The Byzantine Journey (2019-2020)- My Personal Story with byzantium, year end post

Posted by Powee Celdran

“In less than 2 years, I came from just thinking of Byzantium as some kind of interesting subject matter to the point that Byzantium has already become a part of me.” -Powee Celdran on Byzantium

The complete journey of my passion for Byzantium, My story as a Byzantine filmmaker, Lessons from Byzantium, What Byzantium means to me, Recommended readings and videos, thanks, and updates for 2021

WARNING: THIS IS AN EXTREMELY LONG ARTICLE !!

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I am now about to tell you all a story. A story of how one empire’s story could have so much of an impact on someone, and of course here I am going to recap not the history of Byzantium but my Byzantine history passion and my journey through it in the past 2 years despite living centuries apart from their time. Now I’ve come to my year-end post for this year 2020 and my belated Christmas gift for you all and instead of doing the usual very scholarly and informative stuff I have done so much of this past year and last year, I’m going to finish off the year with a lighter yet very long more personal post, basically talking about the story of my study journey through the fascinating world of the history of the Byzantine Empire by traveling to places and sitting in front of my computer screen or reading books about it at home. In this article, I just want to share with you all my thoughts on Byzantine history and the empire, how much Byzantium means to me, all my discoveries of the great story of this empire, and my complete journey of getting deeper into Byzantine history in the span of this whole 2-year period including all the materials I read, channels I watched, people I met along the way, and places I travelled to, but also I will use this article to tell you some behind the scenes of my posts and other Byzantine history related media I do such as my Lego Byzantine films in my channel No Budget Films, and also some recommended reading and videos for those who want to get into Byzantium, credits to those who have made my journey in the past 2 years possible, and updates for my Byzantine history posts next year. This article would not include any deep research, analysis, complete storytelling of Byzantium, or a massive load of photos like usual and will also seem to be very messy as it won’t be in any chronological form as the rest of all my articles, instead it’s just going to be me talking about Byzantine history in my own voice without going into so much detail anymore but will also be told using a lot of memes. It is also going to be about my thoughts and observations on the fascinating people, places, and stories in the world of Byzantium. If you’re looking for more information that I wrote on Byzantine history, the links to my other articles will be found as you read along the paragraphs. This article is going to be a very long one because it focuses on my entire journey and there is no way to shorten up Byzantine history since it is just so colorful; anyway it will begin with my story of what got me into Byzantium and how it evolved in me in the past 2 years. Of course, this article will be the article that sums up all my other articles and projects which will be linked here, as this one is basically all about the evolution of my Byzantine history story from when I just started out writing simple posts to the point where I have ended up writing complicated and unique articles going as far as making 60 pages, close to already making an entire book. So basically, to be honest I never actually studied a Byzantine history college course, rather I just first learned about it as part of my high school history subject but just studying a small part of it in school in fact got me so interested in it. Fast-forward to some years later, as I am in college taking up entrepreneurship which is a business course, I find a random Byzantine history book in my house and I start reading it out of curiosity as I started feeling interested in learning the story of Byzantium, and true enough I was so drawn to the book that I actually finished it and from then on, my thirst for knowledge in the world of Byzantium would never end and it still lives on in me almost 2 years after. It’s now almost 2 years since I read that book which is Byzantium; The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire by Judith Herrin, and after that I have read 5 more Byzantine history books and went non-stop searching online for Byzantine history content and discover a lot of new interesting channels and sites along the way where I would learn a lot more about the subject matter from comprehensive and scholarly podcasts including “The History of Byzantium” and “12 Byzantine Rulers” to fun and entertaining ones like Dovahhatty’s Unbiased History which has now become my favorite Youtube channel aside from my own of course. When starting out my Byzantine history journey in February of 2019, I only knew the basics of it, but in the almost 2-year span of the journey which goes up to this day, I can say I have discovered possibly 5 years’ worth of Byzantine history content and have done countless related projects including the whole genealogy of all the Byzantine emperors from beginning to end, travelled to the world’s top Byzantine destinations like Constantinople (Istanbul) and Ravenna, made 2 full films, a 3-part audio epic, and 3 short films with a Byzantine history setting using Legos. Then came 2020, I started the year deciding to continue with Byzantine history posts and was working on my biggest Byzantine era film War of the Sicilian Vespers, but the COVID-19 pandemic came, but it still did not stop me, in fact this entire year of just staying home has helped me in so many ways to make so much more out of my growing interest in Byzantium like new Byzantine content including more articles on this site and Lego films and I fact I have to thank Byzantium for helping survive these hard times of the pandemic by keeping me moving and not losing myself. Also in these trying times of 2020, I have also rediscovered Ancient Rome, which was my first passion before Byzantium and this way I was able to actually see both empires as the same as most of Byzantium’s systems and culture dates back to the Romans. Despite the hardships of 2020, this year on the positive side made me see how much Ancient Rome and Byzantium means to me and how much they still remain relevant to today’s world as no matter how long ago it was turns out people and situations still remain unchanged, also another positive side of 2020 is that it made my Roman-Byzantine history journey even more meaningful by discovering new content online especially the channel of Dovahhatty, which made me appreciate the history of Rome/ Byzantium even more and just a quick mention, I have some great news that Dovahhatty just released his first episode of his Byzantine Empire sequel series! Now if the COVID-19 pandemic had affected businesses and other industries, I can surely say it has not affected the world of Roman and Byzantine history, in fact I can say it has even made it grow more especially when people being at home would end up discovering new things. Lastly, to sum up my entire almost 2-year Byzantine journey, I went from seeing Byzantium as a mysterious side of history that is not given much attention to, to coming to the point of seeing Byzantium no longer as a myth and legend but already as pop culture material and mainstream history that I can very much relate with and more importantly see where all those stereotypes about Byzantium are wrong and that no matter how corrupt and scheming the Byzantine Empire was in history, they still have a very human side to them and are still relevant to today’s world. Back in early 2019, I barely knew the emperors of Byzantium or their whole history in order, and now at the last days of 2020 I have grown so close to it to the point that I can relate so much to the stories of the Byzantine emperors, get so excited when I hear discussions on Byzantine history, and in fact be so obsessed with it that I cannot even stop talking about it even if the topics being discussed are not even related, you will also get to know more about it as you continue reading. As 2020 comes to an end however, there are still some questions I can’t fully answer, especially how exactly Byzantium is the same old Roman Empire and how to exactly place that question in history, also where to mark the start of Byzantine history, and so much more which I will further discuss as you read along.   

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Byzantine Empire flag
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All my Byzantine reading materials in the past 2 years

Please like and follow my other social media sites:

WordPress travel blog site: Far and Away

Facebook page for Lego Byzantine films: No Budget Films: Making Unknown History Known

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Byzantine content Instagram: ByzantiumTimeTraveller

Watch Dovahhatty’s Unbiased History: Byzantium IThe Eastern Empire here.

Watch this to get an intro to Byzantium through anime (from Hellenic History Series).

The Beginnings of my Byzantine Journey, my Commitment to Byzantium, and Travels in the Byzantine World

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As a kid, I have always been into ancient history especially Ancient Greece and Rome as well as Medieval and Renaissance Europe but I never really fully understood what Byzantium or the Byzantine Empire was, except that I only knew it in name. What first got me interested in Byzantium was playing the Assassin’s Creed Revelations game sometime in 2012 or 2013 and although this game is set in Ottoman era Constantinople between 1511 and 1512, it does show a Byzantine angle featuring some Byzantine characters, although its story more or less depicts the Byzantines as the villains namely the last Byzantine heir Manuel Palaiologos, but nevertheless I saw these mysterious Byzantine people, particularly soldiers shown in the game as interesting especially on their character designs. So basically, it was Assassin’s Creed Revelations which features both assassins Ezio and Altair that first got me interested in Byzantium, although the first thing about Byzantine history that I was interested in was their army including soldier units, armor, and weapons which I first saw when playing this Assassin’s Creed game making me so intrigued. At first I thought all Byzantine military units only looked like those in Assassin’s Creed but the funny thing was that when I searched online back then, there was a lot more to Byzantine soldiers and their armor than those shown in the game and in those shown in the game are not even very much accurate to the real Byzantine armor and weapons. Of course, back then, my other interest aside from playing the Assassin’s Creed games was first Ancient Greek then Ancient Roman history which I got interested in when learning it in history class at high school. Unlike many kids who find their history subjects boring, it was my favorite in high school and in my 2nd year in high school, I took up Roman history and even read the Ancient Roman classics like Livy and Tacitus and at this point in life when in high school, I had gotten so into Ancient Roman history all the way to the point of being so obsessed with it the way I am with Byzantium right now that I even watched the old hit miniseries I, Claudius over and over again, which got me even more fascinated in not just the warfare or basics of Ancient Rome but its culture as well since this miniseries does great in showing Ancient Roman culture in detail. Now here in this part of my high school life, I was so into Ancient Roman culture and history but not entirely as my focus on Ancient Rome back then was quite narrow only to the very much focused era in Roman history which was the rise of the empire from the 1st century BC to 1st century AD while I never really got into the history of Rome after the 2nd century and it was only this year that I did get into it. Then came my 3rd year in high school and my history lesson would change moving onto medieval history and this is where I would finally start learning about Byzantium in school. Byzantine history though would only be a very small fraction of my topics for the history subject as the whole year covered the entire history of the Middle Ages including the Dark Ages, Crusades, Hundred-Years’-War, and a lot of Church history which meant Byzantium had to be a part of it and true enough, the subject matter of Byzantine history was very short but still, it sparked something in me that I just could not resist getting fascinated by it.

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Even though my Byzantine history lessons in high school were very much basic, I still got to learn about Byzantium in a nutshell which was that they were the advanced civilization in the Middle Ages when the rest of Europe was in the dark and just by learning about it for the first time, I was already so amazed especially with its exceptional people like Emperor Justinian I the Great who already interested me so much when first reading about him especially on how he built the world’s greatest cathedral back then being the Hagia Sophia and how he set up a standard code of laws which is still relevant up to this day. Other things I learned in school about Byzantium that got me so drawn to it at first site was the topic of the Byzantine army and their Cataphracts, the elite Nordic Varangian Guard units, Byzantine art such as mosaics and frescoes, and technology you would have not believed existed back then such as a flamethrower known as Greek Fire used in ships. When finishing that year of high school in 2015, I already knew Byzantium would be the kind of history I’d like and want to continue learning more about, and it also happened at the same time in 2015 that I had already founded my Youtube channel No Budget Films and the first Lego film I made though was set in Ancient Rome which back then I still preferred over Byzantium and this first film was based on the episode of I, Claudius entitled Some Justice featuring the character of Claudius who later becomes Roman emperor and his brother Germanicus the war hero but the 2nd film I made which was also in 2015 had a Byzantine angle as I was already getting into Byzantium, though the film I made was a very loose version of the story of the 4th Crusade in 1204 wherein the Byzantine capital, Constantinople was sacked and captured by the Crusaders, although in this film, I told it through the perspective of the defending Byzantine soldiers. By 2015, I had already added Byzantine history to one of my historical interests as back then I was into other European history especially the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, but back then it was primarily Byzantine military stuff that was my interest there as it was also then when I did my first sketches of Byzantine military units with weapons as well as when I made my first article on this exact same site you are reading now based on these sketches I made. Time had passed however and more things started to interest me including film and actual pop culture like Star Wars but Assassin’s Creed still remained close to me and so did my interest in Byzantium and Ancient Rome but the strange thing is that between when I first started getting into Byzantium in 2015 and when I actually fully got into it in 2019, I never really bothered to study the history of Byzantium itself and rather just look up Byzantine travel destinations in the Balkans or Turkey and of course Byzantine armies, armor, and weapons as for the longest time I was really into historical arms and armor finding Byzantine arms and armor the most interesting of them all.

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Byzantine soldiers from Assassin’s Creed Revelations

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Greek Fire from AC Revelations

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Constantinople, Byzantine imperial capital
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Map of the Balkans today

As time passed, my interests also do the same going from one topic to another but deep inside, I still would not let go of my love for Ancient Rome and Byzantium even if I still did not know much yet about Byzantine history. Throughout 2016, 2017, and 2018 my interests kept on switching that I can’t even remember what I was actually in to, also this was a very challenging time in life as this was when I was unsure of what to do with my life, as this is when I first entered college (2017) going for a film course where I later did not feel was the right place for me making me shift to entrepreneurship after a year (2018) and this was when I also started seeing the world by travelling in a more realistic way and not as a child anymore, which also meant that I was getting more drawn into the history of these countries I went to. In 2017, before going to college, I had an 11-day trip in the Balkans moving from one city to another each day, sleeping in another location every night but no matter how tiring this trip was, I got to see a very new and undiscovered side of the world that has so much history which made me appreciate Byzantine as well as Ottoman history especially since that part of the world is rich in both Byzantine and Ottoman cultures. From 2017-2018, I had also become very interested in Europe in general, not only its history but geography, countries, cities, food, and languages that in my other blog site called Far and Away for my travel articles as well as my top 10s in travel destinations which although included Byzantine travel destinations too, you should check this site out as well. However in 2018, my long-time interest in Roman history sparked again for some reason which included re-discovering the old series I, Claudius again after 3 years, also the release of Assassin’s Creed Origins and later that year Assassin’s Creed Odyssey had also helped me return to my linking for Ancient Greece and Rome, the Byzantine angle would come in not so long after. Also in 2018, I went to Constantinople (Istanbul) for a second time (the last time being 2015) and in that 2018 trip though I wasn’t yet very particular in my historical interest that I was still open to see both the more dominant Ottoman side of the city and the hidden Byzantine secrets that are still around, considering that of course Ottoman history was more recent and that Constantinople was the Ottomans’ imperial capital too. Also, considering that Turkish and Greek are my all time favorite cuisines, there’s got to be some reason that I would like its history too since these cuisines have a lot to do with both the Ottomans and Byzantines before them, and although my liking for these kinds of cuisines could have also gotten me interested in the Ottoman world too, I already had a fascination for Byzantium but not so much knowledge of it. It also happened in 2018 that I joined this really informative and interesting Facebook group Roman and Byzantine History especially since it was Ancient Rome that was my one of my favorite subjects back then and Byzantine armies too but it was in this group when I started discovering more of Byzantium than Ancient Rome. Basically, I can thank this awesome Facebook group for first getting me into Byzantium as when I joined it in mid-2018, my knowledge of Byzantine history wasn’t as broad yet and I only came in for the content on Imperial Roman history, and only then did I find out that Byzantine history too was not different but in fact part of the story of the same old Roman Empire. Now going back exactly 2 years from now with 2018 ending, let me just tell you that I did not see it coming that in 3 months I would end up becoming so obsessed with Byzantium despite having already gone to the Balkans and Constantinople, at this point I was so focused on playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey as well as with the other Assassins’ Creed games so my interests would keep shifting each day from Ancient Rome or Ancient Greece to the colonial age of the 17th to 18th centuries which a lot of other Assassin’s Creed games are set in too. At the beginning of 2019, my historical interests were still in Ancient Greece and Rome but again thanks to that group, I was starting to get more and more into the history of Byzantium seeing posts about certain emperors from the 6th century emperor Justinian I the Great to the powerful military emperors of the 10th century like Nikephoros II Phokas and Basil II as well as their cool advanced technology like Greek Fire. Now where my whole journey in the Byzantine world actually began wherein my unbroken fascination with Byzantium would begin is in this one February day of 2019. At this point, I have already been getting some new information about Byzantine history from that FB group and it just got me curious to learn about them and at the same time when I keep passing by the hallway of my house, I kept seeing the side of a gold book with the word “Byzantium” and due to all this curiosity on Byzantium being sparked in me due to all the Byzantine content in that FB group, I decided to give that book a try. This gold covered book was entitled Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire written by Judith Herrin and as I picked it up I scanned through all the chapters to see how the book was like, out of all the chapters to give a try reading it, I went for the one about Greek Fire since it was one of the the things that fascinated me about Byzantium ever since first getting into it back in 2015, and this was the extraordinary advanced super-weapon known as Greek Fire which was basically an ancient flamethrower that actually blew out fire operated by a mechanism in which after seeing it in Assassin’s Creed Revelations where you can actually get to operate it in the game got me so intrigued by it.

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Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire by Judith Herrin

When reading this Greek Fire chapter, there was no more going back as I did not only learn about what this Greek Fire was or how it was operated but this chapter told me more about it especially that this weapon was a well kept state secret so that the Byzantine would remain invincible to its enemies, considering that in their history that had so much foreign enemies. After finishing this chapter, I went back to the book again a few days later, this time to start from the beginning which was the origins of the Byzantine Empire which was of course the reign of the Roman emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337), who founded the imperial capital Constantinople in the year 330. Of course, even before Constantine the Great, Constantinople already existed as the port of Byzantium which was founded all the way back by Greek colonists allegedly by a hero named Byzas in the 7th century BC but in all these centuries, this town had never been so important until Constantine I chose to make it the new Roman capital and it would prove to be the right move since it was built in a strategic location that was in literally in between 2 continents (Asia and Europe) and surrounded by water on 3 sides making it hard for enemies to attack especially since the small piece of land that spans the peninsula of the city could be easily walled and true enough in the early 5th century, the massive Theodosian Wall was built in to defend the land side of the city which was so effective that these massive land walls were never successfully breached until the final siege of the city by the Ottomans which was the actual fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453 and even till this day, these walls still stand. First, I would think I’d soon enough stop reading this gold book after I read enough of what I wanted but I was wrong, every chapter was so interesting that I just kept reading although skipping some chapters especially those about the religious story of the empire despite it being so vital to Byzantine history as its subject matter seemed too intellectual for someone like who is not a real historian. Prior to reading this book, I already knew the basics of Byzantine history such as that it was the continuation of the Roman Empire, its foundation by Constantine the Great, it’s culture being a mix of Classical Greek and Roman with the Christian religion, its height of power at the reign of Justinian the Great in the 6th century, and of course the army. When reading this book, I would later discover a lot more, so no wonder I just kept reading and reading and from then on it was not only the Byzantine army’s soldiers, weapons, and armor that was my primary fascination with Byzantium but its contributions to our world from the legal code of Justinian I and the spread of Christianity to the people of Europe to smaller things like the introduction of the fork to the world during Byzantium’s golden age in the 10th century which I will talk about more later. This book also opened me up to so many possibilities in history which seemed like they could only be possible in Byzantium such as the mere fact of simple peasants becoming emperors which was the story of no other than Emperor Justinian I the Great and Basil I the Macedonian later on in the 9th century and this together with a lot of others is one of the sure reasons why Byzantine history is so interesting. It was at the end of March 2019 when I finished this book and true enough it had moved me so much especially seeing the story of how the Byzantine Empire evolved over the centuries and how tragic yet dramatic its end was when the Ottomans laid siege to Constantinople in 1453 with Byzantium’s last emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos personally leading his men to the end wherein he would die with his empire. This Byzantine history book by Judith Herrin may not be well organized in chronological form so it took me a while to understand the timeline of events and emperors in Byzantine history but this book more or less is a good introduction to the culture of Byzantium like a DK book or encyclopedia except with less pictures, and just to mention there is still no DK book purely about Byzantine history and I hope to see one in the future. Anyway, this book had in fact permanently opened me up to the world of Byzantium that from then on there was no going back so in the process of reading that book, I returned to writing articles on this site you are reading right now and from then it just went on an and on until this day. Prior to reading that book as well, after 2015 I have not written any content on this site since doing those Byzantine military figures sketches back then and in fact I thought I’d never write in this site again and rather only stick to doing travel articles for my other site which although had some Byzantine content in them but after almost 4 years of not updating this site, all of a sudden I returned again as my interest in Byzantium started and in late February of 2019, there was no going back as here I wrote the article 7 Reasons to be Interested in Byzantium for this site and from then on, I would go on and on writing here about Byzantium. Before rediscovering Byzantium in early 2019, I thought I would never write on this site again after only less than year writing in it (2015), but when this interest in Byzantium sparked in me again, I decided that this blog site would be revived and would only be usually committed to posts on Byzantine history with a few exceptions from time to time as this blog site needed to have some unique content. At this point in time, I have also been having quite a rough time which is too hard to explain so I wanted to look for some balance in life especially being in college with so much work and school pressure and true enough I did find that balance in Byzantine history when discovering this exact book at home. As I returned to write for this site again in early 2019 after almost 4 years, the new me began, I was then no longer the kid who only found Byzantium interesting because of its soldiers, arms, and armor, or the person who wrote about ranking travel destinations even if not actually going to them but a new person who was willing to get deeper and deeper to the history of Byzantium, its emperors, culture, military, and bizarre tales, fully committed to writing about Byzantine history based on newly discovered knowledge from books and online, here began me as the Byzantium Blogger.     

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The Byzantine Empire’s extents in 3 different periods
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1453, the final siege of Constantinople

I was so fascinated with this book “Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire” that I literally brought it with me wherever I went even if it look off but when I finished reading it in March of 2019, my world had completely changed as from then on there was no going back, my mind had been opened to the truly surprising and fascinating yet bloody and tragic story of the Byzantine Empire and once finished reading that book, I proceeded to write another article using the same title of the book which was basically my review on that book and all my learnings and new found discoveries of Byzantium from it and this is when my commitment to spreading the word of Byzantine history began. When reading this book, I saw that Byzantine history was just as fascinating as that of the history of Imperial Rome, England, or France, yet Byzantine history does not receive much attention as others like Ancient Greece and Rome or medieval England and France that I started realizing it especially since in that same FB group, there happened to be more posts on Ancient Rome than on Byzantium and more obviously that that there are no mainstream media or films set in the Byzantine era wherein there are a lot set in Medieval Europe or Ancient Greece or Rome, and lastly I also noticed why Byzantine history seems to be forgotten. Here I started questioning why and I also discovered that it was partly because after the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottomans in 1453, Western Europe emerged as the new powers of England, France, Spain, and Portugal and they would be the ones to write history and these were more or less the same westerners that distrusted the Byzantines centuries ago seeing the Byzantine people as cowards and traitors during the time of the Crusades (11th-13th centuries) so with Byzantium falling and the west who never trusted them rising, Byzantium had become forgotten. Also, later on in the 18th century the great intellectuals of the era like the English historian Edward Gibbon would describe Byzantine history as nothing more but a time of corruption and decadence and the French philosopher Voltaire too had described the history of Byzantium as worthless and disgusting. However today, as we continue discovering more and more about history, Byzantium is actually becoming discovered more and seen for what it actually was and when I started writing my articles in 2019, I already made it my mission to put Byzantine history in the spotlight and hopefully make it seem more relatable than myth and even as mainstream history and pop culture. Anyway, in April of 2019 when already getting deeply into the world of Byzantium and being committed to bring it out into the world, I started out by continuing to do my articles on this site and even for a final project in one subject I had for school, I designed a Byzantine themed board game called Byzantium X which I hope that it gets pitched one day and give some attention to Byzantium. Although I finished reading my first book on Byzantium (the gold one), I still skipped some chapters especially on religion but some months later I got the chance to go back to that book and read some chapters I missed like the one about Byzantine icons and the movement of Iconoclasm in the 8th-9th centuries, an interesting yet dark and controversial period in Byzantine history. Anyway, since I already finished reading my first Byzantine history book in April of 2019, soon enough I got a new book which was a copy of A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by the historian Anthony Kaldellis and I just have to say this book was the most interesting Byzantine reading material I read but also the most easy to read, especially if you are in the mood for a light read but at the same time wanting to get into Byzantium. It was when reading this book that I got particularly into the Byzantine emperors and got to know them in order when reading the back end of the book and based on all the trivia I learned on the emperors, I wrote a new article specifically on all the Emperors of Byzantium and basically all the weird trivia about them and their lives based on that new book I read from the first emperor of Byzantium being Constantine I the Great (306-337) and ending with the last one Constantine XI (1449-1453). As I started again writing for this site over here that you are reading, I already focused on promoting them by sharing my article on the Roman and Byzantine History FB group so that I get more viewers and even more, I went as far as actually having the first Byzantine articles I wrote shared on one of the most complete and informative Byzantine history Facebook pages being Great Eastern Roman Empire, although unfortunately this page had been hacked and possibly deleted later on in 2019, but despite it I still continued on with my articles and sharing them online.

