Overall, Justinian’s rulehad been a success. He had not had a perfect reign, but he had had a strongone. Justinian had accomplished many things during his rule to improve hispeople’s lifestyle.
“He made it easier to free Christian slaves, gave morelegal rights to women and children, made divorce harder, and reduced the numberof capital crimes” (Trafton 2). Justinian left behind a legacy in the form ofthe expanded empire, his architecture and his work with the system of law. Hisreign was one of the most successful ones of the entire Byzantine civilization.In 548 AD, Justinian’sbeloved wife Theodora died, plunging Justinian and his empire into a state ofdistress.
Not only had he lost his wife, Justinian had also lost one of hismost valued advisors. Justinian continued to rule, but less steadily thanbefore. Problems plagued the empire, and the ruler was growing older and lesscompetent to lead. Justinian died on November 14, 565 AD, when he was 82 yearsold (Hillard 1). His rule had lasted from 527-565 AD, a span of 38 years(Hillard 1). Before his death, he had selected Justin II, his nephew, to be hisheir, as he had no children of his own.
On the other side of theempire, Justinian was still trying to conquer nearby nations such as theVandals in Northern Africa and the Ostrogoths in Italy. In 534 AD, theByzantine Army defeated the Vandals and Northern Africa became part of thegrowing empire. In Italy, Justinian’s troops had a harder fought victory; theybattled the Ostrogoths for nine years before the Ostrogoth king forced theByzantine soldiers to retreat in 549 AD. A year later, the Byzantine troopsreturned to continue the war. Finally, in 552 AD, their forces were able todefeat the Ostrogoth army, and by 554 AD, they had claimed Italy (Hussey 1).These two Byzantine victories had a great impact on the empire.
When he came into power,another one of Justinian’s goals was to expand the empire. Since long beforeJustinian’s reign, Byzantium had been constantly at war with Persia. In 531 AD,Justinian made a truce with the Persians that was considered a victory for theByzantine people, since they had not been forced to give up any of their land.
However, they did have to give 11,000 pounds of gold to the Persian king(Hussey 1). The peace treaty was only temporary, though, because in 540 AD, thePersian king Khosrow invaded Byzantium and began another round of battles.Finally, in 545 AD, another treaty was negotiated, and this treaty spanned alonger period of time. Overall, Justinian’s war against Persia “can hardly bedescribed as a failure” (Hussey 1). Justinian’s laws outlivedhim; his most famous work, the Codex, became the basis of the law system formany European governments. The laws were lost for many years after the fall ofByzantium, but when they were rediscovered in the 12th century AD, they wereput into use. Over the next centuries, more civilizations created their own lawsystems based on Justinian’s Codex.
By the 14th and 15th centuries AD, theywere commonly used by European nations. Even some nations today look to theCodex Constitutionum to aid their governments. However, the only version thatmodern day countries have access to is the second one (Evans 23). The firstedition was lost over time, but the second edition of Justinian’s law code hassurvived the ages.
Justinian’s next projectwas creating another edition of his original Codex Justinianus. In thisrevision, which he released in 534 AD, Justinian updated the law code and addedmore mandates from the time of his own rule. After this update, Justiniancontinued to rule by his law code and later published the NovellaeConstitutiones Post Codicem, known more simply as the Novels (Hussey 1). Shortly after the releaseof the Codex, Justinian began work on another commission. The result, publishedin 533 AD, was the Digest, which was made up of 50 books. “At the same time, ahandbook for the use of law students, the Institutes…was prepared andpublished” (Hussey 1). Justinian’s most famousachievement was his law code.
Titled the Codex Justinianus, it revolutionizedthe government of the empire. Justinian began work on his law code in 528 AD,less than a year after claiming the throne. To create the Codex, Justinian”convened a ten-man commission headed by John the Cappadocian” (Evans 23).Justinian made sure to incorporate Christianity into his work (Howe and Howe180).
In 529 AD, the law code, also known as the Codex Constitutionum, waspublished. Justinian did not approveof law schools and decided to close the all of those academies when he came topower. Law schools had been established for those interested in learning aboutand working with the legal system. Two of the most notable institutions werethe Constantinople and Berytos schools. When Justinian became emperor, he shutdown all of the law schools except the Constantinople Academy (Evans 22).
Aside from this revolt,Justinian had firm control over his empire, which was partially due to his lawcode. Before Justinian’s Codex, there were other law codes in the Roman andByzantine Empires, all leading up to the creation of Justinian’s work. Thefirst known law code made by the Romans was the Twelve Tables. Published in451-450 BC, they gave Roman citizens a basic outline of rules and theconsequences that would result if they were disobeyed. The laws included “theprerogatives of the patrician class and of the patriarchal family, the validityof enslavement for unpaid debt, and the interference of religious custom incivil cases” (Hussey 1). After the publication of the Twelve Tables, otherRoman emperors began making their own additions. Over the years, the law codegrew and eventually included conflicting laws from different emperors. Thiscaused confusion in convicting criminals and naming punishments for citizenswho were deemed guilty.
