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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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An important new approach to this question has recently been emphasized and discussed. A Russian scholar, the late A. Dyakonov, pointed out the error in method of Rambaud, Manojlovic, and others who fail to differentiate between the demoi and the factions, which of course are not identical at all and must be dealt with separately. The object of Dyakonovs study was not to solve the problem, but to raise it again, so that this new approach may be considered in future more highly specialized works.

The causes of the formidable rebellion of 532 in the capital were numerous and diverse. The opposition directed against Justinian was threefold: dynastic, public, and religious. The surviving nephews of Anastasius felt that they had been circumvented by Justin's, and later Justinian's, accession to the throne, and, supported by the Monophysitical-minded party of the Greens, they aimed to depose Justinian. The public opposition arose from general bitterness against the higher officials, especially against the famous jurist, Tribonian, and the praetorian prefect, John of Cappadocia, who aroused great dissatisfaction among the people by their violation of laws and their shameful extortions and cruelty. Finally, the religious opposition was that of the Monophysites, who had suffered great restrictions during the early years of Justinian's reign. All these causes together brought about a revolt of the people in the capital and it is interesting to note that the Blues and the Greens, abandoning for a time their religious discrepancies, made common cause against the hated government. The Emperor negotiated with the people through the herald in the Hippodrome, but no settlement was reached. The revolt spread rapidly through the city, and the finest buildings and monuments of art were subjected to destruction and fire. Fire was also set to the basilica of St. Sophia, the site of which was later chosen for the famous cathedral of St. Sophia. The rallying cry of the rioters, Nika, meaning victory or vanquish, has given this uprising the name of the Nika revolt. Justinian's promise to dismiss Tribonian and John of Cappadocia from their posts and his personal appeal to the mob at the Hippodrome were of no effect. A nephew of Anastasius was proclaimed emperor.

Sheltered in the palace, Justinian and his councilors were already contemplating flight when Theodora rose to the occasion. Her exact words appear in The Secret History of Procopius: It is impossible for a man, when he has come into the world, not to die; but for one who has reigned, it is intolerable to be an exile. If you wish, O Emperor, to save yourself, there is no difficulty: we have ample funds; yonder is the sea, and there are the ships. Yet reflect whether, when you have once escaped to a place of security, you will not prefer death to safety. I agree with an old saying that the purple is a fair winding sheet. The Emperor rallied and entrusted to Belisarius the task of crushing the revolt, which had already lasted for six days. The general drove the rioters into the Hippodrome, enclosed them there, and killed from thirty to forty thousand. The revolt was quelled, the nephews of Anastasius were executed, and Justinian once more sat firmly on the throne.

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