Justynian: Cesarz, Żołnierz, Św




In this author interview, I sit down with Peter Sarris and discuss his latest book: Justinian: Emperor, Soldier, Saint. It is an excellent historical biography that covers the importance of one of the most influential figures of the Early Middle Ages. We talk about Rome, Persia, the plague, Belisarius, and, of course, Hagia Sophia.


Hello and welcome to Western Civ in today’s bonus author interview I sit down with historian Peter sarus and we discuss his newest book on Justinian it really is an all-encompassing historical biography it touches on every aspect of Justinian’s life and his impact on the Byzantine Empire there’s whole sections

On of course military Affairs basadas the sassin Persian Empire and the reconquest of the West there’s also lengthy discussions of domestic policy specifically Justinian’s involvement in theology which is fascinating Topic in and of itself the historian discusses the rise of is soia and the church and the

Miracle that that was in terms of its construction there’s something in this book for everyone I know a lot of my listeners are Avid Roman history fans and so this is going to be right up your alley now the book is several hundred pages long so we do not have time to get

To everything I tried to touch on what I felt some of the most interesting highlights and also some of the more interesting historical wh ifs but if you’re interested in more information about Justinian go ahead and click the link in the show notes to purchase the book you will not be

Disappointed and so without further Ado here’s the Interview all right welcome back so as I mentioned a moment ago I’m sitting down with historian Peter saris and we’re talking about his most recent book Justinian Emperor Soldier Saint and I think the title really kind of summarizes to a large extent what is a fantastic book

And the complex personality that is the Emperor Justinian you when I was in undergrad I took a course on Byzantine history and it we discussed Justinian but it focused almost entire on Military exploits particularly his efforts to reconquer the West um and then when I

Was in law school took a history of law course and it focused on Justinian but Justinian in that case the lawgiver Justinian the Cod maker Justinian um one of the forerunners of early modern jurist prudence and so it’s interesting to think about them in a lot of

Different ways um but to start the conversation here I I think we should frame ourselves and remind the list listeners of what the Byzantine Roman cuz they would have called themselves Roman world look like at the turn of the sixth Century so we’re in 6th Century CE

And that’s the time that Justinian comes to power and so what what would the you know Eastern Mediterranean and generally you know European situation would have looked like at the turn of that 6th Century yeah from the perspective of Constantinople really at the start of the sixth century

Uh the East Roman Empire ruled from Constantinople was in what I would think of as a sort of position of ambivalent strength uh on the one hand it was still one of the two great superpowers of Western Eurasia alongside its great rival the cenan Empire of Persia uh from

His seas in Constantin noal the emperor had a sway extending over still Greece past the Balkans Anatolia Asia Minor Syria uh uh pales and Egypt particularly important given it’s the sort of the economic Powerhouse of the Mediterranean but beyond that in a sort of geopolitical sense there are

Two great challenges which are really I think playing upon people’s minds in Constantinople at the start of the century and just prior to Justinian coming to power the first is that over the course of the fifth century the Western Roman Empire had gradually disappeared and we have the emergence of

A series of independent Romano Germanic successor kingdoms under primarily Barbarian rulers now some of these rulers would still acknowledge some sort of loose uh overlordship emanating from Constantinople but others certainly wouldn’t and openly reject uh constantinopolitan political claims so you have an emperor in Constantinople who is claiming Universal Authority but

That Universal Authority is manifestly contested by the facts on the ground and core sectors of the Mediterranean Coastline are now under Barbarian domination and C ter of the Empire Italy North Africa Spain ghoul in particular so that’s the those are the challenges from the West to the east one factor

That had enabled the Eastern Roman Empire to surmount the crisis of the fifth century was that they had been able the authorities there had been able to negotiate a Dayton with the sesanian Empire of Persia both the Persians and the East Romans are place a common foe

In the Huns and so they cooperate against the Huns with one another at the start of the 6th Century that peace with Persia suddenly breaks down when the Persian sha cavad launches what the Romans perceive to be a completely unprovoked attack on Roman territory in Syria and getting the Persians out of

Syria requires a massive mobilization of Manpower and resources so you have this growing sense of insecurity in Constantinople resulting from an awareness that Roman power in the west is no more and now this intense sense of insecurity across the lands of the near East which also plays into Political conditions in Constantinople because

Many members of the Senate there own a states in the East so I think you have this sort of this paradoxical position but is still a great power its economy is booming it’s uh its population is rising cities are growing Commerce is thriving but in political terms it feels increasingly constrained and

Challenged yeah and I think one of the things that is always interesting about this era is that coming so close on the heels of the collapse of the West you know there’s has to be a question in the minds of a lot of people of is this a

Temporary situation is this a temporary reprieve for some western territories or is the Western Roman Empire gone forever and um the other thing worth pointing out here is of course just to remind the people who are listening at home that we are talking about a a geopolitical

Situation prior to the rise of Islam um so just bear that in mind as we’re going forward here that that is going to be a major shakeup that does come in the future but postdates Justinian now getting to Justinian more specifically for a second he isn’t someone that you

Would expect um to come to power certainly not in his early formative years um and the way that he does come to power is is kind of interesting um and leads to some interesting historical what ifs so I was hoping you could kind of walk through a little bit of his

Justinian’s background his family and how does he wind up being in this position of becoming arguably uh one of the most powerful men in the world yeah so I think we have to to wind back a bit um uh to the middle of the fifth century Justinian uh is born

Around the year 482 but we need to go back a little bit before that so Justinian and his family really come from the region to sort of south or Southwest of the city of Nish Roman city of nus in what’s Now sort of Southern uh Serbia and Justin would later found a a

