THE LAST EPOCH OF THE UNITED CHRISTIAN EMPIRE
By the beginning of the sixth century, the Roman West was no more. Of Latin imperial civilization there now remained only a few moribund institutions, a few noble houses, an indigenous peasantry and an occasionally beleaguered Church. Over the course of the sixth century, however, much of the ancient Christian Roman world was briefly reunited - and even to a certain extent revitahzed - through the efforts of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I (483-565) and his formidable wife Theodora (c.497-548).
An 18th-century print of a coin bearing the profile of Justinian I. His reign spanned almost four decades, during which he reconquered much of the empire lost during the fifth century, including North Africa, Italy and parts of Spain.
It is something of a testament to the fluidity of Byzantine society that a man of Justinian's provenance should have become emperor at all. He was an Illyrian and a descendant of peasants. But his uncle Justin I (d.527) had become Augustus of the East in 518, having achieved his lofty eminence by rising first through the ranks of the military; and Justin saw to it that his nephew received an excellent education in Constantinople — though the latter, his native tongue being Latin, spoke a heavily accented Greek to his dying day. Justinian was made Caesar of the East in 525 by his uncle, and then elevated to the station of Augustus - and so co-emperor — in 527; and on his uncle's death, later that same year, he became sole Augustus.
An Inauspicious Background
Theodora's pedigree was, if anything, less respectable than her husband's. She was the child of a bear-trainer at the hippodrome and had been an actress (and, like most actresses of her time, a woman of negotiable morals). When Justinian met her, though, she was a penitent convert to Monophysitism who had forsaken the stage for wool-spinning. He was captivated by her great beauty and by her extraordinary intelligence, but was legally prevented from marrying her sacramentally on account of her original profession. In 525, however, he changed the law and made her his wife; and in 527, on becoming Augustus, he conferred upon her the title of Augusta. This was more than merely honorific: theirs was, to a very real extent, a dual regency, even if Justinian alone possessed executive power.
Theodora's advice was invaluable to Justinian, her vision of restored imperial magnificence as ambitious as her husband's and her resolve perhaps superior to his. She was entrusted with diplomatic responsibilities of a sort enjoyed by no previous emperor's wife, and Justinian did not hesitate to accord her recognition in his official decrees and court documents. She succeeded in bringing an end to the imperial persecution of the Monophysites. Through her influence, laws were passed to improve the condition oi women — high-born and low — in the empire. Indeed, the truly creative and brilliant period of Justinian's rule, it could be argued, ended with Theodora's death.
The Byzantine empire's great enemy when Justinian came to power was Persia's Sassanid empire, and both early and late in his reign his armies were engaged in campaigns to the East. He was also forced at various times to commit forces to the north to defend imperial provinces in the Balkans against Slavs, Bulgars, Avars and Huns. But his chief military aspiration was to regain for the empire
[The court of Theodora is depicted in a sixth-century mosaic panel in the church of San Vitale, Ravenna. Theodora, a tall figure robed in purple, is flanked by ladies-in-waiting and male servants. Like the Roman army from which it evolved, the Byzantine army valued intelligence and discipline in its soldiers but was considerably more sophisticated in its organization and tactics. This allegorical painting by the Italian Mannerist artist Giuseppe Cesari (1568-1640) shows Romans and barbarians joining battle]
the Western lands now under barbarian rule, especially those where Catholic Christians had been forced to submit to governance by Arian 'heretics'. In North Africa, the settled Nicene Christian communities had suffered persecution at the hands of their Vandal masters; and even in Italy, the formerly tolerant Ostrogoths had begun to take prejudicial measures against the native Catholics.
Justinian's campaign to 'liberate' the West was conducted in large part by the brilliant General Belisarius (c. 505-65), who had already distinguished himself as a master tactician against the Persians. In August of 533, a Byzantine invasion force reached North Africa, and by March the following year Belisarius had broken the power of the Vandals in Africa, Corsica, Sardinia and elsewhere. In 535, the recapture of Italy began with Belisarius' invasion and swift conquest of Sicily, followed by his invasion of Italy itself and the occupation first of Naples and then of Rome. In Rome, for several months in 537 and 538, the Byzantines found themselves besieged by an Ostrogothic counterinsurgency; but Belisarius' men survived and, on breaking siege, drove inexorably north, capturing Ravenna - the seat of government - in 540.There a new imperial prefect was installed and the Byzantine government of Italy properly inaugurated.
