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

Posted by Powee Celdran

WARNING: THIS IS A VERY LONG ARTICLE!!

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

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

Related Articles from The Byzantium Blogger:

The Defenestrations of Prague (special edition stand-alone)

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

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

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

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

Roman and Byzantine Imperial Systems Compared

Roman and Byzantine Imperial Cultures Compared

Imperial Women in the Roman and Byzantine Empires

12 Turning Points in Byzantine History

The Complete Genealogy of the Byzantine emperors and dynasties

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

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

The Sieges of Constantinople

War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic

Related Videos:

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

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

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

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

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

Dovahhatty Videos:

Imperial Wrath (337-378)

Barbarians at the Gates (379-423)

The Fall of Rome (423-476)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The chad Michael VIII Palaiologos vs the virgin Theodore II Laskaris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexios Philanthropenos to Flavius Stilicho and Flavius Aetius

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

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Battle of the Catalaunian Plains, Aetius’ forces vs Attila the Hun, 451

Watch this to learn more about the story of Flavius Stilicho (from History Dose).

Watch this to learn more about the story of Flavius Aetius (from In. 5 Minutes).

Michael IX Palaiologos (1294-1320) to Constantius III (421)   

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Though Andronikos II was seen as a weak and vain ruler in a time of such hardships, in his later reign he had a strong and competent general in nature but not so much in results even after Alexios Philanthropenos was blinded, this new general was Andronikos II’s son and co-emperor Michael IX Palaiologos. For Honorius on the other hand, being the late Roman parallel of Andronikos II, even after Stilicho’s death he still had another strong general, thus the Western Roman Empire still had a hero which was a general named Constantius, a Roman-Illyrian officer of Stilicho; though following Stilicho’s execution in 408, Honorius allowed the troublemaker usurper in Gaul Constantine III to be his legitimate co-emperor but in 411, Honorius could no longer handle Constantine III who proved to be too difficult so Honorius found a new competent ally in this general named Constantius, and also in 411 Olympius fell out of favor with Honorius and was replaced with Constantius, so Constantius and his men clubbed Olympius to death. Constantius was then sent to Gaul to deal with Constantine III and Gerontius, Constantine’s general who turned against him and first Gerontius was defeated and killed in battle while Constantine’s troops too were defeated when Constantius laid siege to Constantine’s capital which was Arles, Constantine then surrendered being promised to live but was betrayed and executed by Constantius in 411. While Constantius remained in Gaul to clean up the mess, Constantine III’s soldiers refused to surrender to Constantius and Honorius and elevated a Roman senator in Gaul named Jovinus as their emperor in Eastern Gaul with the support of the Burgundian tribes who were given land in Gaul thus marking the start of the Burgundian Kingdom in 411 but in 413, Alaric’s successor Athaulf planning to settle in Gaul defeated and executed Jovinus claiming he was doing it in the name of Honorius. Athaulf meanwhile proceeded to head south and having taken Honorius’ half-sister Galla Placidia with him since Alaric’s sack of Rome in 410, Athualf married Galla Placidia in Gaul in 414 and even elevated their hostage Roman senator Priscus Attalus with them as the Visigoth’s puppet emperor in Gaul, except in 415 Constantius with his fleet blockaded the southern coast of Gaul to stop all food supplies for Athaulf’s Goths thus Athaulf would later be killed by his starving men on the way into Hispania where these Visigoths eventually settled in. Athaulf was succeeded as King of the Visigoths by Wallia who in 416 surrendered to Honorius being allowed to have his own kingdom in Gaul and Hispania and in return Galla Placidia was returned and Constantius was rewarded for driving the Visigoths away by being given Galla Placidia as a wife as Honorius wanted to later share power with Constantius as co-emperors. Now in the early 14th century Byzantium, Andronikos II’s son and co-emperor Michael IX would have many similarities with the general Constantius who served Honorius not only because both were competent generals but both Constantius and Michael IX were plainly courageous and loyal till the end and also having a high moral standing. As mentioned earlier, the Italian renegade mercenary general and former Templar knight Roger de Flor serving the Byzantines is late Byzantium’s equivalent of Constantine III who at the beginning were thought to be loyal allies but later proved to be too difficult to handle. In the case of Roger de Flor, when not receiving the amount of pay he came to fight for, his Catalan mercenaries rebelled and started looting the countryside in Thrace. These Catalans though had weakened the Turks earlier on in Asia Minor when Michael IX failed to fight them but in 1305 when Roger de Flor was proven to be too difficult to handle so in Adrianople when invited to a banquet, Roger de Flor was killed by the Alan mercenaries by Michael IX’s orders but the Catalan troops being enraged pillaged their way through Thrace and even though in Byzantine history with Thrace being attacked by enemy armies countless times, the Catalans were the worst as they literally burned it to a desert, destroying all the farms and killing everyone they saw even sacking the monasteries of Mt. Athos. Michael IX though who was a strong military commander was not able to defeat the rebellious Catalans at the Battle of Apros in July of 1305 where Michael was severely injured and the Catalans winning continued ravaging Thrace for 2 years until moving south through Greece until capturing Athens in 1308 where they settled in forming their own duchy by 1311. Michael IX despite the defeat still remained his father’s co-emperor and in 1314 even led another military expedition with not much results. Michael IX may have been an able commander and was loyal to his father till the end but what led to him being defeated so many times first against the Turks in 1302 and against the Catalans in 1305 was the army he had as by then the Byzantine with their empire having decreased so much could no longer have a powerful professional army they did before of fully armored Cataphract cavalry soldiers and Nordic Varangian Guards, instead they were left with lazy and unruly peasant soldiers and foreign including Alan mercenaries. Similarly, the army of the Western Roman Empire in the early 5th century had the same situation as the population of the empire had decreased and senators did not want more people recruited to the army as they needed workers for their properties and farms so generals like Stilicho had to recruit soldiers from barbarians they defeated, same with Byzantium after 1261 since the empire needed their people to work in farms and build structures, they had to recruit mercenaries of defeated enemies such as the Turks who in the Byzantine army became known as Turcopoles. Though Michael IX shares the same similarities with Constantius III in being a capable general to their emperor and being related to the emperor as Michael IX was the reigning emperor’s son and heir and Constantius III was their reigning emperor’s brother-in-law and later co-ruler, Constantius III was more successful in battle than Michael IX but what both have in common was that they met their ends too soon before they were able to achieve bringing stability to their empires. Both Michael IX and Constantius III too ruled as not only junior co-emperors but as co-Augusti or senior emperors with the reigning emperor; Michael IX was already crowned a junior co-emperor with his father n 1281 when his grandfather Michael VIII was still alive and from 1294 to his death in 1320 Michael IX was actually holding the same amount of power with his father Andronikos II as having the number “IX” on his name suggests that he was already a senior emperor while Constantius III in 421 was also holding the same level of power as his co-Augustus Honorius. Michael IX after 1314 gave up his military career feeling he had failed so instead he was appointed by his father to be the governor of Thessaloniki but in 1320 Michael died of shock when hearing about the deaths of his son and daughter, here his son Manuel was killed by his brother’s rivals mistaking Manuel for his brother Andronikos. Michael IX thus died before his father Andronikos II making him the first in Palaiologos dynasty to predecease their father and one of the few Byzantine heirs to do so. Constantius III meanwhile was made Honorius’ co-Augustus of the western empire in early 421 and it would be Constnatius III that would rule more effectively and with Galla Placidia as his wife, they had 2 children which were the future emperor Valentinian III and Honoria, and though Constantius III as emperor planned to rebuild the western empire from all the destruction and continue where Stilicho left off, after only 7 months in power, Constantius III died of a fever leaving Honorius to rule alone till his death in 423.    

Andronikos II’s later reign (1310-1328) to Valentinian III (425-455)

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Before Honorius’ death, the remaining armies of Constantius III in Spain tried to contain the Suebi and Vandal tribes that had just invaded but ended up as another disaster when their generals Flavius Castinus and Count Bonifacius distrusted each other so Castinus returned to Ravenna finding out Honorius had died making him elevate a nobleman and imperial secretary there named Joannes as emperor and though Joannes did not have much support, he had the general Flavius Aetius with him who had just returned from captivity in the Hunnic Empire but in the Eastern or Byzantine Empire under Theodosius II (r. 408-450), Honorius’ half-sister Galla Placidia asked Theodosius II to make her 6-year-old son with Constantius III, Valentinian III the new western emperor and Theodosius II sent an army led by 2 barbarian commanders Ardabur and Aspar west to deal with the usurper Joannes and true enough Joannes was captured and executed in 425 and the boy Valentinian III was installed as emperor under his mother’s regency. However, just as Galla Placidia secured power for her son, Aetius came into Italy 3 days later with an army of Huns in the city of Aquileia which he was going to use to support Joannes but with Joannes dead he had to agree with Galla Placidia that they had to share the western empire as co-regents while the Huns were sent back to their home and Castinus was then exiled; both Galla Placidia and Aetius though would later distrust each other. Now the Byzantine parallel of Valentinian III is also Andronikos II as Andronikos II ruled so long (46 years) that his reign was almost as long as Honorius’ (395-423) and Valentinian III’s (425-455) combined (60 years) and just as how Andronikos II in his reign lost so much territory in Asia Minor, the Western Roman Empire under Valentinian III even lost more including all of North Africa to the Germanic Vandals led by their king Gaiseric in 439 who marched into North Africa from Spain after turning against his ally Count Bonifacius who was based in North Africa while most of Gaul and Hispania already fell to the Visigoth successors of Alaric, and the rest of Hispania to the Suebi tribes, leaving only Italy and Illyria under the western emperor’s authority, meanwhile it was also in Valentinian III’s reign when the Huns which had been pushing all the barbarian tribes into Roman territory finally came themselves to pose a threat for both the eastern and western Romans. Now for both Andronikos II and Valentinian III, they do not have much in common in their reigns as Andronikos II’s later reign was less eventful except for a civil war against his grandson also named Andronikos that began in 1321 ending in 1328 with Andronikos II defeated and forced out of power while Valentinian III ruled for 30 long years where the western empire was coming so close to collapse except that his general Flavius Aetius who was basically running the empire based in Gaul fought hard to put everything together first defeating his rival Magister Militums Flavius Felix in 430 and Count Bonifacius in 431 who was supported by Empress Galla Placidia, then against invading Franks in Gaul in the 440s who he subdued and making their king Merovech who would be the ancestor of the first kings of France as his vassal, then in 451 Aetius with Merovech at his side would ally with the new Visigoth Kingdom in Gaul uniting with them to battle against the Huns led by Attila who now invaded the Western Roman Empire after all by crossing the Rhine, but Aetius with the large army he recruited and personally tried and his Visigoth allies beat the Huns and their Ostrogoth allies at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in Gaul. Prior to battling the Huns, Aetius was their ally using the Huns to help him fight off the Burgundians in Gaul and Attila, the Huns’ ruler had subjugated the Ostrogoth and Frankish people in Germany and was busy attacking the Sassanid Empire in the east which is why the eastern empire and Sassanids were no longer in much conflict anymore at this time; also, Attila was more interested in attacking the eastern empire of Theodosius II except that Theodosius II chose to pay off Attila instead which only made Attila’s army larger and stronger but when Valentinian III’s sister Honoria asked for marriage with Attila to escape a forced marriage with a senator, Attila accepted and demanded half of the western empire but Aetius would not allow it so he was left with no choice but to face the Huns in battle, knowing the battle tactics of the Huns, Aetius knew what to expect. Though after this supposed victory which was already mentioned earlier, the alliance with the Visigoths broke and in 452 Attila struck again and invaded Italy but was persuaded to leave by Pope Leo I, also since Emperor Theodosius II died from a horse riding accident in 450 a new emperor named Marcian succeeded him in the east and he too sent an army to invade the Huns’ homeland of Pannonia while Attila was away. Attila though left the empire in 452 but the damage he caused was so much that the entire city of Aquileia was razed to the ground with its inhabitants fleeing to the nearby lagoon later founding what would be Venice while the western empire was already beyond repair with the barbarians settling everywhere. With the Huns defeated, the western empire was spared and Aetius became a hero except his growing power made Valentinian III greatly suspicious of him so in 454, Valentinian III at a meeting suddenly killed Aetius, though feeling he had killed his over-controlling master and thinking himself as the savior of the empire, Valentinian III actually killed his protector. Valentinian III though just like his uncle Honorius who fell for the lies of his advisor Olympius to execute Stilicho fell for the lies of his advisor the senator Petronius Maximus who convinced Valentinian III that Aetius was too dangerous to be kept alive so Valentinian killed Aetius but the following year, Valentinian himself was killed by Aetius’ Scythian bodyguards who were manipulated to do that by Petronius Maximus who wanted take the place of Aetius commanding the armies but was denied by the emperor. With Valentinian III dead, Petronius Maximus claimed the throne after marrying Valentinian’s wife Licinia Eudoxia who was the eastern emperor Theodosius II’s daughter but Licinia felt that this marriage was forced so she asked the Vandals in North Africa for help and in return the Vandals launched an invasion of Italy with their newly built fleet sacking Rome again in 455 and Petronius Maximus was hacked to death by his people in the panic before the Vandals arrived making Petronius only rule for 2 months. The Vandals however were persuaded by the same Pope Leo I to just loot the city but spare everyone which they complied with, though Licinia and her daughters with Valentinian III Eudocia and Placidia were taken by the Vandal king Gaiseric to the Vandal capital of Carthage as hostages; Sicily and Sardinia too were conquered by the Vandal fleet as well. After Petronius Maximus’s death, a diplomat who was in Aetius’ service before named Eparchius Avitus who Petronius sent to Gaul to ask the Visigoth’s approval for making Petronius emperor was instead made emperor with the support of the Visigoth king Theodoric II in Gaul when hearing of Petronius’ death but when ruling in Italy he was unpopular because of being a Gaul in origin and for paying his people’s tax money to make the Visigoths acclaim him their puppet emperor so in 457, the army revolted under a general of barbarian origin named Ricimer but due to his full barbarian origin, he was not made emperor, instead he put in power a military commander named Majorian as his puppet. The story of Valentinian III’s reign however does not have much similarity to Andronikos II as there was no conflict as large as a massive Hunnic invasion or sack of the capital by the Vandals as it did for Valentinian III and Petronius Maximus after him, but just as how Valentinian III was blind to the empire collapsing around him and rather enjoyed a decadent lifestyle, Andronikos II was the same in this way except Valentinian III was more wasteful as a ruler. Though what both Andronikos II and Valentinian III have in common was that they were both devoted to the Christian religion as for Valentinian III, he increased the authority of the pope and the Church of Rome when Leo I was elected as pope in 440 by religious leaders and the people of Rome out of his popularity for solving disputes such as one prior to that involving Aetius while Andronikos II in early 14th century Byzantium was devoted to the Eastern Byzantine Church giving it more power again as his father Michael VIII before him sought to submit the authority of the Byzantine patriarch to the pope and though Andronikos II was a weak ruler in facing the empire’s problems he turned out to be more liked than his father as his decision to return to Orthodoxy made his people see him as a liberator as their religious freedom was taken away from them by a tyrannical ruler, being Michael VIII. Andronikos II though wasn’t entirely well-loved and in fact in his later reign the people came to hate him for all his failures like losing most of Asia Minor to the Turks and increasing the prices of food due to the farms burned by the Catalans wherein people could not afford food anymore. Just as how Valentinian III fell for the lies of Petronius Maximus, Andronikos II in his later reign in the 1320s was easily manipulated by his corrupt personal advisor, the nobleman Theodore Metochites who tortured people for tax money to build his personal church, which is the Chora Church of Constantinople still standing today except Metochites did not end up having the emperor killed and making himself emperor the way Petronius Maximus did, instead when Andronikos II was overthrown by his grandson also named Andronikos in 1328, Metochites was banished together with the emperor, and having rebuilt the Chora monastery, Metochites ended up becoming a monk in it. Andronikos II though would not meet his end the way the western emperors Honorius, Joannes, Valentinian III, and Petronius Maximus did, instead he met his end by being overthrown in a rebellion the same way Avitus did in 457.

