Most Favorite to Least Favorite- Ranking the 12 Centuries of Byzantine History

Posted by Powee Celdran

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Welcome back to the Byzantium Blogger! As for now, I will be taking a break from the extremely long but informative Byzantine Alternate History series in which I have progressed very far, at this point I have completed the 8th chapter of this 12-part series. To break my consistent streak of Byzantine fan fiction articles now that I am in between chapter VIII and chapter IX of my series, I have decided to come up with another more entertaining special edition article which will mark the end of the 2nd quarter of this year 2021. Previously 3 months ago, I did another special edition article marking the end of the first quarter of this year wherein I asked 5 of my friends to give their own point of views on quotes quoted by Byzantine era people to see what these ancient quotes mean these days. This time, my special edition article to mark the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 3rd quarter of this year is a more personal one which will be a list ranking the 12 centuries of Byzantine history (4th-15th centuries) from my point of view from 1 being my most to 12 being my least favorite one. Now as may would know, the Byzantine Empire or Eastern Roman Empire lived on for an exact 1,123 years (330-1453), meaning 12 centuries of stories to tell and within these 12 centuries were a series of ups and downs wherein the empire at some points would be a dominant power then at some points lose it and have to fight to defend its borders and then once again become a power again, and so the cycle goes on. Basically, the Byzantine Empire was the Roman Empire itself continued except being based in the east with Constantinople as its capital throughout its 1,100-year existence- except for a brief period of time between 1204 and 1261 when the capital fell under the rule of the Latin Empire or basically the Crusaders- and throughout these 1,100-year existence there are a lot of stories to be told. Now out of the 12 centuries of the Byzantine Empire’s existence, some really had a lot of exciting moments within them while some had important turning points in world history, but some just had less stories to tell compared to others. For this article, I will rank the 12 centuries from my personal best to worst according to how eventful these centuries were. I will both put a summary of each century but will evaluate them by describing why I find each century more interesting or less interesting based on everything I have learned about Byzantine history in the past 2 years that I have been reading up on it, therefore this article is mostly based on my insights and did not involve heavy research. In my opinion, I find centuries filled with action-packed events as the more interesting, fascinating, and memorable ones compared to those that had less happening, and so here I would place the more eventful centuries on the higher tiers of this ranking and the less eventful ones on the lower ones. In the history of Byzantium however, each of its 12 centuries of existence had a lot of events happening, although some centuries may have just been more eventful than others. Now to find out which centuries I find more fascinating and which ones I find less fascinating, you will have to find out by scrolling down the list, and before beginning, the previous 8 chapters of my alternate history series will be linked to the respective centuries they are set in, except for the 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries as I have not yet written any alternate history chapters yet for these 4 mentioned centuries. In addition, each century that will be ranked on this list will be guided by images of important events that took place in these respective centuries, in which most of these images would be Byzantine fan art made by either myself or other Byzantine history fans that do art related to it.

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Around the World in the Byzantine Era Part I (300-1000)

Around the World in the Byzantine Era Part II (1000-1461)


 

1. The 10th Century           

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Map of the 10th century Byzantine Empire (purple), from Byzantine Tales

My personal favorite out of the 12 centuries of the Byzantine Empire’s existence has to be the 10th century or the century of the Byzantine Renaissance, which is at the same time a very popular era in Byzantine history that is also fascinating to a lot, and there are just so many reasons to say why this century happens to be so popular among Byzantine history fans such as myself. First of all, if there were to be any century in Byzantine history that had so much happening both within the empire and beyond, it is the 10th century which featured Byzantium under the Macedonian Dynasty entering a golden age of military and cultural dominance over the known world while at the same time, this century shows exactly just how complex Byzantium was especially in politics and succession which makes Byzantine history ever more fascinating. The intriguing roller-coaster of the 10th century begins with the reign of Emperor Leo VI the Wise (886-912) wherein Byzantium is still fighting to defend itself against various attacks by Arab powers, which is then followed by a complicated succession crisis after Leo VI’s death where his son the young Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos is placed under regents all fighting each other for power all while Byzantium is threatened by their next-door northern neighbor, the Bulgarian Empire ruled by Tsar Simeon the Great. As the 10th century progresses, the complicated situation of Constantine VII’s regency is taken care of in 920 when the ambitious low-born admiral Romanos Lekapenos takes over the throne not to depose but protect young Constantine VII who he actually turns out to sideline, but even though he may seem to be a usurper, Romanos I ruled the empire well as during his 24-year reign (920-944), he was able to end the war with Bulgaria through the diplomacy while the Byzantines too had totally managed to turn the tide of war against their Arab enemies in the east to the offensive but Romanos I unfortunately did not stay in power forever as in 944 he was overthrown by his sons who were then overthrown by the legitimate ruler Constantine VII who then becomes the sole emperor.

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Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos of Byzantium (r. 913-959), art by myself

Constantine VII’s reign as sole emperor (945-959) is also one of my favorite moments in Byzantine history as Constantine VII as emperor had shown a great example that Byzantium at this time was not only a military power but a cultural one which was perfectly demonstrated by the emperor himself being an intellectual who published 4 books himself about the Byzantine Empire’s history, court etiquette, and governance system while at the same time, he was able also able reveal to the world how Byzantium was a superior sophisticated culture by impressing foreign diplomats by sitting on a mechanical throne that lifted itself up while the mechanical lions beside it projected an actual sound of lion and the fake birds on the golden tree next to it sang. Constantine VII after his death in 959 was succeeded by his son Romanos II who despite ruling very quickly (959-963) had a lot of accomplishments in his reign which were although achieved not really by him but by his successful generals such as the brothers Nikephoros and Leo Phokas and their nephew John Tzimiskes who successfully crushed the powerful Arab armies a number of times in Cilicia and Syria while at the same time in 961, Nikephoros Phokas was able to reclaim the entire island of Crete itself from the Arabs after a long and brutal campaign.

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Byzantine emperor Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963-969)

The second half of the 10th century gets even more exciting when Nikephoros II Phokas becomes the emperor himself in 963 after marrying the empress Theophano, the wife of the late emperor Romanos II who died earlier that year, and in Nikephoros II’s reign Byzantium expands even more by conquest that a large number of territories they had lost over the past 3 centuries to the Arabs including the region of Cilicia, the island of Cyprus, and the city of Antioch itself are taken back by the Byzantines, thus forever weakening the Arab powers that had threatened Byzantium for the past 3 centuries. Nikephoros II as emperor was a brilliant general and strategist but nothing more as he failed as a politician in terms of pleasing his people and in foreign policy that when failing to negotiate with the Bulgarians, war between them resumed. Due to his harsh taxation policies and growing unpopularity, Nikephoros II in 969 was assassinated in his sleep by his nephew the general John Tzimiskes who then succeeded his uncle as emperor who just like his uncle was more or less a warrior emperor but at least succeeded more as a politician. John I Tzimiskes as emperor (969-976) was successful in fighting wars against the new power of the Kievan Rus’ army that had invaded Bulgaria which he defeated resulting in most the Bulgarian state itself to be absorbed into Byzantium and following this, John I returned to campaigning in the east winning more decisive victories against the Arabs again but before returning to Constantinople in early 976 he suddenly died.

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Emperor Basil II the Bulgar-Slayer of Byzantium (r. 976-1025)

John I after his death in 976 was succeeded by the legitimate ruler Basil II, son of the previous emperor Romanos II and Empress Theophano, and would be the last ruler of the 10th century, although his early reign was not really stable as he was challenged by the ambitious rival generals Bardas Skleros and Bardas Phokas who believed that Basil II was unfit to be emperor due to being raised in the palace. Basil II however proved them wrong and in 989 after making an alliance with the Kievan Rus’ Empire that provided him with an army of 6,000 warriors which would become the Varangian Guard, Basil had defeated Bardas Phokas and 991, Basil II’s rule would be fully secure following the surrender of Bardas Skleros allowing Basil to grow the empire even more that by the time the next century began, the Byzantines had managed to conquer the entire Bulgarian Empire itself. Though the 10th century ended before the Byzantine conquest of Bulgaria finished, the Byzantine Empire at the end of the 10th century was a dominant military and cultural power in the Eastern Mediterranean and Eastern Europe that the entire Kievan Rus’ Empire (consisting of what is now Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia) fell under Byzantium’s sphere of influence by adopting the Orthodox Christianity of Byzantium, while at the same time, their rival empire which was the Holy Roman Empire in Germany looked up to them in terms of culture, and in the south the Arab powers that once threatened Byzantium were now the ones threatened by Byzantium’s growing power.

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Byzantine Cataphract cavalry unload in Crete’s shore using ramps, 960

Overall, I would say the 10th century had the complete set of everything that would define the history of Byzantium including epic battles, ambitious yet brilliant generals with unique strategies like Nikephoros Phokas and John Tzimiskes, sophisticated and superior technology unheard of in the Middle Ages including the superweapon Greek Fire and mechanical thrones, superior intellectual culture in Constantinople, a decadent imperial court rich in luxury, lots of violence including blinding and assassinations, scheming eunuchs behind the throne, and ambitious women in power such as the empress Zoe Karbonopsina who ruled as regent for her young son Constantine VII in the complicated regency period (913-920) and Empress Theophano who was the wife of two emperors Romanos II and Nikephoros II, both who they say she had killed. It is for all these reasons why I would say it is the century in Byzantine history that fascinates me most, and other than all these reasons that I had mentioned above, what makes this period fascinating too was that there was never any dull moment in this century as every step of the way was action-packed and most of them were all the wars the Byzantines fought as they were not only fighting against one enemy but many including Arabs, Bulgarians, the Rus, and Pechenegs while at the same time there was a lot going on in this century especially in foreign relations as here Byzantium made contact with the various powers of the time including the Holy Roman Empire and a lot more. Now by having so much going on all in one century, I would also say that the 10th century is really the century that defined Byzantium the same way the 15th century or Renaissance was for Italy, the 16th century for Spain, the 17th for the Dutch, 18th for France, and 19th for England, and true enough it is also the 10th century where Byzantium gets a lot of attention in visualized media even centuries ago as the famous illustrated manuscript the Madrid Skylitzes specifically focuses a lot on the events of the 10th century and even up to this day, a lot of Byzantine related media such as the recent graphic novel Theophano: A Byzantine Tale is set in this period, and so are some of my Lego films including The Rise of Phokas (2019) and Killing a Byzantine Emperor (2019). 

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Emperor Constantine VII hosting a feast, art by Byzantine Tales
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Nikephoros Phokas enters Constantinople in 963, Madrid Skylitzes
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Byzantine navy using Greek Fire against the Rus’ fleet outside Constantinople’s Walls, 941

To learn more about Byzantium in the 10th century, read Chapter VII of my Byzantine Alternate History series.

2. The 5th Century           

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Roman Empire 5th century map, dissolution of the west (red).

For second place, I would put the 5th century which was the second century of the Byzantine Empire’s existence but also a very crucial point in their history as it was in this century when the Eastern Roman Empire was already a concept as a separate empire from the Western Roman Empire based in Constantinople, while the 5th century was also the century when the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium became the sole Roman Empire itself following the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476. Now the story of 5th century Byzantium until 476 is basically told as a story of two parallel empires which are the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire based in Constantinople and its twin satellite empire the Western Roman Empire based in Ravenna wherein one empire (the east) is strong but still struggling to survive against the massive invasions of barbarian powers while the other one (the west) is weak and dying without any chance to live long anymore unless fully dissolved or absorbed into the eastern empire. The 5th century however happens to be more famous for the story of the Western Roman Empire which is already at a breaking point as when the century begins and progresses, the western empire is ruled by incompetent rulers like Honorius (395-423) and Valentinian III (425-455) while most of the empire is already falling apart being invaded by several barbarian people that have wither settled in it or invaded from beyond including the Visigoths who take over the Western Roman lands of Gaul and Hispania, the Burgundians and Franks that take parts of Gaul, and the Vandals that take over North Africa, while here the Romans completely lose control of Britain at the beginning of the century.

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Battle of Chalons, 451

While several barbarian powers take over territories of the Western Roman Empire, a larger threat is yet to arrive which was Atilla the Hun and his rapidly growing Hunnish Empire which is not only a threat to the Eastern and Western Roman Empires but to these barbarian powers too, thus the Western Romans and some barbarian powers like the Visigoths, Burgundians, and Franks join forces against Atilla’s Huns and together led by the Roman general Aetius they manage to achieve the impossible in defeating Attila’s forces at the Battle of Chalons in 451, and after Atilla’s death in 453 the Huns from being the terror of the world simply vanished as a major threat. Despite the Western Romans’ victory over Atilla, the following years were not as favorable anymore as in 454 they lost their greatest general Aetius who was assassinated by the emperor Valentinian III out of envy and in 455 Valentinian III was assassinated which leads to conflict with the new power of the Vandal Kingdom of North Africa under their King Genseric who also in 455 launches an invasion on Rome and sacks it. The 5th century saw two major attacks on Rome itself first by the Visigoth king Alaric I in 410 and in 455 by the Vandals in which both forever weakened the power of Western Rome, although after 455 there were still some emperors that had the ambition to save and revive the weakened Roman Empire and reconquer their lands the barbarians took from them and these emperors included the capable soldier Majorian (457-461) and the Eastern Roman aristocrat Anthemius (467-472) but sadly both never achieved their dreams as they were in fact both puppets of Ricimer, the ambitious barbarian general in Roman imperial service who was responsible too for killing both of these emperors for being too ambitious and not being his intended puppets.

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End of the Western Roman Empire with the surrender of the last Western Roman emperor Romulus Augustus to Odoacer, 476

After Anthemius’ death in 472 it was all downhill for the Western Roman Empire which was now only reduced to Italy, thus it was only a matter of time that the western empire would disappear and just 4 years later in 476, one small event brought the Western Roman Empire to its complete end and this was simply when the barbarian general Odoacer marched into the empire’s capital Ravenna and forced the last Western emperor Romulus Augustus to surrender which he did and so ended the Western Roman Empire which was replaced by Odoacer’s personal Kingdom of Italy. Meanwhile, the Eastern Roman Empire had a much different story in the 5th century which was as I would say more or less not as exciting in the century’s earlier half but more exciting in its second half. The earlier part of the 5th century did not have much happening for the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium except for the rule of the incompetent Arcadius (395-408) where the century begins although he did not really live long enough and following his death in 408 he was succeeded by his young son Theodosius II who later grew up to be a more competent ruler who ruled for a full 42 years (408-450), and in his long reign he was able to achieve a lot as a peace loving palace scholar emperor and his achievements included the construction of Constantinople’s massive land walls named after him even though he did not really have much of a part in building it, but in his reign he also compiled a code of laws for the empire, established universities, and oversaw a major Church Council.

