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attentive, ye insolent railers!" exclaimed Justinian; "be mute, ye Jews,
Samaritans, and Manichæans!" The greens still attempted to awaken his
compassion. "We are poor, we are innocent, we are injured, we dare not
pass through the streets: a general persecution is exercised against our
name and color. Let us die, O emperor! but let us die by your command,
and for your service!" But the repetition of partial and passionate
invectives degraded, in their eyes, the majesty of the purple; they
renounced allegiance to the prince who refused justice to his people;
lamented that the father of Justinian had been born; and branded his son
with the opprobrious names of a homicide, an ass, and a perjured tyrant.
"Do you despise your lives?" cried the indignant monarch: the blues
rose with fury from their seats; their hostile clamors thundered in the
hippodrome; and their adversaries, deserting the unequal contest spread
terror and despair through the streets of Constantinople. At this
dangerous moment, seven notorious assassins of both factions, who
had been condemned by the præfect, were carried round the city, and
afterwards transported to the place of execution in the suburb of Pera.
Four were immediately beheaded; a fifth was hanged: but when the same
punishment was inflicted on the remaining two, the rope broke, they fell
alive to the ground, the populace applauded their escape, and the monks
of St. Conon, issuing from the neighboring convent, conveyed them in a
boat to the sanctuary of the church. As one of these criminals was
of the blue, and the other of the green livery, the two factions were
equally provoked by the cruelty of their oppressor, or the ingratitude
of their patron; and a short truce was concluded till they had delivered
their prisoners and satisfied their revenge. The palace of the præfect,
who withstood the seditious torrent, was instantly burnt, his officers
and guards were massacred, the prisons were forced open, and freedom was
restored to those who could only use it for the public destruction.
A military force, which had been despatched to the aid of the civil
magistrate, was fiercely encountered by an armed multitude, whose
numbers and boldness continually increased; and the Heruli, the wildest
Barbarians in the service of the empire, overturned the priests and
their relics, which, from a pious motive, had been rashly interposed
to separate the bloody conflict. The tumult was exasperated by this
sacrilege, the people fought with enthusiasm in the cause of God; the
women, from the roofs and windows, showered stones on the heads of the
soldiers, who darted fire brands against the houses; and the various
flames, which had been kindled by the hands of citizens and strangers,
spread without control over the face of the city. The conflagration
involved the cathedral of St. Sophia, the baths of Zeuxippus, a part of
the palace, from the first entrance to the altar of Mars, and the long
portico from the palace to the forum of Constantine: a large hospital,
with the sick patients, was consumed; many churches and stately edifices
were destroyed and an immense treasure of gold and silver was either
melted or lost. From such scenes of horror and distress, the wise and
wealthy citizens escaped over the Bosphorus to the Asiatic side; and
during five days Constantinople was abandoned to the factions, whose
watchword, _Nika_, _vanquish!_ has given a name to this memorable

As long as the factions were divided, the triumphant blues, and
desponding greens, appeared to behold with the same indifference the
disorders of the state. They agreed to censure the corrupt management of
justice and the finance; and the two responsible ministers, the artful
Tribonian, and the rapacious John of Cappadocia, were loudly arraigned
as the authors of the public misery. The peaceful murmurs of the people
would have been disregarded: they were heard with respect when the city
was in flames; the quæstor, and the præfect, were instantly removed, and
their offices were filled by two senators of blameless integrity.
After this popular concession, Justinian proceeded to the hippodrome
to confess his own errors, and to accept the repentance of his grateful
subjects; but they distrusted his assurances, though solemnly pronounced
in the presence of the holy Gospels; and the emperor, alarmed by their
distrust, retreated with precipitation to the strong fortress of the
palace. The obstinacy of the tumult was now imputed to a secret
and ambitious conspiracy, and a suspicion was entertained, that the
insurgents, more especially the green faction, had been supplied with
arms and money by Hypatius and Pompey, two patricians, who could neither
forget with honor, nor remember with safety, that they were the
nephews of the emperor Anastasius. Capriciously trusted, disgraced, and
pardoned, by the jealous levity of the monarch, they had appeared as
loyal servants before the throne; and, during five days of the tumult,
they were detained as important hostages; till at length, the fears of
Justinian prevailing over his prudence, he viewed the two brothers in
the light of spies, perhaps of assassins, and sternly commanded them to
depart from the palace. After a fruitless representation, that obedience
might lead to involuntary treason, they retired to their houses, and in
the morning of the sixth day, Hypatius was surrounded and seized by the
people, who, regardless of his virtuous resistance, and the tears of
his wife, transported their favorite to the forum of Constantine, and
instead of a diadem, placed a rich collar on his head. If the usurper,
who afterwards pleaded the merit of his delay, had complied with the
advice of his senate, and urged the fury of the multitude, their first
irresistible effort might have oppressed or expelled his trembling
competitor. The Byzantine palace enjoyed a free communication with the
sea; vessels lay ready at the garden stairs; and a secret resolution was
already formed, to convey the emperor with his family and treasures to a
safe retreat, at some distance from the capital.

