Justinian – Byzantine Reconquest – A later Roman emperor

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Justinian in a mosaic - a white man with a halo and a crown, in elaborate robes, carrying a gold bowl - Justinian Byzantine

Justinian – Byzantine mosaic from Ravenna, Italy (500s AD)

Justinian and Theodora

The Roman Emperor Justinian succeeded his uncle, Justin, in 527 AD. Before becoming emperor, Justinian married Theodora. That 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. Justinian seems to have loved her very much, even though they never were able to have any children.

The Nika Riot

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

Mosaic of a white woman dripping with pearls, with a crown and a halo, backed by a woman and a eunuch - Justinian - Byzantine

Justinian’s wife Theodora and her court attendants

Byzantine Reconquest

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’s Law Code

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.

Bubonic plague?

On the other hand, Turkic and Slavic armies made many raids into the Roman 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.

Did you find out what you wanted to know about the Roman emperor Justinian? Let us know in the comments!

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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By | 2018-01-11T09:03:30+00:00 August 2nd, 2017|History, Medieval|2 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Justinian – Byzantine Reconquest – A later Roman emperor. Quatr.us Study Guides, August 2, 2017. Web. January 22, 2018.

About the Author:

Karen Carr
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.


  1. Deb Corba November 9, 2017 at 10:40 am - Reply

    um no I don’t think so

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr November 9, 2017 at 6:00 pm

      Sorry, you don’t think what?

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