Justin II
Solidus of Justin II marked: d·n· iustinus p·p· aug·
Byzantine emperor
Reign14 November 565 – 5 October 578
PredecessorJustinian I
SuccessorTiberius II
BornConstantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey)
Died5 October 578
Regnal name
Imperator Caesar Flavius Iustinus Augustus[a]
FatherDulcidio (or Dulcissimus)
ReligionChalcedonian Christianity

Justin II (Latin: Justinus; Greek: Ἰουστῖνος, translit. Ioustînos; died 5 October 578), also surnamed as "the Thracian" (Latin: Thrax; Greek: ο Θραξ), was Eastern Roman emperor from 565 until 578. He was the nephew of Justinian I and the husband of Sophia, the niece of the Empress Theodora, and a member of the Justinian dynasty.

Justin II inherited a greatly enlarged but overextended empire, with far less resources at his disposal compared to Justinian I. Despite this, he strove to match his formidable uncle's reputation by abandoning the payment of tributes to the Empire's neighbors. This miscalculated move resulted in rekindling of war with the Sassanid Empire, and in a Lombard invasion which cost the Romans much of their territory in Italy.


He was a son of Vigilantia and Dulcidio (sometimes rendered as Dulcissimus),[2] respectively the sister and brother-in-law of Justinian. His siblings included Marcellus and Praejecta. With Sophia he had a daughter Arabia and possibly a son, Justus, who died young. He also had a niece named Helena.[3]



Justinian I died childless on 14 November 565. Callinicus [pl], the praepositus sacri cubiculi, seems to have been the only witness to his dying moments, and later claimed that Justinian had designated "Justin, Vigilantia's son" as his heir in a deathbed decision. The clarification was needed because there was another nephew and candidate for the throne, Justin, son of Germanus. Modern historians suspect Callinicus may have fabricated the last words of Justinian to secure the succession for his political ally.[4] As historian Robert Browning observed: "Did Justinian really bring himself in the end to make a choice, or did Callinicus make it for him? Only Callinicus knew."[5]

In any case, Callinicus started alerting those most interested in the succession, originally various members of the Byzantine Senate. Then they jointly informed Justin and Vigilantia, offering the throne. Justin accepted after the traditional token show of reluctance, and with his wife Sophia, he was escorted to the Great Palace of Constantinople. The Excubitors blocked the palace entrances during the night, and early in the morning, John Scholasticus, Patriarch of Constantinople, crowned the new Augustus. Only then was the death of Justinian and the succession of Justin publicly announced in the Hippodrome of Constantinople.[6]

Both the Patriarch and Tiberius, commander of the Excubitors, had been recently appointed, with Justin having played a part in their respective appointments, in his role as Justinian's curopalates. Their willingness to elevate their patron and ally to the throne was hardly surprising.[6]

In the first few days of his reign Justin paid his uncle's debts, administered justice in person, and proclaimed universal religious toleration. On 1 January 566, he became a consul, thereby reviving a post Justinian had discontinued since 541. Justin and Sophia initially promised to make peace with Justin's cousin and rival to the throne, Justin (son of Germanus), but had him assassinated in Alexandria not long after. According to a hostile source, the imperial couple kicked his severed head.[7]

Justin II ordering the arrest of Justin the Consul. Scene from the 12th century Manasses Chronicle.

In 566 he reformed Justinian's divorce law for going too far, revoking the possibility of divorce by mutual consent.[8] Under the pretext of not understanding the fragile human nature:

Mankind has nothing more admirable than marriage: from it stem children and successive generations, the peopling of villages and cities, and society’s best bond. Hence, it is our prayer that marriage should be so successful for those contracting it as never to be the work of an unlucky daemon, and that married couples should not split up without just cause for their marriage to be dissolved. But as it is difficult for this to be maintained for all mankind – in such a large population, it is outside the realms of possibility that some unreasonable enmities should not supervene – we have thought it appropriate to devise some remedy for this, in particular where the consequences of pettiness have escalated so far as to engender real, irreconcilable hatred between the partners.[9]

Foreign policy

Faced with an empty treasury, he discontinued Justinian's practice of buying off potential enemies. Immediately after his accession, Justin halted the payment of subsidies to the Avars, ending a truce that had existed since 558. This move upset the delicate balance of power in the Pannonian Basin, since the Avar elite were forced to seek new sources of wealth to maintain their position and client networks. After the Avars and the neighbouring tribe of the Lombards had combined to destroy the Gepids, from whom Justin had obtained the Danube fortress of Sirmium, Avar pressure caused the Lombards to migrate West, and in 568 they invaded Italy under their king Alboin. They quickly overran the Po valley, and within a few years they had made themselves masters of nearly the entire country. The Avars themselves crossed the Danube in 573 or 574, when the Empire's attention was distracted by troubles on the Persian frontier. They were only placated by the payment of a subsidy of 60,000 silver pieces by Justin's successor Tiberius.[10]

The North and East frontiers were the main focus of Justin's attention. In 572 his refusal to pay tribute to the Persians in combination with overtures to the Turks led to a war with the Sassanid Empire. After two disastrous campaigns, in which the Persians under Khosrow I overran Syria and captured the strategically important fortress of Dara, Justin lost his mind.[11]

