Justinian II

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Justinian II (Greek: Ιουστινιανός Β΄, Ioustinianos II), known as Rhinotmetus (Greek: Ρινότμητος, Rinotmētos - the Split-nosed), was Byzantine emperor from 685 to 695 and again from 705 to 711. He succeeded his father, Constantine IV, at the age of sixteen. He was the last emperor of the Heraclain Dynasty.


Justinian was born to Emperor Constantine IV and his wife Anastasia about 669, probably in Cyprus. Justinian was married twice. His first wife gave birth to at least a daughter, Anastasia, who was betrothed to Tervel of Bulgaria. By his second wife, Theodora of Khazaria, he had a son, Tiberius, who was co-emperor from 706 to 711.

First reign

Justinian II was made co-emperor by his father Constantine IV in 681. In 685, at the age of sixteen, he became the sole emperor upon the death of his father. His father’s victories had stabilized the unrest in the eastern provinces of the empire at the time of his death. After a invasion of Armenia, Justinian was able to increase the annual tribute from the Umayyad Caliphs and had entered into joint possession of Armenia, Iberia (Georgia), and Cyprus. His agreement to displace some 12,000 Maronite Christians from Lebanon, however, gave the Arabs a command over Asia Minor.

Taking advantage of the peace in the East, Justinian recovered the possession of the Balkans from the Slavic tribes. With a major campaign in 688-689, he defeated the Bulgars and took Thessalonica, the empire’s second most important city in Europe. Justinian then returned to the offensive in the East, but after initial successes, the Arabs conquered Armenia by 695.

Within the empire, Justinian attempted to suppress the heretic Manichaeans and other non-Orthodox traditions. These actions, however, increased religious tensions. In 692, Justinian convened the Quinisext Council in Constantinople to ratify 102 disciplinary canons from the Fifth and Sixth Ecumenical Councils that had not been acted upon before the earlier councils were adjourned. As Pope Sergius I of Rome refused to sign the canons, as “lacking authority,” Justinian ordered him arrested. The arrest was not carried out, as the emperor’s military forces in Ravenna supported Sergius and compromised Justinian’s relations with the West.

Discontent with Justinian’s rule arose as he and his supporters Stephanus and Theodotus extorted the populous to gratify his extravagant tastes and mania for expensive buildings. Under the leadership of Leontius, who assumed the throne, they rebelled in 695 and captured Justinian. After cutting off Justinian’s nose, whence his surname, he was exiled to Cherson in the Crimea. After a reign of three years, Leontius was dethroned and replaced by Tiberius Apsimarus.

Second reign

In exile, the Cherson authorities found Justinian unwelcome. In 702 or 703, he learned that these authorities were planning to return him to Constantinople. He escaped the city and was befriended by Busir Glaven, who was the khan of the Khazars. Received enthusiastically by Busir, Justinian received Busir’s sister as his bride. Justinian and his wife, renamed Theodora, lived in Phanagoria on the Sea of Azov. He was warned by Theodora of a threat to his life by agents of Busir, who had been bribed to kill him. After strangling his attackers, Justinian sailed by ship westward across the Black Sea to Tervel of Bulgaria. Aided by Tervel, to whom he awarded a crown of Caesar and the hand of his daughter, Anastasia, Justinian returned in 705 to Constantinople with the backing of an army of Bulgar horsemen. He entered the city through an unused water conduit and seized control in a mid-night coup d’etat. Once again Justinian ascended the throne and then had his rivals Leontius and Tiberius executed. Patriarch Kallinikos I was deposed and blinded.

His second reign was marked by unsuccessful warfare against Bulgaria and Cherson. Turning on Caesar Tervel, Justinian invaded Bulgaria in 705, and lost. Peace, however, was quickly restored between Justinian and Tervel, but in Asia Minor his armies met with defeat.

Against his opponents in Cherson and Ravenna, Justinian was more successful. In 709, Justinian ordered Pope John VII to recognize the decisions of the Quinisext Council. The order was backed by a successful expedition to Revenna. In 710, the new Pope Constantine visited Constantinople and restored relations with Justinian by agreeing to some of his demands. This papal visit was the last one to the city until Pope Paul VI visited Istanbul in 1967.

Rebellion again arose in Cherson against Justinian’s tyrannical rule. Led by the exiled general Bardanes, the rebels captured Constantinople while Justinian was on his way to Armenia and unable to return to defend the city. Bardanes was proclaimed emperor under the name of Philippicus. In December 711, Justinian was arrested and executed outside the city. His head was sent to Philippicus as a trophy. Tiberius, Justinian’s son, was then murdered on orders of Emperor Philippicus, the act being done in front of his mother and grandmother Anastasia, thus ending the dynasty of Heraclius.

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Succession box:
Justinian II
Preceded by:
Constantine IV
Byzantine Emperor
Succeeded by:
Preceded by:
Tiberius III
Byzantine Emperor
Succeeded by:
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