The Decline of Western Rome and Eastern rome compared- Crisis of the 3rd Century and the 11th century crisis

Posted by Powee Celdran

WARNING: THIS IS A VERY LONG ARTICLE!!

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Hello and welcome back to another article from the Byzantium Blogger and this time I’m back again with my usual Roman/ Byzantine history posts and this one is going to be an extra special article. My last post was quite unrelated featuring a different part of history in a totally different place discussing the 4 defenestrations of Prague in which 2 of them had a major impact on history though that article was only meant to be a stand-alone experimental one while this one I’m doing now is back again to something else I want to discuss about Roman and Byzantine history and again will be an extension to the Roman-Byzantine comparison series I did a few months ago. Very few empires in history lasted as long as the Roman Empire (including the Byzantine Empire) and its history lasted so long that you could compare it to itself and in the case I will be comparing the decline and fall of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire to the original Roman Empire or more or less the Western Roman Empire before it. It might seem a bit odd that I’m comparing the same empire to itself but since almost 1,000 years went by between the fall of the Western Empire and Eastern Empire there were so many changes that happened in between most notably that the Eastern Empire despite coming from the original Roman Empire became more and more centered in the east with Constantinople as its capital and its language and culture becoming Greek. The same way I am comparing the same empire to itself would be explained by how for example the Star Wars movies’ story of the original trilogy repeats itself in the sequel trilogy set 30 years later or how the story of the Karate Kid films in many ways repeats itself in its sequel series Cobra Kai, and now for Roman history the story more or less repeats itself almost a thousand years later come Byzantine history through events happening and people running the empire. This kind of article will be my also be my attempt in doing something like the Greek historian in the Roman era Plutarch would do which was comparing the stories of notable people of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome through biographies, and here I will do something just like that telling the stories of notable Byzantine emperors and characters comparing them with their Roman emperor predecessors. This article will show you the story of Byzantium from the 11th century to 12th century compared side by side with the history of the Roman Empire from the late 2nd to early 4th centuries. Of course, when comparing the Eastern Roman Empire to the Western Roman Empire’s story, not all events are exactly the same but rather very similar to each other and in fact you can compare many of the late Byzantine emperors to the Roman emperors in the decline era of Rome but as you would see the biggest difference is that the decline of Western Rome was happened through a quick 200 year period which included the 3rd Century Crisis that led to the empire to change forever and in the process creating the Byzantine Empire in the 4th century which then was fully separated from the west in 395 and in less than 100 years the Western Empire fell in 476 leaving the east as Byzantium to stand for a thousand more years but the decline of the Eastern Empire was long and steady as Byzantine history over these thousand years had many ups and downs but in the 11th century after an era of success and prosperity, the Byzantine Empire would go through the same 3rd Century Crisis the west did almost a thousand years before it but it would take Byzantium 400 more years to die out that it even went through a period of revival and even a temporary fall for 57 years in the 13th century and again another revival of the empire though as a much smaller state for 200 years before finally falling in 1453. At the end, it would turn out that a lot of Byzantine emperors and their Roman emperor predecessors have a lot in common not so much in personality but very much in the given situation their empire is in under them. Now this article will stop at the end of the 12th century for the Byzantine story and at the later half of the 4th century for the original Roman Empire’s story as it would be too long to compare both empires up until the end, this I will do in the second part of this article. Basically, this article ending in the 4th century for Imperial Rome and the 13th century for Byzantium will be more or less comparing the declines and not falls of both empires. On the other hand, this article is going to focus more on comparing late-era Byzantine emperors to their predecessor Roman emperors wherein you can see that most of them have a lot in common like the Byzantine emperor Romanos IV Diogenes (r. 1068-1071) with the Roman emperor Valerian (r. 253-260), Byzantine emperor Michael VII Doukas (r. 1071-1078) with the Roman emperor Gallienus (r. 253-268), and the Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118) with the Roman emperor Aurelian (r. 270-275). Now the format of this article will be focusing on the present which is Byzantium being compared to its past which is Imperial Rome but at the end, the whole point of this article is to show that history repeats itself no matter how many centuries go by and whether it happens in the same empire with the same people or in another part of the world. To compare the stories of the Roman and Byzantine Empires you cannot start from the beginning as the Byzantine Empire was born out of the Roman Empire, therefore it is best to start with the reign of Emperor Basil II of Byzantium at the end of the 10th century and already you can see parallels of it with the era of Rome’s golden age in the 2nd century. Of course, this article will have some fun into it with the use of memes and mentions of my favorite Youtube channel on Roman history, Dovahhatty and though it would be very long, it will be straighter to the point.     

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Crossover flag of the Roman and Byzantine Empires
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Roman (left) and Byzantine (right) 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

Related Videos:

Roman Emperors and their Deeds Part1 (from Tiny Library).

Roman Emperors and their Deeds Part2 (from Tiny Library).

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

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

The reign of Basil II of Byzantium (976-1025) to the 5 Good Emperors of Rome (96-180) and Constantine VIII (1025-1028) to Commodus (180-192)

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When Western Rome fell in 476, the east stood much stronger as the Byzantine Empire and in the 6th century under Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565), the Byzantine Empire was at its greatest extent taking back most of the lost western provinces like North Africa, Italy, and Southern Spain but constant war and too much expansion weakened the empire’s treasury that a devastating war with the Sassanid Persian Empire in the 7th century permanently stopped Byzantium from becoming as large as Imperial Rome before it was. The 7th century also was the beginning of the Arab expansion and the beginning for Byzantium’s constant wars against Muslim powers and because of this, Byzantium went through a 200-year dark age losing so much territory and having to fight for its survival but in the 9th century the tide changed and Byzantium fought on the offensive again pushing the Arab invaders away from imperial territory in Asia Minor beginning to expand the empire again. In the 10th century, Byzantium entered a new golden age under the Macedonian Dynasty with scholarly emperors like Leo VI the Wise (r. 886-912) and Constantine VII (r. 913-959) who promoted Byzantine culture as well as strong military emperors like Romanos I Lekapenos (r. 920-944), Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963-969), and John I Tzimiskes (r. 969-976) who expanded imperial territory again to the east winning wars against the Arabs. This golden age of 10th century Byzantium is very much the same as the golden age of Imperial Rome in the 1st century known as the age of the 5 Good Emperors Nerva (r. 96-98AD), Trajan (98-117), Hadrian (r. 117-138), Antoninus Pius (r. 138-161), and Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180) with his co-emperor Lucius Verus (r. 161-169) who can be considered as the 6th good emperor. This age of the 5 Good Emperors saw the Roman Empire at its greatest extent stretching north to south from Britain to Egypt and west to east from Portugal to the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf, yet it was also an age of cultural superiority, military power, and great prosperity known as the Pax Romana as the whole empire was connected to each other by roads and sea routes allowing good to be traded all over and soldiers to easily protect its borders. For Byzantium, it was the 50-year reign of Basil II of the Macedonian Dynasty (976-1025) when the empire was at its greatest extent again north to south from The Crimea in Ukraine to Syria and west to east from Southern Italy to Armenia though not as large as Byzantium in the 6th century wherein it controlled the whole Mediterranean. Unlike the Roman Empire of the 2nd century which was a total world power that no one could beat as it basically won almost every war it fought and in fact in the reign of Antoninus Pius (138-161) it was truly at peace, Byzantium in the 10th century meanwhile fought non-stop wars of expansion and by the time Basil II came to power in 976, the Byzantine Empire expanded as far as the Levant (Lebanon and Israel) but to the north, the Bulgarian Empire which had been at war with Byzantium since the late 7th century was still a threat. Basil II would later be one of Byzantium’s most famous emperors next to Constantine I the Great and Justinian I the Great but he came to power with a troubled start fighting a civil war against the general Bardas Skleros between 976 and 979 and again from 987-990 as well as against the general Bardas Phokas the Younger from 987 to 989 and Basil II was able to defeat the rebellions with the use of a new unit in the army which was the Varangian Guard made up of Nordic and Russian warriors given to him as a gift from the Prince of Kievan Rus’ Vladimir I in exchange for marrying Basil II’s sister Anna. Just like Imperial Rome in the 2nd century which was seen as a superior power by all around it, Byzantium in the 10th and early 11th centuries was seen the same way that for the Rus prince Vladimir to marry a Byzantine princess was such a great deal as Byzantium had become respected and feared by all with Basil II’s predecessors fighting hard to expand it again. As for Basil II, there is no particular 2nd century Roman emperor you can compare him to but it is most likely that he can be very much be compared to all the 5 good emperors first with Nerva (r. 96-98) as both Basil II and Nerva were known for issuing fairer reforms for their people, also with Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117) since Basil II like Trajan expanded their empire to its greatest extent, improved the military to an unbeatable force, and secured peace within the empire, also Basil II too can be compared to Trajan successor Hadrian as Basil II like Hadrian travelled all over their empire to make sure it was working efficiently and like Trajan and Hadrian Basil II worked hard to reform the empire’s class and tax system by limiting the military aristocracy and giving the land back to the original people who owned the land taken from them. As for Hadrian’s successor Antoninus Pius who he adopted to take the place as emperor for Hadrian’s actual appointed successors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus as they grow up, Basil II’s reign does not really have a lot in common with Pius since Pius’ long reign was a time of relative peace wherein Pius never even left Italy whereas Basil II never really spent time in Constantinople except the peace brought within Byzantium during Basil II’s reign is comparable with Antoninus Pius’ reign as some historians say; Basil II though personally led his army to the point where he built a special connection with them wherein his soldiers would see him as a father. Now Imperial Rome’s golden age closes with the successful reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180) who ruled with his adoptive brother Lucius Verus from 161 to Verus’ death in 169 and though this time was still successful, the decline would already begin as Rome would be in a devastating war against their mortal enemy, the Persian Parthian Empire which brought the Antonine Plague or smallpox pandemic to the Roman Empire which killed Lucius Verus and later Marcus Aurelius. This smallpox outbreak in the empire also weakened the soldiers in the northern borders giving the Germanic tribes the advantage to invade the empire in what would be the Macromannic Wars from 166 to 180 which did not end with Rome gaining any new lands but just repelling the Germanic invasions. Like Marcus Aurelius who grew up learning to be an emperor from Hadrian and Antoninus Pius’ who he was the adopted son of, Basil II had been a junior emperor since he was a young boy as he was born in 958 when his grandfather Constantine VII was reigning and in 959 Basil’s father Romanos II succeeded his father as emperor making Basil co-emperor in 960 but in 963 with Romanos II suddenly died making Basil’s mother Theophano marry the empire’s top general who became Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas who was assassinated in 969 by John I Tzimiskes who took over as emperor but died in 976 and while both Nikephoros II and John I were emperors, Basil as well as his younger brother Constantine remained as co-emperors. Though Basil II was the true emperor in 976, he was already challenged by John I’s general Bardas Skleros who was defeated by Basil II’s forces led by Bardas Phokas in 979 but in his early reign Basil had to banish his advisor who was also named Basil in order to rule alone which he wanted to do but at the beginning it was a disaster as in 986 when leading the army, he faced a heavy defeat to the Bulgarians at the Battle of Trajan’s Gate which made Basil II decide to spend more time improving the army and having a lifelong anger towards the Bulgarians who he vowed to destroy. Like Marcus Aurelius who’s reign was challenged in 175 by the governor of Egypt Avidius Cassius who thinking the emperor died in the Macromannic Wars declared himself emperor only to later be assassinated by loyalist forces, Basil II meanwhile faced 2 massive rebellions by Bardas Phokas and Bardas Skleros in which both declared themselves emperors but eventually Basil defeated both allowing him to prioritize his conquest of Bulgaria but it did not happen immediately as he had to deal with conflicts with the Arab Fatimid Caliphate which was based in Egypt. In 1014, Basil II finally defeated the Bulgarians at the Battle of Kleidion and blinded his prisoners sending them back to Bulgaria allegedly killing the Bulgarian tsar Samuil by shock after seeing his men blinded, then with the Bulgarian ruler dead and their army destroyed, the Bulgarian Empire could not do anything but surrender itself and by 1018, the Bulgarian Empire was fully absorbed into Byzantium and for this Basil II would be remembered as “Basil the Bulgar-Slayer”. With the Bulgarian Empire now dissolved and becoming a province of the Byzantine Empire, Basil II turned his attention east to conquer the Armenian states which he absorbed most of them through diplomacy but at this moment, Basil’s general Nikephoros Xiphias staged a rebellion which was immediately dealt with. With Basil II’s conquest of the Bulgarian Empire, all the other powers around them came to fear Byzantium choosing not to attack it anymore or else suffer the same fate as Bulgaria. Now what both Marcus Aurelius and Basil II have in common is that they both spent most of their reigns leading armies in battle but Marcus Aurelius was a well-known stoic philosopher famous for his book Meditations while Basil II was overall a warrior and did not care much about books and knowledge whereas it was his grandfather Constantine VII that was like Marcus Aurelius in that way but the one thing they had in common was that their reign saw the golden age of their empires as well as the end of it and for both the reason why it was the end of the golden age had to do with succession as for Marcus Aurelius he had no other choice for a legitimate successor but his son Commodus appointed as his father’s co-emperor in 177, who was not capable of being a ruler and for Basil II he never married and never had children but luckily his younger brother Constantine was his co-emperor ever since and as Basil II was the strong warrior emperor, Constantine was the skilled administrator. Basil II though had planned the Byzantine reconquest of Sicily but died in 1025 at age 67 before he could do it but even if he had no children to succeed him, the succession was still smooth as his brother immediately took over as Emperor Constantine VIII. Basil II may be Byzantium’s longest reigning ruler though despite his long reign there are not much sources written about it but true enough his brother Constantine VIII ruled longer as co-emperor ever since 962 but was only the sole emperor for 3 years (1025-1028) at the end of his life as an old man. If Basil II was a very powerful emperor respected and feared by most, Constantine VIII did not have the same presence as his older brother, instead Constantine VIII was a decadent pleasure-loving ruler but in fairness to him was actually a skilled administrator and statesman. It is not really that fair though to compare Constantine VIII to Marcus Aurelius’ son and successor Commodus (r. 180-192) as Commodus was one of Rome’s worst emperors who was at most times paranoid and suspicious of everyone and totally neglected state affairs and rather chose to be fighting as a gladiator in the Colosseum while many plots were made to kill him as well and not to mention Commodus out of vanity renamed Rome into Colonia Commodiana after himself out of vanity; while Constantine VIII at least cared about the empire except he did not really have much experience and was already too old for the job so he instead chose to focus on the life of pleasure which makes him like Commodus in this sense. Also, like Commodus who had shown great cruelty by enjoying fighting crippled soldiers in the arena as a way to cheat in order to win, Constantine VIII also had a cruel streak wherein he enjoyed watching those who opposed him be blinded whether they really committed a crime or not. The biggest similarity between Constantine VIII and Commodus though was that they both kept purging political enemies and their reigns rapidly undid the hard work of their predecessors as Constantine VIII easily listened to his scheming advisors and undid Basil II’s land laws thus returning the military aristocracy to their estates while Commodus just abandoning his duties to fight in the arena left the massive Roman Empire with no one to watch over it as a whole leading to generals to later start rebellions to claim the empire. For Commodus, his kind of rule got him hated by everyone especially the Roman Senate and Praetorian Guard so at the end of 192, the senators had Commodus’ wrestling partner strangle him to death in his bath thus starting a succession crisis and civil war in the year 193 wherein the empire would end up having 5 emperors but for Constantine VIII though he died naturally in 1028 after ruling for only 3 years as the sole emperor, he at least chose a successor so no civil war happened. Constantine VIII originally chose a capable general named Constantine Dalessenos as his heir but changing his mind last minute after again listening to his advisors who wanted their friend, the inexperienced senator Romanos Argyros to be his heir as he was someone that could be easily controlled. Constantine VIII went with Romanos and forced the latter to marry his daughter Zoe or be blinded so Romanos married Zoe and right after Constantine VIII died, Romanos succeeded as emperor.