Justinian was lost, if the prostitute whom he raised from the theatre
had not renounced the timidity, as well as the virtues, of her sex. In
the midst of a council, where Belisarius was present, Theodora alone
displayed the spirit of a hero; and she alone, without apprehending his
future hatred, could save the emperor from the imminent danger, and his
unworthy fears. "If flight," said the consort of Justinian, "were
the only means of safety, yet I should disdain to fly. Death is the
condition of our birth; but they who have reigned should never survive
the loss of dignity and dominion. I implore Heaven, that I may never
be seen, not a day, without my diadem and purple; that I may no longer
behold the light, when I cease to be saluted with the name of queen. If
you resolve, O Cæsar! to fly, you have treasures; behold the sea, you
have ships; but tremble lest the desire of life should expose you to
wretched exile and ignominious death. For my own part, I adhere to
the maxim of antiquity, that the throne is a glorious sepulchre." The
firmness of a woman restored the courage to deliberate and act, and
courage soon discovers the resources of the most desperate situation.
It was an easy and a decisive measure to revive the animosity of the
factions; the blues were astonished at their own guilt and folly, that
a trifling injury should provoke them to conspire with their implacable
enemies against a gracious and liberal benefactor; they again proclaimed
the majesty of Justinian; and the greens, with their upstart emperor,
were left alone in the hippodrome. The fidelity of the guards was
doubtful; but the military force of Justinian consisted in three
thousand veterans, who had been trained to valor and discipline in the
Persian and Illyrian wars. Under the command of Belisarius and Mundus,
they silently marched in two divisions from the palace, forced their
obscure way through narrow passages, expiring flames, and falling
edifices, and burst open at the same moment the two opposite gates of
the hippodrome. In this narrow space, the disorderly and affrighted
crowd was incapable of resisting on either side a firm and regular
attack; the blues signalized the fury of their repentance; and it is
computed, that above thirty thousand persons were slain in the merciless
and promiscuous carnage of the day. Hypatius was dragged from his
throne, and conducted, with his brother Pompey, to the feet of the
emperor: they implored his clemency; but their crime was manifest,
their innocence uncertain, and Justinian had been too much terrified to
forgive. The next morning the two nephews of Anastasius, with eighteen
_illustrious_ accomplices, of patrician or consular rank, were privately
executed by the soldiers; their bodies were thrown into the sea, their
palaces razed, and their fortunes confiscated. The hippodrome itself
was condemned, during several years, to a mournful silence: with the
restoration of the games, the same disorders revived; and the blue
and green factions continued to afflict the reign of Justinian, and to
disturb the tranquility of the Eastern empire.

