Posted by Powee Celdran
Disclaimer: Although this is a work of fiction, it is largely based on true events and characters. It seeks to alter the course of actual events that transpired in the 5th century AD.
Welcome to the second chapter of the Byzantine Alternate History series by the Byzantium Blogger! Last time, in chapter I of my alternate history series, I discussed what could have happened if the armies of the combined eastern and western halves of the Roman Empire worked together and won the critical Battle of Adrianople in 378, where in real history the Romans lost thus marking the beginning of their end. In the previous story, I also discussed possible scenarios that could have happened but never happened in history such as if the western emperor Valentinian I the Great- who died in 375- lived a bit longer in time to help his brother the eastern emperor Valens in the war against the invading Gothic tribes at the Battle of Adrianople itself as well as a possible scenario of the future Roman emperor Theodosius I taking sides with the Goths, then eventually becoming their ruler and one day take the Roman Empire for himself and unite it with the Goths ruling a super-empire. However, in this alternate history series I am writing, despite this being the second chapter of the series, it will have no continuity to the previous story. As I mentioned it previously, all 12 articles will be stand-alone pieces, and each one will have a totally different what if scenario beginning with real history, but with a twist at the end that none of us had ever seen happening. This here is my 5th century AD fan fiction and just like the first chapter, it is just myself writing it, while just as how this series is made, this chapter will have no continuity with the alternate history outcome of the previous chapter. This article will be not just the story of one empire, but two- the Eastern and Western Roman Empires- and the climax will be a particular event taking place in the year 472, 4 years before the actual fall of the Western Roman Empire (476) and here a very much unknown scenario that could have prevented the eventual fall of the west involving the Eastern Roman or Byzantine emperor Leo I and a secret order, the Western Roman emperor Procopius Anthemius and an assassination attempt on him, and an insignificant battle that took place in Rome. The fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 happens to be so romanticized especially in the western context when in reality, it was nothing more but humiliating rather than dramatic as all that happened was that the puppet boy emperor Romulus Augustus was simply overthrown by his barbarian general Odoacer who decided to just abolish the title of emperor as the position had been a very useless one anyway, thus putting an end to the western empire making everyone later on believe this event marked the end of the Roman Empire. This event in 476 personally makes me cringe a lot as Rome did not really fall here, in fact it still lived on in the east as Byzantium, though I believe this fall in 476 could have easily been stopped. One scenario that I believe could have prevented Western Rome from falling in 476 was something that took place 4 years prior to it where the western emperor Anthemius, who was actually an Eastern Roman (Byzantine) and one of the very few competent emperors in the 80-year history of the failed state being the Western Roman Empire would have not been in killed 472 at the Battle of Rome, whereas in real history he fell out with his powerful barbarian general Ricimer who later defeated and killed him. Though Anthemius ruled the west for only 5 years (467-472) being a puppet of the Western Empire’s army general Ricimer, he was still a strong and competent emperor who clearly did not want to be a puppet, and even though ruling an empire that was falling apart, he was still motivated to restore it and fight back the barbarian tribes that had been taking over it as well as establishing a dynasty to make sure the empire would still last, but sadly he did not achieve his dream due to his betrayal and death. Anthemius was killed by the orders of his puppet master Ricimer who only out of chance intercepted a letter made by the eastern emperor Leo I to kill Ricimer, which he used instead as an order to kill Anthemius. After the death of Anthemius, disorder and anarchy reigned in the Western Roman Empire for 4 more years with 4 more weaker emperors following him and a lack of central authority eventually culminating in the abolition of the western empire in 476, leaving the west to completely fall to barbarian rule and the Eastern Roman Empire based in Constantinople to be the only Roman Empire left around. Now, if Anthemius still stayed alive by receiving the letter ordering Ricimer’s death before Ricimer got his hands on it, would the Western Roman Empire still have many more years left to live or not?
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Note: Since the story is set in the 5th century, Byzantine characters will be referred to as Romans not Byzantines.
The previous chapter discussed the Gothic War from 376-382 with a Roman victory, but in real history the defeat of the Romans to the Goths at the Battle of Adrianople in 378 was the beginning of the end, for the western half of the empire at least, as the east though being devastated was in the perfect geographical position to remain standing as the western half was more exposed to frequent barbarian invasions through the Rhine and Danube river borders. In only less than a hundred years after the catastrophic Battle of Adrianople, the Western Roman Empire ceased to exist in 476 but in that 98 years between 378 and 476, a roller coaster of events has happened for the Romans, both east and west. Following the Gothic War’s conclusion in 382, peace was settled and the enemy being the Goths were settled into the Roman Empire as allied soldiers or Foederati under their own leaders by the new eastern emperor Theodosius I, however in the years to come, these barbarians that would become a majority in the Roman army would prove to be terrible and rebellious. In 395, the Roman Empire would be permanently split in half when Theodosius I died passing the eastern half which would be the Byzantine Empire to his older son Arcadius and the western half to his younger son Honorius and in the years that followed, disaster after disaster occurred in the western half including a massive barbarian invasion into the empire crossing the frozen Rhine in 406, the loss of Roman Britain, 2 sackings of the Eternal City Rome (in 410 by the Visigoths and in 455 by the Vandals), the birth of new barbarian kingdoms within the empire, a series of invasions by the world’s enemy being the Huns, and an epic battle worth talking about thousands of years later which was the Battle of Chalons (Catalaunian Plains) in Gaul in 451 wherein the Western Romans with their barbarian Visigoth, Frankish, and Burgundians allies proved successful in defeating the world’s enemy, Attila the Hun. Though the Huns were eventually defeated after 451, the Western Roman Empire was beyond repair, as in the past few years, barbarian tribes that had recently invaded such as the Visigoths, Franks, Vandals, Suebi, and Ostrogoths already took over a large percent of Roman lands and began becoming a constant headache for both the western and eastern empires, while the western empire’s government and succession system remained unstable especially due to having a series of incompetent emperors whether from an imperial bloodline or just usurpers wanting to take power for themselves or worse, puppet emperors controlled by powerful barbarian puppet masters as after all by the 5th century the position of Roman emperor already came to mean nothing now that powerful generals of barbarian descent had been running the empire. The western half of the Roman Empire based in Ravenna though was only more or less a satellite state of the eastern half or Byzantine Empire based in Constantinople which stood stronger as it held the richer provinces of the Roman Empire including Syria and Egypt as well as several important cities including Antioch and Alexandria, and at the same time having mostly competent emperors, a more stable government system, and less control by barbarian generals. As for the west being the east’s satellite state, basically its emperor to be considered legitimate had to be appointed or have the consent of the eastern emperor for sitting in the western throne, or he’d be considered a usurper. Now in the entire 80-year history of the western empire, it turns out only 5 of the 14 western emperors were considered legitimate as they were recognized by the eastern emperor and only 2 of these 5 were competent ones which was Majorian (r. 457-461) the ambitious soldier emperor who still had a vision to restore his empire and make the role of emperor still a functioning one but met a tragic end, and Procopius Anthemius (r. 467-472) who is the central character of this story, a Greek in blood and a native of Constantinople who had a vision to restore the dying western half that had been overrun by barbarians but was betrayed and killed by those who feared his growing independence, particularly his puppet master general Ricimer who was also behind Majorian’s fall and death. Since only 4 other western emperors ruled the west after Anthemius and neither of them were strong ones, Anthemius has the legacy of being perhaps the last capable Western Roman emperor and even in his short 5-year reign, he had a pretty good start in saving the western empire from total extinction.
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The 5th century was one epic story for the Roman Empire especially being the western empire’s last century and the steady rise of the eastern empire or Byzantine Empire. Now, there happens to be so many crucial events in the 5th century history of Rome that could create many what if scenarios such as what if the general Stilicho was not executed in 408, what if Attila defeated the Romans in 451, what if the Vandals never sacked Rome in 455, or what if the western emperor Majorian was not killed in 461, but out of all the events that happened in this century, I chose to go for one particularly obscure scenario which is one that involves the western emperor Anthemius and his death and what if it did not happen, which I believe would be something that could at least save the western empire for some more years. Now, a video by the Youtube channel Eastern Roman History which had been ranking the Byzantine emperors of the Leonid Dynasty starting with its founder Leo I (r. 457-474) who will be a central character of this story too made quite a theory saying that if the eastern emperor Zeno in 476 who was overthrown here stayed in power instead, the west would have been saved and another one being that if Zeno’s son the short reigning emperor Leo II (r. 474) did not die after only 9 months in power as a child, history may have turned out to be different, though for me I would go for the option of saving the west from falling back in 472 with Anthemius surviving, but after watching this recent video as well and hearing of the theory of Leo II living long enough, I decided to put this theory of Leo II here as well. Basically, I wanted to do an article covering a lesser-known part of Roman-Byzantine history and a character in this period which happens to be a very interesting figure, and in this case it is the Greek Constantinople-born Western Roman emperor Procopius Anthemius, another forgotten but able ruler in history and only recently I have been fascinated with him and his story. On the other hand, the Western Roman Empire from 395 to 455 had undergone such epic events but the few years between the Vandals’ sack of Rome in 455 and the final end of the Western Roman Empire in 476 are not very much remembered so what I am doing here in this article is to bring some light into this mysterious 20-year period of history set in the middle of important and well-remembered events. It was only recently when I got to know about the emperor Anthemius and what he did which was in December of 2020 when I wrote an the article of comparing the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century to the fall of Byzantium in the 15th century and here I discovered something interesting which was not only about Anthemius but a particular mystery that involved a secret letter sent by the eastern emperor Leo I and again I should mention that it was through my favorite history related Youtube channel Dovahhatty in his final episode of his Unbiased History of Rome series, Chapter XIX: The Fall of Rome where I first came across this particular story and Anthemius himself. Strangely, I have already grown very familiar with the Eastern Roman characters of this part of the 5th century such as Emperor Leo I, his successor Zeno, the arrogant and incompetent general Basiliscus, the eastern empire’s powerful puppet master general Aspar, and many others, but not with Anthemius who in fact was a Byzantine too. In the past I have also included these characters previously mentioned in my articles but not Anthemius, so now I will do my best to blend Anthemius into the story making him a leading character together with the eastern emperors Leo I, Basiliscus, and Zeno. Since in this series I will be experimenting by playing around on some historical characters and their back stories, in this case I will do it with Anthemius who has not so much written about him by historians of his time despite being one of the most documented of the unknown western Roman emperors, so here I will do my best to create his character’s traits and intentions. In addition, I will do the same as last time in blending in a fictional character into the historical setting to add some more plot twists to the story and in this case, it will be however a real character which was the Eastern Roman soldier sent by Leo I with secret orders to kill Ricimer which was for Anthemius’ eyes only, though this soldier was never named and his story never told, so for this chapter I will give a bit of a story to this particular soldier named Cyriacus and in addition, I also decided to include a side story of Emperor Leo I no one has heard of which was his discovery of a miracle making spring in Constantinople. Now in real history, the Western Roman Empire ever since 456 was basically under the control of a powerful Germanic barbarian general in their army named Flavius Ricimer and under his manipulation were the puppet emperors Majorian (r. 457-461), Severus III (r. 461-465), and Anthemius (r. 467-472) and all these emperors met their ends by Ricimer who fell out with all three. In 472, which is where this story’s climax will take place, it happened in real history that the eastern emperor Leo I was pressured by the Vandal king of Carthage Genseric to make his friend Olybrius the western emperor but Leo being a friend of Anthemius who worked well with him as a co-emperor came up with a smart trick which was to pretend to agreeing to kill Anthemius to please Genseric, but secretly he planted a letter with this soldier Cyriacus escorting Olybrius to Italy but when arriving in Italy, Ricimer intercepted the letter which had orders to kill him as well as Olybrius to break Anthemius out of his control. Being shocked when seeing this letter, Ricimer decided to turn on Anthemius, proclaimed Olybrius his new puppet emperor, and besieged Rome- making this the 3rd time in the century that Rome would be attacked- where Anthemius held himself in and after 5 months, Anthemius was defeated and beheaded by Ricimer’s orders but shortly after, both Ricimer and his new puppet Olybrius died of natural causes, and just 4 years later with instability in the west growing more and more, the western empire was finally abolished in 476 when the powerless last emperor, the boy Romulus Augustus was depsoed by his powerful barbarian general Odoacer who simply chose to not use the title of emperor anymore as it came to mean nothing by this point. However, I believe that if Anthemius got the letter ahead of Ricimer, he would have ruled himself independently and thus restoring significance to the position of emperor, establish a dynasty, and keep the empire alive for much longer while at the same time closely cooperating with his eastern co-emperor Leo I. In this story, the main antagonists will be Ricimer and the eastern empire’s puppet master Aspar who will be depicted as those who seek to destroy civilization itself from within which will be a more fictional element as real history does not really say what their true intentions were except that they were clearly power-hungry leaders and more significantly barbarians running the Roman Empire, very ironic as for the past centuries the Roman were the ones ruling the world seeking to destroy the barbarians, but here by the 5th century the barbarians were the ones that had taken over the Roman Empire both from the outside and inside. Though even if the western empire would still survive after 476, there would still be a possibility of the whole known world eventually starting what would be the first world war thousands of years before World War I happened and here I could imagine the Eastern and Western Empires allying with the Franks and Sassanid Empire against a large coalition of barbarians including the Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Vandals, Burgundians, Saxons, Suebi, and Huns fighting wars all across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. At the same time, with the Western Roman Empire still surviving after 476, this could also mean that the epic reconquests of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine emperor Justinian I in the 6th centuries would not really come to happen anymore. This story here will be much longer than the previous one because of its variety of character as well as the geography it focuses on, and it will not only tell the story of one character or one empire but of both Eastern and Western Roman empires, a number of emperors, and other nations including the Vandals, Visigoths, and Ostrogoths and how they came to overrun the Roman Empire, as well several ongoing conflicts between them in a setting of such a larger world over the span of not just many years but decades. Before beginning the rest of the story, I would like to thank the artists (Amelianvs, Androklos, Aureliokos, Spatharokandidatos, Roninpizza, HistoryGold777, Simulyaton, and Byzantine Tales) for providing their artworks to guide you viewers through this story’s 5th century setting.
The Leading Characters:
Procopius Anthemius- Western Roman emperor
Leo I (Leo Marcellus)- Eastern Roman emperor
Flavius Ricimer- Magister Militum of the West
Anicius Olybrius- Rival of Anthemius
Flavius Zeno- Eastern Roman general, later emperor
*Cyriacus- Eastern Roman Palatini soldier (real character but unnamed, therefore I gave his name)
Genseric- King of the Vandals of North Africa
Odoacer- Commander of the Ostrogoth Foederati
Gundobad- Burgundian leader and Ricimer’s 2nd in command
Bilimer- Western Roman general
Aspar- Magister Militum of the East
Basiliscus- Eastern Roman commander
Julius Nepos- Eastern Roman general
Theodoric Strabo- Rogue Ostrogoth mercenary
Marcian- Son of Anthemius
Alypia- Daughter of Anthemius
Ariadne- Daughter of Leo I and wife of Zeno
Daniel the Stylite- Eastern Roman prophet and hermit
Leo II- Eventual Eastern Roman emperor, son of Zeno and Ariadne
Not to mention, the story’s lead character Emperor Procopius Anthemius has his own Instagram! Follow @the_anthemius.