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A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis

Now reading this “Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities”, I actually ended up doing several articles throughout 2019 based on selected chapters from the book which I found interesting and after the one on the emperors, I made one based on this book’s chapter on the forgotten but very interesting science and technology of Byzantium sometime in June of 2019 which was followed up by another one I made based on this book’s chapter of Byzantine crimes and punishments as well as medical practice. For me, it was the topic of Byzantine science and technology that truly intrigued me especially with their unique inventions and scientific discoveries and when finding out about all the cool Byzantine inventions such as Greek Fire both the one used in ships and the portable one, flaming grenades, advanced silk manufacturing, ship mills, a systematic beacon communication system and also that the idea of a spherical earth was also discovered by a Byzantine named Symeon Seth in the 11th century and that the basis of our calendar was also based on a model of the 14th century Byzantine scholar Nikephoros Gregoras made me even appreciate Byzantium even more especially since they were so enlightened as people that their inventions could even be admired up to this day. Also, the other chapter in this Cabinet of Curiosities book that interested me a lot was the one about foreign lands and people and how the Byzantines saw them and it was so interesting to see how the Byzantines saw far away lands like India and China so intriguing the same way how I see Byzantium today while this chapter also talked about how some Byzantine writers also had some strange views about other different people including Huns, barbarian Germanic peoples, Scandinavians, Slavs, Arabs, Persians, and in the later centuries western people like the Franks, Normans, Italians, Germans, and even English who the Byzantines saw as unrefined barbarians who don’t know how to live life while in return they saw the Byzantines as nothing more but the stereotypical effeminate schemers. Since I found the topic of foreign lands and people according to the Byzantines based on the chapter from the Cabinet of Curiosities book so interesting, I made 2 articles in July of 2019 on them which will be linked here too; the first one about the people of the east and neighbors according to the Byzantines and the next one about the western people according to the Byzantines. Following these 2 articles, I continued to do another one based on another chapter of this book which was about warfare and tactics in Byzantine history, which was what got me into Byzantium at the very beginning. This article I made which is The Art of War in the Byzantine World and this chapter was another very interesting one in the book especially since it talks about the true nature of the Byzantine Empire when fighting wars in which most of their emperors preferred using diplomacy to fight and used much smarter solutions like bribing their enemies’ neighbors to attack them or using spies to gain information on their enemies, and that when it came to fighting battles the Byzantine army turned out to be very disciplined that it was most important for them to stay in formation at all times. Another very interesting thing to learn about Byzantium was their use of the Theme System in administering their empire which was yet another great innovation of theirs wherein they organized their empire’s geography into smaller military provinces or Themes which actually proved to be effective ever since this system was formed in the 7th century when Byzantium was facing constant threats of the Arab invasions, and this system made it possible for the armies to be more mobile especially since armies were stationed not so far from each other and when one Theme was under attack, the army from the next one could easily come to their aid rather than marching all the way from the other side of the empire, and this Theme system indeed helped make the Byzantine Empire’s army structure a well organized one. In September of 2019, I made a whole article which is A Guide to the Byzantine Empire’s Themes on the Themes of the Byzantine Empire including the whole story of Theme System and a list of all the empire’s Themes and even more interesting how these Themes created new Themes over the centuries. I also got a copy of Streams of Gold, River of Blood by Anthony Kaldellis which is a more scholarly work of his compared to his Cabinet of Curiosities, and this book focuses on politics and warfare of the Byzantine Empire during their height of power from the 10th-11th centuries and sudden decline following it due to the rise of new foreign enemies like the Seljuk Turks, Pechenegs, and Normans; however, I never got the chance to fully read this book as it takes a lot of time and patience but hopefully soon I’ll get the chance to read it.

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Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood by Anthony Kaldellis

As 2019 progressed, I also discovered an older but very informative 18-part Byzantine history podcast which is 12 Byzantine Rulers by Lars Brownworth which although was made 10 years earlier telling the history of Byzantium through 12 different emperors, and in fact I would keep listening to it on and on while in the car during traffic or travelling long hours that it got me so in to the lives and stories of the emperors that ruled Byzantium. Later on in 2019, listening to these podcasts over and over again got me so into the emperors that it made me decide to do an article again on the emperors of Byzantium and more about their personalities and how they reigned and this writing process was so long that I had to divide it into 3 parts which was my blog posts for October of 2019 which all 3 parts will be linked here too; part1- emperors from 330-867, part2- emperors from 867-1180, part3- emperors from 1180-1453. Then following these 3 posts on the reigns and personalities of the Byzantine emperors, I went back to doing another feature on another chapter of Cabinet of Curiosities and this article was on the natural disasters in Byzantine history and it was also good to know that Byzantium suffered many natural disasters including plagues, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, fires, and more which makes their story even more inspiring surviving them all. Other than that, I already decided to go a bit more experimental later on in 2019 by doing some unique Byzantine articles like one that had to do with different states that formed out of Byzantium which I surprisingly discovered the Republic of Venice was one of them which began in the 8th century which is rather a long story while other kingdoms too like Serbia and Bulgaria were other states that were culturally built up by Byzantium and on this subject matter I made a 2 part-series on 15 states physically and culturally formed out of the Byzantine Empire; the first part being the 7 of them including the Western Roman Empire, Exarchates of Ravenna and Carthage, Venice, Cilician Armenia, Serbia, Bosnia, and the Bulgarian Empire wherein I also got interested in the story of medieval Serbia and Bulgaria; and the second part being the next 8 being other Byzantine breakaway states including the Crusaders’ Latin Empire based in Constantinople from 1204 to 1261, the temporary Byzantine Empire of Nicaea, the break-away Empire of Trebizond, the rebel Despotate of Epirus, Despotate of the Morea, Montferrat which was a small Italian state that at one point was ruled by a Byzantine imperial family member, the Genoese vassal state of Lesbos, and Moscow which can be considered Byzantium’s spiritual successor. Now when finishing off 2019, I then worte a very long article The 12 Turning Points in Byzantine History all based on what learned over the year about Byzantium and basically this article was my retelling of Byzantine history through 12 different major events in their history and it was here when writing this article that I truly learned what Byzantine history was all about which was that it was a story of continuous ups and downs and for this reason their empire actually lasted for over a thousand years. Not to mention for 2019, in almost all my articles I started by quoting a Byzantine history quote either from the age of Byzantium or what someone from a different time had to say about it, although by 2020 I slowly stopped using this style.

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Map of the aftermath of the Byzantine Empire after 1204

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Byzantium X board game, my own project

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Warfare in Byzantium

Not to mention, despite 2019 being the year that my Byzantine history passion started, it was also a very special year because all in one year I was able to travel to the greatest Byzantine destinations in the world first Ravenna, Italy and next to Constantinople itself, then I dedicated my film channel to Byzantine films, and my greatest project of the year was making literally the complete genealogy of all the Byzantine emperors from start to finish. In May of 2019, I would finally get my chance to see Ravenna in Italy itself, the capital of the short lived Western Roman Empire from 402 to the fall of Western Rome in 476 and even back in 2015 when I wasn’t so very much into Byzantium, I already knew about Ravenna and was so in awe only seeing pictures of it. Now in May of 2019, when going to Italy, this would be the first time when in travelling that my primary goal is to see Byzantine sites so in Rome instead of going to the main tourist attractions, cause obviously I’ve been to Rome a few other times before already so it was time to see new things so this time in Rome, I chose to go to a number of hidden churches which had hidden gems being the remains of Byzantine era mosaics decorating apses and walls despite these churches having evolved in architecture over the centuries but overall it is very interesting to see these churches in Rome having usually Baroque architecture but still remains of the past Byzantine era mosaics in them which is very thoughtful too of them to preserve their past even if these mosaics though are not entirely Byzantine but rather made by Byzantine artists in the 8th century that fled to Rome to pursue their work as making religious icons in Byzantium had been banned due to the emperors’ Iconoclast policies.

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Byzantine era mosaic found in Rome

Anyway, I have also done an article in my other site about these churches in Rome that feature some of the best Byzantine style mosaics though it would take so much time to remember the names of all these churches, also this article tells my experience seeing the Capitoline museum of Rome and its Ancient Roman finds. The highlight of this trip however was of course the hidden gem of Italy, Ravenna a city that is quite hard to imagine that it was once an imperial capital so many centuries ago especially now that it appears to be a sleepy town compared to so many historical Italian cities like Florence and Bologna as Ravenna’s gems are found inside its landmarks. Ravenna is also the kind of place that is hard to imagine it as an imperial center especially since it is located in an area hard to reach in a marshland but in the year 402 it was strategically moved to this location by the western emperor Honorius who may have screwed up in ruling his empire but at least he thought of this location as some place that could protect the imperial capital and it worked for a long time, although Ravenna was not impregnable as in 476, the Western Roman Empire died in Ravenna too as the barbarian general Odoacer marched through swamps into the city to overthrow the last western emperor Romulus Augustus.

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Ravenna, capital of the Western Roman Empire since 402

As for me, I have actually already been fascinated with and interested in going to Ravenna ever since I first got into Byzantium in 2015 and again when reading the gold Byzantium book which started my Byzantine journey in early 2019, there had indeed been a full chapter on Ravenna and the mosaics which also talks about the history of the city and its time under the Byzantines. It was in the same Italy trip of mine in May 2019 when I finally got my chance to go and see Ravenna and what it actually is and I have to say that it was not easy to get there as Ravenna itself is out of the way not in any main train route or highway in Italy, also no matter how impressive its mosaics are, it at least still seems to be a popular destination but still not as hyped as everything else in Italy around it and basically it is because of it being out of the way as of this day considering that it had been an important city first as the Western Roman Empire’s capital, the capital of Ostrogoth Italy, then the capital of Byzantine Italy’s Exarchate until its fall to the Lombards in the 8th century but it was only back then in the distant past when Ravenna was significant making one of those kind of places that had been something great long ago but had faded away after a certain point in time until it was rediscovered but on the positive, Ravenna losing its significance also helped preserved its gems, otherwise if it still stayed important, its old treasures would have been built over. As of this day, Ravenna is for me one of the world’s most unique places as it is one of the few places on earth that may look ordinary from the outside but so impressive from the inside especially with its ancient mosaics still intact. Now I have to admit that I was truly in awe seeing the mosaics in Ravenna and at first before going there I thought they would all be in one place but turns out there were actually 8 landmarks which are all UNESCO world heritage sites and in the single day I saw the city, I at least saw 6 out of the 8 and all were impressive. One of the most impressive was the mausoleum of the western Empress Galla Placidia which turns out to date back to the 5th century, also this happened to be the exact same place that has the famous blue ceiling mosaics that are one of the first search results when searching for Byzantine art. However, the best highlight of Ravenna was of course the main church itself, the Basilica of San Vitale which has what of course could be the most iconic of Byzantine mosaics, the panel of the 6th century Emperor Justinian I and his generals facing the panel of his wife Empress Theodora and court members, and even better was that the entire walls and even the small narrow spaces in the church were filled with colorful mosaics and though the mosaics may look one-dimensional compared to the lively Renaissance and Baroque paintings, this kind of style makes Byzantine art what it its, the kind of art that is supposed. to draw you in.

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Mosaics of the Galla Placidia Mausoleum

Though I only stayed in Ravenna for less than a day, I was so amazed with how much was actually put into everything and how skilled these people were especially in decorating everything with mosaics including the narrowest spaces and highest areas considering that they did not have the modern technology to do it. On the other hand, I also felt that my visit to Ravenna was not complete as I missed out on seeing the other 2 heritage sites such as the white marble Mausoleum of the Ostrogoth king Theodoric who ruled Ravenna before Justinian I’s eventual reconquest and the Church of Classe which has another iconic mosaic featuring the 7th century Byzantine emperor Constantine IV although this church had happened to be out of the way not in the city center but rather in the middle of a field. However it was more of the Classe Church that I was still more interested to see than King Theodoric’s Mausoleum and even till this day I still feel bad that I wasn’t able to see the Church of Classe and its mosaics but hopefully I do return to Ravenna some day to see it, not to mention I also felt bad that I did not get to see the country of San Marino too which was also so close to Ravenna. On the other hand, this short trip to Ravenna had also taught me as I mentioned earlier that some places may look generic at first site but if you look deeper they have so much more than what you see. Also, I also learned here in this short trip in Ravenna that it sometimes does not always help to get a guide because based on my experience here of having a guide in Ravenna, it could only help you in showing you the way around and telling you what exactly you see like in the mosaics but sometimes having a guide does not really work much especially if you are someone like me who wants to know more and more about the history and the hidden stories and sometimes they may only know the more basic things and I can surely prove my opinion here because it was only long after going to Ravenna when I learned the more interesting stories of the people that lived and ruled from there and all the weird things that happened in it such as the Empress Galla Placidia and her son Valentinian III who had turned out to be a bad ruler that murdered his competent and heroic general Flavius Aetius in Ravenna out of envy when in fact it was Aetius that was saving the empire or the other crazy story of the emperor Honorius prior to that who was relieved when finding out that the city of Rome had been attacked and not his chicken named Rome. Now I learned all these details on the history of Ravenna from other materials later on like history videos online and not from a guide touring me in Ravenna and these are one of the reasons why I wouldn’t really suggesting a guide but of course if you are just an ordinary tourist who is just interested in knowing about the basics of a place, then I would suggest having a guide but for a Byzantine history enthusiast like me, then it would not be very worth it to have a guide otherwise it would also feel awkward especially when a person like me would end up annoyingly non stop questioning the guide and feel like you know your history better than your guide, not to mention sometimes it is not also so reliable to have a guide especially since they could make things up about their city basing all their knowledge on local legends rather than proven historical facts. Now after having visited Ravenna, I can say that it is one place so underrated but worth visiting but why it still remains underrated is as I said because it is out of the way but more significantly because Italy is one country with just so much landmarks, cities, and destinations to see including 2 separate countries within it being the Vatican City and San Marino and Ravenna is only 1% of what’s there to see in Italy and that it would take a lifetime to see everything in Italy but the other thing I can say about Ravenna is that it is a very specialized place for people although for a lot it could just simply put them in awe when seeing the mosaics but for history fans like me, going to a hidden gem like Ravenna is a truly meaningful experience especially since you are actually steeping in the place where all those events in Byzantine history happened and this is possibly the best place to see Byzantine mosaics all the way back from the 6th century and earlier still intact. Lastly, this short one-day trip had indeed have such a huge impact on me that it had changed my way of travelling and seeing the world as from then on my travelling interest had been so narrowed down due to by obsession on Byzantium and the same can be said for my next trip which was to Constantinople itself later in 2019. Prior to my Ravenna trip of 2019, I was more open to see all kinds of historical destinations when travelling but this trip truly turned me around and I could already see it, like for example when I was in Bologna at the same time as my Ravenna trip and there I did not really care much when seeing the historical landmarks of Bologna even if they have a lot of historical value but since my historical interests has already been so narrowed down to Ancient Rome and Byzantium, seeing sites from Medieval or Renaissance Italy did not fascinate me as much unlike me before getting into Byzantium, when all parts of history fascinated me.

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Emperor Justinian I and his men mosaic, Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna
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Empress Theodora and her court mosaic, Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna

Read my article on the Ravenna mosaics here.

Now later on in 2019 I returned for a quick 2-day trip to the imperial capital Constantinople itself, and here my obsession with Byzantium having grown even more made me only want to see the Byzantine attractions of Istanbul despite the Ottoman attractions being obviously more dominant. In this Istanbul trip however, I had long planned it to be more focused on Byzantine era Constantinople and of course this would mean searching deep for them. In this 2-day trip in Istanbul I can say that I achieved what I wanted to do and in such as short time I had been able to see so much including the remains of the ancient palaces in the city center, the Hagia Sophia, and even all the way to the back of the city seeing the remains of the old imperial Blachernae Palace, and even more going as far as seeing the Princes’ Islands in the Marmara Sea, the exact same islands where Byzantine emperors were exiled to. Now previously I said it was not always worth it to have a guide but sometimes there are exceptions and in this case I was wrong as in this trip of mine in Constantinople, this is when I can say it was surely worth it having a guide especially since it helped in getting me actually a VIP entrance to the Hagia Sophia and other locations without falling in line and it surely helped having one especially in getting to know exactly where the old Byzantine landmarks once stood buried beneath this great city and without having a guide I would not know exactly where to located them as Istanbul’s map is a maze while in Ravenna it seems very easy to locate everything. For sure in this short trip of mine in Constantinople the highlight of course was the Hagia Sophia, the world’s largest and most impressive cathedral throughout the whole existence of Byzantium and even till this day 1,500 years after it was built it is still one of the world’s most impressive sites and it is such a surprise on how its still stands intact.

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Byzantine Hagia Sophia layout

When it comes to mosaics and art, I would say that the ones in Ravenna are more impressive to see but the ones in the Hagia Sophia have more story despite being so mixed up but the reason why the Hagia Sophia’s mosaics are like this is because there is so much history to them considering that this church had been through a time when icons had to be erased and afterwards restored, then from 1204 to 1261 was made into a Catholic Church by the Crusaders, and back again to a Byzantine Orthodox Church in 1261 until 1453 when it was converted into a mosque as the Ottomans took over and then centuries later into a museum and now becoming a mosque again. Although my visit to the Hagia Sophia last year wasn’t my first one as when I first went to Istanbul in 2015, I also went to the Hagia Sophia but I wasn’t so into it yet though when I went last year, it was my time to see it now as a Byzantine history enthusiast and not an ordinary tourist and when seeing the inside as a Byzantine enthusiast I spent a lot more time looking at every little detail such as the Byzantine emperors depicted in the mosaics. When being so into Byzantine history and knowing so much about it, it turns out to be such a great experience to actually see your favorite characters in history in the mosaics and know exactly who they are compared to just passing by the landmark and just being so impressed by it without actually knowing what it is you are actually seeing. Now all I can say about going to Constantinople (Istanbul) is that it is such a great experience especially if you are so into Byzantine history even though as of this day, Byzantium remains a distant past in Istanbul especially since it has been the Ottoman imperial capital afterwards for a very long time too but surely it is an interesting place because there has been no other city on earth that stands between two continents making it have such a rich mix in cultures, and no other city has been a capital not just for one but two empires and for all these reasons, Istanbul is surely one of a kind. Now I would also say that Istanbul for a lot would seem more or less like an exotic but very impressive and culturally rich destination that may also look so inconsistent especially since you would see ancient ruins next to Byzantine era church structures, next to Ottoman mosques but this inconsistency makes Istanbul ever more of an interesting place. However, for a Byzantine history lover like me, Istanbul means a lot more than just an interesting exotic and culturally diverse place but a the true great imperial city and for centuries people as far Sub-Saharan Africa and Scandinavia during the Byzantine era were in awe with it. In this trip in November of 2019, I would fully see Istanbul in a totally different light, but of course I have a lot more reasons to like Istanbul especially since Turkish is my favorite cuisine. Not to mention right before passing by Istanbul, I also travelled for one week in Russia which also makes a lot of sense to this story especially since Byzantine culture continued in Russia after 1453, although my journey in Russia would be a story for another time as it would be too long to put it here.

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The History of the Byzantine Empire by Radi Dikici

Another great highlight of this trip in Istanbul was getting a book which would be one of the best ones I read on Byzantine history and my go to book if want to know the stories of the emperors more, this one is The History of the Byzantine Empire written by the Turkish author Radi Dikici, and this book is actually a are one and of all places, I bought it in the museum shop of the ruins of the Blachernae Palace.

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The Hagia Sophia as a church in the Byzantine era 
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Byzantine era Constantinople

Read my article on Byzantine Constantinople, the Queen of Cities here.

Now again back to my Byzantine journey in 2019, something I still have to mention was this extra special of project of mine I did at home made in August between my trip to Ravenna (May) and Constantinople (November) and this extra special project was the complete Byzantine Imperial Genealogy. After doing some readings in the past months, it was the subject matter of the Byzantine emperors that had interested me a lot so soon enough I wanted to see if all these emperors were all related to each other in one way or another and what came out of it was not just a simple answer but a entire full large piece of paper wherein I actually managed to connect all the dots from the beginning to end of the story of the Byzantine Empire. Surely it was not easy to make all this especially since I went from start to end, from Constantine I to Constantine XI and when doing this complete genealogy, this is when I discovered that succession in the Byzantine Empire was very difficult unlike in other kingdoms like England or France and because of this in Byzantium’s 1,100 years of existing it had 15 different dynasties some only having 3 emperors such as the short-lived dynasty of Emperor Nikephoros I (802-813) and also succession in Byzantium was not as simple as father to son. This work of putting together this genealogy too took a lot of research by putting together all the family genealogies of all Byzantine imperial dynasties found in Wikipedia in which I had to systematically interpret but at the end I also discovered that in one way or another, all the imperial dynasties of Byzantium are actually connected to each other though very indirectly meaning that one dynasty would be related to another one with one family member of a dynasty no matter how far related would happen to be married to someone from the other dynasty. Now making this great project of this Byzantine genealogy would happen to be one of my best memories in my Byzantine journey and it was something so unexpected too. Even more unexpected was all the attention that was given to it when I completed it as I first only posted a picture of the whole genealogy to the Roman and Byzantine history FB group and in only a day it got so much reacts and mostly positive ones and to my surprise it was even posted in the page of Brilliant Byzantine Memes and I even felt like a star for that moment. True enough it was not only in these FB groups and sites where I received so much praise and attention but even among people I know in my college who were actually in awe when finding out I had done something just like that. I would say that this Byzantine genealogy is truly something I would remain proud of and one of the best moments of my Byzantine journey. On the other hand, I also had another special project wherein I painted my bathroom’s walls at home with Byzantine related art including the coat of arms of the imperial families and the my version of the mosaics of the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna.  

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My complete Byzantine imperial genealogy (August 2019)

Read this to know more about my Byzantine Genealogy Project.

The Byzantine Journey Continues through 2020

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Now came 2020, and this would be the first time I would be focused on one particular interest for 2 consecutive years which was of course Byzantium, although this year 2020 would be my year of rediscovering my old fascination which was Ancient Rome and expanding more on it in order to see it actually connect to Byzantium. At the beginning of 2020 I just took it easy and haven’t posted anything in this site until February but in January I already had a lot planned in mind, one of them was another ambitious project, the Lego Byzantine epic War of the Sicilian Vespers in which I have been writing its script in January. Another exciting thing that happened very early on this year was that finally there was some Byzantine history related content on Netflix which was the 6 episode documentary drama Rise of Empires: Ottoman and I have to say it was a good series and although its focus was more on the Ottoman story of the sultan Mehmed II and his conquest of Byzantine Constantinople in 1453, this series also did a good job in portraying the last remains of Byzantium and its last emperor Constantine XI, though only a few details of the events of 1453 were missed out on this series.

