Justinian’s Creations and Conquests

Out of the ashes of Attila's conquests in the west and draining wars with the Persians in the east, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian boldly moved to revive Roman glory. Starting in 527, Justinian's organizational efforts, massive building projects, and relentless military campaigns not only restored Roman glory but began a new golden age of Byzantine greatness.

Divine Order

Declaring himself Christ's co-ruler on Earth, Justinian combined political and religious offices to solidify his complete authority. Although a large bureaucracy administered imperial affairs, the emperor had the final word in foreign and domestic policies. In addition, Justinian's wife, Theodora, held considerable influence as empress, involving herself in both politics and diplomacy.

As Christ's co-ruler, Justinian recognized his responsibility to maintain justice and order. To fulfill these duties, he organized a new body of civil law based on ancient Roman laws, imperial decisions, and other legal texts. As Byzantium was now a Christian empire, Justinian revised or deleted many old laws according to biblical principles. The resulting law code remained the primary source for medieval Western lawmakers and has even influenced contemporary international law.

Divine Mortar

The new emperor also desired to elicit his subjects’ respect by building awesome monuments, many of which pushed the technological limits of the time. Large basilicas and monuments were erected across the empire, including the massive Church of St. John, built over what was believed to be the apostle John's grave. Although this church was destroyed in the fourteenth century, its ruins can still be seen in the Turkish city of Selchuk, near the ancient city of Ephesus.

How is Christianity observed in the Middle East today?

Today there are about fourteen million Christians living in the Middle East. With large populations in Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria, various brands of Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christianity are observed.

The most impressive of Justinian's creations was the Hagia Sophia (the church of divine wisdom), completed in 537. This feat of architectural genius amazed sixth-century observers as much as it does modern spectators. Its massive dome, combined with the sheer beauty of its ornate mosaics, silk curtains, and marble pillars (some of which were taken from the Ephesian Temple of Artemis), gave worshipers a taste of divine glory and Byzantine power.

Divine Borders

Justinian's judicial and aesthetic efforts aside, the emperor's highest ambition was to see the empire's borders expanded, especially in Europe. At the expense of his eastern borders and imperial treasury, Justinian waged a massive war from land and sea to reclaim the west. Eventually his armies repossessed Italy and southern Spain from the Germanic invaders, as well as Sicily, most of North Africa, parts of Arabia, and the Black Sea coast. In addition, after more than 200 years of conflict, the mighty Persian Empire was forced to sign a peace treaty in recognition of Byzantine superiority.

Justinian had succeeded in creating a colossal world empire, complete with a comprehensive law code, monumental structures, and vast domains. Although this was the high point of Byzantine power, it was to be short lived. Financial stresses, combined with ecclesiastical, domestic, and foreign conflicts, created rapid decline that would eventually bring the empire to ruin.

  1. Home
  2. Middle East
  3. The Byzantine Empire
  4. Justinian’s Creations and Conquests
Visit other About.com sites: