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History of the Byzantine empire
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Reflecting Justinian’s multifarious activities, which amazed even his contemporaries, the epoch between 518 and 610 resulted in an abundant heritage in various branches of learning and literature. The Emperor himself attempted literary creation in the fields of dogmatics and hymnology. Maurice also displayed a taste for letters; he not only patronized but also stimulated literature, and often spent a great part of the night discussing or meditating on questions of poetry or history. This period produced several historians, whom Justinian’s enterprises provided with a wealth of material.
The special historian of Justinian’s period was Procopius of Caesarea, who has given a complete and well-rounded picture of the reign. Educated for the law, Procopius was appointed adviser and secretary to the famous general Belisarius, with whom he shared the campaigns against the Vandals, the Goths, and the Persians. He stands out both as historian and as writer. As a historian he was in a most advantageous position with regard to sources and firsthand information. His closeness to Belisarius gave him access to all official documents kept in the offices and archives, while his active participation in the campaigns and his excellent knowledge of the country gave him highly valuable living material based on personal observation and on information obtained from contemporaries.
In style and presentation Procopius frequently followed the classical historians, especially Herodotus and Thucydides. In spite of his dependence upon the Old Greek language of the ancient historians, and in spite of some artificiality of exposition, Procopius had a figurative, lucid, and vigorous style. He wrote three main works. The largest of these is The History in Eight Books, containing accounts of Justinian’s wars with the Persians, Vandals, and Goths as well as accounts of many other sides of government life. The author spoke of the Emperor in a slightly laudatory tone, but in numerous instances he expresses the bitter truth. This work may be called a general history of Justinian’s time. The second work of Procopius, On Buildings, is an unmitigated panegyric of the Emperor, probably written at his command, the main object of which is to give an account and description of the multitude of edifices erected by Justinian in all parts of his vast empire. In spite of rhetorical exaggerations and excessive praise, this work contains an abundance of geographical, topographical, and financial material, and serves therefore as a valuable source in the study of the social and economic history of the Empire. The third work of Procopius, Anecdota, or The Secret History (Historia Arcana), is distinctly different from the other two. It is a vicious libel upon the despotic rule of Justinian and his wife Theodora in which the author flings mud not only at the imperial couple but also at Belisarius and his wife, and in which Justinian is represented as the author of all the misfortunes which occurred in the Empire during this period. The contrast between this work and the other two is so striking that some scholars began to question the authenticity of The Secret History, for it seemed impossible that all three works had been composed by one and the same man. Only after a careful comparative study of The Secret History with all other sources pertaining to Justinian’s epoch was it definitely decided that the work was really an authentic work of Procopius. When properly used, this work serves as an extremely valuable source on the internal history of the Byzantine Empire in the sixth century. Thus, all the works of Procopius, in spite of their exaggerations of the virtue or vice of Justinian’s deeds, constitute a highly significant contemporary source for a closer acquaintance with the life of the period. But this is not all. Slavonic history and Slavonic antiquity find in Procopius invaluable information about the life and beliefs of the Slavs, while the Germanic peoples gather from him many facts about their early history.
A contemporary of Justinian and Procopius, the historian Peter the Patrician, a brilliant lawyer and diplomat, was repeatedly sent as ambassador to the Persian Empire and to the Ostrogothic court, where he was kept as prisoner for three years. His writings consisted of Histories, or A History of the Roman Empire, narrating, if one may judge by the extensive fragments in which alone it has survived, events from the second Triumvirate (from Augustus) to the time of Julian the Apostate, and a treatise On the State Constitution (Katastasis or Book of Ceremonies), part of which was included in the famous work of the time of Constantine Porphyrogenitus in the tenth century, The Book of Court Ceremonies.
From Procopius until the early part of the seventh century there was a continuous line of historical writings, and each historian carried on the work of those who preceded him.
