Leo VI The Wise: Was He Really?

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In the ninth century A.D., the Byzantine Empire was experiencing some of its best days during its 1,000 years of existence. But with the dictatorial connotation of the words “

In the ninth century A.D., the Byzantine Empire was experiencing some of its best days during its 1,000 years of existence. But with the dictatorial connotation of the words “emperor” and “empire,” it’s possible that the reign of Leo VI the Wise might have been the catalyst for that connotation.

During the Roman Empire and the first couple centuries of the Byzantine Empire, emperors did have a lot of executive power, but there was an imperial legislature, called a senate, which debated and passed much legislation that ran the Empire as a whole, Emperors were mostly left for proclamations and executions of the laws which the senate passed. But much of that changed when Leo VI rose to power in 886 A.D.

Leo, whose lineage was questioned (it was unclear of his father was Emperor Michael III or his direct predecessor, Basil I, as Basil’s wife took a lover), rose to the throne upon Basil’s death in 886, and he reigned until 912. Leo developed the name Leo the Wise or Leo the Philosopher because he was more educated than many of his contemporaries at the time, and he was known more as a scholar-emperor than a soldier, which was the more common background of past rulers.

Leo was prolific in much of his more scholarly work, as he codified and collected much of the past Roman and Byzantine codes and developed some of his own treatises that would bring the past more in line with the realities of the current-day Empire. He wrote much about virtually all aspects of imperial society, from the military to Roman law to precedent order to even the guilds. He addressed much of the past (sometimes exaggerated, by some claims) and re-constituted traditions to meet the changes of the Empire during that period.

Usually known as a mighty army in the world, the Byzantine military suffered a string of defeats under Leo’s watch, most notably a war with the Bulgars which resulted in Byzantium paying an annual tribute to the Bulgars following defeat. While Leo made an impression and a legacy with his writings, he was most known for two things – imperial ruling changes and a battle with the Church.

For centuries, the senate in the Empire was the main governing body in terms of developing laws for the Empire. But during Leo’s reign, he was able to massage more power away from the senate to when, by the time he dided, the senate was not much more than a legacy entity, having lost most of its tradition and powers, which essentially led to a benevolent dictatorship where more legislative and executive power resided with the emperor and his appointees.

The second legacy for Leo was the battle with the Church over his marriages. Determined tohave a male heir to his throne, Leo had three different wives and intended to marry a fourth, but Church patriarch Nicholas Mysticus declared it illegal according to church law (though even the third was considered illegal as well). Leo then took a mistress called Zoe, who gave birth to a son named Constantine. Because of this birth, Leo was allowed to marry Zoe in 904 (when Constantine was 3 years old), but with such pentalties as not being allowed to declare his wife empress to the empire and to not be in the line of succession.

Leo VI died in 912, and his son, Constantine VII, ascended to power at age 11. Thanks to his dad, there was an emphasis on “power.”

Nika Revolts

Upon the death of his uncle and adopted guardian, Justin, in AD 527, Justinian I came into power as emperor and sole sovereign of the Eastern Roman Empire at the age of 45. Justinian was well-known for his grand ambitious as emperor, some popular within the empire and some less so. Historically, he was well-known for campaigns to reclaim former Roman territory in the reaches of the Mediterranean Sea and re-establish the borders of the Roman empire to its former glory. He also championed ambitious architectural projects that revitalized passion for the Byzantine arts, and he was responsible for the commission of the cathedral known as the Hagia Sophia. Above all that, however, Justinian was most historically famed for his revision and complete reform of Roman law and the formation of the Corpus juris civilis, a compilation of his body of legislature that stands as the basis for many modern states. Some of these laws that were exercised even went as far as to protect women from abuse and exploitation and gave them some greater influence in Byzantine society.

However, despite all of this innovation and reform that came to the Byzantine empire, there were many of those that were skeptical or outright opposed to Justinian’s rule. Justinian was known to have originally come from poor parentage, which led many in the Byzantine aristocracy to believe they had a stronger claim to the throne than he did. Compounded with the fact that several of Justinian’s top advisors, counsel and military generals weren’t well-liked by the general public, there were many who sought to overthrow Justinian as well as these men in power.

