Justinian I (537-65)


Figure 1.--

Justinian I is the greatest of the Eastrrn or Byzantine emperors. Under Justinian the last real effort was launched to reserect the vast Roman Empire of antiquity. Justinian became emperor (527). It is not accurate to refer to him as the Byzantium or Eastern Emperor. By this time, Rome had fallen and he was the sole Roman empperor. Justinian had humble roots. He was the son of an Illyrian peasant. The Illyrians were a tribal group inhabiting the western Balkans (roughly modern Albania, Kosovo, and Montenegro). Records about his early life are rare. Many historians believe tht Justinian was exercising effective control of the Empire under the reign of his uncle, Emperor Justin I (51827). He was immediately confronted with serious challenges. To free his hands and reduce military demands, he attempted to pacify his eastern frontier, Justinian signed a peace treaty with Khosrau I a ruler of the Sassanid Persian dynasty (532). Military connflict from the Persian dynasty are related people had been a constant challege dating back centuries. Justinian agreed to annual tribute to Khosrau I which for a time pacified the eastern border. It is at this point that Justinian faced the most serious challenge to his rule--the Nika riots in Constaniople. For a time he considered fleeing the city, ending his reign. His wife Theodora is believed to have convinced him to remain in Constaninople and supresses the rebellion. Eventually his forces killed an estimated 30,000-35,000 rioters, ending the rebellion. This left Justinian firmly in power. Roman Pope Agapetus I came to Constantinople on the orders of the Ostrogothic king Theodahad, but failed to convince Justinain to sign a peace treatty. Rather than peace with the Ostrogoths, Justinian with a peaceful eastern frontier, set out on a major effort to restablish Roman control of the Mediterranean territory of the Western Empire. Justinian managed to reconquer Italy, including Rome. And they won back large areas of North Africa. The Eastern Empire at the time of Justinian still thought of themselves as Romans and spoke Latin. A major asset in this effort was the most powerful navy at the time. Also important was his General Flavius Belisarius (500-65), although Justinian never trusted him or fully supported him. The Byzantines thus played an important role in the early medieval world. This ended with the rise of Islam and conquest of the Levant.

Parents

Justinian had humble roots. He was the son of an Illyrian peasant. The Illyrians were a tribal group inhabiting the western Balkans (roughly modern Albania, Kosovo, and Montenegro).

Childhood


Early Life

Records about his early life are rare. Many historians believe tht Justinian was exercising effective control of the Empire under the reign of his uncle, Emperor Justin I (51827).

The Empire

The Byzantine Empire had lost much of its territory by the time Justian I became emperor (527). Only a portioin of Asian Minor and the Balkans as well as Egypt remained.

Rise to Emperor

Justinian I is the greatest of the Eastern or Byzantine emperors. Under Justinian the last real effort was launched to reserect the vast Roman Empire of antiquity. Justinian became emperor (527). It is not accurate to refer to him as the Byzantium or Eastern Emperor. By this time, Rome had fallen and he was the sole Roman empperor. He was immediately confronted with serious challenges.

Theadora


Peace with Persia (532)

To free his hands and reduce military demands, he attempted to pacify his eastern frontier, Justinian signed a peace treaty with Khosrau I a ruler of the Sassanid Persian dynasty (532). Military connflict from the Persian dynasty are related people had been a constant challege dating back centuries. Justinian agreed to annual tribute to Khosrau I which for a time pacified the eastern border.

Nika Riots (532)

It is at this point that Justinian faced the most serious challenge to his rule--the Nika riots in Constaniople. For a time he considered fleeing the city, ending his reign. His wife Theodora is believed to have convinced him to remain in Constaninople and supresses the rebellion. Eventually his forces killed an estimated 30,000-35,000 rioters, ending the rebellion. This left Justinian firmly in power.

The Ostrogoths

Roman Pope Agapetus I came to Constantinople on the orders of the Ostrogothic king Theodahad, but failed to convince Justinain to sign a peace treatty.

Goal

Justinian sought to recreate the old Roman Empire with one state, church, and law.

Law

Justinian over saw the publication of the Corpus Juris Civilis, the basis for civil law in most European countries except England. This code was written in Latin, a language that was at the time becoming archaic. It was even poorly understood by the drafters.

Religion

Justinian constructed the great church of St. Sophia in Constantinople which becomes the center of Byantine religious life and th developing Orthodox Church. Justinian closed Greek schools of philosophy, including Plato's Academy, to support the Church.

