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JkMSBiCAN BmxoB, JUSTIN WINSOB, LLJD., Librarian of Harvard College, Cambridge, MaaBaohuetto





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APF28 '32



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The Empbbss Theodora. By C. E. MaUet 1

Tbb Ohannbl IbiiANdb. By H. O. Eeene, CJ.E 21


Bobifuon 40

Eablt ExpiiOrations of America, Bbal and Imaginary. By
A. B. Bopes 78

ViBiGOTHic Spain. By T. Hodgkin, D.C.L 209

OoNFiscATiON FOR Herest IN THE MiDDLE AoBB. By Henry

C.Lea . .285

Ttobnne. By W. O'Connor Morris 260

The History of 1852-1860, and OrbviliiE'b Latest Journals.
By the Bight Hon. W. E. OladsUme, MJ? 281

Aetius and Bonifaoe. By E&uxvrd A. Freema/n, D.CJj. . . 417

Byzantine Palaoes. By J. Theodore Bent 466

Queen Caroline of Naples. By Osear Browning . ' . . 482

The Movements of the Roman Legions from Augustus to
Sbyerus. By E. G. Hardf/ 625

The Life of Justinian by Theophilus. By James Bryce,
D.CJj.,M.P . .657

Charles I and the Earl of Olamorgan. By S. B. Ga/rdiner,
• LL.D 687

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Thb Emplotmbnt of Indian Auxiliabibs in thb Amebioan
Wab. By Andrew McFa/rlcmd Dams 709

Notes and Doouments 07, 808, 518, 729

Bbviews of Books 158, 858, 558, 774

List of Histobical Books beoentlt pxtblishbd 192, 898, 608, 815

Contents of Pebiodioal Publications . . 208, 408, 618, 825

Index 838

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The English

Historical Review ^l

No. v.— JANUARY 1887

TAe Empress Theodora

THE courageous attempt recently made by M. Debidour * to vin-
dicate the reputation of the empress Theodora has opened
up again the stubborn controversy of which Procopius' * Secret
History * is the theme. Stimulated, it would seem, by the appear-
ance of M. Sardou's drama in Paris, M. Debidour has revised and
republished his earlier essay, and has boldly challenged a compari-
son between the Theodora of history and the Theodora of the
stage. The verdict of public opinion has, it is true, long since
been given on the other side ; but the charges of Procopius have
never before received the searching criticism which they require,
and even now we are fully entitled to ask whether the view upon
which that verdict is founded is supported by the facts.

There are few stranger episodes in literary history than the fate
of this celebrated empress. For us, to whom her name recalls the
beautiful and unprincipled comedian suddenly raised by a freak of
fortune from disgraceful obscurity to rule with undisputed power
over the destinies of the Eoman world, it is difficult to realise how
short a time that estimate of Theodora has existed, and how
different it is from any picture of her which would have been
drawn three hundred years ago. At the dawn of the seventeenth
century the romantic version of the empress's early life which we
accept to-day was practically unknown. To the historical students
of that time Theodora was chiefly remarkable for the prominent
place which she had occupied in Justinian's reign. Of her early
life nothing was recorded, but it was believed that from the date of

* In his monograph L'lmp^raUice Th4odora, It is largely a reprint of a Latin
essay on the same subject (which was presented to the Sorbonne in 1877), and was
published in Paris in 1885.

VOL. n. — NO. V. B

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her accession to the throne she had exercised a powerful influence
over her husband. It was known that at a great poUtical crisis
she had displayed unwonted courage, that she had taken a leading
part in the pohcy and intrigues of the Byzantine government, and
that to her wisdom the emperor had attributed the merit of his
legislation. But her virtues had been obscured by grave rehgious
errors, and her attitude towards the popes had proved her to be a
lost and impenitent heretic, on whom the greatest ecclesiastical
writer of the age had lavished every epithet of theological invec-
tive.* Such is the brief account of Theodora which was handed
down in history and tradition for upwards of a thousand years.*
Then suddenly a flood of garish light was let in upon the darkness.
Disinterred from the library of the Vatican, where it had long lain
hidden,. and edited by a learned and laborious critic, the * Secret
History ' of Procopius was presented to the world. For the first
time the character of the empress, as drawn by a contemporary
writer, was revealed in the blackest colours. The famous consort
of Justinian had, it appeared, been really a woman of the lowest
birth and worst character, whose public conduct was signalised by
tyranny and excess, and whose private life was disgraced by a
turpitude wholly without parallel. From the date of the publication
of the * Anecdotes ' Theodora was condemned. The tale of her
iniquities, which for nearly eleven centuries had been forgotten or
imknown, soon obtained universal credence. The testimony or the
silence of all other sources of knowledge was overlooked. And
the sombre picture which Procopius painted in the * Secret History *
is the picture to which our eyes have become accustomed to-day.
Is it, then, too late to inquire what were the claims of this new and
startling version to supersede a record sanctioned by historical
authority and by so long a lapse of time ?