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Eastern Roman emperor Theodosius II (r. 408-450)

It was also in Theodosius II’s reign when Atilla was expanding his empire but wanting to get away from any major conflict, Theodosius II agreed to pay heavy tribute to Atilla annually, which however only made Atilla’s army stronger that despite their agreement, Atilla still invaded Eastern Roman territory but turned away when failing to besiege Constantinople‘s walls which already proved to be an effective defense system for the Byzantine capital. Theodosius II’s long rule came to an end when he died from a horse-riding accident in 450 and having no sons, he was succeeded by the general Marcian who married Theodosius II’s sister Pulcheria and as emperor, Marcian oversaw the major Church Council of Chalcedon in 451 and when dealing with the major threat of Atilla, he unlike Theodosius responded to it with force by sending armies to invade Atilla’s base in Central Europe itself which then contributed to Atilla’s downfall in 453. After Marcian’s death in 457, he was succeeded by Leo I the Thracian who being only a common soldier was appointed as emperor by Aspar, the powerful barbarian general serving the eastern empire who happened to be the actual power behind Marcian and Theodosius II before him. The story of the 5th century for the eastern empire then gets more exciting during Leo I’s reign (457-474) as Leo was someone who may have seemed unambitious and useless as an emperor being only a commoner by origin but as his rule progressed, he actually turned out to be ambitious yet ruthless with a strong desire to be independent that in 468 he launched a major invasion of the Vandal Kingdom of North Africa itself by sending 1,000 ships to punish the Vandals for sacking Rome in 455, though at the end this invasion failed but Leo I still succeeded in making himself an independent ruler with his own dynasty by killing off his power hungry puppet master Aspar in 471. Leo I was later succeeded by his son-in-law and general Zeno after Leo’s death in 474 and for me Zeno is one of the most interesting emperors of Byzantium and he is one of the reasons too why the 5th century makes 2nd place in this list.

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Zeno the Isaurian, Byzantine emperor (r. 474-475/ 476-491), art by myself

As for Zeno, he was originally an outsider as he was an Isaurian chief named Tarasis Kodisa coming from the people of the mountains of Asia Minor that the people of Constantinople saw as primitive and uncivilized and basically because of his origins, Zeno was not accepted by his people that his rule was challenged countless times by ambitious generals that one time between 475 and 476, Zeno was in fact completely overthrown by Leo I’s brother-in-law Basiliscus who Zeno later overthrew himself. In addition, Zeno was also the Eastern Roman emperor in 476, the year the Western Roman Empire was abolished, therefore Zeno became the first emperor to rule the Eastern Roman Empire as the sole Roman Empire and throughout his reign, his position and that of the empire was left very challenged both internally and externally and the biggest threat here happened to be the Ostrogoth Kingdom of the ambitious king Theodoric the Great, although Zeno succeeded in overcoming Theodoric by turning him away from Byzantium and instead having him invade Italy. Zeno at the end at least managed to die in 491 peacefully without being ousted from power again but more importantly he left the eastern empire more stable than how he had founded it, although Zeno with his wife Ariadne had no children so after Zeno’s death Ariadne married the finance minister Anastasius I who as the next emperor was even far more successful especially in the managing the economy. Now, I would put the 5th century as my 2nd place in this list not only for the Eastern Roman Empire’s story but for the combined stories of both Eastern and Western Roman empires as one, as the 5th century was crucial for both and even though the earlier part of the century for the Byzantines is not as interesting for me, the story of their twin western empire was and following the fall of the western empire in 476, it is the story of the east that becomes more exciting, therefore to sum it up this entire century was basically eventful and action-packed, although not the same way the 10th century was in terms of being totally action-packed every step of the way.

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Mosaics of the Galla Placidia Mausoleum in Ravenna, made in the 5th century

For both east and west, the 5th century saw so many memorable events of all kinds take place such as wars, religious debates and Church Councils, interesting emperors, bizarre stories such as men living above columns known as the Stylites, and cultural innovations including lavish construction projects in Constantinople from colorful mosaics to massive city walls. The more important part of the 5th century however was the drastic change of geography of the old Roman Empire into the several barbarian kingdoms of the Franks, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Burgundians, Suebi, Vandals, and more, therefore this century being the transition of the Roman era into the Dark Ages for the west leaving Byzantium as the only Roman power left alive is a very crucial point in world history and thus because of how dramatic things had changed in this century, I consider it my 2nd favorite one out of the 12 centuries of Byzantium’s existence.  

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The 5th century land walls of Constantinople (Theodosian Land Walls), art by myself
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King Gaiseric and his Vandal army sack Rome, 455
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The world map after 476 with the Byzantine Empire (red) as the surviving Roman Empire

To learn more about Byzantium in the 5th century, read Chapter II of my Byzantine Alternate History series.

3. The 6th Century           

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Detailed map of the Byzantine Empire at its fullest extent under Justinian in 555 (gold)

If there was one century that everyone will come across when hearing about the Byzantine Empire which always features on general history books when briefly discussing Byzantium, this is the 6th century and this is because of no other than the reign of Byzantium’s most influential emperor Justinian I the Great (527-565) that took place here. The 6th century was then the first full century of the Byzantine Empire being the sole Roman Empire as previously mentioned, the Western Roman Empire came to an end in the previous 5th century, but it also happened that in the 6th century, the Eastern Roman Empire recovered the lands that were once part of the western empire although instead of restoring the old western empire, these lands came under the rule of the eastern empire from Constantinople.

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Emperor Justinian I the Great of Byzantium (r. 527-565)

Now, I would say that no doubt the 6th century is a very fascinating part of Byzantine history especially considering that the reign of Justinian I when all the century’s highlights took place was a long one lasting for a full 37 years. It is basically the reign of Justinian I (originally Flavius Petrus Sabbatius) that puts the 6th century in the top 3 of my list, as in his reign, almost every step of the way had a story to tell from the massive Nika riot in Constantinople that almost overthrew him in 532 which then had to be dealt with such brutality, to ambitious construction projects in Constantinople, loads of reforms, the devastating plague of 542 that wiped out so much of the empire’s including Constantinople’s population wherein Justinian himself was a victim of it but still survived, and so much more. In his reign, Justinian I had two major legacies that still live on up to this day and this includes his Code of Laws or Corpus Juris Civilis that still serves as the basis of most countries’ legal systems up to this day and the other one being no other than the impressive Hagia Sophia cathedral in Constantinople with its massive dome which did in fact only take 5 years (532-537) to build its structure, yet it is still intact up to this day. Another great legacy of Justinian I were his ambitious military campaigns to reconquer the lands that were once part of the Western Roman Empire in order to bring them back to Roman rule and in his reign, Justinian I managed to reconquer all the entire Vandal Kingdom of North Africa, all of Italy from the Ostrogoth Kingdom, and Southern Spain from the Visigoths, and the even more fascinating thing about this was that first Justinian conquered by intervening in their political struggles and that Justinian himself did not have to go himself to any of these campaigns but just stay in the palace. Other than his conquests, Justinian I was also known to have had made contact with parts of the world very distant to the Roman sphere of influence such as Sub-Saharan Africa wherein he had sent Christian missionaries to and China wherein he sent monks to learn the secret of silk making which resulted in the monks smuggling silkworms from China leading to the creation of silks in Byzantium itself.

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Court of Emperor Justinian I and Empress Theodora

Another thing that made Justinian I’s reign very eventful were the people behind his rule which included his wife Empress Theodora, the finance minister John the Cappadocian who managed to make the empire’s economy a strong and wealthy one, the jurist Tribonian who was responsible for codifying Roman law of the past thus creating the famous code of laws, the architects Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus who were responsible for the building of great structures like the Hagia Sophia, the historian Procopius who gives us a very detailed source of this time, and the generals Belisarius and Narses who were responsible for expanding the empire through war in the years-long conquests of North Africa and Italy. By the time Justinian I died in 565, the Byzantine Empire was a very massive one basically covering the entire Mediterranean stretching west to east from Southern Spain all the way to Syria and north to south from the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine all the way down to Egypt, but with all the wars and plague that had brought too much damage by killing off a large number of people and severely weakening the economy, this massive empire would soon enough prove to be too difficult to manage considering how large it was, therefore making it exposed to future invaders as well.

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Emperor Justinian I of Byzantium and Shah Khosrow I of the Sassanid Empire, by Justinianus

Another thing that makes Justinian’s reign more action-packed therefore putting more story into the 6th century was Byzantium’s chronic war with its traditional enemy in the east which was the Sassanid Persian Empire which during Justinian’s reign was ruled by Shah Khosrow I, an equally ambitious ruler who despite being paid off by Justinian to not attack in order for the Byzantines to focus on their conquests in the west still attacked Byzantine borders from time to time. On the other hand, the 6th century had a lot more than just Justinian I’s reign and these were the events before and after his long reign, although I would say it is only Justinian I’s reign that makes the 6th century a very interesting one for me as the events before and after it were still dramatic ones but do not fascinate me much.

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Anastasius I Dicorus, Byzantine emperor (r. 491-518), art by Amelianvs

Anyway, the events that had taken place before Justinian I came to power in 527 were not as exciting but very important especially in setting the stage for Justinian’s epic projects to expand the empire as first of all, the emperor who ruled at the beginning of the century which was Anastasius I- the successor of Zeno- was responsible for strengthening and enriching the economy with his smart economic policies which later made Justinian’s ambitious projects possible, and though Anastasius I’s empire was already threatened by the Sassanids in the east, the Byzantines were still able to successfully fight them. Anastasius I died in 518 at the age of 87 leaving the empire’s economy strong and rich, but the problem was that he did not have a clear succession plan by having no sons, so instead he was succeeded by the commander of the palace guard Justin I who was Justinian’s uncle and even though Justin I as emperor coming from humble origins was illiterate, he was able to still rule well especially in protecting the Orthodox faith of the empire, therefore gaining the support of the pope in Rome, although behind Justin I’s power was really his nephew Justinian who in 527 succeeded his uncle following his death. On the other hand, the latter part of the 6th century following Justinian I’s death in 565 was for me more or less disappointing especially to see how all the hard work of Justinian to expand his empire disappeared when new barbarian invaders came in such as the Lombards who in 568 just 3 years after Justinian’s death invaded Italy making their own kingdom only just a few years after the Byzantine reconquest of it from the Ostrogoths was completed, while in the Balkans new invaders such as the Slavs and Avars appeared, and in the east the war against the traditional enemy the Sassanid Empire under Shah Khosrow I intensified.

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Imperial court of the mentally insane Justin II (seated) with Empress Sophia (left) and Tiberius II as Caesar (right), by Amelianvs

The more disappointing part however after Justinian I’s death was that his successors were not as capable as he was, and this included his nephew and immediate successor Justin II who without a clear solution but also having a weakened economy decided to stop paying tribute to the empire’s neighbors including the Sassanids which then made things only worse as seen when the Byzantines started losing a lot of lands to them. The mistake at the latter part of the 6th century however happened to be that the empire left behind by Justinian I was so large and defending so many borders proved to be so difficult that Justin II ended up turning insane that in 574 he had to abdicate passing the throne to his palace guard commander who then became Emperor Tiberius II who however proved to be a much more capable emperor than Justin II before him. Although Tiberius II was a competent emperor, he still could not solve all the empire’s problems at the same time so while he was busy continuing the war against the Sassanids in the east, the Balkans were left exposed therefore allowing the Avars and their Slav allies to invade it, while at the same time he too lacked enthusiasm in ruling.

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Maurice, Byzantine emperor (r. 582-602)

After his death in 582, Tiberius II was succeeded by his general and son-in-law Maurice who was a far more competent emperor than his two predecessors, and as emperor Maurice set a new standard for emperors to personally lead the army in battle himself, therefore he spent most of his reign campaigning against the Sassanids in the east and against the Avars and Slavs in the Balkans. Although he was a capable general, Maurice was weak in economic policy but at least he still managed to solve the problem of having provinces very distant from Constantinople which were Italy and North Africa in which he made them semi-independent provinces known as Exarchates where their own rulers somewhat ruled independently except still answering to the emperor in Constantinople. Now, what I would say makes the 6th century a very fascinating one is that it had a lot of exciting moments especially in warfare as the Byzantines at this time were fighting a variety of enemies from the powerful organized armies of the Sassanids, to the barbarian kingdoms of Western Europe, and even the nomadic people of the steppes such as the Avars, Huns, and Bulgars while at the same time they also made contact with distant lands like China, and it was also a century of great cultural innovations especially seen with the ambitious projects of the Hagia Sophia and a lot of structures around the empire including the mosaics of Ravenna in Italy. Although the 6th century had a lot of moments that I find very exciting and dramatic, not all of it was, as this century also had a lot to do with religious controversies especially between the Orthodox, Arian, and Monophysite faiths and a lot about economics as well which I don’t find very fascinating, but overall the 6th century was still one with so much happening and drama which is why I consider it as my 3rd favorite.

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World Map, 555AD, Byzantium under Justinian I (purple)
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Mosaic of Emperor Justinian I with his generals Belisarius and Narses, Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna
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The Hagia Sophia, built under Justinian I
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Massacre of the 30,000 at the Hippodrome ending the Nika Riot, 532
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The Plague of Justinian hits Constantinople, 542
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The Byzantine Empire in 600 (green) and Sassanid Empire (orange)

To learn more about Byzantium in the 6th century, read Chapter III of my Byzantine Alternate History series.

4. The 13th Century          

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Map of the aftermath of the Byzantine Empire after its fall to the 4th Crusade in 1204

Despite the 13th century being the century wherein the Byzantine Empire disappeared for half of it (1204-1261), I still count it as one of my favorites for a number of reasons. The 13th century was one of if not the most turbulent time for the empire and also the beginning of its end as when the century began, the terrible 4th Crusade that was aimed at the Byzantine Empire was launched which in 1204 managed to capture Constantinople itself, thus temporarily ending Byzantine rule establishing the new Latin Empire with Constantinople as its capital.

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Seal of the Latin Empire of Constantinople (1204-1261)

Following the fall of Constantinople to the Latin (Western European) army of the 4th Crusade, the geography of what was once the Byzantine Empire totally changed as Constantinople and it surroundings fell under the Latin Empire, Greece fell under various Latin nobles from the west, Crete and a number of islands to the rule of the Republic of Venice, while the Byzantine people as well divided themselves once their capital fell thus creating their own separate states including the Despotate of Epirus in Western Greece, the Empire of Nicaea in Western Asia Minor, and the Empire of Trebizond along the Black Sea coast in the far eastern corner of Asia Minor. Among the 3 successor Byzantine states which were the Empires of Nicaea and Trebizond, as well as the Despotate of Epirus, it was the Empire of Nicaea that was the most successful of them, therefore it remained as the legitimate successor state of the Byzantine Empire, so basically the story of Byzantium for half of the 13th century was the story of the successor state of the Empire of Nicaea. What I find very fascinating about the 57-year period of the Byzantine Empire in exile as the Empire of Nicaea in the 13th century was that despite them being so fatally defeated that they even lost their capital to the Crusaders, the Byzantines still had it in them to rise up again and one day direct their attention to reclaim their capital. Even in its earliest days, the Empire of Nicaea under its first ruler Theodore I Laskaris from 1205 to his death in 1221 already came up with a clear plan to put the pieces back together and form a state strong enough to one day make an attempt to reclaim the old capital and doing this required a lot of hard work, alliances, and good timing.

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Emperor John III Doukas Vatatzes of Nicaea/ Byzantium (r. 1222-1254)

The real success for the empire of Nicaea however came during the reign of John III Doukas Vatatzes (1222-1254), Theodore I’s successor and son-in-law and as the emperor of Nicaea, John III was able to make the exiled Byzantium as powerful as it was when the Byzantines still held Constantinople by turning the tide of war against Byzantium’s Latin occupiers as true enough the Latin Empire of Constantinople had turned out to be a failed state, also John III gave his people a time of peace and economic growth. John III in fact almost succeeded in recapturing Constantinople in 1235 with assistance from the 2nd Bulgarian Empire’s tsar Ivan Asen II but failed in doing so when mistrust erupted between them but also when seeing that they had no way to break into the walls. The rest of John III’s military campaigns were mostly successful especially against the rival Byzantine power of the Despotate of Epirus that he was able to successfully reclaim the city of Thessaloniki from them, but other than military campaigns John III invested heavily in promoting Greek culture in the exiled Byzantine Empire of Nicaea that his reign would begin what would be the Greek cultural revival of Byzantium as well as the birth of the medieval Greek identity. Though John III ruled somewhat with an iron fist, he was also a well-loved ruler and that when he died in 1254, he was mourned by almost all his subjects, though the sad part about his death was that he was not able to live long enough to see Constantinople back in Byzantine hands. John III’s son and successor Theodore II Laskaris however only ruled for 4 years (1254-1258) and was not as successful as his father, while also did not prioritize the reconquest of Constantinople, although after his sudden death in 1258 the Empire of Nicaea was taken over by the ambitious noble and Theodore II’s greatest rival Michael Palaiologos who made his message clear to everyone which was to take back Constantinople from the Latins. The Empire of Nicaea’s army was then able to successfully recover Constantinople from the Latins in 1261 by surprise when attacking at the dead night, but to their surprise, most of the Latin army was away, therefore the Latin Empire came to an end and the Byzantine Empire was restored as Constantinople was recaptured. Now, again what makes the 13th century a fascinating one for me were the stories of the two strong emperors that dominated this century which were John III Vatatzes who ruled the exiled Empire of Nicaea for a full 32 years and Michael VIII Palaiologos who finally managed to recapture Constantinople in 1261 and restore the Byzantine Empire after 57 years of disappearance, and what both rulers had in common was that they persisted and made Byzantium persist despite the challenging times.

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Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos of Byzantium (r. 1261-1282), painting by myself

As for Michael VIII, despite restoring the Byzantine Empire, he faced so many difficulties immediately after taking back Constantinople. In Michael VIII’s 21-year reign (1261-1282), the restored Byzantium was threatened on all sides by various enemies including the Turks and Mongols, as well as the still surviving Latin powers in Greece established back in 1204 following the 4th Crusade and the rival Despotate of Epirus too that still continued to pose a threat to them even if the Empire of Nicaea became the Byzantine Empire again, although the most dangerous threat to Michael VIII’s restored empire was the new ambitious French king of Sicily Charles of Anjou who took over Sicily in 1266 and from there made it his goal to launch another invasion on Byzantium with the ultimate goal to take Constantinople back from the Latins. Now what makes Michael VIII an interesting character was that he was someone that would do all it took to save his empire especially through diplomacy even if there were dirty tactics involved such as turning against his allies and paying off people to rise up in rebellion known as the “Sicilian Vespers” which was in fact how he managed to get the ultimate threat of Charles of Anjou away from him as before Michael’s death in 1282, he paid off the people of Sicily to rebel against their French overlord Charles of Anjou which then succeeded in overthrowing the French overlords who were replaced by the Spanish Kingdom of Aragon, an ally of Michael VIII. On the other hand, Michael VIII’s may have ruled with an iron fist too much with very rash decisions such as his attempts to submit Byzantium to the pope in order to be allies with the rest of Western Europe, although this created such unrest among his proud Orthodox subjects which caused Michael to lose so much of his popularity.

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Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos of Byzantium

Michael VIII however responded with such brutality to all those that opposed his policy to reunite the Byzantine Church with the Latin Catholic Church that he imprisoned and even executed many of his subjects for opposing it, but at the end his intentions were still good which was to save his empire even if this would mean taking the greatest of risks such as submitting to the more powerful Latin Church despite great opposition by his people as he believed that it would be only by joining forces with their enemy being the western world that Byzantium could be saved. Basically for me, it is just John III’s and Michael VIII’s reigns that I find fascinating about the 13th century and the rest not so, though for me, the last years of the 13th century happen to be nothing more but disappointing as Michael VIII’s son and successor Andronikos II Palaiologos who ruled in the last years of the 13th century was a nothing much but a weak and incompetent emperor, although Michael VIII was in fact also to blame for leaving behind to his son such a troubled and bankrupt Byzantium, as in his reign Michael VIII had spent so much on war and bribing other powers to not attack while also by putting too much attention on the west and the Balkans, he neglected Byzantium’s borders in their heartland which was Asia Minor, therefore by the time Andronikos II came to power, he would have to face the consequences of his father’s decisions and over-spending. On the other hand, the 13th century was one of the periods in Byzantine history that I put a lot of attention to that I in fact made two major Lego films set in this era focusing on important events of the century and these films include Summer of 1261 (2019) focusing on the Byzantine reconquest of 1261 and War of the Sicilian Vespers (2020) focusing on the conflict in Sicily which the Byzantines assisted the Sicilians in overthrowing their French overlords in 1282.     

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Constantinople falls to the 4th Crusade, 1204
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Byzantine Reconquest of Constantinople from the Latins in 1261, art by FaisalHashemi
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Map of the restored Byzantine Empire in 1261 (yellow)
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Rebellion of the Sicilian Vespers, 1282

5. The 11th Century              

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The Byzantine Empire at Basil II’s death in 1025 (white) with new annexed territories by 1055 (red)

The 11th century was no doubt one of the most action-packed centuries in Byzantine Empire which saw it be at its height of power when the century began then all of a sudden drastically fall from it, therefore the Crisis of the 11th Century comes in, although this century again ends with Byzantium strong again, therefore the 11th century is the one century which shows the usual pattern of Byzantium going up then down then up again in terms of power and influence.

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Emperor Basil II the “Bulgar-Slayer” (r. 976-1025)

The 11th century began with the Byzantine Empire under Emperor Basil II of the Macedonian Dynasty as the dominant power of Eastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean in the Middle Ages and following the ultimate Byzantine conquest of the Bulgarian Empire in 1018, Byzantium and its army was feared by all that no one would dare attack Byzantium or else suffer the same fate as Bulgaria. The period of great power and influence Byzantium had held over the world however did not last long as after Basil II’s death in 1025 it would be all downhill from here despite Byzantium still being a massive empire that covered the entire Balkans going east all the way to Armenia while in the west still keeping most of Southern Italy. The downfall of Byzantium following Basil II’s death in 1025 was also due to how large the empire stretched making it already impossible to maintain a large enough army to defend all its borders although things still would have been better even if Byzantium held a large amount of territory if they had better leaders in the 11th century, but unfortunately the Byzantines did not. Most of the emperors that succeeded Basil II were weak rulers that tolerated having a corrupt court run by scheming eunuchs while a number of ambitious generals from powerful military aristocratic families many times rebelled and tried to claim the throne. Now while corruption reigned in mid-11th century Byzantium and so did economic problems that for the first time in their 700 years of history their standard gold coin or the Solidus was devalued, new and unexpected enemies came into contact with the Byzantines and these included the Normans in Italy which were just mercenaries that the Byzantines happened to underestimate as true enough it turned out they were there in Italy to stay and conquer it while in the east, a new power arose which the Byzantines never saw coming and this was the empire of the Seljuk Turks who the Byzantines first battled with in 1048 although still defeating the Seljuks.

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Seljuk Turks ride from the steppes into Asia Minor

In 1056, the long-ruling Macedonian Dynasty came to an end with the death of the last Macedonian ruler Theodora, the niece of Basil II and what followed her death was some political instability until 1057 when the strongman emperor Isaac I Komnenos came to rule the empire promising to return it to its military glory in the time of Basil II, although Isaac I’s reign ended too soon as he abdicated in 1059 due to illness leaving the throne to an unworthy successor which was Constantine X Doukas who made the worst decision ever in disbanding the eastern army to save up on funds right when the Seljuks were threatening Byzantium’s eastern borders. After Constantine X’s death in 1067, his wife Empress Eudokia married the capable general Romanos Diogenes who in 1068 became Emperor Romanos IV right when the Seljuks made constant riads into the Byzantine heartland which was Asia Minor without orders from their leader the sultan Alp Arslan. In 1071, Romanos IV tired of the Seljuks raiding the empire declared war on them even if their sultan Alp Arslan’s intention was never to really fully invade Byzantium but just take a part of it in order to gain access to conquer his ultimate goal which was Egypt.

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Defeat and capture of Romanos IV by the Seljuks, 1071

The forces of Romanos IV and Alp Arslan clashed at the fatal Battle of Manzikert in 1071 in which Romanos IV was defeated and captured although spared but when returning to Constantinople, he was betrayed as the imperial court declared him deposed therefore replacing him with his stepson Michael VII Doukas. Romanos IV was then blinded in 1072 dying shortly after although the next emperor Michael VII proved to be a very incompetent one, and due to his weak leadership, a number of ambitious generals rose up to claim the throne and with all this chaos, Norman mercenaries turned warlords created their own states in Byzantine Asia Minor itself while the Seljuks due to their victory at Manzikert freely raided and occupied lands in Byzantine Asia Minor. Michael VII eventually abdicated in 1078 and was replaced by Emperor Nikephoros III Botaneiates who was in fact much worse as due to his old age, he could not really do anything to save the empire from deteriorating that almost all of Asia Minor already fell under Seljuk rule, though in 1081 Nikephoros III was ousted from power by the much young and ambitious general Alexios Komnenos, nephew of the previous emperor Isaac I, and as emperor Alexios I promised to restore the empire to its greatness once more.

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Emperor Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118)

Alexios I began his reign fighting off a Norman invasion finally defeating it by 1085, then in 1091 he defeated a massive Pecheneg invasion. The 11th century ends with Alexios I calling for military assistance from Western Europe to help him reclaim Asia Minor from the Seljuks, but in return he got the First Crusade which was never really loyal to him, though at the end despite the Crusaders claiming for themselves lands in the Middle East, they at least pushed back the Seljuks relieving Alexios I and Byzantium from its ultimate extinction. Now, I would say that the 11th century featured so many events that were not only crucial for Byzantium but for world history in general such as the Byzantine conquest of Bulgaria in 1018 and the significant defeat the Byzantine army faced at Manzikert which then turns out to be the most significant turning point of this century, as this defeat exposed that the once feared and all-powerful Byzantine army was in fact vulnerable, but this defeat that also led to the Seljuk occupation of Asia Minor more importantly led to the Crusades to become a thing which would be the major story for the next 2 centuries in world history. It is because this century had such crucial events such as the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 and the Great Schism before that in 1054 which finally separated Byzantium from the west culturally and spiritually that I find this century very fascinating, but also because it featured a lot of epic battles and the famous Varangian Guard consisting of Nordic mercenaries serving in Byzantium protecting its emperor. On the other hand, unlike the 10th century that preceded it, the 11th century was not all action-packed and memorable every step of the way, but instead had a number of exciting yet suspenseful moments such as of course Manzikert and a lot of other battles before it but it also had its share of disappointing moments especially its repetitive cycle of having one incompetent emperor after the other wherein one able emperor comes in between them but does not stay too long, while this century also featured a lot of economics and religious struggles again which makes it have some not so interesting parts for me. The 11th century however was one of the few centuries in Byzantine history that was action-packed from beginning to end despite a few dull and disappointing moments in between, which why I still consider it one of the more purely fascinating ones in Byzantine history but still not one of my plainly most fascinating ones.

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Empresses Zoe (left) and Theodora (right) in the palace, art by Eldr-Fire
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Painting of the fateful Battle of Manzikert between the Byzantines and Seljuks, 1071
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Map of the expansion of the Seljuk Turks and their empire (yellow), in the 11th century
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The First Crusade, 1095-1099
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Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, art by Diogos_tales

To learn more about Byzantium in the 11th century, read Chapter VIII of my Byzantine Alternate History series.

 

6. The 4th Century               

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Map of the Roman Empire under Constantine I, 330

The 4th century is considered to be the first century in the history of Byzantium as this was when Constantinople was founded as the Roman Empire’s new capital by the Roman emperor Constantine I the Great, however the real history of the Eastern Roman Empire being the Byzantine Empire only begins in 395 where the 4th century ends, therefore the rest of the 4th century more or less is just the introduction period to the actual main body of Byzantine history that fully begins in the 5th century following it. Although since the 4th century still counts as part of Byzantine history basically because this was when Constantinople was founded and had become the new capital of the Roman Empire, I am putting it on this list. Now the 4th century as I would say was more or less a very eventful one filled with exciting, action-packed, and even dramatic moments which then makes it for me a very fascinating one, although I am only placing it on #6 of this list because as I mentioned earlier it is not really part of the main history of Byzantium and therefore still more or less part of the history of the original Roman Empire before Byzantium, but also because for some reason the history of the 4th century has many gaps as it is only the important events here that are mostly recorded, therefore I cannot appreciate it as much as the other centuries. From beginning to end, the 4th century had a lot of significant moments as when the century began, the Roman Empire was still under the experiment known as the Tetrarchy with 4 divided parts ruled by 4 different emperors which seemed to do well until 305 when this system’s founder Emperor Diocletian retired, therefore creating chaos leading into civil war as a result of the other rulers of this system wanting more land and power.

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Roman emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337), founder of Constantinople

The empire was then thrown into chaos until one of the rulers of the Tetrarchy which was the western emperor Constantine I defeated all his rivals over the span of 18 years (306-324), and by 324 after fighting an on-and-off civil war against all his imperial rivals in the western and eastern portions of the empire, he became the sole ruler of the Roman Empire deciding to turn the backwater port town of Byzantium along the Bosporus Sea between Asia and Europe as the Roman Empire’s new capital seeing it as a strategic location, and in only 6 years the small port town was transformed into an imperial capital which was inaugurated in 330. Constantine I known as “the Great” of course had made a lot more of achievements than founding Constantinople and therefore the Byzantine Empire and restructuring the Roman army, and a lot of his major achievements had to do with making Christianity the dominant but not official religion of the Roman Empire as in 313 he issued the Edict of Milan that finally gave toleration to Christians after centuries of persecution, then in 325 Constantine I organized the First Church Council at Nicaea that formally set the official doctrine for Christianity and condemned the teachings of Arianism as heresy, though it was only shortly before his death 337 that Constantine I was baptized as a Christian.

