The Early Centuries of the Greek Roman East

Justinian as defender of the faith, Louvre, Paris

I.The Foundation of Constantinople and the Adoption of Christianity

We begin our story about the history of Romiosini or the Greek Middle ages with the founding of Constantinople, the capital city of the Eastern Roman Empire. Constantinople was founded by the Roman emperor Constantine I (324-337) who wanted to establish, for various political reasons, a new capital city for the Roman Empire in the east. Ultimately, this change was brought about because of the turmoil which the Roman Empire was facing in the west at the time. With much of the western territories having been destroyed by the invasions of the Germanic tribes, Rome was in constant danger of being attacked. Moreover, with the eastern frontier of the Empire stretching over all of Asia Minor and Syria, Rome was no longer in a position to check the ongoing hostilities with Persia. Consequently, after a series of internal struggles among the ruling powers of the Empire, Constantine -who emerged victorious-chose as the location of his new capital the ancient Greek city of Byzantion. In 324 Constantine transformed Byzantion into "The New Rome" or "Constantinopolis", the City of Constantine. The people often referred to it simply as "The City" or, in Greek, "Hi Polis".

A look at a map of the late Roman empire shows that Constantinople was right at the heart of the Roman Empire. Approaching the city via the Sea of Marmara, one could see the city as it first rose above the water on its triangular peninsula. The city was protected on three sides by the sea of Marmara, the Bosporus and the Golden horn, a natural barrier which the historian Procopius tells us "surrounded the city like a garland". Later on the garrison of the city was to be made complete by the addition of a wall, erected by the Emperor Theodosius, which stretched along the land side of the city from the Golden Horn down to the Sea of Marmara. Being at the crossroads between the east and west of the Greco-Roman world, Constantinople was also in a strategic position both militarily and commercially. Militarily the New Rome was in a much better position to fight invasions on the Empire's eastern frontiers, as well as trouble on the Danube. Commercially it was in a position to control trade to and from the Euxine sea, Asia, Europe and the Mediterranean.

It was at this period in time that the Roman Empire also acquired a new official religion: Christianity. In time Christianity itself was transformed into a "new" Christian culture, being couched into the framework of the philosophies, symbolism's and customs of the ancient Greek world. The natural theology of the fourth-century eastern Fathers Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil and Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostomos of Ambrose, represented, to a large extent, the metapsychosis and fusion of Ancient Greek thought and Christian Dogma into a new philosophical tradition. These issues will be dealt with later in this work, when we deal with Christianity and the Greek-Orthodox Church. Along with the Greek language and customs, the Greek-Orthodox faith was to form one of the links of continuity between the cultures of the ancient Greek and Greco-Roman worlds and the Medieval world of the Greek Roman East.

In the world of the Eastern Roman Empire, the ancient love of philosophical speculation and disputation now transformed itself into passionate theological argumentation, popular throughout the Roman East. The Greek Orthodox Church treasured its vigorous tradition of democracy and the laity felt that theological questions concerned them directly. In some quarters, inevitably, discussion was not always well informed, but always zealous, and any new theological development immediately became a matter of public concern. In Constantinople as in every eastern city of the empire, one could hear lively theological talk in the streets and shops, as well as at dinner tables. In the Eastern Roman Empire, an absolute monarchy, theology in many ways came to absorb people's passions in much the same way that politics did in the classical world and in later societies.

Christianity was also to form the strongest cohesive glue that bound the peoples of the Eastern Roman Empire, regardless of their language and ethnic origin. To the inhabitants of the Eastern Roman Empire, the words "Romaios" -Roman- and "Christian" were often synonymous. It is not therefore uncommon to find the citizens of the Byzantine empire calling themselves "The Christian People", even though there were other Christian people outside Byzantine boarders. It should be noted here that words such as "Byzantine Empire", which are taken here to be synonymous with Eastern Roman Empire, were introduced by French Scholars as late as the seventeenth century.

With a new capital in Constantinople, the synthesis between Classical and Christian culture complete, and a new sense of unity and stability, the world of the Eastern Roman empire, was ready for another thousand years of life in the Middle ages. By the time the emperor Justinian came to power in Constantinople the old Hellenic and Roman sense of pride and the new Christian sense of mission conspired to urge upon the rulers of Constantinople a policy of re- conquest.

