Lesser Known and Would be Byzantine Emperors continued (695-1453)

Posted by Powee Celdran

Previous Article: Lesser Known and Would be Roman and Byzantine Emperors (27BC-695AD)

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Welcome to the continuation of the previous article on lesser known and would be Roman and Byzantine emperors! In the previous article posted last week, I have discussed a huge number of names of people who were either actual Roman/ Byzantine emperors but we just don’t really know of as well as a lot of names of those who actually would have been emperors but never made it to power or had named themselves but were instantly deposed and either exiled, imprisoned, or executed when their plot was discovered by the reigning emperor. The previous article went as far back as the early days of the Roman Empire in the 1st century and ended at the end of the 7th century when the Roman Empire in the west had already collapsed but in the east, Roman rule still remained in a new form, which was as the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire ruled from Constantinople. Many centuries have gone by but the fact of imperial usurpers taking the throne either succeeding or failing wherein many of them have suffered the consequences of exile, imprisonment, blinding, and execution for trying to steal the throne still stays the same. The Roman Empire has had a long history of emperors with an unstable rule making many try to threaten it and take the throne from them and even with Roman rule gone in the west, these things would still remain in the east and by this you can truly tell that the Byzantine Empire is indeed the Roman Empire continued. If you think imperial rule in the old Roman Empire was unstable with many pretenders and usurpers along the way, the history of Byzantium would be many times much more unstable than that and if you may think Byzantine emperors ruled easily without anyone posing a threat to their authority, then read this article as true enough compared to the Roman rulers of the past, almost all Byzantine emperors in the Middle Ages had one or more persons to challenge their authority and try to make themselves emperor but almost of them failed which is why you would not really know anything about them. On the other hand, it would have been too long if both the previous and this article were one article so I decided to make it in two parts to not make it too long. Anyway, with the last article finishing at the end of the 7th century, this one will begin just there as the 8th century opens and by this point what was once the Roman Empire Byzantium was continues to be in terms of imperial authority but as the 7th century fades and the 8th opens, the Byzantine Empire now becomes a Greek speaking medieval empire but still Roman in authority but at the same time, the same old stories of imperial usurpers and power struggles remain and will do so until the empire’s end in the 15th century. Now this article will focus entirely on the Byzantine Empire itself but will also include rulers within the empire that tried or had declared independence from the empire to make their own state and will also have some honorable mentions of foreign rulers including the Frankish emperor Charlemagne, the French ruler Charles of Anjou, and the Serbian king Stefan Dusan who would have come close to becoming a Byzantine ruler even if they were from somewhere else. This article though will not mention rulers of the breakaway Byzantine states of Trebizond and Epirus after 1204 as they ruled entirely different states even if these states were almost exactly like the main Byzantine Empire itself. Definitely names of the rulers of the Latin Empire that took over Constantinople between 1204 and 1261 will not be mentioned here as well as their empire was a whole different story too and none of their rulers had any relation to the Byzantine Empire itself. However, this article will make a few exceptions naming rulers of the breakaway states of Trebizond and Epirus as well as Serbian and Bulgarian rulers if they at one point named themselves “Byzantine emperor” or “Emperor of the Romans”. Now we will begin in the year 695 with the overthrow of the emperor Justinian II, the last of the Heraclian Dynasty followed by a 22-year period of anarchy when the deposed emperor returns to power once, then followed by the times of the Isaurian, Nikephorian, Amorian, Macedonian, Doukas, Komnenos, Angelos, the temporary fall of Constantinople and the period of Byzantine rule in Nicaea, and finally onto the Palaiologos Dynasty, the last ruling dynasty and where they went after the death of the last emperor Constantine XI and the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453. Previously in the last article I have also shared the finale of Dovahhatty’s Unbiased History of Rome which concludes the story of the Western Roman Empire but even if that had ended, the Roman Empire itself did not die as Rome after all is not a place but a dream and up to the 15th century, that dreamed lived on as the Byzantine Empire.

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Crossover flag of the Roman and Byzantine Empires
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Byzantine Empire flag
Byzantine-Empire
The Byzantine Empire’s extents in 3 different periods
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Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire and the “Queen of Cities”

Related articles from the Byzantium Blogger:

Around the World in the Byzantine Era Part1 (300-1000)

Around the World in the Byzantine Era Part2 (1000-1461)

Roman and Byzantine Imperial Systems

Ethnic Origins of the Byzantine Emperors

Imperial Women in the Roman and Byzantine Empires

The Complete Byzantine Imperial Genealogy

Byzantine Imperial Personalities Part1

Byzantine Imperial Personalities Part2

Byzantine Imperial Personalities Part3

12 Turning Points in Byzantine History

Byzantine Crime, Punishment, and Medical Practice

The 94 Byzantine Emperors

A Guide to the Byzantine Empire’s Themes

15 Byzantine Related States Outside Byzantium Part1

15 Byzantine Related States Outside Byzantium Part2

War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic Film

The Sieges of Constantinople

Watch the anime opening of the Byzantine Empire (from Remove DankMemes).

Watch this to see the history of the Byzantine Empire’s territories every month from 395 to 1453 (from Khey Pard).

Watch this to see the list of all Roman emperors from 27BC to 1453AD (from Dieu le Roi).

Related Lego Byzantine films from No Budget Films:

The Rise of Phokas: A Byzantine Epic (2019)

Summer of 1261: A Byzantine Epic (2019)

War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic (2020)

V. The middle Byzantine Era (695-1081)

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Leontios (695-698) and Tiberius III (698-705)- The last emperor of Heraclius’ dynasty was Justinian II who succeeded his father Constantine IV in 685 but in 695, the people, army, senate, and Church turned on Justinian II and released the general or Strategos of the Anatolic Theme, the Isaurian Leontios and proclaimed him emperor. As Leontios seized power in Constantinople, he deposed and cut off Justinian II’s nose exiling him beginning Byzantium’s 22-year anarchy period. In 697, Leontios launched an expedition to recover Carthage which fell to the Arabs though the expedition failed and the army fearing severe punishments from Leontios killed their general John the Patrician on the way back to Constantinople and named the army officer the Germanic Apsimar as emperor. When arriving in Constantinople in 698, Apsimar seized the throne from Leontios and renamed himself Tiberius III Apsimar choosing to give up on the campaign to take back North Africa from the Arabs while Leontios like Justinian II before him got his nose and tongue mutilated and exiled to a monastery. In 705, Justinian II now without a nose returned to Constantinople from exile in the lands of the Khazars with the help of the Bulgarian king Tervel and his return was only noticed when the people saw him walking in the streets again as he sneaked through the aqueduct at night. Justinian II then took back the throne forcing Tiberius III to flee but when found, Justinian II had both usurpers Leontios and Tiberius III executed in front of him.

Philippikos (711-713), Anastasius II (713-715), and Theodosius III (715-717)-  Justinian II returned to power in 705 but his second reign was even more chaotic as in 710 a usurper in Ravenna named Georgios proclaimed himself emperor for a short time but in 711, the general Bardanes lead a massive rebellion against Justinian II and succeeded with Justinian II captured and beheaded while Justinian II’s son and heir Tiberius was executed as well. Bardanes who was of Armenian origin renamed himself Philippikos when becoming emperor and stationed an army in Thrace which in 713 suddenly rebelled against him and broke into Constantinople capturing and blinding him. The army then made Philippikos’ secretary Artemios the new emperor renamed Anastasius II while Philippikos was sent to a monastery where he died later that year. In Anastasius II’s short reign the Arab Umayyad Caliphate was advancing on Constantinople so he ordered the city’s wall to be repaired and the food supply restocked however his discipline policies on the army was too strict that the soldiers in the Opsician Theme of Asia Minor rebelled against him in 715 but without having an emperor in mind so they found a low-birth tax official and named him emperor against his will dragging him to Constantinople where they were able to force Anastasius II out installing the tax official as Emperor Theodosius III. Anastasius II fled but when found was sent to a monastery in Thessalonica while Theodosius III allied himself with the Bulgarians as in 716 the general of the Anatolic Theme the Isaurian Konon declared himself emperor. In 717, Konon and his forces arrived in Constantinople and Theodosius III easily abdicated as he never wanted to be emperor in the first place and as Konon became Emperor Leo III the anarchy period ended and Theodosius was sent to a monastery to become a monk later becoming the Bishop of Ephesus. Anastasius II however came out of the monastery in 719 declaring himself emperor again rebelling against Leo III who swiftly crushed the rebellion and executed Anastasius.

Watch this to learn more about the 22 year anarchy of Byzantium (from Eastern Roman History).

Basil Onomagoulos (718)- Between 717 and 718, Constantinople was besieged by the forces of the Umayyad Arab Caliphate but at the end was successfully defended by Leo III who had just come to power. In Sicily on the other hand, fake news arrived that Constantinople fell to the Arabs and in the panic the Sicilians named the Byzantine official Basil Onomagoulos their emperor taking the name Tiberius as they thought the empire had no more emperor. Leo III in 718 when hearing that someone named himself emperor in Sicily sent a general with his army to take care of the rebellion but when arriving in Sicily, the people being loyal to Constantinople surrendered Basil to the imperial army who executed him sending his head and hands to Leo III.

Tiberius Petasius (730)- Leo III would be best remembered for his Iconoclast policies outlawing the use of religious icons in the empire which created tensions in most places with one example being the Lagoon of Venice in Italy declaring independence from Byzantium by 730 refusing to follow the law which banned icons, here the people elected Orso Ipato as their leader or Doge. Also, in 730 in the area of Tuscany, someone by the name of Petasius usurped power declaring himself emperor with the name Tiberius and his purpose was to go against Leo III’s Iconoclast policy. The pope in Rome Gregory II however supported Tiberius since the pope was against Iconoclasm but the Exarch of Ravenna Eutychius who was on Leo III’s side marched his army to confront Tiberius and succeeded by killing Tiberius in battle.

Artavasdos and Nikephoros (742-743)- Back in 717, Leo III did not come to throne alone, rather he had the support of the army of the Armenian general Artavasdos, the general of the Armeniac Theme. As emperor, Leo III made Artavasdos head of the Opsician Theme, as well as the head of the palace or Curopalates, and married off Artavasdos to his daughter Anna and even promising Artavasdos he would succeed him as emperor. However, things went the other way around when Leo III’s son Constantine was born and in 741, Leo III died and was succeeded by his son Constantine V who was an even more of an Iconoclast extremist than his father though in 742 Constantine V headed east into Asia Minor to face of the Arab armies. Now due to Constantine V’s absence, his brother-in-law Artavasdos being promised the throne by Leo III rebelled, declared himself emperor and took over the imperial palace naming his son with Anna named Nikephoros, a grandson of Leo III as co-emperor. Artavasdos becoming emperor revealed that his true purpose was not because he felt left out but because he planned to reverse Leo III and Constantine V’s Iconoclast policies which he was against and so was his wife despite her father and brother being strong Iconoclasts. Constantine V in 743 though found out his brother-in-law usurped power and became emperor in Constantinople so he led his army back and defeated Artavasdos’ forces in a large civil war battle and when returning to Constantinople, Constantine V had Artavasdos and Nikephoros publicly blinded and confined in the Chora Monastery while Anna was allowed to retire peacefully. Artavasdos though may be a legitimate Byzantine emperor but his name is sometimes left out in the list of Byzantine emperors as many would skip his name and rather would go straight to Constantine V without any mention of Artavasdos.

Watch this to learn more about the story of Emperor Artavasdos (from Eastern Roman History).

