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 Series: 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.

This story is a tale between two empires, the Eastern and Western Roman Empires under two different emperors but facing the same struggles.

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 the first chapter 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 fight 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 new alternate history story I am writing, despite it 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 this 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. Since this series will feature one what if per century of the 1,100 years of the Byzantine Empire’s existence, I will write some of them together with other Byzantine history enthusiasts such as myself. This is my 5th century AD fan fiction and just like the first chapter, it is just myself writing it. 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 in Rome took place. 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 a puppet boy emperor Romulus Augustus was simply overthrown by his barbarian general Odoacer who decided to just abolish the title of emperor 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, its still lived on in the east as Byzantium, though I believe this fall in 476 could have easily been stopped. One scenario that 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 of 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 him and had him killed. Though Anthemius ruled the west for only 5 years (467-472) being a puppet of the Western Empire’s army general Ricimer, he was a 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. 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 article 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 under their own leaders known as Foederati by the new eastern emperor Theodosius I, however in the years to come, these barbarians would prove to be terrible and rebellious allies. 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 Rome, the Eternal City (410 by the Visigoths and 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 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 Roman lands and began becoming a constant headache for both the western and 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 barbarian puppet masters. 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 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 and a more stable system. 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 out of the 13 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 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. 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 blog as this story focuses on the western empire’s dissolution
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Guide to the late Roman army’s structure (by Powee Celdran); this article contains a lot of terms of late Roman army units.

Related Articles from The Byzantium Blogger:

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)

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. Just recently, a video by the Youtube channel Eastern Roman History came out which had been ranking the Byzantine emperors of the Leonid Dynasty starting with its founder Leo I who will be a central character of this story and this video 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 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 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. 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 is the 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 last December 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 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 my through favorite history related Youtube channel Dovahhatty in this 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, Basiliscus, 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 motives. 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 in this story 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 will take place, it happened in real history that the eastern emperor was pressured by the Vandal king of Carthage Genseric to make Olybrius the western emperor who would be Genseric’s puppet but Leo being a friend of Anthemius who worked well with him as a co-emperors 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 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. However, I believe that if Anthemius got the letter ahead of Ricimer, he would have ruled himself independently, 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. 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, Suebi, 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 both Eastern and Western Roman empires, a number of emperors, and other nations including the Vandals, Visigoths, and Ostrogoths and several ongoing conflicts between them in a setting of such a large world over the span of not just many years but decades. 


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

Daniel the Stylite- Eastern Roman prophet

Leo II- Eventual Eastern Roman emperor, son of Zeno 

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)       

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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, a young 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 western emperor Gratian and in 382, the crisis was solved when peace was settled with the Goths allowing them to settle in Roman lands 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 Huns. The following year, civil war broke out in the west when Magnus Maximus, a Roman 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 in which Theodosius won in 388 with the help of his new Gothic allies while Magnus Maximus was then executed.

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Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379-395)

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. In 392, another civil war broke out when the western emperor Valentinian II killed himself when his protector general Arbogast turned against him proclaiming a scholar in Gaul named Eugenius as his puppet emperor but in 394 as Theodosius marched to the west again from Constantinople, he won a decisive victory against Arbogast and Eugenius at the Battle of Frigidus, again with the help of his Gothic allies, particularly a warrior named Alaric while Arbogast killed himself and Eugenius was executed. With Theodosius winning the civil war again, he ruled as the last emperor of a united empire west to east from Portugal to Syria and north to south from Britain to Egypt for only 4 months as he died in early 395 leaving the empire to his underage sons Arcadius and Honorius. The Roman Empire was now permanently split in half with the division in the Balkans down to Libya, with the older son, the 18-year-old Arcadius inheriting the richer eastern empire based in Constantinople while the younger 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 Flavius 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 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, 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 in 405 that troubled the west but in no time, Stilciho was able to crush this Gothic invasion. In the meantime, the western emperor Honorius chose the swamp city of Ravenna as his new capital 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 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 by Honorius’ orders being blamed for being the cause of the west’s defeats as well as being accused of trying to usurp power. 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 410 when Alaric and his rebellious Visigoth troops sacked Rome- which was although not the capital anymore but still considered highly valuable- while Honorius over in Ravenna did not even seem to care about it and worse, while Britain was already falling into disorder after the Roman legions pulled out, Honorius just decided to abandon Britain 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 also in 410 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 wherein the Visigoths were transformed from a tribal state to a kingdom during his reign. In 411 meanwhile, the usurper Constantine III 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. 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 their own independent kingdoms which was however the case of the Vandals here in Southern Hispania at this point.

