Byzantine Alternate History Chapter VI- Irene and Charlemagne, the Wedding of the Century

Posted by Powee Celdran

DISCLAIMER: Although this is mostly 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 8th and 9th centuries AD. This story will begin with events that happened in real history but will become fictional as it progresses.

Previous Story: Byzantine Alternate History Chapter V- 8th Century

“But of Salic land no portion of the inheritance shall come to a woman: but the whole inheritance of the land shall come to the male sex.” -Salic Law

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Welcome to the 6th chapter of the Byzantine Alternate History series by the Byzantium Blogger! Last time, in chapter V of this 12-part series, I went over the Byzantine Dark Ages in the 8th century, the chaos and anarchy, the dystopian-like situation the Byzantine Empire, and the controversy of Iconoclasm or the breaking of icons that may have seemed like a simple issue but at the end caused so much tensions in the empire especially in its long-term relations with the western world, particularly the Church of Rome. The last chapter had also mentioned an event that could have ended the controversial Byzantine Iconoclasm before it could get worse and totally ruin Byzantium’s relations with the west and Church unity as a whole, and this event that could have changed it was if the emperor Artavasdos who only reigned a year (742-743) stayed in power longer rather than losing and being blinded by Constantine V (r. 741-775), who returned to power and continued Iconoclasm to an even higher level purging all those who believed in icons and worked to restore them. However, since the stories in this series despite being in chronological form with one chapter per century, their alternate history scenarios are not continuous with each other, so this means that for this chapter, the events of real history would play out whereas the Iconoclast extremist Constantine V would stay in power and not fall off a castle wall like in the previous chapter. This story then continues not so long after the last one left off and will be set at the turn of the 9th century at the tail-end of the Byzantine Dark Ages and the last days of the Iconoclast period and therefore this will be the last part of the Byzantine dystopian trilogy which began with chapter IV. Now this chapter in this series will be a very special one as we are now at the midpoint of this series and the thing that will be different about this story compared to the previous ones is that first it will be more of a direct sequel of its previous chapter as the same plot and scenario as well as characters from the last chapter return here except of course for the scenario of Artavasdos defeating Constantine V in the civil war, so basically it will be something not purely a 9th century story but rather an 8th and 9th century crossover alternate history story. Another unique style chapter VI over here will have which the other chapters will not is that its background part will no longer be a story retelling the past events but rather already beginning in the main setting in the year 800 while the lead character here Empress Irene Sarantapechaina or Irene of Athens will be the one narrating the events of the past going back to reign of Constantine V where she comes into the picture being chosen as the wife for his son Emperor Leo IV (r. 775-780).

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Empress Irene of Athens, empress-regent (780-797), sole empress (797-802)

Now Empress Irene was one powerful, ambitious, and even ruthless woman who was basically the one running the empire for 27 years (775-802) first as the empress for her weak-ruling husband Leo IV who being already sickly since birth died too soon, then the empress-regent of the empire for Constantine VI (r. 780-797), her son with Leo IV as Constantine VI was never an effective ruler anyway that in 797 he was overthrown and blinded by his mother Irene who then became the sole ruler of the empire, the first woman to rule the Byzantine Empire alone. Irene may have a made a lot of achievements for the Byzantine Empire going from an imperial princess, to empress consort and it did not need a large anti-government resistance to end Iconoclasm, instead it only needed Irene as an empress strongly believing in icons to end the pointless issue of Iconoclasm in 787 at the 2nd Council of Nicaea. However, despite her achievements, Irene being a female ruler was not fully secured on her throne as the fact of a woman ruling an empire alone was quite unheard of that it became easy for the nobility to challenge her and in addition, she despite being a strong and decisive ruler was not very good at managing the empire and its economy, getting the whole empire loyal to her, and at same time ruled an empire that was chaotic, almost bankrupt, and weakened. In Irene’s rule as the sole empress (797-802) and as regent (780-797) before it, the Byzantine Empire though already more stabilized than it was back at the start of the 8th century was still not yet fully stable as the issue of Iconoclasm still split the empire’s people in half, a new Arab power in the east being the Abbasid Caliphate had just begun to pose a threat to the Byzantines despite the threat of the Arabs by this time being nothing new to Byzantium anymore, to the north the new power of the Bulgarian state or the Bulgars was growing to become more of a threat to the Byzantines, and in the west the ruler of the Frankish Kingdom (France) which was Charles I or Charlemagne (Charles the Great) had rapidly built an empire in such a quick matter of time covering almost all of Western Europe that in the year 800, the pope crowned Charlemagne as a “Roman emperor”, therefore a direct insult and threat to the Byzantines who had always seen themselves as the only Roman Empire and its ruler the only rightful person to call himself a Roman emperor despite the empire no longer being ruled in Rome or Italy but in Constantinople. Ever since the year 476 (as mentioned in chapter II of this series) when the Western Roman Empire based in Ravenna fell, the Eastern Roman Empire or the Byzantine Empire was the only Roman power left but because in the western lands, particularly the Frankish Kingdom, their law known as Salic Law forbade women from ruling and in 800 with the Byzantine Empire ruled as a woman, the western rulers such as Charlemagne did not see her as legitimate therefore someone like him could challenge her and be crowned as a “Roman emperor” or more specifically an Augustus– not “Holy Roman emperor” though as many would confuse it-without even seeking the approval of the Byzantines, although the pope also refused to acknowledge the Byzantine Empire as the real Roman Empire but instead Charlemagne’s new Frankish Empire because the issue of Iconoclasm in Byzantium- as mentioned in the previous chapter- had already grown so much to damage the pope’s ties with Byzantium. Now the rise of Charlemagne may be both a threat but also an opportunity to Byzantium as the mere fact of another king being crowned a “Roman emperor” when there is already an existing one was a heavy blow to the pride of the Byzantine Empire but at the same time it could have benefited the much weaker Byzantine Empire since its ruler Irene being a widowed woman and Charlemagne being a widower could have married each other, therefore being the magic pill that could reverse all of Byzantium’s previous setbacks, refill its treasury, and unite the east and west again as one massive empire just like the Roman Empire of old before it was permanently split in half in 395 but now as the Frankish-Roman Empire. The marriage between Irene and Charlemagne that almost did happen in 802 could have put what is now France, Italy, and Germany as well as other Western European countries together with the Byzantine Empire then being Greece, Asia Minor, and some of the Balkans as one large super-empire under two rulers of equal power (Charlemagne and Irene) with two capitals (Constantinople in the east and Aachen in the west) and together both rulers with a massive empire and a massive army of the Byzantine Thematic Army and Frankish knights could put an end to all of Byzantium’s external threats like the Bulgars, Arabs, and lot more together but unfortunately, none of this happened as the idea of Byzantium ruled by a foreigner who was seen as a barbarian, which was Charlemagne was shocking to the people of Byzantium and for considering this marriage but also for failing to manage the empire’s economy, Irene had grown increasingly unpopular that with a single conspiracy by the nobility, she was easily ousted from power by a palace coup later in 802 and replaced as emperor by her finance minister Nikephoros I (r. 802-811) while Irene was exiled to the Greek island of Lesbos dying there just a year later. In this story however, the course of history will change when the marriage between Charlemagne and Irene- which would only be for political reasons- does indeed take place as Charlemagne travels to Constantinople and marries Irene before the plot against her is successfully hatched. Of course, if this marriage did indeed happen which in real history did not, then the Byzantine Empire which was here losing its significance would instead just join forces with the rapidly growing Frankish or Carolingian Empire of Charlemagne, though this union of empires which although would be like a magic pill for Byzantium in terms of reversing all the setbacks in its Dark Ages would also be very confusing as the Franks and Byzantines were of two different cultures and government systems, also it would be confusing as in religion the Franks were Catholic Christians and the Byzantines were Orthodox so it would be confusing which religion the whole empire would fall under, and lastly in terms of succession as Irene’s son Constantine VI in 802 was already blinded and Irene being already 50 could no longer give birth, while Charlemagne though had sons but the issue would be on who rules the east and who rules the west. Now the big question here is, if Charlemagne and Irene married, would this really be the magic pill for Byzantium or will it only be very confusing for both empires?           

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Flag of the Byzantine Empire

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Note: Since this story is set in the 8th to 9th centuries after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Byzantine characters will be now referred to as Byzantines, not Romans.

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The Byzantine Empire in 800 (purple)
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The Frankish (Carolingian) Empire of Charlemagne
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Flag of Irene and Charlemagne’s fictional united Frankish-Roman Empire, crossover between Byzantine (red) and Frankish (blue) flags (photo from Reddit)

This article is again another work of collaboration and again with Justinianus the Great (follow her on Instagram @justinianusthegreat) who had previously worked with me in creating chapter III of this series on Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565), making this the second chapter I am putting the story together with her. Now Justinianus being a Byzantine history enthusiast as you remember from chapter III is a great fan of Emperor Justinian I the Great as her username certainly suggests, but on the other hand, she is also a great fan of Empress Irene of Athens who will be the main focus of this story. Justinianus here had also suggested that Justinian being the lead character of chapter III would make a comeback and true enough, Justinian I will return here in this story 3 centuries later as a ghost occasionally coming here and there giving some advice to Irene on ruling her empire. Where Justinianus’ part comes in is basically in adding in some fictional elements from her imagination in filling in the blanks to creating some more background to Irene’s story and personality as she is the main character and history itself does not really record a lot about Irene’s full backstory like about her family and intentions, thus leaving a lot of historians to make guesses about her, although here a lot of the details about Irene’s unknown backstory thought of by Justinianus are actually very smart guesses. For the information used here, I again went through various articles online and went through videos on Byzantine history in this era by channels such as Kings and Generals, Eastern Roman History, Thersites the Historian, and of course the History of Byzantium Podcast by Robin Pierson.

Now before beginning the story, this topic of what if Charlemagne and Irene married is a very popular what if in Byzantine history and possibly one of the biggest and most popular what ifs in medieval history that has already been covered many times by other alternate history blogs and videos, although this article despite covering an already popular what if topic will have its own take on it. Since this blog site is about Byzantine history while at the same time to just remind you all that I am not very knowledgeable in the history and society of the Franks the way I am with Byzantium, it will tell the story through the Byzantine perspective, basically from Irene’s and not Charlemagne’s eyes, therefore it will cover a lot more about Byzantium in this time rather than Charlemagne’s Frankish Kingdom and later Frankish Empire in the west. Also, unlike these other videos which cover the long-term effects from this said marriage, this story will only cover its short-term effects for the Byzantine and Frankish Empires limited only to the 9th century. Now Charlemagne or “Charles the Great”, the King of the Franks is an already very famous historical figure not only in the medieval world but in world history as a whole, so his background does not need to be explained so much in this story, except just to give a quick explanation of who he is, he was the king of the Frankish Kingdom (a predecessor to the Holy Roman Empire as well as to today’s France and Germany) from the Carolingian Dynasty who since coming to power in 768 worked for years to expand his kingdom into a powerful empire by fighting wars against the still Pagan and even Christian barbarians in Europe in order to unite Western Europe and spread Christianity and for his conquests and valor, in 800 he was crowned as “Roman emperor” by the pope.

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Charlemagne (Charles I the Great), King of the Franks (768-800), emperor (800-814)

The one confusing thing here though is that a lot think Charlemagne was the first one that was crowned as “Holy Roman emperor” by the pope and his empire became the Holy Roman Empire, though true enough he was crowned as a “Roman emperor” and his empire would be the foundation for the Holy Roman Empire later on which would begin in 962 with the coronation of Otto I as the first Holy Roman emperor. Now having an empire that covered both today’s France (except Brittany) and Germany as well as most of Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Bohemia, parts of Demark, and some of Northern Spain, Charlemagne would basically be remembered as the “Father of Europe” for uniting most of Western Europe and laying the foundations of what would be Europe’s most powerful countries being France and Germany, and also for laying the foundations of a Western European Empire, his empire would also be remembered as the “First Reich”. As emperor, he was not only remembered for his conquests but for promoting art, culture, and literacy which were heavily inspired by that of Ancient Rome and Byzantium, therefore bringing into Europe what was known as the “Carolingian Renaissance” leading the west out of the Dark Ages. On the other hand, at the same time as Charlemagne was crowned as an emperor by the pope in 800, the now much downsized and battered Byzantine Empire was ruled by a woman which was Empress Irene who of course Charlemagne and the pope did not see as legitimate because not only was she a woman but seen as a usurper as well for deposing her son and had no blood relation to the Isaurian Dynasty that ruled Byzantium, except that she was only married into it. In addition, the previous years where Iconoclasm or the breaking of icons ruled Byzantium and damaged their relations with the pope, the pope in Rome could no longer accept the rule of the Byzantine emperor, and also because the pope in Rome had been threatened by the power of the Lombards of Italy while the Byzantines were too busy with their own problems in the east to focus on Italy that the pope had to turn to the Frankish Kingdom for their assistance against the ambitious Lombards which later succeeded as the Lombard Kingdom was crushed and annexed into Charlemagne’s Frankish kingdom, therefore making him an ally of the pope. Irene meanwhile was a significant historical figure as not only was she as strong woman figure that ruled an empire by herself and by her own name, but because she put an end to the controversial Iconoclasm which again helped in fixing the schism between the Byzantines and the Western Church and when later hearing of Charlemagne being crowned as a new emperor challenging her and Byzantium’s authority, she considered marrying him as a diplomatic way to settle all the differences between the west and Byzantium and to unite the empires becoming one Roman Empire again but this move was too controversial to the Byzantine people that it never succeeded and instead Irene got overthrown. The climax of this story then will be with Irene and Charlemagne actually managing to marry each other and unite their empires despite their differences and after the climax being the wedding of the century, the story will go on a bit further to see how this marriage will benefit Byzantium especially on how having a united empire in the west would help a lot in military victories against the Arabs and Bulgars as Charlemagne had previously already displayed success in battle against the Lombards, Avars, and Saxons. This story’s main part will then end in the year 811 where in real history the Byzantines under Emperor Nikephoros I suffered a heavy defeat to the Bulgars under their khan Krum at the Battle of Pliska where the emperor himself was killed and his skull turned into a drinking cup, though this story will explore how this battle could play out favorably for the Byzantines if Charlemagne assisted them, so basically this will be a double what if story. As this series also covers one story per century in Byzantine history with this one being the 9th century story, it will be quite odd that its main part is at the very early part of the 9th century, though the proposed marriage of Charlemagne to Irene as well as the Battle of Pliska in 811 are not the only interesting moments of this century as later on in the 9th century, there are a lot more crucial moments in Byzantine history especially with the rule of the Amorian Dynasty (820-867), the beginnings of the Byzantine Renaissance later on and the spread of Orthodox Christianity to the Slavs in the Balkans, but since the what if scenario of Charlemagne and Irene being married and the union of their empires is a very popular one and something that intrigues me and others a lot, I chose to cover that for this 9th century setting.

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Map of the Frankish-Roman Empire under Charlemagne and Irene (yellow)
What if Charlemagne marries Irene, Alternate History video (Monsieur Z)

Now this story as the halfway point of this series will be a very big one being a story of two great empires- Byzantine and Frankish- and two influential rulers being Charlemagne and Irene, but of course will more or less primarily focus on Byzantine society and not medieval Frankish society, which means that the same issue of Iconoclasm from the previous story and how it divided Byzantium would return here and part of the elements of Byzantine society here will of course include the same old Thematic System in the empire’s administration which was introduced back in chapter IV of this series, and the extravagance of the Byzantine imperial court with all its rituals, court dress, dining, and parties. Now in this story, Irene as the leading character would be depicted as a strong and ambitious woman who at the same time is a devout Orthodox Christian strongly dedicated to religious icons and despite coming from a backwater of the empire then which was Athens although from the nobility, she would also be someone who is ahead of her time for being a woman ruling in her own name, not afraid to make her own decisions for the empire, and someone with a very liberal thinking in such a conservative society and this can be seen where she is open to marrying someone like Charlemagne who is many worlds away from her in culture and thinking whereas Byzantine women in that time only marry who they are told to marry and think only the way they are told to think. To also add a sexy and sensual angle to this story, Irene would be the lead character as a woman who stays beautiful and attractive even as she ages that in an instant, she attracts the much older Charlemagne, who is however just 10 years older than her. As for Charlemagne on the other hand, history always shows him as a great emperor that united Europe under his rule, but for this story’s case just for the sake of experimenting, Charlemagne here will be downplayed as someone who seems to be so great when hearing about him but in reality as he comes over to Constantinople, the people would just see him as a tired old man that has nothing really special about him as having done his part now just wants to retire and marry an attractive Byzantine woman he could sleep with, which is of course Irene. Of course, this story to add more story telling element to it will include some suspense, drama, and comedy, as well as a number of important Byzantine figures of this time namely Irene’s finance minister who in reality overthrew her which is Nikephoros the Logothete who will usually be referred to as “the Logothete” – as confusingly enough there will also be another Nikephoros here who is Irene’s brother-in-law- in this story who would be the main villain who is quite an interesting and seedy character at first being loyal to Irene though only doing this further his ambitions to become emperor. The other characters this story will heavily feature on would be Irene’s family members from her own family from Athens and from her late husband Leo IV’s side being the ruling Isaurian Dynasty of Byzantium which introduced in the previous chapter, as well as Irene’s son Constantine VI who here will be seen as a useless and sadistic young emperor who here deserved his blinding in 797, and Irene’s eunuchs Staurakios and Aetios who are in conflict with each other. Overall, this story will be the kind of war and dystopian epic mixed together with romance and comedy but is more importantly a story not so much anymore about Byzantium’s constant conflicts with the Arabs but about their differences but also common ground with Western Europe, the other constant theme in the history of Byzantium which was its “Cold War” style conflict with the west.

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Guide to the Thematic System of the Byzantine army (from Wikipedia); this article contains a lot of terms of Byzantine army units
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Guide to the Isaurian Dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, 717-802; character illustrations and layout by Powee Celdran

Related Articles from The Byzantium Blogger:

Byzantine Alternate History Chapter V- Emperor Artavasdos, the Unlikely Hero of the 8th Century

Byzantine Alternate History Chapter III- Justinian the Great Joins his Campaigns

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

12 Turning Points in Byzantine History

A Guide to the Themes of the Byzantine Empire

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


The Leading Characters: 

Irene Sarantapechaina “Irene of Athens”- Byzantine empress 

Charlemagne “Charles I the Great”- Frankish emperor

Nikephoros the Logothete- Finance Minister of the Byzantine Empire under Irene

Nikephoros Caesar- Imperial usurper, brother-in-law of Irene

Tarasios- Iconophile Patriarch of Constantinople

Staurakios- Byzantine eunuch official and general of Irene

Aetios- Byzantine eunuch official of Irene

Leo IV “the Khazar”- Byzantine emperor (775-780), first husband of Irene

Constantine VI- Byzantine emperor (780-797), son of Leo IV and Irene

Theophano Sarantapechaina- Irene’s cousin

Anthousa- Twin sister of Leo IV, sister-in-law of Irene  

Christopher Caesar- Imperial usurper, brother-in-law of Irene

Leo the Armenian- Iconoclast Byzantine general

Bardanes Tourkos- Byzantine general, Irene loyalist

Louis I the Fair- Son and successor of Charlemagne

Krum- Khan of the Bulgars since 803

Harun al-Rashid- Caliph of the Abbasid Caliphate

Character images below of selected characters from this story, Illustrated by Powee Celdran


The Background Part I- The Isaurian Dynasty and Empress Irene’s Origins        

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It is the year 800AD, and the Byzantine Empire at the turn of the 9th century was stronger than it was at the turn of the previous century. Here, the Byzantines had already taken back basically all of Greece from the Slavic tribes that had raided and settled it for the past 2 centuries while in the east, imperial territory stretched as far as Armenia as a lot of lands were taken back from the expanding Arab Caliphate which has been the empire’s traditional enemy for already almost 2 centuries, though in the west Byzantine control of Italy has been reduced to only the south as well as the islands of Sicily and Sardinia as some of it fell under the control of the Lombards and the northern half to the new Frankish Empire. Ruling the Byzantine Empire in 800 was a woman, Empress Irene Sarantapechaina of Athens who at the age of 48 was still stunningly beautiful with long and thick dark hair, green eyes, and a voluptuous figure. Irene however despite ruling the empire alone was not from the ruling Isaurian Dynasty that had ruled the empire since 717 when Emperor Leo III the Isaurian (r. 717-741) came to power, rather Irene was a girl from Athens from the noble family of Sarantapechos who back in 769 married Leo III’s grandson Leo IV who would later be crowned as emperor in 775 following the death of his father Emperor Constantine V (r. 741-775), the son of Leo III. Following Leo IV’s death in 775 after only 5 years as emperor, Irene came to power as regent for their young son Constantine VI (r. 780-797) who in 797 after being in conflict with her was deposed and blinded by his own mother Irene. After blinding her son who although survived it, Irene in this story’s did not feel much guilt but now 3 years after it, she has become haunted with the guilt of blinding her son.

