Justinian I also known as Justinian the Great was an important emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire in the 6th century. His contributions included regaining land lost by the Western Roman Empire including Rome and Italy.


During his reign he worked hard and became known as “the emperor who never sleeps.” He updated the laws of the empire which is known as Justinian’s Code which is still widely used by numerous countries today.

Early life

Justinian I was born in 482 C.E. in town of Tauresium within Macedonian. He was not like most emperors. His mother was a peasant named Vigilantia. Justinian I was not of royalty and his uncle Justin adopted him at a young age.

His uncle was an influential person within the Imperial Guard. After adopting Justinian I, his uncle moved him to the capital city of Constantinople. While growing up, Justinian I was schooled in military tactics, reading, writing, and he studied law and history.

Justin was a close advisor within the Imperial Guard to Emperor Anastasius. When the emperor died in 518 C.E. Justin immediately seized power and became emperor. While Justin was the emperor, Justinian became an influential person to Emperor Justin. In 525 C.E.

Justinian married his wife Theodora. At the time, intermarriage of social classes was allowed thanks to a law created by Emperor Justin. Theodora would become an important woman in empire politics.

During the later years of Emperor Justin’s rule he made Justinian I an associate emperor. When Emperor Justin passed away in 527 C.E. Justinian I assumed the role of Emperor of the Byzantine and Eastern Roman Empire.

During his reign as emperor

Justinian I was the last Latin speaking Emperor of the Roman Empire. His goal was to bring the Roman Empire back to a prominent entity in the world. He fought many wars against the Persians of the Sassanid Empire from 527 thru 532 C.E. Once the eastern front of the empire was secured he turned his sights on the lands once owned by the Western Roman Empire.

His main driving forces of war were two generals named Belisarius and Narses. In 532 C.E. the Nika Riots took place in Constantinople. Justinian I’s rule was threatened when rival chariot groups formed an alliance and attacked the emperor. Justinian I at the request of Theodora had more than 30,000 citizens executed to squash the riots.

In 533 C.E. Justinian I sent Belisarius to North Africa where he was successful in conquering lands from the Vandals led by Hilderic. During the same campaign Belisarius restored Roman power to Carthage, Sardinia, Corsica, and Gibraltar.

Justinian I then ordered Belisarius to invade Italy in 535 C.E. His trusted general was instrumental in regaining Sicily before sacking Naples and capturing Rome. After several battles against the Ostrogoths, Justinian I’s forces were able to reclaim Milan.

From this time forward during his reign Justinian I tried to regain more lands lost by the Roman Empire but there were problems on all fronts and he was never truly able to reconquer all lands lost by previous Emperors of the Roman Empire.

Justinian I passed away after being emperor for more than 40 years. He had no children and left his empire to his nephew Justin II in 565 C.E.

Legacy as emperor

Justinian I left a long list of accomplishments while he was emperor. The most important aspect of his rule was creating Justinian Law Code.

The new code was based on previous Roman law which he had written down and expanded. Justinian Code gave protection to everyone from slaves to the elite. The set of laws is still used by numerous countries today.

Justinian I was also a grand supporter of the arts and religion. Poetry and literature thrived during his reign. He believed strongly in Christianity and created laws to protect the Church and subdue paganism.

One of his greatest architectural feats was constructing the church named Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. Along with numerous churches Justinian I had numerous infrastructure projects completed like roads, aqueducts, bridges, and dams.

Important facts about Justinian I

  • Justinian I was born in 482 C.E to a peasant woman named Vigilantia. He was adopted by his uncle Justin and moved to Constantinople. Justin would later become a trusted advisor to Emperor Anastasius.
  • Justin became emperor after the death of Anastasius in 518 C.E.
  • Justinian I then became a trusted advisor to his uncle and he would become emperor of the Eastern Roman and Byzantine Empire following his uncle’s death in 527 C.E.
  • Justinian I was the last Latin speaking emperor of the Roman Empire.
  • His goal as emperor was to regain lands of the Western Roman Empire lost to various factions.
  • Justinian I created the Justinian Code of laws. These laws gave protection to everyone from slaves to women to the elites of the empire.
  • He executed more than 30,000 people during the Nika Riots.
  • Justinian I supported the arts, literature, and constructed the beautiful church Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.


  1. What social class was Justinian’s mother from?


  1. Who adopted Justinian I and moved him to Constantinople?

Uncle Justin

  1. Who did the Justinian Code of laws protect?

Slaves, woman, and the elite

  1. Who were the Roman generals that carried out military campaigns on Justinian I’s behalf?

Belisarius and Narses