Justinian the Great Lesson for Kids: Facts & Biography

Instructor: Kristin Pia Hayman

Kristin taught for over 10 years in the elementary classroom. She holds a B.A. in Journalism as well as a Master's Degree in Elementary Education.

Justinian the Great was considered to be one of the most important emperors of the late Roman (also called Byzantine) Empire. He accomplished many things for the Romans and is remembered for being a strong leader.

An Emperor Is Born

When you think of an emperor, what comes to mind? A powerful leader? A protector of the people? Well, Justinian was all of these things! Born in the later days of the Roman Empire, he was not from a royal family. He was adopted by his uncle, who was an guard for the emperor. Justinian was brought to the city of Constantinople and given an education. His uncle gained power and became well-respected, so when the emperor died, he became the new emperor and made Justinian one of his advisors. Ta-da! Justinian was now part of high-class society.

Justinian the Great
Justinian

His Love, Theodora

Justinian fell in love with Theodora. She was of a lower class than he was, so people did not think they belonged together, but they married anyway. Theodora was smart and became a huge influence. In fact, there were a few times when Justinian thought about giving up, but Theodora convinced him to stay strong. She also fought hard for the rights of women.

A Divided Empire

When his uncle died, Justinian became the emperor of the Byzantine Empire. Why was it called Byzantine and not Roman? Several years earlier, Rome had become divided and weak because of attacks and loss of land. Byzantine was another name for the eastern Roman Empire, which was still in power. Much of the western empire had become weak and taken over by invaders.

Justinian was a strong believer in Christianity, which was a newer religion in Rome. He saw that in the fallen parts of the empire Christians were being treated poorly, so he made it his mission to reunite the empire and make Rome thrive again!

The divided Roman Empire
map

Justinian the Emperor

Justinian was like many people who are successful at their jobs. He was hard working and honest, and he surrounded himself with smart people. During his time as a ruler, he accomplished many things. For starters, he regained much of the land from western Rome, including the city of Rome itself. Now, that was quite an accomplishment!

In order to rebuild the empire, Justinian had to raise taxes on the people. They were not happy about that and could not imagine having to give more of their hard-earned money to the emperor. They started to lose respect for Justinian, and this led to people rioting in the streets, eventually destroying buildings and making Justinian go into hiding until it was safe again.

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