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The Byzantine Empire (red) at the death of of Basil II, 1025

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The Roman Empire at its height, at the death of Emperor Trajan in 117

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5 Good Emperors of the Roman Empire (96-180AD)- Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius

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The 5 Good Emperors of the Roman Empire by Dovahhatty

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Co-emperors Lucius Verus (left) and Marcus Aurelius (right), r. 161-169
Constantine VIII- Commodus
Left: Emperor Constantine VIII of Byzantium (r. 1025-1028); Right: Roman Emperor Commodus (r. 180-192)

Watch this to learn more about the life and reign of Emperor Basil II of Byzantium (from Kings and Generals).

Watch this to learn more about the life and reign of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (from Kings and Generals).

Watch this to see the story of Rome’s 5 Good Emperors (from Dovahhatty).

Watch this to learn more about the reign of Roman emperor Commodus (from Kings and Generals).

Romanos III Argyros (1028-1034) to Pertinax and Didius Julianus (193)

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Succeeding Constantine VIII in 1028 was his new son-in-law Romanos III Argyros who was at first an inexperienced senator but when becoming emperor, he had a change of heart and wanted to try his best at being a ruler but he lacked the skills to do so. Romanos III would want to emulate the 5 Good Emperors especially Trajan in terms of military might and Marcus Aurelius in being the “philosopher king” and also be like Justinian the Great, so to emulate the 6th century Justinian, Romanos III carried out the construction of many churches in Constantinople but in military matters, Romanos III was a failure by personally leading a useless campaign in 1030 against Arab raiders in Syria which happened to be so disorganized that it failed going as far as making this defeat a laughing stock. Whereas Romanos III at least succeeded to the throne peacefully following the death of Constantine VIII, the death of Emperor Commodus in 192 created unrest in the empire but the Praetorian Guard would not just have an emperor killed without a plan so to fill in the power vacuum, they dragged the general Pertinax for the position of emperor though he was unwilling for the job and here Rome’s name returned to Rome and like Pertinax, Romanos III was also unwilling for it until he became emperor but unlike Pertinax who was a skilled soldier, Romanos III lacked in military ability and when Pertinax became emperor he also had a change of heart and wanted to reform the military and Praetorian Guard though Pertinax only came to power because the Praetorian Guard put him there thus expecting a bribe from them but Pertinax was a disciplinarian who did not want to bribe them but true enough the treasury was empty so it would take much longer to pay them off. The Praetorian Guard still did not believe Pertinax and after only 3 months in power, Pertinax was assassinated by the Praetorian Guard whereas Romanos III of Byzantium reigned for 6 years though for Pertinax, after his death there was a power vacuum again so the Praetorian Guard had to get a new emperor by selling the position of it and true enough it was bought by an extremely rich man in Rome named Didius Julianus who could finally pay off their bribe by buying the throne. Now Didius Julianus would be one of Rome’s most ineffective emperors and the fact that he bought the throne triggered the provincial governors to rebel in which 3 proclaimed themselves emperors which were Pescennius Niger in Syria, Clodius Albinus in Britain, and Septimius Severus in Pannonia and for this 193 would be the Year of 5 Emperors and as for Romanos III, he was like Julianus in the sense of being an ineffective ruler but Romanos III unlike Julianus did not buy the throne but like Julianus who was seen as a joke for literally buying the throne, Romanos III too was seen as a joke for daring to lead military campaigns despite having no experience of it. Their reigns were troubled with many usurpers too as in the case of Julianus it was Clodius Albinus, Pescennius Niger, and Septimius Severus and for Romanos III, a Bulgarian prince named Presian attempted to usurp the throne in 1029 but was blinded and also in 1029 the general Constantine Diogenes tried to take the throne but when his plot was discovered he was beaten in public and sent to a monastery but in 1032, Romanos III went to campaign in the east again and with the emperor away, Constantine Diogenes left the monastery and declared himself emperor but Romanos discovered the plot and confronted Constantine but wanting to avoid torture, Constantine instead killed himself by jumping off the palace walls. As for Didius Julianus, he met his end also in 193 when Septimius Severus and his forces arrived outside Rome wherein Julianus was executed in prison by Severus’ men thus Septimius Severus became emperor. Now the big similarity you would see between both Pertinax and Julianus with Romanos III was their violent end as both Pertinax and Julianus in 193 were killed by the army although for Romanos III, he was not killed by rebellious soldiers, instead in 1034 he was killed in a plot hatched by his wife Empress Zoe, the daughter of Constantine VIII as the marriage of Zoe and Romanos III was not a happy one so Zoe instead made a young court official Michael the Paphlagonian her lover despite being decades older than him and the same day Zoe and Michael married, Romanos III was drowned to death in his bath, now with this kind of death you can see a similarity between Commodus and Romanos III.

 

Michael IV the Paphlagonian (1034-1041) to Septimius Severus (193-211)

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After Romanos III was killed in his bath, Michael IV the Paphlagonian after marrying Empress Zoe, the wife of Romanos III became emperor, though Zoe thought Michael would be a better husband than Romanos III, instead Michael wanted to rule alone so he limited Zoe’s powers and confined her to the palace. Michael IV would be a better emperor in terms of military matters than Romanos III as Michael was an energetic ruler who took care of all the happenings all over the empire making him like Emperor Septimius Severus of Rome who when coming into power in 193 began rebuilding the strength of the empire that had weakened with Commodus in power, whereas Michael IV spend his reign rebuilding Byzantium as a military power as it was under Basil II. Michael IV though was a peasant in origin from Paphlagonia who began working as a money changer before being recommended by his brother John who worked in the imperial court to become a court official too whereas Septimius Severus was a general long before he became emperor serving under Marcus Aurelius and Commodus and also Severus was of Roman patrician background though of Punic and North African descent originating in today’s Libya. Like Septimius Severus who had to deal with a long civil war in the beginning of his reign first against the usurper in the east Pescennius Niger who was defeated in 194 and later with Clodius Albinus in the west who Severus defeated in 197 as Albinus killed himself while Michael IV on the other hand when coming into power in 1034 had to deal with a usurper in Serbia being a local prince named Stefan Vojislav who Michael immediately had arrested and jailed in Constantinople, also in the same year Michael arrested the same Constantine Dalassenos who Constantine VIII originally chose as a successor since Dalassenos also plotted against the emperor, then again later in 1040 a Byzantine noble named Michael Keroularios plotted to overthrow Michael IV but was sent to a monastery to be a monk as a punishment and as for Septimius Severus, later into his reign in 205 he discovered a plot against him by the Praetorian Prefect Plautianus who he had executed. Like Septimius Severus who hated government administration as an emperor and preferred military campaigns over it, Michael IV was the same in that way as he would rather be out with his army leaving the administration to his brother John despite Michael IV suffering from epilepsy. Also, like Septimius Severus who launched several yet successful but also brutal campaigns into Parthian territory, Arabia, North Africa, and even Scotland annexing more land into the empire at the same time building many new structures including cities like Palmyra and Leptis Magna, whereas Michael IV in his short reign had put all his focus on war punishing the Arab raiders raiding eastern Asia Minor wherein he was able to defeat the Arabs and annex Edessa back to the empire and in the west Michael IV greatest success though not taking part in the action was the near reconquest of Sicily in 1038 in which his general George Maniakes basically retook the whole island from the Arabs until his Lombard allies and Norman mercenaries revolted against him unhappy with their pay but just as Maniakes was going to deal with them, he was recalled to Constantinople as the emperor feared he was starting a plot so Sicily was never taken back by the Byzantines and would later fall to the Normans. For Septimius Severus his life would come to an end in 211 due to sickness while campaigning in Britain against the Picts of Scotland while Michael IV in 1040 with his failing health still thought of leading his army in person as by this time the Serbian prince Vojislav who Michael had jailed escaped and established his own principality known as Duklja in Serbia but the bigger threat to the empire was in Bulgaria as a Bulgarian local named Delyan declared himself the Emperor Peter II of Bulgaria rebelling against Byzantium so Michael IV led his army into Macedonia to confront the Bulgarian rebels and why the Byzantine force here had the advantage was because they had the Varangian Guard force with them and in it was the future King of Norway Harald Hardrada. The Byzantines were successfully able to capture Peter Delyan in 1041 and Delyan was assassinated by his cousin Alusian who sided with the Byzantines and got Delyan drunk thus blinding him and sent him to Constantinople to be executed while the Byzantine forces defeated the last of Delyan’s rebel forces. Not so long after defeating the Bulgarian rebellion, Michael IV died in Constantinople in 1041 at only 31 whereas Septimius Severus ruled the Roman Empire for 18 years dying at age 65 in 211 leaving the empire to his sons Caracalla and Geta founding the Severan Dynasty though the brothers would not agree with each other and in late 211 Geta was killed and Caracalla though accomplishing a lot such as constructing the massive baths in Rome under his name and granting citizenship to all free inhabitants of the empire for taxes only ruled until 217 as he was assassinated in Syria in plot led by his Praetorian Prefect Macrinus who took over as emperor but a year later, the forces loyal to the Severans supported Caracalla’s nephew from his mother’s side Elagabalus as a puppet emperor so Macrinus’ forces were defeated outside Antioch and as Macrinus fled he was executed. For Michael IV, before his death in 1041, his brother John forced Michael’s wife Zoe to adopt Michael and John’s nephew also named Michael in order to be the next emperor and with Michael IV dead in late 1041, Michael V came to power.

