The Secret History of Procopius, tr. by Richard Atwater, , at sacred-texts.com
I COME now to the tale of what sort of beings Justinian and Theodora were, and how they brought confusion on the Roman state.
During the rule of Emperor Leo in Constantinople, three young farmers of Illyrian birth, named Zimarchus, Ditybistus, and Justin of Bederiana, after a desperate struggle with poverty, left their homes to try their fortune in the army. They made their way to Constantinople on foot, carrying on their shoulders their blankets in which were wrapped no other equipment except biscuits they had baked at home. When they arrived and were admitted into military service, the Emperor chose
them for the palace guard; for they were all three fine-looking men.
Later, when Anastasius succeeded to the throne, war broke out with the Isaurians when that nation rebelled; and against them Anastasius sent a considerable army under John the Hunchback. This John for some offense threw Justin into the guardhouse, and on the following day would have sentenced him to death, had he not been stopped by a vision appearing to him in a dream. For in this dream, the general said, he beheld a being, gigantic in size and in every way mightier than mortals: and this being commanded him to release the man whom he had arrested that day. Waking from his sleep, John said, he decided the dream was not worth considering. But the next night the vision returned, and again he heard the same words he had heard before; yet even so he was not persuaded to obey its command. But for the third time the vision appeared in his dreams, and threatened
him with fearful consequences if he did not do as the angel ordered: warning that he would be in sore need of this man and his family thereafter, when the day of wrath should overtake him. And this time Justin was released.
As time went on, this Justin came to great power. For the Emperor Anastasius appointed him Count of the palace guard; and when the Emperor departed from this world, by the force of his military power Justin seized the throne. By this time he was an old man on the verge of the grave, and so illiterate that he could neither read nor write: which never before could have been said of a Roman ruler. It was the custom for an Emperor to sign his edicts with his own hand, but he neither made decrees nor was able to understand the business of state at all.
The man on whom it befell to assist him as Quaestor was named Proclus; and he managed everything to suit himself. But so
that he might have some evidence of the Emperor's hand, he invented the following device for his clerks to construct. Cutting out of a block of wood the shapes of the four letters required to make the Latin word, they dipped a pen into the ink used by emperors for their signatures, and put it in the Emperor's fingers. Laying the block of wood I have described on the paper to be signed, they guided the Emperor's hand so that his pen outlined the four letters, following all the curves of the stencil: and thus they withdrew with the FIAT of the Emperor. This is how the Romans were ruled under Justin.
His wife was named Lupicina: a slave and a barbarian, she was bought to be his concubine. With Justin, as the sun of his life was about to set, she ascended the throne.
Now Justin was able to do his subjects neither harm nor good. For he was simple, unable to carry on a conversation or make
a speech, and utterly bucolic. His nephew Justinian, while still a youth, was the virtual ruler, and the cause of more and worse calamities to the Romans than any one man in all their previous history that has come down to us. For he had no scruples against murder or the seizing of other persons' property; and it was nothing to him to make away with myriads of men, even when they gave him no cause. He had no care for preserving established customs, but was always eager for new experiments, and, in short, was the greatest corrupter of all noble traditions.
Though the plague, described in my former books, attacked the whole world, no fewer men escaped than perished of it; for some never were taken by the disease, and others recovered after it had smitten them. But this man, not one of all the Romans could escape; but as if he were a second pestilence sent from heaven, he fell on the nation and left no man quite untouched.
[paragraph continues] For some he slew without reason, and some he released to struggle with penury, and their fate was worse than that of those who had perished, so that they prayed for death to free them from their misery; and others he robbed of their property and their lives together.
When there was nothing left to ruin in the Roman state, he determined the conquest of Libya and Italy, for no other reason than to destroy the people there, as he had those who were already his subjects.
Indeed, his power was not ten days old, before he slew Amantius, chief of the palace eunuchs, and several others, on no graver charge than that Amantius had made some rash remark about John, Archbishop of the city. After this, he was the most feared of men.
Immediately after this he sent for the rebel Vitalian, to whom he had first given pledges of safety, and partaken with him of the Christian communion. But soon after he became
suspicious and jealous, and murdered Vitalian and his companions at a banquet in the palace: thus showing he considered himself in no way bound by the most sacred of pledges.