Justinian II

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On the back of this solidus , which was minted during the second reign of Justinian, the emperor carries a globe with the inscription PAX ( peace ). Christ is depicted on the front.

Justinian II. ( Medium Greek Ἰουστινιανός Β' * 668 / 669 ; † 711 near Damatrys in Bithynien ) with the nickname Rhinotmetos ( Ῥινότμητος "with the truncated nose") was Byzantine Emperor (685-695 and 705-711). With him the Heraclean dynasty ended .


Justinian was the elder of the two sons of Emperor Constantine IV, who was popular because of his outstanding military successes . Constantine had two younger brothers ( Herakleios and Tiberios ), whose noses he had cut off in order to disqualify them for the imperial dignity according to the custom of the time and thus secure his sole rule and the succession of his son to the throne. When Constantine died of dysentery in 685 at the age of about 33, Justinian, who was about sixteen, was able to ascend the throne without any problems. Justinian was married to a woman of unknown origin named Eudokia; this empress died before the end of the 7th century. He had a daughter with her.

Foreign and settlement policy

The subjects in the 750s

The new ruler initially had to deal with two urgent dangers: the ongoing Arab expansion and the war-related depopulation of strategically important regions in which members of foreign peoples could settle. The Slavic and Bulgarian colonization of the areas south of the Danube, already known as Sklavinia , represented a great danger to the empire . Justinian wanted to meet these challenges through a combination of military action with a large-scale resettlement policy. But he achieved only partial success. After a successful campaign against the Slavs in 688, he settled tens of thousands of subjugated Slavs and Bulgarians as military farmers in the theme of Opsikion in Asia Minor. Around this time there was also fighting with the Arabs, which was beneficial for the Byzantine side. The Caliph Abd al-Malik then asked for peace in 688/689. The two rulers agreed on a common administration of Cyprus and a half division of the tax income there; in addition, the Arabs committed themselves to regular tribute payments. The settlement for Cyprus proved to be stable in the long term, despite all subsequent wars.

With the relocation of a large part of the Christian Mardaïts from Lebanon to Byzantine territory, which took place in agreement with the caliph, Justinian was able to strengthen depopulated areas. At the same time, however, he relieved the Arab enemy, whom the Mardaït resistance fighters had caused considerable difficulties.

The peace with the caliph lasted only a few years. Justinian brought residents of Cyprus to the mainland and settled them in the newly founded city named after him, Nea Justinianopolis (Latin Nova Justiniana) in the area of Kyzikos . With this unilateral action, Justinian reduced the tax revenue of the Cyprus caliph. The caliph protested unsuccessfully. The fact that the emperor had coins with the image of Christ minted for the first time in Byzantine history contributed to the deterioration in relations, which was a provocation for the Muslims. The Arabs accused Justinian of breach of contract and attacked. Byzantine historians also blame the emperor for the outbreak of war, but the actual course of events is unclear. At Sebastoupolis (today Sulu-Saray) northwest of Sebasteia (today Sivas ) there was a battle in the spring of 693. The Arab general Muhammad ibn Marwan, a brother of the caliph, inflicted a heavy defeat on the Byzantines. The decisive factor for the outcome of the battle was that the resettled Slavs who had been forcibly recruited to fight defected to the Arabs. The Byzantines then had to evacuate parts of the Armeniacon theme they had previously dominated . The fighting against Muhammad was still ongoing in 695.

Religious politics

In the east of the empire, the doctrine of the heretical Paulikians under Simeon-Titus had spread since the death of their apostle Constantine of Mananalis , so that Justinian II 690 ordered their followers to be persecuted and killed. Simeon-Titus was captured in 694 and, like many of his followers, burned at a stake. In 691 the emperor convened a council, the Quinisextum or Trullanum II, which was intended as an ecumenical council. With the council resolutions, which were supposed to renew and unify state church law, he wanted to eliminate differences between the Eastern and Western Churches through a word of power. However, Pope Sergius I refused to give his consent. After the presentation of the Liber Pontificalis , Justinian wanted to arrest the Pope and have him brought to Constantinople; the Byzantine commissioner failed, however, due to the determined resistance of the Romans and militias loyal to the Pope. This portrayal from the papal point of view may be exaggerated, but the conflict apparently ended with a failure of Justinian's ecclesiastical policy. As a result, the contradictions were not eliminated, but intensified.