Michael IV- Septimius Severus
Left: Emperor Michael IV of Byzantium (r. 1034-1041); right: Roman emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193-211)
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Roman emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193-211) with usurper emperors Pescennius Niger (left) and Clodius Albinus (right)

Watch this to see the story of Emperor Septimius Severus and the Severan Dynasty (from Dovahhatty).

Michael V (1041-1042) to Elagabalus (218-222) and Constantine IX (1042-1055) to Severus Alexander (222-235)

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Michael IV’s nephew and successor Michael V had the title of Kalaphates meaning “caulker” which was his father’s occupation and this would make Michael V the last Byzantine emperor coming from an ordinary background and coming into power, Michael V was around 25. In Ancient Rome, the parallel ruler of Michael V was Elagabalus who came into power in 218 at only 14 thus being a puppet to his mother Julia Soaemias and grandmother being his mother’s mother Julia Maesa, sister of Septimius Severus’ wife Julia Domna but as emperor, Elagabalus would not do much in terms of managing the empire, rather his degenerate behavior made him so unpopular and worse his focus was on completely altering Roman religion by replacing their gods with the foreign sun god the Syrians worshiped in which he was named after whereas Michael V of Byzantium was not really mentioned for having any degenerate behavior but as an emperor he was scandalous too and was plainly careless and undid all of his uncle Michael IV’s hard work. For Michael V, the powerful woman behind him was his co-ruler and stepmother Empress Zoe and for Elagabalus it was his mother and grandmother who basically ran the empire for him while Elagabalus was busy either enjoying life or trying to make his new religion official, although it was Elagabalus who made December 25 a popular festival day for the sun god which later would evolve to becoming Christmas Day but on the downside, Elagabalus’ behavior shocked society such as when he married a Vestal Virgin, openly had male lovers, and even thought of having a sex change. Elagabalus would only rule for 4 years meeting his end in 222 when his grandmother feeling he was becoming too independent and not the puppet she wanted named his cousin Severus Alexander as her new puppet and soon enough the Praetorian Guards killed off Elagabalus and his mother while Michael V after only 4 months in power became very unpopular after he banished his co-ruler Empress Zoe accusing her of trying to poison him but since she was popular the people rioted and demanded her back and when she came back, the mob declared her and her sister Theodora as the new rulers making Michael V flee to a monastery where he was later found, arrested, and blinded dying in August of 1042.

For about 2 months from April to June of 1042, Zoe ruled with her sister Theodora as co-rulers but a man was needed to run the empire so Zoe married the senator Constantine Monomachos who became Emperor Constantine IX who would prove to be another weak ruler and in Imperial Rome, Constantine IX is very much like Elagabalus’ cousin and successor Severus Alexander (r. 222-235) as both ruled an empire in a relative time of stability but were weak in making decisions yet had also faced many external threats. What both Constantine IX and Severus Alexander had in common was that they were pleasure-loving emperors and had powerful women with them as for Alexander it was his mother Julia Mammea and grandmother Julia Maesa before she died early in his reign and Alexander unlike Elagabalus would be an easier puppet to manipulate being only 14 when coming to power but for Constantine IX he was much older being 42 and actually the one in power while his wife Zoe was only seen as more powerful because of her lineage being one of the last of the Macedonian Dynasty as a daughter of Constantine VIII, and if Alexander’s mother and grandmother were the powerful women with him, for Constantine IX it was his wife Zoe and her sister Theodora. For Constantine IX, his early reign was faced by revolts by a number of generals including Theophilos Erotikos’s revolt in Cyprus in 1042 and the same George Maniakes of the Sicilian campaign this time in Southern Italy from 1042 to 1043, however both rebellions were crushed but in 1047, Constantine IX’s nephew Leo Tornikios also tried to seize power but was defeated when Constantine bribed his men to betray him when besieging Constantinople and Alexander like Constantine IX faced many military revolts all over the empire as they did not accept a boy ruler being his mother’s puppet and more than that, he even reduced their pay which his predecessors Septimius Severus and Caracalla increased to make a more sufficient army. Constantine IX though in 1045 would expand Byzantine territory all the way to today’s Armenia annexing the Kingdom of Ani but in 1046, the Byzantines would encounter a new enemy for the first time which were the Seljuk Turks from Central Asia which they battled for the first time with in 1046 with the battle remaining indecisive and as for Alexander 800 years earlier, Rome faced a new enemy from the east being the Sassanid Empire which had just defeated the Parthian Empire and by 231 under their first ruler Ardashir I, they began invading Roman territory in Asia Minor and Syria wherein Alexander after failing to negotiate peace with them confronted them in battle in 233 which turned out to indecisive but at least he took back parts of Mesopotamia. For Constantine IX, it was not only the Turks that he had to face but the Nomadic Pechenegs in the north at the Danube border and for Alexander 800 years earlier, he also had to face a new wave of invading Germanic tribes in the Rhine but instead of fighting an actual war, Alexander turned to bribing them but worse he used the money to pay his troops to bribe the Germanic tribes. In terms of economic policies, Constantine IX and Alexander were very much alike as Constantine IX restored the aristocracy to controlling land thus continuing Byzantium’s Pronoia feudal system while Alexander undid his predecessors’ policies in increasing army pay and power by cutting their pay to save up money and pay off their enemies to not attack. Now the biggest similarity both Constantine IX and Severus Alexander had was the length of their reigns both ruling for 13 years and both their reigns would be a short time of stability before their empire would be plunged into chaos that could not be fixed anymore. Constantine IX though would attempt to unite with the pope by uniting the Byzantine Church with the Western Latin Church when the Normans began attacking Italy but in 1054, Constantinople’s Patriarch who was the same Michael Keroularios Michael IV made a monk refused to adopt practices of the Western Church and excommunicated the pope’s legates which also made the pope excommunicate the Patriarch thus beginning the Great Schism that would permanently split the Byzantine and Latin Churches forever which was the biggest disaster of Constantine IX’s reign but for religious policies, Constantine IX actually thought of Eastern and Western Church unity but had persecuted the Armenian Church forcing them to unite with Byzantium’s Church whereas Severus Alexander was more tolerant in religious policy giving Christian and Jewish minorities freedom of practicing their faith. Constantine IX died in 1055 a year after the split of the Churches and was succeeded by Zoe’s sister Theodora ruling as sole empress as Zoe had already died in 1050 but Theodora only ruled for a year though Constantine named the general in Bulgaria Nikephoros Proteuon as his successor but Theodora came to power first and arrested Nikephoros but in the next year (1056), Theodora died and left the throne to her secretary who became Emperor Michael VI who had the same policy Severus Alexander had of neglecting the army triggering them to rebel and for Alexander while he was in the legions’ camp in Germania (in today’s Mainz), he was killed together with his mother by rebellious soldiers who demanded their pay which was paid to the Germanic tribes and without an emperor, the soldiers named their centurion Maximinus Thrax as emperor while for Michael VI his attitude towards the army triggered many revolts which were put down but in 1057, the general Isaac Komnenos succeeded in overthrowing Michael VI thus becoming the next emperor.

 

Michael V- Elagabalus
Left: Emperor Michael V of Byzantium (r. 1041-1042); right: Roman emperor Elagabalus (r. 218-222)
Constantine IX- Severus Alexander
Left: Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos of Byzantium (r. 1042-155); right: Roman emperor Severus Alexander (r. 222-235)
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Mosaic of Emperor Constantine IX and Empress Zoe

11th Century Crisis to 3rd Century Crisis and Isaac I Komnenos (1057-1059) to Maximinus Thrax (235-238)

