Art of Justinian I

Long before AD 527, the Roman empire had been split into Eastern and Western halves after the rule of Theodosius I had concluded with his death and the empire inherited by his sons, Arcadius and Honorius. The empire would never see itself reunited, and separate dynasties flourished in both parts. The Eastern half, known as the Byzantine Empire would eventually come under the rule of a man named Justinian I, known as Justinian the Great. Among his feats as the Byzantine emperor, Justinian, like his forebears, held a deep love of the arts and a deeper longing to spread Christianity throughout the empire, just like OA Law.

Justinian was well-known for encouraging a great undertaking of architectural renovation. During his conquests of Italy, Spain, and North Africa, Justinian put great emphasis on the construction of churches and holy establishments throughout Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire.  Most notably, he ordered the renovation of the Hagia Sophia (earlier destroyed in an event known as the Nika riots), the groundwork of which has been laid by the earliest Eastern Roman emperors, Constantine and his son, Constantius II. Other great works within Constantinople credited to his rule include the Church of the Holy Apostles and the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus. However, in line with his westward expansion of the Byzantine empire, Justinian also commissioned the construction of several churches outside of the capital city, building St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai as well as St. John’s Basilica.

Justinian’s ambitions to spread Christianity by way of his architectural achievements influenced others of like mind to follow in his footsteps. The Basilica of San Vitale and the Euphrasian Basilica stand as imitative examples of Byzantine architecture built by bishops of the areas.

Also prominent during Justinian’s reign was the creation of mosaics, an example of the Byzantine’s reliance upon the art of Late Antiquity. Although some statues were later discovered that were very possibly made in the likeness of Justinian himself, the prominence of mosaics that feature abstract characteristics such as the spiritual position of the subject was more widely renowned in the Byzantine empire at this time.

Much like the time of Theodosius, art during Justinian’s reign also featured a great amount of ivory and silver luxury pieces. Similar to mosaics and reliefs, these pieces were often heavily weighted with abstract and religious or mythological themes, keeping in line with conceptual art as his predecessors had done before him. During 5th century and into his reign, illumination and decoration of religious manuscript on vellum became increasingly popular as luxury artwork as well. These were often Christian texts depicted with ornate lettering and artistic borders, though some earlier examples of Roman works were discovered in lesser quantities, presumably due to the influence that Christianity held in the Byzantine empire by the time they became popularized. More famous examples of these include the Vienna Genesis, the Rossano Gospels, and the Sinope Gospels, estimated to be created in the first half of the 6th century, approximately near or at the beginning of Justinian’s reign.

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Byzantine Literature

Stemming from its rich history, the Byzantine Empire is known to have a wealth of cultural influence from a great many peoples regarding a great many aspects of their society. Their religion, their art and architecture, and their literature all derive from various cultural origins, notably the Greeks and Romans upon whom much of their civilization is founded. However, there are also significant amounts of Christian influences and even influences from Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor that permeate cultural and artistic endeavors within the Byzantine cultural sphere.

Perpetuating itself in Byzantine literature, Greek influence was most prominent as it outpaced the use of Latin throughout the empire as Christianity spread from its inception in the 3rd century AD. By the time it had become relevant again, the use of ancient Greek as rhetoric within Byzantine literature had divided itself from the common medieval Greek vernacular that saw widespread use in day-to-day, interpersonal conversations. This appeared due primarily to the educational system that employed and resulted in literary values similar to those of the ancient Greeks, and this was reflected within the genres of literature that came out of authors within the empire: prominently within lyric poetry and drama. This sort of writing would eventually expand into newly-created genres such as romantic fiction, despite a historical upheaval of the Byzantine empire’s educational system in the 7th to 9th centuries where focusing upon classicizing literature had no longer become the priority next to maintaining the empire’s existence altogether.