Watch this to learn more about the fall of Byzantine Asia Minor, 1261-1329 (from Eastern Roman History).

Andronikos III Palaiologos (1328-1341) to Majorian (457-461)     

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The 46-year reign of Andronikos II Palaiologos saw the Byzantine Empire once again fall apart even if his father Michael VIII restored Constantinople to Byzantine rule. Although the failures of Andronikos II’s reign were not all due to his rule but happened to be due to lack of troops and the use of mercenaries like the Catalans who had proven to be too unruly, so more or less it was Andronikos II’s decision making that caused all these troubles. In the last years of his reign, Andronikos II now an old man grew to be hated by most of his subjects especially the younger generation who saw that due to how much the empire had been devastated by all the wars saw they would have no future anymore while only Constantinople’s elites remained loyal to the emperor as they were the only ones living in comfort. However, there would be some reason for all this to change and most of it happened accidentally as in 1320, Andronikos II’s eldest grandson also named Andronikos who as a wasteful and selfish young man after a night of drinking and gambling was almost killed by archers in the streets of Constantinople hired by the father of his lover for not paying the debts he owed him but instead of killing Andronikos, the archers shot and killed Andronikos’ younger brother Manuel mistaking him for Andronikos whereas Andronikos walked ahead avoiding the archers. Others say, Andronikos had his brother killed by accident when the archers ordered by Andronikos mistook Manuel for the man Andronikos’ lover cheated on, though when their father Michael IX in Thessaloniki heard of Manuel’s death he died of shock and afterwards, the emperor Andronikos II was so enraged thinking his grandson who he saw as a good for nothing thug killed both his brother and father so Andronikos II excluded his grandson from succession, thus stating a civil war when the grandson Andronikos felt he was disowned. The younger Andronikos happened to be popular with many young aristocrats and a lot of others as he had a clear vision to rebuild the empire from the corruption and decay brought about by his grandfather and in 1321 the younger Andronikos was proclaimed emperor against his grandfather in Adrianople though Andronikos II felt he had no more chance in winning as his grandson was popular so in 1322, he agreed to make his grandson his heir and co-emperor splitting the empire with Andronikos II having Constantinople and the remains of Asia Minor and his grandson having Thessaloniki, Thrace, and Macedonia but soon both would be suspicious of each other and war resumed wherein the grandfather sided with Serbian Kingdom and the grandson with the 2nd Bulgarian Empire. While grandfather and grandson fought a civil war, Asia Minor was left exposed and the new power of the Ottomans used it as their opportunity to capture the Byzantine city of Prusa in Asia Minor making it their capital known as Bursa while back in Byzantium, the grandson won the civil war in 1328 with the support of the Bulgarians earlier as the Serbians never came in time for his grandfather and in one night, the grandson with his army stormed the palace in Constantinople after bribing the gate guards forcing his grandfather Andronikos II to abdicate and retire to a monastery as a monk where he died in 1332; Andronikos II’s advisor Theodore Metochites too was forced to step down in 1328 and become a monk. As the new emperor, the grandson became Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos, he gave up his loose and excessive lifestyle as a young man and would prove to be the opposite as emperor becoming a responsible leader with a clear vision to restore the empire, also he happened to be a skilled soldier with great military and diplomatic knowledge. Now Andronikos III would have a lot in common with the emperor Majorian of the Western Roman Empire who came into power in 457 after the former emperor Avitus after ruling for only 2 years was deposed in a coup by the generals Majorian and Ricimer, and true enough both Andronikos III and Majorian came to power in the same way by deposing the previous ineffective ruler and just as how Andronikos II was forced to become a monk after he was deposed, Avitus in 457 was made a bishop when Majorian decided to spare him, but Ricimer who was the actual power behind Majorian’s rise ended up killing Avitus behind Majorian’s back. Similarly, both Andronikos III and Majorian came to power with the backing of a powerful general as for Majorian it was Ricimer who was a full barbarian being a son of a Suebi king and Goth woman but had served in the Western Roman army and if Andronikos III would be Byzantium’s Majorian, his Ricimer was his closest friend since childhood and powerful general John Kantakouzenos. Without John Kantakouzenos, Andronikos III would not have anyone powerful backing him and would have not had the support to overthrow his grandfather; although unlike Ricimer who was fully foreign in blood, John Kantakouzenos was from the Byzantine aristocracy but the biggest difference here is that the general Ricimer at first wanted to use Majorian as his puppet since Majorian was a Roman patrician and a likeable person while John Kantakouzenos never planned to make Andronikos III a puppet as Andronikos III clearly wanted to rule the empire since the beginning. Though unlike Andronikos III who had to battle his grandfather in a civil war to become emperor, Majorian did not have to fight a long civil war and never would become emperor until he and Ricimer staged a coup to overthrow Avitus. Julius Valerius Majorian meanwhile was a Roman patrician born in Rome in 420 who at an early age enlisted in the army of Aetius together with Ricimer and 2 would be generals named Aegidius and Marcellinus and sometime in the 440s, Majorian first came into the picture serving under Aetius when he led an army defeating the Franks in Gaul which is where Aetius made the defeated Franks the western empire’s vassal but sometime later Majorian retired from the army after declining marriage to one of Valentinian III’s daughters, though this could be another way for Majorian to become emperor. Majorian would not be present when Aetius defeated Attila’s army in Gaul in 451 and would only return to the picture in 457 after Aetius’ death and initially, Ricimer thought Majorian could be easily manipulated well as a puppet serving him but when coming into power, Majorian felt he did not want to be one so he immediately set out to reform the empire and rebuild it after all the years of decline under his predecessors since Honorius. For the emperors of the Western Roman Empire, they could only be considered legitimate emperors if the eastern or Byzantine emperor being the superior emperor recognized them as one and the previous 2 emperors Petronius Maximus and Avitus were not recognized and so was the emperor Joannes before Valentinian III but for Majorian since he was a patrician and someone who had a vision to rebuild the empire, the eastern emperor Leo I the Thracian or Leo Marcellus who came into power at the same time as Majorian (457) recognized Majorian as his co-ruler; ironically Leo I came into power as a puppet of the east’s powerful barbarian general Aspar but like Majorian, Leo I also did not want to be a puppet to a barbarian. Though Andronikos III centuries later was in no way a puppet to John Kantakouzenos, he worked with John at all times in the ambitious restoration of the empire first after coming into power in 1328 by securing peace with the Bulgarian tsar Michael Shishman then in 1329 Andronikos and John decided to head to Asia Minor to finally fix the situation there and meet the Ottomans in battle but at the Battle of Pelekanon that year the Byzantines were defeated by the new Ottoman sultan Orhan who succeeded his father Osman in 1326, though Andronikos III even when defeated still managed to recover the islands of Chios and Lesbos from the Latins who have been ruling over them since 1204. Similarly, for Majorian in the first year of his reign, he pushed away the Vandals in the south and invading Alemanni in the north and when settling in the empire’s capital which was Ravenna, he focused on rebuilding the fleet and army; Majorian would then turn to follow in the footsteps of Aetius and Stilicho before him in leading the armies to greatness which also meant continuing the use of barbarian Foederati in the army which he placed under the command of Ricimer who was put in charge of Italy while Majorian would focus on restoring the rest of the western empire. Andronikos III meanwhile in such a short amount of time rebuilt the Byzantine army and navy that fell into decline under his grandfather and when not fighting to restore the empire to its old glory he had issued legal and monetary reforms, the most notable being reforming the justice system that fell into corruption under his grandfather into a more just one by setting up 4 universal judges for the empire with 2 being clergymen and 2 being government officials to balance out court cases, Andronikos III had also devalued the currency to keep it alive, and continued cracking down on corruption by issuing more laws against bribery. Similarly, Majorian in the western empire issued laws against adultery and to promote childbirth to grow the empire’s population that had fallen, also he would issue laws against corruption in the Senate, but more importantly he passed laws that made tearing down important Ancient Roman structures illegal to preserve the legacy of the empire, at the same time passing laws that allowed citizens to carry weapons for their own protection. Both Andronikos III and Majorian for initiating the resurgence of their empires under their reigns became respected by all as for Majorian he was recognized by the east as a legitimate emperor while the usurper general Marcellinus who declared independence for Illyria following the death of Aetius in 454 returned his support to the empire when Majorian came to power and as for, Andronikos III would end up even being respected by rulers of Western Europe and the pope who he even made an alliance with against the growing Ottomans. Andronikos III also had the luck of being emperor in 1330, the 1000 year anniversary of Constantinople’s founding by Constantine the Great in 330 but in 1330 Andronikos took advantage of the defeat of the Bulgarians to the Serbians by annexing the Bulgarian coast of the Black Sea to Byzantium, then in 1332 Andronikos III also had the luck of meeting the famous North African Berber explorer Ibn Battuta in Constantinople, then in 1333 with the Byzantine breakaway state of Thessaly falling into a succession crisis, Andronikos took advantage of the situation and fully annexed Thessaly back to the empire. Majorian meanwhile had the same victories as Andronikos III except his were not all mostly based on luck as Majorian took back lost territories by having a great amount of motivation; in 458 he left Italy sailing to Gaul where he beat the Visigoths at the Battle of Arles thus pushing back the Visigoths and reducing their kingdom in Gaul back to federate or vassal status and afterwards went east and successfully subdued the Burgundians back to federate status too after saving the city of Lyon from their invasion, then after finally taking care of Gaul Majorian went south to Hispania in 459 wherein he almost conquered all of it back from the Suebi and used the money his army looted from them to build a new fleet at the port city of Carthago Nova at the coast while Marcellinus from Illyria with his fleet retook Sicily from the Vandals. Meanwhile, for Andronikos III, his greatest achievement was taking back the entire rebel Despotate of Epirus for the empire in 1337 taking advantage again of the succession crisis there following the death of its ruler John II who was poisoned by his wife in 1335 and with their son Nikephoros II Orsini still a young child, Andronikos III saw this troubled state in Epirus especially with their Albanian subjects rebelling as the right opportunity to conquer it and Andronikos with help of John Kantakouzenos first defeated the Albanian rebels and then fully annexed Epirus in 1337 though the young Nikephoros was spared and taken to Constantinople. In this age of decline, it was never believed that Byzantium would still have this kind of victory in completely conquering an entire region. Andronikos III meanwhile had a few failures in his relatively successful reign such as the ultimate loss of Nicaea to the Ottomans in 1331 when their sultan Orhan laid siege to it then in 1332, Andronikos lost the territory he just reclaimed from the Bulgarians in 1330 to the new Bulgarian tsar Ivan Alexander Shishman, and in 1334 Andronikos’ general and the governor of Thessaloniki Syrgiannes Palaiologos deserted to Serbia persuading Serbia’s new king Stefan IV Dusan to invade Byzantine Greece, though loyalist forces to the emperor killed Syrgiannes at his camp and Dusan would make peace with Andronikos III leaving Byzantine territory as Dusan had no intention yet to invade Byzantine lands. Majorian on the other hand would suffer a great tragedy when his long awaited dream to fully take back North Africa failed after finding out the fleet he constructed was burned by traitors in his army who were bribed to do that by the Vandal king Gaiseric who had also burned all his lands in North Africa to make Majorian’s invasion impossible. Majorian then was forced to conclude peace with Gaiseric but Majorian still wouldn’t give up so he had his army dispersed all over the empire he was rebuilding and returned to Italy to continue issuing more reforms but before making it back to Ravenna, Ricimer the whole time was secretly backstabbing Majorian who he felt was not being the puppet he was intended to be and was growing far too independent so Ricimer simply allowed corruption to return and had many loyal officers of Majorian massacred and Majorian himself would meet up with Ricimer in the northwest entrance into Italy from Gaul where Majorian was arrested, deposed, and slowly tortured to death wherein he died in August of 461. Majorian died as the last ruler that would bring hope to restore hope to the Western Roman Empire but no matter how powerful he was, he still could not stop the power of his puppet master Ricimer, though Ricimer also made his move quick before Majorian could get rid of him. Many centuries later, the British historian Edward Gibbon quoted “Majorian presents the welcome discovery of a great and heroic character such as sometimes arise in a degenerate age to vindicate the honor of the human species”. Andronikos III for Byzantium too was the same in this sense as the resurgence of the Byzantine Empire under his short reign showed a sign of hope for his people that their empire that was already a severely weakened and dying could again grow to becoming powerful again as it was before 1204, however this dream was never achieved as Andronikos III also died too soon in 1341 and after his death it would be all downhill for Byzantium. Andronikos III though was not betrayed and murdered by John Kantakouzenos the way Majorian was by Ricimer, instead John Kantakouzenos remained loyal to Andronikos till the very end but in 1341 when a new religious controversy in the empire arose known as Hesychasm, Andronikos and John attended a council in Constantinople to discuss it but Andronikos fell ill due to malaria at this time and 4 days after the council meeting, he died so suddenly without naming an heir even if he had a 9-year-old son named John after John Kantakouzenos though this mistake of his of not naming an heir would bring the empire to a bigger civil war after his death that would undo all his work. Majorian on the other hand was never married so he had no heirs and following his death, Ricimer was free to control the empire through many puppet emperors. At the end, both Andronikos III and Majorian were the last great emperors their empires had but did not live long enough to carry out their mission.