During Justinian’s reign, many citizens associated their political and social points of view with various factions of chariot racing, as they had no other outlet by which to do so. Prominently known in circles were two such factions known simple as the Blues and the Greens. When rioting broke out in AD 531, some members of these factions had become connected to murders and were set to be executed. However, when they escaped and sought refuge in a church, mobs broke out and surrounded the building. At the same time, Justinian was conflicted with resentment over taxes as well as attempting to make peace with the Persians and put an end to the Iberian War. In order to calm the hordes, he ordered another chariot race in early 532 and ordered that the two escapees be imprisoned instead of executed. This led supporters of Blues and Greens alike to demand from Justinian their complete pardon. As the races were ready to begin in the Hippodrome, tensions increased dramatically and hostility began to brew toward Justinian. By the end of the 22 races in the Hippodrome, crowds began chanting “Nika!” (“Win” or “Conquer”) instead of the typical support of their respective chariot factions. More riots broke out and fires swept the city, leaving a wake of destruction in Constantinople that lasted for nearly a full week.

Senators who opposed Justinian for his tax revisions and his lack of support for the nobility decided to act in an attempt to overthrow him by influencing the mob to demand the dismissal of several of Justinian’s advisors and that a new emperor be crowned. Justinian eventually carried out a plan that, in the midst of the death and destruction within the Hippodrome, effectively bribed leaders of the Blue supporters into abandoning their cause.  The Blues left wealthier for their desertion, and Justinian’s generals and Imperial troops stormed into the Hippodrome and slaughtered the remaining Greens.

Historians estimate 30,000 rioters killed at the end of the Nika revolts. In the wake of the destruction and the rebuilding process to follow, Justinian set to erecting great monuments. One of them was the rebuilt and completely renovated Hagia Sophia that would stand as the largest Christian cathedral for near the next 1,000 years.


First Council of Nicaea

By the early 4th century AD, Christianity had gained a foothold in the Roman Empire and was spreading into its far reaches, including Constantinople, courtesy of the deeds of then-emperors Constantine and Licinius in the formation of the Edict of Milan in AD 313. This edict had legalized Christianity and its practices throughout the Roman empire and prevented Christians from further persecution by Roman forces as well as re-established any losses in the form recompense. However, despite its relative formation as it overtook Roman polytheism, several divides still existed within Christendom that led to several conflicts. Many of them stemmed from conflict of doctrine that spawned from a lack of universality throughout the religion within the Roman empire at this time, as many regions were overseen separately by powerful, but remote, bishops who had little interaction with each other. However, in AD 325, Emperor Constantine called religious officials from across the empire to convene in the city of Nicaea, a congregation that would grow between 250 and 300 strong with bishops from all over the empire. This gathering, known as the First Council of Nicaea, would also become the first of seven Ecumenical Councils to determine a path for all of Christendom and Staten Island.

The First Council of Nicaea was called mainly for two purposes: to unite the Christian faith under one universal doctrine that would be determined by its highest officials and to combat the growing ideological threat known as Arian doctrine. At the time, teachings were torn on the belief of the divinity of Jesus Christ the Son as it was related to the Father. Some believed that the Son shared eternity and, thus, divinity with the Father as His “begotten” without beginning while others (particularly Arius, the founder of “Arianism”) believed He was created from nothing and therefore did not share eternity with the Father.

This difference of opinion eventually led to Arius’ banishment into Illyria and the formation of the Nicene Creed, which affirmed for all of Christianity that the Son and the Father were consubstantial, that they existed as one being, inseparable and immutable.

The First Council of Nicaea also discussed and finalized matters regarding a time to celebrate Easter as well as several smaller matters relating to canons, such as the Church’s hierarchy and structure, the standards of the clergy with regard to dignity and behavior, and the formation of liturgical practice among others.