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Council of Nicaea, 325

Although Constantine I ruled the entire Roman Empire alone, after his death the empire was divided among his 3 sons that were basically all at odds with each other and at the end, only the middle son Constantius II ruling from Constantinople survived his two brothers therefore ruling the whole empire alone until his death in 361 and without any son to succeed him, Constantius II passed the throne to his younger cousin Julian despite not trusting him. Julian’s 2-year reign (361-363) was one of the most interesting moments of the 4th century as he was the last Roman emperor willing to return to the glory days of Ancient Pagan Rome that he in fact was a Pagan himself although he did not rule long enough to achieve his goal to return the empire to its glory days of the past as in 363, he was killed in battle against the Sassanid Persian Empire while campaigning in the Sassanid heartland itself.

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Emperor Julian (r. 361-363), art by Amelianvs

The Roman army however survived and returned to empire and in 364, a new emperor came to power establishing a new dynasty which was the soldier Valentinian I who when coming to power split the empire in half with him ruling the western half and his younger brother Valens ruling the eastern half from Constantinople. Valentinian I the Great ruled successfully managing to defeat a number of barbarian tribes invading the western half but in 375 he died from a burst blood vessel caused by his own anger while failing to negotiate with barbarian tribal leaders at the empire’s Danube border. Meanwhile, the eastern half of the Roman Empire ruled by Valens, a sudden massive migration of barbarian Goths poured into the eastern half’s Danube border in 376 which later proved to be too uncontrollable by Roman authorities in the Balkans leading to war against the Goths resulting in the Roman army defeated by the Goths at the Battle of Adrianople in 378 wherein Valens himself was killed. The death of Valens and the victory of the Goths put the eastern half of the empire into chaos without any emperor sitting in Constantinople until the next year came when the general Theodosius came to power as the Eastern Roman emperor and in his reign, he focused on containing the pillaging Goths which he succeeded in except that he was only able to take care of the problem only by allowing the Goths to settle within the empire as Foederati or defeated soldiers forced to serve their conquerors in exchange for being kept alive.

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Emperor Theodosius I the Great (r. 379-395)

As emperor, Theodosius I known as “the Great” being a devout Christian prioritized making Christianity the empire’s dominant religion and true enough in 380 he declared Nicene Christianity which was established back in 325 as the official religion of the Roman Empire and began persecuting those who opposed it. Theodosius I too had dealt with two large civil wars in his reign in which he managed to defeat both and after defeating the second one in 394, he became once more the sole ruler of the whole Roman empire except only for a few months as in early 395 he died permanently dividing the empire in half leaving his older son Arcadius to rule the eastern half which was the Byzantine Empire and the younger son Honorius to rule the western half. Now, the 4th century more or less was full of exciting and memorable moments in different fields especially in warfare as it featured important and climactic battles whether in Roman civil wars such as the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 and Frigidus in 394 or in battles against barbarians such as Strasbourg in 357 and Adrianople in 378 while at the same time, it was a very crucial period especially for the history of Christianity as this was when it first became both a dominant faith and an official state religion. Although, the 4th century had a lot of important and exciting moments, it was only known for major moments and nothing much in between which is why I place it as #6 on this list which is in fact not very low, but even though this century may just be one notable for important events, it was still a very crucial one in world history as it saw the transition of what was Classical Ancient Rome into the Byzantine era as well as the era of Christendom, therefore I would say that this century would be most fascinating to Roman history enthusiasts, especially if they want to be introduced to Ancient Rome’s continuation which is Byzantium.

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Constantinople, Eastern Roman Imperial capital, founded in 330
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Constantine I civil war victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge, 312
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The Roman Empire divided among Constantine I’s sons Constantine II, Constans I, and Constantius II following Constantine I’s death, 337
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Emperor Valentinian I (r. 364-375, center) with his Palatini legions, art by Amelianvs
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Defeat of the Romans to the Goths at the Battle of Adrianople, 378
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The Roman Empire divided between east (purple) given to Arcadius and west (red) given to Honorius at Theodosius I’s death in 395
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Map of all Barbarian invasions into the Roman Empire, 100-500AD

To learn more about Byzantium in the 4th century, read Chapter I of my Byzantine Alternate History series.

7. The 12th Century         

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Map of the Byzantine Empire (red) during the reign of Manuel I Komnenos (1143-1180)

The 12th century is often remembered as the century of the Crusades wherein Byzantium did in fact play a major role in it, as true enough before the century began the Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos requested military aid from Western Europe to help him drive away the Seljuk Turk occupiers from the Byzantine heartland Asia Minor but in return what he got was the First Crusade.

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Coat of Arms of Byzantium under the Komnenos Dynasty

The Crusader army that came to aid Byzantium may have not kept their word in returning the lands they conquered to Byzantium and instead claimed these lands as their own but in return the Byzantines simply allow this to pass, therefore the 12th century was another period of Byzantium’s revival while also a challenging time as the empire had to battle different enemies on sides such as the Crusaders, Seljuks, Normans, and Hungarians. Most of the 12th century was then defined by what was the “Komnenian Restoration” which was a period of the Byzantine Empire’s revival in military and cultural power after it had lost most of it in the previous century due to the 11th century crisis and the catastrophic Battle of Manzikert in 1071, and most of the efforts to restore the empire to the old glory it had during the late 10th century and early 11th century were due to the reigns of 3 consecutive long-reigning strong visionary emperors in a straight line of succession which were Alexios I (1081-1118), his son John II (1118-1143), and his son Manuel I (1143-1180). These 3 Komnenos emperors may have had a strong vision to restore the empire, although their policies to revive the empire’s glory were a bit too ambitious, required so much funds, but also involved bullying other nations to submit to the authority of Byzantium as was seen with the new Crusader states in which these emperors demanded a lot from them including forcing them to pay tribute and to recognize Byzantium as their overlords, while the same thing too can be said to how the Komnenos emperors acted towards the Kingdom of Hungary. In the Byzantine Empire itself, the 3 long-reigning Komnenos emperors did in fact do a lot to restore the invincible power of the Byzantine army, strengthen the economy, and reclaim most of Asia Minor which was in the previous century lost to the Seljuks.

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Emperor John II Komnenos of Byzantium (r. 1118-1143)

Alexios I’s son and successor John II mostly spent his 25-year reign away from the capital in military campaigns against Hungary in the Balkans and the Seljuks in Asia Minor, although his reign also saw the new age of revival for the empire take shape. John II’s son Manuel I meanwhile did the same ambitious projects as his father and grandfather did before him, except that he was far more ambitious that his constant wars throughout his 37-year reign drained the empire’s funds. Manuel I just like Justinian I in the 6th century put all his attention to restoring the empire and again reconquering the west which they have lost which in his reign was seen with his attempt to reconquer Italy which however failed.

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Emperor Manuel I Komnenos of Byzantium (r. 1143-1180)

Manuel I’s over ambitious campaigns and spending would also later on cause the downfall of the empire and therefore the end of the Komnenian restoration and part of the reasons that caused the downfall of his dynasty and of the empire was his decision to have war with their ally Venice which then only made Byzantium and Venice bitter enemies for the next centuries to come, while at the same time Manuel I was also too fascinated with the culture of Western Europe that he even tried introducing it to Byzantine society which at the end did not work out well, therefore only causing division among his people. The most disappointing part however was that in 1176, the Byzantines again suffered a heavy defeat to the Seljuk army in Asia Minor therefore ending this age of restoration, thus Manuel I in 1180 died without seeing his dreams achieved but the worst part that was to come was that his son and successor Alexios II was only a child therefore under the regency of his mother Empress Maria of Antioch who was unpopular due to her western heritage that her regency caused internal conflict in the empire which resulted in the empress and her son the emperor overthrown and executed by Manuel I’s anti-western cousin who became Emperor Andronikos I Komnenos.

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Emperor Andronikos I Komnenos of Byzantium (r. 1183-1185), art by Skamandros

The new emperor Andronikos I turned out to be nothing but a bloody and paranoid ruler that just ruled out revenge executing, torturing, and exiling everyone who was associated with the previous regime of his cousin Manuel I who he hated, but at the end Andronikos I too had met a bloody end in 1185 being tortured to death by the people that put him in power 3 years earlier as they switched their support to his relative, the young charismatic politician Isaac Angelos who then became emperor following this revolution. The new emperor Isaac II Angelos however was not what his people expected as rather than being the strong ruler promising to save the empire from collapse, he was one ruler that again faced so many difficulties on all sides especially usurping generals that questioned his legitimacy as they too saw he was unfit.

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Emperor Isaac II Angelos of Byzantium (r. 1185-1195/ 1203-1204)

Isaac II however still had still managed to drive off a large Norman invasion of Byzantine Greece in 1185 but unfortunately this was only one of his few successes as the rest of his reign was filled with disaster and some of it caused by his own inept policies such as the Bulgarian uprising of 1185 that led to the breaking away of Bulgaria from Byzantium once again thus creating the 2nd Bulgarian Empire which was mostly due to Isaac II’s heavy taxation allegedly to pay for his lavish wedding ceremony while he too dealt with the arrival of the 3rd Crusade in Byzantium terribly by being skeptical about letting them through which at the end did not solve anything but instead only led to conflict with the Crusaders. Isaac II however at least knew he was responsible for creating such trouble including the Bulgarians’ declaration of independence that Isaac II in fact made many attempts to take back Bulgaria with force which however failed many times, but when finally launching a massive invasion to finally reclaim Bulgaria in 1195, Isaac II unfortunately did not succeed as he was overthrown and blinded by his jealous older brother who then became the next emperor Alexios III Angelos who proved to be even more incompetent than his brother, thus putting Byzantium down a path that will lead to its temporary collapse in 1204 when Constantinople was captured by the Crusaders. Now, I would say that the 12th century was in fact a very eventful and exciting one though I still do not consider it as one of my top picks as for me it is really a mixed century with equally fascinating but also equally disappointing moments. The part I find interesting and worth talking about for the 12th century is definitely the earlier part of it with the empire undergoing a time of restoration under the rules of the 3 ambitious and competent Komnenos emperors Alexios I, John II, and Manuel I, while the second half for me is nothing more but disappointing especially to see all the greatness of the empire fade away through a series of incompetent rulers including Andronikos I, Isaac II, and Alexios III. It is basically for the reason that this century that was supposed to be defined by the age of the restoration of Byzantium’s imperial glory ended so disappointingly why I don’t count this century as one of my favorites, but since it was one that had a lot of excitement including battles, political intrigues, and most importantly more significant contact made between Byzantium and the western world mostly because of the Crusades, this century is still something that fascinates me a lot when talking about the entire history of Byzantium in general.

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Byzantine defeat to the Seljuks at the Battle of Myriokephalon, 1176
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Isaac II Angelos’ rise to power, 1185

8. The 15th Century          

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Map of the reduced Byzantine Empire in 1450 (purple)

The 15th century being the last century of the Byzantine Empire’s existence is best defined by one event which was the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453 with the epic siege of Constantinople, so basically the 15th century story of Byzantium was only half a century as in the second half of it, the Byzantine Empire was already gone. Now, I would say that the 15th century was very exciting and eventful in different parts of the world as by this point the kingdoms of Europe were already much more powerful than they were in the past centuries but for Byzantium it was the other way around as instead of the major power it was when the rest of Europe was still forming, Byzantium was now the one weak and reduced and by the time the 15th century began, Byzantium was basically just Constantinople and its surroundings as well as a few Aegean islands and the region of Southeast Greece known as the Morea.

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Flag of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century

In the region of where the Byzantine Empire was however, the main story was no longer Byzantium but the rapid expansion of the Ottoman Empire into Europe that already sent shockwaves to the kingdoms of Western Europe to fight them back considering that the Ottomans from being a small power just a century ago was able to defeat and conquer both Serbian and Bulgarian Empires. The reduced and dying Byzantine Empire meanwhile in the 15th century was just a backwater state entirely surrounded by the Ottomans that it was only going to be a matter of time that the capital Constantinople itself would be captured by the Ottomans therefore finishing off Byzantium for good.

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Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos (r. 1391-1425) with his family

Fortunately the last emperors that ruled Byzantium in the 15th century which were Manuel II Palaiologos (1391-1425) and his son John VIII Palaiologos (1425-1448) were competent rulers that still managed to keep the Ottomans away and still keep their dying empire alive and a lot of their success in keeping Byzantium alive despite being surrounded by the Ottomans was through diplomacy and true enough both Manuel II and John VIII made several trips to Europe asking for financial aid and alliances from various rulers there. John VIII in 1448 however died without any sons to succeed him and so it was his younger brother that succeeded him as Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos in 1449 who was then the last Byzantine emperor.

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Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos (r. 1449-1453), the last Byzantine emperor

In 1451, just 2 years after Constantine XI came to power, the young Mehmed II came to power as the Ottoman Empire’s sultan and he had the ultimate goal to begin his reign by conquering Constantinople to get it out of the way in order to push through with the complete Ottoman conquest of the Balkans. In 1453, Mehmed II thought of asking Constantine XI to simply surrender Constantinople to him without a fight so that the Ottomans could already take their ultimate prize in exchange for Constantine XI to be spared, but Constantine XI not wanting to shamefully surrender his city refused and so the Ottomans laid siege to Constantinople which lasted for 2 months. The Byzantines and their western allies defending the walls however fought bravely and resisted for 2 months strait but at the end they proved to be outnumbered and the Ottomans having more advanced weapons such as cannons were finally able to break through the 1,000-year-old walls of Constantinople for the first time and on May 29 of 1453, the last Byzantine emperor vanished in battle while the victorious Ottomans took over Constantinople making it their empire’s new capital, thus ending the 1,123-year history of Byzantium.

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Ottoman sultan Mehmed II captures Constantinople, 1453

On the other hand, Byzantine history did not yet fully end in 1453 as the other parts of the empire still under Byzantine hands resisted but in 1460 Mehmed II was able to capture the last Byzantine holding in Greece which was the Morea held by Constantine XI’s brothers and in 1461 Mehmed II too conquered the last remaining Byzantine break-away state which was the Empire of Trebizond founded back in 1204 in the eastern edge of Asia Minor along the Black Sea, thus this event in 1461 marked the final end of the Byzantine story. Now I would say that the 15th century was a very action-packed one with all the battles with the Ottomans but also a very tragic one considering it was the end of Byzantium and true enough the siege and fall of Constantinople was no doubt this century’s biggest story and one of my all-time favorite moments in Byzantine history as it showed the Byzantine Empire not ending quietly but with a bang. However, it is only the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 that I consider the only major highlight of the century while the rest of the events were not as memorable for me especially seeing how the Byzantine Empire grew to be so insignificant, therefore with nothing else but 1453 being its major highlight, I would not consider the 15th century or more specifically the last century of Byzantium as one of my top picks when ranking all 12 centuries in Byzantine history.

