The collection of letters of Cyril of Alexandria that has come down to us is really a dossier of materials surrounding the Nestorian controversy. That unedifying story has many low points.
One that sticks in my mind is letter 96. This consists of a list of bribes of courtiers in Constantinople. I found a copy online today, and I thought I would share it. The translation must be that of the Fathers of the Church series, and if so must be copyright to them. So don’t treat this as public domain: it isn’t mine to give you. But I imagine a quotation of one letter should be within fair usage.
It is possible that the court was so corrupt that no-one could be heard unless “presents” were given. The phrase “customary gifts” noted in the footnotes tends to suggest this. All the same, it’s not nice reading. Bribes to one official, to act as mediator with another official, all of it simply to do whatever business a major dignitary of the empire thought right to do. Um.
A catalogue of things dispatched from here to the following who are there, by my lord, your most holy brother Cyril. 1
To Paul the Prefect: four larger wool rugs, two moderate wool rugs, four place covers, four table cloths, six larger bila (rugs or curtains), six medium sized bila, six stool covers, twelve for doors, two larger caldrons, four ivory chairs, two ivory stools, four persoina (= pews?), two larger tables, two ostriches (= pieces of furniture?); and in order that he would help us in the cause about those matters which were written to him: fifty pounds of gold. 2
(2) And to his domestic, one wool rug, two rugs, four bila, two stool covers, and one hundred gold coins.
(3) To Marcella, the chambermaid, the same as was dispatched to him, and that she would persuade Augusta 3 by asking her: fifty pounds of gold.
(4) To Droseria, the chambermaid, the same as was dispatched to Marcella, and that she would help her as was written to her: fifty pounds of gold.
(5) To the prefect Chryseros, that he would cease to oppose us, we were forced to dispatch double amounts: six larger wool rugs, four moderate rugs, four larger rugs, eight place covers, six table cloths, six large bila rugs, six medium sized bila, six stool covers, twelve for chairs, four larger caldrons, four ivory chairs, four ivory stools, six persoina, four larger tables, six ostriches; and if he shall have acted in accordance with what were written to him by the most magnificent Aristolaus with the lord Claudianus intervening as mediator: two hundred pounds of gold.
(6) And to Solomon, his domestic, two larger wool rugs, four place covers, four table cloths, four bila, four stool covers, six covers for chairs, six caldrons, two ivory chairs, two ostriches; and just as was written to lord Claudianus, so he may use persuasion to forward the proposal: fifty pounds of gold.
(7) To lady Heleniana, who is [the wife] of the prefect of the praetorian guard, the same in all things which were dispatched to Chryseros, so also to her; and in order that the prefect, persuaded by her, would help us: one hundred pounds of gold. As to her assessor, Florentinus, just as the things sent to Solomon, equally the same also to him and fifty pounds of gold.
(8) And to the other chamberlains customary suppliant gifts 4 have been dispatched.
To Romanus the chamberlain: four larger wool rugs, four place covers, four bila, four stool covers, six covers for chairs, two caldrons, two ivory chairs; and so that he would aid in our cause: thirty pounds of gold.
(9) To Domninus the chamberlain: four larger wool rugs, four larger rugs, four medium sized bila, four table covers, four medium sized bila, six stool covers, six covers for chairs, two larger caldrons, two ivory chairs, two ivory stools, four ostriches; and so that he may help us according to those things which were written to lord Claudianus: fifty pounds of gold.
(10) To Scholasticius, the chamberlain, the same in all things as those which were dispatched to Chryseros: and one hundred pounds of gold. And to Theodore, his domestic according to the promises of lord Claudianus, if he should persuade Scholasticius that he desist from friendships with our adversaries: fifty pounds of gold. We have directed also gifts4 to him which ought to persuade him that he should think in our favor: two wool rugs, two place covers, four table cloths, four rugs, four stools, six stool covers for chairs, two caldrons, two ostriches.
(11) To the most magnificent Artaba the same in all things as those which were dispatched to Scholasticius both in kinds: and that he would help us as was written to him: one hundred pounds of gold.
(12) To Magister, the same in all things as were dispatched to Artaba, in the same kinds: and one hundred pounds of gold. And to his domestic equally in all things as those dispatched to Rufinus.
(13) And to the quaestor, the same as those things which were destined for Magister: and one hundred pounds of gold. And to his domestic Ablalius equally in all things as Eustathius.
(14) A letter was written by your brother to the most reverend clerics so that all these things be dispatched, if anything was done out of devotion to my holy lord and should happen to be accomplished, and that is what is necessary, with the good will and advice of the lord Philip and the lord Claudianus.
1 For the critical text of this letter see Schwartz, ACO 1.4 pp. 224-225. Geerard numbers this letter 5396 in CPG.
2 The libra was the Roman pound of 12 ounces.
3 Pulcheria, elder sister of Theodosius II. She received the title Augusta when she became regent in 414.
4 The word eulogiae, here translated “gifts,” appears to be a diplomatic phrase actually meaning. “bribes.” It is difficult to pass judgment on this matter. The court at Constantinople evidently was corrupt. One very revealing item is found on p. 224, line 28: eulogiae consuetudinariae supplices, “customary suppliant gifts.” If this was customary, the action of Cyril was not so unusual. How this treasure was transported to the capital is an unanswered problem. The date of this catalogue was during the time of the council or soon after it. Wickham, Select Letters, 66, note 8, translates persoina as possibly “pews” or “benches,” and suggests that the ostriches must be pieces of furniture or of upholstery. See P. Batiffol, “Les présents de Saint Cyrille à la cour de Constantinople,” Bulletin d’ancienne littérature et d’archéologie chrétienne, 1 ( 1911), 247-264 (= Etudes de Liturgie et d’Archéologie Chrétienne, Paris, 1919).