Character Images Below of Selected Characters from this Story
Background Guide: Western Roman characters (red, although Anthemius was a western emperor his yellow background is because he is from the east), Eastern Roman characters (yellow), Ostrogoths (green), Vandals (blue).
The Background- The Real History (378-465)
In 378, the Roman army faced a catastrophic defeat to the invading Gothic army at the Battle of Adrianople where the eastern Roman emperor Valens was killed and following this was a great crisis. Without an emperor in the eastern half of the Roman Empire, the young Roman-Spanish general Theodosius the Younger was appointed as the east’s emperor based in Constantinople- the new capital of the Roman Empire founded by Emperor Constantine I the Great in 330- by the reigning young western emperor Gratian who felt that he could not rule the entire empire both east and west alone and in 382, the crisis of the Goths was solved when peace was settled with the Goths allowing them to settle in Roman lands under their own leaders and fully armed so long as they provide military assistance for the Romans becoming a unit in the Roman army known as the Foederati as the Goths could no longer return to their homeland which had been taken over by the world’s enemy, the expanding Huns from Central Asia. The following year (383), civil war broke out in the west when Magnus Maximus, a Roman-Spanish general in Britain pulled out his troops there, marched into Gaul and usurped power after hunting down and killing Gratian. Magnus Maximus however wanted to share power with his friend, the eastern emperor Theodosius I but Theodosius disagreed as the west already had a legitimate emperor, Gratian’s younger half-brother Valentinian II, so a civil war was fought between Theodosius and Magnus Maximus, which first resulted in Magnus Maximus taking over Italy forcing the young Valentinian II with his mother the empress Justina to flee to Constantinople where Justina persuaded Theodosius to march west and defeat the usurper Magnus. In 388, Empress Justina had died in Constantinople while Theodosius also won the civil war against Magnus with the help of his new Gothic allies, Magnus Maximus was then executed, thus Valentinian II returned as emperor in the west.
Theodosius I as emperor had the legacy of not only settling the barbarian enemies of Rome into the empire but making Nicene Christianity the empire’s official religion as well thus marking a major turning point in history that had put an end to the centuries old Pagan traditions of Rome including the Vestal Virgins, several holidays, and the Olympic games. The emperor Theodosius however as his reign progressed became a bit too much of a Christian extremist that in one case in 390, he ordered the city garrison’s commander of Thessalonica in Greece who was a Goth to arrest the star chariot racer all because the racer was a homosexual which the emperor despised. The people of the city however were upset about it and so they stormed into the garrison and killed the Goth commander, and when hearing about this, Theodosius was so enraged that he ordered a Gothic Foederati unit in the Roman army to march to Thessalonica and slaughter its inhabitants, however Theodosius eventually changed his mind but it was too late as the Gothic soldiers already entered the city and killed 7,000 people in the Hippodrome.
When hearing of the massacre ordered by Theodosius, the bishop of Milan Ambrose who was close advisor Theodosius banned Theodosius from attending Church services for a year and could only repent if he was more extreme on cracking down on the Pagan faith, thus Theodosius followed and became more of a Christian extremist ordering the destruction of old Pagan temples as if to erase the Classical legacy of Rome. In 392, another civil war broke out when the western emperor Valentinian II killed himself when his protector general Arbogast, who previously assisted Theodosius in defeating Magnus Maximus turned against him proclaiming a scholar in Gaul named Eugenius as his puppet emperor as an act to please the Pagan who were persecuted by Theodosius, however Arbogast and Eugenius only used defending Paganism as a way to gain public support as both were Nicene Christians anyway. Theodosius at first did not really care about his co-emperor Valentinian II’s death and Arbogast’s betrayal but when realizing that Arbogast and his puppet Eugenius wanted to undo his work and restore the Pagan faith, Theodosius decided to march west from Constantinople to take care of the problem there.
In 394, Theodosius and his forces again mostly consisting of Gothic Foederati won a decisive victory against Arbogast and Eugenius at the Battle of Frigidus (in today’s Slovenia), and the commanders that helped in bringing a victory for Theodosius included the half-Roman half-Vandal Flavius Stilicho and a Goth warrior leader named Alaric, although the battle also turned to the favor of Theodosius when a sudden Alpine wind storm blew towards Arbogast’s forces redirecting their arrows towards them. The defeated Arbogast then killed himself and Eugenius was executed after the battle. With Theodosius winning the civil war again, he ruled as the last emperor of a united Roman Empire west to east from Portugal to Syria and north to south from Britain to Egypt for only 4 months as he died in January of 395 leaving the empire to his underaged sons Arcadius and Honorius, while Theodosius I would also be the last Roman emperor for a long time to personally lead his troops in battle.
The Roman Empire was now permanently split in half with the division of line the empire stretching from the Balkans down to Libya, with the older brother, the 18-year-old Arcadius inheriting the richer eastern empire based in Constantinople while the younger brother, the 10-year-old Honorius inherited the weaker western half based in Milan which was to be a satellite state of Constantinople meaning the western emperor had to answer to the east which was his superior, though Honorius was under the regency of his father’s general, the brilliant and heroic Stilicho who despite being half-barbarian with a Vandal father was a true Roman at heart who would do anything he could to make sure Rome which was on the verge of collapsing would not fall.
Though the empire was divided east and west, they still had the same government system, same senate, and same military structure and one could go between east and west without being stopped. As the 5th century began, things were more or less much stable in the eastern empire despite the incompetence and uselessness of its emperor Arcadius as he had able generals and ministers but for the western half, disaster would soon enough come one after the other. First of all, in the east, the Gothic Foederati’s leader Alaric who was a descendant of the Thervingi Gothic tribe that invaded the empire in 370s went rogue for being denied a promotion to Magister Militum or commanding general of the eastern legions as a reward for his victory at the Battle of Frigidus in 394 making him declare himself king of his own people, known as the Visigoths who would pillage through Greece and the Balkans. Instead of continuing reigning terror in the eastern empire, Alaric turned west to become their problem but never really succeeded at first but if it was not Alaric that troubled the west, it was a new Gothic invasion into Italy from the north in 405 that troubled the west but in no time, Stilciho was able to crush this Gothic invasion.
In the meantime, the western emperor Honorius chose to move the capital from Milan to the swamp city of Ravenna for more protection but the true catastrophe though came on the last day of 406 when thousands of Germanic barbarian people including the Vandals, Suebi, and Alans crossed the frozen Rhine River into Gaul wherein the defense of the Roman border legions or Limitanei proved useless to control it and so from here on, these barbarians were free to roam the empire or be incorporated as Foederati troops. Following the massive invasion of the Rhine, a low-ranking officer in Britain usurped power in 407 against Honorius declaring himself Emperor Constantine III pulling his troops out of Britain and taking Gaul and later Hispania as his own. Arcadius meanwhile died in 408 and was succeeded by his 7-year-old son Theodosius II as the eastern emperor under the regency of the city prefect Flavius Anthemius while the western empire’s regent general Stilicho was executed too in 408 by Honorius’ orders being blamed for being the cause of the west’s defeats as well as being accused of trying to usurp power, although Honorius’ mind was corrupted by his advisor Olympius who fed him with lies about Stilicho being evil. The execution of Stilicho though only made things worse as Alaric began attacking Italy again, and Honorius realizing he had no more support just decided to make the usurper in Gaul Constantine III his co-emperor.
The real death blow to Rome though came in August of 410 when Alaric and his rebellious Visigoth troops sacked Rome, which would the first time in 800 wherein the city of Rome itself was attacked and sacked by a foreign enemy, and although Rome was not the capital anymore but still considered highly valuable. Honorius over in Ravenna meanwhile did not even seem to care about Rome being sacked and even worse, Honorius when hearing that Rome was attacked first panicked thinking his pet chicken named “Roma” had died, but when finding out his chicken was all fine and it was the city that was attacked, he was relieved. On the other hand, as Britain was already falling into disorder after the Roman legions pulled out and Saxon pirates from across the North Sea endlessly pillaged it, Honorius just decided to abandon Britain ordering the last of the troops to pull out and telling the people there it was no longer his problem and it was up to them to defend themselves. Before Alaric and his army could sail to Carthage across the Mediterranean and invade it, he died in Southern Italy also in 410 from a fever shortly after his sack of Rome and was succeeded by his brother-in-law Athaulf who decided to head north instead and settle in Gaul together with his captive which was Honorius’ half-sister Galla Placidia who Athaulf married, while the Visigoths later transformed themselves from a tribal state to a kingdom during Athaulf’s reign (411-415).
In 411 meanwhile, the usurper Constantine III who was based in Gaul was deposed and executed by an army sent by Honorius who could no longer trust him, the Burgundians from Germania invaded Gaul settling there as Foederati in exchange for supporting a Roman usurper there who was defeated by Athaulf in 413 in Honorius’ name, while at the same time parts of Hispania were given to the unruly Suebi and Alans that crossed the Rhine back in 406 to make them at least settle somewhere. Following Athaulf’s death in 415, Galla Placidia was returned to the Western Roman Empire’s capital Ravenna where she would marry Honorius’ general Constantius who later became Honorius’ co-emperor in 421 and had plans to revive the power and stability of the empire, though he died that same year after ruling for only a few months. Honorius eventually died in 423 and at his death, there was at least some stability in the empire as the Visigoths, Burgundians, and Franks in Gaul as well as the Suebi and Alans in Hispania were at least settled as Foederati or allied states and not as their own independent kingdoms which was however not the case of the Vandals here in Southern Hispania at this point, although the one thing the highly incompetent and disastrous Honorius did good was dying after ruling for 30 years.
Over in the eastern empire, a short war was fought between the Eastern Romans and their traditional enemy, the Sassanid Persian Empire with not much conclusions but in the west with Honorius dead, there was a power vacuum so without a candidate to the throne, a nobleman of Ravenna named Joannes was elevated to the position of Augustus or literally the western emperor but lacked legitimacy as he was not recognized by the eastern emperor Theodosius II who instead backed his cousin, Honorius’ 6-year-old nephew Valentinian III, the son of Galla Placidia and the late Constantius as the western emperor as the young Valentinian III was in Constantinople with his mother at this time.
In 425, Joannes was defeated and killed by the forces of Galla Placidia and Theodosius II’s barbarian general Aspar that had marched into Italy, though Joannes was already supported by the western empire’s best general, Flavius Aetius who went beyond the empire to get the support of the world’s enemy, the Huns but arrived too late to save Joannes, instead he sent his Hunnish mercenary army away and swore loyalty to Galla Placidia and Valentinian III.
In the following years, the Foederati Visigoths, Franks, Burgundians, Alans, and Suebi would go back and forth either being allies or enemies of Rome making Aetius, who was assigned as the Magister Militum of Gaul constantly have to keep these barbarian settlers under control in which he was successful at. In the meantime, Aetius built up his own faction or club consisting of Rome’s best military officers of the 5th century which included the likes of the Roman Italian patrician Majorian, Aegidius of Gaul, Marcellinus of Illyria, Avitus of Gaul, and the Germanic Flavius Ricimer who was a son of the ruling families of the Suebi (father’s side) and Visigoths (mother’s side) who enlisted in the Western Roman army at a young age who in this story’s case did this having the intention to rise up the ranks to rule to the empire and destroy it from within. Aetius meanwhile was not overall trusted by the west’s regent empress Galla Placidia who preferred the general Count Bonifacius more thus firing Aetius leading to a civil war between Aetius and Bonifacius in which Aetius lost in 432 despite Bonifacius being mortally wounded and dying from his wounds, though Aetius not accepting defeat travelled again beyond the empire’s borders to the Huns’ new homeland in the plains of Central Europe (Hungary) to get their help again which he was once again successful at and using the Huns to intimidate Galla Placidia, Aetius regained his position as the western empire’s Magister Militum. Aetius meanwhile who was also part barbarian and once a hostage in the court of the Huns at a young age was educated in the fighting styles and culture of the Huns so when being a general of the western empire, Aetius used Hunnish mercenaries in his service, which in one case he heavily relied on when fighting a war against the Burgundians in 436 wherein the Huns totally decimated the Burgundian people in Gaul.
The Vandals on the other hand that had settled in Hispania led by their ruler Genseric joined forces with the Alans that settled in Hispania too and ended up crossing the Strait of Gibraltar invading Bonifacius’ territory which was North Africa after previously betraying Bonifacius who asked for their assistance against Aetius, and in 439 the Vandals took over the Western Romans’ capital of North Africa, Carthage founding the Vandal Kingdom there in 442 thus the Western Empire lost a valuable asset, which was Carthage’s wheat fields that had ever since supplied an abundant amount of grain for the empire. However, despite the Vandals of Genseric succeeding in capturing Carthage, the Eastern Roman emperor Theodosius II responded early enough by evacuating Roman troops and citizens there by ships moving them to the eastern empire in exchange for allowing the Vandals to take over North Africa as theirs. Over in the eastern empire, the Huns finally arrived in Roman territory for the first time passing through the Danube into Thrace in 434- the same route the Goths passed back in the 370s as mentioned in the previous chapter- under their new ruler Attila, and again in 440, except the eastern emperor Theodosius II decided to keep Attila away by constantly paying him off bribes which were doubled each year and it was no problem as the eastern half he ruled was richer in resources compared to the west but by increasing his pay for Attila, this only made Attila’s army more powerful.
In 447, Attila invaded the eastern empire again, won a major victory against the Eastern Romans in the Balkans, and attempted to besiege Constantinople in 448 but luckily, Constantinople ever since Theodosius II’s early reign was already protected by massive 3-layered walls built by his regent back then Flavius Anthemius (died in 415), who in this story’s case was a veteran of the Gothic War in the 370s as mentioned in the previous chapter and could already foresee that not only the Goths but the Huns would one day invade the empire which is why he decided to build this particular wall, the “Theodosian Walls” named after Theodosius II. Unfortunately, a massive earthquake destroyed the new Walls of Constantinople before Attila and his forces arrived, but with Theodosius II and his sister Pulcheria forcing the people of Constantinople to rebuilt the walls day and night like slaves without any breaks, the walls were as good as new. Fortunately for the people of Constantinople, the Huns’ army mostly consisted of cavalry so when Attila and his forces arrived, there was no way they could breach the walls, so Attila decided to leave for good as long as Theodosius II continued paying him off. At the same time in the west, the Suebi in Hispania renounced their status as Foederati subjects and declared themselves an independent kingdom while in Northern Gaul in 449, Aetius and Majorian repelled a Frankish invasion and made the Frankish king’s son Merovech their puppet ruler for their Frankish Foederati subjects.
Theodosius II meanwhile died in 450 at the age of 49, although still a child at heart as he always lived, and what killed him was his passion which were horses as he died in a horse-riding accident while in a hunt and without having sons, his older sister Pulcheria married Marcian, a commander of the imperial guard force or Palatini who became the new emperor and as emperor, he reversed Theodosius II’s policy of paying off the Huns and decided to show aggression to Attila and his Huns instead. As for Attila, he had no reason for invading the western empire but when the emperor Valentinian III’s sister Honoria out of the blue decided on a marriage alliance with Attila, Attila demanded half of the western empire but when refused by Aetius, Attila declared war and invaded Gaul through the Rhine. In so little time, Aetius travelled across lands still under the western empire including Gaul, Hispania, Italy, and Illyria to recruit men which he was successful at and he had personally trained these recruits too at what would be like his dojo. Aetius too convinced the Visigoths of Gaul under their king Theodoric I, the son of the same Alaric I who sacked Rome in 410, and despite being a thorn for the empire all those years, Theodoric joined forces with the Romans as the Huns were a common enemy seeking to wipe out everyone in their path whether Roman or barbarian. Theodoric then joined forces with Aetius’ legions together with other barbarian Foederati allies including the Franks under Merovech and the Burgundians against Attila. In 451, the allied forces of the Romans, Visigoths, Franks, and Burgundians met with the forces of the Huns led by Attila with their subjugated Ostrogoth and other barbarian allies at the Battle of Chalons or the Catalaunian Plains in which despite the countless of casualties on both sides, it was a decisive victory for the Romans and their allies while Attila was defeated for the first time, and this battle would be remembered throughout the ages for it.
