web counter








THE keystone of Justinian’s administration was his lavish expenditure of money. Every enterprise that could engage the attention of a monarch incited him to emulation, and in arms, legislation, civil reform, public works, and religion, he aspired to equal the achievements of the greatest princes. Hence the persistent need for a well-filled treasury, and the constant injunction to the Rectors in the provinces. Above all things apply yourselves to gathering in the imposts; whilst the subject is urged by the frequent reminder, “Pay up your taxes promptly, our great undertakings cannot be accomplished without money”.

For centuries, as we have already seen, a latent anarchy had prevailed throughout the Empire, but the evils of such a condition had always been less apparent under a quiescent administration. Moderation of the bureaucracy in the capital gave a measure to the proceedings of its deputies in the provinces, and doubtless had a restraining influence, at least that of example, over the rural aristocracy who almost arrogated to themselves a local sovereignty. The considerate, though firm rule of Anastasius, appears to have reduced to a minimum the most flagrant abuses, whilst his studied parsimony, which led to the accumulation of large reserves, must have lessened the severity of fiscal oppression. The latter advantage was extended into the reign of Justin, and, while Justinian was dissipating the great funds left by his uncle’s predecessor, his reputation for benignancy was not imperilled by rapacity in collecting the tributes. Soon after his accession, however, to undivided power, he found himself without other resource than the property of his subjects for the supply of his financial requirements. Then the maintenance of the exchequer assumed the highest importance in his eyes, and every conceivable device for swelling the revenue was resorted to, while little or no regard was paid to the equity of the means employed. As an inevitable result all the worst features of the Byzantine political system underwent an exacerbation during the first few years of Justinian’s reign. The species of effectivity demanded by the Emperor induced the rise of the most unscrupulous persons to high office; a statesman became the equivalent of an extortioner, and the native venality of the governing class showed exuberant throughout all its grades. Assured of the Emperor’s favour as long as he could be noted for his zeal in directing the flow of gold towards the treasury, every servant of the state grasped at private affluence by means of illicit exactions, or an overt accessibility to bribes.

As a consequence of his unexpected advent to power, Justinian was scarcely affected by the prejudices peculiar to monarchs born in the purple; and hence, disregarding conventionalism, he usually chose the most direct and practical methods for carrying out his designs. He was willing on occasion to usurp the functions of any of his subordinates, and, in the selection of his instruments, he promoted the most likely candidates to the highest posts without reference to their rank, seniority, or antecedents. Among his earliest coadjutors in the capital were two remarkable men, Tribonian, a lawyer, and John of Cappadocia, a financier, whose activities became the leading feature in the polities of the age. The former was a native of Pamphylia and began his career as an advocate in the praefectural courts of Constantinople. As Master of the Agentes-in-rebus he attracted the notice of the Emperor, who soon claimed him as his personal assessor, and raised him to the quaestorship. Tribonian was a man of great learning in the law and an assiduous reader, whence he was led to form a library of legal books such as existed in no other custody at the time.

He was gifted with a remarkable suavity of manner, and was so artful a flatterer that, although he had not become a convert to Christianity, and was even said to be an atheist, Justinian deferred to him as his favourite minister. Tribonian, however, was beset by the vice of avarice, and, though his forensic erudition was invaluable to the Imperial council in relation to the subject, he resorted to it for no other purpose than to make a traffic of justice. His legal decisions were always at auction, and, under ordinary circumstances, his interpretation of the law was fitted ingeniously to meet the requirements of the highest bidder.

The approach to the Imperial tribunal had to be sown with gold before a suitor could advance within sight of an adjudication on his appeal. To pass the sentries who were on guard at the portals necessitated the disbursement of a tangible sum. Then the attention of the referendary, or attorney who put the case into shape prior to its being submitted to the court, could not be captured until he had been largely bribed. Lastly, the Quaestor had to be satisfied pecuniarily in a ratio adequate to his assessment of the value to the claimant of a favourable decision. Justinian was initiated early in the artifices by which legal chicanery could be made to subserve to undue gains, and became a prime sharer in the profits to be drawn from this mercenary jactitation of the law. Hence the venality of the Emperor’s Court of Appeal soon incurred obloquy in the capital, and a resentment was kindled among the citizens against his administration.




Yet the ills inflicted on the community by distorted judgments were slight and partial in comparison with the financial tyranny of John of Cappadocia after he had attained to the rank of Praetorian Praefect. Devoid of literary education, and even inefficient with the pen, this man began his career in an unimportant clerical post under the government. While serving in this capacity he came in contact with Justinian, whose favour he courted with an astuteness popularly supposed to be the distinguishing mark of natives of his province. Having a singular aptitude for figures, and being extremely ready with expedients for solving any knotty question, he won over the Emperor by laying before him many subtle schemes for amplifying the incidence of the taxes and proportionately swelling the revenue. These allurements assured him a speedy promotion to the position of logothete, from which he ascended with little delay to the dignity of an Illustrious, and soon made an easy conquest of the praetorian prefecture of the East. Once in the supreme seat of deputed power he had to justify his elevation to the Emperor by the signal success of his methods: but he was no less intent on making his potent office inordinately profitable to himself. Every fiscal enactment which had ever passed into law was unearthed from the archives of the Empire, and applied factitiously to compass the transference of the money of the subject to the coffers of the state. The discovery of a name sufficed for the creation of a claim, and demands were issued for an endless succession of duties, tolls, tallages, censuals, cess, and customs, together with arrearages and apportionments of unpaid imposts, which foreshadowed the reduction of every possessor of property to a common level of indigence.

All persons of means were noted by the agents of the fisc, and called on to pay according to the impression formed as to their resources. No excuses were accepted, protestations of inability were disbelieved, and, in order to meet the case of recalcitrant subjects, a torture chamber was fitted up in a secluded spot of the Praetorium. Here was collected an assortment of chains, manicles, pedicles, instruments of compression for the hands and feet, in short, every kind of apparatus which was suitable for subjecting the members to a state of painful strain or constraint. To this den defaulters were hurried, and by means of rackings and suspensions were forced to surrender whatever they possessed unless actually killed by the severity of the torture. Such was John’s method of procedure at his own headquarters, but for the provinces he picked out emissaries of approved brutality, and dispatched them into all districts with injunctions to follow his example. Under this régime the Court of Appeal of the Praetorian Prefect was, of course, as venal as that of the Emperor and Tribonian; and the formalities of a trial were almost dispensed with, so that a hasty dispatch of the cases might facilitate the gathering in of the bribes.

