Justinian I
(482 - 565)

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JUSTINIAN I. (Roman emperor, Aug. 1, 527 - Nov. 14, 565), b. at Tauresium in Illrium, May 11, 483; was a Slav by descent; his original name was Uprauda. The good fortunes of his uncle, Justin I., - a Dacian peasant who served in the Imperial Guard, owed his advancement to the size of his body and the strength of his limbs, and in 518 saw fit to snatch the imperial crown, brought him early to Constantinople. He received an excellent education; and, though he never learned to speak Greek without a foreign accent, he was well prepared when he succeeded to the throne.

The most brilliant feature of the reign of Justinian I. was his legislation, or rather his codification of the already existing Roman law, executed by several committees, of which Trebonius was the inspiring soul, and resulting in the so-called Corpus Juris Justiani. By this work he conferred a great and lasting benefit, not only on the Roman [1221] Empire, but on civilization at large. Of a questionable value, however, were his conquests of Africa, Southern Spain, and Italy, by his two famous generals, Belisarius and Narses. He was unable to preserve these conquests; and, what was still worse, he was unable to give the conquered countries a better government than that they had enjoyed under their barbarian rulers. Altogether objectionable, finally, was his ecclesiastical policy, - that part of his activity on which he bestowed the greatest amount of industry and care.

Justinian I. was a Christian, orthodox, full of zeal for the purity of the faith, and waging a perpetual war against Paganism and heresy. The lower classes of the population were still Pagan in many places, as, for instance, in Peloponnesus and the interior of Asia Minor; and in the upper strata of society there reigned a widespread religious indifference. The latter, Justinian I. compelled to conform, at least externally, to Christianity; and with respect to the former he boasted of conversions by the thousands. The philosophical schools of Athens he closed in 529, and banished the teachers. They went to Persia; but, by the intercession of Chosroes, they were afterwards allowed to return. Less leniently he treated the Christian heretics, - the Montanists, Nestorians, Eutychians, and others; and the marvellous success of the Mohammedan invasion of Egypt and Syria half a century later is generally ascribed to the total disaffection of the population, which resulted from the ecclesiastical policy of Justinian.

The inhabitants of Egypt, Syria, and parts of Asia Minor, were Monophysites, and rejected the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon (451) as tainted with Nestorianism. Between orthodoxy and Monophysitism a compromise was brought about by Zeno’s Henotikon (482); but that document, which the bishops of the Eastern Church had been compelled to subscribe to, was absolutely rejected by the Western Church, and formally anathematized by Felix II. In order to heal the schism thus established between the Eastern and the Western Church, Justinian repealed the Henotikon immediately after his accession. But then something had to be done with the Monophysites in order to prevent a schism within the Eastern Church. The empress Theodora, who was a secret Monophysite, persuaded her husband that the true reason why the Monophysites refused to accept the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon, was that the writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret, and Ibas, had not been condemned; and that non-condemnation the Monophysites considered as implying a positive confirmation. The emperor then issued a decree condemning the above writings, and the condemnation was repeated by the fifth oecumenical Council of Constantinople (553). The Monophysites were satisfied; but what was won in the East was lost in the West by the breaking-out of the Three Chapter controversy, so called because, in Justinian’s decree of condemnation, there were three parts, or "chapters," relating to Theodore’s writings and person, to Theodoret’s treatise, and to Ibas’ letter respectively…

At last the old emperor himself lapsed into heresy. He adopted the Aphthartodocetic views of the incorruptibility of the human body of Christ, and issued a decree to force them upon the Church. But Aphthartodocetism is simply Monophysitism, and thus his principal dogmatical labors met with a somewhat similar fate to that which has overtaken his chief architectural monument. He built the Church of St. Sophia in Constantinople; and this church, once the most magnificent cathedral of Christendom, is now a Turkish mosque.

LIT. - The principal source to the life of Justinian I. is PROOPIUS. Among modern biographies we mention SAMBERT: Vie de Justinien, Paris, 1856, 2 vols. See also T. C. SANDAR'S edition of the Institutes (6th ed., London, 1880), MOMMSEN’s edition of the Digest (Berlin, 1868-9), and KRUGER’S edition of the Codex (Berlin, 1875-77). Compare art. Justinian by Professor JAMES BRYCE, Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. xiii. pp. 792-798, and by the same in SMITH and WACE, Dictionary of Christian Biography, vol. iii.

"JUSTINIAN I.," Philip Schaff, ed., A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology, 3rd edn., Vol. 2. Toronto, New York & London: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1894. pp.1220-1221.