Nikephoros Caesar (776/ 780/ 792/ 797/ 799/ 812)- Constantine V would rule a long reign after deposing Artavasdos in 743 and within his reign he had one son with his Khazar wife who would be his heir Leo IV and with his 3rd marriage Constantine V had 5 sons and one daughter named Anthousa who like all women in the family supported icons and was against Iconoclasm but among Constantine V’s 5 sons with his 3rd wife was Nikephoros named Caesar by his father and a strong supporter of Iconoclasm who would try to claim the Byzantine throne 6 different times. Constantine V died in 775 and was succeeded by his eldest son Leo IV the Khazar and at first his 5 younger half-brothers were fine with it until in 776 when Leo IV confiscated some of their wealth to pay the army making Nikephoros, one of the brothers lead a conspiracy to overthrow Leo IV which was however discovered and Nikephoros was only punished by being stripped of his title Caesar. In 780, Leo IV suddenly died and was succeeded by his young son Constantine VI who had to rule under the regency of his mother Irene of Athens and again Nikephoros hatched a conspiracy to overthrow Irene and Constantine VI not only because Irene was a woman but a supporter of icons which Nikephoros did not want to see return so he plotted to remove Irene and her son until the conspiracy was uncovered and Nikephoros was punished together with his 4 other brothers by being forced to become monks. Nikephoros would not appear again until 792 when at this point Constantine VI was ruling alone after banishing his mother but since Constantine VI suffered a heavy defeat to the Bulgarians in battle, the army now displeased with their emperor pulled Nikephoros out of the monastery and proclaimed him emperor but Constantine VI reacted quickly arresting his 5 uncles and having Nikephoros blinded while having the tongues of the other 4 uncles cut off. In 797, Irene returned to power now as the sole ruler of the empire after deposing and blinding her son Constantine VI but Nikephoros’ supporters although hating Constantine hated Irene more as they could not stand being ruled by woman so they again pulled Nikephoros who was now blind out of the monastery and proclaimed him emperor but when Irene heard of this, she had her court official Aetius arrest Nikephoros and the brothers one more time and banish them all to Athens but in 799, a military rebellion in Greece against Irene proclaimed support for Nikephoros again and named him emperor but when Irene heard of this, she this time had the other brothers blinded and locked up again in another monastery. The last time Nikephoros and his brothers would be in 812 and here Irene was already deposed and had died and Byzantium was now under Emperor Michael I Rangabe who was unsuccessful in fighting the Bulgarians that some territory was lost and with the soldiers angry about this, they proclaimed their support for Nikephoros, now an old man one last time. Michael I however dismissed the soldiers plotting to do it and exiled the brothers to a small island in the Marmara where they would die shortly after with Nikephoros possibly dying within 812.

Staurakios (799-800)- In 797, Irene usurped power from her son Constantine VI blinding him and making herself the sole ruler of the empire but her court officials Staurakios and Aetius were in a constant rivalry so when Irene fell ill in 799, Staurakios used it to his advantage and planned to usurp the throne despite being a eunuch, although he launched a rebellion in Cappadocia even getting the support of the general of the Anatolic Theme but right before the rebellion was fully organized, he died in 800 in Cappadocia.

Honorable Mention: Charlemagne (800-814)- While Roman rule remained in the east, the barbarians that invaded the west built up their own kingdoms with the most powerful of them being the Franks in Gaul which became known as France and in 768 Charles I would become its king conquering all lands from the barbarians from Germany to Spain and from Denmark to Italy and for this he would be known as Charles the Great or Charlemagne. In 800, he was crowned Roman emperor by Pope Leo III in Rome and he would have been ruler of both east and west uniting the Roman Empire again if he were to marry Irene which Irene proposed to him. Constantinople was too far for Charlemagne to go to and the Byzantine people opposed Irene’s plan to marry Charlemagne as they saw him as a barbarian and not fit to rule them so in 802, the people being disgusted with Irene staged a rebellion and overthrew her replacing her with her finance minister Nikephoros I. The idea of the restored Roman unity thus never happened and Nikephoros I (not the same Nikephoros who tried to claim the throne 6 times) refused to even have Charlemagne’s name mentioned in the empire.

Watch this to learn more about an alternate history if Charlemagne and Irene married (from AltHistory).

Bardanes Tourkos (803) and Arsaber (808)- The finance minister Nikephoros I succeeded Irene in 802 and he immediately began reforming the ruined economy with new tax policies though like Irene Nikephoros supported the icons. When becoming emperor, Nikephoros appointed a general named Bardanes Tourkos whose last name means “the Turk” in charge of the Anatolic Theme but he was a supporter of Iconoclasm and was against Nikephoros’ economic policies so in 803 he declared himself emperor and ordered his army to march to Constantinople. Bardanes’ commanders however deserted him and the people of Constantinople did not support him so Bardanes surrendered and was forced to become a monk. Now In 808, Nikephoros I’s rule was challenged again as a group of secular and ecclesiastic officials grew dissatisfied with Nikephoros I’s rule so they formed a conspiracy and acclaimed the Armenian nobleman Arsaber as emperor. The plot never succeeded as when it was discovered by Nikephoros, Arsaber was sent to Bithynia in Asia Minor to become a monk.

Staurakios, son of Nikephoros I (811)- In 802, Nikephoros I became emperor after Irene was overthrown and in 803, he elevated his son Staurakios as his co-emperor marrying him to Irene’s cousin Theophano of Athens in 407. In 811 however, Nikephoros and Staurakios led the army against the Bulgarians at the Battle of Pliska where the Byzantines lost and Nikephoros was killed here with his head decapitated and brought to the Bulgarian king Kum who used it as his drinking cup. Staurakios though survived but was paralyzed from the battle but with his father dead, he automatically became emperor though unable to walk due his injuries that he had to be brought back to Constantinople from Bulgaria in a litter. Back in Constantinople, Staurakios tried his best to rule but due to his injuries it was impossible as he was paralyzed from his spine downwards so his wife Theophano backed herself to succeed him and his sister backed her husband Michael Rangabe. The court officials though proclaimed Michael I Rangabe emperor and after only 2 months in power in 811, Staurakios abdicated and retired to a monastery where he died the next year. Though a legitimate emperor, Staurakios’ name may not be well remembered as he only ruled for 2 months.

Watch this to learn more about the story of Emperor Staurakios (from Eastern Roman History).

Thomas the Slav (821-823)- In 813, as Byzantium was facing war with the Bulgarian Empire, the emperor Michael I abdicated when 3 rebel generals rose up against him; these 3 were Leo the Armenian, Michael of Amorion, and Thomas the Slav who were all strong supporters of Iconoclasm and out of the 3, Leo became Emperor Leo V also making his son Sabbatios his co-emperor who would be renamed Constantine. Among the 3 generals, Thomas who was of Slavic origin first came into the picture helping Bardanes Tourkos against Nikephoros I in 803 but disappeared after Bardanes surrendered and only when Leo the Armenian revolted against Michael I in 813 did Thomas come back. Thomas served as one of Leo V’s top generals but on Christmas Eve of 820, Leo V was assassinated in a conspiracy led by Michael of Amorion who Leo had locked up in a cell to delay his execution but this gave Michael time to have assassins kill Leo V which they did and the next day, they proclaimed him as Emperor Michael II with the chains still on his feet while Leo’s son Sabbatios was sent to a monastery to avoid a power struggle. Though not only Michael wanted the throne, Thomas also did but he was away when this happened so in the following year (821), Thomas quickly revolted getting the support of the Themes and armies of Asia Minor making avenging Leo V’s death his reason to rebel, although when usurping the throne and proclaiming himself emperor, he claimed to be the former emperor Constantine VI, the son of Empress Irene still alive, though Constantine VI may have already been dead at this time. Thomas only used his claim of being Constantine VI to gain support of the army but Michael II certainly knew he was his old military comrade Thomas the Slav, although Thomas quickly gained support from the armies as he was a respected figure in Asia Minor while Michael was originally just an uneducated soldier of low birth. Before sailing to Constantinople to besiege it, Thomas got support from the Arab Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad while Michael gained support of the Bulgarian king Omurtag and in 822 Thomas’ forces attacked Constantinople though Michael defended it well against Thomas’ ships using Greek Fire and the aid from the Bulgarians weakened the rebels allowing Michael to march into the field with his men forcing Thomas and his men to flee to the nearby town of Arcadiopolis where Michael’s men surrounded Thomas and his surviving men. In 823 with Thomas’ army now in starvation they surrendered to Michael II’s army in exchange for pardon and they were set free but Thomas was executed there in front of Michael II. Thomas’ rebellion would be one of the largest and bloodiest in Byzantine history and not just one in the quest of power but a social rebellion as well as many common people of Asia Minor took sides with Thomas.     

Euphemius (826-827)- Michael II had successfully defeated Thomas the Slav in 823 thus securing his power but out of nowhere in 826, his authority would be challenged by the Byzantine admiral in Sicily Euphemius when Michael II ordered his demotion and when Euphemius heard of this, he rebelled proclaiming himself emperor and getting the support of the Arab Aghlabid Kingdom in North Africa to help him take over Sicily. With the help of the Arabs, Euphemius was able to capture Syracuse, the Byzantine capital of Sicily and kill its governor Constantine though in 827, Michael II sent his forces to Sicily and there they killed Euphemius in battle though Euphemius’ rebellion only made things worse for the Byzantines as his alliance with the Arabs began the Muslim conquest of Byzantine Sicily.

Theophobos (838-839)- Michael II died in 829 leaving the empire to his son Emperor Theophilos and in his reign, the Arab Abbasid Caliphate conquered Western Iran in 833 forcing its people to flee to Byzantine territory and one of them was Nasir who would convert to Christianity and join the Byzantine army changing his name to the Greek Theophobos. The Iranian Theophobos would end up becoming a cavalry commander in the Byzantine army and commanded it at the Battle of Anzen against the Abbasids in 838 somewhere in Asia Minor where the Byzantines lost. In the aftermath of the battle, some soldiers feeling Emperor Theophilos was a weak ruler, they proclaimed the Iranian Theophobos as emperor against his will. Theophobos instead chose to surrender to the emperor and in 839 with Theophilos preparing to confront the rebels, Theophobos surrendered to the emperor and since Theophilos saw that Theophobos posed no threat, Theophobos was restored to his position in the army. 3 years later though in 842 as Theophilos was dying, he changed his mind ordering his brother-in-law the general Petronas to execute Theophobos believing Theophobos might challenge Theophilos’ son Michael III’s rule.

Karbeas (843-863) and Chrysocheir (863-872)- Theophilos’ son Michael III came to power at only age 2 in 842 and ruled under the regency of his mother Theodora who finally put an end to Iconoclasm in 843 but issued laws against the heretical Paulician sect of Asia Minor leading to the massacre of about 100,000 Paulicians, although 5,000 survived under the leadership of Karbeas who took over the city of Tephrike along the Upper Euphrates in 843 and establishing his own principality there declaring it independent from the empire. Karbeas too made an alliance with the Arab Abbasid Caliphate and the Arab Emirate of Samosata against the Byzantines meeting with the imperial forces commanded by Michael III and his uncle Petronas at the Battle of Lalakaon in 863, and here the Byzantines won a victory defeating the Arabs and killing Karbeas in battle. Although with Karbeas dead, his principality survived as he was succeeded by his nephew Chrysocheir. Back in Constantinople, Michael III was killed in 867 by the man he thought he could trust most, the Macedonian peasant Basil who after killing Michael III proclaimed himself Byzantine emperor while in Asia Minor Chrysocheir was known for some scandalous behavior to the Byzantines such as using a church to stable horses. As emperor, Basil I focused his attention on defeating the Paulicians at their stronghold of Tephrike before bringing the war back to the Arabs and in 871 Basil I laid siege to Tephrike but failed to take it, though in the next year (872) Basil’s army led by the general Christopher faced off Chrysocheir and his forces in battle where Chrysocheir was killed and the Paulicians defeated with Tephrike absorbed back to Byzantium.