III. That empire, after Rome was barbarous, still embraced the nations
whom she had conquered beyond the Adriatic, and as far as the frontiers
of Æthiopia and Persia. Justinian reigned over sixty-four provinces,
and nine hundred and thirty-five cities; his dominions were blessed
by nature with the advantages of soil, situation, and climate: and the
improvements of human art had been perpetually diffused along the coast
of the Mediterranean and the banks of the Nile from ancient Troy to the
Egyptian Thebes. Abraham had been relieved by the well-known plenty of
Egypt; the same country, a small and populous tract, was still capable
of exporting, each year, two hundred and sixty thousand quarters of
wheat for the use of Constantinople; and the capital of Justinian was
supplied with the manufactures of Sidon, fifteen centuries after
they had been celebrated in the poems of Homer. The annual powers of
vegetation, instead of being exhausted by two thousand harvests,
were renewed and invigorated by skilful husbandry, rich manure,
and seasonable repose. The breed of domestic animals was infinitely
multiplied. Plantations, buildings, and the instruments of labor
and luxury, which are more durable than the term of human life, were
accumulated by the care of successive generations. Tradition preserved,
and experience simplified, the humble practice of the arts: society
was enriched by the division of labor and the facility of exchange; and
every Roman was lodged, clothed, and subsisted, by the industry of a
thousand hands. The invention of the loom and distaff has been piously
ascribed to the gods. In every age, a variety of animal and vegetable
productions, hair, skins, wool, flax, cotton, and at length _silk_, have
been skilfully manufactured to hide or adorn the human body; they
were stained with an infusion of permanent colors; and the pencil was
successfully employed to improve the labors of the loom. In the choice
of those colors which imitate the beauties of nature, the freedom of
taste and fashion was indulged; but the deep purple which the Phnicians
extracted from a shell-fish, was restrained to the sacred person and
palace of the emperor; and the penalties of treason were denounced
against the ambitious subjects who dared to usurp the prerogative of the

Chapter XL: Reign Of Justinian. - Part III.

I need not explain that _silk_ is originally spun from the bowels of a
caterpillar, and that it composes the golden tomb, from whence a worm
emerges in the form of a butterfly. Till the reign of Justinian,
the silk-worm who feed on the leaves of the white mulberry-tree were
confined to China; those of the pine, the oak, and the ash, were common
in the forests both of Asia and Europe; but as their education is
more difficult, and their produce more uncertain, they were generally
neglected, except in the little island of Ceos, near the coast of
Attica. A thin gauze was procured from their webs, and this Cean
manufacture, the invention of a woman, for female use, was long admired
both in the East and at Rome. Whatever suspicions may be raised by the
garments of the Medes and Assyrians, Virgil is the most ancient writer,
who expressly mentions the soft wool which was combed from the trees of
the Seres or Chinese; and this natural error, less marvellous than the
truth, was slowly corrected by the knowledge of a valuable insect, the
first artificer of the luxury of nations. That rare and elegant luxury
was censured, in the reign of Tiberius, by the gravest of the Romans;
and Pliny, in affected though forcible language, has condemned the
thirst of gain, which explores the last confines of the earth, for the
pernicious purpose of exposing to the public eye naked draperies and
transparent matrons. A dress which showed the turn of the limbs, and
color of the skin, might gratify vanity, or provoke desire; the silks
which had been closely woven in China were sometimes unravelled by the
Phnician women, and the precious materials were multiplied by a looser
texture, and the intermixture of linen threads. Two hundred years after
the age of Pliny, the use of pure, or even of mixed silks, was confined
to the female sex, till the opulent citizens of Rome and the provinces
were insensibly familiarized with the example of Elagabalus, the first
who, by this effeminate habit, had sullied the dignity of an emperor and
a man. Aurelian complained, that a pound of silk was sold at Rome for
twelve ounces of gold; but the supply increased with the demand, and
the price diminished with the supply. If accident or monopoly sometimes
raised the value even above the standard of Aurelian, the manufacturers
of Tyre and Berytus were sometimes compelled, by the operation of the
same causes, to content themselves with a ninth part of that extravagant
rate. A law was thought necessary to discriminate the dress of comedians
from that of senators; and of the silk exported from its native country
the far greater part was consumed by the subjects of Justinian.
They were still more intimately acquainted with a shell-fish of the
Mediterranean, surnamed the silk-worm of the sea: the fine wool or
hair by which the mother-of-pearl affixes itself to the rock is now
manufactured for curiosity rather than use; and a robe obtained from the
same singular materials was the gift of the Roman emperor to the satraps
of Armenia.

