Procopius’ Portrayal of Justinian

“This Emperor, then, 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, 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.”

-Procopius c. 490/510-c.560s

~Internet History Sourcebooks Project

What sort of man does this describe emperor Justinian as? Let’s break it down.

“…was deceitful, devious, false, hypocritical, two-faced…”

He was a cowardly liar, one that might murder his own son at the slightest conception that his offspring could possibly take the throne from him.

“…skilled in dissembling his thought…”

This means he could easily hide a true motive behind a certain action. He was obviously able to deceive almost anyone but an exceptionally knowledgeable person.

“…never moved to tears by either joy or pain, though he could summon them artfully at will when the occasion demanded…”

He was probably mentally deficient of emotion because of his internal instability, yet he could express, falsely, the emotions he was inept to truly expressing.

“…a liar always…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…”

His value of truth was incalculably low, if this comment is accurate.

“…A faithless friend, he was a treacherous enemy, insane for murder and plunder, quarrelsome and revolutionary…”

What a vile man! He, according to the most accurate source we have of him, was a homicidal maniac, doing whatsoever his whims willed. “…revolutionary…”, he spent the lives of his soldiers like pennies for a pack of gum.

“…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.”

Childish and immature, this Justinian could hardly be called a man. A monster, more like.

We can derive a conclusion from this source that the man that stands out of Procopius’ description is an absolute monster. He succumbed to evil’s at any hour he pleased, and enacted it when he pleased. An unstable, vile, and merciless being Justinian was.

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