Roman Emperor (527-65)

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Roman Emperor (527-65)

Flavius Anicius Julianus Justinianus was born about 483 at Tauresium (Taor) in Illyricum (near Uskup); d. 565. The theory that he was a Slav by race is now abandoned (Krumbacher, "Byz. Litt.", 237). He was the nephew of Justin I (518-27), being the son of Justin's sister Vigilantia and a certain Sabatius. Already during his uncle's reign he became the chief power in the state. Justin was an old man, weak in body and mind; he gradually handed over all power to his nephew. In 521 Justinian was proclaimed consul, then general-in-chief, and in April, 527, Augustus; in August of the same year Justin died, and Justinian was left sole ruler.

The thirty-eight years of Justinian's reign are the most brilliant period of the later empire. Full of enthusiasm for the memories of Rome, he set himself, and achieved, the task of reviving their glory. The many-sided activity of this wonderful man may be summed up under the headings: military triumphs, legal work, ecclesiastical polity, and architectural activity. Dominating all is the policy of restoring the empire, great, powerful, and united. Of these many features of his reign — each of them epoch-making — it is impossible to give more than the merest outline here.

Military triumphs

Justinian carried on the unending war against the Persians with mixed success. His general Belisarius lost a battle at first in 528, then completely routed the Persians at Daras, near Nisibis (June, 530); but on 19 April, 531, the Romans were defeated near Callinicum on the Euphrates; in September a peace was arranged on fairly equal terms. The emperor then conceived the plan of reconquering Africa and Italy, lost to the empire by the Vandal and Gothic invasions. In 533 a fleet of five hundred ships set sail for Africa under Belisarius. In two battles the Romans annihilated the Vandal kingdom, took the king, Gelimer, prisoner to Constantinople, and re-estabished the authority of Caesar in Africa. In 535 Belisarius sailed for Sicily. The island was conquered at once. After a reverse in Dalmatia that province was also subdued. Belisarius in 536 took Rhegium and Naples, entered Rome in triumph, seized Ravenna, sustained a siege in Rome till 538, when the Goths retired. A second general, Narses, then arrived with reinforcements from Constantinople; Milan and all Liguria were taken in 539, and in 540 all Italy up to the frontier of the Frankish Kingdom was reunited to the empire. In 542 the Goths revolted under their king, Totila; by 553 they were again crushed. Narses became the first Exarch of Italy. Verona and Brixia (Brescia), the last Gothic strongholds, fell in 562. The Roman armies then marched on Spain and conquered its south-eastern provinces (lost again in 623, after Justinian's death.) Meanwhile the Crimean Goths and all the Bosporus, even the Southern Arabs, were forced to acknowledge the rule of Rome. A second war against the Persians (540-45) pushed the Roman frontier beyond Edessa. From 549 to 556 a long in Armenia and Colchis (the Lazic War) again established the empire without a rival on the shores of the Black Sea. So Justinian ruled once more over a colossal world empire, whose extent rivaled that of the great days before Diocletian. Meanwhile the emperor was no less successful at home. In 532 a very dangerous revolt (the Nika revolution), that arose from the factions of the Circus (the Blues and Greens), was put down severely. Bury says that the result of the suppression was "an imperial victory which established the form of absolutism by which Byzantine history is generally characterized". (Later Roman Empire, I, 345).

Legal work

The most enduring work of Justinian was his codification of the laws. This, too, was an important part of his general scheme. The great empire he was reconquering must have the strength of organized unity. He says in the edict of promulgation of his laws that a state rests on arms and law ("De Justin. Cod. Confirmando", printed