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

Posted by Powee Celdran

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

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

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


 

1. The 10th Century           

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. The 5th Century           

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

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

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Battle of Chalons, 451

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. The 6th Century           

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

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

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

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

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Court of Emperor Justinian I and Empress Theodora

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Maurice, Byzantine emperor (r. 582-602)

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

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

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

4. The 13th Century          

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos of Byzantium

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

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

5. The 11th Century              

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

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

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

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

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Seljuk Turks ride from the steppes into Asia Minor

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

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Defeat and capture of Romanos IV by the Seljuks, 1071

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

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Emperor Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118)

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

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

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

 

6. The 4th Century               

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Map of the Roman Empire under Constantine I, 330

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

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

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

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Council of Nicaea, 325

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. The 12th Century         

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

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

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Coat of Arms of Byzantium under the Komnenos Dynasty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. The 15th Century          

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Map of the reduced Byzantine Empire in 1450 (purple)

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

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Flag of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century

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

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

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

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

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

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Ottoman sultan Mehmed II captures Constantinople, 1453

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

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

9. The 9th Century           

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. The 7th Century          

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The Byzantine Empire in 650 (orange) under Constans II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11. The 14th Century

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Byzantium in 1350 (blue)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Seal of the Palaiologos Dynasty of the Byzantine Empire

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

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

12. The 8th Century           

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The Byzantine Empire in 717 (purple)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Byzantine Alternate History Series: Chapter I- Roman Victory at the Gothic War (376-382)

Posted by Powee Celdran

Disclaimer: Although this is a work of fiction, it is largely based on true events and characters. It seeks alter the course of actual events that transpired in the 4th century AD.

So intense was Valentinian’s wrath, he burst a blood vessel in his brain. His legacy would be that of the last strong western Augustus to rule an empire at peace, however the true catastrophe was yet to come.” -Dovahhatty, Unbiased History: Rome XVII- Imperial Wrath

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Welcome to the Byzantine Alternate History series by the Byzantium Blogger! This article will be the first part of an article series I will be making this year featuring a scenario in Byzantine history and discussing an alternative outcome to it, basically a what if in Byzantine history. For this series, I will come up with 12 different what if stories in Byzantine history featuring one per century in its 1,100-year existence and I will start this series with the 4th century, the same century where the story of the Eastern Roman Empire or the Byzantine Empire begins. To give you all an idea of what this new project of mine is, I am basically going to experiment on rewriting events in Byzantine history especially major turning points to see how different their history will turn out to be if a particular event went the opposite direction from what actually happened. In this 12-part series I will be writing some articles alone and others with other Byzantine history fans like myself, though for this one it will just be myself writing it. Take note here that each article in this series will be a stand-alone piece and will have no continuity with each other. This first of a 12-part series and will be featuring the Gothic War from 376-382 and the devastating defeat of the Eastern Roman army to the massive numbers of the invading Goths at the Battle of Adrianople in 378 which resulted in the settlement of the Gothic tribes within Roman territory beginning the gradual collapse of the Western half of the Roman Empire ending with the fall of the west in 476 due to many more conflicts with the Goths and other barbarians following the defeat of 378. Now what if the story of the Gothic War went the other way around wherein the Romans of the combined Eastern and Western Empires at that time won and defeated the Goths? Will this literally change the course of history?

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Note: Since the story is set in the 4th century, Byzantine characters will be referred to as Romans not Byzantines.

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Map of all Barbarian invasions into the Roman Empire, 100-500AD

In the long history of Rome, the Romans faced many defeats such as to the Parthian Persians at Carrhae in 53BC and to the Germanic Tribes at Teutoburg Forest in 9AD but these defeats were only shocking moments that weakened the strength and pride of their superior military power and not devastating enough to actually result in the downfall of the Roman civilization the way the Battle of Adrianople in 378 did. In real history, we know that in 375, Valentinian I, the last strong and great emperor of the western half of the Roman Empire died out of his own anger after negotiating with invading Germanic tribes and the following year after his death, Gothic hordes numbering up to 200,000 suddenly invaded the Roman border of the Danube River which was part of the eastern half of the Roman Empire ruled by Valentinian I’s younger brother Valens seeking for asylum within Roman territory as they were fleeing their homeland in Eastern Europe from a mysterious and deadly enemy that had the power to destroy civilization coming from the east, which were the Huns of Central Asia. The Gothic hordes of the Thervingi and Greuthungi tribes were granted asylum in the Eastern Roman Empire but their numbers proved too impossible for the Roman authorities to feed leading the Goths to rebel and for the empire to declare war on them eventually culminating in the Battle of Adrianople on August 9, 378 not so far away from the Eastern Roman Empire’s capital Constantinople wherein the Gothic army severely outnumbered the Roman army resulting in the death of the Eastern Roman emperor Valens in battle. Following Valens’ death and the Romans’ defeat, the Goths were free to roam around the empire raiding it until they were eventually subdued by the new eastern emperor Theodosius I, who however did not literally defeat the Goths and send them back to their homeland in the north but instead made a deal with them that had the Goths settled in the Roman Empire as federate subjects but eventually this plan would not work out too well as this settlement of the Goths into the Roman Empire allowed the Goths and later other barbarian settlers from beyond the empire the opportunity to rebel against Rome and establish their own independent kingdoms within the empire, thus leading to the collapse of at least the Western Roman Empire. On the other hand, sending the Goths back to their homeland in Eastern Europe was out of the question since the Huns have already been constantly making raids into it and the Goths had no such power to stand against them but if united with the Romans they would; and true enough the Goths that had settled in Roman Gaul becoming the Visigoths would actually one day join forces a century later in 451 when the Huns finally came to the point of invading the Western Roman Empire and with the combined forces of Romans and Goths, the Huns were weakened and eventually driven away. Though the Gothic War with Rome beginning 376 had some positive outcomes like when the Goths eventually joined forces with the Romans against the Huns of Attila defeating them in 451 but on the negative side, the settlement of the Goths in the empire after 382 caused the Western Roman Empire to slowly slip away to the control of the growing power of the Goths who would quickly transform from tribes to kingdoms such as that of the Visigoths and Ostrogoths.

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Flag of the Western (red) and Eastern (purple) Roman Empires combined
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Map of the Gothic War in the Balkans, 376-382
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Guide to the late Roman army’s structure (by Powee Celdran); this article contains a lot of terms of late Roman army units.

Related Articles from The Byzantium Blogger:

The Art of War in the Byzantine World

12 Turning Points in Byzantine History

The Roman and Byzantine Armies Compared

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

The Fall of Western and Eastern Rome Compared

Gothic War Related Videos:

Unbiased History: Rome XVII- Imperial Wrath (Dovahhatty)

Battle of Adrianople 378- Roman-Gothic War Documentary (Kings and Generals).


What inspired me to do an article about the Gothic War out of all events in the 4th century was again my favorite Youtube channel on Roman history Dovahhatty in Episode XVII of his Unbiased History of Rome entitled Imperial Wrath wherein Valentinian I’s death caused by his own anger in 375 was shown and here Dovahhatty narrates saying that after Valentinian’s death, “the true catastrophe was yet to come”. This part here made me come to think that if Valentinian had survived, would this help in preventing this catastrophe? And so now I have come up with a story revolving this what if scenario. Now this article will be focused on the what if scenario wherein the Goths were defeated by the Romans in 378 at Adrianople and sent back to their homeland. It will also dive into other possible scenarios that could alter the course of history in the late 4th century such as if the western emperor Valentinian I lived after 375 and did not die out of his own anger, therefore he would be around to help his eastern co-emperor and brother Valens in the east the moment the Goths arrived in 376 whereas in real history, with Valentinian I dead, the west was passed on to his young son Gratian who still training to be a stronger emperor was late to send reinforcements to help his uncle in the east. Now if Valentinian I who was known to be a strong military emperor with a great anger towards the barbarian enemies of Rome was still alive to help Valens in the east against the Goths, would this result in the Roman Empire actually being spared from the large-scale threat of the Goths? On the story of this Gothic War however, there are not much primary sources from the era except for the Roman historian and former soldier Ammianus Marcellinus who writes about the conflict in detail but only from the Roman perspective. In this article, I will do my best not just to tell the story of this Gothic War from the Roman perspective of the co-emperors Valentinian I and Valens but also from the side of the Goths and their leaders Fritgern, Alatheus, and Saphrax and in addition, I will explore and experiment on possible scenarios in this conflict which would be that what if the Gothic forces of the Thervingi (later Visigoths) and Greuthungi (later Ostrogoths) were actually more united and had more of an objective rather than being just raiders looking for land and wealth and instead be fully committed to destroying Roman civilization, which means that the Goths would have to take a Roman hostage which would be no other than the future emperor Theodosius I in order for the Goths to be able to beat the Romans as they would need someone to help them understand Rome’s fighting techniques, therefore making Theodosius betray Rome and take the side of the Goths. This article too will include one fictional character fused into the historical setting of the Gothic War which will be a female Goth leader named Valdis and I would do the same as well in blending in a fictional character for the following parts of my series as this new series I am doing aside from being an alternate history series will also be a historical fan fiction wherein I would experiment by exploring on and playing around with the stories of some existing historical characters and adding in some fictional elements and events in history that could have happened but we’ve never seen happen which in this case would be Valentinian I and Valens joining forces in battle which could be vital in helping the Roman win against the Goths as another reason for the Roman defeat was because of the disunity between the eastern and western halves of their empire which came to see themselves as competitors wherein they were actually one empire despite each half having its own emperor. It will then end discussing the possible outcomes if the Romans won the Battle of Adrianople and how the empire would be different if the Gothic threat was dealt with. The 4th century in which this story is set in was a very crucial time for the Roman Empire being a time of religious debates and controversy as it saw Christianity rising while at the same time it faced barbarian invasions from the north and a chronic war with their mortal enemy, the Sassanid Empire in the east but since the main focus of this story will be about the Gothic War in the late 4th century, it will focus less on the happenings all over the empire, and rather more the subject of battles and warfare of this era and on this particular conflict.


The Leading Characters:

Valentinian I the Great- Western Roman emperor

Valens- Eastern Roman emperor and brother of Valentinian I   

Fritigern- Chieftain of the Thervingi Goths

Gratian- Western Roman co-emperor and son of Valentinian I  

Theodosius the Elder- WesternRoman general

Theodosius the Younger- Eastern Roman general and son of Theodosius the Elder

Athanaric- Rival Thervingi Goth chieftain of Fritigern

Alatheus- Co-Chieftain of the Greuthungi Goths

Saphrax- Co-Chieftain of the Greuthungi Goths

*Valdis- Greuthungi Goth leader (fictional character)

Alavivus- Thervingi Goth leader

Lupicinus- Eastern Roman general in Moesia

Maximus- 2nd in command to Lupicinus  

Valentinian II- Son of Valentinian I and future co-emperor

Justina- Western Roman empress, 2nd wife of Valentinian I

Flavius Merobaudes- Western Roman general  

Richomeres- Western Roman general

Sebastianus- Eastern Roman general

Profuturus- Eastern Roman general

Trajan- Eastern Roman general

Flavius Bauto- Western Roman commander

Arbogast- Western Roman Comitatus soldier

Flavius Stilicho- Western Roman Comitatus soldier  

Flavius Anthemius- Eastern Roman Comitatus soldier  

Sueridus- Thervingi Goth warrior

Colias- Thervingi Goth warrior  

*Genseric- Chieftain of the Quadi (real character but unnamed, therefore I gave his name) 

Character Images Below

Background Guide: Western Roman characters (red), Eastern Roman characters (yellow), Thervingi Goths (blue),


The Background (The Real History)

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In the 4th century, the Roman Empire despite coming out of a long period of crisis (the Crisis of the 3rd Century) still covered a vast amount of territory north to south from Britain to Egypt and west to east from Portugal to the Caucasus Mountains but with a territory so large, this meant that enemies would be attacking from all sides as in the east, the Roman Empire shared a border with a hostile neighbor, the Sassanid Persian Empire, to the north with several Germanic tribes including the Goths who at this time have been settling in Eastern Europe and have been long-time enemies with the Romans but far to the northeast, a mysterious and deadly power was expanding and coming closer and closer to the Roman Empire. This rapidly expanding power were the Huns, an unknown warlike race of people from deep within Central Asia that were expanding westwards into Europe displacing several people that settled there such as the Gothic tribes that settled in what is today’s Romania, Ukraine, Belarus, and Poland. The Roman Empire had not yet felt the presence of the Hunnish threat of the east, but instead they felt it in waves coming in the form of several invasions of barbarian Germanic tribes through the empire’s Rhine and Danube River borders. The 4th century was a crucial time of change for the Roman Empire as it was here when the Roman Empire was first divided into 4 quarters with their own emperors in what was known as the Tetrarchy which eventually led to a series of civil wars between the divisions until these civil wars were put to an end and the divisions united again as one empire by Emperor Constantine I the Great in 324.

