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The Byzantines and the Crusades

Justinian I- History Guide
Justinian I- Wikipedia

Use the above links to answer some questions about the Emperor and Empress of the Byzantines.

1. What was Justinian's birth name?
2. What was the social rank of Justinian and Theodora at birth?
3. How did Justinian rise to power?
4. What were the Nika riots and what role did Theodora play in them?
5. What was Justinian's main goal as emperor?
6. What impact did Theodora have on the role of women in the empire?
7. When and how did each die?

The links above are secondary sources about Justinian and Theodora.

Primary vs Secondary Sources

Below is an excerpt from one of the last ancient historians, Procopius, and represents an example of a primary source.

"During the rule of the Emperor Leo in Constantinople, three young farmers of Illyrian birth, named Zimarchus, Ditybistus, and Justin of Bederiana, after a desperate struggle with poverty, left their homes to try their fortune in the army. They made their way to Constantinople on foot, carrying on their shoulders their blankets in which were wrapped no other equipment except the biscuits they had baked at home. When the arrived and were admitted into military service, the Emperor chose them for the palace guard; for they were all three fine-looking men.

Later, when Anastasius succeeded to the throne, war broke out with the Isaurians when that nation rebelled; and against them Anastasius sent a considerable army under John the Hunchback. This John for some offense threw Justin into the guardhouse, and on the following day would have sentenced him to death, had he not been stopped by a vision appearing to him in a dream. For in this dream, the general said, he beheld a being, gigantic in size and in every way mightier than mortals: and this being commanded him to release the man whom he had arrested that day. Waking from his sleep, John said, he decided the dream was not worth considering. But the next night the vision returned, and again he heard the same words he had heard before; yet even so he was not persuaded to obey its command. But for the third time the vision appeared in his dreams, and threatened him with fearful consequences if he did not do as the angel ordered: warning that he would be in sore need of this man and his family thereafter, when the day of wrath should overtake him. And this time Justin was released.

As time went on, this Justin came to great power. For the Emperor Anastasius appointed him Count of the palace guard; and when the Emperor departed from this world, by the force of his military power Justin seized the throne. By this time he was an old man on the verge of the grave, and so illiterate that he could neither read nor write: which never before could have been said of a Roman ruler. It was the custom for an Emperor to sign his edicts with his own hand, but he neither made decrees nor was able to understand the business of state at all.

His wife was named Lupicina: a slave and a barbarian, she was bought to be his concubine. With Justin, as the sun of his life was about to set, she ascended the throne.

Now Justin was able to do his subjects neither harm nor good. For he was simple, unable to carry on a conversation or make a speech, and utterly bucolic. His nephew Justinian, while still a youth, was the virtual ruler-, and the of more and worse calamities to the Romans than any one man in all their previous history that has come down to us.- For he had no scruples; against murder or the seizing of other persons property; and it was nothing to him to make away with myriads of men, even when they gave him no cause. He had no care for preserving established customs, but was always eager for new experiments, and, in short, was the greatest corrupter of all noble traditions.

Though the plague, described in my former books, attacked the whole world, no fewer men escaped than perished of it; for some never were taken by the disease, and others recovered after it had smitten them. But this man, not one of all the Romans could escape; but as if he were a second pestilence sent from heaven, he fell on the nation and left no man quite untouched. For some he slew without reason, and some he released to struggle with penury, and their fate was worse than that of those who had perished, so that they prayed for death to free them from their misery; and others he robbed of their property."

8. How does Procopius' depiction of Justinian differ from the portrait presented by the secondary sources?

9. What are the advantages of a primary source? What are the disadvantages?
Read Page 323- The Primary Source section referring to the Justinian Code

10. How do Justinian's Codes differ from modern American laws?
11. Why is this considered a primary source?


The Hagia Sophia, built in 360 A.D., has stood for 1,650 years and is a model of the beauty and grandeur of Byzantine architecture. We can't afford a field trip, but here is an amazing 360 degree virtual tour:

Virtual Tour of the Hagia Sophia


On P. 327, answer question 6 about the crusades.