by Tim Case
by Tim Case
"Safety of the state is the highest law."
~ Roman Emperor Justinian (c. AD 482—565)
"Why do I have to keep proving to people that I am not a liar?!"
~ Hillary Clinton — From the book The Survivor, by John Harris, p. 382
When you study history it doesn't take long before you find a particular period, or personages which hold you captive. That doesn't mean you lose interest in other historical times or the people who shaped world events, rather there is a special time to which you return because it seems to characterize and encapsulate human trials.
For me one such period is the history of the Roman Empire from 325 AD and the rule of Emperor Constantine until Emperor Justinian's death in 565 AD. It is Emperor Justinian we will briefly discuss in this article.
In discussing Emperor Justinian we need to have a rudimentary understanding of the events that occurred after the death of Emperor Constantine.
With the death of Emperor Constantine, in 337 AD, his maxim of "one ruler, one Empire, one creed" dissolved into the western and eastern empires, with three rulers who were Constantine's sons, and many creeds both ancient and Christian.
The resulting years of chaos, broken agreements and inept rulers lead to the Huns invading Italy in 452 AD, and the vandals sacking the city of Rome, the second time, in 455 AD. Then in 476 AD, Odoacer, a Roman mercenary and leader of the Germanic soldiers in the Roman army, dethrones the western emperor, 16-year-old Roulus Augustulus, which terminates the western empire.
In 488 AD the eastern Emperor Zeno commissions the Ostrogoths, lead by Theodoric, to retake Italy which he completes in 493 AD. Theodoric is thus made Zeno's representative in the west which in effect amounted to being the king of Italy.
By 500 AD the city of Rome, that jewel of the empire, was practically deserted, having gone from a population of over 1,000,000 at the height of the empire to now a meager 100,000 occupants, this would further decrease to less than 30,000 by 554 AD. Most of those who had fled Rome had also fled the western empire, settling where they hoped they were free of the increasing taxes, inflation, wars, barbarians, and excesses of those who claimed power.
Those who fled to the east seeking sanctuary under the control of the Eastern empire where now to be treated to a ruler by the name of Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Justiniānus, known to us as Emperor Justinian.
Justinian was the nephew of Emperor Justin, of whom Roman historians say: Justin ascended the throne when "he was an old man on the verge of the grave, and so illiterate that he could neither read nor write: which never before could have been said of a Roman ruler."
As such, "Justin was able to do his subjects neither harm nor good. For he was simple, unable to carry on a conversation or make a speech, and utterly bucolic."
The very incompetence of Justin made Justinian the real power behind the throne until, in 527 AD, Justinian assumed the full power and title of Emperor.
Now, if I were to read to you a modern historian's comments concerning Justinian's rule it would likely sound much the same as a FOX reporter fawning over the adulterous, I saved New York on 9-11, Rudy Giuliani.
Yes, as emperor, Justinian codified Roman law into the work called Corpus iuris civilis ("The complete civil law") which laid the foundation of Western law. He most certainly was a great church-builder, the chief memorial of his reign being the church of Hagia Sophia (built in 532—7 AD) in Constantinople, and stands a supreme masterpiece of Byzantine architecture.
However, those accomplishments, along with a few others, are not enough to warrant describing Justinian in angelic terms.
No, if we want to know the real emperor Justinian we must read what historians' contemporary to Justinian had to say about what they witnessed. One of the best witnesses to the reign of Justinian is Procopius of Caesarea who in his introduction to his work "The Secret History" wrote:
"You see, it was not possible, during the life of certain persons, to write the truth of what they did, as a historian should. If I had, their hordes of spies would have found out about it, and they would have put me to a most horrible death. I could not even trust my nearest relatives. That is why I was compelled to hide the real explanation of many matters glossed over in my previous books."
Ancient historians describe Justinian as being average height — about 5'6 or 7" — plump and not fat with fair facial features and good color. Procopius goes even further and says that Justinian "resembled Domitian, Vespasian's son."
Now, describing Justinian as resembling Domitian, should remind those who have studied Roman history that Domitian was one of the most hated emperors in Roman history.
Domitian was so hated that upon his death, in 96 AD, the people tore his body into pieces, blotted his name off every public building, destroyed his image wherever it was found, and forced the Senate to decree that the name of Domitian should never be written.
All because Domitian brought the empire to a financial crisis by spending money Rome didn't have then with sweeping administrative reforms stole the wealth of successful citizens. He also implemented policies which caused runaway inflation, currency problems, and added layers of massive tax and tribute legislation bringing the Roman people to the state of serfdom. Other than that he was a peach of a guy.
