Byzantine Alternate History Chapter IV- Constans II Relocates the Imperial Capital to Sicily

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 7th century AD. This story will begin with events that have happened in real history but will become fictional as it progresses.

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

I call on you to be advisors and judges for the common welfare of our subjects.” -Emperor Constans II, 641AD

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Welcome to the 4th chapter of the Byzantine Alternate History series by the Byzantium Blogger! Last time, in chapter III, I discussed the reign of the Byzantine Empire’s most influential and most remembered emperor Justinian I the Great and his reign in the 6th century when the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire) at its golden age was also at its greatest territorial extent. However, being too massive ruling the entire Mediterranean again as a “Roman lake”, it was far too stretched and left far too exposed for enemies to attack on all sides, most notably their traditional enemy in the east, the Sassanid Persian Empire. In the previous story however, I went with the what if scenario of Justinian I saving his empire and preserving its stability for many more centuries to come by sending the devastating plague that hit his empire in 542 east over to the Sassanids resulting in their total destruction, and at the same time the what if of Justinian himself personally going to his own military campaign in Italy to restore it to imperial rule and training his own nephew and successor Justin II to be a strong ruler just like him. However, since the stories in this alternate history series are not continuous with each other, this story will go with the course of events in real history meaning that after Justinian died in 565, the plague was still present in the Byzantine Empire, the economy ruined from all the wars and the plague, the Sassanid Empire in the east still alive and strong, and Justinian’s successor Justin II coming to the throne as a not so competent emperor. The main part of this story where the course of history will change happens a full century after Justinian’s reign, therefore unfamiliar territory for me as I still have much to discover about this era of Byzantium, and here the Byzantine Empire ruled by Emperor Constans II would literally be a shell of its former self, compared to the glorious state it was in under Justinian I. Here in the mid-7th century, Byzantium being devastated from total war, first against the Sassanids and afterwards against a new enemy being the Arabs, it had lost more than 50% of the lands it gained under Justinian and now has to fight on the defensive against the rapidly expanding Arab Caliphate, in which the Byzantines for the longest time never knew would pose such a threat to their existence. Now Justinian’s legacy in the cathedral of the Hagia Sophia which he had constructed in the imperial capital Constantinople and his code of laws known as the Corpus Juris Civilis which he commissioned may have lived long beyond his time, but his legacy in expanding the empire in terms of land did not last long and in the latter half of the 6th century and early 7th century, all his hard work in restoring the old Roman Empire through conquests had begun to fall apart. For instance, after Justinian’s death, Italy which had just recently been put under Byzantine rule quickly began falling to a new Germanic enemy invading from the north which were the Lombards, Byzantine Southern Spain slowly began falling back to the Visigoth Kingdom in the north, the Avars and Slavs began frequently raiding the Byzantine Balkans, and the threat of the Sassanids in the east resuming in full scale wars, and the worst part was that the Byzantine treasury was growing increasingly empty. The hard times for Byzantium then began in 602 when the last emperor of Justinian’s dynasty, Maurice was dethroned and executed by his army which resulted in chaos reigning in Byzantium allowing the Sassanids to now invade imperial territory to the point of coming right outside Constantinople! In 610, Heraclius who would be another strong and decisive emperor came to the throne to save the empire and true enough by 628 he was able to finish off the Sassanid threat once and for all by winning the great war against them which totally fractured the Sassanid Empire, and though the Byzantines here had won, years of war weakened the empire and its economy that one more war could result in Byzantium’s total annihilation. As for the Byzantines, little did they know that the war with the Sassanids was not yet the end, and little did they know that the new deadly threat to them would come from the Arab people from the deserts of the south, who the Byzantines never had thought would ever be much of a threat. Apparently, the disunited Arab tribes of the southern deserts in the early 7th century had all united under the new religion of Islam to form an empire or Caliphate and began expanding north beyond Arabia to conquer both the Byzantine and Sassanid Empires to spread Islam by the sword, and for them the Byzantine capital Constantinople was the ultimate prize. Now, the sudden rise and expansion of the Arab tribes of the desert becoming the Rashidun Caliphate was one of history’s most unexpected moments, but at the same time it was also expected that the Byzantines would lose a great amount of their imperial holdings in the east, most notably all of Egypt and Syria to the Arabs very quickly as the previous war with the Sassanids heavily devastated the Byzantine forces and facing a powerful and swift enemy like the Arabs, the Byzantines could not stand a chance but at least with the Byzantines being able to adapt to these challenging times by coming up with new kinds of military and administrative systems and secret superweapons like Greek Fire, they survived the expansion of the Arabs whereas the Sassanid Empire that had fallen into civil war after the great war with Byzantium stood no chance and was soon enough entirely absorbed into the Arab Caliphate by 651. The main part and climax of this story will then be on the 27-year reign of Constans II (641-668), the grandson of Heraclius who in 641 at only 11 inherits an empire that fell into a war with the Arabs and already at a breaking point. Unlike emperors Justinian I and Heraclius whose reigns and achievements remained well remembered long after their time, Constans II’s does not and remains one of Byzantium’s most underrated emperors despite achieving a lot as emperor and so much happening in his reign as it was under him when the course of Byzantine history had been drastically changing. For instance, it was under Constans II when the Byzantine Empire in an instant lost a large amount of territories most of them being important ones like Egypt and Syria, it was also under Constans II when Byzantium began its shift from Latin to Greek culturally and linguistically, and most importantly it was under Constans II when the new administrative system of Byzantium’s provinces known as the Thematic System was introduced whereas the Byzantines now having to fight constantly on the defensive against the expanding Arabs from the east while at the same time losing large amounts of land had to adapt to the situation, and this meant reducing their provinces in size thus creating smaller military provinces called Themes to increase military presence. Under Constans II, the major shift in the course of Byzantine history took place as it was here where they would now for the next 2 more centuries to come have to fight on the defensive to protect their empire from the ambitious conquests of the Arabs and in these difficult times, Byzantium had to adapt by coming up with all sorts of creative ideas for their survival including the creation of Thematic System- which you will learn more about how it works when reading this- to make their defenses easier, and creating weapons like Greek Fire, a naval superweapon that was to remain a Byzantine state secret, and yes these new solutions the Byzantines came up with in these difficult times did prove effective enough in allowing the Byzantine Empire to live on through these hard times and eventually by the 9th century rise up again to counter-attack the Arabs. As for Constans II on the other hand, others may remember him as the emperor that met a very odd end being killed by a servant using a soap dish when bathing, but in the story of his death that took place in the city of Syracuse of Sicily, Constans II did indeed have some kind of secret intention which was to move the Byzantine Empire’s capital to Sicily seeing Constantinople was far too vulnerable to the Arab attacks and having Syracuse as the new capital was more effective as its location was central in the Mediterranean and could help in further defending the Mediterranean and taking back lands such as Egypt and North Africa that were lost to the expanding Arab Caliphate. Now, I actually think here that Constans II did really intend to move west as he was looking to further defend the Mediterranean from the Arabs while at the same time I also see that he had also cared about the west and Byzantium’s Roman heritage, therefore this makes him and not Justinian the last Roman emperor to have some kind of connection to the west and Rome, considering that the Byzantine emperors despite ruling from the east were still considered Roman emperors. This article will be another long and complex one as it covers the very crucial 7th century and the worlds of the Byzantines, Arab Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates, Sassanid Persians, and even the Tang Chinese Empire but a lot of it will focus on Emperor Constans II’s reign and his decision to move the imperial capital to Syracuse being the last Byzantine emperor that still cared about Byzantium’s western roots, but the real question here is that if Constans II moved the Byzantine capital to Syracuse, could this really change the course of Byzantine history?

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Flag of the Byzantine Empire

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Note: Since this story is set in the 7th century 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 at its greatest extent by 555 under Emperor Justinian I the Great

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The Byzantine Empire in 650 (orange) under Constans II

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Map of the expansion of the Islamic Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates (622-750)



Here, in chapter IV of my Byzantine Alternate History series, I am writing the story alone this time basing it on historical facts from 7th century Byzantine history and coming up with my own plots for the characters of the story. Most of the story will be relying on historical facts with an intense amount of research and info from the History of Byzantium Podcast and Youtube channels Kings and Generals and Thersites the Historian, as well as other history related media online and books. However, when we get to the year 668, the year Constans II was killed in his bath in Syracuse, rather than going with the course of real history wherein Constans II met his end at the baths, this story will take a different turn whereas Constans II survived and would continue to build up the empire’s Mediterranean defense, as well as continue his war against the Arab forces of the Umayyad Caliphate.

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Coin of Emperor Constans II (r. 641-668)

Although before getting to this story’s climax of Constans II’s fate in 668 wherein he avoids it, it is important to give some context to the story by discussing the background of the plot of the rise of the Byzantine-Arab conflict which will take us all the way back to Byzantium in the late 6th century following Justinian I’s death. This story then will have a long background section that will discuss Byzantium after Justinian, the total war against the Sassanids, the emperor Maurice, the take-over and failed reign of the emperor Phocas, the rise and achievements of Emperor Heraclius, the great war against the Sassanid Empire known also as the “Final Byzantine-Sassanid War” and the Sassanids’ defeat, and the sudden rise of the Arabs and expansion of Islam since it would be difficult to understand the Byzantine Empire of Constans II without knowing about how Byzantium changed so much before his time. Once the background of the story and its conflict is explained in the historical context, this article will proceed to the turbulent reign of Constans II from 641 to 668, and then to the climax of the story wherein things will take a totally fictional shift. This story will then proceed and finish off with the reign of Constans II’s son Constantine IV (668-681) with the first Arab Siege of Constantinople in 674 and the invention of the superweapon Greek Fire despite Constans II still alive, except here in this case after 668 the Byzantine Empire would be split in half to be able to fully defend all its borders properly whereas Constans II would rule permanently from the west in Syracuse while his young son Constantine IV would rule from the east in Constantinople. Now Constans II for me is one of Byzantium’s most underrated yet very important emperors as like mentioned earlier, he ruled Byzantium in a very crucial time when the empire had suddenly downsized in land and population as a large percent was lost to the Arabs, therefore it was in his reign where many important reforms and changes were introduced which would last for many centuries to come such as the introduction of the Thematic System and the shift from Latin to Greek in language and culture which would be the new standard for Byzantium from here onwards with the Latin language and Roman identity of the past slowly but significantly disappearing as for instance, the imperial court began using Greek as the language of administration. Other than the creation of Byzantium’s Theme System that would be the standard of the empire’s governance for many centuries to come, Constans II’s reign was one with many significant moments which included sending an embassy to the Tang Empire of China, almost getting killed in a naval battle against the Arabs, arresting the pope, travelling the empire personally, leading battles himself, settling in Syracuse as if it were the empire’s new capital, and getting assassinated in his bath by a soap dish. Now, the 7th century was a very crucial turning point in the history of Byzantium as this was when the empire entered a somewhat dystopian setting which would be its “Dark Ages” where it drastically downsized, therefore losing the imperial power and prestige it had as the all-powerful empire it was from its beginnings in the 4th century to the age of Justinian in the 6th century and also, it was the time when the purpose of war for the Byzantines shifted from one for territory to holy war to defend Christianity, first against the Zoroastrian Sassanid Persians in the first half of the 7th century and against the Muslim Arabs in the 2nd half; and it would not only be the Byzantines fighting for faith but the Arabs too as their purpose for expanding was to spread Islam. This story in the 7th century thus will only be the beginning of the wars the Byzantines would have against Islam which they would fight against till the very end in 1453, while this story too will be the beginning of the Byzantines vs Arabs and Dark Ages phase, which the next 2 chapters of this series will cover. As for creating a what if story for 7th century Byzantium since each century in Byzantium’s history gets one story in this series, I could have done more popular ones such as if the war against the Sassanids from 602 to 628 had not happened, if the Arab expansion never happened, if Emperor Heraclius lost to the Sassanids, or if Heraclius successfully beat the Arabs, but instead I chose to go deeper into the 7th century and deeper into the Byzantine-Arab conflict, therefore into the complex reign of Constans II as in this alternate history series, I usually like to go for lesser known emperors and events, and this article will do just that. Of course, the more popular events of the 7th century like the reign of Heraclius and his wars against the Sassanids and later with the Arabs will play a large role in this story giving a background to Constans II and the situation of the empire he ruled, and considering Constans II is the grandson of the more famous Byzantine emperor Heraclius, it is impossible to not discuss the heroic yet tragic reign of Heraclius. Now for the main character of the story, I chose Constans II (real name: Heraclius Constantine) who I would consider a very complex person as I always find stories that center on a flawed, unlikeable, and mean-spirited protagonists very interesting and Emperor Constans II is no exception for this kind of character. Unlike the other protagonists I chose for the previous 3 stories like Valentinian I, Anthemius, and Justinian who I portrayed as rather likeable characters, Constans II here as the lead character is the opposite, and just as he is recorded in history to have ruled, Constans II here will be portrayed as a young mean-spirited emperor ruling with an iron fist, purging all those who opposed him including family members and even the pope, and falling out with his family which is why I would also say he left for 5 years to settle in Sicily, never to return again. As an emperor, Constans II too would be his grandfather Heraclius’ polar opposite as Heraclius is usually portrayed in a heroic fashion being Byzantium’s savior from incompetence and tyranny and from the ultimate destruction of the Sassanids yet at the same time as a tragic hero as even though he achieved so much in finally putting an end to the constant war against the Sassanids, he did live long enough to die a broken man unable to stop the new Arab threat while his grandson Constans II is usually and here will be seen as an unlikeable autocratic ruler in which others may know him as “Constans the Bearded” or the “Bearded Autocrat”- as he is depicted  in his coin to have a large beard- and although tyrannical as an emperor and not very effective in religious and foreign policy, he was not incompetent and was actually a visionary with some good intentions for the survival of his empire which is why he introduced the Theme System- though historical sources aren’t that clear about if he exactly created them- and thought of relocating the imperial capital seeing he could use that as a base to save the threatened western provinces. Constans II too being part of the Heraclian Dynasty founded by his grandfather Heraclius would also be the one to set the standard of his dynasty’s ruling style as strong autocratic rulers in which this kind of ruling style Constans II had would be seen with his son Constantine IV as you will also see here, and with Constantine IV’s son Justinian II (r. 685-695) who would be this dynasty’s last emperor, and it was also here at this point in time with Byzantium under the Heraclian emperors wherein you would no longer see powerful women running the empire like in the 5th and 6th centuries, instead you will notice that the 7th century was a time for strong young men running the empire such as Constans II, Constantine IV, and Justinian II with women no longer having a major part in the political scene. This story too will not be the kind of black and white story wherein the Byzantines are all good and their enemies like the Arabs all bad, instead it will be a very gray one as its lead character Constans II despite being the hero of the story will be somewhat villainous in nature as a result of the difficult situation the empire was facing as he grew up, but with actually good intentions therefore being an anti-villain with a complete character arc, while the Arabs on the other hand like Constans II’s arch-enemy Caliph Muawiyah I would not be seen as pure villains even if this story is told through the Byzantine perspective, as true enough the Arab Caliphate’s intention was just to expand and conquer in the name of Islam without any bad intentions yet they had actually been tolerant as rulers at times, thus this story too will do justice to the Arabs who are usually seen as the villains in other stories. At the same time, this story too will give you a full picture of the world of the 7th century by not only telling the story of Constans II but of the collapse of Byzantium’s long-time mortal enemy, the Sassanid Empire wherein the Arabs would replace them as the new traditional enemy, the relations of Byzantium with the distant Tang Dynasty Empire of China at this time, the continuation of the endless headache of religious debates and schisms, the introduction of Byzantium’s Theme System which would prove effective in the empire’s survival, the Byzantine Exarchates, the development of Greek Fire, and the ultimate change in the course of Byzantine history from fighting to conquer lands to fighting on the defensive. Of course, in order to be more interesting for a wider range of viewers, this story would not focus too heavily on the endless religious debates of the time and the political situation of the empire, but rather more on the happenings of the time including the wars and power struggles in which Byzantium would also be forever remembered for. Although at the same time, this story will be one that is more centered on the empire and its political and geographic situation rather than on characters, but the characters and their stories like of Constans II will play a major part too.

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Emperor Constans II of Byzantium, black and white illustration, art by Powee Celdran

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Guide to the Heraclian Dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, 610-695 (covered heavily in this story)

Related Articles from The Byzantium Blogger:

Byzantine Alternate History Chapter III- The Empire Strikes Back

Byzantine History for Everyday People- Reactions to Quotes from Byzantium

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

12 Turning Points in Byzantine History

The Art of War in the Byzantine World

A Guide to the Themes of the Byzantine Empire

The Sieges of Constantinople

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

Related Videos to this era:

Constans II the Bearded (Thersites the Historian)

Early Muslim Expansion- Yarmouk and Al-Qadisiyah (Kings and Generals)

Constans II: Struggle for Survival (Eastern Roman History)

The Byzantine Empire, 565-602 (Dovahhatty)

The Great-Byzantine Sassanid War, 602-630 (Dovahhatty)


The Leading Characters:

Constans II- Byzantine emperor

Constantine IV- Son and heir of Constans II

Theodore I Calliopas- Byzantine Exarch of Ravenna

Mizizios- Byzantine general, Komes of the Opsikion Theme

Muawiyah I- 1st Caliph of the Umayyad Caliphate

Heraclius- Son of Constans II and co-emperor

Tiberius- Son of Constans II and co-emperor 

Fausta- Byzantine empress, wife of Constans II, mother of Constantine IV, Heraclius, and Tiberius

Theodosius- Twin brother of Constans II

Kallinikos of Heliopolis- Byzantine engineer, inventor of Greek Fire

Paul II- Patriarch of Constantinople

Pope Martin I- Patriarch of Rome 

Saborios- Byzantine general, Strategos of the Armeniac Theme

Yazid- Arab general, son of Muawiyah I

Peroz- Last heir of the Sassanid Empire in exile, Persian general in China

*Alexios- Byzantine senator and diplomat sent to China (real character with not much of a story, his story is expanded here)

*Philippikos- Byzantine senator and diplomat sent to China (real character with not much of a story, his story is expanded here)

Gaozong- Tang emperor of China

(Credits to AmelianvsSkamandros, Gambargin, Ahmed AbuElnaga, Marwan Musa, Sergio-Quijada, and Giuseppe Rava for their art on this era which are featured here.)

Background Guide: Byzantine characters (blue), Latin west (light blue), Arabs (yellow), Sassanids (green), Chinese (red-orange). 


The Background- From Justinian I to Heraclius (565-630)

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On November 14, 565 died the most influential ruler of the Byzantine Empire, Justinian I the Great who had ruled for a total of 38 years coming to power back in 527 and with him died the golden age. Under Justinian I, the Byzantines came to rule the entire Mediterranean by conquering North Africa from the Vandal Kingdom, Italy from the Ostrogoth Kingdom, and Southern Spain from the Visigoth Kingdom and though the Vandals and Ostrogoths were destroyed under Justinian I, the Visigoth Kingdom still lived on in Spain as only the south was put under Byzantine rule and despite these conquests, the might of Byzantium was weakened. Certainly, Justinian’s imperial conquests of the former Western Roman provinces needed funds and though the dream to reconquer these provinces had been achieved, the treasury ran low due to all the wars fought to reclaim these lands considering the war to retake all of Italy spanned almost 20 years.

