History of the Macedonian People - Justinian I the Greatest Ruler of Byzantium

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History of the Macedonian People from Ancient times to the Present

Part 15 - Justinian I the Greatest Ruler of Byzantium

by Risto Stefov rstefov@hotmail.com

"Once the government stopped forcing the use of the Latin language and Roman institutions upon its people, the Eastern empire rapidly became more Eastern in its customs and outlook".


Before they were known as the Byzantines or were called the Eastern Orthodox and even before they were barely a separate empire, they were known to the Macedonians as the Pravoslavi; an ancient people unified by a common (Eastern Christian) faith which has survived to this day and carries a strong meaning for the faithful.

By 500 AD Christianity had become the standard religion in Macedonia and the Macedonian language and culture re-emerged with it. As I mentioned earlier, the Latin language began its decline about four hundred years earlier and the Koine language was the language of administration and commerce, far from the reach of the common Macedonian.

Christianity's humble beginnings may have begun with the Koine language but in order for Jesus' message to be understood by the masses it had to be spoken in the language they used. It is well known today that the language of Christianity in Macedonia was Macedonian Church Slavonic, the language of enlightenment made world famous by Kiril and Metodi.

Before we continue with Justinian's story I would like to take a short diversion and explore the Slav connection to the Macedonians.

It is my intention here to show that the Macedonian language of the masses was in existence before Christ and as far back as pre-history.

It has been well documented that the ancient Macedonians, including Alexander's army and Alexander himself, spoke a language known only to Macedonians. Today thanks to linguist Anthony Ambrozic who, through his translations of the Dura-Europos inscriptions, has identified that language to be the root of the same language spoken by modern Macedonians today.

It can easily be deduced that the language in the Dura-Europos inscriptions is of Macedonian origin. According to modern dating methods it has been dated to the first century BC, about 700 years before the supposed "Slav language", according to mainstream history, had reached the Balkans. This new evidence, however, contradicts the old claims that modern Macedonians are the descendants of Slavs who invaded Macedonia in the sixth century AD.

Are modern Macedonians descendants of the Slavs who overran Macedonia during the 6th century AD, or are they descendants of the ancient Macedonians who lived in the Balkans in the first millennium BC?

This is a controversial question that demands attention and it is imperative that we give it much consideration.

"Our present day knowledge of the origin of the Slavs is, to a large extent, a legacy of the 19th century. A scholarly endeavor inextricably linked with forging national identities...." (Page 6, Florin Curta, The Making of the Slavs, History and Archaeology of the Lower Danube Region c. 500 - 700, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

"Instead of a great flood of Slavs coming out of the Pripet marshes, I envisage a form of group identity which could arguably be called ethnicity and emerged in response to Justinian's implementation of a building project on the Danube frontier and in the Balkans. The Slavs, in other words, did not come from the north, but became Slavs only in contact with the Roman frontier." (Page 3, Florin Curta, The Making of the Slavs, History and Archaeology of the Lower Danube Region c. 500 - 700, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

The Slavs, as opposed to other hordes that invaded the Balkans in the first millennium AD, became very important during the 19th century, particularly in 1833 when Slavic languages were recognized as Indo-European. Like the English language of today, the Slav language of the 19th century linguistically linked many nations together. Some of the 19th century Slav academics, however, intentionally or unintentionally interpreted this linguistic commonality as an ethnic commonality, ethnically linking all Slavs together. In other words, if one spoke Slav then one must have belonged to the "Slav tribe", which in modern terms is the same as believing that if one spoke English then one must belong to the "English tribe".

The idea of searching for the origin of the Slavs was born out of the theory that "all nations must have ancestors in the ancient world". Unfortunately, the study of the Slavs began as an almost exclusively linguistic and philological enterprise ignoring historiography and archeology as a means of identifying ethnicity. Based on linguistic evidence alone, it is estimated that the ancient homeland of the Slavs most probably lay between the rivers Visla, Dneiper, Desna and the western Dniva and the Carpathians or, perhaps, in Polesje, in the triangle formed by Brest - Litovsk and Mohilev - Kiev. If any archeology was used to derive these estimates, more often than not, it was used to illustrate conclusions already drawn from the analysis of linguistic material. The concept of a "Slav ethnicity" was a powerful tool for the nation builders and nationalists of the 19th century who used it to unite their people and the Slav language was the perfect instrument for exploring Slav history. However, Slav history began with the first mention of the Slavs, which happened to take place in Justinian's time in the sixth century AD.

The invention of the "Slav tribe" unfortunately had negative consequences for the Macedonian people, which are still felt to this day. Assuming that Macedonians are Slavs only because their language belongs to the Slavic family of languages has unwittingly turned the Macedonian people into victims of modern politics. After being classified as Slavs the 19th century Macedonians where regarded as invaders in their own ancestral lands. Since there was no historic mention of Slavs living in Macedonia before the 6th century AD it was naturally assumed that the Slavs must have come to Macedonia from somewhere else.