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Imperial Rome went through the Crisis of the 3rd Century beginning with Maximinus Thrax coming into power in 235 and ending with Diocletian coming into power in 284 and this 50 year period was defined by countless civil wars, external invasions on all frontiers of the empire by new foreign enemies, military takeovers and anarchy, and economic collapse and this crisis would lead to the Roman Empire’s division between east and west with the east eventually becoming the Byzantine Empire and some 800 years after Rome’s 3rd Century Crisis, its successor being the Byzantine Empire underwent the same situation in the 11th Century Crisis beginning with the end of the long reigning Macedonian Dynasty in 1056 and ending with the accession of Alexios I Komnenos to the throne in 1081. For Byzantium, the crisis period was only 25 years being half of the Roman Empire’s 50-year crisis which had more than 20 emperors in this period while Byzantium in its 25-year crisis only had 6 emperors but it was one of the darkest moments in Byzantine history wherein new foreign enemies including the Pechenegs, Normans, and Seljuk Turks invaded for the first time and so much territory was lost with the year 1071 was its lowest point as the Byzantine army was severely defeated at the Battle of Manzikert by the Seljuk Turks beginning their conquest of the Byzantine heartland being Asia Minor and Byzantine Southern Italy here too was lost to the Normans whereas for the Roman Empire in the 3rd Century, a new enemy being the Goths invaded for the first time, the Sassanids devastated the east, and the chaos brought by all the invasions led to the breakup of the empire into 2 separate empires being the Gallic Empire in the west and the Palmyrene Empire in the east, and all this war too had weakened Rome’s economy. Isaac I Komnenos who became Byzantine emperor in 1057 after defeating the forces of the previous emperor Michael VI at the Battle of Hades was of military background being the son of a general under Basil II’s service and in 1057 he became emperor at 50 despite initially being reluctant but when coming into power, he swore to refill the treasury emptied out by Constantine IX and Empress Zoe and make the army strong again, now his Imperial Roman parallel Maximinus Thrax had the same policies as Isaac I and both these emperors were from Thrace with Maximinus Thrax’s name literally meaning “Big Thracian man” as he came from Thrace but was of Dacian origins and joined the Imperial legions under Septimius Severus while Isaac I’s family, the Komnenos family came from Thrace and under Basil II, the Komnenos family became powerful and Isaac in 1057 became the first ruler of this family while 2 decades later, his nephew Alexios I would begin the Komnenos Dynasty. Maximinus though was of low origins and before joining the legions he was either a bandit or shepherd, though as emperor the senate would see him as a barbarian not just for his country of origin but for his brutal behavior as well, but Maximinus was best known for his stature said to be over 8 feet tall and extremely strong but most importantly he was the first Roman emperor to start out as a common soldier eventually becoming the empire’s ruler while Isaac I of Byzantium was already from aristocratic background but like Maximinus was overall a military man and not a politician or scholar. The similar thing between Maximinus Thrax and Isaac I was that when they began their reign, they swore to double the army’s pay which their predecessors cut in order to make the army stronger and to do this, they had to introduce harsh tax measures to fill the treasury, and for Isaac I he imposed high taxes on the rich and confiscated Church property which caused opposition against him but for Maximinus he did it more brutally by torturing people to pay their taxes so he could fund his campaigns into Germanic territory which he led himself while Isaac on the other hand used the tax money to repel the Pecheneg invaders in the north, also Maximinus imposed higher taxes on the rich and nobility which he hated. For Isaac I, his confiscation of Church property caused the Patriarch Michael Keroularios who put him in power to oppose him but Isaac did not respond well to opposition but as Keroularios was popular, Isaac did not want to simply depose him, instead Isaac secretly arrested him and sent him into exile in 1058 while Maximinus Thrax due to his brutal taxation policies became unpopular with the senate that they once tried to elevate a senator named Magnus by stranding Maximinus in Germania while he was there by destroying a bridge in the Rhine but when Maximinus heard of this, he had the conspirators and Magnus executed. Isaac though only ruled for 2 years but before his abdication in 1059, he fought on all sides of the empire securing the north from the Pechenegs and Hungarians, and east from the Seljuks but at the same time after a hunting trip, Isaac caught a fever which brought him close to death that he was advised by his closest advisor Michael Psellos to abdicate and retire to a monastery which he agreed and listening to Psellos, Isaac named the most loyal person to him being Psellos’ friend the nobleman Constantine Doukas as his successor while Isaac in 1059 retired to the Stoudion Monastery where he was educated in and in 1060 he died as a simple monk. Maximinus Thrax on the other hand as a violent ruler had violent end rather than a peaceful one as in 238, the people of the empire came to despise his rule for his constant fighting of wars and brutal taxes and in Carthage they proclaimed its governor the old man Gordian I and his son Gordian II as emperors who were approved by the senate who hated Maximinus but after only less than a month in power, Gordian I and II were defeated by Maximinus’ loyalist forces with Gordian II killed in battle and his father killing himself after the defeat. Maximinus was outraged with the senate planning to replace him, so he thought of marching south to Rome for the first time to execute the whole senate but the senate out of fear after the deaths of Gordian I and II elevated the senators Pupienus and Balbinus as co-emperors who were however unpopular so they had to make Gordian I’s grandson Gordian III their co-emperor as well while Maximinus marched south to Italy but at Aquileia the soldiers there refused him entry to Italy so Maximinus laid siege to Aquileia but when his men ran out of food supply they killed him out of anger. Later in 238, Pupienus and Balbinus ended up mistrusting each other leading to their assassination by the Praetorian Guard leaving Gordian III as the sole ruler in 238 better known as the “Year of the 6 Emperors”. In Byzantium on the other hand, fortunately for Isaac I he did not face opposition with 6 emperors in one year but what makes him similar to Maximinus Thrax was his brutal tax policies and confiscation of properties but Isaac was not as brutal as Maximinus who went as far as killing those he pleased accusing them of crimes they did not commit so that he could take their money to fund his army and campaigns. Also, Isaac I was not as massive in statue said to be 8 feet tall the way Maximinus Thrax was, but the other big similarity they both have is that their coming into power displayed a total change in the character of an emperor as before both Maximinus and Isaac came to power, their respective empire were under soft rulers but when they came in, a strong military man suddenly came to rule the empire and Isaac I in the sense even wanted to show he was one by having his coins show him holding a sword while those before him did not.

Isaac I- Maximinus
Left: Emperor Isaac I Komnenos of Byzantium (r. 1057-1059); right: Roman emperor Maximinus Thrax (r.

Watch this to see the story of the Crisis of the 3rd Century in the Roman Empire (from Dovahhatty).

Constantine X Doukas (1059-1067) to Gordian III (238-244) and Philip I (244-249)

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Constantine X Doukas, though a general did not really have much military experience but an obsession for theological debates, he also came from the nobility and in 1057 he helped Isaac I come power and in 1059, Constantine came to power when Isaac I abdicated and Constantine X’s reign would be one of the most ineffective and troubled in Byzantine history as in his reign the Seljuks were now making constant raids into Asia Minor and in the north the Hungarian Kingdom began raiding too while Normans were rapidly invading Byzantine Italy. In the Roman Empire some 800 years earlier, Constantine X’s parallel is Gordian III who was only 13 when coming to power in 238 which was the Year of 6 Emperors while Constantine X came to power at already 53 in 1059 but what was similar about them was that their reign was when the crisis grew and large scale foreign invasions were starting to trouble the empire. For Constantine X, as soon as he became emperor, over in Southern Italy the Norman forces under the ruler Duke Robert Guiscard took over Byzantine Calabria leaving only Apulia left to the Byzantines and as for Gordian III, despite coming from a chaotic year of 6 emperors wherein he came out as the sole ruler, the first years of his reign were peaceful though still a boy he ruled under the regency of his Praetorian Prefect Timesitheus but in 242, the first Sassanid ruler Ardashir I died and left the Sassanid Empire to his son Shapur I who immediately invaded Roman territory in the Middle East and unlike the Parthian Empire before it which was not as powerful and easily beaten by Rome many times but remained unconquered, the new Sassanid Empire of Iran that defeated the Parthians was 10 times more powerful than it and had the full strength to destroy the Roman Empire and for the next decades, Shapur I would pain the Romans. In 243, Gordian III joined his general Timesitheus in campaigning against Shapur’s invasion of Syria and Timesitheus was at least able to defeat the Sassanids at the Battle of Resaena and continued pushing the invaders away but while doing it, he mysteriously died leaving Gordian III defenseless so he listened to one of his Praetorian Guards named Priscus to make Priscus’ brother named Philip his new Praetorian Prefect and when Philip was appointed, Gordian III was killed in 244 though it is unclear as Gordian III could have also died in battle against the Sassanids but with Gordian III dead, Philip I known as “The Arab” coming from Roman Arabia as the new emperor settled peace with the Sassanids ceding Armenia to them and returned to Rome making his son Philip II his co-emperor leaving his brother Priscus to rule in the east. Meanwhile for Constantine X, just as how Gordian III faced the first wave of Shapur I’s Sassanid invasions, he faced the first wave of the Seljuk invasions of Asia Minor in 1064 under their new sultan Alsp Arslan who in this case would be the 11th century parallel of Shapur I and just like Shapur, Alp Arslan was an ambitious warrior ruler except his aim was not to conquer the whole Byzantine Empire but everything on his way to get to Fatimid Caliphate Egypt. Constantine X earlier on had disbanded most of the army in Asia Minor replacing them with mercenaries but he happened to do it in the worst time possible as just a few years after he disbanded them, Alp Arslan began his invasions and without much of an army, the Byzantines faced a number of defeats. Though Constantine X like Gordian III faced the first wave of foreign invasions that would weaken the empire which was the Seljuks for Constantine X and the Sassanids for Gordian III, Constantine X did not die out of mysterious circumstances like Gordian III in 244, instead Constantine X would also be the Byzantine parallel of Gordian III’s successor Philip I as Constantine like Philip I who made his son Philip II co-emperor, made his 2 sons Michael VII and Constantius his co-emperors and as Philip I in his reign saw the Goths invading the Roman Empire from the Danube for the first time ever in 248 at the same time when celebrating the 1000-year anniversary of Rome, Constantine X saw another invader in the exact same area in the Danube being the Oghuz Turks in 1064 as well as the Hungarians who took over Belgrade in 1065. Philip I in his later reign after facing the first wave of the invading Goths also faced usurpers in which their rebellions failed in a few days but just as he sent a senator named Decius to lead the army against the Goths in the Danube, the rebellious legions held Decius hostage forcing him to be their emperor and overthrow Philip I and Philip II though Decius wanted to reconcile with Philip I but Philip I was already convinced that Decius betrayed him so when their forces met in battle in Italy in 249, Philip I’s forces were defeated and together with his son was killed in battle making Decius the new emperor. As for Constantine X, he also did not have the same end as Philip I, instead in 1067 after ruling for 8 years, Constantine X Doukas died from his failing health. As for Philip I’s successor Decius, there is no emperor in 11th century Byzantium that has a similar story to him though Decius only ruled for 2 years but was well known for persecuting Christians and fighting wars against the Goths but in 251, he was killed in battle against the Goths led by their king Cniva. Although Decius was betrayed by his general Gallus who made a deal with Cniva to make him the new emperor if Decius died as Gallus also agreed to pay a tribute to the Goths and Gallus returned to Rome as the new emperor but in 253 was usurped and killed by Aemilianus who had just won battles against the Goths who began invading the empire again when Gallus failed to pay them. There too is no parallel for Gallus (r. 251-253) and Aemilianus (r. 253) too in 11th century Byzantium.

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Meme of Byzantine emperor Constantine X Doukas

Romanos IV Diogenes (1068-1071) to Valerian (253-260)