Andronikos III- Majorian
Left: Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos of Byzantium (r. 1328-1341); right: Western Roman emperor Majorian (r. 457-461)
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The Western Roman Empire (purple) under Majorian in 460; Eastern Empire (red-violet) under Leo I

Watch this to learn more about Emperor Majorian (from In 5 Minutes).

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

John VI Kantakouzenos (1347-1354) to Flavius Ricimer  

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Though the weakened Byzantine Empire faced a resurgence under Andronikos III reversing all the failures of his predecessor by taking back all of Thessaly and Epirus, he died too soon in 1341 and after his death it was all downhill as he would be the last Byzantine emperor with a vision. Andronikos III before his death did not name any heir so his closest friend and grand general John Kantakouzenos felt that the empire was left to him as some years back Andronikos III even offered him the position of co-emperor which John refused out of modesty and loyalty to the emperor, however Andronikos III was married to the Italian Anna of Savoy and had a son with her named John named after Kantakouzenos. John Kantakouzenos at first in 1341 agreed to be Andronikos’ son’s guardian while the young John V would be emperor in name but John V’s mother was suspicious of Kantakouzenos feeling he would one day overthrow her son and take the empire for himself, and with this mistrust a civil war erupted in 1341 and this one would be twice as deadlier as the previous one between Andronikos III and his grandfather between 1321 and 1328. Now in the story of the late Byzantine Empire, John Kantakouzenos can be its version of Ricimer in the last years of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century. The barbarian Ricimer however was a powerful general who actually intended to rule the empire behind-the-scenes through imperial puppets while John Kantakouzenos was not the puppet master of Andronikos III the way Ricimer was to Majorian but after Andronikos III, death John was more intent to be the young emperor’s puppet master. Similarly, John Kantakouzenos helped Andronikos III come to power in 1328 the same way Ricimer helped Majorian come to power in 457 and John Kantakouzenos was basically running the empire together with Andronikos III the same way both Ricimer and Majorian ran the empire together, also John Kantakouzenos outlived Andronikos III the same way Ricimer outlived Majorian and both would live much longer running the empire except Ricimer as a barbarian really had the intention to let the western empire fall apart by letting his fellow people seize imperial provinces under their own kingdoms and while running the empire, Ricimer being the one actually controlling it was meant to show that imperial control of the west had already fallen to the hands of a barbarian, meanwhile John Kantakouzenos was still a Byzantine at heart the same way he was in blood but he would be very much like Ricimer by betraying his empire for power which he would do later on. Ricimer meanwhile actually betrayed Majorian in person by having executed while John Kantakouzenos despite being loyal to Andronikos III all his life would betray his friend after his death by allowing all the hard work he and his friend did to collapse so that he could take the throne, therefore John’s betrayal would be worse in the sense that he would not just betray his close friend physically but in memory. In the Western Roman Empire, Majorian’s death may have been a feat for Ricimer and his supporters as Ricimer stopped Majorian who had been a threat to his power but many were still loyal to Majorian and were outraged with it and these loyalists of Majorian were his generals Aegidius and Marcellinus and when hearing of Majorian’s betrayal and death, Aegidius who was in Northwest Gaul refusing to follow Ricimer declared it independent as its own kingdom called Soissons with him as king while Marcellinus again revolted making Illyria and Dalmatia again separate from the empire under his rule while Ricimer made a Roman senator his new puppet emperor later in 461, this new puppet was Severus III who was someone much easier to manipulate and he and Ricimer were only left with Italy under their control. The death of Majorian then quickly undid all his hard work to restore the empire especially when his friends turned against Ricimer making Ricimer ally with the Visigoths allowing them to take back the lands Majorian reconquered from them in Gaul in exchange for making the Visigoths attack Aegidius’ kingdom in the north, this then totally cut off Italy from Hispania, and Hispania too would eventually slip out of imperial control to the Suebi and Visigoths of Gaul. On the other hand, in the story of John Kantakouzenos and the civil war of 1341, John was not the real villain here who would be responsible for destroying all the previous achievements, the villain here was the empress Anna of Savoy who carelessly started this civil war by declaring John Kantakouzenos a public enemy and her son John V as the true emperor backed by the empire’s grand admiral Alexios Apokaukos and their loyal supporters being the people of the cities and commoners as well as the Republics of Venice and Genoa, though the war would escalate when the Byzantine nobles of countryside backed Kantakouzenos as their emperor. This civil war would become worse the moment more conflicts became involved in it such as an anti-aristocratic rebellion in Thessaloniki which succeeded and took the city for themselves in the name of young John V and his mother in 1342, and this war also involved Serbia and Bulgaria in a war with each other as the ambitious Serbian king Stefan IV Dusan allied with Kantakouzenos as Bulgaria allied with the empress’ side and with Dusan as Kantakouzenos’ ally, he ended up invading most of Greece, Albania, and even annexing Epirus this time to Serbia but without much to gain, Dusan switched his allegiance to the empress and John V. The side of the empress and John V was at first succeeding until Dusan abandoned them and in 1346 after he had conquered so much of Byzantine territory crowned himself “Emperor of the Serbs and Romans” and declared the birth of the Serbian Empire while in Constantinople in 1345, the empress lost a powerful ally which was Alexios Apokaukos who was killed by prisoners in the prison he built for them. John Kantakouzenos was then intent on winning the war and here is when he would become a traitor to the empire as to get support to put him in power, he allied with Byzantium’s mortal enemy then, the Ottoman sultan Orhan and allowed the Ottomans to pillage Asia Minor, also Kantakouzenos promised to give Orhan young Greek Christian men from the empire to serve in Orhan’s army as well as giving off his young daughter Theodora off to Orhan for marriage. With the help of the Ottomans, John Kantakouzenos marched into Constantinople and claimed the throne in 1347 making himself Emperor John VI while John V was still kept in power but instead only as co-emperor but to still keep John V as a puppet emperor, John VI married off his other daughter Helena to him. When John VI came to power though, the empire due to the civil war was already in so much financial straits that in his coronation he was crowned with a glass crown replica as the original crown was pawned to Venice by Empress Anna for funds to fight the civil war which she ended up losing, but worse than that, the same year John VI became senior emperor (1347), the plague of Black Death arrived in Byzantium and because of this, Serbia which was not really affected by the plague gave their emperor Stefan IV Dusan the opportunity to invade almost all of Byzantine Greece that in 1348, the Serbian Empire stretched from the Danube all the way down to the Gulf of Corinth. Now if Ricimer allowed the western empire to fall apart while he ran in after Majorian’s death in 461 by letting the Visigoths and Burgundians that have been reduced to federate status by Majorian return to being full kingdoms, John VI would be the same in just openly agreeing to undo his friend’s hard work as in 1349 seeing the empire was dying anyway, he agreed to partition it with his sons in 1349 to give areas outside Constantinople more protection, so the Southern Peloponnese or Morea was given to his son Manuel and Thrace to the other son Matthew who will be further discussed later. John V meanwhile remained a puppet emperor in the island of Tenedos but in 1352 wanted to take back power for himself so he allied himself with Genoa as at this time war between Genoa and Venice broke out while John VI here allied with Venice and with the Ottomans again. In 1354, a massive earthquake struck the peninsula of Gallipoli at the entrance to Thrace from Asia which caused tis people to flee inland and as John VI allied with the Ottomans, he betrayed his empire again by allowing Orhan to settle his people in Gallipoli, thus the Ottomans set foot in Europe for the first time when taking Gallipoli and because of this John VI became unpopular with his people who then ended up backing John V. In December of 1354, John V arrived in Constantinople one night supported by an army of Genoese pirates led by their leader Francesco Gattilusio and here John V took the throne back while John VI abdicated and retired to be a monk in the Peloponnese where he would write about the history of Byzantium during his time and about Black Death in the empire dying there at the age of 91 in 1383. Now the biggest difference between John VI Kantakouzenos and Ricimer was that John VI was not only a puppet master but the actual emperor while Ricimer ran the western empire from behind the scenes ever since Majorian came to power in 457 and after Majorian was executed in 461, Ricimer had total control over his ineffective puppet Severus III, although Severus III was not recognized as a legitimate ruler by the eastern emperor Leo I and in the 4 year reign of Severus III (461-465), he never did anything and in 465 he died possibly being poisoned by Ricimer leaving the western throne vacant for the next 2 years, although not entirely vacant as in these 2 years (465-467), Ricimer was in total control except in title. Between 465 and 467, Leo I of Byzantium was practically the sole ruler of the whole Roman Empire as the west had no emperor except Ricimer was still around wanting a new puppet to control. However, when Severus III was the western emperor, the Vandal king Gaiseric who was still alive insisted that another western Roman noble named Olybrius be the western puppet emperor and after Severus’ death in 465, Gaiseric insisted again to have Olybrius as his puppet that Gaiseric with his fleet went as far as raiding Leo I’s territories in Greece but Leo I instead wanted a noble from the eastern empire, Procopius Anthemius to be his puppet western emperor so Leo built a massive fleet in Constantinople to set sail to North Africa and finally take it back from the Vandals while Anthemius was sent to Ravenna to be its emperor, but again would be a puppet to Ricimer as Anthemius would also marry his daughter to Ricimer. In the 14th century Byzantine story, there is no one comparable to the puppet western emperor Severus III except possibly this would be John V ruling as John VI’s puppet co-emperor from 1347 to 1354, although the new puppet emperor Anthemius who stated ruling the west in 467 can be very much compared to John VI’s puppet emperor John V Palaiologos who eventually became the sole emperor after John VI’s abdication in 1354. Anthemius was western emperor soon enough would not want to be Ricimer’s puppet so in 472, both became in conflict with each other while Anthemius even blockaded himself in Rome until he was executed by Ricimer’s orders while Olybrius finally became emperor of the west when Leo I approved of it after being forced to do so by Gaiseric. Olybrius would be another puppet to Ricimer but died later on in 472 and so did Ricimer out of old age, the same way John VI died except Ricimer died when still in power while John VI died as a retired monk.

John VI- Ricimer
Left: Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos of Byzantium (r. 1347-1354); right: Flavius Ricimer, puppet master and Magister Militum of the Western Roman Empire (457-472)

Watch this to learn more about the Byzantine Civil War of 1321-1328 and 1341-1347 (from Jabzy).

