Famous Men of the Middle Ages
Justinian the Great
Emperor from 527-565 A.D.
In the time of Clovis the country now called Bulgaria was inhabited by Goths. One day a
poor shepherd boy, about sixteen years of age, left his mountain home in that country to
go to the city of Constantinople, which was many miles away. The boy had no money to
pay the expenses of the journey, but he was determined to go, even though he should
have to walk every step of the road and live on fruits that he could gather by the way. He
was a bright, clever boy who had spent his life hitherto in a village, but was now eager to
go out into the world to seek his fortune.
Some years before, this boy's uncle, who was named Justin, had gone to Constantinople
and joined the Roman army. He was so brave and so good a soldier that he soon came to
be commander of the imperial guard which attended the emperor.
The poor shepherd boy had heard of the success of his uncle, and this was the reason why
he resolved to set off for the big city. So he started down the mountain and trudged along
the valley in high hope, feeling certain that he would reach the end of his journey in
safety. It was a difficult and dangerous journey, and it took him several weeks, for he had
to go through dark forests and to cross rivers and high hills; but at last one afternoon in
midsummer he walked through the main gate of Constantinople, proud and happy that he
had accomplished his purpose.
He had no trouble in finding his Uncle Justin; for everybody in Constantinople knew the
commander of the emperor's guards. And when the boy appeared at the great man's house
and told who he was, his uncle received him with much kindness. He took him into his
own family, and gave him the best education that could be had in the city.
As the boy was very talented and eager for knowledge he soon became an excellent
scholar. He grew up a tall, good-looking man, with black eyes and curly hair, and he was
always richly dressed. He was well liked at the emperor's court, and was respected by
everybody on account of his learning.
One day a great change came for both uncle and nephew. The emperor died; and the
people chose Justin to succeed him. He took the title of Justinus I (Jus-ti'-nus), and so the
young scholar, who had once been a poor shepherd boy, was now nephew of an emperor.
After some years Justinus was advised by his nobles to take the young man, who had
adopted the name of Justinian, to help him in ruling the empire. Justinus agreed to this
proposal, for he was now old and in feeble health, and not able himself to attend to the
important affairs of government. He therefore called the great lords of his court together