Fortunately, for the last fifty years or so, historians have turned to archeology for answers and are beginning to discover new evidence that, more often than not, contradicts the old beliefs. Archeological evidence combined with DNA and genetic studies is slowly revealing that the modern Macedonians are not newcomers but in fact are the descendants of the older races of people living in the Balkans.

As I mentioned earlier, the Slavs came into being for the first time as a consequence of coming into contact with Justinian's administration during the 6th century AD. Unfortunately Justinian's administrators left very few clues as to the origins and language of these people. Again most attempts to identify the origin of the Slavs were made by linguistic and philological experts very much biased by 19th century nationalistic ambitions.

Many historians today believe that the widespread use of the Slav language began with the Veneti. During the first millennium BC, the Veneti occupied almost all of Europe including the Balkans. The Veneti are mentioned by Herodotus, Polibius, Strabo, Ptolemy, Livy, Pomponius Mela, Tacitus and Jordanes. Unfortunately, to most ancient historians the Veneti were just another barbarian tribe and very little was known about them. The Veneti were also mentioned in Caesar's book where he gives an account of the conquest of Gaul. Among other things, Caesar compliments the Veneti for offering him great resistance. "The Veneti are by far the strongest tribe on the coast" wrote Caesar. "They possess the most powerful fleet with which they sail as far as Britain". (Page 197, Jozko Šavli, Matej Bor, Ivan Tomazic, VENETI: First Builders of European Community, Boswell, B.C., 1966)

The earliest writer to mention the Veneti was Homer, some 800 years before Caesar. After Troy had fallen, the Enetoi (Veneti), who according to Livy fought on the side of Troy, drove out the Etruscans and the Eugeneis in Liburnia after a long sea voyage along the Illyrian coast and then settled beyond the Timara River. Livy also mentions that Paphlagonia, on the south coast of the Black Sea, was the homeland of the Veneti. According to Tacitus and Ptolemy however, the great nation of the Veneti lived in the area between the Vistula, the Danube and the central Dnieper.

There is a close parallel between Justinian's Slavs and the Veneti. It was most likely that Justinian encountered the Veneti in the Danube region and, not being familiar with them, classified them as Slavs, which was simply an arbitrary administrative label for the barbarian tribes he located beyond the Danube.

The real strength of the Venetic linguistic connection to the Slavs comes to us from Anthony Ambrozic's translations of Venetic inscriptions found throughout Europe. A great many of these inscriptions date back to the first millennium BC. More specifically, Ambrozic believes the Veneti were the proto-Slavs and their presence was felt in Dura-Europos through the Macedonians. (Page 86, Anthony Ambrozic, Adieu to Brittany: a transcription and translation of Venetic passages and toponyms. Toronto: Cythera Press 1999).

According to Ambrozic, the Veneti of the second millennium BC existed not only on the great bend of the Danube, but also on the Morava, Timok and Vardar. In fact the etymology of several toponyms in the area points directly to them. They join a host of others named after them. Invariably found along the waterway turnpikes of the ancient world, these range from as far afield as Vannes on the Atlantic to Banassac on the Lot, and Venice on the Adriatic. We find them on the lower Tisza in Banat, down the Morava to the river banks of northern Thrace, where Herodotus recorded them in the 5th century BC. (Page 87, Anthony Ambrozic, Gordian Knot Unbound. Toronto: Cythera Press, 2002).

It is not my intention here to debate the origin of the Slavs outside of Macedonia, but rather to illustrate that they existed in the Balkans prior to the sixth century AD. There is enough evidence provided by Savli, Bor, Tomazic, Ambrozic and Curta to connect the sixth century Slavs to the prehistoric Veneti. The evidence presented by these authors, in my opinion, bridges the Slavs with the Veneti and provides linguistic continuity for the modern Macedonians from at least the early years of the first millennium BC.

Ambrozic, through his translations of ancient inscriptions, has also discovered that the ancient Pelasgi, who occupied the southern Balkans before the first millennium BC, and the Phrygians of Macedonia and Asia Minor, who occupied the Anatolian plateau 3, 200 years ago, also have linguistic ties to the Veneti. (Pages 85 to 87 and page 118, Anthony Ambrozic, Gordian Knot Unbound. Toronto: Cythera Press, 2002). This naturally implies that, at least linguistically, the Veneti left their mark on many races in the Balkan region.

Before I finish with the analysis of the relationship between Macedonians and Slavs I want to dispel the modern myth that the 6th century Slavs invaded Macedonia and killed off all the Macedonians.

