A Fan Fiction Retelling of Justinian the Great’s Early Life- Byzantine Alternate History Spin-off

Posted by Powee Celdran

DISCLAIMER: Although this story is based on historical events, it adds a few fictional elements to the 5th and 6th century history with both real historical figures and fictional ones.

READ BYZANTINE ALTERNATE HISTORY CHAPTER III FIRST

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Welcome to the third part of the spin-off stories to the Byzantine Alternate History series by the Byzantium Blogger! The previous article was a sequel story to Byzantine Alternate History Chapter II wherein most of the story was fictional but still used real characters and settings, and now this will be a spin-off although not a sequel story to Chapter III of Byzantine Alternate History. Now to read this story, you do not really have to read chapter III first as this story will not be a sequel to it but rather a prequel, as chapter III was really a retelling of the story of the reign of the Byzantine Empire’s most influential emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565), while this story on the other hand would be a rather fictional retelling of his earlier years before he came to power in 527. Unlike the past 2 stories in this spin-off series which discussed what would happen wherein history had changed as a result of what happened at the ends of their respective alternate history chapters’ endings, this one will now be something more of a story wherein most of it is all based on facts while the other part is just a fictional retelling. This story will thus be told in that way as whatever will happen in it will be what actually happened in real history as being a prequel to chapter III which actually began with what happened in real history, this one will thus feature real events. However, the only rather fictional part here will be discussing the life of the future Byzantine (Eastern Roman) emperor Justinian the Great growing up before becoming emperor, as little is recorded about his early years, thus this story will come up with a rather fictional angle just to fill in the blanks in discussing Justinian’s early life. This story too will not have any recap of chapter III as again it is a prequel and not a sequel to it, and thus it will already begin with the story itself, while this story too will not be as long and highly fictionalized as the past two spin-off stories I previously made.   

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Flag of the Byzantine Empire

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Map of Europe and the Roman world after 476

Note: Since this story is set in the 5th and 6th centuries after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Byzantine characters here will be referred to as Byzantines, not Romans.


As this story is another fan fiction, this one will be also made in collaboration with Justinianus Byzantinus (follow her on Instagram @Justinianusthegreat) who had also helped me write chapter III of Byzantine Alternate History as well as chapter VI. In the case of this story, I have asked her a few questions on Instagram chat on how she would imagine Justinian’s early life as, and thus the fictional part of this story focusing on Justinian’s unknown early years will be based on her answers in our chat. Now this story will be following the life of Flavius Petrus Sabbatius before he became Emperor Justinian I wherein for this story we would simply call him Petrus who will be its main character. We will thus follow his story from when he was born in 482 to a family of simple peasants in Illyria, his childhood growing up as a peasant until suddenly relocating to Constantinople at age 15 when adopted by his uncle Justin who was a rising star in the imperial army, then following that his education and intense passion for learning in Constantinople, his role in helping his uncle Justin become emperor in 518 and how Petrus was actually the power behind his uncle, and then we will end this story after Petrus meets his future wife and the famous future empress Theodora before he is crowned emperor in 527 following his uncle Justin’s death whereas Petrus would now be known as “Justinian”.

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Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565), art by HistoryGold777

Additionally, this story will also explore a fictional angle explaining what drove Justinian to be the ambitious, visionary, and iron-fisted ruler he was remembered as, while also discussing a fictional take on what led him to go through a quest for power and everything that influenced him to make him want to be a great and all-powerful emperor. At the same time, this story while discussing Justinian’s earlier years would also discuss parallel events happening in his time, basically what was happening in the Byzantine Empire under the reigns of the emperors Zeno (474-491), Anastasius I (491-518), and Justinian’s uncle Justin I (518-527) all while Petrus was training to be the emperor he was destined to be. At the same time, this story too will feature a number of court intrigues, the politics in the Byzantine Empire at that time together with their domestic and foreign policies and how they dealt with the happenings around the known world, the conflicts they had with enemies such as the Ostrogoths in Italy and the Sassanid Empire in the east, the politics of the smaller kingdoms neighboring the Byzantines like Georgia, while at the same time too having some elements of murder, mystery, family drama, and even romance. This story thus will be highly embellished with many fictional parts to make it sound more exciting all while almost everything that will happen here will be what actually happened in real history, unlike the chapters in the Byzantine Alternate history series wherein they all became fictional at a certain point. Now since this story will not be so far apart from the setting of chapter II and its spin-off sequel story, a lot of the characters from chapter II and its spin-off will make a comeback here as well, although the only major difference is that the alternate history events at the end of chapter II and the event of the great world war breaking out as was discussed in chapter II’s spin-off story will not occur here. Rather, this story will be again basically an intro to chapter III and thus a lot of the characters from chapter III will appear here as it is in this story where we will really give a full introduction to them. Additionally, I would again like to give a shoutout here to Byzansimp, the channel I just discovered that also does a great job in retelling Eastern Roman history by summarizing it through animation, and their videos on the Leonid Dynasty and Justinian I’s reign does have a major role in the creation of this story. Keep in mind too, this story contains MANY mature elements especially nudity and erotic scenes! So I advise that this article is not really friendly for younger readers. Other than that, I would also like to mention the several artists whose works featuring scenes in this era which will appear here, and these include Foojer, Amelianvs, Ediacar, JowyAnderson, Spatharokandidatos, HistoryGold777, Aureliokos, MayaStudio, and Ancient City Lullaby.

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Guide to the late Roman army’s structure, positions in the late Roman army will feature a lot here; art by myself
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Map of the Byzantine Empire by 555 under Emperor Justinian I the Great

Related Videos:

The Age of Justinian (Byzansimp)

The Byzantine Empire: Unbiased History- Byzantium I (Dovahhatty)

Justinian the Great: Unbiased History- Byzantium II (Dovahhatty)

Byzantium II- Justinian the Great (Malthius)

The Leading Characters:

Flavius Petrus Sabbatius- Justinian before his reign

Justin I- Uncle of Petrus and Byzantine emperor (518-527)

Anastasius I- Byzantine emperor (491-518)

Ariadne- Byzantine empress, wife of Anastasius I, wife of former emperor Zeno

Vitalian- Byzantine general under Anastasius I

Theodoric the Amal- King of the Ostrogoths in Italy

Kavad I- Shah of the Sassanid Empire since 488

Hypatius- Nephew of Anastasius I and Byzantine general

Theodora- Lover and future wife of Petrus

Macedonia- Byzantine blue faction dancer

Sittas- Byzantine palace guard officer and later general

Vigilantia- Younger sister of Petrus

Kaleb I- King of Aksum and Byzantine ally


Justinian’s Childhood and Adolescence from Illyria to Constantinople (482-500)        

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The future Byzantine emperor Justinian I the Great was born as Flavius Petrus Sabbatius on May 11, 482 in the small village of Tauresium in Illyria (today’s North Macedonia) to a family of peasants of mixed Illyrian and Thracian origins. His father was named Sabbatius who although has not much historical records describing his life, thus for this story we would say he was a retired soldier when his son and first child Petrus was born in 482. In this case, Sabbatius who was born back in the 430s in Illyria as well was already in around his 50s when his son was born after retiring some years earlier, and when in the army- at least in this story’s case- Sabbatius although only going as far as being a low-ranking officer fought in many wars including against the Huns in the 450s and again against the Huns and Ostrogoths in the 460s. Petrus’ mother now named Vigilantia was around 20 years younger than her husband and was a local peasant of Illyria too who had a rather uneventful life until marrying Sabbatius in around 480 and having their first child Petrus in 482. Now when Petrus was born, as being born in the Balkans, he was born within the territory of the Eastern Roman Empire thus making him a Roman citizen, although by the time he was born it had already been 6 years since the Western Roman Empire had fallen (476), thus by this time the only Roman Empire alive was the Eastern Roman Empire based in Constantinople, and the emperor during Petrus’ birth was Zeno who had been in power since 474 despite losing the throne once between 475 and 476.

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Byzantine emperor Zeno (r. 474-475/ 476-491), art by myself

Now as of 482, Zeno ruled the Eastern Roman Empire or better known as the Byzantine Empire while what was once the Western Roman Empire which basically just became Italy as well as parts of today’s Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia became the kingdom of the barbarian Ostrogoth general Odoacer who in 476 deposed and exiled the last Western Roman emperor Romulus Augustus (r. 475-476). Zeno meanwhile had been ruling over a highly unstable Byzantine Empire wherein almost every week there were either riots in the streets or military coups directed against him as Zeno was a highly unpopular ruler due to coming from the mountains of the region of Isauria in Asia Minor- originally he was named Tarasikodisa before changing his name to the more acceptable Greek “Zeno”- which made most of the empire’s people especially in the capital Constantinople see him as an outsider and a “semi-barbarian” making him unfit to rule, while his rule too was challenged as he was blamed for allowing the Western Roman Empire to fall to the barbarian warlord Odoacer all while the Eastern empire was financially unstable too in his reign. Now the region of Isauria which Zeno came from was for the longest time a poor backwater mountainous region in the Roman Empire which only began gaining significance in the 5th century when people from the region such as Zeno rose to prominence in the army, and thus it was only under Zeno when Isauria began to be developed as that was his homeland. Back to 482, other than Petrus being born, over in Constantinople Zeno attempted to reconcile with a recently branded heretical sect of Christians known as the Monophysites by issuing a decree known as the Henotikon. Now the Orthodox Christian faith (also known as Chalcedonian Christianity since 451) was the empire’s official religion and although they and the Monophysites were both Christians, they believed in different things regarding the nature of Jesus Christ as the Orthodox believed he was both human and divine and the Monophysites as their name suggests believed he had only one nature being only divine, and since Orthodoxy (Chalcedonian) was the official religion, whatever the Monophysites believed in was seen as heretical.

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Coin of Emperor Zeno

Zeno however despite being Orthodox came from the Eastern provinces of the empire which had a larger Monophysite population, thus making him sympathize with them to the point of issuing a decree that was to tolerate the Monophysites, however this decree was highly controversial making Zeno even more unpopular that it even led to the Patriarch of Rome Pope Felix III to go against it by excommunicating the Patriarch of Constantinople Acacius thus leading to a schism known as the “Acacian Schism” named after the patriarch. However, whatever was happening in the capital and with Emperor Zeno was very far away from what was happening with Petrus and his family in their farm in Illyria wherein they did not know the ongoing issues in their empire. Although being remote from the capital and the issues of the empire, a family member of Petrus however happened to be in Constantinople at this time and this was his uncle Justin, his mother’s younger brother who at the time of his nephew Petrus’ birth in 482 served as part of the newly established imperial bodyguard unit known as the Excubitors under Zeno.

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Byzantine Excubitor guardsman, art by Foojer

The imperial guard force known as the Excubitors was created during the reign of Zeno’s predecessor Byzantine emperor Leo I (r. 457-474) who eliminated the mostly Germanic majority in the Eastern Roman army by instead recruiting locals in which most were Isaurians, which is thus how Zeno came into the picture, and most of these Isaurian tribesmen Leo recruited ended up in the new Excubitor force while Zeno succeeded Leo as emperor as Zeno married Leo’s daughter Ariadne in order for Leo to strengthen his ties with Zeno who became his top general. Over time, more ethnicities from the empire joined the Excubitors such as Thracians and Illyrians like Justin, and although history does not really say when Justin joined the imperial army, in this story we would say that he joined in early 474 shortly before Leo I’s death from dysentery. Justin now was born also in Illyria in 450 and prior to travelling to Constantinople with one younger brother and a few friends, Justin’s village which was the same one Petrus was born in was attacked by barbarians, in this story being the Ostrogoth mercenaries or Foederati in the Eastern Roman army that went rogue under their commander the Ostrogoth Theodoric Strabo whose offers were refused by the emperor Leo I. Wanting to get away from the poverty, the slow and boring life in the countryside, and to escape these barbarian raids as well, Justin together with his brother and friends travelled to Constantinople by foot as refugees with nothing but the clothes on their backs. When arriving at the capital, the group began a business of selling bread to support themselves all while the empire especially the capital was facing political turmoil as it was at this time when Zeno was overthrown by his rival and wife’s uncle Basiliscus in 475 and when Zeno in return returned to the capital and overthrew Basiliscus in 476. Justin together with his brother and friends too happened to be illiterate due to being originally peasants from the countryside while they too coming from the Latin speaking parts of the empire only knew Latin and could hardly speak or even understand Greek which was the more spoken language in the capital. Eventually, Justin joined the imperial guard force with his unnamed brother after Zeno regained the throne and recognized the fall of Western Rome and the birth of Odoacer’s Kingdom of Italy in 476 while Justin’s friends would disappear from history following this as they did not join the Excubitor force. As for Zeno, aside from making a compromise with the Monophysites, recognizing Odoacer’s hold on Italy as his vassal kingdom, and making peace with the Vandal Kingdom in North Africa earlier on, he was also busy dealing with the rebellion of the same rogue mercenary commander Theodoric Strabo in Thrace while Zeno too recognized the former Western Roman emperor Julius Nepos (r. 474-475) who after losing the Western throne fled to Dalmatia (today’s Croatia) as the Western Roman emperor in name only, however after Nepos was suddenly assassinated in 480, Odoacer annexed Nepos’ territory of Dalmatia into his own Kingdom of Italy. In 481, the threat of Theodoric Strabo had disappeared when Strabo fell off his horse into a spear and died before attempting to attack Constantinople, and following Strabo’s death his men joined forces with the Ostrogoth king Theodoric the Amal, who was previously educated in Constantinople as a hostage before ruling the Ostrogoth kingdom in the Northwest Balkans in 475.