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Icon of Emperor St. Justinian the Great (r. 527-565)

The worst part however was the plague that struck the Byzantine Empire so severely in 542 that killed 1/3 of the empire’s population and as a result of all the deaths crippled the economy, but even though all this happened, Justinian I was able to put the entire Mediterranean under Byzantine rule and die at least knowing he was able to fulfil his ultimate dream despite never even taking part in his own conquests, but instead staying his entire reign in Constantinople. Though Justinian I died with his ultimate dream of reconquest achieved, little did he know that shortly after his death, all his hard work would fall apart and a lot of this would be due to the leadership of his nephew and successor Justin II (r. 565-578) as Justinian in fact never properly trained a successor and never had children of his own with his wife Theodora and following Theodora’s death in 548, the devastated Justinian vowed to never marry again, and little did he know that this would be a terrible decision. Justin II inherited from his uncle a massive empire that controlled the entire Mediterranean but no matter how large it was in territory, he lacked the vision and strong administrative skills his uncle had, and the Byzantine Empire Justinian I left behind to Justin II had an economy ruined by the plague and wars, and having an empty treasury while facing enemies on all borders particularly the Avars across the Danube border in the Balkans allying with the Slavic tribes there making attempts to cross the river and settle in Byzantine lands.

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Emperor Justin II of Byzantium (r. 565-578), nephew and successor of Justinian I

The Avars now had been making raids into the Danube borders of Byzantium ever since Justinian I’s reign but part of Justinian’s policy was to pay off the Avars and their allies, the Slavs (Sclaveni in Latin, Sklabenoi in Greek) to stay where they are and not attack but when becoming emperor, Justin II seeing the treasury was too empty to continue paying the Avars annual tribute decided to stop paying tribute, therefore making them raid with full force into the Byzantine Balkans with their Slav allies to find land to settle down and farm; the Avars here fought as cavalry and the Slavs as infantry. As for Byzantine Italy which had just been entirely conquered from the Ostrogoth Kingdom, the wars and plague left it as a depopulated wasteland and due to pressure from the Avar hordes in Central Europe, the Germanic tribe of the Lombards led by their king Alboin migrated south to look for land as prior to this, some Lombards have already served as mercenaries for the Byzantines in their previous wars to conquer Italy from the Ostrogoths.

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Lombards cross into Italy in 568, art by Giuseppe Rava

When hearing about how the war turned Byzantine Italy into a depopulated wasteland, Alboin saw this as an opportunity to settle in Italy thus he led a large number of men invading Byzantine Italy in 568 meeting very little resistance as not that many troops were left to defend Italy as a result of the deaths from the previous war against the Ostrogoths and in such a short amount of time, the Lombards were able to take over half of Italy leaving only the major cities of Ravenna, Rome, and Naples as well as the south to the Byzantines. In the eastern border of the Byzantine Empire on the other hand, ever since 562 Justinian I agreed to a truce with their mortal enemy, the Sassanid Persian Empire ruled by Shah Khosrow I, King of Kings though the amount of money to be paid off to the Sassanids as tribute was soon to be impossible with the Byzantine state now critically running out of funds, and again like what Justin II decided to do with the Avars, in 572 he decided to stop the annual tribute to the Sassanids, therefore resuming war and this time to an even more severe level wherein the Sassanids had the upper hand making them able to seize some of Byzantine territory in Syria, including the strategic fortress of Dara at the border.

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Avar cavalry (left) and Slav infantry (right)

The resumption of the war against the Sassanids and the defeat of the Byzantine forces to them as well as the pressure of running such a massive yet fractured empire in 573 made Justin II break down and lose his sanity, memory, and confidence that he so believed had that soon enough he became unfit to rule. The historian of that time John of Ephesus mentions that Justin II cried out loud animal sounds, hid under his bed, and tried to jump off the window that his wife the empress Sophia had to install bars on his windows so that he wouldn’t jump off. It was even said that Justin II bit court attendants and bodyguards that the bite marks on them made people believe he was a cannibal; and to be calmed down, Justin II had to be on a mobile throne with the sound of soothing organ music playing day and night. Finally in 574, Justin II was convinced by Sophia to abdicate, leave the palace, and rule in name only and appoint his friend and commander of the palace guard or Comes Excubitorum the Thracian Tiberius to run the empire not as Caesar while Justin II still ruled as Augustus or senior emperor, now Tiberius would be the first Byzantine emperor from here on to primarily speak Greek. Justin II then adopted Tiberius as his son and heir despite them being the same age here (54) as a way to continue the Justinian Dynasty as Justin and Sophia had no sons, and from here on Tiberius would be the one effectively running the empire cleaning up the mess Justin II left behind which included continuing the defense of Italy against the Lombards and campaigning against the Sassanids in the east to push them back, though the campaigns were left to their generals as Tiberius like Justin II and Justinian I before him again ruled as a palace emperor though luckily one day, out of chance Tiberius discovered tons of gold in his new house in Constantinople which was the house of the late Narses, the eunuch general of Justinian I who had died in 573 and apparently Narses had been keeping a large amount of gold for himself and having no children to inherit the wealth, it was passed on to the state. As Caesar, Tiberius made good use of Narses’ hidden wealth spending it generously on public entertainment to make his people happy, buying his way to peace by resuming paying tribute to the Avars and Sassanids, and recruiting tens of thousands of locals from the Balkans and Asia Minor to the army as well using the funds to hire thousands of foreign mercenaries.

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Tiberius II Constantine, Palace Guard Commander, and successor of Justin II (r. 578-582)

In 578, Justin II had died and Tiberius II adding “Constantine” to his name now ruled as the empire’s sole Augustus though Empress Sophia considering marrying him to continue ruling herself as the Augusta or empress but Tiberius already having a wife refused and banished Sophia from the imperial court and now as emperor, Tiberius would at least rule more competently than Justin II but still lacking the abilities, enthusiasm, and vision of Justinian I but still, Tiberius II was popular with the masses as he relaxed taxes and had managed to keep the fractured empire together by keeping the Avars across the Danube away, containing the Lombard threat in Italy by paying off the Franks of Gaul to distract the Lombards by attacking them from the north, and managed to continue making a truce with Khosrow I’s Sassanid Empire. In the Sassanid Empire in 579, the old shah Khosrow I died and was succeeded by his son Hormizd IV who had certainly wanted to continue the war with the Byzantines and with the peace with Sassanids over again, Tiberius here decided to again face off the Sassanids at war and luckily, he had appointed a competent general to lead the campaign against the Sassanids which was the Cappadocian Greek Maurice– formerly Tiberius’ secretary and the palace guard commander since 574 succeeding Tiberius to this position- who in 580 successfully marched the army deep into Sassanid territory as far as Iraq pushing back the Sassanid army.

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Sassanid Empire flag

However, Tiberius II having pulled out troops from the Balkans in order to launch the Sassanid campaign left the Balkans defenseless allowing the Avars and Slavs to continue their raids facing little resistance to the point of taking over the important city of Sirmium (in today’s Serbia) from the Byzantines. By 582, the conflict with the Sassanids was more or less settled allowing Tiberius to continue focusing on the threat of the Avars in the Balkans and not wanting to resume war against them, Tiberius again agreed to pay tribute to them as well as to formally cede the city of Sirmium to the Avars and Slavs but in return the Avars and Slavs destroyed Sirmium when it was given to them. It was also in 582 when Tiberius II Constantine died at 62 most possibly from food poisoning, though it also rumored he was poisoned but when dying he named Maurice his successor saying to Maurice “make your reign my finest epitaph”.  

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Start of the Lombard invasion of Byzantine Italy in 568, Lombard lands (blue), Byzantines (orange)

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

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Byzantine Sirmium, ceded to the Avars and Slavs in 582

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Slavs attack Byzantine Sirmium, 582

Here in 582 at the age of 43, the general Maurice after marrying Tiberius II’s daughter Constantia came to rule the empire and would prove to be a competent and worthy emperor with a vision, another one of who primarily spoke Greek, and the first Byzantine emperor since Theodosius I (r. 379-395) 2 centuries earlier- with the exception of Zeno (r. 474-491)- to personally lead the armies in battle as many of his predecessors, most notably Justinian I never led the armies in battle, instead only giving orders to generals to do the job, and here Maurice would set a new standard for emperors to lead their troops in battle. The loss of Sirmium to the Avars and Slavs was a heavy blow to the prestige of the empire giving Maurice a reason to continue the war with them which he did, though this ended in total disaster that he had to again continue paying off tribute to them which therefore began bankrupting the empire more and more.

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Maurice, Byzantine emperor (r. 582-602)

Other than that, as Maurice having a vision to save and rebuild the strong empire Justinian before him planned to have, he looked into the matter in Italy that was under attack by the Lombards, North Africa threatened by the Berber tribes of the Sahara Desert, and Byzantine territory in Southern Spain slowly being taken back by the Visigoths, and here he decided to create two semi-autonomous provinces to further protect the provinces too distant from Constantinople. These two semi-autonomous provinces Maurice had created were known as the Exarchates which were to be ruled by an Exarch or a semi-autonomous governor with almost the same authority as the emperor himself but still answering directly to the emperor, and these Exarchates will play an important role in this story. In 584 the Exarchate of Ravenna was created which was to rule all of the remains of Byzantine Italy as a way to continue in the effort of containing the Lombards as Maurice being too busy dealing with problems in the east and the Balkans at the same time did not have the time and neither could not split himself in half to focus on problems on all sides, therefore he left Italy under the care of an appointed Exarch based in Ravenna, the Byzantine capital of Italy. In 585, it was Byzantine North Africa’ turn to become a Byzantine Exarchate based in Byzantine North Africa’s capital Carthage and here the North African provinces as well as Sardinia and Corsica, and the remains of Byzantine territory in Southern Spain fell under the Exarchate of Africa as again Maurice had no time to focus on the problems there, but at least he still cared to keep these lands that Justinian worked so hard to conquer for the empire. Not to mention, it was also during Maurice’s reign when the fertile lands of Byzantine North Africa outside Carthage (Tunisia and Algeria) due to over-farming and climate change began to dry up turning more and more into a desert, therefore limiting the abundant grain supply for the empire which came from these lands. Meanwhile in the Sassanid Empire, due to the heavy defeat they faced earlier under Maurice’s hands, the shah Hormizd IV was enraged that his general Bahram Chobin lost a number of times to the Byzantines, thus Hormizd IV to remind Bahram of his failures gave him a gift of a woman’s dress as a direct insult. Feeling insulted by his king, Bahram in 590 rebelled against Hormizd IV, and when Sassanid troops loyal to Bahram in the Sassanid capital Ctesiphon killed Hormizd, Bahram then became Shah Bahram VI making Hormizd IV’s son and Khosrow I’s grandson Khosrow II flee into Byzantine territory. Maurice was then given an offer by the young Khosrow II who promised to give him some lands back in exchange for an alliance while the Bahram promised Maurice more land in exchange for an alliance, and torn between the two, Maurice considered allying with Khosrow as he was of the Sassanid imperial family while Bahram was just a usurper. Khosrow II in 591 with with military aid from Maurice returned to Ctesiphon, dethroned and killed Bahram VI, and successfully regained the throne, therefore resuming peace with the Byzantines promising not to attack as Maurice helped him regain the throne.

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Khosrow II, Shah of the Sassanid Empire (r. 591-628)

With the peace once again signed with the Sassanid Empire as well as Byzantine lands in Armenia and Eastern Asia Minor previously conquered by the Sassanids returned to Byzantine control, Maurice now focused on continuing the war with the Avars and Slavs in the Balkans and maintaining diplomatic relations with the neighboring kingdoms of the Caucasus as well as with the Arab tribes of the deserts in the far south, but little did he know that they would one day erupt as a total threat to the Byzantines. At this time, as Maurice continued fighting his wars against the Avars and Slavs in the Balkans and actually leading the army himself, his famous military manual known as the Strategikon was written and though it is debated if Maurice wrote it himself or if it was his brother Peter or some of his generals that wrote it, I would believe that it was actually Maurice himself since he had a lot of military experience and as an emperor was also a skilled and practical general.

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The Strategikon of Emperor Maurice

This military manual here is basically a guide on how to fight particular enemies the Byzantines had at this time whether Franks or Lombards, Avars or Slavs, Sassanids or other eastern enemies, and Nomadic horsemen from the distant steppes of Central Asia and this book discusses not only how to beat the enemy by learning their fighting styles but from learning about their culture and behavior as well, and a lot of the information for this book came from Byzantine spies sent to study these people. However, this book has not much mention about the Arabs from the south and their fighting styles as at this point, they were not in any way seen as a big threat but rather as disunited tribes without much capability in fighting, though the useful advice given here was when it came to fighting the Slavs, it was best to fight them during winter by camping across the Danube in order to contain them and prevent them from crossing as they were at their weakest during winter, but as it would turn out, this tip from the Strategikon would cause Maurice his downfall.

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Byzantine cavalry soldier in Maurice’s reign

In 602, before winter came, Maurice successfully led his forces in beating back the Avars and Slavs across the Danube and with this success, the army was ordered to camp across the Danube during winter while Maurice returned to the capital. From the beginning, Maurice was already unpopular with Constantinople’s people especially the elite for never being around that much in the capital to please them and for his weakness in economic policy which led to the empire’s near bankruptcy and across the Danube, it was his own army that came to despise him for making them live in harsh conditions at enemy territory especially since they were to do it during winter wherein the cold was much more brutal there than it was within Byzantine territory but more importantly, these soldiers began to rise up due to their lack of pay, although this was not Maurice’s fault as the empire’s treasury was already emptying out. The soldiers camped across the Danube then refused following orders and went in open revolt against Maurice and here their centurion or senior officer Phocas who had been spreading lies to the soldiers about Maurice planning to kill them all by forcing them to camp across the Danube was sent to march to Constantinople and overthrow Maurice in favor of Maurice’s son Theodosius who for the army was seen as a better choice. However, when Phocas arrived in Constantinople, the blue and green factions who were traditionally each other’s enemies united and rioted with support from the Byzantine Senate in favor of Phocas as their new emperor. With the unrest ongoing, Maurice with his family fled Constantinople across the narrow Bosporus Sea to Chalcedon on the Asian side but it was too late as when arriving there, they were caught by Phocas’ men although Maurice’s eldest son Theodosius was already sent away right in time to seek help from Khosrow II in the Sassanid Empire, though when caught, Maurice’s wife and daughters were banished to monastery while Maurice and his 5 sons as well as his brother Peter were all sentenced to death. Here on November 27, 602 at one of Constantinople’s harbors, Maurice witnessed his 5 sons beheaded in front of him before he himself was beheaded and when he and his sons were killed with Phocas as the new emperor overseeing the executions, the eldest son Theodosius escaped but was later found though spared and sent to live out his life in the neighboring Kingdom of Lazica (today’s Georgia) in the Caucasus. The execution of Maurice thus ended the Justinian Dynasty founded back in 518 by Justinian’s uncle Emperor Justin I (r. 518-527); some historians too use the event of Maurice’s execution in 602 as the end of antiquity and the Byzantine golden age and the start of the Dark Ages.

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Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna (red), established in 584

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Byzantine Exarchate of Africa (red), established in 585

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Maurice’s troops across the Danube in 600, art by Amelianvs

The Byzantine Emperor Maurice about to be executed by the usurper Phocas, having seen his five children killed in front of him, 602
Execution of Emperor Maurice in 602, end of the Justinian Dynasty

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The Byzantine Empire in 600 (green) and Sassanid Empire (orange)

Watch this to learn more about the Strategikon of Emperor Maurice (Kings and Generals).

Following the execution of Emperor Maurice and his 5 sons, the 53-year-old centurion Phocas, a Greek speaking Thracian was now emperor but for taking over power by killing off Maurice and having no dynastic connections he was seen as a usurper. Phocas had no ties to Maurice or the Justinian Dynasty, therefore making him the first Byzantine emperor to usurp power without having any blood or familial connections with previous emperors, not even a lineage traced back to previous emperors, instead he was a simple and barely educated common soldier rising above the ranks and seizing complete control of the empire by force, though it still remains unclear why the senate still backed him.

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Emperor Phocas of Byzantium (r. 602-610)

Phocas though was married but had no children but as emperor and due to his lack of education, he lacked the skill to run an empire, and being a low-born usurper, he soon enough became a constant target of conspiracies by the elite of Constantinople. Meanwhile, when hearing of Maurice’s execution, the Sassanid shah Khosrow II broke his peace agreement with Byzantium and again declared war as a way to avenge Maurice who helped him come into power where in fact avenging Maurice’s memory was more of an excuse because with Maurice as emperor, Khosrow II would not dare attack Byzantine lands as Maurice backed him but with Maurice dead, Khosrow II who really did intend to conquer Byzantine lands had every reason to now invade and at the end of 602, a massive Sassanid campaign was launched against Byzantium. At the same time, the Sassanids now had their former vassal Arab Lakhmid Kingdom to their south absorbed into their empire as their own province, as well as the lands across the Persian Gulf (today’s Qatar, UAE, and Oman) being the Sassanid province of Mazun, while Yemen too at the southwest portion of the Arabian Peninsula was also made a Sassanid province, though both Yemen and Mazun were not connected to the main Sassanid Empire by land but with these lands already theirs, the Sassanid Persians were now to gain more by expanding west conquering Byzantine provinces. Now Phocas would be a great example of tyranny and incompetence as when he ruled, he primarily focused on eliminating the conspiracies targeted against him and executing all those who opposed him especially the remaining family members of Maurice and Maurice’s loyal generals, while Maurice’s wife Constantia and the daughters they had were all put to death in 605 when Constantia conspired against Phocas. All while Phocas busied himself getting rid of threats against him, little did he know that he left the Balkans even more exposed to the Avars and Slavs and true enough all of Maurice’s hard work to contain them was undone as these enemies raided deeper into the Balkans. Phocas when hearing of the Avars and Slavs’ raids decided to let them attack and not pay them off any tribute as the treasury too had already been emptied out, but the worst part was at the east, as when Phocas was too busy purging those who opposed him the Sassanids without much resistance penetrated deep into Byzantine Asia Minor as well as Syria, and Phocas seeing nothing could be done about it just let it happen. Soon enough, Phocas would lose support from the senate as they never wanted an incompetent usurper as emperor anyway while his most loyal top general Priscus– who was although a loyalist general of Maurice before being made one of Phocas’ top generals- too was accused of treason so in 608, Priscus fled Constantinople to the Exarchate of Africa to get the help of its exarch, the Armenian Heraclius the Elder in Carthage to overthrow Phocas as it turned out a lot of provincial governors had still been loyal to Maurice even if he was unpopular with the senate and elite of Constantinople, especially since a lot of the governors were those that were appointed by Maurice. Heraclius the Elder and his son Heraclius the Younger were no doubt Maurice loyalists especially since the elder was appointed as the first Exarch of Africa by Maurice himself and when Priscus arrived, both father and son were willing to openly rebel against Phocas that in Carthage they started minting coins with their faces and names and named themselves consuls too.

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Coin of Consuls in Carthage Heraclius the Elder and Heraclius the Younger

To fully kick start the rebellion, Heraclius the Younger set off to Egypt as his father was too old to journey therefore remaining in Carthage. Heraclius the Younger with his cousin Nicetas then seized Egypt for themselves in rebellion against Constantinople by cutting off the grain supply for the capital, therefore starving the people of Constantinople which was a sure move that turned them against Phocas who did not do anything to stop the rebellion. In 609, Heraclius the Younger then proceeded with his fleet to Greece and in 610 arrived in Constantinople and once the ship had docked in the harbor, the mob together with Priscus having already turned on Phocas in favor of Heraclius seized Phocas and severely beat him tearing off his robes, thus Phocas was brought to Heraclius whereas Heraclius questioned him “is this how you have ruled, scum?” and in return Phocas said “and will you rule better?” and being so enraged, Heraclius had Phocas beheaded and mutilated at the spot. Now here on October 5, 610, the 35-year-old Flavius Heraclius the Younger, a native Greek speaker of Armenian and Cappadocian Greek descent was crowned emperor who was yet to face a very heavy burden of ruling a damaged empire.