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1453, the final siege of Constantinople
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Fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans, May 29, 1453

9. The 9th Century           

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Byzantine Empire in the 2nd half of the 9th century (yellow)

If I there was one century in Byzantine history that may have had a lot of important as well as exciting moments but with equally dull and uninteresting moments, it is the 9th century. First of all, I would say the 9th century had a lot of important moments and highlights worth remembering and a lot of them involved Byzantium’s interactions with the rest of the world around them such as the proposed marriage between Byzantium’s empress Irene and the newly crowned Frankish emperor of the west Charlemagne in 802 which never happened, the crushing defeat the Byzantines suffered to their northern neighbor the Bulgarian Empire in 811 at the Battle of Pliska wherein the Byzantine emperor Nikephoros I himself was killed in, the Bulgarian war that followed, the fall of Byzantine Crete and Sicily to the Arabs, continued wars against the Arab Abbasid Caliphate, the first attacks of the Kievan Rus on Byzantium, and the beginnings of the Byzantine Renaissance as well as its cultural and military revival at the latter part of the century. The first half of the 9th century basically saw Byzantium at a low point still in its Dark Ages having to defend itself both against the Arabs in the east and the Bulgarians in the north while within the empire the controversy of Iconoclasm or the breaking of religious icons still lived on.

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Emperor Theophilos, Byzantine emperor (r. 829-842)

It is only as the 9th century progresses when the Byzantine story gets more interesting which is when Michael II becomes emperor in 820 after assassinating his predecessor Leo V thus founding the Amorian Dynasty, while in the reign of his son and successor Theophilos (829-842) the Byzantine cultural Renaissance was already taking shape and despite losing heavily to the invading Arabs in battle, Theophilos invested a lot of money into making Constantinople a cultural and educational center. Things then get even more action-packed in the latter part of the century under Theophilos’ son and successor Michael III (842-867) and even though he was ineffective as an emperor, a lot had happened in his rule such as the final end of the Iconoclast controversy in 843, the mission of St. Cyril and St. Methodius to convert the people of Eastern Europe to Orthodox Christianity which was organized by the Patriarch of Constantinople Photios I, the Kievan Rus’ first attack on Byzantine territory in 860, the conversion of Bulgaria to Orthodoxy, and the rise to power of the unlikely peasant and wrestler Basil the Macedonian who after becoming close to Michael III killed him in 867 and became the new emperor Basil I establishing the long-lived Macedonian Dynasty that survived until the 11th century.

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Emperor Basil I the Macedonian (r. 867-886)

The reign of Basil I (867-886) saw Byzantium once again rise up to become a strong military power as well as a cultural one, therefore laying the foundations for the actual Byzantine golden age in the following century. Now the reason why I am putting the 9th century far down on this list ranking the 12 centuries of Byzantium compared to the 10th century that followed it which is my personal best being #1 on this list is because the 9th century compared to the 10th that followed was definitely not action-packed every step of the way but it had a lot of exciting and memorable moments too. These memorable moments though that the 9th century had to offer mostly had to do with its relations with other powers such as the Bulgarians, Rus, Arabs, and the west and true enough a lot of important moments took place in this century that are worth telling regarded Byzantium’s foreign relations and these included the mission of St. Cyril and Methodius which has a more intriguing angle to it as their mission was not plainly one for spirituality but politics as this was a cold war situation wherein Byzantium competed against the Western Catholic Church to see who would convert the still Pagan people of Eastern Europe first, and at the end the Byzantines won it.

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Sts. Cyril (left) with the Cyrillic Alphabet and St. Methodius (right), Byzantine missionaries sent to convert the Slavs by Patriarch Photios

The battles against the Bulgarians were exciting moments as well as already at the beginning of the century Byzantium was already engaged in war with them while the century also ended with Byzantium again at war with Bulgaria in which Bulgaria was much more powerful under its greatest ruler Tsar Simeon, while also the conflicts between Byzantium and the Arabs had a lot more excitement here as it was in this century when the Byzantines first turned the tide of war against the Arabs to the offensive when for the first time the Byzantine army in the 860s did not just fight to defend its borders from Arab raiders but in fact raided deep into Arab territory. On the other hand, it is only in the external situation that makes the 9th century exciting for me as internally, the Byzantine story was not very much exciting as a lot of the stories here had to do with complicated court politics and religious issues, although the internal issues of this century only gets more exciting in the latter part of century such as Basil I’s rise to power and the questionable parentage of his son the future emperor Leo VI who came to power in 886 as it is still debated whether he is actually Basil I’s son or the previous emperor Michael III’s. For me, the 9th century had more not so exciting if not dull moments compared to its more exciting and dramatic moments which is why I do not consider it as one of my favorite centuries, but other than that I still find the 9th century a period that has a lot of interest for me as the 9th century set the stage for the Byzantine Renaissance including its military and cultural golden age that took place in the following century which is my all-time favorite of the 12 centuries in Byzantine history.

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Aftermath of the Battle of Pliska in 811, Khan Krum of Bulgaria uses Emperor Nikephoros I’s skull as his drinking cup
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Michael III (right, in blue) makes Basil the Macedonian (left, in red) his co-emperor, Madrid Skylitzes

To learn more about Byzantium in the 9th century, read Chapter VI of my Byzantine Alternate History series.

10. The 7th Century          

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The Byzantine Empire in 650 (orange) under Constans II

The 7th century was definitely a major turning point for the Byzantine Empire as this was the end of the old Roman era and the beginning of their Dark Ages, and a lot of this had to do with the final defeat of their traditional eastern enemy the Sassanid Persian Empire and the unexpected rise of a new power which were the Arabs that in such a quick amount of time took over the entire Middle East as well as half of the Byzantine Empire’s territory. The 7th century is often described as a dark time for Byzantium and was already dark right when this century began when in 602 the emperor Maurice was executed by the usurper Phocas thus ending the great Justinian Dynasty and the age of Antiquity in general and beginning what would be the Dark Ages. The execution of Maurice and Phocas seizing the throne led to war breaking out with the Sassanid Empire in the east as its ruler or shah Khosrow II was an ally of Maurice although he also had the ambition to invade Byzantium and using the execution of Maurice as an excuse, Khosrow II declared war on the Byzantines.

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Emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641), art by Skamandros

Phocas however was overthrown and executed by Heraclius in 610 who became the emperor and as emperor he turned all his attention to fighting off the Sassanids and finishing them off for good whereas the Sassanids too had gained the upper hand and invaded a large percent of Byzantine territory including Syria, Egypt, and even laying siege to Constantinople in 626 with the help of the Avars and Slavs who at the same time were also invading the Byzantine Balkans. Heraclius at the end managed to defeat the Sassanids in 628 and reclaim all Byzantine territories lost to them but despite his victory, a large percent of the army was destroyed and the imperial treasury emptied out from the war, therefore meaning that another war would mean the end of Byzantium. True enough, just right after the war with the Sassanids came to an end, just some years later a new unexpected power arose and expanded with such speed with nothing to stop it, and these were the Arabs in the form of their first empire which was the Rashidun Caliphate and their invincibility was already shown when defeating the Byzantine army at the Battle of Yarmouk in 636 and defeating the Sassanids too that same year. Following the ultimate defeat of the weakened Byzantine army to the Arabs in 636, the Byzantines in the next few years lost all of their territories in the Middle East including the important cities of Antioch and Jerusalem, thus Heraclius died in 641 seeing everything he restored to the empire fall apart due to the Arab conquests.

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Emperor Constans II of Byzantium (r. 641-668), art by myself

Heraclius’ reign was followed by that of his grandson Constans II (641-668) who in his reign saw all of Egypt fully fall to the control of the Arabs as well as the first Arab naval attacks and raids deep into imperial territory in the east. Though coming to power only as a minor, Constans II would later on prove to be a decisive ruler that held the empire together in such a challenging time and he had also created the new Thematic System or Themes thus restructuring the old Byzantine provinces into smaller ones run by the army in order to strengthen its defenses against the constantly raiding Arabs. Constans II although saw that Constantinople was in a dangerous position as it was vulnerable to the naval attacks of the Arabs and so he decided that the capital should be moved to Syracuse in Sicily where he even set himself up from 663 to 668 thinking that if the east would fall, he could rebuild Byzantium in the west but his plans never came to happen as he was assassinated in his bath in Syracuse in 668. Following Constans II’s death, he was succeeded by his son Constantine IV who despite being still young was a successful ruler and from 674 to 678 successfully defended Constantinople from its first siege by the Arab armies with the use of the new superweapon of Greek Fire.

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Emperor Constantine IV (r. 668-685), son and successor of Constans II

It also happened in the late 7th century in 680 wherein the Bulgarians first appeared and settled in Byzantine lands forming their state and Constantine IV despite his success against the Arabs failed to contain the Bulgar raiders. Following Constantine IV’s death in 685 he was succeeded by his son Justinian II who although had the intention to revive the old glory of Byzantium and defeat all its enemies was too ambitious that his constant fighting off wars led to empire being further weakened while he too had a very oppressive ruling style which led to his downfall in 695 where he was overthrown by the senate, army, and people wherein his nose was cut off and therefore sent into exile afterwards. The 7th century then ended terribly for the Byzantines as the overthrow of Justinian II in 695 threw the empire into anarchy which would see a change of emperor 7 times in the course of 22 years and in this time, the Byzantines too suffered the great loss of losing their last territory in North Africa which was Carthage to the Arabs in 698.

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Emperor Justinian II (r. 685-695/ 705-711), art by Amelianvs

Now, it is no doubt that the 7th century was a very crucial turning point in Byzantine history considering the fall of its old enemy being the Sassanids and the rise of a new one which were the Arabs, the creation of the Thematic System, the invention of Greek Fire, and countless wars everywhere which makes it a very eventful and exciting one. The 7th century for me no doubt had a lot of exciting moments worth remembering and a lot of it had to do with wars such as the full-scale Byzantine-Sassanid War from 602 to 628, the conflict with the Arabs, and the sieges of Constantinople first in 626 by the Sassanids with their Avar and Slav allies and from 674 to 678 by the Arabs, therefore this century is something that would interest war enthusiasts. At the same time, the rulers of this century which was mainly the Heraclian Dynasty being the emperors Heraclius (610-641), Constans II (641-668), Constantine IV (668-685), and Justinian II (685-695) were very interesting and colorful characters as well. The downside of this century however was that everything usually seemed so one-sided which was mostly because it had so much wars from beginning to end that the history of this century would in fact go from exciting to becoming already too tiring and repetitive in story. What makes this century less interesting too aside from that it did not have much to tell except wars, and if not wars its other stories had a lot to do with abstract religious debates such as the controversial new Monothelite doctrine that Heraclius and Constans II supported but was finally declared a heresy by Constantine IV. What makes the 7th century a bit too one dimensional as well was that there were no other interesting characters except for its emperors who were all strong military men, therefore no other interesting stories such as cultural innovations and ambitious women except for Heraclius’ wife Empress Martina who however only had a very brief role in this century at the time of Heraclius’ death in 641. If not for the exciting battles and new inventions like Greek Fire and Thematic System, the 7th century story of Byzantium is more or less disappointing considering how much territory they had lost including half of it which fell to the Arabs, most of the Balkans which fell to the Avars and Slavs and later on the Bulgarians, most of Italy to the Lombards, and all of Byzantine Southern Spain to the Visigoth Kingdom. Despite all the disappointing moments and one-dimensional kind of story that defined the 7th century, I still find it fascinating as it was a major turning point in their history but I would consider it as one of my least favorites for the reason that it did not have much stories to tell except of warfare.

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Greatest extent of the Sassanid Empire (orange) under Khosrow II, by 622
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Defeat of the Byzantine forces (left) to the Arabs (right) at the Battle of Yarmouk, 636
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Byzantine and Arab fleets clash with each other at the Battle of the Masts, 655
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Greek Fire used for the first time at the 674-678 Arab Siege of Constantinople

To learn more about Byzantium in the 7th century, read Chapter IV of my Byzantine Alternate History series.

11. The 14th Century

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Byzantium in 1350 (blue)

The 14th century which is the 2nd to the last century of Byzantium’s existence was no doubt one of its most disappointing ones especially considering how reduced and weakened the Byzantine Empire became due to the damage of the 4th Crusade in the previous century and even though the empire was restored in 1261 by Michael VIII Palaiologos, it was already too late for Byzantium to become a world power again. The 14th century is often the overlooked century in Byzantine history which many history books only make a very quick mention of or if not do mention the century as if it did not exist and true enough it is overlooked for many reasons, thus making this century be known as the “forgotten century”.

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Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos of Byzantium (r. 1282-1328)

First of all, the 14th century already began terribly for Byzantium as during the reign of Andronikos II Palaiologos when the century began, the empire was close to bankruptcy due to the great amounts of money his father Michael VIII spent in his reign (1261-1282), therefore without much funds the army had to be disbanded but it had happened in such a bad time as a new enemy rose up in Asia Minor which were the Ottomans that may have started out only as a small power in Asia Minor but after winning a number of victories in Asia Minor, they soon enough kept expanding. The reign of Andronikos II was also a very disastrous one due to a major mistake of hiring an unruly band of Catalan mercenaries in 1302 to strike back at the Ottomans which only ended in failure when the Catalans turned on the Byzantines due to lack of pay and as a result of it pillaged Byzantine lands in Thrace and Macedonia burning it to the point of turning it into a desert. The incompetence of Andronikos II’s rule would lead to his downfall as in 1321 his grandson also named Andronikos rose up in rebellion and in 1328 succeeded in overthrowing his grandfather following a 7-year civil war.

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Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos of Byzantium (r. 1328-1341)

In his reign, the new emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos (1328-1341) vowed to revive the Byzantine Empire and make it at least a significant power in the Balkan region again and so he spent most of his reign in military campaigns which however had mixed results as most of Greece including the rebel Byzantine states of Epirus and Thessaly were returned to Byzantium through Andronikos III’s conquests although he failed when battling the new power of the Ottomans in Asia Minor, thus proving that the Ottomans were now growing far too powerful. Andronikos III at least succeeded in making Byzantium a power in the Balkans but he died too soon in 1341 before seeing his dreams fully achieved, therefore it would be all downhill after his death. The following years after 1341 would be the worst for Byzantium as Andronikos III’s lack of a succession plan led to a civil war between the faction of his young son Emperor John V Palaiologos led by his mother the empress Anna of Savoy who was the late emperor’s wife and Andronikos III’s closest friend and advisor the general John Kantakouzenos.

