Welcome back to the Byzantium Blogger! As for now, I will be taking a break from the overly lengthy and informative Byzantine Alternate History series as I have now completed the 3rd chapter of my 12-part series. To break my streak of consecutive Byzantine fan fictions, I have decided to come up with another special edition article that is basically a fun activity that also involves the history of Byzantium as I for this year, I had also planned on doing interactive articles wherein I get the chance to interview others on their thoughts on Byzantine history, and now looks like I have finally got the chance to do this! In this activity, I had shown my friends who aren’t so familiar with Byzantine history quotes by famous people of Byzantine history or from Byzantine era texts, asking for their own reactions to it in order to know how they see the world of Byzantium, and this article will be exactly just that. Surprisingly, a lot of them seemed like they totally got these quotes even if they were said centuries before our time but it was also no surprise that they did not get or had a very different interpretation of what some of these quotes said by these Byzantine era people centuries ago actually meant. This article will consist of 4 different quotes which is one from the 6th century emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565), his wife Empress Theodora, from the military manual Strategikon by the emperor Maurice (r. 582-602), and from the speech of the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos (r. 1449-1453) in his last moments before the fall of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire itself on May 29, 1453. Now, Byzantium or the Eastern Roman Empire- or basically the Roman Empire itself continued- has a 1,100 year-long rich history full of fascinating and colorful figures, victories and defeats, wars and intrigues, and so much more and it was for these reasons that someone like me got so passionate about it and because of my now 2-year long unending passion for it, it was only fitting for me to ask some of my friends who keep wondering why I am so obsessed with Byzantium to read these quotes from the Byzantine era itself and see how they would react to them. I myself am not a Byzantine history scholar, academic researcher, or historian but only an entrepreneurship student that had suddenly come to the point of becoming so passionate about Byzantium that it became a part of my life and to further enhance my passion for it, I wanted to share it with my friends and a lot of others I know, who aren’t so familiar with it and for these reasons I have made this activity for these friends of mine, just so that they get themselves familiarized with the fascinating history of Byzantium. Now for this article, what I basically did- as you will see below- is that I listed 4 quotes and for each of them, I asked the same 3 questions “What is your understanding of this quote?”, “What message do you think it was trying to convey?”, and “What relevance, if any, does this quote have to today’s world?”, then afterwards I had asked all of them 2 bonus questions about what they think about Byzantium.
The quotes as you will see will appear in this kind of large text font.
In order to further enhance my passion for Byzantine history and make it know to my friends and the rest of the world, I have created a number of social media accounts for my Byzantine history passion. Follow me, the Byzantium Blogger on social media:
Before I move on to the Byzantine quotes and the discussion on them, I would first like to introduce the 5 friends- together with their ages put in a parenthesis () beside their names in which I have interviewed here. The 5 of them are between the ages 18 and 28. This article will feature the 5 of them and their reactions and understandings to these quotes that will appear below. All of these 5 people that will be interviewed here despite not knowing so much about Byzantium have already had some experience in Byzantine history related media as all 5 of them have had a part in the Byzantine history Lego epic film I had written, produced, and directed last year “War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic” (2020), click the link below to watch it!
Miguel Abarentos (23)- He is a graduate of marketing (2019) and a former schoolmate of mine in college. Currently, he is a live streamer for PC games in his Twitchchannel HybridNinja wherein he does live streaming for PC games every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Miguel has also contributed to my films for my Youtube channel No Budget Films by sending me some footage of battle scenes from League of Legends which I have used for some of my films. He also voiced a number of characters for my Lego films, most notably the fictional Byzantine general Stephanos Raoul for both Lego epics Summer of 1261 (2019) and its War of the Sicilian Vespers (2020) and now continues to support my channel by streaming my films in his weekend live streaming in his Twitch channel. By getting to know me, Miguel has also started to be inclined to get to know more about Byzantium.
Felipe Chuidian (28)- He is a graduate of entrepreneurship (2019) and a former schoolmate of mine in college. Felipe is a Play Station and basketball fan but also someone who is interested to know a bit more about Byzantium. Felipe has also contributed to my channel by voicing a number of characters for my Lego Byzantine films last year including War of the Sicilian Vespers and The Imperial Epilogue.
Mario Puyat (22)- He is currently studying film (2nd year) in the same college I study in and is a film and pop culture enthusiast. Mario is a big fan of the Star Wars, Marvel, and DC universes but when getting to know me, he somewhat had developed an interest for Byzantium as well. He also contributed a lot to my channel by being a co-producer for my 2020 Lego Byzantine epic War of the Sicilian Vespers wherein he also voiced its leading character Andronikos II Palaiologos who later became Byzantine emperor succeeding his father Michael VIII Palaiologos- who I voiced- and for the films follow up The Imperial Epilogue, Mario also reprised his role as Andronikos II, this time as an old man. In the future, Mario plans to direct films as well as write novels and movie scripts. (Instagram: @mariopuyatrewreplays)
Geno Roy (21)- He is currently studying psychology (3rd year) though not in the same college as I am, though I have already known him for a much longer time. Geno is a big film and pop culture enthusiast as well as a photographer and has contributed a lot to my channel especially in my Byzantine Lego films by being the behind-the-scenes photographer for the Lego character pictures, while at the same time, he had also been part of the extra voice cast for a lot of my films. You can also see the pictures Geno took for my Lego Byzantine characters side by side with their respective historical characters on Bored Panda. (Instagram: @roy_geno)
Carlos Francisco (18)- He is currently a senior high school student who I have known for a very long time and has been contributing to my channel ever since 2016. Carlos is a very big fan of pop culture especially Marvel, Star Wars, and Cobra Kai but has also started an interest for Byzantium through me. He has made a major impact for my channel for a consecutive 5 years now as a co-producer, videographer, photographer, and set assistant for my Lego films and for my Byzantine films, he is notable for voicing the old monk and scholar character Georgios Doukas for the 2019 Lego Byzantine epic Summer of 1261 and its 2020 sequel War of the Sicilian Vespers. (Instagram: @itscarlosfrancisco)
The first quote mentioned here is one that came from perhaps Byzantium’s most influential emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565) who’s name is synonymous with the Byzantine Empire. Justinian I- who was the main focus of my previous article- is best remembered for his ambitious projects in restoring the Roman Empire by retaking the Western Roman provinces of Italy, North Africa, and Hispania putting them back again under Roman control, from the imperial capital Constantinople.
Justinian is one of the few Byzantine emperors whose legacy still lives up to this day as seen with the cathedral of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople still standing today in its 6th century form built under Justinian and in legal matters, Justinian is best remembered for issuing the Corpus Juris Civilis or “Body of Civil Laws” in 529 which was to be the empire’s standard code of laws and it is still used up to this day as the basis for the legal systems of many countries. Justinian the Great ruled a total of 38 years seeing the Byzantine Empire at its greatest extent but his reign was one of constantly fighting against the odds wherein he faced a number of devastating wars, economic crisis, a pandemic known as the “Plague of Justinian” in 542, and several natural disasters but with his wisdom and strong rule, he was able to keep his massive empire together. This quote below is something Justinian the Great would have stood by which is something from his code of laws.
Freedom is the natural ability of everyone to do what he likes, unless it is prohibited by law or by force.
-Emperor Justinian I the Great
Powee Celdran (PC): What is Your understanding of this quote?
Miguel Abarentos (MA): This quote is a no brainer. It’s basically saying that we all have freedom in nature, and that rules and regulations restrict us from doing a lot of things. Like for example killing a person. Everyone is free to kill but rules say, you kill, you go to jail. Hence freedom is restricted.
Felipe Chuidian (FC): God gave us free will and intelligence. We have freedom to do anything for as long as we are not breaking laws of man and God.
Mario Puyat (MP): Everyone really has freedom to do what he/she wants even to please themselves. But if what they want is too harsh or mean, illegal, or abuses the idea of freedom than there should be some limitations.
Geno Roy (GR): Everyone is free to do what they want unless there are authorities that have the tendency to prohibit it.
Carlos Francisco (CF): You can do anything but there will be consequences or free will isn’t really free.
PC: What message do you think Emperor Justinian I was trying to convey here?
MA: That if you give humans too much freedom, there will be chaos. I can tell by the fact that he said “freedom to do whatever he likes”. Technically that also involves cruel things like killed, forced sex, and etc. with rules and regulations that put that to halt and I agree as of right now, we only have a degree of freedom but not to a full extent like a lion if they kill their kind, they would not be subject to human law.
FC: We enjoy freedom but we must also take into consideration others and most importantly our Creator.
MP: That everyone has freedom to do what they want, but if it will lead to danger or something harming the law then that is a bad form of freedom, or abusing freedom.
GR: Everyone can be free unless there are prohibitions that start.
CF: That people are under a rule.
PC: What relevance, if any, does this quote have to today’s world?
MA: Yeah, it does! So easily, remove rules and regulations and give humans full extent of freedom, oh boy!
FC: In today’s world where everyone does what gives pleasure, it is important to realize that we are accountable for every action we do.
MP: It has relevance with maybe speaking out anything political.
GR: The relevance it would have in today’s world would be all citizens can be free to do what they want to do in the country but they have to follow the governments orders.
The next quote here is this time from Emperor Justinian I the Great’s wife Empress Theodora (500-548), originally an actress of low birth who later fell in love with Justinian who was 17 years older than her before he became emperor. Despite having humble origins- and so did Justinian- together with her husband, they were strong and decisive rulers. Theodora’s strong personality by solving a problematic situation by force happened in a fateful event in 532 when the chariot racing political factions of the Byzantine Empire, in the imperial capital Constantinople turned on Justinian for his reforms which seemed unpopular for them becoming what would be known as the Nika Riot as the rioters shouted “Nika!” meaning “conquer” in Greek.
Each day the riots got worse and worse turning into total violence and destruction as the rioters burned their way through the capital destroying several important landmarks. Justinian thought the situation was hopeless as the rioters proclaimed another man named Hypatius as emperor and so he thought that they must flee the palace and possibly retake the capital but Theodora stepped in with a speech encouraging Justinian to send the army to mercilessly kill the rioters in order for the couple to remain in power and at the end, Justinian listened to her and 30,000 rioters were killed, thus the couple was spared and had remained in power. This rather complicated speech by Empress Theodora which these 5 people will react to says, which however only 2 out of the 5 have had something to say about it.
My lords, the present occasion is too serious to allow me to follow the convention that a woman should not speak in a man’s council. Those whose interests are threatened by extreme danger should think only of the wisest course of action, not of conventions.
In my opinion, flight is not the right course, even if it should bring us to safety. It is impossible for a person, having been born to this world, not to die; but for one who has reigned it is intolerable to be a fugitive. May I never be deprived of this purple robe, and may I never see the day when those who meet me do not call me empress.
If you wish to save yourself, my lord, there is no difficulty. We are rich; over there is the sea, and yonder are the ships. Yet reflect for a moment whether, when you have once escaped to a place of security, you would not gladly exchange such safety for death. As for me, I agree with the adage that the royal purple is the noblest shroud.
-Empress Theodora, 532
PC: What is your understanding of this quote?
MA: I actually have no idea what to say about it aside from gender double standards that a woman can’t be in a man’s position and then there is also reference of financial status that the rich should live and the poor should not.
FC: The one speaking is a woman, who in her time is forbidden to speak up. She is not free to express herself but she finds it vital to make a statement especially for those who do not have a voice.
MP: (no answer to this particular quote)
GR: (no answer to this particular quote)
CF: (no answer to this particular quote)
PC: What message do you think Empress Theodora was trying to convey here?
MA: She (Theodora) would rather die as a royal than get dethroned and live because at least you die a high status instead of living as a low status.
FC: She sees the need to fight and not to flee.
MP: (no answer to this particular quote)
GR: (no answer to this particular quote)
CF: (no answer to this particular quote)
PC: What relevance, if any, does this quote have to today’s world?
MA: It seems to only be relevant to arrogant rich people. Honestly, at least that’s what it feels like.
FC: In today’s world, we need to take courage and not be afraid even if it costs us our lives.
MP: (no answer to this particular quote)
GR: (no answer to this particular quote)
CF: (no answer to this particular quote)
This next quote is from the military manual known as the Strategikon of Maurice, one of the best sources for Byzantine battle tactics and military formations. This military manual was written in around 600, though it is debated whether it was written by the emperor Maurice (r. 582-602) or just attributed to him but considering Maurice being a soldier emperor and in fact the first emperor to actually lead his troops in person in over 200 years since Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379-395), it is most likely Maurice wrote it.
The Strategikon was made to codify new battle tactics developed in this era of constant war and emergence of new enemies unknown to the Romans before and it consists of 12 chapters which focus on specific topics relating to war such as formations, ambushes, baggage trains, training drills, strategies for generals, military maxims, instructions for sieges, surprise attacks, and most importantly the characteristics and battle tactics of the enemies the Byzantines fought in the late 6th and early 7th centuries such as the Franks and Goths of the west, Avars and Slavs of the north, and Sassanid Persians of the east. This book makes a point that in order to defeat an enemy, you must know their culture and battle tactics and part of this suggested that it was best to fight the Slavs across the Danube by attacking them during winter, and though this may be a successful tactic in repelling the Slavs, this caused the emperor Maurice his downfall being an unpopular instruction to his soldiers which led to them to rebel in 602 thus deposing and executing Maurice and his sons.
The Strategikon may have been successful in helping the Byzantines fight several enemies that raided the highly exposed borders of their massive empire at this time but little did the Byzantines know then that soon enough they would face an unlikely enemy from the desserts of the south, the Arabs which the Strategikon makes no mention of their fighting styles and true enough the Arabs did expand so greatly that they have been a constant pain for the Byzantine for the next 3 centuries almost bringing an end to Byzantium. Though Byzantium was to face the fatal threat of the Arabs, the Strategikon true enough still proved to be an effective manual for battle tactics for the next centuries of the empire’s existence, especially since the Byzantines no doubt had to keep fighting wars without end which they became known for, yet they fought smart thanks to the instructions of the Strategikon. One quote from this manual which is a good glimpse on how the Byzantine armies fought smart, meaning staying in formation and not charging out courageously, in which the 5 of the interviewees will respond to says:
Do not fall back, do not advance ahead of your standard. This is what a brave soldier does. If you leave your standard, you will lose. Do not charge out impetuously, do not break ranks.
-Strategikon of Maurice
PC: What is your understanding of this quote?
MA: As a soldier, don’t push your limit. Don’t play like you’re an experienced general. Always play it safe.
FC: It means soldiers are being advised to stand their grounds.
MP: I guess don’t retreat, don’t go ahead, go at the same pace as your fellow soldiers. Go together.
GR: Always stick to any standard that you have so that you can be more dominant as you go on.
CF: Balance your behavior, or balance is the key.
PC: What message do you think the Strategikon of Maurice was trying to convey here?
MA: It feels more like you’re being told to know your place in order to live but at the same time, don’t look down on yourself, hence the “do not fall back”.
FC: Simply bravery meaning following orders.
MP: About being and charging together amongst your fellow soldiers and not going alone. Pretty much teamwork.
GR: To always show strength as a soldier.
CF: There is no good or bad.
PC: What relevance, if any, does this quote have to today’s world?
MA: It is for people who think they can suddenly surpass an experienced individual.
FC: In today’s word, we are asked not to lower our standard otherwise we lose.
MP: If people want to rebel or fight back like to their government or anyone else, it would be together, not alone.
GR: People should have standards to increase their confidence in today’s world.
CF: It is relevant when it comes to situations like balancing moods.
This last quote for this article is an excerpt from the final speech of the Byzantine Empire’s last emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos (r. 1449-1453) addressing his soldiers on the early morning of May 29, 1453, the day the Byzantine Empire ended as Constantinople fell to the army of the Ottoman Turks led by their sultan Mehmed II.
The Byzantine Empire survived centuries of wars and new enemies one after the other invading thus weakening their empire and out of all the enemies they faced from the Persians, to the Arabs, Bulgars, Rus, to the Seljuks, and Crusaders, the one that would spell the end for the Byzantines were the Ottoman Turks. In the last years of Byzantium, the Ottomans rapidly grew their empire in Asia Minor before expanding into Europe and true enough they had expanded all the way deep into the Balkans leaving Constantinople alone but still, Constantinople was the ultimate prize and by the 1450s it was definitely possible as the 1,100-year-old capital, Constantinople was already surrounded by Ottoman territory. The young Ottoman sultan Mehmed II came to power in 1451 and was totally driven to begin his reign by taking Constantinople and to do this, he first simply asked the reigning Byzantine emperor Constantine XI if he could easily surrender the city but the emperor refused as knowing the end of Byzantium was inevitable, he would rather end it in a more honorable way by putting up a fight rather than shamefully surrendering thus Mehmed II launched a massive attack on Constantinople’s impregnable walls fating back to the 5th century which here 1453 proved ineffective against the cannons the Ottomans had built.
Constantine XI with only 7,000 men in which only 2,000 were Byzantines and the rest being Italian and other Western European (Latin) mercenaries strongly resisted the Ottomans for over 2 months but the end was true enough unstoppable. Constantine XI knowing the end was to come, as recorded by his advisor George Sphrantzes, made an encouraging speech thanking all his soldiers, both local and foreign for their support, and reminding them all they are fighting and dying for a noble cause, the great legacy of the 1,100-year Byzantine Empire. This excerpt from this famous speech in which the 5 interviewees will respond to says:
Consider then, my brothers and comrades in arms, how the commemoration of our death, our memory, fame and freedom can be rendered eternal.
-Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos, 1453
PC: What is your understanding of this quote?
MA: Basically, even though their bodies are mortal and will die, their accomplishments are immortal and will be forever recorded in history. I would say “if I will die, I am going to die historic”.
FC: The person (Constantine XI) here is like a soldier telling his comrades that their death will be considered everlasting.
MP: It’s like how his teammates or fellow soldiers in arms when they reach their death, the memory of those soldiers and their fame and freedom that came with them will always be with them. So, when they die, everything they had including their love, memory, fame, and freedom died with them. They weren’t alone.
GR: This quote talks about how people can strengthen their eternity.
CF: When one ends, the other begins.
PC: What message do you think Emperor Constantine XI was trying to convey here?
MA: That our accomplishments will never be forgotten.
FC: I think that when saying it, Constantine XI was ready to die.
MP: They weren’t alone when they died, since they were buried with their love, memory, fame, and freedom.
GR: That it is essential to depend on eternity.
CF: With everything, I (Constantine XI) will have a legacy.
PC: What relevance, if any, does this quote have to today’s world?
MA: To motivate people into leaving a mark in the world, so even when they die, they will not be forgotten for what they did.
FC: We need not be afraid to die if we have lived well.
MP: If people die or get put in jail for what they did, they did it with honor.
GR: Our freedom can always lead to eternity.
CF: A lot of legends nowadays are gone but their legacy will be honored.
PC: Would you imagine yourself living centuries ago in the age of the Byzantine Empire? If yes, then how do you think your life will be living in those times?
MA: I am not sure, based on my personality, I don’t think I would be fighting in the olden militaries.
FC: No, because I don’t think I would be able to survive fighting with war and I wouldn’t really go around the world that frequently.
MP: Not really, I wouldn’t imagine myself in those times.
CF: Nope, I can’t imagine that, sorry.
PC: Would the 1,100-year history of the Byzantine Empire which includes epic battles, civil wars, political intrigues, interesting emperors and empresses, and fascinating cutting-edge inventions be something of interest to you?
MA: Yes, it would be, if someone were to make a movie put of it, I wouldn’t mind giving it a watch.
FC: Yes, it would be something of interest to me. I would also like to know more about these things.
MP: Maybe the Romans with their battles but not the Byzantines even if they are more or less the same.
GR: Yes, if ever I travel to a European country, it would be a pleasure for me to be familiar with them.
CF: Yes, these kinds of things make history more interesting. It gives us new ideas and thoughts of things in life.
And now as the Q&A section with my 5 friends has come to an end, let me now share you my own thoughts and reactions these said quotes by these famous Byzantine era people. For the first quote said by Justinian I, I surely agree that we all have free will but there must be something like the law control it because our free will can sometimes go out of hand. As for the speech of Theodora, like the rest of my friends, I agree it is a complicated passage but from my understanding I would say that it totally makes sense that when faced with a difficult situation, yet you want to get through with it, you must act on it quick and with force and just like Theodora I agree that it is better to die free or doing what you like or in Theodora’s case die as ruler rather than live in fear or in Theodora’s case live your life in defeat. For that particular quote from Maurice’s Strategikon on staying in formation, I would totally agree that this quote best defines Byzantine military tactics as for them winning battles meant staying in formation and fighting in an orderly and disciplined manner and not by striking first or heroically and sometimes this quote makes sense especially when it comes to teamwork done in group projects. Now with the last quote, I only chose to use one part from Constantine XI’s final speech in which I think is the most touching part of this dramatic speech as in that part, I could see how he sees that even if they are dead, the legacy of their empire will live on and from this particular part of his speech, I can totally relate to it because people even when long gone will be remembered forever like Constantine XI and when saying this speech, he could already see his future long after his death as even though he and the Byzantine Empire are gone, his bravery and sacrifice displayed in the final battle against Ottomans would remain one of the most remembered moments not only in Byzantine but world history as one of history’s most dramatic last stands. On the other hand, I would say that my friends who are not very familiar but starting to get to know something about Byzantium have actually got a good understanding of the gist of these quotes from Byzantine times even if they might have not completely and thoroughly understood the full context of them. As for the bonus questions, they have no relation to the 4 quotes mentioned above, but before finishing off I thought of asking them these questions as a way to test if they surely know the Byzantine history I always talk about and to know if they actually are interested to learn about it. It was quite a surprise to me that these 5 friends even if they have no previous experiences with Byzantine history and rather live in their own worlds that they have some kind of inclination to get into Byzantine history that was I did and so I recommended a few sites to check out online as well as Facebook groups focusing on Byzantine history for them to join as well as videos on Byzantium to watch in my channel No Budget Films as well those from Eastern Roman History, or my favorite one Dovahhattyand also to listen the very well researched and written History of Byzantium Podcasts. These sites include the likes of The Byzantine Legacy, Byzantine Tales, and Byzantine Real Historyas for the FB groups, these include Roman and Byzantine Historyand Byzantine Real History (BRH) which they took into consideration as well.
And now I have come to the end of this special edition interactive article. When reading this, you could now see that the reason for it was not just to break the streak of the lengthy and expansive short stories featuring the endless universe of Byzantine history but to again reconnect with my friends. For the past 3 months, ever since I started my Byzantine history Instagram account, followed by my Facebook page, then Patreon, then Twitter, life has been very busy nonstop posting Byzantine history content online which includes my blog articles written in the past months in order to grow my online accounts to increase awareness on the forgotten yet fascinating history of Byzantium. Along the way, I have met- only virtually and not personally- many great friends from different countries who also have a fascination with Byzantium but in the process, I also did not want to leave my friends who I’ve known for much longer behind as well as my old interests and hobbies in pop culture prior to my Byzantine interest so the best solution I came up with to both stay on track on my Byzantine journey yet still reconnect with my old friends was to get them a bit involved in Byzantium; hence this activity was created. Again, I have to say that I am surprised that my friends who live in their own worlds actually feel some kind of inspiration to like Byzantine history and I certainly appreciate that. On the other hand, when doing this article, I have also come to discover when reading through these said quotes and my friends’ responses to them that a lot of what has happened in Byzantium and what we have learned from these people back then do still have some relevance in today’s world. The Byzantine Empire may be long gone but its legacy still lives on and this include the wise words said here that we can still take into consideration and true enough what Constantine XI said in his final speech about their legacy living on throughout the centuries, it is truly evident. Now, as the first quarter of 2021 comes to an end, I have also made this article to mark the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second, so this means at every end of a quarter, I would definitely come up with other interactive special edition articles like this featuring interviews with friends or other Byzantine history enthusiasts. Well, this is all for this special edition article and before I finish off, I’d like to thank my 5 friends for handing over some of their time to be interviewed about their thoughts on Byzantium for this article and of course I would like to thank all of you viewers for reading this and I hope you got what my friends were saying here! This is Powee Celdran, the Byzantium Blogger, thank you all for viewing!
DISCLAIMER: Although this is mostly a work of fiction, it is largely based on true events and characters. It seeks to alter the course of actual events that transpired in the 6th century AD. This story will begin with events that have happened in real history but will become fictional as it progresses. Fictional scenarios in this story will be marked by footnotes (1). This will be an extremely long article!
“Keep cool and you will command everyone” -Emperor Justinian I the Great (482-565AD)
Welcome to the third chapter of the Byzantine Alternate History series by the Byzantium Blogger! Last time, in the second chapter of my alternate history series, I discussed the events leading up to the Fall of the Western Roman Empire in the late 5th century (476 AD) and how their twin empire, Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire played a part in the western empire’s story. At the same time, the previous article discussed a lesser-known event in the year 472 that could have helped save the Western Roman Empire from meeting its end just 4 years later and other what if scenarios such as if the Western Roman Empire survived 476, if the last competent Western Roman emperor Anthemius was not killed off in 472, and if in the Eastern Empire the unknown child emperor Leo II who died at only age 7 in 474 instead lived long enough to succeed his father Zeno as emperor. The last article too discussed a possible scenario of an epic world war between the two Roman Empires and their foreign allies against a massive Barbarian Alliance. However, in this new chapter of the alternate history series, again as I said about the background of this series I am making, there will be no continuity from the previous story (chapter II) to this one, so this story will begin with real history taking its course wherein the Western Roman Empire actually fell in 476 leaving the Eastern Roman Empire as the only surviving Roman Empire, now better known as the “Byzantine Empire”. Also keep in mind that this article will be very long because it will cover possibly the most eventful reign in Byzantine history, which is that of its most influential emperor Justinian I the Great. This story will be set in the 6th century AD, where under Emperor Justinian I the Great, the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire would be at its greatest extent when North Africa, Italy, and Southern Spain for a time returned to Roman rule from Constantinople, the eastern empire’s capital after they have for a time fell to the hands of several barbarian powers. The Eastern Roman Empire on the other hand was never expected to regain the lost western provinces but this would soon enough become possible when Emperor Justinian I came to rule the eastern empire in 527 but at the same time, his reign was not all victory and imperial glory as we all remember, as it was also one of military and natural disasters but as a capable ruler, Justinian managed to face all the odds and die ruling the massive empire he had dreamt of. It is also timely that I wrote this article because as the COVID-19 pandemic is happening right now, this story will cover the pandemic then known as the “Plague of Justinian” in 542 which was named after Justinian himself who in fact was a victim of it but survived. Also, just recently, my favorite history related Youtube channel Dovahhattyjust released his full feature video on Justinian the Great, and I should say that this story will be based a lot on Dovahhatty’s retelling of Justinian and his personality as he sees it. Now, Byzantine history cannot be told without telling the story of its most influential ruler Justinian the Great (aka. Flavius Petrus Sabbatius) who is one of history’s few rulers who came from humble origins but has left behind a very strong legacy in many aspects that are still live on up to this day and some of his greatest legacies include the complete codification of Roman law that still lives on to this day as the basis for the legal systems most countries use and the impressive structure of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople built in the 6th century which is still in its full form today. Having achieved so much in his lifetime, Justinian would not only be remembred as “the great” but as an Orthodox saint as well for doing his part to defend the faith.
As emperor though, Justinian’s greatest feat was the carefully planned reconquests of the lost Western Roman provinces through his policy of what is known as “Intervention Imperialism” or finding reasons to justify a conquest of place especially if it had to do with defending the Orthodox Christian faith, which this story will be covering a lot of, together with the men responsible victories which were particularly his generals Belisarius and Narses, but at the end were all of Justinian’s ambitious conquests of North Africa, Italy, and Hispania worth it? In real history, despite these lands once again returning to Roman rule, it did not really last long as while Justinian ambitiously was masterminding the reconquest of the former Western Roman provinces, another war was being fought in the east with the empire’s long-time mortal enemy, the Sassanid Empire and after Justinian’s death in 565, no matter how much lands were conquered it would be all downhill from here as the empire would undergo a chronic war with the Sassanid Persians in the east and face new enemies raiding into the empire from north such as the Slavs, Avars, Lombards, and more. Others blame Justinian for the downfall of the Byzantines’ imperial power due to his overly ambitious reconquests that drained the empire’s economy thus weakening it, but I would say it was not entirely his fault because there were things that happened which could not be controlled by Justinian no matter how powerful and talented he was, for instance the plague in 542 which undid most of his hard work and almost destroyed the Byzantine economy. Justinian too was one of a one of a kind exceptional ruler and only he could manage a very large empire no matter the odds as his successors in real history, were not as capable as he was. Not to mention, Justinian too, if considering all the Byzantine emperors until 1453 as “Roman emperors”, Justinian would be the last Latin speaking Roman emperor, which leads some to say that the age of Imperial Rome ended with him. In this story however, I will try to change the course of history by creating a fictional scenario of Justinian as emperor finding solutions to fight the plague of 542 by using it as a biological war to destroy the constant headache of the Sassanid Empire in the east since in the entire history of Rome’s wars against the Sassanids, there was no way the Romans could win by military force so I believe that if a biological war was used through the plague against the Sassanids, then the Romans (Byzantines) could end up victorious giving them more time to totally focus on their reconquests of the west. In addition, this story will also tackle one of Justinian’s mistakes which was not properly naming his successor. At the same time, Justinian no matter how energetic and hard-working he was as emperor earning him the title “the emperor that never slept” was a complete “palace emperor” who never left Constantinople in his reign no matter how much his empire expanded, but here I believe that if Justinian took part in his own ambitious conquests himself and got to know his nephew and successor Justin II a bit more by personally training him in his military campaigns in Italy, then then I believe that empire would stand stronger after Justinian’s death. Coincidentally, since this story is about how Byzantium strikes back to regain the west, it was fitting that I used the same title as Star Wars Episode V “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980). Now, if Justinian I was able to control the plague, train his own successor, and join his own military campaigns, would the Golden Age of the Byzantine Empire he worked so hard to attain still live on or were Justinian’s ambitions just plainly worthless?
Note: Since this story is set in the 6th century following the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Byzantine characters will be now referred to as Byzantines.
This article here is the first story in this 12-part series wherein I am working in collaboration with another fellow Byzantine history enthusiast and in this case, I put together this story with the help of my friend, Instagram user who prefers to call herself Justinianus Østromerriket (follow her on Instagram @justinianusthegreat), a Byzantophile or enthusiast of Byzantine history but more significantly as her username and Instagram profile pic suggests, she is an enthusiast of Emperor Justinian I the Great and his ambitious project known as the Renovatio Imperii or “Imperial Restoration” in Latin as stated in her bio. To give a brief background of Justinianus, she has been a fan of Byzantine history ever since the age of 15 and is currently 19 and a student of chemistry, but her true passion is Byzantine history and art. Aside from being a Byzantine history enthusiast, Justinianus is also an artist who makes illustrations of Byzantine characters in her own style, both through handmade drawings and digital art using the software Ibispaint; her artworks of 6th century Byzantines such as Justinian I will appear in this article too. Justinianus too dreams of being a Byzantinist in the future and to visit the places on earth where the Byzantine legacy is very strong including Turkey, Greece, and Italy.