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Khosrow II’s Sassanid imperial court

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Heraclius the Younger overthrows and executes Phocas in 610, art by Amelianvs

          

The Byzantine Empire Heraclius came to rule in 610 was heavily fractured and threatened on all sides, first of all the Avars and Slavs raided even deeper into the Balkans, the Lombards still threatened Italy, and in the east the Sassanids had already captured Byzantine Mesopotamia (Southeastern Turkey) and Heraclius on the other hand who came to power by force was also seen as a usurper as he also had no connections to any of the previous dynasties except that his father was appointed Exarch of Africa by Maurice, though some time after 610, Heraclius the Elder would die at least knowing his son successfully took the throne.

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Heraclius the Younger, Byzantine emperor crowned in 610, art by Skamandros

Meanwhile the Sassanid shah Khosrow II when hearing Phocas had died and Heraclius took over still did not decide to end the war as the Sassanids were already gaining the upper hand and with Byzantium’s eastern borders left poorly defended under Phocas’ rule, the Sassanids led by their powerful and highly skilled and feared general Shahrbaraz– whose name meant “royal boar” although his real name is unclear- scored major victories that in 611 he captured the major city of Antioch itself from Byzantium, followed by the capture of Damascus in 613, and afterwards even Caesarea in Cappadocia in Asia Minor fell to the Sassanids which opened the way for the Sassanids to expand westwards to Constantinople. As for Heraclius, before becoming emperor he had married Fabia Eudokia, a patrician woman from North Africa and in 612 their first child who was to later be Emperor Constantine III was born but shortly after Constantine’s birth, Eudokia died and due to her popularity, the whole of Constantinople mourned at her funeral. With his first wife dead, Heraclius decided he needed to marry again in order to have more children and establish a legitimate ruling dynasty, though Heraclius had no choice but to marry his niece Martina, the daughter of his older sister Maria in 613. The marriage between Heraclius and Martina shocked the population of Constantinople and most especially the Church as it was definitely incestuous and illegal but they still married and Martina was still proclaimed Augusta by Heraclius and crowned by the Patriarch of Constantinople Sergius I, who crowned Heraclius back in 610. The Byzantines again suffered a heavy blow to them in 614 when Jerusalem was captured by the Sassanids led by Shahrbaraz, and although Jerusalem and in its location had no strategic importance, as the holy city it did have a lot of spiritual importance and for the Byzantines, losing the city was a heavy loss that angered the people of the empire.

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Sassanid general Shahrbaraz, art by Gambargin

The Sassanids had turned out to favor the Jews over Christians and when capturing Jerusalem with the help of Jews upset about being treated as second class citizens by the Christians, they assigned these Jews to be in charge of the city over the Christians which definitely angered the Christians making them revolt against their Jewish and Sassanid Persian overlords, though the rebellion was brutally crushed by the Sassanid forces and as result of quelling the rebellion, the Sassanids looted the city and massacred a large number of Christians, taking away its most important relics as well including the True Cross wherein Jesus Christ himself was crucified in and many other relics from the time of Christ as well as the Jewish Menorah- which if you remember from the previous chapter was one of the spoils the Byzantines gained when capturing Carthage from the Vandals in 534 which was then returned to Jerusalem, its original place- over to the Sassanid capital, Ctesiphon. The looting of the relics of Jerusalem truly shocked the people of Constantinople who knowing the oppression of the Christians there were not only due to their Sassanid overlords but by their Jewish allies began having anti-Jewish sentiments that the Byzantine Christians in Constantinople would randomly beat-up Jews in the streets, while Heraclius here saw the loss of Jerusalem as God’s punishment for his incestuous marriage to his niece Martina. The Balkans here was still facing a heavy crisis of the raiding Avars and Slavs, and it grew even worse there when Heraclius had to pull out its troops to head over to the east to focus on the Sassanid threat but Heraclius himself too did not want to lose the Balkans, so even with the Sassanid threat ongoing, he headed north to confront the Avars and Slavs where in 619 he tried to propose peace with the Avar khan or ruler as the Sassanid threat was more important and devastating, but the khan refused Heraclius’ offer and set a trap to kidnap him, although Heraclius escaped the trap almost getting himself killed, thus due to failing in kidnapping Heraclius, the Avars were then forced to make peace with the Byzantines.

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Byzantine soldier (right) attacks a Slav (left) with an Avar behind, during the 7th century Balkan Wars

At this point, things would go from bad to worse for the Byzantines as in 619, the Sassanids now managed to invade and capture Byzantine Egypt, thus totally cutting off the empire’s grain supply and triggering riots all over the empire because of this while in 620, almost the entire Byzantine Balkans and half of Greece were lost to the Avars and Slavs as again troops needed to be sent over to fight the Sassanids in the east. With all this crisis going on, Heraclius first thought hope was lost and that he had to move the imperial capital to Carthage where he was based in before, but soon he knew he could solve it but in order to do so, he needed to take the greatest of risks and a lot had to do with taxation policies which included increasing taxes and taxing the Church and cutting in half the annual pay for the soldiers and court officials and although this would trigger them to revolt like they did under Maurice, Heraclius at least convinced them it was only temporary, assuring them everything will soon stabilize when the war against the Sassanids will be over. In the meantime, it was around this point, more particularly in the year 622 down south in the Arabian Desert when the new religion of Islam was born as here in 622 the prophet Muhammad– an Arabian trader from the Quraysh tribe born back in 570 when Justin II ruled Byzantium- with his followers fled his birth city of Mecca to Medina when the people of Mecca did not accept this new faith, although as early as 610, Muhammad had already been receiving some divine revelations.            

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Sassanid army captures Byzantine Jerusalem, 614

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Greatest extent of the Sassanid Empire (orange) under Khosrow II, by 622

In 622, Heraclius’ holdings were only limited to Constantinople, Thrace, some of Greece, the Aegean Islands, and Western Asia Minor as North Africa and Italy were under the control of the exarchs while the Sassanids had now captured almost all of Asia Minor penetrating all the way as far as the Asian shore of the Bosporus, right across Constantinople that the people of Constantinople even reported that at night when looking across the Bosporus, they could already see the campfires of the Sassanid army, although no matter how much land they have conquered, the Sassanid Persians did not have a fleet to let them cross into Europe and lay siege to Constantinople. It was here in 622 when the Sassanid Empire under Shah Khosrow II was at its largest territorial extent reaching as far west as Chalcedon across Constantinople, as far south as Egypt and Yemen, as far north as the Caucasus Mountains in Southern Russia, and as far east as the border of India, and here Heraclius would make a very bold move by attacking the Sassanids when they were at their most powerful and largest in land.

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Emperor Heraclius in full battle gear

By 622, Heraclius’ army was now fully prepared to face off the might of the Sassanids in battle so here they set off from Constantinople by sea landing at the location of Issus in Cilicia, Southern Asia Minor, the same place Alexander the Great had defeated the Achaemenid Persian Empire all the way back in 333BC. In his campaign, Heraclius brought along with him his wife Martina who would give birth to their children as they travelled while Heraclius’ eldest 10-year-old son Constantine was left behind in Constantinople to watch over it together with Patriarch Sergius I. After landing at Issus, Heraclius and his army headed north to Sassanid occupied Cappadocia where they actually managed to beat the invincible general Shahrbaraz in battle recapturing the region, afterwards heading north back to the region of Pontus along the Black Sea coast of Asia Minor which was still under Byzantine rule, and here Heraclius made the coastal city of Trebizond as his base for the campaign. It was at this point when the idea of warfare would change from fighting over conquering lands to fighting for faith and as to motivate his soldiers in battle, Heraclius encouraged them they were fighting not to get rid of an enemy but in the name of Orthodox Christianity as they saw the Zoroastrian Sassanids as the enemy of their faith considering they looted the holy sites of Jerusalem and stole the most important Christian relics.

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Trebizond, base of Heraclius in his Sassanid campaign

By 623, Heraclius crossed deep into Sassanid territory through Armenia in pursuit of Khosrow II who was believed to be in the Sassanid’s province of Albania (today’s Azerbaijan), although Khosrow II was nowhere to be found but instead it was here in this area where the Zoroastrian holy site of the Fire Temple was found, which had been sacred to the Persians ever since the days of the ancient Persian kingdoms and empires and as Heraclius and his army arrived there, they believed the stolen relics were to be found there, although they were wrong and when finding nothing there, Heraclius out revenge for the Sassanids’ looting of Jerusalem ordered the Fire Temple burned down completely.

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Persian Zoroastrian Fire Temple sample drawing

In 624, Heraclius had come across the Nomadic Turkic Khazar people of the Caucasus and here made an alliance with their khan against the Sassanids as they both had the Sassanids as a common enemy and with this alliance, Heraclius was able to score more major victories against the Sassanids, and it was at this point when the Byzantines were able to reclaim Armenia from the Sassanids and although they had been scoring victories in the east against the Sassanids, it also happened here in 624 in the far west that the Visigoths of Spain completely took over the last remains of Byzantine Southern Spain, which the Byzantines never bothered about recapturing anymore. In 625, Heraclius again with the help of the Khazars were able to recapture Mesopotamia forcing Shahrbaraz who was defeated again here to flee while also here in 625, Martina gave birth to her only healthy son with Heraclius which was Heraklonas as due to inbreeding, the other children of Martina and Heraclius either died shortly after birth or had physical deformities.

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Nomadic Khazar army from the Caucasus

When fleeing Mesopotamia, Shahrbaraz in 626 headed all the way to Sassanid occupied land across Constantinople in Asia Minor where he found a way to send word to the same Avar khan that almost captured Heraclius in 619 to form alliance to attack Constantinople, and here the Avars and Slavs being at the European side laid siege to Constantinople’s land walls itself making this the second time Constantinople was attacked by an enemy army, the last one being the Goths in 378 which failed, mentioned back in chapter I. Using the absence of Heraclius to their advantage, the Avars and Slavs with 80,000 men combined attacked Constantinople’s invincible 5th century Theodosian Walls but using primitive siege weapons, they got nowhere near breaching it and poor communications with the Sassanids across the Bosporus made the coordination of this siege even more difficult. Defending Constantinople here as Heraclius and his best forces away was Heraclius’ 14-year-old son Constantine as well as the patriarch Sergius I and the patrician Bonus who all did not have much military experience and only commanding some 12,000 men, though Heraclius soon got word of the siege and not wanting to waste his efforts in coming close to winning the Sassanid war in the east, here he split his army in 3 parts where the smallest division under him was to defend Armenia, the division of his brother Theodore was sent over to defend what was recaptured in Mesopotamia, and third one to reinforce Constantinople.

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Byzantine fleet intercepts the small Slavic boats, 626 Avar-Slav-Sassanid Siege of Constantinople

As the Avars and Slavs attacked by land, Sharbaraz attempted to aid them by sending his forces across the Bosporus using the small boats of the Slavs which failed as these boats were too unstable to carry large armies and soon enough the Byzantine fleet arrived at the Bosporus destroying the Slavic boats and killing the Sassanid soldiers that boarded them. After multiple attempts at scaling Constantinople’s walls, the Avars and Slavs gave up, and so did the Sassanids, thus they retreated and for the Avars, their loss in this battle broke off their power forcing them to retreat back north never to return again, although leaving their Slav allies behind in the Balkans. Over in Mesopotamia also in 626, Theodore and his forces won a decisive victory over the Sassanid forces led by the general Shahin and with this defeat, Shahin committed suicide while his body was brought over to Khosrow II who enraged with Shahin’s defeat disfigured Shahin’s body himself by whipping it many times. It was in 627 when Heraclius himself resumed personally leading the army as for 626, he left the job mostly to his Khazar allies as in 627, the alliance with the Khazars broke when their khan died and here Heraclius marched south to the Sassanid heartland in Iraq by stalking the Sassanid forces under the general Rhahzadh until both forces met near the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh. Here on December 12, 627 when the Byzantine and Sassanid forces clashed at the Battle of Nineveh, Heraclius personally killed Rhahzadh and two other Sassanid commanders himself and at the end of the day, the Byzantines won a decisive victory opening the way for them to besiege the Sassanid capital of Ctesiphon which unlike Constantinople was not surrounded by water making it easier to attack being on flat ground. The shah Khosrow II meanwhile began suspecting Shahrbaraz of treason and when sending a letter to Shahrbaraz, Heraclius intercepted it and forged it ordering Shahrbaraz to remain in Asia Minor which definitely allowed Heraclius and his army to seize, capture, and loot Khosrow II’s palace of Dastagird near Ctesiphon in 628 and when looting the palace, they came across tons of exotic spices and Persian carpets, exotic animals like lions and tigers, and 300 Roman war standards captured over the past 3 centuries by the Sassanids in battle and after taking the loot, the palace was burned to the ground, though since Khosrow II was away, Ctesiphon was left untouched by the Byzantines. Khosrow II on the other hand was still nowhere to be found as he fled further east fearing a prophecy saying he would be killed, although his end did not come from the Byzantines but from his own people. After Heraclius and his army began heading back west, the Sassanid nobles together with Khosrow’s son Sheroe and general Shahrbaraz conspired to overthrow Khosrow II and on February 28, 628 Khosrow II was captured and executed and so were his other sons except of course Sheroe who was then crowned as Shah Kavad II and his first act as the new Sassanid emperor was to finally end the war and make peace with Byzantium.

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Execution of Khosrow II, 628

Kavad II acknowledged Heraclius as the victor of the war sending Shahrbaraz to Asia Minor where Heraclius was at to conclude peace and here, the relics looted from Jerusalem including the True Cross were returned to Heraclius. Part of this peace agreement too was for all Sassanid forces in Byzantine territory to retreat back home and to return to the Byzantines all the lands the Sassanids had conquered from them since 602 which included Armenia, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt as well as the major cities of Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria, and right here the long war ended without achieving really anything for the Byzantines despite them penetrating deep into the Sassanid heartland, instead it only resulted in the pre-war borders restored.

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Byzantine era sketch of Heraclius in 628 (left) with his family

Heraclius here at 53 at least returned to Constantinople victorious as a war hero celebrating his return with a triumphal march and in it was paraded all their loot taken from the 6-year campaign including 4 Persian war elephants and with all this victory, Heraclius became extremely popular with his people as also winning the war had filled up the empty treasury once again, thus the promise to resume paying the army and government officials in full again was fulfilled. The following year (629), Heraclius himself journeyed to Jerusalem, which had just been restored to Byzantine rule to return the True Cross and before entering, he felt a kind of divine energy that him feel it wasn’t right to ride into the city, rather he dismounted from his horse and carried the True Cross himself to its rightful place, the Church of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, setting a new tradition for those who would conquer Jerusalem in the next centuries to come which was for the conquering ruler to walk into the city by foot.

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Heraclius returns the True Cross to Jerusalem, 629

Heraclius too after defeating the Sassanids took the ruling title the Sassanid Persian rulers used which was “King of Kings” as well as dropping the Roman title of Augustus in which all Byzantine emperors before him used, instead replacing it with Basileus which was “emperor” in Greek and for the next 800 years all emperors would use this title, thus here marks the beginning of the Greek age of the Byzantine Empire. As for the Sassanids, right when they thought they came too close to crushing the Byzantines and conquering the world, they were proven wrong here as in 628, their all-powerful emperor Khosrow II was executed, his son and successor Kavad II died the same year from the Plague of Justinian which again returned in Sassanid lands, and in the following year, civil war broke out that would definitely spell the end of the Sassanid Empire, thus this war that had just ended would be remembered as the “Final Byzantine-Sassanid War”.

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Byzantines defeat the besieging Sassanid forces at Constantinople, 626

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Emperor Heraclius and his Byzantine forces defeat the Sassanids at the Battle of Nineveh, 627

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Heraclius and his army loot the Sassanid imperial palace at Dastagird, 628

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Ctesiphon, imperial capital of the Sassanid Empire

Watch this to learn more about the Byzantine-Sassanid War of 602-628 (Kings and Generals).


The Rise of the Arab Caliphate (630-641)

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As the Byzantines and Sassanids clashed in a full-scale war, the disunited Arab tribes of the southern deserts began to unite and what caused them to unite was the new religion of Islam which the prophet Muhammad had successfully spread. By 629, Muhammad and his followers who became his army successfully conquered Mecca where they had been chased away from years earlier, and soon enough they had united almost all of Arabia under Islam except for the lands still under Sassanid rule.

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Muhammad’s Conquest of Mecca, 629

Early Muslim sources say that in 628 before the recapture of Mecca, Muhammad sent letters to both Heraclius of Byzantium who was referred to as the “Roman emperor” and Khosrow II of the Sassanid Empire who was still alive, encouraging them to join him by converting their empires to Islam, and Heraclius here after his triumph received the letter and politely wrote back saying he would consider it but his people would not, while Khosrow II already losing his sanity at this point before his death rudely tore the letter which gave a reason for Muhammad’s followers to one day invade the Sassanid Empire.

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Muhammad’s letter to Heraclius

The failure to convert Byzantium to Islam led a small Arab army to attack the Byzantine lands that bordered the Arabian Desert (today’s Jordan) and here at the Battle of Mu’tah, the Byzantines aided by the forces of their client kingdom, the Christian Arab Ghassanids that had settled right at this part at the edge of the Arabian Desert were able to defeat this small Arab force. Back in the Sassanid Empire, the civil war after Kavad II’s death got even worse that one ruler just kept coming after the other and in this unstable time, the general Shahrbaraz even took the throne and became shah in 630 but was killed the same year and replaced as ruler by Khosrow II’s daughter Boran, the first and only female Sassanid ruler who was later killed in 632 and in this time of civil war, the Sassanid governors of the provinces of Mazun and Yemen declared independence making these provinces an easy target for the now united Arabs which they soon enough had conquered. In the meantime as Heraclius had won the Sassanid war being more popular than ever, he had been touring the eastern provinces that the Sassanids had just returned to the Byzantines and at this time, being the year 630, he had his first grandson which was the son of his eldest son Constantine with his wife Gregoria, born as Heraclius Constantine on November 7 and was named after both his grandfather and father but to not confuse things, historians would refer to him as Constans the nickname he was called which meant “little Constantine” in Latin. It also happened at this time in 632 that the prophet Muhammad died in Medina and at his death, all of Arabia was united under Islam and even though the founder of the rising Empire of Islam had died, his work was to be continued by his close friend and relative Abu Bakr who would succeed Muhammad as the leader of the Islamic people and become the first Caliph or emperor of the first Islamic Empire which here, founded in 632 was the Rashidun Caliphate and it was under the first Caliph Abu Bakr after putting all of Arabia under his rule wherein the Islamic Arab armies would expand beyond Arabia to conquer Byzantine and Sassanid territories.

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Flag of the Rashidun Caliphate, the 1st Islamic Empire

All while the Arab armies were set to expand beyond Arabia, Heraclius as most of the emperors did got himself involved in the endless religious debates and controversies which here in the 7th century was again between the Orthodox and Monophysite Christians with the debates being again on the natures of Christ and ever since 622, Patriarch Sergius I of Constantinople proposed a new compromise which was to end the debates by concluding a new doctrine saying that Jesus Christ had one energy. This new doctrine was well agreed to by many bishops and patriarchs across the empire, even by the Patriarch of Rome or the pope, though only the Patriarch of Jerusalem Sophronius objected to it.