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Before Constantine X died in 1067, he made his wife Empress Eudokia promise that she would never remarry and have one their sons succeed him but a general named Romanos Diogenes from Cappadocia in Asia Minor attempted to seize the throne from the sons but later on, the empress decided to spare him and marry him to be he sons’ protector since her sons were still too young and the empire was troubled with enemies on all sides so a strong leader was needed. Now in the 3rd century Roman Empire, Romanos IV’s parallel is Emperor Valerian who in 253 as a general commanding the legions in Germania marched south to Italy to depose the usurper Aemilianus in which he succeeded in doing and both Valerian and Romanos IV came from the nobility with Romanos IV coming from the Byzantine military aristocracy also being the son of the usurper Constantine Diogenes who killed himself in 1032 and Valerian having been a senator before and both came to power at a time when the empire was in total chaos as for Valerian the Rhine and Danube borders were being invaded by Germanic tribes and the east invaded by the Sassanids and for Romanos IV, Byzantium was facing Seljuk invasions in the east and more in the north which was also the Danube border. Right after coming to power in 1068, Romanos IV would already begin commanding the armies in person as his solution to the whole Seljuk conflict was to face them in battle even if the Seljuk sultan Alp Arslan did not prioritize invading Byzantium whereas in the 3rd century the Sassanids under Shapur I sought to conquer the Roman Middle East and as Valerian came to power in  253, Shapur I had taken over and sacked Antioch but for Valerian he could not handle all the problems of the empire alone so he split the administration with his son Gallienus who was made co-emperor the moment Valerian came to power so when both were crowned, Valerian chose to head east to take care of the Sassanids leaving Gallienus to take care of the problems in Europe. Like Romanos IV who was the senior emperor while his 3 stepsons being Eudokia and Constantine X’s sons Michael VII, Constantius, and Andronikos were his co-emperors and in 1070 when Romanos and Eudokia had their own sons named Leo and Nikephoros Diogenes, they were made co-emperors too, Valerian on the other hand made his son Gallienus who was fully grown up though as his co-emperor and Gallienus made his young sons Valerian II in 256 and Saloninus in 258 his co-emperors to represent imperial authority in the borders with Valerian II placed in the Danube and Saloninus placed in the Rhine but Valerian II in 258 was killed possibly by his protector, the governor of the Illyrian provinces named Ingenuus who led a failed rebellion against Gallienus in 260 and Saloninus in the Rhine was killed also in 260 in Cologne when a general named Postumus seized power by invading the city declared independence from the empire. Valerian meanwhile between 253 and 260 campaigned against the Sassanid Persians in the east ironically also in Asia Minor where Romanos IV would campaign against the Seljuks some 800 years later but as Valerian campaigned in the east, he continued persecuting Christians but plague devastated his army too though in 257 Valerian was able to recapture Antioch from the Sassanids but plague killed most of his men so in 260 when Valerian’s forces met with the forces of Shapur I at the Battle of Edessa in Asia Minor, Valerian’s forces were outnumbered and weakened with the plague and Shapur’s troops being more in number defeated the Romans wherein Valerian was forced to surrender and was taken as a prisoner deep into the Persian heartland. Romanos IV on the other hand became unpopular with the people as in 1070 he decided to cancel all entertainment to focus solely on fighting the Seljuks and in 1071 Alp Arslan though proposed a peace agreement with Romanos in exchange for the Byzantines to give up only the eastern parts of Asia Minor but Romanos wanted a real victory so war was declared but just like Valerian at the Battle of Edessa in 260 wherein he was outnumbered, Romanos IV at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 was not entirely outnumbered but his troops fighting in straight lines were no match against the guerrilla tactics and horse archery of the Seljuks, also the battle took place in the heat summer and lasted until the night wherein the Seljuks had the skill of navigating the battlefield at night and as the battle raged, a unit betrayed Romanos thinking he was dead and at the end Romanos’ men were outnumbered and he was taken as a prisoner to Alp Arslan. The Battle of Manzikert in 1071 was the fatal blow for the Byzantine Empire and the beginning of its end as from here on the Seljuks began their invasion of Asia Minor and for the Roman Empire in 260, the Battle of Edessa was the same kind of humiliating defeat and brought further chaos to the empire especially with the emperor Valerian being captured. Now what both Romanos IV Diogenes and Valerian have in common was that they were both there at their empire’s most humiliating defeats ironically these 2 places were near each other as Edessa and Manzikert were both in the same part of Eastern Asia Minor and after these battles, both Valerian and Romanos were captured by the enemy ruler except for Romanos he was treated well by Alp Arslan and allowed to return home freely but Valerian was humiliated and taken to Persia as Shapur I’s slave. However, it is not clear if Valerian was actually made Shapur’s personal slave and footstool and later flayed alive as some say Valerian was allowed to live peacefully in Persian territory as a construction worker with the other captured Romans though Valerian died in captivity never allowed to return home, but still the thought of an emperor being captured by a foreign enemy broke the reputation of the Roman emperor as someone all powerful. Romanos IV meanwhile when returning to Constantinople discovered that his stepson Michael VII took the throne from him forcing Romanos to fight a civil war against his forces wherein Romanos was defeated and had to flee but when found in 1072 he was initially going to be spared but instead he was blinded so brutally that he died.   

Romanos IV- Valerian
Left: Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes of Byzantium (r. 1068-1071); right: Roman emperor Valerian (r. 253-260)
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Battle of Manzikert, 1071

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

Michael VII Doukas (1071-1078) to Gallienus (253-268)

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The defeat of the Byzantines to the Seljuks at Manzikert in 1071 was not only humiliating due to the fact that their army which was thought to be invincible suffered a heavy defeat and their emperor was captured but this defeat brought so much chaos to the empire especially since Romanos IV was presumed dead when he was captured by the Seljuks. In Constantinople, as Romanos IV was captured by Alp Arslan, having no emperor, his stepson Michael VII Doukas which was his wife’s son with the previous emperor Constantine X was made emperor thus Romanos IV was deposed. In the case of the aftermath of the Byzantine defeat and Manzikert and the chaotic situation it caused; Michael VII Doukas can very much be compared to the 3rd Century Crisis Roman emperor Gallienus (r. 253-268) who was the son of Valerian made co-emperor when his father came to power in 253 although the difference here is that with Romanos IV being Byzantium’s version of Valerian, Michael VII was not Romanos’ real son like Gallienus was to Valerian but stepson and while Romanos IV was the senior emperor, Michael VII as co-emperor was only co-emperor in name as he did not do anything as co-emperor while Gallienus ruled the west between 253 and 260 when his father ruled the east taking care of the Sassanid situation but when Valerian was defeated and captured by the Sassanids in 260, Gallienus became the sole ruler of the empire the same way Michael VII in 1071 became the empire’s sole ruler following Romanos IV’s capture except Romanos IV returned shortly after to retake the throne but failed while Valerian never returned. Now Michael VII and Gallienus are only comparable to each other because of the situation of the empire they had to face in which for both of them, they came to power at a time when their empire was in total chaos with foreign invaders, usurpers, and civil wars everywhere except Michael VII during his reign was incompetent and did not seem to care about the empire collapsing around him while Gallienus did nothing but fight against all the invaders and usurpers to put the empire back together again, except he failed to do it as the pressure was too much. In 253, as Valerian left for the east to take care of the Sassanid threat, Gallienus already faced his own threats in the west being the invasions of a new Germanic tribal coalition known as the Franks began invading the Rhine borders, the Goths invading again through the Danube, as well as the Alemanni through the Germanic border. Following Valerian’s defeat and capture in 260, chaos erupted all over the empire as many generals felt that the imperial family could not rule the empire themselves and to protect their lands that they were in charge of many of them declared themselves emperor such as the general Ingenuus in Pannonia who previously arranged the murder of Gallienus’ son Valerian II though Gallienus quickly defeated Ingenuus in battle in 260 after defeating the Alemanni that just invaded Italy and after the defeat Ingenuus killed himself though just shortly after in Pannonia as well, another general named Regalianus declared himself emperor but was killed by invading Sarmatians which Gallienus also defeated as these Sarmatians marched towards Italy. However in Gaul also in 260, a general named Postumus who was of Germanic origin felt that the emperor could not protect the lands there so he declared himself emperor with Gaul, Britain, Germania, and even Hispania as independent from Rome and under his Gallic Empire though doing this, he would also protect Rome from invaders coming from across the Rhine but Gallienus did not allow this new empire so he would fight hard to return it to his control. In the east however, also in 260 after Valerian’s capture the Sassanids raided deep into Roman Syria and Cappadocia in Asia Minor but the Sassanids were apparently defeated by the remnants of Valerian’s army led by his general Ballista, his treasurer Macrianus, and the governor of Palmyra Odaenathus though with this victory Macrianus would claim power making himself emperor and naming his 2 sons as co-emperors thus heading back to Europe with one son leaving the other one in Antioch with Ballista but Odaenathus executed Ballista and the other son for treason as Odaenathus despite declaring Palmyra an independent kingdom was loyal to Rome as his whole purpose for doing this was to provide additional protection against the Sassanid invaders; Gallienus then recognized Palmyra as an independent kingdom while Gaul, Britain, and Hispania already separated from the empire. The usurper emperor Macrianus and his son were then killed in battle by Gallienus’ forces when they arrived in Thrace in 261. Though Gallienus left Palmyra independent, he would have to continue fighting to put the Gallic Empire under his control but only succeeded in taking back Raetia (Switzerland) and in one battle Gallienus was even wounded by an arrow forcing him to give up on his campaign against Postumus’ empire, but as he was fighting against the rebel Gallic Empire, from 261 to 262 he faced another usurper in Egypt named Aemilianus who was easily defeated in 262 when Gallienus sent his fleet to depose him. As for Michael VII of Byzantium, he had the same situation of Gallienus facing enemies on all sides and usurpers everywhere as when Michael VII came to power after Manzikert, one of Romanos IV’s generals which was the Armenian Philaretos Brachamios who after Manzikert fled with his army south and established his own state including Antioch and Edessa with him as its ruler, ironically he declared his own state at the exact same place as Odaenathus’ Palmyrene Kingdom and exactly the same Edessa where Valerian was defeated in 260, in this case Brachamios would be the parallel of Odaenathus in 11th century Byzantium as Michael VII recognized his authority the same way Gallienus recognized Odaenathus’. Postumus’ Gallic Empire in the story of Michael VII as Byzantium’s Gallienus was basically all of Byzantine Italy being lost to Normans in 1071 but in 1073, a Norman mercenary in the Byzantine service named Roussel de Bailleul declared his own independent state in Asia Minor based in Ankara with him as emperor though Michael VII quickly responded to it by sending his uncle John Doukas to crush it but it failed as John sided with the Normans so Michael VII sent the younger and more competent general Alexios Komnenos to deal with Roussel which in 1074 Alexios defeated and captured Roussel but the Norman mercenaries instead named John Doukas as emperor so to deal with this, Michael VII chose the disastrous option of getting the Seljuks to defeat the Normans and his uncle thus it resulted in having most of Asia Minor fall to the Seljuks and Michael VII did not care about it anymore just allowing the Seljuks to have the Byzantine heartland; John Doukas was later ransomed by Michael VII but punished by being sent to a monastery. Though back in 3rd century Rome, Gallienus fought hard to restore order to his crumbling empire by introducing a new mobile cavalry reform to the Roman army and even lead his army in battle himself, Michael VII as a young and pleasure-loving emperor never set foot in battle and worse he was heavily influenced by an incompetent advisor named Nikephoritzes and listening to him, Michael did not focus anymore on military spending leading to many revolts, instead he focused on luxury spending but all this would soon enough weaken the economy and devalue the currency by a quarter giving Michael VII his nickname which is literally Greek for “minus a quarter”. Just like Gallienus who faced smaller revolts which he defeated such as those of Ingenuus and Regalianus in 260 and Aemilianus from 261 to 262, Michael VII faced smaller ones including that of the Bulgarian Constantine Bodin from 1072-1073 which was easily crushed and Bodin sent to Antioch as a prisoner, then later in 1076 a military commander who was Michael VII’s father Constantine X’s former slave named Nestor with his army’s support named himself emperor in his garrison in Bulgaria as he rebelled against Nikephoritzes confiscating his wealth but Michael VII did not respond to Nestor’s rebellion until 1078 when he sent the same Alexios Komnenos to deal with it, and Alexios successfully crushed it making Nestor flee with his Pecheneg allies into Pecheneg territory never to return again. Just like Gallienus who faced Germanic barbarian invaders almost taking Rome in 260 and the Goths invading deep into Greece and Asia Minor afterwards, Michael VII faced the Seljuks almost taking over all of Asia Minor though it was mostly his doing and in the north it was the Pechenegs invading deep into Bulgaria when assisting Nestor’s revolt in 1076 though Gallienus in 268  faced another uprising this time by his own cavalry commander, the Dacian Aureolus who Gallienus tasked to defend Italy against Postumus’ Gallic Empire, instead Aureolus switched sides to Postumus and rebelled against Gallienus despite Postumus never coming to support him but Aureolus went as far as taking over Mediolanum (Milan) in time for Gallienus to confront him but before their forces met each other, Gallienus in 268 was killed by his own Praetorian Guard who then proclaimed Gallienus’ other general Claudius as the next emperor. Michael VII on the other hand almost had the same end as Gallienus as in 1078, two generals simultaneously revolted which was Nikephoros Bryennios in the Balkans and Nikephoros Botaneiates in Asia Minor and Bryennios would be the parallel of Aureolus in the 11th century except his forces never confronted with Michael VII and Botaneiates made it first to Constantinople forcing Michael VII to abdicate and retire to a monastery as monk; now the biggest difference is that Gallienus was killed in 268 by his own army while Michael VII just retired and lived long enough to later become the Bishop of Ephesus though both Gallienus and Michael VII ruled for the same amount of years Gallienus for 8 years as sole emperor and Michael VII for 7 years though Gallienus ruled for another 7 years as co-emperor with his father and Michael VII was already co-emperor under his father Constantine X in his reign from 1059 to 1067 and also under his step-father Romanos IV from 1068 to 1071. Similarly, the reign of Gallienus saw the Roman Empire break apart with the entire west except for Italy and Illyria turn into the independent Gallic Empire and Syria into the independent state of Palmyra, while for Michael VII he saw the effective Byzantine Theme or military district system of Asia Minor that had been around since the 7th century collapse due to the Seljuks’ invasion.

