Justinian II
Emperor of the Romans
Young Justinian II, mosaic in the basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna.[1][a]
Byzantine emperor
1st reign10 July 685 – 695
PredecessorConstantine IV
2nd reign21 August 705 –
4 November 711
PredecessorTiberius III
Co-emperorTiberius (706–711)
Born668 or 669
Died4 November 711 (aged 42)[b]
Damatrys, Opsikion
Theodora of Khazaria
Regnal name
Latin: Imperator Caesar Flavius Iustinianus Augustus
Greek: Αὐτοκράτωρ καῖσαρ Φλάβιος Ἰουστινιανός αὐγουστος[4][c]
FatherConstantine IV
ReligionChalcedonian Christianity

Justinian II (Latin: Iustinianus; Greek: Ἰουστινιανός, romanizedIoustinianós; 668/69 – 4 November 711), nicknamed "the Slit-Nosed" (Latin: Rhinotmetus; Greek: ὁ Ῥινότμητος, romanizedho Rhīnótmētos), was the last Byzantine emperor of the Heraclian dynasty, reigning from 685 to 695 and again from 705 to 711. Like his namesake, Justinian I, Justinian II was an ambitious and passionate ruler who was keen to restore the Roman Empire to its former glories. However, he responded brutally to any opposition to his will and lacked the finesse of his father, Constantine IV.[7] Consequently, he generated enormous opposition to his reign, resulting in his deposition in 695 in a popular uprising. He only returned to the throne in 705 with the help of a Bulgar and Slav army. His second reign was even more despotic than the first, and in 711 he was killed by mutinous soldiers.

First reign

Justinian II was the eldest son of Emperor Constantine IV and Anastasia.[2] His father appointed him as his heir sometime after October 681, upon the deposition of his uncles Heraclius and Tiberius.[d] In 685, at the age of sixteen, Justinian II succeeded his father as sole emperor.[9][10]

As a result of Constantine IV's victories, the political situation in the Eastern provinces of the Empire was stable when Justinian ascended the throne.[11] After a preliminary strike against the Arabs in Armenia,[12] Justinian managed to augment the sum paid by the Umayyad Caliphs as an annual tribute, and to regain control of part of Cyprus.[11] The incomes of the provinces of Armenia and Iberia were divided among the two empires.[7] In 687, as part of his agreements with the Caliphate, Justinian removed from their native Lebanon 12,000 Christian Maronites, who continually resisted the Arabs.[13] Additional resettlement efforts, aimed at the Mardaites and inhabitants of Cyprus, allowed Justinian to reinforce naval forces depleted by earlier conflicts.[7] In 688, Justinian signed a treaty with the Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan which rendered Cyprus neutral ground, with its tax revenue split.[14]

This enabled Justinian to turn his attention to the Balkans, where much imperial territory had been lost to Slavic tribes.[13] In 687 Justinian transferred cavalry troops from Anatolia to Thrace. With a great military campaign in 688–689, Justinian defeated the Slavs of Macedonia and was finally able to enter Thessalonica, the second most important Byzantine city in Europe.[7]

The subdued Slavs were resettled in Anatolia, where they were to provide a military force of 30,000 men.[7] Emboldened by the increase of his forces in Anatolia, Justinian now renewed the war against the Arabs,[15] winning a battle in Armenia in 693. The Arabs met the challenge by bribing the new army to revolt. Most of the Slavic troops defected during the subsequent Battle of Sebastopolis,[16] where Justinian was comprehensively defeated and compelled to flee to the Propontis.[15] There, according to Theophanes,[17] he vented his frustration by slaughtering as many of the Slavs in and around Opsikion as he could lay his hands on.[18] Meanwhile, a Patrician named Symbatius rebelled in Armenia[15] and opened up the province to the Arabs, who proceeded to conquer it in 694–695.[7]

In domestic affairs, the Emperor's bloody persecution of the Manichaeans,[10] and his suppression of the popular traditions of those who were not of Chalcedonian origin, caused dissension within the Church.[2] In 692 Justinian convened the so-called Quinisext Council at Constantinople to put his religious policies into effect.[19] The Council expanded and clarified the rulings of the Fifth and Sixth ecumenical councils, but by highlighting differences between the Eastern and Western observances (such as the marriage of priests and the Catholic practice of fasting on Saturdays) it also compromised Byzantine relations with the Catholic Church.[20] The emperor ordered Pope Sergius I arrested, but the militias of Rome and Ravenna sided with the Pope and rebelled.[7]

Justinian contributed to the development of the thematic organization of the Empire, creating a new theme of Hellas in southern Greece and numbering the heads of the four major themes of the Opsikion, Anatolikon, Thracesion and Armeniakon, and the naval Karabisianoi corps, among the senior administrators of the Empire.[7] He also sought to protect the rights of peasant freeholders (who served as the main recruitment pool for the imperial armies) against attempts by the aristocracy to acquire their land. This put him in direct conflict with some of the largest landholders in the Empire.[7]

Mutilation of Justinian II on the orders of Leontius in 695.

While his land policies threatened the aristocracy, his tax policy was very unpopular with the common people.[7] Through his agents Stephen and Theodotos, the emperor raised the funds to gratify his sumptuous tastes and his mania for erecting costly buildings.[7][10] This, plus ongoing religious discontent, conflicts with the aristocracy, and displeasure with his resettlement policy eventually drove his subjects into rebellion.[19] In 695 the population rose under the leadership of Leontius, the strategos of Hellas, and proclaimed him Emperor.[7][10] Justinian was deposed and his nose was cut off (later to be replaced by a solid gold replica of his original) to prevent his again seeking the throne: such mutilation was common in Byzantine culture. He was exiled to Cherson in the Crimea.[7] Leontius, after a reign of three years, was in turn dethroned and imprisoned by Apsimarus, who then assumed the throne.[21][10]


While in exile, Justinian began to plot and gather supporters for an attempt to retake the throne.[22] Justinian became a liability to Cherson and the authorities decided to return him to Constantinople in 702 or 703.[11] He escaped from Cherson and received help from Busir, the khagan of the Khazars, who received him enthusiastically and gave him his sister as a bride.[22] Justinian renamed her Theodora, after the wife of Justinian I.[23] They were given a home in the town of Phanagoria, at the entrance to the sea of Azov. Busir was offered a bribe by Tiberius to kill his brother-in-law, and dispatched two Khazar officials, Papatzys and Balgitzin, to do the deed.[24] Warned by his wife, Justinian executed Papatzys and Balgitzin. He sailed in a fishing boat to Cherson, summoned his supporters, and they all sailed westwards across the Black Sea.[25]

As the ship bearing Justinian sailed along the northern coast of the Black Sea, he and his crew became caught up in a storm somewhere between the mouths of the Dniester and the Dnieper Rivers.[24] While it was raging, one of his companions reached out to Justinian saying that if he promised God that he would be magnanimous, and not seek revenge on his enemies when he was returned to the throne, they would all be spared.[25] Justinian retorted: "If I spare a single one of them, may God drown me here".[24]

Emperor Justinian II rewards Tervel of Bulgaria for his military aid, that helped him retake the throne.

Having survived the storm, Justinian next approached Tervel of Bulgaria.[25] Tervel agreed to provide all the military assistance necessary for Justinian to regain his throne in exchange for financial considerations, the award of a Caesar's crown, and the hand of Justinian's daughter, Anastasia, in marriage.[22] In spring 705, with an army of 15,000 Bulgar and Slav horsemen, Justinian appeared before the walls of Constantinople.[22] For three days, Justinian tried to convince the citizens of Constantinople to open the gates, but to no avail.[26] Unable to take the city by force, he and some companions entered through an unused water conduit under the walls of the city, roused their supporters, and seized control of the city in a midnight coup d'état.[22] On 21 August,[3] Justinian regained the throne, breaking the tradition preventing the mutilated from Imperial rule. After tracking down his predecessors, he had his rivals Leontius and Tiberius brought before him in chains in the Hippodrome. There, before a jeering populace, Justinian, now wearing a golden nasal prosthesis,[27] placed his feet on the necks of Tiberius and Leontius in a symbolic gesture of subjugation before ordering their execution by beheading, followed by many of their partisans,[28] as well as deposing, blinding and exiling Patriarch Callinicus I to Rome.[29]

Second reign

Justinian and his son Tiberius, whom he crowned co-emperor in 706.

Justinian's second reign was marked by unsuccessful warfare against Bulgaria and the Caliphate, and by cruel suppression of opposition at home.[30] In 708 Justinian turned on Bulgarian Khan Tervel, whom he had earlier crowned caesar, and invaded Bulgaria, apparently seeking to recover the territories ceded to Tervel as a reward for his support in 705.[28] The Emperor was defeated, blockaded in Anchialus, and forced to retreat.[28] Peace between Bulgaria and Byzantium was quickly restored. This defeat was followed by Arab victories in Asia Minor,[10] where the cities of Cilicia fell into the hands of the enemy, who penetrated into Cappadocia in 709–711.[30]

He ordered Pope John VII to recognize the decisions of the Quinisext Council and simultaneously fitted out a punitive expedition against Ravenna in 709 under the command of the Patrician Theodore.[31] The expedition was led to reinstate the Western Church's authority over Ravenna, which was taken as a sign of disobedience to the emperor, and revolutionary sentiment.[32] The repression succeeded, and the new Pope Constantine visited Constantinople in 710. Justinian, after receiving Holy Communion at the hands of the pope, renewed all the privileges of the Roman Church. Exactly what passed between them on the subject of the Quinisext Council is not known. It would appear, however, that Constantine approved most of the canons.[33] This would be the last time a Pope visited the city until the visit of Pope Paul VI to Istanbul in 1967.[27]

Justinian's rule provoked another uprising against him.[34] Cherson revolted, and under the leadership of the exiled general Bardanes the city held out against a counter-attack. Soon, the forces sent to suppress the rebellion joined it.[11] The rebels then seized the capital and proclaimed Bardanes as Emperor Philippicus;[35] Justinian had been on his way to Armenia, and was unable to return to Constantinople in time to defend it.[36] He was arrested and executed in November 711, his head being exhibited in Rome and Ravenna.[2]

On hearing the news of his death, Justinian's mother took his six-year-old son and co-emperor, Tiberius, to sanctuary at St. Mary's Church in Blachernae, but was pursued by Philippicus' henchmen, who dragged the child from the altar and, once outside the church, murdered him, thus eradicating the line of Heraclius.[36]


Justinian II
Justinian II Solidus
Honored inEastern Orthodox Church
Feast2 August

Justinian's reign saw the continued slow and ongoing process of transformation of the Byzantine Empire, as the traditions inherited from the ancient Latin Roman state were gradually being eroded. This is most clearly seen in the coinage of Justinian's reign, which saw the reintroduction of the Loros, the traditional consular costume that had not been seen on Imperial coinage for a century, while the office itself had not been celebrated for nearly half a century.[37] This was linked to Justinian's decision to unify the office of consul with that of emperor, thus making the Emperor the head of state not only de facto but also de jure. Although the office of the consulate continued to exist until Emperor Leo VI the Wise formally abolished it with Novel 94,[38] it was Justinian who effectively ended its status as a separate political entity. He was formally appointed as Consul in 686,[39] subsequently adopting the title for all the Julian years of his reign, consecutively numbered.

Though at times undermined by his own despotic tendencies, Justinian was a talented and perceptive ruler who succeeded in improving the standing of the Byzantine Empire.[27] A pious ruler, Justinian was the first emperor to include the image of Christ on coinage issued in his name[2] and attempted to outlaw various pagan festivals and practices that persisted in the Empire.[7] He may have self-consciously modelled himself on his namesake, Justinian I,[12] as seen in his enthusiasm for large-scale construction projects and the renaming of his Khazar wife as Theodora.[7] Among the building projects he undertook was the creation of the triklinos, an extension to the imperial palace, a decorative cascade fountain located at the Augusteum, and a new Church of the Virgin at Petrion.[40]

The veneration of Justinian II in the Orthodox Church is the subject of debate and confusion, as there are discrepancies in different Synaxarions. The Synaxarion of Constantinople from the 10th century lists the commemoration of the "Emperor Justinian", giving no reference of the emperor's life or whether it is Justinian I or II.[41] Contemporary footnotes comment that this must be Justinian II, since Justinian I died in heresy, a position not held by the Orthodox Church today.[42] According to Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, Emperor Justinian II was a bad man who lived a bad life, and he could not imagine that he would be commemorated as a saint, since in the Synaxarion of Saint Kallinikos of Constantinople on August 23, it does not say he died in repentance. Saint Nikodemos suggests this must be Justinian I, who is also celebrated the 15th of November with is wife Theodora.[43]

Modern English translations and some Greek Synaxarions now list either list Justinian I on August 2 or make no reference to either Justinian I or II. However, there are some Greek Synaxarions that list Justinian II.[44][45]


By his first wife Eudokia, Justinian II had at least one daughter, Anastasia, who was betrothed to the Bulgarian ruler Tervel. By his second wife, Theodora of Khazaria, Justinian II had a son, Tiberius, co-emperor from 706 to 711.

Fictional account

Justinian, a 1998 novel by Byzantine scholar Harry Turtledove, writing under the name H. N. Turteltaub, gives a fictionalized version of Justinian's life as retold by a fictionalized lifelong companion, the soldier Myakes.[46] In the novel, Turtledove speculates that while in exile Justinian had reconstructive surgery done by an itinerant Indian plastic surgeon to repair his damaged nose.[47]

See also


  1. ^ Justinian II is depicted as a tall young man when in reality he was 13 years old at the most. The mosaic was made before 681, as he's depicted alongside the co-emperors Heraclius and Tiberius (all of whom are depicted as being as tall as Constantine IV).
  2. ^ The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium misquotes Philip Grierson's "Tombs and Obits" and states that Justinian II died on 7 November,[2] when the text clearly indicates 4 November.[3]
  3. ^ His name is rarely given as Flavius Heraclius Iustinianus in older sources,[5][6] but this is not corroborated by modern historians or contemporary coins or writings.
  4. ^ Theophanes the Confessor states that Constantine ruled alongside Justinian after the fall of Heraclius and Tiberius. However, all the evidence indicates that he became augustus only on his father's death.[8]


