Ancient History & Civilisation


Anastasius died in 518 at the age of ninety, to be succeeded by an emperor utterly different from him in character and background. Justin, the sixty-six-year-old commander of the palace guard, was born a peasant in a village near Skopje, Scupi, a city which was later to be re-founded and renamed Romulia Iustiniana. He was reputedly illiterate, Latin- rather than Greek-speaking, and, like most Latin Romans, was Chalcedonian rather than Monophysite in his religious sympathies. No event in late Roman history more vividly demonstrates that the highest offices of empire were accessible to individuals from the humblest backgrounds.75 An official version of the circumstances under which he took power is preserved in a long description by Constantine Porphyrogenitus.76Potential opposition from the group close to Anastasius, and especially from those who opposed Justin's Chalcedonian leanings, was swiftly curbed by a series of political assassinations, and the transfer of power to the new regime was relatively smooth. The monks and the hierarchy of the Constantinopolitan Church were all in favor of a strong supporter of Chalcedon, and the people are reported to have been won over by cash distributions. Justin was careful to stress the legitimacy of the proceedings by writing an official letter to the Pope at Rome, in which he announced that “we have been elected to the empire by the favor of the indivisible Trinity, by the choice of the highest ministers of the sacred palace and of the senate, and finally by the election of the army” (Collectio Avellana 141). His own obscure family was now brought to the center of Roman politics, and the new regime favored individuals from Illyricum, and in particular Justin's own family members, as surely as that of Zeno had thrust Isaurians into the limelight.77 Justin soon adopted his nephew, Flavius Petrus Sabbatius, now called Iustinianus, who was to succeed him in 527. Justinian was rapidly promoted to be comes domesticorum, commander of the praesental armies at Constantinople, patricius, and consul in 521. He was made co-Augustus a few months before his uncle's death (Malalas 17, 422, 18; Chron. Pasch. 527).

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