My intent for writing this post is to enlighten you on what I found thought provoking about the history of Justinian the Great, specifically a look into his architectural influence during his Byzantine Empire.
Before we get into the in-depth historical lens, lets first put ourselves into perspective. Think about the greatest contemporary architecture today, probably a skyscraper of some sort. Now relate this same magnitude of impressiveness to the architecture that Justinian the Great introduced to the Byzantine Empire. This is why historians love to examine pieces of history.
Justinian 1 (Justinian the Great)’s Early Life
Justinian the Great was born in Tauresium in around 482 to a peasant family. His success was initially rooted from his uncle Justin, the ruler of the Byzantine Empire from 518 to 527. His uncle gained his initial emperor position from being in the army and moving up on rank. His uncle adopted Justinian as a boy. His uncle brought him to Constantinople, to provide him with an excellent education in jurisprudence, theology and Roman history. As Justinian’s uncle was aging (he gained the emperor position at the age of 70) Justinian assisted his uncle with a de facto ruling. His uncle was also not literate, as Justinian was.
When Justinian’s uncle died in 527, Justinian took the emperor position of the Byzantine Empire. It was day and night with his uncle, Justinian was energetic and was said to never sleep because of his ambition, as the previous ruler (his uncle) was old and practically decrepit. Justinian was a progressive leader that changed his empire drastically, but I am only going to examine him from an architectural lens.
Justinian 1 (Justinian the Great)’s Architectural Influence
Following the Nika Riot of 532 Justinian the Great implemented an architectural revolution of the capital city that Constantine the Great founded in 324. Justinian’s architecture was primarily based off religion, with hundreds of churches palaces and fortresses. Later in history, during the Medieval times, architecture became more focused on war, with the building of castles and fortresses.
The Church of Saint Sophia/Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia was the new “poster-church”. It was rebuilt (from the Nika Riot) under Justinian’s ruling from 532 to 537, the architects Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus were the only architects to be recorded during the Byzantine Empire. The Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia states, “…the graceful rising vaults, lofty dome, and the ingenious lighting and exquisite mosaic decorations of Saint Sophia distinguished it as one of the greatest achievements of human spirit.” According to Procopius, Justinian the Great said, “Solomon I have outdone thee” (in reference to the 1st Jewish temple).
Justiniana Prima was a city built my Justinian that was inhabited from 535 to 615. The city was built as a honour of the nearby village of Tauresium, Justinian’s birthplace. The city was built with a progressive design that encompassed both classical and Christian elements: thermae, a forum, and streets with colonnades. It exists today as an archaeological site.