Similarly, what we have in common is that we are both young in age and not academics or historians but we share a strong passion for Byzantine history and want to create some buzz for it and I am honored to do my very first collaboration article with her. When starting my Byzantine history Instagram account Byzantine Time Travellervery early this year, Justinianus was one of the first to follow me and apparently it had turned out that we see Byzantine history in the same way which is more or less a strong passion, so we came to work together in creating this story by doing our own role-playing of 6th century Byzantine history through Instagram chat for the past month and a half and here in this role-playing chat, she played as Justinian the Great himself and as I should say, she totally gets into his character very well, so the cool-headed and wise yet scheming personality and unknown side of Justinian that this story will tackle will be more or less her take of it. This alternate history story was created in our Instagram role-playing, as here in this story there will be events that did not happen in real history, most notably an elderly Justinian joining his military campaign in Italy himself while at the same time in this role playing, Justinianus had filled in the gaps by telling the unknown stories of Justinian’s own origins story, private and family life, and source of his ambitious dreams in both hers and my own point of view and since history does not record much about Justinian’s early life as well as private life, this fan fiction story will do just that even if it may not entirely be accurate to real history, just as how Dovahhatty told it in his most recent video. Our role-playing scenario will take place in the second half of this story set in Justinian’s later reign beginning in the year 550AD following the death of his beloved wife, Empress Theodora wherein Justinian from the hopeful and ambitious emperor he was earlier on in his reign becomes a bitter and sad old man thinking all his hopes were crushed especially due the recent plague until meeting a mysterious general and former wrestler named Andreas who will inspire Justinian to join in the conquest of Italy from the Ostrogoths together with the generals Belisarius and Narses as the conquest of Italy nears its end and almost coming into a victory for the Byzantines. This story though will begin giving a background story to Justinian, his rise to power, and his early reign which will mostly be all based on historical facts, then it will proceed to the main part which will be on the Plague of Justinian beginning 541, then the climax will begin in the year 550 when the plague still around, but at least Justinian has managed to control it, and to get himself over the grief of losing Theodora, he decides to join his army in Italy together with his nephew Justin who he decides to train to be his successor as he is the only choice left as Justinian’s intended heir which was his cousin Germanus had just died. Overall, this story is more of a fan fiction re-write of history than a what-if story but it also includes a what if scenario, especially if Justinian properly trained his nephew who would eventually succeed him, the what if of Justinian using his own intelligence to destroy his mortal enemy, the Sassanid Empire with the plague. The age old problem of succession was surely something that eventually ruined the great legacy Justinian worked so hard on as in real history, he did not properly name his successor so instead the throne was left to his nephew Justin, his sister’s son who lacked the experience in running an empire while at the same time was hot headed but the worst part was that in 565 when coming to the throne, he inherited an extremely massive empire when having no experience in ruling it and as emperor Justin II’s own impulsive actions led to the war against the Sassanids in the east resuming when refusing to pay tribute to them, thus all the war and pressure of running an empire made him insane and unfit to rule that he had to abdicate, thus Justin II’s reign ruined everything his uncle worked so hard on. Now if Justin II was only properly trained by no other than his uncle Justinian the Great who would give him the advise “stay cool and you will command everyone” as the quote by Justinian himself says right at the top of this article, then I believe he would have been as great as his uncle in ruling the empire and this story will rewrite history that way.
This story will be extremely long as it spans the reign of Justinian I which was a total of 38 years wherein he was 45 when he became emperor in 527, and 83 at his death in 565, something very unusual for people at their time. This story will be basically focusing on Justinian I as its lead character while it will go in detail as well in going through his thoughts and personality which a lot of it happens to be missing in real history and in addition, this story too will contain some flashbacks of his earlier life told in his perspective. As the main character of this story, Justinian is surely a fascinating character to write about as despite coming from humble origins as a simple peasant in the Balkans born as Flavius Petrus Sabbatius, he had a dream that he never let go of which was not only to be an emperor but to be the best and have a great legacy worth remembering up to this day and no matter how much odds he faced in his reign including a devastating pandemic that nearly destroyed his empire’s economy, a prolonged endless war to retake Italy, and a large number of natural disasters, he was able to achieve so much.
Though Justinian is this story’s lead character, his nephew and successor Justin II will also play a major part in the story’s second half since a lot are not very familiar with the man who directly succeeded Justinian to the throne and here, Justin would be at first the stereotypical young, hot-tempered, and ignorant man who will go through a journey to be trained to become a wise and strong leader like his uncle by his uncle Justinian himself. History though does not mention what kind of relationship Justinian had with his nephew Justin but this story will do its best to tell that part of history (in a highly fictionalized form). This 12-part series too includes a fictional or unknown historical figure who will have a story built around him right in the middle of all these events, and here it will be Andreas, who appeared in real history as a Byzantine wrestler and soldier serving the general Belisarius back in the Sassanid War of 530 and though history does not mention what happens to Andreas after, in this case he rises up to become a general and personally fights with Justinian himself in the case of this fan fiction when Justinian himself goes over to Italy and in our role-playing, I had the chance of playing the character of Andreas as well as Justin II. Famous people of this age such as the generals Belisarius and Narses, the Ostrogoth king Totila, the Sassanid ruler Khosrow I, and the contemporary historian Procopius will be covered and so will their back stories. The historian Procopius, who was a Byzantine senator and secretary of the general Belisarius meanwhile is another interesting figure being a man with two sides as at first he wrote two books- Wars and On Buildings recording the reign of Justinian I in such great detail with such great praise of him and his administration but at the same time, he secretly he wrote his book The Secret History which totally slanders the image of Justinian as an incompetent and insane ruler while at the same time exposing his wife Empress Theodora’s life as an actress and her sex scandals exaggerating her as a former prostitute. In this case, just like in Dovahhatty’s most recent video, Procopius for ruining his emperor’s image out of pure envy will be this story’s villain together with the Ostrogoth and Sassanid rulers Totila and Khosrow I as Justinian is the protagonist, but no matter how much Procopius has tried to destroy Justinian’s reputation, his works remain a very valuable source of this era and Justinian’s reign as well as on the history of the late Roman age for the Eastern and Western Roman Empires. This story will be more Byzantine centric despite covering some of the happenings with the Ostrogoths of Italy, Visigoths of Spain, and Sassanid Empire though at the same time it will be a mix of the genres of adventure, drama, comedy, romance, politics, and war though no matter how detailed this story will go in the characters and their lives, I would not bother too much in explaining the political structures of the time, such as the imperial system of Byzantium and the names of the provinces of the empire. And of course, I have to say that when it comes to writing an alternate history story for 6th century Byzantium, it is impossible not to do this story of Justinian I as 6th century Byzantium was literally dominated by Justinian I and no one else but in the wider world, I’d say the 6th century was a very challenging time with so much happening especially since this is when Western Europe entered the Dark Ages while Byzantium stood at its finest as the bastion of Greco-Roman civilization.
The Leading Characters:
Justinian I- Byzantine emperor
Justin II- Heir apparent and future Byzantine emperor, nephew of Justinian I
Flavius Belisarius- Byzantine general
Narses- Byzantine eunuch general
*Andreas- Byzantine general and former wrestler (real named character but with not much story, his story was expanded here)
Theodora- Byzantine empress, wife of Justinian I
Vigilantia- Sister of Justinian I, mother of Justin II
Procopius of Caesarea- Chronicler of Justinian I’s reign, secret antagonist
Sophia- Niece of Theodora, wife of Justin II, future Byzantine empress
John (Ioannes) the Cappadocian- Finance Minister of Justinian I
Germanus- Cousin and original heir apparent of Justinian I
Matasuintha- Wife of Germanus, former Ostrogoth princess
Liberius- Elderly Byzantine general
Tribonian- Jurist of Justinian I’s court
John (Ionnes) the Sanguinary- Byzantine general in Italy
Totila- Ostrogoth King of Italy (541-552)
Athanagild- Visigoth rebel leader in Hispania and later king
Khosrow I- Shah of the Sassanid Persian Empire
Character Images Below of Selected Characters from this Story, Illustrated by Powee Celdran
Story characters Set1- Justinian I, Justin II, Andreas, Belisarius, Narses
Story characters set2- Theodora, Vigilantia, Procopius, Sophia, John the Cappadocian
Story characters set3- Germanus, Matasuintha, Liberius, Tribonian, John the Sanguinary
Story characters set4- Totila, Athanagild, Khosrow I
I. Part One
The Background- Before Justinian (The Real History)
Ever since 395, the Roman Empire had been permanently split in half between east and west and while the Western Roman Empire faced catastrophe after catastrophe of barbarian invasions that totally weakened its power while the Eastern Roman Empire better known as the “Byzantine Empire” based in the growing imperial city of Constantinople, founded by the Roman emperor Constantine the Great in 330 still stood strong due to its geographical position as it also controlled several provinces rich in resources such as Egypt, Syria, and those in Asia Minor. The western empire on the other hand had faced the worst and even though it was able to defeat the army of the invading Huns in 451 at the Battle of Chalons with the help of their former enemy, the Visigoths of Gaul, the end was already inevitable. In 472, the assassination of the last competent western emperor, Procopius Anthemius, who was in fact a Greek from the Byzantine Empire was the event that spelled the end for the Western Roman Empire based in Ravenna. 4 years later in 476, the Western Roman Empire died out in a whimper when the barbarian Ostrogoth general Odoacer deposed the last western emperor, the puppet Romulus Augustus and instead of claiming the throne as emperor, Odoacer instead chose to just make himself “King of Italy” as the western empire at this point basically only consisted of Italy. In what was for the Romans the turbulent and dreadful 5th century, Gaul and Hispania were lost to the Visigoths, North Africa to the Vandals, Pannonia to the Ostrogoths, while Northern Gaul fell to the Franks, and Northwest Hispania fell to the Suebi while the eastern provinces on the other hand very much remained intact, though the 5th century too wasn’t entirely all great for the east as it too would have suffered the fate of the western empire’s collapse if it were not for the determination of strong rulers like Leo I (r. 457-474) and Zeno (r. 474-491). The emperor of the east at the time the Western Roman Empire was abolished and turned into the Kingdom of Italy was Zeno, son-in-law of Leo I married to Leo’s daughter Ariadne and following Leo I’s death in 474, his grandson who was Zeno and Ariadne’s 7-year-old son Leo II became the emperor or Augustus being directly related to Leo I though his father Zeno as his co-emperor basically ruled the empire for him but towards the end of 474, young Leo II died from a local epidemic in Constantinople making his father succeed him but shortly after in early 475, Zeno was usurped by his wife’s uncle Basiliscus out of popular pressure as Zeno being an Isaurian, a primitive non-Hellenized and non-Romanized citizen from the mountains of Asia Minor originally named Tarasis Kodisa but renamed Zeno to make his name more acceptable to the civilized Greek speaking people of Constantinople. In the one year the general Basiliscus usurped the eastern throne (475-476), his incompetence in fact made him turn out to be even more unpopular than Zeno and when the army sent by Basiliscus to hunt down Zeno in Isauria defected to Zeno’s side as they consisted of Isaurian warriors, they marched back to Constantinople and deposed Basiliscus who was exiled to Cappadocia wherein he died of starvation the next year when being locked up in a cistern.
Though Zeno came back to power in 476, he still remained as unpopular as he was in his first reign and most of this was due to not coming in time to save the western empire from falling to the hands of Odoacer. When coming back to power, Zeno received the crown of the last western emperor Romulus Augustus who was sent into exile wherein Zeno accepted it acknowledging that the Western Roman Empire was no more though the King of Italy Odoacer was to still answer to Zeno the way the western emperors previously were to answer to the eastern emperors who were their superiors. It was now here in 476 with the loss of the western empire that the Eastern Empire as the only surviving Roman power would be the “Byzantine Empire”. The western empire here may have died out as Italy fell to Odoacer but there were still a few Roman territories in the west namely Dalmatia under the governor Julius Nepos who previously the western emperor (474-475) appointed by Leo I and in Northern Gaul ever since 461, there was a surviving breakaway Roman state known as the “Kingdom of Soissons” ruled independently by a general named Syagrius. However, these 2 breakaway Roman states in the west did not last as in 480, Julius Nepos was assassinated giving Odoacer the opportunity to invade Dalmatia annexing it into his Kingdom of Italy and in 486, the Kingdom of Soissons fell to the new Kingdom of the Franks when Syagrius was defeated in battle by the Frankish king Clovis I. Back in the Byzantine Empire, Zeno’s reign was not only troubled by riots every week as well as usurpers left and right but by a troublemaking Ostrogoth mercenary commander ravaging Thrace named Theodoric Strabo so to combat Strabo, Zeno had the King of the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Pannonia Theodoric the Amal, better known as “Theodoric the Great” as well as a new raiding enemy in the Danube being the Bulgars attack Strabo but Strabo managed to beat the Bulgars, though he soon enough met his end by falling off his horse into a spear and with Strabo’s death, his men joined the army of Theodoric the Amal who thus united the Ostrogoths and soon enough became a problem for Zeno himself going as far as making plans to start a rebellion within the Byzantine Empire and establishing his own kingdom there.
It was also in the reign of Zeno where this story’s protagonist Flavius Petrus Sabbatius was born, and before being known as “Justinian”, this story will call him first as “Petrus”. Now Petrus was born on May 11, 482 in the village of Tauresium somewhere in the Balkans (today North Macedonia) to a simple family of peasants, his mother’s name was unknown while his father was a low-ranking military officer also named Sabbatius but not much is said about him in history, so soon enough in this story’s case he would die possibly in battle. Petrus was a Roman citizen of Thracian and Illyrian origins and coming from a rural area, he did not grow up educated as a child though when it came to language, he was a native Latin speaker coming from a Latin speaking area which is why as emperor, he would be the last Latin speaking one, the rest after him all being native Greek speakers. Before Petrus was born, his uncle Justin, the brother of Petrus’ mother migrated to Constantinople to serve in the army after fleeing an attack on their village by barbarian hordes- in this story’s case the Foederati army of Theodoric Strabo- sometime in 473. History does not say when Justin travelled from his village to Constantinople, but here we will put the date 474 wherein Justin arrived at Constantinople and at the same time, we will go with the version of Dovahhatty’s first Byzantium series video wherein Justin arrives at Constantinople to join the army at the exact time Emperor Leo I was dying in January of 474 from dysentery.
Justin was born back in 450 and was 24 by the time he arrived in Constantinople with a few friends and as it is said, Justin and his friends came to Constantinople as refugees with nothing but the clothes on their backs and when arriving, they soon enough started a business of selling bread to support themselves and the worst part was that they were doing this in these times of difficulty when Basiliscus usurped Zeno and Zeno took back the throne from Basiliscus1. Eventually, Justin joined the elite palace guard force or Excubitors under Zeno but never got far yet up the ranks. Though Zeno was unsuccessful in Church matters, he was successful in dealing with the new troublemaker King of the Ostrogoths Theodoric the Amal and first to satisfy Theodoric, Zeno in 488 gave him the position of Magister Militum or supreme commander of the army in a certain area but Theodoric would still continue being problem that he almost came so close to besieging Constantinople though Zeno here with the help of his wife Ariadne made a deal with Theodoric asking him to leave and head to Italy instead and be Odoacer’s problem as here Zeno started feeling Odoacer would be problem when hearing Odoacer was planning to invade the Byzantine Empire so to stop this, Theodoric immediately headed west with his army to attack Odoacer at his capital, Ravenna.
As emperor meanwhile, Zeno remained unpopular till his death in 491 due to his Isaurian origins seeming uncivilized to the people of Constantinople, his failure to prevent the western empire’s fall and to keep the Church unity together, and because of his thuggish style of ruling wherein he chose to always strike first thus spending his reign picking fights with everyone rather than using peaceful solutions except with Theodoric. Zeno was at least able to stay in the throne up to his death at age 66 without losing it another time, though his death was not entirely peaceful as it was caused by his epilepsy which he had developed later on in life though a 12th century legend says that Zeno was died by being buried alive by the people seeing an opportunity to kill him when Zeno fell sick, which had been Dovahhatty’s version of Zeno’s death. No matter how unpopular Zeno was as emperor, he was able to save the eastern empire from a full-scale invasion of Theodoric the Amal- who in 491 continued besieging Odoacer at Ravenna- and was able to clean up the political instability that plagued his reign. Since the previous story’s outcome does not continue here wherein Zeno and Ariadne’s son Leo II lived on, in this case here since Zeno and Ariadne had no more children following Leo II’s death, it was up for Ariadne to choose the new emperor and the man she chose was one of the Silentiarii or the court secretaires that worked directly for the empress and knowing this man named Anastasius quite well, Ariadne chose to marry him. Meanwhile with Zeno dead, the people shouted in the streets demanding “give us an Orthodox emperor, give us a Roman emperor” for they were tired of violent rulers which the past 3 being Leo I, Basiliscus, and Zeno were and at the same time they did not want a thuggish Isaurian who compromised with heretics which was Zeno and true enough, the people got what they wished for as their new emperor Anastasius I was well refined man, intelligent, energetic, and cool headed, but also a skilled economist opposite of the warrior Zeno was, and already 60-years-old, Anastasius was still very handsome, tall, and fit with one eye blue and the other one black which is why he has the nickname Dicorus meaning “mismatched eyes”, in other words he had heterochromia.
Anastasius was born in the port city of Dyrrachium (today’s Albania) in 431 and was a speaker of Latin and here in this story, going with Dovahhatty’s version, when Anastasius’ mother was pregnant with him, she was struck with a curse but mostly overcame it before giving birth to him but the remains of this curse would stay with Anastasius later on in life and it affected him by secretly being a Monophysite in faith which was unpopular especially with the people of Constantinople which made them previously hate Zeno as he sided with them and thinking Anastasius would be pure Orthodox, little did they know that he was a Monophysite heretic deep inside.
At this time, politics in Constantinople was represented by 2 chariot racing teams, the blues and greens and though they cheered for their respective colors during races in the Hippodrome, these factions stood for two different ideologies; the blues stood for the ancient traditions, Orthodox faith, and conservative values while the greens stood for more radical values and the Monophysite faith and Anastasius as a secret Monophysite strongly supported the greens but shortly after becoming emperor, there had been a more legal candidate for the throne, Zeno’s younger brother Longinus who Ariadne previously considered marrying and Zeno’s Isaurian troops still in the city went on a rampage- as they usually did when drunk- in early 492 by bribing off both blues and greens to riot and proclaiming Longinus as their emperor though Longinus’ rebellion failed and he was exiled to Egypt but this led to the outbreak of war against the Isaurians. For the next 5 years, the Byzantine troops of Emperor Anastasius besieged the remaining Isaurian troops at their strongholds in the mountains of Isauria in Asia Minor and in this Isaurian War, Justin who would later be emperor rose up the ranks becoming a general, but here he too would suffer a fatal war wound on his chest. With the Isaurian War over in 497, Justin now promoted to a general returned home to his village in Tauresium seeing his nephew, his sister’s son Petrus for the first time and here Justin decided to adopt him and take him to Constantinople to be educated in the best of ways. It is not clear though when the young Petrus Sabbatius (Justinian) was brought over to Constantinople but it was clear that he was born as a peasant in the village of Tauresium though when creating this story through our role-playing, Justinianus here claims that the young Petrus travelled with his uncle Justin to Constantinople at age 15. No matter what version may be the right one here, Justin being uneducated and in fact illiterate saw hope for his nephew seeing he had potential to be a highly educated person who would bring pride to their family. When moving into Constantinople, Petrus would not only become highly educated, he would develop a dream like no one else had, a dream to restore the provinces of the west that fell to barbarian powers back to Roman rule, a dream to make the Roman Empire great again like it was when it was the supreme world power in the 2nd century. It was in Anastasius I’s reign when the dreadful 5th century ended and so did the 6th century begin in what everyone thought would be hopeful and when ruling the empire, Anastasius’ top priority was the economy so it would one day have enough funds to regain the lost western provinces.
In reforming the economy, Anastasius made policies to make sure everyone paid taxes in coin and to do this he had to devalue the currency in order to make coins of lesser value which led to the creation of the bronze coin or Follis so that everyone could pay up. In addition, he also abolished the unpopular tax for everyone who passed by Constantinople, abolished the unpopular tax that hurt the poor, but to literally save up, Anastasius cracked down on spending on games and public entertainment, which made him quite unpopular. In the meantime, Theodoric the Amal successfully took over Ravenna from Odoacer in 493 and after a failed negotiation, Theodoric killed Odoacer in front of everyone in the palace, thus Theodoric took over Italy founding his Ostrogothic Kingdom under the Amal Dynasty, his dynasty. Back in the east, when everyone thought the new century would be a hopeful one, Byzantium’s eastern neighbor the Sassanid Persian Empire in which they had always been paying tribute to for the longest time to avoid war demanded the Byzantines to double the tribute paid to them as the Sassanids ran out of funds to defend their northern borders against the same nomadic Huns that terrorized both Romans and Persians in the 5th century and here the Huns happened to be the Hephthalites or “White Huns”.
Anastasius meanwhile refused to pay double to the Sassanid ruler or Shah Kavad I claiming that he needed to save money, though this triggered a massive war with the Sassanids at the Byzantine-Sassanid border which would be known as the “Anastasian War” named after the emperor which began in 502 when Kavad’s forces invaded Byzantium taking over the cities of Theodosiopolis and Amida in Armenia and this was the first full-scale Roman-Sassanid War since the failed campaign of Emperor Julian in 363. The Byzantine generals that led the armies against the Sassanids were Justin, Celer, Vitalian, and Anastasius’ nephew Hypatius and no matter how hard both sides fought, the war resulted in no conclusions and in 506, the Byzantines and Sassanids signed a peace treaty that only achieved reverting to having the same borders since the war started 4 years earlier. With the war over, Anastasius had the fortress of Dara at the Sassanid border in Syria constructed to further fortify it. While the war happened against the Sassanids in the east, the empire’s Danube frontier in the Balkans were left exposed allowing new enemies, the Slavs and the Bulgars to invade so in 507 to further protect Constantinople from their raids, Anastasius ordered the construction of the Anastasian Wall spanning from the Marmara Sea to the Black Sea which was a structure similar to Hadrian’s Wall in Britain.
It also happened in 507 that over in Gaul, the Franks led by their king Clovis I had defeated the Visigoths at the Battle of Vouille killing the Visigoth’s king Alaric II, thus taking over Southern Gaul and the Visigoth’s capital, Toulouse forcing the Visigoths down to Hispania which they would continue holding on to as most of Gaul fell to the Merovingian Frankish Kingdom. With Clovis’ victory at the battle, Anastasius seeing some potential in him as a Roman ally awarded him the title of Patrician and Honorary Consul and hearing of the Visigoths’ defeat to the Franks, the Ostrogoth king of Italy Theodoric fearing the expansion of the Franks made the fallen Alaric II’s son Amalaric the King of the Visigoths in Hispania being a puppet of Theodoric as Theodoric wanted to rule an entire Gothic Empire of Visigoths and Ostrogoths and with his puppet Amalaric in charge of Hispania, Theodoric now had control of Italy and Hispania.
Back in the Byzantine Empire, the now old Anastasius’ Monophysite side, which left its mark in his black eye, would be clearly shown when he deposed the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople in 512, though this again caused massive riots by the people and with his turn to the Monophysite faith, the general Vitalian rebelled in 513 taking over most of Thrace in the name of Orthodoxy and would turn out to be a difficult target to fight but in 515, Vitalian’s threat was taken care of as he went into hiding and it also happened in 515, that Anastasius’ wife Empress Ariadne had died. Anastasius himself had no sons except for an illegitimate one killed in a riot years ago so it was left to either of his 3 nephews Hypatius, Pompeius, and Probus to succeed him but being indecisive on who to choose, one day in 518 he summoned all of them to a room in the Imperial Palace and in there he hid a letter beneath one of the couches with the word Regnum or “reign” and whoever sat on it would be the next emperor, but none of them did so Anastasius changed the rule saying that the first person who enters the room the next day will succeed him, and that person was Justin, now the commander of the Excubitor palace guard force. The 87-year-old Anastasius I had died on July 9, 518 and was succeeded by Justin who now went from simple peasant to emperor, the true rags to riches story of the century while his nephew Petrus would now be ready to enter civil service after years of extreme education. Anastasius died after ruling the empire for 27 full years and with him died the dynasty of Leo I founded back in 457 but he had left behind a full treasury and together with the stability the empire achieved at the death of Zeno back in 491, the upcoming emperors had all they needed to make the Eastern Roman Empire a world power and other than stability and funding, all that was needed was one man with the drive and here Petrus was one step closer as his uncle Justin was now in power.
In 518, the world changed when the 68-year-old Justin I, a peasant became the Eastern Roman emperor and according to the most notable source of this era, the historian Procopius (who will appear later on), Justin as a peasant in origin was illiterate, uneducated, and unrefined only knowing about war as in career he was nothing but a soldier and though this historian Procopius speaks in such a biased way to the Justinian Dynasty, he seems to be telling the truth here about Justin since having no formal education, the old Justin I was certainly unrefined in character but as emperor he still wanted to do his part in ruling and knowing he cannot rule the empire alone, he depended highly on highly skilled advisors and among them was his now 36-year-old nephew Flavius Petrus Sabbatius who with his uncle now becoming the emperor he was adopted as his uncle’s successor and from here on, his name would be forever changed to Justinian meaning “son of Justin”.
The truth behind Justin becoming emperor was that he used the bribe money given to him by Anastasius’ chamberlain to bribe to soldiers to acclaim the chamberlain as emperor, but Justin listening to his nephew’s advice used the bribes to pay off the soldiers to name him emperor and soon enough, Justin at a meeting with the Patriarch of Constantinople, senate, and city council he was recognized by all as emperor and crowned at the Hippodrome. Just 9 days after coming into power, Justin had his potential rivals assassinated and at the same time, the same general Vitalian who rebelled against Anastasius I returned to Constantinople but was soon enough assassinated by the orders of Justinian fearing Vitalian might rebel against Justin as well. The new emperor though lacking education was a devout and fundamental Orthodox Christian and as emperor, the policies he issued himself all had to do with strengthening the faith of Orthodoxy and persecuting the heretical Arian and Monophysite Christians in the army and state but perhaps his greatest achievement shared with his nephew Justinian in 519, the final resolution of the Acacian Schism with the Church of Rome that lasted for 36 years. In his uncle’s reign, Justinian got his chance to rise up the ranks as first he succeeded his uncle in his position as the head of the palace guard force or the Comes Domesticorum, he was then elevated to the rank of patrician, and then consul in 521 and around this time, Justinian finally met the love of his life, the actress Theodora after he spent all his life alone studying jurisprudence, theology, and Roman history day and night on how to be a great emperor, receiving first rate education in Constantinople.
As a young man, Justinian was quite hot tempered especially as an overly enthusiastic fan of the blue faction in the chariot races and being a leading member of the blues faction, a female friend of his who was a belly dancer named Macedonia who served as an informant for him informed him of a young woman of extreme beauty and perfect shape, an actress from the blue faction named Theodora who was her friend whom she met in Antioch. Now the origins of Theodora are conflicting as the 12th century historian Michael the Syrian claims she was born in Syria while another source claims she is a Greek-Cypriot from Cyprus, though in this story’s case, Theodora was originally from Cyprus and a speaker of Greek born there in 500 during the reign of Anastasius I. Theodora’s father Acacius was a bear trainer for Constantinople’s green faction but he died when she was very young leaving her unnamed mother to raise her 3 daughters and Theodora was the middle child as she had an older sister Comito and a younger sister Anastasia and when they were all very young, their mother desperate for work presented them to the leader of the blue faction to accept her and her daughters as actresses for their faction and from here on Theodora would become a strong supporter of the blues. Now again, the historian Procopius had usually slandered Theodora in her years of being an actress as a prostitute sleeping with men of high and low birth and performing sexual acts on stage as a mime actress, although what this meant was that in that time, actresses were seen as equivalent to prostitutes and were at the bottom of society unlike today where actresses have turned into international celebrities with the best treatment.
At 16, Theodora travelled to North Africa and later to Antioch where she grew closer to the Monophysite faith and in 524, she finally met Justinian in Constantinople and in only a few days they fell in love, and for Justinian here, this was the first time in his life that he would be in love with someone, yet he was already 42 years old2! Now the existing law said that patrician men- in which Justinian was at their rank now- could not marry women from outside their rank which included actresses but Justinian knowing that Theodora was destined to be his empress convinced his uncle to pass a new law which decreed that reformed actresses can marry men outside their rank if approved by the emperor and Justin being old and having no legal experience just passed this new law through his nephew’s guidance and this here was Justinian’s first experience in drafting laws which he would be most famous for later on. As for the emperor Justin, he continued paying tribute to the Sassanids and tried maintaining peaceful relations with the Ostrogoth King of Italy Theodoric the Great that Justin even took in Theodoric’s son-in-law Eutharic to Constantinople and made him a consul in 519 though he died in 522. Though the actual war with the Sassanid shah Kavad I was at a halt, the Byzantines and Sassanids resolved to fighting proxy wars that involved religion and Justin as well as his nephew Justinian were always at it to defend Orthodox Christianity and one of them involved a faraway land in the south of the Arabian Peninsula known as the Kingdom of Himyar (today Yemen), a Sassanid client state wherein the contemporary chronicler John Malalas (491-578) claimed that Byzantine Christian merchants there were robbed and put to death by their Jewish king and seeing the torture victims return to Constantinople, Justin listening to his nephew Justinian’s advise3 sent word to the Christian king Kaleb I of the Kingdom of Aksum in Ethiopia to invade the Himyarite Kingdom.
In 525, the Himyarite Kingdom was destroyed when Kaleb I crossed the Red Sea with the help of Byzantine ships and invaded Himyar annexing it to Aksum and making it Christian. Back with the Sassanids, the shah Kavad I asked if his youngest 12-year-old son Khosrow be adopted by Justin to secure his legitimacy over Khosrow’s older brothers who Kavad did not favor though Kavad also believed that if his son were adopted by Justin then Khosrow would inherit both Sassanid and Byzantine empires as Kavad knew that Justin had no male heir, but little did Kavad know that Justin’s nephew was destined to succeed his uncle. Now the one thing many may not know about was that Justinian had something like a step-brother which would later be his Persian mortal enemy ruler Khosrow although Justin did not adopt Khosrow as a son but instead as a barbarian hostage, and Justin’s treatment of Khosrow insulted Kavad making him begin making preparations to wage war against Byzantium again. Nothing much is said about the time when Justinian grew up with a step-brother he so despised so this part of the story will be made up here and since Justinian was way older than the teenage Khosrow, they had never really gotten along as Justinian was already too busy in actually running the empire for his uncle except that young Khosrow here would learn the art of statecraft the Byzantine way in Constantinople. Since the schism with the Papacy in Rome was already solved back in 519, between 525 and 526, the pope John I visited Constantinople to re-crown Justin I then spending Christmas and Easter with him but when returning to Italy later, Pope John I was immediately thrown in prison by the now extremely paranoid King Theodoric for the reason of favoring the Byzantine emperor over Theodoric, the pope would then die within only a few days of being in prison.
