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HIST 210: The Early Middle Ages, 284–1000
- The Reign of Justinian
Professor Freedman opens by discussing why historians use the writings of Procopius and Gregory of Tours, a sixth century bishop whose history of the Merovingian kings is discussed the following week. Procopius’s three works – The Wars, the adulatory Buildings, and the invective Secret History – are the best sources on the reign of the Emperor Justinian. Under Justinian and his wife Theodora, the Roman Empire reached its height as it reclaimed territories in North Africa and Europe previously lost to the Vandals, Visigoths and Ostrogoths.. However, defeats in war accompanied by heavy taxation led to civil unrest. In addition to the wars, Justinian commissioned a number of large projects like the building of the Hagia Sophia and the organization of Roman law in the Corpus Iuris Civilis.
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The Early Middle Ages, 284–1000
HIST 210 - Lecture 9 - The Reign of Justinian
Chapter 1: Primary Sources: Procopius and Gregory of Tours [00:00:00]
Professor Paul Freedman: We are starting to use primary sources for our understanding of the historical periods under discussion. Primary sources? Writings by people who lived at the time. And as with all such sources, the great advantage is vividness, immediacy–the people lived through it. And the problem is distance from us and strangeness.
Procopius and Gregory of Tours, who we’ll be starting out with next week, are very different writers. Procopius much more conscious of style, a layman, was somebody operating within the classical tradition.
Gregory of Tours, certainly a person for whom style is not paramount. Or at least, it’s not the classical notions of rhetoric, smoothness, and vividness that Procopius has. He is a bishop. He’s very concerned with supernatural events and the Church. Or let’s say, supernatural events controlled by the Church.
Procopius, as you’ve seen, is not very concerned with Christianity, and the supernatural events that concerned him, such as Justinian walking around the palace with no head, are not Christian supernatural. They’re from some other older supernatural tradition.
But both Gregory of Tours and Procopius require an effort to figure out. Why not just read something by a writer, a historian living now who may be easier to figure out? And who is writing with you and me in mind? Because of the vividness and because of the trickiness of trying to reconstruct not only what happened, which is hard enough, but also what the mood of people was, and what the reaction was.
Chapter 2: The Emperor Justinian [00:02:19]
We’re talking about Justinian today. So an emperor whose rule occupies most of the sixth century, 527 to 565. So we’re concentrating on the sixth century as part of this overall survival and crisis of the Eastern Roman Empire. His reign, or more precisely, the earlier part of his reign until about 540, is the height, apogee, maximum power of this empire which succeeds in shall we say, reconquering or conquering. Taking back or adding the parts of the Western Roman Empire, many parts of the Western Roman Empire that had been lost effectively to the barbarian invasions of the fifth century.
If you still can refer to your map, or if your memory of geography is OK–The major areas of conquest of Justinian beyond the borders of the old eastern empire are first North Africa–this is the coast of modern Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and even Morocco, held by the Vandals and seized by Justinian; parts of Spain, coastal Spain, Mediterranean Spain, held by the Visigoths; and Italy, held by the Ostrogoths.
This is the centerpiece of Justinian’s reign. And for a time, it looked as if he had, in effect, recreated the empire of Constantine and Diocletian. But as we’ll see, this is a triumph with a terrible price. The terrible price being that it weakened Byzantium.
Now when we say of figures in the past, or even figures in the recent past, that their policies were a mistake because it turned out that the future enemy would be something other than what they were fighting, we can say that with the advantage of being able to see what was going happen. In other words, there are people who argue that the invasion of Iraq was a folly or that the expenditures on the aggressive foreign policy of the first years of the twenty-first century was foolish, because as it turns out, economic problems, domestic problems, the mortgage bubble, was really the problem that people should have been addressing. Or they should have been addressing the deficit.