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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
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Battle of the Frigidus, 394- victory of Theodosius I and Gothic allies against Arbogast
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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

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 as the western emperor.

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In 425, Joannes was defeated and killed by the forces of Valentinian III’s mother Galla Placidia, the sister of Honorius and Theodosius II’s barbarian general Aspar, 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 patrician Majorian, Aegidius of Gaul, Marcellinus of Illyria, Avitus of Gaul, and Flavius Ricimer, 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 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 being 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 took over its capital, Carthage founding the Vandal Kingdom there in 442 thus the Western Empire lost a valuable asset, which was Carthage’s wheat fields. 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 story- 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, who in this case was a veteran of the Gothic War in the 370s as mentioned in the previous story 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. Since the Huns’ army mostly consisted of cavalry, 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 their 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 after a horse-riding accident 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 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 who despite being a thorn for the empire all those years to join forces with the Romans as the Huns were a common enemy seeking to wipe out everyone in their path whether Roman or barbarian. Theodoric eventually agreed and joined forces with Aetius’ legions together with other barbarian Foederati allies including the Franks and 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 which despite countless of casualties on both sides 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, and true enough Theodoric was Alaric’s son. 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 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 Theodosian Walls of Constantinople, built by Theodosius II’s protector Flavius Anthemius
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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 alliance at Chalons
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Pope Leo I prevents Attila from marching to Rome, 452

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 after Petronius who was denied being given Aetius’ position in which he wanted to take making him trick Aetius’ bodyguards to killing the emperor as a way to avenge their 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 married Valentinian’s wife Licinia Eudoxia, the daughter of the former eastern emperor Theodosius II while Valentinian III and Eudoxia’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 a usurper. Eudocia though was previously arranged to marry Huneric, son of the Vandal king Gaiseric 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. When hearing news that Genseric and his Vandal fleet were headed towards Italy, Petronius ordered the people 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 sea and the toughest pirates of the Mediterranean even if just a few decades ago they were just a small Germanic tribe 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.

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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 Marican. 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 made spares Avitus as he was their friend before and 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 and without any heir although shortly before his death, he considered his son-in-law Procopius Anthemius who was married to his daughter 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, instead Aspar 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 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.

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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 who took back the city as well. In 460, the Suebi broke free again in Hispania but Majorian quickly rushed there and easily beat them making them again return to federate status and after their defeat, Majorian had a large fleet built at the Mediterranean coast of Hispania intended to be used in taking back Carthage from the Vandals but the Vandal king Genseric knowing he could not face the might of Majorian in battle bribed disloyal western soldiers to betray Majorian and burn the fleet before it was even finished. The invasion thus never happened and Majorian was forced to conclude peace with the Vandals then afterwards returned to Italy wherein he discovered that Ricimer had betrayed him. While Majorian was away, Ricimer feared Majorian was growing to independent therefore making Ricimer lose his power so conspiring with the senators 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, he was arrested and tortured 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 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 in this story’s case 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 Gaiseric 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

The Reigns of Leo I and Anthemius           

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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.

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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 too 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 which 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 (from 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, and here in 453, his wife Pulcheria, the sister of the late emperor Theodosius II died 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 and 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 (named after his grandfather) were born, though it is not recorded when they were born or if they were twins, but in my 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 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 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 was 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 commonsense. In appearance, Leo was tall with a big stature and had big curly hair and 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 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, 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 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 matter 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. 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 is fictional) from an odd hermit in Constantinople named Daniel the Stylite who lived above a column 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 who in Syria who became famous for living this way almost his entire life.