II.The Empire at the time of Justinian

In 527 emperor Justinian succeeded to the throne in Constantinople. Justinian was clever and ambitious and saw himself as the restorer of Roman power and prestige. His reign saw the codification of Roman law the flourishing of the arts, architecture, and the re-building of the magnificent St. Sophia --the Church of Holy Wisdom. Militarily, he used clever diplomacy to create enough turmoil among the various Germanic kingdoms so that with little effort he recaptured many of the lands that had previously been lost from the empire. These included Africa, Italy and southern Spain.

All this did not come without a price, however. His immense military efforts in the west had all but exhausted the Empire's treasury. His preoccupation with the west also neglected long standing problems in the east with Persia. Justinian essentially had to pay Persia for peace so that he could have a free hand in the west. Likewise, he never adequately protected the northern frontiers from the increasing pressure of the Slavs. So, on the one hand Justinian's reign saw prosperity in the areas or Law, architecture and art, as well as the restoration of much of the lost western lands of the Empire. On the other hand the strain of his military achievements created a legacy of trouble for his successors. His campaigns were a last doomed attempt to revive a structure whose collapse was inevitable. Within a few years after his death, most of Italy, southern Spain and Africa were again recaptured, leaving only the eastern Roman Empire to carry on; Justinian's dream to restore the full glory of the Roman Empire ended in failure. In the areas of Law, Architecture and the Arts, and literature however, innovations created during his reign were to have a lasting impact in the history of the Eastern Roman Empire.

The Recodification of the Laws

Perhaps the most lasting monument of Justinian's reign was his codification of Roman law. By this time it had become necessary to rewrite many of the laws as they had become obsolete since their last codification by Theodosius is 348. In an absolute monarchy the people ceased to be the source of the laws. It was now the monarch, by virtue of his office, that was responsible for putting into effect a new law, as well as the way in which it was interpreted and enforced. The heritage of Roman law represented an unbroken tradition that continued down to the time of Justinian. Preservation and renewal of the laws, Justinian felt, offered the possibility of emphasizing one of major roots of the empire's strength. This immense accomplishment, far outlasted the Byzantine empire and survived to form the basis of European jurisprudence. On February 13, 528, Justinian appointed ten jurists to compile a new codification of the statute law. The ten-man commission appointed to the task of compiling the new code included two men of particular significance. The first was Tribonian, a jurist in the civil service and Theophilus, a professor of law at the university of Constantinople. Under their diligent supervision, the new "Codex Iustinianus" was published in a little over one year, April 7, 529. With the writing of this code, the administration of the law was put on a new basis.

However, no sooner was this work completed than an even more ambitious undertaking was begun. This was the compilation of a digest of the jurisprudence of the great Roman lawyers of the second and third centuries AD, something that had never before been attempted on such a scale. The order to start work on the Digest was given on December 15, 530. In December, 533 the Digest, called the "Digesta Iustiniani Augusti" was completed. It was expected to take ten years but was finished in less than three. Its writing had involved, among other things, the reading of 2000 books, representing 39 authors, and including 3 million lines. The final code was reduced to 150 thousand lines. Many of the authors read came from Tribonian's private library. With both law and jurisprudence now established, any further commentary on the law was forbidden. The Code and the Digest represented the whole of the valid law, along with its interpretation -with the exception of such imperial legislation as might subsequently be issued.

The old teaching manuals, now obsolete, were replaced by new ones. While the Digest was being compiled Tribonian had work started on an introductory manual, the "institutes", which was to take the place of the classic manual of Gaius. The new manual was published on November 21, 533, and came into effect on the same day as the Digest, December 30, 533. The teaching of law was also overhauled. To ensure better control of instruction, the teaching of law was allowed only at the universities in Constantinople and Beyrouth; the schools at Alexandria and Caesarea were closed down as their teaching of law was found to be unsatisfactory.

