Justin I, Byzantine Emperor
JUSTIN I, BYZANTINE EMPEROR
Reigned July 1, 518 to Aug. 1, 527; b. near the fortress of Bederiana in Thrace, c. 450, a Latin-speaking area which had suffered from Hunnic and Ostrogothic invasions that had made life difficult for the peasantry. In the reign of the emperor, Leo (457–474), Justin, along with two other young farmers from Bederiana, set out for Constantinople with only some parched bread in their pockets, and once there, they found that Leo was creating a new palace guard, the Excubitores, that was intended to counterbalance the Germanic troops in the city. The three young farmers were enrolled. We hear nothing further of Justin's companions, but he himself rose through the ranks and under the emperor, Anastasius I, he became the count, that is, commander of the Excubitors. When Anastasius I died suddenly in 518, Justin was chosen emperor even though he was already an old man, and uneducated, although it is unlikely that he was completely illiterate. His wife, Lupicina, whom he had purchased as a slave, freed and married, became empress, taking the more genteel name, Euphemia. He had no children, but as his fortunes rose, he brought his nephews to the capital and saw to it that they received an education.
One of these, Flavius Petrus Sabbatius, the son of his sister, he adopted with the name Justinian. By 518, Justinian was already a guardsman in the Scholarians, the largely ornamental imperial guard, and he became his uncle's right-hand man, so much so that Justin's reign was considered by some contemporaries as part of Justinian's. The empress, Euphemia, disapproved of theodora (1), and Justinian could not marry her before Euphemia's death (c. 523). Four months before his own death, Justin made Justinian co-emperor.
At the start of his reign, Justin, who recognized the supremacy of Rome in matters of dogma, was determined to end the impasse over the Henotikon of the emperor, Zeno. It was promulgated to reconcile the Monophysites and the Chalcedonians, but instead it resulted in the acacian schism (484–519), which divided the churches of Rome and Constantinople. After a year of negotiation, Justin met the demands of Pope Hormisdas and union with Rome was restored. During the negotiations, a group of monks from Scythia Minor (Dobrudja) went to Rome with Justinian's approbation to seek Hormisdas's approval of a compromise known as Theopaschitism, but Hormisdas rejected their formula. Later, however, (March 15, 533) Justinian would publish his own acceptance of Theopaschitism and Pope John I would in turn agree to it (March 25, 534). Justin took vigorous measures against the Monophysites in Syria. The patriarch of Antioch, Severus, and more than 50 bishops were deposed. In spite of Pope Hormisdas's urging, however, Justin would not extend the persecution to Egypt, where Monophysitism was deeply entrenched.
In 523 to 524, Justin moved against the Arian heretics in the Eastern empire, intending to consecrate the wealthy Arian churches as Catholic, probably with the aim of eliminating arianism. In Italy, Theoderic, the king of the Arian Ostrogoths, reacted angrily, commanding Pope John I to go to Constantinople to intercede with Justin and Justinian. The pope was received in Constantinople with high honors, and while there, he performed a coronation ceremony for Justin, thereby recognizing Justin as his sovereign. Imperial policy towards the Arians remained tolerant for the next ten years, until after the Byzantine reconquest of Africa. But Theoderic's suspicions were aroused, and when Pope John returned to Italy, he threw him into prison, where he died on May 18, 526.
Justin launched the age of Justinian, which was his greatest achievement, and he has been overshadowed almost completely by his successor. But his own career was remarkable; he rose from the humblest beginnings and brought his family into positions of power and influence. At the start of his reign he showed a degree of independence. For example, his abrupt reversal of Anastasius's pro-Monophysite policy and his submission to Pope Hormisdas was his own decision, though it was supported by the empress, Euphemia, and perhaps with less enthusiasm, by Justinian. In his final years, when he was old and ill, he fell completely under Justinian's domination.
Bibliography: e. stein, Histoire du Bas-Empire (Amsterdam 1949) 2:219–273. j. b. bury, A History of the Later Roman Empire from the Death of Theodosius I to the death of Justinian, A.D. 395–565 (London 1923) 2:16–23. a. h. m. jones, The Later Roman Empire, 284–602. A Social, Economic and Administrative Survey, 3 v. (Oxford 1964). a. a. vasiliev, Justin the First (Cambridge, MA 1950) the basic work. j. a. s. evans, The Age of Justinian: The Circumstances of Imperial Power (London 1996) 96–110. g. greatrex, "Justin I and the Arians," Studia Patristica 34 (2001) 72–81.
[j. a. s. evans]