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.
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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!
Welcome back to another Byzantium Blogger article and part 2 of the Roman and Byzantine Empires comparison series! The last article I wrote just recently was the first part, which was on the similarities and differences as well as the evolution from the Roman to Byzantine armies. Now for part2, I will be focusing on what the Romans and their successors the Byzantines had in common in their government, more particularly the imperial system as well as on the evolution of imperial power. This article though will be another very long one but since most of you are still in lockdown period, this is still something to read to pass the time, also it will have a lot pictures and memes to add to the fun. So anyway, basically Rome and Byzantium were still the same empire except that the Byzantine Empire had continued the Roman Empire after the 4th century with the capital known as the Caput Mundi or “Capital of the World” being moved east to Constantinople, formerly the port of Byzantium, but even with a new capital, the government systems had stayed more or less the same, which is why Byzantium was actually the continuation of Imperial Rome. The Roman Empire if included with its continuation the Byzantine Empire had lasted for more than 1,000 years under the rule of emperors and from the foundation of the Roman Empire in 27BC to the division of the empire between east and west in 395 wherein the east became Byzantium there were more than 70 emperors and from 395 to the end of the Eastern Roman Empire in 1453, there were 84 emperors. Now the year 395 marks the final division of the Roman Empire wherein the western half based in the city of Ravenna fell in less than a century in 476 while the eastern one based in Constantinople continued on for a thousand more years. The reason for why the Roman Empire survived not only the original one based in Rome but more so its continuation based in Constantinople was that the imperial government system was a stable one despite its succession and politics being not at all stable. The system was stable basically because it never changed and people were fine with it that way, but still this has been a very drastic change from the system of the early Romans. Even before the Roman Empire was founded in 27BC with Augustus Caesar becoming its first emperor, Roman civilization has already existed for several centuries with legend claiming that Rome had been founded in 753BC and till 509BC was a kingdom until the people overthrew their kings and established a republic where the senate ruled. However in 27BC things turned differently again where a ruler with ultimate power had returned yet at the end, the Roman people came to accept it due to the success of Augustus’ rule while before that, the Romans hated being ruled by a king. The rise of Augustus as emperor and more so his death in 14AD was a total turning point in the history of the Roman world as from then on, one person would be the ultimate ruler of the empire and for more than a thousand years the Roman world, with Byzantium following it would remain this way. The change in the Roman world from the Republican to Imperial system was a solution to stop constant civil wars the tore the Romans apart but even with the imperial system in place, this was not the outcome as civil wars had still gone on but not as frequent and every once in a while a usurping general or politician would be made emperor either by the army or senate. Now even if the Roman Empire was an empire with an absolute ruler, it was still not the same as how an absolute monarchy like other empires of the ancient or medieval world worked basically since the first Roman emperor Augustus got his title as “emperor” or imperator from the senate and from then on it would not be clear if he would rule for life and his successors would be emperors too or if the republic would return. Also it was not an absolute monarchy because the emperor’s power came from the senate and succession would be approved by them, however as centuries went by and the Roman Empire had evolved into the Byzantine Empire, the imperial system had however become more like a monarchy, except with unstable succession compared to other kingdoms and empires of their time. The republic though after Augustus never returned even if the senate remained, but when it came to the succession system of the empire, it would be not like other monarchies around the world where the eldest son clearly succeeded his father and only a few times was there a stable succession of imperial power from father to son as sometimes Roman emperors chose to adopt their successor or sometimes the senate or army could overthrow and emperor who would establish a new dynasty. Basically for someone to be an emperor in the Roman world, they were not there because of divine rights like many kings were but because they had the support of the senate, army, and people and if they had lost it, then they could be deposed and lose the imperial title. However by the end of the 3rd century after a 50-year long period of anarchy wherein any strong general could be made emperor by his army, the emperor Diocletian came to power and the Roman world would change as for the first time it was divided into parts with different emperors for each part but at the same time the power of the emperor would become more absolute as before that since Augustus in the period known as the Principate, the emperor held the title of Princeps as republican systems were still present and the emperor was basically the leader of the senate while after 284 the emperor would use the title of Dominus meaning “lord” to clearly show he had more absolute power. This system from then on would be known as the Dominate, which would then be in use at the time the Byzantine Empire had been established as the emperor Constantine I moved the imperial capital to Constantinople in 330 and would be the same system used by the emperors of Byzantium up until the empire’s downsizing in the 7th century, afterwards the emperor’s power would be very much like any other king up until Byzantium’s fall in 1453. In the Byzantine Empire, the power of the emperor had become more absolute and autocratic than that of the Roman emperors of the Principate period from 27BC to 284AD and succession too would be more stable as the succession from father to son would be very much the norm, however like in the Roman Principate, the Byzantine emperors too were still not ultimately powerful as their power was still at many times challenged and it was common for Byzantine emperor to be overthrown by the army and sometimes replaced by an ambitious general who would establish a new dynasty which would usually collapse and be taken over by another dynasty in less than a hundred years. In the past, I have made several articles on the Byzantine emperors and how many of them came to power and unlike other kingdoms of their time where the king was the absolute power and it was very unlikely for a common person to rise to power, in Byzantium it was the other way around since for centuries there were times wherein certain commoners got the chance to rise up and become emperor which had been a practice in the Roman Empire too which the Byzantines have taken with them. Also I have said many times before in my other articles on the emperors that many Byzantine emperors were put in power by the popular support of the army which their predecessors the Romans too had done many times, but also in the Byzantine Empire family members too had plotted against each other and had taken the throne by overthrowing their father or grandfather. Succession in the Byzantine Empire may have been very unstable especially in certain times of anarchy and military takeovers or sudden deaths of emperors without naming their successors thus leading to civil wars sometimes even within the family, but despite the total chaos the Byzantine imperial system went through, it was no match to how chaotic the Roman imperial succession system was especially with the senate and the army particularly the Praetorian Guard being the ones to decide who can become emperor. For Byzantium on the other hand, no matter how many violent changes of emperors there had been, the empire was in fact so successful that it lasted for more than a thousand years, this was probably because many emperors were power hungry not for selfish reasons but because they were committed to the survival of their empire cause after all, the Byzantines were the descendants of the very successful Roman Empire that ruled most of the known world of their time, which meant the Byzantine Empire calling themselves the Romans or Romaioi in Greek had a great legacy to live up to. Now this article will cover topics including the changes of systems from the republic to empire and eventually to Byzantium, the history of the Roman and Byzantine senates, the stable and unstable successions of both empires, imperial titles, break-away empires that stole their imperial systems, and how the imperial system evolved to become more autocratic over centuries and yet still keeping a successful empire from Rome to Byzantium. Also, the biggest change between the Roman and Byzantine Empire was that Byzantine Empire not only had an emperor with more absolute power but as well was a full Christian Empire which means things were more lenient in when it came to deposing emperors such as a deposed emperor would be blinded and sent to a monastery for life while in Imperial Rome, a deposed emperor was usually just simply killed off, but also since Byzantium was a Christian Empire since the time of Emperor Constantine the Great (306-337), emperors too had power over the Church which meant they could appoint someone, even a relative of theirs as the Patriarch of Constantinople. Now in this article, I will limit it to topics on the emperors and governing system of the empire and a lot on how stable and unstable successions worked, while facts and stories on Byzantine emperors including their ethnic origins were discussed in previous articles I made which are linked below, and the topic on imperial women and their power behind the throne would be something I would like to discuss in a future article. Anyway, this article will of course show the similarities and differences per each topic between the Roman Empire and their successor empire, the Byzantines wherein the year that would be the division line between both empires is 395; now this article will cover a very long period of history from 753BC to 1453.
Roman Empire flag
Byzantine Imperial flag and symbols
Roman-Byzantine crossover flag
Elements that make up Byzantium
Roman-Byzantine crossover flag
Roman Civilization, 753BC-1453
Rome, Caput Mundi of the Roman World
Constantinople, Caput Mundi of the new Roman World
Related Articles (Byzantine emperor articles) from The Byzantium Blogger:
The early history of Rome itself is shrouded in mystery but tradition says the Roman city state and its government was founded in 753BC by Romulus, the first king of Rome and a demigod being a son of the god of War Mars who gave Rome its name naming it after himself after he killed his brother Remus, otherwise it Rome would have been named “Reme”and when becoming its first king, legend claims that he had established the senate which consisted of 100 men consisting of the elders of Rome’s most distinguished families. These distinguished families were known as the Patricians and were the ones basically in charge of the government and after the overthrow of the kings in 509BC these Patricians would be the ones in the senate that would control the Roman state. The same system the Romans had of senate still exists in many countries with the same function of creating laws in which they did in Ancient Rome, although the word “senate” comes from the Latin word Senex meaning “old man” as the senate was basically an assembly of the head or elder of each clan who was elected. In the time of the Roman Kingdom from 753-509BC the senate acted as a board of advisors for Rome’s kings but at the same time the king’s of the early Roman city-state which was very much a small territory consisting of Rome and its surroundings were not like other kings of the time like the Egyptian pharaohs or Persian king of kings wherein they had divine rights as for these kings of early Rome, their sons weren’t always sure to succeed them as the senate had made the ultimate acclamation of the king when he came into power. As Rome was built from scratch by Romulus in the 7 hills along the Tiber, it was barely inhabited so as king he allowed run-away criminals from other Italian states to settle in Rome, Rome then would be a city founded by fugitives seeking refuge. However it is not clear though that the early Roman state was ruled by kings or how the Republic had formed since the Romans only began writing their history by the early 3rd century BC, although historians from later on like Livy (59BC-17AD) had documented the foundation of Rome to 753BC with Romulus as its first king and that 7 kings had ruled Rome until 509BC when the monarchy was overthrown and the republic established. The last 3 kings according to legend were Etruscan, coming from the neighboring kingdom while the last king Lucius Tarquinus Superbus (r. 535-509BC) had abused his power so much that in 509BC he was overthrown and senate stepped in electing 2 leaders to balance power so that one person does not hold ultimate power. These 2 leaders who the senate had elected and would be elected every year were known as the Consuls who would be the 2 leaders of both the senate and the army, however the foundations of the Roman Republic in 509BC by Lucius Junius Brutus who was one of the first elected consuls is also unclear as when the Romans began to write their history they were under the Republic system which was controlled by the senate and its two leaders, the Consuls. The story of the Roman Republic being established by Brutus after overthrowing the abusive monarchy is probably just a dramatized story on the origins of the Roman state and so were its foundations by Romulus who was a demigod and a descendant of the people from the ancient city of Troy. The most realistic theory on how and why Rome established a republican system instead of having a monarchy is because they borrowed this system from the Greeks as by 509BC when it was said that the Roman Republic was founded, Greek city-states like Athens already had this kind of republican system where a senate consisting of an elected council of the clan elders was in control of the state, and because of trade happening in the Mediterranean, ideas had also traveled, which included the idea of having a republic and elected leaders. Ever since the time of the Republic all the way to the time of the empire, the Roman senate was always based in the Roman Forum. Now today most countries also use the same system of a republic wherein leaders are elected but also the word “republic” originates from Ancient Rome coming from the Latin word Res Publica meaning “public thing”, although with early Rome being a republic with 2 leaders the Consuls elected each year, the Republic was still not overall a democratic one- like in Ancient Greece and Carthage as well- since only men could vote and only Patricians or those from important families could be in the senate while those not born to these families even if being as rich as patricians were part of the social class known as the Plebs which means they did not have the same privileges the patricians did meaning they could not be elected to government positions, yet they still were the actual working force behind the expanding power of the republic as the plebs were the ones who produced goods and served in the army. Since the plebs did not feel represented in the Roman state they had always threatened to leave the city until the patricians feeling like they would loose a lot needed them back so to make sure the plebs were represented, a new position in the senate was made known as the Tribune who represented the needs of the Plebs and by the early 3rd century BC the plebs had achieved equal rights with the patricians, meaning plebs could already be elected to serve in the government, from then on Rome was a full republic that would use the initials of SPQR in their flags meaning “Senate and the Roman People”. Members of the senate were elected once and stayed in the senate for