As told by the historian, Procopius (c. 6th century), an interesting lawyer named Evangelus conducted his business from a headquarters in Caesarea during the reign of Emperor Justinian (r. 527-565). Procopius, himself a native of Caesarea and a fellow member of the lawyer’s profession, might have known Evangelus personally, but the historian did not elaborate on this point. Whatever the case, Procopius was evidently in a position where he could keep himself informed of Evangelus’ business practices.
Evangelus, according to his admiring colleague’s description, was something of a King Midas—anything he touched turned into proverbial gold. Procopius wrote, “The wind of Fortune had blown so favorably for him that he acquired property of many kinds and had become the owner of much land” (The Secret History, section 30). A network of scattered properties and farms, however, was not the end to Evangelus’ ambitions; his dream, according to Procopius, was to buy a whole seaside town. After amassing his fortune, Evangelus reportedly started setting in motion a plan to achieve his dream.
He began diligently buying up all the land in the vicinity of a coastal village called Porphyreon, applying all the pressure he could muster with his law background and his wealth to convince the local landowners to sell their property. Evangelus evidently succeeded in his task, eventually gaining control of the whole village in exchange for payments of gold. Alas, his state of complete fulfillment would not last long. According to Procopius, when Emperor Justinian learned of the lawyer’s growing monopolistic grasp over Porphyreon, he decided to intervene. Evangelus’ seaside endeavor was crushed when Justinian’s officials sequestered the village and forcibly purchased the land back from the lawyer. Unfortunately, the payment that Evangelus received from the state was said to have been far less than what he had collectively paid the original landowners of Porphyreon in his original bid to gain control of the village, making the odd incident one of the few financial losses in his career.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (15th-century illustration of Plato, labeled BL Harley 3482, f. 4 from the collection of The British Library, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Secret History by Procopius, translated by G. A. Williamson and Peter Sarris. New York: Penguin Classics, 1966, 2007.