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Rise of Empires: Ottoman series

Now in February of this year, it would the first time for the year that I would post on this site and my first post was an article again on the emperors but this time more on their ethnic origins and mixes which is another interesting subject matter. As 2020 came in, all I could say is that my knowledge in Byzantium got wider and deeper and so did my articles get more and more insider and unique in topics compared to the previous year and again as 2020 came and my interest in Byzantium went on, Byzantium was now a lot more to me than impressive arms and armor, art, and architecture but its fascinating story and very colorful emperors. As I got to know the stories of Byzantium and its emperors more, I started discovering that almost all these emperors for 1,100 years all had colorful lives and personalities but the other thing that seemed to fascinate me most was that a lot of these Byzantine emperors have a lot of mixed blood or come from interesting parts of the world having different backgrounds as well. In this article I wrote which was the Ethnic Origins of the Byzantine Emperors, I had learned so many new things as I wrote it and this includes some new interesting things you would not really know such as that a lot of Byzantine emperors are either of Armenian descent or in its early days including Constantine I and Justinian I came from the Balkans, also I made a lot of new discoveries when making this and the most interest one also being that a lot of other emperors especially in the last years have so much mixed blood especially due to Byzantine emperors marrying royals from all over Europe, which was the interesting thing I learned here thus making Byzantium more of a rich melting pot of cultures. After writing this article, I did another one I also always wanted to write which was one on the many Sieges of Constantinople and after reading that History of the Byzantine Empire book which I got in Istanbul, I got intrigued to write about all the sieges Constantinople underwent especially since that book covering the whole history put a lot of emphasis on the sieges of Constantinople and when doing this article, what really got me so intrigued about the topic was that no matter how many times Constantinople in 1,100 years as the Byzantine imperial capital underwent a siege by a foreign enemy or in a civil war, it still stood and true enough Constantinople was attacked by as many different people as you can imagine from Goths, to Persians, to Arabs, to Bulgars, to Crusaders, to Turks, and even to fellow Byzantines, the city at most times stood unconquered except for that one time in 1204 when the Crusaders captured it but the fact that Constantinople’s walls proved able to withstand any siege for a thousand years until the invention of cannons was truly impressive. As for the rest of February and March, I focused on continuing my Byzantine journey by actually filming the script I wrote on the Sicilian Vespers story that I previously wrote which I will talk more about it later on. Anyway when March came, this is when everything turned around when COVID-19 turned into a pandemic and things all went upside-down especially with the lockdowns ongoing, although at first I was very nervous about it but at the same time, the lockdown would give me more time to discover more and more about Byzantine history especially since I would just be at home for the next 2 months. In March with the pandemic already happening, I decided to make an article that will fit well with the current situation so I made one talking about the pandemics in Byzantine history and here again I made another interesting discovery about the Byzantine Empire which was that in its 1,100 year existence it went through 2 major pandemics first was the Plague of Justinian in 542 and the next was the Black Death in 1347 which was the Black Death plague of the 14th century which had been one of the reasons for the collapse of Byzantium but it’s still impressive that the empire still lived on till then.

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The Plague of Justinian in Constantinople,

In addition I also included a mention on the Antonine Plague of the 2nd century in this article thus making it the first time I would include stories of Ancient Rome in my Byzantine articles and here I would start seeing the continuity between empires. Following this article on the pandemics of history, I proceeded to write another one which was more personal and talking about my experience during the lockdown and my thoughts on it relating it to stories in Byzantium and when writing both these articles first about the plagues and next about isolation in the Byzantine era in relation with the current quarantine period; here was when I started seeing how much Byzantine history is still relevant up to this day especially since pandemics like this one right now is nothing new as the Byzantines in their time had it worse by having 5-10,000 deaths a day in Constantinople alone due to the plague and ideas right now like social distancing and isolation was also present back then and interestingly some Byzantine people were masters of social distancing like the stylite saints of the 5th century who spent their whole lives above columns to stay away from everyone to achieve a more spiritual life, also I did this article on my thoughts on quarantine wherein I was greatly bothered by the thought of being confined to a small space which however wasn’t so small but I was also trying to show that I wasn’t alone here and people also back then in the Byzantine era even emperors suffered the same thing especially when they were deposed by their enemies and were forced to be stay in a tight monastery for years sometimes even till death as a punishment being deprived of all the luxuries they had in their time as emperor and so far the most impactful story of these emperors who were forced into isolation for years was that of the young boy ruler John IV Laskaris who in 1261 was blinded and deposed and for an entire 29 years he was locked up in a prison tower alone basically growing up there as he was deposed and imprisoned as a child and was released already fully grown up.

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St. Simeon the Stylite of 5th century Byzantium, champion of social distancing

With quarantine time continuing, I moved on to work on my grand project of the year which was editing the Byzantine era Sicilian Vespers movie and continuing to do more articles too. In the long days of quarantine, I also ended up rediscovering the history of Ancient Rome which happened when I rediscovered books at home about the Roman Empire and started watching more videos online about Roman history and this time around May of 2020 is when I first discovered the channel of Dovahhatty which would then be my favorite channel. At this time, I would end up making 3 long articles comparing everything the Roman Empire and its successor the Byzantine Empire had; the first one about the Roman army structure comparing it to that of the Byzantines after them, the second one about the Roman imperial system and succession and comparing it to that of the Byzantines after them, and the third one about the culture of the Romans and comparing it to the Byzantines after them and it may have seemed to be a bit strange that I was comparing the same empire to itself as Byzantium was in fact the Roman Empire continued.

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Crossover flag of the Roman and Byzantine Empires

When doing this 3-part series I also had learned a lot especially that even though the Byzantine Empire was different in name and location from Rome, it was not only the successor of Imperial Rome but Imperial Rome itself evolved as Byzantium basically took on the same structures of the Roman army just changing it over time adapting to the current situations they were in by updating tactics, weapons, and armor, continuing the same system of emperors ruling the empire which had been founded by Augustus Caesar replacing the old Roman Republic except that over the centuries the imperial system kept evolving more and more becoming more and more autocratic at the time of Byzantium, and lastly when it came to culture Byzantium basically just took on almost everything established by Ancient Rome but added Christian elements replacing the old Pagan ones.

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Roman and Byzantine emperors from the Balkans
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Map of the spread of the Black Death across Europe

2020 may have not been a year full of adventure and excitement with no major travel to a place with Byzantine history but it was nevertheless a meaningful one in my Byzantine journey and due to fact of being at home more, 2020 made me discover so many new things about Ancient Rome and Byzantium therefore making me think about it and analyze it even more and for this reason, this made my articles even more scholarly and informative. It was here in 2020 when I had been so drawn to the channel of Dovahhatty even if I only started following it 4 episodes before the finale of the Roman Empire story came out and because of this, my interest in Ancient Rome was revived and to make it more worth it, I decided to make articles which involve it together with Byzantium which I still continued liking. This year I also made 2 lighter articles to read which would now include both Byzantium and Imperial Rome before it and the first of these was one I did last June about Women in Imperial Rome and Byzantium and it was such an interesting topic especially on how women in the imperial families played such a big role in shaping the empire such as when a powerful woman is behind her emperor husband, son, or brother and in July I then did an easier to do article on Cuisine in Ancient Rome and Byzantium which was another interesting topic finding out the food people ate back then. Then came August, and here I decided to do another major project which was an article on the whole history of Byzantium from the 4th to 15th centuries comparing it side by side to the events all over the world. Doing this article was such a great challenge especially since I was going to summarize world history in general wherein I wasn’t so familiar with history of other parts of the world as this article included not just Byzantine or Medieval European history but events in all the centuries between the 4th and 15th everywhere including the Americas and Africa and it was indeed such a challenge that it would be divided into 2 parts, the first part featuring the history Byzantium told side-by-side with events all over the world from the year 300 to 1000 and the second part featuring events in the history of Byzantium side-by-side with those all over the world from 1000 to the fall of Byzantium in 1453.

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Coronation of a Byzantine emperor

When doing this 2-part series last August, I was so impressed when studying Byzantine history from beginning to end side-by-side with events all over the world especially since the Byzantine Empire lived for so long that so many other kingdoms rose and fell throughout Byzantium’s existence. As of 2019 my biggest Byzantine project was doing the complete genealogy of all the emperors and making a full article about while for 2020 it was this article of telling the entire story of Byzantium side-by-side with all the events happening around the world in its entire 1,100 year existence and when finishing it I was so exhausted with all the work and all the information in my head so for the whole of September, I just took it easy and did not post anything new on this site. It was in October when I returned to writing here again and here I would do another 2-part series which would be about something new I had just learned which was that there were many emperors that you did not know about in the whole history of the Roman Empire and Byzantium especially since there were a lot of usurpers and rival emperors in the entire history from the founding of the Roman Empire by Augustus in 27BC to the fall of Byzantium in 1453 so I decided to make an article that will focus on these named of people who could have possibly ruled the Roman and Byzantine Empires and it was again such a long list that I had to divide it into 2 parts again, the first one of the names of possible Roman emperors from the birth of the Roman Empire to the end of the first Byzantine era in the late 7th century, and the second part on the names of possible Byzantine emperors and rival emperors from where I left off in the late 7th century ending with the fall of Byzantium in 1453. Again after doing this great project in October, I took another break from writing and in November I basically took it easy for most of the month until later on in the months when I would do a stand-alone experimental article on the story of the 4 Defenestrations of Prague just for a change of scene and also because this was the exact same new topic that the channel Dovahhatty did a feature on so as a big fan of the channel I wanted to the same in making a stand-alone article about the 4 different Defenestrations of Prague or the throwing of people off a window which happened in Prague 4 times from the 15th to 20th centuries which I thought of as a very interesting topic.

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1618 Defenestration of Prague

Now in December of this year I would go back to doing my usual Roman and Byzantine posts and this one would be the topic I was long planning to do this entire year ever since finally fully understanding Roman history and its connection to Byzantium and this one would be the article where I would be comparing the stories of the decline and fall of Imperial Rome and its successor the Byzantine Empire. For me it was so interesting to see that even though both were the same empire more or less, centuries after the fall of Western Rome the same kind of circumstances and same kinds of emperors happened for Eastern Rome or Byzantium and this truly shows how history does repeat itself. Writing this article too was also such a challenge that needed so much research and so much fact checking that it had to be divided into 2 parts again so how I did it was that I made the first part focus on comparing the similarities and differences between the decline of the old Roman Empire with the 3rd Century Crisis and short revival afterwards together with its emperors compared to the decline of Byzantium in the 11th century and short revival afterwards while the second part was to compare the fall of the Western Roman Empire from the 4th to 5th centuries and its emperors to the fall of Byzantium from the 13th to 15th centuries. At the end, I can say it was such a challenge to write both parts with the second article going up to 60 pages but it was still worth it since I ended the year doing the article I long planned to do no matter how messy it was when I wrote it. Now as 2020 ends, the greatest lesson I learned when writing both about Ancient Rome and Byzantium together was that I now no longer see them as 2 different empires but instead the same which is why I ended up including both the stories of Ancient Rome and Byzantium in my articles.

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Map of the Roman Empire (red) under Claudius II in the 3rd Century Crisis, remains of the Gallic Empire (green) and the Palmyrene Empire (yellow)
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The Byzantine Empire (purple) in 1450

Bringing Byzantium into Film

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Ever since I got into Byzantine history in early 2019 as I already mentioned, I was already intent on wanting to introduce all my discoveries about the strange but interesting story of Byzantium out into the world and what better way to do this than through films and I mean videos on Youtube that actually tell a story using Lego characters. This section is now going to be a recap of my journey in making Byzantine era films, although it will be too long to go into so much detail analyzing all my films so I will just briefly mention what these films were and why I chose to do them, if you want to know more details about my films just subscribe to my channel No Budget Films and watch them there. Ever since 2015 I have already been doing Lego films for my Youtube channel and in fact my second film in early 2015 was set in Byzantium covering the story of the 4th Crusade and the attack on Constantinople by the Crusaders in Lego which was a film with same name The 4th Crusade, although back then making Byzantine era films wasn’t my main focus in doing Lego films despite making one all the way back in 2015 and a spin-off story to it in 2017 which was the short narrative style film Louis de Blois: The Hidden History of the Crusade which tells the story of the 4th Crusade and attack of Constantinople in 1204 through the perspective of the leading Crusader general, the Frenchman Louis de Blois who happened to be the story’s wealth and adventure obsessed villain.

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No Budget Films logo

Although I made 2 Lego films set in the Byzantine era in 2015 and 2017, the Lego films I have been making for my channel from 2015 to 2018 were all either set in 1st century Imperial Rome featuring historical characters I have already made such a strong connection with like Emperor Claudius I, Germanicus, and Agrippina the Elder and their stories or Lego films set in the world of George Orwell’s novel 1984 in which I even expanded on making my own fan-fiction universe to the novel by making it an entire Lego film trilogy plus a spin-off film in 2017 and a prequel 6 episode miniseries in 2018. However in 2018 I had completed the entire story of my fan-fiction 1984 universe and the Roman Empire setting of my films as well so with 2018 over, I did not know what films to produce next so I did not make any new content for my channel until May of 2019 when I had fully gotten into the history of Byzantium. Now since I had fully gotten into the world of Byzantine history in the first half of 2019, I also decided that I wanted to return to doing Lego films and this time focus them on Byzantium. With the 1984 and 1st century Roman Empire story of my films finished, it was time to start all over again but not in a literal way because fortunately as I said I already had some films set in the Byzantine era before but unlike my Roman Empire and 1984 films, those ones that I had set in the Byzantine timeline were left out but since I had just finished telling the story of my Roman Empire and 1984 timelines by 2019, it was about time I finally put some attention to expanding my channel’s Byzantine and Crusades era timeline. Now when returning to doing Lego films in 2019 which would be set in the Byzantine timeline, I chose to now make my upcoming films all set in the Byzantine era thus using the subtitle “A Byzantine Epic” for all these films and in May of 2019 the first Byzantine epic centered on the story of Byzantium however this one was not set in the usual 4th Crusade era as the 2 others I did before in 2015 and 2017, instead this one was to be set almost 3 centuries before it in 10th century Byzantium. Not to mention, when I made my first Byzantine era film in 2015, I created a large Constantinople background and after that film, all my Byzantine era films after that would all use that Constantinople background drawing. This new Lego short film I made was The Rise of Phokas: A Byzantine Epic as in that time I was interested in the era of Byzantium’s golden age of military power in the 10th century so here I chose to do a short film on my favorite Byzantine character of that era which was the brilliant general turned emperor Nikephoros II Phokas and this short film featured the story of his rise to power from general to emperor as he wins a decisive victory over the Arabs at Aleppo followed by his coronation as emperor after he rides with great speed to Constantinople to claim the throne in order to protect the young imperial heirs Basil II and Constantine VIII and stop civil war from happening. Although this short film had just happened to be a stand-alone piece except having a quick 1-minute follow up sequel Killing a Byzantine Emperor in July of 2019 which was a quick skit of the death of Nikephoros II in his sleep in 969 assassinated by his own nephew who became the next emperor John I Tzimiskes. However even if I made one film in 10th century Byzantium with a short sequel skit to it, I did not continue with this timeline in Byzantine history but I still went on in expanding my channel’s Byzantine universe but instead of continuing the story of Nikephoros II and the Macedonian Dynasty or doing a more popular time in Byzantine history like the reign of Justinian I in the 6th century or the Arab wars in the 7th and 8th centuries, I chose to go back to where I started doing Byzantine films which was the 4th Crusade setting and my goal was to expand on the story I already made of the 4th Crusade in Lego by coming up with a sequel story to the 4th Crusade which would be another story in the history of Byzantium that truly fascinated me, which was the Byzantine reconquest from the Crusaders in 1261. Before getting fully into Byzantium in 2019, I already knew that when Constantinople fell to the Crusaders in 1204, it one day returned to Byzantine rule but only when reading the history did I find out that Constantinople was surprisingly taken back by the Byzantine remnant empire of Nicaea in one night in July of 1261, but of course over the 57 years that Byzantium disappeared, the Byzantines at Nicaea expanded more and more to the point that they were able to surround Constantinople and easily take it back from the Latins who never ruled Constantinople effectively anyway. This story had inspired me so much that I did a lot of research and in June to July of 2019 after coming back from that same trip that included Ravenna, I finished writing the script for that movie and began filming an all new Lego film with an all new set of characters including one character I grew so intrigued by that I would end up putting a lot of attention to him and this character was of course the ruler that carried out Constantinople’s 1261 reconquest from the Latins which was Michael VIII Palaiologos. Other than Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas this emperor Michael VIII turned to be more of an interesting figure for me as he was a very complex character who was a strong military man but also a very cunning yet scheming diplomat and politician while Nikephoros II was just the strong soldier emperor although I would get more interested in Michael VIII’s story as I progressed through my Byzantine journey when continuing to do my films. This film I am talking about here which is Summer of 1261: A Byzantine Epic came out in September of 2019 and this was the first full feature film I did using real historical charatcers in the Byzantine Empire with Michael VIII as the lead character with other real historical supporting characters too like Michael’s top general Alexios Strategopoulos, the last Latin emperor Baldwin II, and the young boy emperor of Nicaea John IV Laskaris, though this film focused this time on Michael VIII’s rise to power but at the same time I also intended this film to be more of an action packed epic and the end result was what is, an action-packed story with less drama and philosophy, although it had a number of historical inaccuracies too. After making this film, I really did know whether I would continue expanding my channel’s Byzantine timeline or just end there but true enough eventually I decided to continue considering that this Summer of 1261 film became one of my more successful films and also because after doing that film, I continued to research more on Michael VIII and he turned out to be such an interesting ruler who was at times a scheming murderous villain and at times just an emperor with a great vision  but was at the same time very troubled and again reading the History of the Byzantine Empire book I bought in Istanbul, it opened me up more to the story of Emperor Michael VIII’s reign making me decide to continue the story by making a very epic sequel film to Summer of 1261 in 2020 which would be War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic set 21 years after it and this happened to be my most ambitious project so far in my history of making Lego films as the end result was a 47-minute long Lego epic with a voice cast having over 28 voice actors and a large cast of characters as true enough this was the concluding chapter to the story of the 13th century’s bitter Byzantine-Latin conflict but for me I would say the most impressive thing about this film was that I actually managed to produce it during the COVID-19 pandemic and succeeded in actually finishing it despite all the obstacles. Unlike its prequel Summer of 1261, the Sicilian Vespers was something more than an action packed Lego epic but rather something with a lot of depth but a lot of action too as this film set in 1282 was for one supposed to show Michael VIII now an old man as a very complex emperor who was not after all evil but rather just conflicted and also supposed to show that Michael VIII as emperor only cared for his empire’s survival and would do anything for it even if it meant giving up the proud Orthodox faith of his people especially since he was faced with an evil and deadly enemy who had a lot of similarities to him, the French king of Sicily Charles of Anjou, while this film was also made to not just show the Byzantines’ side or the side of only the rulers and generals but of the common people too such as the Sicilians’ side as they are rebelling against the oppressive French rule over their land, but at the same time this film also included the classic story arc of a film featuring a young protagonist and his journey to achieve his goal and here it was the story of Michael VIII’s young son and heir Andronikos’ journey in becoming the next emperor. This film though was very much loosely based on historical characters and settings and had a few fictional elements added to it but its plot-line however was to be almost accurate to the real historical story except with more emphasis on battles but its climax was the same as that of the real story in history as also in the film, in the year 1282, Michael VIII indirectly took part in helping the rebellion of the Sicilian Vespers succeed by bribing off local lords to lead a full resistance against their French overlords which was to benefit Byzantium too by getting the French farther away from attacking them. 

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The No Budget Films Byzantine era timeline of its films and other media
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Constantinople background drawing for No Budget Films’ Byzantine films (created 2015)
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No Budget Films’ “Louis de Blois: The Hidden History of the Crusade” poster (2017)
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No Budget Films’ “The Rise of Phokas: A Byzantine Epic” poster (2019)
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No Budget Films’ “Summer of 1261: A Byzantine Epic” movie poster (2019)
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No Budget Films’ “War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic” movie poster (2020)

Read this to get to know more about my War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic film.

Following the creation of my most ambitious Lego film project War of the Sicilian Vespers, I did a full article too on the behind-the-scenes and historical facts about the movie and indeed even after making this full length film, it was still not over yet that even for a school project for one of my college subjects despite having the class online, I used the same Lego Byzantine characters like Michael VIII for it. The Sicilian Vespers film was true enough not the end but for me it was actually quite a tiring job to produce an actual film where I have to film all the Lego characters in action for several days so to follow up on making more Byzantine era media for my channel, I decided to later on do something else, this time to tell the story through an audio epic with myself narrating the story. After finishing doing Lego films on the 4th Crusade, the Reconquest of Constantinople in 1261, and the final chapter of the Byzantine-Latin conflict of the Sicilian Vespers in 1282, there was one part of the story still missing which would be the 57 years between 1204 and 1261 and though making this period a full Lego series was an option I realized it would be too difficult to do especially since I would have to film the entire 57 years thus having to produce possibly 10 or even 15 episodes and not to mention I would have to do the whole long process of getting people to voice over the characters and considering there would be so many characters and locations in this 57 year period to create, it would be too much of a hassle to do so I thought of a better solution. The solution was to just narrate the entire story of this entire period to be accompanied by visuals featuring Lego characters and other Byzantine character drawings from other online artists to represent the characters of this age as I tell the story as the narrator.

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Empire of Nicaea flag (1204-1261)

When doing this audio-visual Byzantine epic story of the years between 1204 and 1261, I have already been introduced to this kind of video making style by Dovahhatty’s Unbiased History of Rome so these videos served as my inspiration for doing this 3-part audio epic. Now in this 3-part audio epic I made beginning in October of this year, my whole purpose for this was to expand my channel’s universe by telling the stories of all the events and people in the time the Byzantine Empire was exiled as the Empire of Nicaea as the Crusaders took over Constantinople from 1204 to 1261 and since the story was so long, I divided it into 3 parts and by selecting the links here you can watch all of them. The first part of the series covers the entire story of the aftermath of the fall of Constantinople to the 4th Crusade in 1204 as well as the rebuilding of the Byzantine Empire as the Empire of Nicaea by the emperor Theodore I Laskaris all while the Crusaders’ Latin Empire turned out to fail, the second part covered up the events from 1222 to 1253 covering the resurgence of Byzantine rule through the Empire of Nicaea led by its most successful emperor John III Doukas Vatatzes who managed to defeat and weaken most of his enemies to pave the way for the eventual reconquest of Constantinople, and the third and final part of the series covered up the last 7 years before the eventual Byzantine reconquest of 1261 featuring a bitter rivalry in the successful Empire of Nicaea between John III’s scholarly yet arrogant and opinionated son and successor Emperor Theodore II and his long-time rival the thuggish and scheming general Michael Palaiologos which of course ends with Michael Palaiologos winning, Theodore II poisoned to death, and Constantinople reconquered in 1261 under Michael’s rule.

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Latin Empire seal, 1204-1261

The episodes of this audio epic were released between October and December of this year but just recently to finish off this year, I produced one last Byzantine era short film being The Imperial Epilogue, which is basically a follow-up ending sequence to this year’s highlight film War of the Sicilian Vespers and this epilogue film was basically just a quick way to explain the end story of Michael VIII’s son and successor Andronikos II who was the Sicilian Vespers movie’s hero and in this epilogue film which is set some 38 years after the Sicilian Vespers film, Andronikos II is the main focus of it now showing him as an old man who happened to be a failure as an emperor who has to endure a 7-year civil war against his grandson also named Andronikos who had rebelled against him ending with Andronikos II deposed in 1328 and his grandson taking over vowing to restore the ruins of his empire which is indeed a true story. Now when doing all these Byzantine films and audio epics, I had come to realize that I also had a real purpose in making them which was to shed some light on this mysterious side of history and more particularly shed some light on the lesser known parts of Byzantine history especially the 13th century which was one of the most crucial eras in Byzantine history especially since this was when the decline and fall began due to the conquest of the 4th Crusade but this was also when Byzantium’s awareness as a Greek nation was born which sparked in the time they were exiled as the Empire of Nicaea. Many others who are familiar with Byzantium would have characters like Emperor Justinian the Great or Basil II the Bulgar-Slayer or even Nikephoros II Phokas in mind when thinking of the Byzantine Empire and possible film for it but what I wanted to do was to raise more awareness on the hidden gems of the Byzantine Empire such as the story of the Palaiologos emperors like Michael VIII and for this reason I chose to build up more on his story than that of Nikephoros II but also because I already did a few one set in the 4th Crusade timeline before so I wanted to continue expanding on it and that the stories of Byzantium’s Palaiologos emperors shows a lot more of a human side to the rulers of Byzantium.

