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IN the spring of 550, when the five years' truce with Persia expired, Justinian became anxious to effect a further pacification with Chosroes, and Peter Magister, with whose diplomatic work we are already familiar, was entrusted with the negotiations. The Shah, however, declined to formulate any definite terms at the moment and dismissed him with a promise that he would shortly send a plenipotentiary of his own to the Byzantine Court, who should have full powers to draft a treaty in accordance with the best interests of both nations. He was as good as his word, and the Persian embassy soon arrived at Constantinople, headed by Isdigunas, a man insufferably pompous and arrogant, who brought with him in his train such an immense following that he seemed to be advancing to the battlefield rather than conducting a peaceful mission. He was accompanied by his wife, children, and a brother; and also by two members of the highest Persian nobility, who displayed themselves in public wearing golden diadems on their heads. The Byzantines resented the overwhelming magnificence of this legation, regarding it as an intolerable assumption of superiority by the Orientals; and they were especially indignant when they saw Justinian receiving them with an effusive ceremony which suggested that he conceded everything to their pretensions. These negotiations were protracted over eighteen months, during which the multitude of Persians were allowed to pervade the city with the utmost freedom, engaging in every sort of commerce as if they were natives of the place; and, contrary to custom, subjected to no supervision which might restrain them from gaining information of strategic value. At length a second truce for five years was purchased from Chosroes for two thousand pounds of gold, whilst, as compensation for the cessation of arms since the arrival of the ambassador, a further sum of six hundred was agreed upon. The Emperor, judiciously enough, wished to pay by annual instalments, so that he might retain a pledge in his hands to ensure the faithful observance of the compact, but the idea was abhorrent to the Byzantine populace, who considered that they should thus become tributaries of the Persian monarch. The amount was, therefore, paid down in full, and Isdigunas returned home, the bearer on his own part of a splendid pecuniary gift from Justinian.

In the meantime the subsidiary war in Lazica went on continuously, as Chosroes was unwilling to relinquish his hold on the principality, and professed that his pacific engagements did not apply to that outlying region. Thus the capture of Petra by Bessas, as already related, was an occurrence of the same year as the renewal of the truce with Isdigunas. After those events the Persian occupation was still maintained by Mermeroes, who had already been many years in the country, and contested the supremacy of the Byzantines with varying success. His most notable effort was the siege of Archaeopolis, the capital, in 550, when, after many strenuous attempts, he tried to capture the town by bribing one of the natives to fire the granaries. He thought by this means to divert the attention of the small garrison from the walls, so that the attacking force should be unresisted while effecting an entry. Contrary to expectation, however, the Byzantines were just prepared for a sally; and, leaving a few of their number within to extinguish the flames, they burst out suddenly on the besiegers. The latter, taken by surprise, suffered such loss that Mermeroes forthwith raised the siege and retired to another part of the country.

Mermeroes died in 554, and was replaced by Nachoragan, whose career was short and unfortunate. In the following year he essayed the siege of Phasis, a town by the sea at the mouth of the river of the same name. He had an army of sixty thousand at his disposal, while the Roman forces, under Martin and Justin the son of Germanus, did not amount to a third of that number. As the town was built of wood the Persian general expected an easy conquest, and resolved to destroy the walls by fire. On the south, where not defended by river and sea, an external muniment had been improvised in the shape of a fosse, filled with water from an adjacent lake, and a palisade. On the water were stationed a number of vessels with baskets fixed to the mastheads; and from these, as from towers, darts and missiles were shot or hurled. The Orientals, who had rendered their line of blockade continuous by a bridge of boats across the Phasis, were provided with elephants, having towers on their backs, and had constructed machines for attack of every description. After a few days' work the fosse had been levelled up to the ground by the ingestion of various materials; and Nachoragan, at the outset of a determined assault, said to a band of two thousand pioneers whom he was despatching to a neighbouring wood to bring up further supplies of timber, “When you see the smoke rising you will know that the Roman defences are in flames, and may hasten back to aid in the work of destruction”.

On the morning of the same day Justin, by a divine inspiration, as we are told, had stolen out of the town with five thousand cavalry and a brigade of infantry, in order to pray at a church of great sanctity in the vicinity. Subsequent events now become shaped by a prior incident which I have next to mention.

