Today in History: Justinian I becomes sole emperor of the Byzantine Empire.

The remarkable rise of a peasant boy named Petrus Sabbatius (Justinian I The Great), to the lofty heights of the imperial palace in Constantinople could not have happened if it wasn’t for his uncle Flavius Justinus (Justin). Escaping a life of poverty in Illyricum, Justin travelled on foot, all the way to Roman Empire’s political heart Constantinople, to join the army. His career started of slow and nothing exciting happened until around 490 when he was made a commander of a regiment in the palace guard. From this promising position he sent for many of his younger relatives to give them important appointments and obviously a life away from poverty. Amongst these relatives was a young Petrus Sabbatius, who rose through the ceremonial ranks of the palace guards.

His uncle Justin became emperor, upon the death of Anastasius in 518, something that often happened with political manoeuvring. What followed was an orchestrated affair where Justin was hailed emperor upon the shields by his imperial guard and likely led by his nephew Petrus. It was here, also at some point during Justin’s early reign, that he adopted his nephew Petrus, and thereafter became known as Justinian.

In the years that followed Justinian worked hard behind the scenes, as his uncle’s most trusted advisor. He took advantage of his power and lavished the capital with extraordinary games to improve his popularity. By 525, his uncle first gave Justinian the title Caesar, preparing the way for Justinian to be his successor. Then, on August 1st 527, his gravely ill uncle passed away, leaving Justinian to rule the empire on his own.

His rule would oversee a pivotal period in Byzantine history. In short, he was instrumental in reorganizing the administration of the empire, his sponsorship of a codification of laws (Codex Justinianus) and the flourishing of the first golden age of art and culture.

Finally, it has to be said that his extreme confidence in his abilities, led him to become the first emperor, in almost two hundred years, to reclaim parts of the western provinces of the old Roman Empire. His vision made Rome, once more a part of the empire, until the empires influence eventually again retreated eastward.

1 comment on “Today in History: Justinian I becomes sole emperor of the Byzantine Empire.

  1. Thank you so much for this look at such an important historical figure!

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