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three pairs of lovers with space



Prokopios of Caesarea in Palestine was the pre-eminent historian of the Roman empire in the sixth century. All three of his books concern the reign (527-65) of the emperor Justinian I. In two of them, he wrote more or less as Justinian’s court historian. In the one under consideration here, known as the Secret History (Ἀπόκρυφη Ἱστορία), he said what he had dared not in the others and gave a conversely highly discreditable account of the deeds and motives of the emperor and his wife Theodora. Probably written in 550, the manuscript was deliberately and necessarily left unpublished in Justinian’s lifetime and was not in the end published until 1623.

Presented here are all the references to Greek love. The translation is by H. B. Dewing in the Loeb Classical Library volumes 290 (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1935), with only his mistranslations as “sodomy” of various forms of the word pederasty amended (as explained in footnotes).


VII 36

Amongst the outrages committed by the Factionists, the supporters (mostly young men) of the furiously rival Greens and Blues chariot-racing clubs in Constantinople, whom the Emperor Justinian did not restrain:

And many unwilling boys were compelled to enter into unholy intercourse with the Factionists, with the full knowledge of their fathers.  πολλοὶ δὲ καὶ ἀκούσιοι παῖδες τοῖς στασιώταις ἐς κοίτην ἀνοσίαν οὐκ ἀγνοούντων ἠναγκάσθησαν τῶν πατέρων ἐλθεῖν. 

Roman Chariot Race by Sandor Wagner, 1882: in the later Roman Empire especially, such races inspired fanatical rival clubs who sometimes had a political agenda

XI 34-36

On the legislation of the Emperor Justinian:

Afterwards he also prohibited pederasty[1] by law, not examining closely into offences committed subsequently to the law but concerning himself only with those persons who long before had been caught by this malady. And the prosecution of these cases was carried out in reckless fashion, since the penalty was exacted even without an accuser, for the word of a single man or boy, and even, if it so happened, of a slave compelled against his will to give evidence against his owner, was considered definite proof. Those who were thus convicted had their privates removed and were paraded through the streets. Not in all cases, however, was this punishment inflicted in the beginning, but only upon those reputed to be Greens[2] or to be possessed of great wealth or those who in some other way chanced to have offended the rulers.  [34] Μετὰ δὲ καὶ τὸ παιδεραστεῖν νόμῳ ἀπεῖργεν, οὐ τὰ μετὰ τὸν νόμον διερευνώμενος, ἀλλὰ τοὺς πάλαι ποτὲ ταύτῃ δὴ τῇ νόσῳ ἁλόντας. [35] ἐγίνετό τε ἡ ἐς αὐτοὺς ἐπιστροφὴ2 οὐδενὶ κόσμῳ, ἐπεὶ καὶ κατηγόρου χωρὶς ἐπράσσετο ἡ ἐς αὐτοὺς τίσις, ἑνός τε ἀνδρὸς ἢ παιδὸς λόγος, καὶ τούτου δούλου, ἂν οὕτω τύχοι, καὶ ἀκουσίου μαρτυρεῖν ἐπὶ τὸν κεκτημένον ἀναγκασθέντος, [36] ἔδοξεν εἶναι ἀκριβὴς ἔλεγχος. τούς τε οὕτως ἁλισκομένους τὰ αἰδοῖα περιῃρημένους ἐπόμπευον. οὐκ ἐς πάντας μέντοι κατ᾿ ἀρχὰς τὸ κακὸν ἤγετο, ἀλλ᾿ ὅσοι ἢ Πράσινοι εἶναι ἢ μεγάλα περιβεβλῆσθαι χρήματα ἔδοξαν ἢ ἄλλο τι τοῖς τυραννοῦσι προσκεκρουκότες ἐτύγχανον.
The Emperor Justinian & his retinue (contemporary mosaic from the Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, built 547)


XVI 18 – XVII 1

On Theodora, the wife of the Emperor Justinian:

And she also conceived an anger against a certain Vasianus, a youthful member of the Green Faction[3] and not without distinction, for having covered her with abuse.[4] For this reason Vasianus (for he had not failed to hear of this anger) fled to the Church of the Archangel.[5] And she immediately set upon him the official in charge of the people,[6] commanding him to make no point of his abuse of her, but laying against him the charge of pederasty[7]. And the official removed the man from the sanctuary and inflicted a certain intolerable punishment upon him.[8] And the populace, upon seeing a free-born man involved in such dire misfortunes, a man who had long been living in luxury, were all straightway filled with anguish at the calamity and in lamentation raised their cries to the heavens, seeking to intercede for the youth. She, however, only punished him even more, and cutting off his private parts destroyed him[9] without a trial and confiscated his property to the Treasury. Thus whenever this hussy became excited, no sanctuary proved secure nor did any legal prohibition hold, nor could the supplication of a whole city, as it was clearly shewn, avail to rescue the offender, nor could anything else whatever stand in her way. 