The infamy of the Cappadocian, as an officer of state, was almost surpassed by his mode of life as a private citizen. He rapidly accumulated wealth, and at once applied himself to spend it in gastronomical and libidinous excesses of the most unbridled description. His first care was to erect a palace of such vastness and magnificence that, in the hyperbolical language of an official of the period, it could only be characterized by the epithets which writers on the wonders of Egypt had applied to the architectural piles reared by Sesostris and the Pharaohs. In the halls of this resplendent edifice he passed his time in a continuous round of feasting and sensuality, only terminating his orgies with the rise of Lucifer, whilst his attention to business was deferred until the appearance of Hesperus. Surrounded by a throng of courtesans and debauched youths, he gorged himself with the most costly delicacies until his overloaded stomach ejected its contents over the marble pavements or the persons of those who sat next to him. To glut his appetite the woods of the Euxine were depopulated of their pheasants, whilst the sea was raided for luscious fish to such an extent that, according to the conceit of the same author, the molluscs, expanding their shells to serve as wings, fled through the air instead of through the water, to escape the voracious Cappadocian. As for his religion he made no account of Christianity, but pinned his faith to sorceries and incantations. If ever he appeared at church he did so in the habiliments of a pagan priest, and ministered to himself with the mummeries of some occult cabalism instead of following the established ritual.

The appointment of John to the office of Praefect of the East took place early in 530, and before the end of the following year his system resulted in producing a state of misery and destitution throughout the Empire unparalleled in any former age. The visitations of his agents became more dreaded among the rural population than an incursion of barbarians. Everywhere the adaeratio of the annones was carried to excess; and, while money was demanded instead of the contributions in kind as usually accepted, the agricultural produce was often left to perish on the ground. Injudicious measures of retrenchment were the principal cause of this evil. By a false economy the public posts and the military train were in great part suppressed, with disastrous results. A limited supply of asses was substituted for the considerable number of horses, camels, and mules formerly maintained. Hence, while the department of public intelligence and the commissariat of the army were seriously affected, the farmer also suffered from the greatly lessened demand for fodder. With the crops left unexpectedly on their hands, and the means of carriage almost abolished, the wretched rustics were driven to despair in their efforts to dispose of their stock. Thus the roads were constantly filled with straggling bands of women, heavily laden, and often with infants at the breast, obliged to cover a long route in order to effect a shipment at the sea-ports whilst the wayside was littered with the unburied corpses of those who succumbed under the excessive toil.

Such were the hardships the Byzantine population had to suffer as a consequence of the obligations imposed on them directly by the Imperial government, but these were largely aggravated by their being forced to minister to the private needs and even lustful passions of all those in power throughout the Empire. Every impost was augmented by an over­plus which went into the pocket of the agent who exacted it or through whose hands it passed. The Rector of the province, generally an impecunious aspirant to place and fortune, had paid a large sum to the bureaucracy, and borrowed it at usury, for the bestowal of his codicil. He proceeded, therefore, to his local seat of power accompanied by a body of creditors to whom he had guaranteed the liquidation of their claims out of the revenue of his vicegerency; and he had, moreover, to make a provision from the artificially swollen taxes against the time when he hoped to retire from office into a position of leisured affluence. When an army passed through a district, not only were the soldiers quartered on the inhabitants, who for the time being were expelled from their proper dwellings, but contributions for the support of the troops were levied under every sort of false pretence, even by persons who had no authority whatever to collect funds for the commissariat. To all this was added the constant oppression by the local magnates of their weaker neighbours, whose lands they seized, advertising by notices fixed to the ground that they assumed them as their own property. At the same time the owners were claimed as serfs, bound for the future in service to an overlord. In the main these proceedings were quite arbitrary, and differed in no way from professed brigandage, but as a rule they were conducted under the shadow of legality by giving them the form of distraints or evictions in respect of money lent.

Attended by a numerous body of armed retainers the wealthy landowners made a descent on the coveted home­stead, plundered the household, drove off the cattle, and abducted wives and daughters for the purpose of concubinage. But not in all cases without resistance being through a district, not only were the soldiers quartered on the inhabitants, who for the time being were expelled from their proper dwellings, but contributions for the support of the troops were levied under every sort of false pretence, even by persons who had no authority whatever to collect funds for the commissariat. To all this was added the constant oppression by the local magnates of their weaker neighbours, whose lands they seized, advertising by notices fixed to the ground that they assumed them as their own property. At the same time the owners were claimed as serfs, bound for the future in service to an overlord. In the main these proceedings were quite arbitrary, and differed in no way from professed brigandage, but as a rule they were conducted under the shadow of legality by giving them the form of distraints or evictions in respect of money lent. Attended by a numerous body of armed retainers the wealthy landowners made a descent on the coveted home­stead, plundered the household, drove off the cattle, and abducted wives and daughters for the purpose of concubinage. But not in all cases without resistance being offered; where such attacks were anticipated, the small farmers prepared for them, and with the aid of the local peasantry joined battle with the raiders.

Thus the provinces were almost constantly the scene of a miniature warfare. In the midst of these disorders the Rector held the balance of justice and inclined the scale towards whoever weighted it with the heaviest bribe. Often, in fact, he was himself one of the worst offenders; and in his capacity as collector of the revenue, or under the pretence of giving police protection, he plundered and committed outrages in every direction throughout the country. And in such licence he was usually afforded countenance and example by the logothetes and other officers, who were superior to him in authority, during their special visitations as agents of the fisc. These harpies resorted to every imaginable device for embezzling money, and especially by presenting long bills to the decurions for public works which were never executed. They also invented legal pretexts to commit outrages on the families of the debtors, and wives, virgins, and youths were regularly debauched by them. In some localities even the collection of the tributes was regularly opposed and attended with bloodshed. As for convicted criminals, even they could feel no assurance of having to suffer only the statutory punishments, but according to the temper of the judge they had to undergo a penalty, and hands and feet were lopped off continually, with little or no regard to law or humanity.