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

At the same time, it was also in Constantine I’s that Imperial Rome went through a very major transition which was the rise of the Christian religion which under Constantine I was now to be no longer outlawed but tolerated and practiced all over the empire and true enough it had grown so fast to become the dominant religion of the empire even though just some years earlier, Christians under the co-emperors Diocletian and Galerius were severely persecuted. Constantine I also had the legacy of organizing the Council of Nicaea in 325 which established the official statement of beliefs for the Christian religion known as the Nicene Creed and in 330, Constantine I too rebuilt the port town of Byzantium in the narrow Bosporus Strait between Europe and Asia into the Roman Empire’s new capital renaming it Constantinople after himself as its name literally means “Constantine’s city” whereas Rome, the “Eternal City” ever since the second half of the 3rd century was no longer in use as the empire’s capital. Other than that, Constantine had also finalized the restructuring of the Roman army from entire legions consisting of thousands of men to more legions consisting of less men and in his lifetime fought many wars against both imperial rivals or foreign invaders and never lost any but no matter how great he was, he was not able to completely solve the division in the Christian Church that had been growing in his time and although he was able to establish the official creed for Christianity and declare the other division known as Arianism that opposed the creed as heresy, the Arian division of Christianity still thrived and it was only at his death in 337 that Constantine was actually baptized as a Christian and ironically by an Arian bishop, therefore making him be baptized as an Arian Christian. At Constantine I’s death, the Roman Empire was once again divided and this time into 3 among his 3 sons Constantine II the eldest taking the westernmost provinces of Gaul, Hispania, and Britain, the youngest one Constans I taking Italy, Illyria, Pannonia, and most of North Africa while the middle son and most able ruler of the 3, Constantius II took the entire eastern half of the empire which was based in Constantinople, the new capital. The 3 brothers would end up in conflict with each other and in 340, the eldest brother Constantine II who demanded the lands of his youngest brother Constans I as he was the eldest one invaded Italy but was killed in battle giving the majority of the empire to his youngest brother but in 350, Constans I’s army revolted and killed him leaving Constantius II who defeated the rebel army and became the sole ruler of the empire.

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Emperor Constantius II (r. 337-361)

Constantius II too happened to be an Arian Christian and the Arians though still believing in the Christian faith denied the divinity of Christ believing that the Father was more superior to the son while Nicene Christianity believed that both the Father and Son were God. However, it was not only in the Roman Empire where the Arian heresy was spreading among the people as at the same time as Constantine I and Constantius II ruled the empire, beyond the Danube borders in Eastern Europe, a Greek priest from Roman Asia Minor named Ulfilas who was taken as a captive by the Goths at a young age and raised as a Goth spread Arian Christianity among the Goths in the lands of Eastern Europe beyond the empire’s borders. In the process of converting the Goths to Arian Christianity, Ulfilas knowing the Goth’s language translated the Bible from Greek into it as well as developing the Gothic alphabet based on the Greek one and at some point later on, Ulfilas returned to the Roman Empire to be ordained as an Arian bishop by Eusebius of Nicomedia, the same Arian bishop that baptized Constantine I in 337. With Ulfilas as a bishop, Arian Christianity continued spreading among the Goths, but a large number of Goths still stuck to their old Pagan religion and a certain chieftain of the Thervingi Goths from today’s Romania named Athanaric who was a devout Pagan began persecuting his Christian subjects and here Ulfilas would flee from the Gothic lands and disappear from history never to be mentioned again.

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Map of the 1st Roman Tetrarchy,
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Map of the Roman Empire reunited under Constantine I, 337
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The Roman Empire divided among Constantine I’s sons Constantine II, Constans I, and Constantius II following Constantine I’s death, 337
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Map of the spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire
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Ulfilas spreads Arian Christianity among the Goths, 4th century

Back in the Roman Empire, during the reign of Constantius II (337-361), a young soldier named Valentinian (Flavius Valentinianus), a native of Roman Pannonia (today’s Croatia) rose up the ranks first in the imperial bodyguard unit of Constantius II in Constantinople and later in the Roman field army of the west where in 355 he served in the army of Constantius II’s western Caesar or junior emperor which was his cousin Julian, son of Constantine I’s half-brother Julius Constantius in defending the border of the Rhine River from the invading Germanic Alemanni tribes, however at some point in 355, Valentinian was falsely accused of being responsible for the Romans’ defeat to the Alemanni which resulted in him being dismissed from the army by the emperor Constantius himself. Now speaking of Valentinian’s background, he originated in the town of Cibalae in Southern Roman Pannonia born on July 3, 321 during the reign of Constantine I and Valentinian’s father was a Roman-Illyrian soldier of low birth named Gratian the Elder who rose up the ranks from a common soldier to a high-ranking officer under Constantine I and Constans I, the emperor of the middle portion of the empire then, and when climbing up the ranks earlier, Gratian was able to purchase an estate in Pannonia (today’s Croatia, Serbia, and Hungary) where his sons Valentinian and Valens (Flavius Valens)- born in 328- grew up and growing up, both Valentinian and Valens were educated not only in civil and military matters but in painting and sculpting as well but when growing up in Pannonia, it was Valentinian that was deeply bothered by how exposed their area was to barbarian invasions considering that the province of Pannonia was at the frontier of the Roman Empire along the Danube and due to his frustration towards the constant threat of barbarian invasions into Roman Pannonia, Valentinian decided to join the army at a young age in the late 330s in order to fight the barbarians that deeply bothered him and nothing would define Valentinian more than his anger towards barbarians which explains why he had such a hot and violent temper to whoever provoked him. Between 355 and 357, when Valentinian was dismissed from the army, he returned to Pannonia but this time retired to his new family estate in Sirmium (today’s Serbia) where he eventually married Marina Severa and in 359 when he was back in the army- this time serving as a cavalry commander of the elite imperial guard force of the Palatini in Gaul again under the Caesar Julian- Valentinian’s son Gratian named after Valentinian’s father was born. In 360, the Caesar Julian in Gaul who was popular with his troops was declared Augustus or senior emperor by his army in Lutetia (today’s Paris) in opposition to the reigning Augustus in the east Constantius II, thus signalling a declaration of civil war but in 361 before Constantius could meet Julian in battle, he died in Cilicia (Southern Asia Minor) of a sickness declaring his cousin Julian, his last male relative as his successor and following Constantius’ death, Julian was the sole ruler of the Roman Empire setting himself up in Constantinople as he had already marched east with Valentinian part of his army.

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Julian crowned Augustus in Paris, 360

Part of Julian’s Palatini or elite imperial guard force by the time he became the sole Augustus in 361 other than Valentinian was Valentinian’s younger brother Valens and another Roman-Illyrian named Jovian. Though the emperor Julian as a philosopher was a Pagan that renounced Christianity, making himself be known as “the Apostate”, he also tolerated Christians making sure no religion was favored over the other so to show this, both Jovian and Valentinian who were Nicene Christians were appointed to high military positions. Julian’s reign however lasted for less than 2 years as in 363, he led a large military campaign against the Sassanid Persian Empire in the east intended to defeat Persia and joining Julian was both Jovian and Valentinian in his elite forces though Julian split the army with his maternal cousin Procopius, but when Julian arrived at the Sassanid capital of Ctesiphon, Procopius did not and when waiting for Procopius’ men to arrive, Julian’s army was ambushed by the Sassanids and having no time to put on his armor, Julian rode into battle and was suddenly and mysteriously impaled by a flying spear from a Persian soldier and mortally wounded, Julian died soon enough on June 26, 363.

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Death of Julian, 363

As Julian died suddenly in battle without naming an heir, the army being confused with no emperor in place decided to elect Jovian who was the imperial guard’s commander as their next emperor as being in his position made him the closest person to Julian. Procopius’ army though still did not arrive and Jovian feeling unready to continue the fight against the Sassanids chose to buy time and wait for Procopius to arrive and continue the war but Procopius never arrived so he was left with no choice but to agree to a humiliating peace with the Sassanid Persian emperor or Shah Shapur II who was a long-time enemy of Rome since Constantine I’s reign and this peace Jovian signed with Shapur demanded that the defeated Romans surrendered all the lands they conquered from the Sassanids in the past years back to the Sassanids, including all of Northern Mesopotamia and Southern Armenia in exchange for the Romans to return home unharmed.

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Shah Shapur II of the Sassanid Empire (r. 309-379)

Jovian agreed to surrender these lands but also successfully requested a condition for this agreement that all Christians in these areas taken back by the Sassanids would be allowed to return and when Jovian led the retreat back to the empire, this was the only time he met up with Procopius again and as for Shapur II, he honored the terms and allowed the Romans to return home even if he actually planned of killing every last man in the Roman army but the eastern border of Shapur’s massive empire was also threatened by the same Huns that threatened the Goths in the north and if Shapur continued the war against the Romans, he would not have enough men to send to the east to fight off the Huns.

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Emperor Jovian (r. 363-364)

Jovian though returning alive to the empire was highly mocked by the people of Antioch with offensive graffiti targeted at him for having no claim to the throne as a common soldier, though Jovian returned to the Christians their privileges taken away from them by Julian but Jovian too did not last long in power and after Antioch on the return trip to Constantinople, he appointed Valentinian to be in charge of a fort in Asia Minor and charged a commander of Frankish origin named Flavius Merobaudes with burying Julian’s body back at Constantinople but before making it back to Constantinople, Jovian died in his sleep in the town of Dadastana in Asia Minor in February of 364 of carbon monoxide poisoning as he slept in a room with newly painted walls with a lit brazier that released the walls’ toxic fumes suffocating him. With Jovian dead, the army again had to look for a replacement to fill in the power vacuum and being the nearest most competent general, Valentinian was elected by the army as the new emperor.

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Map of Julian’s Sassanid Campaign, 363
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Romans against Sassanid Persians in Julian’s campaign, 363 (by Amelianvs) 

When arriving back in Constantinople, Valentinian I at age 43 accepted the acclamation of emperor but knowing he could not rule the entire empire alone and to prevent further succession crisis, Valentinian one month later named his younger brother Valens who was 36 at that time and still in the imperial guard in Constantinople as his eastern co-Augustus- also so that Valens would not rebel one day for being left out- and it was already tradition at this time that the Roman Empire was to be divided ever since Emperor Diocletian’s division between east and west in 286. Although the west and east had different emperors with Valentinian and Valens respectively, no matter how much both halves would see each other as competitors, it was still one empire with the same armies and military structure and generals in the west could be assigned to provinces in the eastern half as well while people could still travel the whole empire without any restrictions.

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Coin of co-emperors Valentinian I (left) and Valens (right)

Though both brothers Valentinian and Valens were close to each other, they still had many difference most notably it was that the older brother Valentinian was a stronger military man who was impulsive by nature with a bad temper and believed that the barbarian enemies of Rome could not be reasoned with and therefore have to pay in blood while Valens was good and friendly in nature but at the same time tough though lacking the impulse his older brother had making him not quick to decide in a critical moment; other than that their biggest differences was that they were of the 2 rival branches of Christianity as Valentinian was a Nicene Christian and Valens was an Arian. When both brothers became co-emperors, this would be the last time they would see each other in person, at least for the meantime and in 365, Valentinian had already made Mediolanum (Milan)- as done usually by previous emperors- as his capital for the west where he ruled as the empire’s more senior emperor whereas Valens stayed in Constantinople, and just one year into power, Valens’ indecisive personality would already show and this happened also in 365 when the former emperor Julian’s maternal cousin Procopius who led the other division in the Persian campaign 2 years earlier came out of nowhere, rebelled against Valens, and declared himself emperor of the east taking over Constantinople itself with his claim of being the last relative of the Constantinian Dynasty but not in blood as he was only related to Julian, though Procopius also claimed that Julian before leading the campaign secretly named him his successor in case Julian died.

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Coin of the usurper emperor Procopius (r.

For Valens who was in Asia Minor at the time of Procopius’ rebellion, he took an entire year to crush Procopius’ rebellion as the first army he sent to Thrace was easily defeated by Procopius’ forces and Valens unsure of what to do sent a letter asking for help from his brother who thought of helping but word of the Alemanni Germanic tribes raiding the Rhine border in Gaul forced Valentinian to focus on his half of the empire first before helping his brother. Valentinian though did not arrive to help his brother in the east making Valens already come to the point of contemplating abdication and even suicide when the armies in Western Asia Minor supported Procopius but a year later (366), he was at least was able to defeat Procopius’ forces and order Procopius’ execution but what turned out to be worse than Procopius’ rebellion was that Procopius allied himself with the Goths beyond the Danube river, though the Goths did not arrive in time to help him, instead they came late and crossed the Danube border and pillaged their way through Thrace a year after Procopius’ death (367).

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Emperor Valens and the Gothic king Athanaric settle peace at the Danube, 369

Valens marched north from Constantinople and was able to push back the Gothic horde of 30,000 back to the Danube forcing the Goths led by their leader Ermanaric to surrender, although Valentinian in the west not trusting the Goths sent a letter to Valens telling him to not accept their surrender and declare war as Valentinian could see the Goths would become a bigger menace one day if they were not dealt with by war so Valens with his army crossed the Danube into Gothic territory, again beating the Goths and forcing them to flee further north. The conflict ended in 369 when Valens and the other Gothic leader which was the same Athanaric mentioned earlier signed a peace treaty in a boat in the middle of the Danube.