By the end of 533, it had become apparent that the original Code of April 533 had already been rendered obsolete by the publication of a large amount of legislation. As a result Tribonian and his colleagues, because of their remarkable skill and competence, were once again summoned, after the completion of the Digest, to compile a new Code. This work was to be done by Tribonian, Dorotheus of Beyrouth and three lawyers, all of whom had been engaged on the Digest. The work was published on November 16, 534 and went into effect of December 30 of the same year. This edition of the Code, which is extant, is divided into twelve books. Book I deals with ecclesiastical law; the sources of the law; and the duties of higher officials. It should be noted here that ecclesiastical law has a place of honor in this Code, whereas it did not in the Code of Theodosius. Books 2-8 deal with private law. Book 9 with criminal law, and Books 10-12 with administrative law. There are a 4652 laws in total in this collection.

Following this, any new legislation, when needed, was from that point onward issued in the form of "New Constitutions", known as "Novels". These dealt with such issues as ecclesiastical and public affairs, private law, and one very long Novel in particular constitutes a code of Christian marriage law.

A sign of the change between the Roman Empire of old and the Eastern Roman Empire at the time of Justinian was the fact that all Novels were now written in Greek. While the Codes were in Latin, the traditional language of the law, this was not the natural language of judges, lawyers, litigants, and the general populace in the Eastern Roman Empire. Also, while Justinian was guided by old tradition in the recodifying of the law, he saw that he could not automatically perpetuate all laws of the old Roman Empire. Many Roman laws had never been popular in the Greek east, and local preferences, both Hellenic and oriental in origin, were now brought within the new legal system to replace old Roman doctrines. The influence of Greek philosophical thought, which was at the heart of the educational system, was manifest in many of the classifications and reasonings of Justinian's legislation. A definite Hellenic and oriental shade in the new legislation can also be seen in the laws concerning family, inheritance and dowry. The power of the father, traditional in old Roman thought, was now considerably weakened. Also attesting to the difference in the times was the fact that the new laws had a definite Christian sense about them. There was a desire to make the laws more humane in some ways, in line with the emperors current emphasis on the concept of Philanthropia, or love of mankind. There was a marked increase in laws aiming to protect persons of weaker social position against persons whose position gave them increased power. Justinian's law, for instance, favoured slave against master, debtor against creditor and wife against husband. Of course, there still existed laws that seem, by today's standards quite cruel, and there were still laws that differentiated between different classes of society, but it was a definite advance in the legal system since the days of the old Roman Empire.

The Advancement of Architecture

The ruler as builder was one of the oldest ideals of a sovereign. Public buildings and other structures were, in principle, gifts to be used by the ruler's subjects, but also monuments of the greatness of the ruler. Justinian strove hard to realize this ideal. The greatest buildings he erected or rebuilt were in Constantinople, the city which was now the embodiment of the civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire. Numerous magnificent and artistically beautiful structures were constructed or rebuilt during his reign. They included statues, churches and various other monuments. His crowning achievement was the building of St. Sophia, the Church of Holy Wisdom. This building was considered by many an architectural wonder of the middle ages, and is still standing strong today. Its design, size, artwork, name and its significance made it a building that symbolized the religious and philosophical epicenter of Constantinople and Byzantine civilization.

Even before he came to power, during his uncle's reign, Justinian had already set about to rehabilitate and rebuild many churches in Constantinople and its suburbs. This work began mostly in a private capacity and reflected the piety which was to show itself further when Justinian became emperor. The chief church in this category was St. Accius, a Cappadocian soldier who had been executed at Byzantium in the early 300's and was venerated as one of the leading martyrs who had suffered on the site of the future Constantinople. Six other churches were similarly rebuilt. One was St. Mocius. This was one of the most famous shrines in Constantinople. It was said to have been originally a temple of Zeus, which Constantine then converted into a church. Other churches included St. Plato, martyred at Ancyra, and St. Thyrsus, executed in Nicomedia in the same persecution. In the suburbs of Constantinople he rebuilt a church of the famous woman martyr, St. Thecla, who suffered in the first Christian century.

When Justinian came to the throne, he found many of the major public buildings and churches in dire need of repairs. His private undertakings were replaced by an official program to rebuild and construct churches throughout the whole empire. The reign of Justinian would have been incomplete if it had not brought with it some new monuments to the glory of the empire, and Justinian was eager to have a permanent literary record of his building achievements. To this end Justinian had at his disposal the famous Historian Procopius who wrote, at the Emperor's command in the years 559-560, the famous panegyrical treatise "On the Buildings of the Emperor Justinian". Far from being displays of megalomania, Justinian's works constituted a well balanced plan. First, he wished to provide the people of the capital with much needed public buildings. Second, to create a new architectural setting for the institutions that represented the chief political and spiritual resources of the empire and its civilization. Justinian surpassed the work of Constantine, who up to that point had been the greatest builder among the Christian emperors of the Empire.

