Justinian

(c. 482-565)
   One of the greatest emperors in Byzantine history, Justinian made profound and lasting imprint on the course of the empire's subsequent development. Famed for his marriage to the actress and courtesan, Theodora, whose reputation has been permanently darkened by the sixth-century Byzantine historian Procopius, Justinian influenced much of Byzantine law, religion, and art and architecture. His codification of the law, involvement in religious disputes, rebuilding of Constantinople, and building programs elsewhere in the empire provided the foundation for later intellectual, legal, and cultural development. Many of his achievements were accomplished with the support of Theodora, whose strength helped Justinian at times of crisis and whose death left the emperor less effective than he had been earlier in his reign. His most ambitious effort, however, was the reconquest of the west and reunification of the empire under his authority. His wars in Italy, more destructive than any of the barbarian invasions of the peninsula, led to the successful restoration of Byzantine power in Italy and the destruction of the kingdom of the Ostrogoths, but at a great cost. And the success was only short-lived; three years after Justinian's death, Italy was overrun by the Lombards. Byzantine influence lasted for several generations, but the effort was ultimately a failure, and Justinian's overall legacy is marked by great successes and failures.
   Rising to power as the nephew of the reigning emperor Justin (r. 518-527), Justinian-originally Petrus Sabbatius and later Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Justinianus-first reached Constantinople in 495 to receive an education. Later, when his uncle took power, he joined Justin in the capital and played an important role in government during his uncle's reign. He was rewarded by promotion as well as with a special dispensation to marry Theodora, needed because members of the senatorial aristocracy could by law not marry anyone who appeared on the stage. Justin made his nephew caesar in 525 and co-emperor in 527. Hard-working, dedicated, with a limited ability to delegate authority, Justinian dominated affairs in Constantinople for the next forty years.
   Justinian reached a major turning point early in his reign when he faced the Nika Revolt in 532. Although a number of Justinian's initiatives had already been started before that date, they were only completed after the revolt, and therefore his survival of the rebellion was critical. The revolt broke out over the arrest of the leaders of two rival factions in Constantinople-factions often in conflict with each other that led to rioting; this arrest brought the factions together against the government of Justinian. The rebellion was so severe that it nearly toppled the emperor, who was on the verge of fleeing the city with members of the imperial court. Theodora, however, gave an impassioned speech that persuaded her husband to stand his ground. He then gave the order for a detachment of barbarian mercenaries to enter the city and put down the revolt. According to contemporary accounts, the barbarians entered the hippodrome, the arena in which the rebels concentrated, and massacred 30,000 people. The leaders of the rebellion were also executed, and Justinian remained in firm control of the empire.
   There were two immediate consequences of Justinian's suppression of the revolt: the completion of the reform and codification of Roman law and the rebuilding of the city of Constantinople. Indeed, one of the most pressing needs the emperor faced after the Nika Revolt was the restoration of the city after the great destruction caused by the rebellion. Along with aqueducts and number of public buildings, Justinian built a great new church, the Hagia Sophia. This became the imperial church, standing as the head of all churches in the empire and binding all Christians in the empire together. It was also a repository and model for late imperial art and asserted the close association between politics and religious belief in the empire. Its lavish decoration, including mosaics and different colored marble, and massive structure inspired Justinian to declare "Solomon, I have outdone thee!" when he first saw the completed church. Like a new Solomon, Justinian also was a great lawgiver, and he was able to complete the codification of the law he began in 529. The Corpus Iuris Civilis (Body of the Civil Law) was compiled by the jurist Tribonian and several commissions organized by Justinian or Tribonian; upon completion it was organized in four main sections: the Code of Justinian, the Digest, the Institutes, and the Novels. The codification of the law was intended not only to organize the law, which had been in a confused state, but also to create a bond of unity in the empire in the same way that the Hagia Sophia was designed to do. Justinian's activities in law and building were those of the traditional Roman emperor, and indeed he was himself in that tradition. As a result, he also saw it as his duty to rule over a united empire that included the old Roman heartland of Italy and Rome, the ancient capital. Therefore, beginning in the 530s and continuing for some two decades, Justinian's armies undertook the reconquest of parts of the old Western Empire. The first step came with the invasion and rapid conquest of Vandal North Africa. Justinian had originally hoped to secure the aid of the Vandal king, Hilderic, but his overthrow and replacement by Gelimer forced the emperor to change plans. In 533-534, Justinian's loyal and talented general, Belisarius, led Byzantine armies into North Africa, where he managed to defeat Gelimer and the Vandals. The kingdom was quickly restored to Roman rule, and Belisarius was granted a triumph-the ancient Roman ceremonial parade accorded to victorious generals-through the streets of Constantinople. Gelimer was displayed during the triumph, as were many captive Vandals. The Vandal king was settled on an estate far from the kingdom, and many of the most able Vandal soldiers were enrolled in the Byzantine army and dispatched to the Persian frontier.
