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

Posted by Powee Celdran

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

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

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


 

1. The 10th Century           

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. The 5th Century           

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

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

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Battle of Chalons, 451

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. The 6th Century           

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

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

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

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

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Court of Emperor Justinian I and Empress Theodora

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Maurice, Byzantine emperor (r. 582-602)

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

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

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

4. The 13th Century          

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos of Byzantium

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

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

5. The 11th Century              

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

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

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

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

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Seljuk Turks ride from the steppes into Asia Minor

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

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Defeat and capture of Romanos IV by the Seljuks, 1071

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

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Emperor Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118)

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

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

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

 

6. The 4th Century               

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Map of the Roman Empire under Constantine I, 330

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

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

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

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Council of Nicaea, 325

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. The 12th Century         

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

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

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Coat of Arms of Byzantium under the Komnenos Dynasty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. The 15th Century          

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Map of the reduced Byzantine Empire in 1450 (purple)

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

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Flag of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century

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

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

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

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

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

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Ottoman sultan Mehmed II captures Constantinople, 1453

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

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

9. The 9th Century           

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. The 7th Century          

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The Byzantine Empire in 650 (orange) under Constans II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11. The 14th Century

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Byzantium in 1350 (blue)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Seal of the Palaiologos Dynasty of the Byzantine Empire

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

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

12. The 8th Century           

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The Byzantine Empire in 717 (purple)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Byzantine Journey (2019-2020)- My Personal Story with byzantium, year end post

Posted by Powee Celdran

“In less than 2 years, I came from just thinking of Byzantium as some kind of interesting subject matter to the point that Byzantium has already become a part of me.” -Powee Celdran on Byzantium

The complete journey of my passion for Byzantium, My story as a Byzantine filmmaker, Lessons from Byzantium, What Byzantium means to me, Recommended readings and videos, thanks, and updates for 2021

WARNING: THIS IS AN EXTREMELY LONG ARTICLE !!

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I am now about to tell you all a story. A story of how one empire’s story could have so much of an impact on someone, and of course here I am going to recap not the history of Byzantium but my Byzantine history passion and my journey through it in the past 2 years despite living centuries apart from their time. Now I’ve come to my year-end post for this year 2020 and my belated Christmas gift for you all and instead of doing the usual very scholarly and informative stuff I have done so much of this past year and last year, I’m going to finish off the year with a lighter yet very long more personal post, basically talking about the story of my study journey through the fascinating world of the history of the Byzantine Empire by traveling to places and sitting in front of my computer screen or reading books about it at home. In this article, I just want to share with you all my thoughts on Byzantine history and the empire, how much Byzantium means to me, all my discoveries of the great story of this empire, and my complete journey of getting deeper into Byzantine history in the span of this whole 2-year period including all the materials I read, channels I watched, people I met along the way, and places I travelled to, but also I will use this article to tell you some behind the scenes of my posts and other Byzantine history related media I do such as my Lego Byzantine films in my channel No Budget Films, and also some recommended reading and videos for those who want to get into Byzantium, credits to those who have made my journey in the past 2 years possible, and updates for my Byzantine history posts next year. This article would not include any deep research, analysis, complete storytelling of Byzantium, or a massive load of photos like usual and will also seem to be very messy as it won’t be in any chronological form as the rest of all my articles, instead it’s just going to be me talking about Byzantine history in my own voice without going into so much detail anymore but will also be told using a lot of memes. It is also going to be about my thoughts and observations on the fascinating people, places, and stories in the world of Byzantium. If you’re looking for more information that I wrote on Byzantine history, the links to my other articles will be found as you read along the paragraphs. This article is going to be a very long one because it focuses on my entire journey and there is no way to shorten up Byzantine history since it is just so colorful; anyway it will begin with my story of what got me into Byzantium and how it evolved in me in the past 2 years. Of course, this article will be the article that sums up all my other articles and projects which will be linked here, as this one is basically all about the evolution of my Byzantine history story from when I just started out writing simple posts to the point where I have ended up writing complicated and unique articles going as far as making 60 pages, close to already making an entire book. So basically, to be honest I never actually studied a Byzantine history college course, rather I just first learned about it as part of my high school history subject but just studying a small part of it in school in fact got me so interested in it. Fast-forward to some years later, as I am in college taking up entrepreneurship which is a business course, I find a random Byzantine history book in my house and I start reading it out of curiosity as I started feeling interested in learning the story of Byzantium, and true enough I was so drawn to the book that I actually finished it and from then on, my thirst for knowledge in the world of Byzantium would never end and it still lives on in me almost 2 years after. It’s now almost 2 years since I read that book which is Byzantium; The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire by Judith Herrin, and after that I have read 5 more Byzantine history books and went non-stop searching online for Byzantine history content and discover a lot of new interesting channels and sites along the way where I would learn a lot more about the subject matter from comprehensive and scholarly podcasts including “The History of Byzantium” and “12 Byzantine Rulers” to fun and entertaining ones like Dovahhatty’s Unbiased History which has now become my favorite Youtube channel aside from my own of course. When starting out my Byzantine history journey in February of 2019, I only knew the basics of it, but in the almost 2-year span of the journey which goes up to this day, I can say I have discovered possibly 5 years’ worth of Byzantine history content and have done countless related projects including the whole genealogy of all the Byzantine emperors from beginning to end, travelled to the world’s top Byzantine destinations like Constantinople (Istanbul) and Ravenna, made 2 full films, a 3-part audio epic, and 3 short films with a Byzantine history setting using Legos. Then came 2020, I started the year deciding to continue with Byzantine history posts and was working on my biggest Byzantine era film War of the Sicilian Vespers, but the COVID-19 pandemic came, but it still did not stop me, in fact this entire year of just staying home has helped me in so many ways to make so much more out of my growing interest in Byzantium like new Byzantine content including more articles on this site and Lego films and I fact I have to thank Byzantium for helping survive these hard times of the pandemic by keeping me moving and not losing myself. Also in these trying times of 2020, I have also rediscovered Ancient Rome, which was my first passion before Byzantium and this way I was able to actually see both empires as the same as most of Byzantium’s systems and culture dates back to the Romans. Despite the hardships of 2020, this year on the positive side made me see how much Ancient Rome and Byzantium means to me and how much they still remain relevant to today’s world as no matter how long ago it was turns out people and situations still remain unchanged, also another positive side of 2020 is that it made my Roman-Byzantine history journey even more meaningful by discovering new content online especially the channel of Dovahhatty, which made me appreciate the history of Rome/ Byzantium even more and just a quick mention, I have some great news that Dovahhatty just released his first episode of his Byzantine Empire sequel series! Now if the COVID-19 pandemic had affected businesses and other industries, I can surely say it has not affected the world of Roman and Byzantine history, in fact I can say it has even made it grow more especially when people being at home would end up discovering new things. Lastly, to sum up my entire almost 2-year Byzantine journey, I went from seeing Byzantium as a mysterious side of history that is not given much attention to, to coming to the point of seeing Byzantium no longer as a myth and legend but already as pop culture material and mainstream history that I can very much relate with and more importantly see where all those stereotypes about Byzantium are wrong and that no matter how corrupt and scheming the Byzantine Empire was in history, they still have a very human side to them and are still relevant to today’s world. Back in early 2019, I barely knew the emperors of Byzantium or their whole history in order, and now at the last days of 2020 I have grown so close to it to the point that I can relate so much to the stories of the Byzantine emperors, get so excited when I hear discussions on Byzantine history, and in fact be so obsessed with it that I cannot even stop talking about it even if the topics being discussed are not even related, you will also get to know more about it as you continue reading. As 2020 comes to an end however, there are still some questions I can’t fully answer, especially how exactly Byzantium is the same old Roman Empire and how to exactly place that question in history, also where to mark the start of Byzantine history, and so much more which I will further discuss as you read along.   

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Byzantine Empire flag
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All my Byzantine reading materials in the past 2 years

Please like and follow my other social media sites:

WordPress travel blog site: Far and Away

Facebook page for Lego Byzantine films: No Budget Films: Making Unknown History Known

Deviant Art: Byzantium-blogger55

Byzantine content Instagram: ByzantiumTimeTraveller

Watch Dovahhatty’s Unbiased History: Byzantium IThe Eastern Empire here.

Watch this to get an intro to Byzantium through anime (from Hellenic History Series).

The Beginnings of my Byzantine Journey, my Commitment to Byzantium, and Travels in the Byzantine World

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As a kid, I have always been into ancient history especially Ancient Greece and Rome as well as Medieval and Renaissance Europe but I never really fully understood what Byzantium or the Byzantine Empire was, except that I only knew it in name. What first got me interested in Byzantium was playing the Assassin’s Creed Revelations game sometime in 2012 or 2013 and although this game is set in Ottoman era Constantinople between 1511 and 1512, it does show a Byzantine angle featuring some Byzantine characters, although its story more or less depicts the Byzantines as the villains namely the last Byzantine heir Manuel Palaiologos, but nevertheless I saw these mysterious Byzantine people, particularly soldiers shown in the game as interesting especially on their character designs. So basically, it was Assassin’s Creed Revelations which features both assassins Ezio and Altair that first got me interested in Byzantium, although the first thing about Byzantine history that I was interested in was their army including soldier units, armor, and weapons which I first saw when playing this Assassin’s Creed game making me so intrigued. At first I thought all Byzantine military units only looked like those in Assassin’s Creed but the funny thing was that when I searched online back then, there was a lot more to Byzantine soldiers and their armor than those shown in the game and in those shown in the game are not even very much accurate to the real Byzantine armor and weapons. Of course, back then, my other interest aside from playing the Assassin’s Creed games was first Ancient Greek then Ancient Roman history which I got interested in when learning it in history class at high school. Unlike many kids who find their history subjects boring, it was my favorite in high school and in my 2nd year in high school, I took up Roman history and even read the Ancient Roman classics like Livy and Tacitus and at this point in life when in high school, I had gotten so into Ancient Roman history all the way to the point of being so obsessed with it the way I am with Byzantium right now that I even watched the old hit miniseries I, Claudius over and over again, which got me even more fascinated in not just the warfare or basics of Ancient Rome but its culture as well since this miniseries does great in showing Ancient Roman culture in detail. Now here in this part of my high school life, I was so into Ancient Roman culture and history but not entirely as my focus on Ancient Rome back then was quite narrow only to the very much focused era in Roman history which was the rise of the empire from the 1st century BC to 1st century AD while I never really got into the history of Rome after the 2nd century and it was only this year that I did get into it. Then came my 3rd year in high school and my history lesson would change moving onto medieval history and this is where I would finally start learning about Byzantium in school. Byzantine history though would only be a very small fraction of my topics for the history subject as the whole year covered the entire history of the Middle Ages including the Dark Ages, Crusades, Hundred-Years’-War, and a lot of Church history which meant Byzantium had to be a part of it and true enough, the subject matter of Byzantine history was very short but still, it sparked something in me that I just could not resist getting fascinated by it.

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Even though my Byzantine history lessons in high school were very much basic, I still got to learn about Byzantium in a nutshell which was that they were the advanced civilization in the Middle Ages when the rest of Europe was in the dark and just by learning about it for the first time, I was already so amazed especially with its exceptional people like Emperor Justinian I the Great who already interested me so much when first reading about him especially on how he built the world’s greatest cathedral back then being the Hagia Sophia and how he set up a standard code of laws which is still relevant up to this day. Other things I learned in school about Byzantium that got me so drawn to it at first site was the topic of the Byzantine army and their Cataphracts, the elite Nordic Varangian Guard units, Byzantine art such as mosaics and frescoes, and technology you would have not believed existed back then such as a flamethrower known as Greek Fire used in ships. When finishing that year of high school in 2015, I already knew Byzantium would be the kind of history I’d like and want to continue learning more about, and it also happened at the same time in 2015 that I had already founded my Youtube channel No Budget Films and the first Lego film I made though was set in Ancient Rome which back then I still preferred over Byzantium and this first film was based on the episode of I, Claudius entitled Some Justice featuring the character of Claudius who later becomes Roman emperor and his brother Germanicus the war hero but the 2nd film I made which was also in 2015 had a Byzantine angle as I was already getting into Byzantium, though the film I made was a very loose version of the story of the 4th Crusade in 1204 wherein the Byzantine capital, Constantinople was sacked and captured by the Crusaders, although in this film, I told it through the perspective of the defending Byzantine soldiers. By 2015, I had already added Byzantine history to one of my historical interests as back then I was into other European history especially the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, but back then it was primarily Byzantine military stuff that was my interest there as it was also then when I did my first sketches of Byzantine military units with weapons as well as when I made my first article on this exact same site you are reading now based on these sketches I made. Time had passed however and more things started to interest me including film and actual pop culture like Star Wars but Assassin’s Creed still remained close to me and so did my interest in Byzantium and Ancient Rome but the strange thing is that between when I first started getting into Byzantium in 2015 and when I actually fully got into it in 2019, I never really bothered to study the history of Byzantium itself and rather just look up Byzantine travel destinations in the Balkans or Turkey and of course Byzantine armies, armor, and weapons as for the longest time I was really into historical arms and armor finding Byzantine arms and armor the most interesting of them all.

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Byzantine soldiers from Assassin’s Creed Revelations

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Greek Fire from AC Revelations

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Constantinople, Byzantine imperial capital
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Map of the Balkans today

As time passed, my interests also do the same going from one topic to another but deep inside, I still would not let go of my love for Ancient Rome and Byzantium even if I still did not know much yet about Byzantine history. Throughout 2016, 2017, and 2018 my interests kept on switching that I can’t even remember what I was actually in to, also this was a very challenging time in life as this was when I was unsure of what to do with my life, as this is when I first entered college (2017) going for a film course where I later did not feel was the right place for me making me shift to entrepreneurship after a year (2018) and this was when I also started seeing the world by travelling in a more realistic way and not as a child anymore, which also meant that I was getting more drawn into the history of these countries I went to. In 2017, before going to college, I had an 11-day trip in the Balkans moving from one city to another each day, sleeping in another location every night but no matter how tiring this trip was, I got to see a very new and undiscovered side of the world that has so much history which made me appreciate Byzantine as well as Ottoman history especially since that part of the world is rich in both Byzantine and Ottoman cultures. From 2017-2018, I had also become very interested in Europe in general, not only its history but geography, countries, cities, food, and languages that in my other blog site called Far and Away for my travel articles as well as my top 10s in travel destinations which although included Byzantine travel destinations too, you should check this site out as well. However in 2018, my long-time interest in Roman history sparked again for some reason which included re-discovering the old series I, Claudius again after 3 years, also the release of Assassin’s Creed Origins and later that year Assassin’s Creed Odyssey had also helped me return to my linking for Ancient Greece and Rome, the Byzantine angle would come in not so long after. Also in 2018, I went to Constantinople (Istanbul) for a second time (the last time being 2015) and in that 2018 trip though I wasn’t yet very particular in my historical interest that I was still open to see both the more dominant Ottoman side of the city and the hidden Byzantine secrets that are still around, considering that of course Ottoman history was more recent and that Constantinople was the Ottomans’ imperial capital too. Also, considering that Turkish and Greek are my all time favorite cuisines, there’s got to be some reason that I would like its history too since these cuisines have a lot to do with both the Ottomans and Byzantines before them, and although my liking for these kinds of cuisines could have also gotten me interested in the Ottoman world too, I already had a fascination for Byzantium but not so much knowledge of it. It also happened in 2018 that I joined this really informative and interesting Facebook group Roman and Byzantine History especially since it was Ancient Rome that was my one of my favorite subjects back then and Byzantine armies too but it was in this group when I started discovering more of Byzantium than Ancient Rome. Basically, I can thank this awesome Facebook group for first getting me into Byzantium as when I joined it in mid-2018, my knowledge of Byzantine history wasn’t as broad yet and I only came in for the content on Imperial Roman history, and only then did I find out that Byzantine history too was not different but in fact part of the story of the same old Roman Empire. Now going back exactly 2 years from now with 2018 ending, let me just tell you that I did not see it coming that in 3 months I would end up becoming so obsessed with Byzantium despite having already gone to the Balkans and Constantinople, at this point I was so focused on playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey as well as with the other Assassins’ Creed games so my interests would keep shifting each day from Ancient Rome or Ancient Greece to the colonial age of the 17th to 18th centuries which a lot of other Assassin’s Creed games are set in too. At the beginning of 2019, my historical interests were still in Ancient Greece and Rome but again thanks to that group, I was starting to get more and more into the history of Byzantium seeing posts about certain emperors from the 6th century emperor Justinian I the Great to the powerful military emperors of the 10th century like Nikephoros II Phokas and Basil II as well as their cool advanced technology like Greek Fire. Now where my whole journey in the Byzantine world actually began wherein my unbroken fascination with Byzantium would begin is in this one February day of 2019. At this point, I have already been getting some new information about Byzantine history from that FB group and it just got me curious to learn about them and at the same time when I keep passing by the hallway of my house, I kept seeing the side of a gold book with the word “Byzantium” and due to all this curiosity on Byzantium being sparked in me due to all the Byzantine content in that FB group, I decided to give that book a try. This gold covered book was entitled Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire written by Judith Herrin and as I picked it up I scanned through all the chapters to see how the book was like, out of all the chapters to give a try reading it, I went for the one about Greek Fire since it was one of the the things that fascinated me about Byzantium ever since first getting into it back in 2015, and this was the extraordinary advanced super-weapon known as Greek Fire which was basically an ancient flamethrower that actually blew out fire operated by a mechanism in which after seeing it in Assassin’s Creed Revelations where you can actually get to operate it in the game got me so intrigued by it.

