his greatest fear was that Justinian some day by reason of his piety would be carried off to heaven and vanish in a chariot of fire. Such praise, if not irony, as this he treasured fondly in his mind.
Yet if he ever remarked on any man's virtue, he would soon revile him as a villain; and whenever he abused any of his subjects, he would next as inconsistently commend him, with no reason for the change. For what he thought was always the opposite of what he said and wished to seem to think.
How he was affected by friendship or enmity I have indicated by the evidence of his actions. For as a foe he was relentless and unswerving, and to his friends he was inconstant. Thus he ruined recklessly most of those who were loyal to him, but never became a friend to any whom he hated. Even those who seemed to be his nearest and dearest associates he betrayed, and after no long time, to please his wife or anybody else, though he was well aware that it was only because of their devotion to him that they perished. For he was openly faithless in everything, except indeed to inhumanity and avarice. From these ideals no man could divert him. Whatever his wife could not otherwise induce him to do, by suggesting the great profits to be hoped for in the matter she intended, she led him willingly to undertake. For if there were an ever infamous, he had no scruple against making a law and then repudiating it. Nor were his decisions made according to the laws himself had written: but whichever way was to his greater advantage, and promised the more elaborate bribe. Stealing, little by little, the property of his subjects, he saw no reason for feeling any shame; when, indeed, he did not somehow grab it all at once, either by bringing some unexpected accusation or by presenting a forged will.
There remained, while he ruled the Romans, no sure faith in God, no hope in religion, no defense in law, no security in business, no trust in a contract. When his officials were given any affair to handle for him, if they killed many of their victims and robbed the rest, they were looked upon by the Emperor with high favor, and given honorable mention for carrying out so perfectly his instructions. But if they showed any mercy and then returned to him, he frowned and was thenceforth their enemy.
Despising their qualms as old-fashioned, he called them no more to his service. Consequently many were eager to show him how wicked they were, even when they were really nothing of the sort. He made frequent promises, guaranteed with a sworn oath or by a written confirmation; and then purposely forgot them directly, thinking this summary negligence added to his importance. And Justinian acted thus not only to his subjects, but to many of the enemy, as I have already said.
He was untiring; and hardly slept at all, generally speaking; he had no appetite for food or drink, but picking up a morsel with the tips of his fingers, tasted it and left the table, as if eating were a duty imposed upon him by nature and of no more interest than a courier takes in delivering a letter. Indeed, he would often go without food for two days and nights, especially when the time before the festival called Easter enjoins such fasting. Then, as I have said, he often went without food for two days, living only on a little water and a few wild herbs, sleeping perhaps a single hour, and then spending the rest of the time walking up and down.
If, mark you, he had spent these periods in good works, matters might have been considerably alleviated. Instead, he devoted the full strength of his nature to the ruin of the Romans, and succeeded in razing the state to its foundation. For his constant wakefulness, his privations and his labors were undergone for no other reason than to contrive each day ever more exaggerated calamities for his people. For he was, as I said, unusually keen at inventing and quick at accomplishing unholy acts, so that even the good in him transpired to be answerable for the downfall of his subjects.
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