One of Justinian's best known benefactions was the rebuilding of a hospital for the poor which had been constructed in the early days of Constantinople. Well outside Constantinople, at a place called Argyronium, on the shore of the Bosporus, there had been a free hospital for people with incurable decease's. This hospital had been neglected until Justinian rebuilt it. Procopius tells us of three other hospitals reconstructed by the Justinian and the Empress Theodora, acting together.

Justinian also improved numerous other public works. For example. work was done for the water supply into the city. The most difficult problem was to maintain an adequate supply of water in the city year round. In the area of the Augustaeum, general repairs were undertaken of the colonnades which lined the main street leading from the Augustaeum to the palace of Constantine. The public bath of Zeuxippus was embellished. In Justinian's day this bath,going back to the Greco-Roman days of Byzantium, was one of the show places of the city. It had a collection of eighty classical statues, which were described by poets and copied by various artists. In the suburbs a general program of development was carried out at Hebdomon, on the shore of the Sea of Marmara. A market place, public baths, and colonnades --some of the chief needs of municipal life in a city very much in contact with its classical roots-- were built. As well, the emperor had an artificial Harbour built at Hebdomon which, along with the artificial harbours of Julian and Theodosius, provided refuge to ships in stormy weather.

Great as all these building operations were they still were small in comparison to Justinian's churches. Every city of the eastern Roman Empire required an ample number of churches and it was only fitting that the capital should have more than usual. We have the names of 34 churches that the emperor built or rebuilt. Most were dedicated to many members of the celestial hierarchy and to a number of saints and martyrs. In addition to those churches he built or rebuilt as a private citizen, there are associated with the emperor. Most famous of these was St. Sophia (the Church of Holy Wisdom) rebuilt after a fire brought the old one down on January 13, 533. There was also St. Eirene (the church of the Peace of God); four churches to the Virgin Mary; One of St. Anna; four churches of the Archangel Michael, who had a special cult in Constantinople and was venerated as a wonder worker; a church of St. John the Baptist; one of all the Apostles and another of St. Peter and Paul; and churches of joint dedication to St. Sergius and St. Bacchus; to St. Priscus and St. Nikolaos. As well, other churches were built by Justinian for Panteleimon Tryphon, Ia, Zoe, and Lawrentius. This list also includes the Church of the Holy Apostles, replacing a building of Constantine the great. This church occupied a special place among churches in that it had been intended by Constantine the Great as a burial place of his dynasty, and a mausoleum had been built outside the apse of the church. Here lay the tomb of Constantine surrounded by members of his family and successors. By Justinian's time the mausoleum had become full, and so Justinian constructed a new tomb near it for himself and his successors. As a result the church of the Holy Apostles was regarded as second in importance after St. Sophia.

Architecturally Justinian's churches illustrate the final development of a design in church building which was to be typical of Greek Christianity. After the official recognition of Christianity, the first churches to be built were based mainly on the plans of the Roman public Basilicas. But slowly this fashion went out of style in the territory of the Eastern Roman Empire, in favour of the building of square or cruciform plan designed around a central dome. This design gave the church both liturgical function and a symbolical significance which were much more congenial than the basilica to the Greek religious mind. It was in churches of this design that Justinian's architectural ambition reached its fullest realization, and set an example for future builders.