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Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos of Byzantium (r. 1347-1354)

The civil war ended in 1347 with John Kantakouzenos victorious therefore being crowned as Emperor John VI but this civil war was nothing more but devastating that it totally bankrupted the empire while both sides getting foreign alliances only allowed these foreign powers to take over land such as the Serbian Kingdom of King Stefan IV Dusan which as a result of the civil war took over most of Byzantine Greece and became the Serbian Empire while the Ottomans that backed John VI here finally gained their first territories in Europe as a reward for helping John VI win the war. The other tragedy that further struck Byzantium too was the plague of Black Death in 1347 which further weakened the empire and its economy. The rest of the century too featured more civil wars such as the one in 1354 wherein John V came back to power overthrowing John VI and later on in John V’s reign again, he had to fight a civil war against his son Emperor Andronikos IV in 1373.

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Emperor John V Palaiologos of Byzantium (r. 1341-1391)

A large part of the 14th century saw Byzantium under the rule of John V Palaiologos from 1341 to his death in 1391 but with many gaps between his reign as he was removed from power 3 times and although he was not blind to the difficulties his empire was facing, he was ineffective in solving them. The 14th century then ended with the Byzantine Empire reduced only to Constantinople and its surroundings which were all surrounded by the ever-expanding Ottoman Empire while other the Byzantine territories they still held such as Thessaloniki, the Morea in Southeast Greece, and the Aegean islands were disconnected by land to the capital. Now the Byzantine story of the 14th century is nothing more but disappointing as the more exciting stories of this century had to do more with the other powers that Byzantium either allied with at this time or fought against such as the Ottoman, Serbian, and 2nd Bulgarian Empires, and the Italian naval republics of Venice and Genoa. The 14th century is definitely more or less the story of the Ottomans as it saw the Ottomans go from a small state at the Byzantine border in Asia Minor to an empire that had both Europe and Asia, yet by the end of the 14th century the Ottomans had in fact crushed both the Serbian and Bulgarian Empires that were just previously this century’s dominant powers.

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Seal of the Palaiologos Dynasty of the Byzantine Empire

When it comes to the Byzantines’ story in the 14th century during its twilight years, it nothing more but disappointing seeing all the wealth and luxury that once defined Byzantium all disappear while its stories feature a lot of defeats and disasters as well as internal conflicts, and although stories of civil wars, political intrigues, blinding, poisoning, and scandals make Byzantine history interesting, this is not the case for the 14th century as here all these mentioned incidents happen to often that it already becomes too tiring to hear, therefore making this century’s story less memorable. On the other hand, having interesting characters such as Andronikos III, Anna of Savoy, John Kantakouzenos, as well as the Serbian king turned emperor Stefan IV Dusan and the Ottoman sultan Orhan give a bit of excitement to the century but other than that, I would say this century is not a very memorable one which is why I am ranking it very low in this list. Additionally, this century has a lot of importance especially in studying what led to the fall of Constantinople and ultimate end of Byzantium in 1453 as this century was really the story of the Ottoman Empire’s rise, therefore I would say that this century telling the story of how Byzantium’s end came to be adds some interesting element.

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Byzantine art recreated- Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos (r. 1328-1341) and his wife Empress Anna of Savoy (art by Powee Celdran)
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Stefan IV Dusan, Emperor of Serbia (r. 1346-1355), previously King of Serbia
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Map of the spread of Black Death (1347-1351)
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Ottomans defeat the Serbians at the Battle of Kosovo, 1389

12. The 8th Century           

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The Byzantine Empire in 717 (purple)

Last on this list of ranking the 12 centuries of Byzantine history from my personal best to worst is the 8th century which is no doubt the least interesting century in Byzantine history for me and it is for a lot of reasons. First of all, the 8th century lacked a lot of sources describing the century as well as the reigns of its emperors in detail while most of the sources of this century are one-sided ones that portray most of its emperors as bloodthirsty monsters, therefore it seems to be hard to appreciate this century’s story. The 8th century already begins with Byzantium in a state of anarchy in which I mentioned earlier had a change of emperor 7 times in 22 years and part of this anarchy period from 705 to 711 was the second reign of the deposed Justinian II who ruled his second reign only to have revenge on those who overthrew him before that his reign ended up just becoming a gore fest in which he himself was executed at the end of it in 711. The worst part about this time of anarchy was that the Arabs now in the form of the Umayyad Caliphate used the chaos in Byzantium to their advantage to launch a massive invasion on Constantinople itself.

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Emperor Leo III the Isaurian, aka Konon (r. 717-741)

In 717, the anarchy period ended when the general Konon came to power as Emperor Leo III and here he successfully defended Constantinople from the Arabs afterwards he restored order by creating his own dynasty. Leo III may have been a successful emperor in battle but his policies turned out to be disastrous for Byzantium and this was specifically Iconoclasm or the declaration to destroy religious icons which he thought would save the empire from its setbacks but at the end only created division among his people and even worse, the first schism with the west which led to the separation between the Byzantine Orthodox Church and Latin Catholic Church. This major controversy of Iconoclasm true enough even led to civil wars in Byzantium such as the one following Leo III’s death in 741 which was between Leo III’s son and successor Constantine V who strongly stood for Iconoclasm and his general Artavasdos who was against it, in which Constantine V was victorious at the end of it in 743 thus blinding Artavasdos.

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Byzantine Iconoclasm under Leo III from the 9th century Chludov Psalter

Constantine V in his long reign (743-775) strongly enforced Iconoclasm in the empire believing it will save the empire from falling apart, though at the same time he was a very popular emperor for winning many battles against both enemies of the empire which were the Arabs in the east and Bulgarians in the north. By the time of his death in 775, Constantine V left the empire much stronger than his father founded in 717 while Constantine V too had the legacy of reforming the army and the Thematic System, however his son and successor Leo IV did not really prove to be effective as he only ruled for 5 years until his death in 780. The 8th century gets only more eventful after 780 when the empire was under the regency of Leo IV’s wife Empress Irene ruling for their young son Constantine VI as at this time Iconoclasm comes to its end in 787 and 10 years later in 797 Irene comes out victorious in the conflict against her son who she blinds here, therefore making her the first woman to rule Byzantium alone.

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2nd Council of Nicaea and the end of Iconoclasm in 787, Irene and Constantine VI leading it

Now what I find very one-sided and uninteresting about the 8th century was that most of it was just seen as Byzantium only fighting to defend itself against the Arabs in the east and Bulgarians in the north while everything else just included internal struggles including civil wars, court intrigue, and of course Iconoclasm which was just nothing but a useless and divisive policy that went on for so long without resulting in anything good except for countless of tortures, blinding, exiling, and destruction of valuable art. On the other hand, the 8th century for me still had a few exciting and memorable moments such as the full-scale Arab siege of Constantinople from 717 to 718 wherein the Byzantines managed to defeat the Arabs with the use of Greek Fire, as well as through some help from the Bulgarians in the north, and a brutal winter that destroyed the Arab army as winter was alien to them while the other only exciting part of the 8th century was Irene’s reign as regent and later as sole empress at the end of the century and nothing more. Now if not for these two moments I find memorable about the 8th century, the rest were plainly nothing but a forgettable gore fest as it featured so much violence and infighting which for me makes the 8th century not a period that interests me a lot. At the same time, as I mentioned earlier, the 8th century basically lacks sources to tell it in such a colorful way, but if sources mentioning that era were not so biased then possibly, I would appreciate it more but since we only get a one-sided story of the 8th century which for me tells it in such an uninteresting way, I have to put the 8th century in the bottom of this list as my personal worst century in all of Byzantine history.          

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The 6 emperors of the Byzantine 22-year-Anarchy (695-717)- Leontios (top-left, r. 695-698), Tiberius III (top-middle, r. 698-705), Justinian II Rhinotmetos (top-right, r. 705-711), Philippikos Bardanes (bottom-left, r. 711-713), Anastasius II (bottom-middle, r. 713-715), Theodosius III (bottom-right, r. 715-717), art by myself
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Victory for the Byzantines with Bulgarian aid against the Arabs in Constantinople, 718
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Iconoclasm- breaking of religious icons and persecution of monks in the Byzantine Empire under Constantine V (743-775)
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Empress Irene (r. 797-802), art by myself

To learn more about Byzantium in the 8th century, read Chapter V of my Byzantine Alternate History series.

And now I have come to the end of this list, and before I finish off, I have to say that when it comes to ranking the 12 centuries of Byzantine history, it is quite a difficult job as basically they all had their moments, except some were just more eventful than the others. Those that I have ranked in the highest numbers of this list such as the 10th, 5th, 6th, and 13th centuries were for me the centuries that had a lot of memorable and exciting moments as well as interesting characters from beginning to end while those ranked at the middle had mixed exciting moments but also dull ones while it is only the 14th and 8th centuries that I personally find less interesting although they too till had some interesting moments and characters. Basically, all these centuries show that Byzantine history was one big roller-coaster of ups and downs with many challenges which makes their history nothing more but totally interesting. Now, this article did not really have so much research involved as it just plainly involved my own thoughts and knowledge on the history of Byzantium. This entry is more or less a break from my extensive alternate history series in which I would want to share to you all my thoughts on the different centuries in Byzantine history. Anyway, this is all for this article on ranking the 12 centuries of Byzantine history from my personal best to worst, this is Powee Celdran the Byzantium Blogger, thank you all for viewing!

Byzantine Alternate History Chapter II- Preventing the Fall of the Western Roman Empire 4 Years in Advance

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.

Previous Story: Byzantine Alternate History Chapter I- 4th Century

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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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Flag of the Byzantine Empire

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Note: Since the story is set in the 5th century, Byzantine characters will be referred to as Romans not Byzantines.

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Map of all Barbarian invasions into the Roman Empire, 100-500AD

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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Flag of the Western (red) and Eastern (purple) Roman Empires combined
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Roman Empire 5th century map, dissolution of the west (red). Cover photo of the article as this story focuses on the western empire’s dissolution
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Guide to the late Roman army’s structure; this article contains a lot of terms of late Roman army units, art by myself.

Related Articles from The Byzantium Blogger:

Byzantine Alternate History Chapter I- Roman Victory at the Battle of Adrianople, 378

The Art of War in the Byzantine World

12 Turning Points in Byzantine History

Around the World in the Byzantine Era Part I (330-1000)

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

The Fall of Western and Eastern Rome Compared

Fall of Western Rome Related Videos:

Unbiased History: Rome XIX- The Fall of Rome (Dovahhatty)

Unbiased History: Byzantium I- The Eastern Empire (Dovahhatty)

Ranking the Byzantine Emperors: The Leonid Dynasty (Eastern Roman History)

The Rise of the Vandal Kingdom (Kings and Generals)

Fall of the Roman Empire, 337-486 timelapse (TominusMaximus)


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       

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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.

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Emperor Theodosius I of the Eastern Roman Empire (r. 379-395), art by myself

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.

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Bishop of Milan St. Ambrose bans Theodosius I from the Church, 391

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.

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Battle of the Frigidus River, 394

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.

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Emperor Arcadius of the Eastern Roman Empire (r. 395-408), son of Theodosius I, art by Androklos

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.

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Flavius Stilicho, Magister Militum of the Western Roman Empire

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.

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Emperor Honorius of the Western Roman Empire (r. 395-423), son of Theodosius I

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.

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Alaric I, King of the Visigoths (r. 395-410)

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).

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Empress Galla Placidia, half-sister of Honorius, daughter of Theodosius I

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.

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Defeat of the Romans at the Battle of Adrianople, 378
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The Roman Empire permanently divided between east (Byzantium) and west, 395
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Constantinople, Byzantine imperial capital since 330
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Battle of the Frigidus, 394- victory of Theodosius I and Gothic allies against Arbogast, art by Amelianvs
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Barbarian tribes of the Vandals, Alans, and Suebi cross the frozen Rhine, 406
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Alaric I and his Visigoths sack Rome, 410

Watch this to learn more about the Battle of Frigidus in 394 (Kings and Generals).

Watch this to learn more about Alaric’s Sack of Rome in 410 (Kings and Generals).

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.

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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.

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Western Roman emperor Valentinian III (r. 425-455)

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.

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Flavius Aetius, Western Roman Magister Militum under Valentinian III

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.

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Attila the Hun, ruler of the Huns (434-453)

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.

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Eastern Roman emperor Theodosius II (r. 408-450)

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.

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Huns at the Battle of Chalons, 451

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.     

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The 5th century Theodosian Land Walls of Constantinople, built by Flavius Anthemius under the reign of Theodosius II, art by myself
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Battle of the Catalaunian Plains, Aetius’ forces vs Attila the Hun, 451
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Huns clash with the forces of the Romans and barbarian allies at Chalons
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Pope Leo I prevents Attila from marching to Rome, 452
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Death of Attila the Hun, 453

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.

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Petronius Maximus, Western emperor (r. 455)

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.

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Vandals arrive in Roman North Africa, 420s

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.

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Western Roman emperor Avitus (r. 455-456)

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.

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Western Roman emperor Majorian (r. 457-461)

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.

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Emperor Majorian of the Western Roman Empire, art by Aureliokos

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.

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Ricimer, Magister Militum of the Western empire since 456

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.

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Valentinian III kills Aetius, 454
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Genseric, King of the Vandals (r. 428-477)
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King Genseric and his Vandal army sack Rome, 455
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Western Roman Empire restored by Majorian (purple), Eastern Empire of Leo I (pink)
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Aegidius’ Kingdom of Soissons, Independent Roman state in Northern Gaul, founded in 461

Watch this to learn more about the reign of Majorian (History Marche).


The Reigns of Leo I and Anthemius (457-471)           

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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.

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Emperor Procopius Anthemius of the west (r. 467-472), born in Constantinople, 420

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.

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Tzykanion (Byzantine polo), art by Byzantine Tales

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.

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Eastern Roman emperor Marcian (r. 450-457)

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.

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Emperor Marcian at the Council of Chalcedon, 451

           

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.

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Emperor Leo I (Leo Marcellus) of the Eastern Roman Empire (r. 457-474)

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.

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Relief depicting Aspar (left) and son Ardabur (right)

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.

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St. Daniel the Stylite on the column, Emperor Leo I (right)

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.  

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The Life Giving Spring of Constantinople, discovered by Leo I; Leo I and Empress Verina (left)

Watch this to learn more about Emperor Leo I (from Thersites the Historian). 

          

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.

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Isaurian tribesmen

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.

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Eastern Roman Excubitor (elite palace guard)

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.  

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Great Fire of Constantinople, 465
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Location of Isauria in Asia Minor (red)

           

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.

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Sidonius Apollinaris, Western Roman poet (430-489)

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.

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Eastern Roman ship, 468

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.

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Vandals in North Africa

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.

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Vandals on stolen Roman ships

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.

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Leo I constructs his fleet in Constantinople to invade Vandal North Africa in 468, by Dovahhatty
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Vandals destroy the Eastern Roman fleet at the Battle of Cape Bon, 468
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Genseric’s Fireships

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.

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King Euric of the Visigoths (r. 466-484)

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.

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King Riothamus of the Britons

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.

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Ravenna, capital of the Western Roman Empire since 402

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.

