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.

 

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!