Francesco I Gattilusio to Aegidius

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The last years of the Byzantine Empire saw it gradually lose so much territory even to Byzantine allies as a reward for helping the empire in civil wars and the same can be said for the last years of the Western Roman Empire, except the western empire died out much quicker as 15 years after the execution of Majorian in 461, the western empire finally fell but between these years, large pieces of land had already slipped out of control and not all of them to barbarians, some even to Roman generals like Aegidius who declared Northwest Gaul independent from the empire in 461 following Majorian’s death. For 14th century Byzantium, in the conflict between John VI Kantakouzenos and John V Palaiologos in 1354, John V was able to dethrone his father-in-law John VI with the support of a new ally he made, which was a Genoese Italian pirate named Francesco Gattilusio and his crew who met John V when they were shipwrecked in the island of Tenedos in the Aegean where John V resided as co-emperor while John VI reigned. John V asked for their help to march into Constantinople promising to give Francesco lordship of the island of Lesbos in return and true enough John VI was overthrown and in 1355, Francesco settled in Lesbos being made its lord, and also in reward for his service, John V married off his sister Maria to Francesco. Meanwhile in the 5th century Western Roman Empire, Aegidius may share the same similarity with Francesco Gattilusio by taking control of his own independent state but had a different backstory as Aegidius was not a pirate like Francesco, instead Aegidius was a Gallic native though a Roman citizen and had been in western empire’s army for a very long time serving under Aetius in Gaul for many years. Aegidius was one of the members of Aetius’ faction and most loyal officers together with the general Marcellinus, the short reigning emperor Avitus (455-457), Majorian, and Ricimer and had helped Aetius fight off the Burgundians and Franks in Gaul, also later commanding a part of Aetius’ forces against Attila in 451. Aegidius remained in Gaul the whole time and when Majorian came to power in 457 in a coup with Ricimer against Avitus, Majorian after leaving Ricimer in charge of Italy headed to Gaul joining Aegidius where they beat the Visigoths at the Battle of Arles and as a reward, Aegidius was made the Magister Militum of Gaul. In 461, Majorian was deposed and executed by Ricimer and Aegidius being loyal to Majorian decided to turn against Ricimer refusing to acknowledge Ricimer’s new puppet Severus III, therefore Aegidius declared his holdings in Northwest Gaul (Brittany and Normandy) independent from the empire with him as its ruler, at the same time he pledged his allegiance to the eastern emperor Leo I who he saw was as the rightful ruler. Aegidius too had plans to invade Italy and take over the empire but Ricimer allied with the Visigoths making them attack Aegidius lands, thus making it difficult for him to head over to Italy. In Northwest Gaul, Aegidius own territory became known as the Kingdom of Soissons and in his time as its ruler, he won a decisive victory against the Visigoths outside Orleans in 463 but in 464 or 465, he suddenly died possibly assassinated and most probably under Ricimer’s orders, although Aegidius’ son Syagrius took over the independent kingdom. Now the similarity Francesco I Gattilusio has to Aegidius is that Francesco was against John VI the same Aegidius went against Ricimer, and although Aegidius declared independence, Francesco was given control of Lesbos by the emperor John V who he allied with. Similarly, Aegidius would remain overall loyal to the Roman world and to the real Roman emperor Leo I but not to the empire under Ricimer while Francesco would always remain loyal to John V at all times as a vassal. Francesco even accompanied John V to Rome in 1369 when John V went to ask help from the pope. Whereas Aegidius won a great victory over the Visigoths in 463, Francesco I leading John V’s Byzantine army won the same kind of victory against the Ottomans in 1366 returning Gallipoli to Byzantium. Although Aegidius died suddenly after ruling for only 4 years, Francesco was Lord of Lesbos until his death in 1384 succeeded by his son Francesco II, and his family remained in control of Lesbos even after the Byzantine Empire in Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453; Lesbos then would only fall to the Ottomans in 1462 when its last ruler who was Francesco I’s grandson Niccolò Gattilusio was deposed and captured by the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II. Similarly, for Aegidius’ Kingdom of Soissons, his son Syagrius remained in charge of it even after the western empire fell in 476 while Soissons would fall to the Franks in 481 where Syagrius surrendered all his lands to the Frankish king Clovis I who would later establish the Frankish kingdom or proto-France.

Manuel Kantakouzenos to Marcellinus   

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In the reign of John VI Kantakouzenos (1347-1354), the remains of the Byzantine Empire was further broken apart into semi-independent states to further protect themselves while the emperor in Constantinople was too busy defending the eastern borders from the Turks. In 1349, John VI gave the empire’s remaining territory in Southern Greece known as the Morea in the Peloponnese to his son Manuel making him not just its governor but Despot, which was the 2nd most powerful position in the empire only right beneath the emperor’s while John VI’s other son Matthew was given control of Thrace. The region of the Morea in Southern Greece meanwhile was under the Byzantine Empire but not connected to it by land so it could only be reached from Constantinople or Thrace which was still part of the empire by ship as the Morea was surrounded by the remaining Latin principality of Achaea that controlled most of the Peloponnese since 1204 and after 1261, only the the southeast part of the peninsula known as the Morea was returned to Byzantine rule under Michael VIII. When becoming in charge of the Morea, Manuel would see himself as a semi-independent ruler from his father and when his father was overthrown in 1354 by John V coming back to power, John V soon enough recognized his brother-in-law Manuel as Despot of the Morea and Manuel even soon enough acknowledged John V’s authority. However between 1354 and 1357, John V was still in conflict with Manuel’s brother the co-emperor Matthew in Thrace but Matthew was defeated in 1357 and  sent to prison in Lesbos under the watch of John V’s new ally Francesco I Gattilusio, the Lord of Lesbos where Matthew was forced to surrender his imperial title and in 1361 he was moved to the Morea to be with his brother and his father who retired there as a monk. Now in the last days of the Western Roman Empire, the general and Governor of Dalmatia Marcellinus shares some similarities with Manuel Kantakouzenos as both ended up establishing their own semi-independent states which were still more or less an extension to the empire as Manuel’s Morea served as basically its own kingdom as it was cut off by land from the main empire while Marcellinus on the other hand made the whole of Illyria including Dalmatia as his own state in 454 except their reasons for forming their own practically independent states yet still a part of the empire were different from each other. Manuel was given control of the empire’s far outpost of the Morea by his father to use it as a backup for the empire in case Constantinople would be lost while Marcellinus who was in charge of the parts of Illyria- (Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia) that still belonged to the western empire as the lower part of Illyria (Albania) was under the eastern empire- rebelled and seized control of the entire province for himself following the assassination of his friend and general Flavius Aetius by the emperor Valentinian III. Previously, Marcellinus together with Aegidius, Majorian, Avitus, and Ricimer served under the command of Aetius in Gaul and Marcellinus too took part in helping Aetius fight the Huns in 451, in addition Marcellinus was one of the last remaining Pagan Romans and was said to be a soothsayer but he is only mentioned in 454 when he declared the entire Illyria and Dalmatia that he was in charge of separate from the empire to strike against the emperor for killing his friend Aetius. During the reigns of Petronius Maximus and Avitus, Marcellinus remained ruling his independent state, and only in 457 when Majorian took the throne of the western empire did Marcellinus again return his support to the emperor, renounce his rebellion, and return his province back to imperial control as he was also a friend of Majorian and under Majorian’s rule, Marcellinus successfully retook Sicily from the Vandals in around 460 when Majorian prepared to launch an invasion of Gaiseric’s Vandal Kingdom of North Africa, though Majorian’s mission failed as traitors in his army bribed by Gaiseric burned the fleet and in 461 Majorian was killed by Ricimer which made Marcellinus revolt again making his province of Illyria and Dalmatia again independent while Sicily was left again exposed to the Vandals’ naval attacks. At the same time when Marcellinus again revolted against the empire under Ricimer’s control, Aegidius did the same too declaring Northwest Gaul as his own state and both Marcellinus and Aegidius too swore their allegiance to the eastern emperor Leo I who they considered the rightful emperor as Severus III of the west was only a puppet to Ricimer; Leo I too supported Marcellinus even giving him an army to command strong enough to take back Italy wherein Marcellinus could have taken the throne but this never happened. Between 465 and 467, there was no emperor in the west and only in 467 did Leo I agree to put the Byzantine noble Procopius Anthemius in the west as his puppet and Marcellinus joined Anthemius in their journey west and as Anthemius arrived in Ravenna to be crowned, Marcellinus returned to Sicily with his fleet driving away the Vandals and later taking back Sardinia with his fleet too. Leo I though had built a massive fleet to launch an invasion on Gaiseric’s North Africa but this invasion ended in failure due to betrayal again while Marcellinus never arrived to help Leo I’s fleet, instead he remained in Sicily in 468 while the battle happened and there Marcellinus was killed by Ricimer’s men as Ricimer feared Marcellinus was planning to take the western empire for himself. Marcellinus was then succeeded as the Governor of Illyria and Dalmatia by his nephew Julius Nepos who would however remain loyal to the next western emperors and did not declare his province independent the way his uncle Marcellinus did. Now you would not see much similarities between Marcellinus and Manuel Kantakouzenos except that they had their own practically independent states and when Marcellinus was against Ricimer, Manuel remained loyal to his father John VI who is late Byzantium’s parallel of Ricimer. However the similarity here is that Marcellinus returned his province to the western empire when Anthemius was put in power in the west in 467 who Marcellinus was to be loyal while in late Byzantium, Manuel being its version of Marcellinus declared his loyalty to John V in 1354 as John V would be its version of Anthemius. Although both Manuel Kantakouzenos and Marcellinus met their ends very differently, as Marcellinus was assassinated in Sicily by Ricimer’s orders while Manuel ruled as the Despot of the Morea for many years until his peaceful death in 1380 wherein, he was succeeded peacefully as the ruler of Morea by his brother Matthew the same way Nepos succeeded his uncle Marcellinus. Only 3 years later (1383) did Matthew die and his position as the Despot of the Morea was handed over to John V’s son Theodore I Palaiologos and it was under Theodore’s rule that the Morea was transformed from a backwater of the empire to Byzantium’s new cultural center as it was in a secluded area protected by mountains and the sea while Constantinople was too exposed.

John V Palaiologos (1354-1391) to Procopius Anthemius (467-472)