A valuable merchandise of small bulk is capable of defraying the expense
of land-carriage; and the caravans traversed the whole latitude of
Asia in two hundred and forty-three days from the Chinese Ocean to the
sea-coast of Syria. Silk was immediately delivered to the Romans by the
Persian merchants, who frequented the fairs of Armenia and Nisibis; but
this trade, which in the intervals of truce was oppressed by avarice
and jealousy, was totally interrupted by the long wars of the rival
monarchies. The great king might proudly number Sogdiana, and even
_Serica_, among the provinces of his empire; but his real dominion
was bounded by the Oxus and his useful intercourse with the Sogdoites,
beyond the river, depended on the pleasure of their conquerors,
the white Huns, and the Turks, who successively reigned over that
industrious people. Yet the most savage dominion has not extirpated the
seeds of agriculture and commerce, in a region which is celebrated as
one of the four gardens of Asia; the cities of Samarcand and Bochara are
advantageously seated for the exchange of its various productions; and
their merchants purchased from the Chinese, the raw or manufactured silk
which they transported into Persia for the use of the Roman empire. In
the vain capital of China, the Sogdian caravans were entertained as
the suppliant embassies of tributary kingdoms, and if they returned in
safety, the bold adventure was rewarded with exorbitant gain. But the
difficult and perilous march from Samarcand to the first town of Shensi,
could not be performed in less than sixty, eighty, or one hundred days:
as soon as they had passed the Jaxartes they entered the desert; and the
wandering hordes, unless they are restrained by armies and garrisons,
have always considered the citizen and the traveller as the objects of
lawful rapine. To escape the Tartar robbers, and the tyrants of Persia,
the silk caravans explored a more southern road; they traversed the
mountains of Thibet, descended the streams of the Ganges or the Indus,
and patiently expected, in the ports of Guzerat and Malabar, the annual
fleets of the West. But the dangers of the desert were found less
intolerable than toil, hunger, and the loss of time; the attempt was
seldom renewed, and the only European who has passed that unfrequented
way, applauds his own diligence, that, in nine months after his
departure from Pekin, he reached the mouth of the Indus. The ocean,
however, was open to the free communication of mankind. From the great
river to the tropic of Cancer, the provinces of China were subdued and
civilized by the emperors of the North; they were filled about the
time of the Christian æra with cities and men, mulberry-trees and their
precious inhabitants; and if the Chinese, with the knowledge of the
compass, had possessed the genius of the Greeks or Phnicians, they might
have spread their discoveries over the southern hemisphere. I am not
qualified to examine, and I am not disposed to believe, their distant
voyages to the Persian Gulf, or the Cape of Good Hope; but their
ancestors might equal the labors and success of the present race, and
the sphere of their navigation might extend from the Isles of Japan to
the Straits of Malacca, the pillars, if we may apply that name, of an
Oriental Hercules. Without losing sight of land, they might sail along
the coast to the extreme promontory of Achin, which is annually visited
by ten or twelve ships laden with the productions, the manufactures,
and even the artificers of China; the Island of Sumatra and the opposite
peninsula are faintly delineated as the regions of gold and silver; and
the trading cities named in the geography of Ptolemy may indicate, that
this wealth was not solely derived from the mines. The direct interval
between Sumatra and Ceylon is about three hundred leagues: the Chinese
and Indian navigators were conducted by the flight of birds and
periodical winds; and the ocean might be securely traversed in
square-built ships, which, instead of iron, were sewed together with
the strong thread of the cocoanut. Ceylon, Serendib, or Taprobana,
was divided between two hostile princes; one of whom possessed the
mountains, the elephants, and the luminous carbuncle, and the other
enjoyed the more solid riches of domestic industry, foreign trade, and
the capacious harbor of Trinquemale, which received and dismissed
the fleets of the East and West. In this hospitable isle, at an equal
distance (as it was computed) from their respective countries, the silk
merchants of China, who had collected in their voyages aloes, cloves,
nutmeg, and sandal wood, maintained a free and beneficial commerce with
the inhabitants of the Persian Gulf. The subjects of the great king
exalted, without a rival, his power and magnificence: and the Roman, who
confounded their vanity by comparing his paltry coin with a gold medal
of the emperor Anastasius, had sailed to Ceylon, in an Æthiopian ship,
as a simple passenger.

