Cyril Mango (1928-2021), Byzantium: The Empire of New Rome
(New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1981), pp. 67-68, with notes on p. 289:
Another symptom of disintegration was urban violence.
It may be
argued, of course, that riots were nothing new and that
in the previous
two centuries there had been no lack of food
riots, religious riots and
theatre riots. There was, however, from the reign of Anastasius onwards
an escalation of violence which centred more and more on the hippodrome. The two main factions, the Blues and the Greens, regularly came
to blows and then went on to commit arson. The list of these disturbances
is very long and some of them resulted in enormous damage, like the
great pogrom at Antioch in 507 and the famous Nika riot at Constantinople
which is said to have left thirty thousand corpses and
reduced the centre of the city to ashes. When Antioch had been almost
completely destroyed by an earthquake in 526 with an alleged death-toll
of 250,000, the warring factions became reconciled, but only for a short
time.17 Especially chilling (if, doubtless, somewhat exaggerated) is the
account given by Procopius of the hippodrome thugs who, he alleges,
were given complete licence by the Emperor Justinian to rob and kill,
rape women and extort money, with the result that respectable citizens
no longer dared to go out after dark.18 In the light of our own experience
we have no trouble in visualizing those bands of youths with long beards
and moustaches, with dangling hair, dressed in deliberately barbaric
fashion, who engaged in gang warfare when they were not waylaying
innocent people. We also have no difficulty in believing what all the
Byzantine sources tell us, namely that this was mindless hooliganism and
nothing more. As has recently been demonstrated,19 the Blues and the
Greens had no political objectives, no explicit class grievances or
religious identification. But while hooliganism has no philosophy, no one
will deny that it is a symptom — be it of urban decay or a loss of values or
an overly dull and regimented society.
17 Malalas, Chronographia, CSHB, 422.
18 Procopius, Secret History, vii.
19 A. Cameron, Circus Factions (Oxford, 1976).