Michael VII- Gallienus
Left: Emperor Michael VII Doukas of Byzantium (r. 1071-1078); right: Roman emperor Gallienus (r. 253-268)

Watch this to learn more about the Roman Empire’s 3rd Century Crisis (from Kings and Generals).

Nikephoros III Botaneiates (1078-1081) to Claudius II (268-270)

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The general Nikephoros Botaneiates succeeded in taking over the throne in 1078 forcing Michael VII to abdicate and retire thus taking Michael VII’s wife the Georgian Maria of Alania as his wife to secure his claim but as Nikephoros III Botaneiates became emperor, the other general Nikephoros Bryennios who challenged Michael VII at the same time now became a challenge to Nikephoros III but Nikephoros III already being 76 when becoming emperor dealt with Bryennios by having the same Alexios Komnenos defeat him in battle which Alexios succeeded in doing and Bryennios was blinded, Alexios then shifted his allegiance from Michael VII to Nikephoros III. Now Nikephoros III can be compared to Gallienus’ successor Claudius II as both before becoming emperors were generals for a very long time as Nikephoros was a commander in the imperial military service ever since the reign of Constantine IX (1042-1055) while Claudius was already military commander almost 20 years before he became emperor in 268. Claudius though was of low birth and a native of Illyria making him the first of many Illyrians to become the Roman emperor while Nikephoros III was from the Byzantine military aristocracy but both came to power in almost the same way as Claudius II was made emperor by the Praetorian Guards that killed Gallienus though Nikephoros III came to power by revolting against Michael VII for his ineffectiveness in dealing with the Seljuk expansion in Asia Minor. When Nikephoros III came to power in 1078, he immediately had to deal with Bryennios who then became a challenge to him which he succeeded in doing while Claudius II began his reign dealing with the usurper Aureolus in Italy who revolted against Gallienus but with Gallienus dead he became a threat to Claudius. For Claudius II, he came to power when the empire was still in total chaos with the western part still under the Gallic Empire and the east under Palmyra while Goths, Alemanni, and Vandals still continued invading the empire from the north and as for Nikephoros III, he came to power when the empire was left in chaos since Manzikert with the Seljuks having almost all of Asia Minor although Claudius who spent his short reign of 2 years continuing to fight hard to restore the empire, Nikephoros III unlike his predecessor Michael VII did the same too except he was too old for the job thus many usurpers came to challenge him. After Claudius II became emperor, he first pushed away an invasion of the Alemanni from Italy then headed to the Danube in today’s Serbia where he defeated a large Gothic invasion at the Battle of Naissus in 268 thus giving him the title “Gothicus” though the Goths continued raiding Asia Minor and Greece after stealing the imperial fleet while for Nikephoros III, his greatest external threat was the Norman invasion of the Byzantine Balkans in 1081 by the same Robert Guiscard who was recently conquering Italy from the Byzantines but the biggest problem Nikephoros III would have were usurping generals who felt he was too old to rule that in 1079, he was almost assassinated by his Varangian Guard force. For Claudius, it was not usurping generals that was his problem but rather in the Palmyrene Kingdom that had been loyal to Rome, their king Odaenathus was mysteriously murdered in 267 and his wife Zenobia took over as queen cutting all ties with Rome now giving the empire a new enemy all while it still had to fight off invaders and the Gallic Empire but for the Gallic Empire, it had weakened in 269 when its first emperor Postumus was killed by his own troops in Mainz after defeating another usurper when Postumus ordered them not to loot and within 2 years, there was a change of emperor 3 times in the Gallic Empire and in this chaos all the provinces in Spain rejoined the Roman Empire and Claudius II was even able to take back Eastern Gaul up to the Rhone River, similarly for Nikephoros III just as how the provinces in Spain returned to Claudius II, the emperor at Antioch Philaretos Brachamios in 1078 gave up his claim as emperor and surrendered to Nikephoros III becoming “Duke of Antioch” instead. In 1079, a general in Byzantine Albania named Nikephoros Basilakes revolted against the emperor but was defeated by Alexios Komnenos, then in 1080 another general named Nikephoros with Melissenos as his last name who was loyal to Michael VII revolted in the Balkans but was not defeated by Alexios, instead Alexios in 1081 gave up his loyalty to Nikephoros III and revolted against him later marching into Constantinople and forced Nikephoros III to abdicate while Melissenos only gave up his claim as emperor when he found out Alexios beat him to it, though Meliseenos was spared and joined forces with Alexios I Komnenos. For Claudius II, he was not overthrown at an old age like Nikephoros III, instead he died in 270 of the same plague that devastated Valerian’s troops back in 260 and Claudius was not that old being only 55 when he died while Nikephoros was 79 when he abdicated though when Claudius II died in 270, Palmyra under Zenobia already declared war against Rome and took over Egypt and the whole Middle East and in Rome after Claudius’ death his brother Quintillus usurped the throne but with the approval of the senate though Claudius before dying named his most successful general Aurelian as his successor and in 11th century Byzantium, Nikephoros Melissenos would be similar to Quintillus as he usurped power before the death of the reigning emperor though Alexios would be in many ways the Byzantine parallel of Aurelian as he was Nikephoros III’s and Michael VII’s most trusted general who won many battles for them the same way Aurelian was to Claudius II and Gallienus earlier except Aurelian did not turn on Claudius the way Alexios did on Nikephoros and when Aurelian was named emperor, he overthrew Quintillus while Melissenos just surrendered his claim to Alexios. The difference between Claudius II and Nikephoros III was their age as Claudius was still not so old and fighting the battles himself while Nikephoros was too old for it despite him appearing to look young in images of him from his time, but their biggest similarities is that they both ruled their empires for such a short time when they were needed most to clean up the chaos as both were strong military leaders under so much pressure, yet at the end both Nikephoros III and Claudius II never made it to the end to see their goals to restore their empires achieved.

Nikephoros III- Claudius II
Left: Emperor Nikephoros III Botaneiates of Byzantium (r. 1078-1081); right: Roman emperor Claudius II (r. 268-270)
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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)

Watch this to learn more about Emperor Nikephoros III of Byzantium (from Eastern Roman History).

Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118) to Aurelian (270-275)