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Theodoric the Amal, King of the Ostrogoths since 475

Rather than continuing the conflict with the Ostrogoths in the form of Theodoric the Amal, Zeno instead made a treaty with Theodoric and his small Ostrogoth kingdom which was to give Theodoric a lot of privileges only Roman citizens could have including making him have the honorary title of consul and the highest military position of Magister Militum as Zeno too had problems of his own to deal with which in particular was the difficult rebellion of his fellow Isaurian general turned traitor Illus who had held himself in a highly fortified fortress in Isauria beginning 484. In 485, Theodoric serving Zeno attacked Illus’ fortress and partially succeeded, however Illus still survived while Theodoric eventually tired of following orders from Zeno rose up in rebellion against him and even attempted to besiege Constantinople going as far as cutting off its water supply. Using diplomacy once again, Zeno in 487 avoided conflict with Theodoric by instead asking Theodoric to be the problem of Odoacer in Italy instead as Zeno too had turned on Odoacer after discovering Odoacer had supported Illus’ rebellion against him. In 488, Theodoric with his entire Ostrogoth army marched west into Italy to capture it from Odoacer thus laying siege to Odoacer’s capital and the former Western Roman capital Ravenna. Justin however serving Zeno never really made it far up the ranks in the palace guard force while even never really personally speaking to Zeno, instead in this story’s case Justin only went as far as seeing Zeno in front of him but did not have the courage to speak to him, although in this story’s case Justin would recall that Zeno was someone like him as both were rough and unrefined men that usually spoke in a rather foul language.         

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Map of the Byzantine Empire (purple) after 476, Italy under Odoacer’s kingdom
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Tauresium in today’s North Macedonia, birthplace of Petrus (Justinian) in 482
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Odoacer deposes Romulus Augustus in Ravenna, 476
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Visual map of the Byzantine capital Constantinople

Back in Petrus’ insignificant village of Tauresium, he spent the very first years of his life with both parents and from as young as 4 already learned how to plant crops, milk the cows, and carry water from the river. As Justinianus said, Petrus grew up as a happy little boy in his farm despite being poor with his family only owning a really small plot of land and having to face the trouble of occasional barbarian raids which they resolved by having to hand over their crops or animals to them to get them away, although both his parents were very creative that they made the most of their little plot of land using it to raise cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens as well as planting some barley, wheat, and vegetables in it.

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The child Flavius Petrus Sabbatius as a peasant, from Malthius

Growing up, Petrus would play with the other neighboring small children but would however never get the chance to learn to read or write. Although never learning to read or write, he still somehow possessed great intelligence from a young age as seen when he was able to know how to organize the crops in their farmland as he too inherited the creative and organized way of thinking from his very resourceful parents. In 490, Petrus’ younger sister also named Vigilantia after their mother was born, and here Petrus being 8 at this time would as Justinianus said devote his time as well to taking care of his younger sister while his parents worked the field. As the years passed though, Petrus began becoming more curious about the wider world when hearing stories from people about the great capital Constantinople and the sea which were places he never saw, while when getting older he began growing more and more traumatized by the occasional barbarian raids into his farm making him thus grow to despise barbarians. The young child Petrus too had prayed to God asking if there was a better life ahead of him other than being a peasant, and in this story’s case going with Byzansimp’s video’s take on Justinian’s story, God answered him in his dreams saying there was a greater life ahead of him, however Petrus did not know what that life ahead would be. Meanwhile back in Constantinople, Zeno had finally finished off the rebellion of Illus when Illus was finally captured and executed in 488, and following this, things had begun to stabilize for the empire, however Zeno did not have much longer to live and in 491 he died from an epileptic seizure at the age of 66, as true enough Zeno had already been suffering from epilepsy for years.

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Empress Ariadne, wife of Zeno, art by myself

Some 12th century legends on the other hand say that Zeno in 491 when experiencing a mild illness was buried alive by his wife Ariadne which thus shows that he was such an unpopular ruler that even his wife hated him and that his people just seized the opportunity of him falling ill by happily burying him alive. However, Zeno being buried alive is highly unlikely as even sources that mention him from his time that were hostile to him do not even mention he died that way; thus, this legend shows that even centuries after his time people had a negative image of him. Although Zeno was still unpopular by the time of his death, he at least still managed to hold on to the throne till the end even dying peacefully considering that in his reign he was overthrown once and had afterwards almost lost the throne a number of times. Following Zeno’s death, the people of Constantinople all shouted “give us an Orthodox emperor, give us a Roman emperor!” as they saw Zeno as neither as he was Isaurian making him not seen as Roman while Zeno making peace with the Monophysites made his people not see him as Orthodox. Giving in to the demands of the people, the 41-year-old empress Ariadne a few days later married Zeno’s finance minister and member of the Silentiarii or court secretaries Anastasius, a Roman-Illyrian born in the rich port city of Dyrrachium (today’s Durres, Albania) in 431, and unlike Zeno who was rough-around the edges, violent, mostly unlikeable, and seen as uncultured, Anastasius was the opposite being a Roman of patrician status, highly educated and cultured, energetic, and very intelligent in terms of economics, as well as tall and handsome despite being already 60, and this was for the people of Constantinople true enough the emperor they wanted, or so they thought.

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Anastasius I, Byzantine emperor and successor of Zeno in 491, art by Amelianvs

Anastasius I after marrying Ariadne was thus crowned as emperor, and now the one feature that everyone noticed about Anastasius was his heterochromia, meaning that one eye of his was black and the other one blue, thus people referred to him as “Anastasius Dicorus”, Dicorus meaning “mismatched eyes” in Latin. Now despite seeing the native Latin speaker Anastasius as the ideal “Orthodox” and “Roman” emperor the people were looking for, deep inside he like Zeno also sympathized with the Monophysites, and according to Dovahhatty’s first video on Byzantium- in which we will stick to here- Anastasius’ mismatched eyes reflected his conflicted nature as he was torn between the Orthodox and Monophysites, and this can be explained with a curse that struck his mother when she was pregnant with him which she although mostly overcame before giving birth to him, however this curse would continue to live on with Anastasius later on in life which was seen with him at times supporting the Monophysites and their cause. Now in Constantinople, there were two rival factions that competed over chariot races using it as an outlet to express their clashing political views, and these two factions in chariot racing were the blues and greens which supported opposing political ideologies whereas the blues being the conservative faction stood for the Orthodox faith and ancient traditions as well as the institutions while the progressive greens stood for more radical ideas and movements as well as the Monophysite faith, and Anastasius had turned out to support the greens which thus hinted that he supported the Monophysites. Although when Anastasius was crowned emperor, it turned out some people from the blue and green factions were not happy about it as they preferred that their new emperor should be Zeno’s younger brother by 12 years Longinus who Ariadne should have married as he was the more legal choice, and the ones who were most upset about Longinus not being the new emperor were the Isaurians in the capital who then in their usual drunken rage rioted and went on a rampage all over the capital bribing both blues and greens to riot along with them. As the Isaurians led by Longinus rioted in Constantinople, the locals of the city too began their own anti-Isaurian riots in favor of Anastasius I, and in this story’s case Justin as part of the imperial guard had a part in subduing the riots of both camps, and at the end the riots were put down whereas Anastasius exiled Longinus to Egypt which was very far away, and afterwards he would never return.

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Isaurian tribesmen warriors

Although in the following year 492, the Isaurians this time in Isauria itself broke out in rebellion against Anastasius declaring Isauria independent while a large number of them marched from Isauria headed to Constantinople but were defeated at the Battle of Kotyaion by Anastasius’ forces led by the general John the Scythian. In this story’s case, this was Justin’s first actual battle as before that he had only been quelling riots in the city, and due to his bravery here, this was when he began making a name for himself in the army and rising up the ranks. The remaining Isaurians though retreated back to Isauria where they held themselves in a number of fortresses above the mountains, which Anastasius’ army took several years in besieging. In the meantime, what was happening in the wider world was that in 493 over in Italy, Theodoric the Amal after 3 years of laying siege to Ravenna succeeded in capturing it from Odaocer, and although he and Odoacer agreed to share their rule over Italy, Theodoric suddenly betrayed Odoacer killing him in the palace in front of everyone by cutting him down with his sword wherein the blow was so strong that Theodoric cut Odoacer from his shoulder down to his hip.

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Theodoric the Great, King of the Ostrogoths kills Odoacer in Ravenna, 493

Theodoric from here on became the new King of Italy, and what was once the Western Roman Empire and then Odoacer’s kingdom became the Kingdom of the Ostrogoths, again based in Ravenna. Back in the empire, the Isaurians fought using guerilla tactics for the next few years facing Anastasius’ more equipped forces in intermittent battles, while Justin here going to Isauria himself continued showing his bravery in battle and at one point even suffered a fatal war wound when being shot in the chest by an arrow fired by an Isaurian warrior. Justin however kept on persisting, and thus helped in turning the tide of the war to the side of Anastasius whereas the Isaurian rebels soon began to starve being confined to their fortresses. Back in Constantinople, Anastasius by 495 grew tired of this war which had already been going on for 3 years, however the Isuarian resistance was soon enough broken as the imperial forces managed to capture more fortresses. The war thus effectively came to an end in 497 when John the Scythian captured the last Isaurian held fortress in Isauria killing the last 2 Isaurian generals themselves and sending their heads to Anastasius in Constantinople, and thus the Byzantines had regained control of the entire region of Isauria while a large number of the Isaurian population were relocated to Thrace to ensure they wouldn’t revolt again.

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Legend of Zeno’s death by being buried alive under Ariadne’s orders, 491
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Investiture of Anastasius I as emperor, 491
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Location of Isauria in Asia Minor (gray)

          

As for Justin, after suffering a major injury in the Isaurian war, he was recalled to Constantinople where he took a break from fighting to once again serve in the imperial Excubitor forces protecting the emperor. It was at around this time when Justin began climbing up the social ladder gaining both great amounts of wealth and importance due to his military service as when rising up the ranks, he began earning more than ever before. In 497 in this story’s case, this would be when Justin had decided to once again return to his birthplace in Illyria to once again reunite with family, yet he had never seen his nephew and niece while never even knowing they existed as he received no letters, as for one Justin by this point was still illiterate and so were his sister and brother-in-law. When returning back to Tauresium in 497, this would be the first time Justin would meet his nephew Petrus who was now 15 and niece Vigilantia who was now 7, and in this story’s case this would be when Petrus would finally travel to Constantinople with his uncle as here, Justin who now became rich had agreed to have his nephew live with him in his much larger house within Constantinople while agreeing to pay for his education as well. Petrus’ parents too were all for this as they wanted their son to have the best education and to have a better life rather than being a peasant, and so here in 497, they sent him off with his uncle Justin, and thus the uncle and nephew travelled for kilometers to Constantinople first by foot, and then by horse.

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The 5th century Theodosian Land Walls of Constantinople, art by myself

Petrus was in so much awe when seeing Constantinople for the first time when first seeing the massive Theodosian land walls when arriving, and when entering it he saw for himself the landmarks of the city including the Golden Gate of the city and the Church of the Holy Apostles where all the emperors since the first Roman emperor in Constantinople Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337) were buried in; the forums and columns of the previous emperors Marcian (r. 450-457), Arcadius (r. 395-408), Theodosius I (r. 379-395), and Constantine I; and later the Hippodrome, senate building, the Church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia), the imperial palace complex, and the bustling market area of Constantinople and its main street known as the Mese where Petrus was in awe of all the people he saw coming from different ethnicities as well as the dances and acrobatics performed, and the products being sold that even included exotic spices and gems from India, rugs from Persia, ivory, silks, and furs from the distant northern lands of Europe. Although following his arrival, Petrus first went to his uncle Justin’s house which was a large mansion on a hill close to the Forum of Constantine, and this is where he would live from here on. Just a week after his arrival, Petrus began his education first in simply learning how to read and write both in Greek and Latin under a private tutor hired by his uncle. Being a quick learner, Petrus in only a matter of weeks became very skilled in reading and writing that he even began speaking and writing with such a rich vocabulary while he too soon enough started becoming fluent in Greek aside from his native Latin language whereas his uncle Justin still never bothered to learn to read or write or learn the Greek language and still stuck to speaking Latin despite being almost 50 at this point.