You can say that. In its own way, it’s a fact. But it doesn’t necessarily tell you what people at the time should have thought of. Thus, we know from last lecture that, first of all, Justinian should have concentrated on the Persians. The Persians on his eastern frontier who didn’t interest him, who he just wanted to sort of pacify in order to go west and make his conquests. The Persians would turn out to be the biggest enemy of the Empire.
And so, you know if you were plotting this out as a kind of international political strategy, you could say: “Forget about the Ostrogoths. Forget about the Vandals. Build up that frontier. Invade Persia, keep your army there.” And indeed, with a little more hindsight, we can say, “Oh my gosh, in eighty years, the Muslims are going to take the eastern part of your empire.”
Well, obviously, there’s no way he is going to be expected reasonably to know that. Except, if you’re looking at a distance, from over 1,000 years, 1,500 years. Then we can say, sure, the eastern frontier turns out to be the point of vulnerability. So a classic kind of historical problem, or early Middle Ages midterm question is: “Justinian, overreacher or reasonable guy?” Or “The conquest of the west: folly or grandeur?” And it’s both.
It is a classic example of over-extension, over-extension of empires, meaning that empires weaken themselves at some point fatally by simply getting either too big or spending too much money. And the two are linked. If you get too big, you have to spend more money to defend yourself. Not really having the resources to keep what you have.
The British Empire, to take a reasonably clear and neutral example, at some point is simply too large for the resources of a weakened Great Britain. And our colleague Paul Kennedy has explored, quite memorably, empires that simply could not maintain their commitments. The Spanish Empire, the British Empire, and, as it turned out after Kennedy wrote his book, the Russian Soviet Empire.
This is a pattern in history that repeats itself. The question, however, is, under the circumstances, and assuming the existence of that empire, what are reasonable policies to preserve it or to extend it?
Chapter 3: Procopius as a Source on Justinian [00:08:42]
We know about Justinian’s wars of conquest and of defense–he did have some wars against the Persians–his wars of conquest and defense largely, although not exclusively, through Procopius. He is our best source in two works. One, the Secret History, and the other, much more extensive, a series of books called The Wars. And they’re divided in Persian wars, African wars, Italian wars. In The Wars, you can see that once the Italian war starts to go badly, Procopius’s opinion of Justinian and of the great general Belisarius tend to change from a kind of admiration and go, kill, get ‘em spirit to uneasiness, to blaming, to a kind of finger pointing.
So we’re dependent on Procopius. And when you first read The Wars, it seems very, very different from the Secret History. It seems like it’s by Thucydides or some other sensible, objective Greek writer. And he indeed is writing in that tradition. Those of you who’ve read Thucydides will remember he describes, often, folly and very terrible events, but soberly, factually. And in a fashion of Olympian sorrow at the folly of policymakers and generals.
And to some extent, Procopius has that tone, which seems to contrast very much with the vehemence of the Secret History, leading some people to assume that he was crazy when he wrote the Secret History. Or off balance, let’s say. Or that The Wars represented the real Procopius, and this represented his evil twin. The term, “evil twin”, doesn’t appear in Gibbon, but it could. It could.
What makes it more complicated is a third work of his called Buildings. Buildings is, as the name implies, a book about Justinian’s building campaign, which includes, but is no means limited to, the church of Hagia Sofia in modern Istanbul, which is, continues to be, to this day, an extraordinary building of such immensity and such space in interior. A dome that seems unsupported by anything and that seems to cover half the earth when you’re inside it. Both splendid and an extraordinary engineering feat.
And then Justinian built churches. He built churches that stand in Ravenna with unbelievably beautiful mosaics, Ravenna in Italy. And these are important because Ravenna was outside the zone of territory controlled by the iconoclasts. And, therefore while the iconoclasts tended to take down or whitewash representations of anything divine, their reach did not extend as far as Ravenna. So in a way, the best examples of Byzantine mosaic art of the earliest period–not in a way, but absolutely are outside of the eastern Mediterranean, and in Italy.