All the evils and abuses of the Byzantine system were magnified and multiplied by the ruthless policy of John, and at Constantinople the widespread discontent began to show signs of tending to a crisis. Every class was more or less affected, and the numberless sufferers were increasingly associated in the capital. Advocates went without employment, since it was considered useless to protract trials by pleadings or the examination of witnesses. The shipping interest was ruined by the imposition of onerous port dues and the establishment of custom-houses at the approaches to the city, both in the Hellespont and the Bosphorus. As a result numbers of those engaged in maritime commerce burnt their vessels, and a shortage of foodstuffs distressed the inhabitants. At all times the briskness of trade was sapped for the mercantile class by the privileges granted to the religious orders and their abuse of the concessions. Not only were there eleven hundred shops free of excise belonging to St. Sophia, but all other churches, as well as monasteries, hospitals, poorhouses, and orphan homes, claimed a like immunity. Nor did the list end even here, for the three grades of nobles arrogated to themselves an equal right to trade with remitted taxes.

The Blue Faction were favoured by Justinian and his consort, who accorded them such indulgence that they considered themselves to be above the law. Their affiliation to the throne caused them to enjoy great credit among the ordinary citizens, wherefore they decided to distinguish themselves objectively by adopting a peculiar uniform.

Thus they discarded the use of the razor and wore full Persian beards, allowed their back hair to grow long, in imitation of the Huns, and donned richly embroidered tunics furnished with sleeves which bellied out in an extraordinary fashion from the wrist up to the shoulder. Secure of impunity for any excesses they might commit, the more vicious members carried weapons day and night, ostensibly for the purpose merely of chastising their sworn enemies, the Green Faction, but in reality with the intention of robbing and murdering peaceful inhabitants. Under the pretence of carrying on their historical feud, they assassinated in the streets, despoiled private houses of their valuables, and even outraged wives and daughters. Similar enormities on the part of the Greens were severely dealt with by the magistrates, but they were terrorized by the dominant Faction into ignoring their misdeeds. Those who defied the malefactors by acting impartially paid for their integrity with their lives. The better spirits of the Blue Deme bewailed the lawlessness of their fellows, and the Emperor made fitful efforts to repress the disorders, but Theodora resisted any attempt to restrict the license of her favourite clan. Numbers of the Greens were driven from their homes by the ceaseless persecution, and, finding themselves everywhere in discredit, avenged their wrongs on society in general by taking to the road and practicing brigandage by the most merciless methods. In a lesser degree every city of the Empire presented a scene of confusion similar to that which reigned at Constantinople.

Into a capital thus agitated by numberless grievances of its own, a varied crowd of fugitives from the provinces began to pour, in the autumn of 531. Their proper abodes had been made uninhabitable for them, and they fled in terror from the local tyrants to seek redress at the hands of the autocrator. Peasant farmers with their wives, priests, monks, and nuns, often accompanied by their lawyers, thronged the city as they pressed onwards to lay their appeals at the foot of the throne. They clamoured incessantly in all the public places, so that to meet the emergency it became necessary to revive a number of forgotten magistracies, praetors and quaesitors, who might hear complaints and appease the rising tumult. On all sides the populace reviled the bureaucracy who had brought about such an impass, and, as the old year went out, a general feeling prevailed that the existing order of things must come to an end.

With the opening of January, 532, the season of the Consular Festivals was at hand, but both in this year and the previous one ardour for parade had been deadened by political distraction, and the appointment of a consul was passed over. Preparations were made, however, for a display in the Circus, and it was hoped that something of the deepening gloom might be lifted by the diversion thus afforded. But the result disappointed expectation, and the assembly of the people in the vast area provided an opportunity for the actively soldering discontent to work its way to the surface and to burst into flame. The possibility of the throne becoming vacant had been brooding in the minds of the Factions, and, as usual, when confronted with that contingency, there was a tendency to a temporary accord between the Blues and Greens. On a Sunday, the eleventh day of the month, Justinian, with the customary pomp, took his seat in the Cathisma. A protest against the administration had been previously concerted, and the Greens, as being frankly discountenanced by the Emperor, were most forward to evince their hostility. At first a respectful tone was adopted, and the Autocrator was acclaimed with the usual formulas, “Many years to Justinian Augustus! May you be victorious!”. The Greens then raised a cry that the people were oppressed, and prayed to be delivered from their sufferings. A healed dialogue between the throne and the demagogy then ensued, which ended in bitter recriminations passing from side to side. On such occasions the Emperor made use of an officer called a Mandator as his mouthpiece, whilst the Demarch acted as spokesman for the Faction concerned. At the outset one Calopodius was named as the object of complaint, doubtless the executive officer of the Praefect of the City, whose brutality in preserving order had awakened the resentment of the masses:


D. "I am oppressed; I can bear it no longer, God knows."

M. "Who is in fault? we know of no one."

D. "Thrice August, I fear to name him."

M. "Of whom do you complain? We have no idea of the person meant."

D. "Master of us all, it is Calopodius the centurion."

M. "Calopodius is not in authority."

D. "May the lot of Judas be his! God will pay him out."

M. "You have come here to insult the magistrates, not to look on at the games."

D. "I say, may he suffer like Judas!"

M. "Hold your tongue, Jews, Manichaeans, Samaritans!"

D. "Oh, you call us Jews and Samaritans! Holy Virgin, be with us!"

M. "I do, and bid you all to get baptized in the name of the One."

D. "Oh, bring the water; let us be baptized as you say."

M. "I will have your heads cut off."

D. "Oh, we must not speak the truth for fear of losing our heads. Take no offence, Emperor, I have some right to liberty."

M. "Rascals, will you risk your lives?"

D. "Would that Sabbatius had never been born! Then a son of his would not have been a murderer. Who killed the wood-seller at the Zeugma?"

M. "You killed him."

D. "Who killed the son of Epagathus?"

M. "You killed him also, and you say the Blues did it."


So far the Blues had maintained a sullen silence, but at this suggestion some of them were roused to taunt the Greens. Presently the latter all trooped out of the Circus, exclaiming, “Good­bye to justice! We will turn Jews; better to be a Pagan than a Blue”. Thus Justinian and the Blues were left alone at the performance.