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The biggest difference between the last days of Eastern Rome (14th-15th centuries) and Western Rome (5th century) is that the story of the decline of the west happened so rapidly while for the east it was much slower and you can already see it when comparing the long reigning Byzantine emperor John V Palaiologos of the 14th century to his Western Roman parallel the short reigning Procopius Anthemius who ironically was also a Byzantine. This western emperor Procopius Anthemius was a Byzantine noble born in Constantinople and on his mother’s side was a grandson of the Prefect of Constantinople Anthemius who built the city’s walls in early 5th century under Emperor Theodosius II while Procopius Anthemius’ father descended from the usurper emperor Procopius (365-366) who was the cousin of the emperor Julian (r. 361-363) and a usurper after Julian’s death but was defeated by the emperor of the east Valens in 366. Before becoming the western emperor, Procopius Anthemius at a young age studied philosophy in Alexandria and when grown up was a successful general who would marry the daughter of the eastern emperor Marcian (r. 450-457), the predecessor of Leo I. The Eastern Roman or Byzantine emperor Leo I the Thracian or Leo Marcellus though only came to power by being elected by the army and also by the manipulation of the east’s powerful barbarian general Aspar, the same barbarian commander that helped put Valentinian III in power in 425 and was also the puppet master of Theodosius II and Marcian before Leo; Aspar saw Leo as the perfect puppet as Leo was an old man who was uneducated as he came from low birth in Thrace but coming into power, Leo realized he did not want to be a puppet while Anthemius remained a challenge to his power as Anthemius was the former emperor Marcian’s son-in-law and with the west having no emperor in 467, 10 years after Leo I came to power, he saw it as the right opportunity to make Anthemius emperor of the west to get him away from causing trouble in the east. Also, the Vandal king Gaiseric kept pressuring Ricimer in the west and Leo I in the east to make his friend Olybrius, a noble of the western empire his puppet emperor. Leo I though previously recognized Majorian as his western co-emperor but after Majorian’s execution in 461, Leo I did not recognize the new western emperor Severus III, though he would recognize the next emperor Anthemius since he was from the east and would be better off placed in the throne of the west to satisfy him; Leo also thought that by putting his rival Anthemius in power in the west, he would be safe in the east and since there was no emperor in the west for 2 years, Leo would be spared from Gaiseric pressuring him to make Olybrius the western emperor, though when Anthemius became emperor of the west in 467, he however turned out to be in good terms with Leo I despite both being rivals before. It was at the beginning of Anthemius’ reign too when the eastern and western empires actually cooperated together which was when Leo I built a massive fleet of 1,000 ships with 100,000 men and continue where Majorian failed and finally launched an invasion on Gaiseric’s North Africa also to punish the Vandals for sacking Rome in 455, although both Leo I and Anthemius did not lead the fleet themselves as both remained in their capitals. The massive battle between eastern and western Roman fleets against the Vandals took place in Cape Bon near Carthage in 468 but behind Leo I’s back his general and barbarian puppet master Aspar plotted to destroy Leo’s plans here by letting themselves lose to have revenge on Leo for refusing to be his puppet, here Aspar had the fleet’s commander who was Leo I’s scheming brother-in-law Basiliscus betray the entire fleet by agreeing to accept a truce with Gaiseric and keep the fleet docked in the sea to wait for Gaiseric to arrive and meet them, but this was all a trap since Gaiseric actually bought time by paying off Basiliscus to dock his ships in the sea and after 5 days, Gaiseric tricked them by launching several fire ships to burn down Leo’s fleet. At the end, the fleet of Leo I was destroyed the same way as Majorian’s fleet was some years back though Basiliscus survived and returned to Constantinople while most of the fleet Leo worked so hard on was left in ruin with thousands of eastern and western soldiers dead in the sea. This defeat caused Leo to make peace with Gaiseric but it was more of fatal blow to Anthemius in the west as he also put a lot of funds into it and with the western empire already so low in troops, this defeat further reduced their men but Anthemius being a more capable ruler did not give up and still persisted to keep his empire alive despite the troubled times. Now centuries later in 14th century Byzantium, Emperor John V Palaiologos was the same in this way as when he came to power again after John VI abdicated in 1354, John V saw the empire so reduced but would not give up in keeping it alive, still continuing his father Andronikos III’s plans to revive the power of Byzantium, but for John V just as it was for Anthemius, it was too late as all these defeats already broke their empire to the point that nothing could save it anymore as for John V his empire was not only devastated by Serbian and Ottoman invasions but by the plague of Black Death too while for Anthemius, almost all of Italy’s surroundings fell to the barbarians and although after Marcellinus’ death in 468 with his nephew Julius Nepos succeeding him, Illyria still remained with the western empire though Northwest Gaul under Aegidius who revolted in 461 still remained independent, and when Anthemius came to power in Ravenna, Aegidius had already died and was succeeded as ruler of his new Kingdom of Soissons by his son Syagrius who however remained loyal to Anthemius. Just as how Anthemius remained in good terms with the eastern emperor Leo I, John V planned to strengthen Byzantium’s diplomatic ties with Western Europe, which in the late Byzantium would be what early Byzantium was for the Western Roman Empire. For Anthemius, he consolidated his power in the west by marrying his daughter to Ricimer while in 14th century Byzantium it was the other way around for John V being Anthemius as he married Helena, the daughter of John VI who is late Byzantium’s Ricimer to cease hostilities between both of them when John VI seized power from John V in 1347. For John V in his second rule after 1354, the expansion of the Ottomans now into Europe was his biggest problem that he needed allies to counter them so John V in 1366 even went to Hungary himself to ask its powerful king Louis I to assist him but Louis I refused when John refused to get off his horse as Louis did when they met each other, so Louis only agreed to help Byzantium if John converted to Catholicism, and in 1369 in Rome, John V even converted when meeting the pope although this did not result in anything as on his way back to Constantinople he was held as a prisoner in Venice as he had no money to pay them for the return trip, so instead he had to cede the island of Tenedos in the Aegean which was still under Byzantine control to Venice, thus he was allowed to return but when returning home, John V was later left with no choice but to agree that Byzantium would be a vassal to the Ottoman’s new sultan Murad I who had just succeeded his father Orhan. As for Anthemius, what was for John V the Ottoman problem was the Visigoths in Gaul which he had no chance standing against especially with the Visigoths now under an ambitious king named Euric so Anthemius had to look for foreign allies; for John V it was Hungary and the rest of Western Europe and for Anthemius it was a mysterious civilized Romano-British king in Britain named Riothamus and his army of Celtic Britons. Anthemius sent a letter to Riothamus in Britain and this king headed across the channel to Gaul where he won several victories against the Visigoths with only 12,000 men but when reaching the Visigoth heartland, Riothamus was defeated and retreated to the Kingdom of the Burgundians where he disappeared; Riothamus on the other hand is also believed to be the legendary King Arthur of Britain but it is however unclear. Though if Anthemius failed to defeat the Visigoths with the help of this mysterious Briton king, at least the threat of the Visigoths on Italy was weakened while for John V centuries later, the Hungarians did not help him the way the Britons helped Anthemius, yet also for John V there was no mysterious king that came to his aid and at the end, John V was forced to surrender to the Ottomans as a vassal, while for Anthemius he however did not surrender to the Visigoths but instead sent his son Anthemiolus with an army over the Alps to confront the Visigoths in Gaul and take back the southern coast to once again connect the empire in Italy to Hispania but the army he sent was defeated by Euric’s forces and Anthemiolus was killed, and Anthemius like John V who acknowledged the Ottomans authority acknowledged the Visigoths’ authority over Gaul. As emperor, Anthemius had grown far too independent in ruling for Ricimer who was still alive and still the emperor’s puppet master but the Western Roman aristocrats also in 470 grew suspicious of Anthemius as he was a foreigner being from the Byzantine Empire and a Greek by blood, therefore they even suspected him of being a Pagan so at some point in 470 when Anthemius was fatally ill, Ricimer attempted to replace him by making his friend and Roman senator named Romanus as emperor but Anthemius soon enough recovered and blamed Ricimer and Romanus for using sorcery so he had Romanus beheaded, and here began the conflict between Anthemius and Ricimer as Ricimer now felt that with Anthemius acting on his own to protect himself was a sign that he was not willing to be a puppet. As for John V, he had the same situation of a usurper the same way Anthemius did with Romanus in 470 and for John V in 1373 it was his son Andronikos who rebelled against his father conspiring with an Ottoman prince who also rebelled against his father the sultan Murad I but the prince was later executed by his father and Andronikos’ plot too was discovered so following Murad I’s orders, John V imprisoned Andronikos and blinded him in one eye but unlike Romanus who was fully dealt with by death, Andronikos came out of prison in 1376 with the help of the Genoese and managed to overthrow his father for the next 3 years becoming Emperor Andronikos IV Palaiologos, except in 1379 John V came out of prison with his other sons Theodore and Manuel with John V taking the throne back and his son Andronikos IV banished to the town of Selymbria near Constatinople while John V named his second son Manuel his heir and the other son Theodore as the Despot of the Morea in 1383. Andronikos IV however tried to strike back and take back the throne but in 1385 he died, though his son also named John remained as his heir still posing a threat to his grandfather. It also happened in 1389 when John V was still emperor but now an old man that the Ottomans were actually able to defeat the Serbians at the Battle of Kosovo despite their sultan Murad I killed though Serbia would be turned into an Ottoman vassal then in 1390, John V’s grandson and Andronikos IV’s son also named John after getting the support of Genoa by travelling there himself and also with the help of the Bulgarian Empire stormed Constantinople and overthrew his grandfather making himself Emperor John VII Palaiologos claiming he was doing that to fulfil what his late father planned to do. John VII however only ruled for 5 months in 1390 as his uncle Manuel with the Ottomans and Knights Hospitaller on his side overthrew John VII and put the old emperor John V back in power. Similarly for Anthemius, in 472 when getting into conflict with Ricimer, the Vandal king Gaiseric again pressured Ricimer and Leo I of Byzantium to make Olybrius emperor again so Leo I finally gave in to Gaiseric’s demands and with Olybrius living in the eastern empire, Leo sent him west except Leo before sending Olybrius west sent a secret letter to Anthemius to kill Olybrius upon his arrival, though Ricimer received the letter first and made Olybrius his new puppet emperor when Olybrius arrived while Anthemius blockaded himself in Rome hiding from Ricimer but after keeping himself in there for 5 months, Ricimer and his barbarian army stormed the city and found Anthemius in the old structure of St. Peter’s Basilica and there Ricimer’s nephew the Burgundian Gundobad captured and beheaded Anthemius in July of 472, thus Olybrius was now the western emperor. John V though did not die the same way as Anthemius by being beheaded and instead he successfully took the throne back from his grandson John VII who is late Byzantium’s Olybrius in 1390 but John VII still never gave up his claim on the throne. John V though did not have much longer to live and in early 1391, he suddenly died at 58 when he was ordered by the new Ottoman sultan Bayezid I to tear down the Golden Gate of Constantinople’s walls he had just repaired or his son and heir Manuel would be blinded, John V complied with the sultan’s orders but due to the humiliation died of a nervous breakdown or possibly, he even committed suicide. Now the biggest similarity you can see between the 5th century Anthemius and the 14th century John V was that they came into power when their empire was at its lowest, yet they still persisted to make sure their empire or what was left of it still lived on a bit longer. In the 80 year history of the Western Roman Empire, only Majorian and Anthemius were its only strong emperors and Anthemius in 472 died as the west’s last competent emperor even if he was not a native Roman like Majorian but a Greek from the Byzantine Empire, though in Byzantium, the next 3 emperors after John V which was his son Manuel II and Manuel’s sons John VIII and Constantine XI were all competent emperors.

John V- Anthemius
Left: Emperor John V Palaiologos of Byzantium (r. 1341-1347/ 1354-1376/ 1379-1391); right: Western Roman emperor Procopius Anthemius (r. 467-472

John VII Palaiologos (1390) to Anicius Olybrius (472)