Buildings though, is not just an account of Justinian’s architectural essays, but a panegyric, a praise of Justinian. Almost as slavishly adulatory as the Secret History is a condemnation. And as I suggested last time, these actually go together in a society where a tremendous power is concentrated in one person, or one court, or one setting, the reactions of people tend to be adulation, which is, to some extent, forced out of them, or at least invited by the ruler.
So again, to take an obvious analogy: Stalin, for his seventieth birthday was pleased that the greatest museum of Moscow, all the permanent exhibit was set aside and warehoused, and the whole museum was given over to gifts to Stalin on his seventieth birthday from a grateful people. He didn’t have to order it. Somebody came up with the idea and he said, “Oh, don’t go to any trouble.” They had the thing, this adulatory. This is what later would be called the “cult of personality”. And it’s just one of hundreds of examples. Naming cities after him, lauding him as “the Great Gardener”, “the Friend of Children”, “the successor of Lenin”, and so forth.
The other side of that is a kind of hatred and diatribe, more or less secret. There were lots of jokes about Stalin. You could and people were sent to Siberia or executed for telling these jokes. But they were very good jokes, under the circumstances. This is some of the explanation for how you can get, at the same time, adulation and demonization.
The interesting thing, of course, is it’s in the same guy, Procopius. And although people at one time thought, “Oh, well, he wrote The Buildings earlier and then became disillusioned.” He did become disillusioned. Everybody became disillusioned, because after 540, things started to go wrong. There’s a huge plague in 542 that kills off a third of the population, for starters. But it looks as if he’s writing this stuff more or less at the same time.
The Secret History is not finished. That’s why it begins so oddly, not with Justinian, but with Belisarius and Belisarius’ wife, being kicked around by his wife, and Theodora and you sort of don’t know who these people are. And then suddenly we’re at Justinian. Well, the order of this thing is not yet set. He probably did not finish it. He did, however, want it to be published after his death.
It’s called the Secret History or the Anecdota, sort of stories, by later writers. It survives in only one manuscript, as I think I remarked. Nevertheless, because it has a highly rhetorical style, it clearly was to be read by other people. It’s not just a set of jottings for his own satisfaction. It is a work that he hoped would be widely published when he was safely dead. And Anecdota literally means, not “stories” as it would now, anecdotes, the false cognate, it means “not to be published”. So in the Secret History, Justinian is a monster.
Chapter 4: Background on Justinian [00:16:28]
Let’s set that aside for a moment and talk about what Justinian actually did. Justinian was the power behind the throne of his uncle, Justin the First. So in a way, his rule goes back to the 510s. Justinian’s character, as portrayed by Procopius in both The Wars and in the Secret History, is very smart, hard-working–Procopius says he almost never slept–devoted to details, capable of immersing himself in many different things: architecture, church ceremonies, theology, and law.
He was of humble birth. His uncle, his family were soldiers. They were from modern oh, Croatia, more or less, the Balkan peninsula, the former Yugoslavia–Illyrians, as would have been the term used at the time. He grew up speaking some form of Latin, and he is, as I said last time, the last emperor whose native language was Latin as opposed to Greek.
He dressed very simply, and he was approachable. He did not have that awe-inspiring splendor of Diocletian or Constantine, for example. He was seldom angry, but he was cold and seems to have had no trace of mercy or kindness. He reminds me of some professors of mine. He was intolerant; he was unforgiving; and he was merciless.
He had a grandiose conception of the Empire. And he was willing to tax his subjects heavily and to endanger the security of the eastern frontier in order to expand his territory and his prestige. I think that is a fair judgment to make. He believed that his predecessors had, through neglect, lost what the ancient Romans had conquered. And he believed that you couldn’t call it the Roman Empire if all it consisted of were possessions in the eastern Mediterranean. And, as we’ve said, he did indeed conquer, at great cost, North Africa, parts of Spain and Italy.