Fearing that his men might lose heart by comparing the paucity of their numbers with the multitude of the enemy, Martin had a few days before caused a travel-stained messenger to arrive ostentatiously amid a concourse of the soldiery and hand him a letter, which he opened and read aloud. The missive purported to come from the Emperor and to convey a notice that large reinforcements had arrived within a score of miles and would shortly join the garrison. "Tell them," said he, with assumed indignation, "that their aid is not required: just as we are about to discomfit the enemy, their coming will snatch from us the glory of victory." The ruse succeeded; his action was acclaimed by the troops; and not only were they inspirited, but some anxiety was communicated to the besiegers, to whom the affair was reported, and a considerable body of men was detached to watch the route by which the visionary army was expected to arrive. The Persians attacked vigorously on the land side, and were resisted with equal energy by the Byzantines. A great clamour arose, and Justin, on the return from his pious errand, became aware that a fierce battle was raging. He found himself in the rear of the assaulting force, when, with sudden determination, he ordered his ensign to be raised and charged the enemy in the back. The Romans routed those upon whom they swept down, and a panic quickly spread through the Oriental troops. The army of relief, whose propinquity had been credited, was assumed to be actually present, and a general flight ensued. Justin followed on hotly, and ten thousand of the Persians were slain before the pursuit was abandoned. At last he collected his men and returned to Phasis, where all the siege engines now appeared, scattered around, as deserted by the enemy. Their destruction by fire was at once resolved upon, and the column of smoke rose in proximity to the walls. To those engaged felling timber in the distant wood it seemed to indicate the consummation of their general's designs; whereupon the two thousand pioneers at once threw down their implements, and hastened impetuously to the town, fearing to be too late to deserve a share in the predicted success. Thus they unwittingly ran into the arms of the Byzantines, who slaughtered them to the last man. As soon as the news of this disaster was conveyed to Chosroes he was filled with rage against Nachoragan, whom he immediately recalled and ordered to be flayed alive. His skin, torn off in one piece from head to foot, so as to retain the shape of the body, was sewn up and inflated like a bladder; and then suspended from the summit of a lofty rock to signalize the fate which should befall anyone who fled before the enemies of the Shahinshah.

Among the most notable incidents during this period of the war in Lazica was the affair of King Gubazes. The mother of that prince was the daughter of a senator, and before his succession he had borne arms for some years as a silentiary at the Byzantine Court. Shortly before the death of Mermeroes, owing to an error of judgment on the part of the Roman generals, a section of the army had been severely handled by the Persians; and the Lazic king had taken upon himself to report the matter to Justinian as resulting from the incapacity of his officers. Martin and two of his subordinates, the brothers Rusticus and John, were those chiefly concerned; and in their minds much animosity was excited against Gubazes. They concerted a plot, therefore, to encompass his death; and John made a special journey to Constantinople with the object of accusing him to the Emperor. Owing to his former defection to the Persians, Justinian was easily persuaded that he was again meditating a similar treachery; wherefore he ordered that he should be arrested and brought to the capital for interrogation.

"But," queried John, "should he resist your mandate?"

"Then," said the Emperor, "you may kill him as an open enemy."

Armed with this authority in a written warrant John returned to Lazica; and the brothers at once sent Gubazes an invitation to meet them at a certain spot, using as a pretext that they wished to confer with him as to an attack upon the Persians. Unsuspectingly the King advanced with a few unarmed followers to the place indicated. With the knowledge of the other generals, who contemplated merely an arrest, Rusticus and John, accompanied by an armed band, proceeded to meet him. The plotters, however, knowing that an interrogatory would reveal their treachery, had it in their minds to provoke Gubazes by an altercation, and then to assassinate him in pretended compliance with the terms of their warrant. The parties met, and the brothers challenged the King to join them in an expedition against the common enemy. But he declined, saying that, until they had retrieved their errors and proved themselves to be capable leaders, he would not follow them to the battlefield. This attitude was taken as sufficiently evincing a determination to resist the Imperial authority; and John struck him with his sword, causing him to fall from his horse. Then as he lay on the ground, at the bidding of Rusticus, some of the guards standing by consummated the murder.

This foul deed aroused the utmost indignation among the Lazi; and the nation decided forthwith to transfer their allegiance to the Persians. A public debate, however, was held, at which moderate counsels ultimately prevailed; and it was resolved to send delegates to demand justice of the Emperor. On their arrival at the Court they asserted the criminality of the assassins, and defended Gubazes from their imputations. They also solicited that Tzathes, his younger brother, then resident in the capital, should be appointed King in his stead. Justinian accepted their assurances and acceded to their request; and he at once commissioned Athanasius, a senator of the highest rank, to proceed to Lazica in order to bring the culprits to trial. A judicial court was constituted in public with great pomp to impress the natives; the senator occupied a lofty throne surrounded by guards and legal assessors, and Rusticus and John were produced loaded with shackles. Advocates of the Lazi, who were versed in Greek, conducted the prosecution, and demonstrated that the innocence of Gubazes was beyond question. The written commission of Justinian was read, by which it was shown that only armed resistance to arrest would have justified what was done. The prisoners made an elaborate defence, asserting, but without a shadow of proof, that the King had been a traitor, and maintained that they had acted with the cognizance and assent of Martin. Athanasius summed up the case calmly, and concluded that Gubazes was acting within his rights when he refused to join the proposed expedition in view of the adverse opinion he had formed as to their military competency. He, therefore, pronounced the brothers to be guilty, and condemned them to be decapitated. They were forthwith mounted on mules, and paraded to the place of execution, whilst a herald announced their delict and proclaimed the supremacy of the laws (555). As to Martin, his complicity was not investigated openly, but it was considered prudent to supersede him in his command, and relegate him to a private position. Justin was then appointed to be principal general in Lazica. After this date the Lazic war flagged, and within a year or two the two monarchs gladly agreed to a cessation of arms, with the understanding that each was to retain those positions in the country of which they happened at the moment to be in occupation.