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Patriarch Sergius I of Constantinople

While Heraclius had been occupied by religious debates, the Arab armies numbering up to 24,000 here in 633 had now made their first full attacks in Byzantine Syria and Palestine invading from the east as previously, the Arabs had already conquered the Sassanid territories along the border with Byzantine Syria and Palestine. In 634, Caliph Abu Bakr had died and was succeeded by Omar, another follower of Muhammad as the 2nd Rashidun caliph and it was under his rule when Islam would fully expand by force as here too in 634, his forces further defeated the Byzantines and even more in 635 when almost all of Syria including the city of Damascus fell to the Arabs. At this time, Heraclius concluded that he was too old to lead the armies in person but being in Antioch at the time the Arabs began their invasion of Syria, Heraclius sent an army of 40,000 men under a general named Theodore– which was not his brother with the same name- to push the Arabs back, and though the fighting styles of the Arabs were not familiar to the Byzantines at all as it was never mentioned anywhere, not even in Maurice’s Strategikon, Heraclius and his generals at least tried to wing it out thinking the strength of the Arabs was nothing much, as after all they were just desert tribes barely armed and armored and had just began expanding. The Byzantine forces under Theodore and Arab forces under their energetic general Khalid ibn al-Walid, another follower of Muhammad met them at the Battle of the Yarmouk River in the Syrian Desert in August of 636 and here the Byzantines now saw the full strength and capability of the Arab armies that could easily overwhelm them in an instant with the speed of their cavalry consisting of horses and camels as well as their harassing tactics.

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Khalid ibn al-Walid, commander of the Arab forces at the Battle of Yarmouk, 636

The Byzantines though had been used to fighting in fixed formations in all their wars especially against the Sassanids, and here they thought they could face off the Arabs this way, but the Arabs fought differently by attacking in lose formations and with such speed surrounding the Byzantine forces exhausting them. The battle went on for 5 days and at first, the Byzantines seemed to be having the upper hand but on the 5th day, a sudden sandstorm blew at the directions of the Byzantine forces to the point that they could not see even a meter ahead of them and as a result of this, the Arabs not affected by the sandstorm used it as an opportunity to slaughter the Byzantines, and at the end of the day, not a single Byzantine soldier was left alive including their general Theodore, thus this opened the way for the Arabs to capture everything the Byzantines gained back from the Sassanids in 628.        

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Cavalry of the Arab Rashidun Caliphate

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Battle of Yarmouk, 636- Defeat of the Byzantine forces (left) to the Arabs (right)

In the meantime, while the Byzantine forces were absolutely defeated at the Battle of Yarmouk in 636, the Arabs again won another great victory later that year, this time against the Sassanid forces at the Battle of Al-Qadisiya where another division of the Arab army with their speed and harassing tactics totally annihilated the Sassanid forces weakened from the previous war against the Byzantines, and even if the Sassanids had elephants here, they still lost with most of their generals killed. Following this victory, the Arabs proceeded further into the Sassanid Empire with very little resistance and by 637, they had laid siege to Ctesiphon while the very young Sassanid shah Yazdegerd III, grandson of Khosrow II who had come to power in 632 fled Ctesiphon to the north and not surprisingly, Ctesiphon had fallen to the Arabs in very little time. Back in Syria, the way for the Arabs was clear and now their ultimate prize was Jerusalem as they knew it was the holy city for the Byzantine Christians and also a holy city for Islam, though the Arabs knew that capturing Jerusalem would weaken the morale of the Byzantines. The Patriarch of Jerusalem Sophronius though knew the Arabs would soon attack Jerusalem so before things could get worse, Sophronius had the relic of the True Cross returned by Heraclius in 629 shipped to Constantinople for safekeeping fearing the Arabs would steal it the way the Sassanids did before.

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Patriarch Sophronius of Jerusalem

Now in early 637, the Arab forces again led by the victor of Yarmouk Al-Walid laid siege to Jerusalem which was poorly defended by the very exhausted and outnumbered Byzantine troops with only Patriarch Sophronius leading them. Seeing the Arab forces outside, Sophronius did not want to put up a fight, instead he agreed to surrender the city only if the caliph Omar himself would accept the surrender. At this time, Omar all the way in the Arab Caliphate’s capital Medina in the Arabian Desert travelled himself north to Jerusalem in a white camel, where doing the same as Heraclius did in 629 out of respect for the city got off his camel and entered the city by foot where he was met by Sophronius himself who surrendered the keys of the city to Omar. In Jerusalem, Omar was treated well as Sophronius himself gave him a tour of the city’s holy sites, and here they made a deal which was that Omar was allowed to take Jerusalem as long as he allowed Sophronius to keep his position as patriarch and for the Christians and Jews to be left alone to worship freely with their Muslim occupiers. Jerusalem then fell peacefully while the Arabs later conquered all of Syria and Palestine except for Antioch where the emperor was still in, but hearing now that Jerusalem and Syria was lost, Heraclius just chose to say goodbye knowing that with the might of the Arabs, it would be too difficult to take them back so he then set sail returning to Constantinople while later in 637, even Antioch had fallen to the Arabs.

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Surrender of Jerusalem to Rashidun Caliph Omar (on camel), 637

Over in the Sassanid Empire, the Arabs again severely defeated the Sassanid forces at the Battle of Jalula in Iraq while Shah Yazdegerd III fled even deeper into Iran which the Sassanids still held. Heraclius on the other hand had been losing his popularity after losing all of the east to the Arabs, and a lot of people blamed his defeats again all on his incestuous marriage to Martina and when arriving back across the Bosporus in Constantinople, Heraclius had developed a great fear of water that Martina had to have a wooden bridge lined with railings for him to cross so that he would not see the water. In 638, Heraclius here had been losing his sanity that he could no longer rule alone so here he appointed his 26-year-old son Constantine to be his co-emperor Constantine III though Martina also convinced Heraclius to make her son with him Heraklonas who was now 13 as his other co-emperor equal in rank to Constantine III.

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Emperor Heraclius of Byzantium (r. 610-641) as an older man

It also happened in 638 that Patriarch Sophronius of Jerusalem and Patriarch Sergius I of Constantinople both died peacefully- in their respective cities- leaving the new Monothelite doctrine unresolved while Heraclius’ health grew even worse that it was said by the 9th century historian Nikephoros that Heraclius was suffering a kind of prostate cancer as he had difficulties in urinating. By 639, the Arabs now began their invasion of Byzantine Egypt while in 640, they began invading Byzantine Armenia and Heraclius here was now in shock, but knowing nothing can be done about it anymore, as here, the dying emperor concluded that God was definitely punishing him for marrying Martina.

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Empress Martina, wife and niece of Heraclius, art by Skamandros

In February 11, 641 the 66-year-old Emperor Heraclius had died in Constantinople ruling for 30 years through many ups and downs. In his reign, Heraclius began ruling a deeply troubled empire in ruins which grew worse but was able to put it back together, but just as he thought he did, everything he worked so hard on fell apart, thus he died a broken man seeing all the lands he regained after defeating the Sassanids lost to the Arabs, therefore it can simply be said that Heraclius had lived too long that it would be better off that he died shortly after his victory against the Sassanids in 628 as a happy man, but instead he lived long enough to see all his hard work undone unlike Justinian I before him who at least died long before his hard work in expanding the empire would be all shattered. Heraclius though had the legacy of beginning the Greek era of Byzantium by turning Greek into the major language that it would no longer be only a major language for everyday use but a language used in the government and army, reorganizing the political-military system of the empire by laying the foundations for the Thematic System that would be operational years later, and seeing the Taurus Mountains of Asia Minor as the empire’s new natural defense against the Arabs, which sure enough will soon happen as well.

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Battle of Al-Qadisiyah- ultimate defeat of the Sassanid Empire to the Arab Rashidun Caliphate, 636

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Coin of Heraclius, Constantine III, and Heraklonas as co-emperors, 638-641

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Fullest extent of the Arab Rashidun Caliphate in the 7th century (green) with vassal states (light green)


The Reign of Constans II (641-656)             

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The year 641 would forever be remembered as the year of the 4 emperors first being Heraclius who died in February of that year and was immediately succeeded by his eldest son Constantine III who was extremely popular with the people of Constantinople as it was him at only age 14 back in 626 who helped successfully defend Constantinople from the Avars, Slavs, and Sassanids. However, Constantine III is not be confused with another Roman emperor who was also Constantine III, a usurper turned legitimate emperor from the Western Roman Empire (r. 407-411) who was mentioned in chapter II of this series, though surprisingly this Byzantine emperor in 641 was also Constantine III despite there being another one with his name, and as emperor at age 29, the Byzantine Constantine III was already in bad health suffering from tuberculosis, and the empire he inherited from his father had a very empty treasury due to the previous wars with the Sassanids and now with the Arabs that a few weeks after his father’s death, he had to open his father’s coffin, take the crown, and sell it to increase the treasury. After only 2 months of being in power, Constantine III fell deathly ill and here he sent off some money to an Armenian general named Valentinus, a descendant of Armenia’s ancient Arsacid Dynasty that ruled Armenia (54-428AD), to back Constantine’s young son Constans as the new emperor as Constantine did not feel his half-brother Heraklonas who was his co-emperor at an equal level was fit to be emperor as he was under the regency of his mother Martina who Constantine III did not really trust as his step-mother.

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Emperor Heraklonas of Byzantium (r. 641), son of Heraclius and Martina

Previously, Martina convinced Heraclius that her son Heraklonas should be Constantine III’s co-emperor to protect her interests which the old Heraclius had agreed to and although a lot of historians always give a bad image of Martina as the wicked step-mother, it is not entirely true as at that time, ambitious women were usually given a bad image as the standard back then was for women to be content with where they are and true enough in this story’s case, Martina never really had any evil intentions. On May 3 of 641, Constantine III died from tuberculosis, though again others suspect Martina and Heraklonas of poisoning him, and Constantine’s son Constans surely believed Martina and Heraklonas envied his father and poisoned him and so now the 16-year-old Heraklonas ruled as the sole emperor, though only a puppet of his mother Martina. Heraklonas’ actually ruled as “Heraclius II” but to not be confused with his father, he used the name Heraklonas meaning “little Heraclius” just as Constans meant “little Constantine” and already when Heraklonas came to power, he was already unpopular, precisely because he was the child of an incestuous marriage between uncle and niece and his mother Martina was surely unpopular being an ambitious woman. It was here some months after Heraklonas became emperor when the general Valentinus arrived outside Constantinople with orders from the late Constantine III demanding that Heraklonas make young Constans his co-emperor to continue Constantine III’s line, but Heraklonas and Martina refused the offer. Sometime later, Valentinus began spreading rumors that Martina and Heraklonas wanted to depose young Constans, and the people who were loyal to Constantine III with Constans being his son all revolted in favor of Constans and by September of 641, both Martina and Heraklonas were arrested and the almost 11-year-old Constans was put in the throne reigning as “Constantine IV”, although history would forever remember him by reigning with his nickname as “Constans II” whereas his son who will appear later on would be the “Constantine IV”, and now the first Constans was the 4th century Byzantine emperor Constans I (r. 337-350), who was discussed back in chapter I. Martina and Heraklonas were then banished from the palace and young Constans II came to rule the empire under the regency of Valentinus, the senate, his mother Gregoria, and the new Patriarch of Constantinople Paul II. Later that year at only 11, Constans would already show the kind of autocratic style of ruling that would define his reign when he spoke to the senate at the square outside Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia known as the Augusteum where the Column of Justinian was, and here he falsely accused Martina and Heraklonas of poisoning his father even if he died naturally, yet with his speech, the young emperor would already show how smart, cunning, and articulate he was in the skill of speech, and here is how the speech goes:

After my father Constantine was born, he was emperor with his own father, my grandfather Heraclius for a long time during his life, but after him for a very short while, for the envy of his stepmother Martina ended his high hopes and his life. She did this for the sake of Heraklonas, who was her illegitimate son by Heraclius. It was mostly your decision, which expelled her and her son from the imperial power, and your great dignity knows it well. Therefore, I can call on you to be advisors and judges for the common wealth of our subjects.

-Constans II, 641

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The Augusteum of Constantinople with the Hagia Sophia and Column of Justinian

           

Now Martina and Heraklonas in fact did not commit any crime, rather they just envied Constantine III but with this kind of eloquent speech made by young Constans II, the senate immediately put all the blame on Martina and Heraklonas falsely accusing them, as they never saw Heraklonas as legitimate ruler anyway as for them the incestuous marriage between Heraclius and Martina was already illegal, therefore Heraklonas was an illegitimate child and unfit for being an emperor. As Martina and Heraklonas were both condemned as public enemies, the mob seized them and had Martina’s tongue slit while Heraklonas’ nose was cut off, the first time it would happen to an emperor, thus making this a new practice for deposing emperors, as having just a single deformity like not having a nose would make someone unfit to rule whereas the Byzantines saw that their emperor had to be perfect in physical form. Both Martina and Heraklonas were then banished to the Island of Rhodes where Heraklonas would die by early 642 possibly from suicide or from the severity of the injury caused by his nose being cut-off while Martina would die possibly peacefully years later in Rhodes as well. Now back to young Constans II, it also turned out that he too was a child of an incestuous marriage, although the level of the marriage of Constantine III and Gregoria was not as high as the level of incest between Heraclius and Martina being uncle and niece as Constantine III and Gregoria were only second cousins with Greogria being the daughter of Heraclius’ cousin Nicetas who helped Heraclius seize Egypt back in 608 from Phocas’ loyalist army, and one lesser known fact was that Constans II did indeed have a twin brother named Theodosius who looked very similar to him but not exactly, making this one of the few rare cases of rulers in world history that actually had a twin. The big question here was why it was Constans that was chosen to be emperor and not Theodosius even if possibly one could not tell which was the older one, but the answer could be that their father Constantine III certainly knew Constans came out first on November 7 of 630. Constans and Theodosius were born when their grandfather Heraclius was at his height of popularity but as they grew up, they would hear nothing more but tragic news of entire provinces being lost to the Arabs and their grandfather losing his popularity by a lot, and as the host of the History of Byzantium podcast Robin Pierson says, the reason why Constans II would end up ruling in such a bitter and paranoid way was the childhood he grew up with as first he grew up hearing stories of his empire’s armies which were once so powerful suddenly being defeated, then he became emperor at only 11 inheriting a highly troubled empire, therefore he would indeed lose his childhood putting all his attention to his empire. As for Theodosius, due to the fact that he did not become emperor, he would instead enjoy life growing up in the imperial palace while his twin brother ruled, although he secretly did want to claim the empire as he had some kind of idea that he could have been born first, which is why he would later be suspected of plotting, well at least in this story’s case. The empire Constans II had inherited was now having to fight on the defensive against the Arabs in the east with the provinces of Syria and Palestine lost, Egypt now under attack, the Balkans and half of Greece entirely lost to the Slavs who were left behind by their Avar allies there, Italy split in half between the Byzantines and Lombards, all of Byzantine Spain lost, and North Africa where Carthage was soon to be threatened by the Arabs. The biggest mystery for Constans II, which in this story’s case would define his true intention to fully deal with the Arabs by force is how the Arabs expanded out nowhere as just shortly before his birth, they had just been scattered tribes in the southern deserts that did not ever pose much of a threat to the Byzantines that the Strategikon of Maurice even said nothing about their fighting styles, yet now in only less than 20 years since expanding out of the desert they had crushed the Sassanid Empire and took away almost half of Byzantium. The answer to this mystery then is that if all the people of this vast desert in which there were many all united under a common ideology which here is the religion of Islam, then they would all be fighting with such zeal that would allow them to keep wanting to conquer, and this true enough was the case for the Arabs who no one saw their sudden expansion out of the Arabian Desert coming. In addition, the Arabs being people of the desert moved quick and light which allowed them to travel so fast unlike the Byzantines and Sassanids who always moved in formation and always with a plan, while the Arabs just moved spontaneously without having much equipment and supplies the way the Byzantines and Sassanids did, and also unlike the Byzantines and Sassanids who could not cross deserts, the Arabs being from it could which allowed them to quickly take over all of Byzantine Egypt soon enough.

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7th century Arab infantry army charges with full speed

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7th century Arab cavalry advances across the desert

          

Now the year 642 would be a bad year for the Byzantines as this was when Egypt completely fell to the Arab Rashidun Caliphate when the last Byzantine garrison in Alexandria feeling they could no longer hold onto it agreed to surrender the imperial capital of Egypt to the Arabs, although the Byzantine authorities back in Constantinople knew it was not yet over and that they could still take it back one day.

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Last of the Byzantine forces in Egypt, 642, by Amelianvs

It was also in 642 when Valentinus married off his daughter Fausta to Constans, and though it was not recorded how old Fausta was, in this story’s case she would be 2 years older than Constans, and as for Valentinus he was appointed as commander of the armies or Magister Militum which was still in use but would soon no longer be, and being only regent and not co-emperor, he was still allowed to wear the imperial purple. In 643, with news of the Arabs attacking Eastern Asia Minor, Valentinus with an army was sent to deal with them while also in this year, the young Constans II would score a great achievement, not only in military matters but in diplomacy, and here is when he would send Byzantine ambassadors far away to the court of the Tang Empire of China itself. There are not much sources on Constans II’s embassy to Tang China, but it is said that it happened here in the year 643, though it is not said who exactly young Constans II sent to China, but in this fan fiction story’s case, the two ambassadors sent all the way there were 2 senators from the patrician class named Alexios which was the older one and Philippikos the younger one with 2 other attendants- as an illustration of the imperial court of China with them in it depicts- who would travel for a year or more, and considering the Sassanid Empire at this point was already in ruins and the Arab Caliphate having not yet reached Central Asia, their journey would be easier.

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Byzantine ambassadors of Constans II arrive in the court of the Tang Chinese emperor Taizong in Chang’an

Despite the distance of China, then known as Seres to the Romans (Byzantines), Constans II knew something about it considering that the Byzantine silk industry was something taken from China when a century ago if you remember from the previous chapter, monks that journeyed there smuggled Chinese silkworms presenting them to the emperor Justinian I also reporting to him how they made their silks there, and after stealing the Chinese state secret, the Byzantines were true enough able to develop top quality silk just as the Chinese did, which was true enough indeed able to once again revive their economy that was ruined by the plague. Apparently, the Old Book of Tang as well as the New Book of Tang from China in this era records an embassy from the Roman (Byzantine) Empire in 643 by Constans II (referred to by the Chinese as King Buduoli) and his empire as Fulin, although even before this, the Roman Empire and China have long been aware of each other. The gifts Alexios and Philippikos brought over to the Chinese Empire’s capital of Chang’an in behalf of Constans II included red glass and green gemstones, though it is not clear what their intention was, but in this story’s case I would say these ambassadors came to Tang China asking their emperor Taizong for some military alliance and funds against the expanding Arabs.

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Taizong, Tang Chinese emperor (r. 626-649)

Back in Byzantium in 643, a rebellion in Italy rose up against Constans II, this one here was in Rome led by its military commander or Dux Maurikios Chartoularios (his name literally the Greek translation of Maurice) and here he wanted to rule Rome as his own state independent from the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna, but the Exarch of Ravenna here which was Isaac soon enough got word about this, thus sending an army to Rome which successfully captured Maurikios, executing him in Ravenna. Meanwhile, Valentinus and his army suffered a defeat to the Arabs in Asia Minor and Valentinus wanting to regain his relevance after this defeat marched back to Constantinople demanding the throne and for Constans II to be deposed. As Valentinus and his army amassed outside Constantinople in 644 now turning on Constans II, the people persuaded by Patriarch Paul II backed Constans II as he was seen as the legitimate ruler, therefore turning on Valentinus who was later killed by the mob as they rushed out of the gates, thus leaving Constans II here at only 14 as the sole ruler of the empire without a regent. Historical sources though do not mention what Constans II’s mother Gregoria had been doing here or his wife Fausta, but let’s just say here that Gregoria refused to run the empire leaving everything behind to her young son, who here would lose his childhood and teenage years plain and simple by having to face the burden of ruling an empire. On the other hand, the Byzantine Christian people of the lands of Syria and Palestine which the Arabs had conquered were actually fine with being under the Arabs and not demanding the Byzantines to reclaim their lands as the Arabs proved to be tolerant rulers that were easy on taxation, therefore no need for rebelling against them. Although in Arab occupied Egypt, things were much different there as there the Arab overlords were harsher in taxation and less tolerant in allowing the Christians there to practice their faith which led the people to rebel wanting Byzantine rule to be restored. Just as the people of Egypt started rising up against their new Arab overlords, a Byzantine fleet from Constantinople with an army on board under the command of the admiral Manuel was to set sail for Egypt to liberate at least Alexandria from the Arabs. In 645, Manuel and his forces captured and occupied Alexandria putting it back again under Byzantine rule using the absence of its Arab governor Amr ibn al-As to his advantage as the governor was recalled to Medina, the Rashidun Caliphate’s capital as here they had a new caliph which was Uthman, another of Muhammad’s followers who had succeeded Omar following Omar’s death in 644.

