Justinian was the Byzantine emperor from 527 to 565, and it was during his time that the Eastern Roman Empire changed into the Byzantine Empire, which formed from the eastern portion of the Roman Empire. Emperors, like Diocletian, divided the empire into 2 parts to preserve the government, but the invasion of its western part by Germanic invaders in 476 CE left the Byzantines. This time, Constantinople remained as the eastern capital and became the center of Byzantine culture and trade. Arguably, Justinian is the most famous emperor of the Byzantines thanks to his many accomplishments.
1. He Had Great Success As Co-Emperor To His Uncle Justin I.
The rise of Justinian to imperial power started in 527 when he was appointed as co-emperor to his uncle, Justin I, who died later that year. His primary role was characterized by intense efforts to make the empire stronger and return it to its former glory. With this in mind, Justinian drew upon counselors and administrators from outside the aristocratic class. However, his selection of these court members, as well as his own modest origins, had created lasting tensions within the Byzantine nobility and was exacerbated by his authoritarian approach to governance. His declaration that the will of the emperor was law further undermined the senate’s authority and its factions.
2. He Pushed His Empire To Reclaim Land In The West.
With help of his domineering and wealthy wife, Empress Theodora, Justinian managed to push to reclaim land in the west. While he was not able to reclaim the entire empire, he made considerable gains to the west, even reaching as far as halfway through modern Libya in Northern Africa and the boundary of modern day Macedonia in Europe. Belisarius, his general, was an important figure to the expansion and re-conquest. With his trusted people, Justinian extended the Byzantine Empire dramatically back into areas that had previously been part of the Western Roman Empire. He conquered Italy and even Spain.
3. He Rebuilt Constantinople With The Justinian’s Code.
Before Justinian, Constantinople was destroyed by riots that were triggered by high taxes. In order to suppress the riots, re-establish order and rebuild the city, Justinian codified the Roman Law. He unified it with the purpose to organize the empire, which did not only help rebuild Constantinople, but also helped preserve the Roman culture in the eastern part of the empire. As you can see, there had been many laws that were passed by Roman legislatures, commentaries made by legal scholars, edicts that were handed down by emperors and other kinds of materials that were related to the law. Justinian collected all of these in one place and used them as basis of his Byzantine law. Later on, this codification was adapted across Europe as the basis for law.
4. He Made Ravenna a Key Artistic Center.
During the expansion campaigns of Justinian, the temporary capital of Ravenna became a key artistic center, with characteristic Byzantine mosaics adorning the city. Significant items preserved in this place included many Byzantine artistic and cultural artifacts.
5. He Rebuilt The Hagia Sophia.
Justinian’s rule as Byzantine emperor is further distinguished by an exceptional record of artistic and architectural production and patronage. In 532, after the Nika Riot, he initiated an urban construction program that aimed to rebuild the ancient capital that was founded in 324 by Constantine the Great. The architectural efforts of Justinian in the capital are memorialized in “On the Buildings” treatise, which was written by Procopius, who was Justinian’s court historian.
One of the greatest architectural works of the eastern world was the Hagia Sophia, which is a huge church dedicated to Christianity. Justinian is also known for rebuilding the structure. The church’s characteristic dome was an engineering wonder of its time.
6. He Has An Important Contribution To The Byzantine Culture.
Justinian’s nearly 40-year reign heralded military success and an extensive territorial expansion, along with a new synthesis of Christian and Greco-Roman culture that was seen at all levels of the Byzantine culture.
7. He Had a Great Role In Shaping Up The Policies Of The Catholic Church.
When it comes to religion, Justinian took a leading role in shaping up the Catholic Church policy. As an avid defender of Christian Orthodoxy, the emperor fought to eliminate widespread Greco-Roman paganism, opposed competing Christian sects, such as the Monophysites and the Arians, and rooted out Samaritans and Manichaeans. However, in 543, he also came into direct conflict with the papacy, which strained relations between the eastern and western parts of his empire.
8. He Cleared The Path For Portable Arts To Flourish During His Reign.
Apart from the tremendous patronage in decorations and monumental building, portable arts also flourished during Justinian’s reign. His time saw silk production being introduced from China to the Byzantine Empire. It was an art form for which the Byzantium would soon become well-known throughout the medieval world. As for icon painting, it is also one of the things that Justinian’s reign was distinguished for, with the earliest surviving painted icons on wooden panels believed to be created during such time.
9. He Married a Great Woman.
Most probably, you have heard of the old saying, “Behind every great man was a great woman.” Well, this is certainly true for Justinian. Research on the emperor’s political, economic and artistic achievements was examined involving a great woman behind him. Researchers believed that one of Justinian’s greatest accomplishments was his marriage. As you can see, his wife, Empress Theodora, was also a savvy politician. In fact, Justinian treated her as her intellectual equal, letting her to rule the empire with him. Theodora was also credited with saving the throne in 532 when there was a threat to overthrow his husband. As the emperor and his court were about to flee the city, Theodora’s impassioned plea to fight was heard, easily putting down the rebellion and retaining the seat for Justinian. The empress was also his partner in creating law reforms, including those for the roles and responsibilities of women in the empire.
There you have it—a list of the greatest accomplishments of the great Byzantine emperor, Justinian!