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Empress Irene of Athens

As the sole empress though, Irene did not choose to reign with the title of Basileus or Greek for “emperor”, but rather in respect for her gender, she still ruled with the title of Basilissa or “empress” in Greek and in the coins minted with her name and image, she appeared alone but still using the title “Basilissa”, which she also used when signing documents. Just a year earlier (799), Irene fell fatally ill that her doctors believed she was already close to death but luckily she recovered and now in 800 having fully recovered, at the Boukoleon Palace along the shore of the Marmara Sea at the imperial palace complex of Constantinople, she was going to meet with her newly appointed finance minister or Logothete Nikephoros, a man Irene put great trust into as he was first of all an Iconophile (or Iconodule), a believer of icons the way she was, and he had a brilliant mind in finance and military matters, which was something Irene was not so skilled in, and of course he was loyal as Irene valued loyalty from her officials above all else. Now Nikephoros was a man 2 years older than Irene born in 750 in Constantinople in this story’s case as real history does not record his place of birth but what is documented are his ethnic origins as the Syriac source Michael the Syrian (1126-1199) and Arab source Al-Tabari (839-923) say Nikephoros is of Arab-Ghassanid descent with his ancestors coming from the Ghassanid Kingdom, the old Byzantine client kingdom at the northern edge of the Arabian Desert which was destroyed by the First Islamic Arab power of the Rashidun Caliphate in 638 before the Arab-Byzantine wars still ongoing up to this time began. In this story’s case, Nikephoros certainly did have Arab blood as seen with his black curly hair and olive skin, and he was proud this heritage while at the same time a proud Byzantine and Orthodox Christian too. Here, barely knowing Irene, Nikephoros was already endlessly charming her by talking about his knowledge of the Arab world and his Arab heritage that here- for this story’s case only- he introduced to Irene an odd drink that the Arabs already had knowledge of at this time, which was coffee, though not the kind of coffee we mostly know of today, but a thick and bitter muddy drink which seemed to be addicting giving someone a great amount of energy.

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Arabian coffee

Of course, the Byzantines in their time surely had no idea of coffee even if the Arabs in the 9th century had already been cultivating the bean and drank its liquid and true enough, coffee beans had already been cultivated in Yemen since the 6th century and Nikephoros here being a descendant of the Ghassanid Arabs traces his origins back to Yemen in which that area was known to the Romans as Arabia Felix, the lesser known fertile southern part of the otherwise desert Arabian Peninsula; and doing this, in this story’s case, he was able to get his hands on this bean and the recipe of how to make it a drink. When getting a taste of the drink, Irene found the taste and texture odd, but Nikephoros was quite used to it and as they drank it, Nikephoros told Irene a local legend from the Arab traders he acquired the coffee beans from knew of which was that some time ago, a goatherd in Ethiopia (in Africa) discovered the properties of the coffee bean after seeing his goats act all excited when eating the cherries where the beans were found in and true enough even the goatherd felt the same way when tasting the bean. Nikephoros though did not fully believe this story the same way it is mostly seen as a legend because coffee beans had certainly already been cultivated in Yemen since the 6th century, which is the side of the story we will stick to here, though on the other hand it was here at the beginning of the 9th century when coffee cultivation became a major thing in the area of Ethiopia and Yemen right across the Red Sea from it, and in this story’s case just too add an interesting element, the Byzantines had already gotten their hands on it from Arab traders. Now that Nikephoros told his rather trivial story, it was time Irene told hers which was also the story of the Isaurian Dynasty she married into.          

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9th century legend of the discovery of the coffee bean by the Ethiopian goatherd
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Location of Arabia Felix
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Boukoleon Palace, seaside palace of Constantinople

The story of the Isaurian Dynasty that ruled Byzantium began in 717 when a Syrian general of low birth named Konon who was Irene’s grandfather-in-law took over the Byzantine throne in a period of anarchy that had seen 6 different emperors in only 22 years (695-717). When coming into power, Konon became Emperor Leo III and swore to end the anarchy period that could have brought the end of the Byzantine Empire and true enough, after successfully defending Constantinople from the siege of the Arab Umayyad Caliphate in 718, Leo III brought order and stability to the severely weakened Byzantine Empire.

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

In his 24-year-reign, Leo III restored much of the lands in the east that the Byzantines lost to the expanding Arabs, reformed the law, and reorganized the political-military structure of the empire known as the Thematic System which was long story short, basically how the military ran the empire’s provinces as a defense system, but despite his successes Leo III would be controversial for something that damaged the empire a lot internally which was his ban on religious icons first acted on in 726 and made legal in 730. This ban on icons or Iconoclasm soon enough became popular with half the empire’s population especially the army wherein most came from eastern provinces in Asia Minor where their beliefs had been inspired by that of the Muslims and Jews who believed worshiping God or saints through painted images was sinful as it was equivalent to idolatry and Leo III as a superstitious person blamed all the empire’s setbacks on how his people’s excessive use of icons. Half the empire’s population meanwhile especially those from western provinces like Thrace or Greece where Irene’s family came from, or Italy saw the use of icons as a sacred tradition and hearing that the imperial government as well as the Church of Constantinople put a ban on it deeply outraged them that the people of Italy being encouraged by the pope or the Patriarch of Rome rebelled against their Byzantine imperial authorities that the Venetian lagoon in the northeast coast of Italy declared their independence from Byzantium in 730 forming the Republic of Venice, though still being loyal allies to the Byzantines.

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

Leo III having successfully driven away the Umayyad Arab armies from Asia Minor fully came to believe that the ban on icons was necessary and helped the empire a lot and in 741 he died peacefully passing the empire to his son Constantine V better known as Konstantinos Kopronymos or the “Constantine the Shit-Named” as the Iconodulesor believers of icons branded him as that for being their worst enemy as an Iconoclast extremist, although this nickname also comes from a rumor about him defecating on the baptismal water as a baby. Though inheriting the imperial throne from his father, just a year after (742), Constantine V was challenged by his brother-in-law Artavasdos who being married to Constantine’s older sister Anna felt betrayed as Leo III back in 717 promised him the throne in return for helping Leo come to power as his friend and partner and as Constantine campaigned against the Arabs in Asia Minor, Artavasdos deserted him in battle and proclaimed himself emperor using the restoration of icons as his motive for usurping power and as emperor, he did indeed have the icons that had been outlawed restored but only a year later in 743, his forces were defeated by Constantine V’s in the civil war between them. Losing the war, Artavasdos was blinded by Constantine V as being blind prevented someone from taking the throne, and he was then sent to a monastery to die 2 years later from the injuries caused by his blinding while Constantine V took back the throne seeing Artavasdos’ rebellion as a sign to make a stronger stance against the use of icons.

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Emperor Constantine V Kopronymos (r. 741-742/ 743-775)

Constantine V true enough became more of an Iconoclast extremist than his father that when issuing a ban on religious icons, he also launched a full-scale persecution on people who owned them or restored them and as part of his anti-icon policies, countless of monks, nuns, and icon painters were tortured, blinded, exiled, or even executed and regardless of class or age, everyone who went against the emperor’s anti-icon policies were punished. Now Irene was born in 752 in Athens which was part of the Byzantine Theme or military controlled province of Hellas as Constantine V was emperor, and the family she came from which was the Sarantapechos clan was a rich family of great influence in Byzantine Greece. Athens meanwhile which was Irene’s home city according to the English historian John Julius Norwich (1929-2018) in his book Byzantium: The Early Centuries (1988), in Irene’s time was no longer the center of the intellectual world as it was in the Ancient days but a pious little provincial town wherein the famous temple of the Parthenon even became a church, though the people of Athens were said to be strong supporters of religious icons when it was banned, and Irene and her family was no exception.

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Athens in the Byzantine era

The Sarantapechos family wherein Irene came from however was an obscure family though a wealthy one and despite being loyal to the reigning emperor Constantine V, they were strong believers in icons, however Irene’s childhood and upbringing in Athens is unclear, but according to Justinianus when creating this story, Irene grew up wealthy and privileged receiving the best education from Greek teachers especially in history, philosophy, poetry, and the arts. Irene too was said to be an orphan but it is unclear when and how her parents died, but in this story’s case, let’s say they died when she was only 10 in 762 when both were on ship which sank during a storm in the Aegean Sea, though it was never discovered by Constantine V that Irene’s parents were Iconophiles, otherwise he would have executed them seeing it as treason. For this story, according to Justinianus, Irene was a strong Iconophile growing up especially after her parents died as a way to honor their memory but the one thing she longed for was an opportunity to get out of her conservative and sleepy Athens and go to Constantinople to make a name for herself. Now back to Constantine V, in 750 his wife Tzitzak an Oriental beauty who came from the Khazar state or Khazaria in today’s Southern Russia gave birth to twins which was first their son Leo named after Constantine’s father Leo III and their daughter Anthousa, although it is unclear if she was really Leo’s twin or the twin of one of Constantine V’s other sons with his next wife Eudokia, but for this story Anthousa would be Leo’s twin, but in 750 Tzitzak would die shortly after giving birth to her twins, and a year later Constantine would marry Eudokia, a local Byzantine Greek.

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Church Council of Hieria in 754, headed by Emperor Constantine V and Empress Eudokia (left)

In 754 meanwhile at the Council of Hieria, Iconoclasm became fully legal in the empire in the eyes of the Church too, and churches and monasteries were to be legally raided to confiscate icons, but also to confiscate their hidden wealth which was to pay for the army and true enough, all the raids on churches and monasteries grew the army to a more powerful force. Another thing Constantine V would be known for was the breaking down of a number of Themes in Asia Minor such as the notorious Opsikion Theme in half as a way to weaken the power of the Theme’s military governor or Strategos to prevent rebellions and part of this act was creating the Optimatoi Theme out of the Opsikion Theme, and this new Theme located right across the Bosporus Sea from Constantinople based in the city of Nicomedia was the Theme assigned to the new elite imperial army Constantine V created which was the Tagmata, the emperor’s personal guard that was to be absolutely loyal to the reigning emperor.

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Byzantine Tagmata soldier, elite imperial force created under Constantine V

In the east, Constantine V taking advantage of the Arab Umayyad Caliphate falling into civil war raided deep into enemy territory retaking a large amount of land all the way up to Syria which the Byzantines had lost in the past century. When being able to take back some of Syria, Constantine V relocated its Christian population to Thrace as a way to make the border of the Arab and Byzantine worlds which was the Taurus Mountains a no-man’s land without anyone living there to farm it so that invading Arabs would not want to pass there to invade as they would starve to death without any food supply present there. For his many victories and giving away free food to the population of Constantinople, Constantine V was extremely popular despite his vile treatment to those who opposed him and supported icons and by being extremely popular especially with the mostly Iconoclast army, he was seen as their hero and true savior that they would die in battle for him, but no matter how popular and well-loved he was, Constantine V too suffered from epilepsy.

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Flag of the Abbasid Caliphate, founded in 750

As for the events around the world, things would be in favor for the Byzantines in the east as in 750 the Arab Umayyad Caliphate based in Damascus had dissolved as it was overthrown by the new Arab Muslim power of the Abbasid Caliphate which needed some time to consolidate its rule, therefore they would not yet pose a threat to Byzantium, and with their capital now in Baghdad they would not be so much a threat to the Byzantines too as they were farther away than Damascus. In Italy on the other hand, things would be worse for the Byzantines as in 751 their capital there which was Ravenna fell to the Lombards when its last Exarch or semi-autonomous governor Eutychius surrendered it to them being unable to hold it any longer as the imperial authorities neglected Italy too, thus the Byzantines were only left with Southern Italy, Sicily, and Sardinia which would become Themes too (except for Sardinia).

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Fall of the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna in 751, Exarch Eutychius surrenders Ravenna to the Lombards

Now as the threat of the Arabs died down in the east, the new state of the Bulgarian Khanate in the north which had been there since 681 though not yet a massive empire would be the new major threat to Byzantium as after Constantine fortified the northern border with the Bulgars, the Bulgars saw this as a reason to declare war on the Byzantines which they did in 755 and from here on, Constantine V would fight a constant war with them as luckily he did not have to focus on the east anymore with the Arabs no longer a big threat. In 756 Constantine V won a major victory against the Bulgars though was defeated by them in 759, but in 763 after the Bulgars raided Byzantine territory, Constantine V crushed the invading Bulgars at the Battle of Anchialus along the Black Sea coast, and as a result of the defeats the Bulgarians would be plunged into anarchy with a change of rulers 5 times from 763 to 768.

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Bulgar army, 8th century

Now as Constantine V was busy at war against the Bulgars in the north, it was in 769 when he chose Irene to be the wife of his son Leo and it was very ironic as Constantine V was in fact the “Icon of Iconoclasm” and Irene was a strong Iconophile, but Constantine did not know it. The reason now to why Leo or even his father chose Irene is a mystery but the most accepted one is that she at the age of 17 was that even if the empire had a lot of beautiful young women for the imperial heir to choose, she was an exceptional beauty and also because Constantine V knew the Sarantapechos family of Athens well and Irene herself had already proven to be a smart and capable person. Here in 769 with both her parents dead, in this story’s case, Irene would be raised by her uncle, her father’s younger brother the general Constantine Sarantapechos, who would later on be the Strategos of the Hellas Theme. By this point, Constantine V with his wife Eudokia also had 5 sons together in which the eldest one Nikephoros born in 755 would later be made a Caesar (Kaisar in Greek)in title together with his younger brother Christopher while the next 3 sons Niketas, Eudokimos, and Anthimos would only receive the title of Nobelissimos.             

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Byzantine Asia Minor’s Themes by 750, under Emperor Constantine V
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Constantine V’s Iconoclasm from the Manases Chronicle
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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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Map of the new Arab Abbasid Caliphate (black), formed in 750 replacing the Umayyad Caliphate

Watch this to learn more about Constantine V’s reign (Thersites the Historian).

Back in 800, Irene and Nikephoros continued drinking their coffee while overlooking the Marmara Sea from the Boukoleon Palace, and when looking at the sea and the steps leading up to the palace from the shore, Irene recalled the moment she first stepped there in 769 when she was chosen to marry Constantine’s son the imperial prince Leo and here, she continued telling her background story. On November 1 of 769, the 17-year-old Irene saw the great metropolis of Constantinople for the first time in her life as the ship she boarded from Athens arrived at the dock of this exact Boukoleon Palace greeted by a large number of people and afterwards escorted by soldiers of Constantine V’s elite Tagmata force to the Great Palace Complex (or Imperial Palace Complex) itself and along the way, people all cheered for her for some reason, which was most likely because she was to be the future empress. Irene back then coming straight out of the sleepy and slow city of Athens was shocked with the amount of energy in Constantinople’s streets but most significantly feeling so important that she had to be escorted by palace guards, greeted by so many people of the high ranks of society, and was cheered by so much people as if she were a big star as back in Athens, no one really noticed her in the streets despite coming from the city’s influential family.

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Map of Constantinople’s Imperial Palace Complex

On the other hand, she was also shocked but in awe with all the landmarks she saw in Constantinople such as the Boukoleon Palace built right next to the sea, the Hippodrome, Great Palace, the Hagia Sophia and its dome, and all the dining halls, bedrooms, and baths all decorated with such extravagance. Irene’s first stop in the Great Palace was her designated room in the women’s section which even had its own bath and personal assistants assigned to her. As the day ended, Irene was invited to a feast at the main dining hall of the palace wherein she would meet the emperor Constantine V himself who Irene remembers as someone at the age of 51 who was quite overweight with messy hair and a messy beard and there she would also meet his 19-year-old son Leo who was to be her husband, who was short and round in appearance and since he was half-Khazar with his late mother being a Khazar, Leo had strong Oriental features including small and slanted gray eyes, though also having curly brown hair, a round face, and big ears. Being Khazar in his mother’s side, he was known as “Leo the Khazar” also because of his features, though his most recognizable quality was his easy going and nice personality unlike his father who was usually unstable, violent, and quick to anger. Now as Justinianus for this story says, why Leo fell for Irene who was his father’s choice for her out of all young women in the empire was because of her beauty and when meeting her for the first time, Leo was impressed with her quick thinking and confidence that she was not shy to speak to him and his father. The day after she arrived in Constantinople, Irene’s 6 weeks of learning court etiquette began and usually it would not be this long but in the story’s case as Constantine V noticed Irene’s rather fresh and outspoken attitude whereas women in this conservative society were supposed to be reserved and proper, her time to be taught the right way in court etiquette and protocols had to be extended before she was to marry Leo. Now from something I recently just learned when commenting on a post on Instagram asking about women’s fashion in the Byzantine era, I just found out with all the influences from the Arab world and the movement of Iconoclasm becoming a major factor that impacted the empire, women in Byzantium increasingly became more conservative in behavior and fashion, and in this story’s case Irene was someone who did not want to play along and dress up and talk the way she wanted to.

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Byzantine female court fashion

Of course in order to be the future empress, Irene had to go through this 6 weeks of training in the proper behavior of an empress and as the History of Byzantium Podcast host Robin Pierson had said, this would be an endless of process for Irene in learning the proper behavior of the Byzantine imperial court and part of her training would be on how to talk to people of high status, how to behave in church, how to greet the people and senators, how to respond to foreign ambassadors, and also on how to sit properly when eating, and how to use a fork which was a symbol showing how sophisticated the Byzantines were when it came to dining as other people especially in the western lands did not use a fork. In this 6-week period, the one person Irene would become close to in this story’s case was the eunuch Staurakios who came from a prominent family and was making a name for himself as a eunuch in the imperial court and in this story’s case only, he would be the palace’s chef who was very skilled at cooking lavish dishes for the imperial court but at the same time, he was also a master at managing state affairs and the army in which he taught some of that to Irene- except for cooking dishes- in these 6 weeks. Another thing Irene vividly remembered about this period of training was when she was taught to dress the proper way in imperial style as the court officials and court women that trained her noticed the informal style of the lose clothes she dressed in coming from Athens wherein they dressed like that and in so little time, 2 dresses were prepared for her which was first her wedding dress for the wedding ceremony and the gold dress for her coronation.

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Ancient Roman/ Byzantine female underwear (evidence from a 4th century mosaic in Sicily)

Irene also remembered that here in this 6-week period as she was in the baths of the palace, she was taught how to wear the imperial dresses by the court ladies where these court ladies where she had to take off her robe to be examined if her body was healthy as the wife of the imperial heir had to be in order to give birth to a healthy heir, and true enough Irene was in good health here though her soon-to-be husband Leo was not, and here too in the baths when dressing down to what was her underwear- a piece of cloth wrapped around the chest and the waist- her body was to be measured for the 2 dresses for the upcoming ceremonies. When this 6-week period of preparations ended on December 17 of 769, Irene came out as a fully grown and proper imperial woman at only 17 dressed in coronation dress, which was a tight long-sleeved golden dress that covered almost the entire body, and when fully dressed up she met her husband-to-be Leo IV at the Hagia Sophia where the Leo already as the co-emperor of the empire placed a golden outer robe on Irene’s shoulders and afterwards placed a crown on her head, thus Irene was now crowned as a co-empress, or at least an imperial princess and the 4th most powerful person in the imperial authority (first being the emperor Constantine V, then his wife Eudokia, then the co-emperor Leo, and lastly Irene). Now in Byzantine coronation tradition, the Patriarch of Constantinople was to crown the emperor symbolizing that the emperor got his authority from God, but the empress was not crowned by the patriarch but rather by the emperor showing she got her power from her husband, the emperor. Following the coronation, Leo presented Irene dressed in her golden dress and crown to the people of Constantinople from the balcony of the imperial palace. Leo then proceeded to the Church of the Virgin of the Pharos in the Imperial Palace Complex while Irene returned to her dressing room to change into her wedding gown, another conservative dress that covered almost her entire body, and then met up with Leo at the Pharos church where the Iconoclast patriarch of Constantinople married them and in attendance was Leo’s entire family including his father the emperor and the senate. At the end of the day, Irene was both crowned and married and with both ceremonies over, she and Leo changed back into more comfortable but still formal outfits for the banquet given to them by the emperor that night. The entire ceremony process would then end only 3 days later on December 20 with a bath ceremony held for Irene, except no one would see her bathe, instead as the palace officials and guards led her to her baths which was already prepared with the tub filled and towels and robes for her hanging, they left her alone to undress, fall into the tub, and take her time. Though now being married, Irene and Leo did not share the bedroom at all times but rather, Leo would frequently visit Irene in her bedchamber and in 770, Irene would be pregnant at 18 but everyone speculated if it would be a boy and true enough in January of 771, Irene gave birth to a healthy boy at the purple room of the imperial palace or Porphyria, a dark room with walls made of purple marble or porphyry and draped with purple silks. This now was another Byzantine imperial tradition as only the imperial wife or the wife of the imperial heir could give birth here as a way to secure the succession of their children to secure legitimacy as no one else but the imperial family had access to this room, and in 771 Irene and Leo’s son Constantine named after his grandfather the emperor was the second one to be born here, the first being Leo himself as well as his twin sister Anthousa in 750. With the birth of Constantine who was to be emperor one day, his grandfather the emperor who he was named after threw lavish celebrations including chariot races in the Hippodrome and the free distribution of the purple sherbet drink Lochozema to the people of the capital and after these celebrations, the baby Constantine dressed in a golden robe was presented to the people. With the celebrations over, the Patriarch of Constantinople baptized the baby Constantine, except unlike his grandfather back in 718 he did not defecate on the water though the emperor Constantine V who was right there in that exact same spot many years after this still remembered that embarrassing moment, at least from what he heard of. It was also here in her son’s baptism when Irene got herself acquainted with her in-laws such as the empress or Augusta Eudokia who was at least friendly with her- in this story’s case-, her sister-in-law Anthousa who was Leo’s twin wherein both her Irene would soon develop a strong bond as Anthousa also secretly supported the icons, and also Irene would meet the emperor’s much older sister Anna, who being 10 years older than Constantine V was still alive at 63 except she appeared to be cold and bitter as her brother blinded her husband Artavasdos and her sons with him leading to their deaths even if it was already almost 30 years ago, but where Irene and Anna would later find common ground was in their support for icons as Anna way back then- in this story’s case- led a resistance to restore the icons which failed when her brother took back the throne in 743 which also removed Anna as empress. 2 years later though- in this story’s case as history does not record it- Anna would die and Constantine V too would not have much longer to live.          

