Tuesday, January 07, 2003

15 - How All Roman Citizens Became Slaves

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

15 - How All Roman Citizens Became Slaves

Theodora too unceasingly hardened her heart in the practice of inhumanity. What she did, was never to please or obey anyone else; what she willed, she performed of her own accord and with all her might: and no one dared to intercede for any who fell in her way. For neither length of time, fulness of punishment, artifice of prayer, nor threat of death, whose vengeance sent by Heaven is feared by all mankind, could persuade her to abate her wrath. Indeed, no one ever saw Theodora reconciled to any one who had offended her, either while he lived or after he had departed this earth. Instead, the son of the dead would inherit the enmity of the Empress, together with the rest of his father's estate: and he in turn bequeathed it to the third generation. For her spirit was over ready to be kindled to the destruction of men, while cure for her fever there was none.

To her body she gave greater care than was necessary, if less than she thought desirable. For early she entered the bath and late she left it; and having bathed, went to breakfast. After breakfast she rested. At dinner and supper she partook of every kind of food and drink; and many hours she devoted to sleep, by day till nightfall, by night till the rising sun. Though she wasted her hours thus intemperately, what time of the day remained she deemed ample for managing the Roman Empire.

And if the Emperor intrusted any business to anyone without consulting her, the result of the affair for that officer would be his early and violent removal from favor and a most shameful death.

It was easy for Justinian to look after everything, not only because of his calmness of temper, but because he hardly ever slept, as I have said, and because he was not chary with his audiences. For great opportunity was given to people, however obscure and unknown, not only to be admitted to the tyrant's presence, but to converse with him, and in private.

But to the Queen's presence even the highest officials could not enter without great delay and trouble; like slaves they had to wait all day in a small and stuffy antechamber, for to absent himself was a risk no official dared to take. So they stood there on their tiptoes, each straining to keep his face above his neighbor's, so that eunuchs, as they came out from the audience room, would see them. Some would be called, perhaps, after several days; and when they did enter to her presence in great fear, they were quickly dismissed as soon as they had made obeisance and kissed her feet. For to speak or make any request, unless she commanded, was not permitted.

Not civility, but servility was now the rule, and Theodora was the slave driver. So far had Roman society been corrupted, between the false geniality of the tyrant and the harsh implacability of his consort. For his smile was not to be trusted, and against her frown nothing could be done. There was this superficial difference between them in attitude and manner; but in avarice, bloodthirstiness, and dissimulation they utterly agreed. They were both liars of the first water.

And if anyone who had fallen out of favor with Theodora was accused of some minor and insignificant error, she immediately fabricated further unwarranted charges against the man, and built the matter up into a really serious accusation. Any number of indictments were brought, and a court appointed to plunder the victim, with judges selected by her, to compete with themselves to see which one could please her most in fitting his decision to the Empress's inhumanity. And so the property of the victim would be straightway confiscated, and after he was cruelly whipped, even if he perhaps belonged to an ancient and noble family, she would callously have him sentenced to exile or to death.

But if any of her favorites happened to be caught in the act of murder or any other serious crime, she ridiculed and belittled the efforts of their accusers, and compelled them, however unwillingly, to quash the charge. Indeed, whenever she felt the inclination, she turned the most serious matters of state into a jest, as if she were again on the stage of the theater.

Once an elderly patrician, who had been for a long time in high office (whose name I well know, but shall carefully refrain from mentioning, so as not to bring eternal ridicule upon him), being unable to collect from one of her attendants a considerable sum of money owed him, went to her with the intention of asking his due and imploring her just aid. But Theodora was warned, and told her eunuchs, as soon as the patrician should be admitted to her presence, to surround him in a body and listen to her words; telling them what to say after she had spoken. And when the patrician was admitted to her private quarters, he kissed her feet in the customary manner and, weeping, addressed her:

"Highness, it is hard for a patrician to ask for money. For what in other men brings sympathy and pity, in one of my rank is considered disgraceful. Any other man suffering hardships from poverty may plead this before his creditors, and receive immediate relief from his difficulty; but a patrician, not knowing whence he can find the wherewithal to pay his creditors, would be ashamed in the first place to admit it. And if he did say this, he could never persuade them that one of such rank could know penury. And even if he did persuade them, he would be making himself suffer the most shameful and intolerable disgrace imaginable.

"Yet, Highness, such is my plight. I have creditors to whom I owe money, while others owe money to me. And those whom I owe, who are pressing me for payment, I cannot, for the sake of my reputation, attempt to cheat of their due; while my debtors, for they are not patricians, deny me with unmanly excuses. I charge you, therefore; I beseech and beg of you, to aid me in what is right, and release me from my present trouble."

So he said, and the Queen answered musically:

"Patrician Mr. Such-and-such-" whereupon the chorus of eunuchs sang:

"Your hernia seems to bother you much!"

And when the man entreated her again, making a second speech similar to his first one, she answered as before, and the chorus sang the same refrain: till, giving it up, the poor wretch bowed and went home.

Most of the year the Empress resided in the suburbs on the seashore, especially in the place called Heraeum, and the numerous crowd of her attendants was subjected to great inconvenience. For it was hard to get necessary supplies, and they were exposed to the perils of the sea: especially to the frequent sudden storms and the attack of sharks. Nevertheless they counted the most bitter misfortunes as nothing, so long as they could share the licenses of her court.

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