History offers no evidence of savage battles between Slavs and the 6th century descendants of ancient Macedonians nor does it show records of any massacres taking place. In fact history portrays the Slavs as peaceful people who, more often than not, were able to co-exist with other races in Macedonia. Outside of the unknown author of book II of the Miracles of St. Demetrius, who portrayed the Slavs as savage, brutish and heathen barbarians, there is little evidence of Slavs causing atrocities in Macedonia. "On the other hand, however, one gets the impression that the Slavs were a familiar presence. They are repeatedly called 'our Slavic neighbours'" by the people of Solun. (Page 61, Florin Curta, The Making of the Slavs, History and Archaeology of the Lower Danube Region c. 500 - 700, Cambridge, New York, 2001). Slavs it seems, contrary to popular belief, were on good terms with the inhabitants of Solun, supplying them with grain and other goods.

Looking at the problem from a strategic point of view it would have taken a numerically superior Slav army to cross the Danube, descend upon the Balkans, defeat the mighty Byzantine army and then destroy the entire population. History has no record of a great Slav army ever crossing the Danube or of great Slav battles with the Byzantines. In fact records show that most Slavs were displaced refugees, victims of other peoples' wars, traveling peacefully in small numbers together with their families looking for land to farm.

There is no denying that the Roman occupation, barbarian invasions, population movements by the Byzantines and the Ottoman occupation have left their genetic markers on the modern Macedonians as they have on all other Balkan people. However, there is also strong evidence that suggests that a large part of the modern Macedonian population is genetically linked to the ancient Macedonians.

On the issue of Macedonian ethnicity, like other nations in the Balkans, modern Macedonians over the years have developed a unique Macedonian national consciousness that no outsider has the right to challenge, especially on dubious historical issues.

And now back to Justinian's story.

It has been said that Justinian spoke Koine with a heavy barbarian accent. Although they were not specific about which barbarian accent, being born in Taor (near Uskub), present day Skopje, Republic of Macedonia, one can assume that it was Slav, or perhaps Macedonian. There are no valid reasons to discount Justinian's Macedonian background. After all he was the son of a Slavonic peasant from Skopje.

Justinian, the son of Sabatius and Vigilantia, was born in May 483 AD and was originally named Petrus (Petre). Being the son of Emperor Justin's sister, Petre, sometimes called Uprauda (perhaps a pet name), was more privileged than most Macedonian peasants and was given the opportunity of a good education in Tsari Grad (Constantinople). Petre took the name Justinian after his uncle, Emperor Justin I, adopted him.

After his adoption, Justinian was proclaimed consul in 521 AD and sometime later he earned the title general-in-chief. But the real break in his career came in April 527 AD when he was made Augustus and co-emperor to Justin. After Justin's death in August 527 AD Justinian became the sole and undisputed ruler of the Pravoslaven (Byzantine) empire.

Before he became emperor, Justinian had the good fortune to marry a woman who, throughout her life, was an inspiration to his career and an asset to the empire. Justinian married Theodora in 523 AD.

Theodora was one of three daughters whose father was employed by the Green faction as a bear keeper at the Tsari Grad Hippodrome. Her mother was a professional dancer and actress. Theodora's father died when she was young and her mother remarried with hopes that the Greens would appoint her new husband bear keeper. The Greens unfortunately rejected him. Destitute, the family approached the Blue faction who had recently lost their own bear keeper and after some negotiating got the job. As soon as Theodora was old enough to work she became a mime actress and remained loyal to the Blue faction, which would play an important role in the future of her empire.

It has been said, mostly by Procopius, that Euphemia, Justin's wife objected to Justinian marrying Theodora on the grounds that she was not in pristine condition, for actresses and prostitutes were virtually synonymous. Soon after Euphemia's death Justin passed a constitution declaring that a contrite actress who is willing to abandon her profession should recover her pristine condition and marry whomsoever she wants, even a senator. After that the way for Justinian to marry Theodora was clear but unfortunately there was one more obstacle. Theodora was a converted Monophysite of the Coptic Church who believed that Christ had one nature, a composite nature of both the human and the divine. Justinian, however, not only respected his wife's beliefs but he also protected the Monophysites who were considered heretics by the Church in Tsari Grad. This grand gesture on Justinian's part made the Monophysites feel that they had a champion in Tsari Grad and their allegiance to the emperor and the empire remained secure.

The thirty-eight years of Justinian's reign were the most brilliant in the life of the empire and filled with great events, both in peace and in war. Justinian as a contributor to his empire was most famous for his legal reforms, administration of the empire, ecclesiastical and foreign policies.

Justinian is famous and most familiar to the modern world for his work as a legislator and codifier of the law. He was one of the first emperors to take serious action in modernizing the archaic and confusing law. Justinian believed that a great empire must have the strength of organized unity which rested on arms and on law. His process of modernization began by having the scattered decrees of his predecessors collected, ordered and logically organized into a complete codex so that every citizen could quickly learn the law on any subject. Besides the codification, Justinian himself also wrote some new laws.