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Diagram of Byzantine Constantinople’s Imperial Palace Complex with the Hagia Sophia and Hippodrome
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Interior of the Hagia Sophia

Back in 800, the conversation between Irene and Nikephoros was already lasting until night and before they could call it a day, Irene proceeded to talk about her life as Leo IV’s Augusta or empress. Back in 768, a year before Irene came to Constantinople, the Bulgarians in the north got a new ruler of Khan which was Telerig and years later in 775, he successfully made Constantine V who was still alive reveal the names of his agents in Bulgaria and when finding about their identities, Telerig had them all executed which made Constantine V even more angry that he decided to again make preparations for another campaign against the Bulgars to the north.

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Church of the Holy Apostles, Constantinople, burial site of the Byzantine emperors

Before he could march on Bulgaria though, Constantine V while away from Constantinople in Thrace fell ill with a fever and on September 14 of 775, he died at 57, afterwards buried at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople, the burial site of all the emperors since the empire’s founder Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337). Following the death of Constantine V, his son Leo IV immediately succeeded to throne without any difficulty as he was already made his father’s co-emperor since he was only a year old in 751 and Irene already being married to him immediately became the empress without any coronation ceremony as she was already crowned at the day of her wedding in 769. In 775 however, Leo IV at only 25 was already obviously in bad health suffering from tuberculosis and his condition disabled him from being a strong ruler in making critical decisions, therefore it was up to his 23-year-old wife Irene who was more able in body and mind to do them for him and one of Leo IV’s first acts done under Irene’s influence- in this story’s case- was to banish all of Leo’s 5 half-brothers as well as their mother Empress Eudokia in 776 who Irene saw them all as a potential threat.

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Emperor Leo IV the Khazar (r. 775-780), first husband of Irene (art by Androklos)

This incident that led to the banishing of Leo’s 5 half-brothers happened when Leo in 776 held a ceremony in the palace wherein he announced to his generals and palace officials that he was sick and did not have long enough to live and so here he proclaimed his 5-year-old son Constantine as his co-emperor, but the half-brothers were enraged and seeing Leo’s illness as a sign that one of them should soon enough take over the throne, the most ambitious of the 5 being the eldest one Nikephoros Caesar as well as the second brother Christopher the other Caesar hatched a plot to get one of them to succeed Leo. Leo shortly after discovered their plot but with his kindheartedness and relaxed personality, he instead chose to spare his 5 half-brothers and just banish them from the palace and strip off their titles forcing them live in the outskirts of Constantinople, though the conspirators from the palace staff that helped in their plot were banished to the cold and remote colony of Cherson in the what is now the Crimea (Ukraine), north of the Black Sea. Irene however thought of punishing her brothers-in-law more severely but since they were only teenagers without much ability in running an empire, she chose to go with her husband’s decision but deep inside Irene really wanted to act on them with force as she felt constantly annoyed with how they treated her, which was that in this story’s case, these brothers being quite unruly and unsophisticated lusted after Irene’s beauty and always attempted to seduce her, but she being smarter than them always avoided them at all times and when banishing them far away, she could get rid of them for good; and with the half-brothers only banished from the palace, this would only be their first attempted coup in taking the throne.

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Emperor Leo IV (left) with his son and co-emperor Constantine VI (right)

Now Leo IV on the other hand being close to his Iconoclast extremist father was also raised to be an Iconoclast although he was not an extremist as his marriage to Irene in this story’s case somewhat changed his worldview, and although he did not believe in the use of icons he at least tolerated it that his people believed in them as at the end it was only in the army where the hardline Iconoclasts lay while it was only mostly women, monks, and nuns that were strongly for the use of icons, and most of the population again according to History of Byzantium podcast did not really care if icons were legal or not. In his reign, Leo IV undid most of his grandfather and father’s extreme Iconoclast policies though not fully getting rid of Iconoclasm, instead only making it more moderate that he put an end to his father’s persecutions of Iconodules, though like his father, he sometimes had some Iconodule members in the imperial court fired or whipped only if they publicly showed icon veneration, but on the other hand he no longer continued having soldiers raid monasteries, arrest monks, and confiscate icons like his father did and instead he returned the monks his father banished back to their monasteries, thus the dystopian era of Iconoclasm was slowly dying down. Leo IV though did not really care about the whole point on breaking icons as he soon saw it was useless and only dividing the empire’s people, and with his failing health too he was more worried about it, and falling for Irene’s beauty here in this story, he listened to her on her opinions on how to deal with the issue on the icons. On the other hand, Leo and Irene would not have any more children aside from Constantine as Leo’s health condition made it hard for him to be with Irene often as she too did not want to be around too much with a sick husband who was constantly coughing.

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Khan Kardam of the Bulgars (r. 777-803)

When it came to ruling the empire though, there was not much significance in Leo IV’s reign except with one incident in 777 when the Bulgarian khan Telerig was ousted from the throne by the new khan Kardam making Telerig flee to Constantinople where Leo welcomed him, gave him the rank of patrician, and had him baptized as a Christian as here the Bulgars were still Pagan, though Telerig died later that year; and in 778 Leo despite his bad health decided to launch a campaign against the Abbasid Arabs in Syria as fighting a war was part of his bucket list before his death. The invasion Leo launched in 778 was a large one consisting of the armies of the Anatolic, Armeniac, Opsikion, Bucellarian, and Thracesian Themes all led by their own generals or Strategoi (singular: Strategos) and at the end, this campaign was successful in killing a large number of Arabs, winning a number of victories, taking back a large amount of spoils of war, and relocating a number of Syrian Christians to Thrace just as Constantine V did before, and the emperor at least got the honor of leading his men in battle. Later in 778, a triumphal procession in Constantinople was held for Leo IV and all the 5 generals who survived where all the spoils of war and Arab captives were paraded, though in the next year (779) the Abbasids struck back invading Eastern Asia Minor but Leo’s army again successfully won repelling the invasion. In 780, Leo IV decided to this time launch a campaign on Bulgaria against its new ruler Kardam but before he could even start, his health grew worse that in this story’s case Irene persuaded him to give up on it and rest and on September 8 of that year, Leo IV the Khazar died at only 30 from an extreme fever caused by his tuberculosis being the last effective ruler of his dynasty, the Isaurian Dynasty as his son Constantine VI at only 9 succeeded to the throne with his mother Irene as his full-time regent in which she will be for the most of Constantine VI’s reign. Irene ends her story here in 780 when she came to power already as the effective empress-regent for her son and here back to the setting in 800, she called it a day saying goodbye to the Logothete Nikephoros as Nikephoros returned to his house and Irene would return to her bedchamber which was not the empress’ room but the emperor’s as with no male emperor, she was free to occupy it.

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Cataphract cavalry, elite army of the Byzantine Themes
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Byzantine Cataphracts battle Arabs in Asia Minor

Watch this to learn more about Leo IV’s reign (Thersites the Historian).


The Background Part II- Irene as the Empress-Regent          

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In the year 800, a few days after Irene’s meeting with the new finance minister or Logothete Nikephoros at the Boukoleon Palace, Irene in a gold and purple imperial robe headed to the polo field of the Great Palace where she saw her advisor, the eunuch Aetios playing a game of Tzykanion or Polo who after seeing Irene stopped and rushed to her reporting about his rival eunuch Staurakios, Irene’s most trusted person before and here Aetios brought some sad news though happy for him which was that some weeks earlier on June 3 of that year, Staurakios had died from sickness in Cappadocia when raising an army to rebel against Irene and take over the throne despite being a eunuch, although Staurakios seeing that Irene took the throne even if she was a woman thought he could too even as a eunuch. Irene as the empress put most of her trust into the eunuchs as they were the people she was most acquainted with ever since she arrived in Constantinople back in 769, and eunuchs too being males without reproductive organs were the only men allowed into the women’s quarters as they could not do anything to a woman, though they had no ability to become emperor, they still had the power to influence one. However when Irene fell ill in 799, both eunuchs the younger one Aetios and older one Staurakios’ rivalry intensified and the reason for their rivalry was that the old-timer Staurakios felt threatened by the growing influence of the younger Aetios, but the rivalry had also something to do with the succession as Irene with her husband having died years ago and her son blinded and sent to a monastery being unable to rule again had no heir and she too did not want to remarry or adopt a son as she could also see them as a rival to her power, so without a named successor both eunuchs plotted to make each of their male relatives the next emperor, but neither of their plans succeeded. After Irene recovered a year earlier, she summoned both Aetios and Staurakios to a council to hear both sides of the story and at the end, she just dismissed Staurakios at least with an apology except doing nothing severe to him but only decreasing his power and feeling insulted, Staurakios headed over to Cappadocia to raise an army with the support of the Anatolic Theme’s Strategos which was the empire’s most powerful general against both Aetios and Irene but in June of this year (800), again after getting an illness that caused him to cough out blood, he died and his rebellion failed. Irene felt disappointed here as Staurakios was someone she put a lot of trust into and all of sudden after feeling cheated despite not being removed from his position, he rebelled, though to tell more about Staurakios, Irene here told Aetios the full story, that Staurakios was indeed a loyal official, general, and chef who Irene knew ever since she got to Constantinople and it was in 780 when she came to power as her son’s regent when the eunuch Staurakios also rose in influence.           

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Tzykanion, Byzantine polo (art by Amelianvs)

20 years earlier in 780, after Leo IV died his son with Irene Constantine VI became emperor at only 9, therefore the task was left to Irene to rule as the effective ruler of the empire as Constantine VI was too young to make his own decisions and Staurakios who in this story taught Irene the proper dining etiquette, introduced her to a number of cuisines including Byzantine, Arabic, Persian, and Frankish, turned Irene from a country girl to a sophisticated imperial woman, and helped secure her position as the empress-regent as a big percent of the army, mostly being the elite guard force or Tagmata opposed Irene as not only was she a woman but a supporter of the icons whereas most of the army were still extreme Iconoclasts undyingly loyal to the late Constantine V. The soldiers of the Tagmata refusing to answer to Irene and Constantine VI wanted a son of Constantine V on the throne and the perfect choice was the Caesar Nikephoros, the most ambitious of Constantine V’s 5 sons with Eudokia that were banished from the palace 4 years earlier, and although Nikephoros was never really a strong Iconoclast but he did have some imperial ambitions and so here in 780 he was proclaimed emperor by the Tagmata army in honor of their hero Constantine V, although just a month after the plot was hatched, Irene discovered it and had the conspiracy leaders exiled and Nikephoros and his 4 younger brothers made priests as a way to prevent them from taking the throne as priests and monks were also unqualified to rule. To confirm to the people that Nikephoros Caesar and his 4 brothers were made priests, Irene had them perform the communion service at the Christmas Day Mass of 780 at the Hagia Sophia and here the 25-year-old Nikephoros who was tall and muscular in appearance with large and dark curly hair, pale skin, and a long nose looked the most humiliated being forced to give communion to the people at the Mass. In 781 then, Staurakios was appointed by Irene as the empire’s foreign minister or Logothetes tou Dromou as Irene trusted eunuchs above all as her ministers and generals were still loyal to the late Constantine V and therefore strong Iconoclasts and as for Staurakios, the contemporary historian Theophanes the Confessor (758-817) would call him “the foremost man of his day and in charge of everything” as if Irene was the power behind Constantine VI, then Staurakios was the power behind her. It was also in 781 when the Frankish king Charles I, later known as Charlemagne who had ruled the Frankish Kingdom since 768 first came into the Byzantine scene when Irene considered making an alliance with him by marrying her son Constantine VI to Charlemagne’s 6-year-old daughter Rotrude, known as Erythro by the Byzantine Greeks and Irene herself even sent Byzantine scholars to the Frankish Kingdom to educate the young Rotrude in the Greek language and Byzantine customs. In 782 meanwhile, the war between the Byzantines and their eastern neighbor the Arab Abbasid Caliphate would resume when the caliph Al-Mahdi launched an invasion on Byzantine Asia Minor with an army of 100,000 men led by his son Harun al-Rashid as payback for their defeat to the Byzantines under Leo IV back in 778 and 779, and this totally shocked Irene but still acting strong, she had the armies of the Themes in Asia Minor counter-attack, except things only got worse when the Strategos of the Bucellarian Theme (located in Northwest Asia Minor) Tatzates defected the Abbasids, thus the Byzantines despite having a strong army with the elite Cataphract cavalry was defeated, although Tatzates still suggested to Harun to make negotiations with the Byzantines. Imperial envoys from Constantinople including Staurakios would meet up with Harun in Asia Minor where they would be captured by Harun’s Arab forces while Harun only agreed to release them if Irene was to pay off the Abbasids a tribute of 70,000 gold dinars and 10,000 silk garments a year for the next 3 years, and not wanting any trouble Irene agreed to it. Irene however was deeply humiliated with her defeat to the Arabs and so to make up for it in order to gain back her popularity, in the next year (783) she sent Staurakios to command an army to campaign in Greece against the Slavic tribes that had settled there for almost 2 centuries. Staurakios marched into Greece by land from Constantinople passing through Thrace heading east to Macedonia, then south to Thessaly, and finally to the Peloponnese in Southern Greece where at the end of the year he managed to take back a large amount of territory from the Slavs and in early 784 when returning to Constantinople, the victorious eunuch general Staurakios was awarded with a triumph. Now satisfied with reconquering most of Greece in 784, Irene returned to consolidating her rule and even though only the empress-regent for her son, she put her image on the right side of the coins even if that space was reserved for the emperor which was where her son was supposed to be, but instead Constantine VI was only put on the left as Irene wanted to show that she was actually the one really wielding power.

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Patriarch Tarasios of Constantinople, appointed by Irene in 784

Irene then would turn to the more serious issue of Iconoclasm and how to end it as in her husband’s reign it had already been dying down and now running the empire, she wanted to achieve the legacy of ending Iconoclasm but it was such a challenge as most of the army was still for it and the policy had been already in effect for more than 50 years and so for Irene, she would only have to wait for the right moment to put an end to it, and luckily in 784 too, the Iconoclast Patriarch of Constantinople Paul IV who Leo IV appointed in 780 had died and when selecting a new candidate for patriarch, Irene as usual when it came to appointing people loyal to her chose her loyal secretary and fellow Iconophile Tarasios as the new Patriarch of Constantinople who despite having no background as a priest and being rather oblivious at most times was a skilled scholar especially in philosophy and theology and after being ordained, he became patriarch and would work to restore icons. In 785, Irene wrote a letter to Pope Hadrian I in Rome signed both by her and her son Constantine VI which was to approve a council aimed to undo all the Iconoclast policies by Leo III and Constantine V before them and return to the old ways of venerating icons, and in return the pope approved of it if both mother and son were to follow his spiritual guidance.       

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Army of the Arab Abbasid Caliphate

Back in the present setting of 800, Irene after her discussion with Aetios in the polo field headed to one of the storage rooms in the palace alone where she saw an old coin of her with her son with her on the right side as well as a coin of her late husband Leo IV with their son on the obverse and on the reverse were the images of Leo IV’s father Constantine V and grandfather Leo III who founded the dynasty and since this coin was minted in the Iconoclast period, no religious images such as Christ were to be seen and instead images of the imperial family were put but with Iconoclasm over in Irene’s time, religious images returned to imperial coins.

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Coin of Irene and Constantine VI with Irene on the right

Another thing Irene found in the storage room was a document signed in the council of 787 that restored the use of icons. Now back to 786, Irene together with Patriarch Tarasios made their first attempt to end Iconoclasm by holding a Church Council at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople, the burial site of the emperors but before the negotiations even started, the Iconoclast soldiers of the Tagmata force, most of them having served Constantine V were still at it and attacked the church by firing arrows at it in honor of the late Constantine V and being too distracted, Irene decided to not push through with it and so the council was disbanded leaving the soldiers to lift their siege on the church. Irene was still intent to hold a council and in order to do it safely, she decided to hold it in the next year in the city of Nicaea right across the Sea of Marmara from Constantinople and to keep the Iconoclast soldiers distracted in order to peacefully hold the council, she sent them to all corners of the empire to defend it including to the eastern border to fight off the Abbasids.

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

On September 24 of 787, the Second Council of Nicaea was held with Irene together with Patriarch Tarasios and Emperor Constantine VI as well as 365 bishops and 136 priests and monks in attendance and the council was made to discuss the restoration of religious icons was held in the Hagia Sophia of Nicaea which was also its senate hall and was the same place where the first Byzantine emperor Constantine I held the First Church Council in 325 that set the official creed for Christianity. At the end, all agreed that icons were to be restored and legalized once again, coming up with the statement that Christ had been seen on earth as a human, therefore he can be pictured. The final meeting was then held back in the Magnaura or Great Hall of the imperial palace in Constantinople on October 13 of 787 where the declaration to restore icons was signed by both Irene and Constantine VI, although Irene as usual of her signed it first to assert her authority, but no matter who signed first, the period of Iconoclasm ended right here and from here on, icons were to be restored all across the empire, although Iconoclasm was still around with the soldiers still loyal to Constantine V still in their posts. It also happened that in 787 Constantine VI turned 16 and at that age, the emperor was already expected to rule alone but, in this case, Irene never trained him to be an emperor as she still wanted to continue ruling for him, as she after getting a taste of power never wanted to let go of it.         

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End of Iconoclasm at the 2nd Council of Nicaea, 787
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Coin of Emperors Leo IV and Constantine VI (left) and Leo III and Constantine V (right)
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Empress Irene restores icons (art by Ediacar)

Irene back in 800 remembering holding the last meeting of the council at the Magnaura of the palace returned there to see it once again while it was not being used for the meantime and when stepping foot there again, she remembered another incident that happened there in 788 which was the first ever imperial bride-show in Byzantine history organized by Irene for her son Constantine VI wherein he was to choose his bride. Though before this bride-show, Constantine VI was still engaged to the King of the Franks Charlemagne’s daughter Rotrude except that here in 787 Irene feared that if her son married Rotrude then Charlemagne would attempt to claim the Byzantine throne so to avoid that possibility, Irene cancelled the engagement against her son’s wishes, though this only enraged Charlemagne using this as an excuse to invade and attack Byzantine territory in Southern Italy as well as the Istrian Peninsula (Northeast Italy) in 788.

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Emperor Constantine VI (r. 780-797), son of Irene and Leo IV

With the engagement broken off, Irene organized a bride-show in Magnaura of the imperial palace wherein several daughters of noble families from across the empire were brought there and the imperial heir was to choose one of them to be his wife, instead here the teenage Constantine had no say and instead Irene chose the bride for him which was the pious and plain looking Maria of Amnia, a Greekfrom Central Asia Minor and the reason for this- in this story’s case- was that Irene wanted her son to still think she was the most beautiful person to him. Constantine VI however totally resented not being able to choose his wife but he still married Maria out of respect for his mother but because of not being able to make his own choice even in choosing his wife, this is when the bitter conflict between Constantine VI and his mother would begin and from here on, Constantine would never want to follow his mother’s advice and would even distance himself from her. By 790 with Irene still never wanting to let go of power, Constantine VI at 19 came up with a plot and here betraying his cause of restoring icons as to gain a big support base, he sided with the still Iconoclasts in the army who hated Irene and the aim of their conspiracy was to banish Irene to the still Byzantine-held Sicily and have all her ministers including Staurakios banished. Irene however learned about the plot before it came to full effect and to punish Constantine for plotting against her, his own mother, she put him under arrest in his room in the imperial palace and his conspirators either arrested and turned into monks. Some months later though, civil war was about to erupt between the forces loyal to Irene and those loyal to her son and the majority of them from Asia Minor was loyal to Constantine VI proving they could defeat the forces of the European side of the empire loyal to Irene and so here later in 790 the army of the Armeniac Theme rebelled proclaiming Constantine VI as the sole emperor and fearing the possibility of civil war, Irene released her son to please the troops loyal to him. Though when being released, Constantine VI was still against his mother and so to get back at her for putting him in room arrest, he in return had her placed under house arrest at the Palace of Eleutherius outside Constantinople which she had built, while a number of her ministers were banished to the far corners of the empire and Staurakios was at first whipped in public and then exiled to the Armeniac Theme. Constantine VI now was fully in charge of the empire and highly popular, except having no proper training to run an empire from his mother and her officials, he proved to be weak in decision making, easily persuaded, could not think for himself, and the worst part was that he soon lost a lot of allies when he showed that he was not really a real Iconoclast and only used it as a way to gain support.