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Petrus as a young man studying, by Dovahhatty

Petrus though despite being in awe of the capital would at first have to get used to his new life there as it was very far from the life he had in the Illyrian countryside as the capital was full of people, very busy day and night, and had a lot of culture and new ideas but a lot of crime as well unlike in the countryside where things were the same every day. A few months after Petrus arrived in the capital, he asked his uncle Justin to invite his father, mother, and sister to come over as well, however as Justinianus put it, it was at this time shortly after Petrus arrived in Constantinople in 497 when his father Sabbatius died in his late 60s at least dying happy knowing his son would be destined for greatness. Petrus only found out about his father’s death when his mother and 7-year-old sister arrived in the capital to live in the same house as him and Justin as well, and Petrus was sad hearing of his father’s death but got over his grief by making himself busy studying the Greek language and history as here is when he began learning Greek and Roman history. In this case, the teenage Petrus when studying enjoyed learning their history the most beginning with the legendary founding of Rome in 753BC, its transition from a kingdom to a republic and then to an empire, the glory days of the empire and its decline, the final separation between the east and west in 395, and the fall of the Western empire in 476. As time went by, Petrus grew more and more indulged in Roman history becoming already something very personal for him as he was delighted reading about the glory days of Rome but angered when learning about recent history including Western Rome’s fall which thus made Petrus hate barbarians more as he now knew that they did not only give his family a hard time before, but they brought a great civilization down. What really disturbed Petrus most as he was studying history was how Italy and the city of Rome itself which as the empire’s capital for centuries was no longer under Roman hands but at that point under the barbarian Ostrogoth kingdom of Theodoric the Amal, and thus Petrus would begin holding such a strong grudge against these Ostrogoths. As for Theodoric the Amal on the other hand, in 497 he agreed to a peace with Anastasius I’s Byzantine Empire wherein he would answer to him thus making Italy still in a way under Roman rule from Constantinople. Back in Constantinople, Justin’s younger unnamed brother now being married would have a son in 498 named Germanus who would then be Petrus’ cousin and at the same time, Justin also had Petrus be educated deeply in philosophy and theology. As Justin was a strong hardline believer of Orthodox Christianity, he also wanted his nephew to have the same views as him in the Orthodox faith while also wanting his nephew to support the conservative blue faction that stood for Orthodoxy, also making him believe that only Orthodoxy was right and that other faiths such as that of the heretical Arians and Monophysites, Pagans, and Jews were evil. During his years studying history, literature, philosophy, and theology, Petrus would thus gain his reputation as someone who never slept, as instead he devoted all the time he had to studying for he had the ambition to one day possibly even be the emperor. While devoting all his time to studying, Petrus in this story’s case true enough never really thought of making friends with his fellow classmates or people in Constantinople, instead many of his classmates mocked him for studying too much as well as laughing at him for aspiring to one day be emperor. In this story’s case one such student that tormented the young Petrus the most was a half-Roman half-Goth named Vitalian, the stereotypical bad boy without any sense of discipline or morals and at all times loud and opinionated, here in this story he was 5 years older than Petrus. Vitalian now was born in the Eastern Roman Balkan province of Moesia (today’s Bulgaria) to a mother of Roman origins while his father was a Goth by descent but living within the empire, though Byzantine sources mention that Vitalian was either a “Goth” or “Scythian” as he came from the area that most Greeks and Romans already considered as Scythia which was the general term used for the vast land to the north of the Black Sea. Vitalian thus came to Constantinople at a young age to be educated as his Goth father Patriciolus was already an officer in the army which thus gave access for his son to have top-level education despite Vitalian not putting it to good use. As the sources say, Vitalian although being short in height with a stammer had a violent temper and great fighting skills, and for this story Vitalian made up for his short height and stammer with his hot temper using it to intimidate others he did not like, while he too styled his hair with a long ponytail rising from the top of his head as a way to look intimidating. When studying in Constantinople, the teenage Petrus who was also rather short in stature and round in body while also being mostly quiet but possessed a lot of intelligence was in this story’s case often tormented by the much older Vitalian who at certain times harassed Petrus by kicking him while he was reading or purposely spilling water on his books. Petrus though thinking things through all the time did not retaliate against the bully Vitalian immediately, rather he would think it would be best to find the right time in the future to get back at him. In the meantime, Petrus was occasionally brought by his uncle Justin to the multi-building palace complex wherein Petrus was introduced to a number of court officials, and here Petrus being interested in what they did would end up making conversations with them about how to run the empire and manage the economy.

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Street life in 5th-6th century Constantinople, art by Amelianvs

The Empire Under Anastasius I and Justinian’s Early Career (500-518)     

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Anastasius I’s reign first of all saw the turn of the century from the turbulent and dreadful 5th century to the promising 6th century, but Anastasius was best remembered as the emperor that reformed the economy to ensure that the empire was rich enough to one day expand and reconquer the lands of Western Rome that fell to barbarian invasions. Anastasius’ most significant economic policy was in making sure every citizen of the empire would pay in coin and not in goods as in the past the government’s revenue never increased as a large number of the population paid in goods such as crops or animals.

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Follis coin of Anastasius I

To ensure that everyone paid in coin, Anastasius created a standard copper currency of lesser value known as the Follis which people of lower incomes could have more access to, while he too abolished the worthless coins that were used before. Additionally, Anastasius had also abolished unpopular and useless taxes such as one that people needed to pay just for simply passing through Constantinople while also abolishing the additional tax people had to pay to supply the soldiers with their weapons and armor, and instead he made sure that each soldier would be paid higher using money directly from the imperial treasury as a way to give them enough for them to purchase their own weapons and armor. These tax policies of Anastasius would true enough turn out to be effective as the imperial revenue by 500 had increased thus making Anastasius the “financial genius emperor” all while his wife Empress Ariadne in this story’s case would continue to advise him in domestic policies the way she advised her former husband Emperor Zeno before. Anastasius too was very obsessed with saving money as a way to make the empire rich, however the people soon began to hate him for being too frugal as he cracked down on the spending of games and public entertainment as this is what kept the people of the empire alive. However, Anastasius being also a moral man did not encourage many forms of entertainment like plays and dances, especially those involving barely clothed women and sexual acts on stage, which thus made him heavily crack down on them.

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Flag of the Sassanid Empire

However, no matter how much Anastasius reformed the empire’s economy, he would be greatly troubled by their eastern neighbor the powerful Sassanid Persian Empire in the east beginning 502 as here the Sassanid Empire’s emperor or shah Kavad I demanded that Anastasius double the tribute money paid to them to continue helping the Sassanids defend their northern border against the Huns which were still around, however Anastasius refused Kavad’s request claiming that he needed to save up more for growing his empire. Now for the past century, both the Byzantines and Sassanids had been on peaceful terms with each other as the Sassanids being too busy defending their northern border against the Huns’ raids could not afford to go to war with Byzantium even if they so wanted to. In the latter part of the 5th century and early 6th century, the group of Huns threatening the Sassanids’ northern border were the Hephthalites or “White Hus”, and as a child Kavad was for a time a hostage of theirs as part of his father the former Sassanid shah Peroz I’s (r. 459-484) agreement with them. However, in 484 Peroz was killed by these Huns in battle and was thus replaced as the shah by his brother Balash who being rather useless was in 488 overthrown and replaced with his nephew Kavad, although the Sassanid Empire Kavad came to rule was greatly troubled both politically and economically that in 496 he was even overthrown and imprisoned by his brother Jamasp, although Kavad still managed to break out of prison and flee north to the Huns who in 499 helped him take back the throne from his brother who then fled to Armenia. Since the Huns helped Kavad regain the throne, Kavad was obliged to pay them annual tribute otherwise these Huns would resume attacking the northern border, and having an empire that was almost bankrupt, Kavad had no choice but to demand the Byzantine emperor Anastasius to double the tribute money paid to him as apparently the Byzantines for decades had been paying tribute to the Sassanids.

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Kavad I, Shah of the Sassanid Empire since 488

The moment Anastasius refused to pay tribute to the Sassanids in 502, Kavad was outraged leading to Kavad declaring war by invading the Byzantines’ eastern border with them in Syria making this the first time the Byzantines and Sassanids fought each other since the 420s. The war then began with Kavad himself leading his forces in capturing the poorly defended Byzantine border cities in Mesopotamia which were Theodosiopolis, Martyropolis, and Amida in 502, and after capturing these cities he deported its population deep into Persia. Anastasius though would respond to Kavad’s aggression in 503 making this the second major war in his reign with the first being the Isaurian war that just ended 5 years earlier, and this time Anastasius assembled an army so large that it would be the largest Roman force dispatched to fight the Sassanids since the one of Emperor Julian (r. 361-363) back in 363 wherein he died during the campaign. Anastasius however being already over 70 here did not personally lead his troops in this war while he too did not really have any military training prior to becoming emperor, thus he instead left the job to his generals which included Justin who now became a general at this point and Patriciolus who brought his son Vitalian along with him in this war. As part of the counter-attack against the Sassanids, the army was divided with one division under Anastasius’ nephew the general Hypatius tasked to recapture Amida from the Sassanids and the other division under the general of barbarian descent Areobindus who held the position of Magister Militum of the east with Arab mercenaries in his command which was to attack the Syrian city of Nisibis where Kavad was holding himself in. The siege of Nisibis led by Areobindus however failed when Kavad led a counter-attack against them while it was also too late for Areobindus and Hypatius to meet up and recapture Nisibis together as Kavad defeated both their forces forcing both of them to retreat west deeper into Asia Minor while Kavad too overran most of Mesopotamia.

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Byzantine infantry officer in the early 6th century Sassanid war

Justin on the other hand together with Patriciolus and his son Vitalian who was training to be a general here happened to be more successful in holding off the Sassanid forces to the south in Syria while Anastasius at the same time later in 503 sent a reinforcement army led by the general Celer who held the position of Magister Officiorum to assist Areobindus in Mesopotamia while Hypatius was recalled to Constantinople for ruining the mission by letting Kavad’s forces break into Mesopotamia. By 504, the Byzantine forces had managed to weaken the Sassanids making many Sassanid officers defect to them, and eventually in that year as well the Byzantines had managed to recapture Amida from the Sassanids. Meanwhile back in Constantinople, Petrus who was already 20 by the time the war broke out chose not to take part in it by joining the army despite his uncle becoming a general and joining the war as he instead preferred to stay behind and continue studying, this time on state administration. Petrus now had already graduated from studying history, literature, philosophy, and theology and had now moved on to studying law, economics, and state administration, and the ongoing war would actually teach him more than what he was learning from his teachers and books. This war thus made Petrus realize that as an emperor it is better to delegate military matters such as commanding armies to highly competent and loyal generals which is what he learned from the example of Anastasius here, and true enough being the emperor later on Petrus as Justinian would follow the example of Anastasius here in not leading his troops but instead assigning the job to highly trusted and qualified generals, and in this case, it is for this reason why Petrus chose not to learn military skills. Petrus too leaned here that whenever his time comes to be emperor if ever that may happen, more bases must be constructed along the border with the Sassanids as the major mistake in this war was that it took so much time for the troops to move around as the borders lacked bases, thus making it easier for the Sassanids to raid deeper into the empire. At the same time, Petrus was also relieved that he would not see his bully Vitalian for a while beginning 503 as he had to join his father in the war, thus Petrus in this case was highly hoping that Vitalian would be killed in a battle in order to never see him again, though he was also worried for the life of his uncle Justin who was already in his 50s here also leading the troops alongside Vitalian and the latter’s father.

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Sassanid army of Shah Kavad I

Back in Syria, as the war was going on in 505, Justin had again shown great skill in battle most especially in brute strength by killing a number of Sassanid soldiers himself and inspiring his troops to be able to push back the Sassanids. Vitalian on the other hand despite being still young here would prove that he was much better off in fighting with brute force due to his violent and hot-tempered nature that he would at times even beat up his own troops for not listening to him, although here he would also prove that he lacked some defensive and strategizing skills which led to many of his troops being slaughtered by the Sassanid cavalry archers. At the same time as well in 505, Anastasius listening to the complaints of his soldiers about the lack of bases in the border thus used up the increased revenue in the treasury to construct a massive fortress along the Syrian border with the Sassanids which was named Dara, though its main purpose was that it was to be used to further keep the Sassanids at bay in the future. In the meantime, the Huns taking advantage of the Byzantines and Sassanids fighting each other invaded Armenia which was split between both Byzantines and Sassanids forcing both Byzantines and Sassanids to agree to a temporary peace just to fight off the Huns and afterwards resume the war, however in the following year the peace was already broken when the Byzantines still not trusting the Sassanids captured and executed a few Sassanid officials that joined Kavad in the campaign. Eventually by the end of 506, both the Byzantines and Sassanids grew tired of the war as it at the end never resulted in anything except only in both sides being too overextended, and thus Anastasius and Kavad agreed to a defined peace treaty wherein no one won and the Sassanids returned everything they captured from the Byzantines back to them, and thus neither side gained anything in this war while the Huns too had left Armenia.

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Map of the Byzantine-Sassanid War, 502-506
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Sassanid cavalry army
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The Fortress of Dara, Byzantine-Sassanid border

         

Although the war with the Sassanids known as the “Anastasian War” from 502 to 506 came to an end, the Balkan provinces were left undefended as most of the troops there were pulled out to defend the east against the Sassanids, thus this allowed the Slavs and a new nomadic enemy being the Bulgars which were mostly cavalrymen to raid into it from the north. In 507, as most of the troops from the east returned to the Balkans, they would then manage to repel both the Bulgars and Slavs while Anastasius to further protect Constantinople itself if ever the Bulgars and Slavs return again ordered the construction of a large wall some 64km west of Constantinople. This wall was thus named after Anastasius known as the “Anastasian Wall” which was 56km long extending from the shore of the Marmara in the south to the shore of the Black Sea in the north which was a structure similar to the Roman era Hadrian’s Wall in Britain although not as high and wide as that or the land walls of Constantinople built under Emperor Theodosius II (r. 408-450), while the Anastasian Wall too does not exist today.

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Clovis I, King of the Franks

In 507 as well, another major event happened in the once Western provinces of the Roman Empire, particularly in Gaul and here the rising power being the Frankish kingdom ruled by its king Clovis I of the Merovingian Dynasty- who had been its king since 481 and in 486 defeated and conquered the last Roman state in Gaul being the Kingdom of Soissons- had won a decisive victory over the Visigoth kingdom in Southern Gaul at the Battle of Vouille wherein the Visigoth king Alaric II himself was killed in it too. This victory then resulted in Clovis turning his Frankish kingdom into a dominant power in Western Europe, and after occupying almost the entire Gaul following this, the Visigoths who had been in control of Gaul ever since capturing it from the Western Romans in the early 5th century were forced to retreat south to Spain. Word of Clovis’ victory soon enough reached Anastasius I in Constantinople by 508 and with Clovis having been baptized as an Orthodox-Catholic Christian earlier on- unlike the other barbarian rulers of this time which were Arian Christians- made Anastasius see Clovis as a potential ally, as other than that Clovis despite his barbarian origins was willing to adopt Roman customs in ruling his kingdom. Anastasius then seeing Clovis and the Franks as an ally basically because of defeating the Visigoths which was a historical enemy of the Romans (Byzantines) awarded him with the title of “honorary consul” without Clovis having to come to Constantinople as Anastasius instead sent ambassadors to Gaul (now Frankia) to give Clovis this title and the consuls’ ornate robes. For the Visigoths, after their king Alaric II was slain by the Franks in battle, his son Amalaric who was only 5 became their new king while Theodoric the Amal who was still ruling the Ostrogoths in Italy who also feared the expansion of the Franks despite being married to Clovis’ sister decided to make Amalaric his puppet king as Theodoric really wanted to rule a larger Gothic kingdom of both Ostrogoths and Visigoths, and thus with the Visigoth king as his puppet, he from here on ruled both Italy and Spain. Anastasius at this time also had sent ambassadors to lands as far away as India including one according to a 6th century story where a Byzantine-Egyptian merchant who wrote this same story together with a Sassanid ambassador sent by Kavad I ended up in the magnetic island of Taprobane near India which is today’s Sri Lanka where they met its local king.