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Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire by Judith Herrin

When reading this Greek Fire chapter, there was no more going back as I did not only learn about what this Greek Fire was or how it was operated but this chapter told me more about it especially that this weapon was a well kept state secret so that the Byzantine would remain invincible to its enemies, considering that in their history that had so much foreign enemies. After finishing this chapter, I went back to the book again a few days later, this time to start from the beginning which was the origins of the Byzantine Empire which was of course the reign of the Roman emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337), who founded the imperial capital Constantinople in the year 330. Of course, even before Constantine the Great, Constantinople already existed as the port of Byzantium which was founded all the way back by Greek colonists allegedly by a hero named Byzas in the 7th century BC but in all these centuries, this town had never been so important until Constantine I chose to make it the new Roman capital and it would prove to be the right move since it was built in a strategic location that was in literally in between 2 continents (Asia and Europe) and surrounded by water on 3 sides making it hard for enemies to attack especially since the small piece of land that spans the peninsula of the city could be easily walled and true enough in the early 5th century, the massive Theodosian Wall was built in to defend the land side of the city which was so effective that these massive land walls were never successfully breached until the final siege of the city by the Ottomans which was the actual fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453 and even till this day, these walls still stand. First, I would think I’d soon enough stop reading this gold book after I read enough of what I wanted but I was wrong, every chapter was so interesting that I just kept reading although skipping some chapters especially those about the religious story of the empire despite it being so vital to Byzantine history as its subject matter seemed too intellectual for someone like who is not a real historian. Prior to reading this book, I already knew the basics of Byzantine history such as that it was the continuation of the Roman Empire, its foundation by Constantine the Great, it’s culture being a mix of Classical Greek and Roman with the Christian religion, its height of power at the reign of Justinian the Great in the 6th century, and of course the army. When reading this book, I would later discover a lot more, so no wonder I just kept reading and reading and from then on it was not only the Byzantine army’s soldiers, weapons, and armor that was my primary fascination with Byzantium but its contributions to our world from the legal code of Justinian I and the spread of Christianity to the people of Europe to smaller things like the introduction of the fork to the world during Byzantium’s golden age in the 10th century which I will talk about more later. This book also opened me up to so many possibilities in history which seemed like they could only be possible in Byzantium such as the mere fact of simple peasants becoming emperors which was the story of no other than Emperor Justinian I the Great and Basil I the Macedonian later on in the 9th century and this together with a lot of others is one of the sure reasons why Byzantine history is so interesting. It was at the end of March 2019 when I finished this book and true enough it had moved me so much especially seeing the story of how the Byzantine Empire evolved over the centuries and how tragic yet dramatic its end was when the Ottomans laid siege to Constantinople in 1453 with Byzantium’s last emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos personally leading his men to the end wherein he would die with his empire. This Byzantine history book by Judith Herrin may not be well organized in chronological form so it took me a while to understand the timeline of events and emperors in Byzantine history but this book more or less is a good introduction to the culture of Byzantium like a DK book or encyclopedia except with less pictures, and just to mention there is still no DK book purely about Byzantine history and I hope to see one in the future. Anyway, this book had in fact permanently opened me up to the world of Byzantium that from then on there was no going back so in the process of reading that book, I returned to writing articles on this site you are reading right now and from then it just went on an and on until this day. Prior to reading that book as well, after 2015 I have not written any content on this site since doing those Byzantine military figures sketches back then and in fact I thought I’d never write in this site again and rather only stick to doing travel articles for my other site which although had some Byzantine content in them but after almost 4 years of not updating this site, all of a sudden I returned again as my interest in Byzantium started and in late February of 2019, there was no going back as here I wrote the article 7 Reasons to be Interested in Byzantium for this site and from then on, I would go on and on writing here about Byzantium. Before rediscovering Byzantium in early 2019, I thought I would never write on this site again after only less than year writing in it (2015), but when this interest in Byzantium sparked in me again, I decided that this blog site would be revived and would only be usually committed to posts on Byzantine history with a few exceptions from time to time as this blog site needed to have some unique content. At this point in time, I have also been having quite a rough time which is too hard to explain so I wanted to look for some balance in life especially being in college with so much work and school pressure and true enough I did find that balance in Byzantine history when discovering this exact book at home. As I returned to write for this site again in early 2019 after almost 4 years, the new me began, I was then no longer the kid who only found Byzantium interesting because of its soldiers, arms, and armor, or the person who wrote about ranking travel destinations even if not actually going to them but a new person who was willing to get deeper and deeper to the history of Byzantium, its emperors, culture, military, and bizarre tales, fully committed to writing about Byzantine history based on newly discovered knowledge from books and online, here began me as the Byzantium Blogger.     

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The Byzantine Empire’s extents in 3 different periods
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1453, the final siege of Constantinople

I was so fascinated with this book “Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire” that I literally brought it with me wherever I went even if it look off but when I finished reading it in March of 2019, my world had completely changed as from then on there was no going back, my mind had been opened to the truly surprising and fascinating yet bloody and tragic story of the Byzantine Empire and once finished reading that book, I proceeded to write another article using the same title of the book which was basically my review on that book and all my learnings and new found discoveries of Byzantium from it and this is when my commitment to spreading the word of Byzantine history began. When reading this book, I saw that Byzantine history was just as fascinating as that of the history of Imperial Rome, England, or France, yet Byzantine history does not receive much attention as others like Ancient Greece and Rome or medieval England and France that I started realizing it especially since in that same FB group, there happened to be more posts on Ancient Rome than on Byzantium and more obviously that that there are no mainstream media or films set in the Byzantine era wherein there are a lot set in Medieval Europe or Ancient Greece or Rome, and lastly I also noticed why Byzantine history seems to be forgotten. Here I started questioning why and I also discovered that it was partly because after the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottomans in 1453, Western Europe emerged as the new powers of England, France, Spain, and Portugal and they would be the ones to write history and these were more or less the same westerners that distrusted the Byzantines centuries ago seeing the Byzantine people as cowards and traitors during the time of the Crusades (11th-13th centuries) so with Byzantium falling and the west who never trusted them rising, Byzantium had become forgotten. Also, later on in the 18th century the great intellectuals of the era like the English historian Edward Gibbon would describe Byzantine history as nothing more but a time of corruption and decadence and the French philosopher Voltaire too had described the history of Byzantium as worthless and disgusting. However today, as we continue discovering more and more about history, Byzantium is actually becoming discovered more and seen for what it actually was and when I started writing my articles in 2019, I already made it my mission to put Byzantine history in the spotlight and hopefully make it seem more relatable than myth and even as mainstream history and pop culture. Anyway, in April of 2019 when already getting deeply into the world of Byzantium and being committed to bring it out into the world, I started out by continuing to do my articles on this site and even for a final project in one subject I had for school, I designed a Byzantine themed board game called Byzantium X which I hope that it gets pitched one day and give some attention to Byzantium. Although I finished reading my first book on Byzantium (the gold one), I still skipped some chapters especially on religion but some months later I got the chance to go back to that book and read some chapters I missed like the one about Byzantine icons and the movement of Iconoclasm in the 8th-9th centuries, an interesting yet dark and controversial period in Byzantine history. Anyway, since I already finished reading my first Byzantine history book in April of 2019, soon enough I got a new book which was a copy of A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by the historian Anthony Kaldellis and I just have to say this book was the most interesting Byzantine reading material I read but also the most easy to read, especially if you are in the mood for a light read but at the same time wanting to get into Byzantium. It was when reading this book that I got particularly into the Byzantine emperors and got to know them in order when reading the back end of the book and based on all the trivia I learned on the emperors, I wrote a new article specifically on all the Emperors of Byzantium and basically all the weird trivia about them and their lives based on that new book I read from the first emperor of Byzantium being Constantine I the Great (306-337) and ending with the last one Constantine XI (1449-1453). As I started again writing for this site over here that you are reading, I already focused on promoting them by sharing my article on the Roman and Byzantine History FB group so that I get more viewers and even more, I went as far as actually having the first Byzantine articles I wrote shared on one of the most complete and informative Byzantine history Facebook pages being Great Eastern Roman Empire, although unfortunately this page had been hacked and possibly deleted later on in 2019, but despite it I still continued on with my articles and sharing them online.

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A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis

Now reading this “Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities”, I actually ended up doing several articles throughout 2019 based on selected chapters from the book which I found interesting and after the one on the emperors, I made one based on this book’s chapter on the forgotten but very interesting science and technology of Byzantium sometime in June of 2019 which was followed up by another one I made based on this book’s chapter of Byzantine crimes and punishments as well as medical practice. For me, it was the topic of Byzantine science and technology that truly intrigued me especially with their unique inventions and scientific discoveries and when finding out about all the cool Byzantine inventions such as Greek Fire both the one used in ships and the portable one, flaming grenades, advanced silk manufacturing, ship mills, a systematic beacon communication system and also that the idea of a spherical earth was also discovered by a Byzantine named Symeon Seth in the 11th century and that the basis of our calendar was also based on a model of the 14th century Byzantine scholar Nikephoros Gregoras made me even appreciate Byzantium even more especially since they were so enlightened as people that their inventions could even be admired up to this day. Also, the other chapter in this Cabinet of Curiosities book that interested me a lot was the one about foreign lands and people and how the Byzantines saw them and it was so interesting to see how the Byzantines saw far away lands like India and China so intriguing the same way how I see Byzantium today while this chapter also talked about how some Byzantine writers also had some strange views about other different people including Huns, barbarian Germanic peoples, Scandinavians, Slavs, Arabs, Persians, and in the later centuries western people like the Franks, Normans, Italians, Germans, and even English who the Byzantines saw as unrefined barbarians who don’t know how to live life while in return they saw the Byzantines as nothing more but the stereotypical effeminate schemers. Since I found the topic of foreign lands and people according to the Byzantines based on the chapter from the Cabinet of Curiosities book so interesting, I made 2 articles in July of 2019 on them which will be linked here too; the first one about the people of the east and neighbors according to the Byzantines and the next one about the western people according to the Byzantines. Following these 2 articles, I continued to do another one based on another chapter of this book which was about warfare and tactics in Byzantine history, which was what got me into Byzantium at the very beginning. This article I made which is The Art of War in the Byzantine World and this chapter was another very interesting one in the book especially since it talks about the true nature of the Byzantine Empire when fighting wars in which most of their emperors preferred using diplomacy to fight and used much smarter solutions like bribing their enemies’ neighbors to attack them or using spies to gain information on their enemies, and that when it came to fighting battles the Byzantine army turned out to be very disciplined that it was most important for them to stay in formation at all times. Another very interesting thing to learn about Byzantium was their use of the Theme System in administering their empire which was yet another great innovation of theirs wherein they organized their empire’s geography into smaller military provinces or Themes which actually proved to be effective ever since this system was formed in the 7th century when Byzantium was facing constant threats of the Arab invasions, and this system made it possible for the armies to be more mobile especially since armies were stationed not so far from each other and when one Theme was under attack, the army from the next one could easily come to their aid rather than marching all the way from the other side of the empire, and this Theme system indeed helped make the Byzantine Empire’s army structure a well organized one. In September of 2019, I made a whole article which is A Guide to the Byzantine Empire’s Themes on the Themes of the Byzantine Empire including the whole story of Theme System and a list of all the empire’s Themes and even more interesting how these Themes created new Themes over the centuries. I also got a copy of Streams of Gold, River of Blood by Anthony Kaldellis which is a more scholarly work of his compared to his Cabinet of Curiosities, and this book focuses on politics and warfare of the Byzantine Empire during their height of power from the 10th-11th centuries and sudden decline following it due to the rise of new foreign enemies like the Seljuk Turks, Pechenegs, and Normans; however, I never got the chance to fully read this book as it takes a lot of time and patience but hopefully soon I’ll get the chance to read it.

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Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood by Anthony Kaldellis

As 2019 progressed, I also discovered an older but very informative 18-part Byzantine history podcast which is 12 Byzantine Rulers by Lars Brownworth which although was made 10 years earlier telling the history of Byzantium through 12 different emperors, and in fact I would keep listening to it on and on while in the car during traffic or travelling long hours that it got me so in to the lives and stories of the emperors that ruled Byzantium. Later on in 2019, listening to these podcasts over and over again got me so into the emperors that it made me decide to do an article again on the emperors of Byzantium and more about their personalities and how they reigned and this writing process was so long that I had to divide it into 3 parts which was my blog posts for October of 2019 which all 3 parts will be linked here too; part1- emperors from 330-867, part2- emperors from 867-1180, part3- emperors from 1180-1453. Then following these 3 posts on the reigns and personalities of the Byzantine emperors, I went back to doing another feature on another chapter of Cabinet of Curiosities and this article was on the natural disasters in Byzantine history and it was also good to know that Byzantium suffered many natural disasters including plagues, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, fires, and more which makes their story even more inspiring surviving them all. Other than that, I already decided to go a bit more experimental later on in 2019 by doing some unique Byzantine articles like one that had to do with different states that formed out of Byzantium which I surprisingly discovered the Republic of Venice was one of them which began in the 8th century which is rather a long story while other kingdoms too like Serbia and Bulgaria were other states that were culturally built up by Byzantium and on this subject matter I made a 2 part-series on 15 states physically and culturally formed out of the Byzantine Empire; the first part being the 7 of them including the Western Roman Empire, Exarchates of Ravenna and Carthage, Venice, Cilician Armenia, Serbia, Bosnia, and the Bulgarian Empire wherein I also got interested in the story of medieval Serbia and Bulgaria; and the second part being the next 8 being other Byzantine breakaway states including the Crusaders’ Latin Empire based in Constantinople from 1204 to 1261, the temporary Byzantine Empire of Nicaea, the break-away Empire of Trebizond, the rebel Despotate of Epirus, Despotate of the Morea, Montferrat which was a small Italian state that at one point was ruled by a Byzantine imperial family member, the Genoese vassal state of Lesbos, and Moscow which can be considered Byzantium’s spiritual successor. Now when finishing off 2019, I then worte a very long article The 12 Turning Points in Byzantine History all based on what learned over the year about Byzantium and basically this article was my retelling of Byzantine history through 12 different major events in their history and it was here when writing this article that I truly learned what Byzantine history was all about which was that it was a story of continuous ups and downs and for this reason their empire actually lasted for over a thousand years. Not to mention for 2019, in almost all my articles I started by quoting a Byzantine history quote either from the age of Byzantium or what someone from a different time had to say about it, although by 2020 I slowly stopped using this style.

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Map of the aftermath of the Byzantine Empire after 1204

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Byzantium X board game, my own project

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Warfare in Byzantium

Not to mention, despite 2019 being the year that my Byzantine history passion started, it was also a very special year because all in one year I was able to travel to the greatest Byzantine destinations in the world first Ravenna, Italy and next to Constantinople itself, then I dedicated my film channel to Byzantine films, and my greatest project of the year was making literally the complete genealogy of all the Byzantine emperors from start to finish. In May of 2019, I would finally get my chance to see Ravenna in Italy itself, the capital of the short lived Western Roman Empire from 402 to the fall of Western Rome in 476 and even back in 2015 when I wasn’t so very much into Byzantium, I already knew about Ravenna and was so in awe only seeing pictures of it. Now in May of 2019, when going to Italy, this would be the first time when in travelling that my primary goal is to see Byzantine sites so in Rome instead of going to the main tourist attractions, cause obviously I’ve been to Rome a few other times before already so it was time to see new things so this time in Rome, I chose to go to a number of hidden churches which had hidden gems being the remains of Byzantine era mosaics decorating apses and walls despite these churches having evolved in architecture over the centuries but overall it is very interesting to see these churches in Rome having usually Baroque architecture but still remains of the past Byzantine era mosaics in them which is very thoughtful too of them to preserve their past even if these mosaics though are not entirely Byzantine but rather made by Byzantine artists in the 8th century that fled to Rome to pursue their work as making religious icons in Byzantium had been banned due to the emperors’ Iconoclast policies.