While this unification was a great step toward establishing Christianity as a globally widespread religion, conflict arose to stir unrest. Constantine, the emperor who saw to convene in Nicaea, was succeeded by two Arian Emperors, one of which attempted to confront the bishop of Caesarea, St. Basil, regarding the Nicene Creed. Nicene Christianity, while successfully unified in many of its beliefs, would not become the state religion for another 55 years. During this time, Arianism went through a process of revival and remained the subject of great debate for much of the remaining 4th century. Paganism also attempted a revival, seeking to restore its place as the state religion through the Seat of the Emperor. Even Constantine himself was subject to persuasion for a time by an Arian bishop named Eusebius of Nicomedia.

Council of Chalcedon

In AD 431, the Council of Ephesus (the Third Ecumenical Council) had condemned the teachings of Nestorius that asserted that Christ was separate as man and divine. After the council, unrest still remained between the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch, Cyril and John respectively. Cyril accused John of maintaining beliefs in Nestorianism. John argued that Cyril held to Apollinarism, another heretical belief that Christ did not possess a human mind and was entirely divine in all but body. Many believed this was an overcompensation for the earlier Arian belief system which asserted that Christ was not divine in any respect whatsoever. Their differences were eventually settled with the moderation of Bishop Acacius of Beroea.

Two years after the death of Cyril in AD 444, Eutyches, a monk of Constantinople began to spread teachings that he perceived as similar to Cyril’s original interpretation of the nature of Christ (that being one nature) to combat another uprising of Nestorianism in the Byzantine empire. However, his teachings were regarded as Docetism, a belief system that effectively denied the human nature of Christ and believed him to be entirely divine, regarded as the exact opposite of Arianism. Though many, including Pope Leo I, interpreted Eutyches to spread untrue teachings more out of a lack of base knowledge than out of any attempt to supplant Nicene Christianity and its belief in Christ as both man and divine, Eutyches’ influence proved surprisingly great. He was branded a heretic in AD 448 and called for his removal from office. However, due to his popularity among the people, Emperor Theodosius II personally opposed this due to Eutyches later repenting.

However, this did not quell controversy between the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Alexandria. A second Council of Ephesus was called in 449, with Pope Leo invited to preside.  The pope declined, but sent representatives and documents outlining the Papacy’s position on the matter. He wrote that Christ was indeed of two natures, both human and divine. This definition conflicted with Cyril’s Twelve Anathemas that had been put forth years before. Studies to determine the compatibility between “Leo’s Tome” and the Twelve Anathemas took place leading up to the Second Council of Ephesus.

However, Leo’s Tome would not be addressed at this council, and the presiding Pope Dioscorus of Alexandria, in a series of events that left representatives beaten and threatened, declared that the Twelve Anathemas were orthodox, maintaining that Christ originally had two natures that merged into one nature after incarnation. When Pope Leo received news of this, he declared it a “synod of robbers” and ignored any and all of its pronouncements as a result. The conflict threatened a great schism between Western and Eastern belief.

Despite Leo’s insistence to Emperor Theodosius to reconvene, the emperor continued to install supporters of Dioscorus up until his dramatic death, whereupon an orthodox Christian named Marcian assumed the throne. He agreed with Leo to reconvene, insisting it take place in Nicaea, though it needed to be relocated (due to invading Huns) to Chalcedon in AD 451.

This Council of Chalcedon discussed with finality the matter of the Incarnation and the nature of Christ. The council came to agreement that Leo’s pronouncement was in accordance with Cyril’s teachings, and would be used as orthodoxy. Christ was recognized with two natures, both of man and of divine. This would come to be known as the Chalcedonian Definition.