The alliance with Visigoths and other barbarians though only lasted very short and the Visigoth king Theodoric was killed in that battle, except he proved that he and the Visigoths were able to redeem themselves for their crimes against Rome such as Alaric’s sacking of Rome in 410. Attila meanwhile was still out there and constantly waiting for Attila to invade Gaul again, Aetius got word that Attila instead invaded Italy from the north in 452 razing the city of Aquileia to the ground, though some of its citizens at least managed to escape and establish a new community in the nearby lagoon. Before Attila could proceed further south to destroy Rome, the pope or Patriarch of Rome Leo I, a diplomatic genius met with Attila in person and successfully persuaded Attila to leave Italy. At the same time, the eastern emperor Marcian sent legions across the Danube to Attila’s base forcing Attila to retreat and defend it, thus the empire was spared from the Huns’ threat. Attila then died in 453 after heavy drinking and with his death, his Ostrogoth and other Germanic subjects rebelled later defeating and dispersing the Huns in 454 forcing them to flee back east to their original homeland in the Central Asian steppes.
Thanks to the efforts of Aetius who knew the fighting style of the Huns in order to beat them and Pope Leo I who was a master of diplomacy, the western empire was saved from ultimate destruction, but not entirely as the damage caused by the Huns and all the barbarians that settled and invaded it was beyond repair. Aetius and his officers following their victory discussed strategies on how to restore the ruined western empire but one day in 454, Aetius while at a meeting with his top officers in Ravenna was assassinated in front of all of them by the emperor Valentinian III who grew paranoid of Aetius’ popularity being the hero of the war against the Huns. Valentinian III though was convinced by a senator named Petronius Maximus that he would soon be deposed by Aetius and believing this lie immediately, Valentinian III quickly used this as the right opportunity to backstab and kill Aetius. Valentinian III however would soon enough pay the price for killing the empire’s hero as he in fact did not kill his master but the empire’s savior. With Aetius dead, his officer Marcellinus rebelled taking the whole province of Illyria, his homeland for himself refusing to answer to the emperor and in early 455, Petronius himself had Valentinian III assassinated in Rome as Petronius was really looking for any opportunity to kill Valentinian III as Petronius was both denied being given Aetius’ position and also being angry at Valentinian III for raping his wife. Petronius then tricked Aetius’ Scythian bodyguards into killing Valentinian III as a way to avenge their fallen master.
Petronius Maximus then bribed the senate to have him declared emperor and for legitimacy, he divorced his wife and married Valentinian’s wife Licinia Eudoxia, the daughter of the former eastern emperor Theodosius II while Valentinian III and Licinia’s daughter Eudocia was married to Petronius’ son and the other daughter Placidia was married to Petronius’ friend and fellow senator Anicius Olybrius, a patrician of Rome and though Petronius was made the western emperor, the eastern emperor Marcian did not approve of his rule, therefore Petronius was seen as a usurper. Eudocia though was previously arranged to marry Huneric, son of the Vandal king Genseric and finding out the marriage was cancelled as Eudocia was instead married to Petronius’ son, Genseric used this as an excuse to set sail from Carthage and invade Rome while the empress Licinia also asked for Genseric’s help to depose Petronius who she felt forced to marry. When hearing news that Genseric and his Vandal fleet were headed towards Italy, Petronius did nothing but order the people of Rome to run for their lives and in the process, Petronius and his son were hacked by the mob while a few days later, Genseric and his Vandals arrived in Rome and sacked it for days although Pope Leo I again came into the picture and persuaded the Vandals to spare the people but still loot anything they could find. Genseric true enough agreed to Pope Leo’s terms but took the empress Licinia Eudoxia, both her daughters, and Olybrius as hostages to Carthage. The Vandals meanwhile ever since taking over Carthage in 439 as well as the Roman fleet became masters of the Mediterranean Sea and the toughest pirates of the Mediterranean even if just a few decades ago they were just a small Germanic tribe from the woods of Germany without any naval experience, and already being highly skilled sailors by 455, the Vandals at the same time as their attack on Rome took over the island of Sardinia west of Italy. The Vandals’ attack on Rome too would forever give them such a reputation that even up to this day, the word “vandal” meaning “someone that destroys one’s property” originates from the Vandals’ sacking of Rome and the severity of the damage they caused.
Over in Gaul, Petronius after becoming emperor sent Avitus, a former veteran and diplomat of Aetius to the court of the Visigoth king there Theodoric II, son of Theodoric I to get his approval of Petronius as emperor, however with Petronius dead, Theodoric II instead proclaimed Avitus as western emperor who again was not recognized by the eastern emperor Marican as Avitus was really the Visigoths’ puppet and a native of Gaul. In his short reign as the western emperor, Avitus was however not very popular though during his reign, the Visigoths of Gaul that supported his claim returned to Foederati status but in late 456, Avitus was deposed by Aetius’ veteran generals Majorian and Ricimer who spared Avitus as he was their friend before and instead they made him a bishop in Italy; though for the meantime there was no emperor in the west as neither of the generals accepted the position.
Ricimer being a full-blooded barbarian knew he could not be emperor but had all the skills needed to rule as one, so to make himself be in power, he chose to have Majorian as his puppet, for Majorian as a Roman patrician was a likeable person. In early 457, the eastern emperor Marcian died without any heir as with his wife Empress Pulcheria who died back in 453 they had no children, although shortly before his death he considered his son-in-law Procopius Anthemius who was married to his daughter Marcia Euphemia from a previous marriage to be his successor but Marcian died before naming Anthemius his successor. With Marcian dead and not naming an heir, Aspar who was basically his and before him Theodosius II’s puppet master general as well, who like Ricimer due to being of full barbarian blood and in Aspar’s case an Arian Christian could not be emperor, Aspar instead randomly chose his friend, the low-ranking officer of low birth the Thracian Leo Marcellus as his new puppet emperor as Aspar saw that Leo being more or less uneducated and already old- 55 at this time- could be easily be manipulated. As Leo I- ironically having the same name and title as his contemporary Pope Leo I- was proclaimed as the new eastern emperor, he immediately recognized Majorian as his western co-emperor thus making Majorian legitimate while Marcellinus over in Illyria together with his nephew Julius Nepos renounced their rebellion against the western empire and swore loyalty to Majorian who they could both trust, though Avitus who was made a bishop too was mysteriously killed in 457 by Ricimer’s orders.
Seeing that the western empire was left in ruin, Majorian launched an ambitious campaign to restore it, thus leaving Ricimer behind in Italy as its Magister Militum in charge of it, while appointing his fellow officer and veteran of Aetius which was Aegidius as Magister Militum of Gaul while Majorian focused on passing new laws and reforms and campaigning against the unruly barbarian settlers in Gaul and Hispania. In 458, as the Vandals proceeded to conquer Corsica, the Visigoths broke free of their federate status and conquered Arles but were soon defeated by Majorian who returned them to federate status, while in 459 the Burgundians took over Lyon but were beaten back by Majorian again who took back the city as well.
In 460, the Suebi broke free again in Hispania but Majorian quickly rushed there and easily beat them making them again return to federate status and after their defeat, Majorian had a large fleet built at the Mediterranean coast of Hispania intended to be used in taking back Carthage from the Vandals but the Vandal king Genseric knowing he could not face the might of Majorian in battle bribed disloyal western soldiers to betray Majorian and burn the fleet before it was even finished. The invasion thus never happened and Majorian was forced to conclude peace with the Vandals then afterwards returned to Italy wherein he discovered that Ricimer had betrayed him. While Majorian was away, Ricimer feared Majorian was growing too independent especially since Majorian was doing Ricimer’s job in commanding armies therefore making Ricimer lose his power so when conspiring with the corrupt senators in Ravenna that opposed Majorian, Ricimer hatched his plot to depose and kill Majorian who Ricimer could see could now be easily deposed due to his losing popularity ever since his defeat to the Vandals and here in 461, when Majorian returned to Italy from Gaul by land, he was arrested by Ricimer himself and tortured to death dying at age 40 after 5 days of extreme torture.
Following Majorian’s death in 461, chaos began to reign in the western empire as in Eastern Gaul, the Alemanni tribes formed their own kingdom and later on in 462, the Visigoths again broke free and established their own kingdom consisting of Southern Gaul and most of Hispania while the Ostrogoths who were previously subjugated by the Huns invaded Western Roman Pannonia. The Vandal king Genseric meanwhile seeing a vacant western empire supported his friend Olybrius’ claim to the western throne as Olybrius had ties to the previous Theodosian Dynasty as he was married to Valentinian III’s daughter Placidia making Genseric somewhat related to Olybrius too as Genseric’s son was married to the other daughter of Valentinian III, though Ricimer as the one basically in control of the west did not agree with it since Olybrius would be Genseric’s puppet anyway and not his, so instead Ricimer chose Libius Severus, a weak-minded senator as his own puppet emperor as he was easy to manipulate, and true enough hardly anyone recognized Severus III’s reign including Leo I, Genseric, and the generals Marcellinus and Aegidius. Marcellinus again revolted after Majorian’s death in honor of his friend making Illyria once again independent and Aegidius did the same in Northern Gaul declaring it independent in rebellion against Ricimer for killing Majorian, however Aegidius took it even further by declaring the birth of his own kingdom in Northern Gaul known as the “Kingdom of Soissons”, though he together with Marcellinus in Illyria still swore loyalty to Leo I who they still saw as the true emperor. Ruling his own kingdom, Aegidius at least managed to defeat the invading Visigoths that attacked Orleans, though Lyon again this time permanently fell to the Burgundians, while in 465 Aegidius died passing his Kingdom of Soissons to his son Syagrius. Meanwhile, Severus III too died in 465 poisoned by Ricimer who felt he had no more use since Severus was not really recognized by anyone thus leaving the west in another power vacuum whereas in real history, Severus III possibly died from natural causes. Genseric again saw the death of Severus III as the right moment to put his claim on the western empire by again using Olybrius, who was in Constantinople at this time as his puppet though the eastern emperor Leo had his own plans, which was making his friend Procopius Anthemius the western emperor. Ricimer though was confused but this is what he had wanted anyway, the western empire broken apart to the point of being dissolved wherein Ricimer thought it would be best to just let the west slip out of control leaving most of it to fall under the now independent barbarians that had settled in it such as the Vandals, Burgundians, Visigoths, Suebi, Alemanni, and Alans while the eastern parts of it would cede to the eastern empire.
The Reigns of Leo I and Anthemius (457-471)
Procopius Anthemius was born in Constantinople in 420 during the reign of Theodosius II, and was from prominent families in both father’s and mother’s side. Anthemius was an only child and on his mother’s side was the grandson of the same general Flavius Anthemius, former regent of Theodosius II in his early reign and the architect of Constantinople’s massive walls who however disappeared from the scene in 415 while Procopius Anthemius’ father Procopius was also a general in the Eastern Roman army and a descendant of the usurping emperor Procopius (r. 365-366), the cousin of the last Constantinian Dynasty emperor Julian (r. 361-363) and the same one that rebelled against the eastern emperor Valens (r. 364-378) but was executed, if you remember from the previous chapter.
Since he came from the eastern empire and was a Greek in blood, Anthemius’ first language was Greek but still knew Latin very well and at a young age, Anthemius was sent over from Constantinople to Alexandria in Egypt to be educated by one of the best scholars of the time, the Neoplatonist philosopher Proculus and among Anthemius’ classmates and friends he met in Alexandria included the same Marcellinus of Illyria who was in fact a devout Pagan. Anthemius though was still a Nicene Christian in faith but due to his education, he was also sympathetic to the Pagans and their beliefs in which former emperors like Theodosius I and his son Arcadius suppressed, thus this led many later to suspect Anthemius himself was a Pagan. Like the usual rich aristocrats of his time, Anthemius was no exception being a lover of food, wine, and sports such as the Persian influenced polo (Tzykanion in Greek) but was still a person of great intelligence including military knowledge which was one of his natural abilities, considering the men in both his mother’s and father’s side were generals, and in appearance Anthemius was short and stocky with thick wavy hair and a short beard.
Since a young age, Anthemius too had some kind of ambition in wanting to rise up and becoming an emperor of either the eastern or western empire as he also saw that it was a possibility, especially since there was no law that a Roman emperor had to be succeeded by his son and knowing that the succession was never stable in both east and west, Anthemius knew he would have his chance one day to not only rule as emperor but bring stability by establishing a dynasty. In 453, the reigning emperor of the east here was Marcian- who back in 451 famously led the Council of Chalcedon that condemned the new heresy of the Monophysites from the eastern regions of the Eastern Empire, and here in 453 his wife Pulcheria died as well, though Marcian before his marriage to Pulcheria when still an unknown soldier was already married to an unknown woman and exactly here in 453, Marcia Euphemia who was Marcian’s daughter with his first wife was married to the 33-year-old Anthemius. Following his marriage, Anthemius and Marcia had their daughter Alypia– who’s birthdate is not mentioned but here I would place it in late 453- but at the same time after his marriage, Anthemius was promoted by Marcian to the high ranking military position of Comes rei Militaris and sent to the Danube frontier up north which in the past years was heavily devastated by Attila’s invasions while Anthemius was put in charge of rebuilding the defenses as well as recruiting and stationing new Limitanei border guard legions there.
In 455, Anthemius and Marcia’s twin sons Anthemiolus and Marcian (the second one named after his grandfather) were born, though it is not recorded when they were born or if they were twins, but in this story’s case I would place their birth at 455 and make them twins. Not to mention, also in 455 Anthemius served as consul in the eastern empire’s senate together with the western emperor Valentinian III who served as consul in the west, yet Valentinian III was also killed in this year by Petronius Maximus’ orders. The eastern emperor Marcian then died in early 457 from natural causes but before his death, Marican was about to name his son-in-law Anthemius as his successor but died before he could do it. Instead, to fill in the power vacuum in the east, Marcian’s powerful puppet master general, the barbarian Alan Aspar knowing he could not take the throne due to his barbarian blood and Arian Christian faith did as he did before when naming Marcian his puppet emperor in 450 with his friend, a random low-ranking army officer Thracian named Leo Marcellus as his puppet emperor who Aspar believed could be easily manipulated the way Marcian was.
The new eastern emperor in 457 Leo I or Leo Marcellus meanwhile had a different backstory compared to that of his contender to the throne Anthemius who was an aristocrat and highly educated and cultured whereas Leo was a provincial of low birth and a native of Thrace, though a Roman citizen although like Anthemius, Leo was also an only child. Nothing much is known about Leo’s early life except that he was born in 401 in Thrace and was of Thracian and Dacian origins and a Nicene- or rather after 451 Chalcedonian- Orthodox Christian and since he came from the rural parts of the empire, he was hardly educated but possessed a good amount of common-sense. In appearance, Leo was tall with a big stature and had big curly hair while his primary language was Greek knowing very little of Latin making him the first primarily Greek speaking Roman emperor.
