Justinian (527-565 A.D.)


It is a period of a full success of the Byzantine Empire in all points of view. From a military viewpoint Africa and Italy were recovered, and the empire was the strongest state of all others. Byzantine ecclesiastical architecture was flourishing and has left the most celebrated example that still survives : Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. Historians such as Procopius and Agathias working within the tradition inherited from Herodotus and Thucydides. The Codex Justinianus was produced by a commission chaired by John the Cappadocian in 529. In 533 Institutes and the Pandects were published. All these works are monuments to the Byzantine legal heritage.

Justinian succeeded his uncle on 1 August, 527. Justinian barred pagans from the civil service, Christians who were converted into paganism were to be put to death, as were any persons caught making secret sacrifice to the gods. It was that time which put an end to the Neoplatonic Academy in Athens. The christian fanatism tried to destroy the ancient Greek's spirit but at the end didn't make it.

On the eastern front, in 532 Justinian paid a huge amount to Persian shah Khusro I, in order to keep peace. But inside the "City" was an outburst of street violence: The 'Nika' Revolt which broke out in January, 532, in Constantinople. Greens and Blues, who were two factions that had enough political influence were dissatisfied with emperor and provoked rioting and destruction. When the emperor appeared in the Hippodrome they turned hostile, and Justinian retreated. Justinian was now ready to flee, but his wife Theodora changed his mind and made him stay. It was Belisarius who led the army in the Hippodrome and turned the riot into bloodbath. The damage to Constantinople was great, but it cleared the way for Justinian's own building program. Work in his new church of Hagia Sophia to replace the old Hagia Sophia that was destroyed in the rioting, started only forty-five days after the revolt was crushed.

The following year, in 533, Justinian launched an expedition led by Belisarius against the Vandal kingdom in Africa. The field army numbered about 18,000 men: 10,000 of them infantry and 5,000 cavalry, plus some barbarian federates. Gelimer was unaware of the offensive and had sent 5,000 men and 120 ships under his brother Tata to put down a rebellion in Sardinia. The expedition landed at Caput Vada, and the army marched along the coast towards Carthage while the fleet accompanied it offshore.

Gelimer was defeated. Belisarius after the victory returned to Constantinople with the Vandal captives and the booty, although Justinian allowed him the option of remaining in Africa. To celebrate the victory, a version of a Roman triumph was held in the capital, where the procession ended in the Hippodrome, with Belisarius and Gelimer both prostrating themselves before the emperor and empress in the imperial loge. Gelimer was granted an estate in Galatia and some 2,000 Vandals were conscripted into the imperial army.

The attack in Italy against Ostrogoths was launched in 535. Only at Palermo did Belisarius meet any resistance, and on December 31, he entered Syracuse. The following spring, Belisarius crossed to the mainland and had an easy advance until he reached Naples, which had a Gothic garrison. Naples was entered by an unguarded aqueduct after a twenty-day siege and sacked. On December, Belisarius entered Rome and prepared for the Gothic counterattack. Goths with an army of 150000 made directly for Rome where a siege took place for one year. After Byzantine reinforcements and supplies started to arrive, Witigis (Goths king) lifted the siege of Rome and retreated. in May, 540, the Byzantines entered Ravenna, but Justinian, ordered Belisarius to return. Belisarius, with important Goths including Witigis and Matasuintha, and the Gothic treasure, made their way to the capital. Justinian established an Ostrogothic kingdom in the north of Italy, and freed this way his troops to deal with the Persian threat.

Īn 540, Khusro headed for Antioch, and sacked it. In 541, Belisarius was sent to the Persian frontier, but Khusro had turned his attention to Lazica where the Lazi, like the Armenians had sought an alliance. The Byzantino-Persian wars lasted until 561, when a truce was agreed. The eastern parts of Black Sea remained in the empire. Belisarius in west, sieged Rome and took it in December 546. But he was recalled by Justinian. After Belisarius' departure, Totila took Rome once again and plundered Sicily. In 550 Justinian put his cousin Germanus in charge of a large expedition to Italy. Germanus while he was organizing his army, he took sick and died in the autumn of 550. To replace Germanus, Justinian turned to the Narses who took with him an army of some 30,000 men, quite beyond the power of the Ostrogoths to resist. Narses was also clearly a leader of great ability. In 552, Goths were defeated and Totila died of wounds received in the battle. Justinian at the same time had an army campaigning in Visigothic Spain. Thus the Byzantine empire held on to a small slice of the Spanish coast until the reign of Heraclius.

Justinian died in 565. Byzantium had in his reign the most glorious moments. It stretched from Armenia to Spain, and from Dunab to Africa. Mediteranean sea was a Byzantine lake. He was succeeded by Justin II.