Solidus minted in Alexandria, Egypt c. 570

Shortly after the smuggling of silkworm eggs into the Byzantine Empire from China by Nestorian Christian monks, the 6th-century Byzantine historian Menander Protector writes of how the Sogdians attempted to establish a direct trade of Chinese silk with the Byzantine Empire. After forming an alliance with the Sassanid ruler Khosrow I to defeat the Hephthalite Empire, Istämi, the Göktürk ruler of the Western Turkic Khaganate, was approached by Sogdian merchants requesting permission to seek an audience with the Sassanid king of kings for the privilege of traveling through Persian territories in order to trade with the Byzantines.[12] Istämi refused the first request, but when he sanctioned the second one and had the Sogdian embassy sent to the Sassanid king, the latter had the members of the embassy poisoned to death.[12] Maniah, a Sogdian diplomat, convinced Istämi to send an embassy directly to Constantinople, which arrived in 568 and offered not only silk as a gift to Justin, but also proposed an alliance against Sassanid Persia. Justin agreed and sent an embassy to the Turkic Khaganate, ensuring the direct silk trade desired by the Sogdians.[12][13]

In 1937, the historian Previte-Orton described Justin as "a rigid man, dazzled by his predecessor's glories, to whom fell the task of guiding an exhausted, ill-defended Empire through a crisis of the first magnitude and a new movement of peoples". Previte-Orton continues,

In foreign affairs he took the attitude of the invincible, unbending Roman, and in the disasters which his lack of realism occasioned, his reason ultimately gave way. It was foreign powers which he underrated and hoped to bluff by a lofty inflexibility, for he was well aware of the desperate state of the finances and the army and of the need to reconcile the Monophysites."[14]

100 nummi coin of Justin II minted in Carthage. Helmeted and cuirass-wearing facing bust, holding shield Monogram; cross above, 100 below

Succession and death

Justin II and Sophia depicted on a Nummi coin

After 572, Justin was reported to have fits of insanity. John of Ephesus, whose Monophysite sect suffered persecutions under Justin, offered a vivid description of Justin's madness, in which he behaved like a wild animal, was wheeled about on a mobile throne and required organ music to be played day and night.[15] In 574, at Sophia's suggestion, he adopted the general Tiberius as his son and heir, and then retired in his favor.[16] On 7 December, according to Theophylact Simocatta, Justin remained sufficiently clear-minded to make an eloquent speech as he passed the crown:[17][18]

You behold the ensigns of supreme power. You are about to receive them, not from my hand, but from the hand of God. Honor them, and from them you will derive honor. Respect the empress your mother: you are now her son; before, you were her servant. Delight not in blood; abstain from revenge; avoid those actions by which I have incurred the public hatred; and consult the experience, rather than the example, of your predecessor. As a man, I have sinned; as a sinner, even in this life, I have been severely punished: but these servants (and he pointed to his ministers), who have abused my confidence, and inflamed my passions, will appear with me before the tribunal of Christ. I have been dazzled by the splendor of the diadem: be thou wise and modest; remember what you have been, remember what you are. You see around us your slaves, and your children: with the authority, assume the tenderness, of a parent. Love your people like yourself; cultivate the affections, maintain the discipline, of the army; protect the fortunes of the rich, relieve the necessities of the poor.[16]

Four years later, on 26 September 578, he elevated Tiberius as Augustus. Justin died only nine days later, on 5 October 578.[19]


  1. ^ The full imperial title of Justin II in Latin is attested in a novel issued on 1 March 570: Imperator Caesar Flavius Iustinus fidelis in Christo mansuetus maximus benefactor Alamannicus Gothicus Francicus Germanicus Anticus Vandalicus Africanus pius felix inclitus victor ac triumphator semper Augustus ("Emperor Caesar Flavius Justin, faithful in Christ, mild, majestic, greatest benefactor; victor over the Alamanni, Goths, Franks, Germans, Antes, Vandals, Africans; pious, fortunate, renowned, victorious and triumphant, ever augustus").[1] The victory titles are directly copied from Justinian.


  1. ^ Lingenthal 1857, pp. 13–14.
  2. ^ Martindale 1980, II, 1165.
  3. ^ Martindale 1992, III, 754–755.
  4. ^ Evans (1999), pp. 263–264
  5. ^ Browning (2003), p. 165
  6. ^ a b Evans (1999), p. 264
  7. ^ Evagrius Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, 5.2
  8. ^ Sarris, P. (2017). Emperor Justinian. In J. Witte, Jr & G. Hauk (Eds.), Christianity and Family Law: An Introduction (Law and Christianity, pp. 85-99). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781108233255.008
  9. ^ Novellae Constitutiones 140.
  10. ^ Norwich, John J. Byzanptium: the Early Centuries (London:Penguin 1988) p.571 gives this subsidy to Avars as 80,000 silver pieces.
  11. ^ Nicholson, Canepa & Daryaee 2018.
  12. ^ a b c Howard, Michael C., Transnationalism in Ancient and Medieval Societies, the Role of Cross Border Trade and Travel, McFarland & Company, 2012, p. 133.
  13. ^ Liu, Xinru, "The Silk Road: Overland Trade and Cultural Interactions in Eurasia", in Agricultural and Pastoral Societies in Ancient and Classical History, ed. Michael Adas, American Historical Association, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001, p. 168.
  14. ^ Previte-Orton, Charles William, The shorter Cambridge medieval history (Cambridge: University Press, 1952), p. 201.
  15. ^ John of Ephesus, Ecclesiastical History, Part 3, Book 3
  16. ^ a b Gibbon, Edward, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter XLV, Part II
  17. ^ Theophylact Simocatta III.11: "This was spoken on the seventh of December, on the sixth day, in the ninth indiction."
  18. ^ John of Ephesus, 3.5.
  19. ^ Chronicon Paschale 578; John of Ephesus, 3.5.


Primary sources

Secondary sources

Justin II Justinian dynasty Died: 578 Regnal titles Preceded byJustinian I Byzantine emperor 565–578with Tiberius II Constantine (574–578) Succeeded byTiberius II Constantine Political offices Preceded byAnicius Faustus Albinus Basiliusin 541, then lapsed Roman consul 566 Succeeded byTiberius Constantinus Augustusin 579