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Justin II (565-578 A.D.).

James Allan Evans

University of British Columbia

Coin with the image of Justin II (c)1999, CGB numismatique, Paris.


Justin II's reign is covered by a number of sources, though it lacks a Procopius or Agathias whose works have illuminated the reign of Justinian. Menander the Guardsman continued Agathias, covering the period 558-582; more than 70 fragments are preserved in the Excerpta de legationibus of Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus.[[1]] The Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius Scholasticus[[2]] covers the years 431-594, and takes a generally hostile view of Justin II. The third part of the Ecclesiastical History of John of Ephesos (in Syriac) covers the years 571-586;[[3]] John's view of Justin is also hostile though from a Monophysite standpoint, unlike Evagrius who was a Chalcedonian. John's feelings were understandable, for he was imprisoned by Justin II for his anti-Chalcedonian maneuvers. The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor[[4]] is also valuable for the period, particularly for Justin's building program in the capital. John of Biclaro[[5]] was a boy in Constantinople when Justin II became emperor, and his Latin chronicle covering the years 567-590 sheds some light on the period. Gregory of Tours[[6]] makes passing references to both Justin and Sophia, which are valuable because they are contemporary. Paul the Deacon's History of the Lombards[[7]] was written two centuries after Justin's reign, but it is neverthless important for the story of the Lombard invasion of Italy.

Justin does have one encomiast, Flavius Cresconius Corippus an African schoolteacher from a provincial town in the hinterland of Carthage, who had composed an epic on the victory of John Troglita over the Berbers, and recited it before an audience at Carthage as part of the victory celebration there sometime between 549 and 553. That success seems to have launched his career as a wandering poet, producing panegyrics of cities, called Patria, for wealthy patrons. He made his way to Constantinople, perhaps after the Berber rebellion of 563, and after Justin II's accession he produced four books in Latin hexameters in praise of the new emperor.[[8]] He is a contemporary source for Justin's accession to the throne. It is generally thought that he died in the early years of Justin's reign, perhaps in 568, but that is not necessarily true.[[9]] He may have lived on into the mid-570s. In any case, he was witness to Justin's early years, though a professionally prejudiced one.

Justin II's background. The last years of Justinian

Edward Gibbon paints a gloomy picture of the final period of Justinian I's reign: 'During the last years of Justinian, his infirm mind was devoted to heavenly contemplation, and he neglected the business of the lower world. His subjects were impatient of the long continuance of his life and reign: yet all who were capable of reflection apprehended the moment of his death, which might involve the capital in tumult, and the empire in civil war. Seven nephews of the childless monarch, the sons and grandsons of his brother and sister, had been educated in the splendour of a princely fortune; their characters were known, their followers were zealous, and as the jealousy of age postponed the declaration of a successor, they might expect with equal hopes the inheritance of their uncle'(The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter 45). The picture is exaggerated, although it reflects a sentiment among historians that with Justinian's death in 565, an epoch had ended and what lay in the future was decline. There were, in fact, two men who had a good claim to succeed Justinian. Both were named Justin.

The first of these, and probably the better man, was Justin the son of Justinian's cousin Germanus. He had inherited his father's military ability. Germanus had suffered from the empress Theodora's dislike, and having no child by Justinian (she did have a bastard daughter, and possibly a bastard son too, if we can believe the dubious testimony of Procopius' Secret History), she faced the distasteful possibility that one of Germanus' children might inherit the throne. She did what she could to prevent it. Theodora had been dead for seventeen years when Justinian died; yet it was perhaps his memory of her which prevented Justinian from naming Germanus' son as his successor. The other Justin was the son of Justinian's sister Vigilantia, and his wife Sophia was probably Theodora's niece, the daughter of one of her sisters, either Comito or Anastasia.[[10]] In 552, Justinian had named him to the office of cura palatii, which in the 5th century had usually been held by an official with the rank of spectabilis, who was in charge of day-to-day affairs and business in the palace. But with Justin's appointment, the office took on new significance.[[11]] Thus Justin the son of Vigilantia was in Constantinople at Justinian's death and could count on the support of the patriarch, John of Sirimis a.k.a John Scholasticus, as well as that of the Count of the Excubitors, Tiberius, who would eventually succeed him to the throne. Justin the son of Germanus was Master of the Soldiers in Illyricum and was guarding the Danube frontier. His supporters in the Capital were outmaneuvered by the speed and smooth efficiency with which his rival's cabal engineered the succession. When Justinian breathed his last, the only official present was the praepositus of the Sacred Bedchamber, and he claimed that before his death, Justinian had named Justin, the son of Vigilantia, his successor. There was no one in a position to gainsay it.

Evagrius,[[12]] who disliked Justin II, reported that the two Justins had made a gentleman's agreement before Justinian's death that whoever became emperor assign his namesake second place in honor. Thus when Justin, the son of Vigilantia, became emperor, he recalled the other Justin and received him affably, but then he withdrew his bodyguard, refused him access to himself and finally sent him to Alexandria, where he was murdered in his bed. The report continued that Justin II and empress Sophia wanted to see the head of Justin, son of Germanus, after his murder and when it was brought to them, they kicked it. Sophia was blamed: John of Biclaro who was in Constantinople at the time and would have known the rumors of the day, reported that Justin was killed in Alexandria by a faction loyal to Sophia.[[13]] This much is true: Justin II had his rival murdered. However Justin II continued to use the services of Germanus' other son, Justinian, who like his brother was a highly competent military commander.

The empire which Justin II inherited had expanded greatly as a result of Justinian's policy of reconquest. In the east, Byzantium held the western part of Armenia and the frontier with Persia ran between the imperial fortress of Daras and Nisibis, which was under Persian control. It embraced the Negev desert, the Sinai peninsula, Egypt south to Philae at the First Cataract, and North Africa as far west as Mauretania. Septimum (Tangiers) was Byzantine and across the Strait of Gibraltar in Spain, the area around Malaga and Cartagena was under imperial control,[[14]] as well as the Balearic Islands, Sardinia and Corsica, Malta and Sicily, and nearly all of present-day Italy. In the Balkans there were still no permanent Slavic settlements south of the Danube.[[15]] The Byzantine grip on the Danube frontier was still firm,[[16]] but north of it were Slavs, Gepids and Lombards, and in 558, the Avars, newly arrived from the Russian steppe whence they had been ousted by their former subjects, the Turks. They had sent envoys to Justinian and concluded an alliance which included a subsidy.

