Justinian was born in Thrace as Petrus Sebatus in 482, and was a native Latin speaker. He was brought to Constantinople as a child and received all of his thoroughly classical education there. At Anastasia's death he had been an officer in one of the palace regiments. His uncle Justin immediately raised him to Patrician and made him Count of the Domestics, allowing him decisive influence over the Emperor. Justinian was responsible for ending the thirty-five-year East-West Christian schism from the time of Acacia. In the mid-520s he met Theodora. Though a daughter of a bear keeper and acrobat in the Hippodrome and censured by later writers, Justinian was captivated by her strong personality. They were married in 525, and became Emperor and Empress in 527, shortly before Justin's death.

The first five years of Justinian's rule were challenging and accomplished. He signed an 'Everlasting Peace' with the Persian Sassanians for which Eastern Rome was obliged to pay an annual tribute of 11,000 pounds of gold. He also began a great building program, mostly ecclesiastic in nature. To raise revenue and order the state's finances, John of Cappadocia was made Praetorian Prefect in charge of taxes. He undertook fiscal restrictions on the army and spearheaded an anti-corruption campaign. He also introduced new taxes which the rich could not evade, and reduced senior provincial officials' individual powers.

A further early accomplishment of significance for the next millennium was the Corpus Juris Civilis. Based on earlier redactions of Roman law going back to Theodosius II in the 430s, this was a thorough summing up and commentary on all aspects of Roman law since the second century. Completed between 528 and 533 under the supervision of Tribonian, it consisted of three parts: a) the Code collected imperial, basic laws into a unified body of statute law; b) the Digest or Pandects was case law consisting of judicial responses of East and West Rome's greatest lawyers, divided into fifty books dealing with particular legal issues individually, where majority views held imperial authority; and c) the Institutes, a short handbook for aspiring legal scholars.

By 533 the new Emperor's policies had aroused the ire of influential segments of the populace. Peace with Persia seemed a defeat. John of Cappadocia's financial exactions were not only irksome to all, but his personal life was believed to be repugnant. As well, Tribonian was a confessed pagan of tremendous conceitedness. The representatives of this pent up disaffection were the Blues and Greens, who united on 13 January 532 to launch an uprising from the Constantinople Hippodrome with cries of "Nika, Nika!"--"win, win!"- directed against Justinian. For the next five days they and other subjects rampaged through Constantinople's streets, setting fire to government buildings including the Senate House and Praetorian Prefecture, as well as sacred sites such as St. Sophia. Initially bowing to their demands, Justinian removed John of Cappadocia and Tribonian from positions of power. When rioters proceeded to raise up as anti-Emperor Hypatius, an old relative of Anastasia, Justinian decided to flee the capital. Empress Theodora, however shamed him in to staying to fight it out. It was at this point that two of his most trusted generals, present with him, saved the day.

The Romanized Thracian Belisarius and the Illyrian Mundus secretly left the Palace and marched on the Hippodrome, surprising the riots' ringleaders there. At the same time the Imperial Bodyguard leader Narses, an Armenian eunuch, blocked all the exits and issued orders that no one leave alive. Ultimately, nearly 30,000 rebels were slaughtered, ending the Nika Revolt. John and Tribonian were restored, and Justinian then embarked on an even larger building campaign of restoration, focusing most of his attentions on St. Sophia.

Having regained imperial preeminence, the indefatigable Justinian surged forward, first with the reconquest of Vandals in North Africa. Relations between the Vandal rulers and the populace were poor. While the occupiers followed Arianism, the African Church was strongly Catholic, and had a solid ecclesiastical basis. Vandals had tried since the 450s to weaken the Catholic Church, but had not succeeded, merely alienating the population and remaining obnoxious in the eyes of Eastern Rome. Additionally, in the 520s, Childeric had become Vandal king. Anxious to improve relations with Constantinople, he cut back on harassment of Catholics. In 530 he was overthrown by his heir Gelimer, thus giving Justinian a legal pretext for invasion. Imperial victory was quick. Part of this was due to increased factionalization of Vandal leadership. Also, the Vandals as a whole had not transformed from a garrisoned occupying power to a fully naturalized population, and indigenous Catholics supported Roman return. Thus, though Vandal forces attacked oncoming Imperial vessels near Carthage, brilliant tactics by Belisarius drove them back. Upon Roman disembarkation, the mere appearance of Huns mercenaries under the general's command caused the Vandals to flee en masse, and after a subsequent battle, the Vandals disappeared as an historical force

Popular pages: Early Middle Ages (475-1000)