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The Byzantine Empire (yellow) in 842

 

Andronikos Doukas (906-907)- Basil I coming to power in 867 and established the Macedonian Dynasty and in 886 he died under mysterious circumstances and was succeeded by his son Leo VI. In Leo VI’s reign, one general would rise up against him, this was Andronikos Doukas the first person of the prominent Doukas family to be mentioned who in 906 disobeyed Leo VI’s orders to lead a military expedition against the Arabs, instead he seized the fortress of Kaballa near Iconium for himself proclaiming himself emperor too. Leo VI however sent an army to hunt him down but Andronikos fled to Baghdad to get the help of the Abbasid Arabs where he died in exile there in 910.

 

Constantine Doukas (913)- Emperor Leo VI the Wise had died in 912 and in the one year following his death, he was succeeded by his brother Alexander who died suddenly in 913 creating a power struggle in the empire as his successor, Leo VI’s son Constantine VII was too young so he was placed under a troubled regency led by his mother Empress Zoe Karbonopsina and the Patriarch of Constantinople Nikolaos Mystikos but both were at odds with each other. The troubled regency gave the opportunity for Leo VI’s general Constantine Doukas, son of the usurper Andronikos Doukas to usurp the throne also in 913 leading a military rebellion to Constantinople. Constantine though happened to be supported by the patriarch needing military aid to overthrow the empress and her son however when Constantine arrived in Constantinople, the patriarch gave up his support and joined sides to the empress seeing Constantine would be dangerous so the regents had soldiers defend the walls which clashed with Constantine’s forces. When both forces clashed, Constantine tried to flee but he slipped and fell off his horse, thus killed by arrows shot by the city guards of the regents. Constantine’s forces then surrendered and most were either executed or blinded by the regents, though the Doukas family would later on return and one day become emperors.

 

Leo Phokas the Elder (919)- Aside from the Doukas clan, another prominent clan of 10th century Byzantium was the Phokas clan and while the regency of Constantine VII remained troubled all the way until 919, when the general Leo Phokas the Elder usurped power. Before that, in 917 Leo Phokas led the Byzantine army against the Bulgarians in battle but was defeated as the Byzantine admiral Romanos Lekapenos and his fleet failed to arrive and with the defeat, the regency of the emperor’s mother Constantine VII was even more troubled that she even agreed to marry Leo Phokas but in 919 Romanos Lekapenos objected it so Leo usurped power declaring himself emperor seeing Romanos as not worthy to take power due to being an Armenian of low birth. The emperor Constantine VII however turned to the protection of Romanos marrying Romanos’ daughter Helena while Leo’s soldiers turned against him to support Romanos. Leo fled after his men turned on him but was captured and brought to Constantinople to be paraded on a mule and afterwards blinded by Romanos, what then happened to Leo afterwards is unknown but in 920 Romanos took the throne becoming the senior emperor, though much later on Leo’s nephew would become emperor.       

 

Christopher (921-931), Stephen (924-945), and Constantine Lekapenos (924-945)- The Armenian admiral Romanos I Lekapenos came to power as Byzantine emperor in 920 to protect the young Constantine VII who was not removed from power but brought down to having no importance while Romanos I would rule as the senior and ruling emperor thinking of creating his own dynasty. In order to put his entire family in power, first he married his daughter Helena to Constantine VII then in 921 Romanos made his eldest son Christopher who was then the commander of the palace guard his co-emperor even if Constantine VII had the title by right of birth. In 924, Romanos I made his 2 other sons Stephen and Constantine his co-emperors making there be 5 emperors in the empire with the rightful one Constantine VII pushed down to being the least important of the 5. Nothing much is said about Christopher’s reign as co-emperor except that in 927 his young daughter Irene was married to the new Bulgarian emperor Peter I when Romanos I finally made peace with the Bulgarian Empire, though in 931 Christopher died of illness leaving his 2 younger brothers to rule with their father and Constantine VII. While Stephen and Constantine ruled with their father, their younger brother Theophylact was made Patriarch of Constantinople despite caring more about horses than his job but Romanos I would soon grow tired of Stephen and Constantine’s incompetence making him start to favor Constantine VII over them making the brothers angry. In 944, Stephen and Constantine staged a palace coup with some guards and stormed their father’s room dragging him out of bed and banished him to a monastery in the Princes Islands in the Marmara Sea outside the city. For about 2 weeks only after deposing Romanos I, Stephen and Constantine ruled as the co-emperors of the empire but early in 945, Constantine VII whose life was now in danger staged a coup to overthrow the brothers which was joined by his wife and her other brother the patriarch Theophylact and also Romanos I’s illegitimate son Basil and together, they overthrew Stephen and Constantine sending them to the same monastery as their father where they joined him there and Constantine VII returned to power as the sole emperor. With the 3 in exile, Constantine was first to die in 946 while his father Romanos I died in 948 also in the same monastery, and Stephen would be banished to another island where he died all the way in 963.     

Basil the Copper Hand (932)- Back when Romanos I was still senior emperor before being banished in 944, he was however not very popular and a rebellion rose up against him in 932. This rebellion was led by the military leader Basil the Copper Hand whose hands were previously cut off for some crimes, though he replaced his hands with copper ones and wielded a large sword. In 932, Basil gathered some poor and destitute people of Asia Minor in a rebellion against the emperor seizing some cities and proclaiming himself emperor. Romanos I however when finding out about this sent an army to crush the rebellion which they did and delivered Basil to Constantinople where he started accusing some landlords for starting rebellion which was proven false so Basil was burned to death in public.

 

Kalokyros (968-971)- Fast-forward to the 960s and at this point, the usurper in 919 Leo Phokas the Elder’s nephew Nikephoros II Phokas had become emperor in 963 following the death of Constantine VII’s son Romanos II. In 968, as Nikephoros II was at war with Bulgaria he turned to the Kievan Rus’ prince Sviatoslav I for an alliance so Nikephoros II sent the patrician and general Kalokyros to Sviatoslav who was preparing to invade Bulgaria to pay him off. Nikephoros however did not know Kalokyros had his own imperial ambitions so when arriving to where Sviatoslav was, Kalokyros paid off his bribe to Sviatoslav in order to support his claim as emperor and not to help against the Bulgarians. Sviatoslav then took the payment and used it to support Kalokyros’ claim as emperor. Kalokyros though never returned to Constantinople and instead stayed with Sviatoslav who loved and respected him as a brother but in 969, Nikephoros II was killed in his sleep by his nephew John Tzimiskes who became emperor and declared war on the invading Kievan Rus. In 971, John I Tzimiskes defeated Sviatoslav but both would make peace, although Kalokyros was captured and executed by the Byzantines in the Bulgarian city of Preslav for treason.

 

Leo Phokas the Younger (970)- Nikephoros II Phokas before becoming emperor in 963 was a successful general together with his younger brother Leo Phokas the Younger who both originated in Cappadocia. With Nikephoros II as emperor between 963 and 969, Leo was his brother’s top general and head of the palace also joining his brother in more successful campaigns against the Arabs. In 969 however, Nikephoros II was killed by his nephew John Tzimiskes who quickly assumed the title of emperor but in 970 when Leo heard of this, he was not pleased as he was the brother of the late emperor and was destined to be the immediate successor so Leo declared himself emperor and staged a rebellion against his nephew John I but the rebellion was unsuccessful and Leo was exiled to Lesbos where he staged a rebellion again in 971 which again failed and he was blinded and sentenced to live in a monastery where he died in an unknown date.   

 

Bardas Phokas the Younger (971/ 987-989)- Though Leo Phokas the Younger’s rebellions of 970 and 971 failed, his son Bardas Phokas the Younger took over his father’s rebellion against Emperor John I Tzimiskes in 971 when Bardas was proclaimed emperor by his army in his homeland of Cappadocia but shortly after the general Bardas Skleros who was loyal to the emperor captured and imprisoned Bardas Phokas in Chios. Back in Constantinople, Nikephoros II and his nephew John I after him ruled as senior emperors for the underaged rightful emperors Basil II and Constantine VIII, the sons of the previous emperor Romanos II, though in 976 John I died and was succeeded by Basil II who was now at the right age to rule, although not all were happy with it especially Bardas Skleros who in 978 turned against the imperial family and rebelled making Basil II’s advisor and uncle the eunuch Basil Lekapenos (illegitimate son of Romanos I) release Bardas Phokas from prison to deal with Skleros. Phokas easily crushed the rebellion of Skleros forcing Skleros to flee to Baghdad while Phokas for his loyalty was rewarded by being made the governor of Antioch. In 987 however, Bardas Phokas rebelled again after being disillusioned with the emperor Basil II who led the army to defeat against the Bulgarians at the Battle of Trajan’s Gate and this time, Phokas after being declared emperor again made an alliance with his former enemy Bardas Skleros who was also declared emperor against Basil II. However, Basil II made an alliance with the new Prince of the Kievan Rus’ Vladimir I who Basil II married off his sister to in exchange for 6,000 Nordic mercenaries known as the Varangian Guard. Now with the Byzantine empire having 4 emperors (the 4th being Basil II’s brother and co-emperor Constantine VIII), Basil II decided to deal with Phokas first using the Varangian Guard to annihilate Phokas’ army right across the sea from Constantinople and as Phokas was about to charge to Basil II in battle, Phokas suffered a stroke, fell off his horse, and died leaving his army leaderless defecting to Basil II.

Watch this to learn more about the story of Emperor Basil II (from Tooky History).

 

Bardas Skleros (976-979/ 987-990)- As mentioned earlier, the general Bardas Skleros of the prominent Skleros clan first defeated Bardas Phokas’ rebellion in 971 capturing and imprisoning Phokas but after the emperor John I Tzimiskes died in 976 who Skleros was loyal to, he rebelled against the new emperor Basil II but the former rebel general Bardas Phokas was released from prison in 978 and quickly defeated Skleros and his rebellion in 979 forcing Skleros to flee to Baghdad. In 987, following Basil II’s defeat to the Bulgarians at the Battle of Trajan’s Gate, Skleros returned to Byzantium from Baghdad and joined up with Bardas Phokas, his former enemy in turning against the emperor where both Phokas and Skleros would be made emperors. Bardas Phokas though died in battle in 989 after suffering a stroke so Skleros succeeded him as the rebel emperor although with most of Phokas’ men defecting to Basil II, Skleros was hopeless so in 990, Skleros surrendered to Basil II who allowed Skleros to retire peacefully dying in 991.

 

Nikephoros Phokas Barytrachelos (1022)- Following the defeats of Bardas Phokas and Bardas Skleros, there was no one left to challenge the emperor Basil II who in 1014 finally crushed the Bulgarian Empire absorbing it into Byzantium by 1018. In 1022 however, a usurper would rise up against Basil II and this was Bardas Phokas’ son Nikephoros known as Barytrachelos or “heavy neck” and after most of Georgia was conquered by the Byzantines, the general who did the work of conquering Georgia, Nikephoros Xiphias conspired to overthrow Basil II supporting Nikephoros Phokas as his emperor as he was the grand-nephew of the former emperor Nikephoros II. Both men however did not trust each other and Xiphias killed Phokas, thus the rebellion never pushed through.