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Emperor Valentinian I the Great (center) with his Palatini legions (by Pavel Simak)

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The Roman Empire divided between Valentinian I in the west (purple) and Valens in the east (pink), 364

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Constantinople, new capital of the Roman Empire’s eastern half

As for Valentinian I in the west, he was busy doing what he did best, protecting the empire from barbarian invasions on all sides but the worst that was to happen for Valentinian was in Britain in 367 as the previous wars in the past years weakened Roman rule in Britain making Roman traitors there conspire with the Picts, Hibernians, Franks, and a new enemy being the Saxons of Germania to invade Britain on all sides and loot everything they find in exchange for sharing the looted wealth with the Roman traitors. Between 367 and 368, the Picts invaded Roman Britannia from the north (Scotland) when the traitors guarding Hadrian’s Wall were bribed by them, the Hibernians of Ireland invaded by sea from the west, and the Saxons and Franks invaded by sea from the east and by the time Valentinian was informed of the situation in Britain, the Romans had already almost lost all of the island but Valentinian would not let it happen so he sent his best general, Count Theodosius the Elder, a native of Roman Spain to retake Britain and joining Count Theodosius was his son, Theodosius the Younger who was training to be a general.

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Map of the Great Conspiracy barbarian invasion of Roman Britain, 367

After sailing from Gaul, Theodosius the Elder and his army arriving in Britain set themselves up in Londinium (London) and from there, Theodosius the Elder in one swift campaign was able to take back the whole island and drive away, arrest, and execute all the conspirators who planned to make Roman Britannia fall and once the conflict in Britain known as the “Great Conspiracy” was solved, Count Theodosius returned the wealth stolen by the raiders back to their owners and Northern Britannia was renamed Valentia in honor of Valentinian. Valentinian at this time was more in Trier than in he was in Milan as it was closer to his objective in fighting off barbarian raids in the Rhine border and in 368, Valentinian himself led an army into the heartland of Germania to battle the Alemanni wherein he was successful and to keep the Alemanni tribes away, he ordered Roman forts built across the Rhine in the Alemanni’s territory which of course angered the Alemanni people making them want to negotiate with Valentinian who refused which made them destroy the forts which in return made him even angrier. With the Alemanni attacking the Rhine border again, Valentinian sent word to the Alemanni’s mortal enemy, the Burgundians to attack the Alemanni but the Burgundians too asked for negotiations with Valentinian to give them land in exchange for helping him, but Valentinian again not wanting to negotiate with barbarians refused and so the Burgundians did not do as they were told, instead it was left to Theodosius the Elder to invade the lands of the Alemanni which he did passing through Raetia (Southwest Germany).

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4th century Roman Mediolanum (Milan), capital of the western empire

Meanwhile in 370, Valentinian’s wife the empress Marina Severa and mother of their son and heir Gratian who happened to be a bisexual woman was attracted to another woman who she had been acquainted with while at the baths in Milan, this woman was Justina, a relative of the late emperor Julian and Marina was greatly struck with her beauty that Marina asked her husband to make polygamy legal for him to marry Justina in order for Marina to be close to her. Polygamy was definitely illegal in the Roman Empire especially since Christianity now had a major role in the empire but soon enough Marina died and Valentinian married Justina as wished by Marina, and with Justina, Valentinian had another son named Valentinian II and after him 2 more daughters while Gratian as the imperial heir was mostly based in Trier the whole time. Though the threats to Valentinian’s western empire did not only come from the Germanic tribes as in 372, a Roman client Berber prince in Numidia (North Africa) named Firmus rebelled against the corrupt Roman governor there and responding to this, Valentinian sent Count Theodosius who was in Germania south to North Africa to deal with the rebellion and having experience in crushing revolts as he did in Britannia during the Great Conspiracy, Count Theodosius succeeded in North Africa by arresting the corrupt governor, defeating the rebellion, and executing Firmus.

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Sample Roman fort build across the Danube border

In 373, as Valentinian in the west and Valens in the east did the same in building forts beyond Roman borders, more Germanic tribes across the Danube including the Quadi were provoked to attack the empire and this time the Quadi allied with the Sarmatian hordes and raided into Roman Pannonia where the 2 Roman legions sent to quell the invasion failed to cooperate with each other making the Sarmatians rout them. In 374, to the south of Pannonia another Sarmatian horde with their Quadi allies broke through the eastern half’s Danube border into the province of Moesia (Serbia) but this invasion was quickly dealt with and repelled by the Dux general of the army there, Count Theodosius’ son Theodosius the Younger now a general but after such hard work in defending Moesia, Theodosius the Younger was displeased as he was not given any honors or credit by either Valentinian or Valens for his achievement. When hearing that the barbarian conflict shifted from the Rhine to the Danube, Valentinian set out from Trier to the Danube leaving Gratian in Trier and at this time appointed the same half-Frankish officer Merobaudes that buried Julian years ago to the rank of Magister Peditum or top commander of the infantry. In the Danube, Valentinian continued the war against the Quadi and Sarmatians but soon saw he had enough of war so he finally agreed for a peace negotiation meeting with the Quadi.

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Germanic Quadi tribe

On November 17, 375 the Quadi leaders led by a certain Genseric (not a fictional character but since he is unnamed, I gave him his name) met Valentinian at his camp in Brigetio (Hungary) along the Danube wherein it was agreed that the Quadi would be allowed to leave in peace if they supplied young recruits into the Roman army, however when the Quadi leaders met with Valentinian personally, the leaders told Valentinian the whole truth that they attacked the Danube all because they were provoked by the fortresses Valentinian had built but this negotiation with the Quadi only made Valentinian grow more and more angry especially since they were insulting him and knowing that Valentinian would not stop harassing them by putting military presence in their lands, the Quadi leaders told it straight to Valentinian’s face that they would refuse the terms of the treaty. The attitude of the Quadi however only fueled Valentinian’s anger more as for his whole life, he had had enough of the barbarians ever since growing in Pannonia, fighting wars with Julian against the barbarians, and constantly defending Rome from them in his reign. The Quadi and the Palatini bodyguards of Valentinian could see how intense Valentinian’s anger was that his face was turning red and was already coming so close to having a fatal seizure. Before this burst of anger could end his life by popping a blood vessel in his brain, his Palatini guards rushed to him and stopped him from exploding, therefore Valentinian fell to the ground almost unconscious and here is where the course of history is altered.

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Picts invade Roman Britain in the Great Conspiracy, 367
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Soldiers in a late Roman era fort

The Gothic War (The Fan Fiction Begins)

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In reality, what we know is that after getting so enraged after negotiating with the Quadi, Valentinian gave in to his anger and died after bursting a blood vessel in his brain but in this story, let’s say the Palatini guards came in time to stop him from giving in completely to his anger. Now after the Palatini came to his aid, Valentinian fell into the ground almost unconscious due to his fit of rage and the Quadi leaders including Genseric meanwhile who were still in the fort’s boardroom saw for themselves the full wrath of Valentinian which was enough to scare them to submission, therefore they finally agreed with the peace terms and decided to flee back to their homeland or suffer severe consequences. Valentinian luckily had a doctor with him in his camp at Brigetio who advised Valentinian to get some rest as that fit of anger almost killed him while in the next day, the Quadi leaders have left ordering their men to abandon their invasion and true enough the threat of the Quadi and their Sarmatian allies had vanished. As Valentinian used the next few weeks to rest and calm himself down in his own quarters at the fort by taking time to cool down by fishing and exploring the woods and not attending meetings with his commanders, his doctor also told him to save his rage for another time when it is most needed as at this point the whole empire, both east and west really depended on Valentinian as if he died, his son Gratian was too young and unprepared to rule effectively and Valens in the east could not be able to rule an empire alone. Valentinian then came to realize that he shouldn’t have gave in fully to his anger as he could sense that there would be more wars to come not just in his part of the empire but in Valens’ east and Valentinian knew that his younger brother was not tough enough the way he was to face a full scale war and if Valentinian was dead, Valens would be helpless.

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Gratian, son and co-emperor of Valentinian I

Now in reality, with Valentinian’s death in 375, this created something like a power vacuum in the west as Gratian though already an Augustus and not Caesar was not overall experienced due to his young age so the Magister Peditum Merobaudes exploited Valentinian I’s death to make himself in charge of the empire by making Valentinian’s 4-year-old son with Justina Valentinian II his puppet emperor as Merobaudes having Frankish barbarian blood could not be accepted as a Roman emperor, although despite Valentinian II being made Augustus, 16-year-old Gratian still maintained himself as the senior emperor of the west, but the most senior emperor of the whole empire here would Valens as he was the oldest of the 3. However, in this case with Valentinian I staying alive after his rage, he would still be the empire’s most senior emperor while Gratian who had been his father’s western co-Augustus still stayed as co-Augustus, except here since Valentinian II was still too young, he would not receive any imperial titles yet, instead Valentinian I would soon enough discover Merobaudes’ treachery in planning to make young Valentinian II his puppet emperor and in the process framing Count Theodosius in North Africa for treason as Merobaudes always envied him. In reality, after Valentinian I’s death, Merobaudes true enough framed Count Theodosius who he envied ordering the latter’s execution in early 376, thus this led to Count Theodosius’ son Theodosius the Younger fearing the same fate of his father to retire from military service in Moesia and return to his native Hispania to start a family but in this case with Valentinian I still alive, Valentinian would return to Trier to reunite with Gratian and here he would call Merobaudes to answer for his own treason in plotting against him and Gratian.

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Valentinian I and his pet bears (by Roman Emperors, Instagram)

Valentinian I did not respond well to treason and Merobaudes would be proven guilty and as a punishment, Merobaudes would be fed alive to Valentinian I’s pet bears named Golden Camel and Innocence as it was known that Valentinian in his reign executed traitors in the army and government by feeding them to his bears which were kept in Trier, and here the half-Frank Merobaudes would suffer that fate. Valentinian would then apologize to Count Theodosius for Merobaudes’ behavior and not only pardon Count Theodosius in North Africa but appoint Count Theodosius to the highest military position of the west or Magister Militum charged with being the protector of both Gratian and Valentinian II while in Moesia which was part of the eastern half of the empire, Theodosius the Younger would still remain there but without having much significance. Meanwhile in the eastern half of the empire by 376, its emperor Valens had at least succeeded in building a massive and highly effective aqueduct in the capital, Constantinople but had spent most of his reign engaged again in the age-old war with the Sassanid emperor Shapur II except not to invade the Sassanid Empire but over the disputed control of Armenia and Iberia (Georgia). When Valens was over in Antioch preparing for his campaign against the Sassanids, he received shocking news from the Danube border of the eastern empire which was that the Goths have arrived and were seeking asylum within the Roman Empire from the Huns, so Valens decided to conclude another treaty with Shapur II so that he could rush back to the Balkans to check on the situation there. 

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Byzantine illustration of Emperor Valens
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Valens’ Aqueduct, Constantinople

The threat of Goths meanwhile was nothing new to Rome as ever since the 3rd century crisis, the Goths have already been invading the Danube border of the Roman Empire and in one event in 251, the Roman emperor Decius when pushing away the Goths from the empire was killed in battle against them. Valens himself years earlier in 367 fought against the Goths who supported the usurper Procopius that Valens had defeated so Valens based on his experience in actually winning the war knew what the Goths were capable of and knew they did not pose too much of a threat, so when Valens received word of the Goths all amassed outside the Danube border requesting for asylum within the empire, Valens agreed to it thinking the Goths could be dispersed once inside the empire wherein they could enter and be integrated as Roman citizens, renounce their tribal leaders, and allow their young men to be recruited into the Roman army. However, this was not the case here as the numbers of Goths outside the border numbered up to 90,000 and included men, women, and children all trying to get away from the Huns.

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Goths from across the Danube travel into Roman lands, 376

The Goths though have already been amassed outside the Danube border town of Durostorum in Moesia long before Valens got word of it as Valens miles away, all the way in Antioch when he heard of this. Since Valens pulled out most of the troops mostly consisting of the best soldiers from the Balkans to Syria, the Danube border was undermanned and only protected by the less trained Limitanei army or border guards while the Goths outside the border requesting asylum in the empire did not just consist of a small band of warriors and families but almost the entire Thervingi tribe, which came from right across the Danube border in today’s Romania led by their new ruler Fritigern who demanded that they be let in because their homeland was under the threat of a new and unknown enemy that had the power to destroy civilization which were the Nomadic Huns. This mysterious race of people known as the Huns lived on their horses and destroyed everything in their path as a Nomadic Empire coming from deep within Central Asia and in the early 370s, a large horde of Huns arrived in the Steppes of Ukraine and defeated the Alani tribes that lived there and soon enough clashed with the tribe of the Greuthungi Goths who were from the area of today’s Ukraine along the Black Sea defeating them, and due to the Greuthungi Goths’ defeat, their leader Ermanaric, the same one who surrendered to Valens years ago killed himself and was succeeded by another ruler named Vithimiris who tried fighting back the Huns by hiring Hunnic mercenaries but was killed in battle earlier on in 376.

