Byzantine Emperor Justinian was the bold architect of a revitalized Byzantine Empire that would leave a lasting legacy for Western Civilization. As much of Europe entered the Dark Ages, Justinian's vision of a restored Roman Empire would reverse the decline of the Byzantine Empire and lay a firm foundation that would allow the Byzantine Empire to survive for centuries to come.
Justinian, whose full name was Flavius Anicius Julianus Justinianus, was born around 483 AD at Tauresium in Illyricum in the Balkans of present-day central Europe. He was the nephew of Byzantine Emperor Justin, the son of Justin's sister Vigilantia (Fortescue).
Justinian's uncle, Justin, was the Byzantine Emperor from 518 until his death in 527. As a young man, Justin had left his home province of Dacia, going to the Byzantine capital of Constantinople to seek his fortune. He eventually rose to the position of commander of the "excubitors", the handpicked 300-soldier guard of the Byzantine Emperor. When he was selected to succeed Emperor Anastasius, he was an old man, weak in body and mind. He took the office reluctantly, writing to Pope Hormisdas in Rome, announcing his elevation to the Emperor's throne and complaining he had been chosen against his will (Evans).
Justin handed over much of the duties of governing the Empire to his wife, Lupicina, and his nephew, Justinian. This power sharing arrangement would help to prepare Justinian to succeed him. Justinian worked hard and rose in position in his uncle's government. He was proclaimed consul in 521, and rose to the post of general-in-chief of the Byzantine military in April, 527. In August of the same year Justin died, and Justinian became Emperor (Fortescue).
AN EMPIRE IN CRISIS
In the early 300's, Roman Emperor Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor, recognized the growing wealth and cultural strength of the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire and decided to relocate the capital of his Empire to the East (Norwich 3). Rome would become the capital of the Empire's western territories, while the city of Byzantium (present-day Istanbul in modern-day Turkey) was renamed Constantinople and made the new capital of the Roman Empire (Bury 69).
From its peak under the Roman Emperors Constantine and Diocletian in the 300's, Rome importance in the Empire began to shrink. The commercial and cultural growth of the provinces in Greece and the Near East had eclipsed the once-robust culture of Rome, where growing trade with the Far East was creating new wealth. The Christian emperors felt more at home in the East, where Christianity, the new official religion of the Roman Empire, was stronger and closer to its roots in Palestine, rather than in the more-pagan West (Norwich 11).
Forced from their homelands in Central and Eastern Europe by the savagery of the invading Huns, Germanic barbarian tribes invaded the western territories of the Empire. Under constant attack, the western Empire began to shrink, losing centuries worth of territorial gains in Britain, Gaul, Spain, and North Africa to the barbarian tribes, while the eastern territories remained strong, vital and secure. In 378, they dealt the Roman Empire a major blow at the Battle of Adrianople (now Edirne in modern-day European Turkey), near Constantinople. In this battle, considered to be Rome's largest battlefield defeat, Valens, the Roman Emperor, was killed fighting the Ostrogoths and Visigoths (Koeller).
The Roman Emperor Theodosius completed the growing split between the shrinking western territories and the vital, prosperous and more secure territories in the East. His will divided the Roman Empire upon his death in 395, giving the East to his elder son, Arcadius, and the West to his younger son, Honorius (Norwich 4).
The Western Empire came to an end in 476, when the Germanic King,...