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Map of Taprobane magnetic island (Sri Lanka)

Here, the king asked which of their rulers was the better one whether Anastasius I or Kavad I and as the Persian said it was his shah Kavad, the Byzantine one replied that the king must judge by seeing their respective coins first, and at the end the king concluded that Anastasius was the better one when seeing the shiny gold Byzantine solidus coin as compared to the silver Sassanid one which was lesser in quality, thus showing that the Byzantines were respected by kings as far away as Sri Lanka. In the meantime, as Justin returned from the war with the Sassanids he began growing closer to the emperor Anastasius while continuing to serve as a commander or Comes in the Excubitor forces, however his nephew Petrus who was still busy studying would not get the chance to meet Anastasius in person. Vitalian however survived the war despite Petrus wanting him dead, however after the war Petrus and Vitalian would never really encounter each other much anymore as Petrus followed his own career path in wanting to one day be a government official while Vitalian was already a general here, however in this case when both would encounter each other at a rare occasion, Petrus would just make fun of Vitalian and his ponytail while Vitalian would just curse at Petrus. By this point, Petrus after years of reading up on Roman history and about the tragedies of the 5th century wherein incompetent emperors in the west and barbarian invasions fueled a fire within him which thus gave him the determination to one day return these lands to Roman rule, but here Petrus came to realize that to achieve this, he must be emperor first and so he needed to find the right opportunity to be it and he knew it was somehow possible as Anastasius now already in his 70s still had no children. Petrus too- in this story’s case- came to realize that based on hearing about Clovis now becoming their ally that not all barbarians were seen as their enemies as some barbarians such as Clovis were inclined to follow Roman customs and practice the Orthodox faith, while Petrus too was amazed hearing that the greatness of their empire was known in places as far away as the magnetic island Tabrobane after hearing the story of that merchant, thus giving Petrus more of a reason to want to be emperor in order to promote his empire’s greatness.

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Streets of Constantinople

At the same time, Petrus too walked around the streets of Constantinople wherein he would see for himself the inequality in society with the large gap between rich and poor and the corruption in the court as well as how most Jews gave people financial trouble and how disorganized the streets of Constantinople were. This then made Petrus believe that when he would be emperor, he would fix all this while seeing how the Jews made the lives of Orthodox Christians miserable financially also made him further despise them as whatever he learned before in theology began making him despise the Jews. The disorganized layout of Constantinople’s streets making them become heavily infested with crime and dirt too made Petrus have the goal to rid the city of crime and trouble especially among the people of the blue and green factions and make it more convenient for everyone to get around by the time he becomes emperor. It was also here at this point when Petrus started becoming a die-hard fan of the blue faction the way his uncle was as after all, the blue faction stood for everything Petrus believed in mostly being the Orthodox faith, old Roman traditions, and the rule of law as Petrus by this point too when studying law admired it so much believing it was because they as Romans by having such advanced laws made them superior to barbarians who did not have a fixed set of laws and system, although Petrus too was not happy that the current laws they had were not organized into a systematic manner with all laws compiled into one book, which again gave Petrus the ambition to one day put all Roman laws made in the past centuries into one code. Although Petrus would not get to meet Anastasius, the person he would meet at around this time by 510 would be Anastasius’ wife Empress Ariadne in his school as after all Ariadne was the patron of the school that he studied in which was part of the imperial palace complex in Constantinople.

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Empress Ariadne sculpture

In this case, Petrus would just randomly go up to Ariadne asking her about what it is like to be an empress not only to Anastasius but to Zeno before him, and Ariadne here would happily speak to Petrus about it. Overtime, Petrus and Ariadne would somehow develop a bond when both would meet at Petrus’ school or in the palace and Ariadne here would tell him that she had lived to see so many events happen as when she was born in 450- the same year Petrus’ uncle Justin was born too thus making her be 60 at this point- and thus she had seen all the events happen from the perspective of a ruler as after all she was the daughter of Emperor Leo I who came to power in 457 when she was only 7. Ariadne thus told Petrus that when she was a young girl, she remembered the Western Roman Empire still alive as her father was the co-ruler of 6 Western Roman emperors in total being Majorian (r. 457-461), Severus III (r. 461-465), Anthemius (r. 467-472), Olybrius (r. 472), Glycerius (r. 473-474), and Julius Nepos (r. 474-475), and out of these 6 she met 2 personally being Anthemius and Nepos, though the one she admired a lot was Anthemius who was her father’s friend that she met when only 17-years-old when her father sent him to the west to rule it in 467. Here, Ariadne would tell Petrus that Anthemius was an intelligent man with a lot of vision as he really aimed to save what was left of the Western empire from being destroyed and he almost did achieve his dream if he was not betrayed and murdered by his barbarian puppet master general Ricimer in 472 who although died later that year. Ariadne too would tell Petrus that her father Leo did really contribute a lot in saving the Eastern empire from falling under barbarian influence the way the west did as in 471 Leo killed his own puppet master general Aspar– the same man who educated the young Theodoric the Amal in Constantinople- while Ariadne herself being 21 at that time saw this event herself even encouraging her father to be free from Aspar’s influence. Other than that, Ariadne had also told Petrus a lesser known fact about her he did not know which was that being only 16 in 466, she was forced to marry the Isaurian chieftain Zeno who was 25 years older than her and though she was at first disgusted at the fact of marrying a man so much older, she and Zeno soon got along with each other, while she would also tell Petrus here that she and Zeno had a son together being Leo II who in 474 after her father Leo I’s death became the new emperor but died later that year at only 7 which at this point still disturbs her but knowing that child mortality at that time was very high even for those in the imperial family, Ariadne easily accepted the fact that her son died from an outbreak of a local plague in Constantinople.

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Emperor Leo II (r. 474), son of Zeno and Ariadne

One more thing Ariadne would also tell Petrus was that when she was Zeno’s empress, she knew what it was like to rule at such a hard time, and based on her experience then and Zeno’s actions as emperor, she would advise Petrus here knowing that he aspires to be emperor that he must act tough and show no mercy the way Zeno did at times of difficulty especially when facing wars or rebellions. When hearing all these stories from Ariadne’s point of view, Petrus would see it even more of a shame that all the betrayals of barbarians like Ricimer who killed a competent ruler like Anthemius brought Western Rome down thus giving him even more of a burning passion to one day return the west to Roman rule, though he would also come to admire the previous emperors Leo I and Zeno for stabilizing the empire through force setting for him an example if ever he would be emperor one day. Lastly, Petrus when hearing of Leo II dying of a plague began conceptualizing a plan to reorganize Constantinople’s streets and provide more breathing space to slow down the spread of a plague if ever one would come in the future- therefore foreshadowing an event that would occur in his reign in the future. Petrus too had come to realize here that he was now very intent in reforming the empire he was living in and making it great again after reading all about Roman history and learning of the tragedies in the recent past from Ariadne, and thus he would continue spending all day and night reading nonstop about their history, state administration and law, theology and philosophy, and economics as he was intent to one day put everything he learned to good use the moment he comes to power. When it came to one day ruling the empire, Petrus now came to realize that he did not care much about the life of luxury as coming from a peasant background and remembering life as one he would have simple tastes, but what he was on a quest for was power which is all he ever wanted as he would use it to make his empire great.

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Anastasian Wall of Thrace, built in 507
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Clovis I and the Franks defeat the Visigoths at the Battle of Vouille, 507
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Clovis I made an honorary consul by the Byzantines, 508

As emperor, Anastasius I’s top priority was in reforming the economy as well as in cracking down on corruption, however no matter how intent he was in fighting corruption, he ironically still allowed and in fact encouraged the corrupt practice of selling government offices to the rich as a way to increase the empire’s revenue. Anastasius too was true enough not very true to his word in upholding Orthodoxy in which made the people want him to be emperor in the first place as they initially saw him as purely Orthodox unlike his predecessor Zeno who sympathized with Monophysite heretics. Little did the people know that their new emperor Anastasius had a dark side which was due to the curse he received before being born as mentioned earlier, which therefore made its mark in his one black eye, and this curse would then reflect in the form of his sympathizing with the Monophysites that by 511 he even changed the form of the standard Orthodox prayer of the Trisagion by adding in Monophysite beliefs in them while also firing a few Orthodox bishops in the empire and replacing them with Monophysite ones which therefore greatly angered the mostly Orthodox population.

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Ivory diptych of Anastasius I

Anastasius too ever since he became emperor 20 years earlier in 491 chose to abide with Zeno’s decree of the Henotikon, thus continuing to tolerate the Monophysite heretics and therefore continuing the schism with the pope. Now both Justin and Petrus in this story’s case admired the emperor Anastasius for his smart economic reforms and wise leadership in terms of war and diplomacy but with both Justin and his nephew Petrus being strong believers of Orthodox Christianity and supporters of the blue faction, they did not support Anastasius’ religious views and hated the fact the he true enough supported the pro-Monophysite green faction which was their rival. By 512, Petrus already reaching 30 had completely finished his studies in everything wherein his last course was in studying Roman law, and although he finished studying, he still would not stop reading to further educate himself to one day run the empire that he in fact missed out on an entire life of hanging out with friends and going to parties, but he did not care as he knew he was destined for greatness one day. The one on the other hand who was the opposite of Petrus was his younger sister Vigilantia who now reaching her 20s did not care about anything at all but partying and drinking while she would spend the rest of her days at home either stuffing herself with food or sleeping. Vigilantia thus had totally forgotten about her origins as a simple peasant in Illyria as true enough she was too young to remember life back then as she was only 7 when she moved to Constantinople wherein her life totally changed now living in wealth whereas Petrus who came to Constantinople much older at 15 still remembered the hard life in Illyria, while their mother also named Vigilantia who was still alive by this point did not really care much about what she would do in life as she was already happy living in wealth. Petrus’ family true enough became very rich now at this point that they in this story’s case had even built a large fortified mansion over their farm in Tauresium where they came from, thus they would use that as their vacation home. In the meantime, by 512, Anastasius due to his Monophysite views becoming clearer further lost public support the moment massive riots broke out in Constantinople and Chalcedon which was the city right across it from the Bosporus led by the Orthodox population angry at him for supporting the Monophysites.

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Concept art of Areobindus as consul, art by myself

The people then threatened to depose the now 80-year-old Anastasius and replace him with Areobindus, the same general who took part in the war against the Sassanids almost 10 years earlier, and thus they even marched to his house to drag him out to be proclaimed emperor. Areobindus however now being retired just wanted to live a quiet life in retirement not wanting to face the burden of running an empire, thus he fled his house and went into hiding in Asia Minor never to be heard from again. Although the riots in 512 died down, in 513 Anastasius further made himself more unpopular when he refused to supply regular provisions for the army, again to cut down on costs which then made a large percent of the army in Thrace rebel against him while Vitalian who was now the rising star general stationed in Thrace took advantage of the situation there of the soldiers being upset with the emperor by supporting their cause, and thus these soldiers defected to him even proclaiming him as their emperor. Vitalian now much older and already married at this point though was not the Magister Militum or Master of Soldiers in Thrace, instead it was Anastasius’ incompetent nephew Hypatius- who was the same general from the war against the Sassanids earlier on that was recalled due his failures- that still held this position, and due to his incompetent leadership again, most of his troops and subordinate commanders were either killed in conflict against the soldiers that defected to Vitalian or had defected to Vitalian’s cause. Seeing he would fail again, Hypatius returned to Constantinople while Vitalian gained more support from the locals of Thrace whether soldiers or peasants as he claimed to be a champion for the Orthodox cause against the pro-Monophysite policies of Anastasius. Vitalian thus proved to be a very charismatic commander that in just a few weeks he raised an army of 60,000 consisting of peasant recruits as well, and following this they marched south to Constantinople hoping that the Orthodox population there would join his cause as well. History though does not mention what Petrus had been doing at this time as Vitalian declared rebellion against Anastasius, although Petrus was said to have joined the imperial army at around this time after finishing his studies, and in this story’s case it would be precisely here in 513 when he would enlist in the imperial army particularly to defend Constantinople against Vitalian’s attack.

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Excubitor imperial guard concept art by myself

Just like his uncle Justin did in the past, Petrus here would join the same Excubitor palace guard force to defend Constantinople against the rebel Vitalian, and although Petrus just like Vitalian supported Orthodoxy, Petrus was still loyal to the emperor and the empire, though his reason to fight against Vitalian was personal too as when young he was bullied by Vitalian several times, therefore he felt that it was finally the time to get back at his former bully that he never got back at when young. Anastasius meanwhile despite being already very old ordered bronze crosses to be set up above the city’s walls to still show he was Orthodox in order to counter Vitalian’s propaganda while Anastasius also reduced taxes in the provinces of Bithynia and Phrygia to prevent them from joining Vitalian’s rebellion. Being someone who usually settled things with diplomacy, Anastasius offered to settle the conflict with Vitalian peacefully but Vitalian arrogantly refused the offer and did not even bother to show up to negotiate with the senators Anastasius sent to meet with him outside the capital’s walls. The next day, Vitalian’s officers however actually met with the senators that Anastasius sent for negotiation and as the officers were given gifts from Anastasius, they considered ending the rebellion as long as Anastasius would abide with their pleas in settling their grievances and to restore the Orthodox faith. Vitalian then when hearing that his officers agreed to settle peace with Anastasius felt pressured, however he still did not formally renounce his rebellion, rather he retreated with his forces back north to Thrace without saying anything thus making Anastasius still believe Vitalian was still rebelling. Anastasius then sent another army to hunt Vitalian down under the general Cyril, however Vitalian still defeated them and killed Cyril after capturing Cyril’s base at the dead of night whereas Vitalian personally killed Cyril in the night attack.