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Amr ibn al-As, Arab general and governor of Egypt, art by sergio-quijada

Manuel was seen in Alexandria as their liberator and savior but in 646, the Arab governor Amr arrived back in Egypt, and to the surprise of the Byzantines the Arabs returned with a full fleet as apparently, in the previous years with the Arabs having captured the Levant (Syria and Palestine), they had been able to amass a fleet capturing old Byzantine ships and get the locals of the area to sail the fleet for them and so here in 646, the Arab fleet defeated the Byzantine fleet and took back Alexandria together with the rest of Egypt while Manuel returned to Byzantine territory, never to be heard from again. This event here in 646 marked the end of Byzantine rule in Egypt which was to be certainly a heavy blow to the empire as the major grain supply was lost, but not all of it as the empire still had Carthage which produced a major amount of grain, but losing Egypt too meant allowing the Arabs to take over more ports which then blocked off the Byzantines’ trade with the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, and when losing Egypt here in 646, the Byzantines now would never have hopes in taking it back anymore. Prior to the complete fall of Byzantine Egypt in 646, when the Arabs under Amr ibn al-As occupied Alexandria back in 642, Amr had the walls of Alexandria razed and here legends says, he had the ancient and highly important Library of Alexandria burned down together with all the books and knowledge kept in it but really, when he occupied Alexandria, the library was already rundown ever since the late 4th century when fanatical Christian mobs ransacked the library wanting to get rid of ancient Pagan knowledge. The truth however was that the Arabs did not want the metropolis of Alexandria as their capital, instead they would rather have a location along the desert and not by the sea as this was the life they were used to coming from the Arabian deserts, and so back in 642 Amr turned the village of Fustat deeper down the Nile River and closer to the Egyptian Desert as the new provincial capital, which would later on become the city of Cairo.

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Fustat (Cairo), new imperial capital of Egypt under the Arabs

Fast-forward to 646, now that the Arabs had all of Egypt with Cairo as their capital, they decided next to turn west and conquer the Byzantine Maghreb (Northwest Africa) including Carthage while at the same time in Carthage, the Exarch of Africa Gregory who was a relative of the ruling Heraclian Dynasty, and therefore of Constans II rebelled and declared himself emperor feeling Constans was too underaged, but the Arab armies having the ability to cross a desert without difficulty crossed the Sahara Desert from Egypt arriving near Carthage in 647 forcing Gregory to have to confront them in battle. Being as far west as Carthage, Exarch Gregory did not know that much about how powerful the Arabs were in battle until confronting them and right here, Gregory was killed at the Battle of Sufetula near Carthage against the Arabs and so was almost his entire army, therefore ending his rebellion. Though the Arabs defeated the Byzantines here in North Africa and made raids into it, North Africa did not yet fall to the Arabs as the Byzantine authorities of Carthage agreed to pay tribute to the Arabs, now making the Exarchate of Carthage a vassal state to the Arab Rashidun Caliphate. It also happened in 647 that the Arab armies from the east now having occupied most of the Sassanid Empire started raiding deeper into Byzantine Asia Minor into regions such as Cappadocia, Cilicia, and the mountains of Isauria, and these attacks were being directed by the Arab governor of Syria Muawiyah, a native of the Arabian Desert coming from the Umayyad clan, meaning he was not part of Muhammad’s clan and before Muhammad united Arabia, Muawiyah and his family opposed Muhammad until Muhammad recaptured Mecca in 629 wherein Muawiyah switched his support to Muhammad, converted to Islam, and became Muhammad’s scribe and in 639 following the Arab conquest of Syria, Muawiyah was appointed as its governor by Caliph Omar and to be based in Damascus, and he had turned out to be a very ambitious leader with the ultimate goal of conquering Constantinople. 

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Arab forces of the Rashidun Caliphate march across the Sahara Desert to Carthage, 647

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Byzantine era Carthage, capital of the Exarchate of Africa

Watch this to learn more about the Battle of Sufetula, 647 (Kings and Generals).

         

As the Arabs directed by Muawiyah continued their raids into Byzantine territory in 648 wherein they had reached as far west as Phrygia in Asia Minor, Constans II knew it was to time to act in defending the empire and this meant not repeating the past mistakes of emperors which even included his grandfather Heraclius who busied himself too much with creating the new doctrine of Monothelitism and trying to consolidate it across the empire while the Arabs were winning victories against them, so Constans here decided it was time to put all the endless religious debates on the natures of Christ aside as there was an even bigger threat, the Arab expansion.

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Coin of Constans II as a young emperor

To solve the entire issue of the religious debates, Constans here in 648 with Patriarch Paul II’s guidance issued a decree known as the Typos that forbade any kind of debates on the natures of Christ that was tearing the religious unity of the empire apart at such a difficult time, but it was to also to stop the persecutions of heretical sects of Christianity that were not seen as Orthodox, though what this decree actually meant was absolutely no more debating on Christ’s natures, and what was already ruled by the Patriarch of Constantinople on Christ’s nature which here was the Monothelite doctrine of Christ having one energy was final, and those who did not abide by this would get their property confiscated or worse, be jailed. Here at age 18, Constans had already shown the full autocratic nature of his reign and how much he had despised the Byzantine senate even if they were the ones that put him in power as a child and had been acting as his regents as he was still quite young, but here at this point even being only 18, Constans already showed to the senate he was capable of ruling alone with absolute power and did not need them at all. By issuing a decree that was to prohibit all religious debates on Christ’s natures, Constans had now become increasingly unpopular with most of the bishops of the empire- except Patriarch Paul II- as it was the bishops’ job to debate on religious matters and these bishops included the Patriarch of Rome or the pope himself, which in 649 was Pope Martin I who had just been elected as pope, though illegally according to Constans II, and just as he was elected as pope, Martin I called for a council in Rome to condemn Constans II’s ruling of the Monothelite doctrine and the Typos itself as it did not allow religious leaders to do their job.

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Pope Martin I

Meanwhile in 649, Muawiyah had already been making some progress as here he had landed in Byzantine controlled Cyprus partially taking the island leaving the other half still to the Byzantines, and for the next 300 years, the island of Cyprus would remain split between Arab and Byzantine control. Constans here when finding out half of Cyprus was lost to the Arabs, he decided to sign a peace treaty with Muawiyah and the Rashidun Caliphate but little did he know that by signing this, this would allow Muawiyah to build his fleet as his intention to capture Cyprus was to build a fleet there that could attack Constantinople by sea. In 650 on the other hand, Constans II now decided to take action on Pope Martin I for violating the decree of the Typos by holding a council that spoke against the decree and for Constans, it did not matter who violated this decree, even if it was the pope, and so here Constans sent a letter to the reigning Exarch of Ravenna in Italy Olympius ordering him to head over to Rome and arrest the pope who was to be brought over to Constans himself in Constantinople. Exarch Olympius then carried out the job and headed to Rome but when there, he failed to arrest the pope as he claimed the pope was too divinely protected as most possibly, Pope Martin successfully convinced him to turn away. Now rather than arresting the pope, Olympius in 650 instead turned on Constans, led his soldiers in rebellion, and declared himself emperor ruling Byzantine Italy as his own state completely independent from the empire. Soon enough, a small Arab army and fleet arrived in Sicily to raid it and here Exarch Olympius headed south to Sicily to counter-attack the Arab force that invaded it but in 652 as Olympius was in Sicily, another episode of the Plague of Justinian from the previous century had broken out killing many there including Olympius himself, as well as most of the invading Arab army, thus the Arab invasion failed. In the meantime, it happened in 651 when the Sassanid Empire completely died out and not with a big event like a large battle, instead the Sassanid Persian Empire only died out here when its last ruler Yazdegerd III at age 27 when continuing his flight east to escape the Arab invasion of the Sassanid Empire was killed outside the city of Merv in the Steppes of Central Asia at the edge of their empire.

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Yazdegerd III, last shah of the Sassanids (r. 632-651) fleeing from the Arabs

It remains unclear on how Shah Yazdegerd III had been killed but some sources say a simple miller killed him to take his jewellery but no matter what was the cause of his death, his death marked the end of the Sassanid Empire that just recently was a dominant world power having been around for 4 centuries since the 3rd century, and with the Sassanids gone after years of civil war and defeats to the Arabs, it was now time for the Arab Caliphate to replace the Sassanids as Byzantium’s new traditional eastern enemy. Though the last Sassanid emperor had died when actually trying to flee east to the Tang Empire of China, he at least had a wife who though unnamed was said to be a Christian and with her they had a young son named Peroz who was also a Christian and not a Zoroastrian like his father, and young Peroz and his mother would at least survive and make it to China, their final destination to seek refuge in.

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Imperial court of Constans II in Constantinople

           

Hearing about the final dissolution of the Sassanid Empire in 651 was not so much a relief for Constans II as all while hearing of this happening, he knew the empire of the Arabs would grow even larger and true enough with Sassanid authority crumbling in their last province of Khorasan (Central Asia), the Arabs were able to also take this entire area, thus wiping the Sassanid Empire out of the map. Now it is about time to discuss a bit about Constans II’s life as an emperor at a young age and his family, and here Constans was now in his 20s but with all the difficulties he faced in his teenage years, he had aged very fast both in looks and in mentality, but this meant that his bitter nature and autocratic style of ruling would increase even more.

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Young Constans II illustration

Historical sources though do not say much about Constans II’s twin brother Theodosius but in this case, let’s just say that now at this point, Constans was growing more suspicious of him even though Theodosius was rather useless and had no potential to be a serious threat, but for Constans- at least in this story’s case- having a twin brother meant potential trouble and even though Theodosius was not really seen as a threat, one day he could be when his soldiers might mistake Theodosius as Constans considering that they looked very much alike even if not identical twins and with this, they could even start calling Theodosius their emperor, forgetting Constans is still around, or possibly Theodosius would one day rebel and take the throne with the excuse that it does not matter who is emperor as both are twins and no one would really be sure who was born first. Historical sources too do not mention about the happenings with Constans’ mother Gregoria at this point, so for this story’s case we could just say Gregoria had retired and had completely left the world of politics, though other than Gregoria, historical sources do not also mention much about Constans’ wife the empress Fausta except that here in 652 she gave birth to her first child with Constans and sticking to the naming tradition of the eldest son named after his grandfather- just how Constans with Heraclius as his real name was named after his grandfather- Constans’ first son was named Constantine after Constans’ father Constantine III, and this Constantine would be the emperor Constantine IV. Now about Fausta who historical sources do not say much about, in this story’s case as mentioned earlier, she was 2 years older than her husband and of Armenian descent as her father, the late general Valentinus was an Armenian, though her mother remains unknown, though in appearance Fausta- in this story’s case- had a strong Armenian or eastern look with large piercing green eyes, tanned skin, black hair, and a short and round stature. In the meantime, Constans II was still not yet finished with his plan to arrest Pope Martin I for disagreeing with his decree, so here in 653 with the previous exarch of Ravenna Olympius dying the previous year from the plague in Sicily, the new Exarch of Ravenna Theodore I Calliopas– who had already previously been Exarch of Ravenna from 643 to 645- was again reappointed by Constans and following his appointment was charged by Constans to again head over to Rome and arrest the pope. This time, Exarch Theodore succeeded in arresting Pope Martin I by sending his soldiers to the pope’s palace at the Lateran Basilica who tricked him into shipping him over to the Greek island of Naxos in the Aegean Sea where the pope when arriving there was thrown into prison, while back in Rome Theodore convinced the Roman bishops to elect someone else as their pope which they did by electing Pope Eugene I in the next year (654).

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Pope Martin I arrested and brought to Constantinople, 653

Later on in 653, Martin I was brought over from Naxos to Constantinople where he was paraded in the streets in chains like a prisoner before confronting Constans II at the Hippodrome who sentenced him to be executed for opposing the emperor’s Monothelite decree as well as being elected illegally, although for Constans Martin I was accused of being elected illegally meant that he was elected without the emperor’s approval. Right when Constans was about to have the deposed pope executed, the dying Patriarch of Constantinople Paul II came to the pope’s rescue and when listening to Martin’s pleas, Paul convinced Constans to not execute Martin but to instead send him to exile in the most remote land of the Byzantine Empire, which was the isolated Peninsula of Cherson or the Crimea (in today’s Ukraine), a cold and desolate Byzantine port colony in the north coast of the Black Sea, as exiling the pope to a warm Aegean or Ionian island would be sending him to exile in some kind of island paradise while sending him to cold Cherson would be a fitting death sentence. As it would turn out, when Pope Martin I was sent into exile in Cherson, he would die soon enough in 655 at age 57, possibly due to the cold and lack of food there but he would still become a saint after his death, whereas Patriarch Paul II would die in late 653.

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Byzantine ruins of Cherson in the Crimea, Ukraine; exile place of Pope Martin I

On the other hand, Muawiyah here continued his conquests of the Mediterranean islands that in 654, he had conquered the Greek island of Kos and afterwards Rhodes, and when in Rhodes the first thing the Arab army did was to clear out the ruins of the famous Colossus of Rhodes, a massive statue of the Greek sun god Helios build in 280BC standing 30m high but over time after several earthquakes, the statue was reduced to ruins, and though some legends say Mauwiyah and his army tore down the Colossus itself, rather when the Arabs arrived, they found it ruins and decided to scrap it to be made into gold coins, and when taking down the ruins, it was said that the Arabs used up to 900 camels to cart off the ruined blocks as the statue was literally that large and the metal that it was made of was that heavy. Hearing of the fall of Rhodes to the Arabs, Constans now felt threatened and decided he had enough and so he put an end to the truce he signed with Muawiyah back in 649 and assembled a fleet in Constantinople to attack Muawiyah’s fleet which had at this point been stationed in the southwestern coast of Asia Minor while at the same time here in 654, he appointed his 2-year-old son Constantine as co-emperor. The Byzantine fleet of 500 ships was fully constructed by 655- the same year Pope Martin I died in Cherson- and the 25-year-old Constans II here decided to lead the fleet himself assuring they would score a victory that way and so the fleet sailed south to the Lycian coast of Asia Minor where Muawiyah’s fleet was stationed. On the night before the battle, Constans II when sleeping in his luxurious cabin in the emperor’s personal ship- according to the Byzantine historian of the next century Theophanes the Confessor– and in this story’s case as well, he had a dream that he was in the city of Thessaloniki and when waking up, he thought this meant he would win a victory as Thessaloniki in Greek meant something to do with scoring a victory, but little did he know that the “Thessaloniki” of his dream meant the other definition of the name which in Greek was thes allo nike meaning “give victory to another”. The next day, the Byzantine and Arab fleets met at a location known as Finike (Phoenix) off the Lycian coast of Asia Minor and here as the sea was rough the battle was fought, and this battle here would be remembered as the “Battle of the Masts”, referring to the masts of the ships.

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Battle of the Masts, Byzantine vs Arab naval battle, 655

The battle resulted in a decisive victory for the Arabs despite them having only 200 ships compared to the Byzantines having 500, and although it is not clear on how the Arabs won, in this story’s case the Arab ships being smaller in size were faster thus being able to quickly crash into the larger Byzantine ships, which they quickly boarded, and were soon enough able to outnumber the more heavily armored Byzantine troops in them. Constans himself barely escaped the battle, that according to the same Theophanes, and in this story’s case too, he did a trick he was good at, so he exchanged his purple imperial robes with a young sailor who was about the same age and short stature as him, and while Constans escaped disguising himself as a sailor, the sailor dressed as the emperor was mistaken for Constans and was killed right at the spot by an Arab soldier whereas Constans retreated back to Constantinople in a small ship that had survived. As it turned out, Constans’ dream meant the opposite of what he thought it meant, therefore meaning “give victory to another” which were the Arabs but the following year (656), the Byzantines would have at least some luck as here when Caliph Uthman was assassinated in Medina, conflict broke out between the ambitious Muawiyah of the Umayyad clan and Uthman’s successor Caliph Ali, the son-in-law of Muhammad and this conflict would be the first full civil war in this history of the Islamic Caliphates, better known as the First Fitnah.

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Location of Cherson (encircled in black)

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Colossus of Rhodes before the Arab conquest of Rhodes in 654

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Arab fleet (left) and Byzantine fleet (right) engage each other at the Battle of the Masts, 655

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Byzantine and Arab fleets clash with each other at the Battle of the Masts


 

Birth of the Thematic System and the Move West (656-668)       

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With the Arab Caliphate at a civil war with each other, Constans II now used the moment to his advantage in order to focus on restoring some parts of the empire that had been ruined by the previous wars and invasions, and these included the Balkans and Eastern Asia Minor while Muawiyah who was here in conflict with the caliph Ali agreed to not bother Constans and instead to even pay tribute to him.

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Ali, the last Rashidun caliph (r. 656-661), art by Ahmed AbuElnaga

Now focusing on the problems of the empire, the first thing Constans thought about was the economy considering that the loss of Egypt had a heavy blow on the once abundant grain supply for Constantinople and the empire that before it happened once a month that this abundant grain supply from Egypt allowed people in the capital to get free distribution of bread, but with Egypt gone free bread was no longer possible. Although the second grain source which was Carthage was still around and fortunately for the Byzantines, after the civil war between Muawiyah and Ali broke out, the Exarchate of Africa based in Carthage which had become a vassal of the Caliphate since 647 was fully restored to imperial rule, although unfortunately the land around Carthage had already been drying up turning into a desert from over-farming, so the next place the Byzantines looked to for grain supply was Thrace and Asia Minor, although the grain supply in these places weren’t as abundant as Egypt, therefore there would be no more free grain distribution for the people of Constantinople. The next major challenge in the Byzantine Empire other than the economy was the cultural shift from Latin to Greek which was now truly evident in Constans’ time than it was in his grandfather Heraclius’ time, as here the Greek language had almost entirely replaced Latin amongst the people of the empire and in the imperial court, as well as in the army that Latin titles had now been evolving to Greek ones, which was evident even in the imperial court as the emperor was now referred to as the Greek “Basileus” meaning emperor instead of Augustus, or the Greek title Autokrator instead of the Latin Imperator, and a lot of these changes in the Greek language becoming the more dominant one had a lot to do with Heraclius’ reign as he was a native Greek speaker of Cappadocian and Armenian descent, meaning he had more connections to the east while the people he appointed to govern the empire were also native Greek speakers from the eastern provinces unlike before when most high officials of the empire were Latin speakers from the Balkans or western provinces. Constans meanwhile was adapting to the changes in the empire both in geography and in language as well culture quite well, but he was still feeling some kind of connection to the west and the empire’s Roman roots- at least for this story- and here in 658 with the conflict against the Arabs in the east at least put to a halt for now, he decided to turn his attention west to the Balkans which was now completely overrun and settled by the Slavs who were left behind there by their Avar allies who retreated back north sometime after they failed to besiege Constantinople in 626. The loss of the Balkans meanwhile was a heavy blow to the Byzantines as for the longest time, all the way back to the era of the Roman Empire, the Balkans played a major role as the major recruitment ground for soldiers, so now with the Balkans gone, this would mean shortage of soldiers, but again with the pressure of the Arabs coming to a halt here in 658, Constans set off from Constantinople to campaign in the still Byzantine territories of the Balkans.