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Though John V would be seen as a weak ruler who failed many times in his reign to bring the empire back together, he at least had the intention of wanting to do just that but it was just too late for him to do so and due to all his failures as an emperor, his son Andronikos rebelled against him in 1373 but failed though came back in 1376 to overthrow him but was dethroned when his father returned to power in 1379. Andronikos was then sent to Selymbria in exile but still having the claim to the throne though he died in 1385 before launching another coup against his father, although Andronikos had a young son named John after his grandfather who inherited his father’s claim as emperor. John V in 1379 when coming back to power named his second son Manuel his heir but the young grandson John still felt he was the true heir so when Manuel was away in 1390 in Asia Minor, John took advantage of the moment and marched into Constantinople with the city guards and people already supporting him therefore opening the Gate of Charisius for him. Prior to the grandson John seizing Constantinople, he personally travelled to Genoa all the way in Northwest Italy to gain their support and true enough with Genoa’s help, the grandson was able to take the throne. John V had to leave Constantinople while his grandson John VII took over as emperor for the next 5 months; John VII would then follow in the footsteps of his great-grandfather Andronikos III who did the same in overthrowing his grandfather Andronikos II, except Andronikos III fully succeeded while John VII after 5 months was removed from power when his uncle Manuel returned to Constantinople with the support of the Ottomans and Knights Hospitaller, thus putting John V back in power. It is not clear though on what John VII’s true intentions were to take the throne from his grandfather but was mainly because he wanted  to continue what his late father Andronikos IV failed to do, also it is unclear where John VII went after he was removed from power later in 1390 but once he was forced out, John V now sealing his allegiance to the new Ottoman sultan was forced to make Manuel a hostage in the Ottoman court at Adrianople. John VII is mentioned again sometime after John V’s death in 1391 where John VII was forced to remain in the town of Selymbria where his father had died in to be in charge of it, though John VII still never gave up his ambitions to take the throne again, this time from his uncle Manuel II. Now in the last days of the Western Roman Empire, John VII’s parallel happens to be the 2-time candidate to the imperial throne and eventual emperor Olybrius (r. 472) who replaced Anthemius. Anicius Olybrius was born a Roman patrician in Rome at unknown date but would be known as a friend of the senator and later emperor Petronius Maximus (r. 455) who organized the assassination of Valentinian III and took the throne from himself after bribing the senate. When becoming emperor, Petronius Maximus married Valentinian III’s wife Licinia Eudoxia and married off his son to Licinia and Valentinian’s daughter Eudocia and the other daughter Placidia to Olybrius to fully make connections with the imperial Theodosian family, although prior to this Eudocia was already engaged to the Vandal king Gaiseric’s son Huneric so when hearing that the engagement was broken and when Licinia wrote to the Vandals to help her get away from this forced marriage with Petronius, Gaiseric and his fleet arrived in Italy and sacked Rome in 455 following the death of Petronius Maximus; Licinia and both daughters were taken as hostages to Carthage where Eudocia’s engagement to Huneric was restored while Olybrius probably fled to Constantinople at this time. While at Constantinople, Olybrius met with the famed stylite saint Daniel who made a prophecy that one day Licinia Eudoxia and her daughters in which one of them was his wife would be freed from Carthage and in 461, with the western emperor Majorian killed by Ricimer, Gaiseric turned to Olybrius who was in Byzantium to be candidate for the western throne to serve as Gaiseric’s puppet as Gaiseric already had a connection to Olybrius as both Olybrius and Gaiseric’s son were married to a daughter of the former western emperor Valentinian III. When making his bid to put Olybrius in the western throne, Gaiseric freed Licinia and her daughter Placidia making them return to Constantinople where Olybrius rejoined with his wife, thus fulfilling Daniel’s prophecy but Olybrius was never made western emperor as in Ravenna, Ricimer already made the senator Severus III his new puppet emperor refusing to listen to Gaiseric. In 465, Severus III died being poisoned by Ricimer when the eastern emperor Leo I refused to recognize Severus III as a co-ruler so again Gaiseric demanded that Olybrius be made the new western emperor even pressuring Leo I by raiding the coast of Greece but Leo I instead chose his imperial rival in Byzantium Procopius Anthemius to be western emperor to avoid conflict and become allies and at same time as I mentioned previously, Leo I also responded to this by sending a large fleet of 1,000 ships to invade Gaiseric’s kingdom in North Africa which resulted in failure due to the treachery of Leo’s brother-in-law the commander Basiliscus making Leo and Gaiseric conclude a humiliating peace. Olybrius remained in Constantinople the whole time while Anthemius ruled the west but in 472, not only Gaiseric but Ricimer pressured Leo to make Olybrius the western emperor when Ricimer saw that Anthemius was not the puppet he was intended to be. Leo I previously in 471 got the chance to become a fully independent ruler after killing his barbarian puppet master general Aspar by luring him into a trap and now not only wanted barbarian influences away from the east but from the west as well so in 472 when being pressured by Gaiseric to make Olybrius western emperor again, Leo used this as his chance to have Ricimer killed and Olybrius as well so when sending Olybrius west, Leo had a secret letter brought by the soldiers accompanying Olybrius and this letter gave instructions for Anthemius to kill Ricimer and Olybrius at his arrival but when the letter and Olybrius arrived in Italy, Ricimer’s guards intercepted it and when Ricimer read it he acclaimed Olybrius as the new western emperor turning against Anthemius. At this point, the people also turned their support to Olybrius as he had more legitimacy being connected to previous ruling Theodosian family as the husband of Placidia so he was seen as a good candidate while Anthemius became unpopular due to his Greek heritage making the people of the west suspect he was a Pagan. Ricimer with Olybrius as his new puppet laid siege to Rome where Anthemius blockaded himself in and after 5 months of Rome being blockaded and its people starving, Anthemius was abandoned and Ricimer broke into Rome finding Anthemius hiding in a church in what is now St. Peter’s Basilica where Anthemius was beheaded by Ricimer’s nephew Gundobad in July of 472. Although Anthemius died, Ricimer died only a month later from natural causes though Olybrius was finally the western emperor but still not an independent one instead under the control of Gundobad. Olybrius however achieved very little in his reign as by the end of 472 he also died of sickness, but still things would have been different if Ricimer’s men did not intercept the letter and instead would go straight to Anthemius who would then follow it and have both the evil puppet master Ricimer and Olybrius killed, therefore he and Leo I would continue to work in greater lengths as allies fighting together to bring western empire back together again but instead the west was left with another weak ruler being Olybrius who died soon after and weaker ones following him. Now the similarities between John VII of Byzantium and Olybrius of the Western Roman Empire was mainly that their reigns only lasted less than a year except John VII in 1390 as emperor did not die like Olybrius did in his reign, instead John VII was forced out of Constantinople when his grandfather returned to power but where they are also similar is that they came to power by having so much connections with foreign powers; for John VII it was with Genoa and the Bulgarians and for Olybrius it was with the Vandals. Just as how Olybrius was a candidate for the western throne 2 times before actually being made emperor, John VII since his father’s death in 1385 was a holder of the imperial title and a candidate to the throne and although Olybrius only ruled once dying in it, John VII being still alive still held his title of co-emperor and the claim to the throne against his uncle Manuel II and so John VII would still persist on reclaiming the throne that he married the Byzantine ally Lord of Lesbos’ daughter to have more powerful connections and even more allied himself with the Ottoman sultan Bayezid I as Manuel II when coming into power in 1391 declared that Byzantium would no longer be an Ottoman vassal and so in 1394, Bayezid I blockaded Constantinople preparing to lay siege to it and at the same time, the Ottomans fully conquered the 2nd Bulgarian Empire as well. With Constantinople put under siege, Manuel and John VII had to unite and come to an agreement that John would be adopted as Manuel’s heir and that Manuel’s son also named John was to only be the second heir, though Manuel in 1399 had to leave for Western Europe to get the aid from the rulers of England, France, Aragon, Denmark, and the Holy Roman Empire thus leaving John VII to defend Constantinople. John VII though remained loyal to the Byzantines when in charge of Constantinople during Manuel’s 3 and half-year journey although John VII still had some intentions to make a deal with the Ottomans but soon enough the Ottomans themselves were threatened and not by the Byzantines or their allies but by a new and deadly empire in Central Asia which was the Turco-Mongol Timurid Empire ruled by the powerful warrior emperor Timur who in 1402 invaded Asia Minor and defeated the Ottomans at the Battle of Ankara taking Bayezid I with him as a prisoner, thus the siege of Constantinople was lifted and John VII by making a deal with one of Bayezid I’s sons, Thessaloniki which previously fell to the Ottomans was returned to the Byzantines. Manuel II however returned to Constantinople in 1403 without receiving much aid from England or France which was fighting the Hundred-Years-War with each other then and since the Ottomans were not there to back John VII anymore, Manuel sent John away to Thessaloniki in disgrace as Manuel had always seen his nephew as trouble especially since Manuel II was strongly anti-Ottoman. Though John VII was sent away, he again still kept his claim as emperor and in Thessaloniki the people even referred to him not as “governor” but as “emperor” as they happened to be more loyal to the faction of him and his father Andronikos IV than to Manuel II’s faction and to further establish his claim on the throne, John VII even made his young son Andronikos V who was named after his grandfather his co-emperor although in 1407 Andronikos V suddenly died at age 7 while John VII out of sadness retired to become a monk in Thessaloniki and in 1408 he died at 38 ending his side of the family’s claim to the throne. With John VII dead, Manuel II had full authority over the empire with no one challenging him thus making his eldest son also named John his co-emperor and his other son Andronikos replace John VII as governor of Thessaloniki. What John VII has also a lot in common with his Western Roman parallel Olybrius was that they were both seen as popular despite not being so effective and both heavily relied on the power of more powerful rulers for their own power, for John VII it was the Ottoman sultan Bayezid I and for Olybrius it was the Vandal king Gaiseric, and both Olybrius and John VII met their ends very suddenly. After John VII’s death, Manuel II was left to rule the remains of Byzantium for the next years and luckily he had the chance to keep the empire alive for the next 2 decades as the Ottoman Empire following its defeat to Timur at Ankara was shattered with a large civil war among Bayezid I’s sons but they would soon enough recover when Bayezid’s son Mehmed I won the civil war and in 1411 and 1422, Constantinople was besieged by the Ottomans again but survived both. Manuel II though cannot be compared to any Western Roman emperor except in some ways to Anthemius the way his father John V was as Manuel was also set to restore what was left of the empire the way Anthemius did.

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The Byzantine Empire (purple) in 1450

Demetrios Palaiologos (1449-1460) and Thomas Palaiologos (1428-1460) to Glycerius (473-474) and Julius Nepos (474-475)

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Now onto the 15th century, the last century of the Byzantine Empire and it begins with the reign of Manuel II Palaiologos (1391-1425) who on the other has no parallel emperor in the last days of the Western Roman Empire but as one of the last Byzantine emperors, Manuel II was at least a very competent one who would not allow his empire to fall despite how much it has been reduced that he even travelled to Western Europe twice seeking their help which never really worked as they had their own wars to fight except that during Manuel II’s reign, he had the luck of having Byzantium’s now mortal enemy being the Ottomans greatly weakened after their defeat to Timur’s conquests at the Battle of Ankara in 1402 and the eventual successor of the fallen Ottoman sultan Bayezid I which was his son Mehmed I (r. 1413-1421) chose to be an ally of Manuel II but Mehmed I died in 1421 and his son Murad II who took over was more ambitious and wanted to see Constantinople fall so he laid siege to it 1422, though Manuel II had no choice now but to surrender Byzantium to be an Ottoman vassal again just like his father John V did. Manuel II though also had the luck of having 6 sons with his wife, the Serbian princess Helena Dragas meaning there would still be someone to continue keeping the empire alive and fortunately 5 of these 6 sons were able men except for the 3rd son Andronikos who was put charge of Thessaloniki in 1408 but soon enough was unable to protect it so he sold it to the Venetians in 1423 and retired while his father Manuel died in 1425 leaving the empire to his eldest son John VIII Palaiologos while Andronikos died in 1429. As the new emperor, John VIII though has no parallel to any of the last Western Roman emperors but in his reign he still pushed through with keeping his dying empire alive and at the same time put all his attention to the Morea in Southern Greece which was as you remember the empire’s extension which was not connected to it by land and in the 15th century it was the Morea that was in fact more prosperous than Constantinople as it was more protected therefore allowing it to become a cultural center for learning with notable scholars living and working there like the philosopher Georgios Plethon. In 1428, John VIII assigned his 2 younger brothers Constantine and the youngest one Thomas to be in charge of the Morea while their older brother Theodore II had already been in charge of it since 1407 succeeding his uncle Theodore I Palaiologos. The best possible reason for why John VIII had 3 of his brothers take care of the Morea region was because he wanted them to all cooperate with each other and together establish a strong Byzantine presence in the region and soon enough take back the entire Peloponnese peninsula from the remaining Latin Principality of Achaea, however the 5th  brother was left out which was Demetrios who was better known as a trouble maker so he wasn’t given any position but this only made things worse making him go as far as quarrelling with all his brothers and had even eyed the imperial throne. Now the reason why the brothers Demetrios and Thomas Palaiologos here are being compared to the last western emperors Glycerius (r. 473-474) and Julius Nepos (r. 474-475) is more because that both the brothers and these 2 emperors were to be put in charge of the empire’s extension area, for the Palaiologos brothers it was the Morea and for Glycerius and Nepos it was the last Western Roman territory of Dalmatia and previously I already mentioned Dalmatia which fell under Marcellinus being the late Western Roman parallel of the Morea for the Byzantines in its last years, but of course their stories were very much different. Here, it is safer to compare the older brother Demetrios to Julius Nepos and the youngest brother Thomas to Glycerius. Their stories however are very different from each other as in the last days of Western Rome, in 472 both the imperial puppet master and barbarian general Ricimer and his new puppet emperor Olybrius who only ruled for a few months died and for the next few months, there was no emperor in the west so Olybrius’ new puppet master Gundobad who was Ricimer’s nephew was basically running the empire until in early 473 when he acclaimed the commander of the palace guard in Ravenna named Glycerius who came from Dalmatia as the new western emperor. As emperor, Glycerius never really achieved much except by 473 the Visigoths under the same king Euric who Anthemius previously fought against planned to invade Italy while another new enemy, the Ostrogoths planned to invade Italy too from the east passing through Illyria and Dalmatia so Glycerius to avoid conflicts just sent gifts to both Visigoths and Ostrogoths to bribe them to stop their invasions which worked. Glycerius then attempted to ask the eastern emperor who was still Leo I to recognize him as his co-emperor but it failed since Glycerius was basically a puppet of the Burgundian Gundobad and Leo I in Byzantium ever since killing his own barbarian puppet master Aspar would not accept to rule together with an emperor who was manipulated by a barbarian so Leo instead chose another candidate for the western which was ally and the Governor of Illyria Julius Nepos, the same nephew of Marcellinus who took over his uncle’s position after Marcellinus was killed in 468. Glycerius too would no longer have any protection anymore as in late 473, Gundobad had to leave him and return to the new Burgundian kingdom in Gaul to be its king as his father who was its king had just died and just as Gundobad had returned home to Gaul, Nepos departed from Dalmatia to Italy and Glycerius when finding out Nepos had arrived in Italy just chose to surrender without a fight. Glycerius too was spared by Nepos since both were natives of Dalmatia, thus Glycerius was sent to Nepos’ headquarters in Dalmatia (today’s Split) to be Nepos’ personal bishop there residing ironically in the retirement palace of the former Roman emperor Diocletian who persecuted Christians from 303-305. Nepos was then crowned in Ravenna and was one of the only few western emperors aside from Honorius, Valentinian III, Majorian, and Anthemius who were recognized by their superior eastern emperor, though when Nepos came to power in the west, the eastern emperor Leo I had already died of dysentery early in 474 so it was Leo’s successor Zeno who recognized Nepos as his co-ruler. As the west’s new emperor, Nepos also did not achieve much even if he had plans to do so as he only ruled for a year but in his one year in power, Nepos used his navy to attempt to take back the southern coast of Gaul from the Visigoths but in the process of doing it, Nepos’ Magister Militum Orestes who he just appointed to be in charge of Italy turned on him with the support of the barbarian Foederati troops under his command in late 475. Orestes and his barbarian army marched into Ravenna and forced Nepos to abdicate thus sending Nepos back to Dalmatia to join his bishop Glycerius who was just deposed the previous year while Orestes instead of making himself emperor made his young son Romulus emperor to be his puppet. Similarly in the last days of Byzantium with the Morea being what Dalmatia was for western Rome, the troublemaker brother Demetrios would be its version of Julius Nepos and the more loyal youngest brother Thomas would be Glycerius however there is a lot of differences between the brothers and the deposed western emperors; first of all neither Thomas nor Demetrios became the actual emperor in Constantinople except Demetrios in 1442 and 1448 tried to claim the throne but Thomas was busy expanding Byzantine rule in the Morea that in 1431 with the help of his older brother Constantine put the entire Peloponnese back under Byzantine rule by capturing the Latin state’s capital of Patras and in 1432 the Principality of Achaea fully surrendered when its Genoese prince’s daughter married Thomas as an act of surrendering their claim, however the Morea and the empire was still a vassal of the Ottoman sultan Murad II and to punish the brothers Constantine and Thomas for acting on their own in attacking the Latins, Murad II launched an attack on the Peloponnese which was more of a warning than an invasion. The eldest brother John VIII remained in Constantinople and was more busy to gain the support of Western Europe so from 1437 to 1439 he joined the Church Council at Florence again hoping to reunite the Eastern and Western churches which in fact succeeded while they were there but when returning to Constantinople, the union had to be cancelled when the people rioted because of it; Demetrios meanwhile was taken with John VIII to Italy to avoid causing trouble in the empire but when back at home, Demetrios was only given a small piece of land in Thrace to govern which made him angry thus rebelling in 1442 siding with the empire’s pro-Orthodox people against his brother claiming the throne for himself in the name of Orthodoxy but his rebellion failed and Demetrios was put in prison. Also, as part of Demetrios’ rebellion he even allied with Murad II who in 1442 attacked the Peloponnese again, except this time Constantine and Thomas repelled this Ottoman attack making Murad II even angrier. With Demetrios in prison, the older brother Theodore II who was still the senior Despot of the Morea was moved to Thrace to govern Demetrios’ lands leaving the Morea to Constantine and Thomas, also in 1444 Murad II abdicated making his young son Mehmed II the Ottoman sultan for only 2 years until a military revolt in 1446 put Murad II back in power. In 1448, Theodore II and the eldest brother the emperor John VIII died without any heirs as he never had any children so a power struggle broke out again among the 3 remaining brothers Constantine, Thomas, and Demetrios who got out of prison and all competed on which will take the throne in Constantinople but at the end Constantine won the bid through the support of his very old mother Helena Dragas and the sultan Murad II as he was the eldest surviving brother and in 1449 he was crowned Byzantium’s last emperor leaving Thomas and Demetrios who hated each other to be in charge of the Morea even if they hated each other but they were still forced to cooperate for the good of the empire. Now it’s hard to compare the stories of Glycerius and Nepos here to Thomas and Demetrios as for one neither Thomas nor Demetrios ruled as emperors but only in charge of the Morea which was actually larger and more prosperous than the main empire in Constantinople, also there was no long time sibling rivalry in the case of Glycerius and Nepos; though Demetrios has some similarities with Nepos in terms of ambition as Demetrios twice wanted to seize the throne in the name of Orthodoxy while Nepos in 474 wanted to seize the throne from Glycerius to avenge his uncle Marcellinus and take power from Gundobad who was the nephew of the man who ordered his uncle’s death, except when Nepos came to Italy, Gundobad was already gone but at least Nepos was satisfied while Thomas is more like Glycerius as they were both just doing their jobs except Thomas never became a bishop the way Glycerius did. However, the part where you can easily compare the situation of Glycerius and Nepos to Thomas and Demetrios was at their time governing the empire’s rump state. Similarly, Glycerius and Nepos were left behind in the last remnant of the western empire which was Dalmatia even after the last emperor of the west Romulus Augustus was deposed while Demetrios and Thomas were still left behind with the Morea under them even after Constantine XI died as the last emperor and Constantinople falling to the Ottomans in 1453, except when still in charge of the Morea it was divided among them with Demetrios having the eastern half and Thomas having the western half. Also, Glycerius and Nepos in Dalmatia still had the claim to the western empire even when Italy already fell to a new leader named Odoacer but could not help take it back as they had their own problems while Thomas and Demetrios also still had the claim to the empire even after Constantine XI’s death but could not help Constantine fight off the Ottomans besieging Constantinople in 1453 as they had their own problems. Only after 1453 did Demetrios and Thomas put their claim to Constantinople by attempting to take in back from Mehmed II except they distrusted each other again as Demetrios wanted to do it with the help of the Ottomans and be their vassal but Thomas wanted the support of the pope though this almost led to both of them starting a civil war with each other but before it could happen, the sultan Mehmed II tired and angry of the siblings at odds with each other simply invaded the Morea in 1460 and successfully annexed it to the Ottoman Empire taking Demetrios with him as a prisoner while Thomas fled to Italy to get the pope’s support but died in Rome in 1465. Thomas’ son though named Andreas years later when living in Rome still had the claim to the throne and the title of emperor but he never even got anywhere near Constantinople and died in 1502. As for Glycerius and Nepos, they remained in Dalmatia while Nepos still planned an attempt to take Italy back from Odoacer and rebuild the western empire but was killed by his own soldiers in 480 while Glycerius’ date of death remains unknown. Similarly, as Mehmed II annexed the Morea to the Ottoman Empire after the defeat of the brothers, Odoacer annexed all of Nepos’ lands in Dalmatia to his new Kingdom of Italy leaving the Byzantine emperor Zeno after 480 as the only remaining person to hold the title of “Roman emperor”.