The eastern frontier was relatively peaceful. In 562, Persia had concluded a fifty-year peace which required a yearly subsidy; the subsidy for the first seven years had been paid right away, and in the eighth year, the subsidy for the next three years would fall due. With the eleventh year, the subsidy was to become an annual payment. Justinian's policy of paying potential enemies to stay outside the frontiers and keep the peace was bitterly criticized, as any reader of Procopius' Secret History will realize, but judged from a purely fiscal standpoint, it made sense. Wars were more expensive than subsidies, and some of the gold sent to these potential enemies would find its way back across the frontier, for it would be used to buy the products of the empire. However Justinian left a host of unpaid debts behind him. One of Justin II's first moves was to pay off Justinian's IOUs, for Justinian in his last years had raised money by forced loans; moreover, his focus on religious dogma had left no room for attention to the impending financial crisis.[[17]] Justin's parsimony, and the reputation for avarice[[18]] to which it gave rise, was mandated by his predecessor's financial policies.

Imperial unity also depended upon theological peace, and here Justinian left a darker legacy. He died just as he was about to enforce a decree making the heresy of aphthartodocetism, an extreme form of Monophysitism, the official belief of the empire. The patriarch of Constantinople, Eutychius, had been hustled off into exile for opposing Justinian's decree. His place was taken by John of Sirimis, or John Scholasticus, whose theology was Chalcedonian, though he managed to postpone a collision with Justinian long enough for death to claim the old emperor. Justinian died just in time to abort a potentially disastrous church crisis.

However, the division between the Chalcedonians and the Monophysites was as wide as ever, and now that the Monophysites had priests and bishops of their own, it was less likely that the schism would ever be healed. The empress Sophia, like her aunt, had been openly Monophysite, and Justin II had possibly leaned in the same direction, but realizing that Monophysite sympathies would be a political liability for an ambitious emperor-in-waiting, both had become solidly orthodox. Sophia's conversion took place just three years before Justinian's death.[[19]]

Justin's accession.

For Justin's accession we have the account of Corippus, who loses no opportunity to present Justin in a good light; nonetheless it is clear that the affair was stage-managed by an inside group of palace officials. Justinian died suddenly in the night of November 14/15, probably in his sleep. However, the chamberlain Callinicus claimed that, with his last breath, he had designated Justin, the son of Vigilantia, as his heir. Callinicus and a group of senators who had been roused from their beds hurried to Justin's palace where Justin and Vigilantia met them, and reported Justinian's death and his dying behest. Justin made the customary show of reluctance, but he yielded speedily enough to the entreaties of the senators, and, escorted by them, he and Sophia went to the Great Palace. The Excubitors, commanded by Tiberius, who was Justin's supporter and his eventual successor, blocked the palace doors. Before Justinian's death was reported in the city, Justin had been crowned by the patriarch. By morning, the coronation was a fait accompli. Justin appeared, wearing the crown, in the imperial box, the kathisma in the Hippodrome, where he received the acclamations of the people and addressed them. The day after his inauguration, Justin crowned his wife Sophia as Augusta. Then he moved quickly to win popular support. Justinian's debts were repaid; taxation arrears were cancelled. The consulship which had lapsed in 541 was restored, which opened a window of opportunity for the kind of largess that won plaudits. All went well.[[20]]

Assassination speedily removed the other Justin, the son of Germanus. Contemporaries blamed Sophia. At any rate, it may have been the murder of the other Justin which sparked a conspiracy in the second year of Justin's reign. Two senators, Aetherios and Addaios, were involved. Aetherios' nephew had been involved in the so-called 'Bankers' Plot' against Justinian in 562[[21]] but Aetherios himself and Addaios had a clear record of loyalty and service; in Justinian's last year, on his orders they had taken a detachment of troops into the church of SS. Sergius and Bacchus where a service was going on, and seized the patriarch Eutychius who had resisted the emperor's aphthartodocetist decree. Now they evidently planned to poison Justin. Aetherios confessed and named Addaeus as his accomplice. Both were executed.[[22]]

Justin's foreign relations.

i) Europe

'Proud, arrogant, unshakeable in his self-confidence, (Justin) believed implicitly that with wisdom and determination, those enemies (of the empire) would be scattered - and that he was the man to do it.' Thus John Julius Norwich in his popular Byzantium. The Early Centuries.[[23]] Norwich has neatly summed up the attitude which Justin assumed at his accession. Within a week, he had received envoys from the Avars and refused them the subsidies which his predecessor had paid them. Justin was to be disappointed and his disillusion led to madness. But that was in the future.

Sirmium, modern Sremska Mitrovica, was a bone of contention. It had been briefly the seat of the praetorian prefect of Illyricum until the Huns forced the prefect to relocate swiftly to Thessolonika. After the Hun conquest (440/1), Justinian regained it briefly in 535, but lost it within a year to the Gepids.[[24]] In 549, however, the Gepids were at war with the Lombards, who sought an alliance with Justinian, pointing out that they were orthodox Christians whereas the Gepids were Arians.[[25]] Whether Justinian was deceived by this claim or not, he sent 15,000 troops to aid the Lombards, which by the standards of the day was an exceptionally large force, and it seems to have frightened the Gepid king into a truce with the Lombards. Once the imperial army had left the scene, however, the Gepid-Lombard truce broke up, but now the Gepid king Thorison and the Lombard, Audoin, found that the rank and file of their armies were unwilling to fight each other. Once again they made a truce. The Gepids still held Sirmium, though they had to cede control of some parts of Dacia Ripensis and Upper Moesia to Byzantium.

War between the Gepids and Lombards started again in 565, the year of Justin II's accession. The Lombards got the upper hand and the Gepid king Cunimund sought Justin II's help, promising Sirmium in return. In the second round of battle the Gepids were victorious with imperial help, but Cunimund broke his promise and kept Sirmium. The Lombards then turned to the Avars for assistance.