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In 1081, Byzantium was at a breaking point with the Seljuks occupying most of Asia Minor, the Pechenegs in the Balkans, and the Normans just invading Byzantine Greece and Albania as well but with all this chaos, a young but skilled general named Alexios Komnenos came to save the day after deposing the elderly emperor Nikephoros III who was too old to handle all this pressure. The Roman Empire in 270 had the same situation, and the successful general Aurelian was made emperor and came to save the day as when he arrived in Rome, he deposed the usurper Quintillus and was officially made emperor with his first act being expelling the Germanic invaders from Italy then in 271 as the Goths were invading through the Danube again, Aurelian marched there and defeated them in battle but also made the strategic decision of abandoning Dacia (Romania) by evacuating all its citizens and legions stationed there before turning his focus on reuniting the Roman Empire by taking back the Gallic and Palmyrene Empires. Alexios I meanwhile had the same situation when coming into power as his main priority was to eliminate all threats to the empire and reunite it again and in terms of background, Aurelian was of low birth from the Balkans starting out as a common soldier but rose up the ranks under Gallienus and Claudius II and at 55 he became emperor, though for Alexios Komnenos he started out his military career at a young age and under Michael VII and Nikephoros III was already a general and at only 26 he became emperor though unlike Aurelian who was originally a commoner, Alexios was from Byzantine nobility and his uncle was the previous emperor Isaac I Komnenos (r. 1057-1059). Just like Aurelian who began his reign wiping out all threats to the empire by facing off the Goths in 271 afterwards taking in the defeated Goths to his army, Alexios I after coming into power in 1081 decided to confront the invading Norman forces of Robert Guiscard in Albania, although Aurelian defeated the Goths in only one battle, Alexios I was at first severely defeated at the Battle of Dyrrhachion in Albania to the Normans except he later paid off the King of Germany Henry IV to invade Norman Italy forcing Robert Guiscard to return there while Alexios signed an alliance with the Republic of Venice against the Normans though the Normans were already invading Greece but by 1085, Alexios I was able to push them out and with Robert Guiscard dying in Greece in 1085 due to sickness, the Normans had to retreat thus sparing Byzantium. For Aurelian in 272, he headed further east now aiming to take back the Palmyrene Empire from Zenobia and he successfully took back Asia Minor with ease and later overwhelmed Zenobia’s forces in Syria defeating her but before she could flee to the Sassanids for their aid, she was found and captured, later taken to Rome as a prisoner with her son Vaballathus who was her puppet emperor, and with the Palmyrene Empire taken, Egypt returned to Roman rule allowing the grain shipment to continue and Palmyra itself in 273 was destroyed. For Alexios I, his next problem would have to be dealing with was the nomadic Pechenegs who went as far south as Thrace and just as how Aurelian mercilessly defeated Palmyra, Alexios I mercilessly defeated and massacred the Pecheneg army at the Battle of Levounion in 1091 though Alexios got the Pechenegs’ mortal enemy being the Cumans to his side. However the Zenobia in the story of Alexios I was the Turkish emir of Smyrna named Tzachas who was one of the Seljuk lords that invaded Asia Minor following the defeat at Manzikert in 1071 and he set himself up in the city of Smyrna in Asia Minor making himself its ruler and like Zenobia who went as far as making herself “empress”, Tzachas went as far as calling himself “Byzantine emperor” also getting the Pechenegs to ally with him and take over Constantinople. In 1092 however, Alexios I defeated Tzachas by sending a fleet to Lesbos which Tzachas surrendered to Byzantium when his forces were defeated though Tzachas fled back to Smyrna though Alexios found him too dangerous to be kept alive so Alexios actually allied with the Seljuk sultan of Rum, the Seljuk state formed in Asia Minor against Tzachas and in 1093 Tzachas himself was killed by the Seljuk sultan during dinner and Smyrna was returned to Byzantium just as how the Palmyrene Empire returned to Rome. For Aurelian, just like Alexios I, he did not just use war to win but diplomacy too and to get the Gallic Empire back to Roman rule, Aurelian used diplomacy with its current emperor Tetricus by just asking him to surrender his lands in exchange for being spared and Tetricus now with his empire reduced and army weakened feared facing Aurelian in battle so he simply surrendered the Gallic Empire back to the main Roman Empire in 274 and right after that Aurelian had restored the whole Roman Empire which is why he has the title of Restitutor Orbis or “Restorer of the World”. Restoring the whole empire was not yet it for Aurelian so next he sought to march east and finally battle the Sassanids and conquer their empire seeing the right opportunity since their ruler Shapur I who defeated Valerian back in 260 had already died and his successors were weaker rulers but Aurelian unfortunately died before he could battle the Sassanids. In 275 while at Thrace, Aurelian’s secretary who recently committed a crime fearing harsh punishment from Aurelian faked a letter listing names of people Aurelian ordered executed and the secretary showed it to the Praetorian Guard who panicked and killed Aurelian, though when they found out the letter was fake, in their grief and anger for killing their emperor, the Praetorian Guard did justice to the secretary and exposed him in the woods to be eaten by wild animals. With Aurelian dead, his wife Ulpia Severina in Rome ruled as regent until the senate in late 275 elected an old senator named Tacitus as emperor but later in 276 Tacitus while continuing Aurelian’s campaign in Asia Minor died of fever appointing Aurelian’s most trusted general Probus as the next emperor except Tacitus’ half-brother and Praetorian Prefect Florianus already seized power. The similarity between Aurelian and Alexios I was that they both quickly restored order to their crumbling empire except Aurelian only ruled for 5 years but was at least able to restore the whole empire, though his sudden death prevented actually brining back full stability to the empire and it would take a few more emperors to do that whereas for Alexios I, unlike Aurelian who only ruled for 5 years, he ruled for 37 years and in it was able to do the job of the next 3 emperors after Aurelian and when Alexios I died in 1118, the Byzantine Empire was again strong and large but not as large anymore as it was at Basil II’s death in 1025. Aurelian though was able to defeat both the Palmyrene and Gallic Empires as he was a very skilled general but also a skilled diplomat and Alexios I was both a skilled general and diplomat too, though where both emperors were very similar to each other was in terms of reforms as Alexios I reformed Byzantium’s currency by increasing the value of its coins which dropped in the past years while Aurelian did the same too although Aurelian would be better known for religious reforms by making the now popular sun god Sol Invictus as the main god of the Roman Pantheon and aside from that, Aurelian also restored many cities and public buildings in the empire including constructing the Aurelian Walls of Rome while Alexios I did the same for Byzantium as well in terms of restoring buildings. Aurelian though died before the empire could be fully stabilized wherein successors would still have to work hard to achieve this dream, though Alexios lived long enough to get the chance to campaign against the Seljuks and weaken them while Aurelian died before fully campaigning against the Sassanids. Alexios I though could not fully take care of the Seljuks alone but since the Seljuks already took over Jerusalem, the nobles of Europe and the Catholic Church called for the 1st Crusade in 1095 wherein Alexios saw it too as an opportunity to gain allies to take back lands lost to the Seljuks but it did not go as planned as at first; the first wave to come to fight the Seljuks was a mob of peasants that troubled Alexios when they reached Byzantium and following them was an army of knights led by princes of Europe including Alexios’ enemy the Norman Bohemond, son of Robert Guiscard and for Alexios this would mean that these rulers would take the lands for themselves and not return them to Byzantium. True enough, when the Crusader knights and princes arrived in Byzantium some of them refused to swear loyalty to Alexios I and they would take lands they conquered for themselves though most of what they conquered in Asia Minor was returned to Byzantium but as they proceeded further south, the Crusaders took these lands for themselves such as Antioch, Edessa, Tripoli, and Jerusalem and in 1099 the Crusaders were victorious in the 1st Crusade when Jerusalem was taken back from the Seljuks though the victories of the Crusades only gave more problems to Byzantium as more states formed near them but to handle it Alexios made sure even if they were independent, they swore loyalty to Byzantium though even if these states were independent, at least they would spare Byzantium from more conflicts coming from the Seljuks and other Muslim powers. Later on, in 1107, Bohemond who became Prince of Antioch refused to swear loyalty to Alexios I leading to war between them but when Bohemond’s fleet was blockaded in the Adriatic, he had to surrender to Alexios and be a vassal. Before Alexios I’s death in 1118 he continued campaigning against the Seljuks in Asia Minor and succeeded in them. Back to the Roman Empire after Aurelian’s death in 275, and Tacitus’ sudden death in 276, the new emperor Probus who also an Illyrian like Aurelian spent his 6 year reign continuing to stabilize the empire that had come out of the 3rd Century Crisis which makes his reign mirror that of Alexios I after the 1st Crusade when the Seljuks were pushed back and now forced to fight on the defensive making Byzantium stronger again and able to rebuild the empire. Probus as emperor first defeated the usurper Florianus in battle in 276 in Cilicia and later proceeded to campaign all over the empire and eliminate all barbarian invasions in the Rhine and Danube that had grown stronger in number after Aurelian’s death and after successfully doing that, the empire had actually turned out to be as peaceful as it was back in the 230s but without much battles to fight anymore, Probus had to make his soldiers continue working by repairing structures damaged by war and perform civic duty like draining marshes which made the soldiers angry and even angrier when hearing Probus said Rome would not need soldiers anymore with a peaceful future in mind which made them assassinated Probus in 282. Now Alexios I is not in any way comparable to Emperor Tacitus but more comparable to Probus as in the later part of Alexios I’s reign he saw the empire at more peace and turned the tide against the Seljuks from the defensive to the offensive. Back to Probus, after his death the soldiers of the Praetorian Guard that killed him named their commander Carus as emperor who was unwilling but accepted it anyway but feeling he was too old to rule alone he made his sons co-emperor and decided to finally launch the campaign against the Sassanids in 283 even going as far as Mesopotamia with his army and his son the co-emperor Numerian but was struck by lightning making his army march back to Roman territory. Alexios I though is not comparable to Carus or his sons in any way but in some ways can be compared to their successor Diocletian who led the army back from Persia but when back in Asia Minor, Carus’ son Numerian was found dead in his tent and though his brother Carinus was left to rule Rome, the army decided to elect Diocletian who was a cavalry commander as their emperor in 284 as they found Carinus useless and as they reached the Balkans, they defeated Carinus in battle where he was killed. Diocletian was originally a commoner from Illyria too named Diocles but quickly rose up the ranks under Aurelian together with Probus and Constantius who would later be emperor and all 3 were Illyrians but becoming emperor, Diocles changed his name to Diocletian and it was he who fully solved the Crisis of the 3rd Century by reforming the state into a more autocratic one with the emperor having more power over the senate but he also had to officially split the empire with his friend Maximian in 286 with Diocletian having the east and Maximian the west as senior emperors or Augusti but in 293 they had to further divide the empire to manage it better so Diocletian divided his half by making his heir or Caesar which was Galerius and Maximian had Constantius as his Caesar and this system with the empire divided in quarters would be known as the Tetrarchy which would be the foundation for Byzantium. As for Alexios I, he is only comparable to Diocletian by also making the emperor and imperial family more autocratic by introducing more titles to family members and nobles to prevent usurpers the same way Diocletian made imperial power more autocratic and in fact divine in order to prevent usurpers as usurping would already be considered as blasphemy. Diocletian though was best known for persecuting Christians and Manicheans in his later reign which many suffered and died under him while Alexios I in his later reign severely persecuted the heretical Christian sects of the Bogomils and Paulicians which led to his unpopularity too. Unlike Diocletian who split the empire to make it more efficient to run, Alexios I did not do anything similar as his empire was way smaller than how it was under Diocletian which still stretched from Britain all the way to Egypt and from Portugal all the way to Syria and this Tetrarchy would at first seem effective but in the years to come, it became a failure and led to more crisis in the empire.

Alexios I- Aurelian
Left: Emperor Alexios I Komnenos of Byzantium (r. 1081-1118); right: Roman emperor Aurelian (r. 270-275)
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The Roman Empire under the 1st Tetrarchy, 293-305

Watch this to learn more about the story of Emperor Aurelian (from Kings and Generals).

Watch this to see the story of the Roman Empire’s Tetrarchy (from Dovahhatty).

Watch this to learn more about Alexios I of Byzantium and his wars against the Normans (from Kings and Generals).

12th century Byzantium and 4th century Roman Empire

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The rest of this article discussed how events in 11th century Byzantium having its crisis was similar to the Roman Empire in the 3rd century having its own crisis with emperors of both empires in times of crisis similar to each other in the situation they faced, however in 12th century Byzantium with the Crisis of the previous century over, its story does not mirror that of the Roman Empire before it so much anymore. The Roman Empire in the 4th century wherein the Byzantine Empire itself was actually born in then does not share the same story with Byzantium in the 12th century under the Komnenos emperors following the crisis and only in the 13th century does the Byzantine story again share similarities with its Roman predecessor. Now this part of this article will focus instead on how events and people were not similar to each other in this period. As for Byzantium at the beginning of the 12th century, Alexios I Komnenos was in power and had restored order to the crumbling empire and by his death in 1118, Byzantium was a major power in the area again gaining most of its lands in Asia Minor back from the Seljuks, while the Pecheneg invaders in the north were already taken care of, though Italy never came back to its rule. Alexios I was succeeded by his son John II Komnenos who continued his father’s Komnenian Restoration to rebuild the empire that was shattered at Manzikert and in John II’s 25-year reign, he would spend it mostly fighting wars to strengthen the empire and true enough he succeeded in defeating the Pechenegs again as well as driving away Hungarian invaders from the Byzantine Balkans, then later focused his attention in Asia Minor winning many battles against the Seljuks turning the tide of war for them making the Seljuks now fight on the defensive against the Byzantines. Later in his reign though, the Crusader Principality of Antioch again refused to be a Byzantine vassal so in 1142 John II led the army himself attempting to besiege Antioch but when stopping at Cilicia in 1143, John II when hunting accidentally cut himself with a poisoned arrow and days later he died leaving the now strong empire to his youngest son Manuel I Komnenos. The reign of Manuel I Komnenos (1143-1180) would see the Byzantine Empire as the power of the Eastern Mediterranean again at the height of military and cultural power but his reign would also be the end of this glorious age. To expand Byzantine power, Manuel I made the Crusader states in the Middle East (Outremer) his vassals as a way to protect them from the invading Muslim powers as in 1144, the new Muslim Turkish power of the Zengids captured Crusader Edessa leading to the 2nd Crusade to be launched which however failed at the end and the Byzantines were blamed as they concluded an alliance with the Seljuks. Being an ally of the Crusader states as well, Manuel I joined forces with them in attacking Egypt which however failed while in the west Manuel I was confident enough to take back Sicily which also failed though his downfall would be his decision to cut ties with Venice leading to war between them and starting the hatred between Byzantium and Venice. At the end however, Manuel I attempted to fully conquer the Seljuk Sultanate in Asia Minor but due to his arrogance in choosing to attack the Seljuks, his army was defeated by them at the Battle of Myriokephalon in 1176 with Manuel escaping with his life though this made him conclude an alliance with Seljuks realizing the Byzantines would never be able to fully defeat the Seljuks. Other than that, Manuel I would also be responsible for the permanent decline of the Byzantine Empire in the years to come as his constant wars and spending would later result in a weaker economy and aside from that his own fascination with the culture of the west or the Latins shocked Byzantine society especially when marrying the Norman princess Maria of Antioch and the introduction of Latin customs to Byzantium like jousting and this addition of western Latin culture would end up creating more of a divide in Byzantine society and more distrust between Byzantium and the west that would plague the empire in the next years to come. When Manuel I died in 1180, he was succeeded by his son Alexios II Komnenos who was still a boy so he ruled under the regency of his mother the Norman Maria of Antioch but this shocked the Byzantine people as a Latin was now in charge giving the opportunity for Manuel’s cousin and mortal enemy Andronikos to start a rebellion in 1182 which led to the massacre of the Latin inhabitants of Constantinople and later the execution of the empress and Alexios II in 1183 wherein Andronikos I Komnenos came to power. As emperor, Andronikos I’s reign was mostly characterized by blood as he purged everyone loyal to his cousin Manuel I having tortures and executions everyday but his massacre of the Latins and execution of the Norman Maria of Antioch caused the Normans of Sicily to invade the empire in 1185 and even taking over Thessaloniki and back in Constantinople, this chaos caused the people rallied by Andronikos’ cousin Isaac Angelos to turn the against Andronikos I who they put in power 3 years ago and Andronikos I when captured was beaten to death in public in Constantinople and Isaac II Angelos became emperor. Isaac II began his reign successfully defeating the Norman invasion and driving them away from the empire but to fix the economy he introduced higher taxes which made the Bulgarians in 1185 rebel and declare themselves independent from Byzantium again thus creating the 2nd Bulgarian Empire less than 200 years after Basil II conquered the first one. Worse was to come in 1187 as the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem fell to the new Muslim power of Saladin leading to the 3rd Crusade led by 3 kings of Europe which were Holy Roman emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, Philippe II of France, and Richard I of England to be launched and this greatly troubled Isaac II as he was afraid they would conquer Byzantine lands too. However, Richard I and Philippe II were not a problem as they took the sea and Richard I only captured Cyprus from the Byzantines while Frederick Barbarossa marched through Byzantine territory but in 1190 drowned in a river in Byzantine Asia Minor unable to continue the Crusade but this eld suspicion among his men thinking Isaac II had him drowned. For Isaac II, he then continued to take care of the Bulgarian problem to put them back under the empire but in 1195 while he went hunting, his older brother Alexios used his absence to have the army make him emperor and when Isaac returned he was blinded and sent to prison and Alexios III Angelos came to power but as emperor he was even more incompetent than his brother and Bulgaria simply continued to expand while the economy further weakened and so did the army. Alexios III himself would be removed from power when the army of the 4th Crusade arrived in Constantinople in 1203 as he fled the city but a year after, the Crusaders themselves took over Constantinople.