The entire legislation was compiled by first appointing a commission of ten lawyers to reduce the bulky Theodosian Code, published in 438 AD, to an orderly and concise summary, with a means of inserting new laws into it. The "Codex" was completed in 529 AD. Next, answers given by authorities over the years, that formed acknowledged precedents, were reviewed, optimized and arranged in fifty books, thus reducing the law library of one hundred and six volumes to about one-fifth of its original size. This became known as the "Digest" or "Pandects" and was published in 530 AD.

Finally a teaching manual known as the "Institutes" for teaching students law was compiled from the commentaries of the 2nd century Gaius and was published in 530 AD. . In 534 AD the entire work was revised and a fourth part, the "Authentic" or "Novels", was added, which contained later decisions made by Justinian's courts.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the works of law produced at this time are still the basis of civil law in every civilized country in the modern world.

Justinian was also famous for his contributions to what we now call Byzantine art and architecture. The Byzantine style of architecture, at least in its perfect form, owes its origin to Justinian and the architects he employed. His activity in building was enormous and covered his empire from Ravenna to Damascus with superb monuments. All later building in both East and West were derived from his models. The two most famous of his buildings are the church of Our Lady (now the El-Aqsa mosque) in Jerusalem and, by far the most splendid of all, is the great church of the Holy Wisdom (Sveta Sophia) in Tsari Grad. This church especially, built by Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus was consecrated on December 27, 537 AD, remains to this day one of the architectural marvels in our world.

Justinian's interests were not limited to church architecture alone. His administration was also involved in grand projects such as building quays, harbours, roads, aqueducts, castles and fortifying and repairing damaged city walls.

On matters of religion, Justinian's ecclesiastical policy was complex and varying. For many years even before Justin's time, the Eastern world had been plagued by the struggles of the Monophysites, mentioned earlier. Monophysites recognized only one nature in Christ, against the view which then and ever since has maintained itself as orthodox, that the divine and human natures coexisted together in Christ. The latter doctrine was adopted at the council of Chalcedon and was held by the whole Western Church, but Egypt, a great part of Syria and Asia Minor, and a considerable minority in Tsari Grad clung to Monophysitism. At the start of Justinian's reign the Orthodox and the Monophysites resisted the idea of a split in Christendom. By the end of his reign there was a strong Monophysite organization in place and although the schism was not permanent it did exist.

One of Justinian's first public acts was to put an end to this schism. He began his campaign by convincing Justin to persuade the then patriarch to renounce this formula and declare his full adhesion to the creed of Chalcedon. Then when Justinian himself became emperor he attempted to persuade the Monophysites to join the mainstream church by summoning some of their leaders to a conference. Unfortunately, his attempts failed so he began to persecute them but not to the extent that he persecuted the heretic Monastists and Arians. After a long time, long disputes and endless negotiations the Church schism became worse and eventually permanent.

Justinian's problems were not limited to ecclesiastic schisms alone. In January 532 AD he was faced with street violence inside Tsari Grad which in time became known as the Nika revolt. Like every other large city worthy of any notice, Tsari Grad had its chariot-racing factions, which took their names from their red, white, blue and green colours. These were professional organizations responsible for fielding chariot-racing teams in the hippodromes. But by Justinian's time they were also in charge of shows and other activities. The Blues and the Greens were the dominant groups, but the Reds and Whites also enjoyed support from the crowds and even from important people. The emperor Anastasius, for example, was a fan of the Reds. The fans, as we call them today, of each faction were assigned their own blocks of seats in the Hippodrome.

Justinian and Theodora, as I mentioned earlier, were Blue supporters and when street violence began to escalate under Justin's rule they encouraged it. But after Justinian became emperor he began to crack down on the instigators.

The problem started on Saturday, January 10, 532 AD when the city prefect who had arrested some hooligans and found seven of them guilty of murder, had them hung outside the city at Sycae, across the Golden Horn. But before the prisoners were hung, the scaffolding broke and two of them, a Blue and a Green, escaped. Some monks from a nearby monastery gave them sanctuary at the church of St Lawrence. The following Tuesday while the two men were still hiding in the church, the Blue and Green organized factions begging Justinian to show mercy. Justinian unfortunately ignored their pleas and continued his pursuit of them. Unrelenting, the Blue and Greens continued their appeals until the twenty-second race when their frustration boiled over and united they raised the banner "Nika" and took to the streets. When the riots started the court officials took refuge in the palace and watched the street mobs ransack the city.

Justinian tried to continue the games the next day but only provoked more riots, anger and arson. The rioting and destruction continued throughout the week. Even the arrival of imperial troops from Thrace failed to restore order. Then, on Sunday before sunrise, Justinian appealed to the crowds in the Hippodrome by repenting publicly and promising amnesty. The crowds unfortunately turned even more hostile and forced Justinian to flee for his life.