Military Campaigns in the West (530s-40s)

The Byzantines played an important role in the early medieval world. Rather than peace with the Vandals and Ostrogoths, Justinian with a peaceful eastern frontier, set out on a major effort to restablish Roman control of the Mediterranean territory of the Western Empire. Justinian, an able administrator, was to seize much of what had been lost as well as Italy and other areas in the West that had never been a part of the Eastern Empire. Justinian's goal was to reconstruct the old Roman Empire before it was divided. The Eastern Empire at the time of Justinian still thought of themselves as Romans and spoke Latin, although it was a Latin of declininging linguistic purity. A major asset in Justinian's military campaigns was the most powerful navy at the time. Also important was his General Flavius Belisarius (500-65), although Justinian never trusted him or fully supported him. Justinian began his western campaign (533). Justinian dispatched Belisarius to regain the Western Empire's former province of Africa from the Vandals. The Vandals has seized it from the Eastern Empire (429) and established a capital at Carthage in modern Tunisia. Beisarious suceeded with a surprisingly small force. More difficult to overcome were the local Berber tribes and military mutineers which were not fully subdued for years (548). Italy at the time was controlled by the stronger Ostrogoths (Eastern Goths). It is at this moment an opportunity presents itself to Justinian. Not only does the Ostergoth leader, Theodoric the Great, die, but his nephew and heir Athalaric and his daughter Amalasuntha were murdered. Their murderer, Theodahad, seized the throne, although his crimes caused considerable disension within Ostergoth ranks. Justinian's Italian campaign began with a small Byzantine expedition under Belisarius seized Sicily (535). They encountered only minor resistance. He then crossed to the Italian mainland, sacking Naples and took Rome (536). Belisarius finally captured Ravenna (540). King Totila reunited the Ostergoths and they retook Rome (546). Justinian recalled Belisarius to confront the renewed Ostergoth challenge. The Italian situation changes when the Armenian eunuch, Narses, brough his Christian army of some 35,000 men to Italy (late-551). Narses was a Romanized Armenian serving in Justinian's court and became one of his important generals. He defeated Totila at the Battle of Busta Gallorum. His successor, Teia, was defeated at the Battle of Mons Lactarius (October 552). This left most of Italy in Justinin's hands. A few Gothic garrisons resisted for a time. And the Franks and Alamanni attempted to invade Italy, but the peninsula remained firmly in Justinian's hands. His armies were welcomed by the Catholic Italians, but fighting with the Ostrogoths continued at a low level for nearly 30 years until finally ending (563). Justinian's final western campaign occurred in the western Meditwerranean on the Iberian Peninsula. Athanagild, a noble from Visigothic Hispania, asked for Justinian's help in a rebellion against the king (549). Justinian sent a force commanded by Liberius, another competent military commander. As a result, the Byzantine Empire would hold on to a narrow area of the southeastern Iberian coastline (roughly what cme to be Granada) until the reign of the Emperor Heraclius (610-41).

Persia

Peace in the east with the Persians did not last. Khosrau I despite receiving a golden tribute, invaded Syria. The the resumption of th Roman-Persian Wars continued for years, finally ending (561). Juttinian's and Khosrau agreed on a 50-year peace.

The Balkans

Justinian by the 1550s had won glorious victories in far-flung theaters of combt. A notable exception was the Balkans, the front cloest to Constantinople itself. A factor here was that Justinian's navy was less able to support militafry operations in the Balkans. It was at this time that the Slavic tribes had begun their migration into the area, in part pushed by the war like people of the Eurasian steppe, in this case the Huns. A major crisis developed when Hunnish tribes (Kutrigurs and Sclaveni) icrossed the Danube and nvaded the Balkans and threatened Constaninople (559). Justinian recalled his old war horse, Belisarius, from retirement and he managed to defeat the Hunnish army. Justinian strengthening the Danube fleet and the Kutrigur Huns withdrew. They agreed to a peace treaty which allowed for safe passage north across the Danube.

Economy

During the reign of Justinian I, Christian monks apparently managed to smuggle silk moth eggs were reportedly smuggled into the empire over the Silk Road, although the actual circumstances are unknown (553-54). This was enough to establish what was by the 7th century a major industry centered at Constaninople. Justinian brought the Byzantine Empire to greater prosperity and power than it would ever again see after his death (565). Justinian spent, however, vast sums to support the military and fight various wars, especially in Italy. At his death the treasury was depleted.

Subsequent Emperors

His successors were unable to maintain the gains that he had achieved. The Lombrds, another Germanic tribe, invade Italy (568). This leaves Italy divided into areas controlled by the Lombards, the Eastern Empire, and the Papacy which has emerged as a temporal as well as a religious entity. The Visagoths recapture southern Spain. Emperor Maurice helps establish Chosroes II Shah of Persia (591-628).

Islam

Byzantium's principal role in the West and control of territory in the Levant and North Africa ended with the rise of Islam and conquest of the Levant. This was territory that had been conquered during Justinian's reign.






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Created: 11:58 PM 9/8/2011
Last updated: 11:58 PM 9/8/2011