John the Cappadocian
A different John the Cappadocian was Patriarch from 518-520. See John of Cappadocia
John of Cappadocia
John II, surnamed Cappadox or the Cappadocian, was Patriarch of Constantinople in 518-520, during the reign of Byzantine emperor Anastasius I after an enforced condemnation of the Council of Chalcedon. His short patriarchate is memorable for the celebrated Acclamations of Constantinople, and the...


John the Cappadocian,also known as Iohannis Orientalis, was a praetorian prefect of the East (532-541) in the Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 under Emperor Justinian I
Justinian I
Justinian I ; , ; 483– 13 or 14 November 565), commonly known as Justinian the Great, was Byzantine Emperor from 527 to 565. During his reign, Justinian sought to revive the Empire's greatness and reconquer the lost western half of the classical Roman Empire.One of the most important figures of...

. He was also a patrician and the consul ordinarius of 538.

Both Joannes Laurentius Lydus
Joannes Laurentius Lydus
John the Lydian or John Lydus was a 6th century Byzantine administrator and writer on antiquarian subjects. His works are of interest for specific data about classical events.- Life and career :...

 and Zacharias Rhetor
Zacharias Rhetor
Zacharias of Mytilene , also known as Zacharias Scholasticus or Zacharias Rhetor, was a bishop and ecclesiastical historian....

 report that John was a native of Caeasarea
Kayseri is a large and industrialized city in Central Anatolia, Turkey. It is the seat of Kayseri Province. The city of Kayseri, as defined by the boundaries of Kayseri Metropolitan Municipality, is structurally composed of five metropolitan districts, the two core districts of Kocasinan and...

, Cappadocia
Cappadocia is a historical region in Central Anatolia, largely in Nevşehir Province.In the time of Herodotus, the Cappadocians were reported as occupying the whole region from Mount Taurus to the vicinity of the Euxine...

. Procopius
Procopius of Caesarea was a prominent Byzantine scholar from Palestine. Accompanying the general Belisarius in the wars of the Emperor Justinian I, he became the principal historian of the 6th century, writing the Wars of Justinian, the Buildings of Justinian and the celebrated Secret History...

, John Malalas
John Malalas
John Malalas or Ioannes Malalas was a Greek chronicler from Antioch. Malalas is probably a Syriac word for "rhetor", "orator"; it is first applied to him by John of Damascus .-Life:Malalas was educated in Antioch, and probably was a jurist there, but moved to...

, the Chronicon Paschale
Chronicon Paschale
Chronicon Paschale is the conventional name of a 7th-century Greek Christian chronicle of the world...

 and Zacharias called him John the Cappadocian for disambiguation reasons, as the name John
John (given name)
John is a masculine given name in the English language. The name is derived from the Latin Ioannes, Iohannes, which is in turn a form of the Greek , Iōánnēs. This Greek name is a form of the Hebrew name , , which means "God is generous"...

 (Ioannes in Greek and Johannes in Latin) were widely used by his time. Lydus and Malalas at times mention him only as the "Cappadocian". His family connections are obscure and only two relatives are known with certainty. Those are his only daughter Euphemia and a kinsman called Ioannes Maxilloplumacius.

His contemporary historians were biased against him, particularly Procopius and Lydus, and their accounts are often coloured by their prejudices. Procopius claims that John was poorly educated, though grudgingly admitting the Cappadocian's great natural abilities led to his rise to prominence. He first appears in the sources as a scriniarius (notary
A notary is a lawyer or person with legal training who is licensed by the state to perform acts in legal affairs, in particular witnessing signatures on documents...

) in the service of an unidentified magister militum
Magister militum
Magister militum was a top-level military command used in the later Roman Empire, dating from the reign of Constantine. Used alone, the term referred to the senior military officer of the Empire...

. His administrative ideas reportedly attracted the attention of Justinian, resulting in his promotion to positions with financial responsibilities. From there he gained enough favour to become a Vir illustris
Vir illustris
The title vir illustris is used as a formal indication of standing in late antiquity to describe the highest ranks within the senates of Rome and Constantinople...

 and eventually the active Prefect. There is a theory that his close relationship with Justinian may date to Justinian's service as Magister militum praesentalis in the 520s, prior to the elevation of the man to the throne.