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7th century Byzantine soldier clashes with a Slav warrior

Here, Constans managed to win a number of victories against the Slavs by defeating a large Slavic raid, and afterwards returned some of Greece to Byzantine rule and after defeating these invading Slavs, his army had captured many prisoners of war which were Slavic warriors, who were then all stuffed into ships and sent over across the Aegean Sea to Asia Minor to be resettled in as the previous wars against the Sassanids and Arabs have resulted in the near depopulation of Asia Minor. In 659, Constans briefly returned to Constantinople to be with his family as by this point his wife Fausta had given birth to two new sons Heraclius and Tiberius, although history does not specify their birth years, so instead for this story Heraclius as the elder one would have been born in 656 and Tiberius in 657, and here in 659 Constans back in Constantinople appointed both sons Heraclius and Tiberius as co-emperors even if they were too young to read and write, and so now there were 4 people with the imperial title being Constans II and his 3 sons, and this for sure would have made Constans’ twin brother Theodosius feel threatened as he was put aside in favor of Constans’ very young sons, but Constans on the other hand never really cared as he always saw that having a twin was a threat, so here Constans began his plans in eliminating his twin brother. After his short stay in Constantinople, Constans travelled to Asia Minor, this time to drive back the Arab forces that had still remained, and due to the Arab Caliphate in conflict with each other, Constans took advantage of the situation and when leading the army himself, he campaigned far into the east of Asia Minor successfully driving away the Arabs. It was in this 659 campaign in Asia Minor where Constans would make his greatest achievement in the history of Byzantium, which was the creation of the Thematic Systems or to put it short, the Themes (Themata in Greek), and this was another change that marked the transition of the empire from Latin to Greek as the names of these new smaller provinces or Themes would be in Greek. History though is not very clear about the formation of the Theme System or if Constans II exactly created it, as others say it was his grandfather Heraclius that did, but many sources still agree that the first 5 Themes or shrunken military provinces of the Byzantine Empire were created under Constans II between 659 and 661, and in this story’s case it will true enough be Constans II that toured Asia Minor between 659 and 661 to create the Thematic System.

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Strategos, Commanding general of a Byzantine Theme

The word “Theme” here does not really have a literal translation but it simply meant the name of a particular area bearing the name of the mobile army that was stationed in it, as each of these new provinces had their own mobile armies assigned to it, and these provinces too were under the administration of their army’s general known as the Strategos, basically a Greek title which replaced the former Latin Magister Militum. Now in these new provinces or Themes of Asia Minor, the soldiers stationed in them were given land of their own in which their children would inherit as well as succeed their fathers as soldiers as a way to ensure their full loyalty as the empire was sure enough running out of soldier recruits with most of the Balkans lost and the remnants of the Plague of Justinian from the previous century still making comebacks. On the other hand, the Slavic warriors that were previously captured in the Balkans were relocated to Asia Minor to be settled as the soldiers for these Themes wherein here they were to marry the locals, though at the same time Constans still encouraged many of the local men of Asia Minor to join the army and had many of the ruined castles of Asia Minor rebuilt as well, which were to be the strongholds for each of the Themes’ armies. It was here at this point that Asia Minor became the Byzantine Empire’s new heartland as it was to now provide both soldiers and food supply for the empire and with the creation of these new provinces or Themes, each of the Themes were to produce their own goods for the empire’s survival whether it was minerals, food, wood, or military equipment while each Theme too had its own foundry to manufacture its soldiers’ uniform weapons and armor.

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Byzantine Thematic army soldier, 7th century

Under Constans II, 4 Themes were created in Byzantine Asia Minor (Turkey) with their own generals in charge of it and with its own capital, and these first 4 Themes were the Anatolic Theme (Anatolikon in Greek) consisting of the central and southern part of Asia Minor in which the eastern army of the empire was stationed in and the city of Amorion was its capital; next was the Armeniac Theme (Armeniakon) which was the largest of the Themes being located in the eastern part of Asia Minor along the border with the city of Amasea as its capital; next was the Thracesian Theme (Thrakesion) in the western coast of Asia Minor where the Thracian army would be based in, hence the origin of its name; and last would be the Opsikion Theme in the northwest part of Asia Minor which here was to be administered directly from Constantinople, and this Theme would be under the most elite army of the empire or the Praesental army commanded not by a Strategos but by a general with the title of Komes, which was an honorary title for a general. After creating the 4 land Themes in Asia Minor, Constans decided to create a fifth one which was this time to be a naval Theme under the imperial navy and marines which was to be the Karabasian Theme (Kibyrrhaioton) in the southern coast of Asia Minor to further protect the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts of Asia Minor. The first known generals Constans II appointed to be in charge of these Themes included one of Sassanid Persian descent named Saborios, whose name is the Greek version of the Persian name Shapur who would be the Strategos of the Armeniac Theme and another one named Mizizios, an Armenian general who was made the Komes of the Opsikion Theme, the most elite of the Themes. Constans on the other hand before even hitting the age of 30 made a very strategic achievement for the empire that was to prove very effective in the next centuries to come, although still it was not entirely him who came up with the idea of these Themes from scratch but rather his grandfather Heraclius when he saw the provinces of Syria and Palestine lost to the Arabs and Asia Minor as the new core of the empire, though it would be Constans II to put this whole idea into full effect. There is a lot more to explain about the Themes of Byzantium, the Thematic System and how it functioned, and its elite armies being the Cataphract cavalry but that would be for the upcoming stories after this one, but to put it short, it was effective in the way that when both parts of the empire were under attack, one Theme’s army could focus on one side while the other could focus on the other side without having to march an entire army from one far end of the empire to the other, therefore these Themes made it quicker for armies to respond to external attacks.

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Map of the first original 5 Themes of Asia Minor created under Constans II

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Slavic warriors, resettled into Asia Minor by Constans II

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Cataphract cavalry, elite army of the Byzantine Themes

Watch this to learn more about the Thematic System and its structure (Kings and Generals).

      

After being away from Constantinople for 2 years from 659 to 661, Constans returned to the capital wherein he started becoming increasingly unpopular and though it is not really said why, in this story’s case this would be mainly due to his defeat to the Arabs back in 655 at the Battle of the Masts and for being absent from the capital for 2 years despite doing the latter to actually further protect the empire by creating the Themes.

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Caliph Muawiyah I, 1st Umayyad Caliph

It also happened in 661 that the caliph Ali was assassinated in a mosque at the city of Kufa (in today’s Iraq) and with his death died the Rashidun Caliphate as with Ali dead, Muawiyah took over as Caliph ending the civil war and beginning the Umayyad Caliphate wherein he turned the Caliphate into something more politically organized and had also moved the caliphate’s capital from Medina in the Arabian Desert to Damascus in Syria which was more of a threat to the Byzantines as the Arabs’ capital was closer to their borders, although for the meantime, Muawiyah still organizing the new caliphate did not yet have plans to attack Byzantium, thus giving Constans more time to rebuild the ruins of his empire and put the Themes into full effect. Here in 661, Constans II at the age of 30 now had a full and thick square beard in his large round face, which was the first thing to be noticed about him as well as his thick and long curly hair as seen in his coin which too will be a new standard for future Byzantine emperors in appearance, henceforth his nickname Konstantinos ho Pogonatos meaning “Constantine the Bearded” in Greek as true enough he ruled by his real name “Constantine” while his family members and those closest to him still referred to him as the Latin “Constans” or “little Constantine” (Konstas in Greek). Now back to Constans’ growing unpopularity, the people here at this point in 661 started favoring Theodosius over his twin brother and considering that they almost looked a like, the people who hated Constans thought it would not hurt those who favored Constans if they deposed Constans and replaced him with Theodosius as long as Theodosius would grow a longer beard the way Constans has, therefore those who are loyal to Constans would still mistake him for Constans, however it would not really work out as Theodosius still did not have Constans’ brutal and autocratic personality whereas Theodosius was still more relaxed. For this story at least, Constans suspected something wrong about his twin, so let’s say the faction loyal to Constans soon enough knew of the plot by those who opposed him to overthrow him and replace him with Theodosius and so when finding out about this, Constans now knew this was the right time to act against his twin brother and get rid of him for good. History too does not say when Constans and Theodosius’ mother Gregoria died but let’s just say that here in 661 she had already died which now gave Constans every reason to get rid of his twin brother as he would most definitely not do it while their mother was still alive. Having enough of the possibility of Theodosius taking over the throne from him with popular support, Constans without any hesitation had some of the palace guards arrest Theodosius at his quarters in Constantinople’s imperial palace and cut off his tongue, again as a way to make sure he would not try to claim the throne, as again a single deformity like missing a tongue would render him unable to rule as emperor. Constans too thought of simply executing his twin brother but he soon started to think cutting off his tongue was a better punishment as Theodosius had still done nothing wrong that deserves the death penalty that in fact he never even once tried to launch a coup against Constans, and so after getting his tongue cut off, Theodosius was forced to take Holy Orders and become a monk in a monastery outside Constantinople, but little did Constans know that the injury Theodosius received when getting his tongue cut off cost him his life and later on in 661, Theodosius had died as a monk. Constans here would therefore be remembered as the “Bearded Autocrat” or “Constans the Killer” and this would not be it yet for his vicious deeds, although he was at least still very loyal to his wife Fausta and 3 sons but Fausta hearing about Constans’ vicious act that ended up killing his twin brother would soon begin to fall out with him. Each day- in this story’s case- Constans and Fausta would argue more and more that they would stop eating and sleeping together, while Fausta even tried to get her 3 sons Constantine, Heraclius, and Tiberius away from their father fearing that her sons would follow in their father’s footsteps becoming a bloodthirsty tyrant. Now in 662, Constans had grown tired of living in Constantinople being unpopular with the people and ignored by his family, so here is when he decided to leave the capital again and protect the empire, but here he also began to think about the rather short life he had lived so far, about how he had lost his childhood and teenage years when having to put it aside for the responsibilities of running an empire, about how the difficulties in his early reign of having to face challengers left and right turned him into a bloodthirsty autocratic ruler, and how this kind of personality of his turned his people and family against him. Constans here thought it was time to change his image which is why he decided to head to Greece and protect it as he got word that the Slavs were invading again, and here at this point, the Theme Systems was now more or less fully operational that if Constans pulled out one Theme’s army, the armies of the other Themes could defend that Theme wherein the army had been pulled out, and since the Opsikion Theme was closest to Constantinople with its troops being the elite retinue of the imperial army, he called for this Theme’s army to join him in this campaign. The Opsikion Theme’s general Komes Mizizios, the Armenian noble 8 years older than Constans who was said to be very tall and handsome but at the same time shy and reserved led his troops across the Marmara to meet Constans in Constantinople where he and his troops were to accompany the emperor in his new campaign.

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Coin of Mizizios, Komes of the Opsikion Theme under Constans II

Meanwhile- in this story’s case- the senators Constans sent to China almost 20 years earlier, Alexios and Philippikos had returned to Constantinople with Alexios who left Constantinople in his 40s was now in his 60s and Philippikos who was then in his 20s now in his 40s, and now when returning both reported to Constans about their fascinating journey in this far away land, about how sophisticated the imperial court was in their capital of Chang’an with buildings made with crystal and glass, about the colorful silks worn by its people that in fact even the poorest people there wore silks, and the exotic and tasty food there unknown to the Byzantines such as fisheye that was only reserved for the emperor.

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Women’s fashion in Tang Dynasty China, 7th century

Additionally, the senators told Constans that in China, it were yellow and gold silks reserved only for members of the imperial family unlike in Byzantium where it was purple while there in Tang China, women too were more empowered than in Byzantium and that they were fascinated with the rather peculiar fashion women there wore such as the kind of silk gowns that appeared rather revealing wherein they left their upper chests exposed with only a thin silk robe covering the arms, which thus reflected the empowerment of women there. The senators then also told Constans that their emperor Taizong had agreed to lend them some money in exchange for Byzantine jewelry, although Taizong had already died back in 649 and was succeeded by his son Gaozong, who at this point was still ruling and Gaozong too had agreed to help Byzantium as he too feared the expansion of the Arabs even if it was still far from China. The senators too had told Constans that the last Sassanid heir which was the young Peroz, son of the last shah Yazdegerd III had arrived in China seeking refuge wherein at this point he had already grown up and had built a church there as he was true enough a Christian and there in Tang China, the young Peroz had been training to be a general to command the Chinese imperial forces to one day lead an attack against the Arabs in Central Asia. Constans was intrigued hearing of the stories from what he thought was a parallel world to Byzantium but not wanting to waste time, he asked both senators Alexios and Philippikos to join him in his campaign with Mizizios and the Opsikion army.

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Illustration of Byzantine era Thessaloniki

After setting off from Constantinople by sea, Constans and his retinue arrived first in Thessaloniki, where Constans having dreamt about being there back in 655 before losing the Battle of the Masts would finally step foot there, as true enough dreams usually do predict a future, and as he also remembered that the dream he dreamt meant for him scoring a victory, this time his predication actually came true as here in Thessaloniki, Constans himself leading the Opsikion Theme’s army fought the invading Slavic army with success driving them away from the walls of Thessaloniki. For the rest of 662, Constans together with the Opsikion army, Alexios, and Philippikos for a long time toured the remains of Byzantine Greece as Constans needed this lengthy amount of time to examine the situation in Greece, for he also thought of expanding the Themes beyond Asia Minor by establishing one in Greece too but in his long stay in Greece, Constans recruited more men to the Byzantine army as well which also included the Slavs he had defeated in battle and captured. For the winter of 662-663, Constans set himself up in Athens which at this time was now a ghost town wherein he would start drafting new plans for creating Themes in Greece but by early 663, Constans had now decided to leave Greece and set sail west for Byzantine Italy whereas Mizizios and the Opsikion army, Alexios, and Philippikos joined him once more.   

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7th century Constantinople street life, art by Amelianvs

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Chang’an, imperial capital of the Chinese Tang Empire

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Full coin of Constans II the Bearded including reverse

In 663, Constans and his men set sail from Athens to Italy arriving some weeks later in the port of Taranto in Southern Italy which was still under the Byzantines but right when arriving, Constans following the example of his grandfather Heraclius and Maurice before him, decided to lead his army north to attack the Lombard capital Benevento taking advantage of the fact that the Lombard king Grimoald I left his capital to head north and fight off a Frankish invasion.

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Map of 7th century Italy divided between the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna (orange) and Lombards (blue)

In one swift campaign led by Constans and Mizizios, the Byzantines overwhelmed the Lombards in their holdings in Southern Italy taking over a number of fortress before arriving in their capital Benevento facing little resistance there, also considering the fact that it was the mostly elite Byzantine army that was brought over to Italy that made the Byzantines win quite an easy victory here. The Byzantine forces did in fact come so close to taking over Benevento, however a Lombard messenger reached Grimoald I in time to warn him of the Byzantines’ attack and in very little time, the forces of Grimoald arrived to relieve Benevento forcing Constans’ army to retreat, although at least the Byzantines despite losing did not suffer many casualties and were able to retreat to Byzantine held Naples in an orderly way, though a portion of Constans’ army again suffered a heavy defeat when retreating to Naples.

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Lombard army of Italy, 7th century

After a short stay in Naples, Constans now joined by his old friend Exarch Theodore Calliopas- in this story’s case at least- joined him and from Naples, they all headed north and visited Rome which was still under Byzantine hands, making him the first Roman emperor to set foot in Rome since the Western Roman emperors 2 centuries earlier, and the last Roman (Byzantine) emperor to do so for several centuries. At some time in 663, Constans had a 12-day visit of Rome wherein he was greeted personally by Pope Vitalian– the successor of the former pope Eugene I who died in 657- who personally showed Constans, Theodore, Alexios, and Philippikos around Rome, the eternal city and Vitalian was also pleased with Constans for getting rid of Martin I who Vitalian had opposed before. Constans who had still felt Byzantium’s connection to its Roman origins showed a lot of respect for the eternal city that he stopped at every important Roman landmark including the Forum, Trajan’s Column, Baths of Caracalla, and the Palatine Hill Imperial Palace, and wanting to show the people of Byzantine held Rome that he was a much better person than how everyone saw him as, he greeted most of the people he saw in the city in a friendly way, although his soldiers acted differently except for their general Mizizios due to his reserved personality.

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Pope Vitalian

When stopping by the Ancient Roman Pantheon, which had been turned into a church by the Byzantine usurper emperor Phocas who Heraclius overthrew in 610, Constans saw his soldiers looting its valuables and stripping off its copper roof, although Constans despite getting angry at them for doing it still allowed them to do it as long as the loot was to be sent to Constantinople to be minted as coins to further improve the economy and not so long after, Constans’ 12-day stay in Rome was over, so here he proceeded south to Sicily setting himself up in its most important city, Syracuse while Theodore returned north to Ravenna. Constans II’s real intention for setting himself up in Syracuse still remains unclear as some say it could be because he wanted to restore Western Rome’s relevance in Byzantium the way Justinian I a century before him wanted to do as well, or maybe because he remembered his grandfather Heraclius’ possible decision one time to move the capital to Carthage as Constantinople was more at risk to be attacked especially now with the Arabs making Sicily a safer location as it was easier to defend being at the center of the Mediterranean, or rather because Sicily would be a good base to reclaim parts of Byzantine North Africa like Cyrenaica (Northern Libya) and Egypt that were lost to the Arabs, and for this story, it would be for all these reasons why Constans decided to set himself up in Sicily which he would do for the next 5 years never thinking of returning to Constantinople again. Another possible reason why Constans left his family behind in Constantinople to journey alone was to make up for his lost teenage and young adult years in which he spent nonstop worrying about defending his empire, according again to the History of Byzantium podcast, and for this story I would also agree with it that Constans left to at least enjoy life in the warm Mediterranean climate of Sicily, and for this story’s case he true enough would do just that drinking and partying hard with his soldiers. Although when basing himself in Sicily, Constans also decided to raise the taxes to the same levels as taxes were in Constantinople, Byzantine Greece, Asia Minor, and North Africa to make things fair and also to increase the army’s pay, though forgetting that the people of Sicily were much poorer than in the other parts of the empire. Constans here in Sicily would again return to showing how much of an apathetic autocratic ruler he was when he started losing his sanity by nonsensically brutalizing the tax collection on the Sicilians that it was said that the Sicilians had to sell their children to slavery and that women were forced into prostitution just so that they could pay up Constans’ harsh taxes, although most of these were just written by sources hostile to Constans, but in this story’s case with Constans as a villainous ruler, it would be true that all of these were happening for the next 5 years as Constans was in Sicily. Constans in Sicily on the other hand after a time wrote to Fausta in Constantinople asking her to come over to Sicily with their 3 sons, abandon Constantinople, and all settle in Syracuse as the new imperial capital as Constans also knew that with the Themes set up in Asia Minor, Constantinople will still be protected. In 663 meanwhile, as the months passed with the emperor not present in the capital, the Byzantine senate decided to name the 11-year-old son of Constans, Constantine as emperor in Constantinople knowing Constans would not return, although since Constantine was only 11, the same age his father was when becoming emperor, he was to rule under the senate’s guidance but only as co-emperor as Constans still being around was still the senior one.

