Impact of Justinian’s War on Italy

Justinian invaded Italy because he saw a chance to unite the East and the West under his rule. The riches of Italy would also make a welcome addition to his empire. But what was supposed to be an easy victory, turned into a long drawn out war that lasted decades. By the time he managed to conquer Italy in the 550s, it was a mere shadow of its former self. Read on to learn the impact of Justinian’s war on Italy.

Impact on the People

With war, there is famine, disease and suffering. Decades of fighting led to the deaths of many people in Italy. As a result, there were less people to work the fields or rebuild the land. Those that managed to survive became refugees and suffered great hardships. The war destroyed their homes and so they had to manage as best as they could. Many chose to settle elsewhere rather than to return to their devastated homeland. The reduced population of Italy affected the economy badly.

Impact on Economy

Much of Italy’s wealth came from its land. During the reign of the Goths, the rich landowners watched their estates thrive. But after the war, the rich landowners owned charred fields that had little value. Fighting had left everything in ruins. Most of the wealth derived from the land was lost. On the one hand, there were fewer people to work the fields. On the other hand, the land was too devastated to grow anything. Under the reign of Justinian, the wealth of Italy declined greatly due to his campaigns. Things got so bad that Pope Pelagius had to beg for financial aid from Gaul and Africa.

Impact of Justinian’s Restoration Attempts

Since a war torn Italy would do him no good, Justinian did his best to rebuild the land. In the process, he made significant changes. Firstly, there was no more Emperor of the West. Secondly, he did away with many major posts that the Goths had maintained. Thirdly, he appointed his own officials to vital positions instead of the native Italians. These officials reported directly to Constantinople. Although there were Italian bishops, Justinian saw fit to place his own men in key positions as well. Clearly, Justinian did not trust the Italians to run their land for fear that they might rebel against him. As a result, Italy slowly declined in importance.

Impact on Learning

Decades of war led to the decline of intellectual life in Italy. With all the chaos going on, there was no chance or place for intellectual pursuits to flourish. With the death and migration of many of Italy’s learned men, few remained to teach the younger generation. Thus, by the time Justinian conquered the peninsula, the people who survived could barely spell.

Impact on Security

Justinian achieved his aims of retaking Italy and destroying the Goths. But in doing so, he created another problem. His wars left Italy vulnerable to other barbarian tribes like the Franks and the Lombards. The Lombards had served under Narses during his campaign against the Goths. But he dismissed them after defeating Totila because they were too hard to control. Having served in the Gothic wars, the Lombards were well aware of Italy’s weakness. Thus, they patiently waited for the right moment to invade the land again.

Reflections of the Vizier

Due to Justinian’s ambitions, Italy suffered death and destruction. But there was no stability or prosperity after he retook the land either. He simply did not have the power to defend his Italian possessions from the other barbarian threats they faced. This led to more invasions and destruction that plunged Italy into the Dark Ages.


Moorhead, John. Justinian. New York: Addison Wesley Longman Limited, 1997.

Norwich, John Julius. Byzantium: The Early Centuries. England: Penguin Books, 1990.

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