Faced with a Lombard-Avar alliance, Cunimund came once more to Justin, offering Sirmium again in return for help. Justin allowed the Gepids to believe he would send aid, but meanwhile he promised the Lombards that he would remain neutral. The Gepid garrison in Sirmium, thinking Justin was an ally, handed over the city to a Byzantine force and went off to join their army against the Lombard-Avar alliance. In the battle that followed, the Gepid kingdom was utterly destroyed. The Lombard king, Alboin, who had succeeded Audoin, slew Cunimund, severed his head and made it into a drinking cup: a savage act which roused the hatred of Cunimund's daughter, Rosemunda. Alboin took Rosemunda as one of the spoils of victory, and married her. It was an unwise union: Rosemunda eventually avenged her father. The Avars arrived too late to take part in the Gepid defeat, but they were in time to share the spoils: they acquired the Gepid lands east of the Danube. Justin II kept Sirmium, though the Avars coveted it.The Lombards acquired the Avars as neighbours.

They were prickly neighbours. In 568, the Lombards, finding their new situation too uncomfortable, left for Italy led by Alboin. Paul the Deacon, writing a couple centuries later, records that Alboin invited his old friends, the Saxons, to join him, and 20,000 men with their women and children answered the invitation. The horde contained others as well: Gepids, Bulgars, Sarmatians, Noricans and Pannonians (presumably inhabitants of the old Roman provinces of Noricum and Pannonia) and Suevi, who still lived in their separate villages in Italy in Paul's day.[[26]] They occupied most of Venetia on their arrival, and the next year, in 569, most of Liguria. The Byzantine forces were ill-prepared, and Italy was exhausted by a recent outbreak of plague. The year before the invasion, Narses, who had won the final victory over the Ostrogoths which had eluded Belisarius, had been dismissed from his command. The Liber Pontificalis[[27]] records that the citizens of Rome, weary of Narses' autocracy, had petitioned Justin and Sophia to have him removed; otherwise they would go over to the barbarians. Narses, learning of the petition, left Rome for Naples,[[28]] where Pope John III followed him and begged him to come back to Rome. Thus Narses remained in Rome until his death, watching the Byzantine defences in Italy crumble. He died in 574, old and wealthy, and his body was put in a lead coffin and taken back to Constantinople. Sophia is supposed to have been his enemy and to have exchanged insults with him when he was dismissed, but the evidence is not above suspicion.[[29]]

The Avars then turned their attention to Justin, whom they accused of giving asylum to some fugitive Gepids. The Avar khan Baian waited until the Byzantines had suffered a defeat at the hands of the Persians. Then in 573 or the start of 574, the Avars crossed the Danube and defeated an army which Tiberius, the Count of the Excubitors, led out against them. By this time, Justin's sanity had snapped at the news of the capture of Daras by the Persians in November of 573, and the empress Sophia promoted Tiberius as co-ruler, cajoling her husband into raising him to the rank of Caesar on 7 December, 574. Tiberius made peace. Sirmium remained Byzantine: the Avars did not take it until 582, by which time it was largely depopulated, but they did get 60,000 gold solidi and were well positioned to extort more.[[30]] Justin's defiant Avar policy had ended in complete failure.

Yet the Danube frontier still held. The remains of ancient forts along the Lower Danube indicate a Byzantine presence there to the end of the sixth century and even later. Yet early in the reign of Justin's successor Tiberius II, a horde of Avars and Slavs swept south. Circa 582 there was temporary but devastating Slavic and Avar attack on Athens. From 587 to 805, the Slavs controlled the eastern Peloponnesus.[[31]] When the new museum at Olympia was being built, a Slav burial was discovered and a Slav burial dating to this period has also been recognized at Corinth.[[32]] Justin II did not live to see the failure of his policy in Illyricum.

In the rest of Europe, Justinian's policy of reconquista was not quite completely in ruins, but the limitations of Byzantine power became painfully evident. In Spain, the Visigothic king Leovigild (568-586) undertook the political unification of the peninsula, and founded a royal capital at Toledo in imitation of Constantinople. This was a period of strong Byzantine influence: Leovigild and the Gothic kings who succeeded him adopted Byzantine court ceremonial and imperial regalia and took the empire as their model. But cultural and political dominance did not go hand-in-hand. Between 569 and 572, Leovigild attempted to reduce the Byzantine enclave in Spain, and captured Asidona and Corduba, but in 572 he made peace with Justin on the basis of mutual recognition of each other's territory. Not until ca. 624 did a Visigothic king (Suinthila) dislodge the empire from Cartagena and Malaga. In Africa there was a poorly-documented war with the Berbers who rose in rebellion under a king named Garmul and killed the praetorian prefect Theodore in 569. In the following two years, two successive 'Masters of the Soldiers' also met their deaths, and it took several years before peace returned.[[33]]

In Italy, Byzantium regarded its setbacks as temporary and continued to hope for a recovery. In the countryside, there was a network of castra manned by imperial and locally-recruited troops, where the rural population could take refuge, and the Byzantines held the walled cities. But these strongholds could be starved out; it was famine, for instance, that forced the surrender of Pavia (Roman Ticinum) after a siege of more than three years.[[34]] Alboin was murdered in 573 in an abortive coup d'état in which his wife Rosamunda was the leading spirit, though it is not unlikely that there was Byzantine involvement, for Rosamunda and her accomplice fled to Ravenna. The next year a similar fate befell Alboin's successor, Cleph, and for the next ten years, the Lombard horde fragmented into thirty groups led by dukes, one of whom made his headquarters at Spoleto and another at Benevento. The imperial forces did attempt a counter-offensive in 576, under Justin's son-in-law Baduarius, but he was defeated and died in Italy.[[35]] Tiberius' coronation took place two years later, in 578, and the envoys of the Roman senate carried with them an urgent appeal for military aid to the new emperor, but the empire had no military assistance to offer. It was busy with the Balkans and the East, and in Italy it relied on diplomacy backed by gold to subvert Lombard dukes or buy help from the Merovingian Franks.

