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!