Now Theodoric was an extremely devout Arian Christian and he ruled his Kingdom of Italy very successfully even more than it was under Odoacer before him as if it were like the Western Roman Empire again in terms of culture considering Theodoric grew up in Constantinople educated by the general Aspar who basically controlled the empire before his death in 471, except the people of Italy who were mostly Roman resented the rule of Theodoric especially since he and his army were Arian Christians while most of his people were Catholic-Orthodox and now at an old age, the paranoid Theodoric began persecuting Orthodox Christians in his kingdom in order to assert the dominance of his Arian faith in it though in 526, Theodoric the Great died and was succeeded by his grandson Athalaric, the son of Theodoric’s daughter Amalasuintha and the same Eutharic who died in Constantinople in 522 and with Theodoric’s death, the Ostrogoths of Italy lost control over Visigoth Hispania. Around the same time as Theodoric’s death was the massive earthquake of Antioch I 526 that came close to destroying the entire city and killing some 250,000 people though Justin here responded by sending money to have the city rebuilt in which its process would take years. Justin however only named Justinian his successor in April of 527 as Justin was already close to death, though Justinian had already been running the empire for quite some time as Justin had already gone senile and on August 1, 527 the 77-year-old Justin I died of his war wound from back in the Isaurian War of the 490s and now it was Justinian’s time to rule as the sole Roman Augustus with Theodora as his empress.
The Early Reign of Justinian I (527-540)
It was here on August 1, 527 when Justinian I came to the Byzantine throne ruling as a “palace emperor” since for all these years he had trained to be emperor, he met talented people along the way that he knew could run the empire without him having to be everywhere and these talented men he met along the way included a brilliant young general named Flavius Belisarius who here at only age 22 was appointed as Magister Militum or master of the army. Belisarius was born in 505 in Thrace (part of today’s Bulgaria) and like Justinian, was of low birth but already at a young age, he joined the army and soon enough his talents were recognized by both Justinian and his uncle Justin who was still emperor then.
Belisarius though only became an active commander 3 years later in 530 but prior to that, he had come up with a totally innovative development for the army, the creation of the Bucellarii cavalry unit and making them the core of the army and these cavalrymen were equipped with both composite bows and lances in battle. Right when Justinian came to power in 527, Belisarius now appointed as a general was assigned with a legal assistant and secretary, which is this story’s villain Procopius, a Palestinian Greek from Caesarea born in 500 who would later study law at the academy of Berytus (Beirut) and later at Constantinople and though he admired the talent of Belisarius, he envied Justinian for becoming emperor and not him as Procopius thought that if Justinian who was of low birth could become emperor, and so could Procopius, and in the case of this story, this is why Procopius would slander Justinian and anyone close to him in the works he wrote.
It also happened that when Justinian succeeded Justin to the throne, the Sassanid shah Kavad I forced the people of the Kingdom of Iberia (Georgia) at the border of the Sassanid and Byzantine Empires to convert to Zoroastrianism but their king back then fled to Justin I’s Byzantium to make peace though this here insulted Kavad who was later even more insulted when his son Khosrow was adopted by Justin not as a son but a barbarian hostage so in retaliation against the Byzantines, Kavad invaded through Syria and when Justinian became emperor, he immediately sent his generals Belisarius and Sittas east to defend the border. Sittas is someone of obscure origins but together with Belisarius, they had met and became friends with Justinian serving under him as part of the Excubitor imperial guard force in Justin I’s reign and just like with Belisarius, Justinian too saw great talent in Sittas. Initially, Belisarius and Sittas’ forces were defeated by the Sassanids but not giving up, they both expanded their army with the use of Hunnish mercenaries as well as the barbarian people from the far north (probably Scandinavia) which were the Heruli, as well as the Arab people that lived at Byzantium’s border at the Arabian desert which were the Ghassanids who by Justinian’s orders converted to Christianity. Belisarius knew that the Sassanids and in fact all enemies of the empire would lose to fear due to the presence of the Huns as it had been tried and tested in history such as when the Western Roman general of the 5th century FlaviusAetius effectively used them to defeat the barbarian invaders in Gaul and seeing how much fear the Hunnish cavalry could bring, Belisarius made these Huns occupy half of the cavalry with the other half being his Bucellarii.
When heading east, the army split up with Sittas heading to Armenia to fight the Sassanid forces there while Belisarius was to head to Syria where the main forces of Kavad attacked from. In 530, Belisarius and his men set themselves up at the same fortress of Dara built by Anastasius I two decades ago. According to Procopius, before the battle began, the Sassanids sent one of their strongest warriors to challenge Belisarius in single combat but rather than Belisarius, his slave who he personally trained in combat to be a wrestler named Andreas fought and killed this Sassanid warrior and killed another one the next day, and though this may be fictional, in this story’s case it was true and here Andreas rather than being a slave was a simple warrior from the mountains of Isauria working under Belisarius and his feat in single-handedly taking down two of the toughest Sassanid warriors made him make a name for himself. The actual battle soon enough began when the Sassanid forces mostly consisting of their Cataphract cavalry and their allies, their client kingdom being the Lakhmid Arabs of the desert to the south of them charged at Belisarius’ men but Belisarius responded by just laughing as he had his men already dig up trenches to prevent the cavalry from clashing on them and when the Sassanids got trapped in the trenches, the Huns and Heruli cavalry of Belisarius charged straight at the Sassanids, thus the Byzantines and their allies won the Battle of Dara despite this day being extremely hot (45 oc).
At the same time as Belisarius won this decisive victory, Sittas in the north won another one against the Sassanids at the Battle of Satala in Armenia and both victories further infuriated Kavad so in retaliation, Kavad sent 20,000 of his cavalry forces to attack the now vulnerable Antioch that had just been devastated by the 526 earthquake. Before the Sassanids arrived in Antioch, Belisarius had his men counter-attack them, though some of the older officers that envied his talent charged ahead without orders and got crushed by the Sassanids here at the Battle of Callinicum in 531 leaving Belisarius to take care of the battle but still failed as these officers had already ruined it. Belisarius at least survived while the Sassanid forces had to return east to their empire as their ruler Kavad here in 531 had died. Belisarius then returned to Constantinople while Justinian with Kavad’s death was relieved that he could send his step-brother Khosrow who he despised so much back to his empire to die as Khosrow’s older brothers were all staging a civil war against him.
Now in the past years that Khosrow had lived in the imperial palace of Constantinople, despite not being treated as part of the imperial family, he saw it with his own eyes how much gold was left behind in the treasury by Anastasius I which he then saw as the best way to cripple Justinian and his ambitions which Khosrow already knew Justinian had. In 531 when Khosrow returned to his empire, he managed to defeat all his brothers and ruled the empire even stronger than is father did after learning some empire management skills from the Byzantine court and knowing how much gold the treasury had, he demanded that Justinian pay him 11,000 pounds of gold a year as this was to be an “eternal peace”, and Justinian here agreed to it as long as the Sassanids used it to pay off the Huns at the northern border to keep them further away from the Byzantines.
Belisarius’ Hunnish cavalry
Belisarius’ Heruli cavalry
Ghassanids, Byzantine allies from the Arabian desert
Back in Constantinople, Justinian had a pretty good start as emperor and even if he did not need to be on the battlefield, he knew he could count on his generals like Belisarius and Sittas as well as a barbarian named Mundus, the son of the king of the Gepids, the Germanic tribe settling in Pannonia (Hungary) who in fact was even a descendant of the Scourge of God Attila the Hun from the 5th century. The Gepids here had made peace with Justinian by sending Mundus to him to be appointed as Magister Militum and was charged with fighting off the raiding Slavs and Bulgars in the Balkans and when Belisarius was demoted after his failure at the Battle of Callinicum in 531, Mundus replaced him as commander of the eastern forces.
Justinian meanwhile still continued spending all day and night at meetings, reading up on new strategies, studying his empire’s borders, and inspecting Constantinople seeing what new buildings had to be built that he barely had any time for parties or for a little fun all while his younger sister Vigilantia was his polar opposite. Now, no one would really know that Justinian did indeed have a sister but this story here will try to tell a bit more about her even if history does not say much and in this version, Vigilantia, born in 490, came to Constantinople with her mother some months after Justinian did back in 497, though being only 7 when she moved, she was too young to experience the hard life of a peasant unlike Justinian who did as he was already 15 when he moved to Constantinople. Unlike Justinian who was hard working and ambitious, Vigilantia was a wasteful glutton who spent all day drinking, partying, and sleeping with other men- at least in this version- though she had married a man named Dulcidius, possibly an aristocrat and would have 3 children, the eldest son named Justin the Younger born in 520 in Constantinople and was named after his grand-uncle and founder of the dynasty Justin, the second one being Marcellus, and a daughter named Praejecta. Shortly after becoming emperor, Justinian already launched one of his greatest projects in which he would be most remembered for throughout the ages, the Corpus Juris Civilis or “Body of Civil Laws” completed in 529 by a talented jurist he appointed named Tribonian who had extensive knowledge of Roman laws all the way back to the first emperor Augustus Caesar (r. 27BC-14AD) and this compilation of all laws going back to Augustus’ reign was to codify all Roman laws into one book by removing all conflicting laws and making them all consistent to each other; this book would then be divided into 3 parts first being the Codex which would be all the laws issued by Justinian, the Digest consisting of laws from the past emperors, and the Institutes which would be a handbook for all students of laws.
Some of the laws made by Justinian here forbade civilians from carrying weapons like axes and spears as they could incite rebellion with it but this happened to be unpopular with many of rural citizens who live to carry weapons, while other laws here stated that no one could make rivers or lakes their private property. These laws at the same time highly favored Orthodox Christians and was to convince all to convert to Orthodoxy as it disapproved of the beliefs of Arians, Monophysites, Pagans, and Jews and Justinian himself indeed hated the Jews for feeling they were above everyone else especially in economic matters and part of his policy was to ban Jews from the army as the army was really made up of Christians- mostly Orthodox- fighting for their faith, on the other hand Justinian had also closed down one of the empire’s last Pagan academies in Athens to stop the spread of their beliefs that contradicted Orthodoxy while at the same time he issued laws for teachers to teach history in the form of Christian propaganda.
Justinian not having any ties to the aristocracy of the empire appointed people based on merit and absolute loyalty to him and not by connections and wealth and these included the jurist Tribonian and the finance minister John the Cappadocian, a man of low birth from Cappadocia in Asia Minor but with strong administrative skills and ruthlessness as well and no matter how corrupt he was by torturing rich tax payers forcing them to pay and this sure indeed filled up the treasury more especially since Justinian was to pay 11,000 pounds of gold a year to Khosrow. For the longest time, the rich including Jewish merchants had found ways to get exempted from paying taxes while the poor were usually hurt and Justinian knowing what it was like coming from the lower classes of society knew that the rich could no longer escape this privilege, though this surely made him unpopular with the rich. As for Theodora now as empress, feeling insecure because of her low birth, she wanted to assert her power by strongly promoting court ceremony practices making everyone that met her bow down lying face-down on the floor in front of her and her husband and to kiss their rings and that none could question her, only she could.
People that met her and Justinian no matter how high in society they were including senators had to wait in line in a stuffy room in the palace before it was their turn and with such difficulty just to meet the imperial couple, these said officials and senators felt like they were treated as slaves. On the other hand, Theodora took part in almost every meeting Justinian had advising him too in legal matters that Justinian called her his “partner in his deliberations” and part of Theodora’s acts as empress was in making Justinian issue laws that further protected women’s rights especially for actresses like her before. Meanwhile in early 532 at the same time as Justinian and Khosrow settled peace, the chariot races began civil unrest in Constantinople when the blue and green factions continuously beat each other up in the streets and for inciting such violence, Justinian ordered the blue a green faction leaders hanged but the execution true enough failed for 2 leaders who later hid in a church while the mob rushed to Hippodrome for a day of a another chariot race wherein Justinian and Theodora sat in the imperial box but to their surprise the entire mob shouted “Nika!” or “victory!” over and over again, though Justinian at first did not bother, instead he tried negotiating with them but it did not work.
The mob then in a rampage burned everything in Constantinople, liberated prisoners, and damaged property and part of the buildings burned included the old Hagia Sophia church and the Baths of Zeuxippus, one of the structures that predated Byzantine Constantinople in 330. Wanting to get over the violence, Justinian asked the mob what they wanted and they demanded that John the Cappadocian and Tribonian who they all saw as corrupt be fired though when getting back to the palace, Justinian found out that a number of senators had paid off the people to riot so in return he fired these senators and spoke to the people again that he too fired John and Tribonian in which he actually did not and as the people continued rioting, Justinian resorted to threatening to kill them all if they did not stop. The people true enough did not stop and even chose to elevate the old Hypatius, nephew of Anastasius I as emperor who almost came to power in 518 if he sat on the chair with the note but here Hypatius did not want the throne although once he was lifted in the streets, he had a change of heart.
At the palace, Justinian was more terrified of what was to come that advisors told him to just let go of the throne, leave Constantinople, and take it back one day but Theodora stepped in convincing Justinian that the riot needs to be dealt with once and for all. At this time, Mundus who was in charge of the east returned to Constantinople while Belisarius was in the city too and here another court official of Justinian, the Armenian eunuch Narses who in this story’s case according to Justinianus was originally a slave from Armenia born in 478- like in real history- and bought by Justinian during his uncle’s reign. Narses now possessed a great amount of natural intelligence but lacked education and here in 532 he was assigned to bribe off some of the rioters most of them being blues while Belisarius and Mundus were tasked to put the Hippodrome on lockdown before they send their troops inside it. With the rioters trapped in the Hippodrome, Belisarius’ and Mundus’ men including Hunnish mercenaries killed up 30,000 rioters in a single day while the leaders either got their property and wealth confiscated, exiled, or executed, and Hypatius here was executed while John and Tribonian were reinstated to their positions. Seeing Constantinople in ruin, Justinian was sad but at the same time saw the ruins of the city as an opportunity and making the most of the destruction, he ordered that the city be rebuilt in a grander scale like never before, and the building here he so desired to rebuild was the church of the Hagia Sophia.
Over in the Vandal Kingdom of North Africa based in Carthage, their king Hilderic, the son of the Vandal king Huneric (r. 477-484) and the grandson of the Vandal Kingdom’s founder Genseric (r. 428-477) was an ally of the Byzantines and when coming to the throne in 523, he maintained friendly terms with Justin I and later with Justinian following Justin’s death. Hilderic happened to be a half-Roman, his mother was Eudocia, the daughter of the Western Roman emperor Valentinian III (r. 425-455) and a granddaughter of the Byzantine emperor Theodosius II (r. 408-450) making Hilderic one of the last descendants of the Theodosian Dynasty, and the Vandal Kingdom despite being a barbarian power adopted Roman customs and were most famous for their navy as the rulers of the Western Mediterranean waters.
The Vandals had been Arian Christians like many of the barbarian powers, but Hilderic due to his Roman half tolerated the Orthodox-Catholic religion in his kingdom which angered his cousin Gelimer who in 530 deposed and imprisoned Hilderic which angered Justinian in Constantinople even more as Hilderic was his friend who had come to Constantinople a few times before. Gelimer responded to Justinian telling him to mind his own business as North Africa was not his kingdom and as for Justinian, this was a perfect excuse for him to start a war as his reign was marked by the policy of “Intervention Imperialism” meaning that he would invade a land when they were at conflict with each other wherein he would take the side of one faction. To put it short, Justinian despite having the dream to take back all the western provinces the Romans lost to the barbarians would invade these lands if given any reason to do so unlike other rulers of the past who would strike first and invade all because they wanted to, but for Justinian, he thought invading when there is a perfect reason was the smart move. In the past, there had been two attempts to reconquer the Vandal Kingdom and return it to Roman rule and both failed, first was in 460 when the western emperor Majorian (r. 457-460) built a fleet in Southern Hispania but had never even left the port as traitors in his army convinced by the Vandal king Genseric burned the fleet before it even left and in 468, the eastern emperor Leo I launched a fleet of 1,000 ships carrying 100,000 men to invade Carthage but before the battle, the fleet’s commander Basiliscus- who usurped the throne in 475- agreed to a peace with Genseric resulting in half the fleet destroyed and the mission failing. Justinian here in 533 now knew he wouldn’t fail especially since he assigned Belisarius for the job and that he had a full treasury due to John the Cappadocian’s efforts.
To test Belisarius’ ability, he was only assigned with 15,000 men and even more made the bread supply for the army moldy which was to test even how strong the health of the soldiers was and though a few suffered food poisoning, they survived it which was a sign that the whole army was in good health. Before the fleet left Constantinople, Belisarius had a bad start when two drunk Hunnish mercenaries killed a soldier but Belisarius quickly had these Huns executed and the mission proceeded as the fleet sailed west directly to Carthage. At the same time, Justinian funded a revolt in the Italian island of Sardinia which was under the Vandals to scatter the Vandal army in order to make Belisarius meet little resistance in North Africa and before arriving in the area of Carthage, Belisarius settled in Ostrogothic held Sicily first to resupply as Justinian persuaded the regent ruler Amalasuintha who he was in good terms with to use the island and from there, Belisarius quickly proceeded to North Africa landing there and crushing the Vandal forces. Hearing Belisarius had arrived, the Vandal king Gelimer killed Hilderic in prison thinking Belisarius might reinstate him and afterwards ordered his army of 25,000 men to attack Belisarius’ forces at the salt flats outside Carthage in what would be the Battle of Ad Decimum.
Here, Gelimer divided the army with his brother to attack Belisarius on both sides of the salt flats but the brother was soon enough killed by Belisarius’ Bucellarii which therefore distracted Gelimer when the main battle came and as he grieved his brother’s death, Gelimer’s forces were soon easily crushed by Belisarius’ 15,000 men causing Gelimer to flee west as Belisarius without any resistance proceeded to Carthage and took over it taking over the palace right in time for the feast prepared for Gelimer’s victory but since Gelimer had lost, Belisarius sat at the throne for the feast. When taking over Carthage, Belisarius ordered his men not to plunder or kill anyone as Justinian wanted to show the local Roman people of Carthage that the Eastern Romans were to be seen as their liberators not oppressors and true enough when Belisarius took over Carthage, the people cheered as they despised living under the rule of the Vandals, especially Gelimer. However, Gelimer was still around and had grouped up with his other brother Tzazo who was previously in charge of Sardinia but kicked out when the Byzantine captured it and together, they marched to Carthage attempting to take it back, but Belisarius and his men charged out of Carthage clashing again with Gelimer at the Battle of Tricamarum at the end of 533 and again Gelimer lost his brother as Tzazo was killed in battle.
Gelimer attempted to flee to the mountains of Numidia but realized he was in hopeless situation, so instead he turned himself into the Byzantines as Belisarius allowed him to be spared, though Belisarius came in too late to save their ally Hilderic who had just been killed in prison. As 533 ended and 534 began, Belisarius had won the war, recovered all the wealth the Vandals looted from back in 455 when they sacked Rome including the Menorah stolen from the Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70AD. Though the Vandal Kingdom had been destroyed after only less than a century of existing and put under the direct rule of the Byzantines, the parts of North Africa further inland were under independent Moorish states that refused to be ruled by the Byzantines so to deal with them, another general named Solomon was sent to fight them in battle which later in 534 was able to crush the Moors and annex their lands all the way to what is now Morocco to the empire as Belisarius returned to Constantinople to celebrate his triumph. In 534, Northwestern Africa was annexed to the Byzantine Empire and now connected by land to Egypt while Sardinia, Corsica, and the Balearic Islands too were annexed, the Vandals thus were expelled from North Africa eventually fleeing back to where they came from in today’s Germany. Back in Constantinople, Belisarius was given a triumph and in fact the first one in ages wherein he and his army marched through the city’s main street or the Mese with the spoils of war from North Africa including the Menorah while Gelimer too was paraded here and brought before the feet of Justinian and Theodora wherein Gelimer feeling angry for losing his kingdom whispered to Justinian “vanity of vanities, all is vanity” but was told to shut up, but at least he was able to retire and live out his entire life in Asia Minor. All the wealth taken from the Vandals in North Africa now allowed Justinian to complete his greatest project, the new Hagia Sophia or “Church of Holy Wisdom” in only 5 years since construction began in 532.
In December of 537, with all the wealth taken from North Africa, the complete structure of the Hagia Sophia including its massive dome was completed under the architects Anthemius of Tralles, a Greek-Egyptian and Isidore of Miletus, though the interiors were still bare at its completion as it would take many more years to fill in the mosaics but when entering for the first time, Justinian said out loud “Solomon I have outdone you” referring to the long gone Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem known for its size and beauty and that Justinian’s new creation had outdone it. Now, I would say the hidden meaning to this phrase of Justinian reflected his negative feelings towards the Jews and by building the Hagia Sophia, he could prove that Christianity is more superior but back to the Jewish Menorah, Justinian did not agree to keep it in the Hagia Sophia as it was a Jewish relic, instead he shipped it back to Jerusalem, its original place.
North Africa may have been restored to Roman rule, but that wasn’t Justinian’s main objective, his main objective was to reconquer Italy, particularly Rome as the fact that the city of Rome, where Roman civilization all began was not under Roman hands was humiliating. For Justinian, he had no reason to invade Italy as its regent ruler Amalasuintha as a loyal ally to him as she heavily practiced Roman customs though it was her son Athalaric that was actually the ruler in name although he did not take his duties seriously and turned to drinking, then in 534 the 18-year-old Athalaric was killed by the Ostrogoth nobility and was replaced by his uncle Theodahad, a nephew of Theodoric the Great. Amalasuintha was later assassinated in her bath later in 535 and this here finally gave a reason for Justinian to invade Italy especially since Theodahad rejected Roman customs making the local Roman population more and more angry thus wanting to be ruled once again by Roman, which was Justinian. In the eastern empire, some of the people of the older generations were alive before the west fell in 476 and therefore wanted to see the west restored to Roman rule, and Justinian was more than happy to please them.
Now Justinian began his reign quite unpopular that he was almost overthrown in the Nika Riot of 532 but after his conquest of North Africa in 534, he gained the respect and love of all his subjects and putting Italy back under their rule made him think he would gain their respect and admiration even more. Justinian in Constantinople was later informed of Amalasuintha’s death and Theodahad’s usurpation by an official named Liberius, one of the local Romans of Italy living under Ostrogoth rule that had been alive even before 476 and at this moment, Liberius was one of the many Romans who were alive when the western empire was still around, therefore as an old man, he wanted to die seeing his land under Roman rule again. After receiving Liberius, Justinian knew exactly what to do so again he sent Belisarius on another mission, this time to finally retake Italy and in 535, he departed Constantinople by sea this time with only 7,000 men as the rest of his army was needed to secure North Africa although Justinian also sent Mundus who was in charge of Illyria at this point to invade Italy by land first by recapturing Dalmatia, which was still under the Ostrogoths. 536 was then and odd year, and here Procopius who had joined Belisarius again as his secretary writes that in this year, a thick layer of smoke covered the sky and blocked the sun yet he had no idea what caused this, indeed made this year a bad one of the harvests. Only modern studies explain exactly what caused this event, which happened to be that volcanoes around the world erupted and the wind carried the ash the away causing this unnatural event to happen, but no matter how odd this year was, Belisarius continued to push on with the ambitious reconquest of Italy.
As for the barbarian general Mundus in 536, he succeeded in taking back Dalmatia from the Ostrogoths but was killed in battle, although his troops still managed to secure their hold there. Belisarius on the other hand swiftly retook Sicily and Southern Italy but the mission had to be aborted for a moment as news reached Belisarius that some of his soldiers in North Africa together with the surviving Vandals rebelled and named one of their own officers named Stotzas as emperor so Belisarius had to rush back to North Africa and here, he easily crushed the revolt forcing Stotzas to flee deep into the Numidian desert. Belisarius then rushed back to Italy to resume his main objective and luckily his troops still held on to what they have retaken so they proceeded to take back the port city of Naples but was proven too hard to be recaptured especially with very limited men but one day, the same old Isaurian wrestler Andreas from Dara4 found an open waterway at the aqueduct which led straight into the city so Belisarius had the hole widened and true enough the Byzantines were able to reclaim Naples with little resistance.
Due to Theodahad’s failure to stop the Byzantines’ advance, he was usurped and killed by an Ostrogoth noble named Vitiges who was married to Amalasuintha’s daughter Matasuintha thus ending Theodoric’s Amal Dynasty but as king, he too feared Belisarius’ advance. In Rome itself, Pope Silverius too was tired of having to take orders from the Ostrogoth king, so he sent word to Belisarius inviting him to capture Rome and without a fight, Rome was retaken and put under Roman rule again, but Vitiges was still out there but Rome was no longer the imperial city it was as years under the Ostrogoths as well as 3 attacks on the city in the 5th century (410, 455, and 472) made it a shell of its former self but Belisarius made sure it was to be rebuilt. Vitiges meanwhile marched his army to retake Rome and went as far as cutting off the aqueducts to stop the water supply for the people inside but Belisarius with his brilliance resolved to make a mill on the Tiber River using two boats and was indeed successful in providing grain supply for the people inside. This siege of Rome then went on for an entire year (537-538) and as the Goths tried every trick they could to take the city such as by throwing their dead soldiers to the river to destroy the grain mills or by using siege towers, Belisarius used any trick he could find such as building a chain at the river to stop the bodies and shooting flaming arrows at the siege towers.
Vitiges meanwhile was tired of the fighting and as all his men slaughtered by Belisarius’ Bucellarii stationed outside the Aurelian Walls, he tried to negotiate with Belisarius but Belisarius just laughed as he wouldn’t agree to a surrender as he wanted the extermination of the Ostrogoths. After a year, the siege ended as thousands of reinforcements sent by Justinian under a younger general named John the Sanguinary broke the siege forcing Vitiges and his forces to flee using the Milvian Bridge, the same place Constantine the Great won a great victory in 312 where most of Vitiges’ men were slaughtered again by Belisarius’ Bucellarii. As Vitiges fled north to the capital Ravenna, John and his forces headed north to pursue Vitiges and managed to reclaim the city of Rimini wherein he was alter surrounded by Ostrogoths.
More reinforcements however came under the palace bureaucrat Narses, who now had been fully trained to be a general despite being already 60 here and unlike Belisarius who displayed such charisma to his men, Narses was more of a massive sized man with a very uninteresting personality, mostly a skilled manager in terms of military logistics; simply more like a robot doing his job, considering that in this story’s case according to Justinianus, he was slave that was bought, freed, and trained to become a general. Despite both Belisarius and Narses at odds with each other, they both relieved John who was trapped in Rimini surrounded by Ostrogoths by completely surrounding the Ostrogoth forces while Belisarius here lit several campfires in the hills to make it look like they had a bigger army but true enough did not to scare the Ostrogoths while the Byzantine fleet blocked the sea as well and so the Ostrogoths were again defeated and John being saved chose to thank Narses rather than Belisarius who did more than Narses did.
The rest of the Italian cities meanwhile such as Milan (Mediolanum) revolted against their Ostrogoth overlords inspired by the victories of the Byzantines so they requested Belisarius for reinforcements but the Byzantines were too outnumbered to send forces to all these Northern Italian cities. With the people of Milan rebelling, the Burgundians now under the Franks invaded Italy from Gaul to besiege Milan but the people there lacking an army could not hold out against the Burgundians so when getting word of this, Belisarius being too busy in reorganizing Roman control to the parts of Italy that had just been retaken sent John to reinforce Milan and attack the Burgundians but refused to as he only took orders from Narses, although soon enough John caught a fever delaying the mission thus further weakening the people of Milan who then had no choice but to reason with the Burgundians. The Burgundians on the other hand did not agree to the terms and when the gates of Milan were opened to them, they sacked the city killing almost everyone and almost razing the city to the ground while the Burgundians’ overlords, the Franks themselves invaded Northern Italy (the Piedmont region) too but after pillaging the countryside, decided to retreat to Gaul as there was nothing left for them in Italy anyway.
In 539, after hearing of the sack of Milan, Belisarius wrote to Justinian the whole story that a lot of it was due to John taking orders from the less effective Narses and in return, Justinian recalled Narses to Constantinople while John was to now follow orders from Belisarius alone and now coming so close to taking back the entire Italy, only Ravenna was left under the control of Vitiges as Milan following the sack was ceded to the Byzantines anyway. Tired again of Belisarius constantly winning victories, Vitiges resorted to the ultimate trick of sending envoys to the Sassanid Empire asking Khosrow I to break the eternal peace with Justinian by resuming the war so that the Byzantines would have to pull out of Italy. Back in Italy, Belisarius got word of Khosrow attacking again so he decided to rush the attack on Ravenna before he would be recalled to the east and Vitiges in fear once again came up with another trick, this time asking Belisarius to accept his surrender and at the same time offering Belisarius the position of the “Western Roman Emperor” restored and Belisarius wanting the fight over accepted it, marched into Ravenna but instead of taking the throne, Belisarius arrested Vitiges as well his wife Matasuintha and here in 540 all of Italy was again put under Roman rule and Justinian’s dream finally achieved and Belisarius once again returned to Constantinople as a hero parading Vitiges and Matasuintha in his triumph though despite Italy taken back, the war left it in ruins which could still be repaired.
Though Italy had been retaken, Khosrow getting word from the Ostrogoths to attack the Byzantine Empire already made preparations and after only 8 years broke the eternal peace given the reason that the Armenian border people were not satisfied with Justinian’s rule and when the Byzantine forces were sent there to crush the rebellion, the general Sittas from the Persian war a decade ago was killed here in 539 fighting the rebels. Now while the 5-year war at Italy was happening, both Justinian and Khosrow did their own thing whereas as Justinian and Theodora worked on rebuilding Constantinople from the damage caused by the Nika Riots and in the process, they had ordered the decorating of the Hagia Sophia with mosaics and according to Justinianus playing Justinian, she says the Hagia Sophia’s mosaics took over 2,000 men to assemble working 24/7 day and night with one shift consisting of a thousand workers from all over the empire, at the same time too, Justinian ordered the construction of a triumphal column in the square known as the Augusteum outside the Hagia Sophia which had an equestrian statue of him.
At the same time, Justinian had sent explorers to the far-off places of the world such as Scandinavia, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Central Asian steppes, and India to give him reports while at the same time he sent Christian missionaries to convert the people of Nubia south of Egypt. Khosrow meanwhile in this 8-year “eternal” peace tried to imitate Justinian’s Byzantium making his rule mirror that of Justinian’s in terms of sophistication but when asked by the Ostrogoths to invade Byzantine territory in 540, Khosrow broke this “eternal” peace and invaded Syria, capturing Antioch which still had not yet recovered from the 526 earthquake, and enslaved its people, bathed in the Mediterranean himself, and bribed off chariot races in different eastern cities to make the green faction win just to backstab Justinian who had been backing the blues his whole life. Khosrow though did not stay long enough as after asking more tribute money from Justinian which Justinian accepted, Khosrow returned to his empire but was now all set to launch another massive scale war against the Byzantines all while Belisarius was still in Italy. Belisarius was still able to bring Vitiges and Matasuintha to Constantinople wherein Vitiges died shortly after and Matasuintha was then married to Justinian’s cousin, the general Germanus.
