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Byzantine emperor Justinian (Flavius Justinianus Bossibootus) (emperor 527-565), polymath, polyvexatious, arm chair caesar, bully for his version of Christianity and scared of violent thunderstorms, wanted to reunite the world under his personal rule. He wanted to reclaim the lost Roman Empire in the West and introduce his own 'Justinian Code' to replace the buggy, broken Theodosian Code' to maintain important patents.
Justinian also had time to close down Plato and Aristotle's old school in Athens and depose a pope in Rome for arguing with him. Justinian feared no man but he was scared of his wife Empress Theodora, a one time stripper, lewd games enthusiast and er..later saint in the Greek Orthodox church. When she died, Justinian showed how much he missed her by then constantly getting everything wrong.
edit Early Years
Justinian was born Peter Sabbatical near Belgrade in around 482. He was called Sabbatical because he would often disappear without reason for six months or longer. It was a rough time to have been born. His area of the Roman Empire had been tramped through by a colourful array of barbarian warlords including Alaric the Goth and Attila the Hun. Whilst Justinian was growing up, the last block of unwanted house 'guests' - the Ostrogoths - had been bribed by emperor Zeno to clear off to Italy and leave the Balkans alone. Justinian was old enough to watch the Ostrogoth leader Theodoric the Great saunter past his window on a great black stallion and disparage the military weakness of the Romans.
Life out in the sticks was only changed when his uncle Justin (later emperor Justin I) landed a job in Constantinople and needed an assistant. Justin worked as an Excubitor which sounds suspiciously close to exhibitionist (if you change a lot of letters around). Justin seemed to be well trusted but couldn't read or abide eunuchs either and since he needed someone to read his payslip, asked Justinian to come to the capital of the Byzantine Empire. In 518, the geriatric emperor Anastasius I died. His wish that one of his family get the gig were rejected by Constantinople's power elite and Justin got the post instead.
It was around then that Justinian did two things. First he changed his name to 'Justinian' in honour of his uncle (and make sure he became next emperor) and he met his wife Theodora. Justinian - being a dull, bookish fellow -was dazzled by Theodora. Perhaps he caught her nude act down at the Hippodrome Nightclub which involved (so said the historian Procopius), propelling marble balls into wine cups with her lower pelvic love muscles. Since Justinian was a keen scholar of theology and the works of bearded bores in the nearby monasteries, meeting Theodora must have a real glass popper.
The couple married in the Hippodrome church. Theodora brought along her family and her children from casual affairs whilst working as an actress. Luckily she didn't invite any bears as her father had once been in charge of the Byzantine Animal Entertainment department at the Hippodrome. Emperor Justin wasn't sure this was a good match but gave his blessing. Shortly after he died, it is said killed by escaped bear wearing a green ribbon (the significance of that to be revealed later).
edit Emperor and Goodbye Ancient Greeks
In 527 Justin the older exhibitionist died and Justinian now became emperor in name too. His first act was to close down Plato's Academy in Athens for 'paganism, student abuse and all round meaningless philosophising'. It took two years to implement but finally Greece's finest egg heads were turfed out of their college buildings and told to get proper jobs. Justinian was so pleased with his act, he had this distributed around the Byzantine Empire.
For too long the Roman state has had to pay for these loafers. They can go out and get a proper job or become bishops. This is a Christian Empire and we have no need of idle speculation. Vote Purple."
It was probably around this time that a lot of pagan classics ended up in the flames. Old classics like Caligula's Guide to Sex Slaves and Horses and Aristotle's Ancient Greek Jokes for Ancient Greeks were lost. Emperor Claudius's autobiography is said to have ended up as fire lighter and Suentonius's 12 Best Whores in Rome, a lurid companion piece to his 12 Caesars , was said to have been destroyed by Empress Theodora. The Byzantine historian Procopius said that was because Theodora's own career progression from circus prostitution to palace imperialism was uncannily like some of Suetonius's favourite ladies.
edit Red is the Colour
Whilst the rest of Western Europe fell into feudalism, banditry and an avoidance of soap, in Constantinople the Byzantines liked to boast of their political and sporting sophistication. Gladiatorial games hadn't really made the switch from Rome to Constantinople and there was something ugly and pagan about the business to many Christians. The sport they liked there was chariot racing. It was already an ancient sport and one that had first appeared in the 776 BC Olympic Games (the first and last one to be free of drug taking). Originally there had been four teams for the locals to support but thanks to amalgamations and brutal killing, only two teams were still active in the time of Justinian: The True Blues and the Eco-Friendly Greens.
