From: “The Secret History” – by Pocopius of Caesarea
4 - How Theodora Humiliated the Conqueror of Africa and Italy
Soon after this, a further disaster befell him. The plague, which I have described elsewhere, became epidemic at Constantinople, and the Emperor Justinian was taken grievously ill; it was even said he had died of it. Rumor spread this report till it reached the Roman army camp. There some of the officers said that if the Romans tried to establish anyone else at Constantinople as Emperor, they would never recognize him. Presently, the Emperor's health bettered, and the officers of the army brought charges against each other, the generals Peter and John the Glutton alleging they had heard Belisarius and Buzes making the above declaration.
This hypothetical mutiny the indignant Queen took as intended by the two men to refer to herself. So she recalled all the officers to Constantinople to investigate the matter; and she summoned Buzes impromptu to her private quarters, on the pretext she wished to discuss with him matters of sudden urgency.
Now underneath the palace was an underground cellar, secure and labyrinthian, comparable to the infernal regions, in which most of those who gave offense to her were eventually entombed. And so Buzes was thrown into this oubliette, and there the man, though of consular rank, remained with no one cognizant of his fate. Neither, as he sat there in darkness, could he ever know whether it was day or night, nor could he learn from anyone else; for the man who each day threw him his food was dumb, and the scene was that of one wild beast confronting another. Everybody soon thought him dead, but no one dared to mention even his memory. But after two years and four months, Theodora took pity on the man and released him. Ever after he was half blind and sick in body. This is what she did to Buzes.
Belisarius, although none of the charges against him were proved, was at the insistence of the Empress relieved of his command by the Emperor; who appointed Martinus in his place as General of the armies of the East. Belisarius's lancers and shield-bearers, and such of his servants as were of military use, he ordered to be divided between the other generals and certain of the palace eunuchs. Drawing lots for these men and their arms, they portioned them as the chances fell. And his friends, and all who formerly had served him, were forbidden ever to visit Belisarius. It was a bitter sight, and one no one would ever have thought credible, to see Belisarius a private citizen in Constantinople, almost deserted, melancholy and miserable of countenance, and ever expectant of a further conspiracy to accomplish his death.
Then the Empress learned he had acquired great wealth in the East, and sent one of the eunuchs of the palace to confiscate it. Antonina, as I have told, was now quite out of temper with her husband, but on the most friendly and intimate terms with the Queen, since she had got rid of John of Cappadocia. So, to please Antonina, Theodora arranged everything so that the wife would appear to have asked mercy for her husband, and from such peril to have saved his life; and the poor wretch not only became quite reconciled to her, but let her make him her humblest slave for having saved him from the Queen. And this is how that happened.
One morning, Belisarius went to the palace as usual with his few and pitiful followers. Finding the Emperor and Empress hostile, he was further insulted in their presence by baseborn and common men. Late in the evening he went home, often turning around as he withdrew and looking in every direction for those who might be advancing to put him to death. Accompanied by this dread, he entered his home and sat down alone upon his couch. His spirit broken, he failed even to remember the time when he was a man; sweating, dizzy and trembling, he counted himself lost; devoured by slavish fears and mortal worry, he was completely emasculated.
Antonina, who neither knew just what arrangement of his fate had been made nor much cared what would become of him, was walking up and down nearby pretending a heartburn; for they were not exactly on friendly terms. Meanwhile, an officer of the palace, Quadratus by name, had come as the sun went down, and passing through the outer hall, suddenly stood at the door of the men's apartments to say he had been sent here by the Empress. And when Belisarius heard that, he drew up his arms and legs onto the couch and lay down on his back, ready for the end. So far had all manhood left him.
Quadratus, however, approached only to hand him a letter from the Queen. And thus the letter read: "You know, Sir, your offense against us. But because I am greatly indebted to your wife, I have decided to dismiss all charges against you and give her your life. So for the future you may be of good cheer as to your personal safety and that of your property; but we shall know by what happens to you how you conduct yourself toward her."
When Belisarius read this intoxicated with joy and yearning to give evidence of his gratitude, he leapt from his couch and prostrated himself at the feet of his wife. With each hand fondling one of her legs, licking with his tongue the sole of first one of her feet and then the other, he cried that she was the cause of his life and of his safety: henceforth he would be her faithful slave, instead of her lord and master.
The Empress then gave thirty gold centenaries of his property to the Emperor, and returned what was left to Belisarius. This is what happened to the great general to whom destiny had not long before given both Gelimer and Vitiges to be captives of his spear! But the wealth that this subject of theirs had acquired had long ago gnawed jealous wounds in the hearts of Justinian and Theodora, who deemed it grown too big for any but the imperial coffers. And they said he had concealed most of Gelimer's and Vitiges's moneys, which by conquest belonged to the State and had handed over only a small fraction, hardly worth accepting by an Emperor. Yet, when they counted the labors the man had accomplished, and the cries of reproach they might arouse among the people, since they had no credible pretext for punishing him, they kept their peace: until now, when the Empress, discovering him out of his senses with terror, at one fell stroke managed to become mistress of all his fortune.
To tie him further to her, she betrothed Joannina, Belisarius's only daughter, to Anastasius her nephew.
Belisarius now asked to be given back his old command, and as General of the East lead the Roman armies once more against Chosroes and the Medes; but Antonina would not hear of it. It was there she had been insulted by him before, she said, and she never wanted to see the place again. Accordingly, Belisarius was instead made Count of the imperial remounts, and fared forth a second time to Italy; agreeing with the Emperor, they say, not to ask him at any time for money toward this war, but to prepare all the military equipment from his private purse.
Now everybody took it for granted that Belisarius had arranged this with his wife and made the agreement about the expedition with the Emperor, merely so as to get away from his humiliating position in Constantinople; and that as soon as he had gotten outside the city, he intended to take up arms and retaliate, nobly and as becomes a man, against his wife and those who had done him wrong. Instead, he made light of all he had experienced, forgot or discounted his word of honor to Photius and his other friends, and followed his wife about in a perfect ecstasy of love: and that when she had now arrived at the age of sixty years.
However, as soon as he arrived in Italy, some new and different trouble happened with each fresh day, for even Providence had turned against him. For the plans this General had laid in the former campaign against Theodatus and Vitiges, though they did not seem to be fitting to the event, usually turned out to his advantage; while now, though he was credited with laying better plans, as was to be expected after his previous experience in warfare, they all turned out badly: so that the final judgment was that he had no sense of strategy.
Indeed, it is not by the plans of men, but by the hand of God that the affairs of men are directed; and this men call Fate, not knowing the reason for what things they see occur; and what seems to be without cause is easy to call the accident of chance. Still, this is a matter every mortal will decide for himself according to his taste.
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