Procopius was followed directly by the well-educated lawyer, Agathias, of Asia Minor, who left, in addition to some short poems and epigrams, the somewhat artificially written work, On the Reign of Justinian, which embraces the period from 552 to 558. Following Agathias, Menander the Protector wrote in the time of Maurice, his History which was a continuation of Agathias’ work, and related events from the year 558 until 582, i.e., up to the year of the accession of Maurice. Only fragments of this work are in existence today, but they give a sufficient basis for judging the importance of this source, particularly from the geographic and ethnographic point of view; they offer sufficient indication that he was a better historian than Agathias. The work of Menander was continued by Theophylact Simocatta, an Egyptian, who lived during the period of Heraclius and occupied the position of imperial secretary. Besides a small work on natural science and a collection of letters, he also wrote a history of the period of Maurice (582-602). The style of Theophylact is overcharged with allegories and artificial expressions to a much greater extent than that of his immediate predecessors. “In comparison with Procopius and Agathias,” says Krumbacher, “he is the peak of a rapidly rising curve. The historian of Belisarius, in spite of bombast, is still simple and natural; more abounding in poetical flowery expressions is the poet Agathias; but both these writers seem quite unaffected in comparison with Theophylact, who surprises the reader at every turn with new, unexpected flashes of far-fetched images, allegories, aphorisms, and mythological and other subtleties.” But in spite of all this Theophylact is an excellent major source on the time of Maurice, and he also gives extremely valuable information about Persia and the Slavs in the Balkan peninsula at the end of the sixth century.
Justinian’s ambassador to the Saracens and Abyssinians, Nonnosus, wrote a description of his distant journey. Time has preserved only one fragment, which is found in the works of the Patriarch Photius; but even this fragment gives excellent data on the nature and ethnography of the countries he visited. Photius also preserved a fragment of the history of Theophanes of Byzantium, who wrote at the end of the sixth century and probably covered in his work the period from the time of Justinian to the first years of the reign of Maurice. This fragment is important because it contains evidence bearing on the introduction of sericulture in the Byzantine Empire and includes also one of the earliest references to the Turks. Another source particularly valuable for church history of the fifth and sixth centuries is the work of Evagrius of Syria, who died at the end of the sixth century. His Ecclesiastical History in six books is a continuation of histories written by Socrates, Sozomen, and Theodoret. It contains an account of events from the Council of Ephesus, in the year 431, to the year 593. In addition to information on ecclesiastical events, it contains also interesting data on the general history of the period.
John the Lydian was distinguished for his excellent education, and Justinian thought so highly of him that he commissioned him to write an imperial panegyric. Besides other works, John left a treatise On the Administration (magistrates) of the Roman State, which has not yet been sufficiently studied and evaluated. It contains numerous interesting facts about the internal organization of the Empire and may serve as a valuable supplement to The Secret History of Procopius.
The manifold significance of The Christian Topography of Cosmas Indicopleustes, the broad geographical scale of which so closely corresponded to Justinian’s sweeping projects, has been discussed. To the field of geography also belongs the statistical survey of the Eastern Roman Empire of Justinian’s period, which came from the pen of the grammarian Hierocles, and bears the title of A Fellow-Traveler of Hierocles (Συνεκδημος; Synecdemus; Vademecum). The author does not center his survey about the ecclesiastical, but. rather about the political, geography of the Empire, with its sixty-four provinces and 912 cities. It is impossible to determine whether this survey was a product of Hierocles’ own initiative or a result of a commission received from some high authority. In any event, in the dry survey of Hierocles exists an excellent source for determining the political position of the Empire at the beginning of Justinian’s reign. Hierocles was the principal source for geographical matters for Constantine Porphyrogenitus.
In addition to these historians and geographers, the sixth century also had its chroniclers. Justinian’s epoch was still closely connected with classical literature, and the dry universal chronicles, which developed greatly in the later Byzantine period, appeared only as rare exceptions in this period.
A middle position between the historians and chroniclers was occupied by Hesychius of Miletus, who lived, in all likelihood, in the time of Justinian. His works survive only in fragments preserved in the writings of Photius and the lexicographer of the tenth century, Suidas. On the basis of these fragments it appears that Hesychius wrote a universal history in the form of a chronicle embracing the period from the time of ancient Assyria to the death of Anastasius (518). A large fragment of this work has survived, which is concerned with the early history of Byzantium even before the time of Constantine the Great. Hesychius was also the author of a history of the time of Justin I and the early reign of Justinian which differed greatly in style and conception from the first work, and contained a detailed narrative of events contemporary with the author. The third work of Hesychius was a dictionary of famous Greek writers in different branches of knowledge. Since he did not include the Christian writers, some scholars affirm that Hesychius was probably a pagan; this opinion, however, is not generally accepted.