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Harun al-Rashid, Caliph of the Abbasid Caliphate (786-809)

In 791, the new Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid who back in 782 attacked Byzantine Asia Minor, after coming to power over the Abbasid Caliphate in 786 launched another attack into Byzantine Asia Minor and here the Abbasid Arabs won a victory over the Byzantine forces, thus Constantine VI’s incompetence in ruling the empire was exposed especially when he agreed to pay heavy tribute to the Abbasids. Still wanting to prove he was not overall incapable in leading the empire, in the following year (792), he personally launched a campaign against the Bulgars in the north leading the army in battle himself although the Bulgar khan Kardam here already knew the Byzantine army was weak hearing of their defeat to the Arabs the previous year and so he used this to his advantage. Constantine VI unsurprisingly headed off to battle with his troops poorly prepared and he not knowing about the landscape of the battlefield and the result was complete disaster here for the Byzantines at the Battle of Marcellae, in which was the exact same place his grandfather Constantine V defeated the Bulgars back in 756. The Battle of Marcellae here in 792 then ended with a significant part of the Byzantine army destroyed, most of the Byzantines’ valuables and coins as well as horses seized by the Bulgars, and even the emperor’s tent captured by Kardam whereas Constantine VI fled to save his life returning back to Constantinople. Following his defeat, Constantine VI even lost more allies that he had no choice but to release his mother Irene from palace arrest and return her to power as his empress-regent and by doing this, the Iconoclast troops especially the Tagmata saw this as Constantine’s complete betrayal of them that later on in 792, the Tagmata dragged Constantine’s uncle Nikephoros now a priest out of the monastery he was sent to and proclaimed him for the 3rd time as emperor, though this time he no longer had any intentions of being emperor and had nothing against Constantine VI and so did his younger brothers. When hearing of this plot against him, Constantine VI had his uncle Nikephoros brutally blinded even if he had no intention to rebel while for the other uncles Christopher, Niketas, Eudokimos, and Anthimos, Constantine only had their tongues cut out even if they were completely innocent as here in this story, Constantine found his uncles to be nothing but very loud and annoying anyway, and afterwards, they were all imprisoned in a monastery outside Constantinople. With Irene restored to power, she also restored her exiled ministers including Staurakios back to their positions while here the eunuch Aetios would come into the picture already rising to prominence in the imperial court.

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Byzantine imperial bride show for Constantine VI, 788
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Bulgar army at the Battle of Marcellae, 792

Watch this to learn more about Constantine VI’s reign (Thersites the Historian).


The Background Part III- Irene’s rise to Sole Empress          

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In the present setting, time had already gone by and here it was already early in the year 801 with Irene still as sole empress while Tarasios who was appointed as Patriarch of Constantinople back in 784 was still the reigning patriarch. On this winter day in 801, a function was to be held later that night wherein ambassadors from the Frankish Kingdom were to come over to Constantinople to bring in some news and Irene here was anxious of it. Irene though was also thinking of what to wear for the event and what she had in mind was something quite unusual and this dress of hers was in her dressing room in the palace and as she headed there, she met up with her old friend and sister-in-law Anthousa, Leo IV’s twin sister who was now 51 here but still looked like she hadn’t aged like Irene too.

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Anthousa, twin sister of Leo IV, sister-in-law of Irene

Now Anthousa had not appeared in quite a long time but in the past when Irene was empress-regent for her son, she asked Anthousa a number of times to be her co-regent but Anthousa refused as she was a simple woman who chose to live a simple life. In real history, Anthousa spent most of her life as a nun but in this story’s case, she lived half the year every year as a nun in a nunnery and the other half in the imperial palace. Anthousa like all women in her Iconoclast family was devoted to religious icons and in rebellion against her father Constantine V many years ago who asked her to marry, she instead refused and chose a monastic life which she would live half the year. Just like her twin brother Leo IV, Anthousa also had strong Oriental features such as small gray eyes, and like Leo she had brown hair and pale skin but was much taller compared to Leo, though despite living a monastic life, in the palace she wore the silk palace dress worn by imperial princesses but beneath it, she wore an uncomfortable hair-shirt which was a vest made up of irritating animal hair worn for repentance purposes, which reflected her vow of simplicity and here she was wearing just that. Irene on the other hand was the opposite and loved wearing elaborate dresses which was something she adapted to all these years in the palace and right here as she was going to be all dressed up, Anthousa who also her personal assistant was to fix her hair and help her dress up. When Irene put on a silk dressing robe as Anthousa was to fix her hair, Irene would continue telling her story on how she became the sole empress and it was here in 792 when she was restored to power by her son when she asked Anthousa to be her co-regent, but Anthousa refused.

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Inside Constantinople’s Great Palace

          

In 792, despite Irene coming back to power, Constantine VI still asserted himself as the effective emperor, though Irene was still more popular here and she would do all it took to make her son fail in order to fully get him out of the way and this included, in this story’s case encouraging him to brutally suppress a revolt in the Armeniac Theme wherein Constantine had the general Alexios Mosele blinded, and out of his own cruelty he massacred a large number of the rebellious population in the Theme, thus the people of this Theme who had strongly supported him became his biggest enemy. Constantine VI though with his wife Maria of Amnia back in 790 had a daughter named Euphrosyne, thus making Irene a grandmother at 38, although with his wife Constantine failed to produce sons and in 794 when getting tired of his boring wife chose to divorce her, which was an illegal act although Patriarch Tarasios ignored it and the divorce happened, but it created a lot of controversy as it was against Church Law making many monks turn on Constantine VI and side with Irene. Constantine VI later in 795 would marry his long-time mistress Theodote, a Greek beauty, though this would even make the tensions between him and his mother even stronger and here with the monks supporting Irene because of her devotion to icons, her support base was even stronger than that of her sons’. In 795 as well, Constantine VI launched another campaign against the Bulgars in which he was successful at this time although no one cheered for him in the empire as he was rapidly losing his popularity. In 797, Constantine VI resumed his campaigns in the east as Caliph Harun al-Rashid continued raiding into Asia Minor again but before even going that far as when Constantine was at the baths in the city of Prusa in the Opsikion Theme right across the Marmara Sea from Thrace, he received fake news that the caliph withdrew his forces before he even began the war, although it was only Irene who came up with this as a way to get her son back to the capital and so Constantine returned to capital, however when returning he just realized literally everyone in the capital turned on him that people threw stones at him and shouted insults at him calling him “loser” and “idiot”. Constantine then decided to flee Constantinople when seeing everyone was against him but when reaching the dock at the Bosporus, the Tagmata guards had already been bribed by Irene, therefore they seized Constantine, beat him up, chained him, and dragged him to the imperial palace. Here on August 17 of 797, the unconscious Constantine VI woke up in the exact same purple room he was born in 26 years ago in 771 where he was met by his very enraged mother who was tired of having to deal with her incompetent and cowardly son and ruling with him, and thinking imprisoning or exiling him was not enough as someone would again return him to power, Irene would instead commit one of the most brutal acts in Byzantine history and in the dark and creepy purple room where he was born in 26 years ago was the last thing Constantine would see as here, the brutal emperor was brutally blinded by a court eunuch which in this story’s case was Aetios acting on Irene’s orders. Some sources including Robin Pierson in the History of Byzantium Podcast say that with the blinding being so brutal, Constantine VI would die shortly after, although this story would go with the version that after his blinding, Constantine VI was sent by ship just to one of the islands in the Marmara Sea known as the Princes’ Islands just a few kilometers from Constantinople to be put in monastery arrest for the rest of his life dying years later. Just right after Constantine VI was blinded, an unnatural natural event took place in Constantinople which was a solar eclipse and here for 17 days straight, the sky turned black although right here as Justinianus put it, Irene did not feel any sense of guilt at all and instead totally felt like she did not care while the rest of Constantinople’s people saw this solar eclipse as an act of God punishing Irene for blinding her son.  

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Meme of Irene blinding Constantine VI, 797

           

Back in 801 as Anthousa continued doing Irene’s hair, Irene recalled this solar eclipse that began her reign as the sole empress in 797 and even though she was already the sole empress, she was not fully secure and popular as everyone knew she blinded her son and even for the Byzantine society that was used to all this violence and blinding, they could not accept the fact of a mother blinding her son for her own gain, although Irene only saw it as necessary as her son was ruining the empire anyway with his brutality and incompetence. Irene’s first act as the sole empress was to compensate for this vile act to make herself more loved again, and to do this she had to do something no Byzantine ruler would do which was to cut taxes for the people of Constantinople in half as well as lower the taxes for imports and exports, though for the nobility most saw this as an act of weakness shown by Irene as a strong emperor would always think of increasing taxes. The people of the empire meanwhile were not as surprised with Irene as the sole empress as ever since the early days in the 5th century, the Byzantine Empire had moments of being ruled by a strong woman figure behind her husband, son, or brother, but Irene was the first one to rule alone not as a regent but as an empress with full imperial power. In the history of Byzantium, the empire had seen everyone from aristocratic or low-born generals, to palace officials, to common soldiers, even a tribal chieftain, and a low-ranking tax official become emperor, but here it was unusual as it was the first time a woman who was not even from the ruling dynasty but instead only married to it that became the ruler of the empire.

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Coin of Empress Irene as the sole empress

On the other hand, with Irene being a woman, a portion of the army in Asia Minor in 797 rebelled and for the 4th time chose to elevate the Caesar Nikephoros despite having been blinded back in 792 as emperor. Irene discovering another plot to make her brother-in-law Nikephoros emperor again acted quick and had Nikephoros’ 4 younger brothers blinded too, and had them all moved to Athens to get them further away where Irene’s surviving family members would watch over them. However, in 799 another plot made by the army in Greece which was of the Hellas Theme again chose to proclaim Nikephoros as emperor and when hearing about this, Irene had all 5 brothers moved out of Athens to one of the Princes’ Islands in the Marmara near Constantinople- though not the one Constantine VI was in- to keep them under closer watch. At the same time, the threat of the Abbasid Arabs was still at large in the east and Irene not wanting to continue conflicts with them as there was so much in her mind, chose to pay tribute again to Caliph Harun al-Rashid, which was an amount even bigger than what her son had to pay. Irene then moved on to talking about her illness just 2 years earlier wherein Staurakios and Aetios used it to have a power struggle between themselves but Irene on the other hand in this story’s case, when getting this illness would start feeling some guilt for blinding her son, seeing the illness as a punishment from God for doing just that. Here in 801, Irene was now feeling guilty for the blinding but with a big function that was to happen later that day, Irene had to hide her emotions, which was something she learned when being trained the proper court etiquette many years ago. With Irene’s hair now completed styled in a way with her wavy hair put down in an orderly way, Irene stood up and headed behind the dressing curtain to take off her dressing robe and begin putting on her dress for the night. The dress Irene was going to wear was something unusual for the conservative Byzantines as it showed a lot of skin exposing her shoulders and upper chest though in length it extended all the way to the floor and this purple silk dress with a gold lining at her chest was to be wrapped around her body and here Anthousa did the job of wrapping the dress around Irene’s torso and to keep it in place so the dress wouldn’t slip out, a silver belt with gems was put over Irene’s waist. Now this revealing purple silk dress had already appeared in the universe of this Byzantine Alternate History series in chapter III worn by the 6th century empress Theodora (527-548) and her successor empress Sophia (565-578), and as for Irene in the universe of this fan fiction series, when discovering old documents from the 6th century, she decided to replicate with the exact same style, although no one really saw her in it except her late husband Leo IV once when he was emperor between 775 and 780 and her son Constantine VI as Irene always tried to make herself look attractive in front of them. As the end result, Irene at 48 still looked exceptionally attractive in figure wearing this and all prepared for the function that night.          

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Empress Irene in the purple silk dress (art by Powee Celdran)

After Irene got all dressed, the function at the Magnaura of the Imperial Palace began and the important guests included Irene’s loyalists Aetios, Anthousa, Nikephoros the Logothete, the patriarch Tarasios, and Irene’s cousin Theophano Sarantapechaina all the way from Athens, a woman who looked much like Irene except younger and a bit on the fat side though still attractive with thick long hair and brown eyes. Theophano of Athens was indeed a real historical character who became empress later on though it was only said she was a relative of Irene, however in this story’s case Theophano would be Irene’s younger first cousin and the daughter of her uncle Constantine who here was the current Strategos of the Hellas Theme. Of course, in this function there was sophisticated food and cocktails as well as wines from Greece and Asia Minor, though when seeing Irene enter some people were shocked to see how much of her bare skin was exposed when wearing that dress but others were in awe seeing how attractive she still was even at 48, but on the other hand the dress was very comfortable and soft for Irene. The main purpose of this function however was that everyone was here to receive word from Charlemagne’s Frankish Kingdom in Western Europe, although news did not come from Charlemagne’s capital of Aachen but from Rome itself, which now had been independent from the Byzantine Empire since 754 and put under the Papal States ruled by the pope, though under the protection of the Frankish Kingdom.

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Frankish Empire fashion

The Frankish ambassadors were already right here in the palace looking very distinct with their unkempt blonde hair and beards and dressed in wool tunics and cloaks with at least some gold trimmings, except their attire was not as sophisticated like the silks the Byzantines here were wearing. When meeting Irene, the ambassadors already told her the headline of their report in Latin, which Irene here in this story knew a bit of, though when hearing it she seemed to dread it and afterwards she announced it to everyone in Greek. The dreadful news that Irene announced to everyone here is that on Christmas Day of the previous year (800), the pope in Rome Leo III– not to be confused with Emperor Leo III the Isaurian- crowned the King of the Franks Charlemagne “Roman emperor” or Augustus for his valor and dedication to the Church of Rome, and even though his title of “Roman emperor” was only honorary, he still had an empire a lot larger and more powerful than that of the Byzantines. The people in the room were deeply offended hearing this while both Aetios and Nikephoros the Logothete even shouted out here “how dare he! He has no claim to our empire, he even has no trace of Roman origins”, though Irene remembering her court training did not react in such a way, instead she only remained still and thought of what the news could mean, but instead she only remembered Charlemagne as the man whose daughter her son was supposed to marry. For the Byzantines meanwhile, hearing of a Germanic Frankish barbarian in the west which was Charlemagne who had no trace of Roman origins was insulting and had hurt their pride as the Byzantine Empire being the Eastern Roman Empire was the legitimate Roman Empire that in fact in their time they even called themselves that, basically Romania meaning “Roman Land” and them as people of their empire called themselves Romaioi in Greek meaning “Romans”, while the name for them “Byzantines” which these alternate history stories use was in fact only a 16th century invention used only after the Byzantine Empire was gone. If you also remember back in chapters I and II of this alternate history series respectively set in the 4th and 5th centuries, the Byzantines or Eastern Romans were still referred to as “Romans”, though after the end of the Western Roman Empire in 476, by chapter III of this series, the Eastern Romans were already referred to as “Byzantines”. The Byzantines of Constantinople had every right to be the legitimate Roman Empire as their city was founded by the Roman emperor Constantine I the Great in 330 as the empire’s capital, the eastern half of the empire based in Constantinople too was the superior empire over the western half after the old Roman Empire was divided in 395 following the death of Emperor Theodosius I the Great (r. 379-395), and after the Western Roman Empire based in Ravenna was dissolved in 476 the east was the only surviving Roman Empire whereas the west fell to several barbarian kingdoms. Now back in this function in the palace, after hearing the news of Charlemagne’s coronation as “Roman emperor”, the people attending feeling the pride of their empire being insulted all left leaving only Irene and her cousin Theophano in the room before both went back to their quarters in the palace. Irene though was deeply angered inside as in the entire history of Byzantium, foreign rulers especially from the west would get the approval of the Byzantine emperor to rule their own lands but now everything changed with Charlemagne not getting Byzantine approval to be crowned but to be crowned as a Roman emperor when there was still in fact a Roman Empire (Byzantium) and this could have been because for one the pope who crowned him was no longer answering to the Byzantine Empire after all these years of conflict with them and Iconoclasm, and also because Irene was a woman therefore she could not be accepted as a Roman emperor by Charlemagne and the pope, therefore times had totally changed.   

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Magnaura of Constantinople’s Imperial Palace (art by Byzantine Tales)

Watch this to learn more about Irene’s reign (Thersites the Historian).


The Climax Part I- Charlemagne and Irene’s Marriage        

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In the year 800 as the 9th century opens, the world looked all different compared to what it was in the previous 3 centuries as here in the western part of the world, a massive empire covered what is now all of France except the northwest peninsula of Brittany which was only a vassal state of it, almost all of what is now Germany, as well as Austria, Northern Italy, and Northern Spain and this empire was the Frankish Empire (Carolingian Empire) of Charlemagne. The Middle East as well as North Africa and all the way east up to Central Asia and what is now Pakistan was under the Arab Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad now in a golden age under Caliph Harun al-Rashid, although most of Spain which was under the rule of Islam did not fall under the new Abbasid Caliphate but rather still remained a remnant state of the old Umayyad Caliphate known as the Umayyad Emirate based in the city of Cordoba. In the far east meanwhile, China was under the Tang Dynasty which ruled it for already almost 2 centuries and was still strongly ruling the land. In the middle of this all was no other than Irene’s Byzantine Empire and compared to the 3 other major empires of this age which was that of Charlemagne’s Franks, the Abbasid Caliphate, and the Tang Chinese Empire, Byzantium looked the weakest, most battered, and most bankrupt out of all of them and because of the current state the Byzantine Empire was in, Charlemagne thought that with the size and power of his empire, he also had every right to be the rightful Roman emperor, even if he was a Frank and so were his people and his only connection to Imperial Rome being that he and his people were Catholic Christians in which the faith dates back to the time of the old Roman Empire made the empire’s official religion- back when it was still one with the Orthodox faith- in 381 at the Council of Constantinople led by Emperor Theodosius I.

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

Now if you remember, the Frankish Kingdom was first mentioned in chapter II of this series as well as in chapter III when it was founded by King Clovis I in 481 using the disintegration of the Western Roman Empire to his advantage in taking over what was once Roman Gaul beginning in the north and in a quick amount of time he consolidated his rule and that of his Germanic Frankish people over Gaul (France) by crushing the last Roman remnant state there known as the Kingdom of Soissons in 486 and in 507 defeating the Kingdom of the Visigoths that had occupied Southern Gaul forcing the Visigoths to flee south to Spain and thus the Franks consolidated their rule over Gaul which under them became Frankia. Clovis I died in 511 establishing the Merovingian Dynasty of the Franks which lasted for more than 2 centuries ending in 751 when the last Merovingian Frankish king Childeric III was deposed and the rule over the kingdom known as Frankia was passed on to Pepin I (r. 751-768), Charlemagne’s father who was also known for recognizing Rome as independent from Byzantium making it the Papal States.

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Charles Martel battles the Umayyads at Tours, 732

Meanwhile Charlemagne’s grandfather who was his father Pepin’s father was the famous Frankish general Charles Martel, who if you recall from the last chapter defeated an invading force of the Umayyad Arabs from Spain that had invaded Frankia at the Battle of Tours in 732, and Charlemagne whose real name was Charles was named after his grandfather. Charlemagne or Charles I then was born in 742 though his place of birth is unknown, except some say it was either Aachen in Germany or Liege in Belgium. With the death of his father Pepin I in 768, Charles succeeded as ruler of the Frankish Kingdom together with his younger brother Carloman I as co-rulers except both were at odds with each other and when Carloman suddenly died in 771, Charles took over the entire Frankish Kingdom. As the Frankish king, Charles I’ mission was to unite all Germanic people into one empire and doing this required a lot of military campaigns and conquests and Charles himself was a talented military leader and warrior.

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Seal of the Lombard Kingdom of Italy, conquered by Charlemagne in 774

Earlier on in his reign, Charles I had fully conquered the Lombard Kingdom in Italy in 774 that had been there since 568 which had been a major threat to the pope in Rome for years and with this conquest, all of Northern Italy fell under the rule of the Franks, and at the same time the pope in Rome saw Charles and the Franks as a new ally they could trust as they got rid of the Lombards for them and unlike the Byzantines who the pope saw as untrustworthy and destroyers of sacred icons, they saw the Franks in the opposite way as respectful and trustworthy Christians despite being warlike and greedy people. At the same time as his conquest of the Lombards in Italy, Charles I was also busy with his wars against the still Pagan Saxon people of the Northern Germany which would go on for 3 long decades beginning 772 and when Irene considered her son Constantine VI marrying Charles’ daughter Rotrude in 781, Charles could not really focus on this diplomatic move as he was too busy with his war against the Saxons.

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Seal of the Frankish Kingdom of Charlemagne

At the same time too, Charles had launched campaigns in the east against the still surviving Avar Khanate in Central Europe that had been a threat to the Byzantines back in the 7th century and as part of his campaigns in the east and south, he put what is now Austria and Bavaria under his rule. Charles too had campaigned in Northern Spain preventing the advance of the Umayyad Emirate there and in the process, he created a number of small states in the Pyrenees Mountains bordering what is now France and Spain known as the Spanish Marches and one of these states created here still exists today as the small country of Andorra. For all his successful conquests which was also aimed at converting the still Pagan people he conquered like the Saxons and for giving a generous amount of money to the Church, Pope Leo III in Rome decided to crown Charles becoming known as Charlemagne or “Charles the Great” (Carolus Magnus in Latin) as an emperor equivalent to what would be a Roman emperor in authority, although the pope’s main intention- in this story’s case- to do this was to assert the power of the west as the dominant empire over the weakened Byzantines which was ruled by a woman, therefore seeing that the position of the Roman emperor that was seen here as the ruler and protector of the civilized world was vacant.