The church of this type was essentially either a square or a cross surmounted by a central dome. The structure below the dome might be conceived as a cube or a cross with equal arms which could be inscribed geometrically within the cube. Occasionally there might be a cross with lower member longer than the others. The octagonal plan was also developed. The dome stood alone over the center of the square, or over the intersection of the arms of the cross; or a great central dome might have been accompanied by smaller domes built over the arms of the cross. But it was in the central dome that the significance of this new design lay. The dome unified the whole structure of the church and brought all its areas and spaces together around one central focus. The Hemisphere of the dome, which rose above this central spot symbolized heaven. It was meant to be visible, at least partially, to all worshipers in the church and served to bind the entire congregation. The altar was usually placed in an apse in the east of the building, and in the square or cruciform plan, the congregation was closer to the altar than they had been in churches of the elongated basilica plan. In some buildings the altar stood under the central dome, giving an even greater feeling of unity to the congregation. The dome also created an impression of vast space, and gave the whole interior of the church a majesty and dignity which inspired a sense of inner peace and intellectual detachment. On the dome was usually painted a great portrait of Christ Pantocrator (Christ the allmighty). The architecture and imagery the dome conspired with one's mind to give the illusion of bringing heaven to earth. In many ways the dome created the sensation of exposing a realm, the realm of the divine, to which we could look to for truth and holy wisdom. In this sense the design of the Byzantine church incorporated much of the imagery of the Platonic realm of absolute ideals, the ultimate of which was the Holy Wisdom of God.

The Church of St. Sophia

In none of the churches of Constantinople could the mind reach a greater sense of spiritual depth and nobility than in the so-called "Great Church" of St. Sophia. This was almost certainly Justinian's greatest architectural achievement. It is very characteristic of the spiritual life in the Eastern Roman Empire in the days of Justinian, that the Emperor chose to build, as his own greatest church --which was also intended to be the greatest church in the world-- a shrine dedicated to Christ as "Hagia Sophia" or Holy Wisdom in English. Christ, the Wisdom (Sophia) and Power( dynamis) of God, in St. Paul's words, was a manifestation of the holy trinity, projecting the action of God from the realm of the divine to the world of man. It is by no means coincidence that the chief temples of Pagan Athens and Christian Constantinople were both dedicated to Wisdom. The Parthenon as the shrine of the Goddess Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, and Justinian's Great Church both showed respect for "Sophia" which has always been one of the chief traits of the Greek mind. Christ as the Wisdom of God was a familiar idea to Greek Christianity; the Hymn of the Resurrection, sung during the Eucharist, invokes Christ as "the Wisdom and the Word and Power of God". Near St. Sophia stood St. Eirene, representing the peace of God. Like St. Sophia, St. Eirene had been originally built by Constantine the Great. It is highly indicative of the Eastern Roman Empire's connection with its Classical Greek roots, that when both St. Sophia and St. Eirene were burnt down and rebuilt, Wisdom was given first place.

Just as Justinian had found skilled legal scholars (Tribonian) to re codify the laws, as well as skilled generals to recapture lost lands (Belisarius), so too he was fortunate enough to have found two builders of the highest talents to build St. Sophia. They were Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Melitus. As well as builders they were also noted mathematicians, which was to be of basic importance in the accomplishing the task Justinian set for them. St. Sophia was built in the traditional Greco-Roman style, but it represented a design and scale never before attempted. The main area of the interior, designed for the services, was a great oval 250 by 107 feet; with side aisles, the main floor made almost a square, 250 by 220 feet. The nave was covered by a dome 107 feet in diameter, rising 180 feet high above the ground.

The design created the impression of a vast enclosed space. This was made possible by an intricate series of supports, all of which were arranged so as to lead the observers eye from the ground level up to the dome. At the east and west of the nave were hemicycles crowned by semi-domes, which provided some support for the superstructure. Each hemicycle was flanked and supported by two semicircular exedras carrying smaller semidomes. At the eastern end the hemicycle opened into the apse with its semi-dome. With rows of columns supporting the upper galleries on the north and south of the naive, and numbers of clear windows in the walls, in the semidomes, and around the base of the main dome, the supporting elements looked incredibly slender and light. The ring of forty-two arched windows placed close side by side at the springing of the main dome seemed almost to separate the dome itself from the main building. The historian Procopius in his accounts of St. Sophia tells us of the astonishing effect of these details. The weight of the upper part of the building appeared to be borne on terrifyingly inadequate supports, although it was very carefully braced. The dome itself, Procopius tells us, seemed not to rest upon solid masonry at all; instead it appeared to be suspended by a golden chain from heaven. The bold conception and design of the building were matched by the skill with which it was constructed. A structure of such size and plan were never again attempted in Constantinople.