Belisarius though only remained in Constantinople for 2 weeks5 as the war had already broken out with Khosrow so again, Belisarius was sent to another campaign again with his Bucellarii and Huns and the area the way would take place in would be in Lazica (Georgia), the kingdom Khosrow wanted to annex in order to gain access to the Black Sea to launch an invasion of Constantinople and here Belisarius was to block Khosrow’s invasion. In 541, a political rivalry grew between Theodora and the finance minister John the Cappadocian and as usual with Theodora always wanting to succeed, she had Belisarius’ wife Antonina meet with John to frame him for plotting against Justinian and Theodora and as Justinian discovered this so-called plot of John, he punished John by sending him to Egypt forcing him to be a priest just to please Theodora. At the same time as John arrived in Egypt, something mysterious meanwhile had occurred there at the Mediterranean port of Pelusium wherein one sailor in a ship delivering wheat harvested from the fields of Egypt to Constantinople and this one ordinary day, this sailor felt some pains in his head, arms, and legs but thought it would go away if he just slept it out but at night he could not sleep as he started experiencing nightmares and as he woke up his eyes turned red and not only did he feel these symptoms, the rest of the crew did as well. At this exact same day, they saw a ship crash straight into the harbor of Pelusium and when this crew went to investigate the ship, they saw the entire crew all dead with black spots on their bodies and soon even the crew investigating died of this sickness. In a matter of weeks, this plague had spread across Egypt through the grain shipments and soon enough to all cities across the Mediterranean such as Jerusalem, Antioch, and a lot more when ships containing grain supply headed that way as little did the people at the port know that the ships carrying off the grain supply carried the fleas that caused the illness.
Back then in the 6th century as this plague spread wherein people quickly started feeling ill, vomit blood, rot from the inside and then died went on, no one knew what it exactly was or what caused it, neither did doctors know the cure for it, and true enough they also caught the illness and died. Procopius here writes that this plague originated in Pelusium, Egypt but modern studies show that it originated far away in the Tian Shan Mountains of Central Asia in Western China as the plague at this time also affected China, India, and the Sassanid Empire and here as Belisarius was preparing to battle the Sassanids in 541, he was met with no fight at all as the Sassanid soldiers were affected by the plague with most of them dying from it.
This plague then was transmitted by fleas that sucked the blood of rats and transmitted it to people when biting them and these fleas then had developed inside the warehouses in Egypt wherein harvested grain had been kept for so long allowing rats to infest it, as well as fleas. The year 542 began in a very normal way for Constantinople as Justinian and Theodora did their thing by continuing the passing of laws, the workers still worked 24/7 on the Hagia Sophia’s mosaics, Narses returned to working in the palace training Justinian’s young nephews Justin and Marcellus to be skilled administrators6, while Justinian’s sister Vigilantia who hadn’t been mentioned in a long time still did as she pleased, stuffing herself up at feasts and drinking all night without a care as her brother worked so hard to keep their empire working but everything changed when the grain ships arrived at the port of Constantinople.
At first, people no matter who started experiencing light fevers but were advised by doctors in the city market to just not think about it as it will pass and for some, they were able to get over the fever but for others it was worse causing them to fall into a coma while others developed some acute dementia wherein, they were imagining that people were attacking them making these people jump into the waters of the Bosporus and Marmara to save themselves. The doctors then were most worried about these symptoms of dementia as they have never seen or heard of something like this before but when it came to people’s symptoms such as the swollen spots in their bodies, doctors were curious to know about it so they decided to open up the corpses of those who died from this illness (autopsy) and here they discovered that there was bacteria inside these wounds and it was this bacteria that killed the victims but they also found out that if they cut off the bacteria from the patients, the patients would be cured but would soon enough die days later due to the loss of blood.
As doctors too got infected by cutting up the plague sores, they decided to cover themselves up in full protection cloaks and masks which turned to be working out well for them. In only a few weeks, thousands in Constantinople began dying from this plague that by March of 542, as Procopius had said there had been 5,000 to 10,000 deaths a day in Constantinople alone and the only ones that remained and would forever remain uninfected were the stylites, the hermits living above columns. It was only here when Justinian began to respond to the crisis as at this point, he knew it was not only in Constantinople but in the entire eastern part of his empire and this when he sent word to all the governors around the empire to put all the cities under lockdown forbidding people from leaving their houses in order to stop the spread of the plague but little did Justinian know that the plague did not pass on so much from human to human but from flea to human and when finding out about its source being fleas, he had the a number of grain warehouses set on fire but the plague still kept spreading, and at the same time had the lockdowns lifted after a month as it too did not do anything to stop the plague.
In the next few months, the death toll just kept rising in Constantinople and across the eastern provinces that Justinian had to pass new decrees to handle the plague and these included forcing people to wear masks- which many just chose to die rather than be forced to do something inconvenient by the state, assigning people to search houses for dead bodies each day, and to assign people to the city gates to count the number of dead carted out each day. Seeing the death toll in Constantinople rising himself, Justinian further issued an order that people must wear name tags at their wrists so that if they died away from their homes, they could be identified. With the weeks going by, the death toll still continued rising that bodies had to be buried in mass graves but with no more space left for these mass graves, dead bodies had to be kept inside a military fortress across Constantinople’s Golden Horn harbor but again with so much dead, rooms in this fortress were filled up the ceiling and among the victims was the jurist Tribonian who made Justinian’s code of laws back in 529, and though in real history the plague killed him, in this version Justinianus gives an alternate ending to Tribonian wherein he actually survives the plague but became very weak.
Though not exactly said in real history but still definitely in the year 542, in which in this story’s case would be in June, the 60-year-old Justinian himself after inspecting the dead from the plague got a fever and in the next day started vomiting and having the same lymph nodes over his body then fell into a coma, thus he tested positive for the plague. He then remained at his bed not moving a muscle and as his fever kept rising, his doctors concluded that even the most powerful of people could still catch it. Theodora meanwhile did not catch it and so did Justinian’s sister Vigilantia, her sons and daughter, and everyone else in the palace but little did Theodora know that she actually caught the plague but was one of the very few rare asymptomatic cases of it- at least in this story.
Before the plague hit Constantinople, things did not go very well in Italy which had just been retaken by the Ostrogoths as the governor assigned to Ravenna named Alexander was corrupt when using the war funds given to him by Justinian to fund his own personal expenses making the defeated Ostrogoths scattered around Italy uniting under a leader from one of their own named Totila in 541. Though Vitiges was taken to Constantinople wherein he died, the Ostrogoths were still around in Italy and now under Totila they had grown even stronger and at first, they took back the city of Verona for themselves afterwards defeating the forces of Alexander at the Battle of Faventia wherein Alexander fled never to be heard from again.
Totila and his Ostrogoths won a few more victories before proceeding south in 542, ready to undo everything Belisarius achieved in the past years and although he still failed to take back Rome, he convinced many both Ostrogoths, Roman locals, and even Byzantine soldiers to defect to his side as he convinced them through lies that the Byzantines and Justinian were corrupt when it was only Alexander that was. The plague though hadn’t hit Italy yet but back in Constantinople, Justinian himself was near death that his sister Vigilantia who he was hardly close to him stood by his bedside and so did her 3 children who barely knew him as well7 and of course Theodora and other palace officials including Narses and Liberius were by his bedside too and seeing the worst possible scenarios to come, they were already deciding on who was to succeed Justinian.
While in a coma, Justinian got a shocking dream which was that Italy again completely fell to the Ostrogoths and this woke Justinian up8 and true enough the first thing he heard when waking came from Narses9 telling him the Ostrogoths have been starting to regain control of Italy under Totila. Justinian had realized he fell into a coma for a month10 but was at first too weak to do anything though as he soon started gaining the control to get out of bed but he came to realize one thing here and this was an effect of the plague which was that his voice changed wherein he started talking with a lisp11, although he at least luckily survived. Theodora here told Justinian that she handled the empire by herself and had successfully prevented all power struggles assuring everyone he would still live but for a total of 6 months including his one-month coma12, Justinian was bedridden and unable to run his empire. By December of 54213, Justinian fully recovered while the plague too had subsided in Constantinople at least, due to the fact that thousands died each day that by this point, there had been about 200,000 deaths in Constantinople alone while in the rest of the empire, the plague still kept spreading. The now recovered Justinian again took a tour of Constantinople fearing he wouldn’t get it again but instead of seeing people suffering from it, he saw dead lying everywhere with their wounds open and puss leaking as well as dead parents holding on to their children that were still alive. On this plague of 542, the contemporary historian John of Ephesus (507-588) writes a more dramatic story of the plague compared to Procopius’ more factual version as here John writes that in the eastern provinces of the empire, there had been villages with only one child surviving, herds of cows running off into wild with no one to herd them, roads completely empty, and ships stuck at sea as their entire crews were dead.
543 then would be the worst year ever for the Byzantines as though the plague struck in 542, in 543 all the mess had to be cleaned up one by one by a newly recovered Justinian but despite all the hardships, letting go of all his ambitious projects was the last thing he wanted but with all the damage caused by the plague especially on the economy, considering the extreme death toll on the people of the empire that created a scarcity of workers and many businesses to shut down, all Justinian could do was to put all his projects on hold and resume them another time. First of all, many of the workers who have worked in decorating the mosaics of the Hagia Sophia had died of the plague so Justinian had to put the construction on hold, for the army many had suffered died from it too so he had to now resolve to hiring mercenaries from distant lands not affected by the plague, and as for taking back Italy, Justinian decided that at this point it was not important and would return to it another time. In 543 as well, the Plague of Justinian that had plagued the eastern provinces in 542 had totally become a pandemic when ships arrived in Italy bringing the plague there, soon enough it had spread to the Frankish Kingdom in Gaul when ships arrived in Marseilles, later on in Visigoth Spain and Byzantine North Africa as well, and by 547 it had reached Britain now controlled by different Saxon rulers. Now if the Byzantine Empire and the rest of Europe was hit hard, the Sassanid Empire was hit even harder by the plague that Khosrow did not want to continue his war with Byzantines fearing that his soldiers might pass on the plague to him but over in Byzantium, Justinian knew that with Khosrow now idle, this was the perfect opportunity to attack the Sassanids, not by force but by bringing the plague there.
Here is when history literally changes as in reality, the war between Byzantium and the Sassanids would continue up to 562 without achieving much results again. Prioritizing the western reconquests again, Justinian now decided to get the plague away from his empire by closing the entire eastern border with Sassanids and sending loads plague victims as well as the infected grain supply over to the Sassanid Empire, definitely enraging Khosrow14 but being too paranoid of the plague, Khosrow was now hopeless in facing this new threat from Justinian. Though the Byzantine Empire survived the plague, 1/3 of its entire population died from it but for the entire world, the plague claimed 10% of its population according to modern studies.
In 543 as well, Totila managed to retake Naples and again using his tricks to get people to his side, he spared all its citizens when in fact all he wanted was to rule Italy for himself. Justinian in 544 recalled Belisarius from the Persian border- as in this story’s case, the war with the Sassanids was no longer ongoing- and sent him to Italy invading by sea from the south again, except this time Justinian was now growing more jealous of Belisarius’ previous victories and the fact that he had the plague and Belisarius did not as I would think so and due to Justinian’s growing envy, he did not provide Belisarius with funds this time especially since he was using them for the plague’s relief effort in helping citizens affected by it so Belisarius here had to pay for his own soldier’s food and equipment.
Procopius too joined Belisarius again this time and had recorded that this long war and the plague created a great famine in Italy but despite everything happening, Belisarius focused on cleaning up Italy from the Ostrogoths and Totila meanwhile laid siege to Rome again, and like Vitiges before took almost 2 years and only by December of 546 was Totila able to retake Rome for the Ostrogoths when he bribed off Belisarius’ Isaurian troops to let them scale the walls at night and when taking over the city, Totila here showed his true intention to completely level the city and afterwards he proceeded south to hunt down the last of the Byzantines including the same old John the Sanguinary who pained Belisarius years earlier. With Totila away from Rome, Belisarius meanwhile used this as an opportunity to retake it again and by the spring of 547, Belisarius took back Rome once again, though Totila returned but failed to take back Rome, instead he took over the other cities nearby such as Perugia.
Belisarius now was short of supplies so he had no choice but to return to Constantinople to ask for supplies from Justinian himself but true enough, it was actually Theodora that had now planned to recall him for it was her that was jealous of him and suspicious that Belisarius due to his popularity will one day be acclaimed emperor by the people thus overthrowing her and Justinian. When Belisarius arrived back in Constantinople in 548 however, he was met with a shocking surprise, which was that Theodora had died. Back in 542, Theodora in this case happened to be an asymptomatic victim of the plague but this did not mean the disease would one day have a toll on her life as by this point in 548, she grew extremely weak due to contracting cancer being a long-term effect of the plague and on June 28, she died at age 48. Though before Theodora died, she arranged for her niece Sophia, the daughter of her older sister Comito and the late general Sittas to marry Justinian’s eldest nephew Justin. Now Sophia who in this case was now 20 at this point and had grown up to be very beautiful just like her aunt Theodora was back in her day in the 520s except Sophia unlike Theodora who was an actress, Sophia was a high-society young lady15. Justinian was deeply affected here as the love of his life had died that in this story’s case, Justinian became vegetarian as eating meat and fish would remind him of his days with Theodora enjoying a full meal.
Though the plague was still going on and off in Constantinople, Justinian decided for once to give up on spending on the plague efforts and instead pour in a lot of gold for a lavish funeral for Theodora and despite how many times Theodora and her Monophysite point of view gave Justinian headaches, there was no other woman than her but strangely the couple despite being married for more than 20 years never had any children but by arranging Justin and Sophia’s marriage, Theodora here considered Justin to be their successor and even if Justinian was not close to him, Theodora thought he was the best choice only because he was the eldest nephew. Now at the funeral at the Church of the Holy Apostles, thousands of mourning citizens- especially women who all thanked her for passing laws protecting their rights- gathered outside while only family members as well as the Patriarch stayed inside for the ceremony and in attendance inside included Germanus with his Ostrogoth wife Matasuintha, Vigilantia again with her 3 children who were now all grown up, Theodora’s sister Comito and her daughter Sophia, and of course Justinian himself who was teared up so much that no one recognized him anymore16. Belisarius who had not trusted Theodora and vice-versa out of respect attended the funeral and so did Narses, Liberius, and Tribonian who in this case survived the plague.
Justinian being so heartbroken refused to speak to anyone, even Belisarius who had been urgently asking for supplies but soon enough when Justinian was able to speak again, Belisarius decided he did not need to ask for help anymore as now he had grown tired of war and had wanted to retire which Justinian accepted. The retirement of Belisarius was another heavy blow for the grieving Justinian as his most competent and trusted general had to go but at least his second most trusted general and younger cousin Germanus was still around who Justinian now counted on to finish off the reconquest of Italy but in this case, if Justinian were to name his own successor at this point, he would have chosen Belisarius17 but since Belisarius retired, Justinian considered it to Germanus or if not Germanus’ son with his first wife also named Justin but later on in 548, a jealous Armenian general named Artabanes and in this story’s case secretly with Procopius and John the Cappadocian who returned from Egypt following Theodora’s death hatched a plot to kill both Justinian and Belisarius in favor of Germanus. On the other hand, Germanus despite being overly talkative18 was completely loyal and had no intention to take the throne and eventually, it was the other Justin and this case with Justinian’s nephew Justin that uncovered Artabanes’ plot reporting it directly to Germanus who then had the Excubitor palace guards arrest Artabanes who instead of being imprisoned was sent to his death to fight against Totila in Italy with a very small army. In this case, Justinian still had not known of Procopius’ secret plotting19 while John the Cappadocian would remain unpunished, although he would die at this point in history (around 549) like in real history. At the same time back in Constantinople, Justinian’s nephew Justin and Theodora’s niece Sophia married in a not so lavish ceremony in the Hagia Sophia as Justinian still depressed over Theodora’s death and still spending on the plague’s relief effort could not spend on such festivities20. Justinian though considered Germanus as his heir even if Theodora earlier on backed Justin and this was because Justinian saw that Germanus had great skill and that his children will carry the blood of both the Justinian and Ostrogoth Amal Dynasty of Theodoric the Great due to Germanus’ marriage to Matasuintha. Germanus was appointed to lead the continued Italian campaign replacing Belisarius but in 550 when Germanus was still in Thrace, he too contracted the plague that still lived on and died while Matasuintha was still pregnant with their child. With Germanus gone, Justinian replaced him with the now 85-year-old Liberius who was sent to Sicily but due to his age, never achieved much except pacifying the island.
The End of Justinian’s Wars (The Climax, 550-555)- In collaboration with Justinianus
In the year 550, Justinian was now a sad old man at age 68 and now already 2 years after Theodora’s death, he was still extremely bitter also because the plague ruined his dream, he worked so hard on that he sat all day in the palace’s dining hall drinking and eating food that were of course plant based but one day an old general came, and this was the Isaurian wrestler Andreas who after many years was promoted to become a general. Now this is part of the story wherein our role-playing will come in full form and when creating this story, Justinianus came up with the idea of the vegetarian aging Justinian and due to the plague still happening, the wearing of face masks which Justinian I this case had been wearing one since the plague of 542.
Andreas after serving Belisarius for many years in the Sassanid border, North Africa, Italy, again in the Sassanid border, and again in Italy went to greet Justinian but at first Justinian did not really have any idea on who he was until Andreas introduced himself and his story in the past 2 decades and as both Justinian and Andreas share some drinks of wine, Justinian begins to lighten up and ask Andreas what he has been up to though Justinian still sad tells Andreas how much the plague ruined all his plans and how Theodora’s death made him not want to think about anything anymore. Andreas however gave some hope to Justinian telling him that at least his code of laws made ages ago was something successful and that Hagia Sophia was a definitely a beauty like no other despite the mosaics still unfinished as Justinian only ordered the decoration of the mosaics to be resumed just a year ago21. The next day, Justinian and Andreas met up again and feeling some more relief after getting know Andreas, Justinian takes him for a tour around Constantinople as Andreas having been in the battlefield for years never really got the chance to fully see the imperial capital and even better, this time seeing all its secrets with the emperor himself. The first place the pair head to is the square with Justinian’s column known as the Augusteum beside the Hagia Sophia Basilica Cistern just near the Hagia Sophia which Justinian had just completed and this here was a water supply supported by hundreds of columns taken from the abandoned and destroyed Pagan temples across the empire.
After this, Justinian brought Andreas over to the now repaired Baths of Zeuxippus that had been destroyed by the Nika Riot in 532 which Andreas remembers being in it helping Belisarius kill off the rioters with his bare hands. Justinian in his usual sadness tells Andreas that it was there in these baths where he and Theodora, still an actress dated privately after they had met back in 524 and Justinian back then being already a high-ranking official in the empire could close down the baths just for him and Theodora to bathe together without seeing them having their intimate moments. In the present setting however, Justinian stopped speaking once he remembered the days he spent with Theodora there and remembering his daily routine to visit Theodora’s tomb, he took Andreas to the Church of the Holy Apostles where Justinian as usual knelt down and wept. At night, both dined at the great palace’s dining hall again where Justinian showed to Andreas his newly developed hobby of writing and singing Orthodox hymns and for Andreas, Justinian surely had a great voice that sang with so much passion yet sadness at the same time. The next day, the pair toured Constantinople again seeing how dead the city had become after the years of plague and by this point, effects of the plague were still felt but at least with 8 years since the height of plague having gone by, people were now more hopeful.
Andreas then asks to see Belisarius who was now retired from the army, although a senator but later that day, Belisarius himself returned to the palace and though in real history, Belisarius was no longer active after 548, here in this case in 550, regained the feeling of wanting to lead his troops again especially since he was only 45 here while all the other generals in charge of the campaign like Liberius and Narses were so much older than him. Narses on the other hand was already 72 at this point and had already been sent to Italy to replace Liberius in full command of the troops but lacking full Byzantine soldiers as well as the Bucellarii and Huns Belisarius commanded, Narses in Italy resorted to hiring barbarian mercenaries from the lands northeast of Italy, and these people were the Lombards. Back in the palace, Justinian again fell back into his depression staring out into a window while Andreas and Belisarius were catching up and seeing Justinian spaced out, Belisarius whispers to Andreas how Justinian made him fight Italy without providing funds the last time although Belisarius tells Andreas it was all Theodora’s fault and luckily, she had died. Justinian though had been staring out into that window for about 2 hours now and here Belisarius asks him why and Justinian first still does not speak but after a while he says “I miss her so much”. Belisarius then tells Justinian that he should come with him and Andreas to the high-end tavern next to the palace to get relieved of his sorrows. The 3 men head to the tavern wherein the emperor himself actually shows up in a tavern and here Justinian orders some wine and so does Belisarius but Andreas as a tough mountain orders a barbarian drink known as “mead” and here the 3 have a nice and friendly conversion about the wars they have fought in the past years. Justinian here is happy to talk about how much the Sassanid Empire of Khosrow who is still alive is just totally falling apart from the plague that Justinian brought over to the Sassanids intentionally. As they continued drinking, Andreas gives a speech convincing Justinian to not let go of the dream he has been working to achieve as it is for the good of the empire while Belisarius gives a toast saying “to Italy!” making it clear that they want to resume the war and here Justinian after drinking some wine with friends agrees saying something he never would’ve said. For his entire reign, no matter how hard Justinian worked, he was a palace emperor that never left Constantinople even if Italy and North Africa were retaken but now, at his old age he agrees to go to Italy and finish off the war against Totila. The next day, Justinian with Belisarius and Andreas as well as Justinian’s remaining family members attend a Mass at the Hagia Sophia for the good luck of their mission while Belisarius departed ahead by fleet. As for Andreas, it would take 3 more weeks to assemble his army and here he swore to Justinian that he will personally stand by his side in Italy. Justinian later asks his nephew Justin to meet him at the throne room though Justin comes in with a bad mood thinking it is a waste of time though Justinian asks him to accompany him to Italy but Justin refuses saying he hates travelling but Justinian tells him to consider it as it would be good training for Justin to be an emperor or else Justin would end up a useless glutton like his mother, so Justin then considers the offer. 3 weeks have then passed and Justinian with Andreas head over to their ship as now a fleet of 80 ships were set to again invade Italy though Justinian here feels nervous especially since he’s never been on a long trip by sea before. When at sea, Justinian constantly feels sea sick and here Andreas asks about Justinian’s early life he’s heard of and how he travelled to Constantinople for the first time from his village whether it was by sea or land and Justinian said it was by land. Justinian talks about how hard life was in the Balkans wherein barbarians constantly raided his farm which is what gave him his life-long hatred towards them fuelling his desire to conquer their lands. It was only in 497 at age 15 when Justinian back then as Petrus first met his uncle Justin who returned to his village now with some wealth promising him a better life in Constantinople and together, they travelled for kilometers by foot and then by horse. It was during Anastasius I’s early reign when Justinian settled in the capital having top-grade education provided by his uncle who was then already the imperial guard’s commander. At this time, his sister Vigilantia who was then 7 with their mother followed up and also here, Justinian despite not getting to meet Anastasius in person met his wife Empress Ariadne22.
Now I would say what inspired Justinian’s great dreams was meeting the aging empress who was the wife of the former Zeno and daughter of the former emperor Leo I and she did have the honor of seeing the Western Roman empire still around while her father was emperor of the east with the great western emperors like Majorian and Anthemius being her father’s co-emperors and she too had the honor of meeting Anthemius himself when he was still in the east. Now this case wherein young Justinian had met Ariadne may be totally made up but I’d say this was a great source of inspiration for young Justinian especially since he met someone who was there to see the days when there was still hope for the west and it was her that inspired him to dream big. Back in the present setting, Justinian felt a bit of frustration when Andreas reminded him of his peasant background but Andreas told him in return to not see it that way as despite his low birth, Justinian was able to achieve a lot and so Justinian admitted here that he never thought he would go this far.
At this point, history is again totally altered wherein the palace emperor Justinian the Great himself finally leaves Constantinople and travels by sea for a total of 3 weeks to Italy, the land he always dreamed of holding on for the empire. Now I would say that if Justinian was so fixated in putting Italy back under Roman hands, his intentions would only be very fitting if he actually went to Italy himself to see the land where Roman civilization all began and so in this case, he actually goes to see his cultural motherland. Justinian though may have had no Roman-Italian blood but being a Roman citizen of Illyrian and Thracian blood from the Balkans and a native Latin speaker, Italy and more particularly Rome itself was seen as his spiritual home. Now after 3 weeks at sea, the fleet carrying Justinian arrived at the Bay of Naples in Italy while Belisarius, in this case arrived much earlier on in Italy’s eastern coast to meet up with the same general John the Sanguinary who pained him over the years who here was still commanding the troops in Italy.
At this point in late 550, Naples had already been liberated from the Ostrogoths but just a year earlier, Rome which Belisarius took back again fell again to Totila who using Belisarius’ return to Constantinople managed to once again retake Rome and sack it. When in Naples, Justinian here personally gave orders to his soldiers in taking back Rome and with so passion in his speech, he encouraged them that they are doing this to preserve the great legacy of Rome, of the great emperors of the past like Augustus, Claudius, Trajan, Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, Aurelian, and Constantine and after making his speech, Justinian remembered the words the people shouted when wanting victory “Nika!” even if it reminded him of the horrors of the 532 riots, but all the soldiers too shouted the same thing. Justinian accompanied by Andreas and their Excubitor guards marched north to Rome and Justinian having no experience in fighting battles told Andreas he’d just stay at their camp in Janiculum Hill overlooking Rome while Totila who was not in Rome at this time had its walls strengthened to make any Byzantine attempt to retake it impossible but Andreas remembering how he helped Belisarius recapture Naples almost 2 decades ago when the Gothic War in Italy began by using a tunnel, he remembered that the walls could be breached if his men dug beneath it. Andreas’ men including his Heruli mercenaries dug deep beneath the Aurelian Walls and in only a few hours, a part of the walls collapsed and when Justinian woke up from his nap, he noticed that the walls were breached and seeing it, he had a change of heart, thus he mounted his horse and together with the Bucellarii cavalry charged straight into Rome and to their surprise, Totila’s forces were very limited but still eager to face off the Byzantines, the Ostrogoths charged in a frenzy but were all slaughtered by the arrows fired by the Bucellarii as they rode with full speed while Justinian too managed to kill a number of the Ostrogoths before making it to the Roman Forum where Andreas planted the Byzantine banner to signal victory. Now in real history, Rome only returned to the Byzantines once again when the Gothic War ended in 552 but here by the end of 550 with Justinian fighting the battle himself, Rome came back to Byzantine hands much earlier on thus turning the tide of the Gothic War to the Byzantines’ favor.
Justinian was overjoyed now that he had finally seen Rome, the eternal city that ruled the greatest empire of its time- in which in reality he never saw- and when in Rome, Justinian and Andreas headed to the Column of Trajan which was now neglected and seeing it, Justinian told Andreas how Trajan has been such an inspiration to him ever since Justinian was barely an adult studying Roman history. What really inspired Justinian most about Trajan was that in his reign (98-117AD), the Roman Empire was at its greatest extent north to south from Britain to Egypt and west to east from Portugal to the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea and Justinian here wanted to achieve just that for his own empire and now with Rome taken back and all of Italy almost theirs again, he knew he could achieve his lifelong dream before he died. As Justinian mentioned his imperial dreams, Andreas reminded him of the question of succession and Justinian here said that he had it under control as he asked for his nephew Justin to come over to Italy in order to train to be an emperor. With Rome back under their hands, Justinian now thought of visiting Ravenna which here was still under Byzantine hands as the Ostrogoths were still scattered around Italy.
Now in 551, both Justinian and Andreas travelled north to Ravenna and would stay there for a long time, especially since Justinian had to fix the Byzantine administration of Italy, which was based there and during their stay in Ravenna, Justinian finally saw the mosaics in the church of San Vitale which he had commissioned years earlier which were to depict him and his court together with Belisarius, Narses, John the Cappadocian, senators, priests, and Excubitor guards by his side while across it was the one of Theodora and her court and seeing it, Justinian was in tears especially since he saw Theodora’s face and when seeing his own portrait, he too remembered the good times as he looked very young in it, remembering his early days as emperor when he was still attractive despite being over 40 but now at this point at 68, he was looked far different as he gained so much weight while his hair turned gray, and face started enlarging due to age and seeing Andreas, Justinian told him he will commission of mosaic of him in Ravenna as well- which had never happened in reality due to Andreas not existing anymore after 530.
The pair later toured Ravenna seeing it so dead after years of war and plague and in their walk, they also took a look at the beautifully decorated Mausoleum of the Western Roman empress Galla Placidia, the daughter of the last united Roman emperor Theodosius I (r. 379-395) and seeing more of Ravenna, Justinian was amazed at how beautiful the mosaics were but was disappointed in remembering its shameful history under the incompetent western emperors that resided there like Honorius (r. 395-423) and Valentinian III that contributed to the fall of the west.
It was here in Ravenna where Justinian discovered there was a hidden plot against him all along by Belisarius’ secretary Procopius who was in Constantinople at this time and it was through Andreas where Justinian learned of it as the two were staying in Ravenna. Andreas here told Justinian that Procopius was plotting in a more subtle way which was that he was writing a secret book to slander Justinian and Theodora known as the Secret History which is a very biased account on Justinian’s reign and was only discovered in the 16th century and only made public in 1623, and this source is what gave many others a negative perspective on Justinian’s reign and Theodora’s sexual activities but on the other hand, Procopius in his main source on Justinian’s reign and the history of the Western and Eastern Roman empires entitled Wars, he remains the most valuable source as is very factual here. The truth however was that Procopius strongly envied Justinian for becoming emperor despite coming from humble origins as Procopius thought that if Justinian coming from nothing could come to power23, so could he but not wanting to fall out of favor with the imperial court, Procopius did not want to make his intentions clear so his solution was to write them all down somewhere for no one to see it.
Justinian meanwhile never knew of this work by Procopius but in this case, when being revealed of it by Andreas, he knew that Procopius was not to be trusted and what further angered him was how Procopius said Justinian walked around the palace at night in the form of monster similar to a Hydra and worse for Justinian, Theodora the love of his life was slandered. Andreas here told Justinian everything Procopius had told him and one of this- as Procopius did in fact write in is Secret History– was a slanderous accusation on Theodora in her earlier life as not only an actress but a prostitute wherein she performed a very explicit act of Leda and the Swan wherein Theodora as an actress stripped off all her clothing lying on the ground placing bird feed on her naked parts for the swans to feed on; of course this cannot be proven true because Procopius had not yet met Theodora when she was an actress and in this story’s case with Justinian knowing Theodora as an actress, he knew this was all an accusation.
Andreas further tells Justinian24 that Procopius told him that he saw Theodora already as empress in the palace when at functions with other women dressed in something very explicit which Justinian never knew about and this outfit that she dressed in was a very lose dress that looked like it could easily slip off and had exposed too much skin leaving her shoulders completely bare (this here is the outfit Theodora is seen wearing in a 19th century painting by Jean-Benjamin Constant that inspired her look in the game Civilization V and Dovahhatty’s version of her). Justinian on the other hand was a man of strong Orthodox Christian morals but when hearing about all of this about Theodora, he accepted it as she was already gone and this was to be stuck in the past but surely- in Justinianus’ version- he never knew of this dress as he only knew Theodora like him wore purple robes decorated with jewellery but when hearing of it, Justinian knew that this could be a new fashion trend for future women considering that Justinian had just sent monks to the far away empire of China, known to them as Seres to smuggle silkworms in order for the Byzantines to manufacture their own without spending so much on imports.