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White flag of the Umayyad Caliphate

Now back in the newly formed Umayyad Caliphate of Caliph Muawiyah that had just adopted a simple white flag as their symbol, at this point after forming his new caliphate, he resumed his attacks on Byzantine Asia Minor which were carried out by his son and general Yazid, who Muawiyah also named his successor, which was a practice unheard of in the Arab world as a caliph did not inherit his position from his father, but rather was elected by the Caliphate’s leaders but to secure the new Caliphate’s succession, Muawiyah thought it would be better to adopt a hereditary succession like the Byzantines and Sassanids had. With the Arabs back in action again, the newly created Themes in Asia Minor were for the first time put into their full wartime function and here, the Anatolic and Armeniac Themes were able to hold out against the Caliphate’s attacks for a time though from 665 to 666, the Armeniac Theme had become more and more devastated from the Arab attacks which made their troops and their Strategos Saborios think that Constans being in Sicily gave up on the east allowing the Themes there to suffer defeats to the Arabs. In 667, the general Saborios of the Armeniac Theme decided that with Constans away and unable to protect Asia Minor, it was time for him to declare himself emperor against Constans and his family as there was no emperor to protect the east, but rather than continuing the war against the Arabs, Saborios instead asked for an alliance with Muawiyah sending word to Damascus agreeing to even pay tribute to the Umayyad Caliphate and in return Muawiyah agreed to it even sending some Arab troops to back Saborios’ rebellion, and in late 667 Saborios with the Armeniac Theme’s army marched west to Constantinople. In the meantime, the people of Constantinople were beginning to grow worried especially since their senior emperor Constans II had been away for 5 years now while the Arabs were gaining some success in invading Asia Minor, but right at the moment when everyone was starting to think hope was lost, an unlikely Byzantine Greek refugee from Arab occupied Syria, Kallinikos of Heliopolis arrived at young Constantine’s imperial court in Constantinople thinking Constans was there as he had plans of creating a superweapon that could destroy the Arab fleet which only needed the emperor’s approval.

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The Pantheon of Rome, parts stripped down by Constans II’s soldiers in 663

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Constans II in Sicily, art by Amelianvs


The Climax- Constans II Strikes Back (668-675)   

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While Muawiyah’s Arab armies were again putting pressure on Byzantium’s eastern borders and this time actually gaining an opportunity when allying with the usurping general Saborios, Constans was still in Sicily enjoying himself by again drinking and partying every night with his soldiers as well as with Mizizios, Alexios, and Philippikos as a way to make up for not being able to do this in his younger years while the people of Sicily were suffering by having to pay the heavy taxes Constans imposed on them, and with his oppressive way of ruling the Sicilians, they would start referring to Constans as the new Phocas- in this story’s case- the usurping emperor Constans’ grandfather deposed. Another thing Constans had done now in Sicily- which is only for this story- is that he started adopting the Chinese imperial practice Alexios and Philippikos had told him about which the Tang emperor of China Gaozong had done, eating fisheyes, a dish only reserved for the emperor and that everyone else who ate it was to be executed, and here Constans did just that as the Chinese emperor did by having everyone else who ate fisheyes executed that here in 668 he had about 40 people killed whether they were Sicilian fishermen or elites for simply eating fisheyes. The real turning point however for Constans’ life was on September 15, 668 when Constans went to the bathhouse of the imperial palace in Syracuse and here as he bathed, a Greek servant who was the only one in the room that was to scrub the emperor grabbed a bucket or rather a soap dish and used it to assassinate the emperor, which is how the contemporary historian of this time Theophilus of Edessa, who was a Greek working for the caliph described Constans’ death, therefore a very odd way of assassinating someone.

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Assassination of Constans II in real history with the use of a soap dish, 668

In this story’s case however, as the 37-year-old Constans was alone in the imperial baths to enjoy himself on the afternoon of September 15, he had noticed something different in the energy around him after this Greek servant put some soap over his eyes, and as the servant went further away from Constans to grab a soap dish, Constans in his usual paranoia feeling that the soap dish might be used against him got some water to wash his eyes, afterwards when able to see everything, he grabbed the servant by the leg dragging him into the pool whereas the heavy marble soap dish fell into the water sinking. While soaking in the pool water, Constans strangled the servant with his arm asking him if he really intended to kill him, and the servant replied saying he came into the baths to do just that. While Constans strangled him, the servant told him everything about the plot and that killing Constans in the baths was the easiest way since the palace in Syracuse was heavily guarded and the only way to get to Constans up close was to do it in the baths while no one else was around, not even the guards.

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Marble soap dish intended to kill Constans II

The servant too had said that earlier in that day, he got a letter with orders from Caliph Muawiyah in behalf of the Armeniac Theme’s Strategos Saborios in which both wanted Constans dead as Muawiyah feared that now with Constans in Sicily, he could easily take back Arab held Egypt from there as Muawiyah knew that when Constans was younger his forces took back Alexandria for a year, therefore believing Constans had the same intention again, while Saborios wanted Constans dead so he could fully take the throne without opposition believing Constans did not care at all about the eastern border. After Constans learned everything he needed to know form this servant, he strangled the servant to the point of unconsciousness with his bare arm and when knocked out, Constans dragged the servant up to the marble ground where Constans killed the servant ironically by smashing his head with the same marble soap dish meant to kill Constans, and afterwards the guards rushed into the baths as Constans put on a towel.

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Meme of Constans II’s assassination

And now history is fully altered here as Constans II survived his assassination and would continue ruling from Syracuse, but the big mystery now is why and who directed the assassination attempt on Constans II, and others here say it could be the people of Sicily who were totally over with his brutal taxation policy, or it could be some disgruntled soldiers who were tired of being in Sicily for so long and had wanted to return to Asia Minor, but the best reason could be that it was masterminded by Caliph Muawiyah who was given more insider information on the job by Saborios who knew Constans personally, except that Saborios did not know anything about Sicily but rather he knew Constans’ personal schedule, and for Muawiyah, he could sense that Constans was surely going to take back Egypt with Sicily as his base since Sicily was much closer than Constantinople to Egypt and for the Arabs, Egypt too had proved to be a very valuable asset.

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Seal of Caliph Muawiyah I

In this story’s case, Constans being in Sicily had now changed his mind as when he was a young ruler, he thought when Egypt was fully lost in 646 there was no more hope in taking it back, but now the much older Constans was fully intent to take it back as it also meant resuming their trade with India and China due to access to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. With Constans now surviving the assassination attempt unlike in real history, he would meet with Alexios and Philippikos in the Syracuse palace where he would once again ask them to return by land to Tang China, this time to ask for a military alliance with Emperor Gaozong to counter-attack the Arabs from the east as Constans here knew from the servant who tried to kill him that Muawiyah was again set to direct more attacks on Byzantium after allying with the rebellious general Saborios, and Constans here even with the Themes did not have much men to face off the full might of the Arabs, therefore if the Chinese forces were to attack the Arabs from the east in Central Asia, the farthest the Caliphate extended to in the east, then this would distract the Arabs making them have to focus their attention east. Alexios and Philippikos then set sail to Constantinople by ship first to inform Constans’ family that he was almost killed but had survived and that they must ready themselves for a full Arab attack, and from there they would sail for Cherson in the Crimea where they would again journey east by land back to Tang China’s capital Chang’an. Now in real history, following Constans’ assassination, his army in Sicily proclaimed their general Mizizios as emperor against his will while in Constantinople, the 16-year-old Constantine IV became the senior emperor, and only when seeing coins with Mizizios’ face on it did he deal with Mizizios by travelling to Sicily himself in 669 to deal with Mizizios’ forces, although the army of the Exarch of Africa loyal to Constans had already sailed north to Sicily where they beat Mizizios’ forces and had already executed Mizizios- despite Mizizios having no part in Constans’ assassination- by the time Constantine IV had arrived there. In this story however with Constans surviving, Mizizios would have no reason to become emperor as he had no ambition anyway as could be seen with his reserved personality, so here Constans with Mizizios would plan their reconquest of the rest of North Africa as well as Cyrenaica and Egypt with the then Exarch of Africa Eleutherios, while the Exarch of Ravenna Theodore- who in real history had died in 666, but for this story’s sake would still be alive- would be put in charge of continuing the defense of Italy against the Lombards.

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Syracuse in the Byzantine era, Constans II’s new capital

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Damascus, capital of the Umayyad Caliphate beginning 661

           

For the past 5 years now, young Constantine IV had been put in charge of Constantinople’s administration while his father was away in Sicily, and in these 5 years, young Constantine had learned to be a strong and competent emperor. In this story’s case, in 668 rather than getting word that his father had been assassinated, Alexios and Philippikos at their arrival in Constantinople instead told young Constantine that his father now intended to divide the empire whereas Constans II would rule from Syracuse and Constantine IV from Constantinople, so therefore Constans in his letter asked Constantine to crown himself emperor, which he did here in 668 at the age of 16, and now Byzantium had 2 reigning senior emperors as Constantine’s younger brothers Heraclius and Tiberius remained as junior co-emperors.

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Emperor Constantine IV, son and successor of Constans II

Apparently, back in 597 when Emperor Maurice got a fatal illness, he thought of this same solution too which was to divide the empire in two parts between his sons, but when recovering shortly after the plan was scrapped, but here in this story it was Constans who now decided to stick to this plan, which was a strategy a lot of Roman emperors in the past had used and while Constantine IV’s half of the empire included the Themes of Asia Minor, over in the west Constans II thought of creating Themes in Italy as well, and part of it was to make the whole of Sicily an entire Theme too; although by 700 in real history, Sicily too became a Theme. Now like in real history, as Constantine IV came into power, here in this case the same would happen when some of the soldiers in Asia Minor would here for this story get some fake news that Constans II had died, so they marched to Constantinople and demanded that Constantine IV rule in equal power with his two younger brothers Heraclius and Tiberius but just as Constantine IV did in real history, he refused to do so in being manipulated and so he had the leaders of these rebellious troops executed after tricking them to meet with him peacefully, therefore beginning his reign in the same autocratic manner as his father, a trait he sure enough inherited, and rather than ruling with his brothers equally, Constantine remained the senior emperor of the east with his brothers only as junior co-emperors. Meanwhile, the larger rebellion of Saborios and the soldiers of the Armeniac Theme had been growing and here by late 668, almost the entire Asia Minor was on his side the moment he was already in the region of Bithynia in the Opsikion Theme very close to Constantinople. Here as Saborios was stationed in the Fortress of Hexapolis drilling his army and waiting for his Arab reinforcement army to arrive, he would meet the same fate as he did in real history, and as Saborios got word that an imperial loyalist army from Constantinople was marching towards them, he mounted his horse right next to the fortress’ main gate but when he got on, his horse suddenly bolted and charged at the gate whereas Saborios slammed his head on the gate as a result of his horse charging. The horse then galloped away while Saborios fell to the ground, and since he had not yet put on his helmet when his head was slammed against the gate, he died a few minutes later from the injury while his army with no more leader just defected to the loyalist forces of Constantine IV, thus Saborios’ rebellion was over, though it was not yet it for his coming Arab allies. Even with Saborios dead, the Arab army led by Muawiyah’s son Yazid was still headed directly to Asia Minor and true enough they were only using Saborios as a way to get to Constantinople themselves wherein if Saborios took over the throne with Arab support, he would only be Muawiyah’s puppet but with Saborios gone, the Arabs had every reason to take Constantinople for themselves. As for Constantine IV here in 669, he would have no reason to head over to Sicily like in real history as his father had not been killed, therefore Mizizios would not rise up in rebellion, instead Constantine IV would have to focus with the happenings in Asia Minor as here in 669, 5,000 Arabs under Yazid’s command reached as far as the Anatolic Theme taking over its capital Amorion, although soon enough like in real history, the army of the Anatolic Theme liberated their capital driving the Arabs away. At the same time, Muawiyah like in real history sent a fleet to attack Sicily and Carthage in 669 and in this story’s case, it would be for the reason of stopping Constans from launching an attack on Egypt, although Constans with Mizizios by his side here would easily defeat the Arab fleet sent against them. Back in the east, Yazid who was still around commanding the fleet in 670, like in real history was able to capture the port of Cyzicus in the Marmara Sea which was very close to Constantinople, and intended to be used as a base to construct a larger fleet for the attack on the capital. In 672, the Arabs would now make more progress when the fleet of Yazid had captured the port city of Smyrna in the Aegean to be used as another base to build more ships for their grand assault on Constantinople.

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Greek Fire sticking on water

In Constantinople meanwhile, Constantine IV was growing even more worried but here Kallinikos the engineer would demonstrate to him the new weapon he had created which was a kind of brass cannon that was able to blow out some kind of sticky liquid fire that was operated with a kind of pump, but the secret was its chemical ingredient being naphtha, sulphur, and resin which was to be ignited with this mechanism, and Constantine only agreed to use it if its exact formula and procedure was a secret to be kept between both of them and the elite naval force that was to operate it only. Late one night in 672- in this story’s case at least- both Kallinikos and Constantine tested this weapon on the shores of the Marmara and to their surprise, it worked as the fire emitted from the cannon did stick to the water for a time as was intended.       

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Strategos Saborios leads the army of the Armeniac Theme in rebellion, 667-668

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Umayyad army led by Yazid in Asia Minor, art by Marwan Musa

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Byzantine Smyrna, captured by the Umayyads in 672

         

For the entire year of 673, both Byzantines and Arabs had been preparing for the grand battle to come, therefore Constantinople was still safe even if the Arabs in 673 had already captured some of the southern coast of Asia Minor including the city of Tarsus; although in this story’s case with Constans II still alive and Syracuse as his capital, he started feeling the need to go back to Constantinople, just to save it from the upcoming Arab attack. Just like in real history, the grand battle here would come in 674 when the Arab fleet and army themselves under the command of Yazid besieged Constantinople both by land and sea, and this Siege of Constantinople went on for 4 years (674-678) intermittently as the Arab forces would pause every winter retreating back to their naval bases in Cyzicus and Smyrna, as winters were something alien to the desert born Arabs, thus every time spring came, the Arabs would resume their attacks. There are not that much sources on this 674-678 Siege of Constantinople, but it was clear that things had not come to any results until 677 when Constantine IV decided to lead the fleet himself head-on against the Arabs, and this would be where the secret superweapon Greek Fire would first come into use and in 678, the Arabs being unable to continue the attack due to the power of Greek Fire had fully retreated, and on their retreat they were heavily defeated once again by the Byzantine fleet off the coast of Lycia in Southwest Asia Minor. On the other hand, while the Siege of Constantinople was ongoing, Constantine IV was too busy defending capital that he could not put his attention to other parts of the empire and true enough, Thessaloniki with most of its troops having to march to Constantinople to reinforce it was left poorly defended when the Slavs besieged it in 676, although when the Siege of Constantinople was over by 678, the Slavs too have abandoned their attack on Thessaloniki.

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Constantinople at the 1st Arab Siege, 674

In this story’s case on the other hand, the Siege of Constantinople would play out in a much different way considering that Constans II here was still alive, although when it would begin in 674 he was still absent from Constantinople, thus leaving the 22-year-old Constantine IV to lead and supervise the defense of the city himself, and here he would be extremely nervous as this would be the first time he was to lead his army in a full scale battle against about let’s say 50,000 Arabs while the defending Byzantine forces only numbered up to let’s say 15,000 but luckily in the case of this story, the superweapon of Greek Fire was already built and its engineer Kallinikos was to be by Constantine’s side the whole time as the weapon in this battle was at Constantine’s imperial ship.

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Greek Fire operated from the imperial ship

Feeling nervous about what was to come, Constantine motivated himself by remembering how his grandfather Constantine III at only 14 helped lead the defense of Constantinople in 626 against the Avars, Slavs, and Sassanids, and after feeling some sense of motivation, Constantine encouraged his younger brothers Heraclius and Tiberius as well his mother Fausta- in this story only- to all take part in defending the city. By April of 674 like in real history, the Arab fleet from Cyzicus sailed up the Marmara arriving in Constantinople’s south shore, and unlike in real history when Constantine IV confronted them only in 677, here he already led the fleet head-on against the incoming Arab fleet of Yazid the moment the Arabs arrived. Here at this moment, Greek Fire would first be used against the enemy ships, and it would turn out it would be fully effective as the sticky flames would not only stick to the water but burn down the smaller wooden Arab ships too, but what was even more devastating was its fear factor as when the flames began to burn the ships and water, the Arab soldiers panicked and jumped off into the water drowning to death. Again like in real history, the battles here would go on each day, pausing at night, and again resuming the next day to the point that the Arab infantry had already disembarked from their ships and began scaling the walls, though Constantinople’s walls as usual would still be too impossible for the Arab forces to fully scale due to their height, number of towers, and the number of soldiers defending them as it turned out more troops were assigned to the walls than in the sea, and it was also in the walls where Fausta, Heraclius, and Tiberius would be rallying the troops despite not going into action themselves. As the weeks had gone by, the battles still continued with no clear result to the point that the Byzantines had been losing hope, but just when they all thought hope was lost, as Constantine looked south into the Marmara, he saw a large fleet consisting of 300 Byzantine ships, and as it would turn out this was his father Constans II himself leading a reinforcement fleet together with Mizizios to relieve Constantinople. In their approach, thousands of flaming arrows fired by Byzantine archers from these ships flew across the sky into Yazid’s ships further burning them and soon enough, these larger Byzantine ships crashed straight into the smaller Arab ships destroying them. Constans would then see the other imperial ship where his son was at and when seeing a streak of flames fired from it against a larger Arab ship, Constans was amazed at the sight, but at the same time he kept cursing in Greek as he could not believe what he just saw.

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Coin of Constans II with his son Constantine IV

Having dealt enough damage here and as the days were getting colder as the year progressed, Yazid ordered his entire army and fleet to retreat. As the Arab forces and ships were retreating, Constans now had the chance to get off his ship and board his son’s ship, where they would now reunite after not seeing each other for almost 12 years, and here the 44-year-old Constans barely recognized his son who was now fully grown up, as the last time they had seen each other, Constantine IV was only 10. As the days would now go by, the Byzantines had noticed that they were no longer under attack, therefore the people of Constantinople had begun rebuilding the damage caused by siege, but soon enough they had noticed the days would turn into weeks, and weeks into months with no more attacks against them from the Arabs when the year 675 came.

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Greek Fire used against an Arab ship at the 674 Siege of Constantinople
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The 5th century Theodosian Land Walls of Constantinople, art by myself

Now in this story’s case, the main difference here in the 674-678 Siege of Constantinople was that here it was over in its first year, and not having to go on much longer for 4 more years like in real history, and the reason for this scenario happening in this story was not only due to the still alive Constans II coming in time to assist Constantinople, but by also making a fictitious alliance with the Tang Chinese emperor Gaozong.

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Gaozong, Tang Chinese emperor (r. 649-683)

Back in 668, after Constans survived the attempt on his life, he sent the senators Alexios and Philippikos to China and as it turned out when back there again, they were able to successfully convince Gaozong, the emperor there to amass an army over the next 6 years, and only by 674 were they completely ready to march west and distract the Arabs who were attacking Constantinople by forcing them to turn east and face off an attack by the Chinese forces. At this point, the last member of the Sassanid ruling dynasty, Peroz who had been living in Tang China was already grown up in his 30s and now a powerful general in the Chinese army who had been trained to fight in the ways of both the Chinese and of his own Persian people and in this story’s case, it would be Peroz dressed in his Sassanid imperial armor that would lead a total of 100,000 men west from China into the border of the Umayyad Caliphate in Central Asia, and these 100k would consist of Chinese infantry and cavalry including war elephants, as well as Sassanid Persian refugees dressed up once again in their own Persian armor and ready to bring the fight to the Arabs to avenge their fallen empire’s twin defeats to them at Al-Qadisiya in 636 and Jalula in 637.