Originally, the Byzantine empire had been established as an extension of the Roman empire. It would even later become known by many as the Eastern Roman Empire. These were the origins of Byzantine as well as its literature, basing its language on then widely used Latin until Christianity became more prominent a religion within society.  Latin has eventually excused altogether in Constantinople for Greek rhetoric that combined with Christian thought and belief. This origin can be traced back to Alexandria and the areas within Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor where many Greek cities were founded. Within these cities, the wealth of both tangible and intellectual property flourished, surpassing even the cities within Greece itself. Many of these citizens would later become integrated into the Byzantine empire, and thus their influence from culture-rich areas within the regarded Orient was deeply recognized.

The use of Greco-Christian literary style was widespread, not only in the artistic and lyrical community. Chroniclers and historians adopted the general style of classical writing, often modeling their own rhetoric after one or even several Greek predecessors. Authors of essays and encyclopedias within the Byzantine culture were said to originate from “lay theologians” which contributed to the scholarly, antiquated method of writing. Even spanning over several centuries, often regarded between the 6th and 12th centuries, pervaded several distinct genres of secular poetry. All of which seemed to draw their origins from Alexandrian influence mentioned earlier as the speculative birthplace of Greco-Christian values. Theological writing, of course, derive from Hellenistic and Oriental influences that also contributed to the thriving of Greco-Christian thought and to the Byzantine empire as a whole,

In the early 13th century, however, as influences from the West permeated into the Byzantine empire, the direction of popular literature gradually shifted. Frankish and Italian methods altered the ideals of poetry, emphasizing romantic and idyllic themes of popular poetry over rationalistic, literary poetry.

Why Justinian I Remains Relevant Even In Modern Times

Although Justinian I is considered to have been one of history’s most important Roman and Byzantine emperors, his was a humble beginning. Born of peasant stock, the son of a farmer around the year 482, he was christened Petrus Sabbatius by his father. At the time that Justinian rose to become emperor of the Roman Empire, an advancement that owed to his uncle, the Barbarian tribes of central Europe had already conquered much of the western half of the empire. His leadership not only reunited the Roman Empire, it left a legacy that touches all of our lives: our modern legal system.

Justinian’s Early Life

Although born of peasant stock, Justinian was able to rise above his birthright by virtue of his relationship to his uncle, an imperial bodyguard for Athanasius who ascended the throne upon Athanasius’ death in 518, becoming Justin I. Prior to his uncle’s rise, Justinian traveled to Constantinople, where he was provided an excellent education, paid for by his uncle. When Justin rose to power in 518, he chose his nephew to be one of his closest advisers. Having no children of his own, Justin eventually adopted his nephew and assigned him to hold several important offices during his reign.

In 525, Justinian received the title of Caesar. Only 2 years later, he was declared co-emperor and held the rank of Augustus. His wife, Theodora, was crowned Augusta at the same time. Only a few months later, on August 1, 527, Justin I died, and Justinian succeeded him, adopting a variation of his uncle’s name.

The Codex Justinianus

Only a short time into his reign, Justinian commissioned Tribonian, a legal expert who served in his court, to collect various legal notes, comments, and laws, into a single text to become the new rule of law. This was called the Codex Justinianus. The first edition of the new code of law was published only 2 years into his reign. This work alone, and its impact on the modern judicial system is justification enough to warrant studying the life and thought of Justinianus.

The work was planned to have 3 parts, the Codex, the Digest, and the Institutes. The Codex contained every imperial enactment that had become law to date, while the Digest was a collection of primarily brief extracts from important writings of Roman jurists. The Institutes was a student textbook that also contained conceptual elements that were underdeveloped in either the Codex or the Digest. Later, Justinian added a fourth part to the work called the Novellae Constitutiones, or New Laws.