Justinian after hearing everything about Procopius was enraged especially hearing what was said about Theodora so he decided he had to punish him when returning to Constantinople but at the same time, he got word that his nephew Justin was going to arrive in Ravenna and the next day, both Justinian and Andreas headed to the harbor to greet Justin. Justinian at first nicely greets his now 30-year-old nephew but Justin rudely answers back that the sea trip made him seasick and that he has no purpose in Italy and therefore just wants to return to Constantinople but Justinian tells him that his first candidate for succession Germanus had died and wanting to honor Theodora’s choice of naming Justin his successor, Justinian believed that this mission in Italy will train Justin to be a strong ruler like his uncle and not a degenerate like his mother25. In the next few days in Ravenna, Justin begins developing a bond with his uncle that he was never really close to as real history too never mentions their bond and here Justin bonded with his uncle by accompanying him during meetings with government officials and military commanders in Ravenna. After a while Justinian remembered his sister Vigilantia who he had not seen and spoken to since Theodora’s funeral back in 548 though Justin tells his uncle that his mother was all fine and still stuffing herself as usual and Justinian hearing about this had some sense of relief.
Meanwhile, it had already been 16 years since the Gothic War of Italy had started and just as the Byzantine reconquest of Italy had resumed, the same old general John the Sanguinary with his subordinate commander Valerian were to engage the fleet of Totila in the Adriatic Sea just outside the city of Rimini and to assist the Byzantine forces in attacking the Ostrogoths by land, Justinian decided to head south from Ravenna to Rimini with Andreas and Justin and this mission was to train young Justin in military matters. As the Byzantine fleet engaged the Ostrogoth fleet off the Italian coast, the Byzantines had easily won a victory as they had more naval experience than the Ostrogoths, though ship rams weren’t much used anymore here by the 6th century, so instead, both fleets battled each other by boarding each other’s ships. As the naval Battle of Sena Gallica was fought in 551 like in real history, Justinian and his men entered Rimini which was still under Byzantine control awaiting an attack from the Ostrogoths and Justinian recalling his earlier years as a member of the Excubitor palace guard force remembered the basics of sword combat which he would then use here while for Justin, it was the first time he would use a sword though both Justinian and his nephew here had not put on any armor. Justinian meanwhile did not know much about fighting in open battle so he simply told Justin to just follow Andreas here and so the fictional battle begins at this moment as the Ostrogoth army begins firing arrows at them. Justinian not skilled enough to face open battle hides inside a weapons’ storage room while Andreas orders the city gates to be sealed and for their archers to continuously fire back at the advancing Ostrogoths while Justin decides to have the ballistae at the city walls to fire back at the Ostrogoths.
Meanwhile, in the hills surrounding Rimini several campfires were lit to make it look like a larger Byzantine army was going to clash at the Ostrogoths but again this was Belisarius pulling out the same old trick he did before exactly here years ago and this forced many of the Ostrogoths to flee, although some still stayed behind and managed to scale the walls. Justinian meanwhile got out of the building to check what was happening and as an Ostrogoth charged at him, Justinian killed him with his sword. Afterwards grabbing his spear and throwing it, killing another Ostrogoth. A number of arrows then fired towards Justinian but despite his old age, he managed to block them while running to pick up a shield inside the same building he came from while Andreas ordered his men to form a shield wall to block off the arrows. As Justinian headed inside the building to grab a shield, the building due to the Ostrogoths’ flaming arrows caught fire and as the flames continued burning the building, Justin as well as Andreas ran straight inside to rescue Justinian and Justin here was able to escape before the ceiling collapsed but Andreas was trapped inside, however a few minutes later Andreas jumped out and fell unconscious at the ground. At around the same time, the Byzantine fleet destroyed the Ostrogoth fleet while in this case, Belisarius outside routed the rest of the Ostrogoths, though Justinian and Justin were at a panic despite their victory as Andreas was knocked out unconscious. Justin then called for doctor for Andreas and Andreas was then brought to Rimini’s governor’s villa to be healed.
Andreas rested for the next 2 weeks but was at least relieved hearing that the Ostrogoths had been beaten by Belisarius while Narses on the other hand who was already in Italy was continuing the fight and the search for Totila. Justin on the other hand was sent to join both Belisarius and Narses who now at least began getting along with each other especially since the troublemaking John was no longer with them and was instead sent back to Constantinople after his recent naval victory. For a much longer time now, both Justinian and Andreas were doing nothing as the wounded Andreas still had to recover from his burns while Justinian in his spare time wandered off to see the Italian countryside and coastline and seeing the countryside gave Justinian memories of his simple childhood in the Balkans while the coastline gave him memories and here he began to think how far he went in life from just a simple peasant boy in a remote part of the empire to now coming so close to ruling the known world. When meeting Andreas again, Justinian full of inspiration said he is the emperor to be “luckier than Augustus and better than Trajan” or Felicior Augusto, melior Traiano in Latin but knowing he could not achieve the dream alone, Justinian considered turning the Franks of Gaul to his side despite them planning an invasion of Italy before though when thinking if the Franks ever turned against them, he even considered a Roman reconquest of Gaul, though history never specified if Justinian aimed to take back Gaul from the Franks.
The year 551 then had passed and now in 552, Andreas was fully recovered from the accident that almost caused him his life and so it was time they headed to Aquileia together with Justin who had returned to them in order to face off the Ostrogoths one more time and after a long ride north, they had arrived in the ruined city of Aquileia right at the 100th year anniversary of when Attila the Hun destroyed it (452) though Justinian also remembered that nearby there was growing community in a lagoon founded by the survivors of the attack on Aquileia (today’s Venice). At Aquileia, the 3 with their small army were met with nothing, instead heavy rain started pouring while at the same time a messenger told them that Totila had headed west so the rest of them decided to escape Aquileia through the sewers as the rain was pouring and due to city being totally destroyed, there was no roof to hide under. The rains got stronger and stronger and so did the wind, thus Justinian concluded this was the worst storm he’s seen in his entire life but not wasting time, all of them including the old emperor crawled through the city’s abandoned sewers despite them almost drowning but at least they were able to get out alive exiting at a farm whereas the sky had already cleared. Justinian thought that everything was over until a spear flew at his direction thus seeing another Ostrogoth army charge at them, Justinian then grabbed that spear and threw it back at the Ostrogoths.
Andreas saw that it was impossible to face this great number of enemies but luckily, he saw a spare carriage which he had Justinian board with him as Andreas drove it while Justin sat behind firing arrows while the rest of the army was to mount the horses stolen from the Ostrogoths. The carriage sped through the Italian countryside for kilometers running over as many Ostrogoths as possible while here Justin suddenly discovered he was skilled with a bow26 while Justinian realized he totally missed on life as he spent so much time indoors and, in the city, when experiencing so much action in this chase. Soon enough, the Hunnish cavalry of Belisarius was spotted and here they were totally crushing the Ostrogoth forces and soon Belisarius himself was spotted doing as he always did, slashing every Ostrogoth that he came across. With the Ostrogoths almost defeated, Andreas stopped the carriage while he together with Justinian and Justin jumped off rolling in the grass of the Italian countryside (in which this would be in the area of Bologna).
The Byzantines here had won this fictional battle which totally weakened the Ostrogoth forces but Totila had not lost yet, however at the same time another major battle occurred (factual this time) somewhere in Umbria in the village known as Taginae wherein Totila now intent to take the Byzantine throne dressed in the gold armor and purple cloak of a Byzantine emperor led a surprise charge at the army of Narses but the 74-year-old Narses ordered his men mostly consisting of Lombard mercenaries to stay still and wait for the Ostrogoths to charge at them and with his massive size and intimidating presence, Narses was able to crush and rout the Ostrogoths by having his army assemble in a crescent-shaped phalanx formation and in the Ostrogoths’ escape, Totila was killed by the Byzantine forces. Back in the north of Italy, Belisarius after this fictional victory got word of Narses’ victory and Totila’s death making him more energized to continue the war however Andreas stepped up and told Belisarius that the emperor himself was tired after this battle they have gone through.
Though Totila was killed, his son Teia succeeded him as the King of the Ostrogoths without a capital and with the Ostrogoths still around, Belisarius told Justinian here that they must station the army all over Italy to enhance their presence and finally finish off the Ostrogoths once and for all by killing of Teia. Justinian, Justin, Belisarius, and Andreas remained at the army camp in this part of Northern Italy for weeks and here messenger came giving word to Belisarius that the Franks hearing about the defeat of Totila were planning to invade Italy to avenge Totila and here Justinian knew that the Franks true enough betrayed him but Justinian knowing that the Franks being barbarians despite being Catholic-Orthodox and not Arian would always take the side of their fellow barbarians so here he did not bother to plan an invasion of Gaul anymore as the war Italy plus the plague effort had already drained the treasury but he still had enough funds for another small reconquest and this would be Visigoth Hispania or at least just the southern coast of it for Justinian. Ever since 549 when the Visigoth king Agila came to power, as a fanatical Arian, he had been persecuting his Catholic-Orthodox subjects causing a rebellion led by a Visigoth noble named Athanagild who supported the oppressed Catholic-Orthodox citizens there even though just like Totila he was eyeing the throne and so here in 552, news got to Justinian that Athanagild was crowned king despite Agila still reigning and seeing this conflict as a reason to defend the Orthodox Christian faith, Justinian agreed to help Athanagild but also because Justinian knew that if he retook Southern Hispania this would create a buffer zone to prevent the ambitious Visigoths from invading Byzantine North Africa knowing that a century ago, the Vandals that took over North Africa crossed the narrow strait from Hispania. The problem now was who to send to reconquer Hispania as Belisarius and Narses were both needed to clean up the mess in Italy while Justinian feeling tired decided to return to Constantinople so without any more choices Justinian asked his nephew Justin to be the one to go over to Hispania with the assistance of the now 87-year-old Liberius and since Liberius was too old to actually lead his men at front, the job was up to the now 32-year-old Justin27. At first Justin with tears objected saying this war in Italy traumatized him- in which this kind of trauma would define his reign in real history- but Justinian with such encouragement told him that to be a great emperor means to face his fears even if means dealing with them with such ruthlessness and here Justinian told his nephew about the time he almost lost to fear yet almost lost his life at the Nika Riot 20 years ago whereas Justin was only 12 here, therefore not at all involved in the events. Back then in 532, when seeing the intensity of the riot to overthrow him, Justinian kept negotiating with them to the point of threatening them with death and when nothing worked, his advisors even told him to just leave the city and let the people’s candidate Hypatius take the throne while Justinian could just one day take back the throne but Theodora stepped up in front of Justinian and his entire court with a very strong and motivating speech ending with the phrase “the royal purple is noblest shroud” meaning that she’d rather die than lose throne and Justinian here took this advice to heart and conquered his fear by having Belisarius, Narses, and Mundus end the violence with violence.
20 years later in 552, Justinian was still living with that fear28 but this event only made him wiser and so here he told Justin to remember that event when he feels he is about to lose and that Justin should not lose as he has the best and strongest men of the empire with him at all times being Justinian, Belisarius, Narses, and Andreas. Here would also be when Justinian would say one of his most his most famous lines “keep cool and you will command everyone” to Justin as a word of advice. Feeling some encouragement, Justin nodded at his uncle and was told to remain in Italy with Belisarius and Narses until Liberius arrived from Constantinople while Justinian with Andreas by his side was to tour the rest of Italy to see the damage of the war in order to study on how to rebuild it from the ashes before heading back to Constantinople.
After the 17-year Gothic War plus the plague, Italy had turned into a depopulated wasteland that was beyond repair but I believe that if Justinian were there to see the aftermath of the war, he would know how exactly to deal with it although the damage was beyond his control but what he could do to repair Italy is to make sure it will one day be repopulated in this case, seeing the ruins of Italy, Justinian will allow people from more populated parts of the empire like Egypt and Syria to come over to Italy to settle as well as loyal barbarian allies wherein they could settle down as citizens. Before heading back to Constantinople, Justinian and Andreas visited Rome one more time and after a 3 week journey by sea, they finally arrived back in the capital and Justinian now being old, went first to Theodora’s tomb to pay his respects, then to check on the progress on the Hagia Sophia’s mosaics seeing the one with himself already completed, and then finally to bed without doing anything else for 2 full weeks as he now believed that 25 years of hard work since coming to power in 527 had finally paid off despite the reconquest of Italy not completely over and one more mission to back Hispania yet to come but Justinian knew he had done his part in growing the empire and it was now up to his generals and Justin to finish the job.
After his 2-week break, Justinian met with the very old Liberius- although history is unclear on which general led the reconquest of Hispania beginning 552 but the contemporary historian Jordanes says it was Liberius- and in this story, Justinian asked Liberius to serve the empire once more by heading to Italy first to meet up with Justin and then sail to Hispania. In real history though, Justin had stayed in Constantinople this whole time and so did Justinian of course still ruling as a palace emperor but 552 was also a major year for Justinian back in Constantinople as this was when the monks sent to China finally arrived with the ultimate prize, silkworms. In this story’s case, as Justinian returned to Constantinople, the monks who were originally sent as missionaries to India but later discovered the silk to be from what is the Empire of China, the distant highly advanced empire the Romans have been hearing for centuries. Hearing from the monks of this distant land as superior as the Byzantines to culture, Justinian was highly fascinated but what struck him more was the treasure they brought home and these monks revealed it by pulling it out of their bamboo canes, and here were the silkworms that could produce the finest silk. With the economy ruined from the plague and the war in Italy, Justinian thought the best solution was for the Byzantines to build silk factories and farms in the empire in order to produce their own high-quality silk without having to import them from the Sassanids who imported them from China and in this case with the Sassanid Empire on the verge of collapse due to the plague, there were would be no one to import these silks directly from anymore.
The monks told Justinian the whole process of making silk which they saw for themselves in China and that these worms would grow in mulberry bushes in which the empire had many of and so Justinian ready for this new ambitious project had mulberry bushes planted across the empire and silk factories built in the distant rural places of the empire so not many would uncover this secret process of silk making. Another issue Justinian had to deal with back at home was course Procopius where in this story’s case he discovered the lies Procopius spread about him and here Justinian confronted him ordering him to burn the Secret History and here Procopius showed his villainous side saying that he indeed deserved the throne. Andreas who was with Justinian here in Procopius’ house tried to kill Procopius but to punish him Justinian just confiscated this book and had Procopius exiled to the Crimea north of the Black Sea to live his entire life while Justinian himself took this book of lies and burned it himself.
Now Justinian here would not have Procopius executed as his previous book Wars wrote about Justinian’s reign very well and factually but Procopius still needed to answer for his false accusations, but in real history, Justinian never knew of Procopius’ accusations and Procopius lived until 570, 5 years passed Justinian’s death. However, the sources for Justinian’s later reign after 552 would no longer come from Procopius but from another contemporary Greek historian here named Agathias who was an eyewitness to all these events in the 550s. Italy meanwhile was still as impoverished as ever and the war still not over but in 553, Narses won one more victory against the Ostrogoths at Mons Lactarius in Southern Italy where the last King of the Ostrogoths Teia was killed, thus earning Narses the title “Hammer of the Goths” and finally the war was over, though the last of the Ostrogoths would go into hiding in the mountains of Italy. As for Justinian in 553, he could now fully function again but the loss of Theodora still saddened him but it was here in 553 when he headed an important Church Council known as the 2nd Council of Constantinople to once again solve the schism with the Monophysites which never really came to any results.
In Italy, Justin and had already departed by sea to Hispania the moment Liberius arrived later on in 552 and this case Belisarius still remained in Italy together with Narses beyond 553 but when thinking the war was all over, the Franks from Gaul invaded Italy in late 553 promising to help the Ostrogoths but were too late, though it not matter anyway as they still wanted a war with the Byzantines. The Franks split themselves up into two groups though the first one when marching south all suffered the plague as it had returned in Italy wherein a large number of them died while the other group charged at Narses’ army at the Volturnus River in Southern Italy where here in this story with Belisarius joining Narses, the phalanx of Narses’ men held back the Franks while Belisarius’ Bucellarii cavalry rushed and destroyed them all, thus Italy was spared from the Frankish attack though some Franks would join the remaining Ostrogoths in their holdouts.
Now over in Hispania, the Byzantine fleet with Liberius and Justin in this story’s case with a smaller army that came from Narses’ men in Italy arrived in what is now Malaga in late 552 and for the next year fought beside their ally Athanagild against Agila’s forces in the civil war. History though does not record much about the Byzantine reconquest of Southern Hispania except that they were supported by Athanagild and his rebels while Liberius in 553 returned to Constantinople when the Southern coast was already taken back. Since there is not much records on this conquest of Visigoth Hispania, I would not explain much about it anymore except that Justin now gaining some confidence continued leading his very small army in battle using the knowledge he learned when fighting in Italy and of course keeping to heart the advice his uncle gave him during their time in Italy. The moment the Byzantines had taken the southern coast of Spain in order to block the Visigoths from crossing over to North Africa, Athanagild felt betrayed as he only wanted the Byzantines’ help not for them to take land but since Agila was still around, Athanagild still acknowledged the presence of the Byzantines there.
Now if Italy may have been severely damaged by the wars, Hispania was still fresh and Justin here saw that Hispania could be the new frontier for many Byzantines to settle in as it was fertile, spacious, and very significant to Roman history as this was where the great emperors like Trajan and Hadrian originated in. By 554, the Byzantine reconquest of Hispania was over and having at least the southern coast, Justinian in Constantinople ordered the conquests to stop for he had what he already wanted and here Justin would return alone to Constantinople now celebrated as a hero while Liberius at age 89 also died this year in Constantinople. In 555, the supporters of Agila fearing the success of the Byzantines in the south turned on and assassinated him defecting to Athanagild who now became King of the Visigoths. Now in 555, Justinian’s ambitious reconquest of the Meditrranean known as the Renovatio Imperii was all over and now he could focus on securing peace all over his empire. At this point, the Byzantine Empire controlled the entire Mediterranean again as a “Roman lake” and had spanned north to south from the Crimea in Ukraine to Egypt and west to east from Southern Spain to Syria but no matter how large the empire was again, it was in ruin as the plague and wars took the lives of countless that by 555, the population of the empire had dropped by a million since Justinian came to power in 527.
The Last Years of Justinian, Aftermath, and Conclusion (555-565)
With North Africa, Italy, and some of Hispania under Roman rule again, Justinian could finally enjoy life at his old age with his remaining family members and focus on keeping the peace. The moment all the reconquests were over, Justinian no longer cared about fighting wars as that time had passed and luckier for him 555, at least in this story’s case, he finally received the most relieving news ever from the Sassanid Empire, which was that Khosrow had contacted the plague and died, though in real history the war against Khosrow went on until 562 while Khosrow himself lived until 579. In this case though with Khosrow dead and the plague still ongoing in the Sassanid Empire, there was no more Sassanid Empire as the death of Khosrow broke the empire apart into smaller states ruled by Khosrow’s sons all at war with each other and still suffering heavily from the plague and Justinian here can be indirectly credited for destroying the Sassanid Empire by sending plague victims and fleas there.
The final dissolution of the Sassanid Empire that pained the Romans for 3 long decades had come and Justinian with a sigh of relief turned to his new hobby as an old man which was the farming silkworms and the making silks which in a few years became mass produced and a major export of Byzantium. In addition, in this story at least, the monks back in 552 gave Justinian a gift of Chinese herbs which were given to doctors and true enough these proved more effective in healing people who were still affected by the plague as by this point, the plague still kept coming on and off which still deeply worried Justinian since he wanted the population of the empire to grow but the plague’s victims were usually newborn babies. To ensure a population growth to his damaged empire, Justinian working with old jurist friend Tribonian again issued laws to encourage families especially in rural areas to keep producing children. Tribonian meanwhile would die in 556 from the long-term effects of contracting the plague28 while Belisarius too returned to Constantinople again and this time to fully retire in his estate in Thrace.
With everything now settled down, Justinian at last had some good time to spend with his remaining family members having frequent get togethers in the imperial palace and here, he would grow his bond with his nephew Justin by continuing to train him more to be an emperor and with his sister Vigilantia, Justinian here now done with all his hard work would finally fix their relationship that they would soon enough grow closer to each other. Out of the family members, Justin’s wife and Theodora’s niece Sophia would be the one to grow very close to Justinian as she would be the one asking for his advice in running an empire as Sophia wanted to imitate her aunt Theodora as well when her time comes to be Justin’s empress. Justinian meanwhile would try to find ways to get over his grief of losing Theodora and a lot of this would be by taking hunting trips and playing Byzantine Polo or Tzykanion with his nephew Justin, the retired Belisarius, and Andreas who was still actively in military service. As for the silk manufacturing, things have been starting to become very successful in such a short time and as the manufacturing began, the first silk product to made was a dress for Sophia, the upcoming empress and apparently the dress custom made for her was exactly the same revealing type Theodora secretly wore as Procopius said, meaning her niece knew about except for Sophia, it fit more perfectly on her as the new silks were sturdier that it would not fall off as it did with Theodora before. Now with Sophia, this dress from becoming a deep secret would become well known to the women of the empire even being introduced as a fashion trend- even if this dress is entirely fictional appearing first in the 19th century by Jean-Benjamin Constant.
The Hagia Sophia’s mosaics too had been completed but in December of 557, a terrible tragedy would happen which was a massive earthquake that struck Constantinople and since the city was so dense with very little open spaces, people had no safe place to take refuge. According to Agathias who documented this event, he says that the earthquake almost “destroyed” the city but it had lasted very quick and luckily did not kill a large number, though it still left many especially in the crowded areas homeless. In the panic as the earthquake struck that December night, people behaved as if disorder reigned but as the earthquake ceased minutes later, they all cheered and embraced each other as the worst was over while Justinian was fast asleep in the palace not noticing anything. Justinian only knew of the earthquake after waking up and when inspecting the city- here in this case with his nephew Justin- seeing so much damage again, he broke down inside as another disaster had come again in his reign. Out of respect for the people, Justinian refused to wear his crown for 40 days and with the money that the state had been generating from the silk production, he decided to use that to pay for repairing the damage caused by the earthquake. In the months following the earthquake, there too had been a change among the people’s attitudes as Agathias states as well wherein the rich who never turned to charity turned to it, while doubters began to pray, and the most vicious of men started helping others out but this only lasted short as a few months later, they all reverted to their usual attitudes. The Hagia Sophia meanwhile did not receive a lot of damage from the earthquake for the meantime but in May of 558, a terrible tragedy came again as the dome of the Hagia Sophia Justinian and his architects had worked so hard on completely collapsed, but at least most of the mosaics still remained unharmed. Despite having had too much already in his life, the very old Justinian still acted strong and had the dome rebuild and considering that a first dome was already made and that its blueprints were still around, building a second one was not so much a problem anymore, but it would take time. Meanwhile, just as Justinian thought all his wars were over29, a group of Huns known as the Kutrigurs allied with the Slavic tribes crossed the Danube River into the empire and were directly headed to Constantinople to attack it but at least were held back by the Anastasian Wall of Thrace built ages ago.
Since most of the army was scattered across the empire stationed in the newly conquered provinces of Hispania, Italy, and North Africa, Justinian in 559 when hearing of this new invasion asked Belisarius to come out of retirement one last time to fight off these invaders- as it did happen in real history too- except in this case, the now older Belisarius was joined again by Andreas, Justinian’s nephew Justin and Justin’s younger brother Marcellus who was now an experienced general. With most of the army scattered across the empire, Belisarius here only commanded 300 of his veteran soldiers as well as Thracian locals who he asked to assist them by scattering across the woods and again to use the same trick Belisarius did before against the Ostrogoths in Italy by lighting several campfires to make it look like they have a much larger army to scare the enemy. This small battle took place in the village of Melantias just 20km west of Constantinople and it had been an easy victory for the Byzantines as the Kutrigurs and their Slavic allies fled in a panic when seeing the campfires and in their flight were ambushed by the 300 veterans led by both Belisarius and in this case Justin as well.
The Kutrigurs then fled back north leaving the empire for good and to further secure the Danube border from the invaders beyond, Justinian had the river fortresses built by previous Roman emperors rebuilt while Belisarius after fighting his last battle retired once again. Narses meanwhile still remained in Italy ever since he ended the war defeating the Franks in 554 and in these years, he was assigned to assembling Byzantine garrisons in all the cities and recruiting new men to the army though the last of the Ostrogoths and Franks had still remained at the holdouts and it was only in 562 that all the remaining Ostrogoths and Franks were fully defeated and the entire Italy pacified. The years between 559 and 562 remained uneventful for Justinian, his family, and Belisarius but in this case with the Sassanid Empire destroyed after Khosrow dying of the plague in 555 leaving their empire broken apart into many states, the Kingdom of Lazica in Georgia in which they Byzantines and Sassanids have been fighting over in the previous years, here been annexed to the Byzantine Empire as a result of the Sassanid Empire’s dissolution30. It also happened in 562 that the retired Belisarius out of nowhere was accused by his political enemies of plotting against Justinian, thus he was summoned to a court hearing wherein he was judged guilty and thrown in prison, the same way as it did in real history. Not so long after, Justinian himself freed Belisarius from prison and pardoned him from all these false charges made against him; though one legend here says that when Belisarius was judged guilty, he was blinded and turned into a beggar but in reality, and in this story’s case too, Belisarius was pardoned and allowed to return to retirement for the rest of his life.
It is also believed that the judge who ruled Belisarius guilty was his former secretary Procopius who secretly despised him too but in this story with Procopius exiled to the Crimea, the judge here would be another one named Procopius. The next 3 years again would remain uneventful except here, a now aging Justinian could not fully rule his empire alone, here in this story’s case, his nephew Justin now appointed to the newly created position of Curopalates or “head of the palace” like in real history too was ever more experienced in state matters after years of training under his uncle and fighting wars in Italy, Hispania, and recently against the Kutrigurs, it was now him running the state and attending most of the senate meetings while his uncle had now become too weak to attend them all. In March of 565, Belisarius’ time had come as he died in his sleep in his estate but at least he died a peaceful and happy death after a lifetime of fighting wars for the empire suffering defeats but achieving a lot of victories too. The death of Belisarius better known as the “Last of the Romans” further saddened Justinian as now he had lost his best general but at the same time it was all fine as Belisarius had served his purpose and Justinian too knew that his time was almost near.
On the night of November 14, 565 Justinian the Great had at last died in his sleep at the age of 83 from a heart attack. The only person to witness Justinian’s last moments on earth was Callinicus, the eunuch assigned to the palace’s bedrooms and in real history, it was Callinicus that claimed that Justinian named his nephew Justin his successor though it is unclear what Justinian’s exact dying words were but surely, he named someone named Justin his successor although this could be the other Justin who was the son of Justinian’s long-gone cousin Germanus who was original designated heir. Callinicus on the other hand claimed it was Justin being Justinian’s sister Vigilantia’s son that was to succeed the throne and whether this claim was true or not, Callinicus was in favor of Justinian’s nephew Justin as he was someone who could be easily manipulated, in real history at least, but in this version since Justin underwent several years of training both running the government from Constantinople and fighting wars in Italy and Hispania, he was surely ready to take throne. In this version as well, Justinian before dying was already prepared for his nephew to succeed him while Justin was nothing but ready to become emperor and rule a massive empire whereas in real history, Justin reluctantly accepted becoming emperor and was not ready for it as he lacked the experience as in the past years, all he did was manage the palace as Curopalates.
It however remains unclear what Justinian was thinking before he died, but I’d say for this story that Justinian came to think that he has achieved so much more than any emperor in his era could by conquering North Africa, Italy, and Southern Hispania all under his rule no matter the odds, he also came to think that he was truly blessed as he survived the plague when almost dying from it, he thought about the empress Ariadne who inspired him to dream big and restore the empire of old so many years ago, he thought about his uncle Justin who made it possible for him to become emperor, he thought about how he came so far from being a simple peasant boy in the Balkans to becoming the ruler of the entire Mediterranean, he thought about how he succeeded in training his nephew Justin to become a strong ruler just as he was, and lastly he thought about Theodora the love of his life and that now he was ready to join her in the afterlife. The day after Justinian’s death, Justin II who was 45 at this point- same age his uncle was when coming to power in 527- was crowned as the new Augustus by John Scholasticus, the newly appointed patriarch Justinian appointed before his death while Sophia who was now 37 here was crowned as the new empress or Augusta. Now in this story as well as in real history, Justin II would be the first Byzantine emperor to be crowned in the new Hagia Sophia rebuilt by Justinian I while a few days after the coronation, Justinian’s funeral took place and it would be attended by literally everyone in the city as the funeral of the century, even grander than Theodora’s funeral 17 years earlier. At the beginning of his reign, Justinian may have been unpopular for many things including his taxation policies and choices of people in the government but now at his death after a reign of 38 years, he was mourned by all as he fought hard to give his people a strong empire, he built a massive cathedral like no other seen around the world being the Hagia Sophia, he managed to save his empire from the plague and rebuild the economy, he reclaimed 50% of the lands in the west that had fallen to the barbarians in the previous century thus making the entire Mediterranean Sea Roman again, and lastly but in this story’s case only he had managed to destroy the Roman Empire’s longest enemy being the Sassanid Empire turning them into small ineffective states by sending the plague there. At the day of Justinian’s funeral, people from all classes all paid their respects by falling in line to bow down at his body as it was on display and when everyone got their chance to do so, Justinian was buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles right next to Theodora and as the centuries went by, something unique occurred with Justinian’s corpse which was that it had not decayed and this would be noticed centuries later in 1204 when an invading army of Crusader soldiers from Western Europe sacked Byzantine Constantinople looting Justinian’s tomb in the process wherein they found his body still intact. As Justinian joined Theodora in the afterlife, his spirit looked down on Justin ensuring he will rule long and well and the first acts of Justin II was to pay off all his uncle’s debts which failed to pay as he died before doing it while for the palace guard force or Excubitors, Justin like in real history appointed his friend Tiberius as their commander. On the other hand, Justinian before his death commissioned the construction of the Orthodox Monastery of St. Catherine in the deserts of Egypt but it was only completed after his death in 565 and in the following year, when Justin heard of its completion, he and Sophia travelled to Egypt to inaugurate it31. Part of the lessons Justin II learned from his uncle was to be ruthless to stay in power and here in Egypt, joining him was the other Justin who was also considered as Justinian’s heir and suspecting the other Justin would plot against him, Justin II also listening to his wife’s advice had the other Justin, the son of Germanus assassinated in Alexandria- as it also did happen in real history- except Justin II and Sophia weren’t in Egypt in reality. Sophia on the other hand, grew to be ruthless and energetic as empress much like her aunt Theodora was before yet she too had the same level of beauty as Theodora even as she continued aging, yet Sophia still remained the style icon still introducing new fashion trends to women across the empire with the new silks that Byzantium here was now proud of making. In real history, it was in Justin II’s reign when Byzantium became a major exporter of silk but the empty treasury caused by the plague and the wars of Justinian was a constant headache for Justin II, so with an empty treasury Justin II had to carelessly undo his uncle’s policy of paying tribute to all their enemies beyond their borders thus triggering the Avar hordes beyond the Danube to begin making raids again into the Balkans while in the west, he discontinued paying tribute to the Lombards allowing them to already raid into Italy in 568, just 3 years after Justin came into power while Narses now in his 90s was recalled to Constantinople wherein he died in 572.
