Justinian-Speak.

Madeline Woda at OUPBlog presents The language of victory: 8 ancient phrases used by Emperor Justinian:

When writing about the Justinian era, historian Peter Heather chooses to use both Greek and Latin terminology as a way to bring Justinian’s legacy to life. We’ve listed out some of the terms that help detail the political and martial history of Emperor Justinian.

Every schoolboy knows Nika and denarii, and I was vaguely familiar with bucellarii and the silentiarius, but I confess this was new to me:

Nomos empsychos—law incarnate (Greek): From the late third century onwards, Roman emperors dominated lawmaking in the Roman world and were themselves customarily viewed as law incarnate. They could make (and sometimes break) laws as they wished, as long as they could present what they were doing as supportive of the ideals of rational civilization.

It’s good to be the king.

Comments

  1. David Marjanović says:

    If you’re a king, they let you do it…

  2. empsychos […] incarnate

    That’s… an interesting equation, since one means to give spirit and one means to give flesh (opposites from a certain perspective). I guess it gets the gist across here, although apparently the way that the Greeks or Romans conceived of it was that the written statute was an inert law (nomos apsychos), while the basileus was the animated law.

  3. January First-of-May says:

    Just a few days ago, my brother (currently in 6th grade) did a history test where he, among other things, had to guess which ideas (from a list of several) belong to the Code of Justinian; one of those was король есть говорящий закон (literally, “the king is a talking law”).

    He guessed that this particular one wasn’t from there, because the 6th century Byzantine Empire didn’t really have any kings (emperors, yes, but not kings). Apparently this was the wrong answer, and he was docked a point for that (ending up with a 4 – that’s a B in American terms – for the test, despite not messing up anywhere else).

    But this reference to “animated law” makes me suspect that it was, in fact, from the Code of Justinian (and not, say, from the Salic Laws, which I suspected to be the most likely alternate source), and just translated weirdly.

  4. You’ve been around some very bright schoolboys, I think.

  5. ????? king???? wasn’t it all about “basileus” back then?

  6. AG: Basileus could mean king or emperor.

  7. Roman emperors dominated lawmaking in the Roman world and were themselves customarily viewed as law incarnate.

    The Law’s the true embodiment
    Of everything that’s excellent
    It has no kind of fault or flaw –
    And I, my Lords, embody the Law!

  8. David Eddyshaw says:

    I’d be surprised to see “νίκα” mentioned by a historian in the context of Justinian’s reign as a soldier’s cry rather than a rioter’s; that would be the very first thing to spring to mind. It was evidently the “marketing intern” rather than the historian came up with this list. It reminds me of the many press releases put out by research establishments in my own field which have been evidently filtered through PR people with no understanding of the subject matter of the research at all. (The implication that the Roman Empire “collapsed” in the seventh century is a dead giveaway of ignorance of Byzantine history too.)

    Hail to the Merciful Greens and Blues!

    Justinian was (as every schoolboy knows) the last emperor who was an actual native Latin speaker, and Latin was still the official language of the empire. It seems conceivable that this may have something to do with why Peter Heather “chooses” to use Latin terminology. I suspect the intern has not actually read the book.

  9. J.W. Brewer says:

    “Successful[ly]” is not a modifier one customarily sees in discussions of the Henotikon, so this reflects a contrarian/revisionist POV. Or possibly an incompetent intern. (At a minimum, to the extent it initially appeared to successfully reconcile A with B, it did so at the cost of alienating C, which was a costly enough side effect that Justinian’s own predecessor abandoned/denounced the thing in order to get back on good terms with C.)

  10. January First-of-May says:

    The really weird one was denarii – this denomination simply wasn’t a thing in Justinian’s time. The description is real – of the third century; there weren’t any by the sixth.

    (The 6th century Vandals did apparently mint tiny silver coins traditionally said to be denominated in denarii – 25, 50, and 100 of them, specifically; I have no idea what is the source for them being denarii and not nummi, which they also minted, but in copper.
    The 6th century Byzantines, however, had copper coins denominated in nummi (1 to 40), gold solidi and fractions, and a large variety of uncommon silver that was mostly denominated in (large amounts of) nummi as well.)