The defence of the Danubian frontier against the scarcely remittent barbarian raids was very inefficiently maintained, at least during the latter years of Justinian's reign. Hence the safety of life and property in Thrace and Illyricum was in continual jeopardy. In 549 the Slavs were first emboldened to cross the river, when a horde of three thousand rushed headlong against the Roman forces, whom they utterly routed, though considerably more numerous than themselves. They then pursued their course, devastating the country mercilessly, until they arrived at Toperus, a town of sixty thousand inhabitants, and the most important sea­port of Thrace. By a ruse they enticed the garrison to make a sally, and, having massacred them, soon captured the town by means of scaling ladders. The whole adult male population, amounting to fifteen thousand, was slaughtered, and the women and children were reduced to servitude. The Slavs then returned to their own abodes, leaving their track littered with the unburied corpses of their victims, whom it was their custom to kill by transfixing them to the ground by means of stakes driven through their bodies.

Less than ten years later a populous nation of barbarians, the Avars, appeared on the west of the Caspian, who were destined during the next couple of centuries to become troublesome enemies of the Byzantine Empire. Justin still held the chief command in Lazica, and to him they made overtures that they should be received into the Roman alliance. He forwarded a chosen legate, Candich by name, to Constantinople, who boastfully informed the Emperor that he belonged to the greatest nation of the earth, who were capable of annihilating all his enemies. But they demanded rich presents, a yearly subsidy, and the bestowal of a fertile region for them to inhabit, before they entered the service of the Empire. Justinian, as the historian informs us, was now broken by years, and there remained to him little of the force of mind which he had displayed when he conquered the Vandals and Goths. He was tired of war and desired to avoid it by any pacific means. He at once accepted the suggestion of the Avars, and despatched an ambassador to them, the bearer of golden chains, silken vestments, and numerous other costly gifts, which Justin was instructed to distribute judiciously and to direct the hostilities of the recipients against various turbulent tribes. This was done effectively, and severe chastisement was inflicted in many quarters. The Avars, however, refused a grant of land in Pannonia, as being too distant from their ancient seats. Subsequently the Chagan, such was the title of the Avar chief, sent a numerous deputation to the capital, but, after long detention, they were dismissed without definite result. Their strange appearance was one of the spectacles of the city at this time, and the populace wondered at their long hair, plaited and tied up with ribbons. During their stay they took the opportunity of purchasing a large quantity of arms, and the Emperor notified Justin that they must by no means be allowed to import these safely into their own district. The weapons were seized, therefore, while in transit, by the military; and the circumstance was the origin of the bitter hostility which was afterwards displayed by the Chagan and his subjects towards the Empire.

In 559 the most alarming barbarian invasion which occurred during the reign of Justinian is recorded. Zabergan, an enterprising Hunnish leader, conceived no less a design than to subvert, or, at least, to pillage the whole Eastern Empire. The statement suggests the irruption of a vast horde of barbarians, who would spread themselves far and wide over the country and sweep everything before them in their destructive course; but such was the deplorable condition of the defences of the Empire, that this bold scheme was undertaken with an army which could scarcely have exceeded fifteen thousand horse. With this force Zabergan crossed the Danube on the ice in the month of March, and when he had penetrated the interior for a sufficient distance, divided his army into three sections. To the first was allotted the conquest of Greece: the second was impelled towards the Thracian Chersonnesus, from whence it was contemplated that it should pass the Hellespont and overrun the Asiatic provinces; whilst with the third division, consisting of seven thousand cavalry, the leader advanced against the metropolis. This plan of campaign was entered on without hindrance, as the provinces were almost destitute of soldiery. Those of the military who were in an opulent position abandoned themselves to dissipation, devoting their time to the Circus, the theatre, and courtesans, while the rank and file of the army deserted the colours and tried to make a living as civilians. Such was the result of the conduct of the pay­masters and commissaries, who embezzled the funds apportioned to the military establishment; and here again, as a second historian tells us, the senile ineptitude of the Emperor was manifested.

