Justin I

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Justin I (Latin: Flavius Iustinus) was the emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire from 518 to 527. Although illiterate, he rose through the ranks of the army to become emperor at the age of seventy. His reign is significant in that it was the beginning of the Justinian dynasty that included his successor, his nephew Justinian I, and it restored support of the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon in Constantinople.


Justin was born about the year 450 in the province of Dardania which was part of the diocese of Dacia. Dacia, with Macedonia, made up the prefecture of Illyricum, an area that suffered under attacks by Huns and Ostrogoths. He was of peasant origin, born in a village in Naissus (modern Nis in South Serbia). As a teenager he fled the border warfare and took refuge in Constantinople where he joined the army.

He arrived in Constantinople at the time emperor Leo I was organizing a new corps of palace guards, the Excubitors. Apparently showing great competence Justin rose to be the commander of the Excubitors at the time emperor Anastasius died on July 8, 518. Commanding the only forces in Constantinople at the time of Anastasius’ death, and by spreading some gifts of money, Justin was able to win election as emperor and was presented to the people at the Hippodrome on July 9.

On ascending the throne, and recognizing his lack of knowledge of statecraft, Justin surrounded himself with knowledgeable and trusted advisors. Among these was his nephew Flavius Petrus Sabbatius whom he adopted as his son with the name Iustinianus (Justinian). Throughout the reign of his adoptive father, Justinian worked closely with Justin in what came to appear as a seamless transition upon Justin’s death on August 1, 527 although Justin formally named Justinian his co-emperor and successor on April 1, 527, only four months before his death.

Religious policies

As a defender of the decisions of the 451 Council at Chalcedon, Justin’s ascent to the throne brought a complete reversal in policies concerning the Christian Church in Constantinople, as he rejected Anastasius’ support of the non-Chalcedonians. As a consequence the Monophysites came under attack and persecution as Justin’s government sought to quickly restore church life as defined by Chalcedon.

The bishops of the Constantinople region were called to a synod in Constantinople on July 20, 518 that pronounced anathema against Severus of Antioch and others. The decrees of the synod were promulgated to the bishops by letter from Patriarch John of Constantinople. When Pope Hormisdas received notification of the new events, he replied with a non-negotiable position that called for condemnation of Acacius, the Patriarch of Alexandria who had written the Henoticon and caused the ‘Acacian Schism’ during the reign of Zeno I, his heretical successors, all hierarchs who remained in communion with him, and the emperors Zeno and Anastasius. Patr. John under pressure signed the papal libellus in the presence of Emperor Justin, the senate, and the clergy on March 28, 519.

Hormisdas’ extreme position effectively meant excommunication of all the bishops in the east after 484. However, resistance to the papal position soon came and thwarted its implementation that proved, if anything, the futility of Hormisdas’ policy of intransigence in the face of the problem with the Monophysites.

The persecution of Monophysites continued until 520, after which Justin began to follow a more tolerant and pragmatic policy when dealing with the heresy, yet he remained devoted to the Chalcedonian orthodoxy.

Justin’s support of orthodoxy also resulted in a change in Constantinople’s relationship with the Arian Ostrogoths of the west who had an amicable arrangement with Anastasius. While Justin responded positively to the Gothic king Theodoric’s approach for maintaining good relations, and even nominated as consul Theodoric’s son-in-law, Eutharic, Justin’s anti-heretical policies affected the Arians greatly, particularly after 523. Using the threat of reprisals against the Orthodox in Italy, Theodoric sent Pope John to Justin to complain about Justin’s policies. Pope John was received cordially, yet Justin made clear who was in charge. Not happy with the results of John’s visit, Theodoric received John with a cold reception on his return to Ravenna. Both Pope John and Theodoric died soon after, blunting the dispute.

Succession box:
Justin I
Preceded by:
Eastern Roman (Byzantine)

Succeeded by:
Justinian I
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