He had a–I think it’s wrong to use the term totalitarian, but certainly a very strong conception of imperial rulership. He tried to impose doctrines on the Church in order to resolve the age-old Monophysite question. He was no more successful than Constantine or Theodosius, by the way, but, for example, just to give you a sense of his methods, he kidnapped the Pope in Rome, tried to browbeat him, and exiled him to the Crimean Peninsula where he died.
Theodora. One of the most interesting things about Justinian is that he gave so much power and respect to his consort, Theodora, who was of even more humble birth than he was. Now, I don’t think we have to believe Procopius on the details of Theodora’s youth. He certainly reserves his most hysterical diatribes for Theodora. I think it’s fair to say that Procopius was not a great admirer of competent women.
The historian Bury, J. B. Bury, one of the great historians of late Rome and Byzantium, who wrote about 100, 120 years ago, describes her youth as stormy. An adjective that I like, because it could be anything. Her stormy youth. Probably her father was a bear keeper. Somebody who kept bears for the entertainment of people at the circus. An animal trainer. She was the mother of a legitimate [correction: illegitimate] child. She may have had a background of amateur or quasi-professional, semi-pro prostitution.
Notice that Procopius condemns her, first for being a prostitute, and then for suppressing prostitution once she became Empress. There’s a logic to that. Procopius is not opposed to prostitution. One has the sense that he’s, if not a connoisseur, at least a now-and-then partaker. But for prostitutes to be anything other than this firmly subordinated class, that is, for prostitutes to have some sort of voice or opinion, or for people to endeavor to help them, or respect them, is, in his mind, ridiculous and scandalous.Procopius is a conservative. He doesn’t like the weakening of the senatorial classes. He represents the land-owning interests. He doesn’t like too much imperial power. He’s quite happy to respect the emperor, but is angry when the emperor seems to be taxing rich people. He doesn’t like upstarts. Upstarts like Justinian. Who is he? A soldier’s child. Upstarts like Theodora. Upstarts like Antonia, the wife of Belisarius.
Justinian and Theodora ruled as a team. They had very different personalities. A very interesting team. Theodora loved sleep, luxury, was sympathetic to the Monophysites. Justinian was completely the opposite: an insomniac, somebody who dressed in extremely ordinary clothing, and firmly anti-Monophysite. They, in fact, supported different factions in the circus. Here is a Giants-Jets marriage.
Chapter 5: The Circus, the Blues and the Greens, and the Nika Riots [00:24:10]
The circus. The circus was a arena attached to the palace, where the emperor would make his appearances at sporting events. Although we’ve said Justinian was approachable, by that we mean that people in the government or in high positions could see him without too much ceremony. That doesn’t mean he’s approachable just to anybody.
In an absolutist state, there are certain kinds of events at which the ruler has to show himself, or traditionally shows himself. So in the Soviet era, the May Day parades. There’s a reviewing stand in Moscow at the tomb of Lenin. And foreign correspondents and intelligence people would try to see who was in and out of power by who appeared with the leader, who wasn’t there, where they were standing.
The Hippodrome, the horse racing arena in Constantinople, was a bit like this. The Emperor had his own box, and the people could make sort of celebratory gestures to him, praise him, and if they were in a rebellious mood, criticize him as well. There were of circus factions, as they’re called. That is, people who were cheering for one side or another, the most important of which in Constantinople are the Blues and the Greens.
The Greens tended to be somewhat pro-Monophysite, and Theodora was a partisan of the Greens. The Blues, anti-Monophysite; Justinian was a partisan of theirs. In 532, the circus factions revolted. Partly, it’s a tax revolt. Partly it’s factions fighting.
It doesn’t do to try to probe what these factions represented too much. After a while, they’re simply factions. They’re simply people who like to fight. Or who like to root for one side or another. But they are rowdy, and even criminal. They have very outlandish costumes. They expend all their money and all their energy on sporting events and on rowdiness associated with them. This is not completely unfamiliar.
The prefect of the city arrested seven people for rioting and condemned them to death. Two of them escaped when the rope broke. It always pays to maintain your–I mean, this is a tip from a historian– always pays to maintain your coercive equipment. Once these guys escaped, then they were heroes. And they were shielded from the crowd. They were put in a monastery where they had sanctuary.