City near the village where he claimed to have been uh born The Remains which you can still see now in the mid to late fth Century this was really the Empire’s sort of wild west uh is a Zone which had been subjected to massive military insecurity in the middle years of the

Century subjected to hanik attacks and attacks by Goths uh was clearly did enormous damage to the local infrastructure at the time when around the middle of the fifth century this is probably a region where it’s not clear who’s in control the Romans are claiming it other Barbarian groups are claiming

It it’s probably a sort of no man’s land where no one group is in total control but where poverty is endemic disruption has been massive now uh Justin Justinian’s family are basically peasants it would appear from the region around uh to the south of of n naus his

Uncle and really the rise of the family begins with his uncle Justin who a later Source tells us as a young man is a swin herd now as with a lot of impoverished but ambitious young men uh the young Justin wants out of the situation he finds himself and probably around the

Year 470 he and a couple of friends of his decide to head to Constantin they go there on foot in the hope of bettering their fortunes by joining uh the Imperial Army once in Constantinople Justin is extraordinarily Lucky in that he arrives at a moment when the authorities are

Overhauling the arrangements for the palace guard uh Justin we’re told is a striking appearance he’s tall he’s good-look he’s what you want standing outside the palace advertising Imperial power so he he gets uh recruited into the new uh guards unit in the palace so so this suddenly projects this swi herd

From the Balkans into the center of Imperial power in the greatest City in the Known World Justin is clearly a man of some Talent he rises up to the ranks and by the time he’s in his 60s he’s head of the palace guard and he’s acquired an education of sorts through the

Army he has a great career uh he marries a loving wife but they don’t have kids uh and so at some point uh it’s probably I would say about 490 uh uh uh Justin writes to his sister back home suggesting that she send her son to Constantinople to be raised by Justin

And she does this I think the boy is probably about eight and his name is Petrus uh once in constant and this will be our Justinian because once in Constantinople Justin will give this boy an education he will adopt him giving him the name Petrus justinianus where we

Get our Justinian from And he as and he then arranges for this boy to be recruited into the palace guards himself so we have as it were a career that opens up to Justin Justinian by virtue of Justin’s childlessness phase one phase two around the year 518 in the year 518 the emperor

Anastasius is ailing and then dies but he hasn’t made arrangements for his succession and there’s a struggle for power at the palace Court uh and finally it’s no one can agree on any between any of the obvious candidates so they agree on Justin to be made Emperor as a sort

Of compromis candidate in the expectation he won’t be around for much longer he’s in his late 60s now so Justin becomes Emperor and that extraordinary step that opens the way for Justinian now Justin doesn’t initially as it were uh uh uh appoint Justinian a very high office but he

Gives the young man a stage on which to advance himself and from that moment on From the Moment Justin is Emperor we see Justinian starting to try to prepare the way for his own rise to power s liing opponents having at least one assassinated it would appear I’m

Reaching out for allies in the church on the streets of Constantinople through the circus factions like sports supporters clubs reaching out for allies at court and progressively he manages to persuade his uncle to appoint him to a higher and higher rank until really by the time Justin is drawing towards his

Death Justinian has managed to get himself set in place as The Heir Apparent so it’s a series of Strokes of good 4 unee for the family and Justinian matched with and matched by very careful preparation and politic on Justinian’s part once his uncle or father has become emperor yeah it’s really interesting one

Of the things that I find fascinating about um both Roman history and Byzantine history is by looking at the individual Emperors and there there seems to me oftentimes and I’m certainly not the only person who’s ever argued this that there’s a great distinction in quality of Emperors often times between

Those who have to do something to obtain their position and those who are quote unquote born to the purple um and it I wanted I love that story and it’s important because I want to point out that even though Justinian does succeed Justin he doesn’t have to sure he

Doesn’t have to conquer the Empire he doesn’t have to win a civil war but by no stretch of the imagination um was he is no by no stretch of the imagination is he omus okay by no stretch of the imagination is he sort of just Bor to

This and this is something he’s going to get and that kind of brings me to my next question which is an impossible question to answer and I con seeed that at the outset but it’s a question that just comes up all the time you know whether whenever we’re talking about

Pre-modern individuals people want to know well what were they like you know what was what was their personality like you know how did how did they behave and of course we don’t have any tweets from Justinian uh we don’t have any I suppose they’re not called tweets anymore sorry

Um we don’t have any um we don’t have any video of him but you know we I think we can discern something of his personality so I was hoping you could tell us you know as much as you can you know what do we think Justinian was like

As a person and as an emperor yeah I fortunately because he leaves so much legal material behind in his own voice and you know have reason to believe that bits of it are genuinely penned by the emperor and we have theological tracks by him and we have

Accounts of him from written by people who are close close to the center of Imperial power we can actually come away unusually with Justinian uh with an emperor We Come Away the S empor whose personality really does come across from the sources quite consistently um in particular he’s clearly a

Workaholic um uh uh he tells us that he works deep into the night Knight and his critics confirm this he has a constant urge to micromanage when we look at legislation that’s emerging from his court it goes into the finest of detail on the levels of remuneration and command structures

On the very distant FES of Empire he’s sometimes been compared uh with Stalin compared to Stalin and and it’s and that comparison is largely to do with this this this obsession with micromanagement uh he has a a fiery temper and we see him uh losing his rag

On a number of occasions even with quite high ranking holy men and Priests he has a very prickly sense of his own dignity which is partly informed by the fact that as you alluded to okay he he is the son of someone who’s become emperor but the family’s background is quite uh

Obscure they’re from quite an insignificant background surrounding him at court are lots of members of very prestigious Roman senatorial families and his sense of his own dignity and his sense his um uh uh sensitivity to being slighted is I think sharpened by that he’s constantly in a hurry when whether

