Justinian came to power as emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire in 527. His parents were peasants who were probably illiterate.
Justinian rose through the ranks of Byzantine society with great rapidity. By 517 he had become a provincial governor and by 520 he held the highest military command in Italy. In 527 he became emperor upon the death of Anastasius I; his reign lasted until 565.
His major domestic policy was called “the reconquest.” His goal was to recover all territories lost since 476 when Odoacer deposed Emperor Romulus Augustus. This policy was expensive because it involved maintaining large armies along important frontiers such as the Danube River and along portions of Italy’s northern border with Lombardy.
His greatest failure was his attempt to reconquer the former territories of Rome.
Justinian’s first problem was that he lacked the resources to restore the old Roman Empire. He had no way of raising money for such a task, and he could not rely on the people to support him in such an endeavor. The people were tired of warfare, and they wanted peace and prosperity, not war and death. They also wanted their rights protected, which meant that they wanted Justinian to give them some degree of self-government so they could protect themselves from tyranny on all levels: local government, regional government, and imperial government.
Justinian’s second problem was logistics: moving troops around such a vast empire was difficult at best. There were no roads connecting cities in most cases.