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Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Justinian I


Justinian I was born Petrus Sabbatius probably on May 11, 483. He entered this world in the town of Tauresium in present day Macedonia, approximately 12 miles (20 kilometres) southeast of Skopje.

He was born to Vigilantia, the sister of Justin I, who rose from the ranks of the army to become Byzantine (East Roman) emperor.

The ancient town of Tauresium, the birthplace of Justinian I, located in today's Republic of Macedonia

His uncle Justin adopted him and ensured the boy's education. Justinian completed the usual course of education in Constantinople, occupying himself with jurisprudence and philosophy.

He never really mastered Greek, Justinian always spoke it with a bad accent. (His first language was Latin) .


Justinian was a man of unusual capacity for work, and possessed a temperate, affable, and lively character; but was also unscrupulous and crafty when it served him.

As Justin I became senile near the end of his reign, Justinian became the de facto ruler. Upon Justin's death on August 1, 527, Justinian became the sole sovereign.

Justinian set about collecting and harmonizing the laws of the empire, something that had not previously been attempted. The Corpus Juris (or Iuris) Civilis ("Body of Civil Law") a collection of fundamental works in jurisprudence, were issued from 529 to 534.

Justinian's habit of choosing efficient, but unpopular advisers nearly cost him his throne early in his reign. At chariot races in Constantinople the drivers were divided between the blues and the greens. The supporters of these two teams clashed over not only sport but also political matters. However, on January 13, 532 they united against Justinian in a revolt that has become known as the Nika riots, which left 30,000 dead and almost brought about his overthrow.

A pious man, Justinian expelled all pagan teachers and closed all schools of pagan philosophy including Plato's Academy and Aristotle's Lyceum in Athens.

Justinian embarked on an extensive construction program involving the building of hundreds of church buildings throughout the Empire. In 537, he reconstructed the Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) in Constantinople, after the original church was burnt down by rioters.

He attempted to unify the eastern and western branches of the Christian Church who were divided over many issues in particular the exact divine relationship between Christ and his Father.

During the last part of his reign, Justinian succeeded in recovering Italy from the Ostrogoths.


Chronicler John Malalas, who lived during the reign of Justinian, tells of his appearance that he was short, fair skinned, curly haired, round faced and handsome.

Detail of a contemporary portrait mosaic in the Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna. Photo by Petar Milošević
In 525 Justinian married Theodora (508-548), a former actress. Actresses were socially akin to prostitutes prior to the reign of Justin I, and Justinian would have in earlier times been unable to marry her. Justin had passed a law allowing intermarriage between social classes, which, during Justinian's reign, led to a blurring of class distinctions at the Byzantine court.

Theodora was very influential in the politics of the Empire, and later emperors would follow Justinian's precedent and marry outside of the aristocratic class.

Theodora died in 548 probably of breast cancer; Justinian outlived her by nearly twenty years.

Justin had no children, though Theodora had given birth to a stillborn son several years into his reign.


Justinian died on November 14, 565 and was succeeded by Justin II, who was the son of his sister Vigilantia and married to Sophia, the niece of Empress Theodora.

An older Justinian; mosaic in Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna

Justinian's body was entombed in a specially built mausoleum in the Church of the Holy Apostles until it was desecrated and robbed during the pillage of the city in 1204 by the Latin States of the Fourth Crusade.

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