He’s writing to the pope about theology or to his Architects about constructions or to his uh uh uh his legal team about legal reform he’s constantly saying hurry up hurry up hurry up um and then in terms of his own mindset one thing that is a uniting thread from prior to

When he becomes Emperor all the way to his dying days is he is fascinated by Theology and obsessed with Christian doctrine in a way that’s really very unusual uh and we I say we can trace this e long before his Emperor so when he is really just a guards officer at

Court the nephew or adopted son of an emperor but still not yet holding very high position we see him writing to the Pope in Rome trying to engage him in detailed doctrinal discussion now this would have come across very strangely in Rome and is very unusual I think that

Really gives us uh an interesting insight into him he has a romantic streak uh in that rather like his Uncle he uh marries a wife it would appear the Empress Theodora uh really it’s only explicable in terms of a love match I mean she is a very lowly background

Herself and he could have acquired a much posher wife from Court circles who would have been much more politically useful had he uh uh wanted to and there were flashes of a sense of humor I think I found one joke in the entirety of his legislation it’s a very loyly joke but

You know we don’t have I’m not aware of many other jokes in Byzantine emperors um as a ruler he has enormous difficulty letting go or delegating responsibility and perhaps tied into that he has a tendency to exhaust those he works with um I said driven on by a

Very strong sense of moral purpose which ties in to the theological interests as well yeah when I picture the emperor Justinian I I often times picture someone I mean there’s there’s the famous Mosaic from Rena which is probably the image that just about everybody has when they think about

Justinian um but I I imagine someone meetings all day and then wanderings the halls of the palace unable to sleep at night consumed by thoughts of things going on in distant reaches of the Empire and it’s it it is remarkable the the level of micr managing that he

Attempts be and I say attempts because you know we are you know this is the classical age you know a message travels as fast as a horse can ride or as fast as a ship can sail so circumstances oftentimes may have changed dramatically by the time the message goes from

Wherever to Constantinople and then from Constantinople back um so to think that you’re going to be able to send relevant orders is is kind of an interesting Theory um for him to think um but I want to then ask a little bit about you you talked about this about um

The rise of saned Persia well not the rise but you know the the breakdown of peaceful relations between you know the Roman Empire Byzantine Empire and the cids at the start of the 6th Century um and Rome always has done typically well um when it has peaceful relations with

Whatever permutation of the Persian Empire it happens to be dealing with with that’s the parthians the Sans so on and so forth and tends to struggle more um when it has to engage in military Affairs and I think to an extent that’s because you know they’re the only two

Quasi modern States um they’re the only two states capable of marshalling the resources to engage in lengthy Wars of conquest yeah I mean you’ve got you different tribal entities you’ve got the avars you’ve got the Huns who might from time to time strike in but you’re not necessarily concerned that they’re going

To take large swas of territory and hold it U that’s not the case with Persia you might legitimately lose Antioch and not be able to get it back so it’s a big big big problem um what does Justinian do as a way to try to confront this Rising

Threat that’s I suppose reignited in the East yeah I think this is one of those areas where um because the breakdown in relation to Persia predates Justinian’s rise to power one arguably has the highest degree of continuity between his Reign and those of his immediate predecessors not just his uncle uh

Justin but also anastasius before him under whom the war with Persia has re erupted so broadly speaking one distinguishes between the direct Frontier Zone between the East Roman Empire in Persia that’s essentially the frontier between modern Syria and Iraq to all intents and purposes uh and then the the zones that are buted

To North and South Arabia and the Caucasus in that direct Frontier Zone Justinian follows in the footsteps of his predecessors in a massive program of investment in the defensive infrastructure of those Eastern Frontiers uh of that Eastern Frontier uh trying to achieve a measure of sort of

Defense in depth trying to limit the damage that any marauding Persian foe can inflict if they break through into Roman Terror that’s very much continuity along the the the desert Frontier the problem the Romans have is that their desert Frontier is is very extensive and largely undefended and so

Very prone to uh the Persians striking across the desert zone so there Justinian affects uh the uh uh uh uh the uh creation of a pro- Roman Arab tribal Confederacy known as the japanes who he will build up as agents of of Imperial influence in the region to try to block

Any ability on the part of the Persians to strike from that Direction with their Arab allies the nazarit this struggle for power between these two po these two powers in Arabia will start to have increasingly pronounced uh consequences in the Arabian World itself leading to much greater State formation and

Military development there which is important for the background to Islam then heading north in the Caucasus this is where in many ways the Strategic interests of the two Empire most Clash uh uh uh here we see Justinian uh crucially creating a new command structure creating a new field

Army under a new general to take command of warfare in the Caucasus we see him trying to use Christianity to uh extend uh Imperial influence in the region and also as Christianity is used to me as a means of sort of cultural imperialism in the Caucasian Zone and as people are

Drawn warn towards Constantinople that way he also seeks to impose much more direct rule on those Caucasian territories where the Romans manage to get a Toe Hold he tries to more fully integrate Armenian territories he tries to impose direct Rule and other Frontier ones so we have this combination of uh

Military uh tactics diplomatic tactics fortifications but also in terms of diplomacy especially later in his Reign he will really play upon a key feature of this asan Empire the cenans perceived themselves to be massively vulnerable to attack from the world of the Eurasian step that stretches out east towards

China uh hanik attacks in the in preceding centuries had done massive harm to the cenans so every time the Persians appear to be under pressure from a nomadic foe Justinian intervenes to try to extract greater concessions from the Persians and and we see him deploying that strategy I say

Particularly at the end of his Reign but it is a theme throughout when he engages with the great superpower rival to the east yeah it’s interesting you know a lot of times you know I’ll listen to people who are very critical of the Byzantine Empire and I’m just going to