Domestic politics and overthrow

The peasant law ( nómos georgikós ) and a tax reform are considered to be the merits of Justinian . However, it is unclear whether the peasant law protecting the property of free peasants was a legislative innovation by Justinian or just a record of the law already in force at the time. The tax reform (abolition of the late antique tax system and introduction of a stove tax) made sense, but did not give the emperor any popularity. He made himself hateful among the well-to-do with his ruthless tax collection and torture. His large need for money was due, among other things, to expensive building projects with which he emulated his role model Justinian I. So his power base crumbled, and in 695 his opponents succeeded in intriguing a revolution in the metropolitan population. It was claimed that the emperor wanted to have the patriarch murdered and massacre in Constantinople. This baseless rumor was immediately believed. Justinian was arrested, his nose was cut off in public in the hippodrome and he was exiled to Cherson in the Crimea (near present-day Sevastopol ).

Exile and return

Justinian fled from Cherson to the realm of the then pagan Khazars , whose ruler ( Khagan ) welcomed him with honor and gave him his sister as a wife. She was baptized and given the name of Justinian I's famous wife , Theodora . The couple settled in the city of Phanagoria . According to the prevailing view in Byzantium, such a marriage was not befitting.

When the Byzantines under Tiberios II pressed for Justinian's extradition or killing, the Khagan gave in and tried to have his brother-in-law murdered. However, Justinian was warned and managed to escape while his wife returned to her brother's court.

Justinian fled together with some confidants in a fishing boat from Phanagoria across the Black Sea , to the mouth of the Danube, to the Bulgarians , who were not Christians at the time, and allied with their Khan Terwel . Justinian had promised Terwel his daughter as a wife for Terwel's help. In the spring of 705 Justinian and Terwel were able to advance to Constantinople with a Bulgarian army. After three days of siege, Justinian entered the city through an aqueduct . The surprised emperor Tiberios II offered little resistance.

Second reign

So Justinian ascended the throne for the second time. He now had his wife Theodora fetched from the Khazar empire and crowned and was reconciled with his brother-in-law. Theodora was the first empress of foreign origin. Their son Tiberios had been born in Justinian's absence; he was made a nominal co-emperor and depicted on coins together with Justinian.

Allegedly, Justinian Terwel ceded the Byzantine region of Zagoria (Zagorje) in gratitude; However, researchers consider this news to be untrustworthy. In any case, Terwel received the title Caesar . This title was usually given to persons who were related to the emperor or related by marriage; at that time it was no longer connected with a claim to the succession, nor with specific powers. Terwel was the first foreigner to receive this title. He returned to his empire, as whose legitimate ruler he was now recognized by Byzantium.

In his second reign, Justinian developed a regime of terror with mass executions. The former emperors Leontios (695–698) and Tiberios II (698–705), who had ruled during his exile, were executed after an impressively staged public humiliation, the patriarch Kallinikos I deposed and blinded .

In 708, at the Battle of Anchialos , he turned against his former helper, the Bulgarian Khan Terwel, in order to subdue the Zagoria area again. However, Justinian was defeated by the Bulgarians and had to flee on a ship on the third night after the battle.

The background to a Byzantine punitive expedition against Ravenna, the capital of the exarchate, is unclear . As a result of this weakening of the empire, the Arabs were able to advance.

The circumstances that ultimately led to Justinian's fall again are mysterious. In 711 the emperor repeatedly sent fleets to Cherson, allegedly to take revenge for the attitude of the townspeople during his exile there. Another, probably more important, reason was that his Khazarian brother-in-law tried, in agreement with part of the city's population, to bring Kherson under his control. Justinian's troops were able to subdue the city at first, but then allied themselves with the inhabitants and the Khazars. Justinian then dispatched a new fleet. These troops initially besieged the city, but then joined the rebellion, and the insurgent fleet sailed for Constantinople. They could easily take the capital because Justinian had no defenders left. Justinian tried in vain to mobilize resistance from Asia Minor with the support of Terwel's troops (3,000 men). He was captured and beheaded without a fight. His head was sent to Rome and Ravenna and exhibited there. His only son, the six-year-old heir to the throne Tiberios, was also killed. Philippikos Bardanes , who had led the uprising in Cherson, became the new emperor .

