Justinian - Byzantine Empire - The Emperor Justinian
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mosaic of man standing in robes

The Roman Emperor Justinian succeeded his uncle, Justin, in 527 AD. Before becoming emperor, Justinian married Theodora, which upset a lot of people because she was an actress, and many people thought all actresses were bad women. But in fact she made a good empress, and Justinian seems to have loved her very much, even though they never were able to have any children.

Soon after Justinian became emperor, there was a huge riot in the city: the Nika Riot, and the rioters burned down Constantinople's main church. Justinian replaced it with the great church of Hagia Sophia.

mosaic of woman standing in robes
Theodora and her court attendants

Justinian made peace with King Khusrho of the Sassanids in 532 AD, which made it possible for him to send Roman troops to reconquer Africa from the Vandals, Italy from the Ostrogoths, and Spain from the Visigoths. We call this the Byzantine Reconquest. These troops mainly succeeded, though after Justinian's death the land was slowly lost again to new invaders.

Justinian also issued a new law code, the Corpus Juris Civilis, in 534 AD: this list of laws in Latin replaced the older Theodosian Code. Justinian's code made it clear that being a Roman and being a Christian were now essentially the same thing. The code placed new restrictions on Jewish Romans.

On the other hand, there were many raids into the empire during Justinian's reign, especially in the Balkans. And, beginning in 542 AD, there was a terrible plague throughout the Empire, which may be the first appearance of the bubonic plague.

Learn by doing: making a mosaic
Next Byzantine Emperor: Justin II
More about the Middle Ages

Bibliography and further reading about Justinian and Theodora:

Next Byzantine Emperor: Justin II
The Ostrogoths
The Vandals
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Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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