Justinian I

AuthorJeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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The emperor Justinian I ruled the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire from 527 until 565. He is significant for his efforts to regain the lost provinces of the Western Roman Empire, his CODIFICATION of ROMAN LAW, and his architectural achievements.



Justinian was born circa 482 in Pauresium, Illyricum (probably south of modern Ni?s, Serbia). Justinian came to the throne with the intention of reestablishing the Roman Empire as it had been before the provinces of the Western Roman Empire fell under the control of various Germanic tribes during the fifth century. To this end, he sent his armies against the Vandals in North Africa (roughly, modern Algeria and Tunisia), the Visigoths in Spain, and the Ostrogoths in Italy. The Vandals surrendered in 534, but the Visigoths and Ostrogoths proved more difficult. Justinian's forces never succeeded in capturing more than a small part of Spain and subdued Italy only after a devastating war that ended in 563 with Italy in ruins. Nonetheless,

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Justinian I.


when Justinian died, he could claim with some justice that the Mediterranean Sea was once again a Roman lake.

Justinian's conquests proved ephemeral, however. Within four years of his death, northern Italy had fallen to the Lombards, another Germanic tribe, and by the early eighth century, Muslim armies had conquered North Africa and Spain.

Justinian's achievements in law were more long-lasting. Although several collections of imperial Roman legislation had been compiled in the past, by Justinian's reign even the most recent, the Theodosian Code (Codex Theodosianus), which had been issued in 438, was out-of-date. Accordingly in 528 Justinian established a commission of ten experts, including Tribonian, to prepare a new edition, which was completed in 534. The Code (Codex), as it was called, contains 4,562 laws from the reign of Hadrian (117?138) to 534.

Roman law, however, encompasses both legislation and JURISPRUDENCE; that is, literature interpreting the law. Despite the importance of jurisprudence, no single collection had ever been made, and some important works were not readily available. Therefore in 530 Justinian ordered his commission to collect the most important writings on jurisprudence and to edit and clarify the texts whenever necessary. To complete their task, the commission had...

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