Nikephoros Komnenos (1025)- In 1025, Basil II died with the Byzantine Empire at its largest extent again having the whole Balkans, Southern Italy, and east all the way to Georgia and Armenia and in the east, the former Armenian kingdom there known as Vaspurakan was the last to be absorbed to the empire and a man named Nikephoros Komnenos was its governor, and this would be the first time a member of the prominent Komnenos family would be first mentioned. After the death of Basil II however, Nikephoros Komnenos had conspired with the king of Georgia George I to make him emperor and Vaspurakan its own kingdom again. The troops of Cappadocia soon enough discovered Nikephoros’ act of treason and brought Nikephoros over to Constantinople where the new emperor, Basil II’s brother Constantine VIII charged Nikephoros with treason and blinded him the following year (1026), though it is unclear on how Nikephoros died.

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The Byzantine Empire (red) in 1025

 

Constantine Diogenes (1029/ 1032)- Constantine VIII eventually died in 1028 and was succeeded by his son-in-law Romanos III Argyros married to Constantine VIII’s daughter Zoe and in 1029, Romanos III faced a conspiracy led by the general in the Balkans Constantine Diogenes who was recalled to Constantinople where he was beaten in public and sentenced to a monastery but when Romanos III was absent campaigning in the east in 1032, Constantine was released from the monastery by his wife Theodora who helped him plot to take the throne. Romanos III while on campaign discovered that Constantine was set to take the throne when the plot was leaked to him by the bishop of Thessalonica so the emperor had Constantine brought to the palace to confess his crimes but instead of confessing it, Constantine killed himself by throwing himself off the walls of the palace to avoid torture, though true enough Constantine’s son Romanos would be emperor some years later.

 

Stefan Vojislav (1034/ 1040-1043), Michael Keroularios (1040), and Peter Delyan (1040-1041)- As part of Basil II’s conquest of Bulgaria, Serbia too was annexed into the Byzantine Empire and a local prince, Stefan Vojislav of Duklja was made its governor or Archon in 1018. In 1034, Vojislav rebelled against Byzantine rule declaring his state of Duklja in today’s Montenegro independent though the emperor at this time, Michael IV had Vojislav arrested and imprisoned in Constantinople while another general was sent to be in charge of Duklja. In 1038 however, Vojislav escaped prison and returned to Duklja overthrowing the Byzantine governor and in 1040 after refusing to return the goods from a shipwrecked Byzantine ship to the empire, he declared Duklja an independent state with him as its ruler and never again would it return to Byzantine rule, Vojislav would then die in 1043. Back in Constantinople in 1040, a nobleman named Michael Keroularios led a conspiracy to overthrow Michael IV and make himself emperor but when the plot was uncovered, Michael IV did not punish Keroularios severely instead just made Keroularios a monk and in 1043 he became Patriarch of Constantinople. Also, in 1040, Delyan who was a local Bulgarian claiming to be the grandson of the former Bulgarian emperor declared himself the Bulgarian emperor renaming himself Peter starting a rebellion against Michael IV and Byzantium which Michael IV sent an army to crush and in the army was the Varangian Guard including the future king of Norway Harald Hardrada. In 1041 however, a Bulgarian named Alusian who was Peter Delyan’s cousin took sides with the Byzantines and during a dinner one night, Alusian got Delyan drunk and cut off Delyan’s nose and blinding him with a kitchen knife while his forces were defeated by the Byzantines. Some say Harald Hardrada killed Delyan himself in battle but either way, Delyan was still brought to Constantinople where he was executed.

 

Theophilos Erotikos (1042), George Maniakes (1042-1043), Leo Tornikios (1047), and Constantine Barys (1052)- Later in 1041, Emperor Michael IV died of epilepsy and was succeeded by his nephew Michael V who was so unpopular that the next year (1042) the people of Constantinople seized and blinded him putting back Michael IV’s wife and Constantine VIII’s daughter Zoe back in power who married the senator Constantine Monomachos to put a male emperor in power. With the overthrow of Michael V however, the former governor of Duklja Theophilos Erotikos who Vojislav expelled in 1040 who afterwards became governor of Cyprus rebelled against the new emperor Constantine IX with his army and the people of Cyprus but Constantine IX sent a fleet to Cyprus and the army that arrived there in the fleet crushed Theophilos’ rebellion and brought Theophilos himself to Constantinople where he was humiliated being paraded in the Hippodrome dressed in women’s clothes though he was spared but his properties confiscated, but it is unclear what happened to Theophilos afterwards. Also, in 1042, George Maniakes, the Byzantine general in charge of Southern Italy revolted against Constantine IX declaring himself emperor. Back in 1038, Maniakes practically took back all of Sicily from the Arabs but the campaign was cancelled as his soldiers deserted him and he himself was recalled making the Arabs take back Sicily again. In 1042 though, under Constantine IX, Maniakes returned to his post as the general in charge of Southern Italy but suddenly his troops including Varangian Guards proclaimed him emperor and they marched east to Constantinople to overthrow Constantine IX. When confronting Constantine IX’s forces in Greece in 1043 however, Maniakes was killed in battle and his rebellion failed. In 1047, the army in Thrace being unhappy with Constantine IX’s policies rebelled and in Adrianople proclaimed their general Leo Tornikios, Constantine IX’s nephew as emperor afterwards marching south to besiege Constantinople. Tornikios and his army however found it impossible to besiege Constantinople’s walls so as the rebel soldiers were growing tired, Constantine IX himself sent them bribes which they accepted and deserted Tornikios who just gave up the siege and escaped only to be found and on Christmas Day of 1047 he was blinded, nothing then would be heard from him afterwards. Years later in 1052, a general named Constantine Barys was suspected of plotting against Constantine IX so he was exiled but in exile in an unknown location, he plotted to take the throne from the emperor gathering an army but when his plot was uncovered, Constantine IX had his tongue cut off, though nothing would be heard from Barys afterwards.

 

Nikephoros Proteuon (1055), Theodosius Monomachos (1056), Nikephoros Bryennios (1057), and Herve Frankopoulos (1057)- Constantine IX died in 1055 and was succeeded by his sister-in-law Theodora, the sister of his late wife Zoe but in the Theme of Bulgaria, its governor Nikephoros Proteuon was chosen by Constantine IX to succeed him but Theodora quickly came to power and discovered that Proteuon staged a rebellion in Bulgaria naming himself emperor so Theodora quickly acted by having Proteuon arrested and banished. Theodora would only rule the empire for a year and before her death in 1056, Constantine IX’s nephew Theodosius Monomachos knowing that there was no named heir plotted to take the throne for himself gathering some people in the city including prisoners who he broke free and armed later rioting in the streets. At the same day Theodosius led the riot, the empress died and the court in response to the riots named Theodora’s secretary Michael Bringas as emperor who then quelled the riots and had Theodosius and his supporters banished never to return. As the new emperor, Michael VI was known to snob the army which angered a general named Nikephoros Bryennios who in 1057 launched a revolt overthrow Michael VI but his plot was uncovered and Bryennios was arrested and blinded though his failed revolt only inspired the general Isaac Komnenos to stage an even bigger rebellion that succeeded in overthrowing Michael VI also in 1057. At the same time in 1057 however, a Norman who was the commander of the Norman mercenaries in the Byzantine army named Herve Frankopoulos rebelled against Michael VI establishing his own state in the Armeniac Theme in Asia Minor but was eventually captured by the Arab emir of Ahlat and brought to Constantinople as a prisoner, although Herve was spared.

 

Philaretos Brachamios (1071-1078), Constantine Bodin (1072-1073), Roussel de Bailleul (1073-1074), John Doukas (1074), and Nestor (1076-1078)- Fast-forward to 1071, here the Byzantine Empire lost one of its greatest defeats which would begin the slow end of the empire, this was the Battle of Manzikert against the Seljuks and here the Byzantines were outnumbered by the army of the Seljuk sultan Alp Arslan who then proceeded to conquer Asia Minor while the emperor here Romanos IV Diogenes was captured but eventually released. Although back in Constantinople, Michael VII came to power in Romanos IV’s absence but other than that, one of Romanos’ generals the Armenian Philaretos Brachamios who also led a division in Manzikert deserted the emperor and soon enough was acclaimed emperor by his troops thus establishing an independent state in Eastern Asia Minor which included Edessa and Antioch commanding an army mostly made of Frankish mercenaries and the emperor Michael VII just allowed it to happen without punishing Philaretos though in 1078 when the emperor Michael VII was deposed, Philaretos gave up his claim as emperor in exchange for the title of “Duke of Antioch”. On the other side of the empire in 1072, a Slavic noble in Bulgaria named Constantine Bodin led the Bulgarians against Byzantine rule declaring himself “Emperor of the Bulgarians” although Michael VII quickly dealt with it by having Constantine arrested and brought to Constantinople and from there brought to Antioch which was under Philaretos. Michael VII’s rule was not only faced by Byzantine generals usurping the throne but by foreign mercenaries as well such as the Norman Roussel de Bailleul in 1073 who previously commanded the division of Norman mercenaries at the Battle Manzikert established his own independent state in Asia Minor being its prince with Ankara as its capital. Michael VII reacted to Bailleul’s separatist movement by having his uncle John Doukas command an army and attack Bailleul’s state but when it failed, Michael VII thought of making a deal with the Seljuk sultan to give him all of Asia Minor in exchange for defeating Bailleul but Michael VII would instead go for the better option of sending the more competent general Alexios Komnenos to defeat Bailleul which at the end Alexios died and brought Bailleul as a prisoner to Constantinople in 1074. However, before Alexios was able to defeat Bailleul, John Doukas the emperor’s uncle and younger brother of the previous emperor Constantine X Doukas (r. 1059-1067) failed to defeat Bailleul and his Normans so instead the Normans proclaimed him emperor in 1074 which he accepted so it was here where Michael VII asked the Seljuks to defeat the Normans and his uncle but the Seljuks only succeeded in taking John Doukas as prisoner. John would eventually be ransomed by Michael but to punish him for usurping, John was forced to become a monk. All the way till the end of Michael VII’s 7-year-reign there were still more usurpers, one of them being his father Constantine X’s former slave Nestor who was made the general in charge of the borders in Bulgaria and with his soldiers not receiving enough pay and his property confiscated by the court minister Nikephoritzes, they rebelled in 1076 and proclaimed Nestor their emperor. Michael VII was not able to quickly deal with Nestor’s rebellion until 1078 when the same general Alexios Komnenos was sent to Bulgaria to crush it, though Nestor to fight back allied himself with the Pechenegs, however at the end Alexios crushed the rebellion and Nestor fled with the Pechenegs never to return again.

Watch this to learn more about the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 (from Kings and Generals).

