Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Few remarks
on Justinian's age & his governing /

Στοιχεία
της εποχής και της διακυβέρνησης του Ιουστινιανού




Justinian / Ο Ιουστινιανός
(Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz)


The wealth of the church had increased greatly since the early fourth century, and the clergy made up a substantial portion of the population. The great church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople had a small army of clergy; a law of Justinian from the year 535 attempted to reduce its number to 525, which is some indication of the size to which it had grown. Bishops might receive salaries higher than provincial governors, and several times higher than professional men such as professors and public doctors. The lower clergy also drew stipends according to their rank. Priests and deacons, who served at the altar, were classed in the highest order. Then came the subdeacons, readers, acolytes, singers, exorcists, and doorkeepers. Farther down the scale were the grave diggers and the hospital attendants (parabalani). There were deaconesses as well, who superintended the baptism of women. Add to these the monasteries and convents that owned a substantial amount of property, and it is clear that the Christian Church absorbed a large portion of the gross domestic product.

Yet the church had become part of the fabric of society. It dominated private life. The year was marked by a succession of church festivals celebrating the lives of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the saints. The church had Christianized many pagan customs and incorporated them into its rituals: thus, on August 15, when the pagans had once celebrated the grape harvest, the emperor and the patriarch would lead a procession from Constantinople to celebrate a harvest festival in a vineyard in a suburban area. The church maintained hospitals for the ill and provided what relief there was for the poor. Moreover, in the cities of the empire, it was often the bishops who provided leadership. The municipal councils consisted of decurions, whose membership was hereditary. These councils, which had once governed the cities and collected the taxes, had died a slow death over much of the empire, though Justinian continued to pass laws directing the council members to fulfill their duties. The bishops stepped into the vacuum of power, though they were assisted by ad hoc advisory councils of local notables. Their relationship with the monasteries in the territories of their cities was not always harmonious, particularly in the eastern provinces, where the monasteries were in closer contact with the country folk than the bishops, and were often anti-Chalcedonian. [...]

The Codex and the Digest look back to the past, but Justinian was a reformer at heart. He felt that he had a vocation vouchsafed him by God to set the laws on an even keel. He was a tireless worker, and his laws give us some measure of the man. They reveal both his concerns and his prejudices. There is a group of laws directed against the heterodox: pagans, heretics, Samaritans, and Jews. In 527, while Emperor Justin was still alive, though gravely ill, and Justinian was co-emperor, he issued a sweeping measure directed against all who rejected the Catholic Church and the orthodox faith. Then in the next two years there appeared a group of specific laws. Pagans were barred from the civil service, where the most profitable jobs in the empire were to be found. The rights of pagans to inherit and to leave legacies to designated heirs were curtailed. Anyone who was caught sacrificing secretly to the pagan gods was to be put to death. Pagan teachers were denied salaries from the imperial treasury, and another law threatened pagan teachers with confiscation of their property and exile if they did not accept baptism.

The Samaritans, the remnants of the northern kingdom of Israel, claimed to be the descendants of the Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manassah. Until Justinian, the Samaritan religion, like Judaism, had the status of a “permitted religion” (religio licita). The law guaranteed its freedom and granted certain privileges. But in 529, the Samaritans rose in a revolt that was ruthlessly crushed and their religion lost its favored status. In 551, Justinian relaxed his measures, but in 556 the Samaritans rose again in revolt and were suppressed without pity.

As for Judaism, it retained its status as a religio licita. The Jewish Sabbath was respected by law. Jewish male children might be circumcised, whereas Gentile children might not, though there were exceptions for the Egyptians. Rabbis and synagogue elders had the same exemptions as the Christian clergy from the burdens of serving on town councils. Synagogues were protected by law against attacks, and if a mob of fanatical monks burned a synagogue and then consecrated the site for a church to prevent the Jews from rebuilding, the Jews were to receive another site of equal value. The rabbinical school at Tiberias in Palestine, which was the intellectual center of Judaism, continued unhindered by the imperial authorities. At the same time, the Jewish community did not consider Justinian a friend. For one thing, Justinian’s zeal for legal reform extended even to the synagogues: one of his laws stipulates that the Scriptures might be read in the synagogues either in Greek or in the local language of the congregation—probably an effort to discourage Hebrew, which was being used increasingly in synagogues. For another, it is clear Justinian classed Judaism as a heresy, even though he allowed it freedom. In one of his laws, Justinian wrote “I hate heresy” and among the heresies that he listed by name was Judaism. [...]

Efficiency was another cause dear to Justinian’s heart. He proclaimed a number of measures intended to increase efficiency and honesty in the administration. He frowned on the sale of offices, which was the bane of Byzantine administration. But the practice did not end; in fact, Prokopios in his bitter Secret History claimed that the sale of offices increased enormously in Justinian’s reign. It was a method of raising money, and the imperial treasury needed money. The emperor’s concern extended to the church. No member of the clergy was to be charged a fee for installation in a benefice. There was one exception: the Great Church, called Hagia Sophia, in Constantinople. Delinquent clergymen were another concern of the emperor. Many clergymen, it seems, were absenting themselves from their churches, though they did not forget to collect their salaries. Justinian decreed that bishops should appoint other clergy to take over the posts of these delinquents. Clergy were forbidden to gamble or go to the theater, and no man who was illiterate, heterodox, or immoral was to be ordained. These measures give a glimpse of the governance of the clergy, for laws are rarely passed to forbid imaginary offenses. If a bishop was forbidden to leave his diocese except with the permission of his metropolitan, the patriarch of Constantinople, or the emperor himself, we can be sure that some bishops did spend time away from their dioceses. [...]

Justin’s efforts to enforce orthodoxy extended to the surviving Arians in the east, and in 523–524, he took severe measures against them. This provoked a reaction from Theodoric the Ostrogoth, who ruled Italy though ostensibly he recognized the suzerainty of Constantinople. The Ostrogoths were Arians, and Theodoric was anxious to defend his fellow believers in the east. He dispatched Hormisdas’ successor, Pope John I, to Constantinople to remonstrate on behalf of the Arians. John received a warm welcome from Justin and Justinian: so warm that Theodoric became suspicious, and when John returned to Italy, he threw him into prison, where he died. But Justin relaxed his anti-Arian measures, and the Arian churches in the east continued to exist until Justinian closed them in 538, during Belisarios’ campaign against the Ostrogoths, and confiscated their property. By then the objections of the Ostrogoths no longer mattered.






* James Allan Evans,
The Emperor Justinian and the Byzantine Empire (Greenwood Guides to Historic Events of the Ancient World),
[Ο Αυτοκράτορας Ιουστινιανός και η Βυζαντινή Αυτοκρατορία]
Greenwood Press  2005,
pp./σσ. 7, 8, 26-30, 87.

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