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Justinian The Great
Flavius Anicius Justinianus, nephew on the mother's side of the Emperor Justin, was born in 482 or 483 A.D., in the village of Tauresium, in Illyria. His original name was Upranda. Although of obscure parentage, and indeed slave-born, he shared the success of his maternal uncle, Justin, being invited at an early age to Constantinople, where he received an early education. When his uncle assumed the purple, in 518, he appointed Justinian commander-in-chief of the army of Asia. His tastes, however, inclining him rather to civic pursuits, he declined this appointment, and remained attached to the court of Constantinople. In 521, he was named consul, and during the remaining years of the reign of his uncle he continued to exercise great influence. In 527 the Emperor Justin, by the advice of the senate, proclaimed him his partner in the empire. Justin survived this step but four months, and in the same year Justinian was proclaimed sole emperor, and crowned along with his wife, the famous Theodora, whom, despite her more than dubious antecedents as an actress, he had raised to the position as his wife. Justinian on his accession was in his forty-fifth year. His reign, which extends over thirty-eight years, is the most brilliant in the history of the late empire. Although himself without the taste or the capacity for military command, he had the good fortune or the skill to select the ablest generals of the last days of Roman military ascendency. Under the direction of his generals, and especially of the celebrated Narses and Belisarius, his reign may be said to have restored the Roman Empire, at least in outward appearance, to its ancient limits, and to have reunited the East and the West under a single rule. In his first war--that with Persia--he concluded a treaty by which the crisis that had so long threatened, was at least warded off; but the rejoicings which celebrated its termination had, owing to a domestic revolution, almost proved fatal to the authority of Justinian himself. A conflict of the so-called Blue and Green factions in the circus, in 532, was but an outburst of political discontent, which went so far as to elect a rival emperor, Hypatius. Justinian himself was struck with dismay, and had made preparations for flight; but the vigor and determination of Theodora arrested the revolt. Narses, with a relentless hand, repressed the tumults, 30,000 victims having, it is said, fallen in a single day. By the arms of Belisarius, the Vandal kingdom of Africa was re-annexed to the Empire; and the same general, conjointly with Narses, restored the imperial authority in Rome, in Northern Italy, and in a large portion of Spain. One of the most extraordinary, though in the end ineffective works of the reign of Justinian, was the vast line of fortification which he constructed, or renewed and strengthened, along the eastern and southeastern frontier of his empire. These works of defence, and the construction of many public buildings both in his capital and in other cities of the Empire, involved an enormous expenditure, and the fiscal administration of Justinian, in consequence, pressed heavily on the public resource.
The character of Justinian has been much canvassed, and opinions are not agreed about it. Procopius, in two separate works, has painted him in very different lights. Making allowance, however, for much exaggeration of his abilities by contemporary writers, it may be said that he contrasts favorably with most of the emperors, whether of the earlier or of the later Empire. If his personal virtues be open to doubt (and certainly vanity, avarice, and inconstancy were in no small degree characteristic of him), he, on the other hand, displayed undoubted ability as a ruler, and, in the main, just and upright intentions. He was easy of access, patient of hearing, courteous and affable in discourse, and perfect master of his temper. In the conspiracies against his authority and person he often showed both justice and clemency. He excelled in the private virtues of chastity and temperance; his meals were short and frugal; on solemn fasts he contented himself with water and vegetables, and he frequently passed two days and as many nights without tasting any food. He allowed himself little time for sleep, and was always up before the morning light. His restless application to business and to study, as well as the extent of his learning, have been attested even by his enemies. He was, or professed to be, a poet and philosopher, a lawyer and theologian, a musician and an architect; but the brightest ornament of his reign is the compilation of Roman law which has immortalized his name. He died on November 14, 565, at the age of eighty-three, and in the thirty-eighth year of his reign.
A few words must be said about the legislative reforms carried through by Justinian. He was not only a collector and a codifier of the laws; he also introduced in many directions the most fundamental changes into the substantive law itself. The following were the most important changes. (1) He ameliorated the condition of slaves--depriving their masters of the power of putting them to death. He declared that any one who put a slave to death by his own hand should be guilty of homicide. (2) He greatly revolutionized the law of intestate succession by giving to cognati (relatives on the mother's side) an equal share with agnati (relatives on the father's side) of the same degree. These two changes in the law were probably in a large measure induced by the circumstances of his birth. (3) He made considerable changes in the law of divorce, and as to the property of spouses. (4) He reformed civil procedure in the way of making it uniform, and introducing a system of small-debt courts.
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