The worst however was yet to come. The night before Justinian dismissed two of emperor Anastasius's nephews, Hypatius and Pompey, from the palace and sent them home. Instead of going home however, the pair went to the Hippodrome where they were met by the mobs and Hypatius was proclaimed emperor. Fearing that the mobs would turn on his palace, Justinian was ready to flee Tsari Grad and perhaps would have done so if it were not for Theodora, who did not frighten so easily. Theodora along with his trusted commanders, Belisarius and Narses, convinced Justinian to stay and fight back. Almost immediately Belisarius and Mundo were dispatched with their troops and made their separate ways into the Hippodrome. Hypatius and his unruly supporters were surrounded and violently put down ending the 'Nika' riot with 35,000 rioters dead.

The 'Nika' revolt obviously left Justinian firmly in charge of Tsari Grad but it also gave him the opportunity to clean house not only of unruly mobs but of political opposition as well. All those opposing him, including the senators that surfaced during the revolt, were eliminated or went into hiding. The revolt left Tsari Grad damaged in more ways than one. The Nika revolt gave Justinian absolute power over Tsari Grad and at the same time cleared the way for his own building program, mentioned earlier. Work on his new church, Sveta Sophia, to replace the one that was destroyed by the mobs commenced only forty-five days after the riots were over.

On matters of foreign policy, Justinian's empire was involved in three great wars, two of them initiated by him and the third brought on by Persia. The Sassanid kings of Persia ruled a region extending from Syria to India and from the Strait of Oman to the Caucasus. The military character of the Sassanid people made them formidable enemies to the Pravoslavs (Byzantines), whose soldiers at the time were mainly of barbarian stock. When Justinian came to power his military strength on the Euphrates was slowly weakening against the constant Sassanid push. After some campaigning, however, the Pravoslav military skills began to improve and Belisarius obtained considerable success and a peace treaty with the Sassanid's was concluded in 533 AD. Unfortunately the treaty only lasted until 539 AD when the Sassanids declared war again alleging that Justinian had been secretly intriguing against them with the Huns. Justinian at that time was involved in a campaign in Italy and was unable to adequately defend his eastern frontier. So the Sassanids advanced into Syria with little resistance and by 540 AD had captured Antioch and enslaved its inhabitants. While the war on the eastern frontier lingered on for four years, an even fiercer struggle erupted in the mountainous region in the southeastern corner of the Black Sea, lasting for twenty-two years without a clear victor. Then in 562 AD a truce was reached and the contested region was left to the Pravoslavs, under the agreement that Justinian pay the Persian king an annual tribute of thirty thousand gold pieces. This war was not only an embarrassment for Justinian but it greatly weakened his empire and slowed down his campaigning momentum in the west.

In the west the campaigns began in 533 AD with an attack on the Vandals who were then in control of Africa. Belisarius was dispatched from Tsari Grad with a large fleet and army. He landed without opposition and destroyed the barbarian power base in just two engagements. North Africa was again freed from beyond the Strait of Gibraltar to the Syrtes and came under the control of the Pravoslavs. In western Europe the Moors controlled most of Spain but the Pravoslavs managed to recover parts of the southern coast. Considering the strength of the enemy, Justinian's troops were gaining experience and delivering victories with ease.

The triumphs in Africa encouraged Justinian to declare war on the leaderless Ostrogoths of Italy. After the deaths of Theodoric and later his grandson Atbalaric, the Goth leadership deteriorated and they were left almost leaderless. The Goth kingdom was vast and included part of southeastern Gaul, Raetia, Dalmatia, part of Pannonia, Italy, Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica.

Justinian declared war on the Goths in 535 AD under the pretext of taking revenge for the murder of Queen Amalasuntha, daughter of Theodoric, who was at the time under the protection of the Pravoslavs. Justinian also alleged that the Ostrogothic kingdom had always owed its allegiance to the emperor at Tsari Grad.

Belisarius, as commander of the Italian expedition, quickly invaded Sicily, overran southern Italy, and in 536 AD occupied Rome. But his quick victories did not go unchallenged. Within a year the Goths chose a new king Vitiges, amassed a considerable fighting force and retaliated. The siege of Rome lasted over a year but Belisarius held his ground. However, it was not Belisarius's determination alone which held back and eventually repealed the Goths. During this period sicknesses were rampant, preying on the Gothic troops. With a diminished army Vitiges had no choice but to abandon the siege. When the siege was lifted Belisarius took the offensive and pushed the Goth army northwards into Ravenna where it eventually surrendered. Vitiges was captured and became Justinian's prisoner in Tsari Grad. Justinian treated him with much compassion, as he had previously treated the captive Vandal king.