Nonetheless, the empire did not give up and continued to try to win Frankish support against the Lombards. What ended imperial resistance finally was the coup d'état of Phocas and the murder of the emperor Maurice. Yet Rome, Naples, Genoa and Ravenna held firm. Genoa and Naples were defended by their inhabitants, Rome's defense was directed by the popes and Ravenna, safe behind its swamps, was the imperial headquarters. Under Maurice, emperor from 582 to 602, the Exarchate of Ravenna was organized[[36]] with the Exarch given entire control over civil and military affairs. Until Ravenna finally fell to the Lombards in 751, the Exarch maintained the remnants of Justinian's reconquest.

ii) On the Persian frontier.

The peace treaty of 562 between Byzantium and Persia did not settle everything. The question of Suania was unresolved. The Byzantines wanted it, for if they secured its passes, they could prevent Persian raids on the border areas of Lazica. Justin II just after his accession sent John Komentiolus (or Domentiolus) to king Khusro of Persia to negotiate, but to Justin's annoyance, John allowed himself to be outmaneuvered. The negotiations dragged on until 572, when Justin repudiated the treaty. When the subsidy that was to be paid Persia under the terms of the treaty came due, Justin refused to pay.[[37]]

Suania was only one factor. The Lakhmids, Arab allies of Persia, led by their sheikh 'Amr, continued to make raids across the imperial frontier in violation of a clause in the treaty which forbade the Lakhmids and their adversaries, the Ghassanids,[[38]] who were Byzantine allies, from warring with each other. 'Amr was killed in 569, and the Ghassanids under their sheikh Mundhir, defeated his brother and successor Kabus in battle ca. 570. But in the same year Khusro sent a Persian force to Himyar (Yemen) to help a Himyarite prince oust the Ethiopian garrisons, and bring Himyar within the Persian orbit. Himyar lost its independence and was put under a Persian governor.[[39]]

There was another factor as well motivating Justin's repudiation of the fifty-year peace treaty with Persia. Persarmenia, the portion of Armenia under Persian control, revolted and the marzpan (the Persian governor) Chihor-Vshnasp was killed. The cause of the revolt was the Persian attempt to erect a Zororastrian fire-temple at Duin, the seat not only of the marzpan but also of the Armenian patriarch or katholikos. Evagrius (5.7) reports that the Persarmenians wanted to be Roman subjects so as to practice their religion in safety, and they sent a secret mission to Justin II and Justin came to an agreement with them. When Khusro complained, Justin replied that he could not reject the pleas of fellow Christians, and in any case, the peace treaty had expired. Nonetheless, Evagrius adds with disapproval, Justin did not prepare properly for war.

For his part, the Persian king Khusro was not unhappy at the prospect of renewed hostilities. In 569 an embassy from the Turks of central Asia had reached Constantinople, bringing with it a proposal for opening a silk route which would bypass Persia. The Turks were the cause of the Avar migration westwards, for the Avars had been their overlords. Once the Turks had cast off Avar domination, they pursued a group of them across the steppe, building up as they did, an empire of their own which stretched from Mongolia to Turkestan and was now expanding towards the Caspian Sea. They had already helped the Persians eliminate the Ephthalites or 'White Huns'[[40]] in 557, but the Persians recognized the Turks as potential enemies and abhorred their proposed silk route. Justin II, on the other hand, was very interested, and concluded an alliance which lasted until 576, when the Turkish khan broke it off abruptly. The alliance with the Turks increased Justin's confidence and annoyed Persia.[[41]]

The war started out well enough. The Master of Soldiers, Marcian, who was Justinian's nephew, won some initial skirmishes, and laid siege to Nisibis. But the siege dragged on and Justin, becoming impatient, replaced Marcian with a commander whom the army refused to accept, and the mutiny ended the siege of Nisibis. It was during the siege, however, that Justin picked a quarrel with his Ghassanid allies. The Ghassanid sheikh Mundhir had defeated the Lakhmids in 569 and 570, but he had suffered losses in manpower and he asked Justin for gold with which to recruit more fighting men. Justin was prone to explosions of anger,[[42]] and Mundhir's request infuriated him. He sent a dispatch to Marcian instructing him to kill Mundhir, and it fell into Mundhir's hands (autumn, 572). Deeply offended and probably a little frightened, Mundhir rode off with his tribesmen into the desert, and it was not until the spring of 575 that he decided to return to his old loyalties. The Ghassanid withdrawal opened the way for a raid by the Lakhmids into Syria in 573, and for a two-pronged Persian attack, with one spearhead under Khusro advancing to relieve Nisibis while the other ravaged Syria, took Apamea and sacked it, and then joined Khusro in laying siege to the great fortress of Daras. After five months, Daras fell in November, 573. Evagrius reported rumors that the commander had been negligent, or that he had betrayed the city. The news was too much for Justin. He went mad.[[43]] The empire was in crisis, and as if the emperor's insanity and the defeat on the eastern frontier were not calamities enough, there was another outbreak of bubonic plague in Constantinople.[[44]]

The Empress Sophia and the Accession of Tiberius.

It was the empress Sophia who stepped into the breach. She turned for help to the Count of the Excubitors, Tiberius,who was a loyal retainer with a military reputation which his recent defeat by the Avars had not tarnished. He was also a handsome, affable man, though a little too prodigal with money for Sophia's liking, and she thought she could dominate him. She probably would have preferred to rule herself, but the empire was not ready for a woman as sole regent, and on 7 December, 574, when Justin had a moment of lucidity, she persuaded him to appoint Tiberius Caesar.[[45]] To deal with the immediate crisis on the Persian frontier, she dispatched a letter to Khusro, bewailing her fate and reproaching him for trampling on a defenseless woman. She reminded him that when he had fallen sick, Constantinople had sent its best doctors to him, and they had healed him. Khusro was moved, and allowed Sophia to buy a first a one-year and then a three-year truce, which, however, excluded Armenia. It provided a breathing space used to build up the army, spending money lavishly, and Tiberius put it under the command of Justinian, the son of Germanos and brother of the Justin who had been Justin II's rival. In 575, Justinian won a major victory at Melitene, the metropolis of Armenia II, though he failed to save Melitene itself from destruction. In 578, the three-year truce expired and war flared up again along the Persian frontier.[[46]]