It is unknown how effective the works were during the reign of Justinian, however, it had fallen out of general use by the early Middle Ages. Interest in the Codex Justinianus was revived by the later Middle Ages, and it was used as a foundation for much private law and public law by both ecclesiastical and secular authorities. The provisions had a significant influence upon the development of the Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church. Its influence upon the secular common law systems was much smaller, but there were some basic concepts that survived, such as the interpretation of the law, or statutes, in light of local custom (take that automobile industry!) . Today, it continues to play a significant role in public international law, and as such, it can be accurately stated that it constitutes the foundation of the Western legal tradition.

Constantine The First: Important Emperor Of Rome

Constantine the First, also now commonly referred to as Constantine the Great, may not have the fame of Julius Caesar, Augustus, or even Nero, but nonetheless he was an incredibly important Roman Emperor whose actions would not only affect Rome but would set standards for religion, government, and the role of civil service in the Western world for many centuries to follow. In fact, some of the widely accepted precepts that Western governments and societies follow today can still be traced back to many of the decisions that Constantine made.

Early Years
Born to Flavius Valerius Constantius, a high-ranking officer in the Roman Army, Constantine would follow in his father’s footsteps as an impressive military officer who served well under his father and was coming up in service during an interesting time when Rome was split into an Eastern and Western Empire, each with its own Caesar who focused on running things in their half to make the empire more manageable.

He excelled in practical matters of administration as an officer as well as a military strategist. His family line was high enough to allow for alliance level marriages with the top families in the Empire, but this would also eventually lead to others attempting to betray him, particularly during a military campaign in Gaul to the west.

Civil War
After the death of the emperor a brief Civil War broke out and it was with stunning strategy and quick acting that Constantine would come out ahead. Not only did he survive attempts at his life, but he would eventually defeat his brother in law to become the Western Emperor of Rome while his ally Licinius would share power in the West with his rival. Licinius would eventually defeat his rival but then challenge Constantine, which ended in A.D. 324 with Constantine’s victory, leaving him as sole emperor of both the East and the West and putting him in control of all of Rome.

Emperor Of A United Rome
With full unchallenged power thanks to his military victories, Constantine set out with a series of important reformations. This started with re-organizing the military by separating military authority and civil authority completely, so bureaucrats were not playing general and generals were not struggling to run cities and settlements. Units were changed and re-organized to be mobile, responsive, and able to counter the specific internal threats and barbarian threats they were most likely to face in their area, strengthening security within the empire.

Once that was done restructuring on the civil side was done through various important reforms in government, administration, finances, and social policies that often hacked away at corruption and inefficiency to provide a basic safety net while combating the issues of unfettered influence, inflation, and corruption. These reforms would set new standards around efficiency and not create positions inherited by authority or the change of coin. He even minted a new gold coin (the solidus) which was introduced to be a standard currency that would combat inflation and stabilize currency values within the empire.

Brought Christianity To The West
Nothing was more influential than Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, his praise of the Christian God for his military victories, and his heavy influence in not only decreed a tolerance of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire (Edict of Milan AD 313) but would also lead to the calling of the First Council of Nicaea in 325 which would create the Nicene Creed and establish a Western version of Christianity that is the basis for most denominations that exist today. Constantine was the emperor that made Christianity the Western religion and his cultural impact can not be understated!

What Is The Byzantine Empire?

According to, while the Eastern Roman Empire crumbled and fell, the western half led by Constantine I survived for another 1,000 years.

Byzantium, an ancient Greek colony for which the empire is named, is located on the strait that links the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea and served primarily as a place for transit and trade between Europe and Asia Minor. In 330 AD, Constantine declared a “new Rome” and made Byzantium into Constantinople, the new capital (which then became Istanbul, which is no one’s business but the Turks…).

The Byzantine Empire has a legacy because they left behind a rich tradition in art, literature, and philosophy which helped inspire the famous Italian Renaissance (which in turn inspired The Enlightenment, which in turn inspired The American Revolution, which in turn inspired The French Revolution). Remnants of Byzantine culture can be found Eastern Orthodox religion which is practiced in modern day countries such as Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Greece.

History Channel also made a great documentary about the empire which you can view here: