My CANI colleague, Dr Peter Crawford, has just published another book, this time on the subject of Roman Emperor Justinian II. I asked him to tell me something about why he chose to write about this particular historical figure.
An energetic and even innovative ruler, Justinian II became Roman emperor in 685 at a time when the Empire was beset by external enemies. His forces achieved some success against the Arabs and Bulgars but his religious and social policies sowed enough internal opposition to see him deposed in 695. Rather than be executed, he faced the horrors of rhinkopia
– ‘cutting of the nose’ – and then exile to the Crimea, where he was expected to live out his days.
However, Justinian refused to let deposition, mutilation and exile dampen his zeal for what was his imperial birthright as rightful Heraclian emperor. Plotting with first the Khazar Turks (one of whom he married), only to then be betrayed and have to kill to would-be assassins with his bare hands, Justinian escaped from the Crimea to the land of the Bulgars via a treacherous sea journey. Striking an alliance with the Bulgar khan, Justinian retook Constantinople and the throne in 705. His ‘political mutilation’ to remove him from imperial contention proved ineffective.
Historically, his second reign has been seen as much harsher and again beset by both external and internal political and religious dissension; however, building on work by Constance Head (1972), there is significant room to suggest that Justinian’s portrayal as a vengeful monster is result of biased sources, rather than reflecting the truth. That does raise the question of why was he then deposed a second time in 711 (this time his head was cut off) if not for his monstrous behaviour…?
If you're interested in reading more about Justinian II, you can buy Peter's book here: https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Justinian-II-Hardback/p/19217