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Hunnish cavalry warrior

At the same time, the Roman vassal state of the Kingdom of Bosporus in the Crimea north of the Black Sea was lost as it fell to both the Huns and the Greuthungi. But for the Greuthungi, with Vithimiris died and his son Vithericus was too young to rule, he was under the regency of 2 of the toughest and most brutal Greuthungi warriors Alatheus and Saphrax who did not seem to trust each other at all times but the young ruler also had his aunt, his father’s younger sister Valdis, another fierce and vicious warrior as his regent and ironically just like the siblings Valentinian and Valens who’s names began with a “v”, the siblings Vithimiris and Valdis also shared a “v” for their first names. The leaders of the Greuthungi Alatheus and Saphrax led their tribe first south into the lands of the Thervingi ruled by Athanaric- who made peace with Valens earlier- however Athanaric over the years had also been engaged in wars against the Huns and his many defeats weakened his authority that a majority of his men deserted him in favor of 2 other warriors Fritigern and Alavivus. By the time the Greuthungi Goths settled in Thervingi lands, Fritigern and Alavivus who were also converts to Arian Christianity were already basically in charge of the tribe but since Athanaric was still alive, Fritigern did not want to risk a civil war and persecution by the Pagan Athanaric especially since it was a bad time to do that considering the expansion of the Huns, so Fritgern and his men had no choice but to seek asylum in the Roman Empire and their Greuthungi neighbors thought about the same thing too, however it was Fritigern, Alavivus, and the Thervingi that showed up first at the Danube border and Fritigern himself wrote to Valens who was in Antioch to grant him and his men entry into the empire. Now looking back to decades earlier, the Goths beyond Roman borders accepted Arian Christianity as their faith rather that Nicene Christianity because it was closer to their own Pagan beliefs wherein they could worship outdoors like they did with their old gods.

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Thervingi Goths migrate into Eastern Roman territory

As the Goths were amassed outside the Danube border, Valens among many other Romans felt like giving the Goths a chance as the Romans too heard rumors that Huns who came out of nowhere “uprooted and destroyed everything in their path like a whirlwind descending from high mountains”, so feeling some sympathy for the Goths given their current situation, Valens decided to grant them asylum sending orders to the young army commander in Moesia, the Dux Lupicinus and his 2nd in command Maximus to assist Fritigern and his Goths in crossing the Danube into the empire and providing them with food and land to settle in. When seeing the Goths, Lupicinus and Maximus were shocked to see their numbers as 90,000 crossed the Danube in small boats or tree turns in such a panic that a number of them even died drowning in the river due to their combined weight. The moment the Thervingi Goths were within the Eastern Roman Empire in Moesia (Bulgaria), their numbers proved to be too impossible for the Limitanei border troops to control and for Roman authorities to feed that the food supply ran out thus starving them, though Lupicinus and Maximus when having the option to disperse them across the empire chose to contain all of them in Moesia as it would pose a threat to the whole empire if they were to be dispersed. With the shortage of food, the historian Ammianus Marcellinus here mentioned that the situation was so severe that the Goths had to sell their children to Roman slave traders in return for rotten dog meat. The Dux Lupicinus meanwhile sent word to Valens who was still in Antioch that they had made a mistake in letting the Goths in as their numbers were far beyond control but just as Lupicinus sent this report to Valens, the situation grew even worse as now the Greuthungi Goths led by Alatheus, Saphrax, and Valdis were now the ones outside the Danube border this time.

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Late Roman Limitanei border guard soldier

Now Vithericus, the young ruler of the Greuthungi though was left behind in their lands to be raised by his mother. At this moment however, Lupicinus claiming he had orders from Valens refused to grant asylum to the Greuthungi realizing how the Thervingi were too difficult to manage. As for Fritigern who was feeling impatient, he broke out of his containment zone in Moesia attempting to take over some land to settle in and grow their own food but before doing it was caught by Lupicinus who secretly came up with a plot to capture both Fritigern and his tribal co-leader Alavivus by luring them into having a feast at the city of Marcianople in Moesia located near the Black Sea. With the absence of Lupicinus, Maximus, and their army at the border, the Greuthungi Goths that were being held there grew impatient and stormed into the border not knowing anything about their relationship with the Roman Empire and the agreement to be settled and integrated into the empire. Instead, the Greuthungi before making it to the Danube met up and allied with the same Quadi tribe and their leader Genseric that Valentinian I was at war and defeated a year earlier. The Greuthungi leaders Alatheus, Saphrax, and Valdis out of impatience slaughtered the Limitanei legions guarding the border, crossed the river again by stealing the small boats the legions had, and storming into the empire mercilessly plundering the villages they saw and slaughtering all its people. The Greuthungi Goths then raided their way through Moesia and while the Greuthungi were continuing their pillaging spree, Lupicinus and Maximus invited Fritigern, Alavivus, and their bodyguards to a feast in Marcianople but it was all a trap as when the Thervingi leaders arrived, Lupicinus hoping this would end the unrest had his soldiers massacre Fritigern’s bodyguards killing Alavivus too in the process. Fritigern however managed to escape with only a few surviving bodyguards back to his army of 7,000 which happened to be assembled in the hills outside Marcianople and when returning to his men, Fritigern told them that the Romans had betrayed them by setting up a trap which Alavivus was killed in and the Goths as people were known to have revenge easily when they are humiliated.

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Fritigern’s Gothic cavalry charge at the Romans outside Marcianople, 376

Hearing of Alavivus’ death, the Gothic army of Fritigern all demanded they attack Lupicinus and his forces and so the Goths under Fritigern proceeded to ravage the farms outside Marcianople burning everything they saw leaving Lupicinus and Maximus to confront the 7,000 Goths with their army of only 5,000 Limitanei troops which were not as effective and well trained as the mobile field army or Comitatenses in which most of them were with Valens in the east. Lupicinus’ Limitanei army however were no match to the vengeful Gothic warriors of Fritigern who in a fit of rage all charged at the Limitanei legions outside Marcianople easily shocking them. At the end, the Goths overpowered the Eastern Roman army making most of the barely experienced Limitanei legions flee back to the city and in the battle, Maximus was captured while Fritgern was able to interrogate Lupicinus asking him if Valens was secretly planning to betray them, instead Lupicinus with such fear in his heart told Fritigern that he was only following orders and demanded to be let go promising to give in to the Goths’ demands this time.

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Late Roman legionnaire’s weapons and equipment

Fritigern then told Lupicinus his own intention of actually making a kingdom of Goths within the Roman Empire and not fully believing Lupicinus’ word, Fritigern decided to spare him though breaking his arm and with such trauma and humiliation, Lupicinus galloped back to Marcianople in tears while Fritgern ordered his men to pick up the more superior weapons of the dead Roman legionnaires including spears, longswords, shields, bows, javelins, and darts which would be helpful in fighting the Romans later on. Fritigern took many prisoners among the Roman legions as well enslaving many of them in order to show his men the way to the rich villages and towns and in the next couple of weeks, the Thervingi Goths in an act of vengeance against the Romans for mistreating them burned everything in their path, stole all the wealth, and massacred even the newborn. 

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Goths settling in the Roman Empire mistreated by Roman authorities
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Greuthungi Goths cross the Danube and slaughter Roman legionnaires

In late 376, Valens still in Antioch got word from Moesia hearing the Goths under Fritigern now joined forces with their Greuthungi neighbors and were pillaging their way through Moesia heading towards Thrace and also that Lupicinus had been defeated getting his arm broken. Valens now had no choice but to declare war on Goths in order to contain them but he was not yet over in settling the conflict with the Sassanids so he sent his generals Trajan– named after the 2nd century emperor- and Profuturus with their legions west to the Balkans and contain the Goths. Over in Trier where Valentinian I was still alive, his son and co-emperor Gratian was first to get word from his uncle Valens that Thrace needs reinforcements from the west. Valentinian at this point was upset at his brother Valens for actually giving in to the Goths’ demands thus leading to such a large-scale catastrophe wherein Valentinian from the beginning being known to hate the barbarian enemies of Rome would have already not trusted the Goths and would immediately deny them entry when they camped outside the border.

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Emperor Valentinian I at his capital, Trier (by Pavel Simak)

Now being so displeased with Valens’ decision, Valentinian chose not to head east leading the army, instead he sent a small number of poorly armed and trained auxiliary troops and Limitanei legions from the Alps and Pannonia over to Thrace as a message for Valens to realize his mistake. Gratian however could somewhat see his uncle was going to be in trouble so he sent the half-Frankish general Richomeres to go east with a large army of the elite Palatini and Comitatenses legions. Now in early 377, before the eastern and western legions would meet each other in Moesia, Fritigern and his Thervingi tribesmen met up with the Greuthungi tribe setting up camp in the part of Thrace where the Danube meets the Black Sea and here Fritigern held a meeting with his now co-leaders Alatheus, Saphrax, and Valdis so to test the strength of his new allies, Fritigern asked Saphrax, one of the toughest warriors of the Greuthungi to challenge their new ally, the Quadi’s leader Genseric to a duel and in this sword duel, Saphrax was able to disarm and pin Genseric to the ground and with Genseric losing, Fritigern demanded Genseric leave their alliance for losing in a single duel as Fritigern did not tolerate weakness especially since he knew they would soon be at war with Romans who were much stronger and disciplined when it came to war. After Genseric angrily left the alliance’s camp feeling betrayed, Fritigern then asked Alatheus to prove his strength in killing Romans by asking him to kill their prisoner, Lupicinus’ co-commander Maximus in which Alatheus eagerly clubbed Maximus to death so brutally in front of the Goths in which even Fitigern was shocked seeing such brutality. Fritigern now at least knew he could count on his new Greuthungi Goth allies but he knew that in order to win against the Romans, he needed a Roman to take hostage willing to betray Rome and expose the weak points of the Romans to them. The western forces led by Richomeres meanwhile had arrived in Moesia and got into a few skirmishes with the Goths while the eastern legions led by Trajan and Profuturus also arrived Thrace with their Armenian allies as they headed north to Moesia and near the mouth of Danube, both eastern and western forces were able to meet up.

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4th century Roman Comitatus legionnaire (left) and auxiliary (right)

When both eastern and western Roman forces met up near the same city of Marcianople where the conflict began almost a year earlier, they were from there able to track the Goths to nearby the town of Ad Salices meaning “by the willows” where the Danube met the Black Sea where the combined Goths under Fritigern, Alatheus, and Saphrax were encamped and there they readied themselves creating a wagon fort known as a laager surrounding themselves with their own wagons. The combined forces of the Greuthungi and Thervingi Goths started feeling uncomfortable being held inside their wagon fort that both Alatheus and Valdis demanded that Fritigern allow them to leave and simply attack the Romans who they heard were approaching but Fritigern told them that they had to fight smart as one careless charge would make them lose. The Goths then spent the whole night inside behind their wagons which formed a circle and when the sun rose, they could see the Roman legions headed their way coming from the hills and seeing the Romans coming, Fritigern ordered his other fellow Thervingi warriors, Sueridus and Colias, his 2 other toughest men to charge at the Roman legions while Fritigern, Alatheus, Saphrax, and Valdis stayed behind the wagons.

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Medieval illustration of a Gothic “laager” or wagon fort

The battle started without any results except for both the Romans and Goths losing the same number of men over the next hours due to the javelins they threw at each other until the point when both forces’ shields clashed with each other. When nightfall came, both eastern and western Roman forces abandoned the battle seeing that they have lost so much men and the Goths did the same too, though both Sueridus and Colias survived and retreated back to the wagon fort. As for the Western Roman forces, the general Richomeres noticed that his men were already too weakened from the battle thus he abandoned the mission and retreated back west with what was left of his army while the eastern generals Profuturus and Trajan seeing that they could not do anything about the battle anymore retreated south. The Goths however stayed for one more week in their wagon fort as they were expecting the Romans to attack again but when learning of no new attack, Fritigern ordered the fort to be dismantled and that they disperse again across Moesia, thus the Romans though coming so close to containing the Goths failed to contain them again. As for Trajan and Profuturus, when heading south, they met up with Lupicinus who had now fully recovered and together had stationed soldiers and ordered the construction of blockades in the mountain passes of Thrace to prevent the Goths from reaching Constantinople. Fritigern then led his men west hoping to arrive in either Greece or Constantinople that way but were blocked by the new fortifications in the mountain passes where they got into several unsuccessful skirmishes with the Romans though as they travelled west, here a fictional scenario of a small army led by the same Dux of Moesia Theodosius the Younger, son of Count Theodosius happened wherein they clashed with the Goths with Theodosius wanting to score points for Rome as he did before in 374 when the Quadi and Sarmatians invaded Moesia.

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Fritigern, ruler of the Thervingi Goths on his horse

Theodosius’ forces however lost in battle to Fritigern and Theodosius himself was captured and chained while his army scattered. He was later brought to the Goths’ new camp while Fritigern still thinking of ways on how to defeat the Romans sent word to the Alans beyond the Danube to help them, also sending funds to pay for an army of Hunnish mercenaries. At the camp, Fritigern met with the 30-year-old Theodosius the Younger where Fritigern was convincing him to join the Goths, though Theodosius was at first not open to idea since he was loyal to Rome and wants to prove to his emperors Valentinian and Valens that he was worthy of being promoted to a higher rank in the army but Fritigern wanting a Roman on their side convinced Theodosius with lies that Valentinian could get rid of him one day if Theodosius would do something wrong as Fritigern knew this about Valentinian’s personality so Theodosius falling for this considered the option of joining Fritigern who also promised to make Theodosius the Goth’s puppet Roman emperor with all the imperial privileges if the Goths were to win.