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Hun mercenaries in the Byzantine army, 6th century

Seeing Vitalian’s threat was still at large, Anastasius then declared him a “public enemy” and thus sent another army this time consisting of 80,000 men including Hun mercenaries led again by Anastasius’ nephew Hypatius hoping Hypatius would not ruin the mission again as after all he was the only loyal and able general nearby. As usual of Hypatius, he again did not succeed in battle as his forces suffered a heavy and humiliating defeat to Vitalian’s forces wherein Hypatius’ camp was captured by Vitalian’s forces at the dead of night. Vitalian then captured Hypatius for ransom while more cities in Thrace surrendered to Vitalian’s cause thus further weakening Anastasius’ position while Hypatius was only released a year later in 514 when Anastasius paid Vitalian with 1,100 pounds of gold. Following Hypatius’ release, Vitalian now gaining a fleet of 200 ships again marched to Constantinople attempting to besiege it once again and force Anastasius out of power, and though Anastasius as usual tried to negotiate with Vitalian again, Vitalian this time however agreed to negotiate as long as Anastasius would give him the position he so wanted which was that of Magister Militum in Thrace, remove the pro-Monophysite changes he made to the Trisagion prayer, and reinstate the Orthodox bishops he fired and replaced with Monophysite ones. Additionally, Vitalian promised that he would fully renounce his rebellion only if Anastasius would completely solve the schism with the pope and fully stop abiding with Zeno’s peace with the Monophysites by holding a general Church Council with the pope included in it as well. Anastasius though still failed to honor his word to Vitalian as the pope refused to travel to Constantinople while the bishops that he fired earlier on were not yet restored to their positions, thus the hot-tempered Vitalian believing Anastasius surely never kept his word again in 515 marched on Constantinople managing to capture the suburb right across its harbor or the Golden Horn to the north which is today’s Galata where he encamped his forces in. In this story’s case, Petrus who now receiving some training in combat and military strategies would here be stationed at the palace to defend it together with his uncle Justin who was the palace guard’s commander in case Vitalian and his forces would attack it, however Petrus would not get into any action despite being fully armored and armed as Vitalian never made it to the palace. However, Petrus in this story’s case here at the palace would for the first and only time meet the emperor Anastasius, though they would only speak as the old Anastasius asked Petrus about where he thinks Vitalian might attack the palace from if ever it happens, and following that they never spoke again. As Vitalian was across the Golden Horn, an imperial force sent by Anastasius led by his loyal aid Marinus defeated Vitalian’s fleet at the entrance to the Golden Horn by using a new sulfur-based chemical substance that blew out a form of liquid fire strong enough to stick on the water for minutes and thus burn down ships, a predecessor to the famous Byzantine secret superweapon of Greek Fire that was invented in the 7th century. This flammable weapon used by Marinus had appeared in the historian John Malalas’ (491-578) report on this siege, and would be the weapon used against Vitalian’s fleet in this story’s case. With most of Vitalian’s fleet destroyed by this flammable weapon, Marinus and his troops managed to cross the harbor where they thus recaptured it from Vitalian’s forces forcing Vitalian to flee Constantinople at the dead of night whereas his subordinate commanders that were captured were either imprisoned or executed by Anastasius’ loyalist forces. Vitalian then would flee back to Thrace this time to permanently go into hiding as he did not want to be shamefully captured and executed, while Petrus on the other had in this case was greatly relieved to hear that Vitalian who tormented him the most was gone for good, or so he thought.

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Constantinople’s Golden Horn harbor illustration
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Map of Europe in 510 during the reign of Anastasius I

         

As the massive and devastating rebellion of Vitalian came to an end with Vitalian going into hiding while Anastasius did not bother anymore to hunt Vitalian down, things had gone back to normal in Constantinople for Anastasius, Justin, Petrus, Ariadne, and everyone else. In 515, another major event that happened other than Vitalian’s failed 3rd siege of Constantinople was the death of the empress Ariadne at the age of 65, thus ending the last of Emperor Leo I’s bloodline as she was after all Leo I’s daughter and also the last person having his blood to die, as after the death of her son with Zeno Leo II back in 474, Ariadne no longer had any children, not even with her new husband Anastasius.

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Coin of Empress Ariadne

Although Ariadne was not that old when dying being only 65 which was the same age Petrus’ uncle Justin was at this point, she still did see so much happening in her lifetime and more so because she saw all these events happening while she was in a position of power, and for a full 58 years- being almost her entire life- she had been powerful with her father and two husbands as emperors while she too had the rare case of being in power in two consecutive regimes of two monumental emperors which were both her husbands as her first husband Zeno’s reign was monumental for being the regime when the Western Roman Empire fell whereas the east had to adapt to the changing world by becoming the only standing Roman Empire while the reign of her next husband Anastasius was also monumental as it saw the Eastern Roman Empire stabilize and grow economically, not to mention Ariadne had also played a major role in shaping the empire’s future by marrying Anastasius as without their marriage the brilliant reformer Anastasius would not have become emperor. As Ariadne was a very influential figure with a strong mind and personality in her time as empress, she had a very grand funeral held for her at the Church of the Holy Apostles wherein she would be buried next to her former husband Zeno, and Petrus in this case was greatly saddened at Ariadne’s death as she inspired him a lot to one day rule the empire and make it great again after hearing all the stories from her about Western Rome still alive. Anastasius following his wife’s death knew that his time to go was near as he was already in his 80s yet he never had any sons, although he had 3 able nephews with one being the same general Hypatius that was ransomed by Vitalian earlier on but released after Anastasius paid for his ransom, while the other nephews were Hypatius’ cousins the brothers Pompeius and Probus.

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Albanian stamp with Anastasius I

Wanting to ensure a stable succession but still unsure on which nephew would succeed him, Anastisus now in 516 came up with a plan by having all 3 nephews come to the palace and sit in the living room wherein he hid a note under one of the 3 couches saying regnum or “reign”, however neither of the nephews sat on that couch as Pompeius and Probus sat on the same couch while Hypatius sat on another one and neither couches had the note. With this plan not working, Anastasius then came up with another plan, and this was that the first person to enter his room in the next morning no matter who it would be as long as it was a male would be the next emperor. The first person to enter the room the next morning would turn out to be Justin, the head of the palace guards and thus from here on Anastasius would begin treating Justin as his successor as true enough neither of his nephews wanted to be emperor anyway being happy with the current lives that they were living in. In this story’s case, Justin too was shocked about the fact that he would one day be emperor as coming from a simple peasant background and still being illiterate here could not accept the fact, however his nephew Petrus would convince him to seize the opportunity wherein Petrus would guide his uncle along the way when he would be emperor, although little did Justin know that his nephew was urging him to be emperor for Petrus’ own benefit to actually be the one in power. After settling the succession, Anastasius I died peacefully in his sleep on July 9 of 518 at the very old age of 87 after ruling for a full 27 years, and with him died the Leonid Dynasty founded by Leo I in 457 as after all he was part of it by marrying Leo I’s daughter Ariadne, and by dying childless Justin although not being formally named as Anastasius’ successor had the opportunity to take the throne. As Anastasius lay dying, Justin who was the head of the palace guard force or the Excubitors and his co-commander Celer who as mentioned earlier was also a veteran of the war against the Sassanids and now the head of the Palatini guards or the ceremonial parade display troops- which like the Excubitors wore very colorful uniforms- were summoned to Anastasius’ deathbed, although nothing was concluded yet. Before Anastasius was buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles next to his wife Ariadne who died 3 years earlier, the people gathered in the Hippodrome to wait for the announcement on who will be the next emperor, but still got no announcement. More importantly at Anastasius’ death, he left behind a total of 23,000 solidi which totals to 320,000 pounds of gold in the imperial treasury, thus what was now needed was someone to use all this gold to transform the empire into something great, and this would be no other than Petrus who now was one step closer to being the emperor. At the same time, a general meeting was held in the palace to decide on who will be the next emperor as Anastasius did not properly name a successor while Justin as well as Celer, the new Patriarch of Constantinople John II of Cappadocia, and even Petrus were in attendance. This story thus will go with the version of the chronicler John Malalas on this event wherein the grand chamberlain Amantius intended to have another imperial palace guard commander named Theocritus be elected as emperor, thus Amantius without knowing Anastasius earlier on wanted Justin to succeed him gave Justin a good amount of bribe money to be used to bribe the palace guards to name Theocritus as emperor who would thus be the eunuch Amantius’ puppet, however Justin having a change of heart as he now wanted the position but also listening to his nephew Petrus’ advise instead used the money to bribe the palace guards to proclaim him as emperor while true enough many of the palace guards backed him in his claim to the throne as Justin was a very much well-loved leader to them. The 68-year-old Justin was thus proclaimed as emperor Justin I at the Hippodrome of Constantinople and not long after crowned by the patriarch John as the emperor making his position now official. Now the new emperor Justin I truly had the ideal rags to riches story from a simple and poor peasant escaping the hard life and barbarian attacks in his farm to one day in his old age becoming the emperor of the empire he lived in, however he was not the ideal emperor everyone wanted as for one he was still illiterate and uneducated while also unrefined, did not necessarily have good manners, spoke with a foul language, and knew really nothing except for war, though he was lucky to have his very intelligent and highly educated now 36-year-old nephew Petrus who now took his place as the palace guard commander or Comes Domesticorum advise him; and as Justin moved to the palace, Petrus inherited Justin’s mansion in the city center. Not to mention, Justin prior to becoming emperor had married a much younger woman and former slave of Gothic origins named Lupicinia who he married just 5 years earlier after buying and freeing her from slavery, however both did not have children, although with Justin being crowned as emperor she was still crowned as empress thus adding another bizarre element to the new ruling class of the empire as for one it was shocking enough that Justin was originally a peasant and had just out of the blue become emperor, while for his wife it was even more of an extreme case as she was not too long ago a slave and more so of Gothic blood, although Lupicinia being a slave was highly exaggerated as the rather biased 6th century historian Procopius of Caesarea (500-565) was the one who mentioned it while he was also hostile to Justin I and his dynasty, although in this story’s case we would go with the version of Lupicina being a former slave. Now Justin I as the new emperor despite lacking education and coming from low birth was actually received well by the majority as Justin was strongly Orthodox like most people were and he too promised that as emperor he would do his best to rid the empire of the Monophysite elements Zeno and Anastasius left behind and thus strongly enforce the Orthodox faith.

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Funeral of Anastasius I with Justin beside him in 518, from Dovahhatty
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Hippodrome of Constantinople, art by Ediacar

The Reign of Justin I and Justinian’s Rise to Power (518-527)           

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As the new emperor, the 68-year-old Justin I being basically a soldier that rose up the ranks to the very top knew very little about statecraft, thus since the very first day of his reign, his nephew Petrus would already be the power behind him and his reforms as Petrus after years of studying statecraft and law knew everything he needed when it comes to running an empire. Although Justin never really did anything out of his own decisions, the only part where he would actually be the one calling the shots was when it came to enforcing the Orthodox faith in the empire and continuing his predecessor Anastasius I’s policy of saving on money as Petrus here was someone willing to spend a lot of the treasury on lavish projects and in this story’s case when Petrus would convince his uncle to spend on great projects, Justin would say no to him.

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Justin I, Byzantine emperor (r. 518-527), by Dovahhatty

Just 9 days after Justin was crowned as emperor, he already ordered the execution of potential threats to his power being Anastasius’ eunuch chamberlain Amantius and his intended puppet Theocritus, and in this story’s case Petrus would be the one to convince his uncle to order their executions whereas Petrus would carry out the job, in this case through his friend and subordinate palace guard officer Sittas who now became Petrus’ personal bodyguard and hitman. Now Sittas was a large man of both Thracian and Goth origins and his large size and loud voice made him a very intimidating figure while he too was a man of great strength and someone who had a great ability in performing stealth assassinations, and in this story’s case Sittas would be the one to assassinate both Amantius and Theocritus by first breaking in to Amantius’ quarters in the palace complex and cutting his throat as he was taking a bath, then he would proceed to the quarters of Theocritus in the palace guard barracks where he would stab Theocritus as he was asleep. Meanwhile, Anastasius’ nephews Hypatius, Pompeius, and Probus would not be harmed despite them being potential threats by being related to Anastasius as all 3 of them said it in public that they have no intentions of being emperor, and instead all 3 decided to retire quietly.

