ABSTRACT

In the sixth century the Roman Empire had become cosmopolitan in its character and its tastes, the frugal republican admired by such as Tacitus was very much out of fashion and the Byzantine citizen had habits of luxury which by long indulgence had become necessary to his comfort. As we are trained in our school days very largely on Livy and Tacitus and have learned to respect their somewhat reactionary ideals we are accustomed to regard this Byzantine period as something decadent and corrupt, an idea rather emphasized by the title of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, and from such satirists as Juvenal we have absorbed the notion that Oriental influence was the chief factor of corruption. Many of these ideas, however, are no more than conventional and somewhat artificial prejudices which we owe to the renascence when it was thought necessary to imitate the opinions of the Augustan age. It is quite possible to argue that the Byzantine period represents a fuller and richer life than any other age of Roman history, that the Institutes, Code, and Digest of Justinian are perhaps the supreme contribution of Rome to human culture, and that Asia gave very precious gifts to the Graeco-Roman world, as Professor Strzygowski has shown in the field of art and architecture on lines which might very well be extended to other fields. Certainly the age of Justinian presents a very brilliant picture with many attractive features, admittedly with some vicious elements whose more lurid aspects may be due to the fact that the history of that age is better known to us than that of some other periods whose cruder features are softened by a half-light. Certainly the juristic work of Justinian’s day has left a profound impression on the cultural history of western Europe, and the organization of Justinian’s empire shows a particular type of Hellenism which has done most to shape the structure of Muslim society.