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Byzantine era mosaic found in Rome

Anyway, I have also done an article in my other site about these churches in Rome that feature some of the best Byzantine style mosaics though it would take so much time to remember the names of all these churches, also this article tells my experience seeing the Capitoline museum of Rome and its Ancient Roman finds. The highlight of this trip however was of course the hidden gem of Italy, Ravenna a city that is quite hard to imagine that it was once an imperial capital so many centuries ago especially now that it appears to be a sleepy town compared to so many historical Italian cities like Florence and Bologna as Ravenna’s gems are found inside its landmarks. Ravenna is also the kind of place that is hard to imagine it as an imperial center especially since it is located in an area hard to reach in a marshland but in the year 402 it was strategically moved to this location by the western emperor Honorius who may have screwed up in ruling his empire but at least he thought of this location as some place that could protect the imperial capital and it worked for a long time, although Ravenna was not impregnable as in 476, the Western Roman Empire died in Ravenna too as the barbarian general Odoacer marched through swamps into the city to overthrow the last western emperor Romulus Augustus.

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Ravenna, capital of the Western Roman Empire since 402

As for me, I have actually already been fascinated with and interested in going to Ravenna ever since I first got into Byzantium in 2015 and again when reading the gold Byzantium book which started my Byzantine journey in early 2019, there had indeed been a full chapter on Ravenna and the mosaics which also talks about the history of the city and its time under the Byzantines. It was in the same Italy trip of mine in May 2019 when I finally got my chance to go and see Ravenna and what it actually is and I have to say that it was not easy to get there as Ravenna itself is out of the way not in any main train route or highway in Italy, also no matter how impressive its mosaics are, it at least still seems to be a popular destination but still not as hyped as everything else in Italy around it and basically it is because of it being out of the way as of this day considering that it had been an important city first as the Western Roman Empire’s capital, the capital of Ostrogoth Italy, then the capital of Byzantine Italy’s Exarchate until its fall to the Lombards in the 8th century but it was only back then in the distant past when Ravenna was significant making one of those kind of places that had been something great long ago but had faded away after a certain point in time until it was rediscovered but on the positive, Ravenna losing its significance also helped preserved its gems, otherwise if it still stayed important, its old treasures would have been built over. As of this day, Ravenna is for me one of the world’s most unique places as it is one of the few places on earth that may look ordinary from the outside but so impressive from the inside especially with its ancient mosaics still intact. Now I have to admit that I was truly in awe seeing the mosaics in Ravenna and at first before going there I thought they would all be in one place but turns out there were actually 8 landmarks which are all UNESCO world heritage sites and in the single day I saw the city, I at least saw 6 out of the 8 and all were impressive. One of the most impressive was the mausoleum of the western Empress Galla Placidia which turns out to date back to the 5th century, also this happened to be the exact same place that has the famous blue ceiling mosaics that are one of the first search results when searching for Byzantine art. However, the best highlight of Ravenna was of course the main church itself, the Basilica of San Vitale which has what of course could be the most iconic of Byzantine mosaics, the panel of the 6th century Emperor Justinian I and his generals facing the panel of his wife Empress Theodora and court members, and even better was that the entire walls and even the small narrow spaces in the church were filled with colorful mosaics and though the mosaics may look one-dimensional compared to the lively Renaissance and Baroque paintings, this kind of style makes Byzantine art what it its, the kind of art that is supposed. to draw you in.

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Mosaics of the Galla Placidia Mausoleum

Though I only stayed in Ravenna for less than a day, I was so amazed with how much was actually put into everything and how skilled these people were especially in decorating everything with mosaics including the narrowest spaces and highest areas considering that they did not have the modern technology to do it. On the other hand, I also felt that my visit to Ravenna was not complete as I missed out on seeing the other 2 heritage sites such as the white marble Mausoleum of the Ostrogoth king Theodoric who ruled Ravenna before Justinian I’s eventual reconquest and the Church of Classe which has another iconic mosaic featuring the 7th century Byzantine emperor Constantine IV although this church had happened to be out of the way not in the city center but rather in the middle of a field. However it was more of the Classe Church that I was still more interested to see than King Theodoric’s Mausoleum and even till this day I still feel bad that I wasn’t able to see the Church of Classe and its mosaics but hopefully I do return to Ravenna some day to see it, not to mention I also felt bad that I did not get to see the country of San Marino too which was also so close to Ravenna. On the other hand, this short trip to Ravenna had also taught me as I mentioned earlier that some places may look generic at first site but if you look deeper they have so much more than what you see. Also, I also learned here in this short trip in Ravenna that it sometimes does not always help to get a guide because based on my experience here of having a guide in Ravenna, it could only help you in showing you the way around and telling you what exactly you see like in the mosaics but sometimes having a guide does not really work much especially if you are someone like me who wants to know more and more about the history and the hidden stories and sometimes they may only know the more basic things and I can surely prove my opinion here because it was only long after going to Ravenna when I learned the more interesting stories of the people that lived and ruled from there and all the weird things that happened in it such as the Empress Galla Placidia and her son Valentinian III who had turned out to be a bad ruler that murdered his competent and heroic general Flavius Aetius in Ravenna out of envy when in fact it was Aetius that was saving the empire or the other crazy story of the emperor Honorius prior to that who was relieved when finding out that the city of Rome had been attacked and not his chicken named Rome. Now I learned all these details on the history of Ravenna from other materials later on like history videos online and not from a guide touring me in Ravenna and these are one of the reasons why I wouldn’t really suggesting a guide but of course if you are just an ordinary tourist who is just interested in knowing about the basics of a place, then I would suggest having a guide but for a Byzantine history enthusiast like me, then it would not be very worth it to have a guide otherwise it would also feel awkward especially when a person like me would end up annoyingly non stop questioning the guide and feel like you know your history better than your guide, not to mention sometimes it is not also so reliable to have a guide especially since they could make things up about their city basing all their knowledge on local legends rather than proven historical facts. Now after having visited Ravenna, I can say that it is one place so underrated but worth visiting but why it still remains underrated is as I said because it is out of the way but more significantly because Italy is one country with just so much landmarks, cities, and destinations to see including 2 separate countries within it being the Vatican City and San Marino and Ravenna is only 1% of what’s there to see in Italy and that it would take a lifetime to see everything in Italy but the other thing I can say about Ravenna is that it is a very specialized place for people although for a lot it could just simply put them in awe when seeing the mosaics but for history fans like me, going to a hidden gem like Ravenna is a truly meaningful experience especially since you are actually steeping in the place where all those events in Byzantine history happened and this is possibly the best place to see Byzantine mosaics all the way back from the 6th century and earlier still intact. Lastly, this short one-day trip had indeed have such a huge impact on me that it had changed my way of travelling and seeing the world as from then on my travelling interest had been so narrowed down due to by obsession on Byzantium and the same can be said for my next trip which was to Constantinople itself later in 2019. Prior to my Ravenna trip of 2019, I was more open to see all kinds of historical destinations when travelling but this trip truly turned me around and I could already see it, like for example when I was in Bologna at the same time as my Ravenna trip and there I did not really care much when seeing the historical landmarks of Bologna even if they have a lot of historical value but since my historical interests has already been so narrowed down to Ancient Rome and Byzantium, seeing sites from Medieval or Renaissance Italy did not fascinate me as much unlike me before getting into Byzantium, when all parts of history fascinated me.

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Emperor Justinian I and his men mosaic, Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna
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Empress Theodora and her court mosaic, Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna

Read my article on the Ravenna mosaics here.

Now later on in 2019 I returned for a quick 2-day trip to the imperial capital Constantinople itself, and here my obsession with Byzantium having grown even more made me only want to see the Byzantine attractions of Istanbul despite the Ottoman attractions being obviously more dominant. In this Istanbul trip however, I had long planned it to be more focused on Byzantine era Constantinople and of course this would mean searching deep for them. In this 2-day trip in Istanbul I can say that I achieved what I wanted to do and in such as short time I had been able to see so much including the remains of the ancient palaces in the city center, the Hagia Sophia, and even all the way to the back of the city seeing the remains of the old imperial Blachernae Palace, and even more going as far as seeing the Princes’ Islands in the Marmara Sea, the exact same islands where Byzantine emperors were exiled to. Now previously I said it was not always worth it to have a guide but sometimes there are exceptions and in this case I was wrong as in this trip of mine in Constantinople, this is when I can say it was surely worth it having a guide especially since it helped in getting me actually a VIP entrance to the Hagia Sophia and other locations without falling in line and it surely helped having one especially in getting to know exactly where the old Byzantine landmarks once stood buried beneath this great city and without having a guide I would not know exactly where to located them as Istanbul’s map is a maze while in Ravenna it seems very easy to locate everything. For sure in this short trip of mine in Constantinople the highlight of course was the Hagia Sophia, the world’s largest and most impressive cathedral throughout the whole existence of Byzantium and even till this day 1,500 years after it was built it is still one of the world’s most impressive sites and it is such a surprise on how its still stands intact.

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Byzantine Hagia Sophia layout

When it comes to mosaics and art, I would say that the ones in Ravenna are more impressive to see but the ones in the Hagia Sophia have more story despite being so mixed up but the reason why the Hagia Sophia’s mosaics are like this is because there is so much history to them considering that this church had been through a time when icons had to be erased and afterwards restored, then from 1204 to 1261 was made into a Catholic Church by the Crusaders, and back again to a Byzantine Orthodox Church in 1261 until 1453 when it was converted into a mosque as the Ottomans took over and then centuries later into a museum and now becoming a mosque again. Although my visit to the Hagia Sophia last year wasn’t my first one as when I first went to Istanbul in 2015, I also went to the Hagia Sophia but I wasn’t so into it yet though when I went last year, it was my time to see it now as a Byzantine history enthusiast and not an ordinary tourist and when seeing the inside as a Byzantine enthusiast I spent a lot more time looking at every little detail such as the Byzantine emperors depicted in the mosaics. When being so into Byzantine history and knowing so much about it, it turns out to be such a great experience to actually see your favorite characters in history in the mosaics and know exactly who they are compared to just passing by the landmark and just being so impressed by it without actually knowing what it is you are actually seeing. Now all I can say about going to Constantinople (Istanbul) is that it is such a great experience especially if you are so into Byzantine history even though as of this day, Byzantium remains a distant past in Istanbul especially since it has been the Ottoman imperial capital afterwards for a very long time too but surely it is an interesting place because there has been no other city on earth that stands between two continents making it have such a rich mix in cultures, and no other city has been a capital not just for one but two empires and for all these reasons, Istanbul is surely one of a kind. Now I would also say that Istanbul for a lot would seem more or less like an exotic but very impressive and culturally rich destination that may also look so inconsistent especially since you would see ancient ruins next to Byzantine era church structures, next to Ottoman mosques but this inconsistency makes Istanbul ever more of an interesting place. However, for a Byzantine history lover like me, Istanbul means a lot more than just an interesting exotic and culturally diverse place but a the true great imperial city and for centuries people as far Sub-Saharan Africa and Scandinavia during the Byzantine era were in awe with it. In this trip in November of 2019, I would fully see Istanbul in a totally different light, but of course I have a lot more reasons to like Istanbul especially since Turkish is my favorite cuisine. Not to mention right before passing by Istanbul, I also travelled for one week in Russia which also makes a lot of sense to this story especially since Byzantine culture continued in Russia after 1453, although my journey in Russia would be a story for another time as it would be too long to put it here.

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The History of the Byzantine Empire by Radi Dikici

Another great highlight of this trip in Istanbul was getting a book which would be one of the best ones I read on Byzantine history and my go to book if want to know the stories of the emperors more, this one is The History of the Byzantine Empire written by the Turkish author Radi Dikici, and this book is actually a are one and of all places, I bought it in the museum shop of the ruins of the Blachernae Palace.

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The Hagia Sophia as a church in the Byzantine era 
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Byzantine era Constantinople

Read my article on Byzantine Constantinople, the Queen of Cities here.

Now again back to my Byzantine journey in 2019, something I still have to mention was this extra special of project of mine I did at home made in August between my trip to Ravenna (May) and Constantinople (November) and this extra special project was the complete Byzantine Imperial Genealogy. After doing some readings in the past months, it was the subject matter of the Byzantine emperors that had interested me a lot so soon enough I wanted to see if all these emperors were all related to each other in one way or another and what came out of it was not just a simple answer but a entire full large piece of paper wherein I actually managed to connect all the dots from the beginning to end of the story of the Byzantine Empire. Surely it was not easy to make all this especially since I went from start to end, from Constantine I to Constantine XI and when doing this complete genealogy, this is when I discovered that succession in the Byzantine Empire was very difficult unlike in other kingdoms like England or France and because of this in Byzantium’s 1,100 years of existing it had 15 different dynasties some only having 3 emperors such as the short-lived dynasty of Emperor Nikephoros I (802-813) and also succession in Byzantium was not as simple as father to son. This work of putting together this genealogy too took a lot of research by putting together all the family genealogies of all Byzantine imperial dynasties found in Wikipedia in which I had to systematically interpret but at the end I also discovered that in one way or another, all the imperial dynasties of Byzantium are actually connected to each other though very indirectly meaning that one dynasty would be related to another one with one family member of a dynasty no matter how far related would happen to be married to someone from the other dynasty. Now making this great project of this Byzantine genealogy would happen to be one of my best memories in my Byzantine journey and it was something so unexpected too. Even more unexpected was all the attention that was given to it when I completed it as I first only posted a picture of the whole genealogy to the Roman and Byzantine history FB group and in only a day it got so much reacts and mostly positive ones and to my surprise it was even posted in the page of Brilliant Byzantine Memes and I even felt like a star for that moment. True enough it was not only in these FB groups and sites where I received so much praise and attention but even among people I know in my college who were actually in awe when finding out I had done something just like that. I would say that this Byzantine genealogy is truly something I would remain proud of and one of the best moments of my Byzantine journey. On the other hand, I also had another special project wherein I painted my bathroom’s walls at home with Byzantine related art including the coat of arms of the imperial families and the my version of the mosaics of the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna.  

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My complete Byzantine imperial genealogy (August 2019)

Read this to know more about my Byzantine Genealogy Project.

The Byzantine Journey Continues through 2020

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Now came 2020, and this would be the first time I would be focused on one particular interest for 2 consecutive years which was of course Byzantium, although this year 2020 would be my year of rediscovering my old fascination which was Ancient Rome and expanding more on it in order to see it actually connect to Byzantium. At the beginning of 2020 I just took it easy and haven’t posted anything in this site until February but in January I already had a lot planned in mind, one of them was another ambitious project, the Lego Byzantine epic War of the Sicilian Vespers in which I have been writing its script in January. Another exciting thing that happened very early on this year was that finally there was some Byzantine history related content on Netflix which was the 6 episode documentary drama Rise of Empires: Ottoman and I have to say it was a good series and although its focus was more on the Ottoman story of the sultan Mehmed II and his conquest of Byzantine Constantinople in 1453, this series also did a good job in portraying the last remains of Byzantium and its last emperor Constantine XI, though only a few details of the events of 1453 were missed out on this series.