And being angry with a certain Diogenes, as being a Green, a man who was witty and liked by all, even by the Emperor himself, she nevertheless was determined to bring against him the slanderous charge of male intercourse. Consequently she persuaded two of his own domestics to act as both accusers and witnesses and set them upon their owner. And when he was first examined, not secretly and with the great privacy which is usually observed, but in a public trial, with many judges appointed who were men of note, all on account of the reputation of Diogenes, since it did not seem to the judges, as they sought to get at the exact truth, that the statements of the domestics were of sufficient weight to justify a decision, particularly as they were young boys, she confined Theodore, one of the connections of Diogenes, in the usual cells. There she attacked the man with much cajolery and also with abuse. But since she met with no success, she caused the attendants to wind a leathern strap on the man’s head, about his ears, and then ordered them to twist and so to tighten the strap. And Theodore believed that his eyes had jumped out of his head, leaving their proper seats, yet he was unwilling to fabricate any untruth. So finally the judges acquitted Diogenes on the ground that the charge was unsupported by evidence, and the whole city in consequence celebrated a public holiday.

Such was the outcome of this affair.

[18] Καὶ Βασιανὸν δέ τινα Πράσινον, οὐκ ἀφανῆ νέον ὄντα, αὐτῇ διαλοιδορησάμενον δι᾿ ὀργῆς ἔσχε. διὸ δὴ ὁ Βασιανὸς (οὐ γὰρ ἀνήκοος ταύτης δὴ τῆς ὀργῆς ἐγεγόνει) ἐς τοῦ ἀρχαγγέλου τὸν νεὼν φεύγει. [19] ἡ δέ οἱ ἐπέστησεν αὐτίκα τὴν τῷ δήμῳ ἐφεστῶσαν ἀρχήν, οὐδὲν μὲν τῆς λοιδορίας ἐπικαλεῖν ἐπαγγείλασα, ὅτι δὲ παιδεραστοίη ἐπενεγκοῦσα. [20] καὶ ἡ μὲν ἀρχὴ ἐκ τοῦ ἱεροῦ τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἀναστήσασα ᾐκίζετο ἀνυποίστῳ τινὶ κολάσει, ὁ δὲ δῆμος ἅπας ἐπεὶ ἐν τοιαύταις συμφοραῖς εἶδε σῶμα ἐλευθέριόν τε καὶ ἀνειμένῃ ἄνωθεν διαίτῃ ἐντραφέν, ἀπήλγησάν τε τὸ πάθος εὐθὺς καὶ ξὺν οἰμωγῇ ἀνέκραγον οὐράνιον ὅσον ἐξαιτούμενοι τὸν νεανίαν. [21] ἡ δὲ αὐτὸν ἔτι μᾶλλον κολάσασα καὶ τὸ αἰδοῖον ἀποτεμομένη διέφθειρεν ἀνεξελέγκτως, καὶ τὴν οὐσίαν ἐς τὸ δημόσιον ἀνεγράψατο. [22] οὕτως ἡνίκα ὀργῴη τὸ γύναιον τοῦτο, οὔτε ἱερὸν ὀχυρὸν ἐγεγόνει οὔτε νόμου του ἀπαγόρευσις οὔτε πόλεως ἀντιβόλησις ἐξελέσθαι τὸν παραπεπτωκότα ἱκανὴ ἐφαίνετο οὖσα, οὔτε ἄλλο αὐτῇ ἀπήντα τῶν πάντων οὐδέν.

