I (Flavius Anicius Justinia-nus), surnamed the Great, a Byzantine emperor, born at Tauresium, a village near Sardica (now Sophia), in Bulgaria, in 482 or 483, died Nov. 14, 565. He was the son of a poor barbarian family, but his elevation was promoted by his uncle Justin I., who shortly before his death in 527 adopted him as co-emperor at the request of the senate. Justinian, who had effectively and unscrupulously promoted his uncle's elevation, was possessed long before the decease of the latter of all power in the state, as well as of a large private fortune. He shared both his power and wealth with Theodora, a beautiful, crafty, and unscrupulous woman, the daughter of a keeper of wild beasts, who had been long known as a comedian and prostitute, and despised by the people of the capital as one of the vilest of her sex. Having married her in spite of all opposition, he not only seated her on his throne, but made her an equal colleague; and her demoralizing, corrupting, and despotic influence remained powerful till her death in the 22d year of their reign. In the questions of creed in the church and of color in the games of the charioteers in the hippodrome, then distracting the empire, Justinian and his wife were agreed in zealously supporting the orthodox and the blue parties.
In the capital and most of the provinces heresy was totally powerless, but the faction of the greens was often able to resist by open violence the arrogance of their opponents and oppressors. In 532, after a fierce contest between the factions, in which Constantinople was almost laid in ashes, they momentarily combined their forces against the government, and proclaimed Hypatius, a nephew of the emperor Anastasius, emperor. The resolute spirit of Theodora and the bravery of Belisarius triumphed. The blues returned to allegiance, the greens were crushed with dreadful slaughter, Hypatius and his principal accomplices were executed, and tranquillity was restored. Justinian now turned his chief attention to the external interests of his vast empire. Purchasing at an immense sum a truce from Chosroes I. of Persia, after a war of a few years waged with varying success, he sent Belisarius with a fleet and an army against Gelimer, who had usurped power in the kingdom of the Vandals of Africa, and as an Arian ruler oppressed his Catholic subjects. A series of victories soon brought Carthage and the person of Gelimer himself into the power of the Byzantines. Gelimer was sent a captive to Constantinople, the kingdom of the Vandals destroyed, and the Arian worship suppressed.
The conquest of the province of Africa and the adjoining provinces procured new influence and some strong stations in Spain, and paved the way for the regstablishment of the Roman imperial power in Italy, where Theodatus had succeeded (535) the regent Amalasontha, who usurped the power on the death of her son Athalaric, the profligate grandson of Theodoric the Great. Belisarius successively reduced Sicily and conquered Naples; Theodatus was deposed by his people and assassinated; and Rome opened its gates to the army which fought in its name (536). In 539 Ravenna was reduced, but Justinian from envy recalled the conqueror. Chos-roes, king of Persia, was driven from Syria in 541, and Belisarius, after a short period of disgrace, was again sent into Italy to prevent the capture of Rome by Totila. The attempt to relieve it was unsuccessful, and Belisarius was finally succeeded in the command by Narses. In 552 Justinian once more received the keys of the ancient capital, which in his reign had been five times taken and recovered. Totila had fallen in the battle of Tagina, and his successor Teias, the last of the Ostrogothic kings, shared the same fate on the Sarnus in the following year.
Another great victory of Narses over the Franks and Alemanni, who then invaded Italy, secured the possession of that country, which he governed as exarch, residing in Ravenna. In the East, Justinian terminated a protracted war with the Persians by a peace (561), in which Chosroes extorted the ignominious promise of an annual tribute. The northern frontiers of the empire were in part secured against the invasions of the barbarians by similar treaties, and a vast line of fortifications, especially along the Danube, was added from a feeling of precaution which the degeneracy of the empire made but too natural. The imperial armies themselves consisted mainly of barbarian hirelings. In the interior the reign of Justinian was marked by tyranny, extortion, and lavish expenditure, especially in the erection of sumptuous buildings, of which the rebuilt church of St. Sophia was the most magnificent; by a continual meddling in the affairs of the church, and the severe persecution of heretics, Samaritans, Jews, and pagans, involving the dissolution of the Athenian school of philosophy; and by uninterrupted intrigues at the court, which, among others, finally succeeded in ruining Belisarius. Justinian, however, who was fond of studies as well as of arts, has the great merit of having, through Tribonian and other lawyers, prepared that code of Roman laws which bears his name and is the great monument of his reign. (See Civil Law.) The introduction of silkworms from China through some missionaries, who brought the eggs in hollow sticks, is another of its lasting merits.
Justinian was patient, frugal, and diligent, but vain, selfish, and ungrateful. "He was neither beloved in his life nor regretted at his death." He was succeeded by Justin II., his nephew. II. Surnamed Rhinotmetus (Shorn Nose), a Byzantine emperor, born in 669, died in December, 711. He succeeded his father Constantino IV. (Pogonatus) in 685. His reign was marked chiefly by wars with the Saracens, persecutions of the Manichreans, and the rapacity and exactions of his ministers. In 688 he broke the peace which his father had made with the Bulgarians, and, although at first successful, was finally routed by them in the defiles of Mount Rhodope, and narrowly escaped with his life. The Arabs, equally provoked, invaded Africa and ravaged Cyprus, subsequently overran Asia Minor and Mesopotamia, and conquered Armenia. In 695 his general Leontius drove him from the throne, cut off his nose, and banished him to the Crimea. Leontius was soon after deposed by Tiberius Apsimerus, who reigned seven years. In 705 Justinian recovered his throne through the assistance of the Bulgarians, and put to a cruel death Leontius and Tiberius, and many others.
His atrocities at last aroused a new rebellion, and he was dethroned and killed by Philippicus Bardanes, who succeeded him.