The History of Medieval Europe

By Lynn Thorndike; James T. Shotwell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
JUSTINIAN AND THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE

THE Vandal and Ostrogothic Kingdoms in Africa and Italy were overthrown in 534 and 555 by generals and armies of the Byzantine emperor, who also reconquered some of the Spanish coast from the Visigoths. We therefore turn in this chapter to Constantinople and to the most famous of all its rulers, Justinian. In 518 had ended the troubled reign of Anastasius, filled with a succession of rebellions at home and wars abroad, riots in Constantinople, revolts of the Isaurians, barbarian raids in the European provinces, war with Persia in the East, a breach with the Papacy, and religious opposition among the emperor's own subjects because of his Monophysitism. The Monophysites were those who insisted that Christ had only one nature, the divine. This view was widespread in the East and the cause of many popular disturbances, since in the East even the lowest classes took sides in theological disputes. Anastasius, however, had left a well-filled treasury behind him.

Conditions in the East before Justinian

Justin, an aged soldier and orthodox Christian, -- judged by papal standards, -- now came to the throne. But the old man could scarcely read, had to use a stencil to sign his name, and knew little of politics. The real ruler during the nine years of Justin's reign and then for thirty-eight years longer in his own name was Justinian, a nephew of Justin, who had received a broad education, was trained in politics, and in 518 was already thirty-six years old. Indeed, the great historian, Gibbon, said that Justinian "was never young." He lived to be eighty-three. He was a man of somewhat cold and ascetic temperament, of simple manners and abstemious habits. "His stature," says a contemporary, "was neither

Justin and Justinian ( 518- 527- 5 65))

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