Byzantine Empire under Justinian’s Rule
Byzantine Emperor Justinian Facts, Life and his wife Theodora
As a person who writes a travel blog about the history of Istanbul, I have come to realize that I have mentioned about Justinian many times in my blog. The reason is that Emperor Justinian left a great mark in the history. What he contributed in terms of architecture to Istanbul is truly significant.
Big churches like Hagia Sophia and Hagia Eirene and the biggest cistern of the city, Basilica Cistern, were built during his period. Roman Laws were regulated and passed onto our time. It is not completely possible to understand today’s Istanbul without getting to know him better.
The rise of Justinian as an ordinary citizen
When the Emperor Anastasios died during his sleep without leaving an heir behind, the power was left in the hands of the guards. They chose their commander as the heir of the throne. Therefore, a Thracian villager without any education became the Roman Emperor in 518 with the name of Justin. Since he did not have a child, he chose his nephew Peter as an heir, adopted him as a son and changed his name into Justinianus.
However, all these were not enough for Justinian to take the throne. As an ambitious person, Justinian opened the path to the throne himself. He was chosen as a consul in 521 and supported the Blues in the chariot races in Hippodrome. He therefore was met with hatred by the opponent Greens.
The rivals Blue and Green teams were actually more than sports club and more like political parties. This seemingly sporty but actually political rivalry led to conflicts and even riots from time to time.
Byzantine Emperor Justinian Facts
Byzantine Love Story: Justinian and Theodora
Justinian met his wife Theodora, a circus dancer, during his consulate. However, the Byzantine Law prohibited emperor candidates from marrying non-noble women. The couple had to wait for the empress (Euphemia, the wife of Emperor Justinus), who opposed this marriage, to die in 524, and the laws were brought into line with that marriage.
Emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora
Regulation of Roman Law: Codex Justinianus
Justinian who took the throne in 527 AD wanted to make a reform in the state administration and initiated one of the most comprehensive legislation procedure. He compiled all the Roman laws into a ten volume source and named it Codex Justinianus.
His efforts in the following years resulted in Institutions, which is a law book read widely by law students in the modern world. All these texts formed Corpus Juris Civilis, which is a citizenship law adopted by the western world.
Vandalism in the Capital: Nika Revolt against Justinian
An incredible riot rose during the chariot races in the Hippodrome in 532. Justinian who was trying to escape the city during the Nika Revolt was persuaded by his strong-willed wife to stay in the capital.
Justinianus, who put the high-level generals Belisarius, Mundus and Narses on the rebels, could barely suppress the rebellion by killing 30,000 people. But his reputation was severely shaken and he wanted to repair it by making extraordinary architectural initiatives and great conquests.
Emperor Justinian Facts
Milestone in Architecture: Majestic Hagia Sophia
During the rebellion, the rebels burned down the capital Constantinople and destroyed the biggest religious structure of the city called Megale Ekklesia (Great Church). Instead of the destroyed church, a completely new and ground-breaking architectural style was to be built.
Anthemius, the most important engineer of Anatolia, and Isidoros, the teacher of architects, were commissioned for these purposes. With the help of 11,000 workers, they built the new church at a record time of 5 years.
It is rumored that Emperor Justinianus trembled with excitement when he first stepped into the new church and shouted, “I passed you, Solomon!” The reason is that the greatest religious monument known until that time was the Solomon’s Temple in the Torah.
Dream of Re-building the Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was divided in 395 and the Western Roman Empire was destroyed in 476. Justinian was an Eastern Roman (Byzantine) emperor. He wanted to take back the western provinces of Rome and return to the vast borders of Emperor Constantine, who lived 200 years before him.
Therefore, he sent the famous general Belisarius to a difficult military campaign. Justinian eventually captured Rome and even the whole Italy from the hands of barbarian invaders.
Emperor Justinian Accomplishments
Justinian’s Huge Heritage
His successful rule was shaken with disasters as he got older. A plague which appeared in 542 AD in Ethiopia spread to Constantinople due to trade ships coming through Egypt. Half of the Constantinople died from the plague. When the population of the city decreased dramatically, resources came to the point of extinction. The death of Theodora in 550 made the situation even worse.
Justinian made the Byzantine Empire into a huge empire controlling the whole Mediterranean. When he died in 565 AD at the age of 83, he left a big but ready-to-collapse empire. Hagia Sophia built during his rule remained the biggest church in the world for 1000 years