Justinian's full name was Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Justinianus. He is said to be of Slavic descent, probably born in a small village called Tauresium in Illyricum, near Scupi (present day Skopje, Macedonia), on May 11, 483, to Vigilantia. His mother Vigilantia was the sister of the highly esteemed General Justin, who rose from the ranks of the army to become emperor. His uncle adopted him and ensured the boy's education. Justinian was superbly well educated in jurisprudence, theology and Roman history. His military career featured rapid advancement, and a great future opened up for him when, in 518, Justin became emperor. Justinian was appointed consul in 521, and later as commander of the army of the east. He was functioning as virtual regent long before Justin made him associate emperor on April 1, 527.
Four months later, Justinian became the sole sovereign upon Justin I's death. His administration had world-wide impact, constituting a distinct epoch in the history of the Byzantine Empire and the Orthodox Church. He was a man of unusual capacity for work (sometimes called the "Emperor Who Never Sleeps"), and possessed a temperate, affable, and lively character; but was also unscrupulous and crafty when it served him. He was the last emperor to attempt to restore the Roman Empire to the territories it enjoyed under Theodosius I.
He surrounded himself with men and women of extraordinary talent, "new men" culled not from the aristocratic ranks, but those based on merit. In 523 he married Theodora, who was by profession a courtesan about 20 years his junior. According to the historian Procopius, notorious for his slanderous dislike of Theodora, Justinian is said to have met her at a show where she and a trained goose performed Leda and the Swan, a play that managed to mock Greek mythology and Christian morality at the same time. Justinian would have, in earlier times, been unable to marry her because of her class, but his uncle Emperor Justin I had passed a law allowing intermarriage between social classes. Theodora would become very influential in the politics of the Empire, and later emperors would follow Justinian's precedent and marry outside of the aristocratic class. The marriage was a source of scandal, but Theodora would prove to be very intelligent, "street smart," a good judge of character, and Justinian's greatest supporter.
Theodora died in 548; Justinian outlived her for almost twenty years, dying on November 13 or 14, 565.
Legal and military accomplishments
Justinian achieved lasting influence for his judicial reforms, notably the summation of all Roman law, something that had never been done before. Justinian commissioned quaestor Tribonian to the task, and he issued the first draft of the Corpus Juris Civilis on April 7, 529, in three parts: Digesta (or Pandectae), Institutiones, and the Codex. The Corpus forms the basis of Latin jurisprudence (including ecclesiastical canon law: ecclesia vivit lege romana). Tribonian's law code ensured the survival of Roman Law, which would pass to the West in the 12th century and later to Eastern Europe, including Russia. It remains influential to this day.
Justinian and OrthodoxyConstantine the Great. He believed in a Mediterranean-wide Christian order politically, religiously and economically, united and ruled from Constantinople under a single Christian emperor. To this end he directed his great wars and his colossal activity in reconquering the western provinces from the Germanic tribes.
Perhaps the most noteworthy event occurred in 529 when the teaching Academy of Plato of Athens was placed under state control by order of Justinian, effectively strangling this training-school for Hellenism. Paganism was actively suppressed. The worship of Ammon at Augila in the Libyan desert was abolished, and so were the remnants of the worship of Isis on the island of Philae, in Egypt, and unrepentant Manicheans were executed in Constantinople. Justinian frequently sent out missionaries and converted numerous tribes. In Asia Minor alone, John, Bishop of Ephesus, converted 70,000 pagans.
Justinian also took a very firm stance in his support of Orthodoxy; he fought different heresies throughout his rule. At the beginning of his reign, he promulgated by law belief in the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation, and subsequently declared that he would deprive all disturbers of orthodoxy due process of law. He made the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed the sole symbol of the Church and accorded legal force to the canons of the four Ecumenical Councils. At the command of the sovereign, the Fifth Ecumenical Council was convened in the year 553, censuring the teachings of Origen and affirming the definitions of the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon. He also attempted to secure religious unity within the Empire through his (unsuccessful) dialogues with the non-Chalcedonians. He appointed Theodora, a convert from Monophysitism, as his special envoy to deal with those who rejected Chalcedon. Besides Monophysitism, other ecclesiastical tensions had begun to emerge between the East and the West; the "Three Chapters" controversy brought all of these to a head (cf. external links).monastery at Sinai, and the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. Under St. Justinian many churches were built dedicated to the Theotokos. Since he had received a broad education, St. Justinian assiduously concerned himself with the education of clergy and monks, ordering them to be instructed in rhetoric, philosophy, and theology. He neglected no opportunity for securing the rights of the Church and clergy, for protecting and extending monasticism: his law codes contain many enactments regarding donations, foundations, and the administration of ecclesiastical property; election and rights of bishops, priests, and abbots; monastic life, residential obligations of the clergy, conduct of divine service, and episcopal jurisdiction.
Justinian's standardization of the Divine Liturgy included introducing the Cherubic Hymn, and two oft-used troparia of the Church, Only Begotten Son and O Gladsome Light are traditionally accredited to him.
In his personal life, St. Justinian was strictly pious, and he fasted often. During Great Lent he would not eat bread nor drink wine, but lived on only water and vegetables. He is also remembered for promoting the idea of "symphony" between church and state.
However, Justinian is often criticized by secular sources as a despot. Even some dissent occurs in Orthodox Holy Tradition. For example, the hagiography of St. Eutychius paints a more complicated portrait of the Emperor:
- "After the death of the holy Patriarch Menas, the Apostle Peter appeared in a vision to the emperor Justinian and, pointing his hand at Eutychius, said, 'Let him be made your bishop.' At the very beginning of his patriarchal service, St Eutychius [not Justinian himself] convened the Fifth Ecumenical Council (553), at which the Fathers condemned the heresies cropping up and anathematized them. However, after several years a new heresy arose in the Church: Aphthartodocetism [asartodoketai] or "imperishability" which taught that the flesh of Christ...[was] not capable of suffering. St Eutychius vigorously denounced this heresy, but the emperor Justinian himself inclined toward it, and turned his wrath upon the saint. By order of the emperor, soldiers seized the saint in the church, removed his patriarchal vestments, and sent him into exile to an Amasean monastery (565)."
- Justinian I at Wikipedia
- St Justinian the Emperor (OCA)
- The Three-Chapter Controversy at Wikipedia
- University of Kansas Medieval History: Reign of Justinian, 527-565
- Orthodox America: Justinian the Great, Emperor and Saint (ROCOR)
- Roman Emperors: Justinian (A very detailed history.)
- Medieval Sourcebook: Excerpts from Procopius' Secret History of Justinian and his Court (Here Procopius slanders both Justinian and Theodora with vicious abandon.)
- Come and See Icons: Justinian
- earlychurch.org: Justinian I (Very pro-Justinian and the Church.)