At an early age, Leo joined the army in Constantinople but in all those years he was in the army, he never really rose up the ranks as he displayed very little ambition and only in his 50s did he become an officer with the rank of Comes though back in 450, Leo as just an ordinary soldier according to some legend- in which would be true in this story’s case- accidentally discovered a hidden spring in Constantinople that did create miracles and here Leo made a random blind man he encountered see again by dunking his head in the water. Leo however by the time he suddenly was appointed emperor by Aspar in 457 was already married to Verina, an Illyrian woman from somewhere in the Balkans and a daughter of a military officer who definitely showed more ambition than him and it was her that became more driven when Leo was emperor. The powerful eastern Magister Militum Aspar meanwhile despite unable to make himself emperor due to his barbarian origins surely had his own ambitions in ruling the empire thinking Leo due to his old age and lack of ambition and education made Aspar think he could easily be manipulated as at the same time, Aspar too saw that with his age, Leo would be nothing more but a placeholder who would die soon enough. Aspar had also thought that since Leo had no sons, rather only two daughters, Leo could marry off his older daughter Ariadne to Aspar’s son Patricius, therefore Aspar will have his way fully ruling the empire through his own dynasty the moment his son becomes emperor.
Now the reason why Aspar’s son could become emperor and not him was because his son had a Roman citizen mother which was Aspar’s unnamed wife while Aspar himself was of both Gothic and Alan origins. At the beginning of his reign, Leo was all fine being under the control of his puppet master Aspar but over time, Leo would start developing some kind of independent streak especially due to the advises given to him by his ambitious wife who believed Leo did not need Aspar around, though Leo’s first acts only had to do with religious matters wherein he simply just agreed to continue his predecessor Marcian’s policies at the Council of Chalcedon despite Leo not knowing too much about religious policy. Leo’s first years as emperor happened while Majorian in the west- who like Leo also came to power in 457- was ambitiously restoring the ruined empire but in the east, Leo’s first years in power was rather uneventful except that in his early years ruling, he built a church over the miracle making spring he discovered years ago which attracted pilgrims later on. Not to mention though, Leo I’s coronation in 457 marked one milestone in the Eastern Roman Empire’s history as he was the first emperor to be crowned by the Patriarch of Constantinople and not just in the traditional way of standing on a shield lifted by the soldiers, although Leo was first crowned by standing above a shield before the patriarch formally crowned him in the city’s great church. Now one proof of Leo’s lack of ambition in his early reign was seen when he did not bother to do anything with Anthemius who was a potential rival to his power as he had more connections to the previous emperor Marcian being his son-in-law, however Anthemius too did not bother much about the fact that Leo was the eastern emperor, as Anthemius knew he too had the chance of ruling the west. Anthemius now had also received a prophecy- which is in this case fictional- from an odd hermit in Constantinople named Daniel the Stylite who lived above a column for years refusing to go down claiming it would help him more spiritually but also because he sought to imitate someone who lived this way as well which was the stylite hermit Symeon in Syria who became famous for living this way almost his entire life, thus Daniel believed he could outdo Symeon by living above a column for much longer.
Daniel told Anthemius by shouting from high above that it was evident that the west will slip into chaos especially with the barbarian Ricimer in control of it and barbarian tribes taking over large parts of it and so that the task was left to Anthemius to restore the west before it would be ultimately destroyed, in which Anthemius took this prophecy to heart. Other than Anthemius, the senator Anicius Olybrius of Rome who had been taken as a hostage to Vandal Carthage back in 455 came to Constantinople in around 459 and had also met with Daniel the Stylite who foretold to Olybrius that the Vandal king Genseric will release Olybrius’ wife Placidia as well as her mother Licinia Eudoxia and return them to Constantinople. In 461, the prophecy proved to be true as after the western emperor Majorian was killed by Ricimer’s orders, Genseric demanded that Olybrius be his puppet western emperor and in the process, he released both Licinia Eudoxia and Placidia to be with Olybrius in Constantinople thus Licinia Eudoxia returned once again to her birthplace, though Genseric still continued to pressure Italy by raiding its coasts with his fleet. As for Ricimer, he fought back by having the weak senator Severus III used as his puppet emperor but due to Severus’ lack of skill, he was not recognized by anyone else, not even by Leo I who at this point still showed a lack of ambition. Anthemius meanwhile despite being Leo’s rival was appointed as Magister Militum in the east and in 460 he led an army against and defeated the Ostrogoths who were now free from Hunnish rule that were raiding into Illyria.
In 465, two important events happened which was that Severus III died over in Italy beginning a 2-year power vacuum for the west and in Constantinople, a large fire broke out in the city arsenal along the Marmara Sea. First of all, with the western throne vacant, Genseric again pressured both Ricimer and Leo I to make Olybrius the western emperor again but both refused although here Ricimer felt that there was no more need for an emperor to run the western empire anymore as he was basically already ruling the west as if he were the emperor while both Leo and Aspar too recognized his rule, but Genseric would not accept a vacant throne which he thought was something he could use as an opportunity in ruling the west. Now back to the great fire in Constantinople, it had such great intensity that it lasted for 3 days and the ones that happened to play an active part in rallying the people and fighting the fire were Aspar and Anthemius and not Leo who instead relocated across the northern harbor of the city or the Golden Horn as the Imperial Palace got a lot of damage from the fire. Aspar was then hailed as a hero by the people and so was Anthemius for putting down the fire and here was when Leo’s envy and mistrust for his puppet master Aspar began. Leo though knew he could not take down Aspar alone and immediately since Aspar was very powerful and had the entire army backing him so Leo’s solution was to create a new army consisting not anymore of Germanic barbarian men in which mostly made up Aspar’s army but instead an army of warlike natives of the Eastern Roman Empire coming from the mountainous wild region of Isauria in Southern Asia Minor, a people he had recently heard about. Now the Isaurians were a tough and warlike tribe and though they were Roman citizens within the empire, they still remained neither Hellenized nor Romanized as their location high up in the mountains made it impossible for them to adapt to the Greco-Roman culture, rather they remained independent following their own tribal government system led by a war chief and did not dress up like Greeks or Romans but rather in more primitive clothing with messy hair and beards, but Leo could see they would be fierce and loyal warriors so he considered asking them to come over to Constantinople and join the army.
466 then was another major year for both eastern and western empires as here, the Huns although no longer led by Attila invaded the eastern empire for the 4th time but still never got anywhere as Anthemius beat them back before they could fully cross the Danube, while in the west a new Germanic tribe which was the Rugii invaded the Western Roman province of Noricum (today’s Austria) and settled there, while the west still had no emperor. It also happened in 466 that Genseric pressured Leo to make Olybrius the western emperor and to do this, Genseric sent his Vandal fleet all the way to Greece which was under the eastern empire to raid the Peloponnese Peninsula. The Vandals continued sacking the western coast of Greece for months all the way to the spring of 467 and here Leo having enough of the Vandals decided to decline Genseric’s request and here fulfilled the prophecy of Anthemius making Anthemius the western emperor sending him over to Italy. Leo meanwhile had every reason to appoint Anthemius as his western co-emperor as first of all this was to get Anthemius who was still a potential rival of his far away but at least still not only keep him alive but make him still have some authority but other than that, Leo knew Anthemius was a capable general and having him as the western emperor could prove useful in finally defeating the menace of Genseric and his Vandals. Despite Anthemius and Leo being imperial rivals, they both grew to become close friends ever since Leo became emperor in 457 that Anthemius (well in this story’s case rather) was the one that introduced the sophisticated lifestyle to the unrefined and provincial Leo and thanks to Anthemius, Leo became more cultured and seen more and more as a real emperor despite retaining his tough provincial personality within. Now since Anthemius had helped Leo in many ways, Leo felt that he could not get rid of Anthemius even if he was a rival for having familial relations to the previous emperor so the best thing he could do was to make Anthemius fill in the power vacuum in the west as this could at least still make Anthemius an emperor thus Leo’s co-emperor, and as for Anthemius he was fine with ruling the west as he wanted to at least rule the empire no matter what half anyway. Back in Constantinople in 467 as well, the Isaurian tribesmen had arrived led by their chief Tarasicodissa, a tough and impulsive warrior who met up with Leo and these tribesmen were soon enough incorporated into the army made as the emperor’s loyal bodyguards or Excubitors with Tarasicodissa made its commander and to make him integrate into Constantinople’s society, his name was forever changed to the Greek Zeno.
In addition, the 42-year-old Zeno was married to Leo’s 17-year-old daughter Ariadne who was previously arranged to marry Aspar’s son Patricius and this here was a major blow to Aspar who now felt Leo betrayed his word. The Isaurians then would start occupying the eastern empire’s army more and more though soon enough, the highly sophisticated people would start having no tolerance for these new Isaurian men in the city guard and army for their thuggish behavior especially since these Isaurian men lacking education looted homes and beat-up people as they pleased, though the rich people of the capital would soon start hiring these Isaurians as their bodyguards.
Before Anthemius arrived in Italy, Leo too had gotten the consent of Ricimer to appoint Anthemius as the western emperor though Ricimer only agreed to it if Anthemius was again to be his puppet but secretly Anthemius had his own intentions which Leo knew as well while Ricimer too would have no power to take down Anthemius as for one Anthemius came over to Italy with a large army and was backed by the eastern emperor. Anthemius then arrived in Italy with his family and old friend and fellow classmate back in Alexandria, the independent ruling Magister Militum of Illyria Marcellinus who upon Anthemius’ coming into power again renounced his rebellion against the western empire and swore loyalty to Anthemius since both were friends. Anthemius was then proclaimed the western emperor some 12 miles outside of Rome on April of 467 and in Constantinople, Anthemius’ coming into power was celebrated in public with a speech praising him as the man who will finally crush the Vandals. As the new western emperor, Anthemius remained in good terms with Leo I of the east and at the end of 467, Anthemius now getting well acquainted with Ricimer agreed to a marriage alliance between his daughter and eldest child Alypia and Ricimer, who had been single all his life. The wedding took place in Rome and was attended by all levels of society and present too was the Roman poet from Gaul Sidonius Apollinaris who could tell there was something off about the couple especially since Alypia was only 14 and her husband Ricimer was 49 and a barbarian.
True enough Alypia detested her marriage to Ricimer especially since he was way older than her and a barbarian, although Ricimer was in fact a sophisticated person despite his barbarian blood but Alypia was only a young girl who wanted to be left alone. On the other hand, ever since Genseric had been raiding the Greek coast in late 466, Leo together with Anthemius and Marcellinus hatched a plan to finish what Majorian failed to do in 460 and construct a massive fleet in the Marmara Sea intended to sail to Carthage and finally punish the Vandal Kingdom for their sack of Rome in 455 and raiding the Greek coast by literally invading their kingdom. Also, taking back Carthage would again resume the grain supply for the west and stabilize their weakened economy once again whereas the east still had the rich grain source of Egypt. Leo knew that the Vandals were strong and skilled sailors but would be no match to a massive Roman fleet of 1,000 large ships and in 468, the fleet was fully constructed consisting of 1,000 ships with a total of 100,000 soldiers sent on this daring mission to take back Carthage and North Africa for the Roman Empire.
Before launching the mission, Leo now slowly putting Aspar aside did not appoint Aspar to lead it, instead Leo appointed his brother-in-law Basiliscus, Verina’s younger brother to be in full command of the fleet although behind Leo’s back, Aspar talked Basiliscus into betraying Leo by sabotaging the mission by any means possible. Basiliscus was first unsure why he had to do this but Aspar simply paid him off making Basiliscus agree to the plan while Aspar on the other hand did not care if the Vandals won, so long as Leo loses which is a sure way of putting the blame on Leo making the people turn on him as Aspar was feeling more and more that Leo was planning to get rid of him. Now the mission to retake Carthage was divided into 3 groups, first was Basiliscus who was to sail directly from Constantinople to Carthage, Heraclius who was stationed in the eastern provinces to sail to Libya and attack the Vandals by land, and Marcellinus with his western army who was to take back the islands of Sardinia, Corsica, and Sicily that had just fallen to the Vandals while Anthemius was to remain in Italy to defend it in case the Vandals or other enemies invade it. Both Marcellinus and Heraclius succeeded in their tasks and Libya, Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica were retaken for the Romans but for Basiliscus on the other hand, things went the other way around.
When the massive fleet of Basiliscus arrived in Cape Bon in the Mediterranean Sea between Sicily and Carthage, he accepted a 5-day truce with envoys sent by Genseric when in fact Genseric proposed this to buy time for him to set up a trap. Basiliscus agreeing to Aspar’s terms on betraying Leo for money ordered the fleet to dock for 5 days and when the 5 days were over, Genseric’s trap was finally set as he launched hundreds of unmanned fireships to attack the Roman fleet and even worse, the winds were on the side of the Vandals’ fireships which at the end resulted in the complete destruction of half the fleet Leo worked so hard in building. Half of the fleet including Basiliscus fled from the battle the moment the fireships destroyed the Roman ships but half of the Roman fleet remained despite the other half leaving and in charge of the remaining fleet was Basiliscus’ brave commander Joannes who made a heroic last stand against the Vandals who then sent their larger manned ships jumping from ship to ship killing as many Vandals as he could but at the end, he saw that his ship was captured by the Vandals and not wanting to accept defeat, Joannes who was dressed in heavy armor jumped into the sea drowning himself to death shouting out loud that he “would never come under the hands of dogs” referring to the Vandals.
Basiliscus meanwhile retreated back to Sicily to meet up with Marcellinus before heading back to Constantinople while Marcellinus was found in some shipyard in Sicily where Ricimer met up with him in person wherein he had Marcellinus assassinated by Ricimer’s own nephew and protégé, the Burgundian Gundobad who decapitated Marcellinus while Heraclius disappeared into the Libyan desert. With Marcellinus dead, his nephew Julius Nepos inherited command over Illyria but still stayed loyal to Anthemius while Basiliscus when returning to Constantinople wanted to avoid the wrath of the people and the emperor for causing their defeat by hiding inside the cathedral of the Hagia Sophia. Leo soon enough found Basiliscus hiding there and threatened to kill him but his wife and Basiliscus’ sister Verina convinced Leo to spare him, so instead Basiliscus was fired from command and sent to retirement in an insignificant town in Thrace. The whole expedition that Leo and Anthemius worked so hard on thus failed forcing Leo to conclude a humiliating peace with Genseric but both Leo and Anthemius were still not yet over in their quest to punish the Vandals.
With the North African campaign ruined, Anthemius turned to face the ongoing problems in Gaul in which the instability of Roman rule there caused the Visigoths’ new ambitious king Euric, the son of Theodoric I who died at the Battle of Chalons back in 451 who came to power in 466 to exploit the weak Roman rule by expanding his territory, although Northern Gaul or Soissons still remained under the Roman rule of Syagrius who however still remained independent even with Anthemius as emperor.