Reception and assessment in research

All Byzantine historian - but no contemporary work has been preserved, although the chronicle of Traianos Patrikios of Theophanes was used - assess the reign of Justinian negative. He is portrayed as a cruel tyrant. The chronicles reflect the attitudes of the aristocratic and wealthy who suffered from the tax collection of the emperor and his hostile successors. Because of this one-sidedness, their reports have only limited credibility. However, Western sources also convey a very unfavorable picture. Above all, Justinian is accused of vindictiveness and the large number of executions ordered by him is emphasized, although some statements are exaggerated.

Modern research strives for a balanced judgment. It is undisputed that Justinian's own failure contributed decisively to the failure of his policy in both reigns. At the time of his father's death he had found an advantageous position both internally and externally, and the dynasty was held in high esteem. With his harshness and the harshness of his measures, he made countless enemies. His inability to build consensus and win the loyalty of those affected by his orders was his undoing. Significantly, his fall occurred quickly and without a fight in both 695 and 711. In both crises the masses turned against him together with the nobles, and no one wanted to fight for him.

The fact that, as a mutilated and generally hated refugee, he mobilized foreign support and came back to power shows his extraordinary energy, which, however, could not compensate for his lack of foresight. After it had been shown that a mutilated person could rule, the Byzantines abandoned the previously popular measure of cutting off their nose.


  • Jan Louis van Dieten: Justinian II. Rhinotmetos . In: Biographical Lexicon on the History of Southeast Europe . Volume 2. Munich 1976, pp. 314-316
  • John F. Haldon: The Empire That Would Not Die. The Paradox of Eastern Roman Survival, 640-740. Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Massachusetts) 2016.
  • John F. Haldon: Byzantium in the Seventh Century . 2nd edition, Cambridge 1997, ISBN 0-521-31917-X
  • Constance Head: Justinian II of Byzantium . Madison 1972, ISBN 0-299-06030-6
  • Maria Leontsine: Justinian II . In: Alexios G. Savvides, Benjamin Hendrickx (Eds.): Encyclopaedic Prosopographical Lexicon of Byzantine History and Civilization . Vol. 3: Faber Felix - Juwayni, Al- . Brepols Publishers, Turnhout 2012, ISBN 978-2-503-53243-1 , pp. 422-425.
  • Ralph-Johannes Lilie , Claudia Ludwig, Thomas Pratsch, Ilse Rochow, Beate Zielke: Prosopography of the Middle Byzantine Period . 1st department: (641−867). Volume 2: Georgios (# 2183) - Leon (# 4270). Created after preliminary work by F. Winkelmann . Published by the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences. De Gruyter, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-11-016672-0 , pp. 430-434 No. 3556 .
  • Andreas N. Stratos: Byzantium in the Seventh Century . Vol. 5, Amsterdam 1980, ISBN 90-256-0852-3

Web links

Commons : Justinian II.  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files


  1. For the location, see Head p. 146–148.
  2. Head p. 29, Stratos p. 7.
  3. Head p. 33; Stratos p. 22f. believes that peace negotiations began in 687.
  4. Head, p. 33f.
  5. Head p. 34-36, Stratos p. 23f.
  6. Head p. 45-47, Stratos p. 33.
  7. Head pp. 48-50; see. Stratos p. 31f.
  8. Head pp. 45-50, Stratos pp. 30-34.
  9. Head p. 50, Stratos p. 34-39.
  10. Head pp. 84-87, Stratos pp. 62f.
  11. Head p. 90f., Stratos p. 64f.
  12. Head pp. 92-96, Stratos pp. 69-74.
  13. The name of the khagan is translated in Greek as "Ibouzeros Gliabanos"; in his own language his name might be Ibuzir-Glavan. The statement that it was not his sister but his daughter was probably based on a misunderstanding. See Head pp. 102-105, Stratos p. 105.
  14. ^ Head pp. 104-106, 119.
  15. ^ Head pp. 106-107.
  16. On the dating of Head, p. 110.
  17. Head pp. 119-122, Stratos pp. 126-129.
  18. Head p. 123, Stratos p. 120f.
  19. Stratos p. 119f.
  20. Head pp. 142-148, Stratos pp. 157-171.
  21. Head p. 149, Stratos p. 176f.
  22. Stratos p. 3f.
predecessor Office successor
Constantine IV Emperor of Byzantium
Tiberios II Emperor of Byzantium
Philippikos Bardanes