Overall, Justinian’s rule
had been a success. He had not had a perfect reign, but he had had a strong
one. Justinian had accomplished many things during his rule to improve his
people’s lifestyle. “He made it easier to free Christian slaves, gave more
legal rights to women and children, made divorce harder, and reduced the number
of capital crimes” (Trafton 2). Justinian left behind a legacy in the form of
the expanded empire, his architecture and his work with the system of law. His
reign was one of the most successful ones of the entire Byzantine civilization.
In 548 AD, Justinian’s
beloved wife Theodora died, plunging Justinian and his empire into a state of
distress. Not only had he lost his wife, Justinian had also lost one of his
most valued advisors. Justinian continued to rule, but less steadily than
before. Problems plagued the empire, and the ruler was growing older and less
competent to lead. Justinian died on November 14, 565 AD, when he was 82 years
old (Hillard 1). His rule had lasted from 527-565 AD, a span of 38 years
(Hillard 1). Before his death, he had selected Justin II, his nephew, to be his
heir, as he had no children of his own.
On the other side of the
empire, Justinian was still trying to conquer nearby nations such as the
Vandals in Northern Africa and the Ostrogoths in Italy. In 534 AD, the
Byzantine Army defeated the Vandals and Northern Africa became part of the
growing empire. In Italy, Justinian’s troops had a harder fought victory; they
battled the Ostrogoths for nine years before the Ostrogoth king forced the
Byzantine soldiers to retreat in 549 AD. A year later, the Byzantine troops
returned to continue the war. Finally, in 552 AD, their forces were able to
defeat the Ostrogoth army, and by 554 AD, they had claimed Italy (Hussey 1).
These two Byzantine victories had a great impact on the empire.
When he came into power,
another one of Justinian’s goals was to expand the empire. Since long before
Justinian’s reign, Byzantium had been constantly at war with Persia. In 531 AD,
Justinian made a truce with the Persians that was considered a victory for the
Byzantine people, since they had not been forced to give up any of their land.
However, they did have to give 11,000 pounds of gold to the Persian king
(Hussey 1). The peace treaty was only temporary, though, because in 540 AD, the
Persian king Khosrow invaded Byzantium and began another round of battles.
Finally, in 545 AD, another treaty was negotiated, and this treaty spanned a
longer period of time. Overall, Justinian’s war against Persia “can hardly be
described as a failure” (Hussey 1).
Justinian’s laws outlived
him; his most famous work, the Codex, became the basis of the law system for
many European governments. The laws were lost for many years after the fall of
Byzantium, but when they were rediscovered in the 12th century AD, they were
put into use. Over the next centuries, more civilizations created their own law
systems based on Justinian’s Codex. By the 14th and 15th centuries AD, they
were commonly used by European nations. Even some nations today look to the
Codex Constitutionum to aid their governments. However, the only version that
modern day countries have access to is the second one (Evans 23). The first
edition was lost over time, but the second edition of Justinian’s law code has
survived the ages.
Justinian’s next project
was creating another edition of his original Codex Justinianus. In this
revision, which he released in 534 AD, Justinian updated the law code and added
more mandates from the time of his own rule. After this update, Justinian
continued to rule by his law code and later published the Novellae
Constitutiones Post Codicem, known more simply as the Novels (Hussey 1).
Shortly after the release
of the Codex, Justinian began work on another commission. The result, published
in 533 AD, was the Digest, which was made up of 50 books. “At the same time, a
handbook for the use of law students, the Institutes…was prepared and
published” (Hussey 1).
Justinian’s most famous
achievement was his law code. Titled the Codex Justinianus, it revolutionized
the government of the empire. Justinian began work on his law code in 528 AD,
less than a year after claiming the throne. To create the Codex, Justinian
“convened a ten-man commission headed by John the Cappadocian” (Evans 23).
Justinian made sure to incorporate Christianity into his work (Howe and Howe
180). In 529 AD, the law code, also known as the Codex Constitutionum, was
Justinian did not approve
of law schools and decided to close the all of those academies when he came to
power. Law schools had been established for those interested in learning about
and working with the legal system. Two of the most notable institutions were
the Constantinople and Berytos schools. When Justinian became emperor, he shut
down all of the law schools except the Constantinople Academy (Evans 22).
Aside from this revolt,
Justinian had firm control over his empire, which was partially due to his law
code. Before Justinian’s Codex, there were other law codes in the Roman and
Byzantine Empires, all leading up to the creation of Justinian’s work. The
first known law code made by the Romans was the Twelve Tables. Published in
451-450 BC, they gave Roman citizens a basic outline of rules and the
consequences that would result if they were disobeyed. The laws included “the
prerogatives of the patrician class and of the patriarchal family, the validity
of enslavement for unpaid debt, and the interference of religious custom in
civil cases” (Hussey 1). After the publication of the Twelve Tables, other
Roman emperors began making their own additions. Over the years, the law code
grew and eventually included conflicting laws from different emperors. This
caused confusion in convicting criminals and naming punishments for citizens
who were deemed guilty. The uncertainty prompted at least three other political
figures to make an effort to organize the laws. Two of these attempts resulted
in the Gregorian Code and the Hermogenian Code, both written by jurists (Snell
1). They both had a more narrow scope than codifying the entire history of the
laws; the Gregorian Code focused on the laws from 117-337 AD and the
Hermogenian Code focused on the more specific topics and laws from 284-305 AD
(Snell 1). Another instance of this endeavor was the Theodosian Code, which was
commissioned in 438 AD by Emperor Theodosius II (Snell 1). The Theodosian Code
was partially based on the previous two codes, but also included new
information. When Justinian began his law code, he looked to these previous
attempts for guidance.
