Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity."

- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Army - Unjust Treatment of the Soldiers

Roman heavy infantry

Corruptus in Extremis

The great weakness in the Empire was the decline of the different Roman assemblies so the people had no way of peacefully changing their government. 

By the time of Justinian the eastern Senate had become a rubber stamp institution with little power. The Emperor of the moment could trample on the rights of the people at will.

In this chapter below from Procopius' Secret History we get yet another example of Imperial corruption right at the top in the Royal Palace.

Short of a military coup there was nothing anyone in the Empire could do.

By Procopius of Caesarea
500 - 554 AD
The Secret History


I must not pass over his treatment of the soldiers, over whom he appointed paymasters with instructions to hold out as much of their money as they found possible, on the understanding that one twelfth of what they thus collected was theirs. 

Their method each year was as follows. It was the regulation that different ranks in the army receive different pay: the young and newly enlisted received less, those who had seen hard service and had advanced half way up the list received more, and the veterans who should soon retire from service had a still higher rating, so that they could live on their savings as private citizens, and when their span of life was complete, might be able to leave some consolation to their families. In this way, the soldiers step by step arose in rank as their older comrades died or retired, and each man's pay fitted his degree of seniority.
But the paymasters forbade the erasing from the lists of the names of soldiers who died, even when many perished together, as frequently happened in the constant wars. Nor did they fill the vacancies in the lists, even after considerable time.
The result of this was that the number of soldiers grew continually less, and those who survived their dead comrades were deprived of their proper advancement in rank and pay; while the paymasters handed over to Justinian the money that should have gone to these soldiers all this time.
Furthermore, they fined the soldiers for other personal and unjust reasons, as a reward for the perils they underwent in the battlefield: on the charge that they were Greeks, as if none of that nation could be brave; or that they were not commissioned by the Emperor to serve, even when they showed his signature to that effect, which the paymasters did not hesitate to question; or that they had been absent from duty for a few days.

Eastern Roman Guard
Troops were expected to put their lives on the line while the Emperor cheated them of their pay.


Later, some of the palace guards were sent throughout the whole Roman Empire to investigate how many on the military lists were unfit for service; and some were relieved of their uniform for being old and use less, so that for the rest of their lives they had to beg their meals of the charitable in the public Forum, exhibiting their tears and lamentations to passersby; and the rest, lest they might suffer a similar fate, handed over their savings as a bribe, with the result that all the soldiers lost heart for their profession, were reduced to poverty, and had no further enthusiasm for campaigning.
This was ruinous to the Romans and their authority in Italy; and the paymaster Alexander, sent thither, had the audacity to reproach the soldiers for their poor morale; while he exacted further money from the Italians, on the pretext of punishing them for their negotiations with Theodoric and the Goths. The common soldiers, indeed, were not the only ones to be reduced to poverty and helplessness by these commissioners; for all the staff officers, under the generals, who had formerly been in high esteem, were utterly impoverished and in danger of famine, as they had no money left with which to buy their customary provisions.
Speaking of the soldiers reminds me to add further details. The Roman emperors hitherto had stationed large armies on all frontiers of the State to protect its boundaries; and particularly in the East, to repel incursions of the Persians and Saracens. These border troops Justinian used so ill and meanly from the start that their pay became four or five years overdue; and when peace was declared between the Romans and Persians, these poor men, instead of sharing in the fruits of peace, were forced to contribute to the public treasury whatever was owed them; after which they were summarily discharged from the army. Thereafter the boundaries of the Roman Empire were unguarded, and the soldiers were left suddenly on the hands of charity.
Another corps of not less than three thousand, five hundred other soldiers, originally mustered for the palace guard, and called the Scholars, had always received higher pay from the public treasury than the rest of the army. Originally they were chosen to this preferred company by special merit, from the Armenians; but from the time when Zeno became Emperor, it was possible for anyone, no matter how poor or cowardly a soldier, to wear this uniform. 

Now when Justin came to the throne, this Justinian distributed the honor among a large number upon their paying him a considerable price for it. And when he saw there was no further possible vacancy, he enrolled two thousand more, whom he called Supernumeraries. When he himself took over the throne, he immediately disbanded the Supernumeraries, without giving them back any of the money they had paid him.
This, however, is what he schemed with reference to the Student Corps. Whenever an army was about to be sent against Libya, Italy, or the Persians, he ordered them to pack for service with the regulars, though he knew well they were utterly unfit for the campaign. And they, trembling at the possibility of active service, surrendered their pay for the period of the war. The Students had this unpleasant experience more than once. Also Peter, during all the time he was Master of Offices, worried them daily with unheard-of thefts.
For he was a gentle seeming and unassuming man, but the biggest thief alive, and simply bursting with sordid meanness. It was this Peter whom I mentioned before as responsible for the murder of Amasalontha, Theodoric's daughter.
There were also others in the palace guard of much higher rank; and the more they paid into the treasury for their commissions, the higher was their military rating. These were called Domestics and Protectors, and had always been exempt from active service. Only as a matter of form they were listed in the palace guard. Some of them were regularly stationed in Constantinople, others had always been assigned to Galatia or other provinces. Justinian scared these, too, in the same way, into forfeiting their pay to him.
Finally, it was the law that every five years the Emperor should give each soldier a bonus of a fixed sum in gold. And every five years commissioners had been sent over all the Roman Empire to give each soldier five gold staters. Not to comply with this custom was simply unthinkable. Yet from the time that this man managed the State, he never once did this, nor had any idea of doing it, though he reigned for thirty-two years: so that the very custom was finally forgotten by everyone.

Empress Theodora 
by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1887)

"Now when the Emperor and Theodora dismissed John of Cappadocia, they wished to appoint a successor to his office, and agreed to choose a still baser rogue; so they looked everywhere for such an instrument of tyranny, examining all manner of men that they might be able to ruin their subjects the faster. 

For the time being, they appointed Theodotus to the office: a man who was by no means good, but still not bad enough to satisfy them; and meanwhile they continued their general search till finally, almost to their surprise, they discovered a banker named Peter, a Syrian by birth, surnamed Barsyames; who, after years of sitting at the copper money-changer's table had made himself rich by thievish malpractices, being gifted at stealing obols, which he could filch under the eyes of customers by the quickness of his fingers. He was not only smart at this sleight-of-hand thievery, but if he were ever detected, would swear it was a mistake, covering up the sins of his hands with the impudence of his tongue.

Enlisting in the Pretorian guard, he behaved so outrageously that Theodora was delighted with him, and decided he could most easily serve her in the worst of her nefarious schemes. So Theodotus, who had succeeded the Cappadocian, was straightway removed from office and Peter appointed in his place; and he did everything to their taste. Cheating all the soldiers of -their due pay, without the slightest shame or fear, he also offered offices for sale to a greater extent than ever to those who did not hesitate to engage in this impious traffic for dishonored positions; and he openly licensed those who bought these offices to use as they wished the lives and substance of their subjects. For he claimed himself, and granted to whoever paid the price of a province, the right to destroy and ravage without restriction."

Eastern Roman Soldier