Ultimately, however, Belisarius' military genius, as well as the admiration he inspired not only among his own men but even among many of the Ostrogoths - who offered to proclaim him their emperor - roused disquiet in Justinian. Belisarius had politely refused the honour offered him by the Ostrogoths, but Justinian seems to have feared for his throne nevertheless, and soon the Byzantine forces in Italy found themselves without sufficient reinforcements at crucial moments. This proved disastrous after the new administration in Ravenna - through its excessive taxation - had provoked a new Ostrogoth insurgency in 542. Belisarius' strategies were flawless, but his forces were too small; he lost control of all the cities of Italy other than Ancona, Otranto and Ravenna itself, and in 549 he was removed from command and recalled.
Justinian, however, had no intention of abandoning Italy to the barbarians. In 552, he sent a massive invasion force under the command of General Narses (c.480-574), a eunuch who had risen to power in the imperial guard, and an old rival of Belisarius (in fact, he had served in Italy in 538—9, but had been recalled then for his inability to work effectively with Belisarius). Narses was also an excellent tactician and, enjoying the troop strengths that Belisarius had been denied, he quickly defeated the Ostrogoths. At about the same time, Byzantine forces reclaimed the southern reaches of the Iberian peninsula for the empire.
Though the Byzantine empire never succeeded in restoring the West to its ancient imperial splendour, the Byzantine 'exarchates' of Ravenna and North Africa remained in place for more than two centuries; ultimately, though, the economic duress of constant warfare with barbarians in the East, and the impotence of Christian forces in the face of the Islamic invasions of North Africa in the seventh century, brought Byzantine power in the West to an end. The 'Italian gateway' to Byzantine culture, however, would remain open for centuries to come, with profound benefits for both sides.
Reforms and Rebellions
Justinian and Theodora were quite avid in their desire for a reform of Byzantine law and administration, and it is arguable that their greatest contribution to imperial glory lay not in the acquisition of territories, but in the re-organization of military, mercantile, civil and ecclesial government. They were clearly sincere in their desire to improve the conditions of their subjects. Theirs was a great age of public works: the building of hospitals, orphan asylums, almshouses and hostels; churches, monasteries and convents; aqueducts, bridges and roads.
Beginning in 529, the 'Justinian Codex' (also called the Corpus juris civilis) -a thorough revision and codification of Roman law — as well as other legal enactments, began to appear, along with curricular material for the education of lawyers. The process of legal reform continued to the end of Justinian's reign in 565. In many respects, the law under Justinian was 'Christianized', even if one could not describe it as ideally Christian. It made the manumission of slaves easier, extended greater rights to women, made divorce (which was usually disastrous for women) extremely difficult, promulgated laws protecting children and greatly reduced the number of capital offences. At the same time, Justinian's laws regarding non-Christians and Christian 'heretics' were, to say the least, prejudicial. He ultimately required universal baptism of his subjects, made it illegal for heretics or pagans to teach, removed pagan professors from the ancient Academy in Athens and persecuted those who were 'aberrant' in religion.
Justinian was reasonably successful in rooting out corruption in the civil administration of the empire, which naturally provoked enmity from a broad variety of'interested'parties.There was even a violent popular revolt in Constantinople in 532, which led to the destruction of many civil offices and part of the imperial palace, and from which Justinian would have fled had not his dauntless wife urged him to remain firm and to send the generals Belisarius and Mundus (assisted by Narses) to quell the revolt with whatever forces they could marshal within the city; this they did, ultimately driving the rebels into the hippodrome and slaughtering them there. Justinian made quite vigorous attempts to reconcile the Catholic and Monophysite Churches - as much from political
motives as out of deference to his wife's spiritual predilections — but they ultimately came to nothing.Their principal consequence was the Second Council of Constantinople in 553, which merely reaffirmed the doctrines of Chalcedon and, if anything, confirmed the schism.
