The Secret History of Procopius, tr. by Richard Atwater, , at sacred-texts.com
THE people had since long previous time been divided, as I have explained elsewhere, into two factions, the Blues and the Greens. Justinian, by joining the former party, which had already shown favor to him, was able to bring everything into confusion and turmoil, and by its power to sink the Roman state to its knees before him. Not all the Blues were willing to follow his leadership, but there were plenty who were eager for civil war. Yet even these, as the trouble spread, seemed the most prudent of men, for their crimes were less awful than was in their power to commit. Nor did the Green partisans remain quiet, but showed their resentment as violently as they could, though one by one they were continually punished; which, indeed, urged them each time to further recklessness.
[paragraph continues] For men who are wronged are likely to become desperate.
Then it was that Justinian, fanning the flame and openly inciting the Blues to fight, made the whole Roman Empire shake on its foundation, as if an earthquake or a cataclysm had stricken it, or every city within its confines had been taken by the foe. Everything everywhere was uprooted: nothing was left undisturbed by him. Law and order, throughout the State, overwhelmed by distraction, were turned upside down.
First the rebels revolutionized the style of wearing their hair. For they had it cut differently from the rest of the Romans: not molesting the mustache or beard, which they allowed to keep on growing as long as it would, as the Persians do, but clipping the hair short on the front of the head down to the temples, and letting it hang down in great length and disorder in the back, as the Massageti do. This weird
combination they called the Hun haircut.
Next they decided to wear the purple stripe on their togas, and swaggered about in a dress indicating a rank above their station: for it was only by ill-gotten money they were able to buy this finery. And the sleeves of their tunics were cut tight about the wrists, while from there to the shoulders they were of an ineffable fullness; thus, whenever they moved their hands, as when applauding at the theater or encouraging a driver in the hippodrome, these immense sleeves fluttered conspicuously, displaying to the simple public what beautiful and well-developed physiques were these that required such large garments to cover them. They did not consider that by the exaggeration of this dress the meagerness of their stunted bodies appeared all the more noticeable. Their cloaks, trousers, and boots were also different: and these too were called the Hun style, which they imitated.
Almost all of them carried steel openly
from the first, while by day they concealed their two-edged daggers along the thigh under their cloaks. Collecting in gangs as soon as dusk fell, they robbed their betters in the open Forum and in the narrow alleys, snatching from passersby their mantles, belts, gold brooches, and whatever they had in their hands. Some they killed after robbing them, so they could not inform anyone of the assault.
These outrages brought the enmity of everybody on them, especially that of the Blue partisans who had not taken active part in the discord. When even the latter were molested, they began to wear brass belts and brooches and cheaper cloaks than most of them were privileged to display, lest their elegance should lead to their deaths; and even before the sun went down they went home to hide. But the evil progressed; and as no punishment came to the criminals from those in charge of the public peace, their boldness increased more and more. For
when crime finds itself licensed, there are no limits to its abuses; since even when it is punished, it is never quite suppressed, most men being by nature easily turned to error. Such, then, was the conduct of the Blues.
Some of the opposite party joined this faction so as to get even with the people of their original side who had ill-treated them; others fled in secret to other lands, but many were captured before they could get away, and perished either at the hands of their foes or by sentence of the State. And many other young men offered themselves to this society who had never before taken any interest in the quarrel, but were now induced by the power and possibility of insolence they could thus acquire. For there is no villainy to which men give a name that was not committed during this time, and remained unpunished.
Now at first they killed only their opponents. But as matters progressed, they also
murdered men who had done nothing against them. And there were many who bribed them with money, pointing out personal enemies, whom the Blues straightway dispatched, declaring these victims were Greens, when as a matter of fact they were utter strangers. And all this went on not any longer at dark and by stealth, but in every hour of the day, everywhere in the city: before the eyes of the most notable men of the government, if they happened to be bystanders. For they did not need to conceal their crimes, having no fear of punishment, but considered it rather to the advantage of their reputation, as proving their strength and manhood, to kill with one stroke of the dagger any unarmed man who happened to be passing by.
No one could hope to live very long under this state of affairs, for everybody suspected he would be the next to be killed. No place was safe, no time of day offered any pledge of security, since these
murders went on in the holiest of sanctuaries even during divine services. No confidence was left in one's friends or relatives, for many died by conspiracy of members of their own households. Nor was there any investigation after these deeds, but the blow would fall unexpectedly, and none avenged the victim. No longer was there left any force in law or contract, because of this disorder, but everything was settled by violence. The State might as well have been a tyranny: not one, however, that had been established, but one that was being overturned daily and ever recommencing.
The magistrates seemed to have been driven from their senses, and their wits enslaved by the fear of one man. The judges, when deciding cases that came up before them, cast their votes not according to what they thought right or lawful, but according as either of the disputants was an enemy or friend of the faction in power.
[paragraph continues] For a judge who disregarded its instruction was sentencing himself to death. And many creditors were forced to receipt the bills they had sent to their debtors without being paid what was due them; and many thus against their will had to free their slaves.
And they say that certain ladies were forced by their own slaves to do what they did not want to do; and the sons of notable men, getting mixed up with these young bandits, compelled their fathers, among other acts against their will, to hand over their properties to them. Many boys were constrained, with their fathers knowledge, to serve the unnatural desires of the Blues; and happily married women met the same misfortune.
It is told that a woman of no undue beauty was ferrying with her husband to the suburb opposite the mainland; when some men of this party met them on the water, and jumping into her boat, dragged her abusively from her husband and made
her enter their vessel. She had whispered to her spouse to trust her and have no fear of any reproach, for she would not allow herself to be dishonored. Then, as he looked at her in great grief, she threw her body into the Bosphorus and forthwith vanished from the world of men. Such were the deeds this party dared to commit at that time in Constantinople.
Yet all of this disturbed people less than Justinian's offenses against the State. For those who suffer the most grievously from evildoers are relieved of the greater part of their anguish by the expectation they will sometime be avenged by law and authority. Men who are confident of the future can bear more easily and less painfully their present troubles; but when they are outraged even by the government what befalls them is naturally all the more grievous, and by the failing of all hope of redress they are turned to utter despair. And Justinian's crime was that he was not only
unwilling to protect the injured, but saw no reason why he should not be the open head of the guilty faction; he gave great sums of money to these young men, and surrounded himself with them: and some he even went so far as to appoint to high office and other posts of honor.