As Zabergan pursued his course the districts through which he passed were devastated savagely on every side. Private mansions and convents were broken into, women of all classes were seized and subjected to the brutal excesses of his followers, and infants were scattered about the fields to become a prey to dogs and vultures. The Long Walls were dilapidated, and even those of the city itself; the damage being chiefly the effect of earthquake shocks, which had been severe during recent years. The barbarians passed through the former, therefore, and encamped on the river Athyras, less than twenty miles from Constantinople. In the meantime the capital became filled with consternation, which was increased by crowds of fugitives who rushed thither from the outlying tracts. From the Golden Gate to Blachernae the suburban churches were emptied of their precious ornaments, cartloads of which were borne within the walls. There was no regular garrison to occupy the battlements; the Scholars and other Palace guards, who had been ordered out to defend the Long Walls, fled at the sight of the enemy, and the multitude of civilians and rustics were devoid of military instinct and unable to wield the weapons which were supplied to them; nor had the government a single officer with the slightest capacity for active warfare at their disposal.

In this strait the Emperor found that he had no resource but to commission Belisarius to undertake the defence of the city. The veteran general, long unemployed, had already succumbed to age and infirmity, but he obeyed with alacrity, and again appeared in the martial attire which he seemed to have laid aside for ever. With difficulty he collected three hundred soldiers of those who had served under him in his wars, and with these as his main force, he proceeded to employ as effectively as possible the unwarlike rabble. They were instructed to post themselves behind a long trench which he caused them to excavate, and numerous fires were lit to indicate the presence of a great host. At the approach of the enemy they were also enjoined to raise a huge din by clashing together their swords and shields. Zabergan, however, was led to suspect the real state of the defenders, and directed a mass of two thousand cavalry to make an impetuous dash against the Byzantines. Belisarius, forewarned, divided his veterans into three equal bands, one of which he retained about his own person, whilst the others were concealed in the woods, so as to attack the enemy on the flanks as they passed. These tactics were put into practice effectively; the general charged the Huns in front as soon as they came in sight, and simultaneously the ambushed troops fell on them from each side. An immediate rout of the barbarians was the result, and they fled back with all speed to their own camp. Four hundred were slain in the pursuit which ensued, whilst among the Romans no single life was lost. When Belisarius returned to Constantinople he was acclaimed as a saviour by the populace, but from the magnates of the bureaucracy he experienced nothing but repellent looks and invidious utterances, and he relapsed at once into the obscurity from which he had emerged for the moment like a meteor.

As for the further efforts of Zabergan's expedition, they may be dismissed in a few words. At the Pass of Thermopylae the Huns were brought up by a wall from which they were repulsed by the garrison; and at the entrance to the Chersonnesus their career was similar checked. In the latter case, however, they constructed a fleet of rafts, by means of which six hundred of them tried to land on the peninsula from the waters of the Hellespont; but they were attacked by a number of Byzantine galleys during their perilous navigation, and almost all perished by drowning. Ultimately the survivors of both failures rejoined their leader, who still maintained his ground and proclaimed that he would not quit the Roman soil until he had been paid a large sum in gold. His captives were then reviewed and assessed at so much a head, and with the ransom thus accumulated Zabergan retreated to the Danube. Justinian, however, was determined to prevent his escaping at so little cost to himself; and he forthwith despatched an emissary to Sandichl, chief of another tribe of Huns, who had been heavily subsidized for guarding the approaches to the Empire from the north. Having upbraided him for negligence, he informed him that the funds which should have been his had now been paid out to Zabergan, wherefore he must be satisfied to lose the amount unless he could recover it by force. Hence an internecine war broke out between the two tribes, who were named Utigurs and Cotrigurs respectively, in the course of which they mutually destroyed each other, much to the advantage of the Byzantines. At the same time a fleet of biremes was sent up the Danube to assist in the retaliative operations. Soon after the departure of the enemy, a great concourse of citizens, with the Emperor himself at their head, although now probably in his seventy-seventh year, went out from the capital to survey the Long Walls; and Justinian continued to reside in the vicinity all the summer engaged in supervising the restoration of that bulwark.

In 562 a definite and comprehensive treaty was at last concluded with Persia, by which Chosroes agreed to relinquish all claim to Lazica in consideration of an annual payment of thirty thousand solidi. This peace, which was to remain in force for fifty years, was the final diplomatic achievement of Peter Magister, who died soon after, on his return to Constantinople.