All told, whether Justinian's reconquest of the West was ultimately worth the expense it exacted, the years of his reign (especially those before Theodora's death) were a period of remarkable cultural and political creativity. They laid the foundation for the resplendent Christian Byzantine civilization — in all its strengths and weaknesses - of later centuries.
(JUSTINIAN STARTED THE BUILDING OF THE HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE WHICH WAS TO LAST 1260 YEARS, ACCORDING TO BIBLE PROPHECY, AND HAVE 7 PERIODS OR HEADS; THE 7TH AND FINAL ONE YET TO COME AT THE END OF THIS AGE - Keith Hunt)
Of all the grand public works and monuments that adorned Justinian's reign, none was more magnificent than the 'Great Church' of Hagia Sophia ('Holy Wisdom') in Constantinople, designed by Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus, and completed in just five years. It was and is among the world's greatest architectural achievements, and was for centuries the chief glory of the eastern Christian world. However, it would never have been built had the original Hagia Sophia (a much smaller edifice) not been destroyed in the riots of 532.
In its full splendour, before centuries of spoliation stripped it of its treasures, the interior of Holy Wisdom was a magnificent tumult of gold, silver, porphyry, lapis-lazuli and polychromatic marbles. It was adorned with immense mosaic icons (added in many cases long after Justinian's time), and with inlays of semi-precious stone. One of its most remarkable features, however, was the quality of the light that filled the enormous central space of the building - a light not infrequently described as 'ethereal' or 'celestial.' or 'mystical'. The peculiar quality of this light resulted from the single most impressive architectural feature of the edifice: the gigantic dome that seemed to 'hover' above the nave.
The appearance of weightlessness was achieved; by constructing a continuous arcade of 40 windows at the base of the dome, above the main oblong structure of the building, making it appear that the dome floated above the church on a ring of light. In fact, the great weight of the dome was supported by four large and elegantly taped pendentives resting on four large piers and creating four enormous arches.To the east and west of the central dome, lesser semi-domes descend in a kind of cascade. -
It is said that, on first entering the Great Church after its completion in 537, Justinian cried out, 'Solomon, I have surpassed you!'
AND SO BEGAN THE PHYSICAL GLORIES OF THE HOLY ROMAN CATHOLIC EMPIRE IN THE WEST.
UNDER THE NEW COVENANT OF CHRISTIANITY, ALL PHYSICAL BUILDINGS AND OTHER PHYSICAL ARTIFACTS MEAN A BIG FAT ZERO IN THE EYS OF GOD.
BUT SUCH PHYSICAL OBJECTS CAN GET A MIND-HOLD ON HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF PEOPLE, WHO MISTAKENLY BELIEVE IT IS A PART OF SHOWING WHO AND WHERE IS THE TRUE CHURCH OF GOD ON EARTH TODAY. BUT IN FACT IT IS EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE OF THE TRUTH OF GOD.
INDEED AS JESUS SAID, HIS FLOCK OF TRUE DISCIPLES WOULD BE THE VERY LITTLE FLOCK, THE SALT OF THE EARTH, SCATTERED AND SPRINKLED HERE AND THERE, UN-NOTICED BY THE WORLD AT LARGE. YET THAT 6TH CHURCH AS IN THE BOOK OF REVELATION CHAPTERS 2 AND 3, WOULD HAVE LITTLE STRENGTH BY COMPARISON TO WHAT WE HAVE JUST BEEN READING, BUT AN OPEN DOOR WOULD BE SET BEFORE IT, WHICH NO MAN CAN SHUT; AN OPEN DOOR TO SPREAD FORTH THE TRUTHS OF GOD AS NEVER BEFORE IN HISTORY; WE SEE THAT DOOR TODAY IN THE WORLDWIDE INTERNET; FREE TO ANYONE WITH ACCESS TO THE THAT MEDIA.
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