Byzantium Timeline
6th Century

Byzantium Timeline (501-600 A.D.)




Justin I becomes Byzantine Emperor.

Justin was an illiterate peasant soldier, originally from Thrace, who rose to the Imperial throne though his command of a palace guard regiment. The real power lies behind the throne, in the person of Justin’s nephew - Justinian.


Justinian I becomes Emperor

A clever, dedicated and ambitious man, Justinian is partnered by his equally impressive wife - the former actress and courtesan Theodora.

Justinian also appoints a series of able (though not always scrupulous) senior legal and financial officials and gives primary command of his armies to the young general Belisarius. Justinian’s major appointments are distinguished by his emphasis upon ability, rather than social standing.


The Code of Justinian is adopted as the basis of Imperial Law

The Code, a re-formulation of Roman Law, occupies a pre-eminent place in European legal history - what is often referred to as "Roman Law" in fact derives directly from the Code of Justinian.


The Nika Riots

Constantinople is severely damaged by rioting. Encouraged by elements of the Constantinopolitan aristocracy. Justinian considers abdication and escape, but is encouraged to stand firm by Theodora.

The riots, named after the victory chant of the Blue and Green Hippodrome factions ("Nika" = "Win!"), are consequently put down with much bloodshed.


Construction of Haghia Sophia begins

This awe-inspiring basilica still stands in Istanbul, 1,461 years after its completion by two construction teams of five thousand workers.


Belisarius completes conquest of the Vandal Kingdom of North Africa

Belisarius, one of the most gifted military leaders of any age and culture, is then instructed by Justinian to commence re-conquest of Italy from the Ostrogoths – a task which seems largely complete by 540, when Belisarius is recalled to command Byzantine defences against a Persian invasion of the east.


Bubonic plague makes its first known appearance in the Mediterranean.

Hundreds of thousands die across the Persian and Byzantine Empires. Justinian himself falls gravely ill with the disease. When he recovers he finds that his Empire’s financial and military strength has been gravely damaged by the plague.


The Byzantine conquest of Italy is completed.

By the eighty-year-old eunuch general Narses !


Justinian dies, aged in his early eighties.

Justinian leaves his people with an ambivalent legacy: His re-conquest of much of the western empire from the Vandals and Goths, although impressive, was bought at the cost of much devastation - particularly in Italy. The plague-ravaged empire is over-extended and unable to defend itself effectively against a new round of barbarian invasion and escalating warfare with the Persians

Justinian’s most unimpeachable and long-lasting contribution to Byzantine history remains his re-codification of Roman Law and the construction of the Great Church of Haghia Sophia.