Sophia was determined to maintain her own position, and as long as Justin was alive and she was still Augusta, she refused to let Tiberius bring his wife, Ino, into the palace. Theophanes[[47]] reports that Sophia wanted to marry Tiberius herself, and she forced him to install his family in the palace of Hormisdas where Justinian and Theodora had lived before Justinian became emperor. Her tactics finally succeeded in making Ino move away from Constantinople itself. But Tiberius showed no inclination to abandon his wife and even before Justin died 578, Sophia was conspiring with Justinian, the son of Germanus, to replace Tiberius. Gregory of Tours reports a plot to kill Tiberius in the Hippodrome immediately after his coronation, and when that plan failed, and Justinian bought pardon with 1,500 gold pounds, Sophia continued to scheme.[[48]]

But once Tiberius became emperor, Sophia had eventually to accept defeat, however reluctant she might be. 'The factions of the Hippodrome' wrote Edward Gibbon, referring to Tiberius' coronation, 'demanded, with some impatience, the name of their new empress; both the people and Sophia were astonished by the proclamation of Anastasia, the secret, though lawful wife of the emperor Tiberius.'[[49]] Gibbon erred on one point: Ino, renamed Anastasia once she became empress, cannot have been a secret wife. But her coronation as Augusta must have been a bitter blow to Sophia, who clung to her prerogatives as long as she could, though finally, much against her better judgment, she moved into the Sophianae palace across the Bosporus,[[50]] which had been built by Justin.

Justin's Religious Policies.

The general tenor is clear. On becoming emperor, Justin rescinded Justinian's aphthartodocetist decree and tried to steer a middle course between the Chalcedonians and the Monophysites. Imprisoned Monophysite churchmen were released and exiled bishops allowed to return. Leading Monophysites including Jacob Baradaeus himself were invited to Constantinople and interminable discussions ensued which produced nothing. So Justin produced a new Henotikon, in imitation of the emperor Zeno's Henotikon, which had triggered the Acacian Schism. It had been Justin I's abandonment of the Henotikon and his persecution of the Monophysites which sowed the seeds of a separate Monophysite hierarchy. By the time Justin II became emperor, there already existed a Monophysite church which took its name, 'Jacobite' from Jacob Baradaeus. An imperial emissary presented Justin's new compromise to the Monophysite clergy and monks assembled at Callinicum. It was an accomodating document: it went so far as to rehabilitate Severus, the Monophysite patriarch of Antioch in the latter years of the emperor Anastasius. Jacob Baradaeus himself and the clergy were favorably inclined, but the monks would have nothing to do with it. The meeting ended with a violent spat within the Monophysite ranks, between the moderates and the extremists.

Justin tried again with a new edict which recognized the One Nature of the Logos, while asserting at the same time, the distinction between the natures of Christ, but without mentioning Chalcedon. Yet the Monophysites were obdurate, whereupon Justin turned to persecution, seconded by his Chalcedonian patriarch, John Scholasticus. The persecution continued until Justin lapsed into madness and Tiberius took over. Tiberius lacked the instincts of a persecutor, and in any case, he wanted to maintain good relations with the Monophysite Ghassanids, whose friendship was necessary for the security of the eastern provinces. But finally under the influence of Maurice, who was to succeed him as emperor, Tiberius too turned to persecution.[[51]]

That is a general sketch of what happened. It is more difficult to time the sequence of events with accuracy. Justin and Sophia moved first after Justinian's death to reassure the Chalcedonians on the one hand, while at the same time making conciliatory gestures towards the Monophysites. Justin cancelled 'those things which had been approved in contradiction to the synod of Chalcedon',[[52]] thereby abrogating Justinian's lapse into aphthartodocetism, and ordered the creed approved by the First Council of Constantinople of 381 to be read in all Catholic churches before the Lord's Prayer. John of Biclaro, who records this, puts it in Justin's first year, which he misdates to 567. But his report, once the date is corrected, shows that Justin's first concern was to distance himself from the heresy which Justinian had adopted in the final months of his life.

At the same time, Justin received the aged Monophysite leader Theodosius with honor, and sponsored a series of meetings of the Monophysite bishops in Constantinople. The chair was the strongly Chalcedonian patriarch of Constantinople, John Scholasticus. The meetings themselves were inconclusive, but Justin recognized their tenor and formulated his first Henotikon, which was presented to the Monophysite clergy and monks who assembled at the monastery of Mar Zakai at Callinicum. It caused a riot. But negotiations continued and a second Henotikon emerged which is recorded in Evagrius' Ecclesiastical History,[[53]] though Evagrius confuses it with the first Henotikon.

This second confession of faith was perhaps a little more hard-nosed than the first. It omitted any mention of the controversial Chalcedonian Creed, the name of which no Monophysite could hear without reacting with rage. Its definition of the nature of Christ was careful. 'While considering His (Christ's) ineffable union we rightly confess one nature, that of the Divine Word, to have become incarnate, by flesh animated with a reasonable and intelligent soul; and on the other hand, while contemplating the difference of natures, we affirm that they are two, without, however, introducing any divisionů' The credo confessed one and the same Christ, God and man together. All who thought differently were anathematized. The Monophysites were not impressed and Justin used force. The last chance for reconciliation was lost. But perhaps it had never really existed.


Justin II has not fared well at the hands of historians. A. H. M. Jones[[54]] refers to his 'megalomaniac and irresponsible foreign policy' and attributes his persecution of the Monophysites to an outburst of bad temper. Vasiliev calls him 'weak-minded and childless' memorable chiefly for the moving and pathetic speech he made when he appointed Tiberius Caesar.[[55]] Few historians, with the notable exception of Averil Cameron, have taken him very seriously, and even she acknowledges that there is not a great deal to be said in Justin's favor.[[56]] In his own day, he did not enjoy a good press. John of Ephesus was unkind, and little wonder, for he suffered from Justin's persecution of the Monophysites. But neither was Evagrius sympathetic, and he was orthodox.