life but could be elected as consul or to another position more than once but serving in that position for only a year, and in the senate, all senators were required to wear a uniform of a white toga with a purple stripe. With the senate in charge, several positions were created to manage the growing Roman state other than the consuls and tribunes such as the Praetors who were in charge of the army, the Quaestors who were in charge of finance, the Aediles who were in charge of public works, the Censors who were in charge of the census, and the Proconsuls who were governors assigned to representing the Roman state in newly formed provinces which were created out of land that Rome conquered when they had expanded, then at certain times when quick decisions needed to be made such as in wars and frequent invasions by neighboring tribes like the Samnites which were common in the early days of Rome, a dictator was chosen by the senate usually from among themselves as the supreme authority to act quick but when the crisis is dealt with the dictator had to put down his power, as the Romans back then did not accept being under control by a single authority. The Republic as it turned out was successful in first conquering most of Italy, winning the war against the Mediterranean naval power Carthage and the Macedonian Greek kingdom in 146BC adding Spain, Greece, and parts of North Africa to Roman territory and now the senate had control of the new provinces by appointing one of their own as the governor for each province. When Rome had expanded its control over Italy, instead of enslaving most of the population they made agreements with those they conquered and made them citizens so that more taxes could be paid to fund the state, more could join the army, and more could vote in elections, though when conquering lands beyond from enemies like Carthage and the Greeks, the conquered would be subjects and slaves to Rome. By 107BC, change would come to the Roman system when Gaius Marius, though not from a patrician family and not from Rome but a Roman citizen entered the senate and became consul, and with him in charge the Roman army was reformed into the legions and soldiers would not lift their loyalties from the senate to their generals who cared more about them. Some years later, the history of the Roman Republic would be marked by civil wars the first one from 88-87 between the successful general Sulla and consul Gaius Marius in which Sulla won and again from 83-82BC after Sulla returned victorious after defeating King Mithridates VI of Pontus, he marched on Rome and won becoming dictator for a year- an unusual act in a century as there hasn’t been a dictator in the republic since the 2nd Punic War against Carthage more than a century before Sulla- though he retired from power in 81BC. As dictator however, Sulla did not do it so much for ultimate power but to restore more power to the senate, which had been lost in recent years to the tribunes, army, and masses under the leadership of Marius. Not so long after the civil wars of Sulla, more civil war erupted again between two of Rome’s most successful generals and patricians, the next set of civil wars would be between Pompey the general who had annexed most of Asia Minor, Syria, and Judea to Rome and Gaius Julius Caesar who had conquered Gaul; before this Caesar and Pompey together with Marcus Licinius Crassus established the First Triumvirate with them 3 in charge of the Roman Republic, which was dissolved after Crassus died in 53BC loosing to the Parthian Empire in war, therefore Caesar and Pompey were the remaining 2 leaders. The senate then feared the growing power and influence of Caesar after his conquest of Gaul but in an act of defiance and bravery, Caesar marched his legions into Italy by crossing the Rubicon River in 49BC and from there the civil war with Pompey began which would last until 45BC wherein Caesar defeated Pompey’s faction. After coming out victorious again, Caesar used the tile Imperator for himself, which meant “victorious commander” and would later be the term used for the emperors and would use the titles of consul, tribune, and dictator for life all for himself which led the senate to come up with a conspiracy to kill him in fear that Caesar would make himself king, which the Roman senate had not ever wanted. However in 44BC the senate assassinated Caesar shocking the people who Caesar was popular with, but even with Caesar dead his legacy to establish a perpetual dictatorship did not end as he named his nephew Gaius Octavius Thurinus known as Octavian his heir and soon enough Caesar’s assassins Brutus and Cassius from the senate were eliminated in another civil war wherein the Second Triumvirate consisting of the general Mark Antony, Marcus Lepidus, and Octavian was formed and the war concluding in 42BC at the Battle of Philippi where Caesar’s lead assassins Brutus and Cassius were defeated. Though after this, the joint rule particularly between Mark Antony and Octavian was unstable with Mark Antony shifting his loyalty to the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, which led to a civil war between Mark Antony and Octavian, which concluded in 31BC at the Battle of Actium with Octavian victorious, and Egypt added to the Roman Republic. After this, Octavian was left as the sole ruler and instead of making himself dictator for life or king, he depended on the senate to vote him more titles of power such as Imperator, Princeps meaning “first in the senate” or “Princeps Civitatis meaning first citizen” and Augustus meaning “the respected one” so from 27BC onwards, Octavian began to use the title “Augustus” in which he would be known as and at the end ruled for 43 till his death in 14AD, not knowing he would rule for life. Also, since Rome’s territory had expanded so large from Gaul (France) all the way to Egypt, a senate could not handle administering an empire this large; therefore running it depended on a single authority. Because of this, the senate was in charge of Rome, Italy, Carthage, Southern Spain, Asia Minor, and Greece while the farther provinces like Gaul, Britain, and Egypt were directly under the emperor.
Marcus Junius Brutus, founder of the Roman Republic in 509BC
Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, last king of Rome
Statue of a Roman patrician and his ancestors’ busts
Roman senator in senator’s white toga with purple stripe
Roman Consuls in the Republic
Tribunes of the Plebs
Roman Patricians (left) and Plebs (right)
Flag of Carthage
The Republic of Ancient Athens
Roman Republic Praetor
Roman Republic Quaestor
Roman Republic Aedile
Roman Republic Proconsul (governor)
SPQR (Senate and the Roman People), Republican Motto
Gaius Marius, Roman Consul
Roman Republic flag
Lucius Cornelius Sulla, Roman dictator (82-81BC)
Civil War between Marius and Sulla
Roman legions created by Gaius Marius
The First Triumvirate- Crassus, Pompey, and Caesar (60-53BC)
Gaius Julius Caesar, Dictator for Life (48-44BC) with legions
Civil War between Caesar and Pompey
2nd Triumvirate- Octavian, Mark Antony, and Marcus Lepidus
Battle of Philippi, 42BC, defeat of the Republic
Battle of Actium, 31BC victory of Octavian over Antony
Gaius Octavius Thurinus, aka Octavian, aka Augustus
Pokemon meme of the 2nd Triumvirate
Gaius Octavius Augustus, first emperor of Rome (27BC-14AD)
Augustus as Princeps Civitatis
Meme of Augustus’ title
In 27BC, the Roman Empire was established as the senate gave powers to Augustus, and from here onwards this period would be known as the Principate. Under the Principate, even if the emperor beginning with Augustus was the supreme authority of the Roman world, the Republic and the senate and its function was not at all abolished except that the emperor had power over the senate, had the last say in the passing of laws, could construct landmarks and buildings using his name, had his face minted on coins, and could appoint positions himself. Overtime the senate would turn to be more and more useless and barely able to function without the emperor giving them orders. Overall, the early emperors of Rome acted more like dictators for life than monarchs as their power was not as absolute as other kingdoms of their time had like the Macedonians, Seleucid Empire, and Parthian Empire, as well as the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt except that Roman emperors ruled for life and could name their successor. Over time, the Romans could have gotten ideas of having a state ruled by an absolute power after their conquests of the kingdoms in the east such as Egypt, and over time Roman emperors like Caligula (r. 37-41AD) began thinking of themselves as divine, which was probably a custom the Romans borrowed from the traditions ancient Egyptian rulers had of them being like gods, and in fact Rome could have adopted these ideas of monarchy from Egypt back in Julius Caesar’s time since he too had a lot of connections with Egypt as he was a lover of the queen Cleopatra VII, although Egypt then was a Greek kingdom but had kept ancient Egyptian traditions such as the absolute power of a monarch. The emperor however had a dangerous position especially if he lost support of the senate so emperors tried to make sure the senate remained loyal to them, so after Augustus’ death in 14AD, he was succeeded by his stepson the general Tiberius (r. 14-37AD) who established the treason law to check the loyalty of the senate and the people to the emperor, which resulted in several exiles, tortures, imprisonments, and executions but despite this Tiberius’ reign was a successful by focusing more on consolidating the power of the empire and keeping the government and finance systems strong. It is quite strange though that the Romans from strongly hating rule by a single authority after the death of Augustus came to accept the new system as Tiberius became the next emperor rather than the republic returning, this is mainly because Augustus’ long reign was so successful that people living within the empire enjoyed peace, stability, and a golden age of the arts known as the Pax Romana, although the legions had fought hard to expand and defend territories. The emperor however was not at all safe in his position as the senate at times if having popular support could depose an emperor such as in 68AD when the senate voted the emperor Nero (r. 54-68AD) a public enemy and ordered his execution, however Nero rather than being executed fled Rome and had his secretary kill him. Later on during the reign of Emperor Domitian (81-96AD), tensions would grow between the emperor and the senate as Domitian felt he no longer needed the advice from the senate as they were just a bunch of old rich men while the emperor felt he could do everything by himself which led the senate to start distrusting him and eventually coming up with a plot to kill him, then in 96AD Domitian after spending years executing those he felt would assassinate him ended up assassinated himself, afterwards the senate had elected Nerva (r. 96-98AD), a senator as the next emperor. The 2nd century would then be a time of stability for Rome with the empire at its largest spanning north to south from Britain to Egypt, west to east from Portugal to Iraq and the emperor being the supreme authority and the senate under them but in the 3rd century chaos reigned and the senate and army played a big part in it appointing emperors beginning in 238 where in North Africa the governor Gordian I and his son Gordian II were proclaimed emperors by the army and senate but shortly after the 2 senators Pupienus and Balbinus as emperors but due to unpopularity had to step down and appoint Gordian I’s grandson Gordian III as emperor. Before this, in 212 the emperor Caracalla (r. 211-217) granted citizenship to all free inhabitants of the Roman Empire, which meant provincials and not only Italians could join the senate, although before this provincials who were Roman citizens could also join the senate. From 238 which would be known as the “year of the 6 emperors” to 284 there would be at least 27 official Roman emperors, most of them only reigning for a year or two being put in power by the army, this period would then be known as the 3rd century crisis, which was a period of military anarchy, and these emperors almost all proclaimed by the army would be known as “barracks emperors”. At this time, the army would now be the powerful force behind the government and not so much the senate anymore, also in these years Rome would be left to the senate as emperors had barely even set foot in Rome spending their short reigns commanding their armies against barbarian invasions all over the borders, thus emperors of this time were no longer the traditional Roman patricians but powerful generals many of them even being provincials from Illyria, Thrace, Syria, or North Africa rising to power in the army. At this time when emperors were proclaimed by the army, the senate had only once proclaimed an emperor, the old senator Tacitus in 275 who died a year later. The role of the Roman senate would forever change after the emperor Diocletian rose to power in 284; although an Illyrian and son of a liberated slave, Diocletian rose to power in the army and in 284 usurped the throne from the co-emperor brothers Carinus and Numerian, and afterwards in 286 divided the empire in two halves with Diocletian ruling the east from Nicomedia and his friend Maximian ruling the west from Milan, from here on Rome would no longer be the imperial capital, most especially since the capital needed to be where the emperor was and emperors now had to be closer to the borders. This system would further divided into 4 parts each ruled by its own emperor, this would be known as the Tetrarchy, though Diocletian would be the most senior of the 4 emperors and as emperor he no longer would use the title of Princeps and instead change it to Dominus meaning “Lord of the Romans” as a way to further increase the emperor’s power. Diocletian’s purpose to make the emperor’s power more absolute was basically a solution to end the anarchy crisis before him and in 300 as part of his reforms to increase imperial power, he further decreased the power of the senate and took away their role in appointing emperors which meant that being emperor no longer needed the consent of the senate; the senate though would still remain but no longer with as much power as they had before, rather the senate had devolved into something more like Rome’s town council and would remain this way for many centuries to come. The tetrarchy system on the other hand had brought back some stability by several reforms particularly military reforms in establishing a strong mobile army known as the Comitatenses which the emperor would be in command of while the other army would be the weaker ones consisting of border guards known as the Limitanei, but still did not stop civil wars as the Tetrarchs or 4 rulers fought each other for power until 324 when Constantine I won the wars and became the sole ruler of the empire, the in 330 he made the port of Byzantium into the new capital of the Roman world which be named Constantinople after him, part of the Roman senate would be moved there as well to act as the administrative council of the city. After the death of Emperor Theodosius I in 395, the Roman Empire would no longer be united, the east would live on as the Byzantine Empire with Constantinople as its capital and the west would gradually downsize due to barbarian invasions and would fall in 476. The Western Roman Empire would then use Ravenna in Italy as its capital and the senate would be based there as well but when Ravenna fell to the barbarian army of Odoacer in 476, the senate was still in place even if the Roman emperor was gone first under Odoacer who was ruler of Italy he was killed and replaced by the Ostrogoth Theodoric in 493 and the senate would still be in place as the king’s advisory council although the title “senator” was more like an honorary title without much significance. In 552, the Byzantines from Constantinople recaptured Rome and restored the senate to Rome, though their role would no longer be of the same power anymore, instead senators were just members of the nobility who would usually act as diplomats. Under the Papacy in Rome, the senate would act more like Rome’s town council, although it is not said until when the senate had lasted but the Roman Senate is still one of the hidden institutions in history that had lived on for so long that in fact it had even predated and outlived the era of the Roman emperors.
