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Justinian I, commonly known as ‘Saint Justinian the Great’, was a Byzantine (East Roman) Emperor and one of the most powerful monarchs in Western history. The kingdom was feeble when Justinian took the throne, and he pledged to restore it to its former glory. To that end, he set out to recapture the western half of the empire, which he did effectively. His reign is popularly recognized in history as the’restoration of the Empire.’ In his major campaigns, he reclaimed Africa from the Vandals and battled the Goths to reclaim Italy for his dominion. He also planned to construct a slew of new churches, monasteries, forts, reservoirs, and bridges. He was equally beloved and despised by the general populace. His decision to command the rewriting of Roman law, known as Corpus Juris Civilis, was another of his crowning achievements. Many modern civil laws take their inspiration from these papers, which were so modern in nature.

His Childhood and Adolescence

The majority of the details regarding Justinian I’s early life have been lost to history, but sources claim that he was born in 482 BC. He originated from a peasant background, but his uncle, Justin, was the imperial guard (the excubitors) in the royal court and subsequently became the emperor.

Justin transported young Justinian to the royal capital of Constantinople to be educated, and as a result, Justinian obtained a world-class education from the best teachers in disciplines such as Roman history and theology. Some say he was a short, pudgy, fair, and attractive young guy with a passion for reading who devoured any book that came his way.

When the Roman emperor Anastasius died without an heir in 518, Justin was proclaimed emperor. Justinian was a well-educated young man who stood a good chance of inheriting the crown.

His uncle had complete faith in him, and because Justinian was a well-educated young man, King Justin frequently sought his counsel on critical subjects.

There was a time when Justinian genuinely ran the empire while King Justin sat on the throne as an elderly man, and when King Justin died in August 527, Justinian was named Emperor.

Reign & Accession Justinian I

Justinian I worked so hard in the early years of his reign that he earned the nickname “Emperor who never sleeps,” and in 525, he married Theodora, a peasant girl. Although he received some resistance from his people, he informed them that King Justin had abolished the Empire’s class structure. Theodora proved to be a wonderful wife who stood by her husband in all of the court’s crucial decisions.

Justinian launched his military adventures to bolster the fading Roman Empire around 528, and by that time, his tax ministers had implemented some major tax reforms, allowing the king to pay his military excursions. Around 528, his general Belisarius headed out to confront the Persians, but he was defeated.

The conflict with the Persians lasted a long time, and in the second battle, fought at Daras in 530, the Roman army triumphed, only to lose a year later at the Euphrates, forcing the monarch to sign a peace pact with the Persians.

The monarch was advised by General Belisarius to recapture the lost lands in Africa and Italy. They had been taken from the Romans by the Vandals and Gothic invasions some years before, and Justinian had sworn to reclaim them in order to restore the Roman Empire as the greatest in the world once more.

Belisarius set sail in 533 with a massive army and 500 ships. The Vandals in Africa were defeated, and their emperor was imprisoned, bringing the African continent back under Roman control.

In 535, Justinian turned his attention to Italy, which was under very weak authority, with a usurper on the throne and the royal queen kidnapped. This instability gave Belisarius a perfect opportunity to invade and subjugate Italy to Justinian.

By then, the Gothic rulers had retaken the Italian throne, and Vitigis, the Gothic ruler, was named the new king, and he gathered a powerful force to stop Belisarius. After years of incessant fighting and turbulence, Justinian had to send another commander with stronger force, and Italy was ultimately taken in 540.

The Goths, however, did not fade away; in 542, they arose from obscurity and regained numerous southern Italian cities from Justinian. Justinian, tired of the Goths’ resistance, dispatched a large force of roughly 35,000 soldiers under the command of a new general named Narses, and the key battles of Busta Gallorum and Casilinum were fought in 552 and 554, respectively, and Italy was permanently ruled by Byzantium.

Justinian had used up too much of the crown’s personnel and riches in his quest to expand the Roman Empire, and the general population despised him as taxes were hiked as a result. Despite this, a sizable number of people supported him and his initiatives.

Justinian oversaw the construction of many churches, temples, forts, and other establishments for the convenience of his people, and it was for this reason that he remained a popular ruler for half of the population for the rest of his life.

However, as with most of the world’s greatest empires, there were many within the empire who opposed him. Julianus ben Sabar, a prominent religious person in Palestine, rose up against the monarch in 529 with the support of some Samaritans. Worse, in 532, the Niko riots occurred, killing about 10,000 people in Constantinople alone. Most of the city was destroyed as a result, and the second Samaritan insurrection, which began in 559, didn’t end until Justinian’s death.

Justinian had planned to compile all of the laws, legal system notes, and commentaries into a single text that would serve as standard law throughout the empire since he became emperor. He engaged Tribonian to perform the work for him, and in the year 534, Codex Justinianus released its first text. The second version of the work is still in print today, and it provides a clear picture of how the ancient Roman empires managed its law and order apparatus.

The Last Days and the Legacy

Even though he was later acclaimed as one of the greatest Roman emperors, he was not as well-known during his lifetime. The Nika riots nearly took his kingdom from him, and his wars in Africa and Italy burdened the common populace with taxes that could have been spared if Justinian I’s tax ministers had been a little more competent. Even though Justinian was unaffected by the animosity in the beginning of his reign, he gradually began to internalize it.

His adoring wife Theodora had also gained a reputation as a suspected nymphomaniac, with reports that she had personal intercourse with several of Justinian’s royal courtesans. Justinian later discovered, in the year 562, that many faithful employees of the crown had plotted to assassinate him during the Nika riots.

In 540, he contracted plague, which did not kill him but left him severely weakened physically and mentally, and his wife Theodora died of cancer in 548.

Justinian became tired of all the games and decided to retire in the early 560s. According to the tales of his life, he became a profoundly devout man in his final days before dying in November 565. His personal life was tragic, and he had no children.

Despite the fact that Theodora gave birth to a son soon after the marriage, the foetus died, and Theodora never became pregnant again. After Justinian’s death, Justin II, the son of Justinian’s sister Vigilantia, ascended to the throne. His remains was laid to rest at the Church of the Holy Apostles’ specifically constructed tomb.

Depictions of Justinian

Justinian I is pictured as a spirit seated on Mercury in Dante’s ‘The Divine Comedy.’ In 1958, Pierson Dixon published ‘The Glittering Horn: Secret Memoirs of the Court of Justinian,’ a book on Justinian’s court.

Estimated Net Worth

The Estimated net worth of Justinian I is unknown.