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37. Vandals and Goths

Belisarius BelisariusCoin GelimerCoin HildericCoin JustinCoin JustinICoin JustinianCoin JustinianCoin2 KhosroIIICoin MAPBelisariusAfrica Theodora

The young Justin – an illiterate from Thracia – was the right man in the right place at the right time, but it would be his nephew Justinian who would return true stability to the Eastern empire.

Through the offices of his clever nephew, Justin was able to heal the long breach between the Churches of the East and West and bring a new era of “Roman” glory to the Eastern empire.

For his regaining the empire’s Italian, African, and part of the Hispanic territories, and because – as a man of Thracian descent – Justinian spoke Latin not Greek, he is generally regarded as the last of the Roman emperors before the Eastern empire evolved into what is today called the Byzantine state.

The empress Theodora, seen here from a contemporary Byzantine mosaic, was a powerful woman of conflicting character, which the historian Procopius frequently assassinated in prose.

Left: a younger son of  Kavadh I, Khosrow III (531–579, and Khosrow I of the Sassanid dynasty) is revered by the Persians as the greatest of the Sassanian kings, an avid reformer, and patron of the arts and scholarship. He rebuilt many cities damaged by the Romans, reformed the system of taxation and stimulated commerce. But he was also a despotic ruler, and to the Romans a dedicated foe. By the end of his reign the Sassanian empire stretched from Armenia to the Indus valley.

Right: Hilderic (top) was the grandson of Gaiseric, but adhered to the orthodox Christian creed of his mother, the Roman princess Eudocia. Under his father Huneric and his own reign, the Vandals had lost much of their prowess in arms, and Hilderic fell foul of a coup by his cousin Gelimer (below), who intended war against Justinian.

Belisarius appears in a mosaic from San Vitale in Ravenna standing next to his emperor Justinian. A copy of a contemporary mosaic first created in Constantinople, but since lost, the likeness is believed – within the iconic tradition – to be reasonably accurate.

Portraits depicting Belisarius are rare, but this coin shows Justinian on the obverse (top) and the mounted Belisarius on the reverse, being guided by an angel in his holy mission of reconquest.

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Illustrations © Oliver Frey; Maps © Roger M. Kean    © 2010–2016 Reckless Books, England