Monday, May 9, 2016

Byzantine Knockout Game

At first the great majority carried weapons at night quite openly, while in the daytime they concealed short two-edged swords along their thighs under their cloaks.  They used to collect in gangs at nightfall and rob members of the upper class in the open forum or in narrow alleys, despoiling any they met of cloaks, belts gold brooches and anything else they had with them.  Some they thought it better to murder as well as rob, since dead men told no tales.  These outrages caused universal indignation, especially among those Blues who were not militant factionalists, since they suffered as badly as the rest.  Consequently from then on most people wore belts and brooches of bronze, and cloaks of much poorer quality than their station warranted, for fear that their love of the beautiful would cost them their lives, and even before sunset they hurried back home and got under cover.  As this shocking state of affairs continued and no notice was taken of the offenders by the authorities in charge of the city, the audacity of these men increased by leaps and bounds.  For when nothing is done to discourage wrongdoing, there is of course not limit to its growth: even when punishment does follow offences it does not often put an end to them altogether: it is natural for most people to turn easily to wrongdoing.

This is how things went with the Blues.  Of their opponents some came over to their faction through a desire to join in their criminal activities without paying any penalty, others took flight and slipped away to other lands; many who were caught in the city were put out of the way by their opponents or executed by the authorities.  Many other young men poured into this organization: they had never before shown any interest in such things, but ambition for power and unrestrained license attracted them to it.  For there is not one revolting crime known to men which was not at that time committed and left unpunished.  They began by destroying the partisans of the opposite faction, then went on to murder those who had given them no provocation whatever.  Many also won them over with bribes, then implicated their own enemies; these the factionalists got rid of at once, labelling them Greens though they knew nothing at all about them.  All this went on no longer in darkness or out of sight but at any moment of the day and in every part of the city, and the most eminent citizens as often as not were eyewitnesses to what was happening.  There was no need to keep the crimes concealed, since the criminals were not troubled by any fear of punishment; in fact they were actually moved by a spirit of rivalry, so that they organized displays of brawn and toughness to show that with a single blow they could kill anyone they met unarmed, and no one now could expect to live much longer amid the dangers that daily threatened him.  Constant fear made everyone expect that death was just round the corner: no place seemed safe, no time could guarantee security, since even in the most revered sanctuaries and at public festivals people were being senselessly murdered, and confidence in kith and kin was a thing of the past.  For many perished through the machinations of their nearest relatives.

No inquiry, however, was held into the crimes committed: the blow invariably fell without warning, and the fallen had no one to avenge them.  No law or contract retained any force on the secure basis of the established order, but everything turned to growing violence and confusion, and the government was indistinguishable from a tyranny--not, however, a stable tyranny but one that changed every day and was forever starting afresh.  The decisions of the magistrates suggested the paralysis of fear--their minds were dominated by dread of a single man--and those who sat in judgment, when settling questions in dispute, based their verdicts no on heir notions of what was just and lawful but on the relations, hostile or friendly, which each of the disputants had with the partisans.  For any judge who disregarded their injunctions would pay the price with his life.

Procopius, The Secret History, Translated by G.A. Williamson and Peter Sarris (England: Penguin Books 2007),29-31.

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