During the next year Justinian undertook a pilgrimage to Myriangeli, a holy place in Galatia, at a distance of three hundred miles from the capital, being the longest journey he had made since he mounted the throne. On his return, octogenarian though he was, a conspiracy to assassinate him was promoted by some officials who had access to the Palace, but the design was betrayed by one of the associates of the plot. Many arrests were made, and some of the prisoners tried to save themselves by pretending that they had merely been suborned by Belisarius. The general was summoned before the Imperial council for interrogation, and, although there was no evidence to substantiate the accusation, he was degraded from his rank and ordered to be detained as a prisoner in his own mansion. This formal incarceration was not relaxed for over six months, but at last Justinian became persuaded of his innocence and allowed him to resume his position at Court. About eight months afterwards the great soldier died, having had nothing but disregard and ingratitude for his lot during the final years of his life, but there is no foundation for the story of later centuries that he was actually reduced to indigence and used to sit as a mendicant in the streets of Constantinople, protesting his blindness and begging a copper of those who passed along. After his death, we read that his fortune was raked into the coffers of the state, whence it is inferred that his daughter Joannina, the only relative he is known to have possessed, must have predeceased him. The death of his stepson Photius is mentioned as having occurred a decade or so previous to his own, but his wife Antonina, notwithstanding that she was so much his senior, appears to have long outlived him and to have ended her days in the odour of sanctity. It is recorded that the pious widow went to live with Vigilantia, the sister of Justinian, and at her suggestion restored a church which had been destroyed by fire.

In the closing scene of his life Justinian is exhibited to us as agitated by his ruling passion, devotion to theological subtleties, and as expending his last breath in an attempt to impose on the Church a heresy which he had rejected when his faculties were more acute. With one foot in the grave he became convinced that the Aphthartodocetae or Incorruptibles had arrived at the true view as to the properties of the flesh of Christ; and the octogenarian Emperor embarked on the enterprise of elevating this tenet to the rank of an Orthodox dogma. The resistance of Eutychius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, who had presided at the Fifth General Council, was punished by expulsion from his see; and Anastasius, the Patriarch of Antioch, was threatened with a similar fate. To enforce conformity with the Emperor's most recent conviction an edict was prepared, which would have excited a commotion among the Orthodox communions throughout the Empire, but its issue was prevented by the unexpected death of its author.

Justinian died in November, 565, at an early hour of the morning, in the thirty-ninth year of his reign, and the eighty-third of his age. The news was at once conveyed to the Senate, who forthwith aroused Justin, the son of Vigilantia, and besought him to accept the Crown. He occupied the post of Curopalates, or intendant of the Imperial household, and his succession had doubtless been privately arranged for some time previously. After his formal acquiescence the funeral rites of the deceased monarch were the first care. The body was placed upon a golden bier in a hall of the Palace, and Sophia, the wife of Justin, and a niece of Theodora, herself enshrouded it in a purple robe, on which were pictorially embroidered all the great events of Justinian's reign, by sunrise the people had become informed, and the assemblage in the Hippodrome followed in accordance with time-honoured precedent.

Justin appeared, was acclaimed and hoisted on a buckler, and all the customary preliminaries of a coronation were enacted. The new Emperor made a speech, in which he promised to reform all abuses, and gave a practical earnest of his intentions by announcing that his uncle's debts would be paid forthwith. A band of notaries, accompanied by a gang of porters bearing bags of gold, then entered the arena, and all creditors who presented themselves had their accounts settled. The completion of the obsequies was the next duty to be accomplished. The people thronged the hall where the corpse lay in state; the bier was lifted up and borne away amid a crowd of mourners carrying wax lights, and a choir of virgins who intoned hymns as the procession moved along. The Church of the Holy Apostles was its destination, and when that edifice was reached the body was deposited in a golden sarcophagus which had been prepared for its reception by Justinian himself. A popular festival followed; the city was decorated with flowers, fruits, reeds, and olive branches; a variety of musical instruments resounded from every quarter amid popular applause and rejoicings; and the reign of Justin II was inaugurated with all the illusive hopes which foresaw the return of the Golden Age in the accession of the new monarch.