As with the design and fabric of the building, its decoration was chosen to produce a transcendent spiritual effect. Typically in Greek-Orthodox churches, applied ornament was concentrated on the inside leaving the outside to show the mass of the structure and bring out its geometric patterns of curves and lines, which the Byzantine mind so greatly appreciated. The interior decoration was sumptuous but risked being gaudy. It contained a richness indicative of the prosperity of the empire as a whole. Paul the Silentiary, one of the members of Justinian's court, wrote an elaborate description of the church in verse which shows what the magnificence of the decoration must have been like when St. Sophia was in its original state. Many lands, Paul tells us, sent their own characteristic marbles, each of with its distinct features; black stone from the Bosporus region, green marble from mainland Greece, polychrome stone from Phrygia, and porphyry from Egypt and yellow stone from Syria. The different stones were used in carefully planned combinations in the columns, in the pavement, and in the revetments of the walls.

Rising above was the main dome, showing the cross outlined against a background of gold mosaic. The semidomes were also finished in gold mosaic, and the pendentives beneath the dome were filled with mosaic figures of Seraphim, their wings like peacock feathers. Against the background of marbles and mosaics the church was filled with objects of shining metal, gold, silver, and brass. From the rim of the dome hung brass chains supporting innumerable oil lamps of silver, containing glass cups in which the burning wick floated in oil. Beside the side colonnades which separated the aisles from the nave hung other rows of silver lamps.

It was in the sanctuary that the precious metal was used to its fullest. The visitor would first see an iconostasis, the columnar screen which stood in front of the altar. The screen itself was made of silver plated with gold. Depicted on it were Christ, the virgin Mary and the apostles. At intervals in front of the screen were lamp stands shaped like trees, broad at the base, tapering at the top. In the center of the screen was the Cross Christ, brightly illuminated. The gates leading into the sanctuary bore the monogram of Justinian and the empress Theodora. Within the sanctuary was the Holy Table, a slab of gold inlaid with precious stones, supported by four gold columns. Behind the altar, in the semicircular curve of the apse, were the seven seats of the priests and the throne of the Patriarch, all of gilded silver. Over the altar hung cone-shaped ciborium or canopy, with nielloed designs. Above the ciborium was a globe of solid gold, weighing 118 pounds, surmounted by a cross, inlaid with precious stones. The eucharistic vessels -chalices, patens, spoons, basins, ewers, fans- were all of solid gold set with precious stones and pearls, as were the candelabra and censurs.

Around the altar hung red curtains bearing woven figures of Christ, flanked by St. Paul, full of divine wisdom and St. Peter, the mighty doorkeeper of the gates of heaven. One holds a book filled with sacred words, and the other the form of the Cross on a staff of gold. On the borders of the curtain, Paul the Silentiary tells us, indescribable art has "figured the works of mercy of our city's rulers". Here one sees hospitals for the sick, there sacred churches, while on either side are displayed the miracles of Christ. On the other curtains you see the kings of the earth, on one side joined with their hands to those of the Virgin Mary, and on the other side to joined to those of Christ. All this design is cunningly wrought by the threads of the woof with the sheen of a golden wrap.

To the feeling of space and of regal splendor there was also joined the magnificent impression of light. If one entered St. Sophia by day the building seemed flooded by sunlight. Procopius tells us that the reflection of the sun from the marbles made one think that the building was not illuminated from without but that the light was created within the building. At night the thousands of oil lamps, all hung at different levels, gave the whole building a brilliant illumination without any shadows.

This effect of light had perhaps the highest effect on the worshipers. As Procopius puts it: "whenever anyone comes to the church to pray, he realizes at once that it is not by human power or skill, but by divine influence that this church has been so wonderfully built. His mind is lifted up on high to God, feeling that he cannot be far away but must love to dwell in this place he has chosen. And this does not happen only when one sees the church for the first time, but the same thing occurs to the visitor on each successive occasion, as if the sight were ever a new one. No one has ever had a surfeit of this spectacle, but when they are present in the building men rejoice in what they see, and when they are away from it, they take delight in talking about it". Paul the Silentiary also tells us how that the Great Church, with its light shining through its windows at night, dominated the whole of Constantinople. The lighted building, he tells us, rising above the dark mass of the promontory, cheered the sailors who saw it from their ships in the Bosporus or the sea of Marmara.