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The Byzantine Empire (purple) in 1450

Constantine XI Palaiologos (1449-1453) to Romulus Augustus (475-476)- The real last Roman emperor and the supposed last

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Now we’re down to the last Western and Eastern Roman emperors and with all past comparisons between eastern and western emperors in different eras, I have always been comparing all their similarities, now however with the last person to compare, it is time to discuss how the last Eastern Roman and the last Western Roman emperors were not alike with each other despite facing the same situation as their empire fell apart. Even till this day, many still think that the boy Romulus Augustus (r. 475-476) was the last Roman emperor and after his fall in 476 began the dark ages, but in fact it is not true as young Romulus was only the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire based in Ravenna that only lasted for 80 years as ever since the death of Theodosius I in 395, the eastern half had its own emperors too and therefore was its own empire and after the fall of Romulus in 476, there was still a Roman emperor in the east which was Zeno and there would be a Roman emperor for the next thousand years based in Constantinople better known as the Byzantine emperors which were the same emperors in this article I have been comparing the Western Roman emperors too all this time. In reality, the Roman Empire did not end in 476, it survived all the way to 1453 and with Constantine XI Palaiologos as the last Roman emperor as between the fall of Western Rome in 476 and the fall of Eastern Rome in 1453, the Byzantine emperors ruling from Constantinople and even at their time in exile at the Nicaean Empire from 1204 to 1261 all called themselves Roman emperors even if Byzantine culture over these centuries evolved more and more from Latin to Greek. Anyway, let’s start comparing the stories of the last emperor of the west and the last emperor of the east who lived a thousand years apart from each other. Previously, I already discussed the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI’s story being that he was the 4th son of the previous emperor Manuel II Palaiologos and his wife the Serbian Helena Dragas born in 1405 and before Constantine was emperor, he was for many years a successful general and governor in the Morea with his brothers Theodore II and Thomas. Constantine XI meanwhile was selected to occupy the throne of Byzantium when his eldest brother John VIII died childless and a succession dispute broke out between Constantine and his surviving younger brothers Demetrios and Thomas so for about 3 months, Constantinople had no emperor and their mother Helena despite her old age stepped in as the city’s regent until she put her support to make Constantine the emperor while the Ottoman sultan Murad II approved that Constantine must be emperor too as he was the eldest surviving brother. At the beginning of 1449, Constantine XI was crowned in the Morea’s capital Mystras and afterwards set sail to Constantinople in a Catalan ship as by this point Byzantium had no ships anymore and before heading to the imperial capital, he made sure Demetrios and Thomas would settle down in the Morea and not quarrel anymore by dividing the Morea between both of them just to satisfy them. Though Constantine XI had not achieved so much in his reign, he at least had the courage to and no matter how reduced his empire was, he still wanted to keep it alive no matter what. During Constantine XI’s early reign, his mother died in 1450 and in 1451, the Ottoman sultan Murad II died too passing the Ottoman throne again to his ambitious son, the young sultan Mehmed II who was even more intent to finally capture Constantinople than his father. Ever since the late 14th century, the Ottomans had already completely surrounded Constantinople with Adrianople renamed Edirne in Thrace as their new capital basically just a few kilometers north of Constantinople but even though Constantinople was completely cut-off from other Byzantine territories like the Morea it still posed a great problem to the expanding Ottomans as their previous emperors Manuel II and his son John VIII had never stopped asking for help from Western Europe which the Ottomans saw as dangerous and therefore Constantinople must fall to save themselves, also the Ottomans since they began in 1299 believed it was their destiny to capture Constantinople as ever since Islam began expanding in 7th century, Constantinople was already the ultimate prize seeing it as the center of the civilized world. Of course in Constantine XI’s time, Constantinople was a shadow of its former self and the damage caused by the Latins 200 years earlier in the 4th Crusade was no longer reparable and the Byzantine Empire had turned into a small and impoverished city-state, but it still had options as the previous emperors could always ask neighboring powers to start a war against the expanding Ottomans to save them, but for the Ottomans they thought fully capturing Constantinople would also stop everyone from attacking them as no one would provoke them to do it anymore. Now in the case of the last days of the Western Roman Empire in the year 475, it was the same as Byzantium in its last years except not so extremely reduced in size as in 475 when the last western emperor Romulus came to power, the empire was only left with Italy and some parts of the Alps in today’s Switzerland and Austria as well as Dalmatia which however was an semi-independent state since 461 while Northwest Gaul was still in the map part of the western empire except that by 475 it was also semi-independent under its own ruler Syagrius, the son of the general Aegidius who declared this area semi-independent too in 461. In terms of story, the last western emperor Romulus had it different from Constantine XI as Romulus was just an emperor in name where it was in fact his father Orestes as the Magister Militum who ran the empire, yet it still unclear till this day why Orestes did not make himself emperor in 475 when capturing Ravenna from Julius Nepos and instead made his son a puppet ruler. This general Orestes was a Roman citizen and native of Pannonia, although some time in the 440s, Attila and his Hunnic Empire took over Pannonia from the Western Roman Empire and here Orestes switched sides to the Huns to serve as Attila’s secretary and diplomat but after Attila’s defeat by Aetius in 451 and 452 and death in 453 followed by the Huns’ defeat by their rebellious Germanic subjects in 454, the Hunnic Empire broke apart and Orestes returned to serving the Western Roman army in Dalmatia near his homeland and in 460, his son Romulus was born in either today’s Slovenia or Croatia. In 474, the military governor of Dalmatia and successor of Marcellinus which was his nephew Julius Nepos was appointed the new western emperor by the eastern emperor Zeno and when arriving Italy followed by Glycerius’ peaceful surrender, Nepos as the new emperor made Orestes who accompanied him as his Magister Militum or top general but Orestes though was never loyal to anyone but himself and his previous master Attila the Hun so when Nepos was planning his campaign to take back Southern Gaul in 475, Orestes revolted against Nepos with his army mostly made up of barbarian federate troops and took over Ravenna forcing Nepos to surrender and flee back to Dalmatia, but Orestes did not claim the throne for himself, except he made his son his puppet emperor. Orestes’ son Romulus was only 15 when coming into power so he could not really make his own decisions while the last eastern emperor Constantine XI was around 44 when coming into power as emperor and already an experienced leader but ironically both Constantine XI and Romulus Augustus who were their respective empire’s last rulers shared the same names with their empire’s founders as Romulus Augustus was named after the alleged founder and first king of Rome Romulus in 8th century BC and the first Roman emperor Augustus Caesar (r. 27BC-14AD) while the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI shared the same name with the Byzantine empire’s founder which was the Roman emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337); although the last western emperor Romulus got his first name from his maternal grandfather while Constantine XI ironically too was named after his maternal grandfather the Serbian magnate Konstantin Dejanovic, but what was even more ironic with Constantine XI was that his mother Helena shared the same first name with Constantine the Great’s mother which was St. Helena and in fact prophecy foretold that the last emperor of Constantinople would be another Constantine who also a son of another Helena and it turned out to be true. In terms of their rise to power, Romulus was just put in the throne by his father giving him the title Augustulus meaning “little Augustus” and possibly the reason for putting his young son in power was out of mockery to mock the Roman citizens that their empire has been simply reduced to nothing that anyone, even a child can be made emperor while for Constantine XI he also did not come to power out of his own doing but rather similarly with the support of his mother and the approval of the sultan Murad II but Constantine XI unlike Romulus had full autonomy in ruling the empire and there was no mockery involved in his coming to power. As the western emperor, Romulus did not just not make any decisions himself, he never even left behind any structures and the only symbol of his power were the coins minted using his name while also in 475, Basiliscus who led the eastern fleet to a humiliating defeat against the Vandals in 468 took over the eastern throne after deposing Zeno and he too did not recognize the authority of Romulus. As for Constantine XI meanwhile, he made the most of his reign by again agreeing to a union with the Catholic Church for political reasons to gain the support of the western armies as he was still a true Orthodox Christian at heart and in 1452, the union was again signed despite the unrest among the people again; in fact even Constantine XI’s high officials like the grand admiral Loukas Notaras opposed this union saying that he’d rather see the city fall to the Turks than be submissive to the Latin Church. In the meantime, Constantine XI already started looking for allies but at the end only Venetian, Genoese, and some Catalan troops came to his aid. Mehmed II had long been planning to capture Constantinople so in early 1453, he had already blockaded Constantinople after constructing a large fortress at the Bosporus to cut off all ships that came to Constantinople’s aid and after an incident of a Venetian ship sinking due to the Ottoman’s cannon attack from the fortress and its crew executed, Constantine saw it as a declaration of war and at first Mehmed asked him if he could just simply hand over the city without a fight, but Constantine refused saying he’d rather die than see his city shamefully surrender, so the siege began in April of 1453 and no matter the odds Constantine XI with only 7,000 men stood up against Mehmed II’s 80,000 men plus a massive cannon that proved successful in breaking open the 1,000 year old Theodosian Walls. As for Romulus in 476, his end was a lot more different as after he was put into power, his father’s barbarian troops commanded by his Ostrogoth commander Odoacer demanded that they be given a third of land in Italy for supporting Orestes overthrowing Nepos but Orestes refused it so these barbarians turned against him and executed him when finding him in Piacenza. Romulus in Ravenna was left alone with no more protection while Odoacer and his men marched to Ravenna and on September 4, 476 Odoacer’s forces won a short battle against the remaining city guards of Ravenna and marched into the city. Romulus without any more support had no choice but to abdicate and surrender to Odoacer. After Romulus handed over his crown to Odoacer, there was no more emperor in the west as Odoacer refused to take the crown of the emperor and instead proclaimed himself “King of Italy” surrendering the crown to the eastern emperor Zeno who just came back to power deposing Basiliscus, what happened to Romulus afterwards is unknown. Constantine XI in 1453 meanwhile did not easily surrender in such a humiliating way like Romulus did in 476, instead he fought till the end against Mehmed II’s siege even with so little men except with his skilled Genoese general Giovanni Giustiniani and many tricks up his sleeve he still had hopes of winning but as 2 months passed his men were outnumbered and Mehmed II had the upper hand. Constantine was still advised by his advisors to surrender and regroup in the Morea with his brothers but he chose to still stand and fight till the end. The siege ended on May 29, 1453 and Constantine XI seeing the Ottomans storm the city charged into the heat of the battle never to be seen again while Giustiniani fought on but after being injured by an arrow, he had to evacuate with everyone dying in the process while the admiral Notaras was found days later and executed by Mehmed II. When the siege was over, Mehmed II rode through the streets seeing Constantinople as only a shadow of its former self, although Constantine XI’s body was said to never have been found and in fact legend says that he either escaped or his body was moved away by an angel and turned into stone so that one day he would come back to liberate the Greeks from the Ottomans. Similarly, for both Romulus Augustus and Constantine XI there had been so may legends that were bought up about them after they had disappeared as Romulus, after 476 nothing more is mentioned about him but it was most likely that he was peacefully exiled in Campania in Southern Italy or became a monk, though his death was said to be in around 507. Of course both the ends of Romulus and Constantine XI had changed the world in so many ways, in 476 Romulus abdication in the long-term ended Roman rule in Western Europe except that the impact was not really felt since Roman rule had already collapsed in the west since the beginning of the 5th century and barbarian elements have already dominated their society since then but the end of Constantine XI in 1453 sure enough shocked the world making everyone see for themselves how powerful the Ottomans had become even if just less than 200 years earlier they were just a small underdeveloped state in Asia Minor, but even though the Byzantine Empire had already been so reduced in 1453, it was still a shocking blow to world as this marked the actual end of the Roman civilization.

