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 Reconquest


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.


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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!'

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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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Keith Hunt