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The Secret History


Procopius of Caesarea

translated by Richard Atwater

(Chicago: P. Covici, 1927 New York Covici Friede 1927)

Reprinted, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1961, with indication that copyright had expired on the text of the translation.


For soon Belisarius went off to war on Chosroes, and he took Photius with him; but Antonina remained behind, though this was contrary to her usual habit. She had always preferred to voyage wherever her husband went, lest he, being alone, come to his senses and, forgetting her enchantments, think of her for once as she deserved. But now, so that Theodosius might have free access to her, she planned once more how to rid herself permanently of Photius. She bribed some of Belisarius's guards to slander and insult her son at all times; while she, writing letters almost every day, denounced him, and thus set everything in motion against him. Compelled by all of this to counterplot against his mother, Photius got a witness to come from Constantinople with evidence of Theodosius's commerce with Antonina, took him to Belisarius, and commanded him to tell the whole story.

When Belisarius heard it, he became passionately angry, fell at Photius's feet, kissed them, and begged him to revenge one who had been so wronged by those who should least have treated him thus. "My dearest boy," he said, "your father, whoever he was, you have never known, for he left you at your mother's breast when the sands of his life were measured. Nor have you even benefited from his estate, since he was not overblessed with wealth. But brought up by me, though I was only your stepfather, you have arrived at an age where it becomes you to avenge my wrongs. I, who have raised you to consular rank, and given you the opportunity of acquiring such riches, might call myself your father and mother and entire kindred, and I would be right, my son. For it is not by their kinship of blood, but by their friendly deeds that men are wont to measure their bonds to one another.

"Now the hour has come, when you must not only look on me in the ruin of my household and the loss of my greatest treasure, but as one sharing the shame of your mother in the reproach of all mankind. And consider too, that the sins of women injure not only their husbands, but touch even more bitterly their children, whose reputation suffers the greater from this reason, that they are expected to inherit the disposition of those who bore them.

"Yet remember this of me, that I still love my wife exceedingly well; and if it is in my power to punish the ruiner of my house, to her I shall do no hurt. But while Theodosius is present, I cannot condone this charge against her."

When he had heard this, Photius agreed to serve him in everything; but at the same time he was afraid lest some trouble might come to himself from it, for he had little confidence in Belisarius's strength of will, where his wife was concerned. And among other unhappy possibilities, he remembered with distaste what had happened to Macedonia. So he had Belisarius exchange with him all the oaths that are held most sacred and binding among Christians, and each swore never to betray the other, even in the most mortal peril.

Now for the present they decided the time had not yet come to take action. But as soon as Antonina should arrive from Constantinople and Theodosius return to Ephesus, Photius was to go to Ephesus and dispose without difficulty of Theodosius and his property.

It was at this time that they had invaded the Persian country with the entire army, and there occurred to John of Cappadocia what is reported in my previous works. There I had to hush up one matter out of prudence, namely, that it was not without malice aforethought that Antonina deceived John and his daughter, but by many oaths, than which none is more reverenced by the Christians, she induced them to trust her as one who would never use them ill. After she had done this, feeling more confident than before of the friendship of the Empress, she sent Theodosius to Ephesus, and herself, with no suspicion of opposition, set out for the East.

Belisarius had just taken the fort of Sisauranum when the news of her coming was brought to him; and he, setting everything else as nothing in comparison, ordered the army to retire. It so happened, as I have shown elsewhere, that other things had occurred to the expedition which fitted in with his order to withdraw, however, as I said in the foreword to this book, it was not safe for me at that time to tell all the underlying motives of these events. Accusation was consequently made against Belisarius by all the Romans that he had put the most urgent affairs of state below the lesser interests of his personal household. For the fact was that, possessed with jealous passion for his wife, he was unwilling to go far away from Roman territory, so that as soon as he should learn his wife was coming from Constantinople, he could immediately seize her and avenge himself on Theodosius.

For this reason he ordered the forces under Arethas to cross the Tigris River; and they returned home, having accomplished nothing worthy of mention. And he himself was careful not to leave the Roman frontier for much more than a one hour's ride. Indeed, the fort of Sisauranum, going by way of the city of Nisibis, is not more than a day's journey for a well-mounted man from the Roman border; and by another route is only half that distance. Yet if he had been willing in the beginning to cross the Tigris with his entire army, I believe he could have taken all the plunder in the land of Assyria, and marched as far as the city of Ctesiphon, with none to hinder him. And he could have rescued the captured Antiochans and whatever other Romans misfortune had brought there, and restored them to their native lands.

Furthermore, he was culpable for Chosroes's unhindered return home from Colchis. How this happened I shall now reveal. When Chosroes, Cabades's son, invading the land of Colchis, accomplished not only what I have elsewhere narrated, but captured Petra, a great part of the army of the Medes was destroyed, either in battle or because of the difficulty of the country. For Lazica, as I have explained, is almost roadless and very mountainous. Also pestilence, falling upon them, had destroyed most of -the army, and many had died from lack of necessary food and treatment. It was at this time that messengers came from Persia with news that Belisarius, having conquered Nabedes in battle before the city of Nisibis, was approaching; that he had taken the fort of Sisauranum by siege, captured at the point of the spear Bleschames and eight hundred Persian cavalry; and that he had sent a second army of Romans under Arethas, ruler of the Saracens, to cross the Tigris and ravage all the land there that heretofore had not known fear.

It happened also that the army of Huns which Chosroes had sent into Roman Armenia, to create a diversion there so that the Romans would not notice his expedition into Lazica, had fallen into the hands of Valerian and his Romans, as other messengers now reported; and that these barbarians had been badly beaten in battle, and most of them killed. When the Persians heard this, already in low spirits over their ill fortune among the Lazi, they now feared if they should meet a hostile army in their present difficulties, among precipices and wilderness, they would all perish in disorder. And they feared, too, for their children and their wives and their country; indeed, the noblest men in the army of the Medes reviled Chosroes, calling him one who had broken his plighted word and the common law of man, by invading in time of peace the land of the Romans. He had wronged, they cried, the oldest and greatest of all nations, which he could not possibly surpass in war. A mutiny was imminent.

Aroused at this, Chosroes found the following remedy for the trouble. He read them a letter which the Empress had recently written to Zaberganes. This was the letter:

"How highly I esteem you, Zaberganes, and that I believe you friendly to our State, you, who were ambassador to us not so long ago, are well aware. Would you not be acting suitably to this high opinion which I have for you, if you could persuade King Chosroes to choose peace with our government? If you do this, I can promise you will be rewarded by my husband, who does nothing without my advice."

Chosroes read this aloud, and asked the Persian leaders if they thought this was an Empire which a woman managed. Thus he calmed their nervousness. But even so, he withdrew from the place with considerable anxiety, thinking that at any moment Belisarius's forces would confront him. And when none of the enemy appeared to bar his retreat, with great relief he marched back to his native land.


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