In the evening of the same day Justinian determined on an effort to quell the sedition by making an example of those who had been most insolent to him in the Hippodrome. Seven persons, drawn from both factions, were seized by Eudaemon, the Praefect of the city, and led off to execution. Four were decapitated and the remaining three were hung; but in the case of two of the latter the rope broke, and the culprits fell to the ground. At the sight of this moving accident the bystanders were greatly agitated, and an outcry for pardon arose, whereupon some monks interposed and carried off the men by boat to the monastery of St. Laurence. One of those rescued was a Blue, the other a Green; and the circumstance caused the union between the factions to be more firmly cemented. On hearing of the rescue, Eudaemon placed a guard of soldiers outside the sanctuary, but did not dare to violate it. On the following Tuesday the spectacle was resumed in the Circus, and, during the whole time of the exhibition both factions clamoured conjointly to the Emperor for the release of the prisoners, intermingling cries of “Long years to the wretched Blues and Greens”, with their prayers. But Justinian remained sternly irresponsive, and the assembly had to disperse without receiving any indication of Imperial sympathy.

The popular rancour now rose to fever-heat, and the leaders of the Demes counselled extreme measures. In order that all who were on the side of the insurgents might have a means of recognizing each other, the device of a countersign was adopted, and the word Nika, that is, “victory”, was chosen for the purpose, whence the movement was known ever afterwards as the “Nika revolt”. First a rush was made to the Praetorium of the City Praefect to demand the removal of the guard from the monastery, but no answer could be obtained. At this moment a slight concession might have appeased the rage of the multitude, so that the ferment would have been modified for the time. Obduracy, however, inflamed their passions beyond measure, the Praetorium was set on fire, and an irruption was then made towards the Augusteum with the object of assailing Justinian himself. A number of soldiers encountered on the way were butchered by the mob, firebrands were hurled into the Chalke, and soon the external chambers of the palace were all in flames. The conflagration spread rapidly, the principal buildings in the square became quickly involved, and during the evening the Baths of Zeuxippus, the Senate House, and the great church of St. Sophia were reduced to a heap of smoking ruins.

On the following day the rioters came out early in greatly-increased numbers, and all those who had previously been disaffected to the government now ranged themselves openly against it. At the same time people of every class who wished to stand aloof during the rebellion fled from the city and hid themselves in places of safety on the opposite continent. The Demarchs convened a meeting in the Forum of Constantine, where they were joined by a considerable body of nobles and senators. The ministers were denounced, the deposition of Justinian was agreed upon, and it was resolved that Probus, one of the nephews of Anastasius, should be proclaimed as Emperor. With the multitude surging after them the leaders then proceeded to the house of that general, which was situated near the harbour of Julian. His presence and acceptance of the dignity was demanded, whilst, as he was known to possess a private arsenal, cries arose from the throng that they should be supplied with arms. Probus, however, was found to have disappeared, and, on ascertaining the fact, the mob set fire to the premises and retired. Simultaneously heralds were announcing, on the part of Justinian, that the games in the Hippodrome were to be continued; but the populace responded by injecting fire into the arena, and refused to enter, exclaiming that he merely wished to catch them in a trap. The leaders were now at a loss what step to take, for Hypatius and Pompeius, the two other nephews of Anastasius, were not only believed to be loyal to the Emperor, but were actually on duty as members of his staff within the palace. The general concourse, however, did not hesitate as to how to act, but yielded to their lust for revenge, and rushed off shouting, “Down with Tribonian, John of Cappadocia, and Eudaemon”, determined to seek them out and lynch them as soon as they could be found.

The Emperor now became anxious as detailed information came in as to the havoc already wrought in the capital, and he began to realize the extent of the defection. The wild uproar, harping incessantly on a special note, reached his ears, and he sent an officer to ascertain what the people were vociferating. As soon as an answer was brought to him he decided to yield, hoping that conciliation would induce an immediate calm. The three obnoxious officials were displaced from their posts, and others, popular for their well-known integrity, were appointed in their stead. Effective measures were taken to announce the change publicly, but the concession failed to appease the tumult. The provisional government of the insurgents felt that they had gone too far to retreat with safety, whilst their secret emissaries had already been at work endeavouring to entice Hypatius from the palace with the promise of his elevation to the purple.

During the next three days the devastation of the metropolis continued, and Constantinople assumed the aspect of a city taken by the enemy. The only hope for the government now lay in its being able to suppress the revolt by force, but the Byzantine soldiery showed signs of disaffection, and it was recognized that even the Excubitors, of whom Justinian himself had held the command, could not be trusted. Within the precincts of the Palace there was, however, a considerable body of barbarian mercenaries, as well as several of the Imperial generals who remained loyal and were ready to act against the rioters. On the Thursday Belisarius issued forth with a body of Goths and Herules, and a fierce battle ensued around the Milium and in the adjoining streets. The rebels defended themselves furiously, and, while the men fought below, women, posted in the upper chambers of the houses, hurled stones and tiles through the windows on the heads of their military antagonists. Numbers of these Amazons were among the slain. At a certain hour of the day an attempt was made to restore order by priestly intervention, and a train of ecclesiastics, presenting the sacred books and holy images to the eyes of the combatants, descended into the scene of the conflict. The Byzantines might have been influenced, but the barbarians took no account of their presence, and the strife raided without abatement. The civil war in the streets was continued for the two succeeding days, ineffectively on the part of the authorities, while the confidence of the insurgents increased. The work of incendiarism went on, and now on both sides, for the soldiers tried to dislodge those who assailed them from the domiciles and public edifices by firing the buildings. The wind often assisted the conflagration by sweeping the flames along. Among the architectural monuments consumed during this period of the sedition were the Octagon, the church of St. Irene, the Hospital of Sampson with its infirm inmates, the House of Lamps with its rich wares, the Palace of Lausus with its irreplaceable art treasures, and the porticos ranging between the Augusteum and the Pavement.