For Justin II in real history, the biggest disaster was the Lombard invasion of Italy led by their king Alboin beginning 568 when the whole of Italy had just recently been taken back from Ostrogoths, yet in only a few years after 568 the Lombards took over most of Byzantine Italy leaving only major cities like Rome and Ravenna still under the Byzantines. Though if not for Italy, the even bigger disaster in Justin II’s reign in reality was the resumption of the war against the Sassanid Empire in 572 when Justin II again running out of funds decided to refuse paying tribute to Khosrow I who still ruled the Sassanid Empire, thus the war resumed while Justin due to the war with the Sassanids resuming and everything the Byzantines had worked on to put Italy back under Roman rule again falling apart due to the Lombards, Justin completely lost his sanity in 572 that the contemporary late 6th century historian John of Ephesus, who previously wrote about the plague, said Justin behaved like a wild animal, was wheeled around the palace in a mobile throne, tried to throw himself off a window, and once ate a person in front of everyone that in 574, at Sophia’s suggestion Justin abdicated making his closest friend and the commander of the palace guard Tiberius who would be adopted as his son and heir to be his regent together with Sophia.
Justin II thus did not rule long and in 578 he died at age 58 and was succeeded as Augustus by his adopted heir Tiberius as Justin and Sophia had no children and as the new emperor, Tiberius II Constantine at least was more capable in ruling as in Justin II’s reign he was a highly competent general that successfully managed to contain the raiding Avars and Slavs in the Danube border and later successfully fight off the Sassanids. As the senior Augustus of the empire following Justin II’s death in 578, Tiberius was at least effective in the war against the Sassanids but in his service he had a highly competent Cappadocian general named Maurice and after only ruling as Augustus for 4 years, Tiberius died in 582 and was succeeded by Maurice who then married Tiberius’ daughter Constantia. To put it short, Maurice was another highly competent emperor in this time of war that in 591 he finally ended the war against the Sassanids by putting his own ally Khosrow I’s grandson Khosrow II in the Sassanid throne, thus Maurice believed he could continue to maintain and restore the massive empire Justinian I left behind but in the Danube, the war against the Avars and Slavs were far from over and his soldiers tired of war and not being paid enough for risking their lives as the treasury was already running low turned on Maurice who in 602 was overthrown and executed by a usurper soldier named Phocas who proclaimed himself emperor. Maurice’s execution though was taken harshly by his ally, the Sassanid ruler Khosrow II who then declared war on the already war-torn Byzantine Empire and from here on, it is all downhill for the Byzantines. This though would be the final war against the Sassanids but it lasted for more than 20 years ending in 628 leaving both Byzantine and Sassanid Empires at a breaking point that in only a few years after the war, a new enemy came out of nowhere being the Arabs ready to finish off both empire and though the Sassanid Empire here completely fell to the Arabs, the Byzantines at least survived but at a great cost.
In this version however, considering the Sassanid Empire was destroyed in 555 by the plague which killed its ruler Khosrow I, this was a great relief for Justin II and even though the treasury ran low due to the previous wars and the plague, at least he did not have to go through the stress off paying off Khosrow I anymore or the stress of risking another massive war against the Sassanids in the east. In this story’s case too, Narses would still be recalled to Constantinople by Sophia but Andreas who was still currently serving as a general would replace Narses in command of Italy, while in the Balkans both Justin’s younger brother Marcellus and the palace guard commander Tiberius would be in charge of containing the raiding Avars and Slavs. The Lombards meanwhile under Alboin would still raid into Northern Italy but Andreas here with new recruits would do all he could to stop them though at the end, I would see it in a way that only Northern Italy including Milan would fall to the Lombards but the rest would still be under the Byzantines unlike in reality where the Lombards by the end of the 6th century already took over half of Italy.
As for Hispania on the other hand, Justin II in this story’s case after seeing the place for himself years earlier would consider building growing Byzantine communities there along the southern coast with a vision in making it an important trading hub like it was in the days of the old Roman Empire and this could also help in growing the economy and building a place wherein the empire could live on in case the Balkans would continue being threatened by the Avar and Slavs. In addition, I would say Justin II without having to worry about the Sassanids anymore would eventually launch a reconquest of at least Southern Gaul which would later be able to connect Byzantine Hispania to Italy by land. The reigning Visigoth king of Hispania Athanagild though would continue causing problems for Justin II’s Byzantium but in 567, just 2 years after Justin came to power, Athanagild would die just like in real history and would be succeeded by Leovigild who like in real history would reign Hispania imitating the rule of Justinian I by also issuing a codex and Byzantine style coins. Leovigild in this case would also make himself an ally of Justin II and like in real history, Leovigild in 584 would defeat and conquer the Suebi Kingdom in Northwest Hispania.
Now in this case, the major factor for Justin II ruling more effectively without coming to a mental breakdown in 572 was the mere fact that the Sassanid Empire had been destroyed and this is the major what if for this story. I would believe that if the Sassanid Empire was destroyed indirectly by Justinian, then the Byzantines would be able to continue maintaining their hold on the west, particularly Italy which was the ultimate prize for Justinian. As for Justin II, with the Sassanid Persian threat non-existent, he would have no reason to have breakdowns, also considering in this story’s case wherein he underwent years of training under his uncle and rather than turning insane due to all the pressure, Justin II would still continue to run the empire effectively together with Sophia doing the same as Justinian and Theodora did before them. Unlike Justinian who worked hard on military campaigns to expand his empire, Justin II on the other hand here would be happy with whatever he has and choose to keep the empire that way without thinking of expanding anymore. Now if Justin II did not suffer losing his sanity, then I would say that he would rule until his death possibly in 585 at the age of 65 and since he and Sophia had no sons but only a daughter, the line would pass on to possibly Justin’s brother Marcellus who would probably pass it on to his sons in order to continue Justinian’s dynasty rather than Justin adopting Tiberius who would be the one to continue the dynasty, and although Tiberius II was adopted in reality, it still continued the dynasty which was continued to but finished off with Tiberius’ son-in-law Maurice.
In reality, though the Sassanid Empire was hit worse than Byzantium by the plague, it still managed to survive and later on go back to fighting wars with Byzantium again but in this case, I would say that with the complete destruction of the Sassanid Empire by the plague, Byzantium would’ve not been weakened by war in the decades to come as even though they would still be fighting against the Avars, Slavs, and Lombards, these wars were not as large in scale compared to that against the full might of the Sassanid Empire. The big question now is, if the Sassanid Empire died out because of the plague thus sparing Byzantium from the many more wars to come with the Sassanids later on as it did happen in real history, then would the Byzantine Empire survive the new Arab threat that is to come in the next century? True enough the Arab threat that rose in the 7th century that came directly for Byzantium and the Sassanids was unforeseen so nothing could have stopped it, and Justinian himself too would not know what was to come after his time. Now many would blame the downfall of Byzantium in the 7th century on Justinian’s ambitious over expanding of imperial territory but I would say that Justinian did not see the continuation of the war with the Sassanids and the rising Arab threat coming.
Overall, the disasters Byzantium would soon enough face that would force their empire to downsize was not entirely due to Justinian’s wars but rather a chain reaction of events first of course being the plague and its devastating effects on the economy and army, Justinian still continuing his ambitious conquests even after the plague struck the empire, Justin II in reality triggering war with the Sassanids by refusing to pay tribute, and the execution of Maurice in 602 triggering an even larger war with the Sassanids and with all these wars, Byzantium in the 7th century would have no longer have the full strength to face a new enemy, but that here is a story for another time.
And now I have come to the very end of this extremely long article. To be honest, I never knew this article of mine would be an extremely long one but I guess since this one covers the most influential reign in Byzantine history, which was that of Justinian the Great, it had to be very long so to deal with the extreme length, it was not entirely divided in half but segmented into two sections. To conclude this article, all I have to do is to give an evaluation of Justinian the Great, his reign, achievements, and what could he have done better. First of all, I would say that in the larger picture of history, Justinian I is a one-of-a-kind ruler as he had gone such a long way from humble origins as a peasant and so was his wife Empress Theodora originating as an actress to ruling a massive empire controlling the Mediterranean, yet his achievements were not only in military conquests but in legal matters and impressive structures seen up to this day. Though the Byzantine Empire may be gone today, its legacy is very much still seen and at this day and a lot of it has to do with Justinian the Great, out of all the emperors of Byzantium throughout is 1,100 year history, it is Justinian the Great who’s legacy very much live on as when you see the structure of the Hagia Sophia still around, this was exactly the same structure built under Justinian in the 6th century and more importantly is his legal code made back in 529, and though it may not be very obvious seeing it still existing today, it still does as many countries still base their legal systems on this exact code of laws of Justinian. Of course, Justinian the Great had so much more achievements that would live beyond his time and this included the manufacturing of silks in the Byzantine Empire which it became famous for, the construction of various cities in the empire that would grow to importance, sending explorers to see the far parts of the world to spread Christianity, and the reorganization of the empire’s government systems that allowed it to live on for centuries beyond his time.
Justinian definitely had his flaws and a lot of it had to do with his over ambitious projects of expanding the empire to its farthest extent, his religious intolerance to non-Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Pagans that would soon create internal tensions in the empire, and his failure to prevent war with the Sassanids in the east. On the other hand, I have to give it to Justinian because no matter how much odds he faced including the plague, on and off wars with the Sassanids, an unending war for control of Italy, civil unrest, economic difficulties, and the loss of his wife Theodora, he still persisted with his dream, the dream to revive the Roman Empire of old and save the world form the Dark Ages Europe had fallen to and for this reason he earns his title “the great”. Even more, Justinian after death is considered a saint in the Orthodox Christian faith for his entire life dedicated to growing and defending the faith of Orthodoxy, and at the end he was able to achieve that no matter the odds, even after his death everything will gradually go downhill for Byzantium. At the end, this dream was only partially achieved as not all the lost provinces of Western Rome were recovered but only Italy, North Africa, and Southern Hispania as he knew it would also prove too difficult to recover the rest including Gaul, Britannia, and Germania considering its distance to Constantinople and the lack of funds to recover them all, but at least he went far recovering a good 50% of the lost western provinces.
However, if the plague did not happen and so did the wars with the Sassanids, then I believe that after Justinian’s time, these other western provinces could have been recovered too. Now, others may blame it all on Justinian’s over expanding that brought the empire down shortly after his death, but I would say it was not all his fault because the plague which no one saw happening happened causing a great collapse in the economy and that he did not know all the troubles that would come after his time. As for me, I would think that if Justinian only visited the provinces he reconquered like Italy and be able to see how they can be managed, if he actually handled the plague better off by actually using it to his advantage by using it to destroy the Sassanids, and if he only could properly train a successor to rule like him in this case his nephew Justin II who in real history did succeed him, then I believe that by doing all this, the Byzantine Empire would have not come to its downfall so soon enough and it is for all these reasons, why I wrote this for the 3rd chapter of this Byzantine Alternate History series. I would also have to say that Justinian only was able to achieve such great dreams of imperial conquest because he was lucky to have a full treasury due to the reign of Anastasius I before him and a stable state due to all the instability cleaned up by Zeno before Anastasius but also because Justinian carefully planned everything and invaded with the right reason, again with his policy of “intervention imperialism”. On the other hand, I have to admit, this was very difficult to put together but luckily Dovahhatty’s most recent video on the reign of Justinian did come out, but of course Byzantine history itself is not complete if the reign of Justinian were not written about and it is for this reason, why the 3rd chapter here had to involve Justinian. Of course, I also have to thank Justinianus of helping me in the creation of this story as it was her idea all along to come up with the fictional scenario of Justinian himself travelling to Italy to join his own military campaigns. Well, I hope this was a very interesting and intriguing fan fiction for the 3rd part of my Byzantine alternate history series made possible with the contributions of Justinianus, and as always, the next chapter will not have any continuity to this one’s alternate history scenario. The next article will go on with the case of real history wherein the weakened Byzantine Empire from Justinian’s over-expansion would be further weakened from an ultimate war with the Sassanids that it came so close to the verge of extinction with the unexpected expansion of the Arabs a century after Justinian’s time. The next story then will discuss the story of the lesser known yet very interesting 7th century Byzantine emperor Constans II who like Justinian had a vision to continue expanding west but this time at the cost of moving the Byzantine capital from Constantinople to Sicily to further defend the west from the expansionist Arabs, but at the end failed to do it when being assassinated, now if Constans II survived and just did that, would the course of Byzantine history change? Well, this is all for chapter III of Byzantine Alternate History, this is Powee Celdran, the Byzantine Time Traveller… thank you for your time!
Welcome to the second chapter of the Byzantine Alternate History series by the Byzantium Blogger! Last time, in the first chapter of my alternate history series, I discussed what could have happened if the armies of the combined eastern and western halves of the Roman Empire worked together and won the critical Battle of Adrianople in 378, where in real history the Romans lost thus marking the beginning of their end. In the previous story, I also discussed possible scenarios that could have happened but never happened in history such as if the western emperor Valentinian I the Great- who died in 375- lived a bit longer in time to help his brother the eastern emperor Valens in the fight against the invading Gothic tribes at the Battle of Adrianople itself as well as a possible scenario of the future Roman emperor Theodosius I taking sides with the Goths, then eventually becoming their ruler and one day take the Roman Empire for himself and unite it with the Goths ruling a super-empire. However, in this new alternate history story I am writing, despite it being the second chapter of the series, it will have no continuity to the previous story. As I mentioned it previously, all 12 articles will be stand-alone pieces, and this one will have a totally different what if scenario beginning with real history, but with a twist at the end that none of us had ever seen happening. Since this series will feature one what if per century of the 1,100 years of the Byzantine Empire’s existence, I will write some of them together with other Byzantine history enthusiasts such as myself. This is my 5th century AD fan fiction and just like the first chapter, it is just myself writing it. This article will be not just the story of one empire, but two- the Eastern and Western Roman Empires and the climax will be a particular event taking place in the year 472, 4 years before the actual fall of the Western Roman Empire (476) and here a very much unknown scenario that could have prevented the eventual fall of the west involving the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Emperor Leo I and a secret order, the Western Roman Emperor Procopius Anthemius and an assassination attempt on him, and an insignificant battle in Rome took place. The fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 happens to be so romanticized especially in the western context when in reality, it was nothing more but humiliating rather than dramatic as all that happened was that a puppet boy emperor Romulus Augustus was simply overthrown by his barbarian general Odoacer who decided to just abolish the title of emperor thus putting an end to the western empire making everyone later on believe this event marked the end of the Roman Empire. This event in 476 personally makes me cringe a lot as Rome did not really fall here, its still lived on in the east as Byzantium, though I believe this fall in 476 could have easily been stopped. One scenario that could have prevented Western Rome from falling in 476 was something that took place 4 years prior to it where the western emperor Anthemius, who was actually an Eastern Roman (Byzantine) and one of the very few competent emperors in the 80-year history of the failed state of the Western Roman Empire would have not been in killed 472 at the Battle of Rome, whereas in real history he fell out with his powerful barbarian general Ricimer who later defeated him and had him killed. Though Anthemius ruled the west for only 5 years (467-472) being a puppet of the Western Empire’s army general Ricimer, he was a still a strong and competent emperor who clearly did not want to be a puppet and even though ruling an empire that was falling apart, he was still motivated to restore it and fight back the barbarian tribes that had been taking over it as well as establishing a dynasty to make sure the empire would still last, but sadly he did not achieve his dream. Anthemius was killed by the orders of his puppet master Ricimer who only out of chance intercepted a letter made by the eastern emperor Leo I to kill Ricimer, which he used instead as an order to kill Anthemius. After the death of Anthemius, disorder and anarchy reigned in the Western Roman Empire for 4 more years with 4 more weaker emperors following him and a lack of central authority eventually culminating in the abolition of the western empire in 476, leaving the west to completely fall to barbarian rule and the Eastern Roman Empire based in Constantinople to be the only Roman Empire left around. Now, if Anthemius still stayed alive by receiving the letter ordering Ricimer’s death before Ricimer got his hands on it, would the Western Roman Empire still have many more years left to live or not?
Note: Since the story is set in the 5th century, Byzantine characters will be referred to as Romans not Byzantines.
The previous article discussed the Gothic War from 376-382 with a Roman victory, but in real history the defeat of the Romans to the Goths at the Battle of Adrianople in 378 was the beginning of the end, for the western half of the empire at least, as the east though being devastated, was in the perfect geographical position to remain standing as the western half was more exposed to frequent barbarian invasions through the Rhine and Danube river borders. In only less than a hundred years after the catastrophic Battle of Adrianople, the Western Roman Empire ceased to exist in 476 but in that 98 years between 378 and 476, a roller coaster of events has happened for the Romans, both east and west. Following the Gothic War’s conclusion in 382, peace was settled and the enemy being the Goths were settled into the Roman Empire as allied soldiers under their own leaders known as Foederati by the new eastern emperor Theodosius I, however in the years to come, these barbarians would prove to be terrible and rebellious allies. In 395, the Roman Empire would be permanently split in half when Theodosius I died passing the eastern half which would be the Byzantine Empire to his older son Arcadius and the western half to his younger son Honorius and in the years that followed, disaster after disaster occurred in the western half including a massive barbarian invasion into the empire crossing the frozen Rhine in 406, the loss of Roman Britain, 2 sackings of Rome, the Eternal City (410 by the Visigoths and 455 by the Vandals), the birth of new barbarian kingdoms within the empire, a series of invasions by the world’s enemy being the Huns, and an epic battle worth talking about thousands of years later which was the Battle of Chalons in Gaul in 451 wherein the Western Romans with their barbarian Visigoth, Frankish, and Burgundians allies proved successful in defeating the world’s enemy, Attila the Hun. Though the Huns were eventually defeated after 451, the Western Roman Empire was beyond repair, as in the past few years, barbarian tribes that had recently invaded such as the Visigoths, Franks, Vandals, Suebi, and Ostrogoths already took over Roman lands and began becoming a constant headache for both the western and empires while the western empire’s government and succession system remained unstable especially due to having a series of incompetent emperors whether from an imperial bloodline or just usurpers wanting to take power for themselves or worse, puppet emperors controlled by barbarian puppet masters. The western half of the Roman Empire based in Ravenna though was only more or less a satellite state of the eastern half or Byzantine Empire which stood stronger as it held the richer provinces of the Roman Empire including Syria and Egypt as well as several important cities including Antioch and Alexandria and at the same time having mostly competent emperors and a more stable system. As for the west being the east’s satellite state, basically its emperor to be considered legitimate had to be appointed or have the consent of the eastern emperor for sitting in the western throne, or he’d be considered a usurper. Now in the entire 80-year history of the western empire, it turns out only 5 out of the 13 western emperors were considered legitimate as they were recognized by the eastern emperor and only 2 of these 5 were competent ones which was Majorian (r. 457-461) the ambitious soldier emperor who still had a vision to restore his empire but met a tragic end, and Procopius Anthemius (r. 467-472) who is the central character of this story, a Greek in blood and a native of Constantinople who had a vision to restore the dying western half that had been overrun by barbarians but was betrayed and killed by those who feared his growing independence, particularly his puppet master general Ricimer. Since only 4 other western emperors ruled the west after Anthemius and neither of them were strong ones, Anthemius has the legacy of being perhaps the last capable Western Roman emperor and even in his short 5-year reign, he had a pretty good start in saving the western empire from total extinction.
The 5th century was one epic story for the Roman Empire especially being the western empire’s last century and the steady rise of the eastern empire or Byzantine Empire. Now, there happens to be so many crucial events in the 5th century history of Rome that could create many what if scenarios such as what if the general Stilicho was not executed in 408, what if Attila defeated the Romans in 451, what if the Vandals never sacked Rome in 455, or what if the western emperor Majorian was not killed in 461, but out of all the events that happened in this century, I chose to go for one particularly obscure scenario which is one that involves the western emperor Anthemius and his death and what if it did not happen, which I believe would be something that could at least save the western empire for some more years. Just recently, a video by the Youtube channel Eastern Roman Historycame out which had been ranking the Byzantine emperors of the Leonid Dynasty starting with its founder Leo I who will be a central character of this story and this video made quite a theory saying that if the eastern emperor Zeno in 476 who was overthrown here stayed in power instead, the west would have been saved and another one being that if Zeno’s son the short reigning emperor Leo II (r. 474) did not die after only 9 months in power as child history may have turned out to be different, though for me I would go for the option of saving the west from falling back in 472 with Anthemius but after watching this recent video as well and hearing of the theory of Leo II living long enough, I decided to put this theory of Leo II here. Basically, I wanted to do an article covering a lesser-known part of Roman-Byzantine history and a character in this period which happens to be a very interesting figure and in this case is the Constantinople-born Western Roman emperor Procopius Anthemius, another forgotten but able ruler in history and only recently I have been fascinated with him and his story. On the other hand, the Western Roman Empire from 395 to 455 had undergone such epic events but the few years between the Vandals’ sack of Rome in 455 and the final end of the Western Roman Empire in 476 are not very much remembered so what I am doing here in this article is to bring some light into this mysterious 20-year period of history set in the middle of important and well-remembered events. It was only recently when I got to know about the emperor Anthemius and what he did which was last December when I wrote an the article of comparing the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century to the fall of Byzantium in the 15th century and here I discovered something interesting which was not only Anthemius but a particular mystery that involved a secret letter sent by the eastern emperor Leo I and again I should mention that it was my through favorite history related Youtube channel Dovahhattyin this final episode of his Unbiased History of Rome series, Chapter XIX: The Fall of Romewhere I first came across this particular story and Anthemius himself. Strangely, I have already grown very familiar with the Eastern Roman characters of this part of the 5th century such as Emperor Leo I, his successor Zeno, Basiliscus, Aspar, and many others, but not with Anthemius who in fact was a Byzantine too. In the past I have also included these characters previously mentioned in my articles but not Anthemius, so now I will do my best to blend Anthemius into the story making him a leading character together with the eastern emperors Leo I, Basiliscus, and Zeno. Since in this series I will be experimenting by playing around on some historical characters and their back stories, in this case I will do it with Anthemius who has not so much written about him by historians of his time despite being one of the most documented of the unknown western Roman emperors, so here I will do my best to create his character’s traits and motives. In addition, I will do the same as last time in blending in a fictional character into the historical setting to add some more plot twists to the story and in this case, it will be however a real character which was the Eastern Roman soldier sent by Leo I with secret orders to kill Ricimer which was for Anthemius’ eyes only, though this soldier was never named and his story never told, so in this story I will give a bit of a story to this particular soldier named Cyriacus and in addition, I also decided to include a side story of Emperor Leo I no one has heard of which was his discovery of a miracle making spring in Constantinople. Now in real history, the Western Roman Empire ever since 456 was basically under the control of a powerful Germanic barbarian general in their army named Flavius Ricimer and under his manipulation were the puppet emperors Majorian (r. 457-461), Severus III (r. 461-465), and Anthemius (r. 467-472) and all these emperors met their ends by Ricimer who fell out with all three. In 472, which is where this story will take place, it happened in real history that the eastern emperor was pressured by the Vandal king of Carthage Genseric to make Olybrius the western emperor who would be Genseric’s puppet but Leo being a friend of Anthemius who worked well with him as a co-emperors came up with a smart trick which was to pretend to agreeing to kill Anthemius to please Genseric but secretly he planted a letter with this soldier Cyriacus escorting Olybrius to Italy but when arriving in Italy, Ricimer intercepted the letter which had orders to kill him as well as Olybrius to break Anthemius out of his control. Being shocked when seeing this letter, Ricimer decided to turn on Anthemius, proclaimed Olybrius his new puppet emperor and besieged Rome where Anthemius held himself in and after 5 months, Anthemius was defeated and beheaded by Ricimer’s orders but shortly after, both Ricimer and his new puppet Olybrius died of natural causes, and just 4 years later with instability in the west growing more and more, the western empire was finally abolished in 476. However, I believe that if Anthemius got the letter ahead of Ricimer, he would have ruled himself independently, establish a dynasty, and keep the empire alive for much longer while at the same time closely cooperating with his eastern co-emperor Leo I. In this story, the main antagonists will be Ricimer and the eastern empire’s puppet master Aspar who will be depicted as those who seek to destroy civilization itself from within which will be a more fictional element as real history does not really say what their true intentions were except that they were clearly power-hungry leaders. Though even if the western empire would still survive after 476, there would still be a possibility of the whole known world eventually starting what would be the first world war thousands of years before World War I happened and here I could imagine the Eastern and Western Empires allying with the Franks, Suebi, and Sassanid Empire against a large coalition of barbarians including the Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Vandals, Burgundians, Saxons, Suebi, and Huns fighting wars all across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. At the same time, with the Western Roman Empire still surviving after 476, this could also mean that the epic reconquests of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine emperor Justinian I in the 6th centuries would not really come to happen anymore. This story here will be much longer than the previous one because of its variety of character as well as the geography it focuses on and it will not only tell the story of one character or one empire but both Eastern and Western Roman empires, a number of emperors, and other nations including the Vandals, Visigoths, and Ostrogoths and several ongoing conflicts between them in a setting of such a large world over the span of not just many years but decades.
The Leading Characters:
Procopius Anthemius- Western Roman emperor
Leo I (Leo Marcellus)- Eastern Roman emperor
Flavius Ricimer- Magister Militum of the West
Anicius Olybrius- Rival of Anthemius
Flavius Zeno- Eastern Roman general, later emperor
*Cyriacus- Eastern Roman Palatini soldier (real character but unnamed, therefore I gave his name)
Genseric- King of the Vandals of North Africa
Odoacer- Commander of the Ostrogoth Foederati
Gundobad- Burgundian leader and Ricimer’s 2nd in command
Bilimer- Western Roman general
Aspar- Magister Militum of the East
Basiliscus- Eastern Roman commander
Julius Nepos- Eastern Roman general
Theodoric Strabo- Rogue Ostrogoth mercenary
Marcian- Son of Anthemius
Alypia- Daughter of Anthemius
Ariadne- Daughter of Leo I
Daniel the Stylite- Eastern Roman prophet
Leo II- Eventual Eastern Roman emperor, son of Zeno
Not to mention, the story’s lead character Emperor Procopius Anthemius has his own Instagram! Follow @the_anthemius
Character Images Below of Selected Characters from this Story
Background Guide: Western Roman characters (red, although Anthemius was a western emperor his yellow background is because he is from the east), Eastern Roman characters (yellow), Ostrogoths (green), Vandals (blue)
Story Characters Set1- Leo I, Procopius Anthemius, Ricimer, Anicius Olybrius, Zeno
Story Characters Set2- Gundobad, Odoacer, Cyriacus the Isaurian, Bilimer, Syagrius
Story Characters Set3- Basiliscus, Aspar, Marcian, Alypia, Julius Nepos
Story Characters Set4- Theodoric Strabo, Genseric, Daniel the Stylite, Leo II, Ariadne
The Background (The Real History)
In 378, the Roman army faced a catastrophic defeat to the invading Gothic army at the Battle of Adrianople where the eastern Roman emperor Valens was killed and following this was a great crisis. Without an emperor, a young general, Theodosius the Younger was appointed as the east’s emperor based in Constantinople- the new capital of the Roman Empire founded by Emperor Constantine I the Great in 330- by the reigning western emperor Gratian and in 382, the crisis was solved when peace was settled with the Goths allowing them to settle in Roman lands so long as they provide military assistance for the Romans becoming a unit in the Roman army known as the Foederati as the Goths could no longer return to their homeland which had been taken over by the world’s enemy, the Huns. The following year, civil war broke out in the west when Magnus Maximus, a Roman general in Britain pulled out his troops there, marched into Gaul and usurped power after hunting down and killing Gratian. Magnus Maximus however wanted to share power with his friend, the eastern emperor Theodosius I but Theodosius disagreed as the west already had a legitimate emperor, Gratian’s younger half-brother Valentinian II so a civil war was fought between Theodosius and Magnus Maximus in which Theodosius won in 388 with the help of his new Gothic allies while Magnus Maximus was then executed.
Theodosius I as emperor had the legacy of not only settling the barbarian enemies of Rome into the empire but making Nicene Christianity the empire’s official religion as well thus marking a major turning point in history that had put an end to the centuries old Pagan traditions of Rome including the Vestal Virgins, several holidays, and the Olympic games. In 392, another civil war broke out when the western emperor Valentinian II killed himself when his protector general Arbogast turned against him proclaiming a scholar in Gaul named Eugenius as his puppet emperor but in 394 as Theodosius marched to the west again from Constantinople, he won a decisive victory against Arbogast and Eugenius at the Battle of Frigidus, again with the help of his Gothic allies, particularly a warrior named Alaric while Arbogast killed himself and Eugenius was executed. With Theodosius winning the civil war again, he ruled as the last emperor of a united empire west to east from Portugal to Syria and north to south from Britain to Egypt for only 4 months as he died in early 395 leaving the empire to his underage sons Arcadius and Honorius. The Roman Empire was now permanently split in half with the division in the Balkans down to Libya, with the older son, the 18-year-old Arcadius inheriting the richer eastern empire based in Constantinople while the younger 10-year-old Honorius inherited the weaker western half based in Milan which was to be a satellite state of Constantinople meaning the western emperor had to answer to the east which was his superior, though Honorius was under the regency of his father’s general, the brilliant and heroic Flavius Stilicho who despite being half-barbarian with a Vandal father was a true Roman at heart who would do anything he could to make sure Rome which was on the verge of collapsing would not fall.
Though the empire was divided east and west, they still had the same government system, same senate, and same military structure and one could go between east and west without being stopped. As the 5th century began, things were more or less much stable in the eastern empire despite the incompetence and uselessness of its emperor Arcadius as he had able generals and ministers but for the western half, disaster would soon enough come one after the other. First of all, in the east, the Gothic Foederati’s leader, Alaric a descendant of the Thervingi Gothic tribe that invaded the empire in 370s went rogue for being denied a promotion to Magister Militum or commanding general of the eastern legions as a reward for his victory at the Battle of Frigidus in 394 making him declare himself king of his own people, the Visigoths who would pillage through Greece and the Balkans. Instead of continuing reigning terror in the eastern empire, Alaric turned west to become their problem but never really succeeded at first but if it was not Alaric that troubled the west, it was a new Gothic invasion into Italy in 405 that troubled the west but in no time, Stilciho was able to crush this Gothic invasion. In the meantime, the western emperor Honorius chose the swamp city of Ravenna as his new capital for more protection but the true catastrophe though came on the last day of 406 when thousands of Germanic barbarian people including the Vandals, Suebi, and Alans crossed the frozen Rhine River into Gaul wherein the defense of the Roman border legions or Limitanei proved useless to control it so from here on, these barbarians were free to roam the empire or be incorporated as Foederati troops. Following the massive invasion of the Rhine, a low-ranking officer in Britain usurped power in 407 against Honorius declaring himself Emperor Constantine III pulling his troops out of Britain and taking Gaul and later Hispania as his own. Arcadius meanwhile died in 408 and was succeeded by his 7-year-old son Theodosius II as the eastern emperor under the regency of the city prefect Flavius Anthemius while the western empire’s regent general Stilicho was executed by Honorius’ orders being blamed for being the cause of the west’s defeats as well as being accused of trying to usurp power. The execution of Stilicho though only made things worse as Alaric began attacking Italy again and Honorius realizing he had no more support just decided to make the usurper in Gaul Constantine III his co-emperor.