And conveniently enough, one was a Blue and one was a Green. So the Blues and the Greens united. They ran through the streets demanding pardon for the escapees. And when Justinian refused, a riot took place. The battle cry of these rioters was “Victory!”. Right? Nika, not to be confused with sporting equipment. Nika - victory. The crowds tried to overthrow Justinian and Theodora. And in the process, they burned down a lot of the city.
Justinian is reported by Procopius as being ready to flee. But Theodora stiffened his resolve, basically telling him she preferred to die in the shroud of the imperial robes, rather than flee in disguise, and mobilized the generals, Belisarius and Narses. We’ve met Belisarius already. And they cracked down on the mob and killed maybe 40,000 of them. How many people attend a Yankee game? About 80,000? So 30,000, 40,000 people, and that ended the riots. Constantinople was partially burned.
Justinian loved building. This was a great opportunity. He couldn’t have asked for a better moment, in a sense. Of course, it required more taxes, but people now had seen the problems with resisting taxes. And so this is where we start the building of the new Hagia Sofia that we see today. Built in five years. Compare this to grand projects like you know an exit on the Connecticut Turnpike, which take fifteen years or so.
The way you build something in five years is by an incredible number of workmen. And lavish expenditure of money. The patriarch’s throne in Hagia Sofia was made of silver. It weighed 40,000 pounds. The columns are of porphyry, many of them. It uses a lot of glass in order to emit light. And the light comes from so far away that it forms these wonderful patterns, depending on the time of day. Justinian also rebuilt the Senate, the baths, the imperial palace, the Church of Saint Irene, the Church of the Apostles, et cetera, et cetera.
Chapter 6: Justinian’s Wars [00:30:20]
He started his wars against Persia before the Nika revolt. And the war with Persia is one episode of a multi-century war. In this case, it’s over influence in the Caucasus. But it’s really about trying to protect Byzantium from Persian invasion. But as I said, Justinian’s interest was not really in Persia. He was interested in peace with Persia and in securing enough of the frontier so that the Persians couldn’t launch, at least not easily, a surprise attack. And in 531, the Eastern Roman Empire and Persia signed a perpetual peace. And Justinian then moved his troops to the west.,the site of his real ambitions.
The Vandal War in North Africa was a triumph. What we’re seeing is one of those cases in which a policy seems to succeed miraculously easily. The Vandals fell, it seemed, without a fight. Here, the people who had been the terror of Rome 100 years earlier, who had sacked Rome in 455, who had seized the granary of Rome in 430, fell almost, it seemed, without a fight. True, the native Berber population who were subordinate to the Vandals, desert people, revolted. And they were able to raid the coast and to undermine the position of the Byzantine occupiers.
The next stop was Italy in 535. 533 - 534, the conquest of Africa. But Italy would take twenty years, not one. And in the process, Italy itself would be devastated. And with that devastation, a lot of classical culture would be lost. What wasn’t destroyed by the fifth century invasions– and remember we said the Ostrogoths were pretty reasonable occupiers– would be destroyed by the Romans themselves.
I will not tax you with the ins and outs, and ups and downs of this campaign. Suffice it to say that the general, Belisarius, at first was able to triumph in Italy. The Ostrogothic resistance, however, proved to be much stronger than he expected. And Justinian recalled Belisarius. Almost all of Italy was reoccupied by the Ostrogoths, and it was only the second general, Narses, who from 552 to 555 is able to take over Italy. 540 is the year that Ravenna falls to the Byzantines, and it seems to be the zenith of Justinian’s reign. In that year, the Persians invaded. That perpetual peace had lasted nine years. And the Persian invasion was quite successful. It resulted in the sack of the largest city of the Empire after Constantinople and Alexandria, the city of Antioch in the Eastern Mediterranean.