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Tang Chinese imperial army

Word of the caliphate’s eastern border under attack would first reach Caliph Muawiyah in Damascus who would then send word about it to his son Yazid who was camped with his army in Smyrna, and here in 675 just when Yazid was preparing to set sail to Constantinople again to continue the siege, he got word from his father that the eastern border in Central Asia was under attack, and the worst part he heard was that it was under attack by the Sassanids, the very enemy the Arabs thought they had completely crushed. Believing that the Sassanids were planning to reclaim their empire, Yazid with his army instead of continuing on besieging Constantinople would immediately rush east where the Sassanid refugee forces and their Chinese allies were already making progress being already in what is today’s Afghanistan, very close to the Sassanid heartland of Iran which the Arabs now held. Before the winter of 675-676 would arrive, Yazid and his very tired forces after marching such a long distance from Asia Minor all the way east to Central Asia for months would confront the fully energized 100k army of Peroz at Bactria (Afghanistan), where due to being exhausted would lose to the combined Sassanid and Chinese forces, although Yazid would still survive retreating back to his father in Damascus never wanting to lead another campaign again after losing almost his entire army in the east. Peroz meanwhile after winning this entirely fictional victory would not anymore try to reclaim the Sassanid Empire even if he was the son of the last Sassanid emperor, instead he would return to China to continue loyally serving Emperor Gaozong, as here Peroz never really wanted to reestablish the Sassanid Empire, instead he only chose to fight the Arabs as he wanted to show that the Sassanids would make up for all the harm they had brought on the Byzantines for the past centuries, and by defeating the Arabs here, the last of the Sassanids did indeed redeem themselves to their old enemy. Although in reality, this kind of battle would happen in the next century (751) where the Arab and Chinese forces would clash in battle in Central Asia. Back in Constantinople, the days would still go by without an Arab attack, and as an entire year went by in peace, it was concluded that the Arab siege was over. Constans II meanwhile remained in Constantinople for most of 675 reuniting with his family, and although his wife Fausta would still be angry at him for abandoning them back in 662, she would at least forgive him as Constans still came back at the last minute to relieve Constantinople from the Arab siege, and as Constans saw his two younger sons Tiberius and Heraclius again, he was surprised to see how much they have grown and now as young adults, both brothers looked very different from each other (as they are depicted in Constantine IV’s mosaic in Ravenna) whereas the older one Heraclius very much resembled his mother with tanned skin as well as thick and curly dark hair, while the younger one Tiberius looked a lot more like his father and eldest brother with lighter hair and lighter skin.

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Mosaic of Constantine IV (right) with his brothers Heraclius (first to the left) and Tiberius (2nd to the left), Sant’apollinare in Classe, Ravenna

In Constantinople, Constans would congratulate Constantine for his bravery and success in the defense of Constantinople and for the creation of Greek Fire, and at the same time Constans as the most senior emperor would congratulate the weapon’s architect Kallinikos too. Constans too would tell Constantine the whole secret on why the Arabs had no longer showed up, and this was because if it were not for Constans asking the Chinese emperor to send an army to attack the Caliphate, then the Arabs would have not turned their attention east and would instead return to attacking Constantinople. Constantine would then thank his father for doing just that, and just before Constans was to return back to Sicily, he confirmed with Constantine that the empire was to now be fully divided with two capitals, Constantinople and Syracuse although when Constans would die, Constantinople would remain as the superior capital where Constantine would rule from, and Syracuse as the inferior one where Heraclius and Tiberius would rule from after the event of Constans’ death. Constans too had settled a divorce with Fausta with the approval of the current Patriarch of Constantinople here Constantine I, and after concluding the divorce Constans would leave by ship to Sicily for good while his general Mizizios would return to the Opsikion Theme in Asia Minor he was in charge of to continue being its Strategos, and with Constans gone again, Constantine IV was now the senior emperor of the eastern half of the Byzantine Empire ruling from Constantinople.

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Sassanid forces in Central Asia returning to the fight the Arabs, 675 (in this story’s case)

Aftermath and Conclusion            

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The much older Constans II now was clear that he never wanted to rule from Constantinople again and after returning to Syracuse, he was to never return to the main imperial capital despite being the most senior emperor. However, for Constans when returning to Constantinople coming to the rescue when it was under attack, he knew he had done his part in making up for all those years he was absent from his family, and what was even more honorable of him here was that he came back right in time to save his family at the moment when their end was about to come, but now when doing what he needed to do to redeem himself for his family, he returned to Sicily enjoying himself alone away from his family once again, while he also thought it was for the best to divorce Fausta as after all, his marriage to her when he was only a child was only for a political alliance with Fausta’s father Valentinus who turned out to be a traitor anyway. In this entirely fictional scenario of Constans surviving his assassination back in 668, in the following years as he based himself in Syracuse, he would actually end up turning Sicily itself into a new Byzantine Theme, though back there Constans would still never really change and continue being oppressive in his ruling style and taxation. By 679, for this story’s case at least, Constans would achieve his greatest dream which was the Byzantine reconquest of Cyrenaica and Egypt using the 300 ships that helped him defeat the Arabs in Constantinople, and here all of Cyrenaica would be recaptured, though for Egypt it would only be Alexandria and the northern coast that would return to Byzantine rule, while the Arabs would still remain in the rest of Egypt. However, a portion of the abundant grain supply for Constantinople would still resume, though by losing the coast of Egypt, the Arabs deep within Egypt would have a more difficult time communicating with their imperial capital, Damascus.

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The Umayyad Mosque of Damascus, built under Caliph Muawiyah I

As for Constantine IV in Constantinople, with the siege not going on until 678 as it did in real history, he would use the following years after 675 to rebuild the imperial capital and due to the success of Greek Fire, he would now make it a permanent wartime weapon, though it would still be a state secret wherein its formula and procedure would be only revealed to members of the elite naval force and to those in the line of succession to the imperial throne, while the weapon’s architect Kallinikos would be appointed as the empire’s chief military scientist working in the imperial court. Like in real history, the Arabs would suffer major defeats too after they lost the Siege of Constantinople, except here in this case the Arabs were defeated a lot earlier before 678, though here they would do the same as they did in real history after being defeated, which was Caliph Muawiyah in 679 agreeing to humiliating peace terms with Byzantium which included paying an annual tribute of 50 slaves, 50 horses, 3,000 pounds of gold, and returning the Aegean islands including the port cities of Smyrna and Cyzicus which the Arabs had recently captured from the Byzantines. What would be different for this story though is that with the Arab Umayyad Caliphate losing heavily both at Constantinople and in Central Asia, their weakened armies would no longer have much interest to fight and so would their defeated general Yazid, and soon enough with the ports of Mediterranean Egypt lost, the Arabs would eventually lose all of Egypt to the Byzantines. Caliph Muawiyah in this story like in real history would also die in 680 realizing from his failure that it was impossible to breach into Constantinople, and at his death he would be succeeded by his son Yazid as caliph just as Muawiyah had planned. As for the diplomat senators Alexios and Philippikos, they would choose to remain in the imperial court of China at Chang’an where they would serve the Chinese emperor Gaozong as Byzantine ambassadors to strengthen relations between both empires, and there they would introduce some Byzantine customs to China and vice-versa. Back in Italy, the Exarch of Ravenna Theodore I Calliopas- who in real history died back in 666- for this story’s case had already died by around 673 while the empire was already split in half. Constans II on the other hand in this story’s case would die in 680 before hitting the age of 50 and ironically, he would die in the same baths of Syracuse’s imperial palace, although this time not anymore by being smashed in the head by a servant like in 668 in real history. Instead, Constans here when alone at the baths would suffer a heart attack and pass away within minutes 12 years after his death in real history, and he would only be found dead in the baths later as his servants entered the baths for cleaning. Constans’ body would then be sent to Constantinople where he would be buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles- where he was really buried in 668- and his funeral would be presided over by Constantine IV, although since Constans II was never really popular, had abandoned Constantinople for Sicily, and ruled in an oppressively autocratic way, his funeral would not be mourned by many but due to the fact that he relieved the city from the siege 5 years earlier, there would be at least some mourning for him. Following Constans II’s death, Constantine IV now as the most senior ruling emperor would honor his father’s plan in dividing the empire in order to fully protect all sides of it and continue their holding onto Italy, thus he would send both his younger brothers Heraclius and Tiberius to Syracuse to rule together as both were already co-emperors since 659, while Constantine IV would rule as the most superior of them from Constantinople, which was to still remain the main capital.  

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Coin of Emperor Constantine IV

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Court of the Umayyad Caliphs in Damascus

           

Now with Constans II having survived the assassination attempt on him and therefore successfully moving the capital to Syracuse, coming right in time back to Constantinople to relieve it from the Arab siege, further masterminding a heavy defeat on the Arab armies by conspiring with the Tang Chinese Empire, and later on dying from natural causes, on the other hand the same happenings too would happen for Byzantium in Constantine IV’s later reign as it did in real history. A lot of things Constantine IV had done as emperor were still mostly achievements, like for instance the 3rd Council of Constantinople between 680 and 681 which was finally able to solve the controversy of the Monothelite doctrine Constans II and his grandfather Heraclius before him strongly supported that even led Constans II to go as far as arresting Pope Martin I in 653 for opposing it.

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3rd Church Council of Constantinople headed by Constantine IV, 680-681

Here in this story, like in real history, Constantine IV would succeed in solving the issue by looking back at the ruling on the natures of Christ from the Council of Chalcedon back in 451 and afterwards reaffirming them, and for both successfully defending Constantinople from the Arabs and solving the Monothelite controversy once and for all, Constantine IV would become more popular than ever- as he was in real history- and gaining so much popularity, he would be hailed as the “New Constantine the Great”- the first Byzantine emperor (r. 306-337)- and the “New Justinian the Great” and coincidentally, Constantine IV here at this point was married to a certain Anastasia and already had a son named Justinian who he was training to be his successor, but in this story’s case to rule from Constantinople.

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Emperor Constantine IV of Byzantium

Tragically for Constantine IV by 681 like in real history, his health already began to fail despite his young age, which historians say he could have been suffering from cancer. In real history however, Constantine IV in 681 following in the footsteps of his father in mutilating his twin brother in 661 had both his younger brothers Heraclius’ and Tiberius’ noses cut off to prevent them from succeeding to the throne as a sure way to secure young Justinian’s succession, though in this story’s case this incident would not happen as Heraclius and Tiberius got their chance to rule the empire already from Syracuse where they would busy themselves continuing the campaign against the Lombards in mainland Italy. The other real event that too would happen in this story’s case was the first major invasion of the Bulgar hordes from the steppes of Russia led by their ruler Khan Asparukh across the Danube into Byzantine territory in 680 while Constantine IV was busy heading the Church Council. Again like in real history, Constantine IV here would lead the armies of the 5 Themes north to confront the Bulgars in 680 as well but at the middle of the campaign would suffer a bad illness due to his unspecified chronic sickness, thus making him have to retreat back to Constantinople leaving his army to confront the Bulgars, and without Constantine commanding them, the army like in real history would panic as their emperor had left, thus suffering a defeat to the Bulgars at the Battle of Ongal in 680.

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Khan Asparukh, First ruler of the Bulgarian Empire (r. 681-701)

Like in real history, Constantine here in 681 would have to acknowledge the creation of the first Bulgarian state ruled by Khan Asparukh in what was the Byzantine province of Moesia in the south bank of the Danube, and here is when the story of Byzantium’s northern neighbor and greatest enemy and ally at different times, the Bulgarian Empire begins. Constantine IV though would not lose his popularity for his defeat to the Bulgars, but in addition for this story’s case too like in reality, he would create the Theme of Thrace based in Constantinople to further protect the valuable province of Thrace, the empire’s capital region from the rise of the Bulgars who had now gained their own state subjugating the Slavic locals there. History though does not say what Constantine IV had been doing after 681 but it is most likely that he had been putting the Themes of Asia Minor his father created and the Theme of Thrace he created into full effect in case the Umayyad Arabs would come back again, but it is highly possible that Constantine was not so active anymore after 681 due to his failing health. In this story, Constantine IV would die just 5 years after his father on September 14, 685 at only 33 like he did in real history and would be succeeded in this story’s case as the emperor in Constantinople by his now 16-year-old son Justinian II while his brothers Heraclius and Tiberius would still remain in Sicily. The reign of the passionate and ambitious yet tyrannical and evil emperor Justinian II now would be a story for another time, although here like in real history, Constantine IV for successfully defending the capital and finally solving the issue of Monothelitism would become a saint after his death. Now the big question at the end of this story is what will happen to the Umayyad Caliphate after being defeated even more than they were in real history and if the establishment of Syracuse as the second Byzantine capital was worth it, however the answer to both cannot fully be told in a simple way but to put it short, all I can say is that even when defeated, the Umayyad Caliphate was still around and would still one day return to action, and for the Byzantines having 2 capitals with their own emperors just as the empire did before 476, they would be able to focus on both sides of their empire as in the east the Theme System would soon enough be fully prepared and functional if ever the Arabs rise again while in the west, the emperor ruling from Syracuse could focus on the problems there and restore Byzantine rule to Italy which had been neglected with the growing threat of the Arabs in the east. Now to simply put it, Constans II’s decision to make Syracuse a capital was to prove effective especially since this would help the Byzantines slowly regain control of the Mediterranean again, and therefore not spiral down in the sense of rapidly losing lands, and this is how this move to Sicily could change the course of Byzantine history.         

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The coming of the Bulgars, Khan Asparukh and his Bulgar hordes arrive in Byzantine territory, 680

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Flags of the armies of the Byzantine Empire’s Themes, to be developed from here on, art by Amelianvs

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Full mosaic of Constantine IV with his brothers and son Justinian II (leftmost) in Sant’Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna

Watch this to learn more about Constantine IV (Eastern Roman History)

And now I have reached the very end of this story but before I finish, I have to mention about creating this and why Constans II is for me such an interesting historical figure to the point of dedicating an entire fan fiction story to him. Now as you may know, this fan fiction article happens to be an extremely long one and I have to admit it was a very long and tiring process writing it as it required an extensive amount of research and considering that my favorite history related Youtube channel Dovahhatty had only reached as far as the end of the Great War with the Sassanids by 630, I had to go the long way to put this story together by watching several documentary videos on this era from rather more scholarly channels like Kings and Generals, Eastern Roman History, and Thersites the Historian, as well as listening to the History of Byzantium Podcast, and in fact even reading more scholarly research works in order to get the whole story of 7th century Byzantium. When completing this story, I also discovered that I have now entered unchartered territory as in the entire history of Byzantium, I am not entirely familiar with the 7th century which on the other hand is not as well documented as the 6th century Byzantium of Justinian I or the later eras, and what made this much more challenging to write was that I put it all together. At the end I also realized that there is a lot more to discover about Byzantium even if I am still more or less familiar with its entire 1,100 year history and as it had turned out, the 7th century is surely an interesting but very crucial time for Byzantium as this was when things just changed in a blink of an eye wherein almost half of its imperial territories it had in the 6th century was lost as the Arabs out of the blue expanded, and in only a few decades already came so close to ruling almost the whole known world putting Byzantium in the defensive position for the next 2 centuries to come considering the arrival of the Bulgars at the end of the century too. The other crucial part for Byzantium in this century was the changing of their geography with the creation of the Thematic System and the drastic cultural shift from Latin to Greek, and more importantly the end of the golden age or rather the age of antiquity and the beginning of the Dark Ages. Not to mention, the 7th century too is in fact a very tiring era to read and write about with all the endless wars and shifting of borders, but the new creations of this era including the Thematic System and Greek Fire makes its story very interesting at the same time. It is for the reason that the 7th century was such a crucial time in Byzantine history that this chapter had to be a really long one, but no matter how long it was I still wanted it to go full circle, which is why I ended it with the return of the Sassanids to make up for the harm they did to the Byzantines in the past by indirectly helping them against the Arabs. As for the part of Constans II, I had to choose him as the lead character for this story out of all the emperors of this century because I find his story and more particularly his odd choice of suddenly wanting to move the imperial capital to Sicily very interesting. Constans II too is an emperor who I believe has a very complex personality as at the same time as being the kind of strong emperor with a dictatorial style of rule, he was still more or less a visionary who saw the need to take extreme measures to ensure the survival of his empire. At the same time, I cannot also blame Constans for ruling in such an autocratic way by purging all those he saw as a threat including the pope and his twin brother because he ruled the empire in a very difficult time when it was at the verge of extinction to the Arab Caliphates. On the other hand, it is also hard to judge Constans’ character as he grew up with so much stress being only 11 when coming to power yet having to face a very troubled empire, so no matter how much people bash Constans for ruling in such an autocratic way, he should also be admired as he came to throne at such a young age ready to face the burden of ruling an empire at the verge of extinction. I also have to say that it was also exciting to particularly write this chapter (chapter IV) of this Byzantine Alternate History series as this article has somewhat a different approach not just centering on the lives of the Byzantine rulers and people, but on the political and geographical situation of a larger world at this time, and at the same time not only on the world of the Byzantines but of the Arabs Caliphates, Sassanids, and Imperial China too, together with other people too like the Avars, Slavs, Bulgars, and Lombards, and when planning out this alternate history fan fiction series, I always wanted to write about the unknown Chinese angle in Byzantium, and now I got the chance to do so. At the end, the result for this story happened to be a kind of dystopian Byzantine epic featuring a severely weakened, troubled, and shrunken Byzantine Empire at the state of perpetual war, ruled by an autocratic dictator emperor, and having new kinds of unthinkable technology being Greek Fire compared to the past 3 articles featuring a stronger Byzantium being the dominant world power. Now this chapter is only the beginning of this dystopian Byzantine setting as it is the end of the early Byzantine era and entry point to the Byzantine Dark Ages which the next 2 chapters of this series will be part of, so the next 2 chapters of this series will be when Byzantium will be at its lowest points having to constantly fight on the defensive against the expansion of the Arabs before the coming of the 10th century when the Byzantines would turn the tide of war, this time finally fighting on the offensive against the Arabs ready to conquer everything they have lost to them since the setting of this chapter in the 7th century. Up next, in chapter V of this Byzantine Alternate History series, in the 8th century the Arab Umayyad Caliphate will strike again this time even stronger than before whereas Carthage will even fall to them, while the new power of the Bulgars in the Balkans would rise up as well, and Byzantium this time would be very close to extinction due to external pressure and internal conflicts until Leo III, another unlikely savior emperor again with a very complex personality would come to the rescue, although the next story will rather center more on Artavasdos, the man behind Leo III’s rise to power who too will become emperor for only a year (742-743) before meeting his end, though the next chapter of this series will explore what Byzantium would be like if this very unknown emperor would have ruled much longer, but of course as the rule of this series, there will be no continuity from the fictional ending of this story to the where the next one will begin. Well, this is all for chapter IV of Byzantine Alternate History, this is Powee Celdran, the Byzantine Time Traveller… thank you for your time!        

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

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

Posted by Powee Celdran

WARNING: THIS IS A VERY LONG ARTICLE!!

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

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

Related Articles from The Byzantium Blogger:

The Defenestrations of Prague (special edition stand-alone)

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

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

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

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

Roman and Byzantine Imperial Systems Compared

Roman and Byzantine Imperial Cultures Compared

Imperial Women in the Roman and Byzantine Empires

12 Turning Points in Byzantine History

The Complete Genealogy of the Byzantine emperors and dynasties

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

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

The Sieges of Constantinople

War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic

Related Videos:

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

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

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

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

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

Dovahhatty Videos:

Imperial Wrath (337-378)

Barbarians at the Gates (379-423)

The Fall of Rome (423-476)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The chad Michael VIII Palaiologos vs the virgin Theodore II Laskaris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexios Philanthropenos to Flavius Stilicho and Flavius Aetius

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

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

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

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

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

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