As silk became of indispensable use, the emperor Justinian saw with
concern that the Persians had occupied by land and sea the monopoly
of this important supply, and that the wealth of his subjects was
continually drained by a nation of enemies and idolaters. An active
government would have restored the trade of Egypt and the navigation of
the Red Sea, which had decayed with the prosperity of the empire; and
the Roman vessels might have sailed, for the purchase of silk, to the
ports of Ceylon, of Malacca, or even of China. Justinian embraced a more
humble expedient, and solicited the aid of his Christian allies,
the Æthiopians of Abyssinia, who had recently acquired the arts of
navigation, the spirit of trade, and the seaport of Adulis, still
decorated with the trophies of a Grecian conqueror. Along the African
coast, they penetrated to the equator in search of gold, emeralds, and
aromatics; but they wisely declined an unequal competition, in which
they must be always prevented by the vicinity of the Persians to the
markets of India; and the emperor submitted to the disappointment, till
his wishes were gratified by an unexpected event. The gospel had been
preached to the Indians: a bishop already governed the Christians of St.
Thomas on the pepper-coast of Malabar; a church was planted in
Ceylon, and the missionaries pursued the footsteps of commerce to
the extremities of Asia. Two Persian monks had long resided in China,
perhaps in the royal city of Nankin, the seat of a monarch addicted to
foreign superstitions, and who actually received an embassy from the
Isle of Ceylon. Amidst their pious occupations, they viewed with a
curious eye the common dress of the Chinese, the manufactures of silk,
and the myriads of silk-worms, whose education (either on trees or
in houses) had once been considered as the labor of queens. They soon
discovered that it was impracticable to transport the short-lived
insect, but that in the eggs a numerous progeny might be preserved and
multiplied in a distant climate. Religion or interest had more power
over the Persian monks than the love of their country: after a long
journey, they arrived at Constantinople, imparted their project to the
emperor, and were liberally encouraged by the gifts and promises of
Justinian. To the historians of that prince, a campaign at the foot of
Mount Caucasus has seemed more deserving of a minute relation than
the labors of these missionaries of commerce, who again entered China,
deceived a jealous people by concealing the eggs of the silk-worm in a
hollow cane, and returned in triumph with the spoils of the East. Under
their direction, the eggs were hatched at the proper season by the
artificial heat of dung; the worms were fed with mulberry leaves;
they lived and labored in a foreign climate; a sufficient number of
butterflies was saved to propagate the race, and trees were planted
to supply the nourishment of the rising generations. Experience and
reflection corrected the errors of a new attempt, and the Sogdoite
ambassadors acknowledged, in the succeeding reign, that the Romans were
not inferior to the natives of China in the education of the insects,
and the manufactures of silk, in which both China and Constantinople
have been surpassed by the industry of modern Europe. I am not
insensible of the benefits of elegant luxury; yet I reflect with some
pain, that if the importers of silk had introduced the art of printing,
already practised by the Chinese, the comedies of Menander and the
entire decads of Livy would have been perpetuated in the editions of the
sixth century. A larger view of the globe might at least have promoted
the improvement of speculative science, but the Christian geography was
forcibly extracted from texts of Scripture, and the study of nature was
the surest symptom of an unbelieving mind. The orthodox faith confined
the habitable world to _one_ temperate zone, and represented the earth
as an oblong surface, four hundred days' journey in length, two hundred
in breadth, encompassed by the ocean, and covered by the solid crystal
of the firmament.

IV. The subjects of Justinian were dissatisfied with the times, and with
the government. Europe was overrun by the Barbarians, and Asia by the
monks: the poverty of the West discouraged the trade and manufactures of
the East: the produce of labor was consumed by the unprofitable servants
of the church, the state, and the army; and a rapid decrease was felt in
the fixed and circulating capitals which constitute the national wealth.
The public distress had been alleviated by the economy of Anastasius,
and that prudent emperor accumulated an immense treasure, while he
delivered his people from the most odious or oppressive taxes.
Their gratitude universally applauded the abolition of the _gold of
affliction_, a personal tribute on the industry of the poor, but more
intolerable, as it should seem, in the form than in the substance, since
the flourishing city of Edessa paid only one hundred and forty pounds
of gold, which was collected in four years from ten thousand artificers.

Online LibraryEdward GibbonHistory of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — Volume 4 → online text (page 5 of 49)