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Roman legionnaires at the Battle of Ad Salices against the Goths, 377

Meanwhile, in late 377 Valens finally marched out of Antioch after taking care of a few local disputes including a small rebellion there gathering almost all the forces in the east stationed at the border of Armenia to join him in their march west to face the Goths while in Gaul, Richomeres returned reporting to Valentinian of their defeat to the Goths at Ad Salices. Valentinian as usual was angered hearing of this defeat but hearing from Richomeres that the Goths possessed a large number of men and that their strength was underestimated, Valentinian agreed that it was time to help his brother in the east despite Valentinian growing more and more displeased with Valens’ incompetence and also to the fact that Valens was an Arian Christian making him a heretic but since a bigger threat was coming and this threat came from Germanic barbarians that Valentinian was extremely angered at, he decided it was finally time after 13 years since coming into power to help his brother. With Valentinian still in Trier, his general Count Theodosius unaware that his son joined the Goths told Valentinian that if he marches east then the Rhine would be unprotected making the Alemanni invade Gaul again so Valentinian entrusted Count Theodosius with 3 western legions to stay in the Rhine border and together with Gratian defend it against a possible Alemanni threat all while Valentinian’s younger son was in Milan at this time under the care of his mother Justina.

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Sample Germanic Alemanni warrior and weapons

Now in real history, with Valentinian I dead by the time the Goths were invading Thrace, Gratian who was now the western senior emperor was already sending a reinforcement army east to help Valens but the Alemanni true enough did invade the Rhine which made Gratian have to focus on defending it first thus delaying them from meeting up with Valens, however in this case with Valentinian I still alive, he would be able to manage the army better by splitting it in half with one division sent to guard the Rhine and the other one which included Palatini legions to join him in their march east. Now as both western and eastern Roman legions were regrouping again, the Goths now with their Hunnish and Alan allies under Fritigern were able to break through the Roman blockades in the Haemus and Rhodope Mountains and were able to get deep into Thrace already so close to Constantinople but stopping them was the city of Deultum (in today’s Bulgaria) along the Black Sea which was heavily guarded by an Eastern Roman army. Fritigern knowing that there was no way to take over the city since they had no siege weapons assembled his camp in a swamp some kilometers away from the city and by this point Theodosius the Younger was already with the Goths but still unsure whether he would loyally serve Fritigern or not as the Goths Alatheus and Saphrax openly distrusted him for being a Roman. As Theodosius thought of whether to betray Rome or not, the tough female Greuthungi Valdis who was brave enough to fight only wearing a band of cloth across her chest and a fur cloak entered his tent and again convinced Theodosius that the Goths will surely beat the Romans and with Roman authority gone, Theodosius would have any no more purpose at such a young age and with Fritigern, he would have a future. Valdis then told Theodosius that Fritigern needs him in their next mission which was to find a way to steal the siege weapons of Deultum and only a Roman which is Theodosius could be able to help them sneak into the city and here Theodosius agreed to help.

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A late Roman Onager (catapult)

As for Valens now in 378, he had already arrived in Constantinople where he was met by massive rioting due to him being an Arian and not being around when the Goths invaded but since Valens had no time to deal with the riots especially since the Goths were coming so close, he soon enough left Constantinople to meet up with his generals in a town nearby where Trajan, Profuturus, and Lupicinus met up with him as well as another general named Sebastianus who had arrived from Illyria and here when Valens heard of Trajan letting his men lose to the Goths at Ad Salices, he had Trajan demoted and sent to quell the unrest in Constantinople replacing him with Sebastianus who was made Magister Militum.

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Eastern Roman Magister Militum

Lupicinus here told Valens exactly what the Goths were up to which was that they did plan to actually make a kingdom of their own in Roman territory which now justified for Valens a reason to fight them in battle so Valens first sent Sebastianus to head north and wipe out the Gothic raiding bands that were reported to have been raiding through Thrace. Now in real history, Lupicinus after his defeat to Fritigern back in 376 disappeared from history but in this case to expand more on his character, he was asked by Valens to join him against the Goths as Lupicinus facing the Goths’ full power earlier on knew what to expect, meanwhile the same Quadi leader Genseric and his men also met up with Valens this exact moment now fully swearing loyalty to Rome after being betrayed by Fritigern for showing weakness, and Valens desperate for a larger army accepted Genseric and his Quadi warriors as allied troops better known as Foederati. To the north, the general Sebastianus with a small force was able to defeat all the raiding Gothic hordes near the city of Adrianople and due to their defeats, the surviving Goths headed back to Fritigern to tell him to proceed to Adrianople as the Valens had come to reinforce it. Over in the coastal city of Deultum along the Black Sea here is another fictional scenario wherein a team of only 6 consisting of the Greuthungi leaders Alatheus, Saphrax, Valdis with the Thervingi leaders Sueridus and Colias and their hostage Theodosius the Younger broke into the city at midnight as Theodosius who had been to Deultum before knew of a way in wherein he led them through bypassing the city’s garrison and once they were in, Theodosius showed them the storage room of the siege engines where they had Sueridus and Colias guard the door while Alatheus, Saphrax, Valdis, and Theodosius went inside to steal the siege weapons including ballistae and onagers, however when coming in they realized they did not bring any tools to dismantle the weapons so Alatheus angrily slapped Saphrax for making them fail the mission so the 5 Goths escaped the city using the same passage they entered leaving Theodosius alone inside.

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Late Roman Ballista

However, when the sun rose, Theodosius came out of the city’s main gate with the entire city’s garrison though not betraying the Goths, instead he bribed them to join the Goths and surrender the city and even more, he was able to acquire the siege weapons with the help of the local garrison. Back in the camp, Fritigern was pleased hearing that Theodosius helped them take siege weapons they so needed so he called for just Alatheus, Saphrax, Valdis, and Theodosius to personally meet with him wherein he told them that alliances are indeed important and that they were now to head to Adrianople as Fritigern heard that Valens was going to reinforce it. Fritigern however told them that they must head over to Adrianople as he heard Valens was sending an army there and that Valentinian from the west was soon to arrive. Again, in real history, the forces of Gratian would take months to arrive and help Valens in the east especially since the Alemanni invaded Gaul making Gratian have to focus his attention there but in this case Gratian with Count Theodosius would be there in Gaul to fully focus on the Alemanni which had just invaded while Valentinian I was already heading east with Richomeres. Valens meanwhile had been waiting for Valentinian to arrive for 2 months now and this whole time, the thought of Sebastianus scoring victories would make Valens feel like a loser so feeling confident to attack the Goths to score points and gain to respect of the people in Constantinople even before Valentinian could arrive, Valens ordered all his men including his commanders Profuturus, Lupicinus, and Genseric to depart their base near Constantinople for Adrianople on the morning of August 7, 378, although both Sebastianus and Richomeres met up with Valens here and Richomeres gave word to Valens that Valentinian was very near so Valens did not have to charge into battle yet.

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Training process of the late Roman army (by Amelianvs)
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Fritigern and his Goths ride through Thrace, 378

The Battle of Adrianople (The Climax)

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Before Valens and his army arrived outside Adrianople, Fritigern and all his allies arrived ahead setting themselves up in one of hills near the city of Adrianople where they did the same as before building a circular fort using their wagons placing their tents inside it and again with their women and children brought with them too. Valens meanwhile on the night of August 8, before reaching the area of Adrianople received an envoy from Fritigern which was an Arian priest who addressed that the Goths only wanted some land in the Roman Empire, and Valens hearing the truth from Lupicinus before knew certainly that Fritigern was lying but Valens did not think of attacking yet because he still knew Valentinian would arrive soon enough. Valens and his generals then held a war council to decide whether to attack immediately or wait for Valentinian but Sebastianus told Valens to just attack believing Valentinian might have had other places to go in his long march and if they attack, Valens who had never gotten much credit in his life will finally get it while Richomeres on the other hand told Valens to simply wait since it was about time the Romans showed unity against a common enemy. Valens and his men then did not sleep the entire night as they were waiting for either a surprise attack from the Goths or for Valentinian and reinforcements to arrive and during the night Valens contemplated his whole reign and was deciding if he should listen to Sebastianus and attack since it could gain Valens some credit as for his whole reign he felt as if he lived in the shadow of his older brother and had never achieved much and now was his chance.

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Layout of a late Roman Castra (army camp)

Just as everyone remained awake all night, a young Roman-Egyptian Comitatus soldier in the eastern army named Flavius Anthemius under the command of Profuturus saw an army of legionnaires marching to their camp and Anthemius immediately sent word to Valens at his tent that the full western army finally arrived with Valentinian at the lead. Once the western legions arrived in Valens’ camp, Valentinian proceeded to Valens’ tent and the brothers would see each other again in person after 14 full years as the last time both had seen each other was in Constantinople back in 364 when both were made co-emperors and now, they were finally reunited for the moment they were both needed most to fight together as Eastern and Western Romans united. Valens was filled with joy seeing his older brother again but Valentinian slapped Valens’ face when seeing him as a way to scold Valens for his incompetence especially in committing a terrible mistake in trusting the Goths and letting them into the empire thus leading to a devastating war. Valens told Valentinian that he admitted he was wrong but Valentinian was still not happy with Valens’ answer though Richomeres told both co-emperors to stop arguing with each other like children as they cannot do something this stupid in such a critical time when the Goths are already coming so close to them. In the middle of the Valentinian and Valens’ argument, the same Quadi leader Genseric saw Valentinian again despite from afar and thought of deserting remembering the trauma in him caused by seeing Valentinian’s rage but Lupicinus stood up and told everyone that this kind of disunity among the Romans is what the Goths want to exploit and that the threat of the Goths was no joke and was deadlier than all the enemies both Valentinian and Valens had faced in their lifetime, therefore they must unite for something deadlier is coming for both east and west. Valentinian then apologized to Genseric for his anger burst 3 years ago and told Valens that he was now settled and had agreed that he and Valens will lead the legions themselves. As the sun rose, the eastern and western legions departed the camp with the columns of eastern legions on the right with Valens in front of them next to his generals Lupicinus, Sebastianus, and Profuturus with their Palatini, Comitatenses, Limitanei legions and cavalry including Roman Cataphracts behind while at the center were the Quadi Foederati troops led by Genseric and on the left were the columns of the western legions led by Valentinian I in front with Richomeres and behind them too were the west’s Palatini, Comitatenses, and Limitanei legions and cavalry as well.

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Late Roman Comitatus soldier in full armor

The combined eastern and western legions despite getting no sleep the whole night before marched from their camp several kilometers away from Adrianople for 8 long hours in the heat of summer through rough terrain and at 2pm they caught sight of Fritigern’s wagon fort above a hill and when seeing the camp, the eastern and western cavalry units rode forward to flank both sides of their emperors and legions. Fritigern however wanted all his forces to attack at once so to buy time he planned a fake peace negotiation again with the emperors, again sending the same priest to negotiate with Valens which Valens was about to agree to it but Valentinian soon enough rode to Valens demanding him to refuse it as he knew it would be a trap so Valens took the letter, ripped it, and threw it back at the priest who then returned to Fritigern’s camp, but soon enough he returned the next hour telling them that Fritigern wants to meet with them in person and Richomeres feeling like giving up agreed to surrender himself as a hostage to the Goths but Valentinian told him to shut up and shouted right at the priest telling him that they have had enough and did not march all the way there to settle for peace. The Roman legions meanwhile were all impatient and tired as they marched for 8 hours under the hot sun with such heavy armor making them extremely sweaty and dehydrated but both Valentinian and Valens told them to put that all aside and focus although out of nowhere- just like in the real story of this battle- a division in the eastern army consisting of Iberian archers from Georgia grew impatient and without orders from both co-emperors they charged up the hill to Fritigern’s camp wherein they were ambushed by a unit of Fritigern’s Thervingi Goths. Shortly after this division carelessly charged, a large army of the Greuthungi Goth cavalry with their Hunnish and Alan allies led by both Alatheus and Saphrax appeared and were charging downhill at the Romans, first breaking and routing the Iberian archers. As the division of Alatheus and Saphrax with their Huns and Alans charged from the north, the division of Greuthungi Goth cavalry together with the Thervingi warriors Sueridus and Colias and Valdis leading them charged from the east, thus beginning the battle.

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Emperor Valens riding to battle, 378
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378, Battle of Adrianople war map

As the battle fully broke out, the first of the Goths to charge at the Romans included the cavalry of Alatheus and Saphrax with their Hunnish and Alan cavalry and at this moment, the Romans saw for once how deadly and swift the Huns were as they charged with great speed at their formations constantly firing arrows as they rode but what was more terrifying to the Romans was that the Huns unleashed their lassos in which they managed to take down several of the weaker Roman Limitanei legions using them. To combat the Goth, Alan, and Hun cavalry, the western Roman cavalry including the heavily armored Cataphracts led by the half-Frankish officer Flavius Bauto charged at them in wedge formations to break through the spinning circular formation of the Huns while in the lower ground, the Western Roman Comitatenses infantry without orders from a commander but from 2 young soldiers in their ranks, the half-Frankish Arbogast and half-Vandal Flavius Stilicho told all the infantry to form a shield wall or a version of the old Testudo formation except to remain still on the ground without moving, and at least they were able to resist the incoming waves of the Greuthungi Gothic infantry with it.