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Pope Leo III, crowned Charlemagne emperor in 800

Now the Franks here had stuck to a 3-century old succession law known as Salic Law (Lex Salica in Latin) dating all the way back to 500 made by their king Clovis I where a major statement of it says “But of Salic land no portion of the inheritance shall come to a woman: but the whole inheritance of the land shall come to the male sex”, literally meaning women were excluded from inheriting land the rule over it, and although this law was the law over the Frankish lands and serves as a basis to modern European law, it did not apply in the Byzantine Empire. Charlemagne on the other hand never really made a claim to the Eastern Roman Empire and in fact Charlemagne’s biographer Einhard (775-840) who knew Charlemagne in person says that Charlemagne was surprised when the pope decided to crown him as an emperor for there has been no ruler in the western world that held the title of “emperor” or more particularly “Augustus” since the last Western Roman emperor Romulus Augustus who deposed in 476 while the rest of the barbarian rulers after him inly used the title of “king”, although another interesting fact about Charlemagne being crowned as an Augustus was that the pope saw him as the only Augustus for the rulers of Byzantium even stopped using this title since the reign of the Byzantine emperor Heraclius (610-641) and instead used the Greek word for emperor “Basileus”. The Franks meanwhile despite originally being Germanic barbarians saw themselves as the most civilized of the Germanic people and the cultural successors of Imperial Rome even if their people’s DNA was not Roman or Italian but Germanic, and it could also be for this reason why Charlemagne being a Frank was crowned as a Roman emperor in 800. Now having been crowned as a Roman emperor, Charlemagne had to make sure he did his part in it which meant that in his capital of Aachen, he constructed impressive buildings such as his imperial palace and the cathedral in Romanesque architecture, as well as the baths as the city was built in natural springs, but also, he improved arts and culture adopting the Byzantine style of mosaics for his buildings and their lavish fashion as well after learning about the lavish Byzantine world from ambassadors he sent there.

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Carolingian Minuscule

In addition, he styled Aachen to look like the former Byzantine capital of Italy which was Ravenna and to promote arts and culture in his empire to make it match that of Byzantium, he spent a lot of money on academies and teachers, and also he would set a standard writing for the Latin alphabet known as the Carolingian Minuscule, and overall his project in promoting art and culture for his empire would be forever remembered as the Carolingian Renaissance, Carolingian coming from his name Charles as well as his dynasty named Charles Martel, his grandfather.   

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Expansion of the Frankish Empire from Clovis I to Charlemagne (481-814)
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Charlemagne’s Frankish army battle the Saxons in Germany
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Charlemagne’s Imperial Palace Complex, Aachen
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Charlemagne crowned by Pope Leo III in Rome, 800

       

Back in Constantinople, Irene when hearing all about Charlemagne’s achievements in the west which was not only conquests but in introducing a cultural Renaissance in the forsaken lands of Western Europe that slipped out of Roman control for more than 3 centuries which included even issuing laws called Capitularies in the style of the Roman emperors was impressed. On the other hand- in this story’s case- Irene also felt a sense of insecurity that someone in the west who was not even a Roman but a Germanic Frank was achieving the same kind of successes the Roman (and Byzantine emperors), and not wanting to feel left out, Irene thought of coming up with a solution to join the two empires together back into one single Roman Empire again like it was before 395, and if Irene almost attempted at doing this before by considering marrying her son Constantine VI to Charlemagne’s daughter Rotrude, she this time thought of doing it again but instead it would be her turn to marry Charlemagne himself as Irene for over 20 years now was a widow and Charlemagne too was a widower whose wife Fastrada died back in 794.

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Charlemagne crowned by Pope Leo III, 800

Now history is never really clear if Charlemagne proposed to Irene to marry her but the same contemporary Byzantine source of Irene’s time, Theophanes the Confessor says Irene considered marrying Charlemagne for political reasons but this scheme was immediately frustrated by her powerful eunuch advisor Aetios. In this story’s case, Irene here mid 802 after receiving a later from Charlemagne who was asking to marry her as a way to unite their empires and save her empire from falling apart and being bankrupt as she knew Charlemagne’s empire being larger was also richer, while Charlemagne also saw this marriage as necessary as he did not also want his empire to be in conflict with another Roman Empire, so it was better that two empires would stand stronger as one. Here in this story, Aetios would be first to discover Irene’s objective to marry Charlemagne and unite their empires and immediately he objected to it, not because he was loyal to Irene and did not want to see the empire fall to the hands of a foreign barbarian but rather for Aetios’ own gain as deep inside, he was actually conspiring to take over the throne if Irene were to die, although being a eunuch he could not rule the empire alone but rather rule through his brother Leo who was to be his puppet and in 802, Aetios being the prime minister of Irene’s Byzantine Empire had appointed Leo as the Strategos of not one but two Themes which were Thrace and Macedonia, therefore making him more powerful than a Strategos which in title was a Monostrategos.

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Coin of Charlemagne as a Roman emperor

Irene meanwhile also had mixed feelings as she never met Charlemagne personally and therefore did not know what he entirely looked like except through his coins, but more than that did not know a thing about his personality whether he would be a lazy and useless husband or an abusive and over-controlling one, but she did know that he was only 10 years older than her which was not much of a big issue and at the end, this marriage was only to be for political reasons as she never intended to move to his capital of Aachen anyway or to sleep with him. For this story, Justinianus says Irene despite marrying Charlemagne soon would have never planned to move to Aachen as she was a proud Byzantine. At the same time as Irene was pondering the thought of marrying Charlemagne in her study in the Great Palace, an old man wearing the imperial purple cloak or Chlamys and a crown suddenly appeared out of thin air and this old man happened to be the ghost of no other than the legendary 6th century Byzantine emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565).

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

Irene here was both shocked and in awe of seeing her imperial idol, the great emperor a lot of rulers after him from all over the known world looked up to but Justinian I’s ghost was disgusted seeing the current situation the Byzantine Empire was in, not because it was ruled alone by a woman but because of how much all the lands he worked so hard on to conquer in his reign especially in the west was all lost and that toxic schemes and infighting became the new normal especially with Irene’s eunuchs Aetios and Staurakios before him. Irene then told Justinian’s ghost that she only wants to do the right thing which she sees with her proposed marriage to Charlemagne as this was to get back all the lands in the west they had lost and in fact even more than what they had in Justinian’s time but the ghost told her that she must be careful with what she wishes for when marrying Charlemagne as he is not a Roman but a barbarian and Justinian definitely was someone who resented barbarian rule. Justinian however came to agree with Irene’s proposal hearing from her that Charlemagne even as a barbarian wanted to get rid of the Dark Ages brought about by barbarian invasions but the one advice Justinian’s ghost gave to Irene as Justinianus put it was that Irene should not trust everyone in her path like she always did before especially with her eunuchs which got her into trouble many times, and therefore when marrying Charlemagne she should not be submissive to him but to be able to solve problems by herself to still prove that she is still in charge of their empire. As Justinian’s ghost vanished, Irene picked up her pen and wrote a letter to Charlemagne asking him to come to Constantinople wherein the army would let him through all the way to the Theodosian Walls of Constantinople, and at the same time Irene also sent letters to all the military commanders in the empire to grant Charlemagne access as he passes through with his horse coming from the northwest.          

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Supposed marriage proposal between Irene and Charlemagne

In order to gain more support from the people of Constantinople, Irene as usual went out to the Hippodrome and the streets of Constantinople to give away money and food but here it was soon enough going to be too late for Irene to still keep her popularity as both Aetios and her other most trusted advisor Nikephoros the Logothete were now hatching a plot to turn the people against her. Nikephoros the Logothethe on the other hand also had his own intentions to overthrow Irene which were different from Aetios’ and his was because as the finance minister, he objected to all of Irene’s weak financial policies such as reducing taxes for the nobility, and coming from the nobility he saw this as a sign of weakness wherein he could just bribe his way to power in order to get support to oust Irene and after all, Nikephoros even if being an Iconophile and loyal to Irene only wanted to work for Irene and pretend to be nice to her as a way to advance himself in power and one day take the throne. Now Nikephoros the Logothete and Aetios together with other conspirators including another palace official named Niketas Tryphillios, Irene’s cousin Leo Sarantapechos, and in this story’s case a young scheming Iconoclast soldier with his own ambitions which was Leo the Armenian– who in real history would become emperor in 813- would all meet up at a high-end tavern near the Great Palace in Constantinople where they would discuss their plot to overthrow Irene as they drank a few cups of wine. Where both Nikephoros and Aetios had common ground however was that they both objected to Irene marrying Charlemagne and for their empire to be ruled by a barbarian but as it turned out, both Aetios and Nikephoros had conflicting ambitions as Aetios still wanted to use this conspiracy to make his brother Leo emperor and rule through him while Nikephoros on the other hand was set to make himself emperor and not wait any longer and instead find the soonest opportunity to overthrow Irene while Aetios was still waiting for her death. In the tavern, Nikephoros already had an entire organized campaign in mind to get rid of Irene, which was to bribe off heralds and officials in the city to spread word that Irene wants to give up their empire to Charlemagne as well as announcing all of Irene’s inappropriate things in public even if they were not really proven which here for this story would include Irene lying down naked sunbathing at the Imperial Palace’s balcony among a lot of others, which was a similar strategy the historian Procopius did in the 6th century to ruin the image of the empress Theodora, Justinian I’s wife, except his was more privately done. Another rumor too was spread that Irene’s son Constantine VI had already died, therefore she killed him as a way to further vilify her. Nikephoros the Logothete too already got ahead in his plot to make himself emperor and this meant- in this story’s case- that he was to trick Irene’s still alive brothers-in-law the Caesars Nikephoros and Christopher despite being blind that they would be his co-emperors in order to get more support from the still Iconoclast troops in the army who were still undyingly loyal to Constantine V and his sons, though the other 3 sons who were all still alive were to be left behind. Now Nikephoros Caesar by 802 was still in the Princes’ Islands in the Marmara under close watch by Irene’s officials and would only rise up one last time later on in 812 in real history, but in this story’s case, Nikephoros the Logothete would go there to this island just a few hours by boat from Constantinople, bribe the guards and monks of the monastery to only get the Caesars Christopher and Nikephoros out and together they would flee to a stronghold in Thrace.

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Location of the Princes’ Islands in the Marmara (red)

In Constantinople meanwhile, after receiving a lot of fake news, a major percent of the population would already turn on Irene though the rest would still remain loyal while Aetios on the other hand when discovering that Nikephoros already beat him to taking the throne switched his loyalty back to Irene and returned to the palace while Aetios’ brother Leo in Thrace also gave up his ambitions. Now in real history, on October 31 of 802 as Irene was not in the Great Palace, the conspirators of Nikephoros the Logothete told some false information to the palace guards telling them Irene had fallen ill and was close to death therefore she chose Nikephoros to succeed her as a way to get rid of the scheming Aetios and later during the night, the guards believing it found Irene and escorted her back to the Great Palace where Nikephoros confronted her. Nikephoros here explained everything he was doing, though only as a way to get Irene to reveal to him where she kept all her gold which she did, and when Nikephoros got all the gold he wanted, he had Irene pack up all her things and then at the dead of night, he put her on a boat headed for one of the Princes’ Islands in the Marmara where she was to now be under his watch in a monastery there which she founded while Aetios was fired from his post, and Nikephoros then was crowned as emperor by Patriarch Tarasios who was as usual oblivious to the matter.

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Irene as empress (left) and nun after 802 (right), in real history

However, things would be very much different here in this story as Irene already made her move in asking Charlemagne to come over to Constantinople to marry her while Nikephoros knowing about this fled to Thrace to raise an army in rebellion against Irene and Charlemagne and there in Thrace, Nikephoros- in this story’s case- would craft an explosive which was like a grenade made using the combustible ingredients of the Byzantines’ superweapon Greek Fire, which included naphtha, quicklime, and resin, and this grenade was to be lit by a fuse which was to be blown up whenever the wedding of Charlemagne and Irene would happen. Now on October 31 of 802 in this story, rather than Irene losing the throne all of a sudden without her even knowing there was a plot to overthrow her, Charlemagne instead arrived in Constantinople escorted only by a few of his Carolingian knights and here he was welcomed warmly by the people, only because Irene told them to receive him well.

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Sample of a Byzantine era grenade

The people however were not in awe but questioning what they saw which was Charlemagne as from everything they have heard, he was some kind of great warrior emperor that could take down an army or a wall with his bare hands, but when seeing him ride his horse through the streets, he looked nothing like an old fat man with messy hair and beard despite still being tall and muscular, but still looking like he hadn’t taken a bath- which of course he did not after so many weeks riding his horse- and as he got off his horse, everyone noticed him walking in an odd way looking that there was nothing regal about him after all. Charlemagne with his entourage would meet Irene who was dressed in the complete imperial robes and crown at the Hippodrome where Charlemagne was immediately taken away by Irene’s beauty despite her already being 50 and here, the 60-year-old Charlemagne knelt down and out of nowhere spat on the ground and kissed Irene’s hand and grabbed her legs, although Irene immediately moved her legs away before she could fall; now Irene was already quite tall but Charlemagne was so much taller than her being from the Germanic race. The first thing Charlemagne however said to Irene was that he asked her where is the nearest bath and bedroom as he needed to rest and Irene pointed him to the palace while Charlemagne without even properly greeting her said he had such a long journey wherein he took a ship from the Istrian Peninsula in Italy to Greece and from there rode nonstop down the Ancient Roman road of the Via Egnatia to Constantinople for 2 weeks.

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Empress Irene of Athens (art by HistoryGold777)

Now on the same night as Charlemagne arrived in Constantinople, Irene once again dressed up in the same purple silk dress she wore when discovering Charlemagne was crowned emperor more than a year earlier and as the function held to celebrate Charlemagne’s arrival in Constantinople had begun in the Magnaura of the Great Palace, the people that came to attend included Aetios, Anthousa, and Irene’s cousin Theophano, and as Charlemagne got up from his nap entering the hall, he was immediately stunned by Irene’s outfit and how it showed off her still attractive body even at 50, and in fact she thought of wearing it seduce Charlemagne. In this celebration dinner then, there was a lot of food, drinks, and entertainment such as acrobatics and fire eating which also impressed Charlemagne but the one thing here Charlemagne found odd was a utensil the Byzantines used when eating their meat which was of course the fork whereas in the Frankish Kingdom here, people just ate with their hands and a knife. When getting his hands on the fork, Charlemagne said in Latin “what the hell is this!” that he ended up breaking the fork and also seeing all the dances and eunuchs he said the same too but at the same time everyone else there was laughing at him and his unsophisticated way of eating. Sitting next to him was Irene and as she spoke Greek, Charlemagne could at least understand some of it but when she started speaking Latin, they stated having a proper conversation although after drinking too much wine that was served, he began rubbing Irene’s legs and stomach but soon enough as he moved his hands up, passed out in front of everyone wherein they all saw how unkempt he was especially with the saliva dripping out of mouth and gas he was farting out that Irene had to order him carried to one of the rooms in the palace.          

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Feasting in the Byzantine Empire

Now just like Irene 33 years earlier on December 17 of 769 when she married Leo IV, she would marry Charlemagne again on this day in 802 for this story, although Charlemagne in the past 6 weeks that he had been in Constantinople would not do the same as Irene before going through training in court etiquette, rather he would observe Constantinople for 6 weeks in order to get ideas for decorating his capital Aachen, and it was the newly restored mosaics by Irene replacing the previous ones were destroyed by the Iconoclasts that inspired him most and so were the public and private baths that he wanted to model the existing baths in Aachen to look like them. In the morning of December 17 of 802, Charlemagne was to be crowned as the Eastern Roman emperor in the Hagia Sophia by Patriarch Tarasios, and although he did not really need it as he had already been crowned emperor by the pope 2 years earlier, it was only ceremonial that he needed to be crowned as the eastern emperor as this way he would be accepted by the Byzantine people as an emperor who the patriarch crowned rather than just a foreigner who seized the empire.

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Charlemagne in a Byzantine Loros

Irene watched the coronation ceremony from the empress’ box on the upper floor of the Hagia Sophia while Charlemagne who was being crowned by the patriarch Tarasios at the large circle known as the Omphalion felt uncomfortable in the Byzantine imperial robes he had to wear which was the Loros, a long golden scarf tightly wrapped around the body which he saw as something that was suffocating him as it was wrapped so tightly whereas the golden robes he wore back at home were lose and comfortable, but he needed to wear it anyway to prove that he was accepting his position as the Eastern Roman emperor, and at the end of the ceremony he became known as Basileus Karoulos in which this name was Greek for Charles. In Thrace on the other hand, Nikephoros the Logothete had already sent a slave dressed up as a monk to Constantinople hiding the explosive under his robes after receiving reports that Irene and Charlemagne were to marry on the 17th of December.

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Nikephoros I the Logothete crowned as emperor standing on a shield, 802

Now on the same day as Charlemagne’s coronation and later his wedding, Nikephoros also dressed up in the golden imperial Loros though placed over a blue instead of purple silk tunic, and here in this Thracian fortress, he placed a crown on his head and stood on a large round shield having his soldiers lift it and proclaim him emperor, and right here he became Emperor Nikephoros in direct rebellion against Irene and Charlemagne while the two blind Caesars who still looked very young Nikephoros with his large black curly hair and Christopher with his red curly hair were made co-emperors, though only as a way to please the mostly Iconoclast troops there. Back in Constantinople, it was Irene’s turn to get ready for her second marriage and as she was being dressed up in her wedding dress, the same style of the long and tight one from before that covered almost the entire body, she started to think about things like how far she’s gone in life and being able to stay as the sole empress for 5 years now and that now by marrying Charlemagne she would be the joint ruler of a global empire, but at the same time, she also started feeling the guilt again for blinding her own son who here was still alive in the Princes’ Islands, but she also came to remember that she was already a grandmother here as her son had a daughter Euphrosyne who was somewhere out there. While she was dressing up, the same ghost of the old emperor Justinian I popped out again although this time very quick only telling Irene to remember that her marriage to Charlemagne is only political and to not give in to his demands as this could start giving mixed signals to the people of the empire that a barbarian is now running the show. In the afternoon of that day, the wedding ceremony took place at the Church of Pharos in the Imperial Palace Complex where Irene and Leo IV married on this day back in 769 and again Patriarch Tarasios retuned to marry both of them, but at the end of course this was all political as Irene never had any kind of feelings for Charlemagne who in return also did not, except that he was only attracted to her looks. As the ceremony took place, the reception area also in the palace complex was being set up and here the slave sent by Nikephoros the Logothete had arrived placing that explosive right under Irene and Charlemagne’s table but everyone else did not notice as they were setting up the food and the expensive wine from Burgundy which part of Charlemagne’s empire.

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Medieval wine making

Following the ceremony, the reception began and everyone enjoyed themselves with the food, wine, and festivities such as dances and circus performances while Irene having not eaten the entire day to make sure she wouldn’t be full for her big day and to fit into her dress went straight for the Frankish wines which she was curious about the most that she kept drinking it noticing that it tasted different compared to the Greek wines she was used to while Charlemagne on the other hand enjoyed himself by stuffing himself with food. Aetios meanwhile was also here together with Anthousa, Theophano, and the patriarch and Aetios though was still bitter about Irene’s marriage with Charlemagne but still wanting to keep his position, he pretended like he was all for the marriage. Meanwhile, as everyone was enjoying themselves, the slave sent by Nikephoros the Logothete with no one noticing him, not even Irene and Charlemagne crawled beneath their table and lit the fuse, and a few minutes later Aetios smelled something burning and tracked it to Irene’s table wherein he bent down and grabbed the explosive which was hot in his hands, and although he never really cared about Irene he still grabbed it and threw it into the fountain below just to save himself as if he weren’t there he would have just let it explode killing Irene and Charlemagne. The grenade then exploded in the fountain below while the slave dressed as a monk ran away but was immediately spotted by the Tagmata guards who seized him, beat him up, and dragged him to prison. Irene meanwhile did not notice anything as she drank too much of the Frankish wine and not eating anything prior to that, it was here her turn to pass out and be carried off to the palace while Charlemagne remained alert and using the very little Greek he knew, he asked everyone to return to the palace, but at least both were still married.               

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Omphalion, coronation square in the Hagia Sophia

Irene woke up the next day in a hangover in her room in the palace dressed down to her underwear forgetting everything that happened the previous day until Charlemagne entered telling her everything that happened including the explosion which woke Irene up. Charlemagne meanwhile did not care to investigate anymore as they at least survived and all he wanted anyway was to retire here in Constantinople feeling he had done his part already in growing his empire and therefore making it larger by now adding Irene’s Byzantine Empire into it and that he revealed he only came to Constantinople to marry Irene and sleep with her. Irene on the other hand wanted to know who was behind the plot and so she had that slave who was caught and imprisoned by the Tagmata guards tortured wherein he revealed Nikephoros the Logothete who had proclaimed himself emperor crafted it and sent him to plant it and after revealing it, the slave was stabbed to death in the neck in his prison cell. With the investigation over, Irene sent some men to track down Nikephoros but Charlemagne objected to it saying that this investigation is useless as now they both rule a massive empire together that the rebel emperor Nikephoros has no chance standing against it but Irene felt like it was her duty to do it as she put a lot of trust in Nikephoros and therefore still wanted to make him explain himself. Irene remembering Justinian’s advice to act on her own to solve problems here had her troops hunt down Nikephoros even if this would mean a civil war while Charlemagne wanted to discuss the more important matter which was how both will run the empire and Irene again remembering that she must act on her own asserted herself saying that Charlemagne must return to Aachen where he would rule from and she would stay in Constantinople as she did not want to go all the way there and leave her home.