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Michael VIII Palaiologos in 1261 Lego figure

Also when making these Byzantine films and audio epics, my objective is to not make them like the Byzantine history podcasts and documentaries which are just plainly informative but don’t get me wrong too because I surely learned a lot from listening to them and watching them but in my channel I wanted to make something that modern day audiences from young children to grandparents could relate to and this sense make it something like pop culture material so in order to do this kind of style, first of all I used Lego characters to represent these historical figures to make them more human and relatable and also rather than using the old fashioned formal English language and accents that most medieval or other period films use, I chose to make mine instead use the modern English language and words we normally use and have some fun by experimenting on even using modern music and different accents for characters thus making characters like Nikephoros II Phokas talk in an American Southern accent and the general Alexios Strategopoulos have a Scouse English accents even if they seemed far from how these historical figures spoke. Also to make my Byzantine films have this pop culture element, I also put a lot easter eggs in them which could be famous Byzantine artworks or portraits of emperors in their time used for props or even references to the other films I made from before such as those in the 1984 or Roman Empire setting and by doing this, this is also my way of making all my films connect with each other, at same time even adding easter eggs from other pop culture areas like Star Wars as well. Anyway, by making my films have an experimental side to it just for fun is basically how I want to make them entertaining for viewers in order to get it some more attention, and it is for this reason why Dovahhatty’s Unbiased History videos are popular and before I finish this part, I have to say that I am actually surprised that in only just less than 2 years, the Byzantine era films in my channel happen to be even more successful in views than the ones I made before that. Now since I have done my part in bringing Byzantium in a way into pop culture, I really do hope one day that Byzantium does actually get into pop culture and that Hollywood does indeed plan to produce a Byzantine era film or series as I already have an idea on how to cast one which I would do an article of in the future.

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The chad Michael VIII Palaiologos vs the virgin Theodore II Laskaris

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No Budget Films’ “The Imperial Epilogue: A Byzantine Epic” poster (2020)

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Left: Byzantine emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos (r. 1328-1341); right: Empress Anna of Savoy, wife of Andronikos III

Lessons and Discoveries from Byzantium and its Emperors

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And now as 2020 finishes I want to share with you all my learnings and discoveries from the story of this great empire that people tend to overlook. First of all the greatest lesson I learned from the story of Byzantium and even from their predecessors, the Roman Empire was that the key to surviving is to adapt and this is definitely true for Byzantium because in their 1,100 year history they saw more war than peace and not just small wars but sometimes full scale invasions that could destroy their empire but the Byzantines did not give up, instead they had to adapt to the current situations to survive and doing this they went as far as reorganizing their political structure from large provinces to smaller ones called Themes to increase military presence for protection when the 7th century came and so did the endless Arab invasions, also when Constantinople fell to the Crusaders in 1204, they had to adapt by starting from scratch but in the process they ended up reconnecting to their Greek heritage and becoming more aware of it especially since their role as the Roman Empire continued was long gone and they had become practically a nation of Greeks as their empire had been reduced.

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Same can be said with the Roman Empire before them, since in the 3rd century they faced so much difficulties in which their emperors solved by having to adapt to the situation in order to reform their society. Another great discovery I have had on Byzantium in my almost 2-year journey was that they actually played a very significant role in our world’s history that no one really seems to be aware of and by this they were the ones that preserved the knowledge of Classical Greece and Rome and brought it into Europe when their empire fell in 1453 thus starting the Renaissance, it was Byzantium that upheld Christianity as a dominant religion throughout their existence and helped civilize most of Eastern Europe through which included introducing the Cyrillic alphabet to the Slavic people in the 9th century, it was Byzantium that introduced silks to Europe through trade with China and so was the fork introduced to the rest of Europe in the 10th century, Byzantium too played a major role in starting the Crusades as one of the major reasons why the 1st Crusade began in 1095 was because Byzantium was previously almost destroyed by the growing power of a new enemy, the Seljuk Turks at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 so Byzantium needed help from the west to fight them which although led the west to instead make their own states, it was Byzantium that defended the rest of Europe countless times from Islamic and other eastern invasions, and also it was Byzantium that played a major role in the silk route between Europe and China as it was on the way and when the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottomans in 1453, this led the new powers of Western Europe like England, France, Spain, and Portugal to look for new routes to get to Asia thus along the way discovering the Americas and more of Africa, therefore getting the whole world connected and for this Byzantium but more particularly its fall can be indirectly thanked for it. No matter how great the Byzantine Empire was being such an educated society with a professional army, extremely impressive although quite one dimensional art in the form of colorful mosaics and frescos, advanced weapons and technology like Greek Fire and aqueducts which seems impossible to achieve for their time, and a very complex yet very effective administrative system, it had so many flaws too and a lot of it had to do with their people’s personality. Byzantium was for a very long time indeed a very multi-cultural empire especially since it once covered so much lands from Southern Spain all the way east to Armenia and from the Black Sea coast of Ukraine all the way south to Egypt meaning it was inhabited by so many races including Greeks, Armenians, Jews, Syrians, Arabs, Turks, Egyptians, Punics, Romans, Illyrians, Thracians, Bulgars, Slavs, Italians, Germanic people, and more so there is no doubt that it was a very complex empire, although as the centuries went by Byzantium had downsized by a lot so it became less multi-cultural that in its last centuries it was more or less the Greek kingdom in the Balkans. Just as how Byzantium was so diverse, it was also so complex that today the word “byzantine” is even used for meaning something so difficult to understand and I find it true about the Byzantine Empire as its history is actually quite confusing for beginners at least but the more and more you read it, the people including emperors that made the Byzantine Empire’s story happen would seem more and more human. It is also quite unfair that the west has stereotyped Byzantium as nothing more but an empire of corruption, betrayals, poisonings, and intrigues and since western thought came to dominate the thought the world, this stereotype remains as well.

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What Byzantium is made of

True enough, betrayal and corruption in the government was the norm in Byzantium but that still makes them very human and relatable to today’s world but the same can be said for the Roman Empire before them because betrayal and corruption was also a standard in Imperial Rome which the Byzantines had inherited from them and it was also this show of betrayals and corruption that led to the fall of their civilization but just like the Romans before them, the Byzantines too had their share of great men such as emperors and generals like Justinian I, Belisarius, Heraclius, Nikpehoros II, Basil II, and Alexios I that fought hard to defend or expand their empire. But despite all the negative stereotypes given to Byzantium by the west, there are still some things admirable about them and mainly this was the Byzantine people’s pride of their culture especially since they were the ones to continue Roman civilization in the Dark Ages and as descendants of the great civilizations of the Greeks and Romans they would never let go of this pride and because of this many emperors worked so hard to keep their empire alive despite all odds, and because of this Byzantium stood for 1,100 years. Another thing too that can be admired about the Byzantines was that they were masters of diplomacy that they would sometimes choose to bribe their enemies to spare them from devastating wars and this has saved them so many times even if the westerners came to think of them as scheming people because of this for choosing to pay off their enemies or pay off their enemies’ enemies rather than fight them face-to-face but on the other hand, the Byzantine people despite resolving to bribes were also courageous that when being forced to battle with an enemy, they would accept and fight for their empire and Byzantine soldiers truly had a lot of patriotism to fight for both their empire and Christian faith. Also, another thing I recently learned about why Byzantium’s decline was not it was not mainly because of too much wars and the Ottomans but because their empire lived for so long and standing in that part of the world between Europe and Asia, they were definitely bound to be attacked by everyone around them and because of so much wars and being in a high risk position for foreign invasions, their empire had a slow decline but at least it lived on for 11 centuries. Another factor for their decline was also military problems and at first I thought the Byzantines caused their own fall because their people grew soft and instead relied on foreign mercenaries that could not be trusted but as I continued learning more and more about Byzantium, it was not really their fault why in their last centuries they could not have a large army anymore but because their empire had been so reduced in size and population and it was a waste to recruit people to their army especially since many of their men would die in battle this way when they were needed to work the fields to keep the economy alive so they had to rely on foreign mercenaries and the same can be said for the decline and fall of Western Rome that fell in 476. Lastly, it is also due to the Byzantines’ inconsistent and complex personality that they caused their downfall because truly the Byzantines getting their philosophical genes from the Ancient Greeks were more creative and intellectual rather than being precise and practical people but this personality of theirs makes them even more interesting therefore showing that the intellectual spirit of the Ancient Greeks still lived on with them.

To understand Byzantium and their character a lot more, te best place to dive into are their emperors which represented their society and the complex personality of the Byzantines can well be explained through their emperors as Byzantium had emperors of different kinds of character. The Byzantine succession system true enough was very complex as it was not the usual system most European kingdoms had where the eldest son succeeds his father as king while in Byzantium, sometimes the eldest son succeeded his father but sometimes a lot of Byzantine emperors had no children, so some were succeeded by their brothers, cousins, son-in-laws, brother-in-laws, nephews, sometimes even father-in-laws, or sometimes even by their friends or generals that were appointed to succeed them as Byzantium had no written law of primogeniture wherein the eldest son has to succeed his father, rather Byzantine emperors had to find ways to make the succession stable which included making their sons co-emperors and even having built a purple room in the imperial palace for their children to be born in to secure their legitimacy. True enough Byzantium was a direct successor of Imperial Rome and got its ruling system from it and the Roman Empire was a republic that had a monarchy inserted into it when Augustus Caesar became its first emperor in 27BC but this monarchy system known as the Principate was not a full monarchy as the emperor was just the highest authority but the senate and army had power too and they were the ones that backed the emperors.

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Augustus Caesar, first emperor of Rome (r. 27BC-14AD)

Of course things will change over the centuries and with Diocletian as the Roman emperor in 285, the old system of the emperor as the head of the republic changed with the emperor’s authority becoming more divine but even though the power of the Roman emperors and Byzantine emperors after him was never truly divine as Byzantium still had a senate and its generals held a lot of power too. Not to mention, Byzantium had several periods of anarchy wherein an emperor just takes over for a year and is deposed and in fact there was even one 22-year period (695-717) where Byzantium had 7 changes of emperor and even more interesting, the Byzantine Empire which seems like a male dominated power actually had 2 women that ruled as sole emperor which were Empress Irene (r. 797-802) and Empress Theodora (r. 1055-1056). Now when it came to its ruling emperors, Byzantium had every kind of personality for a ruler you can think of. First of all it had great men that were legends larger than life and 2 of them are Byzantine emperors everyone would be familiar with which are the empire’s founder Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337) who achieved so much in his reign from making Christianity the faith that would define his empire to founding Constantinople as an imperial city to uniting the entire Roman Empire from years of civil and never losing battle and Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565) who was another one larger than life by building the cathedral of the Hagia Sophia that remained the world’s greatest and largest church for a thousand years, introducing the world to its basis for its legal systems, and making Byzantium an actual world power by expanding his empire the way no one before thought they could by actually putting back North Africa, Southern Spain and Italy back under Roman rule which happened to work out for some time.

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Mosaic of Emperor Justinian I the Great (left) and Emperor Constantine I the Great (right) in the Hagia Sophia

Other than these great men, Byzantium too had other greater ones that brought their empire back to greatness after a time of decline and such emperors included the likes of Romanos I Lekapenos (r. 920-944), Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963-969), John I Tzimiskes (r. 969-976), Basil II better known as the Bulgar-Slayer (r. 976-1025) who were all known to revive the greatness of Byzantium by turning the tide of war against foreign enemies, and Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118) as well as his son John II Komnenos (r. 1118-1143) who both resolved the long crisis Byzantium faced before their time and returned their empire again to prosperity and stability. Byzantium too had great rulers but met tragic ends such as the general Belisarius of the 6th century who was disgraced at some points but at least died peacefully but emperors like Maurice (r. 582-602) was one that met a tragic end betrayed and executed by his army due to some misunderstandings even if he was a good emperor, then there was Heraclius (r. 610-641) who ruled his entire reign fighting constant wars against the Sassanid Persians then Arabs to save the empire but died with his hard work failing, Nikephoros I (r. 802-811) who died in battle against the Bulgarians, and Andronikos III Palaiologos (r. 1328-1341) who had the drive to restore his dying empire’s glory but died too soon and the same can be said with the great men of Byzantium’s contemporary twin the Western Roman Empire which fell in 476 as it had heroic figures like the generals Stilicho and Aetius and emperor Majorian (r. 457-461) who did their best to keep their weak empire alive and sacrificed themselves for it as they were betrayed . Aside from having such great rulers whether visionaries or tragic heroes, Byzantium had a great share of weak and corrupt emperors who may or may have not caused their empire’s decline and such rulers included the likes of Valens (r. 364-378), Constantine VI (r. 780-797), Empress Irene (r. 797-802), Constantine VIII (r. 1025-1028), Romanos III Argyros (r. 1028-1034), Constantine IX Monomachos (r. 1042-1055), Constantine X Doukas (r. 1059-1067), Michael VII Doukas (r. 1071-1078), Alexios III Angelos (r. 1195-1203), and Andronikos II Palaiologos (r. 1282-1328) and as for the Western Roman Empire that fell in 476 all their rulers except for Majorian and Anthemius (r. 467-472) were all weak and corrupt but Byzantium also had some rulers who may have been weak but had strong men around them and these rulers included Michael III (r. 842-867) and Romanos II (r. 959-963). There are also some rulers of Byzantium that saw themselves as strong emperors but had in fact just used their strength to create further division and destruction in their empire and such rulers were the war fanatic Justinian II (r. 685-695/ 705-711) who is best known for having a mutilated nose in his second reign, Romanos IV Diogenes (r. 1068-1071) who chose to battle the Seljuks at Manzikert without thinking of the consequences, and Andronikos I Komnenos (r. 1183-1185) who brought terror and destruction to the empire leading to the eventual sack of Constantinople by the 4th Crusade in 1204. However, there had turned out to be only quite a few Byzantine emperors that had some evil intentions and such rulers were Basiliscus (r. 475-476) and John VI Kantakouzenos (r. 1347-1354) who were willing to betray their empire for their own gain and some others too like usurping emperor Phocas (r. 602-610) who just lusted for power but did not know how to rule properly. On the other hand, Byzantium too had its share of the rare kind of emperors who were mostly neutral and diplomatic rulers yet competent and highly intellectual people at the same time like Theodosius II (r. 408-450), Leo VI the Wise (r. 886-912), Constantine VII (r. 913-959), and Manuel II Palaiologos (r. 1391-1425). Now the kind of emperors that I actually like in Byzantium are the unlikely people who by chance became emperor and happened to do a good job and these included those who came from low birth and obscurity but by chance were made emperor and happened to flip the script and rule competently like Valentinian I (r. 364-375) who was just at first a soldier but ruled well as emperor despite being in charge of the west and not Constantinople, Marcian (r. 450-457) who was just a common and obscure soldier before being elevated to emperor, his successor Leo I the Thracian (r. 457-474) who was just a common soldier of low birth but actually saved the Eastern Empire from suffering the same fate as its western twin by ridding it of barbarian control in the government, and his successor too which was Zeno (r. 474-491) who despite being seen as an outsider by his people originating as a primitive Isaurian tribesman from the mountains of Asia Minor turned out to be a strong ruler who brought some stability to Byzantium. Other unlikely people that ruled Byzantium well in its history were Anastasius I (r. 491-518) who unexpectedly became emperor at an old age and achieved a lot by stabilizing the economy, his successor Justin I (r. 518-527) who originated as a simple peasant but worked his way up through the army and becoming a competent emperor despite being illiterate and it was he as well that made it possible for his nephew Justinian I to come to power, then other unlikely rulers included the Heraclian emperors Constans II (r. 641-668) and his son Constantine IV (r. 668-685) who did their job well in defending Byzantium from the Arabs despite coming to power at so young, also there was Basil I the Macedonian (r. 867-886) who originated too as just a simple peasant but eventually got the chance to take the throne and as emperor he also did well in promoting Byzantium’s cultural and military supremacy and founding the long reigning and glorious Macedonian Dynasty despite also being illiterate, and there was also Michael IV (r. 1034-1041) the last one to originate as a peasant but end up becoming an emperor. At the same time, in Byzantium’s long history there were some emperors too that may have been judged the wrong way and seen as evil but in fact were just wanted to keep their empire alive and such were the likes of Constantine the Great’s son Constantius II (r. 337-361) who would seem to be at first like a cold hearted and bitter ruler but all he wanted was to make sure his empire remained stable, then there was Leo III the Isaurian (r. 717-741) who is a controversial figure since he’s the one blamed for destroying Byzantium’s religious stability by issuing Iconoclasm which tore the empire apart but he also saved the empire by defending Constantinople against the Arab siege in 718 that could have ended their empire and in his reign won many victories against the Arabs, and of course there is also my favorite as of now Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1261-1282) who at first can be seen as an evil monster that brutally killed anyone opposing him and blinded his harmless young co-emperor John IV Laskaris to come to power and ruled in a tyrannical way suppressing his people’s Orthodox faith just so that he could ally with the pope but true enough he had a heart of gold and his intention was just to save his empire from destruction and he would do anything to achieve that. Also as I have studied Byzantine history deeper in this past year and more, I also made some discoveries that broke the stereotypes and first impressions I had on some emperors such as Isaac II Angelos (r. 1185-1195/ 1203-1204) who at first I saw as an idiot who was responsible for bringing his empire down but when getting to know him more which also involved having a conversation with an actual fan of his online, I started to see that Isaac II did fact care for his empire and fought against his enemies but it cost him and also he ruled the empire at a troubled time and the same can be said for John V Palaiologos (r. 1341-1391) who at first was just an weak emperor who ruled a long and tragic reign but behind it all the empire he ruled was already so weak but as emperor he still had the motivation to save his empire. Other than that, as I continued studying Byzantine history even more, I have also come to see that some emperors who at first I thought were great rulers but in fact were actually not great ones and had caused the decline of the empire and such was ironically Manuel I Komnenos (r. 1143-1180) who may have achieved a lot as an energetic emperor but his policies would eventually end up causing the decline of Byzantium as it was him who wasted up all the treasury on campaigns that went nowhere and it was him that started a war with Venice out of arrogance that would permanently be harmful for Byzantium, and it was he who started introducing Western Latin customs in the empire which would outrage his people and create such a permanent cultural divide in Byzantium which shows that it takes the actions of one emperor to bring an empire down, and the same can be said for the last emperor of a united Rome which was Theodosius I (r. 379-395) who for some reason is called “the great” but his rule only created such division among his people due to his policies of religious intolerance favoring Nicene Christianity over everything else making him launch a strong persecution against Pagans and it was he as well that indirectly caused the fall of Western Rome by simply letting the Roman army be run by barbarians and I fist thought of him as a good ruler who saved the empire but even though he was at some points, he turns out to be a hateable person and not to mention it was he who permanently split the Roman Empire among his 2 incompetent sons Arcadius in the east and Honorius in the west. There were some emperors too that when reading through Byzantine history, I had come to actually think of as not worthy of ruling the empire such as Arcadius (r. 395-408) who inherited the east after his father’s death but did not do a single thing as emperor, the short reigning Alexander (r. 912-913) who only just started a war with Bulgaria out of his own arrogance and the lesser known Emperor of Nicaea Theodore II Laskaris (r. 1254-1258) who ruled a successful empire but had such a high opinion of himself that he was basically an ass who thought he was better than everyone that the empire was better off not having him so luckily he was allegedly poisoned by Michael Palaiologos. Lastly, as I studied the history this whole time, I also found some underrated rulers in Byzantium too which were actually capable ones but are barely known about such as Julian better known as “the Apostate” (r. 361-363) who was an enlightened visionary but died too soon when being killed in battle against the Sassanids and John III Doukas Vatatzes (r. 1222-1254) who was one of Byzantium’s greatest rulers despite ruling the empire of Nicaea but he was indeed the only perfect emperor Byzantium had even if he did not rule Constantinople as he died before the 1261 reconquest from Latins but as an emperor he was the only one merciful to his people but brutal to his enemies but he was an overall Renaissance man who was a skilled soldier, scholar, diplomat, economist, politician, and family man and was the one who made his people aware of their Greek heritage and despite suffering chronic epilepsy he was strong ruler and well loved by his subjects which was rare for most Byzantine emperors and for these reasons John III is the kind of ruler people need today and so is Julian because even if Julian may be depicted in the wrong light as an enemy of the Christian faith for returning to old Roman Paganism he was in fact tolerant to both Christians and Pagans wanting them to be equal as people and his rule shows the kind of tolerance great leaders need to have. Now the last emperor I forgot to mention was the last Roman emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos (r. 1449-1453) and he is someone I can say who shows a true heroic character as he chose to not shamefully surrender Constantinople to the Ottomans when he could have but instead chose to fight to death when his odds for winning was low and die with his empire and his speech before the final battle in Byzantium’s last day, Tuesday May 29, 1453 shows just how much Byzantium means to the world. Now out of all the emperors, there are some that I find boring like the emperors after Leo III from 741 to 867 and the Doukas Dynasty emperors from 1059 to 1081 but every other emperor aside from them has an interesting story though my top picks are of course Constantine I the Great because without him the east would not become Byzantium and Justinian I the Great because it was he who gave Byzantium’s long lasting cultural legacy, as for the Macedonian emperors like Nikephoros II Phokas, John I Tzimiskes, and Basil II I can truly admire them for their ambition and courage but these 5 emperors that I have mentioned though are those that I can only see as legends larger than life so the Byzantine emperors that I actually can relate a lot to are the Palaiologos emperors from Michael VIII to the last emperor Constantine XI as I can actually see them as real humans that are still relevant to this day as basically the empire they ruled as much smaller in size so they do not seem to be all powerful rulers anymore and as emperors they could no longer do anything they wanted without suffering the consequences so they had to be crafty in ruling which makes them even more interesting people.

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How to describe some of the Byzantine emperors

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9 Byzantine emperors by personality based on the D&D alignment
Byzantine Emperor Constantine IV (652-658) and his retinue
Emperor Constantine IV (r. 668-685) mosaic in Ravenna

Watch this to learn more about the succession system in the Byzantine Empire from (Eastern Roman History).

Having been drawn to the world of Byzantines for almost 2 years now without ever loosing interest even once, no matter how deep I studied Byzantium and its history over and over again, writing so many articles, and doing so many Byzantine history projects, there are still some historical questions that I still can’t answer and are worth debating. One of these mysteries of Byzantium that I still can’t fully answer now is how exactly Byzantium is not just the Roman Empire’s successor but the Roman Empire itself and surely over 2020 when studying Imperial Rome side-by-side with Byzantium, I have come to see that they are the same empire but I can’t quite put it how they are actually the same mainly because Byzantium evolved over time which at first was Latin speaking and very Roman in traditions but because of their geographical position and population, they eventually became Greek in language and culture. The biggest question for me is still where to mark the start of Byzantine history and till now it still up for debate as if you want to actually say Byzantium is the Roman Empire itself you have start Byzantine history either with the legendary founding of Rome in 753 BC or with Augustus’ founding of the empire in 27BC, but if you are just talking about Byzantium as the Eastern Roman Empire you can either start with 286 when the Roman emperor Diocletian formally divided the Roman Empire between east and west, or safer to start with the year 330 when Constantine the Great founded Constantinople after uniting both east and west, or you can go for the year 395 with the death of Theodosius I when the east and west were permanently split in half with the east becoming Byzantium itself, or lastly you can go for 476 when the Western Roman Empire fell and the east was the only remaining Roman Empire.

