527 - 565 AD
The Byzantine Empire reached its greatest size under Emperor Justinian I. Justinian was determined to bring back the grandeur of the Roman Empire by regaining territory in the west. Under his leadership, Italy, the southeastern coast of Spain, and much of northern Africa were reconquered.
The empire had already included Asia Minor, the Balkan Peninsula, Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. Important changes took place in the reign of the emperor Justinian that effected a thorough-going reorganization of many of the principal features of the government in Egypt. At first sight Justinian's terms of reference look like the traditional ones and an overriding concern is still the collection of taxes. Justinian's policy was certainly the need to emphasize the role of Egypt as part of the fabric of the eastern empire, an empire whose integrity was more and more threatened by external as well as internal forces.
Justinian combined the civil and military power in the hands of the Duke, with a civil deputy, as a counterweight to the power of the church authorities. Justinian had a board of legal experts prepare a great code in three parts, the Corpus iuris civilis. The Code proper summarized imperial edits; the Institutes was a textbook; and the Digest summarized the legal commentaries. Since this Code had been drawn up after centuries of legal activity in the Empire, it emphasized theory and state control.
Justinian built Hagia Sophia, the empire's largest and most splendid Christian church. Also during his reign, he closed all the remaining temples and pagan schools. Trade thrived during Justinian's reign, and Byzantine art and architecture flourished. But the empire's funds were used up by the high cost of the wars and improvements that took place under Justinian. As a result, the empire was bankrupt when he died in 565 AD. The beacon of intellectual light that had shone from Alexandria to the rest of the ancient world flickered out.