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Hun attacks a late Roman legionnaire

In the east side of the battle, Richomeres charged to confront Valdis and the other half of the Goths’ cavalry where Richomeres charged straight at it killing many Goths in the process. However as Richomeres charged at the center of Valdis’ division, Sueridus and Colias were able to break through the sides charging at the Eastern Roman infantry but again, the eastern legions including the young Anthemius and their commanders Sebastianus and Profuturus formed the same shield wall resisting the Goths’ charge and killing many although soon enough it looked like both eastern and western Romans forces were going to be encircled by the Goths and their allies as the division of Alatheus and Saphrax already charged on one side and the division of Valdis from the other side and ahead of them, Fritigern from his camp saw that the Romans were already trapped on both sides so he sent his Thervingi infantry using stolen Roman spears and shields to charge at the Roman infantry as if in phalanx formation. The first to charge at the Goths’ advancing phalanx though was not a Roman infantry division but the Foederati Quadi troops led by Genseric who were able to fight off and break the Goth’s formation but were soon outnumbered and Genseric himself was killed in the attack, thus routing the Quadi. On the north side of the battle, Alatheus killed many Romans in his path and was headed to Lupicinus, however Lupicinus who here was in command of the eastern Palatini legions used them to block off the attack of Alatheus while Saphrax and his cavalry charged at and broke the shield wall of the Comitatenses unit of Stilicho and Abrogast forcing both of them to flee to the Western Palatini legions. Both Valentinian and Valens meanwhile retreated to the back of the battle seeing that they were true enough almost surrounded and the battle was coming to no conclusions so far so Valentinian ordered that the Western Palatini cavalry return to him and the Eastern Palatini cavalry to Valens and form into columns to break through the Goths so that they could reach Fritigern’s camp as attacking it could distract the Goths.

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Late Roman Cataphract cavalry soldier

Meanwhile, the Goths still had more surprises and this time, Fritigern ordered their stolen Roman siege engines to be rolled out and from the hill, 8 stolen ballistae fired bolts scattering the Roman infantry. Seeing the ballistae and onagers firing at them from above, Sebastianus who was fighting off the Alan cavalry this time ordered the Eastern Roman archers to aim for the siege engines and to his shock, Sebastianus saw that the ones manning the siege engines were the Roman legionnaires that had betrayed Rome. Valdis on the other side of the battlefield was thrown off her horse by a javelin hitting her horse thrown by one of Richomeres’ men while Richomeres was pushed off his horse by a Goth he killed afterwards thus leading to a one-on-one duel between Richomeres who only had his longsword or Spatha and Valdis who had a Gothic axe and a stolen a Roman Spatha making it her own weapon. The Huns on the other hand encircled several units of the Western and Eastern Roman infantry and in the attack against the Hunnish cavalry, the eastern general Profuturus was killed although the Huns’ battle formation was broken by Bauto and his cavalry which headed straight for the Goths at the same time as Valentinian and Valens with their Palatini cavalry charged in full speed to Fritigern’s camp and in the process scattering the Gothic forces and once above the hill, the Palatini cavalry slaughtered the Roman traitors and took over the siege engines now turning the tide of battle as they fired missiles at the Goths. Valens now was to lead the attack on the remaining Goths in their wagon fort while Valentinian was headed to Fritigern’s tent to confront him.

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Roman Comitatenses legions defend themselves against the Goths

In the battlefield, Saphrax was able to wipe out 3 Roman Comitatenses and 4 Limitanei units with the help of the Huns while Sebastianus himself confronted Saphrax in a duel but due to Saphrax’s intense speed in combat, Sebastianus was slashed in his legs and when falling on the ground was killed as Saphrax decapitated him with his axe. Alatheus meanwhile could see at the same time that the Goths were close to losing except for the Gothic infantry with Colias and Sueridus leading them being able to completely surround the Palatini legions led by Lupicinus, and Alatheus was now feeling conflicted whether to defect to the Romans fearing for his life or to continue fighting for his people. Alatheus now came to realize that there was no need to fight and destroy Rome as at this point he knew the Romans would give them the promise of a civilized life in exchange for the Goths submitting to them and now seeing all the glory he could have when serving Rome, Alatheus had a change of heart and he himself with the Alan cavalry under him charged directly at Sueridus and Colias who were killed by spears thrown by the Alan cavalry, afterwards Alatheus freed the surrounded Palatini legions and Lupicinus who Alatheus then went up to telling him that now they should fight together.

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Alan cavalry warrior

Lupicinus was first unsure of how to react, but when the Huns came his way, Alatheus and his Alan cavalry immediately assisted him in counter attacking the Huns and when the Huns ran out of arrows to fire, they deserted the battlefield. The western legions meanwhile were close to being completely crushed by the remaining Goth infantry and cavalry led by Saphrax with Stilicho and Arbogast close to death but soon enough Stilicho who was knocked down on the ground and being constantly being kicked in the chest by Saphrax gained the upper hand, pulled down Saphrax’s legs and stabbed him right in the chest with his sword while Arbogast did the same thus killing Saphrax while Bauto’s cavalry charged and routed Saphrax’s Goths. As night fell, both Greuthungi and Thervingi Goths seeing their leaders Saphrax, Sueridus, and Colias dead and Alatheus defecting, they all began deserting the battlefield. Back to Richomeres, he too gained the upper hand and was able to disarm and injure Valdis but before Richomeres could kill her, Alatheus, Lupicinus, Stilicho, Arbogast, Bauto, and Anthemius showed up urging Richomeres to leave her alone since with the Goths defeated, Valdis would be useless and she could even be a possible candidate for Roman citizenship while her status in Gothic society could make her a perfect wife for a Roman Patrician. Valdis however refused the offer given to her by Lupicinus and instead went up to Alatheus telling him he is a traitor and will pay in blood but Lupicinus said, Alatheus is now a loyal citizen of Rome who can have the power to punish her, though without saying a thing, Valdis left never to return again.  

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The Hunnish lasso
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Goths charge at the Romans at the Battle of Adrianople, 378
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Late Roman legions form a shield wall
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Roman legionnaires weakened by the Goths, Battle of Adrianople (by Giuseppe Rava)
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Last stand of the Eastern and Western Romans before their eventual (fictional) victory at the Battle of Adrianople

As the battle was nearing its end below the hill with the sun setting, Valentinian made it into Fritigern’s camp killing Fritigern’s bodyguards himself with his sword while Valens and his cavalry looted and burned the tents of the Goths as well as the wagons surrounding the camp killing the Gothic women and children that were kept in the camp as well since nothing could be done about them. Inside Fritigern’s tent, Valentinian to his horror saw Theodosius the Younger now fully a Goth in heart in full Gothic attire practicing with his sword as Fritigern observed him though Fritigern went up to Valentinian himself saying that the young Theodosius already saw that the Roman Empire would fall. Theodosius then spoke directly to Valentinian telling him to listen to Fritigern as Theodosius here could now truly see he was right for siding with the Fritigern’s Gothic coalition since Theodosius came to realize that the Roman Empire was broken and so divided especially because of the religious division between the Arian and Nicene Christians and only with the rule of the Goths would Rome rise up again united and be rebuilt under new leadership. Valentinian shocked seeing what Theodosius had become told him that Fritigern was poisoning his mind and to think about his own actions especially since Theodosius betraying Rome would make his father, the most loyal Roman general Count Theodosius very ashamed of him but the young Theodosius still did not listen saying his father too was weak and all he has done for Rome with his father was useless. Seeing Theodosius’ betrayal fuelled Valentinian’s rage once more but instead of choosing to attack Theodosius who he still saw as a fellow Roman, Valentinian charged straight at Fritigern with his sword though Fritigern blocked his attack with his sword and both were engaged in a vicious sword duel inside Fritigern’s tent which looked as luxurious as a Roman emperor’s tent could be.

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Sample design of Fritigern’s tent

In their duel, Valentinian managed to kick Fritigern who was much heavier with his armor to the ground and disarm him but Fritigern too kicked Valentinian’s arm disarming him too as Theodosius watched the rulers duel. With both disarmed, Fritigern and Valentinian fought with their fists until Valentinian was able to pin Fritigern to the ground wherein with such anger he punched Fritigern’s face countless times until Theodosius dragged Valentinian out of it to protect Fritigern. Valentinian who however only met the young Theodosius once in 367 in Trier before the British campaign told him that Fritigern cannot be trusted and will kill Theodosius the moment he will get his way through him but Theodosius told Valentinian that the Roman imperial government itself cannot be trusted as all this time when Theodosius scored victories for Rome, he was not for once given credit and with Fritigern he will gain more credit than ever and with so much rage Theodosius proceeded to attack Valentinian with his sword but Valentinian not wanting to fight back still seeing some hope in Theodosius stood still and blocked all of Theodosius’ attacks with his sword that he had just picked up from the ground. Valentinian continued telling Theodosius to come back to the side of the Romans and see for himself what his father will think of his actions but Theodosius continued his attacks until managing to slash Valentinian’s face and out of defense, Valentinian pushed Theodosius to a brazier knocking him out, though this also made the flames spread and start burning the tent’s walls. As the tent started burning, Valentinian checked on the knocked-out Theodosius if he was still alive but Fritigern was able to get back on his feet and push Valentinian to the ground wherein Fritigern kicked Valentinian several times. As Valentinian was weakened, Fritigern proceeded to choke him and with Valentinian close to death, the Eastern and Western Palatini legions tore down the burning tent’s walls surrounding the them while Valens after wiping out most of the camp rushed to Fritigern and kicked him saving Valentinian. Valens then angrily told Fritigern he deserves death for betraying his word and pillaging the countryside of Thrace and Moesia but Fritigern laughed seeing Valens himself willing to fight him off as Fritigern did not believe it knowing Valens unlike his older brother was weakling and based on his indecisiveness in the war that started 2 years ago would surely have no guts to fight back but Valens here saw for himself his great mistake in trusting the Goths so he attacked Fritigern too with his sword.

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4th century Palatini Imperial Guardsman (by Giuseppe Rava)

Valentinian got up and both he and his younger brother Valens dueled Fritigern with their swords until both managed to disarm Fritigern again. As the cloth walls of the tent burned away and its fires were put down by the Palatini legions, both Valentinian and Valens finally fighting together as one proceeded to savagely beat Fritigern’s face to the point that his beard was soaked in his own blood. Fritigern then grew exhausted from all the fighting and fell to his knees but as fell, a reinforcement of his bodyguard units from the battlefield rushed up to the camp surrounding Valentinian, Valens, and their Palatini legions. Fritigern told the brothers to surrender but Valentinian clearly refused and deep inside his head he could see not just all the battles he fought his entire life against Germanic barbarians but instead he was able to glimpse all the way back to the 1st century AD seeing all the wars Rome fought against any Germanic barbarian tribes whether Goths, Franks, Cherusci, Quadi, Vandals, or Alemanni and how much destruction they have brought to the empire which made Valentinian once again explode in anger. With such anger, Valentinian’s strength grew and just by slashing his sword, he killed a large number of Fritigern’s bodyguards while the surviving ones horrified seeing Valentinian’s anger fled in fear but before Valentinian could kill Fritigern himself, he fell to the ground as a blood vessel in his brain popped.

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Wrath of Valentinian I (by Dovahhatty)

Fritigern too was shocked seeing the full wrath of Valentinian while Theodosius woke up after being knocked out and rushed to Fritigern while Valens went to check on his brother and Valentinian who fell to the ground told Valens that he has done his part and Rome is saved and that now it is up to both Valens and Gratian to ensure the empire will thrive again and due to suffering a burst blood vessel in his brain, Valentinian stopped breathing and died at age 57 but at least this time being able to spare the empire from a massive Gothic invasion. Fritigern then told Valens that he gave up due to seeing Valentinian’s anger which showed him this kind of frightening situation could happen if you messed with Rome. Valens then offered Theodosius again the chance to return to the side of the Romans as he could continue growing his career and be just as great of a general like his father Count Theodosius but the young Theodosius told Valens to get lost as he already has a future with Fritigern and the Goths so Fritigern then told Theodosius they are going back to the land of the Goths across the Danube saying that the war isn’t over yet. As both Fritigern and Theodosius the Younger left the scene, Valens had the Palatini troops picked up and placed Valentinian’s body in a cart headed for Constantinople where he will be buried, then Valens returned to the bottom of the hill to check on his men.

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Romans (fictionally) defeat the Goths at Adrianople

It was now late at night when Valens himself inspected the aftermath of the battlefield seeing that despite their victory against the Goths, it was a pyrrhic victory as 2/3 of the Roman army was lost but at least the Goths losing their leadership had fled and if not for Alatheus and the Alans defecting to the Romans, the Romans would have surely lost like in real history. In this case, the Romans were able to at least win despite losing more than half of their army and suffering from dehydration due to the heat because they did not lose to fear unlike in reality and here as well, Valentinian who was alive to be in this battle inspired such courage in his men to not give up. Richomeres and the young Stilicho who survived the battle went up to Valens asking what happened to Valentinian though Valens said that his older brother sadly passed but his sacrifice will not be forgotten for his anger was able to spare Rome from the devastating consequences of the Gothic War. Valens then told his men to all rest and set up camp right at the battlefield as in the next day, both eastern and western troops would return to Constantinople with their loot and Gothic prisoners wherein in a few weeks, they would celebrate a triumph when Gratian who is now the west’s new senior Augustus would arrive.