The true chronicler of the sixth century was the uneducated Syrian of Antioch, John Malalas, the author of a Greek chronicle of the history of the world, which, judging by the only surviving manuscript, relates events from the fabulous times of Egyptian history to the end of Justinian’s reign. But it probably contained also accounts of a later period. The chronicle is Christian and apologetic in its aims, exposing very clearly the monarchistic tendencies of the author. Confused in content, mixing fables and facts, important events and minor incidents, it is clearly intended not for educated readers but for the masses, ecclesiastical and secular, for whom the author put down many varied and amusing facts. “This work represents a historical booklet for the people in the fullest: sense of the term.” The style is particularly worthy of attention, for this work is the first considerable one written in the spoken Greek language, that vulgate Greek dialect, popular in the East, which mixed Greek elements with Latin and eastern expressions. Since it suited the taste and mentality of the masses, this chronicle exerted an enormous influence upon Byzantine, eastern, and Slavonic chronography. The large number of Slavonic selections and translations of the writings of Malalas are of great value in restoring the original Greek text of his chronicle.
In addition to the large number of works written in Greek, to this epoch (518-610) belong also the Syrian writings of John of Ephesus, who died in the latter part of the sixth century (probably in the year 586). Born in Upper Mesopotamia and a convinced Monophysite by faith, John spent many years of his life in Constantinople and in Asia Minor, where he occupied the see of Ephesus and made the personal acquaintance of Justinian and Theodora. He was the author of the Lives of the Eastern Saints or Histories Concerning the Ways of Life of the Blessed Easterns (Commentarii de Beatis Onentalibus), and the Ecclesiastical History (in Syriac), which embraced originally the period from Julius Caesar to the year 585. Of the latter only the most important and original part has survived, which deals with events from 521 to 585. It is an invaluable source for the period. Written from a Monophysitic point of view, this history of John of Ephesus reveals, not so much the dogmatic foundations of the Monophysitic disputes, as their national and cultural background. According to a scholar who has devoted himself to the special study of John’s work, the Ecclesiastical History “throws much light upon the last phases of the struggle between Christianity and paganism by revealing also the cultural foundations of this struggle.” It is also “of great value to the political and cultural history of the Byzantine Empire in the sixth century, especially with regard to determining the extent of eastern influences. In his narrative the author enters into all the details and minutiae of life, thus giving abundant material for a close acquaintance with the manners and customs and the archeology of the period.”
The Monophysitic disputes, which continued throughout the sixth century, aroused much literary activity in the realm of dogmatics and polemics. Even Justinian did not abstain from participating in these literary disputes. The writings of the Monophysitic side in the Greek original have not been preserved. They can be judged either by citations found in the writers of the opposing camp or by the translations preserved in Syriac and Arabic literature. Among the writers of the orthodox side was a contemporary of Justin and Justinian, Leontius of Byzantium, who left several works against the Nestorians, Monophysites, and others. On the life of this dogmatist and polemic there is very scanty information. He stands out as an example of an interesting phenomenon in the time of Justinian, namely, the fact that Plato’s influence upon the church fathers was already beginning to give way to that of Aristotle.
The development of monastic and eremitical life in the East during the sixth century left its traces in the works of ascetic, mystical, and hagiographic literature. John Climacus (ο της κλιμακος) lived in solitude on Mount Sinai for a long period of years and wrote what is known as the Climax — “Spiritual ladder” (Scala Parodisi), consisting of thirty chapters, or “rungs,” in which he described the degrees of spiritual ascension to moral perfection. This work became favorite reading among the Byzantine monks, serving as a guide to the attainment of ascetic and spiritual perfection. But the remarkable popularity of the Climax was by no means confined to the East; there are many translations into Syriac, Modern Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, and Slavonic. Some of the manuscripts of the Climax contain many interesting illustrations (miniatures) of religious and monastic life.
At the head of the hagiographic writers of the sixth century one must place Cyril of Scythopolis, a Palestinian, who spent the last years of his life in the famous Palestinian Laura of St. Sabas. Cyril wanted to compile a large collection of monastic “Lives,” but did not succeed in completing this project, probably because of his premature death. Several of his works have survived. Among these are the lives of Euthymius and St. Sabas, and also several minor lives of saints. Because of the accuracy of narrative and the author’s precise understanding of ascetic life, as well as the simplicity of his style, all the surviving works of Cyril serve as very valuable sources for the cultural history of the early Byzantine period. John Moschus, also a Palestinian, who lived at the end of the sixth and early part of the seventh centuries, produced his famous work in Greek, Pratum Spirituale (Λειμων), “The spiritual meadow,” on the basis of the experience gained during numerous journeys to the monasteries of Palestine, Egypt, Mount Sinai, Syria, Asia Minor, and the islands of the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas. The work contains the author’s impressions of his journeys and much varied information about monasteries and monks. In some respects the contents of the Pratum Spirituale are of great interest for the history of civilization. It later became a favorite book, not only in the Byzantine Empire, but also in other lands, especially in Old Russia.
