The early years of Justin I’s reign in the sources

Moleiro banner

The early years of Justin I’s reign in the sources

By Geoffrey Greatrex

Electrum, Vol. 12 (2007)

Introduction: In the night of 8—9 July 518 the aged emperor Anastasius died during a violent storm. On the following day, 9 July, the magister officiorum Celer gathered together the other high palace officials to deliberate and choose another emperor. After some dispute, as the De Ceremonils relates, Justin proved to be the oniy candidate upon whom all could agree and he was duly elected and crowned. Just one week later the patriarch John was obliged by an excited Constantinopolitan crowd to hold a service in honour of the Fathers of Chalcedon. At the end ofthe service, those in attendance started to cry out condemnations of those who opposed the council, among whom they named Amantius, the praeposrtus sacri cubicuti, said to be the new Tzumas, i.e. an influential eunuch opposed to Chalcedon.

On the following day, or at the latest by 18 July, Amantius was dead, executed along with several of his associates. Most sources claim that Amantius had been attempting to secure the throne for his domesticus Theocritus and that it was for this reason that he and his followers were killed, and this is what is generally accepted in detailed treatments of Justin’s reign. A closer examination of the sources, however, throws up certain problems and suggests that the supposed conspiracy may well have been greatly exaggerated, if not indeed wholly fabricated. At the same time it also sheds light on the nature of the sources concerned and on the question as to what extent it is possible to reconstruct works such as Malalas’ Chronicle. The third part of this article will therefore discuss at length the accounts of the Malalas chroniclers of this period and the versions that have been handed down under the name of and Marcellinus comes.




The two most interesting sources to report the crushing of the plot to seize the throne are Marcellinus comes and Malalas. The former, who completed his first edition of the chronicle at almost exactly the moment ofthe conspiracy and updated it subsequently in the early 530s, is undoubtedly the closest to the events. In harsh terms he describes the plot make hatched by Amantius in conjunction with the cubicularii Andreas, Misael and Ardabur, to Monophysites, Theocritus emperor; all are condemned as being Manichaeans, no doubt because, as they opposed the vehemently Chalcedonian line favoured by Justin.

Click here to read this article from the University of Ottawa

Sharan Newman