  11. John Cowan says:

    Similarly, in the Third Reich the “will of the Fuehrer” was one source of law, which meant among other things that if an order came directly from Hitler it did not have to be in writing. This probably explains the fact that no written order for the Final Solution has ever been found in the voluminous German archives, and was used as part of Eichmann’s defense: that everything he had done was strictly in accordance with the law of his country at the time he did it.

  12. The highest-level Nazis’ tendency to be elliptical in writing when they discussed the planning of the Shoah was peculiar, especially compared with the voluminous documentation that existed on the operators of the Final Solution at the lower levels. Part of this seems to have been due to a real effort to maintain at least a limited degree of secrecy. (Eichmann admitted that Heydrich gave him specific instructions not to be too explicit about what they had discussed in the minutes of the Wannsee Conference, which were distributed to the participants.*) However, much of it was part of the Nazi culture. Hitler often gave orders to the military in writing, in accord with German military traditions, but for orders meant to be executed by the SS and other organs of the Nazi party, he often gave them only orally. And his immediate subordinates, especially Himmler, often followed a similar policy. The fact that many orders were given orally and in person concentrated power in the hands of Hitler and the other leaders.

    * Eichmann’s minutes, and possibly even the discussions at the Wannsee Conference itself, were apparently too elliptical for at least one of the participants. The only copy of the Wannsee Protocol that survived that war was that issued to Martin Luther, the undersecretary at the Foreign Office. The minutes show that Luther asked questions about logistical aspects of “Umsiedlung” (“resettlement”) indicating that, at least initially, he did not grasp that was meant purely as a euphemism for extermination. That he did not destroy his copy of the minutes, as many other participants did, may also have been a product of his naivety; or he many simply not have felt the need before he himself was shipped off to Sachsenhausen in 1944.

  13. J.W. Brewer says:

    I found a recent academic book about Byzantine whatnot that translated empsychos (in a non-legal context) variously as both “animated,” which is maybe imprecise but produces idiomatic modern English, and “inspirited,” which on the one hand nicely contrasts with “incarnate” but on the other hand sounds at first either translationese or New-Agey. But turns out the joke’s on me because “inspirited” is perfectly good if archaic English, used by the likes of Shakespeare and (Mary) Shelley, with the google books n-gram viewer showing a steep decline in usage after 1860. Of course, 21st century users of “inspirited” may be independent recoiners rather than deliberate revivalists.

    The process of inspiriting something and/or something becoming inspirited is, of course, empsychosis, a rather lovely word that should not be confused with that other word that Molly Bloom pronounced met him pike hoses.

  14. David Marjanović says:

    The fact that many orders were given orally and in person concentrated power in the hands of Hitler and the other leaders.

    How?

  15. Theoretically speaking, it is possible to govern without giving orders at all. You can just express some vague preferences and then punish subordinates if your true wishes are not carried out and reward them if they are. This is inefficient (and unethical, but by the time this becomes the preferred method of governance, ethics is long gone), but it seems that is used by all sorts of autocrats anyway.

  16. Reminds me of how king Henry II got Archbishop of Canterbury killed.

    “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”

  17. John Cowan says:

    Quoth WP:

    The king’s exact words are in doubt and several versions have been reported. The most commonly quoted, as handed down by oral tradition, is “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”, but according to historian Simon Schama this is incorrect: he accepts the account of the contemporary biographer Edward Grim, writing in Latin, who gives us “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?”

    Whatever it was, it was enough to incite the Gang of Four to murder, an act for which they paid very little (being sent on crusade, basically) and Henry Curtmantle paid for very seriously. Henry vs. Thomas through modern eyes.

  18. David Marjanović says:

    Theoretically speaking, it is possible to govern without giving orders at all.

    Ah, the Austrian tradition of vorauseilender Gehorsam, “preemptive obedience”, “obedience that hurries in advance [of any order]”.

  19. Warning: If you use the image of Justinian accompanying the article commercially, you have to credit Meister von San Vitale in Ravenna; otherwise, he might sue you.

  20. This wasn’t the year I wanted to learn the words tyrants use to allow themselves change and break the law subject only to their own whims.

  21. David Marjanović: How?

    There was no bureaucratic chain of command for getting things done. If the manager of some Nazi agency wanted to do something, he (and it was always *he*) needed to get it approved; however, he could not just prepare a proposal and pass it on to his superior. He would have to arrange an in-person meeting with Hitler or one of the other top potentates. That meant that Hitler got to make an inordinate number of decisions personally, and so did Himmler and Göring and so on. Moreover, to get a meeting with Hitler, a mid-level Nazi had to go through Martin Bormann, which often required first going to meet with Bormann in person and placating Bormann.