 

Constantius Doukas (1060-1078), Nikephoros and Leo Diogenes (1070-1071), Andronikos Doukas (1068-1077), and Constantine Doukas (1074-1078)- Prior to the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, a general with not much experience but rather with an obsession for theology named Constantine Doukas became emperor in 1059 after he was chosen by the previous emperor Isaac I Komnenos who abdicated, and here is when the Doukas family that have been prominent for the longest time come to power. As the senior emperor, Constantine X in 1060 elevated his eldest son Michael and youngest newborn son Constantius as his co-emperors but out of unknown reasons, he did not give his middle son Andronikos the title. Constantine X though died in 1067 but did not name any of his sons the new emperor as they were all still young, instead his wife Eudokia Makrembolitissa acted as regent for her sons for a few months until 1068 when marrying the strong general Romanos Diogenes, the son of the usurper Constantine Doukas who killed himself back in 1032; after being married, Romanos IV became emperor as at this point the empire needed a strong military emperor and not a mother acting as regent for her sons though at the same time in 1068 Andronikos, the middle son of Constantine X and Eudokia was then only raised to co-emperor by his step-father possibly by Eudokia’s request. The following year (1069), Empress Eudokia gave birth to the twins Nikephoros and Leo with Romanos IV and in 1070 the twins were also made co-emperors with their 3 half-brothers making there be 6 emperors running the empire but with only one being Romanos IV actually running things, despite Romanos IV already having a son named Constantine from his previous marriage was excluded from the succession being estranged from his father. In 1071, Romanos IV was defeated in Manzikert by the Seljuks and taken as their prisoner and with his absence, Michael VII in Constantinople immediately became the senior emperor with his brothers Constantius and Andronikos as his co-emperors but the infant twins Nikephoros and Leo would be removed from power and banished to a monastery while their father Romanos losing the thone tried to take it back in 1072 but failed and as a result was blinded by Michael VII’s orders which ended up killing Romanos. Michael VII though would rule as a weak and ineffective emperor and so were his brothers though Michael would be married to the Georgian princess Maria of Alania and have one son named Constantine born in 1074 and immediately made co-emperor and in 1077 Andronikos would die while in the following year Michael would be forced to abdicate as the generals Nikephoros Bryennios and Nikephoros Botaneiates had staged a rebellion. Michael VII would become a monk and later bishop of Ephesus while Constantine would not be made junior emperor of the new emperor Nikephoros III Botaneiates despite the new emperor marrying Maria of Alania. Constantius though still being around tried to assert his claim to the throne against the new emperor but when the plot was uncovered, Constantius just before starting his rebellion was handed over to Nikephoros and banished to become a monk in the Princes’ Islands.   

 

Nikephoros Bryennios (1077-1078), Nikephoros Basilakes (1078-1079), and Melissenos (1080-1081)- Due to his weak rule of the empire, Michael VII was faced with many usurping generals and in 1077 one of them named Nikephoros Bryennios almost succeeded in taking over the throne. Nikephoros Bryennios was one of the generals of Romanos IV in Manzikert back in 1071 but in 1077, Michael VII’s court minister Nikephoritzes placed Bryennios’ name on the assassination list which Bryennios found out about making him assemble a multinational mercenary army marching to Constantinople with it even allowing them to burn and sack the suburbs and do the same to the capital when they storm into it. Bryennios however never made it to the throne as in 1078, another general named Nikephoros Botaneiates beat him to it capturing Constantinople and forcing Michael VII to abdicate and become a monk. With Nikephoros III Botaneiates as the new emperor, Michael VII’s young general Alexios Komnenos switched sides to Nikephoros III and was sent to deal with Bryennios’ rebellion. Despite having a larger force than Alexios, Bryennios was defeated by Alexios and blinded, afterwards sent to Adrianople where he would retire. Though Bryennios was defeated, Nikephoros III was still not yet secured in power as also in 1078, the general in charge of Dyrrhachion in Albania, another Nikephoros with the last name of Basilakes in the war to claim the throne also proclaimed himself emperor at the same time Nikephoros III did and marched his army to Constantinople but when arriving in Macedonia, news reached him that Nikephoros III took the throne so Nikephoros III sent his best general Alexios to confront Basilakes. Alexios was able to confront and defeat Basilakes in 1079 by surrounding his army at night; Basilakes was then delivered to the emperor who had him blinded. In 1080, one of Michael VII’s loyal generals another Nikephoros with the last name of Melissenos who was sent into exile by Nikephoros III returned and gathered an army to rebel proclaiming himself emperor as well with the help of the Seljuks but in 1081, Alexios Komnenos gave up his loyalty to Nikephoros III and usurped the throne and when finding out Alexios became emperor, Melissenos gave up his claim for the throne and in return Alexios I rewarded him with the title of Caesar and a commanding position in the army as both together with Constantius Doukas who was released from the Princes’ Islands led the army against the Norman invasion in Byzantine Albania later in 1081. Constantius though would die in the battle against the Normans where the Byzantines lost but Alexios still survived and as the new emperor, he also released Romanos IV’s young twin sons Nikephoros and Leo now much older from the monastery and adopting them together with Michael VII’s son Constantine in which Alexios I would act like a father to all 3 of them even making Constantine Doukas his junior co-emperor.

 

VI. The late Byzantine era (1081-1453)

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Tzachas of Smyrna (1092), Karykes (1093), and Rhapsomates (1093)- Alexios I Komnenos came to power as emperor in 1081 ending a long period of chaos in the empire but at the same time he became emperor, the Great Seljuk Empire that had taken over Asia Minor broke apart into several Beyliks or principalities with one of them being based in the coastal city of Smyrna ruled by an emir named Tzachas who was intent in destroying the Byzantine Empire and killing its emperor. In 1092, Tzachas allied with the Pechenegs whose army Alexios I destroyed in the previous year and even proclaimed himself Basileus or “Byzantine emperor” behind Alexios I’s back. Alexios I then when finding out sent an army to Lesbos where Tzachas held himself in and after a 3-month siege, Tzachas surrendered Lesbos and returned to Smyrna. In 1093 however, Alexios I could not manage keeping Tzachas alive so he had the sultan of the Seljuk Empire Kilij Arslan I, Tzachas’ son-in-law invite Tzachas for a dinner in which after it finished, Kilij Arslan killed Tzachas himself and Smyrna was returned to the empire. Also, in 1093 2 governors simultaneously rebelled against Alexios I which were Karykes the governor of Crete and Rhapsomates the governor of Cyprus both declaring Cyprus and Crete independent. Alexios I however sent a fleet with soldiers to hunt down the rebel governors but in both places different outcomes happened. In Crete, as news of the imperial fleet arriving spread, a counter-coup loyal to the emperor killed Karykes and in Cyprus as the imperial fleet arrived, Rhapsomates’ army was defeated making him flee to a church where he was captured but what happened to him afterwards is unknown.

 

Nikephoros Diogenes (1094)- When Alexios I came to power in 1081, he released Romanos IV’s now grown sons Nikephoros and Leo Diogenes from the monastery as well as Michael VII’s son Constantine, adopting them, and raising them as if they were his own sons. Leo however died in 1087 in a battle against the Pechenegs and after Karykes’ rebellion in Crete was defeated in 1093, Alexios I made Nikephoros governor of Crete. In 1094 as Nikephoros was back in the palace in Constantinople, he suddenly plotted to kill Alexios I together with the former empress and the co-emperor Constantine’s mother Maria of Alania, Alexios I’s brother Adrianos, and brother-in-law Michael Taronites and Nikephoros’ reason being that he was a purple-born being born while his father Romanos IV was emperor while Alexios despite coming from nobility and being the nephew of the emperor Isaac I Komnenos was not purple-born. Nikephoros at his first attempt to kill the emperor failed as when he tried to do it, a servant was beside Alexios fanning the mosquitoes away and the second time, a guard caught Nikephoros red-handed holding a sword before Alexios knew about it. Alexios being suspicious asked his brother Adrianos to reveal what happened but being part of the conspiracy, Adrianos said he did not know anything about it so instead Alexios had Nikephoros arrested and tortured and only there did Nikephoros confess his crime and as a punishment he was blinded and forced to retire to Crete while Adrianos disappeared from history and Michael Taronites was only spared when his wife, Alexios’ sister Maria intervened.

 

Theodore Gabras (1096-1098)- Alexios I would be one of the most remembered Byzantine emperors as he defeated the Pechenegs in 1091 and managed to reclaim most of what was lost in Asia Minor to the Seljuks with the help of the First Crusade. However, not all of Asia Minor was happy with his rule as in the northeastern corner of it in the region known as Chaldia or Pontus, its governor Theodore Gabras in 1096 declared his region semi-autonomous from the rule of the emperor until Alexios I managed to take back some of Theodore’s lands in 1098. Theodore though having a semi-independent province was attacked by the armies of the Danishmend Turks, a division of the Seljuks settling in Northeast Asia Minor who managed to capture and kill him in 1099, although Theodore’s son Constantine succeeded him as the semi-autonomous governor of Pontus.

Michael Anemas (1105)- In 1105, a Byzantine senator named Michael Anemas together with his brothers and another senator named Solomon plotted against Alexios I with Michael proclaiming himself emperor but soon enough, Alexios discovered the plot and had Michael and his conspirators imprisoned in a new prison complex Alexios built beside the imperial palace. This prison complex would be known as the Prison of Anemas, named after Michael Anemas who was its first prisoner.

 

Constantine Gabras (1126-1140)- Alexios I ruled till his death in 1118 wherein he was succeeded by his son John II Komnenos and there wouldn’t be any usurper until 1126 and this would be Constantine Gabras, the son of the former semi-autonomous governor of Chaldia Theodore Gabras. In 1126, Constantine declared himself the independent ruler of his own state in the region at the northeast corner of Asia Minor by refusing to follow orders of the emperor. John II who was busy fighting wars against the Turks in Asia Minor was only able to deal with the issue of Constantine Gabras in 1140 when fighting against the Danishmend Turks who were in northeastern Asia Minor. As John II and his forces moved to Chaldia, Constantine Gabras out of fear of being punished surrendered to the imperial authorities and began to continue taking orders from the emperor again.

 

Thoros II (1145-1169), Andronikos Komnenos (1154), and Alexios Axouch (1167)- At the end of the 11th century, Armenians from Byzantine territory escaping the Seljuk invasion established their own state in Cilicia (Southern Asia Minor) with Ruben as its first ruler in 1080. In 1137 however, the emperor John II Komnenos took back this Armenian state and re-established imperial control over the area thus imprisoning their ruler Leo I and his sons Thoros and Ruben in Constantinople. In 1143, John II died from a hunting accident in Cilicia and with his 2 eldest sons having died before him, he named his youngest son Manuel his heir and in 1145 with Manuel I Komnenos as the new Byzantine emperor, Thoros managed to escape from prison and returned to Cilicia re-establishing the independent Armenian state there with him as its ruler. Manuel I would make several military expeditions to take back Cilicia from Thoros but none succeeded and Thoros II continued ruling it until his death in 1169. Now in 1154, Manuel was faced with a conspiracy led by his cousin Andronikos Komnenos who plotted to overthrow Manuel with the support of the Hungarian king Geza II who proceeded to invade Byzantine territory. When Manuel discovered his cousin plotted and went as far as getting the Hungarians to invade, he had Andronikos imprisoned although Andronikos would escape some time later and travel around Europe and the Middle East to plot his revenge against his cousin as later on he would become emperor and do just that. In 1167, Manuel would face another person plotting to overthrow him, and this would be his grand-nephew Alexios Axuoch who decorated his palace in Constantinople with the victories of the Seljuk sultan over the Byzantines and was even involved in sorcery by conspiring with a Latin wizard to drug the empress Maria of Antioch to prevent her from having a son to secure Alexios’ position to take the throne. Manuel I however learned of Alexios’ plot to overthrow him and had Alexios sent to a monastery for life.