Augustus Caesar (Octavian) first emperor of the Roman Empire (r. 27BC-14AD)
Golden Age of Literature under Augustus
Pax Romana symbol of the Principate
Julio-Claudian family frieze
Golden Age of Augustus in Rome under the Pax Romana
Emperor Tiberius (r. 14-37AD), successor of Augustus
Emperor Caligula (r. 37-41AD)
Court of Emperor Tiberius with Praetorians
Emperor Nero (r. 54-68AD)
Suicide of Nero, 68AD
Emperor Domitian (r. 81-96AD)
Emperor Nerva (r. 96-98AD) in the imperial toga
Roman sculpture of the Praetorian Guard
Romans at the Crisis of the 3rd Century
Roman army, 3rd century
Emperor Aurelian and his army
Emperor Diocletian, founder of the Tetrarchy (r. 284-305)
Division of the Roman Empire under the 1st Tetrarchy, 293
The original Roman Tetrarchy- Maximian, Diocletian, Constantius I Chlorus, and Galerius
Emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337)
Constantine the Great before the Battle of Milvian Bridge, 312
Meme of Diocletian’s Dominate System
Comitatenses units battle
Late Roman/ Early Byzantine Limitanei soldiers
Nicomedia, capital of Diocletian
Mediolanum (Milan), capital of Maximian
Ravenna, capital of the Western Roman Empire, 402-476
Odoacer deposes Romulus Augustus in Ravenna, 476
Court of King of Italy Odoacer (476-493) in Ravenna with his army and Roman senators (behind)
Theodoric the Great, King of Ostrogoth Italy (r. 493-526)
True enough the Roman senate had existed centuries before the empire was founded and even centuries after the Roman Empire dissolved in the west, but in the east the senate still remained in Constantinople for centuries under the Byzantine emperors but had been slowly disintegrating over the years but the senate though had still existed only as a board of advisors for the emperor until Byzantium’s end in 1453. The senate in Constantinople known as the Synkletos in Greek would be the continuation of the Roman Senate except like in the late Roman period, the Byzantine Senate was no longer powerful and influential like in the Roman Republic and Principate, instead the Byzantine Senate was more of a board or city council of Constantinople consisting of the nobility wherein the head of each noble family sat in the senate. The position of senator in Byzantium too was a hereditary one wherein in each noble family of the city, the eldest son would take his father’s position as senator when the father had died. Also different races of people from within the empire such as Greeks, Armenians, Thracians, and Illyrians were part of the senate as long as they were from the Byzantine nobility. Like in the Roman senate before, Byzantine senators had a uniform except theirs like in the late Roman senate consisted of a white cloak or Chalmys over a long sleeved tunic, the mosaic of Emperor Justinian I in Ravenna depicts senators including the general Belisarius in this uniform. In Constantinople, the senate was based in 2 locations one being beside the Great Palace of the emperors and the other on the north side of the Forum of Constantine, the main city square. Like in the Roman senate, the Byzantine senate also elected consuls although the power of the senate and consuls was very much limited, also later on the head of the senate body would no longer be the consul but the Prefect of the City which would be like the Mayor of Constantinople. It was during the reign of Justinian I (527-565) where the position of the 2nd consul was abolished and instead the senate would only have one consul, which was usually the Prefect of Constantinople if not the emperor. In Byzantium, senators did not really have any power to appoint or overthrow emperors as in this case it was up to the army to proclaim and overthrow an emperor when they could, although there were times when senators had led people in plots to overthrow an emperor like in the Nika Riot of 532 where the senate moved to proclaim one of them as emperor and overthrow Justinian I, but this plot failed. The senate later though showed that they still had some powers when they took part in leading the people to overthrow the usurper emperor Phocas in 610, in 641 overthrowing the young emperor Heraklonas, and in the 7th century the senate played a major part in the reigns of Constans II (641-668), Constantine IV (668-685), and Justinian II (685-695) who all became emperor at a young age and needed much advice from the senate. However, in 695 the senate had led the Church, people, and army to overthrow Justinian II and cutting his nose off. There only very few times where a member of the Byzantine senate became emperor and many of them not by force, in one case a senator became Emperor Anastasius I in 491 after marrying Ariadne the widow of the emperor Zeno, then in 608 the senate elected the Byzantine governor of North Africa Heraclius and his son Heraclius as consuls wherein the son Heraclius was made emperor in 610, and in 802 the senate had voted to depose the empress Irene and replace her with Nikephoros I who as a member of the senate. Up until the 11th century the senate continued to exist and some of them even became emperors such as Romanos III Argyros (r. 1028-1034) who was a senator and Prefect of Constantinople who became emperor in 1028 after marrying Empress Zoe who was the daughter of the late emperor Constantine VIII (r. 1025-1028), then Zoe’s 3rd husband Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos (r. 1042-1055) was also a member of the senate and had allowed the merchant class to enter the senate, then later on the Doukas family which ruled the empire (1059-1081) were also a senatorial family from Constantinople. For the Byzantine people however, their loyalty would always be more on their emperors, generals, and the army wherein they despised the senate seeing them as nothing more than a body of useless, old, rich, and corrupt who were capable of doing nothing mainly because senators did not have much of a say in the Byzantine government the way the army did. By the 8th century onwards, Byzantium became a highly militarized state and the powerful aristocracy shifted from the senate to the provincial military aristocracy known as the Dynatoi. During the reign of the military emperor Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118), the role of the senate had faded into irrelevance and the title of “senator” could even be bought from the emperor; also Alexios I had preferred the senate for family members, which is why he created all sorts of new titles. The last known act of the Byzantine Senate was in 1204 when they had elected one of their own men to replace the emperors Isaac II and Alexios IV Angelos, but after the 4th Crusade of 1204 members of the Byzantine Senate had fled Constantinople which fell to the Crusaders to the temporary Byzantine Capital of Nicaea, though after 1261 under the Palaiologos emperors who restored the capital to Constantinople, the senate would still remain in place but their title however just honorary, most of the time having a diplomatic function. The Byzantine Senate was recorded to have still been standing in the final year of the empire 1453 and the senate itself had ended with the empire when the Ottomans captured Constantinople.