    (In the course of writing this, I successively googled “Bormann” and “Hermann Goering” a few minutes apart, to make sure I had the right number of n‘s in their names. Google, once again getting too smart to comfort, decided that I might be interested in more top-level Nazis as well; so across the top of the search results page were pictures of eight class A war criminals.)

  22. David Marjanović says:

    Makes sense, thanks.

  23. Brett, (forgive me for chopping up your comment): The highest-level Nazis’ tendency to be elliptical in writing when they discussed the planning of the Shoah was peculiar […] Hitler often gave orders to the military in writing, in accord with German military traditions, but for orders meant to be executed by the SS and other organs of the Nazi party, he often gave them only orally. And his immediate subordinates, especially Himmler, often followed a similar policy.

    Though I’m no expert this was hard for me to believe, so I did some googling and found that “tendency” and “often” are important qualifications. For example,

    1. Here is a 1942 report of numbers of mass executions in the East. Bandenbekämpfung or “bandet fighting” was originally the term for an anti-partisan tactic but became used to describe roundups that were part of the genocide and so breaks out the number of Juden exekutiert. It was sent to Hitler by Himmler.

    2. The Wannsee Minutes, here translated to English, give a clear breakdown of who is responsible for what part of the Shoah in the Nazi leadership, including Göring, “the Reich Marshal” (there was only one Reichsmarschall): “…Heydrich, reported
    that the Reich Marshal had appointed him delegate for the
    preparations for the final solution of the Jewish question in
    Europe and pointed out that this discussion had been called for
    the purpose of clarifying fundamental questions. The wish of the
    Reich Marshal to have a draft sent to him concerning
    organizational, factual and material interests in relation to the
    final solution of the Jewish question in Europe makes necessary
    an initial common action of all central offices immediately
    concerned with these questions in order to bring their general
    activities into line”
    and Himmler, “the Reichsführer-SS” who was “…entrusted with the
    official central handling of the final solution of the Jewish question without regard to geographic borders”.

    The only misunderstanding in the Wannsee Minutes was (as you said) that the „Evakuierungsaktion“ was a prelude to death rather than to resettlement. Nevertheless they managed to iron the ambiguity out with Dr Luther.

    3. Regarding Hitler himself there’s his signed letter authorising the Aktion T4 (euthanasia).

  24. Darn. I can’t add this to my comment because it was nabbed, perhaps for using the H-word.

    There was no bureaucratic chain of command for getting things done.

    – I think the Wannsee Minutes show a well-organised chain of command, but as I said I’m no expert.

  25. But the Wannsee Minutes are the minutes of a meeting, not “orders in writing.” The very fact that they’re central to the history of the Holocaust is proof, not refutation, of Brett’s point.

  26. The point here is, I think, that giving oral orders was not so much meant to have “plausible deniability” against the public or future justice or historians (I assume that may have become more of a concern from 1943 or 1944), but to deny the underlings any recourse – only the leaders could confim what were their orders and whether their subordinates had fulfilled them correctly. The lower you went in the hierarchy, the more implementation and control became a concern, so the more normal bureaucratic procedure applied. So if the leaders felt like it, they did give written orders.

  27. Proof of Brett’s point would be, “no minutes were taken of the Wannsee Conference”. What the senior Nazis wrote was kept secret, but H. & co’s orders about intended mass murder weren’t only given orally.

  28. And of course, Nazi Germany wasn’t the only dictatorship run along such lines. The “telephone law” of the Soviet Union was a similar phenomenon – orders given by phone or orally through intermediaries that were obligatory to be followed, without back-up by written confirmation. An additional issue in the USSR was that such orders often violated the official laws and rules, with the gap between the lofty ideals and the actual practice being arguably wider in Communist dictatorships than in the Fascist ones.

  29. Proof of Brett’s point would be, “no minutes were taken of the Wannsee Conference”.

    Again, the minutes of a meeting are not written orders.