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However, the story of Byzantium dates all the way back to the 7th century BC founded by the Greek colonist Byzas as the port of Byzantium thus making him the actual unsung hero of the story but if you are talking about where to start the story of Byzantium in the cultural sense as the Greek Empire the best option is the reign of Heraclius (r. 610-641) because under him the empire’s language went from Latin to Greek and take note that when Byzantium was at its height under Justinian I in the 6th century it was at its height as a Roman power but when Byzantium was at its second peak at Basil II’s death in 1025, this was when Byzantium was at its cultural and military peak as a Greek power. The Byzantine Empire’s identity though is very hard to understand especially since it began having a Roman cultural identity fused with a Greek one as well as Constantinople was located in the Greek world but it also had other ethnicities living in it but its dominant cultural identity more or less was Greco-Roman and it was only in the 13th century under John III Vatatzes when Byzantium was in exile in Nicaea when its new cultural identity as a Greek nation was born as they had fully outgrown their Roman past and realized that they were more Greek especially since the Empire of Nicaea was formed by Greek people that fled Constantinople from the Crusaders and it was the same Greek people of Nicaea that reestablished Byzantine rule to Constantinople in 1261. The other big question too is who can be considered as the last Roman emperor and this again does not have one answer as if you are talking about it in a bigger picture it would be Constantine XI in 1453 but if only in the west it was Romulus Augustus in 476 but safer to say that the last Roman emperor in Augustus’ model of the Princeps or first citizen was Alexander Severus (r. 222-235), the last emperor of the old system or Principate was Diocletian (r. 284-305), and the last one to rule a united Roman Empire was Theodosius I in 395, the first Christian one being Constantine the Great (306-337) and the last Pagan being Julian (361-363) while the last Byzantine ruler was actually not Constantine XI but the Emperor of the break-away state of Trebizond David Komnenos who as a Byzantine ruled this place at the Black Sea as his own state until his surrender to the Ottomans in 1461. To put it short, I still can’t answer the question of Byzantium and Rome actually as the same no matter how much I have come to understand it this year and in fact I always make the same mistake in all my articles in showing Byzantium and Rome as different empires and I have gotten a lot of criticism in the form of comments in the FB Byzantine history groups because of that. Another big question about Byzantium is what country today would be its direct descendant like for example for the Roman Empire today it is Italy, for the Ottoman Empire it is Turkey, for the British Empire it is the UK, and for the Russian Empire it is Russia but for Byzantium it is a really big question and the answer could be Greece because Byzantium did speak Greek and was a Greek in identity later on but it doesn’t seem much like it because the empire that Greece descends from more was Alexander the Great’s ancient Macedonian Empire while Byzantium’s presence was stronger in Northern Greece which is Macedonia and Thrace, also you can say Turkey can be Byzantium’s successor country because Asia Minor was the heartland of Byzantium but it still does not fit because Turkey is also the Ottoman Empire’s successor country in so many ways even if the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II in 1453 after conquering Byzantium also called himself the successor to Rome. However, just as how Byzantium is Imperial Rome’s successor, the empire that is considered to be Byzantium’s spiritual successor is Russia because Russia adopted its religion and imperial system from Byzantium so that makes sense and Moscow was in fact even called “the new Constantinople”.

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Byzantine imperial eagle in Russia

Lastly, another question still left unanswered for me is about the religious divide between east and west, Orthodox and Catholic and Byzantium does have a major role in that but what I can’t fully answer is what date the Byzantine Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches actually became separate because even before the final separation of the Churches in 1054, the schism was already a reality although even after 1054, Byzantine emperors including Michael VIII and almost all his successors made attempts to unite both Churches but none of the emperors’ attempts worked as it just led their people to riot because the Byzantines were truly Orthodox at heart and because of the atrocities caused by the Catholic Crusaders in 1204, the Byzantines would rather die than the follow the religion of the people that shamed them and also Orthodoxy was the pride of the Byzantine people which they believe is the one true original Christian faith. Basically, Orthodoxy and Catholicism were the same thing before as they meant the same thing and had the same creed which was the official one, however the eventual differences between both came mainly because Western Europe where the pope in Rome was fell to different barbarian kingdoms as the Western Empire fell while Roman rule remained in the east and as there was an emperor in the east, the pope had to be the protector of Christian people in the west. Anyway, if I want to fully understand Byzantium more I have to definitely understand Church history more as 50% of Byzantine history has to do with the topic of the Christian faith.

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Map of the Roman Empire’s Tetrarchy (286-324), from Diocletian to Constantine I the Great
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The Roman Empire’s final division in 395 by Theodosius I; Arcadius at the east, Honorius at the west
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Map of all Barbarian invasions into the Roman Empire, 100-500AD
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Byzantium at its greatest extent, 555
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The Byzantine Empire (red) at the death of of Basil II, 1025
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Map of the restored Byzantine Empire in 1261 (yellow) as a medieval Greek power

What Byzantium has Come to Mean for Me

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And now I’ve come to the tail-end at last, and this too is going to be the most touching part as I am about to tell you how much this whole Byzantine journey and the history of Byzantium has meant so much to me after almost 2 years of being so into it. Before I only thought about its interesting armies, soldier units, weapons, and armor as well as its stunning although one-dimensional mosaics and frescos when thinking about Byzantium but ever since getting into its rich history in early 2019 and now that it is the end of 2020, Byzantium has come to mean so much than just the armies and fascinating art I used to know, it has now come to mean to me a rich story of an empire with a great imperial capital that lived on for 1,123 years and 18 days. Byzantium was a great survival story of an empire with battles worth remembering, armies of great power, and colorful characters that went on for 11 centuries and did not allow itself to fall basically because it was not just an empire like many others that just grew and expanded out of nowhere but instead Byzantium was a proud empire carrying the legacy of the Ancient Greeks and Romans of the past and as an empire, the Byzantines saw themselves as those to preserve the meaning of Classical civilization and while Western Europe fell into centuries of the Dark Ages and it was Byzantium too that indirectly brought Medieval Europe back to the Classical past by introducing to the west the Renaissance with the fall of their empire. The warfare, armies, weapons, and armor of the Byzantines though still remained very special to me but in this whole journey, it has been the stories of its people and times that came to mean so much for me. Byzantium was still so much more than what others think as just an empire full of corruption and betrayal, decadence and stupidity, it was one of the most fascinating rare mixed cultures that had spanned over so many lands from Egypt to Syria, to Armenia, to Italy, to Spain, and more and was a hybrid of Classical Greek and Roman ideals and Christian faith, it showed that faith and reason could co-exist. Now if you are an Orthodox and Catholic Christian, Byzantium would surely have a lot of meaning to you since it was the civilization that stood as the defenders of the Christian faith for over a thousand years as in its early centuries it saw itself as the protector of Christians all over the world and from the 7th century onwards, it was Byzantium that stood at the frontline defending the rest of Europe from Islamic invasions that could have completely changed everything about Europe itself if Byzantium had fallen.

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As I progressed through my Byzantine journey up to this day, it has come to mean a lot to me more when finding out Byzantine civilization has contributed so much to even our world today and one of these greatest contributions include Justinian I’s code of laws that would end being the basis for the laws of most countries today and also the Nicene Creed established back in the Council of Nicaea in 325 under Constantine I which has made the Orthodox/ Catholic Church’s official statement of beliefs. Meanwhile, Byzantine history has showed several inspiring stories of so many opportunities and possibilities and one of the most notable is that of emperors like Justinian I the Great who may have started out as nothing originating as a peasant but still did not stop him from becoming one of the greatest emperors of Byzantium that had made so many contributions up to this day. Truly, Byzantine history was not all perfect, it was far from it and this makes it even more interesting to study and relate to, and in Byzantium’s long history there is no dull moment, every part of had a great story, except for me I find the period of Byzantine history between the 8th and mid 9th centuries and the crisis period of the mid 11th centuries not as interesting as the rest but everything else for me is surely so fascinating yet it also starts seeming to feel so sad if you get to know it more especially with its power decreasing and decreasing over the centuries.

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Also, Byzantium showed me that no matter how much things would keep getting worse, there is no giving up and you must always find way to fight back and this can be said with their entire story of losing so much of their territories to enemies but the Byzantines would not give up and do all they can to get their empire back together and they did just that throughout their entire existence. The Byzantine Empire’s end was also truly meaningful as its last emperor Constantine XI’s sacrifice fighting off the Ottomans to the death has brought so much inspiration and shows that the Byzantine Empire unlike Western Rome that died in such a humiliating way in 476 died the way it lived, fighting for their existence. At this present day, we can only learn so much from Byzantium in terms of actually surviving such difficulties as in their 1,100-year history they faced enemies on all sides, countless civil wars, 2 pandemics, and so much more and yet they had their pride of their heritage and stable political system despite having such unstable politics was strong despite having the  that they went on for that long. Just as how the Byzantine Empire persisted and persisted to preserve Classical civilization in the Middle Ages, I tirelessly worked on doing all sorts of Byzantine articles, films, and other projects ever since getting into the history of Byzantium almost 2 years ago and just like how Justinian the Great was remembered as the “emperor that never slept”, I have been the same ever since almost 2 years ago when I started fully committing myself to Byzantium that I have shown so much devotion to it that sometimes I would hardly sleep when writing articles like this or editing my Lego Byzantine films so that it makes a satisfying end result and now that 2020 is ending and as I finishing writing this very long piece, I am just so very exhausted mentally yet in a worthy way because I at least feel that I have done my part in discovering the rich and fascinating history and culture of Byzantium by endless researches, reading, and even travelling to Byzantine destinations. On the other hand, I can say I have also done part in serving the long gone Byzantine Empire by actually bringing the story of Byzantium into media by making countless articles for this site on select topics from Byzantine history and making films for my channel that use Lego characters to represent some real life historical Byzantines but my journey is far from over, and even though I have brought Byzantium into the light online here in this site and in my channel and got to raise awareness of it to my friends, I still have to strive more if I want to achieve the goal in actually bringing Byzantium into pop culture and that now has turned to be one of my goals in life. At the beginning of my Byzantine journey in early 2019, I always thought Byzantium was so obscure that no one seemed to care about it but I just found out how fortunate I am that I got into Byzantium at the right moment when other people too were starting to become aware of it as I started seeing more Byzantine history related content online. As of now, I am happy to see that others too have the same passion for Byzantium the way I do and these include countless channels and sites that also do have the same objective in making Byzantine history known the same my channel’s goal is to make unknown history known and some I have seen have done such an impressive job in putting their passion into work such one channel named Khey Pard who has made an impressive timelapse video map of the whole history Byzantium every month, as well as seeing Byzantium put into anime content, and of course there is Dovahhatty who has now made his first episode of his Unbiased History Byzantium series and I can see that he truly has to potential to actually bring Byzantium into the world of pop culture. And now as 2020 ends, I have come to realize that my passion for Byzantine history has changed me in so many ways that I now can fully relate to Byzantium and no longer see it and its emperors as legends and myths but as real life humans and even more importantly, all the stories of their empire has inspired me so much that I will never forget them through life. On the other hand, this Byzantine passion of mine has grown to be such a strong obsession in me in this almost 2-year journey that by now I can already myself as a Byzantine of their time, every day when walking thoughts of the Byzantine Empire and its emperors always come to my mind, when listening to modern music I end up associating these songs with Byzantium even if they are not related, when a conversation pops up I usually end up sneaking Byzantium into it even if it is hardly related, and occasionally I even have dreams that I am actually in the setting of the Byzantine Empire and this possibly all because I have put so much effort in doing projects such as articles and films. Other than that, Byzantium has also changed the way I look at things such as when I travel, my mind has automatically becomes so focused on Byzantium that when in a place that has Byzantine era attractions like Istanbul, Ravenna, or Rome I always go straight for them  and when I go to place that does not have any Byzantine sites which I did last year being Strasbourg in France and Zurich in Switzerland as part of the same trip in Ravenna, I wasn’t as excited. However, before I got so into Byzantium, I was at least more or less excited to see anything a foreign city has no matter what period in history it was but when my passion for Byzantium grew, my interests in travelling and thoughts have become narrower too which is a bit more of the negative side of getting so into Byzantium but it is also a good thing because at least my interests aren’t so wide which can later end up becoming so confusing. However, this kind of narrower thinking also shows how much I have grown in being so devoted to Byzantine history that when going to places like Istanbul or Ravenna, it would be such an extra special experience for me standing there and as tourist there, I would no longer see it in the eyes of a usual tourist in awe but or in confusion but as a true enthusiast of the great history of Byzantium. My journey as a Byzantine history enthusiast also shows that the story of Byzantium is not only for highly intellectual historians that live their lives studying and analyzing history but it attracts common pleb people too such as myself who has no historian background but rather is only a college student taking up a business course but since the story of Byzantium is so inspiring, it can literally attract anyone. I also have to say that this year 2020 was obviously a tough one and even for me it was with all the uncertainty and highs and lows, but no matter how tough 2020 was, I still survived and I have my passion for Byzantine history here to thank as in moments of fear and uncertainty this year, Byzantium was there to keep me focused, in my moments of depression and anxiety both this year and last, Byzantium was there for me, and as 2020 ends and the great unknown of 2021 approaches, I should also say that Byzantium will still be there for me to keep me going as this Byzantine journey of mine is not yet over, rather I still have a lot more to learn and discover. At the end, I had also discovered, Rome was not just a place, it was an idea and a dream and Byzantium continued that dream and now in this far future from their time, it could seem impossible to relate too since it was so long ago, but if you think about it more, there is quite a chilling truth that even though we live so many centuries away from the Romans and Byzantines having different cultures and technology, we still tend to behave the same way as them.

Recommended Readings and Channels, Thanks, and Updates for 2021

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As my Byzantine journey from 2019-2020 ends, I would like to share with you all the books and other sources such as podcasts and Youtube channels that helped build my passion for Byzantium and what I have to say about them. First of all, the best way to understand the history of something like Byzantium is to read books about them and in this almost 2-year journey I have read a lot of good ones. For starters who want to get to know what Byzantium and its history actually is, the book I recommend is Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire by Judith Herrin which is the book that started my full passion for Byzantine history and although this book is not written in chronological form, it at least gives you some vital information on the culture and political structure of Byzantium the way an encyclopedia would, and there are also several other books by this same author that focuses on Byzantine history. If you want an easy and concise book that is basically an overview of the story of Byzantium I suggest you read this one called Byzantium: Capital of an Ancient Empire by Giles Morgan which I read very easily and though it does not tell every little story in Byzantine history, it is a good read that gets straight to the point in the important moments of Byzantine history. Now if you want to really know the smaller details of Byzantine history and insider stories of all the emperors the book I suggest is The History of the Byzantine Empire by Radi Dikici which is another favorite of mine as it tells the whole story of Byzantium through the lives of their emperors and this is the book you should read if you want to know the lives of lesser known emperors like John III Vatatzes and Michael VIII Palaiologos and it may be a long read but it is very much worth it. If you are looking for a heavy read that analyzes Byzantium’s political structure and warfare during its most significant era from the 10th to 11th centuries, then you should read Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood: The Rise and Fall of Byzantium, 955 to the 1st Crusade by Anthony Kaldellis which I have but did not have the time to complete reading it. However if you want a light read about Byzantium and to learn all its important or unimportant facts and trivia, you should surely read A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities also by Anthony Kaldellis in which I have done many articles on its chapters that I found interesting. When it comes to the topic of the Byzantine army, there are a lot that you can find but the ones that I read include one featuring military essays on the Byzantine army throughout its entire history by Dimitris Belezos which shows a lot of detailed illustrations of Byzantine army units over their history and another one I have is The Eastern Romans by Rafaelle D’Amato which tells the whole story of Byzantium through the evolution of the army over the centuries. Lastly, if you want to see Byzantium in the form of an illustrated story told as if it were a Disney style story, I suggest you read Theophano: A Byzantine Tale by Spyros Theocharis which is set in 10th century Byzantium and this book also shows that it also has the mission to bring Byzantium into pop culture. Aside from books, I should also recommend the channels and podcasts that helped me understand Byzantium a lot more and for podcasts, the ones I suggest for listening and would also like to thank for helping me understand the story of Byzantium more are surely the long running History of Byzantium podcasts by Robin Pierson which tells the story of Byzantium in such a comprehensive way, then other good and very detailed podcasts include the 12 Byzantine Rulers podcasts by Lars Brownworth that tells the story of Byzantium through 12 different emperors over the centuries, another good podcast too is Byzantium and Friends by the same Anthony Kaldellis, and also Roman Emperors: Totalus Rankium which does a good job telling the stories of both Roman and Byzantine emperors in an informative yet detailed way. For Youtube channels on Roman and Byzantine history content there are a lot I have to thank and I can’t name them all as throughout my entire Byzantine journey, I have come across so many channels in which I linked their videos to all my articles but most notable of them is Eastern Roman History which happens to be one of my favorites especially for telling lesser known parts and emperors of Byzantium and giving a lot of insights about it and I sure have to thank them for sharing my film War of the Sicilian Vespers on their FB page, then another one that played a big part making me understand Byzantium a lot more is one of the greatest history channels on Youtube Kings and Generals which does a great job in visualizing historical stories and battles and making them very clear, and other channels too that have historical Roman and Byzantine content I have to thanks for guiding me through my Byzantine journey include the likes of Epimetheus, Invicta, Thersites the Historian, Jabzy, Voices of the Past, Look Back History, Foojer, Fire of Learning, Overly Sarcastic Productions, History Matters, Khey Pard, History Dose, In 5 Minutes, Byzantine Real History, Porphyra, and Malthius which does something like Dovahhatty’s Unbiased History but the one channel I owe a lot too for making me so into Roman and Byzantine history even more because of his unique style of telling it that get can easily get so many into it is no other than my now favorite channel Dovahhatty who does it like no other by making characters in Roman and now Byzantine history so relatable by portraying them as if they were living people of today using memes to portray them.

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Icon of Dovahhatty

Aside from all these Youtube channels I have to also put own channel No Budget Films there because I do want to make it part of this circle of channels featuring Byzantine history content online too but other than the channels that I have to thank for helping me along the way, I also would like to thank a number of online artists making excellent Byzantine era character drawings and other art forms on Deviantart such as the likes of Aemilianvs, VoteDave, Ediacar, Spatharokandidatos, AlexiosI, FaisalHashemi, Ana Cagic, and other media Kibea which did a great job portraying most of the Byzantine emperors, the Roman Emperors Instagram account, and even my own site there Byzantium-blogger55 and I would like to thank all of you here for helping me in my blog articles and audio epics in supplying me with decent drawings of historical figures from the Byzantine era especially since it it sos hard to find art or any portraits of emperors and figures from Byzantium as I know of. In addition, for all the maps I use here, I would like to thank Ian Mladjov for making really detailed maps of different periods of Byzantine history which are rare to find. At the same time, I also have to thank all the history Facebook groups I am part of such as Roman and Byzantine History, Byzantine Army, The Late Roman Group, Byzantine Real History (BRh), Love Letters to Greece, Creatives Supporting Creatives, and The Blue Guard and all its members for supporting me by reacting to my posts every time I share an article or video I made to any of them, and would also like to thank all these groups and its members for posting new content each day that makes me discover Byzantine history more and more. Then I would also like to thank some Facebook pages for showing me more Byzantine history content like Byzantine Real History, Byzantine Military History, Porphyra, Bizarre Byzantine Memes, Byzantine Tales, and History in 3D. Lastly I would like to also thank some people for supporting me a long the way such as Billy Chrissochos who runs the Love Letters to Greece group and the Byzantine rock musical Porphyra and though I had not met him in person yet he has non-stop supported me by sharing all my posts to his FB group ever since I did the complete genealogy, then also another great supporter of my works Fabiana Buono who is the one behind the Italian travel blog page A spasso per l’Europa in which I have never also met in person but had memorable conversations with through messenger about European travel destinations and Byzantine history even and I’d like to thank her for her support by sharing some of my articles and Lego films to her other English travel page Gorgeous Europe, then also I’d like to thank my actual friend Miguel Abarentos who runs the Twitch streaming channel The Masked Ninja Hybrid for supplying me video footage of the online games he plays for my films and for also helping promote my channel while he streams. But more importantly, I would like to thank my family and friends for supporting me throughout my entire Byzantine journey and have done all their best to support my passion by voicing for my films, supplying the Lego pieces, and sharing my content in their own timelines but most importantly, I would like to thank all of you viewers for making this journey possible because without you all no will see the work I do but most of all I want to thank all the people in the history of Byzantium because without them, I wouldn’t have any stories to write about.

And now before I end this article and the year 2020, I just want to share with you all what I would do for next year as I continue my Byzantine journey. As 2020 ends, all I have to say is that I am very tired mentally after writing so much articles and films, endless research, and so many sleepless nights all in the name of Byzantium so for the next few weeks as 2021 begins, all I want to do is just to rest but eventually I will continue doing more Byzantine related content again. So basically what I have in mind for 2021 would be that I will surely continue doing my Byzantine history audio epics and this time featuring the entire story of the Palaiologos Dynasty beginning with Michael VIII Palaiologos and if I can I could go all the way to the end of Byzantium in 1453. Another thing I have in mind for early 2021 is to do a live-action Byzantine era film casting of Dovahhatty’s most recent video as well as a commentary on his new Byzantine series. As I said, I have discovered from this Byzantine journey that my mission is to promote and share to the world the mysteries of Byzantium and make it grow to become mainstream media, and I am already starting here with my new Instagram. However, I have come to realize just how long and how extensive my articles have been in this past year thus it could seem tiring to write so for next year, I plan to do something more interesting and more concise and very unique as well which would be fan-fiction and alternate ending stories to some crucial events in Byzantine history in which I already have 6 stories in mind. Anyway, I think it is about time I finish this extremely long but meaningful article and there was no way to make it short because this is my own story and the story of Byzantium too and true indeed, the story of the Byzantine Empire is so fascinating and inspiring that there is no way to simply shorten it. Now I would like to say it’s been a great and very meaningful almost 2-year journey through the world of the Byzantines centuries away from them but it is not yet over, there is still a lot more I have to learn as I continue my story as a Byzantine history enthusiast and next year I do hope to learn and discover more as to put it short, the Byzantine world is a world of endless discoveries as by this point no matter how much I dove into the world of Byzantium, I still have much more to discover. Anyway, I’d like to wish you all a belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and hopefully everything does well in 2021 as I do plan to travel again one day to more travel destinations that were once part of the Byzantine world especially since I still have much to see, and thank you all very much for reading this, it has been such a great experience journeying through the world of Byzantium. This is Powee Celdran signing off.                    

The Fall of Western Rome (4th-5th centuries) and Eastern Rome (13th-15th centuries) Compared

Posted by Powee Celdran

WARNING: THIS IS A VERY LONG ARTICLE!!

