Justin I: Dumb Uncle or Byzantine Trump?



Inspired by the work of David Parnell on the complex social webs among Justinian’s generals, I am thinking of examining the social networks among generals during the reigns of Anastasios and Justin I. I have done a great deal of work on Leo I, Zeno, and Justinian… so this new work is only natural. The general Vitalian who rose up against the emperor Anastasios and for a while wielded power during the emperor Justin’s reign before being assassinated by a power-faction led by the future emperor Justinian is of particular interest to me. Indeed, one of the interesting things about these assassinated generals is that when they were purged it did not mean their social networks were culled. This explains why Vitalian’s and the Alan generalissimo Aspar’s (assassinated by Leo I) relatives continued to hold key military command in the Byzantine army long after the regime that killed them had disappeared. To explore these connections and explain the complex power-relationships in early Byzantium I will need to answer a number of questions. But first, I will need to do a great deal of research on the reigns of Anastasios and Justin I. I am familiar with these emperors and their periods, but the old consensus about a dullard Justin manipulated by his nephew Justinian has recently been challenged convincingly…so I am going to start digging into the primary sources again and form my own opinions, which brings me to Justin I.


The long-neglected reign of the Emperor Justin (ruled 517-527) has  received some much-needed attention in the past decade. Since the days of mid-sixth century historian Procopius, Justin has mostly been dismissed by historians as a dullard puppet of his ambitious adopted reletive, the future emperor Justinian (ruled 527-565). This paradigm has begun to shift. Far from an illiterate peasant, Justin has been portrayed as another in a long-line of Thracian generals who deftly manipulated contemporary religious and political disputes in the reign of Anastasios to their advantage.[1] Moreover, important articles by Brian Croke and Charles Pazdernik have convincingly shown that Justin’s relationship with Justinian was far more complex and, indeed, rocky than previous scholarship has recognised.[2] Far from being controlled from the beginning by his adopted son, Justin only gradually granted Justinian the power and offices that would lead to him becoming the most powerful Late Antique  Byzantine ruler. Indeed, Justinian’s close involvement with the circus factions almost led to his downfall. Certainly, as Croke points out, scholars have relied far too heavily upon Procopius scurrilous Anecdota for their portrait of Justin and the puissance of Justinian in the early 520s. One can only hope that one of these writers takes on the challenge of writing a new monograph on Justin.


So, as I did with Leo I, I will begin to blog on this research..hopefully it will lead to another published article.


[1] Geoffrey Greatrex, “Justin and the Arians” ;“The Early Years of Justin I’s Reign in the Sources,” Electrum 12 (2007): 99-113.

[2] Brian Croke, “Justinian under Justin: Reconfiguring a Reign,” Byzantinische Zeitschrift 100. 1 (2007):13-56; Charles Pazdernik, “The Quaestor Proclus,” Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 55.1 (2015): 221-49.


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