Use that term for just to draw a distinction between that and the unified Roman Empire for the purposes of right now who are very critical of the Byzantine empire for being oh they’re too diplomatic as opposed to you know your the power of the of the Roman Legions you know marching across the

World which I think that ignores a couple of things first of all war is uncertain um you know there’s there’s no indication that if you go to battle that you’re going to win especially with an evenly matched opponent and second of all um let’s just face it Wars are kind

Of expensive um and diplomacy is a lot cheaper and it’s a lot cheaper to get someone else to fight your War for you if you can certainly as you point out um Justinian’s intervention with the tribal peoples of the Arabian Peninsula is going to um to some extent facilitate

The Arab explosion of military expansion that’s going to come later on but he didn’t know that at the time and I’m not going to sit here and Monday Morning Quarterback him from thousands of years ago I don’t think that’s wor any very important you just you just raised about

The the sub I Justinian is perfectly willing when he Dees it appropriate to buy peace with Persia through massive diplomatic subsidies and there is an interesting correlation I’ve spotted before in the sixth Century whereby because Justinian is in terms of his career structure a military man he’s in

The palace guards that’s the sort of the mindset he’s he he’s is is inculcated with in general terms it tends to be in the sixth and seventh centuries Roman emperors or byzantian Emperors of military background who are most willing to pay for peace it’s the civilian Emperors whose as it were political base

Are most anxious about their tax money being given away to barbarians who are most inclined to be aggressive on that front and to prefer War over diplomatic subsidies uh and that’s a very interesting correlation and Justinian very much fits into that uh that model uh as you say the military have a great

Appreciation of the dangers of War once it kicks off yeah I mean it’s true it’s it’s also true I mean if you even want to look at more modern history of um most most American presidents who have engaged in in most of the major conflicts are not the military

Presidents um they’re they’re not um they’re they tend to be the civilian presidents so it is interesting that and I think that that’s that is a theme that kind of runs throughout much of history is that people who have engaged in combat are much less willing uh to roll

The dice on other people’s lives than those who have not um which I suppose makes sense from just a practical standpoint um but and and not to jump around a bit but I want to make sure that we do cover all aspects of Justinian so I want to ask about the law

Code for a moment because his roles as a law maker it are really unprecedented in a lot of ways um and Incredibly dramatic and I wonder if maybe if you want to look at you know long-term contributions to society if maybe this isn’t the most important contribution that Justinian um

Bequeaths to sort of the western world is this this incredible law revision that he undertakes so I wondered if you could talk about that about what what is he seeking to accomplish by this and just how big of a project are we talking about here there are two aspects to Justinian

As a lawgiver which we have to think about both of which are very important and they’re interconnected first of all Justinian as codifier now when he comes to power the problem is there is just so much legal material in circulation that it’s very hard to work out what the law

On any given situation is and this is recipe for chaos and really the reason for this is that Roman law has in as it is inherited by Justinian has different sources of Law and different sources of legal Authority so you have laws issued by Emperors but you also have in

Circulation extensive uh legal writings by legal Scholars from earlier centuries which can be cited in court and in interpretation now an effort had been made earlier in the fifth century to impose some order on laws issued by Emperors uh and you have the collation of the soal theodosian code in the early

5th Century but since then many more laws have been issued by the subsequent Emperors so again that problem has returned there’s just a lot of legal enactments sometimes they’re contradictory how do you decide between which laws an attempt had also been made to try to give priority to some legal

Scholars and their writings over others but even in terms of those given precedents you’re still talking about you know sort of around three million lines of Latin text or 2,000 volumes so this is a huge mass of material for people to try to Marshall when deciding the law now Justinian decides very early

On in his Reign to impose order on this situation and to edit and boil down these legal texts so as to express a single unified opinion and will presented as that of Jus inion and it’s a sign of how successful he and his Commissioners are that it’s almost impossible for us to

Really work out in any detail now what Roman law was like before they got to work because they’re so good at as it were airbrushing out what they don’t approve of uh so we have first of all the uh order 528 a year after comes to power to issue his own codex replacing

The theodosian code uh reforming all the inherited legislation issued by Emperors to express a single unified will and and model as it were uh removing contradictions and what have you that initially complete by 529 although there’s signs that his law Commissioners have done it in too much of a hurry

Because he’s been urging them on to aggressively and they end up having to produce a second version in 534 but then more extraordinarily he does tries something which no one had ever tried before four which was to impose order on this swirling mass of juristic opinions written by the the legal Scholars the

Soal jsh consults uh and in an extraordinary uh uh uh program between 530 and 533 his law Commissioners go through these inherited legal texts and reduce them by 95% to create this extraordinarily condensed version of Roman legal thinking which can be used more readily alongside the laws of the Codex now it’s

Still a massive work when it emerges I mean Justinian’s digest is still one and a half times the size the Bible uh but it’s an extraordinary achievement and Justinian tells us when he started giving instructions that it be put into effect the compilation the digest many said it was impossible others say it

Would take 10 years his law Commissioners get it done in three at the same time they also produce a new legal textbook the institutes which is like a map of the law showing how these different bits of the law and Roman laws a system cohere and operate so that’s the codification and

That is the form then in which Roman law will be received by subsequent European societies and really it’s the common law of Europe until Napoleon issues his own code in the 19th century but at the same time he’s also issuing an enormous amount of legislation himself and once again here

We see his uh his really interest in the law long before he comes across his chief legal officer tribonian who he relies upon for the codification to a great extent and we see this from the fact for example that you know Justin the first his uncle wasn’t a lazy