  1. ^ Hourihane, Colum (2012). The Grove Encyclopedia of Medieval Art and Architecture. Vol. 2. Oxford University Press. pp. 154–157. ISBN 9780195395365.
  2. ^ a b c d e Kazhdan 1991
  3. ^ a b Grierson, Philip (1962). "The Tombs and Obits of the Byzantine Emperors". Dumbarton Oaks Papers. 16: 50. doi:10.2307/1291157. JSTOR 1291157.
  4. ^ Vasiliev 1943.
  5. ^ Johann George Estor (1766). Freiheit der Teutschen Kirchen, fürnämlich in Rücksicht auf Se. Kaiserliche Majestät, und im Betreffe der Teutschen Reichs-Stände wider die Eingriffe der Curialen zu Rom. p. 101. ISBN 9781271731411.
  6. ^ Baudartius, Willem (1632). Apophthegmata christiana, ofte: Ghedenck-weerdige, leersame, ende aerdighe spreuken, van vele ende verscheydene christelicke ende christen-ghelijcke persoonen gesproken ...: alles uyt vele gheloof-weerdighe scribenten met grooten vlijt versamelt ... p. 196.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Ostrogorsky 1956, pp. 116–122
  8. ^ Grierson 1968, pp. 512–514.
  9. ^ Grierson 1968, p. 568.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Justinian II." . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 15 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 602.
  11. ^ a b c d Moore 1998
  12. ^ a b Norwich 1990, p. 328
  13. ^ a b Bury 1889, p. 321
  14. ^ Romilly J.H. Jenkins (1970), Studies on Byzantine History of the 9th and 10th Centuries, p. 271.
  15. ^ a b c Bury 1889, p. 322
  16. ^ Norwich 1990, p. 330
  17. ^ Theophanes: AM 6183
  18. ^ Norwich 1990, pp. 330–331
  19. ^ a b Bury 1889, p. 327
  20. ^ Norwich 1990, p. 332
  21. ^ Bury 1889, p. 354
  22. ^ a b c d e Ostrogorsky 1956, pp. 124–126
  23. ^ Bury 1889, p. 358
  24. ^ a b c Bury 1889, p. 359
  25. ^ a b c Norwich 1990, p. 336
  26. ^ Bury 1889, p. 360
  27. ^ a b c Norwich 1990, p. 345
  28. ^ a b c Bury 1889, p. 361
  29. ^ Norwich, p. 338
  30. ^ a b Norwich 1990, pp. 339
  31. ^ Bury 1889, p. 366
  32. ^ Liber pontificalis 1:389
  33. ^ Pope Constantine. New Advent
  34. ^ Norwich 1990, p. 342
  35. ^ Norwich 1990, p. 343
  36. ^ a b Bury 1889, pp. 365–366
  37. ^ Grypeou, Emmanouela (2006). The encounter of Eastern Christianity with early Islam, BRILL, 2006, p. 69
  38. ^ Kazhdan 1991, p. 526
  39. ^ Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, Book V Archived 14 August 2014 at the Wayback Machine (Chapter VII)
  40. ^ Bury 1889, pp. 325–326
  41. ^ Συναξαριστής REF BX 393 .N54 1929 v2
  42. ^ Gerostergios, Fr.Asterios (2004). The Justinian the Great The Emperor and Saint, p. 147
  43. ^ https://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2019/08/saint-justinian-ii-rhinotmetos-pious.html?m=1
  44. ^ "Αυτοκράτορες που έγιναν Άγιοι". 3gym-mikras.thess.sch.gr. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  45. ^ "Ορθόδοξος Συναξαριστής :: Άγιος Ιουστινιανός Β' ο βασιλιάς". www.saint.gr. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  46. ^ According to Turtletaub/Turtledove, Myakes is a historical character, the soldier in the boat with Justinian in the Black Sea storm, according to history, who unsuccessfully urged Justinian to become less vindictive. See Turtletaub, Justinian, at p. 510.
  47. ^ Turtletaub/Turtledove attributes to Richard Delbrück the same conjecture, stating that Delbrück was able to cite iconographic evidence to support the conjecture. See Turteltaub, Justinian, at p. 511.


Primary sources

Secondary sources

Justinian II Heraclian DynastyBorn: 669 Died: November 711 Regnal titles Preceded byConstantine IV Byzantine Emperor 681–695 Succeeded byLeontius Preceded byTiberius III Byzantine Emperor 705–711with Tiberius (706–711) Succeeded byPhilippikos Political offices Preceded byConstantine IV in 668,then lapsed Roman consul 686 Succeeded byLapsed,Tiberius III in 699