In the meantime Justinian and the Imperial party within the Palace began to despair of their fortunes. The Excubitors and the other corps of domestics did not break into open mutiny, but their faces appeared lowering and indifferent, and it was evident that their sympathies were veering steadily in the direction of the rebels. That the insurgents were intent on replacing him with Hypatius was well known to the Emperor, and he became apprehensive lest at any moment his own guards might consummate their wishes by the seizure of his person and the proclamation of his rival. He summoned the nephews of Anastasius to his presence, and urged them to leave the palace in order to safeguard their own households. They protested that it was their duty to stand by their sovereign in such a crisis, but he suspected their loyalty and insisted peremptorily on their departure. They obeyed with reluctance, and quitted the Court on the Saturday evening. At the same lime Justinian, anticipating that a successful assault might he made on the Palace, heaped all his most precious possessions into a swift galley, which lay in the Imperial harbour, and held himself in readiness for a precipitate flight to the Thracian town of Heraclea.

Early on Sunday morning the Emperor resolved on making a final effort to win back the allegiance of his subjects. By assuming an altitude of contrition, and proving his sincerity by a promise of universal amnesty, he might yet be able to save his throne. Holding the Gospels in his hand, he proceeded at dawn to the Hippodrome, and established himself in the regal seal. A proclamation was made, and the people, now confident in their own strength, came flocking in on all sides, attracted by the belief that something unusual was about to take place. Justinian advanced, and portending the sacred volume, adjured the assemblage: “By the might of this hallowed Word I condone everything that has happened. None of you shall be arrested; only be pacified. My sins have brought about this impass; no blame attaches to you. On me the guilt for not answering your appeal for mercy”. Murmurs of approval were heard for a moment, but a general hooting quickly drowned them, and loud cries of “Ass, thou liest!” were repealed by a myriad of voices. Finally the tumult resolved itself into persistent calls for Hypatius. The Emperor persevered no further, but retired in silence to the Palace.

The news spread rapidly that the disinherited princes were at liberty, and the revolutionaries immediately thronged to their residence. Hypatius was demanded, and in despite of the outcry of his wife, who foreboded disaster, was forced along to the Forum of Constantine. There the usual forms of a coronation were enacted; he was hoisted on a shield and crowned with a golden necklace. Exulting in this achievement, a wave of excitement swept over the crowd, and all clamoured that the new Emperor should be borne in triumph to the Circus and installed in the Cathisma, whilst a determined effort was being made for the capture of the Palace. A senator named Origen protested warmly against this move as being too rash and hasty. “Have patience for the present”, said he, “let us fortify ourselves in another palace, of which there are several in the city. Whilst his resources are being frittered away, Justinian will be tired out and fly of his own accord; or at some opportune moment we shall be able to take him without risk”. His prudent counsel was, however, cried down; Hypatius was hurried along reluctantly, and compelled to usurp the Imperial seat, whilst the people thronged the arena and acclaimed him with reckless enthusiasm. But he contemplated his sudden rise with dismay, and felt profoundly insecure in his new position. Taking his opportunity, he privately dispatched a Candidate to assure Justinian that he was involuntarily acting a part, and was only too anxious to repudiate the unwelcome honours thrust upon him. In a short time his messenger returned with a joyous air; as he strove to enter the Palace, the chief physician had accosted him: “Where are you going”, said he, “there is no one within, the Emperor has taken his departure”. “Master”, exclaimed the Candidate, “God wishes you to reign; Justinian has fled and the Palace is empty”. At this announcement Hypatius resigned himself with some confidence to his fortune. The populace went on applauding him tumultuously, whilst they were loud in their vituperation of Justinian and Theodora.

The report that Justinian had virtually abdicated by abandoning his post was false, but the author of it may have supposed that he was speaking an imminent truth, as that event seemed on the point of being realized. Hesitating to commit himself to the irrevocable step, the Emperor paused to throw a last glance at the situation. He initiated a debate, but his advisers were despondent, and their opinions half-hearted and divergent. Of all those concerned Theodora felt most deeply the ignominy of flight, and, unable to restrain her indignation at their halting resolution, burst into a passionate remonstrance. She deprecated the assurance of a woman in presuming to address a body of men, and pleaded the exigences of the moment as her excuse. “Even at this adverse crisis”, said she, “I think the alternative of flight is out of the question, Though he may be permitted to live in safety as an exile, the master of an empire should not survive the loss of his dignity. As for myself, may I never live to see the day when this purple mantle shall fall from me, and people no longer salute me as Empress. I hold no sentiment so dear as that old saying: Royalty is a fine thing to be buried in!”

By this bold speech Theodora infused her own intrepid spirit into the Imperial party. No longer wavering in their counsels, they resolved to assume the offensive, and thought only of how to strike with most effect at the usurper and the rebels who supported him. The barbarian mercenaries congregated in the Palace still amounted to three or four thousand men, and several reliable officers were at hand to lead them. These troops were divided into two brigades and placed under the command of Belisarius and Mundus the Goth respectively. At the same time Narses, the Chief Eunuch, opened negotiations with the Blue Faction, and by extensive bribery succeeded in detaching a large number of them from their associates. Some dissension in the Hippodrome resulted, voices were raised in favour of Justinian, and Hypatius was no longer the object of unalloyed enthusiasm. And now Belisarius, supported by his colleague, determined to make a direct onslaught on the Cathisma, which was crowded with the improvised guards of the newly constituted emperor. He essayed to pass by the Cochlea, but found the way blocked by the Excubitors, who had adopted a neutral attitude, and decided to be deaf to all orders as long as the fortunes of the rival parties hung in the balance. Seeing that any effort in that direction would be futile, he abandoned the scheme and, somewhat disheartened, returned to consult Justinian. A different plan of attack was then concerted with Mundus. Both generals made their way out with some difficulty over the ruins of the Chalke, and drew up their men in a compact body in the Augusteum. Marching around from thence they inspected all the inlets of the Circus, but saw that those on the north were held in force by the armed adherents of Hypatius. On arriving at the sphendone, however, Belisarius noticed that the way lay open into the arena, where the unarmed mob were collected in a dense throng. With a sudden impulse he called his men to arms and rushed on the crowd with vengeful determination. A remorseless massacre followed, and was continued as long as the barbarians found any living being within their reach. As for Mundus, the moment he perceived how Belisarius had become engaged, he swept rapidly round the southern circuit of the Hippodrome and made a similar irruption through the opposite entry, that called the Gate of the Dead. The doomed people, thus caught between the two brigades of infuriated troops, were cut off from all chance of escape; and, when at length the slaughter ceased, it was computed that at least thirty-five thousand citizens had been slain in this military execution.