   Justinian next turned his eyes to Italy, where the great king Theodoric had ruled an Ostrogothic kingdom from the 490s until his death in 526. Theodoric's successors, however, were not his equal, and the kingdom itself was rent by conflict between those who supported an alliance with the empire and those who rejected any ties to the empire or its traditions. Justinian exploited these divisions, especially as they involved Theodoric's daughter and regent, Amalaswintha. According to Procopius, Justinian had more than a diplomatic interest in the beautiful and intelligent princess, and may have desired a marriage alliance as a means to claim Italy. Procopius also alleges that Theodora, deeply jealous of Amalaswintha, secretly plotted against her and encouraged the Gothic opposition to kill the princess. Her murder, after Justinian had declared that he would defend the Gothic princess and promised swift punishment should anything happen to her, gave the emperor a pretext to invade Italy. If Procopius is to be believed, the murder came as the result of a letter from Theodora, which assured the Gothic nobles that Justinian would do nothing if they acted against Amalaswintha. It is possible that Justinian and Theodora indulged in a dangerous diplomatic game that led to the death of Amalaswintha, but also provided them the opportunity to restore imperial control over Italy. Whatever the case, Amalaswintha was deposed and murdered, and Justinian used this as a pretext for his invasion of Italy.
   The war began with a feint into Sicily in 535, which Belisarius quickly conquered. The rapidity of the general's success inspired Justinian to proceed more aggressively in 536, when Byzantine armies marched onto the Italian mainland. Although Belisarius enjoyed early success, the war dragged on for nearly twenty-five years and caused great destruction to the Italian peninsula. The Goths put up a great struggle under different leaders and over two generations, and the Romans of Italy, though they at first welcomed the invaders, proved less open to the restoration of Roman rule and its taxation.
   The war proceeded in several phases, at first involving Belisarius, who enjoyed success against Witigis, the successor to Amalaswintha and her son Athalaric. In the 540s, however, Justinian and Belisarius faced a greater challenge from the king Totila, who won a series of victories and benefited from Justinian's difficulties on the Persian frontier. Justinian was also fearful of granting Belisarius too many troops because the Goths had offered Belisarius ruling authority in Italy. The general had refused the offer, but Justinian remained distrustful and eventually recalled his old friend. The Gothic Wars went on until 561, and the final defeat of the Goths was inflicted by Narses, who began a major campaign in 552. In late June or early July of that year, Narses met Totila in battle at Busta Gallorum, a plain in the northern Apennines. Narses, with a second army of invasion, overwhelmed Totila and his forces. The Goths left 6,000 dead on the field, and Totila was mortally wounded. Repeated efforts over the next few years to push back the Byzantines proved unsuccessful, and from 559 to 560, Narses gradually restored Byzantine authority throughout all of Italy. One final effort was launched in 561, but again the Goths failed, and with that failure, the Ostrogoths passed into extinction. The Italian conquest, however, did not long survive Justinian's death; the Lombards began their conquest of Italy in 568.
   Justinian's reign was thus a pivotal one for both the Eastern and Western Empire. He oversaw the codification of the law, which actually ended by having greater influence on later medieval and modern Europe than on the Byzantine Empire, and a massive building program in Constantinople and Italy that laid the foundation for later Byzantine and medieval European art. His conquest of Italy restored imperial rule to the peninsula, destroyed the Ostrogothic kingdom, and brought the existence of the Ostrogothic nation to an end. The conquest, however, failed, and direct Byzantine rule ended with the Lombard invasion. A Byzantine presence continued for several generations in Italy, however, and the competition between the Byzantines and Lombards caused Italy further difficulties. The conquest also came at great cost for the empire, as did all of Justinian's activities, and his successors proved less suited to the challenges at hand than did Justinian.
   See also
   Bibliography
 ♦ Barker. John W. Justinian and the Later Roman Empire. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1960.
 ♦ Cassiodorus. The Variae of Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus. Trans. S. J. B. Barnish. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 1992.
 ♦ Browning, Robert. Justinian and Theodora. London: Thames and Hudson, 1987.
 ♦ Burns, Thomas S. A History of the Ostrogoths. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984.
 ♦ Bury, John B. History of the Later Roman Empire: From the Death of Theodosius I to the Death of Justinian. 2 vols. 1923. Reprint, New York: Dover, 1959.
 ♦ Heather, Peter. The Goths. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.
 ♦ Llewellyn, Peter. Rome in the Dark Ages. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1993.
 ♦ Procopius. The History of the Wars; Secret History, 4 vols. Trans. H. B. Dewing. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1914-1924.
 ♦ Treadgold, Warren. The History of the Byzantine State and Society. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997.
 ♦ Ure, Percy N. Justinian and His Age. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1951.
 ♦ Watson, Alan. The Digest of Justinian. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997.
 ♦ Wickham, Chris. Early Medieval Italy: Central Power and Local Society, 400-1000. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1981.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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