Emperor Justinian Of Byzantine Empire
As a person who writes a travel blog about the history of Istanbul, I have come to realize that I have mentioned about Justinian many times in my blog. The reason is that Emperor Justinian left a great mark in the history. What he contributed in terms of architecture to Istanbul is truly significant. Big churches like Hagia Sophia and Hagia Eirene and the biggest cistern of the city, Basilica Cistern, were built during his period. Roman Laws were regulated and passed onto our time. It is not completely possible to understand today’s Istanbul without getting to know him better.
The rise of Justinian as an ordinary citizen
When the Emperor Anastasios died during his sleep without leaving an heir behind, the power was left in the hands of the guards. They chose their commander as the heir of the throne. Therefore, a Thracian villager without any education became the Roman Emperor in 518 with the name of Justin. Since he did not have a child, he chose his nephew Peter as an heir, adopted him as a son and changed his name into Justinianus.
However, all these were not enough for Justinian to take the throne. As an ambitious person, Justinian opened the path to the throne himself. He was chosen as a consul in 521 and supported the blues in the chariot races in Hippodrome. He therefore was met with hatred by the opponent Greens. The rivals Blue and Green teams were actually more than sports club and more like political parties. This seemingly sporty but actually political rivalry led to conflicts and even riots from time to time.
The Emperor Justinian On a Byzantine Mosaic
One of the Biggest Love Stories: Justinian and Theodora
Justinian met his circus dancer wife Theodora when he was a consul. The problem was that Byzantine laws did not let emperors to marry non-nobles. The couple had to wait for Queen Mother, who opposed the marriage, to die in 524 and laws to change so that marriage would be permitted.
Regulation of Roman Law: Codex Justinianus
Justinian who took the throne in 527 wanted to make a reform in the state administration and initiated one of the most comprehensive legislation procedure. He compiled all the Roman laws into a ten volume source and named it Codex Justinianus. His efforts in the following years resulted in Institutions, which is a law book read widely by law students in the modern world. All these texts formed Corpus Juris Civilis, which is a citizenship law adopted by the western world.
Emperor Justinian’s Constantinople, the capital of Byzantine Empire
Vandalism in the Capital: Nika Riots
An incredible riot rose during the chariot races in the Hippodrome in 532. Justinian who was trying to escape the city during the Nika Revolt was persuaded by his strong-willed wife to stay in the capital. Justinian entrapped the rebels in the Hippodrome with the help of generals Belisarius and Narses and suppressed the riot after killing 30,000 people.
Hippodrome Of Constantinople where Nika Revolt broke out in 532
Milestone in Architecture: Majestic Hagia Sophia
During the riot, rebels burnt the city of Constantinople and destroyed Megale Ekklesia, the biggest church of the city. Justinian commissioned the best architecture of the period Isidoros and Anthemios to build the biggest temple in the world. After five years, Hagia Sophia was built.
Hagia Sophia’s Splendid Mosaic depicting The Emperor Justinian and Constantine The Great
Dream of Re-building the Roman Empire
Roman Empire was divided into two in 395 and collapsed in 476 due to barbarian invasions. Justinian was the Eastern Rome (Byzantine) emperor. He was hoping to re-capture the western provinces of Rome and take the Empire into the large borders of Constantine period of 200 years ago. Therefore, he sent the famous general Belisarius into an expedition. He eventually took Rome and even the whole Italy from the hands of barbarian invaders.
Byzantine Empire Map Under Justinian
Justinian’s Huge Heritage
His successful rule was shaken with disasters as he got older. A plague which appeared in 542 in Ethiopia spread to Constantinople due to trade ships coming through Egypt. Half of the city died from the plague. When the population of the city decreased dramatically, resources came to the point of extinction. The death of Theodora in 550 made the situation even worse.
Justinian made the Byzantine Empire into a huge empire controlling the whole Mediterranean. When he died in 565 at the age of 83, he left a big but ready-to-collapse empire. Hagia Sophia built during his rule remained the biggest church in the world for 1000 years.