The final years of Justin’s reign had seen the beginning of far reaching changes in the Roman world, but much that was begun in his name was actually conceived of by Justinian. After the old emperor’s death these things came to fruition. As soon as possible after assuming sole rule, Justinian set in motion some plans he had been nursing for years. The empire had become tattered. No emperor since Theodosius had felt justified in building a triumphal arch. But when he thought upon Rome at its height he could see no reason why it should not again be ruler of the whole world. Over the years barbarians – some friends, some enemies – had assumed real, if not theoretical, rule over large parts. Northern Africa which Scipio had secured from the Carthaginians was now under Vandal control. Spain too was Vandal. Italy itself was in the hands of Goths who ruled only in theory under his auspices. Gaul – which great Caesar had conquered – was in the hands of the Burgundians and the Franks, and Britain was long gone to German invaders.

Almost as important in Justinian’s eye, public buildings were aging and no longer impressed anyone. Many of the greater churches dated to the time of Constantine the Great one hundred and fifty years before; they could use remodeling and extension with new mosaic decoration to replace the aging originals. Other towns and cities were insufficiently adorned to reflect the glory of Christ’s empire on earth. He dreamt of gold domed houses of worship where now more simple churches had to meet the needs of the people. Certainly, nothing could bring simple people to faith better than glorious ritual in splendid surroundings raised to the glory of God by their emperor.

There were other things that should be done. For the moment he dared not cramp the corrupt system of taxation if he wished to carry out his other plans, but he could reform the courts. The law codes of Rome had become an unwieldy collection of contradictory precedents. Justinian ordered that they be synthesized, simplified, and brought into conformity with Christian ethics. He assigned the task to the brilliant but venal jurist Tribonian. He knew that Tribonian’s judgments had a price but he also knew that the jurist truly cared for the law so long as he himself was not involved. His solution was to remove Tribonian from the courts and shut him up with other scholars until the work was completed.

“Your Serenity,” Tribonian was prostrate on the marble floor before his emperor. Even so there was a hint of aloofness in his voice.

Illustrious Tribonian, I have assigned to Cappadocian John the duty of reconciling the laws of my predecessors and of the Republic with our duty as Christ’s holy empire.”

“Your Sovereignty, there are far too many conflicting decisions for a bureaucrat to deal with – occupied as he is with many things. Besides, John is a worthy executive but he is not well versed in all the subtleties of the law.”

“Which is why you are here.” The emperor made no move to put the jurist at ease. “John is only to deal with the details of the operation and to bring anything irreconcilable to me for reconciliation. He will seek out the best legal minds in the empire and bring them here. His office can weed out obvious duplication and prepare briefs for you where opinions have differed. You will do the hard part. I am not asking anything new of you. That shall be the emperor’s concern so do not set precedents unless you speak to me about them first. What I have need of is an incisive legal mind to find common threads and to apply Christian principles where appropriate.”

“What you ask would mean a lifetime of study, Serenity….” Justinian cut him short.

“Which we don’t have. That is why I am getting you all the help you may wish. I’m told that there are fine jurists in Antioch and Thessaloniki and I’ve asked the pope to send experts on both civil and canon law to us. I only hope they are not simple antiquarians, for the law must be a living thing. Just as the body remains the same person even as it matures, so too must the law.”

That was it. The palace academy was a very pleasant prison in which Tribonian had the constant company of like-minded intellectuals instead of defrauders, assassins, rebels, and their sleazy lawyers. It was a good life for seven years and the result of Tribonian’s work became the foundation of western law. It was also the last major imperial production in Latin as Justinian was the last emperor to use that language. Thereafter Greek predominated in imperial edicts as it always had in the daily life of the eastern part of the empire.

About the same time, the emperor closed the schools of Greek Philosophy in Athens. These represented one of the few smoldering remnants of paganism in the empire and Justinian was determined to destroy them. “Besides,” he said to Belisarius, “It’s all repetition. Those learned men haven’t had a new thought in centuries. Aristotle would be ashamed of how little curiosity or analysis they encourage. Plato would hardly approve of them either. They don’t challenge his wisdom but only repeat it; and the worst of them have created a new religion of mysticism in the name of his philosophy.”

The angry teachers tried to respond, sending long missives with many quotations to Justinian and anyone else in Constantinople who they thought might influence the emperor. They received no reply. There were demonstrations but these quickly petered out. It was as though a modern college president were to eliminate the arcane study of Latin or Greek to make room for Chinese language studies. Regrettable, but not terribly upsetting to anyone save students of the classics. In fact Justinian’s action caused hardly a stir among the intellectuals of Constantinople who preferred to study the fathers of the Church. Besides, though these decadent pagan schools were ordered closed, the study of the original sources and myriad commentaries was still encouraged throughout the empire. Many a learned bishop still admitted to a guilty affection for classical philosophy and tried to accommodate it to his Christian beliefs.