Administrator or a lazy Emperor but we have this period of five months during which Justinian is co-emperor alongside Justin because Justin is um is is now ailing and it is a remarkable fact that a third of all the laws we have from Justin’s Reign are issued during those

Five months when Justinian has managed to get himself alongside him in power in his eight and a half year reign we for his eight and a half year reign we have about 30 laws that survived from Justin as Emperor for the first 8 years of Justinian’s Reign we have over 400 I

Mean the the pace of legislation just Skyrocket and we see him intervening on almost every aspect of life as live in Roman society at this time he’s codifying the Roman law of marriage he’s christianizing it every aspect really is addressed and he starts to push Roman legal thinking in fundamentally new

Directions which are also going to lay the foundations for really Byzantine law which has very different conceptions of things like the family for example as compared to classical Roman law and this is something emerging from Justinian’s Court during this extraordinary period of legal Act activism yeah this it’s interesting as

As you’re talking you know I I don’t want to like no I don’t want to call other like previous Roman emperors or Byzantine emperors lazy but certainly by comparison to Justinian um most people look like well what are you doing taking Saturdays and Sundays off you know he’s

He works non-top and this is the sort of project that only somebody who has this level of sort of dedication to the state and to statecraft is going to be able to undertake um and it’s just if you take nothing else away from this conversation today just remember that when you think

About European common law and to an extent American common law because of course we adopt English common law as well you know it forms the basis it comes from Justinian Justinian we like you say we don’t really have a a sense of what Roman law was prior to this

Point because of the massive reorganization and restructuring and to an extent streamlining of everything that we have I mean that’s a huge takeaway um another one that I want to ask about is a sopia which of course um the massive Church constructed net today of course it’s a mo I think it’s

Actually a museum um or maybe it’s a mosque I can’t MOS oh it’s a mosque again okay thank you um I I know that it had gone um both ways so um but I I think it’s you know to to understand what someone would have experienced in the sixth Century

Visiting this site I think is just almost mindblowing you write the book it’s nothing less than miraculous the construction of this building um and I wanted you to break that down for a second because I think after reading that your chapter or your section of the

Book on the AOS Sophia I came away with that exact same word miraculous this is nothing less than a miracle um and I think people in that time period would have seen it that way too so what what is it that makes the construction of is sopia so

Miraculous well I think for those worshiping within it and this is something very hard to uh really appreciate when you go and visit the modern the building in its current state not the modern building in its current state uh due to the number of Windows M

Heavy that have been blocked out is that con that hagas Sophia as reconstructed by Justinian after the the niker riots is an extraordinary combination of acoustic engineering and lighting engineering uh and uh um as it were it it attempt to create a total sensory experience for the

Worshipper and we’ become more and more aware of this thanks to Fantastic work being done by acoustic engineers and also by musicologists such as the group who perform in the US a lot capella Romano have done amazing work reconstructing the Liturgy of the great church at its Heights and when you you

Draw these things together you get a a real sense of the very careful the extraordinary evocation of the numinous which the authorities are aiming at and which they achieve because even Justinian’s critics like procopius emphasize this then beyond that in terms of how people would have UND it as a sort of

Miraculous structure I think you know you’ve touched upon the two crucial ones it is the extraordinary speed with which it is constructed to start off with I mean uh it’s destroyed during the Nik the old Hagia sfia is destroyed during the nikari of January 532 the new Hagia Sophia is formly

Inaugurated barely 5 years later December 537 now you compare that to the the length of time it would take to build Med Med medieval cathedrals in the west and you get a sense of how staggering that is it’s a gargantuan mobilization of Manpower and resources later Byzantine observers would assume

That it was the work of a miracle that just didn’t be given the design by an Angel they claimed that 10,000 work were required and that it cost the equival equivalent of a year’s tax revenues from Egypt now those aren’t necessarily real figures but they give you a sense of how uh

Byzantines understood the scale of the project the speed is something really worth emphasizing though because in order to construct it Justinian has to ransack the cities of the near East to get the building materials which is why actually it’s a bit hodge podge inside uh you know some know not all the

Columns are the same length and some have had to be S doubled up and what have you it’s uh you can see once again Justinian’s always in a hurry and you see that actually in the internal construction of Hagia Sophia but its scale is also exceptional I mean the

Internal height of it beneath the central Dome is equivalent to a 15 story B building it would be the largest doed construction anywhere in the world until the 16th century and it is domed I mean no Roman Emperor had ever attempted to build a doed structure on this scale and

This really clearly pushes his Engineers to the absolute limits of their their knowledge and their technical capacity and once again I think both in the in his architecture and to some extent in his lawmaking and in some of his military Endeavors I mean he he he

Really pushes those under him to the to the maximum sometimes up to and just beyond what they’re really capable of yeah and at the speed by the way for those who want me to put this into context for you for a second and some of this is a little hyperbole but you know

Not tram took about 200 years you know if you want to go from beginning to end by comparison to five for this it’s and I mean if you want to talk about Miracle yeah I mean it would seem like it would be conceivable for someone in the military um perhaps a

Noble to be away from the city for 5 years and come back and it’s done um and that I mean that in terms of pre-modern building capacity that’s unheard of that’s just simply unheard of for a project of this scale and shape and again I think gives us an indication of

Just Indian’s personality and his drive to see this project finished not 20 years from now right now I it done today and that’s when we’re going to get it done all right let’s talk about the West um cuz you know most people when they think Justus inian are going to than

Bellis Arius and his efforts to reconquer the Lost Roman territories in the west and it starts with North Africa and is kind of shockingly um I suppose um or maybe maybe surprisingly easily successful um but you know to start you know what gets Justinian involved in

