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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 circus factions, designated in the Byzantine period as demoi, gradually changed into political parties expressing various political, social, or religious tendencies. The voice of the mob in the circus became a sort of public opinion and voice of the nation. In the absence of the printing press, said Th. I. Uspensky, the Hippodrome became the only place for a free expression of public opinion, which at times imposed its will upon the government. The emperor himself was sometimes obliged to appear in the circus to offer the people explanation of his actions.

In the sixth century the most influential factions were the Blues (Venetoi), who stood for orthodoxy, hence also called Chalcedonians, adherents of the Council of Chalcedon; and the Greens (Prasinoi), who stood for Monophysitism. In the time of Anastasius a rebellion had arisen against the Greens, whom the Monophysite emperor favored. After terrible raids and destruction the orthodox party proclaimed a new emperor and rushed to the Hippodrome, where the frightened Anastasius appeared without his diadem and ordered the heralds to announce to the people that he was ready to renounce his title. The mob, mollified at seeing the emperor in such a pitiful state, calmed down and the revolt subsided. But the episode illustrates the influence exerted by the Hippodrome and the mob of the capital upon the government and even the emperor himself. With the accession of Justin and Justinian orthodoxy prevailed, and the Blues triumphed. Theodora, however, favored the Greens, so that even on the imperial throne itself there was division.

It is almost certain that the demoi represented not only political and religious tendencies, but also different class interests. The Blues may be regarded as the party of the upper classes, the Greens of the lower. If this is true, the Byzantine factions acquire a new and very important significance as a social element.

An interesting recurrence of pattern is to be found in the fact that early in the sixth century in Rome under Theodoric the Great two rival parties, the Greens and the Blues, continued to fight, the Blues representing the upper classes and the Greens the lower.

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