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Valens (fictionally) survives the Battle of Adrianople with his legions behind

3 weeks later, unlike in real history where Valens died in battle by either being shot by an arrow or being burned inside a farmhouse and the Goths continuing their pillaging through Thrace wherein they failed to besiege both Adrianople and Constantinople, a large triumph was celebrated in Constantinople’s main street or Mese for the surviving heroes of the battle of Adrianople following the burial of Valentinian I at the Church of the Holy Apostles, the newly built burial site for the emperors since Constantine I. In this triumph, Valens was now no longer unpopular as he was before but now celebrated as the hero of Adrianople while behind him both surviving eastern and western legions followed with their Gothic prisoners of war.

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Empress Albia Dominica, wife of Valens

The triumphal procession ended at Constantinople’s Hippodrome where Valens stood in a platform together with his wife Empress Albia Dominica and his now western co-Augustus, his now 19-year-old nephew Gratian who just arrived after just successfully defeating the Alemanni invasion of the Rhine with Count Theodosius coming east alone to congratulate the heroic soldiers and commanders particularly Richomeres, Lupicinus, Bauto, Stilicho, Arbogast, Anthemius, and their new Gothic ally Alatheus who were all called to come up to the platform together with the general Trajan who had remained in Constantinople all this time. Gratian who was also victorious in his own battles at the west then made his speech saying that with his father gone, he will do all his best in being a strong emperor like his father now that he was already an adult while Valens in his speech said that the struggles in the Gothic War taught them that it was their disunity that almost made them lose and that now east and west despite being ruled by different emperors must always cooperate with each other at all times, then Valens announced that when he dies as he had no sons ever since his only son died back in 370 at only age 4, the eastern half of the empire will be inherited by Gratian’s younger half-brother Valentinian II. Once the speeches were over, Gratian was fully acclaimed as the west’s new senior Augustus so the western legions that were in the Hippodrome pulled out a large circular shield where Gratian stood on as soldiers including Stilicho and Arbogast lifted him acclaiming him as their new emperor while cheers were once again heard from everywhere. 

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

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Hippodrome and the Imperial District of Constantinople


Roman Victory and the Aftermath of the Gothic War (Conclusion)

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          In real history, the Romans could have actually beaten the Gothic army of Fritigern and his allies if Valens did not make the stupid decision of attacking the Goths without waiting for western reinforcements which means they could have worked together to overcome the Goths but instead Valens wanting to gain the credit he so wanted thought he could defeat the Goths himself but the end, it meant the end for Valens. The Battle of Adrianople in reality resulted in the deaths of not only Valens but 35 of his senior officers and 2/3 of the Roman army dead and what caused their defeat was not so much of lacking troops and strength because of the heat but losing to fear as when they arrived at the battlefield, they were overwhelmed by the Goths that encircled them forcing many of the Roman soldiers to flee in fear instead of standing up against the Goths.

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Historical death of Valens at the Battle of Adrianople

Now in this story, the result of the battle was the same with 2/3 of the Roman army- both eastern and western combined- lost but what would be different here in this case compared to the historical version is that since Valentinian I was still alive and present at the battle, being an able and charismatic general to his troops, he was able to inspire them to stand up and not lose to fear even if it would mean dying in battle as they would all die to protect their empire but also what would cause victory for the Romans in this case despite suffering so much casualties was that their army was larger in number consisting of the full force of eastern and western legions and not to mention the fact that the Goth commander Alatheus and his Alan cavalry defected to the Romans. At the end however, Valentinian I too died in this alternate version and again due to his own anger resulting in a burst blood vessel in his brain as how it happened in his real death in 375 but at least his death and the intensity of his anger that caused it was frightening enough to scare Fritigern away and never return as this incident of Valentinian’s death happened right in front of Fritigern. Now in this case with Fritigern escaping the battlefield out of fear together with his new loyal Roman ally Theodosius, his Greuthungi commander Saphrax dying in battle, Valdis disappearing, and Alatheus defecting to the Romans, the outcome in real history wherein Fritigern and his Goths were free to pillage their way through Thrace while Alatheus and Saphrax would raid all the way into Illyria and Pannonia would not happen, instead the Romans seeing how close they were to losing would take this as a lesson to strengthen their defenses in the Balkans where the Goths had invaded and also due to realizing that their division almost caused them their defeat, the Romans would take this experience as a lesson that both eastern and western empires should cooperate more with each other. Now back to the historical version of the Battle of Adrianople and its aftermath, following the Goths’ victory and death of Valens, they were invigorated to pillage everything in their path though due to lacking siege weapons were unable to besiege the city of Adrianople and later Constantinople. Following the Battle of Adrianople in 378, the Goths attempted to besiege the eastern capital of Constantinople but were crushed in small battle against the army of the city wherein the city’s defense was supervised by Valens’ wife Empress Albia Dominica and also in this small battle, the defending Roman army had Arab mercenaries with them which proved effective in defeating the Goths and it was even said that one Arab soldier slit a Goth’s throat and suck his blood out which caused so much fear in Goths that they fled though still continued pillaging through the Balkans. The situation with the Goths however was partially dealt with Theodosius the Younger himself who in reality instead of betraying Rome and siding with the Goths was recalled to Moesia from his retirement in Spain in late 378 wherein he actually campaigned successfully against the Goths. It was though only in early 379 when Gratian finally arrived in the east after defeating the Alemanni- particularly Lentienses- invaders but knowing he could not rule both east and west alone due to his young age and due to the fact that the threat of the Alemanni in the Rhine was not over yet, Gratian appointed Theodosius who was the nearest most capable general around to be his eastern co-emperor based in Constantinople trusting him since Theodosius was the son of Gratian’s father’s most trusted general Count Theodosius.

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Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379-395)

Now in real history, since Theodosius I became emperor of the east, he moved his new wife Aelia Flaccilla and infant son Arcadius to Constantinople from Spain while Theodosius set up Thessalonica as his military base in the second phase of the war against the Goths which were still devastating the Balkans. The second phase of the Gothic War from 379 to 382 began out terribly as Theodosius decided to attack the Goths using retired army veterans, inexperienced recruits that were forced into the army despite them mutilating their hands to be spared, and hired Gothic mercenaries and this only resulted in most of the army deserting and the Gothic mercenaries defecting Fritigern who they were actually loyal to. In Pannonia meanwhile, the Gothic threat was ended by the Western Roman army led by the generals sent by Gratian which were the same Arbogast and Bauto who were mentioned here in the battle and after being driven out of Pannonia, the Goths were now successfully pushed back to Thrace by the summer of 381. The Gothic War then finally ended in 382 when Theodosius decided to just make peace with them since he knew there could be no military victory against the Goths and by 382, the Gothic leaders Fritigern, Alatheus, and Saphrax were no longer mentioned again, and it is unclear on what dates they died. Another incident that happened before the war ended was that in 381, Fritigern’s rival Thervingi ruler Athanaric was exiled by his own tribesmen making him seek refuge in the Roman Empire wherein Athanaric unexpectedly came to Constantinople making a deal with Theodosius that made Athanaric’s Gothic army be settled into the eastern empire as federate troops while Athanaric after seeing the impressiveness of Constantinople as the imperial city, came to realize that there was no more reason to have war with the Romans which perhaps made him choose to settle peace with Theodosius and shortly after, Athanaric died in Constantinople sometime in 381 and was given a funeral with full honors by Theodosius. Basically what happened after 382 was that Theodosius did the same as he did with Athanaric’s men a year earlier which meant that the remaining Goths he signed peace with were allowed to settle within the Roman Empire though under their own leaders but were at least successfully made into Foederati or allied troops to the Roman army and this peace agreement with the Goths turned out to be successful, at least until Theodosius I’s death in 395. These new Gothic Foederati troops in the Roman army became of use when Theodosius fought civil wars first against the usurper Magnus Maximus of Britannia between 383 and 388 and against the usurper Eugenius and the now traitor general Arbogast between 392 and 394. The Goths including their future ruler Alaric I then played a major role in helping Theodosius win a decisive victory over Arbogast and Eugenius at the Battle of Frigidus in 394 .

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Alaric I, King of the Visigoths (r. 395-410)

The devastating part however only came after Theodosius’ death in 395 when Alaric rose to power and declared himself king thus making his men independent from Roman rule despite him being given the title of Magister Militum later on. The real consequence of the Romans’ defeat at Adrianople in 378 and the conclusion of the war that allowed Goths to settle in the empire was truly evident in the event that Alaric and his Goths suddenly sacked Rome in 410 which marked the beginning of the end of the Western Roman Empire as after this, the Goths were again free to roam pillage the west until they eventually settled in Gaul and later in Spain, breaking away from the Western Empire and forming their own kingdom.

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Battle of the Frigidus, 394- victory of Theodosius I and Gothic allies against Arbogast (by Amelianvs)

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Alaric I and his Visigoths sack Rome, 410

          Now in the case of this alternate story wherein the Romans won the Battle of Adrianople, there would be no ongoing Gothic threat in the Balkans, therefore no need for the new western Augustus Gratian to appoint Theodosius the Younger as his eastern co-emperor especially since in this case Valens would still be alive and Theodosius too won’t be around to either be appointed as co-emperor or try to take the throne since he had joined the Goths and with their defeat, he fled with them back to the Gothic homeland. With the Romans victorious against the Goths in 378, Valens as the most senior emperor of the whole empire would come to realize his mistake especially in attempting to fight the Goths alone wherein he could have gotten killed as he did in real history if not for Valentinian coming to his aid. Here Valens would see that he should have learned to not make his insecurities of feeling that he has not gotten any credit to get the best of him because eventually he did defeat the Goths and gained credit for it, therefore he also learned that he needed to be patient as the time will come for him to earn the praise of his people that used to despise him before. Now because the Eastern Romans won with the help of the west, Valens too would learn that working together as Romans is definitely important especially if the threat comes from outside, which was here the case with the Goths and that one division or particularly the emperor of one division of the empire shouldn’t think he should compete with the other especially since they were still one empire after all except divided with co-emperors. Now after 378, Valens would continue ruling the east as the most senior emperor of the empire as he is the oldest of the emperors and now also a respected figure and military hero while in the west Gratian would rule as his uncle’s western co-Augustus and since the war with both the Goths and the invading Alemanni in the Rhine was over, Gratian would use the time to practice becoming a strong ruler the way his late father was. Since Valentinian I was dead, Gratian would now be on his own to run the west and due to his experience in actually defending the Rhine, he would already have what it takes to manage a complex and war-torn empire and all these experiences of his in these hard times would sure enough shape Gratian into a wise and not only a tough emperor.

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Emperor Valentinian II, son of Valentinian I

Meanwhile, following Valentinian I’s death in 378, his younger 7-year-old son Valentinian II here would now be made not only a Caesar of Gratian but his co-Augustus of the west though due to his young age, he would still be under the regency of his mother Empress Justina while Count Theodosius the actual protector of Valentinian II would eventually retire from military service and return to his native Spain after 378 due to his old age as by this time he could already be in his late 60s or early 70s but his sudden retirement would also be because of the sadness he felt after discovering his son who he always thought would be a loyal soldier to Rome betrayed Rome and joined the Goths and worse even becoming a top general of the Goths. Since Count Theodosius retired from his military service in the west, he would be replaced as the new Magister Militum by Richomeres who would definitely be a loyal general to both Gratian and Valentinian II while Bauto who survived the battle would be the west’s cavalry general or Magister Equitum while both young soldiers Stilicho and Arbogast would quickly rise up the ranks to becoming both Magister Peditum or infantry generals of the west due to their valor shown in the Battle of Adrianople. The Greuthungi Goth leader Alatheus meanwhile after swearing his loyalty to Rome would be given land in Pannonia and command of his Alan cavalry as the empire’s new barbarian federate troops in the scenario of a future war against possibly the Goths, Franks, Sassanids, or even the Huns as the Battle of Adrianople also showed the Romans that they need barbarian allies who know the fighting styles of the barbarians in order to fight the barbarians and since Alatheus was inspired by how orderly and sophisticated the world of the Romans was and not chaotic like the world of the Goths where he came from, he would surely become a loyal commander to Rome despite being a Goth. In the east, the general Trajan who Valens demoted before the Battle of Adrianople would turn out to do his job well as Constantinople’s city prefect charged with keeping order and building up the imperial city to something even greater than that of Rome while Lupicinus who has survived the battle and gained more military knowledge from it would end up becoming the east’s Magister Militum. The character of Flavius Anthemius meanwhile who was mentioned here was true enough the same Anthemius who later became the city prefect of Constantinople that built the famous and massive Theodosian Walls in the 410s and just like in real history, Anthemius here would become Constantinople’s city prefect and in the future would built the same 3-layered walls we know of except since there would be no Emperor Theodosius II that the walls was named after due to Theodosius II’s grandfather Theodosius I betraying Rome, these walls would maybe be called the “Anthemian Walls” after Anthemius which would do the same as in real history in protecting Constantinople for more than a thousand years to come. Back to Valens, since he survived that battle in 378, he would most probably die by around 395- the same year Theodosius I died in real history- and since Valens had no sons , he will sure enough be succeeded by his nephew Valentinian II as the new eastern Augustus and now both Gratian and his younger brother would rule as western and eastern co-emperors the way Valentinian I and Valens did before them and since Gratian who would definitely be married by this time would most possibly have a son so there would be no succession problems.