The poetical literature of this time also had several representatives during this period. It is quite certain that Romanus the Melode (“hymn-writer”), famous for his church songs, was at the height of his creative career in the time of Justinian. In the same period Paul the Silentiary composed his two poetical descriptions (in Greek verse) of St. Sophia and its beautiful pulpit (ambo). These works are of great interest in the history of art, and were praised by his contemporary, the historian Agathias, mentioned earlier. Finally, Corippus of North Africa, who later settled in Constantinople, a man of limited poetical ability, wrote two works in Latin verse. The first of these, Johannis, written in honor and praise of the Byzantine general, John (Johannes) Troglita, who quelled the revolt of the north African natives against the Empire, contains invaluable data about the geography and ethnography of North Africa as well as about the African War. The facts related by Corippus are at times more dependable than those given by Procopius. The second work of Corippus, the Panegyric or Eulogy of Justin (in laudem Justini), describing in bombastic style the accession of Justin II the Younger and the first events of his reign, is inferior to the first poem, yet it contains many interesting facts about the ceremonial of the Byzantine court in the sixth century.
Papyri have revealed a certain Dioscorus, who lived in the sixth century in a small village of upper Egypt, the Aphrodito. A Copt by birth, he seems to have received a good general education with a thorough training in law; he also entertained literary ambitions. Though his large collection of deeds and other papyri furnish much precious information concerning the social and administrative history of the period, his poems contribute nothing to the glory of Hellenistic poetry; they represent the work of an amateur which is “full of the most glaring blunders, alike in grammar and prosody.” According to H. Bell, he read at least a fair amount of Greek literature but wrote execrable verses. J. Maspero calls Dioscorus the last Greek poet of Egypt, as well as one of the last representatives of Hellenism in the valley of the Nile.
The closing of the Athenian pagan academy during Justinian’s reign could result in no very serious harm to the literature and education of this period because the academy had already outlived its purpose. It was no longer of great import in a Christian empire. The treasures of classical literature penetrated gradually, often externally only, into the products of Christian literature. The university of Constantinople organized by Theodosius II continued to be active in Justinian’s epoch. New works on jurisprudence show the importance of the study of law during this period. It was confined, however, to the formal mastery of literal translations of juridical texts and the writing of brief paraphrases and excerpts. We have no exact information as to how juridical instruction developed after the death of Justinian. While Emperor Maurice showed much interest in learning, his successor, Phocas, apparently halted the activities of the university.
In the realm of art the epoch of Justinian bears the name of the First Golden Age. The architecture of his time created a monument unique in its kind — the Church of St. Sophia.
St. Sophia or the Great Church, as it was called throughout the East, was constructed by the orders of Justinian on the site of the small basilica of St. Sophia (“divine wisdom”) which was set on fire during the Nika revolt (532). In order to make this temple a building of unusual splendor, Justinian, according to late tradition, ordered the governors of the provinces to furnish the capital with the best pieces of ancient monuments. Enormous quantities of marble of various colors and shades were also transported to the capital from the richest mines. Silver, gold, ivory, and precious stones were brought in to add further magnificence to the new temple.
The Emperor chose for the execution of this grandiose project two gifted architects, Anthemius and Isidore. Both were natives of Asia Minor, Anthemius from the city of Tralles, and Isidore from Miletus. They attacked their great task with enthusiasm and skillfully guided the work of ten thousand laborers. The Emperor visited the construction personally, watching its progress with keen interest, offering advice, and arousing the zeal of the workers. In five years the construction was completed. On Christmas Day of the year 537 the triumphant dedication of St. Sophia took place in the presence of the Emperor. Later sources related that the Emperor, overwhelmed by his attainment, said upon entering the temple: “Glory be to God who deemed me worthy of this deed! I have conquered thee, Solomon!” On this triumphant occasion the population was granted many favors and great celebrations were arranged in the capital.
Externally St. Sophia is very simple because its bare brick walls are void of any ornamentation. Even the famous dome seems somewhat heavy from the outside. At present St. Sophia is lost among the Turkish houses which surround it. In order to appreciate fully all the grandeur and splendor of the temple one must see it from the inside.