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Rise of Empires: Ottoman series

Now in February of this year, it would the first time for the year that I would post on this site and my first post was an article again on the emperors but this time more on their ethnic origins and mixes which is another interesting subject matter. As 2020 came in, all I could say is that my knowledge in Byzantium got wider and deeper and so did my articles get more and more insider and unique in topics compared to the previous year and again as 2020 came and my interest in Byzantium went on, Byzantium was now a lot more to me than impressive arms and armor, art, and architecture but its fascinating story and very colorful emperors. As I got to know the stories of Byzantium and its emperors more, I started discovering that almost all these emperors for 1,100 years all had colorful lives and personalities but the other thing that seemed to fascinate me most was that a lot of these Byzantine emperors have a lot of mixed blood or come from interesting parts of the world having different backgrounds as well. In this article I wrote which was the Ethnic Origins of the Byzantine Emperors, I had learned so many new things as I wrote it and this includes some new interesting things you would not really know such as that a lot of Byzantine emperors are either of Armenian descent or in its early days including Constantine I and Justinian I came from the Balkans, also I made a lot of new discoveries when making this and the most interest one also being that a lot of other emperors especially in the last years have so much mixed blood especially due to Byzantine emperors marrying royals from all over Europe, which was the interesting thing I learned here thus making Byzantium more of a rich melting pot of cultures. After writing this article, I did another one I also always wanted to write which was one on the many Sieges of Constantinople and after reading that History of the Byzantine Empire book which I got in Istanbul, I got intrigued to write about all the sieges Constantinople underwent especially since that book covering the whole history put a lot of emphasis on the sieges of Constantinople and when doing this article, what really got me so intrigued about the topic was that no matter how many times Constantinople in 1,100 years as the Byzantine imperial capital underwent a siege by a foreign enemy or in a civil war, it still stood and true enough Constantinople was attacked by as many different people as you can imagine from Goths, to Persians, to Arabs, to Bulgars, to Crusaders, to Turks, and even to fellow Byzantines, the city at most times stood unconquered except for that one time in 1204 when the Crusaders captured it but the fact that Constantinople’s walls proved able to withstand any siege for a thousand years until the invention of cannons was truly impressive. As for the rest of February and March, I focused on continuing my Byzantine journey by actually filming the script I wrote on the Sicilian Vespers story that I previously wrote which I will talk more about it later on. Anyway when March came, this is when everything turned around when COVID-19 turned into a pandemic and things all went upside-down especially with the lockdowns ongoing, although at first I was very nervous about it but at the same time, the lockdown would give me more time to discover more and more about Byzantine history especially since I would just be at home for the next 2 months. In March with the pandemic already happening, I decided to make an article that will fit well with the current situation so I made one talking about the pandemics in Byzantine history and here again I made another interesting discovery about the Byzantine Empire which was that in its 1,100 year existence it went through 2 major pandemics first was the Plague of Justinian in 542 and the next was the Black Death in 1347 which was the Black Death plague of the 14th century which had been one of the reasons for the collapse of Byzantium but it’s still impressive that the empire still lived on till then.

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The Plague of Justinian in Constantinople,

In addition I also included a mention on the Antonine Plague of the 2nd century in this article thus making it the first time I would include stories of Ancient Rome in my Byzantine articles and here I would start seeing the continuity between empires. Following this article on the pandemics of history, I proceeded to write another one which was more personal and talking about my experience during the lockdown and my thoughts on it relating it to stories in Byzantium and when writing both these articles first about the plagues and next about isolation in the Byzantine era in relation with the current quarantine period; here was when I started seeing how much Byzantine history is still relevant up to this day especially since pandemics like this one right now is nothing new as the Byzantines in their time had it worse by having 5-10,000 deaths a day in Constantinople alone due to the plague and ideas right now like social distancing and isolation was also present back then and interestingly some Byzantine people were masters of social distancing like the stylite saints of the 5th century who spent their whole lives above columns to stay away from everyone to achieve a more spiritual life, also I did this article on my thoughts on quarantine wherein I was greatly bothered by the thought of being confined to a small space which however wasn’t so small but I was also trying to show that I wasn’t alone here and people also back then in the Byzantine era even emperors suffered the same thing especially when they were deposed by their enemies and were forced to be stay in a tight monastery for years sometimes even till death as a punishment being deprived of all the luxuries they had in their time as emperor and so far the most impactful story of these emperors who were forced into isolation for years was that of the young boy ruler John IV Laskaris who in 1261 was blinded and deposed and for an entire 29 years he was locked up in a prison tower alone basically growing up there as he was deposed and imprisoned as a child and was released already fully grown up.

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St. Simeon the Stylite of 5th century Byzantium, champion of social distancing

With quarantine time continuing, I moved on to work on my grand project of the year which was editing the Byzantine era Sicilian Vespers movie and continuing to do more articles too. In the long days of quarantine, I also ended up rediscovering the history of Ancient Rome which happened when I rediscovered books at home about the Roman Empire and started watching more videos online about Roman history and this time around May of 2020 is when I first discovered the channel of Dovahhatty which would then be my favorite channel. At this time, I would end up making 3 long articles comparing everything the Roman Empire and its successor the Byzantine Empire had; the first one about the Roman army structure comparing it to that of the Byzantines after them, the second one about the Roman imperial system and succession and comparing it to that of the Byzantines after them, and the third one about the culture of the Romans and comparing it to the Byzantines after them and it may have seemed to be a bit strange that I was comparing the same empire to itself as Byzantium was in fact the Roman Empire continued.

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Crossover flag of the Roman and Byzantine Empires

When doing this 3-part series I also had learned a lot especially that even though the Byzantine Empire was different in name and location from Rome, it was not only the successor of Imperial Rome but Imperial Rome itself evolved as Byzantium basically took on the same structures of the Roman army just changing it over time adapting to the current situations they were in by updating tactics, weapons, and armor, continuing the same system of emperors ruling the empire which had been founded by Augustus Caesar replacing the old Roman Republic except that over the centuries the imperial system kept evolving more and more becoming more and more autocratic at the time of Byzantium, and lastly when it came to culture Byzantium basically just took on almost everything established by Ancient Rome but added Christian elements replacing the old Pagan ones.

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Roman and Byzantine emperors from the Balkans
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Map of the spread of the Black Death across Europe

2020 may have not been a year full of adventure and excitement with no major travel to a place with Byzantine history but it was nevertheless a meaningful one in my Byzantine journey and due to fact of being at home more, 2020 made me discover so many new things about Ancient Rome and Byzantium therefore making me think about it and analyze it even more and for this reason, this made my articles even more scholarly and informative. It was here in 2020 when I had been so drawn to the channel of Dovahhatty even if I only started following it 4 episodes before the finale of the Roman Empire story came out and because of this, my interest in Ancient Rome was revived and to make it more worth it, I decided to make articles which involve it together with Byzantium which I still continued liking. This year I also made 2 lighter articles to read which would now include both Byzantium and Imperial Rome before it and the first of these was one I did last June about Women in Imperial Rome and Byzantium and it was such an interesting topic especially on how women in the imperial families played such a big role in shaping the empire such as when a powerful woman is behind her emperor husband, son, or brother and in July I then did an easier to do article on Cuisine in Ancient Rome and Byzantium which was another interesting topic finding out the food people ate back then. Then came August, and here I decided to do another major project which was an article on the whole history of Byzantium from the 4th to 15th centuries comparing it side by side to the events all over the world. Doing this article was such a great challenge especially since I was going to summarize world history in general wherein I wasn’t so familiar with history of other parts of the world as this article included not just Byzantine or Medieval European history but events in all the centuries between the 4th and 15th everywhere including the Americas and Africa and it was indeed such a challenge that it would be divided into 2 parts, the first part featuring the history Byzantium told side-by-side with events all over the world from the year 300 to 1000 and the second part featuring events in the history of Byzantium side-by-side with those all over the world from 1000 to the fall of Byzantium in 1453.

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Coronation of a Byzantine emperor

When doing this 2-part series last August, I was so impressed when studying Byzantine history from beginning to end side-by-side with events all over the world especially since the Byzantine Empire lived for so long that so many other kingdoms rose and fell throughout Byzantium’s existence. As of 2019 my biggest Byzantine project was doing the complete genealogy of all the emperors and making a full article about while for 2020 it was this article of telling the entire story of Byzantium side-by-side with all the events happening around the world in its entire 1,100 year existence and when finishing it I was so exhausted with all the work and all the information in my head so for the whole of September, I just took it easy and did not post anything new on this site. It was in October when I returned to writing here again and here I would do another 2-part series which would be about something new I had just learned which was that there were many emperors that you did not know about in the whole history of the Roman Empire and Byzantium especially since there were a lot of usurpers and rival emperors in the entire history from the founding of the Roman Empire by Augustus in 27BC to the fall of Byzantium in 1453 so I decided to make an article that will focus on these named of people who could have possibly ruled the Roman and Byzantine Empires and it was again such a long list that I had to divide it into 2 parts again, the first one of the names of possible Roman emperors from the birth of the Roman Empire to the end of the first Byzantine era in the late 7th century, and the second part on the names of possible Byzantine emperors and rival emperors from where I left off in the late 7th century ending with the fall of Byzantium in 1453. Again after doing this great project in October, I took another break from writing and in November I basically took it easy for most of the month until later on in the months when I would do a stand-alone experimental article on the story of the 4 Defenestrations of Prague just for a change of scene and also because this was the exact same new topic that the channel Dovahhatty did a feature on so as a big fan of the channel I wanted to the same in making a stand-alone article about the 4 different Defenestrations of Prague or the throwing of people off a window which happened in Prague 4 times from the 15th to 20th centuries which I thought of as a very interesting topic.

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1618 Defenestration of Prague

Now in December of this year I would go back to doing my usual Roman and Byzantine posts and this one would be the topic I was long planning to do this entire year ever since finally fully understanding Roman history and its connection to Byzantium and this one would be the article where I would be comparing the stories of the decline and fall of Imperial Rome and its successor the Byzantine Empire. For me it was so interesting to see that even though both were the same empire more or less, centuries after the fall of Western Rome the same kind of circumstances and same kinds of emperors happened for Eastern Rome or Byzantium and this truly shows how history does repeat itself. Writing this article too was also such a challenge that needed so much research and so much fact checking that it had to be divided into 2 parts again so how I did it was that I made the first part focus on comparing the similarities and differences between the decline of the old Roman Empire with the 3rd Century Crisis and short revival afterwards together with its emperors compared to the decline of Byzantium in the 11th century and short revival afterwards while the second part was to compare the fall of the Western Roman Empire from the 4th to 5th centuries and its emperors to the fall of Byzantium from the 13th to 15th centuries. At the end, I can say it was such a challenge to write both parts with the second article going up to 60 pages but it was still worth it since I ended the year doing the article I long planned to do no matter how messy it was when I wrote it. Now as 2020 ends, the greatest lesson I learned when writing both about Ancient Rome and Byzantium together was that I now no longer see them as 2 different empires but instead the same which is why I ended up including both the stories of Ancient Rome and Byzantium in my articles.

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Map of the Roman Empire (red) under Claudius II in the 3rd Century Crisis, remains of the Gallic Empire (green) and the Palmyrene Empire (yellow)
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The Byzantine Empire (purple) in 1450

Bringing Byzantium into Film

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Ever since I got into Byzantine history in early 2019 as I already mentioned, I was already intent on wanting to introduce all my discoveries about the strange but interesting story of Byzantium out into the world and what better way to do this than through films and I mean videos on Youtube that actually tell a story using Lego characters. This section is now going to be a recap of my journey in making Byzantine era films, although it will be too long to go into so much detail analyzing all my films so I will just briefly mention what these films were and why I chose to do them, if you want to know more details about my films just subscribe to my channel No Budget Films and watch them there. Ever since 2015 I have already been doing Lego films for my Youtube channel and in fact my second film in early 2015 was set in Byzantium covering the story of the 4th Crusade and the attack on Constantinople by the Crusaders in Lego which was a film with same name The 4th Crusade, although back then making Byzantine era films wasn’t my main focus in doing Lego films despite making one all the way back in 2015 and a spin-off story to it in 2017 which was the short narrative style film Louis de Blois: The Hidden History of the Crusade which tells the story of the 4th Crusade and attack of Constantinople in 1204 through the perspective of the leading Crusader general, the Frenchman Louis de Blois who happened to be the story’s wealth and adventure obsessed villain.

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No Budget Films logo

Although I made 2 Lego films set in the Byzantine era in 2015 and 2017, the Lego films I have been making for my channel from 2015 to 2018 were all either set in 1st century Imperial Rome featuring historical characters I have already made such a strong connection with like Emperor Claudius I, Germanicus, and Agrippina the Elder and their stories or Lego films set in the world of George Orwell’s novel 1984 in which I even expanded on making my own fan-fiction universe to the novel by making it an entire Lego film trilogy plus a spin-off film in 2017 and a prequel 6 episode miniseries in 2018. However in 2018 I had completed the entire story of my fan-fiction 1984 universe and the Roman Empire setting of my films as well so with 2018 over, I did not know what films to produce next so I did not make any new content for my channel until May of 2019 when I had fully gotten into the history of Byzantium. Now since I had fully gotten into the world of Byzantine history in the first half of 2019, I also decided that I wanted to return to doing Lego films and this time focus them on Byzantium. With the 1984 and 1st century Roman Empire story of my films finished, it was time to start all over again but not in a literal way because fortunately as I said I already had some films set in the Byzantine era before but unlike my Roman Empire and 1984 films, those ones that I had set in the Byzantine timeline were left out but since I had just finished telling the story of my Roman Empire and 1984 timelines by 2019, it was about time I finally put some attention to expanding my channel’s Byzantine and Crusades era timeline. Now when returning to doing Lego films in 2019 which would be set in the Byzantine timeline, I chose to now make my upcoming films all set in the Byzantine era thus using the subtitle “A Byzantine Epic” for all these films and in May of 2019 the first Byzantine epic centered on the story of Byzantium however this one was not set in the usual 4th Crusade era as the 2 others I did before in 2015 and 2017, instead this one was to be set almost 3 centuries before it in 10th century Byzantium. Not to mention, when I made my first Byzantine era film in 2015, I created a large Constantinople background and after that film, all my Byzantine era films after that would all use that Constantinople background drawing. This new Lego short film I made was The Rise of Phokas: A Byzantine Epic as in that time I was interested in the era of Byzantium’s golden age of military power in the 10th century so here I chose to do a short film on my favorite Byzantine character of that era which was the brilliant general turned emperor Nikephoros II Phokas and this short film featured the story of his rise to power from general to emperor as he wins a decisive victory over the Arabs at Aleppo followed by his coronation as emperor after he rides with great speed to Constantinople to claim the throne in order to protect the young imperial heirs Basil II and Constantine VIII and stop civil war from happening. Although this short film had just happened to be a stand-alone piece except having a quick 1-minute follow up sequel Killing a Byzantine Emperor in July of 2019 which was a quick skit of the death of Nikephoros II in his sleep in 969 assassinated by his own nephew who became the next emperor John I Tzimiskes. However even if I made one film in 10th century Byzantium with a short sequel skit to it, I did not continue with this timeline in Byzantine history but I still went on in expanding my channel’s Byzantine universe but instead of continuing the story of Nikephoros II and the Macedonian Dynasty or doing a more popular time in Byzantine history like the reign of Justinian I in the 6th century or the Arab wars in the 7th and 8th centuries, I chose to go back to where I started doing Byzantine films which was the 4th Crusade setting and my goal was to expand on the story I already made of the 4th Crusade in Lego by coming up with a sequel story to the 4th Crusade which would be another story in the history of Byzantium that truly fascinated me, which was the Byzantine reconquest from the Crusaders in 1261. Before getting fully into Byzantium in 2019, I already knew that when Constantinople fell to the Crusaders in 1204, it one day returned to Byzantine rule but only when reading the history did I find out that Constantinople was surprisingly taken back by the Byzantine remnant empire of Nicaea in one night in July of 1261, but of course over the 57 years that Byzantium disappeared, the Byzantines at Nicaea expanded more and more to the point that they were able to surround Constantinople and easily take it back from the Latins who never ruled Constantinople effectively anyway. This story had inspired me so much that I did a lot of research and in June to July of 2019 after coming back from that same trip that included Ravenna, I finished writing the script for that movie and began filming an all new Lego film with an all new set of characters including one character I grew so intrigued by that I would end up putting a lot of attention to him and this character was of course the ruler that carried out Constantinople’s 1261 reconquest from the Latins which was Michael VIII Palaiologos. Other than Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas this emperor Michael VIII turned to be more of an interesting figure for me as he was a very complex character who was a strong military man but also a very cunning yet scheming diplomat and politician while Nikephoros II was just the strong soldier emperor although I would get more interested in Michael VIII’s story as I progressed through my Byzantine journey when continuing to do my films. This film I am talking about here which is Summer of 1261: A Byzantine Epic came out in September of 2019 and this was the first full feature film I did using real historical charatcers in the Byzantine Empire with Michael VIII as the lead character with other real historical supporting characters too like Michael’s top general Alexios Strategopoulos, the last Latin emperor Baldwin II, and the young boy emperor of Nicaea John IV Laskaris, though this film focused this time on Michael VIII’s rise to power but at the same time I also intended this film to be more of an action packed epic and the end result was what is, an action-packed story with less drama and philosophy, although it had a number of historical inaccuracies too. After making this film, I really did know whether I would continue expanding my channel’s Byzantine timeline or just end there but true enough eventually I decided to continue considering that this Summer of 1261 film became one of my more successful films and also because after doing that film, I continued to research more on Michael VIII and he turned out to be such an interesting ruler who was at times a scheming murderous villain and at times just an emperor with a great vision  but was at the same time very troubled and again reading the History of the Byzantine Empire book I bought in Istanbul, it opened me up more to the story of Emperor Michael VIII’s reign making me decide to continue the story by making a very epic sequel film to Summer of 1261 in 2020 which would be War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic set 21 years after it and this happened to be my most ambitious project so far in my history of making Lego films as the end result was a 47-minute long Lego epic with a voice cast having over 28 voice actors and a large cast of characters as true enough this was the concluding chapter to the story of the 13th century’s bitter Byzantine-Latin conflict but for me I would say the most impressive thing about this film was that I actually managed to produce it during the COVID-19 pandemic and succeeded in actually finishing it despite all the obstacles. Unlike its prequel Summer of 1261, the Sicilian Vespers was something more than an action packed Lego epic but rather something with a lot of depth but a lot of action too as this film set in 1282 was for one supposed to show Michael VIII now an old man as a very complex emperor who was not after all evil but rather just conflicted and also supposed to show that Michael VIII as emperor only cared for his empire’s survival and would do anything for it even if it meant giving up the proud Orthodox faith of his people especially since he was faced with an evil and deadly enemy who had a lot of similarities to him, the French king of Sicily Charles of Anjou, while this film was also made to not just show the Byzantines’ side or the side of only the rulers and generals but of the common people too such as the Sicilians’ side as they are rebelling against the oppressive French rule over their land, but at the same time this film also included the classic story arc of a film featuring a young protagonist and his journey to achieve his goal and here it was the story of Michael VIII’s young son and heir Andronikos’ journey in becoming the next emperor. This film though was very much loosely based on historical characters and settings and had a few fictional elements added to it but its plot-line however was to be almost accurate to the real historical story except with more emphasis on battles but its climax was the same as that of the real story in history as also in the film, in the year 1282, Michael VIII indirectly took part in helping the rebellion of the Sicilian Vespers succeed by bribing off local lords to lead a full resistance against their French overlords which was to benefit Byzantium too by getting the French farther away from attacking them. 

