Justinian puts down a rebellion



Justinian puts down a rebellion


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Justinian puts down a rebellion


In 532 a number of Byzantine senators, angered by the behavior of a corrupt tax officer, led a rebellion against Emperor Justinian.  In an orgy of violence, the rebels skilled any government officials they came upon and set fire to half of Constantinople.  Afraid for their lives, Justinian and his advisers prepared to flee the city.  But Justinian's wife, Theodora, shamed them into staying and fighting.  The excerpt below from History of the Wars by Procopius gives a brief account of the rebellion and its outcome.  As your read the excerpt, note the arguments that Theodora uses to persuade Justinian to stay.

At this time an insurrection broke out unexpectedly in Byzantium among the populace, and, contrary to expectation, it proved to be a very serious affair, and ended in great harm to the people. . . , as the following account will show.  In every city the population has been divided for a long time into the Blue and Green factions; but within comparatively recent times it has come about that , for the sake of these names. . . [the members of the factions] fight against their opponents knowing not for what en they imperil themselves. . . .  So there grows up in them against their fellow men a hostility which has no cause, and at no time does it cease or disappear, for it gives place neither to the ties of marriage nor of relationship nor of friendship, and the case is the same even though those who differ with respect to these colours be brothers or an other kin. . . .
But at this time the officers of the city administration in Byzantium were leading away to death some of the rioters.  But the members of the two factions, conspiring together and declaring a truce with each other, seized the prisoners and then straightway entered the prison and released all those who were in confinement there. . . .  All the attendants in the service of the city government were killed. . . .  and fire was applied to the city as if it had fallen under the hand of an enemy. . . .  During this time the emperor and [Theodora] with a few members of the senate shut themselves up in the palace and remained quietly there.  Now the watchword that the populace passed to one another was Nika [“conqueror”], and the insurrection has been called by this name up to the present time . . .
Now on the fifth day of the insurrection in the late afternoon the emperor Justinian gave orders to Hypatius and Pompeius, nephews of the later emperor, Anastasius, to go home as quickly as possible . . . because he suspected some plot was being matured by them against his own person. . . .  But they feared that the people would force them to the throne ( as in fact fell out), and they said that they would be doing wrong if they should abandon their sovereign when he found himself in such danger.  When the Emperor Justinian heard this, he inclined still more to his suspicion, and he bade them quit the palace, instantly . . .
But on the following day at sunrise it became known to the people that both men had quit the palace . . .  So the whole population ran to them and they declared Hypatius emperor and prepared to lead him to the marketplace to assume the power . . . [So] he by no will of his own came to the Forum of Constantine, where they summoned him to the throne. . . and proclaimed him Emperor of the Romans. . . .
Now the emperor and his court were deliberating as to whether it would be better for them if they remained or if they took flight in the ships.  And many opinions were expressed favoring wither course. And the Empress Theodora also spoke to the following effect: “ . . . My opinion then is that the present time, above all others, is inopportune for flight, even though it bring safety. . . .  For one who has been an emperor it is unendurable to be a fugitive.  May I never be separated from this purple. . . If, now, it is your wish to save yourself, O Emperor, there is no difficult.  For we have much money, and there is the sea, here the boats. However consider whether it will not come to about after you have been saved that you would gladly exchange that safety for death. For as for myself, I approve a certain ancient saying that royalty is a good burial shroud.” When the queen had spoken thus, all were filled with boldness, and, turning their thoughts towards resistance, they began to consider how they might be able to defend themselves if any hostile force should come against them.  Now the soldiers as a body. . . were neither well disposed to the emperor nor willing openly to take an active part in the fighting, but were waiting for what the future would bring forth.  All the hopes of the emperor [therefore] centered upon [generals] Belisarius and Mundus, of whom the former, Belesarius, had recently returned from the Persian war bringing with him a following which was both powerful and imposing, and in particular he had a great number of spear men and guards who had received their training in battles and the perils of warfare . . .
When Hypatius reached the hippodrome, he went up immediately to where the emperor is accustomed to take his place and seated himself on the royal throne . . . And from the palace Mundus went out through the gate which, from the circling descent, has been given the name Snail. . . . Belarius, with difficulty and not without danger and great exertion, made his way over ground covered by ruins and half burned buildings, and ascended to the stadium. . .  Concluding . . . . that he must go against the populace who had taken their stand in the hippodrome----- a vast multitude crowding each other in great disorder --- he drew his sword from its sheath and commanding the others to do likewise, with a shout he advanced upon them at a run.  But the populace, who were standing in a mass and not in order, at the sight of the armored soldiers who had great reputation for bravery and experience in war, and seeing that they struck out with their swords unsparingly, beat a hasty retreat.  Then a great outcry arouse, as was natural, and Mundus, who was standing not far away, was eager to join in the fight. . . . He straightway made a sally in the hippodrome throught the entrance which they call the Gate of Death.  Then indeed from both sides the partisans of Hypatius were assailed with might and main and destroyed. . . . . There perished among the populace on that day more than thirty thousand. . . .  And the soldiers killed both [Hypatius and Pompeius]  on the following day and threw their bodies into the sea. . . . This was the end of the insurrection in Byzantium

Reading Review

  • What were the Blues and the Greens?
  • Why did Justinian expel Hypatius and Pompeius from the palace?
  • How did Theodora persuade Justinian to stay in Constantinople?


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Justinian puts down a rebellion