[23] Καὶ Διογένην δέ τινα οἷα Πράσινον ὄντα δι᾿ ὀργῆς ἔχουσα, ἄνδρα ἀστεῖον καὶ ποθεινὸν ἅπασί τε καὶ αὐτῷ τῷ βασιλεῖ, οὐδέν τι ἧσσον γάμων ἀνδρείων συκοφαντεῖν ἐν σπουδῇ εἶχε. [24] δύο γοῦν ἀναπείσασα τῶν αὐτοῦ οἰκετῶν κατηγόρους τε καὶ μάρτυρας τῷ κεκτημένῳ ἐπέστησε. [25] τοῦ δὲ οὐ κρύβδην ἐξεταζομένου καὶ λαθραιότατα, ᾗπερ1 εἰώθει, ἀλλ᾿ ἐν δημοσίῳ, δικαστῶν ᾑρημένων πολλῶν τε καὶ οὐκ ἀδόξων, διὰ τὴν Διογένους δόξαν, ἐπεὶ οὐκ ἐδόκουν ἀκριβολογουμένοις τοῖς δικασταῖς οἱ τῶν οἰκετῶν λόγοι ἀξιόχρεῳ ἐς τὴν κρίσιν εἶναι, ἄλλως τε καὶ παιδαρίων ὄντων, Θεόδωρον τῶν Διογένει ἀναγκαίων τινὰ ἐν τοῖς εἰωθόσιν οἰκιδίοις καθεῖρξεν. [26] ἐνταῦθα πολλαῖς μὲν θωπείαις πολλοῖς δὲ τὸν ἄνθρωπον αἰκισμοῖς περιῆλθεν. ἐπεί τέ οἱ οὐδὲν προὐχώρει, νευρὰν βοείαν ἐς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου τὴν κεφαλὴν ἀμφὶ τὰ ὦτα περιελίξαντας2 τὴν νευρὰν στρέφειν τε καὶ σφίγγειν ἐκέλευε. [27] καὶ τοὺς μέν οἱ ὀφθαλμοὺς Θεόδωρος3 ἐκπεπηδηκέναι τὴν οἰκείαν λιπόντας χώραν ὑπώπτευεν, οὐδὲν μέντοι τῶν οὐ γεγονότων ἀναπλάσσειν4 ἔγνω. [28] διὸ δὴ οἱ μὲν δικασταὶ ἅτε ἀμαρτυρήτου δίκης Διογένους5 ἀπέγνωσαν, ἡ δὲ πόλις ἑορτὴν ἀπ᾿ αὐτοῦ πανδημεὶ ἦγεν.

[XVII 1] Ἀλλὰ τοῦτο μὲν τῇδε ἐχώρησεν.


The Empress Theodora with attendants (contemporary mosaic from the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, built 547)

XIX 11-12

On how Justinian seized the wealth of the Romans:

No sooner had he thus disposed of the public wealth than he turned his eyes towards his subjects, and he straightway robbed great numbers of them of their estates, which he seized with high-handed and unjustified violence, haling to court, for crimes that never happened, men both in Byzantium and in every other city who were reputed to be in prosperous circumstances, charging some with belief in polytheism, others with adherence to some perverse sect among the Christians, or with pederasty[10], or with having amours with holy women, or with other kinds of forbidden intercourse, or with fomenting revolt, or with predilection for the Green Faction, or with insult to himself, or charging crimes of any other name whatsoever, or by his own arbitrary act making himself the heir of deceased persons or, if it should so happen, of the living even, alleging that he had been adopted by them. Such were the most august of his actions.  [11] Πλοῦτον οὕτω τὸν δημόσιον εὐθὺς ἐκφορήσας ἐπὶ τοὺς κατηκόους τὸ βλέμμα ἦγε, πλείστους τε αὐτίκα τὰς οὐσίας ἀφείλετο ἁρπάζων τε καὶ βιαζόμενος οὐδενὶ λόγῳ, τῶν ἐγκλημάτων τε οὐδαμῆ γεγονότων ὑπάγων τοὺς εὐδαίμονας ἔν τε Βυζαντίῳ καὶ πόλει ἑκάστῃ δοκοῦντας εἶναι, καὶ τοῖς μὲν πολυθεΐαν, τοῖς δὲ δόξης ἐν Χριστιανοῖς νοῖς οὐκ ὀρθῆς αἵρεσιν, τοῖς δὲ παιδεραστίας, ἑτέροις ἱερῶν γυναικῶν ἔρωτας ἢ ἄλλας τινὰς οὐ θεμιτὰς μίξεις, ἄλλοις στάσεως ἀφορμήν, ἢ μέρους Πρασίνου στοργήν, ἢ ἐς αὐτὸν ὑβρίζειν, ἢ ὄνομα ὁτιοῦν ἄλλο ἐπενεγκών, ἢ κληρονόμος αὐτόματος τοῖς τετελευτηκόσιν ἢ καὶ περιοῦσιν, ἂν οὕτω τύχοι, ἅτε4 ἐσποιητὸς πρὸς αὐτῶν γενόμενος. [12] αἱ γὰρ δὴ σεμνόταται τῶν πράξεων αὐτῷ τοιαῦται ἦσαν. 