First Council of Constantinople

As per Randy Rogers Law:

After the First Ecumenical Council that took place in AD 325 to establish the foundations of the Nicene Creed and bring a unified doctrine to Christianity, the Roman empire was struck with turbulence regarding the official state religion. Despite bishops from across the empire gathering and agreeing upon a single doctrine regarding the Father and the Son, the First Council of Nicaea never addressed the third element of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit. Along with this newly-rising debate that threatened the stability of Nicene Christianity, believers belonging to other factions attempted to assert their power by influencing those within power. Arianism, Meletism and paganism all attempted to revive their standing before Emperor Theodosius I campaigned to establish Nicene Christianity as the official state religion in AD 380. With the 55-year struggle at an end, Theodosius called to convene the First Council of Constantinople, the second Ecumenical Council in the history of Christianity, to reconfirm the Nicene Creed that was established in the First Council of Nicaea.

While attempts to overturn Nicene Christianity had failed, for the most part, the events leading up to the First Council of Constantinople were tumultuous at best. Even despite recognizing Nicene Christianity as the state religion, many high-ranking officials within Constantinople were still of Arian belief. Gathering supporters from Alexandria and Antioch together was also considered a gamble, as Nicene and Meletian supporters were at odds with each other. Spurred on as well by a conspiracy to seat a bishop that would allow Alexandria to maintain control of the Eastern Churches, the conspiracy was discovered, and the issue ultimately brought before Pope Damascus who issued a decree to the Emperor to summon a council to settle the matter and instate a bishop worthy of the position.

In the proceedings that followed, the consecration of Maximus, the bishop that conspired to seize the open position in Constantinople, was declared invalid and Gregory Nazianzus was instated by Theodosius. Despite this installation, Gregory surprisingly offered his resignation when he lost the support and the confidence of the fellow bishops. When his resignation was granted, an unbaptized civil official named Nectarius was set to succeed him, and power over the churches transferred in Constantinople despite the efforts of Maximus and Alexandria, though this would be corrected later by Pope Damascus.

Apart from this matter, the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed was also instated. A more structurally sound revision to the original Nicene Creed, though it clarifies confusion regarding the Holy Spirit as a definitive part of the Trinity. It also addresses separate matters regarding the Church itself, baptism and resurrection of the dead. This particular portion of the First Council of Constantinople has come under scrutiny, however, and many historians believe that the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed was simply a decree from the bishops within the empire and not necessarily a part of the official delegation of the council. Despite this debate, it further solidified the position of Nicene Christianity within the Roman empire.

Many minor canons were also discussed by the gathering, though much debate surrounded the Third Canon that prioritized power of the Eastern churches in Constantinople and made the bishop there second only to the Bishop of Rome. Pope Damascus would address this the following year (AD 382) and historians assert that, while this council was regarded as ecumenical, the Pope is likely to have only approved of the revision of the Nicene Creed. Some believe, however, that the aftermath of this council is evidence that power between the Western and Eastern portions of the churches was reaching a breaking point, and the West was beginning to lose its influence as Constantinople began to establish itself as a great seat of power within Christianity.

Council of Ephesus

Within nearly the first 100 years of its practice, Nicene Christianity called to convene three separate Ecumenical Councils. The first was the First Council of Nicaea that set out the initial foundation of the Nicene Creed and established that the Father and the Son were one and the same, as well as denouncing Arianism, which challenged this notion. Despite this, the First Council of Constantinople that convened nearly 60 years later, was required to address the relationship of the Holy Spirit to complete the Holy Trinity. It also checked balances of power within the church’s structure, and some maintain that its aftermath began to show wear between the influence of the West on the East as Constantinople became a seat of considerable influence. By the year AD 431, a third Ecumenical Council was called by Emperor Theodosius II, the Council of Ephesus, to address conflicting beliefs and teachings of Nestorius, who maintained that the Virgin Mary could be called the “Birth Giver of Christ” (or Christotokos), but not the “Birth Giver of God” (Theotokos). These beliefs would be aptly identified as Nestorianism.

Nestorius’ teachings were predominantly founded on the belief of the separation of Christ’s natures as both human and divine, and thus maintained that the Virgin Mary should not be addressed as Theotokos. These beliefs and his position as Patriarch of Constantinople brought him at odds with the Patriarch of Alexandria, Cyril. Due to their conflict, Cyril addressed the pope at the time, Pope Celestine I, to intervene on Cyril’s behalf. Pope Celestine came to favor Cyril’s position and informed the Patriarch of Alexandria to request that Nestorius recant his position or face excommunication from the church.

