Born Flavius Petrus Sabbatius at Tauresium (now Skopje, Republic of Macedonia), he was adopted by his uncle, Emperor Justin I, thereafter taking the name of Justinian.

Although raised in wealth, it is said of him that he shunned the perks of money and lived an austere life, choosing a path of religious learning.

He seems to of had three loves including his Roman Empire, of which he was emperor from April 1, 527, until his death on November 14, 565.

One was his wife, the Empress Theodora, whom he wed in 524.

The other was his collapsing empire, which he returned to short-lived glory by reconquering Sicily then Rome from the Goths in 536.

The third was the law.

He was well aware of the crisis in Roman law; too many sources and to many divergent paths being opened. There were already competing editions of purported "Institutes" of Roman law.

D. J. Osler wrote of the problem facing the Roman Emperor:

"... the pristine majesty of the law had been overwhelmed by a vast mass of juristic writings which served only to obscure the law. The mania for juristic writing was a kind of cancer...."

Justinian and PandectsJustinian knew that the body of law cried out for consolidation, which would only be effective if done under the auspices of the empire.

Justinian retained trustworthy jurists, such as Tribonian (the Digests and the Codex, Second Edition) and John of Cappadocia (Codex, First Edition), to do the daily work of law consolidation and reform but he supported the project fully.

In fact, with the publication of the four parts of his project, named collectively as Justinian’s Institutes or the Pandects, he succeeded where his predecessor Theodosius had failed.

An extract of the Institutes is available here: Institutes of Justinian.pdf, translated from Latin to English. The extract includes the first pages only, as representative of the content and style.

Birks and McLeod suggest that the Institutes:

"... is the key or map to ... Roman law.... It has some claim to be the most important law book ever written. It could hardly be omitted from any list of the world’s dozen or so most influential books."

His collection served as an important basis for law in contemporary society, and was inspired by logic-based Greek legal principles. Many legal maxims still in use today are derived from Justinian's code.

A quote:

"The things which are common to all (and not capable of being owned) are: the air, running water, the sea and the seashores."

Civil law based Roman law, according to the Institutes, has survived in many parts of Germany until 1900 and important traces of it can be found in the law of Italy, Scotland, South Africa and Quebec.