Constantinople in the reign of Justinian

XX 9-10

On how Justinian debased the old magistracies with new ones:

And to one of the two he gave jurisdiction over thieves, as he pretended, giving it the name of “Praetor of the Plebs” and to the other office he assigned the province of punishing those who were habitually practising pederasty[11] and those who had such intercourse with women as was prohibited by law, and any who did not worship the Deity in the orthodox way, giving the name of “Quaesitor” to this magistrate.  [9] καὶ αὐταῖν τὴν ἑτέραν μὲν τοῖς κλέπταις δῆθεν τῷ λόγῳ ἐπέστησεν, ὄνομα ταύτῃ ἐπιθεὶς πραίτωρα δήμων τῇ δὲ δὴ ἑτέρᾳ τούς τε παιδεραστοῦντας ἐς ἀεὶ τίννυσθαι καὶ γυναιξὶν οὐ νόμιμα μιγνυμένους ἐπήγγελλε, καὶ εἴ τῳ τὰ ἐς τὸ θεῖον οὐκ ὀρθῶς ἤσκηται, [10] ὄνομα ταύτῃ ἐπιθεὶς κοιαισίτωρα. 


[1] Justinian’s  law issued as part of his code in 533 more literally ordered the punishment by burning of all acts of lust between males and began a persecution of male homosexuality in Christendom that persisted into modern times, where previous legislation of the Christian emperors had only called for the punishment of the passive partner and seems not much to have been enforced. The translator’s inaccurate translation of παιδεραστεῖν (paiderastein) as “sodomy” has been replaced: it is not only not what the law said, but much more importantly is not what Prokopios said. His conflation of pederasty (having to him as a Greek-speaker  an indisputably clear meaning as the sexual love of boys) with male homosexuality in general indicates that it was then a fair enough assumption that a male homosexual act would be between man and boy.

[2] Justinian was a supporter of the Blues, as were they of him.

[3] Theodora had a bitter grudge from her girlhood against the Green chariot-racing club.

[4] As a Green, Vasianus presumably had access to gossip about the theatre and Theodora’s very disreputable past in it.

[5] Of the several churches in Byzantium and the suburbs dedicated to the Archangel Michael it is probably not possible to identify the one to which Vasianus fled. [Translator’s note]

[6] Probably the Quasitor [Translator’s note]

[7] The translator’s inaccurate translation of παιδεραστεῖν (paiderastein) as “sodomy” has been replaced. What Vasianus was charged with was not necessarily pedication (however likely), but was a sexual act with a boy.

[8] The exact nature of this humiliating punishment is not known. But cf. Chap. xi. 36: Gibbon-Bury IV. 505, note 202 (ed. 4) refer, for the laws of Constantine and his successors against sexual crimes, to the Theodosian Code l. ix. tit. vii. leg. 7; 1. xi. tit. xxxvi. leg. 1, 4, and to the Justinian Code l. ix. tit. ix. leg. 30, 31. [Translator’s note]

[9] Probably this means that he bled to death from the castration, as Justinian’s own legislation against castration makes clear was the common result.

[10] Yet again, the translator’s inaccurate translation of παιδεραστίας (paiderastias) as “sodomy”, inaccurate and with the same misleading implications as in the previous examples, has been amended to pederasty. Prokopios’s use of “pederasty” reveals an assumption that that was what male homosexuality (the crime under Justinian’s Code) generally amounted to.
     The most amply explained  official reason for the persecution of pederasts, grounded in the threat to the state of incurring God’s wrath, is to be found in Justinian’s New Law 141.

[11] Yet again, the translator’s inaccurate translation of παιδεραστοῦντας (paiderastountas) as “sodomy”, inaccurate and with the same misleading implications as in the previous examples, has been amended to pederasty. Prokopios’s use of “pederasty” reveals an assumption that that was what male homosexuality (the crime under Justinian’s Code) generally amounted to.




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