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Petrus as the palace guard commander in full armor

Now Petrus by the time his uncle became emperor was already made a patrician in status and a member of the Byzantine Imperial Senate in Constantinople, although he still kept his position as the commander of the imperial guard despite having very little knowledge in combat as he basically entrusted anything to do with combat and the dirty work to his trusted bodyguard Sittas, however when it came to jobs involving eliminating rivals that required less brute force but more stealth such as poisoning, Petrus in this story relied on a new friend from the blue faction he supported which was the belly dancer Macedonia. As her name suggests, Macedonia came from the province of Macedonia in Northern Greece close to Petrus’ birthplace, and now the dancer Macedonia by 518 was somewhere in her 20s and a reddish-brown haired beauty with a reddish skin complexion, and although she was uneducated as well, she had a lot of stealth skills and a flexible body which enabled her to dance very well. As for Justin I on the other hand, by 519 one major achievement he made as emperor was to abandon the use of Pagan symbols minted on imperial coins and seals as up until then with the emperors being Christian, they still continued to use Ancient Roman Pagan symbols on their coins and seals, though part of Justin’s policy to remove Pagan symbols on his coins and seals was to replace Pagan elements such as the barely clothed goddess of victory with an angel dressed in a tunic, and by doing this Justin and Petrus who advised him to do so intended it to be an act of showing that their empire was primarily a Christian state. Being strongly Orthodox, Justin I by 519 again acting under Petrus’ advise began persecuting Monophysites and Arian Christians in the army and government that hundreds of soldiers and officials that were either Monophysite or Arian were fired without a warning and those that resisted were immediately thrown in prison. At the same time though, Justin and Petrus too did not find it necessary yet to have large-scale wars with their neighbors like the Ostrogoth Kingdom in Italy which was still under the same old Theodoric the Amal who was now an old man and the Sassanid Empire which was also still under Shah Kavad I. Instead, Justin considered maintaining peaceful relations with both of them learning from the devastation that resulted from Anastasius’ war against the Sassanids more than 10 years ago, although if ever the Byzantines and Sassanids would get into conflict, Petrus here advised his uncle that it would be better to fight each other through smaller “proxy wars” wherein they would get involved in conflicts on the smaller client states in Armenia and Georgia wherein sometimes their rulers supported either the Byzantines or Sassanids as Petrus felt that having a war on that scale would not affect their empire as a whole but just these small and rather worthless states along the border with the Sassanids. Additionally, Petrus came to learn that it would be better to declare war and invade another kingdom if there was a real reason to justify it such as if their allied ruler was overthrown as Petrus being someone who strongly believed in law thought it was better to attack that way rather than just showing up the way barbarians did, and he would here give this advice to his uncle Justin. In the meantime, Theodoric the Amal ever since making an agreement back in 497 to make his kingdom of Italy still answer to Byzantium- thus making Italy still in a way part of the empire- still continued the agreement and thus still was an ally to Justin, and although Justin was fine with this, Petrus in this case was not as he never trusted barbarians like Theodoric, and even more so Petrus was disgusted by it as Theodoric was a strong Arian.

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Theodoric the Amal, King of the Ostrogoths

Justin though despite being strongly Orthodox was for continuing the alliance with Theodoric in this story’s case as whether Theodoric was Arian or not, Justin just wanted to maintain peace with the Ostrogoths, and thus Theodoric honoring the continued peace with Justin in 519 sent his son-in-law Eutharic as a hostage to Constantinople. In Constantinople, Eutharic would be treated well even living in the imperial palace and dining with Justin and Petrus, although he was a hostage meaning that if ever Theodoric would plot to break his alliance with Justin, Eutharic would be executed under Justin. Additionally, Eutharic was also appointed as a consul in the Byzantine Senate in 519 which in this story disgusted Petrus who wanted that position despite it now being meaningless rather than seeing an Arian Ostrogoth barbarian hold it, thus Petrus in this story’s case would begin plotting to one day have Eutharic eliminated without making it look like he was murdered. In the meantime, Justin had somewhat recalled the fugitive Vitalian in Thrace who had disappeared for 4 years now to Constantinople in 519 as well, and now back in Constantinople, Vitalian had become a changed man. After suffering a series of unfortunate events in the past 4 years such as his failed attempt to capture Constantinople in 515, being made a public enemy and having to go into hiding in Thrace as a fugitive, while in those 4 years as well having to experience the death of his father Patriciolus and following that the death of his wife which made him want to change his life from being the hot-headed and aggressive general he was to now becoming a more cool-headed politician. Despite Vitalian being a former enemy of the state, the new emperor Justin saw that he could trust Vitalian a lot as after all they were both strongly Orthodox that Vitalian in the past was willing to rebel against Anastasius to defend Orthodoxy, while Petrus on the other hand reconciled with his former bully Vitalian here, although Petrus had some kind of intention to one day eliminate him.

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Pope Hormisdas

Now Justin I here again in 519 would make one major achievement, although it was mostly done through his nephew Petrus as here Justin sent word to the pope in Rome Hormisdas– who had been pope since 514- inviting him to come over to Constantinople to resolve the schism created indirectly by Zeno when he made peace with the Monophysites in 482, the year of Petrus’ birth. Here, although the letter was sent to the pope under Justin I’s name, it was really Petrus that wrote it and made the convincing message for the pope to come considering that Justin was still illiterate, while Vitalian on the other hand supported this idea and thus even helped Petrus by writing a part of the letter too. True enough, Pope Hormisdas did come to Constantinople as he was impressed with Justin’s persecution of heretics, and as requested of him in the letter written by Petrus, the pope while at the council held to resolve the schism at Constantinople’s cathedral with the patriarch John II, Justin I, Petrus, and Vitalian declared the schism created back in 482 over wherein the pope had to force the Church of Constantinople to abide by his word wherein the Orthodox creed of Christ having two natures was the law, although the Patriarch John II who despite being Orthodox still had some Monophysite beliefs but for the good of the empire and to achieve unity with the Church of Rome, he still reluctantly agreed to the pope’s declaration, otherwise the schism would still continue. Now here in 519, the Acacian Schism indirectly caused by Zeno which officially began in 484 came to an end after 35 years, and thus Orthodox (Chalcedonian) Christianity was the empire’s official religion again and Monophysite Christianity once more made completely heretical and now even punishable by law. Although the schism finally came to an end, Petrus still had it in mind to once and for all eliminate Vitalian despite both having reconciled, as here Petrus had now fully matured that his reason to get rid of Vitalian was no longer to have revenge on him for bullying him in the past but in order for Petrus to fully consolidate his power and claim to the throne as he saw Vitalian still as a potential rival, therefore he believed the smartest solution was to kill Vitalian once and for all.

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Diptych of Vitalian as consul

In 520, Vitalian was appointed as consul of the year by Justin which angered Petrus as well, however Petrus already had hatched a plot to assassinate Vitalian, and here he thought of doing it stealthily, thus he employed the blue faction dancer Macedonia to do the job. In the meantime, by 520 as well, Petrus’ younger sister Vigilantia had already married a rich senator named Dulcidius and in this year they had their first child, a boy named Justin named after his great-uncle and the reigning emperor, while by this time Petrus’ younger cousin Germanus was now grown up and had entered military service serving Petrus. Now as a party was held in the great palace to celebrate the appointment of Vitalian as consul of the year together with his co-consul Rusticus, Macedonia was to be in the party to perform a dance to entertain the guests. Before the party started, Macedonia put on her dancer’s attire which was a lavish costume with a headpiece looking like a crown, although making her look barely clothed as for her body she just had a gold scarf wrapped around her breasts while exposing her stomach and only a thin white skirt for her legs, though when putting it on, she was told to hide a blade beneath her skirt attached to a leg band while the blade’s handle was put inside the knot at her back that fastened the scarf around her chest.

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Concept art of Macedonia in a Byzantine dancer’s outfit, art by JowyAnderson

In the party, as the dances came to an end and the guests including Vitalian began drinking, Macedonia served Vitalian a glass of wine and afterwards danced in front of him thus luring him to go with her. Following this, Macedonia then led Vitalian to a small room in the ground floor of the palace, and once inside Macedonia pushed Vitalian to the ground wherein she immediately strangled his neck with her legs, and although Vitalian tried to fight back, Macedonia removed her rather heavy headpiece and used it against him by slamming him in the head with it thus making him unable to continue moving. Macedonia then pulled out the blade from the slit of her skirt and afterwards pulled out the handle from behind her top as if she was trying to undress herself, though she simply just pulled the handle out and afterwards attached it to the blade, and following that she stabbed Vitalian in the neck with the blade many times until he stopped breathing as his blood was all over the floor. However as Vitalian was being killed he still attempted to fight her back which however only led to Macedonia’s loosened top to fall off thus exposing the nakedness of her upper body considering she had no underwear beneath her scarf-top. Vitalian’s secretary and bodyguard however were suspicious that he did not return and thus they somehow ended up in the room seeing Macedonia having just killed their master Vitalian, however before both could grab her, Sittas suddenly entered from the other door as ordered by Petrus earlier wherein Sittas threw his sword straight at the secretary’s head killing him, and afterwards Sittas with his large frame jumped on the bodyguard afterwards grabbing the bodyguard’s head and twisting it, thus killing him. With Vitalian as well as his secretary and bodyguard brutally murdered, the party still continued without anyone wondering until the next day what happened to them, although in the next day Vitalian’s head was brought to Petrus in his office in the palace, and Petrus not wanting anyone to know he had a part in it immediately ordered that the corpses of Vitalian as well as that of his secretary and bodyguard be burned privately, and as everyone began hearing that Vitalian was murdered, Petrus soon enough released a statement saying that a Monophysite fanatic killed Vitalian but that fanatic was caught and arrested despite there being no Monophysite fanatic at all.

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Coin of Emperor Justin I with an angel at the back
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Map of the Ostrogoth and Visigoth kingdom of Theodoric the Amal (orange), his vassal kingdoms of the Burgundians and Vandals (yellow)
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Byzantine imperial palace interior

          

Now even though Petrus announced that a Monophysite killed Vitalian, others still accused him of masterminding the assassination, especially the elites who despised Petrus seeing him as a low-born power-hungry opportunist, thus concluding he had Vitalian killed so that he could eliminate all threats to his power. However, whether some thought Petrus was responsible for the murder or not, he still would go unpunished for masterminding it, while his uncle the emperor Justin on the other hand had nothing to do with Vitalian’s murder and in fact did not want it, thus he fell for the Monophysite fanatic being the scapegoat. Petrus on the other hand at least still spared Vitalian’s young sons who had the Thracian names Bouzes and Coutzes as well as Vitalian’s young nephew John making sure they would be trained to be able generals in the future; though Petrus never told his uncle about his plan to murder Vitalian, and only months after Vitalian was killed would Petrus actually admit to his uncle that he ordered it and its main reason was to eliminate a potential threat to Justin, thus Justin saw it as a valid reason leaving Petrus unpunished for it.

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Diptych of Flavius Petrus Sabbatius as consul in 521, from the MET Museum

Petrus now being a member of the senate was then appointed by his uncle as consul of the year in 521, and although the position of consul meant nothing at this point but basically just a symbolic role wherein his duty was just to attend parties and host the chariot races while dressed in a full golden robe in the form of an Ancient Roman toga, Petrus was very honored to hold this position as in the history of Rome especially when Rome was still a republic, the consuls were in fact the heads of the state until Augustus was crowned the first emperor in 27BC wherein the office of imperator or “emperor” was created becoming the new head of the state. The position of consul though still happened to stay up until the 6th century basically as a way to continue the age-old unbroken government traditions that had been around since the days of the Roman Republic. Now with Petrus as consul, both Sittas and Macedonia would continue to serve him and do the dirty work, and in 522 Petrus would again bring out his power-hungry and scheming personality but also his intense fanaticism for Orthodoxy and hatred for barbarians when he would plot to assassinate his uncle’s Ostrogoth hostage Eutharic, the son-in-law of Theodoric the Amal. Eutharic meanwhile being married to Theodoric’s daughter Amalasuntha was named as Theodoric’s heir as Theodoric had no sons while Petrus in this story’s case on the other hand thought that by killing off Theodoric’s heir, the Ostrogoth kingdom in Italy would be weakened as when their strong king Theodoric dies, their kingdom would fall into chaos allowing the Byzantines to conquer it. In real history, it is just said Eutharic died in 522 while in Constantinople, but in this case Eutharic would be poisoned under Petrus’ orders and here Petrus would once again employ Macedonia to do the job wherein here she would poison Eutharic’s meal and wine, and as he ate it for dinner, some hours later he vomited and soon enough died from vomiting. As Eutharic had died, Petrus as usual announced a statement that he died from food poisoning while the emperor Justin on the other hand would fall for it too, and so would his father-in-law the King of Italy Theodoric who would however begin growing angrier at the Byzantines blaming them for mistreating him as their hostage, which thus led to his death.

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Prince Vakhtang I of Iberia (r. 449-522)

Another event too that happened in 522 was that the Christian although Sassanid puppet Principality of Iberia in today’s Georgia under its prince Vakhtang I had his bishops go to Antioch in the Byzantine Empire to be consecrated, however this only provoked the anti-Christian Sassanid shah Kavad I to declare war on Iberia and by the end of 522, the Iberians were defeated in battle by the much superior Sassanid army, thus the entire Principality of Iberia was annexed into the Sassanid Empire as a province while Vakhtang I fled north to the neighboring principality of Lazica where he soon enough died. In the meantime, the Principality of Lazica in Georgia too just like its eastern neighbor Iberia was also Christian but a Sassanid puppet as well, although in 522 as well its prince Tzath also wanted to throw off Sassanid influence and be a puppet of Justin I’s Byzantine Empire instead. Tzath thus travelled to Constantinople to get the blessing of Justin I which he successfully did, and after marrying a Byzantine noblewoman, Tzath returned to Lazica with her where he would now rule as a puppet ruler to Justin I, and at least Lazica now being a Byzantine protectorate did not end up being at war with their old overlords, the Sassanids. In the meantime, both the Byzantines and Sassanids also continued making alliances with far-away lands by encouraging their kings to side with them whereas the Sassanid shah Kavad I at this point supported the fanatic anti-Christian Jewish king of Himyar, an ancient kingdom in the south of the Arabian Peninsula in what is now Yemen while Justin I again as usual being advised by his nephew Petrus beginning 523 began making contact with the distant Kingdom of Aksum or Ethiopia under its king Kaleb I encouraging him to enlarge his kingdom through aggression.