In Rome they had chariot racing at the Circus Maximus which was some distance from the imperial residence. However in Constantinople the chariot racing at the Hippodrome was next door to emperor's palace, a special passageway lead from their to the imperial box seats overlooking the arena. It would be like the White House situated next door to the Washington Redskins stadium as a comparison. With so little else to get excited by in Constantinople and compulsory church services, going to the races had been all Byzantines great pleasure. Those who valued the loyalty to the emperor adopted the Blue faction whilst their rivals favoured the Greens. Justinian said he was a true blue but Theodora's family had been 'Green and proud'. But now she was 'Mrs Justinian' Theodora adopted her husband's team - to the annoyance of her old allies.
Violence was increasing on race days and then in 532, a riot began over what seemed a trivial decision to change the sponsorship of that year's chariot race event from Nike to Adidas. Amongst other things, this involved stopping supplying free soup and brickbats to throw at your enemies. The Blues and Greens blamed the Imperial government and broke out into a week long riot - known as the 'Nike' riots as the people demanded the return of the original sponsor. Emperor Justinian got through four pairs of purple underpants as it had been his decision to change over to Adidas. Theodora told him to pull himself together and borrow a pair of her boxing shorts if he felt anymore bowel loosening. The rioters had meanwhile torched most of downtown Constantinople including Constantine's old Hagia Sophia church. This lead to a lot of people to help themselves to various items but also split up the mob. Finally Justinian let it be known he would meet the crowd in the Hippodrome for a peace talk. As another writer (not Procopius) records:-
..and so the Blues and Greens filed into the Hippodrome, clutching their looted goodies to hear what the emperor was going to say. Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora appeared in their imperial box. Justinian waved at the crowd and started pointing at people he appeared to recognise. This was the cue for Soldiers who entered the arena and locked the doors behind them. Justinian cleared his throat and made the sign emperors in the past had used to declare a gladiator was unworthy of living that day. His thumb pointed down. Let the massacre begin...Within a few hours, the banners of the Blues and Greens were splattered in deep red. The riot was over.
edit First Job:Ban the Vandals
Once the blood had been cleaned off the streets of the capital, Justinian decided to cheer everyone with a military bent by going to war. Not against the usual hairy backed barbarians across the Danube or going toe-to-toe with the Persians. Justinian instead decided to target the Vandal Kingdom in North Africa. No one liked the Vandals. They had smashed their way across the River Rhine in 407 and kept on going through Gaul and then Spain before sailing across the straits of Gibraltar to Carthage. Then the Vandals under their one-eyed king Gaiseric had equally got up the noses of both the Western and Eastern Roman Empires. Since then though the Vandals had preferred to stay at home or paint their ships in bizarre spray paint colours.
By 530 though the Vandals were no longer such a mighty threat. An expedition was sent to Sardinia (a Vandal territory) to take part in the Inter-Barbarian Hooligan World Cup against the Ostrogoths. Whilst they were there, Justinian ordered his general Belisarius to sneak in and capture the Vandal capital of Carthage. The Byzantines who were already gaining a reputation of institutional duplicity, fooled the guards to open the gates when they arrived drinking and smashing things in the typical Vandal manner. Insider Belisarius and his men dropped their spray cans and captured the city. The Vandal army were unaware of this and returning home from Sardinia in a boisterous, drunken mood after beating the Ostrogoths - were surprised by the stone colder sober Byzantines. The Vandals were crushed and their leaders sent back to Justinian to poke fun and have dragged around the Hippodrome in a victory celebration.
edit Second Job:Wash the Goths
Justinian received the news of the Vandals defeat and used that empire's treasury to rebuild Constantinople. The new Hagia Sophia was built on confiscated Vandal loot (though since most of it came from the Roman Empire - the Byzantines reasoned they were entitled to it). Justinian gave Belisarius a mighty triumph, a pay rise and a map to show him where he was going to spend his holidays: Italy.
The emperor argued that Italy was just another wayward old Roman province crying out to be reunited with the motherland. The ruling barbarians there the Ostrogoths had for awhile acted like the big "Goth I-Ams' under their ruler Theodoric the Great. They were also Christians but not Catholic Christians which made them a lot worse in the eyes of many than the Persian 'fire worshippers' or other pagans. Like the Vandals, the Ostrogoths hadn't produced another great leader and fallen into bloody feuds and fashion shows that had made them unpopular in Italy.
Once again Belisarius had it easy - to start with. The Goths were disunited and abandoned Rome to Belisarius. Out of the ancient city came the senators and their various cronies and lobbyists. Leading them was Pope Silverius who gave the Byzantine general the keys and padlocks of the old capital. Belisarius thanked the 'grey haired old fool' and then had him arrested as Justinian said the pope was too 'Goth-friendly' - and proved it by revealing Silverius had tattoos on his arms that read 'Theodoric for Ever' and 'I Love Arian Goths'. He also happened to be a son of an earlier Pope who had sown his wild oats before taking the holy wafer. This seemed sufficient grounds to have the old fraud kicked off St.Peter's Chair and replaced by Pope Vigilius.