Anthemius then decided to do all he could to save what was left of Roman Gaul even if he lacked an army especially since most together with the fleet were decimated at the Battle of Cape Bon against the Vandals the previous year, so Anthemius turned to ask for the help of Syiagrus who agreed to it after receiving Anthemius’ letter despite not surrendering his kingdom back to the western empire. In the east, Leo I and Zeno’s bond grew stronger and seeing more potential in the Isaurian Zeno, Leo appointed him as Magister Militum in command of the armies in Thrace which again fuelled Aspar’s anger and envy. In 469, Zeno was in command of several missions which were mostly successful including one to suppress a rebellion in his native land of Isauria but it also happened in this year too that when Zeno was in Thrace, Aspar sent an assassin to kill Zeno but Zeno quickly evaded the assassination attempt and killed the assassin himself and here he now knew Aspar was up to no good. Back in Constantinople, Leo and Aspar confronted each other over Aspar’s son Patricius’ elevation as Leo’s new junior emperor or Caesar though Leo angrily accepted Aspar’s offer which was to also marry Patricius to Leo’s younger daughter Leontia but when the people found out that Patricius was to be Leo’s heir, they rioted under the leadership of some monks as they could not accept an Arian Christian as their new emperor but Leo persuaded them saying Patricius will eventually become Orthodox, which at least put down the riots. In the meantime, the Vandals in 469 took back Sardinia and Corsica while the Ostrogoths completely took over Roman Pannonia establishing their own kingdom there and in 470 back to Anthemius, he heard of a mysterious civilized king in Britain named Riothamus, although Britain had long been abandoned by the Romans ever since 410 during Honorius’ reign. Riothamus read Anthemius’ letter asking for assistance against the Visigoths and immediately crossed the channel from Britain to Gaul and with the help of Syagrius’ army and the Burgundians who were at this point Roman Foederati allies attacked the Visigoths and at first won a major victory and took back the city of Bourges from the Visigoths, but when Riothamus pushed deep into Visigoth territory in Western Gaul, he was completely crushed by Euric’s army forcing Riothamus to flee east to Burgundian territory where he completely disappeared, never to be mentioned again.
Anthemius meanwhile like all western emperors resided in Ravenna but soon enough, he started growing more and more unpopular more because the people he ruled over did not understand him and his lifestyle. The people of the western empire were more conservative and were not open to Anthemius’ liberal philosophy due to his education in Alexandria which made them suspect he was a Pagan but this was also due to Anthemius being Greek whereas the Western Romans did not trust the Greeks too much especially their more liberal way of thinking. It also happened in 470 that Anthemius mysteriously fell ill and many suspected his illness was due to sorcery and believing Anthemius was going to die, a senator in Ravenna named Romanus who was a close friend of Ricimer used Anthemius’ illness as an opportunity to usurp power, thus Romanus declared himself emperor and was actually backed by Ricimer who at this point started distrusting Anthemius feeling the same way he felt with Majorian before as again Ricimer saw that Anthemius just like Majorian before was becoming too independent especially when taking matters into his own hands in the campaign against the Visigoths as well as seeing that Anthemius was planning to make his own dynasty using his sons. Anthemius eventually recovered and soon enough discovered Romanus’ treachery, so he had Romanus executed which however further strained his relationship with Ricimer who seeing Romanus’ execution made him feel Anthemius was true enough out of control as this execution did not have any approval by Ricimer. Again, taking matters to his own hands, Anthemius launched a second attack on the Visigoths in Gaul led by his 16-year-old son Anthemiolus with 3 other Western Roman generals to assist and train him but the moment they crossed the Rhone River, Euric leading his army intercepted them killing Anthemiolus in battle and routing the generals making them pillage the Gallic countryside in a rampage and later disappear and become bandits there.
Back in Ravenna, Anthemius and Ricimer grew more and more bitter with each other and this had to do a lot with the unhappy marriage between Alypia and Ricimer in which they constantly fought each other every day so Alypia complained to her father about Ricimer and when Anthemius confronted Ricimer about how Alypia was treated, Ricimer declared he and Anthemius were now enemies just as how Leo and Aspar did and not trusting each other anymore, Ricimer led his own army of 6,000 without even asking Anthemius, again attempting to fight the Vandals of North Africa. Anthemius was of course enraged that Ricimer took matters to his own hands to attack the Vandals so Anthemius fought back by organizing mobs in Rome and Ravenna to fight Ricimer’s supporters in the streets which forced Ricimer to abandon his campaigns as he had to deal with the rebellious Anthemius first, however in late 471 the bishop of Pavia Epiphanius intervened and forced Anthemius and Ricimer to sign a one-year truce.
The Climax- The Battle of Rome (472)
In the eastern empire, Zeno had been away from Constantinople for almost 2 years now and while he was gone, Aspar using the absence of Zeno again started increasing his influence over the now old Leo I, except this time Leo was more impatient with Aspar making him want Zeno to return. The 70-year-old Leo now was no longer the same man he was when he became emperor back in 457, no longer a relaxed and unambitious person but a strong and ruthless emperor with an independent mind yet somewhat a bully who now wanted to not at all be a puppet but instead to make his own decisions and policies such as forbidding any non-religious celebrations and even banning the playing of music on Sundays, but his main objective was to establish a new dynasty making his son-in-law Zeno his successor. Leo too now saw that he was destined to be a real emperor and so were his successors, and no longer an emperor who was just plainly living in luxury while being overall controlled by a powerful barbarian, in this case being Aspar, thus this was the last straw for Leo regarding Aspar. Now in 471, the 71-year-old Aspar together with his older son Ardabur hatched a plot late at night to kill Leo, although Leo one day was informed by the same stylite hermit Daniel that Aspar was up to a conspiracy as Daniel had perfected the skill of reading people’s minds after years of meditation above his column- though this part is entirely fictional- and when hearing about this from Daniel, Leo thought it was now the right time to kill off Aspar and finally remove him from this world. Leo organized a plot together with his Isaurian bodyguards although not Zeno who was still away from Constantinople at this point but to hide his true intention, Leo invited Aspar and his sons Ardabur and Patricius for lunch at the newly renovated Imperial Palace that was damaged by the fire back in 465. Aspar thinking Leo was going to finally settle peace with him went to the palace with his sons, and for lunch they were served a large variety of grilled meats including steaks and mutton chops- as a way to remind them of their barbarian heritage- and wine but when Aspar took his first bite, Leo ordered his new Isaurian Excubitor guards to corner him while one particular young Isaurian Excubitor named Cyriacus (made up in name for this story) strangled Aspar himself from behind with a bowstring, thus killing Aspar. Both of Aspar’s sons however tried to attack the Excubitors but with their large size, the Excubitors knocked them out while one of them killed Ardabur by decapitating him with his axe. Patricius meanwhile tried to escape but when ending up running deep into the palace, he was confronted by Leo’s daughter Ariadne who he was arranged to marry at the very beginning. Ariadne kicked Patricius to the ground, knocked him out, and brought him before her father who sat still the whole time, thus Leo ordered that Ariadne finish him off, so Ariadne then grabbed a knife and slit Patricius’ throat killing him.
Meanwhile, in real history it was Leo I’s court eunuchs ordered by Zeno and Basiliscus who returned to his commanding position who although were not in Constantinople at this time that assassinated Aspar and Ardabur while Patricius was only wounded and expelled from Constantinople while Ariadne had no part in their murder as she was with her husband Zeno the whole time, though Ariadne was in fact actually a tough woman inheriting these traits from both her parents. Either way in reality and in this story’s case, Leo earned the nickname of “the butcher” for his murder of Aspar wherein some might think Leo did this as he was a cold-hearted tyrant but I would say Leo did this to save the eastern empire from falling under the control of the power-hungry barbarian Aspar and for future generations of emperors to no longer be under barbarian influence. In this story’s case, Zeno and Basiliscus like in real history also remained somewhere outside Constantinople while in the capital, Leo promoted Cyriacus to become an officer and allowed Basiliscus to return to his position commanding the armies since Leo here only came to realize that the failed invasion of Vandal Carthage in 468 was in fact part of Aspar’s scheme wherein Basiliscus was just used. In the meantime, Leo felt that Genseric was up again to attacking the eastern empire and pressure him to once again make Olybrius, who was still in Constantinople at this time the western emperor replacing Anthemius but Leo still did not agree to it as Anthemius was still his most trusted friend in the west who despite his failures, Leo still believed he still had the chance to restore order to the broken western half. Fearing that Genseric would declare war again, Leo after taking some time contemplating back in the same spring he discovered many years ago finally gave in and had Olybrius go over to Italy to be proclaimed emperor, although Leo was actually only pretending to let this happen as deep inside he was actually planning to get rid of both Olybrius who he saw as a thorn on his side as the Vandal king Genseric kept pressuring Leo to make Olybrius his puppet western emperor and Ricimer who Leo felt was exercising his power too much over Anthemius, and Leo now ruling independently with Aspar gone wanted Anthemius to do the same in getting rid of Ricimer. Leo here knew that Ricimer and Anthemius had been quarrelling with each other for a year now so in early 472, Leo pretended to send Olybrius over to Italy to mediate between Anthemius and Ricimer and once this was done, he was to go to Carthage to again settle peace with Genseric. This story now will go with the Byzantine historian John Malalas’ (491-578) version wherein Leo I sent Olybrius over to Italy to negotiate peace between Ricimer and Anthemius as already earlier on in 472, the conflict between them resumed to the point that Anthemius had to barricade himself in Rome which was put under siege by Ricimer. Olybrius then left Constantinople as well as his wife Placidia and daughter Anicia Juliana for a 3-week journey by sea to Ostia, the port of Rome and accompanying him was the Excubitor Cyriacus who was given a secret letter for Anthemius’ eyes only written by Leo which said:
I have removed Aspar and Ardabur from this world, so that no one who might oppose me would survive. But you also must kill your son-in-law Ricimer, lest there be anyone who might betray you. Moreover, I also have sent the patrician Olybrius to you; I wish you to kill him, so that you might reign, ruling rather than serving others. -Leo I
This letter now happens to be a very crucial piece as if it was actually read by Anthemius only, then the course of Western Roman history would have been very different as Anthemius could have had both Olybrius and Ricimer killed, therefore the west like the east would have been saved from the rule of a barbarian warlord. In real history however, the moment Olybrius arrived in Italy, a guard assigned by Ricimer to watch out for Olybrius’ arrival intercepted the letter the moment Olybrius arrived, showed the letter to Ricimer who panicked and made Olybrius his new emperor turning against Anthemius who held himself in Rome for the next 3 months until he lost the battle to Ricimer’s forces and was beheaded when found in the disguise of a beggar, thus Olybrius became Ricimer’s new puppet.
Now in this story’s case, when Olybrius arrived at the harbor of Ostia, Cyriacus meanwhile hid the letter deep inside his tunic beneath his armor wherein no one would notice it and when getting off the ship, they were met by Ricimer’s unnamed guard who asked why a small task force of Eastern Romans arrived but Olybrius simply said they were there to assist Ricimer although Olybrius was still thinking he actually came to kill Anthemius and be made the new emperor. The guard then brought over Olybrius, Cyriacus, and their team of 15 other Excubitors to Ricimer who was just nearby still besieging Rome with only a few hundred men. Olybrius then met up with Ricimer who was at his camp outside Rome’s Aurelian Walls and here Olybrius talked Ricimer into another negotiation with Anthemius, although Ricimer only agreed to it if Anthemius was to be finally killed if the negotiation failed, in which Olybrius agreed to as well. Ricimer then ordered his soldiers mostly consisting of barbarian Foederati to lift the siege and together with Olybrius, Cyriacus, and the Excubitors they entered Rome to meet up with Anthemius who was hiding in a church in what is now St. Peter’s Basilica and it turned out Anthemius faked an illness so that he didn’t have to fight against Ricimer as the truth was that he was tired of all the fighting. Olybrius when meeting Anthemius spoke up saying that he intends to again settle peace again between both of them but Anthemius did not believe it knowing that Olybrius surely meant trouble. Cyriacus who joined them meanwhile remembered that Leo told him to show Anthemius the letter but he didn’t know that he was to show it in private, instead he reached his hand deep inside his shirt beneath his armor and pulled out the letter which he handed over to Anthemius who then read it.
Anthemius now learned that Leo killed Aspar and was being asked to do the same too by killing his overly ambitious puppet master Ricimer though at first Anthemius was hesitant but still did not tell anyone around him what the letter said but soon enough, he started hearing voices inside his head which included the voices of both Leo and Daniel the Stylite who reminded him that he was meant to save the west and be a great emperor but also being reminded of how Ricimer was abusive to his wife which was Anthemius’ daughter, Anthemius had enough and so he gave in to his anger by ripping the letter, throwing it right at Ricimer, pulling out his sword immediately slashing Olybrius who fell to the ground, and the moment Olybrius fell, Anthemius stabbed and killed him telling everyone else this was Leo’s message. Ricimer meanwhile could not believe what just happened and now seeing for himself that Anthemius was totally out of control, Ricimer shouted to Anthemius “no mercy” beginning a one-on-one duel between Ricimer and Anthemius right inside old St. Peter’s Basilica. The duel went on for quite some time with the Excubitors including Cyriacus in attendance and it went on with no results to the point that both Anthemius and Ricimer bloodied each other with their blades, fists, and kicks, though Ricimer managed to head-butt Anthemius with his helmet knocking Anthemius to the ground and with Anthemius down, Ricimer told Anthemius that he will suffer Majorian’s fate of being killed a slow way for refusing to be his puppet but Anthemius angrily answered back reminding Ricimer that he was a loyal soldier of Rome that served Aetius, the best general of their time therefore he had put to shame all the work they’ve done for Rome but Ricimer here told Anthemius his true intention of actually destroying the empire from within by joining the army and getting promoted to let anarchy rule so that his people, the barbarian tribes will soon enough take over.
Anthemius however managed to get up, disarm Ricimer and grab Ricimer’s sword using it to slash Ricimer’s helmet, and finally when pinning Ricimer down to the ground and slashing his face thus weakening him, but Ricimer still remained alive. With Ricimer down, Anthemius went to his seat to grab his scepter which he then used to continuously club Ricimer’s face to a pulp but before Ricimer could die from the beating, Anthemius’ son Marican, the twin of Anthemioulus and daughter Alypia who was Ricimer’s wife came in convincing their father to not kill Ricimer himself but to simply have him executed in an honorable way. Anthemius then gave up beating Ricimer and instead asked Cyriacus who gave him the letter to give Ricimer the killing blow. Cyriacus then pulled Ricimer up by his hair, pulled out his sword and decapitated the 54-year-old Ricimer after 3 blows of the sword, after which Ricimer’s headless body was dragged and thrown off the steps of the church. Now history is totally altered here with Ricimer being the one beheaded at St. Peter’s rather than Anthemius like in real history, and with Ricimer’s head chopped off, Cyriacus went up the Aurelian Walls of Rome and proclaimed to Ricimer’s men that their Magister Militum was dead showing them the severed head. However, the commanders of Ricimer’s army which was his Burgundian nephew Gundobadand and the Ostrogoth warrior Odoacer, once a loyal officer of Attila the Hun took this the wrong way and angrily resumed fighting positions again resuming the Siege of Rome. Now in the 5th century, Rome was attacked 3 times first by Alaric and his Visigoths in 410, by Genseric and his Vandals in 455, and now in 472 by Ricimer’s men mostly consisting of barbarian troops in a small civil war but this battle though was much smaller in real history but in this case, with Ricimer dead, his soldiers would lose their mind and, in a frenzy, began attacking without thinking.