 

Andronikos Angelos (1183), Andronikos Lampardas (1183), Theodore Kantakouzenos (1184), and Isaac Komnenos (1184-1191)- Manuel I with his wife Empress Maria of Antioch were able to have a son and when Manuel I died in 1180, he was succeeded by this son Alexios II Komnenos who however was still a child so was under the regency of his mother but in 1182, Manuel’s cousin Andronikos returned to have his revenge with the support of a massive mob of Byzantine Greeks in Constantinople. Andronikos first had the mob massacre thousands of Italians inhabitants in the capital and afterwards imprisoned and executed the empress then in 1183 strangled young Alexios II to death taking the throne as Emperor Andronikos I Komnenos. As emperor though, Andronikos I proved to be a tyrannical ruler having anyone loyal to his cousin Manuel I tortured and killed and because of this more generals would rebel against him trying to claim the throne. One of these generals was Andronikos Angelos, the grandson of Emperor Alexios I thus a cousin of Andronikos I who at first was sent in 1182 to quell Andronikos I’s rebellion but instead joined it but with Andronikos I as emperor in 1183, Andronikos Angelos led a plot with the grand admiral Kontostephanos to overthrow the emperor but when their plot was discovered the conspirators together with Kontostephanos were blinded while Andronikos Angelos with his sons fled to Crusader held Jerusalem where he would never return, although his sons Isaac and Alexios would later on become Byzantine emperors. Another general who rebelled in 1183 was Andronikos Lampardas who was loyal to Manuel I and his son Alexios II and when hearing of Alexios II’s death, he led his forces in rebellion against Andronikos I but ended up captured and blinded, soon enough killed as well. In 1184, the Byzantine governor of Prusa in Asia Minor, Theodore Kantakouzenos also declared rebellion against Andronikos I proclaiming himself emperor but before he carried out his plan to assassinate the emperor, he fell off his horse and when lying on the ground, the emperor’s guards beheaded him and sent his head to the emperor. Even Andronikos I’s relatives would come to rebel against him and one of them being Manuel I’s nephew Isaac Komnenos who in 1184 was released from prison and hired mercenaries sailing from Constantinople to Cyprus taking the island for himself and crowning himself emperor too. Now with Cyprus an independent state, Isaac as its emperor would however be just as brutal as Andronikos I and had terrorized the people of the island even stealing the people’s possessions and torturing them but in 1191 as the 3rd Crusade was launched 2 royals from Europe, Berengaria of Navarre and Joan of England were shipwrecked in Cyprus and taken as captives by Isaac but Joan’s sister the leader of the Crusade, King Richard I of England in retaliation sailed to Cyprus and conquered it on his way to Tyre. Richard I was able to capture Isaac and sent him to be imprisoned in Tripoli while Cyprus fell under the rule of the Crusaders.

 

Alexios Branas (1187), Theodore Mangaphas (1188-1189/ 1204-1206), Constantine Aspietes (1190), Fake Alexios II (1192), and Constantine Angelos (1193)- Andronikos I as emperor too would not last long as in 1185, the same people who put him in power 3 years ago turned on him supporting Isaac Angelos, the son of the general Andronikos Angelos who fled to Jerusalem never to return, but his son Isaac did and after getting a prophecy that he would be emperor, Andronikos I had him arrested to be executed but Isaac escaped his house and killed the agent sent to arrest him, then gathered the people in rebellion against the emperor. The people then seized Andronikos I and beat him to death in public while Isaac II was proclaimed emperor but as emperor he was not secure in the throne as first an uprising in Bulgaria ended up declaring Bulgaria independent from the empire at the end of 1185 and in 1187, a Byzantine general named Alexios Branas who had just defeated a Norman invasion was sent to defeat the Bulgarian rebellion but instead switched sides and joined the Vlach-Bulgarian rebellion of the Asen brothers against the emperor. Isaac II however dealt with Alexios’ rebellion by sending his general Conrad of Montferrat to crush it and at the end, Alexios Branas was killed in battle and his rebellion defeated though the Bulgarians would still remain a threat. Now in 1188, the Byzantine governor of Philadelphia in Asia Minor Theodore Mangaphas declared himself emperor to challenge Isaac II but Isaac II threatened to remove him from his position so Theodore gave up his claim for the throne to keep his title as governor although years later he would rebel again after Isaac II’s death. In 1190, as Isaac II was continuing to crush the Bulgarian rebellion, he sent his general Constantine Aspietes to do it but instead Constantine bribed his troops to proclaim him emperor and when discovering this, Isaac II removed him from command and had him blinded. With 3 usurpers defeated, Isaac II was still not yet secure on his throne as in 1192, a pretender in Asia Minor came out of nowhere claiming to be the former emperor Alexios II Komnenos reborn and this pretender got the support of the Seljuk sultan Kilij Arslan II and attacked Phrygia but at the end, fake Alexios II was assassinated by a priest sent by Isaac II. In 1193, the Bulgarian rebellion was close to being finished off by Isaac II’s cousin Constantine Angelos but because of his victories, his troops declared him emperor but his officers loyal to the emperor handed him over to Constantinople where Isaac II had Constantine blinded.

 

Ivanko of Bulgaria (1198-1200), John Komnenos (1201), Michael Angelos (1200-1201), and Leo Sgouros (1201-1208)- Isaac II was never secure in his throne till the end as in 1195, his older brother Alexios who he put all his trust in betrayed him with the support of the army and while absent on a hunt, Alexios in the army camp had the soldiers proclaim him emperor and as Isaac returned, Alexios arrested, blinded, and imprisoned him, thus Alexios III Angelos became emperor. Alexios III in 1197 then married off his granddaughter Theodora to the Bulgarian usurper, the Vlach Ivanko who had killed the Bulgarian ruler Ivan Asen I however when in the service of the Byzantines, Ivanko turned against the emperor with the army he commanded in 1198 but in 1200, Alexios III’s sons-in-law Alexios Palaiologos and Theodore Laskaris defeated and captured Invanko putting him in prison. In 1201 however, John Komnenos the Fat a surviving member of the Komnenos family suddenly had himself crowned emperor by a monk in the Hagia Sophia and gathered a small army to march on the imperial palace to overthrow Alexios III but Alexios III’s forces captured and beheaded John. Also in 1200, Alexios III’s cousin Michael Angelos who was the governor of a Theme in Asia Minor rose up against his cousin and proclaimed himself emperor but the next year (1201), the emperor’s forces defeated him forcing him to flee to the Seljuks, although in 1205 he would come back and establish his own independent state in Epirus. Meanwhile also in 1201 in the region of Argos in Greece, its Byzantine governor Leo Sgouros declared it an independent state from the empire with him as its ruler while Alexios III did nothing about it leaving Leo to expand his territory in Southern Greece but in 1204, the empire fell to the Crusaders and in 1208 as the Crusaders occupied Greece, they confronted Leo and his forces defeating them but Leo committed suicide to avoid capture and the rest of Greece fell to Crusader rule.

 

Leo Gabalas (1203-1226), Nikolaos Kanabos (1204), and Constantine Laskaris (1204-1205)- In 1203, Alexios III would be overthrown when his nephew Alexios IV Angelos, son of Isaac II arrived in Constantinople with the army of the 4th Crusade forcing Alexios III to flee and Isaac II despite being blind to return to power ruling with his son. When hearing Alexios III was deposed, the Byzantine governor of Rhodes Leo Gabalas declared Rhodes independent with him as its ruler and with the empire falling to the Crusaders in 1204, Rhodes remained independent but when the new Byzantine Empire of Nicaea formed in Asia Minor, Leo surrendered to it in 1226 but was still kept as governor of Rhodes until his death in 1239. Back in Constantinople, Isaac II and Alexios IV after only being in power for a few months, the people, senate, and Church rose up against the co-emperors for actually giving in to the Crusaders’ demands which included melting religious icons to make them into coins to pay off the Crusaders. The people rising up against the co-emperors proclaimed the young noble Nikolaos Kanabos as emperor against his will but some days later, the court secretary deposed and executed both Isaac II and Alexios IV and became Emperor Alexios V. Kanabos not wanting to accept the title, hid himself in the Hagia Sophia but with Alexios V as the new emperor, he had Kanabos dragged out and beheaded in the Hagia Sophia’s marble steps. Just 3 months after Alexios V came to power, the Crusader army camped outside the city wanting their pay just stormed in, stole all the wealth, and killed everyone they saw while the defending army was at the point of giving up and Alexios V himself fled. However, as the Crusaders sacked the city, a large number of citizens, soldiers, and the Varangian Guards sought refuge in the Hagia Sophia where they elected a noble named Constantine Laskaris as emperor who commanded what left of the Byzantine people to make a last stand against the Crusaders but as the army was wiped out, Constantine fled the city to Asia Minor while Constantinople fell under the rule of the new Latin Empire. Constantine is only mentioned again in 1205 when he led an army against the Crusaders invading Asia Minor where they defeated the Byzantines and captured Constantine but his younger brother Theodore, the former emperor Alexios III’s son-in-law took his brother’s claim as emperor and made himself Emperor of Nicaea founding the Laskaris Dynasty restoring Byzantium. Constantine Laskaris though is considered a legitimate Byzantine emperor by some sources, but there is no evidence that he was actually crowned but if he were, he would have actually been Constantine XI but as of now it is unclear if Constantine Laskaris was crowned so the title of “XI” goes to Byzantium’s last emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos (r. 1449-1453).

 

Sabas Asidenos (1204-1206), David Komnenos (1204-1207), Theodore Branas (1205-1206)- Following the fall of Constantinople to the 4th Crusade in 1204, what was left of the empire fell into chaos with many unsure of what was to happen began declaring their own separate states such as Alexios and David Komnenos, the grandsons of the former Byzantine emperor Andronikos I who established the Empire of Trebizond in 1204, Michael I Angelos who established the Despotate of Epirus in 1205, and Theodore I Laskaris who established the Empire of Nicaea which would be the Byzantine Empire in exile. However, there were other generals too unaware of what was to happen that established their own states such as Sabas Asidenos from Asia Minor who established his own independent state there in the area of the Meander River with him as its ruler although in 1206 once Theodore I Laskaris formed the Empire of Nicaea, Sabas surrendered his claim and his lands to it. As for the Komnenos brothers, Alexios took Trebizond and David took the region of Paphlagonia along the Black Sea which was originally part of Theodore Laskaris’ territory and in 1207 with Theodore pressuring David to give up his territory there, David made an alliance with the Latin Empire that took over Constantinople even acknowledging the Latins’ rule over his lands. Another story was that of the Byzantine general in Adrianople named Theodore Branas in 1205, the son of the usurper Alexios Branas who tried to take the throne from Isaac II in 1187. With the Byzantines losing Constantinople, Theodore Branas in 1205 made Adrianople its separate state but in 1206 he had to surrender it to the Latin Empire in order to protect it from the ambitions of the Bulgarian ruler Kaloyan who had previously defeated the Latins in battle, though Branas was allowed to live.

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Map of the aftermath of the fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Latins, 1204

Watch this to learn more about the aftermath of 1204 (from Eastern Roman History).