We must admit that Justin's new foreign policy, which he initiated at his succession, did not yield notable results. He took the view that 'a Roman emperor should not bribe barbarians to keep the peace, but impose his will by force of arms.'[[57]] There can be little doubt that this was a far more popular policy in Constantinople than his predecessor's. Nor can we claim that a policy of appeasement would have produced better results. Yet the fact is that the empire, its manpower resources weakened as they were by plague, lacked the military strength to sustain a bellicose policy, and it had to return to Justinian's policy of using gold to manipulate its enemies on the frontiers.

Yet Justin dealt ably with the financial crisis at Justinian's death, though how serious the crisis was is debatable. He restored a healthy balance in the imperial treasury, and thanks to the fiscal prudence of Justin and Sophia, there was money available with which Tiberius could build up the armed forces after the loss of Daras. For this perhaps Sophia deserves as much if not more credit than Justin, for she was anxious to maintain the reserves in the treasury, and she scolded Tiberius both when he was Caesar and later, when he became emperor after Justin's death, for his lavish expenditures. However Justin's reward for his fiscal prudence was a reputation for avarice.

Yet he, like Justinian before him, was a builder. 'Being pious,' wrote Theophanes, 'he adorned the churches built by Justinian, namely the Great Church, the Holy Apostles, and other churches and monasteries, granting them plate and a full revenue.'[[58]] Theophanes also records his construction of the Sophianae palace across the Bosporus,[[59]] the palace of Deuteron on land he owned before he became emperor, a church dedicated to SS. Peter and Paul, another church of the Holy Apostles 'in the Triconch', and an addition to the church of the Virgin at Blachernae which made it cruciform. Theophanes also mentions repairs to the aqueduct of Valens and a church near Hagia Sophia, dedicated to the Theotokos. The cult of the Virgin was tightening its grasp upon the religious outlook of Constantinople, and she was well on the way to becoming what Athena Promachos had been to classical Athens: the great divine protectress of her most favored city.

Justin did not forget the west. In the convent of the Holy Cross at Poitiers there is still preserved a fragment of the 'True Cross' sent to it by Justin and Sophia. Diplomacy as well as piety motivated this gift, for Justin and Sophia were anxious to maintain friendly relations with the Franks. In the Vatican treasury there is a cross with the portraits of Justin and Sophia on its arms; it was given to the pope probably about 568. Justinian's dream of a restored Roman Empire emerged badly battered from Justin's reign, but until he lost his reason, he tried to maintain it.

Stories were told of how Justin's favorite amusement, in the madness of his final days, was being dragged around on a portable throne, and how he used to bite his attendants; one rumor related that he had eaten two of them. Organ music, played day and night, soothed him. In a moment of lucidity in December of 574, he appointed Tiberius Caesar with the name Tiberius Constantine, and on the occasion, he made a pathetic address to the new Caesar which is recorded in Theophanes, Evagrius and John of Ephesus. Edward Gibbon's rendering of it is worth repeating in part. 'Delight not in blood,' he said, 'abstain from revenge, avoid those actions by which I have incurred the public hatred, and consult the experience rather than the example of your predecessor. As a man, I have sinned; as a sinner, even in this life, I have been severely punished; but these servants (and he pointed to his ministers) who have abused my confidence and inflamed my passions, will appear with me before the tribunal of Christů'[[60]] Justin's last rational words will do to sum up his reign.


Cameron, Averil. 'The Empress Sophia.' Byzantion 45 (1975), 5-21.

________. 'The Artistic Patronage of Justin II.' Byzantion 50 (1980), 62-84.

________. 'The Early Religious Policies of Justin II.' Studies in Church History 13 (1976), pp. 51-67.

Evans, J. A. S. The Age of Justinian: The Circumstances of Imperial Power. London/New York, 1996.

Garland, Lynda. Byzantine Empresses: Women and Power in Byzantium, AD 527-1204. London/New York, 1999: s.v. Chapter 2: 'Sophia (565-601+), pp. 40-57.

Goubert, Paul. Byzance avant l'Islam. I. Paris, 1951.

Groh, Kurt. Geschichte des oströmische Kaisers Justin II. Leipzig, 1889, repr. Aalen, 1985.

Vasiliev, A. A. History of the Byzantine Empire, 2 vols., Madison, Wisc. 1928.

Karagiannopoulos, Ioannes E. Historia Vizantinou Kratous. ii: Historia meses Vizantines Periodou (565-1081). Thessaloniki, 1993.

Mango, Cyril and Scott, Roger. with the assistance of Geoffrey Greatrex, The Chronicle of Theophanes the Confessor. Byzantine and Near Eastern History A.D. 284-813. Trans. with introduction and commentary. Oxford, 1997.

Turtledove, H. 'Justin II's Observance of Justinian's Persian Treaty of 562.' Byzantinische Zeitschrift 76 (1983), pp. 292ff.

Villes et peuplement dans l'Illyricum Protobyzantin. Actes du colloque organisé par l'École française de Rome (Rome, 12-14 mai, 1982). Rome, 1984.

Wozniak, Frank E., 'Byzantine Diplomacy and the Lombard-Gepidic Wars,' Balkan Studies, 20 (1979), 139-158.

[[1]]See R. C. Blockley, ed. and trans., The History of Menander the Guardsman. Liverpool, 1985.

[[2]]J Bidez, I. Parmentier, eds., Ecclesiastical History, (London, 1989, repr. Amsterdam, 1964). French translation by A. J. Festugière, Byzantion, 45 (1975), pp. 187-488. For those who frequent second-hand bookstores, there is an English translation in the old Bohn Ecclesiastical Library, (The Ecclesiastical History of Theodoret and Evagrius, London, Henry G. Bohn, 1854.), and another published in 1846 by Samuel Bagster and Sons, as Vol. VI in the series 'The Greek Ecclesiastical Historians of the First Six Centuries of the Christian Era', no translator named.