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The Theodosian (aka. Anthemian) Walls of Constantinople 

          The biggest change in this story now happens to be that Theodosius I better known as “Theodosius the Great” would not become eastern emperor in 379 and this would surely change a lot of things. Without Theodosius I for one, the Goths would not be settled into the empire under their own leaders but this too would not happen since they were already defeated back in 378, though the even more pivotal changes that would happen if Theodosius would not be emperor would surely be that Nicene Christianity would not be made into the empire’s official religion being made superior among all others, thus all religious beliefs whether Christian (Arian or Nicene) or Pagan would still be tolerated in the empire under Gratian and Valentinian II, therefore no persecutions of Pagans, no destruction of ancient temples and traditions, and no banning of the Olympics games as what happened in the reign of Theodosius I.

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Emperor Theodosius I the Great

With Theodosius I not around too, there would also be no reason for his old friend Magnus Maximus in Britannia to start a civil war against Gratian in 383 as he did this in hopes of being Theodosius’ co-emperor, also there would be no civil war against the usurper Eugenius in 392 as Valentinian II would sure enough grow up to be a capable ruler and not a puppet as he was when Theodosius I was emperor in reality meaning Valentinian II would not be betrayed due to his weak leadership making the army led by Arbogast be in favor of Eugenius, though Arbogast would still possibly have his own imperial ambitions but since either Gratian or Valentinian II would turn out to be strong rulers, they would soon enough discover Arbogast’s treachery and have him executed. Lastly, without Theodosius around in the empire at this point and since in this story Theodosius had not retired to Hispania as his father was not executed, Theodosius here would have not been married to Aelia Flaccilla, therefore his sons and later the incompetent emperors Arcadius and Honorius would not be even born meaning there would be no need to permanently divide the empire between east and west as what happened in reality with the death of Theodosius I. Now since I have mentioned Theodosius betraying Rome and after 378 fully becoming one of the Goths by joining Fritigern in returning to the Goths’ homeland across the Danube, there could be many different possibilities on what could happen to him. Since the Goths had lost, Fritigern would have to think of ways of survival especially since the Goths would again have to face the threat of the Huns and now they would stand no chance especially after being beaten back by the Romans so Fritigern would have no choice but to ally himself with his old nemesis Athanaric and both be co-rulers of the Thervingi Goths in order to stand up against the Huns or even plan another invasion of the Roman Empire. As for Theodosius, he would not only become Fritigern’s and later both his and Athanaric’s top general but would also be adopted as Fritigern’s son and successor and in all those years, Theodosius living that hard life in the land of the Goths as opposed to the easier life he lived before in the Roman Empire would be shaped into a ruthless killer for the Goths that would be brainwashed to hate Rome making him kill Romans himself with such brutality like no other. As for the female Greuthungi leader Valdis who fled the Battle of Adrianople after her defeat to Richomeres, she would return to her homeland and Greuthungi tribe north of the Black Sea to now be the sole regent of her nephew Vithericus as Alatheus defected to the Romans and Saphrax died in battle. What could happen here is that Fritigern wanting a stronger and unified Gothic nation would fully unite his Thervingi tribe with the Greuthungi by marrying Theodosius to Valdis and since Fritigern due to old age and Athanaric as well would die some time sooner, the most possible new ruler of united Goths would be both Theodosius and Valdis together while Vithericus would might as well be poisoned to death to stop him as a threat to both rulers and due to Theodosius as a Roman having the knowledge of their more superior battle tactics, the Goths would sure enough learn Roman tactics and prove to be an even deadlier enemy to the Romans when they would come to invade the empire again. The most possible scenario for the Goths to strike again and this time with Theodosius both leading them as their ruler and the candidate for the imperial throne with the backing of the Goths would be the death of Valens in 395 and since Theodosius being last in the Roman Empire in 378 would most possibly never have heard that Gratian’s half-brother Valentinian II existed, so he would use the death of Valens and the vacancy of the throne in the west as an excuse to invade the empire and install himself as emperor, therefore being emperor of both Goths and Romans.

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The Roman Empire divided between east (purple) given to Arcadius and west (red) given to Honorius at Theodosius I’s death in 395 (in reality)

          What could possibly happen here is that Theodosius with Valdis could gather a full force of a new Gothic army plus new Hunnish allies, with a new sidekick being the young Alaric, and a Roman ally which is Theodosius’ fellow Spaniard Magnus Maximus who at the time was based in Britannia to wage a deadly empire-wide war against Gratian and Valentinian II but since Gratian and Valentinian II learned that they should act as one in such challenging times, they would command the full force of the Roman army to battle the forces of the Goths and Huns in an epic battle worth talking about thousands of years later.

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Deadly Hunnish cavalry

In this epic battle that is to come, it is either the united forces of both Western and Eastern Romans plus their new Frankish, Gothic, and Alemanni Federate armies defeat the full force of the Goths and Huns and finally have Theodosius tried and executed for treason or Theodosius wins and now rules a super-empire covering the entire Europe that would turn the tide of history subjugating the Romans under barbarian Gothic rule with Theodosius I as the “Emperor of the Goths and Romans” or another outcome could be that after Theodosius defeats both Gratian and Valentinian II, he would see his own mistakes in the past, abandon his Goths by sending them away together with Valdis, and come back to his senses becoming a true Roman once again and now with both Gratian and Valentinian II defeated and killed, Theodosius would end up becoming once again an emperor of a united Roman Empire but what would happen after would be unknown as it could be either that his half-Gothic children with Valdis could succeed him or he could marry again and sure enough establish a stable dynasty that would continue to preserve the rich legacy of Rome. Personally, I would go with the possible outcome of Theodosius taking control of the Roman Empire absorbing it into his new Gothic-Roman Empire which would totally change the course of European history since this could lead to a new Roman Empire reborn that would be under new Gothic leadership but retaining its old Roman values, systems, literature, science and technology though with this new empire coming into existence, there would be no reason for the Byzantine Empire to exist as Western Rome would not fall and true enough this new and even more powerful empire spanning north to south from the Baltic Sea to Egypt and west to east from Portugal to Syria and all the way to the Volga River in Russia could  become a world power strong enough with such a massive army of Romans and Goths to face the deadliest threats to known to man such as the Huns and Sassanids which they could surely easily defeat. Well, it is up for you viewers to decide what kind of outcome goes best with this alternate story if the Romans beat the Goths at Adrianople and if the Goths and Romans go to war again.     

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Map of the Hypothetical Gothic-Roman Empire of Theodosius I

          And now I have now reached the end of the first chapter of my Byzantine history fan fiction series and though this is only first one, it may seem very long but this particularly because the Battle of Adrianople was one event in Roman history with such a great variety of characters and true enough had such great consequences for the future of Rome as less than a hundred years after this battle, the Western Roman Empire came to an end in 476 leaving only the eastern half surviving as the Byzantine Empire. The defeat of the Romans at Adrianople led to the Goths being settled into the empire under their own leaders in order to settle peace with them wherein at the first the Goths were loyal allies to Rome until the death of Theodosius I in 395 and the rise of the new Visigoth king Alaric I which led to the sack of Rome in 410 and the establishment of the Visigoth Kingdom in Gaul and Spain in the 5th century. The victory of the Goths in 378 and their invasion of the Roman Empire too led to the Thervingi Goths becoming the Visigoths who would settle in the empire wherein this would lead them to establishing what would be later on the ancestor state of medieval Spain and the Greuthungi Goths eventually settling in the empire as well wherein a century later they would invade Italy and form the Ostrogoth Kingdom. In real history, the aftermath of the Goths’ victory at the Battle of Adrianople did have a lot of negative outcomes for the Roman Empire, especially the west since it led to the formation of new independent kingdoms like the Visigoth Kingdom of Gaul that would further weaken Roman authority in the west though the victory of the Goths in 378 and their settlement into the empire also had positive outcomes and the most notable one being that the Visigoth Kingdom in Gaul founded by Alaric’s successors would one day redeem themselves by allying with the Western Romans in 451 when the Huns led by Atilla finally invaded Roman territory as here the Visigoths under their king Theodoric I fought side by side with the Roman general Flavius Aetius at the Battle of Chalons in Gaul which was possibly 10 times even more epic that the Battle of Adrianople in 378 with even more casualties on both sides but at the end, thanks to the support of the Visigoths, the Western Roman Empire was spared from the deadly threat of Atilla and his Huns although since the Western Empire was already weakened by too much wars and barbarian invasions as well as 2 sackings of Rome first by the Visigoths (410) and the Vandals (455), the empire was eventually only left with Italy thus leading to the fall of the Western Empire in 476. Now in this case, if the Romans were able to manage to defeat the Goths in Adrianople, the fall of Rome- at least the Western Empire- would still be inevitable as the sooner or later the Huns, even possibly led by Attila could invade both eastern and western empires but since both halves learned to fight as one after almost losing to the Goths in 378, they could possibly manage to defeat the Huns and their new Gothic allies that they have subjugated the moment their invasion comes in the 5th century. Now before I end, I would then say that the Battle of Adrianople with a Roman victory would not do much in changing the course of Roman history, as the empire was bound to fall anyway ever since the Crisis of the 3rd Century though most possibly only the west which was more threatened by barbarian invasions would be the one to fall as the east becoming the Byzantine Empire would most definitely have more chances of survival as their empire included many rich cities and richer lands. On the other hand, unless the rare possibility of Theodosius betraying Rome and becoming a Gothic ruler would actually happen, this would true enough change the course of history like no other way especially if he were to rule both Romans and Goths together thus establishing an empire more powerful than any other in its time. Now for the 4th century, this topic of an alternate outcome to the Battle of Adrianople and the Gothic War with a Roman victory only came to my mind lately and after being inspired by Dovahhatty’s episode XVII Imperial Wrath, I just thought for myself that if Valentinian did not die from his own anger in 375, he could have been there to help his brother Valens eliminate the Gothic threat that just came into the empire the year after Valentinian’s death and since Valentinian was known to be a better military emperor than Valens, his skill would help the Romans defeat the Goths. Also, this team-up between Valentinian and Valens had also for me turned out to be one of the topics I have always wanted to do for a fan fiction ever since after again watching Dovahhatty’s video in his Unbiased History of Rome series. On the other hand, I also wanted to add a plot twist to this story which was Theodosius being seduced by Fritigern to joining the Goths and the Gothic leader Alatheus defecting to Rome and for these plot twists, I was inspired by the storyline of season 3 of Cobra Kai (spoiler alert!) when the character of Robby turned bad and joined Cobra Kai just as Theodosius did in this story and Hawk in season 3 redeemed himself just as Alatheus did here. Personally, I think Theodosius is a very interesting and controversial figure who is the kind of Byzantine emperor I’d like to experiment on as in reality he is someone who should have not been in power as his actions as emperor helped indirectly cause more division that weakened the Roman Empire, for instance allowing the Goths to settle in the empire, so I would see that he would be better off joining the Goths so I did just that when writing this story. Well, I hope this was a very interesting and very complex fan fiction considering it is my first in this series. Now in this Byzantine fan fiction series I am making, I just have to say here that the stories will not be connected with each other and up next, the second chapter of my series will be focused on another possible what if scenario in the 5th century set in year 472 if the Western Roman emperor Anthemius was not assassinated and instead he assassinated his evil puppet master Ricimer if he received the secret letter from the Byzantine or his eastern co-emperor Leo I, now could this other outcome of the story alter the course of history by slowing down the fall of Western Rome wherein it would live even beyond 476? Well, this all for chapter I of Byzantine Alternate history, this is Powee Celdran, the Byzantine Time Traveler… thank you for your time!  

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

Posted by Powee Celdran

WARNING: THIS IS A VERY LONG ARTICLE!!

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

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

Related Articles from The Byzantium Blogger:

The Defenestrations of Prague (special edition stand-alone)

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

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

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

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

Roman and Byzantine Imperial Systems Compared

Roman and Byzantine Imperial Cultures Compared

Imperial Women in the Roman and Byzantine Empires

12 Turning Points in Byzantine History

The Complete Genealogy of the Byzantine emperors and dynasties

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

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

The Sieges of Constantinople

War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic

Related Videos:

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

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

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

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

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

Dovahhatty Videos:

Imperial Wrath (337-378)

Barbarians at the Gates (379-423)

The Fall of Rome (423-476)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The chad Michael VIII Palaiologos vs the virgin Theodore II Laskaris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Though Constantinople was recovered by Michael VIII Palaiologos in 1261, the empire that was regained would no longer be the same power it was before the 4th Crusade but instead only having the same leve