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The No Budget Films Byzantine era timeline of its films and other media
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Constantinople background drawing for No Budget Films’ Byzantine films (created 2015)
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No Budget Films’ “Louis de Blois: The Hidden History of the Crusade” poster (2017)
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No Budget Films’ “The Rise of Phokas: A Byzantine Epic” poster (2019)
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No Budget Films’ “Summer of 1261: A Byzantine Epic” movie poster (2019)
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No Budget Films’ “War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic” movie poster (2020)

Read this to get to know more about my War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic film.

Following the creation of my most ambitious Lego film project War of the Sicilian Vespers, I did a full article too on the behind-the-scenes and historical facts about the movie and indeed even after making this full length film, it was still not over yet that even for a school project for one of my college subjects despite having the class online, I used the same Lego Byzantine characters like Michael VIII for it. The Sicilian Vespers film was true enough not the end but for me it was actually quite a tiring job to produce an actual film where I have to film all the Lego characters in action for several days so to follow up on making more Byzantine era media for my channel, I decided to later on do something else, this time to tell the story through an audio epic with myself narrating the story. After finishing doing Lego films on the 4th Crusade, the Reconquest of Constantinople in 1261, and the final chapter of the Byzantine-Latin conflict of the Sicilian Vespers in 1282, there was one part of the story still missing which would be the 57 years between 1204 and 1261 and though making this period a full Lego series was an option I realized it would be too difficult to do especially since I would have to film the entire 57 years thus having to produce possibly 10 or even 15 episodes and not to mention I would have to do the whole long process of getting people to voice over the characters and considering there would be so many characters and locations in this 57 year period to create, it would be too much of a hassle to do so I thought of a better solution. The solution was to just narrate the entire story of this entire period to be accompanied by visuals featuring Lego characters and other Byzantine character drawings from other online artists to represent the characters of this age as I tell the story as the narrator.

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Empire of Nicaea flag (1204-1261)

When doing this audio-visual Byzantine epic story of the years between 1204 and 1261, I have already been introduced to this kind of video making style by Dovahhatty’s Unbiased History of Rome so these videos served as my inspiration for doing this 3-part audio epic. Now in this 3-part audio epic I made beginning in October of this year, my whole purpose for this was to expand my channel’s universe by telling the stories of all the events and people in the time the Byzantine Empire was exiled as the Empire of Nicaea as the Crusaders took over Constantinople from 1204 to 1261 and since the story was so long, I divided it into 3 parts and by selecting the links here you can watch all of them. The first part of the series covers the entire story of the aftermath of the fall of Constantinople to the 4th Crusade in 1204 as well as the rebuilding of the Byzantine Empire as the Empire of Nicaea by the emperor Theodore I Laskaris all while the Crusaders’ Latin Empire turned out to fail, the second part covered up the events from 1222 to 1253 covering the resurgence of Byzantine rule through the Empire of Nicaea led by its most successful emperor John III Doukas Vatatzes who managed to defeat and weaken most of his enemies to pave the way for the eventual reconquest of Constantinople, and the third and final part of the series covered up the last 7 years before the eventual Byzantine reconquest of 1261 featuring a bitter rivalry in the successful Empire of Nicaea between John III’s scholarly yet arrogant and opinionated son and successor Emperor Theodore II and his long-time rival the thuggish and scheming general Michael Palaiologos which of course ends with Michael Palaiologos winning, Theodore II poisoned to death, and Constantinople reconquered in 1261 under Michael’s rule.

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Latin Empire seal, 1204-1261

The episodes of this audio epic were released between October and December of this year but just recently to finish off this year, I produced one last Byzantine era short film being The Imperial Epilogue, which is basically a follow-up ending sequence to this year’s highlight film War of the Sicilian Vespers and this epilogue film was basically just a quick way to explain the end story of Michael VIII’s son and successor Andronikos II who was the Sicilian Vespers movie’s hero and in this epilogue film which is set some 38 years after the Sicilian Vespers film, Andronikos II is the main focus of it now showing him as an old man who happened to be a failure as an emperor who has to endure a 7-year civil war against his grandson also named Andronikos who had rebelled against him ending with Andronikos II deposed in 1328 and his grandson taking over vowing to restore the ruins of his empire which is indeed a true story. Now when doing all these Byzantine films and audio epics, I had come to realize that I also had a real purpose in making them which was to shed some light on this mysterious side of history and more particularly shed some light on the lesser known parts of Byzantine history especially the 13th century which was one of the most crucial eras in Byzantine history especially since this was when the decline and fall began due to the conquest of the 4th Crusade but this was also when Byzantium’s awareness as a Greek nation was born which sparked in the time they were exiled as the Empire of Nicaea. Many others who are familiar with Byzantium would have characters like Emperor Justinian the Great or Basil II the Bulgar-Slayer or even Nikephoros II Phokas in mind when thinking of the Byzantine Empire and possible film for it but what I wanted to do was to raise more awareness on the hidden gems of the Byzantine Empire such as the story of the Palaiologos emperors like Michael VIII and for this reason I chose to build up more on his story than that of Nikephoros II but also because I already did a few one set in the 4th Crusade timeline before so I wanted to continue expanding on it and that the stories of Byzantium’s Palaiologos emperors shows a lot more of a human side to the rulers of Byzantium.

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Michael VIII Palaiologos in 1261 Lego figure

Also when making these Byzantine films and audio epics, my objective is to not make them like the Byzantine history podcasts and documentaries which are just plainly informative but don’t get me wrong too because I surely learned a lot from listening to them and watching them but in my channel I wanted to make something that modern day audiences from young children to grandparents could relate to and this sense make it something like pop culture material so in order to do this kind of style, first of all I used Lego characters to represent these historical figures to make them more human and relatable and also rather than using the old fashioned formal English language and accents that most medieval or other period films use, I chose to make mine instead use the modern English language and words we normally use and have some fun by experimenting on even using modern music and different accents for characters thus making characters like Nikephoros II Phokas talk in an American Southern accent and the general Alexios Strategopoulos have a Scouse English accents even if they seemed far from how these historical figures spoke. Also to make my Byzantine films have this pop culture element, I also put a lot easter eggs in them which could be famous Byzantine artworks or portraits of emperors in their time used for props or even references to the other films I made from before such as those in the 1984 or Roman Empire setting and by doing this, this is also my way of making all my films connect with each other, at same time even adding easter eggs from other pop culture areas like Star Wars as well. Anyway, by making my films have an experimental side to it just for fun is basically how I want to make them entertaining for viewers in order to get it some more attention, and it is for this reason why Dovahhatty’s Unbiased History videos are popular and before I finish this part, I have to say that I am actually surprised that in only just less than 2 years, the Byzantine era films in my channel happen to be even more successful in views than the ones I made before that. Now since I have done my part in bringing Byzantium in a way into pop culture, I really do hope one day that Byzantium does actually get into pop culture and that Hollywood does indeed plan to produce a Byzantine era film or series as I already have an idea on how to cast one which I would do an article of in the future.

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The chad Michael VIII Palaiologos vs the virgin Theodore II Laskaris

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No Budget Films’ “The Imperial Epilogue: A Byzantine Epic” poster (2020)

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Left: Byzantine emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos (r. 1328-1341); right: Empress Anna of Savoy, wife of Andronikos III

Lessons and Discoveries from Byzantium and its Emperors

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And now as 2020 finishes I want to share with you all my learnings and discoveries from the story of this great empire that people tend to overlook. First of all the greatest lesson I learned from the story of Byzantium and even from their predecessors, the Roman Empire was that the key to surviving is to adapt and this is definitely true for Byzantium because in their 1,100 year history they saw more war than peace and not just small wars but sometimes full scale invasions that could destroy their empire but the Byzantines did not give up, instead they had to adapt to the current situations to survive and doing this they went as far as reorganizing their political structure from large provinces to smaller ones called Themes to increase military presence for protection when the 7th century came and so did the endless Arab invasions, also when Constantinople fell to the Crusaders in 1204, they had to adapt by starting from scratch but in the process they ended up reconnecting to their Greek heritage and becoming more aware of it especially since their role as the Roman Empire continued was long gone and they had become practically a nation of Greeks as their empire had been reduced.

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Same can be said with the Roman Empire before them, since in the 3rd century they faced so much difficulties in which their emperors solved by having to adapt to the situation in order to reform their society. Another great discovery I have had on Byzantium in my almost 2-year journey was that they actually played a very significant role in our world’s history that no one really seems to be aware of and by this they were the ones that preserved the knowledge of Classical Greece and Rome and brought it into Europe when their empire fell in 1453 thus starting the Renaissance, it was Byzantium that upheld Christianity as a dominant religion throughout their existence and helped civilize most of Eastern Europe through which included introducing the Cyrillic alphabet to the Slavic people in the 9th century, it was Byzantium that introduced silks to Europe through trade with China and so was the fork introduced to the rest of Europe in the 10th century, Byzantium too played a major role in starting the Crusades as one of the major reasons why the 1st Crusade began in 1095 was because Byzantium was previously almost destroyed by the growing power of a new enemy, the Seljuk Turks at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 so Byzantium needed help from the west to fight them which although led the west to instead make their own states, it was Byzantium that defended the rest of Europe countless times from Islamic and other eastern invasions, and also it was Byzantium that played a major role in the silk route between Europe and China as it was on the way and when the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottomans in 1453, this led the new powers of Western Europe like England, France, Spain, and Portugal to look for new routes to get to Asia thus along the way discovering the Americas and more of Africa, therefore getting the whole world connected and for this Byzantium but more particularly its fall can be indirectly thanked for it. No matter how great the Byzantine Empire was being such an educated society with a professional army, extremely impressive although quite one dimensional art in the form of colorful mosaics and frescos, advanced weapons and technology like Greek Fire and aqueducts which seems impossible to achieve for their time, and a very complex yet very effective administrative system, it had so many flaws too and a lot of it had to do with their people’s personality. Byzantium was for a very long time indeed a very multi-cultural empire especially since it once covered so much lands from Southern Spain all the way east to Armenia and from the Black Sea coast of Ukraine all the way south to Egypt meaning it was inhabited by so many races including Greeks, Armenians, Jews, Syrians, Arabs, Turks, Egyptians, Punics, Romans, Illyrians, Thracians, Bulgars, Slavs, Italians, Germanic people, and more so there is no doubt that it was a very complex empire, although as the centuries went by Byzantium had downsized by a lot so it became less multi-cultural that in its last centuries it was more or less the Greek kingdom in the Balkans. Just as how Byzantium was so diverse, it was also so complex that today the word “byzantine” is even used for meaning something so difficult to understand and I find it true about the Byzantine Empire as its history is actually quite confusing for beginners at least but the more and more you read it, the people including emperors that made the Byzantine Empire’s story happen would seem more and more human. It is also quite unfair that the west has stereotyped Byzantium as nothing more but an empire of corruption, betrayals, poisonings, and intrigues and since western thought came to dominate the thought the world, this stereotype remains as well.

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What Byzantium is made of

True enough, betrayal and corruption in the government was the norm in Byzantium but that still makes them very human and relatable to today’s world but the same can be said for the Roman Empire before them because betrayal and corruption was also a standard in Imperial Rome which the Byzantines had inherited from them and it was also this show of betrayals and corruption that led to the fall of their civilization but just like the Romans before them, the Byzantines too had their share of great men such as emperors and generals like Justinian I, Belisarius, Heraclius, Nikpehoros II, Basil II, and Alexios I that fought hard to defend or expand their empire. But despite all the negative stereotypes given to Byzantium by the west, there are still some things admirable about them and mainly this was the Byzantine people’s pride of their culture especially since they were the ones to continue Roman civilization in the Dark Ages and as descendants of the great civilizations of the Greeks and Romans they would never let go of this pride and because of this many emperors worked so hard to keep their empire alive despite all odds, and because of this Byzantium stood for 1,100 years. Another thing too that can be admired about the Byzantines was that they were masters of diplomacy that they would sometimes choose to bribe their enemies to spare them from devastating wars and this has saved them so many times even if the westerners came to think of them as scheming people because of this for choosing to pay off their enemies or pay off their enemies’ enemies rather than fight them face-to-face but on the other hand, the Byzantine people despite resolving to bribes were also courageous that when being forced to battle with an enemy, they would accept and fight for their empire and Byzantine soldiers truly had a lot of patriotism to fight for both their empire and Christian faith. Also, another thing I recently learned about why Byzantium’s decline was not it was not mainly because of too much wars and the Ottomans but because their empire lived for so long and standing in that part of the world between Europe and Asia, they were definitely bound to be attacked by everyone around them and because of so much wars and being in a high risk position for foreign invasions, their empire had a slow decline but at least it lived on for 11 centuries. Another factor for their decline was also military problems and at first I thought the Byzantines caused their own fall because their people grew soft and instead relied on foreign mercenaries that could not be trusted but as I continued learning more and more about Byzantium, it was not really their fault why in their last centuries they could not have a large army anymore but because their empire had been so reduced in size and population and it was a waste to recruit people to their army especially since many of their men would die in battle this way when they were needed to work the fields to keep the economy alive so they had to rely on foreign mercenaries and the same can be said for the decline and fall of Western Rome that fell in 476. Lastly, it is also due to the Byzantines’ inconsistent and complex personality that they caused their downfall because truly the Byzantines getting their philosophical genes from the Ancient Greeks were more creative and intellectual rather than being precise and practical people but this personality of theirs makes them even more interesting therefore showing that the intellectual spirit of the Ancient Greeks still lived on with them.

To understand Byzantium and their character a lot more, te best place to dive into are their emperors which represented their society and the complex personality of the Byzantines can well be explained through their emperors as Byzantium had emperors of different kinds of character. The Byzantine succession system true enough was very complex as it was not the usual system most European kingdoms had where the eldest son succeeds his father as king while in Byzantium, sometimes the eldest son succeeded his father but sometimes a lot of Byzantine emperors had no children, so some were succeeded by their brothers, cousins, son-in-laws, brother-in-laws, nephews, sometimes even father-in-laws, or sometimes even by their friends or generals that were appointed to succeed them as Byzantium had no written law of primogeniture wherein the eldest son has to succeed his father, rather Byzantine emperors had to find ways to make the succession stable which included making their sons co-emperors and even having built a purple room in the imperial palace for their children to be born in to secure their legitimacy. True enough Byzantium was a direct successor of Imperial Rome and got its ruling system from it and the Roman Empire was a republic that had a monarchy inserted into it when Augustus Caesar became its first emperor in 27BC but this monarchy system known as the Principate was not a full monarchy as the emperor was just the highest authority but the senate and army had power too and they were the ones that backed the emperors.

