Justinian: 5 facts about the genius Roman emperor

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When one thinks of Roman emperors, the image of Justinian might not be the first one that pops into their head. Why? Because he never actually set foot in Rome. Nevertheless, he was as much a Roman emperor as Caesar and Hadrian. So fellas, if your girl likes chariot races, wants to conquer Rome and restore the empire to its former glory, then that is not your girl, that is emperor Justinian.

1.Justinian didn’t have a lick of blue blood in him

Justinian was born a poor Illyrian peasant by the name of Peter. His story follows a classic rags to riches narrative. His crazy rich emperor uncle was looking for an heir and, as he couldn’t sire one himself, he turned to his poor uneducated nephew whom he decided to adopt. This is how Peter became the ‘fresh prince of Constantinople’, capital of the Roman Empire. His name was changed to Justinianus, as to sound more Roman and he received a thorough education.

2.He had to claw his way up

Despite chancing upon his uncle’s inheritance, his title as the Roman Emperor was not granted to him. He had himself elected consul and came to make the rules of the political game he got to know fairly late in life.  Although his rivals had been born into money and power, he managed to outdo them and gain more influence. His warm countenance and approachable character, all perks of his humble origin, made him pretty popular among the elites of The Empire. To be fair, his crazy rich emperor uncle also played a big role in his ascension to the throne, despite going mad towards the end of his reign.

3.He married his true love

While most political leaders at the time preferred to marry into wealthy noble families and sneak around with ‘their real crushes’, Justinian had no interest in doing things the old-fashioned way. This is why he married a circus actress rumored to be a prostitute. Her name was Theodora and, as Justinian was as manly a man as it gets, he didn’t care for mistresses or love affairs and respected her enough to marry her. And boy was Theodora an empress!

4.Sports club played a huge part in both his ascension and his downfall

The sports clubs of the Hippodrome were today’s equivalent of political parties. The most important of them all were the greens and the blues. Through supporting the blues, Justinian managed to gain a substantial amount of political power. However this angered the greens. Later in life, during his reign as Emperor, a riot broke out during one of the chariot races. The two rival parties rallied behind a common goal: hating on Justinian and his advisors. Thus, they wrecked the capital. Justinian almost decided to flee Constantinople, but stayed because of Theodora’s strong will. The Nika riots were eventually suppressed.

5.He almost restored the former Roman Empire

Justinian had one goal he wished to achieve during his reign: reconquer the former Western Roman Empire. With the help of the renowned general Besilarius, he took over a lot of former Roman provinces, including territories in Northern Africa and the Italian Peninsula. However, he never actually conquered the city of Rome.  While his conquest was never completed, it can hardly be called a failure. He assured the continuation of the Empire and unknowingly laid the foundation for another empire, the Byzantine Empire.

Interested in history? Check out this article!

 

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