Justinian I (11/05/482 - 14/11/565)
His real name was Flavius Petrus Savvatius and was born in Illyria, nephew of General (and later Emperor) Justin I. When his uncle took the throne in 518, Justinian became a patrician. He was the most important advisor and regent of his uncle, who before he died, declared him emperor in 527. He was a capable, yet authoritative ruler, having received classical and Latin education. While he was still a patrician, he had met Theodora, who later became his wife. She was of humble origins, but at the same time, she was overly ambitious, capable, smart, and very beautiful. Despite her background, Justin I accepted her, but not his wife; in fact, she did not allow this wedding until she passed away in 524. However, even if Theodora’s background was dark, what is certain is that when she married Justinian, she became the perfect wife and the perfect Empress.
One of the first actions Justinian did when he became Emperor was to improve the financial state of the Empire; he told Ioannis Kappadokis to do this work, a man who was the perfect fit but extremely despised by the people. Moreover, he asked Trivonian to rewrite the laws of Theodosius, mainly discarding controversial ones and simplifying others. He had also dealt with the Sassanid Persians by 532, when a peace treaty was signed, so he could focus solely on his dream, the re-conquest of the West.
In January 532, riots broke out at the Hippodrome of Constantinople, mainly because of the harsh tax policy of the emperor. The rebels denounced Justinian and crowned Hypatius in his place; Justinian was ready to abandon the city, but Theodora convinced him to stay until the end. As a result, under the command of Velissarius, Mundus and Narsis, the Roman army slaughtered 30,000 rebels, ending the so called Nika Riots. The temple of Haghia Sophia was destroyed and Justinian asked architects Anthemius and Isidoros to start building a new magnificent temple, using marble from Greece and mosaics from Italy and Greece. The new Temple of Haghia Sophia (dedicated to the Wisdom of God) was completed in 537, and has since then been considered a landmark in world architecture.
After the Nika Riots, Justinian started his plans to regain the western provinces. With Velissarius leading the Roman army, he conquered Carthage and later, Napoli and Rome in Italy. While trying to conquer Milan, the Persians invaded from the East; before leaving to repel them, Velissarius, thanks to his cunning, managed to conquer Ravenna and capture his opponent. Velissarius was soon dispatched against the Persians, who he also managed to thwart, at least initially. Soon, the Persians regained their strength, and eventually a truce was signed.
Justinian managed to expand the Empire from the Holy Lands, Anatolia and Armenia, all the way to the Herculean Pillars, Gibraltar, thus rendering it the predominant power in the Mediterranean. Apart from this, he also helped in the rewriting of laws, the creation of magnificent buildings, the boosting of trade, religious reformation and boosting of the empire coffers.