In former days the temple had a spacious court, the atrium, surrounded by porticoes in the center of which stood a beautiful marble fountain. The fourth side of the atrium adjoining the temple was a sort of outer porch or closed gallery (narthex) connected by five doors with the second inner porch. Nine bronze doors led from this porch into the temple; the central widest and highest royal door was intended for the emperor. The temple itself, approaching in its architecture the type of “domed basilicas,” forms a very large rectangle with a magnificent central nave over which rises an enormous dome 31 meters in circumference, constructed with unusual difficulty at the height of 50 meters above the earth’s surface. Forty large windows at the base of the dome let abundant light spread through the entire cathedral. Along both sides of the central nave were constructed two-storied arches richly decorated with columns. The floor and the columns are of many-colored marble, which was used also for parts of the walls. Marvelous mosaics, painted over in the Turkish period, formerly enchanted the eyes of the visitors. Particularly deep was the impression made upon pilgrims by the enormous cross at the top of the dome shining upon a mosaic-starred sky. And even today one can distinguish, under the Turkish painting in the lower part of the dome, the large figures of winged angels.
The most difficult task of the builders of St. Sophia, a feat yet unsurpassed even in modern architecture, was the erection of an enormous, and at the same time very light, dome. The task was accomplished, but the remarkable dome did not last very long; it caved in even during Justinian’s period and had to be rebuilt on less daring lines at the end of his reign. Justinian’s contemporaries spoke of St. Sophia with as much transport as did later generations, including the present. The Russian pilgrim of the fourteenth century, Stephen of Novgorod, wrote in his Travels to Tsargrad (Constantinople), “As for St. Sophia, Divine Wisdom, the human mind can neither tell it nor make description of it.” In spite of frequent and violent earthquakes, St. Sophia stands firm even today. It was transformed into a mosque in 1453. Strzygowski said: “In conception the church [St. Sophia] is purely Armenian.”
As time went on the true story of the erection of St. Sophia was transformed in literature into a sort of legend with a large number of miraculous details. From the Byzantine Empire these legends found their way into south-Slavic and Russian as well as into Muhammedan, Arabic, and Turkish literature. The Slavonic and Muhammedan versions present very interesting material for the history of international literary influences.
The second famous church of the capital erected by Justinian was the Church of the Holy Apostles. This church had been built by Constantine the Great or by Constantius, but toward the sixth century it was in a state of complete dilapidation. Justinian pulled it down and rebuilt it on a larger and more magnificent scale. It was a cruciform church with four equal arms and a central dome between four other domes. Again the architects of the Church were Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore The Younger. When Constantinople was taken by the Turks in 1453 the church was destroyed to make room for the mosque of Muhammed II the Conqueror. A clearer conception of what the Church of the Holy Apostles was like can be obtained from St. Mark’s at Venice, which was built on its model. It was copied also in St. John at Ephesus, and on French soil in St. Front at Perigueux. The beautiful lost mosaics of the Church of the Apostles have been described by Nicholas Mesarites, a bishop of Ephesus, at the beginning of the thirteenth century, and were thoroughly discussed by A. Heisenberg. The Church of the Apostles is known to have been the burial place of the Byzantine emperors from Constantine the Great to the eleventh century.
The influence of Constantinopolitan construction was felt in the East, for instance, in Syria, and in the West in Parenzo, in Istria, and especially at Ravenna.
St. Sophia may impress and charm now by its dome, by the sculptural ornaments of its columns, by the many-colored marble facing of its walls and floor, and still more by the ingenuity of its architectural execution; but the marvelous mosaics of this remarkable temple have heretofore been inaccessible, because they were painted over during the Turkish period. A new era in the history of St. Sophia, however, started recently through the enlightened policy of the modern Turkish republic under the leadership of Mustapha Kemal Ataturk. The building was first of all thrown open to foreign archeologists and scholars. In 1931 an order of the Turkish government was issued enabling the Byzantine Institute of America to lay bare and conserve the mosaics of St. Sophia. Professor Thomas Whittemore, director of the Institute, secured permission to uncover and restore mosaics, and in 1933 work began in the narthex. In December 1934, Mustapha Kemal announced that the building had been closed as a mosque and would henceforth be preserved as a museum and monument of Byzantine art. Owing to Whittemore’s untiring and systematic work the marvelous mosaics of St. Sophia are gradually reappearing in all their brilliance and beauty. Since Whittemore’s death in 1950, his work has been continued by Professor Paul A. Underwood.