Constantinople, the Eastern Roman Capital
Forum of Constantine with colonnaded surroundings
Senate House in the Forum of Constantine
Interiors of the Byzantine Senate hall
Frieze of a Byzantine senator
Sculpture of a Byzantine Consul
Byzantine senators John of Cappadocia (left) and Belisarius (right) in senator’s robes
Emperor Anastasius I (r. 491-518), Illyrian born Roman
Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565)
Aftermath of Nika Riot, 532
Heraclius overthrows Phocas with the help of the senate, 610
Emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641), son of the Exarch of Africa Heraclius the Elder
Heraklonas, son of Heraclius and Martina (r. 641)
Emperor Constans II (r. 641-668), said to have created the Theme system
Emperor Constantine IV (r. 668-685), son of Constans II
Emperor Justinian II (r. 685-695/ 705-711) with mutilated nose
Senate House near the Constantinople Imperial Palace
Byzantine Imperial Senate in the Madrid Skylitzes
Emperor Theophilos (r. 829-842) with Byzantine senators
Emperor Romanos III Argyros (r. 1028-1034), 1st husband of Zoe, former Byzantine senator
Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos (r. 1042-1055), former Byzantine senator
Empress Zoe (Co-ruler 1028-1050), daughter of Constantine VIII
Doukas Family crest
Senators, priests, and merchants in Byzantine Constantinople
Emperor Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118)
Byzantine Dynatoi, military aristocracy
Life of the Byzantine Dynatoi
Isaac II Angelos (r. 1185-1195/ 1203-1204), father of Alexios IV
Alexios IV Angelos (r. 1203-1204), son of Isaac II
In the Roman Empire, succession was where emperors were unfamiliar with and had no idea on how it worked. After all, the Roman Empire evolved from the Republic so the senate or the emperors themselves beginning with Augustus had no idea how a monarchy functioned, especially since the time when Rome was a monarchy is highly debated and may not have been true. Since Rome had been a republic for the longest time, people would never submit to a ruler with ultimate authority unless during a time of emergency, however after Octavian defeated all his rivals and became the only ruler, the senate voted him ultimate power as emperor, although he would be more like Rome’s supreme leader than a king. Octavian became Augustus and reigned for 43 years bringing success to Rome and expanding its borders in Europe, also within the empire he brought peace which allowed trade to operate from one end to the other, this then was known as the Pax Romana. In Rome as it was said, Augustus founded it a city of brick and left it a city of marble, which meant Rome under him turned into a grand metropolis. By the time Augustus died he had grown very popular among the people that they had gotten so used to being ruled by a single authority that after his death, no one was looking anymore for the return of the republic, instead they had just accepted it that a new emperor would come to power, which was Tiberius. As for Augustus, he had no clear idea on how succession would work so throughout his reign he kept on changing his mind on who would succeed him, at first he though of his nephew Marcellus then his friend Marcus Agrippa but both died ahead, then Augustus arranged for both his grandsons Gaius and Lucius to succeed him but they died. On the other hand, despite the empire of Augustus being a stable one, his family was not as his wife Livia had been secretly plotting against him to make her son Tiberius succeed him, then Augustus’ daughter Julia had also plotted against him and so did his other grandchildren. With Augustus’ grandsons gone by the time of his death in 14AD, there was no one left but his stepson and general Tiberius to succeed him and Tiberius would be emperor for the next 23 years till he died in 37AD isolating himself in Capri being tired of Rome and politics, instead more interested in astrology. Tiberius too did not have a clear succession plan since his son who was supposed to succeed him died some time in his reign, then a family member Agrippina the Elder tried to get in the way of the imperial succession by making one of her sons emperor but her plans failed and she was banished to the small Italian island of Pandateria. At the end, Tiberius was left with Caligula, son of Germanicus who was known as the “emperor Rome never had” and Agrippina to succeed him though before naming Caligula his heir Tiberius fell into a comma and when waking up again, Caligula had him suffocated to death by the Praetorian Guard commander. The young emperor Caligula took over and seemed popular at first but when recovering from a sickness he was totally different, grew very tyrannical and even thinking of himself as a god, at the same time he tried to invade Britain but instead made war against the sea, and he even made his horse a consul. Only 4 years into his reign, the Praetorian Guard and the senators thought of finally finishing him off for good and return the republic and in the beginning of 41AD, the Praetorian Guard assassinated Caligula but at the same day, another group of guards found Caligula’s uncle Claudius, Germanicus’ brother hiding behind a curtain and made him emperor. Just when the republic could have returned, Claudius I came to power the first one to be made emperor by the Praetorian Guard but during his reign, Claudius I proved to be successful and not just a puppet emperor of the army, though he did not want to be emperor, he had to do it to clean up the mess Caligula had brought. Everyone had thought Claudius was not capable of ruling but he proved he was by finally invading Britain in 43AD and had also constructed many projects in Rome including a new port and aqueduct. Within the family, things were however not stable as Claudius’ wife Messalina secretly plotted against him, quickly divorced him and married another senator though when the plot was discovered Messalina was executed and Claudius’ last wife Agrippina the Younger had been manipulating him to make her son Nero emperor. In 54AD, Claudius was allegedly poisoned by his wife and died in the night after which Nero became emperor, although he was not the legitimate successor since Claudius had son, Britannicus though later to eliminate him from coming into power, Nero had him poisoned. Nero would later on end up ordering the death of his mother and wife and would be overthrown when loosing the support of the senate and army in 68AD leading to his suicide. After Nero’s death there would be a period of anarchy with a year of 4 emperors which will be discussed later, but the 4th which was Vespasian (r. 69-79AD) had ended the anarchy and despite coming from an Italian family of origins had risen to power in the army being a general and when becoming emperor he established a new dynasty, the Flavian Dynasty which was though short lived. Vespasian had become a popular emperor despite introducing a urine tax and after 10 years in power he died and was succeeded by his son, the successful general Titus who had finished the Jewish Revolt of Judea and became a popular emperor and constructed the Flavian Amphitheatre or Colosseum in Rome but died only 2 years later and was succeeded by his younger brother Domitian, succeeded Vespasian after his death in 79AD. Domitian who had macro and micromanaged the empire himself tried to get the senate away believing he could run the empire himself in which the people were supportive of but when hearing of plots to have him killed, Domitian had many potential threats killed until he himself was assassinated in 96AD. With Domitian dead, the senate voted the old senator Nerva as the next emperor which may not have been the right move since the army could overthrow him but Nerva did the opposite thing and instead of being a puppet emperor, he chose to establish a dynasty but he had no children, instead he adopted the general Trajan as his successor. Nerva though old and only reigning 2 years established the period of what would be known as the “5 Good Emperors”, this one shows a time of stable succession but none of these emperors were the biological child of the previous emperors, instead these emperors would adopt their successor. These “5 good emperors” saw the time when Rome reached its peak in power; these emperors were Nerva (r. 96-98AD), Trajan (r. 98-117AD), Hadrian (r. 117-138), Antoninus Pius (r. 138-161), and Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180), although it could also be called “the 6 good emperors” if Marcus Aurelius’ co-emperor Lucius Verus (r. 161-169) is included. Nerva had only ruled for 2 years and had adopted Trajan as his successor and under Trajan, Rome had expanded its territory to the fullest by conquering Dacia (today’s Romania) also taking over Armenia, Mesopotamia, and Jordan and by Trajan’s death in 117 Rome was at its most successful point with roads connecting and sea routes connecting it. Trajan too had no children so he adopted his nephew the governor of Syria Hadrian as his successor and as emperor Hadrian instead of conquering more territory focused on trying to keep the peace within the empire, had built a wall in the borders in Britain, and travelled all over the empire and had rarely set foot in Rome. Again, Hadrian had no children so he adopted the senator Antoninus Pius as his successor and Antoninus Pius as emperor would bring Rome a period of actual peace with less wars and no scandals, a very rare moment in Roman history and would begin the Antonine Dynasty, although without any sons he adopted Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus as his successors, also he married his daughter to Marcus Aurelius to make a dynasty. Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus ruled as co-emperors while Marcus focused on the west, Lucius focused on the east but after a war with Parthia, plague was brought into the Roman Empire by the soldiers depopulating it and killing Lucius Verus in 169, which was discussed in the previous pandemic article; meanwhile Marcus Aurelius then spent most his reign at the borders in today’s Austria fighting the Macromannic Wars against Germanic tribes which the Romans eventually crushed, but aside from being a warrior emperor, Marcus Aurelius was a philosopher too who wrote his famous book Meditations on his Stoic philosophy. These 5 emperors thought that adopting a successor would be a better way for a peaceful transition of power and felt better than a more qualified person in government would be better off at running the state rather than their children, however the last one of the 5 which was Marcus Aurelius did the opposite by making his son his successor. Marcus Aurelius died in 180 and made his son Commodus his co-emperor in 177, and for the first time in a long time a son succeeded his father as emperor in 180. Commodus (r. 180-192) was not interested in being emperor; instead all he cared about were gladiator games and joining them himself that he would have the empire ruled by advisors and as emperor, the only achievements he could do were putting up gladiator games, changing Rome’s name to Colonia Commodiana naming it after himself and even changing the months of the year naming them after different versions of his name. At the end of 192, Commodus was assassinated by being strangled and the Praetorian Guard chose to make Pertinax emperor. The beginning of Commodus’ reign in 180 marked the beginning of Rome’s decline as for the past many decades the empire had the most competent emperors until suddenly Commodus came in and by leaving the empire to other ministers and not caring for it, his death was brought by it followed by a period of slow decline for Rome.
Augustus Caesar as emperor
Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (62-12BC), Roman architect
Augustus banishes his daughter Julia
Lucius Caesar, grandson of Augustus
Gaius Caesar, grandson of Augustus
Livia Augusta, wife of Augustus and first Roman empress
Tiberius Caesar as a general
Germanicus, Roman general (15BC-19AD)
Agrippina the Elder, wife of Germancius, daughter of Marcus Agrippa and Julia the Elder
Ventotene Island, Italy (Pandateria), banishment island of Agrippina the Elder
Tiberius’ villa in Capri
Caligula on his horse, the consul Incitatus
Assassination of Caligula by the Praetorians, 41AD
Caligula’s war on the sea
Claudius I crowned emperor by the Praetorians, 41AD
Emperor Claudius I (r. 41-54AD)
Valeria Messalina, 3rd wife of Claudius
Claudius I orders Messalina’s execution, 48AD
Britannicus, son of Claudius and Messalina
Agrippina the Younger and her son Nero
Agrippina the Younger, daughter of Germanicus and Agrippina the Elder
Emperor Nero and his court with Rome burning
Emperor Nero meme
Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79AD)
Vespasian as a general
Triumph of Vespasian and Titus after the Jewish War of 70AD
Emperor Titus (r. 79-81AD)
Flavian Amphitheatre (Colosseum), finished under Titus
The 3 Flavian emperors Vespasian (r. 69-79AD), Titus (r. 79-81AD), and Domitian (r. 81-96AD)
Emperor Domitian (r. 81-96AD), son of Vespasian and brother of Titus
The Flavians, Vespasian with sons Titus and Domitian behind
Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117), real name: Marcus Ulpius Traianus
Trajan’s sculpture in his column
Dacian kind Decebalus surrenders to Trajan, 102
Legions in the Dacian Wars, 101-106
Roman army frieze in Trajan’s Column
Emperor Hadrian (r. 117-138)
Reference to Hadrian’s roaming around the Roman Empire
Hadrian’s Wall, Great Britain
Emperor Antoninus Pius (r. 138-161)
Antoninus Pius, Civilization VI
Emperor Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180)
Lucius Verus, co-emperor with Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-169)
Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the “philosopher king”
The Antonine Plague in the Roman Empire
Romans against Macromanni, Marcus Aurelius’ Macromannic Wars
Emperor Commodus (r. 180-192), son of Marcus Aurelius, co-emperor 177-180
Intricate sculpture of Commodus the Gladiator as Hercules