Gundobad and Odoacer knew they could not besiege the walls themselves so Gundobad resorted to asking for Burgundian reinforcements from Gaul from his father Gondioc who ruled as its king. Cyriacus returned to Anthemius inside Rome telling him that Ricimer’s men lost control and began attacking again with full force and Anthemius was shocked especially since he did not have enough men, therefore he ordered that the civilians of Rome pick up whatever weapons they can and defend the city. Anthemius too sent a letter to the last remaining Western Roman general in Gaul, the Frankish-Roman Bilimer as well as the King of Soissons Syagrius and his own army to assist them. At the same time, he also thought of asking reinforcements again from the east; now even if the 472 Siege of Rome continued, at least the 52-year-old Anthemius still lived.
Back in Constantinople, following Olybrius’ departure for Italy, unrest broke out when supporters of Aspar rebelled avenging his death as it also happened in real history. Aspar though despite being an Arian and of barbarian origin had happened to be popular among some especially those who served under him and one of them was an old commander who now went rogue named Count Ostrys who then gathered a mob and stormed the Imperial Palace in which Leo was inside, but Zeno and the Excubitors defeated the angry mob then dispersed them sending them away to Thrace. Count Ostrys then fled to the base of the now rogue Ostrogoth Foederati leader Theodoric Strabo who had lost one eye in battle before, somewhere in Thrace and together they joined forces against Leo to avenge Aspar unaware that there was this kind of war being fought in Italy between Anthemius and Ricimer’s loyalists. Theodoric Strabo meanwhile wanted to avenge Aspar since they were relatives as it turned out Theodoric Strabo’s sister was Aspar’s first wife and with Aspar dead, Strabo believed he could succeed him as Magister Militum, so with Count Ostrys and their forces consisting of Ostrogoths and the same mob, they marched to Constantinople.
However, before they could reach the Theodosian Walls of Constantinople, they were met by the city’s armies including the Isaurian Excubitors led by the generals Zeno and Basiliscus who however did not trust each other much as the arrogant Basiliscus did not want to take orders from the Isaurian Zeno while Zeno felt that Basiliscus would just screw up again like he did at Cape Bon in 468 making them both as hot-headed military men come into brawls with each other in front of their own troops. This event of Zeno and Basiliscus teaming up against Theodoric Strabo in 472 was actually real yet unlikely considering that in 475 with Zeno now becoming emperor, Basiliscus revolted against him and took the throne. Though Zeno and Basiliscus distrusted each other, they still managed to end up working together when the Ostrogoth mercenaries and mob attacked them, then they succeeded in defeating the army of Theodoric Strabo killing Ostrys too, although history does not mention whatever happened to Ostrys afterwards, so for this story Ostrys would be killed. As Strabo’s forces were defeated, Strabo agreed to surrender only if he was to receive Aspar’s properties, that his Goths were to be formally allowed to settle in Thrace, and if he were to be promoted to Aspar’s position of Magister Militum, so Zeno and Basiliscus went back to Constantinople to ask Leo for his approval of Strabo’s demands but Leo tired of having to deal with barbarians refused all of them except for making Strabo Magister Militum as long as he swore an oath of loyalty. Strabo then was unhappy that Leo refused his demands making him start a pillaging spree across Thrace making Leo put Basiliscus in charge of putting Strabo under control while Zeno- in this story’s case- was to be sent over to Italy as again Leo consulted Daniel the Stylite who could sense Anthemius was in danger therefore he needed help. In addition, Leo also had word sent to his other ally, the Magister Militum of Illyria Julius Nepos, the late Marcellinus’ nephew who was at this point residing in the old palace of the Roman emperor Diocletian (r. 284-305) in Dalmatia (today’s Split, Croatia). Zeno meanwhile set sail on an almost 1-month journey by sea from Constantinople to Ostia, this time with a larger army while Nepos was also headed that way except due to Dalmatia being closer to Rome, he would arrive quicker, and here would be an entirely fictional story of Zeno coming to the west.
The Siege of Rome meanwhile was an on-and-off battle going on for the next months, though the people constantly defended it day and night but the attackers were soon enough getting tired and at the same time running out of spears and arrows. The Burgundian Gundobad seeing the reinforcements from his father not yet arriving thought of giving up the fight but his co-commander Odoacer answered back saying that they as Germanic barbarians should never give up which is a sign of weakness.
Now just as the attackers were about to give up, the Burgundian reinforcements sent by their king Gondioc finally made it outside Rome right in time to reinforce the attackers, and now Anthemius inside was ever more terrified but the next day, the reinforcement Roman army from Gaul actually did arrive led by Bilimer except that they only numbered up to 800 men, so Anthemius seeing it was still unsure if it was enough, although his remaining children Marcian and Alypia told him that there was still hope. Zeno meanwhile was sailing with an army of 2,000 men from the east in what was left of Leo’s fleet which had survived the disastrous Battle of Cape Bon against the Vandals in 468 and luckily the winds were on their side, thus they were able to arrive in Italy in only 3 weeks now in July of 472, in which in real history was when the siege ended with Anthemius killed (July 11). Outside Rome on the other hand, the reinforcement army led by Bilimer proved to be no match to the Burgundians and in the fighting, Odoacer on his horse charged directly at Bilimer killing him by knocking him off and just like in real history, Bilimer did die in this battle. With Bilimer dead, Odoacer proclaimed that he was to take over Ricimer’s position as Magister Militum but Gundobad being furious fought back by punching Odoacer’s face as Gundobad claimed that he should be Ricimer’s successor as they were related with Gundobad being the son of Ricimer’s sister with Gondioc.
Odoacer meanwhile was in this story’s case an Ostrogoth warrior- though his real ethnicity remains debated, but it is for sure he is of the Germanic race- that served under Attila the Hun fighting against the Romans, Burgundians, Franks, and Visigoths at the Battle of Chalons back in 451 but with Attila dying in 453, Odoacer had no more master to serve making him a rogue but luckily in 470 while Anthemius was the western emperor, he met Ricimer becoming a commander of the western empire’s Foederati forces. Before both Odoacer and Gundobad began fighting each other in a duel, they heard the horns of what was the legions led by Zeno coming from Ostia as well as the legions of Julius Nepos joining forces with Zeno heading their way. Odoacer then ordered their remaining men including the Burgundians to lift their siege of Rome and attack the legions of Zeno and Nepos that were headed towards them with their dragon banners waving in the air. Standing at the walls of Rome, Anthemius was relieved that Leo did indeed send some reinforcements making him decide to head out to battle himself with Cyriacus, while the Eastern Roman Cataphract cavalry charged right into the Burgundian army. Soon enough, Zeno and Nepos’ infantry Comitatenses soldiers with their shields clashed directly on the Burgundian infantry, and with their more superior spears they were able to crush the Burgundians routing a large number of them but it was not over yet as the large sized Odoacer headed towards Zeno who although was a big man was not as big as Odoacer who was around 6ft and 5 inches tall while Nepos headed towards Gundobad.
Odoacer with his large 2-handed sword and Zeno with a one-handed longsword or Spatha duelled each other in which Odoacer seemed to be having the upper hand while Zeno began fighting in fear but as Odoacer struck his sword towards Zeno, Zeno dodged the attack and stabbed Odoacer from behind making Odoacer fall to the ground. Odoacer was furious at his defeat saying out loud that he was destined to take over the western empire and attack the east but Zeno not wanting to hear anything anymore after being so tired from battle slashed Odoacer so hard that Odoacer was almost cut in half as Zeno’s sword cut Odoacer from his shoulder down to his hip, ironically the same way Odoacer was actually killed in 493 in real history. Nepos meanwhile struggled in his duel against Gundobad although luckily a spear thrown by one of Zeno’s cavalrymen threw Gundobad to the ground but Gundobad still got up and this time pinned Nepos to the ground though Nepos acted quick, grabbed his sword, and stabbed Gundobad in the eye killing him. Anthemius riding on his horse meanwhile joined up with Zeno’s cavalry and continued routing the rest of the Burgundians and Ricimer’s army.
At the end of this hot July day, the battle was over and Anthemius won it thanks to Zeno and Julius Nepos coming in time. The deaths of both Gundobad and Odoacer too would actually be useful in preventing the eventual fall of the west as Gundobad in reality took Ricimer’s place as Magister Militum following Ricimer’s death from natural causes later on in 472 in which it was said Ricimer continuously vommited blood till he died, while just a few months later Olybrius died as well and just a year later (473), Gundobad would abandon the empire in order to return to his homeland and be king as his father Gondioc, the King of the Burgundians had died while Odoacer was the exact same person that abolished the western empire itself by deposing the last emperor in 476. Now with both leading barbarian warriors dead and Anthemius still alive, the western empire at least would still have a chance of surviving. In this battle, Anthemius proved that he did not only have the dream to restore the western empire but proved that he actually could as he helped win it and in the aftermath of the battle, Anthemius asked both his children Alypia and Marcian to come out while he also congratulated and thanked both Zeno and Nepos for saving him at the last minute when he saw all hope was lost. Both Nepos and Zeno then told Anthemius that they are happy to be his ally and as Anthemius’ children came out, Anthemius here at the moment announced to the surviving members of the eastern and western armies that he now does plan to establish a dynasty naming Marcian here his co-emperor and Caesar right at the moment while the Isaurian Cyriacus was named by Anthemius as his new Magister Militum in Italy taking Ricimer’s place.
To further seal his alliance with Illyria’s Magister Militum Julius Nepos, Anthemius had Alypia who was now Ricimer’s widow marry Nepos, although unlike Ricimer who Alypia detested for being a barbarian, she was better off with Julius Nepos despite him still being a lot older than her as he was 42 here and she was only 19, but at least he was not a barbarian and would prove to be more respectful towards her, though in real history Nepos was instead married to a niece of Leo I’s wife Verina. Zeno then returned to Constantinople following their victory while Nepos with Alypia returned to Diocletian’s Palace in Dalmatia while Anthemius with his son Marcian returned back to the west’s capital Ravenna where Anthemius’ wife Marcia was all this time and with the conflict all over, even better news arrived when Anthemius got back to Ravenna, which was that the king of the independent Soissons Syagrius who did not make it to help Anthemius in battle due to having his own problems with the Visigoths renounced his rebellion and surrendered his kingdom back to the western empire despite it being cut off by land from Italy by the Visigoth and Burgundian Kingdoms of Gaul, though Syagrius thought of surrendering to the empire as a way for him and Anthemius to help each other fight off the Burgundians and Visigoths since here Syagrius came to realize that Anthemius was indeed a capable ruler. In the east however, it was Zeno that now fully took Aspar’s place as Leo’s new Magister Militum and in 473, Theodoric Strabo after being defeated by Basiliscus finally surrendered to Leo I after running out of supplies when pillaging Thrace, although only on the condition that Strabo was made Magister Militum of Thrace in which he was while Leo still had the headache of paying him an annual tribute of 2000 pounds of gold. Anthemius and Leo though would continue working together despite being apart from each other to continue fixing all the damage done in the past years as even though Anthemius was saved from being killed, the enemies such as the Visigoths, Burgundians, Suebi, Vandals, and now the Ostrogoths were still at large but the most important lesson both Eastern and Western Romans learned here- just as it was in the previous chapter set in the 4th century- was to cooperate with each other as they were still the same empire despite having different emperors.
Aftermath and Conclusion- The Roman World, Post 472 and a Possible World War?
In the case of real history, the capture and execution of Anthemius in 472 in many ways sped up the fall of the Western Empire 4 years later as its new emperor Olybrius was again a powerless puppet while also later on in 472, Ricimer died of a sickness that caused him to vomit blood and was succeeded in his position by his nephew Gundobad although Olybrius also died before 472 ended as well, again leaving no emperor in the west for the next few months until Gundobad elevated one of the Palatini Guard commanders in Ravenna named Glycerius as the new western emperor. Gundobad meanwhile had to leave Ravenna as also in 473, his father the Burgundian king Gondioc died making him have to return to the Burgundian Kingdom in Gaul and rule as its king leaving Glycerius alone.
With Anthemius dead however, the eastern emperor Leo I had another candidate for the western throne which was the same Julius Nepos in this story, the nephew of the late Magister Militum Marcellinus and a relative of Leo’s wife Verina as well and Leo did have some hopes again that Nepos would rule long and well in which Anthemius failed to do before him. Nepos arrived in Italy in 474 with his army from Illyria and Glycerius who was now powerless at this point surrendered to Nepos without a fight, thus Glycerius was exiled to Nepos’ own base becoming the Bishop of Salona based in Diocletian’s old palace. Nepos now would be the 5th and last Western Roman emperor to be recognized by the eastern emperor, and while his reign was somewhat successful in almost retaking Southern Gaul from the Visigoths but out of the blue in 475, his own Magister Militum Orestes, a Roman citizen of barbarian descent who had served Attila the Hun as his secretary before rebelled against and drove Nepos away from Ravenna sending him back across the Adriatic Sea to Dalmatia joining Glycerius.
Orestes though did not proclaim himself emperor, instead he named his 15-year-old son Romulus Augustus as his own puppet emperor which was more like Orestes’ way of exposing the humiliating state of the Western Roman Empire that anyone, including a young boy without much knowledge can become an emperor. Odoacer who previously served the deceased Ricimer and before that Attila though was still around and still a commander of the barbarian Foederati troops in Italy and with Orestes basically running the empire for his son, Odoacer demanded that Orestes give him a third of Italy but Orestes refused thus Odoacer rebelled. In August of 476, Orestes fled from Odoacer hiding himself in the city of Pavia, though Odoacer’s men tracked him there forcing Orestes to flee again wherein he was captured and executed in Piacenza. The victorious Odoacer then marched into Ravenna on September 4, 476 and after a minor battle, he took over the city and peacefully deposed the 16-year-old Romulus Augustus rather than executing him as Romulus being a powerless puppet had no need to be executed.
Romulus instead was sent to live out the rest of his life in Southern Italy while Odoacer decided to abolish the western empire by no longer proclaiming himself emperor as he certainly could not due to his barbarian origin, so instead he simply proclaimed himself “King of Italy” as the Western Roman Empire was no longer an empire anyway and the position of emperor becoming meaningless already. Odoacer too refused to take Romulus’ crown and imperial insignia, so he instead sent to Constantinople in which at this point, the eastern emperor was already Zeno who succeeded Leo I. Zeno thus became the first emperor to rule the Roman empire alone with no more western co-emperor as he accepted the western emperor’s imperial insignia and acknowledged Odoacer only as “King of Italy” and nothing else, though both Zeno and Odoacer would remain in good terms, and as the self-proclaimed King of Italy Odoacer chose to keep the Roman Senate based in Ravenna as after all it was the senate that backed Odoacer as king. As emperor though, Zeno turned out to be very much unpopular not only because of his Isaurian ethnicity which made the more civilized Greek people of Constantinople see him as an outsider and a barbarian, but also because he allowed the west to fall but true enough, there was no need for the west to have an emperor anymore as over the years, their empire broke apart anyway. By the time Odoacer abolished the western empire in 476, the main empire itself basically just consisted of Italy and parts of today’s Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia although parts of Illyria still remained under Roman rule under Julius Nepos who still had a claim to the western throne while Northern Gaul still being the Kingdom of Soissons was still a Roman state though under Syagrius who was an independent ruler but still Roman in identity. In 480 however, Julius Nepos was assassinated and his death prompted Odoacer to annex all of Nepos’ territory in Illyria to his kingdom which he did though in Gaul, the Kingdom of Soissons lasted only until 486 when the Franks rose up under their king Clovis I, the grandson of Aetius’ Frankish ally Mervoech, wherein Clovis defeated Syagrius in battle here and the defeated Syagrius then surrendered his entire kingdom to the Franks. As for Odoacer, he continued ruling his own Kingdom of Italy plus parts of Illyria until the Ostrogoth king Theodoric the Great persuaded by Zeno who was constantly troubled by him invaded Italy in 488, though Odoacer proposed an alliance with Theodoric to rule Italy together but in 493, Theodoric had enough and murdered Odoacer himself in the palace in Ravenna, thus taking over Italy establishing his own Ostrogothic Kingdom.