Several obvious causes have contributed to secure general
credit for the disclosures of the 'Anecdotes.' In the first place
they are the work of a contemporary writer. Then they are the
only full and minute account which we have of Justinian's court
and of the private history of the reign. Their author, too, was
beyond all doubt the most eminent historian of his day, and his
high reputation makes us hesitate to reject as utterly unfounded
any statements of his, however extravagant they may appear.
Moreover, two very distinguished writers of a later age, who had
opportunities of sifting and of refuting these revelations, have
deliberately given their sanction to them ; and their attitude has
naturally gone far to predispose the pubhc in Procopius' favour.

* Such as Eve, Herodias, Aleoto, and Tidphone. See^Baroniua (aj>. 648, No. 24)
as quoted by Gibbon (footnote to p. 48 of vol. v. in Smith's edition, which is the
edition referred to in these notes).

* Until 1623, the date of the publication of the Secret History.

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The Latin commentator Nicholas Alemannus and the English
historian Gibhon are qualified to speak on this question with
greater weight, perhaps, than any others, and yet when one comes
to examine their motives, neither of them has a very strong reason
to offer for the course he takes.

Of these strange 'Anecdotes' (writes Gibbon), a part may be true
because probable, and a part true because improbable. Procopius must
have known the former, and the latter he could scarcely invents

On this hypothesis Gibbon has stamped with his authority the
most extraordinary statements of their author, and the stories
which Gibbon related as scandals have, because Gibbon related
them, been widely accepted as facts. With Alemannus the reason-
ing is different, but the result has been the same. Speaking with
the weight which, independently of his industry and learning,
naturally attaches to the first commentator upon the * Anecdotes,'
Alemannus frankly states the argument which appeared to him
conclusive proof of their veracity. It is not worth while, he
maintains, to seek evidence to confirm Procopius, * since nothing is
too execrable to be believed ' of a woman who tried to overthrow
the council of Chalcedon, who established heretics in the high
places of religion, and whom the cardinal Baronius portrays as a

* monster' towards the catholic church.* We must not forget
that the language of Alemannus is significant of the temper in
which the 'Anecdotes' were originally welcomed. If the first
critic of the * Secret History ' approached his task with so pro-
nounced a bias, it is hardly to be wondered at that the reputation
of Theodora has suffered as it has. But perhaps the simplest
reason why Procopius' condemnation of the empress has been
accepted is to be found in the emphasis and detail with which he
has weighted his charges. Of course it has been pointed out ^ that
the accusations are unsupported, and that the evidence of the

* Secret History ' stands alone. But the majority of writers on the
fiubject seem rather to have avoided facing the issue directly.
They have failed to realise that these scandals must be either
substantially true or wholly false; and while rejecting in some
cases Procopius' circumstantial stories as too extravagant to be
credited, they have nevertheless concluded that Theodora was a
worthless character, because the stories told against her are so
numerous and so bad.^

The first question which arises is the question whether the
author of the ' Secret History ' had any obvious motive for libelling

* See footnote to p. 167 of vol. v.

* Alemannus' preface to the Anecdotes f p. vi (Orelli's edition of 1827).

* Especially by Dean Milman, in his notes on Gibbon (vol. v. p. 41).

^ Elsewhere Gibbon has guarded himself against the * pernicious maxim that
-where much is aUeged something must be true.'

B 2

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the empress. It naturally occurs to one that if his attack upon her
be not well founded, it must have been prompted by the malice of a.
disappointed man. The matter of the authenticity of the * Secret
History' has been so fully and repeatedly argued, that we may
well be content to avoid that controversy here, and to regard the
authorship of Procopius as established. But when that is ad-
mitted, our knowledge of its author's career does not greatly help
us. We know that at the beginning of Justinian's reign, Procopius,
then a young and rising lawyer, was appointed by the emperor to a
post closely connected with the person of Belisarius.® We know
that he remained long in this position, acting sometimes as legal
adviser and sometimes almost as confidential secretary to the
general, but always, it must be remembered, holding a public oflSce
and representing the emperor therein. We know that either in
this or in a similar capacity he accompanied his chief for over
twenty years in all his campaigns, following him to Persia, to-
Africa, to Italy, and to Constantinople. We know that he retained
the emperor's favour so far as to be admitted to the senate and to
receive the high dignity of illustris. We know that the histories of
Justinian's three great wars and the panegyric of the emperor's
buildings were published in the author's lifetime, and form the
basis upon which innumerable later chroniclers have built. And
we know lastly that in the year 558, ten years after the death of
Theodora, the man who had signalised his name by chronicling the
triumphs and the wisdom of Justinian and his consort, composed
upon the same subject a volume so scandalous and so vindictive
that he dared not publish it in his lifetime, but left it to be con-
cealed or neglected for upwards of a thousand years.

