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Justinian (483—565) Byzantine emperor 527–65




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Civil servant at Constantinople and Greek author (ad 490–c.560). John, son of Laurentius, native of Philadelphia in Lydia, was well educated in Latin and Greek before travelling to Constantinople in 511. He studied philosophy while awaiting admission to the memoriales, an administrative bureau, but when his compatriot Zoticus became praetorian prefect John enrolled as excerptor in the prefecture, receiving a privileged position with profitable opportunities (1,000 solidi from fees in 511/2); his patron also arranged a lucrative marriage. John's career progressed less spectacularly after Zoticus' retirement in 512, although his exceptional command of Latin was always an asset. For a time he served as a secretary in the imperial palace, before returning to the prefecture. Under Justinian, John's literary skills received recognition with imperial requests to deliver a Latin panegyric before foreign dignitaries and describe a Roman victory at Dara (530); perhaps in 543 he was given a professorship at Constantinople, being permitted to combine this with work in the prefecture until retirement in 551/2. The latter half of his bureaucratic career was soured by hatred for Justinian's powerful praetorian prefect, John the Cappadocian, who overhauled central and provincial administration in ways which John disliked, especially since literary learning was devalued. John's three extant works all have antiquarian leanings, though they are not therefore divorced from contemporary concerns. De mensibus discusses the Roman calendar, De ostentis deals with astrological matters, while De magistratibus charts the history of Roman administrative offices, with particular attention to the praetorian prefecture on which John provides valuable inside information.

L. Michael Whitby

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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