The Secret History of Procopius, tr. by Richard Atwater, , at sacred-texts.com
THE Prefect in charge of the praetors each year handed over to the Emperor more than thirty centenaries in addition to the public taxes; this tribute was called the sky tax, to show, I suppose, that it was not a regular duty or assessment, but as it were fell into his hands by chance out of the sky: it should have been called the villainy tax, for in its name the magistrates robbed their subjects worse than ever, on the ground they had to hand it over to the autocrat, while they themselves acquired a king's fortune in no time. For this Justinian left them unpunished, awaiting the time when they should have gained immense riches; as soon as this happened, he brought
some charge against them for which there was no defense, and confiscated their entire property all at once, as he had done to John of Cappadocia.
Everyone appointed to office during this period of course became immensely wealthy at once, with two exceptions: Phocas, whom I have mentioned elsewhere as an utterly honest man, who remained uncorrupted by gain during his office; and Bassus, who was appointed later. Neither of these gentlemen held their office for a year, but were removed after a few months as useless and unsuited to the times. But if I went into all the details, this book would never end: suffice it to say that all the rest of the magistrates in Constantinople were equally guilty.
Also everywhere else in the Roman Empire Justinian did the same. Picking out the worst scoundrels he could find, he sold them the offices they were to corrupt, for large sums of money. Indeed, an honest man
or one with any sense at all, would never think of throwing away his own money on the chance of getting it back by robbing the innocent. When Justinian had collected this money from such bargainers, he gave them complete power over their subjects, by which, pillaging the country and the inhabitants, they were to become rich. And since they had borrowed money at heavy interest to pay the Emperor for their magistracies, as soon as they arrived in the cities of their jurisdiction, they treated their subjects with every kind of evil, caring for nothing but how they might fulfill their agreements with their creditors and themselves thereafter be listed among the super-wealthy. They saw no peril and felt no shame in this conduct; rather, they anticipated that the more they wrongfully killed and plundered, the higher would be their reputation; for the name of murderer and robber would prove the energy of their service. However, as soon
as he heard these officials had become adequately wealthy, Justinian snared them with a fitting pretext, and straightway seized their fortunes in one swoop.
He passed a law that candidates for offices must swear they would keep themselves clean of all graft and never give or receive any bribe as officials; and all the curses that were named by the ancients he invoked on any who should violate this agreement. But the law was not over a year old before he himself, disregarding its words and maledictions, shamelessly put these offices up for sale; and not secretly, but in the public Forum. And the buyers of the offices, breaking their oaths also, plundered more than ever.
Later he contrived another unheard-of scheme. The offices which he believed to be the most powerful in Constantinople and the other large cities, he decided not to sell any longer as he had been doing, but put them in the hands of picked men on a fixed
salary, who were commanded to turn over all revenues to himself. And these men, after receiving their pay, worked fearlessly and carried off everything on earth, going around in the name of their office to rob the subjects.
The Emperor was always very careful to choose for his agents men who were truly of all people the worst scoundrels; and he had no trouble finding those who were bad enough. When, indeed he appointed the first rascals to office, and their power brought to light their corruption, we were astonished that nature had produced such evil in human form. But when the successors to these offices later went far beyond the first occupants in villainy, men were at a loss to see how their predecessors could have been thought to be wicked, since in comparison to the new officials the former had been noble gentlemen in their actions. And the third set, and those who followed them, out-Heroded
the second lot in every kind of depravity; and by their ingenuity in inventing new methods of bringing false charges, gave all their predecessors the name of being virtuous and honest. As the evil progressed, it was eventually demonstrated that the wickedness of man has no natural limit, but when it feeds on the experience of the past, and is given the opportunity to mistreat its victims, it is encouraged to such a degree that only those who are oppressed by it can measure it. And thus were the Romans treated by their magistrates.
After armies of the hostile Huns had several times enslaved and plundered inhabitants of the Roman Empire, the Thracian and Illyrian generals planned to attack them on their retreat, but gave up the idea when they were shown letters from the Emperor Justinian forbidding them to attack the barbarians on the ground that alliance with them was necessary to the Romans against the Goths, forsooth, or some other foe.
And after this, these barbarians ravaged the country as if they were the foe, and enslaved the Romans there; and, laden with booty and captives, these friends and allies of the Romans returned to their homes. Often some of the farmers of these regions, induced by longing for their children and wives who had been carried off to slavery, formed into bands and attacked the Huns, killing many, and capturing their horses laden with spoils; but the consequence of their success was unfortunate. For agents were sent from Constantinople to beat and torture them and seize their property, until they had given up all the horses they had taken from the barbarians.