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Sunday, September 26, 2021

The Rule of Byzantine Emperor Justin I

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Justin, I was Byzantine emperor from 518 to 527. His reign was a prologue to the brilliant reign of his nephew, Justinian I. The future Emperor began serving in the army during the reign of Leo as a foot soldier. He never learned to write. During the Persian campaign, he commanded a separate military detachment. During the mutiny of 514-515, he participated in the defense of Constantinople and the breakthrough of a naval blockade of the city.

The Throne

When Emperor Anastasius I died, he left neither a direct heir nor an indication of who he wanted on the throne. Three of his nephews held important positions; but did not have substantial support. Thus, the problem arose of electing a new Emperor.

Immediately after the death of the old Emperor, a message was sent to Koehler and Justin, the heads of the palace guard. Both arrived with their subordinates, Kohler called the scholastic subordinates, and Justin the excubites, after which the Emperor’s death was announced. The next morning, the people gathered at the Hippodrome, demanding a new Emperor. At this time, high officials and Patriarch John II gathered in the palace for talks; but could not come to an agreement. As the negotiations dragged on, the people at the Hippodrome proclaimed as Emperor of one of the officers, who later became Bishop of Herakleia,. and raised him to the shield. However, some of the people did not support this and a clash broke out between the factions, in which several people died. An attempt was made to elect Justinian, but he refused.

Finally, the senators agreed to the candidature of Justin. Some of the people disagreed with this choice, one of them attacked the new emperor and smashed his lip. However, the decision of the Senate was supported by the army, and the people had to agree. Justin went to the Hippodrome, and the people gathered there greeted him warmly. Then Justin was given purple garb and he went with the patriarch. Standing on the shield, Justin received the chain from the hands of the commander of the Legion. Military banners once lying on the ground were raised. Justin was raised on the shields of the soldiers disguised, and then patriarch John placed a crown on his head. The people welcomed the new Emperor, after which a decree was issued to give each soldier five gold pieces and a pound of silver. After that, the ceremony was the same as for previous Emperors.

The election of Justin, in the presence of more distinguished and respected senators and military commanders, was a complete surprise. Special care normally was devoted to the influence of commoners in the process of electing the Emperor.

Byzantium in the VI century had no established process of determining succession to the throne, and the position of Justin was precarious. Immediately after his election, a conspiracy was organized by Amantius against the new emperor.

Procopius, describing Justinian, writes that he did not do anything good for the country nor anything bad. Justin did not completely manage the country, delegating power to other people, who ruled the board at his discretion. Due to Justinian’s weakness, it was not too difficult to begin to pick the future inheritance, even during his uncle’s lifetime.

Domestic Policy

After receiving support in the election and successfully suppressing the conspiracy of Amantius, the new government decided to return those who were unfairly expelled in the previous reign. Among the most famous expatriates are the patrician Apion, the senators Diogenius and Philoxenus and others. All of them were returned to the capital to their former posts and then promoted. Apion was appointed Prefect of East Pretoria, Diogeniusus commanded the troops in the east, and in the year of 525, Philoxenus became the Consul of the West.

However, the most consequential was the return of Vitalian, an influential military leader, who almost overthrew former Emperor Anastasius and with whom Justinian had recently fought. Despite the fact that Vitalian’s forces had been defeated, he was still the main force in the Balkans. Since Vitalian’s differences with the former government were religious in nature, and the new dynasty supported Orthodoxy, Vitalian and Justin met and swore allegiance to each other. Vitalian agreed to assume the post of commander of the stationed troops, and in 520 became consul.

New Dynasty

With Justin as Byzantine Emperor, a new dynasty began. As was shown above, at the time of his election, Justin was able to get the support of the aristocracy. The reasons for this were the expectations of strengthening their influence under a weak Emperor, as well as the commonality of religious views. In the first years of the new government, these hopes could be manifest.

Politics and End

The accession of Justin meant a new era in the religious policy of the Empire. The two previous Emperors adhered to Monophysitism. In Egypt, Antioch and Syria, separatist tendencies began to manifest. The persecution of the bishops who defended Monophysitism began. The powerful Arian Ostrogothic kingdom, still practicing paganism, represented a threat, but was crushed by the Empire under Justinian, who closed the philosophical school in Athens in 529.
In foreign policy, Justinian continued to struggle with Persia, with little success. Justin maintained relations with the young Ostrogothic kingdom of Theodoric. As a supporter of imperial law, Theodoric, after the death of his son, recommended that the leaders of the Germans appoint his ten-year-old grandson as king. According to the German law, the power was to go to the Theodoric’s nephew. Since Justin died in the spring of 527, this was no longer to be decided by him; but by Justinian, who saw in the event an opportunity to intervene in the affairs of the Ostrogothic kingdom.

Sources:

  • Procopius of Caesarea . War with the Persians. War with the Vandals. Secret history
  • Evagrius the Scholastic . Church history in 6 books.
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