But here our knowledge stops. As to Procopius' latter days
— whether he retained to the end the emperor's favour, or fell
into disgrace and revenged himself by concocting a virulent libel,
we have no certainty to guide us. It has been asserted that to-
wards the close of Justinian's reign he received the highest mark of
the emperor's confidence and was appointed praBfect of Constanti-
nople, and hence, Alemannus argues, there is no room to suppose
that the judgment of his latest work was embittered by personal
failure.® But it is difficult to believe that the Procopius who waa
prefect of Constantinople in 562 is identical with the author of the
* Secret History.' In the careful appendix which he devotes ta
this subject Dr. Felix Dahn seems fairly to have disposed of this
supposition and of the argument built upon it. Proving first that
the * Secret History ' could not have been written before the year
558, Dr. Dahn goes on to show that it could scarcely have been

• For Procopius' exact position see Dahn's elaborate work on Procopi'us of Casarea
(p. 18) ; the iirst chapter is a biography of the historian.

* Alemannus' preface to the Anecdotes^ p. ziii (ed. 1827).

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written after 562, from the fact that Procopius would never have
omitted to mention the downfall of Belisarius, which happened in
that year. Following the same line of argument, he reasons that
Procopius could not have passed over in silence the terrible in-
vasion of Slavs and Huns which was defeated in August 559, and
that hence the * Secret History ' was written before that date. And
lastly, from the fact that in the ' Anecdotes ' there is no reference
to the memorable catastrophe which befell the church of St. Sophia,
a church on which Procopius had elsewhere lavished pages of de-
scription and eulogium, Dr. Dahn concludes that the author of the
* Anecdotes ' had ceased to write before 7 May 559. Then he proceeds
to discuss elaborately the question whether the * Secret History '
was completed or not, finally deciding that it was left unfinished and
was probably interrupted by the author's death.*® Of course much
of this reasoning must be founded on conjecture. If it be true that
the author of the * Anecdotes ' was preefect of Constantinople in 562,
it may fairly be inferred that he could not have been animated by
disappointed ambition. But if, as seems more probable, he died
before the spring of the year 559, it is by no means certain that
disappointment and failure did not play a large part in his rancorous
attack upon Justinian and Theodora. The question of motive is
one which, with our scanty knowledge of Procopius* circumstances,
it is almost impossible to decide ; but when we consider that Pro-
copius was a native of Caesarea in Palestine, and that that province
suffered perhaps more than any other in Justinian's reign, it does
not seem unlikely that a feeling of local patriotism may have con-
tributed to bias his judgment and to colour his views.**

Now let us turn to the * Secret History,' and examine its trust-
worthiness upon internal grounds. Alemannus claims credit for
the * Anecdotes,' because, he says, they agree so perfectly with the
previously pubUshed ' Histories.' *^ But at the very outset of his
work their author discredits himself. In the preface to his public
history we find these dignified words :

The orator's art calls for eloquence, the poet's for imagination, the
historian's for truth. This is the reason why the author of these volumes
has not attempted to conceal even the failings of those whom he admired
the most, but has, on the contrary, scrupulously set forth in broad dayHght
all the actions, whether good or bad, of the characters of his tale.**

But in the introduction to the * Secret History,' Procopius destroys

>* See the long and careful note on this question in Dr. Dahn's appendix
(pp. 448-459).

" This suggestion is made by Debidour (L^Impirairice TJUodora, pp. 29» 30) in
one of the sections which he devotes to discussing Procopius' motives. It may be
worth noticing, but is hardly of much importance.

" Preface to Anecdotes, p. xii (ed. 1827).

" Debidour also quotes the words (pp. 26-7).