It took five years to complete St. Sophia. Tradition has it that it took ten thousand workers, under the direction of one hundred foremen. Before it was completed, Justinian fixed the staff of the church at sixty priests, one hundred deacons, forty deaconesses, ninety subdeacons, and one hundred readers and twenty-five singers to assist in the services. There were also one hundred custodians and porters.

The story of the dedication of the church is that when the building was ready to be consecrated, the Emperor walked in procession from the gate of the palace across the Augustaeum to the outer doors of the church. Preceded by the Cross, Justinian and the patriarch then entered the vestibule. Then the Emperor passed into the building alone and walked to the pulpit, where he stretched his hands to heaven and cried, "Glory be to God, who has thought me worthy to finish this work! Solomon, I have surpassed thee!"

Literature and the Arts

Outside the Augustaeum, in Constantinople, one would notice a statue of Justinian wearing what was known at the time as the armour of Achilles. But the Emperor carried no weapon. Instead he held in his left hand the symbol of power of the Christian Roman Emperor, the globe, which signified his dominion over land and sea, and on the globe was a cross, the emblem of the source of his rule. Justinian as Achilles was a natural example of the fusion of classical culture with Christianity in the Eastern Roman Empire. This fusion begun before Justinian's time but was to continue to be one of the distinguishing marks of education and literature in the age of Justinian. Along with the legal and architectural splendours discussed above, the reign of Justinian also saw a flowering of literature such as the Greco-Roman world had not enjoyed for many years.

The earliest Christians avoided the worldly learning of the Greeks with their "philosophy and deceit", and saw no way in which the blasphemous literature could be brought into any sort of relationship with Christian teaching. This reaction of many Christians, as late as the second century, could be summed up in Tertullian's famous phrase, "what has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" In time, however, Christian thinkers began to realize that there was much to be carried over into Christian teaching from the Classical Greeks. Socrates and Plato, for example, often seemed to approximate Christian thought. Likewise many of the writings of Aristotle could be fit right into the teachings of the Church. Indeed after the adoption of Christianity people such as St. Basil and the other fathers of the Church, all trained in Greek literature, were able to show that Pagan literature contained a wealth of teaching that was in accord with the philosophies, dogmas and symbolism's of Christianity. It is true that such literary themes as the loves of the Olympians, and the witty humor of Aristophanes, represented views of life that Christianity came to replace. However, the fathers of the Christian Church and other later thinkers had the insight to perceive that it was possible to make some basic distinctions, and separate those elements from classical literature that were not in accord with Christianity, keeping all the rest. The writings of the Fathers of the Church, and many others after them show an established conviction which was vital for the future of the Byzantine civilization, and indeed, all Christian cultures. This conviction brought about the establishment of a "new" Christian culture, one utilizing all the best writings of the classical Greek thought and fusing it into the writings and teachings of the Orthodox Church. The process of such a fusion took centuries, and its final step was not to be completed till the age of Justinian.

Even after Christianity had grown to the point where numbers of prominent people were Christians, public life was still in the hands of people who had a classical education By this time the educational system had come to be viewed as the embodiment of the ancient heritage, political and philosophical as well as literary. In the Greek East, even under Roman subjugation, Greek literature kept alive for centuries the tradition of the political, philosophical and artistic achievements of the classical Hellenic world. For a Greek Christian to give up all the classical teachings simply because parts of them were indelicate would have meant loosing a great deal. It would have meant, had he chose to accept only the teachings of the early Christians, that he would be cut off from a major part of his cultural heritage. Most people were not prepared for this.

It was into a world founded on this ideology that Justinian came. Indeed, Justinian immediately recognized the meaning of the classical spirit and set himself to absorb it and be absorbed by it. The Greek language itself also fascinated him and he took great pleasure in composing state papers in it, although he had a skilled secretariat for this purpose. A humorous anecdote in this vein comes to us in Procopius's "secret history", where he tells us rather wickedly that the Emperor took great pleasure in performing public readings of his works, in spite of his provincial accent, which he never lost when speaking Greek (of course, who was to tell the Emperor that his accent was provincial?)