Justinian’s reign was not
without its challenges. In 532 AD, he found himself with a revolution on his
hands. The Blues and the Greens, the city parties, had joined forces to launch
an attack on part of the palace and its church. Justinian tried to quell the
unhappy people, but the situation had gotten out of control. The rebels tried
to make Hypatius, the nephew of the former emperor Anastasius, the ruler,
instead of Justinian. Justinian felt that he had no choice but to flee the
city, and was prepared to escape, but Theodora convinced him to stay (Evans
19). With his wife by his side, Justinian was barely able to regain control of
his throne and his empire.
Justinian also made
notable advances in architecture. He constructed 25 basilicas in Constantinople
and rebuilt the famous Hagia Sophia in 537 AD after it was destroyed for the
second time in 532 AD during the Nika Revolt (Hussey 1). It was originally
constructed in 325 AD by Constantine. After being razed in 404 AD, it was
rebuilt for the first time by Theodosius II. The church was first called Megale
Ekklesia, which means “Great Church” (Evans 30). It was later named Hagia
Sophia, which means “Holy Wisdom” and is referred to as Sancta Sophia in Latin
(Britannica School High 1). The mosaics inside the church have been restored
and the building is still in good condition today.
When Justinian claimed
the throne, he already had an idea of what he wanted to accomplish during his
reign. To sum up his plans, he created a motto for himself: “One empire, one
church, one law” (Howe and Howe 180). This slogan showed his determination to
strengthen the Byzantine Empire, unite the church and codify the law. He wanted
to bring the empire together with Christianity and was upset by the different
beliefs within Christianity. He believed, like the orthodox Christians, that
Jesus Christ was both human and divine. However, the Monophysites argued that
Jesus was simply divine (Trafton 2). When Justinian promoted the belief of the
orthodox Christians, he was opposing Theodora’s belief as a Monophysite.
Distressed, Justinian tried to unite the two groups by publishing a document
that served as a compromise, but neither group was satisfied. Eventually,
Justinian gave up and the groups both continued to support their conflicting beliefs
(Trafton 2). Justinian also established a new rule that the ruler of the empire
was also the head of the church. He made it his responsibility to make sure the
church was running smoothly.
When Justinian came to
the throne in 527 AD, the empire was in a state of instability. There was
unrest throughout Byzantium, putting pressure on Justinian to strengthen the
civilization. Justinian’s strategy was to focus on reforming the law and
improving the government.
Years after Justinian and
Theodora were wed, Justin promoted Justinian to his co-emperor, giving
Justinian more power and influence (Hussey 1). A short time later, Justin
passed away and his nephew inherited the empire.
In 522 AD, Justinian met
a former actress. Her name was Theodora, and she had given up her original
career after becoming a Christian, beginning to make a living spinning wool
instead. At the time, there was a Byzantine law that prevented the marriage of
a senator to an actress, even if she was no longer performing (Evans 37-38).
However, Justinian had fallen in love with Theodora and asked Justin, the
emperor, to change the law. Justin complied, and Justinian and Theodora were
married a year later. Theodora was a supportive wife who helped her husband
make some important decisions, including during the Nika Revolt.
Justinian was born on May
11, 483 AD in northern Illyricum (Hillard 1). His parents, who were farmers,
gave him the name Flavius Peterus Sabbatus, but he changed his name when he was
older to be more similar to his uncle, Justin, who adopted Justinian as his own
son (Trafton 1). Justin took on the responsibility of Justinian’s education and
took him to study in Constantinople as a teenager. Justinian began to work with
his uncle, who was the Count of the Excubitors and a well-known man in politics
(Treadgold 58). The Excubitors were the emperor’s guards and Justin’s job as
the count included leading those soldiers. After Anastasius, the emperor at the
time, died without announcing a successor, Justin was chosen by Anastasius’
courtiers to be the next ruler. Justin was close to 70 years old and
uneducated, so he enlisted his nephew, who was then 36 years old, to assist him
in his reign (Treadgold 58). When his uncle became emperor in 518 AD, Justinian
became one of Justin’s advisors. As Justin grew older, he began to give
Justinian’s opinions more weight in his own decisions.
Justinian was one of the
most influential rulers of Byzantium. When he came into power in 527 AD, he
inherited a civilization in disarray. Justinian had a positive impact on the
Byzantine Empire. Most notably, he introduced an improved set of laws and
conquered many surrounding nations, nearly restoring the former glory of the
Roman Empire. In addition to these contributions, Justinian also made advances
with the Christian Church and Byzantine architecture.