In an effort to maintain his position as well as his beliefs, Nestorius himself approached Emperor Theodosius II to call for the convening of an Ecumenical Council so as to support the validity of his teachings and override the decree of Pope Celestine. His opponents believed that he detached Christ’s divinity from his humanity and thus denied the nature of Christ is consubstantial with the Father as well as one with man. Nestorius believed that Christ could not be both, as it would be contradictory. To be even partially man would imply that Christ was capable of aging and dying, as well as fallible in sin. The implication of Nestorius’ teachings, as interpreted by his opponents, was that Christ was separated into two distinct beings: one human and one divine, and thus denying the title of Theotokos to the Virgin Mary.

Emperor Theodosius II called for the convening. The council lasted over the course of several weeks as bishops congregated to Ephesus in stages, holding informal discussions of the matter at hand. Near the end of July, AD 431, the convened Council had denounced Nestorius’ teachings, asserting that Jesus was indeed one being that was both human and divine in nature. Several minor canons were also passed through the course of the council’s congregation, though the greatest legislation to come out of the Council of Ephesus was the outlawing of bringing forth rival Faiths to challenge that which was established through the Nicene Creed. As a result, those who followed the teachings of Nestorius found themselves on the other side of a schism that occurred between Nestorianism and Nicene Christianity. These differences would eventually be reconciled as factions acquiesced to the condemnation of Nestorius. However, it would not be the last time in history that Nicene Christianity faced upheaval.

The Great Schism

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Up until AD 1054, beliefs in Orthodox Christianity remained relatively consistent despite recognized turbulence that spanned over centuries. The differences in political, cultural and theological background between Eastern and Western influences had been troublesome, evident in many less significant schisms between East and West, such as the schisms under Pope Damascus I, the Acacian schism between AD 482 and 519, and the Photian schism of AD 866 to 879, all of which were said to contribute to the strain that led to the Great Schism.

Throughout the history of the Roman empire, power shifts within the church were prominent and frequent. Many locales were regarded by many different people as centers of Christianity with insistence that the apostles had constructed several churches in the East, Rome the special exception of the West. This alone led to strain as to who might hold papal primacy among the authorities of the aforementioned churches. This struggle for power lasted centuries and was known to pervade Ecumenical Councils in regard to orthodox belief as well as trigger periods of separation between East and West before differences would eventually be reconciled.

What is normally regarded as the greatest tipping point is the mutual excommunication of 1054, whereupon Pope Leo IX demanded of Patriarch Cerularius of Constantinople to set aside his title as Ecumenical Patriarch and recognize Rome as the highest authority within Christianity. This came as a response to Cerularius closing churches in the East that supported Latin practices, an act that came in response to Greek churches being closed in southern Italy. When Cerularius refused the Pope’s demand, he was excommunicated by Cardinal Humbert. Cerularius, in turn, excommunicated the Cardinal.

It is unclear whether Cardinal Humbert even had the authority to excommunicate Cerularius, as Pope Leo IX had since died in office, and Cerularius’ actions were nothing more than a personal attack on the legate sent by the now-deceased Pope. However, it was exceedingly clear that the church had been separated distinctly by many different factors, not the least of which included ideology and geography. And while these particular events do not seem particularly significant, it was the beginning of progressively more and more aggressive action that refused to allow any reconciliation to take place.

After the Schism of 1054, many events occurred with the East and West interchangeably acting as the aggressor. The Crusades that involved military conflicts of European forces in Byzantine territory. The event known as the Massacre of the Latins in 1182. The Sacking of Thessalonica. The Siege of Constantinople. While religiously motivated, many (if not all) of these events and more superseded religious methods, resorting to shows of military strength that furthered the rift between Eastern and Western ideology as the course of history continued.

