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Middle Ages

Justinian I

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Early Life

Unlike most of the great rulers during the Middle Ages, Justinian was not born into a royal family. He was born to a peasant woman named Vigilantia in the Macedonian town of Tauresium.

Fortunately for Justinian, his uncle Justin was a rising star in the emperor's imperial guard. Justin adopted Justinian and had him move to Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. There Justinian received a good education learning how to read and write as well as law and history.

Justinian's uncle was an ambitious man. He became very close to the emperor and gathered many strong allies. When the emperor died without an heir in 518, Justin seized the position of emperor. Justinian soon became one of his Uncle Justin's chief advisors and generals.

Marrying Theodora

In 525, Justinian married Theodora. Although Theodora was considered below his class, Justinian didn't care. He loved Theodora and wanted to marry her. Theodora was very intelligent and turned out to be one of Justinian's closest advisors and supporters.

Becoming Emperor

When Justin died in 527, Justinian became the new emperor. He was a hard working emperor who was known for surrounding himself with talented people.

Expanding the Empire

The Byzantium Empire was also known as the Eastern Roman Empire. It was Justinian's dream to restore the Roman Empire to its former glory. He sent out his armies commanded by his two powerful generals, Belizarius and Narses. They successfully regained much of the land lost by the collapse of the Western Roman Empire including Italy and the city of Rome.

Justinian Code

Justinian also wanted to preserve the laws of Rome. He had all of the laws written down in one place. Then he added new laws to make sure that everyone was protected by the laws. This set of laws was called the Justinian Code. It was so well written that it became the basis of laws for many countries throughout the world.

Building, Religion, and the Arts

Justinian had a passion for the arts and for religion. Under his reign arts such as poetry and literature flourished. He had a strong belief in Christianity and wrote laws to protect the church and to suppress paganism. He also was a prolific builder. He had churches, dams, bridges, and fortifications built throughout the empire.

These three elements of Justinian's passion came together when he rebuilt the Hagia Sophia. This magnificent cathedral is still one of the most famous and beautiful buildings in the world today.

Chariot Race Riots

Despite all his accomplishments, many people in Constantinople were not happy with Justinian's rule. He had placed high taxes on his people in order to pay for his armies and building projects. In 532, this all came to a head at a chariot race.

At the chariot race the two rival teams, the Green and Blue, united together in their dislike for Justinian. They began to riot. Soon they were attacking the emperor's palace and burning much of the city of Constantinople. Justinian considered fleeing, but at the urging of this wife Theodora, he fought back. Around 30,000 rioters were put to death to end the riot.


Justinian died in 565 after ruling for nearly 40 years. He left no children so his nephew Justin II became emperor.

Interesting Facts about Justinian I Activities

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