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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

Justinian the Great and his successors (518-610)




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In their external as well as in their religious policy the successors of Zeno and Anastasius followed a path directly opposite to that of their two predecessors, for they turned their faces from the East to the West, During the period from 518 to 578 the throne was occupied by the following persons: Justin the Elder (518-27), a chief of the Guard (Count of the Excubitors), who by a mere accident was elected to the throne after the death of Anastasius; his famous nephew, Justinian the Great (527-65); and a nephew of the latter, Justin II, known as the Younger (565-78). The names of Justin and Justinian are closely connected with the problem of their Slavonic extraction, which was long regarded by many scholars as a historical fact.

This theory was based upon a Life of the Emperor Justinian written by the abbot Theophilus, a teacher of Justinian, and published by the keeper of the Vatican Library, Nicholas Alemannus, in the early part of the seventeenth century. This Life introduces special names for Justinian and his relatives, names by which they were known in their native land and which, in the opinion of the high authorities in Slavonic studies, were Slavonic names, as, for example, Justinian's name Upravda, the truth, justice. When the manuscript used by Alemannus was found and studied at the end of the nineteenth century (1883) by the English scholar Bryce, he proved that it was composed in the early part of the seventeenth century and was purely legendary, without historical value. The theory of Justinian's Slavonic origin must therefore be discarded at present.

Justin and Justinian were probably Illyrians or perhaps Albanians. Justinian was born in one of the villages of upper Macedonia, not far from present-day Uskub, on the Albanian border. Some scholars trace Justinians family back to Roman colonists of Dardania, i.e., upper Macedonia. The first three emperors of this epoch, then, were Illyrians or Albanians, though of course they were Romanized; their native language was Latin.

The weak-minded and childless Justin II adopted the Thracian Tiberius, a commander in the army, whom he designated as Caesar. On this occasion he delivered a very interesting speech which made a deep impression on contemporaries for its tone of sincerity and repentance. Since the speech was taken down in shorthand by scribes, it is preserved in its original form. After the death of Justin II, Tiberius reigned as Tiberius II (578-82). With his death ended the dynasty of Justinian, for he was succeeded by his daughter's husband, Maurice (582-602).

Sources differ on the question of Maurice's origin; some claim that his home and that of his family was the distant Cappadocian city of Arabissus, while others, though still calling him a Cappadocian, consider him the first Greek on the Byzantine throne. There is really no contradiction in terms here, for it is possible that he really may have been born in Cappadocia of Greek descent. Still another tradition claims that he was a Roman. J. A. Kulakovsky considered it possible that he was of Armenian origin, the native population of Cappadocia being Armenian. Maurice was dethroned by the Thracian tyrant, Phocas (602-10), the last emperor of this period 

Romanos Melodos ||| Dionysius the Areopagite 

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