[[3]]John of Ephesus, Iohannis Ephesini Historiae Ecclesiasticae Pars Tertia, ed. E. W. Brooks, CSCO 106. Scr. Syr. 54-5, Louvain (1935-6); repr. 1952; English translation: R. Payne-Smith, The Third Part of the Ecclesiastical History of John Bishop of Ephesus. Oxford, 1860.

[[4]]Chronographia, ed. Carolus de Boor, vol. I, Leipzig, 1883.

[[5]]T. Mommsen, ed., Chronica minora, pt. 2, MGH AuctAnt 11, pp. 206-20. Translated by Kenneth Baxter Walk in Conquerors and Chronicles of Early Medieval Spain ('Translated Texts for Historians' #9) Liverpool, 1990.

[[6]]W. Arndt and Bruno Krusch, eds. MGH, Script. Rerum Merovingicarum I (Hanover, 1885, repr. 1961). See also Lewis Thorpe, trans. History of the Franks, Penguin Classics, Harmondsworth, 1974.

[[7]]Paolo Diacono, Storia dei Longobardi, ed. Lidia Capo. (Latin and Italian translation). Vicenza, 1993.

[[8]]In laudem Iustini Augusti minoris, ed. and trans. Averil Cameron. London, 1976.

[[9]]Cf. Heinz Hofmann, 'Corippus as a Patristic Author,' Vigiliae Christianae 43 (1989), p. 362.

[[10]]John of Ephesus reports that Sophia was Theodora's niece (HE 2.10; 3.4); cf. Mango and Scott, The Chronicle of Theophanes, p. 355, n. 2. If her mother was Comito, presumably her father was Sittas, the brilliant young Armenian officer whom Comito married: see Evans, The Age of Justinian, p. 115; 155. Victor of Tonnena (sub anno 567) reports that Sophia was the 'neptis' of Theodora Augusta. 'Neptis' can mean niece, but its usual meaning is 'granddaughter'.

[[11]]See A. P. Kazhdan, ODB, s.v. 'Kouropalates.' After Justin, the title was regularly conferred on members of the imperial family or foreign princes.

[[12]]Ecclesiastical History 5.1-2.

[[13]]Chronicle sub anno 568.

[[14]]Spain and the Balearic Islands made up the province of Spania, governed by a Master of Soldiers of Spania: E. A. Thompson, The Goths in Spain (Oxford, 1969), p. 329.

[[15]]Karagiannopoulos, Historia Vizantinou Kratous, II, pp. 22-23.

[[16]]Cf. David G. Teodor, 'Origines et voies de pénétration des Slaves au sud du Bas-Danube (VIe - VIIe siècles)," Villes et peuplement, pp. 63-84, esp. pp. 64-66.

[[17]]Corippus, In laudem Iustini 2.361-4.

[[18]]Cf. Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks 4.40. Tiberius II, Justin's successor, who was by comparison a spendthrift, is regarded by Gregory as generous and equitable. The Liber Pontificalis (s.v. Benedict I) however, pays tribute to Justin's generosity to Italy; when Rome was threatened by famine because of the Lombard invasion, he sent grain from Egypt.

[[19]]Averil Cameron, 'The Empress Sophia,', p. 7.

[[20]]Evagrius, 5.1; Evans, The Age of Justinian, p. 264; Garland, Byzantine Empresses, p. 43. Sophia modeled her role upon that of her aunt Theodora: that is, as a partner in power. Averil Cameron notes that she was the first empress to appear on coins together with the emperor: Cameron, 'The Empress Sophia' pp. 10-11.

[[21]]Theophanes, A.M. 6055 (562/3 A.D.)

[[22]]Evagrius, 5.3; Theophanes, A. M. 6059 (566/7 A.D.)

[[23]]Viking Press, 1988; Penguin Books, 1990.

[[24]]Procopius, Wars of Justinian, 7.33.8; cf. Wozniak, 'Byzantine Diplomacy', p. 146. The Gepids occupied Pannonia Secunda and the Lombards had settled (at Justinian's invitation) north-west of them on the borders of Noricum.

[[25]]Procopius, Wars of Justinian 7.34.24. Procopius believed that the Lombards were Catholic (cf. Wars 6.14.9) but in fact the consensus is that they were Arians, and the Italians who encountered them when they invaded Italy in 568 considered them pagans. For the view that is generally accepted, note J. M. Wallace-Hadrill, The Barbarian West: the Early Middle Ages. A. D. 400-1000 (London, 1952; repr. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1962), p. 54: 'At the time of their entering Italy, the Lombard chieftains were mostly Arian Christians and their followers either Arian or pagan.' On this question see Steven C. Fanning, 'Lombard Arianism Reconsidered', Speculum 52 (1981), pp. 241-258, who argues that Arianism was unimportant among the Lombards and they, like the Franks, converted from paganism to Catholicism.

[[26]]Historia Langobardorum 2.6; 2.26.

[[27]]S. v. John III (561-474).

[[28]]The Liber Pontificalis also repeats the popular tradition (also found in Paul the Deacon, Historia Langobardorum 2.5) that Narses invited the Lombards to invade Italy, but this is improbable: see Vasiliev, History of the Byzantine Empire I, p. 172. However, Neil Christie, The Lombards (Oxford, 1995), pp. 61-63, thinks that possibly an imperial diplomatic maneuver to settle the Lombards as federates on devastated lands in northern Italy may lie behind the story.

[[29]]Mango and Scott, eds., The Chronicle of Theophanes the Confessor, p. 360, n.1. Paul the Deacon, Historia Langobardorum 2.5, relates the fully-developed legend that the Romans sent a petition to Justin and Sophia asking that Narses be removed, and Justin replaced him as prefect by Longinus. Sophia added insults to injury, among them a threat to make him spin wool with her women, a reference to the fact that Narses was a eunuch. Thereupon Narses retaliated by inviting the Lombards to invade Italy.

[[30]]Istvan Bóna, 'Byzantium and the Avars: the chronology of the first 70 years of the Avar era,' in David Austin and Leslie Alcock, eds., From the Balkans to the Black Sea. Studies in Medieval Archaeology, (London, 1990), pp. 114-117. In 578, the Avars were paid another 80,000 solidi, in 584, another 100,000, 126,00 in 604 and finally 600,000 in 622. When the Avar attack on Constantinople in 626 failed, the payments came to an end.