Primary Sources

Book or monograph Procopius,History of the Wars, Buildings, and Secret History, H.B. Dewing, translator. Loeb Classical Library, 7 Vols. 1914-1940.

Secondary Sources

Article in Journal or Book M.V. Anastos, "The Immutability of Christ and Justinian's Condemnation of Theodore of Mopsuestia," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 6 (1951): 123-160.
Article in Journal or Book Nahman Avigad, "A Building Inscription of the Emperor Justinian and the Nea in Jerusalem (Preliminary Note)," Israel Exploration Journal 27.2/3 (1977): 145-151.
Article in Journal or Book Nahman Avigad, "A Building Inscription of Justinian and the 'Nea' Church in Jerusalem," Qadmoniot 10.2/3 (1977): 80-83.
Book or monograph John W. Barker, Justinian and the Later Roman Empire. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1976. Pbk. ISBN: 0299039447.
Article in Journal or Book S.P.Brock, "The Conversations with the Syrian Orthodox Under Justinian (532)," Orientalia Christiana Periodica 47 (1981): 87-121.
Book or monograph Robert Browning, Justinian and Theodora. London: Thames and Hudson, 1987. Hbk. ISBN: 0500250995. pp.190.
Article in Journal or Book J.V. Bryce, "The Life of Justinian by Theophilus," English Historical Review 2 (1887): 657-686.
Book or monograph A. Cameron, Procopia and the Sixth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.
Book or monograph E. Chrysos, The Ecclesiastical Policy of Justinian in the Controversy of the Three Chapters and the Fifth Ecumenical Council [in Greek]. Thessalonica, 1969.
Article in Journal or Book D.J. Constantellos, "Justinian and the Three Chapters Controversy," Greek Orthodox Theological Review 8 (1962-1963): 71-94.
Article in Journal or Book Glanville Downey, "Julian and Justinian and the Unity of Faith and Culture," Church History 28 (1959): 339-349.
Book or monograph Glanville Downey, Constantinople in the Age of Justinian. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1981. Pbk. ISBN: 0806117087. pp.196.
Book or monograph Evans: The Empress TheodoraJ.A. Evans, The Empress Theodora. University of Texas Press, 2002. Hbk. ISBN: 0292721056. pp.176.
Article in Journal or Book George Every, "Was Vigilus a Victim or an Ally of Justinian?" Heythrop Journal 20.3 (1979): 257-266.
Book or monograph W.H.C. Frend, The Rise of the Monophysite Movement. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972. Hbk. ISBN: 0521081300.
Book or monograph Asterios Gerostergios, Justinian the Great, the Emperor and Saint. Belmont: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 19823. Hbk. ISBN: 0914744585.
Article in Journal or Book M. Hasset, "The Reign of Justinian," American Catholic Quarterly Review 37 (1912): 266-285.
Book or monograph Holmes: The Age of Justinian and Theodora, Vol. 1William Gordon Holmes, The Age of Justinian and Theodora: A History of Sixth Century Byzantium, Vol. 1. Gorgias Press, 2002. Hbk. ISBN: 1593330049. pp.388.
Book or monograph Holmes: The Age of Justinian and Theodora, Vol. 1William Gordon Holmes, The Age of Justinian and Theodora: A History of Sixth Century Byzantium, Vol. 2. Gorgias Press, 2002. Hbk. ISBN: 1593330057. pp.416.
Book or monograph Jones: The Later Roman EmpireA.H.M. Jones, The Later Roman Empire, 284-602: A Social Economic and Administrative Survey , 2 Vols. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986. Pbk. ISBN: 0801832853. pp.1518.
Article in Journal or Book J. Meyendorff, "Justinian, the Empire and the Church," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 22 (1968): 45-60.
Book or monograph V. Phidas, The Institution of the Pentarchy of the Patriarchs [in Greek], 2 Vols. Athens, 1977.
Book or monograph Wilhelm Schubart, Justinian and Theodora, rev. G.Olms, 1987. ISBN: 3487074354. pp.307.
Article in Journal or Book Constantine N. Tsirpanlis, "Marriage, Family Values and 'Ecumenical Vision' in the Legislation of Justinian the Great (527-565)," Patristic and Byzantine Review 15.1-3 (1997): 59-69.
Book or monograph Percy Neville Ure, Justinian and His Age. London: Greenwood Press, 1979. Hbk. ISBN: 0313209162. pp.262.


Book or monograph G.P. Baker, Justinian. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1931.

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