And this was followed then by a plague. The so-called Justinianic Plague, which seems to be related, perhaps, to the plague of Peracles’ Athens or the Athens of the Peloponnesian War, and maybe to the Black Death of 1348, 1349. Hard to say. And in fact, research now being done on the DNA in mass graves from that plague will perhaps tell us what the disease really was. Although so far, apparently, it hasn’t. So from 540 to 565, the death of Justinian, his policies are officially successful. 555, the fall of Italy. The plague eventually goes away. The Persians are pushed out of Antioch, at least. But the Empire in the later years of Justinian is clearly staggering under the weight of taxation, economic downturn, declining population, and over-extension. They had conquered Italy, but the Italy they had conquered was ruined. And this empire, stretching now from Sicily to the Persian frontier is clearly too big to hold onto. So this is some of what Procopius’ anger is about. But he’s bitter and disillusioned. He says, “But I grow dizzy when I write of such suffering. And pass on to future times it’s memories.” Here, he’s speaking about the Persian invasion of Antioch. “For I cannot understand why it is the will of God to exalt the fortunes of a man, or place him and cast them down for no reason that we can see.”
Now if you contrast him with what you’ve read in Augustine, in The Confessions, you can see that Augustine has some reasons why this happens. Procopius resists the Christian explanation here. And this is led some observers to think, in general, that he’s not really somehow a Christian. He is, but he’s writing in a classical tradition.
And he is also, remember, an elitist, a conservative. I use the term “elitist” in a fairly neutral sense. It’s hard to expect someone whose writings come down to us all this length of time to be, somehow, an ordinary person. Yes, he represents a class. But doesn’t really like religious controversy. But doesn’t really like all of the fussing about the natures or nature of Christ. But there are other things that are not in Procopius that are somewhat surprising. Justinian is best known for architectural monuments like Hagia Sofia; to historians, for what we are essentially talking about today, the Western conquest; and for his legal reforms, the Justinianic Law Code, which is the basis of all European law. European, that is, as opposed to Anglo-American. Anglo-American law is a separate tradition. European law is based ultimately on a reworking of Roman law precedents.
Chapter 7: Justinian’s Law Code, the Corpus Iuris Civilis [00:38:21]
And so I want to talk a little bit about his legal accomplishment, which Procopius, a man who would be familiar with law courts, with legal systems, doesn’t tell us anything about in his works. Virtually nothing. Justinian essentially codified the Roman law. And this is important, not only because it’s the basis of European law, but law is related to political and administrative order. However much we may hate bureaucracy, or denounce administration, that is how governments provide whatever it is they are providing for their citizens. And since the alternative to government is anarchy, and since there are examples before our eyes of anarchic societies, it won’t do to underestimate the benefits of law, however cynical we may be about its implementation.
Roman law at the time of Justinian was, as law tends to be, learned and unwieldy. If you wanted to know how to resolve a question, you could go through the thousands and thousands of what are called “responsae,” or you could look at legislation. Just as in the Anglo-American tradition, and some of you will learn this very soon in law school, you can either look at statutes passed by legislatures or court cases–precedents. The equivalent of a statute, Connecticut passes a law saying that you can’t have a gun in your car. Whereas Texas has laws that say you could have a gun in your car under such and such circumstances, OK?
So you have a whole set of statute law, which would be imperial statutes in the Roman Empire, imperial legislation. Or, if the statutes don’t cover a particular situation, or you want something that has the particularity–a tree on my property falls on my neighbor’s–did I mention this already? Yeah, that one–on my neighbor’s garage. Who’s to blame? OK, you go and you say, well, this case came up in Cincinnati in 1949, and this is what the judge found. In the absence of computers, the search for this stuff is very hard.
In Anglo-American law this is called “precedent”. In Roman law, they’re called “responsae”. And interestingly enough, this term is also singular, plural. It applies to Jewish law. A response is a response. A judge, an expert, a law professor, in effect, is asked his opinion on something. And his response becomes preserved as a kind of precedent. These were voluminous and represented centuries of law. And even more, of course, the responsae conflicted. One judge says, “You have to pay because it was your tree.” Another says, “It’s an accident, he’s responsible for his own remedies.”