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the effect of these words by confessing that he is about to reveal
for the first time numerous facts, which, from motives of fear or
prudence, he had deliberately misrepresented or suppressed.^* Then
follows a long series of inconsistencies and contradictions. The
wars which in his previous volumes he had recorded as honourable
and glorious, are now little better than wanton massacres. The
hero, whose skill and conduct had achieved these conquests and
signalised his master's reign, is now only a contemptible and
uxorious husband, the slave of a degraded wife. The buildings
with which Justinian had strengthened and embellished the empire,
are now merely pretexts for extravagance and display. The bene-
volence which had induced Theodora to found a home for the women
whom she had rescued from the streets of Constantinople, is repre-
sented in the * Anecdotes ' as an act of arbitrary folly. ^* At one point
— in the new version which he gives of the circumstances of
Amalasontha's death — Procopius excuses the discrepancy between
his present and his former narrative by admitting that previously
he had purposely concealed the truth.^^ In another place, in the
small matter of the remission of taxes granted to Palestine after
the riots and rebellion there, we are enabled by the testimony of
Alemannus to convict him of deKberate falsehood.^^ Again, we read
in the * Anecdotes ' that Theodora's influence in the government was
so overwhelming, that if ever Justinian gave away an office without
consulting her, the unhappy recipient of the emperor's favour was
doomed to dismissal and disgrace, and in all probability to a dis-
honourable death.^® And yet in the history of John of Cappadocia,
who was Theodora's personal enemy, and whose tyrannous mal-
administration was beyond all doubt, we are informed that all the
efforts of the empress to dislodge the minister were unavailing
until she resorted to trickery and fraud.^® It is not often that the
scarcity of our information permits us to compare the assertions of the
* Anecdotes ' with other contemporary records; but the one instance
in which we are able to do so gives us a fair sample of the method
which Procopius has followed in the * Secret History.' In the account
of Silverius' deposition, which appears in the narrative of the Gothic
war,2<* we are led to believe that the pope was guilty of intriguing with
the Goths, and was deposed on that account.^^ Subsequently, Libera-
tus tells us he was sent under arrest to Constantinople; but returning

" Anecdotes, p. 2 (ed. 1827).

'* Procopius says it led the women to commit suicide (Anecdotes^ p. 126).

*• Anecdotes, p. 120.

*' Ibid, p. 90. Alemamius in his notes (p. 370) convicts, while he vainly endea-
vours to justify, Procopius.

*• Anecdotes, p. 114.

** See Persian Wars, bk. i. c. 24 ; Anecdotes, p. 132, and other references passim.

«» De Bella Oothico, bk. i. c. 25.

** Lord Mahon does not hesitate to accept the story of Silverius' guilt {Life of
Belisarius, p. 225).

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later on to Rome, was transported into banishment by the order of
Vigilius. As to the details of the story told by Liberatus, there
may well be room for doubt ; but all authorities are agreed on the
main point, that Silverius died in exile.^ Nevertheless, Procopius
does not hesitate to charge Antonina obscurely with Silverius'
murder, and a little later on to refer incidentally to one of her
servants as the one who had been guilty of the pontiflPs death. ^ So
far from the ' Secret History ' being in complete accord with other
authorities, and with Procopius' pubhshed works, the discrepancies
between them are so marked that they lead one to suspect that the
author of the ' Anecdotes ' made a collection of scandalous charges,
and strung them together without any regard to what he had said
before, or without much caring whether they were confirmed or
confuted by the facts.

But laying aside the previous works of Procopius, there are
suflScient inconsistencies within the ' Anecdotes ' themselves. In one
place Justinian is described as a wonderfully silly man,** and yet,
as Alemannus observes, Procopius elsewhere remarks on his keen
intellect and constant attendance to business.^ In another place
Theodora is blamed for sleeping all day till nightfall, and all night
till daybreak,^ and yet the author of the * Anecdotes ' is constantly
reproaching her for thrusting herself into every department of
public affairs. Again we are told that the opposition in the impe-
rial family to Justinian's marriage was so strong, that while the
empress Euphemia lived Justinian could never prevail on his
uncle to consent.^ And yet he had sufficient influence to induce
his uncle to confer on this abandoned woman, whom the emperor
entirely refused to countenance, the lofty title of patrician.'*
But the most striking inconsistency of all is to be found in the
account of Theodora's elevation. If the judgment of the * Anecdotes ^
is to count for anything, we must believe that, at the time of her
marriage to Justinian, Theodora was by common consent the most
profligate woman of the age. The 'Anecdotes' inform us that
Justinian was equally remarkable for the self-restraint and austerity

" See Liberatus (in Migne's Patrologue Cursus CompletuSy torn. 68, pp. 1040-1).
The authority of Liberatus alone, who was a deacon of the Carthaginian church and
who wrote in Justinian's reign, is far better than the obscure hints of the Anecdotes.
But he is amply supported by other historians, e.g. Anastasius (in Muratori, torn. iii.

Online LibraryM. (Mandell) CreightonThe English historical review → online text (page 1 of 113)