For the Roman Empire at the end of the 3rd century and beginning of the 4th century, the story was very much different from 12th century Byzantium as for Imperial Rome, in 286 the empire was divided between east and west with its own emperor, Diocletian taking the east ruling from Nicomedia and Maximian at the west from Milan but soon enough Maximian ruling the west could not handle all the problems himself as barbarian invasions further continued and an admiral named Carausius took Britain for himself with the imperial fleet Maximian entrusted him with to fight off Frankish pirates in the north sea. In 293, the eastern and western halves were divided and Diocletian’s friend and fellow Illyrian general Constantius was made Maximian’s junior emperor or Caesar and it was Constantius who was fully able to take back Britain while in the east Diocletian made his other military friend Galerius his Caesar and both would successfully win wars against the Sassanids. Diocletian’s major problem would later be the growing influence of the Christians which he started a large-scale persecution of them in 303 but it ended in failure as the religion spread too fast. In 305, Diocletian decided to abdicate for the good of the empire forcing Maximian to do the same and their respective Caesars were to succeed them as Augustus or senior emperor but in the west, Constantius I as Augustus only ruled for a year (305-306) as he died in 306 in Britain and though his Caesar Severus II who was appointed to it by Galerius was to succeed him as Augustus, Constantius I’s son Constantine I was made Augustus by his troops but had to revert to Caesar following Galerius’ orders who now took the place of Diocletian as the highest authority of the whole empire, while Severus II became Augustus of the west. Diocletian thought his Tetrarchy system would solve all the empire’s problems but at the end it only made things worse as the people he appointed especially Maximian and his family used it to gain full power for themselves as also in 306, Maximian unhappy with life in retirement returned to power with his son Maxentius and in 307 executed Severus II though both Maximian and Maxentius would not be considered legitimate rulers so in 308 Diocletian returned from retirement to settle the issue of the broken empire wherein he forced Maximian to retire again and had Galerius’ friend Licinius take over the west as Augustus while Constantine remained Caesar in the west and in the east Galerius was still Augustus with his nephew Maximinus Daia as his Caesar, while Maxentius was still considered a usurper. While Constantine was busy fighting Germanic invasions at the Rhine, Maximian in 310 usurped power again from Constantine and later tried to kill Constantine who was his son-in-law, though later Constantine knew of the plot and imprisoned Maximian who killed himself in prison but this made Maximian’s son Maxentius ruling Italy to declare war on Constantine. In the east, Galerius died in 311 and succeeded by Daia as Augustus except Licinius as the western Augustus marched east taking over the Balkans, also in 311 Diocletian killed himself seeing all his plans for a stable empire fall apart. In 312, Constantine marched into Italy and at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge outside Rome, he defeated Maxentius who was killed in the battle and later Constantine I entered Rome and became the sole Augustus of the west, and then proceeded to finally abolish the traitorous Praetorian Guard that contributed a lot to the crisis in the previous century; though this event of Constantine’s victory in 312 began his conversion to Christianity as well. In 313, both Constantine I and Licinius issued the Edict of Milan which was to tolerate all religion thus ending the persecution of Christians introduced by Diocletian and later that year, Licinius defeated the eastern Augustus Daia who later died but eventually Licinius and Constantine became enemies when Licinius broke the edict of Milan and started persecuting Christians again. In 317, Constantine I and Licinius met in battle but with Constantine winning, Licinius had to surrender and make peace with Constantine and be co-emperors again but as Constantine went to the Danube to defend it against the Goths, Licinius betrayed Constantine again breaking their alliance though the conflict between them would finally end in 324 when Licinius was defeated in battle again, Licinius was imprisoned but later freed by his son except when found out, they were both hanged to death in 325. It was only after defeating Licinius when Constantine I was to rule a peaceful and prosperous empire after all these years of civil war and under Constantine, Diocletian’s plan to have a stable empire was achieved and not under 4 emperors ruling one empire but under a single ruler but unlike Diocletian who though wiping out Christianity would solve the empire’s problems, Constantine saw that it would be better to fully legalize Christianity which he preferred since it had grown so rapidly though Paganism was kept as second to Christianity as he also believed changing his faith to Christianity helped him gain victory over his Pagan enemies. The growing problem though was schism in the Christian religion so in 325, Constantine organized the Council of Nicaea which declared the official creed of Nicene Christianity and the other new sect known as Arianism declared as heresy. Between 324 and 330, Constantine I decided to relocate the empire’s capital to the Byzantium at the Bosporus and in 330, the port town of Byzantium became a full imperial capital renamed Constantinople and here the story of the Byzantine Empire begins. Being the emperor who achieved peace within the empire again makes Constantine I the parallel of the 4th century to his Byzantine successors John II and Manuel I in the 12th century as both in their reigns saw their empire stabilize again the same way Constantine I did but John II and Manuel I did not have much of an impact in history the way Constantine I did as Constantine would be remembered as “the Great; as he was responsible for allowing Christianity to become a dominant religion and was the one who founded Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire itself that would last for a thousand more years and Constantinople being between both Asia and Europe would be a center of trade and cultures of east and west which was evident at the time of John II and Manuel I centuries after Constantine the Great. In 337, Constantine I died after finally being baptized as a Christian and even though the empire he left behind was strong and peaceful, he was not clear about naming a successor so with his death, the empire was to be divided into 3 parts this time among his 3 sons; the eldest one Constantine II got the western provinces of Gaul, Britain, and Hispania, the middle child Constantius II got the east with Constantinople, and the youngest Constans I got Illyria, Italy, and North Africa. Constantine I’s death in 337 marked the beginning of the end for Rome, the same way many centuries later Manuel I’s death in 1180 marked the beginning of the end for Byzantine Empire Constantine the Great had founded. This division would eventually create chaos as Constantine the Great’s sons all wanted full control of the empire and in 340 a civil war was fought again when the eldest brother Constantine II invaded Constans I’s Italy as he wanted to rule that part as the eldest in exchange for Constans ruling the least important western part but Constans refused and war was fought wherein Constantine II was killed in battle. Constans I then ruled all of the west and Illyria but in 350 due to neglecting his duties as emperor, his army killed him and made their commander Magnentius emperor though Constantius II ruling the east did not allow it to happen so at first he made an old general named Vetranio as emperor to counter Magnentius until Constantius later arrived west to face off Magnentius who was defeated in 353. Constantius II though would have to focus his attention east with the Sassanids invading again this time under their new ambitious ruler Shapur II so he named his cousin Julian as Caesar in the west but in 360 Julian was made Augustus by his troops making Constantius II see this as a declaration of civil war, except Constantius II died in 361 before meeting Julian in battle thus naming Julian the sole emperor of the whole empire. Julian’s short reign (361-363) was the end of an age as he was the last Pagan emperor to rule Rome and in his short reign, he launched an attack deep into Persian territory leading it himself but was later killed in battle and without any named heir, the army elected a commander named Jovian as emperor who died in 364 before even making it back to Constantinople either by poisoning or carbon monoxide poisoning. The army then elected another general named Valentinian as emperor and as emperor Valentinian I decided to divide it between east and west where he moved west choosing to defend it against barbarian invasions leaving his brother Valens to rule the east and take care of the Sassanid problem though when Valentinian I and Valens ruled the empire, the barbarian invasions would grow more and more, and this was the beginning of the end for Western Rome at least. In Byzantium centuries later, Andronikos I and the Angelos emperors have nothing in common with Constantine I’s successors including Julian and the Valentinian brothers and neither does the situation around them have a parallel to Byzantium centuries after. Although the very small similarity here is that both the sons of Constantine the Great and Andronikos I with Manuel I’s family fought each other for power and so did the Angelos brothers fight each other too the same way and just as how the conflict between Constantine’s sons weakened the empire, the reign of Andronikos I and the infighting of the Angelos family also brought their empire down.

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The Roman Tetrarchy by Dovahhatty
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The Roman Empire divided among Constantine I’s sons Constantine II, Constans I, and Constantius II following the death of Constantine I, 337

Watch this to see the story of Constantine the Great (from Dovahhatty).

Well, this is all for the first part of the comparison series between the decline of the original Roman Empire and its successor, the Byzantine Empire and even though they are the same empire, its history went on for so long that you can spot similarities in them especially on how both of them declined. Apparently, both the original Roman Empire and Byzantium after it had the same downfall as for Imperial Rome, it was mostly due to mismanagement after its long golden age, the increase of military power, a ruined economy from so much wars, and foreign invasions from new enemies as well as infighting and power struggles, yet the same can be said for its own successor the Byzantine Empire many centuries later as after the death of its successful emperor Basil II in 1025 and its golden age, the same kind of crisis of military anarchy, unstable emperors, economic problems, and new foreign invaders came in and this crisis for both empires- Rome in the 3rd century and Byzantium in the 11th century would forever weaken these empires. For the old Roman Empire, the Crisis of the 3rd century would mark the long-term beginning of the end this crisis would come to an end first when the emperor Aurelian in the 270s restored the empire and his successors would further clean up the mess while Diocletian in 286 finished off the crisis by officially letting the empire be divided to make administration be easier to run. For Byzantium centuries later, it was Emperor Alexios I Komnenos that solved the crisis by coming into power and devoting his power to actively clean up the mess the empire was left with in the past years. Of course the crisis for the Roman Empire was much longer lasting for about 50 years (235-284) while for Byzantium it was only 25 years but still for both of them, the crisis at least ended but it still was not the end of the troubles. For the old Roman Empire, a new problem rose with the Tetrarchy after Diocletian abdicated but it was all solved again when Constantine I came to unite the broken empire. However, after Constantine’s death in 337 it would be all downhill for the Roman Empire, at least for the west as he built the east’s new capital Constantinople to survive. In the next part of this article series, I will be discussing not anymore the declines but the fall of both the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire centuries after it side-by-side. and as you will see, the fall for Western Rome happened so rapidly while for the east centuries later, the fall was more gradual. Anyway, I hope you learned a lot reading this and were actually able to see how similar these 2 empires despite them actually being the same empire, and thanks for viewing!

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