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Hello and welcome to the 2nd part of this other Roman and Byzantine Empire history series comparison. In the last article I made, I had discussed the events in the history of the Roman Empire from the last days of its golden age at the end of the 2nd century going through its turbulent days in the Crisis of the 3rd Century and ending with the Roman Empire in stability again at the 4th century comparing it side-by-side with the story of its successor empire, the Byzantine Empire and true enough you would see so many similarities between them even though these events happened centuries apart from each but even though these 2 empires are the same. As you would have noticed, when the Roman Empire fell through crisis in the 3rd century due to new foreign invaders which were more powerful than the old ones like the Sassanid Empire in the east and the Goths in the north, a troubled succession which had been dominated by military anarchy and a number of soldiers who ended up becoming emperor later to end up getting themselves deposed or killed, and economic problems shattering the empire. For the Roman Empire again in the 11th century becoming the Byzantine Empire, the same more or less can be said as the same kind of succession crisis, economic problems occurred and so did new foreign invaders showing up for the first time such as the Normans, Pechenegs, and Seljuk Turks. Eventually for both Imperial Rome and Byzantium, their own crisis period would come to end as for the Roman Empire, in 270 a soldier emperor named Aurelian came to power and in is 5-year reign the empire which was broken apart into 2 separate states was restored when these breakaway empires being the Gallic and Palmyrene Empires were brought back under imperial control but in 275 Aurelian was murdered though his successors would still continue his work in restoring the empire back to stability and by the time Diocletian came to power in 284, he made more reforms for the empire which resulted in officially dividing the Roman Empire into 4 parts in what would be known as the Tetrarchy to settle the empire’s problems by making the administration easier, also it was made to settle the succession problem and here the new solution was for the senior emperor or Augustus of each division appointed his heir or Caesar which was not to be their sons but a skilled general. For Byzantium centuries later, the crisis was ironically also solved the same way when a soldier emperor named Alexios I Komnenos came to power in 1081 and would afterwards spend his reign energetically campaigning against all their enemies but unlike Aurelian who died before the crisis was fully solved, Alexios I ruled a full 37 years until his death in 1118 and in it he saw Byzantium take back the lands it had lost in Asia Minor and the Balkans as well as see the 1st Crusade form and pass through his lands giving him such difficulty but at least the 1st Crusade helped in solving the problem of the Seljuks when they captured lands from them turning the tide of war that Alexios before his death would able to beat the Seljuks back into Asia Minor. Even after Alexios I’s death, the resurgence of Byzantium would continue under his successors John II Komnenos (r. 1118-1143) and Manuel I Komnenos (r. 1143-1180) but this new age of restoration would however not last forever. As for Imperial Rome, the same story would happen as at first the Tetrarchy system established by Diocletian was thought to bring stability but as it turned out it did not when Diocletian’s successors all fought each other for control of the empire through decades of civil war but at the end of it all, someone came out as the victor being Constantine I the Great who in 324 put the whole Roman empire under his rule and in the process, he relocated the capital east thus building the new capital of Constantinople and establishing the very same Byzantine Empire this article is comparing the events to Imperial Rome and again restoring stability. The whole point of this article is show that when the history of a country goes on for so long being the history of the Roman Empire in which Byzantine history is a part of, it tends to repeat itself due to just how long the history is and this case, their stories mirror each other especially in a times of crisis and decline. Now if the previous article’s focus was on the decline of Imperial Rome and its successor the Byzantine Empire compared side-by-side with each other, here as the continuation of the previous one, it will be comparing the stories of the people and events in the years leading to the actual fall of Western Rome from the late 4th to late 5th centuries to the stories of the people and events in the years leading to the actual fall of the Eastern Roman Empire from the 13th to 15th centuries. In this article, you would end up noticing many similarities between the events in the timeline of the fall of Western Rome and the fall of Eastern Rome including people such as emperors in the timeline of the fall of the west and the fall of the east that actually have so many similarities to each other that you can already compare each of the last emperors of Byzantium to the last emperors of the west such as the Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1261-1282) to the last united Roman emperor Theodosius I (r. 379-395), the Byzantine emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos (r. 1282-1328) to the western emperor Honorius (r. 395-423), the Byzantine emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos (r. 1328-1341) to the western emperor Majorian (r. 457-461), and other people too like the Byzantine general and emperor John Kantakouzenos (r. 1347-1354) to the Western Roman barbarian general Ricimer who was basically the western empire’s most powerful man for a time in the 5th century and had 3 emperors as his puppets. On the other hand, no matter how similar the situation was for the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire in its last days, there are many differences as well in all these similarities such as their respective last emperors whereas the last western emperor Romulus Augustus (r. 475-476) was a weak child ruler who easily surrendered his title and the empire to his rebellious barbarian general Odoacer while the last eastern emperor Constantine XI (r. 1449-1453) better known as the last Roman emperor did not surrender and chose to heroically make a last stand against the massive armies of the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II besieging Constantinople in 1453 even if it cost his life. Also, the biggest difference you would see is that the fall of the Western Roman Empire was very quick and in the Western Roman Empire’s 80 year existence, it lost entire provinces so quickly while for the Byzantine Empire, its fall was slow and gradual and sometimes it had still gained some more territory while losing some and while the western empire fell suddenly with all of Italy taken over by the barbarian general Odoacer making himself its king, the Byzantine Empire lost everything it held onto so slowly that in its last years, the Byzantines were only left with their capital, Constantinople and very few other possessions. For Western Rome, it just took a hundred years for it to completely disappear following a major disaster while for Byzantium it took more than 200 years from following a major disaster to fully disappear. This article on the side of the story of Byzantium will begin with the event of the great disaster it suffered in 1204 wherein Constantinople suddenly fell to the army of the 4th Crusade wherein it would take 57 years for the Byzantines to once again reclaim their capital and for the story of Western Rome, this article will begin with the event of the great disaster of the defeat of the Romans to the Goths at Adrianople in 378 which would begin the end for the western half of the empire at least as already when the story of the western empire’s side of this article begins, the very same Byzantine Empire I am comparing its last days to had already been existing. For the western empire’s side of the story, this article will go through the events after 378 which would proceed to when the Roman Empire was fully and permanently divided between east and west with the death of Theodosius I in 395 wherein his older son Arcadius got the east which would then be Byzantium and the younger son Honorius got the west which would only have 80 years to live on. Though Byzantium had recovered at the 12th century and so did its Imperial Roman predecessor under Constantine I the Great in the 330s, the damage caused by the 3rd century crisis to the older Rome and the 11th century crisis to Byzantium’s damage was too much that no matter how much the empire would recover, its end would still in the long-term be imminent as for the Roman Empire, the same old problems would still continue and foreign enemies would still be around but luckily the eastern half was to survive despite all this chaos leaving the west to fall and this east being Byzantium many centuries later after its own 11th century crisis would not be able to be fully fixed again despite its recovery but at least its end would be much slower. At the same time, the reason for why both the east and west fell was not all due to invasions and was but also due to its people becoming so divided and mistakes made by its rulers which caused tensions including those that had to do with religion which you will see for yourselves as you continue reading this. Another reason too would be weak rulers and their decisions, as you will see Byzantium would end up being partially destroyed in 1204 by the 4th Crusade through series of the ineffective leadership of the Angelos emperors while in the Western Roman Empire’s story after 395, the empire was basically dominated by weak and vain rulers like Honorius and Valentinian III allowing the barbarians to entirely take over provinces thus escalating its fall. This article’s part of telling the Western Roman Empire’s story from 395 to 476 also has the story of the early Byzantine Empire or Eastern Roman Empire overlapping in it but this time I will focus more on the much more hidden story of the Western Roman Empire as in my many articles before, I have focused a lot on the stories and emperors of the east. As you will see, the weak rulers of the western empire and situation they had with increasing barbarian invasions made their fall so rapid but at least it had a few heroes that were willing to keep the Roman world alive such as the generals Stilicho and Aetius and only 2 competent emperors which were Majorian and Anthemius who still had the motivation to keep their empire standing. The last days of the Byzantine Empire from the 13th to 15th centuries had the same too as despite all the many civil wars it had and broken society, some its emperors were in fact still competent enough to think of solutions to keep their empire alive. However, betrayal as well as corruption was one of the major factors for the declines of these empires as you will see as well and in the previous article, it was already evident in Imperial Rome that the treachery of the Praetorian Guards also led the empire to decline but even in the 5th century with the Praetorian Guard gone was there still betrayal especially with barbarians in the Roman army while for the late Byzantine era, betrayal was not so common unless if emperors actually willing to submit their own religion to the west counted. This article is to be one of my longest ones and would seem a bit confusing as I’ll admit I had a hard time writing it but it was something I always wanted to write about anyway even if it might make no sense since the Byzantine Empire was still the same as the Roman Empire. Again I am trying to do my best at being the Roman era Greek author Plutarch who compared the lives of the Ancient Greeks and Romans by doing the same with the Romans and the Byzantines and again will do a lot to reference my favorite channel Dovahhatty here.

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Byzantine Empire flag
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Crossover flag of the Roman and Byzantine Empires
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Map of all Barbarian invasions into the Roman Empire, 100-500AD
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The Byzantine Empire’s extents in 3 different periods
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Meme of the Roman Empire dead yet alive again as the Eastern Roman Empire
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Western (left) and Eastern (right) Roman Empires and emperors comparison table

Related Articles from The Byzantium Blogger:

The Defenestrations of Prague (special edition stand-alone)

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

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

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 Compared

Roman and Byzantine Imperial Cultures Compared

Imperial Women in the Roman and Byzantine Empires

12 Turning Points in Byzantine History

The Complete Genealogy of the Byzantine emperors and dynasties

15 Byzantine Related States Outside Byzantium Part1 (1-7)

15 Byzantine Related States Outside Byzantium Part2 (8-15)

The Sieges of Constantinople

War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic

Related Videos:

All Roman Emperors from 27BC to 1453 (from Dieu le Roi).

Succession in the Byzantine Empire (from Eastern Roman History).

The History of the Byzantine Empire Every Month (from Khey Pard).

10 Minute History- The Fall of Rome (from History Matters).

The Fall of the Byzantine Empire (from Overly Sarcastic Production).

Dovahhatty Videos:

Imperial Wrath (337-378)

Barbarians at the Gates (379-423)

The Fall of Rome (423-476)

The 4th Crusade (1204) to the Battle of Adrianople (378)

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For Byzantium at the turn of the 13th century, Alexios III Angelos ruling as emperor would flee Constantinople when the army of the 4th Crusade arrived using a Venetian fleet, here Venice would have its revenge on Byzantium using an army of Crusaders from Western Europe. With the previous 3rd Crusade not entirely succeeding, the pope Innocent III called for another crusade to march on Jerusalem and Egypt but when the Venetians got in the way in order to supply ships for the Crusaders, they diverted it to Constantinople as an act of revenge, although the Crusade happened to be diverted since the deposed Isaac II Angelos’ son Alexios Angelos escaped prison and found himself in Venice asking its leader or doge Enrico Dandolo to help him put his father back in power. In 1202, the 4th Crusade was launched but at first the Crusaders had to capture the port of Zara in Croatia from Hungary for Venice in order to use the loot to finance the expedition to Constantinople and in 1203, the fleet departed for Constantinople and had succeeded in forcing Alexios III to flee and the young Alexios IV to come to power with his father restored. Alexios IV however was only installed as emperor because he promised to pay the Crusaders a large sum, provide an army for their conquest of Egypt, and unite the Byzantine Church with the Latin Catholic Church, but he wasn’t able to do any of these so to pay up the full sum he ended up having religious icons melted to make coins which made the people rebel in the streets threatening to depose him and his father and at the end both Isaac II and Alexios IV were betrayed by the Varangian Guard and the court official Alexios Mourtzouphlos who executed Alexios IV in prison while Isaac II died of shock hearing of his son’s death. With Alexios IV dead and the debt unpaid to the Crusaders, Mourtzouphlos became Emperor Alexios V and headed to the Crusaders camped outside Constantinople attempting to negotiate with Doge Enrico Dandolo of Venice to cancel the payment but Dandolo refused the offer and ordered the Crusaders to attack Constantinople. The defending Byzantines lost hope and just like Alexios III in the previous year, Alexios V fled the city and the Byzantine army was overwhelmed leaving the Varangian Guard to make their last stand. The Crusader army then after a few days captured Constantinople and continued killing its people and looting its treasures for days. For the Roman Empire in the late 4th century, the Battle of Adrianople is the equivalent of the 4th Crusade though both had different stories but the impact it had on the empire was the same, these 2 events were the battles that marked the beginning of the end for their respective empires. First of all, the Battle of Adrianople in 378 between the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) forces and the invading Goths happened when a large horde of Goths stormed into Roman borders with their numbers shocking the Romans, the same way the large number of Crusader forces overwhelmed the Byzantine forces in 1204. As for the Battle of Adrianople, the origin story was that in 376 the Goths from their homeland fled south into Roman borders crossing the Danube as their homeland (today’s Romania, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, and Lithuania) was being invaded by the Huns of the steppes of Central Asia and to seek asylum from the brutal attacks of the Huns, the Goths being no match had to enter Roman territory. The emperor at this time was Valens who ruled the eastern half since 364 while his brother Valentinian I the Great took the western half that year but was not a very competent emperor as back in 366 he defeated the usurper and the previous emperor Julian’s (r. 361-363) cousin Procopius with difficulty and for most of his reign, Valens was fighting wars against the Sassanid Persians with very little results while in the west his brother Valentinian I was a more competent emperor who mercilessly defeated barbarian invasions even marching into Germania and in 367 his forces quelled a rebellion in Britain that included an invasion of the island by Frankish Saxon pirates, Hibernians from Ireland, and Picts from Scotland but in 375, Valentinian I died of a stroke caused by his own anger in a negotiation with the Germanic tribe leaders. With Valentinian I dead, he was succeeded in the west by his young and inexperienced son Gratian as Augustus who even divided ruling the west with his younger half-brother Valentinian II while in the east Valens was left ruling it. However when the Goths stormed into Roman borders, Valens at first felt they could be controlled and made Roman citizens as they settled in the empire and gave up their weapons and leadership but more and more kept invading that their numbers proved to be too many for the Romans to feed and control so many Goths having to end up selling their children to slavery for dog meat ended up rebelling led by their king Fritigern. Valens did not respond immediately as he waited for his nephew Gratian to march west with a reinforcement army but it never happened so Valens listening to his military advisors marched north for 8 hours from Constantinople to Adrianople in the heat of summer tiring his soldiers and by the time they met with the Gothic forces, a division impatiently charged without orders forcing Valens to do the same and with their army weakened, the Goths surrounded and defeated them. Valens was later brought to safety to a farmhouse by a soldier though the Goths later burned the farmhouse not knowing Valens was inside. Now the battle would have a different result if Valentinian I were still alive in 378 as he was known for his intense anger and hatred towards barbarians that he would simply not allow the Goths entry and in fact order his army to march across the Danube and push back the Goth forces. The story of the 4th Crusade in 1204 and Adrianople in 378 have no similarities but where they are both similar is its aftermath as the 4th Crusade of 1204’s capture of Constantinople would change the geography of Byzantium creating breakaway successor states such as the Empire of Trebizond in Eastern Asia Minor along the Black Sea, the Empire of Nicaea in Western Asia Minor, the Despotate of Epirus in Western Greece, and in Constantinople the Latin Empire under Count Baldwin IX of Flanders was established while lands in Greece were divided among the Crusader generals forming new Crusader states like Achaea in the Peloponnese, the Duchy of Athens, Duchy of the Archipelago in the Aegean, the Kingdom of Thessalonica, and Venice taking control of Crete and more and as for the aftermath of the Battle of Adrianople in 378, the invading Goths raided their way into Roman territory loyal to their leaders and even establishing their own lands within the empire and years later just as how the Crusaders made their own states in Byzantine territory, the Goths- their division settling west known as the Visigoths and division settling east known as the Ostrogoths- and other barbarian tribes would take entire Roman provinces and make it their own kingdoms. Another similarity you can see between the Roman Empire in 378 and Byzantium in 1204 was that their eastern enemies, the Sassanids for the Roman-Byzantine Empire back then and the Seljuks for Byzantium in the 13th century was not a major threat anymore as in the late 4th century, the Sassanids had to focus on defending their eastern borders in Western Asia from the same Huns that had been attacking the Goths in Northern Europe and for the Seljuk Turks by the time of 1204, war with the Byzantines weakened them though decades later, the Seljuks will no longer be a threat to the Byzantines in exile based in Nicaea as the Seljuks had to face off invasions by the Mongol Empire which would be the 13th century parallel of the Huns raiding Sassanid territory and ironically both the Huns and Mongols were nomadic empires both originating from Central Asia. Ironically in 1205, the Latin Empire was severely defeated at another battle at Adrianople by Tsar Kaloyan of the same 2nd Bulgarian Empire that broke away from Byzantium in 1185 and here, the Latin emperor Baldwin I was captured in battle later dying in prison, this defeat then began the end for the Latin Empire that would die in 1261. For the Romans in 378, their defeat at Adrianople showed them that their infantry which proved to be so effective for centuries before turned out to be no longer effective to the Goths’ cavalry making the Romans have to adopt making their armies cavalry centric which would be the case especially for Eastern Rome or Byzantium in its early centuries wherein they would develop their Cataphract cavalry army. However, at the time of the 4th Crusade which was the next Adrianople disaster for Eastern Rome, this Cataphract cavalry army was no longer in so much use anymore as it was just less than 2 centuries ago when the Byzantines fought the Seljuks at Manzikert. Though it would only take the Eastern Roman Empire a year without an emperor to actually recover in 379 when the Hispanic general Theodosius came to power in Constantinople by assigned to rule the east by the troubled western emperor Gratian while centuries later, Byzantium after the 4th Crusade would take a full 57 year story to recover and take back Constantinople under their emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos and within these 57 years, Byzantium’s exiled to Nicaea would give birth to its new Greek national identity as this state formed in Nicaea was formed by Byzantine Greeks that escaped Constantinople’s attack in 1204 and when Constantinople was returned to Byzantine control in 1261, this identity formed in exile was brought with them. Though Constantinople was recovered and the Latin Empire destroyed, it would still never regain its former strength as it had before neither its wealth or military power especially since most its Themes or military districts which had proven effective since the 7th century had collapsed first from the crushing defeat at Manzikert to the Seljuks in 1071 and then the fatal blow of the 4th Crusade. There would be too much to write about these 57 years in Nicaea so I have decided to omit most its story from this article, although you can view the entire story of it by watching my 3-part audio epic on its story linked below.  

The 57 Years Part1, 1204-1221 (from No Budget Films).

The 57 Years Part2, 1222-1253 (from No Budget Films).

The 57 Years Part3, 1254-1261 (from No Budget Films).

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Map of the 4th Crusade’s Route to Constantinople (1202-1204)
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Constantinople falls to the 4th Crusade, 1204
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Map of the aftermath of the Byzantine Empire after 1204

Watch this to learn more about the 378 Battle of Adrianople (from Kings and Generals).

Watch this to learn more about the 4th Crusade of 1204 (from Kings and Generals).

Michael VIII Palaiologos (1261-1282) to Theodosius I (379-395)