 

Isaac and Alexios Laskaris (1224), Theodore Komnenos Doukas (1215-1230), Manuel Komnenos Doukas (1230-1237), and John Komnenos Doukas (1237-1242)- By the time Theodore I Laskaris of Nicaea died in 1221, he left behind a Byzantine state that was strong enough but there was a problem in the succession as he had no son so instead, in 1222 his son-in-law the general John Doukas Vatatzes came to power as Emperor John III though Theodore I’s younger brothers Isaac and Alexios were displeased with it and fled to Latin held Constantinople where they got the support of the Latin emperor Robert Courtenay and when gathering an army in 1224, they marched to Nicaea to confront John III, however John III being a skilled general defeated the Latin forces and the brothers; Isaac and Alexios were then captured and blinded and the Latins pushed out of Asia Minor. Meanwhile in the separatist state of Epirus in Western Greece, its founder Michael I Angelos was assassinated in 1215 by his half-brother Theodore Komnenos Doukas who took over Epirus and in 1224 he captured Thessalonica from the Latins and declared himself Byzantine emperor challenging John III but in 1230 he was defeated by the Bulgarian forces and taken prisoner by the Bulgarian ruler Ivan Asen II who blinded him. Though Theodore was captured and brought to Bulgaria, his brother Manuel Komnenos Doukas took his place as emperor but serving as a powerless vassal of the Bulgarians until he was overthrown in 1237 by his brother Theodore who returned but being blind, Theodore installed his son John Komnenos Doukas as emperor in Thessalonica and Manuel fled to Thessaly making himself its ruler. John Komnenos Doukas however did not last long enough as in 1242 John III of Nicaea threatened to invade Thessalonica and out of fear of being killed, John Komnenos Doukas gave up his title of emperor in exchange for the title of Despot or “lord” which he held until his death in 1244 and was succeeded by his brother Demetrios who in 1246 lost Thessalonica when John III absorbed it into the Empire of Nicaea.

 

John Doukas of Thessaly (1280-1282)- Fast-forward to 1261, the Empire of Nicaea has finally reclaimed Constantinople ending the 57-year rule of the Latin Empire thus restoring the Byzantine Empire with Michael VIII Palaiologos becoming its emperor after deposing and blinding John III Doukas Vatatzes’ grandson, the boy emperor John IV Laskaris. Though the Byzantine Empire had Constantinople again, Thessaly in mainland Greece was its own state but under the Despotate of Epirus and as Michael VIII ruled the empire, a former ally of the emperor John Doukas ruled Thessaly beginning 1268. Michael VIII although ended up supporting the unity of the Byzantine and Latin Churches and began persecuting those who opposed the union so John Doukas being against Michael VIII’s unionist policies welcomed those who were escaping from Michael VIII’s rule. In 1280, John Doukas in opposition to Michael VIII declared himself Byzantine emperor as a defender of Orthodoxy making Michael VIII retaliate by having his armies conquer Thessaly which failed as John Doukas made himself an ally with Michael VIII’s enemies including the French king of Sicily Charles I of Anjou. Also, in 1280, Michael VIII sent an army to invade Thessaly but instead they joined forces with John Doukas making Michael VIII even more angry that he imprisoned the commanders of the army he sent and replaced them with new ones. In 1282 again, Michael planned another invasion of Thessaly but died in a farm in Thrace before he could prepare it. With Michael VIII dead, his son and successor Andronikos II cancelled his father’s Church Union making John Doukas give up his claim as emperor and making peace again with the empire; he then died in 1289.

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The Byzantine Empire after 1261 (yellow), Epirus and Thessaly (red)

 

Honorable Mention: Charles I of Anjou- Just as Michael VIII took back Constantinople for the Byzantines in 1261, Charles I of Anjou of the Capetian Dynasty, a French royal and brother of King Louis IX of France took over Sicily in 1266 to set it up as his base to invade the Byzantine Empire. With the Latin Empire destroyed, Charles of Anjou used this as a reason to invade Byzantium in order to restore it to the rule of the Latins and true enough he did have the deposed Latin emperor Baldwin II with him. Charles of Anjou’s reason to invade however was to build up a Mediterranean empire and bring it under French dominance as at this point, France was the leading power of Europe. Michael VIII saw Charles as a mortal enemy but fought back by submitting his empire to the pope’s authority although Charles of Anjou was supported by the pope. In 1281, Charles of Anjou attempted to invade Byzantium but his army was defeated by the Byzantines in Albania and in 1282, Michael VIII found an ally in the king of Aragon Peter III who he sent to invade Sicily and at the same time too, Michael VIII bribed off local lords in Sicily to start a rebellion which would be known as the Sicilian Vespers. At the end of 1282, the rebels with the help of Aragon drove away Charles’ forces from Sicily making Sicily now under Aragon. Charles of Anjou died in Naples in 1285 failing to achieve his biggest dream which was conquering the Byzantine Empire, but if he did, he would have been a Byzantine emperor as well except with no trace of Byzantine blood and Byzantium itself would completely fall into the rule of Western Latins once again, if not for good.   

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Possessions of Charles I of Anjou (blue) 

 

Constantine Palaiologos (1292)- When Michael VIII died unexpectedly in a farm in Thrace in December of 1282, his son Andronikos II immediately succeeded him after burying his father in an unmarked grave as the Church in Constantinople denied Michael VIII a proper burial for signing the Church Union with the pope. Other than Andronikos II, Michael VIII with his wife Empress Theodora had another son, Constantine who was a purple-born child being born back in the purple room of Constantinople’s imperial palace in 1261 just a month after his father took back the city from the Latins but Andronikos being the eldest son succeeded his father despite being born back in Nicaea in 1259 and not in the purple room. In 1292, Constantine who then a powerful general rebelled against his brother claiming he is the rightful ruler being the Porphyrogennetos as he was born in the purple room but Constantine was soon enough reported by some nobles to his brother but since Andronikos and Constantine were close to each other, Andronikos only punished him by sentencing him to be in a monastery for life, though Constantine has one legacy up to this day which is a whole palace in Constantinople still standing which is named after him known as the “Palace of the Porphyrogennetos” or “Palace of the Purple-Born”.

 

Alexios Philanthropenos (1295) and John Drimys (1305)- In 1295 as Andronikos II’s Byzantine army campaigned against the Turks, the general Alexios Philanthropenos scored some victories against the Turks making his troops who began to resent the rule and taxations of Andronikos II to proclaim him emperor but soldiers loyal to the emperor took him to Constantinople as a prisoner and there Andronikos II had him blinded. 10 years later, in 1305 a mysterious priest named John Drimys coming from the west, possibly from Thessaly or Epirus came to Constantinople and with the support of some priests and monks declared himself emperor against Andronikos II claiming to be a descendant of the Laskaris family that ruled Nicaea years ago until Michael VIII overthrew them in 1261. When Andronikos II uncovered the plot, he had John Drimys and his men arrested and imprisoned.

Watch this to learn more about the gradual loss of Byzantine Asia Minor (from Eastern Roman History).

 

Michael IX Palaiologos (1295-1320)- By the time Andronikos II became emperor in 1282 he already had a son Michael who was named after his grandfather the emperor Michael VIII who was already named co-emperor with his father by his grandfather. In 1295, Andronikos II made his son Michael his co-emperor in full imperial style using the name Michael IX and as co-emperor he would best be remembered for leading an army against the new power of the Ottomans in 1302 and in 1305, he was charged with dealing with the rebellious Catalan Company his father had hired. After Michael IX ordered the assassination of the Catalan soldiers’ general Roger de Flor in 1305, the Catalans out of revenge attacked and severely wounded him at the Battle of Apros shortly after. Michael IX barely came out alive but lived until 1320 in semi-retirement dying after hearing of his son Manuel’s death by the hands of assassins who mistook him for Michael’s other son Andronikos. Michael IX would be the only ruler of the Palaiologos Dynasty to predecease his father and although he may not appear in the list of Byzantine emperors, Michael IX is still considered one but he never got to rule alone, rather always with his father Andronikos II.

 

Syrgiannes Palaiologos (1333-1334)- Following the death of Michael IX and his son Manuel in 1320, Andronikos II hearing of his son and grandson’s death blamed it all on his eldest grandson Andronikos who in 1321 launched a civil war to overthrow his grandfather and supporting him was the Bulgarian Empire, and 2 young nobles which was his close friend John Kantakouzenos and Michael VIII’s grand-nephew Syrgiannes Palaiologos whose father was a Cuman that migrated to the empire. The side of the young Andronikos succeeded and overthrew the old emperor Andronikos II by force in 1328 making the grandson become Emperor Andronikos III while Andronikos II died in a monastery in 1332. Syrgiannes was then made governor of Thessalonica but in 1333, Andronikos III’s mother Rita of Armenia adopted Syrgiannes in rebellion against her son making the emperor suspect him of plotting so in return, Syrgiannes fled to Serbia to the court of its king Stefan IV Dusan who gave him a large army which Syrgiannes led to invade the empire with his claim as emperor. Syrgiannes’ and the emperor’s forces met in battle but Syrgiannes was lured away at one point and killed and after his death, Andronikos III negotiated with the Serbians making them return to Serbia as they had nothing to claim in Byzantium anymore.

 

Honorable Mention: Stefan IV Dusan of Serbia (1346-1355)- With the absence of Byzantium between 1204 and 1261 due to the Crusades, this gave the opportunity for the small kingdom of Serbia in the Balkans to expand and by the 14th century it had grown larger especially when the ambitious ruler Stefan Uros IV Dusan also known as “Dusan the Mighty” became its king in 1331. Dusan had a dream which was to conquer and rebuild the dying Byzantine Empire to its former glory with him as its emperor despite being a Serbian. In 1341, the Byzantine emperor Andronikos III suddenly died and this created a civil war between his young son John V supported by his mother Anna of Savoy and Andronikos III’s close friend and general John Kantakouzenos and over in Serbia, Dusan used this civil war to his advantage in conquering Byzantium. In 1346, Dusan was crowned emperor or “tsar” in Skopje with the title “Emperor of the Serbs and Romans” which was equivalent to Byzantine emperor while in 1347, John Kantakouzenos won the Byzantine civil war becoming Byzantine emperor while Black Death arrived to kill thousands in Byzantium but leaving Serbia less affected. Now using the Black Death to his advantage, Dusan conquered Epirus, Thessaly, and most of Greece all the way down to the Gulf of Corinth. Though not exactly a Byzantine emperor, Dusan behaved in all ways like one and like the influential 6th century Byzantine emperor Justinian I, Dusan made his own law code and though being a Serbian, he could have become Byzantine emperor if he took Constantinople and renamed his Serbian Empire to the Byzantine Empire and under him, Byzantium would have been strong enough again to the point of beating the Ottomans though the only difference the Byzantium under Dusan would have is that the Byzantine world would shift from a Greek power to a Serbian power just how Byzantium centuries ago shifted from a Roman to a Greek power. Dusan died in 1355 with his empire never recovering again.

 

Nikephoros II Orsini (1339-1340/ 1356-1359)- In 1337, the breakaway Byzantine rebel state of Epirus was conquered and annexed back to the empire by Andronikos III but in 1339, Epirus’ young ruler Nikephoros II Orsini refused to be a vassal and wanted to rule independently so he did until the emperor’s army led by John Kantakouzenos defeated him in 1340 forcing him into exile. In the meantime, Epirus shifted hands from the Byzantines to the Serbians but after the Serbian emperor Stefan IV Dusan died in 1355, Nikephoros returned from exile and made himself ruler of Epirus again challenging both the new Serbian emperor and Dusan IV’s son Stefan Uros V and the Byzantine emperor John V Palaiologos who just came back to power since 1354 and when taking back Epirus in 1356, Nikephoros II declared himself Emperor of the Serbs and Romans as well. Nikephoros however did not last long enough as in 1359 when fighting a battle against Albanian rebels, he was defeated and killed.

 

Matthew Kantakouzenos (1353-1357)- In the long and bloody Byzantine civil war between 1341 and 1347 between John V and John Kantakouzenos, Kantakouzenos won and deposed John V who although kept his title as co-emperor but Kantakouzenos would rule as the senior emperor John VI giving his son Matthew control of some parts of Thrace. In 1353, John V wanting to come back to power declared another civil war on John VI who was his father-in-law by then and in 1354 while Matthew was fighting the Serbians, John VI was overthrown by John V and sent to a monastery while the Serbians captured Matthew and delivered him back to John V. Matthew when returned was imprisoned in Lesbos by John V under the watch of John V’s new ally, the Genoese pirate Francesco Gattilusio who was given Lesbos in exchange for helping John V return to power. When imprisoned, Matthew finally renounced his claim as emperor in 1357 after being forced by John V and for doing it, Matthew was spared and unharmed and even sent to the Morea in Southern Greece to be its governor which he was until his death in 1383.