The void created by the Goth fall was filled by the Pravoslavs through the establishment of an imperial administration in Italy. Unfortunately, the defeat of Vitiges did not mean the end of the Goths. Much of the Goth nation had not submitted to Pravoslaven rule and the Goth crown was bestowed on another king. Totila, or Baduila as he was known, was a warrior of distinguished abilities who drove the Pravoslav administration out of Italy.

Belisarius was again dispatched but his force turned out to be too small to do the job. During the next several years the Goths took back their cities one by one, with the exception of Ravenna, Otranto and Ancona.

Justinian at the time had problems at home. With the passing of his wife Theodora, who died of cancer in 548 AD, and the endless ecclesiastical controversies, he neither had the resources nor the funds to commit to a large campaign. In time, however, he did succumb to pressure from a number of Roman exiles who urged him to make a move on Italy. In 552 AD Justinian put together a powerful army and under the leadership of Narses, an old but experienced Armenian general, dispatched it to counter the Goths.

Narses marched his forces along the coast of the Gulf of Venice, and faced Totila's army at Taginae, not far from Cesena. It was a catastrophic battle for the Goths. Totila lost his life in battle and his army was devastated. The Goths, however, refused to surrender and made another valiant attempt under the leadership of Teias, on the Lactarian Hill in Campania. Narses delivered another devastating blow and after that the Goths disappeared from history.

The Pravoslavs recovered Italy but by the time they did it was a terribly impoverished and depopulated region whose possession was of little value to the empire. As it turned out, both wars against the Vandals and the Goths were a great drain on the empire's resources, which could have been better spent defending the northern frontier against invading tribes.

Besides these three great wars, Justinian's empire was troubled by a series of invasions. On the northern frontier various Slavonic and Hunnish tribes who were established along the lower Danube and the north coast of the Black Sea made frequent marauding expeditions into Thrace and Macedonia. Sometimes they penetrated as far as the walls of Tsari Grad and as far south as the Isthmus of Corinth.

Even though he did his best to stabilize his empire, Justinian continued to face new challenges. In 556 AD he was faced with another revolt, the next year a great earthquake shook his capital city and the year after that the dome of the new Sveta Sophia church collapsed. If that was not enough, at about the same time, the plague returned. Then in early 559 AD a horde of Huns or proto-Bulgars crossed the frozen Danube and advanced into the Balkans.

The Huns penetrated the Balkans in three columns. One column pushed south and went as far as Thermopylae. Another column advanced into the Gallipoli Peninsula but was stopped by the Long Wall, which was defended by a young officer from Justinian's native town. The last and most dangerous column made its way to Tsari Grad.

Faced with an imminent invasion and no suitable forces for defense, Justinian recalled Belisarius from retirement. Belisarius put together a small force of 300 of his best veterans and set a trap for the Huns. As soon as he ambushed the Huns, Justinian took charge of the battle and forced them into a treaty. The news that Justinian was reinforcing his Danube fleet made the Huns anxious and they agreed to a treaty which gave them safe passage back across the river. But as soon as they were north of the Danube they were attacked by their rivals the Utigurs who were incited by Justinian to steal their booty.

The Huns (Kutrigurs) may have been beaten but were not destroyed and came back in 562 AD to raid Thrace. The Huns and their rivals the Utigurs soon fell prey to a new horde of barbarians, the Avars, who in the early 560s swept out of the Asian steppes.

Justinian died in November 565 AD and was succeeded by his nephew Justin II. Undoubtedly, Justinian was one of the greatest if not the greatest emperor after Constantine, to have ruled the Pravoslaven Empire.

In his quest to build a great empire, Justinian unfortunately also bankrupted his empire's economy. Some believe that that was a contributing factor to the weakening of his frontier defenses in subsequent years, allowing barbarian invasions. "... the disintegration of the military system in the Balkans, which Justinian implemented in the mid-500s, was the result not so much of the destruction inflicted by barbarian invasions, as of serious economic and financial problems caused both by the emperor's policies elsewhere and by the impossibility of providing sufficient economic support to his gigantic building program of defense. This conclusion is substantiated by the analysis of sixth-century Byzantine coin hoards, which suggest that inflation, not barbarian raids, was responsible for high rates of non-retrieval." (Page 338, Florin Curta, The Making of the Slavs, History and Archaeology of the Lower Danube Region c. 500 - 700, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.).

I am not interested at this point in debating the "Slav problem" other than to show that if indeed it was a problem, it must have been a universal problem for the entire Balkan region down to the Mediterranean Sea. If the Slavs indeed invaded the Balkans on mass and wiped out the indigenous populations, then they must have wiped out everyone as far south as they were able to reach. There were no walls, fortifications or armies to stop them. What is most interesting, however, is that even though mainstream history agrees with the claim that the Slavs invaded and overran the entire Balkan region including the peninsula south of Olympus, it contradicts itself on the modern populations' national origins. On one hand it allows claims of continuity connecting the modern nations south of Olympus to the ancient nations, and at the same time denies continuity for the modern nations for the populations north of Olympus. Is this a historical truth or a political invention concocted to serve the interests of one while denying the interests of another? How can the modern Macedonians be Slavs while their neighbours to the immediate south are not? Didn't the Slavs supposedly overrun the entire region?

