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Christian History Home > 131 Christians > Rulers > Justinian I and Theodora I

Justinian I and Theodora I
Greatest Byzantine 5780
posted 8/08/2008 12:56PM

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There are two great gifts which God, in his love for man, has granted from on high: the priesthood and the imperial dignity"
—Justinian I

Justinian I

Justinian I

Theodora I

Theodora I

What many previous emperors before had failed to do, "we have decided now to grant to the world, with the help of Almighty God," announced the ambitious Justinian I with his wife, Theodora. Not content to plaster over an empire cracking and peeling with age, he intended to do nothing less than completely remake the Roman Empire—legally, militarily, architecturally—and unite it once more into a glorious kingdom. And in large measure he succeeded.

Farmer and performer

Justinian was born Flavius Peterus Sabbatius, the son of a farmer whose childless uncle was on his way to becoming Emperor Justin I. Justinian was called to the capital in his teens and given the best education possible. He became a member of Justin's inner circle, took a variation of his name, and became Justin's most influential adviser.

Justinian was meticulous, patient, and by nature solitary. He could also persevere, sustaining long-range plans in spite of serious reverses—though he became unnerved when in danger. He needed so little rest, he was known by his subjects as "the emperor who never sleeps."



Leo the Great consecrated bishop of Rome


Valentinian's Edict strengthens primacy of Rome


Council of Chalcedon


Justinian I and Theodora I born


Justinian I and Theodora I dies


Gregory the Great elected Pope

When Justinian was crowned in 527, he named as co-regent his young wife Theodora. She was 15 years his junior and his opposite in nearly every way. She was social, witty, supremely self-confident, and never lost her head in a crisis. He adored her, and she was his most important adviser.

She had come to the crown from the gutter. Her parents were performers, the lowest strata of free society. Her father died when she was a child, and she took to the stage to earn a living. Most actresses were also prostitutes, and whispers to that affect followed her all her life.

When she became a Christian, she gave up her former life for spinning wool. In 522, she met Justinian, who was so enamored with her, he changed the law so that actresses could marry into high society. The following year, he married her.

Church and state

Justin longed to reunite the empire partly because of his philosophy of church and state. "There are two great gifts which God, in his love for man, has granted from on high: the priesthood and the imperial dignity," he wrote. "The first serves divine things, while the latter directs and administers human affairs; both, however, proceed from the same origin and adorn the life of mankind."

If both church and state perform their duties well, a "general harmony will result." It was in pursuit of this general harmony that Justinian enlisted his efforts.

Justinian sent his armies to take Africa back from the weakened Vandals in 533. He concluded a peace treaty with his Persian rivals to the east and conquered one Arabic or Slavic kingdom after another. In 535 he invaded Italy and fought the Goths for 25 years until they had been ejected and the peninsula virtually destroyed. By the end of his reign, Justinian had very nearly restored the boundaries of Roman Empire at its height—but at the cost of an empty treasury.

In 528 Justinian established three imperial law schools and appointed a commission to reorganize the legal system. He created what has become known as the Code of Justinian—the Corpus Juris Civilis—part of the authoritative statement of Roman law that was gradually accepted throughout Western Europe.

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