With respect to literature and art in this age, a few remarks may be added to what has already been said upon the subject in a previous chapter of this work. But in relation to the productions of the Eastern or Later Roman Empire, the words literature and art must be used in a modified sense, because there were no Byzantine classics and no artistic masterpieces. Greek poetry ended with Menander and Theocritus, nearly three centuries before the Christian era; the last Latin poet was Claudian, who nourished more than a century before the time of Justinian. During the succeeding millennium, however, there were many versifiers at Constantinople, but no poet. Yet we could rarely spare their works, as they are often valuable for the historical or other information which they contain. As regards prose, of course, the position is different; for in that domain highly meritorious works can be produced without the aid of genius. The chief Byzantine writer there is Procopius, to whose compositions, considerable in bulk as they are, we are indebted for almost all detailed history of the sixth century. He was, as we have seen, for the most part the companion of Belisarius in his wars, not in a military capacity, but as a civil adjutant; and hence he is generally describing events in which lie himself took an active part. He appears to be absolutely truthful, and it is improbable that he has given currency to any deliberate falsehood. In recondite matters he is sometimes corroborated by other historians, and he has never been contradicted. Close critics of his text are able to point out that he used Herodotus and Thucydides as his models. He was a man of abundant common sense, well informed for his epoch, and less superstitious than any typical specimens of his contemporaries. In religion he was a freethinker, believing in a Providence, which, however, had not become concrete in the form of any personal being in his mind. When making use of previous writers he adopts their accounts with little discrimination, though he sometimes suggests that the reader may disbelieve if he sees fit to do so. Three terms may be distinguished in his literary career. During the first, which extends to about 550, he was actively engaged in the Persian, Vandalic, and Gothic wars, and wrote his account of them in seven books. In the meantime he had opportunities of becoming intimately acquainted with the system of government and personality of the bureaucracy; and his observations led him to feel a strong repugnance for the administration and all connected with it. In the second term he resolves to register in a secret work his adverse conclusions and private information respecting the actors in the scenes which were passing around him, in the hope that it may lead to their being one day shown up in their true colours for the common benefit of humanity, when the dangers of such a publication shall no longer exist. In 550, therefore, he writes his Secret History or Anecdotes, which he anticipates will attain the desired end. He then turns his attention to the more recent operations of the Persian and Gothic wars, in which he had not himself borne a part, and describes them by adding an eighth, and final, book to his historical compositions. Gradually his literary work becomes generally known, and its merit recognized; the Emperor himself becomes one of his readers, and concludes that Procopius is the historian by whom his name will be handed down to future ages. He becomes personally interested in him, and the third term sees him enjoying the sunshine of Court favor. Justinian, proud of his extensive building achievements, is anxious that his activity in this sphere shall not perish in obscurity, and employs the historian to compose a work in which all his notable architectural works shall be described in realistic detail. For this compilation the Emperor himself affords information, and has the book written under his own eye in the flattering style usually adopted by courtiers when referring to the sovereign. Procopius, not indifferent to material advantages, complies with established formalities, and receives the meed of his talents and industry from the Emperor impersonally, as the state official who acts as the deputy of the public. Later on he is promoted to the post of Praefect of the City; and it falls to his lot to become custodian of his former chief when arrested on suspicion of conspiracy. He had no biographer, and of his private life and connections nothing is known except that he was a native of Caesarea, in Palestine.

As literature, all other Byzantine authors are practically negligible, but their value as sources of historical information has been sufficiently evidenced in the course of this work. At no subsequent period did a second Procopius arise, but a few words may be said about his immediate continuator, Agathias. He was an advocate by profession, in modern phrase, a briefless barrister, whose tastes were literary rather than forensic. He attempted poetry with slight success, and finally hoped to find his vocation in writing history in emulation of Procopius. Not being a man of action like his predecessor, nor occupant of a post which enabled him to base his narrative mainly on personal experience, he wrote as a student rather than as an observer of events. He is thus better acquainted with books than with men, more widely read than Procopius, but studied, diffuse, deficient in personal convictions, and lacking in historical insight. His short history, which was interrupted by death, is, however, invaluable as being a sole source: and it is unlikely that, had he not undertaken it, anyone else would have filled his place and done it better.

The sixth century in the West was not altogether an age of darkness and ignorance, but was illuminated by two writers—who have already been mentioned as intimates of Theodoric—Cassiodorus and Boethius. The latter was a voluminous and able author; and his Consolation of Philosophy, composed in the prison from which he was released only by a death sentence, is well known to modern readers, and has every title to rank as one of the Latin classics. Cassiodorus, also a prolific writer, though of no great talent, is important in the world of letters as having been the founder of literary monkhood, which he originated in a monastery erected by himself at Squillace, whither he retired after his political career. He is understood to have survived there for thirty years, and almost to have become a centenarian in the enjoyment of learned leisure. St. Benedict also flourished in the first half of the sixth century; and the well-known order instituted by him, the Benedictines, ultimately took up the work initiated by Cassiodorus, and produced some of the most erudite contributors to knowledge of the ancient classics.

When treating of Byzantine art the question must always arise whether that term can be applied to productions which in previous or subsequent ages would not have been accepted as competent work. The renaissance of art in Italy is a phrase virtually synonymous with emancipation from Byzantine methods, but the latter, as already explained, ultimately became rooted in a conventionalism which was not typical of earlier efforts.

In the time of Justinian there is no evidence that painting and sculpture in the higher sense existed at all. We know of no pictorial representations, with the exceptions of miniatures in manuscripts and mosaics on the walls of sacred edifices, while the glyptic art seems to have been almost confined to columnar capitals and carving on plates of ivory. Of the former class it can only be said that all specimens are not bad, of the latter that there is some meritorious work.

