thermore, in the sixth century, when the bishop of Antioch,
Severus, sang a hymn celebrating the defeat of Justin
I’s ally Vitalian, the emperor ordered his tongue cut out – forcing him to flee to Egypt. Vitalian’s nephew, Justinian I, would eventually inherit the purple for himself, before rolling out a series of sweeping legal reforms that marked the transition from Eastern Roman Empire to Byzantine Empire. Justinian’s body of civil law, issued in three parts from 529 to 534, brought together all imperial constitutions issued since the time of Hadrian – representing the most significant set of laws in the Eastern Empire’s history. Justinian wanted to revise the archaic Roman laws to reflect the new Christian face of the Byzantine Empire. In some respects, he showed greater lenience; he abolished the death penalty imposed by Constantine on adulterous women, instead forcing them to join a convent for a minimum of two years. However, his clemency ended there. While many families liked to castrate younger sons to boost their church or court careers, Justinian banned this, citing a low survival rate of 1 in 30. Echoing a similar law issued by the Babylonian king Hammurabi, any castrator would himself be castrated. Meanwhile, tax collectors who falsified accounts, and anyone caught copying the heretical writings of Severus, would have a hand chopped off.
Though Phocas’ reign was brief, it was traumatic. The paranoid tyrant sentenced to death anyone he considered a threat, often without trial, hacking off their hands and feet and displaying the severed appendages in the hippodrome. When he was himself overthrown, his right arm and genitals were cut off and affixed to poles, and his body burned.
Homosexuality was not considered particularly egregious in the early days of the Empire, and gay prostitutes were merely charged a tax. Although Constantine’s sons, Constantius and Constans, called for homosexuals to be punished, there is no evidence that this was enacted extensively, and Constans himself was gay. Justinian, however, a religious fundamentalist, took the legend of Sodom literally and believed that homosexuality was the cause of recent “famines, earthquakes and pestilences” throughout the Empire. In AD 528, when the bishops Isaiah of Rhodes and Alexander of Diospolis were accused of being boy-lovers, they were promptly removed from office before having their geni-
tals mutilated and being paraded through the streets. This process was also used to punish and humiliate powerful members of society who upset Justinian and his wife, Theodora. The Greek historian Procopius says such cases were prosecuted with sheer disregard for judicial transparency; merely the testimony of a hostile slave could constitute ‘proof’. As such, many people were mutilated in the ensuing chaos, with Theodora said to have taken great delight in punishing her rivals.
GOD ONLY NOSE Even after the Western Empire, centred around Rome, collapsed, the East remained stable. However, in AD 602, for the first time in 300 years, an ambitious young centurion called Phocas usurped the imperial title by murdering the ruling emperor, Maurice. Though Phocas’ reign was brief, it was traumatic. The paranoid tyrant sentenced to death anyone he considered a threat, often without trial, hacking off their hands and feet and displaying the severed appendages in the hippodrome. When he was himself overthrown, his right arm and genitals were cut off and affixed to poles, and his body burned. In his shadow rose the Heraclian Dynasty. With no established principle of inheritance, ruling family members began to squabble over succession. When Heraclius discovered that his illegitimate son and nephew were plotting against him, he had their noses and hands cut off. After his death, the Empire was left to his sons, who were half-brothers. However, when the elder died just months later, his stepmother, Martina, and her biological son were accused of poisoning him. The senate rejected their legitimacy, cutting out Martina’s tongue, slicing off her son’s nose, and banishing them. This rapid series of mutilations established the principle that the emperor must represent the perfect image of God. Cutting off a contender’s nose not only punished would-be usurpers but, echoing the Roman importance of noses, soon became the mutilation of choice for permanently disqualifying them from office. Although Constantine IV first ruled as co-emperor with his younger brothers, he later stripped them of their titles and slit their noses, declaring his son Justinian II co-emperor instead. A tyrant who managed to simultaneously upset the church, the poor, and the rich, Justinian
II was overthrown by the military governor, Leontius, who dragged him to the packed-out hippodrome, cutting off his nose and
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