The real death blow to Rome though came in 410 when Alaric and his rebellious Visigoth troops sacked Rome- which was although not the capital anymore but still considered highly valuable- while Honorius over in Ravenna did not even seem to care about it and worse, while Britain was already falling into disorder after the Roman legions pulled out, Honorius just decided to abandon Britain telling the people there it was no longer his problem and it was up to them to defend themselves. Before Alaric and his army could sail to Carthage across the Mediterranean and invade it, he died also in 410 shortly after his sack of Rome and was succeeded by his brother-in-law Athaulf who decided to head north instead and settle in Gaul wherein the Visigoths were transformed from a tribal state to a kingdom during his reign. In 411 meanwhile, the usurper Constantine III was deposed and executed by an army sent by Honorius who could no longer trust him, the Burgundians from Germania invaded Gaul settling there as Foederati in exchange for supporting a Roman usurper there who was defeated by Athaulf in 413 in Honorius’ name while at the same time parts of Hispania were given to the unruly Suebi and Alans that crossed the Rhine back in 406 to make them at least settle somewhere. Honorius eventually died in 423 and at his death, there was at least some stability in the empire as the Visigoths, Burgundians, and Franks in Gaul as well as the Suebi, and Alans in Hispania were at least settled as Foederati or allied states and not their own independent kingdoms which was however the case of the Vandals here in Southern Hispania at this point.
Emperor Arcadius of Byzantium (r. 395-408)
Emperor Honorius of the Western Roman Empire (r. 395-423)
Over in the eastern empire, a short war was fought between the Eastern Romans and their traditional enemy, the Sassanid Persian Empire with not much conclusions but in the west with Honorius dead, there was a power vacuum so without a candidate to the throne, a nobleman of Ravenna named Joannes was elevated to the position of Augustus or literally the western emperor but lacked legitimacy as he was not recognized by the eastern emperor Theodosius II who instead backed his cousin, Honorius’ 6-year-old nephew Valentinian III as the western emperor.
In 425, Joannes was defeated and killed by the forces of Valentinian III’s mother Galla Placidia, the sister of Honorius and Theodosius II’s barbarian general Aspar, though Joannes was already supported by the western empire’s best general, Flavius Aetius who went beyond the empire to get the support of the world’s enemy, the Huns but arrived too late to save Joannes, instead he sent his Hunnish mercenary army away and swore loyalty to Galla Placidia and Valentinian III.
In the following years, the Foederati Visigoths, Franks, Burgundians, Alans, and Suebi would go back and forth either being allies or enemies of Rome making Aetius, who was assigned as the Magister Militum of Gaul constantly have to keep these barbarian settlers under control in which he was successful at. In the meantime, Aetius built up his own faction or club consisting of Rome’s best military officers of the 5th century which included the likes of the Roman patrician Majorian, Aegidius of Gaul, Marcellinus of Illyria, Avitus of Gaul, and Flavius Ricimer, a son of the ruling families of the Suebi (father’s side) and Visigoths (mother’s side) who enlisted in the Western Roman army at a young age who in this story’s case did this having the intention to rise up the ranks to rule to empire and destroy it from within. Aetius meanwhile was not overall trusted by the west’s regent empress Galla Placidia who preferred the general Count Bonifacius more thus firing Aetius leading to a civil war between Aetius and Bonifacius in which Aetius lost in 432 despite Bonifacius being mortally wounded and dying from his wounds, though Aetius not accepting defeat travelled again beyond the empire’s borders to the Huns’ new homeland in the plains of Central Europe (Hungary) to get their help again which he was once again successful at and using the Huns to intimidate Galla Placidia, Aetius regained his position as the western empire’s Magister Militum. Aetius meanwhile being a hostage in the court of the Huns at a young age was educated in the fighting styles and culture of the Huns so when being a general of the western empire, Aetius used Hunnish mercenaries in his service which in one case he heavily relied on when fighting a war against the Burgundians in 436 wherein the Huns totally decimated the Burgundian people in Gaul.
The Vandals on the other hand that had settled in Hispania led by their ruler Genseric joined forces with the Alans that settled in Hispania too and ended up crossing the Strait of Gibraltar invading Bonifacius’ territory which was North Africa after previously betraying Bonifacius who asked for their assistance against Aetius and in 439 took over its capital, Carthage founding the Vandal Kingdom there in 442 thus the Western Empire lost a valuable asset, which was Carthage’s wheat fields. Over in the eastern empire, the Huns finally arrived in Roman territory for the first time passing through the Danube into Thrace in 434- the same route the Goths passed back in the 370s as mentioned in the previous story- under their new ruler Attila, and again in 440, except the eastern emperor Theodosius II decided to keep Attila away by constantly paying him off bribes which were doubled each year and it was no problem as the eastern half he ruled was richer in resources compared to the west but by increasing his pay for Attila, this only made Attila’s army more powerful.
In 447, Attila invaded the eastern empire again, won a major victory against the Eastern Romans in the Balkans, and attempted to besiege Constantinople in 448 but luckily, Constantinople ever since Theodosius II’s early reign was already protected by massive 3-layered walls built by his regent back then Flavius Anthemius, who in this case was a veteran of the Gothic War in the 370s as mentioned in the previous story and could already foresee that not only the Goths but the Huns would one day invade the empire which is why he decided to build this particular wall, the “Theodosian Walls” named after Theodosius II. Since the Huns’ army mostly consisted of cavalry, there was no way they could breach the walls, so Attila decided to leave for good as long as Theodosius II continued paying him off. At the same time in the west, the Suebi in Hispania renounced their status as Foederati subjects and declared themselves an independent kingdom while in Northern Gaul in 449, Aetius and Majorian repelled a Frankish invasion and made their king’s son Merovech their puppet ruler for their Frankish Foederati subjects.
Theodosius II meanwhile died in 450 after a horse-riding accident in a hunt and without having sons, his older sister Pulcheria married Marcian, a commander of the imperial guard force or Palatini who became the new emperor and as emperor, he reversed Theodosius II’s policy of paying off the Huns and decided to show aggression to Attila and his Huns instead. As for Attila, he had no reason for invading the western empire but when the emperor Valentinian III’s sister out of the blue decided on a marriage alliance with Attila, Attila demanded half of the western empire but when refused by Aetius, Attila declared war and invaded Gaul through the Rhine. In so little time, Aetius travelled across lands still under the western empire including Gaul, Hispania, Italy, and Illyria to recruit men which he was successful at and he had personally trained these recruits too at what would be like his dojo. Aetius too convinced the Visigoths of Gaul under their king Theodoric I who despite being a thorn for the empire all those years to join forces with the Romans as the Huns were a common enemy seeking to wipe out everyone in their path whether Roman or barbarian. Theodoric eventually agreed and joined forces with Aetius’ legions together with other barbarian Foederati allies including the Franks and Burgundians against Attila. In 451, the allied forces of the Romans, Visigoths, Franks, and Burgundians met with the forces of the Huns led by Attila with their subjugated Ostrogoth and other barbarian allies at the Battle of Chalons or the Catalaunian Plains which despite countless of casualties on both sides was a decisive victory for the Romans and their allies while Attila was defeated for the first time, and this battle would be remembered throughout the ages for it.
The alliance with Visigoths and other barbarians though only lasted very short and the Visigoth king Theodoric was killed in that battle, except he proved that he and the Visigoths were able to redeem themselves for their crimes against Rome such as Alaric’s sacking of Rome in 410, and true enough Theodoric was Alaric’s son. Attila meanwhile was still out there and constantly waiting for Attila to invade Gaul again, Aetius got word that Attila instead invaded Italy from the north in 452 razing the city of Aquileia to the ground, though some of its citizens at least managed to escape and establish a new community in the nearby lagoon. Before Attila could proceed further south to destroy Rome, the pope Leo I, a diplomatic genius met with Attila in person and successfully persuaded Attila to leave Italy. At the same time, the eastern emperor Marcian sent legions across the Danube to Attila’s base forcing Attila to retreat and defend it, thus the empire was spared from the Huns’ threat. Attila then died in 453 after heavy drinking and with his death, his Ostrogoth and other Germanic subjects rebelled later defeating and dispersing the Huns in 454 forcing them to flee back east to their original homeland in the Central Asian steppes.
Thanks to the efforts of Aetius who knew the fighting style of the Huns in order to beat them and Pope Leo I who was a master of diplomacy, the western empire was saved from ultimate destruction, but not entirely as the damage caused by the Huns and all the barbarians that settled and invaded it was beyond repair. Aetius and his officers following their victory discussed strategies on how to restore the ruined western empire but one day in 454, Aetius while at a meeting with his top officers in Ravenna was assassinated in front of all of them by the emperor Valentinian III who grew paranoid of Aetius’ popularity being the hero of the war against the Huns. Valentinian III though was convinced by a senator named Petronius Maximus that he would soon be deposed by Aetius and believing this lie immediately, Valentinian III quickly used this as the right opportunity to backstab and kill Aetius. Valentinian III however would soon enough pay the price for killing the empire’s hero as he in fact did not kill his master but the empire’s savior. With Aetius dead, his officer Marcellinus rebelled taking the whole province of Illyria, his homeland for himself refusing to answer to the emperor and in early 455, Petronius himself had Valentinian III assassinated in Rome after Petronius who was denied being given Aetius’ position in which he wanted to take making him trick Aetius’ bodyguards to killing the emperor as a way to avenge their master.
Petronius Maximus then bribed the senate to have him declared emperor and for legitimacy, he married Valentinian’s wife Licinia Eudoxia, the daughter of the former eastern emperor Theodosius II while Valentinian III and Eudoxia’s daughter Eudocia was married to Petronius’ son and the other daughter Placidia was married to Petronius’ friend and fellow senator Anicius Olybrius, a patrician of Rome and though Petronius was made the western emperor, the eastern emperor Marcian did not approve of his rule, therefore Petronius was a usurper. Eudocia though was previously arranged to marry Huneric, son of the Vandal king Gaiseric and finding out the marriage was cancelled as Eudocia was instead married to Petronius’ son, Genseric used this as an excuse to set sail from Carthage and invade Rome. When hearing news that Genseric and his Vandal fleet were headed towards Italy, Petronius ordered the people to run for their lives and in the process, Petronius and his son were hacked by the mob while a few days later, Genseric and his Vandals arrived in Rome and sacked it for days although Pope Leo I again came into the picture and persuaded the Vandals to spare the people but still loot anything they could find. Genseric true enough agreed to Pope Leo’s terms but took the empress Licinia Eudoxia, both her daughters, and Olybrius as hostages to Carthage. The Vandals meanwhile ever since taking over Carthage in 439 as well as the Roman fleet, became masters of the sea and the toughest pirates of the Mediterranean even if just a few decades ago they were just a small Germanic tribe without any naval experience, and already being highly skilled sailors by 455, the Vandals at the same time as their attack on Rome took over the island of Sardinia west of Italy.
Over in Gaul, Petronius after becoming emperor sent Avitus, a former veteran and diplomat of Aetius to the court of the Visigoth king there Theodoric II, son of Theodoric I to get his approval of Petronius as emperor, however with Petronius dead, Theodoric II instead proclaimed Avitus as western emperor who again was not recognized by Marican. In his short reign as the western emperor, Avitus was however not very popular though during his reign, the Visigoths of Gaul that supported his claim returned to Foederati status but in late 456, Avitus was deposed by Aetius’ veteran generals Majorian and Ricimer who made spares Avitus as he was their friend before and made him a bishop in Italy; though for the meantime there was no emperor in the west as neither of the generals accepted the position.
Ricimer being a full-blooded barbarian knew he could not be emperor but had all the skills needed to rule as one so to make himself be in power, he chose to have Majorian as his puppet, for Majorian as a Roman patrician was a likeable person. In early 457, the eastern emperor Marcian died and without any heir although shortly before his death, he considered his son-in-law Procopius Anthemius who was married to his daughter from a previous marriage to be his successor but Marcian died before naming Anthemius his successor. With Marcian dead and not naming an heir, Aspar who was basically his and before him Theodosius II’s puppet master general as well, who like Ricimer due to being of full barbarian blood and in Aspar’s case an Arian Christian could not be emperor, instead Aspar randomly chose his friend, the low-ranking officer of low birth the Thracian Leo Marcellus as his new puppet emperor as Aspar saw that Leo being more or less uneducated and already old- 55 at this time- could be easily be manipulated. As Leo I (ironically having the same title as his contemporary Pope Leo I) was proclaimed as the new eastern emperor, he immediately recognized Majorian as his western co-emperor thus making Majorian legitimate while Marcellinus over in Illyria together with his nephew Julius Nepos renounced their rebellion against the western empire and swore loyalty to Majorian who they could both trust.
Seeing that the western empire was left in ruin, Majorian launched an ambitious campaign to restore it, thus leaving Ricimer behind in Italy as its Magister Militum in charge of it while appointing his fellow officer and veteran of Aetius which was Aegidius as Magister Militum of Gaul while Majorian focused on passing new laws and reforms and campaigning against the unruly barbarian settlers in Gaul and Hispania. In 458, as the Vandals proceeded to conquer Corsica, the Visigoths broke free of their federate status and conquered Arles but were soon defeated by Majorian who returned them to federate status while in 459 the Burgundians took over Lyon but were beaten back by Majorian who took back the city as well. In 460, the Suebi broke free again in Hispania but Majorian quickly rushed there and easily beat them making them again return to federate status and after their defeat, Majorian had a large fleet built at the Mediterranean coast of Hispania intended to be used in taking back Carthage from the Vandals but the Vandal king Genseric knowing he could not face the might of Majorian in battle bribed disloyal western soldiers to betray Majorian and burn the fleet before it was even finished. The invasion thus never happened and Majorian was forced to conclude peace with the Vandals then afterwards returned to Italy wherein he discovered that Ricimer had betrayed him. While Majorian was away, Ricimer feared Majorian was growing to independent therefore making Ricimer lose his power so conspiring with the senators that opposed Majorian, Ricimer hatched his plot to depose and kill Majorian who Ricimer could see could now be easily deposed due to his losing popularity ever since his defeat to the Vandals and here in 461, when Majorian returned to Italy, he was arrested and tortured dying at age 40 after 5 days of extreme torture.
Following Majorian’s death in 461, chaos began to reign in the western empire as in Eastern Gaul, the Alemanni tribes formed their own kingdom and later on in 462, the Visigoths again broke free and established their own kingdom consisting of Southern Gaul and most of Hispania while the Ostrogoths who were previously subjugated by the Huns invaded Western Roman Pannonia. The Vandal king Genseric meanwhile seeing a vacant western empire supported his friend Olybrius’ claim to the western throne as Olybrius had ties to the previous Theodosian Dynasty as he was married to Valentinian III’s daughter Placidia making Genseric somewhat related to Olybrius too as Genseric’s son was married to the other daughter of Valentinian III, though Ricimer as the one basically in control of the west did not agree with it since Olybrius would be Genseric’s puppet anyway so instead Ricimer chose Libius Severus, a weak-minded senator as his own puppet emperor as he was easy to manipulate, and true enough hardly anyone recognized Severus III’s reign including Leo I, Genseric, and the generals Marcellinus and Aegidius. Marcellinus again revolted after Majorian’s death in honor of his friend making Illyria once again independent and Aegidius did the same in Northern Gaul declaring it independent in rebellion against Ricimer for killing Majorian, however Aegidius took it even further by declaring the birth of his own kingdom in Northern Gaul known as the “Kingdom of Soissons” though he together with Marcellinus in Illyria still swore loyalty to Leo I who they still saw as the true emperor. Ruling his own kingdom, Aegidius at least managed to defeat the invading Visigoths that attacked Orleans though Lyon again this time permanently fell to the Burgundians, while in 465 Aegidius died passing his Kingdom of Soissons to his son Syagrius. Meanwhile, Severus III too died in 465 in this story’s case poisoned by Ricimer who felt he had no more use since Severus was not really recognized by anyone thus leaving the west in another power vacuum whereas in real history, Severus III possibly died from natural causes. Genseric again saw the death of Severus III as the right moment to put his claim on the western empire by again using Olybrius, who was in Constantinople at this time as his puppet though the eastern emperor Leo had his own plans, which was making his friend Procopius Anthemius the western emperor. Ricimer though was confused but this is what he had wanted anyway, the western empire broken apart to the point of being dissolved wherein Ricimer thought it would be best to just let the west slip out of control leaving most of it to fall under the now independent barbarians that had settled in it such as the Vandals, Burgundians, Visigoths, Suebi, Alemanni, and Alans while the eastern parts of it would cede to the eastern empire.
The Reigns of Leo I and Anthemius
Procopius Anthemius was born in Constantinople in 420 during the reign of Theodosius II, and was from prominent families in both father’s and mother’s side. Anthemius was an only child and on his mother’s side was the grandson of the same general Flavius Anthemius, former regent of Theodosius II in his early reign and the architect of Constantinople’s massive walls who however disappeared from the scene in 415 while Procopius Anthemius’ father Procopius was also a general in the Eastern Roman army and a descendant of the usurping emperor Procopius (r. 365-366), the cousin of the last Constantinian Dynasty emperor Julian (r. 361-363) and the same one that rebelled against the eastern emperor Valens (r. 364-378) but was executed.
Since he came from the eastern empire and was a Greek in blood, Anthemius’ first language was Greek but still knew Latin very well too and at a young age, Anthemius was sent over from Constantinople to Alexandria in Egypt to be educated by one of the best scholars of the time, the Neoplatonist philosopher Proculus and among Anthemius’ classmates and friends he met in Alexandria included the same Marcellinus of Illyria who was in fact a devout Pagan. Anthemius though was still a Nicene Christian in faith but due to his education, he was also sympathetic to the Pagans and their beliefs which led many later to suspect Anthemius himself was a Pagan. Like the usual rich aristocrats of his time, Anthemius was no exception being a lover of food, wine, and sports such as the Persian influenced polo (Tzykanion in Greek) but was still a person of great intelligence including military knowledge which was one of his natural abilities, considering the men in both his mother’s and father’s side were generals, and in appearance Anthemius was short and stocky with thick wavy hair and a short beard.
Since a young age, Anthemius too had some kind of ambition in wanting to rise up and becoming an emperor of either the eastern or western empire as he also saw that it was a possibility, especially since there was no law that a Roman emperor had to be succeeded by his son and knowing that the succession was never stable in both east and west, Anthemius knew he would have his chance one day to not only rule as emperor but bring stability by establishing a dynasty. In 453, the reigning emperor of the east here was Marcian- who back in 451 famously led the Council of Chalcedon that condemned the new heresy of the Monophysites, and here in 453, his wife Pulcheria, the sister of the late emperor Theodosius II died though Marcian before his marriage to Pulcheria when still an unknown soldier was already married to an unknown woman and exactly here in 453, Marcia Euphemia who was Marcian’s daughter with his first wife was married to the 33-year-old Anthemius. Following his marriage, Anthemius and Marcia had their daughter Alypia– who’s birthdate is not mentioned but here I would place it in late 453- but at the same time after his marriage, Anthemius was promoted by Marcian to the high ranking military position of Comes rei Militaris and sent to the Danube frontier up north which in the past years was heavily devastated by Attila’s invasions and Anthemius was put in charge of rebuilding the defenses as well as recruiting and stationing new Limitanei border guard legions there.
In 455, Anthemius and Marcia’s twin sons Anthemiolus and Marcian (named after his grandfather) were born, though it is not recorded when they were born or if they were twins, but in my case, I would place their birth at 455 and make them twins. Not to mention, also in 455 Anthemius served as consul in the eastern empire’s senate together with the western emperor Valentinian III who served as consul in the west, yet Valentinian III was also killed in this year by Petronius Maximus’ orders. The eastern emperor Marcian then died in early 457 from natural causes but before his death, Marican was about to name his son-in-law Anthemius as his successor but died before he could do it. Instead, to fill in the power vacuum in the east, Marcian’s powerful puppet master general, the barbarian Alan Aspar knowing he could not take the throne due to his barbarian blood and Arian Christian faith did as he did before when naming Marcian his puppet emperor in 450 with his friend, a random low-ranking officer Thracian named Leo Marcellus as his puppet emperor who Aspar believed could be easily manipulated the way Marcian was.
The new eastern emperor in 457 Leo I or Leo Marcellus meanwhile had a different backstory compared to that of his contender to the throne Anthemius who was an aristocrat and highly educated whereas Leo was a provincial of low birth and a native of Thrace though a Roman citizen although like Anthemius, Leo was also an only child. Nothing much is known about Leo’s early life except that he was born in 401 in Thrace and was of Thracian and Dacian origins and was a Nicene (or rather after 451 Chalcedonian) Orthodox Christian and since he came from the rural parts of the empire, he was hardly educated but possessed a good amount of commonsense. In appearance, Leo was tall with a big stature and had big curly hair and his primary language was Greek knowing very little of Latin making him the first primarily Greek speaking Roman emperor.
At an early age, Leo joined the army in Constantinople but in all those years he was in the army, he never really rose up the ranks as he displayed very little ambition and only in his 50s did he become an officer with the rank of Comes though back in 450, Leo as just an ordinary soldier according to some legend- in which would be true in this story’s case- accidentally discovered a hidden spring in Constantinople that did create miracles and here Leo made a random blind man he encountered see again by dunking his head in the water. Leo however by the time he suddenly was appointed emperor by Aspar in 457 was already married to Verina, an Illyrian woman from somewhere in the Balkans and a daughter of a military officer who definitely showed more ambition than him and it was her that became more driven when Leo was emperor. The powerful eastern Magister Militum Aspar meanwhile despite unable to make himself emperor surely had his own ambitions in ruling the empire thinking Leo due to his old age and lack of ambition and education made Aspar think he could easily be manipulated as at the same, Aspar too saw that with his age, Leo would be nothing more but a placeholder who would die soon enough. Aspar had also thought that since Leo had no sons, rather only two daughters, Leo could marry off his older daughter Ariadne to Aspar’s son Patricius, therefore Aspar will have his way fully ruling the empire the moment his son becomes emperor.
Now the reason why Aspar’s son could become emperor and not him was because his son had a Roman citizen mother which was Aspar’s unnamed wife while Aspar himself was of both Gothic and Alan origins. At the beginning of his reign, Leo was all fine being under the control of his puppet master Aspar but over time, Leo would start developing some kind of independent streak especially due to the advises given to him by his ambitious wife who believed Leo did not need Aspar around though Leo’s first acts only had to do with religious matter wherein he simply just agreed to continue his predecessor Marcian’s policies at the Council of Chalcedon despite Leo not knowing too much about religious policy. Leo’s first years as emperor happened while Majorian in the west- who like Leo also came to power in 457- was ambitiously restoring the ruined empire but in the east, Leo’s first years in power was rather uneventful except that in his early years ruling, he built a church over the miracle making spring he discovered years ago which attracted pilgrims later on. Not to mention though, Leo I’s coronation in 457 marked one milestone in the Eastern Roman Empire’s history as he was the first emperor to be crowned by the Patriarch of Constantinople and not just in the traditional way of standing on a shield lifted by the soldiers. Now one proof of Leo’s lack of ambition in his early reign was seen when he did not bother to do anything with Anthemius who was a potential rival to his power as he had more connections to the previous emperor Marcian being his son-in-law, however Anthemius too did not bother much about the fact that Leo was the eastern emperor, as Anthemius knew he too had the chance of ruling the west. Anthemius now had also received a prophecy (which is in this case is fictional) from an odd hermit in Constantinople named Daniel the Stylite who lived above a column refusing to go down claiming it would help him more spiritually but also because he sought to imitate someone who lived this way as well which was the stylite hermit Symeon who in Syria who became famous for living this way almost his entire life.
Daniel told Anthemius by shouting from high above that it was evident that the west will slip into chaos especially with the barbarian Ricimer in control of it and barbarian tribes taking over large parts of it and so that the task was left to Anthemius to restore the west before it would be ultimately destroyed, in which Anthemius took this prophecy to heart. Other than Anthemius, the senator Anicius Olybrius of Rome who had been taken as a hostage to Vandal Carthage back in 455 came to Constantinople in around 459 and had also met with Daniel the Stylite who foretold to Olybrius that the Vandal king Genseric will release Olybrius’ wife Placidia as well as her mother Licinia Eudoxia and return them to Constantinople. In 461, the prophecy proved to be true as after the western emperor Majorian was killed by Ricimer’s orders, Genseric demanded that Olybrius be his puppet western emperor and in the process, he released both Licinia Eudoxia and Placidia to be with Olybrius in Constantinople thus Licinia Eudoxia returned once again to her birthplace, though Genseric still continued to pressure Italy by raiding its coasts with his fleet. As for Ricimer, he fought back by having the weak senator Severus III used as his puppet emperor but due to Severus’ lack of skill, he was not recognized by anyone else, not even by Leo I who at this point still showed a lack of ambition. Anthemius meanwhile despite being Leo’s rival was appointed as Magister Militum in the east and in 460 he led an army against and defeated the Ostrogoths that were raiding into Illyria.
In 465, two important events happened which was that Severus III died over in Italy beginning a 2-year power vacuum for the west and in Constantinople, a large fire broke out in the city arsenal along the Marmara Sea. First of all, with the western throne vacant, Genseric again pressured both Ricimer and Leo I to make Olybrius the western emperor again but both refused although here Ricimer felt that there was no more need for an emperor to run the western empire anymore as he could just manage things alone together with the guidance of Leo I and Aspar in the east but Genseric would not accept a vacant throne which he thought was something he could use as an opportunity in ruling the west. Now back to the great fire in Constantinople, it had such great intensity that it lasted for 3 days and the ones that happened to play an active part in rallying the people and fighting the fire were Aspar and Anthemius and not Leo who instead relocated across the northern harbor of the city or the Golden Horn as the Imperial Palace got a lot of damage from the fire. Aspar was then hailed as a hero by the people and so was Anthemius for putting down the fire and here was when Leo’s envy and mistrust for his puppet master Aspar began. Leo though knew he could not take down Aspar alone and immediately since Aspar was very powerful and had the entire army backing him so Leo’s solution was to create a new army consisting not anymore of Germanic barbarian men in which mostly made up Aspar’s army but instead an army of warlike natives of the Eastern Roman Empire coming from the mountainous wild region of Isauria in Southern Asia Minor, a people he had recently heard about. Now the Isaurians were a tough and warlike tribe and though they were Roman citizens within the empire, they still remained neither Hellenized nor Romanized as their location high up in the mountains made it impossible for them to adapt to it, rather they remained independent following their own tribal government system led by a war chief and did not dress up like Greeks or Romans but rather in more primitive clothing with messy hair and beards, but Leo could see they would be fierce and loyal warriors so he considered asking them to come over to Constantinople and join the army.
466 then was a major year for both eastern and western empires as here, the Huns although no longer led by Attila invaded the eastern empire for the 4th time but still never got anywhere as Anthemius beat them back before they could fully cross the Danube, while in the west a new Germanic tribe which was the Rugii invaded the Western Roman province of Noricum (today’s Austria) and settled there, while the west still had no emperor. It also happened in 466 that Genseric pressured Leo to make Olybrius the western emperor and to do this, Genseric sent his Vandal fleet all the way to Greece which was under the eastern empire to raid the Peloponnese. The Vandals continued sacking the western coast of Greece for months all the way to the spring of 467 and here Leo having enough of the Vandals decided to decline Genseric’s request and here fulfilled the prophecy of Anthemius making Anthemius the western emperor sending him over to Italy. Leo meanwhile had every reason to appoint Anthemius as his western co-emperor as first of all this was to get Anthemius who was still a potential rival of his far away but at least still not only keep him alive but make him still have some authority but other than that, Leo knew Anthemius was a capable general and having him as the western emperor could prove useful in finally defeating the menace of Genseric and his Vandals. Despite Anthemius and Leo being imperial rivals, they both grew to become close friends ever since Leo became emperor in 457 that Anthemius (well in this story’s case rather) was the one that introduced the sophisticated lifestyle to the unrefined and provincial Leo and thanks to Anthemius, Leo became more cultured and seen more and more as a real emperor despite retaining his tough provincial personality within. Now since Anthemius had helped Leo in many ways, Leo felt that he could not get rid of Anthemius even if he was a rival for having familial relations to the previous emperor so the best thing he could do was to make Anthemius fill in the power vacuum in the west as this could at least still make Anthemius an emperor and as for Anthemius he was fine with ruling the west as he wanted to at least rule the empire no matter what half anyway. Back in Constantinople in 467 as well, the Isaurian tribesmen had arrived led by their chief Tarasicodissa, a tough and impulsive warrior who met up with Leo and these tribesmen were soon enough incorporated to the army made as the emperor’s loyal bodyguards or Excubitors with Tarasicodissa made its commander and to make him integrate into Constantinople’s society, his name was forever changed to the Greek Zeno.
In addition, the 42-year-old Zeno was married to Leo’s 17-year-old daughter Ariadne who was previously arranged to marry Aspar’s son Patricius and this here was a major blow to Aspar who now felt Leo betrayed his word. The Isaurians then would start occupying the eastern empire’s army more and more though soon enough, the highly sophisticated people would start having no tolerance for these new Isaurian men in the city guard and army for their thuggish behavior especially since these Isaurian men lacking education looted homes and beat-up people as they pleased, though the rich people of the capital would soon start having these Isaurians as their bodyguards.
Before Anthemius arrived in Italy, Leo too had gotten the consent of Ricimer to appoint Anthemius as the western emperor though Ricimer only agreed to it if Anthemius was again to be his puppet but secretly Anthemius had his own intentions which Leo knew as well. Anthemius arrived in Italy with his old friend and fellow classmate back in Alexandria, the independent ruling Magister Militum of Illyria Marcellinus who upon Anthemius’ coming into power again renounced his rebellion against the western empire and swore loyalty to Anthemius since both were friends. Anthemius was then proclaimed the western emperor some 12 miles outside of Rome on April of 467 and in Constantinople, Anthemius’ coming into power was celebrated in public with a speech praising him as the man who will finally crush the Vandals. As the new western emperor, Anthemius remained in good terms with Leo I of the east and at the end of 467, Anthemius now getting well acquainted with Ricimer agreed to a marriage alliance between his daughter and eldest child Alypia and Ricimer, who had been single all his life. The wedding took place in Rome and was attended by all levels of society and present too was the Roman poet from Gaul Sidonius Apollinaris who could tell there was something off about the couple especially since Alypia was only 14 and her husband Ricimer was 49 and a barbarian.
True enough Alypia detested her marriage to Ricimer especially since he was way older than her and a barbarian, although Ricimer was in fact a sophisticated person but Alypia was only a young girl who wanted to be left alone. On the other hand, ever since Genseric had been raiding the Greek coast in late 466, Leo together with Anthemius and Marcellinus hatched a plan to finish what Majorian failed to do in 460 and construct a massive fleet in the Marmara Sea intended to sail to Carthage and finally punish the Vandal Kingdom for their sack of Rome in 455 and raiding the Greek coast by literally invading their kingdom. Also, taking back Carthage would again resume the grain supply for the west and stabilize their weakened economy once again whereas the east still had the rich grain source of Egypt. Leo knew that the Vandals were strong and skilled sailors but would be no match to a massive Roman fleet of 1,000 large ships and in 468, the fleet was fully constructed consisting of 1,000 ships with a total of 100,000 soldiers sent on this daring mission to take back Carthage and North Africa for the Roman Empire.