Rome from the 192 to the 4th century was a period of unstable succession and if was easy for anyone to become emperor especially by having the support of the army and only a few times there would be a stable succession. In 286 the empire was divided in two and in 293 in 4 parts known as the Tetrachy with Diocletian as Augustus and Galerius as Caesar in the eastern half and Maximian as Augustus and Constantius I as Caesar in the west, then to ensure it would be a system of stable succession in 305 both Diocletian and Maximian retired and Galerius and Constantius I became Augusti and Maximinus II in the east and Severus II in the west became Caesars thus repeating the cycle however Constantius I’s son Constantine I was popular with the army after Constantius I’s death in 306, Constantine was made Augustus but not legitimately so Constantine I fought all rivals in the west including Severus II, Maximian who returned to power, and his son Maxentius until in 312 Constantine I gained the whole west for himself, then in 324 he defeated his rival in the east Licinius and gained the whole Roman Empire for himself making Constantinople the capital. When Constantine I the Great died in 337, again he did not make it clear on who would succeed him so the army decided his 3 sons would rule the empire divided into 3 parts and when coming into power they had ordered the execution of any potential threat whether family members or generals but the eldest son Constantine II (r. 337-340) felt bad he got the farthest parts which were Spain, Gaul, and Britain so he asked to switch places with the youngest brother Constans I, but Constans I did not agree so Constantine II led an army into Italy and was killed in battle in 340 by his brother’s forces. The youngest brother Constans I then was assassinated by his general Magnentius in 350 so the middle child Constantius II who ruled from Constantinople was the sole ruler who later defeated Magnentius but had no sons and at the same time no more male relative was left in the family except for his cousin Julian who hated Constantius II for having his father, Constantine the Great’s half-brother Julius Constantius killed in 337 when Julian was still a child. When Constantius II died in 361, he named the orphaned Julian his successor but Julian only ruled for 2 years as in 363 he was killed in battle against the Sassanid Persians and with no children, the army voted the young general Jovian as emperor who however died in less than year not even able to make it back to Constantinople so the army elected another commander named Valentinian as emperor. In 364 Valentinian I became emperor and founded his dynasty after making his younger brother Valens his co-emperor to rule the east from Constantinople while Valentinian I ruled the west but in 375 Valentinian died of a stroke caused by his bad temper so in the west his son Gratian (r. 375-383) succeed him but in the east Valens was killed in battle against the Goths in 378, so Gratian appointed the general Theodosius from Spain to be emperor of the east. Gratian though was assassinated in 383 and succeeded by his younger brother Valentinian II as emperor of the west but in 392 Valentinian II died under mysterious circumstances and Theodosius I was left as the sole ruler of the Roman Empire after defeating 2 rival usurping emperors. Theodosius I did not live long though and in 395 he died dividing the empire between east and west, the older 18-year-old son Arcadius was left in charge of the east the younger 10-year-old Honorius was left in charge of the west but both were incompetent rulers. Arcadius died not so long after in 408 passing the throne to his young son Theodosius II who reigned long (408-450) while in the west Honorius was troubled with barbarian invasions that in 410 the Visigoths sacked Rome, the first time it was sacked since the Gauls 800 years before, though in 423 he died without naming an heir but eventually his nephew Valentinian III became emperor until he was assassinated in 455 and the Western Roman Empire until its fall in 476 also went through a period of anarchy with a change of emperor almost every year or two years and powerful Goth generals behind imperial power. In the east which was Byzantium things were more stable and even thought Theodosius II had no children, his brother-in-law Marcian succeeded him but Marcian died in 457 without any heirs so the army appointed the Thracian soldier Leo Marcellus as emperor, although this was the ambitious Goth general Aspar who put Leo I in power as his puppet emperor but Leo I (r. 457-474) did not want to be a puppet emperor so he had Aspar killed and established a dynasty, he would then be succeeded by his grandson Leo II, son of his daughter Ariadne and the Isaurian general Zeno but the same year (474) Leo II died still only a child, so in an unusual case he was succeeded by his father Zeno who in only a few months was kicked out of power and replaced Leo I’s brother-in-law Basiliscus who a year later was overthrown as Zeno returned as emperor when Zeno died in 491, he had no children as Leo II died many years ago, so his wife married the senator and financial officer who became the next emperor Anastasius I but he was old and also had no children so he tried to arrange for his nephews to succeed him but none of them did, instead after he died in 518 the commander of the palace guard, the Illyrian peasant bribed the guards and was proclaimed Emperor Justin I who began the Justinian Dynasty in which none of the emperors in this one were biological sons of the previous one. Justin I before his death in 527 named his nephew Justinian I (real name: Flavius Petrus Sabbatius) his successor and Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565) ruled a long successful reign conquering back North Africa, Italy, and Southern Spain for Byzantium to restore the Roman Empire but he died childless so he named his nephew Justin II (r. 565-574) his successor. Justin II succeeded his uncle but the massive size of the empire and external threats everywhere was too much for him so he lost his sanity and had to abdicate but without any children, he chose to adopt the commander of the palace guard Tiberius who was the same age as him. Tiberius II Constantine in 574 stepped in as acting emperor and after Justin II’s death in 578, Tiberius II was full emperor but he died only 4 years later in 582 naming his son-in-law Maurice as his successor, Maurice then ruled for 20 years until the army overthrew him. The next emperor Phocas usurped the throne but was overthrown in 610 by Heraclius who became emperor establishing a linear dynasty as after his death in 641, he was succeeded by his son Constantine III who only ruled for months as he died and was succeeded by his half-brother Heraklonas who would be overthrown in the same year (641) as the army replaced him with Constantine III’s young son Constans II (r. 641-668) who ruled till adulthood but was assassinated in his bath in 668 for planning to move the capital to Syracuse in Sicily, but even though assassinated Constans II was succeeded by his son Constantine IV (r. 668-685), who was succeeded by his son Justinian II who was overthrown in 695 ending the Heraclian Dynasty though after 10 years he returned as emperor but in 711 was overthrown again and executed. Anarchy would continue until 717 when Konon the Isaurian shepherd turned general became Emperor Leo III (r. 717-741) who established his dynasty known as the Isaurians, he would then be succeeded by his son Constantine V (r. 741-775) who was overthrown a year after becoming emperor but returned to power the next year, then he would be succeeded by his son Leo IV (r. 775-780) who however died in only 5 years while his son Constantine VI was still too young so he ruled under the regency of his mother Irene who overthrew him in 797 and became sole empress until she was overthrown in 802 to be replaced by Nikephoros I (r. 802-811), the finance minister of Arab Ghassanid descent who established a short-lived dynasty and after his death in battle against the Bulgarians in 811 he was succeeded by his son Stauriakios whose rule only lasted for months as he abdicated due to injuries so his brother-in-law Michael I succeeded him but had to abdicate in 813 when a military rebellion went up against him. The next dynastic succession of emperors began in 820 by Michael II who after his death in 829 was succeeded by his son Theophilos (r. 829-842) but after his death his son Michael III was too young but he ruled till adulthood until he was assassinated in 867 by the Macedonian peasant Basil who had long been plotting to become emperor, but he got his wish and established a long-lived dynasty. The Macedonian Dynasty would be somewhat of linear succession as after Basil I died in 886 he was succeeded by his son Leo VI (r. 886-912) although Leo VI may not have been Basil I’s son but instead Michael III’s but he was legally Basil I’s son, though when Leo VI died in 912 he was succeeded by his younger brother Alexander since he was made co-emperor earlier by his father, but Alexander only ruled for a year and in 913 was succeeded by Leo VI’s only son Constantine VII who was too young when he came to power so a regency council ruled for him until 920 when the admiral Romanos I Lekapenos who was born an Armenian peasant usurped the throne and made himself emperor while Constantine VII was not removed except demoted to co-emperor while marrying Romanos I’s daughter Helena. Romanos I in 944 was overthrown by his sons but his sons were overthrown too and Constantine VII returned as full emperor till his death in 959 and was succeeded by his son Romanos II who died only 4 years later in 963. Since Romanos II’s sons Basil and Constantine were too young to rule alone but were co-emperors, Romanos II’s widow Theophano married the general Nikephoros II Phokas who was emperor from 963-969 until he was assassinated by his nephew John I Tzimikes who was emperor from 969-976 and to be in the family he married Romanos II’s sister Theodora. John I had died mysteriously in 976 and by then Basil II son of Romanos II was old enough so he became emperor but had to fight his rivals Bardas Phokas and Bardas Skleros who were unofficially proclaimed emperors by their armies. Basil II won and his reign lasted almost 50 years but he died unmarried and childless, so dying in 1025 without children he was succeeded by his brother the co-emperor Constantine VIII (r. 1025-1028) and he too only had daughters and no sons so he was succeeded by his son-in-law the senator Romanos III Argyros who he forced to marry his daughter Zoe. Romanos III ruled with Zoe until Romanos III was assassinated in his bath in 1034 by Zoe’s orders as she took the much younger secretary Michael IV the Paphlagonian as her husband who was emperor from 1034 to his death in 1041, afterwards Zoe adopted Michael IV’s nephew who became emperor Michael V (r. 1041-1042) but when he planned to get rid of Zoe, the people overthrew him and Zoe for a few months in 1042 ruled Byzantium with her sister Theodora until Zoe married the senator Constantine IX Monomachos (r. 1042-1055) who was emperor till he died in 1055, although Zoe had already died in 1050. With Constantine IX dead in 1055, Theodora was the last remaining member of the Macedonian Dynasty and she ruled by herself for a year (1055-1056) and when she died childless she passed the throne to her secretary Michael VI Bringas (r. 1056-1057), but after him a period of unstable succession would occur in Byzantium under the Komnenos and Doukas Dynasties until 1081 when the general Alexios I Komnenos became emperor. Alexios I in 1081 came to power by force but at the end stayed long enough to fix the succession problem by extending his family by marriages and creating new government positions for family members. Alexios I died in 1118 after a long reign and was succeeded by his son John II Komnenos (r. 1118-1143) who also ruled successfully and after his sudden death in 1143 he named his youngest son Manuel I as his successor, Manuel I (r. 1143-1180) though had ruled a long and successful reign too and was succeeded after his death by his young son Alexios II (r. 1180-1183), but since he was still young his mother the western princess Maria of Antioch acted as his regent but the young emperor’s power was challenged so in 1183 he was overthrown by Manuel I’s cousin Andronikos, this now begins the long period of unstable succession which will be discussed later. Byzantium then faced several imperial take-overs even if the next emperors were from one dynasty, the Angelos though in 1204, this dynasty ended as Constantinople fell to the 4th Crusade, 3 break-away Byzantine states would be formed and one of them being Nicaea would be the legitimate successor as its first emperor Theodore I Laskaris (r. 1205-1222) came from Constantinople and moved the empire to Nicaea in Asia Minor and 57 years after 1204, the Byzantines of Nicaea would restore the empire to Constantinople. Theodore I died in 1222 and without any sons was succeeded by his son-in-law John III Doukas Vatatzes (r. 1222-1254) who married Theodore I’s daughter Irene and only had one son with her who would again peacefully succeed his father after John III’s death in 1254. Their son was Theodore II Laskaris who only ruled for 4 years as he died suddenly in 1258 possibly poisoned by the ambitious general Michael Palaiologos, however Theodore II had a son, John IV who succeeded him though he was only a child, but in 1261 when Nicaea took back Constantinople under Michael Palaiologos’ orders, Michael was crowned Emperor Michael VIII establishing the Palaiologos Dynasty, therefore having the young John IV blinded and imprisoned. The Palaiologos Dynasty beginning with Michael VIII in 1261 back in Constantinople was a long and linear one where all emperors were in a straight line of succession until the fall of the empire in 1453, except that there still moments of unstable succession and civil wars within the family. Michael VIII after his death in 1282 was succeeded by his son Andronikos II (r. 1282-1328) but though he ruled long his grandson Andronikos III, which will be discussed later, overthrew him. The only time a stable succession in the Palaiologos Dynasty would occur would be after the son of Andronikos III, John V’s death in 1391 where his son Manuel II (r. 1391-1425) succeeded him and after his death in 1425 he would be succeeded by his son John VIII who however had no children so his brother Constantine XI took his place as the last emperor of Byzantium after John VIII’s death in 1448. Constantine XI too had no children so he died without an heir when the Ottomans took over Constantinople in 1453.