[[31]]John Rosser, 'Summary' in William A. McDonald, William D. E. Coulson and John Rosser,eds., Excavations at Nichoria in Southwest Greece (Minneapolis, 1983), pp. 421-434. In 805, Patras was refounded by the emperor Nicephorus I, who is credited with the Byzantine recovery in the Peloponnesus. For Athens, see Alison Frantz, The Athenian Agora XXIV. Late Antiquity, A.D. 267-700 (Princeton, 1988), pp. 93-94.

[[32]]François Baratte, 'Les Témoinages archéologiques de la présence slave au sud du Danube,' in Villes et peuplement, pp. 163-180; Bozidar Ferjancic, 'Invasions et installations des slavs dans les Balkans', in Villes et peuplement pp. 85-109, esp. pp. 93-94 . John of Ephesus reports that, three years after the death of Justin II, there was a massive Slavic invasion of Greece.

[[33]]John of Biclaro puts the victory of the Master of Soldiers Gennadius over Garmul, and Garmul's death, in 578. Cf. Karagiannopoulos, Historia Vizantinou Kratous II, pp. 30-31.

[[34]]Paul the Deacon, Historia Langobardorum 2.26-27.

[[35]]John of Biclaro, Chronicle, sub anno 576.

[[36]]It is first mentioned in 584. For a general account of the Lombard conquest, see Christie, The Lombards, pp. 73-91.

[[37]]See Turtledove, Byzantinische Zeitschrift, 76 (1983), pp. 292-230.

[[38]]The Ghassanid sheikh, al-Harith ('Arethas' in the Greek sources) who had been recognized as phylarch by Justinian in 531 and entrusted with the defense of the eastern frontier from the Euphrates to the Red Sea, died in 569 and was succeeded by Mundhir who made two lightning strikes against the Lakhmids. On the Ghassanids, see Evans, The Age of Justinian, pp. 86-89; Irfan Shahid, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century (Washington, D.C. 1995), pp. 339-346.

[[39]]See Shahid (n. 31), pp. 364-373. According to the Arabic source, Hisham al-Kalbi, who is probably reliable here, a Himyarite noble, Abu Murra went to Khusro at Ctesiphon to ask for help against the Ethiopians but Khusro had no interest in getting involved. Abu Murra lingered for years in Persian territory. Later his son Ma'dikarib approached the Roman emperor but Rome favored Ethiopia, which was Christian. He then went to Ctesiphon and found Khusro more receptive. Himyar remained under Persian control for sixty years.

[[40]]On the Ephthalites or 'White Huns' see Speros Vryonis, ODB, s.v. 'Ephthalites'.

[[41]]Evans, the Age of Justinian, p. 265; Dimitri Obolensky, The Byzantine Commonwealth, London, 1971, repr. Sphere Books, 1974, pp. 221-224.

[[42]]Cf. Theophanes (s.v. AM 6065, AD 572/3) who reports that Justin fell ill and became enraged with his brother, Bedaurius, whom he ordered expelled from a silentium (Bedaurius was actually his son-in-law, who died fighting the Lombards in 576. Sophia's reproaches brought him back to his senses. Shahid (n. 31), pp. 350-354, argues that the Chalcedonian patriarch of Antioch, Gregory, was responsible for Justin's suspicions of Mundhir.

[[43]]Evagrius, 5.9-11; Theophanes s.v. A.M. 6066-6067, whose account is garbled but not without value.

[[44]]John of Biclaro, Chronicle sub anno 573.

[[45]]Gregory of Tours, 5.19, reports that when Justin became insane, Sophia assumed sole power, but the people chose Tiberius as Caesar. Theophanes reports for the year A.M. 6067 (574/5) that Justin adopted Tiberius as his son and proclaimed him Caesar and in 577/8, in a moment of lucidity, proclaimed Tiberius emperor. See Averil Cameron, 'The Empress Sophia', pp. 15-16; A. H. M. Jones, The Later Roman Empire 284-602 (Norman, Okla., 1964), p. 306.

[[46]] Evagrius, 5.12-14; cf. Shahid (n. 31), pp. 396-398.

[[47]]S.v. AM 6071 (AD 578/9).

[[48]]Gregory of Tours, 5.30; cf. Garland, Byzantine Empresses, pp. 54-55. Theophanes, A.M. 6071 (578/9) reports that Tiberius crowned his wife Ino, renamed Anastasia, Augusta and Sophia was 'stricken in her soul' for, not knowing that he had a wife, she wanted to marry Tiberius and remain Augusta. Sophia cannot have been unaware that Tiberius was married and had children, but she may well have hoped to persuade Tiberius to leave his wife and marry her. See Mango and Scott, The Chronicle of Theophanes the Confessor, p. 370, nn. 3-4.

[[49]]The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ch. 45.

[[50]]Theophanes, AM 6072 (AD 579/80). John of Ephesus implies that Sophia refused to move from the palace. Garland, Byzantine Empresses, notes that in any case, she continued to be treated with honor.

[[51]]For an overview see Hans-Georg Beck, in Hubert Jedin and John Dolan, eds., History of the Church II (New York, 1980), pp. 457 ff.

[[52]]Quoted from Kenneth Baxter Wolf's translation of John of Biclaro.

[[53]]Averil Cameron, 'The Early Religious Policies of Justin II,' Studies in Church History 13 (1976), pp. 51-67; Garland, Byzantine Empresses, pp. 44-47; Evans, The Age of Justinian, p. 268.

[[54]]Later Roman Empire, p. 306.

[[55]]History of the Byzantine Empire, p. 130.

[[56]]'The Early Religious Policies of Justin II', p. 62.

[[57]] Jones, Later Roman Empire, p. 304.

[[58]]Quoted from Mango and Scott, The Chronicle of Theophanes the Confessor, p. 355.

[[59]]The Sophianae must have been built, at least in part, before Justin's accession, for Corippus mentions it in his In laudem Iustini: Averil Cameron, 'The Artistic Patronage of Justin II', p. 72.

[[60]]The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ch. 45.

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