Justinian decided to put an end to the idea of Paganism as heresy. He saw, however, that there was a major problem in the manner in which Pagan writing was being taught in the schools and universities. In particular, it was being taught in two different ways.

In the schools of Constantinople, Gaza and Alexandria, the classics were being taught by teachers who were themselves Christians. Procopius was typical of such Christian teachers steeped in the classics.He and his pupils and colleagues composed great ecclesiastical works based on the classical style. The theaters of Gaza were often filled with Christian professors who would give public exhibitions in which they declaimed before enthusiastic audiences their rhetorical compositions. Another such teacher, alive in Justinian's day, was John Philoponus. His works included both theological treatises and polemics, as well as commentaries on Aristotle. One center of learning that even until Justinian's time had never associated itself with Christianity was Athens. There the professors were still Pagan and were teaching the classics from entirely the Pagan point of view. This was found unacceptable. Not the fact that they were teaching classical works, but that they were themselves not Christians. Justinian gave them the opportunity to become Christian but they refused. As a result Justinian closed down their schools in 529, his second year as emperor. Of course, one could still continue to study the classics at Alexandria, Gaza, or Constantinople, where the teachers were Christians. Most of the Athenian professors went as refugees to the court of the King of Persia. However in time they found conditions there even worst and they petitioned to be allowed to return home. For better or for worst, this action of Justinian's was to be symbolic of what the "new" Christian education and literature, based on the classics, was to be like henceforth.

The favorable atmosphere of the capital city, Constantinople, produced a number of distinguished literary figures in Justinian's time. Many of their works were largely influenced by the teachings of Aristotle, Plato and other ancient Greek philosophers and play writers, whom they had all studied. Indeed men in public life were frequently scholars and poets. The work entitled "The Greek Anthology", for instance, preserves selected specimens of the verses of nine such poets. Included in this list is John the Lydian, who wrote some autobiographical passages about the scholarly side of the government, and also a history of the Persian war. As already mentioned, Procopius the historian, and Paul the Silentiary were also in this list of distinguished scholars at the time of Justinian.

Procopius studied at Gaza, then a university town, and learned to mimic the style of the great Greek historians such as Herodotus, and Thucydides. In 527 he went to Constantinople where he was to assume new heights as the leading historian of the day, as well as a legal advisor to Belissarius, the most brilliant of Justinian's generals. As we saw above he also wrote a panegyric in which Justinian's vast construction program was described with the resources of literary art. After Procopius's death another of his works, "The secret History" was published, in which he libelled the Emperor Justinian who, he believed, had failed to do justice to his hero Belissarius.

While Procopius went back to the classic Greek historians, Paul went back to Homer. He wrote a famous description of St. Sophia in 887 hexameters, about the length of one of the longer books of Homer. Homer became the vehicle for the praise of the noblest church in the empire. Like Procopius's earlier work Paul's monograph on Agia Sophia reflects a real Christian feeling via the subtlety and similies of the Homeric style. It was not only for his praise of Agia Sophia that Paul is known for, however. In his day and later Paul was one of the most appreciated writers of occasional verses in the Classical style. The seventy eight of his epigrams which are preserved in "The Greek Anthology" show that he was an accomplished practitioner of the classical style and, with an intimate knowledge of classical literature and a delicate feeling for language and meter.

In the age of Justinian, Greek classical literature was a part of the ancient heritage, and Christianity, as a custodian of this heritage, was well able to absorb the classical literary tradition so long as it was understood that the tradition now played a vital role as an element in the new and larger Christian way of life that Hellenism and the entire Eastern Roman Empire had gradually evolved into. Justinian knew that true patriotism and national pride would come from the teaching of the record of achievements of ancient Greece. Indeed, the Greek-speaking citizens of the empire were very conscious of their decent from the Greeks of ancient times who had produced the likes of Homer, Thucydides, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. They saw no essential discontinuity between themselves and classical Greece. It was now Justinian's responsibility to see that the essential base of such a classical pedagogical system was maintained.Classical literature had proven its worth over many centuries, and was to survive alongside with Christianity. In the Christian Roman Empire Justinian hoped to shape what one could read and learn, and teach the classics, but only if he or she was Christian first.


Nikolaos Provatas
Associate Research Physicist, Departments of Physics and Mechanical Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.