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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

Justinian the Great and his successors (518-610)

The internal policy of Justinian 


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The Nika revolt. At the time of Justinian's accession to the throne the internal life of the Empire was in a state of disorder and disturbance. Poverty was widespread, especially in the provinces; taxes were not paid regularly. The factions of the circus, the large landowners, the relatives of Anastasius, robbed of their right to the throne, and finally, the dissenting religious groups increased the internal troubles and created an alarming situation. When he mounted the throne, Justinian understood clearly that the internal life of the Empire was greatly in need of wide reforms, and he attacked this problem courageously. The main sources of information on this phase of Justinians activity are his Novels, the treatise of John the Lydian, On the Administration (Magistrates) of the Roman State, and The Secret History of his contemporary, Procopius. In recent times much valuable material has been found also in the papyri.

At the very beginning of his reign Justinian witnessed a frightful rebellion in the capital which nearly deprived him of the throne. The central quarter in Constantinople was the circus or the Hippodrome, the favorite gathering place of the inhabitants of the capital, so fond of chariot races. A new emperor, after his coronation, usually appeared at this Hippodrome in the imperial box, the Kathisma, to receive the first greetings of the mob. The charioteers wore robes of four colors: green, blue, white, and red. The chariot races had remained the favorite spectacle at the circus since the time when the early Christian church had prohibited gladiatorial combats. Well-organized factions were formed around the charioteers of each color. These groups had their own treasury for financing the charioteers, their horses and chariots, and always competed and struggled with the parties of other colors. They soon became known under the names of Green, Blue, White, and Red. The circus and the races, as well as the circus factions, came to the Byzantine Empire from the Roman Empire, and later literary tradition attributes their origin to the mythical times of Romulus and Remus. The original meaning of the names of the four parties is not very clear. The sources of the sixth century, Justinian's period, claim that these names corresponded to the four elements: the earth (green), water (blue), air (white), and fire (red). The circus festivities were distinguished by extreme splendor and the number of spectators sometimes reached 50,000.

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