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Augustus Caesar, first emperor of Rome (r. 27BC-14AD)

Of course things will change over the centuries and with Diocletian as the Roman emperor in 285, the old system of the emperor as the head of the republic changed with the emperor’s authority becoming more divine but even though the power of the Roman emperors and Byzantine emperors after him was never truly divine as Byzantium still had a senate and its generals held a lot of power too. Not to mention, Byzantium had several periods of anarchy wherein an emperor just takes over for a year and is deposed and in fact there was even one 22-year period (695-717) where Byzantium had 7 changes of emperor and even more interesting, the Byzantine Empire which seems like a male dominated power actually had 2 women that ruled as sole emperor which were Empress Irene (r. 797-802) and Empress Theodora (r. 1055-1056). Now when it came to its ruling emperors, Byzantium had every kind of personality for a ruler you can think of. First of all it had great men that were legends larger than life and 2 of them are Byzantine emperors everyone would be familiar with which are the empire’s founder Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337) who achieved so much in his reign from making Christianity the faith that would define his empire to founding Constantinople as an imperial city to uniting the entire Roman Empire from years of civil and never losing battle and Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565) who was another one larger than life by building the cathedral of the Hagia Sophia that remained the world’s greatest and largest church for a thousand years, introducing the world to its basis for its legal systems, and making Byzantium an actual world power by expanding his empire the way no one before thought they could by actually putting back North Africa, Southern Spain and Italy back under Roman rule which happened to work out for some time.

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Mosaic of Emperor Justinian I the Great (left) and Emperor Constantine I the Great (right) in the Hagia Sophia

Other than these great men, Byzantium too had other greater ones that brought their empire back to greatness after a time of decline and such emperors included the likes of Romanos I Lekapenos (r. 920-944), Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963-969), John I Tzimiskes (r. 969-976), Basil II better known as the Bulgar-Slayer (r. 976-1025) who were all known to revive the greatness of Byzantium by turning the tide of war against foreign enemies, and Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118) as well as his son John II Komnenos (r. 1118-1143) who both resolved the long crisis Byzantium faced before their time and returned their empire again to prosperity and stability. Byzantium too had great rulers but met tragic ends such as the general Belisarius of the 6th century who was disgraced at some points but at least died peacefully but emperors like Maurice (r. 582-602) was one that met a tragic end betrayed and executed by his army due to some misunderstandings even if he was a good emperor, then there was Heraclius (r. 610-641) who ruled his entire reign fighting constant wars against the Sassanid Persians then Arabs to save the empire but died with his hard work failing, Nikephoros I (r. 802-811) who died in battle against the Bulgarians, and Andronikos III Palaiologos (r. 1328-1341) who had the drive to restore his dying empire’s glory but died too soon and the same can be said with the great men of Byzantium’s contemporary twin the Western Roman Empire which fell in 476 as it had heroic figures like the generals Stilicho and Aetius and emperor Majorian (r. 457-461) who did their best to keep their weak empire alive and sacrificed themselves for it as they were betrayed . Aside from having such great rulers whether visionaries or tragic heroes, Byzantium had a great share of weak and corrupt emperors who may or may have not caused their empire’s decline and such rulers included the likes of Valens (r. 364-378), Constantine VI (r. 780-797), Empress Irene (r. 797-802), Constantine VIII (r. 1025-1028), Romanos III Argyros (r. 1028-1034), Constantine IX Monomachos (r. 1042-1055), Constantine X Doukas (r. 1059-1067), Michael VII Doukas (r. 1071-1078), Alexios III Angelos (r. 1195-1203), and Andronikos II Palaiologos (r. 1282-1328) and as for the Western Roman Empire that fell in 476 all their rulers except for Majorian and Anthemius (r. 467-472) were all weak and corrupt but Byzantium also had some rulers who may have been weak but had strong men around them and these rulers included Michael III (r. 842-867) and Romanos II (r. 959-963). There are also some rulers of Byzantium that saw themselves as strong emperors but had in fact just used their strength to create further division and destruction in their empire and such rulers were the war fanatic Justinian II (r. 685-695/ 705-711) who is best known for having a mutilated nose in his second reign, Romanos IV Diogenes (r. 1068-1071) who chose to battle the Seljuks at Manzikert without thinking of the consequences, and Andronikos I Komnenos (r. 1183-1185) who brought terror and destruction to the empire leading to the eventual sack of Constantinople by the 4th Crusade in 1204. However, there had turned out to be only quite a few Byzantine emperors that had some evil intentions and such rulers were Basiliscus (r. 475-476) and John VI Kantakouzenos (r. 1347-1354) who were willing to betray their empire for their own gain and some others too like usurping emperor Phocas (r. 602-610) who just lusted for power but did not know how to rule properly. On the other hand, Byzantium too had its share of the rare kind of emperors who were mostly neutral and diplomatic rulers yet competent and highly intellectual people at the same time like Theodosius II (r. 408-450), Leo VI the Wise (r. 886-912), Constantine VII (r. 913-959), and Manuel II Palaiologos (r. 1391-1425). Now the kind of emperors that I actually like in Byzantium are the unlikely people who by chance became emperor and happened to do a good job and these included those who came from low birth and obscurity but by chance were made emperor and happened to flip the script and rule competently like Valentinian I (r. 364-375) who was just at first a soldier but ruled well as emperor despite being in charge of the west and not Constantinople, Marcian (r. 450-457) who was just a common and obscure soldier before being elevated to emperor, his successor Leo I the Thracian (r. 457-474) who was just a common soldier of low birth but actually saved the Eastern Empire from suffering the same fate as its western twin by ridding it of barbarian control in the government, and his successor too which was Zeno (r. 474-491) who despite being seen as an outsider by his people originating as a primitive Isaurian tribesman from the mountains of Asia Minor turned out to be a strong ruler who brought some stability to Byzantium. Other unlikely people that ruled Byzantium well in its history were Anastasius I (r. 491-518) who unexpectedly became emperor at an old age and achieved a lot by stabilizing the economy, his successor Justin I (r. 518-527) who originated as a simple peasant but worked his way up through the army and becoming a competent emperor despite being illiterate and it was he as well that made it possible for his nephew Justinian I to come to power, then other unlikely rulers included the Heraclian emperors Constans II (r. 641-668) and his son Constantine IV (r. 668-685) who did their job well in defending Byzantium from the Arabs despite coming to power at so young, also there was Basil I the Macedonian (r. 867-886) who originated too as just a simple peasant but eventually got the chance to take the throne and as emperor he also did well in promoting Byzantium’s cultural and military supremacy and founding the long reigning and glorious Macedonian Dynasty despite also being illiterate, and there was also Michael IV (r. 1034-1041) the last one to originate as a peasant but end up becoming an emperor. At the same time, in Byzantium’s long history there were some emperors too that may have been judged the wrong way and seen as evil but in fact were just wanted to keep their empire alive and such were the likes of Constantine the Great’s son Constantius II (r. 337-361) who would seem to be at first like a cold hearted and bitter ruler but all he wanted was to make sure his empire remained stable, then there was Leo III the Isaurian (r. 717-741) who is a controversial figure since he’s the one blamed for destroying Byzantium’s religious stability by issuing Iconoclasm which tore the empire apart but he also saved the empire by defending Constantinople against the Arab siege in 718 that could have ended their empire and in his reign won many victories against the Arabs, and of course there is also my favorite as of now Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1261-1282) who at first can be seen as an evil monster that brutally killed anyone opposing him and blinded his harmless young co-emperor John IV Laskaris to come to power and ruled in a tyrannical way suppressing his people’s Orthodox faith just so that he could ally with the pope but true enough he had a heart of gold and his intention was just to save his empire from destruction and he would do anything to achieve that. Also as I have studied Byzantine history deeper in this past year and more, I also made some discoveries that broke the stereotypes and first impressions I had on some emperors such as Isaac II Angelos (r. 1185-1195/ 1203-1204) who at first I saw as an idiot who was responsible for bringing his empire down but when getting to know him more which also involved having a conversation with an actual fan of his online, I started to see that Isaac II did fact care for his empire and fought against his enemies but it cost him and also he ruled the empire at a troubled time and the same can be said for John V Palaiologos (r. 1341-1391) who at first was just an weak emperor who ruled a long and tragic reign but behind it all the empire he ruled was already so weak but as emperor he still had the motivation to save his empire. Other than that, as I continued studying Byzantine history even more, I have also come to see that some emperors who at first I thought were great rulers but in fact were actually not great ones and had caused the decline of the empire and such was ironically Manuel I Komnenos (r. 1143-1180) who may have achieved a lot as an energetic emperor but his policies would eventually end up causing the decline of Byzantium as it was him who wasted up all the treasury on campaigns that went nowhere and it was him that started a war with Venice out of arrogance that would permanently be harmful for Byzantium, and it was he who started introducing Western Latin customs in the empire which would outrage his people and create such a permanent cultural divide in Byzantium which shows that it takes the actions of one emperor to bring an empire down, and the same can be said for the last emperor of a united Rome which was Theodosius I (r. 379-395) who for some reason is called “the great” but his rule only created such division among his people due to his policies of religious intolerance favoring Nicene Christianity over everything else making him launch a strong persecution against Pagans and it was he as well that indirectly caused the fall of Western Rome by simply letting the Roman army be run by barbarians and I fist thought of him as a good ruler who saved the empire but even though he was at some points, he turns out to be a hateable person and not to mention it was he who permanently split the Roman Empire among his 2 incompetent sons Arcadius in the east and Honorius in the west. There were some emperors too that when reading through Byzantine history, I had come to actually think of as not worthy of ruling the empire such as Arcadius (r. 395-408) who inherited the east after his father’s death but did not do a single thing as emperor, the short reigning Alexander (r. 912-913) who only just started a war with Bulgaria out of his own arrogance and the lesser known Emperor of Nicaea Theodore II Laskaris (r. 1254-1258) who ruled a successful empire but had such a high opinion of himself that he was basically an ass who thought he was better than everyone that the empire was better off not having him so luckily he was allegedly poisoned by Michael Palaiologos. Lastly, as I studied the history this whole time, I also found some underrated rulers in Byzantium too which were actually capable ones but are barely known about such as Julian better known as “the Apostate” (r. 361-363) who was an enlightened visionary but died too soon when being killed in battle against the Sassanids and John III Doukas Vatatzes (r. 1222-1254) who was one of Byzantium’s greatest rulers despite ruling the empire of Nicaea but he was indeed the only perfect emperor Byzantium had even if he did not rule Constantinople as he died before the 1261 reconquest from Latins but as an emperor he was the only one merciful to his people but brutal to his enemies but he was an overall Renaissance man who was a skilled soldier, scholar, diplomat, economist, politician, and family man and was the one who made his people aware of their Greek heritage and despite suffering chronic epilepsy he was strong ruler and well loved by his subjects which was rare for most Byzantine emperors and for these reasons John III is the kind of ruler people need today and so is Julian because even if Julian may be depicted in the wrong light as an enemy of the Christian faith for returning to old Roman Paganism he was in fact tolerant to both Christians and Pagans wanting them to be equal as people and his rule shows the kind of tolerance great leaders need to have. Now the last emperor I forgot to mention was the last Roman emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos (r. 1449-1453) and he is someone I can say who shows a true heroic character as he chose to not shamefully surrender Constantinople to the Ottomans when he could have but instead chose to fight to death when his odds for winning was low and die with his empire and his speech before the final battle in Byzantium’s last day, Tuesday May 29, 1453 shows just how much Byzantium means to the world. Now out of all the emperors, there are some that I find boring like the emperors after Leo III from 741 to 867 and the Doukas Dynasty emperors from 1059 to 1081 but every other emperor aside from them has an interesting story though my top picks are of course Constantine I the Great because without him the east would not become Byzantium and Justinian I the Great because it was he who gave Byzantium’s long lasting cultural legacy, as for the Macedonian emperors like Nikephoros II Phokas, John I Tzimiskes, and Basil II I can truly admire them for their ambition and courage but these 5 emperors that I have mentioned though are those that I can only see as legends larger than life so the Byzantine emperors that I actually can relate a lot to are the Palaiologos emperors from Michael VIII to the last emperor Constantine XI as I can actually see them as real humans that are still relevant to this day as basically the empire they ruled as much smaller in size so they do not seem to be all powerful rulers anymore and as emperors they could no longer do anything they wanted without suffering the consequences so they had to be crafty in ruling which makes them even more interesting people.

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How to describe some of the Byzantine emperors

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9 Byzantine emperors by personality based on the D&D alignment
Byzantine Emperor Constantine IV (652-658) and his retinue
Emperor Constantine IV (r. 668-685) mosaic in Ravenna

Watch this to learn more about the succession system in the Byzantine Empire from (Eastern Roman History).

Having been drawn to the world of Byzantines for almost 2 years now without ever loosing interest even once, no matter how deep I studied Byzantium and its history over and over again, writing so many articles, and doing so many Byzantine history projects, there are still some historical questions that I still can’t answer and are worth debating. One of these mysteries of Byzantium that I still can’t fully answer now is how exactly Byzantium is not just the Roman Empire’s successor but the Roman Empire itself and surely over 2020 when studying Imperial Rome side-by-side with Byzantium, I have come to see that they are the same empire but I can’t quite put it how they are actually the same mainly because Byzantium evolved over time which at first was Latin speaking and very Roman in traditions but because of their geographical position and population, they eventually became Greek in language and culture. The biggest question for me is still where to mark the start of Byzantine history and till now it still up for debate as if you want to actually say Byzantium is the Roman Empire itself you have start Byzantine history either with the legendary founding of Rome in 753 BC or with Augustus’ founding of the empire in 27BC, but if you are just talking about Byzantium as the Eastern Roman Empire you can either start with 286 when the Roman emperor Diocletian formally divided the Roman Empire between east and west, or safer to start with the year 330 when Constantine the Great founded Constantinople after uniting both east and west, or you can go for the year 395 with the death of Theodosius I when the east and west were permanently split in half with the east becoming Byzantium itself, or lastly you can go for 476 when the Western Roman Empire fell and the east was the only remaining Roman Empire.

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However, the story of Byzantium dates all the way back to the 7th century BC founded by the Greek colonist Byzas as the port of Byzantium thus making him the actual unsung hero of the story but if you are talking about where to start the story of Byzantium in the cultural sense as the Greek Empire the best option is the reign of Heraclius (r. 610-641) because under him the empire’s language went from Latin to Greek and take note that when Byzantium was at its height under Justinian I in the 6th century it was at its height as a Roman power but when Byzantium was at its second peak at Basil II’s death in 1025, this was when Byzantium was at its cultural and military peak as a Greek power. The Byzantine Empire’s identity though is very hard to understand especially since it began having a Roman cultural identity fused with a Greek one as well as Constantinople was located in the Greek world but it also had other ethnicities living in it but its dominant cultural identity more or less was Greco-Roman and it was only in the 13th century under John III Vatatzes when Byzantium was in exile in Nicaea when its new cultural identity as a Greek nation was born as they had fully outgrown their Roman past and realized that they were more Greek especially since the Empire of Nicaea was formed by Greek people that fled Constantinople from the Crusaders and it was the same Greek people of Nicaea that reestablished Byzantine rule to Constantinople in 1261. The other big question too is who can be considered as the last Roman emperor and this again does not have one answer as if you are talking about it in a bigger picture it would be Constantine XI in 1453 but if only in the west it was Romulus Augustus in 476 but safer to say that the last Roman emperor in Augustus’ model of the Princeps or first citizen was Alexander Severus (r. 222-235), the last emperor of the old system or Principate was Diocletian (r. 284-305), and the last one to rule a united Roman Empire was Theodosius I in 395, the first Christian one being Constantine the Great (306-337) and the last Pagan being Julian (361-363) while the last Byzantine ruler was actually not Constantine XI but the Emperor of the break-away state of Trebizond David Komnenos who as a Byzantine ruled this place at the Black Sea as his own state until his surrender to the Ottomans in 1461. To put it short, I still can’t answer the question of Byzantium and Rome actually as the same no matter how much I have come to understand it this year and in fact I always make the same mistake in all my articles in showing Byzantium and Rome as different empires and I have gotten a lot of criticism in the form of comments in the FB Byzantine history groups because of that. Another big question about Byzantium is what country today would be its direct descendant like for example for the Roman Empire today it is Italy, for the Ottoman Empire it is Turkey, for the British Empire it is the UK, and for the Russian Empire it is Russia but for Byzantium it is a really big question and the answer could be Greece because Byzantium did speak Greek and was a Greek in identity later on but it doesn’t seem much like it because the empire that Greece descends from more was Alexander the Great’s ancient Macedonian Empire while Byzantium’s presence was stronger in Northern Greece which is Macedonia and Thrace, also you can say Turkey can be Byzantium’s successor country because Asia Minor was the heartland of Byzantium but it still does not fit because Turkey is also the Ottoman Empire’s successor country in so many ways even if the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II in 1453 after conquering Byzantium also called himself the successor to Rome. However, just as how Byzantium is Imperial Rome’s successor, the empire that is considered to be Byzantium’s spiritual successor is Russia because Russia adopted its religion and imperial system from Byzantium so that makes sense and Moscow was in fact even called “the new Constantinople”.