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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 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 could just manage things alone together with the guidance of Leo I and Aspar in the east 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 it, 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 a 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. 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 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 to 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 having 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. Anthemius arrived in Italy with his 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 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 win, 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 the 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 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 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, 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 back in 451who 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 fueled 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. 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 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 Ricimer treated Alypia, 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 campaingns 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)

The Battle of Rome, 472 (The Climax)          

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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 emperor with an independent mind yet somewhat a bully who now wanted to not at all be a puppet but instead making his own decisions and policies such as forbidding any non-religious celebrations and even playing music on Sundays but his main objective was to establish a new dynasty making his son-in-law Zeno his successor. Now in 471, the 71-year-old Aspar now 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 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 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, 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 and Leo ordered that Ariadne finish him off, thus Ariadne 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. 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 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 armor wherein no one would notice it and when getting off the ship, they were met by Ricimer’s unknown 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, 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 showed to Anthemius who then read it. Anthemius now learned that Leo killed Aspar and was being asked to do the same too by killing his overly ambitious puppet master Ricimer though at first Anthemius was hesitant but still did not tell anyone around him what the letter said but soon enough, he started hearing voices inside his head which included the voices of both Leo and Daniel the Stylite who reminded him that he was meant to save the west and be a great emperor but also being reminded of how Ricimer was abusive to his wife which was Anthemius’ daughter, Anthemius had enough thus he gave in to his anger by ripping the letter, throwing it right at Ricimer, and pulled 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 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 headbutt 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 Ricimer’s 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 shamed Anthemius and 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 helmet, and finally pinning Ricimer down to 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 and Ricimer’s wife Alypia came in convincing their father 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. Now history is totally altered now that it was Ricimer beheaded at St. Peter’s rather than Anthemius 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 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 in a small civil war but this battle though was much smaller in real history but in this case, with Ricimer dead, his soldiers lost 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 now at least lived.

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

          

Back in Constantinople, following Olybrius’ departure for Italy, unrest broke out when supporters of Aspar rebelled avenging his death as it also did 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 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. 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 troops. This event of Zeno and Basiliscus teaming up against Theodoric Strabo which was in 472 was actually real and this was something that actually happened but never saw happening 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 and they succeeded in defeating the army of Theodoric Strabo killing Ostrys too, although history does not mention whatever happened to Ostrys afterwards. 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 the 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 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. Zeno meanwhile set sail on again another 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 on-and-off 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 warrior

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. 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 his horse 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 ethnicity remains debated- that served under Attila Hun fighting 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 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 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 reinforcement 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 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 is 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 by the Ostrogoth king Theodoric the Great, who will be mentioned later. 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 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 day in July, 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 which was the same time Olybrius died as well and just a year later Gundobad would abandon the empire in order to be king of the Burgundians as his father Gondioc died in 473 while Odoacer was the exact same person that abolished the western empire itself by deposing the last emperor in 476. Now with both 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 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 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 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 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 here 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 returned back to the west’s capital Ravenna where his wife Marcia was all this time and with the conflict all over, even better news arrived when got back 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 story 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

The Roman World, Post 472 and a Possible World War? (Conclusion)         

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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 natural causes 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’ reign though was somewhat successful in almost retaking Southern Gaul from the Visigoths but out of the blue in 475, his own Magister Militum Orestes, 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 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 proclaimed himself “King of Italy” refusing to take Romulus’ crown and imperial insignia which 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. 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 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 and Northern Gaul still being the Kingdom of Soissons was still a Roman state though under Syagrius who was an independent ruler. 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 wherein he defeated Syagrius in battle here and the defeated Syagrius surrended 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 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, 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. 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 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 but 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 it to himself to train 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 and so would be Ricimer’s successor as the 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, but in this case with Anthemius still alive, Nepos would remain in Illyria remaining 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 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 be in this 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. 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 also meant that the west just like 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 was the main factor of saving the west from falling 4 years earlier as Odoacer was the one that 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 campaigns 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

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 Anthemius as western emperor as what really happened but what would be the same is that in early 474, Leo I would meet his end and, in this story, like in reality, he 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 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 (Croatia). 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 as they could not afford to lose him as he is the one to continue Leo I’s bloodline being directly related. 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, 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 looking 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 Byzantium (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 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, 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 a Monophysite and 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 in real history defecting Zeno and together marching into Constantinople to dethrone Basiliscus. 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 died the following year of starvation being locked up in a cistern.