Constantine I the Great, the first Byzantine emperor (324-337), founder of Constantinople
Constantinople, the “New Rome”
Licinius I, co-emperor and brother-in-law of Constantine I (r. 308-324)
Constantius I appoints his son Constantine as his successor, 306
Map of Constantine I’s victory over the whole empire
Emperor Constantius II of Byzantium (r. 337-361), son of Constantine I
Constantine II, son of Constantine I and emperor of the west (r. 337-340)
Emperor Constans I (r. 337-350), son of Constantine I
Emperor Julian the Apostate (r. 361-363)
Coronation of Julian in Paris, 360
Death of Julian in Battle of Ctesiphon, 363
Emperor Jovian (r. 363-364)
Emperor Valentinian I (r. 364-375), emperor of the west
Valens (r. 364-378), Emperor of the east, brother of Valentinian I
Emperor Gratian, son of Valentinian I (r. 375-383)
Emperor Valentinian II, son of Valentinian I (r. 383-392)
Emperor Valens (r. 364-378), brother of Valentinian I
Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379-395), last emperor of the united Roman Empire
Arcadius, Emperor of the East (r. 395-408), son of Theodosius I
Honorius, Emperor of the West (r. 395-423), son of Theodosius I
Alaric and Visigoths sack Rome, 410
Emperor Theodosius II (r. 408-450), son of Arcadius
Emperor Marcian (r. 450-457), last Theodosian emperor in the east
Byzantine emperor Leo I the Thracian (r. 457-474)
Goth general Aspar (left) and son Ardabur (right)
Emperor Leo I (aka Leo Marcellus) and wife Aelia Verina
Emperor Zeno the Isaurian (r. 474-475/ 476-491)
Leo I and his grandson Leo II (r. 474)
Emperor Zeno solidus
Empress Ariadne, daughter of Leo I, wife of Zeno and Anastasius I
Emperor Anastasius I Dicorus (r. 491-518), 2nd husband of Ariadne
Emperor Justin I (r. 518-527, left) and his nephew Justinian I (right)
Emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565), born Flavius Petrus Sabbatius
Imperial court of Justinian I
Emperor Justin II (r. 565-578), nephew of Justinian I
Emperor Tiberius II Constantine (r. 578-582), stepson of Justin II and Sophia
Emperor Maurice (r. 582-602), native Greek of Cappadocia
Emperor Phokas, the centurion usurper (r. 602-610)
Emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641)
Leo III the Isaurian (r. 717-741), originally Konon
Emperor Constantine V (r. 741-42/ 743-775), son of Leo III
Leo IV the Khazar (r. 775-780), son of Constantine V and the Khazar Tzitzak
Constantine VI (r. 780-797), son of Leo IV and Irene
Empress Irene of Athens (r. 797-802), wife of Leo IV
Emperor Nikephoros I (r. 802-811)
Ambush of Nikephoros I in Bulgaria, 811
Bulgarian Khan Krum drinks from the skull of Nikephoros I
Emperor Staurakios (r. 811), son of Nikephoros I
Emperor Michael I Rangabe (r. 811-813), son-in-law of Nikephoros I
Emperor Michael II the Amorian (r. 820-829), known as “the Stammerer”
Emperor Theophilos (r. 829-842), son of Michael II
Emperor Michael III the Drunkard (r. 842-867), son of Theophilos and Theodora
Emperor Basil I the Macedonian (r. 867-886), founder of the Macedonian Dynasty
Emperor Leo VI the Wise (r. 886-912), questionable son of Basil I or Michael III
Byzantine emperor Alexander (r. 912-913), son of Basil I and brother of Leo VI
Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (r. 913-920/ 945-959)
Romanos I Lekapenos (r. 920-944), of Armenian descent
Coronation of the young Constantine VII
Death of Constantine VII, 959
Emperor Romanos II (left, r. 959-963), son of Constantine VII and Helena Lekapene, Empress Theophano (right)
Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963-969)
Emperor John I Tzimiskes (r. 969-976)
Empress Theophano, wife of Romanos II and later of Nikephoros II
John Tzimiskes assassinates Nikephoros II, December 11, 969
Coronation of John I, 969
Emperor Basil II of Byzantium (r. 976-1025)
Bardas Phokas, rebel general and usurping emperor (971/ 987-989)
Emperor Constantine VIII (r. 1025-1028), brother, co-emperor, and successor of Basil II
Emperor Michael IV the Paphlagonian (r. 1034-1041)
Mosaic of Emperor Constantine IX and Empress Zoe
Co-empresses Zoe (left) and Theodora (right), daughters of Constantine VIII
Empress Theodora Porphyrogenita (r. 1055-1056), the last Macedonian
Coronation of Constantine IX, 1042
Komnenos Family crest
Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118)
Emperor John II Komnenos (r. 1118-1143), son of Alexios I Komnenos
Emperor Manuel I Komnenos (r. 1143-1180) and wife Empress Maria of Antioch
Alexios II Komnenos (r. 1180-1183), son of Manuel I and Maria of Antioch
Theodore I Laskaris, 1st Byzantine Emperor of Nicaea (r. 1205-1221)
Emperor John III Doukas Vatatzes of Nicaea (r. 1222-1254)
House of Vatatzes coat of arms
Theodore II Laskaris (r. 1254-1258) Lego figure, son of John III
John IV Laskaris (r. 1258-1261) Lego figure, son of Theodore II
Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1261-1282), restorer of Byzantium
Coronation of Michael VIII Palaiologos as emperor and son Andronikos II as co-emperor in the Hagia Sophia, 1261
Michael VIII enters Constantinople, August 1261
Lego figure of Michael VIII Palaiologos
Andronikos II Palaiologos (r. 1282-1328), son and successor of Michael VIII, Lego figure
Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos (r. 1391-1425), son of John V
John VIII Palaiologos (r. 1425-1448), son of Manuel II
Constantine XI Palaiologos (r. 1448-1453), last emperor of Byzantium, last Roman emperor
The first Roman emperor Augustus Caesar (left) and last Roman emperor Constantine XI (right)
Constantine XI leads the final charge in Constantinople, 1453
III. Unstable Successions in Rome and Byzantium
After all the Roman Empire came from a republican system where leaders were elected every year so the idea of succession wherein a son succeeds his father as the leader of the empire was quite unfamiliar to them, also the idea of the eldest son succeeding their father wasn’t codified in Roman law, though emperors found ways around this such as adopting their heirs and making co-emperors to make succession stable but if not, then succession was surely unstable. Emperors did not have overall authority of naming their successor as the senate and army had to back their choice of successor. Particularly the unit of the Roman army that played a major role in appointing and eliminating emperors was the Praetorian Guard, the elite guard unit of the emperors and secret police force of Rome formed during the reign of Augustus, though ironically made to protect the emperor they were the ones who were responsible in making and destroying emperors as it was them that assassinated Caligula and made Claudius I emperor in 41AD. From Augustus’ coronation as emperor in 27BC to Nero’s death in 68AD, the Julio-Claudian Dynasty ruled the empire but none of the emperors were the son of the previous one. Nero (r. 54-68AD) as emperor thought of himself more of a performer than a ruler and was popular among the people but he was very suspicious of many high ranking people including senators and governor believing they would come up with a plot to assassinate him. Nero however had previously poisoned his step-brother Britannicus, ordered the death of his mother Agrippina the Younger to get rid of her from controlling him, then ordered the death of his wife Claudia Octavia and had later on kicked his second wife Poppea Sabina while she was pregnant thus killing her. In 64AD most of Rome burned while Nero was away but people particularly the senate put the blame on Nero for burning the city so that he could build his dream palace, Nero instead put the blame on the Christians and had them burned. In the last 4 years of Nero’s reign, the senate and governors from the provinces have been coming up with plots to remove him from power. In 68AD, Nero lost the support of the senate and army and was declared a public enemy while in Spain the legion proclaimed their general Servius Sulpicius Galba as emperor and when Galba marched in to Italy, Nero fled and committed suicide- by asking his secretary to kill him. The senate and army thought Galba would be the right choice for emperor since there was no one else and he was old and could die soon but when becoming emperor after Nero, Galba’s reign marked the beginning of a one-year anarchy period as at first he betrayed his soldiers by not fulfilling his promise of paying them bonuses. 69AD was the one year anarchy period known as the “Year of the 4 Emperors” as it began with the legions in Germany rising up against Galba proclaiming the governor Vitellius as emperor while Otho, the governor of the remote Lusitania (today’s Portugal) who helped Galba become emperor got a prophecy that he would be made emperor so he bribed the Praetorian Guards who were unhappy with Galba and in January of 69AD, they killed Galba and Otho became emperor. Otho however did not stay long in power as by April of 69AD, Vitellius with his legions marched in to Italy and defeated Otho’s army, therefore Otho committed suicide and Vitellius became emperor but would only rule until December of 69AD as earlier on the legions in Judea who were crushing the Jewish revolt proclaimed their general Vespasian emperor and by December Vespasian marched his legions to Italy, defeated and killed Vitellius and became emperor while Vespasian’s son Titus was left in charge to finish the Jewish revolt. Vespasian then became emperor and established the Flavian Dynasty, which ended in 96AD when his other son Domitian who was emperor was assassinated. The next time a period of unstable succession would happen was in 193 known as the “Year of the 5 Emperors” beginning with Commodus’ assassination at the end of 192 and when the year 193 began, the Praetorian Guard made the successful soldier Publius Helvius Pertinax as emperor but he only ruled for 3 months as he lost popularity with the Praeotrian Guard and the senate as he did not pay the Praetorian Guard their bonuses and instead only further disciplined them so when the Praetorian Guard turned to the palace to assassinate him, Pertinax made a speech to them but instead the guards stabbed him to death. Without an emperor, the Praetorian Guard then sold off the position in which a senator named Didius Julianus bought and was only emperor for a few months until the Praetorian Guard executed him the moment he fell out of favor, but also at the same time the general Septimius Severus was proclaimed emperor by his army and when reaching Rome he was made the official emperor, although 2 other generals which were Clodius Albinus in the west and Pescennius in the east had also been made emperors unofficially, which is why 193 is known as the “Year of the 5 Emperors”. Septimius Severus would first defeat Pescennius Niger in 194 thus capturing the port town of Byzantium and rebuilding long before it became Constantinople then Clodius Albinus would be defeated in 197 in Gaul; Septimius Severus then had spent his reign more on campaigning and growing the army rather than staying in Rome but in 211, he died while campaigning in Britain while his last wish was to reconcile his 2 sons Caracalla and Geta who were always against each other. As Septimius Severus died, both sons succeeded him as co-emperors but they still hated each other that in Rome they set barricades between each other, but when their mother Julia Domna tried to reconcile her sons, Caracalla had Geta killed in front of their mother at the end of 211. Caracalla (r. 211-217) tried to make himself popular by building the public baths in Rome and offering citizenship to all free inhabitants of the empire in 212 but the people still hated him for ordering massacres for those loyal to Geta, and in Alexandria in 215 Caracalla had even ordered a massacre of the people when seeing a play that was supposed to be about him murdering his brother out of self-defense. Since Caracalla was busy fighting wars against Parthia, he stayed in the east more but in 217 while stopping at a road in Asia Minor to urinate, a soldier who was refused the rank of centurion assassinated him though this soldier was sent by the Praetorian commander Macrinus to kill the emperor, 3 days later even if this soldier was killed, Macrinus who had the support of the army was proclaimed emperor and was the first emperor to never set foot in Rome while in office. Macrinus was only in power for a year (217-218) showing a rare case of how a dynasty was interrupted for a year as for this year the Severan Dynasty founded by Septimius Severus was cut off but a year later, Macrinus and his son Diadumenian who was made co-emperor by his father were killed by the army who then turned to support Caracalla’s nephew Elagabalus, a Syrian who was Julia Domna’s grand-nephew. Elagabalus (r. 218-222) though was young and more of a puppet emperor of his family while his mother Julia Soeamias was his regent, though Elagabalus’ reign was a scandal by replacing the Roman gods with Punic gods especially the sun god where he got his name from, and had even pretended to be a woman at times. His reign did not last long though as in 222 he and his mother were killed by the Praetorian Guard in Rome replacing him with his young cousin Severus I Alexander (r. 222-235), who had also been under the influence of his mother, Julia Mamaea the sister of Julia Soeamias. Severus Alexander despite his young age did his best to restore Rome from the immoral scandals of his cousin but his reign was also a disaster especially since a new empire, the Sassanid Persians rose in the east by around 224 and in the north Germanic tribes kept on attacking Roman borders. Severus was not that capable in defeating the enemy in the view of the soldiers so in 235 the soldiers discontent with his soft rule killed him in their camp in Germania together with his mother. 