Justinian I

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Justinian I

(jŭstĭn`ēən), 483–565, Byzantine emperor (527–65), nephew and successor of Justin IJustin I,
c.450–527, Byzantine emperor (518–27); successor of Anastasius I. He was chief of the imperial guard and became emperor when Anastasius died. Justin persecuted the Monophysites and maintained close relations with the Western Church.
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. He was responsible for much imperial policy during his uncle's reign. Soon after becoming emperor, Justinian instituted major administrative changes and tried to increase state revenues at the expense of his subjects. Justinian's fiscal policies, the discontent of the Monophysites at his orthodoxy, and the loyalty of the populace to the family of Anastasius I produced the Nika riot (532), which would have cost Justinian his throne but for the firmness of his wife, Empress TheodoraTheodora
, d. 548, Byzantine empress. Information about her early career comes from the often-questionable source, the Secret History of Procopius. It appears that she was the daughter of an animal trainer in the circus, and that she was an actress and prostitute before
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, and the aid of his great generals, BelisariusBelisarius
, c.505–565, Byzantine general under Justinian I. After helping to suppress (532) the dangerous Nika riot (see Blues and Greens), he defeated (533–34) the Vandals of Africa, and captured their king.
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 and NarsesNarses
, c.478–c.573, Byzantine official and general, one of the eunuchs of the palace. He assisted in the suppression of the Nika riot (532) by bribing the Blues of the Circus (see Blues and Greens) to return their allegiance to Justinian I.
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 (see Blues and GreensBlues and Greens,
political factions in the Byzantine Empire in the 6th cent. They took their names from two of the four colors worn by the circus charioteers. Their clashes were intensified by religious differences.
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). Justinian, through Belisarius and Narses, recovered Africa from the Vandals (533–48) and Italy from the Ostrogoths (535–54). He was less successful in fighting the Persians and was unable to prevent the raids of the Slavs and the Bulgars. Justinian's policy of caesaropapism (i.e., the supremacy of the emperor over the church) included not only matters of organization, but also matters of dogma. In 553, seeking to reconcile the Monophysites to the church, he called a council (see Constantinople, Second Council ofConstantinople, Second Council of,
553, regarded generally as the fifth ecumenical council. It was convened by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I to settle the dispute known as the Three Chapters.
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) but accomplished nothing and finally tended to drift into heresy himself. Justinian's greatest accomplishment was the codification of Roman law, commonly called the Corpus Juris CivilisCorpus Juris Civilis
, most comprehensive code of Roman law and the basic document of all modern civil law. Compiled by order of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, the first three parts appeared between 529 and 535 and were the work of a commission of 17 jurists presided over by the
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, executed under his direction by TribonianTribonian
(Tribonianus) , d. 545?, Roman jurist. Under the command of Justinian I, he directed the compilation of the Corpus Juris Civilis. It is not possible to determine exactly what Tribonian himself contributed; in all likelihood he wrote largely from his encyclopedic
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. It gave unity to the centralized state and greatly influenced all subsequent legal history. Justinian erected many public works, of which the church of Hagia SophiaHagia Sophia
[Gr.,=Holy Wisdom] or Santa Sophia,
Turkish Ayasofya, originally a Christian church at Constantinople (now İstanbul, Turkey) and then a mosque under Muslim rule.
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 is the most notable. He was succeeded by his nephew, Justin II. The writings of ProcopiusProcopius
, d. 565?, Byzantine historian, b. Caesarea in Palestine. He accompanied Belisarius on his campaigns as his secretary, and later he commanded the imperial navy and served (562) as prefect of Constantinople.
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 are the main source of information on Justinian's reign.


See C. Diehl, Justinien et la civilisation byzantine au VIe siècle (1901, repr. 1969); J. W. Barker, Justinian and the Later Roman Empire (1966); R. Browning, Justinian and Theodora (1971); A. Gerostergios, Justinian the Great (1982).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Justinian I


Born 482 or 483 in Tauresium, upper Macedonia; died Nov. 14, 565, in Constantinople. Byzantine emperor from 527.

The son of a peasant, Justinian was educated under the patronage of his uncle Justin I, who was emperor from 518 to 527. Brought by Justin to the imperial court, Justinian exercised great influence on affairs of state. After ascending to the throne he strove to restore the Roman Empire to its former boundaries and former greatness. Supported by the middle strata of landowners and slaveholders, he also sought the support of the orthodox church; he attempted to limit the senatorial aristocracy’s claims to power. His wife, Theodora, played an important role in state politics.

During Justinian’s reign Roman law was codified (seeCODIFICATION OF JUSTINIAN). The emperor’s legislative activities were on the whole directed toward the establishment of unlimited imperial power, the strengthening of slavery, and the defense of property rights. He contributed to the centralization of the state by his reforms of 535 and 536, which increased the size of administrative districts, concentrated civil and military power in the hands of the districts’ governors, and regulated and strengthened the army and the administration of the state. He placed handicrafts and trade under the control of the state. Oppressive taxation increased under Justinian, and heretics were brutally persecuted.

Justinian was responsible for a vast program of construction. He erected fortifications for defense against barbarian invasions, built up cities, and constructed palaces and churches, including Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.

Justinian’s foreign policy was one of conquest. He regained areas of the Western Roman Empire that had been seized by the barbarians: northern Africa, Sardinia, and Corsica were recovered from the Vandals in 533 and 534, the Italian Peninsula and Sicily from the Ostrogoths between 535 and 555, and the southeastern part of the Iberian Peninsula from the Visigoths in 554. Slaveholding relations were restored in these areas. In the east, the Byzantines waged war against Iran from 527 to 532 and from 540 to 561; in the north they repulsed an attack by the Slavs.

In various regions of the empire, especially in the lands annexed under Justinian, popular uprisings broke out in protest against the emperor’s authority. Notable expressions of unrest were an uprising of Samaritans in Palestine in 529 and 530, the Nika revolt in Constantinople in 532, the revolutionary movement in North Africa from 536 to 548 headed by Stotzas, and the people’s liberation movement in Italy led by Totila.


Istoriia Vizantii, vol. 1. Moscow, 1967. Chapters 10–14.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Justinian I

called the Great; Latin name Flavius Anicius Justinianus. 483--565 ad, Byzantine emperor (527--565). He recovered North Africa, SE Spain, and Italy, largely owing to the brilliance of generals such as Belisarius. He sponsored the Justinian Code
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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