Before launching the mission, Leo now slowly putting Aspar aside did not appoint Aspar to lead it, instead Leo appointed his brother-in-law Basiliscus, Verina’s younger brother to be in full command of the fleet although behind Leo’s back, Aspar talked Basiliscus into betraying Leo by sabotaging the mission by any means possible. Basiliscus was first unsure why he had to do this but Aspar simply paid him off making Basiliscus agree to the plan while Aspar on the other hand did not care if the Vandals win, so long as Leo loses which is a sure way of putting the blame on Leo making the people turn on him as Aspar was feeling more and more that Leo was planning to get rid of him. Now the mission to retake Carthage was divided into 3 groups, first was Basiliscus who was to sail directly from Constantinople to Carthage, Heraclius who was stationed in the eastern provinces to sail to Libya and attack the Vandals by land, and Marcellinus with his western army who was to take back the islands of Sardinia, Corsica, and Sicily that had just fallen to the Vandals while Anthemius was to remain in Italy to defend it in case the Vandals or other enemies invade it. Both Marcellinus and Heraclius succeeded in their tasks and Libya, Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica were retaken for the Romans but for Basiliscus on the other hand, things went the other way around.
When the massive fleet of Basiliscus arrived in Cape Bon in the Mediterranean Sea between Sicily and Carthage, he accepted a 5-day truce with envoys sent by Genseric when in fact Genseric proposed this to buy time for him to set up a trap. Basiliscus agreeing to Aspar’s terms on betraying Leo for money ordered the fleet to dock for 5 days and when the 5 days were over, Genseric’s trap was finally set as he launched hundreds of unmanned fireships to attack the Roman fleet and even worse, the winds were on the side of the Vandals’ fireships which at the end resulted in the complete destruction of half the fleet Leo worked so hard in building. Half of the fleet including Basiliscus fled the from the battle the moment the fireships destroyed the Roman ships but half of the Roman fleet remained despite the other half leaving and in charge of the remaining fleet was Basiliscus’ brave commander Joannes who made a heroic last stand against the Vandals jumping from ship to ship killing as many Vandals as he could but at the end, he saw that his ship was captured by the Vandals and not wanting to accept defeat, Joannes who was dressed in heavy armor jumped into the sea drowning himself to death shouting out loud that he “would never come under the hands of dogs” referring to the Vandals.
Basiliscus meanwhile retreated back to Sicily to meet up with Marcellinus before heading back to Constantinople while Marcellinus was found in some shipyard in Sicily where Ricimer met up with him in person wherein he had Marcellinus assassinated by Ricimer’s own nephew and protégé, the Burgundian Gundobad who decapitated Marcellinus while Heraclius disappeared into the Libyan desert. With Marcellinus dead, his nephew Julius Nepos inherited command over Illyria but still stayed loyal to Anthemius while Basiliscus when returning to Constantinople wanted to avoid the wrath of the people and the emperor for causing their defeat by hiding inside the cathedral of the Hagia Sophia. Leo soon enough found Basiliscus hiding there and threatened to kill him but his wife and Basiliscus’ sister Verina convinced Leo to spare him, so instead Basiliscus was fired from command and sent to retirement in an insignificant town in Thrace. The whole expedition that Leo and Anthemius worked so hard on thus failed forcing Leo to conclude a humiliating peace with Genseric but both were still not yet over in their quest to punish the Vandals.
With the North African campaign ruined, Anthemius turned to face the ongoing problems in Gaul in which the instability of Roman rule there caused the Visigoths’ new ambitious king Euric, the son of Theodoric I who died back in 451who came to power in 466 to exploit the weak Roman rule by expanding his territory although Northern Gaul or Soissons still remained under the Roman rule of Syagrius who however still remained independent even with Anthemius as emperor.
Anthemius then decided to do all he could to save what was left of Roman Gaul even if he lacked an army especially since most together with the fleet were decimated at the Battle of Cape Bon against the Vandals the previous year so Anthemius turned to ask for the help of Syiagrus who agreed to it after receiving Anthemius’ letter despite not surrendering his kingdom back to the western empire. In the east, Leo I and Zeno’s bond grew stronger and seeing more potential in the Isaurian Zeno, Leo appointed him as Magister Militum in command of the armies in Thrace which again fueled Aspar’s anger and envy. In 469, Zeno was in command of several missions which were mostly successful including one to suppress a rebellion in his native land of Isauria but it also happened in this year too that when Zeno was in Thrace, Aspar sent an assassin to kill Zeno but Zeno quickly evaded the assassination attempt and killed the assassin himself and here he now knew Aspar was up to no good. Back in Constantinople, Leo and Aspar confronted each other over Aspar’s son Patricius’ elevation as Leo’s new junior emperor or Caesar though Leo angrily accepted Aspar’s offer which was to also marry Patricius to Leo’s younger daughter Leontia but when the people found out that Patricius was to be Leo’s heir, they rioted under the leadership of some monks as they could not accept an Arian Christian as their new emperor but Leo persuaded them saying Patricius will eventually become Orthodox which at least put down the riots. In the meantime, the Vandals in 469 took back Sardinia and Corsica while the Ostrogoths completely took over Roman Pannonia establishing their own kingdom there and in 470 back to Anthemius, he heard of a mysterious civilized king in Britain named Riothamus although Britain had long been abandoned by the Romans. Riothamus read Anthemius’ letter asking for assistance against the Visigoths and immediately crossed the channel from Britain to Gaul and with the help of Syagrius’ army and the Burgundians who were at this point Roman Foederati allies attacked the Visigoths and at first won a major victory and took back the city of Bourges from the Visigoths but when Riothamus pushed deep into Visigoth territory in Western Gaul, he was completely crushed by Euric’s army forcing Riothamus to flee east to Burgundian territory where he completely disappeared, never to be mentioned again.
Anthemius meanwhile like all western emperors resided in Ravenna but soon enough, he started growing more and more unpopular more because the people he ruled over did not understand him and his lifestyle. The people of the western empire were more conservative and were not open to Anthemius’ liberal philosophy due to his education in Alexandria which made them suspect he was a Pagan but this was also due to Anthemius being Greek whereas the Western Romans did not trust the Greeks too much especially their more liberal way of thinking. It also happened in 470 that Anthemius mysteriously fell ill and many suspected his illness was due to sorcery and believing Anthemius was going to die, a senator in Ravenna named Romanus who was a close friend of Ricimer used Anthemius’ illness as an opportunity to usurp power, thus Romanus declared himself emperor and was actually backed by Ricimer who at this point started distrusting Anthemius feeling the same way he felt with Majorian before as again Ricimer saw that Anthemius was becoming too independent especially when taking matters into his own hands in the campaign against the Visigoths as well as seeing that Anthemius was planning to make his own dynasty using his sons. Anthemius eventually recovered and soon enough discovered Romanus’ treachery so he had Romanus executed which however further strained his relationship with Ricimer who seeing Romanus’ execution made him feel Anthemius was true enough out of control as this execution did not have any approval by Ricimer. Again, taking matters to his own hands, Anthemius launched a second attack on the Visigoths in Gaul led by his 16-year-old son Anthemiolus with 3 other Western Roman generals to assist and train him but the moment they crossed the Rhone River, Euric leading his army intercepted them killing Anthemiolus in battle and routing the generals making them pillage the Gallic countryside in a rampage and later disappear and become bandits there.
Back in Ravenna, Anthemius and Ricimer grew more and more bitter with each other and this had to do a lot with the unhappy marriage between Alypia and Ricimer in which they constantly fought each other every day so Alypia complained to her father about Ricimer and when Anthemius confronted Ricimer about how Ricimer treated Alypia, Ricimer declared he and Anthemius were now enemies just as how Leo and Aspar did and not trusting each other anymore, Ricimer led his own army of 6,000 without even asking Anthemius again attempting to fight the Vandals of North Africa. Anthemius was of course enraged that Ricimer took matters to his own hands to attack the Vandals so Anthemius fought back by organizing mobs in Rome and Ravenna to fight Ricimer’s supporters in the streets which forced Ricimer to abandon his campaingns as he had to deal with the rebellious Anthemius first, however in late 471 the bishop of Pavia Epiphanius intervened and forced Anthemius and Ricimer to sign a one-year truce.
The Battle of Rome, 472 (The Climax)
In the eastern empire, Zeno had been away from Constantinople for almost 2 years now and while he was gone, Aspar using the absence of Zeno again started increasing his influence over the now old Leo I, except this time Leo was more impatient with Aspar making him want Zeno to return. The 70-year-old Leo now was no longer the same man he was when he became emperor back in 457, no longer a relaxed and unambitious person but a strong emperor with an independent mind yet somewhat a bully who now wanted to not at all be a puppet but instead making his own decisions and policies such as forbidding any non-religious celebrations and even playing music on Sundays but his main objective was to establish a new dynasty making his son-in-law Zeno his successor. Now in 471, the 71-year-old Aspar now together with his older son Ardabur hatched a plot late at night to kill Leo although Leo one day was informed by the same stylite hermit Daniel that Aspar was up to conspiracy as Daniel had perfected the skill of reading people’s minds after years of meditation above his column- though this part is entirely fictional- and when hearing about this from Daniel, Leo thought it was now the right time to kill off Aspar and finally remove him from this world. Leo organized a plot together with his Isaurian bodyguards although not Zeno who was still away from Constantinople at this point but to hide his true intention, Leo invited Aspar and his sons Ardabur and Patricius for lunch at the newly renovated Imperial Palace that was damaged by the fire back in 465. Aspar thinking Leo was going to finally settle peace with him went to the palace with his sons and for lunch they were served a large variety of grilled meats and wine but when Aspar took his first bite, Leo ordered his new Isaurian Excubitor guards to corner him while one particular young Isaurian Excubitor named Cyriacus (made up in name for this story) strangled Aspar himself from behind, thus killing Aspar. Both of Aspar’s sons however tried to attack the Excubitors but with their large size, the Excubitors knocked them out while one of them killed Ardabur by decapitating him with his axe. Patricius meanwhile tried to escape but when ending up running deep into the palace, he was confronted by Leo’s daughter Ariadne who he was arranged to marry at the very beginning. Ariadne kicked Patricius to the ground, knocked him out and brought him before her father who sat still the whole time and Leo ordered that Ariadne finish him off, thus Ariadne grabbed a knife and slit Patricius’ throat killing him.
Meanwhile, in real history it was Leo I’s court eunuchs ordered by Zeno and Basiliscus who returned to his commanding position who although were not in Constantinople at this time that assassinated Aspar and Ardabur while Patricius was only wounded and expelled from Constantinople while Ariadne had no part in their murder as she was with her husband Zeno the whole time, though Ariadne was in fact actually a tough woman inheriting these traits from both her parents. Either way in reality and in this story’s case, Leo earned the nickname of “the butcher” for his murder of Aspar wherein some might think Leo did this as he was a cold-hearted tyrant but I would say Leo did this to save the eastern empire from falling under the control of the power-hungry barbarian Aspar. In this story’s case, Zeno and Basiliscus like in real history also remained somewhere outside Constantinople while in the capital, Leo promoted Cyriacus to become an officer and allowed Basiliscus to return to his position commanding the armies since Leo here only came to realize that the failed invasion of Vandal Carthage in 468 was in fact part of Aspar’s scheme wherein Basiliscus was just used. In the meantime, Leo felt that Genseric was up again to attacking the eastern empire and pressure him to once again make Olybrius, who was still in Constantinople at this time the western emperor replacing Anthemius but Leo still did not agree to it as Anthemius was still his most trusted friend in the west who despite his failures, Leo still believed still had the chance to restore order to the broken western half. Fearing that Genseric would declare war again, Leo after taking some time contemplating back in the same spring he discovered many years ago finally gave in and had Olybrius go over to Italy to be proclaimed emperor although Leo was actually only pretending to let this happen as deep inside he was actually planning to get rid of both Olybrius who he saw as a thorn on his side as the Vandal king Genseric kept pressuring Leo to make Olybrius his puppet western emperor and Ricimer who Leo felt was exercising his power too much over Anthemius and Leo now ruling independently with Aspar gone wanted Anthemius to do the same in getting rid of Ricimer. Leo here knew that Ricimer and Anthemius had been quarrelling with each other for a year now so in early 472, Leo pretended to send Olybrius over to Italy to mediate between Anthemius and Ricimer and once this was done, he was to go to Carthage to again settle peace with Genseric. This story now will go with the Byzantine historian John Malalas’ (491-578) version wherein Leo I sent Olybrius over to Italy to negotiate peace between Ricimer and Anthemius as already earlier on in 472, the conflict between them resumed to the point that Anthemius had to barricade himself in Rome which was put under siege by Ricimer. Olybrius then left Constantinople as well as his wife Placidia and daughter Anicia Juliana for a 3-week journey by sea to Ostia, the port of Rome and accompanying him was the Excubitor Cyriacus who was given a secret letter for Anthemius’ eyes only written by Leo which said:
I have removed Aspar and Ardabur from this world, so that no one who might oppose me would survive. But you also must kill your son-in-law Ricimer, lest there be anyone who might betray you. Moreover, I also have sent the patrician Olybrius to you; I wish you to kill him, so that you might reign, ruling rather than serving others. -Leo I
This letter now happens to be a very crucial piece as if it was actually read by Anthemius only, then the course of Western Roman history would have been very different as Anthemius could have had both Olybrius and Ricimer killed, therefore the west like the east would have been saved from the rule of a barbarian warlord. In real history however, the moment Olybrius arrived in Italy, a guard assigned by Ricimer to watch out for Olybrius’ arrival intercepted the letter the moment Olybrius arrived, showed the letter to Ricimer who panicked and made Olybrius his new emperor turning against Anthemius who held himself in Rome for the next 3 months until he lost the battle to Ricimer’s forces and was beheaded when found in the disguise of a beggar, thus Olybrius became Ricimer’s new puppet.
Now in this story’s case, when Olybrius arrived at the harbor of Ostia, Cyriacus meanwhile hid the letter deep inside his armor wherein no one would notice it and when getting off the ship, they were met by Ricimer’s unknown guard who asked why a small task force of Eastern Romans arrived but Olybrius simply said they were there to assist Ricimer although Olybrius was still thinking he actually came to kill Anthemius and be made the new emperor. The guard then brought over Olybrius, Cyriacus, and their team of 15 other Excubitors to Ricimer who was just nearby still besieging Rome with only a few hundred men. Olybrius then met up with Ricimer who was at his camp outside Rome’s Aurelian Walls and here Olybrius talked Ricimer into another negotiation with Anthemius although Ricimer only agreed to it if Anthemius was to be finally killed if the negotiation failed, which Olybrius agreed to as well. Ricimer then ordered his soldiers mostly consisting of barbarian Foederati to lift the siege and together with Olybrius, Cyriacus, and the Excubitors they entered Rome to meet up with Anthemius who was hiding in a church in what is now St. Peter’s Basilica and it turned out Anthemius faked an illness so that he didn’t have to fight against Ricimer as the truth was that he was tired of all the fighting. Olybrius when meeting Anthemius spoke up saying that he intends to again settle peace again between both of them but Anthemius did not believe it knowing that Olybrius surely meant trouble. Cyriacus who joined them meanwhile remembered that Leo told him to show Anthemius the letter but he didn’t know that he was to show it in private, instead he reached his hand deep inside his shirt beneath his armor and pulled out the letter which he showed to Anthemius who then read it. Anthemius now learned that Leo killed Aspar and was being asked to do the same too by killing his overly ambitious puppet master Ricimer though at first Anthemius was hesitant but still did not tell anyone around him what the letter said but soon enough, he started hearing voices inside his head which included the voices of both Leo and Daniel the Stylite who reminded him that he was meant to save the west and be a great emperor but also being reminded of how Ricimer was abusive to his wife which was Anthemius’ daughter, Anthemius had enough thus he gave in to his anger by ripping the letter, throwing it right at Ricimer, and pulled out his sword immediately slashing Olybrius who fell to the ground and the moment Olybrius fell, Anthemius stabbed and killed him telling everyone else this was Leo’s message. Ricimer meanwhile could not believe what happened and now seeing for himself that Anthemius was totally out of control, Ricimer shouted to Anthemius “no mercy” beginning a one-on-one duel between Ricimer and Anthemius right inside old St. Peter’s Basilica. The duel went on for quite some time with the Excubitors including Cyriacus in attendance and it went on with no results to the point that both Anthemius and Ricimer bloodied each other with their blades, fists, and kicks though Ricimer managed to headbutt Anthemius with his helmet knocking Anthemius to the ground and with Anthemius down, Ricimer told Anthemius that he will suffer Majorian’s fate of being killed a slow way for refusing to be Ricimer’s puppet but Anthemius angrily answered back reminding Ricimer that he was a loyal soldier of Rome that served Aetius, the best general of their time therefore he had shamed Anthemius and all the work they’ve done for Rome but Ricimer here told Anthemius his true intention of actually destroying the empire from within by joining the army and getting promoted to let anarchy rule so that his people, the barbarian tribes will soon enough take over.
Anthemius however managed to get up, disarm Ricimer and grab Ricimer’s sword using it to slash Ricimer helmet, and finally pinning Ricimer down to ground and slashing his face thus weakening him, but Ricimer still remained alive. With Ricimer down, Anthemius went to his seat to grab his scepter which he then used to continuously club Ricimer’s face to a pulp but before Ricimer could die from the beating, Anthemius’ son Marican, the twin of Anthemioulus and daughter and Ricimer’s wife Alypia came in convincing their father not kill Ricimer himself but to simply have him executed in an honorable way. Anthemius then gave up beating Ricimer and instead asked Cyriacus who gave him the letter to give Ricimer the killing blow. Cyriacus then pulled Ricimer up by his hair, pulled out his sword and decapitated the 54-year-old Ricimer after 3 blows. Now history is totally altered now that it was Ricimer beheaded at St. Peter’s rather than Anthemius and with Ricimer’s head chopped off, Cyriacus went up the Aurelian Walls of Rome and proclaimed to Ricimer’s men that their Magister Militum was dead showing them the severed head. However, the commanders of Ricimer’s army which was his Burgundian nephew Gundobadand the Ostrogoth warrior Odoacer, once a loyal officer of Attila the Hun took this the wrong way and angrily resumed fighting positions again resuming the Siege of Rome. Now in the 5th century, Rome was attacked 3 times first by Alaric and his Visigoths in 410, by Genseric and his Vandals in 455, and now in 472 by Ricimer’s men in a small civil war but this battle though was much smaller in real history but in this case, with Ricimer dead, his soldiers lost their mind and, in a frenzy, began attacking without thinking.
Gundobad and Odoacer knew they could not besiege the walls themselves so Gundobad resorted to asking for Burgundian reinforcements from Gaul from his father Gondioc who ruled as its king. Cyriacus returned to Anthemius inside Rome telling him that Ricimer’s men lost control and began attacking again with full force and Anthemius was shocked especially since he did not have enough men, therefore he ordered that the civilians of Rome pick up whatever weapons they can and defend the city. Anthemius too sent a letter to the last remaining Western Roman general in Gaul, the Frankish-Roman Bilimer as well as the King of Soissons Syagrius and his own army to assist them. At the same time, he also thought of asking reinforcements again from the east; now even if the 472 Siege of Rome continued, at least the 52-year-old Anthemius now at least lived.
Back in Constantinople, following Olybrius’ departure for Italy, unrest broke out when supporters of Aspar rebelled avenging his death as it also did in real history. Aspar though despite being an Arian and of barbarian origin had happened to be popular among some especially those who served under him and one of them was an old commander who now went rogue named Count Ostrys who gathered a mob and stormed the Imperial Palace in which Leo was inside but Zeno and the Excubitors defeated the angry mob then dispersed them sending them away to Thrace. Count Ostrys then fled to the base of the now rogue Ostrogoth Foederati leader Theodoric Strabo who had lost one eye in battle before, somewhere in Thrace and together they joined forces against Leo to avenge Aspar unaware that there was this kind of war being fought in Italy. Theodoric Strabo meanwhile wanted to avenge Aspar since they were relatives as it turned out Theodoric Strabo’s sister was Aspar’s first wife and with Aspar dead, Strabo believed he could succeed him as Magister Militum so with Count Ostrys and their forces consisting of Ostrogoths and the same mob, they marched to Constantinople.
However, before they could reach the Theodosian Walls of Constantinople, they were met by the city’s armies including the Isaurian Excubitors led by the generals Zeno and Basiliscus who however did not trust each other much as the arrogant Basiliscus did not want to take orders from the Isaurian Zeno while Zeno felt that Basiliscus would just screw up again like he did at Cape Bon in 468 making them both as hot-headed military men come into brawls with each other in front of their troops. This event of Zeno and Basiliscus teaming up against Theodoric Strabo which was in 472 was actually real and this was something that actually happened but never saw happening considering that in 475 with Zeno now becoming emperor, Basiliscus revolted against him and took the throne. Though Zeno and Basiliscus distrusted each other, they still managed to end up working together when the Ostrogoth mercenaries and mob attacked them and they succeeded in defeating the army of Theodoric Strabo killing Ostrys too, although history does not mention whatever happened to Ostrys afterwards. As Strabo’s forces were defeated, Strabo agreed to surrender only if he was to receive Aspar’s properties, that his Goths were to be formally allowed to settle in Thrace, and if he were to be promoted to the Aspar’s position of Magister Militum so Zeno and Basiliscus went back to Constantinople to ask Leo for his approval of Strabo’s demands but Leo tired of having to deal with barbarians refused all of them except for making Strabo Magister Militum as long as he swore an oath of loyalty. Strabo then was unhappy that Leo refused his demands making him start a pillaging spree across Thrace making Leo put Basiliscus in charge of putting Strabo under control while Zeno was to be sent over to Italy as again Leo consulted Daniel the Stylite who could sense Anthemius was in danger therefore he needed help. In addition, Leo also had word sent to his other ally, the Magister Militum of Illyria Julius Nepos, the late Marcellinus’ nephew who was at this point residing in the old palace of the Roman emperor Diocletian (r. 284-305) in Dalmatia. Zeno meanwhile set sail on again another almost 1-month journey by sea from Constantinople to Ostia this time with a larger army while Nepos was also headed that way except due to Dalmatia being closer to Rome, he would arrive quicker and here would be an entirely fictional story of Zeno coming to the west.
The siege of Rome meanwhile was on-and-off for the next months though the people constantly defended it day and night but the attackers were soon enough getting tired and at the same time running out of spears and arrows. The Burgundian Gundobad seeing the reinforcements from his father not yet arriving thought of giving up the fight but his co-commander Odoacer answered back saying that they as Germanic barbarians should never give up which is a sign of weakness.
Now just as the attackers were about to give up, the Burgundian reinforcements sent by their king Gondioc finally made it outside Rome right in time to reinforce the attackers and now Anthemius inside was ever more terrified but the next day, the reinforcement Roman army from Gaul actually did arrive led by Bilimer except that they only numbered up to 800 men so Anthemius seeing it was still unsure if it was enough although his remaining children Marcian and Alypia told him that there was still hope. Zeno meanwhile was sailing with an army of 2,000 men from the east in what was left of Leo’s fleet which had survived the disastrous Battle of Cape Bon against the Vandals in 468 and luckily the winds were on their side, thus they were able to arrive in Italy in only 3 weeks now in July of 472, in which in real history was when the siege ended with Anthemius killed. Outside Rome on the other hand, the reinforcement army led by Bilimer proved to be no match to the Burgundians and in the fighting Odoacer on his horse charged directly at Bilimer killing him by knocking him off his horse and just like in real history, Bilimer did die in this battle. With Bilimer dead, Odoacer proclaimed that he was to take over Ricimer’s position as Magister Militum but Gundobad being furious fought back by punching Odoacer’s face as Gundobad claimed that he should be Ricimer’s successor as they were related with Gundobad being the son of Ricimer’s sister with Gondioc.
Odoacer meanwhile was in this story’s case an Ostrogoth warrior- though his ethnicity remains debated- that served under Attila Hun fighting the Romans, Burgundians, Franks, and Visigoths at the Battle of Chalons back in 451 but with Attila dying in 453, Odoacer had no more master serve making him a rogue but luckily in 470 while Anthemius was the western emperor, he met Ricimer becoming a commander of the western empire’s Foederati forces. Before both Odoacer and Gundobad began fighting each other in duel, they heard the horns of what was the legions led by Zeno coming from Ostia as well as the legions of Julius Nepos joining forces with Zeno heading their way. Odoacer then ordered their remaining men including the Burgundians to lift their siege of Rome and attack the legions of Zeno and Nepos that were headed towards them with their dragon banners waving in the air. Standing at the walls of Rome, Anthemius was relieved that Leo did indeed send some reinforcement making him decide to head out to battle himself with Cyriacus while the Eastern Roman Cataphract cavalry charged right into the Burgundian army. Soon enough, Zeno and Nepos’ infantry Comitatenses soldiers with their shields clashed directly on the Burgundian infantry and with their more superior spears they were able to crush the Burgundians routing a large number of them but it was not over yet as the large sized Odoacer headed towards Zeno who although was a big man was not as big as Odoacer who was around 6ft and 5 inches while Nepos headed towards Gundobad.
Odoacer with his large 2-handed sword and Zeno with a one-handed longsword or Spatha duelled each other in which Odoacer seemed to be having the upper hand while Zeno began fighting in fear but as Odoacer struck his sword towards Zeno, Zeno dodged the attack and stabbed Odoacer from behind making Odoacer fall to the ground. Odoacer was furious at is defeat saying out loud that he was destined to take over the western empire and attack the east but Zeno not wanting to hear anything anymore after being so tired from battle slashed Odoacer so hard that Odoacer was almost cut in half as Zeno’s sword cut Odoacer from his shoulder down to his hip, ironically the same way Odoacer was actually killed in 493 by the Ostrogoth king Theodoric the Great, who will be mentioned later. Nepos meanwhile struggled in his duel against Gundobad although luckily a spear thrown by one of Zeno’s cavalrymen threw Gundobad to the ground but Gundobad still got up and this time pinned Nepos to the ground though Nepos acted quick, grabbed his sword, and stabbed Gundobad in the eye killing him. Anthemius meanwhile joined up with Zeno’s cavalry and continued routing the rest of the Burgundians and Ricimer’s army.
At the end of this day in July, the battle was over and Anthemius won it thanks to Zeno and Julius Nepos coming in time. The deaths of both Gundobad and Odoacer too would actually be useful in preventing the eventual fall of the west as Gundobad in reality took Ricimer’s place as Magister Militum following Ricimer’s death from natural causes later on in 472 which was the same time Olybrius died as well and just a year later Gundobad would abandon the empire in order to be king of the Burgundians as his father Gondioc died in 473 while Odoacer was the exact same person that abolished the western empire itself by deposing the last emperor in 476. Now with both barbarian warriors dead and Anthemius still alive, the western empire at least would still have a chance of surviving. In this battle, Anthemius proved that he did not only have the dream to restore the western empire but proved that he actually could as he helped win it and in the aftermath of the battle, Anthemius asked both his children to come out while he also congratulated and thanked both Zeno and Nepos for saving him at the last minute when he saw all hope was lost. Both Nepos and Zeno then told Anthemius that are happy to be his ally and as Anthemius’ children came out, Anthemius here at the moment announced to the surviving members of the eastern and western armies that he now does plan to establish a dynasty naming Marcian here his co-emperor and Caesar right at the moment while the Isaurian Cyriacus was named by Anthemius as his new Magister Militum in Italy taking Ricimer’s place.
To further seal his alliance with Illyria’s Magister Militum Julius Nepos, Anthemius had Alypia marry Nepos although unlike Ricimer who Alypia detested for being a barbarian, she was better off with Julius Nepos despite him still being a lot older than her as he was 42 here and she was 19 but at least he was not a barbarian and would prove to be more respectful towards her, though in real history Nepos was instead here married to a niece of Leo I’s wife Verina. Zeno then returned to Constantinople following their victory while Nepos with Alypia returned to Diocletian’s Palace in Dalmatia while Anthemius returned back to the west’s capital Ravenna where his wife Marcia was all this time and with the conflict all over, even better news arrived when got back which was that the king of the independent Soissons Syagrius who did not make it to help Anthemius in battle due to having his own problems with the Visigoths renounced his rebellion and surrendered his kingdom back to the western empire despite it being cut off by land from Italy by the Visigoth and Burgundian Kingdoms of Gaul though Syagrius thought of surrendering to the empire as a way for him and Anthemius to help each other fight off the Burgundians and Visigoths since here Syagrius came to realize that Anthemius was indeed a capable ruler. In the east however, it was Zeno that now fully took Aspar’s place as Leo’s new Magister Militum and in 473, Theodoric Strabo after being defeated by Basiliscus finally surrendered to Leo I after running out of supplies when pillaging Thrace although only on the condition that Strabo was made Magister Militum of Thrace in which he was while Leo still had the headache of paying him an annual tribute of 2000 pounds of gold. Anthemius and Leo though would continue working together despite being apart from each other to continue fixing all the damage done in the past years as even though Anthemius was saved from being killed, the enemies such as the Visigoths, Burgundians, Suebi, Vandals, and now the Ostrogoths were still at large but the most important lesson both Eastern and Western Romans learned here- just as it was in the previous story set in the 4th century- was to cooperate with each other as they were still the same empire despite having different emperors.
The Roman World, Post 472 and a Possible World War? (Conclusion)
In the case of real history, the capture and execution of Anthemius in 472 in many ways sped up the fall of the Western Empire 4 years later as its new emperor Olybrius was again a powerless puppet while also later on in 472, Ricimer died of natural causes and was succeeded in his position by his nephew Gundobad although Olybrius also died before 472 ended as well, again leaving no emperor in the west for the next few months until Gundobad elevated one of the Palatini Guard commanders in Ravenna named Glycerius as the new western emperor. Gundobad meanwhile had to leave Ravenna as also in 473, his father the Burgundian king Gondioc died making him have to return to the Burgundian Kingdom in Gaul and rule as its king leaving Glycerius alone.
With Anthemius dead however, the eastern emperor Leo I had another candidate for the western throne which was the same Julius Nepos in this story, the nephew of the late Magister Militum Marcellinus and a relative of Leo’s wife Verina as well and Leo did have some hopes again that Nepos would rule long and well in which Anthemius failed to do before him. Nepos arrived in Italy in 474 with his army from Illyria and Glycerius who was now powerless at this point surrendered to Nepos without a fight thus Glycerius was exiled to Nepos’ own base becoming the Bishop of Salona based in Diocletian’s old palace. Nepos’ reign though was somewhat successful in almost retaking Southern Gaul from the Visigoths but out of the blue in 475, his own Magister Militum Orestes, who had served Attila the Hun as his secretary before rebelled against and drove Nepos away from Ravenna sending him back across the Adriatic Sea to Dalmatia joining Glycerius.
Orestes though did not proclaim himself emperor, instead he named his 15-year-old son Romulus Augustus as his own puppet emperor which was more like Orestes’ way of exposing the humiliating state of the Western Roman Empire that anyone, including a young boy without much knowledge can become an emperor. Odoacer who previously served the deceased Ricimer though was still around and still a commander of the barbarian Foederati troops in Italy and with Orestes basically running the empire for his son, Odoacer demanded that Orestes give him a third of Italy but Orestes refused thus Odoacer rebelled. In August of 476, Orestes fled from Odoacer hiding himself in the city of Pavia though Odoacer’s men tracked him there forcing Orestes to flee again wherein he was captured and executed in Piacenza. The victorious Odoacer then marched into Ravenna on September 4, 476 and after a minor battle, he took over the city and peacefully deposed the 16-year-old Romulus Augustus rather than executing him as Romulus being a powerless puppet had no need to be executed.