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Byzantine imperial eagle in Russia

Lastly, another question still left unanswered for me is about the religious divide between east and west, Orthodox and Catholic and Byzantium does have a major role in that but what I can’t fully answer is what date the Byzantine Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches actually became separate because even before the final separation of the Churches in 1054, the schism was already a reality although even after 1054, Byzantine emperors including Michael VIII and almost all his successors made attempts to unite both Churches but none of the emperors’ attempts worked as it just led their people to riot because the Byzantines were truly Orthodox at heart and because of the atrocities caused by the Catholic Crusaders in 1204, the Byzantines would rather die than the follow the religion of the people that shamed them and also Orthodoxy was the pride of the Byzantine people which they believe is the one true original Christian faith. Basically, Orthodoxy and Catholicism were the same thing before as they meant the same thing and had the same creed which was the official one, however the eventual differences between both came mainly because Western Europe where the pope in Rome was fell to different barbarian kingdoms as the Western Empire fell while Roman rule remained in the east and as there was an emperor in the east, the pope had to be the protector of Christian people in the west. Anyway, if I want to fully understand Byzantium more I have to definitely understand Church history more as 50% of Byzantine history has to do with the topic of the Christian faith.

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Map of the Roman Empire’s Tetrarchy (286-324), from Diocletian to Constantine I the Great
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The Roman Empire’s final division in 395 by Theodosius I; Arcadius at the east, Honorius at the west
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Map of all Barbarian invasions into the Roman Empire, 100-500AD
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Byzantium at its greatest extent, 555
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The Byzantine Empire (red) at the death of of Basil II, 1025
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Map of the restored Byzantine Empire in 1261 (yellow) as a medieval Greek power

What Byzantium has Come to Mean for Me

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And now I’ve come to the tail-end at last, and this too is going to be the most touching part as I am about to tell you how much this whole Byzantine journey and the history of Byzantium has meant so much to me after almost 2 years of being so into it. Before I only thought about its interesting armies, soldier units, weapons, and armor as well as its stunning although one-dimensional mosaics and frescos when thinking about Byzantium but ever since getting into its rich history in early 2019 and now that it is the end of 2020, Byzantium has come to mean so much than just the armies and fascinating art I used to know, it has now come to mean to me a rich story of an empire with a great imperial capital that lived on for 1,123 years and 18 days. Byzantium was a great survival story of an empire with battles worth remembering, armies of great power, and colorful characters that went on for 11 centuries and did not allow itself to fall basically because it was not just an empire like many others that just grew and expanded out of nowhere but instead Byzantium was a proud empire carrying the legacy of the Ancient Greeks and Romans of the past and as an empire, the Byzantines saw themselves as those to preserve the meaning of Classical civilization and while Western Europe fell into centuries of the Dark Ages and it was Byzantium too that indirectly brought Medieval Europe back to the Classical past by introducing to the west the Renaissance with the fall of their empire. The warfare, armies, weapons, and armor of the Byzantines though still remained very special to me but in this whole journey, it has been the stories of its people and times that came to mean so much for me. Byzantium was still so much more than what others think as just an empire full of corruption and betrayal, decadence and stupidity, it was one of the most fascinating rare mixed cultures that had spanned over so many lands from Egypt to Syria, to Armenia, to Italy, to Spain, and more and was a hybrid of Classical Greek and Roman ideals and Christian faith, it showed that faith and reason could co-exist. Now if you are an Orthodox and Catholic Christian, Byzantium would surely have a lot of meaning to you since it was the civilization that stood as the defenders of the Christian faith for over a thousand years as in its early centuries it saw itself as the protector of Christians all over the world and from the 7th century onwards, it was Byzantium that stood at the frontline defending the rest of Europe from Islamic invasions that could have completely changed everything about Europe itself if Byzantium had fallen.

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As I progressed through my Byzantine journey up to this day, it has come to mean a lot to me more when finding out Byzantine civilization has contributed so much to even our world today and one of these greatest contributions include Justinian I’s code of laws that would end being the basis for the laws of most countries today and also the Nicene Creed established back in the Council of Nicaea in 325 under Constantine I which has made the Orthodox/ Catholic Church’s official statement of beliefs. Meanwhile, Byzantine history has showed several inspiring stories of so many opportunities and possibilities and one of the most notable is that of emperors like Justinian I the Great who may have started out as nothing originating as a peasant but still did not stop him from becoming one of the greatest emperors of Byzantium that had made so many contributions up to this day. Truly, Byzantine history was not all perfect, it was far from it and this makes it even more interesting to study and relate to, and in Byzantium’s long history there is no dull moment, every part of had a great story, except for me I find the period of Byzantine history between the 8th and mid 9th centuries and the crisis period of the mid 11th centuries not as interesting as the rest but everything else for me is surely so fascinating yet it also starts seeming to feel so sad if you get to know it more especially with its power decreasing and decreasing over the centuries.

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Also, Byzantium showed me that no matter how much things would keep getting worse, there is no giving up and you must always find way to fight back and this can be said with their entire story of losing so much of their territories to enemies but the Byzantines would not give up and do all they can to get their empire back together and they did just that throughout their entire existence. The Byzantine Empire’s end was also truly meaningful as its last emperor Constantine XI’s sacrifice fighting off the Ottomans to the death has brought so much inspiration and shows that the Byzantine Empire unlike Western Rome that died in such a humiliating way in 476 died the way it lived, fighting for their existence. At this present day, we can only learn so much from Byzantium in terms of actually surviving such difficulties as in their 1,100-year history they faced enemies on all sides, countless civil wars, 2 pandemics, and so much more and yet they had their pride of their heritage and stable political system despite having such unstable politics was strong despite having the  that they went on for that long. Just as how the Byzantine Empire persisted and persisted to preserve Classical civilization in the Middle Ages, I tirelessly worked on doing all sorts of Byzantine articles, films, and other projects ever since getting into the history of Byzantium almost 2 years ago and just like how Justinian the Great was remembered as the “emperor that never slept”, I have been the same ever since almost 2 years ago when I started fully committing myself to Byzantium that I have shown so much devotion to it that sometimes I would hardly sleep when writing articles like this or editing my Lego Byzantine films so that it makes a satisfying end result and now that 2020 is ending and as I finishing writing this very long piece, I am just so very exhausted mentally yet in a worthy way because I at least feel that I have done my part in discovering the rich and fascinating history and culture of Byzantium by endless researches, reading, and even travelling to Byzantine destinations. On the other hand, I can say I have also done part in serving the long gone Byzantine Empire by actually bringing the story of Byzantium into media by making countless articles for this site on select topics from Byzantine history and making films for my channel that use Lego characters to represent some real life historical Byzantines but my journey is far from over, and even though I have brought Byzantium into the light online here in this site and in my channel and got to raise awareness of it to my friends, I still have to strive more if I want to achieve the goal in actually bringing Byzantium into pop culture and that now has turned to be one of my goals in life. At the beginning of my Byzantine journey in early 2019, I always thought Byzantium was so obscure that no one seemed to care about it but I just found out how fortunate I am that I got into Byzantium at the right moment when other people too were starting to become aware of it as I started seeing more Byzantine history related content online. As of now, I am happy to see that others too have the same passion for Byzantium the way I do and these include countless channels and sites that also do have the same objective in making Byzantine history known the same my channel’s goal is to make unknown history known and some I have seen have done such an impressive job in putting their passion into work such one channel named Khey Pard who has made an impressive timelapse video map of the whole history Byzantium every month, as well as seeing Byzantium put into anime content, and of course there is Dovahhatty who has now made his first episode of his Unbiased History Byzantium series and I can see that he truly has to potential to actually bring Byzantium into the world of pop culture. And now as 2020 ends, I have come to realize that my passion for Byzantine history has changed me in so many ways that I now can fully relate to Byzantium and no longer see it and its emperors as legends and myths but as real life humans and even more importantly, all the stories of their empire has inspired me so much that I will never forget them through life. On the other hand, this Byzantine passion of mine has grown to be such a strong obsession in me in this almost 2-year journey that by now I can already myself as a Byzantine of their time, every day when walking thoughts of the Byzantine Empire and its emperors always come to my mind, when listening to modern music I end up associating these songs with Byzantium even if they are not related, when a conversation pops up I usually end up sneaking Byzantium into it even if it is hardly related, and occasionally I even have dreams that I am actually in the setting of the Byzantine Empire and this possibly all because I have put so much effort in doing projects such as articles and films. Other than that, Byzantium has also changed the way I look at things such as when I travel, my mind has automatically becomes so focused on Byzantium that when in a place that has Byzantine era attractions like Istanbul, Ravenna, or Rome I always go straight for them  and when I go to place that does not have any Byzantine sites which I did last year being Strasbourg in France and Zurich in Switzerland as part of the same trip in Ravenna, I wasn’t as excited. However, before I got so into Byzantium, I was at least more or less excited to see anything a foreign city has no matter what period in history it was but when my passion for Byzantium grew, my interests in travelling and thoughts have become narrower too which is a bit more of the negative side of getting so into Byzantium but it is also a good thing because at least my interests aren’t so wide which can later end up becoming so confusing. However, this kind of narrower thinking also shows how much I have grown in being so devoted to Byzantine history that when going to places like Istanbul or Ravenna, it would be such an extra special experience for me standing there and as tourist there, I would no longer see it in the eyes of a usual tourist in awe but or in confusion but as a true enthusiast of the great history of Byzantium. My journey as a Byzantine history enthusiast also shows that the story of Byzantium is not only for highly intellectual historians that live their lives studying and analyzing history but it attracts common pleb people too such as myself who has no historian background but rather is only a college student taking up a business course but since the story of Byzantium is so inspiring, it can literally attract anyone. I also have to say that this year 2020 was obviously a tough one and even for me it was with all the uncertainty and highs and lows, but no matter how tough 2020 was, I still survived and I have my passion for Byzantine history here to thank as in moments of fear and uncertainty this year, Byzantium was there to keep me focused, in my moments of depression and anxiety both this year and last, Byzantium was there for me, and as 2020 ends and the great unknown of 2021 approaches, I should also say that Byzantium will still be there for me to keep me going as this Byzantine journey of mine is not yet over, rather I still have a lot more to learn and discover. At the end, I had also discovered, Rome was not just a place, it was an idea and a dream and Byzantium continued that dream and now in this far future from their time, it could seem impossible to relate too since it was so long ago, but if you think about it more, there is quite a chilling truth that even though we live so many centuries away from the Romans and Byzantines having different cultures and technology, we still tend to behave the same way as them.

Recommended Readings and Channels, Thanks, and Updates for 2021

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As my Byzantine journey from 2019-2020 ends, I would like to share with you all the books and other sources such as podcasts and Youtube channels that helped build my passion for Byzantium and what I have to say about them. First of all, the best way to understand the history of something like Byzantium is to read books about them and in this almost 2-year journey I have read a lot of good ones. For starters who want to get to know what Byzantium and its history actually is, the book I recommend is Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire by Judith Herrin which is the book that started my full passion for Byzantine history and although this book is not written in chronological form, it at least gives you some vital information on the culture and political structure of Byzantium the way an encyclopedia would, and there are also several other books by this same author that focuses on Byzantine history. If you want an easy and concise book that is basically an overview of the story of Byzantium I suggest you read this one called Byzantium: Capital of an Ancient Empire by Giles Morgan which I read very easily and though it does not tell every little story in Byzantine history, it is a good read that gets straight to the point in the important moments of Byzantine history. Now if you want to really know the smaller details of Byzantine history and insider stories of all the emperors the book I suggest is The History of the Byzantine Empire by Radi Dikici which is another favorite of mine as it tells the whole story of Byzantium through the lives of their emperors and this is the book you should read if you want to know the lives of lesser known emperors like John III Vatatzes and Michael VIII Palaiologos and it may be a long read but it is very much worth it. If you are looking for a heavy read that analyzes Byzantium’s political structure and warfare during its most significant era from the 10th to 11th centuries, then you should read Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood: The Rise and Fall of Byzantium, 955 to the 1st Crusade by Anthony Kaldellis which I have but did not have the time to complete reading it. However if you want a light read about Byzantium and to learn all its important or unimportant facts and trivia, you should surely read A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities also by Anthony Kaldellis in which I have done many articles on its chapters that I found interesting. When it comes to the topic of the Byzantine army, there are a lot that you can find but the ones that I read include one featuring military essays on the Byzantine army throughout its entire history by Dimitris Belezos which shows a lot of detailed illustrations of Byzantine army units over their history and another one I have is The Eastern Romans by Rafaelle D’Amato which tells the whole story of Byzantium through the evolution of the army over the centuries. Lastly, if you want to see Byzantium in the form of an illustrated story told as if it were a Disney style story, I suggest you read Theophano: A Byzantine Tale by Spyros Theocharis which is set in 10th century Byzantium and this book also shows that it also has the mission to bring Byzantium into pop culture. Aside from books, I should also recommend the channels and podcasts that helped me understand Byzantium a lot more and for podcasts, the ones I suggest for listening and would also like to thank for helping me understand the story of Byzantium more are surely the long running History of Byzantium podcasts by Robin Pierson which tells the story of Byzantium in such a comprehensive way, then other good and very detailed podcasts include the 12 Byzantine Rulers podcasts by Lars Brownworth that tells the story of Byzantium through 12 different emperors over the centuries, another good podcast too is Byzantium and Friends by the same Anthony Kaldellis, and also Roman Emperors: Totalus Rankium which does a good job telling the stories of both Roman and Byzantine emperors in an informative yet detailed way. For Youtube channels on Roman and Byzantine history content there are a lot I have to thank and I can’t name them all as throughout my entire Byzantine journey, I have come across so many channels in which I linked their videos to all my articles but most notable of them is Eastern Roman History which happens to be one of my favorites especially for telling lesser known parts and emperors of Byzantium and giving a lot of insights about it and I sure have to thank them for sharing my film War of the Sicilian Vespers on their FB page, then another one that played a big part making me understand Byzantium a lot more is one of the greatest history channels on Youtube Kings and Generals which does a great job in visualizing historical stories and battles and making them very clear, and other channels too that have historical Roman and Byzantine content I have to thanks for guiding me through my Byzantine journey include the likes of Epimetheus, Invicta, Thersites the Historian, Jabzy, Voices of the Past, Look Back History, Foojer, Fire of Learning, Overly Sarcastic Productions, History Matters, Khey Pard, History Dose, In 5 Minutes, Byzantine Real History, Porphyra, and Malthius which does something like Dovahhatty’s Unbiased History but the one channel I owe a lot too for making me so into Roman and Byzantine history even more because of his unique style of telling it that get can easily get so many into it is no other than my now favorite channel Dovahhatty who does it like no other by making characters in Roman and now Byzantine history so relatable by portraying them as if they were living people of today using memes to portray them.

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Aside from all these Youtube channels I have to also put own channel No Budget Films there because I do want to make it part of this circle of channels featuring Byzantine history content online too but other than the channels that I have to thank for helping me along the way, I also would like to thank a number of online artists making excellent Byzantine era character drawings and other art forms on Deviantart such as the likes of Aemilianvs, VoteDave, Ediacar, Spatharokandidatos, AlexiosI, FaisalHashemi, Ana Cagic, and other media Kibea which did a great job portraying most of the Byzantine emperors, the Roman Emperors Instagram account, and even my own site there Byzantium-blogger55 and I would like to thank all of you here for helping me in my blog articles and audio epics in supplying me with decent drawings of historical figures from the Byzantine era especially since it it sos hard to find art or any portraits of emperors and figures from Byzantium as I know of. In addition, for all the maps I use here, I would like to thank Ian Mladjov for making really detailed maps of different periods of Byzantine history which are rare to find. At the same time, I also have to thank all the history Facebook groups I am part of such as Roman and Byzantine History, Byzantine Army, The Late Roman Group, Byzantine Real History (BRh), Love Letters to Greece, Creatives Supporting Creatives, and The Blue Guard and all its members for supporting me by reacting to my posts every time I share an article or video I made to any of them, and would also like to thank all these groups and its members for posting new content each day that makes me discover Byzantine history more and more. Then I would also like to thank some Facebook pages for showing me more Byzantine history content like Byzantine Real History, Byzantine Military History, Porphyra, Bizarre Byzantine Memes, Byzantine Tales, and History in 3D. Lastly I would like to also thank some people for supporting me a long the way such as Billy Chrissochos who runs the Love Letters to Greece group and the Byzantine rock musical Porphyra and though I had not met him in person yet he has non-stop supported me by sharing all my posts to his FB group ever since I did the complete genealogy, then also another great supporter of my works Fabiana Buono who is the one behind the Italian travel blog page A spasso per l’Europa in which I have never also met in person but had memorable conversations with through messenger about European travel destinations and Byzantine history even and I’d like to thank her for her support by sharing some of my articles and Lego films to her other English travel page Gorgeous Europe, then also I’d like to thank my actual friend Miguel Abarentos who runs the Twitch streaming channel The Masked Ninja Hybrid for supplying me video footage of the online games he plays for my films and for also helping promote my channel while he streams. But more importantly, I would like to thank my family and friends for supporting me throughout my entire Byzantine journey and have done all their best to support my passion by voicing for my films, supplying the Lego pieces, and sharing my content in their own timelines but most importantly, I would like to thank all of you viewers for making this journey possible because without you all no will see the work I do but most of all I want to thank all the people in the history of Byzantium because without them, I wouldn’t have any stories to write about.