Constantine XI- Romulus
Left: Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos of Byzantium (r. 1449-1453); right: Western Roman emperor Romulus Augustus (r. 475-476)
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Map of Mehmed II’s 1453 Siege of Constantinople

Watch this to learn more about the last days of Byzantium before the fall of 1453 (from Eastern Roman History).

Watch this to learn more about the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453 (from Kings and Generals).

Bonus: Mehmed II (1451-1481) to Odoacer (476-493)

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And now we have reached the end but before finishing it all, here’s a bonus mention about how similar or different the conqueror of the Eastern Roman Empire was to the conqueror of the Western Roman Empire and also what the aftermath of both events were. In 1453, out of all the Islamic powers of the world, it was the newly formed Ottoman Empire that fulfilled the prophecy of taking over the queen of cities, and it was their young sultan Mehmed II that was responsible for it. For the Western Roman Empire in 476, its fall was in no way dramatic but rather very anti-climactic as its 74-year-old capital Ravenna easily fell to a rebellious barbarian general which was Odoacer and no big climactic battle with large cannons, ships dragged across the land, heroic defending soldiers, and supernatural events such as a glow over the Hagia Sophia’s dome had happened, instead in 476 a weak and defenseless boy emperor easily submitted to the general who rebelled against and killed his father. The sultan Mehmed II and barbarian king Odoacer meanwhile had different backstories as Mehmed II was a highly educated ruler with the dream of having Constantinople once again as a great imperial capital while Odoacer was nothing more than a general who wanted land. Odoacer meanwhile was most likely an Ostrogoth or part of the Germanic Scirii tribe and when his people were subjugated by Attila the Hun decades earlier he served Attila as a commander together with Orestes but when Attila’s Empire fell apart, Odoacer and Orestes teamed up and later found themselves in the Western Roman Empire when Julius Nepos seized power in 474. When capturing Ravenna in 476, Odoacer at least spared young Romulus feeling pity for him but even when given the chance to make himself emperor, he refused saying that the western empire had grown so small it no longer needed an emperor so he instead chose to be King of Italy taking all of Italy under his rule. The crown of Romulus was then surrendered to Emperor Zeno of Byzantium who accepted it as Odoacer wrote to him that the world only needed one emperor which was Zeno, true enough Odoacer accepted Zeno as the real emperor and would rule Italy as Zeno’s vassal except Zeno would later be troubled by another Ostrogoth ruler named Theodoric so Zeno turned Theodoric away by making him invade Italy and in 493, Theodoric seized Ravenna and executed Odoacer himself and again made himself king of the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy which would last until the 550s when the eastern empire under Justinian I the Great through his generals Belisarius and Narses annexed it back to Roman control. Even though Odoacer decided to end the rule of the Roman emperors, he at least made sure the legacy of Rome was still alive so he still allowed the Roman Senate in Ravenna to operate and spare all the great structures the Romans in the past had built. Similarly, Mehmed II when entering Constantinople did the same allowing the Byzantine culture and its institutions to continue, in fact he still allowed the people to practice their Christian faith but with limitations, though he even allowed the Patriarch of Constantinople to still keep his title but to fully make Constantinople his new capital, the city’s main cathedral of the Hagia Sophia had to be converted into a mosque. Mehmed II at first allowed his men to pillage the city when they captured it but when seeing them overdo it, he ordered them to stop out of respect for the great civilization of the Romans/ Byzantines. Like Odoacer who refused the title of emperor, Mehmed II did the same as he ruled an entirely different empire as its sultan but for symbolic reasons, he still kept the title of “Roman emperor”. Of course 1453 was not the real end for Byzantium, as the Morea still resisted under the brothers Demetrios and Thomas until Mehmed captured it in 1460 and the Empire of Trebizond in the Eastern Black Sea that formed in 1204 still remained alive all this time until Mehmed II finally captured it in 1461 except with not much of fight like in 1453 as Trebizond’s last ruler David Megas Komnenos surrendered, here marks the real end of the Byzantine era. The Byzantine vassal state of Lesbos under the Genoese Gattilusio family meanwhile survived until also falling to Mehmed II in 1462 while several other Latin states formed after the 4th Crusade like the Duchy of the Archipelago also ended falling to the Ottomans. On the other hand, the Ottomans had also allowed Byzantium’s permanent ally which was Genoa to continue operating in their empire and to still hold onto the Galata Quarter of Constantinople which was handed to them by Michael VIII in 1261. Constantinople meanwhile under Mehmed II was restored back into the great imperial city it once was and similarly for Ravenna after its fall, it was again turned into a cultural capital not under Odoacer but under his successor the Ostrogoth Theodoric. Just as how several Byzantine rump states survived 1453 but eventually fell to the Ottomans, the same was said for the Western Roman Empire as Dalmatia under Nepos would attempt to mount a resistance and take back Italy but failed with Nepos killed in 480 by his own troops leaving Odoacer to annex Dalmatia to his own kingdom, the breakaway Roman Kingdom of Soissons under Syagrius lasted until it fell to the Frankish king Clovis I in 486, and in North Africa several Roman-Berber states were formed independent from the Vandals. The Visigoths continued to dominate Gaul until 507 when the Franks drove them down south to Hispania, Britain meanwhile most likely fell into chaos after it was left alone in the early 5th century although around this time it would end up falling under the Saxons, the Suebi Kingdom meanwhile continued to exist in Spain until the Visigoths destroyed it in the 6th century, and for the Vandals in 477, just a year after the western empire ended, their long reigning king Gaiseric died at age 88. This Vandal king Gaiseric was in fact the story of the 5th century as he has seen it all being around ever since the Vandals crossed the Rhine in 406 and it was under him that his people after settling in Hispania then in North Africa evolved from a small Germanic tribe to the power of the Mediterranean. Though the western empire had fallen, the east stood strong as the Byzantine Empire which in the 6th century under Emperor Justinian I took back the entire Vandal Kingdom of North Africa, Italy from the Ostrogoths, and Southern Spain from the Visigoths and this empire would continue the Roman legacy all the way up to 1453. Now after 1453, the Byzantine spirit also lived on when intellectuals from the empire fled west to Italy and other parts of Europe to bring with them classical knowledge of the Greeks and Roman that the Byzantines preserved with them all these centuries, and by doing this, Byzantium helped bring in the Renaissance to Europe. Mehmed II ruled the Ottoman Empire until his death in 1481 expanding it even deeper into the Balkans, and his empire would in fact survive all the way up until the 20th century. 

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The world after 476, Odoacer’s new kingdom in Italy

Watch this to learn more about the further conquests of Mehmed II (from Kings and Generals). 

And now, I’ve come to end of this extremely long article. Even for me, no matter how much I have studied Roman and Byzantine history, I still have a hard time answering the question of the Byzantine Empire being the same old original Roman Empire itself or the just the successor, it’s still confusing since Byzantium was born out of Imperial Rome therefore making it the successor but with Byzantium being founded by Constantine I the Great in 330 with Constantinople as its capital, it still makes it confusing as the empire was in fact founded when the older empire, the Roman Empire was still standing. With this question left unanswered, it is still a big question on who is actually the last Roman emperor since if you consider Romulus Augustus in 476 then you are only referring to the last emperor of the Western Empire as when he was deposed by Odoacer, the east still had an emperor which Zeno, then if you consider Constantine XI in 1453 then you could say he is the last Roman emperor but only referring to the east. The whole period between 395 and 476 was quite confusing as there were 2 Roman Empires with its own emperor, so I would say it is safer to say that Theodosius I can be considered the last full Roman emperor as in 395 he died as the last emperor to rule a united empire despite only ruling a united empire for 4 months and right after his death, the division between wast and west was already permanent. Now if you are talking about the last Roman Empire of the old empire, possibly Diocletian could be it as he was the last one to rule the old system known as the Principate as in 285 when he gained the sole empire for himself, he reformed the system to the Dominate. The Roman Empire though lasted all the way to 1453 with the death of Constantine XI but the Byzantine Empire that lasted until 1453 has already lost most of its Roman roots over the centuries, so another option of who could be the last Roman emperor is the Byzantine emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565) as he was the last emperor to have the vision of rebuilding the old Roman Empire or it could be Emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641) since he was the last emperor to rule Byzantium as a Roman emperor, as in his reign, Byzantium’s institutions shifted to Greek. Anyway, despite the Western and Eastern Empires being the same one with the east dying out 1000 years after the west, the one thing they have in common which is why they are truly the same empire was that they met their ends in almost the same way. The old Roman Empire which continues to the Western Roman Empire though only took more than 200 years to collapse ever since the Crisis of the 3rd Century, while for Byzantium it took more than 400 years to reach its end ever since the Crisis of the 11th Century. Similarly, both Imperial Rome and Byzantium recovered from the crisis and underwent a time of restoration, for the old empire it was in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries under emperors Diocletian and Constantine I the Great and for its successor, Byzantium this short-lived period of recovery and restoration was under the Komnenos emperor of the 12th century. However, this period of restoration did not last long for both empires as in the old empire, internal fighting which was seen among Constantine I’s sons and large scale foreign invasions broke the system until the eventual turning point which was the Battle of Adrianople in 378, while for Byzantium the incompetent rules of the Angelos emperors brought down the system leading to the eventual collapse of the empire in 1204 with the 4th Crusade. Although, the Roman Empire still survived after the crushing defeat at Adrianople but this already meant the end at least for the western half wherein the invading Goths would use as their target, as the eastern half which had more cosmopolitan cities, richer lands, and access to more trade routes had more chances of survival compared to the less developed western half. For Byzantium centuries later after 1204, there were 2 major defeats that began its end first being the defeat to the Seljuks at Manzikert in 1071 which led to the loss of the empire’s heartland which was Asia Minor, and next was the capture of the capital by the 4th Crusade in 1204 and this event could have already been the end if not for the Byzantine people regrouping in Nicaea with the mission to take back their capital. The 57 years that the Byzantine Empire was in exile though was a time of soul searching wherein they reconnected with their Ancient Greek roots to establish their real national identity which they would continue using after taking back Constantinople from the Latins in 1261. The reason for why the Byzantium after 1261 returned to its Greek past and became more or less a Greek Empire was because in their time in exile between 1204 and 1261, it was the Byzantine Greeks of Constantinople that established their own state and since their empire was already so reduced, it had become basically an nation of Greeks unlike before 1204 when Byzantium was more multi-ethnic. Now when talking about the Western Roman Empire after 395, its end was ever nearer due to many factors and not just barbarian invasions but most of it was due to the decrease in its population and the loss of soldiers that defeated barbarian enemies had to be recruited into the army but this only made things worse as these barbarians like Alaric and his Visigot