North Africa cuz it would seem like he has plenty on his plate with the saned Empire yeah so so North Africa just by way of a bit of background had fallen to this group the vandals in the fifth century uh Carthage Falls to them in 439 and they establish a very prosperous and

Very it would appear stable Kingdom uh initially now the Romans had last attempted to intervene there in 468 when an imperial Fleet had been destroyed by the fire ships of the band King gik the Byzantine armad is wiped out and there after the Byzantine policy is one of

Positive engagement really in so far as they can but there’s I think a sense in which the authorities in Constantinople are always minded to intervene in Africa if they get the chance one reason is because it’s so prosperous so the landscape of North Africa is good for

Tax revenues if you can get it back second the vandals have a major Fleet and that can pose a threat to East Roman continuing control of the sea Lanes of the central and Eastern Mediterranean uh uh should that be a problem and lastly the vandals are uh followers of a fourth

Century Churchman called Aras who was regarded as a heretic in Constantinople uh and uh there are constant reports of the members of the Imperial the So-Cal Catholic or Orthodox Church being persecuted at the hands of the Aryan Vandal authorities so you have all these reasons for byzantian to be

Minded perhaps to intervene should the opportunity arise now Justinian has um courted previously the heir to the Vandal Throne a certain kilder could come to power in 523 and under whom the treatment of the Catholic clergy seems to improve and we start seeing a diplomatic tilt back towards

Constantinople but hildick is not a very militarily effective King and in these early medieval Societies in the West Military Effectiveness is the key requirement for good kingship and eventually by virtue of his military failings in 530 he is brought down by his cousin gimma and we start seeing

Signs of tension and of this Kingdom starting to fragment the governor of Sardinia casts off Vandal overlordship there’s Revolt by the Romans in Tripoli so this gives Justinian an opportunity and a pretext to intervene but interestingly he doesn’t do so then in 530 instead the intervention only comes

After first of all a peace has been negotiated with Persia in 532 and also in the aftermath of the Nika riots when Justin has almost been deposed from the throne in an outbreak of rioting which members of the Senate appear to tried to take advantage of to depose the emperor his legal activism

Actually being a source of enormous um anxiety to them so I think on one level the intervention there is driven by both an opportunity provided by political instability in the Vandal Kingdom combined with now a need to try to rebuild the political credibility of the regime at home by making an

Opportunistic foray to the west and I think that explains the timing of it and opportunistic is kind of the right word here um in Justinian and we we’ll talk about this at the end he can be criticized in these efforts to reconquer parts of the West and that

Well does does he deplete resources needed to actually counteract Persia in their assassinates in the East um in order to try to reconquer parts of the Empire that cannot really be reincorporated and but to an extent if you are looking at where can we be militarily successful for you know the

Least cost um certainly the Vandal Kingdom of North Africa looks much more like an easy target compared to the cids to the east by a million stretches of the imagination and they Pro to be the other thing that is always worth remembering um is that we have to uh

Disabuse ourselves of what we what comes to mind when we picture North Africa right now because what we picture North Africa right now would have not been what North Africa was like um during this time period it was much more agriculturally productive much more fertile um it would have been a useful

Portion of the Empire to add it back and bring it back into the Roman sphere of influence um Bellis Arius is dispatched under as you as you indicate um and is successful um in winning a pitched battle against the Vandal Kingdom and essentially toppling it over but I

Always wonder about this because I think sometimes Maps can be misleading especially at certain points you put this big color on the map and you say this is Rome and this is not Rome and so Rome has control over this but the question that I want to ask is even

After North Africa is re I’ll say reincorporated into the Byzantine sphere of influence brought back into the Roman fold to what extent is that true because I think you did a nice job in the book of sort of outlining you know how firm is Roman control once it’s reestablished

In this area compared to you know some areas that are much much closer to Constantinople the emphasis from the start and I think this probably gives one a sense of of the core strategic objectives uh appears to been very much on controlling the cities of the coastal zone along the Mediterranean uh

Coastline and their immediate Hinterlands which were agriculturally extremely productive and also on controlling the key Islands uh of the western and Central Mediterranean which the vandals had also controlled such as Sardinia and the Bal aric they’re really not that interested in the areas beyond that the sort of the

Hinterlands of the old Vandal Kingdom where the vandals had confronted various uh bear Warlords and so as a result during the course of both the wars and then the the Roman reoccupation really we’re seeing ongoing bare bear encroachment coming in from the the tribal zone of morania and numidia uh

Beyond but the main focus is on the most taxable territory the coastal territory and the islands of the crucial for pinning down once more control of the Mediterranean it’s also worth emphasizing that as you say that really uh uh it’s the the defeat of the Vandal Kingdom really centers on the defeat in

Battle then ultimately the capture of the Vandal King in the early medieval West you see the emergence of these sort of King Focus societies where if you can capture the king in a political sense you have the kingdom as we see most obviously the best example would be what

Happens to England in 1066 with the Normans the same thing really with with howold so so he’s taking advantage of the sort of new dynamics of power that have emerged in the West in order to uh uh to to achieve this result and then you know it goes further

And you know Justinian has this um I’ll say you know Ace up his sleeve he’s got this General by the name of belisarius who is unbelievably effective in the field like just just incredible and in short order is able to then move from eventually North Africa to Sicily to

Southern Italy to Rome and up to Rena and that’s just a remarkable sort of um series of military achievements in such a short period of time and I’m just kind of curious if you could speak to that for a second because I’ve always wondered about this military campaign

You know to what extent was this part of an overarching strategy or to what extent was this just simply Byzantine opportunism to what extent was this just I can’t believe we keep winning but we keep winning easily so let’s just keep rolling the dice you know where where do