Now this is the real story of the fall of the Western Roman Empire which is rather a very humiliating end as it just ended in such an anti-climactic way wherein its last emperor simply surrendered to the warlord Odoacer who simply decided to abolish the empire as compared to the highly climactic and dramatic end of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire in 1453 wherein it fell with one big battle as the armies of the Ottomans besieged Constantinople wherein the Byzantine emperor Constantine XI dramatically died in battle, which will be discussed way later on in chapter XII, the finale of this series- SPOILER ALERT! However, even if the Western Roman Empire fell, the Roman senate still remained in Ravenna under Odoacer and Theodoric the Great after him, and though many may think that Roman civilization ended in 476, it did not as the eastern empire still stood strong even though political instability was so frequent in the reign of Zeno but at least by the time Zeno died in 491, the eastern empire finally not only stabilized but became more powerful than ever.
Now if this story wherein Procopius Anthemius survived 472 with Ricimer and his allies Gundobad and Odoacer dead was the reality, then pretty much things would have been different in many ways for the Western Roman Empire at least, though nothing spectacular too would happen at the same time. If Anthemius had lived beyond his actual death on July 11, 472, then he would have surely established his own dynasty first by naming his eldest surviving son Marcian his co-emperor and with a dynasty in place, there would surely be some stability for the already ruined west. After recovering from the battle of Rome in 472, Anthemius would settle down in Ravenna and begin planning his new campaigns to restore the empire picking up where Majorian left off at his death in 461 and in the meantime, Anthemius would also train his son Marcian into becoming a capable emperor. With Ricimer still alive, there would have been no chance for Anthemius to make any of his sons emperors as Ricimer would only choose one candidate of his own that could be easily manipulated but with Ricimer dead, Anthemius was now free to act on his own as emperor, though in this story’s case his major challenge was his son Marcian who he saw as not very responsible to be running the empire compared to his late son Anthemiolus who was previously killed in battle in 471, but here since all Anthemius had was Marcian, he had to take on the responsibility of training the rather irresponsible and pleasure loving Marcian into a strong ruler like him; although in this story like in real history too, Anthemius had two younger sons Flavius and Romulus but both were still way too young. With Anthemius still alive, the same unstable events in the next 4 years with Olybrius, Glycerius, Nepos, and finally Romulus Augustus becoming emperor one after other would surely not happen and with Odoacer dead as well, there would be no one to later cause trouble and topple over the western empire especially since no child ruler will be sitting on the throne in Ravenna. In this case, Anthemius’ successor Olybrius would already be dead as Anthemius already killed him after receiving the letter, and so would be Ricimer’s successor as the new puppet master which was his nephew Gundobad and without Gundobad around in the empire, the Palatini commander Glycerius would have no chance at all in becoming emperor as Anthemius was still alive, therefore there would be no one to elevate him, instead Glycerius would remain as just a palace guard commander in Ravenna. Julius Nepos who in real history was named by Leo I as the new western emperor as a replacement for the deceased Anthemius making Nepos the last one to be recognized by the east would in this story’s case with Anthemius still alive remain in Illyria as a strong ally to both Anthemius and Leo I continuing where his uncle Marcellinus left off. Now without Nepos becoming emperor, what would be very much different is that Orestes his Magister Militum would in no way try to usurp power as he would not even be in the position of Magister Militum as Nepos not being made emperor still stayed as the Magister Militum, therefore Orestes would still remain an officer of Nepos while Orestes’ son Romulus would in this case be totally insignificant.
In this story’s case however, I would come up with the possibility that Orestes by around 475 like in real history would now rebel against Nepos wanting to take over as Illyria’s Magister Militum but Nepos would soon enough find out about this and after finding out the whole truth that Orestes once served their ultimate enemy Attila the Hun before together with Odoacer- who would in this story’s case be damned in memory as an enemy of Rome- he would have Orestes executed and his son Romulus sent into exile in Southern Italy as what really happened after 476 for Romulus. As for Anthemius, his mission of restoring the empire would still be far from over as the Visigoths in Gaul still led by their troublesome king Euric were still at large and in this case, they would ally themselves with the Burgundians. For the Burgundian king Gondioc, the same would happen here in this story as it did in real history wherein he died in 473 but in reality with his death, his son Gundobad resigned as the western empire’s Magister Militum returning to Gaul to rule the Burgundians, though with Gundobad dead nothing would change much for the Burgundians as in reality not only Gundobad succeeded his father but his 3 other brothers Chilperic II, Godomar, and Godegisel and the only difference would be that the Burgundians would just have 3 different rulers instead of 4.
The death of Ricimer meanwhile would not contribute much except that Anthemius would be free from being under an ambitious puppet master who constantly gave him headachaes, but this would also mean that the west just like the east after Aspar’s death in 471 was finally free from the reality that their emperor and empire was under the control of a barbarian warlord, but it was really killing off Odoacer in 472 that would be the main factor of saving the west from falling 4 years earlier as Odoacer was the one that really put an end to the western empire himself. In the following year (473), Anthemius with his new Magister Militum Cyriacus and now joining forces with Syagrius in Northern Gaul who surrendered back to the western empire would launch their ultimate campaign against the allied Visigoths and Burgundians with Anthemius having a more personal motivation for this campaign which was to avenge the death of his son Anthemiolus 2 years earlier, although the forces of the western empire would end up again having an inconclusive war against the Burgundians and Visigoths of Euric but soon enough the Western Romans would have the upper hand.
In the east meanwhile, the same events in real history would happen except that since Anthemius who was Leo’s ally was still power, Leo would here have no reason to appoint Julius Nepos as his new puppet western emperor as what really happened and what would be the same as in real history is that in early 474, Leo I would meet his end and in this story like in reality, Leo would also die from fatal dysentery but at least he already named Zeno his successor. Leo I too after his death became venerated as an Orthodox saint, and the same will be said in this story. In real history however, Leo I named his grandson Leo II, the son of Zeno and Leo I’s daughter Ariadne as his heir but in this case it would be Zeno that would be named Leo I’s successor since Leo II was only 7 at this time, therefore it was totally unnecessary for him to be the Augustus of the east as he had literally no experience although in real history, Leo II immediately after becoming emperor already had his father Zeno become his co-emperor and it was Zeno that basically ruled for him as young Leo II could not even sign documents himself.
In this case however, Zeno instead would be the senior emperor himself but to secure his son’s legitimacy, Leo II would this time be made his father’s co-emperor and only Caesar, not Augustus and in Zeno’s coronation in early 474, Anthemius himself would travel from Ravenna back to Constantinople and attend it congratulating Zeno while Nepos will do the same as well coming over to Constantinople from his base in Dalmatia. Again, another what if in history is if Leo II actually lived longer enough to rule as emperor himself as in reality Leo II did not last long dying 9 months after he became emperor in November of 474 due to an outbreak of some kind of epidemic in Constantinople, and considering that the child mortality rate was very high back then even for imperial children, it was sure the 7-year-old Leo II would die but here in this story, the moment this plague broke out in Constantinople, Leo II’s parents would get him away from Constantinople to the Asian side where it was safer and more spacious as they could not afford to lose him as he is the one to continue Leo I’s bloodline being directly related to the dynasty’s founder Leo I.
Now Zeno as the ruling emperor would do the same as he did in real history at the very start of his reign which was that he successfully concluded peace through envoys with the Vandal king Genseric who was in fact still alive but being in his 80s already here by late 474, Genseric did not have much energy anymore to plan new raids into Roman territory, instead he agreed to Zeno’s terms and would never pose a threat to at least the Eastern Roman Empire again though not to the west since in this story’s case, despite the west still living on Olybrius’ murder made Genseric more furious with the western empire and Anthemius for killing Genseric’s intended puppet but again due to his age, Genseric would not have the energy to plan another massive campaign. As for Zeno, he like in real history would still be unpopular among the majority of Constantinople’s snobbish population due to him being an Isaurian and the people would still look down on them still seeing them as the primitive thugs from the mountains of Asia Minor. With Zeno’s unpopularity like in real history, in this story’s case he would also be overthrown in early 475 by no other than Basiliscus- who really hated Zeno ever since- coming out of the blue bribing the people to turn against Zeno and make him emperor, although Basiliscus’ revolt was more due to Zeno’s mother-in-law and Leo I’s wife Verina who since the start already hated him basically because she saw him as an outsider.
However, with Leo II still alive in this story, his uncle Basiliscus will still choose to spare him and keep him as co-emperor as Leo II was directly related to Leo I but Zeno would still be driven out of Constantinople with his Isaurian warriors and his wife Ariadne as well while leaving their son behind as they flee to Isauria. The same events too would happen in this story that took place in Basiliscus’ short reign (475-476) which included another great fire in Constantinople and a massacre of the remaining Isaurians in the capital orchestrated by Basiliscus who let the capital’s people unleash all their anger towards the Isaurians, however Basiliscus here just like in real history would turn out to be even more unpopular than Zeno as not only did he commit such a vile act in the massacre, but he was also both incompetent in ruling and a degenerate who frequently wasted the empire’s money in throwing wild parties and usually dressed up as the Ancient Greek hero Achilles in public, plus he was a Monophysite and he had sold off government positions just so that he could make money out of it. When Basiliscus sent the general Illus like in reality as well who was actually an Isaurian over to Asia Minor to hunt down Zeno, Illus being an Isaurian and also a friend of Zeno would do the same as in real history by defecting Zeno and together marching into Constantinople to dethrone Basiliscus in 476. In this story’s case, Basiliscus when defeated would do the same as in real history by hiding once again in the Hagia Sophia but would eventually be found by Zeno though in real history, Zeno at least spared Basiliscus but banished him to Cappadocia with his wife and son where they died the following year (477) of starvation being locked up in a cistern.
In real history however, the moment Zeno returned to Constantinople to take back the throne was the same time he received envoys from Odoacer declaring that the western empire had already fallen, but in this case with the west still around and Anthemius still as emperor, Zeno will choose to spare Basilscus as Zeno would need him again one day to assist Anthemius whenever he would be in danger. Basiliscus meanwhile would come to regret unnecessarily revolting against Zeno, though both would still distrust each other to some extent but at least they would soon start getting along more. Though Basiliscus had revolted, here he would tell Zeno to pardon him saying that his revolt was not so much his doing but Verina’s and Zeno now knowing his mother-in-law meant trouble, Zeno would banish her but his wife Ariadne would object as that was her mother but would eventually agree for Zeno to do it for the good of the empire. Now Zeno would still remain unpopular back in power as first, he was an Isaurian, second as emperor he was just more of a thug than a gentleman much like Leo I before him as compared to Leo I’s predecessors the refined Theodosian emperors Arcadius, Theodosius II, and Marcian, and third was because Zeno sympathized with the Monophysite heretics of the east despite being Orthodox but this still made Constantinople’s mostly Orthodox people see him as an enemy, but in this case due to the west not falling in 476, Zeno would not be as unpopular to the point that literally everyone sought to overthrow him like in real history, as the fact that the west fell during his reign made him ever more unpopular causing political instability that every week there was a riot in Constantinople. Zeno too would seek the advice of Daniel the Stylite who was actually alive after 476 and with Daniel’s guidance, Zeno would also possibly change his ways becoming more reasonable and not always wanting to pick a fight with everyone like he always did. In addition, with Anthemius’ son Marcian already in the west and named his father’s successor, he would not rebel against Zeno in 479 as he did in reality, as Marcian being related to 2 emperors, Anthemius in the west and his maternal grandfather Marcian in the east, he felt that he had every reason to take the eastern throne but at the end his rebellion failed which forced Marcian to become a monk, but here in this story he would instead remain in the west as his father’s co-emperor. Not to mention in 479, a massive earthquake again hit Constantinople causing heavy damage and, in this story, this would still happen as it was a natural event and although this did not do any harm to Zeno’s reputation, it was just one of the disasters that kept on multiplying during his reign. However, the important part here is that 476 had already passed and for the west it was just another normal year except for the conflict with the Visigoths in Gaul still continuing without much conclusion and what was Syagrius’ Kingdom of Soissons in Northern Gaul still disconnected from the main empire, except now back under the control of the western emperor who now was in no way a puppet, although still recognized by the new eastern emperor Zeno.
Without the event of the west falling in 476 with Odoacer already dead since 472, the Western Roman Empire though being spared was still highly at risk as in this story’s case by 476, the Visigoths of Gaul had already moved south and taken over all of Roman Hispania since 472 while only the northwest corner of Hispania (today’s region of Galicia in Spain) was under the Kingdom of the Suebi ever since the early 5th century.
Central Gaul meanwhile remained under the Burgundians and to the north of them was the smaller Alemanni Kingdom, and north of it was the now growing Frankish Kingdom (in today’s Belgium). Over in Illyria, Julius Nepos would still be in charge as its Magister Militum serving the western emperor Anthemius, now his father-in-law but the major problem for Nepos was his neighbor to the northeast over in Pannonia which was once under Roman rule, the new Ostrogoth Kingdom of Theodoric the Amal, better known as “the Great”- who was mentioned earlier in this chapter- who was formerly educated in Constantinople under Aspar and had just become the Ostrogoths’ king in 475, although at this point in 476 Theodoric would not yet pose a problem. The Vandal Kingdom that now took over almost the entire Northwest Africa based in Carthage- except for smaller territories in the dessert ruled independently by the native Moors ever since the area slipped out of Roman control in the 430s- would continue to live on though in 477 like in real history, the 87-year-old king Genseric after such a long and eventful life would finally die. Genseric meanwhile had seen all these crucial events take place throughout his entire lifetime being alive ever since the reign of Theodosius I (379-395) if you would believe it!
Genseric had been alive ever since his people crossed the Rhine into the Western Roman Empire in 406 with him being part of it, he’d seen his people cross over from Gaul to Hispania and into North Africa, it was under him that his people took over Carthage and suddenly became a naval power after stealing Roman ships and their crews with it, it was under him that his people attacked Rome in 455, and it was under him that they once again obliterated the Romans in battle in 468 and in the case of real history, Genseric even lived long enough to see the western empire end in 476.
