The Secret History of Procopius, tr. by Richard Atwater, , at sacred-texts.com
HOW Theodora treated those who offended her will now be shown, though again I can give only a few instances, or obviously there would be no end to the demonstration.
When Amasalontha decided to save her life by surrendering her queendom over the Goths and retiring to Constantinople (as I have related elsewhere), Theodora, reflecting that the lady was well-born and a Queen, more than easy to look at and a marvel at planning intrigues, became suspicious of her charms and audacity: and fearing her husband's fickleness, she became not a little jealous, and determined to ensnare the lady to her doom.
So she forthwith persuaded Justinian to
send Peter, alone, to Italy as ambassador to Theodatus. When he set out the Emperor gave him the instructions I described in the chapter on that event: where, however, I could not tell the whole truth of the matter, for fear of the Empress. But she gave him this single secret command: to remove the lady from this world with all dispatch; bribing the fellow with the hope of much money if he performed his order. And when he arrived in Italy (for man is not by nature too hesitant at committing murder, if he has been bribed by the promise of high office or considerable money), by what argument I know not, he persuaded Theodatus to make away with Amasalontha. Consequently raised to the rank of Master of Offices, he achieved immense power and universal hatred. And so ends the story of Amasalontha.
Then there was a secretary to Justinian named Priscus: an utter villain and Paphlagonian, of a character likely to please his
master, to whom he was more than devoted, and from whom he expected similar consideration. And accordingly he very soon became the owner of great and ill-gotten wealth. Finding him insolent and always trying to oppose her, Theodora denounced him to the Emperor. At first she was unsuccessful; but before long she took the matter in her own hands: embarked the man on a ship, sailing to a determined port, had his head shaved, and compelled him against his will to become a priest. And Justinian, pretending he knew nothing of the matter, never asked where on earth Priscus was, nor ever after mentioned him: remaining silent as if he had utterly forgotten him. However, he did not forget to seize what property Priscus had been forced to abandon.
Again, Theodora was overtaken with suspicion of one of her servants named Areobindus, a barbarian by birth, but a handsome young man, whom she had made
her steward. Instead of accusing him directly, she decided to have him cruelly whipped in her presence (though they say she was madly in love with the fellow) without explaining her reason for the punishment. What became of the man after that we do not know, nor has any one ever seen him since. For if the Queen wanted to keep any of her actions concealed, it remained secret and unmentioned; and neither was any who knew of the matter allowed to tell it to his closest friend, nor could any who tried to learn what had happened ever find out, no matter how much of a busybody he was.
No other tyrant since mankind began ever inspired such fear, since not a word could be spoken against her without her hearing of it: her multitude of spies brought her the news of whatever was said and done in public or in private. And when she decided the time had come to take vengeance on any offender, she did as follows.
[paragraph continues] Summoning the man, if he happened to be notable, she would privately hand him over to one of her confidential attendants, and order that he be escorted to the farthest boundary of the Roman realm. And her agent, in the dead of night, covering the victim's face with a hood and binding him, would put him on board a ship and accompany him to the place selected by Theodora. There he would secretly leave the unfortunate in charge of another qualified for this work: charging him to keep the prisoner under guard and tell no one of the matter until the Empress should take pity on the wretch or, as time went on, he should languish under his bondage and succumb to death.
Then there was Basanius, one of the Green faction, a prominent young man, who incurred her anger by making some uncomplimentary remark. Basanius, warned of her displeasure, fled to the Church of Michael the Archangel. She immediately sent the
[paragraph continues] Prefect after him, charging Basanius however not with slander, but pederasty. And the Prefect, dragging the man from the church, had him flogged intolerably while all the populace, when they saw a Roman citizen of good standing so shamefully mistreated, straightway sympathized with him, and cried so loud to let him go that Heaven must have heard their reproaches. Whereupon the Empress punished him further, and had him castrated so that he bled to death, and his estate was confiscated; though his case had never been tried. Thus, when this female was enraged, no church offered sanctuary, no law gave protection, no intercession of the people brought mercy to her victim; nor could anything else in the world stop her.
Thus she took a hatred of a certain Diogenes, because he belonged to the Greens: a man urbane and beloved by all, including the Emperor himself. None the less she wrathfully denounced him as homosexual.
[paragraph continues] Bribing two of his servants, she presented them as accusers and witnesses against their master. However, as he was tried publicly and not in secret, as was her usual practise in such cases, the judges chosen were many and of distinguished character, because of Diogenes's high rank; and after cross-examination of the evidence of the servants, they decided it was insufficient to prove the case, especially as the latter were only children.
So the Empress locked up Theodorus, one of Diogenes's friends, in one of her private dungeons; and there first with flattery, then with flogging, tried to overwhelm him. When he still resisted, she ordered a cord of oxhide to be wound around his head and then turned and tightened. But though they twisted the cord till his eyes started from their sockets and Theodora thought he would lose them completely, still he refused to confess what he had not done. Accordingly the
judges, for lack of proof, acquitted him, while all the city took holiday to celebrate his release. And that was that.