The modern Balkan historian today is faced with two contradictory problems. On one hand he or she is faced with the unsubstantiated claim that the Slavs invaded the Balkans on mass and killed off its "civilized and non aggressive" indigenous inhabitants and on the other hand he or she is bombarded with contradictory claims of modern racial pre-Slav continuity.

As mentioned earlier, the "Slav phenomenon" is largely a political phenomenon with little historical significance. The reasons attributed to the Slavs as opposed to the Goths, Huns, Bulgars, Avars, etc., as being the culprits for the invasions and devastation of the Balkans is to explain the wide use of the Slav language. In other words, the "Slav phenomenon" is a modern 19th century creation designed to explain the prevalent use of the modern Slav languages. It is most unfortunate, however, that modern scholars choose to ignore archeological evidence that links the 6th century Slavs to the ancient prehistoric Veneti. "Archeological research has already provided an enormous amount of evidence in support of the idea that the Venethi were Slavs." (Page 13, Florin Curta, The Making of the Slavs, History and Archaeology of the Lower Danube Region c. 500 - 700, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.). Accepting the hypothesis that the Veneti and the Slavs are connected not only provides linguistic continuity for the modern Macedonians to the ancient Macedonians but also identifies the so-called "elusive" Macedonian language of ancient times. With this in mind, we cannot ignore claims that the Slav language was most probably spoken by Alexander's Macedonian soldiers and settlers and was spread throughout the vastness of the uncivilized regions of Eastern Europe and Northern Asia. Also, it would not be far fetched to hypothesize that Alexander's Macedonians colonized parts of European Russia, which would attest to the many common toponyms that Macedonia and European Russia share.

And now back to Justinian's story.

Justinian had no children of his own when he died but there seemed to have been no shortage of heirs. Theodora died seventeen years before Justinian leaving him childless. Justinian had half a dozen or so nephews but it was Justin, the son of his sister Vigilantia, who rose to the occasion to take Justinian's place. Justin or Justin II as he came to be known was married to Sophia, one of Theodora's nieces. Justin first surfaced on the political scene in 552 AD when he was appointed to take charge of day to day business affairs in the palace. His dealings with important people including Tiberius, who would eventually succeed him, gave him the exposure he needed to gain the palace's support. His only rival was Justin, son of Germanus, who at the time of Justinian's death was the Master of the Soldiers in Illyria, guarding the Danube frontier.

When Justinian suddenly died the night of November 14, 565 AD, Justin was in the right place at the right time to receive his acclamation. A group of senators hurriedly went to Justin's palace to meet with Justin and Vigilantia to report Justinian's death. Justin and Sophia were then escorted to the Great Palace where Justin was crowned by the patriarch. The next morning Justin appeared in the imperial box at the Hippodrome wearing the crown and received the acclamations of the people. The day after his inauguration Justin crowned his wife Sophia as Augusta.

Justin II's first order of business, after becoming emperor, was to pay off Justinian's debts. Justinian had accumulated them in his last years by raising money through forced loans. Also, Imperial unity depended upon theological peace. Justinian died and left the church in a crisis. The division between the Chalcedonian and the Monophysite factions was wider than ever and now that the Monophysites had priests and bishops of their own it was less likely that the schism would ever be healed. The empress Sophia, like her aunt before her, had openly been a Monophysite. Justin II had possibly leaned in the same direction but realizing that Monophysite sympathies would be a political liability convinced his wife and they both became orthodox.

In the meantime Justin II wasted no time in assassinating his rival Justin, son of Germanus. With no challengers and confident in his own abilities, Justin quickly settled into the role as emperor and began to receive envoys. Within a week the Avars arrived looking for their subsidies which Justinian had promised, but Justin refused to pay. Soon afterwards Justin became involved in Avar, Gepid and Lombard affairs and as a result lost Italy. The Lombards invaded Italy in 568 AD and occupied it in a few short years. In 572 AD Justin's overtures to the Turks led to a war with Persia and after two disastrous campaigns, the Persians overran Syria. A one-year truce was reached with Persia at the loss of Armenia and at a cost of 45,000 solidi.

The Avars waited until the Pravoslavi were weakened by the Persians before they crossed the Danube in late 573 AD and attacked Tiberius's army. Justin was not prepared for more losses. Unable to cope he fell ill after receiving the bad news. With Justin unable to command the empire, the empress Sophia wasted no time and promoted Tiberius to co-ruler. Tiberius made peace with the Avars and saved the empire from collapse for now. Unfortunately the peace was not meant to last. Even though the Danube frontier still held, it was a matter of time before the Avars would sweep south again. The inevitable did happen around 582 AD during Tiberius II's time when a horde of Avars and Slavs swept south down to Athens.