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The world of 472, Eastern Roman Empire (purple), Western Roman territories (dark pink)

Watch this to learn more about the reign of Anthemius (Eastern Roman History). 


The Climax- The Battle of Rome (472)           

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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.

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Ariadne, daughter of Leo I and wife of Zeno, later empress

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          

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Illustration of Anicia Juliana, daughter of Olybrius

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.

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Olybrius, Western emperor (r. 472)

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.

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Magister Militum Ricimer in full armor

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.

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Western Roman emperor Procopius Anthemius

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.

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Ricimer’s barbarian Foederati soldiers

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.

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Aurelian Walls, Rome
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Old St. Peter’s Basilica, Anthemius’ hiding place in 472

          

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.

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Ostrogoth warrior of Theodoric Strabo

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.

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Diocletian’s Palace in Dalmatia, base of governor Julius Nepos

           

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.

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Odoacer, Ostrogoth Foederati commander, art by HistoryGold777

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.

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Gundobad, Burgundian Foederati warrior and nephew of Ricimer

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.

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Late Roman Comitatus (plural: Comitatenses) soldier in full armor

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.

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Late Roman Cataphract cavalry soldier

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.

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Coin of Emperor Anthemius

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.    

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Western Roman reinforcement Comitatenses legion of Bilimer
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Late Roman Comitatenses soldiers with their dragon banner, art by Roninpizza

Aftermath and Conclusion- The Roman World, Post 472 and a Possible World War?         

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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.

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Glycerius, Western Roman emperor (r. 473-474)

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.

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Julius Nepos, Western Roman emperor (r. 474-475)

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.

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Odoacer dethrones Romulus Augustus, 476

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.

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Theodoric the Great, King of the Ostrogoths kills Odoacer, 493

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.          

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The Western Roman Empire (light blue) and its territories including independent Illyria and Soissons before September 4, 476
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The world after 476, Odoacer’s new kingdom in Italy (brown)
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Romulus Augustus, the last Western Roman emperor (r. 475-476)
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End of the Western Roman Empire, Romulus Augustus surrenders to Odoacer in Ravenna, 476
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Zeno in Constantinople receives the crown of the last western emperor Romulus Augustus, 476

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.

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Orestes, Magister Militum and father of Romulus Augustus

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.

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Kingdom of the Burgundians seal

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.

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Barbarian Kingdoms after 476
Watch this to learn more about the impact of the fall of Western Rome (Kings and Generals).

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.

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Byzantine emperor Leo II (r. 474), son of Zeno and Ariadne

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.

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Zeno the Isaurian (aka. Tarasicodissa), Eastern Roman emperor, art by myself

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.

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Emperor Basiliscus of the Eastern Roman Empire (left, r. 475-476)

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.

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Emperor Zeno of the Eastern Roman Empire (r. 474-475/ 476-491), art by Spatharokandidatos

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.

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Eastern Roman (Byzantine Empire) under Zeno, 476
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Map of the Vandal Kingdom of North Africa

Watch this to learn more about Emperor Basiliscus (from Thersites the Historian).

Watch this to learn more about Emperor Zeno (from Thersites the Historian).

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.

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5th century Western Roman legionnaire soldier, art by Simulyaton

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!

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Vandal Kingdom of North Africa seal

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.

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Genseric, King of the Vandals, died 477

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.

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Huneric, King of the Vandals (r. 477-484)

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.

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Bulgar hordes

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.

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Bagaudae insurgents of Gaul and Hispania

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.

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Clovis I, King of the Franks (r. 481-511)

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.

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Sassanid Empire flag

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.

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Seal of the Visigoth Kingdom of Gaul and Hispania

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.

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Theodoric the Amal “the Great”, King of the Ostrogoths (r. 475-526)

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.

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Anastasius I Dicorus, Eastern Roman emperor (r. 491-518)

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.  

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The Alignment of the Fictitious Great War between the Roman Alliance and the Barbarian Alliance with the characters and nations involved
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Eastern Roman legions in the fictitious “Great War”, 481-489
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The west (Italy, North Africa, and Southern Spain) regained by the Romans; Byzantium at its greatest extent in Justinian I’s reign, 555

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!

Next Story: Byzantine Alternate History Chapter III- 6th Century

12 Turning Points in Byzantine History

Posted by Powee Celdran

Ever since our rough crusading forefathers saw Constantinople and met, to their contemptuous disgust, a society where everyone read and wrote, ate food with forks and preferred diplomacy to war, it has been fashionable to pass the Byzantines by with scorn and to use their name as synonymous with decadence.” -Steven Runciman, 20th century historian

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THIS WILL BE MY LONGEST ARTICLE!! To make it easier to read, you skip to one of the 12 sections and read it per day. 

Welcome back again to another article by the Byzantium Blogger! Now here is the article I have been long waiting to write about, the article that will pretty much sum up all the past articles I have written this year, which is now going to be the ultimate article for this year, 2019! This article will be on the 12 Turning Points in the history of the Byzantine Empire from its founding in 330 to its fall in 1453, which means it will cover up and summarize the 1,100 years of history and how things in the Byzantine Empire drastically changed within it. First of all, I have to start of course with giving a quick background on this Byzantine or basically the Eastern Roman Empire and civilization that lasted so long, how it survived this long, and how it changed so much. Basically, this Byzantine Empire is the Roman Empire itself that continued throughout the Middle Ages even without having possession of Rome, the former imperial capital that ruled most of the known world- particularly the Mediterranean- for centuries bringing a long era of stability and technological success. Since the Byzantine Empire had not only been born out of the Roman Empire but was actually the Roman Empire itself continued in the east, Byzantine history then actually dates back to even centuries before when the Roman Empire was founded becoming a powerful republic based in Rome that kept on growing and growing through conquests. As an empire, Rome itself was successful but continuous wars led to an unstable economy as well as unstable succession leading to the Crisis of the 3rd century that turned the course of Roman history around that in 284, the empire was divided that would eventually lead to the eastern half becoming the more powerful one as it controlled the richer eastern provinces while the west fell into decline. Many would think or were taught that the Roman Empire fell in the year 476 and the Dark Ages that happened throughout Europe followed it leaving no mention of an empire as successful and advanced or even more than Rome itself, but it was not all true that the Roman Empire had fallen in 476- although Roman rule only collapsed on the west- as the east survived with a strong empire governed by a metropolis even greater than Rome itself called Constantinople, which is now Istanbul, which has been the main topic of my previous article and this empire lasted all the way up to 1453. The word however used for this Roman Empire in the east that outlasted its predecessor, the actual Roman Empire is “Byzantine” but this name is quite misleading as in the time of the Byzantine Empire ruled at Constantinople from 330-1453, its people did not refer to themselves as Byzantine but as Roman, and this word “Byzantine” or “Byzantium” was used for the empire in the 16th century by western historians, first by the German Hieronymus Wolf in 1555 seeing the Eastern Roman Empire as not the legitimate successor of the Roman Empire but instead the German Holy Roman Empire as its successor and after him, all other western historians referred to the empire as the “Byzantine Empire” and not the “Roman Empire” to avoid confusion with the old Roman Empire, but they to believed that the Roman Empire had died long before their time and the empire in the Eastern Mediterranean that had been around not so long before their time was not considered the Roman Empire in their eyes. The name for the Eastern Roman Empire which is “Byzantium” comes from the first name of its capital Constantinople which was Byzantium, a settlement founded by the Greek colonist Byzas of Megara and his men in 667BC and from him, the original settlement got its name, and in the year 330, Byzantium was inaugurated as the new capital of the Roman Empire by the Roman emperor Constantine I the Great. In this article however, I will do as the western scholars did and refer to the Eastern Roman Empire as the Byzantine Empire or Byzantium to avoid confusion with the old Roman Empire and to begin Byzantine history though, there is no definite start as it could start with the founding of Byzantium in 667BC or some put that Byzantine history begins with the transformation of the Roman Empire into the Tetrarchy by the emperor Diocletian in 284, or with the founding of Constantinople as the new capital by Emperor Constantine the Great in 330, or with the final division between the Eastern and Western Roman Empires in 395 wherein the western empire collapsed in 476 leaving the eastern empire to survive for 977 more years. Meanwhile, western historians and intellectuals primarily from Western Europe from the 16th century onwards such as Voltaire, Edward Gibbon, and 20th century Steven Runciman have disregarded the Byzantine Empire itself with a lot of them saying that it was a failure of a civilization only filled with effeminate, corrupt, and treacherous people, intrigues, and with all this a history of decline but in this article I will prove them wrong as this Byzantine Empire was actually the one that protected medieval Europe from Islamic invasions and was actually a lot more advanced in technology, government, science, and in the military while the rest of Europe was backwards and little do we know that the Byzantines have contributed a lot to our civilization today. In the time of the Byzantine Empire, the people of the west had already not looked inward into the Byzantines only seeing them as a corrupt and treacherous empire full of schemes and poisoning also choosing diplomacy over war despite having to fight constant wars all the time to defend themselves but deep inside they were technologically advanced civilisation, the one where everyone read and wrote, had an organised professional army, ate with forks, and had a superior capital with massive walls, a cathedral that other could match, cisterns, sewers, aqueducts, porticos, and an imperial court with a mechanical throne. The Byzantine people themselves though Greek referred to the themselves as the “Romans” and so did people from the east that had relations with the Byzantines whereas the westerners only referred to them as the “Greeks”.  The history of the Byzantine Empire though would go such a long way having 3 major periods that were so different from each other which is why I am doing this article in order to discuss at what points in history did the Byzantine Empire change both physically and culturally beginning from even before Byzantium was born to its final days in 1453. It is quite confusing on how to place the Byzantine Empire as it is debatable if it was a Greek, Roman, or whatever kind of civilization but to put it short it was a hybrid civilization of Greek, Roman, and eastern cultures and over their history, their empire would change so much both culturally and physically which is why Byzantine history is divided into 3 ages. The first age of the Byzantine Empire goes through the founding of Constantinople in the 4th century ending with the 7th century when the Byzantine Empire changes from the powerful and massive Roman imperial state it started as to a smaller militarized Greek state. The second age of Byzantium goes from the 7th century to the 12th century showing how Byzantium adapted to these changes as their empire downsized and had to fight for their survival for centuries until eventually getting the upper hand and being a dominant power again as a Greek Empire. Lastly, the 3rd age of Byzantium goes from the beginning of the 13th century to the middle of the 15th century (1453) which now shows the period of decline for the Byzantine Empire itself due to a series of disasters and the capture of their capital by the 4th Crusade in 1204 and even though the Byzantines were able to take back their capital 57 later, it was too late to return to their former glory and their decline was inevitable until their empire fully fell in 1453 to the Ottomans, in which this date does mark the actual end of the Roman Empire. Although even up to its last days in the 15th century, the Byzantine Empire still remained the successor of the Roman Empire with its emperors calling themselves “emperor of the Romans” even though they have changed so much culturally that they no longer wore the clothes of the Romans and spoke Greek instead of Latin but their systems were still continued from the Romans. At this day, it is divided on how people see the Byzantines as some see them as an eastern power with eastern traditions and nothing Roman at all but in my observation, people I know from school or elsewhere when hearing about Byzantium or the Byzantines think of them as if it were the Roman Empire. Other than its Greek and Roman legacy, what played the most important part in the life of the Byzantine Empire was the Orthodox Christian faith and a lot of these turning points in its history will also be brought about by religious changes other than political and cultural changes over the centuries. Also, Byzantium has introduced to many lands beyond it, especially Eastern Europe to the faith or Orthodoxy, thus these lands including Bulgaria, the Balkans, and Russia were all descendants of Byzantium culturally. Now it is time to begin with the rest of the article and the point where I will begin with is on the era of the Roman Empire before Byzantium was even born and will have 12 points wherein its history’s course changed together with the stories of their more than 90 emperors and important contributions they brought to the world. This article on turning points too will mention a lot on all the people the Byzantines had encountered, traded with, and fought wars with over the centuries including the Goths, Huns, Vandals, Persians, Slavs, Lombards, Arabs, Bulgars, Russians, Seljuk Turks, Pechenegs, Normans, Venetians, Crusaders, Catalans, and Ottomans which have shaped the history of Byzantium but other than fighting all these external wars, the whole history of Byzantium was spent fighting civil wars amongst themselves, overthrowing emperors, and establishing dynasties having a total of 15 dynasties in their entire history. At the end will be my conclusion on what I think about Byzantium and how to make others see it. Also, I will try my best to make this article concise in history and more straight to the point as it will basically focus more on the happenings within and outside the empire rather than the lives of its emperors; now to know more about Byzantium’s history and its emperors, you can read the previous articles I wrote which will be linked below, and to make it more entertaining I will link videos too from Eastern Roman History and Kings and Generals and include several Byzantine memes. Also, thanks to the podcasts of 12 Byzantine Rulers by Lars Brownworth- in which this article will be patterned on and a new book I have read, the book The History of the Byzantine Empire by Radi Dikici for helping me with the information in this article.

Watch this for an intro to Byzantine history (from Eastern Roman History).

Watch this for the anime intro to the Byzantine Empire (from Remove Dank Memes).

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Byzantine Imperial flag and symbols

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Byzantine Empire evolution map

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The Byzantine Empire personified

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5 major turning points in Byzantine history (except 1)

Note: Names of BYZANTINE emperors will be in BOLD letters.