We end up on that Spectrum here yes I think it’s I don’t think the Justinian comes to power as it were with a plan to reconquer the Western Roman Empire uh there’s one moment in one law at the height of ambition in 535 where he raises that Prospect but I think he’s

Probably getting a bit over excited there I think mobc is much more peac Mill much more opportunistic but his policies in the west are always uh United by a common analysis of power which is understanding that these Kingdoms in the west are always vulnerable when there is a succession

Dispute or a dispute over the military effectiveness of the ruler it’s this King Focus nature again now the same circum very similar circumstances that had Arisen in Africa that opened the way to the Byzantine intervention there then arise in Italy uh the Old King theodoric who was a fantastic ruler had died in

526 there hadn’t been an adult male heir to succeed him capable of stepping into theodor’s war boots instead you have a boy King aaric who Reigns under the care of his mother Amala suntha a marvelous woman but she can’t lead the Army uh and he then dies in 534

Just before he’s old enough to start to be a militarily effective King and we then have this struggle for power at the it at the court in Italy ruled from Rena between Amala sunra and her cousin theodahad Amala sun is assassinated and this now once again opens the way for

Justinian armies led by belisarius who he Talent spotted when belisarius was a fighting Soldier uh uh uh uh to intervene so the circumstance in terms of the analysis of power are very similar bellarus leads his armies into Sicily Sicily it’s effectively an unopposed campaign there’s not much by

Way of Gothic Garrison troops in Sicily the gothic Army is concentrated to the north where you would normally expect Italy to be attacked from uh uh uh what then happens as bis Cirus crosses onto the mainland is that the gothic High command sort of goes into meltdown the king theodahad who

Again has no military credentials is assassinated uh they have a new king uh uh uh um Vitus Vitus who is more militarily effective but he has to face the problem that bisar is advancing into Italy from the south more Roman forces are also advancing on Northern Italy and

The Romans have also mobilized their allies the Franks who are also now bearing down on Northern Italy so Vitus has to choose between trying to hold out in Rome uh on which bisar is advancing or pulling his men back to consolidate his control of the ostrogothic Heartland

Which is the to be found in the lands to the north of the river Poe around Rena which is the political capital and the area from which the gods have always expected any attack to come from the the world of the north so really bisar is able to enter Rome essentially unopposed

Because Vitus has taken the Strategic decision to pull back to Rena um once again the authorities playing on the vulnerability of Italy to attack from the north North he’s then able there’s a lot of twoing and throwing we won’t have times going to here but then we end up in a situation

Where by about 539 to 540 vagus and his regime is hold up in Northern Italy hold up in in Rena but Justinian is now minded to try to draw the Italian campaign to a close the Persians are mobilizing on the Eastern Frontier he really wants bellisario’s Services uh

Back there again and and uh Vitus offers to essentially partition Italy with Justinian with the Goths maintaining a rump state to the north of the PO keeping Rena acknowledging uh Justinian’s overlordship but Justinian having the rest so Justinian can have Italy southern Italy he can have Rome he

Has Sicily and Justinian seems minded his ambassadors seem minded to accept this uh the problem is the ambassador sent to do this deal the problem they’re faced with is that the Goths expect belisarius to sign the peace treaty as well and belisarius prevaricates he thinks Justinian can get more out of the

Situation this is recorded by his secretary the historian procopius who is with him during these campaigns and who’s writing his account of it so and an extraordinary episode then appears to ensue whereby belisarius doesn’t sign the peace treaty and the gothic nobility and ultimately King Vitus himself

Approach him and say look if you cast off Justinian and make yourself Western Roman Emperor we’ll support you Justinian so sorry um bisar gives them the impression he’s going to go along with this as a result the doors of Rena the gates of Rea are open to him in his

Armies and they are able to occupy the city and before the Goths know what is happening their King’s been arrested he’s on the ship to Constantinople and they’ve handed themselves over to justinia it’s an extraordinary episode in in in in in in military history yeah it’s it is it is interesting

Because it is a series of events and what Justinian is really good at doing here and what this example shows um and also what you brought up previously of taking advantage of whenever the Persians are attacked by one of those step peoples is he’s excellent at recognizing when there is the

Opportunity when there’s the opportunity to intervene and he doesn’t pass those opportunities by when there is the opportunity he takes it and he takes it consistently and that is sort of the Hallmark of a good Emperor but it’s it’s interesting yeah he does the same in the 550s in

Spain as well again you get a succession dispute in the bigotta Kingdom in Spain and now and behold his his army suddenly turn up in the Spanish Coastline exactly the same circumstances exactly the same analysis of power of work there ining his policy yeah and but then of course you

Know something happens in 541 um that’s going to sort of change Jus Indians um fortunes and that is that from one of the plague folky that are natural in the world Bubonic plague erupts and the plague of Justus Indian begins and the plague of Justus Indian is obviously

Going to have has a dramatic effect on the latter half of his Reign and so I was hoping you know before we get to our last question I was hoping you could talk a little bit about the plague um and how it if impacted his overall

Fortunes and I I often wonder I think there’s a historic what if here of of what happens if the plague doesn’t occur you know what happens and I know it’s an impossible question um is he able to accomplish more I think obviously the question the answer to that is probably

Yes um if the plague doesn’t happen or you know would the last years have played out in the same sort of fashion the arrival of Bubonic plague in the words of my old um professor uh in Oxford civil mango was perhaps the most important event of the 6th Century uh in

The absence of modern medicine Bubonic plague is one of the most devastating diseases known to mankind and as you say in 541 we have the first securely datable outbreak of this disease in the history of the Roman Mediterranean possibly visited North Africa a few centuries earlier but this is the first