An excellent conception of Byzantine mosaics exists in the West in the northern Italian city of Ravenna. Fifteen hundred years ago Ravenna was a prosperous city on the Adriatic coast. During the fifth century it served as a refuge of the last Western Roman emperors; in the sixth century it became the capital of the Ostrogothic kingdom, and finally, from the middle of the sixth century to the middle of the eighth century, it was the administrative center of Byzantine Italy reconquered from the Ostrogoths by Justinian. It was the home of the Byzantine viceroy or exarch. This last period was the brilliant period of Ravenna, when political, economic, intellectual, and artistic activity poured forth in an abundant stream.
The artistic monuments of Ravenna are bound up with the memory of three persons: first, Galla Placidia, the daughter of Theodosius the Great and the mother of the western emperor, Valentinian III, second, Theodoric the Great, and third, Justinian. Putting aside the earlier monuments of the time of Galla Placidia and Theodoric, we shall speak briefly only about the Ravenna monuments of Justinian’s time.
Throughout his long reign Justinian was greatly interested in promoting the construction of monuments of civil and religious architecture in various places of his enormous empire. Upon conquering Ravenna he finished the construction of those churches which had been begun under the Ostrogothic sway. Among these churches two are of particularly great importance from an artistic point of view. They are the Church of St. Vitale and the Church of St. Apollinare in Classe (the Ravennan port, Classis). The main artistic value of these churches lies in their mosaics.
About three miles from the city of Ravenna, in the deserted marshy locality occupied in the Middle Ages by the prosperous trading port of the city, rises the simple outline of the Church of St. Apollinare in Classe, representing in shape a genuine ancient Christian basilica. On one side of this church stands the round campanile constructed later. The interior has three naves. The ancient sarcophagi, decorated by sculptural images and situated along the church walls, contain the remains of the most famous archbishops of Ravenna. The mosaic of the sixth century can be seen in the lower part of the apse. It represents St. Apollinare, the protector of Ravenna, standing with raised arms, surrounded by lambs, in the midst of a peaceful landscape; above him, on the blue starred sky of the large medallion, beams a jeweled cross. The other mosaics of this church date from a later period.
For the study of the artistic achievements of Justinian’s period the church of St. Vitale in Ravenna contains the most valuable material. Here the mosaics of the sixth century have been preserved almost intact. The domed church of St. Vitale is covered on the inside from top to bottom with marvelous sculptural and mosaic decorations. The apse of this church is particularly well known because the two most famous mosaics are found on its two side walls. One of them represents Justinian surrounded by the bishop, the priests, and his court; the other is a picture of his wife, Theodora, with her ladies. The garb of the figures in these pictures is very striking in its splendor and magnificence. Ravenna, sometimes referred to as an “Italian-Byzantine Pompeii,” or “la Byzance occidentale,” offers the most valuable material for the evaluation of early Byzantine art of the fifth and sixth centuries.
The building activities of Justinian were not limited to the erection of fortifications and churches. He constructed also many monasteries, palaces, bridges, cisterns, aqueducts, baths, and hospitals. In the distant provinces of the Empire the name of Justinian is connected with the construction of the monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai. In the apse of its church is a famous mosaic of a transfiguration ascribed to the sixth century.
Several very interesting miniatures and textiles of that epoch have survived. And although under the influence of the church, sculpture in general was in a state of decline, there were a large number of exceedingly graceful and beautiful ivory carvings, particularly among the diptych-leaves and the special group of consular diptychs, the series beginning in the fifth century and ending with the abolition of the consulate in 541.
Almost all the writers of this period and the builders of St. Sophia and of the Apostles were natives of Asia or northern Africa. The Hellenistic civilized East still continued to fertilize the intellectual and artistic life of the Byzantine Empire.
A survey of the long, various, and complicated reign of Justinian shows that in the majority of his projects he did not attain the desired results. It is quite evident that the brilliant military undertakings in the West, a direct outcome of his ideology of a Roman Caesar obliged to reconquer the lost territories of the Empire, were not successful in the end. They were decidedly out of harmony with the true interests of the Empire, centering primarily in the East; hence they contributed much to the decline and ruin of the country. The lack of means followed by a reduction of the army made it impossible for Justinian to establish himself firmly in the newly conquered provinces, and the results became evident during the reign of his successors. The religious policy of the Emperor was also a failure, for it did not bring about religious unity and resulted only in additional disturbances in the eastern Monophysitic provinces. Justinian met with most complete failure in his administrative reforms, which were begun with pure and sincere intentions and which led to the impoverishment and depopulation of villages, particularly because of excessive taxation and extortions by local officials.
Two of Justinian’s achievements, however, left a deep mark. in the history of human civilization and completely justify the surname of “Great.” These two achievements are his code of civil law and the cathedral of St. Sophia.