John was appointed to lead the first commission on Justinian's new legal code, the Corpus Juris Civilis
Corpus Juris Civilis
The Corpus Juris Civilis is the modern name for a collection of fundamental works in jurisprudence, issued from 529 to 534 by order of Justinian I, Eastern Roman Emperor...

, and became Justinian's chief legal advisor. He was also appointed Praetorian prefect of the East
Praetorian prefecture of the East
The praetorian prefecture of the East or of Oriens was one of four large praetorian prefectures into which the Late Roman Empire was divided...

, giving him the power to introduce new taxes on the population. The new taxes were very unpopular, and the mob involved in the Nika riots
Nika riots
The Nika riots , or Nika revolt, took place over the course of a week in Constantinople in AD 532. It was the most violent riot that Constantinople had ever seen to that point, with nearly half the city being burned or destroyed and tens of thousands of people killed.-Background:The ancient Roman...

 of 532 demanded that both John and the quaestor
A Quaestor was a type of public official in the "Cursus honorum" system who supervised financial affairs. In the Roman Republic a quaestor was an elected official whereas, with the autocratic government of the Roman Empire, quaestors were simply appointed....

Tribonian or Tribonianos was a jurist during the reign of the Emperor Justinian I, who revised the legal code of the Roman Empire.Tribonian was born in Pamphylia around the year 500...

 be dismissed. Justinian did so, until the riots had been suppressed, after which he reinstated John as prefect and Tribonian as quaestor. After the riots, which had been supported by the upper-class Senators
Roman Senate
The Senate of the Roman Republic was a political institution in the ancient Roman Republic, however, it was not an elected body, but one whose members were appointed by the consuls, and later by the censors. After a magistrate served his term in office, it usually was followed with automatic...

, John, who had the same lower-class background as Justinian, became even more important in political affairs. John influenced Justinian's military decisions, helping to draft the Perpetual Peace with Khosrau I of Persia and convincing Justinian not to empty the treasury with a large expedition to North Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

. John worked with the emperor to reduce the size of the bureaucracy, both in Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

 and in the provinces, developing a rudimentary meritocracy
Meritocracy, in the first, most administrative sense, is a system of government or other administration wherein appointments and responsibilities are objectively assigned to individuals based upon their "merits", namely intelligence, credentials, and education, determined through evaluations or...


Zacharias reports that the Cappadocian was widely feared for his influence on Justinian and a tendency to bring accusations against many people. He was reportedly aided by several flatterers in his service. Ludus reports that the Cappadocian constructed a prison within the Praetorium
- Etemology :The praetorium, also spelled prœtorium or pretorium, was originally used to identify the general’s tent within a Roman Castra, Castellum, or encampment. The word originates from the name of the chief Roman magistrate, known as Praetor...

 of Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

. There prisoners were regularly tortured and executed. Lydus claims that the Cappadocian extracted money from his victims. Lydus gives an eyewitness testimony
Eyewitness testimony
Research in eyewitness testimony is mostly considered a subfield within legal psychology, however it is a field with very broad implications. Human reports are normally based on visual perception, which is generally held to be very reliable...

 to the execution of one such victim.

Lydus goes on to report other changes to life in the Praetorium. The Cappadocian transferred his quarters upstairs, offering the traditional living quarters of the Prefect to his followers. The Prefect reportedly treated his official staff as common slaves. He converted the baths of the Praetorium to a stable for his horses, building a new elevated bathroom for himself. Equipped with fountains. He reportedly used his official residence to give lavish feasts and indulge "in all manners of debaucheries". Maintaining a luxurious private residence at the same time. Procopius seems to agree, reporting that Cappadocian would spend his mornings robbing the taxpayers, devoting the rest of the day to "unrestrained debauchery". Procopius also notes John employed thousands of bodyguards to ensure his security.

His downfall seems to have been the result of an ongoing rivalry with Empress Theodora and general Belisarius
Flavius Belisarius was a general of the Byzantine Empire. He was instrumental to Emperor Justinian's ambitious project of reconquering much of the Mediterranean territory of the former Western Roman Empire, which had been lost less than a century previously....