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Irene and Charlemagne married

Charlemagne agreed to the deal but only if he was to rule the empire as the senior emperor and Irene as the junior ruler though Irene first objected to it, but knowing between her and Charlemagne, he was more experienced so it was left to him but Irene still wanted to keep her position as empress which was granted to her, therefore she was to rule the smaller eastern half but least being able to use the troops and funds from Charlemagne’s more powerful western half. The next issue they had to deal with was with the Church matters whether the Byzantines as well as the patriarch would now have to submit to the pope and the Western Church or vise-versa but Irene again asserting herself chose to not submit to the pope as long as the patriarch and pope would still be in good terms with each other and Irene ruling the empire would follow the pope’s spiritual guidance rather than ignoring it, which Charlemagne again agreed to as after all the pope and Byzantium were again in good terms after the period of Iconoclasm had ended back in 787. Now the last thing they had to settle is the political structure on whether to keep the Themes or not or to make Charlemagne’s western half divided into Themes as well and at the end, both could not come up with a conclusion so rather the Themes were to be kept in the Byzantine Empire while the Frankish western half still was to keep its own system of provinces or territories while the divide between both halves would be in the Istrian Peninsula between Italy and the Balkans and only a small piece of land would connect them which is the Adriatic coast of the Balkans running from Northern Italy down to Albania in which this part would be under the eastern half. The tough part for Charlemagne though was that he did not want to leave the great city of Constantinople which he already fell in love with but in early 803, he got word from one of his men that the Saxon war in Northern Germany was not yet over, therefore he needed to return there and also because he had many children (as many as 18 in total) back in Aachen that needed him and as a father, he was very devoted to his children, especially his daughters. Now in early 803, Charlemagne kissed Irene goodbye departing now by ship directly from Constantinople to Istria in Italy where he would ride north to Aachen knowing that he could now travel freely in Byzantium as he already controls it. Irene then made a public announcement to the people of Constantinople in the Hippodrome about her marriage to Charlemagne which everyone shouted insults to her at first still not accepting that a barbarian would rule them, but Irene told them the other side of Charlemagne that he was a cultured man that would be very respectful to their culture and that he has agreed to retain the autonomy of the Byzantine Church, adopt Byzantine customs, and that the people could now travel freely from Greece to Frankia as all of that is now under one empire. Irene had also announced that under the protection of Charlemagne and his armies which were stronger and more in number compared to theirs, they would be more secure and no longer going to face the threat of extinction, but most importantly what cheered everyone up was that they have a massive global empire again which was once again a united Roman Empire.    

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Speculated map of Irene and Charlemagne’s united empire

 

The Climax Part II- A United Frankish-Roman Empire and the Bulgarian War          

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In 803, the landscape of Europe and Asia Minor had changed compared to how it was just like a year earlier as instead of one massive empire in the west, a crumbling empire in the east, and several growing kingdoms or tribal confederations in the middle, there was one massive empire that went from Northern Frankia and Northern Germany all the way down to Greece and Asia Minor right across the sea now known as the Frankish-Roman Empire, although the half of the eastern empire ruled by Irene was barely connected by land to the larger western half of Charlemagne except for a thin strip of land in the Balkans along the Adriatic coast connecting Greece to Italy where the divide between the eastern and western halves was, while Southern Italy and Sicily itself was in no way connected to the main empire by land as the Papal States where Rome was separated it from Northern Italy which was under the united Frankish-Roman Empire. Though Irene was solely in control of the eastern half but at the same time still answering to Charlemagne in Aachen who controlled the larger western half as the superior ruler, a part of Northern Greece including the Themes of Thrace and Macedonia were in rebellion not recognizing either Charlemagne or Irene as their rulers but instead recognizing Nikephoros the Logothete who by 803 in this story’s case would take over the city of Serdica (today’s Sofia, Bulgaria) in Thrace making it his own capital. Like in real history too in 803, over in the Bulgarian state north of Byzantium, a new ruler would come to rule the Bulgars following the death of their previous ruler Khan Kardam, and the new ruler that came to rule the Bulgars was Khan Krum, though not related by blood in any way to Kardam but instead he was one of the tribal leaders of the Bulgars that managed to take the throne when the previous ruler died without a successor.

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Irene exiled in Lesbos (in real history)

Now in real history, Irene in late 802 who was in the Princes’ Islands in the Marmara banished there by the new emperor Nikephoros I the Logothete just after a month of being there was again banished by Nikephoros to the more isolated Greek island of Lesbos in the Aegean Sea as her first location in the Marmara was too close to Constantinople, therefore Nikephoros felt that Irene was too close to the capital meaning someone loyal to her would soon enough come to her rescue. In the real timeline then, Irene just after 9 months in exile in Lesbos died there from unknown reasons at the age of 51, but it was said that she died in her sleep, and in fact her blind son even outlived her by 2 years and Charlemagne by 11 years. In this story’s case however, Irene would still be alive and well in 803 ruling the eastern half but the biggest problem for her now was her rival emperor Nikephoros in Thrace who by this point would have already raised a large army but for Irene, it would not be much of a problem as she had Charlemagne and his more powerful army on her side and with them ruling one empire, his troops could come over to the east to help her.

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Emperor Nikephoros I the Logothete, Byzantine emperor in real history (r. 802-811)

With Nikephoros I as the Byzantine emperor in real history in 803, he would inherit a heavily troubled empire caused by the disasters of Constantine VI’s reign and of Irene’s after him and part of these problems he inherited was Charlemagne who in 803 put pressure on Byzantium by attempting a massive invasion on it as a way to get back at Nikephoros for overthrowing Irene who he proposed to marry, but also because he was now attempting to have Byzantines recognize his claim as emperor and he was only doing it here 3 years after he was crowned because when he was crowned in 800, Irene who was a woman was ruling the empire, therefore he could not agree to a woman recognizing his claim, but now with a man running the empire, Charlemagne now thought he could have the Byzantines recognize him. Nikephoros I however did not want to recognize Charlemagne and in fact did not even want his name mentioned in the empire which led to Charlemagne launching naval attacks in the Adriatic Sea against the Byzantine fleet, which then made Nikephoros conclude a treaty with Charlemagne known as the Pax Nicephori named after Nikephoros I which was not in full effect between both empires until 814 acknowledging that the Adriatic Sea was the permanent border between both empires.

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Charlemagne and his son Louis

In this story’s case however, the Adriatic was still to be the border between the eastern and western halves but the whole conflict with the Byzantines and Charlemagne over his recognition as emperor would not happen any longer as Charlemagne was basically the one in charge of the Byzantine Empire now together with Irene after he married her and took the Greek name Karoulos which the Byzantines of the eastern half would refer to him as. On the other hand in 803 in the real historical timeline, Nikephoros I in order to secure his legitimacy on the throne and form a dynasty made his son also named Staurakios like Irene’s former eunuch advisor as his co-emperor but in this year too, his rule would be challenged by a general loyal to Irene named Bardanes Tourkos who marched to Constantinople but failed to gain support, therefore his rebellion failed and he was forced to become a monk, although he also failed as one of Bardanes’ loyal soldiers which was Leo the Armenian- the same one mentioned earlier- as an act to move up the ranks switched his support to Nikephoros I knowing Bardanes would lose. In this story’s case, Bardanes Tourkos would remain loyal to Irene serving as her top general while Leo the Armenian here would be Nikephoros’ top general despite being an Iconoclast while Nikephoros was still an Iconophile. Nikephoros I in real history as an Iconophile continued Irene’s policy of restoring icons but undid Irene’s policy in relaxing taxes, instead Nikephoros would restore the regular tax collection and increase taxes especially for the nobility by coming up with creative means to do so which included a tax on the size of furnaces or a “hearth tax”, meaning that those with bigger furnaces had to pay more as well as imposing a tax on farmers based on the quality and quantity of their produce. Now with Irene still ruling the empire, she would however start showing more strength in ruling that after realizing that her own lax taxation policy made her an easy target for conspiracies by the nobility and had turned out to empty the treasury, she would gradually increase taxes, although not come up with the creative genius solutions Nikephoros would in taxation, but like Nikephoros she would soon enough create the new Themes of Thessaloniki, Cephalonia, Dyyrhachion, and the Peloponnese in Greece which were the same Themes Nikephoros I created in his reign (802-811). Irene though would not do it entirely alone but with the advice of Bardanes Tourkos and Aetios who would still remain with her while Charlemagne at times would have the final say in her decisions. Now Charlemagne here by 804 would be too busy with his own wars such as the war with the Saxons in Northern Germany which he finally finished and came out victorious in 804 forcing the Saxons to convert to Christianity but at the same time, he would be troubled by a new mysterious enemy in the north which were the Danes or Vikings who had first appeared in the historical record back in 793 when attacking Anglo-Saxon England and here they would begin raiding the northern coasts of his empire with their longships.

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Krum, Khan of the Bulgars (r. 803-814)

The other new problem bothering Charlemagne here just like in real history was the Avar Khanate in Central Europe (Hungary and Romania) which however here like in real history would eventually be subjugated by him in 805 turning the Avars into his client kingdom to protect them from the expansion of Krum’s Bulgars from the south. In 805 on the other hand, the Bulgarian Khan Krum had defeated and finished off the Avar Khanate annexing it to his Bulgarian Empire which now doubled in size by adding what is now Romania into his empire following the defeat of the Avars while the western remains of the Avar Khanate would fall under Charlemagne’s empire- in this case under the new united Frankish-Roman Empire- being made a frontier march or border state just as Northern Spain was, and now the Frankish word “march” had therefore meant borders state. Another event that would also happen here in 805 just like in real history was the death of the blind Constantine VI in the monastery he was sent to in the Princes’ Islands in the Marmara, though in real history he still outlived his mother Irene by 2 years but here, Irene when hearing about it in Constantinople would be guiltier than ever just realizing that she had killed her son by blinding him 8 years earlier.           

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Avars, defeated by Charlemagne and the Bulgars in 805
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Army of Charlemagne’s Frankish Empire

Watch this to learn more about Nikephoros I’s reign (Thersites the Historian).

Now the issue that Irene would face following her blinded son’s death in 805 was the succession as she being now 53 could not give birth to a new son anymore and she had no surviving male relatives to inherit the empire though luckily Charlemagne here had 3 adult legitimate sons that Irene could choose from. In 806 like in real history, Charlemagne sticking to the Frankish royal tradition of the ruler dividing his realm among his sons naming the eldest one also named Charles or better known as “Charles the Younger” naming him as his main successor as emperor and chief king of the empire, while the second son Pepin was given control of Northern Italy as its king though answering to his older brother, and the third son Louis known as “the Fair” was given control of Aquitaine as well as Provence and Burgundy as its king but also answering to his eldest brother, but what Charlemagne- in this story’s case- forgot was who will inherit the eastern half considering that he was in charge of it too as here he thought his wife Irene had someone in mind without knowing she had no surviving male relatives. Irene on the other hand when hearing of Charlemagne’s plan of dividing the western half of the empire among his sons as kings of different parts of it thought that the east after Irene would die could be ruled by the eldest son Charles as he like his father was to be the senior emperor and he being still single was suggested by Irene here to marry her also still single cousin Theophano who was already in her 30s. Meanwhile in real history back in Byzantium, Nikephoros I as part of undoing Irene’s policies decided to give up paying annual tribute to the Abbasid Caliphate, which however only made things worse between them that in 804 the still reigning caliph Harun al-Rashid invaded the Asia Minor and Nikephoros wanting to face off the Arabs in battle suffered a heavy defeat to them at the Battle of Krasos and again in 806, the Abbasid Arabs invaded again with 135,000 men but Nikephoros knowing he was unable to contain the invasion decided to give up and continue paying annual tribute again.

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Nikephoros I, Patriarch of Constantinople since 806

In 806 too just like in real history, the mostly oblivious Patriarch Tarasios would die though in reality, the new patriarch Nikephoros I who was also a historian and major source of this period was appointed as patriarch by emperor Nikephoros I who shared the same name as him, and in this story too, the same patriarch Nikephoros I too would be appointed as being an Iconophile, Irene would trust him too. In this story’s case however, with Irene still ruling the empire she would still continue her foreign policy in paying annual tribute to the Abbasids, therefore no Arab invasions would happen as she was ruling therefore giving her time to focus on dealing with the rival emperor Nikephoros who here by 806 was still not yet defeated as Irene’s forces here had never been able to besiege Serdica and Charlemagne’s forces could not yet come to the rescue still being busy pacifying their own borders. Here for this story, it would be only in 807 when Charlemagne would come to Irene’s rescue in the east by sending his troops there to help her troops defeat the rebel emperor Nikephoros’ forces in Serdica in which Irene’s general Bardanes Tourkos here would succeed in taking the city forcing Nikephoros and his still surviving loyalists including Leo the Armenian and Irene’s brothers-in-law Caesars Nikephoros and Christopher to flee north. Still not feeling defeated and wanting to take the throne, Nikephoros the Logothete would decide to head north to the now larger and more powerful Bulgaria of Khan Krum to get his support in taking the throne and being enraged with the failures of the brothers Nikephoros and Christopher even if they were not responsible for anything as they were blind, Nikephoros the Logothete here would kill both of them and dump their bodies in a river, though this act would actually lead to his downfall as the Iconoclast soldiers that supported him were actually backing the brothers more than him and with both brothers dead, the Iconoclast troops loyal to them would end up defecting to Irene despite her being an Iconophile as she was after all from the same family as the brothers, though Leo the Armenian would still remain with Nikephoros the Logothete. It will be very ironic though in this story that Nikephoros the Logothete would join forces with the Bulgarian khan Krum to get him on the Byzantine throne, as in real history with Nikephoros I as emperor he decided to launch a massive campaign to finish the Bulgar state of Krum for good after Krum captured Serdica from the Byzantines in 809, but little did Nikephoros I know that the Byzantines had very little chance in fully defeating the Bulgars who now had a massive empire covering almost the entire Eastern Balkans all the way north to the Carpathian Mountains. Now in this story, in 809 Krum would do the same as in real history by capturing Serdica from the Byzantines except here Krum would be assisted by Nikephoros the Logothete and Leo the Armenian, and when hearing about this in Constantinople, Irene would be furious that she would be the one to launch a massive campaign on the Bulgarians consisting of 50,000 men the way Nikephoros I did in real history, except here it would be even larger as Irene would be assisted by Charlemagne’s army from the west. What would also happen in this story like in real history in 809 would be that the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid would die thus relieving the Byzantines from the Arab threat in the east, and in 809 Irene’s sister-in-law Anthousa would also die.

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Pepin, King of Italy (r. 781-810), son of Charlemagne

Charlemagne here however would not be able to act quick as in 810, his western half of the empire would face somewhat of a succession crisis when his son Pepin the King of Italy had died at 33, although he had a son Bernard though he was still very young, and so now out of Charlemagne’s sons only Charles the Younger and Louis were left alive. Charlemagne meanwhile by 810 would already start suffering from bad health suddenly as according to his chronicler Einhard, he said Charlemagne was in good health all the way till old age until around 810 which was 4 years before his actual death but here by 810 in this story, he had already transformed his capital of Aachen worthy of an imperial capital just like Constantinople in opulence with buildings like the octagonal Palatine Chapel of his imperial palace built in Byzantine style, though the only thing Aachen did not have that Constantinople did was a scenic skyline by the sea, a harbor, and a strategic position on a peninsula at the border of two continents.          

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Bulgarian Empire under Krum (territory added by Krum in yellow)
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Palatine Chapel in Aachen, Germany; Byzantine style mosaics added by Charlemagne

With the Bulgars now attacking Irene’s half of the empire and going deep into Thrace, Irene had already sent an army led by both Bardanes Torukos and Aetios to push them out and soon enough march deep into Bulgarian territory. While Irene was directing her armies in battle though from Constantinople, Justinian I’s ghost would appear again this time telling Irene that she is doing a pretty good job in directing military campaigns even if she had never set foot out of the palace, the same way Justinian I did back in the 6th century in annexing great amounts of lands in Italy, North Africa, and Spain to the empire without even leaving the palace. Justinian here though would give Irene some war advice which is to tell her troops to be ruthless in battle in killing enemy, strike fear into them, and never give in to their demands, but to also show mercy in conquering the people of Bulgaria especially since a lot of the subjects of the Bulgar khan were still Byzantines by blood therefore the Byzantine army would have to be seen as their liberators from the Bulgars and not foreign conquerors, and true enough this was the tactic Justinian used in his conquests which was in brutally killing his enemies but sparing the people who were still Romans to make them feel like they were in fact liberated. In addition, Justinianus says Irene would just direct her generals in battle from Constantinople but would not personally lead the armies herself unless there is an emergency that really needs her there in battle itself. Now in real history, in Nikephoros I’s campaign against the Bulgars in 811, he personally led the Byzantine army deep into Bulgarian territory even capturing their capital of Pliska and razing it to the ground, though also the Byzantine army here committed great atrocities including a massacre of the entire population of the city as a way to get back on the Bulgarians. In this story however, Irene’s Byzantine army would consist of the entire armies of the Themes of Macedonia and Thrace which previously defected from Nikephoros to Irene, as well the armies of the Opsikion, Optimates or the Tagmata, and Thracesian Themes, though the armies of the 5 Themes campaigning in the Bulgarian heartland itself would do as Irene told them and not massacre the locals but instead burn the farms to cut the Bulgar army’s food supply.

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Carolingian Frankish knights, elite army of Charlemagne

However, Charlemagne’s Frankish forces from the west would arrive too by land in 811 led by both his sons Charles the Younger and Louis and they would be the ones carrying out the destruction of Pliska here as well as committing brutal atrocities there like massacring locals, similar to what they did before in fighting the Saxons in Northern Germany. In real history, Krum in 811 thought of concluding peace with Nikephoros I after Pliska was razed and his lands severely devastated by the Byzantines, but Nikephoros being intent on finishing the war and conquering Bulgaria did not agree to Krum’s terms as he knew he was close to winning, so instead he continued campaigning until Krum soon enough set a trap for him as Nikephoros’ army marched through the Varbitsa Pass in Bulgaria. Now in this story’s case, Krum after seeing his lands severely devastated by both the Byzantines and Franks would consider making peace with Irene and Charlemagne but Nikephoros who here would be on Krum’s side would persuade Krum to continue fighting as he still wants to finish off Irene for good, but here rather than setting the trap for the Byzantines at the Varbitsa Pass, the Bulgars and Nikephoros’ army would instead be the ones marching through it. Charlemagne meanwhile despite his failing health would still go to the campaign all the way in Bulgaria, except he would no longer lead his armies in person instead leaving the job to his sons while he would reunite with Irene back in Serdica which the Byzantines had just taken back and here, he and Irene would discuss their plan of how Bulgaria would be annexed to their empire. The sons of Charlemagne meanwhile would be the ones setting the trap for the Bulgars and Nikephoros at the pass using one side of it while the Byzantine forces of Aetios and Bardanes would ambush the Bulgars and their Byzantine allies from the other side.

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Carolingian knight, 9th century

The combined forces of the Byzantines and Franks here would number up to 70,000 with the majority being Byzantines and here at the mountains pass, the combined forces would easily overwhelm the forces of Nikephoros and Krum that their general Leo the Armenian would be killed here in the ambush, though Irene’s general Bardanes Tourkos in this story would get killed as well by the arrows and javelins of the Bulgars while leading a cavalry charge down the mountain pass. Like in real history, this battle would also take place on July 26 of 811, except here it would be in favor of the Byzantines and Franks as in real history, the Byzantines were caught by surprise and decimated in a single day and even Emperor Nikephoros I did not survive the battle, although his son and co-emperor Staurakios fled badly injured. In this story however, the Bulgars and Nikephoros’ forces would be outnumbered and surrounded by the Byzantines and Franks though both Krum and Nikephoros would try to escape the pass using the opposite ends but before getting out, they would both be stabbed to death by spears, Nikephoros by the Byzantines and Krum by the Franks. The remaining Bulgars and Byzantines of Nikephoros would then surrender and be sent to Charlemagne’s western half of the empire as slaves while both Krum and Nikephoros would be decapitated and their skulls later made into drinking cups. Now back in real history, after Nikephoros was killed in this battle at the age of 61, his severed head was given to Krum who made it into his drinking cup which here was a Bulgarian tradition that the defeated enemy ruler’s skull was to be made their khan’s drinking cup. Here however, Charlemagne had learned of this Bulgarian custom and chose to adopt it and since his troops killed Krum, Krum’s skull would be used as his drinking cup and since the Byzantines killed Nikephoros, his skull would be made into Irene’s drinking cup.

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Staurakios, Byzantine emperor in reality (r. 811), son of Nikephoros I

Back in real history, Nikephoros’ son Staurakios who was 33 here immediately succeeded his father as emperor and carried off to Adrianople which was the nearest city to the pass, although from the battle, his spinal cord was severely injured that it caused him to be paralyzed, therefore he could not properly rule as emperor that his advisors had to suggest that he had to abdicate which he finally did on October 2 of 811 passing the throne to his brother-in-law Michael I Rangabe who was married to Nikephoros’ daughter Prokopia, while Staurakios would retire to a monastery dying in January of 812 from his injuries. On the other hand, Nikephoros’ son Staurakios in real history had been married to Irene’s cousin Theophano since 807 and with Staurakios injured in 811, he even suggested that Theophano succeed him as sole empress the way her cousin Irene ruled, but this plan failed at the end and Michael I succeeded him and with the Bulgars victorious, they were still left as a major threat by 812. Here in this story though, both Staurakios and Michael Rangabe would live a quiet life the whole time while Nikephoros was challenging Irene but following Nikephoros’ death here, Irene would uncover the locations of both Nikephoros’ son Staurakios and son-in-law Michael, hunt them down, and have them blinded and sent to the Princes’ Islands as well to prevent another power struggle, while at the same time she would also have Krum’s son Omurtag who in real history would succeed his father in 814 blinded too, and the entire Bulgarian Empire too would be annexed into Irene and Charlemagne’s empire. Now, the Battle of Pliska in 811 wherein Nikephoros I in real history was killed was a major disaster for the Byzantines that would again prolong their dark ages and because of this, the Byzantines would continue suffering defeats to the Bulgars for the next few years, and this too would with Nikephoros I’s death would be the first time an emperor would die in battle against a foreign enemy ever since the death of Valens (r. 364-378) in the Battle of Adrianople in 378 by the Goths. In this story however, the Byzantine-Frankish victory here would be the first major success of their united empire, therefore showing that the union of both empires was a successful one as it led to a major victory and the annexation of the entire Bulgarian state, which would fall under Irene’s eastern half.