The uncertainty prompted at least three other politicalfigures to make an effort to organize the laws. Two of these attempts resultedin the Gregorian Code and the Hermogenian Code, both written by jurists (Snell1). They both had a more narrow scope than codifying the entire history of thelaws; the Gregorian Code focused on the laws from 117-337 AD and theHermogenian Code focused on the more specific topics and laws from 284-305 AD(Snell 1). Another instance of this endeavor was the Theodosian Code, which wascommissioned in 438 AD by Emperor Theodosius II (Snell 1). The Theodosian Codewas partially based on the previous two codes, but also included newinformation.
When Justinian began his law code, he looked to these previousattempts for guidance. Justinian’s reign was notwithout its challenges. In 532 AD, he found himself with a revolution on hishands. The Blues and the Greens, the city parties, had joined forces to launchan attack on part of the palace and its church. Justinian tried to quell theunhappy people, but the situation had gotten out of control. The rebels triedto make Hypatius, the nephew of the former emperor Anastasius, the ruler,instead of Justinian.
Justinian felt that he had no choice but to flee thecity, and was prepared to escape, but Theodora convinced him to stay (Evans19). With his wife by his side, Justinian was barely able to regain control ofhis throne and his empire. Justinian also madenotable advances in architecture. He constructed 25 basilicas in Constantinopleand rebuilt the famous Hagia Sophia in 537 AD after it was destroyed for thesecond time in 532 AD during the Nika Revolt (Hussey 1). It was originallyconstructed in 325 AD by Constantine. After being razed in 404 AD, it wasrebuilt for the first time by Theodosius II. The church was first called MegaleEkklesia, which means “Great Church” (Evans 30).
It was later named HagiaSophia, which means “Holy Wisdom” and is referred to as Sancta Sophia in Latin(Britannica School High 1). The mosaics inside the church have been restoredand the building is still in good condition today. When Justinian claimedthe throne, he already had an idea of what he wanted to accomplish during hisreign. To sum up his plans, he created a motto for himself: “One empire, onechurch, one law” (Howe and Howe 180). This slogan showed his determination tostrengthen the Byzantine Empire, unite the church and codify the law. He wantedto bring the empire together with Christianity and was upset by the differentbeliefs within Christianity. He believed, like the orthodox Christians, thatJesus Christ was both human and divine.
However, the Monophysites argued thatJesus was simply divine (Trafton 2). When Justinian promoted the belief of theorthodox Christians, he was opposing Theodora’s belief as a Monophysite.Distressed, Justinian tried to unite the two groups by publishing a documentthat served as a compromise, but neither group was satisfied. Eventually,Justinian gave up and the groups both continued to support their conflicting beliefs(Trafton 2).
Justinian also established a new rule that the ruler of the empirewas also the head of the church. He made it his responsibility to make sure thechurch was running smoothly. When Justinian came tothe throne in 527 AD, the empire was in a state of instability.
There wasunrest throughout Byzantium, putting pressure on Justinian to strengthen thecivilization. Justinian’s strategy was to focus on reforming the law andimproving the government. Years after Justinian andTheodora were wed, Justin promoted Justinian to his co-emperor, givingJustinian more power and influence (Hussey 1). A short time later, Justinpassed away and his nephew inherited the empire. In 522 AD, Justinian meta former actress. Her name was Theodora, and she had given up her originalcareer after becoming a Christian, beginning to make a living spinning woolinstead. At the time, there was a Byzantine law that prevented the marriage ofa senator to an actress, even if she was no longer performing (Evans 37-38).
However, Justinian had fallen in love with Theodora and asked Justin, theemperor, to change the law. Justin complied, and Justinian and Theodora weremarried a year later. Theodora was a supportive wife who helped her husbandmake some important decisions, including during the Nika Revolt. Justinian was born on May11, 483 AD in northern Illyricum (Hillard 1). His parents, who were farmers,gave him the name Flavius Peterus Sabbatus, but he changed his name when he wasolder to be more similar to his uncle, Justin, who adopted Justinian as his ownson (Trafton 1).
Justin took on the responsibility of Justinian’s education andtook him to study in Constantinople as a teenager. Justinian began to work withhis uncle, who was the Count of the Excubitors and a well-known man in politics(Treadgold 58). The Excubitors were the emperor’s guards and Justin’s job asthe count included leading those soldiers. After Anastasius, the emperor at thetime, died without announcing a successor, Justin was chosen by Anastasius’courtiers to be the next ruler.
Justin was close to 70 years old anduneducated, so he enlisted his nephew, who was then 36 years old, to assist himin his reign (Treadgold 58). When his uncle became emperor in 518 AD, Justinianbecame one of Justin’s advisors. As Justin grew older, he began to giveJustinian’s opinions more weight in his own decisions. Justinian was one of themost influential rulers of Byzantium.
When he came into power in 527 AD, heinherited a civilization in disarray. Justinian had a positive impact on theByzantine Empire. Most notably, he introduced an improved set of laws andconquered many surrounding nations, nearly restoring the former glory of theRoman Empire.
In addition to these contributions, Justinian also made advanceswith the Christian Church and Byzantine architecture.