The Byzantines were great builders, and in this sphere alone are their artistic creations really worthy of consideration. The features of classical Greek architecture, which with certain variations subsequently became Roman, are familiar to all. A Hellenic city of the best period was a chaste arrangement in white marble, in which the simplicity of the straight line was applied to define the form of all public buildings. Rows of accurately proportioned pillars, supporting a continuous entablature, invested both edifices and open spaces, and formed sheltered colonnades which were a defence against extremes of weather at all seasons. The architectural conception originated at some time far back when timber was the only material used for construction. Geometrical curves were rarely if ever seen, except in fluted columns, but the diversity of form to be found in the undulating lines of nature was profusely represented by foliaceous capitals, and in pediments, friezes, and metopes sculptured with the various figures of animal life. The Byzantine Greeks, however, completely reversed the conceptions of their ancestors, and abandoned the purity of classical style. Interest in form was gradually lost along with the capacity to execute it; and the taste of the age found its refuge in an overwhelming attachment to diversity and brightness of colour. To satisfy this craving recourse was had to variegated marbles, of which lavish use was made, for pillars in the mass, and in thin slabs for mural decoration. or the latter purpose also every available space was invested with glaring mosaics, the gaudy hues of which compensated for the absence of grace and natural proportions in the gaunt figures with which they were crowded. But these methods were applicable only to interiors, whence the building itself came to be considered as merely a packing-case into which was to be stuffed the wealth of meretricious adornment. Thus a temple, that is a church, became a ponderous and shapeless mass of brickwork, with an appearance appropriate, perhaps, to a barrack or a barn, instead of being a civic ornament of light and beauty.

The Romans had the secret of a form of construction other than the continued entablature, and were attached to the method of sustaining superimposed masses by means of the arch, akin to which was the dome, which they probably adopted alter their arms had penetrated to the East. On the Tiber, therefore, the straight entablature began to be displaced by a series of arches; and vaulted roofs were occasionally seen under the first emperors. In the new Byzantine architecture, which originated, or, at least, came to maturity under Justinian, both these methods of building were developed to the fullest extent. Among the lost arts at Constantinople about this time, seems to have been the skill to sculpture capitals after the Corinthian or Ionic patterns, the place of which was taken by clumsy inverted pyramids, quadrangular and truncated, which were used to effect a junction between the pillars and the superimposed structure. It is possible, as suggested, that this device may have been first adopted to support the roof in the obscurity of an underground cistern, but it was afterwards transported to the upper air and employed, as at St. Sophia, to complete the columns in the most decorative edifices. In these positions it was necessary to abolish the crudeness of such capitals, and, as there was a partial revival of art under Justinian, this object was accomplished with some success by cutting the surface of the pyramid over with a tracery of vegetable foliage, in the midst of which simple monograms were often interspersed. As such shapes are not produced in any strict conformity of outline, they are usually imitated with facility, and a measured or geometrical treatment is, in general, satisfactory to the eye.

In the sixth decade of this century, three incidents occurred, which were of more or less importance in connection with the subject of this section. In 551 some Asiatic monks introduced themselves to Justinian, and informed him that it was in their power to solve the difficulties which oppressed him with respect to the silk trade. Having resided long in China, they had become familiar with the method of rearing the silkworm, and they explained that if the eggs were transported to Europe they could be hatched in dung, so that a native manufacture of silk could be established. The Emperor promised to reward them liberally if they should succeed in the enterprise; and the next year they again presented themselves, furnished with a stock of the eggs, which, as some say, they had been obliged to carry away furtively concealed in hollow canes. Successful incubation followed; the worms were fed on mulberry leaves; and from this beginning dates the active propagation of the insects throughout Southern Europe, from whence nearly half the quantity of silk in commercial demand is supplied to the markets of the world. In 554 a severe earthquake occurred, the violence of which was chiefly operative along the Syrian coast. The city of Berytus was totally wrecked, and many persons, including numbers of law students, perished in the ruins. The law-school was then removed to the neighbouring town of Sidon until Berytus should be rebuilt, but, although the restoration was effected satisfactorily, there is some doubt as to whether the city regained its celebrity as a centre of legal education.

Another disastrous earthquake happened in 557 and wrought much havoc at Constantinople. One of the results of the catastrophe was that the dome of St. Sophia collapsed, bringing destruction to many of the elaborate and precious structures which occupied the floor of the church. The original architects were dead, but a younger Isidorus was entrusted with the work of re­instatement, and a new dome was constructed, having its altitude increased by twenty feet. At the re-opening a grand ceremony was enacted comparable to that which had taken place on the first occasion a score of years previously.