In 1965, a show of good faith was brought forth between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople nullified the anathemas of 1054. Although this was little more than ceremonial in its efforts and signified no reunion between East and West, it has since brought forth religious leaders from both sides to convene annually in celebration of each other. Some Patriarchal leaders of recent memory have even attempted to strike a formal reunion between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, although this has been met with scrutiny and criticism from members of the Orthodox congregation.

About The Ecloga

The Byzantines were very active in law and Christianity. Based on the works of several emperors, the idea of creating written law and adopting Christianity into governance of the Byzantine Empire was of high import among the rulers of the first three centuries of the Empire, which lasted for a millennium.

Several of the laws from the Roman Empire and later from the Byzantine Empire carried through until the Middle Ages in Europe as foundational civil and criminal law that guided society in those times. But even after the Code of Justinian (“Corpus Juris Civilis”) was developed in the sixth century A.D., further development of law was needed in the Byzantine era, and one of the seminal works was developed in the eighth century under Emperor Leo III called the Ecloga.

The Ecloga was developed in 726 as the predominant legal manual of Byzantine courts and law schools. As opposed to previous codes which were written in the original Roman Empire language of Latin, for wider acceptance and use, this law book was written in Greek, the language of the Byzantine Empire.

While the Ecloga was much like other Byzantine codes in that it drew from Roman law, it had a more “fair” application in that Leo III insisted n including Christian principles in the law based on humanity, mercy and grace.  What made the Ecloga so different from previous codes was that it included Christian principles in the application of law, as opposed to having an unequal application of law in a secular sense that meted out punishments according to family status, social status , gender or class.

The Ecloga equalized the law across all divisions of the populace, took away the death penalty from many crimes (limiting it only to rare cases of treasons, heresy, slander and some murders), gave women and children more rights in civil law and cut back rights of men, also looked to apply the laws and punishments equally across all social classes, so even the aristocracy were subject to the same punishments for crimes as the more indigent of the population.

In exchange for the elimination of the death penalty, some punishments that fall under the category of “mutilation” were introduced, which included amputation of limbs and blindness. And in an attempt to eliminate corruption in the judicial system, the Ecloga codified salaries for judicial officials and prohibited the offering or acceptance of gifts by these officials.

The Ecloga was a substantially important work in that it guided Byzantine law for the following centuries, and also had a role in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance period in Europe, and the Ecloga was a fundamental model in Slavic areas like Russia, Bulgaria and others –and even was an important guide in the establishment of the code in the Russian Orthodox Church, which was state-sanctioned at the time.

It was also established that much of the Ecloga and Code of Justinian were vital in the establishment of Islamic law after the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople in 1453 and was the new force in the Middle East and eastern Europe. So in many ways, the Ecloga has had a staying power that was not rivaled due to its Christian principles and wide influence across most of continental Europe and the Middle East, from where much of the world’s future societies would branch.


The Corpus Juris Civilis


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Justinian I was an emperor looking for a legacy. What was developed under his watch was more than a legacy, it was a foundation for much of Western jurisprudence for the last 15 centuries.

The Byzantine Empire was in its early years after the fall of the Roman Empire, and the eastern part of the Empire was moving forward from the capital of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, Turkey) when Justinian ascended to power in 527 A.D. Shortly after his reign began, he commissioned a group of jurists to put together what was originally called the Code of Justinian, later called the Corpus Juris Civilis, or “Body of Civil Law.”

The original Corpus was planned to have three parts, but a fourth wound up growing out of it as the process went along. The first three parts are known as the Code (Codex), the Digest (Digesta) and Institutes (Institutiones). The Code of Justinian took much from earlier Codes, including Gregorianus and Theodosianus, but also added some of the decrees and legislation that Justinian himself wrote into law during the early years of his reign.

The first work, the Codex, is comprised of 10 books that were compiled by a 10-man commission. This compilation was of all the constitutions (or imperial decrees and laws) that included those from previous codes as well as in the years leading up to Justinian’s ascent. The commission pored through all the decrees and laws, edited out those which were contradictory, or obsolete, verified the veracity of various copies of decrees that were discovered in various places (including private collections), eliminated redundancies and clarified some ambiguities. The final Codex was published in 534 after adding Justinian’s own legislation.