What do you do if you have a conflict of judges? What would you do if you have two kinds of contradictory responses? You’ve got to decide who is more authoritative? Which one is better? So the work of Justinian’s compilers was to sort out legislation, statutes, and the responses, and also to decide among contradictory ones.
What is in this law? Well, what’s in any law? We think of law as having mostly to do with criminals and stuff like that. But criminal law is actually very simple. It’s like the Burgundian code. If you murder someone, this is what’s going to happen to you. There may be different kinds of killing. If you murder them with intent and premeditation, that’s worse than if you murder them in a fight and spontaneously.
Manslaughter is different from murder. Manslaughter is where you didn’t intend to kill the person, but you did. You punched him, and you didn’t know they had a weak heart and he died. That’s manslaughter. You punched them. You intended to hurt him, but you didn’t intend to kill him, but he died. Vehicular manslaughter. What’s the difference between negligence–you should have seen something and you didn’t–versus criminal intent? You did it deliberately. But it’s very simple, the criminal law. There aren’t a whole lot of gray areas, and you can get through the criminal code pretty quickly.
But what about contracts? What about property? This is endless. This is endless. So you know in law school, criminal law will be the cream, or the tip of the proverbial iceberg, or some little side issue. Most of your time is going to be spent on–those of you who go for this option–on property and contracts. And that’s what the Justinian law is mostly: property and contracts, legal arrangements for buying and selling, inheriting, partnerships, guardianships, security, surety, obligations. This is a very advanced science in Roman law. As advanced as it is anywhere, at any time. This is very different from “You cut off one finger; you pay five solidi,” which we were looking at last week.
The work that ensued, the so-called Justinianic code, or the Corpus Iuris Civilis, the body of civil law, was drawn up in five years. Here, again, is an example of unbelievable rapidity, compared with the length of time it takes now, merely to reform the Connecticut tax code–the Connecticut traffic code, for that matter. It was undertaken by a commission.
Four books were issued. The first is a collection of statutes, and it’s called the Codex. Collected laws of the Senate and imperial laws of previous centuries.
The largest book is the Digest, or in Latin, Digesta. The Digest is the weeded-out responsae, organized by subject. So this would be where you would go to try and figure out what happens if a river changes its course a little, and your land seems to be now taken over by your neighbor. Is the river the border, or is an artificial line the border?
The third book is a kind of textbook, or a survey of the whole law and what it’s supposed to mean called the Institutes. And the fourth is called the Novella, or new laws, because obviously, new laws would have to be made. The Codex, the Digest, the Institutes are in Latin, because Latin was the language of the Roman Empire. But the Novella are in Greek, because Greek was the language of the Empire now. “Now” being 534 when this work was finished.
The Justinianic Code is more, however, than a rearrangement of old laws. It displayed a consistent philosophy of government where law is more than precedent, is an active force in society. The Emperor is seen as the servant of the law, the implementer of the law, but he’s also the master of the law. He is an absolute power. He is the embodiment of the law.
This is a well-run, immense, burdensome empire. Procopius gives us, unreliable though he may be as to Justinian being a demon, et cetera, Procopius gives us a vivid picture of a highly-governed, even efficiently-governed, but oppressively-governed and very ambitious society.
Now for next week, and a little bit after, remember we have no class on Wednesday. We have class on Monday. We are going to read from Gregory of Tours about Clovis and the Franks. And it will seem more violent and more primitive than what we’ve been reading. But violence and primitiveness, unfortunately, are part of history and government at almost any time. And so, enjoy the intrigue.
I’m not going to test you on the names. You’ll see there are lots of great cat names of the Frankish barbarians. But pay attention to the figure of Clovis, and to the attitude of Gregory. Because, as with Procopius, we’ve got an interesting, if not completely reliable source.
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