At the sight of the massacre consternation seized on the immediate partisans of Hypatius, and their confident union was completely dissolved. All felt that the cause of the upstart emperor was lost, and thought only of falling off from his perilous proximity in order to ensure their individual safety. A corresponding sense of assurance quickly spread among the inmates of the Palace as soon as they became aware that the rebels massed in the Hippodrome were undergoing extermination. Justus and Boraides, two young relatives of Justinian, seeing their opportunity, placed themselves at the head of a small body of faithful guards and made an impetuous rush to the Cathisma. No one daring to withstand them, they ascended at once, seized on Hypatius and his brother, and hurried them before the Emperor. They were submitted to a brief examination, during which Hypatius maintained a dignified attitude, and asserted his consistent loyalty, asseverating that they had merely acted under popular compulsion. On the other hand, Pompeius, a man less experienced in affairs, broke down utterly, and abjectly bewailed his misfortune. Justinian remanded them in custody, and consulted with his ministers as to their fate. He suggested clemency, but the Empress intervened with her usual vehemence, and insisted on the infliction of the death penalty. She bore down all opposition, and next morning they were handed over to the soldiery, who executed them and threw their bodies into the sea. Their property was confiscated to the state, as well as that of the other men of rank who had associated themselves to the Nika, but after a short time a partial restitution was made to their families. That Justinian, though often severe, and even reckless in punishments, was not vindictive, is shown by an incident which occurred in connection with Probus, who just escaped being involved in the insurrection. A few years previously he was accused of treasonable utterances against the Emperor, whereupon a court of inquiry was held, at which the charge was brought home to him. The finding of the judges was delivered in writing to Justinian, but he, tearing up the document in the presence of the delinquent, said, “Probus, I forgive you; pray to God that he may do likewise”. Some years after the riot, John, a son of the unfortunate Pompeius, was in favour at Court, and married into the Imperial family.

By the fortuitous suppression of the Nika revolt the despotism of Justinian was established on a foundation unassailable by any popular commotion. A few thousands of barbarian mercenaries maintained in the heart of New Rome had sufficed to coerce the democracy in the capital, and to stifle the indignation of the whole Empire against a shameless and rapacious tyranny. Justinian’s first care was to proclaim his victory over the usurpers and the rabble who supported them throughout the provinces, and then to restore the bureaucracy to its former efficiency for fiscal exaction. The ministers nominated under compulsion of the vulgar outcry were soon displaced, and Tribonian and John returned to their seats at the heads of their respective departments, where they reverted to their old methods of statecraft and extortion. The infamous Cappadocian resumed his sway over the Emperor and the Empire, and during the next decade almost all public Acts were headed with the superscription, “To John, the Most Glorious Praefect of the Sacred Praetorium of the Orient, ex-Consul and Patrician”.

Theodora, on her side, to express her sense of assured supremacy, made a triumphal progress through the country to the hot-baths of Pythia, in Bithynia. A crowd of patricians, illustrious officials, eunuchs, and officers of rank attended her, constituting a retinue amounting in all to over four thousand persons. At every halting place she made munificent donations to the public institutions of the vicinity; and churches, monasteries, and hospitals benefited largely by her ostentatious liberality.

We should certainly do Justinian less than justice if we asserted that his regard for the welfare of his subjects was limited to a desire that no one should plunder them but himself. That statement, however, might not be an unfair definition of his objective attitude towards them. Three years after the rebellion he began the issue of a series of enactments intended to work a complete administrative reform throughout the Empire. He had in the meantime waged a successful war in the West, and for the moment the treasury was redundant with the rich spoils. His scheme of reform was doubtless influenced by this fact, and he legislated in the temporary belief that for the future the national burdens might be lightened. His measures were directed to three principal requirements, viz., (1) to fortify the authority of his local vicegerents; (2) to elevate their ethical motives by abolishing venality: and (3) to invigorate the collection of the taxes.

1. In order to achieve the first of these objects he began to reverse, in great part, the provincial policy elaborated by Diocletian and Constantine. In a number of provinces he dispensed with the dual control, and united both civil and military power in the hands of the Rector. Enhanced rank naturally followed this increase of authority, and thus the former Clarissimus rose to be a Spectabilis, whilst, at the same time, he was granted the emoluments of both offices. A loftier official title was also necessitated by these changes, and hence a simple Praeses or Judex became a Moderator, Praetor, or Count, and in three instances was elevated to the almost regal dignity of a Proconsul. In some of these cases, however, the promotion of the Rector was due chiefly to the extension of his authority over a wider area. Some of the smaller provinces lying adjacent were annexed to each other, and received a single governor, especially those which had been previously known as ‘First’ and ‘Second’ of the same name. In general the power of those Rectors who did not take over the military command was augmented by granting them an official guard sufficient to render them incontestably superior to such of the local magnates as had previously terrorized the district by the multitude of their armed retainers. As the ordinary judge, the Rector’s position was also improved by opening his tribunal to lawsuits in which greater pecuniary interests were at stake. Some control was also conferred on them over agents of the fisc, whom they were enjoined to restrain from collection of funds for public works, unless they presented an imperial commission for doing so. Justinian further directed his vicegerents as to the official pageantry by which they were properly distinguished, and urged them not to be lax in the matter of public display. They were reminded of their right to wear a purple robe of a certain form and hue, to sit in a silver chariot and to be preceded in their progresses by an officer bearing the axe and fasces. The Emperor himself was, indeed, unusually prone to ostentation, and when instituting these reforms he showed no little pride by enacting that all the newly created dignities should be denoted by the epithet “Justinian”.

Another sweeping change made by Justinian at this time increased the importance of the individual Rectors by limiting their subservience to intermediary authorities, and placing them in more direct dependence on the bureaucracy of the capital. He abolished the division of the Empire into dioceses, and the six groups of provinces which had hitherto obeyed an administrator in chief ceased to be regarded officially as being thus connected. The title of Vicar became obsolete, and the four vicegerents who had borne it were resolved into simple Rectors of their residential provinces. The magnificent Count of the East was detached from his great array of provinces, and restricted to the governorship of Syria, still an enviable charge, since he reckoned Antioch as his capital; and the Augustal Praefect resigned the control of all Egypt for that of Alexandria and the adjacent country.