235 marked the start of the long 3rd century crisis as the Severan Dynasty fully came to an end and a centurion who originated as s shepherd in Thrace was made Emperor Maximinus I known as Maximinus Thrax or “big man from Thrace”, but was a brutal ruler who was said to be 8 feet tall and was only popular with the army as he demanded taxes from the people by force to fund the army, while at the same time he never even set foot in Rome. 238 would be known as the “Year of the 6 Emperors” as rebellions rose up all over the empire proclaiming their own emperors, first in North Africa where the governor was proclaimed Gordian I and his son co-emperor Gordian II but their reigns only lasted for 21 days being the shortest in Roman history as their forces were defeated by Maximinus’ forces who marched to North Africa, then in Rome the 2 senators Pupienus and Balbinus proclaimed themselves emperors but had to step down due to unpopularity and proclaim Gordian I’s grandson the 13-year-old Gordian III emperor before both co-emperors were killed by the Praetorian Guard. At the end of 238, Maximinus I was killed by his own soldiers when trying to march into Italy, Pupienus and Balbinus too were killed by their own guards and Gordian III (r. 238-244) was left as the only emperor being the youngest Roman emperor so far but had to rule under the regency of the Praetorian Prefect who later died and after his death in the east where Gordian III was as well commanding the armies, the new Praetorian Prefect Philip the Arab behind Gordian III’s back plotted to make himself emperor by cutting off the food supply for the army blaming it on Gordian III, so Philip had the army vote on who is the rightful emperor between him and Gordian III and when Philip was voted he had Gordian III assassinated and returned to Rome to get the approval of the senate, he then became Emperor Philip I (r. 244-249), who was in fact of Arab descent and in 248 made his young son Philip II co-emperor. However in 249, the general Decius who was declared emperor by his army launched a civil war against Philip I and in the Battle of Verona in 249 Philip I was defeated and killed, his son too was killed by the Praetorian Guard, and the victor of the civil war Decius became emperor and also made his son Herennius co-emperor but only ruled for 2 years as in 251 he and his son were killed in battle in Eastern Europe against the Goths. Decius’ other son Hostilian was also elevated to emperor after the death of his father and brother but the army had still made the governor in Thrace Trebonianus Gallus emperor, later in that year (251) Hostilian died and Gallus made his son Volusianus co-emperor but at the same time the Sassanids attacked the eastern borders and the Goths attacked the north again so the general Aemilianus was sent to crush the Goths and won and the other general Valerian was sent to fight the Sassanids, though after defeating the Goths, Aemilianus was proclaimed emperor by his army and when returning to Italy in 253 he battled against Gallus killing Gallus and his son in battle and becoming emperor. Aemilianus only reigned for a few months in 253 until Valerian marched in with his army the same year to avenge Gallus while Aemilianus’ troops killed him. Valerian (r. 253-260) then came in as emperor and stayed a bit longer while also making his son Gallienus his co-emperor, though the Sassanids were attacking the east again and Valerian led an army of 70,000 to attack them but with the plague happening he was defeated in 260 and captured by the Sassanid Persian king Shapur I, making Valerian the first Roman emperor to be taken as a prisoner of war by a foreign enemy shocking the Romans. Gallienus then became full emperor in 260 but his reign was faced by many revolts by several general, he then made his son Saloninus co-emperor in the west but was also killed in 260 by the rebel general Postumus who broke free from Rome and formed his own Empire made up of Gaul, Spain, and Britain but having to fight Germanic invasions, they did not bother to attack Rome. Gallienus’ rule was also troubled in the east as after the armies there drove out the Sassaninds, they proclaimed their own empire known as the Palmyrene Empire with Palmyra in Syria as the capital, then in 268 Gallienus himself was assassinated by a cavalry officer. After Gallienus’ death, the army proclaimed the general Claudius II Gothicus as emperor but his reign only lasted for 2 years (268-270) but at least he made the most of it by defeating the Goths again and taking back Spain from the Gallic Empire but in 270 he died of a plague and was replaced as emperor by his brother Quintillus but nothing much is said about his reign except that he died within the same year and was replaced the general Aurelian (r. 270-275) as emperor. Aurelian’s reign was short but successful as he built the powerful walls of Rome, defeated both the Gallic and Palmyrene Empires and brought them back to the united Roman Empire but he left Dacia abandoned and taken over by the Goths, he died in an army camp in 275 when his secretary faked a list of people he wanted dead and showed it to the Praetorian Guards who panicked and assassinated the emperor, but when the list was discovered to be fake, the secretary too was killed. Without any heirs, the senate chose the senator Tacitus to succeed Aurelian, though Tacitus was old and died a year later in 276 and was succeeded by his half-brother Florianus who only reigned for less than 3 months in 276 and was killed by his troops who went up against him, then he would be replaced as emperor by the general Probus (r. 276-282). Probus ruled a bit longer and made the most it too by defeating all rivals against him in a short matter of time and there was a bit of peace in the empire so he had the soldiers instead work on public works but in 282 when preparing for war against the Sassanids, the soldiers complaining about the hard work in having to drain a swamp somewhere in Serbia stabbed Probus to death. The soldiers then proclaimed the Praetorian Prefect Carus as emperor and as emperor he would continue with the campaign against the Sassanid Persians the next year making his son Carinus co-emperor in charge of the west but in 283 at a battle against the Persians it was claimed that Carus was struck by lightning and died that way. Carinus remained emperor in the west while Carus’ other son Numerian was made emperor in the east but when returning from the campaign Numerian died but the Praetorian Prefect Aper claimed he was still alive but when Numerian was discovered to be dead, the soldiers killed Aper and proclaimed the cavalry commander Diocles emperor who then became Emperor Diocletian in 284 and in 285 he defeated Carinus and took over the empire dividing it in half making his friend Maximian emperor in the west and he emperor in the east. In 293 the Tetrarchy system began, Diocletian and Maximian were senior emperors or Augusti and the generals Galerius and Constantius I were junior emperors or Caesars. The system though supposed to be to stop all the take-overs and civil wars still created more civil wars until Constantine I the Great defeated all rivals ending the Tetrarchy in 324.
Praetorian Guards in I, Claudius- making Claudius emperor
Praetorian Guard in full armor, sword, and shield
Emperor Nero and Empress Poppaea Sabina
Nero with Rome burning, 64AD
Nero orders the Christians burned
Servius Sulpicius Galba, Roman emperor 68-69AD
Marcus Salvius Otho, Roman emperor 69AD, former husband of Poppaea
Aulus Vitellius, Roman emperor 69AD
Death of Vitellius, 69AD
Emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus (aka Vespasian)
Death of Commodus, 192
193- Year of the 5 Emperors- Pertinax, Didius Julianus, Pescennius Niger, Clodius Albinus, and Septimius Severus
Publius Helvius Pertinax, Roman emperor, 193
Death of Pertinax, 193
Didius Julianus, Roman emperor, 193
Emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193-211)
Pescennius Niger, usurping emperor 193-194
Clodius Albinus, usurping emperor 193-197
Septimius Severus wins battle over Clodius Albinus in Gaul, 197
Leptis Magna, city built under Septimius Severus
Septimius Severus, Roman emperor of African descent
Family of Septimius Severus Tondo
Arch of Septimius Severus, Rome
Emperor Caracalla (r. 211-217), son of Septimius Severus
Geta (r. 211), co-emperor of Caracalla, son of Septimius Severus
Death of Geta, 211
Baths of Caracalla, Rome
Death of Caracalla while urinating, 217
Macrinus, Roman emperor 217-218
Diadumenian, son and co-emperor of Macrinus, r. 218
Elagabalus, Roman emperor 218-222, of Syrian descent
Julia Soeamias, mother of Elagabalus and daughter of Julia Maesa
Meme of Elgabalus’ replacement of the Roman gods
Severus Alexander, Roman emperor 222-235
Julia Mamaea, mother of Severus Alexander
Persian Sassanid Empire flag
Maximinus I Thrax (r. 235-238), centurion turned Roman emperor
Meme of Maximinus Thrax
Emperor Gordian III (r. 238-244)
Emperor Philip I the Arab (r. 244-249)
Philip II, son of Philip I, co-emperor 248-249)
Emperor Decius (r. 249-251)
Herennius Etruscus, son and co-emperor of Decius (r. 251)
Hostilian, son and co-emperor of Decius (r. 251)
Death of Decius in the Battle of Abritus against the Goths, 251
Emperor Trebonianus Gallus (r. 251-253)
Emperor Aemilianus (r. 253)
Emperor Valerian (r. 253-260)
Valerian captured by Sassanid Shah Shapur I, 260
Valerian in captivity
Emperor Gallienus (r. 253-268), son and co-emperor of Valerian
Cavalry army of Gallienus
Emperor Claudius II Gothicus (r. 268-270)
Emperor Quintillus (r. 270), brother of Claudius II
Emperor Aurelian (r. 270-275), restorer of the world (Restitutor Orbis)
Emperor Aurelian “Restorer of the World” (r. 270-275)
Emperor Marcus Claudius Tacitus (r. 275-276)
Emperor Florianus (r. 276), brother of Tacitus
Emperor Probus (r. 276-282)
Emperor Carus (r. 282-283)
Persian sculpture of Carus’ Persian campaign
Carinus, son of Carus and co-emperor (283-285)
Numerian, son of Carus and co-emperor (283-284)
Diocletian, originally Diocles, commander of Carus’ cavalry
If the Roman Empire had gone through almost 50 years of anarchy military takeovers, and frequent changes of emperors from 235 to 284, its successor the Byzantine Empire went through the same but not as long as the 3rd century crisis in the Roman Empire. However, the long period of unstable succession and military takeovers in the Roman Empire was one of its legacies that was left behind in Byzantium. Continuing the imperial traditions of Rome, the Byzantine Empire though being a more absolute monarchy was still not a monarchy by “divine right”, also there was no codified Byzantine law for emperors to be succeeded by their eldest sons and to be emperor they still needed the support of the senate and army but more so the army, in which many Byzantine emperors took the throne by a military coup as a general or sometimes in a more peaceful way to gain power, generals by married the former emperor’s widow which with the case with emperors Anastasius I in 491, Nikephoros II in 963, and Romanos IV in 1068. After all, Constantine the Great had founded Byzantium after eliminating his rivals in the west until fully ruling it in 312 and in 324 after defeating Licinius became the sole ruler of the Roman Empire ending the Tetrarchy and making the new capital Constantinople. In the history of Byzantium there had in fact been 4 times when an emperor was deposed but returned for a second reign. The first emperor of Byzantium to be overthrown was Zeno in 475 due to his unpopularity for being an Isaurian originally named Tarasis Kodisa, which people in Constantinople considered as semi-barbaric and with the support of an army, Basiliscus usurped the throne and became emperor for a year but in 476 the army sent to Isauria to chase after Zeno defected to Zeno’s side and turned on Basiliscus forcing him out of power and making Zeno emperor again, Basiliscus was then sent to exile and locked up in a cistern in Cappadocia where he died of starvation shortly after. Zeno ruled for many years till his