Tuesday, January 07, 2003

14 - Justice for Sale

From: “The Secret History” – by Pocopius of Caesarea

14 - Justice for Sale

Everything was done the wrong way, and of the old customs none remained; a few instances will illustrate, and the rest must be silence, that this book may have an end. In the first place, Justinian, having no natural aptitude toward the imperial dignity, neither assumed the royal manner nor thought it necessary to his prestige. In his accent, in his dress, and in his ideas he was a barbarian. When he wished to issue a decree, he did not give it out through the Quaestor's office, as is usual, but most frequently preferred to announce it himself, in spite of his barbarous accent; or sometimes he had a whole group of his intimates publish it together, so that those who were wronged by the edict did not know which one to complain against.

The secretaries who had performed this duty for centuries were no longer trusted with writing the Emperor's secret dispatches: he wrote them himself and practically everything else, too; so that in the few cases where he neglected to give instructions to city magistrates, they did not know where to go for advice concerning their duties. For he let no one in the Roman Empire decide anything independently, but taking everything upon himself with senseless arrogance, gave the verdict in cases before they came to trial, accepting the story of one of the litigants without listening to the other, and then pronounced the argument concluded; swayed not by any law or justice, but openly yielding to base greed. In accepting bribes the Emperor felt no shame, since hunger for wealth had devoured his decency.

Often the decrees of the Senate and those of the Emperor nominally conflicted. The Senate, however, sat only for pictorial effect, with no power to vote or do anything. It was assembled as a matter of form, to comply with the ancient law, and none of its members was permitted to utter a single word. The Emperor and his Consort took upon themselves the decisions of all matters in dispute, and their will of course prevailed. And if anybody thought his victory in such a case was insecure because it was illegal, he had only to give the Emperor more money, and a new law would immediately be passed revoking the former one. And if anybody else preferred the law that had been repealed, the ruler was quite willing to reestablish it in the same manner.

Under this reign of violence nothing was stable, but the balance of justice revolved in a circle, inclining to whichever side was able to weight it with the heavier amount of gold. Publicly in the Forum, and under the management of palace officials, the selling of court decisions and legislative actions was carried on.

The officers called Referendars were no longer satisfied to perform their duties of presenting to the Emperor the request of petitioners, and referring to the magistrates what he had decided in the petitioner's case; but gathering worthless testimony from all quarters, with false reports and misleading statements, deceived Justinian, who was naturally inclined to listen to that sort of thing; and then they would go back to the litigants, without telling them what had been said during their interview with the Emperor, to extort as much money as they desired. And no one dared oppose them.

The soldiers of the Pretorian guard, attending the judges of the imperial court in the palace, also used their power to influence decisions. Everybody, one might say, stepped from his rank and found he was now at liberty to walk roads where before there had been no path; all bars were down, even the names of former restrictions were lost. The government was like a Queen surrounded by romping children. But I must pass over further illustrations, as I said at the beginning of this chapter.

I must, however, mention the man who first taught the Emperor to sell his decisions. This was Leo, a native of Cilicia, and devilish eager to enrich himself. This Leo was the prince of flatterers, and apt at insinuating himself into the good will of the ignorant. Gaining the confidence of the Emperor, he turned the tyrant's folly toward the ruin of the people. This man was the first to show Justinian how to exchange justice for money.

As soon as the latter thus learned how to be a thief, he never stopped; but advancing on this road, the evil grew so great that if anyone wished to win an unjust case against an honest man, he went first to Leo, and agreeing that a share of the disputed property would be given to be divided between this man and the monarch, left the palace with his wrongful case already won. And Leo soon built up a great fortune in this way, became the lord of much land, and was most responsible for bringing the Roman state to its knees.

There was no security in contracts, no law, no oath, no written pledge, no penalty, no nothing: unless money had first been given to Leo and the Emperor. And even buying Leo's support gave no certainty, for Justinian was quite willing to take money from both sides: he felt no guilt at robbing either party, and then, when both trusted him, he would betray one and keep his promise to the other, at random. He saw nothing disgraceful in such double dealing, if only it brought him gain. That is the sort of person Justinian was.

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