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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Justinian the Great and the Almost Restored Roman Empire

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Justinian the Great 482 -565 was a Byzantine Emperor from 527 until his death in 565. He was the last Emperor that united the eastern and western parts of Rome.


Most likely, he was an Illyrian, born to a family of peasants in Macedonia, but thanks to his uncle, he received his education in Constantinople. The childless Justin I quickly approached the promising nephew, who, with the help of an influential relative, made a great career as commander of the capital’s military garrison. Subsequently, Justin I adopted Justinian and made him his successor.

Like Napoleon, Justinian slept very little. He was extremely vigorous and attentive to details. In addition, Justinian I was the true personification of “Byzantine politics.” Hypocritical, outspoken and clever, he neglected contracts and promises to achieve his own goals. He was strongly influenced by his wife Theodore, a former dancer and courtesan. After her death, he became less enthusiastic as a ruler.

Foreign Policy and Wars

Imediately, after he gained power, he began to revive the greatness of Rome. This undertaking was the most important policy of the emperor. That is why new administrative, religious, military, tax reforms, as well as codification of law were carried out. Surrounded exclusively by the most talented advisers, Justinian I had one great purpose, he completely rested on the idea of a unified Byzantine state.
In the beginning, it was necessary to solve the Persian issue in order to resolve the conflict on the eastern borders of the empire. Ancient hostility between the Persians and the Greeks broke out in 527, in the war for control of the Caucasus region. Initially, Byzantine commander Belisarius defeated the Persians in Mesopotamia in 530, but a year later, he was defeated in Syria. As a result, with the arrival of a new king on the throne of Persia, Justinian in 531, he settled the situation in the East: he signed the “Eternal Peace” of 532, between Byzantium and Persia, under which the Byzantine emperor paid Persia 4,000 pounds of gold for the maintenance of the Caucasian fortresses.

North Africa – Vandals

In September 533, Justinian I confidently attacked the kingdom of Vandals in Africa, taking advantage of an advantageous situation. It was at that time that the kingdom of Vandals was, as never before, weakened by the bad relations with the Ostrogoths, which gradually became more and more subdued by Byzantine diplomacy. In addition, the plans of Justinian I contributed to the internal troubles in the state, and the decline of the Vandal fleet. However, the former kingdom of the Vandals became a headache for the emperor, because there were constantly riots and uprisings, despite active reformist policies.

Italy – Ostrogoths

The next stage of foreign policy of Justinian I was the West, first, the Ostrogoths. The Ostrogoth King killed the daughter of Theodoric the Great, which in fact was the reason for the beginning of the war. General Justinian I, who, incidentally, never personally participated in military campaigns, conducted a series of successful campaigns – gradually occupying Dalmatia, Sicily, Naples, Rome, Milan the Ravenna in 540. After that, Italy was once again called a Roman province. However, in 551, the Gothic king recovered vast territories, leaving only a few foothills on the Italian coast of Byzantium; but this was enough to allow the young talented General Narses to defeat Goths in the final battle at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, restoring Byzantine influence in the region and destroying the Ostrogoth kingdom.

East and Persia

Justinian I also attacked the west coast of Spain, and the southern shores of Gaul. However, the main interests of the emperor were now in the East, in Thrace and Asia Minor. The active foreign policy in the West led to a weakening of positions on the eastern borders of Byzantium, leading to the beginning of a new war with Persia in 540. The fights were from the cost of Black Sea to Mesopotamia and Assyria. Immediately, the Persians managed to plunder Antioch and a number of other cities. In 545, Justinian had to pay 2,000 pounds of gold for peace. In the end, the issue was settled by payment. Justinian paid 30,000 gold coins annually, and Persia was obligated to protect the Caucasus and give Christians peace.

The rule of Justinian I was marked by active diplomacy, which was aimed at creating unions with one state or tribes against others. It helped to maintain the necessary balance of power on the borders of the empire, and also contributed to successful military campaigns. However, such actions also had negative consequences for Byzantium: more and more large payments to allied tribes were a heavy burden on the state treasury.

Domestic Policy

Under the rule of Justinian, large-scale construction took place. Cities and military posts were fortified. Desiring to surpass Solomon himself and his legendary Jerusalem temple, Justinian ordered construction of the magnificent Cathedral of Byzantium – the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Constantinople, on the site of the destroyed old temple.
The foreign political ambitions of Justinian I compelled him to carry out internal reforms. The most successful and popular is the codification of law. The emperor sought centralization of power, the introduction of a unified form of social organization and the unwavering authority of the monarch. Thus, the “Code of Justinian” in 12 volumes, was published.

Justinian’s pragmatic decision of 554, introduced the application of his laws in Italy. It was then that copies of his codification of Roman law went to Italy. Although they had no immediate effect, at least one handwritten copy of the Digest (found later in Pisa and subsequently stored in Florence) was used at the end of the XI century to revive Roman law studies in Bologna. Justinian I was a Christian; and considered himself a theologian. Therefore, he fought with heretics. With his influence, the school of Athens l was closed, the last school of antiquity. He was the last Roman Emperor to rule both parts of the Empire.

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