However, the history of another emperor shouldn't be the guiding light by which Justinian is judged so Procopius says of Justinian:
"(B)ut his character was something I could not fully describe. For he was at once villainous and amenable; as people say colloquially, a moron. He was never truthful with anyone, but always guileful in what he said and did, yet easily hoodwinked by any who wanted to deceive him. His nature was an unnatural mixture of folly and wickedness."
"This Emperor…was deceitful, devious, false, hypocritical, two-faced, cruel, skilled in dissembling his thought, never moved to tears by either joy or pain, though he could summon them artfully at will when the occasion demanded, a liar always, not only offhand, but in writing, and when he swore sacred oaths to his subjects in their very hearing. Then he would immediately break his agreements and pledges, like the vilest of slaves, whom indeed only the fear of torture drives to confess their perjury. A faithless friend, he was a treacherous enemy, insane for murder and plunder, quarrelsome and revolutionary, easily led to anything evil, but never willing to listen to good counsel, quick to plan mischief and carry it out, but finding even the hearing of anything good distasteful to his ears."
Justinian's foreign policy could be written as one of today's lead stories:
"Without hesitation he wrote decrees for the plundering of countries, sacking of cities, and slavery of whole nations, for no cause whatever. So that if one wished to take all the calamities which had befallen the Romans before this time and weigh them against his crimes, I think it would be found that more men had been murdered by this single man than in all previous history."
Justinian's domestic policy, concerning personal property, certainly bespeaks a commonality with today's political thinking and monetary policies.
"He had no scruples about appropriating other people's property, and did not even think any excuse necessary, legal or illegal, for confiscating what did not belong to him. And when it was his, he was more than ready to squander it in insane display, or give it as an unnecessary bribe to the barbarians. In short, he neither held on to any money himself nor let anyone else keep any: as if his reason were not avarice, but jealousy of those who had riches. Driving all wealth from the country of the Romans in this manner, he became the cause of universal poverty."
Under Justinian religious orders and public officials became common thieves, certainly reminiscent of recent events.
"There remained, while he ruled the Romans, no sure faith in God, no hope in religion, no defense in law, no security in business, no trust in a contract. When his officials were given any affair to handle for him, if they killed many of their victims and robbed the rest, they were looked upon by the Emperor with high favor, and given honorable mention for carrying out so perfectly his instructions."
Nor was the judiciary exempt from the corruption of the state and its leadership.
"Under this reign of violence nothing was stable, but the balance of justice revolved in a circle, inclining to whichever side was able to weight it with the heavier amount of gold. Publicly in the Forum, and under the management of palace officials, the selling of court decisions and legislative actions was carried on."
The above quotes stand as witness that the safety of the state is singularly defined as the sanctioning of murder and theft by the state.
Nor, is it a stretch to say that what occurred at the end of Roman history is also the established norm within the sphere of influence of the United States among all levels of government.
We are now faced with a bevy of presidential candidates who, save one, like Justinian can best be described as resembling "… the silly ass, which follows, only shaking its ears, when one drags it by the bridle." For which one of the candidates, other than Dr. Ron Paul, has even offered a means of rectifying the injustices that occur in the name of the state?
The problem with history is that it is not linear but rather cyclical and the cycle of history is the story of immoral idiots who think they can rectify all social ills by the continued looting of the producers.
It is also the sad fact that bottom feeders always feel they are destined to rule so they pretend to rise above the decaying corpses of history and the muddy sludge of statolatry — their real religion — to try and convince the masses that this time their failed dogma will really change everything.
Just listen to the ramblings coming from this cluster of presidential candidates; each claiming that it is not policy which failed it is only that the right people were not in charge. With the exception of Congressman Paul, each seeks to further the maniacal illusion found in Justinian's statement: "Safety of the state is the highest law."
For thousands of years, from every civilization, scribes, teachers, prophets, poets and historians have warned there is a direct correlation between the misery of the people and the pestiferous edicts of those bottom feeders who rule.
We are just beginning to see the quagmire that such malversation in public office can produce. However, it can get worse; much worse for Procopius lived it:
"Of the plundering of property or the murder of men, no weariness ever overtook him (Justinian). As soon as he had looted all the houses of the wealthy, he looked around for others; meanwhile throwing away the spoils of his previous robberies in subsidies to barbarians or senseless building extravagances. And when he had ruined perhaps myriads in this mad looting, he immediately sat down to plan how he could do likewise to others in even greater number… he devoted the full strength of his nature to the ruin of the Romans, and succeeded in razing the state to its foundation. For his constant wakefulness, his privations and his labors were undergone for no other reason than to contrive each day ever more exaggerated calamities for his people. For he was, as I said, unusually keen at inventing and quick at accomplishing unholy acts, so that even the good in him transpired to be answerable for the downfall of his subjects."
November 22, 2007
Tim Case [send him mail] is a 30-year student of the ancient histories who agrees with the first-century stoic Epictetus on this one point: “Only the educated are free.”
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