  30. J.W. Brewer says:

    We generally expect laws and regulations of general applicability to be put in writing for all sorts of reasons, but whether specific directions/orders/commands to specific individuals or small groups are written or oral depends on context and there are few clear guidelines. Certainly, a soldier disciplined for insubordination or a civilian employee fired for not following directions would be unlikely to have a full defense by just saying “but it wasn’t in writing,” absent some very specific rule applicable to the situation that permitted oral directions to be ignored with impunity.

    But it seems unfortunate that no one has much to say about the alleged vocabulary of Justinian other than that all autocrats look like Hitler if you have Hitler on the brain and squint at just the right angle.

  31. January First-of-May says:

    But it seems unfortunate that no one has much to say about the alleged vocabulary of Justinian other than that all autocrats look like Hitler if you have Hitler on the brain and squint at just the right angle.

    Yeah. Godwin’s law is so much not a thing on LH that it was unexpected to see it here.

    That said, the vocabulary is very alleged. They’re freely mixing up the 6th, 5th, 4th, and even 3rd century, and not in all cases even try to explain how what they’re saying relates to Justinian specifically.

    I mean, that’s basically the equivalent of writing an article about the Victorian Age, and bringing up Nelson, the Acts of Union, and the English Commonwealth.
    Or writing about the accomplishments of Alexander III, and mentioning Kutuzov, the Window into Europe, and the Time of Troubles.

  32. Again… not written orders

    Here is a July 1941 written formal order from Goering to Heydrich to “create an overall organisational design for the final solution of the Jewish question”.

  33. But Brett didn’t say there were no written orders, he said “he often gave them only orally.” You’re free to take the position that as long as there’s even a single written order, that means Nazi Germany was just like every other state, but I’m not sure that’s defensible.

  34. J.W. Brewer says:

    FWIW, it strikes me that English has a pejorative loanword from Russian meaning (in English) more or less “arbitrary autocratic decree with the force of law,” viz. “ukase.” My sense is that a ukase would characteristically be in writing, which tends to suggest that it’s not hard in principle to conceive of an autocratic regime where law reflects no more than the autocrat’s raw will but it is still expected that the autocrat will follow a specific formal procedure before his will is treated as law and the autocrat does habitually follow that procedure.

  35. Well the Nazi régime didn’t have a parliament or checks & balances etc. so it wasn’t like every other state in the sense of being a democracy. But it was part of the 20C and it had a well-known bureaucracy that wrote telegrammes and made copies of typed docs that it kept in sturdy Leitz files. Some of the formal orders from the top down must have been destroyed but others still exist and I’ve linked to a couple of them. The Nazis maintained (no doubt wrongly, but never mind) that they worked within the law; therefore Hit, Him & Hey didn’t start the Holocaust with a mere nudge and a wink to their followers, that’s the position I’ve taken.

  36. Makes sense, and I like “Hit, Him & Hey.”

  37. Glad to hear it.

    JFofM: Godwin’s law is so much not a thing on LH that it was unexpected to see it here.

    Sorry! Don’t mention the War.

  38. Just to be pedantic, it’s silentiarius: six syllables, not five. You dropped the second i in your post. I only know the word from the Greek Anthology, where Paulus Silentiarius is one of the latest (and far from the worst) erotic epigrammatists.

  39. Woops, thanks — fixed! I knew that, but missed my typo. And yes, Paulus Silentiarius is a good epigrammatist; here‘s a selection in Greek.

  40. Though they don’t have this one, which I particularly like:

    Ούνομα μοι — τί δε τούτο; πατρις δέ μοι — ες τί δε τουτο;
        κλεινου δ ειμι γένους — ει γάρ αφαυροτάτου;
    ζήσας ενδόξως έλιπον βίον — ει γαρ αδόξως;
        κείμαι δ ενθάδε νύν — τις τίνι ταύτα λέγεις;

  41. January First-of-May says:

    Just to be pedantic, it’s silentiarius: six syllables, not five. You dropped the second i in your post.

    Just to be more pedantic, it was Madeline Woda who dropped that letter in her original post; LH just faithfully copied her version.

  42. Ah, so I missed her typo. Still should have caught it.

  43. The Nazis were aware that they would be killed if their regime lost power, and would be heroes if they maintained power, whether or not orders were in writing. The chief advantage of oral orders is that the person at the top can take credit for having ordered everything the underlings do that turns out well, and can disclaim responsibility for anything that turns out poorly. This is as true when ordering upholstery as when ordering genocide. Well, almost as true.