. John and Theodora competed for influence over Justinian and each brought forth accusations concerning their rival's activities. Belisarius had reportedly gained much popular support following his return from the Gothic War and the Cappadocian perceived him as a rival favourite. According to Procopius, Theodora and Antonina
Antonina (wife of Belisarius)
Antonina was a Byzantine patrikia and wife of the general Belisarius. Her influence of her husband was great. Procopius features her as dominating Belisarius.- Family :...

 , wife of Belisarius, allied against the Prefect. Antonina arranged a private meeting with John, supposedly to conspire against Justinian. John agreed to meet her at the palace of Rufinianae near Chalcedon
Chalcedon , sometimes transliterated as Chalkedon) was an ancient maritime town of Bithynia, in Asia Minor, almost directly opposite Byzantium, south of Scutari . It is now a district of the city of Istanbul named Kadıköy...

, reportedly violating a direct order by Justinian to avoid secret meetings with Antonina. Their supposedly private conversation was actually overheard by Marcellus and Narses
Narses was, with Belisarius, one of the great generals in the service of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I during the "Reconquest" that took place during Justinian's reign....

, ass pre-arranged by the two women. Marcellus and Narses were ordered by Theodora to kill John if he spoke out in favor of treason. In the ensuing scuffle however John escaped and fled to a church, while Marcellus was wounded by one of John's guards. John was removed from office immediately after and banished to Cyzicus
Cyzicus was an ancient town of Mysia in Anatolia in the current Balıkesir Province of Turkey. It was located on the shoreward side of the present Kapıdağ Peninsula , a tombolo which is said to have originally been an island in the Sea of Marmara only to be connected to the mainland in historic...


Theodotus succeeded John as urban Prefect in late May or early June, 541. A continuation of Marcellinus Comes
Marcellinus Comes
Marcellinus Comes was a Latin chronicler of the Eastern Roman Empire. An Illyrian by birth, he spent most of his life at the court of Constantinople, which is the focus of his surviving work.-Works:...

 reports that the private residence of John at Constantinople passed to the ownership of Belisarius. The Cappadocian was ordained a priest against his will. He reportedly avoided practicing his priesthood in fear this would ruin his chances for a return to power. His wealth was confiscated. Justinian was reluctant however to be overly harsh to his old favourite and restored part John's private property to him at a later date. Procopius noted that John remained wealtyhy enough to live a life of luxury. But his troubles were not over. He was hostile to his new superior, Eusebius, Bishop of Cyzicus. When Eusebius was murdered, the Cappadocian found himself accused of complicity in the crime.

John was imprisoned, his captors beating him to produce a confession. His guilt was not established, but his wealth was again confiscated. This time Justinian was much harsher to him. His new exile place was Antinoe
Antinopolis was a city founded at an older Egyptian village by the Roman emperor Hadrian to commemorate his deified young beloved, Antinous, on the east bank of the Nile, not far from the site in Upper Egypt where Antinous drowned in 130 AD...

, Egypt. He was transported there by ship, forced to only wear a cheap cloak and earn his living as a beggar
Begging is to entreat earnestly, implore, or supplicate. It often occurs for the purpose of securing a material benefit, generally for a gift, donation or charitable donation...

 at every stop on the way. Procopius wrote his account on the third year of John's exile, that is 544. John still didn't lose his hopes for restoration to power. He had taken to accusing various citizens of Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

 for tax avoidance
Tax avoidance and tax evasion
Tax noncompliance describes a range of activities that are unfavorable to a state's tax system. These include tax avoidance, which refers to reducing taxes by legal means, and tax evasion which refers to the criminal non-payment of tax liabilities....

. Procopius notes Theodora's continued efforts to put John on trial for murder. But the residents of Cyzicus would not testify against him.

In 548, Theodora died. Justinian recalled John to Constantinople. But the Cappadocian never returned to political power, not allowed to resign his unwanted priesthood. Malalas notes that John died peacefully at Constantinople some time later. His contemporary historians acknowledge his ability to identify problems and produce solutions. But decry his wickedness, greed for money and the way he squandered his wealth.


  • Rosen, William. Justinian's Flea: Plague, Empire, and the Birth of Europe, Viking Adult, 2007. ISBN 978-0670038558.

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