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Illustration of king Yusuf Dhu Nuwas of Himyar (Yemen)

According to the same Byzantine chronicler mentioned earlier John Malalas, the Jewish king of Himyar Yusuf Dhu Nuwas who was a Sassanid puppet king was reported to have been persecuting Christians in his kingdom as well as having Byzantine merchants which were mostly Orthodox Christians harassed, robbed, and even killed in his kingdom. The King of Aksum Kaleb who was a Christian however knowing of the Byzantines looked up to them as the great Christian kingdom and hearing that Roman (Byzantine) Christian merchants were persecuted in his neighboring kingdom being Himyar across the Red Sea from him were persecuted, he decided to launch an invasion on Himyar to punish its king Dhu Nuwas. Justin I in Constantinople though would only hear of what was happening in Yemen when tortured Byzantine merchants returned to Constantinople reporting about all the horrors the Himyarite king had done, and now Justin being strongly Orthodox as well as Petrus who both wanted the empire that they ruled to be the universal defender of Christianity then wanted to punish Dhu Nuwas for persecuting Christians. Yemen however was a land very distant from the Byzantine Empire that it could not be reached by land as the Arabian Desert was impossible to cross, while they could not send troops even from the southernmost part of the empire being Egypt, thus Petrus in this case advised his uncle to fully seal an alliance with Kaleb I of Aksum sending him a letter, which of course Petrus in this case wrote which therefore asked Kaleb to launch a full-scale invasion across the Red Sea on Himyar to fully annex it while the Byzantines would at least provide a fleet to transport Kaleb and his troops across the Red Sea from Africa to the Arabian Peninsula.

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King Kaleb I of Aksum

Now as of 524, the Sassanid shah Kavad I again would interact with the Byzantines, this time asking Justin I to adopt his youngest son the 12-year-old Khosrow as Kavad wanted Khosrow to succeed him favoring him over his older sons, and by being adopted by Justin, Kavad believed Khosrow would both have a more legitimate claim on the Sassanid throne and would possibly inherit both the Sassanid and Byzantine Empires as his. Justin though wanting to maintain peace with Kavad agreed to adopt Khosrow while even inviting him to live in the great palace in Constantinople, however Justin was really intent to make his nephew Petrus his successor, although he still pretended just to please Kavad that Khosrow would be his heir, though Justin did not agree to call Khosrow his son but instead only a barbarian hostage thus making Kavad so enraged that he soon enough broke off all negotiations with the Byzantines, though not yet declaring war. Petrus on the other hand was no longer consul but still a member of the senate and the commander of the palace guard force, and by 524 he had met a number of new members of the imperial court that he saw great potential in seeing them as his future ministers and generals when he becomes emperor, and these included an Armenian eunuch secretary 5 years older than him named Narses, a brilliant legal scholar who would do anything told to him when paid named Tribonian, and a finance official named John who came from Cappadocia. According to Justinianus, when Petrus met these said people, he analyzed them well and saw that they would prove to be highly competent and at the same time fully loyal to him, thus Petrus would begin becoming closer to them. According to Justinianus too, it would also be here when Petrus would first encounter the first love of his life despite him already being 42, and he would encounter her when walking along the shadier parts of Constantinople entering a small stone and wood house, and as Justinianus said, it was love at first sight. Petrus although not getting to know her name or speaking to her would be captivated by her looks as she was young and beautiful being somewhere in her 20s, had long dark curly hair, strong eyes, and a very perfect shape of body. Petrus thus would begin an investigation on her and knowing that she looked like a dancer or an actress, he would ask his friend and contact the dancer Macedonia if she knows her thinking they might know each other by having the same profession while to clarify it, Petrus would also describe what he assumed was her house. Macedonia true enough did exactly know who Petrus was talking about and this woman was an actress and dancer named Theodora who happened to work for the blue faction as well although at this point also worked as a wool spinner and was originally from Cyprus whereas she met Macedonia 2 years earlier in Antioch while Macedonia was there to perform a dance for the celebration of the city’s founding day.                                

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Map of the Himyarite Kingdom (right in red) annexed to the Kingdom of Aksum (left), 525

Now Theodora was someone with a very colorful story as she was originally born in 500 during the reign of Anastasius I to what would be the lowest ranks of society whereas her father Acacius was a bear trainer while her unnamed mother was both an actress and a dancer, and both were working for the green faction. Theodora’s birthplace though happens to be unclear whereas many say it is Cyprus saying she is of Cypriot-Greek origins, others say she was born in the region of Paphlagonia in Asia Minor, while other sources most notably the 12th century historian Michael the Syrian says she was born in Syria to a Syrian family, although in this story’s case we will go with the most credible one of Theodora coming from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus while being a native Greek speaker at the same time. Additionally, Theodora had an older sister named Comito and a younger sister named Anastasia, though when Theodora was only 4 her father died and thus her mother being desperate for income presented her and her sisters to the blue faction in Constantinople, and from here on Theodora and her family switched support to the blues whereas Theodora would grow up to strongly support the blue faction and its beliefs. Now by the beginning of the 6th century, the blue faction began growing more and more in supporters as the green faction kept on losing races in the Hippodrome that many green supporters began switching sides to the blues as they were on the winning side while Theodora’s mother in this case chose to switch to the blue faction mainly because she knew there was more money there.

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Theodora as an actress, painting by Jean-Benjamin Constant

As for Theodora, she grew up following her mother’s profession as an actress and dancer, and so did her sisters, however the contemporary historian Procopius in his book Secret History very much slanders Theodora saying that she was not only an actress but a prostitute that slept with men of high and low birth and performed sexual acts on stage, however in that time actresses were seen as equivalent to prostitutes making them be at the bottom of society unlike today where actors and actresses are international celebrities with the best treatment. According to Procopius which will be true in this story’s case, Theodora long before meeting Petrus had performed one very explicit and insane act on stage which was a performance of the story of Leda and the Swan, and here Theodora on stage stripped off her clothes in public, lay down on the ground, and placed bird feed on her naked parts for the swans on stage to feed on, which turned out to be quite a common act on stage for actresses then. Later on, Theodora at 18 met a much older Syrian government official in Constantinople named Hecebolus who she fell in love with, and together they travelled to North Africa as he was appointed by Emperor Anastasius shortly before his death in 518 as the Governor of Libya.

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Theodora as an actress performing the act of “Leda and the Swan”

However, when in Libya Theodora was mistreated and later abandoned by Hecebolus making her decide to leave Libya and temporarily settle in Alexandria, the largest city in Byzantine Egypt. In Alexandria, she had met their patriarch Timothy III who was actually a Monophysite, and there Theodora began her conversion to the Monophysite Christian faith, and from Alexandria she travelled north to Antioch which is where she met the blue faction’s dancer and Petrus’ informer Macedonia, and with both being dancers for the blue faction, they became close friends. Now when back in Constantinople, it was Macedonia in 524 who introduced Petrus to Theodora, and after just a few weeks of getting to know Theodora who was 18 years younger than him, Petrus was already deeply in love with her that he already wanted to marry her, not so much for her looks but because she had a rather touching story to him that was similar to his as after all both Petrus and Theodora were people who experienced poverty and hardship and had the goals to rise above it. It was only here when Petrus was 42 when he would fall in love for the first time with the 24-year-old Theodora, and together they would date in the Hippodrome supporting the blue faction during the races.

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Theodora’s dance over daggers

Petrus however had not seen Theodora’s sexual acts on stage, although in this story’s case he would watch her dance something wherein she would use all her energy moving her hands and legs while wearing only something like a rough texture although colorful towel around her body with nothing underneath but at least held up by some strings at her waist and one from the neck which goes down to hold her rather large breasts up. Together with Macedonia, Theodora here would dance in narrow spaces between daggers sticking out from the ground, and her flexibility as well as the attractiveness of her physique by having a full body which would be even made more significant when dancing would further make Petrus attracted to her. With this dance number over, as Theodora undressed herself and so did Macedonia, Petrus happened to sneak in to the dressing room as Theodora removed the band holding up her breasts and opened up the strapless towel dress she was wearing, thus Petrus truly saw how attractive Theodora’s body was when fully naked. Petrus eventually would date with Theodora in private at the public Baths of Zeuxippus which he would use his powerful government position to close it down for them only, and here he would truly see the beauty of her body when bathing naked while she would see his naked body too. Unfortunately, despite Petrus wanting to marry Theodora so badly, the law back then forbade men of patrician status like Petrus from marrying actresses as they were seen as the bottom of society, however Petrus having his brilliant mind in law had come up with a plan to overturn that law that had been in effect ever since the reign of the first emperor in Constantinople Constantine I the Great in the 4th century by convincing his uncle the emperor to do so.

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Coin of Justin I

However, even if the emperor Justin was fine with overturning the law, it was his wife the former Gothic slave Lupicina that was not that whenever Petrus would convince Justin to change that law, Lupicina would counter Petrus’ request and successfully convince her husband to keep that law. In the meantime, Petrus would meet Theodora’s older sister Comito and younger sister Anastasia, though Petrus would still find Theodora the most beautiful of them and was still surely intent to marry her, and fortunately by the end of 524 the one obstacle in the way of Petrus and Theodora marrying each other which was the empress Lupicina had died. In early 525, Justin I finally overturned that law after being successfully convinced by Petrus, although this law was fully overturned on the condition that only reformed actresses can marry patrician men, and Theodora true enough reformed herself, though in this new law reformed actresses could only marry patricians if it was approved by no other than the emperor himself. Being the nephew of the emperor and in fact the power behind the throne or simply the “little emperor”, Petrus’ marriage to Theodora was immediately approved by Justin and in 525, Petrus and Theodora were finally married in a lavish ceremony at Constantinople’s cathedral (Hagia Sophia). Now with Theodora as an addition to the imperial family, it created further scandal among the people especially the aristocracy as first of all their emperor and his nephew were originally low-born peasants wherein the emperor Justin I was even illiterate, while Justin’s late wife Lupicina was a former slave, and now the heir Petrus’ wife was a former actress that not too long ago performed sexual acts on stage. At the same time too, Petrus’ mother had already been dead for 2 years and his other uncle being Justin’s younger unnamed brother dead for already 4 years -in this story’s case- thus the mother did not live to see her son married to Theodora while Petrus’ younger sister Vigilantia by 525 had 2 more children with her husband the senator Dulcidius, while Petrus’ younger cousin Germanus would happen to be a brave and loyal member of the imperial guard force. Theodora now part of the family would also grow closer to her new sister-in-law Vigilantia whereas Petrus would also grow closer to his sister’s husband as well as with his nephews and niece, though Petrus would not really remain close to his sister anymore by this point as they were in fact polar opposites as Petrus had grown up to be a workaholic that never slept while Vigilantia was mostly a lazy drunk that just enjoyed living the rich life as part of the imperial family.

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Baths of Zeuxippus, Constantinople
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Petrus and Theodora, art by Aureliokos

In the meantime, as of 525 as well, the conquest of King Kaleb I of Aksum in Yemen had been completed, and thus the entire Kingdom of Himyar there was defeated and fully annexed into Kaleb’s Kingdom of Aksum. The Jewish king of Himyar Dhu Nuwas on the other hand according to Arab tradition after losing his kingdom committed suicide by drowning himself in the Red Sea, which would be the case in this story while Kaleb after his conquest would decide to retire after travelling to Jerusalem himself and surrendering his crown at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and following this Kaleb had retired to a monastery never to be heard from again.

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Silver plate with Shah Kavad I

As the recently destroyed Himyarite Kingdom in Yemen which was a Sassanid ally had been destroyed by a Byzantine ally which was Aksum (Ethiopia), the Sassanid shah Kavad I was thus further enraged with Byzantium even more so now that his youngest son Khosrow had arrived at the court in Constantinople where he was not treated well by both Justin I and Petrus, thus Kavad had already began making preparations on invading Byzantine territory, though Petrus receiving intelligence reports from Sittas in this case who had happened to be at the border area would be informed and would thus plan a counter-attack before Kavad’s forces could invade. Justin on the other hand continued his rule’s strong anti-Arian policies which eventually would anger the still reigning Ostrogoth king of Italy Theodoric the Amal who now in his 70s had grown into a highly paranoid ruler that had persecuted his Orthodox subjects- the way Justin persecuted Arians and Monophysites- in order to strongly enforce the Arian faith in Italy which eventually made Theodoric and his rule become more and more unpopular especially since the Arian Ostrogoths in Italy only consisted of the ruling family and the Ostrogoth army whereas most of the population consisted of Roman Italians that were Orthodox. Seeing himself as the defender of the Arian Christian faith, Theodoric in 525 feeling he could have Justin reverse his anti-Arian policies sent the pope John I, the successor of Pope Hormisdas since 523 from Rome to Constantinople to convince Justin.

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Pope St. John I

When arriving in Constantinople, Pope John I who actually did not want to do as he was told by the Arian king Theodoric was received well by Justin I and his court, and as the pope truly supported Justin and his pro-Orthodox policies, he even performed a symbolic coronation for Justin as a symbol that Justin’s authority too was approved by the Patriarch of Rome, while John I too was received well by the people of Constantinople including Petrus. John I would in fact extend his stay in Constantinople spending Christmas of 525 there at the court of Justin as well as New Years’, and even Easter of 526 that Pope John I would in fact not even do as he was told in convincing Justin I to overturn his anti-Arian policy. Eventually, John I returned to Italy wherein Theodoric would be so enraged at him upon arrival for not doing as he was told, and thus the very angry Theodoric threw John I in prison in the Ostrogoth capital wherein John would die within only a few weeks of being in prison while Felix IV would succeed him as pope. Just 3 months after Pope John I died in prison, Theodoric the Amal too would meet his end by August of 526 at the age of 72 whereas he would afterwards be buried in a large and lavish marble mausoleum built for him outside Ravenna. Theodoric would then be succeeded as the King of the Ostrogoths by his 10-year-old grandson Athalaric, the son of his daughter Amalasuntha and Eutharic who died 4 years earlier in Constantinople, in this case poisoned by Petrus; and with Theodoric’s death, the Ostrogoths too had also lost direct control over Visigoth Spain.