Belisarius chased the Goths all the way back to Ravenna. Their King Witiges offered to make Belisarius an 'emperor' and restore the Western Roman Empire. Belisarius went along with the plan and invited a battalion of choir boys to officiate at the coronation. Once inside, those trickster Byzantines removed their disguises and arrested Witiges. Belisarius proclaimed Ravenna (and Italy) were now once more close to the heaving bosom of Constantinople.
Justinian was so pleased with Belisarius that he relieved him of all commands and told to report back East to deal with the treaty-breaking Persians. Justinian promised he would soon go to Ravenna to formerly re-unite the Roman Empire in person. He commissioned a team of mosaic workers to get on with recording this visit (with his wife Theodora) but just as the bags were packed and the mosquito bite sun cream applied, Theodora was dead. The mosaic remains to record a visit that never happened in Ravenna.
The Ostrogoths had finally got their shit together and battled the Byzantines up and down Italy. The destruction was extensive and Rome had its aqueducts knocked over by angry Goths. A contract to repair them was immediately ordered by Justinian but thanks to labour disputes, the Mafia, malaria and days off to watch football, the job was only finished in the 16th century.
edit Death of the Wife
In 548 Empress Theodora died. Her enemies said she died performing her disgusting party tricks and that a humour-free God had struck her down dead at a banquet. Justinian was upset as the couple were about to leave to visit Ravenna to unveil a flattering mosaic of them in their palace. Justinian cancelled the trip and locked himself away in his musty library.
The funeral of Theodora was a glittering affair, though the official church said she was a heretical Christian. Justinian shut them up by placing some of the loudest complainers in the bear cages for a night. A song was commissioned Don't Cry For Us, Empress Theodora and her likeness was made available to the general populace of Constantinople with cheap souvenirs.
Justinian lead the mourners. To many he looked like a very old man (he was not far shy of 70) and there were hopes he would retire and spend more time clipping roses in the garden. However spraying the greenfly wasn't Justinian's interest. He was far keener on something else:Theology.
edit Religious Business and a New Christian Business Centre
Justinian decided to embark on 'working out' a method of reconciling Christians within his empire. Two hundred years earlier Roman emperor Constantine the Great had done that at the First Council of Nicaea but it hadn't stopped the unbrotherly love of Christians persecuting and killing each other.
The dispute had changed. In Constantine's time it was about whether Jesus was God walking on Earth or not. Now it included whether Jesus had more 'man bits' than 'god bits'. In addition there was yet another dispute which was more political than religious: Who had the biggest balls in the Christian world - between the Pope in Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople. Popes said they were the universal arbiters about right and wrong - and that included sending shit in the post to other religious leaders.
Justinian decided to cut to the basics and came up with a new unity formula: The Emperor Knows Best - and called a council to confirm he was the final 'buck' in the chain. Pope Virgilius disagreed and was told to report to Constantinople. Justinian kept the poor fellow six years in a freezing cold and damp corridor whilst he worked through with six years of excuses not to see him.
Eventually Justinian produced his own theological paper - the 'Three Chapters' - to enforce his prejudices. This unity document was so confusing that churchmen claimed Old Nick had written it. No one wanted it and it solved nothing. A delivery roses were left at the imperial palace to indicate someone was very keen to see him go.
edit Third Job:Have a go at those other Goths in Spain
The war against the Ostrogoths went on for another 10 years when finally the last of them were killed or given a compulsory bath. Pleased by the victory, Justinian sent a fleet to Visigoth Spain - with an implied threat that Justinian's War on Arians was entering its final stages.
Justinian's choice of commanders for both Italy were strange. He gave the job of crushing the Ostrogoths to Narses, a palace eunuch and Vigothic Spain to Liberius. Liberius was a Roman of the very old school. He became Justinian's Commander to attack Spain to grab/settle. Liberius was on or around 90. A Byzantine army landed and helped the rebels against King Agila. The rebels won but had no money to pay off the Byzantines to go home. So South Eastern Spain was annexed to the Byzantine Empire. More trickery!
Finally Belisarius was recalled from retirement but he had died. So Justinian organised a parade where the corpse of Belisarius and the late Empress Theodora got to ride side by side in front of the Byzantine soldiers.
edit Waiting to Die
Justinian lived on to 565. He finally finished the Justinian code and decreed everyone to upgrade to the purple edition. This cost money so Justinian scrimped on paying his soldiers or stock up on gifts (bribes) to maintain peace.
On his tomb the Byzantine tourist board said millions had come into Constantinople to see the 'old git' in his coffin. Justinian was buried with his boring books and everything else he had collected over the years. Many centuries later soldiers from the off course Fourth Crusade sacked the ancient Byzantine capital in 1204. They said when the tomb lid was lifted off, the mummified remains of Justinian sat bolt up right and uttered it's final words: 'I'm as a dry as a dead dog's dick' and then his bones crumbled into dust.
- ↑ A monopoly on Truth being the most important