  44. J.W. Brewer says:

    I am pleased to learn that Paulus Silentiarius has enough of a 21st century fanbase that a new volume of English translations was published just a few years ago (well, I don’t recognize the imprint, so maybe self-published by the translator?) with the striking title “Sex and the Civil Servant.” https://www.amazon.com/Sex-Civil-Servant-Poems-Silentiary/dp/0993114156/

  45. Of course, if we’re talking about epigrammatists, we can’t ignore Kozma Prutkov:

    ЭПИГРАММА № I
    „Вы любите ли сыр?“ — спросили раз ханжу,
    „Люблю, — он отвечал, — я вкус в нем нахожу“.

    Epigram #1
    A sanctimonious man was asked, “Do you like cheese?”
    “I do,” the man replied; “the flavors in it please.”

  46. John Cowan says:

    GT makes the Silentiarius come out delightfully:

    My name, what is this? do not you father – what is it?
    The right to freedom of expression?
    I have lived in a strange way living – I think unexpectedly?
    I know you are – what do you say?

  47. January First-of-May says:

    “I do,” the man replied; “the flavors in it please.”

    While it preserves the rhyme, this translation misses the pun/double meaning in the original Russian: “I find in it a taste.”

    GT makes the Silentiarius come out delightfully

    I was surprised, in my case, that GT makes the Silentiarius come out at all. Surely it is not in modern Greek?

  48. I don’t know what ukase means exactly in English, but in Russian, “ukaz” is always a written order (what in America is called “an executive order”). It is a formal document that can be promulgated only in accordance with the law. There might be a more nebulous “ukazanie” (direction), which can be written or oral.

    Before revolution of 1905, Russian laws were established by tzar’s orders (or more precisely, manifests (proclamations)). Whether they were arbitrary and capricious or well thought out is another question.

    I cannot find the exact quote now, but purportedly one of the advisers to one of the 19th century tzar’s explained the difference between autocracy (the official form of Russia’s government at the time) and tyranny by saying that Autocrat can change the law at will, but before he done so, he must follow it like everybody else. Nice contrast to “embodied law”.

  49. Polnoe sobranie zakonov Rossiiskoi imperii (Full compendum of laws of the Russian empire) totaled 133 volumes and included over 130 thousand laws, ukase and manifestos from 1649 to 1916.

    No wonder lawyers were paid very well in old Russia.

  50. While it preserves the rhyme, this translation misses the pun/double meaning in the original Russian: “I find in it a taste.”

    I know, I know, but what can you do? The best I could manage was to preserve the pompous formality and silliness of the original. I invite improvements!

  51. Just found an astonishing example how the Nazis went about making written orders on mass murder.

    So, in December 1941, high-ranking German officer (chief of staff of the XXVIII Army Corps) writes to his superiors in the staff of 18th Army about female inmates of the asylum in the village of Makarievo in Leningrad region.

    He describes them as a problem because they are being unruly and a possible source of infection threatening health of German soldiers and proposes to “take urgent measures”. He doesn’t say what these “urgent measures” are exactly, but makes a chilling note:

    “Es kommt hinzu, dass die Insassen der Anstalt auch im Sinne deutscher Auffassung Objekte nicht mehr lebenswerten Lebens darstellen”
    (“It should be added that the inmates of the asylum from German point of view are no longer objects worth living”).

    The reply from the 18th Army in a few days: “The Commander approved solution to the Makarievo asylum problem in the form specified by your letter”

    A week later, the letter came from the staff of the XXVIII Army Corps: “The problem is solved”.

    Soviet sources say that 244 disabled women were driven by German soldiers from the Makarievo asylum to the neighboring field and shot to death by machine-gun fire.

  52. David Marjanović says:

    “Es kommt hinzu, dass die Insassen der Anstalt auch im Sinne deutscher Auffassung Objekte nicht mehr lebenswerten Lebens darstellen”

    More literally:
    “an additional factor is the fact that the inmates of the asylum represent, in the sense of German perception as well, objects of life no longer worth living”

    I’m not sure what auch is doing there; perhaps it’s meant to express “as a self-evident fact, and also according to our ideology”?

  53. Trond Engen says:

    That’s how it reads to me. But it could maybe also refer to a premise established in previous correspondence.

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