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The 4th Crusade of 1204 and its damage on the Byzantine Empire is very similar to how the Battle of Adrianople in 378 brought such damage to the Roman Empire in the east which was the early Byzantium but more damage though to the west. The 4th Crusade’s damage though was much more devastating as Constantinople literally fell to the Crusader army for 57 years with the Latin Empire established in it and only in 1261 were the Byzantines able to take back and mostly out of luck but also because the Latin Empire never succeeded anyway without any vision to build a real empire but just for the sake of looting Constantinople. Byzantium in 378 meanwhile had a different story as it only recovered one year after Adrianople without an emperor though the western half still had Gratian as emperor. After Adrianople, the Goths came close to attacking Constantinople but its walls made it impossible for them so the Goths scattered around the Eastern Empire raiding it while Gratian with his army arrived in the east late but Gratian as a young ruler felt that he could not rule both east and west together so to replace Valens as the eastern emperor, he turned to the most senior official near him which was Theodosius, the governor of the province of Moesia (Serbia) and in early 379, he became emperor of the east reluctantly. For 13th century Byzantium, the story after the 4th Crusade was a lot different as the Byzantines had to regroup in Nicaea across the Marmara Sea from Constantinople and rebuild their government under their emperor in exile Theodore I Laskaris (r. 1205-1221) but after his death the Byzantines were once again stabilized as the Empire of Nicaea while his son-in-law and successor John III Doukas Vatatzes (r. 1222-1254) in his long reign expanded the Nicaean Empire into Europe taking back the important cities of Adrianople and Thessaloniki and fully surrounding Constantinople and though he tried to take it back, he failed as he also had to defeat other threats to them including the 2nd Bulgarian Empire, the rebel Despotate of Epirus, and the incoming threat of the Mongols that invaded the Seljuk state. When John III died in 1254, his philosophical yet arrogant son Theodore II Laskaris (r. 1254-1258) came to rule a strong empire but did not prioritize taking back Constantinople and in 1258 he suddenly died possibly poisoned by his most bitter long-time rival yet childhood friend the general Michael Palaiologos, though Theodore II’s strong case of epilepsy could have caused his death too but either way after Theodore II’s death, Michael Palaiologos plotted his way to take the throne by purging Theodore’s loyalists. Theodore II though as someone who hated the Byzantine aristocracy and senate named his friend George Mouzalon who was a commoner from Asia Minor as the regent of the empire for his son and successor John IV Laskaris who was a young boy but only 9 days after Theodore’s death, Michael arranged the assassination of George Mouzalon at Theodore’s funeral and by convincing the Byzantine aristocrats through lies about potential invasions they agreed to make Michael the regent and co-emperor of John IV and between 1259 and 1261, Michael was actually the one running the Nicaean Empire as everyone felt in a troubled time a boy cannot run an empire, therefore a strong general was needed. Centuries before Michael Palaiologos rose to power, the Byzantine emperor Theodosius I came to rule the east through the same circumstances as the actual emperor Gratian together with his brother Valentinian II were still too young to fully run an empire both east and west, so to handle the devastated eastern half, a stronger man was needed which would be Theodosius, while Gratian and Valentinian II in this case would be the early Byzantine era parallel of John IV as like John IV they were also young rulers who never had much experience in government and were later removed from power as Gratian was killed in 383 during a civil war and Valentinian II later killed himself in 392 under mysterious circumstances, though John IV Laskaris in 1261 as you will see was blinded by Michael Palaiologos to secure his claim as full emperor right after he finally took back Constantinople from the Latins as in 1260 Michael also tried to besiege the city but failed. Unlike Michael VIII Palaiologos who came to power out of his own ambition, Theodosius I was reluctant never thinking he would be emperor but he accepted the position anyway with the empire at chaos but as emperor he suddenly became so attached to power that he focused all his attention to fighting all opposition against him, while Michael VIII in the 13th century had always wanted to be in power ever since, that he had to plot his way to the throne by murdering the regent George Mouzalon and later backstabbing and blinding the young John IV who he sent to prison for life and when in power, Michael VIII was ever more attached to it that he did not respond well to opposition. Now Michael VIII is more or less Theodosius I reborn in the 13th century and similarly, for both of them before becoming emperor, they made their name through military service and both were sons of their empire’s top generals with Michael VIII coming from Asia Minor born in 1223 after Constantinople’s fall to the 4th Crusade being the son of the previous emperor John III’s top general Andronikos Palaiologos and Theodosius I coming from Roman Spain born there in 347 being the son of the previous emperor Valentinian I’s top general Count Theodosius the Elder and though Michael despite being the son of a powerful general was disowned by his father who remarried following Michael’s mother’s death while Theodosius I since a young age was raised as a soldier joining his father in military campaigns most notably the one against barbarian invaders in Britain in 367. Even though Michael was disowned by his father and had to grow up a tough life, he grew up to be a successful soldier but this made him be seen by John III’s successor Theodore II as a troublemaker while Theodosius I after his father’s campaign in Britain continued military life being the governor of Moesia and as its governor he once led an army repelling a Sarmatian invasion in the Danube border with success though in 376, Theodosius’ father Count Theodosius was executed in North Africa by orders of the western empire’s regent and Gratian’s general of Frankish origin Merobaudes out of suspicion of trying to usurp power from Gratian and Valentinian II. While Michael VIII at first acted as John IV’s protector but after succeeding in taking back Constantinople in 1261 and being crowned as the restored Byzantine emperor there, he betrayed John IV who was left in Nicaea by having him blinded while Theodosius I as the senior emperor in the east remained loyal to his junior western co-emperors Gratian and Valentinian II although despite being loyal, Theodosius did not really seem to care about their interests that when a general in Britain Magnus Maximus who happened to be his friend and fellow Spaniard declared war on Gratian later getting Gratian assassinated in Gaul, Theodosius did not seem to care at the beginning as it could be implied that Theodosius wanted to rule the empire with his friend but as Magnus Maximus marched on to Italy, Theodosius in Constantinople remained loyal to the young Valentinian II and refused to let Magnus Maximus do it thus creating civil war which ended with Theodosius victorious in 388 and Magnus Maximus executed. As for Michael VIII, his greatest achievement was recapturing Constantinople from the Latins forcing the last Latin emperor Baldwin II to flee back to Europe, although it was mostly out of luck as Michael’s army of only 800 men under his general Alexios Strategopoulos sneaked beneath the walls and stormed into the city when the Latin Empire’s forces were away and the last Latin emperor Baldwin II away, and as for Theodosius I’s his biggest achievement in his early reign similar to Michael VIII’s liberation of Constantinople was concluding the conflict with the invading Goths that devastated the empire though Theodosius even if winning against the Goths in smaller battles actually resolved the conflict through diplomacy by allowing the Goths to settle within the empire under their own leaders as long as they fought in the service of the empire, though the Goths and other barbarians as being allowed to live under their own leaders would instead fight as autonomous troops or mercenaries known as Foederati. Now the biggest similarities between the two rulers of Byzantium Michael VIII and Theodosius I who lived centuries apart from each other was their use of diplomacy which would although make them unpopular. For Michael VIII, even though the Latins or Western Europeans was the enemy of Byzantium then and even if he had chased them out of Constantinople, he still resorted to diplomacy with them that Michael VIII wanted to remain friendly with the pope which was unpopular with the devout Orthodox Byzantines and also an ally of the western kingdoms like Sicily under the Holy Roman Empire, and other than that Michael VIII seemed to favor using foreign including Latin mercenaries in battle, thus this would lead some to think that Michael VIII seemed sympathetic to the enemy. Theodosius I was no different from Michael VIII long after his time in terms of diplomacy and being sympathetic to the enemy as Theodosius I despite beating the Goths in battle agreed to have them as part of the imperial army and later on he would rely more on defeated barbarian soldier recruits than his own men, yet under him many soldiers of barbarian origins would rise up the ranks and become influential generals including the half-Roman half-Vandal Flavius Stilicho, the Frankish Arbogast, and later the Gothic king Alaric, and although Theodosius may have seemed to favor barbarians such as Goths in the army, he did not really have a choice as the army made up of real Roman soldiers was outnumbered especially since most were lost at the Battle of Adrianople and the patricians and senators of the Roman Empire no longer wanted their own citizens to be recruited in the army as the empire started running short of workers while for Michael VIII centuries later he also had no choice but use foreign especially Latin mercenary soldiers since the standing army of the Byzantine Empire had dissolved over the years of decline, although Michael VIII would attempt in rebuilding the Byzantine national army made up of native Greeks. Aside from Theodosius I being friendly to the Goths and other barbarian enemies and Michael VIII being friendly to Byzantium’s Latin enemies, both rulers in common were known to be harsh to their own people and against opposition and never really seemed to respect the opinions and beliefs of their people as for Michael VIII he believed submitting the Byzantine Orthodox Church to the pope was the best diplomatic solution to get the protection of the west against invaders on all sides which for Michael was Bulgaria, Serbia, the Seljuks, Mongols, and after 1266 a new French ruler named Charles of Anjou who took over Sicily and swore to invade Byzantium again so to counter this, Michael VIII thought of submitting the Byzantine Church to the pope in 1274 at the Council of Lyon though initially, Byzantium submitted but the pope later felt that Michael was not true to his word. As for Theodosius I in terms of religious policy, he was no different as in 380 he issued an edict without consulting any ecclesiastical authorities that all his subjects would have to follow the Nicene Creed though in 381 the Council of Constantinople led by Theodosius I declared that Nicene Christianity was to be the official and state religion of both the eastern and western empires thus outlawing Paganism and Arian Christianity and of course this decision created tension in the empire especially among the Arians and Pagans in which many subjects still were, therefore they would end up becoming persecuted, and though Michael VIII’s decision in 1274 to submit Byzantium to the pope was for protection, Theodosius I’s decision in 381 to make Nicene Christianity the official religion was all because he was impatient with religious debates and could not tolerate people of different religions side by side, so he wanted all to follow one creed. Though Theodosius I was a religious extremist and devout Christian, he still did not understand Christian values well that he thought killing was still the answer to those who opposed his religious policy that in 390 when the people of Thessaloniki revolted and killed the local army’s Gothic commander there for arresting their star chariot racer, Theodosius responded angrily by having an entire Gothic horde storm the city and kill 7,000 people in the Hippodrome, although Theodosius eventually wanted to cancel the order but it was too late to do so and since these troops were not trained Romans but rather more warlike Gothic Foederati, they responded by just killing everyone they saw and of course Theodosius would be excommunicated by the Church for such an Unchristian act. Both Michael VIII and Theodosius I similarly would end up coming into trouble with Church authorities as for Theodosius I his order to massacre the people of Thessaloniki got him excommunicated for a few months by the powerful Bishop of Milan St. Ambrose who forced Theodosius to do penance by starting a Crusade against Paganism which Theodosius followed by having Pagan temples destroyed and persecuting Pagans, therefore Theodosius’s excommunication was lifted, at the same time this event of Theodosius having to do penance at Ambrose’s orders would mark the first time in history where the Church would have authority even over an emperor. Michael VIII on the other hand, like Theodosius I also got into trouble with the Church and though Theodosius I was a religious extremist, Michael VIII was anti-Orthodox Church and rather sympathetic to the pope, although he was not very religious as a person but like Theodosius I who got into trouble with the bishop Ambrose for ordering the massacre at Thessaloniki, Michael VIII in 1262 also got excommunicated by the patriarch Arsenios Autoreianos who would be Ambrose in the case of Michael being the 13th century Theodosius and when finding out Michael blinded young John IV and Michael’s excommunication was only lifted in 1268 following Arsenios being deposed and exiled as Michael even threatened to close down the Byzantine Church and submit to the pope, although Arsenios was popular with many and in the following years, Michael’s decision to depose Arsenios created a bitter schism in the empire between the loyalists of Arsenios known as the Arsenites and the loyalists of Michael’s new appointed patriarch Joseph I known as the Josephists; although despite Theodosius and Ambrose falling out at one time, they still remained great allies while Michael and Arsenios would be bitter enemies, and in fact Michael would even end up becoming in bad terms with the new patriarch he appointed which was Joseph I as Joseph in 1275 also opposed Michael’s signing of the Church Union with the pope in the previous year making Michael remove Joseph I from his position and replace him with a new patriarch being John XI who supported the union. Of course, Michael’s decision to actually submit to the pope in 1274 made him unpopular with his people who were proud Orthodox Christians and distrusted the pope and the west especially since the Catholics attacked Constantinople in 1204 and humiliated them; even Michael’s family members like his older sister Irene who he was close to turned against him and those who opposed this Church Union were jailed and tortured under Michael that one point there had been no more space in the jails with so much political prisoners as so many were arrested each day for just expressing their thoughts against the emperor and the union that Michael had to even pass a death sentence on those who carried books or posters that spoke against him and in this case of Michael treating those oppose him so harshly even in the most Unchristian of ways is exactly the same way how Theodosius responded to opposition like when ordering a massacre of the people in Thessaloniki. As for Theodosius I it was no different as his decision to make Nicene Christianity the empire’s official religion and to Crusade against Paganism also made him unpopular that in 392 his general in the western empire Arbogast turned against his puppet emperor Valentinian II and elevated a rhetoric teacher in Gaul as his new puppet emperor supporting the cause of the Pagans who were oppressed under Theodosius even if both Arbogast and Eugenius were Nicene Christians; though with Arbogast deserting him and Theodosius not coming to his aid, Valentinian II killed himself in Milan. Theodosius responded late to fight against the usurper Eugenius and only when finding out Eugenius supported Paganism did Theodosius head back west and fight Eugenius and Arbogast for Christianity and to avenge Valentinian II and in 394, Theodosius and his general Stilicho defeated an invading army of Visigoths and recruited them and their leader Alaric to the Roman army before meeting the forces of Arbogast and Eugenius in battle in today’s Slovenia. The battle between Theodosius’ forces and Arbogast’s and Eugenius’ took place in the Frigidus River which was then the entrance to Italy from the Balkans and at first Arbogast’s seemed to have been winning but the next day a sudden wind storm threw the arrows Arbogast’s men fired back at them and with the help of Alaric’s separate division of Goths and a division of Arbogast defecting to Theodosius, the side of Theodosius won while Eugenius was executed and Arbogast later killed himself. Similarly for Michael VIII, near the end of his reign in 1280 the ruler of independent Thessaly John Angelos declared himself Byzantine emperor in the name of Orthodoxy in opposition to Michael VIII’s Church Union and even allied with Michael’s arch-enemy Charles of Anjou, the King of Sicily though Michael attempted to invade Thessaly but instead the army sent there defected to John so in 1282 Michael attempted to go there himself to invade it but died along the way. Like Theodosius I before his death in 395 won a major victory at the Frigidus River in 394, Michael VIII in 1282 shortly before his death later that year won a major victory through diplomacy which was that he was able to drive his arch-enemy Charles of Anjou away from Sicily by sending bribes to local lords of Sicily to lead a rebellion against their French overlords and they succeeded in doing it together with the help of a new ally Michael made, the King of Aragon Peter III in the event known as the “Sicilian Vespers”. To sum it all up, both Michael VIII and Theodosius I before him were at least capable rulers but had to face so much pressure and both dealt with it by crushing all opposition as Theodosius led an extreme crusade against Paganism and Michael persecuted subjects against his religious policy, Theodosius decided to simply make Nicene Christianity the official religion of the empire in the expense of the old Pagan religion and Arian Christianity while Michael decided to submit to Catholicism in the expense of Orthodoxy, and lastly both Theodosius and Michael seemed to be lucky winning their wars but were disappointing as emperors both going from hero to zero as Theodosius began his reign successfully concluding the conflict with the Goths but becoming a Nicene Christian extremist made him unpopular at the end while Michael VIII was seen as a hero and savior at the beginning when taking back Constantinople from the Latins but became so unpopular when deciding to submit to the pope that at his death, Michael VIII was even denied a proper Christian burial as the Orthodox Church still remained in power and in fact the people were even happy hearing of his death though afterwards, his son and successor Andronikos II would undo his father’s policy and revert to Orthodoxy. For Theodosius I, his victory over Eugenius and Arbogast at the Frigidus River symbolized the first Christian Crusade against Paganism and the defeat of the old Pagan religion to Christianity and as for Theodosius’ reign the Olympic games was put to an end in 394 and so did all the ancient Pagan traditions and institutions of Rome including the Vestal Virgins and festivals, and not to mention it could have been due to Theodosius’ anti-Pagan decrees that caused the destruction of the library of Alexandria in Egypt; also here the Church would come into power under powerful Church leaders like St. Ambrose. Theodosius I’s reign was also the end of the Ancient Roman civilization and the beginning of the Middle Ages as not only did the Church rise to prominence, but Rome’s centuries old Pagan traditions were not only put to an end but outlawed and also his reign would be begin the rise of the barbarians especially in the western empire, but more than that it was Theodosius’ death in 395 that was the end of the old Roman Empire and the beginning of the east and west as separate empire under their own leaders as Theodosius at his death decided to split the empire east and west between his sons; Arcadius ruling the east being the Byzantine Empire and Honorius at the west being the Western Roman Empire. Many would think that it was Constantine the Great that made Christianity the official religion of the empire, but it was actually Theodosius, and ironically Theodosius reversed Diocletian’s persecution of Christians by persecuting Pagans, Theodosius then is the one that should be given credit for starting the dominance of Christianity in the world. Though for Michael VIII, his death did not split Byzantium, instead his attempted submission to the pope set a new standard for future Byzantine emperors to do just that at the cost of their people’s pride in their Orthodox faith. Michael VIII’s reign had also begun the tensions within Byzantine society that could not be healed any longer especially since it involved religion and additionally, Michael VIII as emperor neglected Byzantium’s eastern frontier in Asia Minor that by his death in 1282, the borders began to collapse to the raiding Turks and its people living there who both opposed Michael for his religious policies and neglect in protecting them ended up giving up and defecting to the Turks who they saw as more tolerant, thus in this case Michael VIII could have indirectly caused the fall of Byzantium. Theodosius I despite being called “the Great” similarly had indirectly caused the fall of Western Rome not only by literally dividing the empire in halves and dividing its people as well, his decision to recruit their barbarian enemies to the army caused it too as soon enough these barbarians would become more and more powerful and independent that they would end up taking land in the empire for themselves, yet despite his failures and wrongdoings, Theodosius I is considered an Orthodox saint. Lastly, despite Michael VIII and Theodosius I both being strong yet divisive as emperors, Michael VIII in fact much more dangerous as he came to power using in the most scheming of ways that involved killings and threats and he would have the same unpredictability as an emperor while Theodosius as a religious extremist was very predictable but mutually, they happen to be one of the most controversial emperors in Roman history. On the positive side, Michael VIII’s reign attempted rebuilding Constantinople to its former glory though it would be his wife Empress Theodora and son and future emperor Andronikos II that would be responsible for carrying out this Byzantine Renaissance while Theodosius I as emperor also devoted time into building up Constantinople as an imperial city by moving landmarks as big as obelisks from all over the eastern half of the Roman Empire to its new capital.

Michael VIII- Theodosius I
Left: Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos of Byzantium (r. 1261-1282); right: Roman emperor Theodosius I the Great (r. 379-395)

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The chad Michael VIII Palaiologos vs the virgin Theodore II Laskaris

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Map of the Byzantine Empire (yellow) after 1261 
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The Roman Empire divided between east (purple) and west (red) at Theodosius I’s death in 395

Watch this to see the story of the 1261 Reconquest of Constantinople in Lego (from No Budget Films).

Watch this to see the story of the Sicilian Vespers in Lego (from No Budget Films).

Michael II of Epirus (1230-1268) to Magnus Maximus (383-388) and John I Doukas Angelos (1280-1282) to Eugenius (392-394)  

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If Michael VIII Palaiologos was in so many ways the 13th century version of the late 4th century Theodosius I in having the same style of rule in dealing with opposition and fighting wars, Michael VIII was also very much like Theodosius by having so many enemies including those within the empire that usurped power from him, although for Theodosius I’s his internal enemies were within the same empire except in the western half while he ruled the east, as for Michael VIII these were other Byzantines like him but not from the central empire but rather from their rival state, the Despotate of Epirus formed after the 4th Crusade which saw themselves as a legitimate Byzantine successor but the actual Byzantine successor being Nicaea and the restored Byzantium of 1261 saw this state in Epirus as rebels. Long before Michael VIII took back Constantinople and became Byzantine emperor in 1261, over in Epirus which is a region in Western Greece, a man also named Michael came to power in 1230. This Michael who ruled Epirus not as emperor but “despot” or “lord” was Michael II Angelos, the son of the Epirote state’s founder the Byzantine noble Michael I Angelos, the cousin of the previous Angelos emperors Isaac II and Alexios III who formed the Despotate of Epirus in 1205 at the aftermath of the chaos caused by the 4th Crusade but in 1215, Michael I of Epirus was assassinated and replaced as Despot of Epirus by his half-brother Theodore while Michael I’s young son also named Michael went into exile. However, Theodore as Despot of Epirus was too ambitious that he took over Thessaloniki from the Latins in 1224 and declared himself emperor and fought too many wars against the Nicaean Empire under John III Doukas Vatatzes and the 2nd Bulgarian Empire under Tsar Ivan Asen II as he saw them both as threats to his potential reconquest of Constantinople from the Latins but in 1230 when Theodore marched to Bulgaria to battle against Ivan Asen II, he was defeated, blinded, and sent to prison making his nephew Michael who was now grown up return to Epirus and be its ruler, though Thessaloniki fell under Theodore’s brother Manuel as a Bulgarian puppet. In 1237 though, Theodore was released and returned to Thessaloniki but made his son John instead as its ruler as Theodore being blind could not rule himself though his son would only be his puppet, Manuel was then forced out but came back to rule Thessaly but with his death in 1241, Thessaly passed into his nephew Michael II’s hands. Eventually in 1246, John III of Nicaea captured Thessaloniki and Michael II of Epirus was forced to submit to John III though Michael II broke his word and laid siege to Thessaloniki in 1251 allying with his retired uncle Theodore though their siege failed when John III came to defend Thessaloniki and Michael II’s Albanian allies defected to John III. Theodore was taken as prisoner to Asia Minor where he died in 1253, but Michael II was still out there and had not given up his intention to fight the Nicaean Empire. When Theodore II Laskaris succeeded his father John III in 1254, Michael II again struck in Greece but when Theodore II arrived in Greece in 1256, he captured Michael’s wife promising to give her back if Michael surrendered the port of Dyrrhachion in the Adriatic to Nicaea which Michael did. Theodore II of Nicaea however died in 1258 and Michael Palaiologos came to power but Epirus and Nicaea still remained enemies. Now Michael II of Epirus’ 4th century Roman parallel Magnus Maximus was not originally a ruler the way Michael II was, instead he was a Roman from Hispania who was the governor of Britain by the time Theodosius I came to power in 379 and in 383 the troops in Britain unhappy with the rule of Gratian who ruled the west proclaimed Magnus Maximus as emperor and later marched into Gaul surrounding Gratian at Lyon where Gratian’s own protector the Frankish general Merobaudes defected Maximus thus resulting in Gratian getting killed, while Theodosius ruling the east only declared Magnus Maximus an enemy when Gratian was killed and Maximus marched into Italy as both Theodosius and Maximus were friends before both serving under their fathers in Britain. Now with Michael VIII being the 13th century Theodosius, he was in no way friends with the other Michael as when Michael VIII came to power as co-emperor in 1259, he immediately declared war on Michael II who had just allied himself with all the remaining Latin powers in Greece, the Latin Empire, and even with Manfred Hohenstaufen, the King of Sicily. The only similarity Michael II of Epirus and Magnus Maximus of Britannia had was that they were mortal enemies of their emperor which for Maximus was Theodosius and for Michael II was Michael VIII and both Michael II and Magnus Maximus had the arrogance to claim the entire empire as theirs, for Michael II he had the arrogance to actually beat the Nicaeans to ruling all of Greece, except Michael II’s Epirus wasn’t so powerful that he needed to ally with the Latin powers. In the first civil war between Magnus Maximus in the west and Theodosius I in the east, Theodosius succeeded in blockading Italy from Maximus and having the bishop Ambrose negotiate with Maximus but for the next years Maximus remained as western emperor based in Trier even making his son Victor his co-emperor while the official western emperor Valentinian II fled with his mother Empress Justina and sister Flavia Galla to Theodosius at Constantinople. In 388, Theodosius allied himself with Justina by marrying her daughter and Valentinian II’s sister Flavia Galla and by Justina’s request, Theodosius led an army to the west with his general Arbogast to battle Magnus Maximus. At the entrance to Italy, Theodosius defeated Maximus’ forces and had the local garrison there betray Maximus and execute him, while in 1259, Michael II almost had the same downfall at the Battle of Pelagonia in Northern Greece against Michael VIII’s forces under the generals which were Michael’s brother John Palaiologos and the general Alexios Strategopoulos. Although Magnus Maximus was executed after his defeat in 388, Michael II simply just lost the battle even if he had a large force consisting of Latin knights but was defeated as Michael Palaiologos bribed Michael II’s son John Angelos to betray his father and when Michael II grew suspicious of his allies, he left them and fled back to Epirus’ capital which was Arta, although since the Nicaean forces won the battle they also captured Arta and forced Michael II to escape to the island of Cephalonia but returned in early 1260 taking back Arta. In 1264, Michael VIII now as the sole emperor of Byzantium after having taken back Constantinople sent another army to invade Michael II’s Epirus defeating Michael II who was then forced to acknowledge Michael VIII as his emperor, Michael II died in 1268 dividing Epirus with his sons Nikephoros who took Epirus and the same John who betrayed him but defected back to him took Thessaly. Now what the usurper emperor Magnus Maximus (r. 383-388) and Michael II of Epirus (r. 1230-1268) had in common was that they basically challenged the superior emperor’s authority and ended up defeated except Magnus Maximus was defeated and executed and his son executed too after him while Michael II was just simply defeated and had to surrender his claim as Byzantine emperor dying a broken man. As for Theodosius I, after defeating Maximus in 388, Valentinian II was restored as western emperor with Arbogast as his general though when the civil war with Maximus started in 383, Theodosius already made his eldest son Arcadius his co-emperor but in the west just 4 years after Valentinian II was restored, Arbogast turned on him mostly due to Theodosius’ extreme religious policies which Valentinian II agreed on so when losing support Valentinian II killed himself in 392 and Arbogast made the rhetoric teacher from Gaul Flavius Eugenius as his puppet emperor as Arbogast being a Frank in origin could not be accepted as an emperor. Eugenius and Arbogast though were Christians but they supported liberalism and championed themselves as protectors of Paganism to gain the support of the Pagan population that were oppressed by Theodosius, though at first Theodosius was fine with Eugenius taking over the west until finding out they were standing for religious toleration and were restoring Pagan temples so Theodosius decided to head west to crush the army of Arbogast and Eugenius in the name of Christianity and already named his younger son Honorius as his co-emperor in the west. In the 13th century Byzantium, Michael II’s sons the ruler of Thessaly John I Doukas Angelos and Nikephoros I Doukas Angelos the new ruler of Epirus had a lot more in common with usurper emperor Eugenius than his father does with the usurper Magnus Maximus, although John Angelos was at first neutral with Michael VIII of Byzantium when he began his rule on Thessaly in 1268 but when Michael VIII signed the Church Union with the pope in 1274 and began persecuting his own people for their practicing their beliefs, John Angelos turned against Michael rallying the support of those people who fled Michael VIII’s Byzantium to Thessaly to seek asylum, thus in 1280 John Angelos even proclaimed himself Byzantine emperor in opposition to Michael VIII. Now what both John Angelos and Eugenius have in common is that they both rallied support of people oppressed by the tyranny of their emperor for religious reasons and both became popular as defenders of their faith as John Angelos was seen as a defender of Byzantine Orthodoxy which Michael VIII began suppressing to ally Byzantium with the pope and Eugenius was seen as a defender of Paganism despite being a Christian as Theodosius suppressed Paganism with such brutality. John Angelos of Thessaly though made himself an ally with Michael VIII’s arch-enemy Charles of Anjou who ruled Sicily, though Michael VIII sent an army to invade Thessaly in 1280 but the army’s general Manuel Raoul defected to John, which makes Raoul the Byzantine parallel of Arbogast who betrayed Theodosius and sided with Eugenius, though unlike Theodosius who successfully defeated Eugenius by through the luck of a wind storm and using federate barbarian troops led by Alaric and with a defection from Eugenius’ troops at the Battle of the Frigidus River in Slovenia where Eugenius was captured and executed, Michael VIII did not succeed in defeating John Angelos but instead jailed Raoul for defecting and in 1282 after winning a victory through diplomacy by forcing Charles of Anjou out of Sicily decided to invade Thessaly himself but instead Michael VIII died in Thrace before being able to do so. Michael VIII was succeeded by his son Andronikos II Palaiologos who decided to cancel his father’s Church Union and return Byzantium to Orthodoxy and doing this, John Angelos surrendered his claim as emperor as the Byzantine people who fled to him were now free again to practice their faith without having to follow the customs of the Latin Church. John Angelos was allowed to reign as Thessaly’s ruler until his death in 1289 while Orthodoxy returned to Byzantium with Michael VIII dead. The ends of Michael VIII and Theodosius I had very different outcomes as Michael VIII’s death in 1282 made his people free again in practicing their beliefs while for Theodosius despite dying in 395 defeated Eugenius previously thus defeating liberalism and religious tolerance and beginning an age of Christian supremacy while Eugenius died as the last ruler to support Paganism. Also, Theodosius’ victory at the Frigidus was not only seen as a kind of battle that saw the Christianity defeat Paganism but a major victory for barbarians mostly due to his barbarian troops, therefore this moment would be seen as the rise of barbarian power in the empire and the end of the Roman age and true enough just a few months later, Theodosius’ death split the empire east and west permanently.