Summary of the Reign


It appears that the requisites for the welfare of a nation might with general consent be defined as peace abroad, and prosperity at home. We have seen that the reign of Justinian was one of incessant activity, but we DeuI to discern that the continuous ferment, the motive impulse of which emanated from Constantinople, was in any way beneficial to the human race. For nearly forty years war was almost peripheral with respect to the dominions of that Emperor; in Africa, in Italy, aggressive; on the Danube and on the Euphrates, defensive. It is possible that the lot of the Orthodox Christians in Africa may have been ameliorated by the expulsion of their Vandal rulers; but we are told by an eye-witness that the country, which had previously been flourishing and populous, was thereby reduced for hundreds of miles to a desert, and that as an ultimate result the Byzantine invasion might be credited with the annihilation of fully five millions of the inhabitants. There is good reason to conclude, however, that before the time of Justinian, the religious rancour which had prevailed between the Arians and the Orthodox in the African provinces had been subdued to the level of mutual toleration, so that in the best interests of that region a continuance of the Vandal administration would have been desirable. If there be any doubt as to whether the Vandal war was really harmful to the people chiefly concerned, there can be no question but that the invasion of Italy was an unmitigated calamity for the inhabitants of that peninsula. It would be difficult to define an age, even prior to the dissolution of the Roman Republic, during which the Italians could be said to have lived in the uninterrupted enjoyment of peace and prosperity. From the foundation of Rome the peninsula was distracted for more than twelve centuries, first by ethnical and then by civil commotion, and ultimately by barbarian devastation. But for nearly forty years under the rule of Theodoric, a settlement was reached, when beneficent government without fiscal rapacity went hand in hand with religious toleration. It must be conceded that the successors of the founder of the Gothic monarchy were true neither to their own interests nor to those of the Italians, but the wanton warfare carried on so persistently by Justinian for nearly two decades, whilst he neglected the defence of his own dominions, was more fraught with disaster to Italy than the transient, though determined, barbarian irruptions: and we have it from the same authority that the depopulation of the country was even more evident to the contemporary observer than was that of Africa.

The incapacity of the Byzantine administration to create and protect a thriving population, has been sufficiently exemplified in the foregoing chapters, wherein we have seen the results of fiscal oppression and of ineffective preparations for repelling the Persians and barbarians. A glance at the course of events after the time of Justinian will complete the picture, and illustrate more fully the imbecility of the empire which that monarch attempted, but failed to consolidate. Scarcely three years had elapsed from the death of Justinian until the Lombards invaded Italy, and in a short time the greater part of the peninsula as far south as Naples was permanently wrested from the Byzantines. It is said that this irruption was provoked by Narses himself out of revenge for his having been treated with contumely by the Byzantine Court. He sent samples of fruits and agricultural produce to King Alboin, and counselled him to migrate southwards with his nation in order to enjoy the fertility of Italy. But, being soon repentant, the eunuch died at Rome shortly afterwards at the age of ninety-five (568). The fifty years’ peace with Persia lasted only ten years, and in 572 Chosroes again crossed the Euphrates, ravaged the Roman provinces, and made himself master of Dara. Later on, however, he was successfully opposed by the Emperor Tiberius, and in 579 he died of chagrin, as it is said, at the ill success of his arms. But early in the seventh century Chosroes II overran Syria and Asia Minor, taking Damascus and Jerusalem, and established his camp at Chalcedon, in sight of Constantinople. About 622, however, the fortune of the Byzantines was restored by the notable campaigns of the Emperor Heraclius; and in 650 the Saracenic successors of Mohammed conquered the Persian empire. But a decade before that event, they had overthrown the Byzantine armies, and had taken permanent possession of Syria and Egypt. In the meantime the Imperial capital itself had been severely oppressed by the martial activities of the age; and between 625 and 650 had undergone several sieges by Persians, Avars, and Saracens. Such was the state of the Eastern Empire less than a century after the death of Justinian. One third of its home territory had passed into the hands of the Mohammedans, and half of the appanage of Italy into those of the Lombards. Before the year 700 the Arabs had worked their way to the extreme West, and the whole of Christian North Africa had been effaced by the votaries of Islam. If the Vandal kingdom had been left undisturbed, there is no reason to suppose that it could have withstood the conquering fanatics who were inspired by the Apostle of Mecca; although the existence of a flourishing Western civilization for more than seven hundred years between the Red Sea and the Atlantic proves that states of the highest European type might be permanently established in those latitudes. The subject need not be pursued into further detail; the samples given illustrate sufficiently how the Greco-Roman power became progressively dilapidated, with occasional intervals of better fortune, until in the fifteenth century the Byzantine Empire became synonymous with the area circumscribed by the walls of Constantinople. In 1453 the city was taken by the Turks, and the fact announced to Christendom that civilization and progress in the modern sense had become extinct in three-fourths of the countries which lie around the basin of the Mediterranean.

Shortly after his accession we find Justin II reprobating in the old strain the rapacity of the Rectors, deploring the fact that they buy instead of earning their appointments as the reward of having proved their capacity, and reiterating the futile injuction that they are to delay their departure from the provinces for fifty days after laying down their offices. In the Exordium to this Constitution he characterizes in a pregnant allusion the administration of his predecessor , and may be said to pronounce the epitaph of Justinian:

“The mere promulgation of admirable laws is not the sole essential in a state, but the enactments must be zealously maintained and enforced, whilst delinquents are subjected to condign punishment. for what can be the utility of laws which appear only on paper, and are not rendered beneficent to the subject by being practically applied?”