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The Complete Genealogy of the Byzantine Emperors

All the other Byzantine Related Articles from The Byzantium Blogger:

The Byzantine Emperors and their Personalities Part1 (330-867)

The Byzantine Emperors and their Personalities Part2 (867-1180)

The Byzantine Emperors and their Personalities Part3 (1180-1453)

7 Reasons to be Interested in Byzantium

Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire

The 94 Byzantine Emperors

The Complete Genealogy of the Byzantine Emperors

The Ravenna Mosaics and What to Expect 

Constantinople: The Queen of Cities and its Byzantine Secrets

Byzantine Science and Technology

Crime, Punishment, and Medical Practice in the Byzantine Empire

The Art of War in the Byzantine World 

A Guide to the Themes of the Byzantine Empire

Foreign Lands and People According to the Byzantines Part1

Foreign Lands and People According to the Byzantines Part2

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

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

Natural Disasters in Byzantine History

Memes from Brilliant Byzantine Memes

Byzantine Era epic films from No Budget Films:

The Rise of Phokas

Killing a Byzantine Emperor

Summer of 1261

The Untold Byzantine Epic

 

I. The Roman Empire, 3rd Century Crisis, and the Tetrarchy

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Roman Empire flag

This had been quite a lengthy introduction but it was though necessary to explain what Byzantine history really is how to view it. Now the first of the 12 turning points will be an entire period of history itself beginning with the once powerful Roman Empire and the aftermath of it to give a background to Byzantine history and how the Byzantine Empire formed. Even before the Roman Republic in Italy was founded traditionally in 509BC, the settlement of Byzantium in the narrow strait of the Bosporus between Asia and Europe connecting the Black Sea and the Aegean had been founded back in 667BC by Greek colonists from the large civilized cities of Megara and Athens in Greece led by Byzas, but this settlement had only been a port settlement and nothing more. Meanwhile in Italy, Rome from a small Italian city state grew to be an empire controlling the entire Mediterranean and Gaul (France) being the dominant culture surpassing the Greek one before them, but Greek culture and language still remained strong in the Roman east. In 27BC, the Roman Republic became the Roman Empire with Augustus Caesar (Octavian) as its first emperor and at this point Rome’s history had totally changed as before the Romans would never allow themselves to be ruled by a tyrant but by the death of the first emperor Augustus in 14AD, people had already grown so used to this rule particularly because his reign brought success and stability and after his death, the republic never returned as he was succeeded by Tiberius as emperor. As an empire, the Roman world grew stronger and more stable with a powerful army to defend its borders and roads connecting the empire as well as aqueducts to provide water and technologically advanced cities and between the years 96-180AD, the Roman Empire was ruled by the “5 Good Emperors” namely Nerva (96-98), Trajan (98-117), Hadrian (117-138), Antoninus Pius (138-161), and Marcus Aurelius (161-180). Under the rules of these 5 emperors, peace and stability was kept within the Roman Empire that expanded so large north to south from Britain to Egypt, west to east from Portugal to Iraq but since the empire was so large, emperors like Marcus Aurelius had to spend most of his reign away with the army to protect its borders from foreign invasions; although these 5 emperors thought that adoption was the way for the succession of emperors to make things stable, succession became the major issue that will lead to the decline of the Roman Empire later on. After the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180, the rule of the emperors would not be too strong anymore except for Emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193-211) who’s rule was strong and he too elevated the settlement of Byzantium into something more as he rebuilt it after defeating a rebellion against him and built the Hippodrome which would be later one of the imperial city’s most important features. The 3rd century then would be a bad time for the Roman Empire’s existence due to foreign invasions particularly from the barbarians north of the empire, weak emperors, and constant wars leading to a decline in economy and increase in taxes, but also the lack of a formal succession system and the increased influence of the Praetorian Guard established back in Augustus’ time that would end up having to power and install and depose emperors too would be one of the major causes for the ruin of the Roman state. On the other hand, despite the Roman Empire being the dominant world power with internal stability, it had faced an ongoing conflict for centuries that was never resolved, which was the war with the Persians in the east dating all the way back to 53BC since the Romans lost at the Battle of Carrhae; the first conflict was with the Parthian Persian Empire up to the 3rd century which was replaced with the conflict between Rome and the Sassanid Persian Empire which would last until the 7th century.

From the years 235 to 284, the Roman Empire was in complete chaos in this anarchy period known as the “Crisis of the 3rd Century” having a total of 27 emperors within 49 years beginning with Maximus Thrax and ending with Diocletian and this was all mainly because of succession crisis and the schemes of the praetorian guard for power of the Roman state. Many of these 27 emperors were military men who seized the throne being proclaimed emperor by the army, many of them plotted against their predecessors to take throne, and many of them happened not be ethnically Romans or Italians anymore as most of them were Illyrians (from the Balkans) and primarily soldier emperors known as the “barracks emperors” but none of them were really the skilled and able military rulers the Roman emperors of the glory days were. Also during this crisis period in the 3rd century, the Roman Empire experienced 2 breakaway rebel emperies which were the Gallic Empire (260-264) wherein the provinces of Gaul and Britain fell under it and the Palmyrene Empire (270-273) wherein the eastern provinces fell under it but these empires came to an end when the emperor Aurelian (r. 270-275) from Rome itself reunited the whole empire, thought he crisis had not ended yet. At this point, the Roman emperors being away in military campaigns either against the barbarians across the borders or the Persians in the east had been barely in Rome which also caused several military rebellions by the praetorian guard in Rome that would gain strength in the emperors’ absences to overthrow him; meanwhile due to lack of funds the Roman army too had changed its structure abandoning the classic imperial legions of the past to a new kind of legionary forces of more mobile armies with lighter armor and weapons. However, this long nightmare of anarchy and chaos that ruined the ideals of internal stability the Romans valued so much would come to an end in 284 when an unknown commoner who was also an Illyrian named Diocles who was a cavalry commander in the army plotted his way to gain power by secretly eliminating the emperor Carus’ son and successor Numerian and in the city of Nicomedia in Asia Minor, Diocles was proclaimed emperor changing his named to the Latin name Diocletian. After defeating Carus’ other son and actual successor Carinus in 285, Diocletian became the sole ruler of the empire but he did not intend to keep it his way as it was too difficult for one man to rule the whole empire himself, so in 286 he adopted his friend Maximian who was also an Illyrian officer as co-emperor who would rule the western half of the empire while Diocletian would rule the richer eastern half also to keep a closer eye on their mortal enemy, Persia, this system of 2 emperors then became the Diarchy. Diocletian went such a long way from being someone of no importance to someone who had eventually solved the crisis as emperor but as emperor he did not choose to keep Rome as the capital anymore and instead the capital would be wherever the emperor is, in this case he chose Nicomedia. In 293, Diocletian further divided the empire into 4 parts with 4 rulers where he would rule the east as the senior emperor or Augustus and his son-in-law Galerius would be the junior emperor in the east or Caesar and the same applied in the west as well with Maximian as Augustus and his son-in-law Constantius I as Caesar; this system then would become known as the Tetrarchy and each of the 4 rulers governed a respective part of the empire. Diocletian though would be the most powerful of the 4 and he further strengthened the empire by reforming the army by lessening the power of generals so they could not overthrow the emperors, he too reformed the economy and provincial system, and also reformed the imperial system by making the emperors’ power more absolute thus outlawing assassination and starting the final persecution of the Christians in 303 fearing that they were plotting to assassinate him. Diocletian too solved the succession issue as well by having a junior emperor who would immediately succeed the senior one when he retires and at the end, both Diocletian and Maximian as senior emperors retired in 305 while their junior emperors became the Augusti and they appointed their Caesars too. However, this new system Diocletian created was not at all successful as it led to even more civil war especially since the military men he appointed into his new government were all power hungry men determined to gain full control of the whole empire but at least this reform lead to a physical change in the Roman world as the dominant power shifted eastwards and so did all the attention which would lay the foundation for the power of Rome to be based in the much richer east.

Watch this to know more about the Roman Empire and its 3rd Century (from Kings and Generals).

Watch this more more information of the Tetrarchy from Diocletian to Constantine the Great (from Eastern Roman History).

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The Roman Empire at tis height, 117AD

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The 5 Good Emperors of the Roman Empire- Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius

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The Roman Empire divided during the 3rd Century Crisis (260-273) with the Gallic Empire (green) and the Palmyrene Empire (yellow)

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Byzantine era Nicomedia, capital of Diocletian

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The original Roman Tetrarchy- Maximian, Diocletian, Constantius I Chlorus, and Galerius

 

II. Constantine the Great and Constantinople

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Byzantine flag with the Chi-Rho

The Tetrarchy established by Diocletian meant to end all civil wars and succession crisis did not in any way solve these problems; although after Diocletian’s retirement in 305, in the eastern half which he ruled, things were however more stable but in the west things were chaotic as his partner Maximian did not want to retire and someone new would rise to power, a staff officer named Constantine, the son of Constantius I then the Augustus of the western empire. Constantius I Chlorus, another Illyrian military man only ruled as Augustus for a year from 305 to 306 but was successful in fighting off the Picts beyond the Roman borders of Britain, though he was terminally sick and died in 306 suggesting that his son who was popular with the army should be the next Augustus. Constantius I’s son Constantine I who was an army officer first under Diocletian would end up being proclaimed Augustus by the army in Britain even though he was not is father’s Caesar as the Caesar was the general Valerius Severus (Severus II) who was immediately made Augustus of the west by the eastern Augustus Galerius after Constantine was given the title. With Severus II as the senior emperor, Maximian would return from retirement and overthrow and execute Severus II and at the west Rome was no longer the capital ever since 284 and instead Mediolanum (Milan) in northern Italy was the capital of the west while Constantine remaining as Caesar had Trier in Germania as his capital. In 308 however, Diocletian once again returns and steps out from retirement for once to solve the crisis by establishing a new Tetrarchy where he forces Maximian to remain retired and in the west Licinius would be Augustus and Constantine as Caesar while in the east Galerius would remain Augustus and Maximinus Daia as Caesar. Maximian still plots to return to power by threatening to kill Constantine and his family but Constantine when discovering it from his wife Fausta who was Maximian’s daughter forces Maximian to commit suicide in 310 ending his threat then in 311 Diocletian died in retirement as a farmer living in a massive coastal palace in today’s Split, Croatia then in the east Galerius dies and conflict rises for control of the east between Licinius and Maximinus Daia. Even with Maximian dead, his son Maxentius was still plotting his way to gain control of the western empire but his ambitions were stopped by Constantine at the Battle of Milvian Bridge near Rome on October 28, 312 when Constantine invaded Italy to take it from Maxentius and before the battle, Constantine had a vision of a cross which meant to fight under the protection of Christ in which he had the soldiers’ shields marked with the Chi-Rho, the first two letters of Christ’s name in Greek as it was told to him “on this sign you will gain victory” and true enough he won the battle after Maxentius died falling into the Tiber River by the trap he set for Constantine. Now the Caesar Constantine ended the civil war of the Tetrarchy in the west and a year later, Licinius became full Augustus of the east after defeating Maximinus Daia and at this point both Augusti issued the edict of Milan for the tolerance of all faiths which ended the persecution of Christians beginning the start for Christianity to be the empire’s state religion. However, civil war resumed this time between the Augustus of the west Constantine and Augustus of the east Licinius and in 324 the conflict ended when Licinius was defeated at the naval Battle of the Hellespont and land Battle of Chrysopolis and surrendered but a year later Constantine changed his mind and had Licinius executed thus becoming once again the sole Roman ruler but not ruling in Rome.

After defeating Licinius, Constantine who was based in Nicomedia chose the settlement of Byzantium bringing it back to the picture by having it totally reconstructed into the empire’s new capital which would be able to rival or even surpass Rome in grandness and within only 6 years in became a metropolis as Constantine had treasures from all over the empire brought in to decorate it. At this point, in the year 325, Constantine had also organized the first Christian Church council at Nicaea to settle issues against the rising Arian heresy that was threatening the Christian faith and here at this council, Constantine read and approved the first official creed or written belief of the Christian faith, thus establishing Christianity as the empire’s religion replacing Roman Paganism. Constantine however did not stop in killing those necessary including family members as what mattered to him was more of the stability of the state so he had his son Crispus from his first marriage and second wife Fausta executed in 326, but because of the guilt for these actions, it is said he eventually converted to Christianity himself, although it was also because of the death of his mother St. Helena that Constantine became a Christian. In 330, the new capital was inaugurated and renamed Constantinople after the emperor Constantine I, and plans for building the great church began which would become the Hagia Sophia and here is when the Byzantine Empire would really begin as the main capital of the Roman Empire became Constantinople, also Constantine I chose this as the new capital for its strategic location and proximity to their mortal enemy, the Sassanid Persians. Constantine I the Great died in 337 and was baptized only before his death but once again no matter how much stability he restored, he did not leave behind a clear succession so without a proper successor, the army made his 3 sons with Fausta co-rulers of the empire where the eldest Constantine II ruled the western provinces of Britain, Gaul, and Spain; the youngest son Constans I would rule Italy, Central Europe, and North Africa; and the middle son Constantius II would rule the east based in Constantinople. Nevertheless, Constantine the Great’s rule did not only make an impact for Byzantine history but for world history itself as his founding of Constantinople would set the stage for a city that would play such an important role for the next 1,100 years and by adopting Christianity as the state religion, a new driving force that would hold the Byzantine Empire together had started. However these 3 sons did not have their father’s ruling skills but the hunger for power their maternal grandfather Maximian had,  so when the 3 came to power they ordered the army to execute their generals at the spot who the 3 ruling brothers suspected of plotting against them- issuing the Roman-Byzantine version of Order 66 from Star Wars; then the eldest son Constantine II feeling bad he got the most remote provinces asked his youngest brother to exchange places but Constans I disagreed and Constantine II launched an attack on Italy in 340 where he was ambushed by Constans I’s troops but in 350, Constans I was assassinated by orders a rebellious general named Magnentius. Constantius II was left to be sole ruler of the empire but he had to defeat Magnentius first, but as emperor the empire was too large for him that he needed someone to protect the west from barbarian raids into the borders while Constantius II would be busy fighting the Persian threat in the east. For the person responsible in protecting the west, Constantius II appointed his cousin Julian as Caesar in the west in 355, however Julian had hated Constantius II and his brothers for having his father Julius Constantius, the half-brother of Constantine the Great killed as part of the real life Order 66 for being falsely accused of poisoning Constantine the Great. Because Constantine I’s sons were Christians- although Constantius II being an Arian Christian- Julian thought it was their Christian beliefs that made them kill his father and Julian lived most of his life alone as an orphan studying to be a philosopher and admiring the Greek classics without any interest in being emperor but since he was the last male relative, he needed to do his duties as Caesar. While Constantius II was busy fighting the Persian threat which was their king Shapur II, Julian successfully stopped the invasion of the barbarian Germanic Alemanni and Frankish tribes into Gaul and was proclaimed Augustus by his army in today’s Paris in 360. Without wanting to have another civil war, Constantius II named Julian his successor before he died of sickness in 361 and from then Julian became once sole ruler of the entire Roman Empire and as a Pagan, he planned to restore Paganism but not persecute Christians as this would lead to more martyrs and resistance. Julian known as “the Apostate” wanted to end the empire’s decadence which he blamed Christianity for and return to Rome’s old virtues of courage and reason but as emperor he believed he could stop the Persian threat so in 363, only 2 years into his reign he marched into the Persian heartland with a massive army, succeeded at first, but when attacking the Persian capital of Ctesiphon he was forced to retreat and here he was killed in battle by a spear stabbing his liver and upon dying he admitted that Christianity has won saying “thou has conquered Galilean”. Julian could have changed everything by returning to Paganism and undo everything Constantine the Great envisioned but he both died too early and the Roman Empire’s population was already mostly Christian at this time, so whatever Julian had planned would have never really worked out.

Watch this for more information on Constantine the Great’s rise to power in the Tetrarchy (from Kings and Generals).

Watch this for more information on the rise to power of Constantine the Great’s 3 sons and their version of Order 66 (from The Lore Master).

Watch this to learn more about Constantine II and the conflict between Constantine the Great’s sons (from Eastern Roman History).

Watch this for more information on Emperor Julian the Apostate’s reign (from History Matters).

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Division of the Roman Empire in the Tetrarchy (293-324)

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The family tree of the Constantinian Dynasty

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Constantine I the Great, the first Byzantine emperor (324-337), founder of Constantinople

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Constantinople, the “New Rome” founded by Constantine the Great