Andronikos II Palaiologos (1282-1328) to Arcadius (395-408), and Honorius (395-423)

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Though Constantinople was recovered by Michael VIII Palaiologos in 1261, the empire that was regained would no longer be the same power it was before the 4th Crusade but instead only having the same level of power as the newer states that broke away from Byzantium like Serbia, Bulgaria, and even the surviving Latin states in Greece formed after the 4th Crusade and the rebel Byzantine state of Epirus. Michael VIII’s reign was greatly troubled with external wars and a possible invasion of the empire and restoration of the Latin Empire by Charles of Anjou, the French king of Sicily but with rebellion breaking out in Sicily, Charles was forced out and made no longer a threat to Byzantium. At Michael VIII’s death, he at least left behind an empire to his son Andronikos II that was spared from a possible Latin invasion but Michael VIII’s focus on the west left the eastern border of the empire in Asia Minor exposed and when Andronikos II came to power in 1282, the eastern borders began collapsing as new Turkish states had formed and Byzantine people started defecting to the Turks when the emperor failed to protect them. Andronikos II as emperor though was quite blind to his empire’s problems and his long 46-year reign was marked with economic problems, corruption in the government, and rapid invasions in Asia Minor by these new Turkish powers but in power, Andronikos II was more focused on promoting art and culture in Constantinople with his mother Empress Theodora until her death in 1303. The story of Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos, the son of Michael VIII is different but quite the same with his late Roman parallels being Theodosius I’s sons and successors who the united Roman Empire was divided among which was Arcadius ruling the east (395-408) or the Byzantine Empire from Constantinople and Honorius who ruled the west (395-423) first at Milan then later in 402 at Ravenna. After Theodosius I’s death in 395, the Roman Empire was permanently split and his sons were still underaged so Theodosius asked his most trusted general Stilicho to be regent for both sons to seem as if even though there were 2 emperors there was still unity but instead, the older son Arcadius who ruled the east did not agree as he already fell under the influence of another general named Rufinus. Similarly, Andronikos II of the late 13th century and Arcadius centuries before him were weak at running an empire and oblivious to the chaos around them and instead were vain and very distant to their subjects; though as emperor, Arcadius was more focused on being a good Christian example for his subjects and spent most of his reign praying while his corrupt generals ran the empire and Andronikos II centuries later was the same in that way as his court was dominated by corrupt officials while he spent most of his time praying as well and building churches with the most impressive artworks for only the imperial family and aristocrats to see. Arcadius’ Byzantine Empire was already so troubled as when he came into power in 395, his father’s former Gothic mercenary leader Alaric rebelled for being dismissed from the army and began pillaging his way through Greece until the western general Stilicho who was basically in charge of the west headed to Greece and contained Alaric’s forces but Arcadius and Rufinus who controlled him were suspicious of this and ordered Stilicho to return to Italy and return the eastern empire’s troops he commanded to Constantinople and as Stilicho loyally obeyed the order, the troops who returned to Constantinople which were mostly Gothic mercenaries led by their commander Gainas suddenly stabbed Rufinus to death in late 395, replacing Rufinus as the top commander of the east with a eunuch general named Eutropius while Alaric to be satisfied was given full command of the eastern empire’s armies with its full benefits. In 399, Eutropius himself was killed when the Gothic commander Gainas turned on him but Arcadius seeing Gainas was too dangerous banished Gainas who fled outside the empire to get the support of the Huns and use them for an invasion but instead he was killed by them while the Huns kept pushing more barbarian tribes into both the divided western and eastern empires. In Constantinople, Arcadius’ only achievement was appointing the influential John Chrysostom as Patriarch of Constantinople who would be banished by Arcadius’ wife Empress Aelia Eudoxia for insulting her and the high society though in 404 Eudoxia died and just 4 years later in 408 Arcadius died leaving the eastern empire to his 7-year-old son Theodosius II under Arcadius’ new appointed general the city prefect Anthemius which meant Roman reunification was no longer possible, it was also this Anthemius who was responsible for building Constantinople’s walls that still stood in the late 13th century in Andronikos II’s reign and even up to Byzantium’s end in 1453.

In the western empire meanwhile, the story was even more chaotic with Honorius and Stilicho as his protector and for most of Honorius’ early reign he barely did anything but possibly waste away in his palace in Milan while Stilicho did all the work to protect the western empire such as crushing a revolt in North Africa in 398 that was orchestrated by the eastern empire as well as repelling Alaric’s first invasion of Italy in 402 as Stilicho at first being away in the Alps gave Alaric who was looking for more land the opportunity to invade Italy; here in 402 Honorius in fear of Alaric’s invasion moved the capital of the west to the swamps of Ravenna for more protection. Though Alaric left Italy later in 402 returning to the Balkans, disaster came again in 405 and this time another Gothic king named Radagaisus invaded through the Alps but was defeated by Stilicho in 406 with Radagaisus killed in battle but later in the last day of 406 with the Rhine freezing hundreds of thousands of barbarian Suebi, Vandals, Alans, and Goths coming from Germany crossed the river into Gaul, while in 407 a general in Britain named Constantine in response to the barbarian invasion of Gaul declared himself emperor and marched into Gaul pulling all Roman troops away from Britain thus leaving Britain unprotected and Honorius facing so many problems already did not care and simply allowed Britain to be abandoned. In the late 13th century Byzantium meanwhile, Andronikos II’s reign shares the same amount of similarities with Honorius’ reign as it did with his brother and early Byzantine emperor Arcadius, although Andronikos II’s early reign before 1299 was not as troubled as Honorius’. For Andronikos II, he started out by first cancelling the infamous union his father signed with the pope and then cutting costs and to do this he had to dismantle the Byzantine navy which was only made up of 80 ships at that time and similarly for Honorius, he had to cut costs by reducing their number of soldiers in the army and giving up provinces like Britain as well as permanently ending gladiator shows in 404 saying it was both Unchristian and a waste of money. Ever since becoming emperor in 1282, Andronikos II was faced with so much difficulty which was mostly with the new Turkish tribal states that began invading Asia Minor with full force and just as how Andronikos II was troubled with several Turkish raids into Asia Minor, Honorius was troubled in this same way with all the invasions into the western empire such as those of the Goths Alaric and Radagaisus. Apparently, Andronikos II like Honorius had his own Stilicho that was the one actually protecting the empire as for Andronikos II it was his half-nephew and brilliant general Alexios Philanthropenos which will be discussed furthermore later though both Alexios and Stilicho met a tragic end as in 408 Honorius fell for the lies of his corrupt advisor Olympius telling him Stilicho was plotting to take the throne from him which made Honorius angry and have Stilicho executed while Alexios’s story was more different as when he campaigned against the Turks in Asia Minor in 1295, Andronikos listened to the advice of a corrupt official named Libadarios who convinced Andronikos that Alexios was plotting to take the throne when in fact only some disloyal troops proclaimed Alexios as emperor but Andronikos was convinced by the lie and had Libadarios blind Alexios. Though both Stilicho and Alexios had a different ending, the aftermath of their deaths made things worse as for the Western Roman Empire under Honorius following Stilicho’s execution, the usurper Constantine III began causing more trouble in Gaul that in 409 Honorius had to recognize him as a legitimate co-emperor and at the same time Alaric invaded Italy again with no one stopping him and in 410 stormed into Rome and sacked it and similarly for Byzantium in the late 13th century, after Alexios was blinded in 1295 the situation in Asia Minor worsened and the Turks grew stronger that in 1299 before the turn of the century, a Turkish warlord named Osman ruling a state along the Byzantine border in Northwest Asia Minor declared the birth of his state as the Ottoman Empire with him as not just its local leader or king but its sultan. Osman now would be for Byzantium what Alaric and his Visigoth successors were for the Western Roman Empire and the crushing defeat Andronikos II’s army to Osman’s men in 1302 in Asia Minor would be equivalent to Alaric’s 410 Sack of Rome for the late-Byzantine era. In these disasters though, Andronikos II and Honorius centuries before him had responded differently whereas Andronikos II responded by hiring a large army of Catalan mercenaries led by a troublemaker which was the Italian Roger de Flor to strike back against the Turks while Honorius at first was devastated when finding out Rome was attacked first thinking it was his pet chicken named Rome but when finding out it was the city and not his pet, he was relieved. Also, at this time, though Rome was no longer the empire’s capital but was still symbolically important as the spiritual capital and seat of the Western Church; Alaric also being an Arian Christian spared the churches in Rome. In the story of Honorius’ western empire, the usurper turned legitimate co-emperor, turned enemy again Constantine III would be their version of Roger de Flor as Honorius at first needed Constantine III for protection but was too difficult to deal with especially when Constantine III failed to protect Gaul from more invasions so Honorius had his new general Constantius invade Gaul and later kill Constantine III while for Andronikos II, Roger de Flor was entrusted to fight off the invading Turks which he succeeded defeating with his Catalan mercenaries but his victories made him arrogant thus making him a problem for Andronikos so Andronikos dealt with Roger de Flor the same way Constantine III was dealt with by Honorius, and Roger de Flor like Constantine III was killed off in 1305 by the soldiers of Andronikos’ son and co-emperor Michael IX. The biggest difference though is that Constantine III made himself not just a Caesar or junior co-emperor but a senior emperor and co-Augustus of Honorius while Roger de Flor was only made a Caesar but at the end both ended up becoming very problematic that they had to be killed off for the good of the empire. The death of Roger de Flor though provoked his Catalan mercenaries to rebel and burn their way through the Byzantine countryside before capturing Athens from the remaining Latin state there known as the Duchy of Athens in 1308. Even though the new Ottoman state in Asia Minor was weakened, the devastation brought to the remains of Byzantium by the Catalans gave the Ottomans now led by Osman’s son Orhan since Osman’s death in 1324 an opportunity to grow and by the end of Andronikos II’s reign in 1328, the Byzantines were already so close to losing all of Asia Minor; similarly for Honorius, though Alaric had died later in 410 his army now led by his brother-in-law Athaulf proceeded into Gaul setting up their own kingdom there and later marched into Roman Spain, this would similar to how the Ottomans quickly took over Byzantine Asia Minor. Although Andronikos II despite having a very troubled empire with so much economic problems especially after the Catalans pillaged their farms between 1305 and 1308, he did not face usurpers everywhere like Honorius did after 410 though in 423, the empire of Honorius was left in a much more stable state despite the Visigoths taking over Gaul and the Vandals and Suebi already taking over Spain but he had also died this year without naming any successor, thus trouble returned to the empire. In addition, Honorius though had in fact faced more usurping emperors than Constantine III in Gaul and these lesser known usurpers included a few others in Hispania, a puppet to the Burgundians in Gaul in 411, and one made by Alaric as his puppet emperor from 409-410 while for Andronikos II, even just 10 years into his reign (1292) his brother who was the powerful general also Constantine tried to take the throne from him by right of birth as Byzantine tradition says that those who are born in the purple room of the palace have the legitimacy to rule and Andronikos II being born in 1259 in Nicaea when Constantinople was not yet recovered was not born in the purple like how his brother was in 1261, though Constantine’s revolt was dealt with and was sent by Andronikos to a monastery, then again in 1305 Andronikos II faced another usurper being a priest from Epirus named John Drimys who plotted to take the throne but was imprisoned when his plot was discovered.    

Alexios Philanthropenos to Flavius Stilicho and Flavius Aetius

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Behind a dying empire and a weak emperor there would always be a strong general willing to put the dying empire back together again and if we’re comparing the late 13th and early 14th century Byzantine emperor Andronikos II to the first Western Roman emperor Honorius, their respective strong generals behind them were Alexios Philanthropenos for Andronikos II and Flavius Stilicho for Honorius. The general Alexios Philanthropenos though was only 12 years old when Andronikos II who was in fact his uncle became emperor in 1282 following the death of Michael VIII Palaiologos; Alexios’ father Michael Tarchaneiotes was the grand general or Megas Domestikos of Michael VIII in his later reign also being Michael VIII’s nephew and the general Michael was successful in driving off the first wave of Turkish invaders in Asia Minor and in 1281 halted an invasion of the King of Sicily Charles of Anjou’s forces in Byzantine Albania and even paraded Charles’ general Hugh Sully in a triumphal procession on Constantinople and for this the emperor Michael VIII even planned to give the general Michael the title of “Caesar” for his service but he declined it out of modesty. In 1284, with Michael VIII’s son Andronikos II as the new emperor, he sent Michael Tarchaneiotes to command the army against the same John Angelos of Thessaly who was a still a problem for the Byzantines, but when Michael arrived in Thessaly he and his troops fell to the malaria outbreak and died, the conflict with John Angelos of Thessaly and Byzantium was afterwards settled when Andronikos II cancelled his father’s controversial Church Union. Michael Tarchaneiotes’ son Alexios Philanthropenos when coming of age in the 1290s, despite his young age was already made the top commander of the troops in the remains of Asia Minor against the invading Turkish states or Beyliks as Andronikos II now becoming emperor decided to focus his attention again to the eastern frontier which his father neglected, thus increasing the power of the Turkish states with a large number of unprotected Byzantines in the border areas defecting to the Turks. While in Asia Minor, Alexios scored a number of victories against the Turks forcing them back inland as well as forcing them to recognize Byzantine rule. Like Alexios who had scored so many victories in his time as general, the top general or Magister Militum of the Western Roman Empire which was the half-Roman half-Vandal Flavius Stilicho who first served under Theodosius I and gained influence after leading Theodosius I’s forces to victory at the Battle of the Frigidus in 394 would be more successful later on as both the western empire’s top general and the one basically in charge of the empire as Honorius was only 10 when inheriting the west following his father Theodosius I’s death in 395. The moment Stilicho became regent of Honorius’ west which also involved Stilicho marrying his daughter to Honorius, tension already broke out with the eastern empire based in Constantinople when Honorius’ older brother Arcadius refused to be under the guardianship of Stilicho falling for Stilicho’s rival Rufinus, and at the same time the independent leader of the Gothic army that served Theodosius I earlier helping him win at the Battle of the Frigidus Alaric was left in the Balkans to ravage it as Alaric was dismissed by Stilicho without any rewards. The biggest difference here though is that Stilicho was basically the one in charge of the west in 395 as Honorius was underage while for Alexios he was the one younger than his emperor Andronikos II who already had experience when coming into power and while Stilicho was the top general already at the beginning of Honorius’ reign and already the top general of Theodosius I before Honorius, Alexios came into command about 10 years into Andronikos II’s reign following the death of Alexios’ father Michael. Now for Stilicho, with Alaric raiding his way through the Balkans, Stilicho headed west to contain him but even though succeeding, Arcadius ordered Stilicho to return a half of his army to Constantinople and Stilicho being loyal agreed but secretly ordered the army to kill Rufinus when they arrived in Constantinople. Though the troops mostly consisting of Goths under a general named Gainas murdered Rufinus, they still did not accept Stilicho as Arcadius’ guardian and instead named a eunuch named Eutropius as Arcadius’ new regent who also hated Stilicho, while Alaric who had been contained by Stilicho was allowed to roam free and pillage the east and was even given the rank of Magister Militum he so wanted. Although Stilicho battled Alaric again in Greece in 397, Alaric escaped and the province of North Africa based in Carthage which was the main grain source of the western empire revolted when its governor Gildo declared his support for the east thus cutting grain shipments to Rome so while Honorius was still too young to handle matters like this, Stilicho had to take care of this rebellion by sending Gildo’s rival and brother Mascezel to Carthage in 398 where Gildo’s rebellion was crushed and Gildo being thrown in prison was executed, however when Mascezel returned to Honorius and Stilicho in Milan, Stilicho fearing that Mascezel could rebel one day had Mascezel thrown off a bridge to his death. Stilicho later spent time in Britain to protect it from invaders and later went to the Alps in 401 where he stopped an invasion of the Vandals and Alans but just as Stilicho was there Alaric who wanted land for his men saw this as an opportunity and quickly invaded Italy from the Balkans going as far as laying siege to Milan where Honorius was but Stilicho rushed back breaking the siege and afterwards fought a series of battles against Alaric and in 402 a truce was made and Alaric was given land in the Balkans. In 405, another Gothic king named Radagaisus invaded the western empire from the Danube escaping the expansion of the Huns and soon arrived in Italy laying siege to what was then Florence but Stilicho rushed to Florence and easily defeated Radagaisus and his army without losing a casualty, Radagaisus was killed in battle and his defeated warriors were all enlisted to Stilicho’s army while thousands of Radagaisus’ people were sold into slavery. Similarly for Stilicho’s Byzantine parallel Alexios Philanthropenos, he was mostly successful in battle the way Stilicho was except he did not fight wars on all sides of the empire like Stilicho but what they have a lot in common is that they were so successful in defeating their enemies, for Stilicho it was the Goths and for Alexios the Turks and both with their victories ended up selling thousands of their prisoners to slavery; for Stilicho, when capturing so many Gothic prisoners, the slave market crashed and for Alexios by taking so many prisoners from the Turks he defeated, it was reported that sheep became even more expensive than Turkish prisoners. Similarly, the Goths that invaded the west through the Danube led by Radagaisus in 405 and the Turks that invaded Asia Minor that were defeated by Alexios in the 1290s were both fleeing from a more powerful enemy, for the Goths it was the Huns and for the Turks it was the Mongols and both Huns and Mongols came from Central Asia. Both Stilicho and Alexios would end becoming so popular later on for their victories that the emperor they served grew to fear them; for Alexios, Andronikos II listening to his advisor Libadarios had to transfer Alexios away from the border to Lydia as in the border the people there were supporting Alexios’ claim to the throne and for Stilicho, Honorius listening to his advisor Olympius began to fear Stilicho might want to take over the empire for himself, also Stilicho’s campaigns against the Goths left the Rhine border exposed as he had to pull out soldiers from there and in the last day of 406, thousands of Alans, Vandals, Goths, and Suebi cross the Rhine then in 407, the usurper emperor in Britain Constantine III invaded Gaul claiming it for his own empire, though Stilicho tried to put Constantine III under control, it did not work as Constantine III already allied himself with the invading barbarians. In 408, Honorius’ brother and the eastern emperor Arcadius died but was at least succeeded by his 7-year-old son Theodosius II, though Honorius before planning to go to Constantinople to oversee the succession fell for the lies of Olympius who told him Stilicho might use Arcadius’ death to unite the east and west under his rule by making his (Stilicho’s) son the eastern emperor. Honorius was enraged finding out what Stilicho would do, so first he had many of Stilicho’s officers massacred and in August of 408, Stilicho while in a church in Ravenna was dragged out by soldiers and by Olympius’ orders was beheaded. As for Alexios, he met the same end as Stilicho except Alexios would be proclaimed emperor by his troops in 1295 for unknown reasons but most possibly because these troops came from the border areas and were displeased with Andronikos II’s weak rule and heavy taxation while Stilicho though always remained loyal and never planned to make himself emperor even if Honorius was convinced Stilicho would do that. Just like Stilicho who became increasingly popular, Alexios had the same situation too as the people in the border areas began recognizing him as emperor, though out of loyalty Alexios refused to turn on Andronikos so the emperor Andronikos later met with Alexios and to give him a false sense of security when secretly planning to get rid of him made Alexios a Caesar but true enough Andronikos fell for the lies of Libadarios and in the Christmas of 1295, Libadarios had bribed the Cretan mercenary soldiers in Alexios’ command to turn on him and blind him. Following Alexios’ blinding and banishment, things grew worse for the eastern borders in Asia Minor with the Turkish invasions growing stronger that in 1299, one Turkish state under its ruler Osman made itself the Ottoman Empire and the Byzantine generals defending the borders that came after Alexios were not as skilled as him. As for the Western Roman Empire with the execution of Stilicho, Honorius was convinced that Stilicho was plotting with the barbarians after he settled a deal with Alaric to settle him in Illyria and Honorius too was convinced that Stilicho would be a traitor due to his barbarian blood and after Stilicho’s execution, Honorius listening to Olympius ordered the massacre of the families of the barbarian soldiers in the Western Roman army but this move only made things worse as these 30,000 barbarian soldiers who served Stilicho would end up defecting to Alaric growing his army and in 410 after Alaric was again refused the rank of Magister Militum by Honorius, he sacked Rome, the first time Rome would be attacked in 800 years and without Stilicho around anymore, no one was there to stop Alaric but soon enough Alaric died later in 410 of sickness and his men would leave Italy and end up settling in Gaul establishing their kingdom there. Now back to Stilicho, though he was a hot-tempered and merciless general, he always proved his loyalty to Rome at all costs that when his own people from his father’s side being the Vandals invaded the Alps in 401, he showed his loyalty to his homeland which was Rome by not defecting to the Vandals and in 408 he accepted his own execution without any resistance, proving he was loyal all the way to the end; and the same was said for Alexios Philanthropenos who just accepted being blinded without any resistance as he never wanted to take the throne from his uncle Andronikos II. Though Stilicho had died, he still was not the last of the great Roman heroes in the age of decline as decades later, another general named Flavius Aetius who was a son of one of Stilicho’s barbarian commanders and another half barbarian (Aetius being Gothic on his father’s side and Roman on his mother’s side) comes in to save the Western Roman Empire from decline following the footsteps of Stilicho after spending years in captivity under Huns after being sent to them as a hostage by Alaric in 405. Aetius’ time with the Huns taught him everything about this powerful and mysterious enemy including the way they fight and, in his service, later as a general for the western empire, Aetius even used Hun mercenaries to fight the troublesome barbarian invaders in Gaul including Burgundians, Franks, and Alemanni. As for Alexios, he comes back to the picture 30 years after his blinding wherein the now aged Andronikos II in 1324 asks for his help as the Turks now united as the Ottomans continued invading Asia Minor again and this time in larger numbers. Alexios when returning from banishment in 1324 makes him not only the Byzantine parallel to Stilicho but to Aetius as well as both Alexios and Aetius returned to service after years of staying away, except Alexios returning as an old man was blind but even though, he managed to drive invading Turks away from the border city of Philadelphia which was under siege due to his mere presence as 30 years earlier, he had proved to be a terror to the invading Turks. Alexios remained as governor of Philadelphia until being moved to Lesbos in 1327 and later on with Andronikos II’s grandson Andronikos III taking the throne from his grandfather in 1328, Alexios still remained under the service of the new emperor until Alexios died in the 1340s. Of course, Alexios Philanthropenos may not have a lot of similarities with Flavius Aetius of the 5th century as Alexios did not constantly fight wars in his service as an older man the same way Aetius spent 30 years securing Gaul from invaders and rebuilding the weakened army of the west and personally training them and also Alexios did not fight an epic battle against an enemy so large in size the way Aetius who got the same Visigoths of Alaric that had settled in Gaul to unite with the Romans and fight together and drive away the Huns of Attila at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in 451 surprise attacking the Hun army of Attila as they were laying siege. to Orleans. Lastly, they would both meet different ends as Aetius due to the fear of his growing popularity and power was assassinated by the western emperor Valentinian III in 454 while for Alexios’ second end, he died peacefully at an old age. The Byzantine historians of Alexios’ time though like Nikephoros Gregoras compares him more to the early Byzantine general Flavius Belisarius (500-565) who served Emperor Justinian I than to Stilicho and Aetius but Belisarius too had the same kind of heroic but tragic story but he did not share the same violent end as Stilicho and Aetius, rather Belisarius like Alexios died peacefully at an old age. At the end Alexios Philanthropenos, like Stilicho and Aetius before him was the right general the empire needed to save it from imminent collapse.