Justin II never recovered from his illness and in December of 574 AD he appointed Tiberius Caesar with the name Tiberius Constantine.

Justin's wife Sophia was determined to maintain her own position as Augusta as long as Justin was alive. In the meantime she refused to let Tiberius bring his wife, Ino, into the palace. There are some who rumoured that Sophia herself wanted to marry Tiberius and that is why she forced his family to live in another palace. Whether or not the rumours were true, Sophia's tactics eventually succeeded in making Ino move away from Tsari Grad. Tiberius showed no inclination to abandon his wife so, even before Justin II was dead in 578 AD, Sophia was conspiring with Justinian, another son of Germanus, to replace him. Tiberius, however, was much too clever and popular with the people to fall prey to Sophia's intrigues so after Justin's death he became sole ruler of the Pravoslaven empire.

Once Tiberius became emperor, Sophia had to accept defeat. At his coronation in the Hippodrome Tiberius was asked to name his empress. At that point he proclaimed Ino, whom he named Anastasia, to be his empress and lawful wife. Her coronation as Augusta was a blow to Sophia, who moved on to another palace across the Bosporus, which had been built by Justin.

To be continued...

And now I leave you with this...

It is not a question of whether the modern Macedonians are deserving of the ancient Macedonian heritage or not but rather it is a question of whether the modern Greeks are deserving of theirs. We know that modern Greece, when it became a nation for the first time in 1829, was a patchwork of nationalities, none of whom had anything in common with the people of the ancient City States. So then, on what basis are modern Greeks claiming the heritage of the ancient City States?

If the modern Macedonians are 100% pure Slavs then so are the modern Greeks. By imposing a false language and by making wide and unsubstantiated claims that they are the descendants of the ancients does not necessarily make them so. We know that the Slavs penetrated the Greek peninsula right down to the south of the Peloponnesus. We know that there are Slav villages and toponyms smack in the center of Greece proper. So, if the Slavs killed off all the ancient Macedonians they must have also killed off all the ancient Greeks. So, who then are the modern Greeks?

Time and time again we have proven that the modern Greeks are a collection of various peoples including Slavs, Albanians, Vlahs, Turks, Roma, etc., etc., upon whom the modern Greek consciousness was imposed making them believe that they are the descendants of the ancient Greeks.

"Falmerayer's two-volume work deals with proving that the ancient Greek races had totally vanished from the lands where they had once achieved great things. Falmerayer writes that these peoples underwent a natural extermination by consecutive waves of nomadic peoples and that, at the end of a 10-century period, what has come to be present-day Greece was inhabited by Slavs, Albanians, and Greek-speaking Byzantine populations that had moved there from Asia Minor. This substantive racial repudiation has always been difficult to doubt and is becoming more and more so".

So, on what basis are the modern Greeks laying claim to the ancient heritage and why have they not been challenged on it to this day? A question for pondering? Just because it happened 175 years ago does not make it right. For the benefit of consolidating their new state, the Greeks, with help from the Great Powers especially Great Britain, deservingly or not, adopted the ancient city state heritage as their own.

I have no problem with Greeks falsely laying claim to the ancient Greek heritage but I do have a problem when they falsely lay claim to the Macedonian heritage at the expense and the exclusion of the Macedonians.


Florin Curta, The Making of the Slavs, History and Archaeology of the Lower Danube Region c. 500 - 700, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Jozko Šavli, Matej Bor, Ivan Tomazic, VENETI: First Builders of European Community, Boswell B.C., 1996.

Anthony Ambrozic, Adieu to Brittany: a transcription and translation of Venetic passages and toponyms. Toronto: Cythera Press 1999.

Anthony Ambrozic, Gordian Knot Unbound. Toronto: Cythera Press, 2002.

Anthony Ambrozic, Journey Back to the Garumna. Toronto: Cythera Press, 2000.

Alexandar Donski, The Descendants of Alexander the Great of Macedon The Arguments and Evidence that Today's Macedonians are Descendants of the Ancient Macedonians (Part One - Folklore Elements), Shtip/Sydney - 2004.

Peter Brown, The World of Late Antiquity AD 150-750, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1989.

A History of the Macedonian People, Institute of National History, Macedonian Review, 1979, Skopje.

Apostolos Papagiannopoulos, Monuments of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki: John Rekos & Co., 1980.

Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity, Atheneum New York, 1976.

Vasil Bogov, Macedonian Revelation, Historical Documents Rock and Shatter Modern Political Ideology, Western Australia, 1998.

H.G. Wells, The Outline of History, New York: Garden City Books, 1961.

Mark Whittow, The Making of Byzantium, 600-1025, Los Angeles: University of California, 1996.


You can contact the author at rstefov@hotmail.com