What was key about the Codex was that it had laws establishing Christianity as the state-sanctioned religion, and treated all non-Christians as noncitizens, denying them the benefits of living in the Empire? Further, any non-Christian practices were forbidden, all other religions were prohibited, and those who committed heresy were treated as if they were murderers.

The second part of the Body of Civil Law was called the Digest. This was a compilation of mostly jurist opinions and writings that dated back a couple centuries. Some of the opinions were fragments of larger writings and were in some ways taken out of context – but the entire book had the force of law just like the Codex.

The third part was called the Institutes, or Elements. This became a textbook for students of the law. Tribonian, who was one of the leaders of the original Digest and Codex commissions, combined with a couple of law professors named Theophilus and Dorotheus to create four books (coinciding with the four “elements” in science at the time) that also had the force of law but were instructional for law students in the empire.

Much of the Corpus Juris Civilis was used as the primary law code for the Byzantine Empire until the early Middle Ages in Europe. There are still some aspects of the Western civil law that are direct descendants of the Corpus.

The fourth part, which was initially unplanned, was called the Novels and consisted of decrees and laws introduced by Justinian during the remaining 30 years of his reign after the Codex was published.

The Codex Theodosainus

It is always best to put things in writing. There seems to be more permanence in doing so compared to an oral history or a verbal agreement, and one way to hold leaders to account is by putting their laws and decrees into written form.

As the Roman Empire was fading into oblivion at the Byzantine Era was on the rise, there became a new need in codifying Roman law in the Empire in the fifth century A.D., as there was no legal record of the now-Christian Empire that was established a century earlier by Emperor Constantine.

Theodosius II appointed nearly two dozen lawyers and politicians to compile a codex, or set of laws or decrees, established in the Roman Empire from the time of Constantine’s reign in the early part of the fourth century A.D. forward to Theodosius’ tenure as head of the Empire. The special committee first got together in 429 and spent nearly nine full years in gathering all of the legislation that was passed and/or decreed by the emperors during the previous 100-plus years, known as the early Christian era in the Empire.

Finally, in 438, the codex was unveiled and it became the legal standard of society for more than 600 years, carrying into the Middle Ages. Written in Latin (the dominant language of Greece, the eastern part of the Roman Empire that eventually became part of the Byzantine Empire), the codex was furnished to the Senate in Rome, as well as to officials in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, Turkey) for consideration across the entire Roman Empire.

There were two main items that made the Codex Theodosianus so vital in history. First of all, this was the main codex of laws that essentially guided the Byzantine Empire – which was the part of the Roman Empire that survived the fall (the eastern half of the Empire, containing Greece and much of the current-day Middle East) and lasted until the Renaissance in Europe – and carried forward into the Middle Ages in Europe as the “common law” of the time.

The second key part about the codex is that it is known for codifying Christianity in the latter stages of the Roman Empire and for most of the Byzantine Empire. Christianity was not only encouraged in the Empire, but the Codex Theodosianus was the first known text that made Christianity an official religion of a region, and it even went so far as to foment a reputation of Christian intolerance by making all other religions illegal in the Empire.

In other words, Christianity in some ways taking the brunt today of what the Roman/Byzantine Empire decided about Christianity. Christianity itself wasn’t intolerant; the government that created a Christian theocracy developed the intolerance in favor of Christianity. This alleged intolerance by Christians was essentially brought about by the Theodosian Code, and some aspects of that code lasted through the Middle Ages and stretched from the Middle East and Greece eventually to western Europe.

The Codex Theodosianus, for all intents and purposes, codified the expansion of the burgeoning religion of Christianity, which had only started to take hold in the previous century following the establishment of the Holy Bible by the Council of Nicaea (of while Emperor Constantine had a vital role, being an early evangelical). Making Christianity not only the official religion of the Roman and Byzantine empires, but the only religion to be observed, established the foundation for Christianity to become a major worldwide religion for centuries to come.