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Emperor Zeno of Byzantium (r. 474-475/ 476-491)

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 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 more of a thug than a gentleman compared to Leo I’s predecessors the Theodosian emperors 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 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 as it was in real history as the fact that the west fell during his reign made him ever more unpopular causing political instability to reign 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 he would instead remain in the west as his father’s co-emperor. Not to mention in 479, a massive earthquake 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.

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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. 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, the new Ostrogoth Kingdom of Theodoric the Amal, better known as “the Great” who just became its 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, 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, it was under him that his people attacked Rome in 475, 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 over. 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 479, both Zeno and Anthemius would imitate Leo I back in 468 by reconstructing the fleet they lost and this time even larger as both Zeno and Anthemius 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 to help him defeat 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 and Theodoric Strabo would instead march to Constantinople but would die falling off his horse into a spear while his men would join forces with Theodoric the Amal, although a new enemy being the Nomadic Bulgar people 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 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 its best I just summarize how I see this great war play 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 in which in 482, the Frankish Kingdom of Northern Gaul under their new king Clovis I 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 too as Foederati allies.

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Bagaudae insurgents of Gaul and Hispania

I would say that this great’s wars course would go first by the eastern and western forces both finally storming into Carthage in 482 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 while still in Soissons cut off from the main empire would attack from the north. In Illyria, Julius Nepos would have to focus now fighting the forces of his 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 they 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 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 soon enough turn into a major warzone between 482 and 486 when 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 enemy 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.

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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, destroying the Burgundian and Alemanni Kingdoms, and pushing the Visigoths all the way down to Hispania long before Clovis 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 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 while 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 and made it 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 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, there 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 their new emperor and the people demanded that they have an “Orthodox” and “Roman” emperor unlike Zeno who was not 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 eastern emperor 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 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 as Justin’s nephew as his successor and 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 it would be too long put to put it short, it 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 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 medieval kingdoms 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. 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 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 last minute and 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 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, but if he weren’t then there would still some possibility that the western empire would still live on and now that 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 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 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 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 was a very interesting and intriguing fan fiction being the second part and up next in my Byzantine alternate history series, this story will not continue to 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 his 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? Well, this is all for chapter II of Byzantine Alternate History, this is Powee Celdran, the Byzantine Time Traveller… thank you for your time!

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

Posted by Powee Celdran

WARNING: THIS IS A VERY LONG ARTICLE!!

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

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

Related Articles from The Byzantium Blogger:

The Defenestrations of Prague (special edition stand-alone)

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

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

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

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

Roman and Byzantine Imperial Systems Compared

Roman and Byzantine Imperial Cultures Compared

Imperial Women in the Roman and Byzantine Empires

12 Turning Points in Byzantine History

The Complete Genealogy of the Byzantine emperors and dynasties

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

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

The Sieges of Constantinople

War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic

Related Videos:

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

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

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

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

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

Dovahhatty Videos:

Imperial Wrath (337-378)

Barbarians at the Gates (379-423)

The Fall of Rome (423-476)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The chad Michael VIII Palaiologos vs the virgin Theodore II Laskaris

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

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

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

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

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If Michael VIII Palaiologos was in so many ways the 13th century version of the late 4th century Theodosius I in having the same style of rule in dealing with opposition and fighting wars, Michael VIII was also very much like Theodosius by having so many enemies including those within the empire that usurped power from him, although for Theodosius I’s his internal enemies were within the same empire except in the western half while he ruled the east, as for Michael VIII these were other Byzantines like him b