Would Byzantium be better off without Justinian's conquests?

  • Yes

    Votes: 168 71.2%
  • No

    Votes: 68 28.8%

  • Total voters
From an ideological point of view, Justinians attempted Restauratio imperii was quite reasonable. The Roman Empire without Italy, without Rome, without the half of its ancient territory doesn't look that impressive so to say. But this is mere ideology. Justinians invasion of Italy ruined the Italian economy, and Justinian's conquests (which neither were nor could be a complete reconquest of the WRE) were lost soon after his death.

Now imagine a world in which Justinian acts differently. He accepts that he can't retake in his lifetime what Rome conquered within several centuries. He concentrates on domestic politics (more peaceful management of the Nika riots, Corpus Iuris Civilis and the different monuments like the Hagia Sophia), an "inner restauration" so to say. The plague and the earthquake in Constantinople happen as OTL.

Even with the plague, Justinian has still plent of ressources (money, manpower...) available he threw to the west in OTL. How can he use these ressources ITTL to strenghten the Empire? Would he be able to prevent the Arabian expansion (Islam would likeley be butterflied away anyway) and the Slavic conquests? Would Byzantium be better off without Justinian's conquests?

Deleted member 93645

The Byzantines still held most of those territories in Heraclius' day. The conquest of the Vandal kingdom gave Rome naval hegemony over the Mediterranean again, so I would say Justinian's conquests were a net positive for the Roman Empire.

Deleted member 67076

Kinda split on this. Africa was definitely worth it and was very much a net gain for the empire in nearly every way (increased tax base, vanquishing an imperial threat, reducing piracy in the region, access to the slowly growing Sahelian markets) with the only real problem is having to once again restart the vast and complicated networks of control to the nomads in the region. The Byzantines managed to deal with nomadic incursions pretty successfully, despite their overreach and the nomads frequent attempts to raid.

Italy and Pannonia however were a waste of time, men and gold.


Some reconquest but not all of OTL's reconquest does seem like the best option. The Vandalic War came first anyway, and it resulted in the reconquest of western North Africa, Sardinia, Corsica, the Balearic Islands. We should keep in mind that the African prefecture established after the reconquest was pretty shaky for about fifteen years afterwards. It eventually became profitable, but it was touch-and-go for the first few years. Lots of raids and mutinies. So maybe Justinian can just choose not to try to retake Italy in 535. That would allow for more means to be employed for the stabilising of the African prefecture. It also means that when Khosrau invades in the east in 540, Belisarius won't have to suddenly pack up and leave Italy in a hurry. More troops available in the east, and sooner.

Alternatively, Justinian could use the same excuse (Theodahad's usurpation) to capture Sicily and/or parts of southern Italy, and then bolster defences there - instead of attempting to take all of Italy. Basically the same effect, and he'll probably have it done by the time Khosrau starts trouble in the east. Having Sicily and/or parts of southern Italy might turn out to be useful. Going for Rome was all about the prestige, and would gain nothing in the end. Going for Iberian reconquest should be right out: the Vandalic War had already reclaimed the Septem Fratres stronghold (the later Ceuta) for the Empire; one of the Pillars of Herakles. Justinian didn't need Iberian reconquest.

Either way, Justinian just had to stop at an earlier point. That's a better option than OTL. Also better than not reconquering anything. If Justinian had been al little more modest, the mpire's position would have been more secure by the time he was done, and his successors could have - if they wanted - used that position to attempt further reconquests at a later time.
Last edited:
Would Byzantium be better off without Justinian's conquests?
That's no way to talk about Theodora! :mad:

But seriously, the Gothic War alone clearly showed just how overstretched resources were. If he had been able to ensure the Rugians were at the helm and keep it that way, he might have saved considerable resources.
The Gothic Wars are really the only example of overreach because instead of a quick conquest, it became prolonged. However, it didn't need to be. A few changes up front, and Italy can likely be hold and the Goths kept in submission. If that happens, then Italy is not ruined and becomes a new contributor to the empire.

But as is, it became a festering sore. But outside of Italy, I think it is a net benefit.
I voted yes but only to an extent. Justinian should have made due with taking back North Africa, Sicily and Sardinia. It would have been much better long term to have left Italy as a client state under the Ostrogoths. A shame that Queen Amalasuntha was assassinated. If her reign had continued perhaps Justinian would have been satisfied with de-facto control and influence in Italy instead of a costly conquest.
To echo other posters, some of the conquests were net gains, others were not' it is worth mentioning that the conquest of Italy could have been far more successful if Justinian had given Belisarius more resources, or perhaps if the plague hadn't hit at that time, or whatever reason you want to pick for the insufficient forces for the job. A quick victory under different political circumstances could have netted the RE a valuable territory, though keeping it in the context of the Persian Wars would perhaps still be too difficult. Iberia on the other hand was a waste of time.
To echo what other posters have said, Africa was a net positive, Spain a net negative, Italy also a net negative, although less so than Spain. There are, IMHO, a few PODs that could help make the conquest of Italy a net gain for the Empire:

- No plague of Justinian, meaning the Empire has more resources and can bring the war to a close sooner.

- Italy was basically pacified when Belisarius first left, until the new governors screwed everything up and started alienating people left, right and centre. (In particular, I think Justinian's tax assessor declared that all the money that Italy hadn't been paying to the Empire during the century of Gothic rule were now owed as back taxes, payable immediately.) So, if Justinian sends more sensible people over to rule his new conquests, the Gothic War could have finished in 540 instead of 554, sparing the peninsula 14 years of warfare and destruction.

- No Lombard invasion. Maybe Narses doesn't get insulted by the new Empress and invite them in out of spite (if indeed that's what really happened). Not only did the Lombards take large portions of Roman Italy, the patchwork nature of their conquests meant that pretty much all the remaining Roman land was vulnerable to Lombard raiding.