Truly trans Regional pandemic of it it reaches Constantinople in 542 where we’re told Justinian himself contracts the disease but miraculously survives uh it soon is in Armenia Italy it even reaches uh where I am now so half an hour from the cottage I’m sitting in is an Anglo-Saxon burial site at a place

Called EDI Hill where a few years ago we found uh um evidence for a mass mortality episode to do with the justinianic plague there from get the mid sixth Century so even reaching rural parts of the Anglo-Saxon world now I think that this will have a this will cause mounting difficulties

For Justinian over the the the years ahead initially we see him and his um courters introducing a series of crisis-driven measures aiming to sort of shore up the fiscal and legal foundations of the Roman State as mass mortality episodes lead to um problems collecting tax revenues problems raising

Troops for the Army um legal confusion as to who owns what as so many heirs are dying in quick succession and those crisis driven measures I think are quite good at initially containing the first uh ramifications of the plague during the first five years down to about 547

But then we start getting EV mounting evidence for just the cumulative waves of this disease having an Ever more severe impact uh as it takes a toll it’s toll on the the rural population the urban population you have fewer taxpayers fewer taxpayers means fewer uh less Revenue with which to pay the Army

Uh the harder it is to pay the Army the harder it is to fight Wars to both east and west and the problem for Justinian is from the early 540s you have now simultaneous Warfare in in the west and against the Persians and an increasingly problematic situation in Africa as well

Due to Bare bear pressure and Military mutin as military pays and forthcoming so I but so I think in many ways I said is going to increasingly constrain the emperor’s opportunities in terms of military strategy internal domestic reform uh uh but I think above all I

Don’t for me what I see the justinianic plague doing primarily is exacerbating internal weaknesses and tensions that had long bedeviled the Empire long before the Advent of the plague during a uh his extraordinary legislation of the 530s Justinian is complaining about the difficult in raising enough tax revenues he overhauls

The structures of the Roman state to try to pump as much uh uh fiscality out of the Empire as possible so tax raising is already a problem he’s already complaining that the costs of warfare make it necessary to really improve the tax collecting mechanisms of Empire the plague now raises those fiscal problems

To a New Order of reality and I think that’s true of some of the political uh problems as well well and and listeners are of course very aware that you know we just recently went through a pandemic of our own and those sort of existential crises tend to Simply reveal existing

Cracks and exacerbate them and I think I agree with you that to a large extent that’s what this did um of course it creates new problems of its own but any existing problem is just going to dump fertilizer on top of um I want to ask

Because we’re coming up on time but I want to ask the last question um you pause it in the book I mean I might not get the quotation exactly correct but um did Justinian ruin the Empire that he set out to restore um and that’s that I think is a fascinating question that

Reasonable people can discuss and maybe even come to different conclusions on um but I want to ask in your opinion did he no um I think in short it’s it’s true that in the second half of his reign in particular and and in the the centuries

And the decades ahead uh under his his successors the Empire would find Mount face mounting social uh mounting uh difficulties uh in the second half of the sixth Century we have ongoing problems with raising taxes we have growing fiscal instability that feeds into growing political instability is

Later Emperors have to try to cut back on expenditures they try to restrain military pay and this will lead to Military mutinies and Civil War which will then open the way to First Persian and then ultimately uh Arab Conquest so the Empire is clearly getting increasingly fragile and unstable after

Justinian’s Reign but I don’t think we can causally connects that instability to his policy agenda really I think the the growing travails of the empire in the second half of the 6th century and in the early 7s are really due to um uh phenomena which are primarily outside of

Justinian’s control in any meaningful sense uh uh the 530s is a period of major climate change then problematizing agriculture in a way that has Economic Consequences moving forward we have the devastating outbreak of the Bubonic plague which repeats itself it’s not a one hit wonder as it were this is you

Know we have major outbreaks going through throughout the the sixth and and into the seventh centures that only P us out in the 8th Century um we have a renewed era of instability on the Eurasian step that leads to the westward migration of a group known as the avar

As a result of their migration new Barbarian fets will emerge the Lombards will migrate into Italy undoing Justinian reconquest there slaves will start infiltrating the Roman position in the Balkans hollowing out Roman power there and as I say in the aftermath of the Roman Persian Wars when two each of

These Empires are exhausted the Arabs will arrive but these are this this unraveling of the Empire that takes place in the early 7th Century in particular I think really is the result of cumulative problems resulting from these great external forces climate change uh plague migrations the Justinian sitting in Constantinople for

All his claims to Universal Authority and autocratic omnipotence could never really contain or or or or or or or or contrast yeah I I I agree you know I don’t think that I think it’s unfair for us to assume that Justinian um has more capabilities than the leader of a modern

Nation state a modern nation state struggles um with uh pandemics they struggle with climate change they struggle with huge external um forces to expect Justinian as you say and I I think it’s Point correct to point it out again sitting in Constantinople I mean he may in the

Middle of the plague dispatch a letter to someone that by the time the letter is arrived is dead um and and there isn’t anything that he can do about that you know he is still dealing with the technological limitations of his age and trying to to get things successful you

Need to be highly skilled and you have to get a little lucky and it Justinian had good luck to a large extent at the beginning of his Reign through the middle in the second half not as much um and none of that is necessarily his fault um but anyway well we didn’t get

To talk about a lot of the book but that’s because it’s an excellent book and it’s very detailed um I really recommend it I hope that people pick it up um we didn’t talk at all about Theology and there’s a huge portion of the book that’s about that and I know

That my listeners are going to be really interested in that so the book is available uh right now if you’re listening to this and um if you’d like to pick it up you can click the link in the show notes and we’ll go from there

Um but thank you so much for coming on this was a wonderful conversation great good to to You