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Justinian I.

Justinian I. (Flavius Anicius Justinianus), Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, was born at Tauresium, the modern Kustenje, on the Black Sea, 11th May, 483 A.D. He was educated at Constantinople, and succeeded his uncle, Justin I., 527. The crowning misfortune of his life was his marriage to Theodora, a professional actress, who, along with Antonina—wife of his friend and victorious general, Belisarius—was responsible for most of the unhappiness of his life. His reign was a most eventful one. His victories over the Persians in the East, and the Goths and Vandals in Italy, were numerous. At the outset of his reign, Justinian was orthodox, but, under the influence of Theodora, he gradually veered round to the monophysite error. It was at her instigation that he attempted to coerce the monophysites into orthodoxy—an attempt which ended in the faction fight of the hippodrome, in which thirty thousand were killed.


Justinian was the founder of that style of architecture called Byzantine, the distinctive features of which are the Greek cross and the cupola. He adorned Constantinople and other cities of his dominions with costly and magnificent churches. In Constantinople alone he built twenty-seven—one of these being St. Sophia, which stands to-day a monument to his enterprise. The St. Sophia of Julian had been destroyed by fire in the insurrection of 532. The re-building occupied six years, and gave work to about ten thousand men, who were paid at the close of each day. It cost the equivalent of £13,000,000. "I have vanquished thee, O Solomon!" was Justinian's pardonable exclamation at its completion.

The crowning glory of Justinian's reign, however, and a lasting monument to his genius, was the Corpus Juris Civilis, or body of civil law, which he executed. By that great work he gave the Roman law, which has formed the groundwork of the civil law of all civilized peoples, a definite code.


Justinian died 565, at the age of eighty-two, having reigned for thirty-eight years. He was a man of great business capacity, resourceful and energetic. He was, moreover, a man of much learning, which he applied to good purpose, but his religious bigotry, and the evil influence of Theodora, marred his good qualities.

The Hymn of Justinian is found in the liturgies of St. Mark and St. James, and is generally attributed to him. Whether he himself composed it, or whether it bears his name for some other reason, there is no means at hand to determine. It is believed to have been his own composition. In a literal translation it runs thus:—

"Only Begotten Son, and Word of God, Immortal Who didst vouchsafe for our salvation to take flesh of the Holy Mother of God and ever Virgin Mary, and didst without change become man, and wast crucified, Christ our God, and by death didst overcome death, being One of the Holy Trinity, and glorified together with the Father and the Holy Ghost, save us."


This hymn has been rendered into English verse, "O Word Immortal of Eternal God," by T. A. Lacey, and appears in The English Hymnal.

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