 

John VII Palaiologos (1390/ 1399-1403)- As emperor John V Palaiologos would rule a long and miserable reign as in 1373 his son Andronikos rebelled against him and was imprisoned with his wife Keratsa-Maria of Bulgaria and son John but in 1376 they were released and Andronikos IV became emperor putting his father and brothers in the same prison he was in. As the new emperor for a while, Andronikos IV made his young son John his co-emperor but in 1379, John V with his other son Manuel took the throne back though Andronikos IV and his son were spared and given control of Constantinople’s suburb of Selymbria and still holding the imperial title. In 1385, Andronikos IV died and his son John succeeded the claim to the throne who in 1390 used this claim to suddenly depose his grandfather John V again in a palace coup and be crowned Emperor John VII who was supported by the Ottoman sultan Bayezid I. Just after 5 months in power, John V came back to the throne again with his son Manuel now named his heir and also with the help of the Republic of Venice making John VII flee to the court of the Ottoman sultan who then restored John VII to his father’s domain of Selymbria. John V though would only rule for a few months dying in early 1391 and succeeded by his intended heir Manuel II who would reconcile with his nephew John VII even naming him his intended heir as Manuel had not married and had children yet. By 1399, the Ottomans had blockaded and laid siege to Constantinople making Manuel II travel to Europe to seek aid and in his absence, he made John VII protector of the city but without the title of emperor and as protector he did his job well and thankfully the city did not fall to the Ottomans as in 1402, the sultan Bayezid I had to abandon the siege when the Turco-Mongol emperor Timur invaded Asia Minor and here Bayezid I was defeated and captured at Ankara being brought as a prisoner to Timur’s capital of Samarkand leaving the Ottoman Empire ruined. When Manuel II returned in 1403, John VII returned his power and in return, he was allowed to retire to Thessalonica still keeping his imperial title and even naming his infant son Andronikos V co-emperor in 1403. John VII died in 1408, a year after his son died.

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Final days of the Byzantine Empire (purple), 1450

 

Demetrios Palaiologos (1442/ 1448)- The emperor Manuel II Palaiologos married the Serbian princess Helena Dragas and had 6 sons: the future emperor John VIII, the governor of Morea Theodore II, the governor of Thessalonica Andronikos, the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI, and the governors of the Morea Demetrios and Thomas. Manuel II died in 1425 and was succeeded by his eldest son John VIII who however was in hostile terms with his younger brother Demetrios born in 1407, a known troublemaker so when John VIII left for Florence to join the Church Council in 1437, he had to take Demetrios with him. The Council came so close to uniting both Latin and Byzantine Churches but when John VIII arrived back in Constantinople, the people rioted forcing him to cancel the union and Demetrios on the other hand back at home was put in charge of a small piece of land in Thrace as the empire had already decreased in size by so much but that was too small for Demetrios who instead wanted to rule as emperor, although being emperor at this point only meant ruling Constantinople. To put himself in power, Demetrios got the support from the people by supporting an anti-unionist policy being a champion of Orthodoxy as John VIII was for the union and to get military support Demetrios allied himself with the Ottoman sultan Murad II and together they attacked the Morea in 1442 which was held by his older brother Constantine who however defeated the invasion attempt and imprisoned Demetrios giving his lands to his older brother Theodore. In 1448, both Theodore and John VIII died and with John VIII having no children and naming no heir, the 3 surviving brothers Constantine, Thomas, and Demetrios who got out of prison all put their claim on the throne but while there was no emperor their mother Helena Dragas ruled Constantinople as its regent while Demetrios was still plotting to take the throne but the Ottoman sultan Murad II who also returned to power after a 2-year abdication (1444-1446) in favor of his son Mehmed II approved that out of the 3 imperial brothers, Constantine as the eldest surviving one should take the throne. Helena supported Constantine out of the other 2 and in early 1449, Constantine XI was crowned emperor in the Morea and when arriving in Constantinople, both Demetrios and Thomas acknowledged him as emperor while Helena died in 1450. With Constantine XI as emperor, both Demetrios and Thomas were sent to the Morea to replace Constantine as its governors but in 1451, Murad II died and was succeeded by his son Mehmed II coming to power again who in 1453 finally captured Constantinople with Constantine XI dying in battle though Demetrios and Thomas in the Morea were unable to help due to facing their own problems. With Constantine XI dead, Demetrios put his claim to restore the empire but with the help of the Ottomans but Thomas being against it chose to get support from the pope and when hearing of the brothers about to have a civil war with each other, Mehmed II just invaded the Morea in 1460 capturing Demetrios while Thomas fled to Italy. Demetrios would be spared but ended up retiring as a monk dying in 1470 while Thomas in Italy died in 1465 before getting help from the pope to take back the Morea.

Watch this to learn more about the story leading to the fall of Byzantine Constantinople in 1453 (from Eastern Roman History).

 

Andreas Palaiologos (1483-1494/ 1498-1502)- While Constantine XI was the last emperor, his younger brothers Demetrios and Thomas were in charge of the Morea and in 1453 before Constantine XI’s death, Thomas’s wife Caterina Zaccaria gave birth to their son Andreas who would be a legitimate claimant to the Byzantine throne after his uncle’s death. In 1460, Thomas with his wife, their daughter Zoe, and 2 young sons Andreas and Manuel to Corfu while Thomas himself fled to Italy to get support from the pope in Rome to regain the Morea and restore the empire but this never happened as Thomas died in 1465 and with Thomas dead, his children were summoned to Rome to be educated by Cardinal Bessarion, a Byzantine priest who moved to Italy years ago converting to Catholicism and becoming a cardinal. Andreas would only start using the Byzantine imperial title in 1483 when living in Rome with only the Byzantine Greek exiles in Rome seeing him as the emperor but he never actually held any power, instead his excessive lifestyle brought him more and more into poverty though the rent for his apartment would be paid for by the pope but the only way to save him was to find someone who would buy his imperial title which made him travel to distant places like Moscow and London but in 1494 his title was bought by the king of France Charles VIII who died in 1498 giving the title back to Andreas who still lived in poverty until his death in 1502 in Rome as the last holder of the Byzantine imperial title as he left behind no children but at least he as the last one to hold the title of Roman emperor died in Rome and was buried in St. Peter’s. As for Andreas’ younger brother Manuel, he ended up becoming a mercenary travelling around Europe to earn money to make a living. Manuel though would not be happy with his pay by a number of European rulers so in 1476 he just returned to Constantinople swearing his loyalty to Mehmed II who had beaten his uncle years ago and there Manuel would die many years later in 1512 while his son also named Andreas would convert to Islam and disappear into Ottoman society with no trace of the Palaiologos family heard ever again. Although the last Palaiolgos brothers Andreas and Manuel’s lives would spiral down, their older sister Zoe was the only one successful among them as in 1472 she was married off to the Grand Prince of Moscow Ivan III and their descendants would come to rule Russia having Byzantine imperial blood in them. On the other hand, their distant cousins still using the Palaiologos name were still ruling the small Italian state of Montferrat till the middle of the 16th century and have been ruling it since 1306 when Andronikos II’s son Theodore was given the land as part of his dead uncle’s inheritance though the Palaiologos rulers of Montferrat strangely never put their claim to the imperial throne as they have for years been integrating into Italian society and forgetting their Byzantine heritage.

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Meme of the last emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos and his nephew Andreas Palaiologos

 

And at last, I have arrived at the end of this 2 part series which had covered both the original Roman Empire and its immediate yet 1000 year continuation, the Byzantine Empire. Where this article began, it was at the start of the 8th century and where it ended was at the beginning of the 16th and along the way the Byzantine Empire went through numerous times of prosperity and decline. Byzantine history is surely one that goes through a pattern of an age of greatness and glory to an age of decline and back again but no matter how great or how terrible the times the Byzantine Empire goes through, there are still some things that remain constant and one of them being the fact of imperial usurpers and claimants to the throne and the same outcomes they face which is either exile to a monastery, blinding, imprisonment, or execution. In the last 5 centuries of its existence, the Byzantine Empire had suffered hard times wherein the empire could have fallen apart and one of the events that could already ended the empire was in 1204 when the empire fell to the 4th Crusade thus creating several breakaway Byzantine states including very minor ones controlled by generals and lager ones like Trebizond and Epirus that even outlived the main Byzantine Empire but after all that chaos, one breakaway state being the Empire of Nicaea managed to take back Constantinople from the Latins in 1261 and restore the main Byzantine Empire for about 200 more years. The next 200 years for Byzantium though would be the end and in 1453 with Constantinople falling to the Ottomans, here again would there be a dispute on which surviving Byzantine state would be the successor of the main empire, the answer though would still be unclear even if the Empire of Trebizond still lasted until 1461 and the the Morea under the Palaiologos brothers Demetrios and Thomas would only be theirs until it fell to the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II in 1460. However none of the successor states could be the real continuation of the main Byzantine empire since after the last emperor Constantine XI’s death in 1453, no one else would hold the title of “Byzantine emperor” with power except for his nephew Andreas, although despite having the title he had no power and influence and died simply in 1502. With Andreas’ death died the long line of Byzantine emperors but despite dying with no more power and no more empire, he at least died in Rome, the city that was once the capital of the empire and where the imperial dream was born. With Constantinople falling to the Ottomans, the question is still unclear on who is the true successor of Byzantium and thus the Roman Empire and it is still disputed if it is Russia as they were culturally influenced by Byzantium and its ruling family related to the Byzantine imperial Palaiologos family or if it was the Holy Roman Empire in the west which however claims to be a successor of Imperial Rome but has no relation to Rome’s direct successor which was Byzantium. However, after Andreas’ death in 1502 there would be still some that had claimed to be “Roman emperor” or “Emperor of Constantinople” but many of them are not much legitimate. After all, Rome as an empire was not overall a place but a dream or idea and even though the west with it ruled by Rome fell, its imperial power transferred east to Constantinople as the Byzantine Empire but with Byzantium gone, it is still unclear on who continued the imperial dream of Rome but even though the empires are gone, its legacy still lives on and up to this day we can still see it especially with how much attention is given to Roman and Byzantine history.  Anyway, I hope this article was a great read and I hope you all learned a lot more especially about names of people who would have been Byzantine emperors, yet you’ve never heard of them and if this was helpful in any of you readers’ study projects, let me know. Also, when reading this article you may have noticed that not all if not almost all of the would-be Byzantine emperors here had not image, this is because there are no images of many people from the Byzantine era and even when it comes to the emperors themselves, there are not so many images available online nor were there much images of them that survive up to this day. Now before I finish, I have to say even I had learned a lot when writing this and only now did I learn some new things about the Byzantine emperors and those names of people who made so close to becoming one, and up next would be another article I was always planning to write, which would be a comparison of the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire… and lastly, thanks for viewing! 

 

5 Comments

  1. I’ve been smitten by Byzantium for a better part of twenty five years now. I used to run two seperate sites – the one I run now and one on Byzantine history. Unfortunately it got too much to curate. All my Byzantine history articles are on my current site now. I must admit I have neglected updating my progress through its history. Maybe in the new year. I also run Facebook page that you might like to promote your site. https://www.facebook.com/groups/1554769391483676

    Liked by 1 person

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