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Pliska, capital of the Bulgarian Empire, attacked in 811
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Byzantine forces defeated by the Bulgars at the Battle of Pliska in 811, in real history
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Khan Krum uses Emperor Nikephoros I’s skull as his drinking cup, in real history

Watch this to learn more about the Byzantines’ defeat to the Bulgars at the Battle of Pliska, 811 (Kings and Generals).


Aftermath and Conclusion        

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In this story, after the first victory of the united forces of the Franks and Byzantines over the Bulgars in 811, the entire Bulgarian state in the Balkans would be annexed to the eastern half of the Frankish-Roman Empire under Irene, and thus wiped off the map, and with this victory too, the Byzantine treasury would be filled up with all the spoils of war, thus Irene’s empire would be far from being bankrupt like how it was before she married Charlemagne. Now one of the other main advantages of Charlemagne marrying Irene and uniting their empires together was in making Byzantium rich again as before Irene’s marriage to Charlemagne back in 802 in this story, the Byzantine state was almost bankrupt while Charlemagne’s Carolingian Empire was much larger and richer, and now with both empires united, they would share each other’s incomes. On the other hand with both empires united, Charlemagne would agree to settle some people in his part of the empire including Franks, Saxons, Lombards, and Avars into the depopulated eastern half of Irene and learning the strategy that Byzantine emperors of the past used in resettling people in the empire, Charlemagne would do the same in scattering his people in different parts of the eastern half and let them assimilate with the local population there whether Greek, Bulgar, Slavic, Armenian, or Syriac as a way to prevent unity among a single race which would later cause them to rebel. The local people in the eastern half such as the Greeks in Greece and Asia Minor, the Armenians in the east, or Slavs and Bulgars in the newly annexed Balkans would at first disapprove of Germanic people being forced to live side-by-side with them that would in fact cause some conflicts between them, although in time these Germanic people settled in the eastern half would learn to assimilate, adopt Byzantine practices, learn Greek, even convert to Byzantine Orthodoxy, and intermarry with the locals. On the other hand, Charlemagne would also resettle the Byzantine locals in the eastern half into his western half also to balance the population there, but more importantly the Byzantine people Charlemagne would settle in his half especially in Aachen would be Byzantine scholars, scientists, and artists in order to further make Aachen as impressive of an imperial capital the way Constantinople was. Now back to the empire’s succession issue, like in real history Charlemagne’s eldest son Charles the Younger would die in December of 811 in Bavaria from a stroke at 39, here in this story after returning by land from the campaign in Bulgaria, therefore leaving the youngest son Louis as the only one left to succeed his father who here had returned back to Aachen later on in 811 though sometime before his son Charles died.

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Louis I, Frankish emperor (r. 813-840), son of Charlemagne

Louis in this story’s would have stayed behind in Constantinople with Irene as here he was now made his father’s co-emperor and assigned to the eastern half, and here in this story in early 812, Irene would have her younger and still single cousin Theophano marry Louis only to secure Louis’ claim on the eastern empire as Louis though had already been married before to Ermengarde of Hesbaye and already had 3 sons with her. In real history though, Ermengarde was still alive by 812 and would only die in 818, but in this story’s case just for the sake of conveniency, Ermengarde would have already died in 812 when Louis married Theophano, who in real history in 812 had already retired together with her late husband the 2-month emperor Staurakios. Irene then in this story’s case would not have much longer to live and later on in 812 she would die in Constantinople at the age of 60 from a heart attack but at least satisfied knowing that she was able to settle the complicated succession herself, and before she stopped breathing on her bed, Justinian I’s ghost would appear one more time telling her she had done her part in running the empire well and then Justinian’s ghost would vanish right when Irene stopped breathing. As a Byzantine ruler, Irene here would be buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople right next to her son Constantine VI and first husband Leo IV and both Louis and Theophano would oversee her funeral, although Charlemagne being too old to travel himself would not attend, instead he would order that the whole city of Aachen should mourn their co-ruler’s death too.

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Old Charlemagne, before his death in 814

Louis meanwhile in 813 would return to Aachen alone just to be fully recognized by his father as his co-emperor like in real history, and again like in real history Charlemagne would die on January of 814 in Aachen at 71 leaving Louis to inherit the entire unite empire, both east and west except for Northern Italy, which was still under his nephew Bernard as its king, who eventually would die in 818 like in real history. Now with Louis as the sole empire of a global empire from the North Sea to Asia Minor, he would not be able to completely rule it alone, so he would make his wife Theophano rule the east from Constantinople and him ruling the west from Aachen, thus Theophano would be the second female ruler of Byzantium after her cousin Irene, and here begins the rule of the Carolingian-Sarantapechos Dyansty over the Roman-Frankish Super-Empire. The Byzantine-Frankish conquests here would resume and under Louis, the western Frankish armies would succeed more in conquering more lands in Spain from the Arab Umayyad Emirate and more lands in the north as well taking over some of Denmark and in the northeast going as far as parts of Poland conquering it from the Slavs. In the east meanwhile, the combined armies of the Byzantines and Franks would soon enough recover all of Asia Minor and Armenia which was lost to the Arabs and at the same time, more of the Balkans would be annexed to the eastern half to give in more land access from the east to west, and as the end result, the united empire would be much larger except some lands within the empire would remain independent such as the Papal States where Rome was as it was agreed that the pope should retain his autonomy over these lands, while the small Republic of Venice in Northeast Italy would still be independent although a vassal and large naval partner of the united Frankish-Roman Empire, the way Brittany was and would always be.

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Bust of Charlemagne in Aachen, containing his relics

As for Louis, like in real history, here he would also be a devout Catholic Christian thus known as “Louis the Pious”, therefore never wanting to convert to Orthodoxy although he would respect it that the eastern half was to remain Orthodox as part of the agreement between Charlemagne and Irene, while he too would respect that his wife Theophano would remain Orthodox. Louis too like in real history here would be also paranoid and would purge his family members which were his father’s illegitimate children- his half-siblings- that he saw as a threat, although here like in real history, Louis already had 3 sons from his first wife which were Lothair, Pepin, and Louis II and in 815, Louis like in real history had already made his son Lothair govern Bavaria and Pepin govern Aquitaine, then in 817 like in real history too, Louis would proclaim his eldest son Lothair his co-emperor while at the same time making Pepin King of Aquitaine, and Louis II better known as “Louis the German” as King of Bavaria. In real history, the Frankish emperor Louis I’s wife Ermengarde had died in 818, therefore Louis married again to Judith of Bavaria in 819, although here this would not happen as he was already married to Theophano who was his co-ruler ruling the eastern half, and like in real history in 823 when Louis had a son with Judith named Charles, named after his grandfather, instead here Charles would also be born in 823 except in Constantinople being Louis’ son with Theophano who despite being already in her late 40s would still be able to give birth, and Charles here would be named as the heir to the eastern empire, thus continuing the Carolingian rule over Byzantium. Now in the 820s, the Byzantines in real history would experience major losses of territory to the Arabs, first being Crete which in 824 fell to exiled Arabs from the Umayyad Emirate of Spain and in 827, the new Arab Dynasty from North Africa known as the Aghlabids would begin their conquest of Byzantine Sicily. In this story however, with the Byzantines being a now stronger force with their Frankish allies combined would resist the Arab attacks in Crete and Sicily, and not only would their armies halt the Arab attacks there, they would also launch attacks into North Africa, thus the land where the old city of Carthage was (Tunisia), would be annexed to the empire’s western (Frankish) half too, and the Aghlabid state in North Africa would soon be wiped off the map as well and annexed to the Frankish half of the empire. In the east meanwhile, the Byzantine forces in the 830s and 840s would continue their campaigns against the Arab Abbasid Caliphate in the east and now no longer fighting on the defensive position like before, but instead on the offensive, though to be realistic, the Byzantines no matter how powerful they now are here with the combined forces of the Franks would not entirely destroy the Abbasid Caliphate, instead only the Levant (Syria and Palestine) would return to Byzantine hands, though with their losses the Abbasids would have to campaign elsewhere, therefore having to expand east into India and Central Asia instead of west into Byzantium.

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Lothair I, Frankish emperor (r. 817-855), son of Louis I

Now fast-forward to 840, and here Louis like in real history would die at around 62 in what would be in Germany in the western half of the empire and here his eldest son Lothair I succeeded him as the Frankish emperor, but in this story’s case with Byzantium as part of their empire with them, Charles II who was Louis’ son with Theophano would immediately succeed as the ruler of the eastern half with Lothair as the western half’s ruler as here like in real history, Louis’ middle son Pepin had already died in 838, though Louis II was still alive. In reality, Lothair I in 843 split the Frankish Empire with his 2 other surviving brothers Louis II and Charles II with the Treaty of Verdun thus splitting Charlemagne’s Frankish Empire into 3 leaving Lothair ruling the middle part known as Middle Frankia as its king based in Aachen, while Louis II had East Frankia which would be Germany, and Charles II left with West Frankia which would later be France. In 855, with Lothair’s death, the realm would further be split among his 3 sons with the Treaty of Prum thus creating the Kingdom of Lotharingia based in Aachen which would be under his son Lothair II while Lothair I’s other son Louis would inherit Italy as his kingdom, and Lothair I’s other son Charles would inherit Provence which would be his kingdom, thus Charlemagne’s Frankish Empire had been split into 5 parts as Lothair I’s other brothers Louis II ruling East Frankia and Charles II ruling West Frankia were still alive.

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Charles II the Bald, King of West Frankia (r. 843-877), son of Louis I; Eastern Roman emperor and son of Louis I and Theophano in this story

In this story however, in 843 Lothair I would only split his realm in half with him ruling West and Middle Frankia from Aachen and his brother Louis II ruling East Frankia as their younger half-brother Charles II had already become the eastern emperor in Constantinople. Now the rest of the story for the Frankish Empire gets confusing after 855, so instead this story would end before 855 with the united Frankish-Roman Empire under Lothair I, Louis II, and Charles II, and here let’s just say that the situation would not be that the Byzantine Empire entirely became absorbed to the Frankish Empire both politically and culturally, rather both cultures would eventually fuse with each other, though it would be quite too difficult to explain it all here, so instead this story will just end in a rather happy but confusing way. What would happen as well is that the Franks in the west would soon enough face the growing raids of the Vikings or Norsemen in the north who were in search of land to settle and farm in escaping their cold and inhospitable lands in Scandinavia therefore making raids into Europe whereas they would arrive and settle into what is now Russia forming what would be the Kievan Rus’ Empire in 862 which would later pose a threat to Byzantium. The big question here though is that will the united Frankish-Roman Empire survive in the next decades given the confusing situation of the succession system especially with the successors always having to divide their lands among each other, and this story will no longer go there so it is best that you as viewers should decide how this story will go in the next half of the 9th century.         

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Invasion of Byzantine Crete by the exiled Arabs from Spain, 824 in real history
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Invasion of Sicily by the Aghlabid Arabs of North Africa, 827 in real history
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Treaty of Verdun- division of Charlemagne’s Frankish Empire into 3 parts: East (green), Middle (purple), and West (orange) Frankia; 843 in real history
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Further division of the Frankish Empire into 5 parts with the Treaty of Prum, 855 in real history

Watch this to learn more about the dissolution of Charlemagne’s Empire (Kings and Generals).

Now in the Byzantine Empire in real history, following their defeat to the Bulgars in 811 and the abdication of Nikephoros I’s son Staurakios, Michael I Rangabe who was Nikephoros I’s son-in-law inherited the empire but had turned out to be a weak ruler especially when the empire was in great danger with Krum still on the offensive against them. Michael I though acknowledged Charlemagne as emperor, though only as the Greek “Basileus” and not as “Roman emperor” but Michael I’s biggest problem was the Bulgars which he saw that the only solution was to fight on the offensive against Krum which he did, although Michael I was hesitant about it. The Byzantine forces and the Bulgars eventually clashed at the Battle of Versinikia in 813 wherein the army of the Anatolic Theme under the same Leo the Armenian in this story having no loyalty in Michael I deserted leaving Krum to be victorious again.

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Emperor Michael I Rangabe, Byzantine emperor in real history (r. 811-813), art by Melissinos Arts

Michael I later in 813 decided to abdicate which everyone agreed to as no one saw him as a fit ruler anyway, therefore he passed the throne to the general Leo the Armenian and retired to become a monk in which he would live the rest of his life as all the way till his death in 844. Though Leo V the Armenian was the new emperor, Krum had already gone as far as the walls of Constantinople thus ravaging the Thracian countryside, and wanting to put an end to Krum’s terrorizing of Thrace, Leo V attempted to have Krum assassinated except Krum escaped it and out of revenge continued massacring the Byzantine people in Thrace. Leo V however struck back by invading Bulgar lands and carrying out massacres on the Bulgars, and just before Krum could launch another attack on Constantinople again, he suffered a stroke and died leaving the Bulgar state to his son Omurtag who then decided to end the conflict with the Byzantines as he feared Leo V would make an alliance with Charlemagne’s son Louis who just succeeded his father in 814.

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Emperor Leo V the Armenian, Byzantine emperor in real history (r. 813-820)

Leo V now as an Iconoclast had blamed all their defeats to the Bulgars on the restoration of icons by Irene, and so in 815 Leo V after firing the Iconodule patriarch Nikephoros I and appointing new Iconoclast scholars to be in charge of the Church, he once again resumed Iconoclasm also as a way to please his supporters who were the now old veteran soldiers still loyal to the late Constantine V. Leo V’s Iconoclast policies though were not as extreme as his predecessors Leo III and Constantine V as here Iconodules were no longer persecuted and monasteries were no longer raided for icons, instead the new order was that icons were only to not be displayed in public. Leo V had turned out to rule successfully except that in 820, he fell out with his friend and general Michael the Amorian who Leo though was having an affair with his wife, and so Leo punished Michael by imprisoning him in the furnace of the palace and tied to a large ape to see whether Michael would die from dehydration or be hacked to death by the ape, although the execution was delayed as it was Christmas giving Michael enough time to have his conspirators dress up as choir members who then stabbed Leo V to death at the Christmas Eve Mass in the Hagia Sophia leaving no heir to succeed him.

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Michael II the Amorian, Byzantine emperor in real history (r. 820-829)

The next day, Michael was dragged out of the furnace and immediately crowned with the chains still on his feet to prevent a succession crisis, and here begins the age of stability for the Byzantine Empire under the Amorian Dynasty under Michael II. However, Michael II too was an Iconoclast, though not an extreme one and since his first wife died, Michael II married the same Euphrosyne who was the daughter of Constantine VI and granddaughter of Irene, as a way to legitimize himself as emperor as Michael II only began out as a common soldier. Michael II in this reign although faced many difficulties such as the rebellion of the general Thomas the Slav which led to a civil war as Thomas proclaimed himself emperor even claiming to be Constantine VI though not knowing Constantine VI had been blinded by Irene and had died in 805, and this civil war would go on for 2 years (821-823) resulting in Thomas defeated and executed in 823. Though Michael II won the civil war, his army was weakened thus unable to stop the exiled Arabs from Spain from taking over Crete in 824 which then led to the creation of the Emirate of Crete as mentioned earlier, and in 827 the Aghlabid Arabs of North Africa began their conquest of Sicily. Michael II then died in 829 at least leaving Byzantium more stable than it was when Leo V came to power in 813, and here Michael II at least established a dynasty being succeeded by his son Theophilos, who too was an Iconoclast.

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Emperor Theophilos, Byzantine emperor in real history (r. 829-842), son of Michael II

Theophilos now as emperor spent his entire reign in war against the Arab Abbasid Caliphate in the east and again with the Bulgars in the north in which he had mixed results, though in his reign, the Byzantine army and empire itself was much more stable again. One of Theophilos’ great achievements was the creation of the Beacons System which was made up of several torches built across Asia Minor from the Taurus Mountains to Constantinople to send signals in case an Arab army was attacking, therefore a Theme’s army could easily come to reinforce the other Theme under attack. Theophilos suddenly died in 842 with his son Michael III (r. 842-867) who being only a year old when becoming emperor was under the regency of his mother Theodora, the wife of Theophilos who like Irene was also a major supporter of icons. Here history would repeat itself as just how Irene held a council in 787 to put an end to Iconoclasm when being the regent for her young son Constantine VI, Theodora here as the regent of her young son Michael III held a Church Council in Constantinople in 843 that finally put an end to Iconoclasm for good. Although Theodora did not depose Michael III the way Irene did to Constantine VI in 797, instead Michael III in 857 when grown up got rid of his mother’s regency and ruled alone, and although he was an irresponsible ruler, he at least had good administrators running the empire for him.

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End of Iconoclasm in Byzantium under Michael III and his mother Empress-Regent Theodora, 843

It was in Michael III’s reign, following the end of Iconoclasm wherein Byzantine art and culture would have a Renaissance as after all these years wherein art became plain and simple, here it was revived to more extravagant levels to make up for the years it was lost under the Iconoclasts. Here in Michael III’s reign as well would begin the conversion of the Slavs north of the Byzantines in Eastern Europe into Orthodox Christianity by two Byzantine missionaries St. Cyril (originally Constantine) and St. Methodius beginning 863, and in 864 the Bulgarian ruler Boris I, being an ally of the Byzantines would be baptized as a Christian, thus converting the Bulgarian Empire to Orthodox Christianity as well. Now in the second half of the 9th century, Europe would have 3 major empires which was the Frankish Empire, Bulgarian Empire, and Byzantine Empire which here had come out of the Dark Ages and steadily enter its second Golden Age.         

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Byzantines defeated by the Bulgars at the Battle of Versinikia from the Manases Chronicle, 813 in real history
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Assassination of Emperor Leo V, 820 in real history
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Rebellion of Thomas the Slav and civil war from the Madrid Skylitzes, 821-823 in real history
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Map of the Byzantine beacons built across Asia Minor by Theophilos
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Byzantine in the 2nd half of the 9th century (yellow)

Watch this to learn more about the Battle of Versinikia, 813 (Kings and Generals).