2. The foregoing reconstruction was neither difficult to conceive nor inapplicable in practice, but when Justinian determined to quell the greed for illicit gains among his subordinates he struck at the most vital part of Byzantine officialism. With no halting judgment he began by directing the lethal weapon against his own breast, and decreed that in future no candidate should be permitted to secure an appointment as Rector by purchasing the interest of any of his great officers of state or their dependents. Henceforward the Rector, having won his commission simply by proving his fitness for office, would proceed to his government unhampered by debt, and no longer compelled to despoil the tributaries in order to liquidate his heavy obligations. With paternal benignancy he would mete out strict justice, and administer his charge with ‘pure hands’, eschewing sordid gains, and content with the stipend allotted to him by the state. He would show no mercy to homicides, adulterers, or abductors of virgins; would sternly suppress brigandage, and never quail before the most potent and wealthy delinquent in his province. Titles affixed to a neighbour’s land, when found, were forthwith to be detracted and broken over the head of the offender, whether agent or principal. Before his departure from the capital he was obliged to attest his allegiance to the Emperor and Empress by a solemn oath, swearing at the same time that he had not obtained his post by bribery, and that his conduct should be in every way exemplary towards the subjects committed to his care. On arriving at his seat of government he was enjoined to convene the clergy and laity, and read to them the Imperial ordinances under which he had accepted office, a copy of the same to be posted also in every district under his jurisdiction.

Justinian did not, however, confine himself to exhortation and verbal obligations to ensure the observance of his precepts, but he also had recourse to material precautions against the Rector’s deviating from the path of rectitude. In the first place local supervision of his actions was provided for in three different quarters. Primarily the bishops were authorized to receive complaints against the Rector, and even to test their validity by sitting on the bench with him to hear causes in which his ruling had been impugned. A mandate was also addressed to the Defenders of the Cities, whose office had fallen into disrepute, reviving and extending their powers and animating their energies. The Rector was deprived of the right of dismissing them from their posts, and they were directed to report him at headquarters if he presumed to interfere with their functions. Lastly the Emperor gave full force to the old injunction of Zeno that a retiring governor should remain for fifty days within his province, exposing himself to the accusations of all who should deem themselves aggrieved by his improbity.

Nor did Justinian dispense with a system of rewards and punishments to encourage the upright, or to deter the faithless Rector. Having won golden opinions from his official superiors, the former should expect to retain his position for a longer period and subsequently to be promoted to a higher charge with authority over a greater population. On the other hand, confiscation and exile, stripes and torture, were to be inflicted on the transgressor as the penalty of his misdeeds.

Still further to safeguard the welfare of his subjects the Emperor enacted comprehensive measures to facilitate the administration of justice. In the provinces the legal status of the Defenders of the Cities was raised, and the inhabitants were directed to bring all minor cases before them instead of crowding to the Rector’s court from the outlying districts. At the same time courts of appeal were multiplied by conferring on the Spectabiles intermediate jurisdiction between the Rectors of lesser rank, the Clarissimi, and the illustrious functionaries of the capital. Thus the overwhelming influx of the provincials into the Imperial city, to lay their grievances before the supreme courts, was materially diminished. Similarly at Constantinople the activity of the judges was much increased, and they were required to sit in the Royal Basilica ‘morning, noon, and evening’ to determine lawsuits of lesser import. A permanent Quaesitor was also appointed to deal specially with the throng of immigrants, to ascertain the propriety of their appeals and direct them to the proper courts; or, should it appear that they had come on a futile errand, to relegate them back to their provinces with letters commending them to the notice of the Rector.

With a view to the repression of crime and the moral depuration of the capital Justinian also took some active measures, in which Theodora co-operated with him as far as the feminine element was concerned. Under the title of ‘Praetor of the People’ the office of Praefect of the Watch, formerly an important post in the Roman municipality, was restored, and a posse of soldiers and firemen was placed at his disposition. To this praetor, who might be a noble of illustrious rank, was assigned the duty of organizing a patrol of the streets day and night for the protection of life and property. At this time the traffic in prostitution had grown to enormous dimensions, and the country was overrun by panders who bought young maidens from poor parents for a small sum in order to devote them to public debauchery. Girls in their tenth year and upwards were enticed by promises of fine clothes and ornaments to become inmates of proprietary brothels, and were even paraded about the streets as decoys for the dissolute. The newly appointed praetors now received a mandate from the Emperor to suppress these vile habitations and to drive those who maintained them from the city. The Empress herself had been for some time engaged in the work of reclaiming these unfortunates, whom she redeemed from their owners by paying a stipulated price in each case. A disused palace on the Bosphorus was converted into a Magdalen asylum, which she called ‘the Penitentiary’; and here a considerable number of former courtesans were immured in the hope of their moral reformation. Some scandal, however, was occasioned by the conduct of several of those rescued, who, driven to despair by the monotony of their new life, preferred to throw themselves from the windows at night into the water to enduring the unaccustomed restraint; but we may assume the comparative rarity of this untoward result. Justinian also pronounced very sternly against pederasty, and even made a public example of certain bishops who were convicted of that offence. He further forbade the making of eunuchs within the Empire, threatening confiscation, exile, and retaliative castration against those who infringed his prohibition. Consistently he ordained that eunuchs of servile condition should for the reason alone of their defect become free men.

3. In the midst of his most earnest efforts at reform Justinian never failed to impress on all concerned that with himself and his Imperial partner the rights of the crown and the maintenance of the revenue were of paramount importance. At the head of their codicils the Rectors were admonished to make it their study above all things to expedite the fiscal exactions; whilst the tributaries were warned that no matter how vehemently their governor had enforced payment of the imposts, no cause of action was granted to them against him.' On the contrary, they were to conduct him with all deference from the province at the end of his term, and, should they presume to molest him during his fifty days of postponed departure on that account, they would be subjected to penalties of exceptional severity. The Emperor deplores the diminution of Roman territory which has resulted from the inactivity of former rulers, and calls attention to his own energy and prowess by which the repair of their errors has been begun. Military operations, however, are expensive, and hostile incursions can only be repelled if people respond freely to the demands of the tax collectors. Justinian asserts that he disdains to imitate the example of his predecessors who sold the offices of the state, thus depriving themselves of the right to expostulate with unjust administrators who embezzled the national funds. But a new era has now dawned, government with pure hands is assured for the future, and liability will be limited strictly to the legitimate imposts. Therefore let all alike sing hymns of praise to God and the Saviour for the passing of these new laws.