And now before I end this article and the year 2020, I just want to share with you all what I would do for next year as I continue my Byzantine journey. As 2020 ends, all I have to say is that I am very tired mentally after writing so much articles and films, endless research, and so many sleepless nights all in the name of Byzantium so for the next few weeks as 2021 begins, all I want to do is just to rest but eventually I will continue doing more Byzantine related content again. So basically what I have in mind for 2021 would be that I will surely continue doing my Byzantine history audio epics and this time featuring the entire story of the Palaiologos Dynasty beginning with Michael VIII Palaiologos and if I can I could go all the way to the end of Byzantium in 1453. Another thing I have in mind for early 2021 is to do a live-action Byzantine era film casting of Dovahhatty’s most recent video as well as a commentary on his new Byzantine series. As I said, I have discovered from this Byzantine journey that my mission is to promote and share to the world the mysteries of Byzantium and make it grow to become mainstream media, and I am already starting here with my new Instagram. However, I have come to realize just how long and how extensive my articles have been in this past year thus it could seem tiring to write so for next year, I plan to do something more interesting and more concise and very unique as well which would be fan-fiction and alternate ending stories to some crucial events in Byzantine history in which I already have 6 stories in mind. Anyway, I think it is about time I finish this extremely long but meaningful article and there was no way to make it short because this is my own story and the story of Byzantium too and true indeed, the story of the Byzantine Empire is so fascinating and inspiring that there is no way to simply shorten it. Now I would like to say it’s been a great and very meaningful almost 2-year journey through the world of the Byzantines centuries away from them but it is not yet over, there is still a lot more I have to learn as I continue my story as a Byzantine history enthusiast and next year I do hope to learn and discover more as to put it short, the Byzantine world is a world of endless discoveries as by this point no matter how much I dove into the world of Byzantium, I still have much more to discover. Anyway, I’d like to wish you all a belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and hopefully everything does well in 2021 as I do plan to travel again one day to more travel destinations that were once part of the Byzantine world especially since I still have much to see, and thank you all very much for reading this, it has been such a great experience journeying through the world of Byzantium. This is Powee Celdran signing off.                    

The Decline of Western Rome and Eastern rome compared- Crisis of the 3rd Century and the 11th century crisis

Posted by Powee Celdran

WARNING: THIS IS A VERY LONG ARTICLE!!

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Hello and welcome back to another article from the Byzantium Blogger and this time I’m back again with my usual Roman/ Byzantine history posts and this one is going to be an extra special article. My last post was quite unrelated featuring a different part of history in a totally different place discussing the 4 defenestrations of Prague in which 2 of them had a major impact on history though that article was only meant to be a stand-alone experimental one while this one I’m doing now is back again to something else I want to discuss about Roman and Byzantine history and again will be an extension to the Roman-Byzantine comparison series I did a few months ago. Very few empires in history lasted as long as the Roman Empire (including the Byzantine Empire) and its history lasted so long that you could compare it to itself and in the case I will be comparing the decline and fall of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire to the original Roman Empire or more or less the Western Roman Empire before it. It might seem a bit odd that I’m comparing the same empire to itself but since almost 1,000 years went by between the fall of the Western Empire and Eastern Empire there were so many changes that happened in between most notably that the Eastern Empire despite coming from the original Roman Empire became more and more centered in the east with Constantinople as its capital and its language and culture becoming Greek. The same way I am comparing the same empire to itself would be explained by how for example the Star Wars movies’ story of the original trilogy repeats itself in the sequel trilogy set 30 years later or how the story of the Karate Kid films in many ways repeats itself in its sequel series Cobra Kai, and now for Roman history the story more or less repeats itself almost a thousand years later come Byzantine history through events happening and people running the empire. This kind of article will be my also be my attempt in doing something like the Greek historian in the Roman era Plutarch would do which was comparing the stories of notable people of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome through biographies, and here I will do something just like that telling the stories of notable Byzantine emperors and characters comparing them with their Roman emperor predecessors. This article will show you the story of Byzantium from the 11th century to 12th century compared side by side with the history of the Roman Empire from the late 2nd to early 4th centuries. Of course, when comparing the Eastern Roman Empire to the Western Roman Empire’s story, not all events are exactly the same but rather very similar to each other and in fact you can compare many of the late Byzantine emperors to the Roman emperors in the decline era of Rome but as you would see the biggest difference is that the decline of Western Rome was happened through a quick 200 year period which included the 3rd Century Crisis that led to the empire to change forever and in the process creating the Byzantine Empire in the 4th century which then was fully separated from the west in 395 and in less than 100 years the Western Empire fell in 476 leaving the east as Byzantium to stand for a thousand more years but the decline of the Eastern Empire was long and steady as Byzantine history over these thousand years had many ups and downs but in the 11th century after an era of success and prosperity, the Byzantine Empire would go through the same 3rd Century Crisis the west did almost a thousand years before it but it would take Byzantium 400 more years to die out that it even went through a period of revival and even a temporary fall for 57 years in the 13th century and again another revival of the empire though as a much smaller state for 200 years before finally falling in 1453. At the end, it would turn out that a lot of Byzantine emperors and their Roman emperor predecessors have a lot in common not so much in personality but very much in the given situation their empire is in under them. Now this article will stop at the end of the 12th century for the Byzantine story and at the later half of the 4th century for the original Roman Empire’s story as it would be too long to compare both empires up until the end, this I will do in the second part of this article. Basically, this article ending in the 4th century for Imperial Rome and the 13th century for Byzantium will be more or less comparing the declines and not falls of both empires. On the other hand, this article is going to focus more on comparing late-era Byzantine emperors to their predecessor Roman emperors wherein you can see that most of them have a lot in common like the Byzantine emperor Romanos IV Diogenes (r. 1068-1071) with the Roman emperor Valerian (r. 253-260), Byzantine emperor Michael VII Doukas (r. 1071-1078) with the Roman emperor Gallienus (r. 253-268), and the Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118) with the Roman emperor Aurelian (r. 270-275). Now the format of this article will be focusing on the present which is Byzantium being compared to its past which is Imperial Rome but at the end, the whole point of this article is to show that history repeats itself no matter how many centuries go by and whether it happens in the same empire with the same people or in another part of the world. To compare the stories of the Roman and Byzantine Empires you cannot start from the beginning as the Byzantine Empire was born out of the Roman Empire, therefore it is best to start with the reign of Emperor Basil II of Byzantium at the end of the 10th century and already you can see parallels of it with the era of Rome’s golden age in the 2nd century. Of course, this article will have some fun into it with the use of memes and mentions of my favorite Youtube channel on Roman history, Dovahhatty and though it would be very long, it will be straighter to the point.     

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Crossover flag of the Roman and Byzantine Empires
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Roman (left) and Byzantine (right) 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

Related Videos:

Roman Emperors and their Deeds Part1 (from Tiny Library).

Roman Emperors and their Deeds Part2 (from Tiny Library).

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

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

The reign of Basil II of Byzantium (976-1025) to the 5 Good Emperors of Rome (96-180) and Constantine VIII (1025-1028) to Commodus (180-192)

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When Western Rome fell in 476, the east stood much stronger as the Byzantine Empire and in the 6th century under Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565), the Byzantine Empire was at its greatest extent taking back most of the lost western provinces like North Africa, Italy, and Southern Spain but constant war and too much expansion weakened the empire’s treasury that a devastating war with the Sassanid Persian Empire in the 7th century permanently stopped Byzantium from becoming as large as Imperial Rome before it was. The 7th century also was the beginning of the Arab expansion and the beginning for Byzantium’s constant wars against Muslim powers and because of this, Byzantium went through a 200-year dark age losing so much territory and having to fight for its survival but in the 9th century the tide changed and Byzantium fought on the offensive again pushing the Arab invaders away from imperial territory in Asia Minor beginning to expand the empire again. In the 10th century, Byzantium entered a new golden age under the Macedonian Dynasty with scholarly emperors like Leo VI the Wise (r. 886-912) and Constantine VII (r. 913-959) who promoted Byzantine culture as well as strong military emperors like Romanos I Lekapenos (r. 920-944), Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963-969), and John I Tzimiskes (r. 969-976) who expanded imperial territory again to the east winning wars against the Arabs. This golden age of 10th century Byzantium is very much the same as the golden age of Imperial Rome in the 1st century known as the age of the 5 Good Emperors Nerva (r. 96-98AD), Trajan (98-117), Hadrian (r. 117-138), Antoninus Pius (r. 138-161), and Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180) with his co-emperor Lucius Verus (r. 161-169) who can be considered as the 6th good emperor. This age of the 5 Good Emperors saw the Roman Empire at its greatest extent stretching north to south from Britain to Egypt and west to east from Portugal to the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf, yet it was also an age of cultural superiority, military power, and great prosperity known as the Pax Romana as the whole empire was connected to each other by roads and sea routes allowing good to be traded all over and soldiers to easily protect its borders. For Byzantium, it was the 50-year reign of Basil II of the Macedonian Dynasty (976-1025) when the empire was at its greatest extent again north to south from The Crimea in Ukraine to Syria and west to east from Southern Italy to Armenia though not as large as Byzantium in the 6th century wherein it controlled the whole Mediterranean. Unlike the Roman Empire of the 2nd century which was a total world power that no one could beat as it basically won almost every war it fought and in fact in the reign of Antoninus Pius (138-161) it was truly at peace, Byzantium in the 10th century meanwhile fought non-stop wars of expansion and by the time Basil II came to power in 976, the Byzantine Empire expanded as far as the Levant (Lebanon and Israel) but to the north, the Bulgarian Empire which had been at war with Byzantium since the late 7th century was still a threat. Basil II would later be one of Byzantium’s most famous emperors next to Constantine I the Great and Justinian I the Great but he came to power with a troubled start fighting a civil war against the general Bardas Skleros between 976 and 979 and again from 987-990 as well as against the general Bardas Phokas the Younger from 987 to 989 and Basil II was able to defeat the rebellions with the use of a new unit in the army which was the Varangian Guard made up of Nordic and Russian warriors given to him as a gift from the Prince of Kievan Rus’ Vladimir I in exchange for marrying Basil II’s sister Anna. Just like Imperial Rome in the 2nd century which was seen as a superior power by all around it, Byzantium in the 10th and early 11th centuries was seen the same way that for the Rus prince Vladimir to marry a Byzantine princess was such a great deal as Byzantium had become respected and feared by all with Basil II’s predecessors fighting hard to expand it again. As for Basil II, there is no particular 2nd century Roman emperor you can compare him to but it is most likely that he can be very much be compared to all the 5 good emperors first with Nerva (r. 96-98) as both Basil II and Nerva were known for issuing fairer reforms for their people, also with Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117) since Basil II like Trajan expanded their empire to its greatest extent, improved the military to an unbeatable force, and secured peace within the empire, also Basil II too can be compared to Trajan successor Hadrian as Basil II like Hadrian travelled all over their empire to make sure it was working efficiently and like Trajan and Hadrian Basil II worked hard to reform the empire’s class and tax system by limiting the military aristocracy and giving the land back to the original people who owned the land taken from them. As for Hadrian’s successor Antoninus Pius who he adopted to take the place as emperor for Hadrian’s actual appointed successors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus as they grow up, Basil II’s reign does not really have a lot in common with Pius since Pius’ long reign was a time of relative peace wherein Pius never even left Italy whereas Basil II never really spent time in Constantinople except the peace brought within Byzantium during Basil II’s reign is comparable with Antoninus Pius’ reign as some historians say; Basil II though personally led his army to the point where he built a special connection with them wherein his soldiers would see him as a father. Now Imperial Rome’s golden age closes with the successful reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180) who ruled with his adoptive brother Lucius Verus from 161 to Verus’ death in 169 and though this time was still successful, the decline would already begin as Rome would be in a devastating war against their mortal enemy, the Persian Parthian Empire which brought the Antonine Plague or smallpox pandemic to the Roman Empire which killed Lucius Verus and later Marcus Aurelius. This smallpox outbreak in the empire also weakened the soldiers in the northern borders giving the Germanic tribes the advantage to invade the empire in what would be the Macromannic Wars from 166 to 180 which did not end with Rome gaining any new lands but just repelling the Germanic invasions. Like Marcus Aurelius who grew up learning to be an emperor from Hadrian and Antoninus Pius’ who he was the adopted son of, Basil II had been a junior emperor since he was a young boy as he was born in 958 when his grandfather Constantine VII was reigning and in 959 Basil’s father Romanos II succeeded his father as emperor making Basil co-emperor in 960 but in 963 with Romanos II suddenly died making Basil’s mother Theophano marry the empire’s top general who became Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas who was assassinated in 969 by John I Tzimiskes who took over as emperor but died in 976 and while both Nikephoros II and John I were emperors, Basil as well as his younger brother Constantine remained as co-emperors. Though Basil II was the true emperor in 976, he was already challenged by John I’s general Bardas Skleros who was defeated by Basil II’s forces led by Bardas Phokas in 979 but in his early reign Basil had to banish his advisor who was also named Basil in order to rule alone which he wanted to do but at the beginning it was a disaster as in 986 when leading the army, he faced a heavy defeat to the Bulgarians at the Battle of Trajan’s Gate which made Basil II decide to spend more time improving the army and having a lifelong anger towards the Bulgarians who he vowed to destroy. Like Marcus Aurelius who’s reign was challenged in 175 by the governor of Egypt Avidius Cassius who thinking the emperor died in the Macromannic Wars declared himself emperor only to later be assassinated by loyalist forces, Basil II meanwhile faced 2 massive rebellions by Bardas Phokas and Bardas Skleros in which both declared themselves emperors but eventually Basil defeated both allowing him to prioritize his conquest of Bulgaria but it did not happen immediately as he had to deal with conflicts with the Arab Fatimid Caliphate which was based in Egypt. In 1014, Basil II finally defeated the Bulgarians at the Battle of Kleidion and blinded his prisoners sending them back to Bulgaria allegedly killing the Bulgarian tsar Samuil by shock after seeing his men blinded, then with the Bulgarian ruler dead and their army destroyed, the Bulgarian Empire could not do anything but surrender itself and by 1018, the Bulgarian Empire was fully absorbed into Byzantium and for this Basil II would be remembered as “Basil the Bulgar-Slayer”. With the Bulgarian Empire now dissolved and becoming a province of the Byzantine Empire, Basil II turned his attention east to conquer the Armenian states which he absorbed most of them through diplomacy but at this moment, Basil’s general Nikephoros Xiphias staged a rebellion which was immediately dealt with. With Basil II’s conquest of the Bulgarian Empire, all the other powers around them came to fear Byzantium choosing not to attack it anymore or else suffer the same fate as Bulgaria. Now what both Marcus Aurelius and Basil II have in common is that they both spent most of their reigns leading armies in battle but Marcus Aurelius was a well-known stoic philosopher famous for his book Meditations while Basil II was overall a warrior and did not care much about books and knowledge whereas it was his grandfather Constantine VII that was like Marcus Aurelius in that way but the one thing they had in common was that their reign saw the golden age of their empires as well as the end of it and for both the reason why it was the end of the golden age had to do with succession as for Marcus Aurelius he had no other choice for a legitimate successor but his son Commodus appointed as his father’s co-emperor in 177, who was not capable of being a ruler and for Basil II he never married and never had children but luckily his younger brother Constantine was his co-emperor ever since and as Basil II was the strong warrior emperor, Constantine was the skilled administrator. Basil II though had planned the Byzantine reconquest of Sicily but died in 1025 at age 67 before he could do it but even if he had no children to succeed him, the succession was still smooth as his brother immediately took over as Emperor Constantine VIII. Basil II may be Byzantium’s longest reigning ruler though despite his long reign there are not much sources written about it but true enough his brother Constantine VIII ruled longer as co-emperor ever since 962 but was only the sole emperor for 3 years