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Sketch of Emperor Justin I

Back in Constantinople, the emperor Justin I’s health had already been rapidly declining together with his mentality and ability to rule and make decisions, thus beginning here Petrus would be fully in charge of the empire while Justin in name only, and as Theodora was now married to Petrus, she too would advise him from time to time as she true enough had a brilliant mind as well especially when it came to making quick decisions. Theodora however despite her charm and brilliance would somehow happen to soon enough be a constant headache to Petrus due to her stubborn nature and how she still supported the Monophysites but not openly, which angered Petrus a lot, although he would come to realize that he would need someone to give him a headache in order to challenge him to practice him for the challenges he will soon face as emperor. Another major event that happened in 526 as well was a massive earthquake that nearly destroyed and razed Antioch to the ground killing about 250,000 of its inhabitants. One of the last acts of Justin I now as emperor was in sending money for the relief effort of Antioch in order to reconstruct the city which would then be overseen by Antioch’s governor Ephraim who not too long after would be made the new Patriarch of Antioch replacing the former Monophysite patriarch.

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Hilderic, King of the Vandals of North Africa (r. 523-530)

By this time, the Byzantines too under Justin with Petrus now running the show continued to maintain peaceful relations with the Vandal kingdom in North Africa as its king Hilderic who had been in power ever since 523, despite being Arian was very tolerant to his Orthodox subjects and had even allowed Orthodox missionaries from the Byzantine Empire to spread Orthodoxy in his kingdom. Hilderic too was half-Roman as his mother was the daughter of the former Western Roman emperor Valentinian III (r. 425-455) thus making Hilderic a living descendant of the Eastern and Western Roman Empire’s former Theodosian Dynasty which even made the Byzantines see him more as an ally. Now as Justin’s physical and mental health further declined as a result of Justin’s old war wound that he suffered from fighting in the Isaurian war decades earlier, Petrus by the end of 526 would organize a preemptive attack on the Sassanid border sending his trusted bodyguard Sittas who now became a high ranking general to carry out the job. Additionally, Sittas too in a way had become part of the ruling family as he had also recently married Theodora’s older sister Comito, though under Sittas’ command would be a much younger soldier with a very brilliant mind which would thus allow him to rapidly rise up the ranks, and this young soldier was the Thracian Belisarius who at only 21 in 526 was made a general.

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Heruli cavalry in the Byzantine army

Petrus here would carefully analyze Belisarius when meeting him and would be very impressed as the young Belisarius already had very innovative ideas for the army including creating a regiment only made up of horse archers as well as in coming up with an idea to also have one part of the army consisting of hired mercenaries that were both Huns and Heruls or Northern European barbarians that specialized in cavalry. By the end of 526, Petrus then sent both the much older Sittas and the young Belisarius to their eastern border with the Sassanids to make raids into Sassanid territory, and they true enough were successful as before Kavad I could launch a new massive invasion on Byzantine territory, he was the one under attack first. By 527, it was already evident that the emperor Justin’s health was rapidly declining with his end already very near and thus on April 1 of 527, Justin formally named his nephew Petrus as his successor by even adopting him as his son and making him his co-emperor. Just exactly 4 months later in August 1 of 527, Justin I died peacefully in his sleep at the old age of 77 and since Petrus was already made his co-emperor, he immediately succeeded his uncle as the sole emperor or Augustus of the Roman Empire while his wife Theodora was crowned as the new empress or Augusta, and from now on Petrus was no longer Petrus but Justinian meaning the “son of Justin”, while when coming to the throne, he had no more opposition to his rule at all, and it had been that way for many years ever since Vitalian’s assassination in 520. In his coronation, at least in this story’s case Justinian dressed in full imperial purple robes with a large golden crown on his head made a speech wherein he promised that their empire would be great again and all lands they had lost over the years to barbarian invasions would be theirs again while the Sassanids too would be put under control, and now that he was emperor Justinian would make these conquests his primary objective in order to bring pride to his empire and people.   

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Mausoleum of Theodoric the Amal in Ravenna
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Byzantine era Antioch, destroyed by the 526 earthquake
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The new imperial couple- Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Justinian (left) and Theodora (right)

Epilogue and Conclusion          

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The moment after Justinian was crowned as the sole emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire on August 1 of 527, he immediately put all his plans that he had thought of over the years for reforming the empire into motion while he also used everything he learned in state management, law, theology, and history into ruling the empire. One of his first acts as emperor was to rid Constantinople of crime by increasing the number of the imperial guard units in the city and arresting thousands of troublemakers including fanatical blue and green faction members that incited frequent riots as well as purging the government of corrupt officials, Pagans, Jews, and Monophysite and Arian heretics.

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Emperor Justinian I the Great of Byzantium (r. 527-565), acrylic painting, art by myself

Although when Justinian came to power, it would already be made clear that the imperial treasury was very full due to Anastasius I’s and Justin I’s policy of spending less, and thus already in his first year in power, he would spend a lot of it to renovate Constantinople. In the meantime, the generals Belisarius and Sittas by 527 had already been making success raiding into Sassanid territory wherein Sittas raided Sassanid held Armenia while Belisarius with his newly created regiment would raid into Syria.  Following Justin I’s death, Kavad I again tried to assert his dominance over Byzantium’s new puppet Georgian kingdom of Lazica by invading it but Sittas leading a Byzantine army had managed to repel the Sassanid invasion in 527 thus keeping Lazica and its ruler Tzath still a Byzantine vassal. As for the dancer Macedonia, history however does not say anything anymore about her after she introduced Petrus to Theodora earlier on, though in this story’s case she would still continue serving Justinian now as emperor and Theodora now as empress as an undercover agent in the form of a dancer.

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Emperor Justinian I, the “Emperor that Never Slept”, art by Ancient City Lullaby

After coming to power, Justinian would also appoint the people he made friends with during his uncle Justin’s reign being Tribonian who he would make his top legal advisor and John of Cappadocia as his finance minister. Through John, Justinian would enforce stricter policies on taxation wherein the rich would finally no longer be exempted from paying taxes and that those who refused to pay would be tortured in order to pay up. From 527 to 529, Justinian through Tribonian had carried out the ambitious codifying of all Roman laws in the past into one universal code consisting of 3 books known as the Corpus Juris Civilis or “Body of Civil Laws”, and this would still be around today as the basis for the laws and legal systems many countries still use. In 530, the young Belisarius would make a name for himself and continue rising up the ranks in the army after winning a major victory over the Sassanid army at the Battle of Dara at the same fortress at the Syrian border with the Sassanids constructed under Anastasius I years ago.

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Flavius Belisarius (505-565), Byzantine general, art by Amelianvs

In the following year though, Belisarius’ forces would suffer a defeat against the Sassanids as the Sassanids struck back after their defeat, but fortunately for the Byzantines the Sassanid shah Kavad I had died in 531 as well, and thus Kavad’s son Khosrow would leave Constantinople and now rule the Sassanids, and surprisingly he would for the meantime not trouble Justinian as both agreed to an “eternal peace” as long as Justinian paid him annual tribute, and luckily Justinian had a full treasury to do the job. In 532, a massive riot broke out in Constantinople against Justinian’s harsh tax policies which intensified again due to the strong fanaticisms of the blues and greens, and Justinian would have in fact lost the throne here if not for him listening to Theodora’s advice in dealing with this riot by force. This riot known as the Nika Riot was thus put down with 30,000 rioters killed in Constantinople’s Hippodrome by the generals Belisarius and Narses whereas even Anastasius’ nephew Hypatius was one of the many executed for his part in the riot in being proclaimed by the rioters as their emperor. As the riots destroyed most of Constantinople including the original church of the Hagia Sophia, Justinian saw this as an opportunity to rebuild the city as well as the Hagia Sophia into a much more impressive church. In the meantime, the Byzantines would get as far as going to war with the Vandal kingdom in North Africa when its king Hilderic was overthrown and imprisoned in 530 leading to Justinian declaring war on them for overthrowing his ally Hilderic, and thus in the course of only a year (533-534), the entire Vandal kingdom was conquered by Belisarius and his forces thus annexed North Africa into the Byzantine Empire. Not too long after, Justinian too went to war with the Ostrogoth Kingdom of Italy when his ally the young Ostrogoth king Athalaric died in 534 and so did his mother Amalasuntha in 535 being assassinated in her bath thus making Justinian again having a reason to justify war send Belisarius to do the job of conquering Italy.

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Shah Khosrow I of the Sassanid Empire (r. 531-579), art by MayaStudio

Unlike the Byzantine conquest of the Vandal kingdom in North Africa, the one of Ostrogoth Italy would take about 18 years wherein along the way a devastating plague known as the “Plague of Justinian”- as it happened in his reign, hence the name- struck the empire wherein Justinian was even a victim of it but survived while it also delayed the reconquest of Italy and as the conflict with the Sassanid Empire under Khosrow I resumed, the Ostrogoths despite thought to have been beaten back had reemerged, Theodora had died in 548, Belisarius had retired from military service, and only by 553 was the Byzantine conquest of Italy completed, thus the Ostrogoths had been vanquished and Italy as well as the city of Rome had been put back under Roman hands again making Justinian achieve his ultimate dream of avenging the fall of Western Rome despite having never set foot in battle, not even once in his entire reign. Additionally, some of Southern Spain too was recaptured by the Byzantines by 554 and in 555 the Byzantine Empire with Justinian the Great as its ruler was at its greatest territorial extent controlling almost the entire Mediterranean Sea except for the Southern coast of Gaul while it stretched west to east from Southern Spain to Syria, while all of Italy and North Africa too was under its control, and it too also stretched north to south from the Crimea Peninsula in what is now Ukraine to Egypt. Although Justinian achieved his ultimate dream of expanding and making his empire and Rome in general great again, his ambitions would still cost him as by the time he died in 565 at the age of 83, the empire’s treasury which had been full when he came to power was almost entirely drained while due to the plague, a large percent of his empire’s population was wiped out, thus at the end all of Justinian’s ambitious projects were not all worth it, but at least he still had a great vision for his empire. However, the complete story of Justinian I’s reign would not be for this story anymore as it had already been told in full detail in chapter III of Byzantine alternate history.  

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Massacre of the 30,000 at the Hippodrome ending the Nika Riot, 532
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The Hagia Sophia, completed in 537 under Emperor Justinian I
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The Plague of Justinian hits Constantinople, 542
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Mosaic of Emperor Justinian I and his court, Ravenna
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Detailed map of the Byzantine Empire at its fullest extent under Justinian I in 555 (gold)

And now this is all for the third spin-off sequel to the Byzantine Alternate History series being the spin-off for chapter III. Again, as I mentioned earlier, the past 2 spin-off stories were made as sequels to their respective alternate history stories which discussed what would happen following the alternate historical ending of those stories whereas this one was not a sequel but a prequel to a chapter, in this case being chapter III. Overall, this story was more or less an extended edition to the introduction segment of chapter III as this one had further explained the unknown story of Justinian’s early life as Petrus from peasant, to student, to soldier, to senator and commander, and finally to emperor with many fictional elements here and there considering that nothing much is recorded about his early life. It is basically for the reason of Justinian’s early life not being explored or discussed that much why I decided to make this particular story, and considering that I also did not discuss much about his early life in chapter III, I therefore saw the need even more to create this spin-off story. Although this story mostly discussed what actually happened in real history such as the Byzantine Empire’s story from the fall of Western Rome in 476 to Justinian’s rise to power in 527 wherein they became the only Roman power left standing together with the stories happening around them including events in the Sassanid Empire, with the Ostrogoths in Italy, and a lot more, thus I wanted to add some more details which may seem to be highly fictionalized just to add some originality, and not mention some erotic elements!

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Emperor Justinian I the Great, art by Spatharokandidatos

Additionally, another reason for creating this story was also to further explain what drove Justinian’s ambitions as well as his vision to make his empire great again, and true enough all it took to expand the Byzantine Empire and reconquer lands they had lost was a man with a strong vision, and this was Justinian the Great. At the same time, I would once again have to thank Justinianus Byzantinus for helping me create this story by filling in some more of the blanks on Justinian’s early life. Of course this story was plainly supposed to be about Justinian’s early years before becoming emperor wherein his life is very much well recorded, thus it would have to end wherein he becomes emperor in 527, thus whatever happens after 527 would all be in chapter III wherein its entire storyline was on Justinian the Great’s reign wherein his story is altered as it would show him personally joining his campaigns in Italy and actually saving his empire from being destroyed by the plague of 542 and by training his successor being his nephew Justin to properly run the empire as in real history Justinian true enough never even once made an appearance in battle leading his troops and neither did he handle the plague situation well and train his successor, thus following Justinian’s death it would be a gradual downhill for the Byzantine Empire. The next spin-off story then would have a very large time-jump of 1,000 years skipping all the way to the 16th century which would thus be a sequel story to chapter XII, the 15th century setting finale of the Byzantine Alternate History series which will then discuss what would happen if the Byzantine Empire survived up to the 16th century. Anyway, this is all for the third part of the Byzantine Alternate History spin-off stories, this is Powee Celdran the Byzantine Time Traveller… Thank you for your Time!         

Next Story: Fictional Byzantium in the 16th Century- Epilogue to Byzantine Alternate History

Published by The Byzantium Blogger

Powee Celdran, currently majors in Entrepreneurial Management, a Byzantine scholar and enthusiast, historical military sketch and bathroom mural artist, aspiring historical art restorer, Lego filmmaker creating Byzantine era films and videos, and a possible Renaissance man living in modern times but Byzantine at heart. Currently manages the Instagram account byzantine_time_traveller posting Byzantine history related content.

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