Justinian, notwithstanding his professions, was mainly influenced by the hope of pecuniary gain when he essayed to reverse the administrative system of his predecessors. He calculated that the rooted abuses which they had tolerated for centuries were a cause that only one third, possibly, indeed, not more than a fourth, of the taxes collected found their way to the Imperial treasury. Hence his ministry of the interior soon resolved itself into a mere organization for the invention of legislation which would conduce to the raiding of money. The devices which suggested themselves from time to time as financial expedients were multifarious and of the most unrelated character. Some of these have been already alluded to, but a few others which were productive of more signal changes require particular notice. Roman Armenia was joined to the less important region of that name on the west of the Euphrates and reduced to the level of an ordinary province, with a Proconsul for its principal Rector. Consequently taxes were imposed, and the inhabitants found themselves racked for payments which they had previously escaped. In the time of Justin, Justinian added four troops to the Scholars of the Palace, and received from each new member a premium for his position in the force. Soon after his accession he disbanded them as a measure of retrenchment, but retained the purchase money. Subsequently he made a practice of ordering these carpet soldiers for active service, with the understanding that they would buy themselves off the dreaded prospect by surrendering a quota of their pay. Every opportunity was taken to consolidate trade monopolies to the advantage of the government: and this was especially the case with respect to silk. Justinian pretended to be indignant when a rise of price was operated by the deficient supply, and decreed that the maximum retail cost should be eight solidi the pound. Confiscation was the penalty for contravening this regulation, but the traffic was still carried on in secret. Here Theodora found an opening for the exercise of her talents, and through private channels succeeded in discovering the merchants who were implicated. Thereupon a fine of 100 lb. of gold was imposed on each of them. Soon the factories at Tyre and Berytus, the headquarters of the commerce, began to languish, the operatives were thrown out of work, and ultimately the Praetorian Praefect possessed himself of the whole manufacture. Exorbitant prices were then fixed which yielded an immense profit to the Imperial exchequer, but numberless persons were ruined during the process of transfer. Like results obtained in relation to the corn supply of Egypt through manoeuvres at Alexandria, by which the Praefect of the City was constituted the sole purveyor of that commodity. A scarceness and dearness of bread was the natural consequence of this innovation. Another fiscal move, far-reaching in its effects, was the diversion of the separate revenues of the municipalities into the hands of the Emperor. The local curiae being no longer permitted to deal with them, public works were neglected and the inhabitants ceased to be entertained by the popular spectacles. A blight seemed to fall on the Empire, says the contemporary historian, and people had no resource but the discussion of present calamities and the expression of their fears for the future. Related to this policy was the formal abolition of the Consulship with its attendant train of festivities which enlivened the opening of each year. During the space of a decade the office had only been filled in a desultory manner, but the last Consul was actually seen in 541, and soon afterwards that link between the Byzantines and the glories of the old Republic was severed by a definite Act. To tamper with the currency has always been an inviting procedure with needy princes, and Justinian did not resist having recourse to this artifice. By giving a fictitious value to copper he managed to rake in the gold coinage at about five sixths of its actual worth. Such are the chief methods by which in this reign the revenue was inflated beyond its normal proportions, and, to complete the list, reference may be made to ill-advised economies effected by the suppression of pay and pensions usually granted by a state and to forfeitures of private property constantly decreed on slight pretexts.

If Justinian’s studied scheme of reform could have been applied successfully in practice, it is possible that fiscal oppression might have been banished from the Empire. But the Autocrator at Constantinople was scarcely more than a suzerain in the provinces, and his fiat was but slightly regarded by those who occupied any position of power in districts remote from the capital. Doubtless his technical enactments as to the rank and territorial jurisdiction of diverse Rectors were received as indisputable, but at the same time they marked the limits of his power to work a change in methods of local rule which had been practiced for centuries. Once invested with authority, the provincial governor departed to tread in the footsteps of his predecessors, while the same futile prohibitions continued to issue periodically from the mouth of the Emperor, secluded in his distant Court. Before the lapse of a twelvemonth Justinian resigned himself to ignoring his own self-denying ordinance, and a candidate for office was noted only in relation to his ability to pay at the moment, and the magnitude of his promises for the future. His repeated denunciations of the venality of his vicegerents represented no more than his formal recognition of the lamentations which continually reached his tribunal, or his exasperation at a prospective loss of revenue from the flagrant excesses of some reckless extortioner. He was also extremely parsimonious in remitting arrears of taxation, even in districts which had suffered from hostile invasions or other calamities. Thus numbers of the small landowners were allowed to languish under the apprehension that at any moment their whole property might be seized in order to wipe out their liabilities.

A river of wealth flowed through the Byzantine exchequer at the bidding of the Emperor. The sources were exhausted, and the reservoir was discharged under the influence of the same will. The people, who formed the well-head, suffered untold miseries in contributing under compulsion to the supply, but they possessed no control over the ultimate distribution of the stream. These activities have now been sufficiently considered on the one side; it remains for us to turn our attention to the other. During the twenty years which followed the Nika rebellion the reign of Justinian was distinguished by a series of magnificent achievements both at home and abroad; great works were accomplished within the Empire; beyond its borders aggressive wars were waged and a moiety of the Western Empire was restored to the dominion of the East. Hut the background of this brilliant scene was always of the same gloomy tint, such as has been described in the present chapter, and these splendid successes were obtained at the cost, but not to the advantage of the Greek nation in general. While Justinian went on adding magniloquent epithets to his name indicative of conquest and triumph over alien races in the West, his immediate subjects continued to be afflicted by the harshness and rapacity of the administration, as well as by the tyranny of the local aristocracy. Concomitantly the barbarians in Europe and the Persians in Asia sapped the vitals of the Empire and impoverished or enslaved its inhabitants. Victory and acquisition abroad by the aid of mercenary troops were nullified by defeat and exhaustion at home; and the extended Empire which Justinian handed down to his successors was inferior in political vigour and sociological prosperity to the smaller dominions which he had inherited from Anastasius.