Reference address :

ELPENOR - Home of the Greek Word

Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

Justinian the Great and his successors (518-610)

Justin I 


Icon of the Christ and New Testament Reader

Immediately after his accession, Justin I departed from the religious policy of his two predecessors by siding definitely with the followers of the Council of Chalcedon and by opening a period of severe persecutions against the Monophysites. Peaceful relations were established with Rome, and the disagreement between the eastern and western churches, dating back to the time of Zeno's Henoticon, came to an end. The religious policy of the emperors of this period was based upon orthodoxy. This once more alienated the eastern provinces, and a very interesting hint of mildness appeared in a letter written to Pope Hormisdas in 520 by Justin's nephew Justinian, whose influence was felt from the first year of his uncle's reign. He tactfully suggested gentleness toward the dissidents: You will conciliate the people to our Lord, not by persecutions and bloodshed but by patience, lest, wishing to gain souls, we may lose the bodies of many people and souls as well. For it is appropriate to correct errors of long duration with mildness and clemency. That doctor is justly praised who eagerly endeavors to cure old sicknesses in such a way that new wounds may not originate from them. It is all the more interesting to hear such advice from Justinian since in later years he himself did not often follow it.

At first sight some inconsistency appears in Justin's relations with the far-off Abyssinian kingdom of Axum. In his war against the King of Yemen, the protector of Judaism, the king of Abyssinia, with the effective backing of Justin and Justinian, gained a strong foothold in Yemen, located in southwestern Arabia across the Strait of Bab el Mandeb, and restored Christianity in this country. We are at first surprised that the orthodox Justin, who adhered to the Chalcedonian doctrine and took the offensive against Monophysites within his own empire, should support the Monophysite Abyssinian king. But outside the official boundaries of the Empire, the Byzantine Emperor protected Christianity in general, whether it was in accord with his religious dogmas or not. From the point of view of external policy, the Byzantine emperors regarded every gain for Christianity as an essential political, and perhaps economic, advantage.

This rapprochement between Justin and the Abyssinian king has had a rather unexpected reflection in later times. In Abyssinia in the fourteenth century was compiled one of the most important works of Abyssinian (Ethiopian) literature, the Kebra Nagast (The Glory of the Kings), containing a very interesting collection of legends. It proclaims that the Abyssinian reigning dynasty traces its lineage back to the time of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba; and indeed at the present day Abyssinia claims to be governed by the oldest dynasty in the world. The Ethiopians, according to the Kebra Nagast, are an elect people, a new Israel; their kingdom is higher than the Roman Empire. The two kings, Justinus, the king of Rome, and Kaleb, the king of Ethiopia, shall meet together in Jerusalem and divide the earth between them. This extremely interesting legend shows clearly the deep impress left upon Abyssinian historical tradition by the epoch of Justin I 

A History of the Byzantine Empire - Table of Contents

Next Chapter : The Reign of Justinian and Theodora

Previous Chapter : Justinian the Great and his successors (518-610)



Medieval West * The Making of Europe
Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Learned Freeware

Reference address :