death in 491 but his reign was challenged by different usurping generals wherein he could have almost lost the throne. The next emperor to be overthrown but had returned to power was Justinian II who became emperor in 685 but as emperor he ruled without thinking practically and wasted the empire’s funds in conquests and trying to rebuild the greatness of Justinian I who ruled a century before him in which he was named after but in 695 the people, army, senate, and Church gathered and overthrew him cutting his nose off and sending him into exile for 10 years until but in 705 he returned to power despite having a cut-off nose and he spent his second reign being even worse executing all those who had conspired to overthrow him in 695 but at the end Justinian II was overthrown again in 711 and this time he was executed. The third emperor to be deposed but had returned to power was Constantine V, the son of Leo III of the Isaurian Dynasty who became emperor in 741 after his father died but his father’s general Artavasdos who helped him take the throne in 717 felt like he deserved the throne as Leo III promised him before so in 742 while Constantine V went on a military campaign, Artavasdos stole the throne from him for a year until Constantine V returned and defeated Artavasdos who had then had blinded and sent to live in a monastery for life, Constantine V then would create the special army force known as the Tagmata to have an army loyal to the emperor and he ruled for much longer till his death in 775. The fourth emperor to be overthrown but had returned to power was Isaac II Angelos who came to power in 1185 by popular support and having the emperor Andronikos I Komnenos beaten to death but as emperor Isaac II was no worse than his predecessor Andronikos I and the Byzantine army had fallen into decline then in 1195, out of nowhere while Isaac was out hunting his older brother Alexios III usurped the throne feeling he had the right since he was older and when Isaac returned he was blinded and thrown into prison with his son. The son however escaped and travelled to Venice to get the 4th Crusade to put him in power in which in 1203 his uncle Alexios III escaped Constantinople and lost the throne while Isaac II was released from prison but ruled together with his son Alexios IV since Isaac II was blind and had grown mentally and physically weak, but early in 1204 the people rose up against them for agreeing to pay off the Crusaders so both father and son were deposed, imprisoned again, and executed. The fourth case here shows the story of the Angelos emperors from 1185 to 1204 in which all of them came to power by force despite being in the same family and with both Isaac II and Alexios IV dead in 1204, the man responsible for it became Emperor Alexios V but ruled for only 2 months as the 4th Crusade army attacked and captured Constantinople forcing Alexios V to flee but when caught he was executed by the Crusaders who threw him off a column in Constantinople. In Byzantine history itself there had been so much more stories of unstable successions and takeovers such as in 602 when the emperor Maurice (r. 582-602) could not pay his army, which led them to rebel and proclaim the centurion Phocas as emperor who was only a low, ranking officer. Phocas still took over with the support of the army, marched in to Constantinople and had Maurice and his sons executed by beheading. Phocas spent most of his reign eliminating all potential rivals leaving the Sassanid Persians to quickly take over Byzantine territory but in 610 Heraclius from North Africa sailed to Constantinople and with the support of the senate and army deposed Phocas and executed him. In the Byzantine Empire though compared to the Roman Empire before them, deposed emperors weren’t punished as severely as in ancient Rome, the usurper who would take the throne usually killed off the former emperor such as the case with Maximinus I killing off Severus Alexander in 235, though in Byzantium the update in the law on emperors created punishments for deposed emperors which was that they would be blinded so that they would not be able to take back the throne or sent to a monastery for life, although Isaac II was the exception here as he came to power in his second reign blind and Justinian II in his second reign had a mutilated nose when the law said the emperor should be of perfect shape meaning missing no body parts and not blind. At the end of the 7th century, in 695 Justinian II was overthrown and his nose cut off, then the general Leontios who was an enemy of Justinian II was proclaimed emperor but 3 years later in 698 after a mission to take back Carthage from the Arabs that failed, the army that was sent decided to turn on Leontios and had one of the commanders, Tiberius Apsimar made emperor Tiberius III, thus Leontios was banished to a monastery, but in 705 Justinian II returned and had both usurpers Leontios and Tiberius III executed. After Justinian II was overthrown again in 711 and this time beheaded, the general who took over as emperor Philippikos Bardanes only stayed for 2 years (711-713) as the army decided to overthrow and blind him replacing him with his secretary Artemios who became Anastasius II (r. 713-715) who in 715 was again overthrown by the army and without anyone to make emperor they chose a random tax official and proclaimed him Emperor Theodosius III (r. 715-717) but he never wanted to be emperor so when the general Konon revolted he abdicated and Konon became Emperor Leo III. This anarchy period with 7 changes of emperor went on for only 22 years though from 695 to 717 whereas Rome in the 3rd century had a change of emperor more than 27 times in less than 50 years. For a Byzantine ruler, it was easy to loose the throne especially when loosing the support of the army, people, and senate which was the case of Empress Irene in 802 because of her unpopular decision in marrying the new Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne for an alliance which the Byzantine people hated and move to depose Irene and replace her with the finance officer Nikephoros I (r. 802-811). In 813, the emperor Michael I abdicated when the general Leo the Armenian rose up against him and had later proclaimed himself Leo V but in 820 he was assassinated by his general Michael of Amorion who helped him come to power but both had fallen out with each other. After Leo V was assassinated, Michael II became emperor but was almost overthrown when Leo V’s other general Thomas the Slav launched a civil war that almost brought down Michael II but Thomas was eventually defeated. There would not be much of unstable succession in Byzantium until the 11th century when the Macedonian Dynasty ended after Empress Theodora (r. 1055-1056) died and was replaced by her secretary Michael VI Bringas who was unpopular with army which led them to proclaim the general Isaac Komnenos as emperor. Isaac I only ruled for 2 years (1057-1059) but tried to fix the ruin of the empire but after suffering a sickness had to abdicate and pass the throne to his friend the general and senator Constantine X Doukas (r. 1059-1067) who was a weak ruler and left the Byzantine army in ruin and after his death, instead of his son succeeding him his wife Empress Eudokia Makrembolitissa married the general Romanos Diogenes who became Emperor Romanos IV since Byzantium needed a strong ruler to defeat the invading Seljuk Turks but at the end the Byzantines in 1071 were defeated by the Seljuks at Manzikert and Romanos IV was captured but released although back in Constantinople, Constantine X’s son Michael VII (r. 1071-1078) was made emperor and while Romanos IV was on his way to return he was defeated and captured again and instead of being spared, Michael VII had him brutally blinded which killed him shortly after Now Michael VII was a weak ruler who listened to everything people in his court said and once even a rogue Norman mercenary went as far as proclaiming himself the Byzantine emperor but in 1078 the military rebellion of the generals Nikephoros Bryennios and Nikephoros Botaneiates went against him and Michael VII not being able to hold onto power abdicated and retired to a monastery wherein Nikephoros III Botaneiates became emperor for only 3 years as in 1081 the general Alexios Komenos usurped the throne and became Emperor Alexios I re-establishing the Komnenos Dynasty in which his uncle Isaac I was the first Komnenos emperor. Like the Severan Dynasty in imperial Rome which had a one year break from 217-218 when the general Macrinus took over between Caracalla’s assassination and Elagabalus’ ascension, the Komnenos Dynasty was to begin in 1057 with Isaac I but only had one emperor in its first period and in between Isaac I’s abdication in 1059 and his nephew Alexios I’s ascension in 1081 there was a whole Dynasty, the Doukas Dynasty between them. The Komnenos Dynasty saw a peaceful linear succession and 4 generations in one straight line were made emperors until Alexios I’s grandson Alexios II (r. 1180-1183) was overthrown by his relative Andronikos I Komnenos (r. 1183-1185) but because of tyrannical reign was overthrown by his cousin Isaac II Angelos who was already mentioned earlier, but Isaac II on the other turned out to another incompetent and corrupt ruler. After the fall of Constantinople to the 4th Crusade in 1204, the Empire of Nicaea had a stable succession for 4 generations until the last emperor John IV Laskaris who was still a boy was usurped by the general Michael Palaiologos when taking back Constantinople in 1261, John IV was then blinded an imprisoned while Michael VIII founded the Palaiologos Dynasty, the last one to rule Byzantium. Michael VIII though was peacefully succeeded by his son Andronikos II after his death in 1282, Andronikos II then had ruled a long reign of 46 years and in it his son co-emperor Michael IX died in which Andronikos II blamed his grandson Andronikos for, but the grandson Andronikos launched a civil war against his grandfather in 1321 and in 1328 the young Andronikos won and overthrew his grandfather sending him to a monastery. Andronikos III (r. 1328-1341) had a successful reign but his death was in 1341 was so sudden that he did not name his successor while he already had a son. The son John V was made emperor anyway but his reign was challenged as the aristocrats backed Andronikos III’s general John Kantakouzenos who was declared a public enemy by Andronikos III’s widow the empress Anna of Savoy. This was the second civil war in the Palaiologos Dynasty and a more deadly one, which ended in 1347 with John Kantakouzenos as the winner. In this case, John V like Constantine VII in the 10th century was not fully removed from power but made co-emperor while John VI Kantakouzenos (r. 1347-1354) was the senior emperor but in 1354 John V with the help of Genoese pirates took back the throne and banished John VI to a monastery but John V’s long reign was almost entirely unstable as in 1376 his son completely overthrew and imprisoned him and became Emperor Andronikos IV but in 1379 with the help of the Venetians and Ottomans, John V removed his son from power and became emperor again, but in 1390 5 years after Andronikos IV died his son John VII overthrew his grandfather John V out of revenge for only 5 months. John V was a rare case of an emperor and a tragic one as his reign of a total 50 years began with a civil war and was removed from power 3 times, he then died early in 1391 of grief and humiliation naming his second son Manuel II Palaiologos his successor. In less than a century after John V’s death in 1391, Byzantium fell to the Ottomans but the succession remained stable.
Zeno the Isaurian, aka. Tarasis Kodisa
Emperor Basiliscus (left) r. 475-476
Meme of Basiliscus
Byzantine underground cistern
Emperor Zeno in Constantinople
Justinian II Rhinotmetos (r. 685-695/ 705-711)
Justinian II deposed and nose mutilated, 695
Rebellion of Bardanes and 2nd overthrow of Justinian II, 711
Constantine V Kopronymos (r. 741-742/ 743-775)
Tagmata guard unit, created by Constantine V
Coin of Emperor Artavasdos (r. 742-743)
Destruction of icons under Constantine V
Constantine V’s Iconoclasm
Andronikos I Komnenos as Byzantine emperor
Execution of Andronikos I in the Constantinople Hippodrome, 1185
Isaac Angelos’ rise to power, 1185
Emperor Isaac II Angelos (r. 1185-1195/ 1203-1204)
Blinding of Isaac II Angelos, 1195
Alexios III Angelos (r. 1195-1203)
Alexios IV asks the help of the Crusaders, 1202
1204- The 4th Crusade, temporary fall of Constantinople
Alexios V Doukas Mourtzouphlos (r. 1204)
Lego Alexios V thrown off the Column of Theodosius, 1204
Emperor Phocas (r. 602-610)
Execution of Emperor Maurice and his sons by Phocas, 602
Meme of Phocas’ deposition by Heraclius
Emperor Leontios (r. 695-98), of Isaurian descent
Tiberius III Apsimar, Byzantine emperor (r. 698-705), of Germanic descent