Our story will now end here with the closing of the dystopian like Byzantine Dark Ages which had seen Byzantium be under constant attacks for 2 full centuries by the Arabs coming from the south and east and then from the Bulgars in the north, a pointless war against religious icons that was thought to save the empire but at the end only made things worse especially in their relations Western Europe, and of course the humiliation of their empire’s pride as at one point in the 6th century, they were the master of the Mediterranean and then came the 7th century when in an instant, the Byzantines lost more than half of their empire to the Arabs coming out of nowhere. At first, Byzantium in the 7th century beginning with the reign of Constans II (641-668) thought that they could still one day reverse their defeats and gain back their lands but then came 2 sieges of Constantinople by the Arabs, first from 674-678 and again from 717-718 and from here onwards things would change. From the 7th century onwards to the 9th, the Byzantines were then forced to fight on the defensive against the Arabs that by the 8th century it became the new world order for the Byzantine Empire that they existed to fight on the defensive even when winning victories. Now at the beginning of the 9th century where this story took place, the Byzantine Empire despite having been stabilized was weak economically and politically and having a woman as a ruler which was Irene was a big question for them especially since she was not even part of the dynasty but had only married into it. Now, I would see that Irene had considered Charlemagne for various reasons especially since he had a much a larger and younger empire which was much wealthier with a larger army than Irene’s Byzantium and this could be as I said in the introduction of this story the magic pill that could save the deteriorating Byzantine Empire. Now the marriage between Irene and Charlemagne could have benefited both empires a lot, though it would benefit Byzantium more as it could save it economically and in helping them reverse all their setbacks while for Charlemagne’s Frankish Empire, uniting with Byzantium would make them more cultured not only in art but in governing. However, the union between both empires had a lot of down sides as well, as for one it could ruin the proud identity of the Byzantines as Orthodox Christians as the empire of Charlemagne being Catholic and under the guidance of the pope would have to be the official religion of the empire as Charlemagne’s half was the more powerful one, thus this would not be received well by the proud Orthodox Byzantines, although since the religious icons had been restored under Irene, the relationship between Eastern and Western Churches would be much friendlier which is what I chose as the outcome of the marriage between Irene and Charlemagne in this story. Another down side with their marriage is that things will only become confusing especially in the governing system of the empire as this could mean that the western Frankish half would have to adopt the Theme System or that Irene’s half would have to adopt the Frankish governing system, and even more confusing would be the cultural impact on the people of the united halves as this union could either mean that the Byzantines would have to integrate into the Germanic culture and customs of the Franks or vice-versa, therefore I could not decide how this union would fully turn out, so I chose not go any further anymore beyond the mid 9th century. Now overall, I would say that the marriage between Charlemagne and Irene was not so much a magic pill that could turn all the setbacks for the Byzantines around, though in the short-term it could as the Byzantines were threatened by the Bulgars in the north and having a union with the massive Frankish Empire could definitely help the Byzantines crush the immediate threat of Krum’s Bulgarian Empire but in the long term, the union will not be very much that magic pill as for one obviously, the Byzantines and the Franks were from two different worlds as the Byzantines despite being the older and weaker empire was the more sophisticated and cultured one while the Franks were a new barbarian empire that had just learned to adapt to the sophisticated culture of the Greeks and Romans, therefore it would actually be hard to see them act as one empire except if they had a common enemy. Now for me, it was overall quite a difficult job in creating this story especially with the outcome of Irene and Charlemagne’s supposed marriage and writing about it, especially since the situation that would soon enough follow this crucial event was certainly something very confusing especially on how both halves of the united empire would be run especially given the confusing tradition of the Franks when it came to inheritance and diving their realm among their successors, and because of this I would see that this union would not really work out well and would not last a full century, therefore sometime after 855, the united empire would disintegrate leaving the east independent, though still under the rule of the Carolingians. On the other hand, I am also not very knowledgeable about the Franks and their history, society, and culture the way I am with Byzantium but when writing this, it also made be somewhat interested in the story of the Franks too. On the other hand, this what if scenario of Charlemagne and Irene marrying is a very popular one in Byzantine Alternate History and when writing this story, it was fun especially in the more insider situations and stories such as Irene and her personal life especially in her personality and how she dresses, as well as in portraying Charlemagne in a different light as rather than showing him here as the legendary “Father of Europe”, it was quite fun to show a more human side to him as a tired old man, and of course writing certain events like the grand imperial wedding and this fictional plot hatched in it of the exploding grenade. This story too despite being a bit too confusing was also something rather experimental in blending genres together as it included Byzantine politics and religious debates, the extravagance of the Byzantine court, medieval politics and wars, and family drama all mixed up with some comedy, romance, action, suspense, treachery, and a bit of a dystopian feeling. Another thing I enjoyed most in writing this story was putting more attention on Irene rather than the more famous Charlemagne as I would say Irene is overall an underrated historical figure who is somewhat fun to play around with when writing a fan fiction as she had a very complex personality, was beautiful with a perfect body, was courageous and decisive, ruthless but still caring, intelligent and sophisticated, though not very skilled in running an empire and securing loyalty, therefore she was far from perfect which makes her an even more interesting character to build a story on which I just did here, and I should definitely thank my friend Justinianus for building up Irene’s character more in this story and adding a bit of some entertaining twists such as the return of Justinian the Great from chapter III here as a ghost. Now as the centuries would go by, Charlemagne would be forever remembered as one of the greatest figures of medieval Europe that actually managed to unite almost all of Europe into one empire that ambitious and ruthless leaders later on like Napoleon Bonaparte in the 19th century and Adolf Hitler in the 20th century would follow the example of Charlemagne in putting Europe into one empire, but little did these future leaders know Charlemagne would have actually succeeded more in making a complete European superpower if he was to marry Irene and absorb the Byzantine Empire. Of course, this marriage never happened and the empires never united, but not so long after Charlemagne died in 814, his empire never really lasted as a unified one but rather an empire divided among his successors, but for this reason in the empire being divided, this would soon enough lead to the foundation of the medieval Kingdom of France and in 962 the actual Holy Roman Empire beginning with Otto I the first Holy Roman emperor, thus laying the foundations for Germany. As for Byzantium in reality, this marriage would later turn out to be something not so necessary as in the next half of the 9th century, after Iconoclasm would be finished off for good, the Byzantine Empire would get over its Dark Ages and enter a new age of a Renaissance in art, culture, and military power that the whole standard of living for the Byzantines of living in fear seeing the end of their empire was imminent would be no more, instead the Byzantines by the end of the 9th century would finally turn the tide of war against the Arabs to the offensive.

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Icon of Empress St. Irene of Athens

Now Irene would then have the legacy of being Byzantium’s first female ruler making that a possibility and more importantly for putting an end to the controversy of Iconoclasm which would indirectly lay the foundations for the empire’s new Golden Age, and for this reason no matter how flawed Irene was, she would become a saint in the Greek Orthodox Church. Of course, the Byzantines despite coming out of its Dark Ages would still go through some hard times which includes their Cold War situation with the west still continuing but by the end of the 9th century, Byzantium would be one of the 3 most powerful empires in Europe next to the Carolingian Frankish Empire and Bulgarian Empire. The Byzantine Golden Age wherein all its setbacks and humiliations for the past 3 centuries would be reversed would be another chapter in the 1,100-year history of Byzantium and therefore a story for another time. The next chapter of this Byzantine Alternate History series will explore the rise and peak of the Byzantine Golden Age from the late 9th to early 10th centuries followed by the glorious 10th century of Byzantium under the powerful military and palace emperors of the Macedonian Dynasty all put in one story but with only one significant historical of this period eliminated to see how history would turn out to be, without this one person. Well, this is all for chapter VI of Byzantine Alternate History- the midpoint of this series and therefore a very special alternate history story in this series- this is Powee Celdran, the Byzantine Time Traveller… thank you for your time!                    

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!

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

Posted by Powee Celdran

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

WARNING: THIS IS A VERY LONG ARTICLE BUT ENJOY!! 

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So, welcome back to another article by the Byzantium Blogger! It’s been quite a while since I last posted something, so here’s something again. Previously over the past months I have done articles that involve both Ancient Roman and Byzantine societies followed by an extremely long one on No Budget Films’ most recent 13th century Byzantine Lego epic War of the Sicilian Vespers, but now here’s another one I’ve always wanted to write about and again it will be focusing on the 1,100 year history of the Byzantine Empire covering all its 12 centuries but unlike another one I wrote a long time ago which mainly focused on the events happening within the Byzantine Empire, this will focus on both the events within the empire but put side-by-side with what was happening around the rest of the world while Byzantium was existing. However since it would be too long to cover all 12 centuries in one article, it will be a 2-part series wherein this one as the first part will cover Byzantine history from its beginnings in the 4th century ending in the year 1000 while next part will go on from 1000 to the end of the Byzantine Empire in 1453 and the events after. This article will be divided in two sections per century, the first section discussing what is  going on in Byzantium and the next one on what is happening in different places around the world, but of course this article would only focus on the key events in these centuries as it would go on forever to talk about what happened each year but will still come to highlight not just important events but some interesting trivia like inventions and discoveries happening between the 4th and 15th centuries around the world. In this article, the final division of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires in 395 then from the 5th century onwards, the Eastern Roman Empire which is Byzantium would be on its own paragraph while the western part of the Roman Empire which would be dissolved in 476 would be in the other paragraph with the events happening all over the world and speaking of events all over the world, this article will talk about what was going on in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, China, India, the rest of Asia, and even in the Americas all while the Byzantine Empire was existing for 1,100 years. Also take not here that the part on the 5th century will be divided in 3 sections with one on Byzantium or the Eastern Roman Empire, the next on the Western Roman Empire and Western Europe, and the last on the rest of the world. This article as you read it would be your chance to travel around the world over the centuries with Byzantium as your base where you would from there in each century travel around the world by knowing what is happening in each part of the world, what powers are rising and falling, and what new inventions are being made. In this article, such key events that will be brought up here would include the same turning points in Byzantine history over the 7 centuries but other bigger events around the world like the expansion of the Arabs in 7th century, the rise of the kingdoms in Europe together with the Holy Roman Empire, and changes of dynasties in China. Now when reading this please forgive me if I’m getting some facts wrong since the happenings around the world from the 4th to 11th centuries outside Byzantium is some new information to me in which I had mostly discovered when writing this article which especially includes dates of the formations and declines of various empires and kingdoms around the world. This article though will not go all the way back to Rome’s founding in 753BC, or to the time of the Roman Republic or imperial age known as the Principate, rather its main focus would be more on the story of the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium which begins in the 4th century and this article will be starting around the year 300AD with the exception of events before that such as the transformation of the Roman Empire into the Tetrarchy which laid the foundations for Byzantium while this article will end in the year 1000 when the Byzantium turns again into a powerful force and the rest of Europe too becomes stronger entering the High Middle Ages right before the age of the Crusades. Of course, this article too will not forget to mention the names of all the Byzantine emperors through the centuries to show also who was ruling Byzantium while such events were happening around the world. It is plain and simple that in the 1,100 years the Byzantine Empire existed, several others kingdoms and empire rose and fell; Byzantium then had seen its western half disappear in 476 following with the rise of kingdoms in Europe including England, France, and the Holy Roman Empire, the rise and expansion of the Arabs from the 7th century onwards, the rise and fall of their neighboring Bulgarian Empire twice (7th-11th and 12th-14th centuries), the beginning and end of the Crusades, the rise and fall of the massive Mongol Empire, as well as the rise and fall of the Seljuks, and also several changes of dynasties in China, the whole Viking age, the slow rise of Russia, and the unexpected rise of the Ottomans all while Byzantium within itself saw 15 changes of dynasties, civil wars, political reforms, and countless enemies threatening its borders. To put it short, the Byzantine Empire lived from the time of the Roman Empire all the way to the start of the Renaissance, meaning Byzantium survived the entire Middle Ages though not very steadily as Byzantium went though many ups and downs throughout the centuries but despite its civil, military, and cultural changes, Byzantium still stayed the same empire with one emperor under one God even if several break-away Byzantine Empires happened and by being one empire, Byzantium despite becoming very different from Ancient Rome culturally and especially in language from going from Latin to Greek and after a time not having Rome, it still stayed the “Roman Empire” or Romania in name and all its emperors still being Roman emperors, but while all of Europe was transforming over the centuries of the Middle Ages, Byzantium would remain the advanced and sophisticated empire of the Middle Ages as the remnant of Imperial Rome before them, although in Byzantium’s last years it was obviously no longer a powerful world empire but a regional power as the west had already surpassed Byzantium in power and influence, although Byzantium despite having grown weak with age would still be the powerful empire symbolically as its capital was Constantinople which was for a long time known as the “Queen of Cities” and one of the most advanced cities of the Middle Ages. Now this article would not really go so deep to analyze the turn of events throughout the centuries, but instead will try to focus more on facts, dates, and key events to keep it simple, but obviously this will be a very long article since Byzantium’s existence surpassed a thousand years.

Now for all of you reading, please do also like and follow The History of Byzantium and listen to their podcasts as this article I’m doing is something similar to it. Also like their Facebook page.

Credits to AMELIANVS for some of the art.

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Map of the Roman Empire at its height, 117AD

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The Byzantine Empire extent in 3 different eras

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Constantinople, the “Capital of the World”

Related articles from The Byzantium Blogger:

12 Turning Points in Byzantine History

The Complete Genealogy of the Byzantine emperors and dynasties

Foreign Lands and People According to the Byzantines Part1

Foreign Lands and People According to the Byzantines Part2

Constantinople: The Queen of Cities and its Byzantine Secrets

The Ravenna Mosaics and What to Expect

The Byzantine Emperors

Byzantine Science and Technology

The Art of War in the Byzantine World

A Guide to the Byzantine Empire’s Themes

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

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

Byzantine Imperial Personalities Part1

Byzantine Imperial Personalities Part2

Natural Disasters in Byzantine History

Ethnic Origins of the Byzantine emperors

The Sieges of Constantinople

The Story of 3 Plagues across centuries

Roman and Byzantine Imperial Systems Compared

Roman and Byzantine Imperial Cultures Compared

Imperial Women in the Roman and Byzantine Empires

Related Videos:

Rulers of Europe every year, 400BC-2017 (from Cottereau)

History of the Byzantine Empire Part1 (from Fire of Learning).

History of the Byzantine Empire Part2 (from Fire of Learning).

History of the World every year (from Ollie Bye).

The 4th Century

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In Byzantium (Roman Empire):

Before beginning, historians of the Roman Empire do not really mean only the 300s AD when referring to the 4th century, rather they use the term “Long 4th Century” which begins with the accession of Diocletian as Roman emperor in 284 and end in in the year 450, though here in this article, the 4th century would instead go from 300-399. So basically, before the 4th century began, the Roman Empire faced the turbulent times of the Crisis of the 3rd century (235-284) which saw the Roman Empire have a succession crisis with several change of emperor usually every other year, foreign invasions north by barbarians and east by the new Sassanid Persian Empire, several plagues, economic crisis, and an empire broken apart with 2 break-away states (260-274), though the crisis would be resolved with the emperor Aurelian (r. 270-275) reuniting the empire, the emperor Probus (r. 276-282) securing all its borders, and in 284 the army officer Diocles being proclaimed Emperor Diocletian who would transform the imperial system from the Principate to the Dominate with the emperor now having more divine authority, though Diocletian also began power sharing to make the empire easier in order to avoid usurpers which was the problem of the 3rd century so in 286 the Roman Empire was split east and west with Diocletian in control of the east from Nicomedia and Maximian in control of the west based in Milan forming the Diarchy which would then evolve into the Tetrarchy in 293 with the empire now split into 4 parts with Diocletian as the senior emperor or Augustus of the east with Galerius as his junior emperor or Caesar while Maximian would be the western Augustus and Constantius I his Caesar, and all 4 rulers would have their own provinces to govern with their own capitals whereas the Caesar Galerius ruled from Sirmium and Constantius I from Trier and Rome at this point no longer the imperial capital and in the year 300 this was the situation with the Roman Empire, and a quick mention in the year 301 the Christian monk St. Marinus from Dalmatia heads across the Adriatic and founds a monastery in Italy in what would be the country of San Marino today. In the year 303, Diocletian as Eastern Augustus and Galerius as Eastern Caesar begin the great persecution of the Christians in the Roman Empire while Western Augustus Maximian also follows though Western Caesar Constantius I was instead not active in it rather protecting the Christians. In the next year (304), Diocletian visits Rome for the first time to celebrate 20 years in power but in the next year (305) he announces his abdication and retires to his palace in today’s Split Croatia while Maximian too is forced to retire as Augustus in the west making Galerius the new Eastern Augustus and Constantius I the Augustus in the west with Galerius’ nephew Daia as the new Eastern Caesar and friend Valerius Severus as the Western Caesar, although in 306, Constantius I dies of sickness in Britain while his son Constantine is proclaimed Augustus for a short time by the army until Galerius makes Western Caesar Valerius Severus the new Augustus and Constantine demoted to Caesar. Although the retired former Augustus of the west Maximian in 307 tries to take back power from Valerius Severus executing him and shortly after Maximian’s son Maxentius usurps power in Italy though in 308 this issue is resolved by the retired Diocletian making Maximian retire again, Maxentius not legitimized as emperor and Constantine as western Caesar and Galerius’ friend Licinius as the new Western Augustus though Maximian would still want to return to power but fails as he is executed by Constantine in 310 and in the following year (311) Galerius dies ending the Christian persecution making Daia the new Eastern Augustus with Licinius heading east to challenge him and later that year Diocletian dies seeing his dream of a stable empire fall into chaos. In 312, Constantine as Caesar of the west marches into Rome and defeats the usurper Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge after receiving a vision of the cross in which afterwards Constantine becomes the self-proclaimed Western Augustus then in the following year (313) Licinius defeats Daia and becomes sole Eastern Augustus and together Constantine and Licinius as Western and Eastern Augusti issue the Edit of Milan which would now tolerate all religions particularly allowing Christianity to come out of hiding and be acceptable in Roman society. The peace in the empire though would not come to last as Constantine and Licinius would turn on each other leading into another civil war which Constantine defeated Licinius first in a naval battle in 323 and finally in 324 in Thrace making Constantine I the Great now the sole ruler of the Roman Empire; then in the following year (325) Licinius is executed by Constantine I who then organizes the First Christian Church Council of Nicaea that settles the doctrine of Orthodox/ Catholic Christianity in a meeting of several bishops all over the empire that lasts for months therefore declaring Arianism a heresy, then the following year (326) Constantine orders the death of his wife Fausta by suffocating in a hot bath. Not so long after, on May 11, 330 Constantine I turns the port of Byzantium in Thrace into the Roman Empire’s new capital in which it would be for the next 1,100 years therefore making the port of Byzantium into a metropolis naming it “Constantinople” after himself while at the same time his mother St. Helena recovers the true cross of Christ from Judea dying shortly after; meanwhile the original structure of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the original Hagia Sophia of Constantinople begins construction. In 337, Constantine I the Great is baptized a Christian though by an Arian bishop being the first Roman emperor to do so right before his death which left the empire once again in chaos. Following Constantine I’s death the empire was split among his 3 sons; the eldest Constantine II having the least important western provinces of Britain, Gaul, and Spain while the youngest Constans I having the biggest part including Italy, the Balkans, Greece, and North Africa while the Middle son Constantius II ruling from Constantinople had the east including Egypt though the brothers Constantine II and Constans I fought each other ending with Constantine II dead in 340 and Constans I in charge of the whole west, though in 350 Constans I was usurped by the general Magnentius and killed starting a war against the legitimate emperor Constantius II who defeats Magnentius in 353. Constantius II is then sole emperor but has to constantly fight off the Sassanid Persians in the east making his last surviving male cousin Julian as Caesar of the west in 355 and as Caesar Julian successfully halts a Frankish invasion into Gaul at the Battle of Strasbourg in 357 then is made Augustus by his army in 360 causing Constantius II to be outraged but before facing off Julian in battle, Constantius II dies in 361 naming Julian his successor, therefore Julian becomes the sole ruler of the Roman Empire and as a Pagan tries to return to the Pagan past. Julian however does not rule long enough as in 363 when leading a massive campaign against the Sassanid Persians he is killed at the Battle of Ctesiphon and with the Romans defeated, all their territories gained recently in the east is ceded back to the Persian king of kings Shapur II while the Romans with the commander Jovian elected as their new emperor return to Constantinople, though in 364 Jovian suddenly dies suffocating from sleeping beside a newly painted wall somewhere in Asia Minor making the soldiers proclaim the nearby general Valentinian as their new emperor but right when Valentinian I is made emperor he splits the empire with his younger brother Valens who is given the east while the older Valentinian takes the west to fight off several barbarian Germanic invasions from across the Rhine. With the brothers in charge of the empire, the future does not seem bright as in 365 a massive earthquake causes destruction in Crete, Greece, Egypt, Libya, Cyprus, and Sicily while at the same time Julian’s cousin Procopius usurps power in the east but is defeated and executed by Valens in 366, and in 367 a great conspiracy erupts in Britain in which the disloyal Romans plot to overthrow Roman rule with the help of the native Celts including the Picts of Scotland and Hibernians of Ireland as well as the Germanic Franks and Saxons from across the English Channel but in the next year (368), the western emperor Valentinian I through his general the Roman-Spanish Count Theodosius the Elder crushes the conspiracy and pacifies Britain once more. Valentinian continued his reign in the west fighting against Germanic raids from across the Rhine and Danube while Valens would focus on the problem of the Persian king Shapur II in the east, though after losing his patience in negotiating with the Germanic tribes of the Danube in 375 Valentinian I dies of a stroke caused by his own anger leaving the west to be ruled by his two young sons Gratian and Valentinian II while in the next year (376) Count Theodosius after quelling a Moorish rebellion in North Africa is executed for treason against the new emperors of the west and a new branch of the Goths known as the Visigoths emerge across the Danube borders of the east in the hundreds of thousands trying to seek refuge within Roman borders as their homeland north of the Danube is under attack by the nomadic Huns of Central Asia who have already captured and destroyed the Roman client Bosporan Kingdom in Scythia north of the Black Sea in 370. Rather than invading the east, the Visigoths led by their king Fritigern are let inside Roman borders but prove too hard to feed and manage that the Goths had to sell their children fo dog meat while some Gothic leaders were tricked and executed leading them to turn against the Romans causing the eastern emperor Valens to declare war on the Visigoths leading to his own downfall at the Battle of Adrianople in 378 where Valens is outnumbered, defeated, and killed leaving Constantinople without an emperor and open for an attack, the following year (379) the Persian king Shapur II who had ruled since birth dies. With Valens dead his nephew Gratian ruling the west sends the young Theodosius, son of Count Theodosius to rule the east from Constantinople in 379 and as eastern emperor Theodosius I begins a crusade against Paganism in order to make Nicene Christianity now the official religion of the Roman world at the First Council of Constantinople in 381 in which the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is added as well. In his reign, Theodosius I settles the Visigoth issue by making peace with Fritigern and integrating them in the Roman army as the Federated troops or Foederati in exchange for land to settle in and in such a short time these barbarians in the Roman army would rise up to powerful positions like generals; at the same time the western emperor Gratian is assassinated in 383 by the usurper in Britain Magnus Maximus leaving the west to his younger brother Valentinian II while Theodosius I defeats Magnus Maximus in Italy in 388, then in 390, the people of Thessalonica rebel against the Goth army in the city killing making Theodosius I punish the people by having a Gothic horde attack the city and kill them making him guilty which the bishop of Milan St. Ambrose has Theodosius begin to make decrees banning Paganism and destroying temples. In 392 Valentinian II is found mysteriously dead as his Frankish general Arbogast had chosen a new emperor for the west named Eugenius and in 394 Theodosius I defeats Eugenius and Arbogast at the Battle of Frigidus in today’s Slovenia while in the same year abolishes several Pagan institutions including the Olympics in Greece and the Vestal Virgins in Rome all before he meets his end in January of the next year. In 395, Theodosius I died in Milan as the last ruler of a complete Roman Empire and with his death, the empire was now to be formally divided east and west as separate empires whereas the older son Arcadius took the east ruling from Constantinople and the younger son Honorius took the west ruling from Milan, though both due to their young age would be under regents, Arcadius under the general Rufinus and Honorius under the half-Roman half-Vandal Flavius Stilicho who wanted a untied empire making him assassinate Rufinus in 395 though the Western Empire will not have much longer to live and the east would continue on for the next thousand years.

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The Roman Empire divided (260-274)

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