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The Secret History

of Procopius

tr. by Richard Atwater


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Procopius, who also wrote a mainstream military history and a toadying description of the monuments which Justinian built, had to keep his most acute writing for posthumous publication. This text flays Justinian and Theodora as corrupt, immoral, and just plain evil. Even though the account sounds fantastic, it is considered genuine by modern historians (but not necessarily accurate). Of course, the Eastern Orthodox Church considers Justinian a saint, so you'll either love or hate this book.

The original title of this work was Anecdota, which means (as far as I can tell) 'things not given over, withheld.' I can say that there are a few anecdotes here which fall into the realm of the fantastic. Procopius speculates that Justinian might have been something . . . not even human, perhaps vampiric. He soberly quotes eyewitness accounts of Justinian shapeshifting into a 'shapeless mass of flesh,' and literally losing--and retrieving--his head (p. 132). It sounds just like a modern horror movie special effect. . . . In another place, the translation has Justinian killing a 'trillion' people. The text actually says "A myriad myriads of myriads" (a myriad is the highest number in Greek, 10,000). [By my reckoning, that is 105*3 = 1015 = 100,000,000,000,000, or 100 trillion.] All of this is a bit sophistical of course, what Procopius obviously means here is "a ridiculous number."

The artistic san-serif 'Procopius' typeface was first used to typeset this book. A sample page can be found here.

Title Page
Foreword by the Historian
I. How The Great General Belisarius Was Hoodwinked By His Wife, Whose Lover Became A Monk
II. How Belated Jealousy Affected Belisarius's Military Judgment, to the Joy of the Enemy
III. Showing The Danger of Interfering With a Woman's Intrigues, Especially When the Woman Is the Friend of an Empress
IV. How Theodora, Revenging Her Dear Antonina, Humiliated the Conqueror of Africa And Italy
V. How Theodora Tricked the General's Daughter Into a Liaison With the Empress's Nephew, and Belisarius Became a Public Laughing Stock
VI. Ignorance of the Emperor Justin, and His Stencilled Signature, and How His Nephew Justinian Was the Virtual Ruler
VII. Outrages of the Blues
VIII. Character and Appearance of Justinian
IX. And How Theodora, Most Depraved of All Courtesans, Won His Love
X. How Justinian Created a New Law Permitting Him to Marry a Courtesan On Her Promise to Repent Her Past; and the Truth About the Apparent Quarrels of a Happy Pair
XI. How the Defender of the Faith Ruined His Subjects
XII. Proving That Justinian and Theodora Were Actually Fiends in Human Form
XIII. Deceptive Affability and Piety of a Tyrant
XIV. Justice For Sale
XV. How An Roman Citizens Became Slaves, and a Complaining Patrician Was Ribaldly Mocked by Theodora's Eunuchs
XVI. What Happened to Those Who Fell Out of Favor With Theodora
XVII. How She Saved Five Hundred Harlots from a Life of Sin, Made Away with Her Own Natural Son, and Other Curious Incidents of Her Passion for Match Making
XVIII. How Justinian Killed a Trillion People
XIX. How He Seized All the Wealth of the Romans and Threw It Away In the Sea and On the Barbarians
XX. Debasing of the Quaestorship
XXI. The Sky Tax, the Selling of All Offices, and How Border Armies Were Forbidden to Punish Invading Barbarians
XXII. Further Corruption In High Places
XXIII. How Landowners Were Ruined
Unjust Treatment of the Soldiers, and How Justinian Tricked the “Students” Out of Their Pay by Threatening to Send Them to War
XXV. How He Robbed His Own Officials, Merchants, Sailors, Workmen, and Everybody Else
XXVI. How He Spoiled the Beauty of the Cities and Plundered the Poor
XXVII. How the Defender of the Faith Protected the Interests of the Christians
XXVIII. His Violation of the Laws of the Romans, and How Jews Were Fined For Eating Lamb
XXIX. Other Incidents Revealing Him as a Liar and a Hypocrite
XXX. Further Innovations of Justinian and Theodora, and a Conclusion Which Imagines the Death of an Emperor