The Vandals then had made themselves the story of 5th century going from a small woodland tribal state in Germany to becoming the feared naval power of the Mediterranean, all under the rule of their king Genseric. With Genseric dead, his son Huneric married to the former western emperor Valentinian III’s daughter Eudocia would now become the new Vandal king in 477 and would begin his reign continuing his father’s expansionist policies and shortly after becoming king, he would declare war on Anthemius’ western empire as well as the east, thus breaking his father’s peace agreement with Zeno. Now the eastern and western empires again learned the ultimate lesson which was to cooperate together and when the renewed war between the two empires and the Vandals would begin, which in this story’s case would be in 479, both Zeno and Anthemius would imitate Leo I back in 468 by reconstructing the fleet they had lost and this time even larger as both Zeno and Anthemius would each construct 1,000 ships and together would launch an invasion on Vandal Carthage in 480 with 2,000 ships carrying a total of 200,000 men and in command of the western forces would be the Magister Militum Cyriacus and of the east would again be Basiliscus who now in this case made peace with Zeno agreeing to serve him for the good of the empire and this time, Basiliscus would not repeat the same mistake of agreeing to a fake truce with the Vandals, instead this time both fleets will battle their way till they reach Carthage by sea, although what would follow would be a prolonged naval siege of Carthage and here in 480, the great war would begin as the Vandal king Huneric would start looking for allies.
The Visigoths and Burgundians of Gaul still posing a threat to the western empire would again join forces not only with each other but with the Vandals finding a common cause in destroying Roman rule and establishing a “Barbarian Alliance” to rule Europe. In 481, the same event in real history would happen wherein the eastern emperor Zeno asked for assistance from the Ostrogoth king Theodoric the Amal in defeating the same troublesome mercenary in Thrace Theodoric Strabo, and the same events in real history would happen wherein Theodoric the Amal would fail to help Zeno while Theodoric Strabo would instead march to Constantinople but would die falling off his horse into a spear with his men joining forces with Theodoric the Amal, although a new enemy being the Nomadic Bulgar people of Central Asia would appear in Europe for the first time migrating from the steppes of Central Asia and before fighting against Theodoric Strabo, Zeno would ally with them but with their common enemy Theodoric Strabo dead, the Bulgars will instead turn on Zeno and join forces too with Theodoric the Amal.
Now that the Ostrogoth Theodoric the Amal had joined forces with the Bulgars and Strabo’s men, he would also get word from the Visigoths, Burgundians, and Vandals asking to join him to form the barbarian alliance and from 481 onwards, Theodoric the Amal would form this “Barbarian Alliance” himself with him as its leader, thus the conflict had now escalated into what would be a “world war” almost 1,500 years before the actual First World War broke out in 1914, although if I would explain in detail how this war would be fought, this article would go on forever so it’s best I just summarize how I see this great war playing out. This would be somewhat a world war because the Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Burgundians, Alemanni, and the peasant insurgents of Gaul and Hispania known as the Bagaudae would join forces against the combined forces of the Eastern and Western Roman Empires and in 482, the Frankish Kingdom of Northern Gaul under their new king Clovis I too would take sides with them and later on, the new Germanic tribe that settled north of Italy known as the Rugii would take sides with the Romans as Foederati allies as well.
I would say that this great war’s course would go first by the eastern and western forces both finally storming into Carthage in 482 with the help of the Berber tribes of North Africa as well, finally retaking it forcing the Vandal king Huneric and his Vandals to flee deeper into North Africa and later back into Hispania. Anthemius meanwhile will focus on fighting the Visigoths in Gaul attacking from the east coming from Italy, while Syagrius still in Soissons cut off from the main empire would attack the Visigoths from the north. In Illyria, Julius Nepos would have to focus now on fighting the forces of his northeast neighbor, the Ostrogoth Kingdom of Theodoric the Amal who will also be Zeno’s problem due to their proximity. Anthemius and Syagrius meanwhile would be in trouble battling the Visigoth forces of Euric as Euric’s Visigoths joined forces with the large force of the Burgundians under their king Chilperic II and Godegisel- as their other brother Godomar like in real history too died in around 476- as well as with the Suebi of Hispania and the Bagaudae rebels of the hinterlands. Since the combined forces of the Visigoths and their allies were too large, both Anthemius and Syagrius here in 482 would ask for assistance from the Franks and though the Franks were Germanic barbarians too, they happened to be the most Romanized out of them while their king Clovis I was leaning towards converting to Orthodox-Catholic Christianity unlike all other barbarian kings who converted to Arian Christianity.
Gaul and Hispania would then soon enough turn into a major warzone between 482 and 486 as by 486, the tide of war would change thanks to the Franks who would storm deep into Gaul although for the Visigoths, their kingdom was still at large extending all the way down to Southern Hispania though their King Euric like in real history would also die in 484 from natural causes and would be succeeded also by his son Alaric II. The war here would still continue when Alaric II would submit to Theodoric the Amal as his vassal thus making the Visigoths and Ostrogoths one kingdom and to counter the now growing power of Clovis I’s Franks, they would ask the Saxon pirates of the North Sea to join forces with them to attack the Romans and Franks in Gaul by sea, although the Saxons would still be no match for the combined forces of the Romans and Franks. At the same time, the Huns would resume and continue posing as a threat for both the Eastern Romans at the Danube border and for the Sassanid Persian Empire attacking their northeast borders as in 484, their shah Peroz was killed in battle against the Hephthalites or “White Huns” and his successor Balash would have to continue fighting them and it would turn out that the eastern emperor Zeno who was his neighbor was also facing the same enemy in this story’s case, so both would join forces against the Huns and would easily drive them away by 485, but since Theodoric the Amal would continue posing a problem to Zeno in the Balkans, Zeno would even have some Sassanid forces cross over to Europe and help him against the Ostrogoths, thus Zeno here- just like in real history as well- would be the first eastern emperor in a long time since Theodosius I almost a hundred years earlier to personally set foot in battle.
The Romans and Sassanids on the other hand had been enemies for the longest time but when finally joining forces in this fictitious war, both Romans and Sassanid Persians would find common ground especially since they were both highly civilized powers at a war against barbarians and although both Romans and Sassanids were so different culturally especially in religion with the Romans here being Christians and the Sassanids being Zoroastrian, they would soon enough realize the barbarians or the less civilized people was their common enemy. The final phase of the war would take place in 487 and here, the Franks already took over all of Gaul, destroyed the Burgundian and Alemanni Kingdoms, and pushed the Visigoths all the way down to Hispania long before Clovis actually did it in real history as in reality it was only in 507 when Clovis conquered all of Gaul from the Visigoths. The Visigoths here still a vassal of the Ostrogoths would still be under Alaric II but in this part of the war in Hispania they would fight together with the Suebi and the exiled Vandals against the Romans and Franks and by 488, the Romans and Franks would come out victorious but still suffering many losses.
It would then be in 489 when this world war would come to an end and here the Visigoths and their allies would be completely defeated in Hispania while in Illyria, Nepos with the forces of Zeno as well as the generals Illus and the now very old Basiliscus and their Sassanid and Rugii allies would fight the last battle, this time against the Ostrogoths of Theodoric the Amal. Since the Eastern Roman forces and their allies were more in number, they would end up victorious against Theodoric, and the now defeated Theodoric would be brought over to Constantinople to be executed. With the great war now over, the defeated barbarian alliance would have to sign a humiliating peace treaty with both Zeno and Anthemius and with this treaty, all of Northern Gaul would fall under the rule of Clovis I’s Frankish kingdom who would now be a permanent ally to the Western and Eastern Romans while the entire Hispania would completely return to the rule of the Western Roman Empire and so would North Africa, while the Visigoths, Burgundians, Alemanni, Suebi, and Vandals following this treaty would all be banished back to Germania where they came from, and the Bagaudae would end up becoming subjects to the Franks.
In the east meanwhile, the Huns would no longer pose a problem and so would the Ostrogoths and with Theodoric the Amal executed, his kingdom in Pannonia would be taken back for the eastern empire while the Sassanids now being a permanent ally to the Eastern Romans would return to their empire and no longer pose a problem anymore. Theodoric’s execution would then change a lot for history, as in reality it was Theodoric who established his own Ostrogoth Kingdom in Italy in 493 after killing off Odoacer, thus making Ostrogoth Italy a dominant power. Anthemius on the other hand would finally die here in 489 at age 69 and would now be immediately succeeded by his son Marcian and in the east, Zeno like in real history would also die in 491 at age 66 and by the time of his death, despite facing so much devastation from the war that just happened, he would at least see some political stability in his empire due to rivals uniting to fight a common enemy. Zeno here would die no longer hated as he was during his reign for being an Isaurian as his victory in the war made the people now see him as a hero that saved them from ultimate destruction. Now since Leo II would be alive in this story’s case, he would succeed his father Zeno at age 24 and as Augustus, Leo II would prove to be somewhat a smart ruler despite his young age as living through the war helped shape him to be a stronger person but would still retain having a thuggish way of ruling inherited from his father Zeno and grandfather Leo I. With Leo II in this case living long enough to become emperor, the event in which Zeno’s wife Ariadne would marry the finance minister Anastasius Dicorus would not happen as in real history since Zeno died without any children as his only son with Ariadne Leo II died back in 474, Ariadne had to marry someone who would be the new eastern emperor, and the people demanded that they have an “Orthodox” and “Roman” emperor unlike Zeno who was neither Hellenized nor Romanized being an Isaurian and sympathetic to the Monophysite heretics and true enough, the Eastern Romans in 491 did get an “Orthodox” and “Roman” emperor with Anastasius- who although was also sympathetic to the Monophysites- and unlike Leo I, Basiliscus, and Zeno who displayed violent and thuggish streaks when ruling, Anastasius made a difference being once again another cultured and reasonable emperor, although Anastasius was still not what the people wanted as he was in fact also sympathetic to the Monophysites, though his reign would be a story for another time.
In 491, with Leo II as the new eastern emperor instead of Anastasius I like in real history and Marcian as the western emperor, the geography of the known world would be that Italy together with Southern Gaul, all of Hispania, and North Africa would again be under the western empire, Northern Gaul under the Franks, Britain still remaining abandoned with the Romans or Franks never bothering to recover it as it had already been ravaged by the Saxons while the eastern empire would not really change its borders except for adding Pannonia back after defeating the Ostrogoths while everything else including Egypt and Syria would still be under them. Now, the case of Leo II actually becoming emperor would do a lot of changes, and personally I would think that if Leo II lived long enough to become emperor, then Anastasius I would never come to power, therefore his successors Justin I and Justinian I the Great would never rule as well since it was Justin I, an imperial Excubitor bodyguard commander that was named as Anastasius I’s successor and Justinian being Justin’s nephew was his successor, thus with Leo II remaining in power he would soon enough marry and have sons thus continuing the Leonid Dynasty, but I would not go that far anymore explaining what more will happen during the fictional reigns of Leo II and Marcian as co-emperors of the east and west respectively, as it would be too long put to put it short, thus it is safe to say that both east and west will never reunite under one emperor as for the longest time, the east and west were already divided with their own emperors as the empire from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to Syria had proved to be far too difficult for one emperor to manage especially since there were external enemies everywhere, but even though there were two different empires with two different emperors, they would still definitely cooperate with each other as if they ruled one empire.
And now, I’ve reached the very end of the 2nd chapter of my Byzantine alternate history fan fiction series and I have to admit that when writing this, I didn’t know where this story would go as first I thought it would just be a very simple story focusing on the Battle of Rome in 472 wherein history would change if the emperor Anthemius was not executed, but as I was in the process of writing it, more and more ideas kept coming into my head especially since this era of the late 5th century was a very crucial time for Eastern Roman history as this was the time when the barbarian tribes that invaded the Roman Empire began forming into kingdoms that would later become the medieval kingdoms of Europe such as France and a lot more. This article too was a long one because it was not just the story of one empire but two- western and eastern- and the story of two emperors, Anthemius and Leo I, and the story as well of many characters from the Isaurian Zeno to the generals Aspar, Basiliscus, and Ricimer, to the Vandals of North Africa and the Visigoths of Gaul, though this story being set in the 5th century would also be the last time we would see the Romans in this part of the world namely Gaul, Britain, and other parts of Europe as with the rise of the new barbarian kingdoms, it was the end of Roman rule in the west and now the time for the east or Byzantium to rise. Overall it was only when I completed it that I realized this story I wrote was again a full scale empire-wide action epic involving a large variety of characters like the previous one, yet I have to say that this one is in fact even more epic than the last one as chapter I only covered the Roman-Gothic War between 376 and 382 and was limited only to characters involved in it, while this one had turned out to be one involving the story of 2 empires that were supposed to be one, the story of enemy kings, and not only epic battles but treachery, politics, family drama, and even a bit of the supernatural as was with the case of the prophecies of Daniel the Stylite and the legend of Leo I’s discovery of Constantinople’s hidden spring which I only discovered at last minute before writing this story, thus I decided to add it in as well. On the other hand, ever since I have been so fully passionate about Byzantium 2 years ago, the stories of these 5th century emperors like Leo I and Zeno fascinated me a lot, but only recently did I discover Anthemius who at first I thought was just a useless puppet emperor of the west but true enough he was one of if not the last competent Western Roman emperor who deserves more attention to and just recently I came to think that since Anthemius was still at it to restore the dying western empire but was killed off by Ricimer before he could achieve his dream, there would still be some possibility that the western empire would still live on if Anthemius did not suffer the fate he did in real history in 472, and now that I wrote this alternate history, I just showed that if Anthemius killed Ricimer instead and continued ruling by establishing his own dynasty, then the western empire would perhaps still live on. However, I did not want to end this story with a happy-ever-after ending wherein Anthemius wins and rules at peace, so instead I decided to go with the possible scenario of an ultimate great war between the Eastern and Western Romans and their allies against an entire barbarian alliance if the west survived 476, which would already be like a world war more than a thousand years before both world wars happened, though I mentioned here that at the end the Romans thanks to support from the Franks would win the war and in this alternate reality, Anthemius’ western empire would take back most of Gaul and all of Hispania and North Africa that were previously lost while the east would still remain at the same level of power as it always did since the full division between east and west in 395. The very end of this story however remains unresolved but it is still clear that both eastern and western empires survived having their own emperors with Marcian in the west and Leo II in the east- and again having the young boy Leo II who died as a child survive to becoming the sole ruler is another twist I wanted to add here- but still, the question is up to you readers, whether the east and west will remain two different empires for centuries to come or if the west would be dissolved and fully cede to the east? Now again, we go back to the question of 476 being what everyone calls the fall of the Roman Empire and whether it did or did not happen due to this event in 472 taking place, remember that the Roman Empire did not fall here because the east being the Byzantine Empire which was really just the same old Roman Empire itself except becoming more and more culturally and linguistically Greek definitely survived. However, if the west did not fall in 476 and still lived on to the next century, and even if the west was just Italy and Carthage remaining under Roman rule, then the well-known Roman reconquests of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I in the 6th century would not have taken place but this would be a story for another time. Well, I hope this chapter was a very interesting and intriguing fan fiction being the second part of this series, and up next in my Byzantine alternate history series, this story will not continue to the next once as the next one will be on Justinian I’s reign (527-565) which in this story’s case would’ve not happened especially since the western empire still survived. The next article will explore many possibilities that could have happened in Justinian I’s reign, yet never did and the what if there will be if Justinian actually managed to contain the plague, now would he be able to maintain the western parts of the empire he reconquered instead of the empire soon enough losing it after his death? The next chapter too will feature many characters from this one returning as well, except with events that really happened to them in real history. Well, this is all for chapter II of Byzantine Alternate History, this is Powee Celdran, the Byzantine Time Traveller… thank you for your time!